Admiral Pike stared at the man sitting across from him with a level gaze, assessing briefly but thoroughly. His posture was mostly relaxed, slightly smug, the tiniest bit twitchy with energy, and he met the Admiral’s look dead-on. “I was told your exact employer was classified,” the Admiral said evenly. “Considering that everything about our prisoner rates the highest level of access there is, what could possibly still be classified?”
The man smirked slightly, more an acknowledgement than anything else. “Let’s just say I have a long history with the prisoner,” he replied. His accent was British. “What agency I work for is immaterial, if I can get you the answers you need.”
“I don’t think it’s immaterial,” Kirk popped off, giving the stranger a hard look. He disliked secrets, little games of stealth and reading between the lines, hints and intimations. Especially when innocent lives were at stake. “He came out of nowhere. You came out of nowhere,” he paralleled, and not without a point. “How do we know you aren’t working with him? That you won’t help him escape.”
Lestrade rolled his eyes. “John Harrison could escape whenever he wants, mate,” he claimed. “You have no idea how dangerous he is.”
“We have some idea,” Pike countered coolly. The dozens of bodies with Federation flags draped over their coffins were a clue.
Lestrade seemed to realize this. “Right, sorry,” he apologized. “To me it’s another thing on the list, and it’s a long list.”
“What else is on the list?” Kirk wanted to know, still suspicious. “No, really,” he persisted when Lestrade started to roll his eyes again at the delay. “There’s no record of terrorist attacks, even violent accidents, for years. There’s hardly any murders on the whole planet. What exactly is this litany of crimes he’s committed?” Another good point, and Pike raised an eyebrow at Lestrade, encouraging him to answer.
This time the man sighed. “You’re not the only planet in the galaxy, are you?” he pointed out dryly. “People who aren’t Humans, care just as much when their loved ones die, you know.”
Kirk drew back slightly. “I didn’t mean—“
“Look, you’re the ones on a tight schedule here,” Lestrade pointed out. “It’s your world getting blown to bits one building at a time. You want me to try and stop it, or do you want me to draw you a diagram of all the places where John Harrison is a wanted man?” And unfortunately, he also had a point.
“Assuming I let you talk to him,” Pike began, his tone indicating he should not take this as a given, “what makes you think he’ll give you any answers? We’ve had the best interrogators in the quadrant working on him, and he’s laughed in their faces.” It had taken Pike two bombings to call them interrogators without flinching; after four bombings he’d stopped hesitating to bring new ones in, whatever their methods. It couldn’t really be torture if it didn’t work, could it?
Lestrade had that half-smirk on his face again, like he was imagining the futility of Pike’s actions. “Well, we go back a ways, me and your prisoner,” he said again, self-consciously vague. “And I’ve got some leverage on him.”
“What kind of leverage?” Kirk asked. So far their investigations showed nothing that the cold-hearted b-----d cared about enough to make any headway.
“Something he’s been looking for, for a long time,” Lestrade told them. “Something he wants very much.” And that was all they were going to get out of him, Pike could see, until he felt the moment was right.
“I can’t imagine it would make things worse,” Pike finally judged, and Lestrade grinned at the lackluster reply.
“Oh, things can always get worse, mate,” he shot back with dark humor.
The three of them went down to the deepest level of the detention center, passing through numerous security checks. Each time Pike and Kirk watched to see if Lestrade would fail, if he would be exposed as a fraud. It seemed increasingly unlikely. The only oddity was some kind of leather talisman around his neck which he never took off, merely blinking whenever it was suggested. Inevitably the guard decided they could make do with scanning it instead, and since it contained only harmless organic material, Lestrade was allowed to pass on.
Pike stopped them outside the final door. “How’s the prisoner today?” he asked of the main guard, who’d been summoned out to talk to them.
“Agitated, sir,” the guard replied unexpectedly. “He’s been pacing all day. Normally he sits quietly and meditates, does some yoga.”
Lestrade smirked. “Good. Bugger knows I’m here, then.” Pike shot a glance at Kirk, both of them equally dubious, then checked the monitor to see for himself. The tall, lean, black-clad figure indeed was walking back and forth in his small cell, lethal grace in every step, dangerous energy pulsating from him.
He snapped his head around when they entered. He did not let them see his surprise; instead his lips curled up in a sneer and then he turned away as if he couldn’t care less about his visitors.
Lestrade stood on the other side of the clear barrier, obviously enjoying the sight of the other man caged. “Well, got yourself into a bit of a pickle this time, haven’t you, John?” he commented, saying his name as if it was an alias, which odds-wise it probably was.
“I can get myself out of it anytime I like,” he shot back, turning a look of cold disdain on them. “I merely find it amusing, watching these ants throw pebbles at my boots.” He aimed this directly at Kirk, who never failed to be riled by such sentiments.
“I’m sure you do,” Lestrade agreed, managing to sound slightly bored. “Not very subtle, though, is it? Blowing up buildings? Murdering civilians?”
Harrison rolled his eyes; they might have been talking about a computer game for all he cared. “Clearly I’m not going for subtlety,” he pointed out. “What are you doing here, that’s the question.” He narrowed his eyes at the other man, bringing all his considerable intellectual powers to bear. “Did he tell you where he’s from, Pike?” Harrison asked, in that silky tone the Admiral had come to loathe. “No, of course not, that’s classified,” he surmised, mocking the term. “What story did he give you? A fairy tale about evil spirits banished to the corporeal world, only to cause even more trouble? Sounds a bit mad, doesn’t he.” Pike and Kirk raised their eyebrows in surprise.
Lestrade was smirking. “Nah, didn’t have to tell them anything,” he corrected. “Thanks for making yourself look mental, though.” Clearly Harrison was not bothered by this. “Actually I’m here to help you out,” he went on. Harrison rolled his eyes and turned his back, uninterested. “We get it, you’re bored rotten, gettin’ your jollies by causing chaos. Bit juvenile.”
Harrison growled at this, exasperated, which was at least a reaction. “A whole galaxy, a whole galaxy, and—“ he muttered mysteriously.
“And no one to share it with,” Lestrade finished, his tone heavy with significance. Harrison froze with his back to them, the first glimmer of… interest they’d seen from him. Pike and Kirk watched closely, hardly daring to breathe.
“What do you mean by that?” Harrison asked, without turning around. His voice was low, tense—the wrong response could be fatal.
Lestrade seemed perfectly at ease, though. “Never found him, did you?” he suggested rhetorically. His tone was teasing but somehow not mean-spirited. “Never even got a hint of him, I’ll bet. Probably thought you’d missed each other completely.”
Kirk was about to demand to know who he was talking about, unable to stand the suspense, but Pike stopped him. Very slowly, Harrison peered over his shoulder. “You have him?” he asked curiously.
Lestrade’s expression said yes and Harrison whirled around fully, expression animated for the first time. “Hey, no funny business, Magnus,” Lestrade warned quickly. “We’re watching.”
“John,” Harrison corrected, stopping with his toes almost at the barrier.
“Right, sorry,” Lestrade agreed. Harrison nodded, as if he was now prepared to have a serious discussion about this.
“Where is he?” he wanted to know, eyes shining. It was a startling change from the unyielding monster Pike and Kirk had been dealing with.
“Nearby,” Lestrade assured him.
“Why can’t I feel him?” Harrison demanded. Lestrade merely smirked, as though inviting him to guess. “Was he hurt? Is he a child?” The conversation seemed nonsensical, but Lestrade just shrugged. Harrison frowned as another idea occurred to him. “He’s not got a—“ His eyes dropped to the token around Lestrade’s neck, and he knew from the man’s expression that he was on the right track, whatever that was. “No,” Harrison insisted, having difficulty believing the conclusion he’d come to, even as Lestrade grinned broadly. “In this day and age of science? No one believes in that anymore. Where could he possibly be from?”
“The Inner Hebrides.”
“Ah, that explains it,” Harrison nodded. “Backwards, superstitious hill folk.”
“Did a number on you, though, didn’t they?” Lestrade pointed out.
Harrison found his amusement childish. “Well, fine. Hand him over, then. Thanks?” he added questioningly, when Lestrade shook his head.
“It’s not that simple.”
“It’s very simple,” Harrison countered, dangerously.
“Calm down,” Lestrade told him authoritatively.
“You can’t hurt him.”
“We can make sure you never find him.”
This was apparently true, because Harrison turned away to think for a moment. “You might be bluffing,” he proposed.
Lestrade rolled his eyes. “That wouldn’t be very smart, would it?”
“No, it wouldn’t.”
Lestrade opened his communicator. “Sally?”
“Yes, sir?” came a feminine voice.
“Sally,” scoffed Harrison, as if he was familiar with her, and had a negative opinion.
“Go ahead and take it off for a minute,” Lestrade instructed.
In a small conference room nearby, Sally stood and faced the nondescript blond man in the chair next to her. “Let’s have it, then,” she said, holding out her hand.
The man hesitated, infuriatingly. “Sorry, it’s just that I’ve never taken it off,” he tried to explain. Neither she nor Anderson was sympathetic. “Not even once, ever since—“ He saw this line wasn’t going anywhere and became slightly defensive, clutching the bracelet of tiny beads around his wrist that they were so interested in. “Could you tell me again who you work for? I am a Federation citizen—“
In the detention room, dramatic tension was giving way to awkward anticlimax. Lestrade turned to his communicator again. “Sally, waiting,” he said pointedly.
“Yes, sir,” she repeated. “Just a minute, sir. Take it off,” she ordered the man. “You heard him.”
“I just want—“
“Hold him,” she said to Anderson, who eagerly agreed, clamping the man’s arm down while Sally picked at the knotted string.
“Let go of me!” the man demanded, struggling.
With a sigh Sally flicked open a small blade and sliced through the string, catching the bracelet as it fell from his wrist, for the first time since he was a child.
Harrison’s hand slammed into the barrier as he gasped, leaning on it for support. He seemed shocked, pained—more than all the interrogators had managed to wrest from him, and Pike didn’t even know what this Lestrade was doing. Harrison groaned, his arm clutching his midsection.
In the conference room, the other man groaned, too, but he wasn’t sure what to grab for support and comfort. It wasn’t so much physical pain as images flooding his brain, images whose origins he couldn’t identify—strange people and places, feelings, memories, yes, they were like memories, but of impossible things, times in the distant past, worlds he’d never seen before, not even in the wildest fantasy vids or his own dreams. He tried to stand but was pushed back in his seat, and he buried his face in his hands, futilely hoping darkness would make the pictures stop.
Harrison was on his knees now, still leaning against the barrier, sweat coating his pale face under some kind of painful onslaught. Lestrade opened a channel again. “That’s enough, Sally,” he said.
In the conference room, Sally tossed the bracelet back at the blond man. The moment he caught it the images vanished, leaving only a sort of buzzing white noise, and a curious sense of emptiness.
Harrison relaxed suddenly, dropping to the floor as his strength gave out, panting with one arm thrown over his eyes. Lestrade hardly needed to say anything about bluffing to make his point. After a moment Harrison propped himself up on his elbows. “Bring him back,” he insisted, which was somewhat baffling considering the pain he’d just been in. Lestrade gave him a look that said this was unlikely, and he should know it; Harrison sprang to his feet. His glare could bore a hole through the barrier. “Bring. Him. Back,” he repeated furiously. The lights flickered.
Lestrade smirked even as everyone else in the room mentally reviewed their emergency escape protocols. “Not how it works, is it, John?” he pointed out.
Harrison closed his eyes and just breathed for a moment, as if getting a hold of himself. “What do you want?” he finally asked, through gritted teeth.
Lestrade nodded towards Pike and Kirk. “Ask them.”
Harrison slowly turned to look at them, giving the distinct impression he had completely forgotten about them. He strode over. “What will get me out of here?” he inquired seriously, like they were haggling at the market.
Kirk gaped at him. “We’re not letting you go,” he blurted, a fact which he’d thought was perfectly obvious. He tried to compose himself. “You’re going to stand trial for—“
This bored Harrison and he whirled away with a dismissive gesture. “I want a cottage by the sea,” he declared randomly. “Fully provisioned. Somewhere we won’t be disturbed.” He cocked his head at Lestrade. “You can arrange that, I’m sure.”
Lestrade didn’t deny it. “You could be transferred to my custody,” he suggested.
Kirk started to object. “Whose custody is that?” he demanded angrily. “He’s murdered Federation citizens, he has to—“
“Yeah, well, last year he hit Andoria,” Lestrade claimed. “So he should be tried there first. But they don’t have the death penalty, so you can have him back after the trial.”
“You work for the Andorian government?” Kirk repeated skeptically.
“He hides the antennae well, doesn’t he?” Harrison quipped, tossing himself restlessly on his bunk. He couldn’t seem to keep still now.
“I freelance,” Lestrade corrected. “Anyway, it’s a well-established statute of interplanetary justice that—“
“List everywhere you’ve planted a bomb,” Pike interrupted, his steely gaze bearing down on Harrison. “Any other traps. Everyone you were working with.” He’d been running each scenario through his head, sensing and comparing the odds. Uncomfortably, his conclusion was that they had only as much power as Lestrade lent them. “Then we’ll release you into his custody. For the time being.” He had the feeling that once John Harrison walked out that door he would never be seen again; but they were all pretending that wasn’t the case.
“Sir—“ Kirk took a moment to get the memo.
Harrison smirked; Pike wanted to beat it off his face. “Get me something to write with, then,” he suggested. “Oh, what time is it?” He stood to see the chrono. “You’ll want to evacuate the Louvre, then.”
“The Louvre, John?” Lestrade tutted. “What’ve you got against the Louvre, anyway?”
Harrison gave Kirk an expectant look, as the young captain was merely goggling at him, trying to decide if the criminal was playing a sick joke. “You’ll want to evacuate it now,” he emphasized, and Kirk finally kicked into gear, racing to the nearest computer panel to put out the alert. “Probably won’t be able to disarm it before it blows, though,” he added casually.
“I thought you liked art,” Lestrade commented, shaking his head as if they weren’t talking about the destruction of some of the quadrant’s most significant cultural objects.
“Music,” Harrison corrected him. “It’s not the same thing. Visual art is soulless and trite.” Lestrade rolled his eyes.
Meanwhile Pike had come up with the most inert substances he could find—literally a wooden pencil and wood pulp-based paper. He wasn’t going to give Harrison a chance to escape using technological wizardry. He passed it across the barrier using the portal. “Where in the Louvre is the bomb?” he asked coldly. “And how do we defuse it?” Kirk was standing by with a communicator, channel open.
Harrison laid the paper on his bunk and started scribbling. “You won’t get there in time,” he repeated.
Harrison shrugged. “Air vent near T’Chai’s pretentious mockery of romance, Lovers on the Beach,” he sneered. “Cut the green wire.” This was urgently relayed. “Hmm, if he’s from the Inner Hebrides a cottage by the sea wouldn’t be very novel,” he mused. “Perhaps a bungalow on a tropical beach?” He glanced at Lestrade.
“I couldn’t care less, mate.”
“I sunburn,” Harrison decided, rejecting the tropical beach. “Island cottage on the cliffs, then. Home sweet home.”
“Good luck with that,” Lestrade told him, as if he would need it.
“Who I was working with, only if they’re still alive?” Harrison queried diligently, glancing at Pike.
“Everyone,” the admiral countered, refusing to let his guard down.
“Mm-hmm.” Harrison finished writing and walked the paper back to the portal. “Star means I coerced them into helping me,” he explained nonchalantly. “The rest profited monetarily. The color is the wire that should be cut to defuse the bomb. Or sometimes you have to type in that sequence of numbers. Or something else.”
“G-d, you get bored,” Lestrade commented, as Pike read through the elaborate and varied defusing mechanisms.
“I do get bored,” Harrison agreed. “So. Let’s go, then,” he prompted.
“How do I know you’re telling the truth?” Pike asked, after handing the paper off.
Harrison shrugged. “Why bother to lie? I’m done here.” He turned his attention to Lestrade.
The other man opened a channel with his communicator. “Yeah, Sally, how’s it going?” he checked.
In the conference room Sally and Anderson were on opposite sides of the table, trying to catch the man who’d retreated under it. “Really well, sir,” she replied sarcastically.
“Come out from under there, you little—“ Anderson growled.
“Anderson!” Harrison snapped, recognizing his voice. “Lay one finger on him and I will fry you from the inside out.”
“Calm down, alright?” Lestrade told him in annoyance. “Look, just keep him quiet,” he added to Sally. “We’ll be there soon.”
“Is that Inspector Lestrade?” the man asked frantically, and every molecule in Harrison’s body focused on the sound of his voice. “I really don’t understand what’s going here, you didn’t say anything about—“
Harrison couldn’t stand it any longer. “What’s his name?” he asked Lestrade.
“Hamish, there’s nothing to worry about,” Harrison announced, his tone authoritative yet somehow also soothing. “Can you hear me, Hamish? I’ll be there soon, and I’ll take care of you.” His palms pressed against the barrier, desperate to be on the other side.
There was a long pause. “Who is that?” Hamish finally asked, nervously. Harrison was not offended by the lack of recognition.
“We’ll be here, Inspector,” Sally promised, before signing off.
Lestrade tucked the communicator away. “Right then, time to extradite you to Andoria,” he said, managing to sound serious about it. “What sort of restraints have you got available?” he asked Pike professionally.
“I don’t need restraints,” Harrison protested, sounding slightly insulted.
“You may have noticed by now he’s a bit mental,” Lestrade deadpanned. “I’m thinking ankles, wrists, and a choke chain. For starters.”
“Honestly,” Harrison muttered.
“I’ll see what I can do,” Pike agreed. He wasn’t sure if it was better to let Harrison go now, or wait until Kirk came back with news about the Louvre.
Four guards surrounded John on the elevator. Lestrade could barely squeeze in. When they stepped off at the indicated floor, four more fell in step, two in front and two behind. All of them were large, and they carried large guns, too. Lestrade made sure to take pictures, especially of John in the center, trussed up like a turkey and barely able to shuffle along. For his part John endured it silently, his mind clearly elsewhere.
Lestrade stopped them at the door to the conference room—Hamish had been just a few floors up from John the whole time. But with that bracelet on, he might as well have been on the other side of the galaxy. “Right, I’ll take him from here, lads,” Lestrade announced, drawing John from the center of the pack.
“I thought we were putting him on a transport to Andoria, sir,” the lead guard said gruffly.
“You did,” Lestrade assured him. “I’m using my alien telepathic powers to make you remember doing just that.” The guard nodded tractably.
“You don’t actually have to say it out loud,” John noted, scoffing at the lack of finesse.
“It’s for the cameras,” Lestrade told him, nodding at one of the monitors. “So these blokes don’t get in trouble. Not that you ever think about that,” he added sarcastically, as John shook his head. “Right, come on.”
Lestrade shouldered his way into the conference room, holding the door open for John. Let Sally and Anderson get a good look at him all tied up, they deserved the laugh. John ignored them anyway, his eyes riveted to Hamish, who had at least come out from under the table now.
“Inspector Lestrade, I have to protest at how I’ve been treated—“ Hamish began, but he quickly forgot about that complaint as John approached him with a single-minded intensity, forcing him to back up. “Wait, I know you—“
“Yes,” John agreed.
“—you’re that mad man on the news, blowing up buildings!” he finished, horrified and now slightly panicky. “You don’t think I’ve got anything to do with him, do you?” he sputtered to the others. “I’ve never—“
“Why doesn’t he sound Scottish?” John interrupted, as Hamish’s back bumped the wall.
“Med school in London,” Lestrade supplied idly. “Says he lost the accent there.”
“I did,” Hamish insisted, face flushing. “It’s not a crime to—“
John liked the color on him and licked his lips unconsciously. “Let’s see this witch-charm then,” he demanded. “Why he can’t remember me.”
Hamish was pressed very close to the wall now, trying to escape from John’s searing blue gaze. The task was nearly impossible, especially as no one else in the room seemed interested in helping. He never got into trouble with the authorities, was considered rather boring by his friends, actually, never had anything weird happen to him. Even his one eccentricity—the never-removed bracelet—had become dull to most people.
“Witch-charm?” he repeated, now slightly insulted. “It’s just something my grandmother—“
John nodded at the bracelet he clutched in one hand, his eyes finally dropping from Hamish’s face to examine it. “Is that it? Hold it up.” Hamish gripped the ends tightly but let John peer at the sequence of tiny glass and stone beads, unremarkable, circumspect, but never (voluntarily) removed from Hamish’s possession. “D—n,” John breathed. “That’s a good one.”
“Old ways are still the best,” Lestrade commented dryly.
John’s eyes went back to flickering over Hamish’s face. “You’re about my age,” he judged. “Maybe even a bit older. Your whole life you’ve been ordinary. Dull,” he pronounced distastefully. “You’ve had no idea of the power lurking inside you. All because of some old woman’s silly superstition.”
Hamish’s jaw clenched. “No, I haven’t been murdering innocent people, have I?” he responded angrily. “When you blew up the Tower Bridge—a lot of the victims came to my hospital. I saw your work firsthand.” There was condemnation in his eyes, a moral certainty that was so familiar it made John’s throat constrict. Strength, tempered by compassion. That could never be lost, no matter what worlds they traveled through. “You can keep your ‘power,’ if that’s what it means.”
“You two are gonna have a fine holiday!” Lestrade cut in with a dark laugh.
“You’re not letting him go, are you, Inspector?” Sally asked, disapproval clear.
“Island,” Lestrade assured her. Someplace it would be very difficult for John to escape from, where he couldn’t do much damage. For a while, anyway. Nothing was ever permanent, was it?
Suddenly an alarm began to blare in the building, startling everyone but John. “The bloody h—l--?” Lestrade muttered.
“I assume they just discovered the last bomb was planted in this building,” John informed them, slightly smug.
Lestrade rolled his eyes. “That’s brilliant!” he remarked sarcastically.
“There’s plenty of time to defuse it,” John claimed. “But we’re not going to stick around for that, are we?” he asked, eyes only on Hamish. In one swift movement he grabbed the bracelet from Hamish’s hand with his teeth and spit it to the side, then pressed hard against the other man, grabbing his shirt with his bound hands. Hamish felt a disquieting, indescribable sensation and then the alarm sounds stopped, replaced by the crash of waves and the cry of seagulls.
He and John broke apart, both of them staggering on the vibrant green grass, unable to stay upright for long. For Hamish it was the disorienting rush of memories knocking him flat; for John an apparent physical agony that left him clawing at the dirt and panting. Actually the cause was the same: a wave of reconnection, a void being forcibly filled; additionally the panic Hamish was feeling tore through John like a knife. Like his so-called interrogators only wished their instruments could.
John didn’t know how long he lay there; but when he finally felt able to open his eyes he saw Hamish nearby, curled up in a ball and shivering slightly. The air was becoming cool and damp; a storm was moving in from the sea.
No longer bound, John stumbled to his feet. “Come on,” he told the other man, trying to pull him up. “Let’s go inside.”
Hamish rose shakily, not fully seeing his surroundings, and John slung his arm over his shoulder and half-dragged him into the little cottage. “There, that’s better,” John declared, letting him drop into a chair before the fireplace. He looked around the small, cozy living room with satisfaction. “You’ll feel better soon. Hmm, a fire, I think,” he decided. “And some tea.”
Hamish came back to the present suddenly, like he’d been daydreaming with such intensity that he’d momentarily lost track of his surroundings. Finding himself in a cottage before the fire did not really help clarify the situation for him, since the last thing he clearly remembered was the conference room in San Francisco.
He heard noises in the kitchen and stood, wobbly like he hadn’t used his legs in days. He limped a few feet then leaned heavily on a counter, watching John make them tea. John’s expression was bemused as he stole glances at the other man.
“Where are we?” Hamish finally asked.
“Cottage by the sea,” John replied. “Cream, no sugar,” he added, setting the cup of tea in front of Hamish.
“Where?” he persisted.
“Nowhere,” John shrugged, sipping his own cup. “It’s not poisoned,” he noted, a bit sarcastically, and Hamish finally picked up the cup, its warmth comforting to him.
“And who are you?”
“You know who I am.”
Hamish nodded slowly. He did know, and it wasn’t what he’d thought he knew before, and he didn’t know how he knew it now. “Magnus,” he replied, and the tall, dark-haired man dazzled him with a rare grin.
“And what’s your name?” he pressed.
He wanted to say Hamish. That was still his instinctive answer. But that person was fading fast, his memories present but dim, like childhood stories tucked away in a yellowed folder in the mind. There had been so many other names, so many other lives, all of them still dancing through his head, irreconcilable with any one timeline.
Magnus waited patiently for the answer, sipping his tea. “Bay,” he finally sighed, eyes drawn out the kitchen window to the green yard and grey sky.
“Yes.” Magnus took his arm. “Come sit down by the fire.” He looked back with surprise when the other man resisted, not wanting to be touched by him.
“And who are… we?” Bay asked awkwardly. “To each other.”
Magnus loomed closer, filling Bay’s vision. “Together,” he replied, imprecisely. “Sometimes brothers, or more like father and son. Often lovers,” he added, interest flaring in his eyes. “Always friends.”
“Always?” Bay seized on the word.
“Always,” Magnus insisted. He smirked slowly. “Sometimes it takes us a while to realize it.”
“Like when you’re a mad terrorist, and I’m a doctor?” Bay asked, not nearly as amused.
Magnus took the wrong lesson from this. “A witch-charm!” he scoffed. “It’s been ages since we were hit by one of those. I wasn’t expecting it on twenty-third century Earth!” He flopped down on the couch, his body language inviting Bay to join him, but the other man stayed by the counter.
“Things would have been very different without it,” he suggested quietly.
Magnus laughed darkly. “I suppose. Maybe. You do usually keep me from being bored, but not always out of trouble,” he added cheekily.
“It’s not funny,” Bay told him, and Magnus sighed dramatically at the familiar argument. “You’ve killed so many people, innocent civilians—“
“They’re not real, Bay!” Magnus claimed, like he always did.
“They have lives, hopes and fears, that go on without us—“
“So do the bacteria you kill with disinfectant,” Magnus shot back. “Do you weep over them?”
Abruptly Bay set his teacup down and headed for the door. “Bay, where are you going?” Magnus asked in annoyance, starting to follow.
“Out. Away,” he added, and Magnus stopped at the doorway as Bay continued walking.
“You can’t get away,” Magnus called after him. “There’s a storm coming!” he tried, but the other man ignored him. Finally he stomped back into the cottage with a growl.
Bay walked. He hiked around the low hill that rose up behind the cottage, until the small dwelling was out of sight. The sky filled with clouds, the wind whipping at his thin jacket, and he flipped the collar up around his chin. For several minutes he was miserably cold. Then slowly he straightened his hunched shoulders and spread his arms, and he became one with the cold, the wind, the rain that spattered down on him. And then they didn’t bother him at all.
That was useful, then.
His grandmother—no, Hamish’s grandmother—knew there was something wrong with him. He was not the little boy their family was meant to have. It was a myth, about changelings being swapped for human babies; Hamish was often DNA-tested, for school and work, and nothing was found to be amiss. His cells pulsed with chromosomes perfectly composed from his parents’. They just meant nothing. He was always going to look the way he did—blond hair, deep blue eyes, on the shorter side, stocky, with a tendency to tan rather than burn in the sun.
The grandmother had known. Some people did. She was obviously in tune with the old ways, which were sometimes more advanced than science, only less explainable, less rigorously studied. It was all part of the same force, really.
It should have been Magnus she put the bracelet on, though, Magnus who should have remained ignorant of his power his whole life. Bay was not perfect, far from it; but fewer deaths seemed to happen in his vicinity.
Unless of course he was a soldier, or a doctor, or both. But that didn’t count, did it? He often bent the rules to prevent deaths in those cases.
Magnus scoffed at rules. He killed dozens, hundreds of people sometimes; this was also against the rules, being so out of the ordinary, and what happened as punishment? A seaside holiday.
Next time Bay would save anyone he wanted, and if Lestrade showed up to complain, Bay would tell him he fancied a Parisian walk-up overlooking a park as reward.
He kept walking, through the storm, letting the images in his brain settle, defragment. Each life was different, but certain events repeated themselves, like habits one couldn’t break. Or patterns in a tapestry, to be a little more positive about it. That was his habit, his purpose, after all—to be the positive to Magnus’s negative, the light to his dark.
An unfair assessment, Bay immediately judged. They were not all one or the other. They were rather like the halves of a two-piece puzzle, complimenting each other’s strengths and weaknesses. He could see that now, as the details settled into place. They were capable of greatness, both of them—great love, great anger, great feats of sacrifice or of destruction.
The time and place they’d just left had little need for soldiers, and something inside the man known as Hamish had told him not to seek adventure off-world, though so many other instincts had been suppressed; so he had become a doctor, and stayed in Britain. But sometimes he was a soldier also, an agent of both light and dark, a fighter and a healer—just as Magnus could work wonders on a grand scale while being s—te to live with, and vice versa. Here he had reintroduced terror to a peaceful world, but remembered how Bay took his tea.
The cottage reappeared ahead, and Bay realized he’d walked all around the small island, barely noticing it. Containment, the ultimate action the authorities could bring to bear on them—not so much punishment as a temporary reprieve for the rest of the universe. Magnus preferred the energy of a city, variety and randomness and people, though from a distance—the anonymity of the crowd. Bay liked that, too, but he also appreciated, even relished, the solitude of the country, time to really focus on one thing at a time. Magnus would be bouncing off the walls in no time, Bay thought, and was surprised when this elicited merely an eyeroll, not the simmering fury he’d started out with. People as bacteria. Only Magnus could make such comparisons so sincerely. There was no end to that particular argument, though.
Light blazed from the cottage windows, cheerful in the sky darkening from night and rain. That was the here and now, which Bay would focus on if he was smart. The island did all the work of keeping Magnus from hurting anyone else. Bay projected forward a little and found Magnus reading a book before the fire, but he was restless, distracted, sending his own view out to check on Bay’s whereabouts. For a moment their eyes met, then Bay severed the connection and hiked on through the sandy, soggy grass.
The wind picked up during his last few steps, lashing the little cottage with rain, and he was practically blown through the door. As soon as he’d shut it, though, the cottage became warm and dry, the storm outside only interesting background noise.
“You’re very wet,” Magnus observed from beside the fire.
“There’s a storm out,” Bay replied, equally banal. He stripped off his jacket and hung it up, then left his muddy shoes by the door. The rest of his clothing was completely dry, improbable as that was.
There was room by Magnus on the couch, but Bay wasn’t ready to go there yet. He detoured to the kitchen instead. “More tea?” he offered, putting on some for himself. He started to root through the ice box. “G-d, I’m starving.”
“Are there any food pellets?” Magnus’s voice was right behind him, well, on the other side of the counter. “I like the green ones.”
At least Magnus could never be accused of gluttony. “I was thinking more like—“ Bay pulled a package from the meat drawer. “Salmon?” he suggested. “Who are raised on food pellets.”
“You go ahead,” Magnus demurred, pouring himself a spoonful of green food pellets from the box Bay set on the counter. “You liked the gummy fruit ones,” he reminded the other man mildly, as Bay set about cooking himself a piece of salmon.
“When I can’t get anything else,” Bay qualified. In their exile minor things like craved foods would not be denied to them. Only big things, like communication with the outside world.
Not much loss, really.
Bay poured a cup of tea for Magnus, adding cream and honey the way he liked it. That was practically a meal in itself, really. Magnus gave him a pleased smile at the gesture, charming in its simplicity, and Bay answered with a quirked lip automatically, before turning away. Magnus sat quietly at the counter, nibbling his food pellets, as Bay tended his fish, keeping his body language somewhat open to him.
“Greg was in fine form,” Magnus commented neutrally.
“Yeah, he did look good,” Bay agreed.
Perhaps with too much enthusiasm. “Put on weight, though,” Magnus claimed, still trying to sound neutral. Bay smirked with his back turned. “I think his hair’s thinning.”
“Why is it that wherever we go, whatever we do,” Bay mused, “Anderson and Sally are always gits?”
“Flawed genetics,” Magnus answered promptly. One could always count on him to partake of a conversation that put down Anderson and Sally.
Bay sprinkled some herbs and lemon juice over the salmon, letting the flavors sink in. “If you’re going to all the trouble of making salmon,” Magnus began, “oughtn’t it to taste like salmon?”
“You’re eating food pellets straight from the box,” Bay responded, retrieving a plate, “so you don’t get to criticize my cooking.” Magnus took that as fair.
Bay plated his meal and set it on the counter, ambiguously placed to be either right next to Magnus or one seat down. When the moment of choice came, he took the nearer seat, and he could sense the other man’s pleasure at this.
“Did you ever make it off Earth?” Magnus inquired. “Alien planets are quite fun things. But, you know, sentient aliens are almost always humanoid, must be some kind of limitation in the programming matrix.”
Bay ate his fish, savoring the silky texture. “There’s no programming matrix, it’s just life,” he corrected shortly, and Magnus scoffed.
“That’s what they want you to think,” he claimed. “It’s really terribly unlikely everyone would be so similar to humans, isn’t it? And everyone from one planet is completely alike, as if there’s only one culture and language there. Classic hallmarks of fakery.”
“You’re such a conspiracy theorist,” Bay commented. Even after all this time, he honestly couldn’t tell if Magnus really believed this idea, or just found it convenient to espouse because it suited what he wanted to do.
Magnus did not deny this accusation anyway. “Patterns,” he merely said mysteriously, as if he had the wit to see things others could not. Bay snorted.
Magnus watched him eat for a moment, but soon grew bored with it, and slightly disgusted. “Well, I think I’ll go soak in a hot bath for a while,” he announced, sliding off the stool. He stretched, rather obviously showing off his physique, which was more muscular than sometimes, and Bay tried to pretend he hadn’t noticed. “Join me?” Magnus finally asked, a delicious little smirk on his face.
With supreme willpower, Bay turned away from it. “Maybe later,” he decided, and Magnus rolled his eyes. But there was no rush; they were going to be here, alone, for a long time, and Magnus was right—eventually, they always came together.