Seven (2/2)
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Jesse spent Friday exploring. When he ventured into the village proper, he got a few sideways looks, but no one bothered him. In fact, some knew who he was; more than once he was greeted by name. He saw several very large long-furred dogs, in a variety of colours, wandering around with no collars visible, but no one paid any attention and the dogs showed no sign of aggression—if anything, the opposite—so he figured he might as well just ignore them. Dogs of any other breed, and there were several, always had collars and were sometimes on leashes. Cats, healthy-looking ones, were common, and always wore collars, lounging in the sun on any available surface or stalking bugs and leaves; people stopped at times to greet them, which the cats tolerated.

Haven was remarkably self-sufficient; it seemed to have everything conceivable, some of the businesses not what he'd expect in a village in the middle of nowhere. Even a pet store. He hesitated, but yielded to temptation and went in.

The front part of the shop was chaos, with no human in sight. The reason for the chaos was that the large cages against one wall were all open, and the puppies—three clear litters, none resembling the adults loose outside—and kittens—two sizes—had taken over the shop. Puppies were chasing each other and dozing under the fish tanks and chewing rubber bones; kittens were drowsing on the counter, in a basket, on top of small animal cages, or pouncing on each other. Enchanted, Jesse dropped to one knee and called softly to the puppies.

Like any other animal he'd ever encountered, especially dogs, they responded, frolicking over to jump up on him. One that looked like a sheepdog licked at his face; he chuckled, rubbed a spaniel behind its ears.

“They like you.”

Jesse glanced up.

The speaker was a woman he guessed at around thirty, leaning against the counter. Jesse's height, more solidly-built, coffee-brown hair pulled back. Smiling. Jesse liked her instantly, had to answer the smile.

“Animals tend to, for some reason.”

“I don't know you, do I.” Not a question.

Jesse answered anyway. “No. I'm not from around here.”

“Didn't think so. I know everyone in Haven. Well, you're no tourist, so I'm guessing you're Kevin's friend Jesse.”

“Good guess. That obvious?”

“Funny things are obvious in Haven. You have to have figured out by now we aren't just your average backwoods village.”

“I'm getting that idea, yeah. Should I ask how you and everybody else seem to know about me?”

“This isn't the big city, where a million people never look twice at each other. Everybody in Haven is related one way or another, maybe a step or three removed. Not a lot of privacy, however hard we try to stay out of each others' lives, but it's worth it. We all hang together, because we're different from everyone outside.”

“And you discourage outsiders?”

“Outsiders, yes. People who belong here but found themselves in the wrong place, no.”

An adult cat picked herself up off the top of a rabbit's cage, stretched lazily, and padded over to examine Jesse. The puppies dodged around her, never touching her. The cat, a fine-boned long-haired dark tortoiseshell with a startlingly white tail-tip, sniffed Jesse over, then rubbed her head against his leg, purring.

The woman arched an eyebrow. “Well. Alfari certainly likes you, and that doesn't happen often. You must be something special.”

Jesse snorted. “Hardly.”

Alfari stretched up to plant her front paws on his chest, an unsubtle hint. Jesse began to stroke her, and the vibrant purring intensified.

“I don't think she agrees. Come on back some time and say hi. Or if you need a little extra money, I have odd jobs around sometimes I can use some help with.”

“Thanks.”

She made a shooing motion, smiling. “Go on, classes'll be out for lunch at the school in a few minutes. I'm guessing Gisela probably found you, with Sundark away. If it was one of the college crowd, like Eva, they should be out already.”

Bemused, he turned to the door.

“Oh, Jesse...”

He looked back. “Mmhmm?”

“You don't look like you're used to belonging anywhere. You should give it a try. Don't turn it down so fast when you're given the chance.” She spun away, and disappeared into the back of the shop.

A blonde woman who reminded him strongly of Kevin—she said her name was Lori—hailed him on sight and told him that she'd seen Gisela getting pizza for lunch. He found her leaning against a window-ledge outside with a slice of pizza. She spotted him and called him over.

“You do have some interesting people around here,” he commented dryly.

“Oh? Who did you meet?”

“In the pet store. She didn't say her name.”

“Samantha. Mmhmm, she's definitely interesting. She moved here about five years ago. She started the pet shop and takes courses at the college sometimes. She's safe here. No family anybody knows about, no one even knows where she's from, unless maybe Bryan does—that's Bane's older brother, he lives with Sam above the shop.”

“Safe from what?”

“The whole outside world. It's pretty cruel to the kind of people who like Haven.”

“Pretty cruel to everyone. Life's a bitch...”

“Um... that means it's bad? It doesn't have to be.”

“If you say so.”

“Here, go get yourself some pizza. Maybe you'll be less pessimistic if you eat something.” She fished a handful of change out of her jacket pocket, and poured it into his hand.

He walked her to the school when she had to go back to class, then he returned to the house.

* * *

Samantha looked up from stocking a shelf with fish food when Gisela came in, and greeted the healer with a nod. “You can't be out of cat food already.”

“Getting there, with that stray eating half of it, but I think I found him a home. I wanted to ask you something.”

“Mmhmm?”

“What do you think of Jesse?”

Sam fell silent for a moment, as she meticulously straightened the fish food and took the empty box to the counter. “I think there's more to him than anyone has seen or will see for a long time. I think he belongs in Haven, and I don't mean because of what Rebecca woke in him. He's not your average stray out of the city, and I predict that anyone who forgets that is going to regret it. Beyond that, I can't tell you anything more.”

To Gisela's inner senses, Sam vibrated with a tangle of emotions, too many for her to sort out. She knew that, after Nick's mention in the Sphynx, Sam had asked Kevin a lot of questions—Kevin, puzzled, had been talking to Deanna about Sam's odd curiosity about everything he'd picked up. She came nearer, closed her hand around Sam's. “Something's wrong, you're upset. What is it? Something about Jesse?”

Sam sighed, and shook her head. “Just... wondering what that poor boy has been through.”

“You don't mean Rebecca.”

“No, I don't.” She pulled her hand away, and turned away to fuss with the jars of treats on the counter. “Just... take care of him, okay?”

“I was going to anyway. I'm a healer and I like him.” This was not at all like Sam; Gisela had never seen her shaken before. “Are you going to be all right?”

“Of course I will. How much damage did Rebecca actually do to him?”

“She got him into a circle somehow and ripped him open pretty roughly inside to get at the power she wanted. Then when she attacked Sundark and Kevin hit back, Moira or Avryl threw Jess in the middle. And you know what Kev's like when he's mad...”

“Is he going to heal?”

“Bane thinks no, Flynn says yes. I think probably, but it's going to take a while. This isn't the kind of thing a healer can do much about. I don't think there's going to be any permanent damage, but there's no way to be sure yet. Kev feels worse about it than he's mostly letting on. I hate to think how he's going to react if there is anything permanent.”

“Anything you need me for, tell me. You can pass that on to Sundark. Anyway. If you need cat food, take it, you can pay for it later.”

That wasn't a very subtle hint, but Gisela went along with it. She tried to remember whether she needed cat food right away, and decided it could wait. So she bid Sam farewell and departed for the house.

* * *

Jesse was alive.

That simple fact made it impossible to concentrate on the mundanities of the shop. Sam gave up, and perched on the windowsill to gaze outside, not really seeing the familiar street.

Jesse was alive. The faint thread of hope born when she'd seen Nick's brief description, nurtured by Kevin's account, hadn't been false; it really was him. It had been a considerable effort of will to throttle her first impulse to hug him; a good thing, it seemed, since he didn't recognize her.

Blocking off his memories made sense. To be suddenly completely alone, for the first time in his life, and not know if anyone else in his family survived the nightmare of storm and music that had killed an entire village... making himself forget might well have saved his sanity.

His sanity? His life. How could they possibly find him to kill him if even he himself didn't know who he was? There'd be no way to see it in his thoughts, no way for a seer to get a fix on him, no way to make him betray himself.

She sighed to herself. To tell him about his family, and that she'd lived with him and them for a few years around and after his father's death, was to place him in danger. All she could do, it seemed, was let Sundark take care of him, and be ready to get involved if necessary. Without giving anyone any reason to think that she had so much interest in his wellbeing.

He was alive, though. She couldn't recall any better news in years.

Well, she'd made a bad start on hiding her feelings with Gisela; she'd have to do better than that. She closed her eyes, reached inside to centre herself again.

The bells on the door chimed; she greeted the man who walked in, and smiled when the puppies converged on his black Lab.

Think about right now. Worry about Jesse later.

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