A/N: Grr, I can't restrain myself, because I know I should be updating Muffins and Cookies, eh, whatever. DISCLAIMER: I do not own The Bartimaeus Trilogy, nor do I make any profit from this story. Be aware this has SPOILERS for the third book.
For the most part, Nathaniel was sure he was dead. He had to be. At the instant he unleashed the Staff's power Nouda had attempted to attack him, so he was either obliterated, or slaughtered. It did not matter which, though, since it was over. He had dismissed Bartimaeus, and he was sure Kitty was safe, so, with no regrets, he let himself dissolve into the murky white... Wait. One thought still lingered. The Other Place... he would have liked to have gone. That endless void of chaos would surely be more peaceful than Earth, and that is what he needed the most right now: some peace and quiet... Who knows? He could become a part of it and never know. So, with the thought eased, he slipped back...
...and opened his eyes to the sky. It was not a clear, blue sky like he would have preferred, but instead a dreary, gray space. He was used to it, too used to it. He wanted a change. If this was the afterlife, he was not impressed with it. He could feel his senses returning, not all at once, but one by one. After his sight, his smell, then his taste, followed by his feel. And, finally, his hearing. Nathaniel felt the urge to stand, but he fought it down. He felt too alive, when he was not meant to, or maybe he was supposed to. Maybe you retained some sort of earthly feeling in the afterlife, but he would not possibly know. A felt something walk nearby, and he realized he was laying on grass. Grass. He did not want grass. He wanted clouds, or lava, or something more than just grass! Nathaniel would be extremely furious if he was stuck with grass for all of eternity. Or maybe he was expecting too much.
Then, a figure bent over him. He blinked, his hair matted to his forehead in perspiration. This was proof that he was dead. Arthur Underwood, his former mentor, was standing above him, staring down at him in something like shock. "Who-Who are you?" he demanded. Nathaniel narrowed his brow, his voice lost in exhaustion.
"Natha... Jo...hn..." he tried to say, but his lips and tongue were dry. Not even he could make out the words that came from his throat. Underwood coughed.
"Martha!" he called, turning to the door of the house. Nathaniel bent his head to the right, squinting at the building as the door opened. The Underwood's home, still standing. There were no signs of a fire, or anything for that matter. An awkward joy aroused within him. He held Arthur Underwood in disdain, but perhaps Mrs. Underwood was still alive. Nathaniel had never forgotten her; she was the closest thing to a mother he ever had. The entrance door of the home opened, and there in the doorway stood Mrs. Underwood herself. Nathaniel attempted a smile, but all he succeeded in was causing an ache to spread throughout his face. He felt reassurance in seeing her here, that the afterlife may not be so bad.
"Arthur, what-," She gasped in fright, rushing fown the steps to the center of the lawn. Nathaniel looked up at her, and his head felt stiff. "Dear, God, Arthur!" she exclaimed. "Who is this man? Look at the state he's in! I-,"
"Clear off the sofa and get any bandages we may have! Hurry now! You... up with you, come on!" Underwood bent over and pulled the wounded magician up. He felt ragged and limp, like an abused doll would. The older man slung his arm around his neck and helped him into the household, hurriedly depositing him on a sofa. Nathaniel groaned. Already Mrs. Underwood laid him down entirely and lifted up his torn coat and shirt. She busily began tending to the wound, while Mr. Underwood stood off to the side. Nathaniel's head fell heavy onto the cushions. His eyes were cold from an outside perspective, but he watched it all unfold, although he lacked the strength to position his head how he wanted.
"Arthur, could bring me the alcohol?" said Mrs. Underwood hastily. As the man departed into the kitchen to fetch some, he was soon replaced by a boy. A twelve year-old. His clothes were somewhat loose-fitting.
"Out of the way boy, move," commanded Underwood as he returned with the item, shrugging the boy away. Nathaniel stared at him with tired eyes, his mind swirling in confusion.
"...You're too kind," said Nathaniel as he took the small cup of tea from the woman. Several hours had passed, most of which he spent sleeping, but some he spent lying there, staring up at the ceiling. He could not help but feel just slightly cozy within the house. However, he would be lieing if he said he was not shocked. He was alive. He figured it while on that sofa, his body slowly recovering from the multitude of wounds he had acquired while liberating London from the demons. If that was London, where was he now? He pondered this for some time there, but he felt the time for that would come soon enough.
For now, he had to contend with adapting to his surroundings. "How does it taste?" asked Mrs. Underwood eagerly. "Go on now, drink some more."
He sipped some, letting the warm liquid seep down his dry throat and wet his vocal cords. He looked at the woman with a small smile. "It's just perfect, ma'am." And indeed it was, to him. Drinking that tea was like diving back into his childhood, back into what he had believed he had abandoned. It had been his fault, in all entirety, that the Underwoods had perished and their home turned to ash. He was being forced to relive that time as he sat there. Mr. Underwood walked into the room, eyeing his guest with curiosity. He took a seat on a rather comfortable chair, leaning forward with his chin resting on his hands. Nathaniel met his gaze, bracing himself for the inevitable interrogation.
"I must inform you that I am a member of the British government, so, if I were you, I would remain quiet and answer when spoken to only. You are my guest, of course, but until I am certain of your identity, I will not take risks. Do you understand?"
Nathaniel nodded, taking another sip of the tea. He placed the cup atop the coffee table. "What is your name?" Nathaniel stared at him cooly.
"John Mandrake," he answered a tad reluctantly. Underwood seemed to overlook this.
"Seventeen," was the casual reply. This made Underwood stroke his chin in thought, but he cleared his throat and let it drop.
"Well, Mr. Mandrake, how did you end up on our lawn? And your wound... how did you get it?" At these two questions, Mandrake cringed. He had no clue regarding the first one, and the second was pretty unbeliavable. 'An all-powerful demon landed a lucky blow on my while I was engaged in mortal combat with it'. He had to conjure up some response.
"...I do not recall, sir," he finally replied. "It is all something of a blur. I am dreadfully sorry for the inconvenience." Underwood merely nodded.
"You were in horrid condition, I am even sure you are still in discomfort. Very well, Mr. Mandrake, considering you seem to be in a bit of a daze, I shall permit you stay in my home. If necessary I will also allow you to borrow my clothing, until you have had the time to purchase some of your own. As for your room..." He looked to his wife, who was, and had been, busy tidying the room up as they spoke. "That room in the back isn't trashed yet, is it?"
"No, no," said Mrs. Underwood, "it's suitable, but I'll be sure to clean it up. You wouldn't happen to be hungry, would you, John?" The young magician picked his tea up.
"In fact, I am." Mandrake did feel empty, and it had awhile since he had last eaten. His last meal had been his breakfast the day he had assigned his djinn to find Clem Hopkins. But that seemed like so long ago now, and the most he could do now was play it by ear. Until he understood what was going on, he had little choice. Standing to his feet weakly, he clenched his fists, trying to get a sense of his body again. Mr. Underwood stood also, starting towards the hallway.
"If you need me, I shall be in my office," he announced, and departed. Mrs. Underwood beckoned Mandrake to the kitchen.
"Come, please, you are the guest. Yes, bring your tea."
As he stepped into the kitchen, John Mandrake was greeted by another wave of memories. They were fonder than others, as he would converse with Mrs. Underwood on a variety of subjects. He would contently bite into his toast, take a swig of milk or orange juice, and then allow his mind to wander... Mrs. Underwood had tried, on several ocassions, to teach him how to bake and cook, but he never exactly got the hang of it. Not that he really had to cook in the years that followed Lovelace's rebellion. Magicians did not cook; that was left to the commoners. Mandrake shook his head sadly. The magicians were so distraught that they saw cooking as a waste of time. He really would have liked to learn.
Mrs. Underwood nudged the plate of toast toward him, and he took it with some effort. She frowned slightly. "I'm sorry if it seems paltry; it's still early, and I had some left."
Mandrake grinned at the toast. "No, actually, I felt like toast... do you mind if I stand?"
"Oh not at all-just don't let any crumbs fall."
The magician nodded, biting into the toast eagerly. He savored the taste as much as he could. The toast he usually had nowadays was not made with such talent, such... feeling. He would take a home-cooked meal any day. He wondered, if his life became "normal", how he would learn to cook. Mandrake supposed someone would teach him, maybe his wife. Ha, Bartimaeus would have scoffed at the notion. A non-magician, obviously, but the idea itself was a remote one. He was still too young to be thinking about a wife, but maybe...
"You two look alike, now that I think about it," stated Mrs. Underwood, dragging Mandrake from his thoughts. She was studying him carefully as he rubbed his thumb and index finger together, trying to rid his fingers of the specks of bread. "Are you positive you remember nothing," John?"
"...Not at the moment, no. Why do you ask?"
"It's because you look so similar to Nathaniel, my husband's apprentice. Your hair is the same color, and your eyes have that same intensity. To be honest, you could be his future image."
John Mandrake gulped down the rest of the piece of toast. She always had told him he would be a handsome young man, but he had never really given it any thought. He had to tread carefully, for he still was not sure where he was. He was at the Underwoods' home, and it really appeared like he was in the past. The past. If he was in the past, so many things could be righted that would be wronged, but if he interfered... would it affect his time? And how was he going to get back?
"...This Nathaniel, could I speak to him?"
"Hmm, I don't see why not. Actually, I think he'd benefit from talking with someone as close to his age as you are. Nathaniel's had virtually no friends, and I'm sure he feels rather lonely, regardless."
Mandrake took a bite from his toast. "Just show me to his room."
Nathaniel closed the book and turned from his seat on his bed to the knock on his bedroom door. "Come in," he said, and John Mandrake walked inside, closing the door behind him before Nathaniel could even mention it. The boy sighed. "Yes?"
Mandrake shrugged. "I thought I would get to know the last occupant of this household." He extended his hand. "John Mandrake." His past self shook it without any thought at all.
"My name's Nathaniel," he informed him, "or did Mrs. Underwood tell you already? Never mind, it's fine."
The magician looked around the room, sighing himself. How long ago had he been here? This was where he had first met Bartimaeus, gotten himself involved in matters far beyond his control. He wondered briefly if this Nathaniel was planning to summon the djinni; most likely he was. The boy looked up at him suddenly, an idea having formed in his mind. "Mr. Mandrake, have you been to Parliament?" He was taken aback somewhat by the question, but his answer came swiftly.
"...I have. Mind you, it turned out to be different than what I'd expected." Nathaniel raised an eyebrow.
"What do you mean?"
"Oh, when I was around your age, I thought that the government was perfect. I thought that by joining it I'd be respected, lead a satisfying career and life. I was wrong, although I met some people during my time there that I am glad I met." He searched Nathaniel's face; the boy's expression was stony. "I guess you're a bit too young to understand... When do you have your lesson?"
"Ah." John Mandrake moved to the door to leave. Nathaniel grew pale. "Uh, Mr. Mandrake... If you really are going to stay here, could you come to my room this evening? I'd like your opinion on something." Mandrake glanced at Nathaniel.
"I'd be glad to, but if you excuse me, I feel like taking a walk."
A/N: Did anyone feel the chapter a little abrupt? Well, anyways, the ending of Ptomely's Gate kind of set me off wrong, so I decided to expand upon it like this; Nathaniel gets a chance to see things in a new light, and while it is a Nathaniel fic, Bartimaeus WILL be appearing. Anyways, I don't think it's too difficult to assume what happened.