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Transgender Jay

Chapter Text

Jay stared at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. He looked himself up and down, focussing on every flaw, every tiny thing that flooded his system with discomfort.

His hips, his face, his cheekbones, the shape of his mouth and nose, other tiny things that nobody else would ever notice, but Jay noticed. It was his face after all. His form.

Nothing was enough.

 

He dragged his eyes away from the glass, telling himself over and over that focussing on everything that made him uncomfortable would just make him feel worse. Instead of glaring at himself any longer, he took a deep breath and took a less than comfortable seat against the bathroom wall, and flipped to an empty page in the record he had been keeping for a few months now.

A bad thoughts diary if you would.

Last time he’d seen his therapist before their sessions were over, it was something that they had recommended as a method of letting things out. A harmless coping mechanism to try out whenever he felt like it.

The bathroom was silent, other than the tiny tapping sounds of a pen neatly printing the date at the top of the page. There was something lovely about a neat diary entry, yet not quite lovely enough to spend time making every letter perfectly uniform. As long as he could understand it, Jay didn’t care what his handwriting looked like, and he rushed to put all the things he was thinking on paper and let them momentarily escape the whirling mass of ideas in his head.

How he felt about his body, his situation, the tiny details and the large overarching problems, some things that would seem insignificant yet meant the world and other things that felt huge but weren’t too bad to deal with, the fear of not being accepted or being outcast. Perhaps some of it was irrational, thought that didn’t matter. Anything that came to mind was written down in a long paragraph of spidery text.

Jay wasn’t meticulous about his diary. He didn’t keep a strict routine with it, just whenever he felt down in the dumps or had a particularly bad day, he’d collect the book, find a solitary spot, and make another entry. The bathroom was good, there was no chance of anybody bursting in and demanding to see what he was doing due to the lock on the door.

It wasn’t that Jay didn’t trust that his friends would understand privacy and stop asking after a while, he just didn’t want to have to think about that at all. He didn’t want to risk someone reading it over his shoulder before announcing their presence, or jokingly snatching it out of his hands and inadvertently reading a sentence before giving it back. It wasn’t worth it. He’d gone into detail in his book, details that very clearly spelled out various personal problems that he wasn’t comfortable sharing.

 

Recording all his bad thoughts didn’t fix his problems - obviously - yet even though the pages weren’t sentient, and couldn’t offer him any support, it felt good to write everything down. It was like a break from everything going on up there.

When he was content with what he’d written, Jay took another deep breath, briefly closing his eyes and calming down a little. He skimmed over the lines to make sure everything was right, then almost jumped out of his skin when somebody knocked on the bathroom door.

"Just a second!" Jay exclaimed, shoving his notebook up the front of his shirt, unlocking the door and allowing Kai to enter the room instead, who quickly slammed the door and re-locked it.

He made his way quickly to the ninja's shared room, pulling out a box from under his bunk - conveniently the bottom bunk - and placed his book inside, looking around before shoving it back under and standing up, walking away as if nothing had happened.

His fellow ninja hadn't quite noticed what he'd been hiding from the rest of them, and quite luckily too. He wasn’t ready to come out yet. Even though he knew that they would probably all be fine with it, some things just needed time.

Well... maybe Kai wouldn’t be fine. He’d expressed some questionable beliefs from time to time, and while he often apologised after a threatening glare from Nya or a slap on the wrist from Zane, even knowing that he thought those things was enough to keep Jay firmly locked in the closet.

Kai wasn’t the only problem though. Nya brought forward an entirely different issue.

She was his girlfriend, and he loved her very dearly, and he couldn't imagine losing her. He didn’t know what her stance was when it came to her sexuality.

It's just... they were a couple, and at some point or another. Nya was bound to find out.

He knew it was just paranoia, she was a huge ally to all sorts of communities, but paranoia like that never really went away, no matter how much he told himself it would all be ok.

Jay walked out onto the deck of the Bounty and found Zane doing afternoon stretches, Cole doing weight training, and Lloyd flicking tiny balls of green energy at a couple of pigeons that had landed on the railing.

"Oh, hey Jay! How come you aren't in your ninja suit?" Cole asked, genuinely worried.

"I just feel a bit sick. I'll get back to training tomorrow."

 

It wasn't exactly a complete lie. He felt sick because of the steady lingering anxiety in the pit of his stomach.

Of course, he could tell somebody, but he was too scared, too worried, too anxious. He was too afraid of rejection, scared that his friends would treat him differently.

 

Jay turned around and headed back inside, intending to go back to his bunk and rest his eyes for a little while. To try and make sense of the mess that was his mental state.

 

Who would have guessed what crazy turns his life would soon take.

Chapter Text

The following morning, Jay woke up to extensive laughter and a periodic thudding noise. Kai and Cole were having a joyful pillow-fight and Zane was standing by, raising his eyebrows, but secretly enjoying it.

"Ughhhh... come on, can't you let a guy sleep?" Jay moaned, sitting up and rubbing his eyes.

"Come on Bluebell, you've been asleep for over 12 hours. You can't complain." Cole grinned, before walloping Kai with his pillow again.

It was true. Jay had gone to bed at 7 the previous night, and looking at the clock on the wall, it was already 9am.

Whenever he was feeling particularly dysphoric, Jay's social limit wasn't very high, and he found it difficult to be around other people. Therefor, he usually went to bed early or made up an excuse to be alone. Time to think things through and look towards a brighter future usually helped a little bit.

 

While the three others were preoccupied, Jay grabbed his binder from under his pillow and slipped it on while under the duvet. Wearing a binder for more than 8 hours regularly could have serious consequences, and rib injuries weren't funny business.

 

He got up and grabbed some clothes, getting dressed quickly and heading to breakfast. It was the usual. Self served cereal and toast if anybody wanted it.

Jay poured himself a bowl of cornflakes and started looking through the daily newspaper, lazily draped across the wood.

"Anything interesting in there?"

"Not really, just the regular kind of stuff. Some celebrity is pregnant and there is another politician being accused for tax evasion. The usual."

But then, a lesser article caught his eye.

'Transgender Woman running for Ninjago City Mayor'

He straightened out the story and read it quickly, placing it down on the middle of the table.

"Look at this. There's a Trans woman running for mayor." He said, bringing it to attention and eagerly waiting for people's reactions.

"Indeed. I do believe her name is Taylor Klaus." Zane added, searching quickly through his database.

"You mean he, right?" Kai muttered, reading the article with an expression of mild disgust. Jay bit his lip and clenched his fists under the table.

"No, I do believe she prefers she pronouns, hence the term Trans woman." Zane defined, positive.

Well, at least Zane didn't seem to be transphobic, but he was a robot, and robots can't be illogical. After all, discrimination and bigotry were two of the most illogical things in existence. Jay was still too terrified to tell anybody.

 

"Yeah, sure, whatever." Kai replied, rolling his eyes. Jay waited for Cole or Lloyd to say something but neither of them did, too interested in their breakfast.

Funny, Jay had lost all his appetite, but despite this, forced all his cereal down and went to change into his ninja suit, ready for mid-morning training.

 

Nothing much else happened that morning. Sensei Wu came outside to do some stretches with them, and then they activated the training equipment and got to work.

"So... is anybody else feeling kinda... uneasy?" Lloyd questioned. Jay would have answered with a yes and an explanation, but he would have outed himself in the process.

Cole answered for him, saying "Yeah, I know what you mean. Maybe it's because it's been almost two weeks since we last clashed with somebody. You know. Got down and dirty."

"Uhm... Cole, buddy, I don't think that's what it means." Kai held in a laugh.

"Oh shut up Kai"

Jay was usually a very social person. He was rather quiet today though, and by the time his friends figured out there was something wrong, he had already plastered a fake smile on his face, so any worries were dropped.

Nya walked out onto the deck in her usual clothes, bags under her eyes and a generally tired aura.

"Hey sis, what happened to you?" Kai asked.

"I'm just going to say, never stay up late watching shows. You'll regret it."

Jay walked over to her and started up a short conversation.

"How late did you stay up?"

"Till like... 3am..."

"Woah... ok, you should probably take it easy then. Go and have some breakfast and... read the newspaper. It's not a bad issue."

Nya nodded with a little smile on her face, and kissed him in the cheek.

"Thanks Jay, I'll do that."

He watched her go back inside, filled with a blissful happy warmth for a few seconds, but then he heard an 'Oooooooah!' from behind him.

Cole was giggling and Kai was ignoring him.

"Someone's in loooove!" Cole smirked.

"Hah, maybe you're just jealous!" Jay returned, this time Kai letting out a snigger.

Nya could always cheer Jay up. It was one of the many reasons that he feared losing her, because without her, he felt he'd never be happy again.

Chapter Text

Jay bit his lip, feeling a sting of pain. He wondered why until he felt the small split in the skin. He was dehydrated, and his lip had split in one place. Lovely.

Ninjago City Pride was happening next week, and he wanted nothing more than to attend.

There was a catch, though. There was a chance that the other ninja would find out. Then they'd ask why he was going. He could say he was just an ally but, he didn't know if Kai would accept that explanation.

There were still occasional problems across Ninjago City that kept popping up, and who knew when he would be called into action. The whole thing was risky, but, he'd never been to a pride festival before. He wanted to feel like he belonged somewhere, and surrounded by other queer individuals... he didn't know what would be more welcoming.

 

But what would he wear? He spent most of his time in his ninja suit, and because of this didn't own many other clothes. His suit was nice, but he couldn't wear it, since he didn't really want to be recognised. His other clothes mainly consisted of baggy t-shirts, jeans and hoodies. Nothing very flattering.

He'd just wear the least scruffy ones. There aught to be loads of others dressed like that at Pride.

 

"... uhm... Jay?" Lloyd asked, "are you alright?"

Jay snapped back into reality and abandoned his train of thought.

"O-Oh, yeah, sorry."

"You were glaring at your plate as if it was evil."

"Was I? I don't know, I just, zoned out."

People shrugged it off and carried on eating. It was Kai's night to cook, so it wasn't too bad. It was at very least edible, unlike Cole's disgusting cuisine.

 

Jay ate up too. He hadn't eaten lunch, simply because he forgot to. He had got very concentrated in his training. It was good stress relief, hitting dummies as hard as he could, letting out all his frustration and anger in punches.

That's why being a ninja was so perfect. He was able to stress relieve all the time. It helped him deal with dysphoria.

 

Though, recently, there hadn't been much crime fighting to do. So all he had was training.

 

Jay finished first, a rarity due to Cole's almost unbeatable appetite, and offered to do the washing up. Nobody really stuck around - not surprisingly, washing up wasn't very exciting to watch - so Jay was able to be alone with his thoughts again.

 

He had made up his mind. He was going to go to Pride. He'd say he was running an errand for a friend, or going out to the comic book store, or... something.

And if anybody found out, he'd just say he was an ally. Lots of straight and cis people went to Pride.

 

Though of course, Jay wasn't either. He was both the T and the B in the acronym. Something else that Kai might dislike.

 

He'd wear a t-shirt and a hoodie, with his best blue denim jeans, and comfy trainers. The actual parade was quite a distance. The festival afterwards was also full of stalls - so he'd take a bit of money - and music was all over the place. Jay wasn't much of a dancer, but he could still listen.

 

With his mind made up, he felt a lot less uptight and much more free. He finished washing up, then went to join his friends who were playing video games.

Nya stood in the corner, watching, looking as if she wanted to join it, but was too awkward to without an invitation.

 

"I claim next game!" Jay grinned, crouching down and watching Kai and Zane battle it out on screen.

"Alright! Winner fights Jay next!" Kai exclaimed.

"I accept your challenge!" Zane replied with equal gusto.

Cole and Lloyd yelled out instructions like "Critical hit! Use your special! Evade! Block it don't just take it!"

Eventually, Kai won with a complex combo and Zane surrendered his remote to Jay, who sat down gleefully.

"So who gets a turn after this?"

Lloyd shot his hand up, but, Jay had other ideas.

"What about... the loser swaps with Nya."

"... Nya?"

Jay looked at her, smiling at the surprised but pleased look on her face.

"What? Me?" She asked.

"Yeah. You never play with us, but you always look like you want to. Why not? To be honest, I bet you'll destroy Kai."

"Oh really, Bluebell? Well I'm about to beat you then beat my sister, so you'd better get ready for humiliation!" Kai smirked, choosing his character.

Ironically, Kai was the one who was humiliated, as he had forgotten that Jay had spent many a night perfecting all the combos and techniques in existence for this game, and won the match in little under a minute. Reluctantly, he handed the remote to Nya, and got ready to watch.

"... so... how do I play?"

"Well, that button is your main attack, that button is to dodge, that one is to parry, that one is your secondary attack..." Jay continued explaining, pointing to each button on the remote in her hands.

Once he had finished, he suggested a character and started the match.

"Well, since you haven't played before, I'll go easy on you."

"Sure thing, Blue boy." Nya smiled, and began to attack.

The five boys got increasingly shocked and hyped as Nya proved herself to be a natural, and drew the match - with some difficulty - on her first try.

"... uh... how?" Jay asked.

"I don't know. Maybe I'm just good at games." She replied, a victorious grin across her flushed cheeks.

"... Nya that was so cool! You like... almost completely destroyed him! Jay! The best at this game!" Cole chattered, diving forward and scooping up Jay's remote.

"I think a fight for the title is in order." Zane stated, and Jay shrugged, actually pretty impressed.

"You guys should've asked me to play sooner. Do you have any idea how annoying it was, to watch you five play games and just leave me out? All because I'm a girl too."

"Huh? It wasn't because you're a girl!"

"Oh really? Why not then?"

Cole fell silent then, slightly ashamed.

"I don't blame you. Society is constantly screaming that video games are a boys thing. Thanks Jay, for breaking the circle."

Their eyes met and Jay's freckled cheeks went red.

"Oh no. They're making googly eyes at each other." Lloyd began.

"Get out lovebirds! Snog somewhere else!" Cole added, but not unkindly.

Nya rolled her eyes and walked with Jay out onto the deck. The sunset was in full blast, so the sky was covered in orange and pink.

She lent on his shoulder, and Jay felt his heart start thundering in his chest.

 

"Jay, you know you can trust me with anything, right?"

"Yeah, the same with me for you."

She nodded, taking her head off his shoulder and making eye contact.

"And you know that I care about you a lot, and... I can notice when you're upset."

"Mmh hmm."

His heart was still beating, but no longer because of happiness. More fear.

"Something had been bothering you lately. You're eating less, being less sociable... I... I just want to know what's wrong, so I can help you out."

Jay could feel the unsteady panic rising in his lungs. Volatile and cruel, and could erupt at any second.

This would be the perfect moment to tell her. It would be simple.

"I'm trans"

But none of it came out. It was like his vocal chords weren't obeying him.

"... it's just... nothing has really happened recently. You know, bad guys. There haven't been any incidents recently. It's making me uneasy. I feel like something big is coming."

Nya nodded, seemingly convinced. His statement wasn't actually a lie, so he didn't carry any of the telltale signs of lying.

"We all are. Sensei says that it's just paranoia, and to relax, but, I know how you feel."

She rocked onto her tiptoes and kissed his cheek. He loved it when she did that. It made him feel taller.

 

"Nya... I... I... like you a lot."

She smiled, suppressing a giggle.

"Aren't we past that stage by now?" She asked. Jay shrugged, blushing.

She took his hands in her own.

"Jay, I love you."

She then kissed him again, on the lips this time, softly.

It sent him into a happy daze, and he gave her a tight hug. Wow, he was so lucky to have her.

 

"Now, I want to go back in there and beat Kai's ass in that game!" She laughed, leading him back inside. Jay had a couple of turns again, and Nya, just as she wished, beat Kai quite easily, then went on to kick everybody else's butts too, though didn't manage to get more than a draw against Jay.

"I will beat you one day. I bet I will." She yawned, stretching her arms, ready to go to bed.

"Probably." Jay said.

 

Everybody went to bed, but Jay lay awake for a while after taking off his binder. Today might've ended very differently, if he had told Nya the truth about what was really bothering him...

Chapter Text

Jay felt his heart flying. He was surrounded by music, by smiling, by laughter. Pride flags soared in the sky, and the general power of a community coming together lifted everybody's spirits.

The weather was wonderful. The sun was shining down, so hot that Jay had to take off his hoodie.

 

Pride had got off to a great start.

 

The parade was in full blast. A bunch of girls dressed in pastel dresses were handing out flowers, and one of them handed one to Jay. He whispered a thanks and spun it in his fingers, slipping it into his hair. He was at Pride, he could at least slightly spruce up his outfit.

 

Rainbows everywhere. A smile crept onto his face, and he developed a skip in his step.

 

None of the other ninja knew he was here. He said he was going to go and visit his parents, and instead, took a bus into the town centre and joined the masses of people gathering there. Probably a few thousand.

While he was waiting for the parade to start, he bought a bracelet patterned with the Bi flag. He'd have to hide it once he got back to the Bounty, but it was still worth it.

 

Jay didn't know many other people, so he was completely surrounded by strangers. Friendly strangers, granted, but it was still a little bit overwhelming. For somebody who was usually social, masses of strangers still scared him a little bit.

 

Though.. speaking of strangers... there was a familiar silhouette in the crowds ahead of him. Blonde hair, with a... rainbow coloured headband.

 

No... it couldn't be...

 

Lloyd?

 

No way! Jay blinked a few times and hurried forwards. Yeah. It was definitely Lloyd.

 

Jay was too nervous to go at talk to him, worried that, maybe, for some reason, Lloyd wasn't in the middle of a LGBTQ+ Pride parade to support.

 

It seems as if he didn't need to, as Lloyd turned his head, massive grin on his face and general joy in his eyes, yet, when his gaze fell on Jay, a surprised expression took over.

It seemed like he was doing the same as  Jay did, figuring out if that was actually Jay Walker. Not just some doppelgänger.

Lloyd cocked his head to the side, observing him, and Jay gave him a little wave.

"Jaaaaaay?"

Lloyd ran over to him and broke out in smile again.

"Jay! I didn't expect to see anybody else here!"

"Neither did I! How come you're here?"

Lloyd's cheeks flushed and scratched the back of his head.

"Well, since you're at Pride, I'm assuming you're not homophobic, so... uh..." he started, trying to get his words out, "I don't like... ugh let me start again, I've never done this before. You know girls, right?"

"Right?"

"Well, I don't swing that way..."

Jay nodded, not actually all that surprised.

"You're gay? I mean, cool. Hell yeah."

"I just came out for the first time ever, you gotta be proud of me."

"Haha, sure thing small fry."

Lloyd rolled his eyes, and then returned the question.

"I've told you, now, how come you're here?"

Jay considered telling him about his gender situation, but decided differently as coming out as Trans was a much larger deal than coming out as Bi. In his opinion anyway.

 

Instead, he just showed Lloyd his Bi bracelet.

"I swing both ways."

They started walking again, as they had began to hold up a few people.

"Nobody else knows you're Bi? Just me? Don't worry, I won't tell anybody."

"Yeah. I've known for quite a while."

"How did you find out? Crushes on guys and girls?"

"Yeah, I guess."

"Ohh! Who?"

"Nobody you know, apart from Nya, but as you're aware, we're kinda past the crush stage. What about you?"

"The thought of like, girls, being with girls, kissing girls, never appealed to me. Boobs for example. They're sacks of flesh on somebody's chest. Where's the appeal in that?"

Jay had to hold in a laugh at that.

"I meant if you've liked any guys."

"Well... yeah. I can see a man in the street and think he's gorgeous."

Jay started pulling his 'I'm about to say something risky' face and Lloyd almost knew what was coming.

"Soooo... do you think Kai's gorgeous?"

Lloyd gave him a weird look.

“No? Why’d you think that?”

"Then why do you admire him from across the deck while we're training? Cole's noticed that too."

"Jeez Jay, I can’t believe you noticed I was staring but not what I was staring at."

“... what were you staring at then?”

“Kai has a habit of constantly flexing whenever we’re all training. He tries to make it look like he isn’t but it’s so obvious and I think it’s hilarious.”

“... please remind me to catch a glimpse of this next time we’re all on deck.”

Jay ruffled his hair and felt a strange bonding. He felt... not as alone. Not as solitary.

"You'd better not tell a soul."

"I won't, I promise."

Lloyd made him do a pinkie swear before he was satisfied.

"The Parade is almost done. The festival is taking place in town square."

"Do you know who's playing?"

"No idea. I just know that there's going to be a Fitz Donegan stall somewhere, and believe me, I'm not just going to ignore that."

 

As soon as they entered the festive area, Lloyd dragged Jay over to the Fitz Donegan stall and spent a little while piling up on merchandise and excitedly chatting with the stall holder.

After Lloyd had finally finished, they went and sat somewhere to talk some more.

"How come there's a Donegan stall at Pride?" Jay asked.

"It's because the franchise has recently taken a different turn, and it's getting super diverse. There are a bunch of LGBT characters, and people are calling it revolutionary. There isn't much diversity in the popular comic scene."

"Cool."

There was a short silence before Lloyd started talking again.

"About Kai... do you know what his views are... you know... about people being gay?"

"No, not really. I just know that he's kinda iffy about trans people. Which... probably isn't a good sign."

Jay managed to out a smile back on his face.

"I don't get why Kai hates the idea of trans people so much." Lloyd wondered, swinging his legs back and fourth.

"What are your thoughts on them?" Jay asked. Lloyd looked at him.

"I think transphobia is stupid. One of the things I stick by to deal with people is, if they aren't hurting anybody, why the hell should they stop. Trans people don't hurt others by being trans. Hating them for just... existing, makes no sense to me."

"You'll make a great Sensei one day."

"Gee. Thanks."

Jay felt a lot safer now. He still wasn't ready to come out, but at least, now, he knew that when he did, he'd have somebody supporting him.

 

They stayed at Pride till it started getting dark, then they decided to head back to the Bounty together.

"Did the others know you were going to Pride?" Jay questioned.

"No. I told them I was going to the comic book store."

"I said I was visiting my parents. We can just say we bumped into each other on the way back."

"Sure thing."

"And... mutual agreement to never mention we went to Pride?"

"Agreed."

 

The Bounty was currently stationed a few minutes walk out of the city, so by the time they got home, it was almost dark.

It was Zane's night to cook, and they could already smell delicious scents coming from the ship.

 

The day had seemed to get better and better and better.

Chapter Text

Walking on board, Jay remembered his Bi bracelet and quickly hid it.

"Lloyd, you... might wanna hide your headband."

"Oh, crap! Yeah!"

Lloyd untied his rainbow accessory and shoved it into one of his pockets, out of sight.

 

Then they walked into the dining room, and were politely greeted, before sitting down to eat.

"Jay, we called your parents to check of you had arrived safely, but they said you never did. How come?" Nya asked. Jay felt his throat seize up, but quickly thought out a lie.

"Oh? Oh yeah. Buses were delayed today and some routes shut off. I tried to send them a message but I must've had bad connection. I went to the comic store instead and met up with Lloyd."

He was scared that they'd see right through him, but they all accepted his story without question. Lloyd gave him a little wink before getting stuck in.

 

Jay's appetite was back and he followed Lloyd suit. Zane's cooking was delicious as well.

"Comic store? Doomsday Comix?"

"Yeah. It's the only good one in the city." Lloyd answered.

"That explains your massive bag of merch."

"Yeah, there was a Fitz Donegan sale."

Silence filled the room, and it began to get awkward.

"So what did you guys get up to today?" Lloyd asked, making polite small talk.

"Nothing much. Mainly just training and studying scrolls." Cole sighed.

"And to think, you two got to spent your day in a comic store. Hey Sensei? Can we have a day off sometime?"

Sensei didn't answer and sipped his tea.

The rest of the evening was filled with casual conversation and a game of truth or dare between the ninja, as Nya and Sensei understandably didn't want to join in.

 

"... Zane! Truth or Dare?" Cole asked, gleeful.

"Truth."

"Oh c'mon Zane, try Dare for once!"

"Absolutely not. You'll ask me to turn my funny switch on, and I am not in a rush to do that again."

"Fine. Uh... have... you ever had a crush on anybody?"

"Pixal. I thought that would be obvious."

"Crap, I meant crushes other than her!"

"Oh no no Cole, my turn now."

Zane turned to Jay, and quickly flicked on his humour switch and turned up the node that made him more cruel, for the sake of making the game more interesting.

"Kai... Truth or Dare?"

Kai wondered, then decided.

"Dare."

"Ok then. I dare you... to... steal some of Nya's underwear!"

Kai had a double take, and Jay chimed in.

"Woah woah woah, you can't do that! It's disrespectful!" He exclaimed, face going red.

Kai nodded in agreement.

"Yeah! No way, I'm not doing something perverted like that, especially not to my sister! She'd kill me anyway."

Lloyd quickly looked at Zane's cruelty node.

"Uh... why did we implement this? I think it's been turned up too far."

Jay thought it would be fair if Zane had a choice to act however he wanted, and his kind soul didn't let him do anything unkind at all, and Zane was wondering what it was like.

He smirked and rolled his eyes. His cruelty node changed him into an almost completely different person.

"Then you'll have to do something even worse!"

"Come at me."

Zane smiled, and walked over to the kitchen, coming back with a large bottle of soy sauce.

"I dare you to drink all of this in 10 minutes."

Kai startled at it. It was only a few drops away from full.

"... Zane. I will literally puke."

"Oh well. It's that or stealing some of Nya's underwear. Your timer starts now."

A vein in Kai's forehead started to throb as he grabbed it and took the first swig.

"Uuuuuughhhhh that's groooossss!!!"

He took more sips and almost gagged.

"I'm gonna bloody hate soy sauce after this."

Minutes passed and Cole started chanting 'Chug! Chug! Chug!'

Kai managed to finish the vile brown liquid with 34 seconds to spare, and rested on Cole's shoulder for a while.

"Zane turn off your nastiness setting. You turn into a complete ass when it's on." Jay said, still giggling at Kai.

Zane shrugged then turned it off, immediately apologising for being inconsiderate and rude.

"It's my turn now... uh... Jay! Since you gave Zane his damned cruelty node, Truth or Dare?" Kai asked.

"... Truth."

Kai thought for a second.

"Uhm... What's your deepest, darkest secret?"

 

Jay froze up. His... deepest secret...

He knew exactly what it was, but he couldn't say. He couldn't tell him, tell anyone.

He pretended to think, but he was really thinking about some cover story he could use. Something else. But... there was nothing. What was he going to do? Say he had no secrets? They wouldn't believe that. Come out as Bisexual? Kai might not like that too much.

He couldn't tell them his secret. He couldn't tell them he was trans.

 

"... uhm... that's hard. I don't keep too much from you guys. You probably know mine already to be honest." He lied, trying to look sincere.

He could feel himself getting flustered. They'd get suspicious if he carried on like this.

"... I-I..."

But then a Miracle happened. Kai suddenly stood up and rushed to the bathroom to puke. Masses of soy sauce wasn't too easy on the stomach.

Cole followed him to see if he was ok and Zane went to make him a hot drink to soothe the nausea.

Truth or Dare was forgotten.

Jay and Lloyd were left in the room alone.

"You think he's ok?"

"He's Kai. He's been though much worse than being sick and survived."

There was a brief moment of silence.

"... your secret... is it that you're Bi?"

Jay nodded, lying once again. Anything to get him out of the situation.

"Right. You couldn't exactly tell Kai, could you...?"

"No... not really."

Lloyd got into his feet and helped Jay to his.

"I don't know how to ask him why he feels like that."

Jay knew what he was talking about and ruffled his hair.

"There'll probably be something in the paper soon."

With that, they briefly checked on Kai then went to bed.

 

Jay stared at the ceiling for a while.

He kept lying to cover up what he didn't want others to know. How long would it be before he lost track of the lies, and they caught up to him, exposing him?

He didn't know. He wish he didn't have to.

 

He slipped off his binder before the others got back into the room, and pretended to be asleep when they did.

 

He just prayed they'd forget about Truth or Dare by morning, and not ask him to input the truth he didn't tell...

Chapter Text

It was a normal day on the Bounty. The ninja were outside training, Sensei Wu was sat to the side, watching and offering advice every now and then.

Jay felt good that day. He woke up and had to shave his face, which was such a great feeling for him. So, he was in a good mood, and felt as if nothing could go wrong but...

He felt that familiar, cramping sensation in his abdomen.

Oh... oh no...

 

His period had started.

 

Jay made a quick excuse to need the bathroom and dashed off, running to his bed and pulling out the box underneath it, grabbing a pack of sanitary towels and taking one out - making sure nobody followed him - and ran once again into the bathroom, locking the door.

He was rushing because he didn't want his untimely cycle to start staining his blue suit purple.

 

Jay hated his period. It made him feel absolutely awful. He broke out in spots, he had awful cramps, and it was a very difficult process.

He did have monthly testosterone shots, which caused him to grow facial hair, have a deeper voice and distribute body fat more masculinely, but it didn't stop his periods. All it did was make them shorter.

They usually lasted 1-2 days, but they were a terrible few days every time. Testosterone affected everybody differently, and Jay was always jealous to see others posting on their social media, talking about how their testosterone injections had made their periods practically pain free. He wished that his did.

He cleaned himself up and put the pad in his underwear - which was quite a feat, as underwear designed for men were not designed for sanitary products - and quickly realised that he wouldn't be able to carry on training. The cramps had already come down hard and fast, and Jay wanted nothing more than to collapse on his bed and scream.

He couldn't do that though, so he forced himself to walk out of the bathroom - after flushing the toilet and removing any evidence of blood - and back to the deck.

"... hey man, you don't look too good..." Cole stated, turning towards him.

Jay shrugged, and tried to think of what to say.

"I... I feel like I'm gonna vomit..."

It wasn't a lie.

"I... think I'm gonna go back to bed..."

"Yeah, you look really pale. Just, take a bowl with you. Don't puke on our bedroom floor." Kai agreed, and Jay gave him a weak thumbs up, and toddled to the kitchen to fetch a bowl.

He also grabbed the communal hot water bottle that was kept in the kitchen and boiled a kettle for it.

 

He was a guy having his period, he deserved some self care.

 

Jay took the bottle and a bowl back to bed and took off his binder, getting into pyjamas and wrapping himself up in his duvet. He couldn't sleep though, the cramps hurt too much. It was like somebody was punching him in the stomach and wasn't showing any signs of stopping.

 

Jay's phone started buzzing and he groaned, repositioning the hot water bottle on his stomach and grabbing it, seeing what it was.

His mum had called him, and Jay figured it might've been about the whole visiting thing.

"Heyyy Mum..."

"Hiya Jay, I was wondering, since you weren't able to get here yesterday, if you'd like to come and visit us another time? We haven't seen you for a while and it would be nice to see my son in person!"

Jay smiled at that. Being called 'son'.

"Sure I'll come and see you... when were you thinking?"

"Well, anytime is fine. You could even come tomorrow!"

Jay bit his lip.

"... Mum, I... I don't think I'll be able to come tomorrow."

"Aw sweetie that's fine, I know you love your ninja work and-"

"No, Mum, that's not why."

There was a brief silence.

"... why then?"

"I uh... I..." Jay lowered his voice to a whisper, "I started my... you know... just now."

Another silence came up, and was ended by a sigh of sympathy from Edna.

"I'm sorry Jay, I'd come over there and look after you if it wasn't so far."

"I can look after myself you know, I'm not a kid anymore."

His mum was the first person Jay told. He knew that he was a boy since he was 6 years old, but only had the courage to tell her when he reached 12. She was supportive though, something Jay really needed at that point in his life.

"I know, I know. Just look after yourself, alright? And don't strain yourself."

"Ok Mum, I won't."

"Your father says the same."

"Ok Mum, I promise."

"I'll see you soon?"

"Yeah. Ok, bye."

He hung up, and felt bad straight away. Jay felt like he was often rude and impatient with his parents when they were only trying to help. Even so, he never stopped doing it, no matter how bad he felt afterwards.

It was one of his many flaws, and he wished he could stop himself from doing it.

 

The rest of the day passed rather uneventfully, though, at one point, Nya did pop in to check on him.

When Jay saw the door moving, he quickly pulled his duvet around him so that only his head was showing, and so that whoever was coming in didn't see his chest.

Nya walked in, and smiled when she saw him, making her way over.

"Hey Jay, I was wondering if you wanted anything. Like, painkillers, or a glass of water."

She sat next to him and planted a quick kiss on his cheek, making him blush.

"O-Oh... thanks, but I'm alright..."

She nodded and ruffled his hair.

"You've been feeling ill a lot recently. Seems like it finally got the better of you."

Jay nodded, not knowing what to say.

"Jay, have I been... cranky, recently?"

"No... I don't think you have been."

She shrugged, looking at the ceiling.

"It's just, I started my... lady stuff. Thought I might've had PMS."

Jay almost burst out laughing. Of course.  Afab individuals who lived with each other usually started to sync in their cycles.

"Nya, you can call it a period you know."

She looked at him, slightly surprised.

"Really? You don't get disgusted by it? Last time I mentioned it around Kai he freaked out and cringed harder than I've ever seen before."

"I'm not Kai though, am I? Periods are natural. It's just a bit of blood it's not that bad."

Nya couldn't help but smile.

"Thanks, blue boy. Guys aren't usually that considerate."

Jay took the hot water bottle out from his folds of duvet and offered it to her.

"Do you want this then? You probably need it more than me."

"Oh no, I'm ok. I don't get cramps."

Jay bit his lip. So, Nya was one of those. Somebody who could go through a period and still look, feel and stay amazing.

"Ha. Lucky."

"I know right?"

Nya kissed his cheek again and stood up.

"I'll leave you be. You look exhausted, try and sleep, ok?"

Jay nodded and waved goodbye, watching her go.

 

The cramps had left his mind when she was around, and once she left, they jumped back to the front of his train of thought.

Jay lay down and tried to sleep, but couldn't, and was still laying there - awake - when the other ninja came to bed.

Chapter Text

Jay's period had ended after two days of consecutive bleeding, emotional roller coasters and cramps. It took up a lot of energy to act like he was ok, as if he wasn't actively shedding the lining of one of his internal organs.

It seemed as though he was in luck for once, as his cramps and bleeding cleared up a couple of hours before the ninja were called into action. They hadn't been needed for so long that they were a little rusty while getting ready, and by the time the Bounty had flown low enough for the Ninja to hop off, Kai still hadn't managed to get his Ninja hood on and Cole's belt was untied, leaving his suit flapping in the breeze as he frantically tried to fix it.

"It seems like you need a haircut, Kai. You can't even get your hood over your head!" Cole laughed.

"You can talk, Mr. Broken Belt." Kai returned, yanking his hood over his head at last.

The problem seemed to be a group of protesters, part of the Dei Noctis organisation that had recently been gaining a decent amount of members. A group of them were marching down a street, causing general havoc and preaching their nonsense. Police's attempts to disperse and disengage them had been met with violence, and this violence had grown into their general behaviour.

"These idiots? Some sort of Cult, right?"

"Well, they call themselves followers of the Dei Noctis faith. Uses of the word 'Cult' upset them." Zane explained.

"That's literally what every Cult in existence has said."

"Let's just... get this over with. We don't want to hurt them, just try to take them out without weapons or serious injury." Lloyd stated, and the other four nodded in agreement.

Jay was the first to engage, others following suit, tackling a young man in his twenties and using the man's own shoelace to tie his hands behind his back. It wasn't that hard of a fight, as none of them even had a fraction of the training that the Ninja had received.

Soon enough, they were all taken care of and the police had started escorting them to the police station.

All taken care of, or, so they thought.

A last member of the group leaped out from the shadows of an alleyway and grabbed Jay's arm, gripping onto it like a vice.

"You... you're one of the sick! YOU'RE DEEP IN A SICKNESS! DEI NOCTIS WILL BRING JUDGEMENT ON YOU, FOUL, DISGUSTING HEATHEEEEN!!!"

Jay yanked his arm out of her grip and stepped away, watching in abject horror as she grabbed two fistfuls of her hair, and started screaming incoherently at the sky, her eyes stretching almost impossibly wide.

Then, just as suddenly as it had started, it stopped, and she fell to her knees, soon to be taken away by the police and guided into the back of a police van. The officers thanked the ninja, then drove away.

Even a few minutes after it was over, Jay was still a little shaken up.

"You ok Jay? She was just a crazy cult woman, they're all bonkers." Kai reassured as they walked back to the anchor, where they'd be lifted back onto the deck of the Bounty.

"Yeaaaah... crazy."

For some reason her outburst had stuck in his head. The Dei Noctis followers, though only existing for a year or so, had already made their bigoted views very widely known. But... she couldn't have known that he was trans, could she? No, no way.

He was worrying about nothing. Just a crazy woman yelling crazy things.

 

"What do these people even believe in?" Cole asked. He was a little bit miffed, because one of the preachers had hit him in the face with her handbag and his eye still hurt.

The ninja were sitting on the deck of the Bounty as the sun had come out and it was a pleasant light, all sat in a circle so that conversation was easier.

"They believe that the end of the world is coming soon, and only truly pure human beings will be saved by Dei Noctis and will go on to live in heaven." Zane explained.

"Dei Noctis?"

Everybody expected Zane to answer that as well, but Nya popped out of the door and onto the deck.

"It means God of the Night in Latin." She said.

The boys were speechless for a second.

"What? Surprised? This is a male dominated world, and a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do. Knowing a language can get you far, and I can confidently say that I'm quite good at Latin."

"Well... that's uh... impressive."

Nya shrugged and sat down next to Jay.

"As I was saying, they do not think that anybody other than the purest people will be saved. Their idea of purest people being white, cisgender and straight." Zane carried on.

Cole rolled his eyes.

"So they're basically just delusional racists." He huffed.

"Delusional, Homophobic, Transphobic Racists." Lloyd corrected.

Jay noticed him looking at Kai, waiting for a reaction, and had a strong impulse to ruffle his hair again. He was just like a cute little brother looking for validation.

Kai didn't really react. Just the same sort of grimace that he always had while discussing issues.

"... what do you think of them, Kai?" Jay asked, hoping for Lloyd to get the information he wanted, but Kai just shrugged.

"Crazy cult people. What more is there to them?"

Both Jay and Lloyd dropped it then, realising their attempts had been and would be fruitless.

"They don't seem to be much trouble though. Just the occasional street protest like that one. 'Spreading the Word of Dei Noctis'."

Jay had a bad feeling. A feeling that these people weren't as simple as cult members who believed in fiction.

But as the rest of the team seemed to forget about it, he went along and tried to forget it too.

 

Even so, the lingering sense of unease and suspicion hovered at the back of his mind, and refused to disperse.

His gut told him something was wrong, and as a way to try and quench his suspicion, he promised himself to do some research at some point, to find out about the movement and if anything dodgy was related to it.

If there was, then the ninja might have to be called back into regular action.

Chapter Text

Dei Noctis seemed to be popping up everywhere. In the newspapers, on police records, all over the media.

The ninja tried to keep their minds away from them. Surely, the cult was nothing but that, just a cult. Just a powerless cult.

But to be perfectly factual, it wasn't the ninja who were keeping themselves preoccupied. It was the ninja minus Jay.

He was worried. Seriously worried. The woman who had screamed that he was 'one of the sick' was still stuck in his head, even a couple weeks after it had happened.

His research hasn't been too successful, but he had come across a couple of worrying things, and decided to look through them despite being from unreliable sources.

 

Talk of dark magic and its usage inside the faith seemed to be discussed a lot on small chat sites, and a news report talked about allegations of a kidnapping and murder of a transgender woman, performed by three affiliated members of Dei Noctis. Even their entrance ceremony was dodgy. New members had to swear allegiance to the deity and sacrifice a drop of blood through a shallow incision in the chest, the skin above the heart.

That's how police were identifying Dei Noctis members.

 

Jay gritted his teeth. The lead preacher of the faith was holding a lot of rallies, all over the place. He said that Dei Noctis had spoken to him, and ordered him to spread the word.

The word that all so called 'normal' people would be saved, come judgement day, while everybody else would be left to burn as earth turned into hell.

 

It made him feel sick, so see so many people joining the faith, to see so many people cheering for racism, for homophobia. The bigotry disgusted him.

They had already made a few comments about the ninja and how they should stop saving people who were 'impure', but especially towards Cole. They often used words that Jay would never dare even think about using.

 

It was just all the more reason to stay in the closet. If they found out that one of the famed ninja was trans, they would start an uproar. Jay had actually planned to tell Lloyd about it, and warn him to not come out publicly anytime soon.

 

He sighed, and closed his laptop. It was making him angry, he had to go and release.

 

As he walked past the game room, he heard his friends making small talk and he wondered if he should join them, but he shook his head and carried on walking, setting up a punching bag and getting to work.

 

Jay tried his best to focus on training, to remove all thoughts of bigots and discrimination, and the realisation of how much danger he was actually in.

If anybody found out... it might even be the end of him.

 

He trained until his arms ached, at which point he put the equipment away and headed back to the bedroom, where he lay down on his bunk and stared into space.

He wasn't in much of a social mood.

Chapter Text

"Wake up!" Sensei Wu exclaimed, walking into the ninja's room, smashing two steel plates together, creating a ruckus that would wake the deepest of sleepers.

Jay was the first ninja to sit up, and when he realised he had fallen asleep in his binder he swore very loudly.

Wu clanged the plates together in Jay's direction.

"Language!"

Jay fell back onto his pillow, groaning.

"Sensei... I'm not a kid anymore... I'm allowed to swear."

"It's bad etiquette for role models such as the ninja, don't you think?" Wu added with a sly smile.

"Why are we even getting up this early? I thought Sunday was our lie in day?" Cole asked.

"You've all gotten slower and sloppier. I've prepared a number of exercises to tone your reflexes."

With that, Sensei left the room, and the ninja knew he wouldn't be happy if they took ages getting ready.

"Jeez, so what if we're a bit slower? It's not like anything's going to happen." Kai muttered as he grabbed his ninja suit and started to change.

Jay bit his lip. It wasn't the time to bring up the very real threat of Dei Noctis, but he knew he would have to at some point.

"He's right though, we are quite out of shape." Cole shrugged, looking down at his chest, grabbing at non-existent flab.

"Oh purleeeease Cole, you're bordering on an eight-pack." Jay joked, putting on his own suit.

"Actually, there is no such thing as an eight-pack. There are only six abdominal muscles." Zane pointed out.

Kai at first didn't believe him, and they entered a brief argument about it. Brief because Zane easily won with facts and a cool head.

 

Heading outside, the ninja realised that it was going to be a very very hot day, considering it was only morning and they were already too hot in their suits.

Sensei's 'activities' were hardly forgiving either, and soon enough, the ninja abandoned their suits and wore nothing more than shorts and t-shirts.

First of all, they all had to complete an obstacle course which was very demanding in the endurance aspect, then they were set up with boxing equipment. The aim was to get as many jabs in within 5 minutes and to simultaneously avoid your partner's jabs.

Jay couldn't help but smile a little bit when he realised they would be boxing. He had spend a lot of free time in the last two weeks hammering away at punching bags and sparring robots alike.

Cole and Zane were chosen to spar first (Zane won), and then it was Jay and Kai. Jay had noticed that Kai had a habit of feinting a direct jab then going for a wider hit, or vice versa, and he used this to his advantage. During his wide swings, his ribs were left unprotected, and by the end of the session, Kai's ribs - as well as his flaming pride from the start of the session - were quite bruised.

Sensei had quite a lot of praise for Jay's technique, and set him know through the occasional nod of approval.

After their fight, it was Lloyd and Nya's turn, and the tournament of sorts carried on.

Eventually, Sensei realised it was getting way too hot for training to continue, and he gave the hard working ninja the rest of the day to do what they wanted with.

"... ughhh... who's gonna go and get the ice-lollies out of the freezer?" Kai groaned, leaning back on the moth-eaten deck chair he had found in the Bounty's lower deck.

"Jayyyyyy... why don't you go and get them eh?" Cole grinned, already taking his shirt off.

"... Pfff. You can't make me."

They ended up deciding with Rock, Paper, Scissors. Best of three.

Jay lost, so he - begrudgingly - ventured back inside to retrieve the lollies from the freezer.

The Bounty was a fantastic keeper of heat. Great in the winter, awful in the summer.

While he was inside, he grabbed a bottle of 80 spf suncream from the bathroom and also carried out an umbrella to shield himself from the sun.

When he walked outside again, his friends all cheered sarcastically.

"Woah, you're really going all out, huh?" Lloyd commented, joyfully grabbing a lolly from the box.

"I'm pale and ginger, Lloyd, I burn about as easily as anything Cole tries to cook." Jay teased, plastering sun cream over every exposed section of his skin.

"Hey! My cooking isn't that bad!"

Everybody turned to glare at Cole, remembering the revolting macaroni cheese he had attempted last time he cooked.

"... ok, ok, I could do with some improvement."

"... Christ Jay, you even brought out an umbrella?" Kai chuckled, lifting up his sunglasses to see better.

"DIBS!" Nya yelled, rushing over to him and sliding under the umbrella next to him, relishing its cool shade.

"Hey Nya! No fair!"

"Jay's my boyfriend, maybe you'll get half the umbrella if you start dating him!" She smiled teasingly.

 

As the day went on, more and more shirts came off. Even Zane had to slip his off, since even his inbuilt ventilation system couldn't combat all the heat.

At one point, Nya rushed inside, and came back out wearing a very pretty red and gold bikini top and a matching skirt. Jay started plastering more suncream on his face to hide the massive blush that arose. He almost couldn't believe how attractive she was.

But... the real problem with shirts was that... Jay couldn't take his off, and only he knew why.

He was absolutely boiling, wearing both a binder and a t-shirt in the sweltering weather, even underneath the umbrella. He was fanning himself with the empty ice-lollies box.

"Jay, you're sweating out a swimming pool, just take your shirt off." Lloyd suggested. It was nothing malicious, but the statement gave Jay copious amounts of anxiety in an instant.

"... I don't know... I really don't want to get sunburnt."

"You have an umbrella and spf 80 suncream, you'll be fine." Cole said, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand.

Jay bit his lip and refused to let himself panic.

"Funny. I don't see you saying that to Nya."

Cole was quiet for a second before getting flustered.

"B-But... that's because... she has... well... you know."

He started waving his hands in front of his chest in a circular manner.

"They're called breasts Cole, it's not a taboo." Nya rolled her eyes, though secretly a little bit amused.

Jay felt quite bad for moving the focus from him to Nya, but it did give her a chance to start up a political conversation, something she was rather passionate about.

"How come guys are allowed to show their chests but not girls huh? What's with that?"

Cole tried to think up a suitable argument, but was unable to.

"Like... I don't know?"

Nya was holding in laughter.

"It's centuries of misogyny! Let's say I took off my bikini right now. I guarantee all five of you would freak out and cover you eyes. But let's say I was a guy, but I had moons bigger than most girls, you wouldn't give a damn, would you? Even though they're both basically the same thing. Sacks of flesh that are low-key kinda annoying and really don't mean much."

Lloyd nodded along, agreeing very strongly.

"I read an article about that. It was from that website you suggested to me."

Nya swelled up with pride at that, ecstatic that Lloyd had actually acted on her suggestions.

 

All talk about Jay taking his top off was gone, which he was very thankful for, and Nya had now started ranting at the boys about feminism and how even if it didn't seem it, misogyny was still everywhere.

 

The afternoon went on quite pleasantly, and once evening came, none of the ninja could be bothered to cook, so they simply ordered pizza. The delivery person wasn't too happy to find out that their destination was 100 or so feet above Ninjago City, but after a lot of yelling and many phone calls, the Bounty was steered to the ground and the ninja collected their pizzas.

 

Despite the heatwave, Sunday had been a very enjoyable experience, and many good memories were made.

They all slept well, tired from the day's events, and before settling down to sleep - unlike the previous night - Jay remembered to take off his binder.

Chapter Text

The days had seemed to settle back down, to something Jay could only explain as suspiciously boring.

Nothing of interest had happened since the morning after the heatwave. Kai, who had openly mocked Jay for his so called extreme precautions against the sun, had sunburned very badly almost on every piece of exposed skin. Not to lie, Jay felt quite smug about that.

Even so, Kai's constant moaning and groaning about it was pretty annoying, and didn't help the constant boredom at all. Irritation, matched with nothing to do, didn't make a good combination.

"... hey... like... does anybody want to go out with me?" Cole asked, as all the ninja sat in the dining room, staring around.

"I didn't know you were that desperate." Joked Lloyd.

"I didn't mean on a date! I meant... go somewhere. Do something. We've been stranded on the Bounty with nothing to do and I feel like I'm gonna implode from boredom."

Jay shrugged, undoubtedly agreeing.

"What were you thinking? Restaurant? Cafe? What's on your plate?"

"Well, considering we're literally poorer than Kai's fashion taste, I don't think we can afford anything that requires money."

Kai scoffed at him, but didn't deny it. He was currently wearing a vest that was little more than a few pieces of fabric. He had tried to wear things that touched as little of his skin as possible.

"We could go to the park? Or the museum?" Zane suggested.

Kai snorted and gave him a look.

"The same museum that used to have the Grundle bones? Nooo thankyou. Those are memories I'd prefer to forget." He laughed, jokingly but with a serious undertone.

"Hey... not all of that was bad! I got older!" Lloyd pointed out.

"Ha ha, sorry small fry, but you're still a little kid in my eyes!"

Lloyd bit his lip and resisted the urge to throw a glass of water on him. He was right, but it still irked him.

"... so? Should we just go to the park then?" Cole asked. A couple of them nodded, and he burst into action, going to get changed out of his pyjamas.

Jay followed him, simply to grab a warmer jumper. The air was a slight bit nippy.

Zane had decided to stay on the ship to do some more studies on ancient battle techniques, and Nya offered to stay and keep him company. Other than those two and Sensei, the rest of the gang landed the Bounty and started walking towards Central Park.

"... is it just me... or are people giving us weird looks?" Kai asked.

"Maybe it's because you're wearing a rag for a vest."

"Shut up Cole, it's not a rag."

"I can literally see both of your nipples, what's the point of wearing it?"

Though, Kai was right. A number of people who passed them were giving the group dodgy glances, glares and general odd expressions. It made Jay feel uneasy.

Soon enough they made it to the park, and things didn't get better. Cole tried to start up conversation, but all four of them were so distracted by the public's reactions to properly engage.

"Ok, what the heck. Why is everybody staring at us?" Kai huffed, stopping in his tracks. The other ninja stopped too, and took this moment to discus what was going on.

"Is it too much to hope that it's because we're famous ninja and they like us?" Jay asked.

"I think it might be. They're pretty much all glaring at us, and usually if we see any fans, they come up to us and ask for autographs, not give us weird looks across the street." Cole debunked.

They all started walking again, if anything feeling even more exposed and vulnerable.

Suddenly, a tall, beefy man came out of nowhere and smashed into the group, singling out Lloyd. He pushed him away from the others, then screamed at him really close to his face.

"What do you think you're bloody doing, you disgusting f*g?"

"W-What-"

"Don't act stupid. You know what I mean! How dare you strut out in public like this, f*ggot!"

Cole grabbed the man's wrist and quite easily dragged him away from Lloyd, who was looking quite terrified.

"Do you have any idea who you're talking to? That's Lloyd Garmadon, the green ninja!"

"I know exactly who he is!"

Then man then used a racial slur so awful that Kai joined in and smashed the guy's nose without a second thought.

They decided to go back home then, quite quickly, leaving the bigoted assailant crouching in the ground, trying to stop the bleeding from his busted appendage.

Luckily, the one man seemed to be the only person with enough confidence to come forward and do what he did.

There was still the occasional taunt here and there, but nothing as violent.

Though... everything was focussed on Lloyd. After making some careful deductions, Jay realised that most of the staring was directed at him as well.

Finally, they got back to the Bounty and flew it far above the city, away from any more possible harassment.

Everybody wanted an explanation, but had no idea of how to get one.

"... did you know that guy, Lloyd?"

He shook his head, shaken up and jittery.

"Why was he calling you... you know... I don't want to say the word..." Cole trailed off.

Lloyd just shrugged, emerald eyes filled with fear.

"All I know... is that now the whole of Ninjago City seems to hate me..."

"I'm sure it's not everybody. It's probably just a misunderstanding."

Lloyd and Jay made brief eye contact, and Lloyd was the one who drew his eyes away.

"Let's try to forget it. Let's just... it's almost lunchtime. Let's have lunch." Kai diverted, heading inside.

Nya walked out of the ship and smiled at them.

"You were hardly gone 20 minutes. Change of plan?"

"... you could say that..."

It started to rain, so they all headed inside. Jay noticed that Lloyd didn't stick with the group, instead heading back to his bedroom. He followed him.

"... Lloyd... do you actually know what happened? Or did you just say you didn't to-"

"I said I didn't because I don't."

Jay gave him a look, not quite convinced.

Lloyd sighed, beckoning for him to follow him in, checking to see that nobody had followed.

"You're the only person who knows... about... my sexuality. It's just... I don't know how people would have found out but... I... I went on a date a couple of days ago.."

"... that's good... isn't it?"

"Well... not really, because even though we got on great... he messaged me the next day telling me he got back with his ex, so theres that."

"Oh... sorry."

"I... I guess what I'm trying to say is... what if somebody saw?"

"Saw what?"

Lloyd rolled his eyes, sitting down on his bed.

"Saw the Green Ninja on a date with another guy, Jay. Saw the Green Ninja snogging another guy in an alleyway. Saw the Green Ninja being super not-straight."

Jay bit his lip and sat down next to him.

"It's not like you to be snuck up on... you would've noticed."

"Not really. I'm just an idiot. I should've been more careful."

Jay was taken aback for a second.

"Hey! Don't call yourself that!"

"It's true though, isn't it?"

"No way! Lloyd, you're gay, that's fine. You're a teenager. You have the right to date people. You don't need to insult yourself because of it."

Lloyd started mindlessly scrolling through his social media feed, trying to distract himself.

"... please... promise me you won't call yourself that again..."

"... I won't..."

Jay watched his expression, he looked so close to tears yet so... blank, and hidden.

"... I bet it's just a misunderstanding..."

"Explains why strangers on the street were calling me slurs."

Jay was trying to think of a way to counter his statement, when Lloyd's eyes widened and he stopped scrolling.

"... sh*t... S-Sh*t!" Lloyd swore, sitting upright and staring at his phone screen.

"What is it? What's wrong?"

"I... I was right... somebody saw... oh no... no no this can't be happening..."

"Lloyd, calm down, what's happened?"

He thrust his phone at Jay's face, where he quickly read the headline 'Green Ninja seen kissing another Man. Can we still trust him to protect us?' accompanied by a slightly blurry picture of a blonde in a green hoodie kissing an attractive dark haired boy.

"... it's an awful photo... just... tell people that it's fake. Say it's not you."

"You... you really think people will care?! It's in the media now, it'll be all over the news! Nobody will believe me!"

Lloyd was properly panicking now, pacing left and right, grabbing fistfuls of his hair.

"Lloyd, calm down!"

"How do you expect me to calm down! After this!"

Jay shut his mouth, taking a chance to say one last thing.

"... would you... like me to leave?"

He nodded, turning his back, shaking. Jay saw the irregular movements in his back and neck and knew that he was crying.

"... y-yeah... please... sorry... just... just go..."

Jay quietly turned and left the room, clothing the door with a soft click. He swore he heard sobbing from inside as he left, but he didn't investigate.

He felt awfully selfish for his next thought.

If people reacted like this when there was evidence of Lloyd's queerness... what would they do for him, if they found out he was trans? It would be... horrific.

The other Ninja were all on their phones, and no doubt would come across something relating to the controversy. Jay headed towards them, knowing that Lloyd wouldn't be able to defend himself in his current state.

Well... if he couldn't, then Jay would defend him instead.

Opening the door to the bridge, he was smacked in the face by the tense atmosphere.

Something on Jay's mind was begging to be explored, and nagged at him constantly.

The question...

If Dei Noctis was at all involved in the outing of Lloyd Montgomery Garmadon.

Chapter Text

Just as Jay had thought, the rest of the bounty had already seen the article. It was hard not to, considering that people were reposting it on social media, other news sites were coming out with their own stories, and the whole internet was in uproar.

"Jay! Thank god you're here, have you seen it?" Cole asked, frantic and worried.

"Seen what?"

He decided to take the oblivious route at first.

"The... the thing about Lloyd? The news story?"

Cole showed him his phone screen, holding the same article that Lloyd had shown him.

Jay pretended to read it, then forced a grimace.

"Are you serious? That photo is awful. It could be any old blonde guy." he said, sighing loudly.

"I'm pretty sure that it IS Lloyd. The height and the style of clothing point towards him at least." Zane chimed in. Jay sent him a glare that clearly said 'please shut up'.

"You know how the press is. They'll do anything for a good story." He countered, then looked to Kai, wondering what his opinion was.

"... what do you think Kai?"

"... I... I don't know. If it's true... why the hell didn't he tell us he was a f*g?"

"Kai! That's a slur!"

"But it's true isn't it!"

Even Cole looked disgruntled.

"Dude... you really shouldn't say that."

Kai rolled his eyes, impatient.

"Fine then. If he was gay, why didn't he tell us?"

Jay crossed his arms, now very pissed off.

"It's not any of your business what somebody's sexuality is. Even if he is the guy in the picture, people can chose when they come out."

"But what about his friends? It's like he's been lying to us!"

"What? Kai... Lloyd has never once said that he's straight so how is it lying?"

They continued arguing about it to no avail, and it eventually got quite heated.

"It's none of your damned business who Lloyd kisses!"

"It is my business if he's kissing other bloody guys!"

"No it isn't!"

"Well, if it wasn't my business then why is it all over the f*cking news?!"

Lloyd stormed into the room, looking ready to kill someone.

"It's a lie. That isn't me."

Everybody fell silent and looked at him.

"... I haven't left the Bounty after dark for months, and I've certainly never kissed anybody in an alleyway. It's not me. It's made up for public attention."

Jay decided to go along with him. Even though he was the only person in the room who knew that Lloyd was spouting lies.

"... ugh... that's a relief." Kai breathed, and sat down again, sending the occasional dirty look in Jay's direction.

Nya had stood by, silent the entire time. Jay looked over to her and she avoided his eyes. Her expression looked very pained, as if she was having an argument with herself inside her head.

"So... what do we do then?" Cole asked.

"Maybe we can call Dareth. He'll let you make a public statement on his channel, won't he?" Jay suggested.

"Yeah, probably."

There was a very uncomfortable silence, and Kai was the one who broke it, with a question that nearly made Lloyd faint.

"... Lloyd... even if it isn't you in the picture... are you... gay?"

Jay watched him closely, as he bit his lip and looked Kai in the eyes.

"... no... I'm not."

Kai's obvious sigh of relief shattered the poor green ninja's heart.

 

"Look, we've all had a stressful day. We should just forget about it and move on. We can contact Dareth in the morning." Cole intervened.

Nobody had enough strength to argue. They all nodded and wandered off to do their own thing, leaving Jay and Lloyd alone in the bridge.

"... Lloyd... are you o-" Jay started, but was quickly cut off.

"Please... just... go away, Jay..."

He bit his lip and suppressed the chocking feeling in his throat.

"... a-alright..."

He didn't want to go back to the shared bedroom, so he went to sit in the game room, which was luckily devoid of anybody else.

He considered turning on their games console, but decided against it, and sat down to think.

Jay had an awful suspicion that the social and viral craze about Lloyd's possible homosexuality was more than a bid for media attention. Something much more malevolent was at play.

 

But there wasn't any proof.

 

A few minutes later, Nya looked into the room, clearly looking for him.

"Oh... Jay."

"Hey Nya."

She hurried into the room and awkwardly sat down next to him.

"... are you alright?" He asked, and she shrugged, thinking of words for a few seconds.

"... is Lloyd ok?"

"I don't think so... but... maybe don't go and talk to him. He asked me to leave him alone."

She nodded sadly, picking up a pillow and hugging it close to her chest.

"... Kai... I don't know why he... I don't know why he's so against it. He's my brother and I love him... but..."

"I know what you mean."

"... it's awful..."

"... what part of it?"

"... everything... like... why does anybody care who Lloyd likes?"

"... yeah... it's ridiculous..."

Nya rested her head on his shoulder, and after a few minutes, Jay spoke up again.

"I think Dei Noctis has something to do with it. The media and stuff."

"... those cult people?"

"Yeah. They're homophobic, and they already don't like us. I wouldn't be surprised if-"

"Jay... in the politest way... you're overthinking this..."

Jay bit his lip and shut up straight away.

"It would've been some idiot who came across them... and decided to cause some trouble. Say this gay guy was the green ninja. People will believe anything these days."

Jay nodded, the choking feeling getting worse.

Nya sighed, then kissed his cheek.

"I'm gonna go to bed. You should do the same Jay... it's getting late."

He nodded again, feeling like if he tried to respond verbally he might start crying.

So he watched her go, and wondered if sleeping in the game room would be so awful.

It was quiet, he wouldn't have to deal with Cole's snoring or Kai's habit of mumbling in his sleep, and best of all, he wouldn't have to interact with anybody.

 

Even so, he forced himself to sit up and moodily trudge his way to the ninja's bedroom, not talking to anybody or making any eye contact.

He went straight to his bed, taking off his binder under the bedsheets, and lay down, facing the wall.

He could hear Zane and Kai whispering, and he was angry enough with the latter to hiss 'shut up' at him... but he didn't.

He kept quiet and tried to think of other things.

 

Finally, the room was dark and motionless. Cole's steady snoring started up.

 

All back to normal... just a normal night in the ninja's normal bedroom.

 

Right?

Chapter Text

Dareth got their message straight away, and set a course for the bounty along with his camera crew to interview Lloyd, and provide a different story for the public to hear.

The true story. The story everybody should believe.

Or at least... what Lloyd wanted people to believe.

 

"So, Lloyd Garmadon. There have been a lot of recent rumours about you... concerning your sexuality. You called us here because you wanted to make a statement, is that correct?"

"Yes. It is."

 

The rest of the ninja sat outside the room being used for the interview, able to hear every word, but strictly prohibited from uttering a sound.

"There was a photo taken of two men kissing, one of them assumed to be you. The picture came from an anonymous source, so we unfortunately can't question the photographer."

"Yeah, well, it wasn't me. It's clearly a bid for attention. It's nothing but a made up controversy."

"Ah, I see. But... are you willing to answer the question the nation is screaming about? Are you... in fact... a homosexual?"

Jay noted his moment of hesitation, and swore he could hear the self-guilt and sorrow in his voice as he uttered the next sentence.

"No. I'm not. There's nothing wrong with it of course. I strongly believe that all people are equal and will fight for that equality, but me, personally... no."

A couple more questions were asked, but Lloyd tactfully brought the interview to a close and soon enough, the crew left and Dareth promised that the broadcast would reach ears across all of Ninjago.

Lloyd breathed a sigh of relief as they left, then turned to his friends.

"Hopefully that will clear things up." He said simply, and everybody agreed. The last thing the ninja needed was a sour public opinion.

"If only there was no stigma around the LGBTQ+ community, then there would never be a problem alike this one." Zane stated, almost sadly.

Kai rolled his eyes.

Neither Lloyd or Jay or anybody else had the mental energy to say anything to him. They all wanted to forget the whole ordeal and carry on as normal.

"... I'm gonna start making lunch. Anybody wanna help me? Oooor...?" Jay questioned, clearly wanting some company. Zane volunteered, and it was a good thing too, as Cole seemed to be eager to help as well.

The last person he wanted to be cooking with was Mr. burnt-food-Cole.

Zane was good at starting conversation, so as they peeled vegetables and put pasta on to boil, there was never an awkward silence in the kitchen.

"People are very interesting, aren't they? They assume that anything they hear is truth, and when they are challenged, they become angry. It is almost funny."

"I wish I had your mindset. I just find those sorts of people frustrating."

"I agree. It is frustrating. But you have to look at the bright side of life." Zane replied with a smile, draining the pasta in the slightly broken colander and serving it evenly.

Since the ninja had been living together for years now, they were used to cooking in mass.

"You have seemed very troubled lately Jay. Are you alright?"

"Me?" Jay wondered out loud, "I... I guess there is something wrong."

"Would you like to talk about it?"

Jay considered, but shook his head.

"Nah, it's ok. It's just me being a paranoid idiot. Don't worry about it."

Zane could tell that he wanted to drop the subject, so he moved on quickly, keeping up conversation almost effortlessly.

"This period of peace has been nice, has it not? Nothing to worry about, until now, but I'm sure it will blow over eventually. Then again... our world can be a very prejudiced place..."

"Yeah. Tell me about it."

A news article Jay had recently read popped into his head. It was a study on why transgender people were mentally ill, and it made Jay so angry that he had to turn his phone off and calm down in the bathroom.

"After we get back into a conflict - which is bound to happen at some point - the whole of Ninjago will see Lloyd as a hero again, and this particular event will be forgotten." Zane carried on, dishing out the rest of the food then helping Jay carry it all into the dining room.

"Hey! Lunch is ready!" Jay called down the corridor, and soon enough, everybody was sat down, ready to eat.

Jay noted that Lloyd wasn't eating much, but didn't bring it up. He was probably nervous. Anybody would be, considering that he was waiting for the response of an entire nation.

Zane started a conversation about different fighting techniques, one that Kai and Cole joined in with enthusiasm, and even Sensei contributed.

Jay, Lloyd and Nya mostly stayed out of it, more troubling things on their minds. 

---

Reactions had started to roll in. News centres had released interpretations, and almost every platform of social media had the story plastered all over them.

Lloyd sat at the edge of the game room, reading through posts as Kai and Cole played one of their many fighting games.

Jay stayed concentrated on the green ninja, watching as his expression stayed roughly the same, with an occasional frown or burst of upset.

He wanted to ask what was wrong but, his lips felt glued together. He was too scared to look on his social media himself, and he wasn't even the one facing the problem.

"... I think it helped." Lloyd muttered out of nowhere. Everybody in the room turned to look at him, wanting more definition.

"... a lot of people are saying that they should listen to me and believe me... while... a lot of them are calling me a liar..."

Jay shuffled over and looked at his screen, reading as Lloyd slowly scrolled past a variety of posts. Swearing, accusations, foul language. The internet was riddled with conflict and tension.

"... it'll be ok Lloyd." Cole reassured, pausing the game.

Lloyd just shrugged. While there were people on his side, there seemed to be more... so so many more who were rooting against him.

He caught Jay's eye for a second and then looked away - ashamed - and Jay looked away too.

 

What a mess this had become...

Chapter Text

As Zane had theorised, after about a week, the buzz about Lloyd had died down. Things were still very strained and tense still though, and to escape the constant harassment, Lloyd deleted all his social media.

After the umpteenth death threat, he decided that he'd had enough.

 

Jay was glad that it had boiled over, but, he had noticed that Lloyd was a lot quieter now. He had lost all his sparkle. Almost as if he was a completely different person.

He had lied to the whole of Ninjago, after all. He'd lied to himself. Jay hated to think of it, but, honestly, at this point in time, it was better to stay closeted. Coming out was one of the most dangerous things any of the ninja could do.

Luckily, Dei Noctis and their antics had seemed to grow milder. It was a huge relief, for Jay at least.

He still hadn't conveyed his worries about them to the team. He was too scared that they wouldn't take him seriously. Especially after what Nya has said. If the person he was closest too brushed him off, why would anybody else listen?

 

Talking about Nya, she had seemed a little bit nervous all day. Jay wanted to ask her what was bothering her, but it was almost as if she was avoiding him.

Once it turned midday, and Nya hadn't even uttered a 'hi' to him, Jay started wondering if he'd done anything wrong.

It seemed so odd though. Nya was never the type of person to hide her worries. If he had done something to upset her, she would definitely have told him.

Eventually, the worry got too much to contain, and he found her on the bridge, reading through the newspaper.

"Nya?"

Her head jerked up at the sound of his voice, suddenly bashful.

"Oh! Jay! Hi..." she startled, closing the newspaper.

"... have I done anything wrong?" He asked, apologetic even though he didn't know what to apologise for.

"No, not at all?"

"Oh... then why have you been avoiding me all day? Is there something wrong?"

Nya sighed and placed the paper on the table next to her.

"There was something I wanted to ask you... I guess I've been putting it off..."

"Well... what is it?"

Nya looked around, clearly hearing the other ninja loudly playing games only a few metres away, in the game room.

"... can we go somewhere more private?"

"Sure."

Jay followed her to her bedroom, feeling his quickened heartbeat fast in his chest. He was... scared. Scared of what to come. What would she ever want to ask him, that was this serious? Serious enough for her to try an avoid it?

Had she... figured it out?

 

Jay took a deep breath. There was no way that she had.

He just had to calm down. It was probably nothing.

 

For Nya's boyfriend, Jay hadn't spent all that much time in Nya's room. He knew exactly what it looked like, but had only stepped inside a few times.

She went and sat on the bed and patted the sheets next to her, saying that she wanted him to sit down. He closed the door, and did as she wished.

"... there's something I've wanted to ask you for a while not but... I've been too embarrassed. I thought that maybe... you wouldn't want to."

Ideas of what she was suggesting filled his head, and it started to make him panicking. If it was what he thought... then... he didn't know what he'd say. He'd have to tell her, and he didn't know if he was ready for that.

"What is it?"

He kept his voice as steady as he could, so not to reveal any upset.

"Well... we've been together for a while now... and... I was just wondering..."

Jay's throat seized up. He kept his eyes on her, waiting, petrified of what she was going to say.

"... would you like to move in with me?"

He was quiet for a second.

"... what?"

"Move in with me? Into my room?"

It wasn't what he had expected, and he was briefly very relieved, but... when he slowly started to realise the ramification of this proposition, the anxiety came flooding back.

"... you don't look too happy... sorry... maybe I shouldn't have-"

"No, Nya! It's ok... I'm just... a bit embarrassed..."

Nya breathed a sigh of relief.

"So... do you want to? I just thought... it might do good for our relationship to... to be closer, you know?"

"Yeah. Maybe."

Jay's mind was racing. If he and Nya shared a room... where would he hide his box of things? Nobody could know about that. What would he do about his binder at night? Nya was most certainly proposing that they shared a bed.

Would he have to wear it... all the time? It would do horrors for his ribs and his spine but... how else could he hide?

And how could he refuse her? He would love to be able to share a room with Nya... but... it was just too dangerous for him. But... he couldn't say no.

"Great! When would you like to move in? Ahh, sorry, I'm just a bit excited."

She kissed him lightly on the cheek and smiled.

"I love you, you know?"

"I love you too Nya."

What if she found his pads? What if she found his spare binder? What if she found his testosterone prescriptions?

"Well... I don't really have that much stuff, so, we could do it soon, if you want."

"Ok. I'll be able to clear some space for you."

What if she wanted to get closer... more intimate... in a... different... way? It was Jay's original fear of what she would ask. What if she wanted that?"

"We should probably talk to the others first. Kai especially. I imagine he'll have some things to say." Nya joked.

"Kai doesn't own you. Just because you're his sister doesn't mean he can dictate your life."

"Yes, but, that doesn't stop him from getting a bit overprotective at times, does it?"

"I guess..."

What if she found out he was transgender? What if she told the whole ship? What if... what if she broke up with him because of it?

 

Nya hugged him tight.

"Sorry I didn't ask you sooner. I feel stupid for being nervous now."

"S'ok. Everybody gets nervous."

Nya pulled away, giving him a confused look.

"... are you ok?"

"Yeah, I'm alright."

"Sure you aren't coming down with something?"

"I'm sure. Honestly Nya, I'm fine."

She left it, but Jay could tell that she wasn't convinced. She chatted a little bit more about the plans, and then decided to wrap it up.

"Should we go and tell everyone else together?"

"Yes, but, just a moment. I gotta use the bathroom. Meet you at the bridge, ok?"

"Ok."

Nya kissed his cheek, then made her way to the bridge.

Jay, didn't need the toilet. He just felt like if he didn't calm down, he'd end up having a panic attack.

 

Nya meant no harm by what she was asking. Had he been a regular cis male, as most boys were, he would have leaped at the opportunity, but Jay wasn't, and was so, so scared.

He wasn't ready for something like this. There was no way that he'd be able to hide his secret from Nya for long.

A single tear escaped his eye as the bathroom door closed behind him. He locked it, wary of any audience.

 

Looking at the mirror, he grimaced. He hated everything he saw. The femininity, the tears - which were now coming much faster - and the blazing terror now rooted deep in his heart.

He couldn't lose Nya. He couldn't lose his friends. He wouldn't know what to do without them.

 

Eventually, the tears dried out, and while still panicked, Jay wiped his eyes, and made his steady way to the bridge.

He was not looking forward to what Kai would say.

Chapter Text

Nya was already sat in the bridge, Kai and the other ninja sat around with her. She must have already got them from the game room.

Jay took a deep breath, then plastered a casual smile on his face. He didn't want anybody to realise how nervous he was.

"So... what's up with you two?" Kai asked.

Jay looked at Nya, silently asking her to start, but then realised she was doing the exact same to him. Nya let out. A little giggle, and sighed, starting herself.

"Jay and I are gonna move in together."

The other members of the ship were quite calm about it, almost as if they had expected this, but as theorised, Kai was hit in the face by disbelief.

"You're whAT?!" He yelled, mouth gaping wide.

"It is not that big of a deal. Jay and Nya have been together for a long time, and if anything, this is past it's due date." Zane said with a smile.

"But... where? Are you gonna leave the Bounty, and live somewhere else?" Cole asked.

"Oh god no. We'd never be able to afford that. Jay will just move into my room. It's honestly super simple." Nya answered, calm and controlled.

Jay still hadn't said anything. He was afraid of what his voice would sound like. Wobbly? Anguished? Scared?

"Fair enough. It makes sense I guess." Lloyd shrugged, not actually paying much attention. He had more important things on his mind.

"I'll miss you in our room, bluebell! Who will I make fun of in the mornings now?" Cole sighed melodramatically, sliding a firm arm around Jay's shoulders.

"Kai?" Zane suggested cheekily.

"Shut up Zane!"

Kai was in a foul mood. Undoubtedly because of Jay and Nya's news.

"Kai, why are you so against us sharing a room?" Nya questioned, crossing her arms and looking at her brother very deliberately.

"I'm not."

"You are, it's really obvious."

"Agh... it's just... I don't want you two to start... doing stuff."

The bridge got a bit silent as people tried to work out what he meant.

"... what do you mean by... stuff?"

 

Jay knew. Jay had realised what Kai meant the moment it left his mouth. He was still to nervous to speak thought.

However, soon enough, Nya and the others realised too, and Nya's cheeks flushed slightly pink.

"Kai! For heaven's sake! First of all, that's none of your business, and if we did do... stuff... on the Bounty, literally everybody else would hear!" She gasped. Kai shrugged, still not convinced.

"Look, I'm not a little kid anymore. You have no right to dictate my life. Jay and I are going to share a room whether you like it or not." She looked to the side, at her boyfriend, "right Jay?"

Jay forced a smile out and nodded.

"Yeah. I promise I'll behave myself, Kai." Jay half joked. He was thankful that his voice hadn't betrayed him.

The discussion carried on for a little longer, with the occasional passive aggressive comment from Kai, but other than that, everything ran smoothly.

 

Jay moved a few of his essentials over to Nya's room, trying to postpone the issue of the box under his bed for as long as possible.

Maybe Sensei Wu would have a place he could put it.

 

The rest of the day passed without much else of anything. The rest of the boys went back to playing video games, while Jay and Nya went back to Nya's - or... their - room, to talk.

Nya asked Jay about all types of stuff. If he didn't mind cuddling in bed. If he wanted to change the set up of the room. If he didn't mind the scented candles and incense she had placed around.

Jay said that he didn't mind any of them.

In fact, he might actually enjoy cuddling in bed.

Though, Jay's binder was starting to feel tight, and along with it, so did his anxiety.

"... hey Jay... do you want to sleep here tonight? Just to... get in the feeling of things, you know?"

Perfectly honestly? He'd love to. He would love to have goodnight kisses and romantic moments and sleepy cuddles, but... his binder felt like it was choking him.

But how could he refuse?

 

"Sounds alright. Yeah, I'll stay here tonight."

 

He regretted it as soon as he said it. But what else could he have possibly said instead?

Jay quickly went to the bathroom, lifting off his t-shirt and rolling off his binder.

True, he hated having to wear it. The things it hid gave him so much dysphoria and self hate, that those things had almost been linked to the binder itself, though...

It was a great help. If it wasn't for the simple piece of fabric, Jay would have been discovered a long time ago.

 

However, the relief to taking it off only lasted for a little while. After doing some stretches and splashing his face with cold water, he had to put it back on, along with his t-shirt.

The weather had taken a turn and gotten hotter again, and having to wear a binder as well as a t-shirt made Jay sweat like hell. Thank god deodorant existed, for if not, he would have had to take a shower every couple of hours.

It felt like the relief had never even happened. He needed a good few hours break from his binder, but... he just couldn't have one. It was really quite scary.

And he didn't know when he would next be able to either.

"We have a couple hours till sundown, and after that... I think it's your turn to cook actually. But... we could move around furniture if you want?"

"Nya, I already said, this is fine."

"You sure?"

"Really. Your room is... actually? Really really nice."

"Well, unlike the boys on this ship, I actually decorate."

"Cole tried to, but Kai told him that his attempts made the room look as bad as his cooking. So... it just stayed plain."

Nya readjusted her position and gave him a bashful smile.

"Are you sure you want to move in?"

"Yeah, Nya. Can you imagine having to share a room with three other sweaty guys who don't shower neeearly enough? I mean... Zane doesn't sweat, but, two sweaty guys is gross enough."

"Eww, you'd better shower enough Jay."

Jay rolled his eyes playfully.

"You know as a fact that I shower every day, sometimes twice in this heat."

"I knooow, just making sure."

She leant forward and kissed him lightly, and Jay let himself melt into the moment, temporarily forgetting the troubles he was facing.

Nya let it draw on for a few moments, then broke away, standing up and stretching her legs.

"I'll help you make food if you want?" She said, giving him an affectionate look that made his heart flutter.

"S-Sure..."

They headed to the kitchen, and began discussing what to cook, but the worries of the future corrupted Jay's mind, to the point where he could think of nothing else.

Chapter Text

Nya had undergone a rather restful and pleasant night, falling asleep easily in Jay's loving arms.

Though, her poor boyfriend hadn't had the same experience. He was so used to sleeping without his binder for years now, and having it on for a whole night didn't only make it hard to breathe, but was actually really painful as well.

But he didn't get up to stretch, he didn't take it off, he didn't move at all. He didn't want to wake Nya, who looked so calm and tranquil in her sleep, and of course, taking it off would mean that she would see in the morning.

He prioritised her and her wellbeing. He loved her to bits, after all.

But, even so...

This decision to share a room was already proving to be extremely hard.

 

Despite everything, when Nya started to stir awake, Jay closed his eyes and pretended to be asleep. He didn't want to upset her in any way.

He heard her yawn, then let out a deep breath of wakefulness.

Jay wondered if she'd get up and leave him there, but... she didn't.

"... Jay?" She whispered softly. Jay lightly opened his eyes, pretending to just have woken up.

Nya smiled.

"Morning..."

"Morningggg..."

She placed a soft kiss on his lips, then sat up, stretching her arms and yawning again.

"How did you sleep?" She asked. Jay's heart sank.

"... I slept alright... what about you?" He replied, lying through his teeth.

"Pretty good. So... moving in... is it definite now?"

Jay nodded, but then had a thought.

"Sensei Wu doesn't know yet. We should probably ask him first, right?" He suggested, and Nya nodded.

"I don't see why he'd have anything against it, but, you always gotta listen to the wise old guy."

The two of them quickly got dressed and walked quietly over to Sensei's bedroom, careful not to wake the others who were still fast asleep.

They encountered a problem, though. Sensei was meditating in his room, still as a statue. Neither Jay or Nya wanted to be the one to disturb him.

They exchanged a glance that quite clearly said 'let's try again later', but, out of the blue, Wu spoke.

"... do you wish to ask something?"

Jay almost jumped out of his skin, though Nya seemed mostly unfazed.

"O-Oh! Sensei! I thought-" Jay began, but was interrupted.

"I would have heard you coming a mile away. You need to work on your stealth, Jay, Nya."

Jay sighed, making a mental note to train his light-footedness with some of the training equipment later.

"Sorry Sensei. We came to ask if... well... if Jay can move into my room..." Nya asked, surprisingly casual.

"Hmmmm?"

"It's just... we're a couple, and, it would be nice to actually have come privacy from the other boys."

Sensei seemed to think for a second, before giving his final answer.

"I see no problem."

The young couple were about to celebrate, but, he continued speaking.

"Though... it may put a strain on your relationship. Disagreements and breakups are the last thing we need, hmm?"

Both of them were a bit taken aback. Neither had ever heard Sensei talking about relationships before, and it was kind of odd to hear.

"I'm sure we'll be fine. So... can we start moving Jay's stuff in?"

"Of course."

Nya grinned and hugged Jay for a few seconds, before taking his hand and walking away.

"Thank you, Sensei!" She called back, still smiling impossibly wide. Jay almost forgot about the pain around his chest, while looking at her peaceful, joyous face.

 

They had a quick breakfast of cereal and toast, and soon enough, the other ninja began waking up and trudging through in their pyjamas. Cole was the funniest one, completely shirtless but still wearing his black pyjama pants.

"I was too hot." He groaned, speaking before Jay could even question him, "I took it off and now I don't know where it is."

Jay shrugged, not particularly caring.

"How did you sleep?" Zane asked, clearly directed towards the couple.

"Alright! We slept pretty well. Thanks for asking." Nya replied, full of energy. Jay didn't know how she did it. He was exhausted.

Kai sat down at the table, a glare even moodier than normal slapped across his face.

"... so I guess he's moving in." He muttered, crossing his arms and not bothering with food.

"Kai, for god's sake."

Nya lost her cheer and charm, directing immense amounts of disapproval at her brother instead.

Kai sent the disapproval right back.

"I'm not a little kid anymore. You don't need to look after me."

"I just... I don't want anything to happen."

"What on earth could go wrong! Jay is my boyfriend, it's not like he's gonna choke me in my sleep."

"... I didn't mean like that."

"What did you mean then?"

"Ugh... I just... I don't want any babies running around here."

Jay was so tired and cynical that he actually snorted with laughter at Kai's statement, then drained his glass of water in a second.

Kai directed his attention to the Blue Ninja.

"What's so funny?"

"You really think we'd be stupid enough to not use protection?"

"I don't want my little sister getting knocked up, ok?!"

"Kai! I know what a bloody condom is!"

Kai shut up at that, and started moodily munching on the plate of toast Zane had kindly prepared for him.

Jay rolled his eyes and sighed. He knew all about contraception. If he had something that could get Nya pregnant, he'd most certainly be very careful... but... he didn't.

 

The crushing sensation around his ribs was getting unbearable, he had to do something to get out of his binder. Anything.

The toilet on the Bounty would work, but would only offer about 5 to 10 minutes, before people got suspicious of what he was doing in there.

But then... Jay had a better idea.

 

He got up and looked in the fridge.

Perfect.

They were low on a number of things.

"Hey... should I go to the shop? We need more food." He suggested out loud.

"Yeeeah. We don't have cheese, Zane and Kai just finished off the bread, no tomatoes, hardly any milk. A shopping trip is in order." Cole listed off, counting on his fingers.

"I'll go. You guys all look tired, but, I've been up for a couple hours already." Jay offered.

Kai and Lloyd nodded absent-mindedly, while Cole thanked him and Zane offered to go with him.

"Oh no... it's alright. It's no trouble, really."

Nya stood up and walked to him too.

"C'mon, let us come? It'll be fun!"

Jay bit his lip.

"But, Nya... I did notice this morning that you were a bit hot."

Jay felt awful, lying impulsively, to his girlfriend for heaven's sake. But he needed this. He needed a break from his binder.

He put his hand on her forehead and nodded, mockingly concerned.

"I think you might be coming down with a fever."

"But... I feel fine?"

"Nya, I think you should go back to bed. Don't come out with me, it's kinda cold today and that would be awful if you have a fever."

Nya scratched her head, confused but didn't question him.

"Oh... ok then..."

Jay breathed a breath of relief, guilty, but happy.

"Is there anything that anybody wants from the shop?" He asked to the room.

"Fire flakes. Extra spicy." Kai monotoned.

"Uhh... those tiny fairy cakes from the bakery, if they have any." Cole wondered.

"Some pads." Nya sighed. Kai, at her words, grimaced and mimed puking. Nobody laughed.

 

Jay took a couple of notes from the communal money pot and set off.

 

It was a bit cold, and Jay didn't have a proper coat on, just a blue hoodie. He was freezing.

But at last, he was free. He was going to head straight for a public bathroom and he was going to take off his binder and relish in the sweet, sweet, rib-freeing sensation.

 

Step after step, he got closer to the city centre, and soon enough, signs for a public bathroom showed up.

He walked faster.

 

Reaching the small building, rushing inside, throwing open the one cubicle in the men's and stripping off his top-half clothes as quickly as he could.

Then finally, his binder came off. If ribs could talk, then his would most likely be crying in relief.

He could breathe again, he could stretch his arms. All the uncomfortable feelings were gone.

Jay stayed in that cubicle for almost 30 minutes, not caring when somebody knocked on the door or called out to hurry up.

But soon, he did have to move. He'd promised to go shopping, and he couldn't hide in the bathroom forever. It was sort of grotty anyway.

 

So, after one last deep breath, Jay slipped his binder back on, followed by the rest of his clothes.

The uncomfortable feelings returned with a vengeance, arguably worse than before. He walked out, trying very hard to not wince with every step, and while washing his hands, Jay realised... he couldn't do this. Move in with Nya. Share a bed.

He couldn't do it.

 

At this rate, he'd permanently damage his ribs.

At this rate, he'd give himself lung problems for life.

 

At this rate... For moving in to work for him... he was going to have to tell her.

Chapter Text

Even though all he wanted to do was head home and collapse onto pretty much any soft surface, Jay forced himself to get the shopping over and done with.

He headed to the nearest supermarket, where he purchased cheese, two loaves of bread, a vine of tomatoes and a large carton of milk. It was a cheap store, so the total didn't amount to much.

Then, he stopped off at the bakery to grab a few fairy cakes for Cole. Luckily, the staff had just baked a batch. They were still warm.

The next stop was a convenience store for Kai's Fire Flakes. They had spicy ones in stock, but not any extra spicy ones. They'd just have to do.

Jay was not in a good mood, and had already decided in his head that if Kai complained, he wouldn't only be getting his bloody spicy Fire Flakes, he'd be getting a smack in the face too.

 

Finally, Jay entered a pharmacy, where he bought not only one, but two packs of pads. He was running low.

The lady at the till gave him an odd look as he placed the two items on the counter.

"For my girlfriend." Jay sighed nonchalantly. It made him angry. What right did this woman have to judge him for what he was buying? She didn't know his situation.

And anyway, why did that stereotype even exist? 'Men shouldn't buy pads and tampons for their girlfriends'. What a weak thing to do? Only a coward would refuse to do that.

 

Still, the cashier left it at that, sending the pads through the barcode scanner, then placing them into a bag for him. A bag he didn't ask for, which cost a couple small coins. What cheek.

He couldn't be bothered to argue though.

 

The Bounty had come to a rest in the desert-like surroundings of Ninjago City, so Jay could simply walk aboard.

"I'm back." He announced, walking into the kitchen and unloading what he'd bought.

"Oh, hi Jay!" Nya smiled, greeting him happily, "Zane did a check up, and, it turns out I'm fine. I must've just been a bit flustered because of... well... Kai."

Jay shrugged. Kai was being a bit of an arse, sure, but her 'fever' was only an excuse to go out alone.

"Oh, that's good then. I'm glad you're not sick, Nya."

He noticed the lack of emotion in his voice, but didn't do much about it. He was just tired and in pain. Not much else registered on his thought pattern.

"So... how do you feel about starting the move? I know you don't have many things to pack up but, what do you think?"

"... sure. I'll go ask Sensei if that will interfere with any plans."

"Ok. Meet me back in my room?"

"Sure."

 

Jay wasn't really going to ask that. There were no plans these days, Sensei had even given up on doing Sunrise Stretches.

No, Jay wasn't going to ask about plans. He was going to ask about his box.

Sensei wasn't meditating this time. Instead he was reading through an old scroll with a calm look on his face.

"Uhh, Sensei?"

"Yes Jay?"

"... I... I have a box of... things. Things that I don't want... things that I can't let anybody else see. It's nothing dangerous, but, it's very personal. I used to keep it under my bed, but, I can't do that now that I'm moving in with Nya. I was wondering if-"

"If there was anywhere you could put it, where it wouldn't be found? Of course. Nobody goes in the supply closet. There is little more in there than old - boring scrolls and various inks. Cleaning supplies too, but we also have a set of those on the kitchen. You can put it in there."

"... th... thank you Sensei!"

Jay hurried off back to the ninja's room, checking that nobody was around, before sliding out his box, shoving a packet of pads from his shopping bag into it and then lifting it under his arm. He made his hurried way to the supply closet, paranoid of discovery. The door opened quite easily, but just as Sensei had said, nothing but boring old scrolls and inks. Nobody would ever come in here. Perfect.

He shoved his box into the back of the room, in a corner, concealed by piles of parchment and bottles.

Jay felt safe with it here. Perhaps even safer than when it was under his bed.

 

With that, he left it, closing the door and walking to Nya's room.

"Alright, I'm ready."

"What did Sensei say?"

"He said it was fine."

"Awesome! I'll clear a bit of space, go and get your stuff." Nya said. Jay sighed under his breath and left again.

He honestly didn't have all that much. His deodorant and other items of bodily care were kept in the bathroom. He guessed, his clothes? Just jeans and hoodies really. His towel too. He folded them and piled them, picking up his framed picture of him and Nya on their first date at Mega Monster Amusement Park. He placed that on top.

That was it. All his stuff.

Honestly, it was kinda sad. How little he owned.

Anyway, he carried it back to Nya's room, where she had cleared a drawer for his clothes and was waiting excitedly.

"Is that all you have?"

"Honestly, yeah. Pathetic huh?" Jay forced a grin.

He thanked her for clearing a drawer and placed his clothes into it neatly.

"I do have this though."

He passed the picture to her.

"... oh! This one! I always wanted a copy of it, but..." she hugged his arm, "since we're sharing now, I won't need a copy!"

Jay smiled again, genuine this time.

"Mega Monster Amusement Park. While I'll always have special memories there, I'm not in a rush to go again, haha!" Nya laughed, reminiscing the memories of that day.

"Kinda chaotic, wasn't it?

"Very."

Nya sat down on the bed, smile slightly softened but still there.

Jay made the move this time.

He sat down next to her, and kissed her. Nya was a little bit surprised. Jay had always been the passive one. The kissed rather than the kisser, but, it seems he'd grown a bit of courage.

"... that's new." She whispered after he broke away.

"Mmm. Good new?"

"Yeah, good new."

Jay blushed for a second, but then stretched his arms, yawning.

"Right. I'm gonna work out on the deck then have a shower. That ok with you?"

"Of course, but, why are you working out? Nothing's going on, we can actually relax for once.

Jay bit his lip. He didn't bother trying to explain his worries about Dei Noctis. Last time, she shot him down. It would be the same this time.

"I just don't wanna get out of shape. I like being about to beat Kai at arm wrestle." He lied, though, not a complete lie.

Nya rolled her eyes.

"Knock yourself out Jay. I might even join you a bit later on."

"What? In the shower?"

Jay laughed at Nya's embarrassed expression.

"I'm kidding! Don't worry! See you later."

Jay headed outside, luckily already in clothes which were alright for working out. A t-shirt and a pair of dark blue joggers.

He chose the agility coarse, and got to work. With every movement, his binder seemed to get tighter and more crushing, but he pressed on.

After a couple of - painful - slip ups, Jay managed to complete the coarse with relative ease, so put it onto the next setting up. He eventually completed that too. So, he rinsed and repeated.

All the way up to the highest setting, and after a good 20 minutes of hard work, managed it.

Jay was pretty proud of himself. Only Zane had been able to complete that one, and that was because he was a robot who could execute perfect movements if on the right setting.

He was still in shape. Possibly better than he had ever been.

But, it was lonely out here.

He could hear the faint music of video games coming from inside, and an anxiety rose in his chest.

He... was the only one bothering to do this. Everybody else had settled into a lazy routine, featuring little to no exercise at all.

It was worrying. If something was to happen now, he'd be the only one able to properly protect himself.

 

The anxiety still staying strong, Jay headed inside, turning off the training equipment and putting it in rest mode. The bathroom was empty, so he closed and locked the door and readied his shower.

It was relief, taking off his binder and letting the warm water rinse away all the sweat worked up just a few minutes earlier.

He mainly closed his eyes while showering. It was calmer for one, and, let's say he looked down at his body by accident. That wasn't something he really wanted to see.

He wasn't quick. He took his time. Nobody came knocking so, he was free to just relax.

Relax.

 

Relax. With a constant nagging in the back of his mind, telling him that something was wrong.

 

He got out, dried himself, slipped on his binder, ribs screaming once again.

Jay realised that nobody had made Lunch yet, and while he was hungry, he couldn't be bothered.

Nya was waiting for him in their room, and she excitedly showed him all the different scented candles, and what effect each one had on people.

 

Jay was out of it.

Jay wasn't happy.

Chapter Text

Considering the massive following that the Dei Noctis faith had gathered, it was no surprise that their leader's newest speech was all over the news. Every single channel was streaming it. You could only escape by turning off the screen.

It had an enormous audience, and was held in the desert to provide enough space for the vast group. Helicopters circled the event, capturing the whole scene live.

Jay watched it all on the television usually used for games. Kai complained a little bit, saying that games would be way more interesting than the boring news, but Jay quite easily managed to get Lloyd, Nya, Cole and Zane on his side, so they outvoted the moaning gamer by 5 to 1.

It was a revolting program. Pure-bigotry, of the such that Jay had never seen before. Slurs being thrown around as if they were nothing. It just went on and on. Promises that could hardly be true, promises of a place where all these 'dirty, filthy scum' would never be allowed.

'Scum'. He was watching his identity being described as scum, on live TV, with nothing stopping the perpetrator. If anybody did, they'd probably be trampled to death by the revolting crowd of supporters.

And the worst thing? The crowd only grew. More and more people were going to see the speech. They were gaining followers.

Jay was worried. Terrified in fact.

What did this mean for all these minorities? With such a huge group of awful people, what would happen to them?

What would happen to him?

"... this is... ugh, I don't even know what to say." Jay groaned, turning to look at his friends, "what do you think?"

Kai rolled his eyes, looking forward to when the broadcast ended.

"It's just a crazy cult, it'll die down. As I've said before, they always do." he said, yawning.

"... can you see how many people there are? Look! There are thousands! Do you think they'll just... all stop believing overnight?" Jay returned, the anger clear in his voice.

"Is this why you've been training so much? You think they'll do something?" Cole asked.

Jay sighed, frustrated.

"Yeah, actually. I think they will."

Kai snorted, rolling his eyes yet again.

"Typical Jay, overthinking things as usual."

He took a deep breath, determined to stay calm in the situation, despite that probability being very, very low.

"Don't you understand? They're... they're demonising people! Why don't you see the problem with that?"

Jay glared at him, and Kai gave him an inquisitive look back.

"... Since when have you cared about trans people?"

 

The Blue ninja was slightly taken aback. The fact that Kai assumed that he didn't... it was absolutely infuriating. The mere notion that humanity's default was so cruel and heartless, drove him off the edge.

"... why would I need to start? It's obvious? Why wouldn't I care?" he spat, feeling his face heating up.

"Uh... because it's wrong?"

Kai's careless attitude continued, and if he hadn't been a good friend and his girlfriend's brother, Jay would have slapped him round the face.

But instead, he gritted his teeth, and forced himself to stay calm.

"... why. Give me one good reason why it's wrong."

Kai sighed and turned away, picking a patch of fluff off his tatty jeans.

"For gods sake. I don't care. Let's just drop it." he monotoned. But Jay didn't want to drop it. This was serious.

"No! Why? Why is it wrong? Give me one good reason! Only one!"

He turned back, scowling.

The rest of the room watched in horror as their two friends grew angrier and angrier at each other. A fight was brewing. It was obvious.

"It just makes no sense!” Kai raised his voice, clenching his fists.

Jay stood up, perhaps as an attempt to look more threatening, but Kai also stood, wearing a revolting expression.

"Gender is something made up by society you know! Before all these dumb binary ideas came along, people didn't give a crap!"

"But can you give me proof of that? No!"

"My proof is logic, Kai! And if you can't see that, then maybe the problem is you, not anything else, YOU!"

"Are you calling me stupid?!"

"Maybe I am!"

Kai hesitated for a second, before throwing a fury-fueled punch.

Jay ducked easily, and swung around for a counter attack which would have surely met it's target, had Zane not grabbed him under his shoulders and pulled him back. Cole did the same to Kai, leaving the two fuming boys with nothing but speech to argue with.

"... I COULD BE TRANS FOR ALL YOU KNOW! I COULD BE TRANS! WHAT WOULD YOU SAY THEN, HUH? KAI?!" Jay yelled, struggling against Zane, but his strong robotic grip was far too steady to escape from.

Kai stared at him, not even thinking of a comeback. Genuinely considering something.

"You know what!?" He started, "maybe you are!"

Jay froze. He realised that he had made a huge mistake. A huge huge mistake. 

"... maybe that's why you seem to love them so much!"

He bit his lip, ready to defend himself against the sad truth. Ready to lie for the life of him. Ready to take what he wish he could say, and throw it straight into the garbage. Ready to lock the closet door from the inside, and barricade it on the outside. Ready to defend his non-existent cisgendered self.

Other people looked from the red to the blue, trying their hardest not to take sides, and to stay neutral in their heads. Not a single other person wished for this to carry on. Nya especially, would have liked nothing more than for it to stop.

Kai was spurred on by Jay's sudden silence, now suspicious. Almost... convinced.

So he readied the question, and executed it in his mouth, without a single imperfection of words.

 

"Are you trans, Jay?"

Chapter Text

"I... I'm not trans! I was just making a point!" Jay exclaimed, losing all his confidence and bravery in a second.

Despite how scared he was, and how that fear transformed into determination, the statement didn't sound solid. He had hesitated at the start, and the whole thing sounded like a complete and utter lie.

Kai obviously thought so too, and was about to say something, but then Nya stepped between them, acting as a barrier between the two charged up individuals.

Emotionally and physically.

 

"Both of you stop it! You're friends, not enemies!"

Neither Kai or Jay were diffused after this. If anything, the ticking time bombs lodged inside each of them ticked faster.

"Funny, I don't feel like much of a friend right now!" Kai spat, struggling against Cole's rock-hard grip.

"Kai, stop! You aren't making this situation any better!" Nya continued, not giving up quite yet.

Her brother decided to ignore her, and instead threw another heated sentence across her shoulder.

"You didn't sound very convinced, Jay! Sure you're not lying to save your own skin?!"

Cole tightened his grip.

"Dude... stop. This is pointless." He said into his ear, praying that he'd listen, but he didn't. When Kai got angry - really angry - he rarely listened to anybody.

 

Jay, across the room, gritted his teeth.

"I'm not! I was only making a point!" He repeated, this time with a lot more force and believability.

The Dei Noctis speech carried on in the background, despite being long forgotten.

"Oh oh?! But I thought being trans wasn't a bad thing?! So why are you acting so offended unless you have something to hide?!" Kai returned. He was backing, no, he was chasing Jay into a corner, and he knew it.

Jay knew it.

"... would... would you just stop?! Stop and listen to yourself for once!" He begged almost. He was desperately trying to end this fight, before he ended up saying something he really regretted.

"I am listening to myself! And you know what! I think you're lying!”

Jay felt a vein start to throb in his forehead.

As much as he wanted to punch Kai’s lights out right there, it ultimately wouldn’t achieve much. So - as hard as it was - Jay put on a confident façade.

"I'm not transgender, Kai! Jesus Christ! I'd show you my d*ck to prove it but then you'd accuse me of being gay as well, wouldn't you!"

Kai did look disgruntled at that. He didn't really want to see anybody's nether regions.

Nya looked close to tears herself.

"... please! Both of you! Stop arguing! It's not helping anybody!"

"But Nya, c'mon! You agree with me don't you!" Kai replied.

Nya shot him a disapproving look.

"No Kai, I don't!"

"So, you'd date a trans guy, or whatever they're called. You'd date one?"

Nya went quiet, clenching her gusts. Kai was cornering her now.

She looked away, avoiding eye contact with him.

"Kai, that has nothing to do with thi-"

"You like guys, obviously. You're dating Jay. So would you date a trans guy?"

Jay was briefly relieved after hearing Kai indirectly refer to him as a guy, but, then anxiously waited for Nya's answer.

Nya, who was silent in what could only be guilt.

"Would you?" Kai pressed on, knowing what she was thinking even without a reaction. He still wanted one though, to shove it in Jay's face that his girlfriend didn't have the same views as him either.

 

Eventually, Nya found her voice.

"I don't know Kai! I don't know if I would! But that has nothing to do with this!"

Kai smiled maliciously. Winning arguments was one of his favourite things, and his determination to win them was sometimes a good trait, but often, his worst one.

"It has everything to do with it. Deep inside, you don't think that they're actually men either. Don't try to hide it."

Nya gritted her teeth, about to say something else, anything else, but, Jay spoke first. He hated what was coming out of Nya's mouth, and wanted to forget about it. To change the subject.

"Kai, if I chopped your d*ck off, would you start living as a woman straight away, or would you try to get it reconstructed, or reattached?" He spoke, keeping the deep upset out of his voice as best he could.

Kai looked back around to him, scowling.

"Reattached, obviously.

"So have a bit of bloody empathy! That's how trans guys feel, except they can't simply get it reattached!"

"... that’s just stupid.”

Was that really the best argument he could make?

Jay didn't care that he was Nya's brother anymore. If Zane hadn't been holding him back, he would have battered him, completely and utterly. He was so so so a n g r y.

"Come on Jay! You're wrong, just accept that! Even your girlfriend doesn't think they're 'valid' or whatever, so neither should you.”

"I never said that!" Nya yelled, growing frustrated as well.

"You might as well have!"

Nya clenched her teeth, fighting the urge to slap him.

"Fine! I wouldn't date a trans guy! But that doesn't mean I don't think they're valid!"

"But why wouldn't you huh?"

"Be... because... because I'm confused, ok!" Nya sobbed, tearing up after being forced to come out with something very personal. "I don't know what my sexuality is! I've been questioning for ages! A-All I know is that I like Jay - who is male - and I don't find the female body attractive, and, trans guys have a female body! I'm allowed to feel this way! Maybe it will change maybe it won't, just stop being so f*cking horrible Kai!"

The room fell silent. It stayed that way for a good few moments, before Kai decided to break it.

"... may I make a suggestion?" He asked.

"Huh?"

"Maybe date a few other guys, to get an idea of what they're supposed to be like. Jay is a pitiful excuse for a boyfriend."

Jay snapped, and started seriously fighting against Zane's rigid arms, determined to get to Kai and shut his slimy little mouth for him, as he couldn't seem to keep it closed himself.

"Don't you dare say that about Jay!" Nya shouted, considering much the same thing as her partner.

"It's not my fault you have a crap taste in men!"

At this point, there was no clear objective. Kai was striving for pure maliciousness, with no other thought in mind.

"IF I'M SO PITIFUL, THEN HOW COME I HAVE A GIRLFRIEND AND YOU DON'T!"

"MAYBE BECAUSE I'M NOT A LONELY BASTARD WHO JUMPS ON THE FIRST GIRL WHO LOOKS AT ME!"

"Jay! Kai! For heavens sake, stop!" Lloyd stepped in, joining Nya in between them.

"WHY?! WHY THE HELL SHOULD I-" Kai cut off suddenly, when he saw the one and only Sensei Wu standing in the doorway.

"... S-Sensei!" Jay choked, suddenly full of embarrassment and regret.

"... would somebody mind explaining what is going on here?" Sensei asked, surprisingly calm, considering what he had just witnessed.

"... Kai and Jay were having an argument about trans people. Whether they are valid or not. It stemmed from the Dei Noctis speech on television." Zane explained helpfully.

"It sounded more like hurtful insults to me."

"Yes, the two of them devolved to petty insults after a while."

Sensei sighed, shaking his head.

"Why argue over something to small? Zane, Cole, please let them go."

The two boys did as they were asked. Jay and Kai would have surely attacked each other again, had Wu not been standing there, a position of utmost authority.

Even so, Jay had half a mind to yell at Sensei too. Transphobia wasn't small. It was massive and disgusting and horrible.

"Why care what gender somebody wishes to be? Why care about somebody's genitals? Why care about relationship status? We are all human, and we should all try to get along in peace. The Ninja, most of all. You two are brothers. You should look out for each other, not throw useless insults across the room."

Usually, Wu's melodramatic speeches inspired him and calmed him, but Jay felt neither. He wasn't about to turn around and stop being mad at Kai after a few sentences from somebody who clearly didn't know the horrible things Kai had said. He didn't witness them.

"Now, would you please apologise and return to your activities? An argument left unsorted can sometimes last for decades..."

Kai huffed, then - begrudgingly - looked over at Jay and apologised.

"I'm sorry."

It was so obviously fake, filled with fury and frustration and fire. Any apology Jay could muster would sound exactly the same, but Kai didn't even deserve that, in Jay's eyes.

"... I'm not apologising to a foul person like you." Jay snarled, before turning on his heel and marching away, out of the room.

The rest of the others followed him, even Kai.

Nya lead the pack, yelling after him to slow down. Jay didn't. He walked straight to the Bridge, powering up the systems.

"Jay! What are you doing?!"

"I'm landing."

"What? Why?!

Jay turned to glare at his girlfriend, who had crushed his heart without even realising.

"Maybe because I don't want to spend another f*cking second on the same ship as your piece of sh*t brother!"

Nya looked extremely hurt, so Jay looked away, refusing to respond to any other questions. He even ignored Sensei Wu.

He just had to get off that bloody ship.

 

Landing was quite easy. He did it with no trouble at all, before marching onto the deck, vaulting over the side and meeting the ground with a small crunch.

"It's getting dark! You can't just walk off!" Cole called after him, as he walked away.

"Try to bloody stop me!" Jay called back, lifting his hood over his head, partially hiding his face.

 

The Bounty had been hovering over nowhere in particular, so unfortunately, there was no city to walk around in. No streetlights. No other people. Just sparsely vegetated desert, with the occasional firefly or sand-snake.

In the quickly fading evening light.

 

Somebody yelled something else after him, but he didn't even bother to listen. He was full to the brim with a dangerous cocktail of emotions.

Anger, sadness, confusion, and complete heartbreak.

 

After a good half an hour of walking, Jay found a nice spot. A small enclave made from a pile of rocks.

He settled down in the nook, took one look at the fading sky, then burst into tears.

 

He really let it out, every sob shaking his entire body, jerking at his soul. The tears streamed out like fountains. No visible end to them.

 

Nya really said it. She would never date a trans guy.

Never. Never ever.

But little did she know, she was. She had been for years.

 

He could never come out now. He couldn't lose her. He couldn't lose Nya.

He loved her.

He loved her.

He couldn't just... lose her. Especially when it was possible to prevent that occurrence.

 

But it still hurt.

Hearing the words come out of her mouth was excruciating. He wanted to collapse in the floor and bawl when they first popped up.

 

'Trans guys have female bodies'.

 

It was true, and he knew it was true. But he hated it. He hated knowing that no matter what he did, he wouldn't really be able to get rid of that aspect. It shouldn't have mattered, and maybe in a kinder society it wouldn't matter at all, but the gender roles put in place almost from birth doomed him pretty quickly.

At this rate? He would never afford top surgery. He was going to ruin his ribs anyway, wearing his binder all the time.

He just felt, broken. Broken and useless and disgusting. He hated hated hated himself, and he wished that his biology hadn't messed up.

Jay hated it. Every second.

 

He was out there for at least an hour, and as he finally started to calm down and think clearly, he noticed the buzzing in his pocket.

Many messages from Nya. Messages from Cole and Zane and Lloyd too. All asking him to go back. Saying they were worried.

Jay looked around. He hadn't even realised that it was pitch black, but, it was. He could hardly see a thing.

 

He didn't want to go back. Not yet. Not while Kai was still being an idiot.

 

He waited out there for another half an hour, ignoring every new buzz he received. Nya tried calling him too, but he didn't pick up.

But then, as Jay glanced at his phone screen, he saw that one of the messages was from Kai. Just one.

 

'I'm sorry. I mean it. Please come back. It's not safe out there. I'm sorry Jay.'

 

Jay sighed. Maybe it would be best to go back. Especially if Kai of all people was worried.

Using his phone as a light, Jay managed to find his way back. It took a little while longer than the walk outwards, but he managed it.

He was met with a lot of relief, and scolding, but he brushed it off. He still refused to say sorry to Kai, simply because he wasn't sorry.

 

It was late, and everybody was tired, so they all agreed to go to bed.

 

In the silence of Jay and Nya's room, a brief exchange of words was made.

"... Jay... I... I just wanted to know. Are you ok? Kai said some really nasty things..."

"Nasty things? Nya, I'm not even gonna sugar coat it. Your brother's an as*hole. He was a total as*hole."

Nya went quiet.

"Are you mad at me for saying that?" Jay asked.

"No... I just..... I hate seeing you two argue. I care about both of you. He's my brother, you're my boyfriend. I hate having to pick a side..."

She cuddled closer to him, and he hugged her back. Usually, he'd like to bask in the wonder of love, and enjoy every second of this, but all he could think of was what she'd said that day.

How if she found out about his gender situation, she'd probably break up with him without a second thought.

Because no matter how hard he tried, his body would be female.

She was allowed to do that, he'd respect her decision no matter what but... that wouldn't change how much it was going to hurt.

 

And at that moment, as Nya fell asleep in his arms and the room was silent except from her slow, steady breathing...

At that very moment... to his upmost horror, Jay realised he was getting worse.

After he had been getting better for so long, after trying so hard to get off the medication and to get rid off all the horrible thoughts and... the... really horrible thoughts... he was getting worse.

 

It was coming back with a vengeance.

Chapter Text

Jay hardly slept that night. Not only because of the tight binder - which he had almost gotten used to now - but because of a rushing mind.

His head was full of a million thoughts at once, most of them horrible and negative.

 

And the worst one of all, was the realisation of last night.

 

It was a sensitive topic, and one he had struggled with for years. So, so many years.

 

You see, Jay was diagnosed with severe Depression when he was 13. A number of... incidents... lead to his parents seeking immediate professional help.

He went through therapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy specifically, though it didn't do too much for him.

Eventually, it was clear that the only line of action was a diagnosis and a prescription of medication.

 

Jay's life improved vastly after he got those. All the constant lack of motivation, the horrible thoughts, the constant nagging voice in the back of his head that told him he was worthless... they faded away.

It slowly faded after he got on anti-depressants.

Not all of it of course. Medication couldn’t fix everything, and if that was the case, the world wouldn’t have any problems left.

He still struggled a lot with his mental health, but it was vastly more bearable, and had made his life and the daily stresses that came with it a lot easier to cope with.

 

Consequently, the jarring realisation that he was getting worse absolutely crushed him. After doing so well for so long, the depression he had fought so hard against came out of the shadows, and began to take over his existence again.

Heck, he had even done well enough to stop taking the anti-depressants anymore, since the symptoms he had struggled with most no longer made themselves a problem. New coping strategies and taking good care of himself helped massively, and while problems like depression could never completely disappear, he was coping so much better.

They were beginning to be a problem again.

 

Unfortunately though, the health services on the Isle of Ninjago were hardly free. Prescriptions were quite expensive. To expensive to afford.

Even his monthly testosterone shot cost money. His parents still insisted that they pay for that, though. Whenever he had tried to pay for it himself, they had always beat him to it, paying, despite the two of them being poorer than poor. All he had to do was pick it up from a specific pharmacy in Ninjago City, along with his guilt and regret that even though he could save up, he would never be able to afford it for himself.

Jay thought long and hard, while wide awake in bed. Nya was - quite the contrary - fast asleep, clinging to him like a vice.

He didn't move, even though he wanted to go and have breakfast. He didn't want to wake her up.

He could get a job... but where would take him? He didn't have any qualifications. There weren't many schools out in the middle of the desert near a junkyard.

And he was NOT getting a pizza delivery job again. That was stressful beyond belief, and it lead to him getting kidnapped by snakes, then almost run over by a train. Not fun.

 

Maybe he could get a job with Cyrus Borg. He had seen Jay's mechanical abilities, and since he was a friend, probably wouldn't care as much that he didn't have an engineering degree.

Jay decided that he'd send him a quick message at some point during the day, but, for now, he would simply just rest.

 

He didn't know if he had the motivation to even get out of bed.

 

Eventually, he did, though, when Nya woke up. He didn't want her to think he was lazy or anything. Even if the lack of motivation was hardly his fault... many people would simply tell him to get over it and stop being a slob.

Breakfast was very strained. Lloyd and Cole tried to make conversation, but neither Jay nor Kai would engage in talk that involved the other.

Deep down inside, both of them wanted to forget about the ordeal of yesterday, and go back to being friends, as they always had been... but Jay was too stubborn to make a move towards that, and Kai was too ashamed.

After finishing his bowl of cereal, Jay stood up quite abruptly, jogging the table, and then went straight into the kitchen to wash it up. He hated that environment... so strained and tense. And he knew it was partially his fault.

If only he would just talk to Kai like normal... act like the argument never happened... everything would be fine.

But he refused.

 

After what Kai said to him, the ridiculous insults and statements he made... Jay wasn't going to treat him like a friend until he got an apology from him.

But... knowing Kai... he might never get one.

After washing up his bowl, he went straight back to bed. He decided that if Nya said anything about it, he'd tell her he felt sick, so to prevent the dizziness, decided to rest.

The sick part wasn't a complete lie. He definitely felt uneasy, as if... as if something horrible was going to happen. Something... really horrible...

 

Jay shrugged it off though. It was probably the after-effect of the previous day. Ugh. He couldn't wait to forget about it.

 

The covers were still warm, so he snuggled down and got his phone out. After about ten minutes of mindless scrolling through social media - ignoring the rather common posts about Dei Noctis - Nya popped her head around the door.

"Zane is going out to get some tea for Sensei, and I'm gonna go with him. Do you want to come too?" She asked. An idea sprang into his head at an instant.

"Oh? Sorry... I'm feeling really sick. Are you two ok going on your own?"

"Of course. I just wanted to know if you'd want to. Considering... considering Kai and everything. Fresh air does a world of good."

"Mmh. Thanks for thinking of me."

"No problem. You rest up. I'll be back in an hour or so."

Nya tip-toed over and kissed him on the cheek, then swiftly left, leaving her flowery scent in a luxuriant trail.

Jay waited for her footsteps to fade, then rushed to the door - locking it - and as soon as it was secure, he yanked off his t-shirt and binder without a second thought.

Sweet sweet relief filled his system. The crushing feeling was gone. All gone.

And if Nya was right... he'd have an hour. A whole hour to rest from his binder.

Much more comfortable, Jay lay back down into the sheets, remembering his employment idea.

He typed out a message to Cyrus Borg, explaining that he was short on money and would even take a job as a janitor, if he would get payed.

Cyrus was a very busy man, so Jay didn't expect him to reply right away.

After that, he simply relaxed. He lay back and closed his eyes, relishing in the feeling of freedom he had brought upon himself.

 

He remembered when he was twelve... how excited he was to receive his first binder. He would never have guessed that he would one day be looking forward to when he could take it off.

 

Seconds turned into minutes. Minutes turned into hours. A good two hours passed until Jay heard Nya's familiar voice on the upper deck.

Begrudgingly and groaning, Jay got re-dressed, pulling on his binder and t-shirt, and unlocking the door.

Then, he lay back down, covering his face with the blankets. He wasn't in the mood for social interaction at the moment, even from his girlfriend. So he pretended to be asleep.

Nya seemed to fall for it, opening the door to undoubtedly say hi to him, but then closing it once she saw him still under the duvet.

Did he feel bad? A little bit, but, not really. Everybody needed a break sometimes.

Nobody else on the ship really understood that, since all they had ever known him as was Jay the Extrovert.

Jay the Clown.

Jay the Joker.

Jay the Laughing-Stock.

 

They had only ever seen him making jokes or laughing or being sociable and contributing. Never like this. A lonely husk of that person. Grey, cold, sad. Depressed. Anti-social.

They had never seen this, for as long as they had known him. Maybe he had been angry a couple times, or upset. He was angry when the Great Devourer was released... even angrier when he found out about Nya's perfect match results (he was still a little bit upset about that now). He was distraught when Zane sacrificed himself... he was terrified when Nya was splattered with poison, almost dying...

But these were only snippets here and there. If they truly knew how he was, how a lot of the time he had to force himself into conversation, or convince himself that getting out of bed wasn't a waste of time, or fight against his anxiety to seem to be a happy, quirky, smiley guy... if they knew... Jay was scared that they would think differently.

But they didn't know, thank the lord.

 

And he never wanted them to.

They never would.

 

Jay had promised himself to make sure of it. He refused to lose his friends because of a mental health disorder.

They didn't know, they wouldn't know.

Never ever.

 

Ever.

Chapter Text

Weeks passed, and as they did, Jay and Kai's relationship slowly went back to normal.

It started with occasional exchanges of words. "Are you finished with that?", "Yeah go ahead." or "Can you pass the salt?", "Sure." being two decent examples.

They had both come to terms with the fact that things would be tense and stressful for everybody on the Bounty until they started getting along again, so had anonymously - yet synchronously - decided to suck it up and be civil again.

 

The other inhabitants were clearly pleased that the gloomy hue had lifted itself from the ship. They felt free to talk again, knowing that Kai and Jay would join in.

 

Jay realised that things were back to normal, on a regular day in the game room.

He was fighting Cole on one of their many PvP battle games, and won the match with a very complex combo.

"Jeez! Nice move dude!" Kai exclaimed happily, prodding Cole's arm to rub in his defeat.

 

Jay didn't really know how to respond. It was such a casual, friendly thing to say, a sentence of which he hadn't heard from Kai for quite a while. It was... nice.

He wasn't complaining.

 

Kai may have been an extremely bigoted person, with certain political views that drove Jay up the wall, but he was a friend. A brother. If he could keep things civil with him, he would.

And who knew. Maybe, with some time - or a lot of time - Kai could realise the error of his ways and start reconsidering his opinions on the community. Everybody deserved a chance to prove themselves.

 

So, with that overwhelmingly optimistic thought in mind, Jay set out to treat Kai as he always had treated him. A best friend and a member of his non-biological family.

 

And for a good long while, things were finally good.

---

Things were bad. Really bad.

Jay felt nauseous as he read through an article that described the recent incident.

A devoted member of none other than Dei Noctis had attacked a trans man in an alleyway, while he was on his way home. Crazy with ambition and a deep hatred for the so called 'impure' members of society, the attacker brought out a knife and brutally stabbed his victim to death.

 

Jay's immediate impulse was to rush to his friends and tell them about this horrific crime. Surely they would take this incident seriously. It was different from the others. It wasn't a mass rally, or instances of violence in the street. This was murder.

Angry, evil, bloodthirsty murder.

But... he knew that they would do what they always did.

'It will die down Jay. Stop worrying.'

But it wasn't going to die down. Why couldn't they see that?

 

But, already knowing that he would simply be brushed to the side, Jay decided to keep his worries to himself.

 

A few minutes after his internal decision, Nya called for him to come to the dining room for dinner. He walked slowly, after having to drag himself out of bed.

 

Unfortunately, his plan of keeping to himself hardly worked out. The moment he sat at the table, the others could sense that something was bothering him.

"Are you alright? You look like you've seen a ghost!" Cole laughed, trying to make light of his concerns.

Kai gave Cole a look.

"Well yeah. He's seen you."

Cole glared at him.

"Oi! For your information, I'm not a ghost anymore! Do you can just shut your-"

"Guys! C'mon! Chill out!" Lloyd exclaimed, bringing the two of them to a halt.

"Anyway. As I was saying, before Kai made a very rUDE joke, are you ok Jay?" Cole carried on. Jay didn't really know how to reply without setting off Kai again.

"... I'm fine."

"Well, now we know you aren't. Because 'Are you ok?' is a yes or no question."

Jay sighed, resting back in his chair.

"You guys won't take it seriously." He stated, knowing it to be true.

"C'mon, give us a bit more credit than that!" Nya added.

Jay sighed again, clenching his fists.

"... wait. Is this about those Rei Noctif people again?" Kai groaned.

"Dei Noctis, and yes. Actually. Because one of their members just killed somebody!" Jay replied, already aggravated.

"... really?"

Nya, for once, seemed legitimately worried. Thank god. Finally. Somebody was listening.

It was sad that it took a death for that to happen, though.

"Yeah. A... a young man was killed on his way home. Stabbed to death."

Jay tactfully excluded the use of the adjective 'trans'.

 

"How do you know it wasn't just a regular old mad person? Stabbings do happen occasionally." Kai argued.

"Because they had the Dei Noctis simple on their chest. And, their victim wasn't random."

Kai cocked his head, almost condescendingly.

"Oh really? In what way?"

Jay bit his lip. He had been doing so well with Kai, and now, in the span of a few minutes, their relationship was falling apart once more.

He was asking though. He couldn't exactly blank him completely.

So with a disappointed breath, and a weight above his heart, Jay answered him.

"... The victim was trans."

Kai let out a very loud groan, rolling his eyes.

"For f*cks sake Jay, do not start this crap again."

"You asked! What was I supposed to do?"

"Realise that maybe it wasn't a stupid cult scheme and just a regular stabbing incident!"

"Well guess what Kai! It wasn't a regular incident, BECAUSE THE 'STUPID CULT' PERSON CUT THE WORDS 'DEI NOCTIS' INTO THE POOR GUY'S CHEST!"

 

Jay only realised that he had stood up and pretty much screamed his sentence at Kai's face when he saw the reactions of the people around the room. Shocked. Confused. Scared even.

 

What...

What the hell was he doing?

 

Embarrassed and fearful of his own actions, Jay quickly exited the room.

"J-Jay! Don't go! You haven't eaten anything!" Nya spoke after him, but he didn't listen to her. If anything, he walked faster.

"Ugh. Let him go. Who cares if he misses one meal for being a d*ckhead."

"But... he hadn't eaten all day..."

---

Jay moodily trudged back to his and Nya's room.

Kai may have been being a massive douche, but... he pretty much screamed in his face. And he didn't even realise.

 

He didn't know that his irritability had become so severe... enough to completely lose control like that...

It was scary. He was scared.

 

Jay collapsed back into the bed, feeling sick to the stomach.

Why... why the hell was all this stuff happening to him?

---

A couple of days later, despite Nya's begging, Jay still hadn't eaten anything. He simply wasn't hungry, or motivated enough to go and eat.

On top of that, leaving the room meant possibly running into Kai.

To prevent that possibility, Jay had only left to use the bathroom and take a shower each day.

The others were worried.

Of course they were. Their good friend Jay was neglecting his health, both socially and physically.

 

Sick of the circle of anger and resentment, Nya went to talk to Kai.

 

"... hey." She whispered, upon entering the shared room.

"Hey Nya. Did you need something?"

She closed the door and went to sat next to him on his bunk.

"... I'm just gonna come out and say it. You need to apologise to Jay."

"Are you kidding me? He screamed in my face!"

"... he had been really irritable lately, and... he really is worried about this cult stuff going on. If they've started to kill people-"

"Nya, it's not a scheme. Of course I'm not glad somebody died, but, it's not as complicated as he's making it."

Nya sighed, fiddling with her thumbs.

"... and... you need to rethink your stance on trans people. There really is nothing wrong with them."

Kai leaned back, resting against the wall.

"I just... I don't get it Nya. Every single person I've met... they've been the gender they were born as. And... how can that change? If you're a girl... you're a girl. I don't understand how that can change? That's... just... stupid. If you're a girl you're a girl. If you're a boy you're a boy. It's just the way things are."

"It's not... they've done a lot of tests. It's scientifically proven."

"How?"

"I... I don't know. I just know that it has been."

"Great. Some amazing proof you have there."

Nya gritted her teeth.

"Kai, I'm trying to have a civil conversation here. If you get smarmy and sarcastic I will slap you."

"Fine fine, calm down! I just think that... if you can't actually tell me how, why should I believe it?"

She took another deep breath, calming down.

"... even if you don't understand... how does it effect you? Does it really impact your life that much? To use different pronouns for somebody, or a different name? To give them basic respect?"

Kai was silent at that. He didn't really have a comeback of any kind.

"... will you go and apologise to Jay?"

"... I don't know. Maybe. If he doesn't yell at me again, because that really p*ssed me off last time."

---

Cole and Zane were working on a new training bot concept. They were hoping to deliver it to Jay, and if he had the spare parts, he could maybe make it. Since the old one was getting a bit old and clunky, a new design was due.

Zane had done most of the logical work and technicalities, while Cole was more on the design side, giving the quick sketch Zane had made the occasional artistic flare.

"... woah. It looks great!" Cole grinned, very chuffed by their creation.

"Shall we show Jay the design, so that he can consider it?" Zane suggested. Cole nodded, confident.

"... wait. We should probably draw it out again, larger. This small one is really detailed but... putting myself in Jay's shoes, it would be hard to work from."

"... you are right. Let's go and find a larger piece of paper."

 

On their way around the ship, searching through various cupboards, they bumped into Kai. He seemed to take a moment to even realise he had collided with them. He had obviously been very deep in thought.

"... oh! Hey guys... I didn't see you there."

"S'ok. Don't worry about it."

The atmosphere quickly became awkward, so Kai blurted out something else to fill the silence.

"... uhm... what's... that, you've got there?"

"Oh, we just, well, Zane designed a new training bot since our current one is getting a bit crap."

"... lemme guess. Looking for Jay? Because, you do know that his room is back the way you came, right?" Kai stated.

"We're gonna make it bigger so it's easier to look at."

"Oh. Ok."

The conversation sort of trailed off. Design and mechanics weren't Kai's area of expertise nor interest.

"... Good luck, I guess." He shrugged, continuing down the corridor.

 

Zane and Cole exchanged a look.

"... was it just me... or... did he seem a little bit out of it?"

"I do not know. Perhaps he was slightly off."

 

They continued their search, not thinking much of Kai's airy behaviour.

 

A search which was in vain.

 

There seemed to be no spare paper anywhere on the ship.

"This is ridiculous! Doesn't Sensei have a stash of parchment somewhere, or something?"

"I do believe he keeps his ink and parchment in a supply cupboard somewhere on the ship."

"Jeez Zane, mind mentioning that at the start next time? You know, before we've already searched the whole bloody place?"

"I apologise."

 

Zane found the room in no time, and pulled it open. The door was stiff, and hard to breach. As if somebody had closed it tightly on purpose.

"Ahhh. There we go. Piles and piles of it."

Cole ducked inside and started fishing around for a decent piece, when he... noticed something. An unorthodox box at the back of the room. Usually, it would bring no attention to itself, but... in a small room full of nothing but ink bottles and sheets of parchment, it looked incredibly out of place.

"... wait a sec, Zane. I think I've found something cool."

Zane sighed.

"Last time you said that, all you actually found was a stale pizza crust and an empty tin of baked beans."

"That is not the same as this! That was just an old box of stuff I found in our room! This is different."

He reached forward and grabbed it, lifting it out of the room with ease and into the well lit corridor.

 

Cole had completely forgotten about the whole training bot fiasco. Something pinned him to this box, screaming for him to open it.

 

Even so, a tiny voice kept repeating 'This could be private property. This could be someone's private stuff'.

Despite that, his curiosity got the better of him, and he lifted the flimsy cardboard flaps away, revealing the contents inside.

 

...

In a second...

All...

His curiosity...

Disappeared...

 

He regretted opening the box. He regretted it. The tiny voice was right. He should have listened.

 

"... what is it Cole? Is it interesting?" Zane asked, bending down to take a look.

Unlike his friend, he did not stay speechless. Frozen with guilt and confusion.

"... o... oh... oh... oh dear..." was all he could really manage, though.

 

Even looking at the very top of the box told stories that the two boys knew were secret. Would have been secret. Weren't anymore.

 

An opened packet of sanitary towels.

A wooden picture frame holding a picture of a much younger Jay - no mistaking that grin - but... different.

Old boxes that would have contained testosterone shots.

A spare binder.

A birth certificate. An old one.

 

Cole gently lifted it out of the box, smoothing it out and reading it with steady eyes.

Most of it wasn't surprising at all. Jay's birthday, his parents, stuff like that. But... the name.

 

Sophie Walker.

 

... Jay's name wasn't Sophie. But... it seemed... it was once... in the past.

 

Millions of questions arose at once.

Why were all of these things here? What did they mean? Why were they hidden? Where were they from? How did they come to be?

There was only one answer.

 

Jay was Trans.

 

Cole and Zane exchanged a look.

"... we can't let Kai find this." Was the very first thing that went through his head, "we can't let him. For Jay's sake."

Zane nodded.

"I agree. Quick, put it back. We can talk to Jay later."

 

But in a cruel twist of fate, at that very moment, the one and only Kai Smith strolled down the hallway, gaining immediate curiosity at the box on the floor.

Cole quickly shoved it behind his crouched body, obscuring it from view, but not before Kai had caught a glimpse.

"Uh... what's that?" He asked.

"Nothing!" Cole responded, far too quickly.

"... yes. It is nothing. You can go back to what you were doing, Kai." Zane backed up, but it was too late.

"I was gonna go and see Jay, but, he's not in this room. Now, all I wanna know is what you're hiding from me."

"I said, it's nothing."

"If it's nothing, why did you hide it from me, huh?"

"Kai, you can't see it!"

"Stop being a d*ckhead Cole!"

Zane stood up and stepped towards the red ninja, placing a calm and steady hand on his shoulder.

"Trust me, Kai. It would be better for everybody if you simply turned around and forgot about this." he spoke, keeping his voice devoid of any fear, anger or worry.

Kai was almost convinced for a second, but he was angry about being excluded, and, confused to how looking at some stupid box would be so awful?

Maybe he wouldn't have cared if they hadn't made such a big deal about it. But they were hiding it.

From him.

 

So he jerked Zane's hand off his shoulder, and walked past him.

"Let me see." He commanded, his words full of spite and... Cole noticed a hint of upset.

 

He didn't want to move aside, but, Kai was going to find out anyway. Now he knew the box existed - and was so determined to discover it's contents - Cole knew that he wouldn't stop until he was able to get a look.

It might as well happen without violence. So, he stood up, and moved to the side, giving Kai an easy path.

"... thank you."

Kai crouched down, satisfied with Cole's pacifistic reaction, and started to look through it.

Zane kept a close eye on his body, his face, for anything that would indicate his thoughts as he examined each item.

 

It was confusion at first, obviously. Just alike the previous two, Kai had known Jay as a cis guy for years, and had never truly entertained the belief that he was anything different. Of course this newfound information confused him.

But, after a minute or so, the only emotion that Zane could read... unfortunately... was anger.

 

Kai quite abruptly stood up.

"... what... what the f*ck! What in the ever loving f*ck?!"

"Kai, I swear to god if you treat Jay any differently for this then I'll-" Cole started, but was quickly interrupted.

"You'll what? Come on! What will you do?! Tell me off? Jay... Jay's a... f*cking girl? And he - I mean - she, I guess! She never told us!"

"Don't call him she! I don't completely understand it either, but unlike you, I obviously respect people!"

Zane stepped between them, worried that a fight would break out. It was the perfect situation for one. Tense atmosphere, argument.

"Stop! We need to talk about this calmly. Cole is right, Jay has made it very clear in the past that he is a boy and uses male pro-"

"I don't give a flying f*ck Zane!"

 

Another person joined the commotion when Nya heard the hustle and bustle, and came to check it out.

"... hey... what's going on?" she questioned.

Cole opened his mouth to say something, but Kai beat him to it.

"What's up is that your boyfriend's been lying to us! But I guess I should say girlfriend now huh?"

Nya's eyes filled up with confusion.

"... what...? Jay's not a girl..."

"Oh really?"

Kai crouched back down and grabbed the birth certificate out of the box, shoving it at his sister's face.

"Well then, take a look at this! 'Name: Sophie Walker'. Sophie. Sophie Walker."

Nya took it from his hands and stared at it in disbelief.

"Kai, stop! You're being horrid! Jay is our friend!"

"Oops! I don't know anybody called Jay, I do know a Sophie though!" Kai mocked, the sarcasm in his voice making the people around him feel sick.

Guilt was crushing Cole like a mountain of bricks. Why didn't he just leave the box alone? Then none of this would be happening. Jay's secret would still be a secret, and he wouldn't have to deal with Kai's awful transphobia, or at least not directed towards him.

He felt absolutely terrible.

 

"You know what? We're missing a very important person to have in this conversation."

"Kai, don't you dare... he doesn't deserve this, he doesn't deserve any of this, I swear-"

"OH JAAAAAY! JAY, WHY DON'T YOU COME HERE. IT'S IMPORTANT!"

Cole had to use all his mental strength to hold himself back from pushing Kai to the floor and knocking his lights out.

Jay didn't deserve this. He was a good guy, who looked out for others and felt empathy and sympathy and was generally a great person to have around.

But no matter how much he didn't deserve it... he was going to get it.

 

There was no way to save him from the pain he would soon have to endure.

---

Jay had started feeling stuffy in his and Nya's room, so had decided to go out on a little walk. Just a couple of times around the deck, nothing too extreme. Just enough to get some fresh air.

The day was a pretty cold one, so he had thrown on a quick jacket and scarf before going on his very quick venture.

The wind was cooling and rushed through his curly hair, mother nature's natural comb. He took a deep breath in, and out.

It had taken a lot of effort to even leave his bed that day.

 

After maybe ten minutes of mindless wandering around the deck, his ears started to get cold, so Jay stepped back inside, breathing into his hands to warm them up. Winter was coming fast. Faster than he had realised.

 

He had planned to just go back to his room, but, out of nowhere, Kai yelled for him.

"OH JAAAAAY! JAY, WHY DON'T YOU COME HERE. IT'S IMPORTANT!"

He was taken aback, do doubt. He thought that Kai was still annoyed with him, so, why would he be eager to see him in person?

Jay theorised that he had set up some scheme to make fun of him, or something. His voice did sound rather mocking and rude.

He almost ignored him and went back to bed, but, out of a lack of things to do, Jay moodily trudged his way towards Kai's location.

 

He turned a few corners, then saw him. Or... them.

Everybody on the ship was there, excluding Lloyd and Sensei. Sensei was out doing whatever, and Lloyd was listening to music in his room, so neither of them could easily know that such a gathering had happened.

The next thing he noticed was their faces. Kai looked... furious. Had he done something wrong?

On top of that, Nya looked close to tears, devastated. Cole's expression was a contorted mixture of guilt, worry and anger, while Zane's was full of worry alone.

"... Jesus... what's going on?" He asked, flabbergasted and wondering what he had possibly done to cause all this.

 

But...

... then...

 

... he noticed the third thing.

 

His box.

 

His box of stuff, lying on the floor in the middle of the group. Some objects overturned, obviously examined in detail.

And... Nya.

 

Nya was holding his old birth certificate.

 

The one with his deadname on it.

 

Jay's eyes widened in shock. In fear. In absolute emotional turmoil. Small tears started rolling down his pale cheeks, and he didn't even notice. He was so... so scared... horrified.

 

"... Jay! I... I'm so sorry! I didn't know what it was, I... I shouldn't have looked!" Cole exclaimed. Kai gritted his teeth.

"You have a lot of things to explain, Jay. Or... it would be right to call you Sophie, wouldn't it?"

 

He hadn't been referred to as that for... years...

 

Jay felt all the telltale signs. A tight throat, stopping him from breathing right. His whole body started shaking, his eyes darted around the hall, desperately searching out any source of hope. Panic. Panic panic panic panic.

 

Because they all knew now. His secret was out.

 

They all knew.

 

They all knew.

 

They all knew they all knew they all knew they all knew they all knew they all knew they all knew they all knew they all knew they all knew they all knew they all knew they all knew thEy aLL kNew tHeY aLL knEW thEy ALL knEW thEY ALL KNEW THEY ALL KNEW THEY ALL KNEW THEY ALL KNEW THEY ALL KNEW THEY ALL KNEW.

 

They all...

... knew...

 

Nobody of decency blamed him when he stumbled backwards a few paces, before sprinting down the corridor away from them.

 

Nobody followed him immediately, but when they did strive to find him, it was hardly a chore.

 

All they had to do was listen.

 

Jay had locked himself in the bathroom, and was making an incredible racket.

 

The panic attack his fearful mind had thrown him into was arguably the worst he had ever experienced. He couldn't breathe, he couldn't think, he couldn't speak. All he could do was cry.

Nobody could get through to him. He wouldn't have been able to hear them over the heartbeat he felt in his ears.

Way too fast. Dangerously fast.

 

Ba-dum ba-dum ba-dum.

 

His dead name echoed around his head. The name that had once tortured him daily was back.

A billion questions and thoughts all at once.

But a single one was prominent in the endless, screeching sea.

 

The question of whether life was worth, this torturing, screaming mass of pain.

Jay had to work hard to give himself an answer, since he was trying to answer to many already.

But he managed it.

And the answer was simple.

 

Was life worth all this? This pain? Suffering? Loss?

 

At that moment - to Jay at least - ...

Life wasn't worth anything.

Chapter Text

A million shards of glass, a billion tonnes of force,
Choking, choking me till I burst.

It was going so well, now my secret is out.
It was going so well, now my heart has been crushed.
It was going so well, now my thoughts are all muddled.
It was going so well, now my feelings are varied.

I'm angry, yet I let the anger float away like a boat on calm waves.
Washing me under, drowning, drowning so wonderfully, still breathing. Barely.

I'm broken, now. I've lost all I had. I've lost all the love I've ever obtained.

It's unrequited. I'm a duo of one.
A bouquet left out to dry in the sun.
Once a marvellous feast of the eyes,
Now simply a rotting mess to despise.

 

A simple rhythm inside, beating. Distant memories, fleeting. Tap, tap, tap. Is this madness?
Or is it a pathetic attempt to prevent it?

Either way, I still lie here. Quivering like a child with no warmth. Sobbing like a spoilt brat during summer. I can't bring myself to leave.

Is this panic? I certainly feel it. Rising up in my lungs, making it hard to breathe. Impossible to breathe. I feel faint. I feel dizzy. The world spins like a Ferris wheel, on which couples kiss in reckless abandon. Kaleidoscope madness, a thousand different shapes. I can't make anything out.

I can't get out.

 

I hear a voice saying my name, but I don't even listen. Perhaps a friend. Perhaps an enemy. Logic is warped. Both yet neither.

I am utterly useless.

I try to calm down but I can't. I try to breathe slow but my throat won't let me. I'm going mad, aren't I?

 

But...

 

No. There's no chance. She said so, though not at me then, she'd say it here now.

I'm not stupid. Or delusional. Or just a bloody joke. It hurts, but they don't see that. It hurts, but they don't care. Nothing but a joke. Nothing but the laughing stock.

And they wonder why I sometimes hate them?

Never for long. Fleeting seconds. Snapshot moments where I wish to throttle them, but I don't, and the moment passes. Because no matter what they think...

 

I am not a bloody joke, and if they treat me like a joke again somebody's throat I'll choke.

 

... no... I won't. They're my family.

What was I thinking?

You probably think I'm insane. I'm not. I'm just upset. Have you ever had your deepest secret ripped from secrecy? Don't judge me. They all know now. Some I know will treat me well, but others...

 

Lungs shrinking, heart palpitating, lungs screaming, heart breaking, lungs crying, heart dying... after all this my brain's still lying.
One part of it still stays optimistic, smiling away, full of fakery.

It says that everything will be alright. Hasn't it seen life? How fates always fight?

The happy fate will draw it's sword, but stand no chance against the darkness horde.

 

But who am I kidding? In what mental world would I have a story?

Followers and fans?

Adoring readers?

No. That's not me. That's not here. That's not plausible at all.

I'm trash. I'm nothing. I bet even my parents don't want me. How much of a mess am I, to have broken the bond of unconditional love?

I watch as the world turns, twisting, morphing. My dopamine crumbles along with endorphins.

 

C r a c k.

A sickening crack, stretching along my very existence, breaking it open, revealing my secrets.

As my friends sit outside, hearing me scream. I wonder what they think of me.

Thought of me.

Because that's all gone now.

 

Fractured and smashed. Tumbling down,

Down,

Down,

 

Into the abyss of insanity that I now call my home.

But am I insane?

Or am I just heartbroken. Screaming. Begging. Dreaming.

 

I hope this is a dream, just a nightmare.

But it isn't. I can feel my fingers dig into my arms as I scrabble for something to clutch at. I can feel as my head gets light, from the constant hyperventilation.

I need a preventation.

 

Although, that isn't a word. Preventative is right. Preventation? Doesn't exist. I'm stupid though, aren't I.

My brain can't even use words right.

 

Even in my head, my language is wrong.
I can't do this. I can't stay strong.
Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.
I should have known this all along.

 

I'm not special.

I'm.

N O T.

S P E C I A L.

 

Jay Walker.

Jealous

Angry

Young

Worrying

Apathetic

Loser

Killable

Eccentric

Ridiculed

 

All these things I am. All these things am I. What even is grammar? Why does it matter?

I hate this. I hate everything. I hate me.

I need to calm down but... I... I can't. I can't. I can't.

I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't. I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't.

I can't think I can't speak I can't breathe I can't think I can't feel I can't love I can't hate I can't live I can't die I can't see I can't hear I can't do anything all I can do is just scream scream scream and hope that soon it will all be over forever.

 

This will change me... forever.

 

I've lost them. Kai. Cole. Zane. Lloyd. Nya. Sensei. Cole. Kai. Lloyd. Sensei. Nya. Zane. Cole. Kai. Sensei. Nya. Lloyd.

Why would they give a damn about me after this? After they've seen how weak and stupid I am.

 

After they've found out what I am.

What I will always be.

What I have always been.

 

What is the point of living if I don't have the few people I care about...?

 

Though I... I... I... I can't do that.

 

Last time...

 

Mum and Dad... were so...

 

D i s t r a u g h t.

 

I have to love, to live, for them. Mum and Dad. Ed and Edna. Edna and Ed.

 

Even if I wish I could just die... and all of this would be over.

 

I have to leave this tiny room. If I don't... this will carry on forever.

 

I think I head a knocking, I hear it between my sobs. Lloyd? Maybe.

I think... if it's him... I'll let him in.

 

Lloyd won't hate me.

...

...

...

...

I hope.

...

...

...

...

It was going so well, now my stomach is sick.
My crafted façade has been smashed by a brick.

Chapter Text

When Lloyd took off his headphones and left his room to look for a snack, he hardly expected to hear incredible amounts of screaming and crying from the bathroom.

Without any hesitation, he went to check what was going on. Was somebody hurt? Upset?

The scene he discovered didn't answer any of the questions visually.

Everybody was crowded outside the bathroom, engaging in a small variety of activities.

Kai was standing slightly further away from the main group - pacing back and fourth - muttering to himself. Cole was crouching next to the door, erratically talking to whoever was in there. Zane was trying to call his falcon to his position, for whatever reason, Lloyd didn't know.

Nya on the other hand, was rather motionless. She leant against the wall opposite to the bathroom door, seemingly close to tears.

Nya, Zane, Cole and Kai.

But... where was Jay?

The answer was simple. After some quick deduction and listening, Lloyd came to the conclusion that Jay was the person who had locked himself in the bathroom, in absolute hysterics.

Despite this quick thought process, the question of why was still left unanswered.

"... what's going on?!" He exclaimed, rushing over to the group.

Nobody really knew what to say at first. How could you explain such a terrible turn of events so quickly?

Kai spoke up at once, his voice full of venom and malice.

"Our dear friend 'Jay' isn't what he's said he is!"

"Wh... what the hell do you mean?"

Cole stood up and glared at Kai with one of the foulest expressions Lloyd had ever seen on his face.

"Kai, won't you shut your stupid mouth for once!" He yelled, and even Kai was taken aback. Cole wasn't the kind of person to get seriously angry.

"No! I won't! Lloyd asked so I'm telling him!"

"Lloyd asked what was going on, not what your dumb opinions are!"

Kai's mouth gawked for a second, before springing right back into action.

"Jay secretly being a girl this whole time is NOT an opINION! It's fact!" He shouted, voice cracking from stress in places.

Lloyd stood and stared.

"... a... girl... what do you-"

But then... it hit him.

"... he... he's trans?"

The black ninja growled, clenching his fists so hard that his fingernails started digging into his palms.

"Jay can f*cking hear you, you know Kai?! After all the s*itty stuff you've done today I'd say you should sHUT UP!"

Kai was hardly deterred.

"Why can't you see what's going on here! He lied to us! He lied to me! I'm allowed to be angry!"

Cole whipped around once more to return a statement of utmost disgust, but Nya beat him to it.

"KAI, THIS IS NOT. ABOUT. YOU!" She screamed, which was a shock to everybody considering her previous silence.

A new set of tears streamed down her cheeks.

"JUST F*CKING LISTEN! HE'S REALLY REALLY F*CKING UPSET! STOP BEING SO SELFISH!"

Nya usually kept a cool head, and rarely raised her voice seriously. On the few occasions she did, everybody who knew her knew that something was seriously wrong.

Even Kai finally shut up. He didn't want an even angry sister, and now that he did take a moment to stop and listen...

Jay really did sound distraught.

"... Jay... Jay please calm down, please come out of there!" Cole carried on, after recovering from the initial shock of Nya's rage.

Jay didn't seem to even hear him.

Zane's falcon flew through the corridor and came to rest on his arm.

"... Falcon! Thank goodness... I need you to go and deliver a message to Sensei... tell him that he must come back to the Bounty at once, as there is a matter of utmost urgency!"

It cawed a couple of times, then took flight once more.

Cole didn't stop trying to get through to their friend in the bathroom. It was true that he hardly understood trans people, he didn't understand how they came to be, but, he still respected them. And Jay... Jay was a friend. He had never cared what was in his pants before this, so why now?

He wouldn't give up on him. He refused to for a single second.

Lloyd seemed to have the same viewpoint, leaning against the door and gently knocking at the wood.

"Jay? Jay it's me, Lloyd... you know what my opinions about this stuff are... you know I'll support you..."

Kai gritted his teeth.

"Oh Jesus Christ, you're like that too?"

Lloyd narrowed his eyes at his 'friend'.

"... what? Not being a d*ckhead? Because yeah, that's about right."

"I... I don't understand! All this f*cking trans bulls*it! Why do none of you see why it's weird?!"

"Because it is not weird!" Zane chimed in.

Kai rolled his eyes and leant against the wall, crossing his arms very tightly.

Cole didn't stop whispering to Jay through the door, praying that he would hear him and calm down.

"... thank god there's only one weirdo." Kai uttered under his breath. Nobody would have heard him, if Zane had not been a robot with near perfect hearing.

And Zane... looked angry. The Nindroid who was never, ever, ever angry.

"... excuse me, Kai... what did you just say?"

Kai looked up from the floor, biting his lip.

"Nothing."

"I heard you. Don't lie."

"I didn't say anything, Zane."

Zane's left eyelid twitched.

"You're happy that Jay's the only one."

"... well, you can hardly blame m-"

"You're revolting."

The red ninja was thoroughly shocked. Zane... insulted him. Zane never did that.

Zane never did that.

 

How badly did he mess up?

 

Lloyd stood up straight, looking to the member of the team that they were all turning against.

"... the only one? The only trans person?"

"No, just, the only like, gay, trans, whatever person."

Lloyd grimaced at his words. He felt sick, overlooked, and... he felt like he had a responsibility to protect his friend in the bathroom.

 

"... the only one?" He repeated, "the only bloody one?"

He stood strong, clenching his fists, staring at Kai's guiltless face.

"Believe it or not, a*shole, he isn't."

"... what do you mean?"

He felt sick, he felt ill, faint, but... he was the one in power here.

Coming out... would help Jay.

Coming out, would help himself too.

 

"You know that incident with me, a while ago? That whole thing with the guy in the ally?"

Everyone went silent, even Jay seemed to be calming down a little bit.

"... guess what. That was me in the photo. I was out there snogging that guy. Because..."

 

Kai looked horrified, though nobody else did.

 

"Because I am Gay! I lied to you and told you I wasn't because of how you and Ninjago reacted!" Lloyd shouted, pointing directly at the bigot in the room.

Silence. Absolute silence.

Jay was silent too.

 

"... so no, Jay's not the only one. I'm here, I'm queer. Get f*cking used to it."

 

There was another few moments of silence, before Lloyd turned away and knocked on the bathroom door again.

"Jay... did you hear that? I've come out too. You aren't alone. We're here for you..."

No reaction. Lloyd listened carefully, and... could hardly hear breathing either.

Alarm bells went off in his head.

 

He knew what being different felt like, and how solitary it could make somebody feel. Hopeless. Alone. Worthless.

He struggled with it a lot when he was younger, but, had now come to terms with his homosexuality. He did not say if he could say that Jay had done so as well.

 

"... Jay...?" He tried once more.

Nothing.

 

Lloyd stared, before backing up, then slamming into the door with his shoulder as hard as he could, attempting to break the lock on the other side.

He bounced off, achieving nothing but a slightly bruised shoulder.

"Lloyd! What the hell are you doing?!" Cole shouted, grabbing fistfuls of his hair, stressed out to the extremes.

"He's not reacting, he's silent, he's hardly breathing... what if he's done something?!"

Without even specifying what he meant, everybody could catch his gist.

Lloyd slammed into the door again, and again, and the fourth time, there was a cracking noise as the lock finally began to give in.

Then, with the fifth strike, the lock flew off, and the door swung open. Lloyd tumbled inside, underestimating the power in his bodily battering-ram. He kept his balance though, then remembered the task at hand and rushed to Jay's side.

Just as he feared, he was unconscious. For what reason, Lloyd was terrified.

He looked around, trying to seek out any tell-tale signs but... no. There was nothing.

Lloyd tested his pulse, his breathing. He was ok.

"... is he ok? Why is he a-asleep?" Cole asked, getting jittery and nervous.

"... he probably passed out because of the hyperventilating. He's fine."

The worry of the 'what if' lingered in the air for some time.

Cole lifted Jay up and carried him gently to the small room in which they kept their medical supplies. There was also a bed in there, so he could be put down to rest.

There was no talking. Nobody knew what to say.

Jay was transgender, Lloyd was gay and Kai was much more discriminatory than any of them knew.

 

After such discoveries and events, what was there to say after all?

Sensei came back in a rush, and Zane explained the situation to him in detail.

Wu didn't tell anybody, but, if the atmosphere had not been as solemn and volatile as it was, he would have liked to give Kai a good smack with his staff.

Hours went past. 1, 2, 3. Jay didn't stir from his sleep.

It was getting late. Everybody accepted that they wouldn't be getting an explanation till at least the next day. More if Jay wasn't ready to share.

One by one, each of the ninja went to bed.

Cole was the last. He walked down the hallway where it all started. Jay's box of things was still placed dangerously in sight, in the middle of the hallway.

He considered, then lifted it up in his arms, placing the removed items carefully back in.

Cole carried it into the shared bedroom, where Kai was already fast asleep and Zane was meditating on his bunk.

He slipped it under his bed, luckily one of the bottom bunks, so that nobody (Kai) could go snooping around in it when no one was looking.

After that, he dressed into his pajamas and lay down to rest. But simply couldn't fall asleep.

Eventually he gave up on it, and instead decided to listen.

 

The low creaking of the Bounty joined in a sweet duet with the soft winds of the air, whistling outside, unable to get in.

Kai breathed heavily during his sleep, but, hardly ever snored. Everybody in the room was glad of that. Cole could hear his steady respiration... and wondered if he felt any guilt at all for what tragedies he had caused their friend.

But perhaps the most interesting sound of all, was the quiet whirring located on the top bunk of his bed.

Zane.

Very occasionally, in motionless rooms, you could hear Zane's inner workings. Usually, his mechanisms ran at 100% efficiency, smooth to every degree.

Though, when he was deep in conflicting and difficult thought, the efficiency dropped slightly, and you could hear that change as his processor started working harder.

Artificially Intelligent robots weren't so different from humans. When they were stressed, they couldn't think as well as usual.

 

"... Zane?" Cole whispered.

"... hello Cole. I thought you were asleep."

The two of them only whispered, to make sure that Kai didn't wake up.

"... what are you thinking about?"

"... mostly, Jay. I see no problem with his condition... I... I am simply very worried about him. I am afraid that Kai may treat him horribly no matter what we do."

"... yeah, same."

"... all we can do is... be there for him, no matter what."

"Of course. I wouldn't do any less."

Zane sighed, and gave up on his meditation, lying down at last.

"I am also worried about what Nya will do."

"D'you think she'll break up with him?"

"Sadly... yes."

Cole gritted his teeth, a deep shiver running down his body despite being perfectly warm.

"... if only I hadn't looked at his box... none of this would have happened. It's all my fa-"

"Don't blame yourself Cole. I hate to make accusations, but this all stemmed from Kai. His behaviour has been quite frankly, that of a spoilt brat."

"A dickheaded spoilt brat."

"Haha, yes."

The wind whistled once more.

"... night, Zane."

"Goodnight Cole."

Even though they said goodnight, only Zane slipped under, which was only because he forcefully turned off his systems for a set number of hours.

Cole?

 

Cole lay awake for hours more,
Thinking of the bathroom door.
Pondering of his mistake,
A choice that made things bend and break.
Promising to be a friend,
Who support until the end.
But still, he wondered if dear Jay,
Would ever, once more, be ok.

Chapter Text

The sweet twittering of two little birds whistled through the gaps in the Bounty's walls, making its way into Jay's sleepy ears.

After what he had been through, a pleasant sound to wake up to was the least the world could give him.

There were a few moments of blessed calm, where the blue ninja sat up, rubbed his eyes and yawned, stretching his arms after a deep and much-needed rest.

But then, the onset of panic came quickly, without warning.

The events of the previous day flashed across his mind like a faulty video, moving far to fast to comprehend but just slow enough to bring back every single stabbing memory.

 

Everybody knew.

Everybody on the Bounty knew that he was trans. Even Kai.

Even Nya.

 

Jay's electric blue eyes darted around, realising that his surroundings weren't the familiar set-up of his girlfriend's room - or even the Ninja's shared room - but rather the medical room. He was laying in the small bed there, and it had seemed that someone had already come to see him that morning.

There was a cup of tea and a note on the table next to the bed.

A charming blend of rooibos and vanilla made home in the mug, and the note simply read 'Zane x'.

Jay made a mental note to thank him when he next saw him, focusing very deliberately on other things so not to fall back into yet another exhausting panic attack.

The tea was only lukewarm. It had probably been laying there for a little white, but Jay downed the thing anyway. As a beverage, it was pleasant, but knowing that a friend had gone out of their way to do something nice for him was all the more delicious.

 

After that, Jay didn't really know what to do. He absolutely did not want to leave that room, because that meant he would walk straight into some very awkward interactions. They needed to happen, he knew that. He needed to tell his friends what he had kept from them for so long.

He just wanted to prolong it. Only a little bit longer.

Enough to calm his mind, and come to terms with the fact that there was no getting out of this.

 

Jay stretched his arms again, realising that he must have slept a bit funny when a far too familiar ache flared up in his left shoulder.

As if the pain of his binder wasn't enough already.

 

Rushing thoughts grazed his mind, trying to work their way into the vulnerable parts to cause havoc.

 

He didn't let them.

 

The time for panic was over. Now, he needed to stay calm, and controlled, and figure out how he was going to explain himself. Even those who supported him would still like a backstory, he was sure.

Simply just tell the story, he guessed. Why do anything else? The story was all they needed.

The... the basic story of course. They didn't need all the details, especially when he wasn't comfortable revealing a few.

Thinking...

Thinking...

Thinking...

Maybe it would be better to talk to each other individually, alone. Even though it would take longer, repeating the same story again and again, but it would eliminate a lot of possible anxiety around the subject. That plan would work with five sevenths of the Bounty's personnel.

Jay knew as a fact that he wouldn't be comfortable spending time alone with Kai, and with Nya... knowing that their relationship would most likely be ending would definitely send him over the edge again.

 

Right on cue, somebody knocked on the door to his temporary bedroom. It wasn't too loud and demanding. Loose knuckles and deliberate softness.

It wasn't Kai at any rate.

 

Jay simply didn't have the motivation to get to his feet, so he swallowed his nerves and spoke for the first time that day.

His mouth was dry - despite the tea - and his lips were cracked in a couple of places, but, he managed the words anyway.

"... you... y-you can come in."

There was a click, and then the obstacle opened, revealing the extremely worried face of Cole.

"... hey Jay... been awake long?"

"Not really... only fifteen minutes or so."

Cole closed the door behind him, and shuffled over to his bed, pulling out a chair from the desk on the other wall.

Jay avoided eye contact, staring down at the empty mug in his hands. He was swilling the last few drops around and around the bottom.

"Zane wanted to come and see you too, but he's gone out with Kai and Nya to town. He thought that it would be better for you to have a calmer environment... without those two."

"... why Nya?"

"... we all heard what she said a while ago. Zane... thought that her presence might upset you a bit."

Jay knew what he was referring too. He hardly hated Nya, in fact, he still loved her very dearly. But Zane had been right. She didn't date trans guys, meaning... she would now no longer want to date him.

"... I guess you're here for an explanation... right...?" He questioned. Cole shook his head.

"... I came here to give you an explanation, actually."

Oh...? How odd. Jay couldn't quite imagine what Cole would have to apologise for, or give reasons for. He listened anyway.

"... the... the reason everybody found out. It's my fault. I found your box... in one of the supply cupboards. I couldn't help myself... I looked in it, then... then Kai came along. I couldn't stop him."

He listened and sat still, feeling nothing more than a sense of understanding. Though... the way Cole was going, he seemed to be blaming it all on himself.

"... so... it's all me. Everything was because of me..." Cole locked eyes with his friend, "and I am so... so... so sorry..."

Jay couldn't pull his gaze away. Cole's hazelnut eyes had filled up with absolute guilt and regret, and it almost made Jay feel bad.

"... hey... it's fine."

"It's not fine... Jay everybody found out because of m-"

"They needed to find out someday, and, I don't think I would ever have had the courage. I should have picked a better hiding place. Looking back... that cupboard was really stupid... I'm just... afraid that... I'm afraid you'll all treat me differently."

Cole gave him a very slight smile and patted his arm.

"Not all of us are called Kai Smith. Some of us aren't a*shats."

Jay couldn't help but chuckle at that, placing his mug on the bedside table. The pottery met the wood, landing with a distinct clink... and tears started to form once more. Along with them came a rushing of emotions. Upset, anxiousness, fear, regret, worry... it could go on and on.

"... C... Cole... I'm sorry for keeping stuff from you... I should have told you that-"

"A-And I should have been a better friend!"

The pat on the arm turned into a supportive hand on the shoulder.

"... looking back, I really haven't been. Across the last few months. I don't think we've been taking you seriously enough... and we should've been."

"I don't blame you... I don't matter anyway..."

"Jay! You do matter! You... you're one of my best friends! Do... do you think being trans would change that?"

He shrugged, slowly curling into a ball.

"... I'm here for you... ok? I'm not very good with LGBT stuff but... I looked up some things this morning. I don't think I'll have any problems with pronouns because I've been calling you 'he' for as long as I've known you... and... and if I ever do anything that makes you feel bad or uncomfortable or anything you don't like, just... just tell me."

The lengths Cole had gone to to make him feel better within less than a day made the poor boy very emotional, and the tears that were building earlier burst their banks.

"W-Why are you being so nice to me...?! I don't deserve it!"

"What? Basic respect?"

Jay sniffed, wiping his eyes with his sleeve.

"You sound like Nya." he whispered. The self-mention of his soon-to-be-ex dragged tranquility even further from grasp.

"... you don't need to tell me anything, but... I don't know. I don't understand all this. I will support you though, and if Kai is a massive a*shole again I swear I'll punch him a new face."

Jay chuckled again, finding small pleasances dotted around his currently dark existence.

"... I will tell you about it all, if you want."

"Jay, you don't have to if you aren't comfortable-"

"I am. I'm happy to tell you. You need to know. Like... it's kinda unfair too. I know all about your childhood, but... you don't know mine."

"I think that having an enthusiastic singer for a father is slightly different to being trans. It's not as... you know."

"... anyway... uh... if you want to know, I'll tell you."

"... only if you're sure."

"I'm sure."

Jay grabbed a fistful of his sheets, squeezing hard to keep calm as he revealed his innermost secrets.

Deep breath. Calm stature.

Time to begin.

"... I always knew that I wasn't a girl."

Cole sat still, not wanting to miss a single word.

"... and from the moment I understood my body... I was begging... for it to be different."

Chapter Text

"... I always knew that I wasn't a girl... and from the moment I understood my body... I was begging... for it to be different.

I think I was four or five when I first told my mum. She wasn't unsupportive or anything... she just... didn't understand.

I told her I wasn't a girl. I told her I didn't understand why my body was... like it was.

She thought I was playing around. Having fun.

She dismissed me."

---

"Ma? Ma? Why does Pa say I'm his little girl?"

"Oh Sophie sweetheart, it's because you are! You're our baby girl, and we love you."

"... I'm not a girl... am I? Am I Ma? I'm not..."

"C'mere you silly sausage... you'll always be my little Sophie. Even when you're all grown up..."

"... but I'm not a girl... I... I don't wanna be like this..."

"Come on Sophie, the joke's over. Let's get you back inside. It's getting dark..."

---

"... after that, I didn't have the courage to talk about it again. I was so afraid that I'd just be brushed aside like the first time, so... I tried to ignore my feelings.

I kept telling myself that I was a normal girl. That I didn't mind being called... S... Sophie. And... that I liked my body as it was.

I kept it up for years... till I was about 12.

Makeup, long hair, dresses. Everything typically feminine that I could get my hands on.

It didn't work.

I broke down one day. I cut my hair short with a blunt pair of scissors, and my parents were sort of horrified. I'd been growing it for so long... I said I wanted to grow it forever and never cut it but... in the space of five minutes, most of it was scattered across the bathroom floor."

---

"Sophie! What did you do?!"

"I HATE ALL THIS, I HATE IT I HATE IT I CAN'T STAND ALL THIS STUPID GIRLY STUFF! I HATE IT!"

"Oh Sophie... it's alright. You don't have to like traditionally girly things... have you been doing all this to make us happy?"

---

"I didn't tell them the truth. That I had finally accepted that my feelings wouldn't go away. The dysphoria wouldn't go away, although I didn't even know what it was yet. I felt like a freak... so... I just played along..."

---

"... I... I thought you wanted a normal girl... Ma..."

"No no no! There's no such thing as a 'normal' girl! We love you no matter what sweetie! Whether you like pink frilly stuff or more... boyish things. You didn't do too well with your hair... do you want me to neaten it up for you?"

---

"They meant well. Had I just been a girl who didn't like feminine things... they would have handled the situation perfectly. But... I was a closeted boy stuck in a girl's body... and no amount of jeans and hoodies and short haircuts could make me feel better about that.

I maintained my pixie cut, I never wore anything with a single frill every again, and I stopped shaving. I got very interested in engineering, and I spent hours with my dad learning all about it. I thought that... maybe that was all I wanted.

Then... a few months passed... and it was obvious that it was not.

I couldn't take it anymore. All the dysphoria, the self hatred, the knowledge that my body would always be biologically female drove me round the bend and I... I...

I...

 

Something happened. My parents were terrified... scared to the extremes that they'd lose their only child... they took me to the hospital as soon as they found me and... the doctors saved me.

I remember my dad's face when I woke up. Mum had gone away to talk to the doctor about something, and... dad stayed with me. To keep an eye on me.

I remember his face.

He was... crying. And... he hardly ever cries. He looked so heartbroken and guilty... and when Mum came back she looked exactly the same... and I promised myself... I'd never do that ever again. I couldn't put them through that.

It wasn't fair to the parents who had tried their best.

 

I came out after that. I ended up sobbing into mum's shoulder after she asked me why I'd done it..."

---

"I... I-I've tried to tell you! I'm not a girl! I'm not! And I hate it! I hate that I'm like this! My body is all wrong and I can't fix it!"

---

"It turned out... the doctor listened in. She knew exactly what condition I had, so took my parents to the side, and explained what the word Transgender meant. They didn't really understand at first, but they were so supportive after that.

To be honest, I didn't even know what it was till she told me. The only education I had was the books I could salvage from the scrap yard, and as you can imagine, there weren't any specialising in trans issues.

It just... felt so amazing, to know that what I had been feeling my whole life was... real. An actual thing.

Something that had a name...

I was so so pleased... that I wasn't just some freak with a messed up head.

I went through testing after that. It took months. They wanted to make sure that I actually was trans, and my parents weren't forcing it into me. Can you believe that? Yes, maybe once in a blue moon a parent will force their kid to be 'trans' because they wanted a boy or a girl and got the opposite. But... it's just not common. They asked all these stupid things, like if they bathed with me when I was a baby. Why would that effect me at all? I don't care what my parents have in their pants?! But we had to do it... and we got through it. I was put on hormone blockers, then after that... testosterone.

But even that couldn't fix what puberty had done to me already. I started my period when I was eleven. Unlucky, huh? Then I got breasts, and I got curvy. Testosterone helped with the fat distribution, and my voice broke and got way lower. It doesn't get rid of breasts though. I have to bind, almost constantly.

I... I haven't taken my binder off for quite a while, actually. It's really bad... I could be permanently damaging my ribs but, I couldn't risk Nya seeing.

Back to the story... that all happened.

Then... I came to choosing a name.

If I was going to live as boy... I couldn't keep going by such a girly name.. I really needed a new one. I couldn't use my old one, which I absolutely hated. I still hate it.

... and by that I don't mean I hate the name. It's a lovely name, really... but... I hated it on myself. It was just that it was a feminine name... I really wanted a new one.

Many names... I went through hundreds. Hours and hours pouring through various websites of baby names for boys.

There were a lot of options... a hell of a lot. Despite the amount... Jay stuck out to me. It sounded right... it sounded like me...

 

So I chose Jay.

It took my parents a while to get used to it, but as you've seen, they're accustomed now.

That's... pretty much it. Honestly, not very dramatic. Not what the media paints it as.

It was traumatic when I was younger, but... it was... anticlimactic. I built up a fear of being rejected by my parents my entire life, and it turned out, they didn't care what my gender was. They loved me no matter what.

A couple more years passed, and Sensei Wu found me, told me I was the Master of Lightning. That really was a crazy day, huh?

After talking to my parents about it, and after they gave consent, I went with him. Even Sensei doesn't know about my... situation. I never told him.

Anyway... he gave me the education I had missed out on, or where my parents couldn't fill in. Maths, Language, all that stuff. I am very grateful for what he did for me... and then of course, I met you and Zane, and we started our Ninja training.

You can probably fill in the story from there, yourself..."

Cole was silent for a number of moments. After such as expanse of new information to process, his ability to form sentences was temporarily disabled.

"... Cole?" Jay asked, looking up from his sheets at last.

"I... I don't know what to say, Jay. Just... thank god your parents were accepting."

"I'm very lucky that I do have them for parents. I know that a lot of other trans people can't even come out, because their parents would disown them without a second thought. Disgusting, isn't it."

Cole massaged his temples, trying very hard to formulate words.

"... is there anything I missed out? Any questions left unanswered?"

"... yeah... there is one." he replied, looking up and meeting Jay's sapphire orbs with his own hazel ones.

"... by... 'Something happened'... do you... do you mean what I think you mean?"

Jay bit his lip and shrugged.

"... t-that's the one thing I'm not really comfortable talking about... actually..."

"... oh... alright."

"... anything else?"

"No, I don't think so. I just... ugh. I don't know what to do Jay. I don't know how to help you."

"Honestly, what you're already doing is perfect. You're being supportive, and understanding, and you're listening. That's the best I could ask from somebody."

Cole sighed, then smiled.

"Hey. C'mere bluebell." He spoke, leaning in for a tight hug. Jay happily accepted.

"Oh Jesus, you could probably crush me if you wanted to." Jay chuckled, wondering how Cole was still so ripped after not working out for months now.

The black ninja was the one who pulled away, then yawning and stretched his arms.

"... I'll stay here with you till Zane and that lot get back. He really wants to know what's been going on, if that's ok."

"That's fine. And, thank you."

They chatted like the brothers they always had been. Jokes, laughter, and the occasional splash of seriousness.

Cole, really didn't care that Jay was trans. All he cared about was making sure he was safe and happy.

Jay was so glad that Cole didn't care that he was trans. It was calming, and it made him feel safe, to have someone who would always be there for him - through thick and thin - no matter what.

 

Cole really was a good friend.

Chapter Text

"You two are coming with me to Chen's Noodle House. No complaining."

Kai complained about Zane's plan at first, but after his friend was adamant that they were going, he gave up and went along with it without complaint.

Nya didn't say anything. She understood Zane's intentions and understood that it was for the best.

The three of them headed into the centre of Ninjago City, in the general direction of Chen's. While the restaurant indeed used to belong to Chen, ownership had since moved to his undoubtedly nicer daughter, Skylor. The name had not changed though, for whatever reason, nobody really cared.

On the way there, they were relatively silent. Kai had the occasional passing remark or complaint, but was at loath to say them, since every time he did, Zane would either completely ignore him or shut him down with composure and tact.

"... I don't even see what we'll do there. It's not like we have any money to spend. We'll be kicked out for loitering."

"As if Skylor would do that to us. She'll be happy to see us. Especially you, Kai."

"Yeah yeah, Skylor's a friend and all, but it's still a business she's running."

Zane simply smiled and turned to him, continuing to walk.

"Unlike you, Kai, I have a job on the side. I'll pay for whatever you chose to order."

"... you have a... job?"

"Yes. Haven't you wondered where I have been going some mornings and afternoons?"

"... I thought you were just having some time to yourself, to be honest." Nya added. It was the first time she had spoken all morning.

"Well, I was not. I have been working with Cyrus Borg, you see. He wants to do a lot of extensive research on Artificial Intelligence. Pixal was the only one he ever managed to create, and he wants to make the science of AI much more widely available. I have been helping him. He pays me quite well for my time and work."

"Jeez Zane, could've told us, huh?"

"None of you asked, so I assumed that none of you would care."

They approached the restaurant, and Zane chuckled as he said one last thing.

"I know as a fact that you have certain feelings for Skylor, Kai. You should be thanking me."

Kai's cheeks flushed temporarily.

"I do not!"

Zane laughed and walked faster, and Kai couldn't help but grin too.

"You're a cheeky bastard, aren't you!"

"I've learned from the best, dear brother!"

The corners of Nya's mouth turned up too. After such a dismal evening last night, seeing her brother finally relax and give in to Zane's calm and friendly demeanour, made her really quite happy.

A bell on the door rang as Zane opened it, holding it as Kai and Nya walked in. They both smiled a thanks, and they headed to a table. Skylor, who was conveniently in the main part of the building at that point, spotted them and waved.

Kai didn't expect her to come over right away, but, readied himself for how he would act. Zane was right, no matter how much he would deny it. He did have... some... special feelings for her.

He didn't want to say the wrong thing.

"Kaiii, you're blushing." Nya remarked cheerily, determined to contribute to the growing positivity.

"No... it... it's just a bit hot in here. That's all."

"... you're the Master of Fire, Kai, you don't get too hot. That might've worked when we were kids, but it sure as hell won't work now!"

Kai sat down in a hurry, and Nya sat down next to him. Zane sat on the other side of the four-person table, entwining his fingers in a professional manner.

"... I won't pressure you to, but, I had the idea that once we get our food, we could... talk. About Jay." He suggested, closing his robotic eyes and breathing deeply.

Kai didn't look happy at any rate, but nodded in agreement. Even he saw that it had to be discussed.

Nya simply spoke a 'yes... ok'.

They sat in approximate silence until Skylor could catch a free moment and headed over to them.

"Hi! It's felt like forever!" She grinned, immediately giving Nya, then Zane a quick hug. It seemed like she wanted to give one to Kai as well, but since he was on the other side of Nya, it was too awkward. She sat down instead.

"So, where are the others? Lloyd and Jay and Cole. How come only you three are here?"

"... uhm..." Nya started.

"There have been some complications with... certain relationships. I thought it would be best to protect the situation from becoming further volatile. While it is partially sorted out."

"... you all look like you've just seen a ghost. I won't ask about it again, ok? I only have about ten minutes till I'm needed again, so you'd better make the most of it!" Skylor joked.

With her cheery attitude in full blast, it wasn't hard to weasel Kai and Nya into a casual conversation. Despite his plan to make a good impression after not seeing her for so long, Kai didn't really say much. If anything, he came off as nervous.

Skylor still talked to him though, with her regular smile and a voice that could calm almost anybody.

"The election for the new Mayor is coming up. Any idea who you're voting for?" she asked, addressing Kai directly.

He shrugged.

"I haven't been very involved in politics lately. I don't know."

"I'm definitely gonna vote for Taylor Klaus. Her recent speech was just incredible."

"Uhm... yeah. Sure."

Before anybody realised, Skylor's ten minutes were up.

"Aw crap, I gotta go back to work. Should I take your orders now?"

"Oh, that would be great!" Zane smiled.

She took a small pad of paper and a pen out of a socket on her belt.

"I'll just have the Snow Pea Cuttle Fish. What about you two?"

Zane turned to them, smiling, forcing them to reply.

"Oh, uhm... just some Sushi, thanks." Nya mumbled.

"... I don't want anything." Kai said curtly.

Zane looked back to Skylor.

"And the Three Ingredient Sizzling Rice for Kai. I know he likes that one."

"Alright then. Your food should get to you in no time at all. I don't know if I'll be able to chat again today, but, it would be nice to see more of you guys. I hope things get sorted out."

Skylor nodded to them, waved goodbye, then rushed to the kitchen to relay the orders to her staff.

"Kai, you're even redder now." Nya giggled.

Kai didn't respond. His cheeks only burned brighter.

Skylor was right. Within about five minutes, their food had arrived.

None of them said anything, but they all speculated that Skylor had put their orders at the front of the queue. In such a prestigious restaurant, the waiting time was never shorter than at least fifteen minutes.

Nevertheless, they tucked in. The food was delicious, and had arguably improved since Skylor took charge. Each dish was made with care, the customer's enjoyment being the most important aspect of production.

Kai scoffed his down, finishing in no time at all. Nya and Zane however, took a lot longer, taking care and savouring each mouthful. None of the ninja had eaten out for months. This was a time to relish.

 

Eventually, they finished, and as they waited for one of the serving staff to come over and collect the pay, Zane began the long anticipated talk about Jay.

"... I support him. I do... I don't have any problem with him being trans..." Nya stated, though with sorrowful eyes.

"That's good to hear, but... what will happen to your relationship?"

Her face crumpled, upset and close to tears.

"... I... I don't know... Zane I... I've been questioning for a while and... this has made it so much more confusing... I don't know... if I can-"

"Nya, it's alright. You can do whatever you want within your partnership, but... all I ask is that you let him down gently."

"... of course... how could I do anything else? Jay... Jay's a lovely person. Who knows, maybe I'll sort my head out and I'll get back with him at some point... but... now? I can't deal with it..."

"... alright."

Zane then looked to Kai, obviously wanting his opinion on the situation.

"... It's just so... shocking."

He took a moment to sigh deeply and collect his words before continuing.

"... I don't get it. I don't understand any of it. Like... surely if... Sophie-"

"His name is Jay!" Nya interrupted.

"Ok ok! If Jay has girl parts... then... surely... he - I mean she - I mean, oh whatever... then surely Jay is a girl?"

"That's not how it works Kai."

"Then how does it work? Your brain and your body just don't link up and do separate things or some b*llshit?"

"Yeah, actually. That's pretty accurate."

"... what?"

"Trans people's brains develop as one gender while their body develops as the other. Gender is in the brain. Men and women's brains are different."

"Hang on, a few weeks ago you told me that girls' and boys' brains were the same!"

"In the womb, Kai! If everybody's brains were the same then we wouldn't even have male and female!"

"You aren't making sense!"

"Yes I am! Men and Women develop in different ways. The brain changes along with this. There's no scientific difference in intelligence, no scientific different in worth, not even a physical different. We just work slightly different. Get it?"

"I guess?"

Kai didn't get it. Nya and Zane tried their hardest to explain the ins and outs of transgenderism. He simply did not understand.

Eventually, Nya and Zane gave up, but they did say one thing.

"... I can forgive you for not understanding, because that's not your fault, but you must be kind and supportive to Jay during this time."

Kai reluctantly agreed.

"I'll try. I don't bloody get it though, so, you can't get mad at me if I slip up."

"As long as you try your best and try to understand."

A waiter came over to the table, collected the bill and took away their plates. After all thanking him, and waking goodbye to Skylor - who was busy with some other customers, but still saw them and waved back - they left, starting the short walk back to the Bounty.

"... I can't explain how important it is that you two don't do anything to stress him out. Recently, I've noticed his anxiety levels going through the roof. I doubt Jay needs anything else to worry about."

"Mmm hmm." Kai nodded, hands deep in his hoodie's pockets.

Nya nodded, not saying anything.

The Bounty was waiting where they had left it. A sudden coldness filled the air. It was getting colder as winter started its cruel onslaught, but it was chilly in a different way. Anticipation, perhaps.

When they got aboard, Nya headed straight for her room, Kai trudged over to the game room to immerse himself in a virtual environment, and forget about the situation. Even if just for a little while. Fighting endless enemies of a video game as a great way for him to get his emotions out, without actually hurting anybody.

Zane however, walked to the small Medical room where Jay was staying, in the most direct route possible. He wanted to know the ins and outs of Jay's story as well. Surely Cole would have had time to go through it with him by now?

It was so eerily quiet. Like a ghost ship.

Was nobody doing anything? Zane guessed not.

He theorised that Sensei was most likely in his room, Lloyd was most likely in his room. Kai and Nya had isolated themselves at an instant. Cole and Jay were talking in the medical room.

 

He stood outside the door when he reached it, raised his knuckles, took a deep breath, then knocked.

There was some murmuring inside, some footsteps...

... and the door clicked open.

Chapter Text

Cole was the one who had opened the door, and Zane was overjoyed to see the scene he'd revealed.

Jay was sat on the bed, legs crossed, no longer under the duvet. His cheeks had a healthy flush, and a slight smile shined brightly, as it usually did. It looked like the old Jay was back, for now at least.

"... hello Jay. I see you are awake."

"Yeah, I've been awake for ages now though."

The nindroid stepped inside, and smiled a thanks at Cole for opening the door.

"I daresay you two have been having a good time?"

"Pretty good, yeah. We've pretty much just been joking around and talking."

Cole let out a loud contented sigh, then pulled out a second chair for Zane, before sitting down himself.

"How was your time out with Kai and Nya? Lemme guess, she was ok but Kai was a transphobic pile of-" Cole started, but Zane cut him off.

"Actually, Kai expressed at least a small desire to understand Jay's situation. Whether he did that to make himself look better or if he meant it genuinely, we will not know until time passes on."

Cole shrugged, not quite convinced.

"Well, Bluebell? Feel like telling tin-can your story?" He turned to Jay, casually. Jay stretched his arms and scooted closer to the end of the bed, letting out a little laugh.

"I'm starting to regret my choice of telling everyone separately. By the time I tell you all I'm gonna go looney."

"... you do not have to if you do not feel comfortable. I am perfectly content waiting until a time better suited, if that is the case?"

"No, no.. I'll tell you. I might as well get it all out of the way, right?"

"... only if you are sure you want to."

"I want to. I promise. I just... don't want to have to say it all again and again, but... but I also don't want to have to talk to everyone at once. Ughh I don't know what to do..."

Zane cocked his head.

"... why don't I record you?"

Jay looked up from his lap, his newly miserable expression lifting from his face.

"Huh?"

"I could record you. I have the inbuilt ability to record, so, I could simply listen to you talk, and then relay it to the others when the time is right. I will delete the recording immediately after we have all seen it, you have my word."

Jay looked very very happy.

"Zane, that... that would be great! Thank you!"

"You are very welcome, Jay. Shall we begin then?"

"Yeah. Yeah! Uhm... well... how do I start... uhhh..."

Zane opened his control panel and tapped a small button in the corner, and a tiny beeping noise signalling the recording briefly sounded.

"... I... I always knew I wasn't a girl. Always. Every since I was tiny..."

---

Relaying his story to Zane took a lot less long than to Cole. While Jay couldn't pinprick a specific reason, he did consider that he had already gone through it.. and knew exactly what he was going to say, when and where.

That - however - was good though. Jay finished talking after only about fifteen to twenty minutes.

After the talking was finished, Zane finished the recording and Jay collapsed backwards onto the bed.

"Why does this even need to matter..." he sighed, groaning and rubbing his eyes.

"It's ridiculous." Cole agreed.

"I know. There are few things that I do not understand, but, discrimination makes no sense to me at all."

"But you're a robot. You can't not make sense."

"That just proves it's wrong, doesn't it?"

"Haha, I guess."

Jay sat back up and sniffed his t-shirt.

"Eww. I need a shower. I'm so damn sweaty."

"Yeah, you really are. I swear you aren't usually like this."

Jay bit his lip.

"... uh... I sweat a lot when I... uhm... when I have panic attacks."

"Panic attacks? That's what you were having?"

"Well, yeah."

"I thought only crazy people had them..."

Jay scratched his head and sighed once more.

"Yeah... a lot of people think that. It's not true, it's a stupid misconception that's spread all over the place."

His eyes widened and he stopped talking.

"... uh... I just realised, I accidentally left out an important detail."

Cole sat up a little straighter.

"... what is it? Are... are you ok?"

"Yeah yeah I'm fine, I just... I forgot to say, I'm... I've been diagnosed with Depression and Anxiety for years now... so... uh... that's something."

Both his friends looked pretty shocked.

"... how did you miss that out?"

"I don't know, I just, I'm kinda stressed at the moment, ok?"

"Right, sorry."

Cole took a moment to think.

"... Anxiety? But... you don't seem anxious at all? Well, you do now, but usually..."

"That's not what Anxiety is. You're not just anxious all the time, there are certain... triggers. Like, for me, I can't do public speaking. Around friends I can be as loud and confident as I want, but, if you put me in front of a crowd I'll probably have a breakdown."

"... I swear you literally hosted a TV show a couple years ago."

"Right. It changes over time. I used to be fine with crowds and being in front of them, performing, but, over time I've just... lost it. I also can't deal with other people being mad at me. Like, if I anger someone, if I upset someone, if I disappoint someone... my throat gets all tight and I can't breathe and I need to go somewhere to calm down. Hence why I walked off into the desert that time Kai was getting pissed. Anxiety often goes hand in hand with Panic Disorder, where you get panic attacks, and, unfortunately, the tiniest things can set me off. I've learned how to suppress the attacks... but when I do... it's like boiling water. If you keep boiling it, it's gonna boil over eventually..."

Cole nodded, vaguely understanding and working it out in his head.

"... what about Depression then? Lemme guess... it's not just being sad all the time."

"No, it's not. Depression is sort of like... low mood. You can have low mood without depression, but if you have depression, you have low mood. It can also effect different people in different ways. For me... I'm just... instead of feeling neutral, I feel down. Things I used to enjoy, I can't enjoy anymore... when other people are having fun... sometimes... I feel blank."

He furrowed his brows as the direction of his speech became much more intimate and personal, and he clasped his hands together as well.

"... then, I often get all these horrible thoughts... you know... like, that I'm just... trash... useless, replaceable and forgettable... insignificant... stupid... and they don't go away. They're always there. Sure, quite a lot of the time I'm distracted but other things, and I don't even think about them, but all I need is one thing to go wrong and they're all back... and... a lot of the time, I wonder whether life is even worth it..."

There was a moment of quiet in the room, quiet that was only disturbed by the low whirring of Zane's workings.

"... Jay... I... had no idea. I'm sorry you've been going through that..."

"It's ok. I'm almost used to it."

"It is not ok. Personally, I will do all I can to make sure you feel better about yourself. You are a wonderful person and do not deserve such a negative existence." Zane chimed in.

"Thanks, Zane..." Jay replied, a tiny smile making it's way through the sadness.

"Are you on anti-depressants?"

"I used to be, but I was taken off them because I had improved. I didn't need them anymore... but... it looks like I might have to go back on them at this rate..."

Zane nodded.

"I will go with you to the doctors, if it will make you feel better." He suggested. Jay shook his head.

"I don't think you understand. Because of our bloody healthcare system, medication costs money. Anti-depressants are expensive, and the one that works for me costs even more money than the others. Money I don't have. Money I'll never have..."

"I have a simple solution. I'll pay for you."

Jay's head jerked upwards, fixing Zane with a shocked stare.

"... what?"

"I'll pay your prescription for you. You won't have to worry about the money."

"... but... how will you get it?"

"Oh yes. I told Kai and Nya while we were out, but not you two, obviously. I have a job at Borg Industries. I am helping him develop Artificial Intelligence that is much easier to access. The pay is quite good, if I do say so myself." Zane explained with a small smirk.

"... you mean it? You'd really pay for me?"

"Of course, Jay. You're my friend, and you need help I can easily offer. What kind of friend would I be if I didn't?"

Jay jumped off the bed and pulled the nindroid into a tight hug, undoubtedly hiding a few tears of gratitude.

"... thank you... thank you so much..."

"You're welcome, Jay."

Cole smiled at Jay's newfound happiness. After such negativity he had endured over the previous evening and current day, it was good to finally have something looking up for him.

Jay sat back down, wiping his eyes.

"Jeez, I'm getting emotional..."

Cole rubbed his shoulder.

"It's alright. I uhh... I do have something to ask though."

"What is it?"

"... what did you mean by, the kind of anti-depressants that work for you? I thought there was just... one?"

"... right... there are more than one kind, and they all have different side effects."

"... this mental health stuff is bloody confusing."

"Haha, I know right?"

Cole asked a couple other questions about the conditions, which Jay answered swiftly and simply.

"I... I can't explain how grateful I am for your support... it means so much to me." He spoke, looking from Cole to Zane, the latter of which slowly stood up and took a deep breath on and out.

"It is my own opinion, and if you do not think it is a good idea I will not go through with it... but I believe it would be best if I go and relay your story to the others right away. I could collect all four of them at once. You would not need to interact with them until you were ready, and it would give them time to think it over."

Jay hesitated, then nodded.

"... I think you're right. I appreciate it."

Zane gave him one last smile before leaving the room.

"... Cole, you can leave too. You don't need to stay here."

"I'm not gonna leave you... that's not fair."

"... I don't wanna be an inconvenience..."

"You aren't. I'm choosing to stay here on my own accord. Jay, you're my best friend. I'll always be here for you..."

He held out his pinkie.

"I promise."

Jay stared at his hand then snorted with laughter.

"You're seriously pinkie promising?"

"Hey! I'm trying to be nice!"

He chuckled again, but gave in and shook his pinkie.

"... so, what do you wanna do? We might be here for a little while until Zane comes back."

"... can we sneak to the kitchen and make some... pasta or something? I'm starving."

"As long as you do the cooking, absolutely."

Chapter Text

Zane strolled directly into the game room, where Kai was sat, playing something violent and action packed. It was one of the few ways he dealt with anger and stress.

"Hello Kai. May I ask you to take a break from your gaming? I have some very important information to relay to you."

"... ugh. I guess? What's so important?"

"Not right now. It will be much more efficient if I tell a group all at once."

Kai ruefully paused his game and stood up, stretching his slightly achey limbs.

"Alight. Where are we going?" He asked.

"I think that the bridge will be suitable enough for a small meeting. Please wait there for me, while I collect the other three."

"M'kay."

Kai trudged over to the bridge, as Zane had said, and sat down at the boardroom-type table in the centre. Impatiently, he tapped his fingers against the wood, looking around at the few entrances to the room. Surely it wouldn't take all that long for Zane to bring all the others to the desired location?

A minute passed, and another, and one more, before Nya and Lloyd walked through one of the internal doors together.

"... where's Sensei?" Kai asked.

"He's apparently gone out to do something. Zane's gone to get him. Said he should only be about twenty minutes.

"Alright."

They both sat down, Nya right next to him, and Lloyd on the other side of her.

"... well... since we have a while to wait... maybe we should... talk about some things. Like... you know..." he suggested.

Nya was briefly confused.

"... what is there to talk about? Zane and I already talked about Jay with you and-"

She cut off when she realised, and looked to the blonde next to her, and back to her brother.

"... Kai you can't possibly mean-"

"Nya, it's fine. He wants to talk about how I'm gay. It's not like I'm ashamed." Lloyd interrupted.

Kai sighed, and looked the green ninja in the eyes.

"... why didn't you tell us."

"Because it's none of your business. Why should I have to tell anybody?"

"You basically lied to us."

"The only time I said I wasn't was when I was risking this whole damn country turning on me. I think even you would lie in that situation."

Kai grimaced. Lloyd had a point.

"... I just... I don't get it. Why would you choose to be... gay? Why would you choose that?"

Lloyd stared, then gritted his teeth, and leant back in his chair, forcing himself to breathe deeply.

"Nya, promise me that if I get angry enough to slap him you'll stop me?" He questioned.

"At this rate, I might end up joining you."

Kai looked offended.

"I'm just trying to understand!" He exclaimed. Lloyd shrugged.

"Sure! Trying to understand by asking the stupidest questions you can think of!"

"I am! Can you please bloody explain to me now?!"

He took another deep breath, and quite honestly, had to hold back a few tears.

"... being gay isn't a choice, as you seem to think. If it was a choice, nobody in this world would be. Because it's horrible. Every f*cking day, I wake up and I have to face a world that hates me. When I still had social media, there was homophobia everywhere. You can't escape it. There are people telling you that you're a freak, you're wrong, sinful, disgusting, just for loving in a different way to them. For being attracted to the same sex. It doesn't hurt or effect anybody else but there are still hundreds, thousands, millions of people who would rather that all gay people were dead and gone. Even though I know deep down that she'll accept me, I'm still terrified to tell my own mother about it because I'm afraid that she won't support me. I was afraid to tell me best friends, because of how they might react. Because of how you DID react! Nobody in their right f*cking mind would choose to be gay because. It. Is. Awful! Are you seriously telling me that I'd make the decision to not be straight, to force myself to go through all this hatred and fear and loss?! Constantly scared that the people I care about will abandon me, unable to find a partner because it's too dangerous? In some places, gay couples can't even walk down the street holding hands because people will throw stuff at them, and scream at them, and will do everything they can to make their life hell! It's not just gay people either. Transgender people, people of colour, anybody who isn't Heterosexual and Cisgender and White is destined to face discrimination from the day they're born! Living like this... is not happy. Until the world sorts itself out nobody LGBT will be able to live a completely happy life! And until people stop thinking that it's a damn CHOICE, nothing will get better! I can't believe you'd think that I'd choose not to be straight... you... you know what?! I wish I was straight! Because then this entire f*cking country wouldn't still be considering that I'm nothing but a disGUSTING INHUMANE FREAK!"

Lloyd had left his chair a long time ago, but now he kicked it over, and stormed away out of the room.

"I'll be in my room when Zane gets back, but right now, I don't wanna be around him! I'm gonna end up slapping him!" he yelled, directing the statement at Nya.

"Lloyd! Wait!"

Nya got up out of her seat and followed him, leaving Kai alone in the bridge.

Alone with his thoughts.

... thinking about it, that question was pretty stupid. He still didn't understand it or agree with it... but Lloyd had made a very good point. Why on earth would he choose to be that way when he would be treated so horribly for it? It didn't make sense.

So... after all this time thinking that homosexuality was the fault of the individual...

 

It wasn't their fault.

 

It wasn't up to them to decide what they were attracted to.

 

Kai still had a long way to go before he could accept the LGBTQ+ community, and somewhere in his head he still thought that it was a mistake. A fixable mental illness that could be treated and removed, but at least... this was a start.

A step in the right direction at last.

Chapter Text

Zane hurried into the bridge, Sensei Wu at his side, but was slightly at a loss when he only saw Kai at the table.

"... where are Lloyd and Nya?"

Kai shrugged.

"I said something kinda dumb... it upset Lloyd and he went to his room... I think Nya went with him." he answered in a low tone.

"... oh... shall I go and get them?"

"Well, yeah. He'll probably kill me if I walk in there."

"What on earth did you argue about?" Sensei Wu asked, stepping forward and giving Kai a disapproving look.

"... it wasn't an argument. I asked him why he chose to be gay and... he pretty much yelled at me because my question was so stupid. It was fair enough... it was pretty stupid..." he answered, quietly.

Zane sighed, and quickly walked through the Bounty to Lloyd's room, and the inhabitants were confirmed straight away, as he picked up their voices through the wood.

He knocked lightly, and heard their voices stop.

Nya was the one who came to open it, and there was a distasteful look on her face as she did.

"Kai, I really don't think that-" she started, but stopped when she saw that it wasn't her brother.

"Hello Nya."

"... I'm sorry. I though you were Kai."

"It is ok. May I come in?"

She stepped aside, allowing the nindroid inside.

Lloyd looked up at him, and rubbed his eyes. Zane couldn't quite tell, but it seemed like he had been crying.

"... oh dear. Kai really upset you... didn't he?"

"... he's just an idiot. A huge, stupid, f*cking-"

"Lloyd, take a deep breath. He doesn't matter. He just... he doesn't think before he speaks." Nya intervened, sitting back down next to him and putting an arm around him.

He nodded, then sighed.

"Sorry, Zane. You wanted us to stay in the bridge."

"I completely understand if you had to leave because of... reasons. May I ask what Kai said that upset you so deeply?"

Lloyd sniffed again, looking down at his hands.

"... he basically said that being gay was a choice. I don't know if I've heard him say something so stupid in his life..."

Zane frowned, worried about Lloyd but not quite knowing what to say.

"... Look. I came here to ask if you would come back to the bridge so that I could relay some information to everybody at once, but if you do not wish to be around-"

"No... it's ok. As long as he doesn't say anything else dumb... I'll come back." He spoke, and got to his feet, Nya following.

"I'll make sure of it."

The three of them made their quick way back over to the bridge, where Kai and Sensei were sat in near silence. When Lloyd saw how guilty and remorseful he looked, he almost said something to him, maybe apologise for how harsh he was... but he brushed those thoughts away. Kai deserved to be yelled at, after even suggesting something so ridiculous.

He and Nya took seats, as far away from Kai as they could without seeming overly passive-aggressive, and Zane stood at the head of the table, in a very dignified and calm manner.

"I talked to Jay earlier, about everything he's been though. His story, his side of things. Since he doesn't really feel comfortable explaining it to a crowd himself, and repeating the story another four times when he's already had to twice would be incredibly dull... I decided to record him. I had his permission of course, and... he wants you all to listen to it." He explained, a brief smile on his face the whole time.

"... alright." Kai said quietly. Nya simply nodded, and the last two did nothing at all.

"Well, here we go."

Zane lifted his arm and opened the panel, pressing the button to commence the replay of Jay's story.

Everybody in the room listened intently, as many of the questions they had harboured since last night were answers, and more haunting facts about poor Jay's past were brought to light...

---

The recording finally finished, and Zane closed his panel.

"... he forgot to talk about a couple of other things during the recording. They aren't too complicated, so, I'll just tell you. Jay has been diagnosed with Depression and Anxiety for a few years now. If any of you have questions about these disorders, I'm sure I will be able to answer them."

"... but... he's not sad all the time. And he's not shy either." Kai stated.

"Depression is not being sad all the time. It is struggling with motivation, self-deprecating thoughts, tiredness and other things. It can come in waves. Bad days and good days. Anxiety is quite the same, but with of course, anxiety and worrying thoughts instead of the depressive effects."

Nobody really had anything else to say. Finally, Sensei Wu broke the growing quiet.

"... he has been my student for more years than I can remember,,, yet... I never had an inkling."

"He didn't want you to know. He didn't want anybody to know. Had I and Cole not found his box... he would still be successfully hiding."

"... we all have to support him. It doesn't matter what's in his underwear. It doesn't matter what his birth certificate says. He's Jay. He's a boy, and he's still our friend." Lloyd announced, in a tone that clearly made his words an order, instead of a request.

Sensei nodded, agreeing completely.

There wasn't much more to be done in the bridge. Zane said that they could all leave and do their own thing, and to think about Jay's story. The last part was directed at Kai, despite no names being mentioned, and he knew it.

Nya and Lloyd headed back to Lloyd's room. Sensei went to his room to meditate. Zane went back to the ninja's room to meditate as well.

 

Kai, went to the kitchen. Even though the lunch at Chen's had been very filling, he was starting to get a little bit peckish.

Last time he checked, there was a packet of ready salted crisps at the back of a cupboard. They were probably stale, but he didn't really care.

He wandered to the doorway, tired and conflicted, and almost collided with none other than Jay Walker as he went to leave the room, a bowl of pasta in one hand and a fork in the other.

The blue ninja scampered backwards, fixing Kai with a look of... fear.

Actual, fear, covered his face, as Cole stepped in front of his friend, holding his own bowl.

"C'mon Jay, let's go." He said, and lead him out of the kitchen, glaring at Kai as he walked past.

Kai watched them go. It wasn't surprising, after everything he'd said and done.

But... Jay's face. He was legitimately scared of him... and that made Kai feel like complete and utter sh*t.

Yes... he didn't understand transgender people. He didn't understand it, he thought it was weird and wrong and and something that needed to be fixed, not accepted...

But with his earlier conclusion that it couldn't be a conscious choice... along with the crushing realisation that Jay, his friend... was... afraid of him...

He really started to question himself. Maybe he was wrong. Maybe... maybe everybody else was right.

 

With a shaking fist, Kai wrenched open the cupboard and snatched the crisps from the back. He was right. They were a week or so out of date.

He opened them anyway and scarred scoffing them down, the occasional crisp escaping his teeth and scratching his throats as it went down.

He didn't care.

Kai walked back to the game room and collapsed to the floor, booting up the system again, but... was hit with a sudden lack of motivation. He stared at the starting screen, mulling things over in his head.

 

He groaned and grabbed two fistfuls of his hair.

"... you've screwed up again, Kai. You screwed up again." He whispered, and closed his eyes.

 

Jay was afraid of him.

 

He was such an awful friend.

Chapter Text

After the day full of explanations and talks was over, the night was pretty uneventful. Everybody went to bed, but, going to bed didn't mean rest.

 

Almost every single inhabitant of the bounty was cursed to a night of interrupted sleep and a constant tiredness, yet... sleep would never come.

Surprisingly enough, Jay was the first one to actually fall under, though nobody else knew. He was sleeping in the medical room again, as, he couldn't really go anywhere else at that point.

 

Zane had suggested that they talk about his sleeping arrangements the next day, considering how much had already happened. If another problem was added to the stack, the whole thing may have fallen over.

 

Jay was glad, at least.

 

Zane had been right. He didn't want to talk about anything else that night. He had a shower, then went to bed.

Although kept up by worrying thoughts for a good couple hours, Jay fell into a deep, rejuvenating rest, and didn't wake up until 11 the next morning.

 

When he did, he was greeted by light through the window. He wondered if it was going to be a nice sunny day, so wrenched himself out of bed and toddled over to the window, opening the curtains to reveal...

 

Dismal weather. Rain. Clouds. Wind. Cold.

Oh.

Trick of the light, he expected.

 

Little did he know yet - but he did guess - the weather had already set the tone for the day. Sad, moody and depressing.

After a bit of internal coaxing, Jay forced himself to get out of bed, get dressed into something and go to the bridge, where to his dismay, everybody else except Sensei were mulling about, doing their own thing.

 

Cole spotted him in the doorway and waved.

"Morning, bluebell. Sleep well?"

"Yeah, I guess. You?"

Cole shrugged, then got back to his bowl of cereal.

Zane also waved at him as he looked up from the paper, and Lloyd sent a kind smile in his direction, but Kai acted like he wasn't even there, and Nya...

Well.

Nya had looked up when he first came in, but after that, looked away, and didn't look back. It was as if she was ashamed to even look at him, and it tore his heart to shreds.

 

"... I'm gonna go get something to eat." Jay said quietly, then walked into the kitchen, feeling a million times worse than before.

As he shoved a two pieces of bread into the communal toaster, Cole entered to the kitchen as well, despite already getting his breakfast.

"... don't pay any attention to Kai. He's being a huge-" Cole began in a hushed voice, but Jay cut through with his own words.

"It's not Kai that's bothering me."

Cole was quiet for a second.

"... oh. Right."

"Look, Cole, I know that you're just being supportive but, you don't need to keep going out of your way to try and make me feel better. I don't matter that much."

Cole stepped closer and rubbed his shoulder.

"That's where you're wrong. You matter a lot."

He did go back to the table in the bridge after that, sensing that Jay wanted to be alone.

He was right.

 

He accidentally burned his slices of toast, but hardly noticed as he spread a thin layer of butter over them and ate them alone in the kitchen.

They didn't really have anything else to put on bread at that moment in time. Somebody needed to go shopping, but, the communal money jar was looking rather pitiful.

With a lack of anything else to do, Jay exited the kitchen and walked to the game room at a slow and dreary pace. He hadn't played video games for quite a while now. Maybe it would've fun. As he walked through the bridge, he noticed that Nya was gone. Probably back to her room.

His plans though, were interrupted when a certain green ninja hurried after him.

 

"Jay? Jay please wait up!" He exclaimed, then came to a stop next to him.

"... about, sleeping conditions..."

Jay's already sunken heart sank more.

 

Right. Sleeping. He couldn't just stay in the medical room forever.

 

He couldn't go back to sharing with Nya. Sleeping in the ninja's shared room would be uncomfortable and constantly tense with Kai around.

He... didn't know what to do, really.

 

"We all talked about it for a bit earlier. We would have talked with you as well but... we didn't want to wake you up." Lloyd continued.

"S'ok. Don't worry about it."

"The point I'm trying to make is... I... I think that my room would be the best option. I really don't mind sharing."

Jay was a little bit shocked at the younger male's complete selflessness and calmness about the situation. Did he really not mind sharing?

"... it's ok Lloyd. I'll just have to suck up sharing a room with Kai, it's not all that-"

"Jay. I. Don't. Mind. Sharing. In fact, it might be really nice to have a roommate who... I at least have... something partially in common with. It will be good for you too."

He nodded at that. Without actually defining it, Jay knew that he was talking about their shared... membership, of a certain community.

 

It was clear that Lloyd wasn't going to back down, so Jay gave up fighting it and just let it flow.

"... fine. If you really want me to."

He ruffled Lloyd's already messy hair.

"Thanks Lloyd. It means a lot."

Lloyd scratched his head and shrugged.

"It's not that big of a deal. You're my friend. Of course I'm gonna help you out."

Jay couldn't help but smile a little. He was like a little ray of sunshine.

"I don't mind sleeping on a mattress on the floor, if we just drag in my old one from the shared room."

"Sadly, that's probably the best we can do for you right now. I'll go get your mattress... and... maybe... you could go get your stuff. From... from Nya's room."

 

Lloyd noticed how Jay froze up almost instantly.

"... you need to talk to her at some point Jay. Better to get it over and done with."

"... I guess you're right..."

He took a deep breath, and clenched his fists.

"Alright. I'll go and see if she's in there."

He turned around to make the short journey, but Lloyd's voice called him back one last time.

"... she supports you, Jay. She really does. Deep inside... she still loves you too."

He took another deep breath, and nodded at his friend before turning around, and making his way to his girlfriend's room.

 

Though... it was more like ex-girlfriend now... wasn't it.

 

He traveled quickly and quietly across the wooden boards of the corridor floors, dreading the moment that Nya's familiar door would come into sight.

He very nearly turned back, when he did.

 

But, as painful and uncomfortable as it was, Lloyd was right. They couldn't carry on like this, just ignoring each other without talking about anything. It would be better to get the negative anticipation over with, so that both of them could look to the future.

Jay stopped outside her door, heart beating fast and erratically.

Nevertheless, he knocked his knuckles against the surface, and heard Nya's light footsteps move inside the room.

 

It was clear that she hadn't expected Jay to be at the door, as when she opened it, she gasped very openly before biting her lip, embarrassed beyond belief.

"... oh... Jay."

She sounded so disappointed, and at that moment, Jay wanted nothing more than to be able to abandon ship and leave this dreaded interaction for another day.

But he didn't.

He pressed on.

"... hey Nya. I... uh... I-I'm here for my stuff."

His voice wobbled in a couple of places and he felt like kicking himself

 

"... yeah I... I thought so." Nya replied, and stepped to the side, letting him in.

Once again, there was a huge subconscious urge to sprint down the corridor as fast as he could, but he ignored it, and went inside.

He didn't really know what else to do, other than simply take his belongings. Of course, they needed to talk as well, but, how would he instigate that?

 

Ever so luckily, Nya did it for him. She didn't build it up with small talk, she didn't start gradually, she went straight to the point. Jay was grateful for that.

 

"... You need to know that I support you. No matter what. I... you're completely valid and I won't stand for the way Kai is acting." She blurted out. Jay stopped looking through the drawers and looked to her instead.

"... and... I'm sorry."

"... sorry for what." Jay monotoned. It was hardly even a question.

"... you... you know."

He stood up and looked her in the eyes, but lost confidence and stared at her shoulder instead.

"That you'd never date a trans guy? You're allowed to do that. You don't need to apologise for your damn sexuality."

"But... Jay... you... it's not just... that."

"You've been questioning for ages and this whole ordeal has made things even more confusing for you. I know."

She took a deep breath and then continued.

"... but it's upset you... hasn't it."

He snapped.

"Of course I'm f*cking upset! I'm... Nya I'm in love with you! But that doesn't mean that you have to stay with me! We're over, and I f*cking hate that we're over but it's something I just have to face, isn't it?!" he blurted out, turning away from her to hide his newly sprouted tears, and continued lifting his clothes out of the drawer.

 

Crushing silence filled the room.

 

After a few painful moments, Nya broke it.

 

"... Jay... please... just listen to me."

He was quiet, and nodded for her to go on.

"I can't say anything for definite, but... I'm still questioning. I may come out of this realising this was all stupid because I don't care what sex you are, because I'm Bi or Pan or something. But... right now... I don't know. I... I still love you... I love you for you... your personality hasn't changed one bit and... I... I just need a bit of a break... ok? Freedom to experiment... and think about all of this... Once I realise who I am... my sexuality... I promise... you'll be the first person I tell."

 

Jay nodded again, still silent and mulling it all over.

"Basically, you're breaking up with me."

"No, Jay, I'm asking that we go on a break. It's not the same."

"It's just a fancy way of breaking up with me Nya. I don't blame you. Even if I'd kept it a secret you would've gotten sick of me eventually anyway."

 

She opened her mouth to say something else, but sighed and closed it.

"... there's no point arguing with you. You're too stubborn."

 

Hot sparks of anger flared through his system but he cooled them, forcing himself to stay calm.

 

"... being... without me... is what's best for you." he whispered, standing up and grabbing the few things that were on top of surfaces. His eyes skimmed over his little photo frame of the two of them on their first date, and considered grabbing it too, but left it in its spot. Having it with him would just make him sad.

"All... I do... is hurt people... and it's better for everybody... if I'm not in their lives." he continued, grabbing his very last thing and making his speedy way to the door, but Nya caught his wrist and pulled him in for a tight hug.

"... that's not true Jay... you know it's not true..."

 

He felt like pulling away and ignoring her but, he let himself enjoy the moment. It may have been the last intimate thing they ever did.

 

"... we're on a break... but... we're still friends... ok? I'll stand up for you... I'll support you through this... and... if you ever need anybody to talk to... I'm here." she said softly, her voice sinking into the loving tone she only ever used when they were alone together. Like melted butter, sweet and velvet. It made him feel like bursting into tears.

"... ok." he replied.

 

She seemed to hesitate for a moment, but then leaned up ever so slightly, and pressed a light kiss against his parched lips.

 

"... I'm sorry for what I've put you through... I really really am..." she whispered, finally letting go of him.

 

Jay knew that if he uttered a single word, his defences would fall and he'd break down in front of her, so he simply nodded, and turned, and left.

 

Lloyd was there when he reached his room, and as he'd said, he'd brought Jay's old mattress through. Jay thanked him and Lloyd cleared a space on half a desk for him to put his stuff, and also managed to fit his clothes into two drawers instead of three, giving the bottom drawer to Jay exclusively.

The blue ninja couldn't thank him enough, but Lloyd was satisfied with his friend's happiness alone. Though, no matter how many times he said this, Jay still felt guilty, and hated being such a burden.

 

Lloyd left to see if the game room was empty - devoid of Kai in other words - and when he didn't come back, Jay assumed that Kai wasn't to be found in there and Lloyd had settled down to play.

 

It meant that he was alone, to think on what just happened.

 

He understood Nya's struggled, and she seemed to understand his. They were at least on the same page, and... there was maybe a chance that they would get back together at some point... but...

 

Why...

 

Why why why did she have to kiss him?

 

If she understood the pure turmoil going on inside his head, why? If she understood how his heart was shattering and breaking and burning, why? If she understood that any reminder of what they once were, of what they may never be again made him slowly go mad with desperation... then...

 

... why?

 

He didn't know.

 

All he could think of at that moment was the way she leaned up, and fluttered her lashes shut and the way her soft, supple lips felt against his own. Maybe she thought it was a nice thing to do. Maybe she thought that it was a nice way to start the break.

 

 

But oh how he hated her for it.

 

 

Because all it had done, was make him lover her more, when loving her from this point onward...

 

 

... would bring. Nothing. But. Pain.

Chapter Text

Jay woke with a start when Nya abruptly banged on the door, her fist full of fear and desperation.

"There's been an attack! At the shopping centre in Ninjago City! They need our help!"

She turned and darted down the hall, heading straight to the other boy's room, undoubtedly to wake them up as well.

Jay was awake in an instant, springing over to the drawer Lloyd had cleared for him and snatched his blue ninja suit from where it lay at the side, starting to change straight away.

He briefly realised that he'd slept in his binder, and suffered a quick pang of regret, before brushing it away and continuing to get ready as quickly as he could.

Lloyd took a little longer to get awake and get his suit, but soon enough, both of them were rushing down the corridor to the bridge, where they met Sensei and... nobody else.

Wu was already steering the Bounty into the city, as close to the mall as they could get without crashing into another building.

As they flew, Lloyd tried tounderstand the situation as best he could.

"What the hell happened?! What's going on?!" Lloyd exclaimed as soon as he entered the room, and rushed over to Sensei, desperate for answers.

"We got a message from the Police Department asking for help, Nya went to get you straight away!" Their mentor replied, clearly very panicked and worried.

Lloyd and he exchanged a few more words, about the attack at the mall being the work of armed terrorists, and that the attack started soon after an LGBTQ+ Pride event took place inside the centre.

The pieces slowly fitted together, and... Jay spoke for the first time that morning.

"... It's Dei Noctis... isn't it." He stated, with utmost certainty.

Sensei Wu turned around to look at him, meeting his eyes and settling into a regretful expression.

"... yes." He answered, before turning back around a focussing on the flight.

Nya and Zane came through next, then Cole after a couple minutes. All of them asked pretty much the same questions except Nya, who knew what was going on already.

Finally, after what must have been about ten minutes - three minutes after they had landed the Bounty near the site in question - Kai rushed into the Bridge, in his suit and ready for combat.

"What the f*ck took you so long?!" Lloyd near shouted, and waved for all of them to follow him off the ship, and in the direction of the mall.

They communicated as they ran, and it was hardly a nice interaction.

"I didn't know where my suit was, ok?" Kai huffed, pulling his hood up over his face and sprinting as fast as he could.

"You should've come out without it then! Everybody knows who you are, and it's not like they give us much protection anyway! People's lives are at stake here!"

"You could've left without me!"

"Going into this situation without all of the team is bloody dangerous!"

The bickering carried on for a little while, until Nya shut them all up.

"Be quiet, for god's sake! We don't have time for arguing now!"

She was right. The shopping centre was coming up soon, and they ideally needed to have the element of surprise. Shouting at each other and being loud would give them away in an instant.

Jay noticed something as he was running. When they were in the midst of their Ninja careers, he was hardly the fastest runner. He was fast but, Cole and Kai could both beat him in a sprint.

Now - despite the constant pain of his binder around his chest - he was actually drawing ahead of the group, who were all running as fast as they could. He was having to slow himself down to stay at their pace.

On top of that, they were all gradually decelerating, their endurances all failing them slowly.

It was extremely worrying. All five of them, exhausted before the undoubted fight even started.

What the hell was going on?

 

At last, the group reached the police cars outside, and joined the police officers who were entering the building, hoping to take out the terrorists and save the people inside. The terrorists had blockaded all entrances with rubble, setting off small bombs to create piles that made what once was a mall into a fortress. The police hadn't had any luck at all, so, the Ninja had been called in.

Instead of the conventional way, trying to dig through the front and side entrances, with a small bit of effort, they scaled the building, dropping in through a large vent and entering the third floor, all falling silent in synchronisation.

The entire mall, was silent, and seemingly desolate.

Shop windows had been broken in, and consequently, shards of glass were scattered across the smooth concrete ground, and a large number of incredibly racist things had been spray painted on the walls.

After a bit more observation, looking around, they were more than racist.

Transphobic, Homophobic, Ableist... it went on. It made many of them sick to the stomach.

Without even having to communicate, they all agreed that finding the perpetrators first without being uncovered would be the best way to go, so tried their absolute hardest to stay light on their feet and silent as they crept across the floor, staying close to the ground and next to walls as much as they could.

The shattered glass made it very hard though, as a single wrong step meant that a sickening crunch of a piece breaking would fill the air.

There were two occasions in which somebody did step on glass, once with Kai and once with Lloyd. Both times, the whole group froze in place, waiting in anticipation for a dozen assailants to fly out of nowhere and attack them, but they didn't.

It really did seem that the place was empty.

Until, there was an outbreak of gunshots on the second floor.

 

They realised that the time for silence and sneak was over, and rushed towards one of the escalators - which weren't running - and sped down it.

The scene they came upon was horrible.

There was blood all over the place, hostages tied up and thrown to the glass-covered ground, motionless bodies of a few lying around and... a group of maybe fifteen men and women - some with knives, some with guns - standing in the centre, undoubtedly the terrorists they were looking for.

There was only a split second to think before they would notice them and attack, and Jay hyper-focused on this moment, eyes darting from enemy to enemy, evaluating which ones to take out first.

The ones with guns obviously, but which one to start with? The one with the automatic machine gun most definitely.

He just hoped that he and his friends would survive this. Surprisingly, they had never commonly fought anybody who used guns.

Their lives were in danger here.

There was every possibility that one of them could die.

That all of them could die.

 

But they couldn't give up, not when there were lives to save.

 

Before any of the terrorists could react, Jay sprung into action, sending a powerful arc of electricity sparking over to the one clutching a sub machine gun.

He tensed up and screamed with pain, before crumpling onto the ground.

All six Ninja dispersed, darting towards their targets with years of practice and skill.

Jay rolled forward to avoid a spray of bullets, catching somebody in the legs and knocking them over, jumping back to his feet and jabbing another in the throat, winding them and then kicking them in the stomach.

Left, right, up, down, all around. It was turning out to be a lot easier than he thought it would be.

A bullet grazed past his ear but missed him, he picked up an abandoned metal pipe off the ground and sent it spinning at a fifth attacker, hitting her square in the forehead and knocking her over too.

Adrenaline pumped through his system, as he moved and evaded and attacked with ease and success.

Back in combat, doing the right thing, it felt good.

Jay felt alive again, and as he jumped on a fifth opponent, making his whole body live and giving the man a huge shock... he stopped for a second and turned to see how his friends were doing.

He expected them to be doing well.

After all, he had taken out six of the fifteen himself, leaving the others to deal with nine between all five them...

But the scene he saw was far from that.

Kai was on the ground, three bullet wounds in his arm gushing blood, and Zane crouched over him, having created a blockade of ice to protect the two of them, and fought a ranged fight against a particular assailant who owned throwing knifes, returning his own attacks with quickly made ice blades.

Cole was engaged in unsuccessful combat with 2 different men wielding knives, and had a nasty bleeding gash across his right shoulder and left leg.

Nya was doing the best out of them. She had been able to pull water directly from the pipes of a nearby water fountain, and had managed to take out three, blasting a fourth in the face, forcing her to drop her pistol in shock.

Lloyd was trying his hardest to back up Cole, and the remaining two terrorists were moving towards Jay, warily after seeing that he was clearly the most dangerous of the group.

Jay was horrified, scared to see his team reduced to something so pathetic in under a minute, but moved quickly once more to help Zane and Kai, tackling the attacker with throwing knives and sending her under with a hard punch to the head, he then shot his second arc of lightning at one of the two attacking Cole and Lloyd, taking him out.

Lloyd yelled a thanks, but Jay had no time to respond, instead turning to the two on his tail.

Electricity charged him his arm, and he rolled forward, dodged a swipe from a knife, grabbed hold of one's arm and electrocuted him.

He noticed in the corner of his eye that Lloyd and Cole managed to take out their person.

Spurred on by their win being so close, he ran forwards, tackling the final one and slamming them to the floor, grabbing their collar and staring into their disturbingly joyful eyes.

"This is over! We've beaten you!" He yelled, clearly looking for some sort of surrender, but... all the man under him did was grin, in the most disturbing and spine-chilling way.

"... oh... dear Ninja... how wrong you are..." he chuckled.

Jay's intuition sensed something wrong, and he was about to say something else...

But the terrorist started maniacally laughing, distracting Jay enough to lift a detonator out of his pocket and slam his thumb down on the button, without the blue Ninja being able to stop him.

"SH*T!" Jay yelled, slapping the detonator out of his hand, but it was too late. The deed had been done.

"DEI NOCTIS IS COMING!" The man screamed hysterically, his eyes rolling back into his head - revealing the whites - and he laughed more, "IT IS COMING, AND WHEN IT COMES, THE WORLD WILL BE PURGED OF SINNERS!"

"What the f*ck do you mean?!" Jay ordered, grabbing his collar once more, but the man seemed to be in a state of intoxication, and hardly noticed.

"Answer me god damnit!" He yelled, desperate now, his heartbeat filling his head, knowing full well an explosion was going to go off at any second in any place, but he had to know, he needed to know what Dei Noctis really was.

He had an awful gut feeling, that it was much much worse than a cult's fictional creation, become real in their heads.

All of a sudden, the man clutched onto Jay's wrists, with a strength he didn't expect, and fixed him with an eye-to-eye stare that chilled him to the bone.

"DID YOU REALLY THINK WE KEPT THE HOSTAGES IN HERE?! THAT THERE WERE ONLY TEN OF THEM?!"

Jay quickly looked around, and indeed, there were only ten people tied up. He should have noticed. God, why didn't he notice that?

 

They'd been played. The team had been played. The gunshots were to lead them there.

 

"THEY'RE ALL DOWN ON THE FIRST FLOOR, AT THE BACK! READY TO BE SACRIFICED TO OUR GOD! THE SICK WILL BE KILLED, KILLED FOR GOING AGAINST NATURE, AGAINST DEI NOCTIS! YOU'LL BE NEXT, NINJA!"

His hands squeezed tighter and tighter, and Jay was unable to wrench his wrists free, but all of a sudden, the man collapsed, unconscious, and of course, let go.

 

There was silence for a second, as they all took in what they had heard...

Then Jay jumped to his feet, and bolted over to one of the escalators leading to the first floor.

"JAY, NO! YOU'LL BE KILLED!" Somebody screamed after him, but he didn't catch who, and didn't listen either.

There was a chance that he'd get to the bomb, perhaps be able to disable it, overload it with his electricity, at very least get some of the poor hostages out to safety before it went off.

Who cares if he died?

He could save lives, he had to try at least, he had to save somebody.

That was why they were there.

To save people.

 

Jay reached the bottom of the escalator, hearing somebody else enter the top of it to follow him and stop him, but he payed no attention.

At the bottom, he could see the people, sitting around at the opposite end of the floor, tied up, unable to move.

He saw no bomb in site, but knew there was one there, and knew that it would be placed in a way to kill every single one of them.

The only thought in his mind at that moment was to save them, get to them and save them.

He sprinted faster than he ever had before, feeling like the very lightning he created as he ran.

"JAY!" His follower shrieked, desperate for him to stop, but he didn't, he ran and ran and ran and ran.

Faster, he had to be faster.

His feet his the floor over and over again, gaining distance, getting closer.

Closer.

Faster.

Save them.

He had to.

Some of the hostages looked up as saw him, called for help, called for him to get to them, untie them, get them out of here.

He knew time was running out but he pressed on, sprinting.

He had to save them.

 

They were innocent.

They didn't deserve to die.

Faster.

Closer.

Quicker.

 

Faster and faster and closer and time seemed to slow down and the length of the building seemed to increase and they got further but he still pressed on, running with all of his strength and energy...

 

"JAY! TURN AROUND! JAY YOU'LL GET CAUGHT IN IT!" The follower screamed again, and for the first time Jay used part of his breath to respond.

 

"NO! I WONT GIVE UP LIKE-"

 

 

Boom.

 

 

Just as he reached the halfway point, and as he was about to reply to his friend, the bomb went off, sending a rippling shockwave throughout the mall, unsettling ceilings and walls alike.

 

Rubble flew outward in every direction, like jagged bullets and crushing sledgehammers that sought to hurt.

 

 

 

The last thing Jay remembered before he blacked out, were the hostages, just as they were smothered with the debris... screaming for help.

A second after, he was smothered too.

 

That was it. The concrete and rubble and debris was going to kill them... and kill him.

He wasn't fast enough.

 

He should have been faster.

Chapter Text

The sheer force of the explosion blew Cole backwards a few feet, and for a number of seconds, he was completely incapacitated.

Ears ringing so loudly he couldn't even hear his own breathing, no energy to get himself up, and the weight of what had just happened bore him down, dragging his morale and conscience deep into the depths of despair...

But then...

 

He remembered Jay.

 

Jay, who hadn't wasted a single second.
Jay, who had sprung into action immediately.
Jay, who had saved all their skins.
Jay, who they could all be dead without.
Jay, who launched himself in the direction of those in trouble.
Jay, who acted selflessly.
Jay, who risked his life.

 

Jay, who was currently buried under rubble... possibly already dead.

"... J-J... Jay!"

Cole managed to collect enough energy to drag himself off the glass and rubble covered floor, limping as quickly as he could over to the blast radius.

A piece of debris had shot past him during the event, and tore a huge gash in his leg. He payed no mind to it, no matter how much it hurt. He hit his head pretty badly too, as he came to the ground after the blast.

"... JAY!" He screamed, begging for some sort of answer to come out of the wasteland in front of him, but there was nothing.

Everything was swaying, and blowing itself out of proportion, but he couldn't give up.

With immense effort, Cole used his elemental powers to shift a large section of concrete out of the way. He was ever so grateful at that moment that he had been blessed with this specific ability, because without it, uncovering even a sign of Jay's location would be near impossible.

More shifting, more calling. He started to hear the other Ninja making their way downstairs, to where the main blast had been.

 

Again and again he moved the rocks, trying his hardest to remember Jay's position as it went off, but nothing was functioning right in his head.

 

Once more, and again, and another...

He seemed to be getting nowhere, and started clawing at the mess with his battered hands, unable to muster any more elemental strength.

Everything swayed... and he felt woozy... and pointless, and as if he had failed...

 

But with one final movement, a specific flat of rock fell away, revealing a snippet of electric blue material.

... could it, really be?

 

Cole slapped himself, waking himself up and refusing to fall under. Not now. Not now that he was so close.

 

Brick by brick, dust and grime, more blue came to light, and eventually, Jay's figure was recognisable.

 

Cole could have cried in relief, grabbing his friend under his shoulders and pulling him out of the rubble. Zane was the first to reach downstairs, and rushed over to help straight away.

"Cole! Thank god you are ok! What about Jay? Is he breathing?"

Cole couldn't do more than shrug, and once Jay was safely out of danger, lying on the floor, clearly still alive... he finally let his unconsciousness get the better of him, and passed out.

Zane caught him before he hit the ground with an unpleasant thump, and laid him down to rest as well.

Nya was next, and close behind her were Lloyd and Kai. Lloyd was helping him along, an action that was very much needed, as he had been wounded pretty badly. The gunshot holes bled openly, dying his red-suit dark crimson.

"O-Oh god... did they get caught in it?!" Nya exclaimed, kneeling next to the unconscious boys and testing both their pulses.

"Jay did, but Cole managed to get him out."

"... thank god..." she uttered.

Lloyd let Kai down to the ground, so he could stop putting so much strain on himself.

"... what the f*ck... happened?" He groaned, clearly a little bit out of it due to the blood loss, and the pain.

Nobody payed attention to his question. There would be a time for answering it, but now was not the case.

"... the other people..." Nya whispered, then jerked her head around to meet Zane's equally horrified stare.

"... the... the other hostages! They were right in the middle! What do we do?!"

As if the gods themselves had been listening to their despair, the police managed to get through the rubble piled at each entrance, and swarmed into the building in their tens.

They were undoubtedly a lot better equipped to deal with an explosion, and lives to save, than a group of Ninja. Their specialty was fighting.

Nya and Zane were perfectly capable to help the search, so once Cole and Jay had been carried out on stretchers and sent to the nearest hospital, they started helping as best they could.

Kai was also lead out by a police officer, told to wait outside for another set of medical staff to arrive to treat him and take him to hospital.

However, Kai had different plans.

Sure, his arm was full of holes. Bullets were still deep inside his flesh, and the quick tourniquet Nya had tied was helping the blood flow, while it couldn't stop it... but... that didn't make him useless.

He didn't wait outside. He went to another edge of the building and went right back in, making his way over to an unmanned pile of rubble, and beginning to dig. Nobody nearby noticed him, as everybody else was so focussed on the rescue mission.

He was a lot slower than he would usually be, since one of his arms was arms was hardly useable. Despite this, he didn't give up.

Digging, picking rocks up and throwing them to the side, creating a little path through the rubble no matter how slow his rate was.

Kai was beginning to think that he'd chosen an empty location, and after all, the rubble extended for metres past where the hostages actually were.

"... come... on..." He gritted his teeth, feeling himself overheat and start to stress out, "... come... on...!"

Sharp and jagged edges made his hand sore and heavily scratched, and he was losing strength... but... finally there was some hope in the dark.

A hand. A bloody, battered hand yes but... a hand.

He felt his strength return, lifting away rocks more carefully now, so not to hurt whoever was in there.

"F*ck... f*ck f*ck f*ck..." he swore.

It was soon clear that it was a person of at least male anatomy, wearing a pride shirt and, Kai also uncovered a pride flag very near his body.

The back of his mind called for him to say something, display how much it displeased him.

 

Instead, he told that part to bugger off.

No matter how much he may have disagreed, nobody deserved to die, suffocated and crushed under the weight of a building.

So he pressed on, and was finally able to pull the person away from the concealing rocks, away from the danger, into the light...

... and as soon as Kai saw his face... he froze up.

 

He knew him.

 

He... knew him.

 

... there was... no way... that he was...

 

He...

 

Kai gritted his teeth and scanned the guy's body, looking for wounds.

There was a particularly nasty puncture mark in his side, and endless scratches adorned his face and arms.

He needed medical help straight away, or else he'd bleed out.

 

"... hEY! OVER HERE! I FOUND SOMEONE!" Kai yelled over at the nearest police officers, who rushed towards him, and luckily by this point, more medical staff with stretchers had arrived.

They took him and rushed him off to get help, and once one of the officers saw the state of Kai, ordered another one inside to take him too.

 

Kai wasn't very pleased about that, but didn't argue, weighed down by the realisation of who the guy was... of everything that had transpired that day.

 

He eventually got to the hospital, and was given anaesthetic, falling under and mutually joining Jay and Cole in the world of the unconscious.

 

 

With Zane and Nya's help, many of the hostages were saved that day, but... there were also many casualties.

Some people weren't found soon enough, and by nightfall, many of the bodies still hadn't been uncovered.

At least something positive came out of the awful, traumatic experience.

 

Nobody - the police and the Ninja included - could ignore the threat of Dei Noctis any longer.

They were an incredibly dangerous, ruthless, disgusting group of terrorists, who had now made it clear that they would do everything they could, to wipe what they hated off the face of the earth.

 

The good side of the fight, could only hope, that they weren't already too late to stop them.

Chapter Text

Jay shot into a sitting position as soon as he entered wakefulness, and right on queue, a couple of nurses dashed over to him, forcing him to lie back down despite his determination to get up.

"Where am I?! Where are my friends?! Are they ok?!" He exclaimed, clenching his fists, still trying to get up. Luckily for the nurses, he was still in a weak state, and was unable to do much against them.

"Sir, please calm down. You're in the hospital, your friends are fine, they'll be in to see you soon." one of the nurses spoke, staying calm.

After her words, Jay settled down a bit, but was still on edge.

"... the... the people... in the building..."

"It's best we don't talk about that right now. What's important right now is that we make sure you're ok."

"I'm fine, I'm completely fine just..."

"Just lay down, and stay calm, ok? Everything is alright."

He gritted his teeth and let his head fall back onto the pillow.

"... fine."

"Thank you. You're mildly injured, so you'll have to stay here for a few days. After that you'll be free to leave."

He didn't reply, and after the women were sure that he was stable and not a second away from throwing himself out of bed, they left.

It was maybe half an hour until he got a visitor.

He pretty much spent the entire time brooding, thinking over his fuzzy recollection of the events at the mall. He felt... awful. A complete failure.

He... didn't save anybody. And almost got himself killed in the process.

Embarrassment filled him up to his core, and he started feeling quite sick with guilt and regret. When somebody finally came around, he almost didn't notice them.

But luckily, movement at the foot of Jay's bed alerted him.

A familiar blonde came into view. Lloyd very briefly smiled at him, pulling aside the curtain that gave him privacy, and stepped into the space.

"Hey Jay. How are you feeling?" He asked. Jay looked away, refusing to meet his eyes.

"... not great."

The green ninja took a seat next to his bed.

"You were hurt pretty bad. Nothing too serious, but... you gave us a scare."

"Mmmmh."

"... we were afraid you might not make it, all that rubble you were under..."

Jay didn't even reply with a noise this time.

Lloyd sighed, and rubbed his eyes. He clearly hadn't slept in a while, judging by the dark bags under his eyes.

"... are you upset with me about something?"

"What? No...?" Jay replied, finally looking at him.

"... then why the silent treatment?"

Jay was quiet for a second, thinking of how he could put his emotions into words.

"... I... I'm not upset with you... I'm upset with myself..."

"About not getting to them in time? Jay, you were incredibly brave. You ran directly towards a god damn bomb to save people, for heaven's sake. It's not your fault it went off before you got to them."

He looked down, embarrassed and ashamed.

"... I should have been faster."

"Jay... I know that you struggle with self blame and stuff... but... saying it's your fault that you didn't reach them is slightly ridiculous."

He didn't have the energy to argue, so shrugged and left it at that.

Lloyd got the hint, and changed the subject.

"I'm sorry I didn't come and see you earlier. The police were asking some questions. Sensei is gonna come in a bit as well, and Zane too, but other than that, I wouldn't expect the others if I were you."

"How come?"

"Well... Nya's staying with Kai for now. They removed the bullets from his arm, but he won't be able to use it for a while. Cole's still asleep. He hit his head pretty bad. Still managed to pull you out of the rubble though."

Jay hugged himself over the duvet, biting his lip.

"... he was the one who ran after me, wasn't he. That's why he got hurt."

"Yeah. But you can't blame that on yourself either. He decided to make the risk, not you."

Lloyd knew that despite his words, Jay was doing the complete opposite and blaming himself already. There really wasn't much he could do about it.

"Sensei called your parents. They may take a little while to get here from the desert, but they're coming to see you."

He visibly brightened up a bit at that, but still didn't say anything.

"Look. I'm gonna go see how Cole's doing. Do you want me to come and see you again in a bit?"

Jay shrugged.

"Do whatever you want. I don't care."

"Jay, I can tell that you do care. Please, do you want me to come and visit again or not?"

Jay huffed, but then nodded.

"There we go." Lloyd stood up triumphantly, "I'll try to bring you something to eat but it might be little more than crappy hospital snacks. I'll see you in a bit."

He walked out, giving his friend a wave, then leaving Jay alone with his thoughts once again.

 

It was insanely boring, alone in that room. Nothing to do, nobody to talk to, and god knew how long he would have to lay there, solitary and silent.

Sighing deeply, Jay settled into the covers and tried to sleep to pass the time.

But his rushing mind kept him wide awake.

—-

Kai and Nya didn't talk much. She stayed with him, and answered the occasional question he had, but other than that, he lay and thought and she sat and pondered.

The events they'd been through were certainly jarring, building up a lot of emotional shock and upset. Nya was trying her best to keep her mind away from the subject, while Kai could think of nothing else.

Finally, he spoke, building the courage to say what he'd wanted to say for a while.

"... Nya?"

"Hmm?"

"... can... can I ask you to do something for me?"

She looked at him instead of the wall she was staring at.

"... depends what it is."

Kai shuffled into a more comfortable sitting position, and refused to meet her inquisitive hazelnut eyes.

"... there was somebody in the rubble. Somebody I managed to pull out."

"... you pulled somebody out? Kai you should have gone straight to the hospital!"

"I know I know but, I didn't want to be useless!"

She left it at that.

"Anyway... the person I pulled out. I need to know if he's ok."

"... why?"

"... I just, I need to ok? Can you please go and look for him?"

"Kai I don't even know who this guy is."

"... he has brown hair. Wearing a gay pride t-shirt or something. About my height."

"Kai, many people there had brown hair and pride t-shirts, and it's likely their clothes got replaced by hospital ones."

"... Nya-"

"Kai there's no way for me to find this guy."

"Nya please-"

"Going to look would be pointless-"

"Nya! You'll recognise him!"

There was silence in the room for a couple of moments, and Kai started fiddling with his thumbs nervously.

Nya was quiet, then whispered a small 'oh' as she realised her mistake.

"... so... please... go check. I'd do it myself but I'm not allowed to get out of bed."

She nodded, then patted his arm.

"I'll be as quick as I can."

"Thank you."

He watched her leave the room, and then lay back into the pillows. He couldn't keep his mind away from the guy he uncovered. He needed to know.

———

When his sister walked back into the room, Kai was alert immediately.

"... so? Is he ok? Did you even find him?"

Nya was quiet for a few seconds, before giving him a small smile and a nod.

"Yeah. He got off pretty easy to be honest. His side didn't look to good but the most he'll come away with is a scar."

She sat back down next to him, as he relaxed deep into the sheets.

"... was there a reason you wanted to know so badly?" She asked, clearly quite curious.

"No. I just... I haven't seen him for so long and, pulling him out was a right shock. Maybe it was because I saved him personally." Kai replies, trying to explain as best he could.

Nya nodded, not saying anything but clearly not quite convinced.

He closed his eyes and sighed, deciding to have a nap without needing to tell her.

 

She studied his peaceful, resting face in detail. It looked pretty damn neutral, calm, tranquil almost.

So unsuspicious that suspicions couldn't help but arise.

Kai was hiding something. She was his sister and grew up with him, and while maybe he could fool other people, Nya had a knack of knowing when he had a secret. Something he was keeping from those closest to him.

The problem was, she had absolutely no idea what he could be hiding, or how to uncover it. The red ninja had pretty thick skin, and a temper to be reckoned with. The last thing she wanted was to be on the receiving end of an outburst.

 

Perhaps she was just a bit paranoid, and Kai's worries for the boy had been nothing but a rescuer's feelings. Worry for somebody that he used to know, or who at least owned a familiar face.

Perhaps Kai wasn't hiding anything at all.

 

Perhaps.

Chapter Text

Lloyd was true to his word. As he'd promised, he went back to Jay's bed as soon as he could get the time to.

He sat down, apologised for the few hours wait and kept him company for a good twenty minutes or so.

Jay was slightly difficult to work with, as he had been earlier, but Lloyd was determined and stuck at it, keeping a positive attitude despite his friend's moody and depressed state. A smile and some kind words could go very far, if you delivered them well.

Then again, at times, some just refused to cheer up.

At that moment, Jay was one of those people.

No matter how upbeat Lloyd stayed, talking about the good things - how many people were saved from the rubble and recovering well, how all the terrorists in question had all been arrested and were going to be harshly trialed - the same upset expression stayed steady on his face.

 

He never would have admitted it, but, Lloyd had started to give up. It was a stroke of luck when two more visitors arrived for Jay, bursting through the curtains and making their presences immediately clear.

"Awwww Jay! We're so glad you're alright!" Edna practically shrieked at her son, rushing over to him and giving him a tight hug. Ed followed suit, with similar words of his own to share.

Lloyd was slightly taken-aback, but upon seeing the first smile to bless Jay's face that day, he felt warmer and happier, glad to see that the blue ninja still had his joyful spark.

"We were so worried! When we got the call from Sensei Wu we headed here straight away!" Ed called, ruffling Jay's hair and messing it up more than it already was. He scratched the back of his neck sheepishly.

"I'm ok dad... I really am... promise."

Lloyd got to his feet.

"I'll leave you three be. I'll come check on you in an hour or so, yeah?" He asked.

"Oh, uhm, yeah...? Thanks... Lloyd."

"No problem Jay. I'm just glad to see you happy again."

He left after that, and went to go and find Sensei Wu. Lloyd may have not been injured, but he certainly didn't want to be lonely. Maybe a chat with Sensei would do him some good.

—-

Back in Jay's small area, his parents took seats, but not before Edna had showered him with kisses. Had they not been alone, he would have died from embarrassment.

"Goodness me... can you tell us what happened? Or is it top secret ninja business?" Ed questioned, clearly eager to know.

Jay shook his head.

"It's not secret. It's probably gonna be all over the news to be honest. Uhm... have you heard of Dei Noctis?"

He was momentarily surprised when they both nodded their heads, clear distain in their opinions.

"A couple of them turned up at the junkyard a couple weeks ago. Said they wanted to educate us on their faith so... we listened."

"Yeah, we thought it was just some regular religion at first, but the moment they mentioned some ridiculous stuff about trans people being sinners, we kicked them off our property!"

Edna crossed her arms.

"Nasty pieces of work. I'll never listen to anybody who thinks that my son is evil just for being who he is, or whatever they seem to think."

Jay flashed with pride when she used the word son. It was funny. After so many years of being accepted, he still felt giddy with happiness whenever it was made clear.

"... yeah, well, they attacked the mall in the centre. Took a bunch of hostages and blockaded the place. We managed to get in, but, they set off an explosion and I got... caught in the rubble. I'm fine though, as you can see. Cole got me out pretty quick."

"Aww Jay... gosh, I don't know what to say..."

He looked away, and bit his lip. There was something else he needed to tell them. A few things, to be honest.

"... uhm, Mum? Dad? I... I need to say a couple things. So... if you could just listen... I'd appreciate that." He requested, sheepishly and getting nervous already.

They both realised that whatever he was going to say, was going to be serious. Really serious, so nodded instead of agreeing, already beginning their period of silence for him.

"... I... you know how I've been... I don't know how to say it. Maybe it would be better to just... come out with it outright." He breathed, staring down at his hospital sheets, "... the others... they... they found out. They found out that I'm trans. Most of them have been okay with it but... things have changed already... and Kai especially-"

Edna couldn't help herself.

"Kai? Is Kai being mean to you? Do you want me to go give him a piece of my mind?"

"... n-no! No I, I think that would just make things worse! I, appreciate the gesture but, please don't...!"

"Awww okay Jay, but tell me if he does anything bad alright? I'll give him a good whack for you."

Covering his mouth, Jay couldn't help but laugh a little bit. The image of his mum slapping Kai was not only hilarious to think about, but also something that she would definitely do.

"... what about Nya?"

"Huh?"

"Nya. How did she take it?"

"... oh... uhm... I guess... she's supporting me but... the best way to put it would probably be... we're on a break now. She... doesn't know if she wants to carry on the relationship. Now that she knows."

"... Jay... Nya's a lovely young lady, and I'm sure she'll come around, but, if she doesn't, I want you to know that she's the one missing out. There are plenty of nice girls out there who would love to be in her position."

Ed leaned over and grinned.

"Or boys!" He added.

"Ooh yes! Or boys!"

Having supportive parents was honestly one of the best feelings on Earth.

"Thanks... it means a lot... but, back to what I need to say. They all know, so, yeah. You don't really need to try and keep it a secret from them either now. Just... don't do anything that means the public could find out. I'll be screwed if that happens."

"Our mouths are shut sweetie, don't you worry."

"... aside from that. I... you know how... my depression was getting better?"

A solemness filled the room.

"... I think it's getting worse again. I might need to go back on meds... but... I don't want you to pay for them. I'll find a way to do it for myself, I... just thought you'd want to know."

Silence followed his words, but Ed was the one who spoke up this time.

"... Jay... you haven't had any thoughts of doing... that... again... have you?"

Jay's whole body tensed up at the memory.

"... no! Oh god no, dad, I could never do that again, never... I could never..."

He fixed them both with a sad look, and Edna reached it to hold his hand.

"... I could never do that to you again."

Ed patted his shoulder.

"Alright. I was just making sure."

"Yeah, it's ok."

With all the seriousness over and done with, Edna very easily carried the conversation on for a while, jumping from topic to topic with ease. Her extroverted personality never ceases to amaze her much less extroverted son.

Ed didn't contribute as much, but certainly talked.

 

When Lloyd came back in to check, he and Jay were in the middle of an energetic discussion about engineering and mechanics, and didn't even notice the green ninja move the curtain. After a couple seconds, Lloyd decided to leave them happily at it.

 

Jay's parents eventually had to gather their stuff and go. They needed to leave with plenty of time to get back home before dark, and Jay understood that.

Edna showered him with kisses once more, and they both hugged him for about five minutes before Jay finally convinced them to get going before night came around.

He also had to once again convince Edna to not visit Kai's room on her way out, but he managed it. She promised that she'd just head straight out of the building, but also said that if she saw Kai around, she may not be able to stop herself from scowling. Jay said that if she only scowled, that was ok.

 

Their visit couldn't really be described as long, but, it wasn't short either.

His mum's erratic talking had actually tired him out, and as he settled down for a much anticipated sleep, he actually felt... happy. Properly happy.

Also, proud of himself. He didn't once get annoyed or irritated by their behaviour, and, was grateful for that fact.

 

They were two incredibly supportive and loving parents, and he'd never replace them for the world. He was lucky to have them. So damn lucky.

 

He loved them a lot, and... it felt amazing to truly believe, that they both loved him too.

 

Maybe life wasn't going all bad after all.

Chapter Text

A few more extremely uneventful and boring days passed in the hospital, and there was not a single ninja who didn't crave freedom from its clean white walls, and the constant chemical smell of anti-bacterial wash.

Ninjago City's hospital wasn't exactly a horrible place. They'd all visited on many occasions to brighten up a kid's day or help with some fundraiser, but after being confined to it for so long... it was starting to get unbearable.

Bland, loud, and frustrating.

Lloyd, Nya, Zane and Sensei were suffering a lot less than the injured, for obvious reasons. At least they could wander the building as much as they wanted, they were even free to leave. The only reason they stayed was for their friends.

Cole has only woken up a day ago at this point, and felt extremely disorientated and grotty.

Kai was tired of being practically bed bound despite only his arm being injured, and Jay even more so, considering he got away with a few superficial scratches, nothing more.

So, when they were given clearance to finally be able to leave, they were all relieved beyond anything else. The news of their discharge was the best they'd had for a long time.

 

They met in one of the main corridors, on the floor their beds all happened to be on. Sensei was already back at the Bounty, so there would only be six of them leaving the hospital together.

Cole gave Jay a rib crushing hug as soon as he came into view, and sternly told him off.

"Don't you DARE ever do that to me again Jay Walker! You almost gave me a damn heart attack!" He exclaimed, wagging a finger at his friend, who started to look sheepish.

Cole hardly ever used people's full names, and when he did, he meant business.

"... I'm sorry..."

"Yeah, you'd better be! You ran towards a f*cking explosion Jay! You could have died!"

Jay moved his eyes away, starting to feel really guilty. Not because he put himself in danger, but because Cole followed him into it, and got hurt.

"... we care about you... you know... you're our friend... no matter what. We don't want to lose you. So... please, don't do that again."

He bit his lip and nodded, clenching his fists at his side.

"... Jay?"

"Mmm?"

"Come on. You gotta promise."

"Mmm. I promise."

Cole raised his eyebrows, and with a little smile, offered up his pinkie.

"... pinkie promise?"

Jay couldn't help it. He broke into a bright smile as well, remembering their pinkie promise from about a week ago fondly. He obliged, and finally, it seemed that Cole was satisfied. He turned around to the rest of the group.

"... damnit, we're all here but Kai. Do you know where he is, Nya?"

"No idea. I turned around to tell him it was time to go and he just... wasn't there. That's a ninja for you."

Jay sighed and looked down at the floor.

"We're all bloody sick of this place and he knows that."

It was clear that the whole group was pretty annoyed with the red ninja, and even Zane - who was normally extremely polite - muttered 'a*shole' under his breath.

Lloyd heard him and very near choked on the bad quality donut he bought from the hospital's snack shop.

"... if he isn't here in ten minutes, we're leaving without him. Agreed?" Cole suggested. Nobody had any objections.

 

One minute passed. Another, then another. No sign of their final member. Just as the ten minutes were about to be up, Kai's familiar mop of messy hair came into view down the corridor, and he hurried over to them.

His hair was as untidy as usual, but had considerably less spike in it. The hospital didn't exactly offer up free hair gel for its patients.

"Jeez Kai, what the hell were you doing? We were just about to leave without you!" Nya questioned as he joined the group. Kai was immediately dismissive.

"I just needed to check a couple of things. Nothing important." He replied, looking straight forward as they all entered an elevator that was heading down to the ground floor. Luckily, it was empty.

"Feel like being a bit more punctual in the future?" Jay chimed in, the irritation in his voice very clear. Usually, he'd be a bit wary of Kai. Scared of him even, considering recent events.

But at that moment, he was nothing but tired, agitated and downright angry with him. Fear threw itself out of the window.

Kai fixed him with a distasteful look.

"... keep your mouth shut." He spat, grimacing.

"... oh, I know what this is."

Something snapped in him. His life was spiralling out of control, his friends all knew his deepest secret, the world hated him for simply existing and his mental health was taking a huge turn for the worst.

If some closed-minded idiot was gonna be a prick, then he'd better expect a bloody reaction.

"Because I'm trans, I don't have the right to tell you that you wasted our f*cking time? Right. That makes sense. What do you want, a round of applause? A prize for this genius deduction?"

"No, I want you to leave me the f*ck alone."

"Sounds more like you don't like being told off by a trans guy."

The elevator doors closed, and the rather slow journey down to the ground floor began with Kai staring at Jay with malicious intent in his eyes. Jay stared right back, bracing himself for whatever cruelties were undoubtedly going to come out of his mouth.

Indeed, Jay was right. A sentence filled the air, dirtying it immediately.

 

"... and why should I listen to you of all people... Sophie?"

 

The name dripped off his tongue like venom, and it sent a jarring shock through Jay's body that made him feel almost faint. Even now, hearing that name, come out of a former friend's mouth... was emotionally excruciating.

But after the initial shock was over, and dissipated into the air, Jay's body filled to the brim with pure, concentrated rage.

 

Without even thinking, his fist flashed from his side, making the journey in less than a second and meeting it's mark. Directly in the centre of Kai's face.

The loud smack entered everybody's ears, and Kai stumbled backwards a couple of steps, and slammed into the elevator wall, too shocked to react.

Jay knew that there wouldn't be any significant damage. He'd been in hospital for the best part of four days, and was hardly at his strongest, but it definitely would have hurt. A small trickle of blood was the only damaging result of his attack.

Kai's eyes darted back upwards, focussing in on Jay's face again, angrier than before.

There was absolute silence in the confined space, before Kai suddenly darted away from his frozen position against the wall.

Jay reacted fast enough, and would have been able to block the assault without any trouble at all, but didn't need to. A firm hand had grabbed Kai's shoulder and prevented him from moving any closer.

"Kai, I know that you're perfectly aware that his name is Jay. If you aren't careful, he won't be the only one punching you for deliberate transphobia. I'll quite happily join in, since calm and civil logic doesn't seem to work for you."

Zane's threat was arguably more shocking than Jay's sudden punch.

 

Hesitantly, Kai pulled his arm out of Zane's grasp, and moved back to the edge of the elevator. He knew that if there was a fight, he wouldn't stand much of a chance against Zane's superior technology.

Feeling further confident, spurred on by his friend's actions, Jay had one last thing to say.

"Don't. EVER. Call me that. Again." He spoke, his heart beating so hard that he swore that those around him would be able to hear it.

The doors opened, and they all left, Kai trailing very deliberately at the back of the pack.

 

The rest of the journey back to the bounty was made in complete silence. Nobody felt comfortable enough to utter a single word, and the atmosphere stayed tense for a long time even after they got home.

 

Kai stormed off to the shared bedroom, unofficially claiming the space until they all went to bed later that night.

 

Jay received sympathy, and a bit of praise as well. Especially from Cole, as Nya went to her room pretty quickly and Lloyd was a little too shocked to input anything. Zane was quite quiet too. Maybe even he was a little bit surprised at his own stern - but necessary - behaviour.

 

However, as the rest of the ninja settled down to sit together and talk, Kai sat alone on his bed, staring upwards and trying to work out the mad rush inside his head.

 

Maybe if they had know what he had been doing as they waited for him, there would have been sympathy. Care. A supportive hand on the shoulder.

But they didn't know.

Sadly enough, nobody bothered to find out the full story.

 

If things weren't sorted out soon, it was infinitely possible that the damage would be irreparable. To everybody.

 

The team was falling apart.

 

And they were powerless to stop it.

Chapter Text

The night wasn't easy. Nobody could sleep especially well, other than Zane, who had to forcibly power himself off.

There were too many thoughts going around, too many shocking recent events, too much to untangle and decode that rest was nearly impossible to even grasp at.

Nya ended up giving up and reading a book, Cole stayed up on his phone until he passed out, and Kai stared upwards, not focussed on anything in particular. Sensei, unbeknownst to the rest of them, had to brew himself a special tea to get any sleep that night at all.

 

For the final pair of people on the ship, they were both of course still conscious.

Lloyd could tell that Jay was still awake by his frustrated twisting and turning, and after a little while of trying to fall under himself, he slid out of the covers and tip toed across the room to turn his small lamp on.

"... Lloyd...?" Jay whispered, sitting up and rubbing his eyes.

"... come on... don't pretend you haven't been stuck awake."

A tiny smile burst through his tired façade.

"Ok. You got me."

Lloyd went back to his bed and sat down, then patted the sheets next to him.

Jay left his mattress and sat down where he'd been asked to, and Lloyd threw an extra blanket around his shoulders.

"... come on then. Talk to me. What's on your mind." He spoke, and Jay was taken aback for a second, before relaxing again and starting to speak.

"... just... everything really. Everything's built up, and... I just don't know how much longer I can deal with this."

"... any specifics? Dei Noctis? Kai?"

"Pretty much. I just... I feel like if people listened to me when I first said they were dangerous... this wouldn't have happened. We could have maybe stopped it..."

"I know, and, I'm sorry. I should've listened to you. You were right all along."

"... Kai as well. I... nobody's called me my birth name for... actual years. Since I was maybe thirteen. It's..."

"... horrible? I know that, since I'm cis, I'll never truly know how bad it is but... I can imagine it's really awful."

"It's one of the worst feelings in the world."

Lloyd patted his arm affectionately.

"Well, I think you'll be happy to know that nobody else will ever do that. Kai's the only transphobic one, and the rest of us have only known you as Jay the whole time we've been friends. It's habit."

Jay nodded, pressing his thumbs together in a nervous fashion.

"... I just... I wish that none of you had ever found out. Yeah, we'd still be dealing with the bloody cult... but... I'd still have Kai as a friend. Nya... I'd still have Nya. I... I just wish I wasn't trans at all, to be honest."

"... really?"

"I mean, yeah! If I woke up tomorrow and I was cis... everything would be so much easier. Yeah, it would take time to de-transition from what testosterone has already done... but... I'd just have to stop binding and there we go. A girl's body for a girl... god, Lloyd... I hate that the world despises me for just existing."

"Same here. I know that gay people get a way easier time than trans people... but... it's still crappy. I'm relieved that I managed to at least partially diffuse that crap from a while ago. If I hadn't been able to... I'd be screwed."

Jay let out a big huff of air, rubbing his eye with his palm. Lloyd suspected that a few years had come about, but didn't say anything about it.

"... if you don't mind me asking... what do you bind with?"

"Oh, I just use a half binder."

"Thought so. Tape and bandages are bad for you, aren't they?"

"Yep. They can give you breathing problems, and even damage your ribs in some cases."

Jay felt a pang of guilt at his words, knowing full well that he'd been putting his own ribs in danger by wearing his binder for far far too long, but didn't say anything.

"I was wondering whether you binded or had surgery. I guess I know now."

"I wish I'd had surgery. It's so bloody expensive though... I doubt I'll ever be able to afford it..."

"Hey, you never know. Don't give up hope yet."

"I hope you're right Lloyd. I really do."

 

The two of them talked for a good few hours together. Ranting and venting to each other, getting out the frustrations that had built up for so long, out into words.

Finally, tiredness began to set in. Neither of them knew the exact time, and didn't really want to check either.

"... we should probably try to sleep again."

"Mmmh, probably."

There was a couple of moments where neither on them talked or moved.

"... hey... Lloyd..." Jay broke the quietness.

"Yeah?"

"... thank you. I think, I really needed that."

"Don't stress it, it's no problem. I'm glad to have helped."

Jay stood up, stretched, and headed back to his mattress, but Lloyd caught his wrist.

"... you should take off your binder. You've been wearing it for way too long."

He was surprised. He didn't know that Lloyd knew anything about how long he had been binding... but, alas, he was most certainly right, and it wasn't exactly hard to figure out.

"... but-"

"I won't look. Promise. Come on, I'm gay, why would I?"

Jay sniggered, and shrugged. He was right once again.

 

He turned off Lloyd's lamp, made sure that Lloyd was under his duvet and facing the wall, before taking off his t-shirt, and then his binder.

He put the t-shirt back on, letting out a sigh of absolute relief as the immense pressure disappeared.

 

Getting back into bed was a bit unpleasant at first. The covers had been devoid of human warmth for a while now, so they were cold and crisp, but warmed up pretty quickly.

 

Sleep finally cane, and in decent time too. Perhaps getting all his worries out into somebody else's ear really helped him.

Especially as that ear had been a great support the whole way through.

 

At that moment, what he needed most was an emotional release, and he'd got that release.

However, poor Jay Walker wouldn't stay content for long.

After all, 'Tomorrow is a New Day' could never always be a positive saying.

Chapter Text

Morning was slow paced on the Bounty, considering that not a single individual had achieved a decent amount of sleep the previous night.

As they started waking up and milling around, there were the usual exchanges of greetings.

Zane almost laughed when Cole bumped into him in the corridor, and said 'good morning'. Instead, he just smiled tiredly and sighed.

"It's 12:13, Cole. It would be more accurate to say good afternoon." He joked, before heading outside onto the deck. Despite the bad night, Zane was still determined to get a few sunrise stretches done, though of course, not at sunrise.

He was most certainly coping the best out of all of them.

Cole stared after him in disbelief, shaking his head. Well, Zane was a nindroid after all. As a robot, he could hardly be effected by tiredness as much as real humans.

Kai was already in the kitchen when Cole ventured inside. They made brief and awkward eye contact, which ended with mutual dirty looks. He snatched a box of cereal, a bowl and the milk from the fridge, and marched out to put them all down in the bridge.

Tensions were still high. Cole hopes they would go down soon, but considering Kai's attitude lately, they probably wouldn't.

In his rush to get away from Kai, Cole realised that he'd forgotten a spoon, and painstakingly went back to the kitchen to get one.

Kai sniggered when he came back, and Cole glared at him.

"What's so funny, huh?" He spat.

"Forgetting a spoon. But stupid, innit?"

"... I've had maybe four hours sleep, a*shole. Give me a break."

"It's not like I've had the easiest night either Cole."

He turned properly to face Kai, who now had a distasteful expression curled across his face.

"... sure you have Kai. If you haven't noticed, a lot of the problems we're all facing right now are your damn fault, so you can shut your mouth about having a hard time."

He left quickly after that, and Kai wasn't fast enough to think of a comeback.

 

After Cole, Lloyd was the next to enter the bridge, huge bags under his eyes and a blanket wrapped around his shoulders.

"Hey Cole. I sure hope you're feeling better than me."

"Jeez Lloyd, I mean, I'm pretty bad right now, but did you sleep at all?"

"Maybe. I honestly don't know. I might've just laid there awake all night... it's a bit fuzzy really."

"You sure you should be up and about? You look a few seconds from collapsing..."

Lloyd shrugged.

"I should probably go back to bed, but..." he looked around to make sure they were alone, "... I'm worried that Kai's gonna give Jay crap today... and I wanna stick up for him."

Cole nodded.

"Me too."

Lloyd stretches his arms and yawned.

"Is Kai in the kitchen?"

"How could you tell?"

"You walked in here looking like you were using all your mental strength to not hit somebody."

"Hmph. Accurate."

"... I just, I don't understand. Kai and Nya grew up together, how did he end up like this when she didn't? I... I almost feel sorry for him. But I don't. He's being a prick."

Cole started pouring himself his cereal, and a small smirk made its way to the corners of his mouth.

"... it was pretty awesome when Jay punched him, wasn't it."

"... totally. And Kai's face when Zane threatened him! Golden. I wish I could have taken a picture."

After pouring the milk, Cole started to eat, and Lloyd snatched a couple handfuls of cereal out of the packet.

"Is Jay still asleep?"

"When I got up he was, but it's been a little while now. Hopefully he's still sleeping though, he needs the rest."

———

Jay moodily trudged his way to the bathroom - towel under his arm - and knocked on the door to make sure nobody was inside. There was no answer, so he went right in, and noticed that the lock still hadn't been fixed, from when Lloyd kicked it in. Nobody really had time to even consider it though, did they?

After a night of little sleep, he felt groggy and gross, and knew that he wouldn't be able to feel comfortable until he had a shower.

Hopefully the other members of the Bounty would have the sense to either knock or listen for the rush of the water.

But, Jay pushed a small cabinet in front of the door anyway, paranoid that common sense wouldn't be enough.

The water took a small while to get warm, and he stripped off his clothes as it did, catching a glimpse of himself in the bathroom mirror and grimacing.

Though, through the unhappiness at his body, Jay realised that he hadn't written down any observations for, quite a while now. Even since the day everybody found out.

Which lead to another question. Where did his box go?

He didn't care much at that point. The secrets once held in it were all out. By he would like to have it back. He was sure that Lloyd wouldn't mind letting him keep it in his room.

Sighing and stepping into the shower, Jay closed his eyes.

Why did life have to be so complicated?

———

After his shower, Jay got dressed into new clothes, and headed to the kitchen to grab a bite to eat for breakfast, though, it was almost 1 o'clock in the afternoon at that point. It was more appropriate to say lunch.

Jay expected a normal trip to the culinary area, but, a certain somebody lingered against one of the sides, sending him a poisonous look as soon as he entered.

Kai.

Great.

Jay felt an uncomfortable thundering in his chest, that he tried to ignore as he opened cupboards and pulled various things out.

When Kai spoke, Jay almost jumped, shocked by the sudden noise, but he calmed himself soon enough.

"... If Zane hadn't stepped in, I would've beaten you to a pulp." He snarled. Jay didn't look at him, refusing to give him the satisfaction of eye contact.

"You keep telling yourself that." He sighed, rolling his eyes and silently settling for half a packet of digestive biscuits for lunch. There wasn't much else.

"I'm serious. I would've."

This time, Jay did turn to him, more frustrated and annoyed than anything else.

"... your form is sloppy, you're out of shape, and your ego is a big as ever. You should be glad Zane stopped you, because if he hadn't, I'd've given you worse than a bloody nose."

He swiftly left the room, carrying the half pack of biscuits under his arm. Kai said something after him that he didn't quite catch, but he didn't care.

When he reached the bridge, Cole and Lloyd were already there, and Sensei Wu too. They all looked deadly serious as they talked about something, and when they realised Jay's presence, it seemed that they wanted him to know too.

"... Jay. It's good you're here." Cole said, and Lloyd gave him a tired wave.

"... the chief of police has been in contact with me. We have been invited to go and question a few of the terrorists from the mall, they didn't get anything out of them, but perhaps, you can." Sensei explained, turning to the blue ninja expectantly.

Jay considered, then shoved the biscuits into his pocket.

"... sure thing. When do we leave?"

Chapter Text

In the end, only Jay, Lloyd, Nya and Cole went along with Sensei. Zane needed to head off to Borg Industries to do some work, and Kai was of course uninterested.

They parked the Bounty just outside the city, and Zane walked along with them until their paths split ways and he left them to go to his job.

After Zane left, surprisingly, the group managed to keep up conversation.

Lloyd and Nya were considering how odd the request was. Surely if police professionals couldn't get any information from the criminals? Why would a few ninja?

Cole theorised it was because they were desperate and out of options.

Though not verbally, Jay agreed with him.

"What are they even expecting us to do? We're ninja, not psychics." Lloyd sighed.

"Maybe they're expecting Jay to shock them into submission." Cole joked.

"Hey! That's torture! That's unethical!" Jay finally chimed in, speaking for the first time across their trip.

"To be fair though... they're murderers. Is torture really all that unethical if it's done to them?"

"Sensei is right next to you." Nya spoke.

Cole flushed with embarrassment, remembering that indeed, their mentor was walking along with them.

"A-Ah uhm... that was a... joke? S-Sorry Sensei...!"

Sensei Wu just laughed, and pretended that nothing had happened.

"How far is the police station again?"

"Lloyd... you've lived in this city before, and we've lived right next to it for ages and ages."

"Hey! I'm tired, gimme a break!"

Jay couldn't force himself to join in with their playful chatter. He felt uneasy, and almost scared. To be face to face with these...murderers. Terrorists. Disgusting bigots who deserved to be locked up forever...

It wasn't exactly enjoyable to anticipate.

When they reached the station, they were welcomed inside straight away, and taken deep into the building. What were once offices turned into cells as they passed through security gates and doors alike.

They eventually reached a door with no windows, that was clearly very heavily guarded.

The police officer who had been escorting them stopped just outside, to explain a few things.

"... through this door is what we believe is the leader of the attack last week. We think it will be best if you start with him. Well... not that there are many other options." She said.

"What do you mean? Weren't there a number of them?" Lloyd asked, puzzled.

"... ah. There are only five left."

"What? How?"

"Most of them, soon after we caught them and brought them here, died."

"... suicide?" Jay spoke, the dreaded word rolling off his tongue like a drop of poison.

"To be perfectly honest, we don't know. They all just... died. Dropped dead without any sign of struggle or injury. Their labs are currently being processed, to see if they ingested anything dangerous. It doesn't seem that way though."

A shiver went down Jay's spine. That was dodgy, and suspicious. Really, really suspicious.

"Well, would you all like to go in at once, or one at a time."

Lloyd didn't hesitate to give a strict answer.

"We're going in together."

No explanation, just a firm and simple statement. Nobody dared question it, and neither did they want to.

The officer unlocked the door, using some sort of biometrical system, and stepped aside so that the ninja could enter. It was an observation section, with a sheet of glass showing through to where the criminal was held. Passing through a second security door, the group was finally in the same enclosed space, as the one man they came to see.

The room was dark, except for a single light suspended above a table, where he sat, a disgusting smirk of glee on his face. He was tightly chained to the table with shackles that clearly weren't coming of anytime soon, so they all knew they were safe.

However... they all felt the unease and tenseness it the air. It wasn't pleasant.

There was only a single chair on the other side, so they all made a mutual yet silent decision to stay standing, in a group. They felt safer that way.

He looked up to them, grinning maniacally.

"... ooooh, visitors! I didn't think we were allowed those..."

"... we're not here to visit you. We want answers." Lloyd swiftly replied, gritting his teeth.

"Hmmm... but the police couldn't get one out of me, what makes you think you can?"

"We're different to the police."

He let out a shriek of laughter that bore into all their ears, painfully.

"How so?! You're all just a bunch of do-gooders, acting like everybody else's business is your own... maybe you have elemental powers... but deep down, you're exactly the same..."

There was silence, before he broke it again.

"I'm not going to tell you anything, you know. Not anything of use to you, at least. Dei Noctis himself has bestowed me with this task... I will not fail it for the sake of some petty conversation... especially with that in the room." He spat, looking over to Cole with his piercing eyes.

"... Cole is a person, not an object. Refer to him as such." Nya piped in, clearly distasteful about the situation.

The man then let loose a string of words, in which contained a racial slur so awful that Cole had to stick out a hand to stop Jay from punching him.

"He's trying to antagonise us... I've heard worse ok? I'm used to it." He said softly, placing his hand on Jay's shoulder after stopping him from darting forward.

"... you shouldn't be used to it."

"I know, but I am. It's ok. Calm down."

Jay stepped back, taking deep breaths. He needed to calm down, especially if that was what Cole wanted.

"... are you even going to tell us your name?" Nya asked.

"No."

His eyes darted around, silently evaluating each and every one of them. He stayed virtually emotionless for most, showed immense disgust when his eyes passed over Cole... but... when he focussed in on Jay, revolting interest sparked across his newfound expression.

"Ah ah... I recognise you, Mr. Blue Ninja. You tried to question me at the mall! Haha, didn't get much out of me though... you... you're one of the sick as well... aren't you..." he extended a finger as far as the chains would allow, pointing directly at him.

Jay bit his lip, then stepped forward, sliding carefully into the chair. The man withdrew his hand in an instant, and seemed to shuffle away.

"... what... are you, scared of me?"

"... no..."

He noticed the telltale signs, and Jay smirked slightly.

"You're lying. You're scared of me."

"... I do not want to catch your revolting infection. Get away from me."

"No. I want answers."

"I said I wasn't going to tell you-"

"Then I guess I'm just going to sit here then."

There was silence once more, and filled with newfound confidence, Jay started to talk.

"... how did you know about me being trans."

It wasn't a question, it was a demand.

"... I can feel it. We can all feel it. It spills off you like filth..."

"How."

"... a ritual... it gives you higher perception... now get away from me!"

"No! I want more answers!" Jay replied, vicious, leaning further forward.

"... why do you hate people like me. People like Cole."

"... because... you're revolting... you're wrong... you shouldn't exist, and you're dirtying the beautiful world of Dei Noctis... that is why all the pure will be saved when the rapture comes... it has become too dirty here for us..."

"... why did you attack the mall."

"The sick were there... we have a duty to destroy as many of them as possible...

"... but I thought Dei Noctis was going to save you 'pure' ones though... so what's the point of spending extra effort killing us before the rapture, hmm?"

The man grimaced, hating how this 'pitiful, dirty, sick' individual was outsmarting him.

"... we have been ordered to by our God, and God's word is absolute."

"It seems like your God is being a bit counterproductive, buddy."

He growled and clenched his fists in the shackles.

"How dare you question the word of God!"

"I don't think that your God exists, so I'll question him all I want! I have no respect for anybody - God or not - who thinks I deserve to die for just being who I am!"

Jay leaned forward yet again, and moved his hand so that it was almost touching the terrorist in front of him.

"... how do you get told what to do?"

"... I won't tell you."

Jay could tell he wasn't going to talk on that point, so decided to move on instead of wasting time.

"... fine. Well then, do you have any other plans to attack places?"

"... of course we do... but you'll never find out."

"Oh, I think we will. You're going to tell me."

"Or what?"

"I'll touch you, and you don't want to catch anything, do you?"

The man looked down, hiding his face, but then started laughing and laughing and laughing in a deep, maniacal manner.

He flipped his head up again, staring at the ceiling with wide eyes and an expression so strained it looked like his skin was about to burst open.

"You're fAR TOO LATE!"

"W-What? What do you me-"

"I'M JOINING GOD, I'M GOING TO SEE HIM IN ALL OF HIS MAJESTY, YOU'LL ALL DIE IN THE RAPTURE, FILTH! YOU'LL ALL DIE!" He shrieked, eyes rolling back.

He suddenly choked, eyes rolling back, then collapsed directly into the table. Dead.

A couple of police officers rushed into the room, and desperately tried to resuscitate him, to no avail.

Jay stared in absolute horror. Despite how horrible they were in life... having anybody die right in front of your eyes was incredibly jarring.

"... I... I didn't do anything..." Jay whispered to the woman next to him, who had given up trying to bring a dead man back to life.

"I know. We were watching. You didn't do anything wrong."

Cole placed a supportive hand on his shoulder.

"Hey. Let's go."

Jay nodded numbly. All his brief newfound confidence had disappeared in a flash, and now he felt to anxious to talk.

With Cole's support and help, he managed to stand up and walk out. He and Cole stayed at the back of the group, and he had an arm around his shoulders.

Nobody talked on the way back. The atmosphere was too dense to speak.

———

Kai was also coming back from an outing when they arrived back at the Bounty.

Nobody questioned him, nobody really cared, and he could tell that asking how their own trip went would achieve nothing but sour looks.

Jay went back to bed, Cole went to look for something to eat, and Lloyd went with Sensei to talk things over.

Nya though... Nya waited around, until she and her brother were alone.

"... I know where you were Kai." She spoke suddenly, and he tensed up, looking around to her.

"What?"

"You went to the hospital again, didn't you. To see him."

"... no I wasn't."

Nya crossed her arms, frustrated.

"There's something you're not telling me Kai. There's something you're hiding."

"... no, there isn't. Just... give me a break Nya. I just went out for a walk."

He hurried away, turning a corner and falling out of sight.

She watched after him, and sighed. Why couldn't he just tell her? She wasn't stupid... she knew when her own brother was hiding something.

Not only were the ninja losing trust in the world, they were losing trust in each other.

At the worst possible time.

Chapter Text

Jay was shaken up for a long time after what happened at the police station, understandably so as well.

The man was a terrorist, who took life for no good reason, and was a person the world was better off without, but at any rate... sudden death happening mere inches from your face could cut pretty deep.

Considering Jay's already weakened mental state, it affected him very very deeply.

 

When they got back to the Bounty, Jay had headed straight to bed. He laid there for hours, staring at the ceiling, wishing that sleep would come and whisk him away on an adventure, far far away from his current predicament, though alas, it never did.

Finally, when the windows grew dark as evening came, he gave up, and forced himself to leave the soft and comforting terrain of his bed.

 

He needed to talk to somebody, he needed to get his worries out, and, ultimately, needed a shoulder to cry on.

Whether he would end up actually crying or not, Jay knew that any form of support would be excellent right now.

 

And he knew exactly who he wanted to talk to.

Cole.

 

He found him outside, after a little bit of searching. Stood, solitary, looking over the edge of the Bounty.

It was evening, but the constant moonlight lit up the landscape, reflecting on the body of water below and dancing away in every direction.

It was pretty, in an odd sort of way.

"... hey, Cole..." Jay spoke, alerting him of his presence.

His eyes lit up slightly, as if he was thrilled to have somebody else on deck.

"... hey Jay. You feeling better?"

"Not really, but... I just... I wanted to talk to you."

"Hmm? About anything in particular?"

"Yeah, but, more for the company than anything else."

Cole smiled, the dimples on his cheeks growing more prominent.

"Well, I'm not complaining. C'mere bluebell, don't stand so far away."

Jay obliged, walking closer and joining him at the edge, looking down over the water far below.

"... I hope you aren't blaming yourself for feeling bad.

"What do you mean?"

"... back at the station. He just... died. Right in front of you. Nobody with half a heart would be ok after that."

Jay shrugged, hugging himself.

"... I guess... I'm not that ok, right now."

"I don't know what else to say other than, well, I'm here for you. If you need anything particular right now, if I can give it, I will. Just say the word."

Jay bit his lip, and then started talking.

"... what... what's worrying me most right now... is how he died, and how the rest of them supposedly died too. Nothing ingested as far as we know, nothing sharp... so... how did it happen? How did he die so suddenly?"

"What are you getting at here?"

"It, seems really, really far fetched but... what if this Dei Noctis thing... what if it actually exists?"

Cole looked to his friend, and was briefly taken aback at the look of absolute fear on his face.

"... what if it's actually real...?"

Jay tensed up when Cole placed his hand on his shoulder, but relaxed again when he gave him a supportive squeeze.

"At this point, Jay, I don't know either. But, what I do know, is that I'll stick with you no matter what. Even if we need to fight some nasty god together... you're my best friend. You'll never fight alone as long as I'm around."

"Mmh... thanks Cole... it means a lot..."

A gust of wind flickered across the ship, seeking out the bare skin of Jay's arms.

He shivered, hugging himself closer in an attempt to preserve an element of warmth. It hardly worked.

"You shouldn't come out here at night with only a t-shirt on, you know."

"Yeah, I know, I just-"

He didn't have time to finish his sentence, before Cole was unzipping his own hoodie and placing it around his shoulders.

"Hey! That's-" Jay started.

"I'm not that cold, don't worry about it."

Usually, he'd complain and put up a right fuss, but Cole's hoodie was really warm, and he did seem to be unaffected by the cold, even with just a tank top on underneath.

"... all of this is probably keeping you warm." He smiled, poking his prominent bicep with a shaking finger.

"Hmm, you calling me fat?" He joked.

"What? No! I was saying you're muscly!"

"I'm kidding Jay, chill out!" He replied with a laugh, sighing and looking down at the waters below once more, his tranquil expression returning.

"... so, what's going on with Nya?"

The question came out of nowhere and took him aback.

"... Nya? Oh! I-"

"You don't need to say if you don't want to."

"No, it's... it's ok."

He took a breath, and pulled Cole's jumped tighter around his shaking form.

"... we're on a break, or, that's what she said at least. Not into the idea of dating a trans guy... or, not yet. It kinda just felt like she was making excuses to make me feel better..."

Cole scratched his forehead and blew a strand of hair out of his face.

Jay felt his anxiety starting to bubble up, as thoughts he didn't want to have came into the limelight.

"... you're asking because you wanna know if she's available... aren't you..." he whispered, trying to hide the upset in his voice.

Cole though, was surprised, and gave him a look of confusion.

"What? No? Jay I, I was never really interested in Nya, you do know that, right?"

"... but -"

"- Yeah, all that stuff with the perfect match machine... I... I guess I was just thrilled a girl was showing interest in me for the first time. I... I never actually liked her that way. I'm sorry... I caused you so much grief over that, for nothing."

"... it's ok."

"No, it isn't. I don't think I've ever properly apologised for all of that, and, I should've."

Cole got up from his leaning position, and addressed him directly.

"... I ruined your relationship with Nya, I got in the middle of it, I confused her more than she already was - making everything a million times worse - and above everything else, I upset you... and hurt you... and betrayed your trust... my best friend... and I don't know how you've been able to forgive me for that... but... I really really am sorry."

"... Cole, I-"

"I haven't been the friend I should have been, so now, more than ever, I'm determined to be here for you and help you. I don't care if Kai is also my friend... he's being... awful right now. I've always been closer to you anyway, and, I'll be here for you no matter what."

 

Drip. Drop.

 

Tears started to grow and fall in Jay's tired eyes.

 

"... hey, d-don't cry!" Cole exclaimed, stepping forward and reaching out for him.

"... I should say sorry too... I acted like it was all your fault... that Nya was considering you over me... that wasn't your fault at all... I'm sorry I was so rude to you..."

"Jay, you don't need to say sorry for anything-"

"Yes I do! I was horrible to you when it wasn't your fault at all! I-It was probably all my fault anyway, I was the one who drove her away, it was me it was all me!"

"... what do you mean?"

Jay covered his eyes with his hands, not wanting Cole to see his distraught face.

"... why would she ever choose me... if you were an option...? You're just... better, in every way..."

 

Cole took him by the shoulders, and pulled him into a tight embrace.

"... no... that's not true... Jay, you're smart, and funny, and kind, and cute... girls love nice guys like you..."

"... Nya didn't... doesn't..."

"... maybe Nya's not seeing how amazing you really are..."

Cole looked up at the sky, holding Jay very close and making sure he was ok. He was nearing tears himself.

"... Jay... can you answer a question for me?"

He didn't reply verbally, but clearly nodded.

"... when you told me about how you grew up... you told me... that something happened."

Another nod, though, less distinguishable this time.

He didn't want to say it, because he knew what the answer would be, no matter how much he didn't like it.

It had been on the back of Cole's mind for a while now, jumping out and demanding answers at the most inconvenient of times.

He didn't want to say it, knowing it had a high possibility of upsetting Jay, which wasn't a good idea consider how upset he already was. But... he had to know. He had to get it out.

 

His mouth grew very dry, and he held Jay closer.

 

"... you... you tried to kill yourself, didn't you." He whispered.

 

No response.

 

"... please... just nod or shake..."

 

Jay hesitated, but forced himself to give Cole a little nod. Small, but, it was there.

"... please don't ever do it again... please..."

"... I won't... I promised myself... I'd never try it again... I could never do that to my parents again..."

Cole fought back his own tears, and breathed deeply.

"I'll always be here for you, Jay..."

In that moment, Jay had no doubts that he was telling the truth. The absolute sincerity in his voice was so raw and real that... there wasn't a single second thought. Jay knew that he had a friend he could count on.

It meant the world to him.

"... thank you..."

Cole smiled, and pulled away from the hug.

"You should try to get to bed, you're gonna be exhausted."

"... surely it isn't that late?"

"It's about quarter to ten, you know..."

Cole laughed at the surprise on his face.

"Well done Bluebell, excellent timekeeping."

"Hey..." he smiled, rubbing his eyes, "I'm tired, gimme a break..."

"I'll escort you inside, it's getting really dark out here and, I should head to bed too. Is Lloyd not asleep yet?"

"He wasn't there when I got up to come and find you, but he might be there now? I, I don't know."

Jay kept trying to rub his eyes, to get rid of the redness and dried tears that gave away his breakdown on deck, Cole passed him a spare tissue he had in a pocket on his tracksuit bottoms.

They started to head inside, and as they did, the wind started up again, hurrying them inside the warmth of the building.

"Oh, in case you were wondering, your box of stuff, I took it upon myself to hide it again, so, Kai doesn't go snooping. I was gonna tell you sooner but, being honest, I completely forgot."

"... oh... I... thank you! I... god I completely forgot about it as well!"

"It's alright. I shoved it under my bunk, and, I think it'll be safe there for now. Kai won't go looking for it there at any rate, unless you wanna move it?"

"... can I keep it there for now? Is that ok?"

"Of course. It's not like I was using the space under there for anything anyway."

"Thank you Cole... honestly, I mean it."

They reached the crossroads on the corridors where they had to part ways, and Cole gave Jay one last tight hug, before bidding him good night and heading to bed himself.

Jay turned and went to Lloyd's room himself, and realised halfway that he still had the hoodie around his shoulders.

Part of him said to go and give it back straight away, but... another said that it would be rude to disturb him again, especially as he might already be getting ready to go to sleep.

He decided that he'd give it back in the morning, and carried on his route.

Lloyd was indeed in the room when Jay got back, seemingly asleep, so Jay got ready for bed as quietly as he could, and made a point to slip off his binder as well.

 

Sleep was surprisingly easy to achieve, considering how much he was struggling earlier. Just a few minutes of casual thought before he drifted off into the aether of dreams, content and restful.

Completely by chance, Jay had carefully dumped Cole's hoodie somewhere near his bed, and as his body caught up on much needed rest, it worked its way into his hand again.

The next day, he woke up very embarrassed and gave it back to Cole as soon as he saw him.

Neither of them talked about their conversation on the deck, but it was ripe in both their minds. Jay's especially.

 

It was reassuring, to have a genuine ally.

It was reassuring, to have Cole.

Chapter Text

The day was pretty slow. Jay was still recovering from the shock of the previous one, others were worrying near constantly about what the future would hold, and the atmosphere was at an all time low. Stagnant, depressing, and festering with uncertainties.

After Jay had found Cole in the kitchen and given him his hoodie back, he went to the bathroom to have a shower, and came across a sight he had never expected to see.

Walking up the corridor, the opposite way to him, there was Kai. Not too much of a shocking sight on its own, Kai lived on the Bounty too, his presence may not have been pleasant at the current time, but it was expected.

It was his hair that was the issue.

It was down.

Jay was shocked, and froze in his tracks. Usually, he'd be slightly worried about being alone with Kai but, right now, all he could do was stare at was his hair.

All his life, Jay had only seen him with his regular crazy spikes. Never without.

Yes, it was obvious that he used some sort of hair gel to gain the look, there was no way he had hair that spiky naturally, though, seeing him without it was still extremely odd.

Kai sneered as soon as he noticed him, and eventually stopped too.

Jay couldn't help it. He sniggered a bit, then covered his mouth with his hand in an attempt to stop himself.

"... what's so funny, huh?" Kai grimaced, holding his hair gel close.

"... your hair."

"What about it?"

"I've never seen it completely flat before."

Kai scoffed, rolling his eyes and crossing his arms, filling the hallway with his smouldering temper.

"Well now you have. Shove off, will you?" He spat, fixing Jay with a even more venomous look.

"How did it even get like that? It's usually a little bit spiky, even after a couple of days."

Kai could tell that Jay was trying to get at him at that point, but decided to humour him for just a little longer.

"Well obviously the gel comes out when you wash it, idiot. I just forgot to bring it with me this time, and you just had to turn up here and see. Now, p*ss off!" He said, gritting his teeth the whole way, before violently opening the bathroom door and slamming in behind him.

Jay sighed and walked on, knowing that the bathroom wouldn't be free for quite a while. Kai took expert care of his hair, and wasn't likely to execute the process very quickly.

With nothing to do he simply wandered, and down one of he corridors, bumped into Cole again.

He immediately flushed bright red.

"C-Cole!"

"Hey Jay, uhm, you ok?"

"Y-Yeah, why wouldn't I be?"

Cole have him a suspicious look.

"... god, don't tell me you're still fretting over accidentally taking my hoodie with you. It wasn't like I was gonna wear it in bed, was it?"

"Mmh. I don't know."

"... well, I don't mind, so, neither should you."

Jay breathed in and out very calmly, trying to settle his nerves.

"... I guess."

Cole lightly clapped him on the back and gave him a smile.

"There we go. Sense at last, huh?"

He walked away, waving as he went.

"I'm going out to get some more food for the fridge. I'll see you tonight at dinner. It's Lloyd's turn to cook, so it won't be too bad. Don't let Kai mess you around while I'm gone!" He called backwards, and Jay was going to reply, but couldn't think how to. So, he just stayed silent.

After a bit of wandering, he went back to check the bathroom, and indeed, it was devoid of Kai's miserable presence, much to Jay's relief and happiness.

He snatched his towels, blockaded the door with the cabinet once more, and showered.

Jay kept his eyes tightly closed as much as he could. Not looking down unless he absolutely had to.

Dysphoria was a horrible experience on most days, but today, it had decided to be especially stubborn and severe. Forcing its way into his brain and letting him think of little else.

The shower was a very, very quick one.

———

Lunchtime arrived, and Jay had grabbed little more than a bowl of cereal from the kitchen, when he ran into Kai again, in the bridge, legs kicked up on the table as he consumed a near-empty family pack of fire flakes, the most sour and bored expression on his face as he did.

He noticed the new arrival, and groaned.

Part of the blue ninja screamed for him to leave as quickly as he could, however... another part, recognised this as an opportunity. So he sat down, opposite Kai, and calmly placed his lazy meal on the table.

"... what do you think you're doing?"

"Sitting down, Kai. Can I not do that anymore?"

"You've been avoiding me for ages now, if you're coming to sit here, you've got something else going on."

He was right. Jay did have the basis of a plan for a conversation.

"... you got me. It's nothing bad though, I just thought I could maybe talk to you about some certain subjects."

"... you mean, your bloody trans stuff?"

"... yeah."

"Well I don't care. I know I'm right, and nothing you can say will change that."

He emptied the crumbs of the fire flakes into his palm and raised them up to his mouth, before crushing the empty packet into a ball.

"... then surely you won't have any problem proving me wrong."

"Obviously. I just have better things to get on with."

"Like what. I know as well as you do that there isn't all that much to do these days. What are you gonna do? Go and play a game you've already finished several times? Sleep? Find something else to eat?"

Kai huffed and brought his legs down from the table, placing his arm on it instead.

After a period of uncomfortable quiet, he spoke.

"Fine."

"... what?"

Jay was a bit taken aback. He hadn't expected Kai to agree so easily, but here he was. Agreeing.

"I said, fine. Say whatever you wanted to say. You're not gonna achieve anything though."

Jay took a deep breath, and tried to look him in the eye, but Kai kept his line of sight directly at the smooth wood of the table.

"... I guess, why is the first question. Why do you think that trans people are so, awful?"

"... it's wrong."

"But why is it wrong."

"Because if you're a dude, you're a dude, and if you're a chick, you're a chick. It's as simple as that."

"And? I'm a dude, and I'm trans. They aren't mutually exclusive."

"I don't even know what that means." Kai replied, sending a confused glance at him.

"... you can be a trans boy and still be a boy. That's why boy comes after trans."

"... but, you have... girl parts."

"And a male brain."

"See, this is where it stops making any damn sense at all. You, say that your brain is like, literally different. Nya's been saying that male and female brains are the same for ages and now, they're not? It's complete bullsh*t! If it was true then it wouldn't keep changing all the time!"

Jay pushes his cereal to the side, deciding to eat it later and focus on the task at hand.

"What Nya's been trying to get at is that male and female brains are no different in cognitive and intelligent ability. They're just as clever as each other, just as able, but they are different. If they weren't different, we wouldn't even have gender. Do you... understand?"

"... I guess?"

"What happens with trans people, is that their brains and bodies develop differently. For me, male brain, female body. For trans girls, male body, female brain. You get it?"

"... yeah, but, it's still, wrong. It's not supposed to happen."

"But it does happen, and, does that mean it's ok to treat people badly for something they had no choice over? Just because, it's technically not supposed to happen?"

"... I don't know."

"So, would treat people with heterochromia badly? People with two different coloured eyes? That's not supposed to happen, but it does. Would you treat people with vitiligo badly? Would you treat somebody with albinism badly? Would you treat somebody with a chronic genetic illness badly?"

"No, of course I wouldn't!"

"So don't treat trans people badly either. None of those things I mentioned are supposed to happen but they do. Our brains are supposed to develop to match our bodies, but sometimes they don't. And it's not our fault."

"... still, they should get it fixed."

Jay couldn't help but laugh a bit.

"Kai... that's what transitioning does. You can't change your brain, but, you can in ways change your body, so that they finally match."

Kai had stopped looking so angry and frustrated, and instead just looked confused. Well, it was at least a slight improvement.

"... you've lost me."

"Do you want me to just narrow it all down as simply as I can?"

"Sure. I don't know. I don't care even. Whatever."

"... while in the womb, trans people's brains and bodies develop differently, meaning that they don't match. A lot of people mistake being trans and mental health as a sort of, concept, instead of actually being there, but it is. The basis of anything to do with the mind is the brain, which is a biological, thing. So-"

"Wait." Kai interrupted, "are you saying that being trans is a mental illness."

Jay groaned.

"No, I didn't, I used mental health as another example of something to do with the brain. Mental illness suggests that something can be 'cured', and being trans isn't something that has or even needs a cure."

"... ok?"

"It used to be classified as a mental disorder, but that's changed, it's now defined as a sexual health condition."

"... so, why don't you just, deal with what you were born in? Surely it's not that hard, you don't need to make a big deal out of it."

"Ah. Here comes dysphoria."

"... what now?"

"Dysphoria. There are three types, gender dysphoria, body dysphoria and social dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is feeling uncomfortable in your gender assigned at birth, body dysphoria is feeling uncomfortable in your sex, social dysphoria is feeling uncomfortable about what others will see you as."

"... and all trans people have those?"

Jay shrugged his shoulders slightly.

"There's a massive discourse about that within the community right now. I'm not gonna say what I think about it, because no matter what I say, somebody out there will attack me for it. So, my opinions on the dysphoria debate are gonna stay closed for now."

"You mean, trans people argue with each other... about, being trans?"

"All the damn time. The whole LGBTQ+ community is awful for it. I don't understand why people can't just leave each other be and get along."

"... wow."

"All I'll say is that the basis of being trans is gender dysphoria. If you don't have gender dysphoria, you're comfortable in your birth gender, so, you're cis."

Kai nodded slowly,

"... but, why can't you just deal with it?"

"Kai, do you have any idea what it's like to feel trapped and imprisoned in your own skin? Your own body? Oh, yeah, of course you don't, because you're cis, and therefor, you have no right to tell a trans person that their dysphoria 'isn't that bad'."

"It can't be that hard, that's all I'm saying!"

"Body dysphoria can be so awful that some people would prefer to stop existing rather than have to deal with it. I've known people online who wished they were never born instead of having to live and deal with their dysphoria. It's like, your body, is, wrong. Like, fundamentally wrong, and it's always on your mind. You can't get rid of it. It makes you hate yourself Kai, on a biological, genetic level."

"... so the other ones aren't that bad?"

"No, they can be equally awful. Gender dysphoria is the basis of it, literally knowing that your birth gender is wrong, and you're something different. Social dysphoria can be so scary that people don't even leave their rooms for days and days."

"Why don't you just ignore other people then?"

"Why don't you just ignore the fact that I'm trans and get on with your life?"

He fell quiet, and Jay carried on.

"Things that can trigger social dysphoria, are things like, being called by the wrong pronouns, being called by your birth-name, being addressed as your birth gender, etcetera."

"But... your name is your name. That doesn't, change."

"Are you telling me that if your name was something like Fredicholas or Ratthew or, whatever, you wouldn't ask people to call you something different, or even get it changed legally?"

"... obviously I would change it."

"Well then, you must understand. The only difference is that in that situation, you hate your name because it makes your feel stupid or makes you fear ridicule, while for trans people, their birth names give them dysphoria."

Kai sighed, and turned to him properly, both elbows on the table now.

"... I can understand that."

"... I.. great! Uhm, I'm, glad?"

"... but, it still, it should still be fixed."

"As I mentioned before, that's what transitioning does. Transitioning is the cure to dysphoria. At a certain point, after you're happy, you can get something called gender euphoria, which is when you're finally comfortable in yourself gender-wise. Your brain can't be changed, but your body can be. There are ways to temporarily transition, to hide certain tell-tale parts. Cut or grow out your hair. Hormones can be used as well, those are actually pretty permanent. For me, I take testosterone, that's lowered my voice and made my body distribute fat in a more masculine way. Also, facial hair, and a few other things I won't go into detail with."

"Why not?"

Jay fixed him with a look.

"Heightened sex dri-"

"Ok ok ok, don't go into detail!"

Kai chucked the crunched up crisp packet at the waste basket in the corner of the room. It hit the edge of it, then rolled to the side, onto the floor. He swore quietly under his breath, and stood up to go and put it in properly.

"... look, all this is all well and good but, it, you're expecting me to suddenly click and be, f*cking fine with all this. The whole time I've known you, you've just been Jay, and now, you're this. It's, confusing." He spoke as he walked, picking up the packet and dropping it into the bin in a most unsatisfactory manner.

"... I'm still just Jay though. I'm exactly the same."

"But, you, aren't!"

"I've been trans the whole time Kai."

"But, I didn't know that!"

"So? You're angry right now because you thought I was cis before, and now you know I'm not."

"Yes!"

He sat back down, his anger clearly rising again, much higher than it was before.

"I thought you were, just, Jay! Normal Jay. Straight, and, cis or whatever you keep saying. Everything was normal, and nothing was confusing. Now, suddenly, anybody who used to be my friend now f*cking hates me, all because, I don't f*cking understand something because it DOESN'T MAKE SENSE!" He yelled, smashing his fists down on the table in frustration.

"... I'm not even straight, Kai, I'm bi. But let me guess, you have a problem with that too."

Kai's eyes darted up to look at him, and Jay was lost for words as a million expressions flashed across his face in a number of seconds. Confusion, anger, frustration, disgust, even a bit of sadness, all contorted into a singular display of emotion.

"... you..."

All of a sudden, he jumped to his feet, kicked his chair over, and stormed out of the room.

"Whatever, whAT F*CKING. EVER. IT'S ALL BULLSH*T AND I DON'T CARE."

Jay watched him go, fuming and furious.

Even though he had rushed out of the room in a frenzy of anger, he could tell that something had clicked in Kai's head. He'd been able to make a little difference in his thoughts, even if he was too stubborn to admit it yet.

Jay smiled with success, pulling his cereal back towards him and beginning to eat at last. It had gotten pretty soggy, but he didn't really care.

———

Kai threw open the door to the shared bedroom so hard that it swung around and hit the internal wall, and slammed it behind him so hard that the flood shook slightly. He didn't care. He didn't care.

He rushed over to his bed, sat down with a lot more force than necessary, and promptly burst into tears.

Stupid Jay. Stupid trans stuff. None of it made sense. It was all lies, all made up. All of it.

All of it.

... so why was he feeling so distraught?

 

Whatever. He didn't care. He didn't care at all.

He was going to calm down, then go to the game room, and spend the rest of the day in there.

He didn't care.

 

The tears fell faster and faster, and he was shaking and his breathing was uneven and quick and all he could keep telling himself was that he didn't care, he didn't care at all, it didn't matter, he wasn't wrong, and all of a sudden, out of the blue -

"... Kai?"

 

A voice. A metallic voice, filled with care nonetheless.

Kai's head whipped around to find the culprit, Zane, standing innocently by his own bed with a backpack half over his shoulder.

He was confused at first, not understanding how he hadn't noticed an entire other person in the room, but, he was rushing quite a lot and paying not much attention to the surroundings. He could easily have missed him.

They both fell quiet, save from Kai's periodic sobs that he started frantically trying to stop.

He lifted his hands to his eyes, drying them again and again to no avail as the tears just kept coming. Being discovered made it all the more worse.

He didn't understand. He didn't care, at all, so why was he crying? Why was he crying harder? And why did Zane just have to be in the room so that he was caught in such an upset state?

"... Kai, are you ok...? What happened...?" Zane spoke once more, stepping closer to him to offer support, but Kai's wobbling voice cut through the air.

"G-Go away Zane!"

He didn't want to be seen like this. He didn't want anybody to think he was weak.

"... but you are crying, I'm sure I could help if-"

"I SAID F*CKING GO AWAY!"

Zane stopped in his tracks, then moved backwards once more.

"... I see. I am sorry. I will leave you."

He pulled his bag over his shoulders properly and promptly left, leaving Kai alone in the now desolate bedroom.

Even with Zane gone, Kai's eyes refused to dry.

 

He didn't care. He didn't care. He knew that he was right.

Crying alone in the bedroom.

What a pitiful sight.

Chapter Text

"Everybody here?" Lloyd asked, looking around the table in the dining room as he carried the last plates through.

"Other than Kai and Nya, yes." Zane replied.

Speak of the devil, Nya walked moodily through the doorway, lazily dressed in a red dressing gown.

"Kai doesn't want any food." She sighed.

"He tell you that? Or did he just ignore you?" Cole asked, almost smiling.

"Actually he threw a pillow at me the moment I opened the door and told me to f*ck off, but you know."

"Damn. What happened to him?"

Jay scratched his head looking guilty.

"Ahh, that might've been me."

Cole almost leaped out of his seat.

"What? Did you punch him again?!"

"No! I didn't! I just, I had an in depth talk to him about trans stuff. I think I might've proven him just a little bit too wrong, and, well, he's never taken that well." He explained, and Cole sunk back into his seat, mildly disappointed.

"Ah. That makes a lot of sense." Zane added, and then froze up, tapping his fingers together nervously.

"... uhm... Why does that make sense?"

The struggle on Zane's face was visible, before his mouth opened of its own accord and answered the question.

"Kai was crying in our room earlier."

The room fell pretty quiet, the only sound being Zane's repeated tapping.

"... I shouldn't have said that."

"... it's not your fault, you can't lie Zane." Jay added.

"Yeah, uhm, for Zane's sake, shall we all pretend that he never said it?" Cole followed up, and there was a mutual nod of agreement. Zane looked slightly relieved, and Lloyd placed down the last plates of the soup he made.

"Part of the thanks goes to Cole, he went out and bought all the stuff I used, so, thank you Cole." He said, finally sitting down and resting his legs.

The regular thankyous were exchanged, and people began to eat.

"Wow Lloyd, this is actually really good!" Nya smiled, tucking in enthusiastically.

"Oh, so you expected it to be bad?"

"What? No! It was a compliment!"

"Just teasing you."

Small talk was kept up, making sure the room never suffered any tension or comfort throughout the meal. It was a very nice change from the regular atmosphere of late.

After everybody finished up, Zane offered to do the washing up, and Nya stayed in the kitchen for a little while longer to keep him company.

The rest of the group went to the bridge together, lacking anything else to do at that moment.

The evening was in full bloom, and the magnificent sunrise could be seen through the windows. It was a nice place to sit and talk.

Cole started speaking as soon as the three had all sunk into a seat.

"... so... you talked to Kai? About, stuff?" He asked, and Jay nodded.

"Yeah. I actually seemed to get though to him a bit."

"Damn Jay, you've achieved the impossible." Lloyd giggled, leaning on his hand.

"To be perfectly honest with you guys... I don't think that Kai is as bad as he's seemed lately. He's just confused, and, that confusion is coming out in anger and-"

"Treating you like sh*t on the ground in front of him and disrespecting you wherever he can?" Cole added.

Jay shrugged.

"Well... yeah, I guess."

"I don't know if I'm quite ready to forgive him just like that Jay. I get that he might be confused, but, there's a line, and he's crossed far over it." Lloyd said.

Jay shrugged again, lifting his shoulders into a more defensive position. He tapped the table, getting visibly nervous.

"... can I, run something past you two?" He asked.

They looked puzzled.

"Yeah, sure?"

"... it's something I've been thinking about ever since I talked to him this morning."

Lloyd leaned a little closer, not wanting to miss a single word. The pressure in the room felt like it had increased tenfold, confining them all to the conversation in front of them.

"... Kai was actually pretty calm throughout it, he, listened. I didn't expect it but, he listened. And, he actually understood some of it. Nearer the end though, he started to get really agitated, angry, you know. But, the moment he snapped and left the room... it was when I told him I was bi. He suddenly looked all shocked and, scared even, and stormed off." He explained.

"... where are you going with this?"

Jay looked up, exchanging both of them with a sympathetic look.

"Do you think Kai might be suffering from, some sort of internalised homophobia?"

Cole blinked.

"... so like... he's... gay? But, in denial?"

"No, I, I don't think he's gay. He's been really into a number of girls in the past, and you can tell those feelings were genuine. Have you seen the way he looks at Skylor?"

"Oh god yeah, he's head over heels for her."

"What I'm saying is, maybe, he's bi as well. Or pan. Just, maybe, he likes guys too, and, he's afraid of that, and maybe he's coping by convincing himself that he hates people who... are in fact... just like him."

Lloyd rubbed his temples, developing a headache.

"... that's... that's really sad..."

"I know, but, it's surprisingly common. A lot of lgbt people suffer from it, especially in a society like this one. I mean, I've suffered from internalised transphobia, so, I can kinda get it. I just coped with mine very differently, hating myself instead of hating others."

Quiet settled across the three of them, a very somber feeling washing over the space.

"... I'm not saying that this is fact, Kai might just be straight and I'm massively overthinking things... but, it just doesn't make sense to me that Kai and Nya, who had the same upbringing, ended up with such different opinions."

"Jay... it's ok. Now that you've mentioned it, it's making a lot of sense."

Lloyd finally piped up and spoke.

"But that then gives us another question. Why didn't Kai grow up knowing that it was ok? If you know that from a young age, feeling insecure about your sexuality... it gets a lot less likely."

"Yeah, I've been considering that too."

Jay was about to open his mouth and try his best to answer, but Cole beat him to the punch.

"... there must've been something that happened to him."

"... exactly. Something must've happened. I don't know what though. Ahomophobic incident maybe? Bullying, something like that. If the theory is right at any rate. It might not be. He might just be a homophobic straight guy."

The topic was dropped there, all of them starting to feel deeply uncomfortable with it. Lloyd managed to start up a new conversation about Fitz Donegan, which Jay indulged in happily.

Cole rolled his eyes and briefly made fun of them for still liking a kids show, but listened in anyway, giving an occasional opinion.

Everything felt calm and fine, for a few blissful minutes, before Nya burst in, clearly very nervous and worried.

"All of you! You need to come and watch this now!" She exclaimed, her voice wavering as she talked.

"What? Nya, what's wrong?"

"Dei Noctis! They're on TV again! There's been another rally!"

Jay was out of his seat in a second, Cole and Lloyd close behind. They made their way to the game room, where Zane was already stood watching the news coverage.

Jay's heart sank the moment his eyes focussed on the screen, realising in a moment that the number of people at the Dei Noctis event had close to doubled compared to the last one.

He scampered over to it, crouching down and leaving space for the rest of them to sit and watch too.

"... is it just me or, does it look about a million times more demonic?" Cole asked.

Jay had to agree with him. The place may have been the same, an inconspicuous site in the middle of the desert, but how it was presented was the problem. It was at night this time, the natural shroud of darkness already creating huge shadows, illuminating faces in disturbing ways.

There were no big spotlights, the venue was entirely lit up by candles and bonfires, flickering deep red and orange in the eerie night air.

Demonic was certainly a good way to describe it.

"There are so many more of them..." Nya said, clasping her hands together.

"Yeah... they've been growing. This is bad." Lloyd continued.

A odd looking, skeletal man stepped up onto a podium, dressed in gothic robes and covered in odd symbols. His presence seemed to instantly hush the chattering crowds, a silence that spread all the way through the television to the ninja as well.

He cleared his throat, and spoke.

His voice was... surprising. For such a thin, odd looking man, he spoke very smoothly, his words sliding off his tongue like caramel, or chocolate.

But the sweet implications of his tone were soon corrupted by the contents.

"... brothers and sisters... fellow children of Dei Noctis. Welcome. We have gathered you here today for a very special event. One of information, to spread awareness of the dirt of this world. Dirt that must be avoided and eradicated at all costs." He spoke, and it was soon clear that he must have had some sort of microphone attached, as the sound boomed across the crowds, louder than any human could possibly speak.

"... let me guess. A bunch of nasty spiel, just like last time." Jay muttered under his breath.

He was right. A speech full of vile racism and homophobia flowed out of his mouth. The room on the Bounty fell silent, listening intently despite how horrible it was. Cole flinched a couple times at certain phrases or words. It was revolting.

Even Kai wandered his way into the game room.

All the heads turned as he entered, and he returned a roll of the eyes.

"What? Am I not allowed to come and watch too?"

Begrudgingly, they all looked away, but a few who were quicker had spied the redness that surrounded Kai's eyes. Zane had been right about how he was crying earlier.

Judging on how messy his hair was, and the general state of his face, he had clearly been crying pretty damn hard as well.

"Now, we have some very, very special news to share with you all." The Cult Leader announced, and the ninja all looked back, not wanting to miss anything.

Kai leaned against the doorway, Lloyd and Nya sat nearer the front with Jay and Cole just behind, Zane stood at the back behind them all. All of them had a clear view of the screen.

"Dear brothers and sisters... one of our own, a man who Dei Noctis himself looks down on in praise... has collected information from which we will all benefit."

Jay's blood ran cold.

That... didn't sound right.

What did they mean by... information?

 

"With his help, we have managed to infiltrate Ninjago City's central surgery... the doctors office that is the most widely used on the continent... the largest register of people we can currently gain access too..."

The temperature in the room must have dropped. Jay was shivering. Physically shaking, staring at the screen.

He was registered at that doctors.

 

"... Jay...?" Lloyd whispered, and Jay briefly made eye contact with him. With a single glance, he knew that he was thinking the same thing.

He couldn't breath. His lungs moved faster and faster, losing control.

 

"I have here, a list. One containing the names of a... specific group. A group of filth, disgusting filth... people who have rejected Dei Noctis and stained his beautiful world... and I am going to share their names with you... so that we may all defend ourselves against these vile individuals..."

Jay couldn't help it. He pressed a hand to his mouth, the panic rising, rising up up up up... relentless. Destructive.

"Jay, Jay listen to me, calm down, you gotta calm down..." Lloyd said, touching his shoulder as an attempt to ground him, but it seemed to do nothing.

"L-Lloyd you don't get it, I'm registered there, they have my name they have all my information there they have everything there and if they have it then-"

Cole moved closer to him. He didn't say anything, he just offered his hand, and Jay took it, squeezing like a vice.

There was a pause, the cult leader taking care to deliver dramatic effect.

"No... no no no this can't be happening..."

"Jay, it might be something else... please, calm down..."

"W-What else could it be?"

Cole started gently stroking the top of Jay's hand, hoping to calm him down. It didn't seem to work.

Back to the television, it seemed that the leader had finished with his pause, his lips moving once again, delivering one of the single most emotionally jarring sentences Jay had ever heard.

 

"... the names... of all the so called... 'Transgender'... individuals... in Ninjago City."

...

That was it.

The straw that broke the camel's back.

What he had been fearing, ever since they mentioned his doctors, came very very true.

Cole's hand began to hurt, as Jay squeezed even harder. He didn't care though. If having something to hold was helping him, then that was a good enough reason to stick and bare it.

"... oh no..." Nya whispered.

Oh no indeed.

The hyperventilation set in, Jay tried his hardest to stop it, to breathe more slowly and in a much more controlled way, but it didn't work. He already felt faint.

He couldn't breathe.

He couldn't breathe he couldn't breathe.

His throat felt as if it was closing up. Choking him from the inside.

 

Names started to be read out. A few were familiar, most of them weren't.

Boys names, girls names, names that could be applied to either group.

 

Lloyd gave up trying to talk to him as he stopped responding.

 

The list went on and on. None of them could even begin to comprehend the pure emotional torture of trans people across the capital. Not even the one right in front of them.

All they could do was feel sympathy. Feel sympathy, and offer support.

Jay wobbled to his feet, stepping back slowly, absolutely fixated on the programme. Cole moved with him.

He had hoped that moving away would make it feel a little less real, a little more, fictional. Something he could distance himself from.

But it was as real as it had ever been.

 

Zane started rapidly talking to Nya, providing Jay with a temporary distraction from the unending panic he felt.

"... why aren't they shutting down the broadcast? This... this is an invasion of privacy! This is a breach of data protection, this is illegal!"

"I do believe it will take some time, shuttling down a broadcast isn't easy... though I imagine they will be working on it at this second."

He tried to focus in on their words, something to bring him back to reality, something to latch onto... however, his ears were getting fuzzy, just like his eyesight. Though, the latter may have been tears.

... it was tears.

Big fat tears streamed down his pale, freckled cheeks. At least they were warm.

Jay continued to squeeze Cole's hand.

The cultist continued to read names.

 

It felt like it went on for hours, each syllable being dragged out to its full length.

It truly was a dark day for the trans community.

 

Finally, finally, it started to draw to a close. Names slowed down, it came to a stop.

... was that the end? Surely it couldn't be?

 

Jay managed to catch his breath, using his sleeve to dry his eyes.

The speaker hadn't said his name yet. And... it looked like he wasn't going to.

Maybe there was hope for him after all.

 

"... he... he hasn't said it." Nya announced, stating the obvious. Nobody pointed her out, the situation still far too tense and serious for pedantic nonsense.

Taking a deep breath, and a big sigh, Jay managed to return his breathing to a relatively stable rate.

"... oh... god... I though that-"

"It's ok... we all thought the same..." Cole replied, patting his hand affectionately. He still didn't let go, and Cole didn't complain.

The room fell quiet enough to hear Zane's inner workings moving considerably faster than normal.

"... Zane... are you ok?" Lloyd asked.

"... Jay's name and information is definitely on that database. It is completely nonsensical for them to have left it out... and there could not have been a mistake in the exchange process. Ninjago city's medical technology... even just their databases... are state of the art."

"... what are you saying?"

 

The speaker answered Lloyd's question for him.

"... last, but not least... we have a very special name to share. Believe me... it came as a surprise to us too. So... we decided to leave the best till last..."

Jay tensed up once more.

The sensation of such relief being shattered right before his eyes entered him into a state of panic, much worse than the previous.

 

"... the final debauchee of this kind in Ninjago City... the one and only..."

"... no no no no this isn't happening this can't be happening... this... this isn't happening I... this... this can't be f*cking happening!"

"Jay, calm down!"

"I can't I can't I can't... I can't I cAN'T I CAN'T F*CKING CALM DOWN!"

This couldn't be happening. He'd kept it a secret for so long, maybe his friends found out but nobody else did, the public just knew him as Jay. Normal. Regular. Nothing strange about him other than his elemental powers.

His secret couldn't get out. His life would be over, nobody would ever see him the same way again.

Look how the public reacted to the possibility of Lloyd being gay. How would they react to him?

Worse.

Much.

Much.

Worse.

The panic rose, he couldn't breathe. He couldn't think. He couldn't leave.

His feet were frozen on the spot. His body heat was far too hot.

His lungs screamed out, his limbs all shook. He hoped his ears had been mistook.

He wanted to leave, to go anywhere. But all he could do, was stand and stare.

 

"... I... I can't..." Jay whimpered, gritting his teeth, and nearly losing balance.

Tears fell once more, faster and harder, drenching his face.

Drenching his hope.

Drenching his heart.

 

Drowning his mind.

 

The final sentence rang out in the night, cursing the air with its wicked words.

...

"... the Blue Ninja, Jay Walker...!"

 

S I L E N C E.

...

A B S O L U T E.

 

S I L E N C E.

...

"... or should I say... Sophie."

Chapter Text

At last, the screen flickered, the vivid image of the man's gleeful, twisted face faded from sight, replaced with a flustered reporter, frantically trying to apologise for what the entire nation just saw.

 

Jay yanked his hand out of Cole's steady grip and sprinted out the door, streaking down the corridor away from the television. Far far away from it.

"... Jay! Jay wait!" Cole called after him, breaking into a run as well.

 

The game room was left in silence. Lloyd collapsed onto a pillow, resting his head in his hands, while Nya and Zane stayed stood in the corner, evaluating what had just befallen them all.

 

Kai broke the silence.

 

"... sh*t." He said. A single vulgar word.

Funnily enough, it summed up everybody's thoughts perfectly.

 

Cole followed Jay as best he could, at last coming to a stop at the bathroom, where Jay burst inside and wobbled over to the mirror above the sink, staring at his reflection in the foggy glass.

"Jay..."

His shoulders shook with ever sob that escaped his lips, wracking his body with jolts and jitters. He still couldn't breathe properly, lungs heaving at every intake. It didn't get any better.

 

"... Jay... I... I'm so sorry..."

 

It was like he didn't even notice. His panic attack just got worse and worse and worse, before he could hardly even stay on his feet anymore.

"E-Everybody k-knows... the... the w-whole continent... everybody..."

"Jay... everything will be ok-"

"- nOTHING WILL BE OK!" He screamed, gripping the sides of the sink, his knuckles turning white, "EVERYBODY KNOWS, EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN THE WHOLE OF F*CKING NINJAGO KNOWS, NOTHING'S OK NOTHING WILL EVER BE F*CKING OK!"

Jay collapsed to his knees, breaking down.

"I CAN'T D-DO THIS... I CAN'T TAKE THIS... I CAN'T TAKE THIS COLE! I CAN'T!"

 

Cole couldn't take it and longer, he rushed forward and pulled him into a hug. He half expected Jay to push him away and scream at him, but... he didn't. He clung back twice as hard, wailing into his shoulder.

"I c-can't do this! I can't deal with this!"

"I know... I know... and I promise, we'll be here for you no matter what... Jay... you're my best friend... I'll never let you go through this alone... me... Zane, Lloyd, even Nya. We're all here for you."

 

His breathing didn't slow down, if anything, it sped up.

"Jay... you need to calm down... it'll just get worse if this carries on..."

"I... I can't... I can't I c-can't I can't breathe... I can't breathe..."

"Yes you can, you can... I know you can..."

"Cole, p-please help me...!"

"I can't help you... you can only help yourself..."

Miraculously... his breathing did slow down. Slowly, he returned to a steady pace. Cole smiled.

"There you go... see? You can breathe."

 

Then, at that exact moment, he went limp, the tight vice-like grip around Cole's neck disappearing instantaneously.

"... Jay?"

No response.

"... Jay!"

Cole panicked for a second, fearing that somehow, the worse had happened, but after a couple quick tests, the panic dissolved.

He was breathing, he had a pulse, he had simply passed out. Cole breathed a sigh of relief, before the concern came flooding back, and he gently lifted him into his arms, and carried him to the medical room.

A wave of déjà vu passed over him. He remembered how he had carried Jay this exact same way, when his secret got out to their group alone.

Cole still felt awful for that. Despite Jay's previous reassurances that it wasn't his fault, he still felt that it all came about because of him. Discovering the box was his doing after all.

Those sort of thoughts didn't matter though. All that mattered right then, was getting Jay to the medical room, where he could be looked after.

Zane ran into him on his way, looking as if he was in a hurry.

"Ah, Cole. I was looking for you and Jay, but it seems I no longer have a need to. I assume Jay passed out again?"

"Yeah. Just like last time."

"... I have some concerns about that. I'll inform you once Jay is safely in the medical room."

Cole nodded, and finished the journey.

He laid Jay down on the bed, and laid a blanket over him, making sure that he wouldn't get cold.

Zane then beckoned to him, so Cole left the room, and the two started to talk in hushed voices just outside.

"... I'll get straight to the point. Panic attacks are bad, they can cause such discomfort and mental strain that sufferers can experience heart palpitations, but... it's highly unlikely that somebody would pass out because of one. Yet, Jay has passed out on two occasions, both because of a panic attack."

"... what are you saying? That he has something wrong with him?"

"I wouldn't put it that way. I'd say, it's likely that Jay is suffering from some unknown issue, relating to his respiratory system. Hyperventilating to the level of losing consciousness is not a normal bodily function."

"... maybe it's just a coincidence."

"I'm going to perform a scan of Jay's chest to make sure my hypothesis is correct, before saying anything more on the subject."

He turned to enter the room again, but Cole grabbed his shoulder, stopping him.

"... I get that you're worried, I'm worried too, but... maybe you should wait until he's awake again. Awake and calm. He's been through enough, and... we should just leave him to sleep."

Cole could hear the telltale whirring, and if that wasn't enough, Zane's face contorted with worry.

"... you are right. I will wait until Jay is awake. I won't be able to keep it off my mind though... this could be very serious."

"... how serious are we talking, by the way? It... it can't be that bad, can it?"

"... Jay may just be suffering from a temporary illness, or something mild that has given him problems for a short while, but at worst, we could be looking at lung damage."

Cole's sharp intake of breath made Zane almost feel bad.

"I am sorry. Perhaps I should have left this until the morning to discuss."

"No... no it's fine. I'm just... we've known Jay for years now, and, nothing's happened that could have given him... lung damage."

"Indeed, we have known Jay for a long time. However, before we met him at the monastery for the first time... we'd never set eyes on him. He had a life before being a ninja. A life we do not know much about."

"... Ed and Edna would never hurt him. Would they?"

"I'm not suggesting that they did. They strike me as very capable and caring parents. I do not know what has happened, Cole, or if I am even correct. All I know is that Jay's pattern of passing out after attacks, is not normal."

Cole crossed his arms, and looked down at the ground.

"... I... I don't know what to do. He... those, those bloody disgusting cultist a*sholes revealed Jay's... situation... to the whole world. I can't even begin to imagine how awful this is for him."

"Nor can I."

"... I wish I could help him. But I can't. I'm useless in all of this."

Zane sighed, the whirring in his head not getting any quieter.

"... Jay appreciates your support a lot more than you realise. All we can do at this point is be there for him. A little support in trying times can go a lot further than is thought."

"I didn't know you could speak Sensei." Cole briefly joked, and Zane took a moment to think it over, before chuckling slightly.

"Good thing I had my humour switch on, or else that would have gone right over my head."

Lloyd walked down the hallway to them, looking exhausted.

"... is Jay ok?" He asked.

"He passed out. I think he will be spending the night in the medical room, so you needn't worry about waiting for him." Zane answered.

Lloyd nodded, then swore under his breath.

"I hate this world. I hate it. It's unfair." He muttered, clenching his fists at his sides.

"I gotta agree with you there."

Zane said nothing for a few moments, then added his piece.

"... I wish I could say I disagreed, I wish I could ignore recent events and be able to say that the world we live in is a good place... however... I can't think illogically."

Lloyd snorted at that. It was hilarious to him that the world had become so brutally unjust and cruel, that it was actually illogical to have hope in it.

"... It seems we have all become slight misanthropists."

"... yeah uhm, I have no idea what that means." Lloyd replied, trying to run it over in his head.

"A misanthrope, a person who dislikes humankind and avoids human society." Zane spoke, reading the definition out of his database.

"Sounds about right." Cole yawned, stretching his arms.

He took one last woeful glance at the door, behind which Jay slept soundly, and turned away.

"I'm gonna head to bed. You coming, Zane?"

"Yes. A bit of rest will do us all good."

Lloyd headed off to his own room too, and soon after Cole and Zane reached their bedroom, Kai walked in as well.

Cole shot him a look as soon as he entered.

"What? Do you have a problem?" Kai growled, glaring back, just as venomous.

"I get that you kinda hate Jay right now, even though he's don't absolutely nothing wrong, but, give him a f*cking break, ok? He's been through enough and he doesn't need you to be a d*ck on top of it."

Kai's attitude dropped immediately.

"... I wasn't going to give him any trouble."

"Well all you've been doing recently is treating him like sh*t, so I think you can excuse my assumption that you'd carry on that behaviour."

Kai opened his mouth to reply, but closed it again, walking over to his bed.

"Whatever." He said.

He changed in record time, pulling off his shirt and not bothering to get dressed into bedclothes, before climbing onto his bunk and aggressively getting under the covers. Cole wanted to say a whole lot more to him, but decided to leave it.

It wasn't an easy night for anybody.

 

But all of their discomfort combined, wouldn't be able to even scratch the surface of Jay's turmoil.

 

The past had been dark. The present darker still.

The future, was yet to unfold, but whatever was coming...

 

... couldn't be good.

Chapter Text

Jay flew awake in an instant, full of pent up anxiety that had laid dormant as he slept.

The occurrences from last night flooded his mind. Filling him with instant dread and fear. The whole world knew.

The whole world now knew he was trans.

 

He did his best to keep his breathing controlled, the air coming in and the air coming out having decent gaps between. He managed it, but the rising panic didn't go away.

Where was he? It wasn't Lloyd's bedroom. It was much much lighter.

Ah. The medical room. Just like last time.

It was funny, how history often repeated itself.

 

Jay's vision was very blurry, and objects seemed to distort as he looked around. A headache, tiredness, he didn't know.

His chest still hurt a lot. His chest was usually a little sore after a panic attack, but... it never hurt, per say. That was worrying.

Very worrying.

 

What to do now? What was the time?

Jay's hands flew to his pockets, where he found his phone, which was miraculously still alive after a whole night of being on and active. He didn't really care about the small 5% symbol in the corner though. The medical room had plenty of chargers at hand.

He cared about something else.

 

The insane amount of notifications he had. And they were still coming up.

Hundreds? Thousands? He didn't know. He didn't care.

 

Every social media account he owned had been blown to bits with comments and messages. Luckily, his phone had been on silent, so the constant notifications hadn't woken him up during his well needed rest.

He almost wished they had.

This amount, to deal with all at once...

 

It was almost too much to think about.

 

With a shaking finger, he opened up the first app, the one he was most active on.

There were so many message requests. So so many.

 

He took a deep breath, and entered the list. He needed to start clearing these out eventually, and... after all... some of them could be supportive.

 

His eyes zoomed in on the most broad word of the first message. A slur. A disgusting slur that made him slam his thumb down on the 'decline' button as fast as he could.

That was the pattern for quite a while.

Slurs. Insults. Even just the small previews of text were enough to judge whether they were positive or not, and he didn't want to enter a single chat that wasn't showing care.

Again and again.

Slurs. Disgusting language.

The tears started to fall. Slowly, much more slowly than usual. These weren't tears of panic... they were tears of despair. Despair and betrayal. In some ways they were better but... in many others, they were worse.

 

The messages seemed to get worse as he scrolled down, denying them again and again. The language got worse, more abusive.

Insults turned into blackmail. Blackmail turned into threats. Threats turned into death threats.

 

It was all too much to deal with at once. He felt like deleting the app, never opening it ever again, running away from the problem like he always did.

But he couldn't. Something in his mind told him that there would be supportive ones, and he felt awful just ignoring those.

 

God was it a trial to get to them though.

 

Through the vast sea of abuse and horror, the occasional gem floated to the surface.

The first time Jay saw one, he paused, and hesitant, afraid that his eyes were deceiving him, he pressed on it to open it.

'... hey, I know you might never see this but, I'm so sorry that this has happened! I don't know about anybody else but, you being trans doesn't change anything. You're still the same old blue ninja who saves people! You're still a good person!'

For the first time that day, a smile struck his quivering lips. He replied with a quick 'thank you, the support means a lot', and moved on.

Even just one positive message gave him the courage to carry on. The courage to find more.

 

Jay took a quick break from the requests, instead turning to his feed. Just as he'd thought, everybody was talking about him.

If he hadn't been so anxious and distraught, he probably would have rolled his eyes, and even laughed. It was really damn pathetic that society would care about something so ridiculous. Why didn't people put effort into other things? Things that actually mattered?

The people of the world focussed on the most harmless of issues. He was trans. So what? Did that stop him from being the blue ninja? Did that stop him from being an Elemental Master? Did that stop him from being able to save people?

No.

 

So why did it matter?

 

The posts on his feed varied massively. Most were just shocked, some were wondering if it was a joke, or a lie. Some were spreading hate. A lot were spreading hate.

The newspapers sure did work fast. Articles were already being reposted all over the place. Of course, newspapers weren't allowed to blatantly slander him, but, they certainly had that tone.

One of the more politically right wing ones had released an article, in which they referred to him with gender neutral pronouns.

Maybe it wasn't as bad as being called 'she', but, when it was widely known that he went by he/him, using 'they' made him feel just as low.

 

Back to messages.

More horrible words. Transphobic phrases. Slurs. It actually started to get more boring than hurtful.

There were nice messages too. Even just an occasional 'I'm sorry this is happening' or 'I'll support you through this.'. They meant the world to him.

He responded to every single person who had taken their time to show him that he was not alone. They gave him the strength to carry on, and not throw his phone at the wall in frustration and despair.

The end, of this app at least, was drawing near.

 

Then... there was a special message. Not especially off. Not especially weird. The account was inconspicuous, the first few messages were that of simple greeting.

Then there was, a voice message.

Jay's anxiety jumped a little bit at that. Alike calls, voice messages always made him a little uneasy. He much preferred just typed messages, both sending and receiving.

But, this person had seemed calm and decent in their messages running up to it. Surely it couldn't be all that bad?

So he made sure his volume was on an acceptable level, and pressed the tiny triangle play button.

 

He sat.

 

He listened.

 

The message was 3 minutes long.

By the end of the first minute, Jay already knew what he was going to do.

———

Cole was a little bit shocked when Jay, fully dressed, marched into the bridge, seemingly on his way out.

"... Jay? Wh- are you ok?"

"I'm fine." He replied, surprisingly calm and controlled, considering his state last night.

"... are you... are you heading out?" Lloyd asked, standing up and walking over to him.

"Yes, I am. Is there a problem with that?"

There was a brief moment of quiet, one that Cole broke with a statement of worry and concern.

 

"Jay, it's dangerous to go out right now!"

Jay turned his gaze to the black ninja, and fixed him with a determined stare.

"Why, because somebody might harass me? If anybody does as much as touch me I'll electrocute them on the spot."

Zane joined the interaction, bringing an element of calm to the situation immediately.

"... I do believe Cole meant something else. Yes, the public is indeed a concern you must consider... there is a much worse possibility."

"... what else?"

Zane took a deep breath, and decided to go straight to the point.

"... your lungs."

Jay was a little taken aback for a second. His... lungs?

"... my... my lungs? My lungs are fine. This is important, I'm going out. I'll do whatever you want me to when I get back."

He tried to walk past them, but Zane blocked his way.

"Jay, I don't think you understand-"

"I don't think YOU understand!" Jay exclaimed, "I don't give a damn about my lungs, or whatever! I need to go out, and I need to leave, right now!"

"We can't let you do that!"

"Well I guess I'll have to make you!"

 

Everybody could feel the dangerous static slowly filling the air. Hairs stood on end. It could almost be tasted. Hot, electric.

Jay may have been a bit of a jokester, but, he could deliver a devastating shock when he wanted to. He would obviously never grievously hurt his friends, but, the current could even reach lethal levels.

It only took one look at his face to see that he was most certainly not joking.

 

Begrudgingly, Zane stepped aside. Jay passed without a word. It was obvious that he was riled up before, and now he was angry on top of that.

"... what do you think he's going out for?" Zane questioned, looking to Cole, who was oddly looking incredibly stressed.

"... Cole?"

"... we... we can't just let him go out! Not after last night! He'll get jumped! We have to follow him!" he exclaimed, wringing his hands in frustration.

"Cole, hey, hey, take a breath. We can't really do that, he's probably far gone by now, and, I don't think he'd be very happy if he found out." Lloyd calmed, placing a hand on his shoulder, to no avail.

"... Jay will be ok, Cole. He can take care of himself. He is a very capable ninja." Zane added on. His sentence had a little more effect than Lloyd's, but Come was still very nervous and worried.

"... and... his lungs..."

Zane looked at the floor.

"... it will have to wait. I just hope that he comes back soon."

Cole nodded solemnly, sitting down at the large table. Be looked out the window.

It was misty. Cold, damp, very uncomfortable weather.

Jay was out in it. All alone, not even in a coat. He was only wearing a jacket when he left the Bounty. Off to do something, but none of them had even the slightest inkling if what it could be.

It had better not be something dangerous.

 

"... yeah. I... I hope so too."

Chapter Text

The walk to town was incredibly tense, it didn't need to be said.

It was around 11:00 am, meaning that the daily errands of the greater population had started. People were out and about, on ways to work, buying shopping, out with their children.

It didn't matter.

What mattered was, Jay was far from alone on the city streets. As soon as he hit the populated areas, the odd stares started. Staring, grimacing, mouths gaping open as if he was some sort of alien.

It didn't do any good for his already jittery mental state.

He just walked forward, knowing his location, but still periodically checking his phone to see if he had been taking the correct turnings. This was not something he wanted to be late for.

Winding streets, left and right, it seemed to take so much longer than it should have, which was odd, since people literally parted to let him through without trouble.

They were that scared of trans people, were they? So scared they couldn't even bare to touch them?

 

Jay kept his head at the ground, but could still feel the eyes burning into his skin. Trying to figure out what they had missed before, trying to seek out any telltale signs of his... birth sex.

Jawline, eye shape, body distribution.

Being judged so deeply by complete strangers would usually have sent him turning around and going straight back to the Bounty, but, he carried on.

 

Luckily, nobody actually stopped him or talked to him. He heard a couple of whispers on two occasions, surprised disgust, though, no actual conflict came upon him during his whole hurried walk.

He was glad of that.

 

He would have taken the bus, but didn't for two different reasons. First of all, the bus cost money, and he couldn't say that he actually had any money of his own at that point, and... he would much rather be cornered by a transphobe on a street, than in an enclosed moving vehicle.

At last, checking the digital map on his phone, he was certain that he'd reached his final location.

It was a small park, enclosed with layers of houses. The domestic and solemn environment all around brought the atmosphere to a still. Jay could relax at last.

Paranoia snapped at him, so to reassure himself, he opened up the messages he had read only an hour prior.

Well... listened to.

 

'Hey... I, I t-tried to just write a message but, I, I... I could hardly type anymore, I was s-shaking too much! S-So... I'm sorry about this I... I just... have to get it out! You might not even see it, if you do, you can just ignore it i-if you want... but... I... I had no idea that you were trans and... I'm trans too! The people on TV... they read out my name as well... a-and I don't know what to do! The moment I have to write my name down for a-anything, any forms, or letters... a-anything like that, p-people will know! I-I... I'm sorry! You've been my hero for such a long time... coming from a p-poor background and all and, turning out to be the b-b-blue ninja! And, t-to know that, you're... trans, too? I... I've never looked up to you m-more! And I... I guess I also wanted to say that... no matter what... you'll always have people supporting you. You'll probably be having a way... way worse time than I am right now, but I just... I just wanted to tell you... yeah... I'm sorry... you d-don't need to reply...'

The sorrow and panic in her voice was painstakingly real, and as soon as Jay had listened through her message, he got back to her straight away. Promising to try and help out however he could.

A quick look at her account told him her name and her age - Mary, 16 - and when she replied straight away, they arranged to meet up.

She knew a good place, and Jay couldn't think of anywhere else more appropriate.

 

As Jay got closer and closer, he started being able to make out the figure of a young girl sat on one of the benches, and she saw him too.

"... Jay!" She exclaimed, shooting out of her seat and rushing over to him, though stopping a couple of metres before she reached him.

"... you... you came!"

"Well, I wouldn't stand you up would I?"

Mary didn't move closer, looking him up and down to make sure that he was real, and she wasn't just seeing things.

"... you've been my hero since I was 12... I... I'm sorry! I'm just quite, excited I guess!"

She wiped her eyes, red and inflamed from obvious crying, and took a big intake of air. Her clear relief managed to fill the entire environment, and passed over to Jay as well.

"... I have no idea what to do now..."

"Let's go sit down, and we can talk for a bit."

It still felt incredibly surreal. When he woke up that morning, he had no plans to even leave the room, let alone go and meet an entirely new person. A complete stranger, except for the few messages they exchanged.

As well as that, he'd never actually met a fan before.

He had just, filled up with determination, knowing that somebody was in desperate need of help gave him enough courage to make it outside.

He almost felt a duty to do it.

 

They reached the bench that Mary had originally been waiting on, and sank into it. Jay let out a little laugh.

"When you first suggested a park, I thought you were joking, but, it really is empty!"

"Yeah! I mean, if you came here later in the evening it would be full of dodgy people but, during the day? Nobody comes here. Not even the kids, it's a pretty broken down park. The council hasn't bothered to do it up in years."

"That's a relief. So, you live around here?"

"About half an hour away, same as you, but, I guess it depends on where your big ship is... parked? Do you say parked?"

"... I actually don't know. I'd say docked, but, that's usually for boats that are in the water..."

The two managed to relax pretty quickly, getting to know each other, casual chatter and a few jokes to ease the mood, before Jay brought up what the main reason for the meet up was.

"... so... what do you think is gonna happen with the whole... Dei Noctis thing?"

Mary's shoulders tensed up again, and she looked at the ground.

"I'd like to think that the government will do something about them but... I'm afraid it might be too late."

"Me too... all we can really do right now as a community is stick together."

"Yeah... I'm sorry that I got all upset and messaged you, I was, I was home alone, and I was panicking and... it was the first thing I thought to do."

"It's alright, I promise. In fact, I'm sorta glad you did. I was having a hard time too, when I woke up this morning, and your message sorta grounded me. Made me calm down."

"Really?"

"Mmh hmm."

A siren in the distance faded in and out of audibility, and if you focussed hard enough, you could make out individual motors from a nearby street.

"... how come your parents weren't home?"

"They're often out working late. I don't have much of a relationship with them, to be honest. They're... supportive? But I can't tell if they're supportive or... or if they just don't care. They let me start hormones though, and grow my hair and stuff. So I'm grateful for that." She mumbled, clearly uncomfortable talking about her parents, "... can I ask about yours?"

Jay smiled.

"My parents? They're amazing. As soon as they found out I was trans, they were supportive straight away. I'm so so lucky to have them, I know that a lot of people aren't nearly as lucky... but, you know. I don't live with them. When I saw that on TV, I had my friends around me. If I was alone, like you were, I don't know what I would've done."

Time seemed to fly, and a few worried messages from Zane managed to work their way through the limited signal.

"My team is getting worried. Should probably head back at some point."

"I'm gonna have to get going soon as well, I need to get work done for school tomorrow." Mary sighed.

Jay stared blankly for a couple of seconds.

"Sh*t, you still go to school! Yeah! I'm so used to being around people who stopped going years ago!"

Mary started to laugh, clinging onto the bench so that she didn't topple off.

"My exams are coming up!"

"Well that's something you can tell everybody when you get back, you met the Blue Ninja, and you're friends with him now!"

Jay saw her face light up and beam when he said 'friends'.

"Can... can I take a picture with you, so that they believe me?"

He nodded, and she hurriedly took out her phone, almost dropping it as she did. He leaned closer to her, and she snapped a few.

"There we go. Proof!"

Jay was almost sad that they had to part ways so soon, even though it had been a good few hours. He hadn't felt so upbeat and positive in quite a while.

"Stay safe on your way back, alright?" He said, and Mary promised she'd stay safe.

"I can't really meet up all that much, this weekend was my last sort of free one. Gotta knuckle down and revise for the next month or so, but, after that, do you want to meet up again?" She asked, nervous and clearly readying herself for rejection.

Her grin when he said yes conveyed more pure excitement than he could explain.

They hugged it out, and parted ways, walking in opposite directions. Mary kept waving back until she passed out of sight, and... Jay entered the heavily populated streets again.

 

All the calmness and clarity he had gathered while sat down talking dissipated immediately, and he was on alert once more.

Weird looks, disgusted remarks whispered under the breath, practically jumping out of the way as he approached.

Treated like a disease.

 

Jay thought he would be ok, though. The reaction of the public certainly made him uncomfortable, but he wasn't in any immediate danger.

Then, out of the corner of his eye, he spotted something. Somebody heading directly at him marching with precision and purpose.

Adrenaline filled him to the brim, and his gut told him to get out of there straight away, but he didn't.

He just kept walking.

 

They got closer, and closer, and closer, and as he saw them speed up, he stopped in his tracks, making eye contact, and entering a slightly more defensive pose.

They stopped.

 

It was a woman, mid 40s, furious, with a small baby strapped to her back.

They eyed each other for a few moments, and she was the first to speak.

"What do you think you're doing out in public like this?!" She practically shrieked, gaining the attention of everybody on the street.

Jay didn't reply.

"Don't ignore me! Why the f*ck do you think it's ok to be outside flaunting yourself?!"

Jay gritted his teeth.

Maybe if he ignored her long enough, she'd just-

"ANSWER ME, BEFORE I CALL THE POLICE!"

"And tell them what?!" He snapped, unable to keep his mouth shut any longer, "I'm not breaking the law by being outside!"

"YOU'RE ADVERTISING YOURSELF, WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN? WHAT ABOUT MY SON! YOU'RE FORCING YOUR DISGUSTING AGENDA!"

"I'm not forcing anything! I'm walking around!"

He raised his hands up, showing that he wasn't armed.

"If you just let me go, I'm going straight home, this doesn't need to-"

She darted forwards and grabbed his wrist, squeezing hard enough to hurt. He tried to tug himself free, but her grip was far too tight.

"YOU'RE NOTHING BUT A STUPID GIRL WHO'S F*CKED UP IN THE HEAD!"

"Ma'am, let go of-"

"HOW DARE YOU SHOW YOURSELF IN PUBLIC!"

It took a lot of self control to keep himself calm. Having somebody up close, somebody he didn't know, screaming obscenities and insults directly in his face was slowly sending him into a panic attack.

"Ma'am, you need to let go of me. If you don't I'll-"

"I'M NOT LETTING GO UNTIL THE POLICE GET HERE! SOMEBODY CALL THE POLICE!"

Jay prayed that nobody in the surrounding crowd was stupid enough to call the police on her side, but honestly, having some officials here to help him out would be a blessing.

He tried pulling his hand away twice more, to no avail.

She didn't stop screaming, and he started to get desperate.

Why didn't anybody step forward and help him? Surely the whole crowd couldn't all be transphobic. Surely there was at least somebody watching who was on his side?

So why didn't anybody do anything? Why did they all just sit watching? He wasn't some attraction to just stare at!

His heart started thundering in his chest, his binder seemed to get tighter by the second.

Maybe Cole was right.

Maybe Cole as Zane were right.

Maybe he shouldn't have come out.

 

Maybe he should have just stayed there.

 

The woman's bright red acrylic fingernails felt like they were digging into his skin, drawing blood, puncturing deeper and deeper.

He had to stay calm, he had to get out of this.

"YOU MAKE ME SICK! YOU MUTILATE YOUR BODIES, YOU GO AGAINST NATURE, YOU-"

Jay knew by now that he wouldn't be able to pull himself free, but he could certainly pull her closer.

He acted on impulse, pulling her in until she was whispering distance, and the shock of the movement briefly shut her up.

"If you don't let go of me, I'll be forced to shock you... and the current will carry through to your baby."

Finally, she was quiet, and the look of sudden fear in her eyes told him that she believed him.

He didn't let any uncertainly show itself in his eyes, and he gave her a good long stare.

 

"... Let. Go."

 

The seriousness and the danger in his voice even took him aback, and it certainly had that effect on the woman. She let go, as if his wrist had turned into a hot iron, and quickly exited the situation.

Even with her gone, nobody did anything. They all either stayed there, standing and staring, or slowly walked away, getting on with their lives as if they had never seen it.

 

Maybe, maybe if somebody had just asked him a quick 'you alright?' or 'how are you feeling?', he would have been able to shrug it off, put a smile on and walk home relatively calmly, but...

Nobody did. Everybody either left or stared, and he started to feel, incredibly alone.

 

Naked, exposed to the cruelty of the world around him.

 

The panic that filled up as he was openly harassed, finally overflowed its container.

He clasped a hand over his mouth to muffle the sobbing that ensued, and hurriedly got far away from that street. Nothing changed, people moved out of the way, people stared, as he cried slowly harder and harder.

He could hardly breathe, and the very moment that a smaller alleyway came into sight, he tried down it and headed deeper in, and collapsed against one of the walls when he was content that no one could see him.

 

Jay took a while to calm down, and even longer to regain enough composure to continue travelling.

 

The journey back was considerably longer than the way there. He walked slower, and he went in a much more roundabout way, using as many alleyways and empty paths that he could to avoid further human contact.

When the edges of the city came into sight, Jay felt such relief that he hadn't felt for a long long time.

 

Cole and Zane were right.

 

Going out was a bad idea.

Chapter Text

Cole could tell that something was wrong as soon as he saw Jay walk onto the deck.
He rushed outside, standing at the top of the stairs, trying to figure out what was wrong.

He couldn't.

But he could tell that Jay was shaking. Shaking and staring at the ground, alert and afraid.

It was painstakingly clear that his trip out hadn't been as smooth as he'd said it would be.

"Jay? Jay, what happened?" He asked, covering the last few metres down the stairs and over to him.

"... what's wrong?"

Jay simply shook his head, trying to push past him to get inside, but Cole blocked his way.

"Please, don't just run away... I want to help you..."

Jay ignored him, only shaking his head more vigorously, and sidestepped, rushing indoors with tears steaming down his face.

Cole could only follow him, all the way to the bathroom, where Jay slammed the door and pushed something in front of it. He could tell, as when he tried wobbling the doorknob and pushing, it wouldn't budge.

He could probably have forced it open if he wanted to, but, instead, Cole just sat outside, listening to Jay's faint whimpers as he calmed himself down. From Cole's auditory observations, he wasn't doing very well.

It... hurt. It hurt a lot to be able to do nothing but sit outside and wait for when he left, to then and only then be able to help.

He felt pretty damn useless.

 

A long time passed. Minutes, it possibly stretched into an hour. Cole was flipping through news articles on his phone, most of them about Jay. They made him sick.

Half of them he couldn't even bring himself to read, as the language and tone were far too derogatory to cope with.

Seeing words that objectified and disrespected his friend so deeply... Cole couldn't stand it.

 

Then, at last, the bathroom door swung open, and a much calmer - but still shaking - Jay stepped out into the corridor. When he caught sight of him, confusion flashed across his face, and Cole quickly brought himself to his feet.

"I... I was waiting for you to get out. I was... worried."

"... s... sorry..." Jay managed to choke out.

"What? Why are you apologising? It's not your fault?"

"It is... it is..."

The brief calm he had achieved within the bathroom's safe walls crumbled in seconds, and Jay started to cry again, letting himself fall into Cole's embrace.

"... god... Jay... what happened...?"

He was too upset to answer, clinging tighter to him instead.

"... come on, let's head to the game room. Nobody else is there right now."

Jay nodded, and wiped his eyes on his sleeve following his friend like a duckling to the empty room, where upon entry, Cole threw a discarded blanket around his shoulders. Once he was tightly wrapped up and sat comfortably on one of the big cushions, Cole could finally get a few words out of him.

It started when he saw a number of slightly arced indents on Jay's wrist, a couple having drawn blood and turned into scabs.

Jay noticed him staring, and took a deep breath, speaking at last.

"... t... there was a woman..."

"... w... what did she do?"

He tended up even further, curling into a ball as tightly as he could.

"... she... grabbed me and... s-s-started yelling at me..."

"In the middle of the street?"

Jay nodded, holding down the tears as best he could.

"... we need to call the police. That's harassment. We can't let her get away with this!"

"N-No!"

Jay's defiant statement brought Cole to a standstill. Silent, not knowing what to say at all.

"... I... don't want any more attention in m-me than there already i-is..."

Cole wanted to protest as push for taking legal action, but, he knew it would get nowhere. Jay had made up his mind.

"... I'm so sorry Jay... I... I tried to warn you but-"

"I k-know... its all my fault... I shouldn't have gone out at all..."

Fresh tears welled up in his eyes and wet his pale cheeks once more.

"Jay no, I'm not saying that at all, it's not your fault that people are like this..."

"... you were right... I shouldn't have gone out... but I didn't listen, like an i-i-idiot!"

He lifted up his arm to wipe his eyes. A simple movement. Cole payed little to no attention to it.

 

Though, his expertly trained eagle eyes caught something that he wished he hadn't.

A flickering of the fabric, as it shifted daintily down his forearm, revealing bare skin. Normal. Ordinary. It happened every day.

It was simple physics, gravity.

 

However, what was underneath, was the abnormal feature.

Air around turned cold, and an uncomfortable sensation alike trickling water ran down his back, sending shivers along every vein.

A haunting sight.

 

Small red lines, intercepting across his flesh, a disturbing game of noughts and crosses.

They were all scabbed over, but so blatantly recent. Red and inflamed, painful, sticking out like a sore thumb.

Cole couldn't drag his eyes from the sight.

 

There was no way that some woman's nails did this. Far too high up, too uniform, too... deliberate. Too controlled.

It suddenly clicked why he had spent so long in the bathroom, yet hadn't calmed down much at all.

That's what he was doing in there.

 

As soon as Jay realised that Cole had seen, he jerked his arm out of sight, yanking down the sleeve and stared right back, absolutely terrified in every shape and form.

He clearly hadn't intended for it to be common knowledge.

 

Cole was far too broken to speak. In a matter of seconds, his head state went from worried to completely and utterly devastated.

Simply knowing that somebody he cared about would even think about such a thing, let alone actually carry it out, hit extremely deep.

"... oh... oh god... Jay..." was all he could manage to force out.

Jay started sobbing, staring deliberately at the floor, shaking from head to toe.

"I... I-I'm sorry... I'm so... so sorry..."

"Why... are you apologising?"

"I... I don't know I'm just... I'm s-sorry, ok! I'm sorry! I'm sorry I'm sorry!"

Jay hid his face in his hands. Everything was far too much for him to deal with. The media, the issues as home, the issues that followed him everywhere, they all combined and beat him to the group, not stopping even when he was completely broken.

And now this too.

Cole had found out about another of his deep secrets.

 

It was coming to the point, where he felt he knew more about him than even he did.

 

Not knowing what else to do, and at a loss for anything else, Cole reached out a hand, brushing it against the back of Jay's right.

Hesitantly, he pulled his palm away from his face, and let it rest on top of Cole's instead.

"... please... talk to me... don't just... bottle it up. I'm here for you."

"... b-b-but... it doesn't even m-matter..."

"... matters to me."

Jay took a sneaky glance at Cole's expression. There was no mistaking the seriousness he embodied in that moment.

"... I'm scared, Jay." he admitted.

"... w... what?"

"I'm scared. You've been getting worse and worse lately and... this... I've seen you pretty low but... never like this... and I'm scared that one day... you'll need somebody and I won't be there for you. So... wh... while I'm here... please... let me help..."

Jay shivered again, using his free sleeve to dry up his tears.

"... I've n-never told anybody before..."

Cole didn't speak. He stroked Jay's knuckles with his thumb, and was happy when he noticed his breathing calm drastically.

"... h-here... look..."

Jay pulled the fabric down further, revealing his complete forearm, and giving Cole much more than a quick glance at what was now marking his skin. He saw the wounds in detail.

Explicit detail.

But that wasn't what Jay was taking about.

"... there... c-can you see those?" He asked, pointing at his arm.

Cole looked closer at the spot, and indeed, he saw scars. Tiny white scars that were barely visible.

So small and faded that Cole would not have spotted them, had they not been pointed out, yet, knowing that something that held such emotional depth and pain had been here in plain sight for years was... odd to think about.

"... I... I haven't done it for years... ever since I was about 13... it stopped..." Jay explained, voice still wobbling, "... I... I promised myself... that... I wouldn't ever do it again... but... h-here I am... breaking that..."

"I... don't really know what to say Jay. I want to ask why but..."

"... it... it... it's something that... I... it... helps... it's calming... and I k-know that probably sounds... really... really stupid but... it's... true..."

Cole couldn't take his eyes away from Jay's arm. Yes, the scars were far faded, but the sheer amount of them was the terrible part. And the new ones... only a few, but they were there.

A distantly familiar choking feeling arose in his throat. The same one that always came before tears... though he shoved it away.

Jay was more important right now.

Tears could wait.

"... it just... I... it-"

"It's ok, you don't need to tell me if you don't want to..." Cole cut in, sensing Jay's growing lack of comfort.

Jay nodded solemnly, and Cole gave his hand a reassuring pat.

"I will... one day... but just... not now..."

"That's fine, I don't want you to be uncomfortab-"

"I... I can talk about the other parts... though..."

He calmed himself once more, and continued.

"Everything is just too much. Far... far too much to deal with. I could... I could d-deal with it when it was just you guys... I... I could get through that... b-but... the whole c-continent? The whole w-w-world? I... I can't d-do that! And... on the street... nobody has ever... harassed me on the street before... I... I thought I'd be able to d-deal with it but I couldn't! It was horrible! This whole thing is horrible and I can't d-deal with any of it! I just wish it wou- I... I mean... I... I want it to all go away... but... it... it isn't going to... ever... ever ever ever go away!"

The atmosphere in the room had dropped several degrees, chilling Cole to the bone.

It truly was a dire situation. He wished that he had something encouraging and endearing to say to his friend, but... he didn't know anything that would make even a dent.

Jay had every good reason to be feeling this way.

So... instead of talking, Cole moved. Inches a little closer, gave his palm a squeeze, but, before he could do anything more, Zane stepped inside.

"Oh, Jay! You have arrived home! Is... is everything alright?" He asked, his expression quickly filling with concern.

Jay rubbed his eyes, drying the last tears that lingered there.

"I-I'm fine..." he sighed, subtly pulling his sleeve back down over his arm as he spoke.

Zane nodded, smiling, but clearly not believing him. He said no more though.

"I have something very important to talk to you about. May we step into the medical room?" He asked.

Cole and Jay exchanged a glance. Jay's eyes begged him to think up some excuse to get him out of this. Cole's eyes sadly refused.

Begrudgingly, and full of fear, Jay wobbled to his feet, leaning on Cole for balance, and made his way to Zane's suggested location.

"I am sorry that we frustrated you this morning. We were simply very worried about you." Zane apologised as they went.

"D-Don't worry, it's ok... I'm not mad anymore..."

"That certainly is good to hear."

The door to the room opened with ease, and the three boys filed inside one by one.

Zane gestured for Jay to sit down on the bed there, however, he didn't. He just stood there, only a step into the room.

"... Zane... h... how serious are we talking here?" he asked.

Cole could sense the fear he felt. It resonated around the room, bouncing off every surface and filling the air.

The nindroid sighed, deliberately breaking eye contact, an action he very rarely performed.

"... your lungs, Jay."

A gust of wind blew across the bounty, causing the ship to wobble slightly, the wooden boards creaking and filling all their ears with temporary noise.

It felt that even nature didn't want to hear what came next.

But alas, it had to.

"Your lungs..." Zane repeated.

Cole looked away.

 

"... they may be... rather... damaged."

Chapter Text

It was insane, how quickly the evening's pace had changed.

Only half an hour ago, Jay had stumbled back onto the Bounty, shaking head to toe, and now here he was. Stood in the medical room, Zane in front of him, telling him that he may be suffering from lung damage.

"... wh... what?"

Jay was beyond words. Maybe if he had been slightly expecting the news, he would have braced himself for it. Known what to say. Had at least a sentence or two prepared.

Yet all he could muster was a weak 'what'. A request of clarification, and nothing more.

He stared blankly at the nindroid, hoping deep inside that he would burst out laughing at any second and announce it was all one big joke.

Alas, Zane's funny switch was off.

The seriousness in his metallic eyes was contagious.

 

"I am sorry Jay. I cannot put it any plainer than I already have. There is a high possibility that you have suffered a level of lung damage."

Jay shrugged his shoulders, still unable to conjure anything to say.

It has occasionally crossed his mind that perhaps he was wearing his binder for too long, and yes, he had been getting a bit out of breath lately, but... they couldn't be all that serious, right?

Though, not the binder part. Jay knew as a fact how dangerous and damaging it could be to wear it for more than 6 hours a day.

He had been wearing it for days on end. That couldn't have done anything good.

 

"... I apologise to have to ask this, but, would it be ok for me to perform a chest scan? I would be able to find out many more details and possibly figure out what is wrong." Zane stated, leaning a little bit closer.

Jay nodded numbly, kicking back his feet to be able to lie down on the medical bed.

Zane stood next to him.

"You are going to be alright Jay. I promise you."

"... how can you be sure?"

He didn't answer that one, looking away and preparing his scanner for the task. There was nothing except the clicking from various switches and nodes for a good minute.

Then, a quiet whirring started up.

It was ready.

"Relax, and do not move. It could effect the results if you do."

"... ok."

Jay didn't know what to do as he scanned, so he simply looked around the ceiling. It was relatively plain, an abandoned spiderwebs in one corner. The paint was chipping off one patch, and in another, there was a clear patch of damp, pinpointed by the splintering wood.

Zane's scan flashed up and down Jay's chest multiple times. A periodic hum and the cold blue light almost made him feel like he was in a real hospital room.

A faint smell of antiseptic chemicals. Quiet, yet always noisy.

Lonely.

Scary.

 

It felt like it carried on forever, though at last, there was a click, and Zane gave him a smile.

"Alright. All done. You may sit up now."

Jay did as he said, and clasped his hands together, readying himself for whatever news he would receive.

Zane analysed the information, piece by piece, placing it all together to create a clear idea of the issue.

Cole watched on, sick with anticipation and a looming sense of dread that he couldn't shift.

"... I do believe I know what is wrong with your lungs."

"... so there is something wrong..." Jay mumbled, clenching his hands tighter.

"... yes... I am afraid there is."

Jay felt cold all over. Had his blood stopped flowing? Had his heart stopped beating from the fear?

He didn't know.

He just knew that whatever Zane had to say, wasn't something he wanted to hear.

 

Yet he had to.

 

Cole couldn't take it. He left his space at the back of the room, and made his way to sit with Jay, putting an arm around him.

Nobody asked, so Zane took it upon himself to begin explaining.

"It seems that at some point during your life, you have suffered a somewhat severe trauma to the lungs. The clues all point towards asphyxiation, however, other options are possible. Your lungs are not too badly damaged, though, in spots there is scar tissue, which is too thick for oxygen to diffuse through, and in other areas, the alveoli are damaged, and their surface areas have been decreased to the point where they cannot efficiently diffuse oxygen into the bloodstream."

Jay was tense and unresponsive. Cole's moral support wasn't doing much to help this time.

"... when I said that your lungs are not too badly damaged... I did mean that. The majority of your respiratory system is perfectly functional and healthy, it is only a select few areas of your lungs that are causing you problems."

Nothing.

"... it... it is very manageable... we can... we can all help you."

Zane's circuitry started to whir, indicating his clear distaste with the silence. He didn't know what to say to comfort him.

 

"... Jay... I understand that this has been very sudden, and very jarring for you, however, a response would be much apprecia-"

"... h-how?" Jay cut in, at last giving his own input.

"... I do not know. Were you ever in a situation of suffocation during your youth?"

"Well... yeah... I'm sure I must have choked on something at some point, but... everybody does that..."

"Yes. This damage could not have been caused by a simple choking episode."

Slowly, the air filled with the sounds of faint pattering, as rain began to decency from the clouds. Soon enough, a storm broke across the sky, pummelling the ship with shards of icy water... alas, they were safe and dry inside.

It certainly fitted the mood though.

"... I believe that this damage is the reason that you have been passing out after panic attacks. Usually, most manage to maintain consciousness, yet you never do. With decreased lung capacity, the hyperventilation that entails is too much for your body to compromise for."

Jay nodded numbly, still taking in the news.

Zane noticed his mild shivering, and pulled a blanket around his shoulders.

"Do not worry Jay. This damage will not stop you from doing your job as a ninja. Certain lifestyle changes will have to be made, but you will be ok, and we will be alongside you the entire way. I can promise you that with full certainty." He smiled, giving the blue ninja a friendly squeeze of the shoulders.

"... thanks... Zane... it means a lot..."

Jay's words were quiet, but genuine, and Cole was glad to see him have a positive turn at last.

 

Sadly... it did not last.

"... can I ask, what lifestyle changes will I have to make? They aren't anything to big, are they?"

Zane's smile fell into a frown, and Jay and Cole could both hear his inner workings humming along as he tried to find the right way to say it.

"... Ah, uhm... I do... I do not quite know how to state it to you Jay. You see, I am at loath to tell you... since I know as a fact that you will not like it."

Lightning flashed across the sky, slicing it in half, followed by the boom of Thunder. The other-worldly noise rang in their ears for a number of seconds more, working its way inside, to stay.

The storm was a violent one indeed.

 

"... Zane-"

"... am I correct when I say that you use a binder?" He asked.

Jay's heart jumped into his throat.

Zane had been right. He already didn't like it. He didn't like it one bit.

"... yeah... I bind..."

"... I am sorry to tell you this but... your lung damage... it is very easily dealt with on its own, however, the added pressure of your binder will be putting extra strain on your lungs, and could end up with the damage getting worse. I know that it won't be easy for you... but... you need to stop binding, Jay. It isn't safe for you to use any sort of chest compression."

This set of news hit Jay like a truck.

 

Binding, despite how uncomfortable and even painful it could be, was one of his few sources of comfort for dysphoria.

His ability to have a pretty much flat chest across most hours of the day gave so much relief, made him pass much much more and ultimately, without it, his mental health would have declined a lot farther and faster than it had.

Yet now, he was being told that he was going to have to stop.

Completely.

 

Forever.

 

"... I... I c-can't..." he whispered.

Zane sighed, clearly expecting this unsupportive  reaction.

"Jay, as I said, I know it will be difficult, but this is a situation of happiness or health. You can have one or the other, but not both."

"... then I choose happiness."

Jay's fists clenched, and all of a sudden, he jerked himself off the bed, out of Cole's embrace and towards the door.

"Jay! Wait! Please, listen to him..." Cole chimed in at last.

His deep brown eyes begged for him to stay, hear out the nindroid.

Jay couldn't say no to them.

"Your current lung damage isn't severe, but it could become severe if you keep putting your lungs under pressure. It's serious, Jay... not just something you can ignore..." Zane continued.

"You said that it was... health... or happiness... but I think you've forgotten something."

"... what have I forgotten?"

"Mental Health. Because if I stop binding, a little something of mine called dysphoria will get about a million times worse. I... can't... deal with it Zane. I can't! I dealt with it till I was 12, and got to the point where I would rather die than have to put up with it every single day! Thank god I got help soon after, and... and now you're telling me, that I need to do something, that I know will make me hate myself all over again?!"

Zane looked very solemn.

"I can try to research some possible alternatives for you... something that will compress without putting strain on your ribs... but something so specific may not exist..."

"I'm not going to stop binding Zane. That's my final decision, and nothing you say will change my mind."

"... I know... Jay... and I'm sorry. Ultimately... the decision is up to you. But for the sake of your future... please... consider it. All I want for you is a long and happy life. You are currently putting it in jeopardy."

Jay turned to the door and turned the doorknob, dragging his eyes away from Cole's, which were full of nothing but worry and concern.

"Yeah well... if I'm not careful, I won't have much of a future, will I."

With that, he left, heading off to god knows where.

Zane and Cole stayed in the medical room a little longer. The poor nindroid was more exhausted than Cole has seen him for a long time.

"... do you think that he will see sense?" He asked.

Cole shrugged.

"I think it's a bit more complex than that. It's not just a simple right or wrong thing. Jay wants to prioritise his happiness... I can't say I blame him. It's what most people would choose."

"I guess you are right, but my concerns have only been deepened now. I was hoping that this exchange would release some pressure, and it has done the complete opposite."

Zane groaned.

"Human beings are so endlessly complicated. I doubt I will ever fully understand them."

"Welcome to the club."

The rain continued to batter on the windows, clawing and scratching and screaming. Clouds stretched the whole way to the horizon, sending a murky grey hue over the usually warm-coloured desert.

A sad sight indeed.

 

Zane and Cole sat pondering, Jay made his way to the bathroom, Lloyd sat alone in his room,
Nya started to cook the evening meal, and Kai was nowhere to be found.

A bleak and dreary evening.

 

Nothing that wasn't expected.

Chapter Text

Jay paced back and fourth across the Bridge, wringing his hands and trying his very hardest to not completely break down.

Rain splattered across the windows all around him, adding a constant distraction to his already messy head-state. It wasn't helpful.

There were already so many thoughts screaming their way around his brain... the least the weather could do was calm down slightly and give him enough space to think.

But the weather didn't seem to feel very compassionate that day.

 

It was relentless, and Jay eventually gave up, collapsing into one of the chairs around the large table.

He rested his head in his hands.

 

The universe truly hated him, didn't it?

 

Could anything go right for him? Anything at all?

The last few weeks had been stuffed full of bad news and terrible events, one after another, arguably increasing in severity over time. It was getting overwhelming.

 

This recent addition wasn't doing anything to help.

 

Lung damage.

Actual. Lung damage.

 

Zane had used too many scientific terms when explaining to keep track of, but Jay certainly knew the basics of the respiratory organ, so could catch the gist of the issues.

There was scar tissue, and some parts were working less well, to put it simply.

And he had no idea how it could have happened. Not a single inkling of reason for the news.

His childhood hadn't been a violent one. His parents were the furthest thing from abusive. He had obviously had his fair share of injuries in his occupation as a ninja, but, nothing severe enough to cause such a thing.

 

It was... jarring to say the least. All of a sudden having it dumped on you that one of your most vital organs was in disrepair, on top of a whole array of other stresses, this was the last thing he needed.

But it wasn't exactly something he could ignore.

 

However, that wasn't the truly terrible part. Yes, having this happen wasn't good in the slightest. It was anxiety-inducing, scary, and added an unwanted element of uncertainty and danger into his already dangerous life.

But... as Zane said, it would be very easy to deal with...

 

If it wasn't for his binder.

The one thing keeping him from daily chest dysphoria. The single item that saved him from daily self-hatred, lack of self confidence, helped with so many of the things he hated to deal with, and... now... he was being told that he had to remove it.

It was damaging his body.

 

Of course, he knew that before. He had been wearing it for far far too long, and the crushing feeling around his ribs wasn't any more comfortable at all, though, he never realised it was this serious.

 

Was it possible, that his unhealthy and excessive use of it had... partially caused this? Made it worse?

If he hadn't been wearing it for days on end, would he have been able to safely keep wearing it?

 

The proposition did nothing to calm his nerves. Just the possibility that he had screwed himself over yet again was not something he wanted to think about, or spend time pondering on in any way.

 

Crazy speculations started whizzing around, and Jay began to catastrophize beyond his own control.

Disastrous consequences, every worse outcome possible, worries and tenseness and his throat began to feel tighter and tighter and...

 

Perhaps, Kai's arrival at that moment, soaked from the rain and panting from a clear rush... was a bit of a blessing.

 

Jay's head darted up at the noise, and they uncomfortably locked eyes for a few moments.

 

And everything stood still, rain still beating down on the ship.

 

Kai opened his lips to say something, but Jay cut him off before he could get any more than a syllable out.

"Kai, I've had a bad enough day already. I don't need any of your stupid bullsh*t on top of everything else, alright?"

"... I was just gonna ask you what the f*ck was wrong, Jesus, calm the f*ck down Soph- I... I mean, Jay."

He corrected himself just in time, but not before Jay had sent him an extremely dirty look that could have burned through brick.

"Since when have you cared about me, huh?"

All his anxieties and recent worrying were coming out in anger, and Jay knew it, but nor did he give a damn.

"Since when have you not wanted me to care? Would you rather I not ask?! It's like my f*cking presence p*sses you off at this point!"

Jay groaned and sat up straight in his chair.

"... and why do you think that is, Kai?"

They stared each other down for a little longer, clenching fists, wondering whether to instigate a proper argument or calm down. Either seemed possible at that point.

Jay though, took the more pacifist route, and forced himself to return his voice to a neutral state.

"... look... I'll tell you what's gone on, if you tell me why you've been out in the rain when it's getting late."

Kai seemed disgruntled, and thought about it, working out whether it was a fair deal or not.

 

Apparently he decided that it was, because he slid into the chair opposite to Jay, and made himself comfortable, pulling off his soaking wet coat and hanging it on the back.

"... go on then." He said.

"You first." Jay replied.

Kai sighed, but didn't show any further displeasure than that.

"... the guy I saved in the rubble at the mall... I went to see how he was doing. Just wanted to make sure he was ok."

Jay raised an eyebrow.

"And why do you care so much about this one guy?"

"You asked what and I told you what. Why wasn't part of the deal. Come on, your turn."

Jay broke eye contact and stared down at the table, linking his fingers together to create a ball, then pulling them apart and repeating.

"... Zane was suspicious of something, did a scan and it turns out I have lung damage and I'm gonna have to stop wearing my b-binder."

His voice wobbled on the last word, and he bit his lip. Showing any sort of weakness was the last thing he wanted to do in front of Kai.

 

Kai's expression was blank.

"... the f*ck is a binder?" He finally spoke.

 

Jay had been trying his hardest to stop getting effected by Kai's behaviours. He was rude, and disrespectful, and disgustingly transphobic. Removing all care for the things he said and thought was clearly what was best right now but... the fact that he jumped straight past the lung damage part, and straight to the binder? That hurt.

 

That hurt a lot.

 

"... you... you're kidding right now, right?"

"No? F*cking hell, I don't know what a bloody binder is so I'm asking, is that so terrible?"

"Lung damage, Kai! I have lung damage! Permanent. F*cking. Lung. Damage!"

Kai began to look sheepish, realising his mistake, but it was too late. The damage had already been done.

Jay rested his head in his hands again.

"... a binder... is what I use... to flatten my chest, so I don't have visible... you know what's. There, if that's all you care about, then there you go. Now you know."

The tension in the room was at an all time high, but somehow, it was different to other times. Other times were full of anger and bitterness, but... now?

 

Now Jay just felt sad. Sad and tired. Sad and tired and increasingly frustrated.

 

"... I didn't mean it like tha-"

"Well it came across like that. Whatever. Go and do your stupid hair gel again or whatever."

He didn't move.

"... what?"

"... is your binder making it worse or something?"

"... yes... it is. Why are you still here?"

Kai took one last big breath, and asked a final question.

"... so why don't you just f*cking take it off? It's a bit damn stupid to get all stressy over something so-"

Jay shot to his feet, slamming his palms down on the table. That was the last straw.

He couldn't keep it in anymore.

"LOOK IT UP, KAI! IF YOU'RE SO F*CKING INTERESTED, LOOK IT UP AND EDUCATE YOURSELF FOR ONCE! I'M NOT SENSEI. I'M NOT YOUR F*CKING TEACHER!"

With that, he stormed out of the room, slamming the door on the way, leaving Kai a paralysed mess at the table.

... but...

 

... look up what ...?

 

He didn't know which words to put in. He didn't even know the full question he was trying to answer.

At a loss of what else to do, Kai rose to his feet, grimacing at the sensation of cold wet cloth against his skin, and made his way to his sister's room.

When he knocked on the door, she opened it within a few seconds, and he could see her trying to hide her surprise.

"... Kai?"

"Hi Nya... uhm... can I come in?"

"... sure... just, try not to get anything wet."

He stepped inside and the comforting smell of incense filled his nose. It put him at ease.

"... I'm not even gonna bother asking why you're soaked."

"You've probably already figured out why."

"I have. Now, what did you do to annoy Jay this time?"

He blinked, clearly confused.

Nya sat on the side of her bed and crossed her arms.

"I could hear him yelling at you."

"... I just asked him a question."

"And what was the question?"

"... wh.... I... I uh..."

He trailed off, letting his gaze slip away from Nya and down to the floor.

"... it won't make sense unless I say everything else too."

"I have time."

"No, you, don't get it. He might wanna tell you himself."

"Kai, you've come in here, dripping wet and now you're saying that you're gonna leave without telling me anything?"

He gritted his teeth, then forced it out of his lips, in a low, yet clear whisper.

"... Jay has lung damage, his 'binder' is making it worse and I don't get why he won't just take it off."

Nya was quiet for a few seconds.

"... lung damage?"

"I don't know either. It's just what he told me."

She stood up and grabbed a towel from one of her hangers, and handed it to her brother, who thanked her and began to dry off.

"Did Jay ever explain dysphoria to you?" She asked, after getting him to sit down and relax his shoulders.

"I think so. But I don't get what that has to do with-"

He cut off, realising that it had everything to do with Jay's binder, and let out a growl of frustration.

"... f*ck."

"... answered your own question?"

"... yeah. Jeez, why am I like this?"

He turned to her, a multitude of emotions running across his face one by one.

"Surely, this, dysphoria thing, can't be all that bad? He said it was awful but, come on. How bad can it be?"

"I'm not trans, Kai. How am I supposed to know? All I know is that is something people really struggle with. Nobody would get surgery to fix something unless it was a serious problem."

She sighed, rubbing her forehead. A headache had been developing all day, and this seemed to have broken the barrier. It came crashing down on her skull like an avalanche.

"... I'm gonna go and talk to Zane. Stay here, I won't be long."

"But-"

"Kai, I won't be long. Please."

He nodded, and she left.

Leaving Kai alone with his own thoughts.

Surprisingly, there weren't many coherent ones. For such a complex situation - over- emotional and very volatile - the red ninja was oddly calm. Was he so used to this by now that it didn't even effect him anymore?

Jay got angry with him, he got angry with Jay. The process repeated.

 

He'd lost a friend, though that was hard to accept.

He'd accepted it now.

 

Anything positive he'd had with him was long gone, and maybe... just maybe... it would be better for the both of them if they just stopped talking altogether.

 

Kai felt like he didn't know wrong from right anymore.

It was scary.

 

He was scared.

Chapter Text

Seeking a solitary spot at the Bridge hadn't exactly worked, so after the run in with Kai, Jay had instead tried to catch a lone moment in Lloyd's room.

He lay down on his temporary bed, and stared at the ceiling. It wasn't anything particularly special, it was the same type of ceiling that was used across the Bounty. Polished wooden boards, lined up one by one.

Jay fixated on them, hyper-focusing to keep his mind off anything else.

In a few places, they were splintered, and in others, the wear and tear from years of sea voyaging was showing through, though the boat still remained a timeless masterpiece. It was likely that the vessel would go on existing for years and years to come... potentially outliving all the beings that currently called it home.

 

For a few minutes, Jay had blissful silence - apart from the now gentle patter of the rain - before there was a knocking at the door. Not particularly demanding or hard, but knocking nonetheless.

He felt like aggressively telling the person to go away, but, what if it had turned out to be Lloyd? This was his room after all.

"What's up?" He asked, loudly enough for the other person to hear.

The door clicked open, revealing Cole.

"You've got mail."

"... wow, at this time? In this weather?"

"Yeah, but, the postman doesn't seem all that mad, apparently. More relieved that we even answered his call. We're gonna fly down to him so, thought I'd warn you first."

"Thanks Cole."

The two of them headed over to the bridge, while somebody was already steering the ship down to the earth. Had Cole not told him, Jay maybe wouldn't have even noticed. After so many years spent on the Bounty, air travel felt more than natural to him. In fact, sometimes, when Jay woke up to a still ship - settled in the air or floating on the top of the ocean - it felt almost... wrong.

The steady movement lulled him into enough security to be able to think.

Jay couldn't think of what could have been sent to him, and it was making him feel uneasy.

He considered a message from his parents, but they always either called or texted him when they wanted to talk.

Hate mail? That was a possibility. If hundreds of people flocked to his social media to hurl abuse, surely more of the traditional folks would send letters, describing their disgust at him. Oh well, it was only to be expected.

Cole noticed his apprehension, and gave him a smile.

"Hey. If it turns out to be anything nasty, we can throw it away and never think about it again. Look at it this way... somebody wasted a stamp for nothing at all." he reassured.

"Woah. Read my mind."

"Not exactly. No offence, but, I just don't know what else it could possibly be."

"Yeah, fair enough."

Still, it stayed in his mind, festering and worrying the whole way there. There was something on the back of his mind, something pricking at him and screaming for attention, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it...

 

And then he stopped still.

 

Cole didn't realise until a few paces later, then quickly turned to face his friend.

"... Jay? Is everything alright?"

He didn't respond. He didn't do anything.

 

Slowly... he took a deep breath to calm down, and met Cole's eyes once more.

"... I know what it is."

With that, Jay started to move again, faster than before, almost speed-walking down the corridor.

"Jay! Wait up! What is it?"

He didn't answer.

After trying a couple more times, Cole quickly realised that he wasn't going to either.

Jay was walking very fast, but Cole had longer legs than him, so it only took a few dedicated strides to catch up and catch his arm, pulling him to an instant stop.

"... Jay! You, you can't just say something like that, then refuse to tell me what you're on about!" He exclaimed, though softened his voice as he went

Jay turned and looked at him, with a deeply sad look in his eyes.

"... I've got that letter before."

It was the same familiar sadness which only arose about a certain topic, one which had been mentioned very sparingly.

"... oh..."

He let him go, and they made the rest of the way to the bridge with no further interruption.

 

They had practically landed by the time they joined the others.

Zane was the one piloting, and sent Jay a small smile and a wave as he entered the space. Nya and Kai sat off to the side, with Lloyd wandering around without any aim. Sensei was missing, as usual of late.

 

Their mentor's repeated absences had started to worry Jay. Whenever he was seen, he looked healthy and normal, and didn't seem stressed out or preoccupied. He went to the occasional meal, woke them up for sunrise stretches ever now and then. He just often... didn't really interact with the group, which was odd.

It didn't annoy him all that much, but it was very confusing. This was a dire time, with all of the issues surrounding Dei Noctis, and the problems within the team.

Was he doing it on purpose? Drawing away? Or... did he even realise himself?

 

At any rate, that wasn't the most important current problem.

The rain had stopped now, save from the occasional droplet that escaped from the empty clouds. Jay wished that it was still going. If the constant barrage of the weather was still around, the uncomfortable silence within the bridge wouldn't have been so blatant, or so uncomfortable.

It... hurt a lot. To see the team so divided.

Only a few months ago, they were all laughing along, getting on together like one big family.

Now they were split up into groups, different sides, not trusting one another, like good friends and family should have been able to do.

So much had changed in so little time...

He missed the old ninja.

 

As soon as Nya realised he'd arrived, she and Jay exchanged a glance. A brief glance, that ended as quickly as it started.

 

Only the two of them truly understood what this letter meant.

And even though they were more separated than they'd ever been before, the slight feeling on unity in that moment, gave Jay the strength to carry on.

The Bounty landed, and the postman came onboard.

This wasn't going to be pleasant.

Chapter Text

The postman greeted Jay quite enthusiastically, instead of the usual contempt and frustration he exhibited when delivering to the Ninja.

"I'm so glad that you're here! This letter is very important!" he exclaimed, handing him the carefully enveloped message with a smile.

Jay nodded.

"Yeah, I figured. Thank you, uhm... would you like to stay for a drink or something?" He replied, gesturing towards the inside.

The rain had finally stopped, but the deck was still wet, and the gross feeling of recent bad weather still lingered in the air.

The postman shook his head.

"It's good of you to ask, but I still have several more deliveries to get done today. Well, so long."

He was so chipper and enthusiastic. Jay didn't know how he did it. He waved and made his way off the boat, though turned back to say one last thing.

"Ignore the media, alright? They're just a bunch of attention seekers."

"Aha, yeah, I will." Jay sighed, watching the man get back on his bike and ride back towards the city.

 

Jay clutched the letter between his hands, so tightly that the envelope began to rip in places. He... didn't want to open it.

But he knew he had to.

 

Without another word, he walked back inside, the few others who had also gone out onto the deck closely following.

"... Jay? Are you gonna open it?" Lloyd asked.

No response.

 

He sat down at the table, staring at the paper, trying to convince himself that it was anything else. Anything at all.

 

There were a few differences, compared to the last time.

It was carefully put into an envelope, a pretty fancy looking one at that. Small gold accents blessed the corners, giving a façade of cheer about the message. The wax seal was deep blue instead of red, with some sort of crest pressed into it.

He guessed that more care was taken, simply because, well, they weren't on the run from the law this time. Being fugitives wouldn't have helped in the slightest.

It was addressed to him in careful handwriting, his name embodied in swirling letters... his real name.

 

'Jay Gordon'

 

Lloyd couldn't help himself, and read the front over Jay's shoulder.

"... Jay... Gordon? Wh... that's not your last name?"

Jay still said nothing, and with shaking hands, slid his finger under the flap, tearing it and breaking the wax seal that kept the important contents safe.

"Is this a mistake?" Lloyd questioned again. This time, Jay granted him with a reaction. A simple shake of the head.

"... no. It's correct."

He pulled the letter into the open air, unfolding it and reading it carefully.

The phrasing had completely changed as well. Most likely due to the situation he was currently in, alike the envelope.

'Mr. Jay Gordon,

I am sorry to inform you that your father has unfortunately passed away in his sleep last night.

It is clearly stated in his will, that his entire estate, all of his worldly possessions and all of his remaining wealth now belong to you. All money will be automatically transferred into your bank account.

Once again, I am sorry for your loss.'

It was signed off by a name he didn't recognise. Most likely a financial agent of some kind.

"... Jay?" Nya whispered. Urging him on.

He looked up and met her eyes, which were clearly questioning if the mutual assumptions of the message were correct.

He gave her a small nod.

"... I..." Jay started, intending to read it out loud, but he couldn't. The words refused to leave the back of his throat, and started to feel as if they were choking him.

Instead, he passed the parchment to Cole.

"... can you read it?" He asked.

"... sure thing."

 

Cole's steady voice stayed true across the message, even though his expression clearly showed abject horror.

An expression which was reflected around the room, save for Jay and Nya, of course.

He ended up passing it along after he was done, and it traveled around the circle quite quickly. None of them could believe it until they saw it with their own two eyes.

Cole put a supportive hand on Jay's shoulder, not knowing that it wasn't particularly needed, or, not needed in the way that was thought at any rate.

"... Jay I... I am so sorry..." Zane spoke, even his metallic voice portraying abject horror.

Jay shook his head, trying to turn his own blank expression into a smile. It didn't work. It just felt fake.

"It's... not what you think. My dad, well, Ed, is fine."

"But Jay... it says-"

"He's not my real dad."

Silence filled the room once more.

"... you know... the uhm... this issue. With the... d... d-djinn... that... happened?"

He clearly wanted to say much more, but the suppressed fear and trauma from those times made it hard to even stay calm.

Zane noticed this, and stepped in to help.

"The incidents that caused a partial reset of the timeline?"

He nodded, letting out a sigh of relief that Zane had briefly taken over.

"You and Nya were the only ones who clearly remember it, correct? The rest of us have slight déjà vu, but no concrete memories."

 

A while ago now - a number of months - Jay and Nya had decided to attempt to explain what had occurred to the rest of the team. It was a very confusing topic, and some caught better grasps of it than others, but overall, it was accepted that something had happened to the group, and had simply been backtracked.

 

However, not all of the details had been discussed. This had certainly been one of the ones left out.

"... I... got that message before. I w-wished that I wasn't born in a Junkyard and... it was granted... or... at least, manipulated. I knew that I'd eventually get the letter again but... I just... I didn't want to think about it..."

Jay took another deep breath, and looked up at the group, away from the table that he had been staring at for the past few minutes.

"... I should probably go and visit my parents. And... not my birth ones. I don't even know who my birth mum is. My... real ones."

Nya gave him a smile from across the room.

"I'll start up the engines then."

"Yeah, thanks Nya."

She got up and began to power up the Bounty's controls.

Lloyd knew that it was a very serious situation, and he should have probably kept possibly personal questions to himself, but the childish curiosity that he had never grown out of got the better of him.

"If you don't mind... can I ask, who is your birth father?"

The first beginnings of a genuine grin pulled at the corners of Jay's mouth.

"Well, he's called Cliff Gordon."

The green ninja stopped still, trying to link different things in his brain at record speeds.

"... why is that name so familiar." He asked.

 

Jay couldn't help it, his face betrayed him, and a huge beaming smile broke out across it.

"He's the actor who played Fitz Donegan."

 

The pure look of shock, excitement and ecstatic glee that filled Lloyd's entire body, almost made the bad news worth it.

Chapter Text

"WHAT DO YOU MEAN HE PLAYED FITZ DONEGAN?!"

"I mean-"

"JAY. JAY HE PLAYED F*CKING FITZ DONEGAN, AND YOU DIDN'T TELL ME?! YOU'RE BASICALLY FITZ DONEGAN'S DAMN SON JAY!"

Cole put his hands on Lloyd's shoulders have gave him a light shake.

"Lloooooyd, calm down. There's a time and place for fanboying."

Lloyd took a few deep breaths, but couldn't keep the joy out of his eyes.

"... so... do you... do you own part of the franchise now? Do you have any shares in the company?"

"I might, but I don't know all the details."

"... w-woah..."

 

The Bounty quickly pulled down towards the ground, and the brief feeling of happiness soon left Jay's heart. He'd done this all before, the exact same conversation with his parents... he knew exactly what was going to happen. So... why was he so afraid?

Nya turned to him, smiling, sadly.

"Alright. We've landed."

They all knew, but the atmosphere was so quiet now that Lloyd had managed to calm down. Nobody complained that she had stated the obvious.

"... Jay?" Cole whispered, nudging him. He jerked his head up, rubbing his eyes.

"I just... sorry... I just zoned out."

"... do you need more time?"

"No... No I'll be fine."

He stood up, and made his way off the ship.

"... would you like us to come with you?" Zane called after him.

Jay considered it, but then shook his head, and disappeared from sight.

———

Jay trudged across the coarse sand, towards the Junkyard that he had called home for many many years. It was so familiar. The walls were all the same, he could even pinpoint specific piles of junk that hadn't moved since his childhood.

Then, there were also differences. Different layouts, some things were gone, some things were completely changed.

It was very odd, and it managed to take Jay's hyperactive mind away from the compromising task at hand, at least till he reached the entrance.

He could see his mum wandering around with her arms piled with screws and scraps of corrugated iron.

"... hey, Ma." He called out.

Edna turned straight away, then gasped in joy, dropping her load insteantly and practically running over to him, pulling him into a tight hug.

"Jay! Oooah, I didn't expect you to be coming today! I must get your father!"

She pulled him by the hand towards one of their many caravans.

"Ma! Wait! At least let me help you tidy up those scraps..."

"Hmm? Oh but why! This is a junkyard, there's junk everywhere! Maybe it'll become a new pile!"

She ignored all his requests to help after that and took him straight to Ed, who had pretty much the same reaction.

A tight hug, happiness at such a lovely surprise.

"Can I get ya anything? Tea? Coffee? I was just about to cook, shall I make enough for three?" Edna asked, cooing over him as if he were twelve all over again.

"Thank you, but it's fine. I'm not very hungry right now, to be honest."

"Awww, only if you're sure Jay."

His parents were far too caught up in their own thoughts and glee, that they hadn't noticed Jay's solemnness and contempt.

He had to say something.

"... Ma? Pa? We uhm... we need to talk."

Instantly, the jovial attitudes of the two dropped.

"... what's wrong son?" Ed asked, putting an arm around Edna's shoulders.

"... can we sit down first?"

Ed pulled a few camping chairs out of a cupboard, and they all sat down. Jay took a deep breath, then pulled the envelope out of his back pocket. He'd had to fold it in half to fit it in, but that hardly mattered.

"... I got this today."

"... Wh... What is it Jay?"

Instead of having to explain his way through such a difficult topic, he instead passed the letter over to them, and watched them open it with shaky fingers.

Jay waited until he was certain they had read the whole letter before saying anything.

"... my... you... you aren't my real parents... are you..."

He already knew the answer, and the truth, but, explaining the whole time reset to his parents would have put unnecessary stress on the situation. It was better to just play dumb, for now at least.

"... Jay... how did you-"

"This letter, it says my father has died and left me all his wealth... but... you're right here."

He looked over at Ed, who had a painfully guilty and ashamed look on his face.

"... Son... we... we wanted to keep it a secret as long as we could... we thought it was best for you..."

Jay shook his head.

"... I'm not upset. Well I- ... I was when I first found out, but not because of what you think. I was just... I was scared that I'd lost you."

"... you... you mean..."

He looked up, and managed to muster up an authentic smile. A real, genuine one.

"Ma... Pa... you guys are my real parents. Nothing's ever gonna change that. You're the ones who raised me... and..."

He started to well up, and rubbed his eyes on the back of his sleeve.

"I-I'd like to say you did a pretty good job!"

Edna couldn't take it anymore. She practically jumped out of her chair, trapping him in a motherly embrace.

"Awwwww Jay! Don't cry sweetheart!" She said, already crying herself.

"Shucks... you two are gonna get me started up..." Ed laughed, standing up and pulling them both in, "... My oh my... we're a bit of a messy family aren't we."

"Hah, I wouldn't have it any other way." Jay chuckled.

"We were going to tell you one day, we just didn't know when..."

"It's alright. You don't need to explain anything. I understand."

The three Walkers settled into silence, comfortable in each other's presence. Jay started thinking about asking if he could stay the night. Even if there were no hard feelings over the situation, he and his parents still had a few things to talk about.

He was sure the others would understand.

 

Though... all of his plans collapsed in an instant, when he heard Cole yell his name from outside.

Reluctantly, Jay pulled away from his parents, and rushed to the door of the caravan. Cole reached it at just about the same time as he did.

"Jay! We need you!"

"Wh... what? Cole, what happened?"

Cole had to take a few deep breaths, during which he tried very hard to get the words out, but just couldn't.

"Hey, calm down, you're gonna start hyperventilating at this rate!"

It was a slightly hypocritical statement. Jay could already feel the rising panic, and how it crushed his lungs with a force he couldn't describe.

"Cole? Is everything ok?" Edna asked, and Jay looked back to her.

"... Ma... I-"

"D-Dei Noctis!" Cole coughed, cutting Jay off before he could finish his sentence.

"T-They attacked the police station in Ninjago City! We need to go!"

"I..."

He looked back into the caravan, where his parents stood, arm in arm, looking extremely worried.

"... I... I'll be ok..."

Ed nodded.

"Come back safe, alright?"

 

With that, he and Cole turned and left, and began the erratic sprint back to the Bounty.

Chapter Text

Once again, Jay had been thrown headfirst into action and conflict, with not much prior warning.

Instantly dragging him out of an important conversation, crushing his hopes for the evening.

The universe truly had something against him, didn't it.

 

Jay noticed that Cole was running a lot slower than his usual pace, and was having a lot of difficulty too. He almost collapsed after reaching the Junkyard alone, and this run back to the Bounty was proving to be a little too much for him.

The earth ninja was possibly the strongest member of the team, and most well rounded fighter by far. The glue that kept them held together. The backbone.

If he wasn't in his best condition... then... they really didn't stand much of a chance at all.

 

He didn't even know what exactly had happened at the police station, how severe it was, how many people were involved. Not even the casualties. Anything could be going on.

All he knew for certain, was that he was scared. For his own safety, and most of all, for the safety of his friends.

 

Lloyd was on the deck waiting for them, helping them up the side, and the moment that Cole's feet left the sandy ground, the boat lifted off, speeding in the direction of Ninjago city.

 

The three of them entered the bridge, where Nya was steering.

"Wh- What the hell is going on? What happened?!" Jay spluttered, slightly out of breath, but nothing compared to Cole. His friend had doubled over, and had to cling to the table to stay upright.

"No time to explain! Go get your suit on and we'll fill you in after that!"

Useless arguing wouldn't provide any help, and Jay knew that. He jogged towards Lloyd's room and threw on his gi, forcing himself to breathe steadily the entire time.

He couldn't panic right now.

He couldn't.

 

He almost tripped over in his rush to get back to the bridge, and reached it, panting still.

Zane was the first to notice his return, and made his way over to him to explain.

"The police station has been attacked by Dei Noctis, and, there has been a lot of damage. We don't know the full extent of it, as all we received was a panicked phone call, that was cut short. It seems that the person calling may have been attacked midway through it."

"... so, we know, nothing?"

"Unfortunately. We will have to be extremely careful, and have each other's backs. We can not afford to get hurt."

Staying upright was difficult, as Nya pushed the Bounty to its limit. Speeding as fast as the engines possibly could.

Kai and Cole had already opted to sit down, or cling onto something to get rid of the need to constantly balance. Jay was considering it as well, but, the darkening outline of Ninjago City was approaching fast.

The evening had advanced like a prowling cat, stalking it's way across the afternoon sky in absolute silence.

Fighting in the dark was not something that any of the ninja looked forward to.

"Everybody hold on! It's going to be a rough landing!" Nya shouted, and everybody in earshot clung onto the nearest fixed object.

 

It was. The flying vehicle came to a stop in the middle of a road, the closest road to the police station that it could actually fit into. They were going to have to make a run for it.

"Everybody ready?" Lloyd called.

They all slid down the side of the ship, and send themselves sprinting in the appropriate direction.

"Remember, do not split apart when we get there! We need to stay together!"

 

Jay - just alike the previous incident at the mall - noticed that the rest were all... slow. Compared to a normal person's running speed, they would definitely be faster, but, they were so much slower than a few months previously.

So so much slower.

 

The group turned a corner, and found themselves on the street of the station, filled with smoke and smog.

Ambulances blaring their sirens littered the streets, ready to leap into action, the only barrier keeping them from doing so, being safety. None of them knew what waited for them behind the police station doors, and nobody was overly anxious to find out.

A stench of dust lingered in the air, along with an overwhelming sense that something was deeply, deeply wrong.

"... let's go."

Running turned into light footsteps, the ninja settling into what they did best. Sneaking around silently, without making a sound.

However, nearing the front, and seeing what lay on the ground around it, made it near impossible to not gasp in shock, or make some other audible reaction.

It was... awful.

Blue clad bodies littered the ground closer to the structure, dotting sadistic splashes of colour onto the grey landscape.

Stepping over them, was far from colourful.

"... a-are they dead?" Cole choked out.

"Looks like it."

"... what the hell happened here...?" Kai whispered, muffling his voice through his mask and his cupped palm.

"Nothing good." Nya replied.

Jay took the lead, entering the station first. It was eerily quiet, aside from the constant sirens in the background, and each accidental crunch of broken glass, or gross squelch as he stepped on the rain-soaked carpet, sent his senses skyrocketing.

Carnage and destruction spread down each and every corridor, showing clearly that some sort of psychotic rampage took place. Huge claw-shaped chunks had been gouged out of the walls, carpets ripped up, windows shattered. Doors were ripped off their hinges, and the pathetic remnants of human attempts to subdue the force, littered the place. Empty guns, scattered bullets.

Whatever had come through here, had been able fo take out an entire workforce full of the best officers on the continent.

 

This was more than just taking hostages and breaking windows.

This wasn't just some petty terrorist stunt.

 

This was... inhuman.

 

"... is... anybody still alive?"

"... there has to be some survivors. Somewhere."

 

Jay started to feel sick. The gravity of the situation finally came crashing down on him with full force, sapping all his energy instantaneously.

"... Jay, are you doing ok?" Cole asked, and only got a shrug for an answer.

He started to sweat, and the fingers on his left hand started to spasm in a nervous tick.

"... s-something's not right here..." he muttered, barely even breathing the words, but due to the abject silence of the abandoned corridors, the rest of the group picked it up with ease.

"No sh*t. Look at the place." Kai huffed, gritting his teeth.

"No. Something else. I... I don't feel right here."

The familiar feeling of dread crept its way up Jay's back, trickling down the sides of his head and burrowing into his skull. Paranoia clutched at his throat, squeezing, squeezing harder and harder.

There was something deeply, deeply wrong.

"... we need to carry on searching. Let's get a move on." Lloyd spoke, and took the lead in Jay's stead.

Jay could hardly get himself to keep walking, his eyes darting around in all directions, convinced that they weren't safe. None of them were.

"... I underestimated the size of this building. Not to follow cliques, but, we need to split into groups. Before we can bring in paramedics and start the search for survivors, we must make sure that the station is devoid of any potential threats. I suggest that we split into three teams of two, to assure backup, but also cover space."

Jay's heart started to thunder at Zane's words. Split up? In here?

He... he couldn't.

 

"Good plan. I'll go with Zane, Nya and Kai, you two go together, and that leaves Cole and Jay. Will you two be alright?" Lloyd turned.

Cole gave him a confident thumbs up, while Jay was sort of lost. He managed to give a half hearted shrug, which Lloyd questioned, but didn't look too deeply into.

The group arranged which pairs would tackle which floors, and they all set off on their personalised tasks.

 

"... we'll all be ok. You don't need to worry. It looks like Dei Noctis is long gone." Cole said as they made their way through the ground floor, checking out office rooms and temporary cells alike.

Nothing overly suspicious had arisen, yet.

It didn't stop Jay's crippling sense of fear and uneasiness. He was constantly on alert, checking things twice, thrice, four times on an occasion.

"... Cole... how are you so... so calm right now...?" He asked, genuinely taken aback by his friend's apparent lack of fear.

Cole hesitated, checking another office door.

"... Truth be told... I'm terrified. I just... I'm trying to look at this objectively. We're here to save people, and I'll do anything to make sure I do that."

The two of them entered back onto a main hallway, and began walking towards the exit, to inform the paramedics that the ground floor was safe.

"Looks like there's nothing here, on the ground floor anyway."

"There are three other floors."

"I know Jay, I'm just... I'm trying to be positive."

Cole's footsteps lost their lightness as he became less on guard, sending small echoes with every impact on the floor.

Jay's paranoia went through the roof, ricocheting off every surrounding wall.

"... Cole..."

He turned to him, puzzled.

"Are you alright?"

"Cole we need to get out."

Jay stopped walking, listening intently to the surroundings.

He swore he could hear something, a strangle crackling. Sort of like wet popping candy.

If he strained his ears enough, maybe, just maybe, he'd be able to...

 

BANG.

 

All of a sudden, there was a flash of light accompanied by a piercing noise, followed by an explosion of smoke, instantly filling the corridor with dark grey. Jay and Cole yelled out in shock, as each of them panicking in their own way.

Cole stumbled backwards and was instantly disorientated, while Jay fell back against a wall, squeezing his eyes closed to stop the acrid smoke from entering them.

"J-Jay!" Cold coughed, then instantly started wheezing and spluttering as he inhaled the air.

Jay kept all his airways tightly sealed, and began to edge his way along the wall, feeling his way with his hands and his back.

Holding his breath began to strain his lungs, and at the worst time, he remembered his newfound condition concerning them, and started to stumble faster, not understanding how the smoke hadn't cleared out yet.

"J-J-Jay, are you alright?" Cole wheezed, sounding extremely far away. Too far away.

Where did this smoke come from? How did it feel both hot and cold at the same time?

"C-Cole!" Jay chanced, immediately regretting opening his mouth, as the smoke immediately flooded his lungs, turning him into a spluttering mess. A hacking cough made his chest feel like fire, burning, splitting apart.

What the hell was going on?

What the hell was happening?

 

Jay started to feel faint, breathing in nothing but the new poisoned air, not a shred of oxygen in sight.

Though, even through the sheen of half consciousness, he could hear the new pair of feet speeding down the hallway towards him.

For a moment, he felt relief. Surely, this was another of the ninja, having heard their cries and come to help... but... Jay didn't recognise those footfalls.

Over the years, he had been able to build up a memory of how each of his friends ran. Cole was slightly more heavy footed, Zane was perfectly periodic, Kai's had a lot more purposeful force put into them.

This pair, was not familiar.

Not in the slightest.

 

He froze up, then started clumsily stumbling away from the noise as quickly as he could, almost tripping over his own feet in an effort to head back into the thickness of the smog. He breathed in yet another huge lungful of carbon, and couldn't resist the reflex to keel over and cough.

The steps got faster, more determined, demanding, flying down the corridor.

"... C... Cole-"

Faster, faster, faster faster faster faster-

He had to warn him, he had to warn Cole that he needed to drop everything and run. He used his last scrap of breath to yell out, begging that it would do something. Anything.

Anything.

"C... c-cOLE, YOU NEED TO GET OU-"

Not even a full sentence breached his lips, before he was slammed into the wall, and an excruciating, blinding pain shot through his left abdomen.

The initial impact against the bricks knocked the wind out of him, but, the true agony came a couple of seconds later, when what had happened lower down came to light.

 

It was boiling hot and freezing cold at the same time, searing, as if a white hot stick of iron had empaled him. Stinging and aching, piercing and tight, black and white dots fazed in and out across his eyes. The object it worked so incredibly deep, yet so near the surface.

Easily, the most excruciating pain the blue ninja had ever been unlucky enough to endure.

All of this, as he still choked on the acrid gas, confused beyond all belief.

Mind went foggy, thought processes stopped...

He felt blood pouring down his side, and staining the electric blue fabric dark purple.

 

All time stopped, sound stopped teaching his ears.

Simple processes faded in and out of importance.

In the midst of his delirious daze, the hot sensation of the smoke started to clear. Eyes flickered open, the hallway cleared, and the face of a girl slowly swam into view.

They locked eyes for a second, blanking out all else, even if just for a moment.

It didn't last long.

 

She snarled, yanked her weapon out of the injury, and shot back down the corridor the way she came.

The back of her head as she turned a corner, was the last thing Jay saw, before he slipped out of consciousness...

 

... and crumpled to the floor.

Chapter Text

Cole coughed the last wisps of the smoke out of his chest and rubbed his watering eyes.

"W-What do you mean get out? What's wrong?" he managed to force out, voice hoarse and raw.

"... Jay?"

There was no reply, no noise, no movement... and as the air around him cleared away at last, Jay's limp, discarded body came into view.

Cole fell quiet. His first assumption was that the gas was too much strain on his lungs, and he'd passed out from that... but...

 

... then he saw the pool of blood stretching outwards from his figure.

 

"JAY!" He screamed, rushing over to his body, "JAY, SH*T, WHAT HAPPENED?!"

He took hold of his own suit, and tugged the whole top half off, leaving himself in a vest. Balling it up, he used it to put pressure on the heavily bleeding, shaking so violently that it took a few attempts to get the positioning right.

"HEY, I NEED HELP IN HERE!" he screamed down the corridor towards the entrance, gasping with relief when a couple of paramedics rushed in towards them.

"What happened to him? Where is he bleeding from?"

"I-I don't know! I think he's been stabbed, l-lower abdomen!"

"Keep pressure on that wound, he'll bleed out if you don't. We need to get him onto a gurney without releasing any of it, got that?"

"G-Got it!"

A group of footsteps came thundering down the stairs, and Cole turned to see the other ninja, each and every one of them looking extremely worried.

"... wh... what the hell? What's going on?!" Kai blurted out, as Zane ran over and began to help the paramedic, using one of his inbuilt modules to check his blood pressure.

"The hallway filled with smoke, a-and when it cleared, he was on the ground bleeding! I have no idea what happened, but it looks like somebody f*cking stabbed him!" Cole answered, pressing the cloth onto the wound as hard as he could, shaking violently from head to toe.

"We just heard yelling and came as fast as we could, all of the upstairs stories are clear!" Nya explained.

"Well, we thought this floor was clear, then this happened!"

Lloyd took a deep breath, and spoke, turning to Nya and Kai.

"We need to check over the whole building again, the ground floor most of all. Be careful as well, they're probably still here, and armed!"

The three without a different preoccupation rushed off to find the culprit, leaving Cole and Zane with Jay.

"Blood pressure is low, he has lost a lot of it. If he doesn't get to hospital soon, his brain and his heart are going to start shutting down."

"The gurney is coming. We'll get him there as fast as we can." The paramedic assured, and indeed, another person was wheeling one down towards them.

It was a bit of a task to get Jay onto it without releasing the pressure, but they managed it. After a quick discussion, it was decided that Cole would go in the ambulance with him. Ideally, a medical professional would be the one keeping pressure, but releasing it now, without knowing how fast the blood flow was, could end up being fatal.

"We'll meet you at the hospital as soon as we can, alright?" Zane called after him. Cole could only nod.

 

The back doors of the vehicle shut, and Zane watched it drive away, sirens shrieking with urgency.

Paramedics started to enter the building in larger groups, treating the casualties, and singling out the ones too far gone. Luckily, it seemed that the number of those still alive was much larger than previously anticipated.

 

Nya entered his field of view, and came to a stop next to him, wheezing heavily.

"Nothing. There's... there's no... nobody left in the... the..."

Zane places a hand on her shoulder.

"Catch your breath first, then talk. Take your time."

She swallowed a couple times, blinking to remove whatever had irritated her eyes.

"... there's nobody left in the building. Nobody at all. B-But there... there is..."

"Is what? Nya, what did you find?"

"... a massive hole, in the back off the building. Something broke straight through the wall... no normal person could do that... and... if there was only one person here..."

She looked up at Zane, locking eyes with him, feeling cold trickle down her spine as even he was lost of what to say.

"... what do we do? Zane... what the f*ck do we do?"

He opened his mouth, then closed it, and shook his head.

"... Zane...?"

"... I am... afraid... that... we may be a little too late."

"What do you mean?"

"... Dei Noctis have somehow managed to reach levels of ability beyond anything we can currently explain. They are strong, powerful, dangerous, and... I am sorry. Unless we manage to do something huge right now... I highly doubt we have much of a chance against them."

Nya stared, then gritted her teeth, and sat down in the rubble.

"... w... were Jay's injuries... severe?" She questioned.

"Injury, you mean. Only one stab wound. It seemed to be a very clear cut, no dirt, it definitely was not a serrated blade. I could not tell if any internal organs had been injured... let's hope they weren't. I can see him making a full recovery quite quickly."

Nya let out her first sigh of relief that day, rubbing the sweat off her forehead.

"... that's a relief."

"It is indeed."

The paramedics and other medical staff had worked quickly. All the injured were speedily on their way to hospital, and now cops from other stations were showing up to secure the premises.

"... Nya, may I ask you something?" Zane mumbled, sitting down next to her.

"... sure, go ahead."

He took a deep breath in and out, staring off into the distance.

"... do you think that humanity is capable of saving itself?"

"... you mean, fight back against Dei Noctis?"

"Yes... and... everything else. All the other ways humans constantly destroy each other."

She turned away also, resting her chin on the top of her knuckles.

"... I think so. We may be pretty self-destructive, but, we're also persistent and determined. We'll always find a way. What do you think?"

"Aha... well, my view is... somewhat less upbeat than yours. I look around every day... at this society. At all angles, the human race is cruel... and selfish... and violent... and constantly... destroys itself. Hate groups, majorities hunting minorities, taking more care of short term luxuries, than the planet we all live on. Oceans are polluted with rubbish, the ozone layer is disintegrating, the atmosphere is filling up with CO2, and all that people care about is metal straws and reusable coffee cups. Nobody is looking at the bigger picture. I've ran the current situation through my processor many times over... always with the same outcome. Humanity is on its way to extinction... whether that will be through a conflict like this one... or the long term effects of climate change... they're going to put an end to themselves... but... being perfectly honest... maybe that's a good thing."

Sirens filled the air, cold winds rushed past. Dust swirled through the evening air, landing on everything, leaving a gross layer of coarse light brown.

"... I thought you were an optimist."

"I'm a realist. The facts are too blatant for me to be optimistic about them."

 

Kai helped carry one of the last officers into the back of a private ambulance, then made his way over to Nya and Zane, giving them a mild smile.

"... Jay alright?" He asked.

"Hopefully. Wound was clean. As long as he doesn't bleed out on the way there, he'll be ok."

Lloyd made his way out of the building too, with a blank look on his face.

"... you good dude?"

"... I... don't know."

Nya got to her feet, and offered Zane a hand to get up too. After her moment of panic and fear, she had stabilised herself, and her new attitude started to rub off on the other three.

"I don't think any of us are going to be ok after that. Let's all give our statements to the police, then get to the hospital as quick as we can." She directed. Nobody objected.

 

Each of them gave a quick statement to an available officer, and then made their way to the Bounty, to make a much faster commute to the hospital.

Despite Zane's clear reassurances, they were all terrified that Jay's condition would work out to be a little more fatal than thought.

 

The look on Sensei's face when they returned a group of 4 instead of 6, sent guilt sparking through Lloyd's system.

If he hadn't suggested that they split up... then maybe... just maybe...

 

Cole and Jay would have returned with them.

Chapter Text

"Is he still breathing?"

"Yes, and his pulse is still going too!"

Cole only half listened to the paramedics as he ran alongside them, still holding his balled up suit shirt against Jay's abdomen.

They had finally reached the hospital, after a slightly anticlimactic ambulance ride. People were everywhere, each of them with their own problems, their own lives. Their own maladies to look after and seek help for.

A couple of individuals clearly recognised him as the Black Ninja - judging by their mutually excited and perplexed expressions - though rather luckily, it seemed that the lying down position along with the speed made it rather difficult to identify Jay.

The incessant beeping from every direction bore into Cole's ears, sending his already thundering heart into a frenzy.

Time moved so quickly, yet so slowly at the same time. The ambulance drive seemed to take no time at all, however, entering the hospital and finding an available operating room did not.

The hallways stretched on and on, twists and turns, constant winding passageways.

All while, Jay got progressively paler, as Cole's shirt used up the last of its dry space, and became too saturated to hold more blood. It began to leak then, despite his best efforts to keep the tiny hole plugged up.

So much damage... from such a tiny incision.

Red was stained everywhere, most still wet and deep crimson, but a few patches had begun to dry, turning into a gross red-brown colour.

 

"Here we go! Quick, get him inside!" The nurse leading then yelled, directing the gurney into a room, and then rushing away to find a doctor, leaving Jay with two other nurses, one of the paramedics, and Cole.

"Alright, we need to lift him over to the bed! Mr. Brookstone, can you keep pressure while doing that?"

He swallowed nervously.

"Y-Yeah I think so!"

"On my count, one, two, three!"

Together, the four of them lifted the top of the gurney onto the bed, and the nurses immediately started work. Checking his pulse, his blood pressure, and then, attention came to the wound.

A doctor rushed in, and quickly took over the pressure job from Cole, sending him a grateful nod as he did.

Finally, he could step back, and relax his arms. After constantly pressing down for so long, all his joints had stiffened up and he was aching. He stretched his fingers out as far as he could, desperately bringing feeling back into them.

A sigh of brief relief escaped his mouth, until reality came crashing back down like a boulder down a mountain.

Jay.

His eyes flashed back to the operating table, which he stared at in horror. He knew there was blood - and quite a lot of it at that - but... it seemed to have soaked through Jay's entire suit. There was more dark reddish-purple material than blue.

It was already making its way into the medical bed, soaking into the fabric like water in a sponge.

Slick, wet, dripping.

 

His... hands.

Cole looked down, opening his palms, to realise that the gory liquid had covered him up to the elbows. Jay's blood.

There was so much.

 

There was too much.

 

Surely... he'd lost too much.

 

This amount... Cole could hardly come to terms with it. Dripping, splattering, covering the floor. Was he hallucinating? Was there really that much?

There... couldn't be.

Cole rubbed his eyes, then almost choked on his own tongue when he remembered what his hands were coated with.

They shot back down to his side, shaking.

 

... but that didn't matter. All that mattered right now was whether Jay would make it.

 

"I-Is he going to be ok?" he asked out loud, praying for anybody to answer.

Alas, there wasn't one.

"... p-please... please tell me he's going to be ok..."

 

One of the nurses noticed his clear discomfort, and gently touched his upper arm, gesturing to the exit.

"Sir, could you please step outside?"

He tried to protest, but no words would come out. He wanted to stay. He wanted to be able to help more. He wanted...

"... the doctor can save him, but he needs to have space. You can come and see your friend once he is stable."

Cole looked back, gritting his teeth, willing that everything would turn out fine. Praying that some sort of higher power - whether they existed or not - would step forward now and help.

"... Sir?"

He nodded, forcefully pulling himself out of the room, breaking the psychological bonds he had to the space, and collapsing into a hard plastic seat outside.

Hospital staff rushed by. Alarms flashed on and off. Alerts and beeps all chiming together into white noise.

 

The blood on his hands began to dry, and crack sadistically, constantly reminding him of how much danger Jay was in. His body heat fluctuated, sweating beyond control at one moment, then shivering the next.

"... Cole!"

Somebody called down the hallway, gaining distance and coming steadily closer.

"Cole, are you ok?"

Zane slowed down, coming to a stop at his side.

"... Kai and Nya are outside, Lloyd is on his way up. How are you feeling?"

He didn't know what to say. Lips trembled, hands raised, only to fall back down to his lap.

Zane put a hand on his shoulder, giving him a reassuring squeeze. The blood all over his hands, and smudged around his face had caught the nindroid's eye.

"... I'll fetch you a towel."

Zane managed to find one in good time, and came back to Cole with a damp paper towel before even five minutes had passed.

"Here. Clean yourself up."

He passed him the towel, and he gratefully took it, cleaning the dried blood off his face and hands.

It was a relief, and left him feeling much fresher than before.

"... Jay will be alright. Thanks to you. There is no need to worry." Zane spoke.

"... why thanks to me?" Cole replied, finally engaging in verbal conversation.

"Weren't you the one who kept him from bleeding out for the past hour?"

Cole shrugged, leaning back in his seat.

"... I... guess."

Hurried footsteps grabbed Cole and Zane's attention, who turned to see Lloyd jogging down the corridor.

"Cole! The police really need a statement from you. Are you alright to come back down with me?" He asked, slightly out of breath as he came to a stop.

Cole turned to Zane, clearly at loath to leave Jay's vicinity, but his friend nodded.

"I'll stay here, and make sure nothing happens to him. It won't take long for you."

 

With Zane's reassurance, Cole felt comfortable enough to left his seat, and followed Lloyd back down the winding routes and endless staircases.

Incessant beeping. Bustling. Cries of grieving loved ones. Laughs of those gaining good news.

It all faded into nothing in Cole's head, fat too preoccupied with his own intrusive thoughts.

 

Even though the blood had been removed from his body, cleaned away with a dampened towel and hidden behind plain white curtains... it still stained his mind.

The image of Jay's helpless, motionless, body, burned itself to the front of his brain.

This was all their fault... and now, Jay was paying the price. Poor, innocent Jay, who'd done nothing to deserve the horrors flung upon him.

 

They should all have listened to him from the very start.

Chapter Text

"Her name is Ella Pleasant."

The ninja sat together in one of the intact rooms of the Police Station. A much needed conversation was taking place, concerning the chaotic happenings on the night of the attack.

Jay was there too, after making a speedy and miraculous recovery. Quickly healing up from the knife trauma in a few days, able to leave the hospital in a week, as long as he was under the supervision of his friends.

The blade had only nicked his intestines, hardly causing any damage at all. It was very good luck.

Had the knife been only a couple of centimetres to the left or the right, the outcome could have been much more disastrous.

 

Despite his lower healing though, the prolonged exposure to the smoke had hurt his throat and lungs, and was advised to not raise his voice until they had returned to normal. The new ailments were reversible... but the old ones?

 

They were as bad as ever.

 

At any rate, Jay was happy to be on his way. Staying dormant at a hospital wasn't his cup of tea.

"Many of the security cameras were either destroyed or covered in thick dust during the incident, but one camera managed to capture a decent image. We ran her face through our database, and we know exactly who she is." the group's assigned officer explained.

"... so, will you be able to catch her?"

"... that is where it gets more complex. You see, Miss Pleasant has actually been evading us for some time. She was reported missing around a month ago, after running away from her parents and seemingly, disappearing. This is her first recorded location since."

Jay stared straight ahead, listening intently but letting his eyes wander.

"Was she really the only culprit?" Nya asked. She received a nod in reply.

"Such destruction, and so many casualties, from only one assailant. This is a scary proposition." Zane thought out loud. Lloyd mumbled something in agreement.

Finally, after mostly silence for the whole meeting, Jay spoke. A statement, rather than a question. He made sure to keep his voice hushed, as to not hurt his respiratory system any more.

"... she's from Dei Noctis, isn't she."

The officer hesitated, then nodded.

"All the evidence points towards that, yes."

Jay sighed, turning his head to the table in front of him instead of the wall.

"So. What are we gonna do? "

"... in what context?"

"About the cult. Surely they've done enough now for there to be serious legal action? Can't you ban it, in some way?"

"Mr. Walker... it isn't that simple. I very much doubt that legal action will stop them, it will only push them underground."

"I know I know... I'm just... if this carries on any longer, we'll never be able to stop them. They'll get too strong."

———

Within the next few hours, undercover agents who had gone to the cult rallies identified the girl as a definitive member, and the attack was linked back to Dei Noctis directly.

It was announced across the continent that any affiliation with the group would lead to instant arrest if found out, and all future rallies were banned. It was no longer classed as a non offending religious organisation, it was now a hate group, full of radicals and terrorists.

Some of the members took to the streets, attempting to start riots in opposition to the new laws, but they were quickly snuffed out by fast working officers.

 

Jay watched it on a live news feed on his phone, as they ninja got a lift back to the Bounty.

A few more messages from internet trolls came through, but he simply swiped them away. His social media inboxes were still chock-a-block with unread chats.

He planned to go through them at some point, but not now.

 

"... how bad are the riots?" Cole asked, breaking the layer of silence that had covered the vehicle.

"Not that bad. The police seem to be dealing with it quite well."

"That's good."

The uncomfortable quiet returned, and Cole had an urge to carry on the conversation, but let it slide. He didn't know what else he could have said.

Traffic wasn't bad, as the night had progressed quite quickly. Most people were already home, getting ready for the bedtime routine.

Jay's eyelids felt heavy, and he wished that he was home around now, settling into his own subconscious. Sofa in the game room, headfirst on the table, on a mattress on the ground. Anything would do, as long as he was able to rest.

 

However, a lingering thought kept plaguing him. A small snippet of memory that replayed on repeat in his brain, like a broken record.

 

The piercing glare of the girl, her eyes mere inches from his.

A pure lack of remorse lingered deep in her pupils, shoving feelings of fear and uncertainty deep into the ninja's head, plaguing him with a looping memory of the stabbing. Disappearing into the smoke, leaving him to bleed and die.

 

Boy, did he want to forget about it.

As an attempt to pull his train of thought away from such topics, Jay pondered over something different.

 

Nobody had gone into massive detail, but, Jay had overheard some nurses talking about Cole. Apparently, he had kept pressure on the wound for the entire journey, and had he not, he most likely would have bled out.

He really ought to thank him.

 

Cole let out a sigh, the Bounty coming into view at last. The taxi came to a stop a few paces from the boat, and turned around, giving them all a smile.

"The station covered the fare, don't worry about that."

"Ah... that's good."

They all mumbled a thanks as they exited, and got onto the bounty as speedily as they could, wanting to get out of the cruel winds that flayed them.

 

"... who's turn is it to cook tonight?" Nya asked as they'd all reached the bridge, unzipping her coat.

"I can't even remember." Kai replied. He had been strangely quiet.

"... is anybody even hungry?" Lloyd added.

Slowly, they all shook their heads.

"... well. That decides that then, huh."

The group dispersed, on their way to do various things. Some headed straight for their beds, others lingered around in the bridge of the game room.

Jay went straight to Lloyd's bedroom, where he collapsed onto his mattress and let out a huge puff of air, relishing in the familiar comfort of the space. Even just a few days spent in hospital took a toll on him, leaving him achy and frustrated.

He had already arranged with his mother to visit the junkyard the next morning, to finish off the well needed conversation after it was cut short. He wasn't looking forward to it.

Seeing his parents would be fine, nice in fact. The context was what he dreaded.

 

Having to talk about how he was adopted once more.

 

Ed and Edna would always be his parents. They raised him, they made him who he was, and he loved them both to no end.

But despite all that, despite the endless parental love they bathed him in, despite the unconditional care and support they'd shown across his life... he still hurt.

 

The knowledge that for some unknown reason, his birth parents didn't want him... was a concept he could hardly bare to think about.

Chapter Text

"... hey Ma."

Edna beamed as she opened the caravan door to her son, and pulled him into her arms.

"Jay! Sweetheart! It's so good to see you!"

She stepped outside and turned to the junkyard.

"Eeeeeeed! Ed! Jay is here!"

Ed came rushing over, sporting a pair of overalls covered in oil and grease, dropping nuts and bolts as he went.

"Son! Is everything alright? We heard about what happened at the police station..."

Jay sighed, and gave him a smile.

"It's alright, I healed up pretty quickly."

"Have they caught the person who did it?"

"... not yet. She's still on the run."

Edna lead him inside, throwing a blanket around his shoulders before he could protest, and putting a kettle on to boil.

"We didn't manage to visit you sorry dear, there were some struggles back here at the junkyard, but, we did pick up your shot for you!" she grinned, passing it over to him.

"My... my testosterone? Oh, jeez I completely forgot! Thanks Ma..."

He started to unpack it, though then stopped wincing. The stab injury in his side still hurt a lot.

"... Is it ok if you-"

"Of course Jay, I still remember the first time I helped you do it!"

"Maaaa, do you have to bring that up?"

"You were very brave!" Ed chimed in, ruffling his hair.

Jay rolled his eyes, and let Edna push up his sleeve, prepping the site with an alcohol wipe. He opened up the injection, checking that there were no air bubbles in the cylinder, and passed it to her.

"What's this muscle called again?" she questioned.

"... the deltoid, I think. It's vascular muscle tissue, and testosterone has to be injected into that."

Jay bit his lip and turned his head as she stuck the syringe in, slowly pushing down the plunger. Even after doing this many times himself... needles still weren't Jay's cup of tea.

Edna finished up by pressing a plaster over the injection site, and giving her son a kiss on the forehead.

"Ma... I'm eighteen."

"Yeah? Doesn't stop you from being my little boy!"

They were both incredibly embarrassing, and he knew they hadn't quite grasped that he was growing up, but he still loved them to pieces. Always would.

"... so. Uh... about... uhm..."

"... yeah. Where we left off last time."

Edna poured three cups of tea, remembering Jay's preferred combination from childhood. She handed it to him, and he held it gratefully, warming his hands from the cold weather that day.

Ed settled down in his seat, Edna came over as well, a much more sorrowful expression on her face.

"... we tried to have children of our own, we tried many times, for years and years... but... it seemed it wasn't meant to be. We managed it a couple of times ... and we were very happy for a while... until..."

Edna trailed off, and Ed put his arm around her shoulders.

"A lot of miscarriages," he continued for her, "... we started to lose hope. We were getting older... chances of a baby were low... but... then... we got lucky. We had a son... a lovely baby boy..."

Edna pulled a picture out of a draw with shaking hands, and held it out to Jay.

It was an old photograph, rough in places, but clearly depicting a slightly younger couple holding a baby. They all looked so joyful... like nothing in the world could go wrong.

However... Jay could hear the sorrow building in his mum's voice.

"... then... he... he got sick. We couldn't afford to go to hospital... we couldn't afford to even make the trip... and... h-he..."

Jay reached over and held her hand, unable to make eye contact.

"... I... I had no idea...”

She squeezed his palm, wiping away the tears in her eyes, and continuing.

"We sort of... gave up after that. We couldn't bare the thought of losing another child so... we focused on each other. We did our best with the junkyard, and we were content."

"Then one day, I went out to look for valuable scrap in one of the piles in the back and... I heard crying. A baby crying."

Ed got to his feet, and fished around in a cupboard till he found something, pulling out an elegant key.

“I found you, left just outside the Junkyard, along with this key.”

He handed it over to Jay, and sat back down.

“We considered taking you back to Ninjago City, telling the police, to see if they could get you back with your real parents... but... we felt a connection to you. I thought that maybe... it was fate that brought you to us. We were meant to raise you. After losing so many children... after losing our son... I... I couldn’t let you go...”

“So... we kept you! And to this day... it is the best decision we have ever made... you... you changed our lives Jay.”

He didn’t know what to say. These two people, they lost so much, went through so much pain and suffering... yet when an unknown child ended up at their doorstep, they still took it in and raised it as their own.

... whatever did he do to deserve such kind and selfless parents?

———

“Are you sure you’ll be ok?”

“Yeah, I’ll be ok Pa.”

“If you ever need anything you can always call us!”

“I know Ma, I know.”

Lloyd waved at him from the deck of the Bounty, and Jay waved back.

“I’ll just be a minute!” He yelled to him, and turned back to his parents.

“I uhm... I wanna thank you. For being so honest with me. It must have been hard to talk about.”

They pulled him in for a hug, all three Walkers tightly entwined.

“... that’s all in the past. We have you... that’s what matters most.”

He kissed them both on the check, and turned, heading back to the ship.

“Don’t ley Kai give you any crap, okay Jay?!” Edna called after him, “I’ll give him a right talking to if he treats you badly!”

Jay just laughed and waved, getting onto the deck with Lloyd’s help.

“Do you still kiss your parents?” Lloyd asked, a sly but joking smile on his face.

“Are you telling me that you wouldn’t kiss your mum goodbye? Pathetic.” Jay laughed, and rushed inside.

“Hey! I was kidding you know!”

The engines started up, and course was set for the late Cliff Gordon’s mansion.

“... so... is everything alright?”

“With me and them? Yeah. They raised me, they’ll always be my mum and dad, blood related or not.”

Jay sat down at the table, coughing slightly and taking a deep breath. He had noticed his binder feeling a lot tighter than usual, and along with the stab wound, they combined into a huge barrier for respiration.

Kai noticed his small movements from his place in the corner of the room.

“... can’t breathe can you.” He growled.

Jay gave him a look.

“Give it a break Kai. I can’t be bothered to deal with your crap today.”

Kai paused, and considered being quiet, but spoke again.

“... why don’t you just take the bloody thing off?”

“You know why.”

“No, I don’t. It’s f*cking stupid to keep it on. It can’t be that terrible to take it off. Grow up and deal with it.”

“Kai. I’m serious. F*ck off.”

“Why should I when you’re-“

“F*ck. Off.”

Kai crossed his arms and clenched his fists, taking a step towards the blue ninja, but Lloyd stepped in.

“Kai... you should leave it.”

Jay stood up and left the room, having all the calmness he’d gathered over the day ripped from his grasp in an instant.

He walked to the game room and collapsed into one of the bean bags, groaning, and jumped when he heard a small chuckle.

“Heya Bluebell.”

Jay’s eyes adjusted to the low light, and he began to make out Cole’s form in the dark.

“... Hi Cole.”

“Kai giving you trouble again?”

“Mmh hmm.”

Cole shuffled closer to him, letting out a deep exhale.

“This is a good place to think. Dark, quiet. Comfy. If you want to be alone for a bit, I’ll leave if you want.”

“No no, don’t leave. It’s ok. I just wanted to get away from Kai before I ended up hitting him.”

“Hah, can’t blame you there.”

A group of birds rushed past the bounty, filling the two boys’ ears with twittering songs for a few seconds, till they were out of earshot.

“... Kai does have a point you know. He’s not getting it across in the best way... but... he is right in essence.”

“Wh... what do you mean?”

“... your binder. It’s gonna start causing more damage... more damage than you’ve already had. We need to find a better way for you to deal with it.”

Jay swallowed nervously, yet somehow his mouth felt horrendously dry at the same time.

“... the only other safe way is surgery. Surgery they may never let me go through with because of my lungs. It could be too dangerous. Knowing my luck... it probably is.”

Cole nudged his arm, smiling in the dark.

“We’ll find a way to get through it. We always do.”

“I hope so.”

 

The Bounty would be getting close to the mansion by now. Even though Jay had been there before - though in a parallel existence - his heart was racing, and he felt as if it was going to beat out of his chest.

He’d never explored every room of the mansion, and he’d never truly known how much money he inherited. He had no idea of what to expect.

He was afraid.

 

He wished... no... he hoped... that things would be smooth sailing from now on.

Chapter Text

Cliff Gordon's villa swam into view, partially hiding between the huge trees that surrounded it. Other members of the Bounty were mildly interested, perhaps even excited as they caught sight, but Jay was unaffected.

He had been anxious all day, and he stayed anxious now. He'd seen the mansion before... so, this was nothing new.

 

"We're gonna have to land a little way away, otherwise we're gonna have to crush a lot of trees." Nya spoke. Jay nodded, agreeing.

She carefully landed the flying ship, and as they made contact with the ground, Jay felt a dropping in his chest.

He didn't know why he was so nervous about this? He was simply revisiting a place he'd been before.

 

Cole noticed his mind wandering, and gave him a gentle nudge.

"You good?"

Jay snapped himself out of it, wiping his eye and blinking a few times.

"Yeah, I uhm... I'm fine."

 

Lloyd looked more excited than anybody else, knowing full well that he was about to set foot inside the house of his Sci-Fi hero. He was trying to hide it - afraid that he would somehow upset Jay or another one of his friends - but wasn't doing a very good job.

Being perfectly honest, Jay didn't really mind. There had been nothing but negativity befalling the group recently, and any scrap of happiness was very invited. If Lloyd was excited about going into Cliff Gordon's house, who was he to ruin that?

 

The walk up the path to the villa was mildly pleasant. A cool breeze blessed the air, filtering past trees and filling the space with the scent of pine.

Jay's nerves relented. This was all so familiar, yet not at the same time.

Who knew he'd one day be walking back up here again, with a group of seven instead of one.

He took the lead, quickening his pace, and the others followed suit. He just wanted to get this over with. Get inside, get settled down, get used to it, and get rid of this uncontrollable anxious feeling.

 

The door loomed above him, and the key in his pocket suddenly felt very heavy.

Jay's hand shook as he pulled it out, and it took a few attempts to press it into the keyhole successfully.

 

Cole noticed it, even though it was small. He wished he could say something to help, anything to help. This situation was so foreign to him, and horribly familiar to the boy in front.

There was nothing he could say to help, despite how painful that fact was.

 

After the fourth attempt, Jay got the key in, and turned it, holding his breath as the door swung open. An indiscernible clean smell swallowed the group, as the warmth of the building juxtaposed the cold outside.

 

"... come on. We're letting the heat out." Jay whispered, only just audible.

He held open the door and let the rest of them walk inside first, and closed the door as quickly as he could.

 

"... WOAHHHHH!"

A loud cheer filled the entrance with sound, Lloyd unable to contain his glee at the sight before him.

Memorabilia, merchandise, figurines, posters, very clear authentic costumes worn by Fitz Donegan himself. Any fanboy's dream.

"Is that, is thAT HIS COSTUME FROM SEASON ONE? And that one! That's his classic gun prop isn't it! H-Holy sh*t..."

Lloyd turned to Jay, a look of ecstatic glee on his face.

Jay sighed and smiled at him.

"Go ahead. Look around as much as you want, just make sure not to damage anything."

"... oh my... thank you so much! Jay, this is the best day of my entire life!"

Lloyd quickly scampered off, clutching his hands together and squealing every time something familiar popped up. Jay watched him disappear down a corridor, and wished that he could feel the same innocent happiness.

Maybe in another world, he would have joined the Green Ninja on his venture through the house, laughing and grinning together as they talked about their favourite TV show.

But he couldn't.

Any positivity that he could muster would be fake.

Zane followed Lloyd on his little adventure to make sure he kept out of trouble, sharing a humorous shrug with Cole before leaving.

 

The rest of the group made their way to the huge living room, which was more like a massive lobby that linked up to other hallways and rooms. Four different luxury leather sofas faced each other in a square in one corner, the lights came on automatically as they walked in, and the fireplace started all by itself.

It was impressive, there was no denying it.

Even Kai couldn't hide his thoughts. When nobody was looking, he stared around in awe at the design and architecture, though still forced a neutral expression when anybody else came near.

 

Nya sided over to Jay, gazing up at the ceiling alongside him.

"... it's somehow more impressive as I remember."

"Yeah. I can't remember it being so... grand. Posh. I can't believe this is... mine."

Nya laid a hand on his shoulder.

"So. What's the plan now?"

"I don't know. Stay here, find out where everybody will sleep. Make sure Lloyd doesn't get too hyper over the Donegan merch."

"Hah, he still is the little kid of the group, isn't he."

"Yep. It's nice to see him happy for once."

Nya looked at him, clearly trying to make eye contact, but Jay was too nervous to return it.

"... what about you?"

"Hmm?"

"It would be nice to see you happy for once."

He felt a thumping in his chest. Had he really been that low recently?

Looking back... yeah. He had been.

"... I'm... sorry. I guess I've been bringing down the mood lately... huh..."

"Jay, hon, nobody blames you for how you've been feeling. We're all here for you."

Nya didn't bat an eyelid as the familiar pet name slipped out of her mouth. After weeks and weeks of hearing nothing of the sort, Jay's focus clicked directly to it, however... she seemed to not even notice.

As if it was entirely natural.

"Look on the bright side. You really do have a secret hideout now, eh?" she winked, giving him a playful nudge.

Jay's cheeks flushed bright red.

"I u-uhm... yeah, I guess I do..."

She laughed, and settled down, looking back at the room in front of them.

"... I'll leave you to it. You have a lot to explore, don't you."

"... y-yeah... I uh... I wanna check out the rest of the rooms. I didn't get a chance to last time."

She walked away and joined Kai instead, striking up a conversation with him.

 

Jay gazed after her for a short while, trying his hardest to keep his breathing slow and steady. His heart raced inside his chest, making him feel warm and... positive. Positive for the first time in a long while.

He pushed his hair out of his eyes, and snapped himself out of the odd daze he had entered.

 

Cole watched him as he made his way towards other parts of the villa, slipping out of sight as he turned a corner.

He had watched the entire interaction between the broken couple, and hadn't been impressed in the slightest. Twinges of annoyance made their way into his head state, and... he simply couldn't just stand aside and pretend it never happened.

 

"... Nya, could I speak to you in private?" He asked, trying very hard to sound neutral, however, the clear anger in his voice carried over to the siblings.

"... uhm... sure?" Nya replied.

"... what? What's she done?" Kai asked. Cole shot him a look.

"I asked to speak to her in private for a reason."

Kai didn't question him any further, and Nya followed Cole out of the room silently.

 

He waited until he was sure that Kai was out of earshot to speak.

"... what the f*ck do you think you're doing?"

Nya's eyes widened.

"... wh... what do you-"

"With Jay. You were flirting with him."

"... I... Cole, I wasn't flirting with hi-"

"Yes you were, and you know you were."

Nya pursed her lips, not knowing how to reply.

"... you broke up with him, Nya. You broke up with him because you didn't know if you'd date a trans guy, and he respected that, even though it f*cking hurt him. The least you can do is respect him as well, and not lead him on!"

She looked away, taking a deep breath.

"Cole... I don't know what you think you saw, but I promise you, I didn't mean to do anything like that."

Cole continued talking, not paying any mind to her statement.

"Either you're with him, or you aren't. You need to make a decision before you hurt him even more. If you hadn't noticed, he's still in love with you, and if you keep acting like this, you're gonna end up breaking his heart all over again! For the third f*cking time Nya!"

She looked at him, and saw in his eyes that he was dead serious. It was contact that she couldn't hold for very long, too intimidated as she realised what she had indeed been doing.

"... just because he has a big fancy mansion and loads of money, it doesn't make it ok to get all up in his business again. He's still, just, Jay. The same Jay we've always known."

Nya felt her first touch of irritation at that, crossing her arms.

"... what the hell are you suggesting? That I'm some selfish gold digger?"

Cole seemed as if he was going to agree, but, took a step back.

He closed his eyes, leaning against a wall and massaging his temples with his thumb and forefinger.

"... look, Nya... I'm sorry. That was... that was out of order. I was out of order. I just... I can't stand to see anything else happen to him."

Nya nodded, subconsciously biting her parched lips.

"... no, no I... somebody needed to say something."

He squeezed his fists together, and appeared to wipe away tears, but it could have just been sweat.

"... f*ck... I'm sorry. I really, really am. I... I don't know what came over me."

She gave him a half smile, tilting her head.

"It's alright. Tension has been high recently, I don't blame you."

He took another breath, and another.

"... do you wanna talk about anything, Cole? We could take a walk. It looks like the Villa has a garden, I think I saw it from the Bounty before we landed." Nya spoke, softening her voice.

"... I might just take you up on that."

———

Jay hadn't yet found anything interesting, despite searching around most of the rooms by now. He had obviously passed over the dressing room and other such spaces that he had previously visited.

On the second floor, he had already checked his late father's bedroom, which was surprisingly devoid of stuff. It was also incredibly awkward to spend time in, as you would imagine the room of a dead man.

There was one last door that Jay hadn't entered, and being honest... he expected it to be nothing but a storage cupboard. The search for any new information had come away frustratingly fruitless, and his morale was low.

 

But then... he spotted an acrylic block attached to the wood, a long rectangle with... what looked like a name on it. It seemed to be glued to the door.

He hurried forward, and his stomach turned as he finally made out what it said.

'Sophie'

Conflicting emotions filled him to the brim. On one hand, knowing that Cliff had actually kept a room for him was certainly surprising. Intriguing even. He wanted nothing more than to go inside, see what had been left, see if it really was a bedroom, or the remnants of one, discarded and turned into a generic storage space.

On the other hand... just the sight of his birthname made him feel sick.

 

Despite his unwavering curiosity, Jay pulled himself away, instead turning back towards the living room/hall that he had left the others in.

Lloyd had returned from his Donegan trip, looking extremely content, and yapping away to a mildly interested Zane. Kai was sat on one of the sofas, half asleep and definitely ready for some rest. Sensei stood in the corner, just observing.

"... oh, Jay! Did you find anything?" Zane asked as he noticed his friend's presence.

"... not yet. Where are Cole and Nya?"

"I think they went off for a walk to clear their heads. Do you want me to call them back?"

"If you wouldn't mind."

Zane called Cole's phone, and the two returned within about five minutes, looking refreshed.

"The gardens are really exquisite, we should all go out together at some point." Nya sighed, stretching her shoulders, "What did you call us back for?"

Jay cleared his throat, and Kai snapped back to reality, paying attention.

"... it's getting late. We should probably decide where we're all gonna sleep." He said. Sensei left his space in the corner, and spoke at last.

"I'll stay on the Bounty. Somebody should make sure that it stays safe, though I doubt we'll be getting any visitors up here."

"... if you're sure, Sensei."

He nodded his head, and swiftly left the Villa.

 

"... well. In here, there are four sofas we can stay on, and the fire will keep anybody in here pretty warm." Lloyd suggested.

"Lloyd, no matter where you are in this place, you're gonna be warm. The floors are heated." Kai monotoned.

Lloyd's mouth fell agape.

"They ARE?! My god, how fancy is this place?!"

Jay playfully rolled his eyes, and picked up where Lloyd left off.

"There's also a single guest bedroom, but it also has a seat that can turn into a bed in there, so two people could take that. I also... I found a room that I think... I think was supposed to be mine. I'm gonna try and stay in there."

"... so... would it be ok for me and Kai to take the bedroom?" Nya asked.

Jay shrugged.

"If Kai wants to do that, you're very welcome."

The group looked to Kai, who couldn't care less.

"I don't care where I sleep, as long as I can sleep. I'm bloody exhausted."

"Then that leaves me, Cole and Lloyd on the sofas down here. That setup works perfectly." Zane smiled.

"And, worst come to worst, Jay could always come down and take the fourth one." Cole added.

 

"... c'mon, you three need some bedsheets. I found a drying room full of clean duvets earlier.

Lloyd, Cole and Zane followed Jay to the room, and started picking out some blankets.

"Kai's been awfully quiet this whole time, hasn't he." Lloyd joked.

"Yeah, I think he's a bit intimidated." Cole replied.

"Of what?" Zane asked.

"Jay's sudden millionaire status?" Lloyd replied, before snorting with laughter and accidentally dropping his blankets on the floor.

"Hey, I don't think I'm quite at that level."

"On that topic, Jay, how much money have you actually inherited?"

Jay didn't answer for a few moments.

"... I... I don't know."

"Aha, so you MIGHT be a millionaire!"

"... maybe."

 

Jay bid goodnight to the three, checked that the front door was properly locked, then made his way back up to the room he'd come across earlier.

The name-tag taunted him, daring him to go inside, teasing him about his past with its mere existence.

Jay shook the feeling away - and with a shaking hand, he grabbed the doorknob - pushing the wood open to reveal...

 

... a bedroom.

 

Walls painted dark navy, while the ceiling was electric blue. A single bed was laid out in the left corner next to the entrance, adorned with plain bedsheets - matching the colour of the walls - that had been neatly applied.

A silent clock hung on one wall, a mirror on another. A wooden closet stood at the back, next to a clean desk with a matching desk chair.

The carpet was soft below his feet, clearly vacuumed and washed, kept in impeccable condition.

The last clear asset to the room was a large chest, on top of which were a set of towels, and a box full of fancy, specifically masculine hygiene products, and next to those, a pile of neatly wrapped presents. It appeared that there were eighteen of them, one for each year of his age, and then one more. He hadn't turned eighteen yet.

 

Jay was lost for words, only able to stand and stare, still taking in the sight in front of him.

 

This room had... definitely been kept clean. Tidied, well presented. This couldn't have been chance, or accident.

Cliff was keeping a room for him... just in case, he ever came home.

There was no other explanation.

 

An envelope reached Jay's concentration, laid on the desk and held shut with another intricate wax seal.

He stepped over to it, still shaking, perhaps harder than before.

It was for him. No professional talk, or sophisticated addressing.

'To, Jay' was written on the front, in looping cursive handwriting. Not a font he had seen before, and with a single glance, Jay knew that it was from Cliff.

He picked it up, slipping his fingers under the wax seal, and he pulled out the message within, sitting down on the bed to read it.

With a heavy heart, and a racing breath... Jay let himself sink into the words.

 

'Dear Jay,

I know I do not have much time left. My health has been dwindling for years, it was only a matter of time until I fell ill. I am writing this message to you in fear that it will be the last chance I get.

First of all, I must apologise. I know that it was wrong of me to be so absent in your life, to let you stay with Ed and Edna with no knowledge of my existence. I did not believe myself to be a worthy father to you, after I had failed so miserably at the start of your life. Your adoptive parents deserved you a hundred times more than I, and I could not bring myself to ruin their new family, or your new life.

I have watched you for all these years, through the media, keeping track of your growth. I've watched you mature, learning to harness your power, building yourself as a person. You have faced so many struggles, struggles that I often wanted to step in and help with, but I was far too ashamed. What would you think of me? The absent father who was never there for you?

Perhaps it was best for us to never meet face to face. For reasons I still don't understand, your own mother could not stand me after you were born, and took you away before I could ever bring you home. She chose a good place for you with the Walkers, before she disappeared. Nobody knows where she went, all I can hope is that she was happy. She was the love of my life, after all.

Jay, my dear dear boy. Life has not been kind to you.

I am so, so unbelievably sorry. I wish that I and your mother could have been a part of your world, I wish for it more than anything else. I would give anything, all my money, all my fame, to be able to go back in time and change what I've done, alas, there is no point wavering on the past.

I will never forget holding you in my arms, just after your birth. You were so small, so tiny, yet you had the brightest smile. I knew at that moment, that I would love you forever.

 

I could not be prouder, to call you my son.

 

Yours faithfully,

Your father,

Cliff Gordon'

Chapter Text

The sound of the morning song interrupted Jay's deep slumber, gentry prising his fingers from the grip of sleep.

Light streamed into the room through the gaps in the curtains, dispelling the darkness from the blue themed room.

He was warm, and once his eyes cleared, he could clearly see that he was under the covers of the bed.

Jay couldn't remember even getting into them, the events of the previous night seeming hazy in this mind, yet, his father's letter stayed very clear.

 

Another round of twittering from the birds sent Jay out of bed, yawning and then wincing as his ribs started to hurt. He slept in his binder again... not a good move.

He checked his phone, which was miraculously still on 20% power, and saw that it was pretty early still. 7:23 in the morning. Everybody else would most likely still be asleep, so, an idea came to mind.

He remembered seeing a washing room the previous day, containing a number of washing machines and dryers.

He hadn't washed his binder for a few days now, and alike any other close-to-body piece of clothing, it needed to be washed regularly. The only question was, how would he bulk out the rest of the wash?

A possible idea came to mind.

Jay tip-toed over to the closet in the corner, and pulled a couple of hoodies out of it. They were very clean indeed, however, they had clearly been sitting in that cupboard for a while, and were slightly musty.

Perfect.

 

On his way down to the wash room, Jay bumped into a familiar, but not entirely welcome face. Kai.

They almost collided as the two of them both rounded a corner, but luckily, Kai jumped out of the way in time.

They looked each other up and down, and Kai gave him an awkward half grimace.

"... what are you doing up so early?" He asked.

Jay raised an eyebrow.

"We're both awake Kai."

Kai looked away, and carried on down the hall. It seemed he was heading towards the kitchen. Jay didn't really care where he was going, as long as the general civility between them continued.

 

He made his way to the wash room, and began loading up a machine with the clothes.

There were an array of fabric conditioners and detergents in a cupboard on the other side of the room, of which he chose a couple and loaded the machine up with them as well.

 

The wash was set to a rather quick one, only half an hour, and after he checked that the door was completely closed and nobody would be coming in soon. Once privacy was assured, Jay took a deep breath and closed his eyes, then pulled off his binder.

It was both relieving and dreadful. His lungs gave out and air flooded in, relief filling up his chest, though, an unpleasant twinging at the back of his mind came closer.

He hurried on with the wash to distract himself, shoving the binder in and closing the door, setting the system off to start. Half an hour wasn't too terribly long, so Jay opted to stay in the room and look through his phone.

It was warm, and quiet, save for the gentle rocking of the washing machine.

 

Time flowed by without much effort, Jay scrolled through the photos on his phone. There were many distant memories dating back to years ago, reminders of a simpler, happier time.

After fifteen minutes or so of digging, Jay even came across a selfie from the very start, before Kai had joined the team. A selfie of three younger boys, positively beaming.

He and Cole looked so much younger, while Zane looked as ageless as ever.

 

How things had changed.

 

A beeping alerted him to the finished wash, and Jay pulled the mass of material into a wash basket, carrying the load over to one of the three dryers available.

The shortest cycle available took a measly two hours, much too long to stay and zone out into a phone screen, so he decided to go back to bed for the time being. Despite having one of the best sets of sleep in a long time, he was still deeply exhausted.

After setting a timer to go and collect the wash, he pulled the covers back over his head, and slipped near instantly back to unconsciousness.

———

Lloyd yawned, rising from the sofa he'd spent the night on. Zane was already awake, and was peacefully meditating by the fireplace.

Cole slowly rose as well, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.

"... morning." Lloyd groaned. He stood up and pulled the curtains open, revealing the huge windows that framed the view outside. Mountains and trees, a very tranquil and natural scene. Sunlight began to bless the room, filling up each darkened corner till it finally felt like day.

"... sleep well?"

"Not really." Cole replied, "way too much on my mind."

Zane shifted his positioning, then stood up.

"It's 9.57. We should all think about breakfast."

Lloyd nodded, agreeing.

"Yeahhhh, I'm starving. But we hardly have anything left on the Bounty..."

"Shall we check the kitchen here? I'm sure Jay won't mind."

"... no harm in trying."

———

The sharp shrill of the alarm sent Jay out of bed in an instant, slamming his thumb down on his screen to shut off the horrible sound.

Two more hours of rest, and somehow, still he was tired. It was frustrating to no end.

He shook his head, gathering his thoughts and stabilising himself again.

What was he doing?

 

... the wash. The wash, yeah. He needed to go and collect his clothes from the dryer.

He checked the hallway for other people, protectively crossing his arms over his chest just in case he ran into anybody. Luckily though, the trip down to the wash room was very solitary.

Though, the moment he caught sight of the door, his nerves fired off. There was something wrong.

The door had been left slightly ajar.

 

When he left two hours previously, he distinctly remembered pulling it closed, hearing the satisfying click before going back to bed.

The fact that it was open... meant that somebody else had gone inside.

 

Jay quickened his pace, throwing open the door, and feeling his airways tighten as he saw the inside of the room. The dryer had been opened, and clearly rummaged around in. There wasn't a huge mess, but... it was clear.

His heartbeat quickened, and started beating in his ears as well. Painfully so.

 

He stumbled over, and pulled the clothes out into the basket he left behind, and looked through them as quickly as he could. Each article he moved away depended his dread, and further defined what he feared.

 

It was just as he'd thought.

 

His binder was gone.

 

Jay didn't even think about who'd done it. There was only one possible culprit. Nobody else currently in the building would dare to take something so important to him.

 

Kai. It had to be Kai.

 

Listening carefully, he heard voices coming from the kitchen and dining area.

 

For the first time in a while, he wasn't upset. He wasn't sad or anxious or unmotivated. He wasn't even tired anymore.

Jay was angry

———

Zane had managed to find a decent amount of edible food in the two large fridges and surrounding cupboards, and was busy cooking for everybody. The rest of the group sat around the exquisite mahogany dining table, in the large room connected to the cooking space.

For the most part, they made casual conversation, while Kai sat silently, staring at the wall.

At any rate, nobody expected it when Jay burst in, red in the face, his arms pressed tightly over his chest.

"KAI, YOU'D BETTER START EXPLAINING YOURSELF." He shouted, physically shaking with anger.

Everybody turned around to face the doorway, then looked back at Kai, who practically radiated guilt.

"... Jay, what's going on?" Nya asked.

"Why don't you ask your brother?!"

She turned to him, questioning him without having to say anything.

"... I haven't done anything." He muttered, looking down at the table.

"Oh, you haven't done anything huh? Then why's my f*cking binder missing?"

Silence filled the space, and Jay felt himself shaking harder and harder.

"... Kai... where, is, it?" He demanded, forcing his tone much lower and calmer, though still embodied just as much anger as before.

"... don't ask me. I don't know. Why the f*ck would I care?"

"... then who took it?"

"... maybe you lost it yourself. P*ss off."

Kai's petty return was full of venom, and Jay lost the last inch of patience he had left.

"Maybe you didn't notice Kai, but you're staying in a house that belongs to me. Unless you want me to kiCK YOU OUT, YOU'D BETTER TELL ME WHAT YOU DID."

That seemed to get to him. Jay was indeed correct about owning the place, and he had the right to choose who could stay, and who needed to leave.

Kai seemed to fight himself in his own head, then stood up and walked over. With a tensed arm, he pulled Jay's binder out of his pocket, and thrust it at him.

Jay snatched it out of his hand, and fixed him with a dangerous glare.

"If you wanna act like this in my goddamn house, you can get the fuck out. Do you understand, or are you too self-obsessed to see past your own stupid ideals?"

"... the f*ck are you suggesting."

Kai was a good few inches taller than Jay, but in that moment, it didn't seem to matter.

"I'm suggesting that you're a narcissistic twat!"

Zane stepped in, rushing from the kitchen and getting between them.

"Jay, Kai, stop it! We don't need any more arguments..."

"Then maybe Kai should keep his grimy hands off my stuff!"

With that last statement, Jay stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

All that could be heard for the next few seconds were his hurried footsteps... then silence.

 

Kai seemed like he wanted to say something, perhaps even follow the blue ninja and carry on the clash, but instead, left the dining room through the opposite door.

The awkward quiet extended, leaving the remaining four to deal with the pieces.

Sensei Wu walked in, with terrible timing as usual.

"... what ruckus is going on here?"

"... Sensei..."

He looked... disappointed.

Anger would be easier to cope with, sadness would be gruelling though... still... disappointment was the worst of all.

"... there has been a breach into Dei Noctis by an informant. The police force has asked me to send one of you to collect the information, as you will be much more stealthy than any of their officers." He spoke, seemingly eager to change the subject.

Lloyd looked at his friends, then got out of his seat.

"... I'll go."

"Are you sure?" Cole asked.

"Yeah. I... I'm gonna be more help out there than here."

He hurried over to Sensei's side, and the two of them left quickly.

Four became three.

 

Breakfast was forgotten.

-~-~-

"... Kai, what on Earth were you thinking?!" Nya demanded, finally finding her brother in their room, angrily shoving clothes into his bag.

"- and where do you think you're going?!"

He glanced at her, then continued as if she'd said nothing at all.

"... Kai, taking his binder was out of order. I think you deserved everything he said to you."

Still no reply.

"... what are you gonna do when you leave, Kai? Go stay on the Bounty? Don't be an idiot. He let you off. Staying here is best for all of us."

Finally, he stopped packing, and sat down on the bed, sighing loudly and gazing out the window.

"... please, talk to me Kai. Why'd you take it?"

He only shrugged.

Nya sat down next to him, sinking into the luxury mattress.

"... I'm your sister. If you want me to keep it to myself... I will."

She didn't even earn a shrug from that.

Sighing, Nya got up to leave, realising that there was no use talking to him while he was in this sort of mood.

She almost reached the door when, to her utmost shock, Kai spoke.

"I..." he started. "I... I just though that... he wasn't going to stop wearing it himself."

Nya stopped in her tracks.

"... that idiot wasn't going to stop wearing it himself, so I thought I'd do something about it, ok?! Zane told me what was going on with his lungs... I... I just don't want him to be fucking stupid and cripple himself more! He's useless enough as it is!"

He dropped his bag into the floor.

"... whatever. I'm famished. I'm gonna go see if Zane finished cooking."

He left the room, sliding past her without another word.

 

Leaving Nya alone with her thoughts.

Chapter Text

Jay slammed his bedroom door closed, and practically threw himself onto the bed. His blood boiled with anger he hadn't felt in a long time, and on top of that, had to fight back tears. Waves of tears that crashed against his tightly shut eyes like the ocean against a cliff.

What... was... that guy's, problem? Why the hell would he do that?

Had he really stooped so low, become so sour and petty and cruel to go out of his way to cause problems?

Yes, Kai had been pretty damn horrible recently, especially to him but... Jay had never thought that he'd go as far as to take his binder.

Was it possible to feel betrayed when almost all trust had already been lost?

 

The room felt as if it had dropped ten degrees, and the atmosphere was stale and tense. All the initial motivation from when he first woke up had disappeared, and he couldn't be bothered to even collect the rest of his clothes from the dryer.

What a way to start off the day.

———

Cole and Zane washed up together after breakfast, partially out of respect for keeping Jay's place tidy, and partially to keep themselves away from the other volatile individuals in the house.

"I had half a mind to make Kai wash up his own plate." Zane sighed, passing a handful of clean knives and forks to Cole to dry them with a tea towel.

Cole stayed quiet, the scraping of metal on metal filling the space until Zane broke it again.

"... why do you think he did such a thing?"

He just shrugged, not knowing how to answer. Stealing Jay's binder was an absolutely abhorrent thing to do, the lowest of the low to take an important piece of properly from somebody who should have been called a friend.

But despite how terrible he felt for thinking it... a nagging itch at the back of his head kept saying that maybe... just maybe... forcibly removing his binder was the only way to stop him from wearing it. From slowly damaging his lungs more and more each day, especially with the condition that Zane brought to light. Cole respected his bodily autonomy, and would never dream of forcing him to do something that would hurt him so deeply, though the concerns were all still there.

"... I don't know."

"It feels like many of Kai's actions seem to be without logic lately."

"... yeah..."

They worked through the load slowly but steadily, in comfortable and mutual quiet from that point. Sponge squeaking against the plates, clacking of cutlery, low breathing, and oddly... whirring from Zane's side. He was clearly deep in thoughts of some kind.

Cole wanted to ask, though couldn't bring himself to.

 

They finished up and Zane drained the water, sadly watching it swirl down the pipe, disappearing. What to do now?

Zane didn't know. No new activities sprung to mind, so when Cole made a decision for himself, Zane - secretly - was almost relieved.

 

"... I'm gonna go talk to him." Cole spoke.

"... to Kai?"

"What? God no."

Cole knew as a fact that if he came face to face with Kai, he'd have more than just words to embody his distaste. Better to avoid him entirely than start even more problems than there already were.

"... it is good that I left him a plate of food then. Can you take it up?" Zane asked.

"Sure. Anything else?"

"... no, just... tell him that he's always free to talk to me if he wants to or needs to. Jay that is."

"Hah, figured."

He carefully lifted the plate of food, which Zane had kept hot by leaving it in the oven on a very low setting. The plate probably would have burned anybody else, causing them to drop it instantly as a reflex, sending the pottery splintering across the carefully tiled floor, food ruined as well. Cole's hands though, had toughened up over the years, especially since he was constantly working with rock.

His hands had to adapt, or else he'd be constantly covered in blisters. He had never bore much mind to it, until times alike this one.

 

He selected a knife and fork from the newly washed and dried, and made his way up the stairs.

Cole realised halfway up that, he didn't actually know which room he was looking for. He knew that Jay was somewhere upstairs due to the thundering of footsteps he heard after he stormed off, but, not room specific.

It wasn't hard to evaluate though. One look down the corridor he entered, and the room down at the far end was the only one with a door left ajar. A light was on inside as well.

Cole had found their blue ninja.

He walked up and gently knocked on the door, waiting for a reply before he spoke.

"... who is it?"

"... it's Cole. Is it alright if I come in?"

"... oh, yeah. Sure."

He pushed the door open with his shoulder, and gave Jay a half smile.

"... heya Bluebell."

The nickname didn't evoke the usual cheery or cheeky reaction, just a small change in how Jay held himself, straightening up slightly instead of slouching.

"... Zane asked for me to bring you some food up."

"He really is the group mum, huh."

"Absolutely."

Jay wiped his eyes and swallowed, trying to bring some wetness to his excessively dry mouth and throat. Crying was more dehydrating than people thought.

Cole could tell that while he was grateful, Jay had near to no interest in eating. He slid it onto a sturdy wooden desk on the oposite side of the room, then sat down next to his friend on the bed.

 

He hadn't had a change to take in the surroundings yet, and properly scanned the room at last.

"... wow... how did you feel when you first found this?" He asked.

Jay shrugged.

"... shocked... I guess..."

Cole let out a long sigh, and turned to him.

"... do you wanna talk about... you know. What happened just now."

Another shrug, no verbal follow up this time.

"... if you just wanna rant at me as I listen, that's cool too. Rant, talk, whatever. If you just want some space, I can do that too."

He nodded, acknowledging the options. Cole was ready to leave, sensing that it would be what Jay wanted, but then, he caught his breath as he began to talk.

"... I... I just... I don't, understand... why... he'd do that. I know he doesn't like me. I know he... maybe even hates me. But... why would he go out of his way... just to hurt me...?"

Jay repositioned himself, staring at his nails as if they were interesting.

"... a few months ago, I was his friend and he was mine. I still haven't... gotten used to.... this. This... hostility. I'm just... I'm hurt. I'm really hurt, and I don't know what to, well, do. I don't know what to do."

He hung his head, seemingly ashamed of the emotions that flashed across his face.

"... and to top it all off, Nya's... confusing me again. Yesterday, she was acting like nothing had happened to change between us, like we were still together. I don't know what she thinks of me or what she wants of me, and I hate it."

He decided to go along with it and act like he hadn't noticed.

"... I'm sorry man... must be tough."

"... all I want is for everything to go back to normal. How it was before all of this."

"... I know how you feel."

"... do you...?"

A flash of annoyance poked at him. Did he? Of course he did. Everything had gotten more stressful for everybody lately, and their team was falling apart at the seams. Why wouldn't he want to go back to the old days?

"Yeah, I do. Everything was so much simpler, even just a couple months ago."

"Mmh hmm..."

He decided to try and change the subject. The current one was only bringing the mood steadily down, dampening it with every added statement.

"... there's been something I've been meaning to ask you for a little while now. I hope it's not too... out of the blue."

"Hmm? Ask away, I'm sure you won't be asking anything outrageous."

"Definitely not! Or at least, I hope not."

Cole shuffled around, folding his fingers together and staring deliberately at the carpeted ground in front of them.

"... how exactly did you, you know, know that you liked guys?"

Jay lifted his head up and looked at him at last, eyes wide.

"... what?"

"You heard me."

"Yeah yeah I know I just... nobody's ever really, asked me that before."

He leant back against the wall, sifting through his thoughts.

"I dunno. One day it just hit me I guess." Jay sighed, "... any particular reason you asked?"

Cole shrugged, keeping a genuinely neutral face and posture.

"Just curious. I've never properly talked to anybody about sexuality before."

A slight shade of red tinted his cheeks.

"... alright, maybe there's a bit more reason than that." he added with a smile.

Jay let out a laugh.

"Knew it."

The atmosphere had lightened already. It was astounding, what a small bit of positive chatter could do.

"... how long have you been thinking about it?"

"I wouldn't be able to say. I've always been... questioning I guess, but I never really paid much attention to it. There's always been more important stuff going on, and I've never really cared anyway."

"Well, your secret is safe with me, not that anybody else would mind. I mean, somebody would, but what's he gonna do?"

They engaged in more casual talking, the exquisite design of the villa, plans to visit the gardens outback at some point. Jay even ate a little of the breakfast Cole brought up, which was a clear sign he was feeling better. After he sat back down, however, he fell into a short coughing fit, and was left struggling to catch his breath afterwards.

Cole's smile faded near instantly.

"... you alright?"

"Yeah, I'm fine, just... out of breath."

He bit his lip, wanting to say a lot more, though he tried to say what came next as kindly as he could muster.

"... maybe you should try to take a break from your binder soon."

Jay gave him a sarcastic look, triggering the twinge of annoyance to come back with a vengeance.

"Jay, I'm serious. You heard just as well as I did what Zane said."

"I know, but it's not that simple. You know it's not that simple, Cole."

"... Jay... I'm not trying to sound like a d*ck, I'm just worried. I know you've been wearing it way too much, for a long time as well."

"As I said, it's not that simple."

Was he actually trying to hurt himself more? Cole knew that dysphoria was a huge struggle for him, a huge struggle for all trans people, but surely his health was more of a priority?

"... I've heard that if you bind dangerously you can ruin your chances for top surgery in the future."

That seemed to hit a little deeper.

"... like I'm ever gonna be able to get that."

"Didn't you just inherit a whole bunch of money?"

They could both feel tensions rising, but neither did anything to stop it.

"Never said it was a money problem."

"Then what is the problem?"

"... how do I know I'll even live long enough to get it."

Cole gritted his teeth. That could mean a few things, and none of them were good.

"... what the hell are you suggesting?"

Jay furrowed his brows and turned away.

"Whatever, it doesn't matter."

"Jay, it does matter. You're hurting yourself and all I-"

"It. Doesn't. Matter."

"... Jay-"

"Can you leave now?"

Cole was speechless. He'd been nothing but concerned and calm and he hadn't a clue of why Jay was suddenly being so... hostile. Angry.

He opened his mouth to say something else, but Jay cut him off before he could.

"I said, can you leave?"

"... what the f*ck man?"

"I-"

"I'm just trying to be a good friend and you're treating me like I'm against you!"

"Well maybe you should try a bit harder."

"... excuse me? Try harder?"

"Yeah. Instead of calling me an idiot for wearing my binder you could be a bit more understanding.”

"Quit putting words in my mouth. I never called you an idiot, when did I say that?"

"You didn't say it but you made it bloody clear that you thought it!"

Cole has stood up to leave but turned back around at that statement.

"I'd appreciate it if you didn't tell me what I was thinking. Last time I checked, you're not a mind reader."

"Oh sorry, didn't realise I wasn't allowed to say what was clearly happening."

All civility had been thrown out of the window.

"... you know what? You know what Jay? Yeah! You are being a bit of an idiot! Only an idiot would intentionally screw up his already damaged f*cking organs!"

"Last time I checked, Cole, you aren't trans, how the hell do you know how much I struggle?!"

"I know that you struggle, ok! I know that! I just thought that you'd have enough common sense to consider your wellbeing as well!"

Jay squeezed his fists together until his knuckles went white. His face however, was steadily beating up, and becoming an irritated shade of red.

"Of all people, I thought you'd understand the most, I really really thought-"

"I'm not just gonna be an enabler for you! If you're doing something stupid I'm going to tell you to stop!"

"... Cole, just get out."

"What? So you can wallow in your own self pity? The world doesn't revolve around you Jay!"

"Cole, get out. Can you please just-"

"Take a look at the bigger picture for once. When you pull crap like this, the rest of us all get worried as well, you are the only person you’re hurting!”

Something snapped then. The last scraps of decency were blown away in gust of fury, and all memory of the joyful conversation staged just fifteen minutes ago dissipated in a second.

"Cole would you just, gET THE F*CK OUT OF HERE."

The sudden yelling took Cole by surprise for a second, and rendered him silent as Jay began to cry pitifully in front of him, stood up, but shaking vigorously.

"WHY DO YOU ALWAYS DO THIS?! DO YOU HAVE SOME STUPID GRUDGE AGAINST ME? DO YOU JUST SET OUT TO F*CKING HURT ME?!"

He tried to wipe his eyes but the tears just kept flowing, dribbling down his face like a broken water fountain.

"YOU ALWAYS OUTPERFORMED ME, I WAS ALWAYS THE BUTT OF THE JOKES, YOU RUINED MY RELATIONSHIP, AND NOW THIS TOO? WHAT HAVE I EVER DONE TO YOU?!"

"... WHY ARE YOU BRINGING THAT UP, THAT HAPPENED YEARS AGO AND I'VE KEPT APOLOGISING EVER SINCE!"

"IT STILL F*CKING HURTS! A HALF ASSED APOLOGY DOESN'T STOP IT FROM HURTING!"

"WHY DID YOU SAY YOU'D FORGIVEN ME IF YOU HADN'T?!"

"BECAUSE IT'S EASIER TO F*CKING PRETEND, COLE!"

Everything that could cause any upset was fired off in a second, verbal bullets piercing all the most vulnerable places. For Jay, this was worse than any argument involving Kai, at least he could partially detach himself from those ones. He could focus in on the fact that Kai just didn't understand, Kai just wanted to be cruel, Kai just tried to do the things he did. Cole though... Cole was supposed to be a friend. Somebody he could trust. Somebody he could confide in when times got tough.

But here they were, screaming at each other as if they were mortal enemies. Tearing at each other's insecurities with vicious intent.

"EVERYTHING HAS TO BE ABOUT YOU AND YOUR ISSUES, AND IF ANYBODY TALKS ABOUT ANYTHING ELSE THEY'RE SUDDENLY THE BAD GUY."

"THAT'S NOT F*CKING TRUE, I'M ALLOWED TO THINK OF MYSELF SOMETIMES, WOULD YOU RATHER I JUST WORSHIPED YOU? YOUR EMOTIONS ARE OBVIOUSLY WAYYYY MORE IMPORTANT THAN MINE!"

"JAY, JUST GROW UP. THIS ALL STARTED FROM YOU REFUSING TO DO THE SENSIBLE THING AND GIVE YOUR BLOODY LUNGS A BREAK. ALL OF THIS CAME FROM YOU REFUSING TO SEE SENSE."

"CLASSY, JUST BLAME EVERYTHING ON ME HUH? TYPICAL COLE MANOEUVRE."

The words climbed up Cole's throat, stinging as they went. He knew full well that this was going to hurt, he knew that releasing a single one out would be a very bad idea... he knew that turning around and leaving without a word was the smartest thing to do. He knew all of this... yet, Jay had weaselled out almost every pet peeve he possessed, and along with this, the frustration of having his care and worry thrown away like trash... rendered him at mercy to impulse.

As soon as his shout entered the air, he regretted it, and a sense of guilt more powerful than he had ever felt curled around his windpipe and choked him.

"... MAYBE THIS IS WHY NYA LEFT YOU JAY. MAYBE SHE'S DODGED A GOD DAMN BULLET, CAUSE YOU'RE NOTHING BUT AN ATTENTION SEEKING, SELF OBSESSED, STUCK UP, ARROGANT ASSH*LE. WHY WOULD SHE WANT TO BE WITH YOU?! WHO WOULD EVER WANT TO BE WITH SOMEBODY WHO CAN'T LOVE ANYTHING OTHER THAN HIS INFLATED F*CKING EGO."

 

The sound seemed to resonate, repeating itself again and again long after Cole had fallen silent.

The string entered Jay's ears, bouncing around his brain, beating every syllable into place. Stuck in place.

 

It was all he could hear.

 

The colour in Jay’s face drained in an instant.

 

His eyesight - which was already blurry before - now quickly became almost translucent, everything fading into one chaotic canvas, everything blurring together into what could only be described as a mess.

 

He needed to get out of there. He... he needed to. He needed to leave, straight away, without any obstacles or annoyances.

Cole blurred in with the background. Silent.

They were both silent.

 

This had gone, way, way, way... too far.

 

Too far.

 

It started slowly. Chest rising and falling, thoughts staring to speed up and lose coherency, hands shaking without control. Jay’s breathing quickly went spiralling out of control, and he darted forward, pushing past Cole without a care at all. He didn’t pay any mind to anything or anyone else, he just needed to get out.

Stairs, hallways, walls, doors. His feet thundered against the floors as he lost more control over his body.

Hallways stretched unnaturally, perspectives seemed off. Surely he should have been out by now?

 

How could Cole say something like that. Surely it was just the tensions, just the anger coming out. He didn’t... really... think... those things, did he?

He couldn’t.

 

Jay couldn’t breathe.

 

Before he knew it, he was outside. The mountain wind smacked him across the face, stinging and burning like fire for a split second. He didn’t stop moving.

Past hedges, through arches, losing all sense in his legs to the point where they lost all strength, and he collapsed in a heap in the middle of the villa’s garden.

 

Nothing but an attention seeking, self absorbed, stuck up, arrogant assh*le. Nothing but an attention seeking, self absorbed, stuck up, arrogant assh*le. Nothing but an attention seeking, self absorbed, stuck up, arrogant assh*le.

The words repeated in his head and he couldn’t get them out. He couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t see, he couldn’t pay attention to anything. Everything was going wrong.

Jay stared into the distance, blinded by his own streaming tears and crippled by his body’s inability to do as he wished.

 

As much as the panic hurt, as much as his inability to move frustrated him, as much as his own brain made things worse and worse through gross over exaggeration... nothing hurt more than hearing those things come directly from his best friend.

 

Nothing hurt more, than knowing what Cole... really thought about him.

Chapter Text

Zane flew up the stairs and along the hallway towards Jay's room, stopping a couple metres from where Cole stood still, staring into the open doorway as if he'd been frozen.

He'd heard yelling, an excessive amount of yelling, and come running as quickly as he could.

It seemed he'd arrived a little too late to help anybody.

 

Cole looked... slightly out of it. Shaken up and still processing.

 

"... Cole? What happened? Are you alright?"

He slowly turned to look at him, and just shrugged, blank and visibly holding back tears.

Zane had distinctly heard Cole and Jay yelling, and from what limited words he could make out from downstairs, they were yelling at each other, and they weren't yelling anything kind either. Yet, Jay was nowhere to be seen.

Nya also made her way to the scene a small time after, looking concerned.

"... hey, what's going on? I heard shouting?" She asked, looking from Zane to Cole expectantly.

Cole still said nothing.

"... Cole... did you and Jay have an argument?" Zane questioned, stepping closer.

A small nod.

"... are... you, alright?"

 

It seemed he finally couldn't take it anymore. The tears welled up, and he let out a sob, clasping his hand over his mouth to trap any future noises carefully inside. He started shaking, as his body fought against itself, wanting nothing more to scream and cry and curse out loud, while wanting to shrivel up into a silent ball at the same time.

"... Cole-" Nya started, but Zane turned around and put a hand on her shoulder.

"... I will deal with this. Could you go and find Jay for me?"

"... I don't know if that's the best thing right now."

Zane was about to question her on that, but knew that there were more important topics to get to the bottom of. Helping Cole was most important, and he insisted.

"I need to know that he is safe. Please?"

Nya bit her lip, but followed the request without further objection.

 

Zane went to Cole, taking him gently by the arm.

"We should go somewhere else. Come on, nobody else is in the foyer right now, we can sit on the sofas and talk about this."

All Cole could do was nod and comply, numbly following his suggestion.

 

Soon enough, Cole was sat down, with a blanket draped over his shoulders and a mug of warm tea in his hands. Zane entered the room after tidying up in the kitchen, and sat down next to him.

"... I gather that you and Jay had a falling out..."

Nod.

"... May I ask what started it?"

Cole bit his lip, then spoke. Quietly, but surely.

"... I... I was... I-I was..."

"... take your time. There's no rush here."

"... I... I was... worried. I was w-worried about him wearing his binder so much... and... when he kept brushing it off, I got frustrated..."

"... that is alright. Having a friend deny your qualms will often induce that reaction. It's nothing to be ashamed about."

He sighed, and stared into the cup. His reflection was dingy and misshapen, and he looked away quickly.

"... it started off like that but... then we just... I just... I got angry... and angrier... and I-I... I started to say... horrible, h-horrible things to him..."

Zane's neutral expression saddened a little.

"... I thought as much."

"... Zane... I... I can't believe I let myself talk to him like that... Nobody... almost nobody deserves to be talked to like that... least of all him, and I..."

He swallowed nervously, blinking away more tears that threatened to show themselves.

"... what's wrong with me?"

"... nothing is wrong with you Cole. Disputes like these are bound to happen. You two are very close friends, and arguments are only natural for platonic relationships alike the one you share with Jay."

He didn't take it on board. No amount of reassurance or reasoning would even begin to make him feel less guilty, or less awful for saying the things he did. It would take a miracle to do such a thing.

"... Zane... you don't understand. Friends don't... friends don't say sh*t like that."

"If you said anything as truly terrible as you are professing, would you mind giving me an example?" Zane said, looking at him quizzically, yet expectantly

A shudder made its way up Cole's spine, and his blood ran cold.

"... I don't... I-I don't..."

He swallowed the excess moisture in his mouth, and immediately felt his tongue go uncomfortably dry.

"... I... I really... don't... want to repeat anything..."

Zane didn't seem completely happy with that answer, though didn't press at the issue.

"... alright. I do not wish to make you feel any worse."

"... thank you..."

Zane lent back, letting himself sink into the comfortable spongy fabric of the sofa. Luxury furniture like this wasn't to be taken for granted.

"At any rate, it's natural to worry about your friends, Cole. You don't need to feel bad about worrying for his safety. Depending on what you said to him, I would suggest an apology later on when things have reached a calmer level, and you may very well also deserve to receive an apology of your own. Everything will be okay."

Zane looked back over at him, only to become puzzled at his position. He was hunched over - having carefully put the mug of tea down on the mahogany coffee table in the middle. He pressed his lips together in an awkward fashion... in fact... his whole positioning was awkward. He seemed... troubled.

More troubled than he should have been.

".. I just... he means the world to me Zane."

The words had an odd weight to them that Zane had rarely heard. Occasionally, he caught a whim of it here and there, though, never this intense.

"... I can't stand to see him just... destroy himself like this! He... he doesn't understand that when he hurts himself, he hurts me too! I know... I know I sound so... so selfish but... I just... I... I care about him too much! I can't f*cking take it!" Cole ranted, his warm brown eyes dripping with what Zane could only describe as... well...

... he couldn't.

 

He didn't have the words to describe the emotions he was reading.

 

The answer was right there, the strange aura coming off him, the odd pinching feeling that teased him. There was something going on here.

Something more than met the eye.

 

Then... as he carefully looked his friend from head to toe once more... analysing his posture and expression... it hit him like a brick.

 

"... Cole...?"

He looked up, moving his melancholy gaze to face the nindroid.

"... I... I cannot believe I did not... I... my apologies. I must compose myself."

"... what's wrong?"

Cole was very concerned. Zane getting flustered and having to legitimately think about what he was saying was an extremely rare occurrence.

"... do not worry. It is not anything worth concerning you with."

As much as Cole wanted to protest and continue to press for an answer, he knew it wouldn't achieve anything, and he was too tired and preoccupied anyway.

"... you sure?"

Zane gave him a sad, and sympathetic smile.

"... yes. I am sure."

Chapter Text

As soon as he saw Nya enter the garden, clearly looking for him, Jay made sure to stay out of her sight. Ducking under hedgerows, hiding behind expertly clipped topiaries, anything to make sure that she didn't see him.

He didn't want to see anybody at that moment. He didn't want to have to talk to a single other soul.

His heart still hammered in his chest, beating against his ribs in an oddly rhythmical pattern, the vibrations of which carried to every inch of his person. Pulsing in his fingertips, pressing at his throat. He couldn't ignore it.

 

Eventually, Nya had decided that she'd looked enough, and headed back inside. Clearly... she'd thought that he wasn't outside at all. Too bad she didn't consider that maybe, just maybe, Jay was deliberately hiding himself.

 

It was freezing out there. The wind was relentless, rippling underneath flaps of clothing and chilling him to the bone, yet he still sat in silence, letting the soggy leaf-covered ground seep into the fabric of his jeans. It was gross, and wet, and uncomfortable, though he payed no mind to it. He was to preoccupied, thinking of other matters.

Jay knew that a long time had passed. An hour at very least, since he and Cole argued and he'd found refuge alone in the garden. In that hour, the sky had turned an unpleasant shade of grey. Not too dark, yet not too light either. A sludgy, boring colour, if you could even call it that. There wasn't a single ray of sun in the sky, only adding to the miserable mood.

Jay stared into the distance, off the side of the mountain and past the trees. He felt... oddly numb. After such a long time of feeling shattered, and weak, and worthless... it had all filtered away along with his warmth, leaving nought but a shell behind.

Tears still stained his cheeks, new ones still fell occasionally, slipping down his expressionless face and contributing to the ever-growing moisture on his clothing.

He wasn't hungry. He wasn't thirsty. He wasn't angry, or upset, or confused or anything like that. He was just... blank.

Which, somehow... was worse than all of the above combined.

When you felt something, there was always something you could do to, at least attempt to alleviate it. With numbness, all you could do was sit there and hope for some emotion to return to your being. It usually did, after a while.

He'd felt like this before after all. He knew the drill.

Just wait. Something will come back to you eventually.

... hopefully, that is.

 

Luckily, in Jay's current case, it did. Unluckily... it wasn't anything enjoyable.

It started with a small flicker of concern, then bloomed into a writhing weed of anxiety, encasing and entrapping him in an instant.

He felt sick to the stomach, and had the sudden urge to violently vomit into the foliage, but he resisted, taking deep breaths to avoid a second panic attack.

 

He needed something to think about, and focus on, lest his brain would wander itself into dangerous territories, which he definitely didn't want to be visiting in his current state.

What to think of though? The happenings of today? Cole's painful words that still stung like a painful insect bite? The past? The present? The future?

'What future?' A little voice in the back of his head teased.

It wasn't completely wrong. At that moment, he did feel as if his future was nonexistent. Everything seemed so meaningless and vapid, so tiny in the grand scheme of existence.

An evil cult was slowly corrupting and taking over the country, he'd already lost Kai as a friend, and now... it seemed, Cole too. The mental health problems he had struggled with for so long had made a huge comeback, after a long period of relative happiness. Nya was being as confusing as ever, Sensei Wu had withdrawn from the entire group... Jay could tell that Zane was getting more and more tied up and stressed, after having to keep the team together, virtually all on his own.

Nothing was going right.

Jay wished that he had a way to look to the future and see what was inevitably going to happen, so that he could at least be prepared for it. He was sick of life throwing things at him with no warning, he wanted to take back at least some control for himself.

Alas... there was no such thing. No magical crystal ball, no musical eight-ball. No fortune telling object to relieve his anxieties...

 

... or... was there?

 

Through the midst of his psychological peril, the remembrance of a certain set of caves swam to the front of his mind.

The Crystal Walls in the Tomb of the First Spinjitzu Master.

 

Jay shook his head and bit his lip. All the entrances collapsed, they were cut off from the rest of the world.

Though... that couldn't possibly be the case, could it? There must have been another way in. A small passageway, a rupture in the rock, another entrance that had passed under the radar all these many years.

Whether one existed or not, Jay knew that he had to try.

 

The ice had shown him a future with Nya in the past. A clear future where they were together, happy and content... and he simply could not see that happening. Not a single glimmer of hope for it remained.

Fates could change, couldn't they...?

 

He pushed himself to his feet, shuddering as he remembered how soaked his jeans were, but pressed on nonetheless. He made his way back inside, closing the back door as quietly as he could, and tip-toeing up to his room, where he shoved on some dry clothes. Instead of making the risky journey through the villa to the front door, Jay decided to leave around the back again, and walk from there to the Bounty.

The smell of pine had only gotten stronger, and the wind was cold and unforgiving. It pressed at him, going against his direction of travel, almost as if it wanted him to stay.

He gritted his teeth and kept walking, reaching the ship with an exasperated sigh.

 

Back out in the garden, Jay had considered summoning his elemental dragon to make the long journey, however decided against it when he remembered how loud they were. An excessive amount of roaring would most certainly alert the other ninja, and they would very quickly follow him.

He wanted to do this alone, secretly, and without any resistance.

He'd settled on his glider, which he had unfortunately left on the Bounty. As he boarded, all he could do was pray that Sensei wouldn't pay much attention. Hopefully he would just assume that Jay was collecting something to bring up to the house.

There were no run-ins with the old man though, and Jay made his way to the old bedroom he used to share with the other three. He'd left his glider propped up against the wall next to his bunk, a bad move in hindsight.

Alas, everything he needed was in place. He went back outside, and... took a second to consider. Was this... the right thing to do?

Yes. He needed answers. He... really, needed some answers. Being honest, Jay had very little compulsion to keep on trying, to keep on powering through each day in hopes that tomorrow would be better.

The end of this trip would either crush his world, or give him a reason to keep fighting.

 

With one last bated breath, and a cold shiver down his spine, Jay positioned his glider, and took a running jump off the side of the mountain, adrenaline shooting through his limbs as for a second... he thought he would fall.

His glider stayed true though, and caught the wind in its wings, safely holding him high up in the sky, away from death. At last, the weather was an ally, instead of a hindrance.

Jay sped away from the villa, and turned his mind to the task at hand. The tomb.

———

It was a long and gruelling journey, the constant battle of keeping up speed and maintaining height proved to be a difficult one. Fluctuating between angles, and silently begging for the wind to keep up.

After maybe a couple hours of journeying, the first views of the small mound above the ocean began to show. He landed wobbly, and he could feel too much weight fall onto his ankle, but he didn't pay mind to it.

It didn't take long to find the collapsed entrance. It was exactly where it had been left, filled with broken rocks. Impenetrable.

 

The search for another entrance began. Jay began to worry that he'd come all this way for nothing.

There wasn't much to search. The rock was reasonably large, but not huge. There were though, many crevices and ledges that made the whole task harder, hiding numerous shadows that could prove to be his saving grace.

He was there for at least half an hour, growing more and more sore and tired as it went on. The sky grew darker, oranges and pinks teasing him in the distance.

The others had probably realised that he was far gone, and not hiding anywhere in the villa by now. The later it got, the harder it would be for him to find anything interesting. Time was almost taunting him, speeding away faster than he could keep track.

Hope was floating away.

Jay was desperate.

 

Then, as the last glimmers of light began to fade, he seemed to stumble upon something.

A strangely man-made looking crack in the rocks came into his view, snatching his attention in an instant. It seemed to be cut by a sword, neat and intentional, very different to the rest of the imperfections and damages covering the ground.

Jay took a deep breath, then brought his foot down on it, hard. The crack widened, splitting open in a uniform pattern.

... this had to be it.

 

Jay kicked it again and again, stamping away at the fault until finally, finally, it caved in, rocks splintering away to reveal a small tunnel.

The first metre or so was flat, but then it curved downwards until it was nearly a 180 degree plummet.

Jay would have to get on his hands and knees and crawl in. Once he entered, there would be no going back.

His chest filled up with nerves, as the possibility that this was NOT a proper tunnel arose. What if it was just a hole in the rock, and he would very quickly reach a bottom? What if he was stuck there until his inevitable death?

The other ninja would have no reason to come and look for him in that place, and as the ocean levels rose across the next day, it would undoubtedly fill with water and he'd painfully drown to death. The water level was already lapping at it's entrance.

... though... it was now or never.

Jay took one last breath of outside air, then crawled into the tunnel.

 

Claustrophobia immediately throttled him, as the tube was much tighter than he'd anticipated. The slope began, and Jay had to use all of his strength to press against each of the walls, preventing himself from shooting downwards like a child on a water slide.

Each side of the tunnel was freezing cold. Jay's hands and feet began to go numb and shake, making staying steady all the more difficult.

It was a terrifying journey. The dim light of the moon and the stars had long worn off, so he was in complete and utter darkness.

Jay's breathing got faster and faster... when was this going to end? How long was this damned tunnel?

He started to shake, as hyperventilation took over. He lost his grip, and there were a few seconds where time stood still, leaving him suspended in the air in abject horror, before he fell.

Wind whistled past his ears, all thoughts left his head.

He wanted to scream, but couldn't.

He wanted to call desperately for help, but knew that nobody would hear.

 

For a singular moment, Jay thought that it was the end of the road.

 

It had all been building up to this anticlimactic, lame ending. Fallen to his death. No dramatic goodbyes, no final fight. Just a fall.

 

Miraculously, however, a gentle and gradual slope caught his fall, and he came to a rolling stop, coughing and spluttering. It felt like dust had coated all the internal surfaces of his lungs.

There was a terrible thundering noise behind him, and Jay opened his eyes and turned back around to see the very tunnel he had entered through begin to collapse on itself, and he leaped out of the way of the falling rocks, catching his breath in safety.

 

The space was dingy, with an overwhelming smell of must and damp. There was practically no light anywhere, yet it was somehow not pitch black.

Shakily, Jay pulled himself to his feet, and moved onwards, through the much larger passageway he'd found himself in.

 

He was right. There had been a way inside left available. It was clearly designed to be single use, as it caved in the moment he had left it.

So... perhaps his visit was meant to be.

 

Despite all the other complications, Jay pressed on, limping now because of his ankle. Landing badly up on top had done more damage than he'd like to admit, and the fall had done nothing to elevate that.

 

Eyesight distorted, sense of direction crumbled.

Jay found himself in a new cave, much brighter and bluer than the previous.

... he recognised where he was. The Crystal Walls were only just ahead.

Desperate, he broke into a run, rushing forwards and almost slipping over as he forgot the floors were just as frozen as any other surface. The Crystals... it had been a little while.

 

Memories of Morro and the ghosts flooded back, the clear image of what he saw last time stuck at the front. He and Nya stood side by side, older, together, and content. He silently prayed as he ran that it would be the same. That vision had given him so much closure and solidarity... all he wanted was to see it again, and be assured once more.

 

He slid to a stop, almost over balancing but remaining steady on his feet. The walls were right there, surrounding him.

 

His heart beat up into his throat, and his eyes darted around, as anxious to see as the rest of him. With bated breath... Jay’s vision fell onto the exact same mirror as last time. The shape, the position... it was there. Untouched. Pristine.

 

With no more patience to spare, he stepped forward and looked directly into his reflection.

 

His... his brain had to take a moment to process it. A sudden numbness spread across his skin, as a feeling alike the cold trickle of melting ice simultaneously crawled up his back. Lungs stopped knowing how to function, everything... stood... still.

He blinked, wondering if his sight had deceived him in the panic.

It hadn’t.

 

Jay stared directly at his reflection - eyes as wide as they could go - or, at least... where his reflection, should have been.

This was no trick of the light. This was no result of tiredness or delusion. This was his fate.

 

Jay saw nothing.

 

Jay saw nothing at all.

Chapter Text

Jay couldn't remember leaving the tomb. One minute he was there, one minute he was gone, picked up on a gust of wind and flying into the distance.

He didn't know how he'd gotten out. Perhaps another tunnel, as secret and single use as the one he'd used to enter. He didn't care whatever it was.

 

All he knew at that moment, was that there was one place he needed to go.

There were many uncertainties that were taking over his life. Some weren't fixable, some were painfully permanent, some were outside of his possible understanding, but others, he could work on.

His parents. Ed and Edna.

They may be able to clear up at least one of them.

 

He pondered as he flew, the dreadful image of a blank slate staring back at him plaguing his thoughts.

What could it mean?

 

Cole saw nothing when he looked in way back when, but that was largely because of his ghost status at the time. He could indeed become invisible in the future, and the lack of reflection was most likely a reflection of his technical lack of life.

Jay didn't have a reason like that to blame. He was perfectly alive, a human in every way, never anything more or less.

The only reason he could logically link to what he saw was... a lack of future.

An imminent death that was coming for him, and coming for him quickly at that. Maybe within the week, maybe a month, maybe a couple. There was no way of knowing.

 

It was a very sudden set of information to deal with, made all the worse by Jay's already tender mental state.

 

The edges of the familiar junkyard came into view, and Jay began to execute a wide downward spiral that would hopefully place him right outside the entrance, ready to walk inside and find his parents. Maybe get some closure, or answers, or anything reassuring at this point. Even a simple hug would do.

His feet hit the sandy ground and he almost lost balance, however regained it without much trouble.

 

It was the middle of the night, prime time for battering winds and a chill to the bone that wouldn't leave, no matter how quickly Jay rushed to the entrance.

Then, all of a sudden, another realisation hit him.

Ed and Edna would most likely be asleep.

 

He knew that they ultimately wouldn't mind if he woke them up - especially considering his dire situation - though he still felt guilty even thinking about it.

But he couldn't wait outside all night either.

Jay carried on forward, the caravan that his parents abided in coming into view. It seemed that the piles of trash had grown larger recently... or perhaps it was simply a trick of the night, shadows looming far higher than they would during sunlight.

He stopped a few metres in front of it, panting and gasping for air. Jay hadn't realised how breathless he was.

He stood and stared, wondering what the best way to pull his parents from their slumber would be. Light? Noise? Gently going inside and shaking them awake?

None of those would go well. It was creepy enough that he would turn up so late in the night, and it would be made even worse if they didn't immediately know it was him.

He stared at the windows of the small structure, and the delicately patterned curtains drawn to a close on the inside of them.

 

It seemed that fate temporarily shined on him, however, as the caravan door suddenly flew open, revealing a furious Ed, holding a crowbar.

"I don't know who you are, but you had better get off our property right this instant!"

Jay was too shocked to retort, and numbly stood there, staring.

"... you heard me! Buzz off! I'll have you know that my son is the blue ninja!"

Edna poked her head out as well, holding a flashlight. She shined it directly at their supposed trespasser, and as Jay closed his eyes at the sudden light, he heard two surprised gasps.

"... J... Jay!"

Edna lowered her flashlight and ran out to him, placing her hands on his shoulders.

"... are you alright sweetie? Why are you here so late? Did something go wrong?"

She moved her hands to his face and cupped his cheeks affectionately, watching as his mildly confused expression morphed into one of desperation.

"... oh... Ma... I... I-I don't know what to do..."

Edna took his hand and lead him inside, where Ed gave him a tight hug and a pat on the back.

The kettle was put on to boil, and Edna lit a few candles around the space for lighting. It gave Jay a wave of intense nostalgia.

They had always been short of money, ever since he could remember. At any instance that power could be saved, it would be, so electric lights were a big no-no. Candles were his main source of light at night for most of his childhood, and they always made him think of those... much simpler times.

"... I imagine something serious has happened..." Edna trailed off, sitting down and taking his hands in her own.

Jay opened his mouth to speak, yet... nothing would come out. It was frustrating that often, when speech was needed most, it refused to exit his vocal chords.

"It's alright Jay, take your time."

He sighed deeply and filled his lungs with new air, then was able to force something out.

"... I... I'm... I'm sorry for waking you up..."

"Aw Jay, we were already awake to be honest! Neither of us could sleep, perhaps it was fate, because otherwise we wouldn't have noticed you arrive!"

Jay flinched at 'fate'. A word that was so usually harmless, used in casual jest, passive conversation, though now effected him much more deeply than it should have.

"... are your friends ok?" Ed asked. Jay nodded.

"Mmh hmm. They're ok. Well... I... yeah. They're fine."

He had considered telling them about his argument between himself and Cole, though decided not to. It still stung, which made sense since not even 12 hours had passed since it. It was a fresh wound, but the happenings in the tomb were far fresher and painfully raw.

"... this... might not make much sense but... you've heard of the First Spinjitzu Master, right?"

"Yes, you've mentioned him quite a few times. What about him?"

"Well... he has a tomb... and... it's not an ordinary tomb. It's a set of caves, full of traps, generally quite dangerous."

He looked up at his parents to see if they were following, and all he met were two understanding smiles.

"I think we all know that Ninjago has been though a lot weirder than that."

He chuckled at his dad's comment, then fell back into a neutral face.

"... that's not the weird part. Deep, in the furthermost part of the caves, there are sheets of crystals, almost like mirrors, and... well, when you look in them... you see your future."

They were much more quiet at that.

"... I... well, that certainly is strange but, still not unbelievable." Edna replied.

They seemed to catch on to what was going on after that.

"... oh... Jay, did you see something bad in yours?"

All he could muster was a shrug.

"... I... I went there alone... just to see if what I'd seen before was still there and..."

He felt cold, and he felt shaky. So emotionless and blank yet complex at the same time.

"... nothing. I... I didn't see anything. No reflection. Nothing."

The other two were quiet for a short while, trying to gather the sense from it all. A way to justify Jay's apparent vision, in a brighter way than all other thoughts suggested.

"... p... perhaps it doesn't mean much?" Edna suggested. Jay shook his head.

"... we all know what it must mean, Ma. You don't need to try and make me feel better about it."

A sudden and unexplained gust of wind slapped against the side of the caravan, though it prevailed, only creaking for a few seconds, then settling down once more.

Jay rubbed his eyes, expecting to find moisture and tears, instead finding nothing at all.

"... I... I guess I came because I didn't know what... to do. I've had so many questions but... I've forgotten them all."

"... It's alright Jay. Take your time." Ed reassured.

He wracked his brains, skimming over all the happenings from the last few days. Not Cole... not the caves...

... that was it. Cliff Gordon.

 

"... I know who my birth father is."

Ed and Edna let out two very auditable gasps.

"... really?! Who?!"

"... have you heard of Cliff Gordon?"

"... isn't he some big shot actor?"

"... yeah. It's him."

Edna cooed, a happy, yet melancholy smile touching her lips.

"I'm happy for you sweetheart, what's he like? He'd better be treating you well!"

Jay patted her shoulder.

"Ma... he's dead. That's how I found out. My inheritance from him."

Her happy face crumpled.

"... oh... I'm sorry Jay..."

"It's alright. I'm not as sad as I thought I would be, I never met him after all. He, did leave me a message though, which I want to ask about."

"... what did he say?"

"... maybe he was just bluffing to make himself look better, maybe he had a messy perception of things, but... in the message for me, he made it overwhelmingly clear that, well, he wanted me. He didn't say what stopped him from raising me... but, he definitely wanted me. I know you've told me how you found me before but... was there anything else you could tell me?" Jay explained.

They were awkwardly quiet.

"... it's been eating away at me since I read his letter. Anything at all that you could tell me, any details, anything. I'd appreciate it."

Ed and Edna exchanged a worried glance, and Jay felt a heaviness in his chest, as if something was deeply wrong. His parents had never been good at hiding their guilt, for as long as he could remember, he could always tell when they felt remorse by their expressions alone.

"... Ma... Pa... what haven't you told me?"

Edna reaches out and caressed the back of Jay's hand, holding it between her own. He could feel her shaking.

"... Jay, sweetheart... t... there may have been a few things that we... uhm... left out..."

"... we didn't want to tell you, because we thought it would bring more harm than good, son..." Ed continued.

"Please tell me!" Jay blurted out, beginning to feel exceptionally nervous.

They'd told him that he was left for them as a baby, clearly a purposeful act, meant for them to find. What could they possibly have left out?

 

"... I... oh Jay! All it will do is hurt you!"

"Ma, please... I need to know..."

She stroked his cheek, then looked back to Ed, who shuffled closer to them.

 

"... Son... we... we didn't find you outside the gates... we... we found you..."

He took a moment to regain composure, and he rubbed his eyes, trying to keep as calm as possible.

Jay could feel his subconscious going haywire, wanting desperately to know what they were suggesting. It couldn't be, that bad, could it?

They were his parents, who raised him. They cared about him and he cared about them, no matter what they were going to say... it wouldn't matter, would it?

Though... life hadn't proven itself to be especially kind of late. Nothing had gone even slightly in the right direction for him in a while now. Spirits were low, and his expectation of good things was barely existent. Bad luck followed him everywhere, along with ill fate and a constant creeping sense of dread that he couldn’t shake off.

He looked from his mum to his dad and back again, begging them for answers without having to say a single word.

Ed opened his mouth a few times, then swallowed nervously, before pushing out a string of words that chilled Jay to the bone.

 

"... we... we found you in a bag."

Chapter Text

"... wh... what?"

Jay tripped over his words, stammering as his tongue worked itself into knots.

"... a bag, Jay... we found you in a bag..." Ed repeated himself, seemingly too ashamed to make eye contact, sadly gazing down at the floor of the caravan.

It felt as if the atmosphere had dropped a few degrees, chilling Jay to the bone almost instantly.

"... y... y... you mean..."

His mouth had dried up, and his eyes forgot how to focus. It hurt. It hurt to speak, it hurt to blink, it hurt to breathe.

"... I... was... a-ab... ab-bandoned...?"

It didn't make sense. Jay had felt a strong sense of genuine emotion from the letter Cliff had left to him, he didn't know what it was, but, somehow he knew that he wasn't lying. He wanted to raise him, he wanted to have a child... so, how could this have happened? How could it be true?

Jay tried to speak again and again, to no avail at all, so Ed decided to fill the silence, and elaborate a little more.

"... one day, I was getting ready to empty the bins around the back of the junkyard, when, I noticed that there was a trail of footprints in the sand, leading from the city. I don't know how the wind hadn't blown them away completely... since it was in the middle of the day, and we would have noticed somebody passing through the desert at that time. They must have come at night, when we were asleep..."

He could tell when this was going. The plot line was clear, his parents had never been very good at gently insinuating things instead of saying them outright.

"I heard... as I got closer, I heard... crying. Or, whimpering. I didn't understand how that could be happening, as, we'd always lived alone, and the footprints came from one direction and left in the other, so it couldn't be the person who'd left them... I walked over and, there was a coat I didn't recognise shoved into one of the bins, and... the crying had stopped. I panicked, and I pulled the coat out and... there you were. A baby... couldn't have been more than a day old. You'd passed out... I was lucky enough to come outside and hear the last of your cries before you ran out of oxygen... I did CPR and managed to revive you... but... Jay... even from the very start... you've been a fighter. You spent a whole night, and half a day struggling to breathe, placed in a plastic bag, with a coat shoved on top of you... and you survived. I... I don't know what I can say to make you feel better... I know we should have told you sooner... but I-"

Jay finally found his voice, cutting through the air with a single question.

"... but... the key... you said that... you'd found me with a key...?"

He could feel the guilt and sympathy radiating off them like a heater on full blast.

"... in the bag... the key was in the bag alongside you. There was also a magazine, a half eaten packet of mints... I... Jay, I'm sorry sweetheart... I... it was... most likely an accident..."

He'd expected tears. He'd expected to be bawling at this point, panicking and losing control of his emotions due to the horrific news, though there was nothing of the sort. Jay felt, numb. Devoid of anything except existential dread, and the constant leering feeling that... he wasn't wanted.

Despite his current life, two loving parents, a set of friends who he mostly got on well with, a group he was openly accepted into, knowing that at birth, his parents had abandoned him, sliced through the last of his internal self worth in a second.

Except it wasn't just abandonment. Whoever had put him there, in that bag, in that bin, under that coat, had undeniably attempted to kill him.

The question was, who? Who'd done that? Who would do such a thing to a baby?

 

Something in his intuition told him that Cliff Gordon had little, or nothing to do with it. There was something about his message that felt, genuinely from the heart. The way he'd professed that he had truly wanted to raise his son, if that was a lie, then why had the estate been left to him?

Cliff hadn't lied to him. Leaving the only other option... to be the other party.

His mother.

Whoever his birth mother was. She was the only person he could think of who could be the culprit.

The previous Master of Lightning.

 

Sensei Wu would have known her. Maybe even known that she was pregnant, so, why had he never said anything before?

He'd always been the secretive type, constantly keeping things from the ninja that really should have been disclosed.

Surely this was different though? This was a personal matter. His own mother, had Wu not worried about the sudden disappearance of both her and her child simultaneously? Had he not ever thought to tell him about his past and true heritage?

 

Jay made a mental note to ask him about it as soon as he got back to the others. If he refused to answer, he'd persist until he did.

On that note... getting back to the others was probably something to work on.

 

... they were probably worried out of their minds. He'd disappeared without an explanation, and had been gone for hours upon hours by now.

 

Edna looked at her son, confused. He'd been quiet for a while now, and they'd stayed quiet in respect for the obvious turmoil he was going through at the news. She'd been preparing herself to be a shoulder to cry on, an emotional support in whatever way he needed, but the visual reaction he showed wasn't anything alike what she'd imagined.

"... Jay, sweetie... are you smiling?"

He hadn't even realised it himself, but, yes. He was.

There were the beginnings of a smile curving at the corners of his lips.

Jay looked up at the two of them, as the first lights of the morning began to shine through the curtains.

"... who cares."

"... w-what?"

"Who cares, ma... who cares if I was left like that. I have you two because of it... I wouldn't change that for anything..."

The truth of his adoption hurt him, deeply, and hit him hard in all the wrong places. Learning that your own mother had cared so little for you that she had left you to die would hurt anybody, especially an individual who already struggled with his mental health.

However, somehow, the discovery of his blank fate had clicked into an unexpected place.

If his time left was now limited, and his end was inevitable, whether in a year or next week, there was no point of wallowing in pity.

 

He had his parents. He had his friends.

Jay wasn’t going to let his careless birth mother ruin that for him.

Chapter Text

"Are you sure you're ready to go back sweetie?" Edna asked, as reassuring and kind as ever.

Jay nodded, giving her a soft smile.

"Yeah. They will probably be worrying their asses off back at the Bounty, and... well, yeah. The Bounty."

Maybe this wasn't the best time to talk about  the brand new living situation. A lot had been discussed across the night, leaving it here for now was good enough.

After a couple more hours, and number of mugs of tea, Jay had properly calmed down, and was now getting ready to head back to the villa. He couldn't stay at the junkyard forever, some things were better getting over and done with.

"... call us anytime you need something. We're always here for you Jay, always."

He pulled his mum into his arms, squeezing her tight, and Ed came over, embracing them both at once.

"... we both love you more than anything else in this entire world. You will never be alone, remember that."

Jay nodded, getting a little bit emotional and choked up. It was nice to be able to really let his feelings out, talk to people without worry of judgement or cruelty or misunderstanding. Many things may be difficult in his life, but his parents had always been there, and would always be there.

He knew that.

"... thank you... I... I don't know if I can properly say how much that means to me..."

"You don't need to say anything. We understand."

He was all set up to go. His glider was fully checked and ready to be operational, happily wrapped up in his clothes, and much calmer than he was before.

Perhaps this was the calm before a storm... or maybe it was time to start being a little more optimistic.

"I'll call soon, take care both of you."

"You too Jay, be kinder to yourself, alright?"

"Alright... bye Ma, Pa..."

He climbed to the top of one of the many junk piles, the one that looked the highest, and waited for a vigorous gust of wind to catch the wings of his glider. He let his legs relax, and slip off the solid perch, soaring into the air.

There was no way he'd be able to gain enough height to land at the top of the mountain next to the villa, but a hike up the edge wasn't anything he couldn't do. Covering the distance was the most important part.

 

Ed and Edna watched their son go, flying off and disappearing into the distance, the very first rays of sunlight starting to stretch above the horizon.

"... oh Ed... I'm so worried about that boy..."

"I know you are sweetheart, I am too... but... he'll be ok. He's stronger than he thinks he is."

Edna smiled, sighing and turning back to the caravan.

"Goodness me, I've just realised how hungry I am. What do you want for breakfast?"

———

It was still early morning when Jay finally got back to the mansion, stopping outside the front door for a minute to catch his breath. The journey up the steep cliff of the mountain wasn't much of a challenge, it was just long and repetitive and painful. His binder was squeezing tighter than ever.

Maybe it was time to start taking a bit more of a break from it. The issues with his lungs that Zane discovered now made more sense than ever, clearly the aftermath of being suffocated as a baby.

He felt like a right assh*le for how he'd been treating his friends over it. They really did just care about him.

A few hours of mental discomfort wouldn't kill him. Wearing this thing constantly, might actually do so.

 

After his breathing was steady again, the only issue left was building up the courage to go inside. What would he be met with?

Upset? Anger? Questioning? Had they even noticed that he'd left?

They must have, right?

 

Whatever it was, he wasn't looking forward to it. Sensei Wu would be even more furious that he'd made the dangerous journey into the caves once again, with nobody to help him if he got stuck there and no indication of where he was. Dying in a sacred place like that would not sit well, and definitely wouldn't place Jay in one of his good books.

It was really early though, sometime after 5am, so hopefully everybody would be asleep and he'd have ample time to think up a good explanation for his brief disappearance.

He grabbed the doorknob and turned, relieved to see that it had been left unlocked, and swung it open, closing it behind him as quietly as possible.

Jay sighed with relief. It was wonderfully warm in contrast with the freezing morning air, and only then did he realise how brutally cold he was. He couldn't feel the tips of his fingers, and his ears were aching.

He dropped his bag in the corner of the entrance hall and propped his glider next to it, rubbing his hands together to generate as much heat as he could, then froze in his steps.

 

As he'd made his way into the living room, he looked up, and despite the dim lighting, immediately locked eyes with an extremely worried looking Zane.

"... Jay...?"

 

There was a tense silence for a few moments, then Zane hurriedly put the mug in his hand on the coffee table and rushed over to him, pulling him into a tight hug.

"Oh my goodness, it is you! Thank the heavens you are safe, I haven't been able to have a single calm thought all night! I was terrified that something awful had happened to you!"

Jay hesitated, then hugged him back, relaxing into a familiar embrace.

"We're you kidnapped? Did somebody try to hurt you?"

"N-No, I left of my own accord..."

"... ahh. That is a relief."

"I... I'm sorry Zane... I didn't... I..."

"No, no, it is alright, you do not need to talk right now if it is difficult for you. You are freezing, sit down on one of the sofas and I will bring you a blanket and a cup of tea. What would you like?"

He was taken aback. Of all the possible reactions to him suddenly coming home, this was not the one he expected.

Had Cole not told him about their fight?

 

"... uhm... do we have any rooibos?"

"Yes, we do. How many sugars? I know that you usually have two or three, but I thought I would make sure." Zane replied, clearly still a little bit frantic, but wearing a soothing smile.

"... two, please. With milk."

"Excellent. Please sit down, have you just walked up the mountain? You'll need some rest if you have."

"... how could you tell?"

Zane visibly fought back a little smirk.

"There are leaves in your hair."

"There are?!"

Jay's hands shot up, and to his horror, there were. He brushed them out, slightly embarrassed, but Zane did nought but chuckle slightly, then indicate to the sofa once more and then left for the kitchen.

With nothing else to do, Jay did as he was told, and sat down, clenching and unclenching his hands.

Why was Zane being nothing but... kind? Surely he deserved something of a telling off. As much as he needed to leave when he did, as much as he was overwhelmed and afraid and frustrated, part of him knew that leaving without telling anybody was definitely going to worry them.

He sat patiently with his thoughts until Zane returned, passing him a hot mug of tea and draping a blanket around his shoulders, then picking up his own and sitting opposite him.

Jay nervously bit his lip, and thought that he might as well get it over with.

"... Zane... why aren't you angry with me."

The nindroid gave him a sympathetic look.

"That would be no way to treat you. I doubt that you would leave on such short notice for the fun of it. There must have been something deeply troubling you."

Jay nodded, humming in agreement, and taking a sip. It was strange. Tea was such a simple beverage, practically the same every time you drank it, but... tea made by friends always tasted better to him.

Perhaps it was the thought behind it.

"I won't wake anybody else up, they all desperately need their rest, but I'm sure they will all be very relieved to see you safely home. Everyone has been frantically trying to work out where you went all day and all night, even Kai. I had to slip sleeping tablets into their drinks to get them to go to bed."

Jay almost choked on his own tongue.

"... w-what?!"

Zane chuckled again, smiling a degree wider.

"I am joking. Of course I did not, but I would be lying if I said I did not consider it. I made them all go to their beds and stay there until they fell asleep."

Jay decided to give him a lesson on what was and wasn’t appropriate to joke about sometime - when things were a bit less tense and serious - then got back to the problems at hand.

"... then... where's Cole? Isn't he sleeping down here with you and Lloyd? Well... Lloyd's not here now, but..."

"... Cole was so exhausted that he passed out in a strange spot, right at the dining table. I did not have the heart to wake him up and move him, so I laid a blanket over him and hoped that he would not be woken up by anything. He exhausted himself rather quickly, of all of us, Cole has been the most frantic about your disappearance."

Jay felt nasty twinges of guilt in his stomach.

"Did he... uhm... did he... tell you, about... what happened?" he asked.

"... yes. He did not give details of what was said, but I know that you argued, and I also know that Cole regrets every word of what he told you."

The guilt got worse, less like twinges and more like stabbing.

"... o... oh..."

"... do not tell him I told you this... but... Cole seems to have convinced himself that you ran away last night because of him, and the things he said to you. He was going mad with worry, and cried on my shoulder for quite a while, though I do not know the exact timeframe. He is... so... so worried about you Jay. I imagine he will be ecstatic to learn you have returned when he wakes up." Zane explained, a more sorrowful tone appearing in his voice.

He looked so calm and collected, but Jay could hear the telltale whirring coming from his head. It was just about quiet enough.

Jay himself had no idea of what to say. Hearing that Cole didn't mean what he'd said was nice to know, hearing that he'd been beating himself up so brutally over it wasn't so much.

It was a terrible feeling, to know that the past day and night had filled all his friends with such utter panic, all because of him.

Zane readjusted himself, and spoke once again.

"... Jay, I am aware that you might not wish to talk about what has been going on for you, however, if you would, I would very much like to know, and appreciate if you told me."

"... I... it's ok, I'm happy to tell you, just... maybe, don't tell anybody else, for now."

Zane nodded in agreement.

"That is fine."

Jay took a deep breath, composing himself as best he could, then with as few stammers and pauses as possible, began to explain everything he had experienced and discovered on his sudden journey alone.

———

"... and then I used my glider to get back here. That... I think that's everything. Yeah."

Jay looked up from his half drank cup, and to his friend, who was politely making eye contact, however, looked so painstakingly concerned that he couldn't help but feel bad.

Zane was never the most expressive of people. Most of the time, he was either cheerfully blank, polite and calm or happy. Seeing him visibly nervous hardly ever happened, and consequentially filled Jay with dread as well.

"... I... I see. This is, certainly news. I am very apologetic for your situation as a child, that must have been horrific to learn."

"... yeah... it explains my lungs though... at least that isn't a mystery anymore."

"... yes. You could say that."

He pursed his lips and looked away, the whirring in his head getting louder.

"... I know that you told me all of this in confidence, though, I believe that telling Sensei Wu about your experience in the caves would be a wise decision. He will be able to give you much better advice than I." he said, looking back at Jay in time to see his dissatisfied expression.

"... Sensei's done nothing but hide things from us for ages. He must have known about my birth mum and who she was, but he never said a thing to me. I don't trust him."

"... Jay, what are you suggesting?"

"Oh, no, not like that, I just... I don't trust him to be a good mentor. I don't think he does what's best for us, and if he had good advice for me, he'd probably just keep it a secret and tell me to meditate in some sacred place somewhere, or drink a special type of tea."

Zane was troubled by what he'd said.

"... I trust Sensei wholeheartedly... however, I do know what you mean. It is... frustrating that he has kept so much from us. I won't tell him anything... but I urge you to do yourself. He may make strange decisions, but he is still our Sensei, and has our best interests at heart."

Jay didn't know if he believed that anymore.

"... I do not know, Jay. I cannot fathom any reason for a blank reflection other than a presumptive lack of a future, which is a terrifying prospect."

"... yeah... talk about it."

"... I wish you had told me where you were going. I would have happily come along."

"What for? You already know your future is going to be secure."

"Jay."

He looked up and saw a much more serious face than before.

"There are... only two foreseeable reasons for what you saw in those caves."

"... yeah, one is that I turn into a ghost, and one is that I die. I-It's scary, but I know-"

"-No, Jay. That's not it."

"... what?"

"... yes, one of them is indeed that you are going to die. The ghosts have all been completely obliterated from this world, and we will not be stepping inside the Temple on Haunted Hill ever again, becoming a ghost has a probability so negligible it might as well be zero. What I am about to say may sound morbid, and cruel, and something a friend would never dream of... but the first option may be the more desirable of the two."

What... did he mean? What could he possibly be insinuating?

Something worse than him... dying? What fate could he possibly befall that would be worse than death? A few comic series came to mind, different ways that villains were stuck in infinite death loops by the heroes as an eternal punishment for their crimes, but this wasn't a comic book. Infinite death loops didn't exist in the real world.

Zane... Jay couldn't believe it. It was ever so slight, and you could have missed if if you weren't looking, but it was unmistakeable.

Zane was shaking.

 

"... Jay... have you considered that perhaps... no matter what person went down there and looked into the mirrors, they would see the exact same reflection of nothing?"

"... I... I don't..."

"... what if it is not your fate that has changed, Jay. I hate to think that this is the case... and I hope that I can run some more tests and find a more appealing reason that doesn't involve either of these options... but... maybe it is the collective fate of mankind. A single person's fate changing just isn't... well... it is possible. Fate is fate after all. Little things change here and there, butterfly effects can happen, it is simply that... while option one is the more likely of the two... I cannot help but consider the second. It is possible as well."

Jay almost knew what he was going to say, but that didn't prevent the horrible sinking feeling in his chest when the words finally escaped his lips. It felt as through for a second, the ground had opened up below him and swallowed him whole.

 

"... what if it is not your fate... but the collective fate of mankind, that has changed?”