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the butterfly effect

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"It's like this," Alex said, draping himself on the couch. Their games room was full of jack-shit; Rick's pinball game, the same dozen books, and Jana's clothing were the only homey touches they'd had since Cleveland. Fucking Cleveland. They were pretty sure that the roadies carried their mess around with them, the scattered books being piled neatly in boxes and strewn around just as carefully as the roadies unpacked again. "It's like this."

No one was listening to him. Alex threw a drink cup at Jana's head, who fingered him without turning around. "A butterfly," he said, "can flap its wings in Norway, or Iceland, or Mozambique or something," and Jana threw a book back at him, "and we get held up by a three car traffic accident."

They were parked on the I-whatever on the way to Chicago right then. It was a three car accident. Rick wandered in on "Mozambique," and asked him, "what the fuck is Mozambique now?"

Iz, who was ignoring them all in favor of comic trades yet again, piped up with, "a country, sweetcheeks," and Rick answered,

"shut up, I knew that much, honeypie," and Alex cut in with,

"I saw it in this book, Nonnie the hairstylist lent it to me about four hotels ago."

Iz and Rick kept ignoring him, bickering about African geography and whether Mozambique is north or south of Tanzania. They were arguing just so they could say stupid sounding words like Tanzania and Mozambique a lot.

Jana stared at Alex, a thoughtful look on her face. If he'd been less involved with trying to ignore the rest of them, he'd have been very, very, nervous.

-

"don't touch that!" Cassie snarled. Alex backed up, handing over the last soup spoon carefully. Their bus was very much ill-equipped for trips quite this long; even Rick, who tended to be the most even-keeled and quiet in small spaces, had taken to singing campfire songs.

Cassie snatched the spoon, and dug into the chocolate ice cream happily. Alex said, "Izzy is going to kill you."

"ee ouws ee fo lash week," she said, swallowed, and added, "when he finished the last of the rum."

"Izzy?" Alex answered promptly. "Drink rum?"

Cassie rolled her eyes. "Imagine that," she said, and then Jana floated into their already extremely cramped kitchen area.

"What do you want?" Cassie said, holding the chocolate ice cream close to herself.

Jana paused, stared at the two of them, then squawked, turned into a parrot, and chimed, "Jana wanna cracker?"

Alex laughed so hard he nearly fell on top of Cassie. It wasn't necessarily subtle, but it got ice cream on both of them, chilled them to the bone as they fell into the open fridge, and required the removal of shirts, at least. Cassie, after Alex had shucked his shirt onto a sleeping Rick -- "hey!!" -- offered him a spoonful of ice cream.

It was anything but subtle, but then, some people didn't require subtle. Jana the Parrot gave a self-satisfied little squawk, which both Alex and Cassie didn't notice.

-

"But why is the rum gone?" Izzy said dramatically, flopping onto the bed where Cassie and Jana were already, coincidentally, watching a movie. Cassie dumped him promptly onto the floor.

She answered, "because you drank it."

Jana turned into her usual girl form briefly enough to tell him, "Johnny Depp was checking you out at the Movie Awards last month," then re-settled on Cassie with a miaow and a yawn.

"Johnny Depp?" Izzy looked thoughtful. "Johnny Depp is really hot."

Cassie rolled her eyes. "Please. Duh." They were even watching a Johnny Depp movie on hotel pay-per-view - some period piece with costumes and smoking eyes.

Jana turned into a human again, yawning as she transformed. "I think Rick slept with him last year," she told Izzy, and then folded herself into a pretzel, tucking herself onto a corner of the bed so Izzy could sit down if he wanted.

Izzy goggled.

"Swear," Jana said innocently. "Rick and Johnny Depp and his wife, I think."

"and his wife?"

Izzy was standing stock-still in the middle of Cassie's hotel room, mouth actually hanging open. "Johnny Depp?" he asked, dumbly. "Rick?"

Jana shrugged, and turned into a kitten. Izzy might have noticed the kitten smiling, except he'd stumbled out the door with a dazed - and somewhat heated - expression.

-

"Are you sure?" Alex said, eying Jana suspiciously.

Rick nodded. "I saw her. She was reading your book on the philosophy of zen gardens, or the ever-expanding world, or whatever the fuck that was, you know." He shrugged. "Jana is an odd duck."

Jana glanced over at them, and obligingly turned into a duck. She quacked, and Alex giggled, and Rick threatened to make orange sauce, and Alex forgot all about it.

-

"What the fuck are you doing?" Izzy said, watching Cassie cut up little strips of paper, write names on them, and then crumple them up to put in her top hat. The top hats were for the fourth song of the show; they were supposed to keep them with costuming at all times. "And isn't that supposed to be in the third truck with the rest of the props and clothes?"

Cassie didn't look up. "I'm trying to decide who I'm going to ask to the premiere of Pirates of the Caribbean." She tore another strip off, thoughtfully, and then penned a last name. "Well, or I'm trying to decide who everyone else is going to ask."

"Moonlighting as a dating service?" he said, flopping down beside her. Izzy was constantly flopping everywhere. Cassie could see how it might be attractive to, oh, someone else. "And whose all names are in there?"

"Want to pick one out?" Cassie said, offering up the hat with a big grin.

Izzy was about to stick his arm in, when he suddenly had a horrible feeling of karma about to bite him in the ass. "Why don't you pick first?"

As if karma answered him bodily, Jana tripped into the room, whistling. "You will not believe what Alex and Rick are up to," she said. "Also, hi, and what the fuck are you doing?"

Cassie glanced out the door, face alarmed. "What have they got themselves into now?"

Jana peered into the hat. "Can I play? What are we playing? are there rules?"

"are they--"

Jana reached into the hat, pulled a name. "Oh, damnit," she said with a sigh, "Lance Bass. Like he'd give any girl the time of day."

"--getting into trouble?" Izzy finished. "finger-painting again? what?"

"They were kissing, from what I could tell," Jana said casually, and tossed the paper back in. "Maybe if I try again I'll get Orlando Bloom? Or whasshername from Bend It Like Beckam?"

Cassie blinked at Izzy. Izzy blinked at Cassie. Neither of them really said anything.

"here!" Jana said, scooping up the hat from Cassie's frozen fingers. "I'll pick for you. Cassie, you're going with--" and she dug around. "Whoops, guess, not, nevermind."

Cassie tore the piece of paper away from her, but Jana was already traipsing back down the hall, calling out for Trevor The Bold, their bodyguard, to bring her some soda water for twenty bucks. "Well," and Cassie sat back. "Alex."

Izzy still had that horrible feeling of karma, but he had an even more horrible feeling that karma was traipsing down the hall, calling out for Sprite with a twist of lemon.

-

"Is it just me," Rick asked suspiciously, "or has she gotten spacier?"

Alex stared hard at Jana, who was tango-ing with Trevor the Bold all around the venue while the roadies set up. "It's true," he said, "she's been. Odd."

The word for it, had they been thinking clearer, would have been devious. Of course, no one suspected the koala - "Jana, at least settle on a shape long enough to get this mic fitted!" the tech called in despair - of being devious. That's because it was like taking candy from babies. Except not even babies were this easily distracted.

-

"Come on," Jana said, "it's just for a few hours. You can drag someone along with you, even." She turned her best pouting eyes on Alex. "It's going to be so lonely unless someone comes with me."

Alex sighed. Alex scratched his head. Alex scratched his nose. Still Jana stared at him. "All right, for chrissake," he finally muttered. "Two hours, though, and we're gone."

"youwon'tregretit, thanks!" Jana replied. "It's an animal charity," she added, "too, so no one will be stuffy or stupid or on show. People who care."

"Animals?" Alex asked, alarmed. "Am I going to have to talk about things? Because animal rights isn't exactly my area."

Jana was already shuffling speech cards. "That's fine, I just have to deliver this little address, impress a few people with my wide range of shape shifting abilities, and then wham, bam, we're back on the bus."

"You're giving speeches now?"

"Just ask Cassie to come along and let's go already. The limo is waiting."

Alex blinked. "Cassie?"

Jana turned a pitying eye on him. "Unless you'd like to deal with," and she held out her hand to tick off options, "sitting by yourself during dinner while I have to glad-hand people," and she held up another finger, "dragging Rick along when he's three days past sleeping already and would probably show up with fluorescent pink socks, or," and she held out her thumb and waggled it, "coercing Iz into something he didn't want to do."

Alex blanched. "Couldn't I just sit by myself?"

"Cassie and you are going together," Jana said, voice firm. "Now hurry up."

Alex couldn't figure out how a seventeen year old had maneuvered him so deftly, but somehow he now had a date with a girl that he'd known since community theater days; a girl that he'd actually showered with, back in the old days, when their water bills were so high and they had to conserve money that much. "Um," Alex said.

"Accept it, Alex," Jana said breezily, and draped a long evening dress on, "it's the universe's will." She readjusted the straps on the dress, while Alex stared blankly. "Somewhere," she added, "a marmoset ran down a mountain and hit a mountain biker; there was a legal battle, the biker sued a hotel, the hotel donated to some animal rights group, and now you have to come tonight."

"Um," Alex said. There was a certain kind of eastern philosophical logic to that - a kind of logic so swift that no one could really follow it so they would have no way to disagree.

Jana transformed into a graceful antelope for a few seconds, then, satisfied the evening dress wouldn't rip, smiled at him guilelessly. "Champagne, oysters, strawberry tart for dessert."

"Um," Alex said.

-

"--like Johnny Depp," Jana said, as her and Rick rounded a corner.

Izzy squinted. Jana actually bumped right into him, which should have set off warning bells, except that he immediately started thinking about Johnny Depp. "Like Johnny Depp what?"

"Nothing," Jana answered. "I have to head to makeup." She turned into a little puppy and scampered away, cute fluffy paws skidding on the venue floor.

"Did you," and Iz gulped, "sleep with Johnny Depp, by the way?"

Rick stared at him.

"was he hung?" Iz asked, desperately.

Rick stared at him.

Izzy sighed mightily. He looked around the corridor - empty - and muttered, "I think I'm going insane."

Rick tilted his head. "Are you feeling quite well, dollface?"

"Shut up," Izzy answered, but it was just tired, weary, and more than a little bewildered. "You know, this is all Nonnie's fault. Somewhere in Mozambique, there's one self-satisfied butterfly flapping its wings for all he's worth."

Rick stared at him, then finally said, "I don't understand any of this."

-

Cassie approached Jana after the show, while Alex and Rick were eating IHOP takeout with the driver while they filled the bus' tanks, and Izzy was napping, muttering about triumphant fauna. "Jana, sweetie," and Jana looked up, transformed from the hamster she was, "what have you done to Isobel?"

Jana blinked sleepily. "Me?"

Cassie looked at her. "You. He says his karma is paying him back at an incredibly accelerated rate, which I know is a stolen quote from somewhere, but he won't tell me where. He just keeps asking why is the rum gone."

Jana stretched, pulling on her cute little sleep pants. "Me?"

"I think," and Cassie glanced back at Alex and Rick's argument over who got the last of the plain maple syrup - "save it for Izzy, he likes weird syrup" - and who was going to have to deal with gooseberry - "you save it for him, this bottle's mine" - then lowered her voice. "I think he's jealous."

Jana blinked, a confused and innocent expression on her face. "Jealous of who?"

Cassie pursed her lips. "I'm not sure. But ever since, well," and she glanced over at Alex and Rick again, "they were kissing. He's been acting very oddly."

"Oddly?" Jana asked.

"I think he thinks that maybe Alex and Rick aren't suited for each other," Cassie continued. "And that maybe the whole idea of them kissing is kind of freaking him out, because the two of them are so. You know," and she waved her hands around in the air.

"He does?" Jana said.

Cassie continued to stare after Alex and Rick, who were now trying to bribe Trevor the Bold to buy them more normal maple syrup. She utterly missed Jana's very innocent, bewildered smile.

-

Alex found Izzy staring mournfully into an empty soda bottle, mumbling about wanting more lemons. He always tended to get a little bizarre mid-tour, so Alex thought very little of it until Izzy grabbed his arm and said, "good on you, I guess."

"What the fuck?"

Izzy shrugged, getting up to leave the Toy Room. The same stupid twenty books were still piled around, even though they'd all read them a hundred times, and Jana's two skirts were still draped over the back of the couch. "Yeah," Izzy said, "good on you and Johnny Depp."

He nearly collided with Cassie in the doorway, then ducked down the hall out of sight. "What the fuck?" Alex said again, bewildered.

Cassie answered him coolly, "I think he's a little hurt."

"what the fuck now?" Alex said again, probably unnecessarily, but it seemed to bear repeating. Izzy could get hurt when you changed the channel on a really good commercial.

"Where's Rick?" Cassie said.

"sleeping?" Alex said. "I don't know."

"Oh," Cassie said, and stared at him.

Last night, the bus had lurched and thrown Alex nearly into the sink while Cassie was pouring coke into a glass. The coke had got everywhere. "I bought more ice cream, Jana ate it all," Alex told her, suddenly. "But there aren't any spoons."

Cassie said, "oh," and sat with him on the couch. They ate the ice cream with their fingers, messily.

-

"--and a bottle of, ruuuum," Iz sang, pouring himself into his bus bunk happily. They had no show tomorrow, no interviews, just a long burn straight into Miami and then clubbing before the Rosie show on Monday. Enough time to relax, or at least, enough time for him to get roaringly drunk if he wanted, pass out, and be hungover tomorrow without too many consequences. Well, enough time to drink a little, at least.

"you're out of tune," Rick told him. "And where did you get that?"

"Some little birdie," Iz said, eyes closed and hugging the rum bottle, "left it and an eyepatch under my pillow this afternoon."

Rick glanced out to where Jana and Alex were playing video games; that was highly suspicious, as Jana wasn't even old enough to buy liquor and yet she'd had a bottle shaped brown bag just this morning. "How much have you had to drink?"

"Not enough to think you're pretty, baby," Iz said, and threw an arm over his eyes. "Not too much," he muttered.

"I am so pretty," Rick countered, and forced his way onto Izzy's bunk. "What are you doing?"

"I think," Iz said sleepily, "passing out."

"why? it's early yet."

"Rick Oliver," Izzy said indignantly, "I can mope and pass out if I want to."

Rick shoved him over even further, and moved the bottle so he had more room. Bunks were barely big enough for one of them, nevermind two of them. "What are you moping?"

"quit being so nice and supportive." Iz wasn't really drunk, Rick could tell. He was talking quietly, and his voice was steady, and he wasn't groping Rick's ass. "It's not fair."

"Quit being weird," Rick countered. From the lounge, Alex yelled something about Jana cheating horribly, using her wiles to trick him into falling right into some pit. Jana squeaked at him in retaliation.

"Alex and Johnny Depp," Iz said, voice drifting. "You're unfathomable. It must be my karma."

"Where's your eyepatch?" Rick asked, mystified. he decided that Izzy really was drunk, because he couldn't think of anything that Johnny Depp and Alex could possibly have in commo--

Izzy said, "Rick, could you leave me alone," as Rick asked,

"do you really think I slept with Johnny Depp?" and then Izzy let go of the rum.

"My karma," Izzy declared, "just needed rum." He rolled over, mostly on top of Rick, and added, "like me." He snuggled up to Rick, and added, "and you."

"I don't need rum," Rick said, and Izzy replied,

"you need me to have rum," and then there was kissing.

Alex's voice floated back to the bunks, again accusing Jana of cheating miserably. She was focused more on trying to steal Alex's controller and wrapping it around Cassie's ankles, while listening for the swish of the bunk curtains. It wasn't subtle, it was true, but it was also true that sometimes subtle had to be tossed to the wayside in favor of a brick upside the head - or a bottle of rum.

-

"it's not going to work," Alex declared, and tried to keep his balance. "Whatever sneaky thing you're trying."

Cassie looked innocent. "Me?"

"Don't do that!" and he shuddered. "You look like Jana when she's planning some overlord of the universe thing."

"Well, maybe if you weren't going around having dates with--"

"What the fuck?" Alex asked, not for the first time that week. They were sharing another carton of ice cream, that Jana had dumped in Alex's lap, after having stolen all but one spoon - "for civil engineering purposes!"

"Nevermind," Cassie said.

"The only date I've been on in three months," Alex told her, feeling grumpy, "was with you to that stupid charity thing, and I don't know how Izzy thought that Rick and I had started up, I mean," and he started laughing just thinking about it, "Rick? Rick." He shook his head. "Rick. Come on."

"Stupid," Cassie agreed. She handed Alex their spoon. "Do you want to go on another date?"

-

Jana bought Nonnie a dozen pink roses, a box of the most expensive candy ever made, and passes to her favorite ice show. The rest of them should have been suspicious, suspicious and concerned, especially when Jana turned into a butterfly and flitted around in the strobes at the next show for half a number. They should have been suspicious, but they were otherwise distracted.