Jack turned from his private safe and put the artefact he drew from it on the desk. Then he went to his office door and looked out. He smiled as he saw the team members all working hard on the various assignments he had set them. Gwen was writing up notes on Ray the Wolfman’s most recent stay in the vault. Owen was in his crypt with an alien autopsy to perform. Ianto and Alun were with Toshiko, calibrating the rift predictor. She had a theory about how it could more accurately anticipate rift activity.
“Ianto,” he called out. “Need you up here for a minute or two.” Ianto looked around and then looked back at Alun who made some kind of comment that made Toshiko blush and laugh at the same time. Ianto grinned at them both and then sprinted up to him. “Got something I need to show you,” he said. He waved to Ianto to sit down, and took his own seat before he picked up the timelocked container and passed it to him.
“FAO Ianto Jones, Torchwood Agent 567. To be opened on October 31st, 2009.” Ianto looked at Jack curiously.
“When I took over as Director of Torchwood, that was in the safe along with various other weird and wonderful things. I didn’t even know who Ianto Jones was, then. You were still a student at Aberystwyth, before you even started working for Torchwood One. When you did come to us, I knew some bit of fate was unfolding. And today’s the day. The time lock unlocked itself a few minutes ago. You’ll be able to open it.”
Ianto looked at the metal box. He turned it over in his hands. Apart from the label addressing it to him there were few clues at all about where it came from and why.
Except the date when it was sealed.
“September 3rd, 1939,” he noted. “Wow. That’s a momentous day.”
“It was a Sunday,” Jack said. “A beautiful sunny day. Summer wasn’t yet over. But there was something ominous in the air. I knew, of course. Been there. Seen it. But even those who didn’t felt something was about to happen. At ten o’clock in the morning, the BBC announced, on the radio, “Stand by for an announcement of national importance.” There was dance music and then a talk about how to make the most of tinned food. Then the Prime Minister came on the air. He told us we were at war.”
“Were you here,” Ianto asked. “At Torchwood?”
“No, I’d taken a couple of weeks off. I… knew what was coming. I knew that I had to do my bit. I’d be ready to join up and fight. I wanted a bit of sunshine and normality first. I took a girl to Blackpool. Her name was Mary Morgan. She was….” Jack smiled wistfully and then looked at Ianto. “If it was me, I’d have opened that by now.”
“It was filed by Lydia. I recognise her handwriting. I…” Ianto swallowed hard. “Jack, I’m madly in love with Alun. He’s the most special person I could ever hope to meet. And because of him, the commitment I’ve made to him, I’ve burned my boats as far as relationships with women are concerned. But every time I look at an archive file with Lydia’s signature on, I think of her in… in a special way… I think I was just a little bit smitten… I mean there was hardly time. Alun and I were there for no more than a few days. But… I came to be very fond of her. And twenty years later, she addressed a time locked artefact container to me. She remembered me. I must have made an impression on her, too.”
“Doesn’t surprise me,” Jack said with a knowing smile that made Ianto blush engagingly. “Ianto, I seriously doubt she wrote you a love letter. But if you’d rather be alone when you open it, I can… go and make coffee…. You look like you could use one anyway.”
Ianto gave him a grateful look. Jack grinned reassuringly and left him to it. Ianto turned the box over and broke the wax seal that was the final obstacle to the secrets within the box.
When he returned, Ianto was reading a letter written on official Torchwood notepaper. It was still in perfect condition, still white. The time lock kept everything preserved as if time stood still within the container.
Ianto looked nearly as white as the paper and his hands shook as he read the letter. Jack put a mug of coffee in front of him and went to sit back down in his own seat. He waited until Ianto was ready to talk.
“She…” He smiled warmly as he glanced once again at the letter and then looked at Jack. “She… has sent us some important information. About rift activity research in 1939 and some discoveries they made about it. They conducted some experiments that they actually think we could help with from 2009.”
“What sort of experiments?” Jack asked.
“Well… you’d better read this.” He handed the letter to Jack. There was some warm, personal detail in the letter as well as business, and Ianto really hoped he’d be allowed to keep it afterwards. But he didn’t mind Jack reading it.
He just wished Jack looked as excited as he did about the proposal that was put forward in the letter. Ianto watched the deep frown in his eyes and the way he twisted his mouth and sucked in air in a kind of reverse sigh, and knew it wasn’t going to be good news.
“She said she sent some data?” Jack asked as he folded the letter and gave it back to Ianto.
“Yes…here…” He held up a set of metal cards with holes punched in them, apparently randomly. Jack knew what they were straight away. Ianto had made a guess based on his eclectic historical knowledge. The rest of the team, born in an era when personal computers were commonplace, took for granted output on monitors, disc drives, emails and USB ports, and input on keyboards, ROM sticks and downloads. They would not make much of them. Punched cards for transferring data from one computer to another was a very archaic concept.
“Throw them away,” Jack said in a surprisingly harsh tone. “It’s a mad, dangerous idea. I won’t risk the life of any member of my team on it. Lydia should have known better. Her boss certainly should have. I’m surprised at her. But the answer is no. We’re not getting involved in any part of this.”
“Some things are just better left alone,” Jack continued in a softer voice. “Time travel is one of them. Believe me, I know. So should you after your experiences in 1919. It’s a bad idea. It leads to trouble.
Ianto looked disappointed. Jack knew perfectly well why. And it was another good reason to say no.
“I’m sorry to be the bad guy in this. But believe me when I tell you, it’s for the best.”
“Jack, I’ve never doubted you,” Ianto answered. “If you say this is no good, then… ok. But I am sorry. I think it would have been interesting to try. And I would have liked to…”
“Hey,” Jack said trying to lighten the mood. “If you really want an interesting assignment, wait until after sundown. I’ve a job you and Alun can join me on.”
“Will we need any special equipment?” Ianto asked.
“Only warm overcoats. It’s going to be a frosty night.”
“A threesome on a dark, cold Halloween night? We’re not going trick or treating, are we?”
Jack laughed and promised it was a bit more interesting than that. He watched as Ianto stood and put the letter and the computer punch cards back into the container. Unless they acted on the information it was all just a rather curious souvenir. But Ianto kept it all carefully.
Ianto didn’t try to plead with him or pressurise him into changing his mind. Owen, Gwen, Tosh, either one of them might have. Gwen would have fought him relentlessly. But Ianto had never asked for anything from him, never called in a favour. Even when they had been lovers and he might well have twisted his arm for just about anything, he never did. The only thing he had ever done was secretly hide Lisa in the basement. Maybe he thought he was all out of favours after that.
If he’d argued, if he’d begged, Jack thought he might have given in eventually. But Ianto didn’t. It just wasn’t in his nature. Not because he was weak, but because underneath the mild manner was a fierce, steely pride.
Which meant that he was almost certainly going to find another way to get him to change his mind.
And Jack had good reason to believe he would do it. But he didn’t like it and he would have stopped him if he could.
Ianto began by having a quiet word with Toshiko about antiquated data storage. He showed her the punched cards and she almost swooned with excitement. The challenge of integrating them into her modern computer system and getting it to read the information was enough to keep her interested. What the information was didn’t even signify.
“Don’t tell Jack,” Ianto said. “At least, not yet. I want to be able to show him that his first reaction was hasty.”
“I’ll do my best,” Toshiko promised him and got to work enthusiastically.
After that, he spent most of the day in the archive. Even Alun sought him out eventually to find out what he was doing there. He found him in one of the very old archive rooms full of wooden filing cabinets that went back to the turn of the 20th century. Ianto was sitting on a chair in the corner underneath the CCTV camera which he knew was a blind spot. He was reading one of the files with such intense concentration that he actually jumped when Alun reached out and touched his shoulder.
“Hello,” he said to him. “I missed you.” Ianto smiled and closed the file and let his lover bend to kiss him. Even if it wasn’t true about the blind spot, Toshiko would turn off the camera if they wanted an intimate moment.
“I missed you, too,” he answered.
“Liar,” Alun teased. “You came down here to get away from me.”
“From everyone else,” he assured his lover. “Not you. I just wanted a bit of quiet time to think about something.”
“Something?” Alun took the closed file from his hands. He glanced at the date and the initials of the Torchwood agent who filed it. “Someone? I should be jealous. You came down here to read one of Lydia’s files. You’re thinking of her?”
“Sort of. Are you jealous?”
“No. She’s… I know it’s horrible to think of, but she’s been dead for nearly seventy years. She’s not exactly competition, is she?”
“Not in that way,” Ianto replied. “I won’t be accidentally calling out her name when we’re in flagrante!”
“Should think not, husband of mine. Though I did hear you whisper Jack’s name once in the heat of the moment.”
“I did not!” Ianto looked horrified. “When?”
“Long time back, when we were starting out. When you left Jack for me. I suppose you were bound to think of him, sometimes.”
“I’m thinking of him right now,” Ianto said. “But… not that way. He’s a bit annoyed with me. He’d be even more annoyed if he knew what I was doing down here. He told me to forget the idea. But I can’t. It’s just…”
Alun looked at the file, noting that it was marked top security, FAO Torchwood Directors Only. At the time that it was dated and sealed it was considered important enough to be restricted access. It still was. Alun noted the broken wax on the floor by the chair. Ianto had opened it without permission.
But since it already was unsealed, and as it was the key to Ianto’s mood right now, Alun pulled up a chair next to his lover and sat down before opening the file.
It was a compilation of everything Torchwood knew in 1939 about time travel. It included, among other data, a very detailed account of the arrival, in 1919, of two people from the far future. It also included the slender detail about the two Torchwood agents who had died when the same alien artefact had accidentally transported them into the coal dock. There was a pamphlet written by Gerald Carter some time in the 1920s about the dangers of paradoxes caused by accidental time travel. And more importantly, detailed notes by an agent called Hardinge who appeared to have conducted successful time travel experiments in 1939, involving something called a ‘time slip’.
“They were serious about it, weren’t they?”
“Very serious. So am I. I really want to persuade Jack that it is a viable idea.”
“Because… it’s…” Ianto tried and failed to express what it was that had captured his imagination. He couldn’t even explain it to Alun. And that was a measure of how deep this was affecting him. Usually the two of them were completely on the same wavelength. They understood each other perfectly, could tell each other anything, and most of the time they found that they were both thinking the same thing anyway.
“You want to go back, don’t you?” Alun said, proving that, even when Ianto was tongue-tied they were still on that same wavelength, after all. “To the past. It fascinated you the last time. I know it did. You actually had a good time in 1919. When we weren’t fighting invisible bug-eyed monsters and burying our dead, you were happy. You felt like you belonged. That’s it, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Ianto admitted. “Yes. I did. And… I would like the chance. If Jack would let me.”
“You’d leave me, cariad?”
“I’d come back to you, don’t worry. I don’t want to stay in the past. I just want the chance to visit it.”
Alun said nothing. There wasn’t much he could say. He leaned forward, reaching his arms around Ianto’s neck as he kissed him on the lips. Ianto’s arms closed around him. As the kiss lengthened there was no doubting his love, or his passion. Alun hoped this corner really was a blind spot for the security cameras, because he knew that he was going to release some of Ianto’s pent up emotions in ways that Toshiko really didn’t want to be watching.
“I won’t stand in your way,” Alun promised him as he pulled Ianto even closer into his arms. “Whatever makes you happy.”
Ianto was happy right there and then with Alun working up to something they shouldn’t have been doing in office hours, and especially not up against an antique filing cabinet. But he was definitely more relaxed afterwards.
“Where have you two been hiding?” Jack asked when they re-appeared in Hub Central much later.
“You know perfectly well where we were hiding,” Ianto answered. “Toshiko can run a heat-seeking diagnostic of the whole Hub. If you really needed us you could have found us.”
“I sometimes think I liked you better when you were shy and retiring and didn’t answer back,” Jack retorted. “Anyway, it’s getting dark. Are you two ready for your cold and frosty night assignment? Alun, you can drive on the way there. I’ll drop you home afterwards. Then I’m going up to Century Wharf. Garrett invited me to do a bit of apple bobbing with him tonight.”
“That’s a new word for it,” Toshiko commented as she got ready to go home for the night. “By the way, in the morning, can we have a team conference. There’s something I want to share with you.”
Jack said yes, but reluctantly. He had a suspicion what it was about. Ianto was turning cogs in the machine that was going to roll right over him soon.
“So, where are we going?” Alun asked as Jack slid into the back of the SUV and Ianto took the passenger seat beside him.
“Llandough Parish Church,” Jack said. “St. Dochdwy's.”
“You don’t need the satnav for that,” Ianto told Alun as he reached to put the destination into the gadget on the dashboard. “I know the way. Head out towards Penarth for the minute.”
“So why are we visiting a church on Halloween night?” Alun continued as they settled into the early evening traffic on what was, as Jack predicted, a cold, sharp, frosty night.
“Got to send the Llandough hags back to sleep for another fifty years,” Jack replied.
“Oh… them…” Ianto commented. Jack laughed. There was just a suggestion of scathing in the laugh. Knowing about local folklore was geeky and sad. But Ianto also knew that Jack didn’t mean anything by it. And ultimately he found his eclectic mine of information interesting, and often useful.
“It’s something my dad used to tell me about,” he continued. “On our fishing trips. We used to go down to the Ely at Llandough for the rainbow trout. And he told me how, in the fifteenth century, these women – thirteen in all – a coven, supposedly – were ‘swum’ in the river to test if they were witches. You know, the sort of thing - you see it in old engravings. They were tied to long poles by their wrists and ankles and dunked into the river. Macabre stuff. Anyway, the test was supposed to be, if they floated they were witches and they would be hanged. If they sank they were innocent, but probably drowned. All but one drowned. The last cursed all involved in their deaths before she was hanged and vowed that they would return.”
“And they do return,” Jack said. “Every fifty years, on All Hallows Eve, taking on corporeal form and bringing death to the descendents of the original villagers. Or at least they used to. When Torchwood came on the scene we started to anticipate them. We’d have a team waiting. And when they emerged from the pit of hell they belong to the rest of the time we just shot them to bits before they had a chance to harm anyone. This is my second hag shoot. I missed the 1909 one because I was overseas. But 1959 was quite a night.”
“Lydia came from Llandough,” Ianto said quietly. “She’s buried in the churchyard there. That’s how I know the way. I bring flowers to her grave, sometimes.”
“I didn’t know that,” Alun told him. “When?”
“Her birthday,” Ianto added. “And a couple of other times.”
“You didn’t tell me.”
“It was just… a half hour drive, a few minutes there, then back again. It wasn’t really a secret. Just something I did, something I felt I wanted to do.”
“You daft muppet,” Alun told him. “You could have told me. I liked her, too. I could have come with you.”
Ianto didn’t reply. Alun knew why. He had wanted to go there alone. It was something he hadn’t felt able to share even with him. He understood why, too. And he didn’t mind that, either. He just hoped Ianto wasn’t heading for heartache over it.
It was quiet around Llandough’s Parish church, named, as Ianto could tell them, for the Monastery of St Dochdwy that had been founded there in the fourth century AD. Ianto expressed surprise at just how quiet it was. There should have been an evening service.
“I told them to cancel it tonight,” Jack answered in a matter of fact tone. “We’re going to be shooting thirteen women just outside the consecrated ground. We don’t need civilians getting in the way.
Alun parked the SUV in a secluded spot and Jack jumped out and opened the boot where their weapons had been stashed. Ianto picked up his semi-automatic pistol and checked the magazine. Jack holstered his old-fashioned revolver, but he also took out a pump action shotgun. So did Alun. The clunking sounds as they ‘locked and loaded’ resonated in the night air. Ianto shivered. He knew how to use weapons. He had got better at it since Alun taught him a few things he hadn’t grasped before. But he didn’t enjoy guns. He wondered if it said something about him, though, that the two men he loved both looked comfortable and competent holding weapons that could blow a man’s head clean off.
Something a little kinky, possibly.
He looked at the churchyard as Jack led them along an overgrown path between the churchyard and a slow moving stream. It was mostly in darkness except where carefully placed uplights illuminated the church itself.
“This is the place,” Jack said, stopping in what didn’t seem a particularly significant spot. Alun and Ianto took his word for it. “This is where they rise up. Their last resting place.”
“If they’ve been such a nuisance for so long, how come nobody dug their bones up and moved them?” Alun asked.
“Not as easy as that,” Ianto answered. “They weren’t just buried. Their ashes were scattered here after their bodies were burnt. The people wanted rid of them. They wanted them forgotten. And they mostly were. They’re just a little footnote in history, found in the sort of old books my dad would pick up in jumble sales. There are no pamphlets about the Llandough Hags, no Halloween tours of the witches haunts. The church is known for its association with a Welsh saint. And that’s how it should be.”
“And it will be, as long as Torchwood is around to stop the Hags making a nuisance of themselves,” Jack commented.
“I’ve always come here on sunny days,” Ianto sighed and pulled his overcoat collar up around his neck against the biting cold. “It’s a pretty, peaceful spot. I hate the thought of Lydia being here, near all this nastiness.”
“Before this kicks off,” Jack said with a serious edge to his voice. “Let’s be clear on one thing. Ianto, stop thinking of Lydia. Don’t think of any women. Not Gwen, Tosh, Beth, Lisa, your mum, your aunty Hilda with the moustache, not even Janet the Weevil. Certainly not any woman you have the smallest affection for.”
“Because, the Hags… I think there’s a bit of succubi in them… they fight you by taking on the appearance of women you know. It makes it harder to pull the trigger. Last time, one of the team nearly lost it when he was faced with a hag that looked like his teenage daughter. He almost had his head ripped off. That’s why I didn’t bring Owen. I don’t want the poor bugger freaking over one of these bitches pretending to be his Katie. You two, your strongest affection is for each other. Mine is for Garrett. They can’t get their evil harridan heads around that. So… when this starts, think the dirtiest, filthiest, kinkiest thoughts about what you do down in the archives that gives such interesting infra-red patterns on Tosh’s security system and don’t hesitate to shoot them between the eyes no matter what they look like.”
Alun nodded and tightened his grip on his pump action. Ianto looked at him, then at Jack.
“I mean it,” Jack told him. “Seriously dirty thoughts about Alun. Or me, if you want, I don’t mind. But either way, it’s your defence against these hags.”
Ianto’s eyes crossed in a rather alarming way as he concentrated. Jack grinned and let his own thoughts fix on the late evening Garrett had promised after this grim duty was done.
They were all three of them starting to feel the effects of waiting in the cold when Alun noticed a shimmering mist seeping up from the ground and creeping low before starting to coalesce into pillars of shining smoke that was visible even in the darkness.
“Count them,” Jack ordered as he raised the pump action and the revolver. “Head shots, as clean as you can. Keep going until we’ve finished off all thirteen.”
Five pillars danced in the moonlight. The first resolved into a woman wearing something like a fifteenth century peasant dress but with far more exposed cleavage than would have been acceptable. The woman’s eyes glowed like hot coals as she looked at Jack.
“You!” she cried shrilly.
“Me!” he answered. “Hello again, and goodbye.” He fired the pump action at her head and at such close range the forehead and most of the top of her skull was pulped. As the body fell, it turned to a choking, foul smelling dust. He had given it a bit of thought in the last fifty years, and concluded that whatever evil force from the dungeon dimensions it was that caused them to take on corporeal form used the soil itself to compose the bodies. When they were killed they became soil once again. It was a sinister and unholy twist on the biblical Creation of Mankind, and there was absolutely no scientific explanation for it. Jack didn’t bother looking for one. He just made sure he had plenty of ammunition.
The other four pillars coalesced into women. Jack used both his weapons at once and took out two of them. Beside him he heard Ianto’s semi-automatic fire twice and Alun’s pump action deliver a single head-splitting round.
“Five,” he said as four more clouds of dust settled and two more pillars raised themselves followed by a third. Jack got one and Alun the other. Ianto fired at the eighth Hag the moment she solidified.
“Don’t stop. Keep your finger on the trigger,” Jack called out. Neither Alun nor Ianto did stop. They both held their guns ready as three more pillars of shimmering dust began to coalesce. When the first was only half solidified, though, Alun fired uncharacteristically wildly, letting off six shots in succession that just went straight through the still insubstantial features of the woman. It was Ianto who finished it off as soon as it was solid enough to kill. Jack again got the other two together.
“Eleven,” he said. “Stand firm. Two more and this is over.”
Alun wasn’t standing firm. He had dropped his weapon and was staring at the spot where Ianto had killed the Hag. Ianto wasn’t doing so well, either. He held his gun with both hands, but he was shaking so much the chances of him hitting another target were extremely slim.
Jack drew a deep breath as the last two glowing pillars came to life. He dispatched one of them before it even opened its eyes, but Ianto had hesitated. Jack heard his gasp of horror and when he looked at the last of the hags he knew why. He recognised her features, too.
“Can you shoot me?” she asked. “Can you?”
“Yes,” Ianto replied with a sob in his voice and tears in his eyes. He forced his hands to steady as his finger squeezed the trigger. It was a terrible, emotional effort, and Jack stopped watching him and got ready to fire if he hesitated again. But he didn’t. He got the creature right between the eyes and she disintegrated into the foul dust from which she came.
“Thirteen,” Jack said with no sense of triumph. “It’s over.” He made his own weapons safe and turned to look at Ianto. He took the pistol from his unresisting hands and put the safety catch on before putting it into his own pocket. He reached and took Alun’s pump action. He checked that the magazine was empty. Alun looked wrecked. He was crying and shaking. Ianto was, too. Jack put the guns on the floor and reached out his hands to the trembling shoulders of his two colleagues.
“What was it?” he asked Alun. “What did she do to you?”
“It… it was my mother,” he answered. “It looked like my mother.”
“Oh, shit!” Jack groaned as he remembered that Alun’s parents had been shot in the head by burglars. No wonder that broke his nerve. “Shit, I’m sorry. But Alun… you know it wasn’t really her. It was just their dirty, shitty trick. Ianto… It’s ok. It wasn’t Lydia.”
“No, it’s not ok,” Ianto answered him. “It still feels… as if… as if… I killed her.”
“You didn’t. Put it out of your head. Both of you… look… you did ok. Don’t feel you’ve let me down because those bitches got the better of you for a few seconds. We did it. They’re finished off for another fifty years. Come on. Let’s get out of here.”
He brought the guns and secured them in the boot. Alun and Ianto sat in the back of the SUV together. Jack took the driver’s seat and headed back towards the city. He noticed that they were both disturbingly quiet, but he was all out of pep talk. He felt emotionally drained himself. At least two of the Hags had tried to get into his mind and play with his feelings. He knew the best thing was to get them home as soon as possible and let normality close around them like a comfort zone.
“Jack,” Ianto said as he pulled the SUV into a parking space outside their apartment block. “You’ve got to let me go back, now. I need to see her… alive. I need to know in my heart that she isn’t…”
Jack sighed. He turned in his seat to look at him.
“Ianto, that’s the worst possible reason for letting you go. Come on, you know it wasn’t Lydia. Both of you… go on. Have something to eat, a couple of strong drinks, then go to bed and shag each other until you pass out. Forget about everything except each other. I’ll see you in the morning.”
He watched them walk up to the apartment block together, holding hands, then he drove away. He took the SUV back to the Hub garage and checked the weapons back into the armoury, then he went up by the pavement lift and walked the mile and a bit to Century Wharf, listening to the sounds of Halloween night fireworks going off all over the city. He didn’t like it very much. He especially didn’t like the really noisy ones that sounded exactly like a creeping barrage. He’d been in enough war zones to get a cold shiver whenever he heard sounds like that.
And Ianto, God help him, wanted to try an experiment that would land him in the middle of Cardiff at a time when sounds like that brought death to the city every night. He had no idea.
He sighed and pulled his greatcoat around himself against the biting cold and looked forward to central heating, double glazing that shut out the noise, and a night of hot sex that would drive away the memory of shooting down thirteen women, some of whom had looked just too much like people he had once loved.
He arrived at the Hub the next morning feeling relaxed and happy. Then he remembered that Toshiko had asked for a team meeting in the boardroom. They were all ready and waiting when he got there. Beth was distributing coffee before going back to the front office. She smiled warmly at him and put his favourite mug down as he slipped his coat off and sat at the head of the table. He looked, to all appearances, as if he was in charge, but he wasn’t entirely sure he was. He felt as if a persistent predestination was driving them all at the moment. And he hated that.
“Ok,” he said to Toshiko in a rather impatient tone. “Whatever it is, let’s hear it.”
Toshiko stood up hesitantly. Jack felt mean for not being more encouraging to her. But he knew what she was going to say, more or less, and he still wished there was a way to head her off.
What she had to say concerned the data she found on the punched cards, of course. It was the technical detail that went with the report in the top security file from the 1939 archive about Gilbert Hardinge’s time travel experiments. The agent had identified certain peaks in rift activity, with a certain kind of resonation, which he called ‘time slips’. They were double ended corridors in time which a Human being could pass through instantly and they recurred at predictable intervals.
“Hardinge tested his theory personally,” Ianto said. “Lydia told me in her letter. He went into the rift on July 28th, 1939 and emerged on September 1st, the same year, having spent only seconds of intervening time and suffering no ill effects.”
“You sure he wasn’t hiding in a cupboard for a month?” Owen asked. Everyone laughed apart from Ianto and Toshiko.
“Go on,” Jack told her.
“That’s why the data was left for us,” Toshiko said. “Hardinge identified a corridor that stretched even further. Two of them, in fact. The first will open on October 18th, 1940 and November 9th, 2009. The second one opens on June 27th, 1941 and November 10th, 2009 – twelve hours after the first.”
“That’s not so bad,” Alun said, not to the team, but to Ianto. “You’d only be away from me for twelve hours. I could live with that.”
“Twelve hours for you. But eight months for him,” Jack pointed out. “Eight months when anything could happen. The worst eight months of the war for people in the major cities of Britain. I won’t allow him to take that risk.”
“When did we decide that Ianto is the one who’s going?” Gwen asked.
“We didn’t,” Jack replied rather snappishly. “He’s not going. I’ve said no, even before this meeting. The data on the computer cards does nothing except prove how fool-hardy the idea is. The answer is still no.”
“It has to be me, because Lydia asked me. She wants me to be the one.”
“What purpose would it serve?” Jack asked. “What would we learn from this that would help us fight off alien invasions of this planet?”
“It would help if anyone else got accidentally pulled out of time by the rift,” Owen pointed out. “If we had stable, predictable time slips they could use to get home... I’m the only one of the team that hasn’t had a time travel experience. Then there’s people like Michael, or Diane… if we could have sent her home where she belonged…”
“And it might prevent any more poor souls ending up on Flat Holm,” Gwen added.
“No, it wouldn’t,” Jack responded. “It’s in no way accurate enough for that. There’s still a mountain of research to be done. Did you never wonder why the file was sealed and they didn’t continue the project? Nobody did any work on time slips between then and now. It’s a bad idea. Ianto, I’m sorry. I know this meant a lot to you. But I won’t allow it. Forget about it. All of you go on back to your jobs now and leave this be.”
Jack stood and walked out of the boardroom. The others looked at his retreating back, and then turned to Ianto.
“Do you really want to leave Alun for eight months and live in the Blitz?” Gwen asked him.
“Yes,” Ianto answered. “I mean, I don’t WANT to leave Alun. That bit I’m not crazy about. But I do want to do this.”
“Then… do it. Why should Jack stop you? You’ve got all the information you need. Tosh can tell you exactly where and when the time slip will open. Do it. What can he do to you?”
“Fire me?” Ianto replied. “Fire both of us… all of us.”
“There’s no reason why he should even know,” Gwen said. “The time slip opens at six o’clock in the evening of the ninth. You get back at six in the morning. It’s all on your own time. Nothing to do with him.”
“Unless he comes back with one leg and half a face from being caught in an air raid,” Owen pointed out.
“Yes, the game would probably be up, in that case,” Ianto agreed. “I’ll try not to do that. But… None of you need to be involved. Toshiko, all I need is the exact time and place. We’ll do the rest.”
“We’re a team,” she answered. “With or without Jack. If you really feel you need to do this, we won’t let you down.
Jack knew there was a mutiny going on. He knew why. And he knew fully what they intended to do. He turned a blind eye. He had tried his best. But he should have known there was nothing he could do. Predestination was driving events, now.
He hated predestination.
At a little after five-thirty on the evening of November 9th, he stepped out of his office and looked around. Gwen and Toshiko were still working, showing no sign of packing up to go home. Even Etsuko’s pushchair was still folded away. The lights were on in Owen’s lair.
“Have Ianto and Alun gone home?” he asked.
“Alun had a dentist appointment,” Gwen replied. Jack smiled. She had a look on her face when she lied. He could read her like a book.
“Is the dentist somewhere near Bute Park?” he asked. Gwen blushed. Toshiko’s shoulders tensed as she studiously looked at her computer monitor. Jack turned and headed towards the garage.
Alun had parked on single yellow lines outside the park gates. He hoped to be back before he picked up a ticket. If he did, it would be worth it, he figured. He and Ianto walked to the co-ordinate Toshiko had given them, checking it on a hand held GPS device.
Ianto looked ready for his journey. He was wearing an authentic 1940s suit, tie, overcoat and shoes as well as a derby hat as worn by men of that era. In his pocket were authentic coins and notes to see him through the first day or two with food and lodgings. An old fashioned suitcase contained a change of clothes.
“You look gorgeous in that outfit,” Alun told him. “Retro suits you.”
“I’ll… wear it for you when I get back,” he answered.
“I hope so.” Alun held his hand. He looked at the rings on his hand. They glittered under the orange glow of an electric lamp that illuminated the park entrance. “Do you want me to look after those for you?”
“No,” Ianto replied. “You’re still my husband, no matter where or when I am. I won’t forget that, ever. And nor will anyone else as long as I wear your ring.”
“Five minutes,” Toshiko told Alun through the communicator. “But there might be a problem. I think Jack’s on his way.”
“He’s here,” Alun responded as he heard the unmistakable sound of the SUV’s tyres squealing to a halt. He clung to Ianto as Jack ran towards them.
“Don’t try to stop me,” Ianto said.
“Tell me how I could? I don’t want to shoot you, and I’m not going to fight both of you. I can’t stop you. I didn’t come to do that. I came to… tell you… to be careful. And good luck.”
“Why did you try to stop me before, then?” Ianto asked.
“Because I know how addictive it is… time travel… knowing that you can go anywhere, be anyone at any time. I’ve done it. I did it for so long I forgot where I came from. I lost my roots. I became nobody. I didn’t want that to happen to you. You belong here, with Alun, with me, with the team. Get this out of your system, then come back to us, Ianto. That’s all I ask.”
“I will,” he promised. “Jack…” Alun stepped back and Ianto reached out and hugged Jack tightly. He heard Toshiko tell him there was just two minutes to go.
“You’ve thought of everything?” Jack asked. “Your outfit… very smart. Very sexy, the retro look.”
“Not quite everything.” Jack’s eyes twinkled with humour as he pushed back Ianto’s retro shirt cuff to reveal a digital watch. He unfastened it and put it in his coat pocket, then strapped another watch on his wrist. “This was mine… when I was in the RAF, in the 1940s. It was given to me by a very nice lady. Bring it back in one piece. Bring yourself back that way, too.”
Alun claimed him for one last kiss as Toshiko started to count down the seconds in his earpiece. Then Ianto stepped away from him. They all felt the change in the atmosphere. The birds had stopped singing in the trees. Then there was a very faint glow in the air a mere few feet away. Jack reached out and held Alun as the man they both loved looked back once and smiled nervously, then stepped into the glow.
It was early morning on October 18th, 1940. There was a freezing fog over Bute Park. Ianto shivered and turned. He smiled as he saw the black car and a woman standing beside it. He knew her face, though she was much older now than when he saw her last.
“You came,” Lydia said. “Ianto, I am so glad.”
“So am I,” he replied.