On days where it felt like the entire world was conspiring against him, Jack Napier just wanted to punch a fucking wall until it crumbled.

Needless to say, he was not in a good mood.

And that was an understatement, really, since Jack was pretty sure he'd never been more pissed off in his entire life.

The day had started off shitty enough, though it was no more shitty than usual: he'd missed the bus early that morning, been forced to walk in the mixture of freezing cold rain and snow (and was soaked through by the time he had made it to school) and then, upon being thirty minutes late to class—for the fifth time that month—was immediately sent to the principal's office.

And that was only the beginning.

After receiving a verbal lashing and a lecture on the importance of education and on the disruption that Jack's late attendances had caused his class—a lecture that lasted for approximately twenty-seven minutes—the school guidance counselor was called in. Jack heard the door click shut as the woman entered and stood next to the desk, and Jack stared pointedly at the floor where a pool of melted slush had gathered beneath the soles of his boots.

The principal, a fat, balding sonofabitch who tipped the scales at nearly three-hundred pounds, was slumped behind his desk, sweat stains visible through his dark tweed jacket, and his moony, pale face was contorted in an ugly grimace.

His office was hot and stank of fried onion rings. On the desk, there was a framed picture of a Chihuahua next to a jar of pens.

"Now, Jack," the principal said in a grave tone, unfolding his large, clammy fingers to wipe them on his thighs beneath the desk, "I've brought Miss Summers here to talk to you about a very serious matter." He paused for effect. The tick of the clock in the background filled the silence. "Do you know what this is about?"

Jack stared. Blank.

"This is your fifth late attendance this week," he began, undeterred by Jack's lack of response, "and nearly the twelfth of this year. Your grades are slipping as well. We worry you'll have to retake the semester. I can't keep letting you go unpunished, but I am aware of your... situation at home."

The clock ticked on. Jack heard an audible swallow from Miss Summers, whom he hadn't even spared a glance to when she had walked in.

"We know things have been difficult for you since your mother died," she spoke, and that earned her a sharp look, Jack's head snapping in her direction at the mention of his mother.

Miss Summers was middle-aged and recently divorced, if the pale band around her finger on her left hand was any indication. The pockets of her sweater bulged with tissues, and her eyes were rimmed red, a sure indicator that she had a serious cold, or that she'd been crying. Jack went with the latter.

"We're also aware that your father can be a bit... abrasive at times, as well," she said, looking at him carefully.

"My father," Jack drawled in the accompanying silence that followed, turning the word "abrasive" over and over in his head. How fucking astute of you, he wanted to say, sitting up just a bit straighter in his chair, uncomfortably aware of the purpling bruise that bloomed over his right cheekbone.

"If you'd like, we could call him down here, see if we could work through whatever the problem seems to be. We're here for you, Jack, and we want to help if you'll... let us." Miss Summer's sentence diffused when she noticed the look Jack was giving her. Her mouth opened and closed as she struggled for words. Jack's mouth remained closed in a thin line, his eyes narrowed into murderous slits.

Outside in the hall, the bell rang.

Jack stood from the chair then, rising to his full height and towering over the principal and Miss Summers. They were watching with wary, guarded expressions.

"Fuck you," he said to both of them.

And then he left.

He attended the rest of his classes without incident, only half paying attention as he sat with his head propped against his hand at his desk, attempting to peel apart the sopping pages of his history textbook.

In between classes, he did his best to salvage his homework by fanning his papers beneath the hand dryer in the bathroom. He sat on the sink with his back turned towards the mirror as he dried them and contemplated how he fucking hated today.

That was why, at the end of the school day when he saw some guy picking on a much smaller girl in a deserted hallway, he grabbed the guy by the collar of his shirt and shoved him up against a nearby locker without a second thought.

The day couldn't get any worse, right?

The guy—who Jack vaguely recognized as some junior he'd had in one of his computer information classes from last year—appeared startled, having thought they were alone.

"What the fuck, man?" he said, grabbing at Jack's wrists in order to free himself. Jack held him immobile, pinning him by the collar of his shirt.

He was the same height as Jack, though much bulkier where Jack was lithe. Even so, Jack's strength was deceptive, and he adjusted his grip and shoved him back against the locker for a second time when the guy continued to struggle.

"Unless you plan on apologizing to that girl there," he snarled, "I suggest you get the fuck out of here before I bash your skull against the floor until it shatters."

Jack's victim did not say a word, but his eyes betrayed his fear. While Jack wasn't all that physically intimidating—he knew he was skinny, and his shoulders had yet to fill out, and his chest was flat and not at all defined—he also knew his eyes could turn acidic when he wanted, and that he was more than capable with his hands. His grip was surprisingly strong; Jack knew the guy could see that now.

So he said nothing, and Jack released him with a final shove that made the lockers rattle. He grumbled meaningless threats as he picked up his backpack and ducked off, casting a glance behind him as he jogged away.

Jack sighed, more annoyed than angry, and cracked his knuckles by clenching them into tight fists. He watched until he had disappeared out of sight.

When he turned back to look at the girl, she was already gone.

"You're welcome," he said to the empty hallway.

Scuffing his shoe against the floor, he turned to exit the school.

Outside, just as snow began to fall, he realized the buses had left without him.


A week later, he was sitting at his usual lunch table, alone, waiting for the bell to ring.

"Do you mind if I sit here?"

He didn't look up at first, assuming that whoever had spoken was addressing the table behind him. Jack kept his head down as he swirled his plastic fork in Tuesday's sorry excuse for meatloaf.

Someone cleared their throat. "Excuse me, may I sit here?"

Jack did look up then, just slightly, staring up at the girl in front of him from beneath his brows.


"I'm sorry, I don't mean to bother you... do you mind if I sit here?"

Jack sighed, shrugging his shoulders, and stood up to gather his things as the girl set her tray down.

"Wait, where are you going?"

"Um," Jack said, ever so eloquent, "you said you wanted to sit here."

The girl blushed and bit her lower lip. "I wanted to sit with you," she said.

Jack frowned at her, trying to decide if she was serious. No one had ever sat with him before—or had wanted to, at least.

"Please stay?"

Slowly, Jack lowered his tray and sat down, almost afraid that if he moved too fast, the girl might disappear like the apparition he thought she was.

The girl—who had short black hair that was pulled into a ponytail—smiled kindly at him, eyes taking in his features as if he were an old friend she hadn't seen in a long time.

"I wanted to thank you. For the other day. I know I ran off in a bit of a hurry."

Ah. Jack regarded her, crossing his long legs under the table and accidentally brushing against hers in the process.

"Why did you?"

"I... I was scared." Here she blushed, swallowing the sudden lump in her throat. "I thought you were going to hurt him. The look in your eyes... " she trailed off, embarrassed for having revealed so much. She cleared her throat, and tucked a fallen strand of hair behind her ear. "I just wanted to tell you I appreciated you stopping him."

Jack shrugged. "It was nothing."

Silence settled between their table for a long moment, both of them staring at their respective trays. Around them, the chatter of their classmates was loud as friends laughed and ate and made plans for the weekend.

The girl looked up suddenly, catching his gaze. "That isn't from him, is it?"

Jack's brows furrowed together in confusion, then he saw where her gaze was directed and understood. His hand instinctively reached for his cheek, but he withdrew halfway through the action.

"No," he said, and he knew his eyes hardened when he said it, his entire countenance growing dark, as if a sudden shadow had passed over their table. He thought back to last week, the way he'd been herded into the principal's office, forced to sit through that fucking interventional therapy session, or whatever that was supposed to be. His eyes were still narrowed when he looked up.

The girl did not recoil from him like he expected.

In fact, she did the last thing that he would have anticipated, which was to lift her arm onto the table, her palm facing up. The fingers of her left hand tugged at the sleeve of her long-sleeve shirt, inching it up to reveal a forearm littered with dark bruises. Fingermarks.

Jack's eyes rose to meet hers.

She smiled at him then, just a small thing, and it was not a pitying smile, or a sad one, but a smile to say that she understood. She fucking understood. It was the first time someone had looked at him with something other than pity or disgust in their eyes.

She didn't say anything after that. He didn't either.

When the bell rang, he watched as the girl calmly gathered her things, stood from the table, and then gave him a small, shy smile that for some reason made Jack's heart somersault in a way it never had before.

His eyes followed her all the way out of the cafeteria. He didn't realize until after she had gone that he hadn't even gotten her name.

The girl sat with him again the next day. And then the day after that. And the next one after that. They talked little, which was fine with Jack. He found he liked her presence, enjoyed having her around even if they didn't talk. The silence between them was comfortable, nice. Each day he found her at his table, it was a surprise to him, as he kept waiting for the day she'd grow bored of him and sit somewhere else.

But she didn't.

A week later, they were well into their usual lunch-time silence when the girl's plastic fork clattered to the lunch tray, drawing Jack's attention. He looked up slowly, mid-chew, and with a quizzical brow.

"Aren't you going to ask what my name is?" she said, and fuck, she sounded so flustered. Jack, in a particularly good mood that day, couldn't help but smirk around his mouthful of food. It was probably the first time he had ever 'smiled' at her. He swallowed before speaking.

"Tell me."

"It's Kaiyo," she said, and she seemed to deflate after she said it, as if embarrassed by her unprompted, miniature outburst. The freckles on her nose stood out against her blush. In a tiny voice, she asked, "What's yours?"


"Jack," she repeated. The name sounded so different when she said it. He was surprised when she extended her hand for him to shake. "It's nice to meet you."

He cocked his head at her, a small, amused smirk gracing his lips at such formal pleasantries.

Something shifted, then. It would be trite to say that something in the air between them had changed, but that was exactly what it felt like. Like some kind of barrier had dropped and they were looking at each other for the first time, with brand new eyes or something.

"Pleasure's mine," he said after a pause, and the way he said 'pleasure' must have made Kaiyo blush all the way down to her toes, and he tried not to smirk at the way her cheeks colored a deep shade of pink.

The two of them began to speak more often after that. Kaiyo was incredibly shy, and she blushed at even the tamest curse words, and at touches or glances from the opposite sex that lasted longer than a few seconds.

Normally, that would have annoyed Jack. He'd seen some of the girls at school do it for attention, or in an attempt to be cute, but with Kaiyo it wasn't a ruse—she was absolutely virginal in every sense of the word.

It didn't take much to get her to open up, though. She told him about her family back in Japan, how she'd moved to the US to be raised by her grandmother when she was just a baby. She hadn't seen her parents in over seven years.

She also revealed that she was fifteen, only a few months younger than Jack. Her birthday was in February, just three months away. In her spare time she liked drawing and was very good at making those braided rope bracelets. She could churn out three in the span of their half-hour lunch break.

Because of the bruises on her arms, Kaiyo almost always wore long sleeves—and if Jack didn't know any better, it would have been easy to ignore if only because it was winter—so when her sleeve rolled up during lunch to reveal a shockingly pale wrist and one of those rope bracelets with the beaded letters on it, Jack was intrigued.

"W-W-J-D," he read aloud. He had to lean forward with his elbows planted on the table to see it properly. His brows were pulled together in confusion.

Kaiyo looked up at him from where she had been flipping through her history book. Sometimes she liked to study during lunch, which was fine by him, but today he felt unusually talkative.

He cocked an eyebrow at her when she didn't say anything. "What does it mean?"

"What would Jesus do." And if Kaiyo seemed to sit up straighter and look more confident than ever when she said it, it did not go unnoticed by Jack. "I made it at youth group a few years ago. I've worn it ever since."

"Oh." Here Jack snorted. "You're one of those people," he said, and he'd meant it to sound joking and flippant, but Kaiyo seemed to shrink in on herself at his comment.

"What do you mean 'those people'?"

"Y'know," he waved a hand dismissively, as if the air around him would supply him with the words he was looking for. "One of those churchy types."

If Kaiyo was offended, she didn't let on. In fact, more than anything, she seemed concerned. "You don't believe in God?"

"Oh, I believe in God," he said, and it was with such a vitriolic bite to it that it made Kaiyo flinch, "it's God who doesn't believe in me."

Jack looked at her after he said it, both expecting and dreading her look of horror, of anger, of pity—but she gave him none of that, instead disarming him with one of her small smiles that—frustratingly—made his insides feel like Jell-o.

"I know," she said. And then she resumed eating and Jack had to force his gaze back to his own tray, wondering what the hell she meant by that.

The weeks wore on. They continued to sit with each other at lunch, Kaiyo gradually revealing more and more about herself. Jack did the same.

When posed for questions about his own life, he found it easy to open up to her. Normally guarded and selective with whom he divulged information with, he had no qualms about sharing things about himself that he wouldn't have shared with anyone else. Kaiyo listened with rapt attention—always—arms folded across the tabletop to indicate her interest.

He told her things about his dad sometimes, but mostly he talked about his hobbies, thoughts, desires. Things like that. It was easy to open up to her, even despite his usual instincts that urged him to pull back. It was the only thing he was good at—emotional detachment—and he'd learned that from his father. His mind continued to rage against him as he grew closer to Kaiyo, battling him at every turn and telling him he was revealing too much, that Kaiyo would hurt him, or use the information he told her against him. But he pushed those thoughts aside, easy as he would toe aside a small pebble on the sidewalk. It was kind of exciting sharing things about himself to someone else, someone who didn't judge him and who seemed genuinely interested, concerned, or happy in whatever it was he had to say. There was a sort of thrill in it, he supposed, a thrill in knowing that someone actually cared about him. His dad certainly didn't, so Kaiyo was the first. Perhaps that was why things were bound to go so wrong, as they were wont to do.

Life liked to throw a lot of wrenches at Jack. He didn't dodge them well.

It came as no surprise to him when Jack began to look forward to lunch with Kaiyo. Even waking up and dragging his ass out of bed in the freezing cold winter mornings wasn't so horrible, not when he knew he'd get to see Kaiyo at lunch.

They didn't share any classes together, but he actively looked for her in the halls now, wanting to see her even if only for a brief moment.

One day, he offered to walk her home after school.

Kaiyo must have recognized what a large step it was for Jack, or rather, that Jack had never offered to walk another girl home before—he didn't do shit like that—but with Kaiyo, it was different. He wanted to. He wanted to walk her home, especially if it meant he could talk to her for just a little while more, and to talk to her outside a setting other than the ugly cafeteria walls, surrounded by shouting kids and cafeteria food that smelt like dog shit.

Kaiyo looked up at him as they stood by the cafeteria doors. They were heading in separate directions, each to their own classes, and this would be the last time they saw each other for the day.

"Jack, my grandmother... " Kaiyo trailed off, unsure of how to finish her sentence.

From behind him, somebody in the crowd of students trying to force their way through the double doors and out in the hall bumped into Jack. The impact of it sent him forward into Kaiyo, and he had to plant his hand against the door, just above her head, to keep himself from crushing her.

Kaiyo blushed at their sudden close proximity, her face level with his chest.

Jack looked down at her, expression unreadable, and was not at all disconcerted by the lack of distance between them.

"Let me take you home," he said, voice pitched low.

Kaiyo looked up at him. She nodded.

"I'll meet you out front," he told her, and then he was slipping away, disappearing into the crowd of bodies, and if Kaiyo's knees were weak after their encounter, she'd never tell.

Hours later, when the final bell rang, Jack was there waiting for her on the school steps, as he had promised.

He blew a puff of smoke from his cigarette in her general direction as he watched her approach.

It was a bit strange seeing her outside of the cafeteria. She seemed smaller here, gray knitted tights clinging to her thin legs, winter boots laced into a neat bow at mid-calf. The knitted scarf around her neck threatened to swallow her whole.

Her cheeks and nose were pink from something other than a blush, for once, the crisp winter air biting at soft skin skin. A smattering of snow flurries darted through the air and then swirled away in some exotic dance.

"You smoke?" Kaiyo asked as she approached, looking at his cigarette as it if were a snake that might jump out and bite her.

"Um." Jack dropped the offending item into the snow at his feet, crushing it with his boot. "Only sometimes." He cleared his throat and gestured towards the sidewalk with a nod of his head. "Come on. Lead the way."

They headed in the opposite direction of Jack's house, although he didn't tell her so. It meant he'd have to retrace his steps to make it back home, but he didn't mind, not if it meant he got to be with Kaiyo for a while longer.

They talked idly as they walked, snow slushing beneath their boots, hands dug deep into their pockets to keep warm. Beside them, a wall of snow was piled along the sidewalks, and telephone wires drooped low over the single-lane road, burdened by the heavy snowfall from the previous night.

"My ears are freezing," Kaiyo said when there was a break in the conversation, just barely loud enough for him to hear.

Jack made a "hmph" noise in the back of his throat and stopped, causing Kaiyo to halt as well.

"What is it?" she asked.

Jack took his bare hands and covered her ears with them, his thumbs gently tugging at the lobes as if to assess them.

Kaiyo felt her breath hitch as she stared into Jack's warm eyes, her head cradled in his hands.

It was the first time Jack had ever touched her, and it lasted only a second. Jack seemed entirely unaffected by it as he let her go with a grin, returning his hands to his pockets.

"Yep, definitely freezing," he declared. "You need earmuffs."

And that was that.

Kaiyo had to will her heart to stop pounding so fast. She jogged to catch up to Jack, who was already a few paces in front of her.

"It'll be Christmas soon," Kaiyo said, hoping the subject change would bring her back down to earth. "Are you excited?"

"For Christmas?" Jack looked at her out of the corner of his eye and snorted. He kicked a chunk of ice with the toe of his boot, watching as it skid across the sidewalk with a jarring screech that was not pleasant to the ears. "No."

He could feel rather than see Kaiyo's disappointed frown, and he didn't know why but it made him feel like an asshole all the sudden, like he'd just revealed to her that Santa Claus wasn't real or something.

"But um, the lights are nice, I guess." And that was a fucking lie, because the lights were annoying as fuck and blinked past the cracks in his blinds at two AM when he was trying to sleep. His neighbors never shut them off.

He turned to Kaiyo then, about to ask her what was so special about Christmas anyway, when suddenly he found her small hand wrapped around his wrist. She yanked him off the sidewalk with surprising force and he found himself with his back against a large, thick Oak.

"Whoa there—Kaiyo, what are you doing?" Jack was laughing, but he stopped when he noticed the fear in her eyes. He was alert instantly. "What's the matter?"

"This is as far as you go," she said, and he might have laughed at her again if her voice hadn't been so grave and if he wasn't as confused as fuck right now.

"Why?" He looked around, eyes darting towards the street and then in the opposite direction, where houses were crowded along the other side.

He saw the crucifix on a door only two houses down, and he knew.

"If my grandmother sees you with me she'll be furious," Kaiyo whispered, as if her grandmother might be listening to them right now.

But Jack understood, and he didn't want her to get in trouble for being seen with him.

Him. Of all people.

He nodded.

Kaiyo let go of his wrist as if burned, having forgotten her hand was even there.

"I'm so sorry, I—"

"It's alright," he assured her, cracking a smile at her bashfulness. "You're allowed to touch me." And even if he'd said it matter-of-factly, Kaiyo still flushed, and Jack suddenly had to try very hard not to think of his accidental double entendre.

"Um. I'll see you tomorrow, yeah?"

She nodded quickly, and then he watched from behind the tree as she hurried away, climbing the three steps to the small slab of concrete porch. The silver crucifix swung against the door with a bang when it closed behind her, and Jack watched it for a moment before trudging back the way he came.

Kaiyo hadn't been kidding about Christmas coming soon. November ended in its usual cocktail of bad weather and a rushed Thanksgiving break, and all too soon Jack was back to the daily grind.

Final exams would be in two weeks time, and Kaiyo was so busy writing essays and studying at lunch that neither of them spoke much. Jack continued to walk her home when he could, and he listened to Kaiyo de-stress and talk about her honors classes and plans she had for winter break.

"Nana is letting me go on this trip with my youth group. We're going to Florida."


"Mhm!" she said, gaining more excitement as she spoke. "There's this convention there and pastors from all around the world will be there to speak, and missionaries too, and they'll be bands and funny skits... it's going to be amazing."

"Sounds... interesting." That was exactly what it didn't sound like. Jack scrubbed the back of his neck with his palm as they walked, shooting a sideways glance at Kaiyo. She really did look excited.

"Would you like to go?"

"Huh?" Jack stopped, the question catching him off guard. Kaiyo stopped as well.

"Do you want to go?" she repeated. "We always take this big van with TVs and stuff, and the hotels we stay in are—"

"I don't have the money."

He didn't mean to sound so rude about it, but he really didn't have the money. Plus he'd never hear the end of it from his father.

"What, you want money for some church thing?" his father would say. "You gonna start wavin' the Bible in my face like some sycophantic Jesus freak?"

He'd never hear the end of it. His mother had been religious, and look where that got her: an early death at twenty-nine and buried eight feet underground, that's where.

"Oh, money?" she asked, like she hadn't been expecting that response. "Well, I can pay for you, or help out at least, and my youth leader, he can help too. I really don't think he'll m—"

"Kaiyo—no. Look, I can't let you do that, alright?"

On the street, a car drove past, and the slush of mud and snow beneath its tires filled the silence that had settled between them. The disappointment in Kaiyo's eyes made Jack's insides clench for reasons he didn't understand. He watched the way her chest rose and fell—deflating like a balloon—and he sighed. "I gotta work and stuff during break anyway."

He started forwards, looking behind to see if Kaiyo would follow after he had so obviously crushed her hopes.

She did.

It was bright and sunny out today. One of those clear blue days were there wasn't a cloud in sight, but the wind still nipped at you, tore nicks in your skin if the collar of your coat wasn't pulled high enough around your neck.

"You work?" she asked.

Jack shrugged. "At this electronics shop. We repair old computers and stuff. It's not that exciting."

"I think it sounds interesting," she said, and she was silent as they passed a particularly beautiful house, with a Christmas wreath on the door and white icicle lights lining the edge of the roof. "I don't know a lot about computers," she said after a while. "I know how to delete the internet history... that's about it." And this last part she said in a trailed-off mumble, as if realizing the implications of her words. Her cheeks flushed a shade of pink that was not brought on by the cold.

"My, my... impressive," Jack grinned, enjoying the way Kaiyo continued to color different shades of embarrassment. He poked her in the side as they walked, donning a faux reprimanding voice. "And just what kind of things do you delete from your internet history, missy?"

Kaiyo only covered her warm cheeks with her gloved hands and walked faster, Jack laughing behind her and jogging to keep up.

On the last day before winter break, Kaiyo did not sit with Jack at lunch. He waited impatiently for her at their usual table, but was too distracted to eat as he bounced his knee beneath the table and tapped a mindless rhythm with his fingertips next to his tray.

The lunch room was considerably less packed today, many of the students having left to start their vacations early, to beat the holiday traffic rush to grandma's house.

Jack never went anywhere for the holidays. In fact, Christmas—aside from the commercial fanfare—was just like any other day. His father didn't care jack shit about Christmas, and Jack himself hadn't gotten an actual gift from his father since he was five.

There wasn't a single tree, ornament, or other form of holiday decor to be found in the Napier household. Those little pre-packaged vanilla cakes with the filling insides—either shaped like snowmen or Christmas trees—were about as festive as it got.

When the bell rang overhead, startling Jack out of his thoughts, he grumbled as he got up, shuffling towards the trashcan to dispose of his untouched food.

Where are you, Kaiyo?

He looked for her in the halls on his way to his next class, even though he knew he wouldn't see her since they always went in opposite directions after lunch.

At the end of the school day, after sitting through class after class with a scowl on his face, his mood was soured. Distantly, he knew that he as acting like a petulant five year-old who'd just been told he wouldn't be getting the toy he wanted for Christmas, but even so, the knowledge did not change his mood. He waited outside the school in his usual spot for her, thinking about all the things he hadn't got to tell her at lunch that they could talk about on the way to her house.

Leaning against the brick wall near the exit, where he had a good view of everyone crowding through the doors, he fingered the pack of cigarettes in his pocket. When he recalled Kaiyo's face and the way she had looked at him the first time she had seen him smoking, he decided against it and dropped his hand to his side.

Nobody paid him any mind as they hurried off to reach the buses or get to their cars—and why would they? He was just some skinny white kid with too-long-limbs and an awkward mop of curly hair. Jack slumped into the wall and sighed into his jacket, zipping it farther up his sternum so he could sink his chin and mouth into the collar, hiding from the frigid bite of the cold.

Then he waited. And waited. And Kaiyo never did show up.

It bothered him more than it should.

Talking to her everyday had become so habitual, so routine, that missing even a day made him feel miserable. And it was so stupid, he knew that, but on days where he didn't see her or they didn't talk, the hours seemed to drag on for years. He felt sluggish and snappy and worst of all, restless. Nothing got done, not homework, not his chores, nothing. Kaiyo was the only person who ever asked him how his day was and genuinely seemed interested in hearing his answer. Kaiyo was the only one to prod him for his opinions, or blush when he stared at her too long. She was the only one who didn't treat him like he was a fucking basketcase because his mom had died and he was "antisocial". (Principal Griffith could shove it.)

He just wanted to talk to Kaiyo. What made everything worse was that this was the last day of school, so he wouldn't get to see her again until after the New Year, which was a long, long two and a half weeks away.

When he arrived home shortly after four o'clock, his father wasn't there. That was surprisingly disappointing, too—the silence, that is. He hadn't uttered a word the entire day, and the stillness of the house only exacerbated his mood. He let his backpack slide off his shoulder and to the floor, toeing it out of the way so his father wouldn't trip on it when he got home.

Upstairs, he peeled off his boots and threw his jacket over his desk chair, collapsing onto the bed with a quiet groan. The mattress greeted him with its familiar squeak of bedsprings, and he turned onto his side so he was facing the window, where dark plaid curtains were half opened and he could study the icicles that hung from the gutter.

He didn't realize he had drifted off to sleep until the phone rang some time later, and he jolted awake with a start. When the phone continued on even after the third ring, Jack rubbed the sleep from his eyes and stumbled out of bed. He managed to answer just before the automated answering machine kicked on.

He sat on the edge of his father's bed and cradled the phone where he'd just picked it up off the nightstand.


"Hi," a tiny voice on the other line said, just above a whisper, and Jack straightened instantly. "Is this Jack?"


"Oh. Hi. I hope it's okay that I'm calling... " she started. "I got your number from the phonebook. I'm not bothering you, am I?"

"No," Jack assured her, more quickly than he would have liked. "How are you?" And why weren't you at lunch today? he wanted to ask, but managed to refrain. He did have some manners.

"I'm... okay." He heard her shuffling around for a moment, and her voice got quieter. "I'm not allowed to be on the phone right now, it's past nine," –and here Jack looked at the alarm clock, because he had no idea he'd slept for so long—"but I wanted to, um. Well." She paused for a long moment and Jack waited, imagining the way she always bit her lip when she was thinking. "Can I see you? Tonight?"

"Yes. Yeah," he replied, without a second's thought. "Where?"

"I'm not sure... "

Silence settled over the line for a moment. Jack scrubbed a hand over his jaw, thinking. "There's this diner on Willow Street, it's not too far from your place. They're open until twelve."

"Okay," she whispered, and he heard her shuffling around again. She replied even quieter than before. "I have to wait until Nana falls asleep. I'll see you at ten?"

"I'll be there."

The line clicked dead.

His father was passed out on the recliner when he left, surrounded by his usual mess of beer cans and half-eaten cartons of takeout. On the table next to the recliner, there was a prescription bag from the pharmacy, and an orange pill bottle with the cap unscrewed.

Jack pressed his lips together and tried not to slam the door on his way out.

The sky was dark that night, the moon hidden behind thick clouds. The wind blustered and whipped around him, forcing him to pull his jacket tighter. His teeth chattered against the cold. He wished he'd brought a flashlight.

It was a long walk to the diner, and by the time he arrived, he couldn't wait to get inside. The parking lot was empty save for a few lone cars, probably belonging to the few employees who were left to close up for the night. The OPEN sign blinked at intervals from the window, illuminating the slick pavement and the walls of snow that had been pushed up against the curb. The sign flashed red and made the snow look bloodied.

A little bell chimed above the door when it opened, and Jack was immediately flooded with warmth. A woman with teased blonde hair and triangular, hooped earrings straight out of the 80's was at the register, arranging coffee cups beneath the counter.

She regarded him with a wary eye for a moment and then went back to rearranging the cups.

"Be right with you in a second, hon."

The diner was empty save for a lone, older man at the far side of the counter, sipping coffee and dutifully staring at the newspaper clutched between liver-spotted hands.

Jack chose a small booth near the window on the opposite side of the diner, sliding into the seat with little grace, rattling the glass salt and pepper shakers.

He stared outside as he waited for Kaiyo, drumming his fingertips against the slightly-sticky tabletop.

When he heard the waitress coming over, he turned to her.

"What can I get you?" she said in a husky, weathered voice that revealed years of nicotine abuse. She retrieved her pen from behind her ear and flipped open a tiny notepad.

"Oh, um, nothing. I'm just waiting for a friend."

The waitress fixed him with a dismal stare. The light hit her just right when she tilted her head at him, and it made the bags beneath her eyes more prominent. "Look kid, I don't know if you saw the sign—" and here she pointed to a plaque next to the door, beneath a framed picture of Johnny Cash— "but it says 'no loitering' allowed. So you're either gonna order somethin' or you're gonna leave. Now what's it gonna be?"

"A coffee." He thought of Kaiyo. "Two."

The waitress—Darla, if the nametag was right—pocketed her book in her apron without writing anything down. "Good boy. Comin' right up."

When Kaiyo finally did arrive (and he spotted her through the window, ignoring the way relief and something like utter joy flooded through him), her coffee had already gone lukewarm. Jack had built a tower using the miniature creamer cups that Darla had left him, and he ended up knocking them over when Kaiyo sat down across from him.

"Sorry I'm late," she said, all out of breath, wearing a red jacket that matched her cheeks, which were flushed from the cold. She unwound her scarf from around her neck. "You bought me coffee?"

"It's probably cold," he said, coughing a bit to clear his throat. He sat up straighter. "I can get the waitress to heat it up if you want," he offered.

"This is fine, really." She smiled. "You didn't have to do this. But thank you." Kaiyo intertwined her fingers around the cup for warmth. It was silent for a moment as she opened the crumpled creamer cups and poured them in her coffee. Jack stared at her while she did, eyes hungrily raking over her features as if he hadn't seen her in years.

"Where were you today?" he asked. He felt his brows draw together when he noticed a red cut marring her pale throat, just beneath her ear. He moved as if to reach out to touch it, drawn to it for a second as if by instinct, but then seemed to realize what he was doing. He retracted and settled back into his seat. His eyes flashed up to meet hers, dangerous and full of unspoken promise. "Is that why you weren't at school today? Because of that?" If that woman hurt you, I swear to your god I'll kill her, he didn't add.

"Oh." She flushed when she touched the scratch on her neck, as if she had forgotten it was there. "No, that was from tonight. I... I fell in a bush."

"You fell. In a bush."

Kaiyo flushed further. "I had to climb out my window. It's on the second floor..."

Jack cocked his head at her, something like regret bubbling inside him. "Kaiyo," he said, more softly than he'd ever said her name before. "Why didn't you tell me? I could have come and gotten you."

"It's just a scratch," she replied, clearly embarrassed by the whole thing. "I'll be more careful next time."

Next time. Was she implying there was going to be a next time?

"Are you going to tell me why you weren't at school today?" he asked instead.

Kaiyo placed her cup on the table, but kept her hands wrapped around it. "I was sick this morning. Nana said I should stay home."

Jack nodded almost cautiously, not sure if he believed the story, but thinking that Kaiyo didn't have the guts to lie to him, either.

"I can't stay very long," she added. "She always checks on me throughout the night." She looked up to meet Jack's stare. "I know that must seem silly to you."

"No, it's just... strange. My dad couldn't give a fuck about me. I can leave the house for days and he doesn't even fucking notice." He looked up to see that Kaiyo was pulling a face, looking infinitely uncomfortable, and he understood. "Fuck, I didn't mean to curse. I mean. Shit. Ah. Sorry... sorry." He started to laugh then, for the first time all day. "I'm really bad at this."

Kaiyo smiled a little too. "It's alright," she said, fixing him with one of those rare looks that lasted longer than five seconds, like he was a puzzle she was trying to figure out. She averted her gaze to her lap for a moment, and then seemed to brighten. "I brought you something," she said, reaching inside the pocket of her jacket to reveal a small gift wrapped in green tissue paper and tied off with a red bow. Their fingers brushed when she handed it to him. "It's for Christmas. I wanted to give it to you now, since I won't see you until after New Year's."

Jack fingered the small gift, turning it around in his palm as he inspected it. Something warm settled in his chest at having been given a gift, the first he'd received in years. He felt her eyes on him and looked up.

"I didn't get you anything," he confessed.

"I don't expect anything from you in return," she told him. "Accept it as a very late thank you present if you must. For helping me."

Jack smirked at her. "That was months ago."

"He hasn't bothered me since, though."

"Good," Jack shot back, his face twisted into a grimace, and he unconsciously gripped the present tighter. "Because I'd wring his neck if he did."

Kaiyo didn't reply to that, and Jack knew he'd probably overstepped his bounds. He didn't know anything about the guy, really, didn't even know if they were friends or just some jerk who liked to pick on girls half his size to make himself feel better from whatever little fucked-up complex he was obviously suffering from. Maybe he was an ex-boyfriend.

He swallowed when he realized how the word ex-boyfriend tasted on his tongue. He looked at Kaiyo, saw her blush, and consoled himself with the knowledge that Kaiyo had probably never dated in her life. There was no way.

The vinyl squeaked when he shifted. He was eager to change the subject. "Do I have to wait until Christmas to open it?"

"Please? So you'll have something to look forward to."

Jack snorted quietly and looked away. It had just begun to snow again outside.

"It'll be the only thing to look forward to."

Winter break sucked.

Jack wouldn't see Kaiyo again until after the New Year, and he felt fucking miserable. He worked long hours to keep busy, and when he was home he slept or read to pass the time. Mostly he just tried to stay out of his dad's hair. He was on his pills again, which was never a good sign, especially when he started mixing medications and not-so-wisely chose to flush them down with alcohol. Jack hoped he fucking choked on them.

He'd had to call 911 on more than a couple of occasions throughout the years, because of the med abuse. Often he'd wondered what would have happened if he hadn't called, how different his life would have turned out if he'd just let his old man die.

Subconsciously he already knew—the system was dying to get their hands on him. It was no secret that his dad was abusive. Social services—and the police—had been called on more than one occasion, always prompted by concerned next door neighbors, worried by the loud crashes and shouts that resounded from the Napier household. The school knew of his abuse too, that was evident by the way his principal and guidance counselor had tried to corner him into counseling.

The issue never would get resolved, though. Jack's father was too much of a smooth talker to let that happen. He could be downright charming when he wanted to be, even when he was piss drunk off his ass. He knew how to put on a show. That was one trait Jack took after his father. He'd have years to perfect it, of course, but they could both turn on the theatrics when they wanted, when self-preservation kicked in and the will to survive was the only prevailing thought.

In his spare time during break, Jack thought a lot of Kaiyo, wondered what she was doing, if she was thinking about him, if she was busy packing for her trip that'd she leave for in only a few short days.

He wondered if she was as pathetically desperate to see him as he was her.

He found his behavior baffling, really, because he wasn't the kind of guy who pined after girls, or got lonely and felt so desperate for human interaction that his stomach ached when he was without it.

He didn't have friends. Kaiyo was the only one. He supposed it was just one of those things where you didn't really know what you were missing until it taken away from you. It made Jack realize how shitty his life had been before he'd met Kaiyo.

It was so fucking stupid, and he hated himself for it.

At twelve AM on Christmas, after hours of tossing and turning in bed and otherwise getting his sheets so wrapped around his legs that he nearly cut off all circulation... Jack reached over to his nightstand and went to open Kaiyo's gift. The bedside light was flicked on, and Jack had to blink his eyes shut a moment to adjust. He sat up on his side and pushed his hair out of his eyes so he could see. When he tore the paper away, it was to reveal a small, rectangular white box.

Inside was a handmade bracelet.

It was unlike any of the bracelets he'd seen Kaiyo wear or make before. This one was made of dark, smooth brown leather and was thick in width. The ends were meant to be clasped together by two brown, leather bands that could be tied in a knot.

Jack smoothed his thumb along the leather, pausing only when he felt a strange ridge or some kind of indentation. He shifted closer to his bedside table to bring it under the light. Inscribed in tiny block lettering was the word PUSH.

He frowned at that, wracking his brain and thinking back to past conversations; he had to wonder if this was some kind of joke or topic they'd discussed that he didn't remember.


Was she trying to tell him something?

He retracted the bracelet from under the light and put it on. The leather was cool as it slid around his wrist, and he did his best to tie it off into a double knot using only one hand.

Then he turned off the light, lay on his back, and crossed his arm over his abdomen, tracing his fingers across the leather of his wrist with his other hand.

He fell asleep thinking of Kaiyo.

On New Years Eve, Jack sat on the roof of his house with a bottle of whiskey and drank. Fireworks exploded into the sky in the distance, a blast of color, and drunken neighbors a few blocks down were chasing each other with sparklers. Their raucous laughter faded in and out of Jack's ears as he reclined on the snowy roof, their shouts interspersed with the crackling and popping of fireworks.

Another year, dead and gone. It was interesting how fast time seemed to move when you got older, Jack mused. When you're young, time moves at this glacial crawl, slow as molasses. Christmas can't seem to come fast enough, summer lasts forever, three weeks away from home feels like a year, and eight-hour car rides to Uncle Jim's house might as well be the equivalent of three days.

The world was bigger back then, Jack thought. Trees seemed taller, the woods somehow scarier and seemingly infinite, like you could walk forever in them, get lost and never be found. The sun was hotter, the winters not as cold. Space felt closer too, the moon and the stars and glittering galaxies in reach if only he could find a tree tall enough to climb to touch them.

Movies felt different back then, too. Dinosaurs and aliens and pirates and board games that made things come to life all felt like things that could really happen. They were never fantasy back then, just things that the world hadn't figured out how to do.

Christmas trees were magical, food was sweeter, spicier, saltier. Bruises healed more quickly and scars were a thing of beauty, something to be proud of and show off to friends. Now they made people recoil and shoot him pitying looks—they were flaws, now, not battle wounds to boast about.

Another year, dead and gone. Why did it feel like with every passing year, a piece of Jack died along with it too?

He hoped Kaiyo was having a much better New Year's than the shitty, one man self-pity party he was currently throwing himself.

On the first day back to school, Jack arrived early. It was probably the first time he'd arrived early to school in his entire life. He waited just inside the school (temperatures were below freezing and the morning sky still dark, he wasn't about to risk losing his extremities to the cold) and chewed at his lip impatiently. The moment Kaiyo walked through the doors, he grinned and pulled her into a nearby empty office. It was under construction and cans of plaster and paint sat in the middle of the floor. He closed the door behind him.

Kaiyo let out a girlish squeal, not worried, just startled—but relaxed when she realized it was him. He grinned as he picked her up and spun her around. It was something he'd done without even thinking about it, like they were lovers who'd been separated by war for years or some shit. Jack didn't care. He was just happy to see her.

"Jack," she breathed, clutching his arms so as not to lose balance. She was breathless and looked dazed to see him, or perhaps that was because he'd literally just swept her off her feet. "Hi."

"Hello, stranger." He grinned at her and drank in her features like always. "Did you miss me?"

And then Kaiyo blushed and Jack smirked at her, knowing. "I—"

"Don't be embarrassed," he interrupted, laughing. "I missed you too. Did you have a good break?"

"It was the best," Kaiyo gushed, briefly biting on her lower lip, as if she just couldn't contain her smile. "My trip was amazing, I made so many new friends and I learned so much."

Jack found her enthusiasm contagious and smiled at her, happy that she was happy. "New friends, uh? Nobody to replace me though, I hope."

Kaiyo bit her lip again, and, in a moment of bold flirtatiousness, she shook her head. "Absolutely not. You're irreplaceable," she told him, without a hint of a blush.

Something inside Jack's chest fluttered at that, and he had to ignore the way his heart was pounding in his ears. "Why, Kaiyo, I think that's the nicest thing you've ever said to me," he teased.

Before she could respond, the bell rang, shrill and demanding, and Kaiyo pulled a face. "I have to go. I'll see you at lunch?"

"Of course."

She smiled at him, and then opened the door to rush off to her class. Jack watched her go for a moment, and it wasn't until she had disappeared that he remembered that he'd forgotten to ask her what 'PUSH' meant.

Apparently there was so much to talk about that Jack kept forgetting to ask her what it meant. It completely slipped his mind at lunch, and the day after that, and the day after that. He wore the bracelet every day, and if she noticed she didn't let on, didn't mention it, and Jack rolled his eyes every time he got home and realized he'd forgotten again to ask her of its meaning.

As Jack climbed the steps to his room, he mused over the saying, "absence makes the heart grow fonder" and how it wasn't entirely untrue. Kaiyo and Jack were closer than ever before now. Jack had never smiled and laughed so much in his life, and it was all because of her. On the walk to her house, they took small detours and had snow fights, pelting each other with snowballs until they couldn't feel their fingers and toes. Other times they sat on the swing set at the nearby park and talked, fingers gliding along the smooth metal chains as they told stories or exchanged secrets.

It was elementary, almost, this feeling Jack felt towards Kaiyo. He wasn't in love with her, but there was something almost crush-like in the way he felt about her. He adored her, would do anything for her if she asked. He wanted to buy her things and spend all his time with her, and she made him happy and light. He still clashed with his father at home, but he realized that was a problem that would probably never go away, not until his old man bit the dust, and his thoughts were so strung-up around Kaiyo that he wasn't really affected by it anymore.

With that knowledge, each day it became harder and harder to part with her. His time with her was already limited as it was—lunch was only half hour, and the walk home from school only five minutes more than that—and he wished more than anything he could hang out with her or they could just go somewhere.

However, they continued their routine as usual. January and February and March dragged on to April and May, and then suddenly it was June and there were only seven days left of school. Summer had come much faster than he had ever imagined it would, and with it a sense of looming dread. Would he be able to see Kaiyo during the summer? Would she be gone for three months on vacation? Would her grandmother forbid her from leaving the house and make her study all summer?

They talked about it at lunch one day, and Jack tried not to let his panic seep through his voice.

"So... what are your plans for the summer?" he tried, hoping to keep his tone conversational as he picked at his salad, but he was unable to keep his eyes off Kaiyo's face as he waited for a response.

"Absolutely nothing," she said, and she sounded so disappointed when she said it—but Jack couldn't help but be secretly thrilled. Still, he feigned a look that matched her own.

"How come?"

Kaiyo set down her fork and sighed. She'd recently gotten bangs, and now they shielded part of her eyes and she was constantly fighting to keep them tucked behind her ear. "I always go to this Bible camp every summer. It's for four weeks. They were counting on me to volunteer, but Nana said we don't have the money for it this year and—"

"Wait, you have to pay to volunteer?"


Jack frowned. "Kaiyo, tell me you see the problem with that."

She shook her head at him. "It's not like that at all. It's just small volunteer work, mopping the floors, doing the dishes. I still have to pay for food, and the cabin I sleep in..."

"Seems to me like all the work you do should be collateral for that. It is volunteer work. You're not getting paid."

Kaiyo smiled, sadly. "You're missing the point."

Jack was quiet for a moment, then he pushed his tray of salad aside, deciding he was finished pretending he was interested in it. "Hey," he said, catching her attention. He put his elbows on the table where his tray had been and leaned forward. "What if I told you could have the best summer ever with someone. Would you be interested?"

Kaiyo cocked her head at him, and Jack grinned at that because he knew it was a habit she had picked up from him. "With who?" she asked.

"Me. The most handsome guy you know, of course."

Her quick-witted reply made him smirk. "Arrogance is not very becoming on you," she informed him, but she was blushing anyway.

"Please," Jack scoffed, and he leaned back with a wicked smile on his face. "You like it."

Kaiyo's only response was to flush further, and Jack watched her with pleased glint in his eyes, waiting for her to speak.

"Well?" he prompted.

Kaiyo looked at him. "What did you have in mind?"

Jack grinned. "I thought you'd never ask."

Kaiyo was uncomfortable with the idea, initially. To pull this off, she had to come up with a lie to convince her grandmother that she was off doing something important, or responsible—something that decidedly did not involve her hanging out all summer with a boy that her grandmother would not approve of in a thousand years.

The lie she came up with was quite brilliant, actually, at least by her standards. She'd never done something like this before. Kaiyo was somewhat gifted at playing the flute, and it was with much convincing that her grandmother let her take part in the band camp at school. Additionally, since it was funded by the school, Kaiyo had no other expenses to pay. She had a friend on the team who could vouch for her if any suspicions by her grandmother were raised, but the risks were minimal. Kaiyo's grandmother rarely ever left the house, considering the outside world to be a horrible, foul place, and she knew very little about what went on in Kaiyo's school, or what groups she was a part of, and the classes she was taking. None of that mattered to her grandmother, so long as Kaiyo turned in her homework on time and received all A's. Which she did.

Jack picked up on the first ring.

"What did she say?" he asked, and he would be lying if he said the five seconds it took her to answer weren't the longest of his life.

"She bought it," he heard Kaiyo whisper over the phone.

"Seriously? Everything?"

"She said as long as I can pay for the uniform myself. Mindy is letting me borrow her old one."

"I can't believe it. This is actually going to work."

Kaiyo swallowed. "I don't know about this, Jack," she confessed, her voice still a whisper. "I've never lied to Nana. Not like this. I feel sick to my stomach. This is so wrong. It's wrong, Jack, I—"

"Kaiyo, Kaiyo, please," he hushed. He leaned his head against the wall where he was sitting on his bed and closed his eyes. "Please don't back out on me, this is going to work, I promise." Please don't make me go the entire summer without seeing you, he begged. He was silent then, waiting to see if she'd speak, but she remained silent. "It really isn't so bad, Kaiyo, it isn't. Your grandmother is overprotective. You need this, you deserve to get out, to have some fun for once. Don't kid yourself into thinking you don't deserve that."

It was probably the most impassioned and impromptu 'speech' he'd ever given, and he waited with impatience for Kaiyo's answer.

He heard her let out a shaky, withering breath. "I do really want to spend the summer with you."

Jack felt himself smile—relieved—into the phone. "I want that too. I promise to make it worth your while."

Kaiyo nodded even though he couldn't see her, and then Jack heard that familiar sound of her shuffling around, and a thump as something hit the floor.

"Ow," Kaiyo mumbled.

Jack grinned to himself curiously. "Kaiyo, where are you?"

"Um. In my closet?"

He laughed into the phone and knew she was blushing. "I thought so."

The plan was almost ruined before it even began.

School had let out two days ago, and Kaiyo was about to leave at her scheduled time to meet Jack. Her grandmother was waiting at the bottom of the staircase when Kaiyo came down, trying not to shake like a leaf as he grandmother inspected her with a critical eye.

"Goodbye, Nana," she said, offering a smile she hoped wasn't too strained.

"And where do you think you're going?"

Kaiyo froze. "Band camp, Nana, you said I could, remember?"

"Dressed like that?" she scolded in her thick, Japanese accent. Her sharp, thin brows were drawn together like a caricature of some cartoon animal who was meant to look perpetually angry. "Where is your uniform? And your flute?" she cried. The smack that suddenly met Kaiyo's cheek almost made her fall back against the stairs. "You stupid girl! So unprepared. What are you thinking? Go. Go!" She threatened to smack Kaiyo again, and Kaiyo raced up the stairs, breathing hard more out of fear than pain.

She fought back tears as she quickly pulled off her clothes and changed into Mindy's ill-fitting band uniform. How could she have been so stupid?

She retrieved her flute from her closet—she hadn't used it in years—and managed to compose herself before slowly descending the staircase, mentally wracking her brain to see if she'd forgotten anything else. Her grandmother was still waiting. She paused at the bottom of the staircase, waiting inspection.

"Better," the older woman said. She had a rolled up newspaper in her hand this time, and naturally Kaiyo flinched as she walked past to get to the door.

"Your curfew is nine," she said.

"I know, Nana," she said, not unkindly.

"Then don't forget it."

And with that, she was unceremoniously shoved onto the porch, and there was the familiar clang as the metal crucifix slammed against the door when it closed.

She stared at the pained expression on Jesus's face for a moment, and then quickly raced off the porch.

"You're really wearing it," was the first thing Jack said to her when he saw her. He was smiling as he watched her approach. "I can't believe you're actually wearing it. I thought you were going to tell her you'd change when you got there, but this is—" And that was when Jack stopped, his amused expression slipping from his face in an instant when he realized what was wrong.

Kaiyo looked on the verge of tears.

He was immediately alert, rushing to her and digging a hand under her chin to force her eyes to his. "Kaiyo, hey, what's the matter? Look at me, what happened?" She kept trying to look down, and he could see the tears forming in her eyes, right there, and something in Jack felt like it broke, like some vital organ just stopped working in its entirety. His blood turned to ice.

He forced Kaiyo's head up regardless of her protests, and when he did he understood why she had not wanted him to see her. An angry, red mark was blooming across her cheek, painfully apparent against the stark white of her skin.

Kaiyo met his gaze with an expression of shame and betrayal and sadness and a hundred other emotions all wrapped into one. "She hit me," she said, and she had to gasp in a breath when the words left her mouth. She set down her flute case on the ground, like she just couldn't carry it anymore. "I thought things were getting better. I prayed and I thought it was finally over and we were getting along and she hit me—"

Jack's arms were around her in an instant, engulfing her body in a tangle of long limbs as he pulled her flush against him and cradled her head against his chest with one hand, the other wrapped around her waist, protective. She cried freely then, right there on the sidewalk, her small hands gripping the chest of his thin t-shirt with a vice. Her arms were trapped between them.

"Shh, sh, I've got you. I've got you, Kaiyo." He whispered soothing words to her until the sobs wracking her body quieted enough to where she could breathe normally again.

Even then, he didn't let go. He rubbed circles into her back and smoothed her hair as she sucked in a lungful of breaths.

It was strange to think that in their almost eight months of friendship, this was the first time they had ever hugged. Kaiyo's smallness and fragility became even more apparent to him during that moment. She felt so tiny against him, almost doll-like in the sense that he worried he might break her bones if he held too tight, because surely they were made of glass.

Kaiyo was the first to pull away, and Jack was reluctant to let her, although he recognized that in doing so she might be able to breathe easier. He kept his hands on her forearms, half afraid that she might try to run away if he didn't. He watched her wipe away her tears with the back of her wrist, sniffling.

"I'm sorry," she choked. "I can't do this, I can't lie to her," she said, and Jack felt his heart shatter into a hundred thousand shards, sharp-toothed and spiked against his rib cage. "She'll find out and I'll never see you again and everything will change, and I—"

"Kaiyo," he interrupted, and his voice was enough to startle her out of her panic. He was only half aware of the way his nails dug into her skin when he tugged her close. "Don't talk like that. You've come this far, alright? Don't back out on me... please. You can do this. I know you can." He swallowed, briefly shut his eyes. "Just... let me take you somewhere, okay? I want to show you something."

He gave Kaiyo time to answer, fixing her with an unwavering stare.

She wiped her eyes again and looked up at him. She nodded.

"Okay," she whispered.

They walked in silence on the way there, and Jack's mind was racing the entire way. He glanced at Kaiyo out of the corner of his eyes periodically, making sure she was okay.

The walk wasn't long, but it was long enough to give Kaiyo a peace of mind and sense of safety and, most importantly, distance from her grandmother. She would never find them here.

'Here' in question was actually a tall, abandoned office complex. It was not in bad shape, save for a few broken windows. They had to duck between a break in the chain-link fence to get closer, and Jack pulled back the wall of the fence as far as he could, almost like a curtain, as he waited for Kaiyo to gingerly step through.

"What is this?"

As they neared, Kayio noticed a black cat digging through the metal garbage cans near the back door, and it spooked when it saw them, arching its back and hissing in warning.

"It's abandoned, don't worry," he replied. At the back door, he knelt down and clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. "Heeeere Sasha, come 'ere." He slowly dragged his fingers through the mixture of gravel and dirt at his feet, teasing, and the little cat came charging, pouncing on his hands with the sole determination to immobilize them. Really, though, he just wanted to play. Jack smirked at the cat and scratched it behind its ears. "She pretends to be a lot more ferocious than she really is," he told her, looking up at Kaiyo, who was standing over him. "Here, pet her." Jack scooped up the cat against its protests, but it's bared, sharp teeth did not deter him. He cradled the cat as Kaiyo knelt down and hesitantly scraped his belly with her free hand. The cat swatted at her hand with an offended paw and squirmed out of Jack's grip. "I think she likes you," he smiled.

Kaiyo smiled, too. "I think she wants you to put her down."

"She loves me," he replied, even as he set her down and the cat skittered back to his post, watching them from behind the safety of the trash bins. Jack stood, dusting the dirt from his knees. "Let's go inside."

It took a minute for him to pry open the door, and he had to shove his shoulder against it a couple times, using the weight of his body to pry it loose from the doorjamb. Kaiyo was looking around with an expression of concern, afraid they were going to get caught. It was still daylight out—though dusk would be falling soon—and they were in plain view should anyone decide to walk by. She was so distracted that she did not even notice that Jack had managed to pry open the door.

"Kaiyo, you coming?"

He was standing inside the building now, holding the door open for her. With one last, hesitant look around her, she stepped over the threshold and joined him. When the door closed, the room was bathed in black.


"It's alright, I'm right here." Gently, he reached for her hand and slid their palms together, cupping her hand in his, like the way you would a child when you were guiding them across a busy street. "Follow me."

If Kaiyo blushed, he did not see it.

But follow him she did, trailing behind him up countless flights of stairs. She could not see a thing in front of her, and she stumbled more than once, her flute case banging against the steps.

"You're not bringing that thing next time," Jack told her, and Kaiyo nodded her agreement, though he couldn't see that either.

Finally, just when Kaiyo was about to protest that she did not want to climb another step, Jack released her hand and was prying open another door. The stairwell was flooded with light, and Kaiyo had to blink back the brightness even though she was so relieved to see it.

Jack held the door open wide for her and offered a small smile. "Come look."

Kaiyo looked up at him as she stepped through the door, catching her foot on the landing and nearly falling—but not before Jack caught her. Their eyes locked and Kaiyo felt herself blush.

"Watch your step," he whispered, and when he released her arm, Kaiyo swore his fingertips left flames in their wake that continued to lap at her skin for hours after. She flushed further and turned her attention to where Jack was looking. She realized suddenly that they were on the roof of the building, and her mouth opened in an 'O', awed by the scenery around her. She set her flute case down by the door and stepped forward as if drawn—and perhaps she was, because the sun was sitting just so on the horizon, a bright, orange disc that set the entire landscape ablaze. All of Gotham was visible from here, the skyscrapers in the inner sitting shimmering with a metallic gleam. They seemed mobile, almost, with the way the sun danced and played off their sleek glass windows. Wayne Tower was the most visible of all. Kaiyo didn't realize she was standing on the edge of the roof—palms planted on the wall that was at waist-level—until Jack joined her, mirroring her posture.

"Bet even the Prince of Gotham doesn't have a view like this," Jack said, watching Kaiyo out of the corner of his eye.

Kaiyo hummed in agreement, still transfixed by her surroundings.

The air seemed clearer up here, fresher. Without thinking about it, she took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Her fingers curled against the concrete wall and she smiled.

Jack watched her, just as transfixed as she, but for entirely different reasons.

He didn't speak again until Kaiyo had opened her eyes.

"I thought we could come here every day," he said. "Nobody will find us here, and this way we won't run into any friends of your grandmother's or something."

Kaiyo nodded. It was a good idea.

"What do you think?" he pressed.

She smiled to herself, lowering her lashes against the glare of the sun. "I think I like it up here."

Jack nodded. "Me too."

After that, they were silent for a while, content to simply enjoy each other's presence.

"I don't know how people can look at this and not believe in God, in creation," Kaiyo said.

Jack turned to look at her. "What? This filth?" He snorted. "You can't see the dirt in the cracks and blood stains on the pavement from this far away, Kaiyo."

But Kaiyo shook her head at him. "That's not what I mean." She licked her lips and when she spoke again, there was a confidence in her voice that he'd never heard before. "I mean the sun, how radiant it is, and all the different shades of sky. And the way the wind feels when it touches you, like it's meant to transcribe secrets into your skin. And all these seasons... winter, spring, summer, and the way the leaves change and how things die when its time, and new things grow in their place." She turned back to look out over the cityscape. "It can't all be random happenstance."

For once, Jack did not have a reply for her. His eyes dropped to the slight swell on Kaiyo's cheek, where her grandmother had hit her, and if Kaiyo noticed his gaze linger, she did not acknowledge it. He turned back to look out over the city as well, thinking that if God really did exist, he must be very, very far away from here and not give a damn about the girl beside him.

The next day, Kaiyo came dressed again in her band uniform, carrying her flute case. She was smiling this time when she approached, and Jack smiled too, pleased to see her, but most of all relieved that she did not appear to be hurt.

"I brought a change of clothes this time," she said, and he noticed she was in fact carrying a backpack with her.

"Good. You can change when we get there." Then he smiled, a mischievous glint in his eye, and tugged on Kaiyo's free hand. "Come on, I want to show you something."

They jogged nearly the whole way there, Jack pulling her along until Kaiyo started to protest.

"Jack, slow down," she said, breathless but smiling, eager to see what Jack had planned.

He helped her through the chain-link fence, and then offered a salute to Sasha in passing. The cat was peering at them with slightly-less suspicion in her large green eyes than last time.

"She's warming up to us already," Jack grinned.

The air that afternoon was hot, summer already in full swing, and the stairwell even more so. It was stuffy and humid, and Kaiyo was grateful when Jack offered to carry her flute case.

"You should leave it here this time," Jack offered. "Just tell your grandmother you left it in your locker at school."

Kaiyo nodded her consent. "She had me practice for her last night," she told him, quiet for a moment so she could focus on breathing as she climbed. She'd have done just about anything for an elevator. "I had to make something up on the spot," she concluded.

Jack felt his muscles go rigid, expecting the worst, and he stopped on one of the landings to wait for her to catch up. "And?"

"She said I was terrible and that it's a good thing I'm going to band camp."

Jack snorted at that, relieved. "Maybe you really will have to practice," he mused. "Depends on how terrible you are," he teased, sounding thoughtful. "I don't want my eardrums to suffer."

Kaiyo had the audacity to reach out and hit him for the remark. Except, it was in the dark, and she ended up accidentally hitting his butt.

Both of them stopped in the darkness of the stairwell, and Jack could feel Kaiyo's blush.

"Did you just slap my ass?"

"I'M SO SORRY," Kaiyo cried. Her face was flaming. "Oh Jack, it was a complete accident, I promise! I'm so, so sorry, I didn't mean to—"

Kaiyo didn't get to finish. Jack was doubled over in laughter, his body folded in half as he rested his forehead on the cool railing. Kaiyo didn't say anything, too embarrassed to stop him as his laughter echoed off the walls around them.

"Geez, Kaiyo, if you wanted to cop a feel on me you coulda just asked."

Kaiyo put her hands to her face, covering her cheeks, thankful Jack couldn't see her. She felt like she was two-hundred degrees. "I'm so mortified."

Jack laughed again, and his cheeks ached from smiling so much. The stairwell creaked when he started climbing. "I gotta watch myself from now on. Maybe you should walk in front. I mean, man, I don't know about you, but I feel violated."

"Jack!" she cried, indignant.

When they reached the top only a moment later, Jack was still grinning. "Okay, okay, I'll stop. You're really just too easy to tease." He sobered quickly, standing up straight with a hand on the door knob. The voice he donned was one of pure professionalism. "Now, are you ready?"

Kaiyo giggled and then nodded, embarrassment quickly forgotten. "Yes."

He could hear the excitement in her voice, and he pushed open the door for her and stepped through.

What was revealed to her made Kaiyo's heart skip a beat.

"Oh, Jack," she breathed.

He grinned, eyes trained on her face to capture all of her expressions. He felt pride swell in his chest when she turned to him and threw her arms around his neck. He had to dip a little to accommodate her, and even then she was still on her tiptoes. She released him with a sigh, looking happier than he'd ever seen her.

"You did this for me?"

Jack shrugged, staring at her. "Who else?" And it wasn't flippant or said like he was brushing off her thanks, but spoken rather matter-of-factly, because really: who else? She was the only one. His only friend.

She seemed to know what he meant, the heaviness of his words. She looked at him a little longer than normal, and then she smiled. He followed her as she sat down on the beach recliners he'd provided. They were old things he'd found stuffed behind cardboard boxes in the garage, and he knew his dad wouldn't miss them.

Jack took a seat next to her on his own recliner, kicked up his feet, and crossed them at the ankles as he leaned back. In between them, a blanket had been set on the ground, and various plastic tubs of food had been arranged. In the center of it all, there was a short, cylindrical tube used for plumbing (Jack had found it amongst the junk that Sasha liked to sift through) that was filled to the brim with a colorful array of handpicked flowers.

Kaiyo smiled as she inspected them, looking at each flower with such adoration and wonder, like they each had a different story to tell.

"Thank you so much for this. I hardly know what to say."

"Don't say anything. Please, eat. I tried to get your favorites..."

And her favorites he did. There was cheesy macaroni (which was still semi-warm, and Jack couldn't be blamed for that, he had tried to hurry them along), two cans of ginger ale, ham and cheese sandwiches with mustard and mayo, salad lobbed with ripe strawberries and cherry tomatoes, and finally, a tiny, store-bought lemon cheesecake, with enough slices for four.

"You are hungry, right?"

"Absolutely!" Kaiyo was already digging in. Jack watched her prepare a paper plate. "Nana doesn't let me eat before practice," she explained, like it was the most normal thing in the world. "Says it's good discipline and would help me focus—but really it just makes me think about food!" She said this as she scooped an extra tomato into her salad, smiling at Jack. "Aren't you going to eat too?"

"Yeah, yeah," he said, getting his own plate and pretending to occupy himself with getting just the right amount of mac and cheese onto his plate. Inside, his stomach was in knots and the desire to eat had vanished. He thought about Kaiyo's small size and wondered if her grandmother always had a say in how or when Kaiyo ate. He frowned as he thought about how to best broach the subject.

"Does she always do that kind of thing? I mean like... tell you when you're allowed to eat?"

She finished swallowing before she answered. "We have set meal times, if that's what you're asking? We don't have snacks in the house, so I eat only whenever she's prepared something."

The matter-of-fact way in which she said this astounded Jack. She had to know that wasn't normal behavior, right? He tried to imagine what it'd be like if his father was like that, if Jack was only allowed to eat when his father prepared him something.

If that were the case, Jack would never eat. His father couldn't even boil water without burning it.

That aside, his old man hadn't used the kitchen in years, only the fridge, where there was always copious amounts of six packs and other alcohol.

When he thought about the lunches he shared with Kaiyo in the school cafeteria, he recalled the way she always finished her meal, every single morsel of food, even on Meatloaf Mondays, when they served their infamous meatloaf and soggy mashed potatoes.

"Jack?" Kaiyo's soft voice drew him out of his thoughts. He looked at her to see that she was staring at him with a confused look in her eyes. "You okay there?"

He nodded, perhaps a bit too quickly, but he did that sometimes, especially when it came to Kaiyo, so he hoped she wouldn't notice.

Kaiyo never did end up changing into her other set of clothes that night. After they had eaten their fill, they lounged on their respective chairs and stared up at the sky, talking about anything and everything that crossed their minds.

The air had grown a bit cooler once the sun fell, and Jack packed away the food and offered Kaiyo the blanket he'd used as a makeshift table for Kaiyo to use. She took it from him gratefully and wrapped it around herself.

Jack pointed out constellations to her when the sky grew dark enough—because that was the cheesy, romantic, YA-novel type thing to do, and he felt pleased with himself that Kaiyo seemed so impressed.

"I don't know a lot about stars," she said. "Or anything about space, really. It's so vast. There are probably a thousand planets out there we haven't even discovered yet."

In the dusk, Jack turned in his chair to look at her, sliding a hand beneath his head to use as a makeshift pillow. "Yeah? Tell me about them."

"Tell you about them?"

"Yeah, what do you think they're like—the undiscovered planets, I mean."

"Well," she started, and off she went. Jack listened with rapt attention, enjoying the way Kaiyo sometimes pointed at the sky as she talked, unaware that Jack had turned to face her and was watching her only.

He loved the sound of her voice when she talked about things that intrigued her, things that made her inquisitive or things that left her awed. There was such wistfulness in her voice, a light, airy quality not interrupted with blushes or stutters or trailed-off sentences. No, she spoke with confidence if the subject was right, a self-assuredness that made Jack hang off every word.

Much later that night, when Jack stumbled into bed after a shower, he replayed all of Kaiyo's words and their shared conversations in his head. He thought about the delight in her eyes when she'd seen that he had prepared for her a picnic, and he smiled into his pillow when he remembered their little encounter in the stairwell. God, he wished he could have seen that blush, he was sure she had turned red all the way to her toes.

It was a bit surprising to him when Jack's thoughts took a definite turn south, and he wondered what sex with her would be like. He pulled a face and twisted in his sheets, trying to push the image from his mind—as if Kaiyo would somehow know he had thought about it and she'd be ashamed of him for it—but that didn't stop him.

He couldn't help but imagine her skin, how pale and soft it would be beneath her clothes. He wondered if she'd be just as shy in bed as she was in almost all their encounters. Or maybe she'd be confident and sure like she was when she talked about things she loved or things she wanted to try.

He imagined her riding him, smooth thighs splayed on either side of his hips, her hair let down and her hands pressed against his chest as she rocked herself on him. He felt his cock twitch beneath the sheets, interested in the picture his mind was supplying, and he groaned into his pillow as he turned over onto his belly.

Reaching for himself seemed like the next natural step, but he couldn't bring himself to do it, not to Kaiyo. The girl had probably never had an indecent thought in her entire life, and he couldn't bring himself to think about her in such a way. She was his friend. Just his friend.

And perhaps that was the problem, because it was just then that he realized—after all the months of lunches and walks home and snow fights at the park—that Jack didn't see Kaiyo just as a friend anymore.

He closed his eyes and could not ignore the way his heart was thumping against the mattress.

He was in love with her.

This newfound realization changed very little between them, or, rather, the changes they did make were small. Jack stared a little longer at her than he usually might, always rushed to open doors for her, and otherwise attempted to be as gentlemanly as possible.

He supposed that the thing that changed the most was that he began to open up to her more, even more so than he had before. Being alone on the rooftop—and not surrounded by laughter and shouting and bad-smelling cafeteria food—helped too.

He told her about his nightmares and how sometimes he drew them. He liked to draw, and if he didn't get it down on paper, the nightmares would haunt him until he did. The only problem was, new nightmares would haunt him in their place. It was an endless cycle.

It was mostly scribbles, really, and his art was grotesque and scary, but Kaiyo seemed both intrigued and saddened to hear about them.

"I'm sorry you have such awful dreams all the time," she said.

Jack shrugged. He was used to them. "What about you?" he asked, twisting in his chair to look at her. The sun had dipped below the horizon hours ago, leaving in its wake a starless, midnight blue sky. There was a slight breeze blowing, and it tousled Kaiyo's bangs. She reached up to tuck them behind her ear, where they immediately slipped free. Jack smiled to himself.

"I don't have a lot of nightmares. Mostly I just dream of momma and poppa. My baby brother, too. I've only ever seen pictures of him."

Jack shot her a strange look. "You've never met your brother before?"

Kaiyo shook her head. "No."

It seemed to Jack that there was a story in there, but he knew if Kaiyo wanted to talk about it further, she would have. She didn't need his prodding, and he knew it wasn't his place to persist on a topic she didn't want to talk about.

He steered the conversation in other directions, and they talked and laughed breathlessly, and their smiles were visible only to the crescent-shaped moon above, like it was laughing along with them.

When nine o'clock neared and it was time for them to leave, Jack groaned and reclined his chair all the way down, so he was lying flat on his back.

"I don't want to go," he groaned. "Can't we just stay here all night?" He peeked open one eye to stare up at Kaiyo who was standing above him.

She blushed and took a step back, thinking of the implications of his words. "I'm not really sure if that'd be appropriate..."

Jack closed his eyes and grinned. "You might be right about that. I mean, seeing as how you just can't keep your hands to yourself..."

"You're never going to let me live that down, are you?"

Jack looked up at her, grinning. "Probably not, no." His chair scraped against the concrete as he pushed himself to his feet, towering over Kaiyo. "But come on, tell me you wouldn't want to spend the night out here when the moon looks like that." He pointed to it and Kaiyo looked on.

"It would be nice," she agreed. "But Nana will call the police if I'm even a minute late."

Jack snorted, though the amusement he felt wasn't quite genuine because he knew she wasn't kidding. "I have no doubt about that," he said.

They were both heading in the direction of the stairwell when Kaiyo noticed something glinting from behind the open door.

She stepped around Jack and bent down to reach for the item. He looked after her with a confused expression.

"What are you doing? What is that?"

Kaiyo stood and turned around, handing him the small, silver object.

"That's my knife," he said, taking it from her and turning it around in his hands. "It must have fallen out of my back pocket today when I was carrying everything up the stairs." He turned it over in his hands. "I thought I had lost it."

"You carry a knife with you?"

"It's just a pocketknife." And actually, it was a switchblade, but Kaiyo didn't have to know that.

"But why?"

Jack shrugged. "Just in case. It's Gotham," he said, as if that were reason enough.

"I guess so." She was staring at it with an uneasy expression.

Jack sighed. "If it makes you that uncomfortable, I'll just leave it here. I can come back and get it later sometime when you're not with—"

"Please." She interrupted, nodding. "Please."

Jack stared at her a moment and then nodded back, wondering why she was so freaked out over an item he carried with him for protection, nothing more. He put it back all the same, placing it in the same place he had found it.

"There. Happy?"

She nodded. "Thank you."

Jack and Kaiyo were into the fourth week of their routine when the weather took a turn for the worse. Just before leaving his house at four thirty, he caught glimpse of the weather advisory on the TV stating that all residents should limit their exposure to the outdoors if possible.

And Jack knew the weatherman wasn't kidding when he stepped outside and witnessed it for himself. The sun was blazing, and the air felt toxic with heat, making his clothes stick to his skin and beads of sweat slide between his shoulder blades. The armpits of his shirt were already damp by the time he reached their usual meeting spot on the sidewalk, a few streets down from Kaiyo's place.

When Kaiyo arrived, she was, as usual, dressed in that ill-fitting uniform and carrying her backpack with spare clothes she had yet to ever change into. They always got so caught up in talking that she usually forgot.

Jack smiled when he saw her and threw an arm around her shoulders. "How you doing today?" he greeted as they began their usual trek.

Kaiyo blew a puff of air out of her nose and seemed to slump under the weight of Jack's arm. "It's hot," she said, quietly.

"Mm," he hummed in agreement. He stopped then to take her backpack from her without asking, sliding the straps over his own shoulders.

"Jack, you really don't have to do—"

"Kaiyo, let me. I don't mind."

She didn't protest after that, and they walked for most of the way in silence. The sun continued to beat down on their shoulders and arms, and the closer they came to their destination, the more Kaiyo seemed to deflate. Her mouth had pulled into a tight frown, and Jack could see sweat beading along her brow.

He stopped them on the sidewalk under the shade of a nearby tree, putting a hand on her arm.

"Hey, do you want to go somewhere else today?

Kaiyo frowned even more at that, but she did seem interested. "It depends on what you have in mind..."

"How about that diner we went to that one time? It's not too far from here." Jack looked down for a moment to stuff a hand in his pocket, checking for change. He pulled out three crumpled ten dollar bills and a few nickels. "We can get out of the heat for a little while, at least."

Kaiyo nodded, and they headed in the direction of the diner.

It was considerably more packed this time, especially since it was close to dinner and people were just getting off work and picking up kids from daycare or their summer camps.

The place was bustling with people and chatter when they arrived, and it seemed they weren't the only ones desperate to escape the oppressive heat.

The two of them managed to navigate towards an empty table in the very back, in a cramped little one-man booth facing the wall. They had no other option but to sit side by side, shoulders pressed tight against each other and their thighs touching. Jack instantly found himself replaying scenes from his imagination from the other night, scenes involving Kaiyo on top with her thighs squeezed around his waist, mouth open, head thrown back, a broken moan tangled in her throat...

He blinked the image away and glanced at her, as if she had somehow noticed where his thoughts had strayed. However, she was busy surveying the diner, no doubt looking for familiar faces lest they needed to leave.

Darla was the one to greet them. "You two lovebirds back again," she smirked. "What'll it be this time?"

Kaiyo was no doubt blushing at the "lovebird" comment, but she was pointedly not looking at him.

"I'll have a water," she piped up, and because Jack knew that wasn't going to fly because water was free and they had the "no loitering" policy, he ordered them two cheeseburgers.

After Darla left, Kaiyo still wouldn't look at him, and what Jack had previously contributed to her annoyance with the heat, he realized now that something was wrong.

He attempted idle chatter until their food arrived, asking her what books she was reading in her spare time, telling her about his own stack at home. She nodded some when appropriate but remained mostly mute, only speaking when Jack asked open-ended questions that required more than a simple "yes" or "no" response.

When he pressed about her behavior and asked what was wrong, she replied by saying she was fine. "I'm just tired, is all." And then she'd go back to tracing patterns into the tabletop with her finger.

When their food was finished (and Kaiyo had eaten every last bite, and even some of his food, too, when he feigned that he was too full to eat another any more) and Kaiyo still hadn't spoken, Jack felt himself grow annoyed. A small child two booths behind theirs was crying, and a waitress had just dropped a platter of dishes on the other side of the diner, sending glass shattering everywhere.

He turned to Kaiyo as best he could given the tiny booth and her backpack that was shoved beneath the table and taking up much of his leg room.

"Kaiyo," be began, "I'm not an idiot. Just tell me what's wrong."

She sighed in response, and he watched the way her shoulders fell. She fingered the brass buttons on her uniform as he waited for her to speak.

"I don't want to tell you because I know you'll be upset," is what she whispered, and Jack had to strain to hear her above the din around them. The baby was still crying and Jack shot the family an angry glare over his shoulder before hunching closer to Kaiyo, ducking his face so he could look up into hers.

"Just tell me."


"Tell. Me."

She looked at him when he said it like that, and for a second he hated himself for using that tone with her, hated that he had made fear flash in her eyes like that. He opened his mouth to apologize, but Kaiyo lowered her head and spoke before him.

"She pushed me down the stairs. Nana, I mean." Jack stared at her. She did not look up. "I think it was an accident, that she hadn't meant to shove me so hard, but afterwards she said I deserved it. 'That's what I get,'" she quoted.

Kaiyo was right. Jack was angry. He felt his hands curl into tight fists at his sides, nails splintering the skin of his palms. It was an effort not to slam his fists against the table in his fury.

"Are you hurt?" he managed to grit out between clenched teeth.

She hesitated before answering. "My wrist... I landed on it funny when I fell. I have it bandaged... but it's fine," she added quickly. "It doesn't hurt that much."

Jack lowered his head and let out a breath through his nose, trying his damnest to remain cool. His hands shook beneath the table.

"I just thought it was all going to go away," she whispered, more to herself than to Jack. "I don't understand why she does this. I pray every night and I know that God can—"

Jack slammed his hand down on the table before she could finish, drawing more than a few pairs of eyes in their direction. The stares lasted only a few seconds before everyone turned back to their own business. Jack struggled to find a voice that wasn't thick with venom and disgust.

"How can you believe in a god who lets things like this happen? A god who kills and destroys and lets people starve and get raped and murdered and abused? How can you love a god who does nothing?" he spat.

Kaiyo was looking at him with such hurt and sadness in her eyes that it made Jack's heart clench in ways he wished it wouldn't.

"Jack... God didn't create us so he could punish us. He doesn't punish people at all. God—" Kaiyo sighed, pausing to search for the right words. "God created us for companionship, and for love. And the thing about God is that—is that he gave us a choice. He could have made us all robots, forcing us to love him against our will. But he didn't do that. He gave us a mind and the freedom of choice, the freedom to choose to love, or to not love. And he could have created a perfect world—and originally he did, before we tainted it with sin—but then, if everything were perfect, we would not know forgiveness, sadness, anguish, despair, and we'd be unable to appreciate their counterparts: love, happiness, awe, and a sense of peace."

She swallowed before continuing on. "God could step in and stop every bad thing from ever happening—but then he'd be taking away our freedom of choice, our freedom to do what we want and to experience the triumphs—or the consequences—of our actions. Sometimes people make bad decisions, or they do the wrong things, and sometimes God intervenes and sometimes he doesn't, but you have to have faith that it'll all work out for the greater good. You have to believe that, even when the world is gray and nothing seems to make sense. You have to believe."

Kaiyo took a breath after finishing, looking much calmer and composed than when she had started.

"I don't have all the answers, Jack. No one does. I suppose that's part of God's beauty though. People always say he works in mysterious ways... but what if they're not mysterious at all? What if we're all just too blind to see the bigger picture? The portrait that God is trying to paint."

"And what am I supposed to do? She hurt you, Kaiyo. Am I just supposed to sit here and do nothing about that? To just not feel anger and be content and know that it's all for the 'greater good'?" Jack shook his head, clenched his hands into fists again. "That's bullshit, Kaiyo. That's fucking bullshit and you know that," he snarled.

He stared at her, challenging, and his eyes were black and hard as stone. Kaiyo met his gaze with a look of her own, a look of disappointment that rattled Jack to his core, though he did not outwardly show it.

"To everything there is a season," she whispered, giving Jack a look that pinned him to his seat and seemed to immobilize his muscles.

And then she was sliding out of the booth, reaching for her backpack, and leaving without looking back.

Jack twisted to watch her go, observing her as she headed towards the exit. She thanked Darla for her service before she left. The door jangled behind her.

Jack sat back in his seat and unclenched his fists. He knew that verse. His mother used to read it all the time. It was the only verse she had ever highlighted in her Bible—a book which had since been tossed in the trash by his father. It'd been ages since he'd heard it out loud, and something inside Jack seemed to shift at those words, a familiar pang in his chest he hadn't felt in years.

Jack stared down at his palms, noticing the crescent moons he had dug there in his anger. He didn't know how long he sat there for, but when he looked up to glance outside, he realized it was dark out.


Kaiyo was walking home alone.

Jack fished all the money out of his pockets and threw it on the table, uncaring that he had overpaid by at least fifteen dollars, and that Darla would be getting a very nice tip.

She yelled at him as he ran out, thinking that he had skimped on paying, but he couldn't be bothered to explain the situation as he ripped open the door.

He had to find Kaiyo.

The moment his feet hit the pavement, he was sprinting full speed, blond hair flying around him, and his arms swinging in time at his sides.

The streets were dark but the night was still just as hot as day. The humidity seemed to cling to him, sliding down his throat through his open mouth and pooling low in his gut, an uncomfortable, churning presence.

He sprinted all the way to Kaiyo's house, stopping just short of the large oak next to the sidewalk. He ducked behind it and stared at her house, as if it could tell him Kaiyo was inside if he looked hard enough. But there wasn't a chance. The curtains and blinds were drawn shut as they always were, and the only indicator that anyone was home was the glow of the lone, yellow porch light.

And that's when it dawned on him: her grandmother only turned off the porch light when Kaiyo had come home.

She was still out there.

Jack took off in a jog without even thinking about it, retracing his steps and wondering if he had somehow passed her on the way. Perhaps she had taken a different route? But what other route was there?

He glanced at his wristwatch as he slowed his jog. It was only eight. Kaiyo didn't have to be home for another hour. Had she gone somewhere else? Surely she had if she wasn't home, but where? She was too nervous to go places where she might run into people she knew, or friends of her grandmother's...

That left only one place.

Jack increased his pace and felt his heart speed up along with him, drumming against his chest. He tried not to panic, tried to ignore the sense of dread that had settled in his stomach along with the tangled tendrils of humidity, but he couldn't knock the feeling that something had gone wrong, that Kaiyo was not safe.

He ran faster.

As the building came into view, Jack breathed a sigh of relief and tore his way through the fence. For once, Sasha was not there to greet him by the door when he forced it open. He tried not to let that make him uneasy too.

He raced all the way up the flight of stairs in the dark, tripping himself and falling on his hands and knees more than once.

He could see the moonlight pouring in at the top of the stairwell, where Kaiyo had left the door open, and he nearly groaned in relief. His chest ached from all the running, and his hands and knees were scraped from the stairwell where he had tripped.

He was already speaking by the time he reached the landing and was stepping on the roof.

"Kaiyo, I—"

His heart stopped when he realized she wasn't there.

"Kaiyo?" he called, stepping further out on the roof, eyes turning in every direction.

She wasn't here.

She wasn't here.

She wasn't here.

"Kaiyo!" he shouted, waiting with bated breath for her reply.

It never came.

"Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Where are you?"

He was racing down the steps again, skipping two, sometimes three steps at a time. When he reached the last flight, he skipped the stairs entirely and slid down the railing, landing on his feet at the bottom and rushing back out of the building.

On his way out of the chain-link fence, his shirt got caught and he cursed as part of the fabric ripped free.

He wandered aimlessly in the dirt just outside the fence, his heart beating a mile a minute. His mind was racing too as he tried to imagine the places she could have gone.

There were yellow bulldozers and other construction equipment scattered around him, all in various states of disuse and caked in dirt. He poked his head inside them as he passed, desperate to see Kaiyo huddled inside there. He cursed and kicked his foot against one of the giant tires, fingers grasping at his skull until his scalp burned.

Think, Jack, think.

Maybe she had gone back to her house? Jack checked his watch. It was almost nine. If he ran, he could probably make it in fifteen minutes.

"Fuck," he breathed. He didn't care that he was exhausted, that he just come from that direction only half an hour ago. He had to go back.

He ran all the way there, never once stopping to rest. He could see that the porch light was still on even from a few houses away, and his heart seemed to sink even deeper into his gut. He was breathless when he reached the steps and banged on the front door.

Kaiyo's grandmother opened it almost instantly, as if she had been standing by the door waiting.

"Where's Kaiyo? Is she here?"

Kaiyo's grandmother looked at him like he was the devil himself. "Who are you?" she demanded, her Japanese accent thick with anger.

Fuck, he didn't have time for stupid questions. Jack pushed past her in the doorway, frantic. "Kaiyo!" he shouted up the stairwell, gripping the banister.

"What do you think you're doing!" the older woman cried. "Get out of my house!"

Jack turned on her so fast it sent her hair flying. "Where is she? Please just tell me if she's here."

"She hasn't come home yet," the old woman replied, her face almost purple with anger. "You get out of my house right this instant!" she shouted.

Jack looked at her, really looked at her for the first time since entering, eyes raking over her features with hatred, recognizing that this was the woman who'd raised Kaiyo and made her life a living hell. This was the woman who had gripped Kaiyo's arms so hard that it left bruises, this was the woman who told Kaiyo she could eat only when she allowed it, the woman who hit Kaiyo and had pushed her down that same fucking stairwell he had been clutching only seconds ago.

He wanted to kill her.

But he didn't. Couldn't. He had to find Kaiyo.

He had to find Kaiyo.

He scowled at the old woman before leaving, shooting her a glare he hoped looked murderous.

She shouted something at him in Japanese as he left, but he was too busy running to pay attention, already sprinting down the sidewalk and back towards the diner. She had to be there. Maybe she was waiting for him? Maybe she felt bad about their fight and had come back to find him wanting to apologize?

He should be the one apologizing. He had acted like a complete jerk, angry at her for her faith, for something she believed in with all her heart. Jack would be a lucky man if he possessed even a third of the faith that she had, he realized that now.

Fuck, this was all his fault, if he hadn't just—

The thought died when he reached the parking lot of the diner. It was empty now, and a quick glance at his watch told him it was almost nine thirty. It looked empty inside. Darla was still there, refilling the napkin dispensers at the counter. She eyed him as he rushed towards her.

"Have you seen Kaiyo?" he asked, startled by how wrecked his voice sounded to his own ears.

Darla tilted her head at him and scrunched her nose. "Who? Your little girlfriend?"

Jack didn't have time to correct her. "Yes."

"Haven't seen her since she left earlier this evening. Looked upset, too." Darla clucked her tongue against the roof of her mouth and shook her head, her blonde bouffant swaying. "Boy, if you broke that little girl's heart you ought to feel ashamed of yourself," she scolded.

And Jack didn't say anything when he left, thinking only, I didn't mean to as he raced back out into the night.

He went back to the only place he knew—their secret hiding place—desperate and clinging to the hope that she was out there, looking for him. He tried not to imagine scenarios where she'd gotten kidnapped, or raped, or worse.

She's fine, Jack, you're getting yourself all worked up for no reason.

Except that everything wasn't fine, and Jack had never been more terrified than he was now.


He screamed her name over and over again, until his voice was hoarse and his throat raw from yelling.

He was breathing hard and bent over at the waist, trying to catch his breath outside the chain-link fence when he heard it.

His entire world came to a crashing halt, his body going rigid at the sound of a very faint, "help".

"Kaiyo," he breathed. He spun in a circle, eyes darting every which way, trying to locate the direction the noise had come from. "Kaiyo, please!"

And then he heard it again, a faint, distant, "Help."

He spun to his left. At the corner of the chain-link fence there was a small, dense patch of woods, mostly made up of weeds, broken slabs of concrete, and other scraps of discarded building materials.

Jack ran to it, gasping when the ground beneath him disappeared and he slid on his ass down the steep, grassy slope that led straight into a small creek. Water splashed around him at the impact, and it was a shock to his overheated body.

He pulled himself out of the water on his hands and knees and stumbled onto the opposite bank, clothes dripping with water, sweat-slicked curls plastered to his face.

And that's when he saw it.

When he lifted his head, Kaiyo was right there, not more than two arms-lengths away. She was lying in the grass.

In the dim, pale light the moon provided, he could tell by the metallic sheen that she was covered in her own blood.



He lunged towards her, closing the short distance between them as he knelt at her side, squinting at her in the dark. Fuck, why did it have to be so fucking dark?

"Kaiyo, what happened? Please tell me what happened." Jack's voice was frantic and his hands shook as he ran them over her body, feeling for the source of the blood flow.

His heart stopped when he felt the gash along her side, large and pouring blood in copious amounts.

"Oh, fuck. Kaiyo, Kaiyo, stay with me, okay? You're gonna be alright." He repeated the phrase over and over—more for his benefit than for hers, trembling as he bunched up the fabric of her uniform and pressed down on the wound. Pressure, right? Pressure on the wound would stop the blood flow.

Kaiyo cried out and weakly arched her back when he pressed down.

"My—my backpack," she choked. "They... they stole it. I tried... "

She was too winded to finish, and Jack leaned over her, shifting closer so he could grip her beneath her arms. "I'm gonna get you out of here, okay? We need to get you out of the creek."

For fuck's sake, he was trembling, his entire body thrumming with panic. He got up to move her, intending to carry her up the side of the slope and out of the woods.

Her hand on his arm, bloodied and warm, nearly made him jump out of his skin.


He looked at her, really looked at her for the first time that night, and it was just as the moon had moved into view, illuminating her face through the patchwork of branches and leaves above them. Pale beams flickered across her face as the trees swayed gently above, and he was struck by how ethereal she looked, how... calm. Her body was pale, drenched in sweat and slicked with streaks of blood where she had touched her face.

She smiled at him, and it was quick and fleeting, tight-lipped and strained, and Jack felt tears gathering behind his eyes before he knew how to stop them.

Her mouth was moving, and it took her a moment to find voice to speak.

"Pray... pray until something happens."

"What?" Jack could hardly hear her above the roaring in his ears. He leaned closer to her mouth. "What did you say?"

"Pray until something happens. It's—" she gasped for air suddenly, her chest expanding with the great effort it took to breathe, "—it's what your bracelet means."

Jack felt like his entire world had come to an abrupt stop, like he'd just been punched in the gut and the wind had been knocked out of him.

Everything clicked. PUSH. Pray Until Something Happens.

Jack started to cry. Tears flowed over his face as he grabbed Kaiyo's blood-slicked hands. Her eyes were beginning to flutter shut.

"Kaiyo, no, please, stay with me!" he cried. He moved to hold her face in his hands and leaned forward to press his forward against hers, as if he could somehow transfer his energy into her. "Oh god, oh god." He gripped her face hard, trembling all over. His lashes were wet against his cheek when he squeezed his eyes shut. "God, please, please do something. I promise I'll do anything for you, just please don't let her die. Don't do this to me. Please."

When Jack lifted his head, Kaiyo's eyes were closed, and her chest had stopped heaving.

"No... no, no, no."

Jack scrambled to his feet, chest heaving, heart pounding. His blood felt like ice as it surged through his veins.

Help. He needed to get help. With one last glance at Kaiyo, Jack scrambled up the slope, kicking up rocks and dirt in his wake as he ran. If he was fast enough, there might still be time to save her. He had to hope.

All the surrounding office buildings would be closed at this time of night, but there was a small twenty-four hour corner store just a few blocks away. It was his only bet.

He legs ached as he ran, muscles in his thighs and calves screaming, yet he did not stop.

He thought of the way Kaiyo had looked at him before leaving the diner, the look of sadness she had given him and, god, why hadn't he stopped her? Why hadn't he run after her and apologized? Begged for forgiveness? Fallen at her feet and told her what an idiot he was?

Running was impossible, not when his entire body was trembling like it was. He was nearly at the corner store when he heard the sound of sirens, and he'd never been happier to see the police than he was now. He slowed when the car pulled up next to him, sirens blaring and red and blue lights flashing. Five others police cars followed behind it, all coming to a stop, and they must have known, they must have heard about what had happened and they were coming to help.

Jack was crying when he approached them.

"Please, you have to have to help me, she's been stabbed and—"


Suddenly there were seven guns pointed at his face, and Jack's breath left him in one swift moment. He looked at them incredulously beneath the harsh glow of the streetlights. They looked angry.

"What?" he breathed.


Jack shook his head, eyes blown wide with fear. "No... no, no, no, you don't understand!" He scrambled, starting to back away. "You've got this all wrong. I'm trying to help her. She's dying—please—"


And then they were swarming him before he could explain further, tackling him to the ground in a movement that sent him face-first into the pavement, with barely enough time to brace himself for the impact. His arms were yanked behind his back as a police officer straddled his thighs. Cold metal was locked over his wrists. The click of the handcuffs resounded in his ears.

No. No.

"Jack Napier, you are under arrest for the murder of Kaiyo Satou. Anything you say can and will be held against you in court."

"Murder?" he breathed.

Hands were all over his body, checking his pockets for weapons. Their hands came back empty.

"Let me go! You don't understand!"

He was yanked to his feet. Colors of blue and red flashed in his peripheral amongst a sea of blue bodies. More police cars were arriving by the minute. The blare of sirens was deafening. His vision began to swim. He was dragged to a police car.

He was vaguely aware that bystanders had gathered and were staring at him, yet everywhere he looked was a blur, as if he was looking at the world through the lens of fogged glasses.

"You don't understand! You've got this all wrong!" he was saying to the police officer behind him, and even to his own ears his voice felt millions of miles away. "I'm trying to save her! Please, you have to let me go!"

His pleas fell on deaf ears, and it wasn't until Jack was shoved into the back of a police car that his world seemed to distort even more than it had before.

All alone in the back of the police car, the sirens around him seemed to fade, and the sound of the officers yelling became distant and far off. The only thing he could hear was the steady drumming of his heart, slamming against his rib cage like it wanted to break it open. People seemed to be moving in slow motion, and even his own limbs moved at a glacial pace, refusing to cooperate.

When Jack looked up, catching sight of himself in the rearview mirror, his eyes widened in horror.

Kaiyo's blood was streaked across his face.

Jack bowed his head and cried until he screamed.

Everything after that happened in a blur.

He spent a total of sixteen hours in questioning. Following that, he spent two days in a holding cell, and another five in a correctional institute until his court hearing.

His dad had disappeared the night Jack was taken in. Nobody had heard from him since.

Jack was provided with a lawyer from the state.

Kaiyo had been pronounced dead at the scene of the crime.

He cried when he found out. Instinctively, he knew she was not going to survive—he had watched her take her last breath—but the news still hit him like a thunderbolt all the same, shocking him to his core.

On the day of his hearing, Jack was herded into the courtroom, flanked by officers and security guards on either side. He was manacled and chained, all eyes in the room on him, and he felt like an animal being forced to parade around a circus tent for the enjoyment and pleasure of the spectators as they "oohed" and "awed" and said hushed little whispers. It made anger coil in his stomach until he was nearly sick with it.

But that was not all.

Kaiyo's grandmother was there, sitting straight-backed and defiant at the table left of his. She did not look at him when he entered, but he stared hard at her.

She looked like she hadn't shed a single tear. Her hair was short and jet black—just like Kaiyo's—but where Kaiyo's was soft and shiny and malleable, her grandmother's looked stiff and had been pulled into a tight knot at the back of her head, with not a single hair out of place.

Her eyes were not rimmed red from crying, her expression was one of stone, and her lips were thin, pale, and sealed tight.

Jack fucking hated her.

It was because of her that he was here.

Everyone took their seats. Jack's lawyer shuffled some papers around on the table, looking cool and composed. He was a short, balding man with a shiny head and a bit of a belly on him. He was clean-shaven though and dressed in all black. If Jack thought he looked a little bit like a penguin, he wasn't going to say. The man was fierce—although quietly so—and Jack had no doubt that he'd ripped arguments to shreds in court many times before.

Jack had never once seen him smile. But the man was meticulous, and persistent to boot, asking Jack every question under the sun and then some.

"Is there anything, anything at all you think they could use against you to prove you of being guilty?" he'd asked earlier that week during one of their meetings.

Jack shook his head. He could not think of anything. He was innocent. He loved Kaiyo. He had been trying to help her. He'd told him their story thirty thousand times now.

The man—Oswald—had regarded him with a silent, speculative stare, and when Jack did not say anything more, he nodded.

"Good, then. If that's really the case, we should have this in the bag." And then he'd snapped his briefcase shut and left.

Now, as they were all rising for the judge, Jack didn't care whether he lived or died. Instinctively, he knew he would win, because Oswald knew what he was doing, and Jack was innocent—but he couldn't bring himself to care. Nothing mattered anymore, not since Kaiyo was no longer here.

When they sat down, Jack clenched his cuffed hands beneath the table and thought about the way Kaiyo's blood had felt dripping down his face as he'd sat in the back of the police car.

Oswald put a heavy hand on his shoulder, as if he knew what Jack was thinking. He was a whole foot shorter than Jack, even when sitting. They exchanged a silent look, then the proceedings began.

Jack's heart was pounding so loud in his ears he could barely hear. He listened to the judge recount the night of Kaiyo's murder—told from a very different point of view—and he wanted to scream.

Kaiyo had been stabbed in the side multiple times with a knife. Two ribs had been broken due to a hard blow with a blunt object, possibly a baseball bat or a thick branch. She had been pronounced dead at the scene at precisely ten oh six PM. "Circumstantial evidence" had been found at the scene and at his home to suggest that Jack had been the one to kill her—and Jack's head snapped at that, because he couldn't possibly imagine what evidence they'd found, or that they had searched his home.

That last part was perhaps the most chilling piece of information of all. Jack thought about all of his father's psychotic drugs scattered on the coffee table, and the six-packs in the fridge. The house was a wreck, too, and if the record of recent calls to 911 was any indication, it was obvious the Napier household was nothing short of fucked up.

In the silence that followed the judge's opening statement, Jack struggled to control his breathing. It was true he didn't care what happened, but suddenly it seemed like the evidence stacked against him was staggering.

Kaiyo's grandmother was called to the stand.

He stared at her as she walked to the stand, nothing but confidence in her straight-back shoulders and hard gaze.

When she sat down and faced the crowd, she finally graced him with her stare. Jack did not flinch away.

He listened with a blank expression as Kaiyo's grandmother recounted the incident where Jack had stormed into her home. Inside, he was mentally replaying the scene, trying to recall everything he'd said to her that night.

"—And then he threatened to kill me—"

"I did not!" Jack had shot up before he could stop himself, and the security guards made as if to move forward, like he was going to jump the fucking table with his handcuffs on and rush her or something.

There was a low murmur in the crowd, and Oswald urged him to sit back down, pulling on his arm with much more force than Jack thought him capable of.

"I apologize, your honor. Please proceed."

Jack was livid now, glaring at the old woman with pure disgust, and he knew his eyes were black. It was a struggle to sit still after that, and with the handcuffs on, there was little Jack could do. He worked on chewing on his lip, hoping to draw blood.

The prosecutor paced the floor in front of the stand when she finished giving her account, asking questions to help clarify the scene, whether or not Jack had physically harmed her, if he seemed agitated, angry, et cetera.

"Thank you, Miss Satou. I would now like to call Mrs. Clarol to the stand."

Jack watched as a middle-aged woman with brown hair and kind eyes took the stand. She wore tan trousers and a blue cardigan. Jack had never seen her in his life.

"Mrs. Clarol," the prosecutor began, "it is true you live in the house directly across from Miss Satou, is it not?"

"That is correct."

"And is it also correct that on the night of July 2nd, you witnessed Jack Napier entering the house of Miss Satou at approximately nine oh five PM?"


"Mrs. Clarol, I am to understand you've recently been laid off, is that correct?"


"And would you say, by that extension, you've been forced to spend much of your time at home since your departure from your workplace?"

"Yes. Job-searching online, mostly, and—"

"Thank you," the prosecutor interrupted, carrying right along, and Jack wondered where the hell he was going with this. The woman on the stand looked just as confused as Jack did. "I am to understand you have two young children as well, yes?"

"That is correct."

"And every day at three forty-five PM, you wait for them in your living room, by the window that overlooks the street, namely, Ms. Katou's home directly across from yours?"

The woman seemed to know where this was going. She hesitated a breath before speaking. "Yes..."

"Is it true then, that at this time, you have witnessed Jack Napier follow Kaiyo Satou home every day after school, at approximately three fourty-five?"

Mrs. Clarol considered his question. "He was not following her," she said, carefully, eyes landing on Jack's with something like pity in them. "They were walking—together—they always appeared to enjoy each other's company. I think that—"

"That will be all, Mrs. Clarol," he interrupted. "Thank you."

The prosecutor did not look pleased, and Jack got that sense that she had just said something she was not supposed to say. She smiled sadly at Jack—just for a moment—before she exited the stand and took her seat.

"Your honor," the prosecutor began, "I would now like to draw your attention to several key pieces of evidence that we believe will prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Jack Napier murdered Kaiyo Satou in cold blood."

The judge nodded. "Proceed."

Jack's fists clenched against the table, his handcuffs clanging together in the silence of the courtroom.

For a while, the prosecutor rambled about Jack's grades at school, his attendance record, his "anti-social" behavior, and his lack in participation at school or at school-related functions.

It was all vanilla stuff, really. He sounded no different from the rest of those slumming it in the lower belly of Gotham.

However, Jack's attitude changed when the first piece of evidence that was brought forward was an item that made him start in his chair, his breathing going shallow.

Oswald's frown deepened, though he did not turn to Jack.

"What is that?" he whispered.

Jack swallowed. His whole world felt like it was collapsing. He couldn't speak.

He wanted to blurt out, "It's not what you think," but he realized that no matter what he said, it would not change what was about to be seen by the judge.

The item in question was the notebook in which Jack had chronicled his nightmares, the one he'd told Kaiyo about.

Inside contained all of his most personal horrors; the burning bodies, the dismembered skeletons, the crushed skulls. Monsters with scalpels for hands and wicked animals that tore flesh from bone and delighted in it.

He'd hidden the notebook under his bed.

And now the prosecutor was handing it to the judge, describing in the most detailed fashion the notebook's grisliest content.

It made him sound like a freak.

Jack knew what they were trying to do now, the "angle" they were trying to spin.

They were trying to paint him as some kind of sociopath, make it look like he was stalking Kaiyo, had befriended her with the sole intention of killing her.

Jack watched the judge as she spent a few moments flipping through his most personal drawings, thoughts, and fears. Her expression, despite her intentions, failed to remain neutral, and Jack could see the revulsion, plain as day, written across her face.

Next to him, Oswald was as stiff as a board.

Jack knew things were not looking good.

"And what is your final piece of evidence?"

"Our final evidence, your honor, is this switchblade found at the scene of the crime, the same weapon that was used to stab the victim."

Jack nearly jumped out of his chair when he saw it, but it was Oswald who stopped him, grabbing Jack by his arm and effectively pinning him to his seat.

His chair scraped against the floor in his commotion, and those in the crowd and the members of the jury turned to look at him.

Jack was dumbstruck.

"The results from forensics are there for your perusal. You will find that the knife has been identified as belonging to Jack Napier—and you will also find his initials engraved there on the side panel—and that his prints are all over the item as well."

Silence reigned in the courtroom as the judge inspected the items. Jack stared at them, wracking his brain, wondering how on earth someone had gotten a hold of his knife.

And then it dawned on him. He'd left the knife—at Kaiyo's request—behind the door on the roof. Had her killer found it? Had Kaiyo taken it to use as self-defense, only to have it used against her?

Jack's heart seemed to sink into the pit of his stomach. Unconsciously, he sunk further into his chair, his face turning pale.

This was all his fault. This was all his fucking fault. If he hadn't been such a jerk to her, if would have stopped her from leaving the diner, if he wouldn't have left his knife there behind the door...

The prosecutor was talking. He was finished calling witnesses to the stand and his evidence had all been shared.

Beside him, Oswald was requesting the judge for fifteen minutes of recess. The judge granted it, and Jack jumped when her gavel slammed against the desk.

Oswald was hauling Jack to his feet, and when one of the security guards came to assist, the older man shot him a sharp look that made the guard put up his hands in defense and back away.

"He's just a boy. I can handle him."

And then Oswald was yanking him along, out of the room and into one of the empty meeting rooms where they could escape the crowd and the glare of flashbulbs.

The man closed the door and shoved him down into a chair. A table separated them. Oswald paced the floor on the other side of it, hands clasped behind his back.

"You didn't tell me about the notebook, Jack." His voice was low. "What the hell is that?"

"I didn't know they were going to search my house," he heard himself growling. He looked up, his anger diffusing into an expression of wariness when he noticed how Oswald was looking at him, demanding an answer. "It's just sketches and stuff... they're nightmares."

Oswald sighed through his nose. "And the knife? Why did she have your knife? Did you give it to her? A friend of yours?"

Jack explained the situation to him, about how the knife had fallen out of his pocket and Kaiyo had found it, how she had not wanted him to carry it because it made her nervous, so he left it on the roof and had planned to come back and get it later.

Oswald was shaking his head. Jack didn't think it was possible for a man like him to look so defeated, and yet, here he was.

"We're done, Jack," he said, quietly, and Jack felt like he'd been punched in the gut, like all the breath in his lungs had left in one swift movement. "Even if we could explain the rationale behind the evidence, the jury's already made up their mind. The damage is done." It was silent for a moment. Oswald walked to the door. He wasn't looking at Jack when he spoke.

"There's only one more thing we can do." He looked at Jack over his shoulder as he opened the door. "Stay here."

When Jack entered the courtroom for a final time, he had no idea what to expect. Oswald had never come back to the room, and two guards had come to escort Jack back to the courtroom. Oswald joined his side a few moments later, a little red-faced and winded.

Everything was silent as the judge entered and seated herself.

Everyone seemed to be holding their breath, Jack most of all. His hands were clammy where had had clenched his fingers into fists, nails biting into the skin of his palms.

"Jack Napier, you have been declared not guilty of the murder of Kaiyo Satou by reason of insanity."

Jack's mouth dropped open in horror.

"I hereby declare a life-sentence to Arkham Asylum."

Author's Notes: I hope you weren't expecting a happy ending.This massive story was based off a tiny little prompt that was submitted to me by Tumblr user Irenedominatrix. Katrina, my friend, I hope you enjoyed this just as much as I loved writing it. I can't thank you enough for the prompt, it really struck a chord within me.

This has been cross-posted to my Tumblr, where you can find me at engagemachine.

If you made it to the end, I truly appreciate your patience. As always, feedback is more than welcome, and thank you so much for reading.