Gwen waited beside the helipad at St. Athans air base as the Augusta A109E in military green descended from a pearl grey sky. Even before the rotor blades had stopped, the door opened and Ashley Harkness climbed out. He saw her straight away and ran to the hug she offered him.

“Is it true?” he asked anxiously. “Dad… is he REALLY dying?”

“It looks like it,” Gwen answered. “I’m sorry, I really am, but I think….”

She broke down into tears. She had cried three times already today. This made it four times. Ashley, though he was not quite nineteen, seemed infinitely more grown up as he hugged her a little tighter, giving support to her instead of the other way around.

“There’s a car waiting,” she managed to say eventually. “The same U.N.I.T. strings Martha pulled to get you here. We’re going straight to the hospital.”

They got into the back of a military car with a uniformed army driver. Neither spoke very much. Ashley didn’t know what to say. Gwen didn’t trust herself to speak again without bursting into tears again.

“You love him, don’t you,” Ashley did manage to say as they entered the outskirts of Cardiff city and the gadget that turned red lights green worked just as well on the dashboard of the military car as it did in the Torchwood SUV.

“Love?” Gwen was surprised. She had never really applied that word to Jack. “No… I mean… yes…. No, not the way most people would think of love. He’s my best friend and the most infuriating person I ever met. I never know whether to kiss him or slap him every time I see him. I think you could call that love. I think you could call it marriage. I feel more or less the same about Rhys. But… but… don’t ever tell Rhys that. And certainly don’t tell….”

But nobody could tell Jack anything any more. He was dying.

She had to stop talking because a hard lump was choking off her words.

Jack was dying! The three words sat so impossibly on her lips. How could it possibly be true?

“How did it happen?” That was the question she was dreading him asking, mainly because she had no idea what the answer was, properly.

“I wasn’t there,” she managed to tell him. “I was at home when the crisis began. Jack rang and told me to get out of the city with Rhys and Anwen.”

“Go to your mother’s,” Jack had told her. “You’ll be safe there.”

“My sanity won’t be,” she replied. “You KNOW what it’s like when Rhys and my mum are in the same room. Besides, why are you sending me away? I should be there to help with whatever it is.”

“I’m an old-fashioned male chauvinist pig,” Jack answered. “And I want you safe out of the way with your little girl. Grey and Una are both here at the Hub. In the worst case scenario, they’re safe here. But while you have a chance, you should get away, Gwen.”

“Get away from WHAT, Jack?” Gwen asked, the pitch of her voice rising as she imagined a dozen or more deadly scenarios that could account for Jack’s insistence on her getting out of the city with her family.

He didn’t explain. Of course, he shouldn’t have to. Gwen knew she ought to trust his judgement, and she did. It was just a streak of Welsh stubbornness and female contrariness that made her argue with him.

In the waiting room reserved for the immediate family of patients in the intensive care unit, Ianto Jones was thinking about how events had unfolded only a few hours ago. He was remembering in particular Jack’s frozen expression as he put down the phone after his call to Gwen and turned back to the wall projection showing the position of the six atomic bombs positioned around Cardiff city.

Ianto had known the answer was to his question even before he had asked it.

“There’s no chance it IS a hoax?”

“None whatsoever. Those glowing dots mark the exact positions of radioactive material detected by the alien gismos we use to detect rift activity and other weird stuff. The bombs are real. We have… according to the message… four hours to deal with them. If we fail, then the glow will cover the whole of Cardiff.”

“And they were planted by these Cell 113 members?” Alun asked that question. He had never before encountered the alien ‘sleeper agents’ who lived as Human beings, indistinguishable from them, quite unaware of their real identities until triggered by some turn of events or a coded message of some kind.

“Apparently, yes,” Jack answered. “But it wasn’t them who planned this. They’re just the tools.”

“Then who used them?” Alun asked the question, but Jack didn’t answer it.

“Make no mistake. It’s a trap. It’s all been engineered to get Torchwood out there, dealing with the bombs, putting our lives at risk. But we don’t have any choice. Those are atomic bombs. Just one of them could devastate this city and kill millions. We have to do exactly as instructed.”

“Disarm all six bombs,” Martha queried. “That’s what we’re really going to do?”

“We have no choice,” Jack insisted. “While there is the slightest risk that innocent people might get hurt, we HAVE to play the ‘game’.”

Jack’s frustration was clear in the tone of his voice. He didn’t like being played like a pawn in a chess game. He was used to being the player, manoeuvring others in his own game.

“We can’t involve anyone else - No nuclear experts, no bomb squad, no special forces, not the city council, not even the traffic police to clear the streets. I can’t even tell Garrett I might be late home for supper or the bombs will be triggered.”

“How will they know?” Ianto asked. “Those responsible. Who are THEY, anyway?”

Ianto felt all along that Jack knew the answer to that question, but he wouldn’t explain. He just asked them all to trust him.

Jack didn’t waste any more time in speculation.

“I need you two to check out radiation suits,” he said to Ianto and Alun. “You’ll get the bombs in these three locations and head to the power station. I’m going to deal with the other three…”

“Let me help,” Martha suggested. “I can take two of the locations.”

“Let me go with her.” Jack looked around to see Gilly at the door. An eyeblink later, she was by his side, studying the map. “I could be useful,” she added. “If time is short, then you might be able to use somebody who can move fast.”

“You’re as much a part of Torchwood as any of us,” Jack admitted, looking at the girl steadily. “So you think you’re ready for your first field trip?”

“I’m ready to go outside for any reason,” Gilly replied. “I have not done so since I came here. I have not seen the sun or moon of this world since that time.”

“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Martha protested, but Jack had made up his mind. Besides, there was little time for any more words. Everyone stood up from the conference table with their missions assigned. They collected car keys and checked guns out of the armoury.

Jack had some parting words for Beth and her fiancé, Ray the Wolfman, who had already been called down from the tourist office, ostensibly to keep an eye on Grey, Una and Sam, but in truth because he wanted them to be safe.

“This is bad,” he told them. “Very bad. If the worst happens… if… if we fail….”

He paused, suddenly dry mouthed and uncertain about what to say – an unusual state for him.

“If things go seriously pear-shaped, there is a protocol – Lambda Digamma. There will be instructions for you.”

“Jack….” Beth tried to say something, but she was lost for words. Besides, Jack had to find some words for Grey – some last words for the boy – in case the worst happened.

Somehow he found those words. They were brief, because he didn’t have time to make them longer. He hugged his brother tightly and kissed his cheek, then he turned and headed for the garage with the rest of the team. Ianto again remembered his expression and wondered if he was actually regretting his decision to take on so many emotional ties.

Martha came into the waiting room, bringing coffee. It came from a machine and it tasted artificial. Ianto grimaced at the taste.

“Sorry,” Martha said to him.

“It doesn’t matter. Coffee doesn’t matter. Not while Jack….”

Ianto stopped talking. He just couldn’t say it. To do so was to make it real, and he didn’t want it to be real.

“It can’t be true,” Martha said. “He CAN’T die. I’ve been to the future… with The Doctor. I met….”

She wasn’t completely sure, of course. It was just a chance remark that made them both think that Jack Harkness was destined to live so long that he evolved into the strange creature called The Face of Boe.

Maybe it wasn’t true. Maybe he was going to die today.

“What will we do without him?” Ianto asked. “Torchwood… without him… will we be able to carry on? I can’t imagine us without him. He’s the reason most of us came to be a part of it in the first place.”

Martha shook her head. Ianto was right. Without Jack, it was probably the end of Torchwood.

“That’s what it wanted – to destroy us. That’s what it was all about.”

“Jack!” Martha contacted him by the in-ear communicator as she drove through the busy Cardiff city centre. “Tell me WHO is responsible for all of this. You know, don’t you? You know who has the power to command Cell 113.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Jack answered. “What matters is stopping those bombs.”

“No, Jack, it matters. If you expect us to follow you in this, then tell us why.”

“There isn’t time,” he protested, but Martha wasn’t having any of it.

“It’s called The Aztertzaile,” Jack said after a long static silence on the communicator. “Roughly translated, The Examiner. It… tests people… organisations… throughout the galaxy, to see if they measure up to their promise. The Aztertzaile first tested Torchwood when it was still in its infancy. The task it set then was to find six kids who had been kidnapped from a school in Pontypridd. We rescued them, but two of our people died, so I guess we didn’t quite pass the test. In 1941, a bunch of people were sealed in a cellar where they’d been sheltering from the Blitz. We had to get to them before their air ran out. We lost three of the victims and one of our people. In the 1970s, it was men trapped in a mine. Four Torchwood people died but we got the miners out. This time… this time I’m in charge, and I don’t intend to let anyone die – especially not any of this team.”

“Jack… I’m sorry. I didn’t know it was so personal.”

“Just let’s do what we have to do,” he answered before the communicator went silent at his end. He had switched it off to avoid any other questions.

“Stubborn idiot,” Martha murmured, then put her mind to the job in hand. The first of the bombs she and Gilly had to make safe was at the national war memorial in Cathays Park. As she stopped the car and glanced across the lawn she remembered something that Toshiko had often said about the innocent places being mixed up in their work. Cathays park was the domain of joggers, dog walkers and dossers sleeping on the benches. None of them deserved to be vaporised by a nuclear bomb. Nor did they need to be shocked by the sight of her in a full hazmat suit crossing the lawn to the memorial.

“I’ll go,” Gilly offered. “I can move fast. They won’t see me. You can dismantle it in the car.”

Martha didn’t like the idea of sending the girl, but it was a way of accomplishing such a task in the full light of day and in front of so many innocent civilians.

“Be careful,” she told her. “Put the hood on fully. I don’t even know how radioactive materials might affect you. Your physiology is so different to humans.”

“I’ll be all right,” Gilly assured her. They both put on the hazmat hoods before the car door opened and shut and Gilly was gone. Martha just saw one of the bushes around the edge of the lawn rustle momentarily. Less than half a minute later the same bushes rustled again and the car door opened.

Martha took the metal canister from Gilly’s hands. At a glance it might have been mistaken for a vacuum flask, except that it was incredibly heavy for its size.

“Jack, what the hell do I do with this thing, now?” she demanded. But his communicator was still switched off. He wasn’t listening to her.

“You bloody idiot,” she swore. She slowly turned the canister in her hands, noting the very faint line where two sections connected together. She took a deep breath and then twisted the two halves. There was a slight movement. She carried on, slowly unscrewing the canister until the top cover came away from the main part of it.

“Don’t even breathe,” she said to Gilly as she looked at the pulsating red light that indicated the ‘live’ status of the device. There was one small button beside the light. Did that activate it or de-activate it?

She murmured the closest thing she knew to a prayer and pressed the button. The red light went out.

“Martha, you did it!” Alun’s voice came over the communicator. He sounded excited. “We de-activated our first device half an hour ago. You just did yours. Jack must have done it, too. Three of the lights have gone off on the map.”

“I thought it would have been harder,” Martha admitted. “I expected some kind of booby-trap or a blue-wire, red-wire conundrum.”

“I know,” Alun answered her. “I thought it would be more complicated, too. This ‘Examiner’ sounded trickier than that.”

“Perhaps there’s a nasty twist to come,” Martha replied. “Let’s not get complacent. Have either of you heard from Jack? What’s he doing?”

“He’s pretending that he’s not worried sick about us all,” Ianto answered her on a separate communicator. “You heard what he said. People have died before. And that was when Torchwood was a bigger organisation than now – when he wasn’t so close to them all. If it goes bad for one of us….”

“He doesn’t want to hear us die?” Martha shook her head in disbelief, though the gesture was lost on the others. “He’ll know anyway if these bombs are as serious as he says they are.”

“It’s not easy for him,” Ianto pointed out. “He can’t die. But his friends can. It hurts him more than he ever lets on.”

“Yes, I suppose that’s true,” Martha conceded. “But he really ought to see it from our point of view some time. Knowing he’s going to live to be millions of years old and see the population of this planet evacuate to new versions of Earth isn’t something us mortals can handle, either.”

“Tell me about it!” Ianto responded with a tone that emphasised his relatively small role in Jack’s century-long love life. “We’ve got to go after our second device. We’ll talk to you soon, Martha – I hope.”

“Yes.” Martha couldn’t think of anything else to say. She started her own car and headed towards the second location, hoping for the sake of everyone in the city that all the devices were going to be as easy as her first one.

“I wish I hadn’t said that,” Martha sighed as she finished her plastic-tasting coffee and crushed the Styrofoam cup absently. “About him seeing mortality from our point of view. Immortality troubled him more than any of us could begin to know, but… but knowing that he could never die was a kind of a comfort to us all. We knew if any of us…. That he’d still be here… to remember who we are and to carry on what we do.”

“He knew,” Ianto said mournfully. “That’s why we had the easy ones. He knew the real challenge was the one he took on for himself.”

Martha reached out her hand to him. He grasped it thankfully.

“I had a text from Alun. He and Gilly are back at the Hub with the kids. He’s explained to them all about Jack. Sam is the most upset. Funny, that. Jack never liked Sam. He kept his distance from him, stayed well away from any emotional involvement with him. But right now Sam is crying for him.”

Martha had seen Sam cry before. It was a heartbreaking sight. She was almost glad to be here, right now, instead of trying to comfort a Human-weevil hybrid child.

The first device Ianto and Alun went after was almost laughably easy. Left in the car park of Cardiff University sports centre, the only risk might have been some student finding the canister before they got there and using it as a book-end. Disarming it was just a matter of unscrewing the top and pressing the button.

“The next one won’t be so simple,” Alun said. “For one thing it’s in City Hall, and we have to be discreet. We can’t just order an evacuation of the building.”

“We can’t really order anything,” Ianto admitted. “We really don’t have the power to do that. Usually, Jack just swans into places like that acting as if he owns the whole city. Nobody ever questions his authority.”

“We’ll have to try to do the same,” Alun suggested. “It can’t be THAT hard. You just need a century or more of practice in lying through your teeth!”

Even without that much practice the bare-faced lies worked with the woman on the reception desk when they stepped into the foyer of the sprawling English Rennaissance style building, erected in 1906 to commemorate Cardiff’s new city status. Her eyes were already popping at the sight of two men in white hazmat suits pulling their hoods down in line with the ‘no helmets’ policy in the council premises.

“We’re Torchwood,” Ianto said, in as strong a tone as he could muster. “We have reason to believe there is a Gravlax on the premises. We’re here to track it down.”

“A what?” the woman asked, reaching for the button that would summon security guards.

“It’s about four foot wide and three foot tall and smells like a three day old corpse. It eats Human flesh and it can smell fear.”

“It climbs walls, disguising itself like a chameleon, then drops on its prey from above. That’s not the sort of thing you want to happen in the middle of the Robinson wedding ceremony.”

“You’d better go on up,” the receptionist told them. “But please be quick and try not to make too much noise.”

“Discretion is our middle name,” Ianto assured her. They turned from the reception desk and headed up the wide stairs, past the statue of Llewellyn the Last and towards the City Chambers, once the meeting place of the council itself, now used for private functions.

“Robinson wedding?”

“It’s in her appointment book. I read it upside down while you had her distracted with your description of a grav… – whatever that is.”

“It’s a Nordic recipe for raw salmon garnished with dill,” Ianto answered as they stepped into the oak-panelled chamber beneath the central dome of City Hall and scare off the flower arrangers preparing for the Robinson wedding. They laughed briefly then became very serious as they tracked the device that could have instantly vaporised the whole wedding party in an eyeblink.

This one was more difficult. There were two buttons – it literally was the red-wire, blue-wire conundrum that Martha had talked about. Inside the cover was a small diagram indicating which button was the fail-safe and which the instant detonation, but it was SO small it was almost impossible to work out.

“It’s THAT one,” Ianto insisted. “There’s a small indentation in it. The other button is flat. The diagram shows a straight and a curved line.”

“They look the same to me,” Alun pointed out.

“They FEEL different. Touch them. Think of the ‘home’ keys on a keyboard or typewriter with the indents for touch typists. I’ve done a lot of typing over the years. I know how things like that feel.”

Having mostly done administration even in the army, Alun had done a lot of typing, too, but he had never felt that much at home with a keyboard. He wasn’t quite so sure.

“You press it,” he said. “If you’re wrong… I won’t hold it against you.”

It was a grim joke in what could be their last moment of life. Ianto thought about a last kiss, but it seemed just a bit too melodramatic. Instead he settled for looking his lover straight in the eye as he felt the two buttons beneath his sensitive fingers and pressed.

Martha was entering the unmanned railway station known as Heath Low Level when Ianto contacted her to explain about the indentation.

“I’m NOT a typist,” she pointed out. “I’m strictly two fingers. But if this one is the same, I’ll try it. I HOPE it is the same.”

There was no reason why it ought to be. The six locations had not been allocated in any particular order. It was complete coincidence that they had found the easier ones first.

But when she carefully unscrewed the second canister she found the same two buttons, and carefully feeling them she noticed that one had a slight indentation.

“I hope you’re right, Ianto,” she whispered. She didn’t realise the mic was still open and as she pressed the button she heard his reply, in Welsh – ‘Duw arwain eich gwaith’ – God guide the work.

Whether He did or not, she was still standing there a moment later, her heart pounding in her breast. She looked around to see a man with a briefcase staring at her hazmat suit. She put the cap back on the canister and held it up.

“It’s a really big RAT,” she explained before taking it back to the car where Gilly was waiting, surplus to requirements this time.

“We’re ok,” she said. “Let’s get both of these diabolical things back to the Hub. There’s a lead-lined room deep in the bowels of Cardiff Bay where these will be safe for about ten million years.”

She felt a deep relief. Her part of this terrible game was over. She could go back to the Hub. She could take a few days off and breathe freely for a while. Una and Gilly could both come with her. It would be good for them all.

“Martha!” Ianto’s voice sounded urgently over the communicator. “Martha, there’s something wrong. Jack… he stopped his two bombs, but there’s another one… a seventh device showing up on the map. It’s…. Shit!…. Martha, it’s at Turnmill, the nuclear power plant. There’s a nuclear bomb in a nuclear power station.”

“Where’s Jack?” she asked.

“I don’t know, but if I had to guess…. He’s on his way to Turnmill.”

“Then I’m going there,” Martha decided. She glanced once in her rear view mirror before turning her car and heading in the opposite direction without any consideration of the Highway Code. She knew Ianto and Alun would have made a similar decision.

In fact, the two vehicles arrived at the security gates of the Turnmill station at the same time. They were stopped, of course. Ianto was the one who got out of the car with his Torchwood identity card and his best attempt at an explanation of why they were here. He was still trying to explain when the sirens went off in the main building and the guard’s phone began ringing.

“Somebody penetrated the reactor core!” he exclaimed. “We’ve got to evacuate.”

The gates swung open. Technicians in lab coats and overalls, managers, secretaries in their skirt suits and sensible shoes, catering staff, cleaners, security guards, all were hurrying away from the plant.

Martha drove forward. The crowd moved aside. Behind, Ianto got back into his car and followed. They drove straight up to the plant without anyone preventing them.

“I don’t think that’s their proper emergency drill,” Alun commented about the panic-stricken people.

“I doubt this was what their drills prepared them for,” Martha answered. “If the bomb is in the reactor core….”

She didn’t know a lot about these things, but she knew that running was probably not going to make a lot of difference if a bomb exploded in the reactor. She couldn’t begin to get her head around how far the immediate devastation would stretch – let alone the long term effects on the wider area. She knew she would be one of the first casualties. She wouldn’t even have time to feel any pain. It would be over in seconds for her.

It was too huge even to be scared. She just stopped the car outside the reception and ran from there – through the reception with the displays about how safe and reliable nuclear energy was, past the education suite where the children came on school tours, into the blue zone where ordinary overalls were all the protection needed by the workers on a daily basis, through the yellow zone where personal radiation monitors were mandatory and the signs on the doors began to carry ominous symbols and signs restricting entry to ‘authorised personnel only’.

She reached the red zone, where pulsating lights went with the siren and only one man remained, manning an array of computer monitors with a desperate expression on his face.

“Torchwood!” Martha said, holding up her ID badge. Behind her, Ianto and Alun did the same thing. “Who are you?”

“Carrod Evans,” he answered. “Safety manager. That damn fool is in there. Look.”

Martha looked at the monitor. It was registering a Human lifesign – heartbeat, respiration, within the section of the power plant that lay behind an ominously blank wall. Both heartbeat and respiration were dangerously high. Then as she looked, they dropped to the other extreme. He was unconscious.

“That’s the containment block,” Evans explained. “The heat and the radiation levels in there are high enough even on a normal day to kill a man in twenty minutes. He’s been in there forty minutes, already.”

“Jack?” Martha queried.

“He didn’t give his name. He’s a bloody lunatic. A dead lunatic at that. He fused the door breaking through. It can’t be opened even if anyone wanted to try to get in there. By the time the shut-down is complete and it’s safe to attempt a retrieval he’ll be long dead. If there’s even a corpse to recover, assuming it isn’t burnt to cinders….”

“I’ll get him!”

Martha heard Gilly’s quiet voice and felt a breeze move her clothes, then a very faint blur. For a moment another lifesign appeared on the screen. Moments later she was back, having moved through the molecules that made up the steel-reinforced, six foot thick concrete wall of the containment unit.

She was carrying Jack’s body. She placed him gently on the ground and Martha knelt at his side. He was barely recognisable. The intense heat had seared his skin. His hair was burnt away. Lesions covered every part of his body.

“What the hell is that?” Evans demanded as a canister fell from what was left of his hand. Ianto reached for it and noted that it had been disarmed like the others.

“That is the bomb he went in to retrieve, saving the whole of south Wales from becoming a no go area for the next million years.”

“Get an ambulance!” Martha screamed as she failed to find a pulse within the charred wrist. She repeated her demand even though she knew it would be useless. Even if Jack could survive losing nearly every inch of his skin, the radiation damage to his internal organs was impossible to measure.

It was the radiation that was killing him, now. His usual ability to renew himself was impaired by the invisible poison that had invaded every cell. There was nothing more to be done.

Martha and Ianto both looked around as Gwen rushed past the waiting room door, accompanied by Ashley, looking like a younger, updated version of Jack in his RAF uniform. Nobody told them they could follow, but they did anyway. They ignored the ‘two visitors per bed’ sign as they entered the isolation room where Jack had been put after the doctors agreed there was nothing to do for him except provide a quiet place for him to die.

Grey and Garrett were already making up the two visitors quota. Ashley was the last person who qualified as a relative, in any case. He hugged them both briefly and turned to his biological father lying on the bed covered not by sheets or blankets but sections of plastic that kept the air around his grievous wounds sterile. There was a breathing tube in his mouth – what was left of it since his lips had been burnt away. Monitors beeped away, recording the heartbeat, respiration and blood pressure in his last moments of life.

“I’m sorry,” Garrett said to the young man who had only known Jack for a precious few years – too few. “It’s too late.”

“It can’t be,” Ashley answered in a surprisingly calm tone. “I won’t let it be.”

He reached out and touched Jack’s shoulder, one of the few exposed parts of his body that could bear the weight of a hand upon it. Grey automatically stepped back from the bed and let Garrett hold him. Martha and Gwen clutched each other’s hands. Gwen’s arm slipped around Ianto’s waist as they waited for the flatline sound that marked the end. There weren’t even any medical staff on hand. They were too busy with people who might live to worry about one they knew was going to die.

Then Gwen gasped softly. Martha did, too. Ianto gave a strange kind of sob and held in his breath. Garrett exclaimed loudly and held Grey back from running to the bedside.

“No,” he managed to say in a hoarse voice. “Something… something is happening.”

It was something no medical expert, not even Martha, who thought she had seen just about everything, could explain. It was, if her head had been clear enough to think about it, more like something The Doctor – the one who was always identified in capital letters - would make happen if he had been part of this scene.

The light, the energy, that enveloped Ashley before passing into Jack was nothing anyone other than The Doctor could have identified. It was something to do with The Doctor’s people, the long dead Time Lords who had the power of life and death at their fingertips. It was what had given Jack that power whether he wanted it or not, and it was what had been impaired by the radiation within the reactor core.

But everyone had forgotten one thing in their grief. Ashley had that energy, too, and it seemed as if he could share it with his father. For the first time in more hours than she cared to count, Martha began to hope. Around her, they all did.

“Oh, God,” Gwen whispered. “No. Not if it kills him in the process.” They all saw Ashley step back as the energy faded. They saw him falter in his step and then keel over like a felled tree. Ianto reached him a beat before Martha and held him in his arms as she quickly concluded that he had fainted.

“He’s in shock,” she said. “Shock and mental exhaustion. I think he’ll be all right.”

She was relieved. For a moment she had thought the same as Gwen. Ashley was sacrificing himself for Jack – something he would never have allowed. Nobody gave their life for Jack, ever.

She looked up with questioning eyes. Had his effort been for nothing? Then she heard Grey sobbing with a different tone – one of relief. She slowly stood and looked at the monitor, at vital signs that were swinging back towards ‘normal’. She dared to look at the body in the bed and saw reddened, over-heated skin slowly whitening. She saw hair growing, eyelids and lips reforming. She saw Jack spit out the breathing tube and give a long, ragged, but unassisted breath.

“Ashley!” he cried out. “Where is he?”

“He’s going to be all right,” Garrett assured him, glancing at Martha for confirmation. “What happened?”

“He… gave himself to me,” Jack answered. “Martha.. you’ll have to do some tests. I think he’s made himself mortal to save me. The stuff that was in me… that was passed to him through my genes… might be gone now.”

“Then he’s the same as everybody else,” Garrett said. “Glad to see YOU alive again. Don’t scare us like this again.”

Jack answered his lover just as the senior intensive care nurse came into the room and insisted that it was family members only.

“We ARE family,” Ianto answered her. “All of us.”

The look in his eyes was as steely as Jack in his most obdurate moments. The nurse’s authority over her ward shrivelled before him.

“Just go away for another ten minutes and leave us alone,” he added in a softer tone. She did as he asked. Ianto drew close to the bed and grasped the newly restored hand of his one time lover. “Jack, is it over? Did we pass the examination?”

“I’m not sure,” he answered. “I think the idea might have been for ME to sacrifice myself. I cheated. I might have to take the test again, some day in the future.”

Martha remembered the sacrifice of an old friend of The Doctor’s that took place billions of years into the future and wondered if that was the test that finally satisfied the Aztertzaile. She still wasn’t entirely sure. She dismissed it from her mind as Ashley slowly came around from his faint and Ianto helped him to stand at his father’s bedside and assure himself that his own sacrifice HAD been worth it.


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