"I'm a time traveller."
Ethan smiled encouragingly into the handsome face across from him. "You don't say," he murmured. "That's very interesting."
Confusion replaced the friendly look he'd been admiring in a detached way for the last fifteen minutes. Good. He liked confusion.
"That's ... not the usual reaction I get when I tell people I'm a chartered accountant."
Ethan carried on smiling. "I'm sure it isn't." He raised his eyebrows expectantly, waiting for the man to put the pieces together. It took a little while longer than he'd expected. Pretty but dim? He hadn't thought so when he'd allowed himself to be picked up by him. No; he'd been right. Jack, I hesitated just enough before saying my name to make Ethan cast a truth spell, Harkness swallowed and then sat back in his chair, glancing around the crowded pub with a rueful smile all ready to go.
"What did I say instead? Because, you know, I've had a lot to drink tonight and you're making me kinda nervous." Jack leaned forward, one tanned, strong hand covering Ethan's in what felt like a very well-planned move. "Tell me we'll be spending tonight -- well, a few hours of it at least -- together and watch me relax." He grinned, perfect white teeth on show. "It's the not knowing if I've gotten lucky that gets me every time."
"I can't imagine many people turn you down," Ethan told him, for once speaking no more than the truth. Pretty, he could walk by; charm he could do without, having plenty of his own, but this man had enough trickster in him to offset the tedious predictability of an engaging smile and warmly sparkling eyes.
"Yes, and see that? Right there?" Jack spread his hands expansively and Ethan surreptitiously checked that his watch was still on his wrist. It wasn't. "That's my problem. I'm not used to failure, but in a statistical universe --"
"Which you'd know all about, being an accountant," Ethan interrupted snidely.
"Naturally," Jack said. "As I was saying -- it's got to happen one day. One day I'll meet a man -- or a woman -- or a -- never mind. And they'll say 'no' --" His nose crinkled rather fetchingly as he screwed up his face in anguish. "And I can't relax until I'm certain you're not the one."
"Or that I am," Ethan pointed out. "That would be just as good, wouldn't it?"
Jack frowned. "I wouldn't get to have sex with you then, so, no, it wouldn't."
"I'm flattered. Not very; well, not much at all, really, but enough that I'll spare you that fleeting second of sadness." Ethan studied him. Brash, cocky, fly-boy type. He could have him kneeling obediently without lifting more than a questioning eyebrow or using a more complicated magic than a simple 'please' tacked onto an order. Didn't mean that he would but it was a pleasant enough thought to warm his gaze as he met Jack's eyes and said. "How do you travel in time, then? A spell? A charm? Do tell, as we're going to get chummy later."
Jack blustered of course and fairly convincingly, but with a spell tying his tongue in a tangle he couldn't actually lie. Finally he took out a card and slammed it down on the table. "My business card, Ethan. Christ, I could understand it if I'd told you I was an astronaut or something, but why would I tell you I was in one of the most boring jobs known to man, if it wasn't true?"
Ethan looked at the card without touching it. "To stop me asking questions you couldn't be bothered to answer?" he asked mildly. "What's your name?"
"Captain Jack Harkness."
"Ah, so that was the missing bit," Ethan said. "I did wonder. Captain in what?"
"The Time -- why am I telling you this?"
"If it's any consolation, you're resisting me slightly," Ethan said. "Good for you, except not really, as I want the truth and the other ways I could get it aren't nearly so painless." He pulled a sympathetic face. "Poor you."
"Look at my card," Jack said through clenched teeth.
"The card that gives me one of your vital statistics and an illustration to back it up?" Ethan flicked the card back at Jack contemptuously. "I've seen bigger and, trust me, it's not always better." He pursed his lips. "And no, that's not sour grapes."
"How are you doing this?" Jack demanded after one cursory glance of confirmation into Ethan's lap where reasonably tight trousers were doing a good enough job of backing up his words. Cheeky brat.
Jack sneered quite well for someone who smiled so much. "Sorry. I don't believe in magic. Along with a few other things, like a perfectly mixed martini and long goodbyes. Speaking of which --"
"Let me channel one of those tiresome religious types and tell you that you might not believe in it, but it believes in you," Ethan said. "Which is why, despite you being such a naughty unbeliever, you're going to find it impossible to stand up and walk back to your -- where are you staying, by the way? Or was my seduction, swift and hopefully ecstatic for both of us, to have taken place on my sheets to save you even the small inconvenience of tidying up after yourself?"
"I sleep on board my ship and yeah, got that right, Ethan. I wasn't planning on inviting a twentieth-century ape on board."
"A space ship?" Ethan murmured, entranced by the idea and filing the insult away to marinade in pique. "Well, I can't imagine why we're still in this tedious hostelry, can you?"
He stood up and Jack stood too. "It's your lucky night," Ethan said, patting Jack's face fondly. "You get a guaranteed stress-free fuck, if you still want it when we're done, and I promise I won't be angry that you lied to me when we met."
Not that he ever had been, not really. There was something delightfully chaotic about a lie after all.
"Does it have a name?" he asked chattily as they left. "Oh, I do hope so..."
Jack stopped at the end of an alley and did ... something that didn't work.
"Why can't I use the transport beam?"
"Is that a pout? How sweet. Because you're trying to leave me behind and I don't want you to," Ethan said absently. "Transport to where?"
Jack stared up at the night-time sky. "My ship. She's directly overhead."
Ethan didn't take his eyes off Jack. "Oh dear. Looks like you left the keys in and someone stole it."
"And you say you don't believe in magic?" Ethan shook his head. "I don't have time for this, you know."
Jack grinned. "Yeah. You do."
Ethan blinked. He was on a spaceship. Cramped, but even so...
"All the time in the world." A gun appeared in Jack's hand. "Until you die, but, hey, you look like a man who makes the most of life, am I right?" He sighed. "Sorry about this."
"Trust me, if you pull that, you will be," Ethan told him.
Jack did it anyway.
It took Jack thirty seconds to stop whimpering from the pain of a sprained finger and a lot longer to stop swearing. Ethan let him do both, showing, he thought, a remarkable restraint considering how close he'd come to being --
"What would that gun have done to me? If the spell hadn't forced your hand to jerk up and -"
"Blow a hole in the cupboard where I keep the vodka?" Jack shook his head sadly, staring at the shattered glass in the corner. "You'd be dead and I'd be able to have a drink to celebrate. Look, I've had enough of this. Enough of spells and people who invite themselves onto spaceships when that was never going to be part of the entertainment, trust me. What the hell is going on?"
"I think it's time we moved to negotiations, don't you?" Ethan said hastily. There was an edge to Jack's voice and he was clearly someone who was prone to rash actions. Best not to push the man too far... He glanced around, looking for somewhere to sit and for want of anything else chose the bed. There wasn't much else to choose from; Jack was in the captain's chair and didn't show any signs of moving from it.
A wary but interested look replaced the sulky pout. "Could do. What did you have in mind?"
Ethan settled down on the bed and then winced as something dug into his thigh. It turned out to be a pair of cuffs, lacking a connecting link but with their function clear. Jack's expression didn't alter when Ethan gave him an amused smirk which earned him a few brownie points.
"Oh, quite a bit, actually, but let's start with the spell, as you asked so nicely."
"Yeah," Jack said, his eyes narrowing. "Let's. I'm still not buying that, you know. Hypnosis, drugs -- c'mon; you can tell me; what was it? It's still too early for you to have any of the common mind control drugs and I'm immune to all the known ones anyway; perk of my old job, so what was it?"
"It was magic," Ethan said. "Pure and simple. Dear me, what a poor choice of words." Jack looked unconvinced and Ethan sighed. "I slipped something in your drink, yes. You were raising more than my interest, you see, and I'm a cautious chap at heart. Hard to believe, I know, but I've got enemies."
"The list got longer about half an hour ago," Jack said.
Ethan blew him a kiss. "You don't mean that, but I'll allow you a certain amount of chagrin. The various ingredients wouldn't do much by themselves; I'll give you the recipe if you like, but when I jazz them up with an incantation and more than a little native talent, well, the effects can be quite amusing."
"Didn't see you whipping out your magic wand in the pub," Jack said. "I think I'd have noticed that."
"It has been known to happen in public but let's keep the details of my gloriously sordid past out of this, shall we?"
"You're funny," Jack said bitterly. "See? I'm laughing."
"The potion's something I carry with me," Ethan told him, losing his patience. "As I said; I have enemies. It's --" He hesitated. It was a mild version of a slave spell, but he didn't intend to share that particular piece of information. People tended to overreact to that word, he'd found. "It will wear off by tomorrow and if you hadn't told me what you are, I promise I wouldn't have used it to compel you to do anything you hadn't already planned to do. To sum it up, you can't lie and you can't hurt me, or... thwart me." Ethan waved his hand dismissively. "I think you can see for yourself just how harmless it is; you just tried to kill me and got no more than a slap on the wrist." He let Jack see a hint of a snarl. "Do that again and it'll be more than a slap and it won't be your wrist that's smarting."
Jack rolled his eyes. "We can do that later," he said. "Fine; I'll take your word for it that you've dosed me up with something, but for the sake of my sanity, can we just agree that you drugged me and not mention the m word again?"
"For a man with a time machine, you're remarkably set in your ways," Ethan said. He looked around him. "This ship leads me to believe that you're not from here and now?"
"51st century," Jack said casually. "Born on a little planet called -- well, you won't have been there."
"But you're human?" Ethan asked curiously, tucking away his reaction to that little piece of information be dealt with later.
"As much as you," Jack said.
"And you're here? Why?"
"My business," Jack said shortly. His eyes gleamed in triumph. "Guess it's wearing off, old man."
"No; it allows you to dance around the truth. It doesn't matter anyway; you're working for me now."
Jack straightened abruptly and walked over to Ethan, leaning over him and getting in close. "I'm freelance. Want me to spell that for you? I don't work for anyone but myself. Got it?"
Ethan stared up, unmoved, into a face anger made even more attractive than a smile. To him, at least. "No. I need what you can do and I'll make it worth your while, but I'm really not giving you any choice." He smiled. "Do stop looming over me and glowering like that; you look adorable but I've other fish to tickle now."
Jack grinned suddenly. "You're lying on my bed," he said. "It's distracting me. One kiss and then you can tell me just what you want me to do?"
There was a cheerful insinuation in his voice that left Ethan in no doubt about what was being offered. He felt a flicker of suspicion, but Jack's tongue slid slowly over his lip and Ethan shrugged. Why not?
"One kiss," he agreed.
The click of the cuff around his wrist was unexpected but Jack did at least finish the kiss before sitting back and fastening the second cuff on himself.
"Nice," he remarked. "If we come out of this alive, let's do that again and do it naked."
Ethan stared sourly at the cuff. "Tell me what they do," he said. "I can tell you're dying to."
Jack beamed. "They mean you can't leave my side without getting zapped," he said. "Fatally. And because I don't plan to let you get away, I guess the 'spell' --" Jack's gesture was eloquent. Air quotes had survived? Ethan sighed. Might have known it. " --didn't trigger."
"And you want us to stay close, because?" Ethan asked.
Jack shook his head. "You really don't get it, do you?"
"Enlighten me," Ethan said tightly.
Jack's face lost a layer or two of the boyish charm. "One; I want that drug. Could come in handy. You're not the only one with enemies. Two; I still don't know what you want me to do and I'm curious. It's a failing of mine, I know. But mostly... when this wears off, I want you where I can get my hands on you."
"Ah." Ethan tried a smile. "We're back to the getting naked together, are we?"
Jack smiled engagingly. "Go a bit further back. To the part where I tried to kill you."
"You picked me up," Ethan said indignantly. "It's not my fault if you can't spot a Chaos Mage when you see one. I'm just doing what comes naturally."
"So am I," Jack said. "Computer; gin and tonic whenever you're ready." He plucked a glass brimming with ice and sporting one perfect slice of lemon from thin air and raised it in a toast. "To revenge and retribution."
"You know, we could have been such good friends," Ethan told him wistfully.
Jack studied him thoughtfully and then shook his head. "Sorry. Second chances aren't a specialty of mine."
"And yet you can travel in time," Ethan said making no effort at all to keep his impatience from showing. "Which means second chances -- and third, and fourth -- are your stock-in-trade. Or are you going to bore me with some tripe about not meddling with the past, because of consequences too dire to comprehend?"
"They can be," Jack said, leaning back on his elbow. "Dire, I mean. Which is why it's something best left to a trained professional."
"Actually, yes," Jack said shortly, his face clouding over. "Or I was." He balanced his glass on the bed and fished out the lemon slice. "And whatever you want to do, I'm going to take a wild guess and say it's on the forbidden list because, no offence, you look like that kinda guy." He bit down on the lemon, sucking at it and shuddering slightly at the sourness.
"How perceptive and astute of you," Ethan said. "No offence taken, I assure you." He ran his finger around the metal of the cuff. "How far can we be apart before it triggers?"
Jack smiled at him. "Take a walk and find out," he suggested.
"You know, even allowing for your understandable pique at being outsmarted by a primitive ape like me, you're getting a little tedious," Ethan told him. "Could we call a truce, do you think?"
"Short and sweet."
"There's nothing short about me and I'm not feeling all that sweet on you right now," Jack said tersely. "You found out about the time travel and your eyes lit up like you'd hit the jackpot; why?"
Ethan pushed a pillow behind his head and stretched out his legs, deliberately drawing Jack's gaze. "There are certain points in everyone's life that are pivotal. Oh, you can make a case for every decision being potentially significant, no matter how trivial, but I'm talking about the ones that stand out; the ones that scream, 'change me and all will be well'."
"Nexus points," Jack said, nodding his head. "Very tricky to deal with. Let me guess --"
"You don't have to guess," Ethan said sharply. "I'm telling you. Something happened, something bad. Someone died, and although that was regrettable, I can live with his death."
"Bet he can't," Jack murmured. "Not exactly full of sympathy, are you? Or was he one of those enemies of yours?"
"No; he was a friend. Quite a close one, as it happens," Ethan admitted.
"And you wonder why I'm not rushing to be your pal," Jack said.
"Would you not make assumptions?" Ethan said wearily. "Randall -- the man who died -- yes, I grieved. A little. But we all die, and he knew the risks."
"We were -- experimenting," Ethan said, choosing his words carefully.
"Now that sounds safe," Jack said sarcastically. "What with? More drugs?"
"They were involved, yes, but --" Ethan sighed and divulged a little more than he ever had. "We raised a demon. For kicks. It possessed us in turn and he didn't control it well enough. It -- I don't think you need to know the details. Even now, a decade later, they rather turn my stomach."
"You really don't give up, do you?" Jack said. "Magic, spells, demons... Did anyone ever tell you that you're insane?" He stood up. "You know, forget it. I'm done with what I came here for; I was just celebrating with a drink, and you looked like you'd be fun to sleep with. I'll take off the cuffs, send you back down, and we'll call it quits."
"No," Ethan said stubbornly. "You can certainly take off the cuffs, but I forbid you to send me anywhere until we've done what I want." He smirked. "I don't think you can get around that."
Jack snapped his fingers and then slammed the heel of his hand against his forehead theatrically. "What am I thinking of?"
"Rhetorical? Or are you in the mood for games?" Ethan asked.
Jack ignored him. "You've altered my physiological makeup with your drug. I'll just --" A cloud of golden lights appeared, swirling around Jack's body and he sighed, looking indecently triumphant as they faded away. "Perfect. I'm back to normal, and you're history. Get up, will you? You're making the place look untidy."
"Was that magic?" Ethan asked politely, not stirring. "Or just some advanced form of aspirin?"
"Nanogenes," Jack said. "They fix you up the way you were. The way you should be. Great when you've been drinking and don't want a hangover." He put his hands on his hips. "I'd send them your way, but I don't think they fix delusions of being Merlin."
"And you think that they've removed the compulsion to tell me the truth and generally be such a good little boy?" Ethan asked. "Shall we see if your optimism's well-founded?" Without waiting for an answer, he said, "Tell me if you really intend to kill me, always assuming that you could."
"No. I don't do that, not unless I have to. I was just trying to scare you." Jack's eyes widened in shock. "That isn't what I was going to say," he said, sounding numb. "Look, Ethan, I really don't know why it's not working, but --"
"Incompatible systems," Ethan said with a shrug. "Does that make sense? Those -- nanogenes? -- can't deal with something that's invisible to them, and I really doubt that magic's susceptible to science anyway."
Jack sat down heavily. "I'm still not convinced," he said. "Do something. Something magic. Prove it."
"Pull a hat from a rabbit's arse you mean?" Ethan sniffed scornfully. "No. I go more for the subtle and I have a feeling that if I engaged in a spot of levitation, you'd only say it was a force-field or something, so what's the point?"
"Can we agree to differ on the magic, and just get back to what it is that you want me to do?"
"Don't see why not," Ethan said agreeably. "I'm quite used to being alone in my view of the world."
Jack arched an eyebrow. "Go on then; how do you see it?"
Gifting him with the truth -- he really was too pretty not to have Ethan feeling mildly indulgent -- Ethan said softly, "As my playground. Complete with bullies, parents too busy to pay attention until the screams get loud, and, yes, a sand pit to bury things in."
"Wish I hadn't asked," Jack muttered.
"Well you did," Ethan snapped, already regretting his frankness. "And you also asked what I wanted you to do."
"You're going to take me back to that night."
"When your friend died?" Jack shook his head, a flicker of sympathy showing. "I can't save him. He died, and that's that."
"Someone will still die," Ethan said. "It'll all balance, trust me." He smiled. "It just won't be Randall who's torn to pieces this time."
"It doesn't work like that --" Jack began.
Ethan glared at him. "Oh, yes, it does. It works any way I want it to work. Don't worry; I understand what you're saying; for the universe to remain stable, Randall has to die."
"Yeah, exactly," Jack said. "You see --"
"And to all intents and purposes, he will," Ethan said steadily. "It just won't be him inside the body."
"Who will it be?" Jack asked. "How can it be anyone but him? I don't get it."
"You don't have to," Ethan said coldly. "You're the fucking taxi driver, no more than that." He waved at the console of flashing lights and buttons. "I'll tell you where and when; you get me there."
"I won't do it."
Ethan stood up and took a single step, reaching down and cupping Jack's face in his hands. "Sweet boy. You don't have a choice." He smiled, ghosting his thumb across the warm lips so close to his. "And neither will Rupert."
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