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Never Did Run Smooth

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Jack did not like dealing with Principal Akusawa. In fact, he could say he dreaded it, loathed it, abhorred it... There were many words in the English language that he could use to express how much he did not even want to be near Principal Akusawa. But expressing it would do him no good, especially since the principal loved to check in on his classroom at random times.

It wasn’t the immaturity of the principal that especially bothered Jack, nor was it his strict attitude towards the other staff members. No, what bothered Jack was that the principal treated most of his students very unfairly. Whenever someone got into a tiny amount of trouble, it seemed he would always be there right when it happened so that he could give the student a week’s worth of detention, whether or not the student was guilty. He had a short temper, and had been known on occasion to even make students cry. And it seemed no one could speak against him.

The Akusawa family was very wealthy and powerful. They even owned most of the companies in the state! And most members of the family grew up to become owners of said companies. No one knew why Kurou Akusawa chose to become a principal at one of his family’s schools, but either way, it would take an outrageous scandal for anyone to even consider firing him.

It sickened Jack to see that someone like that was in charge of a school. A place where students should be safe and welcomed.

Jack’s own teaching methods often clashed with Akusawa’s, but since all of his students had good grades in his class, Akusawa couldn’t fire him. That was one of the things Jack appreciated. But because of this, Akusawa found other small ways to get back at him. And that brings us to today’s small act of revenge.

Akusawa sat in the back of the classroom, his green eyes fixed upon Jack. It felt as if his entire body was being pierced by the principal's scrutinizing gaze. Jack just knew the man was judging him, taking everything he did into consideration, watching his every move in case he slipped up. Jack had to restrain himself from gritting his teeth. Every silent move he made agitated Jack to no end; even with his back turned, what Jack could imagine the man doing made his temper flare.

But it was pointless to get angry right now, especially since getting angry would only get him into trouble. So, he took a deep breath, and tried his best not to focus on the man sitting behind him.

"Mina-san." He calmly called out to the classroom. "Please open your kyōkasho to page yon-juu-ichi." Jack wrote the numbers 41, 42, 43, and 44 on the whiteboard. "We will be practicing writing katakana for the rest of the class period. Please work on these four pages."

No one gave any acknowledging sound. The only noise that could be heard came from the scratching of pencils on paper and Akusawa's slim fingers lightly tapping the top of a desk.

Jack could feel his legs tremble slightly. His arms felt stiff as well, and all he wanted to do was avoid the penetrating gaze of the principal. But he couldn't just stand there facing the whiteboard for the rest of the class. Jack set the marker down and rushed back to his desk, avoiding the glare Akusawa sent his way.

He took out a pen from the desk drawer, and began to grade papers as his students did their work. 

The clock ticked.

The students wrote in their activity books.

Akusawa tapped his fingers on the desk.

And Jack desperately wished the bell would ring so that he could do his work in peace.

"Uh," a voice called out, and Jack nearly jumped out of his chair. A few chuckles echoed in the room, and one of them was horribly familiar. He looked up, lips twitching into a frown.

"Mister, uh, I mean, Jack-sensei," a boy named Astor asked hesitantly, "Can you explain what the symbol in the third paragraph on page 41 means?" 

"Y-Yes, I can." Jack nodded. 

He stood up from his desk and headed towards the boy. 

His legs wouldn't stop shaking, and his hands began to tremble as well. He then looked over at Akusawa to see that he had a scowl on his face. Jack's heart sped up, his mouth went dry, and he couldn't stop staring at Akusawa's menacing glare. And before he knew it, his foot collided with an empty desk, effectively tripping him and making him fall face-first onto the floor, the desk falling right on top of him.

The stunned silence was a blessing, at least until he arose and tried to straighten the desk back out, his entire body now shaking in barely-repressed anger and the anxiety running rampant throughout him. With the screeching of metal-on-plastic-tile, a few muffled laughs tried to sneak in around it, but Jack straightened up quickly and walked over to Astor's desk, his face a mask of stone.

Jack quickly examined the symbol in the book that Astor was pointing to and noticed something wrong. They hadn't learned this character yet. 

"Ah, I apologize Astor-kun." Jack said quietly. "It seems we haven't gone over this character. My mistake."

Jack pulled himself back up and looked out over the classroom.

"We will go over it and several others next class, so please skip that problem for now."

The tapping on the desk in the back grew louder, even as the class seemed to let out a sigh of collective relief. Jack instead chose to ignore Akusawa, and began his methodical walking around the classroom and checking in on students as he went. He tried his best to avoid Akusawa's scalding gaze as he did so, but it seemed nearly impossible.

After what felt like an eternity, Jack heard the bell ring, and he dismissed his students.

Jack managed to make it all the way back to his desk before he let out a deep breath, only to hear the sound of a metal chair being pushed back and his heart jumped.

He willed himself to calm down, straightening his shirt and back, subconsciously counting the steps as Akusawa walked to the front of the classroom and behind Jack.

"Professor." That baritone made Jack want to retch, but he turned around and faced the incoming horror anyway.

"Y-Yes?" Jack asked, his voice wavering.

Akusawa looked far from pleased.

He stood tall and stiff, his arms crossed and his foot tapping the floor. He scowled and then said, "Meet me in my office." 

Jack could swear his heart stopped right then and there as the other man turned away and walked out the door. His hands and legs couldn't stop shaking and his heart beat grew rapid. Jack stared at the ground and couldn't stop himself from walking out of his room and towards Akusawa's office.

The walk down the long, white-walled hallways always seemed to be the equivalent of a death row sentence to Jack. He knew it wasn't nearly that bad, truly, but it didn't stop his mind from jumping to the comparison every time.

Regardless, they still arrived in just under two minutes, and Jack walked in and sat numbly in one of the two stiff-backed chairs in front of Akusawa's desk. The other man linked his arms behind his back and strode over to the two windows, staring fiercely out between the shutters.

"The Akusawa family has been successful since the name was formed, all the way back in 1961. Our humble beginnings had us working hard and frequently due to supply and demand. But that hard work turned our lives around for the better. The company we built from the dirt flourished under our control, and we became wealthy and prosperous due to this. Do you know why Mr. Nagaoka?"

The tense, yet proud tone in his voice made Jack shiver.

'Because you are a family of sharks?' he wanted to answer. Thankfully he had more control than that.

"N-No," he said, then swallowed.

"Because we are not a family of failures." Akusawa turned, glaring intensely at Jack, "We have never tolerated anything less than stellar. And today, Mr. Nagaoka, you were..."

He smirked, drawing it out and curling his lip contemptuously, "Far less than that."

Jack tried to open his mouth to say something, but no matter how he tried, nothing would come out. It already felt as if the room were spinning, and then Akusawa turned around to face him, his gaze stabbing into his very soul.

"Never in my life have I seen such incompetence coming from our teaching staff." Akusawa said, obviously concealing both his own rage and amusement. "Not only did you make a fool of yourself in front of me and your students, but you gave the students an assignment they hadn't learned about, and then told them to forget about it?!"

"I-" Jack spoke up, but was immediately interrupted by Akusawa. 

"Save your words, Nagaoka." Was Aku's curt reply. "I am not interested in them."

Jack leaned back in the chair, his shoulders tense and rigid. Anger flared inside of Jack, but he wouldn't have dared to let it show. Akusawa noticed his fury anyways, and his grin got wider.

"It is also true, Mr. Nagaoka, that there are several other teachers I've thought about bringing on-board...They come with high regards from Lathrop High, but the problem is that we already have a full staff. I have been searching for just the opportunity to bring them on."

Jack's head shot back up, his mouth falling open to gape at Akusawa. The man surely, he couldn't mean...

Jack shut his mouth again quickly, enraged by the culmination of events. Of course Akusawa would.

Ridiculously, he felt this throat constrict and his face flush as he resisted the urge to have an emotional outburst. This was such a ridiculous thing to fire someone over! Akusawa was the only one that had complaints about him; Jack had read the past students' reviews!

Well, at least if he were fired he would not have Akusawa over him anymore. The thought was a cold comfort as he slumped in his seat, defeated and preparing for the worst.

Abruptly, Akusawa's face contorted into a snarl, and he turned back to the window.

"Unfortunately, now is not that time. It is not in my abilities to take action against you for such a... for your ineptitude. But do be aware, Mr. Nagaoka, that I am always watching. I'd advise you to do better, but I doubt that is possible."

With that, he waved his hand dismissively towards the door.

Jack blinked, the difference between his expectations and reality sinking through his brain like molasses. The insults still stung...but he wasn't fired. It was a little unreal.

"I... very well, Mr. Akusawa," he said, a bit unsure, getting up to his feet again, "I, um, will see you at the next sit-in."

Jack made for the door, but still heard Akusawa snort over his shoulder: "Sooner than that, regrettably."

Jack made no comment on the snide remark, and made it out the door. As soon as he was out of hearing range, Jack took in a deep breath and sighed in relief. 

It gave his mind time to calm down and actually process the situation he had been put in. It didn't take long for him to realize that Akusawa had been playing him, as a cat does to a mouse. But it didn't matter, did it? There was nothing that could be done about it. 

Akusawa held power and a high position.

Jack did not.

If there was anything that could be done, it would most likely result in his unemployment.

But Jack was tired of dwelling on that horrid man and the things he could do, and so he turned his thoughts to something more pleasant, like going home. 

Anything was better than him.


When Jack got home, the first thing he did was to take a nice hot shower. He needed it after all. But while he was in there, thoughts of today's events replayed in his mind, still seemingly fresh. All he could remember was his embarrassment, his mistakes, and Akusawa's menacing glare. Even after he dried off and got dressed, the bad memories were still fresh in his mind. 

All he wanted now was sleep, and yet he couldn't even have that with the mountain of papers to grade. One by one, he began to inspect the papers, marking the students' mistakes with a red pen. And, for a while, he could focus on something other than this wretched day.

But when the papers were done, his memories flooded back to him.

Jack sighed. He got up and began stretching, choosing to shoo the memories away for the moment. He began his usual bedtime routine - teeth and hair brushed, glass of water at the ready for the night- and then lit the incense under the photo and memorial of his parents upon the shelf in the living room.

He smiled for the first time in hours, relaxing as well.

"Hello Mother. Hello Father. It is good to speak to you again." 

He moved around his house, rearranging his desk and other small chores, speaking to them all the while. 

"The students are doing fine, don't worry! Astor and Verbina especially are improving rapidly. But that Akusawa..." 

He frowned, pausing briefly, before he continued on. 

"He's growing into more of an irritating piece of... Well, he is something, I will tell you that! He called me in to hang my job over my head, only to say he couldn't fire me for...for incompetence! He called me that! That insufferable - Mother, cover your ears for a minute - ass!" 

Jack began to move again, his restlessness subsiding. 

"I apologize for the language, Father, but there are very few words I can use to describe him. He makes my life a living hell, and it seems there's nothing I can do about him." Jack said, a weary expression on his face. "Anything I could try to do would get me fired."

He sighed and sat down when he felt the room had been organized enough. Then he buried his face in his hands and took in a deep breath.

"All I can do is wait until he decides to fire me. I feel so... trapped." He shifted anxiously where he sat, "It is only a matter of time before I make a mistake, and then Akusawa will have a reason to fire me." He felt himself growing in fear and anger as his voice rose, "I can't lose this job! I love this job! It is a wonderful job filled with wonderful people and I just..." He stopped for a moment to think over his words.

"...I just can't lose it all again," Jack whispered.

At that moment, he could have sworn he almost felt his mother's embrace and his father patting his shoulder. He could have sworn, even though he knew they were not there. Not anymore. They never would be ever again. But, just for a while, the thought of their presence helped him ignore the harsh truth.

That moment couldn't last for long though, and after what seemed like a few seconds, he could no longer even pretend.

It left him feeling empty and hollow. Looking at his parents' shrine, Jack was aware he couldn't just sit here and wallow in his own sorrows all night. After taking a moment to compose himself, he began to clean up around the shrine.

The whole debacle reminded him of a childhood memory. Of coming home, hurt and angry, to his parents' arms after the older and larger kids at school had bullied him and made him feel helpless under their so-called power. Jack snorted back a laugh. His mother had comforted him then, holding him tight and drying the tears he had shed, but later that night his father had sat beside him on his bed and shared some of his wisdom.

"Tashi," his father said, putting an arm around his much smaller shoulders, "Nothing worth having is easily obtained."

Jack looked up at his father, wide-eyed and eager to hear more.

[1]"Sometimes, you must fight for what is yours, and what you believe in," his father continued, "Although the methods by which you do this you must choose carefully. Not everything is to be resolved at the time of conflict, or with physical violence. It is not one's outward brawn, but rather one's inner strength that makes them mighty."

Jack smiled, sighing contentedly as the memory warmed him again. He held that advice close to his heart, but why had it come back so vividly now?

...Now that he thought about it, how had he displayed his inner strength to those bullies? He was not a fighting type, that was for sure. Or at least not the type to pick a fight. Strangely, it took another few moments of deep thought to bring the rest of the memory forth.

He had spent part of a night assembling a sizeable amount of pencil, eraser, crayon, and paper shavings into a pouch. The next day, while everyone was in groups, Jack broke from his and emptied the contents carefully around the bullies' desks, making sure to leave a small train between them. Within a few minutes, the teacher called all the bullies up and scolded them loudly in front of the whole class.

Jack straightened back up as it all finally clicked together. Smiling wide, he spoke aloud once more.

"Prepare youself, Kurou Akusawa! This marks the beginning of my revenge!"

There was a long pause.

"Well, not revenge, but I will obtain justice for myself and all those you have made miserable!"

And with those words, their Prank War began.

Chapter Text

Today was the day that Jack would begin the war on Akusawa. He had many pranks lined up, but the only problem was, Jack didn’t know what would push Akusawa’s buttons. Sure, any old prank would tick him off, but what would truly annoy him?

Jack decided it would be best if he visited someone who knew Akusawa well. And the only person here who once knew him was Desmond Mongo, one of the English teachers in this school.

Like most of the teachers, he found the man sitting at his desk, grading papers or presumably doing paperwork, when he suddenly noticed Jack standing by his open door.

“Ah, Jack, please come in!” Desmond said.

Jack stepped inside the classroom and waved at the other teacher. “Good morning, Mr...”

“Oh, please, just call me Desmond,” Desmond replied. “No need for titles right now, we’re hardly acquaintances.”

“Right... Sorry…” Jack shifted nervously. He had been friends with Desmond, but for some reason they had just stopped talking to each other. Jack didn’t know why and he had a feeling Desmond didn’t either. But, either way, he questioned whether their distance could be fixed.

“It’s been such a long time since you visited me! We simply must go out somewhere again!”

Jack was surprised at how accepting Desmond was even after such a long time. It was almost nostalgic, really, and Jack was tempted to just forget about his plans and have a nice talk with his friend. But, Jack knew something had to be done about Akusawa and it had to be done soon.

“We should definitely go to karaoke again with Fergus,” Desmond continued. “It was such a fun time, especially when we all sang pop songs at the top of our lungs!”

"Ye-yes! Perhaps when break comes around!" Jack responded, lips twitching into a hesitant smile. "But I also wanted to ask you about... Um... Akusawa."

Desmond's eyebrows shot up, expression growing curious."And what is it about him you wished to know?"

"Well, you two were, er, close, were you not?"

"Yes." Desmond's face sank just a bit, and he regarded Jack a little more cautiously, "Not too long ago. Before he... Well, we simply drifted apart, as others might say."

Jack's interest was piqued by Desmond's redirection, but he had to stay on course if this were to go well.

"Then perhaps you could help me with a - a personal project. So to speak." Jack felt a little thrill of confidence as he prepared the necessary information to put his plan into motion.

Desmond smiled, continuing brightly despite his hesitance, "Oh? And what kind of project is this?"

"Oh, simply things I might be able to do to brighten his day!"

"Brighten... His day." Desmond repeated, incredulous.

"Yes! So, could you tell me what I might be able to do for him? Based on what kinds of things he likes and does on an average day." Jack found that he was genuinely smiling.

It wasn't exactly lying, but it was not revealing his plans either.

"Er, well," Desmond tapped his fingers on his desk a bit nervously, looking away as he thought about it. "He is the only one of the staff that drinks that horrible coffee the administration supplies. He says it keeps him alert."

Jack flinched, recalling the smell alone from the staff room. Akusawa drank that? No wonder he was such a stuck-up.

"Also, keeping pranking materials free of students. You recall that child that brought the whoopie cushion in? Eh - Danny something?"

Jack nodded; although Danny had not been enrolled in his class, he had seen his students hanging out with the young man during lunch hour a few semesters ago. He also recalled the other staff speaking about what a class clown Danny had been, right up until—

"I don't think I've ever seen anyone get as red as Kurou did that day. When Danny finally came out of his office I thought he'd turned into a ghost. He had to go to the nurse afterwards because his heart nearly stopped in his chest."

Desmond locked eyes with Jack again, a wariness now haunting them.

"He hates pranks, and he hates the pranksters even more. Just make sure... the students aren't caught in the act."He grinned wide, a mischievous look in his eyes. Jack blanched a bit, but collected himself and thanked the man enthusiastically.

This was going to be great.


Desmond sat back in the staff lounge chair, still thinking about the odd situation he had been in a few minutes ago. He knew Jack was up to something because it wasn’t normal for him to ask about that man let alone what he liked.

It was probably for some type of revenge, and Desmond sorely hoped that if it was, Jack didn’t get caught.

Despite how distant he and Jack had grown apart, Desmond still considered Jack a good friend, and he desperately wished to keep their friendship intact. He knew better than most that Jack was going through some things, and he wished he could be there to help, but Jack seemed almost... scared?

He shook his head unconsciously.

That was ridiculous. Jack probably just needed some time to be alone, that’s all.

He just needed some quiet.

He didn’t need friends right now.

And that’s when Desmond’s thoughts turned dark, so he elected to ignore the bad thoughts and to try to continue relaxing for as long as he could.

However, as he was sitting, Desmond noticed that Fergus walked in, and he smiled. Maybe talking to Fergus could help ease his mind.“Good morning, Fergus!” Desmond called cheerily.

"'Tis indeed, is it now?" Fergus' thick Scottish accent drawled out the 'now', and he reached a large hand forward to shake it with Desmond's.

"But wha' makes it great ta’ ya today, laddie?"

Desmond beamed and eagerly shook his friend’s hand. “Well, for starters, Jack visited me this morning!” His smile fell when he recalled what exactly they had been discussing. “Although, what we talked about was... odd to say the least.”

"Odd? From that man? Friend, yer gunna hafta be more specific!" Fergus chuckled, "We all like Jack, but he is already an odd one!"

Desmond hummed, “Yes, I mean, we all are pretty strange here, but it was out of the ordinary what he wanted to talk to me about.” He paused, a little bit unsure. “Today, he asked me about Akusawa.”

Fergus choked, eyes bulging, and he coughed heartily into his hand before regaining his composure. "That scrote? Wha' in the hell was Jack asking about him for?"

“Well,” Desmond replied, “between you and me, I think Jack wants some kind of revenge against him. Not anything serious, mind you, but I think something happened yesterday between them.”Desmond looked to the floor, and coughed in his hand. “Of course, I might be wrong, but there was something suspicious about how he wanted to ‘brighten Akusawa’s day’ - especially with the history those two have.”

"Brighten...? Oh, Desmond, you dunnae think he means ta’ do somethin' drastic, does'e?" Fergus asked nervously, then his eyes went wide again, "We gots ta' stop him before he does somethin' ‘e cannae take back! Akusawa'll 'ave ‘is head on a platter!"

Desmond gasped, shocked and horrified. “Oh no, you’re right! What have I done?! He’ll be dead meat! We’ve got to save him!”

The two raced towards Jack's classroom, barreling through the door and screeching to a gasping stop as they reached his desk. Jack looked up, shocked, and his eyes briefly flickered to the full class in their seats, now all attentive to the two other teachers that had just come in.

"Jack! Ye dinna' do it, did ya?" Fergus wheezed, grasping Jack's shoulder hard, "Please, please tell me ya dinna' do it!"

“Do... what?” Jack asked, confusion evident on his face.

Desmond motioned for Jack to come out of the classroom. Jack stood up from his desk and said, “Class, I’ll be right back. In the meantime, please work on the paper I gave you.”

As he walked out into the hallway, he noticed his friends both had desperately worried expressions on their faces. “What is going o-”

Desmond interrupted him. “Please tell me you didn’t prank Akusawa!”

Jack had an expression of shock on his face, which only made the two men worry even more. “Oh no, Jack! Why? Why did you do it? Akusawa will rip you apart!” Desmond cried.

“I know,” Jack replied uneasily. “He will if I get caught. But that is why I will not get caught by him.”

"Wha-what d’ya mean, 'not get caught'? Of course you'll be caught! He's gunna know it was you, Jack!" Fergus gestured wildly with his hands, although he was trying to keep his voice down for fear of Akusawa lurking anywhere nearby.

“Yes, he will most likely guess that it was me,” Jack stated in a whisper, “but there won’t be any way to prove it. At least, not one he’ll be able to access with ease. I know for certain that he is not permitted to watch footage from the school’s cameras, and even if he tries to, he won’t find any evidence of me doing anything.”

“Jack...” Desmond began. “W-What did you do?”

"Please do nae tell me ya put a whoopie cushion on his chair, Jack." Fergus groaned.

“No, no, not that!” Jack said, guiltily remembering the story Desmond had told him earlier this morning. “I would never want poor Danny to get in trouble again!”

Fergus and Desmond breathed a huge sigh of relief, sagging a bit.“But... if you didn’t do that...” Desmond said,“Then what did you d-”

His sentence was broken off by the faint sound of Akusawa screaming in frustration.

“Go, go!” Jack whispered to the two, shooing them away. They looked about as frightened as he was, but they heeded his orders, running back to their own classrooms.

Jack went back inside of his own and began teaching as if nothing had happened. The kids were slightly stunned and afraid, but Jack did not seem like he was. If anything, Jack seemed to be a bit more... confident than he was before.

After a few minutes, the door opened to reveal a very angry, glaring Akusawa. He sat himself down in his usual empty seat and the kids immediately shied away from him.If Jack felt any fear, it surely did not show, and he began to calmly pass out a paper to every student. Even though Akusawa was giving him one hell of a glare, Jack didn’t seem to notice. “This is your homework for tonight, but it is just a review on Hiragana so do not worry. All of you have been doing excellently thus far.”

The students began to work on their homework for the last couple of minutes they had and then Akusawa grimaced.He began to tap his finger on his desk. Jack finally looked towards him, “Mr. Akusawa, I would appreciate if you would refrain from making noise while my students are trying to concentrate.”

Akusawa’s eyes bulged, making the scariest(and the funniest) expression Jack had ever seen him make. It took Jack a lot of willpower to keep from laughing. Soon enough class was over and, once again, Akusawa had called Jack into his office.

“Do you think what you did was funny?” Akusawa demanded, leaning over his desk and glaring at Jack.

“What exactly did I do?” Jack asked, expressionless.

“You know what you did,” Akusawa accused with narrowed eyes. “I don’t know how you knew to do it, but I know you did it.” 

“Did what, sir?” Jack asked again.

“You know what!” Akusawa’s eye twitched and he raised his voice. “Hiding the coffee tin and replacing it with an empty one! You left this inside of it,” Akusawa then held up a sticky note with a crudely drawn crayon smiley face on it.

“I did no such thing.” Jack replied coolly.

Akusawa’s eye twitched again. “Just admit it you incompetent fool! I know it was you!”

Jack sighed, “Sir, it was not me. You do not have any proof that it was me and you are just wasting my time. I have work I need to do and papers to grade, so if you’ll excuse me,” Jack got out of his chair, stood up, and began to head out the door. “I will be on my way.”


Over the next few days Jack found an enjoyable routine in dropping by Desmond's classroom early, inquiring about Akusawa's life and habits, then finding a way to exploit them and prank him with them.

That night he found a horror story on an internet board about a cottage cheese cheesecake and he ran out to the grocery store to buy the necessary ingredients. The next morning, he placed the tiny, round cake on Akusawa's desk with a note proclaiming it to be from an "admirer." The retching in the bathroom, reportedly, was heard all the way down the hall.

The very next day, after having dropped by a casual curiosity shop on the way home the other night and picking up a few things, he ensured Akusawa's small supply of chewing gum that he stashed away in his desk was replaced with all fake ones that exploded into ash.

Later that same day, he bribed a night of babysitting Mr. Utonium's girls for a live frog from the lab. While Akusawa was out patrolling the classrooms, albeit a little paler than usual, Jack snuck the amphibian in to Aku's office. As the students and staff prepared to leave for the day a few hours later, a single scream echoed out from that direction. Sadly, Mr. Utonium did get the blunt end of Akusawa's rage, but he insisted the frog had simply escaped. Akusawa made him swear to put a lock on the enclosure.

Jack managed to replace all of Akusawa's pens with exploding ones, which resulted in the longest and foulest string of curses ever reported from the Vice Principal Joseph Moreland. The actual report itself took some time to get out of Joseph, as he had a habit of repeating himself in different ways.

But it was all so worth it, and Jack found that he was smiling much more than he had since he first began working there.

And then the day after that, Jack had managed to sneak into the staff room and replace all the coffee with Pepsi. Which, like the hiding of the coffee incident, managed to elicit a scream out of Akusawa. He then called Jack back into his office, but Jack did not yield.

That was when Akusawa decided enough was enough.

He obviously would not get anything out of Jack, and the other teachers were useless as well, so he had to get help from someone he knew. Someone he trusted.

Later that night, Akusawa went home and performed his daily rituals. He did his paperwork, washed his clothes, vacuumed the floors, had a quick dinner, and then he called his twin sister, like he did at least every month. But, this time, he had a certain conversational topic in mind.As the phone dialed, he sat down on the couch and tapped his fingers absentmindedly on their rest. He needed advice and he needed it soon.Hopefully, she would pick up, but it wasn’t always guaranteed. After all, she was a busy woman too.

After what seemed like a few minutes, the dialing stopped, and Akusawa heard that oh-so-familiar voice of hers.

“Hello, brother.” The voice said coolly. “How have you been?”

Akusawa leaned back in the couch and sighed. “It’s been a bit rough, Akira,” he said wearily. “I’ve been having a... problem with one of my staff recently.”

“Oh?” She replied. “Why don’t you just fire them then?”

“Because, I haven’t been able to prove that they’ve done anything, and it would be an utter pain to find another teacher who teaches the same language.”

Akira hummed thoughtfully, “Well, could you tell me what this teacher has been doing?”

Akusawa explained everything, from that godawful cheesecake, to the latest incident, Pepsi in the coffee pot. Akira hummed in thought, seemingly thinking of a plan, and then after a while, she spoke.

“Well then, if he seems to like pranking you this much, why don’t you give him a taste of his own medicine?”

“What?” Was Akusawa’s intelligent reply.

“I mean,” Akira clarified, “what you can do is take this person out to dinner and then sabotage them. Put miscellaneous things in their water when they’re in the bathroom, put a whoopie cushion on their chair, give them a shock when they try to give you a handshake - that sort of thing. If you do it in public, they’re bound to leave you alone.”

“Thank you, that is an excellent idea!” Akusawa exclaimed, grinning wolfishly.

Akira laughed lightly, “It’s no problem at all. Now, is there anything else you wanted to talk about?”

“Oh,” Akusawa said, smiling almost serenely. “I also wanted to check in with you. So, how’s your new book coming along?”

Chapter Text

It was early the next day when Akusawa found Jack in his classroom, finishing up some grading before the first bell rang. Akusawa almost wanted to accuse him of incompetence again, but he held it in with the plan he already had in mind.

"Mr. Nagaoka," he said as he walked through the door, taking small delight in watching Jack jump a bit and turn his head worriedly, "I was hoping to speak with you about something... rather pressing."

"Yes?" Jack asked, scrutinizing Akusawa with his gaze.

"I wish to call a- ah truce between us."

Jack blinked at him for a few seconds, then opened his mouth a few times before responding.

"A truce? I... I was not aware we were... at opposing sides in anything, Mr. Akusawa."

"Jack, please," Akusawa waved a hand, "I will not bring up what we have been opposed over, but know that I truly want to call a truce. Say, dinner tonight at The Vallata? 8pm?"

Jack had a moment of doubt, of thinking that Akusawa was just being his usual intolerable, snarky self, but he truly wanted to believe that perhaps he had learned his lesson as well. So he chose to believe him even with a grain of salt still held in his mind.

And besides, The Vallata was really nice, and he'd kind-of always wanted to try it.

"That sounds lovely! Shall I meet you there?" Jack smiled brightly, and Akusawa felt a twinge of disgust.

"Yes, just tell them it's me and they'll valet for you," Akusawa turned and headed for the door, calling over his shoulder before leaving, "Looking forward to it!"

Jack smiled after Akusawa, feeling a wave of relief wash over him. The pranks had been fun, but he didn't want to do them forever. He did rather hope that Akusawa had seen reason, and wanted to know how to improve his relationship not only with Jack, but with others as well.

By the time he got home and washed up, though, that grain of doubt was still nagging at him, although he knew it was perfectly justified. Akusawa had proven, time and time again, he was very much another child of the world's most entitled family. But Jack still wanted to believe in the best in him, because it was simply the right thing to do. If he gave Akusawa a chance, then surely Akusawa would see that simple kindness got one much further than money and cruelty.

Perhaps, though, just in case...

As he gathered his dress clothes, Jack quietly pondered on what he might do if this were a trap, or some elaborate ploy by Akusawa meant for his own revenge. But Akusawa had always been... more of a private person. He seemed to be the type, almost like Jack, who got revenge in less direct ways. Certainly never in public in front of others; he had never heard of the principal calling someone out in front of the whole student or staff body.

Then again, no one had ever dared oppose him like Jack had. This may have been the necessary straw to break the camel's back, though, in order to help Akusawa see the light. Feeling resolved, Jack dressed quickly and gathered his wallet and keys before heading out for The Vallata.


Akusawa waited impatiently as he sat in a chair, tapping his finger against the white table. He sorely hoped Jack bought it, and judging by his utterly idiotic grin, Akusawa guessed he fell for it. Hard. He then checked his watch again, waiting for Jack to show.

It was already past eight.

Akusawa’s patience was running thin, and he was thinking about just leaving whether or not he came, but then, seemingly out of nowhere, Jack appeared, dressed in formal attire, and with his hair nicely done.

“Sorry I am running a bit late.” Jack apologized. “I had a few issues with my car. I hope I wasn’t a bother.”

Akusawa had to keep himself from sneering. “No, no, not at all... I haven’t been waiting for too long.”

Jack gave a small, thankful, smile and then sat down in the chair across from Akusawa.

The two sat in awkward silence for quite a while before Akusawa cleared his throat and began to speak. “So,” he began, “How have you been doing lately?”

“Oh, I, um, have been doing well.” Jack replied awkwardly. “How about yourself?”

“I have been doing fantastic,” Akusawa said, trying not to let his hatred seep into his words. “thank you for asking.”

It got much more silent after that and the two shuffled awkwardly until Akusawa spoke up again, unable to bear the silence. “So, how’s your life at home?”

Jack sighed. “There is nothing much to say about it, really. It’s pretty mundane.”

“Oh.” Akusawa replied intelligently. “Well, I’m sure it is not so mundane to you. It is your life after all.”

Jack smiled a bit. It seemed like Akusawa was genuinely trying, and that was encouraging to him.

The waiter came up, and greeted them politely. Glasses were already set at their table, and when they both requested water the waiter took out a steel pitcher. Jack was reminded he needed to look at his menu, and he pulled it up and began to look it over intently as the waiter poured their water.

Some inner piece of himself flinched a bit at the price range, but he reminded himself quietly that this was a special occasion, so it was alright to splurge just a little.

After a few minutes, Jack finally found the item all the reviewers had raved about, the halibut plate. It sounded like a fantastic choice, and he put down his menu to continue speaking to Akusawa. However, his company was looking over his own menu, flat on the table, scouring it with an analytical gaze.

The two ordered their respective foods, and then as the waiter left, Jack absently reached for his glass, looking around them to get a better picture of the restaurant to remember it by. When he started sipping, a bitter, overwhelming taste hit him and he gagged. He took the glass back, looking at it in shock.

Several fresh slices of lemon were floating in his glass, numerous seeds already drifting to the bottom. He did not recall asking for...

His eyes shot up to stare at Akusawa. Akusawa seemed to sense his gaze and looked up with a inquiring cock of his eyebrow. His eyes drifted to Jack's glass, and both eyebrows rose as the barest hint of a smile twitched at the corners of his lips.

"You must have gotten all of the lemons in the pitcher, Jack. I'm sorry," Akusawa picked up his own, completely free of any hint of lemons, and examined it, "No wonder I did not get any in mine."

Jack eyed Akusawa suspiciously, but then thought nothing of it. It had to be an honest mistake, so he couldn’t just start jumping to conclusions.

“Ah, I see...” He said hesitantly, setting the glass down on the table. “Well, I think I’ll pass on water for now.”

Inwardly, Akusawa chuckled, observing the look of disgust on Jack’s face. Jack didn’t seem to mind this prank, but little did he know that there was plenty more where that came from. Akusawa briefly wondered whether or not he should take it back, and just have a somewhat peaceful dinner to avoid drama. But in the end, the pranks won out. It didn’t matter how much drama this would stir up, Akusawa would get his revenge.

Holding back a smile, Akusawa nodded in understanding and breathed out a sigh.  

“So, tell me, how did you get the nickname ‘Jack’?” Akusawa asked, raising one eyebrow.

“Oh! Ah, um...” Jack thought for a moment, trying to recall the memory. Soon enough, it came back to him and he smiled.

“Ah yes, it was my first day as teacher, and I came across some students who were curious about who I was. I gave them my name, and I believe they couldn’t pronounce it, so they ended up calling me Jack, because they thought the name fit. I guess in some ways it does, because I ended up keeping the nickname.”

Akusawa hummed thoughtfully. That had to be the most stupid origin story of a nickname he had ever heard. Granted, it was the only origin story of a nickname he had ever heard, but that didn’t matter. Akusawa had to play nice with the man, so he instead chose to say, “That’s very interesting.”

Jack quirked an eyebrow, but moved past the subject. It was obvious Akusawa didn’t think much of his story, but at least he was trying.

So Jack and Aku continued to chat about various small things, Jack pleased that Akusawa was giving an effort, and Akusawa about ready to rip the hair out of his head. Then, the two noticed the server bringing food their way.

“Ah, it looks like our food is here.” Akusawa said, a grin spreading across his face.

The server set the two plates down on the table and smiled. “Have a nice day!” The server said before walking back from where they came.

“Let’s dig in.” Akusawa grinned.

Jack smiled and began to unwrap his silverware, only to discover that there were knives instead of a fork and a spoon. Jack stared at the bundle, confused and somewhat concerned.

“I think... there might be a slight problem.” Jack said.

“Hm?” Akusawa hummed. “And what might that be?”

“My... utensils are all knives.” Jack said, still confused. His suspicion rose, but he tried to expel it. There was no way Akusawa could be at fault, it was an honest mistake. “I think I’ll have to ask that server if I can get the proper silverware.”

Their waiter apologized profusely upon being called over and shown the issue, but Jack could swear they gave him a strange look over their shoulder as they left to bring back a complete set. Once that was done, Jack tucked his napkin into his lap and carefully dug in.

The reviewers were right, he noted with pleasure; the halibut was perfectly grilled and still deliciously tender and flavorful. He was delighted to have chosen it.

"Is it good?" Akusawa asked, although his concentration was on his own plate.

"Yes!" Jack replied, "And yours?"

"Delicious, as always." Akusawa took a bit of pride in being able to continue to nudge in that this place was a regularity for him, obviously unlike Jack. Petty, but he had grown used to taking shots when he could.

"That's good! I'm glad you are enjoying yours as well!"

Akusawa held back a groan.

Jack felt like he would hold this night in high regard, in spite of the hiccups earlier, as he truly appreciated the food and the effort Akusawa was putting forth. It was shaping up to be a very meaningful memory, and that was the most exciting part.

Akusawa could feel his frustration mounting, as Jack wasn't causing quite the scene as he had hoped. He wanted the fool publicly humiliated and defeated, not quietly accepting this pranks as "mishaps!" He would need to step it up, he thought grumpily as he stirred and ate his pasta, if he wanted Jack to get the intended message.

Shortly thereafter, Jack excused himself for the bathroom, and Akusawa seized his chance. A few minutes later when Jack returned and sat, he continued digging into his food eagerly, but upon tasting the first bite he frowned a bit. Swallowing thickly, he took another curious bite, before he pulled back with a furrowed brow.

"What is it now?" Akusawa asked innocently, also throwing in a bit of a tired tone for good measure.

Jack swallowed again, this time with a bit more pain in his features, and met Akusawa's gaze. Jack felt his stomach churn, and it wasn't just because the food was suddenly too salty.

'Oh,' he thought, his heart very heavy in his chest. There wasn't much else of an explanation as to how his food, of all things, was unexpectedly distasteful. This night, and all the little "mishaps" earlier, suddenly made much more sense to him.

He didn't think he could feel any more ashamed and angry than he did right then, but he was about to be proven wrong.

Of course, once he began to think about it, all of Akusawa’s pranks had been inside ones. Even though they were out in public, Akusawa had not yet used that to his advantage. Not once did Akusawa embarrass him or make him out to be a fool. Jack gave a tired smile, and then acted as if everything were normal.

Akusawa growled inwardly. None of his pranks had any effect against the man! And it maybe even encouraged the pranking. This obviously called for drastic measures.

Once Akusawa was done with his meal, Jack getting a box from a waiter to save his for later, Jack sighed and got up from his chair.

“Well, tonight has been lovely.” Jack said in a strained voice, standing up from his seat, and extending his hand. Akusawa nodded and did the same, shaking his hand.

“Likewise.”

When the two finished up shaking hands, they stacked the plates and silverware on the table, and then they both split the bill.

“Well, thank you for the dinner.” Jack said politely.

“It was no problem,” Akusawa grinned. “I’m glad you could come.”

Jack was about to walk away when suddenly something stuck out in front of his legs, tripping him. He was about to hit the floor when he suddenly scrambled for some kind of support and ended up pulling the sheet off of an empty table.

He fell to the floor, the sheet covering him, the utensils landing on the floor with a ‘ching’. As Jack felt the eyes of many bystanders gape at him, he felt fury bubble up in his chest. Jack bundled up the sheet and utensils and then angrily set the bundle back on the table. He then stormed out the door with a furious expression on his face.

He knew it was rude, but he just wanted to get away from the restaurant, from all those people who witnessed his embarrassment, from Akusawa.

It was foolish to even think that Akusawa had changed. Believing him was foolish. At that moment, Jack truly felt like... a fool.

Akusawa did his best to look shocked as he swiftly followed Jack.

"Jack! What the hell was that? Just because you tripped again—" Akusawa came after Jack out into the street towards the parking lot, readying his eye roll to continue his charade.

Jack spun on him, enraged to his breaking point.

“Tripped? Tripped? ” Jack spat back. “You deliberately tripped me! I know what you were up to, Akusawa! You planned all those little mishaps today, I know you did!”

That took Akusawa by surprise. He took a step back involuntarily, but then stepped forward into Jack's space, leering down the whole five inches he had on Jack's height.

Very well, then. Time to play his final hand.

"Prove it." Akusawa hissed, unable to stop the smile from forming on his lips.

Jack was about to snap at Akusawa again, but then he realized that there was nothing he could do. His anger faded almost in an instant and was replaced by defeat. There was no way he could prove that he did it. Nobody saw the man trip him, and the staff probably wouldn’t tell Jack if he did.

Jack’s shoulders sagged, and he let out a short, distressed laugh before trudging back to his car.

He was done.

Akusawa was stunned, to say the least. He had expected retaliation, vicious words; perhaps even a teary confession of how much this had hurt Jack?; but instead the man just... sagged, huffed a laugh and turned to continue walking away.

He then decided he felt cheated, and his temper flared. Oh, Jack may have admitted defeat, but Akusawa would see him humiliated.

He glanced around as he went after Jack again, and was delighted to see quite a few number of people on the street. Some were already looking at them and whispering to those nearby.

"Do not," Akusawa called after him, "Blame everything wrong in your life on me! Why don't you just accept that you are a foolish little man who constantly fails at everything he does?"

Jack stopped dead in his tracks. He clenched his fists and grit his teeth. Tears threatened to fall from his eyes, but he refused to cry in front of this... this horrid human being! He just sighed and then said, “You’ve won. What more do you want? Why do you insist on rubbing it in?!”

Akusawa stopped within a foot of Jack, knowingly entering his personal space bubble. Still, he raised his voice, both pretending to be angry and also calling attention to them.

"Won? I haven't won anything, you fool! I just wanted to try and reach a friendly hand out to you, out of the kindness of my heart, and you bring your bad attitude and manners to this fine establishment to ruin the chance I was willing to give you! The only one who has humiliated you is yourself! If anything, I have lost what could have been a pleasant evening, but no! You had to ruin it out of some petty, disillusioned grudge!"

Jack felt a sharp pang in his chest, and for a minute, he really began to believe he was at fault. But then he remembered that everything Akusawa did was intentional, and he straightened back up, and turned away from the man. He couldn’t care less what Akusawa did or said at this point, and he certainly wasn’t going to stay here with him.

So he quickly walked back to his car, despite what words Akusawa might have thrown at him, got in it, started it, and then began to drive away.

Akusawa stared after him, still feeling like he missed a chance for a big explosion on Jack's part, but the other man had already sped away, the defeat rolling off of him in waves. He smirked, pride swelling in him.

Well. That took care of that, didn't it?

Chapter Text

Life returned to much the same it had always been. No pranks, no surprises, and no more need for childish antics from two grown men. Akusawa found the regular routine to be a breath of fresh air from the past week, and he strolled through the hallways on his daily inspections standing a little straighter.

Jack, meanwhile, seemed to have recessed back into being completely silent and avoiding Akusawa more so than before, and Akusawa knew to take that as a good sign. At least...for the first few days.

By Thursday, Akusawa felt a squirming in his gut when he dropped by Jack's classroom, and he felt like he simply couldn't get comfortable on that day, so he left 10 minutes earlier than usual in order to retreat to his own office. He linked it to the classroom's temperature possibly being too cold, and left a note for the night janitor to inspect the thermostat. When the janitor reported back Friday morning that the thermostat was fine, Akusawa tried to sit in on the class again.

He was out of there and in his office in 5 minutes, and he immediately went for his medical thermometer.

It beeped in under a minute.

98.6

"Dammit," he cursed under his breath, and shoved it back into its case before carelessly tossing it into the drawer. He leaned back in his chair, staring with furrowed brows at the ceiling.

He had eaten his usual, perfectly safe lunch that day, so it couldn't possibly be that. But he also did not have any other symptoms of typical school-zone diseases, so he was left rather clueless.

'Perhaps I am just still feeling antsy and anticipating another prank,' he reasoned, 'I should try to distract myself with something familiar.'

He directed his attention towards the pile of unfinished and unsigned papers to his left, and sat back up in his chair, pulling out a pen from his stash. For a second, he paused, and then inspected the pen carefully. He cautiously pulled the cap off, ensuring it was a safe distance away from himself and the papers, but it was just one of his regular old pens. Akusawa huffed, amused that he had thought such a silly thing might happen again after he had so brilliantly shut Jack down last week.

His stomach clenched, and he grit his teeth, tightening his grip on the pen to a dangerous level. When it passed after a few moments, he loosened with a steady breath, and then forced himself to concentrate on the papers, one at a time.

By the time he was through the whole pile, his final hour on the school grounds for the week was almost up, and the feeling had completely vanished. He was also done with all the paperwork for this week and part of the next, so he left his office and started home feeling accomplished. He logged onto his computer once he was in his house and was delighted to see an email from Akira.

Brother:

Sorry I was unable to call; you know how it is. I wanted to make sure your revenge had gone smoothly and you got your message across to this prankster.

You know I wish you all the best (you need it with coworkers like that),

Akira

Akusawa smiled, and was readying a response when he began to flash back on Jack's mannerisms the past week, and once more his gut seemed to shudder. He let out an angry cry, pushing himself back and out of the chair, and began to pace, his footsteps hard and loud upon the floor.

He was not running a temperature.

He had not eaten anything poisoned or rotten.

There were no diseases currently running course at the nurse's office.

So that left...

He stopped, lost in thought.

What did that leave?

Well, the feeling seemed to correlate with Jack.

Stupidly, his first thought was that Jack had been able to hire someone to hypnotize him in order to make Akusawa feel this way every time he thought of Jack. He crushed that thought immediately.

(Although it might possibly still be something that could theoretically have happened.)

Specifically, the feeling seemed to occur when he thought about that night, or Jack's withdrawl, or how much Jack was staying away from Akusawa even more than before, and—

He froze, and the realization finally dawned on him. He felt a fool for not having seen it before, but also for feeling this way at all.

He felt guilty.

Him! A member of his prestigious family, one of the most well-known, successful, no-holds-barred business people in the whole country, if not the world! His family didn't do guilt, or remorse. It simply didn't exist in their bloodline.

And yet, there could be no denying it. He slumped as the churning in his stomach grew worse.

Well, his family had handled public apologies before, and he knew a personal one couldn't be very different. He would take a note from his family's PR team, deliver it to Jack, and this sensation would leave him.

As soon as Akusawa picked up a pen, something felt amiss. Nothing he considered writing felt right. Of course, he knew that he wasn't the one to blame for this, and that he was only doing this to rid himself of his guilt, but it felt as if a letter was too impersonal for this. Akusawa felt that writing it would be a waste of time if Jack just got offended and tore it up.

No, this would not do.

So, Akusawa decided to do the next best thing and apologize in person. It pained him to even consider apologizing, seeing as it was all Jack's fault, but if it would get rid of this stupid feeling and end all this nonsense, then Akusawa would do it.

Yes, this would work. Even though Akusawa didn't personally know Jack, he had heard what the other teachers said about him. That he's such a "gentleman;" that he's odd but that he's very "nice;" that he loves his students; that he's the "perfect teacher;" that he was so very forgiving. To Akusawa, those words were all rumors and lies. Jack was just an incompetent fool who made a mess of everything he did, but Akusawa was smart enough not to tell that to everyone in the school, though he desperately wanted to.

But if Jack truly was as forgiving as the rumors said, then Akusawa would use that to his advantage.

Akusawa decided to confront Jack after school in his office. There, he would give his apology and then things would go back to normal. Well, maybe not completely normal, seeing as Jack no longer feared him and wouldn't dare pull pranks on him again. But, Akusawa would settle for ignoring Jack and vice versa because frankly, Akusawa had had enough of that damned man and his feeble, but contagious, emotions.

Yes, it would just be better if they both ignored each other as soon as his apology was accepted.

With this plan in mind, the feeling in his chest temporarily settled and he was able to do his work in peace.


The next Monday didn't seem too long, aside from the few meetings with staff members and students, and soon the bell had rung. Of course, this didn't mean that the teachers would leave right away, but it gave him ample opportunity to seek Jack out.

He swiftly walked through the hallways, knowing the school inside and out made it very easy, and soon, he was at Jack's door. As he suspected, the man was sitting at his desk filling out paperwork.

Akusawa knocked on the door. He noticed that when he did that, Jack's face brightened considerably, but then his expression turned sour once he noticed who it was exactly behind the door. Normally, Akusawa would have felt a deep satisfaction at that, but now, the guilt made his chest tighten and the feeling only got worse.

"Come in." Jack sighed, looking defeated once more.

Akusawa recognized that nervousness was creeping up his spine, perhaps in anticipation of resistance on Jack's end towards this attempt to reconcile, but he squashed it under a fresh wave of hardened determination.

Regardless, once he was in the classroom, with Jack standing a few feet away, arms crossed and pointedly not looking directly at him, he found that the words he had prepared were caught in his throat.

There was a long, long minute of silence.

Finally, Akusawa cleared his throat lightly and clasped his hands together.

"It has come to my attention that perhaps my actions last weekend were in poor taste. I wish to express my deepest regret if I possibly harmed your...emotions, in any way, and I would prefer that we might be able to move past this grievance between us and move on."

Excellent, he had gotten it all out. He felt sick, but also proud he had managed through such a vile display of regret.

Jack stared, slack-jawed at him, and after a tense few seconds asked, "Is this your idea of another joke?"

That sent Akusawa's mind reeling. He opened his mouth to respond, but Jack cut him off, shoulders stiffening.

"For your information, Akusawa, I may be a 'fool' to you, but I am not so ignorant as to be deceived twice! I will not partake in another attempt to be publicly humiliated by you!"

He gestured to the door, stepping away to clear a path.

"Unless you are here to tell me something I do not know, then I suggest you get out."

Akusawa could feel his anger building, as it often did around Jack. He chose to indulge it, as it was justified in this case.

He stepped forward, raising his voice to snap back, "In case it was not apparent, I was being serious!"

Jack's eyebrows rose in astonishment.

"That was 'being serious' to you? Have you ever actually been sorry for anything in your life?"

The word "No" was on the tip of Akusawa's tongue, but he held it back because he knew it would undo everything he was trying to do right then.

And besides, it wasn't the only time he—

"Never be sorry for anything, son, as nothing is your fault if you deny it," his father said, adjusting his suit in the long mirror, "It is only natural to feel like you must, but such weaknesses must be shoved down, or else others will take advantage of them."

—had wanted to stop feeling things.

Guilt. It was a weakness. He would not be weak.

"I do not know what you want me to say to you," Akusawa ground out, "That would make this all go away."

"What you," Jack said incredulously, "What you want me to tell you to say to me? How about that you are sorry? That attempting to publicly humiliate me and yell those lies about me in front of others was unprofessional and downright cruel? That you could not take a simple joke at face value and had to try and turn it personal?"

Akusawa had had enough.

"A simple joke?" his voice rose to a shriek, "You were unrelenting! What was I supposed to do, allow you to cause me daily distress until you were satisfied? And your level of pranking also involved public humiliation, might I remind you! How could you have not forseen others in the school hearing or seeing my reactions to your idiotic 'jokes'!"

That realization snapped through Jack's anger like an arrow, and doubt and shame made his heart suddenly heavy. He had wanted to cause Akusawa distress, but...

"I only meant to scare you in the moment," Jack clarified, but before Akusawa interjected he continued: "But what you did was deliberate! You meant to embarrass me and publicly belittle me!"

"Intent is nothing! You should not have done them in the first place! You were the first to break your professionalism!"

"And you coming into my class every single day to glare at me and nit pick every single little thing that displeases you is professional?"

"It, it is part of my job to observe and report to teachers of their incompetence! And you are, by far, the most incompetent of them all!"

"Then that makes you an incompetent and spiteful principal if you cannot take what every! Single! Review! has said about me!" Jack's voice rose to a yell, his heart pounding and hands shaking. But it also felt good to get all this off his chest, even if it was at a very awful time.

Akusawa found himself gawking at Jack, mouth slack and eyes wide. Never, in all his days, had anyone ever turned that insult on him. And the worst part was, a small part of him knew Jack had a point about the reviews.

Jack's eagerness to spill everything that had been building in him overwhelmed his common sense, and he started again without thought.

"Just what is your, your deal with me, anyway? No other teacher gets the same talks, or repeated insults, or has even ever had a one-on-one meeting about their supposed 'incompetence' like me! Am I really just that awful to you, or do you have a personal grudge that is interfering with your ability to see what others are seeing?"

Akusawa made a distant croak in his throat, but Jack kept going.

"Because if there is, then tell me right now! I do not want it to interfere with your ridiculous little sit-ins or reviews any longer!"

Jack was breathing hard, but kept his eyes hard and focused, and locked with Akusawa's.

Akusawa finally found his voice, disgustingly small as it came out. He was not afraid, he was sure of that, but it was all...a lot to take in.

"N-no, I do...I do not..."

Jack's shoulders tensed up, and he clenched his hands so tight he could feel the nails digging in to his palms.

Narrowing his eyes, he asked, "Then what is this really all about, Akusawa?"

Akusawa swallowed slowly, fingers twitching.

"I just...want to know how we can forget this and move on. I want...your forgiveness."

Jack was finally shaken from his anger, and it left him in a rush of reality, cold and sinking in. This whole thing was an absolute mess, and what he had just done had only made it far worse...He shoved those thoughts aside, and tried to concentrate on the now.

But first, he needed time and space.

He loosened his muscles, letting all the tension out of him in a long moment. Finally, he sighed, conflict showing evidently on his features.

"Alright..." Jack said. "I will forgive you only if you swear to leave me alone so that I may have some peace in my classroom. Please do not bother me for something other than work, and please do not bother my students when they are in this class. That is all I ask."

Akusawa nodded and replied, "...Okay." He was tired, emotionally exhausted, and he had no desire to sit in this awkwardness any longer. With a curt "Thank you for your time.", Akusawa calmly made his way out the door and into the hallway, the feeling of guilt much less prominent now, but still lingering.

The next few weeks for Akusawa were tense. Work was stressful, the staff was stressful, and then a new feeling bubbled up in his chest. The feeling itself was like guilt, but it wasn't exactly, and it annoyed Akusawa to no end. He had already apologized, hadn't he? He was doing as Jack had asked, wasn't he? So why was he still feeling terrible?

Akusawa had no idea why, but he knew that this could not continue for long.

He had contemplated calling his sister again, but he knew that she was most likely busy. He tried 'googling' it, but none of the results he had found credible or relatable. The last option he had was to try contacting Jack again to see if he truly was forgiven, but he would not stoop as low as to beg for mercy. The only thing he could do now was get through the day.

And Akusawa hated it.

He hated not being in control, he hated how this feeling now controlled his emotions, he hated that he couldn't just move on from this.

And that was the worst part, wasn't it? He couldn't just sweep this under the rug like he usually did, he couldn't just forget about it. It wasn't as if he felt terrible about what he had done at the restaurant, but obviously he felt terrible about something else. And Akusawa didn't know how to deal with it.

It seemed waiting was all he could do.

Or so he thought.


Mid-afternoon a few weeks after his settlement with Akusawa, Jack heard a quiet knock at his classroom door during a break period and was surprised to see Desmond standing in the doorway. Jack smiled politely, and motioned for him to come in.

"You know," Desmond started, an edge of a smirk on his face, "I don't think I have ever seen Akusawa look defeated.  I might need to call the tabloids!"

Jack's face fell, and he turned away, fiddling with his pen. He made a noncommittal hum in his throat.

"Just wondering, what's the secret? Was is the exploding pens? The lack of coffee?"

Jack shook his head, still not making eye contact.

"No, I am sorry to tell you that what transpired between Akusawa and myself is between us. I think we have both learned better from it, and acknowledge that keeping a distance is the best thing to do at the moment."

He finally looked up, trying to force a smile.

Desmond quirked an eyebrow, looking Jack over.

"And yet, you don't seem happy about it." He stated it like a fact, seeing through Jack's paper-thin facade.

"A shame," he continued with a theatrical sigh, "Even from outside the situation I like him better when someone has him running around with his tail between his legs."

Jack swallowed, eyes dropping again.

He didn't exactly feel guilty about it; he was proud that he had stood up for himself. No, what was keeping his mood dampened was that he knew he was causing Akusawa to act this way, and he knew the awkwardness between them would only stretch on if they were both forced to keep going like this. But Akusawa would never reach out to him first. Somehow, Jack knew that Akusawa would keep his word on leaving Jack be, so it would be up to Jack to decide when to start taking steps to forgive him. And eventually Jack would have to make his own apology to the principal, when the time was right, for going off on him so rudely.

And another part of him didn't want to keep distance between himself and Akusawa; it was a tiny part that almost felt sorry for the man, knowing what the entire rest of the school thought of him. It had to be a lonely work environment, although Akusawa never made any attempt to change his attitude. But Jack knew that a large part of that had to be due to Akusawa's upbringing, and the "above it all" demeanor his family held. Jack might even admit to himself that a tiny, tiny part of him even might have wanted to be friends with Akusawa, just to be able to help the man see the better side of having healthy relationships with coworkers.

'One step at a time, though,' he thought to himself, 'Just one step.'


A soft knock broke Akusawa out of his concentration on a late Wednesday afternoon, a few minutes after the final bell had rung, and he called out to come in. Since he was not expecting anyone, this would make the visit a surprise, much like what had happened with Blossom Utonium all those weeks ago. He felt his stomach bottom out at the thought it might be her again; knowing such a brilliant student looked up to him, and he might have to break the news of his and Jack's confrontation (and thus ruin the pedestal she had placed him on, most likely).

And yet, shockingly, his guest was not anyone he had anticipated.

Akusawa jumped just a bit in his chair as Jack came in through the door, closing it quietly behind himself.

"J-J-Mr. Nagoaka!" Akusawa placed his hands on his desk, trying to calm himself, "I, eh, hello."

"Hello, Akusawa. You may still call me Jack," Jack said, voice low and calm, "May we speak?"

Akusawa swallowed thickly, and nodded in a stiff motion. Jack took one of the seats in front of Akusawa's desk, and a heavy silence fell between them.

Finally, Jack took a breath, and Akusawa braced himself.

"I wish, firstly, to thank you for honoring your word on giving me space. It allowed me time and ability to think clearly. And it was thanks to both of those things that I have concluded...I choose to forgive you."

Akusawa gaped at him for a long few moments, realized he was doing it, and snapped his expression back into something more collected.

"But know this," Jack continued, meeting Akusawa's eyes and hardening his tone, "I will not do so again."

"O-of course," Akusawa finally breathed out, "And I assure you there will be no repeat of such an incident."

"Good." Jack nodded curtly, and Akusawa copied the motion.

Akusawa was scrambling for anything else he might be able to offer or say to dissuade the awkwardness and bad blood between them still hanging through their every interaction, as he somehow felt that just giving Jack the space he had requested still wasn't quite enough.

Jack began to get up from his chair, clearly having said everything he meant to, but before he opened his mouth to say his goodbye, Akusawa impulsively burst forth with the first thing that came to mind.

"Could I do anything else to treat or make it up to you?" he asked, his voice coming out in a rush.

Jack blinked at him.

"That is, could I take you out someplace and buy...oh," Akusawa's entire frame drooped as reality caught up to him, "That would be...That was incredibly insensitive of me. I'm...sorry."

"It's alright." Jack said quietly, obviously surprised by what Akusawa said. "I am not offended by the suggestion."

Akusawa let out an involuntary sigh of relief, unable to meet Jack's gaze. He had been worried for a second that Jack might have been offended by his words, maybe because he might have thought Akusawa really thought he was that naive or that Jack thought Akusawa was plotting something. He was glad to find that Jack really was that forgiving.

The silence between them thickened, Akusawa unable to find the words to say, before Jack spoke again.

"I... would like to be friends with you." Jack said, looking to the floor. Akusawa gaped, his eyes widened quite a bit. And even with the shocked expression on Akusawa's face, Jack continued to speak. "Or, at the very least, I would like us to be on better terms with one another. If you would truly like to, we can go somewhere, but it does not have to be to make up for what you did. I would rather it if you saw it as a fresh start rather than an apology."

Akusawa had to try very hard to stop himself from gawking at the man. He certainly wasn't expecting this, he wasn't expecting the man to want to be friends. And, if Akusawa was honest with himself, he wouldn't mind having Jack as a friend now. The only problem was that he didn't know how to have friends. While it was true that he had friends before, it had almost always been more business related than anything else.

He was tempted to just say no to the idea of hanging out, forget about it, and then go back to avoiding each other. It would certainly be easier than becoming friends. But, a bit of guilt still lingered within his mind, and despite Jack's forgiving words, his kindness only made Akusawa want to make it up to Jack even more.

"I..." Akusawa began. "I would like that... to be friends."

Jack beamed at that, making his face brighter and kinder than Akusawa had ever really seen.

It made Akusawa wonder how much he really knew about the man.

"Would you like to come to the zoo with me this Saturday?" Jack asked brightly, seeming a little excited and nervous as he spoke. "I know the zoo isn't the grandest of places, but it might be a good place to start because of that."

Akusawa was a bit uncomfortable at the thought of being in such an informal setting, but Jack had looked so... happy that it would be honestly hard for Akusawa to turn him down. Akusawa nodded and then said, "Yes, that seems alright to me. What time would you like me to meet you there?"

"10 a.m would be fine." Jack answered. "But if you're busy during that time, we can reschedule it."

"No, no." Akusawa said just a little too quickly. "10 is fine with me."

Jack gave a slight nod, and then got out of his seat.

"Alright, I will see you then." He said, a small smile still on his face.

And after Jack left, Akusawa buried his face in his hands and let out a tired groan. What had he just gotten himself into?

Chapter Text

Akusawa awoke on Saturday morning a little before his alarm, as he always did, and stretched while letting out a deep breath. Another week of his trying job done; another one approaching.

But now, he could easily give himself a break and do whatever he wanted on this free day. It had been a particularly busy week, and he was looking forward to staying at home and avoiding everyone.

The first thing he did was take a shower, and after he got out he shaved down his facial hair to his liking. He then got dressed in a button-down shirt and his one pair of jeans. He turned on the news, and let it run mostly as background noise as he checked through his email, social media, and business websites. Sometimes he looked over at the television screen if he thought he heard a story he might be interested in, but mostly it was just garbage today.

By the time he was all caught up and the news was changing to the weekend drivel, it was nearly 9. He stretched his back out, and pushed away from his desk to stare into space for a long moment.

There was something…he had been meaning to do…

He scrunched his face in concentration, irritated that this blankness was even there. He was typically always on top of his appointments and schedules, primarily because he made constant reminders for himself (wherein the act of simply writing them down helped him remember them without the alarms). But whatever it was would not come to him.

Giving in, he reached for his phone when an alarm lit up the screen as the clock hit 9am.

MEET JACK ZOO

Akusawa recoiled, and shot out of his chair. Of all the things he could have forgotten

Then again, it had been a rather impulse decision to…accommodate to Jack’s invitation. It just hadn’t been high on his list of priorities to remember this week, not that he would ever tell Jack that.

Cursing loudly, he ran back into his closet to pick something out to wear.

Akusawa quickly scanned his clothes, and tried to find something presentable. It had taken longer than he would've liked, and that only fueled his slowly growing anger, but he had finally chosen a suitable outfit and got dressed, his clothes a bit more wrinkled than usual.

To his displeasure, Akusawa noticed the wrinkles, but there was nothing to be done about it now if he wanted to only be a little bit late meeting Jack.

After Akusawa made sure that he had his keys and wallet, he hurriedly got into his car, started it, and backed out of his driveway.

While on the road, Akusawa would always make sure to drive collectedly and calmly as he didn't want to have to deal with cops pulling him over, or even worse, an accident. And usually, when he wasn't stuck in terrible traffic, driving was somewhat soothing. But even though his driving seemed alright right now, Akusawa still felt quite agitated and nervous.

It persisted even when he found the zoo, and had to spend another ten minutes finding an appropriate spot to park. Their parking lot was a good size, but like hell he was going to walk any unnecessary distance. He locked his car up, and breezed past several other people to find his way to the entrance, which was surrounded by a few cafes and a book shop.

Akusawa recognized one of the people sitting outside the book shop on a metal chair, and his mood sank further with the anticipation of Jack chiding him or holding his tardiness over his head for the day. He bristled, but chose to go onward anyway.

Akusawa inwardly cursed at himself for showing this much unprofessionalism, and decided that a small apology for his tardiness would suffice, that is, if Jack's mood wasn't soured by waiting for this long.

As he neared the other man, Akusawa was preparing for some kind of negative response on Jack's end, and he dreaded to think that he may have already messed up already, but he was pleasantly surprised when Jack caught notice of him and began to wave at him, a slight smile on his face.

Jack stood up, tucking the chair in under the table he had sat at, and walked over to meet Akusawa the last few feet.

"Thank you for coming, I really hoped you would." He started, choosing not to make any note on the fact Akusawa was late. He had no idea what had happened to the man that morning; perhaps traffic had kept him back. He knew they were both trying to placate each other, and that meant no more jumping to conclusions.

Akusawa was a bit surprised that the man had made no mention of his delay, but it brightened his mood quite a bit, and even though he did not smile like the other man did, his features visibly softened and relaxed.

"I am glad then, that I made it. Thank you for inviting me."

Akusawa stiffly held out a hand, trying to contain his lingering anxiety and retain a formal air about him.

Jack nodded appreciatively, then took his hand and they shook, a bit stiffly, before breaking contact and Jack gestured towards the entrance with his head.

"The first Saturday of every month is when they allow guests to feed some of the animals," Jack explained as they walked over, "I figured it would make a decent option if you were interested."

Akusawa nodded walking alongside Jack. "I... appreciate that. I usually do not visit this place often, so I have not gotten to do a lot of activities here."

Jack gave him a sympathetic smile, but then they wound up in line for tickets, and a few minutes later they were inside with a paper map in tow, shying away from the other groups of people. He unfolded the map even though he he already knew the layout, and chose to let Akusawa pick their path for the day.

"Where shall we start?" he began, but before Akusawa could speak he cut in, just remembering something, "Ah, sorry, but fair warning: the food court does get very busy between 11:30 and 1pm, but that's because you can watch them feed the sharks from the courtyard. I would recommend we get there early and save a spot."

Akusawa shuffled awkwardly, not used to someone being this genuinely cordial towards him and unsure of if he should really be making a lot of decisions here. To be fair, he didn't know what exactly he wanted to do, and he really had no idea on what kinds of schedules or times there were here. So, he figured it would be best if Jack did what he wanted to do first, if only to just get him adjusted to his environment.

"You probably know more about this place's schedule and structure than I. Anything you might want to see, I... would not be adverse to seeing."

Jack almost made a funny face, but caught himself and instead gave a slight shrug in response.

"Very well, but if there is anything you see during the day you want to do, simply tell me. I'm sure we can work a lot in."

He turned back to the map, and pointed towards what would be their left.

"The mammals are typically a good place to start, they will be awake and looking to be fed right now. Most of the others will be starting to move around and eat later in the day. If we follow this path," he traced out a loop on the paper, "We can get to the aquatics center during lunch, and then birds, reptiles, and then the, ah, insects."

He tried not to let his shudder on the last one reach his words.

Akusawa noticed the man seemed tense at the mention of bugs. If it were like normal, he probably would have tried to use that to his advantage, but he saw no point in it now. Truthfully, all the other exhibits seemed fine enough, and he did not care for insects either, so it would be no great loss if they skipped that part entirely.

"...If it is possible, I would not mind if we avoided the insect exhibit. Personally, I do not see why people would want to see bugs crawling around inside a cage."

Jack took a breath of relief.

"That would be amenable, and I do agree with you. There are far better things to see here."

He folded the map up and tucked it into his back pocket, and then led the way towards the path many others were following with children in tow. The five minutes it took to walk over to the first exhibit was permeated by their awkward silence, as neither seemed to know any topics of conversation to start on that were appropriate. This was still so new to both of them, and while Jack had expected this situation to arise it still felt no less unsettling. He was hoping that perhaps conversation would spark naturally, eventually, as they observed the sights throughout the day, but if they chose to continue to drift in silent contemplation then that would be fine too.

Seeing the families they passed brought fond memories back, and he let the warmth give him hope for Akusawa yet.

Akusawa noticed that for some reason, Jack seemed to be lost in his own thoughts as they drifted by a few uninteresting exhibits. He felt a bit agitated by that, but it seemed he didn't really have anything to add onto the conversation, no matter what topic he thought about bringing up.

It was only when they reached the panda exhibit that Jack snapped out of his thoughts to coo when one of the pandas sneezed. Akusawa turned to look at him and raised an eyebrow, confused on why that would elicit such a response.

"It just sneezed." Akusawa stated. "I do not see why that is considered cute."

Jack was confused for a second as to why anyone would not find the action adorable, but then realized Akusawa was still miles away from Jack's perception of the average person. He had to think for another moment on what he should respond with, whether to try and explain it or simply let it pass.

"Cuteness is subjective," he said carefully, trying to remain neutral in his tone, "I suppose for me it is the juxtaposition of such a large animal having a tiny, high-pitched noise come from it."

Akusawa furrowed his brow in thought as he attempted to process the concept behind Jack's words, but he was still perplexed by how that still did not make sense to him, and it was a ridiculous thing to find "cute" anyway. He almost slipped up by saying this, but clenched his jaw shut and turned back to look at the panda with a very determined not-quite-glare.

He chose to eventually give in and say, in hopes of keeping the conversation neutral, "Cuteness is indeed...subjective."

 Jack found that Akusawa's response seemed uncomfortable and stilted. It was common for people to not find certain animals cute, but from what Jack could tell, it seemed like Akusawa didn't really like or dislike any kind of animal at all. Jack didn't want Akusawa to be bored out of his mind, only looking at animals he didn't particularly care about. He was really hoping to befriend Akusawa, to change him for the better, but it seemed as if Akusawa only wanted to be distant from everyone and everything. Though, maybe he was going about this wrong. Maybe he just needed to ask the right questions.

"...If it is alright with you," Jack began. "I would like to know what animal is your favorite?"

"What kind of a question is that? '  Akusawa's first thought was, glancing sideways at Jack.

Oh, yes; that was natural to opening conversations, especially in the place like this. Jack was...likely looking to placate him. Connect. Ease the tension still hanging, unspoken, between them.

"Lions," he answered, and then with an easy edge of a smile finished, "'Kings of the wild,' as they say."

He let the silence sit for a moment, and then shifted his shoulders, knowing what he was due to reciprocate with, even if it barely held the smallest bit of actual interest to him. This whole..."genuine" thing was still very new, and he was trying as best he could physically and mentally manage.

"And you?" And then, trying to lighten the mood, added "Do not tell me it is the pandas."

He bit the inside of his cheek immediately upon saying that, still at war with himself if that had been the right thing to say or, in the likely worst-case scenario, pandas were Jack's favorite and he was now insulted.

Jack let out a small laugh, to Akusawa's surprise (and relief).

"No, no. Although I do find them cute, I much prefer crocodiles. They are remnants of an ancient world long forgotten and buried, they have been the same for millions of years. I think it is very intriguing how they haven't had to really change."

Jack paused for a moment. "I also admire their design and how deadly they are. But, for the most part, I've just felt an affection for them ever since I was a child."

The silence became heavy once more, and Jack let out a small sigh.

"It is silly, I admit. But, I think crocodiles will always be my favorite animal."

Jack turned to look at Akusawa, whose face was somewhat unreadable but did not give Jack any positive affirmation, and then looked down to the ground.

"I... know this must be all very strange. It is very strange for me too. And I..."

Jack paused.

"...It is alright, if you do not wish to talk that much. I do not mind just walking in silence. I... appreciate that you were willing to try."

"It is...fine," Akusawa said, knowing that his discomfort was coming through his voice, but he could not hide it this time, "I just— I am not used to trying like this."

As much as he did not want to admit it, he looked away sharply, tensing as he forced out: "You are much more knowledgeable in this area, and I...am eased by your efforts. But we shall continue in whatever way you think will be best for this second attempt between us."

Jack found himself smiling at Akusawa’s confession, his own nervousness easing away upon hearing the other man confess. He waited for Akusawa to turn back and look at him, starting a bit when he saw Jack’s face and shaping his expression into mild bewilderment.

“Thank you,” Jack said, quietly, “For doing this.”

That said, he turned and led both of them onward to the next exhibit, feeling like a weight had been lifted off his chest, just a little.

Akusawa didn’t know what had possessed him to confess his thoughts so... openly to Jack, but seeing as the man didn’t say anything else, and the tense mood around them seemed to dissipate, Akusawa couldn’t bring himself to care about it further.

Silently, they both wandered around, stopping at various exhibits, steering clear of the smaller insect habitats scattered about. It seemed no different from when they both first got there, but this time, there didn’t seem to be a need to keep awkward conversation or to talk to each other at all. The silence wasn’t even broken until they got to the lion exhibit.

Akusawa peered at the lions from a glass window, chuckling to himself as he put a hand on one of the glass windows.

“I see that the zoo has re-constructed this exhibit. It makes sense after that little incident.”

Jack almost didn’t hear Akusawa, but then he realized he may have been trying to say something to Jack.

“Hm?” Jack asked, turning his head to give Akusawa a questioning look. Better to be safe than sorry.

Akusawa questioningly raised an eyebrow, before realizing what he just muttered must’ve sounded like absolute nonsense to any normal person.

“Oh. Uh, it is nothing really.” Akusawa said, a bit flustered at his brief lack of composure. “It is just something that happened to me once as a child.”

Jack’s eyes widened considerably. His concern rushed in, and he spilled out his questions before waiting for Aku to finish.

“You, you fell in?!” he exclaimed, “Were you hurt? Did the lions come after you?”

Akusawa noticed the small amount of panic on Jack’s features, incredulous at the thought that his little murmurings could ignite such worry in the man, and he briefly thought of how to explain this without mucking it all up.

“Ah... no. Luckily no one was harmed.” Akusawa said, his cheeks flushed slightly from embarrassment. “The lions were well-fed and mostly docile as long as I didn’t wander too close. They managed to get me out of the exhibit fairly quickly because we both... cooperated .”

Akusawa paused for a moment, looking as if he suddenly remembered something.

“Actually, I believe that incident is why I have not been to the zoo since then.”

Instantly, relief flooded through Jack, and his features softened as he fixed a sympathetic look upon Akusawa.

“I am sorry that happened to you. It was surely hard on you to process everything that was happening as a child.”

He sighed, admitting in the next breath: “I do not blame you, for not wanting coming back until now. Are you sure you’re fine to be here today?”

Akusawa blinked, a bit confused at what Jack meant.

“Yes, of course I am.” He said mildly. “I am not living with my parents anymore, and I do not have to follow their punishments anymore, so I am absolutely able to visit the zoo."

Jack gaped up at him for a moment, then grimaced and put his head in one of his hands, hiding his embarrassment.

“Ah, I am sorry. I misunderstood. I believed it was your trauma that kept you from here, and not your parents.”

Akusawa let out a small “oh”, and began to look a bit sheepish.

“D- Do not worry about that.” Akusawa mumbled, raising a hand to rub the back of his neck, a visible blush on his cheeks. “As I said, no one was harmed, and the childish temper-tantrum I threw in the cage was certainly enough to warrant such a punishment.”

Jack brought his face out of his hand to glance sideways at Akusawa, furrowing his brows in confusion.

“You do not have to elaborate to me if you do not wish,” he clarified, then cautiously went forth, “But did you say you threw a temper-tantrum while you were in the cage with the lions?”

Akusawa let out a small sigh, rolling his eyes at the recollection of the memory.

“Being the foolish child I was, I was more concerned over my skinned knees, the smell of raw meat, and being separated from my mother more than the fact that a den of lions was right next to me.” He said dismissively, waving a hand as if he actually grew past these kinds of theatrics. “It was because of my incessant screaming that people noticed right away I fell in.”

Jack blinked owlishly, jaw dropping a bit, as Akusawa confessed the full extent of the memory. The child he described sounded nothing like the Akusawa he saw before him now, but at the same time…

Before he could stop himself, the image of a tiny child Akusawa, in a den of lions, screaming and crying because it wasn’t what he wanted, gave forth to a snort of laughter, which spewed into a full fit of it when he could not get over how ridiculous it seemed.

"It's not funny..." Akusawa grumbled, but he didn’t look like he really meant it.

Jack continued to laugh, taking wheezing breaths from behind his hand. After a few moments, he finally straightened back up, pulling his hand away to take deep breaths.

"I am sorry, but that is hilarious," Jack continued, still smiling, "You, throwing a fit while surrounded by lions."

"Heh," Aku laughed while cracking a smile, "They never let it go. To this day, that story is still the Thanksgiving ice-breaker."

A bit later, after they continued onwards to watch the keepers feed the tigers, Jack coughed lightly into his hand before speaking again.

"...When I was four, I somehow found and ate an old canister of Spam while my parents and I were out at the local playground. They had to rush me home and keep me in bed for three days."

Akusawa seemed somewhat concerned but then Jack waved it off, a smile on his face. "I was fine, I was fine! But I think that experience had taught me something very valuable."

Akusawa huffed, looking back at the tigers.

"That you should not eat food you find in parks? Indeed , very valuable lesson there."

Jack looked back at Akusawa, a somewhat shocked expression on his face,but then laughed playfully, smiling wide. "Indeed, it was."

After a short silence, Akusawa shifted, fingers twitching.

"I let my sarcasm interrupt you. Please, continue what you...meant to say."

"Oh, uh, thank you..." Jack replied, genuinely touched Akusawa apologized so casually now, and made evident Jack was free to continue. "What I learned from that was that I am not invincible, or immune to everything. It was a good lesson because I became more aware of myself and I learned how to take caution of things that might be harmful towards me."

Akusawa blinked, a bit surprised at the depth of that response. Then again, how often had he already underestimated this man?

He found himself smiling.

"Very perceptive. And yes, it was a great lesson to learn so early. For many of us, it isn't until our late adulthoods to learn something like that."

Jack nodded in affirmation, but he wasn’t sure of what else there was to be said, so he let the silence drift once more. They went on through the exhibits of all the big cats, following the feeding schedule so they could observe each of them sequentially. Many other visitors had the same idea, as the large predators were more appealing to the masses, but Jack and Akusawa still didn’t have to shove their way around to see what they wanted. Occasionally one of them would point something else out, or make a comment to bring out a laugh, but they both continued to let the moments between them be quiet.

By the time they got around to the end of that section, Jack checked his phone and let out a small breath of relief that they were still on time. Feeling his stomach protest to how long it had been since he’d eaten early that morning, he turned back to Akusawa.

“It looks like we still have time to head over to the lunch area and get seating for the aquarium feeding.”

“Yes, that would be fantastic.” Akusawa responded with a slight groan. As strange as it sounded, watching all these animals eat had only made him hungrier, and he was actually grateful Jack had brought up their meal sooner rather than later.

With that agreed upon, they followed the walkways towards the center of the zoo, where there lay an expansive courtyard with benches and tables under the shade of large umbrellas. Scattered around were several stereotypical food vendors one might find everyday at a mall, though there were one or two unique places to the zoo.

Jack suggested one such place, explaining that while they all consisted of the usual attraction fare, this place had a slightly wider variety.

Though he hadn’t been too the zoo that many times, Jack vaguely recalled a stand called “Tuskies’ Treats” that sold a variety of fun foods, mostly animal-shaped desserts, that his parents would take him to almost every time they came. And while he was unable to determine if the sweets would hold up as well as he remembered them, he figured that if not, they were affordable enough and they could just go to another stall and get something else.

“I remember this stand over here has some good food, if you would like to try eating here.” Jack said to Akusawa, turning to face him and then pointing at the stand.

Akusawa looked over at the food stand, a little bit put-off by how gaudy it looked and by how much sugary sweets were hanging in their windows. He was about to tell Jack he’d like to go somewhere else, but then remembered that maybe it was just more affordable to go here.

The stand, while it seemed cheap, also seemed to sell a variety of junk foods, not just sugary sweets and their prices seemed cheap enough.

He also then recalled that Jack most likely didn’t know what kinds of food he preferred. So Akusawa decided to just go with it. Even if the food here ended up tasting disgusting, it would be something, and Akusawa was honestly tired of walking around.

“...Yes.” Akusawa said slowly. “I believe this place will be decent enough.”

Jack felt that Akusawa didn’t seem convinced, but he let it slide. He wasn’t all that sure himself anyway, but he hoped for the best. He ordered a small soda and the “elephant’s ear,” smiling fondly at the memories surrounding this food, while Akusawa paid for a ham sandwich and a bottle of water. Jack directed them towards what he knew would be decent seating for viewing the dolphins, though it put them at a disadvantage for seeing the whales. And though his taste palette had changed, Jack found he still enjoyed the treat greatly, and they ate in silence for a few minutes until the first announcement came on that the “feeding frenzy” was going to start shortly.

Jack turned to Akusawa, explaining eagerly, “Everybody gets excited to see the whales, but frankly the dolphins are more active and much more of a show. If you would rather see another feeding though, simply tell me and we can find another spot.”

“No, I do not mind. This seems alright.” Akusawa said, unsure which one he’d actually like to see.

He had heard shady things about zoos with aquatic sea creature exhibits, more often than not, cases of mistreatment and poor living conditions. And while he didn’t overly care about such things, he just didn’t want to sit through it. Though, he figured, if anyone would be overly concerned about any and every animal on the surface of the Earth, it would be Jack, so his judgement on this should be trustworthy enough.

Jack sat back, relaxing, and they finished eating just in time for the trainer, a woman of short height and slight build with a blonde ponytail, to step out and onto a platform along the side of the dolphin’s habitat.

“Good afternoon everyone! I’m Madison, and I’ll have the pleasure of being your host today! How are you all doing so far?”

The decently-sized crowd answered with an enthusiastic cheer back. Jack couldn’t help the warmth bubbling in him from the excitement and the positive attitude of the crowd and trainer.

“Wow, that sounded pretty great!” she beamed, “And we’re so glad to have you all here today! As some of you might know, we use this time to feed our marine animals here but also we’d like to teach all of you a little bit more about how we work with our animals to keep them feeling happy and healthy.”

She motioned to another trainer behind her, coming out from the same door she had emerged from, wearing a full wetsuit.

“This is one of our specialized dolphin handlers, Allen! He’s been researching and working with dolphins for over ten years, and we’re very grateful he’s been with us for that whole time! Let’s give him a welcome hand, shall we?”

The crowd followed her prompt, and even Jack couldn’t help but clap lightly at his entrance.

The other trainer waved back serenely at the crowd as he walked, his facial features covered with a scuba mask.

“Now Allen works with the dolphins every day, playing with them, keeping us up to date on them, and making sure they aren’t unhappy with their habitat!” Madison explained. “Just like humans, dolphins need to be kept happy as well as healthy and safe! And one of the ways of keeping them happy is by giving them fun puzzles to solve, with a nice reward at the end!”

Madison looked back again, nodded to Allen giving her a thumbs-up, and turned back to the crowd.

“Now, let’s welcome in our two special guests today, Ariel and Eric!”

Two panels along the far wall opened, and the marine animals burst forth, already looking like they were eager to explore and find their food. Suddenly, one of them rose to the surface and saw Allen, and began to swim towards him, the other noticing and following quickly.

Another round of applause went up, but Jack was captivated by his curiosity as to what was going to happen next. As the clapping began to go down again, the dolphins reached Allen and poked their heads out of the water, attention focused solely on him.

Akusawa watched the dolphins with a bit of interest, but so far, it didn’t seem as exciting to him as much as it was to Jack. Sure, the dolphins could be considered cute, but this sort of behavior wasn’t very new, especially to dolphins out in the wild. It was all normal behavior for this particular animal, and yet everyone seemed to be in awe.

Akusawa leaned back in his seat a bit, let out a small, almost inaudible sigh, and glanced at Jack, who was watching the dolphins with a kind of curious intensity. With every flip and jump, Jack’s expression seemed to change, his eyes widening with every move.

As the show continued, Akusawa found himself drowning out most of what the dolphin handlers were saying, and continued to focus more on Jack’s interesting reactions.

Jack watched intently as they proceeded with the show, with Madison explaining all the basics of what Allen was doing. He swam around the tank first, evidently leading the dolphins around as he picked up two weights on the bottom of the tank, and carried them over to another square on the floor. Once he had placed them a door slid open along the wall and shot out several fish, which the dolphins quickly gobbled down.

Allen then took the weights back, and backed off some distance. The dolphins followed him for a minute, but then one of them nudged at the handhold in the top of the weight before giving it a lift back over to the trick panel. The other one followed suit, and shortly thereafter they solved the puzzle and earned themselves more fish.

Jack beamed, happy to see the animals using their intelligence and learning capabilities in captivity and thus hopefully being much more comfortable as the trainer has said. His memory may have been fuzzy on these events from the past, but he didn’t recall anything like this; what he could remember consisted of simply watching them turn in the water for treats. It seemed like a much better program, however, to have the animals be “enriched” as such.

It hadn’t seemed like much time at all before the show was over, but nevertheless, Akusawa was thankful that he wouldn’t have to sit through any more of it. He hadn’t really learned anything he already didn’t know, and frankly, the seats were uncomfortable and way too tight.

Still, it had seemed that Jack had not seen much of this place in some time, and he felt thankful that he had been the one to take him back. His previous guilt was still there, for whatever unfathomable reason, but it was little more than an echo right now compared to the odd amount of peace he felt knowing he had made up for it a bit.

Of course, it wasn’t as if he was going to tell Jack any of that.

Jack was turning to excitedly tell Akusawa about the fact the show had been different than he had remembered, which was a good thing, and then ask if he had enjoyed it, when something came straight out from behind him and bumped him hard, then a cold, wet sensation spread all down his back and arm.

He let out a short cry of surprise, then whipped himself around to witness the angry face of a man with an open-lidded cup in his hand.

“What the hell!” the man yelled, throwing the cup to the ground, “Watch where you’re going, dumbass!”

He stormed off, showing a very rude gesture with his hands as he did so. Thankfully no children were in sight as far as Jack could tell, so he sighed and began to search out a restroom where he could use the towels to dry his shirt off.

Akusawa gawked in outrage, his sight turning red.

Not only was the man carrying around an open drink, and not only did he throw his trash to the ground like an uncivilized baboon, but the other man was obviously facing the direction Jack was in, and was entirely to blame for the accident.

With a furious expression, Akusawa stormed towards him. He gnashed his teeth and was about ready to give the rude stranger the yelling of a lifetime, but then stopped as he felt an arm block his path.

Jack stopped Akusawa just in time, and he gently stepped in front of the other man.

“He isn’t worth it,” Jack clarified in a calm voice, “It would only cause a scene. Let’s go.”

Akusawa made a disgruntled expression, and glared at the stranger who was now a little ways away. He let out a reluctant sigh.

“Maybe he is the one who should have been thrown to the lions.” Akusawa grumbled, glancing back at Jack.

Jack did a double-take, staring up at Akusawa with wide, unbelieving eyes.

“That is horrible! Why is that your first thought?!”

Akusawa smirked and then turned to Jack.

“I was able to handle it as a small child, so I assume a full-grown adult is able to as well. But, then again, his behavior might suggest he is of a younger age.”

Jack still couldn’t believe what he’d heard, but somehow the ridiculousness of it all struck him, and Akusawa’s comment, though snide, did have a point. He let out the tension he’d been holding, and underneath that was a laugh that burst forth before he could control himself.

Out of the blue, Akusawa joined him, and they both began to laugh until they could hardly catch a breath. It was the first time in quite a while Jack could remember anything like this happening, let alone over someone who had been rude to him. Certainly never with someone who had wronged him so deeply.

But that was the beauty of it, and what Jack was hoping for, so already his heart felt a little lighter.

After that, they walked through the bird exhibits and and they had come to the reptile exhibit.

Most of the exhibits seemed to just pass by Akusawa’s attention, but as they came to the crocodile exhibit, Jack seemed to be completely entranced by the strange creatures.

Akusawa personally couldn’t see the appeal of the dangerous animals, but... obviously there had to be something there. Obviously, there was more to why he loved them besides his earlier explanation.

The expression on Jack’s face as he watched them was too strange and distant for it to be just a simple affection.

But for now, he found Jack’s behavior too unusual and foreign to really pry, and he kept silent as he and Jack went through the exhibits.

It was only when they were nearing the exit that Akusawa realized that he hadn’t gotten Jack anything in return.

Sure, it wasn’t as if a material good was necessary, and he wasn’t exactly sure what Jack would like, but it seemed wrong to not get him anything.

As they were nearing the exit, Akusawa then saw a nice little gift shop off to the left of the street.

I-um, can we take a look... in there?” Akusawa asked, his face flushing with embarrassment.

Jack was surprised Akusawa wanted to take a look in there, but he still didn’t know Akusawa all that well so he nodded before they headed over. It was a little smaller than Jack remembered, but that may have been the fact he had been smaller too.

He reasoned that he didn’t really need anything, so he left Akusawa to his devices as they both perused. He examined the merchandise anyway, since they were there, and in case he spotted anything as a gift for upcoming birthdays.

If this continued, Jack subsequently realized, he would need to somehow find out Akusawa’s birthday as well. The staff members at the school generally kept to themselves for their birthdays, unless you were Josephine or Phillip.

But, well, they were still on rocky ground as it was. Today had gone smoothly, and Jack wouldn’t deny that he was quite happy for it, but there was quite a ways to go before they were at a level of friendship that warranted birthday gifts.

Jack looked around, occasionally eying a few things that he could think about for future gifts, but decided it would be best if he just waited near the shop entry for when Akusawa was done browsing.

It didn’t take long as Akusawa had apparently already purchased something, and was holding it in a slightly big plastic bag.

“I apologize if I took too long,” Hesaid somewhat awkwardly as they both walked out of the zoo. “It had just occured to me that this might be... well...”

He went silent for a bit, looking down at his shoes.

Without any words, he handed Jack the paper bag, avoiding any eye contact.

“This... is for you.” Akusawa said stiffly, his expression slightly vulnerable in a strange way.

Jack, already bewildered, opened the bag, and nearly dropped it in his shock. After a moment, he shakily withdrew the small alligator plushie, and his face began to warm with the full reality of what was happening.

I, I…” he stammered, and then he swallowed thickly and continued in a restrained voice, “Akusawa, thank you.”

He couldn’t explain what exactly this gesture held for him, and why it was causing him to feel like his skin was buzzing and his throat was tightening. He quickly put the gift back in the bag, and took a deep breath, holding back the wave of memories that threatened to come back full-force.

He looked up to face Akusawa’s mildly concerned expression, and forced a small smile.

“And thank you, again, for all of this. I hope you enjoyed today as well.”

Akusawa nodded, his cheeks red from discomfort and a slight bit of embarrassment.

“I did. Enjoy this.” Akusawa murmured while rubbing the back of his neck. “I would not mind if we were to do something like this again.”

Jack found his smile quickly becoming a genuine one, and he brightened with it.

“I would enjoy that too. How about the botanical gardens next week? Would the same time work?”

He cringed inwardly a little, struck with the thought that perhaps he was going a bit fast; they had just started on this whole “trying to be friendly” path anyway; he didn’t want to rush Akusawa or make it seem like he was overstepping. Perhaps Akusawa had plans, or wanted to go slower, or...

“That will work.” Akusawa said simply, with the tiniest hint of a smile on his face. “But for now, I think I should be heading home.”

Akusawa gave a wave goodbye and Jack did the same.

When Jack got home, he spent the rest of his day practicing his Tai Chi in slow, practiced movements, listening to his favorite audiobook. It helped put his mind back at its normal ease, especially when he still needed to absorb the whole day that had just happened, and the possible future events that now stretched before him as open paths.

When he was ready to tuck himself into bed, and at a much less vulnerable headspace, he took the new plushie out from the bag and placed it next to the similar, albeit much more faded one on the shelf over his dresser.

He took a few steps back, and then closed his eyes and let the memory trickle back in.

“Father, I’m too old for these kinds of toys,” Jack, 19 then, chuckled lightheartedly, turning the plushie over in his hand, “Why even get me anything at all? You will only be gone for a few days, and I don’t need to be comforted like I was when I was a child.”

His father, who was unmoved by even the most emotional stories or movies, actually almost looked a little sheepish.

“I thought you still enjoyed these creatures.” he said, as if that answered the question, then snapped back into a serious tone, “And yes, it will be just three days. It is company business. They need me.”

He put his hand on Jack’s shoulder, and squeezed it. Jack smiled tiredly.

His mother pinched his side, and Jack straightened.

“Thank you. I will see you then.”

But then— The accident— “We regret to—”

Jack pulled himself back out, the memory having served its purpose, and took several steadying breaths. He checked again to be sure the arrangement of the two seemed right, and then went to bed for a dreamless night.