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One Step at a Time

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Jack always finds it hard to sleep.

He escaped Rapture physically, but he knows that he’ll never truly escape. His nightly routine, more often than not, consists of tossing and turning for five hours before drifting off and sleeping for another three.

Tonight, however, he’s greeted with a little interruption.

“Papa?”

Beside his bed is Cynthia, his youngest. As she likes to proudly proclaim, she’s six.

“Ceecee, why are you still up?” Jack sits up. “What’s wrong?”

It was always nicknames with his girls. He never calls them by their full names, even when they’re in trouble. It’s the most he can do for them to help them put the past behind them.

Their names were chosen in the least thoughtful way imaginable, plucked off the baby registry of most popular names and assigned to the girls in sequence.

It made it so hard to find information. There were so many Marys, so many Susans, it was impossible to know who was who—and that was if the orphanage bothered to record birth dates. So the girls got to pick their own birthdays as well.

Ceecee chose her birthday to be the second of January. Not the first, so people could still celebrate New Years and go out the next day to buy her presents.

Out of all the girls, she been the one least exposed to the firsthand horrors of Rapture. She’d been fresh out of conditioning, having spent only a few months gathering ADAM before Jack rescued her. The thought of splicers—and people in general—still terrified her.

It was a good three months before she even let other people near her. No one but Jack and Brigid was allowed to touch her. She still clings to them both, but it’s Jack she’ll come to after a nightmare.

“Come here, Ceecee,” he says. His voice is rough from sleep, and the sudden strain causes him to cough. His voice is still raw. Brigid did what she could to restore his voice box, but he still has trouble speaking at times.

He plucks her up and into his arms. With a whimper, she folds herself into his chest. Her bony little elbows dig into his chest as she makes herself as small as possible.

Jack simply holds her, letting the seconds tick by in silence.

He knows his Ceecee, and he knows that all it takes is a little bit of cuddling and quiet for her to talk about all the things that are bothering her.

“What if the bad people followed us?” Ceecee asks. Her voice is so small and scared, muffled by his sleepshirt. “I don’t have Mr. Bubbles anymore.”

Jack runs a hand through her fine blonde hair, smoothing out the flyaway hairs. “That’s right. You have me instead.”

If anything, that only makes her more upset. She shakes her head, her little hands curling into fists around his shirt. “I don’t wanna lose you like I lost Mr. B.”

Jack frowned, choosing to rub her back instead of responding.

The Big Daddy she’d been bonded to when Jack saved her had been her first. Some of the girls had at least a cursory experience with losing their guardians. Ceecee understood in concept that if her Big Daddy were to die, she had to run and never look back, but she hadn’t actually realized what that meant until Mr. Bubbles stopped moving.

Most of the girls are taking strides to forget Rapture, but Ceecee is the one who can never truly let go of her assigned Big Daddy. Half the pictures she draws are of him, and sometimes Jack can still catch her crying over her lost friend.

He wishes he hadn’t had to do it, but it meant saving the lives of dozens of little girls, and he’d do it again, a thousand times over. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel a twinge of guilt every now and then.

“You won’t lose me,” he promises. He shifts his hold on her and stands. “I fought through way too much to go down now. You couldn’t lose me even if you wanted to.”

“I’ll never want that.” Ceecee folds her arms, looking at him very seriously.

“It’s settled, then.” He stands with her in his arms. “I’m glad we’re in agreement.”

He can tell without looking that she’s frowning, her lower lip puffing up in a pout as she tries to put together a counterargument, but Jack left her no room for argument. He just hopes it’ll be enough to dispel her fears for the night.

He begins to walk around the tiny space, hoping the motion will help put her to sleep.

There isn’t much here for her to look at. Aside from his weapons, which are secured in a locked cabinet, he has a box of medications Brigid assigned him—to wean him off ADAM without completely destroying his genetic code.

Thumbtacks pepper his walls, holding up hundreds of pictures his girls have drawn for him. Sometimes it’s the only sign anyone’s even living in this room, he has so little.

As they pass by, Ceecee hums happily and hugs him a little tighter. She must’ve seen her latest picture hanging, right over his dresser. It’s the spot where he puts the best picture, right where he can see it every time he pulls open his dresser.

She hasn’t caught on that he always moves her newest pictures to that spot.

Jack pulls the rocking chair from the corner up to the window and sits.

The stars are unusually bright tonight, casting a peaceful glimmer on their little farm.

It’s a small farm, relatively close to the nearest small town. Nothing too big, but big enough that they never have to go far for what they need. The girls only have a ten-minute walk to school, so that’s really all that matters.

He doesn’t even mind being out here all by himself. The stars always put him at ease. It’s the water that makes him wary.

“Papa, will you do my hair in pigtails like Leenie’s?” Ceecee asks. Her cheek is smushed against his chest, her eyes barely open. It won’t be long before she drifts off.

“First thing tomorrow,” he tells her.

She squirms to get comfier, and Jack has to fight not to grunt as her little foot jabs him in the thigh. She settles down quickly, and Jack doesn’t want to do anything to rile her up all over again.

It’s a long while before she speaks again. “I like the stars, Papa.”

Jack runs his hand through her hair. “Me too.” He lets his voice drop low, knowing it’ll help her off to sleep. He doesn’t make a habit of it under any other circumstances, but if he drops his voice low enough and Ceecee’s tired enough, he’ll sound close enough to a Big Daddy that she’ll feel a little safer and drift off. It’s murder on his throat, but a little extra warm tea with honey never hurt anyone.

Ceecee’s finally nodded off, but he can’t bring himself to take her back to her room. He doesn’t want to risk waking up Leenie, who shares a room with her. Leenie’s difficult enough to get to sleep as is.

As carefully as possible, he stands up and heads back to his bed. He doesn’t like to risk waking her up, but his back wouldn’t forgive him if he slept in the rocking chair another night this week.

Ceecee immediately grabs a handful of blankets the second Jack lays her down, and he can’t help but rolling his eyes. He loves Ceecee dearly, but she’s a bed hog if he’s ever met one. And that’s really impressive, considering how tiny she is.

But he’ll put up with it tonight, for her sake.