Sequel: Faith
Status: Complete.


"I'm tired of bring the victim."

The next day, Tommy woke at 4am to make it to her house early. Early enough to catch her before she started her run, or so he hoped. He arrived just in time, her feet hitting the bottom of her stairs as he approached. She almost ran into him before her eyes lit up with recognition.

"You're fucking kidding me, right?" Jade looked like she was ready to take a swing at him. He half-wanted to see her try, wondering how much heat she had in her punch. She stomped her foot while letting out a noise of frustration. "Fine, just keep up," she said with a huff before taking off.

He had to give it to her, her pace was a respectable one. They wove through the silent streets together, not saying a word. Her breath was ragged by the time they made it back to her place almost an hour and a half later. Jade nodded once to him before retreating back into her apartment.

And that's how she became a bigger part of his routine. They never spoke, only a groggy "morning" as they met each day. He never pushed her to speak, feeling in his bones that when she was ready, she would talk.

Weeks passed. She surprised him by waiting for him on mornings he was late. The weather grew warmer as spring approached. They stopped wearing their hoodies as they ran. He memorized the tattoo on her upper back, a dandelion with seeds in the wind which morphed into small birds. He found himself starting to push her running pace, testing her a little, challenging her. He was surprised again when she obliged him. Tommy soon became so familiar with the back of her, that he was sure he could pick her ass out of a lineup if the need ever arose. These were the only changes to their routine. About three months after their arrangement began, Jade finally spoke.

He had pushed her particularly hard that day, so much so that she had collapsed on the lawn in front of her building, panting with exhaustion. Tommy watched in fascination as her chest rose and fell, eventually slowing into an easier rhythm. He wasn't leaving until she was back inside, safe.

She propped herself up on her elbows and stared at him, sizing him up as she did. "Why are you doing this?"

"So you can talk!"

"Just answer the fucking question. What's in this for you?"

Tommy found himself shrugging, it wasn't ever anything he really thought about. Watching out for her seemed like the natural thing to do, the right thing to do. And she fascinated him a little. "It's just what's right," he finished to himself out loud, looking into her eyes as he said it.

Jade seemed phased, but nodded. He offered her a hand up off the ground, but she slapped it away, standing up in her own instead. "See you tomorrow, Tommy." And with that, she went back into the safety of her apartment.

He pushed her pace even harder the next day, wondering if her exhaustion from the day before is what broke down her walls enough to speak to him again. Jade didn't collapse on the lawn this time, though. She went straight up the stairs to her place. But this time, she paused at the door. "You wanna come in for some breakfast?"

Tommy was floored by the offer, almost suspicious. But still, he nodded his head and followed her in.

"Hey, Nanna Paul, I'm back!" Jade sang out as they crossed the threshold. "I brought company!" That explained the floral furniture and doilies that seemed to cover everything. "I'll be right back, Tommy, I gotta check in on her. Bedridden," she murmured while nodding her head towards the back of the house. "Sit, don't touch anything, I won't be long."

Tommy watched as she went into a back room, but chose not to sit. Instead, he browsed the pictures that peppered the walls, anxious to find any clue to the ice queen that was Jade. He finally recognized her in a cap and gown, her hazel eyes bright with laughter as she raised a fist triumphantly in the air, her other arm around an older woman. There was no hint of the guarded woman he now knew; this Jade looked full of life and promise.

What had happened to that girl?

"You want some eggs?" The query made his heart jump. He had been so caught up in her photograph, he had forgotten about her. He felt as if he had been prying into her life without permission. The cold anger in her eyes told him that that was exactly what he had done. She had asked him to sit, hadn't she? Not peruse the photographs of her life.

"Eggs are fine."

Tommy followed her into the kitchen, watching her work on their breakfast. He watched in silence as she deftly cracked six eggs into a bowl before scrambling them and adding them to a hot pan. Not minutes later, she was shoving a plate in front of his face and handing him a fork, some animosity still in her motions.

"Thanks," he nodded before digging in, watching her do the same. They ate in silence until both plates were clean.

"Want any more?" He shook his head no. "You training for anything right now, Tommy?"

"Not really, no."

Her eyes softened a bit as she tugged at her ponytail. He had started to notice she did this at odd times, almost like a nervous tick. "Teach me to fight?"

"'Scuse me?"

"I want you to teach me to fight. I'm tired of being the victim."

The second part almost seemed to slip from her lips unintentionally. "What's that supposed to mean?" Tommy looked at her curiously, digging a toothpick from his pocket as he stared her down. "I wouldn't let anything happen to you again." He stuck the toothpick into his mouth, playing with it with his lips and tongue as was his habit.

All of the softness of her eyes were gone as she responded. "None of your fucking business is what it means. You can teach me to fight or what?"

"Why don't you take some class down at the Y or something?"

"Because it's not enough."

"How do you know, there's gotta be some kinda self-defense shit you're looking ..."

"I've done the fucking classes, Tommy," she interrupted. "And they are not enough. They weren't enough all those months back, and they're not enough now. I couldn't even outrun you if I tried."

Tommy stared at her, long and hard. "I thought you didn't need anybody? That you could take care if yourself?"

"Are you going to fucking teach me or not?"

"I'll teach ya, doll. You just might not like my methods."