The Torchwood Hub was quiet, the lights dim. Alun Llewellyn came up from the vaults where he had been feeding the prisoners – three resident weevils and two adolescent Antarians waiting to be picked up by their den parent after their raid on a Spar depot to fulfil their craving for sugar had taken Torchwood’s whole day shift to sort out.
There was only one bright light in the central Hub. It was in Jack’s office. Alun went to the kitchen and made coffee for two then headed for the only other Human in the complex this night.
“Hi,” he said. Jack didn’t respond at first. He was like a being trapped in a time bubble a few seconds behind the rest of the world.
Or a man so wrapped up in his own thoughts he didn’t notice anything or anyone else.
He had a large box on the desk and was sorting through it. Alun put the cup of coffee at his right hand side and started to back away.
“It’s all right,” Jack said, looking up. “I think I could do with some company. I’ll get into too much of a downer if I’m left alone with my thoughts for much longer.”
He packed his collection of memorabilia back into the box. Alun tried not to be too observant about what was obviously private to Jack, but he couldn’t help noticing that it was mostly letters and postcards from the First World War.
“There is so much stuff on TV and all over the place about the hundredth anniversary,” Alun commented. “It must bring back memories for you.”
“The last survivor of Verdun,” Jack responded dryly.
“Ianto told me… you used to talk to him about it… when you were below together…. You told him about the war.”
“Not exactly bedtime stories.”
“He said you didn’t hold anything back about how ugly it was.”
“Is that what you want? A story from long ago to pass the graveyard shift away?”
“Ianto also said he thought it was good for you – that sometimes you needed to talk about your past with somebody who was ready to listen.”
“Bring the coffee pot in,” Jack decided. “This could take more than one cup.”
Jack leaned back in his chair and the faraway expression was in his eyes again. Alun went to get the coffee. When he returned and sat down at the other side of the desk Jack half smiled and refilled his mug before starting to talk.
“I wasn’t really thinking about the war tonight,” he began. “This was afterwards, after I got back to Cardiff and found everything just too different to settle down easily. In the summer of 1920 I was still feeling restless so I took a leave of absence from Torchwood and went back to the Continent. I hired a motor bike and just travelled around, doing odd jobs for food, looking for the places where we’d fought… where good men had ‘gone over the top’ into bloody massacres.”
Exactly what prompted him to seek out those places was hard to pinpoint. Part of it was guilt, because he had survived the slaughter. Part of it was the sort of loneliness that so often prompted him to stand on high buildings for long periods of time with only his own dark thoughts for company. But there was much more to his need to keep moving, something he still couldn’t define nearly a century later.
He had reached the southern, French speaking, part of Belgium where stone quarrying along the navigable parts of the River Meuse had gone on since the boats that navigated it were hollowed out tree trunks. Communities had grown up there over centuries made prosperous by the natural elements around them – the stones hewn from the ground and the river that carried them away.
But four years of asset stripping by the German occupiers had left every industry in Belgium in ruins. Towns and villages still bore the scars of battle, both in ruined buildings and the numbers of widows and orphans created by periodic massacres of men taken from among the population as object lessons to potential resistance fighters.
Jack travelled among these ruined communities, still looking for something he couldn’t even name until one night when his journey was interrupted violently and painfully.
The unlit road ran along the top of a wide gorge that the Meuse had carved for itself over the millennia. He was aware of lights below, in the gorge itself – more of those sad villages where life was only slowly regaining a foothold. Ahead there was a large, looming structure that was marked on the map as a medieval fort. The road went by it, but Jack didn’t. The front wheel of his motor bike struck something, possibly a fallen stone from the fort, battered for one more time in its history by German artillery and left even more ruined than before. The bike was carried forward by its own momentum, but it was out of control and before he could gather his thoughts Jack was falling, along with the bike, over the high cliffside. He knew it was going to hurt. He knew it was going to be fatal.
He woke in a soft bed with cool sheets beneath him and a warm blanket tucked around his body. Somebody was pressing a cup to his lips. There was hot chocolate in it. It tasted good.
“ Je suis heureux que vous êtes éveillé. Vous avez été inconscient pendant une journée entière.”
“You are American?” the voice switched to English. He looked up to see a handsome man in his mid-forties. He had light brown hair and hazel eyes. He was dressed in black with a dog collar signifying that he was a priest.
“I….” He looked up at the priest and shook his head. “I don’t know. I can’t remember… I can’t remember anything.”
“Amnésie?” the priest queried. “You don’t even know your own name?”
“Nothing.” The blankness in his mind frightened him. He knew he must have had a life before this moment of awakening to the taste of chocolate. He knew that the taste WAS chocolate. He knew what a priest was. He knew that the loose garment he was wearing under the blankets was a nightshirt.
But he didn’t know who he was, or where he came from, or where he was right now.
“Why do you think I am American?” he asked.
“You speak French with an American accent,” the priest answered. “You also speak English with an American accent. Many Americans and British came here when the Germans were pushed back.”
He knew what a German was, and there was an echo in his mind of war, the sounds of guns, near and far, the colours of mud and blood. He felt he had been one of those Americans who had fought.
“You are in Belgium,” the priest said. “In Ville sur Meuse, a place so small its name simply means Village on the Meuse. This is the presbytery of L'église Saint-Jacques. The men who found you brought you here because it was closer than the home of our village doctor. It seems that you and your motor bike crashed over the cliff and landed on the riverside. The bike was a burnt out wreck. You were found half in the water - everything that might have identified you was destroyed. It was a miracle that you were alive. Indeed, we thought you far closer to death when you were carried here. I gave you the Last Rites before Doctor Mathieu told us that you had no broken bones or internal organs damaged and that you just needed warmth and comfort to recover.”
“Last Rites? I may not be Catholic.”
Strange again that he should understand the subtleties of Christian denominations without knowing his own name.
“I took a chance that your soul would not find a prayer and a blessing objectionable in extremis,” the priest answered. “I am Father Paul-Henrí Dubois. Perhaps we should call you Jacques after our patron – Saint James in your tongue – until we know who you really are?”
“Jacques?” He tested the name on his lips. It felt all right. “Yes, I can be Jacques. But Father….”
“You may call me Henrí. ‘Father’ always sits strangely on me when men of my own age use it.”
“Henrí,” the newly baptised Jacques repeated. “Thank you for all you have done for me. I must have inconvenienced you greatly.”
“Not at all. The presbytery was intended to have at least three priests living here. I live here alone. You need at least another two or three days of bed rest and a week or so, perhaps convalescing with some healthy walks in the countryside. I shall be glad of your company. In the meantime somebody will miss you and make inquiries, or your memory will return and we can contact your people.”
The matter seemed to be settled. Henrí told him to get a little more sleep and promised to bring him food later. Jacques laid his head on the pillow and closed his eyes. In the quiet room he tried to piece together his past, but it remained elusive. He couldn’t even remember the accident except in a few fragments of pain and noise.
He slept because he needed to sleep. He woke in the lamplight after dark. Henrí was there again with the promised food – a meat stew with bread rolls.
“My housekeeper prepared the meal before she went home,” the priest said as he watched his guest eat. “She told me to make sure you eat it all. You need your strength.”
“I am hungry,” Jacques admitted. “I will eat it. If you have anything else more important to do, don’t let me keep you.”
“I have nothing more to do. I have said the evening Mass already. The church is locked up. I can sit with you and talk. Perhaps your memory may be triggered by conversation.”
“You’ll have to start things off. I don’t know what to talk about. Maybe… you could tell me about yourself. How did you become a priest?”
“It… felt like the right thing to do… to help Belgium recover from the war. I was going to be a lawyer, but the law was crushed beneath the boots of the invaders. Instead, I chose to care for the souls of the people.”
“So you’ve only been a priest for a short time?”
“Yes. But priests were killed by the Germans as well as ordinary men. Those of us who went through the seminary had no time to get our feet wet. We had to drive straight in. The Bishop sent me to this village and I have been doing my best since then.”
“What do you do for them?” Jacques asked.
“I pray for them,” Henrí said. “And with them. I pray for all the people of this village, and for Belgium. I… will pray for you, my friend.”
“Thank you,” Jacques answered. What else could he say? Deep down he felt that he had little faith in prayer. Perhaps he never had. But he couldn’t argue with the man who had taken him in when he was lost in every way.
Henrí prayed for him, and with him, before he left him for the night. Jacques slept again.
He woke to the sound of a tray being placed by his bedside. It wasn’t Henrí this time but a woman in an apron. She was in her late thirties with a tired, careworn look but might have been beautiful in her youth. She smiled warmly at him and told him to eat his breakfast.
“You… must be the housekeeper? Henrí mentioned you.”
“I am Yvette Dupont,” she said. “Father Dubois said that you lost your memory.”
“That must be difficult to bear.”
“It is troubling. I don’t know anything about myself. I don’t know what I might have done in the past or what sort of man I am. I could be married….”
Yvette took his hands in hers and looked at them. there were no rings or marks where a ring had been.
“Your hands are well cared for, but you have done manual work with them,” she said. “Perhaps you are a craftsman of some kind, but not a common labourer. Your face is only lightly tanned. You don’t have the deep colour and texture of an outdoor labourer.”
“That only tells me what kind of occupation I had. But my character… I could have been cruel. I could have been a thief or a murderer.”
“I don’t think so. You look kind.”
Jacques smiled wryly.
“Yes, I know. That doesn’t really mean anything. But I wonder if you have really forgotten everything?" From that quite innocuous conversation Jacques was surprised when she bent to kiss him on the lips while her hand took his and pressed it between her warm thighs. He breathed in deeply as he felt the top of her stockings, smooth except where the suspenders were clipped on and the bare flesh before the knicker leg began.
“I have been a widow since the beginning of the war,” she whispered. “A woman has needs….”
Like eating and drinking, like speaking French and English - both with an American accent - sex was instinctive. He didn't have to remember what to do. Besides, she was making all the moves. Her hands reached to push up the nightshirt and help his instincts along. By the time she had thrown off most of her own clothes and straddled his thighs he was ready to enjoy and to be enjoyed.
“Wow!” Alun was about to pour another cup of coffee, but he put down the pot before he spilled it. “Seriously? That was… fast… apart from anything else.”
“Yes,” Jack agreed. He smiled in a way only he could ever smile when remembering sexual encounters. “It wasn’t exactly my best performance, either. But I didn’t know that at the time. For all I knew, I was a virgin before then.”
“That’s an interesting concept,” Alun concluded. “Given that it must be a VERY long time since you lost your virginity for the FIRST time.”
“That’s another story entirely,” Jack answered. “But Yvette… was nice… warm… soft… as well as unexpected.
Afterwards he lay in the bed, warm and contented, if still a little surprised by the turn of events. Yvette dressed herself again.
"Eat your breakfast now, chéri," she said as she went to the bedroom door. “Then sleep again.”
He ate the breakfast, but he didn’t sleep. He had slept for more than twenty-four hours now apart from a few hours talking to Henrí. He got up out of the bed and went to the window. There was a seat there and he sat for a while looking out at what would have been a picturesque place if it were not for the obvious signs of war that still clung to it – a row of ruined houses that had been shelled, cracked and missing windows in almost every house, a badly repaired bomb crater in the road leading east along the river.
There were people going about their business. They looked poor and tired. Even the young people looked tired.
He turned from the window and looked into the big wardrobe in the corner of the room. Amongst a collection of spare cassocks there were some serviceable casual trousers and shirts and some old boots that fitted. He dressed himself and went downstairs. He heard Yvette in the kitchen but he wasn’t sure how to begin a new conversation with her after all that had passed between them. He went the other way, finding the study and drawing room empty. A strong door with a latch led to a cool corridor with holy paintings and statues lining the walls. That, in turn, led into the church.
Here, again, there were signs of the ravages of war. Two sections of the stained glass window in the east wall were entirely missing. Other windows were cracked. The chalices on the altar were wood and pewter where even a country church ought to have had gold or silver in pride of place. An invading army would not care about the sanctity of a church when there were easy pickings to be had.
Henrí was wearing vestments and a stole over his cassock and giving Communion to a handful of women and two old men. Jacques sat at the back of the church and watched quietly, his head down as if in prayer, though in fact he was only thinking deeply.
It struck him that Henrí was speaking in Latin, and that he understood the words. He looked up and around at phrases beneath the Stations of the Cross and in the undamaged window decorations. He could read Latin, too.
He understood French, English and Latin? How and where did he become such a linguist?
“Mon ami…” He looked up to see Henrí offering a Communion wafer to him. He took it on his tongue as the other people had done and received a blessing. He didn’t know if he was entitled to do so, nor did Henrí, but he gave it to him anyway.
After the final prayer and blessing the communicants filed out of the church. Henrí cleaned the plate and cup and put away the unused wafers in the tabernacle. Then he turned and came back to where Jacques was sitting.
“You were meant to get bed rest again, today.”
“I feel fine. I don’t even ache as much as I did yesterday, and I don’t think I need any sleep.”
“Let me change out of my vestments, then, and I will conduct you in a walk around the parish. You may as well meet some of my neighbours and parishioners.”
He went into the vestry and returned after a few minutes in the simple black cassock and collar of everyday wear. He had a small bag containing bread and cheese and two bottles of beer as well.
“We might see something of the countryside, too,” he said. “And eat a quiet lunch.”
That suited Jacques. He felt that he liked Henrí. He would like to spend time in his company other than as a bed-ridden patient.
It didn’t take long to see all there was of the village. The church was the largest building in it. There was a huddle of shops – a boulangerie, a grocer, a butcher. There was a blacksmith, a tannery and cobblers each depending on each other for raw materials and tools. There was a school with children in the yard doing a P.E. lesson.
Beyond that centre were a few homes close up together, then further apart as they left the village and were into the countryside. Henrí took an unmade path towards the riverbank itself and they walked upstream for an hour or so, enjoying the peace, the sounds of birds and the rush of the water in the river.
“There ought to be more sounds,” Henrí said. “Before the war there was a thriving quarry producing the finest bluestone in the valley. The Germans stripped all of the cutting and lifting equipment, took all of the explosives, of course, lest they be used for sabotage. There was nothing left, not even a shovel.”
“I couldn’t help noticing that there are far more women than men in the village,” Jacques said. “Is that….”
“Some went to fight and didn’t come back,” Henrí confirmed. “Others… I wasn’t here. I only heard of it afterwards – the Germans lined up the men, ten at a time until they had shot two hundred of them. Husbands, fathers, sons - workers from the quarry, farmers. They did it in retaliation for some resistance fighting twenty miles away. They left many widows – Yvette is one of them.”
“Yes….” Jacques remarked. “She said so.”
Henrí looked at him as if he was reading his thoughts about his sexual encounter with the housekeeper, but he said nothing about it.
Later, when they had walked another mile and stopped to drink the beer and eat some of the cheese, Henrí touched on the subject of sex in an oblique way.
“This dearth of young, fit men,” he said. “You will be popular with the single women. They will find reasons to ask for your help in their gardens or their homes.”
“Do you think so?”
“I am sure of it. If I were not a priest, I have little doubt I would be married by now. There is a need.”
He made light of it, but it was not entirely a joke, and in the next few days Jacques found his days filled just as Henrí predicted. He was asked to help weed an allotment of vegetables, to help fix a roof, to move barrels in the cellar of the local pub run by a buxom woman in her early forties called Michelle Lenoir.
And when he had weeded the garden, he was invited to have a glass of beer in the kitchen, and shortly after was invited to have sex with the woman of the house on the well-scrubbed kitchen table. After he came down from the roof he was taken to look at a damp patch on the bedroom wall and didn’t leave the bed for three hours afterwards. Madame Lenoir plied him with wine and let him take her standing against a barrel of cider in the cellar.
Within a fortnight he had repaired five roofs, three garden sheds, weeded a half a dozen gardens, painted an outhouse, and had sex with nearly every woman over the age of consent in the village. A lot of them were widows, like Yvette, who brought him breakfast in bed every morning and took pleasure in his company either before or after he ate it. Some of them had husbands, but were clearly desperate for something new and different.
Inbetween becoming the village handyman and the other services he offered, he spent a lot of quiet time with Henrí. He always tried to go to the Communion service in the morning. He still didn’t know if he was religious or not, but he felt something deep in the act of taking the Host from Henrí. It was another puzzle about his life.
Other times they walked together in the afternoon, enjoying the beauty of the Meuse valley. Several times they walked past the place where Jacques had been found at the foot of a sheer cliff. Often they both looked up to where the old fort rose even higher and wondered at the miracle of his survival.
One day they went a different direction and climbed up part of the cliff along a steep but manageable path to a place known locally as ‘the crater’.
“It was a meteorite, I believe,” Henrí explained about the rubble strewn hole. “It came down in late October of 1916. The people were used to artillery fire by then and thought nothing of it at first. But the heat of what buried itself deep in that hole must have been far beyond anything made in a munitions factory.”
Jacques agreed. There was a glassy sheen to the edge of the hole as if the rock had been melted and then set hard again as it cooled. Artillery shells didn’t do that.
“I think of it as an example of God’s true power – a power beyond that of mortal men,” Henrí said as they walked on, looking for a more comfortable place to sit and eat the food they had brought with them this afternoon. They found such a spot in a secluded niche at the base of the cliff where the grass had not been grazed short by animals and there was shelter from any wind. “If He wanted to, He could destroy all of Mankind for our warring and destructive nature.”
“You WOULD think that,” Jacques answered him with a wry smile. “Do the ordinary people share your view?”
“Many of them do,” Henrí answered. “But most believe it was the bringer of a curse to the village.”
“A curse? You don’t believe in curses, do you?”
“No, but that is something else about this village. Have you noticed there are no infants in Ville. There have been no babies born in this parish since the autumn of 1916. The people believe that the meteorite made the men sterile. But I don’t believe that is the whole truth. If it is, then it affected the German soldiers passing through the valley, too, because they raped as many women here as anywhere else but this is the only village on either side of the river that doesn’t have its portion of bastards from the occupation.”
Jacques was puzzled, but Henrí assured him he was not the only one who found that odd. One day, perhaps, God would lift the curse. Until then, the women of Ville with their empty cradles told each other that this ruined country was no place to raise children in and they were the fortunate ones.
“Sad,” Jacques commented.
“Very sad,” Henrí agreed. “It… might also account for your popularity with the women.”
Jacques looked at Henrí and remembered that he was a priest. Not that it wasn’t obvious by his clothes and his way of talking as if God was his closest confidant, but when they were alone, Jacques had got used to thinking of him as his own nearest man friend.
“I know,” Henrí told him. “Because almost all of them have come to Confession at some point and admitted their indiscretion. The only one who hasn’t is Yvette. I think she has gone to Confession in the next village when she visits her sister and told her sins to another priest.”
“I… am sorry if I have let you down.”
“You haven’t,” Henrí assured him. “Yes, I know I should put a stop to it. The Seventh Commandment is not the only edict in the Holy Bible against sexual intercourse. Corinthians has much to say about sins of the flesh, and many other portions, too.”
“But I can’t. Because… because I understand why the women are attracted to you. I cannot condemn them or you for what I long to share in.”
Jacques didn’t speak for a long time. He wasn’t entirely sure if he heard his friend – the parish priest – clearly. Then he felt his hand caress his cheek and felt his lips hesitantly pressing against his own.
“Henrí, you are a priest," Jacques protested when that kiss ended.
"I am a man," Henrí added. “And one who has certain feelings. When I told you my reasons for becoming a priest… they were true. But they were not the only reasons. I thought celibacy would be a way of suppressing the urges I knew I had for men – for friends at university, for my comrades when I was in the Belgian army, even one of my roommates at the Seminary. But denial doesn’t make such feelings go away, and since you have come into my life, it is so much harder.”
“Henrí… are you saying that you are jealous of the women I have had sex with because you want to….”
“Have I shocked you?”
“No. It’s just… I don’t know if I have ever….”
“I know I haven’t, but I have wanted to. Even if we don’t… it is a relief to tell you how I feel… and to… to reach out and hold you.”
Henrí embraced him fondly and they kissed again, this time less hesitantly, and with mutual affection and want in the kiss.
“Tonight, after I have said the evening Mass, when we are quite alone in the house….” Henrí whispered.
“Yes,” Jacques said. “Though I think we should be in our own beds by morning. Yvette will be disappointed if I am not waiting for her.”
“Jack!” Alun was wide eyed with astonishment. He had a pretty active sex life himself with Ianto, and he knew Jack had given a whole new meaning to the word ‘promiscuous’ before he settled down to domestic bliss with Garrett, but this seemed like an excess of sex even for him.
“Yes,” he admitted. “I was pretty busy, making love to Henrí at night, Yvette in the morning, and any number of lonely and dissatisfied Ville women during the day. It was one hell of a summer.”
Jacques was happy in a curious kind of way – not so much because of the sex offered to him at every turn, but because he felt needed. Henrí needed him in a desperate, hungry, and slightly guilty way. It often seemed wrong for him to come from the church where he led the prayer, read the Word of God, preached to the people, gave communion, and then to take a lover to his bed. But he could no more give up the physical joy of sex with Jacques than his equally desperate widowed housekeeper could.
Jacques asked him once if he had confessed his sins to anyone. Henrí admitted that he had not yet had the nerve to do so.
“God knows what is in my heart,” he said. “I make my confession to Him. But I can’t stop myself sinning in that way with you. I love you, Jacques.”
Yes, that was true. And Jacques loved Henrí above all of his other sexual conquests. But they both knew they had to be living on borrowed time. One day their affair would have to end.
“I might remember who I really am,” he said once as he lay in his lover’s arms in the warm aftermath of their mutually satisfying lovemaking. “I might have to leave. You might get reported to the Bishop for being a shameless sodomite.”
“Then we should make the most of the time we have,” Henrí answered him. “Besides, the sin of Sodom was inhospitality, not sex. I have been perfectly hospitable to you.”
“Yes, you have,” Jacques laughed and reached to kiss his lover, making the most of every moment of the quiet, private night that they shared.
The end, when it came, was sudden and tragic, and from neither of the scenarios they had envisaged. It happened during the autumn apple harvest when Jacques had enjoyed quite a lot of open air sexual encounters with fruit-picking girls.
He arrived back at the presbytery one warm evening to discover that Henrí had a visitor. It was one of the village women – Céline Collard. She was crying, and Henrí was trying to comfort her. Jacques hung back at the drawing room door, knowing that he shouldn’t interrupt what was a confidential conversation.
“He said he was going to kill me,” Céline told her parish priest.
“Your husband? But why?”
“Because I am pregnant, and he KNOWS he isn’t the father,” Céline answered. “He couldn’t be, of course.”
Henrí took hold of the young woman’s hand. He glanced once around at the door and his expression was a warning one. Jacques stayed still and made no attempt to enter the room.
“He’ll kill him, too, if he gets hold of him,” Céline added. “He’s so angry.”
“Stay here for a while,” Henrí told her. “When he’s calmed down….”
“You don’t know André,” Céline responded. “He is a proud man. I should not have done what I did. But… but I wanted….”
She sobbed again. Henrí waited until she was ready to talk.
“I’m not the only one,” she said. “At least half of the women in Ville are pregnant, now. Even your housekeeper, Yvette… and Louise Gillard.”
“Louise Gillard is fifty years old,” Henrí remarked in astonishment. “Surely…”
Jacques remembered Louise. She was older than most of the women who had offered themselves to him, but eminently more experienced.
He was thinking about his afternoon in Louise Gillard’s warm bed when the back of his head was blasted off with both barrels of a shotgun and oblivion overwhelmed him.
When he woke, he was lying in front of the altar in the dark church. Candles flickered around him. He turned his head and was aware of dried blood and brain tissue matted in his hair.
He was aware of a great many other things, too, but for the moment the most important was Henrí, kneeling by his side, praying in rapid French.
“It’s all right,” he whispered. “I’m alive.”
“That’s why I’m praying,” Henrí answered. “You shouldn’t be. How can you be alive? André Collard shot you in the head. But I have watched your body mend itself. I am a man of God. I believe in miracles. But not like that. I saw enough men die in battle to know it doesn’t happen that way.”
Jacques sat up and reached to hold his lover. Henrí didn’t stop him, but he was still trembling with fright.
“I know everything now,” he said. “I remember who I am, and what I am. It may not come from God, but it is a sort of miracle. Believe in it, Henrí, and be thankful for it.”
“I am thankful,” he whispered. “But… Oh, mon dieu. André…. He is dead. He was taken by the men of the village… on the urging of the women… and they lynched him. I tried to stop them, but they would not listen.”
“Céline?” Jacques asked.
“Louise Collard took her in. She was in a state of shock. Doctor Mathieu put her under sedation to protect the baby.”
“Is it true… that I have made so many of them pregnant?”
“Apparently so. It was… all part of a concerted plan. Many of the husbands were in on it. They were prepared to let their wives commit adultery in order to have a child. You… an outsider… could do that for them.”
“I thought they liked me for my astonishing good looks and sparkling personality.”
“Don’t be disappointed,” Henrí told him. “It’s wrong… utterly wrong… but you’ve made all of those women very happy. Even Céline… she has the consolation of her baby when she recovers from the distress.”
“Henrí….” Jacques said quietly. “You know I will have to go, now. I’m supposed to be dead. I can’t show my face in this village again.”
“Tomorrow,” Henrí said. “Before dawn. We’ll both go – we’ll walk to Dinant. There’s a railway station there. You can get a train to Líege and from there… you can go wherever you need to go.”
“Tomorrow…. What about tonight?”
“Tonight….” Henrí reached out to embrace him. “Tonight I’m not a priest. I’m just… just your lover, Jacques.”
“Jack,” he corrected him. “That’s my name. Call me that when we make love.”
They rose from the marble floor of the church and walked hand in hand back to the presbytery. They went to the bedroom knowing that time was running out and they had to make every moment of their lovemaking count.
“So you left him in the morning?” Alun asked.
“We kissed goodbye on the train station. It was quiet. There was nobody to see us. When I got to Líege I contacted Torchwood. They got me home. I went back to the life I knew before the war. I never had any further contact with Henrí. We both knew it had to end.”
“And the women… the babies?”
“I didn’t really know until parish registers began to be digitalised and put onto computers,” he said. “I found out that I had been the father of fifty-five babies, including three sets of twins, born in the early part of 1921. They were the first children born in the village since 1916. They weren’t the last. I’d been there long enough to absorb some of the alien radiation that the meteorite was spilling out. Due to my unique biology it didn’t affect me, but I was able to analyse it. I arranged for a team to go to Belgium and neutralise the effect. Ville became fertile again.”
“The Germans invaded again in 1939,” Alun reminded him. “So I don’t suppose it was entirely a happy ending for all?”
“I couldn’t change that,” Jack admitted. “Even if I had stayed in contact, there would have been nothing I could do. But I couldn’t, any more than I could stay in contact with Henrí. It was better for them all if I left them alone.”
“It wasn’t better for you, though? It sounds like you really loved Henrí.”
“I’ve loved a lot of people,” Jack answered. “I’ve had to leave a lot of them behind.”
Jack sat back and sipped his coffee. Alun knew that was all he had to say about his summer in Belgium. He drank his own coffee and thanked his blessings that he wasn’t immortal.