Summary: A story of a young man who seeks power so much that he fails to notice the really important things in life. And Jane's there to ruin things even more…
My first fic in this fandom, hope you will like it. It's pretty much a love story, but I tried to make sure that it doesn't get sappy, at least not too much. I'd hate to give my readers cavities with all the fluff, so I cut back on it as much as possible. Also, I can't imagine Nat going sappy. No, not at all.
This is a Nathaniel-centred fic (I totally adore him), but there will be lots of Kitty and later Bartimaeus too will appear and ruin Nat's life in his own charming way :) Naturally, this is an AU story, based on the first two books only. I decided to ignore the fact that book three ever existed. NAT LIVES FOREVER:)
So, if you find anything in this story that contradicts book three, then it's because it's AU (mind you, I haven't even read book three, as it hasn't come out in Hungary yet, so I wasn't in any way influenced by it).
Huge thanks to my wonderful beta Michael, who not only corrected my grammar (English isn't my native language), but also gave me invaluable advice on various British aspects of the story. I don't know what I would have done without his help…
There will be quite a few references to my other fandoms (Harry Potter, Star Wars), so please, bear with them.
WARNING: this story is not M (R) rated, BUT it has a few strong T (PG-13) scenes, therefore people under 13 are strongly discouraged to read it.
Disclaimer: the Bartimaeus trilogy belongs to Jonathan Stroud. Harry Potter belongs to J.K. Rowling. Star Wars belongs to George Lucas. Only the plot and a few OC's belong to yours truly.
o o o O O O o o o
The Start of a Really Bad Day
Jane was fondly looking at the young man lying next to her. His long black hair was spread out on one of her pink silk pillows, and his bare chest was rising and falling in a peaceful rhythm. She hadn't often seen John Mandrake looking so peaceful – most of the time he was irritable, snappish and constantly concerned about politics. No wonder - as the Minister of Internal Affairs he had a huge weight on his shoulders – a weight that he had been carrying for five years.
John was nineteen years old now and quite a handsome young man with his pale complexion, enigmatic blue eyes and long hair that had the habit of obscuring his elegant features like a dark curtain. His physique had also changed since Jane had first met him: as a Minister he could afford to have a huge house with a sizable swimming pool in the back garden. Apparently he'd always loved swimming, even as a little boy. Now anyone who had a chance to see him without a shirt could have told that he was an enthusiastic swimmer. Not that anyone had a chance to see him shirtless – only Jane Farrar had that privilege. She'd been his lover for almost two years now.
Their relationship wasn't based on love – they would have very likely cursed anyone who dared accuse them of caring for each other – it was a relationship of convenience. Jane was attracted to the good-looking young man and his high position in the government, and hoped that some day the world would know her as Mrs. Mandrake. As for John (the only name she knew him by, although she'd tried - and failed - on a few occasions to find out his birth name) Jane was the perfect tool for stress-relief. And stressed his life was, indeed.
Despite the small triumph he'd had over the ever-strengthening Resistance by catching and incarcerating one of their ringleaders, Kathleen Jones, the young man knew that the 'war' with the commoners was far from over. If possible, the Resistance got only more vicious since Miss Jones had been thrown into the Tower and was making daily skirmishes all around London.
To cap this all, the situation in the Americas wasn't as rosy as the government would have desired, and John was constantly after suspected American spies who were either infiltrating the London magician society or mingling with British commoners, instigating rebellion.
To put it in a nutshell, John Mandrake had a life full of stress for which the only relief was workout in the swimming pool and 'workout' in Jane Farrar's bed.
o o o O O O o o o
The first rays of the rising sun came through the window, prompting Jane to get up and make a coffee – a mild one for herself and an extra strong one for her lover. No doubt, John would again be having a hard day; the Prime Minister himself had requested his presence for a meeting of great importance in the morning. Very likely they'd be discussing the Resistance or the situation in America, or both.
When Jane returned to her room with two steaming cups of coffee, the sight that greeted her made her stop in the doorway.
John was having a nightmare. He was twisting and turning in his sleep, his arms flailing as though he were fighting a demon. "I'll get you Lovelace… I'll get you for this…" he muttered as his arms slumped down on the mattress next to him. "Bartimaeus… you will get the Amulet from Lovelace… Bartimaeus, this is an order!"
Suddenly, the muttering stopped, and the young man sat up, gasping for breath. His glance fell on the woman standing in the doorframe. "What… what happened?"
"I don't know," Jane replied in a neutral voice and walked up to him with the tray. "Perhaps you had a bad dream?"
He ran his hand nervously through his black locks, sweeping them out of his face. "Maybe. I didn't… talk, did I?"
For a second he looked like the same vulnerable little boy whom she had almost managed to bewitch five years earlier. "No, you didn't say a thing just kept twitching," she replied, handing him his cup of coffee. "Here, this will help you clear your head. Drink up, Deveraux's expecting you in half an hour."
"Half an hour?" John gasped, quickly checking the bedside clock. "Damn it. You could have woken me up earlier, you know." He quickly downed the coffee and hurried into the adjacent bathroom.
I could have, Jane thought amusedly. But then I wouldn't have heard you mentioning Bartimaeus, my dear. I had almost forgotten about him, how stupid of me. It never hurts to remember such things… I like you John, but you can be just as formidable as an enemy as you are good as a lover. Perhaps some day you'll be telling me your birth name while you're sleeping… She allowed herself a contented grin. Having John Mandrake as a lover had several advantages.
o o o O O O o o o
Nathaniel irritably blew the horn of his limousine. He was driving the car – he had been driving it himself ever since he was old enough to get a driving licence. Not having to rely on a chauffeur gave him greater freedom to go wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted.
Now, however, his freedom was restricted by the morning traffic jam. For ten minutes he'd been inching forward centimetre by centimetre in the never-ending queue heading towards Whitehall.
He was beginning to lose his patience. No, he'd lost it already. The only thing that kept him from shouting out the window of his car at anyone who'd listen was his dignity. John Mandrake, youngest Minister ever, would not sink so low as to let filthy commoners see him lose his nerve.
So far the morning had been horrible. He still vividly remembered his dream – a dream that had been haunting him for nine years: the humiliation he had had to suffer at Simon Lovelace's hands. In the last few weeks he'd been having this nightmare almost every night. He suspected it had something to do with the immense pressure he was subjected to. He was cracking under the weight, but he wouldn't admit it to himself.
And now, one more weight was placed on his shoulder: the suspicion that Jane had heard something she shouldn't have. True, she had told him with a sweet smile that she'd only seen him twisting and turning, but Nathaniel had a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach that told him not to trust the woman. He had never really trusted her – he knew her too well for that.
It had been foolish of him to stay overnight, he decided. Months and months earlier he had had spent a few nights at Jane's place, but then he hadn't had nightmares every night.
The next time he'd feel like forgetting about his stressful life in Jane's arms, he'd visit her, do the deed and head home. He couldn't risk her overhearing something he wished to keep a secret.
Finally, twenty minutes after he was supposed to, Nathaniel arrived at Whitehall. Dashing upstairs he nearly knocked over an old lady carrying huge stacks of papers. He only slowed down when the door of the Prime Minister's office came into view. He fished a pale blue handkerchief out of his pocket (he had given up on flashy red ones years ago) to dry his sweating face, and smoothed his cloak to look as presentable as possible. The guards standing at the PM's door let him in without a word, one of them giving his slightly dishevelled appearance a curious glance.
"Ah, just the man we need!" Deveraux greeted the newcomer with a wide grin.
This starts out bad, Nathaniel thought. If the Prime Minister wasn't questioning him about being twenty minutes late, then it could only mean one thing: he wanted something rather unpleasant of him.
"Sir," Nathaniel nodded politely. "I'm sorry about making you wait-"
"Never mind, John, never mind," Deveraux said, giving the young man a view of all of his thirty-two teeth. "Come, sit down, please."
Nathaniel took a place on the sofa between the Minister of Food and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. He noted that the Secretaries of State for Economic Affairs and Employment; the Foreign Minister and the Minister of Information were also present. This only strengthened his feeling of uncertainty. He didn't remember when he'd last been invited to a discussion with so many important ministers present. These people wanted something of him.
"Well, I'm all ears, Sir," Nathaniel said, trying to look and sound carefree.
The Prime Minister cleared his throat. "You know that I've considered you as my Right Hand for years, John…"
This is getting worse and worse, the young magician told himself and fought down the urge to grimace. Forcing a politely attentive expression on his face, he nodded.
"…therefore, when we found the solution to appease the commoners, we decided we needed to talk to you."
"Me, Sir? About what?" Nathaniel asked.
"If you don't mind, I'd take over from here," the Minister of Information spoke up. "As you know, Mr. Mandrake, it is the task of my department to find out what the commoners think of us, and to form their views of the magicians with the help of propaganda."
His lips pressed tightly together, Nathaniel nodded. Why were people talking to him as though he were a newborn who didn't know anything? It was most disturbing.
"We have come to the conclusion that the commoners need concessions."
"What kind of concessions?" Nathaniel arched an eyebrow at the Minister of Information.
"Well… we thought it would not hurt to let a few of them into the government… to give them the least important portfolios, like… Minister for Arts or Secretary of State for Education and Skills. You know, the so-called 'light' portfolios. Then the commoners could no longer scream 'injustice' – they get two more or less important seats in Parliament."
"What makes you think that giving the education portfolio to a commoner would do us any good?" Nathaniel frowned. "The first thing the new education minister would do is publish new history books that tell about the accomplishments of the commoners as well… we will lose face if the average Brit learns that not all the great deeds were done by magicians. I for one don't second this decision. Giving the commoners the health portfolio sounds more logical. It doesn't really matter whether it's a magician or a commoner who makes sure that the bird flu doesn't strike in Great Britain. As for-"
"John, please," Deveraux cut in with a benign expression that anyone could see was forced. "We appreciate your opinion on this topic, but this isn't what we called you here for today."
"What is it, then?" Nathaniel said sharply. If they hadn't requested his presence because they needed his opinion, then why?
"Well, the point is that we make concessions to the commoners," the Minister of Information continued, looking disgruntled by the fact that Mandrake, who was at least thirty years younger than him, found flaws in his well-thought-out plans. "Step one is letting a few of them into the government – giving them power in areas in which they can't do much harm. Step two is giving them a chance to apply for assistant jobs in Whitehall. Step three-"
"Assistant jobs?" Nathaniel gasped. "But that is madness! Giving the commoners a glimpse into important Ministry affairs? Giving them a chance to photocopy secret contracts? Why not give them free entry into the magicians' central library? Let them learn how to summon demons and wreak havoc!"
"John, please!" The Prime Minister held up his hand. "No need for sarcasm. We see your point and will make sure that the commoners who get jobs in Whitehall will not have access to any important papers."
"Then what will they do? Serve our coffees?" young Mandrake countered.
"For example." The Secretary of State for Employment said. "However, these are just plans so far – they need to go before the Parliament for approval and I'm sure it will take months if not years until we manage to reach an agreement. What our friend Dickinson wanted to say," he slightly bowed in the Minister of Information's direction, "is that there's only one thing that we all agree on, and that is step three, which very likely will become step one, as it's much more easily and quickly accomplishable than the other two."
"I fear I don't understand what you're talking about," Nathaniel said, willing himself to sound composed, while his insides were trembling with nervousness.
"A marriage, Mr Mandrake," Dickinson said. "A marriage between a high-ranking ministry official and a commoner. That would assure the average Brit of our good intentions."
"An arranged marriage?" Nathaniel made an amused expression. "Is that the best you could come up with? And who's the unfortunate bloke whom you've chosen for the 'noble task'?"
"Well…" Deveraux shrugged with an apologetic face, "as all of the high-ranking ministry officials are above forty and married already, there's only one person eligible for the 'noble task'."
The sarcastic smile vanished from Nathaniel's face. They couldn't mean what he thought they meant?
"John, we thought of you."
o o o O O O o o o
A/N: for your information: the whole story is written (I finished it three weeks ago), but since I'm still tweaking it, I won't be posting more than one chapter a week. Sometimes only one chapter per two weeks, as summer's coming. Dunno when the next chapter will be up, as I'm having an extremely difficult, four hour long accountancy exam next week. Say 'May the Force be with you, Agi!' And be so kind and review!