“Jack, you need to come and see this!” He looked up as Gwen burst into his office. She looked breathlessly excited. “In the mortuary. The body that the boys brought back from Aberystwyth… it’s… Jack… come and see, please.”
“Ok,” he answered her. “But I’m expecting a phone call from the Scottish First Minister’s office. It’s important. Funding for Torchwood Two… when it comes I’ll need to deal with it…”
“Beth can put it through for you,” Gwen assured him. “Just… come on…”
He stood up and followed her. He wasn’t sure what she was so excited about. He knew that Alun and Ianto had called a couple of hours ago to say that they were on their way back with something from the archaeological dig. But apart from needing Rhys’s services for transportation, they gave no clue as to what they were bringing back. Until Gwen told him just now, he didn’t even know it was a body.
“Wow. That’s…” He looked down from the railing first before taking the steps two at a time. Ianto and Martha were both leaning over the long wooden box in which the body was lying but they stood back as Jack came to look.
This man had obviously been dead for a very long time. But the burial had been done in such a way that the flesh had mummified instead of decaying. There was still some hair on the skull, and the clothes the man had been buried in were intact. The colour was just a light, muddy brown now, but the jerkin may have been red once. The tarnished buckle of his leather belt must have been bright. A cloak fastened at his throat with a verdigris stained pin still bore traces of a blue colour.
“Blue… was expensive in the days before artificial dyes,” Jack commented. “He was somebody important.”
“He reminds me of the statue of Llewellyn ap Gruffydd in City Hall,” Gwen said.
“That would make sense,” Ianto told her. “The archaeologists reckoned the area they were surveying was roughly that period…”
“Which would be…” Jack ventured, his grasp of Welsh history not being up to Ianto’s level.
“Thirteenth century,” Ianto supplied. “Ap Gruffydd is known as Llewellyn the Last, because he pissed off the English so much they abolished the Welsh kingdom and made the first born son of their own king Prince of Wales.”
Everyone smiled at Ianto’s short history lesson. Then Martha cleared her throat to get their attention.
“This is not Llewellyn the Last, or the First, or even Llewellyn The One In The Middle,” she said. “He isn’t even from the Thirteenth Century. I’m willing to take anyone’s word that he was buried anything up to eight hundred years ago, but he wasn’t born then.”
“And you know that because…”
“Look at his teeth,” Martha told Jack. He did as she said, but maybe it was because his mind was on that conversation he needed to have with the First Minister of Scotland, or he just wasn’t any kind of expert on historical anthropology. Anyway, he just didn’t see what he should have been looking at. “Thirteenth century, even the upper classes had bad teeth,” Martha pointed out. “Take it from me. The Doctor took me to a genuine medieval banquet, once. The lord of the manor wanted to snog me… The breath on him almost knocked me out.”
“And…” Jack was mildly amused by her anecdote. She almost had as many of those as he had. But he still didn’t get it.
“Perfect teeth,” Martha pointed out. “They’re nearly as good as yours, given that the gums have receded with the drying out process. This man comes from a time when they took orthodontics seriously.”
“He’s a time traveller?” Jack reached out a hand and touched the leathery flesh of the face. “Oh… hell… it’s not…”
“I’ve done a preliminary x-ray,” Martha told him reassuringly. “The internal organs are desiccated and shrivelled up, but there is only one cavity in the chest for a heart. It’s not… definitely not…”
Jack breathed a sigh of relief. Then he had another thought.
“It’s not… me…?” He stepped back nervously. He had, by and large, given up on time travelling. But he had taken a couple of field trips with The Doctor, and it was just possible that, in some future time, he might go to a genuine medieval banquet with him, too, and…
And die there? Die in some way that coming back to life wasn't an option? The body looked too intact for that. He always thought his final death would be something that involved dismemberment or dispersal of his body in a terminal way.
“I don’t think it’s you, Jack,” Ianto said. “But it might be somebody you know.”
Jack turned to look at him. He had just managed to open up a very solid looking wooden box with highly detailed carvings around the lid.
“This was with the body,” Ianto explained. “His worldly goods. It was x-rayed by the university bods at Aber but it proved to be lead lined and… locked with an electronic seal… which was what clinched the deal for us. This is definitely in Torchwood’s remit.”
Jack’s eyes opened wide as Ianto reached into the box and pulled out an automatic pistol. He reached and took it from Ianto’s hands and examined it carefully. If anyone around him had asked right now he could have been as verbose as Ianto was about 13th century Welsh kings. He could have told them that it was a Mark 1,000 Colt Peacemaker, first manufactured in the year 5065. He unclipped the magazine and noted that it was empty but when he slid it back in and cocked and tested it he was not surprised to find that everything moved smoothly. There was no rust. They made them to last in the fifty-first century.
“This is a Time Agent’s weapon,” he said aloud. Ianto, Gwen and Martha took that information philosophically. They all knew, more or less, that a Time Agent was some sort of policeman or soldier or spy, maybe all three, from the future. They all knew Jack had been one, once. But he had never really talked about it except in those tall stories he occasionally regaled them with where he and various assorted comrades fought multi-tentacled beasts from the dungeon dimensions.
“I think so, too,” Ianto told him as he pulled something else from the box. Jack dropped the gun down on the table and practically snatched the other artefact from him.
“It’s the same as yours,” Gwen commented as he fingered the brown leather wrist strap and then opened the flap to reveal the futuristic technology inside.
“Not quite the same,” Jack answered. “This one is older. There are a couple of things this one doesn’t do. And a few things it does do that they didn’t include in the later models. But…” He pressed several buttons but wasn't at all surprised that it seemed to be dead.
“Battery flat?” Ianto suggested.
“Doesn’t have a battery,” Jack answered. “It works by drawing on the thermal energy of the Human body. It doesn’t operate fully unless there’s body heat next to it.”
Jack rolled up his right sleeve and pushed his wristwatch up his arm. He fastened the wristlet on and felt a slight tingle as it activated. He breathed in deeply and his friends around him thought it took rather longer than it should before he breathed out again. He seemed mesmerised by the LED lights on the new wristlet.
Then he took it off again and held it thoughtfully. He turned and looked at Martha. “You said that you x-rayed the body? Take a close look at the left thigh. There ought to be a small plate – tiny thing, about half an inch across. You could easily have missed it. An identification number should be etched into it. I’d… really like to know what that number is.”
“It will tell you who the agent was?” Martha asked.
“It might,” Jack answered. “Or if not.... We’ll find a space in the cryo-store for him. I’ll take charge of his things… they can go in my private safe. Maybe, in the far future, the Agency will get him back. Somebody there will know who he is.”
And that seemed to be that. Martha prepared the body for its future resting place. Gwen and Ianto had work of their own to do. Jack took the lead lined box back to his office.
The rest of the day passed quietly. Jack took the call from the First Minister of Scotland and secured the funding to keep Torchwood Two going for the next tax year. He got through a lot of paperwork. He forced himself to do it to stop his mind wandering over the mystery of the thirteenth century time agent. Who was he? What was he doing in a time period the Agency had no business interfering in? How did he die? Ianto’s report suggested that he was buried with honour, in a stone sarcophagus. Somebody in the thirteenth century thought he was important.
And care had been taken to preserve his futuristic artefacts along with him. There was something significant there. Though right now, Jack couldn’t work out what.
Or more accurately, he didn’t want to work it out.
Because there was something else occupying his mind. It had started as a small kernel of an idea when he put the wristlet on for the first time, and it was growing until it was impossible to dislodge. The dead time agent, whoever he was, had given him the means to do something he thought he couldn’t do.
Something he shouldn’t do. There were a million reasons why he shouldn’t. he had all of the arguments in his own head, shouting him down, warning him of the dire consequences not only to him, but to the whole fabric of space and time.
Yes, there were a lot of reasons not to. Until he held that fully functioning wristlet in his hands, the main one was that it was impossible. But now, it was possible. And the idea was burning itself onto his soul.
Then he got stern with himself and returned to Ministry of Defence memos.
It remained a quiet and uneventful day until five o’clock when Jack sent everyone home. A little later he, himself, left the Hub and walked to Century Wharf. Garrett was already there and greeted him with a warm and welcoming kiss. They both enjoyed a quiet evening and when they went to bed it was all that it should be. Both slept warm and peacefully after their love-making.
But in the early hours of the morning Jack woke from a recurring dream that always left him shaking and in a cold sweat. He sat up in the bed carefully, trying not to disturb Garrett. He slipped on his clothes and shoes and walked out onto the balcony. He stood there quietly, breathing slowly and looking out over the almost silent city. Somewhere in the distance was a siren and he caught a glimpse of the blue flashing light. Fire, ambulance, police, one of the three. Something was happening somewhere in Cardiff. But it was something ordinary, something that happened all the time, and he took a curious kind of comfort from the sound. It was better than the sounds in his head that had left him feeling so hollow when he woke.
He was still standing there when the sun came up. In the half light, Garrett woke and came to see what he was doing. Jack flinched at his lover’s first touch, then he let him embrace him around the neck from behind and kiss his cheek. It was another kind of comfort he had here in Cardiff in the twenty-first century.
“That’s nice,” he said. “It’s why I waited for you to wake up instead of just going. I wanted you to know. Garrett, I’ve got to do something…. Something that might go very badly wrong for me. If it doesn’t work and I can’t get back… then I’m sorry to let you down that way. but I have to try. Please understand that. I have to try.”
“I don’t understand,” Garrett answered. “Jack… what are you going to do?”
“I can’t tell you. I can’t tell anyone. Not even my own guys. They’d probably try to stop me.”
“Then maybe I should stop you.”
“Please don’t. If it works out… when I get back… you’ll see why I had to. But don’t try to stop me.”
“At least tell me what you intend to do.”
“I can’t,” he said again. He turned and embraced Garrett and kissed him lovingly before slipping past him. Garrett didn’t try to stop him. But as the door to the apartment closed, he reached for the telephone. If he couldn’t stop him, then at least he could get him some help.
Ianto and Alun ran into the Hub neck and neck, calling for Jack. The only reply was a screech from Myfanwy the pterodactyl in her roost up in the rafters. They looked at each other in dismay.
“He’s been here,” Ianto said as he checked the internal security system. Jack had entered the Hub by the pavement lift only ten minutes ago. He had gone straight to his office and he hadn’t come out of it. Alun turned from the office door and shook his head. Jack wasn’t in there, or in his bedroom below.
“Wow!” Ianto exclaimed loudly. Alun rushed back to his side and watched as Ianto replayed the CCTV images. Jack had been in his office. He was doing something by his desk. Then there was an orange-golden glow that enveloped him, and he disappeared.
“He’s gone?” Alun asked. “He’s left us?”
“No!” Ianto’s voice cracked with grief as he ran into the office. He looked around. Nothing was missing. But there was something that shouldn’t have been there. He opened the thirteenth century box that ought to have been sealed in Jack’s personal safe. The futuristic pistol and the wristlet were there.
No. Ianto picked up the wristlet and examined it. It was old. The leather was worn with age and use. Ianto sniffed at it carefully. There was an ingrained smell of the skin it had been wrapped around for so long. A smell Ianto recognised very well.
“What have you done, Jack?” he whispered sadly. He turned and showed the wristlet to Alun. “This is his. He’s taken the one belonging to the freeze dried Time Agent and left his behind.”
“Why?” Alun asked.
“Because his one didn’t work. Not properly. One of the functions is called a Vortex Manipulator. It’s a time machine… it allows the wearer to travel in time.”
“Then he has left us?” Alun had never been one of Jack’s lovers. He didn’t feel for him as deeply as Ianto still did even after being married for a year. But he thought of him as a friend. More than a friend. What they all shared at Torchwood went beyond friendship. It went beyond the comradeship of soldiers in battle. It was something unique and special and he couldn’t believe that Jack would just walk away from it all.
“He wouldn’t just leave Garrett,” Ianto said. “He loves him. I really thought the two of them were going to be...” He looked at his own lover and bit his lip sadly.
Then Myfanwy squawked loudly again and there was a flash of orange-gold light in the Hub. Alun and Ianto both ran. They were at the bottom of the steps when Jack materialised out of the glow. He was hunched over, protecting something or somebody with his own body. He was dressed in a t-shirt and jeans and the back of the shirt was a ripped and bloody mess as if a whole magazine of bullets had been emptied into him. Ianto reached to hold him, and heard his last ragged, painful breath as he died.
Jack came round lying on his stomach on the examination table in the medical room. He heard voices and identified them as Ianto and Martha. They were both worried about him.
“I’m back,” he said with a deep sigh of relief. Then he flipped himself around and sat up in almost one movement. “The boy… where is he… please… tell me he’s all right.”
“He’s all right,” Martha assured him. “He was scared out of his wits, wouldn’t stop screaming. I sedated him. Gwen is sitting with him in the boardroom. But he’ll sleep for a while, yet.”
“Who is he?” Ianto asked. “And where were you, Jack? What’s going on?”
“He’s my brother,” Jack answered. “I went to the future for him.”
Martha and Ianto both looked at him and at each other in shock. Another voice rang out with theirs. Jack looked up at Garrett, standing by the rail and looking down on the scene. He swung himself off the table and met him at the bottom of the steps. He hugged him lovingly.
“I’m so glad to see you. I didn’t think I would. I thought they’d got me after all.”
“Thought who had got you?” Garrett asked. “And what do you mean about your brother?”
“Jack, I thought your brother was a grown man,” Ianto said. “You told me about him… about finding him in that alternative universe you were stuck in for a while. You said that Gray was a psychotic who hated you for abandoning him. You said he came back here and… and killed Owen and Toshiko.”
“Oh, my God!” Martha looked at Ianto and then at Garrett. Both of them obviously knew that part of the story. It was news to her.
“Last night… I dreamt of it again. The day I lost him. The day the enemy came in their thousands, bringing death and destruction to Boeshane. I dreamt about… about letting go of my brother’s hand, running on without realising he wasn’t beside me… and never seeing him again. He wasn’t among the dead lying around the beach afterwards. There was no trace of him. He vanished. He’d been taken prisoner by those fiends, tortured until he went mad. But last night… when I woke with a scream in my throat… last night it was different. Because this time I knew I could change everything. Gray would still be missing. But he would be safe… if I could go back there and grab him before they did.”
For a long moment his mind was overwhelmed by the memory of the terrifying minutes he had spent back on the Boeshane peninsula. He heard the screams of frightened children running for their lives. His ears filled with the inhuman screeching battle cry of the invading enemy and he saw the sky darken as the sun was covered by their monstrous mothership. He saw from a stranger’s point of view the two boys, one fourteen, the other just ten years old, running up the sand dunes. He saw the younger boy fall, the other one keep on running because he was only fourteen and he was scared, and he thought his brother was still beside him even though he had let go of his hand.
Jack ran towards him. He thought of grabbing the boy and catching up with his brother, hiding both of them within the straggly tree roots where the older one had found refuge. But he knew he couldn’t do that. The boy’s pain, his heartbreak, his numbing, all encompassing sense of guilt, of knowing it was all his fault, couldn’t be changed. They couldn’t be. Because they had been the driving force of his life that eventually brought him here to Torchwood. If that was changed, too much would unravel. He couldn’t ease his own suffering.
But he could save Gray. He heard the death machine hovering behind him. He threw himself down over the boy and grabbed his hand in his. He pressed Gray’s palm against the manipulator and began to feel the Vortex forming around them both. But before they had fully dematerialised he also felt the searing red hot agony of the weapon called the death blossom burning through his clothes and ripping into his back.
Then he had come back to life in the Hub, surrounded by his friends. And that was a blessing. But what about Gray?
“I need to see him,” he said. And nobody stood in his way. Jack, still shirtless, but at least with the blood washed from his body, ran up the steps to the boardroom. Gwen was in her very best WPC Cooper mode, minder of lost children. She was pressing a damp cloth against the boy’s head and talking soothingly to him.
“Gray!” Jack called out and brushed her aside as he reached to embrace his brother. But this wasn't the loving reunion he had hoped for. Gray screamed and pushed him away.
“Gray,” Jack cried desperately, trying to hold him as he struggled and fought, lashing out at him. “Gray, it’s all right. It’s me… it’s your brother…”
“You’re… not… you’re not my brother,” Gray screamed. “Let me go… Help… mom… dad… help…”
“Gray… please… please…” Tears rolled down Jack’s cheeks as he tried to calm the boy and make him listen. Gwen and Ianto watched helplessly. Martha ran with a syringe in her hand, and wondered which of them she ought to try to sedate. Then Garrett stepped past them all. He pulled Jack away forcefully and told Ianto and Gwen to hold him. Then he reached and touched Gray gently on the shoulder. He spoke to him soothingly.
Jack felt emotionally drained. Ianto and Gwen between them were holding him upright otherwise he thought he would collapse. Gray’s reaction to him was bitterly disappointing. But what else had he expected? His inner voice chided him for not being prepared for this. Gray’s brother was only four years older than him. He wasn’t a grown man who had grabbed him from behind and dragged him into a strange place full of strange people. Of course the boy was going to scream. He would have screamed, too.
Gray wasn’t screaming now. He was crying softly into Garrett’s shoulder as he held him gently. Gwen gave a soft sigh. Jack understood why. She was WPC Cooper. She had comforted plenty of lost children. But Garrett was a father. He had sat up nights with his three daughters when they had colds and flu and chicken pox, German measles and every other ailment of childhood. He had put plasters on grazed knees and kissed them better. He understood what a frightened, grief-stricken child needed better than any of them.
After a little while Gray stopped crying. He hiccupped and let Garrett wipe his streaming nose for him. Garrett touched his cheek gently and ruffled his blonde curling hair that he got from his mother’s side of the gene pool.
“Yes,” he said quietly. “Yes, you have the same eyes.” He looked around at Jack and told him to come back to the sofa, quietly. Jack did. Garrett took his hand and Gray’s and put them together. They were different sizes, but they were the same shape, long fingered with slim thumbs and the ring and index fingers of distinctly unequal heights. “Look, Gray. Your hands are the same. And you both have the same blue eyes. He is your brother. He lost you that day, when he was just a scared boy, too. But when he was a man, he came back to get you. To rescue you from the enemy that was attacking. Because he loves you.”
“They shot him!” Gray managed. “He died… I saw him die.”
“They missed me,” Jack lied. “It only looked like they got me. I’m alive. And so are you. And I’m so glad. Gray…”
This time when he reached to hold him, Gray didn’t struggle. Garrett gently extricated himself and stood back as Jack embraced his brother. He left the boardroom. The others followed him.
“I think we all need coffee,” Ianto said.
“Milk for the boy,” Alun added. “He’s not ready for your industrial strength caffeine.”
“Yes,” Garrett answered. “Good idea.” He glanced at the clock. It wasn’t even seven o’clock yet. Every one of them ought to be in bed, still. Jack’s impulsiveness had turned all their lives upside down. “Maybe we ought to order in breakfast. That place Jack likes that does scrambled egg and hash browns. Do you think they deliver?”
“I’ll find out,” Gwen answered.
“Breakfast is a good idea,” Martha decided. “But afterwards… when the boy is a bit calmer… I need to give him a thorough check up. And I need to ask Jack what kind of immunisations they gave kids in his time. I might have to give him a whole raft of boosters so he doesn’t pick up twenty-first century diseases.”
“I never thought of that,” Gwen said. “I bet Jack didn’t, either. He just had an idea and went and did it. Never gave a thought to the consequences. He never considered if this was the right thing to do.”
Garrett looked around at the faces of Jack’s team. They were loyal to the Captain. They had all come straight to the Hub when he needed them. But right now each one of them was going through a mental struggle between that loyalty to Jack and their total agreement with what Gwen had just said.
He felt the same. He would gladly step in front of a bullet for Jack – although it would more likely be the other way around. He loved him in a way he never imagined loving anyone. But he was feeling just a little bit angry with him for plunging them all into this situation without a thought to the long term cost of his impulse for Gray, for himself, and for everyone around him.
Breakfast was a chance for them all to calm down and think. Gray sat next to Jack at the table and ate because he was hungry, but not particularly noticing the food. His eyes were red-rimmed from crying and his cheeks pale. Jack’s expression matched his. This wasn’t the happy ending he had imagined.
After breakfast, Jack brought Gray to the medical room. He sat with him while Martha gave him a thorough medical and administered every vaccination she could think of that a boy his age ought to have had. Gray didn’t cry. He had run out of tears for now. But Jack hated having to cause him physical pain on top of everything he had already suffered.
“I’m still not sure about him,” Martha said. “I think he ought to be quarantined here in the Hub for at least forty-eight hours. Until the antibodies from the immunisations have taken in his blood stream. If he goes out into the city, now, he could end up coming down with just about anything.”
“Forty-eight hours stuck in here…” Jack was appalled. “Is there no other way?”
“No, there isn’t,” Martha insisted. Her voice was sharp. Jack was surprised by her tone. “Jack, the best thing you could do for him is take him back where he came from. He doesn’t belong here.”
“There’s nothing for him to go back to. Our parents are dead. Dad was killed in the first wave of attacks. Mom was in a refugee centre that was hit by the second wave. I wasn’t there. I was looking for Gray. That’s the only reason I survived. Later, I ended up in an orphanage. It wasn’t a bad place. But it wasn’t a home, either. I can do better than that for Gray. I can take care of him.”
“Can you?” Martha asked. “You want to try being a single working parent with an emotionally disturbed child to look after? You think it’s as easy as that?”
“I’m… not single,” Jack replied. “Garrett…”
“Garrett’s gone,” Martha told him. “He has a job to do, too. An important one. Do you think he’s ready to take on a share of your responsibility?”
Jack started to say yes, but then he hesitated. He knew what everyone had been thinking. He hadn’t thought things through. It was true. He hadn’t. Not fully. But he did have a vague image in his mind. It was one that he ought to have kicked out straight away. It was a soft idea. It would have had his worst enemies rolling on the floor with laughter to think that he would give in to such sentimentality.
He had thought of himself, and Garrett and Gray, together, as a family. The image in his mind had been of the three of them walking on a beach. One of the beaches or bays on the South Wales coast. It would be just like when he and Gray were children living on the Boeshane peninsula, when they would walk on the beach and eat picnics and light campfires as the sun went down. Except he and Garrett would be there instead of mom and dad. And Gray would run ahead and then run back to them with a grin on his face and look for a hug from them both.
He shook his head. It was a nice dream. But that was all it was. In the real world, he and Garrett were nobody’s mom and dad. Gray was a scared, grief-stricken orphan. And if the two of them tried to look after him, somebody would probably call social services and accuse them of something unspeakable.
“I’m not taking him back. There’s nothing for him there. I don’t know what we’re going to do. But I’m not taking him back.”
He looked at his wrist. He was still wearing the working model of the Vortex Manipulator. Despite being buried in Aberystwyth for eight hundred years it had worked perfectly. It would continue to work perfectly. He could use it to go anywhere. It was his key to the freedom he used to enjoy.
What freedom? He reminded himself. His own VM had been modified by the Time Agency to prevent him from going anywhere near his personal past, to prevent him from doing what he had just done. And he never went anywhere else except where they sent him. Later, when he went rogue, the only places he went were where there was fast money to be made. And apart from some brief, hedonistic moments with people – and he defined people extremely loosely there – he was alone the whole time.
There was nowhere he wanted to go and one place he refused to go.
He slipped the wristlet off his wrist and dropped it on the concrete steps. Then he brought the heel of his boot down hard on it. There was a small blue spark and a crackle of kinetic energy being released and a sound of glass and electronic circuits breaking. He looked around at Martha as she shielded Gray from the sight of his sudden act of violence. Her expression was unreadable. He picked up the pieces of the Vortex Manipulator and walked back upstairs to his office. He put the broken wristlet into the box along with the fifty-first century gun and sealed it before putting it into his personal archive where it should have been in the first place.
That done, he went back to the medical room for Gray. He took him down to the hospitality suite. The nicely furnished drawing room, kitchen, bedrooms and bathroom had everything a well appointed apartment had except windows. It had hidden cameras instead. Jack knew his friends would respect his privacy, though, as he spent the day with his brother.
It was a difficult day for them both. Jack gently broke the news to him that, in their own time, their parents were both dead, killed in the terrible and unprovoked attack on the Boeshane Peninsula. Gray cried as any child would having been told news like that. Jack comforted him as best he could. When the boy was calm again he explained that this was planet Earth in the twenty-first century, and talked about a few things the boy would need to know if he was to live here. He put the television on and showed him some rugby and football highlights on Sky Sports and a daytime soap opera and a slightly lame quiz show. He made lunch and sat with him and they talked about ‘home’. Gray mentioned people that Jack had almost forgotten about, remembered picnics on the beach and ball games with their father. Jack let his own memories stir even though they were painful. Gray wanted to talk about those things. He needed to. He needed to find the common ground between himself and his brother even though his brother looked so very different, now.
Gray had fallen asleep mid-afternoon when their solitude was disturbed just once. Gwen came downstairs with a message from Martha.
“She says the number of the plate is 5809823,” Gwen told him. Jack repeated the number and seemed deep in thought for a few moments. “Do you know him?”
“From the reference number, no. Not exactly. But 58… that means he was recruited to the agency the same year I was.”
“So you’ve got a plate on your thighbone, too?”
“Used to. Got rid of it years ago.”
Gwen didn’t like to ask how he got rid of it. She wouldn’t have been entirely surprised if he’d sawn his own leg off. She decided to let that train of thought derail and moved on.
“There’s this, too,” she said. She handed Jack what looked like a small, smooth stone with some symbols etched into it that, at a glance, might have been mistaken for celtic designs. “Ianto thought it might be something like the portable cell that we use. It sort of looks… alien…”
“No, not alien,” Jack answered. “Future technology. Where was it? It wasn’t in the box with the other stuff.”
“Martha found it in the stomach cavity. She… thinks… maybe he swallowed it. To hide it or something.”
“Could be,” Jack mused. He turned the stone over twice and then set it down on the coffee table. He opened his own wristlet and pressed a button. Gwen jumped back in surprise as a beam of light came out of the stone and moulded itself into a hologram maybe half the size of an adult human. The figure in the hologram looked about sixty years old. He was propped up on a high backed chair in a way that suggested sitting upright was a struggle for him. He looked sick.
“I’m dying,” the hologram said in a hoarse voice. “Of old age, nothing more. And that’s quite an achievement around here, with one thing and another.” He laughed hollowly and coughed before regaining his poise. “These are … my last words… my last recorded words, anyway. Because somebody needs to know… in the future… what happened to me. I must have been listed as missing. They will have searched, perhaps. But I disabled the automatic distress signal and I have kept the wristlet in a lead-lined casket. My old identity is long gone. For the past thirty years I have lived as Hugh Ap Hugh, Lord of Aberystwyth. I stayed here for the oldest reason of all. I fell in love. But my wife died last year. I will be glad to share the peace of the grave with her very soon. My son has instructions for my burial. My secrets will be buried with me. I shall, I hope, remain undisturbed until a time when somebody who knows how to operate the technology will see this. Then the life of Harry O’Leary, Agent number 5809823 will be over.”
The hologram shimmered and switched off. Gwen realised she had been holding her breath and released it. Beside her, Jack did the same.
“Did you know him?” Gwen asked as he reached to pick up the stone.
“No,” he responded. The agency was a big organisation back then. He must have been in a different department.”
Gwen looked at him. There was something in the way he said that. She wasn’t sure, but he might have been lying. But what was the point of challenging him over it?
“Ok, at least we know his name, now,” he said. “Ianto can put these details in the files. Mystery solved.”
“It’s… less of a mystery than I expected,” Gwen admitted. “I thought he might have been in some sort of battle or something. But… still… He stayed in that century to be with a woman he fell in love with. He had a son… lived his life. It’s… sweet.”
Jack said nothing. Sweet was the word Gwen would use. It wasn’t the one running through his mind.
Gwen went back to her work. Jack could have got on with some of the paperwork. There was a computer he could have used. But he really couldn’t motivate himself now. He had too much to think about.
Yes, he had lied. He did know Harry O’Leary, aka Hugh Ap Hugh, Lord of Aberystwyth. He had worked with him. Harry was…
Harry was the complete opposite to him. While he had been a hellraiser and a troublemaker who was always one warning short of suspension, Harry did everything by the book. He got results without a string of complaints about his methods. He didn’t have a single black mark against his name.
So it had been quite a surprise when he apparently went rogue. There had been a huge outcry. Searches had been made. He had been on one of them. They had looked for Harry across thirty thousand years of time. They eventually concluded that he must be dead, although the file was never officially closed and ‘what happened to Harry’ was a favourite topic of conversation on long haul space flights.
In a million years Jack wouldn’t have guessed that Harry fell in love and dropped out of the system.
Gray woke up. At first his surroundings disturbed him. As his memories flooded back he looked as if he might cry again. Then he saw Jack and managed a half smile.
“Tea time,” Jack said to him.
Jack cooked tea - ham, egg and chips. They watched children’s television and then a couple more soap operas. The plots were lame, but they served to give Gray some idea of what life was like in the twenty-first century. He turned to the least annoying music video channel and let him experience contemporary entertainment until he was tired enough to sleep.
Jack put Gray to bed and kissed him on the cheek as he tucked the duvet around him. Gray managed a weak smile and called him by a name he hadn’t been called for over a century. Jack brushed his hand against his brother’s cheek and swallowed an unbidden lump in his throat.
“I know you’ve had enough changes to cope with already,” he said. “But you’d maybe better get used to calling me Jack. That’s what everyone calls me around here.” Then he thought about it a little more. “Maybe… when it’s just the two of us… I suppose it would be all right. But when other people are around, it’s Jack.”
Gray seemed to accept that idea. He rolled over in the bed and closed his eyes. Jack waited until he was asleep then slipped out of the room. He stretched himself on the sofa and tried to clear his mind enough to sleep.
It took a while. Harry O’Leary kept sliding into his mind again and again.
If he had known the truth back then, when he was an agent, he would have laughed and said something cruel and cutting. He would have dismissed Harry as a soft idiot who let his emotions get the better of him.
But now, he thought he understood better than anyone what had driven Harry O’Leary to take that drastic decision. He couldn’t quite imagine living in the Thirteenth century. He would probably have ended up being burnt at the stake every couple of months. If they did that back then. Or was burning later? But he, too, had found love – serially as it happened - but he found it, and it was a good reason to stay even if he did sometimes feel like a fish out of water in this century.
He turned over on the sofa and pulled a pillow under his head and thought kindly of that fellow agent with whom he had more common ground than he had once thought.
In the middle of the night, Gray had a nightmare. Jack ran into the bedroom and hugged him tightly, crying with him.
“I’m sorry,” he told him. “Mom isn’t here. She can’t be here for either of us. But I promise I won’t leave you, Gray. I promise.”
Could he make that promise, he wondered? He was going to have a damned good try. He held Gray tightly until his fears subsided, then he lifted him from the bed and changed the sheets. There weren’t any boy’s night clothes anywhere in the hospitality suite, but he found a man’s t-shirt that covered him decently and put him back to bed. He pulled an armchair up beside the bed and slept fitfully in it for the duration of the night.
The next day, marked by clocks on the walls of the windowless rooms in the bowels of the Hub, Jack made breakfast and wondered if there was a limit to how much daytime television could be considered educational. He was running out of things to talk about. That was never a problem when he was four years older than Gray. He had always loved being with him. But an age gap bigger even than physical appearances allowed was causing him problems.
He was still trying to get around that problem when the outer door of the hospitality suite opened. He looked up and saw Garrett there. He hadn’t heard a word from him since he left the Hub yesterday morning. He was glad to see him. Though he was feeling a little unsure what to say to him right now, too.
“I thought you had to go to work,” he managed.
“I cleared a few days off,” he answered. He gave Jack a large Asda carrier bag. He examined it and found a full set of casual clothes, shoes and underwear in Gray’s size, a large bag of sweets and a Nintendo DS with a selection of games.
“I thought you were pissed off at me,” Jack added.
“I am. Everyone who knows you is pissed off at you. What you did was bloody reckless, stupid, dangerous. But right now, what matters is Gray. He’s gone through a trauma I wouldn’t expect my best agents to deal with on their own. He’s in a strange place, among strangers. We’ve got to help him feel that we’re not strangers to him.”
“You’ve done a lot of clever things in your life, Jack. You’ve had a lot of life to do them in. But you’ve never been a parent. I’m pulling rank on you in that department. I talked to Martha, by the way. I got her to partially rescind the quarantine. She’s right, incidentally. You don’t know what he might be susceptible, too. But it’s a beautiful day and she said if we go somewhere quiet, and avoid contact with other people, especially other children, we can take him out. Ianto is putting a picnic together for us. I was thinking a drive down the coast. Kenfig Sands or somewhere like threat.”
“Not Kenfig,” Jack answered. “That place looks too much like Boeshane. It’s too much for either of us right now.”
They went to Southerndown Beach, a little over twenty minutes drive away from Cardiff in Ianto’s Volvo. They parked the car in the clifftop car park and walked down onto the sand. Gray clung to their hands at first. He had been quiet in the back of the car throughout the journey. Jack had sat beside him and watched him carefully. Despite being prepared for twenty-first century life by the television, the traffic and bustle of Cardiff still startled him. He had spent his whole ten years in a community of a few hundred people. The coast road was a bit more reassuring, but he didn’t say anything about it. He sucked one of the sweets from the bag and watched his new world passing him by. Jack could only hope he would come out of himself soon.
The sea and the sand helped. Gray looked down at the new shoes and socks on his feet and then looked up at Jack.
“Yes,” Jack said with a wide smile. “Yes… give me your shoes and socks and you can go paddle if you like. It’s a bit colder than you’re used to. But safe. There’s nothing to hurt you here.”
Jack watched him run to the water’s edge. He felt Garrett’s hand slip into his. They walked along the dry sand, keeping pace with the boy playing in the shallows. They didn’t say anything to each other for a while, and it was Garrett who finally broke the silence.
“You have no way to take him back there even if you wanted to,” he said.
“No. And all there is for him there, even in the aftermath of the attack is an orphanage full of shocked kids whose parents and friends were murdered in front of their eyes. He’s safer here.”
“In a twenty-first century orphanage instead?”
“No,” Jack responded with a flash of anger. “He’s my brother. Do you think I would abandon him. I’m going to look after him. I know there are problems with that. But…”
“You said ‘I’.” Garrett told him.
“I was… thinking ‘we’.”
Jack looked at him, hardly daring to second guess what he might say next.
“We weren’t supposed to fall in love. But we did. We weren’t meant to be a steady thing. But we are. You weren’t meant to move in with me. But you’ve slept at the Hub four nights in the past sixty days. Yes, I’ve counted. The only thing that says you and I aren’t living together is my single occupancy Council Tax assessment. And I’ve been expecting them to catch up with us one of these days. We’d need to buy some new bedding. The stuff I’ve got is for when the girls visit me. I don’t think Gray would appreciate a pink Barbie duvet.”
“That’s gender stereotyping, you know,” Jack answered, but only because he was thinking about the deeper implications of what his lover was saying to him.
“Garrett…” Jack spoke slowly, carefully. “Are you… actually saying… that you’d accept us… both of us… you’d want us to be… a family.”
“When Molly was six, I remember going to a parent teacher’s meeting. There was a big row about some books in the school library. One of them was called ‘Heather Has Two Mummies’. Another one was… oh, I forget the title exactly. Something like ‘Gray lives with Jack and Garrett.’”
Jack laughed softly.
“We’d sorted out those sort of prejudices in the fifty-first century. I knew plenty of kids like Heather in my school.”
“I can’t actually remember which way the vote went on those books. Doesn’t matter. What matters is, the only person in the way of this happening is you, Jack. You’re the one who has always insisted that you don’t live with me, that you just come round my place for sex. Can you give up what’s left of your stubborn independence for Gray’s sake?”
Jack took a long time answering the question. Garrett frowned. He didn’t expect him to be that selfish about something so vital.
“It’s not that,” Jack assured him. “I’m… just trying to remember the reasons why I thought being independent mattered.”
He never actually answered the question. He was about to when Gray ran back towards the two of them. Jack held his breath. It was exactly the vision he had tried to suppress yesterday because it had seemed so impossible. Gray reached out to be hugged by him and then put his hand into the wide, deep pocket of Jack’s coat for the bag of sweets.
“Don’t eat them all at once. You’ll be sick.” As Gray ran off up the sands with his sweets Jack turned and looked at Garrett with a bemused expression. “Did I really just say that? I sounded like my father.”
“When I’m back in my office I can make it official… We do it for people who have to disappear, take on new identities for reasons of national security. On paper, Gray could be your son by an estranged woman who isn’t going to make any custody claims. Nobody could take him away from you, then.”
Jack didn’t say anything. His head was spinning slightly. He was just wondering when that bitch called fate was going to put a spoke in the wheels of what just might be the happiest day of his life.
Fate held off through a blissful day on the beach punctuated by picnic lunch and tea. The deputy director of MI5’s Welsh office and the director of Torchwood, a secret agency that monitored the activities of aliens helped Gray build a sandcastle with a moat and then they sat on the rocks above the high tide mark and watched as it was engulfed. While they waited for the tide to go out again they taught Gray to play with the Nintendo. Finally, about six o’clock, with the boy starting to look a little tired despite his attempts not to show it, they returned to the car.
They were heading back to Cardiff when Gray started to complain of stomach pains and Jack felt his forehead and realised he had a high fever. Garrett suggested taking him to a hospital.
“No,” Jack insisted. “Get us back to the Hub. Call Martha. She’ll know what to do.”
Jack held onto his little brother desperately as Garrett drove a fraction under the speed limit. If he had been stopped by the police for speeding he had ID on him that would stand them off right away, but it would waste time that Gray might not have. Jack thought of all the possibilities, all the common illnesses that Gray didn’t have immunity to. Chicken pox, whooping cough, measles, German measles, flu, avian flu, swine flu… He told himself that none of those were fatal to a healthy child. But the nagging doubt remained. Gray came from another planet and another century. Something that a child of this planet and this time would shake off could kill him.
“No,” Jack whispered over and over. “No, that’s not fair. If his being here has upset some grand plan, some balance of nature, then let me die, instead. He can have my place in the universe. Don’t take him away. Not now.”
But that really was soft thinking. Jack knew there was no bargain to be made. There was no higher authority to make it with. Gray’s life was in the hands of a doctor called Martha Jones. She was the only being he had any faith in right now.
Martha was waiting when they came into the Hub. She took the boy from Jack’s arms and raced down to the medical room. Jack and Garrett both tried to follow but Alun stood in their path and ordered them to go and sit in the boardroom. Ianto came a few minutes later and brought coffee. Jack drank it without tasting it.
“This is the worst part of being a parent,” Garrett told him. “When they’re ill. Niamh had appendicitis a couple of years ago. I flew over to Wexford when I heard she was in hospital. I was a nervous wreck, blaming myself for not being with them. As if I could have stopped her having appendicitis. But that’s the way even intelligent, rational people think when their kids are sick. By the time I got there she was wide awake and complaining because I didn’t bring her favourite doll to cuddle up with.”
Jack didn’t answer. Garrett was trying to be reassuring, but it wasn't helping right now. He was at the nervous wreck stage of things and he wouldn’t get out of it until somebody came to say that Gray was going to be all right.
It was a long, desperate hour for Jack before Martha finally came into the boardroom. Jack looked up at her hopefully. She smiled reassuringly.
“If you’d taken him to A&E, some nosy social worker would probably be questioning your competency as parents, right now,” she told them both. “Especially you, Garrett. You’ve got kids of your own. You ought to have known better.”
“What did I do?” he asked.
Martha held up a crumpled bag. It was labelled as a ‘family pack’ of sweets and it was empty.
“Neither of you noticed he’d scoffed the lot?”
“But it’s just sweets,” Garrett protested.
“Do they have natural sugars in the fifty-first century, Jack?” Martha asked.
“No,” he answered. “Cane fields take up too much valuable land. Everything is made with synthesised sweeteners.”
“That’s why his blood sugar levels were off the scale. I’ve treated him for acute hyperglycaemia. If you’re lucky he won’t be permanently diabetic. But you’re going to have to be strict about how many sweets he has in future. He’s having a little sleep now. Later you can take him down to the hospitality suite and spend the night there with him. After that, I presume you’ve worked out some kind of plan?”
Jack didn’t answer that question. He was already on his way to the medical room, determined that nothing and nobody would get in his way.
There was only one thing and one person who possibly could stand in his way at that moment, and he was astonished when he heard the animal-mechanical sound and felt a breeze where no breeze had any business being. Myfanwy squawked angrily, summing up his own mood as he saw a 1950s police telephone box materialise in front of the Welsh dragon mural. As the familiar figure in crumpled brown pinstripe suit stepped out Jack launched himself at him and pushed him back against the faux wooden door of the TARDIS.
“No!” he yelled. “No, not even YOU will stop me. I know what I did was against the rules. I don’t care. You’re not taking him away from me. After all we’ve been through, not even you.”
The Doctor looked at him in surprise and very slowly detached his hands from his throat.
“I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about, Jack,” he told him. “I just dropped by for a cup of tea and a chat, chance to catch up on old times. But since you mentioned rules… you’d better tell me everything.”
Jack sagged as his anger dissipated. The Doctor’s arms around his shoulders were the only thing holding him up. He pulled himself together and led his old friend down the steps to the medical room where Gray was sleeping with his thumb in his mouth, a habit he was a little too old for, but which his parents hadn’t managed to break. He explained everything in as few words as he could manage, then repeated his determination that nobody was going to take Gray away from him, now.
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” The Doctor answered. “Yes, it was stupid of you. But I think you were always going to do it, sooner or later, even if your freeze dried thirteenth century Time Agent hadn’t presented the opportunity. Have you thought why things happened differently in this universe? Why Gray didn’t come through time to you, vengeful and bitter and blaming you for the suffering he went through? It’s because you grabbed him off that beach before he was taken by those dreadful creatures. If that was undone now, then your two friends might well be dead instead of happily setting up home in Glasgow.”
“You mean…” Jack was lost for words.
“You know as well as I do how dangerous it can be taking somebody out of their time,” The Doctor told him sternly. “You were lucky, this time. If I catch you at it again…”
“You won’t,” Jack promised. “I destroyed the Vortex Manipulator.”
“I’ll take that, anyway,” The Doctor said. “Just in case you’re tempted. Come to think of it, why don’t you let me have the rest of the artefacts, and the body, too. I’ll take Hugh ap Hugh aka Harry O’Leary back to the fifty-first century for you.”
“Have that cup of tea, first,” Jack told him. “You were a dad once, weren’t you? I might as well pick your brains for some parenting tips.”