It was just for one night, Aster told himself as he unlocked the door to his apartment and held it open for the white haired, barefoot kid following him. How he'd managed to convince the boy to come home with him was beyond him, but Aster wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth. Especially if it meant the kid wouldn't be out on the streets buried under three inches of snow.
He had seen the kid – Jack, he'd said his name was – wandering around the city for the past few weeks and, initially, hadn't thought anything of it. But when it became clear that the old hoodie and tattered pants were the only clothes he owned, Aster had started keeping his eye out for the kid, worried that maybe adequate clothing for the season wasn't the only thing the boy was lacking. It was only when he'd spotted Jack sneaking around a condemned building on his way home from dinner at North's place that Aster's suspicions had been confirmed, and he'd pulled over to pick him up.
It wasn't easy, though. Jack was more wary than a cornered cat, although he hid it well. Aster still had no idea how he'd done it, but somehow he'd managed to convince the kid to stay at his place just for the night (and boy had that conversation been fun). But looking at him now, Aster never would have connected him to the stubborn teenager standing out in the snow.
Now he was all wide-eyed wonder as he took in Aster's apartment like it was the most amazing thing he'd ever seen. The fact that it may well have been was something Aster tried not to think about.
"You hungry?" he asked the kid, heading over to the open kitchen.
Jack's attention immediately locked on to him, his face closing off any hint of emotion. "Um, yeah… I guess."
Which was probably a casual way of saying 'Yes! Please feed me!', Aster thought, opening the fridge.
"What d'ya like? I'm a vegetarian so there's no meat in the house but I can easily whip ya up somethin'."
Jack shrugged noncommittally. Aster repressed a sigh, pulling a pan out of a cupboard.
"Right then, I'll just make ya somethin' and if ya don't like it we can find ya somethin' else, alright?"
Jack nodded slightly, shifting awkwardly where he was standing in the main sitting area.
"You can go take a shower if ya want," Aster suggested, not looking up from his work. "I've prob'ly got somethin' that'll fit ya until we can get your clothes washed."
"Are you saying I smell?" Jack asked, a prominent smirk on his face that fit so much better than his seemingly default wariness.
"Like a wet dog," Aster replied, matching his expression. "There're clean towels in the cupboard; I'll bring ya some clothes when I've got this goin'," he gestured to the pan.
Jack nodded hesitantly, his expression mildly surprised, as if he couldn't believe he'd just said that, and shuffled in the direction Aster had implied like he was expecting his host to change his mind any second. After a minute or two, Aster heard the water turn on and let himself relax a bit. There was no window in the bathroom, so it wasn't like the kid could sneak out or something while he was distracted. Not that he thought Jack would steal anything. He wasn't sure what it was, but he just got some sort of vibe from the kid – a feeling that despite appearances and the snarky way he acted at times, there was a good, honest person buried beneath the mask. At least he hoped so.
When the vegetables and rice were doing nicely and no longer needed his absolute attention, Aster slipped into his room and started rummaging through his drawers and wardrobe for any articles of clothing that might fit a scrawny teenager. Pretty much everything he had would drown the kid, what with him being a good few heads taller (not to mention the kid was like a walking broom handle), but he managed to find an old pair of trousers and a T-shirt that might not swallow him whole. He grabbed a belt as well for good measure.
"Oi, Jack?" he called, rapping on the wood of the bathroom door. "I'll leave the clothes by the door. Just pop yours out here when you're ready and I'll put 'em in the wash for ya."
There was some kind of muffled reply from inside, so Aster headed back to the kitchen to check on the food.
When Jack finally emerged from the bathroom, Aster was just finishing up serving fried rice into a bowl. As he'd suspected, his clothes were way too big for the kid; the T-shirt alone could have passed as a dress.
"Good timin'," he told the boy with an easy smile, setting the bowl down at the table. "Food's ready."
"Um, my clothes?" Jack said timidly, flapping the arm holding the meticulously folded clothing in question.
"Here, I'll go pop 'em in the wash," Aster offered, holding out his hand for them. Jack hesitated for a moment before handing them over. "Eat up; I'll be back in a tick."
He decided it was a brief bout of insanity that had him leaving a teenager he barely knew in his apartment alone while he headed down to the laundry, but when he returned Jack was still there, sitting at the table with an empty bowl in front of him. A quick glance around the place hinted to nothing missing.
"Guess you were hungry," Aster noted, taking the bowl back into the kitchen. "There's seconds if ya want 'em."
The conflicted look on Jack's face made him pause.
"What's on your mind, kid?"
"It's nothing," Jack replied immediately.
Aster quirked a brow.
"It's just… I don't understand… Why are you doing all this for me?" Jack asked quietly, eyes trained on the table.
"Do I need a reason?" Aster placed the refilled bowl down in front of Jack and took a seat opposite him.
"You wouldn't do all this for no reason," Jack said adamantly. "But I can't figure out what's in it for you, except…"
"If you're worried I'm gonna demand ya pay me back or somethin' later then I can reassure ya that's not the case. Besides, why shouldn't I help someone for no reason?"
Jack looked at him like he was crazy. Aster was starting to suspect he might be.
"If ya really want an answer," Aster sighed, "then the best I can give ya is the peace of mind in knowin' that you're not gonna freeze to death overnight because I was too heartless to step in and do somethin'."
"But why would you even care in the first place?" Jack finally looked him in the eye, something akin to desperation in his gaze. But it was a desperation Aster knew he couldn't quell.
"The fact that ya have to ask that at all is answer enough," Aster told him, nudging the bowl closer. "Now eat up before ya waste away completely."
"Hey, I'm not that skinny," Jack retorted, some of the old fire in his eyes Aster felt suited him so perfectly returning.
"Could've fooled me."
"It's these clothes," Jack gestured. "They're eating me alive."
"They're the smallest I could find," Aster defended.
"You mean you're normal clothes are bigger? What size even are you?"
"Oi!" Aster swiped half-heartedly. "Just eat your food before I shove it down your throat."
Jack glared playfully, grabbing the bowl and holding it protectively as he shovelled a forkful of rice into his mouth. It would seem explaining himself had made the kid feel more at ease; something which Aster was glad for. In the morning he'd see about finding any family Jack might have who could take him in – he was far too young to be out on his own – resolutely ignoring the brief feeling that he would miss the kid. It was a ridiculous thought; he'd only just met Jack – too soon to be growing attached, and yet a part of him was.
It was just for one night, he reminded himself.
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