Challenge/Prompt: philosophy_20 #15. Infinity
Word Count: 8610
Copyright: Title is from Othello by Mr William Shakespeare.
Warnings: Mild spoilers for 2x01 and 2x05, smut, bondage, violence, non-con, torture, and a slightly creepy Jack/Gray implication that crept in around the edges. You’ve been warned.
Summary: What he calls you isn’t your name.
Author’s Notes: Popped ready into my head. I always wanted to write a Jack/John timeloop fic, but since neither of them would be called that at the time, I figured 2nd person would be the only way to get away with it. And John’s POV is so very fun to write from, I haven’t had this much fun since that fic I wrote where the Master drives Ianto mad, though now I’m done I’m a little queasy about this. Ok, yes, I did try to get in as much bad language as I could manage (I drop my friend the f-bomb 65 times). I have no spoilers for the season finale, so please don’t tell me any.
You tell him you love him when he’s flat on his back unconscious, starlight glistening off the blood pool on the ground to your left and you’re sticky from where he came between your thighs.
You tell him you love him, though you don’t know his name and he doesn’t know yours. Sometimes, you open your eyes and you don’t know your own name any more.
What he calls you isn’t your name.
You swallow, there’s a bitter taste in your mouth. You don’t want to know where it came from. There’s a corpse on the ground with its head twisted in a way that no heads should be twisted and this – this is what he’s taught you. You can’t remember which one of you shot first and it doesn’t fucking matter.
You kick him, and he doesn’t even blink. You aim another one straight to his ribs, just because you can, and then turn your attention to the dead man. His death isn’t important; he’ll be up and talking and laughing again in four days, five hours (six minutes, thirty-two seconds).
It’s funny; you’re the only thing that changes, when time flicks back and starts over again.
He laughs, teeth against the curve of your spine, and you think this might be hell. He has impressive teeth, white, straight, practically glow in the dark.
“Marry me,” he murmurs, and punctuates the sentiment with a slam of hips. His cock burns inside you and you think that, on the whole, this could have worked out better.
“Don’t-” You quaver over the words, your mouth is shaking. Friction red at the corners from his cock and you forgot why you do this eight cycles ago. “Don’t you remember where we are?”
He pushes back in, new angle. It somehow hurts more and you choke out a mangled fuck against the cheap blankets.
“I don’t mean the proper shebang,” he explains, laughing, “I can’t see you in the white fucking dress with flowers in your fucking hair-” Another laugh, and his cock bumps inside you, making you draw in a breath through your considerably less shiny teeth, “But it looks like we’re stuck here.”
You want out you want out you want out you want out.
“No one would need to know but us,” he continues, and his next thrust is too hard and you whack your skull on the metal headboard, “But we’ll be together, here, forever.”
You wish he was a romantic but he isn’t. Your back arches and he bites down on a shoulder blade.
“What do you say?” he asks.
One more slam does it for both of you; you feel him spilling wet inside you as you stain the blankets with your own come. Simultaneous orgasm; and damn if that isn’t something near holy.
“I do,” he sniggers against your back.
Do I? you think. “Going to kiss your bride?” you ask sharply.
He pulls out so abruptly it makes you choke.
“Nice try,” he tells you.
You don’t smile.
The Time Agency had glossy posters and it was that or the plain old army. Your people have been at war with everyone in the surrounding galaxies for centuries, half of every new generation is blown to pieces in the sky.
The Time Agency promised an alternative or, at the very least, different skies to be blown to pieces in.
You haven’t been a Time Agent long, and you met him only hours before you wound up here and can’t get out and the same fortnight keeps playing itself over again. Same people, same planet, same sputtering noises when you try to use your Vortex Manipulator.
He’s been with the Agency since he was nineteen; he’s seen worlds burn and he’s killed more people than he’s willing to remember and he’s teaching you the tricks of the trade that weren’t ever mentioned in the training they gave you when you first signed up. You’re fairly sure you shouldn’t know most of the things he’s told you, but now you know them you can’t forget them.
“Which day is it?” he asks, sprawled out naked in the hotel room you never have to pay for. You always say you’ll pay the bill when you check out in fifteen days’ time; but the fifteenth day never comes.
“Nine,” you reply, curled up in the windowseat with your gun beside your bare feet.
“Isn’t this the day those bastards from across the river come to rob the bar?” he enquires.
“Yes,” you say.
Like she does every ninth day, a blonde whore who lives in the brothel opposite sits on the steps and combs out her hair. You watch, fingers against the window.
“How many of them do you want to kill this time?” he asks.
You swallow. The girl glances up, and you think she sees you. Her eyelashes flutter, and you bite your mouth together so you don’t try and smile back. He’ll know, if you do. You’re his, after all.
“All of them,” you say, swivelling around to look at him. “Make an example of them.”
He laughs, white teeth glimmering. “You know,” he says, “You’re really not so bad.”
You suppose you ought to be grateful.
Stuck in a timeloop on a miserable little backwater world whose main export seems to be miserable people. They have less technology than you, haven’t even split the atom yet, it’s primitive but you’re getting used to it.
Their crappy little handguns tend to stick in humid weather like this. Neither of you show mercy; gunning down the stupid idiots who thought they could get away with stealing from this city’s largest bar. They can’t, and they go down in sprays of blood. A while ago, you would have seen them as innocents, but you don’t now. No one is innocent, not really, and it doesn’t matter who dies as long as you get what you want.
His hand is slick with blood when he walks over to you, running a red-stained thumb up your chin, brushing your bottom lip.
People ran screaming when the first thief fell with his chest riddled scarlet, the bar is empty. Just you and him and seven dead men and the shitty white lighting sparking on and off.
You think he’s going to kiss you when he brushes his mouth up the line of blood on your chin, your mouth is opening almost unwillingly. But he pulls away, lips stained crimson, and the unforgiving lights give him a shadowed face, white skin, black hollows for eyes, mouth a smear of red.
He throws back his head and laughs, and, after a moment, you join in.
On the eleventh day, the blonde whore smokes a cigarette outside the brothel at nine twenty-four in the morning.
You have bruises on your ribs and he is fast asleep on the bed. Moving hurts, your jaw clicks, the corners of your mouth are raw and your legs are sticky. The sunlight spills on the street outside, though the windows are tinted so as not to let it in. The whore looks up, sees you, and smiles, plumes of smoke curling out of her mouth.
Two floors up, and you’re not far away enough. You wonder what an hour of her time would cost, if you could smuggle it out of the money you barely have (as if you need to pay for anything, when killing people saves so much time). Whore to whore, you wonder if your marks are worse.
… That night, you’re half-drunk and dancing in a bar on the other side of town. Girls and boys press close and the music is fucking dreadful but your head is buzzing pleasantly enough anyway.
“Got a present for you,” he mutters against your ear, teeth scraping the lobe, “Come home in half an hour.”
When you get out into the street, a fine drizzle has started to fall. The alcohol makes your head ring, you stumble two streets and crawl down another four but you’re back on your feet once you near the hotel. You need to be on your guard around him.
You trip over someone lying on the ground in the middle of the road. A moment, and you recognise her in the dim light from the streetlamps. Her blonde hair is matted red and someone has broken her neck. Rainwater speckles her skin and the bruises livid on her wrists.
The message is clear.
It is hot in here and his blue eyes are cold.
You twist, and immediately wish you hadn’t. Stripped naked, wrists held against the headboard with duct tape. This planet might be lacking DNA tests and binary code, but duct tape seems to be a universal constant.
“Please,” you mumble. “Fucking please.”
“Patience,” he replies quietly, pushing your legs apart.
This could be another lesson – like three days ago, when he showed you the quickest way to win a fistfight, leaving a man cowering in a gutter with his left arm hanging dejected and snapped at his side – but on the other hand he could just be playing a game with you.
He likes games. You’ve decided you don’t; at least, not his games.
His blunt fingers slide down the crack of your arse. You’re sweating, wrists straining against the tape, mouth trembling. You are afraid of him, though you wish you weren’t. He smirks, reaching for a bottle almost lost amongst the sheets. He makes sure you can see when he pours cold gel onto his fingers.
When the first finger pushes into your body you catch your lower lip between your teeth, tensing before you force yourself to relax. He pushes the finger deeper, making you shudder, and then slides another in beside it. You are barely breathing, and you can’t break eye contact. His mouth is pressed in a thin line, concentrating. Two fingers scissor apart inside you, he slides and twists a little deeper and you arch up, the name that can’t possibly be his on your lips.
He laughs, and presses in three. The burn is serious now, and still you can’t look away. You’re trapped, and he likes it. Your hips try to pull up and away from him but he won’t let you and it fucking hurts.
“Stop it,” you hiss. But he won’t, and you moan like an injured animal when his little finger slides up to join the others. Thick and unyielding inside you and he’s laughing again, like you’re amusing him. “Please,” you add. There’s a look in those cold blue eyes, you know what he’s going to do. “I can’t.” Your voice is barely above a breath.
“You can,” he corrects you. “You will.”
There’s a messy moment when you think you might be screaming and then he’s got all five fucking fingers inside you and he’s buried up to the wrist. The sounds you’re making don’t even express half the pain and you can’t get free.
“I’d stop, if I were you,” he warns. “You could really hurt yourself.”
You force yourself to calm and keep watching him. His tongue flicks out to touch his lower lip. And then his fist presses upwards.
One loop, early on, the two of you thought you’d try an experiment. A bad idea all round, really, slaughtering the entire town and burning the buildings to the ground. Of course, it all came back to normal worryingly fast, time ticking back and everyone laughing and breathing again.
Still, once, there was a pile of shattered bodies and charcoal smuts on your face, as you tried to catch smoke in your open hands.
You’ve never been quite the same since then.
The alcohol here tastes like piss. It’s strong and makes your eyes water when you swallow and it’s almost not worth the hangover in the morning.
He smells like he’s been steeped in it for fucking days, cheeks slashes of red colour, blue eyes bloodshot. His whole body is shaking and his touch is sloppy and his skin is too hot.
But he’s still hard, still so damn hard, fucking you down into the mattress until your knees are half raw from the scratching sheets, clumsy fingers leaving marks across your hips. When he comes, he shudders against your back, mouth open against your hair and whimpers:
Gray isn’t your name; not your real name and not even your assumed one. You swallow, hands and knees, until he manages to roll off.
“Who’s Gray?” you ask quietly. You don’t really care, but if you’re stuck with him for eternity you might as well know what you’re dealing with. “Tell me who Gray is.”
His eyes take time to focus on you, both of you smell like sex and stale sweat and fucking cheap alcohol. His mouth twists.
“My brother,” he tells you, and then loses consciousness.
“I fucking hate you,” you tell him sharply. “You’re fucking weird and fucking scary and someone fucked you up good and proper too long ago. You can’t function any more. You’re broken.”
He says nothing. And you can taste the lies on your lips anyway. Besides, even if you could leave, you know you wouldn’t. You’re in too deep now.
When we get out. That’s what you both say, day after day of the same damn thing, as though escape is still possible.
There must be a way out of this world, and part of you is afraid that it will turn out the loop breaks after a time when the two of you have killed everyone. Leaving a town in pieces as you walk out like real fucking heroes.
When you get out, you wonder if you’ll still love him.
If he’ll still want you.
Maybe staying here would be better after all.
(It’s entirely possible that you’ve gone stark raving fucking mad.)
The first time you break a woman’s neck it makes a sound like nothing you’ve ever heard before. A sickening crunch that makes your breath catch in the back of your throat; and she falls, abandoned, to the floor.
Head tilted to one side, you watch her not breathing for the longest moment.
“Are you happy now?” you ask.
The dead girl’s eyes are open and glassy, lips a little open like she’d call for help if only she were still alive. You can’t look away from her, even when he leans against your shoulder, body heat bleeding through your shirt.
“Pretty happy, yeah,” he replies.
You’re not entirely sure that you were talking to him.
Anyway, it’s one less thing to teach you; and you’re a quick study. You think one day you could surpass him. You’ll never tell him that. It could be used to your advantage, and you have precious few of those.
“Come on,” he says, smacking your back a little too hard. “Celebratory drink.”
Drink, fuck, kill. This mobius strip of existence and its endless simplicities.
You glance back over your shoulder, one last time, at the body on the ground.
Your lips are cracking, you lick them. The rain will start in two hours (twenty minutes, fourteen seconds).
Down the street in a dark corner, he fucks a whore with her wrists held above her head, and she whimpers. The town is slick with heat, on the edge, waiting. Clouds are gathering, tinny silver in the sky. The sun is brittle, bright, and you smoke a cigarette with your bare feet dangling out of the open window. You hate it here. The climate is fucking awful.
Bitter, you sigh, exhale grey plumes and they drift towards the greyer sky. In the still humidity you imagine you hear him groan, and even though you wish it wouldn’t, your head turns automatically towards where you think he is. A shadow quivers on the wall, public indecency doesn’t bother Time Agents, not people like you with grown men’s weapons and teenage boys’ mentalities.
Your toes curl. You wait, and watch. And they stumble into the light again, laughing, scarcely dressed. He glances up at you and throws you a wink. You’re his, after all.
“Who’s he?” the whore asks.
“No one,” he tells her. “Just my wife.”
She frowns. “Sorry?”
He sniggers. “Inside joke.” He presses a kiss against her shoulder where her dress slips.
You think you might be sick. Instead, you close the window.
The rain will start in two hours (three minutes, forty-eight seconds)
You only ever told him to stop the first time and in the end it didn’t fucking matter because he didn’t.
You press a glass of spirits against a scratch on your forearm, bubble, burn, and your teeth taste like charcoal and cheap, cheap alcohol. You feel sick, and his laughter pounds against the side of your skull.
Remembering, glancing back, you screamed and cried and you’d never had a cock up your arse before he pulled you open and cracked you apart. He said: I can tell we’re going to be very good friends.
You wondered: if this is how he treats his friends then what the fuck does he do to his enemies? But you found out soon enough and wished that you hadn’t.
“Without you, I’d go mad,” he says, tipping the bottle over. Alcohol splashes your trousers and you smirk at him.
“You’re mad already,” you reply. He’s mad and he’s driven you over the edge. You never wanted him. You didn’t want to do this, but now you’re so used to it you sometimes wonder whose idea it was the first time.
“Join the fucking club,” he replies, licking a string of drink from his wrist.
You cried for two hours, that first time, bleeding down your thighs and he just sat and watched you. Blank eyes, and the second time it didn’t hurt nearly as much because you were already numb.
Alone in the hotel room, you turn your gun over in shaky hands. It feels strong and certain, part of a life you might never return to. For some reason, you never run out of bullets.
“How long has it been?” you ask the bathroom mirror. Your reflection looks tired but you can’t age, here where time won’t move. Even the cuts close up and the bruises slink away when everything jolts back to day one.
You run the gun down your forehead, bumping over your cheekbones, skimming the line of your jaw. It smells acidic, and you impulsively sweep your tongue along the barrel. It’s sour and cold and metallic. You’ve killed people with this, you know, really fucking killed them, and you could kill you with it if you wanted.
The gun touches the back of your throat, trying to activate your gag reflex. And you wonder if you could do it.
When he wants you to, you suck his cock like this. It’s funny, how you’ve known him for repeat after repeat after repeat and you know intimately the taste of his come but you don’t know what his lips feel like, what his tongue tastes like against yours. He won’t kiss you and you’ve stopped trying to fight for it.
Pulling the gun from your mouth, slick and wet under the lights, you aim it at the mirror. Look at you trying so very hard, little boy thinks he can play with the men ‘cause he can kill everyone in the vicinity with the knowledge they’ll get back up again.
“Bang,” you shout, making yourself jump, and the gun clatters into the sink.
You’re still breathing. Fuck knows why.
You tell him you love him in the seconds before you both crash through a window, down three floors to the ground, landing too hard with glass sprinkling the ground around you. Your shirt tears open and blood clouds your vision and he’s laughing in a way that sounds unhealthy.
Groaning, you try to sit up. Glass is embedded all over you, the ground is covered in glittering splinters.
“Fuck,” he mumbles, “Haven’t done something fun like that for a while.”
“This isn’t fun,” you spit, along with a mouthful of blood.
“You’re looking at it from the wrong angle,” he tells you.
“It’s still not fun,” you tell him. You can’t move, and you’re bleeding in at least sixteen places. His nose looks broken and his leg is bent at an odd angle.
“Day fourteen,” he replies. “It’s day fourteen, we loop back in one minute, eight seconds.”
So it’s an experiment. You don’t know why you’re surprised; he’s always like this.
And then the temporal displacement makes your mouth tingle.
Once again, nothing’s changed.
“Gray was my little brother,” he explains. Sober, for once, which is worrying. Half-dressed and pacing the room with a gun flicking over between his hands. “I lost him. We were just kids; and he let go of my hand.”
That doesn’t explain why he fucks you to the rhythm of that name when he’s so drunk he barely knows what he’s doing, but you don’t ask for clarification.
“So is your real name a colour too?” you ask. “Should I start calling you ‘Orange’?”
He throws a table at you. But your reflexes are sharp – they don’t just let people into the Time Agency ‘cause they’ve got pretty eyes and are willing to get on their knees for the boss – and it splinters against the wall.
“I thought you had a sense of humour,” you say.
He refuses to reply.
It is all a game.
It is all a game with no rules and pieces that keep falling out of your hands. He seems to be the only one who knows how to play; he’s trying to teach you too, but with deliberate omissions.
“Beautiful,” he mumbles against your throat. Slide of teeth, you hiss weakly from pain you barely feel – Goddess knows what was in your drink, and anyway you gave up on religion when you left your stupid warmongering little planet – and maybe this place isn’t so fucking bad after all.
Your thigh slides past his hip, spread wide for him because this game always winds up with you on your back. Or your knees, or even all fours; he’s by no means picky.
He helps crush your knees against your chest, opening you wider, and from this angle you have no leverage at all and he pounds into you like you’re a rag doll.
Someday, you tell yourself, someday you’ll do this to someone else. Someone deserving. Someone who will need to understand that the world isn’t sunlight and flowers and pretty girls/boys in the morning who smile.
“Come for me,” he snarls, bite of those teeth too close to your jugular, and you obey, helpless.
Sometimes, you wonder if he’s remembered that none of this is real.
It begins with you drinking too much. It’s all him, really, pressing glass after glass on you until you stop requiring glasses and the bottle neck trickles nearly acidic alcohol down your shirt; too fucking much and he doesn’t care.
You break the bottle – well, a bottle, there’s certainly been more than one – on the table, sharp exposed edges and ooh, this is turning into a really fun kind of evening. You clutch shards in your hands and glare at him.
He stares back, impassive. “Don’t look at me like that unless you intend to do something about it.” A smirk tugs that mouth. “You’re a fucking coward.”
You go for him and he bends your wrist until the glass falls away and breaks into more pieces.
“This is your fault,” you hiss. “You were the one who said we had to come here! We wouldn’t fucking be here if it weren’t for you.”
He shrugs. “So show me what you’re going to do about it.”
You utilise every trick he taught you, even get him winded on the floor choking blood, but of course he kept something back, and something in your face goes crack when he slams his arm against it. You land punches, he gets in kicks, the walls shake and there’s screaming from somewhere that isn’t coming from either of you.
In the end, you’re cowering in the corner of the room, cheek running with blood, and whimpering. There isn’t an inch of you that doesn’t feel like it’s been beaten raw, and you hold your left wrist against your chest. It might be broken and you’re pretty certain you cracked a few of his ribs but you haven’t won.
“Got that out of your system?” he asks impassively.
You stay cringing against the wall, bleeding, and don’t say anything at all.
The town huddles, caught between the two extremes of a river and a desert, and you’re not sure which century they’re meant to be living in but it’s pretty damn useless anyway.
The desert is quiet and hot and he takes you out there with three bottles and a smile. That night, you lie half-naked on the sand with spirits spilt on your ribs, and he reaches across the distance and takes your hand.
“You know,” he says, a smile in his voice, “In the future, we won’t remember details. You never remember the details afterwards. Just the moment.”
Your left eye is swollen shut and his come has dried on your stomach. You count the marks of your teeth on his shoulder. The bottles are buried under the sand a safe distance away; can’t trust each other with broken glass and all its opportunities.
“Just you, and me, and the stars,” he adds. “Later, that’s all we’ll remember.”
You watch the lines of his face, and wonder who he is. Who he was. And you know that you’re terrified of him.
(He’s right though; in years to come, you just remember the stars, and his hand in yours. Romanticising something too terrible to ever mention.)
You sleep side by side – most nights – on the bed in the hotel, scratchy sheets and a mattress that’s probably giving you a permanent back injury. Uncomfortable, but it could be worse.
Well, no, actually, there’s no point in optimism. It could not be worse.
You wake one afternoon (three hours and someone will set fire to the Town Hall; ooh, revolution’s in the air, just as well later it all clicks back in time) to find him kneeling over you. Knife at your throat.
“Not good enough,” he all but spits in your face. White teeth glimmer in the half-light. He smells of sleep and cigarettes and cheap alcohol. “Not nearly fucking good enough.”
You swallow and the press of metal follows the line of your neck.
“Are you going to kill me?” you ask. He shrugs.
“Maybe it’s the way out of this mess,” he suggests. “Maybe we have to die for it to end.”
You picture warm red flowing out of your body, over his hands and soaking into sheets. Those stains’ll be hard to get out, that’s for damn sure.
“Jugular?” you ask tentatively. “Going to open me up?”
“Time Agents should always wake before their attacker gets to this point,” he lectures casually, “You should be better than this.”
You say nothing, eyes closing. He nicks your throat with the very tip of the knife, proving the point in blood. It fucking hurts.
“Will there be a written examination?” you ask dryly.
“I might not be about to kill you, but how do you feel about losing an eye?” he asks.
The blade is red.
For once, he doesn’t laugh as he rolls away. You let out a breath you hadn’t realised you were holding.
Stargazing on someone’s roof. His cock still inside you, growing soft, he’s curled around you like a shell you just can’t lose.
“How long is this going to go on for?” you ask quietly.
“Maybe forever,” he suggests.
“I can’t do this forever,” you murmur.
“We don’t have a lot of choice, darling,” he says.
You shudder. “Don’t call me that.”
“What would you rather I called you?” he enquires, like he cares.
“You could try my real name,” you suggest.
“What is it?”
You think for a long while.
“I can’t remember.”
His fingers stroke your wrist.
“Poor little fucker.”
One day, you think, you’d like to amount to something more.
It’s been a year, you decide over what passes for breakfast. Five cigarettes and a teapot. Steam rises and you wonder if one day he’ll scald you for laughs.
“We can’t remember how long it’s been,” he replies.
“I think it’s been a year,” you tell him. Light another cigarette, pour yet more tea.
He takes in the off-white tablecloth and the saucers and starts to snigger.
“Look at us being all fucking civilised,” he mutters, “Drinking fucking tea like gentlemen.”
One thing neither of you can manage any more is gentility. But you think that he’s just trying to change the subject.
Your shaking hand spills hot liquid everywhere and you flick cigarette ash into the resulting puddle to ruin the effect further.
One year, at least. You wonder how many more are left.
It takes days for you to catch him off guard but you manage it. Punch him in the face, bring him to the ground and kick him in the stomach so that he shudders. You bruise his ribs for the sheer fucking hell of it, and when he tries to move you pull your gun on him.
“Shouldn’t have taught me how to do this,” you say.
His teeth are stained red and his eyes glitter. “I haven’t taught you anything yet, you little shit.”
You keep your gun trained on him. “Maybe only one of us needs to die for the timeloop to stop.” His smile curls. You click off the safety. “Stop that.” His lips are cut, his teeth look like he’s torn someone’s throat out with them. “Stop fucking smiling.”
“Nice theory,” he says. “But can you do it?”
Your hands shake. Your finger feels for the trigger.
“I’m going to kill you,” you announce. “It’s the way to crack the loop: I have to make you dead.”
He’s still smiling. “But can you do it?”
Your knees buckle and give and you end up on the floor. Too close to eye level and he isn’t even scared.
You throw the gun away, it clatters on the ground, and you cover your face with your hands and sob. Deep, shuddering, desperate tears burst out of you, and a surprisingly large amount of it is fear. He gets to his feet and you’re blinded by water as you continue to cry.
He looks down at you with disdain. Your nose is running and your face is going numb, such is the force of your hysteria. His lip curls.
And he walks away.
The temporal displacement makes your tongue hurt. Yet another fresh loop. How many? No one’s counting, and there’d be no way to make a tally permanent anyway. All you can rely on is your memory, and that’s failing.
You gasp, pulling the same old air back into your lungs. You turn to look at him beside you – both of you on the ground from the sheer shock of the force – and he offers you a smile.
“Maybe you were right,” he says.
There’s a sound too loud for your ears to register it.
… And then the temporal displacement is rushing back through your head, giving you a nosebleed and making your tongue feel like you swallowed a handful of cordite.
“What just happened?” you ask. “We looped back twice!”
“Did we?” He looks bemused, but there’s an edge in his eyes. “I didn’t notice.”
“We did.” You press your hand against your nose, running red and warm – it hits sometimes like this, time fucking aches when it clicks back – and try to hold onto memories that are cracking.
“Oh.” He gets to his feet. “Whatever.”
He walks away, presumably to check you both into the hotel or something, and you sit and pinch the bridge of your nose, and try to work out why time would loop twice and why he’d be evasive about you. The conclusion you finally reach is that you must be missing a loop. But why would you…
Ah. You swallow, blood smeared across your palms, and decide not to think about it any more.
(He can’t have killed you. He can’t have done.)
The moonlight rubs itself on the glass, and you lean against the window, watching the people on the streets. Black masks across their eyes, whispers and the glint of silver light on knives and guns. Some days, they’re like a funny little ancient history class (how to organise a revolution the old-fashioned way; wanna build a barricade outside the brothel? I’ll lend you a chair) and on other days they’re simply worrying.
“They’re playing at it,” he says, coming up against your back. Pressing a palm against the glass.
“They don’t think they are,” you murmur. There’s recognition in his voice, but he doesn’t ever tell you anything.
“That’s ‘cause they know fuck all about real revolutions,” he tells you. “A few meetings, some broken glass, a town hall in flames. That’s taking advice from books and trying to implement it.”
There’s all sorts of things you could ask, but he won’t tell you anyway. “What are books?” you settle for.
He sniggers. “We get out of here, I’ll show you.”
You keep your gaze on the street; your blonde whore has lived this time around, she’s wearing a shawl over her hair and is carrying a gun you know she can’t use. You hope she doesn’t cause too many accidents.
“I’m from Boeshane,” he says quietly.
“Fuck.” You swallow. The war, the messy, messy war that made the fighting your planet indulged in look like a fucking bar fight. Almost everyone from Boeshane got wiped out. Tried to rise up against their oppressors, they were sick of being killed and losing and watching everyone around them suffer.
“We should give them some tips,” he mumbles, tapping fingers on the glass.
You want to tell him that he can’t re-fight his war with these people, organise the revolution with disposable pieces until he gets it right. But it isn’t your place, and he wouldn’t understand anyway, so you stay quiet.
Your fingers flex, pressed against the wall as they are. Knuckles bending, fingertips sliding. Nails curling against the cheap plaster.
“Quick,” you mumble. “Come on.”
“Don’t you dare fucking rush me,” he snarls against your neck, pounding into you so hard your knees nearly give way.
“Five minutes,” you intone, bowing your head.
People are screaming in the streets and the smoke is drifting past your window. Flames and anarchy, and you never find out how this story ends because it turns back, unfinished, to run itself over again.
His teeth find a patch on your shoulder that he likes, sinking in and you don’t even make a sound because you’re used to it.
“Four minutes,” you mumble a moment later, someone throws a stone through the hotel room window but it misses you both, and his next thrust makes your arms quake and you nearly fall into the wall.
Time moves almost too fast, considering, the streets are filling and you’re both swearing and trembling, his fingers are scoring bloody lines on your hips, and it’s in the final few seconds that he finally shoves up and spills inside you.
Next thing you know, you’re rolling on the floor, fully-clothed, unhurt, the roof of your mouth burning, your ears ringing.
Here we go a-fucking-gain.
A few cycles later, and you decide that maybe he had a point. So you have an idea, and you implement it.
When the mob storm what passes for a government, eight days ahead of schedule, armed to the teeth and flames reflected in their eyes, it’s your names that they’re shouting. Watching glass crack and shatter and the metal melt off the roof, you turn to him.
“We’ll be kings for the next eight days,” you remark.
He smiles. “Any longer, and they’ll probably try and execute us,” he points out. “These helpless fuckers don’t know what they want.”
You thought you knew that feeling but you think it’s maybe been two years and you think you’re growing up. Just a little. A man is running around actually on fire and you lean forward to light a cigarette off his shoulders as he passes.
The choking, terrified council run out onto the steps of the building, while behind them the ceilings cave in with crunches of flame. They look like they want mercy, babbling and weeping and words spilling out, slurred with panic. Half the people turn to look at you, as you shoulder your way through them; he’s following you, watching you. You think this is maybe an examination, but you don’t know any of the answers. So you act on instinct, and hope for the best.
Mercy. Funny, you haven’t heard that word in a while and it’s a little pathetic, isn’t it? The wind teases the fire further, it might take down the town and that’s probably ironic in a sharp, nonsensical way.
“Please.” Begging, on their knees, they look up at you. And you probably could spare them, lock them up, ‘cause this is your damn town now. No one’s going to take it away.
“Fuck you.” It spills out and you watch with interest as your finger pulls the trigger of your gun half a dozen times. You don’t remember consciously making that decision, and yet. And yet.
He’s laughing delightedly behind you. “Look at you, all grown up.”
You turn your head towards him, and get the shock of your fucking life as his hands cup your face, spinning you around, and he finally, finally kisses you.
There were stories, when you were a kid, even with half the population taking to the sky in planes which exploded all too soon. The stories that are pretty much universal, no matter how the fine details change, how the characters differ, how the circumstances shift. They’re the same damn story.
Almost every story ended on a kiss, people walked off over the horizon, and happiness reigned.
That’s not how this story ends. It does sort of re-start halfway through, because you’ve grown up now. He’s proud of you now, because now you match him. Now you’re frozen inside and smile darkly at everyone you meet.
Sometimes, when you’re lying in the dark, listening to the way he breathes, you wonder if this happened to him once. If someone did this to him, broke him down and put him back together wrong. If the Time Agency is shivered and corrupted, if all it really is is a group of sadistic bastards, stumbling around the universe with too much weaponry and the memory of being fucked until they bled.
Now that you’re equals, for whatever that’s worth, you think that he’s forgotten just what he did to you.
What a pity you haven’t.
“Got a present for you,” he says, holding out a thin tube. You take it tentatively.
“What is it?” you ask.
He winks. “Paralysing lipgloss. An Agent’s best fucking friend, believe me.”
“…So why are you giving it away?” He’s made you paranoid; but give it a couple more loops, and he’ll have made you mercenary.
“I’ve got two,” he shrugs. “And I think you’ve earned it.”
You curl your fingers tight around the tube. And you very deliberately don’t thank him.
Years and years of watching, and you finally walk across the street. It’s going to rain in an hour and when the rain hits the windowpane you’re going to fire your gun. But first, there is an hour.
The blonde girl is sat by the window, falling out of a barely-there white dress, and she smiles when she sees you. You smile back, don’t bother saying anything but you don’t think the customers exactly bother chatting up the girls.
Upstairs, in the room opposite yours, she falls apart in your arms. It’s been a long time since you did this with anyone other than him, but nonetheless you know what you’re doing. She moans and gasps and you take her brutally hard, as you imagined fucking her when you sat against the glass with the bruises he’d left behind.
Finally, you hear rain against the window. It breaks the heat, and your eyelids flutter. You reach over the bed, to the gun amongst your clothes.
“What are you-” she begins.
But she’s a toy. And her head breaks into pieces in front of you from the force of the bullet shoving through it.
Naked, you walk over to the window, her blood in erratic strings on your chest. He’s sitting in the window of the hotel room, smiling at you. When he sees you, stained as you are, he blows you a kiss. You throw the windows open, and lean out into the downpour.
This is the moment when you consciously decide not to look back.
It’s afternoon on day seven when you find it. In three hours, some crazy little fuckers are going to try and rob the bank, and are going to be killed for their trouble.
You’re going to make sure of that.
And you’re also going to walk away with the cash. You might only be rich for a week, but who really cares?
It is a small silver cube that flashes with little blue lights, and whirrs with technology when you pick it up. Far more hi-tech than anything these people can manage; and neither of you thought to delve this far into the bank. On the top of the box is a number seven, twirling gently on a viewscreen. Peering at the screen, you see a number fourteen, and a set of arrows forming a circle.
“Fucking hell,” you murmur. It has to be this little device, barely bigger than your fist, that’s been causing all these problems. Such a small, inconsequential little thing. And all you’d need to do would be to destroy it, and you’d be free. So you put it on the floor, take your gun out of its holster. You swallow, and remove the safety.
… But if you do put a stop to this, then what? He won’t want you any more if you leave, not yet. You’ve only just got him to stop looking at you like some kind of subservient rag doll, so you can’t leave. Not yet. Really not yet.
Very carefully, you put your gun away and leave the vault, locking it behind you.
You tell him you love him when you’ve both had too much to drink, and he’s put something sharp in your veins that makes your head sing.
“No,” he shrugs, “You don’t.”
“You don’t know me,” you spit.
“I fucking made you,” he replies.
You clench your teeth. “You taught me what I needed to know. That’s it.”
The smirk is cold and cruel. “Is that what you believe?”
You don’t believe in anything any more; religion can’t compare to sex and cold, hard cash. You don’t even really believe in him any more; not since you realised that you’re just that bit more powerful than him.
You could stop this loop any time you want. But you don’t want. You could stay together forever, half-crazy in this city trying – and failing – to liberate itself. Eventually, you’ll both die and no one will be any the wiser, twisting over and over as time ties itself in ever more ridiculous knots. Once upon a time (you had those stories as a kid, remember?) you’d have given anything to leave. Now, he’s yours. He’s yours for as long as you want him, and maybe that bit longer.
“Fuck you,” you mumble, choosing not to play your hand yet.
He sniggers, spilling drink across the table.
Your heel digs into the small of his back, the sand is crawling rough across your skin, his mouth exploring yours with too many teeth and biting your lips to shreds. His cock deep inside you, and you think that maybe he’s yours. How can either of you move on, now? You’ve been here so long, with no one but each other for so long, that the outside world sometimes seems like a ridiculous and far-fetched fantasy.
He grunts, coming with a wet spill inside you, plunging his tongue between your lips again and you wonder if this is where you suffocate. You groan back at him, feeling yourself coming too, out here in the desert with the starlight glinting back at you when you dare to open your eyes.
You can’t remember why you’d ever want to be anywhere else, not any more.
A mile or two away, the town burns to the ground (it’s become an addiction, you do so love leaving it in pieces), blowing smoke into the sky.
Too much time drives you to distraction.
Nothing more needs to be said.
“Look,” he says, day fourteen (time goes back in six minutes, thirteen seconds), walking into the hotel room.
“What?” you ask. There’s a bottle of spilt alcohol trying to eat its way through the sheets and your left calf, and the room is dark.
“I was in the bank,” he says. “Found this.”
Your stomach turns to ice when it clenches, and you watch as he places the silver cube on the end of the bed.
“What is it?” you force yourself to ask.
“I think it’s the device keeping us here,” he explains. “It’s all because of this little fucking box.”
“How many years do you think it’s been?” you ask, genuinely interested in spite of the nauseating panic. He sits beside you on the damp sheets, and points to three numbers on the side of the cube that you didn’t notice before. 130.
“That’s how many loops we’ve lived through,” he explains. “It’s been about five years.”
That long? But yes, you can believe that. Five years, though the first two are really sharp blurs, more than anything else. Red-coloured blurs, and you think he’s forgotten them too.
“Fuck,” you murmur, and watch as he gets off the bed and gets out his gun. “What are you doing?” you ask.
“What does it fucking look like I’m doing?” he snaps. “I’m blowing this little thing to hell, and getting the fuck out of here.”
You get off the bed, and can’t think of anything sane to say to stop him. The town hall is blazing away merrily and the people are running about shouting with joy. The tale might get to finish after all; you bet it’s got a fucking awful ending. They always do. Helpless, numb, you watch as he fires shots at the silver box, which sparks, flickers, and then explodes.
Flat on your back on the floor, mouth on fire, nose dripping blood, you realise that it’s still night. Smoke still drifts past the windows, people are still yelling. And he’s on the ground next to you, eyes wide.
“It’s stopped,” he murmurs, like a man in shock, with no idea how to comprehend his freedom. “We’re free.”
You swallow, with difficulty, and sit up. Your nose continues to run red, your lips taste sharp and salty. It feels like a dream, bright and unreal, and you don’t know what to do. How to deal with anything other than what you’ve come to know.
He scrambles to his feet.
Golden light dissipates around you both, and you stagger. He doesn’t reach to catch you, and you find yourselves on an entirely different world. Your starved eyes drink in the new buildings, the changed sky, the people walking the streets around you both.
Your wristband is making happily little bleeping noises, as though it’s glad to be free. To be of use again.
Before you left, you leant out of your window and looked down into the street. The people shouting and burning down their government ‘cause they thought that would somehow make things fucking better, and you took pot-shots into the crowd. Most of the would-be-revolutionaries didn’t even notice their comrades falling in blood to the floor. You know you got the blonde whore, the dark-haired whore that he always favoured, and a whole host of others until you finally ran out of bullets for the first time in five long fucking years.
Who you were doesn’t exist any more. You’re just a cluster of lessons he really fucking shouldn’t have taught you, held together in a body with a craving for sex, alcohol and money. Oh, and other people’s blood, ‘cause you’ve got to get a little fun somewhere, right? And it doesn’t matter who dies as long as you get what you want. That is, after all, the most important part.
“What are you doing?” he asked you, watching you send hails of bullets into the people running and screaming in the streets.
“Didn’t they drive you fucking crazy?” you responded. “Leave ‘em for fucking dead, let them stay that way.”
He’s scared of you. He, the bastard who raped you and killed you and beat you up and broke your bones and tore you up inside, is scared of you.
You can see it in his eyes, as you both sit on the pavement in this new world. The loop broke him in the way it mended you. He’s not the man he started out as by a long shot. You might almost pity him; but you’ve forgotten how to do that. He’s remembered all the things you’ve lost, he’s back to front and you’re the only one seeing clearly.
He dismantled you, ripped pieces of you away until you succumbed to the unwritten teachings of the Time Agency that some other cruel fucker of an Agent instilled in him years ago, and built you up again in the way he was supposed to. He did only as he knew.
But he forgot – or didn’t know how – to give you an off switch.
“You’re going too far,” he murmurs, looking down at his hands.
Cheap cop-out. He’s trying to back away from the handiwork before it can be traced back to him.
“And this coming from the man who raped me while I cried with his brother’s name on his mouth,” you respond dully. “Don’t start throwing stones here, love, ‘cause I’ll always win.”
He swallows. And still doesn’t apologise.
“I can’t help you,” he says.
That’s ok. You don’t want to be helped.
He talks about rehab, how they’ll turn you around and clean you up and make you into a person again. Well, he doesn’t say that in so many words, but it’s pretty much implied. And when he’s finished trying to give you advice, he keys something onto his wristband, and disappears in loose swirls of gold, abandoning you to your fate.
You tell him you love him when he isn’t there to here it. It’s just you, alone, just you rattling around in the universe.
In the end, you check back in with the Agency and are assigned a new partner, who sees the universe pretty much the way you do and breaks spines for cheap kicks.
But it’s ok; you know he’ll be back.
Sooner or later, he’ll realise (remember) that he loves you too.
He has to.