Between The Cracks


skye_icon.gif zachery_icon.gif

Scene Title Between the Cracks
Synopsis Someone new catches Zachery on his way to work.
Date March 28, 2019


It's raining, driving those that would normally walk onto the Yamagato busses that wind through the Safe Zone, but Zachery Miller's shift is fortunately early enough to avoid the inevitable crush of commuters. Seated at a window, where rain crosses in downward slopes, this latest version of New York scrolls out in shades of grey and brown, punctuated with hazard orange, warning yellow, flashing red. The airflow within is stifling as the driver labours under the misconception that it's still, in any way, winter.

Another stop. The brakes whine. A barely perceptible lurch of momentum.


The driver's voice is an odd thing to hear — most people just flash their residency cards without fuss, maybe with a quietly uttered good morning and how you doing — but now he speaks up as a figure slides by, halts. "Card or fare," the driver says. "Three dollars."

The figure is of average height, slender, wearing a coat with a hood, drawstrings sealing the rain around the neck, the wrists. A flag of blonde hair creeps out of their hood, raked out of the way in a hasty swipe as they reverse back to the driver and dig around in their pockets for change, the clink-click of coins just audible, rattling into the cashier as they come out piecemeal, all quarters and dimes.

Zachery shifts in his seat at the noise, sort of huddled into his black pea coat the way a jackdaw might puff up in resting. A square bandage sits over his left eye socket, two strips of white tape plastering it to his forehead and cheek. He's looked better, and he also looks like he might have dozed off a little, absentmindedly drawing in the biggest breath he could possibly manage while his shoulders draw up in a sort of a stiff, hands-not-leaving-his-pockets stretch.

The look he shoots toward the front of the bus is one of scrutiny, suggesting that this small break in the monotony is unwanted for this creature of habit. Or… is it? There's something else, there, too, in that one still visible eye. Maybe he's hoping for the quarters and dimes to fall short of their necessary amount to join this Early Morning Bus Club. What's it gonna be. One of his legs kicks out underneath the seat in front of him, heel of his shoe scraping softly against the floor.

Click-clack-ting. The final few coins are deposited into the register. No ticket is produced, but behind the latest bus passenger, the doors slide back into place and seal them all in again from the blustery, rainy outdoors.

Inside, they push their hood back. A woman, apparently, with a strangely timeless face that likely sits her somewhere in her early twenties, but could also be older. Dark eyebrows, long blonde hair gone a little like rat-tails in the damp outdoors in spite of her hood's efforts, tangled up under her collar. She moves on down the aisle of the bus, taking her time, even as the vehicle lurches beneath her feet and goes growling off to its next destination. Her blue eyes are scanning faces as she goes, her hands touching the backs of seats to keep her balanced, one after the other. Prowling.

Her gaze settles on Zachery, and her brow furrows. Confused, somehow.

Then, she swings herself to sit down in the empty chair next to him, in spite of the empty pairs that exist already. She has her hands planted on the top of the seat in front of her, hemming him in. By way of greeting, she says, "Acrylic."

That's not a greeting Zachery was previously familiar with. Nor does it look like he is particularly open to greetings, having frozen the moment the stranger decides he'd be a good neighbour for the remainder of the ride.

In what he probably believes to be good public transport manners, though, he doesn't look at her, but has turned his bandage-marked face pointedly forward. At least, after a quick clearing of his throat and a look-over of those arms, now, where they should not be. Again, he sort of… puffs up further, his head drawing ever so slightly closer to the window. Maybe he's planning on taking a nap. And not responding.

It only takes six seconds. Still forward, not at her: "Mh?" Almost quiet enough for the noises of commute to help mask it as an idle noise not intended for others. Almost.

While Zachery communicates disengagement in every conceivable way, the woman sitting next to him is the mirror reverse, body twisted so as to keep him solely in her sights. There is an uncertainty about her that only just stifles the intensity of her attention, a little like she is waiting for a more formal acknowledgment. Something better than mh. That she hasn't given him much reason to give it is

neither here nor there.

Her hands tighten a little, fingertips dimpling into the cushioned plastic of the seat back in front of her. "Not glass," she clarifies. Clarifies? It sounds like that's what she is trying to do. "But that's what they call it. A glass eye. Or they will." Finally, her attention lifts, and she faces forward. "You're only meant to look through windows, not at them."

If Zachery's hands could go deeper into his pockets, they would. They seem restless in there, fingers curling inward, then relaxing. Then curling inward again, as he turns to look finally sideways. But looking at her doesn't seem as easy now that she's right there, and though the corners of his lips curl ever so slightly, it's politeness imitated.

"I don't— ah." He starts with conviction, brow knitting as his attempt peters out before even reaching a full set of words. His lean away doesn't ease up, but he does narrow his eye to look briefly at that hair, her face, then back to her eyes. Anything that might spark something familiar. "Do I know you? From the hospital, or…?"

When he looks to her, seeking familiarity, she meets his gaze, and for all that she remains an enigma to Zachery, the stranger abruptly smiles. It's a smile of relief, the kind that blooms in the wake of bad news followed by a just kidding. It's a distinctive smile, too, one that would be difficult to forget, with overly large canine teeth giving her a wolfishly fangy grin, but entirely non-threatening.

She shakes her head. "Not yet," she says. "Um, I'm Skye."

In the cramped confines of the seats they share, she tries then to offer her hand, to shake on their meeting, wrist angle, thumb upright like the hammer on a gun.

It's a funny thing, habits. They can burst up through the ice out of nowhere when you least want them to, and regardless of whether you're in a big tin can going places at speed next to a person you'd rather say goodbye than accidentally twitch your hand out of your pocket without thinking. But that hand's out, now. "Hi, Skye." The hesitance to speak up still drips off of his voice, but something about the unintentional rhyme, or maybe her smile - or both! - pulls one corner of his mouth eeeever so slightly further out, wrinkles near his exposed eye drawing deeper lines.

And… wellp, might as well let his hand meet hers, now. His is a stark contrast to hers, corporate-groomed to perfection, or as close as it'll get with a bent elbow and slightly stiffened muscles. "Zachery." His own name leaves him less smoothly than the motion, with a muffled air of weariness. "You're sitting very close."

Her hand folds around his like she's holding onto it rather than delivering a shake, but perhaps, of all the things that have happened between now and a few minutes ago, it's not the strangest of those things. Her fingernails are blunt, each one with a seam of dirt caught beneath them, but her hands are otherwise clean. A little clammy. Quite normal, otherwise.

Skye doesn't cling or tighten her grasp — she slides her hand off of his, withdrawing, her own curling against her collarbone as she kind of glances between them and notices her denim-clad knees kind of jammed at an angle that infringes on his space.

Without speaking, she gets up out of her seat, and climbs on into the empty ones in front of him, but kneeling, so that she can peer at him over the backs of her new seat. "Sorry," she says, once she's there. "I didn't want someone else sitting next to you. And every stop is so soon. Are you a doctor? Or do you go to the hospital a lot."

With limited vision, Zachery tracking Skye's movement is a little more exaggerated than it usually would be. He's still getting used to this. His free, unpocketed hand now rises to rub at his face, pressing hard against the side of his nose before dragging his fingers down and sideways along the cheekbone of the intact side of his face. He's starting to look a little bit like someone eyeing a cat that won't stop following them home.

But with some added space - even if that PERCH ahead of him isn't ideal - he's… maybe starting to relax a little. Shoulders coming down a little, hand clasping the side of his neck at her apology. He's still fidgeting, but… less guarded. Her question seems to draw him out further, his head angling as he shifts to sit up straight again. "Do I strike you as a doctor?" Finally, a genuine start of a grin, barely more than a twitch. Not in mockery. Maybe a little pleased at something.

"You strike me— "

And she stops, indecisive, and instead looks him over as if to really weigh up the question he's posed her. "No white coat," she cedes, slowly. "No…" She points a finger at her ear, swoops it down, frowning as she searches for the word that eludes her. "For listening to hearts." Anyway. "No blood on your hands, right now. But," she tips her head, indicating their surroundings, "we're on a bus.

"So we could be anyone. You pick."


Yes. No blood on his hands. Not right now.

Zachery's hand drops from his neck, caught in the fingers of his other one, and they clasp together in idle thought. But… not for long. His grin dissipates in a twitch that's arguably closer to a wince, and a controlled inhale ends in a sigh underneath his heavy coat. Pretending should come easily, and yet, given the choice… something catches in the gears. His attention is directed out the window again. Through the window, not at.

Instead of an answer, he offers, "Are you what you want to be?"

Skye peers at the tangle his hands make, as if to divine something from their pattern — but then he has another question for her, and she folds her arms across the back of her seat, feeling the pitch of the bus as its wheels strike uneven road terrain. "Not yet," she admits. "We're passengers. Even the driver doesn't have any say about where we're going, just how fast we get there. And I don't mean just right now, but always.

"You strike me as a penny," is that finished sentence, now emerging, lifting her gaze — which had wandered — to watch his profile. "An old penny, changing hands, getting lost, bouncing blindly. Still rolling. It'd be so easy to slip through the cracks."

The profile doesn't change much. Zachery's eye ineffectively tries to settle on something to focus on outside, but the very nature of being on a bus needing to go where it's going robs him of anything to study long enough to be an actual distraction. And so Skye's answer settles, instead, in the forefront.

"… So I'm… old, worn down, obsolete and effectively worth more if I were to be sold as raw material." He runs his tongue past his molars in thought, and when he speaks again, his tone of voice closely resembles that of someone recalling a joke, grin turned bitter. "Oh, but, ah," sinking a little deeper into his seat and coat both, his hand return to his pockets, "more likely to be lost to oblivion due to a lack of outside interest. That sounds about right."

There is no pause, before an addition jabs at an attempt to change subjects as easily as their means of transport might change lanes, "You're a cat - a few lives in. If not more than half a dozen."

Skye lifts her chin, looking down her nose at this hijacking of her metaphor, but she doesn't voice any objections, keeping them sealed behind the haughty line her mouth makes. A line that breaks into another smile as he turns his own assessment back on her, her arms tightening against the seat back as the bus wings a turn around a corner, brakes complaining underneath them.

"Who's counting?" she says, of lives. "Lives are multitudinous. Most people don't even realise that they can pick from plenty."

"Most people," Zachery barely waits to add, "are idiots."

The bus' change in direction pushes him up against the window with a start, and he shoves an elbow into it to right himself again once the shift in balance lets up. He should know this route better, honestly, and there's a brief flutter of concern that flashes across the visible part of his face when he turns to look at Skye again.

"What did you mean, when you said you didn't want anyone else sitting next to me?" He's been holding onto that fish, but lets it slip from his grasp in favour of maybe catching another, better one. If the line doesn't break.

It's a fair question. Narrowing down. Skye slides a look to the empty seat.

Says, "I didn't want to miss meeting for the first time." When she steers her attention back, her expression is not evasive, not guarded, but checking to see that this answer was in fact good enough, and hoping it is. "Raw material," she echoes. "That's not so bad. It's a state change. I think we're in one. This whole world is."

She sinks a little further down onto her knees, the back of the chair blocking off sight of her chin, partially her mouth, her arms slipping off so that she's just gripping with her hands. Zachery could probably almost feel the lessening of the pressure of her focus, though she doesn't shift her stare,

The expression on Zachery's face is increasingly one of controlled reservation. It's one of observing, of… just taking, no giving, for the moment. Skye's answer is floated in his mind with no reward exchanged just yet.

But… his voice betrays him, pinging pleasant - if hesitant - surprise. "You know what, in a weird way, this is still the most flattering conversation I've had innn…" His voice trails off. Maybe the next word is unnecessary to say aloud. Apparently unnecessary, also, is a word of warning for the pressure now coming from his side, a passive peer into the inner workings of this stranger as if the space left between them needed something else to occupy it. Surface level, but still. A mental reach for anomalies to cling to. How well has this (near-)stranger's body fared, lately?

"I have to admit, I sort of like the world the way it is now." A vaguely distant musing, eye narrowing as his gaze trails briefly down to her neck, "Do you?"

Low blood sugar. A slightly overactive brain. The spiderweb of damaged tissue from some old injury, a puncture to the stomach. A few lives in, indeed. Her knees are starting to ache. She's only marginally older than her affect, but still not yet thirty. Muscle strength is low. She could probably eat more than she does. Her heart is a little rapid in her chest.

And so on, a boring catalogue of detail reeling through Zachery's senses, unnoticed by her, so it would seem.

Her head tips at his assessment of the world and his relationship with it, as if disbelieving the conviction, the phrasing, something. Likely, her expression answers his question well enough. Quietly, she says, "It has potential." Then, she pivots, sliding to sit properly, boots hitting the hollow floor with twin thunks.

Despite the fact she is looking forward, now, her senses — ordinary ones — are keyed into the man behind her, her fingers pressing to her mouth in an idle fidget as she looks at the raindrops on the window.

"Hmh. Yeah, I keep getting that feeling too. Funny." This comes from the man behind her, in a satisfied little sing-song patter. Something's been found out, and it seems to alleviate not only his mood but his whole being; an arm goes up and back, to park an elbow past the back of the seat next to him, and inner amusement plays loudly enough once more that it manages to curl his lips.

Maybe her turning away helps. Maybe it's secrets. Maybe it's Maybelline. He wets his lips, reaches to rub the fingertips of one hand along the stubbled line of his jaw, and asks, simply, "Do you have anywhere to sleep tonight?"

No, it's definitely secrets.

He can see her turn her head, the slim profile of her brow, the tip of her nose, the curvature of her cheek. No expressions to be gleaned from that much, but he has her attention — in a more immediate and renewed fashion, anyway. Her hand drops from her mouth and into her lap.

"There's a house in Park Slope," Skye says, eventually, just loud enough to carry back towards him. The bus is electric, its engine more muted than the old things that ran on diesel, back when. "For anyone, if the beds don't run out. The women's centre, if they do, and if it's raining, near the Ascension. It's not quiet. She barks in her sleep." A missed link of information that Zachery isn't privy too, there, but offered all the same, quieter than the rest of what she was saying.

"Why," she asks, "are you looking?"

Interest has been piqued. As if it's easier to look interested when no one's looking, Zachery perks up in his seat, the hand of his lazily sideswung arm restlessly curling in and out. It's not active, per se, but he does lean forward for the first time since she got on. Just a little. His touchless prodding and poking never reaches far, ebbing away into what amounts to an extra heartbeat in his ear, nothing more.

When she asks him that question, though, it catches him off guard. His eye flicks to the side, attention shot to different seats, as if having this conversation be overheard could somehow be the end of him and his career. As if other things haven't been, already. "No no no— I mean—" The shock widens his grin with a nervous chuckle, and though it's painted with a touch of stress, there's some genuine mirth in there as well.

"Barks?" He starts again, in confusion, but shakes his head. Wrong part to focus on. Not important right now. Dismissed as irrelevant ravings of a crazy person on a bus. Hurriedly, he changes course once more: "It's it's good, that you do. Have a place to sleep, that is." And he does, genuinely, sound like he thinks it is. "As for me… I don't… I think think I'll sleep tonight. I've got some setting up to do."

A small pause. Then, more quietly, but still audible across the small space Skye and he share, "Maybe I should make business cards. 'Zachery Miller. Doctor.'" Snrk.

Hand pressed to the window, fingers bent, Skye tik-tik-tiks her nails against the glass that probably isn't really glass, either. Plastic. More given to flexibility than breakage. The bus comes to a halt at another stop, and they can feel the way it lurches to lower itself as a younger man helps an older, back-bent woman up onto the stairs.

Skye seems immune to whatever discomfort she just inspired.

"Archer," she offers. "Skye Archer. But I'd prefer to be the arrow. Maybe you'd prefer to be the grain. Setting up what?" She turns enough to look at his reflection in the window behind her, her breath casting a damp, warm cloud across the interior side of the glass that isn't.

G… grain. Zachery mouths 'I thought I was a penny?' but it's a breathless thing more aimed inward than anything else. With a shake of his head, the thought leaves him again.

"Skye Archer." An address as much as it is repetition for the purpose of committing to memory. "I'm seeing to a need. For others who've fallen through the cracks, perhaps. They get hurt all the same, do they not? I may as well be there, waiting for them." The way he's waxing poetic, one might be excused for thinking he'd do it out of the kindness of his heart.

In truth— he's probably not… sure he's not. But he's never known himself very well.

She hasn't forgotten the penny, don't worry, but names have their places. Her focus on his reflection turns to focus on his face, her arm hook up onto the back seat to facilitate it. Her expression is of interesting, but a specifically searching kind — and maybe there's the shared sense that she is trying to figure out about him that exact same thing.

"Park Slope," she says again. "The red house, on tenth. People slide there, deep."

It's not quite invitation — as if perhaps she is more interested in what Zachery may or may not make up his mind to do. "Have you ever looked for it?" Skye says, that intensity from before manifesting as seriousness, directness. "External interest. How do you know?"

Zachery commits one more thing to memory, Park Slope, red house, on tenth. His nose wrinkles for a moment, before his eyebrows shoot up— one largely covered by the white bandage and a piece of tape, which strains against the drag of his skin. Crk.

"How do I know what?" Is this not a normal conversation that normal people have? He sits, looking almost like he's flipped personalities since Skye first got onto this ride, disarmed and unconcerned. Feigning ignorance through a lingering smirk and an expectant, half-lidded stare.

"That there isn't any," Skye says, patient by virtue of insistence. There is nothing very sharp about her, her voice gentle and her eyes soft, eyelashes pale, whole manner wintry and hazy, but all the same, her focus seems to pierce through all of that, through lank hair and earnest eyebrows and the dry cracks that run through her lips. "Or that it doesn't live in oblivion."

She certainly sounds as though she believes she is making sense, borderline impatient for him to catch up so that he can answer her question. Finally, the elderly woman has been situated safely on board, and off they go again, wheels splashing into puddles, turning murky city run-off briefly into silver.

As the bus springs to action once more, it seems to push Zachery a little further back into his seat than he was before. He's realised his feigned ignorance was real ignorance all along, maybe. This is… familiar ground. But not in a comforting way.

"Oh." A noise, an admission. He opens his mouth again, and his attention seems to gravitate elsewhere. Somewhere not Skye's face. Maybe the bus' ceiling will bring him answers regarding words spoken previously, his head lolling back until it hits plastic. The smirk turns into something faker, something… hard, and patient - if worn a little thin. "That's a hard thing to explain. 'Live in oblivion'?" He's trying, he really is, to catch up. Even if he's not entirely sure WHY. Without lifting his head again, his eye zips to focus on Skye's face again. Searching for that answer before she even has a chance to say it aloud.


Because maybe Skye can see those changes on his face, the tension, the effort, the mask slipping back down when perhaps prior to now she'd fancied she'd seen something underneath. Dismay writes through her brow, but then smooths out in the next moment, like something reluctantly accepted. "You haven't," she says. Looked, she means.

Maybe it's a Jesus thing. Kids on the streets, adults too, sometimes get into that.

But normally they just say that, if it's that. "If you had, you wouldn't— " She flaps a hand, as if irritated by her foolishness, a flusteredness entering the energy she gives off. " be here " And she's standing, now, hands steadying herself on the bus seats, even though the next stop isn't less than a block away.

Trying to get a solid thought together can't possible take all of the energy out of a man, but… Zachery sure does look like this is the case. He doesn't even breathe until he speaks again, though the narrowing of his eye does at least indicate that he's listening.

But he is also just not getting it. Not even a little. How do his conversations keep ending up like this?

His attitude toward Skye has careened within a few sentences, turning a previous intrigue into flat, dead-end curiosity. The difference between observing a philosophical debate and watching a pet zoom inexplicably across a living room. "Where would I be?" Pray tell. His head lifts at her standing up, vague alertness springing back into his face. "This is where you are, too."

Skye goes still.

As still as they can, anyway, with the movement of the bus under their feet, ducked halfway out into the aisle, but their hands gripping the backs of seats at least keep them upright as damp blonde tresses sway where they aren't clammily stuck to their neck. That moment of fluster seems to calm, as temporary as a series of ripples in a lake. "I could show you," they say, innocuous for it seems like they're offering.

And there's a quirk to their brow that implies that maybe Zachery isn't quite caught up enough for that, either.

There's probably something to be said for the way Zachery's curiosity gets him into trouble. The way almost every single bad decision he's made has been the result of an open question, or an offer. A mystery.

"No," he answers, like his conscience takes over for him before he can pull the same shit he always does. "Actually, yeah," he adds, like his conscience hasn't saved him from getting into trouble a day in his life. "You know what, yes. Why don't you show me."

It comes out like more of a challenge than anything else, an invitation to live up to his expectations, his head tilting upward with a satisfied, thin line of a grin. "We're doing this now, or…?" He doesn't seem to think so, staying nice and comfortable and seated. But open to be proven wrong, as always.

Skye tips their head to the side, and the corner of their mouth goes crooked, too, in the slightest uptick of a smile. Still gentle, no sharp edges. "Whenever you want," they say — it's not dismissive. Though quiet in their feelings, there's a sense of brimming optimism, maybe a low shimmer of excitement, meeting Zachery's flatly curious, challenging stare with a look that only seems to welcome it rather than rise to it.

"You know where to go." Not now, then. Giving Zachery plenty of time for his conscience to catch up, if it's willing to overtake mounting curiousity. Skye doesn't know. That's his business.

The bus is stopping, but it's at a series of red lights, rather than a stop. Skye immediately turns with a flash of blonde and rustling raincoat, swinging around the edge of the seats to practically crash into the backdoor that does not open for them — until, of course, they unashamedly strike the emergency open button, and the doors wrench open with a protesting squeal. The driver doesn't sound happy either, with the bus lurching back into motion as Skye deposits herself feet first onto the road beside it.

There's no sign that Zachery is upset about the lack of action right this moment, but his head turns to track Skye's movement as if - despite his subdued show of interest - he's unwilling to let them out of his sight. Certainly, something has stuck. Just not enough for him to risk his day job by chasing after stray animals, apparently.

And if he'd like to pick up the habit, he does know where to go. Skye appears to be out of limited sight, out of mind. There is no attempt to watch them out of the window. He simply settles back in, hands sliding up and then down into his pockets once more. But now, as opposed to some stops ago, he's facing forward in a much more inwardly alert fashion. The urge to doze off has been anchored to a different shore.

As the bus rolls forward, so does the penny continue its journey. Cracks be damned.

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