Shattered Little Windows

Chapter 2

One single timeline has unseen influence on all other existing timelines. Nobody knew that better than Dave Strider, but it was still something that he hadn't been able to fully take advantage of yet.

The Knight of Time knew his every thought and action could both create and destroy universes and he would have to pick and choose which timelines lived, succeeded, died, and failed. He lined them up and struck at them, letting each bubble of time scramble and collide like balls on a pool table of eternity, doing everything he could to sink them into safe pockets of time-space with as little influence from the cue-ball as he could, keeping both it and the ones he needed to fix, like the unlucky eight-ball, trapped on the felt until the bitter end.

Write and rewrite. Cost and profit. Twist and isolate some for the good of all. Even if they weren't perfect, he could keep the timelines safe from scratching and that was worth the cost of tampering with them.

"So this guy named Dave came into the store and bought all of the records of that one band you really liked. It was kind of a bummer that you didn't meet him. You'd have really liked him," Dirk drummed his fingers on the counter and gave his best friend a glance.

"Are you saying that you didn't?" Jade grinned back at him.

At that, Dirk wrinkled his nose. "No, he was too standoffish for me. And I'm pretty sure he was straight."

Jade laughed as she restocked the shelves of the store. "But you could still be friends, right?"

"I am feeling that to be a negative." Dirk placed his hands on his hips before elaborating. "The dude didn't say anything about it to me directly, but the way he shrugged his shoulders when he saw my Lucky Star lanyard pin was obviously a sign of disapproval of my person before he even got to know me. No bro candidate of mine would nay-say my moe."

"I think you are reading way to far into this."

Dirk pointed a finger at her. "Trust me, Harkey. I know what I'm talking about. One day, you too will be inducted in the league of spotting passive-aggressive douchebaggery."

Jade rolled her eyes. "Will that happen before or after I'm taught the ways of the ancient irony masters?"

"After. But before any of that, I must introduce you to the vast nuances and niches of the great Otaku. Well, the Otaku that lies beyond the cult classic Green Slime Ghost Monstaru! and that shitty Squiddles-spinoff show."

"Don't diss my Squiddles! That's my childhood!"

Dirk held up his palms. "Just because something is shitty doesn't make it worthless. Hell, I watch that Squiddles. Look who's reading too far into things now!" He teased.

Jade clicked her tongue and returned to her work, coyly deflecting all of her best friend's attempts to turn the conversation to finding Jade a boyfriend.

Sheesh. Dirk had been trying to get her out of her breakup funk from her alcoholic ex Rocky for months. Meaning, he'd been trying to set Jade up with practically everyone who came in the record store door. "Just as a fun date. Nothing serious," Dirk would said. Usually, Jade could get him to shut up when she commented on how Dirk "didn't do dates" before Johnathan, but she knew Dirk meant well.

He could stand to be a little more selective about it, though.

What kind of lame name was Dave, anyway.

The young crow was the only surviving member of his murder. Saul Captor, a farmer (the same man who had exterminated the other crows, as a matter of fact), had planned on killing it like the rest, but his little daughter, the "pearl of his oyster, the apple of his eye, his little princess, his little mermaid-fairy darling", Fifi, had found out and rushed outside in a fit of tears. She had a gentle heart and a loud voice, and demanded her father get the surviving crow help.

Since Saul Captor was not a man to deny his daughter anything, he drove two towns over to find the closest bird rehabilitation center he could find. Apparently there was not a large demand for that kind of thing in his neck of the woods.

Judging by the sophistication of Saul's teeth, both missing and not, Dave figured that they didn't follow hunting laws in Saul's neck of the woods, either.

Still, the crow needed care. Dave usually dealt with larger birds like hawks and eagles, but a black menace with a few missing feathers and a bad attitude was well within his expertise, too, so he agreed to take the bird in exchange for a few jars of honey that the farmer offered him.

"An' if you kin release the bird far away from m' cornfields and beekeepin' land, I'd be especially grateful." The man gave a sincere smile, his uneven, backwater teeth sticking out in all directions. "Damn pests. If it weren't for them, I'd have twice the crop and twice the bees. M' daughter just has to make me go an' hate myself every time I go to do anything," he griped.

"Ah, a man of two sides. One for business and one for family." Dave's assistant, Jake, chatted amicably with Saul while Dave examined the bird.

"It's too damn bad that them two sides cain't git along," the farmer muttered, closing the back door of his double-wide truck

"Imagine if they did. Wouldn't that be just as bad? You can't mix business and personal life. Or, at least, you darned well shouldn't."

Saul grunted and handed the plucky Jake another jar of honey. "I feel like if I could get my head on straight, I could program them fancy circuitry boards an' screens all those NASA guys used to talk to the guys on the moon. Hell, I could go to the moon in my sleep if I weren't such a fool."

"Don't talk so negatively, sir! I think you've done a smashing thing by bringing this bird to us- it might be in a new place, but it will get to live and your daughter will be happy. And if it matters, the crow probably will be, too," Jake added as an afterthought.

"True." Saul started the truck and pulled away.

Jake and Dave waved goodbye. "So what did you think?" Jake asked Dave.


"Come on, Zachary," Jake teased. "You're always coming up with something clever to say, even if you don't act like it! And I know you were just dying to rip into that man with some smart-assed banter!"

"Don't call me by that name," Dave berated. "It's like calling a black guy by a racial slur. Very uncalled for."

Jake rolled his eyes and walked into the office. "Your last name has been Zachary since you were four. Honestly, I don't see why you still hate being called by it, especially since you try your cracking damnedest to act just like the stepfather you got it from."

"My mother chose to have all of our last names changed, not me. And I do not." Dave quietly shifted by his assistant and sat down at his makeshift desk.

"Yes, you do!"

"Tell me in what way."

Jake flung his hands up in the air. "Alright, perhaps not exactly like him. But you are always trying to win his approval and it's so bloody obvious! Imagine, a grown man still trying to not feel alienated at his own family reunions! It's absurd!"

Dave crossed his arms and challenged Jake with a twist of his head. "I am a lily-white boy with freckles and hair so fair it makes me look like I'm the most vanilla milkshake of all the milkshakes at Steak n' Shake, and so is my sweet, alcoholic mommy. My stepfather is the color of your compression shorts," Jake covered his black thigh-shorts with one hand, "and yet he still married my loving mother despite her own flaws and the fact that she had me tagging along at her side like some kind of white leech. I think I got his approval the moment Roxanne Strider and Equiano Zachary signed the marriage papers. There's no need for me to act any differently than I would on my own."

"You sit there with your arms crossed and your blasted inflection even like his is. Like a little boy trying to emulate his daddy."

"Jake, you are younger than me and have no right to talk to me like this. Remember your place."

Jake slapped his hands down on the table and grinned in Dave's face. "See? There we are! A perfect mini-Equiano!"

"I am only acting in a way befitting of a superior."

"Right. Yes. Quite." Jake snorted. "Tell me, when you are aroused, do you feel the need to find a towel just like him, too? Is it in your priorities to buy out all the linens at Bed, Bath, and Beyond, just so you can be two peas in a pod?"

Dave's annoyance grew stronger and his face turned red. "I should command your respect by presence alone. You acting like a red-reared baboon with its thumb in its crack isn't exactly making me think about what a great assistant you are and how you deserve a raise. Stop this lewd talk and mind your damned manners."

"Great Gadzooks! Equiano Junior cursed and said I had my thumb up my ass!" Jake thew his hands in the air in mock horror. "Someone, catch me! I'm swooning from shock!"

"Dave's mouth wrenched itself into a deeper frown, but his perturbed face faltered. "Did you just say, "great Gadzooks"?

Jake made a boyscout sign with his right hand. "Scouts honor, I sure diddly-dum did."

Dave snickered, disarmed. Jake kept going. "And it was plum dandy of me to have such a rip-snocker of a word to pull out of the ol' noodlelocker," he said, pointing to his head. "Otherwise you might not have let me off the hat hanger with just a light persnickety on my…. docket-wocket."

Dave covered his face with his hands to hide his laughter. "You are just making shit up now, you smartass. Get out of here and go feed the ostrich. Let it eat whatever bull that's in your crazy "noodlelocker" so it stops leaking out all over the office like water from a busted toilet. The rotten, forgotten egg salad sandwich of your last brainchild is a bitch to clean up," he said, getting up to playfully slap Jake on the back to shoo him towards the enclosures.

Grinning, Jake exited the room, but not before shouting, "That is absolutely bullsnoggingly, billabongingly, cocksnashingly disgusting!"

Dave rolled his eyes at Jake and looked at the glowering crow on his desk.

It looked so lost. When he had first brought it in, it had been pecking at his fingers and cawing up a storm, but now it had tired itself out and was staring at Dave with fear in its eyes.

This wasn't his home and his family was gone or dead. Dave could empathize, in a strange way.

The crow had been lucky enough to live, but it wasn't where it was meant to be now and it was fated to be lost and alone. Dave pitied it.

Suddenly, Jake's head popped back into the office. "Say, David Zachary. Our gabbing about families reminds me- would you like to come over for dinner tonight? My cousin Jade is coming in for a visit and mum always makes prolific amounts of food. She said I could invite other guests and it would be bully of you to join us."

Dave placed his hand on the front of the kennel Saul had trapped the crow in and it screeched and pecked at him. "Shit," he muttered, pulling his hand away. "I'd love that more than a dingo loves to eat babies, Jake, but considering this guy's temperament and species, he's gonna be difficult to put in for the night."

"Mmm. Crows aren't chums with birds of prey. I forgot."

"Yeah. And the spare cage we have is kind of crappy. I can handle making this guy at home, but it will take a while. And then I'll need to put in all the other birds."

"I can help, if you like. It would go faster."

"Nah. Don't be late for your family dinner, Jake. Just make sure you ask me again next time 'cause your mom makes the best English-American-what-the-hell-ever mac n' cheese and I'll bet my right arm that she's making it tonight."

"You really like it that much?"

"I need a towel just thinking about it," Dave deadpanned.

Jake grinned and threw a rag to Dave to wipe out the crow's cage with. "Well, Mister Zachary. I will leave you alone with your fantasy."

"Thanks. And after you finish your work in there, head on home. You're biking and you'll need to shower before you go meet that cousin of yours so you can do whatever weird English ritual you people do when you greet family. Slaughter a virgin and a sheep in her honor."

"How pagan." Jake said as he waltzed off. He stopped. "If things work out, please feel free to stop by."

"Oh, I definitely will. I gotta give your cousin the customary American greeting that I'm sure she believes we give all foreigners. Y'know, ravish her in her sleep or whatever."

"And you had the nerve to call me lewd!" Jake laughed, closing the door behind him.

Dave carried the lonely crow's kennel to the other room of birds, which was empty except for a highly vain seagull that liked to follow Jake around. (Jake and Dave had unanimously decided to name it "Dirk" after the latter's precocious stepbrother from his mother's second marriage. Equiano was her third husband, and nobody was really sure if she was going to stay with him for good.)

Dave shared a long look with the panicked crow in its kennel. "You couldn't have come at any other time, huh. Had to get me out of the only homecooked meal I've had in forever." He sighed. "Maybe some other time, English family," Dave muttered.

Jade Harley, now an old woman, sat in her chair on the front porch. She rocked back and forth as she breathed in the fresh air and smiled at the neighbors as they passed by.

And her goodwill was sincere, but even the most unfamiliar visitor could see that Jade didn't want to be on that porch. She had wanderlust in her eyes. Jade hadn't ever lived anywhere for very long, just like she could hardly stay at one house for more than a few days when she was little. Since she made friends easily, she had no shortage of places to go and people to host her short stays.

That's what Jade told herself every time she shuffled from place to place in the past, like a little paper card going hand-to-hand but never leaving the deck. She circulated in location while her arguments of complacency danced around in her mind like a dog chasing its tail until she finally left her hometown for good.

Jade had traveled the world in her youth because she thought she needed to go, to learn, to see. But today, she knew that she was running out of time to find the place she wanted to stay until the bitter end came and took her away.

Jade needed her space, but she didn't know where that was. So instead, she kept rocking back and forth on her chair, dreaming, pretending that she was riding astride a great white horse that could take her to the mysterious land of her heart's desire.

That was it.

The reason Dave always felt alone, why nothing ever felt like it happened at the right time. The explanation came first and the question came after and he hadn't realized it until it was too late.

That was it.

His timing was simply all wrong.

When Doctor Roseanne Valonde saw Dave's name on her list, she was more than a little amused. This was the boy that had become somewhat of a legend in the hospital she affiliated with and his absurd story had not faded away in the sixteen years since he had been born. She filed her initial impression of him away for later, even though she knew that she couldn't share it with the handful of other doctors who had witnessed the abrupt adoption of David Strider into the Harley-Egbert clan. Professional policies of confidentiality were a bother.

Still, Doctor Roseanne knew there were ways to get around such things.

"Mister David Strider," Doctor Roseanne said as he entered, "do you mind if I share your appearance here and the impression I have immediately gotten from you with the general staff of this hospital? They would be quite eager to know that you have returned."

Dave raised his eyebrows. "Hi, nice to meet you too, Doc "Shrink-Who-Didn't-Introduce-Herself". And telling the others about my appearance and first impression depends entirely upon what those two things are."

"You want to know?"

"How badly do you want to be able to share them? That's the real question."

Doctor Roseanne took a sip of her tea and smiled. "I see a decently well-adjusted and very fair towheaded boy who walks around with a self-satisfied smugness and a hatred for socks and conventional manners." She glanced at the bare ankle that stuck up out of his sneakers before disappearing into his denim pants leg. "But especially socks."

"Socks are demons meant to eat off your feet and keep going until they reach your head, like tiny little Sarlac pits going for a Bedoowan snack. You bet I hate 'em." He adjusted his jeans so that his skin wasn't showing anymore. "Add into your report that I'm charming and handsome as fuck and you've got yourself something you can talk about over the water cooler with the real doctors."

Doctor Roseanne jotted something down on her clipboard and placed it and a pen in front of him. "If I could have you sign there at the bottom, please. We'll get your guardian to sign it as well, later."

Dave read over the doctor's scrawl, a verbaim account of the conversation they'd just had. "Damn. You're pretty good at covering your ass. Is this how you still have a job even though you've got a lucrative practice going on here?"

"Is showing your ass how you discourage people from making you do things you don't want to do?"

"Yep. How's it workin'?"

"Not very well. It eggs me on- I rather like the challenge. Please, have a seat. Would you like some tea?" The doctor gestured to the couch across from her.

Dave looked at where she was pointing but instead traipsed over to Doctor Roseanne's couch and sat uncomfortably close to her. "Don't mind if I do. And I'd love some tea." He snatched hers off of the table and took a sip.

Doctor Roseanne narrowed her eyes. "I find it pertinent that you realize that I have recently contracted herpes."

Dave choked on the tea. "What kind? The mouth kind or the genital kind?"


Quickly and quietly, Dave put down the teacup, got up, and marched to the couch on the opposite side of the table.

Doctor Roseanne quirked her head. "You know I was joking, don't you?"

Dave nodded and clasped his hands between his knees. "I do. But you've just proven to me that this is going to be fun as hell rather than just a waste of time. I've gotta admit, Madame Quacks-a-lot, you play harder than I thought."

"I am a seasoned veteran. I would expect so." She nonchalantly dumped out her tea into the nearby trashcan and poured some into a fresh cup for herself and then for her client. "Still, I appreciate the compliment."

"So what's on the agenda for today, Doc?"

"Well, that all depends on you. But first, I would like to know why you decided to sit next to me in order to try to offend me."

"Close contact makes people uncomfortable. Getting in someone's personal space is like taking your old, moldy toilet brush and shoving it in the other guy's mouth and then forcibly brushing their teeth with it so that, like, tiny colonies of loathing grow in their bodies and they just can't stand you anymore to the point of physical illness. It's like grinding the shit in there and adding insult to injury."

Doctor Roseanne quirked an eyebrow. "Interesting comparison, to be sure. But let me be more specific. If violations of personal space are, according to you, a surefire way to offend or disgust someone, why didn't you, say, sit on my lap? Wouldn't that have been more effective?"

"Look, Doc, I don't mean to offend you, but I really didn't want to get that close to you. The contact thing works both ways. Sitting on your lap? That'd be like me taking the guy from the toilet brush example and then making out with him. I'd have the E. coli, too. And nobody besides your intestines wants that shit. Pun intended."

"But drinking my tea, which is closer to actually "making out" with me than is harmlessly sitting on my lap, is fine?"

Dave's eyes narrowed. "It's a step away. I understand the whole germ-spreading thing, but just believe me when I say it's different."

"What if I were someone you knew very well? How differently would that exchange have happened?"

"Depends. If we were buddies, I'd have just sat down like I am now. Maybe give you a high five and put my feet on the table or something."

"You seem to at least be amused by me since you are humoring me in this. So why aren't you exhibiting any of these behaviors, particularly the feet on the furniture?"

"Because I don't know if that's kosher, first of all, and second of all, I like you enough to have some respect for your stuff. I'm not some hillbilly who was raised in a barn. I'm not gonna track my mud all over the place like that Pig Pen kid from Charlie Brown."

"Alright. You treat your friends and acquaintances by a case-by-case basis."

"Sounds about right."

"And if you didn't like me?"

"I'd try to offend you so you wouldn't come after me when I proceeded to make like a tree and get the fuck away from your person. Kind of like I already tried, but worse. I'd probably fart in your face or something."

"What if you didn't feel either way about me? Pretend I am the blandest person you've ever met."

"I have to pretend?"

"Very cute. But please answer the question."

Dave clapped his hands together. "Hm. I guess I'd say "hey, 'sup" and then do my own thing."

Doctor Roseanne nodded slowly and scribbled something down on her clipboard. "And what if you really liked me?"

"Didn't I already explain that?"

"Does the adjective "romantically" give more specificity?"

"Oh. Well. Hm." Dave closed one eye and considered his answer. "I am a teenaged boy," he said slowly. "Whatever bullshit I try to feed you, the truth is I'd be like everyone else my age- I'd try to be suave but then actually fail miserably at it and look like an ass. What am I supposed to say to that question?" He paused again. "Are you hitting on me, Doc?"

Doctor Roseanne didn't even look up from her clipboard. "Dear boy, if I wanted a scrawny little cottonhead like you, your clothes would already be on the floor and you would be begging me to take you. No, I am not "hitting on" you."

She finally glanced up at him hid her ghost of a smile behind her clipboard. His face was an even mix of bashfulness and outrage and his fair skin did nothing to hide the blood that had begun to rush to his face.

"But all of that aside, that was a surprisingly humble and generic answer to my question. Surely you can do better than that."

"While I'm flattered that you want to figure out all my secrets when it comes to romancing, I'm pretty sure that's as detailed as I feel like getting." He shifted and crossed his arms into a more guarded position.

"I see," the doctor said, writing something else down before discarding her clipboard. "Please tell me about your life at home, Dave."

Jade gripped the hand of the only other person she knew on the boat and gave him an encouraging smile to try and make him dry up his tears before they drew out cries from his mouth. It wasn't Thomas's fault that fate had placed him in such a scary and unfamiliar situation- that it had placed both of them in one- and Jade wanted to do everything she could to make the little child as comfortable as possible.

Her young friend had been born with no legs and the Third Reich decided that people like him were not fit for their Aryan Empire, even if he had an otherwise ideal background.

Thomas's parents, fearful that their imperfect child would reflect poorly on their own elite status and that of their other, healthy children, destroyed all traces of his existence and abandoned him in the woods.

That is where Jade and her Romani family found him. Jade had appealed to their elders to let the boy travel with them for he had no other family that would claim him. The others did not want the extra burden, but the legless, half-French, half-German Thomas, born with Alsace-Lorraine in his backyard, proved to be anything but a burden.

Guveno, Jade called him. The bull. He stubbornly plowed through his physical shortcomings to be as useful to his new family as possible and, even though he was timid and lame, he proved to be unusually strong and good with the animals the Romani carried with them. The name suited him, Jade had thought, and eventually her father saw the merit of Thomas' tenacity and took to the name, too. He made his adopted son crutches inlaid with bull horn to get around on and soon everyone in the caravan knew Guveno by his nickname.

When the little travelling band was captured by soldiers, only Jade and Guveno had been away, fetching water with the dogs and the sheep.

Jade had known that Europe was no place for her dying kind, especially then, and so sheand Guveno did what her people had done for centuries- they roamed. The sheep and Jade's beloved white herding dog fetched a decent price, even from the biased German buyers, and she bought both herself and Guveno some food and tickets to a boat bound for America.

The irony of the situation was that, although she knew she was meant to act the part of a rolling stone, Jade had never wanted to leave Germany. It was dangerous, but whenever they were there, among the tall, dense thicket of the deep, dark forests, Jade felt like she was in the right place, like she would one day stumble into something wonderful, something that was waiting just for her. Jade hated to leave it.

Still, she had Guveno's future to think about, as well as her own.

Another boy about Guveno's age shuffled around the corner of the boathouse and over to Jade, followed by a tall stranger overloaded with bags. He looked like a human caravan.

The young one walked with a careless air but immaculate posture, like some kind of carefree prince out of a fairy tale. His dark hair and skin were richer than Jade's, so much so that they made his cream tunic look white in comparison. His violet eyes, surely nothing Jade had ever seen before, locked on Guveno like he was some kind of fascinating new discovery. The foreign boy opened his full lips and out came a voice with an accent like a fiddle being plucked, string by string, in an almost mechanical sequence. It gave his speech a twanging sound that Jade, an experienced traveler, could not place and it unnerved her.

"You are running from those Nazi operations, yes? I thought it strange that a brother with the sandy hair and pale face would run from his own people, but then I notice you have no legs. Were they lost in battle, or did a miracle of the gods take them from you and place you with this beautiful sister as your new slave to do your walking?"

The taller stranger, who peered out at the two Romani from within his wraps and burden, growled and produced the same twanging speech as his companion, except grittier and with less variety in pitch. "Do not call these people your brothers or sisters, Rajah. They are not fit to lick the dung off of your sandal."

The young dark-skinned boy laughed. "Silly man. I have accepted you as my equal and besmirched my status. I am no longer Rajah Makara, I am simply Makara, brother to all by the miracle of being freed from my caste."

"I, Karkata Vantas, was not worthy to lay a hand on you. Now you have fallen from Kshatriya to lie in the mud with me. I am despicable." He kneeled.

Jade and Guveno looked on in stunned silence as the tall stranger humbled himself to his young companion.

The young boy, Makara, smiled. "My friend, we have been over this many times. Please do not be so harsh on yourself. You were wasted at the bottom of the castes, and now we are both free to travel and live as we please. It is a miracle. A true miracle. Without you, I would never have had the opportunity to see all of this. I would have been bound to stay and rule and act in accordance to rules I do not believe in." He turned to face Jade and Guveno once again. "But why must we dwell on miracles our new friends know nothing of? Let us share this world and appreciate the miracles all around us!"

The man looked up at his young companion. "Do you mean to use the pipe? At this very moment?"

"Of course, my brother!" Makara bowed low before Jade and plucked up Guveno's body from his crutches in a bear hug before the other boy could even protest. "I see your tears, but do not weep in fear of me or of the future- weep for joy for we have found one another and that the miracle of a new journey has begun!" Makara spun Guveno in a circle and placed him on the thick blanket that his tall companion busily spread upon the ground. Makara landed soon after with a plop.

Jade gave a distant smile when she noticed the sullen Karkata staring at her to sit down as well. "This pipe will be rancid, but the Rajah- I err, my apologies- Makara, insists upon it. It calms him and keeps him friendly like this. Otherwise he is like the raging winds of the Himalayas- cold, unforgiving, and insistent upon making your teeth chatter until your skull could be used as a child's rattle." Karkata rummaged around in one of the many bags he had spread around him before pulling out the pieces to a water pipe.

Jade only nodded and looked out at the land she was leaving behind.

Karkata finished setting up Makara's water pipe and left him to entertain Guveno, who had stopped crying to laugh at something his new friend had said. "Do you not speak, woman?"

Jade's smile turned into a smirk as she snapped her attention back to her new Indian friend. "Would it be considered a miracle if I did?"


"My, aren't you faithless." She teased.

Karkata's glare grew from sour to wrathful. "I believe in what I choose to believe. Makara can have his miracles and I can have mine, different though they may be. I handle the waste of my superiors and brethren, and so the world tells me that even the beliefs I do have are unclean, although I know that they are not. You do the same as the other nonbelievers. Do not speak of what you do not know!"

"I didn't mean to offend you. I was unaware that you took so poorly to jokes."

"Listen, girl!" Karkat hissed, "You women here dress like harlots and then shamelessly ridicule my faith and morality as if I am something to be put on display and laughed at, yet you cannot even understand your hypocrisy! I am the unclean, but still I feel ashamed for a wretch such as you who cannot even fasten her own garments correctly, who acts as less that I!" He snarled and walked to the back of the boat.

Bewildered, Jade watched him go.

Makara's lazy smile parted to impart wisdom. "Do not be so upset with him. He and I are strangers in a strange land and it has been harder for him to adjust and accept these new miracles of the world than it has been for I. We have been through many trials, including a recent encounter with a most abrasive German captain who defended us in a most unexpected way. My brother Karkata is only confused by his words and actions- and those of all of these brothers and sisters so foreign to him-and will surely be better soon." Makara's eyes, misted over by the pipe, managed a mischievous glint through their fog. "Especially the other sister we have just met."

"What do you mean?" Jade asked.

"He is surely taking out the frustration that another of your people, a blind Romani fortune-seer, caused him. He is surely infatuated with her and is projecting onto you."

"This is how he acts when he's infatuated? Such a man of opposites! Tell me, when he hates someone, does he try to court them instead?"

"Oh, no. Do not let his grumpiness trick you into finding him evil. He responds to every miracle with varying degrees of aggressiveness, though usually not this much." Makara tweaked his nose. "This is how I know how he is feeling. But he is my dearest brother in spirit and you are our sister," Makara put a hand on Guveno's shoulder, "as you are our brother as well. We are all connected and together we must do as brothers and sisters do and overcome our differences to enjoy those very miracles I keep speaking of. For now, I do believe that this pipe is the most miraculous thing in my eyes. Let us partake!"

Jade politely refused Makara's offer and watched Karkata's tall figure look out at the ocean. Jade did not understand this strange man and his companion's ways, but she decided that she would learn to.

They could not be that different at heart, she decided. He had decided to shackle himself to his young charge, much like she had decided to dedicate her life to lifting Guveno from a fate of crawling in the gutters.

She heard laughter over her shoulder and turned to see another Romani girl shuffle up the rail to the boat, eyes closed and cane thrust forward. Makara snickered at her appearance and whispered something to Guveno, who blushed. The strange Romani turned her head and came towards them, as if she could see them from behind her closed eyelids.

Jade would not be home- she would never be home- but she could make a new family if she opened her heart to these people and they did the same.

It would not be everything she wanted, but it still gave her hope.

He was an artist and his peers teased him because the faces of all of the girls he drew all resembled the same mysterious woman. Critics far in the future would theorize about his muse's identity, but they never thought she was an actual person- perhaps a combination of several models he liked.

In fact, only Dave himself seemed to think that she existed at all.

Jade Harley was supposed to go pick up her brother from his friend's house. This put a huge kink in her schedule, as picking him up involved leaving her waitress job early to drive across town, grab him, retrace her path to get back to her house, drop John off, and then double back yet again to make it to night school. Maybe, maybe she would have enough time to grab a bite to eat on the way to class, but the odds were against her.

When she got a text from her parents saying "We are going to get john dont worry he is fine", she had no idea that he had been in an almost fatal accident because his friend had pushed him out into the middle of the road. Jade just figured that her parents had decided to pick her little brother up to take a load off of her mind, so she went about her day with the intention of thanking them later.

Had she known that little John had almost died, or worse, if that guy hadn't pushed him out of the way and he had actually perished, she would have dropped what she was doing and been there, no questions asked.

The countdown in Dave's head was always wrong and it perturbed him- he woke up every morning with numbers slowly ticking down, waiting to hit the zero mark that would never come. Every time he got close, the numbers would stop cycling down and just hang there in limbo.

They would hang there and mock him before reversing, ticking back up to impossible amounts at impossible speeds and then agonizingly falling again.

4,130,000,000… 4,129,999,999…

They chipped away at themselves, second by second, but he knew they would never reach zero. His internal clock was broken and wouldn't stop resetting, like whatever it was meant to herald had gone wrong and needed to begin again.

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