If you stood around him, you could hear it. Tick. His pocket watch, hanging off his neck, on a string far too long to mimic a necklace. Nomo had that for as long as anyone could remember, a trademark of sorts. The said boy had been staring into space for the past twenty minutes, glancing out towards the sky from his seat in the classroom. Alistair had tried to discreetly snap him out of it, there was no point in getting himself in trouble too, but his friend had refused to budge, eyes gazing far beyond the plane of reality. He swore one day they would both get into trouble for the younger’s absent mindedness. Luckily, today was not that day. Alistair had not once seen the teacher so much as glance over in their direction the entire time, paying them no mind at all. Their classmates hadn’t attempted to snitch either, not like they would with most of their peers. Today was strange indeed.
When the final bell rang, Alistair walked a few paces over to his still spaced out friend. “Hey. You still with us, Nomo?” The said boy didn’t even flinch, eyes still a bit glazed over as he turned to the former. A nod was his only response before reaching for his bag.
It wasn’t as if he was usually talkative, but Nomo seemed a bit off today. There were large bags under his eyes, which he swore weren’t there the day before, but there was something else. Nomo had always been a bit too perfect at things. His predictions were accurate to the point of conspiracy and he had an almost expectant look in his eyes no matter how bizarre the situation was. He’d catch people without even looking when they tripped, catch something thrown at him with no effort, and wouldn’t even flinch when someone attempted to scare him. Nothing could deter the somehow charismatic, yet messy boy. It was a look that was familiar to Alistair, though he had to admit it was part of the reason he hated seeing the unamused look on his friend’s face.
They both dreaded going home. As for why, neither would say. There was an unspoken rule to not ask about families unless things got too bad. Alistair could remember a few times he’d haphazardly called Nomo to the park in the middle of the night so he could cry to his friend. There had been no questions asked, just tears and comfort. Nomo hadn’t been one to initiate those sort of meetings, preferring to stay silent about his home life. Alistair honestly wondered what his life was like, what sort of household could raise such a perfect child? Was his family distant or overbearing? Hostile or docile? His mind would jump to the extremes, but he never got remotely close to asking. But today, as they walked out of school, Alistair had the urge to ask what was wrong. Nomo, who was commonly silent smiles and soft conversations, was completely silent. Blank.
But that was his problem, wasn’t it? Alistair had always been too scared to ask. So he continued to talk about meaningless things, filling the stagnant air with idle chatter as they pulled further and further away from the other students. He’d indulge in this for as long as possible, the short freedom between two prisons.
“I really hate summer, you know?” said Alistair. He wasn’t expecting an answer, nor had he put much thought into his statement. He expected it to fall flat like the many other conversations he had attempted to start. But then; laughter. Nomo had begun chuckling quietly at him, hand moving from his bag strap to cover his mouth. It was a show of politeness, it didn’t muffle his voice at all. But it didn’t matter to Alistair, as he focused on one of the few sentences he’d managed to pull from the other boy today.
“So I’ve heard. So many times,” Nomo said, he was smiling, white teeth glinting in the remaining sunlight. Alistair groaned, continuing to complain about the heat and humidity as they trotted their way back home, eventually separating at one of the crossroads.
It took Nomo disappearing across the street for Alistair to realize how strange that reaction had been. He seemed sad.
28,147. Or was it 148? Who knew. It’s hard to keep track of numbers when you’re constantly scrambling time like an egg. Nomo let the tension from the day drain from his shoulders as he entered the empty apartment. It’s been empty since… well, that was never a good train of thought to go down. With an exhausted sigh, he pulled his hair, or at least the long section of it, out of its ponytail.
“I need to cut it…” Nomo muttered under his breath, toying with the loose strands. He’d say he had no time… but that would be a lie. Enough of those had been told by him anyways. Dropping his bag by the kitchen counter, he glided into the small living room. The curtains filtered the light from outside, creating a dreary atmosphere.
Nomo reached for his pocket watch, clicking the small button on top to open it. Static. The world began to glitch out around him as clocks began to replace every object within sight. The room went from dim to pure black. Clocks. Clocks within clocks. Clocks within those. A strange display, gears whirring as white haze soon covered the smaller ones. Above him, seemingly endless, sat still clocks. Hands broken, torn off or just missing. Bloodstained, cracked and broken. Unmoving. Awfully creepy.
Nomo chuckled to himself, clapping in delight as the watch’s face, now back around his neck, revealed a glowing white clock itself.
“It’s not like I mind though. Better than seeing that stupid blue sky.”
Coming home was enough of an ordeal as is. Coming home to an impromptu extended family dinner was worse. Garish laughter, mumbling, straight laced business talk. The dining room may as well have been a circus with the amount of weirdos gathered. Not to say circuses where this appalling. He’d take an elephant’s place any day.
“Ali, there you are!” His mother’s voice was unusually cheery and sweet. She hadn’t spoken like that to him in a while. Something was up. The entire family had gone quiet for once. Stopping to look at one of its youngest members. But Alistair was too disgusted to notice the stares, Ali had never been a good name. He preferred the nickname that Nomo had given him.
Pushing down his disgust, he replied in a borderline sugar coated tone that made him want to puke. Rule number one of extended family meetings was to never be disrespectful. “Yes, Mother?”
She patted the seat next to her, urging him to put down his bag and join them. Rule number two, always abide by your elder’s instructions. He swore those rules were just made to target him. He sat down anyways. She slung an arm around him and began addressing the rest, asking him if he remembered them. As if he could remember them all. They were all crazy.
“Listen dear, the head of house has requested for you to assist in the next major mission.” And there went his train of thought. Missions were given sparingly, especially to kids like him. They were finally acknowledging him! He could feel his face lift into a smile, maybe even a full on grin. Shaking in excitement, Alistair leaned forward in his seat.
“You’ve been told about the history of our family, yes? How our glorious family was chosen to be the guardians of time?” Across the table, his uncle puffed out his large chest, much to the amusement, and shame, of his relatives. The teen himself found it funny, shoulders shaking in concealed laughter. Realizing he was meant to give an answer, Alistair waited for the room’s bustle to quiet down, before giving an affirmative response. The uncle smiled, pearly teeth gleaming under the chandler. “While you’ll find that most of the time guiding artifacts were trusted to our lovely ancestors, there were a few stolen from us. Those wretches thieves do not know the true power of those relics. They’ll use it to mess with our carefully done work and scre-”
The aunt sitting next to the large man, they were siblings Alistair reminded himself, shoved a piece of bread into his mouth to stop him. Giving him a disapproving look, she then turned to the youngest with a sweet smile. “What he means to say is that there’s someone with this kind of artifact who is currently active. They’re good at covering their tracks, and thus it has taken a while for us to be able to even notice.” Turning to his mother, she continued. “Finding the artifact’s location was hard enough, but it has been narrowed down to this neighborhood.” Turning to the man to her left, she nodded at him to continue.
Alistair wondered if the entire speech had been choreographed beforehand.
“Due to its sporadic nature, as well as the frequented energy signals, we have determined that it must be a child! They’re often quite reckless and unreasonable with these things…” Loud like a cymbal, his relatives’ voice echoed throughout the room. Alistair’s eyes narrowed at the booming uncle. He wasn’t too sure how to feel about that statement, but decided ignoring it would be for the better. Adults would sometimes just be overly critical for no reason, right? It was fine.
“Your school is the only one in town, so I’d like for you to search around school to see if you can spot anything strange or out of the ordinary. It’s up to you to find the culprit! Once you find them, bring them here, we’ll deal with the rest. After which, you will be rewarded handsomely.” His mother’s eyes lit up at the instructions, brimming with joy as she eagerly nodded. Alistair felt a little sick at the vague instructions, but pushed it aside with little thought. Nothing bad would happen, family knows best after all. They’ve been doing this for far longer than him. His mother’s hands tightened on his shoulders as she urged him quickly to accept.
Normally he would’ve gotten upset at the rushing, he liked to think things through afterall. ‘Rewarded’ was vague, ‘deal with it’ was even vaugier. He had little to no instructions of the mission. However, Alistair couldn’t bring himself to care. This was it. He’d do it.
Going to sleep after such a loud dinner had subsided, Alistair had almost never been this happy in his life. Sure, his back was aching and probably bruised from the amount it had been his in good nature by his overjoyed uncles, cheeks red from the amount of tugs his aunts had given him, but it did nothing to deter him. He’d make his parents proud, he’d leave his mark on the family!
And yet sleep refused to come easy.
Waking up passed out on the bedroom floor was never fun. He’d tumbled out of his bed sometime in the night, not that it was much different in terms of comfort. The windows in his room had been left untouched, the sunrise raining its fangs into his eyes. At least it wasn’t blue.
School was always an interesting ordeal, at least. It liked to change a little bit every time, not by much though. Some things may happen quicker or slower, earlier or later. Not that it mattered. It was inevitable. It was amusing to see his classmates live out their lives though. Messing up and pulling each other forward. Gave a sense of normalcy. Not that he’d ever know it. But nonetheless, it was something he wanted to keep. Alistair especially. School was his escape, so Nomo wanted to keep it safe and happy for him.
He’d arrive on campus early as usual. The sun was still rising in the sky, but the school staff was there, so they let him in. That was lucky. They at least were nice enough to do that. Sure he was a few hours too early, but it was nice to be somewhere else other than that apartment. And yet today, he could feel the strangest dread building up inside of him.
Eh, it was probably nothing. Whatever it was, it would be easy to take care of. Besides, this was a school. Nothing could go that wrong right?
He really hoped so.
And yet as his classmates filed in as normal, the feeling stayed. Something had changed. He didn’t like it.
“Nomo! Can I borrow your notes after class? I’m way too tired to take any.” Jumping at the sudden question, Nomo turned to face the source. His classmate, a slightly older boy had pranced over first thing in the morning. That wasn’t normal. He’d never had this happen before. But he continued on anyways, giving a carefully crafted, exasperated smile. Behind him, his other classmates began teasing the boy for his attitude. Flicking his hair out of his eyes, Nomo reassured his classmate that he’d let him borrow a few, then ushered him back to his own seat. Plopping his head on his folded arms, he waited for his best friend to show up.
Alistair was acting strange. Suspicious glances around the room, fingers tapping anxiously against any and all surfaces. Nomo knew his friend and his little quirks by heart. He’d seen a lot after all, and yet he could not figure out what was wrong. His racing mind worked as slow as a gazelle, trying to come up with possible solutions. Had this happened before? No. Anything similar? Also no. Was there a shift in the timeline? Did he forget something? ….Probably not.
Nomo’s pencil scratched against the paper, red carving onto the book. He was too tired to multitask today. He’d focus on class, help out a classmate, and confront his friend during break. His left hand clutched the pocket watch to his chest. It’ll work out, right Mother?
Despite having gotten little sleep the night before, Alistair was all raring to get started on his mission. His mother, in her delight, had actually sent him off to school herself—reminding him to be careful and not draw attention to himself. He told her he’d be fine. And yet, as he stood before the school gates alone, a wave of nervousness hit him. This may be harder than he thought it would be.
The morning was frustratingly slow, Alistair had gotten almost nothing done in terms of his mission. Asking teachers or students directly was out of the question, he would not like to spend the rest of his days in a psych ward thank you very much. There was nothing out of the ordinary, the same people doing the same weird things as per usual. So he went into recess with nothing but a small request for his best friend.
“Hit the brakes Al. Let me process this.” Nomo had given him a bit of a strange look, pacing around the little corner of the plaza they were occupying. Alistair watched with bated breath as the shorter began to take in his request for help. He’d honestly expected a more negative reaction. He realized how stupid this sounded now; he should’ve just done this himself.
“You’re saying there’s a time traveller—in this school? And you want me to help you find them?” Nomo stopped, turning to face him with what seemed to be laughter bubbling in his tone. Alistair nodded, face solemn. That seemed to change the mood altogether. Nomo's face went blank, tilting his head back as he ran a hand through his long fringe. “You’re a hundred percent sure about this?”
“Absolutely,” said Alistair, trying to keep the desperation out of his voice. “If you don’t believe me that’s fine. If you don’t want to help me it’s also okay-”
Nomo put a hand up to stop him, readjusting his position to once again look him in the eye. The stone cold look which made Alistair shiver soon enough gave way to a fit of giggles. He watched as the small boy made himself even smaller as he curled in on himself in a bout of hysteria.
Eyes as wild as his hair, the younger of the two let a devilish grin split his face. “What made you think I’d say no? Anything for my best friend. Besides,” Nomo leaned in close to whisper, “sounds way more interesting than actually listening in class, no?” The tension draining from his body, Alistair leaned forward to begin speaking with his partner in crime.
Oh this would be fun. Who knew that his best friend would be looking for him? It’s fine, don’t panic, Don’t panic. It would be fine. His watch felt heavier around his neck, a comforting weight. He resisted the urge to hold it, drawing attention to it now would be bad. He’d like this game to last as long as possible, after all. If life decided to throw him the first curveball in a while, he might as well have fun, right?
The school halls were brightly lit, windows wide open. Nomo felt sick. Instead, he turned to Alistair, focusing on the red jacket, as opposed to the sickening blue of the sky. Surprisingly, there weren’t many people around, though he did suppose that it was early. Most kids would rather spend their time in the library or outside, running around. But most kids weren’t secretly being hunted down by their best friend because they were a time traveler. All in all, a more entertaining way to spend the day.
“So? Do you have an idea of what to do? Any suspects?” Nomo turned to his friend, eyes lighting up with excitement. They had come across their empty classroom, deciding to use the space for a private discussion.
The taller shook his head, “Not really. I can’t even think of a reason for why someone would have such a power and use it for themselves. It’s downright irresponsible.” Ouch. Now that hurts. He just wanted to be happy for once. Was that wrong?
The gears in his head began to turn, blocking out his emotions. What would be a good way to draw the search away from someone like himself? “Well if you’re suspecting someone in this school, I’d say the majority would be pretty irresponsible.” A short laugh sprung from Alistair. “As for a reason...well, I’d say that a person who typically makes mistakes and regrets a lot of things would be the best place to start, no?” Nomo jumped onto his desk, giggling at the startled yelp of worry his friend let out. Kicking his feet back and forth, he hummed to himself, tilting his head towards the ceiling to visualize the best candidate. There were quite a few people unsure of themselves, quite a few who failed a recent test, even more who regretted almost every word they said…
“I think we should start with searching our classroom. A proper search. We’ll look for an object that seems out of place. After that we can focus on people.” Hopping off, Nomo led his friend to the whiteboard, facing the rows upon rows of desks. “We can start with under the desks, afterwards, we can ask people if they’ve seen anything weird lately.” Not waiting for an answer, Nomo set to work searching the classroom for an object he knew wouldn’t be found. Waiting around would result in getting caught. The game should take at least half of the day! Games like these needed to be long, the longer the more fun could be had!
“Hey! What if someone walks in on us?” Alistair stumbled after him, voice hushed. Nomo turned to the other, a grin marking his face.
“Then we tell them something went missing and we’re looking for it. We could even cause a distraction if we wanted to. Nothing bad will happen. Trust me Al.” He’d make sure of it. Nothing bad would happen, not again.
Come to think of it, he’d never made it to this day, had he? He had no idea what would happen. Oh well. That’s what made life interesting, right?
Glancing at the clock, discovering they didn’t have much time left, Nomo stood up and sat back in his own seat. Keeping his eye on Alistair. The other was focused, but there was a hint of frustration in his eyes as he sat in his own seat. Nomo reached over to pat his shoulder, apologising. A tired smile was all he received in return.
“Well it’s hard to pin down these things on the first go. But now we know the person isn’t silly enough to leave this object behind.” Nomo paused to think. He did have a question of his own to ask, but how to say it without drawing suspicion? “Say, why are you doing this? You never told me what exactly we’re looking for, much less what it looks like or why.” Nomo crossed his arms and leaned back in the hard, wooden chair. Next to him, Alistair jumped, startled. Shrinking in on himself, probably out of embarrassment, he tugged his hood over his head. A defense mechanism.
“I don’t know.” Nomo leaned over, cupping his ear in a dramatic fashion.
“Sorry, I couldn’t hear that. Care to repeat it?” Alistair’s face went as red as his hood.
“I don’t know what it looks like. I wasn’t told. My family only gave me a few details.” Now that was interesting. Not as interesting as teasing his friend of course, but still interesting. Retreating back into his own personal space, Nomo looked over with a raised eyebrow.
“Your family put you up to this?” Ah, now that was bad timing, the bell had gone off as the doors opened. Oh well. It could wait until lunch. He had all the time in the world afterall.
Nomo’s suggestion had led up to a dead end, but that was to be expected. One idea can only get you so far, and now they at least could narrow down the location to being on a student. Which would mean confrontation at some point, unless Nomo revealed himself to be some sort of master pickpocketer. He honestly wouldn’t be surprised if that happened. The younger’s wild personality branched off into many parts of him, appearance and talents alike.
As third period ended and they once again shuffled into another classroom, Alistair’s mind began to wander. What sort of person would this time traveller be? Would they hide their object in plain sight or would they hide it away completely? How many times have they used it? What even was it? An object or a person? He suddenly regretted not asking more questions yesterday night. He expressed these thoughts to Nomo during lunch, alone on the rooftop. A quick explanation of what his family did to answer his question from before, and to explain his current plight. He expected a scolding, but got a pat on the head and a bright smile instead.
“I don’t think even they know everything! So don’t worry. Besides, you get to rub it in their faces later, right?” Leave it to Nomo to keep supporting him. Alistair couldn’t think of a person he appreciated more in the world.
And yet he could never help him. Nomo never needed help. Never asked for it.
But that could wait, they had a mission to finish first. Nomo began listing off changes in people. This person got a new watch, that person got a new haircut. It was honestly impressive how much he could observe the people around him. Then again, it was those qualities that made it hard for people to connect with him. Everything was a double edged sword, even for the perfect child.
A couple minutes later, their lunches finished and quite a lot of time left, a list sat in front of them. Name of people from all over the school, quite a few already crossed out to indicate they weren’t viable candidates. Time to start work.
A good ten minutes of debunking candidates and scratching the paper with red pen later, Alistair had called for a break. Every single name on the list had been crossed out, much to his confusion. This person had a good alibi, that person couldn’t have pulled it off, this person was still struggling with every single aspect of life. No one was perfect for the role. He stood up and began pacing the rooftop.
“This makes no sense! We have everyone in the school on that list. There should be someone who fits it-”
“Everyone?” Nomo stopped him, peering up mirth in his eyes. Strange, but he was Nomo. The definition of strange. “Every single person in the school is on this list?”
That did make Alistair stop. “Well, not everyone. I’m not on it, and neither are you.” Nomo’s eyes went a bit wide, before he gave a genuine, almost teary smile.
“Thank you.” Now that was confusing. Nomo had been his best friend for years on end now, why would he be thanking him for basically nothing? He opened his mouth to voice the thought, only to be interrupted by the former’s sudden outburst of hysterical laughter.
Well, the game was over, wasn’t it? It was fun while it lasted, but honestly the best part was hearing the trust that his friend had put in him. It was nice, the first time he had received such genuine praise in a long time. Alistair really was special to him.
Truth be told, the game had been over for a while, it was over before it had begun! Alistair had picked him out of the crowd. Easy as that. He deserved to know the truth.
“Two words. Pocket watch.” Alistair’s eyes narrowed; Nomo could practically hear the gears turning in his head. He had been a bit vague...maybe spelling it out just like that would be better? ...He didn’t want to lose the watch. It was everything to him. But Alistair was his best friend, and he’d do anything to keep him out of trouble. Ah decisions, they hurt so much.
Sliding his hand beneath his jacket, Nomo pulled out his watch. Who knew that the silver thing would warrant such strife from his friend?
Reaching back, he undid the clasp for the first time in years. His neck felt too light.
Between confusion and shock, he’d been rooted to his spot. Unmoving. The wild boy had strut forward and placed his beloved watch in his hands. Thoughts racing a mile per minute, Alistair could do nothing but clutch the cold metal in his palm. Nomo waited patiently for him to respond, a small, sad smile on his face.
“Why?” He finally croaked out, “Why do you have this? Why you?” The younger stifled a laugh, eyes downcast in a bout of shame.
“It’s the only thing my mother left for me. I’ve used it for years, trying to be happy, you know? Turn back time, do what I want and not have to answer to anyone. It was my only release, but I think you need it more now. I can ask her for forgiveness later, but your mother is here, and she’s terrifying.” Nomo began walking towards the doorway, grin lingering. “I’ll call in sick for the rest of the day. I’m sorry for causing you so much trouble. You win.”
The watch weighed heavy in his palm.
The rest of the day went by too fast. No time to think, no time to plan. Nerves shot, Alistair walked the path home alone. The sun setting over the buildings, he finally worked up the nerve to pull out the watch. Engraved silver, taken care of meticulously. Nomo was reckless and wild, sure, but this reminded him of how careful and caring the boy really was. Did it really belong in a vault, locked away to rot? Or in the bejeweled hands of his relatives who would leave it to the hands of whoever?
He had a mission to complete, that’s why Nomo had given up something so important. But it didn’t feel right. He hadn’t won anything. His mission was asinine, pointless. Nothing more than a robbery. Alistair stopped moving. This didn’t belong to him or his family. It was Nomo’s; his safety blanket, his coping mechanism, his sole confidant and they were stealing it from him.
“Why would you give this to me?” Alistair flicked open the face of the watch, the face meeting him. It flickered white every so often. He wasn’t sure how this worked, but he’d figure it out. He’d set things right. He rewound the clock, pleading that it would work.
Waking up to his alarm clock, Alistair reached under his pillow to pull out Nomo’s time manipulating watch. It sat there innocently, gleaming in the miniscule amount of light peeking through the hastily closed curtains. His eyes were swollen, throat scratchy and his head hurt. The screaming match the night before had been rough on him. His mother was horrified to find he was unwilling to cooperate. She tried to bargain with him, to reason with him. He refused, clutching the metal in his pocket tightly as he requested that someone else take his place.
He got to school early, he knew there would only be one person there that soon. Nomo sat in their classroom, looking confused and upset. Alistair supposed it would be strange, waking up without your most prized possession. He was nervous, yes. It would take some explaining and apologising to get the situation sorted, not to mention convincing Nomo to open up a bit more. But he knew that Nomo would trust him on this. Steeling himself, he walked forward, pulling the object out of his pocket and placing it in the other’s hands, attracting the attention of his friend. Watching his eyes widen in relief and confusion, a genuine smile crossing his face. Alistair grinned back, confidence surging. He was going to do the right thing.
“Hey, we need to talk.”