Lead the Dance: Chapter 7

Title: Lead the Dance
Chapter: 7 of 8
Author: Sheryl
Rating: PG-13

Other Info: Sequel to A Change of Grace
Excerpt: Taylor chewed his lip, the seed of an idea forming, and he looked up at George, his mental question carrying clearly across to the old man.
George’s head swung around, startling Taylor back tight against the wall. The old man’s eyes glowed as red as flame, his voice arrowing laserlike into Taylor’s mind.
“I take care of Zac, you take care of Nick. Whatever you see fit to do.”
Then gone, tenuous permission.
Glancing with a sigh at the wreck of the traveler beside him, his mind made itself up.

Chapter 7

“Y’know…”
The cigarette dropped from Nicks trembling fingers for the third time, prompting a groan of equal pain and self disgust.
“I don’t know if I’m shaking because I’m cold, because it’s friggin’ arctic in here, or I’m finally all the way unglued. They really picked a bad, bad time for this. Kid your brother has truly impeccable timing, always of course considering that there is any such thing as time, which we all know there is not and I can’t pick that goddamn thing up!”
He flung himself onto the floor in frustration, the elusive smoke mocking him, just beyond the reach and grasp of his numbed hands.

Taylor sighed, trying to keep his eyes on both Nick, who appeared in the final stages of complete lunacy, and George, gripping his brother’s head between callused old hands, eyes boring with frightening intensity into glazed blue orbs that seemed to hold no soul.

Shaking his head, shivering more than a little himself, he fished the still unlit smoke from the webby dust on the floor, wiping it absently before handing it back, irritation filling his voice with scorn, masking the nerved tremble he knew was there behind it.
“He didn’t ask for this, you know, none of us did, it’s not our fault if you can’t handle it. What’s wrong with you, anyway?”
“Time crash.”
Taylor sat down next to him, watched futile attempts to light the now firmly wedged cylinder.
“What’s time crash?”
“Ah fuck, you’ll understand someday… you should just go home y’know? You’re still just a little kid, you never done nothin’, little baby like you, you’re still human right? You got no Keeper time shit screwing you around, jammin’ up your head. Go home, Taylor.”
“Right, because you all have it so together without me? It’s not about me anyway is it, look at him.” He gestured at Zac, now appearing as deeply immersed in concentration as George was. “That’s my brother over there in case you didn’t realize. I’m gonna just go home and leave him?”
“What do you think you’re gonna do, huh? Try to go over there, just try babe, I think you’ll get a little surprise won’t you…”
“I already know I can’t go over there.” Taylor’s gaze dropped with his voice, and Nick felt bitter shame well up at his harsh treatment of the boy.
“I can’t even look at them for more than a second. I just have to be here, y’know? He’s my brother, man… and what about you? Look at you, you’re all messed up, you want me to go away and leave you here? What happens next time you drop a smoke, you gonna sit there and wish it back into your hand?”
“I can’t…” Nick laughed, sounded dangerously close to a sob, and Taylor’s gaze met his sharply.
“I can’t light this fuckin’ thing Taylor, y’know? It won’t… hold still…”
He broke off as Taylor’s hand wrapped around his, steadying it enough to get the end lit, nodded gratefully, leaning his head back against the wall in crazed exhaustion.
“Thanks… you’re like me you know. A traveler like me. Someday you’ll know what this feels like… hopefully you’ll be lucky enough to have someone around to light your fuckin’ cigarette for you.”
His head dropped onto crossed arms, matted blond hair obscuring his face, and Taylor was suddenly stricken by the resemblance between them.
A resemblance not of the physical, but of a remembered crisis of self, soul deep exhaustion no amount of sleep could cure.

Sudden sympathy, a realization he could almost grasp, and Taylor’s mind shifted, looking out for a moment with the perceptions of the traveler he was, linear designations disappearing, the chaos of all time flooding his mind.
His audible gasp caught Nick’s attention, and he looked into the boy’s eyes, nodding understanding, sliding closer, unnamable need for the unity of another like him.
“It’s like that for me all the time, Taylor. After a while it’s just… there has to be some relief or you go crazy.”
“So what do you do?”
“Get out of time.”
“Go to another time?”
Nick shook his head, pulling smoke deep, watching it spiral upward.
Noout of time, to a junction house. A… a waystation.” He laughed bitterly, kicking in repulsed annoyance at the filth that surrounded them. “This place used to be one… still is but not one anyone would go near.”
“I don’t understand…”
“No, of course you don’t. Man I’d kill someone for a cup of coffee. For once y’know I don’t wanna drink.” His laugh held no humor and he fought to clear his mind enough to go on. “The waystations, junction houses… are places of null time. Places where the strands are kept and worked, and where the only time is the time you impose. The junction will be whatever time you choose… because it’s out of the weave. It’s like a node… or… or… an intersection. Like in a centrifuge, everything is spun to the sides and in the center everything is still.”
“And this is one? Why don’t you feel better then?”
“Because in this time it’s void. It’s derelict Taylor, look at it!! In this time the strands have moved away from it… it’s still a doorway, always will be, but… it’s dead Taylor. It’s a little better in here than it was out on the street, but…”

Taylor chewed his lip, the seed of an idea forming, and he looked up at George, his mental question carrying clearly across to the old man.
George’s head swung around, startling Taylor back tight against the wall. The old man’s eyes glowed as red as flame, his voice arrowing laserlike into Taylor’s mind.
“I take care of Zac, you take care of Nick. Whatever you see fit to do.”
Then gone, tenuous permission.
Glancing with a sigh at the wreck of the traveler beside him, his mind made itself up. “Nick…” He took the shaking hand in his own, gently took the cigarette and ground it out. “If you’re out of time you’ll be ok?”
“Yeah, but like I said kid, you’re timing was impec…”
“This was one of those places?”
“This is a waystation… but it’s been shut down for… I don’t know how long. Nobody to keep it, nobody to activate it. It’s still a junction, a traveling point anyone can use, but it’s…” He blinked, dizziness washing over him suddenly, and he grabbed for Taylor, leaning gratefully into the arms that slipped around him, adrift for a moment in blackness.
When it cleared, the filthy cold was gone, replaced with the mellow glow of gaslight and the warmth of end to end fires.

The din of eternal chaos already dimmed in his mind.
He shook off the nausea that hovered like a ghost around his throat, glanced at Taylor, who was already climbing to his feet, moving with familiar ease through the hall.
“Uh… kid, that was not too smooth.”
“Sorry…” Taylor shrugged, smiled a little. “I’m not very good at that yet… but you said out of time… is this what you meant?”
Nick nodded, testing gingerly with his mind, reaching… touching the null, the neutral nexus of time, felt himself begin breathing again.
“Yeah… yeah.”
He saw Nick begin to tremble again, and reached a hand down to him.
“Y’ok? C’mon, get up off the floor…”

Nick let himself be helped up, led down a hall he’d never seen before, to a kitchen stocked and welcoming.
“The junction… Taylor I never even thought of this.”
“Yeah, well you were a little busy going insane. You’re ok now?”
“Not yet. I will be. There coffee in here somewhere?”
“Yeah, and would you believe I know how to make it? Nick… will you explain this to me? When you feel better? Because…” The assurance vanished from his face and the very real image of a terrified young boy took it’s place. “…I don’t really understand much of what’s going on right now.”
Nick nodded, laying his head onto his folded arms, nails tracing the pattern of the wood, relief saturating every cell.
“I’ll tell you anything you want to know.”
“Then I’m making coffee.”
His hands moved through familiar cupboards, working on automatic, as his mind reached through time, the taste of Zac heavy in his mouth.

Through a transparent breach in time he wasn’t aware he’d created, Taylor’s eyes rested now unimpeded, on the hunkered down, shivering forms of George, and his brother, and his mind tasted approval from the old keeper. Out of time was where Nick needed to be, and out of time was where Taylor had to maintain… what?
Never mind, it would come.
He held onto Nick, held onto Zac, his hands busy with mundane tasks… and around him disordered strands slipped closer to their intended paths.

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

Perceptions. Image. What you see is what you get. Not always. Sometimes what you see is different from what you think you see. Sometimes, you see what isn’t there. Or what you wish was there. Or what you want to be there.
It’s too early to be philosophical… I need coffee…” Heading into the kitchen on autopilot, thinking, thinking…
George had said so little to him, nobody told him what to do… how did he know? He did know too… He had to make it well.
Not make excuses, not invent reasons, not cover for anyone…
Make it well.
Make it okay. Not unusual. The way that empty apartment in the Dakota was unremarkable. It just was, and that was accepted as the norm.
He knew that too, some eye opening wider and wider, showing him things he’d have questioned in another, older reality.
That apartment sat empty and neglected, unnoticed and unremarked upon, unthought of and ignored. In the middle of the most unusual and high profile co-op in the city. And it was charged to him to do the same for his brothers, and himself, now.
I have to make it normal that Zac and Taylor are gone. Ok…”  Reality reasserted itself suddenly and his hands trembled slightly, as he added sugar to his cup.
Did he really know  how do do that? Did he really presume to THINK he knew any such thing?
This was just not okay, not at all. None of it. Not the least little bit of it.
First, he had somehow eased the insanity in Zac’s mind. How, he still didn’t know. Then Zac a Keeper? And Taylor a Traveler? What happened to just being themselves? When did they get caught up in the whole Saving the Universe deal?
He carried his coffee to the window overlooking the park. Snow, gently swirling, little people scurrying, rush hour at it’s peak. Business carrying on as per usual, and he had to make it right.
Oh God, I can’t do it. I know I can’t…” He rested his forehead against the cold glass,  out of his depth, and pushed beyond personal beliefs. “How will I…
“Isaac?”
Walker stood in the doorway, his attention on the papers in his hands. He glanced up, and caught Isaac’s eyes.
Concentration ignited, energy flared… unable to look away.
Perception slid sideways, no worry, no doubt. All is well. Nothing to worry about… perception became reality.
Isaac blinked, raised an eyebrow.
“Yeah dad?”
“I’ll be tied up in bookkeeping today, was there anything you needed before I lock myself in?”
Stunned, disbelieving, Isaac gaped, able to do little more than shake his head, mute with amazement.
“You’re sure?”
“Yeah…”
His father left with a vague smile and wave, leaving Isaac in astonished silence.
My God, what’d I do to him?!
He replayed it, shivering in the afterburn.
He’d known what was coming, queries about his brothers whereabouts, admonitions to hurry, to get going with schoolwork, to meet the schedule… yet they’d never come. Just that flare in his head, as he met his father’s eyes. That flare of mad energy and the slightly sickening sensation of reality slipping sideways.
And then the vague comment about bookkeeping.
He had done that. But what had he done? And how? And why? And did his Dad not notice that his brothers were gone?
Thinking, thinking…
Somehow, he had changed his dad’s perception of what was happening. As he had eased Zac’s mental torment. Were they the same thing? Had he healed Zac or just shifted his perception??
Either way, results were the same.
His face broke into an unwilling grin, as the reality of the situation hit him.
He had just rearranged reality for another person.
Laughing suddenly, he touched a finger to his forehead. “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for. Move along, Dad, nothing to notice here.” He laughed, the idea almost as delightful as it was ludicrous.
I think I just used the force.” And… it had worked. “So, that’s it then… what I have to do. I have to use the force.
He grinned again, tugging shoes on as his mind raced ahead.
Practice. I have to practice…
That the first word that entered his mind was not “practice”, but “play”, he would have denied vociferously.

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

“George, stop… please, it hurts…” Zac pulled away from George’s touch, rubbing furiously at the sides of his head the old man’s hands had held. “Just don’t… don’t do that anymore.”
“Zac…” The old man sighed, having realized long before Zac’s retreat, that it hadn’t been working. “I apologize for the headache. But we have a problem, you and I.”
“Me.”
“You. Zac, d’you understand any of what’s going on?”
“I’m not stupid you know.”
“No…” George chuckled in spite of himself. “Stupid you sure are not. Zac… there are people, special people…”
“Don’t patronize me! TELL ME!”
“Are y’scared, Zac?”
“Yes!”
“Why? What’re you afraid of? You tell me.”
“I feel like I’m dying! I feel like… I can see through me. Like I’m not really here, like nothing is really here! And I have to fix it, all of it, I have to make everything right out there!! I’m one of them George, and it’s doing something to me and I…” He stopped, as the old man reached out again, once more gripping the sides of his face. “Don’t George, it hurts!”
“Not this time. You just look.”

And look Zac did, seeing in less time than it took his heart to beat, everything the old man had tried, and failed in his anxiety and apprehension, to force into him. Now… as George aligned himself with the soul, with the person that was Zac, and let the boy walk though his own open door, Zac saw. Worlds without end, realities infinite and unparalleled, strands of souls merging and shifting and glowing, and through it all beings… beings of light and stars and the silver glow of the strands… beings like him, keeping it all straight, keeping it all together. Other beings, glowing blue, moving between, between… travelers on a highway, merging and rushing and colliding… people like him preventing collision, directing… choreographing… it became a dance.

“Yes Zac, very much a dance…” George’s hands let him go, eyes suddenly no longer rheumy and old, but sharp, bright, piercing. “A dance of souls and minds and hearts, given into the hands of people like you… and like me…” He stopped at the boy’s gasp, grinning, eyes shifting for a moment back to just old George. “Yes Zac, I’m a Keeper as well… though not so much like yourself. I have my own ways.”
“George…” A question loomed in the boy’s mind, blinding in it’s import. “George, what are we? Why… why are we?”
“Look again, Zac…”
And Zac looked, saw the beauty of the shifting, flowing life all around him, marveled at the intricate delicacy of every interaction, swallowed wonder, looked back up, question still unanswered.
“Zac… as you said, it is a dance. And you see the dancers, the people, the mortals, and the travelers who can move between the steps. And us Zac…”
Frustrated, Zac flung himself away from the old man, coming to rest against the wall, hands pressed to his eyes as he struggled with tears.
“Please just TELL me, don’t you understand?!”
“Zachary.”
He stood over the boy, reached down, pulled him to his feet, and gestured to the wall, a wall suddenly transparent and shifting.
“You see it in front of you but you refuse to look. Without us, Zac, they miss their steps. They collide, they fall, the music becomes cacophony. Look Zac. Stop arguing, let go, and look. They attend Zac, they dance… but you and I… Zac, we lead the dance.”
“Lead the dance…” His voice was soft now, as soft as his eyes full of tears and wonder. “Then…” He drew a great, shuddering sigh, and looked up into the old man’s eyes, tears spilling over. “Then what’s wrong with me?”
The wall became solid, the great and wonderous show nothing more now than the dusty derelict apartment in the midst of a New York City winter.
“What’s wrong with me that it hurts so much? That I can feel myself…” His hands gestured helplessly, pushing, pulling…
“Pulsing, Zac?”
“Yes.”
“You’re too awake, too fast. You’re losing control, losing cohesion. You’re moving into space you can’t yet occupy, and your mind is eating itself alive.”
No longer man to child, their reality had shifted, finally and for ever. Keeper to Keeper, equal to equal.
“I could die.”
“Yes you could.”
“Or worse.”
“Yes, much worse.”
“Why are we standing here talking then?”
“Because until you understood, there was nothing I could do for you. Now listen to me, and listen carefully. You’re slipping Zac, in and out of time, and now you’re going to learn how to hold on.”

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

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