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"Trickster's Gambit"

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"Rook to h8. Check." Loki, Trickster God of the Aesir and son of giants, set his rook down and sat back in his chair, watching his guest. The other man stared at the chess board on the table between them. Loki wondered what he was actually seeing, because it was clearly not their game.

Jack Harkness, normally the leader of Torchwood Three on Earth, but currently a prisoner of the Master on the warship Valiant, was sitting on the edge of his chair, legs wide and bent at the knee, wear marks evident in the dark wool fabric. His elbows rested on his knees, his hands hung limply between them. His filthy gray t-shirt showed the most recent blood stain right above his heart, near one of his bracers. His blue button-down shirt was ragged and hanging loose around him. In short, he was a mess.

Jack came back to himself and the game with a toss of his head. "Sorry." He scrubbed his hands over his face and looked back at the board then reached forward, one bruised hand hovering over his king. After a long pause, he moved the snow white piece. "King to g5."

Loki nodded, unsurprised. That was the game Jack had been playing for a dozen deaths. One filled with corners, keeping his Queen on the run and sacrificing pieces at every turn, only to refuse to take Loki's own pieces in return.

Loki moved his Queen. "Queen to f5. Check mate," he said.

"Damn it." Jack pushed back into his chair, his expression shuttered.

Loki raised an eyebrow, surprised by the outburst. Then time and life came for Jack Harkness once more.

 

*****

Jack came back to life gasping for air, breathing in the rank smell of his containment area on board the Valiant. He caught the whispered voice of the Master just beyond his hearing. His eyes struggled to focus on life and what he was up against this time, only to die again as a bullet entered his brain.

 

*****

 

Loki shook his head, sighed and reached his arms over head to stretch, brushing against one of the "walls" of the room he had conjured for these meetings with Jack. The cloudy matter of the wall shifted and moved in loops around his introducing fingers. He smiled softly and tickled the spirit forms in the wall; they responded with a burst of color that flared out around the "room". Loki pulled his hands away, resisting the temptation to play with the spirits further, and continued his stretch.

The soft gray linen of his tunic strained at the seams as he moved, the thick muscles of his chest and upper arms pushing the old cloth to its limits. He dropped his arms and rotated his neck on his shoulders. He resisted the urge to pull at one of the lose threads in the trim that edged the tunic. His wife, Sigyn, would have his head if he unraveled her handiwork again.

Jack wasn't paying attention to their game. He'd just walked into his second trap and this time it was going to cost him. Winning was fun, but this was just boring. Loki had lost track of the number of games he had won at this point. Each one was worse than the last as Jack came back into death more distracted.

With another sigh, Loki leaned forward, picking up one of his smooth black marble bishops. He moved it three squares. "Check mate."

Jack said nothing, eyes frozen on the board. The not-quite-healed breaks in the fingers of his right hand looked painful, steepled as they were with his left holding up his chin.

When Jack had arrived this time, he had been drenched in sweat and boiling over with nervous energy. He had paced for a long time in silence before being willing to even try picking up their chess game. Then, when he had sat down to play, he had sunk into silence after only a few moves, slipping in and out of memories that left his hands gripping his knees tightly. He was clearly somewhere else now, not nearly as devastating, but just as distracting.

Loki tugged at the braid binding the tip of his wiry black beard, then sat back to wait in silence until the winds of fate pulled Jack back into life.

 

*****

 

The next time Jack came back to life, it was to suffocate on air. Fighting against the cloth stuffed and tapped into his mouth, he woke up to die. Bastard. This is a new one, Jack thought as he fought back panic. No matter how much he tried to tell himself not to fight, his body fought anyway. It wanted to live, wanted to breathe. But he couldn't breathe. There was no way to get air. His mouth was filled with fabric that tasted of his own bile and that was bound shut. A hand hovered over his nose. He could feel the screams ricocheting back through his body as they figured out that his throat was blocked. They had to get out some how. He fought against the lack of oxygen and the instinctive reaction to death.

"Hello, Freak," the Master said cheerfully. He was so close that Jack could only see part of his twisted grin.  "So nice to see you! Are you going to be a good boy and die for me?" It was the Master's hand that hovered over his nose and mouth. He was smiling, enjoying having caught Jack in fear so quickly.

The Master's hand came down over Jack's nose, blocking off even that limited amount of air. "Time to die, my pretty Freak."

Jack gave in to the panic then. It was the only choice; there was no air, no light, no sanity. There was only the terror, and that terrible hand cutting off his air while the Master smiled.

Jack died, thrashing against the chains holding his arms tight to the pillars on either side of him, screaming without a voice and without sanity. He died watching the Master enjoy his fear.

 

*****

 

"It's your move," Loki said, watching Jack stare at something just beyond the chess board.

The misty walls of their not-quite room rippled around them, reacting to Jack's presence and the downward spiral of his thoughts. Loki glanced behind him, looking at the patterns on the wall that Jack could see. Swaths of soothing color flowed down from the false ceiling to disappear at point where it joined with the rough-hewn floor of the room Loki had constructed. The walls were purposefully showing Jack something calming, because what Loki was being shown on the wall behind Jack was quite different.

That other wall echoed the horror of the life Jack had recently left. A young woman, dark-skinned and dressed in a dark costume, cried in silence in the middle of brightly light room with a long polished wood table in the center. Featureless soldiers held her bound before Jack, knives sliding across her exposed flesh. Jack, in the images, formed words, spoke with his captor. Loki didn't need sound to know that Jack was agreeing to whatever vile thing the Master had blackmailed him into doing using the woman's pain and life. Jack's sunken eyes in the images and across from him were clear enough. Loki nodded in understanding and the images faded, leaving the two men bathed in artificial moonlight.

The pain that etched deep lines around Jack's eyes also hung around him like a dark cloud, cloaking him in remembered hell. Loki suppressed several unhelpful thoughts, tossed his long black braid over his shoulder, the linen of his tunic shifting as he moved, and tried again. "It's your move."

"What?" Jack finally asked, raising his head slowly. 

"Chess. It's your move."

"Oh. Right." Jack turned to look at the pieces on the board. Something flickered in his eyes. Loki could tell that whatever Jack saw, it wasn't the carved marble of the pieces they had been playing with. Jack's eyes grew wide. The smell of fear filled the room, pouring off of Jack in waves. Loki watched as Jack's knuckles went white where he gripped his knees. His breathing shifted, growing shallow.

"Chess game," Loki said, using his voice to push away the visions haunting Jack. "Move your piece."

Jack jerked his eyes up to Loki's. It was the first time Jack had let him see the depth of agony clawing at his soul. Loki had known things on the Valiant were bad. All the gods knew that what the Master was doing was wrong. It was a blight on the face of existence. Now, Loki's worst fears were realized. What the Master was doing to Jack was beyond sane and Jack was disintegrating under the strain.

"Nowhere to move," Jack's eyes were huge. All white and unseeing like those of a terrified horse backing away at the end of a very short chain. "The pieces... They're … holding bodies. Blood and bone in a game I can never win."

"Yes, you can," Loki said leaning forward. "Make a move."

Jack shook his head, but there was more sanity in his eyes this time.

"Yes. Move a chess piece."

Jack took a shuddering breath and looked down past his tightly-clenched fingers, staring at a spot in the floorboards.

"Any move."

Jack looked up at the chess board again breathing deeply. This time Loki could see his eyes actually focus on the pieces. He saw the moment when Jack found his opening and committed to a course of action. Jack reached out to his Queen then paused, closed his eyes, took a deep breath and moved. "Queen to B1"

"Good," Loki said sitting back and crossing his arms in front of his chest, projecting the picture of confidence. "You can get past the visions. You can think ahead to your next move. Remember that," he said, trying to keep his voice soothing as the tug back to life began to pull at Jack again.

 

*****

 

"Remember." Jack breathed in the word as he breathed back into the rancid smell of his cell and the stinking fear of the guards. How had he forgotten their fear?

"So, Freak, back for more?"  The Master was laughing before Jack could even catch a full breath of life. He was standing back at the edge of the detainment area this time, out of reach of Jack's anger.

Before Jack stood one of the nameless guards, a long knife dancing in his hands. Jack tried to prepare himself for what was to come as the guard turned to the Master and got the signal - a simple nod and a smile, to begin - but it was pointless. There was no way, Jack knew, to prepare himself for knives, just as there was no way to prepare for bullets or poison or any of the hundreds of other methods of death the Master had tried out on him already.

A slice across his stomach cut through the grimy fabric of his shirt and deep into his flesh. More slices, more cuts. His arms, his legs, his face, his back. Over and over and over again. Never deep enough to kill him. All deep enough to hurt and bleed.

"Enough," the Master said quietly.

Silence then, except for the Master's breathing as he walked forward to admire the handiwork of his guard. Jack's own breath was ragged, the blood loss already beginning to take its toll. His head dropped forward; he was too tired and in too much pain to hold it up any longer. He felt the fear rising and pushed it down and away. He could get through this death and give them all a little more time.

"Good. Remember that." Remember what? What was he supposed to remember? He felt stronger, less alone in the face of madness. But why?

"Enjoy your death, Freak," The Master said.

Jack heard metal hitting metal. The Guard must have dropped the knife on the floor of the cell. Jack nodded as it slid into view, its momentum interrupted by the bolts in the ship's floor plates. There would be no killing stroke this time.

Great. I get to bleed to death.

The Master's polished black shoes appeared in Jack's hazy view before his hand tilted Jack's aching head up and back so he could look his prisoner in the eyes. A dull burning sensation joined the layers of throbbing pain as the Master's other hand dug into one of the cuts on Jack's chest. There was nothing left in him to fight, so Jack gave the Master the groan of pain he was looking for.

The Master smiled. "That's my good Freak. I'll see you when you get back."  He patted Jack on the cheek with a hand covered in Jack's own blood, then dropped Jack's head abruptly. Jack's neck snapped down painfully as his overstressed muscles failed to compensate for the lack of the Master's supporting strength.

When the echoes of the Master's footsteps had stopped bouncing around the metal bulkhead, Jack let his eyes close and gave in to tears. His arms ached where they held all the weight of his body in its chains. Blood dripped from a thousand cuts. With each breath he took, he could feel more life slip out to coat the ground beneath him. Drop by drop. Tear by tear. Body by body. His life for theirs. His life for the Doctor's. Drop, drop, drop; he listened as the drops of blood slid down his chest, pulling his life with it.

 

*****

 

"Jack? It's your move," Loki said for a second time. He was kneeling beside Jack, watching him wake to death. Unlike previous deaths, this one was taking a very long time to release Jack.

Jack lay on his side, his arms clutched tightly to his chest. His body was twitching uncontrollably and his breathing was strained. He looked up at Loki. The muscles in his neck tightened and he forced words past the phantom remnants of some powerful neurotoxin. "Fuck you."

"About time you said something interesting."

"Fuck you twice." His words were clearer, his voice less strained, his muscles slowly relaxing as the reality of death whipped away the trauma of his last moments of life.

"I'd love to, but you are in no shape for such games."

Jack started to say something, but closed his mouth with a bruising snap. Loki wondered what he had been planning to say, probably more of the same. Jack didn't look like a man who had much intelligent thought left in him. Instead Jack lay back on the ground and stared up at the cloudy sky with a sigh. "Outside is nice."

"I thought you might prefer that about now."

"Thanks."

Loki studied Jack as the other man's eyes slowly tracked across the dark sky, following the gray clouds that were playing hide and seek with the crescent moon.

Jack looked worse, as though the sheer number of deaths was creating another kind of death, draining away a bit more of his life each time he died. There were permanent hollows around his eyes now and those eyes, so strikingly blue when Loki had first arranged to meet Jack a few years ago, were dull and cloudy with constantly remembered pain. According to Hella, the Lady of the Underworld, there should be no pain in death, but for Jack at least that did not seem to be holding true.

Shadows showed along his collar bones beyond the tears in his t-shirt, and that didn't make any sense either. It was as though Jack's clothing was infected with the overflow of hate and dying. With each death the fibers wore down a little more, showed the strain of life a little longer, recovered a little less well. Bruises covered Jack's arms down to his hands and dusted his bare feet below his trouser cuffs. Loki had no idea what had happened to Jack's boots or his over shirt. Both had stopped coming through with him about ten deaths ago. Jack looked like what he was: a man who had been killed more times than anyone has a right to live through. How had he died this time? Not the anatomy lesson of the last death; something quieter but more insidious in turn. A slow- acting poison, maybe?

Jack shivered in the cool breeze and then began to shake. He struggled to roll over, his teeth knocking together loud enough to scare small beasts.

Loki grabbed a blanket from thin air and draped it over Jack's back then tucked it under his shoulders in one fluid motion. He clasped Jack's hands together and began to rub, calling warmth blazing back into ice-cold nerve endings. Jack cried out.

"Its ok, give it a minute for the warmth to settle back into your limbs."

Jack, as patient as Loki himself, pulled his hands away and tried to push himself into a sitting position. He fell back into the grass before getting even half way up. Loki grabbed Jack's arms, hauling him up and against his chest. "Easy does it."

"Thanks," Jack said through chattering teeth.

"Don't mention it."

Loki could tell when warmth replaced cold in Jack's body. The other man's muscles began to loosen and Jack's fingers began to relax their death grip on Loki's arms and his breathing slowed. Loki envisioned a smooth slab of rock to rest against and leaned back, balancing Jack's weight along his chest and thighs.

"Did you really give birth to a horse?" Jack asked with a sleepy grin.

The chills had subsided and Loki could feel the exhaustion pulling at Jack.  He shook his head and laughed. "Yeah."

"How did that feel?"

"Interesting," Loki said, thinking back to his hours of labor alone in the woods. "I had thought the hooves would be hard on my cervix. Individually they were fine; it was more fact that there were eight of them that was uncomfortable. But actually it was Sleipnir's skull that hurt the most. I thought he was never going to come out of me!"

"Huh."

"Of course, it helped that I was a mare at the time."

"It would," Jack said rubbing one long finger along the back of Loki's hand. "Was the sex any good?"

Loki opened his mouth to answer then closed it suddenly, blood flowing rapidly away from his brain. Jack laughed and pressed back against Loki's sudden and obvious fondness for that very long night with Svaðilfari. "That good, huh?" he asked.

"Stallion," Loki replied. He could feel himself blushing, which made no sense. He never blushed. "A very large stallion. With a great deal of experience."

"Mmmm. Nice. I dated this Laxallian once who was hung like a horse, quiet literally. Was also a progeny carrier so had all three reproductive organ sets, including this amazing digit, in …" Jack wiggled his elbows, then chuckled and tossed his hands in the air. "Well, let's just say it was a whole lot of fun!"

"I'll bet."

They lay together looking up at the stars, thinking of sex and childbirth, and enjoying the feel of their bodies pressed tightly together. After a time Jack looked past the stars to Loki, his eyes thoughtful. "Explains it, though."

"Explains what?"

"Why you smell familiar," Jack said with a yawn. He turned his head into the crook of Loki's arm, closed his eyes and succumbed to sleep. Loki watched Jack's chest rise and fall, relishing the brief flash of the old Jack. 

At some point Loki fell asleep as well. At another point life came to claim Jack from his arms, pulling him back into hell.

 

*****

 

Jack woke into life naked and ice cold in a new cell; it was exposed and intimate all at the same time. He was standing, as usual. The Master had a thing about making him stand for these games. His legs, as well his arms, were bound this time. All four limbs were pulled taut by iron chains. His arms stretched out to dank walls that closed in around him. His legs anchored to chill metal plates on the floor. No way to bend or turn without dislocating a limb. No way to ease the strain on his joints. Figures. A hundred or more deaths in as many days and the Master was still inventing new ways to try and break him. Too bad he liked being naked. Too bad the handsome young guard next to him wouldn't look at him; now that could have been a fun diversion.

"Welcome back, Freak," the Master said as he sauntered into the room.

The Master was preening. That was not a good sign. It was never a good sign when he was gloating and wanting Jack to watch him as he ambled from guard to guard, hands clasped behind his back, a perverse grin on his face. Jack caught one of the guards looking at him, really looking, and not with the vacant stare so many of them were wearing now because the Master had trained the humanity out of them, or taught them to hide what little they had left. This guard was looking at Jack with human eyes. These were eyes that had seen madness and knew that it was in the room with them. Jack nodded his head, more of a tilt of his chin, and hoped that would be enough to calm the young man. It had better be; he didn't have time to worry about a scared guard on top of everything else.

The Master turned back to Jack and it was clear from the way he moved and held his arms that there was something in his hands. Jack didn't want to know what toy the Master had for him this time. He was so tired of this game. He was tired of all the Master's games.

"I have a treat for you, Freak. Would you like to see my little present?" The Master brought his hands from behind his back. Jack heard the human guard suck in a breath before he looked over at the hissing mass of glowing silver snakes writhing in the Master's hands.

Jack could feel the blood drain from his face, but managed to keep his reactions to that one response. That was part of the game between them. Each time the Master surprised Jack with his latest vile device or disgusting method of torture Jack would smile and grin or laugh like the madman he was becoming. The screaming came later. It always did. Jack had tried fighting the screams at first, but it didn't work, so he gave up and let the ragged sounds tear out of his throat whenever they wanted. It always felt better anyway and if it brought death as a gift a little sooner and an end to the momentary horror, then it was worth the humiliation of the Master's glee.

The Master brought his handful of glowing serpents up to Jack's eyes. "Do you like them?"

"Alcaraban Sensor Snakes." Jack did his best to shrug, bound as he was. "Good for a trick or two at a party. So?"

The Master laughed. "Oh, these are specially modified Sensor Snakes." With his free hand, the Master reached into the breast pocket of his blazer and pulled out his laser screwdriver. "Very specially modified. Shall I show you?"

Jack gave him his chained shrug again, buying time for all of the captives.

"That's my Freak, always ready for a new adventure."

He brought the handful of wiggling silver bodies to Jack's chest and opened his hand. Like most reptiles, Sensor Snakes responded to body heat and, compared to the Master, Jack was a volcano. The snakes turned like one organism towards Jack and quickly slithered onto his body. They smelled like the sweetest tea roses and felt like soft sueded silk, cool against his skin. The snakes nudged and swarmed over his body, seeking the warmest points.

Jack pushed down a shiver of delight at the feeling of all those soft caresses and found a spot over the Master's shoulder to stare at while the Master watched the snakes in blissful concentration. Another lesson learned the hard way, closing his eyes only brought images of the bodies the Master had cut up during the times Jack had fought him.

The snakes had worked their way up and down Jack's torso, finding his cock and wrapping it in an undulating mass of silky softness. Other snakes continued down to encircle his legs, knees and up around his neck and burrow into his armpits. Another stifled sound from the guard, this one close to a moan. That guard would be replaced soon; the noisy ones always were. Some of them became part of the game, rapists if that was their thing, killers or victims depending on the Master's mood. Others, Jack never knew what happened to them, but he hoped that they were just reassigned to something less painful. Someone should be so lucky.

The Master stepped back, a satisfied smile on his face. "Ah, my lovely Freak. Are you ready to scream for me?"

Great; he and the Doctor had been fighting again. The Master's games always seemed more drawn out and vile on the days when he didn't get what he wanted from the Doctor. Well, that was what Jack was here for. The longer he could keep the Master occupied, the longer the Master would stay away from the others as well. And maybe, just maybe, depending on how well Jack entertained him, the Master would leave them all alone for a few hours after Jack was dead. He took a deep breath and smiled his best wolf's grin. "Bring it on, big boy."

The snakes encircling his cock began to buzz gently as the Master pointed his screwdriver at them and pressed a button. "Oh, I intend to." He wasn't smiling now.

Sensations pulsed through Jack's groin.  Fingers of warmth spread out along his skin, up his spine, down his legs. He watched through a flush of pleasure as the Master pushed another button, and the snakes around his extremities began to vibrate and pulse with warmth. Moment by moment the pleasure built forcing a moan out of him. Jack gave up staring past the Master and closed his eyes. He knew what was coming. Pleasure was always twined with pain. Somewhere, at some point, this glorious sensation was going to burn away in agony and there would be nothing by pain and screaming. But for now, for the few moments the Master allowed, Jack was going to enjoy the glorious frission coursing over and around his body.

"Do you like that, Freak?" the Master whispered in his ear. He was standing behind Jack, so close that Jack could just feel the hard lines of the Master's body through the fine wool of his suit. Jack took a deep breath and tried to concentrate on the Master's voice. It was important to listen to him. His words were life and death, though Jack was losing track of why either mattered under the onslaught of feelings he was experiencing.

"You do, don't you?" He caressed Jack's ass with a lazy hand. Absent gods, the Master had never touched Jack like this before. It felt so damn amazing - a quiet patch of cool stillness against the maze of his vibrating nerve endings. "The Doctor's slut. Letting me do as I wish to you day after day." The Master's hands had moved around front and were pressing firmly along Jack's chest, long fingers splayed against his abdomen.

"Oh god," Jack tried to stifle the cry, but failed miserably. The buzz of the dammed snakes kept ratcheting higher with each passing minute. The Master's voice in his ear, the Master's heat at his back, and the Master's hands on his body, was too much; all he could do was writhe and moan in the Master's hands.

"Yes, that's it, Freak, moan for me. Moan to save your Doctor for a few more hours. You like what I'm doing to you, don't you?"

Jack couldn't answer. There were no words to give the Master. He hated him. Hated everything he was doing, but everything at the moment felt so good. And he had to do what he was doing. He had to let the Master vent his anger on his immortal body, because he was the only one who could handle the damage.

Beautiful pain shocked through Jack. All across his body the snakes had sunk their fangs into his flesh sending hallucinogenic toxins flooding into his bloodstream. "Answer me, Freak. You like what I'm doing. Don't you?"

"Yes," he sobbed, pressing his back into the Master's chest. He writhed like the snakes that were stripping him of thought and reason, supported by the Master and the shackles that bound his wrists to the walls. "Yes! Damn you."

"Not me," the Master laughed and reached down, pushing snakes out of his way, to twist Jack's cock in his icy hands. Jack was nearly blind from sensation. He couldn't move, couldn't breath. Couldn't think. All he could do was feel and it was rapidly becoming too much even for him, the sensualist. "No, I'm not the one who's damned. No, my Freak, that's you. You're the damned one. The damned damaged Freak whom even your beloved Doctor can't bear to look at. Isn't that right?"

"No," Jack shook his head. "No." He knew he shouldn't argue with the Master. But this was too much, too wrong.

"Oh yes, my little slut."

Somehow the Master was in front of him, holding his face in his hands, kissing him. Running his tongue down between the snakes along his neck and biting his skin like a lover. Jack pulled at the walls, pulled his chains but they wouldn't move. He tried to move, but the Master held him, arms around his waist now. How had they gotten there? The Master's leg between his own adding unbearable pressure to the hissing, biting vibrations in his groin. He moaned and hated himself for wanting more. He writhed in the Master's arms, needing his touch, needing to be as far from the Master as he could get and not knowing which desire was stronger. Jack was dissolving, exploding, but going nowhere. He was moaning with each stroke of the Master's hand across his ass; trapped by the Master's hands and his snakes; locked in a hell of sensation.

"What would your Doctor say if he could see you now? Begging me for more? Begging me for release? What would he think, Freak?"

The Master's words roared through Jack's veins with each ripple of sensation. Freak! Slut!

"Beg me to fuck you, Freak, and I will let your Doctor live a little longer."

"Please." Freak! Slut! More! Doctor!

"Beg me to let you come and I will leave your friends alone."

"Please! Freak! Slut! Beg! Beg! Beg! More! Fuck me!  Jack's nerves were screaming. His mind was on fire. He was blind and deaf with need.

"Beg, slut! Beg!"

"Please!Please!Fuckme! Please Master! Please! Oh God Pleasssssssssssse!"

The Master's hands stopped moving across his skin, then vanished altogether. Jack cried out, needing his touch and hating it.

"That's my good Freak. Such a good, good Freak. Always happy to please his Master, aren't you?"

Jack couldn't open his eyes. He couldn't see the Master, but he could feel the cool breeze of the Master's breath across his skin mixing with the blazing buzz in his blood and he sighed, happy for the Master's affection.

Then everything was pain.

Bright, sharp pain seared through Jack's gut as a dull blade was shoved in and all the way through. A harsh scrapping pain followed as the blade was forced up, cutting organs and snakes as it went and then was pulled out. Excruciating pain followed as the remaining snakes reacted to the loss of their companions with fresh bites and pulsating constrictions of their bodies.  Every nerve ending Jack had burned out in a searing white hot explosion of sensation so intense it had no name, but was certainly no longer anything related to pleasure.

But the worst sound of all was the Master's laughter as he walked away and left him to die screaming in unrelieved agony.

 

*****

 

Loki reached out to catch Jack as he woke to death screaming, "No! Master, No!"

"It's okay," Loki said, grabbing hold of Jack's naked and bloody body. "You're safe for the moment."

"Master, please!" Jack screamed and writhed under Loki's hands. "No! No! Master! Nooooooooooooo!"

"Jack, you're safe. The Master's not here." Loki shifted his grip so that he could lock his arms around the struggling man's waist.

"No!" Jack clawed at Loki's hands and pushed off the ground with muscles fueled by pure adrenalin. "Noooooooooo!"

Loki held on, letting Jack thrash like the maddened animal he was, taking the wild punches and flying limbs in stride. He never let go as Jack screamed and howled at the night.

Loki held Jack until all that was left were body-wracking sobs.

Loki held Jack until he was shivering in his arms, lying back against his chest, calling out names in a horse whisper.

"Doctor, Martha, Francine, Clive, Tish ... Master…Master… Master…"

Loki held Jack until the winds came and pulled him back to the Master.

 

*****

 

The next time Jack woke, he was back in his usual detention area, arms stretched out to his pillars, his body free of snakes, and dressed. He wondered which guard had been given that task. Had he enjoyed it? Best not to ask that question. He waited alone in his silent cell for days, happy at first for the solitude.

When Jack finally died, his belly clawing at his spine from emptiness, he found himself remembering the touch of the Master's hands on his skin and hating himself for wanting the man's touch so much.

 

*****

 

Loki slid his pawn across the board and looked up at Jack. "Your move."

Jack's eyes were open, they were even directed at the board, but there was no movement in them. Nothing to indicate that Jack even knew where he was.

Loki ran a hand over his own face and scrubbed at his beard. The man across the chess board from him looked so empty. So bitterly, achingly empty. The hollows under his eyes were as deep as the bone white cavity of his daughter's eye socket. And there were more ribs showing under his t-shirt. He looked like he was starving to death, which would not surprise him at all. But there was more to it; it was as though he was starved for more than just food.

Jack shuddered, made a sound that was just short of a howl, and wrapped his bruised arms around his chest.

"Talk to me, Jack." They were stupid words, Loki knew, but he had to try something.

Jack pulled deeper into himself, running his hands up and down his arms in an ugly imitation of comfort. Loki pushed himself out of his seat and around the chess board to kneel in front of Jack. He put a hand on Jack's arm. Jack flinched.

"Cold."

"Shhhh," Loki whispered, pulling Jack close and rocking him in his warmth.

Jack began to cry then, deep sobs that shook his body to the bone.

"It will be okay," he said, stroking Jack's hair.

Jack tried to pull away, shaking his head through his sobs, but Loki captured Jack's face and held him in place, turning Jack to make him see that he meant every word he spoke. "Yes it will. You can get through this."

Jack shook his head and hid his face in Loki's hands. Jack's skin was ice cold, a cold so deep his body wasn't even shivering.

"You are strong. You will survive," Loki said again and Jack shook his head again. "Yes. Yes you will. Yes you are."

Loki kissed him then, drawn by instincts he had trusted for eons. Jack recoiled, fear darkening his eyes to near black.

"It's okay," Loki said brushing a hand lightly across Jack's cheek. He nearly cried as this man who was normally trying to show everyone that sex was fun and something to share, shied away from his touch. "Trust me." Please, he thought desperately.

Jack froze his eyes on Loki's face.

"I know you, Jack. You are like me. You need the touch of another person. You need to feel skin and heat and desire." Loki felt Jack's body respond to his words as well as the long firm strokes of his hands down Jack's arms. "Don't let anyone take this away from you."

Loki kissed Jack again, hard and deep. His tongue as certain as his words had been. He used the heat of his lips to communicate his belief into Jack's frightened mouth. His hands joined in the rhythm, pressing into Jack's flesh with insistent caresses, reminding him of pleasure and things that feel good.

Loki kissed and licked along Jack's jaw and down his neck. With each stroke of his tongue and touch of his lips against Jack's skin, Loki could feel Jack twitch, fighting for control over the fear and the memories that had been driving him into darkness. Each touch of Loki's hands called Jack a little closer to the heat.

"This is good. This is you," Loki said, vanishing Jack's chair with a thought, and then pressing Jack back into the cool dirt so he could see the stars above them. But Jack's eyes clouded over and he cried out in terror, seeing a nightmare instead.

"Look at me," Loki said, cupping Jack's face with one hand. "Look at me, listen to my words. Feel my hands on your body. This is real."

Slowly, as though it hurt, Jack brought his eyes to Loki's.

Loki's midnight black braid fell across Jack's chest as he took Jack's nipple in his mouth through the stained cloth of the t-shirt. "This is real. This is good. Hold on to this."

Loki pushed Jack's t-shirt up and out of his way and then used his mouth and hands to travel down Jack's body licking away stain after stain, wound after wound left by the Master. He could feel Jack tremble under him, heard him moan at last, and pressed his advantage.

Loki worshiped Jack's body to remind it of what Jack adored and why all his fighting was worth the pain he had chosen to endure.

"You are valuable," he said, kissing his way down Jack's stomach.

"You are strong," he said, his hand around Jack's dick, stroking the engorged flesh.

"You do survive," he said taking Jack into the warmth of his mouth. He imprinted survival into Jack's nerves as he sucked on the hard length, dragging sounds of willing need and desire out of Jack.

"You are strong," he said as Jack shattered and came screaming from pure pleasure at last.

Loki held Jack as he shuddered under the stars, caressing his face. As the winds crept up around them he wrapped Jack in his arms and kissed him lightly on the forehead. "Remember," he said as life pulled Jack back into its embrace.

 

*****

 

Jack woke up face down in a tub of water. Shit, he thought, breathing in water and then coughing as he was dragged up by his shoulders into the air. Goose bumps prickled as a cold breeze hit his wet skin. He was outside in the dark. He could see stars above him and thick clouds all around. The smell of burning fuel was thick around him. He shook his head, as much to get the wet hair out of his eyes as to clear the oxygen deprivation from his thoughts.

"What do you think, Freak?" Jack turned towards the Master's voice. He was standing near the edge of one of the Valiant's exterior metal walkways exposed to the elements. One push, Jack thought, one push and this would all be over. "A lovely night isn't it?" the Master continued. "I thought, why waste it indoors when we could all come out side and have a pleasant evening together?"

The Master nodded to someone behind Jack and suddenly Jack was head first in the water again, hands behind his back, breathing in air, struggling against what he wanted most. He opened his mouth, taking in several lungfuls of water. His vision began to darken. His mind relaxed; it would be alright, if he could just stop fighting. They had their chess game and it was his move. If he could just concentrate on the board, maybe he could beat him this time.

Then he was being pulled up and out of the water, back into the cold night, coughing out water, relearning to breathe.

"All these little games," the Master sighed theatrically and shook his head. "The Doctor, his pet humans. Even you. Especially you, my Freak. It gets so old. Don't you agree? I just don't know what to do any more. I mean, really, where's the fun? There's only so many ways to kill you. And that charming team of yours, well." The Master laughed.

Jack forgot how to breathe. No, please no, he thought. He tried to shove the thought away, to hide his reaction, but he couldn't. The Master's laughter increased and Jack knew that all his fear and heartbreak was laid bare for the Master to enjoy this time.

"They were so pitifully easy to deal with. That young Asian woman did scream nicely, I'm told, when they… well, when they took turns with her. I did tell the guards they could do as they liked. It seems they rather fancied playing with your pretty team."

Jack went rigid with anger and shame. He'd left them behind to die. Toshiko, his beautiful, sweet Tosh. He closed his eyes, and willed himself to see her smiling and happy, but all he could remember were her tears.

"Remind me to show you the video of that handsome young man, Jones, I believe his name was?" Jack tried and failed to stifle the sound of shock that Ianto's name gave him. The Master smiled. They both knew he had won another point. "Yes, that was it. Ianto Jones. He lasted ten days. Longer than any of the others. The images are really quite impressive."

The Master nodded again, and again Jack's world was water instead of air. Peace instead of madness. He welcomed it. He called up images of Ianto and Tosh, Gwen and Owen, each of them happy and strong; his team, his amazing team, as life left him at last. He didn't deserve the gift of death, but he threw his arms open to it anyway.

 

*****.

 

Jack looked over the chess board, eyes ranging over the pieces. He lifted a hand from his knee and darted forward. "Knight to c3"

Loki smiled. Jack was thinking at last, now he was going to make him keep thinking, and if he was lucky, get Jack fighting back. "Knight to c6."

Jack jerked back away from the board to frown at Loki. Loki leaned back in his chair and smoothed a piece of lint off his tunic. After a moment of thought Jack moved his other white knight into play. "Knight to f3."

Loki followed immediately, mirroring Jack's actions on the board again. "Knight to f 6"

"What the hell?"

"What?"

"Stop mimicking everything I do and just play the damn game."

"Why should I?"

"You're the one who wanted to play chess, so play." Jack tossed his hands in the air. His frustration was showing, but not enough for Loki's plans.

"It's your move," Loki said, using his chin to indicate the board.

"Fine. Pawn to g3."

Loki sprang forward and mirrored Jack's actions once more. "Pawn to g6."

"Stop it."

"Make me."

"No."

"Make me. Make him. Or they will have died for nothing."

"Stop it!" Jack pushed away from the game board and walked away from Loki, off towards the edge of their meeting grounds and back, anger boiling off of him in near visible waves.

"Why should I?" Loki called after him.

"I can't!" Jack shouted. "I can't do anything about their deaths. I can't bring them back. I can't stop any of this from happening."

"I know."

"You know nothing!"

"I know what this feels like."

"You're a god! What the hell do you know about how I feel? You're not even real!"

"Real enough to get you off and hold you while you cried yourself stupid."

"Fuck you!"

"Ok."

Jack marched up to Loki and punched him, or tried to. Loki slipped out of his chair and stepped aside. Jack fell on his knees, overbalanced in his rage.

"Interesting footwork there. I would have thought your style would have had a bit more finesse, but I suppose I have to give you a handicap for all you are going through right now."

Jack surged up at Loki, fury in his eyes and his movements. Loki stepped out of reach again and laughed. As he moved, he called up the illusion he had been constructing for the last few death meetings. His voice began to change, taking on the tone Jack hated so much. Jack's head came up at the sound of "the Master's" laughter. Loki watched him followed the sound and charge again. Madness was lending him strength, but stripping him of finesse.

Loki increased the pace of his illusions. His hair shortened and took on the sunlit hue of a golden god. The tunic and trews vanished under the illusion of the Master's black suit. Construct complete, Loki stepped into Jack's next blow. He let the punch catch him in the stomach and knocked him to the ground.

Jack straddled Loki's carefully crafted illusion and began to punch the face that looked like everything Loki knew Jack both hated and craved. Loki put up a token resistance, allowing Jack to hammer into his ribs so that he could expend his anger on the bones under the dark cloth that felt of wool gabardine instead of linen. Loki never even felt them crack under the rage that Jack vented into him.

"Ianto!"

"Owen!"

"Gwen!"

"Toshiko!"

Punch after punch, name after name Jack slammed his fury and agony into the monster Loki offered up to him. "I am not a Freak!" he roared into the night.

Loki caught Jack's hands, stopping his movements so quickly the cessation of sound created its own kind of reverberation. "No. You are not." The illusion of the Master vanished.

"I'm not a Freak." Jack tried to claw at the face that had been there only a moment ago.

"No." Loki sat up pushing Jack backward onto his lap, keeping a tight grip on Jack's straining hands.

"He killed my team!"

"Yes."

"He killed me!"

"Yes."

"Over and over again."

"Yes." Loki nodded in understanding. "And he will keep killing you before this is over."

"Why?!" Jack sobbed, or begged maybe. Loki knew that was the question Jack had been asking since he had been changed, since he had become the only one who could survive the task he had given himself.

"Because he can. Because you can. Because it's your job."

"I don't want this. I never wanted this!"

"Tough. You lost that choice a long time ago, just like I did." Loki offered him back his hands with a grimace. "Are you done punching me?"

Jack laughed, startled, then nodded. "Yeah, I'm done for the moment. I might have to try it again sometime though, when I'm not so pissed."

Loki gave Jack a questioning look. "Why?"

He shrugged. "Might be fun."

Loki laughed in reply, the marks of Jack's punches fading in the moonlight until his skin was smooth and flawless once more.

"Good to know I can't actually hurt you," Jack said, staring at Loki's face in fascination.

"No more than the Master can hurt you, unless you let him."

Jack shivered at the name and nodded. "Why are you doing this?"

"Doing what?"

"This," Jack raised his hands to their outdoor sanctuary. "Getting me to cry, which I hate by the way. The blow job, which was not bad. Letting me use you as a punching bag. Why do it?"

"You need it." Loki pushed Jack off his legs and stood up.

Jack shook his head. "Uhun. Not good enough."

"I told you. I've been here. I know what you're going through. And sometimes the only way to get through it is to have a moment free from hell." Loki turned away from Jack. He looked out over the starlit land he had created for them, remembering his beautiful Sigyn holding a cup high above his face, catching venom without question, without doubt as to why it needed to be done. Giving her his heart when no one else would. "A moment without the poison dripping on your soul."

Jack's face changed, understanding spreading across his features. "The rock that you were bound to, the one with the serpent that hung over your head dripping poison." Jack stood and walked to stand beside Loki.

"Yes." Loki nodded, the muscles in his arms and legs twitching with remembered / current pain. For him time was spiral. He was bound to his rock even as he stood talking to Jack on a patch of grass that didn't really exist. "Bound by the sinew of my own children for doing what had to be done."

"Because you made sure the son of Odin died and stayed dead."

"Yes."

"Why?"

"It had to be done. Must be done. Is being done."

"Why?" Jack pushed.

Loki sighed, uncomfortable, as always with this tale. He did, and would do, what had to be done. He accepted his part. He did not have to like how the story had been told through the years. "Without Baldur Ragnarök - the end of the world really is the end of everything. That gorgeous son of bitch saves the world."

"Destroying you and the giants," Jack said without emotion.

Loki shrugged. "But humanity lives. The world and everything that is good about it survives. Has survived. Time and time again. It will continue to survive, every time the horn at the end of time calls us to battle."

"You sound like a Time Lord I know."

They stared out at the stars and shifting clouds. Loki saw dark shape dip into the grass and heard a screech a moment later followed by the dying screams of some foraging animal. Jack shivered, though Loki doubted it was from cold. "Does Odin know?"

Loki nodded.

"And he still tied you to the rock?"

"The price has to be paid by someone."

"Huh," Jack said and shoved his hands into his pockets but did not move away. They stood together watching the night bleed into dawn until life came for Jack.

"Don't forget, it's your move," Loki said into the winds of fate.

 

*****

 

The Master held Jack's head in one hand, stretching his neck back to its limits. In his other hand he held a sharp blade to Jack's throat. "Sing for me, Freak. Sing for your freedom!"

Jack strained away from the knife and struggled to pull air in through his narrowed wind pipe. "Don't forget, it's your move." Loki's words rang in Jack's head, a welcome counterpoint to all the points of pain his body could no longer block out. He called up a memory of Loki's black braid hanging along side the edge of the chess board as the god studied the cool marble pieces. He held that image in his mind and breathed out, "No."

The blade sliced across his throat before the sound of his voice could begin to echo along the bulkheads. Jack was dead before the Master realized he had killed him too quickly once again.

 

*****

 

Jack had a wicked gleam in his eye. Loki approved and watched in silence as the other man set his piece into motion and forced Loki to revise his plan again. "Queen to b5."

"Hmmm. Okay then, castle king's side."

"Really? You know, that's not a bad idea." Jack grinned and swapped his own king with his castle. "Castle king's side."

Loki laughed and rubbed his hands together. "Alright then, pawn to a6."

They were still playing when life came for Jack once more.

 

*****

 

They had left Jack alone for a week. His feet ached from standing and his arms had gone numb days ago, but he wasn't starving this time. This time they sent Tish on a nearly regular basis, and once even Francine, with food for him. It was a bit of torture in its own way to see them and be reminded that they too were bound by the madness of the Master.

In the long stretches between food and companionship, Jack thought over the chess game he and Loki were currently playing. It was the longest game they had managed to play. Jack hadn't lost yet, and it wasn't even sheer perversity or blind foolishness this time. Now he was thinking his way through the puzzles Loki set for him. For the first time in a long time he didn't want to lose. He was actually starting to remember what it felt like to want to win.

He thought over all the moves since this game had begun and started to laugh. He saw the trap Loki had laid for him and he loved it. It was beautiful and perfect and worthy of both of them.

When the firing squad's bullets ripped through Jack's body, he was ready. He knew the next moves in the game and was looking forward to teaching Loki a lesson or two.

 

*****

 

Jack moved his rook smoothly and sat back.

Loki studied the board a moment, more to watch Jack, who finally looked relaxed and healthy. The bruises on his arms had faded, his clothing seemed to be repairing itself and his boots had even reappeared. Loki nodded pleased, then moved to kick off the final round of the game. "Bishop to c6 takes Queen."

Jack didn't hesitate this time. He stepped into the opening Loki's move had provided and pounced. "Knight to c6 takes bishop."

"Knight to e4."

Again Jack did not hesitate. He moved his pieces like a commander on a battlefield set on winning the war, accepting that casualties were part of the cost of winning. "Knight to b4 takes queen."

Loki followed suit, using his knight to take Jack's open bishop.

The game kept their attention long after the winds of fate came for Jack.

 

*****

 

Jack came back to life with the feel of a marble chess piece under his fingers.

He was chained to the walls of his cell, clothed in lice-filled bloody clothes. He was also far away under a sky the color of Loki's hair. His nose was assaulted by the sour smell of his cell and the sickly sweet cologne of the Master. But his senses also told him he was somewhere else. His nose processed the smell of pine and wood smoke and his skin knew the feel of cool night air on his face. Jack laughed for pure joy and deep satisfaction.

The Master watched Jack, a puzzled look on his face. "A funny dream, Freak?"

Jack's laughter subsided, but his smile remained.

"Well, no matter. Within a few hours, your feisty Martha Jones will have received my message. My revenge will be hot and oh so sweet. And you will get to watch as well my Freak, never fear."

Jack pushed away his fears and looked the Master in the eye and smiled, not his bright come hither smile, but a steady, confident smile filled with self-assurance. The Master flinched at whatever he saw in Jack's eyes, and stepped back. "Are you ready to play a new game, Freak?"

"Always." Jack took a deep breath of wood smoke, wrapped himself in starlight, wished Martha safe travels, and made his move, - he made a move for all of them. "Rook to d2 takes black knight."

"What?"

Jack smiled and looked at the board in the death grove Loki had built for them. He watched the moves play out. He felt time spool out and plans come to completion. He watched the pieces dance from square to square. He watched as his rook took the last crucial pawn and smiled again. Yes, this would buy them all enough time.

Check mate.
.

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