Chapter Two: What Do You Do When Your Entire Family Hates You
Cassia: New York City, New York, United States, December 12th, 2020
When it came to guiding the Maybe-Duchess Sophia home, there was no one better for the job than me. I had been walking the New York streets for like forever, so I could draw a roadmap of the city upside down and blindfolded. Provided the blindfold was see-through because it's very hard to draw a straight line when you can't see. Or when you're human.
I glanced back at my charge, trying to smile reassuringly. Time traveling for the first time can be really scary. Especially if you were one of the Displaced or one of the poor saps who just stumbled into a new time as if someone just dropped them from the sky. Well. I guess they are sort of dropped from the sky. There is falling involved. Usually.
How are you doing?
Sophia's eyes snapped up from where they'd been looking carefully at the floor. She just nodded.
I shrugged. I'd seen stranger responses, like when Cricket would make elaborate hand gestures that made it look like she was trying to summon an Eldritch Horror. I'm glad you're doing yes.
I turned back around and made the final corner. There, right ahead, was my home. The G.A.I.I New York District House. I couldn't help but grin. The institute had been kind to me and gave me the prettiest house of all, with its Gothic banisters and arched windows. I was in love.
Sophia frowned slightly. Different.
I nodded. I got lucky. She's pretty, isn't she?
Sophia nodded. Less. She waved her arms around aimlessly for a bit. Bland.
I grinned. Absolutely. Well- I gestured for her to follow me. Off we go.
She nodded a little slower that time.
I opened the gate and held it open for Sophia.
Sophia looked at me and then at the gate like she didn't quite know what she was supposed to be doing.
I furrowed my eyebrows. Holding the door open was a universal thing, right? Had I just discovered the one time period that didn't open doors for people? I shook my head. No. That's ridiculous. People held doors open in the 1700s.
I gestured for her to walk through. Maybe that would be enough.
Her eyes widened. She looked between me and the gate again, head swiveling back and forth before she finally walked through, hesitation written into the way that she walked.
I blinked. Huh. That was odd. Especially for a higher-class woman. Was it even legal for them to open their own doors? There had to be an entire branch of royal law dedicated to making sure the ladies stayed ladylike and didn't touch anything except the floor and half of a chair.
I just nodded, giving her another smile.
She smiled back. Thank you.
My smile widened into a grin. Of course! I let the gate swing shut and happily skip to the door. We have an empty house right now. We only get a few Displaced during December. I sighed as I opened the door. It's so boring! I pouted at Sophia to show her just how dreadful of an ordeal it was. Month-ruining, in fact.
Sophia nodded again.
I just pouted more. Such a painful experience deserved a bit more than a nod.
Sorry. For You.
I grinned. Haha! Success. Thank you. I held the door open for her again.
Her smile was wider that time. She walked through with a little less hesitation, almost bowing to me as she signed thank you again.
I just nodded this time. Well, welcome to your abode for tonight! The greatest place to stay like ever.
The door opened to the living room, which was plenty large to handle the dozens of people that tended to time travel during February. For some reason, the universe was really bad at getting February right. The couch was a very flat u shape, and the coffee table followed it with the natural pizzaz of stained wood. The walls were minimally decorated, as per company policy. The Displaced tended to get a little... upset when staring at things that took them out of time.
Sophia looked around carefully as if she was afraid something was going to jump out of the shadows and eat her at any moment. After a long cursory glance, she finally turned back to me. Thank you.
I just nodded again. I think the weirdest reaction I received for the District House was when I was visited by someone from so far in the future that wood no longer existed. They thought the table was the skin of some mighty future snake... until they touched it and screamed so loud they ruptured every eardrum in New England.
Dinner's just in the kitchen. I gestured for her to follow me again. I always felt a little silly, pointing and waving people to do this and that, but I'd rather wave people in my direction sixty-six times than have them wander and end up falling off of the roof. Again.
Sophia nodded, following me with a little bit less hesitation than before.
The kitchen was just the next room over, so it was no trouble there to guide Sophia to the doorway. Before walking in, I turned around. Okay. This room is filled with a lot of technology that you've never seen before. I promise it won't eat you or spontaneously burst into flames. I blinked. At least not when Janice is cooking.
Sophia looked at the door with wide eyes. Eat me?
I quickly shook my head. No! Not eating you. No one is eating you. At least I'm like ninety-nine point seven three percent sure.
Not one hundred?
I have never been one hundred percent sure about anything in my life ever.
That sounds. Scary. But Understandable. Sophia nodded. Do you promise I won't die in that room?
I nodded. Janice would definitely not let that happen. And the very sun bends to her will.
She sounds like an angel.
I smiled. Maybe she is.
Sophia's mouth fell open. Ohh. She looked down at her feet and then looked up again. Are you? An angel.
I paused. I had heard that question many times, but it was usually in the Displaceds' "I am very dead" phase. Sophia shouldn't have been in that phase. How could I be an angel if you're not dead?
Sophia frowned. I. I don't remember much. Anything. But. Still. I think angels don't only appear when you're dead. They appear when you're in peril. I was. I am in peril.
I swallowed. Well, that depends on what you believe angels are. To some, angels are just the messengers of God who pop up to leave doomsday warnings and directions on how to start a cult. To others, they're the gatekeepers of Heaven who fly over the gates and sing the same three lyrics of a hymn enough times to tattoo your brain.
I shook my hands. But there is a third option...
Sophia looked at me with what could only be fascination. Tell me more.
I could only grin at that. The Displaced were so eager for answers when they first arrived. They could listen to me talk, or, well, watch me sign, for hours without getting bored. And that was the bestest greatest feeling in the entire universe.
All until they got sick of hearing, but that was a problem for another time.
Well, then, there are guardian angels. Those are the ones believed to come during times of peril. They're devoted to protecting people, keeping them on their fated path and not somewhere else. Those are the ones I believe in the least because... I shrugged. I deal with the people who slip through the cracks. Who end up three hundred years away from where they're supposed to be.
Sophia shrugged. I don't know what I believe. At least what I used to believe. But you sound very much like a guardian angel. Helping people who are lost and have nowhere to go.
I'm just a G.A.I.I agent. I paused. That's the General Anachronism Investigations Incorporated. Time stuff, you know?
Sophia shook her head. I don't know. But. Do you do this because you want to?
I nodded profusely. Oh, yes! I love my job. I've been working for the agency for, like... a thousand years. I grinned. I could never imagine doing another job. This is what I love. And I'm usually pretty good at it.
Then how are you not a guardian angel? Sophia looked ever so slightly smug.
I stumbled back. I have been defeated. You... you used my logic against me. I crumpled to my knees. The sting... it's terminal. I fell onto my back, accepting my fate.
Sophia's eyes widened, bending down beside her. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. I. I didn't mean to.
I sighed. I'm afraid it's too late for me. Continue on. My soul will watch over you.
Sophia shook her head. Please. Was it? Was it something I did? She looked on the verge of tears.
I frowned. That wasn't the usual reaction. I slowly and painfully sat up. By some sort of mysterious miracle, I am suddenly cured. Suddenly.
Sophia breathed a sigh of relief. She put a hand on my shoulder, shaking it gently. Are you okay? I'm sorry. I'm sorry.
You don't need to be sorry. I have been cured. I put a hand over hers. The universe has released you from all guilt.
Sophia gave my shoulder a squeeze. I'm still sorry. It. It won't happen again. I promise.
I patted the back of her hand. Dinner time. My near-death experience has made me hungry.
Sophia nodded vigorously. Dinner. Dinner. Ok.
I stood up, brushing off my skirt and straightening my fishnet fingerless gloves before stepping through the doorway. "Janice~!" I signed as I spoke.
Janice was stirring a pot as I walked in. She turned, taking a deep breath. "Where were you?"
I shrugged. "Work."
Janice was an interesting-looking woman. She was clearly old, with her white hair and wrinkles. The sheer shawl only added to the image. But even from here, I could see the inherent roughness of defined muscle and the sharpness of the scars on her face. She was timeless, someone who could always scare someone to their knees and then knit a child a blanket. Often on the same day.
Sophia's head was tilted off to the side as she looked at Janice. The panic in her eyes from earlier was replaced with something that looked a little bit like confusion.
Janice didn't seem to notice Sophia as she crossed her arms. "You could've mentioned something before just walking out. It's only an hour to seven."
I went rigid. Right. Seven. Whoops. "I'll be fine. It'd take being nine hours late for me to be worried."
Janice took a deep breath. "Cassia, I swear, one day..." Her voice trailed off as she finally spotted Sophia in the doorway. "You didn't say you brought someone in." She smiled, her face losing its worried sharpness as she regarded Sophia. "Hello, dearie."
Janice's smile only grew as she effortlessly switched to sign language. Hello, dearie!
Sophia looked around like she wasn't quite sure that was addressing her before she turned back to Janice.
Hello. Her cheeks flushed a little.
Janice fixed her shawl. How much has Agent Campbell told you?
Sophia's eyes widened. Sorry?
Janice sighed and turned to me. Did you introduce yourself with your first name again?
I shrugged. It's my name. And tell me one person who responds well to being escorted away by an "agent."
Janice gave me a deadpan look before turning back to Sophia, smiling again. Okay. What's your name?
Sophia managed a small smile, spelling out her name. Sophia. She looked towards me for a moment and then up at the ceiling. Then she looked back towards Janice. She. She did tell me her full name. Sorry. I forgot. That was my fault.
I shook my head. Hey, no-
It's not your fault, dearie. You've done nothing wrong. And, according to Agent Campbell, she hasn't either.
I gasped. Janice! You wound me. I rest the back of my hand against my forehead. I can't live like this.
Sophia smiled a little wider before she turned to me, the panic from earlier returning to her face. Is. Is she okay?
Janice sighed, her smile softening to something fonder. Ignore her. She's perfectly fine.
I scoffed. Wow. Do you see how she treats me, Sophia? She hates me.
Sophia went through several emotions ranging from relief to confusion to shock. She moved a step closer. She blinked, looking between Janice and me several times.
Sorry. Sorry. Are you really okay? She moved towards me.
I paused. Okay, Sophia was just starting to look guilty, and that wasn't good. I'll survive.
Janice patted me on the shoulder. I'm sure you will. But I'll make it up to you.
I grinned. The skies have cleared, and Janice likes me again.
She rolled her eyes and went back to her pot, giving it another stir. Have you checked Sophia in?
I shook my head, pouting. You know I can't figure out the program you use.
Janice sighed. Ten years, Cassia. How have you not figured out how to use a computer?
Because it's like impossible! I groaned and laid my head on the counter. Every single computer on this planet is out to make me look like a fool.
Sophia was looking back and forth. Her face was hard to read. Her eyes were half closed as she flitted back and forth, her mouth in the tiniest hint of a pout.
I narrowed my eyes. How very rude of Sophia to have a better pout than me. And she wasn't even trying.
Janice sighed. Fine. She cleared her throat. "Cricket! Come down here for a second!"
Sophia looked around for a second, snapping out of something. She resumed her original blank expression.
Cricket appeared seconds later at the doorway, gliding in like they usually did. They raised their eyebrows.
Cricket was the most fascinating person to look at because they didn't seem real. Out of all my years of living, Cricket was the most average looking person I had ever seen, almost as if their lastname was supposed to be Doe. Their hair was brown. Their eyes were brown. They had no freckles, moles, scars, or even a single crooked or uneven tooth. Unreal.
Janice smiled at them. New Displaced, her name is Sophia. Sophia, this is Cricket.
Sophia smiled at Cricket. Hello.
Cricket smiled back at her with a nod. They turned back to Janice.
I need to check Sophia in because Cassia is stubborn about learning how to use a computer.
I huffed. Now you're just being mean.
Januce rudely and viciously ignored me and continued. So, I need you to watch dinner.
Cricket nodded, moving towards the pot without a word as usual.
Janice handed them the wooden spoon. Thank you, love.
Cricket smiled, with a slightly longer nod this time, as they turned towards the pot.
Janice nodded in return and took off her apron. Back to the living room, then.
Cricket hummed and began their work. Sophia on the other hand gestured towards the doorway she'd come through. There?
Janice nodded. This is just a simple procedure. Nothing to worry about. I'm just going to ask you a few questions and all I need you to do is answer them honestly.
I nodded. And the questions are like super simple and kind of boring.
I can do that. Sophia nodded slowly.
Janice gestured for Sophia and me to follow her. The three of us made our way to the living room, waking to the back corner. Janice's desk sat there, mostly taken up by a truly intimidating computer and a couple of perfect stacks of paper. Janice pulled out her desk chair and sat. Alright. Just give me a moment.
I leaned against the wall, watching Janice’s fingers move so fast across her keyboard, they looked like they were moving at lightspeed.
Sophia nodded, standing almost at attention as she looked with a mix of wonder and fear at the computer.
That's a computer. C. O. M. P. U. T. E. R. It's essentially a box filled with all of the available information of the current world. I patted the top of it.
Sophia's mouth opened in a wide "O". Computer. That's incredible.
I nodded. Truly. In Janice's hands, they might as well be magic.
Magic. Sophia's eyes widened a little bit more.
Even better. Janice lookedback up from her computer. Science. But, that's a story for a different time. For now, what's your last name, dear?
Sophia's eyes had that same burning curiosity they'd had earlier when I was talking about angels, but she didn't ask anything, drifting off into thought for a little before she started signing again. S.E.L.I.N.O.F.O.T.O
Janice nodded and typed out Sophia's response. Any middle name?
Janice blinked. You don't... know?
Sophia shook her head slowly. Sorry.
I furrowed my eyebrows. Huh. I've met many people without a middle name. Hey, I didn't have a middle name! But, not remembering... that was odd.
Janice hummed. I'll just put N/A. Your birthday, then?
Sophia thought about it. She looked up, tapping her head a few times. After a few seconds, she turned back to Janice, shaking her head. She looked close to tears.
Janice frowned. Do you remember anything, dear?
Sophia shook her head again, faster this time.Name.
Janice stood up. Can I... can I hug you, dear?
Sophia's eyes widened. Hug?
Janice nodded. If you want one, dear. You just look so heartbroken.
Sophia's eyes were definitely a little moist now. She nodded, shaking a little as she did so.
I looked between the two of them. Can I join?
Sophia didn't move a muscle.
Janice smiled. Sophia?
I stepped away. Sorry. Never mind.
Sophia shook her head. It's okay. Sorry. I. I was shocked.
I shook my head. No, no. It's okay.
Janice sighed, stepping forward and pulling us both into a hug.
Sophia buried her face in Janice's hair. She was shaking noticeably now.
I wrapped my arms around both of them, only bending down slightly to bury my head in Janice's shoulder. Even in my platforms, she was still a good couple of inches taller than me. And Sophia...
Sophia was absolutely massive. No less than six feet, and almost a whole foot taller than me with platform. Definitely a foot taller than me without. Very rude, thank you.
Sophia's arms tentatively came up to cocoon all three of us, her hold so light, it was barely noticeable, the only giveaway being the way she shook at random intervals.
Janice started stroking my back. I could only assume she was doing the same for Sophia. My assumption seemed to be correct at least judging by Sophia's shaking subsiding with each passing second.
The three of use stood there for what felt like at least a solid forty-five minutes. No one seemed like they were going to make a move.
For as long as we'd been standing there, it just felt... nice. Like everything was going to be okay. Janice's hugs always felt like that. She was like the greatest hugger in the universe ever.
There was the sound of someone clearing their throat from the direction of the kitchen.
I looked up. It was Cricket, wooden spoon still in hand.
He gestured to the dining table, then to the kitchen. "Ready."
"Sophia's deaf." I gently extracted myself from the hug, feeling so disappointed that I wanted to fall back on the couch, but there was food. And food was good. So please use sign language.
Cricket nodded. Apologies.
Sophia didn't seem like she was quite ready to part with Janice yet. Neither did Janice for that matter. Sophia was no longer shaking now, her hold on Janice having tightened by the look of things.
I turned back to Cricket. We'llgive them a minute. We can dish up plates.
Cricket nodded, already turning back towards the kitchen.
I looked back at the hug. They both looked... really happy.
Were they as happy when I was there?
I shook my head and followed Cricket. Those were thoughts for another time.
Cricket didn't waste any time, pointing at everything that needed to be carried out. They grabbed a few things and headed out without another word.
I carefully followed Cricket's nonverbal instructions, and headed to the dining room. The dining room table was massive, large enough for Feburary, business meetings, that one time when an entire pirate ship managed to slip through the cracks of time. Now that was a fun time. But, only three seats kept their placemats. I set down the food dishes and grabbed another placemat from a cabinet along the back wall. Janice sat at the head of the table as the oldest. She said that should be my seat, since she was just my secretary, but that felt... wrong, somehow. Cricket sat to her left, and I sat to her right.
I set Sophia's placemat right next to my chair. That's just what felt right.
Eventually Janice seemed to have noticed what was going on because right as the last mat was placed down, the two of them were walking over to the table. Sophia looked a lot better now.There was a small smile on her face and her eyes showed no signs of crying besides being ever so slightly swollen.
I waved to Sophia. You're sitting here, Sophia.
Sophia nodded, moving to stand behind the chair.
Are we missing anything, Janice? I glanced up at her.
Janice shook her head. No. Everything's perfect. Thank you, Cricket for finishing up for me.
Cricket nodded. You're Welcome.
Janice sat down. Well.She smiled at all of us. Let's eat!
Once dinner finished up, Cricket went about quietly collecting the dishes before scampering off. They liked washing the dishes, and I certainly wasn't complaining.
I stood, pushing my chair in. Alright, Sophia. Let me show you to a room for the night.
Janice stood up as well. Show her to one of the rooms that don't ressemble a hurricane and then you know where to find me.
I rolled my eyes. Upstairs, Sophia. Follow me.
Sophia nodded again, getting up from her place. She took a step away from it before looknig back at the empty plate. Dishes?
Cricket will handle it. I patted her on the shoulder. Don't worry. They enjoy it.
I led her out of the dining room, taking a left to the stairwell. Your room will be on the second floor.
Sophia glanced at Cricket who gave the tiniest of nods. She turned back to Cassia. Ok.
I stepped onto the stairs, only for a dull pain to shoot through my legs. Letting out a small gasp, I stepped back down. Sorry, one moment.
Sophia narrowed her eyes, but nodded,
I took a deep breath. My legs... weren't the best at being legs most of the time. There was really only one solution, but that didn't happen until at least seven and defienetly not before getting Sophia situated. I clenched my teeth and started up the stairs again. The pain wasn't that bad. The pain wasn't that bad. I was fine.
I felt a tap on my shoulder.
I turned to what I really hoped was Sophia. If it wasn't, I was going to fall down the stairs.
It was Sophia, her eyes narrowed even more. Are you okay?
I nodded. Perfectly okay! Which was true, really. My legs weren't even shaking.
I wasn't at all relieved when we reached the top of the stairs. Okay. Almost this entire hallway is all empty rooms. Cricket decided to claim the attic, bless their soul, Janice is in the only bedroom downstairs, and I'm the bedroom at the very far end. Other than that, fair game.
Sophia nodded after all that, pointing down the hallway. Can I have a room a little closer to yours. Just. Just in case. I. I'm not sure how. Most of. Anything. Works.
I nodded. The room closest to mine is actually free. You're the only Displaced here, right now.
Is. Is that okay? A little close is okay. Doesn't have to be closest.
I smiled. If you want the closest, you can have the closest.
Sophia nodded, glancing at her toes. Can I? Can I have that.
I nodded. It's this one... I walked to the door, gently rapping on the wood. Right here.
Sophia nodded. Thank you. She ran a hand through her hair.For everything.
My cheeks got a little warm at that. It wasn't very a common occurence for someone to be so... apprecitative of my services. If anyone go thanked in that tone, it was Janice. Just doing my job. Would you like some sleep wear? Everything I have is modern, I'm afraid.
That's okay. I can sleep in this. I'll just. Her gestures turned into vague waving. She glanced at her feet. You do your job very well.
I literally speak every language currently used on this planet, but I have no idea what- I echoed her vague waving. -means.
I will sleep. She gestured to her dress then made and X and promptly did her best impression of a tomato.
Oh. That I understood. I'll... I'll be sure to avoid your room at night, then.
Sophia nodded vigorously.
I stepped back. I have important job stuff to do. Nothing else. I nodded. Are you... okay?
Sophia nodded.I. I will be. I hope.
Don't worry. I smiled. Janice and I will get you home safely. I'll be busy for a bit, but then I'll be in my room. Alright?
Sophia nodded. Thank you again. For trying. For caring. I know its just your job. But its not like you're being forced to care. But you do.
I swallowed. You're welcome. I took a step back. Sorry. I would love to stay and chat, but I have a time limit.
Understood. Sophia nodded, turning towards the door before turning back again. Good Night.
I nodded. Good night!
Sophia smiled, opening the door slowly, and taking a cautious step inside.
I took a deep breath and made my way back to the stairwell. Janice was waiting for me, after all, and my legs were about to ruin my life.
The walk down was much more painful than the first. By the time I made it to the ground floor, I leaned against the wall, taking slow breaths. My calves felt like someone had taken metal bats covered in glass shards to them. My thighs felt like they had been burnt at the stake. Nausea rolled in my stomach.
Just a little more. Just a little more and it'd be fine.
I surged forward, pratically stumbling to Janice's room. I barely had the strength to knock before leaning back against the wall and focusing on just breathing through the pain.
Janice was at my side, carefully lifting me into her arms before I even fully realized what was going on. She didn't say anything, wordlessly carrying me towards the bed, laying me down.
"It's..." I swallowed. Talking was hard when I was so out of breath. "It's seven. Why... why does it hurt?"
Janice stroked my hair gently. "Its been getting a little worse sweetheart. I don't know why. I'm no expert, but given what we've seen over the past few years." She didn't continue that line of thought, patting me on the head before moving away to get the equipment. "Try not to think of that too much, not until this has passed. Can you do that for me sweetheart?"
"Pain is bad today. Hard to think anyways." I tried to sit up, so Janice could do this properly.
Janice nodded, her hands flying as she brought everything closer to the bedside. "Don't talk either then sweetheart. Just tap me if you want to say something."
"Don't need all that." I managed to finally sit up, but now I was too far away from the headboard to rest against it. Squeezing my eyes shut, I pushed myself back. I was already in pain. What was a little more?
"Sweetheart, don't make it worse for yourself," said Janice, making her familiar tsk as she finished setting everything up and moved to help me lean against the headboard.
I shook my head. "Trying to make it easier for you."
"And am I the one in pain, lying on a bed?"
"You're the one doing my blood transfusion even though you don't have to."
Janice scoffed, continuing to make sure I was in the correct position. "Are you comfortable?"
I nodded, my breath hitching at a sharp wave of pain.
Janice gave my head on more pat. "Try to stay still, my dear." I felt Janice roll up my sleeve and the familiar coolness of the disinfectant as she carelly applied it to my wrist.
I nodded, just focusing my attention on breathing. In and out. In and out.
Like clockwork, Janice carefully put the piece of cotton wool she'd used aside, bringing up the syringe next. "Ready, sweetheart? I'd say this is just a prick, but you know by now how it really feels."
"Nothing compared to..." I groaned, as another burst of fire burned its way up my shin.
Janice nodded, moving into expertly inserting the needle carefully into a vein just a little higher than my wrist. She removed the body of the syringe, leaving the needle with its receptable in. She set it aside too, wheeling the stand with the blood bag closer to the bed.
"One final thing, and you can just rest, my dear. It'll all feel better soon." Janice gave her another pat on the head.
"This one's a four hour one. I can feel it." I glanced up at Janice. "Sorry."
Janice just shook her head. "If you're going to apologize, apologize for how horrifying your bed looked the last time I had to look at it." Without another word, she connected the bag to the needle, the reddish brown liquid starting to make its way through the clear tube.
The pain didn't ease. With how bad it was, I doubted I'd be okay even after the transfusion. But, that was a future Cassia thing. And Janice...
Janice didn't need to know.
Janice milled about, discarding the used cotton wool and a few other things as she tidied the area up quickly. Her room always looked immaculate. Before long, Janice was finished and she made her way over to my bedside.
I looked up at her, trying to remain relaxed.
She dragged over her stool, sitting by my side and holding onto my free hand. She just gave it a squeeze, letting out a small sigh and rearraging herself a little as she got comfortable.
"You only have to stay for the first fifteen minutes. As I say everytime."
"And common sense would suggest that repeating the same action and expecting a different result is insanity."
I shrugged. "Maybe I'm insane."
"I know you are," said Janice. "Do I have to remind you of the state of your room?" She gave my hand a soft squeeze.
"You bringing it up again makes you sound insane."
"We're all a little bit insane. Its the only healthy way to exist."
"So, your point was pointless."
"Not all points need to have a point."
I pouted up at Janice. "But that's what makes them points."
"Are you sure about that?"
"It's literally in the name. Point. If a point is pointless than it's just... less." I crossed my arms. "So there."
"No if points don't have a point, they become s."
I tucked Janice's hand against my chest. "You hate me."
"Wholeheartedly," she agreed.
I whined. "What have I ever done to you?"
"Theft of a heart," said Janice. "A very serious crime."
"Whose heart did I steal for you to hate me this much? I might cry, you're so awful to me."
"Oh I don't know. Which heart do you think I'd care about enough?"
"Cricket. You actually like Cricket."
Janice rolled her eyes. "I do. But in this instance I'm clearly talking about my own heart."
I pressed the back of my hand to my forehead, still holding Janice's hand. "Oh, you liar! You are here to ruin me. If I was guilty of this wretched crime you accuse me of, you'd like me. And you don't."
Janice ran a finger along my hand carefully. "Well. What proof do you need?"
"That you viciously, cruelly, and unfairly despise my poor soul for no good reason?"
"No. Proof that I love you and cherish you."
My breath hitched, and this time it had nothing to do with the slowly dulling pain. "Sorry. Ignore that."
Her hand gave mine a soft squeeze. "Of course."
I cleared my throat. "I. I know you said don't think about it, but I think we have to switch to twelve hour increments."
Janice's grip on my hand tightened ever so slightly. "We might need to."
"We know what this means, right? Seven years and no change, and now..." I shook my head.
Janice simply nodded.
"If anything goes wrong, Janice..."
"Nothing will go wrong," she said, holding my hand noticeably tighter now.
"You don't know that." I wanted to turn to her, to bury my head in her chest and pretend she could stop everything I was terrified of. It might be strange, considering everything, but Janice was... something I could barely comprehend: a loving family.
"That's what I chose to believe. There's a lot of things we don't know. Including if anything will go wrong. But if we believe that, well then we're not exactly getting the odds to be in our favor, are we?"
"I want to do that too. But, the odds are already stacked against us."
"When are they not? Its life."
"Fine." I turned away from Janice, letting go of her hand. "I can take the equipment upstairs, so you can get some decent sleep."
"Not so fast, old lady. You're staying right here with me."
I huffed. "And how are you going to sleep? You are not staying in that stool all night."
"That's a large bed," said Janice, like that explained everything.
"And what does that have to do with anything? I am in the way."
"I don't see that as a problem."
I blinked. "What are you going to do? Sleep on top of me?"
"Allow me to demonstrate." Janice carefully removed her hand, getting up from her stool and pushing it off to the side so it was out of the way.
"You're going to stand for the whole time?"
Janice rolled her eyes again, carefully sitting down beside me and turning towards me carefully.
I watched her carefully, trying not to hold my breath.
She lied down next to me with a small groan, one of her arms snaking carefully around my waist. "There you go." She pulled herself a little bit closer before settling down with her head just inches from mine.
I went rigid. "J-Janice?"
"Do you... do you want this?"
"Have you ever seen me so much as eat something I didn't want to?" She scoffed like the very idea was absurd.
I shook my head. "No..."
She pulled in a little closer towards me.
I pouted again. "I can't move." I dragged the word out, just to emphais the cruelty of the situation.
"Well if you don't like it, I can leave."
I shook my head. "No. I can't move to hug you back. Or bury my head in your chest." I narrowed my eyes at the needle in my arm. "Rude."
"Well. Just a few more hours, sweetheart."