Duncan returned with Ryan in tow. Hugs and cheers abounded. “All charges against Ryan have been dropped. He turned to Ryan. "We have to talk. As for the rest of you, take the rest of the day off with my thanks for a job very well done. You've earned it." To Ryan, he said, "Let's go back to my office."
Once seated in Duncan's office, Duncan began, "As I said in the control room, you're still not off the hook as far as your young man goes."
Ryan's heart skipped a couple of beats as he thought of Ethan. His face fell at the thought of possibly never seeing him again. He knew without a doubt that he was in love with him. He also knew that all evidence of them meeting had been erased from existence. He hung his head to hide the silent tears of his heartbreak. "I love him," he whispered.
"I know you do," Duncan soothed. "He's an exceptional young man." Ryan's head jerked up when he heard this. "Yes, I've met him, and you're going to as well."
"Wait. What? Say that again slowly, please."
"Yes. I'm not sure exactly what's going on, but we have a temporal causality loop happening and somehow the two of you are connected to it."
Ryan slumped back in is chair. “I hate those things. They're a bitch to resolve."
"Tell me about it. I'm convinced about it, though. When I went back and met him it caused a slight restoration in the timeline. I could be way off base here, but I think the two of you are meant to be together somehow and somewhen.”
“Okay, I think I just blew a fuse in my brain. You’re saying that Ethan and I are somehow connected and are supposed to be together?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying. Here’s what I want you to do. Go to the Antique Emporium downtown and pick up a treasure box or something that’s relatively worse for wear, go back to Ethan’s shop and talk to him about restoring it. Money is no object. Strike up a dialog about anything and everything. Get to know him a little. Then come back and we’ll see what effect it’s had on the timeline.”
“Okay, boss,” Ryan readily agreed. There was no keeping the excitement out of his voice.
Chris ducked as a sanding block whizzed past his head. “Okay, Ethan. Who pissed in your cheerios this morning?”
“Aaauuggghhh!” Ethan screamed. “Sorry, Chris. I’m just so frustrated. I keep dreaming about that guy over and over again. It’s driving me nuts.” Looking up as the door opened and Ryan walked in, his mouth hit the floor. “Holy fucking sheepshit, Batman. That’s him! That’s the guy.”
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely.” God, he’s even more gorgeous in person. Extending his hand, he said, “Hi, I’m Ethan. Welcome to my shop. How can I help you today?”
Shaking hands and ignoring the familiar tingle running up his arm, he replied, “Pleased to meet you, Ethan. I’m Ryan. I found this old keepsake box and I was wondering if you would be able to restore it.”
Ethan looked at it, puzzled. He had given the same one to his cousin Sarah for her birthday last month. He bought it brand-new. This is an original. What I gave Sarah must be some kind of reproduction. As he examined the keepsake box to determine what needed and could be done, he spotted an inscription that caused him to look at Ryan in fear and confusion. To Sarah on her 34th birthday with love from Ryan. June 22nd, 2132. “H-h-h-how and w-w-w-where did you get this?”
“I bought it at a place called the Antique Emporium downtown.”
“You couldn’t have. I gave this exact same keepsake box to my cousin last month, and there’s no such place downtown.”
As Ryan took a step forward, Ethan took one backwards. Chris looked on, equally fearful. Ryan said gently, “There is in my time.” Noting the look on both men’s faces, he told them, “You two need to sit before you fall down. Look, I gotta go, but I’ll be back soon. I’ll explain everything then.” He slipped his hand into his pocket, activating his beacon and just got out of the shop when he dematerialized.
“Ethan? Ethan!” Chris jumped forward just as Ethan’s knees gave out. He guided him onto the nearest stool. Taking the keepsake box from him, he, too, noticed the inscription and sunk onto a stool next to Ethan. “What the fuck is going on here?”