Lead the Dance: Chapter 5

Title: Lead the Dance
Chapter: 5 of 8
Author: Sheryl
Rating: PG-13

Other Info: Sequel to A Change of Grace
Excerpt: He sighed, heard the sigh, heard an answering sigh across the room, and jumped to his feet with a gasp of shocked fright.
“Omigod! You!”
Ben crossed the dusty room.
Fastidiously flicking his fingers at cobwebs dangling from the light fixture, his nose wrinkled in distaste as he breathed the air of a time he detested. Only for this boy would he make this trip. Only to stop him from foolishness did he stay.

Chapter 5

Jake stood in the office doorway, sardonic laughter in his voice. Sue was a lot to deal with when you weren’t used to her, and this poor kid looked like he’d had it.
Susie pouted, batting her eyes at Isaac once more, and left the room, a seductive wriggle in her hips. Appreciating both the show, and the save, Isaac nodded at the man.
“Thanks, she’s…”
“She’s somethin’ else again. So what can I do for you? Jewelry? Ink?”
“Oh… oh no, I’m sorry… I was looking for Nick. I had a few questions to ask him. I don’t want to take up any more of your time.”
Isaac edged towards the door, not knowing why, but sure that this wasn’t Nick.
“I’m Jake, Nick’s associate. He’s not here today. Can I help you?” Jake looked at the boy curiously. Not really a kid, not quite a man, and faintly familiar. Had he seen him before?
“Do I know you?”
“No, I don’t think so. If Nick’s not here, I better get going. Nick is the one I needed to talk to…”
“About what, if you don’t mind my asking? I’d be happy to take a message…”
“I… I’m not really sure, maybe you can help me after all… she… she said he left to give a kid a ride?”
“Yeah…”
Jake moved further into the shop, reached for the coffee pot on the desk, noted Isaac already held a to go cup, and nodded.
“He did, and that’s why you look familiar. You know the kid?”
“Well, I don’t know, I think it might’ve been my brother.”
“Why do you think that? Susie, answer that wouldya?” The shrilling of the phone stopped a moment later, and Jake sighed. “The kid that was in here, he sorta staggered in, looked really sick and kinda scared. Nick didn’t want to just put him out on the street, so he took him home…”
“Do they know each other?”
Jake shook his head, sipping coffee and wincing. “Hot… no. Actually I think it was me that brought him in, I was reading something out loud and he took the book right out of my hands. Why do you think it was your brother?”
“He said some guy named Nick, from a tattoo parlor down in The Village, gave him a ride home.”
“Yeah, sounds like you found your man. So who is this mystery boy anyway? And is he ok? He looked terrible when he left…”
“He still looks terrible. Look, can you tell me what happened? Did something…”
“Dude, I just told you all of it. He came in off the street, freezing cold and half dead, and took my book out of my hand. He wanted to know what it was. Nick brought him inside, talked to him for a couple minutes and then took him home. He called me a while later to tell me he wasn’t coming back in, that he wasn’t feelin’ good, no surprise, no surprise. You want to come back tomorrow, he gets in at nine.”
“Think you could give me his number?”
“No way kid, no offense, but this is the big apple, you don’t just hand out numbers.”
“Look… what’s your name?”
“Jake”
“Jake… something happened to my brother while he was down here. He doesn’t remember anything… he’s sick… I need to know what happened.”
Jake eyed him over crossed arms, sighing. He couldn’t give out Nick’s number, but he did sympathize with the kid.
“Tell you what. You give me your number, and I’ll have him call you.”
“How do I know he’ll call me? I mean how do I know you guys didn’t do something to him down here?”
Isaac could feel his temper beginning to fray, and fought to contain it. He knew nothing had happened to Zac, at least nothing these people were responsible for, those newly acquired senses had already told him that. But he had to talk to this Nick guy, he had to.
“Kid…” Jake seemed unruffled, reaching to pat the boy’s shoulder. “I know how you feel, and I give you my word, there is no way that my boss did anything to your brother. The kid was already sick when he came in here, I thought he was loaded on something. He might’ve been…”
“No…”
“Hey, it’s the city kid, you never know.”
“I know. My brother doesn’t…”
“Kid, I’ll tell ya… he was crazy eyed, all pupil you dig? Jittery, sweaty, not making sense worth a damn… the kid was high on something.”
Isaac’s simmering temper finally boiled over, and he felt his teeth sink through his lip in an attempt not to just punch the man in front of him.
“I’ll tell you…” His tone was icy. “If my brother was on anything, ever, it’s because you freaks gave it to him! I’m gonna be back tomorrow, count on it, and your “boss” better just hope he’s here…”
He stared a moment longer, biting back fury, and slammed from the shop, leaving Jake stunned in his wake.

********************

The door was open.
Taylor knew it was, without even touching it. He’d reach out to touch that knob, and that door would swing in… and put him… where?
He swallowed a lump in his throat, only got rid of part of it, and admitted to himself that he was afraid. More than afraid. Terrified.
The people who were, he now knew, controlling this, held the power of existence in their hands, and he was afraid. That he had just used that very power to get himself into the building never even dawned on him.
But… he had to go in.
Reaching out, he tried the knob, feeling it turn as he’d known it would… the door swung inward, and he stepped through, into an age of dust and abandonment… into memory.
Memories of a lifetime washed over him like dreams, bringing a deep ache for a time he knew he couldn’t have back, sudden grief making him stagger, sliding down the wall to sit on the threadbare remains of what was once a beautiful tapestries carpet.

The past took him… relentless and unforgiving, making him see… Kathryn on the settee, Ben in the doorway just beyond her. Smells of food cooking, cacophony of iron shod horses’ hooves ringing on the cobblestones outside. Faint scents of perfume, the sound of music on a gramophone. He could feel the soft Persian carpet under his splayed hands, the tightly drawn silk threads soft to his fingertips.
Not real, it’s not real, I’m sitting in a ruin!
He pulled away from it, that deceptive image of the past, eyes seeing the reality now, the mildewed tatters that had been silk wallpaper, the horrible wreck of the carpet, windows so grimed the sun shone in brown.
He sighed, heard the sigh, heard an answering sigh across the room, and jumped to his feet with a gasp of shocked fright.
“Omigod! You!”
Ben crossed the dusty room.
Fastidiously flicking his fingers at cobwebs dangling from the light fixture, his nose wrinkled in distaste as he breathed the air of a time he detested. Only for this boy would he make this trip. Only to stop him from foolishness did he stay.
“Taylor. Taylor, you must listen. You cannot, I know, you want to stop his hurt, but you cannot. He must. He must learn. He will awaken, can’t be avoided. You cannot do this for him.”
Ben reached out, took his arm, and Taylor jumped, the touch of the man was real, he was solid, this was not a dream, this was Ben.
“Ben…”
He clasped the outstretched hand, too many feelings pouring over him at once, love and hatred stronger than the rest. This man had nearly caused his death… but this man had also loved him.
“Ben… I don’t know what’s happening, please you have to help me…”
“Help you? Help you do what? Come, please, can’t stand this time.”
“Ben, you still sound like Yoda…” He braced against the wall as dizziness washed over him again, by this time knowing it for what it was, the transition between times.
He smiled a little then, as the filthy air cleared, and he took in the scent of wax and woodsmoke.
The kitchen, new again, fire burning bright.
“Oh, Ben you give me dreams and then you take them away from me. Do you know how much I love this place?”
“I know. It’s a dream you can have whenever you want it, Taylor. You know the way now. How do you think you got here?”
“You brought me.”
“No. You brought you. You moved backward in your time, came inside, you moved backward with me, no help. Taylor, you are a Traveler, and you do know the way. The dream belongs to you.”
“Why are you here?”
“Told you already.”
“No you didn’t.”
Ben sighed, looking more human than Taylor could remember having seen him.
“I did.”
“Well tell me again.”
The steel in the boy’s voice made Ben smile. That was why he liked him, that unquenchable spirit. He’d have his way or die trying.
Unfortunately this was likely to be a die trying kind of situation.
“Taylor… Zac’s waking.”
“I know, and it hurts him. He thinks he’s crazy and you guys want to just let him suffer.”
“No. Let him suffer? No. But Taylor it does hurt. Ask me, I did it, you did it, Nick did it. It hurts. But do it for him? No… what good would that do? What would it benefit him?” “What does it benefit him to think he’s crazy? Ben I have to be able to help him, at least just HELP him!”
Ben shook his head, his hand pressing gently against Taylor’s.
“That you want to help him means with you we did not fail. But you can not. You can listen to him, you can tell him what you know, but you can not, NOT take it away from him, and you cannot do it for him. You MUST let him learn on his own, you cannot rescue him from his mistakes and you cannot take his pain. You have to leave it alone, Taylor.”
“But…”
“There is no argument. You are a Traveler, and you have power. But Zac is a Keeper… and you can’t get in the way of his birth.”
“He’s not right though! It’s not happening right with him, I know it’s not!”
“You know this how?”
“I don’t know, I just do. It’s not happening right, is it Ben?”
“No. Because of you. Because he was activated by crisis, went in after you…”
“In after me?”
“In the void. Went right in, found you, got you, pulled you out… activated himself before… he’s lost. Out of order, the natural way is violated in him. He can do it though, he can bring it into order.”
“And it’ll hurt him.”
“Yes”
“Well I’m not gonna let you.”
“I’m not going to hurt him.”
“Fine, whoever it is, I’m not going to let them. He’s my brother, why can’t you just leave him alone? He’s just a little kid!”
“Not little… and this is not OUR doing Taylor. This is his.”
“How is it his?”
“He… looked out one day and saw.”
“Saw what?”
“Reality. Reality he had responsibility for. He woke himself, Taylor, and this is his journey. You must let him take it, you MUST leave it alone!”
“Or what?”
“You defeat him. You defeat us. You warp the natural order of things. He dies. You die.” “Ben, you never pull a punch, do you? How can I watch him suffer?”
“The same way I watch you suffer. You let him learn, you let him have his pain, you let him grow from it.”
“I love him, Ben. I don’t want to watch him go through this.”
“Nobody does. But you must. If you value his life, if you truly do love him, you let it go.”
“What about Ike?”
“He keeps his own council… and he knows, better than you, when to step away.”
Taylor sighed, feeling helpless tears prick his eyes. He knew Ben was right, knew he wouldn’t be here if it weren’t important. Knew too that he was leaving…
He dug his fingers into his eyes, shoving away emotion, finally looking up into the strange glittering eyes of the being across from him.
“I see what you are now, Ben, y’know?”
“I know. As I see you.”
“Me? What am I?”
“Something different.”
“I don’t know if I can do this.”
“You can.”
“I wanted to find George…”
“I know. He’s around. You’ll see him. I have to go, Taylor.”
“Do I?”
“Not until you want to, I didn’t bring you here this time.”
“I love him, y’know. I hate that you’re… that he’s… doing this”
“I know. I love you, and I hate that it’s hurting you. But we do what we have to.”
“You don’t sound so much like Yoda anymore.”
“You’ve learned how to listen.”
He stood up, moved around the table, and slid an arm around the boy, who was still human and always destined to be so, let the boy’s arm loop around his own neck, despite the taint of the century he carried.
“He’ll tell you how to help him. But until he does, you let it be.”
“I will.”
“I know.”
And Ben was gone, leaving Taylor gazing at the empty apartment of a lost world.
He sighed, slid the chair out and crossed the room, leaning his cheek against the glass of the multipaned window, staring out into the snowy streets of a February long past.
He could stay, he knew, if he wanted to… and a part of him desperately wanted to.
“Not my time…”
Sighing again, he took a last look, and turned away from the window, aching again at the 20th century reality that now met his eyes, trailing dejected footsteps through the dust of a century.

********************

“Oh God, Suze… that kid thinks we doped up his brother… this is gonna be trouble” “More than you think, those kids are celebrities…”
Jake sighed, eyes heavenward as the phone rang.
“Yeah, Purple Scorpion…”
“Jake! Jake, it’s Nick, for godsake, hold that kid! I gotta talk to him, I’m on my way!”
“Too late boss, he’s gone… hey how’d you…”
“He’s gone? Ike? He left already?”
“About fifteen seconds ago, how’d you know he w…”
“Oh fuck it all to hell!!! I missed him?!?!”
“Nick…”
“Jake…” Nick gripped the phone, struggling to get his racing heart slowed, his breathing under control. It was impossible that he’d missed him, impossible!
“Jake, I’m on my way, if he comes back, don’t let him leave!”
“Nick, how did you…” The phone clicked in his ear, and he dropped it, backing away slightly, body crawling with gooseflesh. There was no way, NO WAY that Nick could have known that kid was there.
“Hey Suze?”
“Yeah…”
“I think it’s about time I looked for a new job…”

********************

The afternoon moved into night, unremarked upon as tired, stressed city workers returned home, kicking off the shoes and coats of the day, reaching for ever thinner safety and comfort, as Nick pondered his own failing senses, and Jake combed the want ads, finally having had more than he could cope with, as an old man, long retired and grateful, turned his eyes from the television, gazing thoughtfully into the steam rising from his cup, knowing his rest was at an end, his final time of work soon to come, as a being who was once a man looked into an alien sky, and prayed to his own peculiar Gods for the soul and sanity of a boy he loved, and finally as three minds grappled a situation years too powerful for them, minds as diverse in their function as the faces they hid behind.

Waking sleeper, Dreamer, and the voice of Sanity, respectively.

Within themselves, the boys struggled in silence.

********************

His fingertips brushed the glass, chill and smooth, translating into the flavor of the winter night. If he could only be out there…
Taylor’s bright blue eyes followed the glitter of snowflakes, appearing as if from nowhere, falling from the fathomless reaches of the sky, imagined the bright freeze of them against his face, aching for it. Shut away in this tower of glass and steel, a luxury prison with windows that didn’t open, and bland recycled air that held no scent.
He took in the night and wanted to smell it, feel it, taste it, that peculiar fragrance flavor of snow. Now, tonight, before the smog settled and turned it that dingy gray black the city was known for. He wanted to scoop up double handfuls, press them to his face, and feel the pleasant iceburn as it went down his throat. Wanted to be out there, alive and living in the snowy night.
A hundred years ago there would have been sleighbells. Not Christmas nostalgia, of which there had been plenty a month or so ago, but sleighbells as a functionality. A part of winter life in the city.
I wish I could go back…
Sighing, his eyes flickered to the park, and the corners of his mouth turned up in a smile as he realized what had set him thinking of bells in the past. Someone, out there in Grandad’s old sleigh.
Wish I was with them…
He leaned against the glass, unconsciously perhaps, bringing him as close as this glittering castle would allow, watching as the sleigh slowed and stopped outside the church, imagining he could hear the laughter he knew he could see, as the passengers alighted, shoving skirts out of the snows way, patting the face of the patient horse.
Church? Church in the park?
The thought faded as his view suddenly changed, his high above perspective resolving in a dizzying rush, down, down, suddenly even, his feet sinking into the snow.
Dreaming…
He smiled again, reaching bare hands up to catch the snowflakes, laughing delightedly as they fell, shimmering spots of chill and wet onto his skin. Shifted from foot to foot, hearing, feeling, the solid wet crunch of new snow. Eyes closed in bliss at the sweet scented air, grinning as he caught a handful of sparkling flakes, shocked and amazed at the taste. No bland, slightly bitter cold burning here, no, this snow was sweet, clean, he suddenly realized. It tasted clean.
How can clean have a taste?
However it happened, it did, and he pulled another handful, stepping carefully toward the church, marveling at the beauty of its softly lit windows, reaching to touch the horse, thinking for a moment that he saw frank amusement in the animal’s deep brown eyes.
Life was like this once, wasn’t it?
He stroked the animal’s nose, smiling at the obvious pleasure it gave to them both.
Too bad this is just a dream, I’d live here with you forever, if I could. I was here once, for real, you know. Only it was summer then.
He leaned his cheek against the horse’s shoulder, wishing he had something for him.
I wish it’d been winter, it’s like a fairy tale here, the snow, the lights… it looks like Christmas.
He scooped another handful of the sweet snow, jumping suddenly as the church door opened and the horse’s passengers exited.

His eyes met theirs, shock in equal measures, and his perspective suddenly skewed again, a quick upward rush, dizzy and cold, and he found himself once again leaning, forehead against the glass, eyes fastened on the blink of the streetlights.

“Taylor.”
He turned, sighing, sorry the dream had ended.
“Yeah Zac? You feeling better?”
“Don’t do that again.”
“Do what?”
Zac’s eyes were dark, brooding. Had been since he’d awoke this evening.
“Go like that. Just don’t… just… don’t.”
The boy shivered, and Taylor moved close to him, slipping an arm around his shoulders.
“I didn’t go anywhere, Zac. You should go back to bed, you’re not awake enough to be walking around.”
“I’m not sick, Taylor.”
“Ok. Sleepy though, come on…”

Zac’s expression was inscrutable, but he allowed his brother to guide him back to his bed, slipping into dreams almost as soon as his head touched the pillow, leaving Taylor to watch, and wonder, if perhaps it hadn’t been a dream after all.

********************

Zac watched the light, so faint at first he wasn’t sure he was seeing it, maybe no more than a thinning texture in the seal of black around the city.
No… not sure he could see it at all, only sense it, the coming dawn more a feeling than a vision. A lifting of the weight of a million heavy breaths, pulses gaining speed, eyes recovering motion, respirations lightened and closer to life than death once more. Feeling matched finally by sight, the deep black of between time finding a tone on tone of dusky gray and silver, thin bands of smoggy yellow rose as the noise of the population grew around him.

Dawn… morning. But the dawn of what?

His sleep, what little of it there had been, thin and tenuous, leaving him shaky, more tired than if he’d kept going all night, thoughts pulling and snapping, overtaxed and stretched almost to breaking.

There was too much in his head that was waking up, too many ideas circling around like vultures, ready to prey on his sanity. He knew there were answers. Knew they were there, buried, hidden just out of reach. If he only knew how to get at them…
His revery broke off, distraction by motion. Taylor, waking up in the next room, staggering as always toward the window, some instinctive need driving him to see the sun before his mind was even fully conscious.

He smiled as he watched him… watched him… puzzlement suddenly erased the smile.
Watched him? He was in the next room… he couldn’t see through walls….how could he be watching him?
Losing it Zacko, losing it big time…

He frowned, reached for the phone, hesitated suddenly unsure who it was he was planning to call… glanced at the clock, squinting at it almost angrily.
Taylor was up, he could see him, staring his sleepy stare into the morning sun… yet the clock listed six am, and the sun wasn’t even up yet.

Time. It was something to do with time.

The thought hit hard, driving his hand away from the phone, fingers digging into temples.

It was there, right there, he almost had it. He wasn’t seeing through walls, it had something to do with time. Taylor wasn’t up yet, but… he was and Zac could see him.

Time… something to do with time.

Concentration suddenly narrowed as his eyes closed, and he remembered… remembered what he had never experienced, saw through eyes that weren’t his… filaments, gleaming silver, red, blue, breathtaking in their simplistic loveliness… felt what he had never felt, the dreamy soul stealing flow of warmth and numbness as the strands operated their give and take of energy and breath… understood another’s understanding as eyes other than his locked onto strands ugly in their discord… gasped in shock as he realized who’s memories he shared, fear pulling him away, hands falling limp into his lap.

Blue, red, silver, gray-green…
Colors swirled behind his eyes and for just a moment he understood, understood the meanings and ideals encased in is brother’s memories and actions, understood all.
Just a moment, and then gone, leaving only the vague, choking sensation of “I know… I know” with no knowledge of what it was he knew.

His eyes roamed the walls, the ceiling, body tense as the sudden feeling of being trapped suddenly overtook him, trapped not so much by walls as by his own helplessness in the face of what he was certain was insanity.
How could he think Tay’s thoughts? How could he remember something his brother had done? How could he see things that hadn’t happened to him, or hadn’t happened yet?
Waking up, I’m waking up… to what?
He fell back, splayed against the quilt, frustration warring apprehension in his mind.
“I’m supposed to be doing something… something…”
Behind his eyes, unseen by any soul, unknown even to him, the light of existence pulsed red.

********************

He let it ring 18 times, let it ring until the endless chiming mutated into the frantic blat of an overused line, letting him know it was time to give up.
“He has to be there…” Zac’s hands tugged through his hair in frustration, and he felt once again the adrenaline surge of anxiety that had plagued him since breakfast.
Nick. The guy from the tattoo place, he’d said to call, to call when he wanted answers, to call when he knew the questions. And so he’d called, called even though he really had no idea what the questions could be, even though he wasn’t even sure how he’d met Nick, or if the encounter had been any more than a dream. Called because he had to, desperation driving him to rely on instinct housed in a mind accustomed to logical transitions and the scientific and rational processes of the modern age. Called because he simply didn’t know what else to do.
And there was no answer.
And no answer.
And no answer.
“God I’m losing my mind!” He threw the phone, nodding grimly at the plastic crunch as it met the wall, fighting the urge to stomp it into tiny pieces.
“Someone’s messing with me, that’s what it is.”
He began to pace, chewing his lip, barely aware that he was talking to himself.
“It’s all some kind of plot to drive me out of what’s left of my mind. Zacko you know you didn’t run off to any tattoo parlor in The Village, you know that! You dreamed it! Like anyone here would let you run around the city alone… ok… ok I’m crazy then because I remember it… but I remember Tay getting up an hour before he did, too. Of course that doesn’t matter because I was also seeing through the wall! Yes, through the wall. Only to be followed by remembering something that didn’t happen to me and probably didn’t happen to anyone!!!”
He kicked what was left of the phone, scowling at it’s useless bits hanging from threads of destroyed plastic.
“Nice job… Tay has a phone.”
Sighing, clutching the number of the man he was sure he’d really never met, he slipped the lock between his room and Taylor’s.

********************

I missed the call.
I know it seems like no big deal, until you realize that as a traveler I’m not able to mistime anything.

I see all time as now, so whenever I do whatever I do, I’m doing it at the right time… it’s impossible for me to be late, to miss calls, to call just after someone has left… impossible.

Except of course in times of… well I guess you’d call it stress, but really it’s something else entirely.

Our unique nature, the further from mortal we get, playes hell with what’s left of our humanity and things start to go a little flippy around the edges. We start to make mistakes, lose our grasp on when, where, even who we are. Sometimes, if we push it too far, we even end up lost between times, dead occasionally if we’re not quite as far from mortal as we need to be… or in the void. Just eaten up into nothingness. I suppose none of the people that’s happened to know it… being nothing and all that.

But it’s a dangerous time for us… it means we have to leave, have to go, have to take ourselves out of time and out of space and just be for a while. Regroup, get our heads together, recharge our batteries, pick your analogy.

Whatever, I knew I was in trouble. Late for work, missing important information, missing Ike by seconds, and then missing Zac on the phone. No coincidence, all the signs were there. I had to go.

But, I couldn’t. Not until the kid was settled. I had to, I couldn’t just leave him. Then I’d have a possible death or a lost mind on my conscience… and there was still so much I had to do, scan him, get to know him, find him a mentor. A teacher. Me. The one with all of a sudden no fuckin’ timing, had to accomplish this.

And now, I missed his call. I knew it was him. I’d smash the phone, if I’d thought I’d get it replaced sometime this year. But no, this city runs on it’s own schedule, and my phone was the least of anyone’s worries. I smash it I go without… tangent anyone? Even now my head flies apart thinking about it… and damn it I’d seen him making the call, seen him dial, and when I got there… it had been… sooner. How could I have done that?

I know, I know, I can see you shaking your head, thinking… he’ll call back, Nick. Or, just go to his hotel Nick… but what you don’t see is what I see. That in a matter of hours it would be, was, had been too late for all of that. By misjudging that one act I had lost him, and lost him good, and I could see it coming, being… knew it was too late, already done.

Trusted to make sure he got in, I lost him. A little boy spinning in everness when it had been up to me to make sure it didn’t happen that way.

And now I’m babbling. Oh God, I missed his call.

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This fictional story is hosted at The Gifted Ones,
with permission from the author, Sheryl.

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