Another Time, Another Place

Fandom: Sleepy Hollow (What else?)
Pairing: Hans (Hessian) / Jacob (Ichabod)
Rating: We’ll see ...
Okay, I’ll keep it short this time.

When he boarded the train, he was thinking of nothing special, except perhaps the horse he wanted to have a look at, and which he would probably buy, if he found it as promising as its current owner said it was, and the price was acceptable. The photos on the internet looked good, and the man sounded reliable, although the seller’s name was not familiar to him. Had it been otherwise, he would not be sitting in the train now. He had a good name among horse breeders, having been in the business for a long time now. What people called a long time. What was it – fifteen years? Yes, fifteen years since he had come back to his home country and had started to breed racehorses. He really liked this profession, having loved horses all his life, which he had begun under the same name and in the same town where he lived now. No one remembered him from old times, though, because he had been born 265 years ago. And until his death forty years later, which had not prevented him from living on, he had come to know the value of a good horse.

He disliked cars, this was why he went by train. It was more expensive, but money was no longer an issue. It was far more comfortable. Travelling by train allowed him to see the scenery flying by, to watch his fellow passengers, or just to follow his thoughts. Having lived so long, he had learned to savour quiet moments.

The compartment door was opened, and a nondescript man in a grey suit, carrying an expensive attaché case, looked in, sat down in the seat across the aisle, next to the door, mumbled something which could pass for a “good morning”, took out a newspaper which he unfolded noisily, and started to read. Slowly, the train began to move, picking up speed when it left the station.

The traveller looked out of the window, where a maze of crossing railway lines wove a puzzling pattern. Pylons flew past, lined by ugly factory and office buildings. His gaze wandered idly away from the window, round the compartment and took in the frontpage headline of his fellow passenger’s paper. War again. There was always a war going on somewhere. He had fought in a fair share of wars, three in the last century alone, and he was tired of it. Modern warfare with wide-range nuclear missiles and biological weapons sickened him, although he harboured no illusions about the human race. This world was a training camp for souls, and people could be as healthy, well-fed and well-clothed as they were now and live almost twice as long as they had lived two hundred years ago – at least in the parts of the world he had lived in – they would always find a reason to wage war on their fellowmen.

His mobile rang. It was Marie, his assistant, telling him that Donata’s foal had arrived just now and was in a healthy condition according to the vet. A male. And what about the name? “Daredevil.” he said, thanked her and ended the call. He smiled to himself. There had always been a Daredevil among his horses, and there would always be one. He opened the small briefcase he carried with him, took out a few horse magazines and began to read, only looking up when the conductor asked for his ticket. The train stopped at the next station, and the man in the grey suit folded his paper and went out, considerately closing the compartment door behind him. It was opened soon afterwards, when the next fellow passenger arrived. This was a plump elderly man, asking nervously whether there was a free seat, although obviously no seat apart from that of our traveller was taken, and there were no badges at the outside of the compartment, indicating a reservation. “Come in.” the traveller invited the elderly man and smiled, whereupon the other grabbed his bags and fled. The teeth again, of course. They had been sharpened to points. He had committed this foolishness almost 250 years ago, a strong, swaggering youth, thinking of himself as dangerous and invincible. He had done it to frighten people away then and sometimes it happened even now, although less than maybe fifty years ago, before young people had started to idolise wildly made-up musicians and actors and piercings and tattoos had come into fashion. It had become a rare thing thus that he was harassed because of his looks or his sexual preferences, and those few who had tried, lived to tell the story. The worst thing he had done lately was to give some really nasty boys a few broken noses and limbs. They had been high on something very bad and had not stopped when he had warned them off. They had not known that he had been killed after a life as a feared mercenary, and that he had been trained to fight over the centuries. His latest training had been in martial arts. The idea that these methods had been developed by Buddhist monks and nuns and were designed for self-defence only, appealed to him. He avoided killing these days.

But he had fiercely refused Marie’s suggestion that he should have his teeth capped. Marie had not only been his assistant for over ten years, she also had become one of his few friends over the years. He had come to cherish true friendship over the centuries. It was just painful to lose friends, either because they could not come to terms with what he was, with how he would not become old and die, or because time passed and they just died. He remained aloof and distant to most people, appearing proud and arrogant, just because he did not like to become too close to someone and then having to let him go. This was also the reason why he avoided a permanent relationship to another man and preferred one-night stands – He had stared at Marie and had told her in a dangerously low voice to mind her own business, when she had brought up the subject of his teeth, and he had seen naked fear in her face. There had been a time when he had enjoyed the terror he had evoked in people, but nowadays he did no longer, and he deeply regretted having estranged his assistant. He feared he had not only lost a valuable co-worker but also a close friend.

After thinking it over for two days, he had apologised for reacting that way to her well-meant suggestion, and she had apologised for having overstepped the mark. No hard feelings remained. It had been a strange, new experience for him to ask someone’s forgiveness ...

He had returned to his reading, when the compartment door was opened again. Looking up at the new passenger and being sucked into a whirl of reminiscences and emotions was a thing of one moment, although he outwardly remained completely calm.

The new arrival was a young man, perhaps in his mid-twenties, maybe younger. He wore a black blazer, a white tee-shirt, black jeans and Doc Martens. His finely chiselled pale face with high cheekbones, full lips and dark eyes, framed by a mass of unruly black hair, looked concentrated and serious. He was beautiful, but seemed not to be aware of it or did not care.

Our traveller knew that souls come back to this world again and again, taking on new bodies, making new experiences. He had accepted that he had been taken out of that circle of death and rebirth for an indefinite time. It was part of his own special training. One day he would be able to join the cycle of death and rebirth again. He had met people again whom he had known in one of their former lives. He had recognised them even if they looked completely different now, sometimes even when they had changed their gender. And some of them had recognised him as well. Never before, however, had he seen someone look exactly as he had looked in a former life ... He had also come to believe that everything happened for a reason, that something was to be learned from it. So he asked himself what was to be learned from the given situation: To meet again, of all people, the young man who had restored him to a life (or death) of his own by giving his head back to him, by releasing the souls of the people he had killed while being under a spell, by taking him to New York, sharing his first of a row of existences – the one as a policeman at the beginning of the 19th century. They had had thirty good years together – wonderful years, until Ichabod (this had been the young constable’s name) had caught pneumonia and did not survive the long, harsh winter of 1831. He had buried the man whom he had loved with all his heart and had gone westwards to a new existence, taking on identity after identity, changing names and professions, wandering restlessly, learning. While the years, decades and centuries passed and he met people again he had known in one of their former lives, he had begun to wonder whether he would ever meet Ichabod again and recognise him, and he had not known whether to wish for it or better not.

Now it had happened, when he had least thought of it. He had connected his lover with the New World, and had not expected to meet him again in Europe – quite illogical, when he came to think of it. And the boy looked exactly as more than two hundred years ago, when he had first seen him, really seen him, when the Young One had broken the spell...

There was no doubt about it. It was not just wishful thinking. The young man sitting across the aisle was not some youngster just looking a bit like the man he had loved so deeply – he was Ichabod Crane. And a total stranger, who had never seen him in his life and would not remember him.

Damn it, why did this have to happen? The chances for a meeting had been one in a zillion. But here he was, sitting on a train alone in one compartment with a young man whom he had never been able to forget. There was something to be learned from this situation. Probably the lesson was that history does not repeat itself he would have to let Ichabod go. Finally. But had he not done this a long time ago? Had it not been enough to see him die all winter long, wasting away, burning with fever, racked by horrible fits of coughing, gasping for air? Had it not been enough? Why, damn it, why torment him now, tearing up old wounds, giving him new ones? He looked at his watch, forcing his hand not to tremble. The train was on time, so there was another half hour to go to the town where he would get off.

He felt he would be unable to stand being with the young man in one compartment for another half hour. He could not tell the young man who he was and what they had meant to each other, without risking being held for harassment or having his brain examined. It was too much. Johannes Hardenberg, once known as the Hessian Horseman, was about to flee for the first time in the 265 years of his existence. He got up, hastily gathered his belongings, and intended to pass the young man with an apology, when his briefcase slipped away from under his arm, fell down and spilled its contents on the floor.

Jacob Cremer had noticed some time ago that the man sitting at the window across the aisle was looking at him. This happened often, he knew that some people found him attractive. He perceived himself as quite ordinary and found the plump passes made at him merely annoying. Two times it had been even more than just annoying: The man at the bus stop where he had been waiting, driving by a few times, offering him money if he got into the car, and the four guys who had started harassing him one evening when he had been late coming from the library. He had been able to lose them in the maze of the small streets forming the old part of the town where he lived, but his instinct had told him it would have become nasty if they had caught him.

Jacob was shy and withdrawn. His parents had been divorced when he was still very young, and he had been pushed back and forth between them, so he had learned early to rely on himself and nobody else. His dream was to be a medical examiner one day. It appealed to him to be able to give back an identity to the unknown, the forgotten, the nameless. He did not know why he felt drawn to reason and justice in a world that corrupted them both. Perhaps because of that. Deep inside, he also sometimes had a feeling as if he had done a similar thing before ... Anyway, he was working hard to make his dream become reality, having fought his way through fainting and vomiting in anatomy courses at first, but passing his first exams gloriously, now fully studying medicine and law, and making a living from his job at the library. In the eyes of the few fellow students who knew him well enough to qualify as his friends he worked too much and had no fun, and it was obvious what fun they meant. Female company made Jacob awkward, he defined himself as gay. Men appealed to him, although he had not had sex with anyone so far. He knew he would try eventually, but he shied away from the idea of just having anonymous sex in a gay sauna or a bar.

Somehow, his fellow passenger seemed interesting. The man was watching him alright, but it did not offend him. Rather, his look appeared thoughtful and sad. Jacob risked another stealthy look at the man. The guy was attractive. Jacob felt himself blush at the thought.

The man seemed to be in his forties, he was of middle height, well-trained and slender, with wide shoulders. He wore a black leather jacket and corduroy trousers, also black. The blue of his shirt matched his eyes. Strange eyes. Jacob had never seen such deep blue eyes before. The face was attractive, with a high forehead and strong cheekbones, the hair full and black, streaked with grey, neither long nor short. Absentmindedly, the man was raking his fingers through his hair, making it stand on end – and Jacob felt he had seen that gesture before.

He was sure he had never met this man, and yet he seemed familiar. Jacob caught himself thinking how this might be possible. The man must remind him of someone, but he had no idea of whom. A movie actor, perhaps. Sometimes some stranger seemed familiar, and it was just because he looked a bit like an actor or a singer.

He noticed a growing uneasiness in his fellow passenger, although the man tried to appear calm. Jacob became uneasy himself and asked himself what would happen next. The train was on time – for a change – but the next stop was half an hour to go, so this could not be the reason for his fellow passenger’s agitation. Maybe the man had problems at home. It was only to hope that he was not mentally disturbed somehow – but no. His instincts told Jacob that the other man was only sad and felt an inner pressure that seemed to become stronger by the minute.

Suddenly the stranger got up from his seat, took his belongings and made for the compartment door. When he tried to step past Jacob, avoiding the young man’s feet, his briefcase slipped away from under his arm and its contents fell to the floor.

Both men bent down at the same time to gather the spilled papers and magazines. Jacob handed his fellow passengers a magazine, and their fingers touched accidentally.

It was like a mental jolt. Strange images flashed up in Jacob’s inner vision: Fog, bare trees – he saw himself standing next to a gigantic dead tree, wearing some kind of frock coat, holding a human skull in his hands. The skull’s teeth were sharpened to points – he, the young man in the black frock coat, shouted something and threw the skull at a menacingly advancing figure in a long cloak – it seemed to be a kind of warrior, but it had no head –

Jacob saw a hand, his hand. He was sitting on a train, holding out some magazines he had taken up from the floor to hand them back to his fellow passenger who was about to leave the compartment. He looked at the front page of one of the magazines he was holding. A special publication for horse breeders –

“Horseman.” he said, and in the same instant a tall figure on a giant black horse, holding a sword, flashed past his inner vision.

The older man still knelt on the floor, looking up into Jacob’s face, his blue eyes alert like those of an eagle, frightening, inquisitive, longing, hopeful.

“What did you say?”

Jacob did not know why he had said the word, but somehow it sounded right.

“Horseman.” he repeated, and returned in a flash to the scene in the woods. Now he was dimly aware of other figures, a woman lying on the ground, a young woman next to him, a boy – and the warrior who had a head now. His face was that of the man still kneeling on the floor on the train.

And Jacob remembered. He remembered the loneliness, the fight for enlightenment and science in a world of black superstition, the pesky young constable being sent away on a special assignment, his encounter with the world of spirits, leaving him alive and wise, his love for the Horseman, bringing him to – New York it had been – their years together. He had died and come back, and his Horseman was still here –

Suddenly everything went black. But only for a short time. When he opened his eyes again, he was still on the train, and the Horseman, his Horseman, was still kneeling on the floor in front of him, holding his hands, saying a word over and over: “Ichabod.” – Yes, this had been his name then, Ichabod Crane. And the Horseman’s name was –

“Hans.” he said.

It was strange, but no one in the train, passing along the corridor in front of the compartment took any notice of the man kneeling on the floor, holding the hands of another man, young and pretty, both men being deeply engaged in a conversation.

When the train reached the next stop, they got off together, still talking. One of his friends saw Jacob Cremer walking along the platform with an older man and thought that they looked so intimate that they must have known each other for some time. Cremer surely was strange. Why had he never lost a word that he had a boyfriend?

Hans Hardenberg arrived a bit late for his appointment with his colleague who wanted to sell the horse. And he brought a young man with him, who obviously was no business partner and no relative either. But this did not affect the business. Hardenberg did not only prove a man with a great knowledge of horses, but also a hard but fair businessman. The deal was made quickly, and the Horseman and Jacob took a taxi back to town, Hardenberg phoned his assistant telling her he had bought the horse, but, having met an old friend, would not be back today.

Both men did not want to separate so soon after having found each other again. They went to a restaurant Jacob knew. He wanted to hear about how Hans had lived after Ichabod’s death, and Hans told him everything. He did not leave out the bad and the sad stories. If someone had a right to learn about his life, it was this young man, listening eagerly, his fine face expressing sorrow, pity, and joy about what he heard. Then Jacob told Hans the short story of his present life.

“It seems you haven’t changed much.” Hans said. “Still aspiring to work in the same business, having the same ideals.”

“Is that bad?” Jacob asked him.

Hans shook his head. “No. They are good ideals.”

Later on, they took a long walk along the river, both silent now, lost in thoughts.

Hans seemed calm and patient. The situation was more difficult for Ichabod – Jacob – than for him. Although it was hard for him, how things went on would be again for the Young One to decide.! He would accept the decision, and if the boy needed time to decide, he would get all the time in the world.

Jacob felt bewildered and exalted at the same time. It did not shock him to learn that he had lived before. He had read about the subject and found he could accept it. There was much more justice in the idea of having a chance to make up for what you had done wrong in the past. The Horseman’s fate seemed alluring and frightening at the same time – being apparently immortal, living on and on, never ageing, never having to be afraid of being hurt or killed. But Jacob was wise enough to see the other side of the coin: Perhaps it was a blessing to be periodically freed from a physical body? Perhaps it as a mercy to start again with a clean slate, as a helpless baby? A relief to remember a former existence only when there was something to learn from it for the presence?

He remembered having loved the other man deeply in his life as Ichabod, and he had begun to love him again now, after a few hours. Should they resume their relationship? He felt as if they both had to finish a cycle in this life, but it was up to them whether they wanted to do it this time or not.

Jacob only knew one thing for sure. He wanted Hans in his life again, and he sincerely hoped that the other wanted the same thing in regard to him.

They sat down on a bench at the river.

“It is late.” Hans finally said. “Are you tired?”

“No.” Jacob said. “Do you want to go back to the station? Maybe there still is a train going to Frankfurt today, and you will be home when they bring the new horse.”

“Do you want me to go?” Hans asked.

Jacob shook his head. “No. It’s the time between terms, and I don’t have to work tomorrow.”

He paused to take a deep breath. “Would you like to come home with me, to my flat?”

Hans was not surprised to find that Jacob lived in a spacious attic room in an old villa near a large park. There was a mattress on the floor, a big old desk with a computer on it, and books and papers neatly stacked. A small wardrobe in one corner, in the other the replica of a human skeleton, wearing a winter coat, a scarf and a woollen hat. Every free space on the walls was lined with shelves full of books. A door to the right led into a small bathroom with a toilet, a sink and a shower stall, a door to the left opened to a tiny kitchen with just enough room for a small fridge and a cooker. Everything was considerably neat and clean for a male student living alone.

It moved Hans to see how much this flat resembled their first flat in New York – of course there had not been the luxury of a central heating, a kitchen, a bathroom and electricity.

He saw Jacob stand in the middle of his room, shy, awkward, and irresistible.

“Do you want anything to drink?” the young man asked. “I don’t have any beer or wine, I’m afraid –“

Hans smiled, and it comforted Jacob to see the familiar pointed teeth.

“You were never the one to drink.” the older man said. He kissed Jacob, noticing joyfully that the young man returned the kiss shyly, then bolder. How good it was to taste the Young One’s lips again.

They took all the time they needed. There was no hurry. Making love with a man was new to Jacob in this life, and Hans did not want to rush things. He was gentle, kissing, licking and caressing, admiring his lover’s body, enjoying Jacob’s admiring looks. His hands were tender, exploring Jacob’s body, satisfying his need. When Jacob wanted more, he prepared him gently, leaving him a lot of time to adjust. He could do this, he wanted to restrain himself, although he was hungry for the other’s body. He made sure the boy enjoyed his first time, as he enjoyed the slender, glowing body moving beneath him, and the shy, happy smile afterwards.

They rested a bit, and made love again, until Jacob fell asleep in the first hours of the morning, exhausted and satiated.

The Horseman, satisfied himself, felt happy. He knew, a cycle would end. His time in purgatory would be over. He would be able to die and to be reborn again, like other souls. After this life. Would they spend part of it together? Probably. How long would they have together? Who knew? No one ever knew.

What counted for now was the present moment, where he had found his lover again.

*****!