A/N: Not intended to be an abstract piece, but one that holds multiple themes. As always, criticism welcome, but no flames.


He would always remember the first time she appeared, impassively sitting next to him on the rickety old bench. The silhouette of her little head was turned upwards, noiselessly gazing up into the great grey heavens. She didn't seem bothered by the sudden drizzle of raindrops, nor afraid of the shadowy outline of her companion. The small form remained motionless for a time, then gave a small sigh before shifting in her seat to take a better look at the unknown man.

"Daddy always said to not talk to strangers," the little girl slowly started. "But I don't think Mister's a stranger."

The man remained silent.

"That's because you're supposed to be here," continued the child, her voice lightly muffled by the rain. "I'm the stranger, right?"

He gave a mute, hesitant nod, then slowly began to rummage into the folds of his clouded coat. An age of awkward silence hung in the air, whimsically blanketed by the easy shower from the skies. A clenched fist wearily withdrew, the motion earning a curious gaze from his small companion.

"Not time yet," he said at last. "Why you here?"

The girl sighed softly, clapping her hands together in unease. "I don't know, Mister. I think it's because I'm happy here. Or it's here where everything's not scary and hard. Something like that."

The larger of the two nodded yet again, and reluctantly opened his thick fingers. Lying in his palm was a faintly ticking pocket watch, and subdued hints of silver shone from the moving hands behind the scratched glass despite the lacking lighting of the weather.

He rubbed a thumb over the scraped surface of the small instrument and sluggishly waved at his companion. "Still much time. Still can do. Become strong."

The child smiled. "Become strong? Whatever for?"

"For things not scary. Make things easy. Strong for not-here happy. Like here."

"But becoming strong to make things easy isn't easy. That's just not possible, Mister, and I think that's really unfair of you to say that. Why can't I just stay here?"

The man shrugged off some excess rainwater from his heavy shoulders before clumsily gesturing around them at the apparent ambience. "Look. Simple world. You happy. No problem. But still have time. Use time to stay here. Easy."

Startled, the little girl turned to look at her companion more closely. While he was still clutching the pocket watch close to his chest, he now started tapping out a surprisingly steady rhythm with his feet against the wooden legs of the bench. The silhouette of the man blended well against the darkening world of clouded skies, and water had already slathered down any distinctive form or characteristic he might have possessed prior to the drizzle. Any other passerby would have made him out to be an altogether nondescript inhabitant of the simple world.

The bench gave off a subtle creak as the child gingerly stood up from her seat.

"It's all about what I want to buy with time when I have to use it all, isn't it, Mister?"

"Buy it all," the man agreed, getting up from his own seat. "To get easy is not easy."

His little companion held out an outstretched hand to the skies, all the while slowly spinning around in place. "And I'm not happy with that because it's the exact same thing as becoming strong outside of here, right? It's all about giving up something for something. The rules you make up are too unfair, Mister."

He fell silent again, and a pregnant pause ensued. He opted to join the girl in looking contemplatively up into the showery skies.

"The rules you make up are too unfair," she repeated with a sudden catch in her voice. "Just like those Daddy would have made when he was still home."

The man calmly pulled the dull silver pocket watch up to his sightline. "Life. Exchange."

"Ah." The girl blinked rapidly as she rubbed her eyes. "Ah, it's suddenly started to rain heavily, hasn't it? I can't – I mean, I wanted to be an astronaut and Mommy was going to finish her degree, but then Da–"

He stood there, steadily staring up into the faintly drizzling skies while the sickly silhouette of his little companion sank down to the ground. His faithful pocket watch contributed the sound of its mechanical pulse together with that of the drizzling rain, dampening away all other noises. It was tragic weather. The man patiently waited for the storm to subside; for the cloud to lighten.

He held his peace until the little one was finished, then gracelessly sat back down onto the rickety old bench.

"Dreams for dreams," he quietly said, putting the pocket watch up to his ear. "But still have time. Much time, you see?"

"Yes," the girl hoarsely agreed. "I see."

"You not always happy in this world too. Can see?"

"I can see."

The man inelegantly shifted the pocket watch against his head a little to the side. "But you have time. Dream many dreams, but wake up to one dream. Okay?"

"Okay," his little companion replied. "But I don't remember a lot of things, and it isn't as easy as you say."

"I know, not easy. Is very hard," he said, slowly moving his arm to point at her. "But too much time. Why you here? Wake up now."

"Wait, what do you mean I have to wake up now?" the child faintly asked. "Are you saying good–"

He would always remember the first time she appeared, a dreamless stranger sitting quietly under the deep grey skies. She hid under the sudden shower from the heavens, and she had called his rules unfair. She sat next to him on the rickety old bench, and continued to do so in many dreams after.