Immortal's servant: No, actually, he was. 300 years ago.
It was cold and wet and dark. Yesterday, today, tomorrow - always the same. And Jack thought it might be killing him.
If he closed his eyes he could still call forth his home - dusty and dry and bright. Could clearly remember the constant threat of sandstorms lurking in a hot blast across his face, the softness of the white-white-white desert fabric on his skin, the rich fruit juices his mother would prepare every morning... experiences as alien in this time as his wrist strap.
But he had left his home. Had lived through things that should have killed him; had skipped across the universe like a pebble across a pond; had met people who had changed him more than he thought possible... until everything had stopped.
Jack felt as though this place was now seeping into him - like hope and life was being smothered, day by day, inch by inch, by the low clouds that never seemed to lift. He had never felt so trapped in his life, not even when facing certain death.
Jumping back through time 200,000 years and he’d only been out by a century. One. One hundred years, and it might as well have been a million.
He stared down into his drink - something these people referred to as ‘beer’ although it had the flavour and colour of dishwater - and slowly became aware of the noise and dirt and general unpleasantness of the drinking tavern he was in. Drowning his sorrows... that had been the plan. Except of course it didn’t work - it never worked - it just made him feel cold and miserable on a different level.
He could cope - had coped with far worse - but the relentlessness of it was getting to him. He remembered once coming across a cult that wanted to change humans back to what they had once been... He wished he could have shown them this place, where decay preyed on people with sickening results. For a moment he looked at the toothless old man next to him, bent and crooked and, judging from the rattling breath, suffering from something Jack couldn’t begin to guess at - he’d not paid much attention during their lecture on ‘ancient ailments’. After all it wasn’t like they didn’t get vaccinated against everything anyway. Infections on the other hand were something he was pretty terrified of - medicine in this era was so primitive. He tried his best not to shudder. Would he end up the same way in 50 - 60 years time? All withered gnarled and... worn? No, he’d commit suicide first.
As often happened now his thoughts drifted back to his beautiful Chula ship, and again he felt like crying at the accidental destruction. It seemed a somehow more manageable loss than the Doctor, Rose and the TARDIS. The ship, the technology, the nanobots - all that he could mourn. The rest...
“Hey there handsome - what’s troubling ya?”
He looked up at the plump barmaid and sighed. He was hovering on the edge of spilling secrets that he knew he shouldn’t mention, but thankfully found that he was still sober enough to infuse truth with vagueness.
“I... lost the people I love. Or rather they lost me - left without me. It’s... it’s a long story.”
The girl looked like she was about to speak when the old man nodded solemnly.
“The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. But He comes for us all in the end.”
Jack turned to him, suddenly desperate.
“Are you sure?”
The old man nodded, and Jack wished he could somehow latch onto that surety he saw in the red-rimmed eyes. He had a terrible feeling that he might live out his whole life in this sprawling grey town without ever being found.
Rome, some years later
It was evening, but still hot, and the setting sun made the whole sky blaze golden. Jack stood still for a moment and closed his eyes, letting warmth caress his skin.
If he could, he’d bottle the sensation. He knew he was taking a risk in travelling away from the Rift, but on the other hand he didn’t want to throw his whole life away, waiting. Earth wouldn’t have been his first choice of planet to settle down on - not even the tenth - but beggars couldn’t be choosers. And the hunger for warmth and light had driven him further and further south, until here he was in this ancient city.
Having spent most of the day walking around St Peter’s his feet were sore, but his mind rather overwhelmed by the sheer beauty and magnitude of what he had seen. He had some basic, scattered knowledge of European history from his Time Agency training, but somehow he’d never actually set foot in Rome - he had never been sent there, and there had never been a scam that would benefit from this location. With hindsight his previous existence seemed very shallow; the ability to just admire something, without calculating its worth or how it could best be utilised, was one of the things he was most grateful to the Doctor for. And yet another thing he’d never told him. Hopefully one day he would be able to...
But until then, he had to make do - which reminded him that he had no money left and finding somewhere to stay for the night might be problematic.
Suddenly he heard a loud exclamation, and turned to see a handsome, well-dressed young man running towards him.
“Master! It is really you! I cannot believe it - it is a miracle!”
Jack looked behind him, wondering what was happening, but the other made a beeline for him, before stopping at a respectful distance, face beaming. He had gorgeous brown eyes, Jack couldn’t help but notice, and the wide joyous grin on his face revealed dimples that made him look younger than his real age, which Jack estimated to be around 20.
As he took in these factors, Jack automatically discarded the ‘You’ve got the wrong guy’ that was at the tip of his tongue. Couldn’t hurt to hear what the kid had to say, and besides he looked like he was about to faint or explode. Jack didn’t want to have either on his conscience.
“Oh Master - how could we ever have doubted? ‘But how can anyone know the future?’ my sister asks, but I tell her that The Immortal can do anything, of course. Three hundred years are nothing to someone who has eternity, even if we mortals have been waiting with trepidation and great elation.”
He stopped to catch his breath, and, seeing the somewhat puzzled look on Jack’s face, tried to pull himself together.
“My apologies your Benevolence, I am afraid I let excitement get the better of me. A simple, unmarked carriage awaits just as you specified in your instructions.”
He pulled out an ancient-looking document and handed it over eagerly, and Jack opened it, feeling like he’d come in halfway through a play without knowing his lines. Ornate writing covered the paper, and slowly he began reading.
‘I, The Immortal, make this document for the benefit of you, my dear servants of the future, and beseech you to follow my instructions to the very letter.
I trust you will recognise my fair countenance anywhere, but be warned that I will come in disguise, dressed in simple clothing...’
There followed notes on getting the house ready for occupation, which carriage to use and various other things, then the day’s date and to ‘look for me at sunset in St Peter’s Square’.
Jack raised an eyebrow, feeling a little spooked, but then the law of averages dictated that there had to be someone like him around - the kid had obviously just latched onto the one best fitting the description. Then he read on, and couldn’t help but chuckle as he took in the final paragraph:
‘Make sure to send your handsomest boy to fetch me. I have every confidence that you will not disappoint me in any way.
Whoever this ‘Immortal’ guy was, he had clearly had his priorities in order. And he didn’t seem the type to begrudge a weary traveller taking a little advantage...
“Well then, ‘handsome boy’, shall we?”
The boy coloured very prettily, and Jack smiled. Someone up there liked him.
Trying to cover his shyness, the kid turned all practicality and business. “Master - please allow me to take your luggage. The carriage is down this way.”
“By all means, lead on. I am in your hands.”
As they walked a narrow side street, the boy introduced himself as ‘Antonio’:
“...Of the Esposito family, of course - we have been faithfully tending your residence for all these years, and know how blessed we all are to live in this time, so we may see you Master.”
Jack made what he hoped was an appropriate reply, but as they drove though the streets a little later he covertly tried to extract some crucial information about who he was supposed to be - a lifetime of having to adapt to new situations and new identities coming in helpful. And this one looked to be a challenge.
In a short while he had found out that in 1596 the man calling himself ‘The Immortal’ had disappeared on some round-the-world-trip, and very kindly left his servants with plenty of money to see them through the next 300 years. He had clearly been an extraordinary sort of guy, since the devotion he inspired had been so strong that it had passed down almost unchanged during the intervening years. Despite not really being a con man anymore Jack could feel all his old instincts re-awaken - the opportunity too good to turn down. He didn’t plan on stealing anything, cause he wasn’t that guy anymore, but this could mean free lodgings whilst he stayed in Rome... And who was he to disappoint these poor servants, who just wanted their master back? It was a win-win situation all round.
And... if things went wrong there was always Retcon. Technology might be almost non-existent in this time, but at least the apothecaries were well stocked - and he had always been a dab hand at chemistry. Getting the dosages right was tricky without better equipment, but having that tiny, simple tool in case of emergencies made him feel a lot better. He was very pleased that it was pretty much the norm for travelling gentlemen to carry their own miniature medicine cabinet.
He was thrown out of his musings by Antonio.
“Pardon me for asking, your Benevolence - but did you see the mountains of Tibet? It has been passed down that you wished to seek enlightenment amongst the monks who dwell in the everlasting snow, and to climb the tallest mountain on Earth.”
“Oh yes, enlightenment. Wonderful thing. Spent a hundred and fifty years in a monastery - very tranquil. And Mount Everest was quite something too...”
Antonio nodded, wide-eyed and impressed, as Jack described mountaineering feats worthy of someone named The Immortal, and he thought to himself that this still left him 150 blank years to fill in. He was used to creating a history out of nothing, but never a history quite this long. He’d have to be careful.
“Your English is very good,” he complimented Antonio a little later, being grateful for not having to try to get by on his still rudimentary Italian. If only the wrist strap hadn’t burnt out so completely, conversing would have been a lot easier.
“Oh, but it is thanks to your generous schooling stipend, of course. Everyone in the family has been educated in the English language, as well as the more common subjects.”
No wonder they had stayed faithful, Jack thought, this Immortal had clearly been a great benefactor. He wouldn’t mind one of those himself...
For a good while they drove through cobbled streets, past villas and ancient buildings whose windows changed from black to glowing amber as evening fell. Finally they pulled up in front of a small palace, and as Jack got out of the carriage he studied the architecture, wondering how old the house could be. He had a feeling he might be called upon to know stuff like that, and there was only so far he could get on luck. Why hadn’t he feigned amnesia?
Then Antonio walked past him, opening the front door with the particular air of ownership and entitlement that comes from long service, and announced:
“Immortal - welcome home.”
The words caught Jack unguarded, and he almost faltered. What the hell was he doing? But it was too late to back out now.
Knowing how to make a good entrance - no matter the occasion - and always ready to play the part required, he strode through the doors as though he was indeed a centuries old living legend.
There was a long moment of total silence as ‘his servants’ just stared at him in mixed disbelief and astonishment, before Antonio - relishing his role as The Immortal’s first contact - carefully introduced everyone, starting with his mother, who was also the housekeeper and very clearly the person in charge.
Jack - who had once spent an interesting three weeks pretending to be a Senator from Sto in a convoluted scam that had gone rather badly wrong - smiled his best million Watt smile as he shook hands and tilted his head sympathetically, asking questions designed to charm and disarm.
He half expected the real Immortal to show up at any moment, fuming because he’d not been picked up as he had asked... But there was no need to let that possibility stop him from enjoying himself.
As the shyness faded, so they began asking him questions in return, clearly as star-struck as Antonio - which wasn’t surprising since he’d just fulfilled their ancient prophecy.
Then a woman’s voice cut through - and in an instant the voices died down as the housekeeper glared around.
“Stop! Stop! But what are you doing? Master, please forgive - they are but excited and have clearly forgotten that it is their duty to serve, not to talk! You must be famished and your clothes-” she tutted in the way of women anywhere, “is terrible! Ah, it hurts my heart to have you looking thus, even though it is wonderful disguise. Come now. Maria! Loretta! Antonio! Get a bath ready for his Benevolence, and find the best clothes. Pietro, Renata, Mario, Julio - in the kitchen, pronto!”
There followed what were obviously more specific instructions in incomprehensible Italian, and immediately the servants scattered to their different jobs. The housekeeper then turned to him, smiling and a little apologetic.
“Immortal - it will be a little time before things are ready. Why you not go to your study? I shall bring refreshments, because dinner will be a while...”
Without waiting to hear his reply she indicated that he should follow and he obediently did so, trying not to show how much he adored the way she ‘managed’ him - it had been a long time since anyone had done so, and he was relishing it very much indeed.
As they walked up the ornate staircase and through the house she carefully pointed out all the places where changes had been made - all for the better she hoped, and he readily agreed. He could tell that she was still nervous, but she was obviously one of those people who channelled nervousness into action. It was a shame she wasn’t 25 years younger...
Just as they reached the study one of the girls appeared, telling of some domestic catastrophe or other, and Jack’s guide frowned deeply, anger flashing in her dark eyes. He immediately told her to just go and sort it out, without worrying about him - he’d be quite fine in his own house. Sending her a dazzling smile she nodded in acquiescence, promising to return as soon as possible with a drink.
Shaking his head and chuckling to himself Jack entered the study - and found himself rooted on the spot in pure shock. The wall opposite the door was dominated by a large portrait - clearly a masterpiece, rich in detail and almost inhuman in its realism.
And it was him.
Except it couldn’t be... it had to be a coincidence. At least it explained why Antonio had so readily welcomed him.
Slowly he closed the door, heart beating, then walked over and studied the picture before carefully touching the surface. It was definitely real - the paint a little cracked in the way of older paintings. Letting his eyes travel over the image, he couldn’t help but smirk a little, since he - or The Immortal, rather - looked rather dashing in the puffy sleeves and tight breeches that the fashion had dictated. And then something caught his attention - both wrists were bare.
This made him feel virtually convinced that this was really all just a case of mistaken identity and accidental look-alike-ness, but still he opened the wriststrap to do a basic scan. It couldn’t hurt to check for anything out of the ordinary.
Just in case.
A swift check proved that the painting really was genuine, and then he started scanning the rest of the room, discovering that there was something hidden behind one of the smaller paintings. A moment later he was looking at the door of a built-in safe, but the lock was no match for his training and abilities, and in no time at all it sprang open with a satisfying ‘click’.
His eyes widened and he let out an involuntary whistle at the riches contained within. Mr Immortal was clearly as loaded as the palace would indicate, if not more so. Trying to tell himself that he was definitely not stealing anything - well at least not much - Jack began to sift through the contents, now and again stopping to admire some of the treasures, before discovering a simple piece of paper without an envelope - as though it had been left inside by accident. As he pulled it out and looked at it properly he suddenly felt faint. It bore a single line of writing in the Time Agency code that he could still write and decode in his sleep.
Enjoy the alias.
It was signed with his own Time Agency number.
He stared at it in mute befuddlement for a long moment, then turned over the paper to see if there were any hidden clues. But no matter how hard he looked he couldn’t find any other message - no microchip, no invisible text, no other paper containing the clue to unravelling the message... Slowly he lifted his eyes and looked at the smiling face beaming down on him from the wall. Was it really him? But how?
Carefully he closed the safe, then sat down at the desk and rested his head on his hands, staring at the mysterious piece of paper.
Time Agency Code... that could mean several things. Had he finally discovered part of what the Agency had wiped from his memory? In which case - was this something they had set up, and if so what was the plan? There was also the possibility that it was another Agent who’d arranged all this... Jack found himself smiling as he thought of a certain ex-partner who’d truly revel in the opulence of the place. Although why he’d bother with such a backwater was a mystery. Maybe it was a hideout? Although Jack couldn’t imagine him abandoning so much money...
Of course there was also the possibility that he had set this up himself, sometime in his future - that he would be a time traveller again, and had gone back in time to create this new life. But why?
He picked up a seal from the desk and studied the ornate ‘I’, surrounded by trailing flowers. ‘The Immortal’ - a ridiculous name, or title... just like a Time Lord name.
His eyes narrowed. Could it all be a ploy to attract the Doctor’s attention? Make up a person who sounded like a Time Lord, in the hope that the Doctor would hear of it and investigate? But what if it had worked? What if the Doctor had found him because of the name, and had then helped him go back and set it all up in the first place?
His head began to hurt as he tried to work out what was the most likely explanation. The one thing he was sure of was that he hated whoever had written the note, even if it was his future or past self - he had hardly seen anything less helpful in his whole life. It implied that the only purpose of the whole thing - house, money, servants - was to have fun. In principle he of course agreed with this wholeheartedly - but in reality it was infuriatingly vague. If it really was from himself, then he was probably trying to avoid changing history, but a tiny pointer would have been nice. He didn’t like being in the dark.
And if it was the Time Agency, then there was the distinct possibility that it was a code for something else - something he now didn’t know.
Then the housekeeper returned, bringing a glass of the most wonderful wine he’d had in years, and also let him know that his bath was ready.
Hours later, sitting in front of a roaring fire, clean and content after a magnificent meal and wearing fabulously expensive clothes, he thought to himself that he could get used to this...
- Not the fact that running around calling himself ‘The Immortal’ was as stupid as painting a giant target on his chest. (Not to mention that ageing would be a rather obvious give-away.)
- Not the fact that, the name apart, the chances of running into the Doctor in Rome were extremely low.
- Not the fact that he was deeply uneasy with not knowing why he had set the thing up - presuming it was his own work.
- And not the discovery of a whole underworld full of demons and magic - both of which were very real, and very unsettling. (What were the demons? Aliens who’d crashed millennia ago and ‘gone native’? Creatures from another dimension? And how and why did magic work? It shouldn’t, but it did. He was absurdly grateful that The Immortal had a reputation for scorning it.)
These all played a part, of course, they were the logical reasons he had to leave, and they were what made him tell his servants to keep his stay a secret.
But the main thing - the thing that he couldn’t live with, in spite of the luxury - was the way they looked at him. Somewhere between awe and worship and love... the same way he and Rose had looked at the Doctor.
Except the Doctor had been the real deal - a Time Lord, the last survivor of the most brilliant race ever to grace the universe, a man more gifted and extraordinary than Jack would ever meet.
And to have that look turned on him made all his bravura somehow fade into nothing.
‘I’m not who you think I am!’ he wanted to tell them, yell at them. ‘I’m just an ex-soldier/Time Agent, sort-of ex-con man time traveller from the future (which is impressive, OK, but not that amazing, honestly), and now I’m stuck. I’m just a regular guy, not your benevolent Immortal (even though I am very handsome and charming and smart and pretty spectacular in bed, to say the least); but I am not a great, mythical creature unchanged by time. Time is undoing me, time is vanishing every day, and I’m scared I’ll run out without ever finding what I’m looking for!’
Except he couldn’t say that of course - they had all been waiting for The Immortal, generations of them existing just to be there when he needed, and he couldn’t take away their dream.
So he told them that he wanted to travel some more. Just to see America - he hadn’t been there yet.
As he walked out the door, in a wonderful caped coat that he had really taken to, and with enough money hidden away in the pockets to see him through a decade or two, he felt more of a traitor than he ever had before in his life - but what else could he do?
Here is Jack and the Fanged Four! It all fitted together beautifully - it was like the writers had Jack in mind when they wrote the flashbacks in The Girl in Question. And Darla... Oh Darla rules. Enjoy. (For those not familiar with Doctor Who/Torchwood, then James Marsters played 'Captain John', a former partner of Capt Jack's, guest starring in S2 of Torchwood.)
This chapter is set in 1894 - next time we will get to 'modern day'.
Also, I thought people might like to be reminded of what Jack looked like at this time, so I found some pictures. Close up here, full length here (mmmm, coat...) and one where he's sitting here (just because I liked it). With many thanks to Torchwood for giving us Jack in something approximating the perfect period costume. :)
William: We're immortal.
Darla: Not like him. I mean, he's not some common vampire. He's—I don't know what he is. A giant. A titan straddling good and evil, serving no master but his own considerable desires.
William: Drusilla, you—you let him touch you?
Drusilla: He felt like sunshine.
Europe was quite a different place when one had money, Jack had soon realised. Last time he’d been in Vienna he’d mostly spent his time walking and admiring, but this time he found himself at the opera with a beautiful girl on his arm - which was far more like it.
Soon however he discovered the downside - opera, German opera in particular, was not his thing at all.
His only previous experience with the art form had been a fabulous Nu-Delta3-Phonic performance of ‘The Ring Cycle’ on Venus 5 in the 37th century, and whilst he hadn’t expected anything like naked flying valkyries - given the time period and the fact that they were watching a different opera - the sheer mind-numbing dullness of the show caused his eyes to wander over the audience, idly wondering if he could talk the girl into a threesome, until they stopped at the box opposite, containing two couples... and then he froze.
He didn’t notice a single thing that took place on stage for the rest of the performance, as his eyes were glued to a man he’d thought he’d lost forever - talking, laughing and clearly enjoying himself with his new companions.
It couldn’t be...
Jack tried his best to catch his eyes, but there was zero reaction - which wasn’t surprising since the other was probably pulling off some scam or other. The women though sent him a few appreciative smiles, much to his date’s consternation. (That ruled out threesomes then. Damn. On the plus-side though, it made the decision to ditch her a lot easier.)
When the show was finally over he rushed after them, desperate not to lose what might be his only chance to get off the planet - or at least out of this time - for goodness knew how many years. The men went off together and Jack saw them pick up a couple of pretty girls, but as he followed them down a dark, narrow sidestreet he received the evening’s second shock.
When he turned into the alley, he - as he had expected - saw two embracing couples... but as his eyes adjusted to the gloom, he with growing horror realised that something was very, very wrong. His head told him in no uncertain terms what he was witnessing, but still he couldn’t make himself believe it.
Without thinking he called out “Stop!” and the ‘men’ both looked up, yellow feline eyes studying him coldly.
Then their faces melted back to their human features as the tall, dark haired one looked him over disdainfully.
“And who are you to tell Angelus what to do?”
Jack clenched his jaw, looking from one to the other. This changed everything, and he wasn’t sure how to proceed - except that now he knew what name to use.
“I’m The Immortal.”
Angelus was clearly not impressed.
“Are you now? Come to beg some leftovers?”
Rudely he threw the half-conscious girl at him, and Jack almost stumbled trying to catch her, then found himself desperately trying to stop the bleeding from her neck.
“Please - do I look like a vampire?” he answered angrily, looking at Angelus with ill-concealed disgust.
“Nah,” Angelus leered, “you look like a self-important moron who’s bitten off more than he can chew.”
“Well look who’s talking,” Jack shot back, increasingly irritated. Sure vampires were evil - but this guy was clearly also a major jerk. Inwardly cursing he turned to the other one. It was too dark to discern what look was in his eyes, but Jack had to try - for old times sake if nothing else. He had plenty of experience of reasoning with this particular man and made sure to use the voice that was pleasant, but unmistakably authoritative:
“Just - let. the girl. go. Then we’ll talk, OK?”
The nasty grin should have warned him, but he was still shocked when the vampire casually snapped the girl's neck.
Angelus beamed. “Ah! That was a good 'un William. Well done!”
They shot each other a look and laughed - so intimate and confidential Jack felt his hands curl into fists. Then Angelus slung his arm around William’s shoulders and they walked off, never looking back.
Jack was left standing in the dark alley clutching a dying girl, hands covered in blood and his mind thoroughly shaken.
His old partner had become a vampire. Unless of course it was just someone who happened to look like him - which was obviously a distinct possibility - but after his own 'Immortal' gig he was wary of jumping to conclusions.
He tried telling himself that he should leave ‘William’ alone - and yet after a few weeks he caught up with them in Frankfurt.
To his dismay he discovered that Angelus was far more dangerous than he’d thought, as well as being a thoroughly nasty piece of work in every way. Jack had seen a lot in his life, but he’d never come across someone who got off on destroying innocence as much as this creature. Nuns were a particular favourite, and - despite not really wanting to antagonise the vampires any more than necessary - Jack made sure to arrange safe passage for a whole convent on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.
But as soon as that crisis was over, Angelus managed to get hold of some Rathrun eggs, which presented an entirely different sort of danger. So Jack stole them and then hatched them himself - the only way to make sure they didn’t end up in the wrong hands.
These actions instantly earned him death threats, fury and sworn enmity - trying to be a good guy was really terribly inconvenient for his own personal aims.
After that he did his best to stay out of the vampires’ way, but somehow their paths kept colliding through Europe, and he felt compelled to step in time and again, as ever trying to control 'William' - and now by extension Angelus - the same way he always had. Control of course being more like damage-limitation. And through it all he found himself going near-insane not knowing. Was it him, or wasn't it? Every time he tried to just talk, they tried to kill him.
His old partner had always been a sociopath, and becoming a vampire clearly suited him perfectly - he probably thought that messing with Jack was the best game ever invented. At least the women didn’t appear interested in their deadly tag, and - grateful for small mercies - Jack wished the boys were as sensible. He didn’t want to fight them, he just - he didn’t even know what he wanted anymore. There were plenty of reasons why they’d split up...
Finally he decided to just return to Rome - throw a grand ball the way he'd been planning and actually try to enjoy himself. And definitely not invite any vampires.
Rome, later same year.
“Antonio! Good morning. Tell me - do we have mail? Any last acceptances for my big party?”
It really was a beautiful morning, and Jack felt like life was smiling on him again as he sat in the ornately carved chair behind his ancient desk. The early morning sun was falling through the windows and onto the rich carpet of the study, picking out the corner of his large portrait and making it look as though it was studded with a diamond. Which it could be, if he wanted. Money was nice. And tomorrow night it was finally time for his special ball with hundreds of guests...
Surely he’d find someone - or someones - to bring back to his very large and comfortable bed. He’d been reading up on the various demon species, and there were some that looked very flexible. Oh he’d enjoy this alias alright - starting with this party. What was the point of money if not to spend it?
Yes, it was a bandaid on a giant wound, but it was better than nothing... and hopefully it’d take his mind off things.
Antonio however didn’t seem to share his mood, waving his hands in great agitation before handing over an envelope.
“It is very bad, I’m afraid. Terrible news! We will be a few guests short, Immortal.”
Jack took the letter from him, frowning.
Without waiting for an answer he swiftly scanned the few lines, and Jack could feel a dent forming in his happy mood.
“Do we know who did this?”
Antonio hesitated for a moment, worry trailing over his features. In his face Jack could still see the echo of the boy who had once greeted him so brightly, and for just a second he felt immobilised with terror at what he was. His own face had remained so unchanged that it had been a shock to return to Rome to find everyone aged. Antonio was nearing middle age, married and with teenaged children, and Jack... Jack was The Immortal.
Maybe if he heard the name a million times he’d get used to it - be able to begin to accept what he was. After all, this was one of the reasons he’d returned. He had been drawn to the one place where his ‘condition’ was not just accepted, but celebrated. Where what he was and who he was were one and the same. Where he could just be himself, whatever that was now.
Then Antonio replied. “We know that it was a vampire attack and there is talk that... that it might have been Angelus.”
Jack buried his face in his hands, then slowly looked up through his fingers. “I so did not want to hear that.”
“My apologies, your Benevolence,” Antonio said, but Jack shook his head. “Not your fault. I should have known they’d show up here sooner or later...”
Leaning back in the chair, he let his mind go over recent news stories, beginning to see a pattern. “Shouldn’t wonder if they were behind all the other things that have happened lately - they really do think they can get away with anything.”
For a moment Antonio’s eyes glittered in just the same way his mother’s once had. “Shall I ask Father Oremus to gather an mob?”
Suddenly laughing, Jack shook his head. This was perfect - finally he was in a position where he could actually do something. “No... I have a different idea. Tell me - the report... did it only mention Angelus and William?” Antonio nodded, and Jack’s eyes narrowed. “That means their women still aren’t in the game. Oh I think I have a plan, handsome boy.”
The servant flushed in pleasure at the old nickname, and Jack grinned.
“Try to find out where they’re staying. Then get the strongest servants together - tonight we go hunting!”
Being busy with party preparations all day, Jack sent a couple of servants to watch the vampires' dwelling, but once they went out they managed - through design or by accident he didn't know - to get away. It took most of the night to find them again, but then thankfully things were easy. The vampires had speed, strength and cunning, but Jack had a large team and plenty of experience of catching hostiles in any terrain.
Soon enough he had them cornered, and they both turned to face him as he approached, even as their eyes looked in vain for a means of escape.
"Immortal!" Angelus said, voice a low menace, and Jack shook his head.
"Oh Angelus. I'm sorry it's come to this, but I’m tired of you two being a pain in my ass - especially because sadly it’s never been a literal one."
Smirking he beckoned his men forwards.
"Anyway - nice dreams!"
Then in no time at all Jack stood above two unconscious vampires, waiting for his carriage. Studying William’s face, half-hidden by unruly hair, he couldn’t help but shake his head. The likeness was uncanny... he’d have to get a closer look. Much closer.
As the servants got ready to string the vampires up in The Room of Pain (very handy facility, if a touch medieval) sometime later, Jack stopped them.
“Undress them first - down to their undergarments.”
Catching the looks they sent him, he chuckled.
“Oh no, not interested in any of that, even though they are rather handsome... but I want them humiliated.” He thought for a moment.
“Like David, cutting a piece off Saul’s cape.”
The men nodded sagely and followed his instructions without further questions, and Jack felt his mind wander as he silently watched them, arms folded. It was very hard not to ponder all the possibilities that presented themselves with two gorgeous men all shackled up, but he really didn’t need a reputation for molesting his prisoners. Humiliation - torture even - that was OK... But there were fine lines when it came to these things, and he needed to be on the right side. So it was just a case of David and Saul - not that David had tied Saul up, of course, but the sentiment was the same.
Yet again he felt very grateful towards the lovely religious girl who’d been trying to save his soul when crossing the Atlantic - and who had in the process managed to impart a great deal of Biblical knowledge. It came in handy at times like this. He’d tried to seduce her in return - because she was very, very pretty - and might even have succeeded if she hadn’t surprised him with the cabin boy. After that she’d denounced him as a vile sinner and told him he’d burn in hell when he died if he didn’t repent...
Laughing hysterically had probably not been the wisest option under the circumstances, but then the immortality was still something he was trying to get used to. Hell really was the least of his worries.
When his two vampires were shackled up good and proper, he sent the others away.
“Look - the party is tonight and there’s work to do. Antonio, I’m counting on you to oversee everything. Not sure how long this will take.”
Antonio nodded, and Jack smiled gratefully. Faithful, competent servants were a true pleasure, and Antonio had inherited his mother’s touch for organising. He knew that by now all he himself had to do was turn up - Antonio might even be happy to have him out of the way. His own presence seemed to put a dampener on the servant’s natural vocal skills.
Which left him with a whole day for dealing with his vampire problem...
After locking the door securely he walked up to them, studying Angelus first. Maybe a hair’s breath taller than himself, naturally big and imposing. They’d left his under shirt on, but Jack could still easily follow the gorgeous lines of the body beneath the fabric.
A great shame he was an evil bastard. Also a great shame he’d decided that they were enemies. The Immortal’s reputation was rather murky to say the least and a vampire lover or two would not cause any eyebrows to be raised.
But Angelus of course wasn’t his real interest - it was William. What was his nickname again? Spike.
Carefully Jack reached out and lifted his face. He’d never had a chance to study him up close before, and his breath caught as he took in the chiselled features... A familiar face in this place - someone to talk to, someone who didn’t think that gramophones and light bulbs were cutting-edge technology - would be worth more than everything he now owned, even if ‘William’ was a vampire now. But Jack could hardly keep him against his will...
Angrily he shook his head. This was ridiculous - he needed to find out if this was his old partner, and he needed to be methodical and detached.
First of all there were the obvious things, and he swiftly discovered that William carried no weapons or technology whatsoever. Of course vampires didn’t really need them, but the man he remembered had always had countless tricks up his sleeve... and other places. Jack couldn’t imagine simple death changing anyone from such deeply ingrained habits.
The only possible explanation was that someone had wiped his memory before leaving him in this time... and that was rather far-fetched, although not impossible. He certainly was good at pissing people off.
But then there was the hair - it was light brown and floppy, nothing like the tight dark curls of his former partner. Not to mention how badly it had been cut...
A thorough examination revealed more proofs; birthmarks in different places, scars missing - all the little details that only a lover would know. There had been other things that he’d noticed the few times they’d met, gestures and looks that seemed strange, but then it had been more than half a century since they’d last met, and he had been unwilling to trust his memory.
But finally, after lingering far too long, unwilling to let go, he gave up his efforts. This man really was a stranger.
It was probably some form of spatial genetic multiplicity, although how that worked over 3 millennia he wasn't quite sure.
He studied the face for one long, longing moment, then softly brushed his thumb over William’s lips. He was tempted to kiss him, but the vampire would probably be able to taste it, and then get even grumpier. And Jack didn’t want them any more upset - not in that way at least. He just wanted them gone.
Sighing he got out the syringes full of tranquilliser that he’d prepared earlier. He had no idea if drugs worked on vampires, but it couldn’t hurt to attempt to keep them unconscious. Again he dearly wished that they weren’t so thoroughly evil and hadn’t decided to hate him, because they could have had so much fun together. William - Spike - whatever his name was - might not be his former partner, but Jack was sure that he was just as skillful and full of kinky tricks...
It wasn’t fair, Jack thought with sudden melancholy. He had the power, but he was all alone whilst they had each other. He was sure that the two of them fought and argued and screwed and enjoyed their depraved unlife together in every possible way - they were immortal and conscience free, the whole world their playground. So why did they have to come and bother him, reminding him so forcibly of things he had lost? (Bad things, really, but still something that had been his.) The loneliness felt sharper and more bitter than ever before.
Damn them. They wanted a fight? We’ll he’d show them how it was done - the winner would be taking all.
As he stepped outside, locking the door securely, he realised that the sun would soon rise and smiled to himself, mischief blending with anger. Time to pay the ladies a visit - hopefully one with a more pleasant outcome. Women, he knew, were by far the more sensible sex, whether evil or good.
This had to stop - except for once she wasn’t sure what to do.
She’d known that Angelus needed a new distraction, and had been trying to think of something suitably wicked when they’d accidentally crossed paths with The Immortal. What had it been... she couldn’t remember. But at one point there had been nuns.
Whatever the trigger had been, Angelus had sworn enmity. After all, what kind of villain was he if he didn’t have an arc-nemesis? And so the game had commenced, Angelus and William thick as thieves plotting against their foe, and Darla herself neglected - something she did not find a pleasant experience. Fondly she thought back on Holtz and all the fun they’d had, destroying his life until the only thing he had left was vengeance. But this Immortal - whoever or whatever he was - could not be attacked thus. He did not appear to have any family or close friends - no ties to the world except wealth, and no apparent interest in playing games. At every turn he had outwitted the boys, but he had never retaliated, never tried to catch them.
Fed up, Darla had demanded that Angelus take her to Rome - she loved the city, and had hoped that he would remember how much enjoyment they’d found before. Except then The Immortal had turned up...
Irritably she threw her cape over a chair and was about to ask Dru what she could think of to suitably punish their menfolk, when the door suddenly sprang open.
In the doorway stood a man - tall, broad shouldered and very handsome. He was wearing a caped coat, unbuttoned, revealing expensive clothing beneath, and although she had only seen him once before, from a distance, there was no mistaking who it was.
Darla often prided herself on her ability to categorise and label people within moments, and this man had the unmistakable bearing and air of a soldier - a far, far different breed than her own darling deadly boy... And, with sudden mirth, she realised that this was why Angelus would never be able to win his competition. This man was not interested in their sort of mind games, and never would be.
Slowly he stepped into the room, looked from her to Dru and back again with a calculating look in his eyes, before settling on her.
Then he smiled - revealing dimples, and eyes that sparkled even in the dimly lit room - and the world was suddenly different.
“You must be Darla. It is a great pleasure finally meeting you.”
He held out his hand, and, for the first time she could remember, she hesitated. She was the mistress of seduction, knew every nuance of every trick and had the measure of every man born in the world... and even so she almost faltered. Because in his eyes, in his smile, she saw herself.
The snares of men and women were different - but in this man’s eyes she saw the eternally female ‘I can be whatever you want’. And yet there was not a hint of subservience to it - no reason for it, except that this was clearly what he desired too. Pleasure for pleasure’s sake - that was his game.
She took his hand, carefully, deliberately, before replying. “And you must be The Immortal. Do you by any chance happen to know where our men have disappeared to?”
He chuckled, and she noticed that his eyes were very blue.
“I’m afraid I had to... detain them for a while. Don’t worry, they’ll be just fine, but I got tired of them bothering me and they didn’t seem inclined to talk any kind of sense. Being vampires, I presume they like bondage? Anyway, I’m thinking that you are probably as fed up with all this Alpha Male strutting as I am...”
She opened her mouth to answer when Drusilla cut in. The girl had been studying their guest in her own intense way ever since he entered, and now she laid a hand on his arm, her face entranced.
“I can see the stars in your eyes...” She tilted her head, staring like she could look right into his soul, and The Immortal watched her carefully.
“Drusilla I presume,” he said, and she nodded, eyes distant.
“I used to dance in the sunshine, singing songs and dreaming of other worlds. But you touched the stars...”
He looked rather disconcerted at her words, and Darla stepped closer, now truly intrigued. She had expected him to be a demon of some sort, but bizarrely he looked human, seemed human - his heartbeat easily sensed. And his scent... she frowned. She knew how humans smelt, every component familiar and most of them unpleasant... but this man was unlike anything she’d ever come across. She could see that he was perspiring and yet his scent was fragrant, with not a hint of the stale sour stench of sweat. And no fear whatsoever. People, creatures, men... they could lie and deceive with their hands and eyes and words - but none could fool her nose. What was he?
Clearly deciding that Dru could not be relied upon for sensible discourse he turned back to Darla: “You see, I was wondering - since you are clearly the ones ruling the roost, or I know nothing about relationships - could you possibly get your very handsome guys to stop bothering me? Unless you can talk them into bed, because that would be a far better way of expending energy.”
He chuckled again, and she thought to herself that he might possibly be the only logical man in the entire world. And seeing the lust in his eyes she knew - had probably known since the second he stepped through the door - what to do with him, and how to get her own back on Angelus for ignoring her.
“Well,” she replied coquettishly, “you could try talking the two of us into bed to begin with...”
She reached up and pulled the coat off his shoulders, handing it to Dru who carelessly threw it away, face as excited as when she thought the fairies had brought her birthday presents. The Immortal laughed, and leapt onto the bed with a boyish delight entirely unlike the image he had at first projected. Turning to face them he let his eyes silently devour them, then grinned widely. “I have a feeling that talking won’t be necessary. Which is just how I like it... oh yeah!”
His eyes twinkled in pure delight, clearly as utterly confident of his own irresistibility as she was of hers, and Darla followed him onto the bed, intrigued and mesmerised. She couldn’t work out who was ensnaring whom - was she allowing him to seduce her or the other way around? He was unlike any creature she had ever met... and it was thrilling to encounter something truly new.
As she came closer, he without hesitation reached out and pulled her onto his lap. “You know,” he murmured, his breath warm against her lips, “I’ve never kissed a vampire before. I’m beginning to think this might have been a great oversight on my part.”
The kiss was searing and urgent, and the feel of his pulse beneath her hands caused her eyes to flicker gold as they parted. He noticed, and - tilting his head - asked her if she’d show her vamp face.
Watching her transform, he was clearly fascinated.
“Amazing,” he muttered, following the contour of the ridges on her face. “Change back.”
Dru of course thought it a fabulous game, but Darla’s curiosity was piqued at his quietly muttered, “If only I’d paid better attention during my species teaching...” But then he suddenly caught her eyes.
“Is a vampire’s bite as erotic as I’ve been led to believe?”
“Only one way to find out,” she replied, smirking. He nodded and, holding her eyes, turned down his high collar and exposed his neck. Throwing Dru a glance, he asked:
“Will it be better with two?”
“Oh definitely,” she replied; and Dru, talking to herself about sunlight and a magic blue box, moved behind him, not needing any prompting. He appeared a touch concerned at Dru’s words, but Darla told him not to worry - no one could make sense of her. Then she let her fangs rest on his neck, sensing the blood rushing beneath...
Three hundred years she’d lived and feasted on humans, delighting in all the flavours - the innocence, the pain, the fear. But she’d never tasted one like this. Like his scent, his blood was the same and yet alien - was it the true taste of immortality? She felt him stifle a cry of pain as they first penetrated his skin, and then his large hands held her tighter, his body shivering from that rush that made so many smile as death came to them. She felt Dru’s hands on his chest, and let her own fingers slip below his belt. Through her bliss she obscurely noticed his heart slow down, but didn’t pay much attention until it faded out completely.
Abruptly pulling back she stared down at him as he took one last breath - and then died.
Dru had stopped feeding too, and he was laid out in her arms in beautiful stillness. Darla couldn’t understand it. Had he been human after all, despite everything? He had welcomed their bite - asked for it - but how could he die if he was immortal? Because he was definitely dead - if there was anything she knew, that was it. The fine line separating life from death was one she was oh so very familiar with.
Unsure she looked at Dru, and saw that the girl was staring at him utterly mesmerised, smiling in that way that meant that as usual she had some insight that others didn’t.
Darla was confused, but then Darla - for all her cleverness - was often unable to see clearly, the way Dru could. She held onto the man in her lap, stroking him carefully like he was one of her dolls - which was absurd, since he could not be broken. Ever. He was immortal - he was The Immortal. A fairy tale made real.
His mind was like a treasure chest - she could only glimpse it in parts, fascinated by riches she had never known. So many impossible things for which she did not have names. And there was delicious darkness and pain too - things hidden and lost; memories erased, leaving hollow spaces.
But above everything there was time. His life had been broken up - past, now and future zigzagging back and forth... Never before had she felt that anyone perceived the world like she did. That what had been and what could be were real and tangible - as flimsy and yet unalterable as each other.
And yet the stars never changed from their preordained courses.
They whispered their secrets to her, but he had touched them. And the stars had in turn reached down to him - gifting him with their own time, their own glory.
But then it started... she reached out for Darla’s hand, grasping tightly as her eyes never left the body she cradled. Slowly, slowly it built; like the first glimmers of dawn in the dark night’s sky, before abruptly growing and growing - light, brighter than any she’d seen, bursting from within him, flooding out to every part and remaking it anew. It was like the sun itself had come down to her, bathing her in the pure and eternal light of life. She would never see the sun again, and yet here she was, holding it in her hands, feeling it pulse under her fingers.
Then he gasped, for a moment staring around in wonder like all new born. But then he remembered where he was, and grinned at them both.
“Ladies! Now that? Was spec-tac-ular. I’m thinking I have to redefine the concepts of good and evil, because no way could a death like that ever be a bad thing! Oh, you just give me a moment and I will do my very, very best to repay you... And trust me - by the end of the day you too will have to redefine a few words!”
He’d left Darla and Dru barely able to walk just a few hours previously, but thankfully a hearty broth had given him back some strength - his new cook was brilliant. It had been one of his best-spent days ever, and no mistake. Dru had kinda freaked him out with her sharp insights, but thankfully she was too crazy for anyone to ever take her seriously. And Darla... he smiled to himself again. What a woman. He didn’t think he’d ever met anyone more suited for the Time Agency, flammability apart - so it was probably a good thing that she was stuck here. He knew he ought to feel guilty for the whole evil-thing... but he couldn’t.
The only dampener to his mood was the murder of the servant whom he had sent to free Angelus and William. But Jack had already had his revenge, and he seriously hoped that the women would be able to talk their men out of further retaliations - he didn’t want to have to kill them, since staying out of history’s way was one of the most important aspects of this alias. And he had a feeling that ‘The Scourge of Europe’ would still have a large role to play.
As he was wondering which guests to talk to next, Antonio’s voice cut through his thoughts - as always he heard him before he saw him.
“Yes Antonio? Have we run out of anything? No wait - I know. It’s the decorations. Did someone get offended by them? Eat them? Try to mate with them?”
The man shook his head. “No no no! It is the vampires! They are coming!”
Jack grinned widely. “Really? Well, let’s go see what they have to say...”
He carefully hid within hearing distance of the entrance, not intending to intervene unless absolutely necessary, and silently chuckled to himself as his doorman gave them short shift - he’d make sure to give the man an extra bonus.
‘Is there anything under blood vengeance?’ would keep him amused for days. Longer even. He dearly, dearly wished he could have been there when they’d returned and found their women ravished...
As he pulled back a corner of the curtain and watched them leave, angry and swearing, he became aware of someone standing behind him.
“They look sad, no?”
He turned to see an extraordinarily well-endowed woman peering around his shoulder at the retreating figures of the vampires.
“And who are you?” he asked, holding out his hand. Whoever this woman was she was Italian with a capital I - all overflowing and voluptuous and with a fiery temper too, he was sure.
“I am Ilona Costa Bianci - Wolfram e Hart sent me.”
He gave her another once-over with his eyes, eyebrows rising. He’d reluctantly sent the law firm an invitation, really not wanting anything to do with them, yet knowing that he’d have to maintain friendly relations. A couple of vampires declaring themselves his enemies was just annoying - having an evil law firm on his back would be catastrophic.
“Oh. You... don’t look like a lawyer.” This was stating the obvious, and her laughter bubbled up infectiously.
“True - but my superiors thought you might like this better than a man in a suit, si? I have... many talents.”
He grinned. “I don’t doubt it. And whilst I actually have a fondness for men in suits, I can’t say that I mind the alternative. So - what’s the plan?”
“Plan?” Oh she was shrewd - and very, very good. He hadn’t known that anyone could pack so much innuendo into one word. But he didn’t feel like playing games, and so laid the cards on the table.
“I know enough about Wolfram & Hart to know that they don’t send beautiful girls like you to parties just to be decorative, and I’m sure you have some fabulous deal worked out, all in my favour. Problem being: You do not have what I want, and never will. Also, I think your organisation is vile and despicable. However, I am quite willing to settle down to a mutually beneficial truce of some sort, if you’ll accept that I’ll never sign one of your contracts. What do you say?”
There was definite admiration in her eyes, and she smiled even as she shrugged.
“I read your file, and I see now that you have not changed at all in 300 years. This is a shame, but we will live with it.”
“Good. Now - would you like to dance?”
“But of course!” she replied. As they took to the dance floor she caught his eyes and asked, voice ensnaring and yet curious.
“So tell me Immortal - what is it that you desire that we cannot get you?”
For a moment he was silent, taking in the casual opulence of the ball room and all the wealth he had at his fingertips. Then he sighed.
Wrapping his arm more tightly around the woman in his arms - although goodness knew what she really was, she didn’t seem to breathe - he rested his head against hers and remembered another dance...
A young girl - sweet and innocent and not at all like the women he was spending today with; champagne, Glenn Miller and an invisible spaceship. Finally he replied, voice barely above a whisper.
“I want to touch the stars.”
And finally Buffy appears. :) Also on how Jack ends up in Rome at that point in time, and how he balances his Cardiff & Rome identities.
Note for those unfamiliar with (or with rusty knowledge of) Torchwood:
The main bulk of this fic is set in 2004. After (somewhat reluctantly, long story) working for Torchwood for more than a century, Jack took over the running of Torchwood Three in 2000 (when the previous leader committed murder-suicide & killed the whole team on New Year's Eve 1999, after seeing what the future would bring. Torchwood is such a FUN show!). At this point Jack's team consists of Suzie Costello (his 2nd in command who is extremely capable and smart) and Toshiko Sato (generally known as Tosh), a tech genius whom he rescued from a UNIT 'holding facility'.
Spike: So, uh...you heard from Buffy lately?
Andrew: Yeah. Of course, uh...she's in Rome. Dawn's in school there. Italian school.
Spike: Well. Rome, eh? Never pegged her for the expatriate show.
Andrew: Yeah. She was rounding slayers up in Europe, decided she liked it there, I guess.
Cardiff, early morning Friday 26th of March 2004
Cold, leftover pizza really wasn’t his ideal breakfast, but Jack couldn’t be bothered going out and buying some actual food - and besides, deRossi’s really were quite extraordinarily good for a pizza place.
Settling down in his chair he switched on BBC News 24 on his screen, absentmindedly listening to the headlines as he flicked through the paperwork that he’d spent the last week ignoring.
Budgets, employee reviews, case files that needed completing and archiving, Rift statistics, weevil number monitoring, overdue quarterly reviews for the government... he was always behind on his paperwork. It was probably his subconscious rebelling at one of the outwardly attributes of his responsibilities - an ever-present dread at being in charge of this place; of having people rely on him and trust him to keep them safe and alive through the dangers they faced daily; of trying to do something good and not really knowing how... Monitoring the Rift and dealing with what came through it was crucial to the planet’s safety, and yet the job by its very nature consisted of deceit, ruthlessness, violence and meaningless death.
Despite Torchwood becoming his main home during the last century, he had never forgotten that for him it was also a means to an end - and had never, ever wanted the place to be his. How could he give it a purpose when he struggled to find one himself?
Then a live report caught his attention, and he looked up at the blandly attractive female presenter on the screen.
“...and we’re just now getting reports that there has been a meteor crash south of Rome - it has not yet been established whether there were any casualties, or why astronomers had not picked up on this.”
For a few seconds Jack sat completely still, wrestling with himself, but then he leapt down the stairs, making Tosh jump where she was sitting at her workstation, already busy.
“Tosh - what have I told you about coming in to work early? It’s very inconsiderate the way you always grab all the best equipment!”
Thankfully she was beginning to come to grips with his sense of humour, and didn’t apologise profusely the way she would have half a year previously. Instead she shot him a calculating look.
“What do you want?”
He grinned. “I want you to you check out a ‘meteor crash’ south of Rome, using everything at our disposal.”
“And what will you be doing?” she asked archly.
“I will be standing here glowering in a employer-like fashion,” he replied cheekily.
She shook her head, but was unable to hide a smile as she in moments brought up streaming satellite imagery, easily bypassing security codes and other obstacles, before trying to see if what-ever-it-was had left behind a trail that could be analysed.
The crash site looked inconspicuous enough - a wide, steaming crater, apparently empty except for a few minor bits of debris - when suddenly there was a glimpse of something.
Before he could even ask her to go back and pause it, she had brought up a freeze-frame of the image and Jack couldn't help but gasp.
It was a Ettian ship - its elongated, irregular tetrahedron shape and dark purple colour easily recognisable even though the front was pretty badly bashed. But if the invisibility generator still worked - more or less anyway - there was a good chance that the engines might still be functioning. In which case...
He had to grasp onto Tosh’s chair for support as it hit him - if he could fix the ship, he could leave. With a ship like that, he could be three galaxies away in under a week - oh he knew just the place to get his vortex manipulator fixed... and then he would finally be free again.
‘He’s coming - the one you’re looking for. But the century will turn twice before you find each other again.’
Those had been The Girl’s words. Little slip of a thing, completely out of place in the dirty tavern where he’d been trying to drown his sorrows, but so calm and selfpossessed that it still freaked him out. And she’d had that look in her eyes when she’d foretold his future - the one that reminded him much too forcefully of Dru. As much as he’d tried not to, he still believed - there was no denying the gift of a true Seer.
And now - now might be the right moment... twice the century had turned, like she’d said. Maybe this was the point - the opportunity he’d been waiting for - the time when he’d be able to take up his quest again?
He smiled to himself as he thought that for almost anyone else this particular race meant certain death, considering the radiation expelled by the engines - but he'd learned long ago that any sort of radiation just rolled off him as though it didn't exist.
Then he abruptly realised what this meant for the people who'd have been sent to investigate, and he ran off to his office as fast as he could, throwing a swift - but genuine - ‘thank you’ over his shoulder to Tosh.
Moments later he was on the phone to the British branch of UNIT, telling them that they had to talk their Italian counterparts out of going near the ship.
“Do I need to remind you that this is a UNIT matter, Captain? And one in a foreign country none the less. Torchwood’s input or assistance will not be needed.”
The General’s voice was clipped and hostile, the man not bothering to hide his displeasure in any way. Jack swore silently. UNIT was happy enough to utilise Torchwood’s resources when necessary, but resented interference - especially from Torchwood Three. On the other hand, his distancing from Torchwood One might just work to his advantage this time...
“Look - I’m a friend of the Doctor’s,” he said, and there was a momentary pause on the other end of the line. Smiling, he continued. “Yes - that Doctor. And although I’m not quite in his league, I have a few talents of my own - including a fair amount of knowledge of this species and their ships. The most important thing being that their engines emit a huge amount of radiation - it’s contained and hidden by the shields, but if anyone gets too close they’ll get sick very, very quickly. Trust me, it’s not pretty and your suits will make next to no difference. And if someone actually gets inside and presses the wrong button you could have a Chernobyl on your hands!”
“But you would know which buttons to avoid?”
There was an unmistakable edge to the General’s voice, and Jack couldn’t help but smirk.
“Oh I know what all the little buttons do - could probably fly the thing blindfolded. See Ettian ships are based on the common triple-layered micro-differentiated base system, but they have their own gamma-wave interstellar HighPhoton engines and the most amazing navigation abilities. Absolutely gorgeous, to be honest.”
“Well... you seem to know what you’re talking about at least.” Grudging respect was creeping in, and Jack almost sighed in relief.
“Yes I do. Please let me check it out, I’m only trying to help you avoid a disaster. Hey - I’ll even strip it down for you if there’s anything useful left. I do owe you a few favours after all.”
Finally - after some discussions with Italian UNIT - the thing was settled, and Jack was informed that there would be a plane waiting for him in London, along with all the necessary papers.
Slowly he replaced the handset and leaned back in the chair - it was of course hugely unlikely that he could get the spacecraft to work, but if nothing else he'd managed to save a lot of lives - and got himself something approximating a holiday for the first time in over four years...
The location of the crash suddenly registered in earnest, and his smile deepened. It would be hard work to keep his identities separate, but the thought of going to Rome and not visit his other home... not indulge in his beautiful house and servants and all the luxury at his fingertips... no, that was impossible. And he’d not be Captain Jack Harkness there anyway. He was being furnished with a nice alias and cover story, so even if his cover was blown, he wouldn’t be rumbled - British UNIT was as keen to keep Torchwood a secret from the rest of UNIT as he was.
Looking down into the Hub, it sank in that he would actually be going away - for a couple of weeks at least, probably more. How would his team cope without him? Then he smiled bitterly. As if his presence, or lack thereof, had ever made any lasting difference... And it wasn’t like they knew how special he was.
No, they’d do fine without him, of course they would. Besides, he’d only be a phone call away.
Rome, Tuesday 30th of March (morning)
Slowly driving back to the city from the crash site in his borrowed UNIT Jeep, Jack was tired and still disappointed: the Ettian ship had crashed because the engines had blown up, and there was no hope of repair. The crew had died when exposed to the oxygen-laced atmosphere, which meant that there would be no rescue forthcoming - Ettians didn’t waste resources on the dead.
But apart from the engines the ship was mostly intact - the shield thankfully holding and containing the radiation. The invisibility generator had - much to his dismay - sustained more damage than he’d thought, and he had spent the last three days fixing it as best he could. It was finally stabilised now which would make life a lot easier, and hopefully he’d not have to ret-con anyone else... It was time consuming and under the circumstances tricky - he’d done 24 people so far, and sincerely hoped that he was finished now.
He still had the whole ship to strip however, and he was beginning to regret his promise - the job could easily take more than a month, and thanks to the still significant radiation he couldn’t even get any help. At least Torchwood seemed to be holding up just fine in his absence - Suzie was just as competent a leader as he’d always known her to be, which was very reassuring.
Seeing the sun peeping over the horizon, he knew he didn’t have to go back just yet - it wasn’t like he needed sleep - but the thought of a proper continental breakfast, with fresh orange juice and home-made pastries, served in the garden, was too tempting.
As he hummed along to the opening bars of an early morning radio show, he thought to himself that if he was going to stay for a while he could at least have one small party. He missed parties, having been almost allergic to them since the Millennium. But The Immortal’s house was as different from the Hub as was possible... He could spend the morning sending out invitations and calling on a few old friends, since he really needed a break from the cramped spaceship. Also it would give the servants something to do, other than look after him - surely they could rustle up a little shindig in 4 days.
Yes, a party was just the thing. And after all, wasn’t that why this alias existed? So he had a place to escape to - somewhere not steeped in aliens and death and pain.
Later the same morning
Buffy rather liked café breakfasts. She didn’t indulge in them often, but sometimes it was just what she needed. Like today when she had a meeting to get to and had been forced to get up early. Or early for her at least - Dawn had thrown an alarm clock at her as she’d left for school and finished off the cereal for good measure... So café breakfast it was. There was also the fact that cafés inevitably made her feel very European and cosmopolitan - plus they always had gorgeous waiters. ‘Dating’ was so far off the chart that she didn’t even think about it, but enjoying random pieces of eye candy was not something she was averse to.
This particular morning her croissant had long since been reduced to a few lonely crumbs on a plate, and she was slowly sipping the last of her coffee, thinking that she really ought to get going since she was running late by now, when a shadow fell across her table. She looked up and saw a tall, dark haired man standing by the table, flashing a wide flawless grin at her as he pulled off his sunglasses.
“Hi. Sorry to interrupt your privacy, but... you look like you could do with a friend.”
“I do?” she asked stupidly, trying not to be overawed by his quite unfeasibly good looks and perfectly tailored clothes. He looked like some matinee idol who’d stepped into real life - a Forties Hollywood movie star, right down to the accent.
“Call it a sixth sense,” he smiled, and then indicated the chair opposite her. “Do you mind?”
“I... guess not,” she replied, still thrown. It wasn’t that guys didn’t try to chat her up on a fairly regular basis, but there was something about this one that was... different.
A waiter sidled up, and the stranger ordered an espresso in fluent Italian - and then, to her surprise, leisurely let his eyes follow the youngster’s retreating back.
“I’m sorry - but did you just check out his ass?” she asked, belatedly realising that this was a rather rude question, but the lingering stare had been so blatant that she couldn’t help herself. The stranger caught her eyes and chuckled.
“M-hm. Italian waiters - couldn’t you just eat them up? They’re dangerous though, because they’re very addictive - you keep just wanting one more, and before you know it you can’t show your face in a single café in town without some guy declaring how you broke his heart.”
He shrugged, smiling wryly. “Ten years later of course they were all married and overweight, which almost broke my heart - not the marriage bit, the weight thing. Such a waste, and very inconsiderate towards the wives. Anyway - I’ve sworn off them for good now.”
Buffy wasn’t sure whether he was joking or not, but at least she had managed to establish that he was far from ordinary. Maybe he even meant the ‘friendship’ thing... and wasn’t every woman supposed to have a (male) gay best friend these days? All she had was Andrew, and he didn’t count. But this guy - he wasn’t effeminate at all, but his orientation would certainly explain his style...
“So, you’re gay?” she asked, and he looked at her, surprised.
“What gave you that idea?”
“Um... because you said you... sleep with guys like him?”
She indicated the waiter who had returned with the espresso, and the stranger drawled out a lazy “Grazie”, holding the waiter’s eyes for a little longer than entirely necessary. The young man smiled back, dark eyes promising and inviting.
Turning back to his cup, her new friend shook his head. “See? Addiction. Very bad. But, no, I’m not ‘gay’ or ‘straight’ or... anything you can put in a neat little labelled box.”
Amusement danced in his eyes, as though the notions of sexual orientation were sweetly old-fashioned concepts and he found it endearing that she still used such quaint expressions. “I thought that that was widely known... Oh - but I never introduced myself!”
Putting down the cup he held out his hand. “Sorry for being so impolite - I’m The Immortal.”
For a moment that seemed endless she could only stare at him. He had looked so human, so normal - except for the charm and the looks and the... OK, so he’d been too good to be true. Figured.
As though in a daze she reached out and grasped his hand, and, as if to spite her, it felt warm and alive and not at all wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing-y.
“You’re a demon,” she said, deciding to get it over with and just move on. She hoped he was a nice demon, and not one she’d have to kill.
He let go of her hand and shook his head, eyes narrowing as though he was trying to figure her out - and then suddenly glanced behind her.
She frowned, and he swiftly caught her eyes again. “Sorry - football results on the back of a newspaper. Where was I? Oh yes, you asked if I was a demon. I’m not. Really, really not. Just immortal. You’ve never heard of me?”
She shook her head, and he looked a little put out. “Guess it has been a while since I was in town last... and I presume you’re not exactly a local girl. So tell me - who are you?”
“I’m Buffy - Buffy Summers.”
“Buffy...” He considered this, picking up his drink. “Unusual name. I like it!”
He really was impossibly charming, blue eyes twinkling at her over the edge of the cup. And, despite herself, she couldn’t help but being drawn in, even though she knew that if she was attracted to him, the chances of him being evil were rather overwhelming. Although... maybe third time lucky? (Not that she was going to date him, obviously, but...) She could get Andrew to do some research - it might even get him to shut up about that stupid meteor crash and his inane theories about government conspiracies covering up martians - at least for a little while.
Then her cellphone rang, and she found herself reminded - somewhat sharply - that she was late for her meeting. Again she wondered at the illogical fact that there being lots of Slayers had brought with it more work for her, not less. She sighed, and studied the man at the other side of the table. Giving him her phone number would imply so much more than she was ready to give, so what to do...
“Look - I’m sorry, but I have to run. But it was nice... really nice... meeting you! Maybe we’ll run into each other again?”
He appeared to hesitate for a moment, but then reached inside his jacket, bringing out an elegant card.
“OK - this is just a spur-of-the-moment thing, but I’m throwing a party on Friday, and you’re more than welcome to come along. These are my details - if you have any questions, just call. I’m... not home much, but my servants will be happy to tell you anything you might want to know.”
“Um... thank you,” she replied, surprised and unsure how to respond. He had servants? So he wasn’t just handsome, charming and immortal, but also rich - this was verging dangerously close to fairy tale territory. But she still took the card and put it in her purse - fairy tales were few and far between. In her head there were lots of conflicting voices, some (that sounded suspiciously like Willow) telling her to get out and have some fun, others telling her that she was insane for being drawn in by yet another otherworldly creature... (Xander this time, and no mistake)
Yet she couldn’t help smiling back as he said good-bye. (He had dimples. No man - immortal or not - had the right to be that effortlessly adorable.) It was only as she was walking down the road a little later - her Slayer reflexes coming in very handy when trying to dodge the traffic - that she began wondering why he had targeted her in the first place... If there was anything she’d learned in her life, it was that someone called ‘The Immortal’ wouldn’t just sit down and chat up a Slayer because she looked like she needed a friend.
When he was sure that she was gone for good, he got up and quietly walked over to a different table, causing the nondescript man already sitting there to look up over his newspaper. Jack smiled.
“I hope you’ll pardon me for interrupting, but I have a few questions - most specifically: Who is Buffy Summers that she warrants her own Private Eye?”
The man looked at him as if he was insane, but Jack just kept smiling and sat down, leisurely taking another sip of his espresso.
“Oh you’re good - excellent even - only as it happens I can spot people like you a mile off. Also your camera isn’t as invisible as you think.”
He reached over the table and pulled the compact digital camera out of the stunned man’s pocket.
“Cute model. But - despite my poster boy looks - I don’t like having my picture taken.”
Swiftly he deleted all the photos, then handed it back. “Also notice how I didn’t break it - I’m a very reasonable guy, and I don’t believe in taking out my frustration on inanimate objects.”
The detective was now staring at him, brain clearly working in overdrive trying to work out how to deal with the situation. Jack’s eyes narrowed.
“So talk or... I’ll make you talk! What’s special about her?”
There was now a visible struggle within the other man.
“Oh yes you can. Because if you don’t tell me what I want to know, you’ll wake up in a gondola in Venice in a monkey suit with the last three years of your life wiped from your memory. That is, of course, the pleasant option. I am The Immortal, as I’m sure you overheard - look me up if you’re curious. Until then, take my word for it that I can do anything I like. So you might as well talk, because I’ll get my answers one way or another. What’s the deal with Buffy?”
Jack’s smile turned frosty as he held the other man’s eyes. Often he hated himself for being the sort of man for whom intimidation was as natural as breathing, but it really did come in handy. Thankfully this man appeared smart enough to recognise when the game was up.
“She is a Slayer.”
Jack’s eyes widened. “A Slayer? Really?”
He’d never met a Slayer before. Heard of them of course, but Slayers were rare and precious, and usually only found in troublesome spots - which suddenly made him frown. What was going on in Rome to warrant the Slayer being there? Surely his servants would have told him of any imminent danger - but then on the other hand they might think that he already knew.
“Why is she here?” he asked, and the detective seemed surprised. “She lives here - has done for more than half a year now. She... she shares a flat with her sister, not far from here.”
“So... the one and only Slayer in the world decides to move to Rome for no particular reason? You’re are going to have to do a lot better I’m afraid.”
And all he’d wanted was to talk to the cute lonely girl... he sighed, then noticed that the other man was staring at him, puzzled.
“One Slayer? There are six here in Rome alone.”
“Six Slayers?” This was too impossible for words, and yet the man couldn’t be lying - no one was stupid enough to lie about something like that. Jack looked at the detective, eyes narrowing.
“Who do you work for?”
A slight hesitation, then dropped eyes. “I... I don’t know.”
“Really?” Jack quirked an eyebrow - this was getting ridiculous.
“Honestly! I just make my reports of what Miss Summers does, and who she sees, that is all. I was told that my employer only wants to protect her.”
“Hmm...” Jack finished off his espresso as he turned the situation over in his mind. If there was one thing he was sure of, it was that Slayers didn’t need protecting. Something was up.
He got a few more details out of the reluctant detective, but knew that he had to be on his way - and he had enough information now to continue any research himself.
“Look, I’d... appreciate it if you will keep my name out of your reports - at least until I figure out what’s going on.” He reached into his pocket for another card, then found a pen and scribbled his mobile phone number on it, before pulling out a handsome number of notes from his wallet and handing both card and money over.
“Here are my details. If you need to talk to me - call anytime. Especially if you find out who you’re working for. I’m not so sure their motives are benign.”
It was only as he walked towards the house of the Riithan Clan that it occurred to him that he’d invited a Slayer to a party where most of the guests were demons.
He grinned. This could turn out - interesting.
Party time! With... unexpected notes, shall we say.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Friday 2nd of April, evening
It really was a beautiful house. Not as large or ostentatious as Villa Borghese or any of those buildings, but the Rome Slayer Headquarters could probably easily fit inside a couple of times at least. The windows shone in the early evening dusk, soft music streamed out through the open door, and it really did seem to have popped right out of a fairy tale.
The taxi drove away and Buffy shot Dawn a nervous glance, but Dawn’s face only registered delight.
“Wow. This place looks amazing. I hope Andrew is right about how great these parties are - considering how he’s not shut up about them.”
Buffy sighed. “You know, I think Giles sent Andrew to Rome just to punish me for wanting to live somewhere nice and warm.”
Dawn chuckled as they started walking towards the door. “On the plus side he is good at research.”
“Reading The Immortal’s book 5 times in 4 days isn’t research, it’s obsession. I swear he was thinking of using a glamour and going instead of me.”
Watchers weren’t supposed to crush on their Slayer’s morally ambiguous date - especially when they’d never even seen him.
Not that this was a date of course.
Dawn shrugged. “Well, at least he stopped talking about the meteor crash.”
Buffy shook her head, yet again quelling her feelings of violence towards Andrew. “I think I preferred the crazy theories about aliens. Hey - we should have sent him out to investigate. He might have been abducted!”
At the door a deferential doorman relieved them of their coats before showing them through to the party itself, and they found themselves in a long, beautiful ballroom lit by ornate chandeliers, half full of people and demons in elegant outfits; dancing, chatting, and helping themselves to a generous and varied selection of food. In a corner there was a raised platform on which there was a small string quartet, playing softly.
Dawn’s eyes had grown huge, and Buffy did her best to appear as though she did this sort of thing on a regular basis. She was absurdly grateful that they’d dressed up.
Then The Immortal appeared - easily outshining everyone and everything else and being, if possible, even more charming than she remembered. She told herself that this was probably because he was now dressed in a gorgeously cut black suit and wearing a bow tie; again so Hollywood that it seemed ridiculous for him to be here in Rome.
“Buffy! You came. Welcome.” He enthusiastically shook her hand and then his eyes travelled to Dawn, smile deepening.
“And who are you?” he asked, holding out his hand as he did some more of that shameless flirting, and Buffy began to realise that her idea of bringing Dawn as chaperone/back-up might just have misfired spectacularly. Dawn was a whole four inches taller than herself these days, and seemed to consist of nothing except legs and chest - what had been going through those monks’ heads when they’d created her?
“This is Dawn - my little sister,” she replied, imbuing her voice with as much ‘Back off Buster!’-ness as she possibly could. “I spoke to someone on the phone - your housekeeper I think - and she said that it was OK to bring her.”
“Oh definitely. Very pleased to meet you Dawn.”
And pleased he certainly looked, before he suddenly he shot Buffy a shrewd look.
“You don’t come as a pair by any chance? I once dated these twin acrobats-”
She stared at him speechlessly, and he did what probably for him passed for a shamefaced look. “...obviously not. Won’t go there again.”
Dawn however was giggling, shaking her head. “Oh my god! You are unbelievable.”
“Oh I’m very believable,” he replied with a wink. Buffy rolled her eyes - Dawn was clearly a lost cause, so it was up to Buffy to keep a level head... She looked around the room, meaning to compliment him on the set-up, and then suddenly froze.
“You have vampires at your party?”
An apologetic expression came over his face.
“Well... I didn’t know you were a Slayer when I invited you. And it’d be a little impolite to un-invite them.”
She could feel her jaw drop. “You didn’t know I was a Slayer? But - but why did you talk to me?”
For just a moment the brashness fell off him - like an invisible gossamer veil had been dropped. “Because you looked lonely,” he said simply, and in his soft smile she glimpsed something none of her research had hinted at. But then the twinkle came back into his eyes as he added: “And you are pretty hot, in case it had escaped your notice!”
“O-kay...” she said weakly, too put out to say anything else. She’d been wondering for days what his motivations had been - if this party was some elaborate trap or if he just wanted to add a Slayer to his conquests... She had never considered the possibility that he had quite simply just liked her - she didn’t really know how to deal with that.
“And don’t worry about the vampires, they’ll behave. I know I shouldn’t have them around, what with the whole evil soulless thing, but they kinda make up for that by being pretty spectacular in bed - stamina, inventiveness, no inhibitions - seriously, the list just goes on and on.”
He suddenly seemed to realise that they were both staring at him in wide-eyed silence, and he with great exaggeration closed his mouth.
“Slayer. Sister of Slayer. Not big with the vampire-lovin’. I - seem to have shot myself rather successfully in the foot.”
There was a rustle by the door, and The Immortal’s eyes drifted past them to the new arrival.
“And - I see that I need to go be The Welcoming Host. Catch up with you later - until then, just enjoy yourselves. Oh, and please don’t kill anyone unless they try to kill you first, OK?”
He grinned, and then turned the newcomer behind them.
“Jemmella! And how are you? I swear your tusks have grown a whole inch since we last met.”
Curbing her intense curiosity, Buffy grabbed Dawn’s elbow and steered her towards the buffet.
“This was such a bad idea,” she muttered under her breath, and Dawn shook her head in disbelief.
“Are you kidding? He’s amazing! And obviously very open minded.”
Ignoring the implications of Dawn’s words, Buffy grabbed a glass of wine and some food and tried to escape into a corner to work out what to think. He hadn’t known that she was a Slayer... it threw all her assumptions to hell, and she’d have to start from scratch again.
But she was cut off from her retreat by an elegantly dressed demon, who looked at her with unnerving unblinking pale green eyes in a slightly darker pale green face, which emerged from a medium green embroidered robe - it was a bit like being stared down by a grassy field.
“Buffy? Buffy Summers? The Slayer? This is a most extraordinarily fortuitous coincidence, since we have been considering sending your organisation a missive concerning the interests of the Riithan Clan. We are a very peaceful family, but if it were possible to somehow affect an actual peace contract with the Slayers, this would install much calm amongst my people...”
Soon she was surrounded by eight different demons, all curious about her and eager to get on the good side of the Slayers. She suddenly wished she had brought Andrew, since, despite all his flaws, she had to admit that he was very good at ‘being the Watcher’. He’d have had them all eating out of his hand in moments; quoting Council directives, explaining codes of conduct and archaic rules.
After about 10 minutes, wondering if she’d ever escape and shooting murderous glances towards Dawn who looked like she was having a great time with some young half demons - if their bursts of laughter was anything to go by - The Immortal came to her rescue.
Deftly parting her from her inquirers by asking for a dance, he apologised profusely as he led her out amongst the other dancing couples.
“I’m so sorry - I should have told them not to bother you. Guess they’re just excited to see a Slayer in a... neutral situation.”
His hand rested lightly against the small of her back, and she was suddenly very aware of the fact that she was actually dancing - it had been so long that she had problems remembering the last time. She couldn’t help noticing how very tall he was, and that he smelled very good indeed. And he was clearly a great dancer...
Wait - she had to use the opportunity to get him to talk.
“So, how did you find out that I was a Slayer?”
A chuckle and another shrewd look. “Well, when you heard my name you instantly jumped to the conclusion that I was a demon. Most people just think it’s a joke. I figured there had to be more to you than met the eye.”
‘You’re one to talk!’ she wanted to shoot back, except that what met the eye was pretty spectacular...
“What did you discover then?” she asked lightly, as she suddenly began worrying about how thorough his research had been, and what was said about her on the demonic grapevine.
He shrugged. “Not much to be honest - I’ve been too busy. Just managed to dig out a few basic facts: You are Buffy Anne Summers, lately of Sunnydale, California, which is now - interestingly - a giant crater; you’re a legend in your own time and the woman who - so it is said - activated all the Slayers in the world.”
“There was an apocalypse,” she explained - a little curtly, since she was not going into that story - and he nodded, obviously familiar with such events. “Instant army - although somewhat widespread I presume? Good strategy nonetheless. You’ve certainly shaken up the demon population.”
She smiled at the compliment, and for a moment allowed herself to just enjoy the sensation of dancing. Trying to sweet talk him would probably be a waste of time, since she had a feeling she’d end up telling more secrets than he. All she needed to know was whether he was evil or not, which was turning out to be a lot more complicated that she’d thought.
(What to do if he turned out to be a good guy was an entirely different question - one that she did her best to pretend didn’t exist.)
Before she had settled on a strategy for determining his rating on her evil-o-meter, a very polite three-eyed demon in a tuxedo cut in, and given the circumstances she felt unable to decline. Although part of her was panicking - what was she doing? Being on ‘friendly’ terms with demons was one thing, but dancing...
She extracted herself as soon as diplomatically possible, saying that she was hungry (which wasn’t a lie), and then spent a good while trying to pretend that she was a part of the buffet table.
What was she doing here? She watched The Immortal talk, laugh and dance, lighting up the room wherever he turned, and she wondered. The term ‘the life and soul of the party’ really could have been made up for his sake, she thought (and maybe it had been? You never knew with these immortal types). Now and again Dawn would appear next her, repeating how this party was ‘totally awesome!’ before disappearing off again. Buffy wished she could be that carefree - but she knew that she couldn’t just frolic away. Sometimes she really hated having lots of Slayers looking up to her, and for her actions to have to be above board. Being responsible was boring.
Her musings were interrupted when, for some reason she didn’t catch, the guests started chanting, “A song! A song!” The Immortal grinned and with faux-modesty got up on the dais in front of the band, which had, without Buffy noticing, metamorphosised into a jazz group. She made her way to the back of the crowd - praying that this wouldn’t turn into Demon Karaoke Night - and, seeing her, Dawn came over. But before she could speak (although it’d probably just be another ‘awesome party’) The Immortal grabbed the microphone:
“So, what would you like? Let’s start with some Glenn Miller - can’t go wrong there. Any suggestions?”
“Moonlight Serenade!” Dawn called out, and he caught her eyes before shaking his head.
“No. Unspoken house rule, that you couldn’t know - never ‘Moonlight Serenade’.”
Seeing the confusion on Dawn’s face, he smiled a little. “Think Casablanca. But - let’s have ‘Serenade in Blue’ instead. Will that do?”
Dawn nodded, and then the band started playing - the tune doleful and slow. A saxophone rose above the other instruments in melancholy loneliness, but then The Immortal began singing, his voice a clear, rich baritone, and the last of the chatter died away.
When I hear that serenade in blue
I'm somewhere in another world, alone with you
Buffy felt herself drift off into another world of her own as he sent her a dazzling smile - he had undone the bow tie and opened the top buttons of his shirt, and there was something utterly spellbinding about this impossibly handsome man, with the voice of an angel...
“Are we sure this isn’t a love spell?” she whispered to Dawn, and Dawn bit her lip.
“Well apparently he never uses magic. And it can’t be the jacket, ‘cause he’s taken that off.”
The thought of JD made Buffy smile, but there was something about the music that stirred her subconscious. She wasn’t sure what, so she stopped talking and focussed on The Immortal and his singing again, utterly unprepared for the last few lines.
And then the song became a sigh
Forever more became good-bye
But you remained in my heart, so
Tell me darling is there still a spark?
Or only lonely ashes of the flame we knew...
The words blindsided her, and she suddenly felt her chest constricting - the pain that she was getting so much better at living with cutting through her, and for a moment the world dipped out of existence as all she could see were hands enveloped in fire.
Dimly she felt Dawn touching her arm.
“Buffy? Are you OK?”
“I’m - I’m fine,” she said, but Dawn just looked at her and then steered her away from the group, which was now applauding, and into a side room before sitting her down.
“I’m really pathetic, huh?” Buffy said, but Dawn just looked concerned which made it all worse.
It was just that she really couldn’t cope with fire anymore, not even metaphorical - oh god he had burned to death...
She could hear The Immortal start on another song, and wondered what on earth she was doing, mooning over a pretty boy. Except of course he was far more than that. He was The Immortal, and every source they’d found in the last few days had said the same thing - he was perfect. She frowned. Too perfect? There had to be something wrong, something off... She’d had a whisper of a recollection of a memory before she’d been overwhelmed with... things that were now gone. She knew she had to concentrate on the here and now or she’d drown all over again. The song - there had been something about the song...
Seeing that Dawn was about to speak up she shushed her with a hand, closing her eyes and concentrating the way Giles had taught her - trying to cut out everything that wasn’t the song. Serenade in Blue, where had she heard it before? Somewhere different, but similar... someone singing to an adoring crowd...
Then the memory snapped into place and she gasped.
Jonathan! Jonathan - perfect, centre-of-the-world-Jonathan - and oh... it all made sense.
“Dawn,” she asked carefully. “Do you remember when Jonathan did that spell that made him Super!Jonathan?”
Her sister thought for a long moment, then slowly nodded. “Yeah, I think so. I had his book, I got you to ask him to sign it...”
Then her mouth fell open as they both recalled Andrew begging them to take his copy of The Immortal’s book to the party so he could sign it.
“Do you think that he-?” Dawn asked, shooting a look towards the main ballroom where they could now hear more applause. “He’s not... I mean he’s not famous famous like Jonathan was...”
Buffy bit her lip, brain working hard. “Jonathan was a geeky, maladjusted teenager, living out a fantasy. This guy is probably twice his age and smart...”
It was of course all just speculation, but - if it was true, everything fit. All she needed was proof. Pulling out her cellphone from her purse she dialled Giles’ number.
“Giles? I’m really sorry about calling so late, but I need you to look something up... and no I can’t ask Andrew. It’s about Jonathan.”
When she hung up she could feel Dawn studying her. “You know, you’re like the most cynical, pessimistic person ever.”
“I’m not, I’m just... cautious.”
And, she thought to herself, she knew that if something was too good to be true, it usually was. Whenever she got near a fairy tale she almost died.
Thankfully Giles was quick. The Immortal had taken a break from singing, but Buffy heard Jemella - thank goodness he’d not done an ‘open mike’ thing, Jemella would have had the house in ruins - say something about Champagne being good for his vocal chords, and figured they were safe for a while.
Then the cell bleeped, and she saw a message from Teresa, Giles’ indispensable secretary. She had very helpfully attached pictures of both the telltale symbol and the ugly beast, as well as some general notes on the nature of the spell. Buffy read through the notes before studying the brute, trying to remember if they’d heard of any maulings lately and telling Dawn - who was trying to get her attention - to be quiet, when there was suddenly a voice in her ear.
“OK now that is just gross! What it is?”
She turned and saw The Immortal peering over her shoulder at the image displayed on the screen.
“It’s... a side effect,” she answered, as she tried to gather herself, “from a spell.”
“Really?” He wrinkled his nose. “See this exactly is why I never use magic - there’s always some sort of nasty catch. Why would anyone want a thing like that running around?”
She turned around, then caught his eyes and held them. Time to lay the cards on the table. “Because the spell makes the person who casts it the most amazing person in the world.”
It took a few seconds, but then she saw understanding dawn.
He smiled slowly, dangerous shadows shimmering in his blue eyes. “Interesting. Come across it before?”
“A - someone I knew tried it a few years ago, and it would have ended really badly if I hadn’t stopped it.”
The Immortal nodded slowly, stroking his chin. “I see. How did you work it out?”
“He had a mark on him, same as the beast.” She flicked the picture onto the screen and held it up. “On his shoulder.”
She held The Immortal’s eyes and wondered what he’d do. She remembered Jonathan’s ridiculous swimsuit calendar, but this guy - despite his underground fame - did not have his face, or body, depicted anywhere at all. As if he was trying to exist mostly as a rumour...
But he didn’t begin to make excuses as she’d half-expected. Instead he suddenly smiled, as if trying not to laugh, and pulled off his bow tie before beginning to unbutton his shirt. Buffy felt she ought to say something, but...
A moment later he tossed the shirt over a chair, then put his hands on his hips - clearly posing.
“Which shoulder did you say? Would you like a little twirl?”
He turned, and he clearly had no marks or tattoos of any kind on his very well toned body. The look in his eyes was pure cheekiness and unadulterated self-confidence, and he grinned as he continued:
“Of course I could have put this mark on a... different part of my body - do you want to check?”
His thumbs went into the side of his pants, and Buffy quickly shook her head.
“No that’s - that’s fine. I... believe you.”
“Sure?” he asked, and somehow he managed to imbue the word with a whole plethora of innuendoes.
Dawn cleared her throat - a little too loudly - and when she spoke there was a wobble to her voice that Buffy didn’t like at all.
“You... really don’t have a problem with nudity, huh?”
He shook his head, laughing. “None whatsoever!”
Then his serious face re-emerged. “But. I am who I say I am, and this-” a wide hand sweep that incorporated the whole house and all that it contained and represented, “-is all real.”
Buffy’s eyes narrowed. “So you just happen to be drop dead gorgeous, charming, rich, funny, talented...”
“Indeed I do!” Smug didn’t begin to cover it, and yet somehow it didn’t chafe. How did he do that?
She was silent for a moment. Still, there was one question left.
“And the immortality? You say you’re not a demon and that you never use magic, so how did you...”
Her voice trailed off, not really knowing how to continue. If he’d found some fountain of youth, he’d certainly not just tell some random Slayer about it.
Silently he picked up his shirt and shrugged into it before buttoning up again. Then he lifted his head, and she was stunned to realise that she recognised the look in his eyes - a deep weariness mixed with resignation. Finally he spoke.
“I never chose to be immortal.”
She stared at him mutely, as another Jonathan-memory resurfaced. He had accused her of having it all, and she’d been stunned and angry at how he’d taken the surface of her life as the whole story. Opening her mouth to speak, she was cut short when there was a polite knock on the door, and then it was opened, revealing a deferential servant.
“Pardon me master, but His Eminence Knth-Rath’m’Rk has decided that it is the time for leaving for him and requests that you might bid him farewell.”
“Of course,” The Immortal said, grabbing the undone bow tie and trailing it around his neck as before. He stopped in the doorway and caught Buffy’s eyes, looking the very picture of elegant nonchalance, hands in his pockets and face in three quarter profile. “You will stay a little longer, won’t you?”
“Yes I... yes we will,” she answered, and he grinned. “Good! Because I think once His Eminence has left it might be time for some games...”
Then he walked out, and Buffy buried her face in her hands.
“Buffy?” Dawn asked, and Buffy shook her head. “He doesn’t make sense. At all. Why can’t he be evil? That I know how to deal with.”
But she wasn’t about to give up trying to figure him out - especially now she’d seen a little of what lay beneath the mask.
Heading back to the party they soon found themselves involved in an absorbing game of truth or dare - and Buffy noticed that she and The Immortal were the only ones to choose ‘dare’ every time. Thankfully the other guests were too intimidated to dare her to do anything embarrassing, so it was all nicely simple things like throwing knives blindfolded and bending steel bars.
Although in The Immortal’s case his choice might not be an out-and-out avoidance of truth telling, since he so obviously relished the dares. And despite the tiny glimpses of a more serious man beneath the glad exterior, his enjoyment of the festivities was clearly not fake - the reason he threw parties was because he liked them, of that there was no doubt.
As the night wore on the crowd thinned, and finally there were only eleven of them left, curled up on three large plush sofas listening to a never ending stream of incredible tales told with great skill and many gestures by their host. Whether they were fact or fiction - or some blend - was impossible to ascertain (of course he claimed that every word was true, but he would do that), and Buffy had not been this entertained in a long, long time - considering the life she’d led it took a lot to make her shake her head and exclaim ‘I don’t believe it!’
Uncurling herself from the sofa as morning neared, trying to get some feeling back in her legs, Buffy thought to herself that if anything the party had been more extraordinary than the tales had implied. Whatever he was, The Immortal sure knew how to have a good time.
As she shook his hand a little later, saying good-bye and trying not to sound too clichéd, he suddenly stopped her and asked if he could just speak with her in private for a minute.
When they were alone he smiled, of all things appearing nervous, which was not something she’d expected him capable of.
“Look - I’m only here for a month or two and... I’d really like to see you again.”
She didn’t quite know how to respond, so picked the first thing that came to mind. “So... you’re not offended that I accused you of being a big fake then?”
“Offended?” he echoed, surprised. “Oh no. I’m very flattered to be honest. And impressed of course.”
“Impressed?” she asked, raising her eyebrows in surprise.
He studied her for a long moment before replying - and even then his words were slow and careful. “I’ve been watching you tonight, watching me - studying me. Slayers are usually described as killers, which I always figured was a rather narrow-minded view. Anyone can kill - that part’s simple. But determining the level of danger, deciding what makes an ‘acceptable’ risk - that’s the part where it gets hard. Most people just follow the rules, but you...” his eyes narrowed, “you don’t accept what you see, and you trust your intuition - trying to find the truth, no matter what, and then you act on it. That’s very rare.”
She wasn’t quite sure how to respond, since he’d pulled the night’s dilemma right out of her mind and she was getting rather freaked out. But there was something about the way he said it, like he spoke from personal experience...
Before she could ask, he handed her a slip of paper. “Here’s my mobile number - I’ve always got my phone with me. Just... promise you’ll think about calling, OK?”
She nodded, and he smiled again, all bright eyes and dimples and breathtaking charm. It was very distracting, and she forgot what she was going to say.
But as he led her out of the room, a warm hand cupping her elbow, he leaned down and whispered in her ear.
“You weren’t right tonight with your clever little theory. But you weren’t entirely wrong either...”
She turned, shocked, but he just winked, as enigmatic as ever, and then Dawn dragged her out to the waiting taxi. Buffy followed, too thrown and absorbed by his words to do much more than nod along to Dawn’s happy monologue.
‘She’d not been wrong’... what did that mean? She really, really couldn’t figure him out - he was unlike anyone else she’d ever come across. Clearly he was not a conformist, but neither could he be labelled an outsider or a rebel - he seemed to regard rules as nothing more than vague guidelines, to be followed or ignored on a whim.
And he’d given her his cellphone number and paid her one of the oddest - and most unnervingly insightful - compliments she’d ever been given. Apparently he genuinely wanted to see her again. What to do?
Sighing he set to work, wanting it finished so he could drop it into a mailbox when he was going back to the Ettian craft after breakfast - Rome was obviously good for his work ethic.
But his mind kept wandering back to Buffy and their confrontation. She had been so utterly fearless - completely sure of herself and her authority, plainly not even remotely considering the possibility that he could get the better of her. He wondered if she had been able to sense just how thoroughly she had affected him in that moment. If he hadn’t known better, he’d have been very tempted to ask her if maybe she came from Gallifrey... unless of course the righteous hero stuff was a Doctor specialty, and not a Time Lord thing. Whatever the case, Buffy also had it to overflowing, and he knew that he was utterly helpless against it - especially considering how very brilliant she was.
See hero, will follow.
But he’d played the part long enough himself to understand the strain and the loneliness. If just... if he could just somehow win her trust. This particular alias was not the best one for that purpose, he thought ruefully, although they could have so much fun if she came round!
Sighing deeply he stared at the quarterly budget again. Was he just imagining it, or were all the figures higher than when he’d been looking at them just over a week previously? Suzie had apparently decided to increase spending, but she probably had good reason - Suzie always did. Logic all the way, that was his Suzie - unlike a certain other woman...
Surely she’d call? He really wasn’t very good at the conventional ‘dating’ thing - all those unwritten rules that changed every decade or so were difficult to keep up with, and sitting around waiting for a girl to call was just frustrating and distracting and... unsatisfying.
Stupid 21st century.
You can listen to Serenade in Blue here.
Also I've been meaning to say that I love hearing from my readers, so please chat if you feel like it. Rambling encouraged. :)