RATING: PG - the first prelude is NOT symptomatic.
KEYWORDS: Time loop?
SUMMARY: If Jack dies, who's next in line?
SPOILERS: The myth arc episodes; mainly anything with Richard in it.
FEEDBACK: Yes please! :-) You can reach me at the e-mail address listed on my main page (http://hem.bredband.net/MsFanfic in case that's not where you found this story). Addresses may come and go, but the one you find on my top page is always valid.
ARCHIVING: Please go ahead - just let me know first, ok?
Tru was lying supine in front of him, on the hard, dusty sidewalk. She wasn't moving. The ambulance doors were open behind him, but he dared not move her - not yet, not until he had assessed the damage. Her right knee seemed wrong somehow, though he could not tell if it was broken or in that case, how badly. He tried to set it as best he could, there, on the ground, part of him mildly wondering why they weren't en route to the hospital already.
Then he noticed: she wasn't breathing. Damn - when had she stopped? He should have caught that right away. He tried to apply CPR, but somehow his hands slipped and he found himself pushing at her - well, rather ample breasts instead. He wasn't helping. He was doing it all wrong. Not only that; he could also feel a highly unwelcome arousal coming on. He nearly panicked when her big, dark eyes opened, but all she said was,
"Jack - help me!"
The alarm clock woke him up before the day could rewind, and he sat up with a groan, like most mornings. He tore yesterday's sheet off the calendar - careful not to lose track of his days - and ambled out into the kitchen for some fruit juice or anything that might clear his head. He found some leftover coffee since yesterday, and he drank it cold, not giving himself time to heat it.
The dream had been confusing. He wasn't aware of feeling either protective of Tru or predatory towards her, but the dream seemed to indicate both. Mostly, he thought of her as a nuisance. Was he even attracted to her? He didn't think so. Sure, she was pretty enough, but she was immature and full of herself, and besides, she was his arch-enemy - or his arch-adversary anyway. And even if he took the arrogant tack with her most of the time, he had learnt pretty fast not to underestimate her. After all, most victories were hers, which made his arrogance seem a little hollow after a while.
No, the dream had been just that - a dream. He sure as hell hoped it wouldn't linger to colour his day.
Tru watched her challenger closely, assessing him. He moved with assurance but without leaving caution aside for all that. A hard one to crack, but she felt she could still win. Of course, there was the matter of his full-body armour ... she hadn't quite counted on that. As he whipped out a sword and started to advance on her, she looked for a weapon of her own, and found it. She had a sword too - no, a scythe! She swung it, and he backed up a step to get out of its reach. She could see that this might take a while.
He raised his visor for a moment, to see where he was going before his next attack, but she had known all along who he was. There were people behind her. She was protecting them.
"You won't get to them, Sir Jack!" she called. "I'm the dragon - you gotta go through me!"
As if in answer to her taunt, he made a quick lunge and managed to get his sword in under her guard, moving up close where the farther reach of her scythe was useless. She felt the point go in, deep.
She roared, and her flames burst forth, consuming him.
The alarm clock woke her up, and she reached out to shut it off. Sitting up to get her bearings, she shook her head at the strange dream. Did she see Jack as a knight in shining armour? Most certainly not. If anything, she saw him as the Devil - or the Grim Reaper anyways. The Freudian connotations in her dream were nothing but annoying; she wasn't attracted to Jack, nor did she see him as any kind of a threat. A nuisance, but not a threat. An arrogant, self-centered nuisance who didn't seem to know when it was time to give up.
She ripped yesterday's sheet off the calendar - wouldn't do to lose track of her days - and got up. She would have dismissed the dream outright, had it not been for its ending. In doing battle, they had both died - or that was the feeling she had anyway. That part seemed significant somehow. It worried her a little.
Still, it was only a dream. As she stepped into the shower, she shrugged off her worries. She wasn't about to let a dream colour her day.
Jack Harper sauntered leisurely in the general direction of the building housing the law firm of Davies, O'Donnell & Cross. He assumed that Richard Davies was head attorney since his name was the first on the list, but maybe people were just meant to think so. Truth to tell, Jack couldn't recall ever having seen either O'Donnell or Cross, to date.
He was late - half deliberately. He did not like his employer. Not that it mattered. He and Richard had to get on as best they could anyway. Thrown together by fate, you might say.
As he crossed the final street, someone was entering the door to the building ahead of him. Someone he thought he knew ...
Harrison Davies was about to step into his father's and employer's office, when he heard voices. Tactfully - or perhaps merely due to natural instincts, he elected to stay just around the corner, out of sight.
A chair in the office creaked. Someone had just sat down. Harrison risked a quick peep and saw his father leaning across his desk, steepling his fingers, waiting to hear what his client had to tell him.
"So, Mr Neesan. What do you want from me?"
Except, this didn't sound like a client:
"Fifty grand - cash, no checks and such crap. Or your daughter dies this afternoon."
Footsteps on the stairs outside alerted Harrison. Someone was coming. Quickly, he stepped inside the bathroom and locked the door behind him. More by reflex than reasoning, as he had every right to be here, if maybe not exactly to eavesdrop.
The steps paused; apparently the newcomer had heard the voices too, and stopped exactly as Harrison had, just around the corner from the office.
Harrison could still hear the voices, though not quite as clearly as before.
"I told you to stay away, Neesan." Richard's voice sounded ice cold and clearly annoyed. "And I told you what would happen to you if you didn't."
"Empty threat", said the other. "I told you about the letter to your daughter."
"Which she won't get if you've already killed her", Richard said. "Or did you mean my other daughter?"
No reply to that one - but quite likely some kind of facial gesture; perhaps an over-confident smirk. Harrison could well imagine that. The guy sounded like a smirker. Neesan, Neesan ... where had he heard that name ... oh!
Recognition dawned on him as he remembered something his sister had told him. He had to warn her - fast! He no longer heard what was going on in the office or anywhere else, as he desperately got out his cellphone and juggled it around a bit to keep from dropping it. As soon as he got a decent hold of it, he punched his sister's swiftcode.
"Tru? The guy you said killed our mother is after you. Yeah, heard him myself. He threatened you - or possibly Meredith, but I think he meant you. No, no time for details - meet me at Levinson Plaza around two; I'll tell you the rest, ok?"
He disconnected and rushed out - colliding with a sturdy guy who had been waiting on the other side of the door. Probably the one he had heard before, pausing in the hallway. The fellow was smiling indulgently but looked vaguely unpleasant anyway. Mumbling a hasty excuse, Harrison bolted and scurried down the stairs, doing justice to the nickname his sister sometimes used for him.
The big man watched him go, but did not enter the bathroom. "Levinson Plaza, around two, eh?" he muttered to himself. Then, taking his time, he left the same way Harrison had.
Behind him, Jack stepped out of the cloakroom - or rather the cloak nook - and entered his employer's office. "Morning, Richard", he said easily. "You going to tell me who your guest was, or do I have to guess?"
From his vantage point in the alley, Carl Neesan looked out over Levinson Plaza. It had a few wind-blown trees, each in its own small patch of incongruent dirt among vast areas of patterned concrete. He squinted at the trees. They weren't likely to be a problem - not unless she got right behind one of them, but what were the chances of that? People now ... well, there were a few OAP's and a handful of mothers with strollers, but lunch hour for most of the offices in the area was well past, and the plaza was far from crowded. He should be able to avoid hitting anyone else. Not that he particularly cared, except that each killing would increase the danger of getting caught, and he wasn't planning on getting caught this time, by Richard or anyone else. Richard had made a serious mistake this time, refusing to pay up. Neesan glanced at his watch. It was drawing close to two p.m. She'd have to turn up soon, if she was to keep that appointment with her brother.
For what felt like the hundredth time, he checked the targeting sights on his rifle. A semi-professional assassin, he could use just about any weapon, but this was a type he wasn't all that familiar with. He preferred close range - a knife, or possibly a handgun - but distance had seemed the best option today. He listened for any sign of approaching footsteps on his own side of the street, but he did not expect any. He had chosen a stretch with next to no sidewalk - most pedestrians would choose the side of the plaza. Cars were no problem - a subway station in the middle of the road precluded any engine-driven traffic at this point, but the surrounding streets were busy enough that anyone trying to ride a bicycle through this part of town would have to be insane.
A glimpse of scarlet caught his eye. There she was, wearing a red jacket of all things. Easy target. Except, she was still too far off. Patiently, he waited for her to cross the plaza, to draw nearer to his side.
But she stopped about halfway, getting out her cellphone. Unfortunately she wasn't one of those mindless automatons who would start circling about while talking on the phone. He had seen her walk at a brisk pace while talking, but now she was waiting for someone, she didn't move around much while her conversation lasted. Pity he couldn't hear what was being said. He hoped her brother wasn't cancelling on her.
"Alright, Harr - just see that you get here as soon as you can, ok?" Tru flipped her phone shut and put it back in her pocket. Just like her brother to be late, even when he himself had asked for this meeting. Good thing she wasn't in a hurry; this wasn't a rewind day - not yet anyway, and she hoped it would stay unwound. Sometimes she had a feeling she was living her life one day forward and two back every week. Idly she wondered if she was getting any older on do-over days. One thing was certain - she could do with more sleep in the week than she usually got.
She turned around - and gave a start when she spotted Jack Harper standing there, close enough to touch. "What are you doing here?" she asked brusquely, a frown materializing between her brows.
He grinned at her with his usual insolence, cocking his head slightly in that annoying way he had. "It's a free plaza." When she did not rise to his attitude, he sobered somewhat. "In fact, I came to warn you. Your - the man who killed your mother is back."
"What do you know about that?" she challenged, suspiciously.
"I told you", he drawled. "I've an ear for gossip. Anyway, this time, he's after you."
Still frowning, she gave him a look full of doubt. "Me? Why?"
"I think he's got it in for your father. He went to see him this morning, and I heard him threaten your life."
"So what were you doing there?"
Sharp as always. Well, he hadn't expected anything less. But this was not the time to let her know he worked for her father, indeed had been doing so for a good long time. "Oh, we've seen a lot of each other, your father and I, since we met at your Christmas party. Thanks for introducing me, by the way. I was in the area and decided to look in on him. Neesan was there before me."
"You know his name." Matter-of-factly, still frowning.
Jack stifled a sigh. Couldn't she, just once, be a little more gullible? Couldn't she, just once, actually trust him? Then again, most of the time they were talking, he was lying through his teeth to keep her from learning the truth about her father.
"What little I overheard made me concerned for your dad. I kept out of sight of Neesan, and when he left, I asked Richard who the guy was and what he wanted."
She didn't comment on his being on first name basis with her father. Apparently, his explanation of their relationship had been sufficient.
"He told me the man's name, said you and he had found out that this was the guy who killed your mother - in revenge for a verdict that had gone against him, or something. Your father had sent him to prison - guess that was before he started defending the criminals," - somehow, that little jab was irresistible - "and he took it out on your family. Apparently, he's still at it." He nearly added, What I can't figure out is why your father never called the police on him, but something still held him back. There was no love lost between Jack and Richard, but there was too much at stake, and Jack could not afford to give her that clue, even if he wanted to. Still, she was a smart girl; she'd figure it out for herself, eventually. When she did, she'd be heart-broken; he had no doubt of that, but she'd also be wiser, more able to cope. Not that she was a shrinking violet now - she was learning fast.
Tru played her trump card: "The man is dead! He can't be back. My f..." She fell silent. What her father - the man of law - had done, was far from legal. But there had been no way of stopping him, and to a huge extent, she could even understand him. They never talked about it.
"He told me that too", Jack said easily. "He said he'd shot the man and left him for dead, but he had been too disgusted with the whole business - and with himself - to check properly. It was a shock to him to see Neesan again today, alive and well."
"He told you?" Tru looked sharply at him. "You two must be really chummy these days."
They started walking slowly over the plaza. In the alley opposite, the sun glinted briefly on metal.
"He must have thought you'd tell me", Jack said. "Probably needed me to hear it from him first. He said you were there when he did it. You didn't check Neesan for life signs?"
"I never saw him do it", she said coldly. "He didn't want me to. Told me to stay in my apartment. I followed him anyway, so he yelled at me to go away. I thought it was out of concern for me - and I still do, but well ... he is a lawyer. If ever I'd be forced to witness against him ... It dawned on me later that he never actually told me what happened. I was waiting in the alley outside, and as he came out, all he said was, it was over. That's why I'm surprised he'd tell you, in so many words."
Jack shrugged. "Neesan had already accused him, in my hearing. Guess your father wanted to clarify."
She seemed to accept that. "Explains why the body wasn't found ...", she mused. Then she came to a decision. "Right. Suppose I believe you. So - you're warning me, because?"
He just raised an eyebrow, all bland innocence as if he found it a strange question to ask.
"You could have just let things play out", she clarified. "Isn't that what you do? You could have been rid of me for good."
He grinned. "I'd rather you stick around. The devil you know ..."
Tru frowned. "What's that supposed to ..." She didn't finish the sentence. The glint in the alley became a glaring reflex, and Jack who was turned that way at the moment reacted instantly, assuming the worst without actually giving himself the time to think it. He caught her quickly, spinning them both around and off balance, but the bullet struck before he could push her to the ground. A fraction of a second later, they were laid out flat on the concrete. A fraction of a second too late.
Tru pushed him off of her and jumped up, wild-eyed. A hasty look around revealed no threat in the immediate area. Most likely, their assailant had fled. Then she looked down. Jack was lying motionless where he had fallen, an unmistakable bullet wound in his back. The first shock had not left her, but at the sight of him, part of her mind got in gear and started working independently of her emotions. She was unhurt, and there was blood only on her sleeve, probably from fighting her way up from under his weight. No exit wound then. The bullet was lodged, and from the position of the entry wound, it would most likely be in his heart. She couldn't determine the exact trajectory without a closer examination, but that was definitely what it looked like. She crouched beside him, feeling for a pulse, and she was not surprised when she didn't find one.
"Oh God!" a voice croaked over her head, and she looked up. Her brother had finally turned up.
"Is he ...?" Harrison asked, stupidly. Not normally prone to clichés, for once he couldn't think of anything else to say. Couldn't think, period. Jack had been his friend - granted, that had sort of changed when Tru had found out who he was, but still ... Harrison had never been pissed off enough to wish this on him.
Tru nodded tiredly, and got to her feet. "Instantly, near as I can tell right off."
Then, the impossible happened. The body turned over of its own accord, and for a moment Tru almost believed she had been wrong after all - then the day rewound.
The alarm clock woke her up, and she reached out to shut it off. Sitting up to get her bearings, she shook her head at the strange dream. No wait - it wasn't a dream. Jack had died, and her day had rewound. She had to help him. But - he had died saving her life, which meant she now had to save both him and herself. Good thing she had found out as much as she had, before it happened.
She ripped yesterday's sheet off the calendar - wouldn't do to lose track of her days - and got up. The phone rang.
"Tru?" Harrison's voice asked, somewhat shakily, and when she confirmed, "Well, if I didn't believe you before ... Tru, my day just rewound!"
The City Morgue wasn't the cosiest place for an impromptu breakfast, but Tru and her brother both felt that a quick conference with Davis was in order, and the wise little introvert had agreed. Davis had been mentoring Tru for some time now, in both her capacities - as a medical student and as the hand of fate - and he liked to think with good results. No reason why he shouldn't be able to counsel her brother too. Still, the situation was unusual to say the least.
"So what you're telling me is that this is a do-over day for both of you?" Davis asked. At their frustrated glances, he waved his hands briefly. "I know, you told me five times already. Just getting my facts straight."
Tru, sitting on the edge of his desk, looked at him with large, dark, pleading eyes. "Davis, do you think this ability of mine - could be spreading? Like a virus or something?"
Davis pondered that. "Possible, but unlikely. No, I think it's something else. Tru, you've been through this or something similar countless times now - was anything different this time?" He blinked, catching himself. "I mean - aside from the fact you both rewound? You once caught the rewind second-hand, like we think Jack does it, and he got the primary one. You saw pictures from events leading up to the death - it wasn't like that now?"
Tru shook her head. "No - and I didn't get that awful feeling either. But then, I was there; I had already seen what led up to his death. Maybe that makes a difference, I don't know. But it didn't feel like a secondary rewind."
Davis nodded. "So what happened was, Jack died, and he asked for help from the both of you?"
Harrison nodded eagerly, but his sister looked suddenly doubtful. "I don't know - I mean, I saw the body turn, and then the day rewound; I suppose he must have, though I didn't actually hear him."
"Oh but he did!" Harrison said. Seeing their doubts, he looked flustered. "Didn't he?"
"Did you actually hear him ask?" Tru persisted.
Harrison waved his hands aimlessly, croaking something unintelligible. "I - I could've sworn I did", he said when he found his voice. "Not so sure now, though. I mean, your stories could've influenced me. When the day rewound, I guess I assumed I heard him ask, because that's how it's supposed to happen, isn't it? Maybe he was asking you, and I was just standing too close and got - I don't know - swept up?"
Tru shook her head. "It doesn't work that way."
Her brother leant forward over the opposite corner of the desk, as if suddenly aflame with his theory. "How do you know? You said yourself it never happened this way before. How do you know how it's supposed to work?"
Davis held up a hand - just a slight movement, sort of half-baked, like all of his gestures. "Proximity could be a factor", he said. "There's still a lot we don't know. But I believe there is a way of finding out whether you both heard Jack ask for help or not. What exactly did he say?"
They both looked at him as if they hadn't given it the slightest thought. Davis almost felt a little smug. Almost.
"Tru, you told me that they don't always phrase the call for help the same way", he clarified. "Most say, Help me, sometimes calling you by name, sometimes not; others say Save me, and sometimes they just say I need you or something completely different. So, what did Jack say?"
Tru shook her head again. "I can't remember. But it isn't exactly words, although it seems that way - I guess. It's more like ... an impression that they've said something. I sort of hear it afterwards ..." she stared briefly into space, trying to find the proper words. "Or rather, I remember having heard it, though I don't think I actually hear it as sound at the time, if you get me. Sometimes, there's no way they could have had the time to speak, but I still remember hearing them."
Harrison made a frustrated gesture as if to say, Big deal.
Davis nodded patiently. "So, do you remember what Jack said?"
Tru slipped off the desk - her left leg was falling asleep. "No, that's why I'm wondering if he said anything at all. I can't recall the wording."
Davis shifted his gaze to Harrison. "And you?"
"I think he said, Help me."
"You think?" his sister probed.
Harrison spread his hands. "Well, it's what they usually say, isn't it? Ok, I wasn't paying attention, so sue me. It isn't like I expected this to happen."
Davis passed his hand over his brow, rubbing it. "No, you're right of course. I suppose there's only one thing to do. Ask Jack himself."
Tru gave him an almost patronizing look. "Davis, you know we can't. He won't remember. It's not the person asking, it's the corpse - or something. He'll have no more idea than we do."
"He might have a theory", Davis insisted. "Wouldn't hurt to ask him. Guess you've got to warn him about today anyway."
Harrison gave him a quick look, then focused on his sister. "You sure you want to do that?"
She frowned. "What do you mean?"
"Sure you want to save him? You could just let things play out. You could be rid of him for good."
She looked startled. "You know, that's exactly what I said to him when he came to warn me that Carl Neesan was after me."
"You did? What did he say?" Harrison wanted to know. Davis also looked up, mildly curious.
"He said - the devil you know."
Her brother stared at her, amused and incredulous. "The devil you know? What's that supposed to mean?"
Behind his desk, Davis' lips moved in silence as he repeated the words to himself, frowning.
"I don't know", Tru said, "but I guess I owe him one." Resolutely, she made for the glass-paned doors, but just before opening them, she turned briefly. "'Sides, it's what I do", she flung over her shoulder.
The doors were swinging shut behind her, before Harrison realized his obligation. "Wait up!" he called after his sister. "I'm coming with you!"
He caught up with her at the same ill-famed plaza where the murder had occurred - was to occur, if they couldn't prevent it. He looked around nervously. "What time did it happen? Guess I was too shocked to look at my watch."
"Harrison, you don't have a watch. You lost it in a stupid poker game last week."
He shrugged. "Relapse. Won't happen again. I told you - I'm a reformed man."
She gave him a big-sisterly look that he could have done without.
"Anyway, the stakes were small - at least compared to the old days ..." he realized they were drifting off topic. "Tru! What time was it?"
"About two-forty. Relax, Harr - we've got over four hours."
"Unless we've already changed something."
"I don't see how. All we did different was talk to Davis."
The sun was hot, and the plaza already felt like a huge skillet. Harrison squinted against the light. He was far from reassured. In this glare, it would be hard to see anyone coming. And neither of them had been able to tell where the bullet had come from.
"So how do we go about this?" he asked.
Tru shrugged. "Should be simple enough. We find Jack and warn him. Tell him to stay the hell away from here this afternoon. He's in the know, so he'll believe me."
Harrison wasn't so sure. "Will he? What if he thinks you're pulling a fast one on him? This has to be the first time the day rewound for you and not for him." He frowned. "Unless it did. We've just assumed you can't rewind if you're dead, but ..."
"Didn't think of that", she admitted. "Well, if he didn't, we just gotta convince him. The first priority is, find him." She brought out her cell and punched a number. After a while she shook her head and tried another one. "No answer. I know he was at Dad's office this morning, but he didn't say when. Guess I'd better start out there."
Her brother caught her by the arm before she could take off. "Whoa! Whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa. That where he overheard Neesan? After I left, because I didn't see Jack. Meaning Neesan could be there right now, and you'd be walking right in on him? Bad idea, Sis. I'll take Dad's office - he expected me this morning anyway." He glanced at his wrist, then remembered and squinted up at the huge clock at the center of the plaza instead. "Running late again. Well, at least that's no different from yesterday. Just a little bit more so."
Tru smiled fondly at her kid brother. "Ok-a-ay. I'll try Jack's apartment then."
"You know where he lives these days?" Harrison asked.
"Found out on a day one, last week. Long story. Anyway, I'll call you - or maybe you'd better call me when you can. Wouldn't want to draw Neesan's attention - let him know we're on to him. Gotta run. Bye, Harr!" She started sprinting towards the subway station, and Harrison shook his head, smiling. Then he set out for his father's office - while inventing an elaborate excuse for being late for work.
As she emerged from the subway, Tru tried her phone again, although certain now that her numbers were out of date. To her surprise, she got an answer on the second one. "Jack?"
"Tru! What a surprise! Didn't know we were on speaking terms."
She clenched her teeth. "We aren't - I mean, we weren't. But this is important." She thought fast. Should she just tell him over the phone? She remembered her brother's warning. Most likely, Jack would only think she was trying to trick him, and hang up. And then nothing would keep him away from Levinson Plaza that afternoon. Assuming she told him the time and place - she hadn't made up her mind about that yet. "I need to talk to you", she said non-committally. "Can we meet someplace? Preferably indoors", she added quickly, just in case he'd suggest the plaza. No reason why he should, but then she didn't really know how he had found his way there 'yesterday'.
"Ok", he said, pleasantly enough. "Where are you?"
"There's a small café on the corner of 23rd and Milton. Viola's. I'll meet you there in, say - ten minutes?"
Tru acknowledged, and set out to find the crossing he had spoken of. It wasn't far off, but somehow she managed to get turned around and ended up taking the long way around the block. She arrived at the café only seconds before him. She did not see him outside, but he was the next person to enter after her.
He chose a table and ordered for them both, after consulting with her. He was being excessively chivalrous, probably because he knew it annoyed her.
She didn't have time for games. "You died yesterday", she said bluntly. "I'm taking the chance you don't remember. Or did the day rewind for you too?" There. She had set the scene for him. She wasn't about to tell him any more than necessary - nothing about Harrison's involvement; she still hadn't figured that one out.
He took a moment to answer. "Not this time, no. But it did for you? Are you saying I asked for your help?"
She felt suddenly evasive. At the same time, she didn't want to lie to him. He was the master at that; he'd likely find her out. "You must have. I saw your body turn, and then: rerun. Why would that happen, if you hadn't asked?"
"But you didn't actually hear me ask?"
"I don't remember", she dodged.
He placed his hand over hers on the table, and she was about to jerk it away, but for once he was looking quite serious, not like he was making fun of her. "Tru", he said, "I would never ask for your help. Not in a million years."
Outside the building where Richard Davies' office was located, Harrison's phone rang. He looked at the display in some surprise before he answered. "Davis? Sure you got the right number? Tru is ..."
"It's you I need to talk to", said Davis' voice, tense with suppressed urgency. "I know what Jack meant by the devil you know. What I hadn't figured out, was the implications. I'm afraid now that I have. Can you get back here right away? I'm still at the morgue." A slight, odd laugh, like the cough of a choking man. "Not that I'm ever anywhere else ..."
"Davis, my man - I'm sorry, but I'm helping Tru ..."
"I doubt it", Davis said, an uncharacteristic chill in his voice. "Anyway, just get here." He hung up.
Harrison stared at his phone for a moment. So Davis thought he was useless? That he couldn't help his sister out? Well, he'd show the stuck-up son-of ... Maybe they'd better have that talk after all. As good a chance as any, to tell the man he didn't know Tru as well as he thought!
Tru stared at Jack across the table. The waitress brought their coffee and left, unheeded. From their position and inattention she must have thought Jack had just proposed or something, but Tru didn't care, not this time.
"What do you mean you'd never ask for my help?" she said. "You can't know that. It wouldn't be you; it'd be your corpse asking. You'd have no idea - at least I don't think you would."
He withdrew his hand, and she felt a small surge of relief.
"No matter how it happens", he said, "I - or my corpse, if you will - wouldn't ask. You know what my side of the coin is. I'm here to see that the natural order of things doesn't get upset by someone trying to break the rules."
"That'd be me."
He nodded. "Yes, that'd be you. You try to snatch people away from their rightful death; I try to see that they stay dead. That includes me."
"Rightful death?" she bristled. "How can you call it a rightful death when people die before their time?"
He leant forward, and she quickly moved her hands out of his reach, though it didn't look like he had been about to touch her again.
"Let me tell you something, Tru", he said, and there was still no hint of mockery in his demeanor. "No one dies before their time. No - hear me out. They don't, and that's by definition, not mysticism. Records and headstones show one date only, for each person's demise. One date. The day they died. Not a whole set of dates: one actual, one morally correct, one more convenient, or whatever. Just one date. The time of their death, by definition. Their time. But you - you go back in time and try to change that - which is a violation of the laws of nature. You fly in the face of fate."
"So do you", she countered. "You go back in time to stop me."
"I've got to - because you go back. I'm your counterpoint; I gotta balance out what you do. I can't do that if I don't follow you - back in time."
"You make it sound as if it's my choice", she said. "It isn't. I just get snatched up and thrown back."
"Me too. Which ought to tell you something. Whenever you get thrown back, I get sent after. Nature abhors imbalance."
"That's a vacuum", she corrected him. She took a sip of her coffee. It was really good. Shame to let it grow cold. "I know what you do", she said after composing herself a little. "And I know what I do. And today I'm obligated to save you, whether I want to or not."
He grinned at that. "I'm letting you off the hook. I didn't ask for your help. Obviously, today at whatever hour it happens, is my time to go. I'd appreciate it if you don't meddle. Come on, it's not like you'd miss me."
He was right about that. Pity it didn't matter. "My day rewound. I've got to - meddle."
"Then I gotta stop you."
Impasse. They sat for a while, sipping their coffee, Tru desperately trying to think of another tack. She couldn't find one. They both knew their positions, and nothing would budge either of them. In the end, she settled for changing the subject.
"Well, I warned you. Like you warned me 'yesterday'."
"About what?" he asked, reasonably enough, and she found herself giving him the details after all. After some hesitation, even the time and place. It probably wasn't all that significant - she had often prevented a death in one place only to see it recur in a different spot or a different way, after Jack had gotten involved. In fact, his knowing when and where might not be a bad thing. At least she'd know exactly what she had to work with.
She told him about Neesan and her mother, since he didn't seem to have heard it yet today, but she left out what part her father had played in Neesan's disappearance last time they had clashed. As for the day Jack had lost, she was glad to be able to say she didn't know where the assassin had fired from - no reason to make things easy for him. If that was the word.
Then she thought of something.
"I just remembered - when I asked you why you didn't just let things happen and be rid of me, you said, the devil you know. I asked what you meant by that, but you were down before I could get an answer. Any idea what you meant?"
Jack stared into his half-emptied cup, deliberating how much to tell her. Could he keep Richard's part out of it? He'd have to be careful ...
"I must've been thinking, your mother had your ability before you did, and it passed on to you - even if it didn't show up right away ... it didn't, did it?" he caught himself, and she confirmed.
"I've thought about that", she said. "Maybe I was too young. Maybe children can't have the - talent, because they wouldn't be able to use it. They wouldn't know how to make the proper connections, inferring things from people's actions, and even if they could, nobody would believe them."
"Good thinking", he acknowledged. "It's a theory. Well, it stands to reason that if you got it from your mother, then if you die, it would pass on to someone else. And I'd rather deal with you, now that I've gotten to know you", he concluded with a smirk.
"You don't know me at all", she seethed, only amusing him even more. Then something dawned on her. "Wait a minute - if you're right about this balance thing, then your ability would also pass on to someone else when you die, right?"
He nodded. "Guess it would, yeah."
"Oh my God!" she whispered. "Harrison!" She got to her feet so quickly she spilled the last of her coffee, but she didn't care. She had to ...
She felt a firm grip on her arm. Jack had risen too, and managed to catch her. "Harrison? What about him?"
She still didn't know if it was wise to tell him or not, but she no longer cared.
"The day rewound for him too!"
She broke free against his thumb and was out the door, sticking him with the bill.
Harrison made a face that somehow managed to strike a perfect balance between Oh yeaah, I'm the champ! and a rabbit caught in the headlights. The squeak that went with the face was probably closer to the rabbit.
"I got Jack's ability? Moi? Cool ... I mean ... it isn't cool, is it?"
Davis shook his head somberly, staring grimly from under his brows.
"So it - what, runs in the family?" Harrison shook his head to clear it. "No, that can't be right - Jack's no relation. That I know of, anyway", he amended. His world had just been turned upside down, and one couldn't be sure of anything anymore. "Sorry, just trying to wrap my head around this ..."
Davis kept silent, waiting. Giving him time.
"The - talent, or whatever you call it, is temporary, right? When our mother died, it passed on to Tru ... well, not right away, but it did. Tru got hers and Jack got his, from wherever. And when he died yesterday - our yesterday, Tru's and mine - his passed on to yours truly? Why? Because I was too close? Because I'm related to Tru? Because ...?"
Davis shook his head, and Harrison shut up.
"We don't know why, yet. Like I said before, proximity could be a factor, but we don't know that. Family connection probably isn't; as you say, Jack's no relation."
"You think gender could be a factor?" Harrison blurted out.
"You mean sex?" Davis asked. "Gender is a grammatic term which has nothing to do with biological sexes."
Harrison chuckled squawkily, then caught Davis' eye and swallowed his mirth. "Whatever. I mean - what if Tru's ability only happens to women, and Jack's to men, so with me being the only guy around ..."
"It's no use speculating", Davis said. "For all we know, it's simply because she already had her side of the talent; she couldn't have his as well. Or maybe proximity has nothing to do with it after all, and you'd have gotten it anyway. A far more vital question is, what are you going to do with it?"
Harrison pondered that. Conflicting thoughts passed like flocks of migrating birds over his face, his expression changing with each new idea. "Are you saying I gotta work against my own sister?" he finally asked.
"I'm not saying anything. I rather think it's your choice."
"But how can that be? Once you're - chosen ..."
"Are you?" Davis probed.
Harrison breathed out - a sigh mostly of relief, but also to some minute extent of disappointment. "Jack's still around!" he exclaimed. "Or - again, whatever. He died, and his thing passed to me so my day rewound, but as soon as it had, Jack was still alive, and he still has it, because it hasn't passed to me yet."
"Right - and we gotta make sure it doesn't", said Tru's voice from the door. She crossed the floor and sat down next to her brother. "So you see - I gotta keep Jack alive", she told them both.
"Hey!" Harrison interjected, "You don't think I could handle - oh, right. Yeah, guess we gotta keep him alive."
Tru gave him a searching look but didn't comment. Davis too, was suddenly looking oddly at him.
"I think you should stay away this time, Harrison", Davis said quietly. "Let Tru handle it herself."
Harrison sort of jittered, shaking his head and spreading his hands at the same time. "What? I can't help her? There's a guy gunning for her, for godssakes. Literally. He means business; I heard him. I left kinda quick, but I heard enough. She'll need me."
"Harr", Tru said, "I've been talking to Jack. He said he'd never ask me for help, and I kind of believe him. That means he asked you. You heard what you thought you heard; he asked you to help him stay dead."
"That doesn't make sense."
"It does, for Jack."
"Yeah, maybe the guy is nuts", Harrison readily conceded, "but I mean - he wouldn't have to ask anybody. He could just shut up and he'd have his way."
Tru frowned. She had to admit her brother had a point. "Maybe it was because I was there", she tried. "There was a risk I might try to ..."
"Try to do what? If he didn't ask you, you wouldn't rewind - I mean, your day - and he wouldn't need to ask me."
"Maybe it was to break you in", Davis ventured. "Make you realize you had the gift."
"But that's it!" Harrison almost stammered in his eagerness to get his point across. "I don't! He has it back - that is, he hasn't lost it yet. So what was the point asking me?"
Davis closed his eyes and started rubbing the bridge of his nose. "Maybe - no. No more maybe's. Let's stop speculating, shall we? We know he asked you, so there's a chance you'll do something to help him without even meaning to. We can't take that risk, or you'll be saddled with his gift for life, for all we know. Which means you'd be your sister's enemy, and I'm sure you don't want that."
"But there is no gift, right?" Harrison objected. "The gift is, you get a rerun of the day which means you have a chance to do - whatever. But what you do is up to you! Ok, so you might feel you gotta help, because you got this chance - but you can also choose not to. At the very least, you can choose how you do it!" He turned to his sister. "Tru, I've helped you hundreds of times, because anybody with the knowledge can do it! You tell me what has happened on your day one, and I can do the same things you do. The only 'gift' is the rewind itself!"
"I'm not so sure that's all there is to it", Tru said.
"Neither am I", Davis declared, "and as long as we don't know, I'd say you'd better stay out of this one, Harrison. You may not have another rewind as long as Jack is alive, but we don't know if his plea for help - left some residue or something, something you've got to act upon. As you said, you don't need a special talent to help out."
"You mean, when a body asks for help, it plants a kind of post-hypnotic suggestion in whoever hears it?" Harrison suggested. "Are you saying Tru has been hypnotized all along?"
"I'm not saying anything", Davis repeated, tiredly. "Just stay away this time, ok?"
Harrison held his hands up and out. "Fine. I won't go near Levinson Plaza."
"Thank you", Davis said, with rather too much emphasis.
Jack sauntered into Richard's office about an hour later than on the day that had been erased, although he didn't know that. Carl Neesan was long gone. Richard looked up from behind his desk, his manner that of the successful attorney waiting to hear the errand of a client. But Jack had a good eye for people, and he could have sworn he detected signs of impatience, if not downright annoyance.
Displaying his usual reaction to people who wished him elsewhere, he planted himself in a visitor's chair without being asked, folding his hands comfortably as if he was settling in for the day.
"Jack. What can I do for you?" Richard asked between clenched teeth.
"Indulge my curiosity", Jack drawled. "I hear your old assassin has been threatening Tru. Is it really her he's after, or did you hire him to get rid of me?"
"You know I'd never ..." Richard stalled.
"I know nothing of the kind", Jack said blithely. "You used him once."
"All right, maybe you don't know", Richard acknowledged. "So I'm telling you. Given all the trouble I've had from that man, I'd never use him again. The only time I did, was a mistake. A grave one, you might say."
Jack grinned, mainly because he suspected that the pun had not been intended. There was no trace of humour in the attorney's iron features.
"I don't resort to those methods any more", Richard bit off.
"But you would if you could. I get it, I really do. You always had plans for keeping the talent in the family, didn't you? Well, it looks like you're going to succeed."
"What are you talking about?" Richard asked, his patience wearing thin.
"Apparently, I died yesterday, with your son and daughter both present, and the day rewound for both of them."
Richard raised an eyebrow. "Go on."
"Looks like I asked Harrison for help to stay dead despite his sister's ministrations."
"Why? If you hadn't - asked, the day would have stayed on track, and neither of them could have done anything."
"Beats me. Needless to say, I wasn't aware of saying anything. But it looks like your plan backfired this time around."
Richard shifted slightly, the image of the conscientious attorney giving his client his full attention. "My plan?"
"Come on, you've been laying the ground for Harrison to take over after me all along", Jack said. "I admit I didn't see it at first, but it's obvious now. You had me make friends with him, get him away from his girlfriend who might otherwise be asking questions; all so you could bring him over to our side."
"You make it sound as if I could redirect your ability", Richard said, faintly amused. "I'm not a sorcerer, whatever you might think."
"Whether it was something you did or you were just in luck, my ability passed on to him", Jack pointed out. "But, because I asked him for help, it returned to me when his day rewound." He fell silent, as a new theory began to take form. A chill went through him, and he wondered if he had already said too much.
"I assume you are going to set that right today?" Richard said, and there was no telling whether he too had seen the possible implications or not.
"I was going to", Jack said, keeping his voice light and neutral. "But on day one, apparently I overheard a conversation you had with Carl Neesan, went to warn Tru - possibly on your order - and got into the line of fire instead of her."
"You died saving Tru's life?" Richard asked. "That's an interesting twist."
"Not necessarily. Guess it wasn't her time. Anyway, this is all according to her; I hardly need to tell you, I don't remember a thing. She was at a loss to explain why I came to warn her, so I'm assuming you sent me."
"You talked to her about this?" This time, Richard looked openly annoyed.
Jack shifted impatiently in his chair. "Not about my suspicions of you, obviously. Come on, you think Harrison wouldn't tell her about his rewind, and she'd wonder why it happened? 'Course I talked to her. I was trying to figure out what had happened myself, and she's the one most likely to have a clue, wouldn't you say?"
Richard looked as if he had been struck, and Jack noted it. He knew that Richard had never gotten over losing his talent unexpectedly, which was probably why he had spent so much time researching it, trying to figure out how it worked. It hurt him not to be in the loop - literally - anymore.
"Anyway", Jack resumed, "Today I missed overhearing Neesan because Tru called me just as I was about to come here, and I had no idea I was supposed to be here earlier. Now she's already warned, so there's no reason for me to turn up where I did, and be killed again in the same way. I'll have to think of something else."
"Where was it?" Richard asked.
"I think the less you know about alternative timelines, the better", Jack said bluntly, watching him squirm.
"She'll probably turn up anyway", Richard said. "To make sure you're not killed this time around."
"Not if she figures out that I've got no reason to be there", Jack countered. "I've already warned her, remember? She told me that's what I was there for, 'yesterday'."
Richard shook his head doubtfully. "And you probably told her you intended to die at your proper time. The surest way to make that happen would still be at the same time and place. No, she'll be there; you can count on it. She'll try to save you. Think Harrison will stop her?"
"There's no telling what Harrison will do. He's a wild card in this. But I'll stop her myself, if I can."
"Good", Richard said, as if he hadn't expected anything else. I don't know if I sent you there on day one, but I'm doing so now. Be there. I'm assuming you know where. Do you know what time?"
"Not sure", Jack lied, "but I'll hang around till I see her."
"And if she doesn't turn up?"
"You're the one said she would." That didn't go over too well, so Jack added, "I'll improvise."
"Good", Richard repeated. He rose from his desk and held out his hand. "Guess I won't be seeing you again then. It's been fun." His tone made it clear that it had been anything but.
Jack remained seated, making no effort to take his employer's hand. "Just one question", he said. "Sure you can tell a dying man? What happened to make you lose your ability?"
Richard lowered his hand. "I told you it was when ..."
"I know when", Jack interrupted, "but you must have some theories about why?"
Richard looked decidedly uncomfortable. "I've always assumed it was because I broke the rules", he said. "That I was - punished somehow. When I had my wife killed, I changed fate to suit my own ends. Something or someone didn't like that." He mused for a moment, then, "Frankly, I thought the same thing would happen to you, when you had Tru's boyfriend killed - what was his name again ... Luc. But it didn't."
Jack had his own theories, but he wasn't going to impart them to Richard. "I didn't have him killed as you put it", he said. "I merely gave him some suggestions. He didn't have to act on them."
"You set a trap for him", Richard said. "That was bending the rules, but apparently not enough to get you kicked out." He glanced at his watch. "If you don't want to miss your funeral, I think you'd better be off. Could be any time today."
Jack stood, holding out his hand, surprising Richard who had stopped expecting it. "Bye, Richard", he said. "Hope I never see you again."
He left his employer to wonder whether that had been a wish or a command.
Tru turned up at Levinson Plaza at exactly the same time as on the erased day, but wearing a different jacket. This one was a light gray, and she had picked it as a symbol - a sign to herself that she was not going to get blood on it today. On her first rewinds, she had been very scared of doing anything differently until she had events where she wanted them, but accidental experiments had convinced her that little things like changing her clothes or wearing a certain necklace on day one and not even owning it on day two, didn't matter. After all, she was out to make changes. Usually, she could even get away with a few improvements on side events; keep her friends from repeating mistakes; make life easier for them. Things like that.
Her cellphone rang. Just like 'yesterday'. She flipped it open. "Harrison. Where are you?"
"Hi Sis", he said. "Don't worry - I'm nowhere near you. Just checking in - sure you won't need me?"
"I think we'd better take Davis' advice on that", she told him. Her gaze drifted up to the big center clock. "Hey, Harr - if you're nowhere near, why do you ask? Just how close are you?"
"Clear across town", Harrison assured her, and broke the connection. She closed her phone and put it away before turning to face Jack.
"It's uncanny", he beamed. "Gotta admire your timing. Now I know what it looks like from the outside ... almost as if you knew I'd be here."
"Cut the crap, Jack. You really mean it, don't you? You came here - to die?"
He spread his hands. "No other reason to be here."
"And no regrets?"
"Wouldn't matter if I had 'em. This is my time. You told me yourself", he couldn't help adding. He liked teasing her - always had, since the first time they met. No reason to stop now. If all went as it should, he wouldn't have many more opportunities.
"Remind me to keep my mouth shut next time", she said, looking around for any sign of a hidden shooter. She stepped away from him, so as to be out of his reach when the shot fell. It was a risk, she knew that, but she'd just have to stay alert and keep moving.
"Hopefully, there won't be a next time", he said easily, following her.
"Stay away, Jack", she warned.
"And let you die in my stead? Somehow, I don't think that's what fate had in mind."
"I'm not planning to die. Certainly not to save you."
He cocked his head insolently. "Why not? I'd do the same for you."
She seethed, while looking around once more to hide it. "I haven't got time for this. Neither do you, but I guess you don't care. Anyway, what makes you so sure you know what fate has in mind?" she challenged. "That's assuming it has a mind."
He didn't answer right away. She would have expected another of his glib retorts, supposed to convince her, yet telling her nothing. But when he finally spoke, he surprised her.
"I think fate wants to keep you around, Tru. At least for a little while longer. Pity I can't let it."
From his vantage point in the alley, Carl Neesan took aim. The crosshairs showed him that his target was still too far away, and he lowered his weapon again. He meant to succeed this time. He wasn't about to risk all his planning and preparation on such an iffy range. He glanced at his watch. She'd have to move closer soon; every minute got on his nerves as he was forced to hang around in this alley with a loaded, all too visible weapon. He wasn't planning on getting caught this time, by Richard or anyone else. Richard had made a serious mistake this time, refusing to pay up. He listened for any sign of approaching footsteps on his own side of the street, but he did not expect any. He had chosen a stretch with next to no sidewalk - most pedestrians would choose the side of the plaza. Cars were no problem - a subway station in the middle of the road precluded any engine-driven traffic at this point, but the surrounding streets were busy enough that anyone trying to ride a bicycle through this part of town would have to be insane.
A young man in silent sneakers and wildly unkempt, blond hair suddenly stood before him in the alley. It was a moment before either of them reacted, then Harrison made the connection, recognizing the man he had seen outside his father's office on day one.
"You!" was all he said before he lunged at the assassin.
A shot rang out and something whistled past Tru and Jack, high over their heads. They both caught hold of one another and dived, and it was a moment before they realized that they were both uninjured. They glared briefly at each other, trying to figure out exactly how the other one was to blame.
Tru got to her feet first. A quick look around, and she spotted a man running across the street, followed by someone who could only be her brother. Nowhere near her - yeah, sure. He must have wanted to keep an eye on things after all, and it looked like he had surprised their presumptive killer. With Harrison's luck, he'd probably chosen the same hideout.
It looked like Neesan was unarmed - he must have thrown down his weapon before he ran. She saw him vanish down the subway entrance, and she was off, with Jack close behind.
They were too late. They got down on the platform right behind Harrison who was just standing there, looking bewildered. "Where did he go? Where in all hell could he go?"
A train came in, and Tru yelled at the others, "Quick - spread out; let's check two cars each, make sure he doesn't get on! I'll take the front two." She sprinted to the front of the train, while Harrison watched the middle two cars, and Jack the rear. No sign of Neesan.
The train started rolling again, and Tru turned back to the others, spreading her hands in defeat. They had just got back together when they heard a horrifying sound from the tunnel. Harrison swallowed. "Please tell me that wasn't a scream."
Tru worked quickly and efficiently, gathering the standards from the mess on the gurney in front of her. There wasn't much left of Carl Neesan, and what was recognizable didn't exactly hang together. In her experience, corpses likely to ask for her help usually at least had a face, so she figured this was one that was not going to bother her. But, she still had a job to do, and she had insisted over Davis' objections that she do it herself. A matter of closure, she had told him, and he had backed down.
Opposite her, Harrison looked on, pale but determined to observe the process for much the same reason. "I kind of suspected he was stupid", he commented, "but I never thought he'd hide out in a subway tunnel. Guy must've been desperate."
"You scared him, Harry", Tru said with a slight smile, and her brother preened, getting a little more colour in his complexion as he looked away from the gurney.
"He probably thought he could reach one of the service recesses before the next train", Davis said, entering the room in full rubber. Gloves, apron and all. "Thought you might need a little assistance", he told Tru. "Keeping track of all the pieces ..." he finished lamely.
Harrison glanced back at the gurney. "Think he'll ask?"
Davis gave him a puzzled look. "With what?"
The graveyard shift was over. Weary after her overlong day, Tru entered her apartment and closed the door behind her. She'd have no trouble sleeping this morning; she was almost sleepwalking as it was.
There was a knock on the door, and she jumped, unprepared for any more disturbances tonight.
With a groan she opened, expecting to see Harrison, the only person in the world who could possibly come up with the idea of visiting at this hour - or any hour that occurred to him for that matter.
It wasn't her brother. It was Jack. Standing outside her door, wet as a dog from the heavy rain that had started around midnight. His clothes were soaked through, and his hair was plastered in knots and clumps, making it look thin in places.
"Hello Tru. Sorry about the hour, but - can I come in?"
"Jack, I'm asleep on my feet. I just got off my shift - which you probably knew." She hated him by default, and even more now, in the small hours of the morning - but he looked so bedraggled she was almost sorry for him. Despite herself, she stepped back and held the door wide. "Oh, all right. What do you want?"
"Drying off, mainly - though something hot to drink would be nice", he said as he walked past her; then he caught her eye. "Fine. I'll settle for a talk."
"Let me guess ... you came to thank me for saving your life?" she taunted. She could be derisive too, when she set her mind to it.
"Technically, you didn't", he countered. "But I suppose I ought to thank your brother for messing up my plans. Look - would you mind very much if I took off my jacket? Or do you prefer having me drip all over your floor?"
She made a little gesture of concession, then received his jacket and hung it in the bathroom to dry. While she was there, she snatched the guest towel and threw it at him. He caught it with a look of gratitude and started rubbing his hair. It didn't improve things beyond the curly mess he usually sported, but at least he looked a little more like his normal, obnoxious self. His jeans were still wet, so he sat down in the kitchen area, where the chairs were stark wood, with no cushions on them.
Tru relented with a sigh and started making tea for both of them. "I'd have thought you'd committed suicide by now", she said, "except I didn't get the delivery."
He smiled slightly. "I don't think that's allowed", he said, "although I'm not sure. But I know for a fact that I'm not allowed to kill anyone. I can set the circumstances and hope for the best - or the worst, the way you would see it - but I can't actually kill anyone myself. I'm willing to bet that includes myself. Besides, only someone who has rewound is sufficiently outside the timeline to work a permanent change. Chances are I would have failed."
The water boiled. Tru poured it into the pot and set the timer. "This what you wanted to talk about?"
Jack leant back on his chair, putting his hands behind his neck. "Partly. There's something I think you need to know - if this kind of thing ever happens again. Remember I said it looks like fate wants you around?"
Tru nodded. "I'm not arguing the point, but how did you come around to it?"
Jack sighed. "I'm still not sure I'm supposed to tell you this, but if I kick the bucket, there's no one who can tell you, and like I said, you might need to know." Richard wouldn't want him to tell anyone, least of all Tru, but screw Richard. He didn't know everything anyway. "I think I've figured out why I asked for your help 'yesterday'."
"You didn't ask me - you asked Harrison.
Jack shook his head. "No, in fact I asked you. But because of who I am - what I do - I couldn't ask you directly; fate wouldn't allow that. So I asked Harrison, his day rewound and I had my ability back, and you yours."
"I'm not the one who died, remember?" Tru pointed out. "I didn't lose my ability. The day rewound for me too."
Jack leant forward again, eager to make her understand. "Yes, and that's what I can't quite make sense of. You see, I have reason to believe that we're connected, you and I. I know for a fact that when your mother died, her - counterpart lost the ability."
"You know who her counterpart was? I didn't know she had one. What was his name?"
"I can't tell you that yet, though it's interesting that you should naturally assume it was a he. But hear me out. I believe that each time your ability arises, so does mine, and what's more, I think they arise together, in a connected pair of individuals. If I had died today, you would have lost your talent."
"I didn't lose it yesterday", Tru reminded him.
The timer went off, and she removed the strainer and set two mugs on the table, while Jack kept talking.
"There might be a delay - maybe your successor wasn't in town, and mine was. I don't know. But I'm sure you would have lost it in time. And that's what fate was trying to prevent by causing the day to rewind."
Proximity could be a factor Tru remembered Davis saying. "Quite a theory", she said, pouring the tea for them. "So you did ask me, indirectly? Might explain why I got my type of rewind and not yours. And so did Harrison, apparently. In effect, you asked us both. So, I was right in trying to save you. I'm entitled."
Jack gave her an exasperated look. "No, that's where you're wrong. Today - or rather, yesterday", he amended, looking at his watch, "was my time to go, because that's how it happened before anyone rewound. In an intact timeline - if there is such a thing anymore - I would have died yesterday."
Tru felt she had him this time. "Let me get this straight - you were going against fate, to preserve the timeline?"
He shrugged. "Guess I'm on nature's side in this one."
Tru took a sip. The tea was commendably hot, despite five minutes of brewing time. "Unless they're the same thing. Or do you separate them when it suits your purposes?"
He took a gulp of the tea, scalded his tongue and tried his best to ignore the fact. But he could see the twinkle in her eyes and knew that she had noticed. No matter, the hot drink did him good; he could feel it.
"Contrary to what you may believe, I didn't particularly want to die yesterday", he said. "But it was my time to go, so I had to. Unfortunately, your brother prevented that. Inadvertently, I'm sure. Once he had rewound and lost the ability in the process, he was a wild card."
"A case for good old free will?" Tru asked.
"As near to it as anybody gets, I guess. In any event, his acts were random, and because he had rewound, one such random act changed the outcome of the day."
They sipped their tea in silence, while Tru tried to find the glitch in his theory. "But he had lost ..." she began, then fell silent again. Finally, she shook her head. "I'm not sure I follow you, and I'm not sure it even matters. Why did you feel I needed to know?"
"What I wanted you to know is that we're probably a connected pair of opposite forces. If one of us dies, the other one will likely lose the corresponding ability. Same thing if one of us loses it first for some other reason - the other will follow."
"You have no proof of that. I didn't lose mine."
"Yet", he said. "But I doubt you'd have made another rewind."
She got up and rinsed out her empty cup. "You have your theory, and I have mine. Which is that I'm in no way connected to you."
He sighed, deliberating whether or not to say any more. But she was so clueless. He just felt a need to fill in a few blanks.
"Oh, we're connected all right", he drawled. "We both have a special power to hurt each other deeply, wouldn't you say?"
She spun around to glare at him. "I'd say that special power has been listing rather badly in your favour so far", she said. "What about Luc?"
"Touché", he acknowledged. "Part of what I meant."
"And Harrison ..."
"Who you saved, and I spared", Jack reminded her.
"And Jensen ..."
"Who you saved, to his detriment. Remember, I lost that one."
"Well then, Luc anyway."
Jack nodded. "What about Megan Roberts?"
"The girl with leukemia who you pushed off the observation deck of the Edison Tower?"
Jack pushed his empty cup aside. "I didn't push her. I just let her go. But I'm pleased you remember her. Your interference made it that much harder to do what I had to. In fact, I almost didn't."
"Touching." She snatched up his cup and put it in the sink, without rinsing it. "Still, in the end you did."
"I had to. She asked me. I take my calling every bit as seriously as you do yours, Tru."
"Killing those you care about? Who could be saved?"
He stood, tiredly. "Death isn't something you have to be 'saved' from, Tru. Not something you have to escape at any cost. You step off the wheel, is all. You step on and off, time and again, but you're not really going anywhere."
"Yeah? And how would you know?"
"Been there, done that. Didn't Davis tell you? Could I have my jacket back, please?"
She went to fetch it, wondering why he always managed to annoy her in the end, no matter how he started out.
The jacket was still far from dry, though not as soggy as it had been when he came. He put it on without complaint. "Thanks for the tea, Tru. It was kind of you. More than I expected", he couldn't resist adding.
More than you deserve. She swallowed the words before speaking them, settling for "Yeah, whatever." Not you're welcome - because he wasn't.
He saw himself out, turning briefly in the doorway.
"See you around, Tru."
She had no doubts about that.
"Yeah, see ya", she said, and closed the door on his retreating back.
It was still raining outside.
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