A/N: And now it's time for another breakdown in communications, more shocking revelations, and family drama! Seriously, if you wanted to deal with a well-adjusted Ethan, this is not the place to go.
But where's the fun in that? :D
Chapter Two: Will You Run?
Kori screamed. "Ethan, look out!"
Ethan spun around, just in time for Irving—no, Jack—to slash his leg with a knife. Bright red blood gushed from his left thigh around the knife, which had been left in it. For a moment, Ethan could only think of how he had once managed to avoid a similar attack by the same man, and that now, apparently, his luck had run out.
Then the pain hit. Ethan wasn't sure if he screamed. If he had, it was probably drowned out by Kori's when he collapsed. Ethan tried to force his fingers around the handle, trying to force down the impulse to panic or freeze in shock so he could be of some use to Kori. Irving didn't have the knife, so he'd have to go more slowly…maybe he could be stopped.
Ethan's wounded leg buckled under him. He fell, dazed, but he could still see Kori when she stood defensively between Ethan and Jack. He knew she was still there. She crouched next to him, her arms around his shoulders like a shield, his head against her shoulder. Ethan looked down and noted, in a detached sort of way, that both he and Kori were kneeling in an expanding halo of blood. Ethan forced his hand to clamp down on the stab wound, but it didn't seem to help much.
"I won't let you win, Jack!" Kori said fiercely, glaring at him. "I hate you! I absolutely despise you!"
"K-Kori…" Ethan gasped. Don't do it! Stop trying to make him attack you!
"You were only ever just a tool!" Jack snarled, drawing a second pocketknife. "So go be a good girl and let me finish this!"
Nononono-! Kori, just stop it! He'll kill you! "Kori, run…!" But it didn't seem like anyone could hear him.
Jack snarled wordlessly and charged. Kori lashed out at the same moment, kicking wildly and knocking Jack off his feet by slamming her foot into the side of his knee. Jack crashed to the ground. Kori tried to help Ethan get to his feet, but his injured leg failed to respond at all and they fell as Ethan's leg folded under him. Then the murderer, grasping his fallen knife again, drove the weapon into Kori's back.
Ethan felt blood splash across his face and Kori slumped against him, barely balancing against Ethan's shoulder. "KORI!" he screamed.
Kori's delayed reply came as a barely audible whisper. Her hands clamped down on his shoulders. "S-save your uncle, Ethan. Please..."Then she went limp and fell.
Kori had stopped moving. Jack was shouting mindlessly, sounding like he was in despair… "B-but why? You were supposed to work for me!"
This can't be happening… We were supposed to find a way to keep everyone safe! Kori, please…get up! Please…
Then Jack looked at him. Eyes wide and insanity lining the edges, mouth locked into a terrible grimace. Knife raised.
The Hollow Pen might have bent the rules of the time stream so that its users could survive most tampering, but it didn't have to power to change the will of a single determined madman if the circumstances were wrong. It hadn't been able to save his parents, even though his father had still been a Hollow Pen user when the gas main exploded all those years ago. And Ethan was out of time.
The knife came down, but halted halfway when Ethan rolled and caught Jack's descending arm. He wouldn't let himself fail her again. Not after everything.
"Just die like your worthless parents!" Jack snarled, spittle flying into Ethan's face.
Normally, this might have been when a hero in some movie would come up with some pithy one-liner and make his comeback. Ethan panted, in too much pain and filled with too much desperation to care. He didn't want to die.
"Hey, what's going on here? Get away from that kid!"
Aaron? Ethan's concentration slipped, only for a moment. Long enough to recognize the voice, to recognize help.
It was all the opening Jack needed. The next thing Ethan knew, he had a knife in his ribs and Jack was standing over him, hands covered in blood. Aaron chasing Jack off, in stops and starts that might have left him wondering how, like an old slideshow. The blond was on his cell phone, other hand pressing down on—around—the knife. Then nothing.
Ethan blinked and everything changed. Kori…? But he couldn't see anyone he recognized—just men with harsh voices and uniforms he couldn't place. "Nn…"
"What the hell happened to this kid?" Someone was shouting. He sounded brusque.
"Not to mention the girl…" Two people…
When Ethan woke up, he was lying in a hospital bed. He'd asked around a little before he'd been sent home in a daze. Kori had been dead on arrival. Her body had disappeared. All they had found was a tiny silver hourglass, which they let him keep.
He was in the hospital for about a day, thanks to the Hollow Pen and Sox's efforts to keep him alive—even if they did it by tearing away at his lifespan to have him survive the present. Jack had already killed Aaron and Olivia before he got out.
Ethan woke up from his nightmare, blinked at the ceiling, and decided that there wasn't really any point to trying to get extra sleep on the couch. His nightmares were more often memories, now, and…and he didn't think about it anymore. Wallowing in his guilt over what had happened in his past wasn't going to save his friends' future.
So he went to make breakfast for both him and his uncle—the routine was yet another thing that was saving his sanity.
Or at least he hoped it did. There was nothing quite like being an insane time traveler.
"Hi! 'M Ethan. What's your name?"
Somehow, Ethan had to admit that this was probably the weirdest experience of his life. And that could be solely blamed on the fact that his younger self was sitting on his knee like nothing at all was happening, other than meeting a new friend. For his part, Ethan was sitting on the bed of Derek's pickup truck and wondering how the hell he'd gotten into this particular mess."Um…Will."
"Will? Will!" the younger version of himself chirped. "Sounds like a word. 'M learning words!"
"You're three." Ethan said, still in shock.
Little Ethan pouted. "Nuh-uh! 'M three and a half! Ben's only three!"
Ethan swallowed hard. "Ah… okay. That's good."
"'M gonna go to school next year, and Vin's got a little sister he's gonna grow up to look after like a good big brother and…" Ethan was fairly sure he'd never said that much at once without stopping to breathe, particularly when he was less than four years old. "And 'm gonna go see Big Ben when Mommy and Daddy can take me and…" Though, it was nice to know that he was consistently obsessed with clocks throughout his life. That much had mostly stayed the same.
Even though it was probably rude, Ethan tuned his younger self out entirely, preferring to stare at the chatting adults and wonder what the hell had gone wrong this time.
Since meeting up with Derek, Ethan had spent six months in the older man's company. It was a learning experience.
For one thing, Ethan had never gotten a chance to learn how to drive. At least one version of his uncle had promised, but the world had reset before he could fulfill that bargain. So he'd been spending the last few months learning how, even if he probably would never be able to get a license. He didn't have a birth certificate, after all, or the underworld contacts required to fake one. In any case, Derek just seemed reassured that his longest-standing employee could actually be a bit more useful.
When it came down to it, Ethan just wasn't suited for working in a café. He wasn't particularly cheerful anymore, and any attempt he made at making coffee tended to be a disaster in the vein of Godzilla or the Third Impact. After Derek had hired his first waitress for the shop, though, Ethan was happily allowed to retire to managing expenses and washing dishes. It was really for everyone's health and sanity, even if Ethan didn't think of himself as particularly good at balancing a checkbook.
Still, Ethan had worked with Derek on renovating and advertizing the café's new look, even going without pay for a full month until they managed to get out of the red zone of impenetrable debt. He'd bussed tables, washed dishes, worn the horrible sandwich board sign of doom, and even helped his uncle with managing their expenses and available drink options when worst came to worst. In its own way, it was almost soothing to be forced into such a consistently grueling routine—at least there was some structure in his life. As an added bonus, it generally left him too exhausted to dream about the world he'd left behind because of his impromptu trip through time.
That didn't mean that Ethan thought he'd ever be able to forget any of it, though. Information in the form of flashbacks was still fresh in his mind. There was still the fire that had killed his closest friends in one reality, and the raw despair behind seeing that one vision of Derek's corpse under a white sheet…
On the brighter side of things, it seemed like Chronos's success had actually eased the tension between Derek and his brother (and Ethan's father) Timothy. Derek only asked for loans every once in a while rather than begging for money, and they tended to be paid back quickly with Ethan nagging the older man at all hours. Ethan also made sure that Derek only borrowed what he could afford to pay back to the elder Kairos, and even then only for a good reason. As far as Ethan was concerned, stock expenses could be taken out of the net profit of the café, but the bit where the water heater had sprung a leak was something that needed to be fixed as soon as humanly possible. And so it was.
Ethan hadn't tried to contact his parents even once. In fact, he actively avoided them. While Derek would often stop by the house whenever he was in the neighborhood, Ethan tried to skip out on those meetings as often as possible. After all, while Derek was ignorant of the Hollow Pen and time travel and thus didn't think of the possible implications behind his nephew and "Will's" close resemblance, there was a possibility that Timothy Kairos, previous bearer of the Hollow Pen, might.
And, really, Ethan didn't think he was ready to deal with them. Six months, twelve years…what did it matter? And, some time ago, Ethan had decided that he didn't deserve to rush back into his parents' waiting arms. They didn't deserve to be inflicted with such a failure of a son.
Ethan leaned back in the passenger's seat of Derek's commandeered delivery truck, staring out the window. The city wouldn't change much in the next few years, but the people would. Maybe just through the actions of a lone, slightly gifted time-traveler, he could make a difference.
Granted, it would have suited him better if he hadn't ended up outside of time and trapped in the past at all, but at this point he'd learned to take what he could get.
As Derek parked the truck to go and talk to Timothy and Pamela again, Ethan tilted the baseball cap further down over his eyes. Not causing any trouble, move along…
Ethan happened to glance up when he heard a tiny voice squealing, just as there was a screech of tires from further away.
On the side of the road, about to step off the sidewalk and chase a bouncing rubber ball into the street, was a tiny brunet boy with big blue eyes and without his two front teeth. Careening down the street like an oncoming train, a small blue sedan was making a beeline for the boy—the teenager could see the driver laughing and drinking with the woman in the passenger's seat. Ethan kicked the truck's door open without thinking.
Later, he realized that it was probably a borderline suicidal thing to do. But sometimes, making a diving save of a little kid could be the most literal form of self-defense at the same time.
The next thing Ethan knew, he was lying on the sidewalk with the boy sprawled beside him. And everything, starting from his bruised knees and working its way upward, hurt.
"You okay?" Ethan panted, rolling over so he could get a look at the passing car's license plate. And… he'd completely missed it. Damn speeders.
"Wah…" …Shit. He looked back at the younger version of himself, who was staring up at him with big blue eyes that welled with brimming tears. He had a pretty bad scrape on one knee, but other than that the boy was unharmed. …I'm so dead.
"Hey, don't cry." Ethan said desperately, feeling panic well up inside him. Shit, shit, shit!
"Will? Why'd you leave the truck open?" Oh god, Derek was back. This was going to be a hell of a situation to explain.
In the interest of preserving his skin for something other than the hiding Derek was probably going to give him if he misunderstood the context, Ethan said, "Kid, let me see that knee."
Little Ethan whined a bit, but he did as his older self asked. Amazingly, the little scrape on his knee and the budding bruise on his cheek were the only marks he had from the entire episode.
Ethan looked up and, smiling faintly, patted the boy on the head. "You should be fine. Just get some bandages and maybe an ice pack."
Little Ethan sniffled.
Derek suddenly was there, crouching beside the two boys. "Will, what happened?"
"Close call." Ethan mumbled, looking away. "If I ever see those two drunken idiots again, I'm going to find something to hit them with."
"What, like a drunk driver?" Derek's expression quickly morphed into panic. "Oh my God! Ethan, are you okay?"
"M'okay, Unca Derek." Little Ethan said, biting his lip a little. "This big boy here pushed me out of the way."
"Ethan!" The shout came from the house—and there, on the threshold, stood Ethan's parents.
Ethan felt sweat break out on his forehead.
"Mommy!" Little Ethan called, holding up his arms. "Mommy, 'm okay!"
Ethan looked away from them, too.
It was probably stupid, but he was afraid. His mother didn't have a shred of cruelty in her, and his father was a Hollow Pen user with years more experience than him. He just wasn't all that much like the son they had—were still raising. And that…that scared him a little.
"Hey, Will. You all right?" Derek asked after the initial panic-fest, with Pamela and Timothy—it hurt less to think of them like that, if only a little—sweeping Little Ethan into the house like some kind of porcelain doll.
"…Yeah. Or I will be." Ethan muttered, rubbing his shoulder. Even six months after the last time he'd used the Hollow Pen, he still ached sometimes, for no reason. Granted, he had a perfectly good excuse this time, but he wasn't any happier with it. Not to mention getting a bit banged-up after saving his younger self's life.
Derek clapped a hand on Ethan's shoulder—not the sore one, thankfully, but it was still a bit of a surprise. "You zoned out there for a minute. You sure you're okay?"
"Good. My brother and his wife will want to thank you."
…I'm probably going to spill everything as soon as Mom asks.
…Still, maybe it might be better if I stop running. It's not as though I've got a whole bunch of other places I can go, and I can't just bow out here. Not with my family.
If Derek was being completely honest, Will scared him.
It wasn't something a stranger would be able to put their finger on. To someone who hadn't lived with the kid for a few months, he was just another mopey teenager who didn't like talking to people much. Kinda absentminded, but who wasn't when they were in high school? He was a bit of an outcast, or at least that was what anyone on the street would think. And one who was slightly obsessed with clocks, if Derek was any judge.
But Derek wasn't stupid—he could tell that Will was tearing himself to pieces inside. Even when they'd first met, he could tell that Will wasn't keeping a lid on that stuff as well as he wanted to, but it was becoming obvious over time that he had some deep-seated issues. Most of it seemed to be tied back to survivor's guilt.
If there was only enough money to go around, he'd get the kid a shrink or something. But since there wasn't, he figured the kid just needed a chance to relax and get away from the stressful task of making Chronos a success. And his brother's family seemed just about normal enough for that—besides, he and Tim didn't fight much anymore. It would be fine, or at least he'd thought that.
What he hadn't expected was for Tim to do a double-take and gasp, "Ethan?"
Will flinched like he'd been punched. And then he ran.
After about a two-second delay for the shock to sink in, Derek ran after him.
A/N: Sooooo...I'm back.