Set in AU first season in which the Great Rewind has not and will not happen because the second season version is just impossible to work with.


"Tempus Fugit"

* * * *


"Thank you, Sara."

"Do not thank me for your wretched life!"

Sara shook her head and the tiny office that she shared with the rookie reappeared. Damn flashbacks, she thought irritably with a glare at the stone on her wrist. She was certain that these aggravating little fragments of conversations past weren't memories that she was dredging up on her own. It wasn't the first one she'd had today and she suspected that it wouldn't be the last. Whatever the Witchblade was trying to show her, it was being awfully persistent.

"Relax, Sara. I would do anything to please you."

"Then quit with the psycho vampire routine."

She growled in frustration. She was beginning to think the thing had gone on the fritz. It was stuck on stupid moments when that freak Nottingham was being irksome and they were not moments that she particularly wanted to relive. After all, he was always giving her grief about one thing or another on a semi-regular basis. Why bother showing her these old conversations when he was bound to show up with more new cryptic lines or incomprehensible actions sometime soon anyway?

"I love you… in unguarded moments."

Yeah, like that one. What was she supposed to do with that? Irons' pet sociopath probably had no idea what the word actually meant, even if he could use it correctly in a sentence. She really wished the Witchblade would stop throwing these at her.

"If you want to stay close to me, just ask, Sara. We can be inseparable."

"Freak."

"Stop it!"

"Huh?" Jake looked up from the stack of case files on his desk in confusion. "I wasn't doing anything," he protested.

"Not… nevermind." She shook her head again and stood. "I'm going for a walk. Get some air. Clear my head."

"Okaay." His expression plainly stated that he thought a walk and a little air probably wouldn't be enough to clear whatever was going on in her head, but wisely he didn't push it. Maybe he was finally catching on. Now if everybody else in her life would just get a clue…

When she stepped out of the station a ride seemed like an even better idea than a walk. Hopefully the Witchblade would give her a break and not hurl one of its visions of the psycho Galahad at her while she was on her bike. Motorcycle accidents were never pretty. Thankfully, the voices in her head were blissfully quiet for a time. Thoughts of Nottingham and the Witchblade and even her current homicide case all took a backseat as she drove aimlessly through the streets of downtown. She didn't know how long she rode, enjoying the inner silence and the freedom of the Buell. Evidently impatient with her lack of introspection though, the Witchblade began to stir restlessly. When the rumbling in the back of her skull eventually began again she found herself near home. Deciding that whatever was to come would probably best be dealt with in private - as opposed to zoning out at her desk in the office and scaring the rookie - she parked the motorcycle and headed up to her apartment.

The cup of coffee was meant to warm her as well as ease the twinge that was threatening to become a full-fledged headache. Sara settled on the sofa and stared into the dark depths of the mug. Nottingham, she thought. The Witchblade was trying to get her to see something about her genetically engineered stalker. That much was clear. So. What?

A moment in Irons' study. The aftermath of killing in self-defense.

"Thank you, Sara."

"Do not thank me for your wretched life!"

A moment in her own darkened office. Prelude to a confession.

"Relax, Sara. I would do anything to please you."

"Then quit with the psycho vampire routine."

A moment in the station hallway. Between an assassination and an attempted murder.

"If you want to stay close to me, just ask, Sara. We can be inseparable."

"Freak."

No.

Sara sat up, startled. No? It rang within her head as firmly as if the Witchblade had actually spoken. Did it have its own voice, she wondered? What was it disputing? She frowned down at the roiling jewel on her wrist. She looked up at the crackling fire in the oversized hearth.

Kenneth Irons' study, Sara realized with a shock. In fact, she could see Irons himself seated in the armchair before the fireplace in this Witchblade-induced lucid dream. Stunned as she was to find herself here, she was even more surprised to see a small boy standing in front of Irons' chair. The kid couldn't have been more than seven or eight, she thought, his head bent in an irritatingly familiar position. The miniature version of Nottingham apparently had yet to perfect his older counterpart's display of stony indifference though. He shifted his weight ever so slightly and tilted his little head, impatient to be recognized. At last Irons lowered his book and glanced at him.

"Don't you have studies to be working on?" he asked.

"Yes sir."

"And you are not attending to them because…?"

There was a small sigh that Sara couldn't hear from across the room, but she could see his thin shoulders rise and slump again and could guess what the motion meant. The boy looked up tentatively.

"Do you love me?"

Irons merely raised an eyebrow. "What a peculiar question," he said finally. "For this you are neglecting your books?" Sara felt an odd surge of sympathy as the child drew another shaky breath but stood firmly. "Very well then," Irons nodded. "First tell me what there could possibly be about you that is loveable."

Bastard, Sara began to swear inwardly as the boy's head slowly dropped. She could see his shoulders tighten as the silence lengthened.

"I see," said Irons sorrowfully. "And perhaps there you have your answer."

Bastard, she thought again angrily. How dare he do something like that to a little kid? She was startled when the boy's head whipped around suddenly and she found herself staring into a pair of shocked hazel eyes. Irons seemed just as startled, but he was staring at the child, not at Sara. When he followed the boy's line of sight he seemed to look past Sara, or through her.

"What do you see?" he demanded.

"I… She looks like Elizabeth," the boy said uncertainly. "But not Elizabeth."

"You can see me?" Sara asked. She hadn't realized that this was an interactive dream. She'd assumed that the Witchblade was just trying to show her something. The boy nodded, eyes still wide but with dawning comprehension. Irons, however, continued to ignore her.

"Don't be ridiculous," he said. "Elizabeth is dead…"

"It's the new Wielder."

There was a sharp crack and Irons went on as if he hadn't been interrupted, as if there wasn't now a red mark across the boy's cheek.

"The new Wielder has not yet taken the Blade. You know that she is no older than you now. There is no Wielder."

"The Witchblade can control time," the boy said with unexpected confidence. "It could be her. Are you?" he asked, turning to Sara for confirmation. Before Sara could reply Irons seized his jaw and twisted his head back around to face him.

"Do you really believe that she could be here and I wouldn't sense it?" Irons said in a low voice. "Do you really think that I wouldn't know?"

"No sir," the boy said. Young Nottingham, Sara admitted to herself now. "But I can see…"

There was another sharp crack and Sara saw red. Hallucination or not, she thought, she was not going to stand there and watch Irons hit a seven-year-old. Almost before she realized it, the Witchblade had extended.

She swung.

The boy ducked instinctively, but the Blade passed through an oblivious Irons. The man glared at Nottingham as the child watched Sara's wild, ineffective slashes with fascination. She knew that it was futile, but swung a few more times in frustration. At last she dropped her hand and the Witchblade retracted.

"Damn it," she muttered.

"Is she still there?" Irons asked. His tone was mild, almost conciliatory. The boy looked at Sara and nodded. Sara threw a useless punch as Irons even as Irons struck young Nottingham.

"Is she still there?" he asked again. The boy's eyes never left Sara's face and the pained confusion in them tore at her. It's just a vision, she reminded herself. It's not real. He's not real. He nodded once more and the angry red mark on his cheek grew again.

"Is. She. Still. There?"

"Tell him 'no', Ian," Sara urged suddenly. "Just tell him 'no'." She was terribly afraid that his misguided sense of honor wouldn't allow him to lie about this, but to her surprised relief, he found a way to work around it.

The little dark head bowed sadly and he closed his eyes. "I don't see anything," he said honestly.

Irons turned away from him abruptly. "Get out," he said harshly. "Go."

In any other circumstances Sara would have been at least slightly amused to see that the boy navigated half the room with his eyes still firmly shut.

"And close the door."

Young Nottingham's hesitation was almost imperceptible before he obediently shut the door behind him. Sara glowered one last time at Irons' back then stepped toward the door. As she'd expected, she passed right through it. The boy stared at her in awe.


"Wow," he said softly. "Neat trick."

"Yeah? You should see me at parties," she quipped. "Nevermind," she added at his puzzled frown. "So what's the deal? Why can you see me and he can't? And what exactly am I supposed to get from this hallucination of a seven-year-old Ian Nottingham?"

"Eight. I'm eight. You know who I am?" he asked, clearly delighted. "You really are the new Wielder." Then, as if suddenly remembering something, he abruptly dropped to one knee and bowed his head again.

"Oh, get up. I always hate it when you do that."

"Always?" he asked. There was an incongruous grin on his small face as he looked up at her. "You do know me when I grow up?"

"We've met."

His bright smile faded somewhat. "Met?" he repeated doubtfully. "Aren't we friends?"

"We… It's complicated."

His smile vanished entirely to be replaced by a worried frown. "Do I do something wrong? Because if you tell me now, I can fix it. I won't do whatever it is. I can do it right and then we can be friends, yes?"

His anxious concern tore at her as much as his earlier struggle with Irons had. This is just another of the Witchblade's visions, she reminded herself again. Even if she was getting a glimpse of Nottingham's whacked childhood, there was nothing she could do about it now, right?

Oh hell.

"You're real, aren't you?"

The boy nodded, unfazed by the non sequitur. "I think so," he replied. "Are you?"

"Fair question. I'll pretend you are if you do the same for me, 'kay?" She winced at her thoughtlessness as his hand rose almost absently to his cheek.

"I already have," he reminded her quietly.

Damn it. She stared at his earnest, troubled expression, completely at a loss. What kind of game was the Witchblade playing, she wondered?

"We can't stay here," Ian said as he took a few quick steps down the hallway. "If Mr. Irons can't see you, no one else can either. He'll know if they see me talking to myself."

That was logic she couldn't argue with, so she followed him, nagging internally at the silent Witchblade. She couldn't help being impressed with the way the small boy crept through the mansion, slipping past members of the household staff as adeptly as if he'd been an apparition himself. She didn't like the tight, wary look on his face though and wondered at the reason for this particular skill. Training or defense? Considering his age, either alternative was chilling.

He led her at last down a corridor in a distant wing of the house. He stopped and gave her a speculative look as if measuring her up for something, then shrugged. It was a gesture that he had somehow managed to hang onto through the years and she found it inexplicably reassuring. She watched curiously as he scrambled up to a high, narrow window, prying little fingers and feet into crevices in the wall paneling. He balanced with one foot on the back of a chair, hanging from the window ledge by his fingertips before heaving himself up through the small opening. Sara followed, shaking her head in bemusement at the eccentric child who had grown into such an unusual man. She soon found herself sitting beside him on an odd corner of the roof, hidden from all angles by an architectural quirk in the uneven gables.

"Why did you try to hit Mr. Irons?" Ian asked when she was settled.

"Because he hit you," she replied as his face wrinkled in apparent confusion.

"It is not your duty to protect me. It is mine to protect you." It was more than a little disconcerting to hear such grave words from such a small boy. He sounded exactly like the Nottingham that she knew so many years in this child's future. As Sara looked at him carefully she could see the remarkable resemblance between them. It was more than simply physical appearance, though she could see evidence of the man he would become in the planes of his face, the set of his shoulders, the depth in his eyes. She could also see that he already perceived his role in her life with firmly held conviction.

"I don't need you to protect me, Ian. I do have the Witchblade," she reminded him. It was bad enough that he had this unnecessary guardian complex in her present. Seeing that he'd had it since childhood was worrisome. His gentle, somewhat condescending smile was rather unsettling too.

"The Witchblade can take care of itself. I protect you, my lady."

"You're eight years old," she protested. "You can't protect anybody. Someone should be protecting you." She wasn't surprised when he looked at her as if she'd lost her mind. It occurred to her that he was probably already the most lethal eight-year-old she'd ever met. Still, that didn't do anything to shield him from Irons now, did it? And the kid didn't even realize that he needed it. "And don't call me 'my lady'. That's as annoying as the kneeling thing. My name is Sara. What?"

"Don't tell me," the boy said, shaking his head vehemently. "Don't tell me anything else like that. He doesn't know where you are now and he can't find you. I can protect you now even if you won't even know it."

"What are you talking about?" she asked in utter confusion at his sudden distress.

"Mr. Irons knows that I do not lie. He's just angry right now. When he's calmer he will want to know what you told me."

"You mean he does believe that you can see me?"

Ian nodded. "He'll want to know if you have told me anything that can be used to find you now instead of waiting until you grow up. He lost you when you were taken," he continued, apparently oblivious to her shock. "Now he has to wait for you to find the Witchblade."

"Lost me? What do you mean lost me?"

"He knew where you were born, but then somebody took you, I think."

"You think?" she repeated incredulously.

"I don't know, but I'm sure I can find out." His mischievous grin was as unexpected as it was brilliant. "Come visit me again and I'll tell you everything I discover."

"Ian," she began in frustration. "I didn't exactly plan on coming here this time. I don't know if I can do it again. And even if I could, no matter how much I want to know, I can't ask you to dig into things that will get you in trouble. I don't need you to protect me. I don't need you to look out for me. I can manage on my own."

"But I can help," he insisted stubbornly. He glared up at her with a startling intensity. He blinked once and his expression shifted like a flicked switch to abashed repentance. His head dropped abruptly and his shoulders tensed. Sara knew with sickening certainty that his persistent stubbornness had earned him more than verbal reprimands in the past. With his bent head and hunched shoulders he reminded her more than ever of the adult he would become.

Yes.

Sara stared down at the Witchblade in astonishment.

"I would do anything to please you."

She looked back up at Ian quickly, uncertain if he'd voiced the question or if it was the Witchblade being "twitchy" again. The fearful, hopeful eyes that looked back at her could have as easily belonged to the man who spent far too much time on her fire escape landing as they did to the little boy who was slowly picking apart a roofing shingle. The eyes were the same, the voice was the same… the intention was the same.

Yes.

"Why don't you like me when I grow up?"

Sara started as he interrupted her train of thought. "I'm sorry, but it's just not that simple."

"Why not? Why won't you tell me? What do I do that's so terrible?" He frowned at her worriedly.

"Nothing. I mean… It's complicated."

"I'm not stupid."

"I know, I know. But this just isn't a conversation that I need to be having with you now. I think we need to have it when I get back."

"But I'll have already done whatever it is that made you mad at me by then," he said sullenly. "You don't want to like me."

"Ian," she sighed wearily. "It's not that. I just don't think it is something that you can fix. I can't take you with me now. I can't tell you to run away. I don't know what to tell you." She looked at the dark, anguished eyes that she tried so hard to avoid in the future, his future, and knew that they would be unchanged more than twenty years from this moment. She unthinkingly reached a hand toward him, knowing it would pass through, but unable to resist the gesture. She was surprised to find that she could feel his head beneath her fingers. She tried futilely to smooth the unruly mop of dark hair as she searched for the right words. "You have a good heart," she said at last. "Just don't believe everything that Irons tells you. He only has his own best interests in mind. He…" Her voice trailed off at his bleak expression.

"I know he doesn't love me," the boy said, blinking rapidly as he picked at the edge of the shingle again. "I'm only useful because he thinks I'm supposed to protect the Witchblade. He thinks I'll protect it no matter who wears it. I can't tell him that isn't the link. He might decide that he doesn't need me then."

"Your link is to me? Not the Witchblade?"

He stared up at her with an odd expression. "Do you at least listen to me when I'm grown? That's what I've been trying to tell you. You don't, do you?" he said in quiet consternation and Sara knew that her guilt was evident on her face. "Maybe I'm not the reason we don't get along. Why don't you listen to me?"

"Because it's complicated," she snapped back at him. "Because things change and people are different and I didn't know who you were, okay? I'm still not sure who you are…" She broke off as she noticed his bright eyes and the tic in his jaw and remembered that she was arguing with a child. "But when I get back, we're going to sit down and have a long talk and I will listen."

"Promise?"

"I promise."

"You're not mad?"

"I'm not mad."

"We're friends?"

Sara sighed. "We are right now, but it's going to be a very long time before I see you again. When that time comes, we're going to have to work it all out again then. Okay?"

He looked at her thoughtfully as if not quite ready to accept her truce. "Why did you come back here?" he asked instead.

She studied his small somber face intently, searching for something that she couldn't quite put her finger on. "I think," she said finally, "that maybe I had to make friends with you now to be friends with you later."

He nodded at last and then tilted his head to one side. Sara got the eerie impression that he was looking at something beyond the here and now.

"I have to go," he said suddenly, eyes refocusing. "He's looking for me."

He gave her a crooked smile that made him look like any normal kid. Then he jumped from the roof to the window with abandon that would have given his mother, if he'd had one, a minor heart attack. Sara wondered as she followed him more sedately if he was so reckless simply because he was a boy or if he was already being trained to be fearless. Their route this time was more direct as Ian led her back to the study. As they paused outside the closed door she brushed her hand over his head again, not sure which of them she was trying to reassure.

"You really were a cute kid," she said wryly. "And you better not remember I said that."

"Yes, ma'am," he replied with a weak grin of his own.

"Now remember, the next time we meet I won't recall any of this. Please don't be upset if I seem… cranky."

"It won't have happened yet for you," he nodded. "I'll remember for both of us."

There was a sudden tightness in her chest as she watched him square his shoulders and turn toward the door. Perhaps it was knowing what he would have to look forward to, or rather what he would have to endure over the next few decades that made her heart ache for him. Perhaps it was the knowledge that this bright, openhearted child would deliberately be turned into a sociopath. Perhaps it was even because for the first time she felt as though she understood him, and now she understood the dejected look that had come to his eyes every time she had insulted him. This was the first encounter with her that he remembered. Their next meeting would be a cruel disappointment for him. On impulse she bent and kissed his forehead. He gave her another half-smile and reached for the doorknob.

Irons was seated before the fireplace once again. Ian crossed the room to stand in front of him as he had been doing when Sara first arrived. Her hands tightened reflexively into fists as the boy resumed the subservient posture that she was really beginning to despise.

"Is she still here?" Irons asked in his deceptively gentle tone.

"I don't know," Ian replied. It was an honest answer, she mused. She was standing behind him, so for all he knew she could have vanished already.

"What is her name?"

"I did not ask." He might be incapable of lying, Sara thought, but he had no qualms about being creative with the truth.

"What did she want?"

"I don't think she wanted anything. I think the Witchblade brought her."

"Then what did the Witchblade want, Ian?"

"I'm not sure that anyone ever knows what the Witchblade truly wants."

Irons pursed his lips and Sara was almost amused to see that he was quickly growing frustrated with Ian's scrupulously truthful answers. The only thing that kept her from taking pleasure in seeing him thwarted was her concern for Ian once Irons had tired completely of the boy's willful misdirection.

"What could the Witchblade possibly desire from a seven-year-old who continues to neglect his studies?"

"Seven?" Sara murmured.

Ian's head turned a mere fraction of an inch, but it was enough. Irons' backhand drew blood as his ring caught the edge of Ian's jaw.

"She is still here," Irons said, his voice disturbingly calm. When Ian remained silent Irons' hand rose again. Knowing that reprisal against the man would be pointless, Sara reached forward to pull the boy out of harm's way. Somehow, without moving, he eluded her grasp. She looked down at the blood on her hand. She looked at her coffee mug.

The coffee was cold, it was dark outside, and the blinking light on the answering machine was undoubtedly Jake. Looking out the window she could see a silhouette on the fire escape. She crossed to the window and climbed out onto the landing. Nottingham was standing there as she'd known he would be; hands folded, chin to chest. She reached up, knowing also that he would make no move to oppose her, and bent his head toward her. Her fingers found the small ragged scar at the edge of his jaw. She placed a light kiss on his forehead then released him.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have teased you. Not then."

He looked at her in bafflement for a long moment. Then a faint crooked smile appeared. "I shouldn't have told you I was eight," he said. "You finally went."

"Yeah," she nodded. "Guess it's time for that long talk now, huh?"

* * * *

end