The fire service were finishing off their work as the SUV parked just inside their cordon. The police officer on duty looked at it and recalled that he wasn’t supposed to interfere with that vehicle or its occupants no matter WHERE they parked.
When he saw that it was Gwen driving, though, he stepped up and said hello.
“Oh, hi, Andy,” she answered her former beat partner in a bright voice. “How are you?”
“I’m fine,” he answered. “Going for the Sergeant’s exam after Christmas.”
“Oh, good,” Gwen replied. “Well done.” She struggled to find something else to say. She decided to stick to business. “Are we clear to go in there? We have to check it out once the fire investigator is done.”
“You’ll have to double check with the senior fire officer,” Andy told her. “Are you BOTH going in there? With a BABY?” He looked in astonishment as Toshiko fastened the straps of a front facing baby carrier. Etsuko was fast asleep, cuddled up against her.
“We start them young in Torchwood,” Gwen said. “See you around then. Let me know how the exam goes.” She had a feeling he wouldn’t. And she had a feeling she wouldn’t mind that he wouldn’t. Her old friends seemed less important to her since she joined Torchwood. The deeper she was involved with that world the less the ordinary one she had left behind seemed to matter.
She and Toshiko stepped into the smoke damaged furniture shop, brushing past the owner as he phoned his insurance company on his mobile and tried to find out when or if they would pay up. They used torches to see their way down to the cellar where the fire had started among the assorted junk of broken furniture and general rubbish. The fire chief, too, had wondered about two women and a baby going down there, but again there were orders from above not to interfere with Torchwood business.
“You know, they might have a point,” Gwen said as they picked their way through the wet rubble of the doused fire. “It maybe wasn’t a good idea to bring Etsu.”
“She’s ok,” Toshiko answered. “And we’re not a pair of dumb girls who need a man holding our hands. Besides, who else knows how to handle this equipment? We have to make sure the rift is still stable after the fire. This basement is ground zero of where it all began.
“I know,” Gwen said. “I saw it…” She remembered the last time she had been in this basement. It was almost exactly a year ago, a few days before Christmas, when she and Jack had found the wall that held up a mirror to the past and the future.
“Did the rift start the fire or was it something ordinary?” Toshiko asked as Gwen bent and opened the case. “We should try to establish that, first.”
“I hope it’s something ordinary,” Gwen answered her. “I don’t fancy the idea of the rift being able to start fires. Not this week, even if it is. I really hoped we’d get a bit of normality this Christmas! I was looking forward to Christmas day with you and Etsu coming round to have dinner with us, and not even THINKING about weird stuff and Torchwood for a whole day.”
“We NEVER have normal Christmases at Torchwood,” Toshiko reminded her. She looked around by the light of the torch. She saw the arched alcove that had been re-plastered a year ago.
The plasterboard had been pulled down by the fire fighters, of course. Fire could migrate behind false walls and fascias. It was a standard procedure. She stepped up to the arch and looked at the wall. It looked normal enough, blackened by soot though untouched by the fire itself.
But this WASN’T just an ordinary wall.
“Gwen,” she called out. “I can hear noises. There’s something… I can hear… Oh my God! They’re screaming. They’re dying.”
“Tosh!” Gwen screamed. “Be careful. Don’t touch it.” She dropped the tool she was assembling and darted across the debris-strewn floor. She reached out and touched Toshiko on the shoulder just as she touched the wall.
There was no painful sensation. There was nothing to make them dizzy like a transmat. It didn’t tickle or sting or anything. But they both had the strangest feeling of time passing impossibly fast in the instant that they made contact with the wall.
And they knew when they turned around they were going to see something worse than a burnt out cellar.
They turned together and swallowed hard as they looked at the scene of death and devastation. Toshiko put her hand protectively around Etsuko as she saw men and women, and children too, babies in mothers’ arms, all lying dead in a crowded heap. They were both instantly reminded of the victims of Nazi gas chambers, falling where they stood.
But this WAS still Cardiff.
“It was Daleks,” Gwen said. “I saw this before. When Jack and I… The wall… it was like a window… like a big TV. We saw this happen. Daleks… they came in there, at the top of the stairs, and they fired down on the people, killing them all.”
“Daleks?” Toshiko shuddered. She had seen pictures of them. She had seen CCTV footage from Torchwood London in the Battle of Canary Wharf. She had seen them fighting the Cybermen, fighting Torchwood’s soldiers. That had been war of sorts. A battle. That made a sort of sense. But killing civilians, just shooting them down like this, was beyond horrible.
“There’s a war?” she asked.
“That’s what Jack said,” Gwen answered. “It’s in the future… our future. But the way he talked, it was as if it was in HIS past.”
Toshiko considered that idea and decided it made sense for Jack Harkness. She turned around and pressed her hand against the wall.
She was only slightly surprised when nothing happened.
“We’re TRAPPED in the future,” she said. “In the middle of a war.”
For a long time they stood and looked at each other in the torchlight. They were scared. There were no two ways about it. They were petrified.
“Torchwood,” Toshiko said. “Gwen, Torchwood… It must be there, still. They can help us.”
“Yes,” Gwen answered. “Come on.”
They picked their way through the pitiful bodies. They tried not to look at the dead, staring eyes and to think about what they knew about how Dalek ray guns killed – by cooking the internal organs instantly. It was a painful death. Jack, they both thought, knew more about it than he would ever say.
“He’s like my great uncle.” Toshiko said. “He went into Nagasaki after the bomb. He saw what it had done. He wouldn’t talk about it.”
When they emerged from the cellar they looked around at a scene that had much in common with Nagasaki. It WAS Cardiff. They both recognised enough of the geography. But there was hardly a building intact.
And there were no people.
“Come on,” Gwen said. “It’s almost nightfall. And it’s cold. We need to get to Torchwood. We’ll be warm there, as well as out of reach of the Daleks.” She reached out and held Toshiko’s arm. The touch of another Human seemed so necessary now. She glanced at the baby. She was still asleep, unaware of anything but the comforting nearness of her mother.
They saw no Daleks, no people, no sign of life as they walked along rubble strewn streets to Roald Dahl Plas – or what HAD been the Plas. Almost everything was gone. The Assembly building was flattened. Most of the old Pierhead building was destroyed. Part of the clock tower still stood like a jagged red brick finger. The Millennium Centre was split in half. One part of it was rubble, the other half stood, just about. The Welsh half of the inscription on the front was just visible.
The fountain was gone. They stood and looked down into the rubble-filled crater where it had stood.
“Torchwood…” Toshiko whispered. “It IS gone.”
“Gwen! Tosh!” They both turned, stunned beyond words as a voice called to them. A figure in a World War II military greatcoat stepped off the perception filter paving stone that clung to the edge of the crater.
“Jack?” Gwen found her voice first. “How did you…”
“Not here,” he said. “It’s not safe. Come on. The lift is gone but we still have an entrance under the boardwalk.
The entrance under the boardwalk was still a tourist information office. Or it used to be. Now it was closed, boarded up, and a banner with the word ‘Vetoed’ was pasted across the boards.
“Vetoed?” Gwen queried as Jack pulled the board aside.
“The Daleks do that,” he said. “It’s their way of showing that they’ve ‘purged’ a building of Humans. They are kind of stupid. They NEVER think that we’ll come back. A vetoed building is as safe as anywhere is these days.”
“The Daleks found Torchwood?” Toshiko asked as they stepped into the dark office. There was no light, no power. Jack operated the secret inner door by a manual lever and closed it again after them. They walked with him down the stairs to the hub. The lift didn’t work.
The hub was dead, lifeless. Part of it was destroyed by the collapse of the fountain. The rest was useless without power.
“We abandoned the top level,” Jack said. “Below we have a generator and shields to block Dalek probes.” He led them down more stairs, into the lower levels, below the cells, below the tunnel where they did target practice, down to the nuclear bunker that was built in the 1950s. Two hundred years later it had come into its own as a place to hide from an enemy nearly as deadly as nuclear war.
“Room for a hundred people to sit out the bombs comfortably,” Toshiko recalled.
“Room for two hundred people to sit out the Dalek war uncomfortably,” Jack corrected her. “We saved as many as we could. We took in all we found. We sleep two, three to a bed, we pool resources, ration the food. We’re sitting it out, fighting back.”
“Jack…” Toshiko said as they kept on down the steps. “Are you… Are you OUR Jack? You look… you’re older, I think. A bit greyer, a few lines on your face. Your eyes… your eyes look tired. But… this is… What year is it?”
“2163,” Jack answered.
“Nearly a hundred and fifty years… but you’re not THAT old.”
“I moisturise,” he answered her.
“It doesn’t matter,” Gwen said. “I don’t care how it is you’re here. I’m just so glad you ARE.”
“So am I,” Toshiko assured him.
“I’m glad YOU’RE both here,” Jack told them. “Just in time for Christmas.”
He opened a door. It led into a long, wide room. It seemed to be both a dormitory and a refectory. Beds had been put up against the walls just now while long tables were being set up ready to feed two hundred people. And this was clearly not just going to be an ordinary meal of eked out rations. There was a party atmosphere and a sense of celebration being created as the tables were covered in what linen could be found and then decorated. The ceiling and walls were already festooned with Christmas decorations.
“The war started in late summer,” Jack explained. “That’s when life as we knew it ceased. The first week or so, we were able to find warehouses, cold storage centres, which still had power. Before the Daleks took down the whole grid. We took all the food we could. The Iceland warehouse down by the docks was stocked up with Christmas turkeys and we put aside all of the luxury foods we found. We hung on to the idea that we could do one normal thing. Christmas. To… to boost morale. Give everyone a purpose.”
It was doing the job, Gwen thought. She felt almost cheerful herself as she watched the preparations. She saw a group of children whose scared eyes revealed deep traumas. They were blowing up coloured balloons while a woman with a haunted look to her face went around the mismatched table settings and put a Christmas cracker from a big box of them beside each place.
“Jack!” A young woman with blonde hair tied into a pony tail left what she was doing and came to him. “Two more refugees? I didn’t think there was anyone else left out there. And… oh…. A baby. So young. Oh, my dear. She was born SINCE the invasion. You actually had a baby while the world was coming to an end?”
“She wasn’t….” Toshiko began to say. “We’re not…”
“Rachel, the world isn’t coming to an end,” Jack promised the woman. “It WILL be over one day and we’ll rebuild everything.”
Rachel didn’t look like she believed him. But she said she’d find room for the new arrivals.
“I need nappies for Etsu,” Toshiko said. “Do you have anything…”
“I’ll see what we have in the stores,” Rachel answered. “Come on…” She took Toshiko with her. Jack grasped Gwen’s hand and brought her to a corner of the room where there were a mis-matched group of armchairs making a rest area of sorts. He found two cups of coffee that still tasted civilised. They obviously did a thorough job of the food provisions if they still had coffee four months after this siege began.
“It WILL be over,” he said. “I can’t tell them the whole truth, but I keep assuring them.”
“You KNOW that for a fact?”
“It’s history… where I come from… in the future… this is something we learn about in school. The Dalek invasion of 2163-2164. I know that we only have to get through this winter. In the spring, help is going to come. In London. The resistance there will meet a man who knows about Daleks and will help to defeat them completely. We just have to make it through. We have to protect as many of the civilians as we can, and what’s left of Torchwood… those of us… the ones who survived…” Jack’s voice seemed to choke for a moment, then he recovered himself. “Those of us who made it… we keep up the fight, we keep sabotaging their bases around the city, stopping them advancing their plans for Cardiff. Just as pockets of humanity all around the country, around the world, are doing. Those of us who make it… we WILL rebuild…”
“This man who will show them…” Gwen began.
“Doesn’t matter,” Jack said. “You don’t need to know. None of them do. I won’t even meet him. Not this time. But he’ll be there.”
“I hope so, for your sake,” Gwen said. “For all of you here. Tosh and me… We’ll have got back to 2008 by then…”
Jack didn’t say anything. He turned his eyes from her.
“It’s so long ago. More than a hundred and fifty years,” he said. “But I still remember. The day before Christmas Eve… I sent you two out on something that should have been routine. The fire in the basement… It was mid afternoon when PC Andy… that dopy looking friend of yours… called me on your mobile. You left it along with the case of equipment that they found when they looked for you. We searched… Oh my God, we searched. Gloria and her lot searched. Even Garrett... he did all he could, too. Rhys… He nearly lost his mind searching for you. He blamed me... blamed Torchwood. And he was right. It was my fault. I sent you there.”
“Jack…” Gwen put her hand on his to stop him talking any more. “You’re telling me we can’t… We NEVER got back?”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I really am. No, you never did.”
Gwen bit back tears. Jack reached out and held her close. He looked more emotional about it than she did.
“At least I know now. But hell, if you had to come back into my life, couldn’t it have been AFTER all this shit? I’m sorry it happened now. In the middle of it all. You and Tosh and the baby in all this danger. But… at least I can look after you. Keep you safe.”
“Rhys is dead,” Gwen managed to say. “It’s so long. He’s dead now.”
“He…” Jack struggled to answer her. He knew all about Rhys. He wondered whether the truth or a lie would be better. Did she need to know that Rhys pined for her all his life, wasting away in grief or that he mourned for her then got on with things, met another woman, had a couple of kids? Which would comfort her more.
“Best you don’t tell me anything,” Gwen said. “I think you know, don’t you. You’ve lived through it all. You must have seen them all die. Rhys, Ianto, Alun, Owen, Beth. But I think it’s best I don’t…”
“That man there, putting the star on the Christmas tree…” Jack said. “He’s Owen’s great grandson. Before all this, he did Ianto’s job at Torchwood. Life… life goes on… for SOME of us.”
Again that seemed to touch a raw nerve with Jack. He swallowed hard and blinked a lot. He couldn’t cry in front of the people he was supposed to be leading.
But that didn’t mean he wasn’t hurting. And it didn’t mean she couldn’t comfort him. She reached and held him in her arms. He pressed his face against her hair and clung tightly. He was trembling with emotion.
“Jack,” somebody called. “Put that woman down and come and look at these figures.”
Jack looked around and put on a ‘business as usual’ face as he apologised to her and went to look at the bank of computers set up in another part of the room. Gwen sipped her coffee and watched the Christmas preparations going on around her.
Christmas, in the middle of a war. It had happened before, of course. In the century she was born in there had been wars that lasted years. World War One. There was that story about the English and Germans playing football in no mans land on Christmas Day. Second World War, people making Christmas dinners on rations in the blitz. She’d seen newsreel films of soldiers in Korea and Vietnam singing Christmas carols in camp before going out to fight. Same in the Gulf, Afghanistan, the wars of her own lifetime. Yes, it was something people needed to do even when life seemed to have fallen apart around them.
Toshiko returned. She sat down with a clean and fragrant smelling Etsuko and began to feed her.
“Rachel told me something about Jack,” Toshiko said. “He’s…”
“We can’t get back,” Gwen told her, and then quickly explained what Jack had told her. Tosh clung to her baby and, like Gwen, held back tears. The thought was terrifying. But then she smiled weakly.
“The time I got stuck in 1941 with Jack, we worked it out. You lot sorted it. Rescued us.”
“That was different. You were in the past. You were able to leave us clues. This time, we’re in the future. Jack and the others back in our time don’t KNOW what happened to us. They can’t do anything. We’re… we’re stuck here.
Toshiko thought about that for a while. It worried her. She still had to tell Gwen about the other half of their tragedy.
“Oh Gwen,” she said. “Jack… He didn’t tell you, did he?”
“Tell me what?”
“When this started, he was in charge of Torchwood still, of course. Along with another man, Niall. They were lovers. Serious lovers - been together twenty years. They were organising an all out attack on the Dalek headquarters here in Cardiff. They were all set to go, when the Daleks attacked Torchwood… They blasted the hole through… at the fountain… then they sent their slaves… Robomen they call them… Men who have been hypnotised into doing their bidding. They just went through the hub killing. They have ray guns like the Daleks. The Torchwood people fought back, of course. But they lost so many. Jack and Niall… they tried to seal the breach, blowing it up from below to fill in the crater. But while they were laying the charges… the Daleks… fired down at them. Jack and Niall… four Dalek rays at once enveloping them. Those who saw it think Niall took the full force of the blast, protected Jack. They think he died for him. Of course… we know… Jack came back to life… Just in time to drag Niall’s body out of the way of the blast. Ever since… He’s sadder. He doesn’t let anyone see him hurting. But he is. They all know he is. And nobody can talk to him about it. He’s strictly business. He won’t let anyone close. He still CARES, but for people in general, he has nobody special.”
“I see,” Gwen said, unable to think of anything to say. She looked around at the Christmas decorations and the preparations for the party. Jack was looking after everyone, all of them.
“That’s another thing. This party… Tomorrow, at dawn, a group of them are going to remount the raid on the Dalek HQ. The one they were going to do when the hub was attacked. Jack is going to lead it. Everyone thinks… well, they think he might be intending to die trying. Except he can’t. But I think he might be going to try.”
“Oh, hell,” Gwen murmured. She looked around at Jack. He was still standing behind the computer operator watching the screens. Gwen stood and stepped towards him, apparently casually. She put her hand on his shoulder and was aware that he had stiffened slightly.
“Problems?” she asked.
“Daleks about. In the Plas.” Just a routine patrol, I think. But….”
Gwen watched the screen. There were three Daleks and a small group of Robomen with their strange helmets and ray guns.
“Do they know we’re down here?” Gwen asked.
“No,” Jack answered. “They think they finished us off the last time. They’re not looking for us. It’s just a patrol.”
It certainly seemed as if that was all it was. They didn’t come anywhere near the entrance to Torchwood.
“Oh,” Gwen murmured. “Look… there are people…”
It was a family group, parents and two children. Why they had decided on that moment to try to get across the Plas, where they thought they were going, nobody could guess. But it was only a matter of time before the Daleks or the Robomen saw them.
Jack turned away. He yanked open a cupboard by the computer workstation and pulled out a machine gun and ammunition as well as a handful of grenades. Then he reached for his wristlet, the one he had in the 21st century, though then, Gwen had never seen it do what it did now. Jack vanished into thin air. The computer operator pointed to the screen showing the camera angle overlooking the crater. Jack stepped off the perception filter paving stone.
“He rigged the teleport to take him to there,” the man explained. “He’s the only one who knows how it works.”
It worked to give him the absolute element of surprise. He put his fingers in his mouth and whistled and as the Robomen and Daleks turned around, distracted away from where the family were crouched behind a broken section of the Millennium Centre’s fascia, he launched two of the grenades. Two of the Daleks were caught in the blast and three of the Robomen. He threw a third grenade but it failed to go off. Then he opened fire with the machine gun. The Robomen were, ultimately, men. They were cut down. The Dalek fired erratically as he hit it in the eyestalk. It whirled around madly for a minute before self-destructing noisily. Jack was already running, grabbing the two children and urging the parents to follow him. They all disappeared off the camera at the boardwalk, but a few minutes later the doors swung open and Jack burst into the refectory with his new refugees.
“Come on,” he called out. “Let’s get this party started! Gwen, Tosh, you can sit next to me. Rachel, make sure there’s room for Mr and Mrs Powell and children.”
Everyone began to find places at the tables. Jack did, indeed, have Tosh and Gwen next to him. Nobody begrudged them that honour. Jack remained standing until everyone was seated and had been served a glass of some kind of punch that had been prepared. Jack raised his glass.
“To those who didn’t make it,” he said solemnly. “And to the future they bought for us.”
They all drank to that hope and then the meal was served. There was, indeed, roast turkey. Several of them, courtesy of Iceland’s warehouse and the cold storage facility of Torchwood. There were all the expected trimmings, too. Hungry people who had lived on rations for months enjoyed their meal. They talked cheerfully. They pulled their crackers and put on the party hats. They sang Christmas carols.
Jack didn’t put on a paper party hat. Gwen wasn’t surprised. She could not think of any conceivable reason why he would. Even in her own time, she couldn’t quite manage to imagine him doing that. He WAS smiling. He laughed at jokes told to him. He joined in with the singing.
But every now and again he would not be singing or smiling, or laughing. Every now and again he seemed to be looking around the room, looking for somebody who wasn’t there. Somebody, maybe, who would have persuaded him to wear a party hat and completely forget, for one evening, the war going on above them, the terrible things that had happened, and terrible things that were to come.
There were others who didn’t quite let go, either. Gwen could spot them in the crowds. Men and women who were obviously putting on a show of carefree enjoyment for the sake of everyone else. Gwen guessed that they were the ones who were going out tomorrow on the new commando raid of the Dalek Headquarters.
Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die.
Not in Jack’s case. But perhaps that was worse. Seeing others die around him who had fought just as bravely, and yet living himself, must be terrible.
When the food was eaten they all helped clear away the tables and then an assortment of musical instruments were produced – somebody had a guitar, another a fiddle, a keyboard, and something like a band was made up. The refugees from the Dalek extermination of Humanity danced. They knew they could make as much noise as they liked. There was sound proofing and shielding between them and their enemy. They had a good time. They danced. The children played party games.
Jack danced. He danced with Rachel and some of the other women. He danced with Toshiko while any number of volunteers held Etsuko. He danced with Toshiko WHILE she held Etsuko, enjoying being with them both.
And he danced with Gwen. He held her in his arms and danced with her and she felt all of the strength and power of his well-toned body, all that sexuality that oozed from him at all times. He danced well, as if he had been trained at some point. And at the end of the set he kissed her on the lips gently.
“Merry Christmas, Gwen,” he said as he held her just a little longer than others around them had held their partners.
“Merry Christmas, Jack,” she answered.
As the evening wore on, somebody had rounded up the children and put them to bed in a separate, quieter room. Now, as midnight approached, as it became Christmas Day, the adults began to organise their dormitory again. Beds were pulled back down onto the floor. They were standard issue army beds, metal frames with mattresses on them. All singles, though few were slept in by just one person. There weren’t enough. Husbands and wives, or other combinations of partnerships slept cuddled up on the one pillow. Others were end to end in the beds, making the best of it. Jack made up a bed for Gwen and Toshiko and Etsuko to share.
“There’s not a lot of room, but… it’s less lonely at night with somebody close. No matter who it is. Funny thing, but we have more couples now than when we started. People have clung to each other.”
“We’ll be fine, Jack,” Gwen said. She waited until Toshiko had finished feeding and changing the baby and then they got into the bed, Etsuko between them. Toshiko cuddled her baby close to her. Gwen watched them both for a little while as Toshiko fell into an exhausted sleep. She would be awake again in a few hours for a night feed, so she had learnt to take her sleep when she could.
Around them, people who were used to disturbed nights for less happy reasons fell asleep quickly. But others didn’t. Many of them were doing more than just ‘clinging’ to each other. Even in a shared room, some people were having sex. Inhibitions had long ceased to matter. They had nothing else left except each other and they made the most of every moment, because they didn’t know when their last moment might be.
Gwen could think of no reason why that was wrong.
The lights had been dimmed once everyone was settled, but they weren’t completely switched off. Gwen turned carefully and looked at the next bed. Jack’s bed. After all he had said about couples, and clinging, he was alone.
He wasn’t asleep. He was lying under the blanket, looking up at the ceiling, breathing evenly, but not sleeping.
She slipped out of the bed, tucking the blanket carefully around Toshiko and Etsuko and crossed the few feet of floor between them. She lifted the cover and slid in beside Jack. He turned, surprised, and saw her. He reached out a hand to touch her face gently.
“Gwen…” he whispered. “I…”
“Don’t talk,” she said. “Don’t think. Just… just trust your instincts. I’m trusting mine.”
“You belong to Rhys,” he answered. “That’s why I never…”
“Rhys is dead,” she told him. “I’ll never see him again. Your lover is dead, too, Jack, sweetheart. I’m sorry for that. Because I would have so liked to meet the man you could be THAT much in love with. He must have been wonderful.”
“He was,” Jack answered her. “He was… he was fantastic.” He choked back a sob. “Gwen… I don’t think I can. It’s too soon… I can’t even think of…”
Then he sighed deeply and pulled her close. He kissed her. She responded to him willingly, letting her lips part to allow him to explore her mouth fully and deeply. She was not entirely surprised when she felt tears on his face. She was crying, too. All the pain and loss and loneliness they suppressed in front of other people poured out now as they kissed and fondled each other, searching for the release from the pain they both knew would come in the sex that was inevitable.
They both acted on instinct. She felt his hands pushing up her skirt, fondling her thighs. She reached and unfastened his trousers. She felt his weight on top of her and wrapped her arms around his neck as she gave herself to him, the softness of her body surrendering to the hard masculinity of his.
And sometime in the middle of it all they both stopped crying and stopped thinking about yesterday, tomorrow or any other moment than the one they were living in, and forgot there was anyone else around but the two of them.
Toshiko woke a little after four o’clock in the morning. It was just before Etsuko woke. She had got into the habit of doing that, because the sound of a crying baby was easier to deal with at four in the morning if she was already awake than when it pierced her sleep like a knife and she woke in a sort of shocked realisation that her life was not her own any more and this helpless child in her arms depended on her.
Jack and Gwen were still making love. She supposed they MUST have slept, in between, but right now they were awake again. Toshiko was glad. Jack needed somebody. He ALWAYS did. Even in their own time he was a lonely man who replaced love with casual sex because he found it impossible to risk his heart on the other. But now, he needed love. Casual sex wasn’t enough to burn away the pain of living through each day. Now, he needed to be loved and to give love. And she was glad it was Gwen who was there for him. She couldn’t think of anyone else who could do that.
She got out of bed and picked up her baby daughter. She decided to go somewhere else, before Etsuko did start to cry and disturb everyone in the room. There was the kitchen. That would be warm. She could make herself a cup of tea afterwards.
“Gwen,” Jack said as he slid beside her, still holding her close to him, kissing her in the warm afterglow of sex. “Gwen… when I go tomorrow… the raid… will you wait for me.”
“Well, of course I’ll wait,” she answered. “It’s not as if I could come with you. You’ve already picked the team.”
“No, I don’t mean that,” he said. “I mean, will you wait for ME. Will you be the one person glad to see ME come back afterwards… I know its daft… it’s like one of those old movies where the guy goes off with his squadron and the girl watches the planes take off… watches them come back…”
“Usually in those films he doesn’t make it,” Gwen said.
“You know I will,” he reminded her. “But even so… I know you’ll worry about me. You always did. And tomorrow… I’d kind of like you worrying… I’d like you to be there to hold me when it’s over…”
“Oh, Jack,” Gwen answered, hugging him close. “You really are a big softy underneath the hard man.”
“Yes, I am,” he said. “So will you?”
“Yes, I will,” she promised.
He reached for her again. She sighed happily and let him. It wasn’t about comfort now. It wasn’t about mourning their losses. It was about wanting each other. That seemingly odd, sentimental request was as close as he could get to telling her she was his now, taking the place of the man he had lost. And Gwen was satisfied with that. If she couldn’t go home to Rhys and HER Torchwood and what passed for normality, then at least she could be with Jack in this terrible world where nothing was even remotely normal.
Toshiko always enjoyed the four o’clock feeds. There was something cosy about them. Just her and the baby in the quiet before the day began. She had a special armchair at home that she sat in.
Back home. She felt a tug of angst as she realised she would never go home again. Even if her house was still here, a hundred and fifty years later, then it belonged to somebody else now. It wasn’t her home.
No, she wouldn’t cry. She would hold it together. She wasn’t alone, after all. She had Etsuko. If she had left her behind at the hub, or in the car, with PC Andy watching over her, if she’d gone through the rift without her, that would have been terrible. Her little girl growing up without her, never knowing what happened, where she went, or why. THAT would have been unbearable.
But they were together. And this awful war WOULD be over. Jack had said so. After that, the Human race would rebuild. She and Gwen and Jack could rebuild together. Etsuko would grow up in the new world that they would make when the Daleks were defeated.
It was a scary thought, but a curiously exciting one, too.
She finished feeding Etsuko and changed her. Then she left the warm kitchen. The corridor outside was colder and dark. They tried to save the generators by not wasting light and heat that weren’t needed. She was slightly disorientated. Which way was the dormitory?
She saw a glimmer of light and thought that had to be it. She walked towards it. As she drew closer, though, she realised it was not right. The dormitory had a double door. This was a single one.
It was ajar. Possibly the person inside didn’t mean it to be. As she drew closer she was CERTAIN of it. She listened just long enough to know this was something she had to tell Jack about. She turned and ran, holding Etsuko tightly, hoping she wouldn’t cry before they were out of earshot.
Jack was starting to drift off to sleep again when Toshiko shook him awake. He sat up alert as he listened to what she had to say then leapt out of the bed. Gwen followed him. He turned as if to tell her to go back, but changed his mind. She came with him and saw and heard everything.
It was Rachel, talking on a two way radio system. The voice that replied to her was that of a Dalek. She was telling them everything about the plans for the commando raid that was due to begin in a few hours. They watched and listened until she was done, until she turned around and saw them standing there.
“Rachel… WHY?” Jack asked.
“You could never understand,” she answered. Then her hand moved quickly and there was a gun in it. Gwen screamed as she fired, twice, straight at Jack.
“You stupid cow,” Gwen yelled. She wasn’t worried for Jack. She knew he would be all right in a few minutes. But she was angry, disgusted with this woman who had betrayed everyone, betrayed Humans, to the Daleks of all things. To the most inhuman creatures anyone could imagine. She didn’t think of the danger of a woman with a gun pointed at her. She was running on anger, and anger gave power to her arm as she hit her square in the face.
When Jack came around again, Rachel was tied to the chair and looking very sorry for herself. Gwen stood over her, the gun in her hand. She relinquished it to Jack as he stood and came to her side. To her horror, he pressed it against Rachel’s temple. His eyes burned with anger and grief and Gwen was sure he was going to pull the trigger.
“Give me one reason not to,” Jack demanded in a cold voice. “So many people we lost. I thought the Daleks just got lucky. I never imagined ANY Human being would betray us.”
“She did it because of her brother,” Gwen said. “She told me. Her brother is a Roboman. But the Daleks promised to free him if… if she gave them information.”
“You stupid, stupid bitch!” Jack said to Rachel. “Don’t you realise? Your brother is DEAD. Robomen CAN’T be freed. When they’re converted, that’s it. They’re NOT Human any more. Do you think… You’ve seen me kill them so often. If there was even the slightest chance they could still be Human in some part… I would try to save them, not kill them. But there’s no chance. Your brother is dead. And so is Niall. And so are SO many other people – because of YOU.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. But Jack had heard enough. He was still pointing the barrel at her. Gwen screamed as he fired, but her scream mingled with the sounds of the radio exploding as Jack emptied the gun into it.
“What will happen to her?” Gwen asked later. Jack had postponed the raid. When the Daleks weren’t waiting in ambush it would still happen. But not now.
“She’ll stay here. As our prisoner. Until the Daleks are defeated. Then she can go free, make what she can of her life. She’ll probably have to get out of Cardiff. There are over two hundred people here who know she’s a collaborator. But she’ll have as much chance as the rest of us. Which is more than her victims had. The ones she betrayed.”
“She did it for her brother,” Toshiko reminded him.
“Not good enough,” Jack answered. “There isn’t one of us here who hasn’t lost somebody. It’s no excuse.”
“I agree,” Gwen said. Jack looked at her and sighed. He reached and touched her hand.
“I had this idea,” he said. “The future. The four of us, together. I could look after you all. We could make a new life together once the war was over. Yes, I know, strange kind of family. But we’d have been a family. The two of you, and Etsu… We’re going to need families, relationships, more than anything else. It’s how we’ll survive.”
“Why the past tense?” Gwen asked. “Why can’t we? I think I’d like it. We… you and me… We’d be…” She looked at him. Jack met her gaze and smiled that matinee idol smile that had attracted her so long ago.
“It would have been nice. And I promise you, Gwen, I’ll never forget last night. But.. you and Tosh and Etsu should go. I think I know how. There’s a possibility….” He pulled off his wristlet and turned it over in his hands. It was the first time Gwen and Toshiko had ever seen him remove it. His wrist was white where the leather had been for a very long time.
“I thought about it last night. When I told you about not getting back. I knew there was a possibility. But I didn’t tell you for my own selfish reasons. Because I wanted to keep you with me. But… I realised… I can’t do that to you. I can’t not tell you. I can’t not try.”
“Try what?” Gwen asked.
“THIS.” He fingered the wristlet. “This used to be able to travel in time. It hasn’t for a long time. But I might be able to reactivate it. I can try…”
“But you said we DIDN’T get back,” Toshiko argued.
“Well… maybe I didn’t think of this… Time isn’t a straight line. We know that. Maybe things have changed. Maybe you DO get back. I think we have to try. If it doesn’t work, ok. But if I don’t try…. It’s not fair on either of you…”
“It’s not fair on you if we do,” Gwen answered him. “You’ll be alone again.”
“I’ve been alone before,” he said. He took the wristlet to a table and worked on it with an assortment of tools. Around them, after the shock development of the night, the Torchwood refugees came to terms with the fact that this was Christmas Day. The parents of children had managed to organise presents for them, and a group of the adults organised seats in rows and they had a kind of Christmas morning church service.
Gwen and Toshiko joined that. They were neither of them religious even before they joined Torchwood. What that had learnt since tended to work towards the non-existence of any kind of loving and protecting God watching over Humanity. But joining with the prayers and the carols was reassuring. Gwen found herself hoping that there WAS something out there. Somebody who would HEAR her prayers. Because while she prayed that Jack could get them home with his wristlet that ‘used to be able to travel in time’ she also prayed for Jack, that he wouldn’t be alone for long after they were gone.
“I think I have it,” he told them when they returned to his side. “I think it could… There’s just one problem. It’s only good for one trip. And it can only take one of you. At least… Toshiko, you and Etsu will be ok, I think. She’s only little and you have the same DNA. The field will encompass you both. But not Gwen as well.”
“If…” Gwen looked at him. She looked at Toshiko. “One of us can go… and… And Jack… back in the 21st century… he can recharge it or whatever you have to do – and put it into the safe in his office. It’ll still be here… And you can send the other…”
“I think it’s against the laws of time,” Jack said. “But it could work. Which…”
“I’ll go,” Gwen answered. “It should be me. Because… if it goes wrong… It shouldn’t be Tosh with the baby put at risk. And… and if I get back but the other bit goes wrong, well I’ve got Rhys to go back to. Toshiko has Etsu with her here. And I know you’ll look after her.”
Jack nodded. It made sense. It tore his hearts open, but it made sense.
He put the wristlet on her arm. Then he pulled her close and kissed her passionately. Then he stood back, holding her hand, and pressed the vortex manipulator switch on the wristlet.
Gwen disappeared. Jack stood for a long time with his hand held out in front of him, staring at the place where she had been. Toshiko reached out to him. He turned and looked at her. Then both looked around, startled. There were a lot more people around than there were a few moments ago. Jack stared at them and whispered names.
“Jack…” Toshiko said. “Things have changed… I think…”
Then the door opened and a man ran in, aged about fifty, but still handsome. Jack’s face lit with joy. He put out his hand and pulled him towards him, kissing him and whispering his name over and over.
“Hey,” Niall said to him. “I was only upstairs for ten minutes, getting this for you.” He handed him the wristlet that Gwen had been wearing a few minutes ago.
“What….” Toshiko began. She shook her head. There seemed to be two memories in it. One of arriving there and finding the hub half destroyed by a Dalek attack and Niall and the others dead. The other, they found that the hub was intact. The Daleks had never discovered their base. The attack on the Dalek Headquarters had been a success. They hadn’t lost a single man and they had seriously disabled the enemy’s hold on Cardiff. The Christmas party had been a joyous one.
She still remembered Jack and Gwen sleeping together – inbetween mutually satisfying love-making. She also remembered Gwen and herself and Etsuko sharing a bed while Jack and Niall cuddled up together as they always did, life long lovers.
“I remember it, too,” Jack said. “Gwen… I hope she remembers. It was a wonderful night. Even if it didn’t really happen, I hope she remembers.”
“But why have things changed?” Toshiko asked as she watched Jack configure the wristband and put it on her arm.
“Gwen,” he answered. “I remember. We’d just got the frantic call from PC Andy. We were going to go out and search the area. Then Gwen ran into the hub, out of breath from climbing all the stairs from the bunker. And the first thing she said to me… Well, it DEFINITELY breaks the laws of time, but bless her for it. She told me that Rachel was the traitor and I shouldn’t trust her.”
“So she never betrayed you. You stopped her?”
“Yes. She’s in the cells. She’s been there for two months. We’re feeding her, making sure she’s not harmed. But she’ll stay a prisoner until it’s all over.”
“So everything is ok?”
“We’ve still got a war to fight. We still have to make it through this winter. But we’ve got a fighting chance. Now… Come here…” He hugged Toshiko and kissed her cheek. He kissed Etsuko. “I’ll miss you all,” he said. Then he pressed the button.
The nuclear bunker was silent and dark. Toshiko turned and went to the door, her footsteps echoing on the bare floor. It WAS the same room where they had spent Christmas Eve in 2163. She remembered it well – TWICE. Both memories were STILL strong. She wondered if they would ever go away. She hoped they wouldn’t. Some of it she WANTED to remember.
“Tosh!” As she reached for the door it opened in front of her and moments later Gwen was hugging her.
“You took longer,” Gwen told her. “I got back hours ago. We were starting to get worried. Jack said it would take a little longer because there were the two of you to transport. Is Etsu ok?”
“Yes,” she is.” Toshiko assured him. “We’re all ok. Oh, but Jack…. You told him about Rachel.”
“Yes. I explained what happened to us. Just the bare details. He told me not to say anything more. In case it caused a paradox. But I think it already did. My memory…”
“Mine, too. Jack got Niall back…”
“I still remember me and him spending the night. I still FEEL it. It was only a few hours ago. But time changed. It didn’t happen. So I…”
“He said he hoped you’d still remember. He said he wouldn’t forget it.”
“I never will,” Gwen said with a smile. “Jack’s sent Ianto and Alun up to the cellar. They’re going to get the wall bricked up so nothing else happens. So… so now all the weird stuff is over. And we can have a normal Christmas, now.”
Toshiko thought about the Christmas they had just had. And she knew she would always be grateful for the reassuring ordinariness of Gwen’s definition of a ‘normal Christmas’. But she would be thinking of that Christmas Future when ‘normal’ had ceased to exist.
They both would.