Jack noticed Gwen’s dismal sigh as she saw the police vehicles and an ambulance parked in the school playground. He saw her old friend, Andy, made up to sergeant at last, at the main gate with a batch of fresh-faced PC’s. They were trying to pacify the crowd of anxious parents, bystanders and blatant voyeurs that had gathered, as well as head off a man with a camera slung around his neck who managed to vault over the gate when Sergeant Andy’s attention was elsewhere.
He knew that the sigh wasn’t in any fond remembrance of her time as a beat copper, but because this was a school, an innocent place, and it was the scene of something that Torchwood had been called out to.
Well, the two of them at least. She was driving her old, non-descript Saab. Under no circumstances, DCI Swanson had said, were they to roll up in the SUV in broad daylight, in front of all those crowds baying for something to see. They had to be discreet.
She had a point. For a supposedly secret organisation, discreet wasn’t something Torchwood always did well. The SUV turning up was a giveaway that something big was happening. Even though the Press tended to get blocked from printing anything, word had got around Cardiff about them. Not necessarily an accurate word, but enough to make it difficult for them to claim to be ‘secret’ these days.
Gwen drove past the crowds and around the corner at the end of the playing fields to a back gate that the Press and blatant nosy parkers hadn’t yet discovered. A police constable admitted them and then locked the gate again. She drove up to a concealed place between the dining hall and the science block and parked up. Another PC directed them through a side door towards the school gym, scene of the events that required Torchwood attention.
A gym lesson had been in progress. There was equipment set out: a vaulting horse, pommel, rings, parallel bars, all the equipment for boys’ gymnastic disciplines, plus the ubiquitous row of climbing ropes that all school gyms came complete with.
“I was never any good at ropes,” Gwen admitted as she looked up at them. “Hated them. Monkey bars, too. I just managed to scrape through that stuff at the police training college.”
“I promise never to make you climb a rope in the line of duty for Torchwood,” Jack told her. He knew that she was talking about those things only as a distraction from the horror they were there to view. She stared up at the ropes because she didn’t yet want to look down at the five bodies that still lay beneath them.
Four of them were boys in gym shorts and airtex shirts. The fifth was a teacher wearing a tracksuit. He had a whistle on a length of cord around his neck. Like the boys, his face was wide eyed and staring, open-mouthed in horror as if death had been painful and sudden.
“Before you say a word on the subject,” said DCI Swanson to Jack. “These bodies are going to the hospital just as soon as you’ve seen them in-situ. They will be viewed and identified by the parents in a dignified and decent way before your resident butcher gets to autopsy them. These are kids… just kids…”
DCI Swanson looked shaken. Jack, who most times considered getting a rise out of her an engaging hobby, took her point.
“Owen can go over to the hospital,” he said. “But once the parents have seen them, he WILL have to conduct autopsies. That said… at a guess… I would say they all died of electric shock, wouldn’t you?” He looked around. There was nothing electrical anywhere near them. Why would there be? This was a school gym. Even the sockets for plugging in the floor buffer were behind plastic covers for safety. He looked up at the frame that the ropes were fixed to. It was metal, of course. But it wasn’t near anything that could electrify it. All the rigging for the gym equipment was suspended several feet below the ceiling where the light fittings were. He looked down at the floor. Beneath the safety mats laid down under the equipment it was the usual sort of smooth wooden floor that a school gym was made of, criss crossed with lines for basketball and netball and other indoor games, scuffed by hundreds of plimsolled feet running around it. There were probably electrical conduits in the crawl space beneath the floorboards, but there was nothing that could have conducted electricity from there. There were no broken floorboards, no exposed metal, no water that could have taken a charge.
He ruled out all the normal, ordinary accidental possibilities, even thought he knew Swanson would have done the same before concluding that she needed Cardiff’s own Scooby gang to solve the mystery.
He crouched and looked closely at one of the boys, touching him gently, tenderly. He looked about fourteen, the awkward age when arms and legs seemed too long for the body and life had a whole new set of pressures to be endured. These four all belonged to the tall, skinny subset of teenagers. They had their fair share of acne to deal with and they were starting to be too old for the airtex and shorts style of gym gear. They looked as if they had been perfectly healthy, normal boys. They didn’t look the sort that might have taken any kind of drug that could have caused sudden heart failure. Besides, four of them at once was unlikely.
He looked at the teacher. He was in his mid-40s, slim, athletic, as a sports teacher ought to be. He was clean shaven with short hair. He looked in perfectly good health, too. Except that he was very obviously dead.
The horrified expressions on all their faces were disturbing. The dead eyes stared at him. He wasn’t sure if they were accusing him of inaction or begging him to do something to explain their deaths.
Neither, of course. He was just letting his imagination run riot. He pulled himself together as he stood up and turned to Swanson.
“Electric shock is still my best guess,” he said. “But how?”
“You need to talk to the boy,” Swanson replied. “He’s got one hell of a story if you can get him to tell it. We have the other students in a classroom. They’ve got some theories, too… about what they saw… what they saw him do.”
“A kid did this?” Jack was shocked. “How?”
“You tell me.”
“You’ve got him in custody?”
“We’ve got him… contained,” Swanson replied, choosing her words carefully. “I’ve got a DI guarding the door. When he saw a uniformed man he went nuts. That’s who the ambulance is for. The police constable. He’ll live… but….” Swanson stopped talking and looked at Jack. “I don’t know how much help you could be….”
“I’ll see him,” Jack decided. “Gwen, you go talk to the other kids. Fourteen year old boys. Just turn that cute smile of yours on them and they’ll be falling at your feet.”
Jack smiled the sort of smile that had men, women and any alien variation of gender all falling at his feet. He went with DCI Swanson towards the gym changing rooms while one of the uniformed officers showed Gwen where to go.
The DI was standing just inside the door of the changing rooms, as far away from the boy as he could get without leaving the room altogether. The boy was likewise pressed as far away as he could from any other Human being while trapped in a room with only one exit. He was crouched in the far corner of the communal shower area. At some point the water had been running, and his airtex and shorts were soaking wet, as was his hair. He was hunched up with his arms hugging his knees and his head down. He was shaking and crying and murmuring incoherently.
“He hasn’t moved from there,” the DI confirmed. “He hasn’t said anything that makes any kind of sense.”
“I’ll see if I can talk to him,” Jack said. What’s his name?”
“Bryn Hughes,” DCI Swanson replied. “But I don’t think… Well, you wouldn’t be my first choice as a child therapist. But maybe you’d better try. See what you can do.”
Jack nodded and moved forward slowly. The boy raised his head and watched him warily. He looked like a cornered animal trying to decide between fight or flight. He looked the same age as the dead boys, but a bit shorter and a few pounds heavier, which might have been enough for some people to call him fat. In high school, that was nearly as bad as having two heads for setting a boy apart from the others. Jack just knew, instinctively, that this was the kid the others bullied and name-called.
Jack knelt in front of him when he was at arms length and tried not to look too big and daunting to him. He was glad he had left his greatcoat in the car. It was an impressive looking bit of gear, but right now he needed to look less impressive and more open and amenable to a very disturbed boy.
“I’m Jack,” he said. “I’m not going to hurt you. I promise. But there’s been some trouble around here and I need you to tell us your side of it all.”
The boy looked at him, and whimpered, as if being reminded of what happened was terrifying him. Jack knew he would have to tread carefully. He needed to know what had happened. The boy was the only one who could tell him. But forcing him to remember would traumatise him even more.
“You’re bleeding,” Jack said. It was a nose bleed that started completely spontaneously – stress related, perhaps. Jack reached in his pocket and found a clean handkerchief. He reached out and pressed it against the boy’s nose. To his surprise, he let him. He edged a little closer. The bleeding was stopping, but the sight of the blood seemed to freak the boy out even more. Jack wondered if he dared to reach out and hug him. He looked as if he needed some kind of Human reassurance of that sort. But on the other hand, physical contact might send him over the edge again. He hadn’t missed the significance of what Swanson had said about the uniformed officer who needed an ambulance after trying to approach him.
“Nose bleeds are the worst,” Jack said as he edged a little closer. “I used to get them when I was a kid. Head ached for hours after.”
That was a lie. He had only ever had one nose bleed that wasn’t the result of a fist or other blunt instrument making contact with his face. It was the first day of training for space flight in the Time Agency. He was one of several rookies who had suffered badly in the g-force test. The second time he was ok. But the headache the first time had laid him low for hours.
He kept on talking like that, though, as he moved ever closer. Finally he was able to reach out an arm around the boy’s trembling shoulders. At first he seemed to respond to the act of kindness well. He pressed his face against Jack’s shirt as he hugged him gently. He thought about trying to get him to stand up.
Then the door crashed open and a PC rushed in with a message for the DCI. The noise and the sight of a uniform undid all Jack’s effort. The boy screamed in terror, pushing away from Jack’s embrace. As he did, the shower heads all turned on. Jack yelped as freezing cold water descended on him. He yelped even louder as an electrical charge coursed through his body. He felt his heart falter as the jolt reached it and he braced himself for the usually inevitable blackness as he slithered to the floor.
“No,” he told himself. “No. It’s not the first time you’ve been electrocuted. The Master did it to you at least twice a day for a year. Don’t die. Not in front of the kid. He’s freaked enough. Not in front of Swanson. She’ll never trust you again if she sees….”
He forced his heart back into a normal rhythm. He looked through the red haze and saw the water stopping again and the kid kneeling by his side, begging him not to be dead.
“I’m not dead, kid,” he assured him. “Give me a hand, here.”
The boy reached out his hand and lifted him to a sitting position. He looked around and saw Swanson giving the PC a sotto voce earbashing for his lousy timing.
“Look, everyone get out of here,” Jack said. “Somebody find me some dry clothes. Is your school uniform over there, kid?”
The boy nodded.
“Ok, then we’re both going to get dry and changed and then I’m going to get you out of here.”
“I don’t want to go to the police station,” the boy said.
“I’m not a policeman and I’m not taking you to any police station,” he promised. “I’ll keep the police away from you if it’s the last thing I do.” He turned again. Nobody had moved. Swanson, the DI and the PC were all looking at him as he stood up, holding the boy by his hand. “I said, find me some dry clothes.”
“I can’t leave you in here with the boy…” Swanson told him. “It’s hardly appropriate. And as for not letting the police near him….”
“Fuck what’s appropriate,” Jack replied. “And fuck the police. Do it, now!”
Swanson hesitated on the point of arguing, but she seemed to have used up her quota of assertiveness in front of Jack Harkness for one day. She sighed and turned away, ushering everyone else out in front of her.
“Come on, kid, let’s get you dressed,” Jack said quietly. Bryn nodded and stepped out of the shower area. He found a towel and his own clothes and went behind one of the rows of coat pegs to peel off his sodden gym kit and dry himself before dressing in his uniform. Jack waited by the door.
There was a soft knock at the door. Jack partially opened it and looked out. Gwen passed him a folded bundle of cloth that turned out to be a track suit with the school logo on the breast pocket. It wasn’t exactly a fashion statement, but it would do for now.
She also had some information.
“The other kids are all saying that Bryn struck the teacher and the other boys down with witchcraft. And at the school gates somebody started a rumour…. The Press out there are muttering about ‘Cardiff Columbine’ as a headline for the papers.”
Jack swore a colourful string of oaths, some of them not in any Earth language. They made Gwen blush anyway.
“Ok, tell Gloria to give the Press a statement about accidental electrocution.”
“Are you sure you want to go with that?” Gwen asked. “I mean… a student with a gun… it’s plausible. It happens…The Press would believe it.”
“Fuck the Press. I don’t care if they’re disappointed. I don’t want that poor kid persecuted forever. Accidental deaths. Nobody to blame. And I’ll talk to the other kids in a minute.”
He closed the door and quickly changed. He felt strangely vulnerable in the unfamiliar polyester track suit. It was an irritating fabric next to his skin. He already missed his cotton shirt. But at least he was dry. He looked around as Bryn emerged, fully dressed in his school uniform, including the tie, fastened in a neat Windsor knot. He was at the centre of five deaths, but he didn’t want to risk a demerit for not adhering to the school dress code.
“Ok, come on with me,” Jack said quietly. Bryn followed him out into the corridor. “This is my friend Gwen,” he said. “She is a very nice woman. You can trust her. She’s going to take you out to her car. No, it’s not a police car. I promise. I’m going to join you in a few minutes. Then we’re getting out of here. I’m sure you’ve seen enough of school for one day.”
Bryn looked worried. He moved closer to Jack, as if he didn’t want to be separated from him. But Jack gently coaxed him into going with Gwen, who put on her best WPC/Girl Scout Leader/Sunday School Teacher manner. Safe, slightly soppy Gwen who cared for wounded birds and lost children. Jack smiled faintly and thought of the spitting hellcat she could turn into when crossed – especially by him. But the soppy version of her had its uses.
He walked the other way, to the classroom where the fifteen other boys from the gym class had been told to stay put. They were making the sort of noises boys always made when they were unsupervised in a classroom, and they didn’t really see Jack at first. He listened to what they were saying and his expression darkened. When he walked to the front of the class and faced them, they quietened at once. There was something about him, even in a borrowed track suit, that exuded authority and commanded obedience.
“So,” he said. “What happened?”
Fifteen answers came back, all on the same theme. “The freak killed Mr Browen and the others.”
“Freak?” Fifteen boys all went silent as Jack repeated the words. “You. Explain.”
The singled out boy muttered about how Bryn was no good at sports and always wanted to read books, and he couldn’t even climb a rope and he had no parents and his clothes were second hand....
And that made him a freak? Jack sighed. It was a recurring pattern in Human nature. Every generation, every school, every class had one – a quiet boy, a late developer, a boy who had ‘bully me’ written in invisible ink on his forehead. There was, by the same law of averages, probably only one really nasty one with ‘bully’ running through him like the lettering in a stick of rock, but he would always have a few hangers on, and the rest of the class would turn a blind eye, or invent justifications for the scapegoating of the vulnerable one. He’s a freak. He smells, he’s useless at games. His clothes aren’t the right designer label....
“You bunch of cowardly shits,” Jack said, noting their shocked expressions. Somebody, an adult, not a teacher, but somebody who had come into the classroom and commanded their attention, had sworn at them. “You fucking shits. Any one of you could have helped him. You could have tried to be his friend. But you didn’t. Cowards. That’s what you are.” He let that sink in for a few moments, before moving on to the important point. “The deaths of your school friends and the teacher were accidental. There was a fault that caused the floor under the climbing ropes to conduct electricity for a few seconds. The ones who died were wearing the wrong kind of gym shoes. Probably some designer label that looks cool but serves no useful purpose. Bryn’s second hand shoes saved him.” The dig at the ‘second hand’ comment was egging the explanation a bit, but Jack enjoyed the look on their faces as it sank in, and the way they all shuffled their Nike, Adidas and Converse covered feet. “It was a tragic accident. That’s all. And if I find out that any of you have said anything to the contrary outside this classroom, to the other students, to your parents, to the Press, anything that implicates an innocent boy, I will come down on you like the proverbial ton of bricks. Have you got that?”
They didn’t Retcon kids if they could help it. There was a slight possibility of side effects. But it wasn’t needed with enough willpower to make them think that his version of events was the truth. His eyes glittered as he outstared the most mutinous ones, then he turned away, confident that his message had got through.
His message hadn’t got through to the DCI, though. She was at the side door, preventing Gwen and Bryn from leaving. The boy had the fight or flight cornered look again, and his nose was bleeding.
“I can’t allow you to take charge of him,” Kathy Swanson argued. “There are five deaths here. At best he’s a material witness. At worst… he’s the killer. You can’t. He has to be detained in police custody.”
Jack, Gwen and Swanson all reeled as the electrical charge enveloped them. It wasn’t a killing blow, but it hurt and disorientated. Jack recovered a few seconds before the two women and grasped hold of Bryn.
“The medieval witchcraft statutes were abolished in 1951,” Jack told Swanson as her vision cleared and she saw him holding the boy away from her grasp. “Unless you can think of some other law that covers what anyone thinks happened in there, then you have nothing to hold the boy on. I’m told he’s an orphan. Is that right?”
“Yes. He’s in temporary care at Tregor House – the Children’s Home.”
“Then you can be his ‘appropriate adult’,” Jack told the DCI. “But the boy is under my… under Torchwood’s care and protection until I say otherwise.”
One day, he thought, Swanson might actually challenge the ‘above the law’ aspect of Torchwood. But today wasn’t that day.
“All right,” she conceded. “But I don’t think you’ll get the boy away without the Press seeing. There’s a lot of them out there now. And some of them think there’s more than an accidental death here. They want their ‘Columbine’. If they see you drive out with the boy…”
“They’ll think we’re parents picking up our son,” Gwen pointed out.
“Maybe,” Swanson argued. “But what if….”
“Arrange a diversion,” Jack said. Swanson gave him a very dirty look but she turned away to do his bidding all the same. Jack and Gwen took the boy out to the Saab. Jack sat in the back with him. Swanson came out of the school a few minutes later and sat in the passenger seat quietly. Gwen waited for the diversion. It came in the form of a police van leaving the school by the main gate with siren and lights going. It was driven by Sergeant Andy Davidson and there was nobody at all in the back, but the crowds still turned and watched it while the Saab slipped out of the side gate and merged into the ordinary traffic that drove straight past the school gate drama.
Bryn sat quietly in the back of the car, looking at his own hands resting in his lap. Jack tried to engage him in conversation, but most of his answers were one syllable words, mainly yes and no.
“Are you scared of heights, Bryn?” Jack asked as they approached Roald Dahl Plas.
“No,” he answered, then gave him the longest response yet. “Only climbing ropes to get to them.”
“No ropes involved,” Jack promised. “Let us out here,” he told Gwen. “I’ll bring him in by the scenic lift. You two come in by the garage.”
Gwen stopped the car and Jack got out. Bryn followed him. As they strolled across the Plas, Jack slipped his arm around the boy’s shoulder. They could have been father and son viewing the tourist attractions. They walked up to the fountain and Jack told the boy to stand close to him on the perception filtered step.
The ride down to the Hub was spectacular. Bryn should have been impressed. Deep down, he probably was, Jack thought. But he was in such a deeply morose and sad place at the moment he couldn’t really appreciate it.
“My office,” Jack decided, ruling out the interrogation room. They had made that place look deliberately intimidating. Bryn was intimidated enough. Ianto met him at the door with a file. He looked at Jack’s emergency outfit and smiled.
“It really isn’t you,” he said. “Coffee?”
“Please. And… orange juice for the kid?”
“Coming up, boss,” Ianto promised dutifully. Jack pulled up a chair for the boy next to his desk. He sat in his chair and watched as Bryn sat quietly for a minute or so, then, curiosity getting the better of him, reached out and touched the model plane on the desk. When he saw Jack watching him his hand snapped back guiltily but a smile of encouragement allowed him to reach out again. Jack opened the file and read it quickly. It was a very brief profile of Bryn Hughes, a troubled fourteen year old. It gave his date and place of birth – Port Talbot, his schools – several of them, Jack noted, since he went from primary to secondary school – all in different towns. Either his parents moved house a lot or there was something to that. The file also included a newspaper clipping recording a car accident in which Mr and Mrs Hughes had died instantly and their teenage son escaped with minor injuries. A list of children’s homes and foster carers in the six months since that event showed how an already fractured life had been completely shattered.
“Poor kid,” Jack thought as Ianto came in with the coffee and orange juice and the news that Owen was on the way back from the hospital. Ianto’s eyes flickered momentarily towards the boy before he slid a note to Jack. Owen had rung to say that the bodies all looked like classic cases of electrocution with nothing more sinister than that about them. He and the hospital’s own medical examiner had signed them off as accidental deaths, confirming the cover story.
“Also, Kathy Swanson wants to know what you think is appropriate for her to do now she’s here. She put a rather sarcastic emphasis on the word ‘appropriate’, by the way.”
Jack walked with Ianto to the door and spoke to him quietly. “What would be ‘appropriate’ is her sitting with Gwen and watching on CCTV. The kid is scared of the police. He’s scared of just about everything and everyone. I seem to have a bit of a rapport with him. I’m going to try to build on it. But I don’t want anyone else near.”
Ianto nodded and slipped away. Jack closed the door. It was glass. So was the whole of one wall of the office. It in no way made the room feel like a place of detention or interrogation. Just above where the boy was sitting he knew the concealed CCTV camera was on. So were several other electronic devices built into the walls. Thanks to some handy stolen alien technology, while Gwen and Kathy watched the live video, Toshiko was at her workstation recording Bryn’s body heat, his heart rate, brain activity, levels of adrenaline and other hormones.
For a few minutes there was nothing much to monitor. Jack drank his coffee. Bryn drank his orange juice and played with the model plane.
“You don’t like school much, do you?” Jack said eventually.
“I like reading, learning,” Bryn answered. “But I don’t like being at school.”
“Just this school or all schools?” Jack asked.
“I hated the last two schools I was at.”
“Is that why you left?”
“There were fires,” Bryn answered.
“Fires at both the secondary schools you went to? Did you….”
He didn’t want to accuse the boy of arson, but he had a feeling there was a pattern here. He had to know.
“They called me names. Kicked. Stole my lunch money and any sweets I had. I was angry. I wanted… I wanted not to have to go there. Mum and dad… even though the report said it was an electrical fault… they were scared. We moved house. I went to a new school. But it was no different. They called me stuff….”
“What sort of stuff?”
“Fagboy, queer… They all said I was… you know….”
“Ah.” Jack understood. The anti-bullying campaigns had tackled racism, sexism and sizism to some extent. Kids with spots or glasses or physical disabilities were protected by the watchful eye of teachers who had been on courses to recognise the signs. But the last victims still to be acknowledged were the ones the other students branded as gay, whether they were or not. The shy, sensitive kids, the boys with fair skin and long eyelashes who looked a bit feminine, the ones who preferred a book to a kick about in the playground, the ones the teachers were either oblivious to, or indifferent.
“There was a fire at that school, too?”
“In the dining room,” Bryn said. “Nobody was hurt. It was after dinner. But my parents were really scared then. They took me out of school. I learnt at home. That was ok. But they argued. My dad thought I ought to be mixing with other kids. Mum wanted to keep me at home. I hated it when they argued. One time… they were arguing in the car. It got worse and worse until.…”
“That was the day of the accident?”
“I did it,” Bryn said. He was crying now. And no wonder. “I was angry at them both for arguing. I shouted, but they wouldn’t stop. Dad just yelled at me to keep out of it, and then carried on arguing with mum. I screamed at them. And then… I felt it… like I never felt it before…. The feeling inside me… like my stomach was on fire. And then… it exploded out of me like it did when the school…. I didn’t mean it. I didn’t want to. I hated them arguing but I didn’t hate them… But… I killed them. They were already dead before the car went off the road.”
“Oh shit, I’m sorry,” Jack said. Tears streamed down the boy’s face and his nose was starting to bleed again. Jack reached for the tissues. He tried to put one into his hands but they were trembling too much. Jack wiped his nose for him.
“Are you angry now?” he asked. “Or is it just remembering the feeling you had then?”
“Remembering,” he answered. “But still… Jack… I like you. I don’t want to hurt you. I hurt people… I can’t help it.”
“I believe you,” Jack assured him. “But this new school… you’ve been there two months. You don’t like it there, either?”
“I’m no good at games. I don’t follow football. Or rugby. My uniform.…” He pulled at the school tie. “I started midterm and they didn’t know how long I’d be staying. It’s all from the lost property box. And the labels…. still have other names stitched in. Nobody at the Home thought to change them. John Glyn… he saw it when we were changing. He told the others. His gang. They never let me be after that. And then they started with the ‘fagboy’ stuff as well. They were doing it today. Because I couldn’t get up the rope. Fagboy… pathetic, stupid fagboy. They laughed when I fell off the rope and hurt my hands. And… and….” Bryn gasped for breath as he got to the worst part of it. “Mr Browen… he was supposed to look after me.…”
“He bloody well should have,” Jack swore. “He should have kept an eye on the class, stopped the bullying. It’s not right.”
“He said he would look after me. He said I was special… his favourite.”
Jack’s blood froze as those words sank in.
Bryn… when did he…when did he say that? What did he do?”
“In the changing room… last week after gym. John Glyn kicked me when we were in the showers. And they hid my shoes. I was on my own, still getting dressed. I was crying. Because I was so tired of it all. Mr Browen came in. He sat next to me. He… put his arm around me and kissed me and said I was… He promised….”
“Bastard!” Jack thought. “Taking advantage. Bastard.”
“That’s what made me so mad,” Bryn continued. “I’d been trying. Trying not to get so angry, because I knew what would happen. But today… I fell off the ropes and they were laughing and calling me. And Mr Browen came and I thought he would help. But he didn’t. He laughed. He called me… he called me a pathetic little queer. John Glyn and the others laughed even more. And they called me the same thing. He was supposed to look after me. And he let them….”
Jack’s own anger surged as he understood the full extent of Bryn’s pain. Browen had betrayed his trust as a teacher with those inappropriate actions in the changing room. Now he betrayed Bryn’s trust by siding with the ones who taunted him. Why? Was he scared of being recognised as a paedophile, so he attacked the boy to cover himself?
“He laughed,” Bryn repeated. And his emotional threshold was reached with those last words. Jack yelled out loud as he felt himself being electrocuted again. It was a hard blow. It might have been fatal if it hadn’t been partially deflected. The desktop computer screen blew out and he heard the buzz of shorting out circuits as his body trembled with the power. He saw the model of the Mustang lying on the table where Bryn had dropped it. The propellers had melted and the glass of the cockpit was smashed. He had tried to pour it all into the model he was holding, but there had been too much power.
“It’s ok,” Jack told him, as the boy tried to back away fearfully. He reached out and held him in a tight embrace. “I don’t care if you hurt me. I can take it. But I won’t let anyone hurt you. I promise. Nobody will hurt you, Bryn.”
Bryn sobbed into his chest as he held him. Jack was aware of the crowd around the door, Kathy Swanson being held back by Gwen and Ianto, Owen calling out anxiously, asking if he was all right.
“Everyone back off, leave us alone,” he said. “Go away… until we’re ready.” He heard the door close again as he ran his hand through the boy’s hair, soothing him, calming him. Slowly it began to work. The simple human contact, the nearness of somebody with no hidden motives finally let him relax his tortured mind and body. He heard the boy sigh with something like contentment as he continued to hold him.
After a while, he seemed to be asleep, or close to it. He must have been exhausted by his emotional roller coaster of a day. Jack brought him to the sofa in the corner of his room and laid him on it. He covered him with a blanket though the room was far from cold. As he stood, he saw Owen standing in the doorway.
“I should get a blood sample. We need to confirm if the kid is even Human. What he did… what we saw on the screens….”
“He’s Human,” Jack replied. “If you don’t believe me…” He picked up the tissues discarded on his desk. “There’s blood and mucus there… it ought to be enough for a DNA test. You’re not sticking needles in him. He needs to rest without being frightened.”
“Him, frightened? He scared the shit out of me when he….”
“He’s a scared, hurt kid. He needs our help.”
“He’s dangerous. He killed five people today… and his own parents, by his own admittance.”
“He’s admitted nothing. It was all just fear talking.”
“Whatever you say, Jack. But take a look at what Toshiko recorded in here. And tell me you’re not scared, too.”
Owen took the used tissues to his lab. Jack closed the door to his office and walked across to Toshiko’s workstation, where Gwen and Kathy were already watching intently.
“Well?” Toshiko reset the screen. It showed Bryn sitting at the desk, but using heat imaging. He appeared as patterns of yellow, orange and red, and some lighter parts around his hands and feet that suggested circulatory problems.
“See that,” Toshiko said, pointing to a bright red shape roughly in the middle of Bryn’s stomach. “That’s way hotter than any other part of his body. And it isn’t any normal organ of the Human body. It’s like an extra gland or something. And look….”
She was replaying the recording in something like four times normal speed. Jack watched the heat image of the boy moving as he talked to him.
“He’s getting more and more upset,” Toshiko explained. “And that gland, organ, whatever it is… it’s expanding. It’s getting hotter. And then….”
The recording ended abruptly.
“That’s when he whacked you and everything in your office with electricity. I don’t know how, but that gland stores electricity, and he expels it when he’s angry. He’s like.…”
“An electric eel?” Gwen suggested. “It sounds horrible but… that’s what they do. They store electrical energy and then expel it when they’re threatened. Yes, I watch the nature channel.”
“Gwen’s right,” Owen confirmed as he approached. “He’s Human, by the way. I’ve confirmed it. But he’s a Human who evolved some kind of ‘mechanism’. It maybe only came into effect when he reached puberty.…”
“I’d say so,” Jack answered, remembering the pattern of house moving and new schools.
“Is that possible?” Kathy Swanson asked. “I mean, it’s a bit… you know… X-Men….”
Kathy Swanson didn’t notice everyone glance momentarily at Etsuko, sleeping in her cot beside Toshiko’s workstation. The Torchwood team knew that humans with unusual powers happened. Bryn seemed to be one of them.
“What do we do about it?” Gwen asked. “What happens to him? He IS just a boy. What do we do? Lock him up in isolation… in an insulated room?”
“Over my dead body,” Jack answered.
“Mine, too,” Toshiko added, her hand reaching protectively towards the cot.
Owen reached out and adjusted the view of Bryn’s body. He zoomed in on the strange gland.
“I’m betting it doesn’t have any other function. If it was surgically removed, the kid would be fine… just like having his appendix out.”
“You could do that?” Gwen asked.
“Not while he’s like this,” Toshiko said. “The electric eel analogy is right. At the school, he originally had enough power within him to kill five people at once. Afterwards, a police officer was injured but not killed, and you were hit, too, Jack, but not enough to kill you. You brought him here, and he was able to rest for a while on the journey, and the stored energy built up again… and was expelled when he recounted his story and felt angry again. It was quite a blow, but maybe not as bad as when he killed his tormentors. But now he’s asleep… his body renewing itself… the gland is storing energy again. I think there could be enough for a killer blow again, already. If you tried to operate….”
“I take your point,” Owen conceded.
“So what do we do?” Gwen asked.
“He’s got to be made angry again,” Ianto said. “He has to expend the energy until it’s safe for Owen to operate.”
“That would work,” Owen replied. “As long as it was done quickly. Before the level builds up again. But I’m not making him angry. I’ve seen the bodies.”
Everyone looked at each other, then at Jack.
“No,” he protested. “No… he trusts me. I can’t. He’s already been betrayed once today by somebody who promised to protect him. You can’t ask me to….”
“You’re the only one who can, Jack,” Toshiko told him. “I’m sorry….”
“Why is he…” Kathy Swanson began to ask. But nobody was listening to her. They were all looking at Jack. He had his face turned from them all. He was trying not to let them see that he was crying.
“Jack….” Gwen reached out and touched him. “Jack, if you really care about Bryn, then you have to do it. You have to hurt him to save him.”
“I know,” he answered. “I fucking know it. Just… give me a little time. Let me.…” He turned and walked away, back to his office. He sat down at his desk and looked at his broken aeroplane model, wondering if it could be fixed. He knew Gwen had followed him. He looked up at her.
“You’ve only known him for a few hours,” she pointed out. “And yet… I was watching, with Kathy. We saw you with him, hugging him. Like a dad, caring for his own son. Kathy said so, too. It surprised her. Me, too. Never thought of you as dad material.”
“Me neither,” he answered. “I don’t think I am.”
“Maybe you could be. What if you adopted him?”
“I don’t even have a home. I live down that hole in the floor.”
“You and Garrett… together….”
Jack shook his head. “Me and Garrett… Every day we’re together… I expect it to end. Neither of us have the kind of lives that allow for long term… for happy families. Besides… the other kids taunted him, saying he was gay. If he lived with us… what would that make him?”
“Lucky,” Gwen replied. But Jack shook his head. Gwen was a romantic. She saw happy endings. He was more inclined to see complications.
He shook his head again and then became practical. He told Gwen what he wanted them all to do, to be ready. She left the room, closing the door behind her. Jack sat and waited, watching as Bryn slept peacefully, his heart breaking for what he had to do when the boy woke, and just a little bit because what Gwen had suggested was a nice idea, and he was sorry it wouldn’t work.
Besides, once he had betrayed the boy’s trust, it could never happen.
“We’re ready, Jack,” Alun said to him, a few minutes later. Jack nodded and let him come into the office. He felt like shit. The betrayal had already begun.
At least it was one of the clean cells, and there were no Weevils on this floor. But it was still a cell. He watched through the polycarbide wall as Bryn woke and looked around him at the dismal grey walls on three sides.
“What’s happening?” he asked. “Why am I here? What is this?”
“It’s a detention cell,” Jack answered, keeping his voice deliberately cold and hard. “The autopsy results came back. They’re calling it murder. You’re being held here until DCI Swanson is ready to take you to Central Police Headquarters. You’ll be formally charged there.”
“No!” he cried. “Jack… no… you promised…. You said you’d protect me. You said.…”
He wanted to say he was sorry. In his mind he did. Out loud he had to keep up the pretence.
“I’m just doing my job. Protecting people… decent people… from freaks like you. You don’t belong out there. You’re a danger to society. That’s why you’re going to jail. You….”
He was surprised it took that long for the anger and grief to burst upon him. When it did, Jack felt the blow to his heart like his ribcage had been slammed into with a sledgehammer. And he felt he deserved it, for what he had done.
But he kept his heart beating. He recovered himself. He stood straight and looked back at the boy.
“That’s why you have to be punished, freak,” he said. “You have to.…”
Another blow. This time he was slammed against the wall of the cell opposite by the force of it. He struggled to his feet, gasping for breath, his heart racing insanely. It was the polycarbide wall between him and the boy that was protecting him from the death blow. It was absorbing some of the force. But it was bad enough. He wondered how many more he could take before it killed him. If he didn’t deplete enough of the energy before then it would be no use. He would have to start over when he came back.
He poured out another string of hurtful insults and another blow floored him. He hurt all over. It was as bad as when he took on Abbadon for all he had, or the afternoon when The Master was feeling especially vindictive and took four hours before he actually killed him that time.
“Jack, be careful.” Toshiko’s voice was in his ear via the communicator. “Your vital signs are scaring us up here. And the kid still seems to have lots of energy reserves.”
“He doesn’t,” Jack answered. “He’s tiring, too. But….”
“You can’t take too many more like that,” she told him.
“Then I think we have to go for broke,” he replied. “I’m going in.…”
He unlocked the cell and stepped inside. The boy backed away from him.
“Don’t… I’ll kill you,” he said. “I’ll kill you… I hate you. You’re as bad as the rest. You….”
“Yeah, go on, try it,” Jack answered. Then he said a word he thought would never pass his own lips. “Fagboy.”
That did it. Bryn screamed with grief-stricken rage, and Jack felt the worst attack yet, with the same power that must have killed the five in the school gym. Later he wondered if, just that once, the boy really did have some control over it and it had been a directed attack. But at that moment he couldn’t think anything except how much it hurt and how much he welcomed the oblivion that overtook him.
He woke with a hoarse intake of breath and a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. He was lying on the cell floor, and he ached all over, but Gwen’s hand caressing his face was a gentle softness that soothed away the pain.
“You’re ok,” she told him. “You looked terrible. But you’re all right, now.”
“Bryn,” he said. He looked around as she helped him to his feet. The cell was empty. “They took him?”
“Owen is operating now.”
“I need to see.” He turned to run and stumbled dizzily. Gwen steadied him. “Thanks,” he whispered. But it was just a momentary thing. He was all right. The heart that had burst under the last, terrible onslaught was repaired.
His soul still felt like a knife was slicing through it.
He strode up the stairs from the cell block, Gwen running to keep up. He reached the Hub and then ran down the steps to the gallery above Owen’s medical room. Alun was already there. Ianto and Toshiko were both assisting in the operation. Toshiko was holding a set of forceps and a bowl of cotton swabs. Ianto had what looked like a set of jump leads.
“The power is building up again slowly,” Alun explained. “Ianto’s drawing it off. But I think Owen’s nearly done, anyway.
As they watched, Ianto dropped the jump leads and grabbed a metal dish. Owen dropped something bloody and misshapen into it. Toshiko swabbed inside the wound and Owen cauterised the place where he had cut the strange gland out of Bryn’s body before beginning to close up the incision.
“Did it work?” Jack asked. But it was too soon to ask that question. They watched as Owen completed the operation and then bandaged the wound. Finally he pulled off his surgical mask and looked up at them. He gave a thumbs up sign. Jack sighed with relief.
It was some hours later when Bryn came around from the anaesthetic. He looked around and gave a soft groan as his stitches pulled. He looked at the intravenous drip attached to the back of his hand.
“Where am I?” he asked as he saw somebody move closer. When he saw it was Jack he tried to draw away from him, but he couldn’t move without it hurting. “What did you do to me? Where am I now?”
“You’re in a private nursing home in Weston Super Mare,” Jack answered. "You need looking after for a while after your operation and the nurses are very nice, here.”
“What operation? What did you do to me?”
“Bryn,” Jack said, taking hold of his hand and gripping it though the boy tried to pull it away. “I am sorry. I am so sorry for what I said and did to you. I had to do it to run down the power within you, so that Owen could safely remove the gland that caused you to hurt people. It’s gone now. You’re going to be ok. But I feel like a total shit for what I did to you. And I hope you forgive me. I… I’m begging you to forgive me, Bryn.”
“But you said….”
“Absolutely horrible things. Yes, I know. I had to make you attack me. But I am so ashamed of it. Please… please forgive me. Please believe that it wasn’t real.”
“How do I know that?” Bryn asked.
“Ask my boyfriend,” Jack answered. “He knows I would never say things like that.”
“Your.…” Bryn’s tear filled eyes widened in surprise. “You’re… really….”
“Really. And that is the truth. So please… please forgive me.”
“I forgive you, Jack,” Bryn told him. “I….” He reached out. Jack felt his arms around his neck and leaned forward into his embrace.
“What’s going to happen to me now?” Bryn asked after a while. “Where will I go? They won’t… the police….”
“They’re not charging you with anything. Accidental death is the story we all decided on. Detective Swanson will come to see you tomorrow. But only because she’s pulling some strings to get you a long term foster carer in or around Bristol. It’s a whole different country. England. All the way across the channel from Wales. We thought a complete new start would be best for you.”
“But I like you, Jack,” he answered. “I wish I could stay with you.”
“I don’t have time to be a parent,” Jack told him. “I work really long hours. And when I do have any free time… well when I get to spend time with my boyfriend, we’re totally selfish bastards who don’t want anyone else around.”
Bryn laughed at that, then groaned. Jack reached and pressed the valve that administered a dose of painkillers into the saline drip.
“You’ll be all right,” he promised. “Nobody will ever let you down again. Or if they do, they’ll answer to me. And that is a promise you can rely on. If you do feel threatened or hurt, or frightened, then you call me.”
“I will, I promise,” he answered. “Jack… thank you. And I’m sorry for hurting you.”
“I’m sorry I had to hurt you. So we’re even on that and we won’t talk about it any more.”
“Can I talk about something else?” Bryn asked. “Can you tell me… your boyfriend… that was for real? You really are a.…”
“Is he like you? Strong, tough… clever?”
Jack smiled widely.
“Don’t tell anyone. This is classified. But he’s a secret agent. Like James Bond. But better looking. He’s very tough.”
“So… being… you know… it doesn’t make you soft or a coward?”
“No, it bloody well doesn’t,” Jack insisted. “But not being able to climb a rope in the gym doesn’t make you gay, either. It just means you’re crap at rope climbing. But who cares about that?”
“But what if I am….”
“I don’t know if you are or not,” Jack told him. “You’re too young for it to matter either way. When you are old enough, it’s up to you to decide what you want to be, who you want to love. And don’t let anyone hurt you because of that choice. Remember that. I hope I will see you again some time, Bryn. But if I don’t… take that as my best advice to you, and have a good life.”
“I will, Jack,” he promised. Then he said goodbye and left the room. He told the nurse at the desk on the landing that Bryn was awake and might need some of her attention. He walked down the stairs and out of the seafront building. He breathed deeply the warm evening air and then stepped up to the open-topped Jaguar that was parked nearby.
“Thanks for picking me up,” he said to Garrett. He smiled and leaned over to kiss him on the lips.
“Tough day?” he asked.
“Absolutely shocking,” Jack answered.