Jack and Ianto looked at each other in hard hats and fluorescent tabards over their clothes and grinned.
“If I wasn’t spoken for we could have some fun with role play later!” Jack teased. Ianto blushed delightfully at first, then rallied himself. He was a married man, after all. He had a healthy sex life of his own.
“I thought I might take the hard hat home. Alun can wear his old U.N.I.T. beret…”
Jack grinned, then pushed back his sleeve to look at his wristlet. He had felt a tingle that told him there was new data to read.
“Definitely a rift energy pattern around here,” he said. “And it can’t be a coincidence that we started to pick it up just as work got underway to dismantle the old monastery.”
Ianto nodded in agreement as he looked at the partially demolished building. It wasn’t being destroyed completely. After a long wrangle between developers and historical preservationists, it had been agreed that the neo-gothic chapel of the monastery of Saint Carantoc in the Cardiff suburb of Rumney, would be carefully taken down, section by section, and rebuilt on a piece of land next to Cathays cemetery, where it would be used as a place of contemplation and prayer for visitors.
“It’s not VERY old, really,” Ianto pointed out. “It was built in the 1830s, after Catholic Emancipation meant that the religious orders were free to build churches in England and Wales. The Franciscans built Saint Carantoc’s as a spiritual retreat for up to fifty of their order…”
“I know,” Jack said. “Seriously, I do.” Ianto looked at him quizzically. “You’re never going to believe this. But I actually spent six months here in the 1920s.”
“In… the monastery?” Ianto’s expression was beyond quizzical now. It was approaching incredulous. “As… a monk…”
“Not a real one, obviously,” Jack hastened to add. “But the monastery has been the focus of rift energy before. Torchwood were a bit concerned. They wanted a man in on the ground as it were.”
“And… you were the most suitable choice?” Incredulity was still hanging in the air.
“I think my boss at the time had a warped sense of humour. Possibly he was jealous of my sexual chemistry.”
Ianto got ready with a response to that comment, when a commotion distracted him. They both ran towards the piece of wall that was being dismantled. The workers who had been carefully chipping away the mortar and removing sections of the wall were running the other way, yelling that there was some kind of wild animal inside.
Jack approached carefully. Ianto was just behind him. Jack had his hand on his revolver while Ianto fingered a canister of what they called ‘Weevil Spray’ – an extra strong kind of mace that subdued the creatures just long enough to get them under control.
Jack had been fully expecting a Weevil. But what he saw hunched up in the small space inside the outer wall of the chapel was nothing like that. At first glance he thought it was another wolfman like Ray. But the matted hair that covered this body was nothing like a wolf’s sleek fur. And when it raised its head and looked around, the eyes that blinked in the unaccustomed daylight were fully Human.
“Oh my God!” Ianto swore beside him. “He’s…”
“Help me with him,” Jack said, wasting no more time on words. The man was trying to stand upright, but he looked as if he hadn’t done so for a very long time. His legs buckled under him, and he would have fallen if Jack hadn’t been there to hold him up. He held his breath against an odour beyond description that came from the unwashed hair and the equally unwashed flesh beneath. Jack noted that there was no body hair except where there ought to be on a man. What covered him from head to toe was something like four or five yards of head hair and beard. There were some rags of cloth that might once have been clothing, but they disintegrated as Jack lifted him and carried him towards the SUV. Ianto ran ahead and opened the back door. Jack laid the man across the back seat and secured him with the special seatbelts used when they had to bring in somebody unconscious.
“I’m taking him back to the Hub,” Jack said. “Ianto, I need you to stay here and investigate that ‘cell’ or whatever it is that we found him in. I’ll phone Alun and get him to drive up in the Volvo to collect any artefacts you might find.” He looked at the half demolished chapel. The place where they had found the strange man was chillingly dark and somehow oppressive. And it looked as if there was a rainstorm approaching. “He’ll keep you company. Not sure even I’d fancy poking around here on my own.”
Ianto thanked his boss for his consideration and closed the back door of the SUV. Jack buckled himself into the driver’s seat and drove off quickly. He used the alien gadget that handily turned traffic lights green and had a clear road all the way into the city centre. The Volvo passed him going the other direction as he approached the retail park on Newport Road. He swapped a cheery word with Alun on the communicator.
“Ple…a…se!” His passenger called to him from the back seat. His voice sounded hoarse and cracked and the syllables of that one word seemed unfamiliar to the lips that formed them.
“It’s ok,” Jack told him, risking a look around while the road ahead was clear. “You’re going to be all right, old man. I’m taking you somewhere safe. Just hang on in there.”
“Pl…ease….” He said again. Then he murmured something quietly. Jack was puzzled at first, then he realised it was a prayer, in Latin, for deliverance from Satan and his disciples.
Jack was hardly a priest. But he didn’t think he was a disciple of Satan, either. He hoped he could convince him that he was on his side and only wanted to help him.
“I promise,” he said. “I promise you, you’re going to be safe. I’m taking you to see a doctor, first, then we’ll clean you up, get you some clothes, food… you must be starving….”
“I need….” His voice was weak. Jack strained to hear what he was saying.
“Yes,” he answered once he understood. “I can do that, too. But let’s get you to our doctor first.” That seemed a satisfactory answer. His passenger sighed and continued his prayers. Jack reached for his communicator again and asked Gwen to make the necessary arrangements to fulfil the poor man’s one request.
Martha was waiting when the SUV drove into the garage. She stared open mouthed at the dishevelled figure Jack carried from the car to the waiting stretcher.
“I think he fainted,” Jack said as Martha bent to examine him. “Shock… exhaustion… I guess…”
Martha shot him a look that said ‘I’m the doctor around here. I’ll do the diagnosis.’
But by the time she’d made a full examination of her patient she couldn’t admit to there being very much more wrong with him.
She had cut away most of the hair. What was left didn’t win any hairdressing prizes, but it was a lot neater. She had removed the beard completely and washed his flesh from head to toe. There was a drip attached to his arm, but Jack noted that it was only a saline solution.
“He’s… younger than I expected,” Jack admitted as he looked closely at the sleeping man. He had an oval face with the palest complexion Jack had ever seen. His hair was sandy-blonde and he had a sprinkling of freckles that so often went with red hair, but they only made the rest of his face seem even paler. He might be considered attractive, though Jack thought he was a bit too thin. A couple of good meals and a few weeks building up his wasted muscles and he might be fanciable. At the moment he just looked rather pitiable.
“I thought he was old.” He looked at the container where Martha had put the shorn hair. “How long does it take to grow that much?”
“Hair grows at roughly sixteen centimetres per year,” Martha answered. “I measured his. It was five metres long. So… decades…”
“But he doesn’t look much older than twenty-five…”
“You don’t look much older than forty,” Martha pointed out. “He’s saturated in rift energy. It’s a wonder he isn’t glowing. Cardiff… sitting on the rift… every citizen absorbs some of it. It’s harmless. Completely harmless. It a bit like people in the mining valleys who’ve breathed coal dust all their lives… only that’s WAY more dangerous than Cardiff rift energy.”
“Harmless background radiation. Yeah, I get it,” Jack said with a note of irony in his voice. “But this guy’s got more of it than most?”
“Tons more,” Martha said with an apologetic grin for that less than medically accurate diagnosis. “I’m running a comparative analysis using Gwen’s blood samples since she’s a Cardiff native. But as far as I can see it’s doing him no harm. I’ve found nothing wrong with him except a slight salt deficiency, dehydration, a certain amount of muscle atrophy and some nasty patches of psoriasis on his skin. No surprise there with all that manky hair clinging to him.” She stopped the saline drip as she talked and covered the insertion point with a sterile plaster. “Where was he found?”
“In a sealed room built into the wall of Saint Carantocs’ Chapel.”
“Oh… my!” Martha looked at the sleeping man. “Oh, Jack. He must be an Anchorite.”
“A….” Jack’s eyes narrowed. He had a pretty wide vocabulary. He could talk at length on any number of subjects. But that was a new one on him.
“An Anchorite is a very devout religious person who volunteers… I mean, seriously, volunteers… to be sealed up into a small room in the wall of a church or monastery, or whatever. They get fed through some kind of hatch, and I suppose there must be some kind of toilet arrangement…” She shrugged as her brain refused to speculate on how that part of it worked. “And they pray continuously, cut off from all outside influences. And… well, that’s their life, until they die, I suppose.”
“But Saint Carantocs’ was closed down in 1995,” Jack pointed out. “The place has been shut up for fifteen years. How…”
The patient stirred. Martha had only sedated him lightly while she completed the clean up and the physical examination without distressing him. He opened his eyes – a soft pale blue colour - and looked at them both. Jack stepped closer.
“How do you feel, now?” he asked. “Would you like something to eat? It’s Friday, so it’s Chinese…”
He shook his head and repeated the request he had made in the car. Jack reached for his communicator. Gwen’s answer was satisfactory.
“Yes, that’s all been arranged. But… we’ve got a better place than this for it. If you’ll let me help you put some clothes on, I’ll bring you down…”
Martha passed him a simple pair of tracksuit bottoms and a sweatshirt. The young Anchorite looked at them as if he had no idea what they were, but he accepted Jack’s help to put them on along with a pair of men’s bedroom slippers.
“Go carefully,” Martha told Jack. “His muscles aren’t what they should be. I don’t think he’s walked on his own two feet for a while.”
That certainly seemed to be true. The Anchorite didn’t know which foot to put forward first. He shuffled along, encouraged by Jack, and slowly managed the steps up from the medical room. Jack got him as far as the lift to the lower levels. The sliding door and the downward movement startled him. Jack touched his arm reassuringly and he flinched as if Human contact was as new to him as wearing tracksuit bottoms or travelling in a lift.
“You’re a mystery, aren’t you,” Jack said. “Never mind. We’ll sort you out. That’s what Torchwood does. We’re good at it.”
The Anchorite turned and looked at him and managed a weak smile, as if he realised that Jack meant him no harm. The lift stopped and he let himself be guided along the corridor beyond to a little used but well cared for room.
The Torchwood chapel used to be closed up and abandoned. Ianto had opened it up again and he treated it as a labour of love. He wasn’t especially religious, but apart from Jack himself he had come into the closest contact with past Torchwood operatives. He liked the idea of the room being there as a memorial to them, as a place where the present day staff could come if they ever felt the need for quiet thought, contemplation, even prayer if they so wished.
There were always fresh candles burning and clean linen and flowers on the altar. The crosses and other religious objects were all beautifully polished. It was designed to be non-denominational, but at least one past Torchwood agent had been Catholic and there was a small free standing crucifix on a side table with a red devotional light above it, again maintained by Ianto. The Anchorite’s eyes fell upon that detail. He knelt before the crucifix and murmured his Latin prayers again. Jack sat on one of the chairs set before the main altar and watched him carefully.
1969, Jack remembered. Vatican II, the council of the Catholic hierarchy that decided to do away with the Latin Mass and prayer books. From then on services and prayers were done, across the whole world, in the local vernacular language. English was the accepted standard in the UK, but in the Welsh valleys and on certain days in the Cathedral in Cardiff it was possible to find a Mass said in Welsh.
Forty years, then, since Latin was last commonly heard in the Catholic churches. Even St. Carantocs’ with their closed community would have changed. With Latin hardly taught in schools these days they would have to have accepted that their new intake of monks wouldn’t know that dead language.
Except for the Anchorite. Even though he spoke English with a Welsh accent, he said his prayers in Latin. He did so without thinking about it, as if he had done so all of his life.
Another part of his mystery.
The door opened. Gwen entered along with a priest who settled an embroidered stole around his neck and opened up a bag containing the consecrated Host.
The anchorite looked around and saw the priest. He gave a soft cry that contained no recognisable words, but nevertheless expressed his gratitude. Jack nodded to the priest as he and Gwen left the chapel.
“Father David Pryce,” Gwen explained. “He’s from St. Athans. He looks after the Catholic members of U.N.I.T. based there.”
“Mmm,” Jack reflected. “He’s bound by the Official Secrets Act as well as the Sanctity of the Confessional. I hope he’ll tell us SOMETHING about our mystery man.”
They went up to the Hub. Ianto and Alun were back and they had picked up the usual Chinese take out that the whole team shared for their lunch. Jack looked at it and then made a quick phone call before sitting down to his meal. As they ate, the boys told him about their closer investigation of the Anchorite’s cell.
“It wasn’t much bigger than one of the toilet cubicles at the bus station,” Ianto said. There was a chair and a little kneeler with a lectern in front of it. There was a candle stub and an old bible on it - the Latin Vulgate version. I’ve got it sealed in a box. The pages are nearly falling apart. Apart from that there were a couple of planks that made up a bed. And that’s it. We found a plate with dry bread on it, and a cup with some water, a small bowl for washing water and a chamber pot….” Ianto wrinkled his nose as if he didn’t want to talk about the chamber pot, especially not over his lunch.
“So he really has been living in there. For… years?” Martha expressed the astonishment of them all.
“Why would anyone do that?” Beth asked. “I mean… even prisoners have a better life than that.”
“Religious devotion,” Jack said. “He must have felt it very strongly to have made a choice like that. Not sure I get it myself. Day after day in the dark, doing nothing but praying…”
“I…. think it’s admirable,” Ianto said quietly. “To have that much faith, conviction, to be that dedicated… even if it seems a little potty to have himself walled up like that, he’s a better man than any of us. We don’t have anything like that strength of purpose. I admire him.”
The others looked at him and considered what he had said. The only bit they completely agreed with was that choosing to be walled up in a tiny cell was ‘potty’.
“I agree,” Jack said. “He is admirable. But there’s more to him than that, still. A mystery – a Torchwood mystery.”
Jack left the table and went to attend to a delivery at the front office. When he returned, he was carrying a take away container and escorting the Anchorite and the priest. Jack took them both to his own office where he gave the Anchorite the food he had ordered for him. then he and the priest left him to eat.
“What did you give him?” Gwen asked. “To eat, I mean. And how come he needed a special order?”
“He says his prayers in Latin,” Jack replied. “He’s an old fashioned Catholic. It’s Friday. I called the sushi take out Tosh used to use. Their fish stew special…”
“That was thoughtful,” the priest said as he accepted a cup of coffee from Ianto and a seat at the table. “Thank you for that.” He took a sip of coffee and then looked around at the assembled team. They all, clearly, expected him to say something.
“He made his confession, which is between me and him and God, of course.” Father Pryce began. “He took communion, which I was glad to do for him. Then he talked to me of that which I CAN share with you…. Which I almost certainly should share with you, since I think you’re the people who would understand his story better than anyone.”
“Please, go ahead,” Jack urged.
“His birth name is Kenneth Parry. He was born on August 15th, 1865. He took the name Brother Cenyd David when he entered the monastery at the age of twenty – in 1885. He volunteered to become an Anchorite five years later in 1890.”
Father Pryce paused and looked around to ensure that the dates he had mentioned sank into all of those listening.
“You mean he is…” Beth did the maths. “One hundred and forty-five years old.”
“Looking good for it,” Jack commented.
“Behave,” Ianto told him. “He’s a religious man. Besides, you’re spoken for.”
Jack flashed a toothpaste advert grin at his former lover then composed his expression as he turned back to Father Pryce.
“I’m no expert. But I presume… when people choose this… solitude… their lifespans are no longer than any ordinary Human. They age and die within the walls…”
“He is the first one I have ever met,” Father Pryce admitted. “It is a very rare vocation, as you can appreciate. But as I understand it, yes. For him to have lived so long… and appear to be a young man, still…” He paused and looked around at his audience. “If I were an ordinary parish priest, I would probably want to hail this as some kind of miracle, as proof of God’s power over life and death. But… I work with U.N.I.T. I’ve given Last Rites to the Human remnants inside Cybermen… I still believe in God. But I find myself recognising that things happen in this world that are not of His design. And I strongly believe that Brother Cenyd has been affected by something unnatural or not of this world.”
“I think he’s right,” Alun said. “His cell was right over the focus of massive rift energy. He was there 24/7, hardly moving more than a few feet every day.”
“I did say his body was saturated with the energy,” Martha added.
“And it acts as a fountain of youth?” Gwen commented. “That’s what most people would call a miracle.”
“Living forever isn’t all its cracked up to be,” Jack remarked. “Besides… some people wouldn’t call it a miracle. They’d call it a cash cow. If this went public the monastery would become a pilgrimage for those with the money to pay for eternal youth.”
“It won’t get out through me,” Father Pryce assured him.
“Nor anyone here,” Jack confirmed. “I think we should get the site sealed off. Your lot, U.N.I.T., can do that. They’re useful for containment situations. As for Cenyd… Martha, I suppose you’ll need to run more tests on him?”
“I don’t think there is anything more,” Martha replied. “But… he’s like Gray, or any of the poor souls who come through the rift into our hands. He’s vulnerable to our modern diseases. He’ll need the full gamut of vaccinations…”
“Poor bastard!” Jack commented. “He’s spent more than a century in solitude and now you want to stick needles in him and quarantine him down here.”
“For his own good,” Martha reminded him. “Besides, do you think he’s ready to go out clubbing on St. Mary’s Street? He is going to need a lot of adjustment to our modern world. More than any rift victim. He was already out of touch with secular life before he was incarcerated in that wall.”
“Yes,” Jack agreed. “He’s going to need a lot of help. Good job we’re here.”
“You’ll look after him?” Father Pryce asked.
“Of course we will,” Martha assured him.
“Then I will leave him in your hands. If I could visit again…”
“Please, do,” Jack told him. “Thank you for your help.”
Father Pryce took his leave of Brother Cenyd before Gwen brought him up to Roald Dahl Plas by the pavement lift. Jack looked around at his team with a wry smile.
“I’ll bet none of you are going to volunteer to help me look after him over the weekend?”
Every one of them tried not to look guilty as they mentioned their unbreakable weekend plans. The boys had to visit Ianto’s mum. Rhys had bought tickets for the rugby. Martha had to report to U.N.I.T. for a two day orientation programme. Even Beth and Ray, with the full moon still a week away, were planning to spend the weekend in the country.
“No problem,” he answered, letting them off the hook. “I’m on my own for the weekend anyway. Garrett’s taking Gray to visit Annie and the girls in Wexford.”
“So you’re going to be alone in the Hub with him?” Gwen smiled a smile that was loaded with innuendo.
“He’s a religious man,” Ianto reminded him. “Don’t go corrupting him.”
Jack grinned and winked in the same spirit of fun. He had no intention of doing anything that would corrupt Brother Cenyd. But he did want to talk to him. There were so many questions he wanted to ask.
In any case, Cenyd was resigned to the news that he was going to be staying in the Hub for the next few days with Jack for company.
“May I be allowed to return to your chapel?” he asked. “I would like to continue my prayers.”
“You don’t need to ask permission to do that,” Jack assured him. “You’re our guest, not our prisoner. And it’s only because we’re not sure what the heck to do with you that you even need to stay here.”
“I can’t go back to my cell, can I?”
“No. The wall was broken right through. It doesn’t exist any more.”
Cenyd sighed and looked down at his own hands.
“I don’t suppose you know much about the outside world?” Jack added, prompting him to talk.
“I know nothing,” he answered. “Only… that it is a loud, frightening place. I remember… many years ago… when bombs fell on Cardiff… I heard that even within my cell. I prayed that we in our retreat would be spared. Then I realised that was a selfish prayer. I prayed that our lives might be taken by the bombs instead of innocent people in the town. Now… there are no bombs… but I feel the vibrations of traffic passing by. Thunderous sounds all the day and sometimes long into the night. This world of yours is a terrifying place.”
“It’s not as bad as it sounds,” Jack assured him. “That’s what we’re here for. We’ll help you to face this new world. We’re here for you until you’re ready.”
“I never expected to see the world,” Cenyd answered. “I thought to remain where I was until my dying day… even if that should be long in coming.”
“Do you understand why that is?” Jack asked him. “We have some theories, but what do you think kept you alive all this time?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “I never asked for it, though I have been grateful for each day that I was able to make my prayers to God. That was always the purpose of my life. To pray. I think God gave me the extra years to intercede for this frightening world and the lost souls in it.” He paused and looked at Jack. “You find that hard to believe, don’t you?”
“You and I are alike in one way,” Jack said. “I’ve lived as long as you. For reasons I can’t wholly explain, either. But I lived in the world you were shut away from. I saw those bombs at much closer quarters. And much that is worse. Prayer has never been much practical use to me. But that’s just me. You keep your faith, and your prayers. I won’t take them from you.”
They were all Cenyd had. To do that would be too cruel. Jack walked with him to the chapel and sat for a while watching him at his prayer. Ianto was right. His faith was a thing to admire, not to sneer at or dismiss. Jack would never do either. He thought about the century and more that he had lived through, weary sometimes, disappointed, occasionally happily. At the same time, Cenyd had been passing each day, one after the other, in prayer. They had lived through the same years. But their lives couldn’t have been more different.
Over the weekend, when Cenyd wasn’t in the chapel praying for long hours, when Jack coaxed him out and persuaded him to eat food he had never tasted before in a life of asceticism and denial, Jack talked about their parallel yet different lives. He explained in the simplest terms how he came to be exiled to planet Earth in the 19th century and had lived right through the whole of the 20th, battling against the enemies of the British Empire and of mankind generally. Cenyd did his best to understand Jack’s dangerous life.
“You do God’s work in your own way,” he told him. “You fight those demons and revenants that threaten us all. You walk in the light, Jack. And He looks down on your work and calls it good.”
“If you say so,” Jack answered.
“I’m not the only one who thinks so,” Cenyd said. “Father Pryce knows of your work. He said that you are a good man, Jack.”
“It depends on your definition of good,” Jack countered. “By the strict letter of your religious beliefs, I’m far from that.”
Cenyd never asked him about his personal life. He never asked him if he was married or single, if he had a family, if he had children. Sex and its consequences were so far removed from the Anchorite’s frame of reference that it never came into the questions he asked.
And Jack never volunteered the information that he was an omnisexual being who had enjoyed the most decadent kinds of sex all over the universe, and was now in a committed homosexual relationship with another man.
He knew it was dishonest of him, but he really didn’t want to explain that to Cenyd. He had never felt ashamed of any aspect of his lifestyle, except once or twice when The Doctor gave him that certain ‘look’ and reminded him that intergalactic conman was a shabby sort of career. But he knew that Cenyd would be shocked by such revelations. Even if his innocent mind could encompass that kind of sexuality, he would be repulsed by it.
And Jack didn’t want Cenyd to be repulsed by him. He didn’t want his gentle eyes looking at him in that way. He didn’t want the tentative understanding and friendship between them destroyed.
So he kept his sex life to himself. But he talked openly about everything else. The violence of Jack’s life dismayed the simple man of prayer and contemplation, but he still maintained that Jack was doing God’s work, and Jack didn’t try to dissuade him.
On Sunday morning, Father Pryce visited again. He held a full Mass in the chapel, with only two people there to hear it – Cenyd who held onto every single word of it – and Jack who sat quietly at the back and took no part in it at all. The priest stayed to eat with them afterwards and to assure himself that Cenyd was adapting to the relative freedom of the Torchwood Hub after his tiny cell.
“I still don’t know what the heck to do with him,” Jack admitted as he left Cenyd in the chapel and walked up to the Plas with Father Pryce. “He can’t stay in the Hub permanently. It’s far from the right place for him. We’re all far too worldly. We really would start to corrupt him sooner or later.”
“Perhaps it would be the other way around. He could convert you all to a better way of thinking?” Father Pryce gently suggested. “Even you, Captain.”
“It’s far too late for me, Father,” Jack replied with a smile in his eyes. “I’m too much of a sinner for anyone to convert. But the fact remains…” Jack looked around at the crowded Plas. Even on a cold day with rain in the air, there were so many people there, probably more people than Cenyd, born and raised in a small Welsh village before going to the closed community of Saint Carantoc, had ever seen in his life. How was he ever going to adjust to this modern world that he had so little understanding of?
“I will pray for a solution,” Father Pryce said as he parted from him. Jack didn’t respond to that comment. He didn’t believe in the power of prayer to solve practical problems like that.
So he was a little surprised when, only a few hours later, Father Pryce returned with a companion who he brought to Jack’s office. Cenyd was still in the chapel, still praying. Jack was watching him carefully on the CCTV, noting how he knelt so very still for hours at a time, just as he was accustomed to doing all of his life.
“It came to me as I was praying,” Father Pryce said. “Brother Cenyd…. your rift kept him alive beyond his years. But it didn’t feed him. It didn’t bring him water and take away the chamber pot… Somebody had to be doing that… even after the monastery was closed.”
Jack uttered a swear word under his breath and then apologised quickly.
“I should have thought of that,” he said. “I really should have…”
“We all make mistakes,” Father Pryce told him charitably. “Besides, I am better placed than you in this instance. I was able to visit the new home of the brothers of St. Carantoc. They where moved to the new Franciscan monastery at Aberthaw. This is one of their number, Brother Iain.”
Jack looked at the elderly man in a brown Franciscan habit, tied at the waist with a cord. His memory stirred.
“You were there, Friday morning, at the site. You were behind the cordon. I didn’t think anything of it at the time. A Franciscan… watching them dismantle the old chapel. I assumed you were just curious like everyone else.”
“I… was concerned. About… The Anchorite. I am told he is here. And that he is well…”
“Yes, on both accounts,” Jack answered. “You are the one who fed him?”
“He was placed in my charge fifty years ago,” Brother Iain replied. “When I was a young novice. I was told he was my special responsibility, but I was not to talk about him to any other Brother – or, needless to say, anyone in the outside world. When the monastery was closed, I saw to it that I had the responsibility for maintaining the abandoned building. I brought him food, drink, saw to his needs as I had done before. By then, I was the only one who knew about the Anchorite. I had kept the secret so well. The one who gave me the task was long dead. I should have told somebody. But his long life was an unnatural thing, and I was afraid of the consequences. When I found out that the chapel was to be dismantled. I knew that it was all over. He would be found. God forgive me, I was afraid to own up to my involvement. I saw him taken from the wall, put into a car… I saw the name on it… Torchwood. Even in our cloistered place, certain things are known about the outside world. Torchwood stands against the unholy things that bedevil this planet. But I beg you not to hurt him… the Anchorite. He isn’t one of those things. He belongs to God.”
“He has not been hurt,” Jack assured him. “Far from it. But… you pledged to care for him… for your whole life long?”
“Then… you probably ought to carry on doing that. Could your monastery take him in?”
“We would be failing in our duty if we did not,” Brother Iain answered. “We can take him right away. I have been praying that it could be so.”
It was the news Jack had wanted to hear. There was a safe place for Cenyd. A place where he could pray to his hearts’ content, where he could live out his days in peace, and be around people who thought the same way as he did.
But Jack’s heart felt heavy at the thought of parting from him.
Cenyd seemed to feel the same way. The news that the modern generation of the same brothers he had joined so many decades ago were going to give him a home pleased him. But he looked at Jack with longing eyes.
After talking to nobody for over a century, being close to nobody, Cenyd, the gentle, innocent, man of prayer, had formed an attachment to Jack, his polar opposite, and now parting from him was difficult.
“Come with us,” Father Pryce said, reading the body language accurately. “Help him settle in.”
“Well… as long as I don’t have to stay the night,” Jack responded with a grin. “I’m no monk, believe me.”
Cenyd sat beside him in the SUV as Jack followed the priest’s car out to the coastal village of Aberthaw and the rather beautiful building that housed the Franciscans.
“Don’t go volunteering to be walled up again,” Jack told him as he was shown the simple but bright and clean room that he would sleep in from now on as well as the refectory and library and other facilities. “Be happy, here, Cenyd.”
“I… will try,” he said. “Will you come to see me, Jack. I think I should like to talk to you again.”
“Am I allowed?” he asked.
“We’ll allow a dispensation,” Brother Iain told him. “Please come when you can.”
Jack took that invitation seriously. He went up to Aberthaw every afternoon of the week to spend time talking to Cenyd. He told him about the ongoing problems with Weevils in Queens Arcade and Cenyd promised to pray for him and his team. Jack still didn’t think prayers were a lot of use in his life, but he didn’t mind being told they were being said for him.
He didn’t mind being teased by his team about his pre-occupation. Not even when Gwen joked that Garrett would be getting jealous. Garrett wasn't jealous, in any case. He thought Jack was being very kind and patient as he helped the Anchorite come to terms with his new life.
Jack wasn’t just doing it out of kindness, or duty. He really did enjoy Cenyd’s company. He really felt a connection with him, the only other man he knew, the only Human, anyway, who had lived as long as he had. It meant a lot to him.
But on Monday morning when he arrived at the Hub, he was met by Martha with a message that filled him with dismay.
“Cenyd is ill,” she said. “Very ill.”
He didn’t wait for any further explanations. He turned and ran to the garage. The SUV was already in first gear as Martha yanked open the passenger side door and slid into the seat. Jack drove straight out of the garage and programmed the alien traffic light device to give him a clear road to Aberthaw. He felt sick in his heart as he thought about the gentle young man who had been, for a brief time, his responsibility. He couldn’t get away from the idea that it was his fault that he was ill. He had taken him from the place where he had been safe for so long and plunged him into a strange and unrecognisable, terrifying world that he wasn’t prepared for.
There was no choice in the matter, Jack reasoned with himself. He had done the best he could. He did the only thing he could.
But Cenyd was suffering despite his best.
“Jack, speed kills even on empty roads,” Martha pointed out. “And I don’t have unlimited lives.”
He took her gentle censure to heart and lifted his foot off the accelerator a little. They reached Aberthaw without incident and were invited into the quiet house of contemplation by a Franciscan in his brown habit. Martha felt more than a little out of place as they were conducted through the exclusively male domain. Jack wasn’t sure he felt any more at home. These were celibate men. Not exactly his type.
The infirmary was a bright, pleasant wing of the new monastery, staffed by Brothers who had taken medical degrees as well as holy orders. Cenyd was not in the general ward, though. They were conducted to a separate room.
“He’s spent his whole life in segregated quarters,” Jack commented. “And now he’s on his own again.”
Not quite alone. Brother Iain was at his side. So was Father Pryce.
“They called you, too?” Jack asked the U.N.I.T padre.
“He asked for me. And for you. He trusts you, Captain.”
Father Pryce stepped aside and Jack moved towards the bed. He tried not to show how shocked he was when he looked at Cenyd. He was visibly ill. He was paler than ever and he actually looked older.
“The years are catching up on him,” Martha said in a low tone.
“They are,” Cenyd replied in a whisper. Jack sat by his side and took his hand gently as Martha studied his medical chart.
“Blood samples were taken,” she said, looking at Brother Iain. “Where are they? I’ll need to…”
Brother Iain stood and went out of the room with Martha. Father Pryce followed them, leaving Jack alone with the patient. An uneasy silence endured for several minutes before Cenyd spoke again.
“I know what she’ll find,” he said. “I am dying. Away from the energy that kept me young, my body is breaking down.”
“Then… we’ll take you back to the Hub,” Jack said. “There’s rift energy there. We can channel it to you. We can keep you alive.”
“I knew you’d say that,” Cenyd told him. “For you, staying alive, clinging to this flawed mortal life, is all there is. Because you see nothing beyond it.”
“If there is anything, it’s not open to me,” Jack said. “Mortal life is all I have.”
“But I don’t,” Cenyd replied. “I have made my peace with God. My place in Heaven is waiting.”
He really did believe that. Jack looked at Cenyd’s soft blue eyes and saw that clearly. For Cenyd, dying was not a terrible thing. He was ready for it. He was ready for what lay beyond life.
Jack was, for once in his life, speechless. He had nothing he could say. But he didn’t need to say anything. It was clear that what the Anchorite needed was his company. After living alone for so long, he wanted somebody beside him, and for whatever reason, he chose Jack Harkness to be that somebody.
He sat patiently with him for the best part of an hour. Sometimes Cenyd prayed. Sometimes he just lay there quietly, holding onto Jack’s hand.
The door opened. Martha came in again. Jack looked at her. She shook her head.
“It’s already irreversible,” she said. “And it’s happening very quickly. He’s got a day at the most. All of his organs are breaking down. His cells are dying. And there’s nothing I can do. Nothing anyone can do.”
“You see,” Cenyd whispered. “I’m ready.”
“There must be something. Martha… you took the Hippocratic Oath. You promised to save lives…”
“I promised to ease suffering. That’s all anyone can do for him – administer painkillers that will make his last hours bearable. But he’s right, Jack. In the end we have to let him go.”
She left the room again. The silence lengthened. Then Jack spoke, his voice seeming loud after the silence.
“What… if I told you I’ve died… many times… and I’ve seen what’s beyond this life. There’s nothing… it’s not Paradise. It’s not Heaven. It’s just dark, cold, lonely… you’ve spent long enough alone in the dark, Cenyd. You have a right to live in the light for a little longer before you have to go to that place.”
“Jack, when the time comes… when it’s your turn to give up this life, it won’t be dark and cold. You’re a good man, despite your worldliness. There will be a place for you in Paradise. I… I will go before you and prepare it.”
“I’m too much of a sinner,” Jack told him. “That’s why Paradise spits me out every time.”
“We’re all sinners,” Cenyd answered. “It’s why I chose to become an Anchorite. I was tortured by my sins. I knew if I separated myself from the world completely I could overcome my weakness.”
“What sin could you possibly have committed?” Jack asked. “You haven’t had any chance to sin. You’ve been too busy praying.”
“I was afflicted by lewd thoughts and I acted upon them,” Cenyd answered. “I committed indecencies…”
“Indecencies?” Jack’s mind turned over that word. “You… Oh, Cenyd, please tell me you weren’t fiddling with altar boys.” For all his own sexual excesses, that was one thing Jack recoiled from.
“Altar boys?” Cenyd’s brow furrowed. His mind struggled with the very concept that had come so easily to Jack’s worldly imagination. When he realised what he meant his eyes widened in horror. He crossed himself urgently. “The… very idea. No… no. What I meant… in the village where I lived, before I took my vows… there was a young lady… Blodwyn Thomas. She hardly knew I existed. But I had lustful thoughts about her. And… even after I had chosen a life of prayer… at night, in my bed… I would….” He made another gesture with his hand - one that very definitely wasn’t a blessing. Jack fully understood. “I confessed my sins, of course. I spent hours in penance. But the lewd thoughts still came to me in the night, when the devil was able to reach into my mind.”
Jack smiled wryly. The worst sin this man had ever committed was alone in his bed, thinking of a girl he had never plucked up the courage to talk to. Heaven would be a very quiet place if every teenage boy who ever gave in to that temptation was shut out.
“She must be long dead, now. Everyone I knew is. My parents… But I shall be with them soon enough.”
“Cenyd, don’t, please,” Jack begged him. “Don’t just give up. I… I need you. You’re like me. You’ve lived through the same years I have. You’re the only one who could begin to understand me.”
“I do understand you, Jack. But I must…”
And that seemed to be the end of the discussion. Cenyd was ready to die. He was ready for what he believed lay beyond mortal life.
Jack tried very hard to share his belief. But his own experience just seemed to contradict it too sharply. He had never seen any sign of Paradise when he died. All he remembered was darkness. Fearful darkness. And Jack knew fear. He had been afraid so often in his life. He had faced the worst nightmares of mankind head on.
Could he have done any of that any better if he shared Cenyd’s belief in an eternal reward for his efforts? Would it have made him less scared? Would it have helped him face those horrors?
No, he decided. Because if he did believe in an afterlife, he might be tempted to give up, to claim his place there, and stop fighting for the Human race. He might start to think it wasn’t worth struggling either for his own life or for the world he valued so highly that he suffered so many painful deaths in order to save it.
He couldn’t have Cenyd’s faith. It would be a handicap to him.
“Jack,” Cenyd said. “Pray with me.”
“I can’t,” he answered. “I don’t believe…”
“Say the words, at least.”
“If I don’t believe then it would be hypocritical.”
“If you don’t believe, then that doesn’t matter. There’s nobody to judge.”
“I judge myself.”
“You judge yourself harshly. Will you let me pray FOR you, at least?”
“Could I stop you?” Jack asked.
He prayed in Latin. But Jack understood. Not because he had ever learnt Latin, but because he had travelled in the TARDIS and absorbed its background energy. Every spoken language in the universe was instantly translated in his brain. He knew that Cenyd was praying to his God for the deliverance of Jack Harkness and Torchwood from evil. And that certainly couldn’t do any harm. They needed any help they could get. He was also asking for Jack Harkness’s soul to be saved, for his place in Paradise to be assured. That, Jack was less sure about. But Cenyd asked for it anyway. And he wasn’t going to try to stop him.
Jack sat by his side through the day, listening to the prayers Cenyd took such comfort from. He watched helplessly as the already frail body deteriorated. He wasn’t rapidly aging in the way science fiction films so often portrayed. But his body was succumbing to all of the problems of old age. His bones ached as arthritis plagued them, his lungs hurt when he breathed. His skin took on a yellow tinge as his liver began to break down. Even his voice cracked. He refused to stop praying, though, except when Jack made him drink a little of the soothing drink that was brought to him.
Even his memory faltered. He paused in the midst of his prayers, unsure what the next line was. Jack prompted him gently.
Somehow the prompting became whole lines that he said with him. Without thinking about it consciously, Jack started to say the prayers, even though he had refused earlier. His strong voice and Cenyd’s rapidly weakening one melded together. He still didn’t believe the words, but he said them anyway.
Twice during the day, the Brothers brought food for the patient and his visitor. Jack helped Cenyd to swallow some of it. He himself ate a little but without tasting it. He helped Cenyd lie down again and continued praying with him.
The third time they brought food it went cold and untouched. Cenyd was unable to swallow. He could barely lift his head from the pillow. He wasn’t in much pain, but mainly because an intravenous drip was feeding painkillers into him. He refused to sleep. He refused to stop saying his prayers out loud. He meant to die with the name of his God upon his lips.
Father Pryce came in once and Jack stepped out while Cenyd made his last confession. He wondered what he could have to confess since he did it eleven days before in the Hub chapel. He had hardly had the opportunity to commit any sins. Perhaps that old sin from his youth still troubled him.
Jack was allowed back in to watch him take communion. He caught his breath as he also bore witness to the administering of the Last Rites. The end was near, now. It literally was a matter of time. Father Pryce stayed in the room this time, but he sat by the door unobtrusively. Jack sat by the bed, holding onto Cenyd’s hand and continuing to recite the prayers with him. He had gone past worrying about why he was doing it. He had gone past wondering if the words meant anything or if there was any higher Being listening to them.
Then he realised he was praying alone. The words died on his lips as his tears fell instead. Father Pryce came forward now and closed Cenyd’s eyes for the last time.
“Jack, come on.” Martha touched him on the shoulder. He stood up automatically and let her walk him out of the private room and through the strangely silent infirmary. She brought him out to where the SUV was still parked. He sat in the passenger seat and looked out at the dark, autumn evening as she drove quietly back to the city.
“I know you’re upset,” she said to him after the silence had lengthened awkwardly. “But… I mean, you’ve surely seen lots of people die. Why was Cenyd so… different?”
“Because…” Jack gave a deep sigh. “He’s the first person I’ve known… at least for a very long time. who died in bed… having made his peace with the world. I understand sudden death… violent, unexpected, cruel death. But quiet, accepting death… I wasn’t ready for that.”
Martha didn’t say anything. She wasn’t sure she felt qualified.
“If I ever die… for good… forever…” he added. “I don’t know whether Cenyd was right… about what comes after. But what do you think my chances are… of my death being as peaceful as his?”
Martha paused a moment before she answered him. She considered her answer carefully.
“I hope it will be, Jack,” she said finally. “I think you deserve that much.”
Jack nodded. He had run out of words, now. He watched out of the window as Century Wharf apartments came into view. Martha stopped the SUV.
“Go home, Jack. Go to the people who love you. You need them right now.”
Jack did as she said. Martha watched him go into the building before she prepared to drive the SUV back to the Hub.
There was something she knew about Jack. She knew exactly how and when he was going to finally die. She knew it would be, as it so often was, for the sake of others. She also knew that he would make his peace with the universe and it would be a gentler death than he could imagine.
But it was also a very long time away, yet. And she couldn’t begin to know how much suffering he would endure before then.