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In Another Time

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Can you forget what happened before?
-"Six Fragments for Atthis," Sappho

 

"Nikola, a syringe, now!" Helen commands, as James lays dying before them.

Nikola produces the instrument as Helen works the cork out of the beaker. She fills the syringe with Source Blood and them plunges it straight into James' neck.

James gasps back to life, his skin unwrinkling to a familiar middle age. He can't stop gasping once he's started, and it's a long, confusing moment before he figures out that his body is setting its own rhythms again, and the machine is trying to force them back into its programed forms.

John tries to stop him as he starts ripping tubing away from his body. "You'll kill yourself again," John says grabbing for his hands.

James tries to explain between gasps. "Machine... killing me... get it off." And then John is letting go of his hands, flicking off switches and turning knobs to zero.

James possibly should have thought of just turning the machine off himself, but he was recently dead and it seems to have knocked his analytical powers for a loop.

As the machine stops trying to take over his bodily functions, James begins to breath easier. John has a hand wrapped around his wrist, supposedly for taking his pulse, but really just holding on. Helen's hand is on his shoulder and Nikola has moved to kneel beside him, hand on his knee. He touches them back, needing to feel the reassurance of the act. He reaches up and touches John's face, a thing he hasn't done in a hundred year. He lets his fingers linger for a moment, before reaching for Helen. Helen never changes, her steadiness proclaimed as if written in braille under his finger tips. Nikola is all frenetic energy, held still with sheer will power, and he vibrates just a bit under James' hand. He moves to touch Nigel next, because his muscle memory tells him Nigel should be there, but he is not. The hole in James' chest where Nigel should be aches like a fresh wound. Still, this is as close to whole as he has been in a long, long time.

The spell eventually breaks, even as Will and Clara try neither to interrupt nor to stare.

"We need to leave the Source Blood here," James says.

"What?" Helen asks, startled.

"Take a sample. The smallest amount you'll need. The rest has to stay here," James insists. He doesn't know why, but his instinct often reasons in front of his brain, and he has learned to do as it says, even when he cannot yet follow the logic.

"Why?"

"Something is wrong with all of this," James says with a shake of his head.

Helen decants the blood into a small phial, as the rest of them stand around and stare at James.

"You look different, somehow," John says finally.

"How so?" James asks. He feels different, but he has just died and been brought back to life, and so, if he didn't feel a little odd, he'd be worried.

"There is an ease to your face that has not been there for a long time," John replies. "Not since the early days of Oxford."

James is pulled into a memory of him and John, back before either of them had even had the thought of The Five cross their minds, running across campus with wild, undignified abandon. He smiles to himself, and is surprised when everyone starts shouting.

"What?" James asks, and then catches a look at his hand. It's smooth and unscarred, young. He bring both hands in front of him and stares at them, uncalloused and untested. John and Helen and Nikola are all touching him again.

It's young Clara who digs a mirror out of one of the packs and hands it to him so he can see his face. He is young again, barely twenty-five, if he remembers correctly. It's been a long time since he was twenty-five.

"We should return to the Sanctuary at once," Helen insists. "There may be other side effects."

"First the Source Blood," James demands.

Helen returns the beaker to its place, and the stone column rotates itself back around.

"Now?" she asks.

"Now," James agrees.

John insists on walking next to him on the way out of the ruins, as if his body was still that of an old main and not that of the mere boy that he seems to be now.

***

Back at the Sanctuary, they set about curing the Lazarus virus. It's simple enough, even with the tiny amount of blood Helen has brought with her. The Source Blood is a powerful thing, and James knows that they will have a cure before the Cabal can attack again.

After a rushed phone call, John pops out to rescue Ashley and Henry. He pops back just as quickly and with both of them to everyone's relief.

"I don't want to talk about it. I just need a nap," Ashley says.

"How about a nap in the infirmary? Both of you," James replies. Ashley looks a bit pale and Henry is broadcasting trauma with every movement of his body.

"I don't need the good drugs, Uncle James," Ashley insists. "Just a flat surface."

"The infirmary has many flat surfaces," James replies pointedly.

Ashley sighs. "Fine."

Henry doesn't argue at all.

James nods and leads the children out of the room, turning back only to say, "And since everyone is back safe and sound, perhaps we ought to raise the EM shield again. The Cabal are up to something."

"I'll take care of it," Helen replies.

John follows James and the children out, though James isn't sure whether it is him or Ashley that John is currently unwilling to leave.

By the time they make it to the infirmary, Ashley is visibly shaking.

"Let's get you into a bed," James says.

"I'm just tried, and the energy drink I had isn't helping. Too much caffeine," Ashley says. "I feel like I need to be somewhere else. Doing something."

"Energy drink?" Henry asks. "You drank something those goons gave you?"

"It was in a sealed can," Ashley explains, as James helps her up on to the bed.

Suddenly she is seizing.

"Ashley!" both John and Henry exclaim, and James searches for the right drugs. He finds it and sedates Ashley before she can hurt herself.

***

It takes both him and Helen, but in the end, they manage to fix the harm the Cabal has done to Ashley. She wakes long enough to persuade Helen that she is fine and say, "Mom, stop hovering and go save the world," before falling into a peaceful sleep.

She's resting in the infirmary under John's careful eye, while he and Helen go and help Nikola with the Lazarus cure. It turns into thirty-six straight hours of work, but they manage to create a cure and make enough to distribute.

Finally, they are all able to retreat to the parlor, leaving Henry and the Big Guy to watch over Ashley, and Will and Clara to their sleep.

Helen collapses onto the couch, while James pours brandy and Nikola grabs himself a bottle of merlot. John just hovers.

"Oh, do sit down," Helen says, and John joins her on the couch. She motions for James to sit on her other side, and Nikola needs no invitation to sit at her feet, and rest his head on her knee. James lets his hand drop to the top of Nikola's head, fingers carding through his hair. Nikola pushes back into the touch just slightly, rubbing his cheek against Helen's knee as he does.

Helen sighs and then allows John to take her hair down, and James is awash with memories of John doing much the same thing in Helen's father's parlor after long nights in the laboratory.

"You flickered there, for a moment," Helen points out.

"I was thinking of another parlor," James says, making Helen smile. "John always did take any chance he could get to take your hair down."

The smile he shares with John is a long time coming. He has tried to forget, and he has tried to forgive, but he misses the man so damned much and John has caused him so much pain. Still, for tonight, he is the man who helped them save the world and Ashley as well, and so perhaps, James can remember him as he was before for just these moments.

Nikola turns around and kneels up between John and Helen's legs, and Helen leans down to kiss him gently on the lips. When the kiss breaks, James leans down to take his turn, as Helen kisses John just as gently as she had kissed Nikola.

They sit on the couch, making out like modern teenagers and not the hundred and sixty year old Victorians that they are. James can feel his body flickering between lifetimes as he remembers the first time he kissed John, back at that dreadful institution that called itself a school, the first time Helen took him to her bed, the first time he and Nikola managed to their hand on a copy of Kirchner's Le Coucher de la Marie.

Helen is breathing heavily by the time she suggests that they should retire to her rooms, and James is just thankful that they make it to the bed without anyone deciding to back out. He is alive and he needs this now, this coming home.

It is familiar and new and more than anything James ever fantasized. His skin is on fire with the touch of these people that he loves. There is so much history here, and so much regret, but John runs his hand down James' flank, and Nikola bites his shoulder and Helen kisses his lips and he is lost in this.

Afterwords, they lay together in Helen's bed, sticky and sated.

"In the morning," Nikola says. "We are going to investigate exactly how this new power of yours works."

James yawns into the back of his hand, and John laughs.

"Obviously, it doesn't keep him from needing sleep. Speaking of which, I would like to be sleeping now," Helen says without even opening her eyes.

The men follow suit, and soon all four of them are soundly asleep, curled up in each other.

***

"Try and shift back further," Nikola say, "Before Oxford. Maybe twelve or thirteen."

Helen is sitting with Ashley and John in the infirmary, so Nikola has dragged him to the lab to poke at his new powers. James concentrates, trying to remember his own body at twelve. It is ridiculously difficult. He is simply himself in all his memories, even the ones in which he should be short and spotty. He switches to imagining his school uniform, that at least he can picture.

"It's working," Nikola says, and then James is overcome with pain.

"James?" Nikola asks, concerned. "What is it?"

"My back."

Nikola fumbles with the buttons of his now too large shirt, and then giving into frustration rips the thing away from James' body. "Oh, James."

"What is it?" James demands.

"Welts from a cane, I believe. Your back is a bloody mess. Trying shifting a bit earlier."

He does and the pain ends.

"Hmmm," Nikola says to himself, and walks around James in a circle like he's a specimen to be studied.

"Remember when you broke your arm?" 1928, right? Nikola says. "Try that."

James sighs, but complies with Nikola's demand. He picks a memory a few days after the break, when Nigel had come to fuss over him as well as use him as a human guinea pig. Nigel's ability to concoct just about anything James might want to inject into his body was near legendary and that time, the experimental pain killers had been excellent.

James hisses with pain as he shifts into a body with a broken arm, but just as soon he is flying, high on the painkillers he took ninety-one years ago.

"Nikola," he slurs, and Nikola comes to steady him. "I am very, very high right now."

"Shift back," Nikola insists.

"It feels good. My arm doesn't even hurt."

"James," Nikola growls.

"Oh, all right," James says and shifts back to his normal, middle aged self. It is actually a self further back in time, about a month after he'd been injected with the Source Blood for the first time. He can't get any closer, he's already blacked out once this morning, trying. Worse, he'd woken up on Helen's bedroom floor, all of five years old, with Helen cooing and John grinning and Nikola laughing his fool head off.

"Hmm, can you shift to yourself from last night?" Nikola asks, and James wonders if they are going to work through lunch.

***

"Seriously, gentlemen!" Helen exclaims, and the shouting comes to an abrupt halt.

All three of them look at her, trying to project innocence all while looking even more guilty.

"If all three of you promise to act like adults, and you all agree, I think the best solution to this problem would be for us to make what happened last night into a more permanent situation," Helen says.

"Permanent?" James asks.

"I could stay here?" John adds.

"All of us?" Nikola puts in.

"All of you, here with me, at least for as long as we can keep it working," Helen says. "We are better as a team, and the Cabal is a formidable enemy."

"Yes," John says immediately.

Nikola inclines his head. "I would like this very much."

"There will have to be arrangements," James says, thinking of his Sanctuary, "but yes, I like this idea."

None of them are thinking of the obstacles, and all of them are working very hard at not thinking of all the problems of the past. Maybe just this once they can dodge and weave past all the things that are about to descend down upon them and make this work.

James can hope.

 

I prayed one word; I want.
Someone, I tell you, will remember us,
Even in another time.

-"Six Fragments for Atthis," Sappho