“I’m very interested in solving this… puzzle you’ve set out for me, Professor. Do tell me if I’m getting somewhere.”
Jay’s eyes widened. He hadn’t really been listening to Sparrow’s gleeful words, mind only half-there as he stood guard in front of the Professor’s cell, shifting on his feet to prevent his knees from locking up. He chanced a glance into the cell behind him, and felt the color draining from his face.
Sparrow had straddled the battered Professor’s body, hand clamped down around his neck. The Professor himself was gasping weakly, bucking and thrashing wildly as he desperately tried to get air into his body. Jay’s jaw tightened as Sparrow released him, then looked back at the wall in front of him – but not before he saw his superior (God, how he hated calling Sparrow his superior) lean down, pressing his lips against the helpless man on the ground and grinding his hips down.
“What’s happening in there –” Canary whispered. Jay shook his head.
“Don’t look in there, Canary.” His voice was weak, slightly trembling. He looked over at Canary as a moan drifted from behind the steel door. He watched as her face paled, saw the way pure, raw fear burned behind her eyes. He listened to Sparrow’s demented whispering, the Professor’s breaths hitching and shuddering, and watched with a morbid sort of curiosity as tears pricked in his companion’s eyes. Canary raised a finely trembling hand to her mouth, and her crooked teeth bit down on a finger hard enough that blood trickled and trailed down her hand. A startled noise leapt from Jay’s throat, hand twitching and reaching out to her.
The Professor screamed. Canary bit down on her finger harder, then let it go in favor of covering her ears, a quiet whimper escaping from her throat as she clenched her eyes shut, tears slipping passed her eyelids and making their way down her face. Her body curled in on itself, beginning to tremble violently, as the Professor continued to scream and beg, voice quickly growing hoarse.
“Canary…?” Jay slowly reached out a hand, leaning so he could place it on one of Canary’s arms. Her eyes shot open, and she pushed him away with a force that made him stumble, nearly falling down. Canary’s expression was pinched tight with terror, bloody hand on her chest as she took in heaving breaths. Her misty eyes finally seemed to focus on Jay, and after a moment, they filled with even more tears.
“I’m – I’m sorry, I –” Her voice cracked, grimace appearing on her face. “I’ve – I need t-to go.” Jay stepped forwards; reached for her again.
“Canary –” Lips trembling, she shook her head, turned on her heel, and bolted. Jay made a move to go after her, then noticed that the cell had grown silent. He looked back into the cell, and saw Sparrow wiping up the Professor with a sort of gentility he’d never seen him use before. The sight made Jay’s stomach turn, and he quickly looked away again.
Footsteps made their way to the cell door, and it opened after a long pause. Jay quickly straightened, looking straight ahead, as Sparrow stepped out, a content smirk playing at his lips.
God, how Jay hated Sparrow. He’d never thought he’d hate anyone this fiercely. He could faintly hear the Professor’s ragged breathing.
“Hey,” Sparrow started, voice slightly hoarse. Jay fought the urge to tense up. “Where’s your partner?”
“She got sick, sir,” he answered quickly. “She told me she was feeling under the weather earlier.”
“Hm.” Jay tensed up, now. Sparrow had never acted this way before. He bit the inside of his cheek. “Well, I suppose it can’t be helped.”
Jay blinked, eyebrows furrowing as he looked at Sparrow from the side of his vision. He was looking back into the cell with an expression that made his stomach turn. He took a deep breath.
“Sir?” His voice came out quieter than usual; laced with fear. Sparrow looked at him, eyes narrowing. Jay swallowed, mouth suddenly dry, as he worried his cheek between his teeth again. The metallic taste of blood followed after. “The professor is probably going to be resting for a bit. Do you – I mean, can I go check on my partner?”
Sparrow was looking at him fully, now, regarding him with a scrutinizing glare. Jay could feel himself shrinking away. Then, to his complete surprise, Sparrow waved a hand. “Go on. Consider yourself lucky I’m in a good mood – be back before the Professor gets taken to Sycamore.”
Jay let out a slow breath, then nodded. “… Thank you.”
Jay wandered the halls of the residential flats, looking at the numbers on the doors. A small bag of strawberries were clutched in a hand. He ran the number Canary told him in his head, biting his lips as he came to a quiet halt in front of a door. Taking in a deep breath (and remembering how Canary had looked before she had ran off – so fragile-looking, so terrified), he raised a hand and knocked on the door before stepping back, staring at the white paint on the door in front of him as he readjusted his hold on the bag he’d gotten from Owl.
Movement, then the door opened enough that a bloodshot eye peered at him through blocky glasses. Canary looked him over, breaths shuddering and wet, before she moved slowly, pulling the door open. Her lips were set in a straight line, tear tracks prominent on her face, splotchy and red from her tears. Her fingers were bleeding, and Jay swore he could see some of them throb red with the blood running underneath her skin. It looked painful.
“Canary,” Jay started. She looked at him, eerily still, except for the small flexes in her arm as she continued to pick at the skin of her hand, smearing blood as another flap was torn free. “H-Hey – you shouldn’t do that.” Jay moved forwards, placing the little bag on the ground before he gripped her hands gently, holding them and preventing another chunk of skin from being pulled off.
The girl didn’t even react (normally, she would have flinched at the touch), breathing still shaky. Jay’s brows furrowed – this wasn’t like Canary at all.
“May I come in?” He finally asked. Canary blinked slowly up at him, eyes misty with tears. “Canary, you’re worrying me.”
Her breaths hitched, and her jaw worked for a moment. “I’m fine,” she whispered, voice hoarse (it sounded like she’d been screaming). The words sounded scripted, as if she had ran that sentence over and over in her head, the phrase losing all meaning, before she spoke it. She gave a smile that looked horribly fake; alien on her sad face. Jay shook his head.
“You’re not,” he said, and Canary’s eyes flashed with fear, smile dropping from her face. A lone tear made its way down her face, and her hands began to tremble. “Canary, let me help you. I want to understand.” Canary’s lips pulled back into a grimace, expression so pained – so broken-down – as her shoulders shuddered with a quiet sob, tears quickly running down her face and falling to the ground between them. Jay’s eyes widened slightly, and before he could stop himself, he pulled her into a gentle embrace. He pulled her head to his shoulder, and listened to Canary’s shuddering, hiccuping breaths as she cried into his shoulder, body sagging as she leaned against him.
Jay’s heart panged. How long had it been since she had cried like this? Her sobs were soft, barely there, and she visibly tensed when something louder than a quiet whimper floated between them.
“Was it what… he did to the professor?” Jay mumbled. Canary hesitated before nodding weakly. “Did it – did it trigger something for you?” None of the other agents he’d been partnered with had reacted this negatively to what Sparrow did – the image of Canary hunkering down, covering her ears and desperately trying to do anything to take her away from that moment. Canary swallowed thickly, letting out a louder sob as she nodded. Jay’s embrace tightened, and he sighed, closing his eyes.
Canary needed to let this out. From the way she finally returned his embrace, gripping him as if she’d float away if she wasn’t holding on to him, Jay realized that Canary was working through things she couldn’t on her own (yet was doing so anyway). Canary began mumbling into Jay’s shoulder. Jay pulled away a bit, and Canary coughed a bit as she looked up at him, covering her mouth with a hand – the same hand she’d bitten. The angry, red marks on her finger stood out through the dried blood.
“I can’t go back,” she whispered, voice broken. “I can’t go back – I can’t, I can’t –”
“Go back where?” Jay finally stepped into Canary’s flat fully, almost forgetting to grab the small bag on the way in. He shut the door.
“I can’t go back home – I can’t.”
“Wh –” The flat was clean – in fact, it seemed like she hadn’t touched much of anything – hadn’t even lived here. It was cold, nearly barren of any sign that this was Canary’s flat – the only thing Jay could see was a notebook, resting neatly at the dining room table. A fine layer of dust covered the place. “You’re not going back home.”
“I don’t want to go back,” she begged again.
“Canary – Canary, look at me.” Jay placed a hand on her shoulder, slowly putting the pieces together. She looked up at him, swallowing. “You’re not going back there – did your family –?” Canary tensed up, then began to shiver.
“Is – are you going to tell on them –” Canary gave a more violent shiver. “They’ll know it was me –”
“No – no, I’m not telling on them.” A feeling of horror draped itself over Jay like a veil as Canary visibly relaxed, taking in a long breath. “How long…?” She shook her head, and didn’t answer. “It’s alright. They cannot hurt you anymore.” Canary looked away, hand settling itself on her chest as her breathing picked up slightly. She didn’t meet his eyes when she mumbled out the next sentence.
“I – as long as I can remember.” Jay swallowed down the disgust that threatened to bubble up, instead thinking to Canary bolting away once the screams started.
“So when Sparrow was – you were remembering?” It was meant to be a statement, but it lilted up at the end, making it seem like a question. Canary nodded. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t make me go back.” Canary shut her eyes, a lone tear slipping down her face.
“You’re not. I promise.” Jay gave a reassuring smile. Canary looked up at Jay. Her lips trembled. “Why don’t we go see Owl?… Wait –” Jay turned back to the table, picking up the bag. “You can snack on these on the way there?” Canary tilted her head, then gingerly took the plastic from him, peering inside and giving a wet sniffle, wiping away snot with a shaking hand. She reached into the bag, pulling out a strawberry.
“All of these…?”
“Are for you.” Canary met his gaze, contemplative, before she took a tiny nibble of the berry in her hands. Her lips twitched up into a ghost of a smile.
“… Thank you.” Jay gave a crooked smile in return.
“What are friends for?” Canary blinked at him, and then her smile grew slightly.
“Friends.” The word was hesitant, as if she had never said it before and was getting used to it. Jay gave Canary a gentle squeeze on her shoulder.
“Yes.” Jay began to lead Canary to the door as she took another nibble of the berry in her hand. “Let’s go to Owl. I’m sure she’ll be more than happy to make you some iced tea.”