Jack Harkness put down the phone just as Alun Llewellyn stepped into his office with the first cup of strong hot coffee of the morning. He tried not to look too excited but there was no hiding his broad smile and the twinkle in his sapphire blue eyes.
“Good news, boss?”
“Estate agent… the contracts are complete. Garrett and I just bought a house… a family house.”
“The one near Roath Park that you had your heart set on?” Alun asked.
“Just a bit. But I haven’t bought a house for eighty years. I’ve accumulated quite a bit in my savings account, and Garrett has a bit put by.” He paused and smiled wryly as the enormity of it all hit him. “We bought a house. A real home for all of us… Me, Garrett, Gray and Ashley. We’re… really a family.”
“Terrifying,” he admitted. “Being this happy, feeling complete…feeling as if there’s nothing else I want or need… It would be terrifying even without Saul Galen still out there with his burning hatred for me.”
“It’s been two months since his last trick,” Alun said. “And that was pretty feeble. There’s been no trace of him anywhere in Cardiff, since. Maybe he’s given up.”
“He’s tracked me down through thirty centuries,” Jack responded. “He’s not going to give up. Waiting for his next move is torture… wondering when he’s going to do something else to screw me up. I almost wish he’d get on with it.”
Less than half a minute later, he had cause to regret those words. Garrett phoned his mobile. He answered the call ready to tell him the news from the estate agent.
“I’ve just come out of the school,” Garrett told him. “Parent-teacher meeting with Gray’s year head. I bet you forgot about it.”
“Is there anything we need to worry about? He’s a bright kid, and since Ashley’s been helping him with his homework he’s streets ahead.”
“Academically, he’s fine,” Garrett answered. “I got the predictable crap about Gray’s homelife. Apparently our boy lacks a mother figure.”
“Homophobic twat,” Jack responded. “I hope you told him to screw himself.”
“In slightly more diplomatic language, but yes.”
On the phone, Jack could hear Garrett’s footsteps in the street outside the school. Then he heard him stop. He heard him breathe in sharply.
“Jack… there’s something about the car. I think it’s been interfered with….”
“Don’t touch it!” Jack yelled. “Garrett… get out of there. Don’t….”
Garrett knew what to do in these situations. He had been checking his car for explosive devices every day of his working life. He should have been all right.
But the next thing Jack heard was an explosion followed by static as the phone was ripped to pieces. His vision blurred. The office span around him. He stood up and would have fallen down again if Alun hadn’t been there to hold him up.
Then Ashley was there. He was already scared even before he entered the office and saw Jack’s devastated expression.
“Dad,” he said in a voice filled with emotion. “I was getting off the bus and… He was there. Saul Galen. The one who….”
Ashley halted that sentence. What was the right word to describe the man who created him as an organic time bomb to destroy his biological father?
“He grabbed me… and told me… to tell you… tell you… Now you know how it feels…. And that you’ll keep on feeling it… every day… until you rip your own heart out to stop it aching.”
Jack sobbed uncontrollably.
“What did he mean, dad? What’s he done?”
Jack couldn’t tell him. It hurt too much to say the words. Alun broke the news. Ashley cried, too, as he and Jack embraced each other.
After that, some things happened quickly. One of Garrett’s colleagues brought Gray from the school that had been evacuated after the explosion in the street outside. His grief almost outdid Jack and Ashley between them. Gwen, in her most sympathetic PC Cooper mode called Annie in Ireland and broke the news to her. Jack pulled himself together enough to talk to her but afterwards he cried again.
Some things happened terribly, terribly slowly. It was nearly five o’clock before Jack left the Bay in a car driven by an MI5 man who brought him to the mortuary to formally identify Garrett’s body. He was his designated next of kin. It was his right to do so. In some ways he needed to do so. He had to know that there was absolutely no mistake.
Garrett was dead.
He walked back to the Hub. He needed to be alone.
It wasn’t the first time he had lost somebody he loved. It had happened time and time again. That was his curse. He accepted the risk every time he fell in love. He hurt like his whole body was a raw, gaping wound every time he lost a lover. For a while each time he burnt up inside with grief. Then, when the ground still refused to swallow him up and let it be over, he got on with living, promising himself that this time he wouldn’t fall in love. He wouldn’t let himself be hurt again.
And yet, here he was, dying inside once again.
His feet brought him round by Roath Dock, where the foundations were being prepared for a new building that the credit crunch hadn’t managed to scupper. He looked at the slowly setting concrete and tried to guess how deep it was - enough to cover his body, anyway. Encased in the solidified foundation, with floors, walls, built on top, he would live and die a thousand times a day, suffocated every time his body regenerated itself. But it would be no worse than dying every second with grief and loss. The pain would be cathartic. And maybe by the time the building was demolished, in fifty, a hundred, two hundred, three hundred years, he would be ready to live again.
He stood on the edge, ignoring the foreman of the works who was screaming at him to get the fuck out of there. He was a step away from oblivion.
But he wasn’t free to kill himself any more. He had the boys. They both needed him. Losing Garrett was a dagger in their hearts. He couldn’t stick another one in.
He found his way back to the Hub without really looking where he was walking. He stumbled in through the tourist office, barely acknowledging Beth’s voice asking if he was all right. Of course he wasn't all right. It wasn’t her fault. She was just trying to be kind. But he didn’t want people to be kind to him right now.
There was an eerie quiet about the Hub. Nobody was talking. Nobody had any music at their workstation or a TV programme on a monitor. There was one, showing a news bulletin, but Gwen quickly shut it down as Jack walked past. He caught enough of the images to know it was about the car bomb near a secondary school in Cardiff city this morning. That’s what people thought it was – a mindless, senseless terrorist attack. They didn’t know the half of it, and they didn’t need to know.
Gray was asleep on the sofa in his office. Ashley sat next to him, his eyes red-rimmed but not crying any more. He looked like Jack felt, completely numb.
“Martha gave him a sedative,” Ashley explained. “He went out like a light. But when he wakes up... it’ll just be the same, won’t it?”
“Yes,” Jack answered. There were chairs in the room, but he ignored them all. He sat on the floor beside the sofa. He reached out and touched Gray’s face as he slept. The boy had lost enough already. His parents, his home, everything he knew. He had come to love Garrett, and now he was gone.
“Galen… did it… to punish me,” Jack said. “It’s my fault he’s dead. I’ve… let all of you down.”
Ashley didn’t say anything. Jack looked at him and wondered what was going through his mind. He existed because of that man’s obsession with hurting Jack. He was a part of the ongoing torture.
That was the one way that Galen’s plans had backfired. Ashley was here, his son, in every way that mattered, and he couldn’t take him away.
That was the one small comfort Jack had right now. But the greater agony was still acute. Garrett was gone.
Time passed slowly while Jack sat there with what was left of his family. Two hours, three.
“Jack.” Gwen came into the office. “Come on, sweetheart. It’s time you went home.”
“I don’t have a home,” he answered. “The flat belonged to Garrett.”
“There’s a car waiting. Another MI5 chauffer for you. They’ve checked the flat, and they’re watching the building. You’ll all be safe there. I’m coming with you to make sure you and the boys get something to eat. Then you need to go to bed.”
“In the morning, I’ll wake up alone.”
“I know, and I’m sorry,” Gwen told him. “We all are. We all love you, Jack. And we loved Garrett for making you happy. We’re all sorry. Please… hold it together… and let us be your friends right now when you need us.”
He nodded and let her help him to stand up. He lifted Gray in his arms. The boy stirred and cried softly then laid his head on Jack’s shoulder as they walked through the tunnel to the garage entrance. The MI5 car was there. Jack sat in the back with Gray and Ashley while Gwen sat in front next to the driver. None of them spoke. They had nothing to say. When they reached Century Wharf, they quietly waited while the secret service checked the lift up to the floor where they lived. Jack unlocked the door to the silent, unwelcoming flat that they used to call home. He and the boys went to the living room while Gwen went to the kitchen and made coffee.
They went through all the motions of living, drinking coffee, eating the food that Gwen cooked for them. Nobody wanted a TV or radio on. They didn’t want music. Jack couldn’t even look at the CD collection. Most of them were Garrett’s. He had never bothered with such things before he moved in with him. Possessions of that sort had been largely unimportant to him.
They seemed unimportant now.
Gwen stayed with them. He knew she was being kind, but he really wished she would go home. He just wanted the boys to go to bed then he could sit here and swallow every aspirin in the house and a bottle of scotch that was on the sideboard and be dead until morning, at least.
“Don’t do anything silly, Jack,” she told him quietly after Gray went to bed and Ashley, though it was still early, chose to go with him. “Hurting yourself won’t bring him back.”
“I know that. Dead is dead. For everyone except me. I have to go on living… whether I want to or not.”
“Feeling sorry for yourself isn’t you, Jack,” Gwen told him.
“I loved him,” Jack told her. “I really loved him. The same way you love Rhys. We were a family. A normal family. We bought a house. I loved him. Do you understand that? I know some people think that gay men are just about sex… that our relationships aren’t real, aren’t the same as other sorts, that we can’t really love each other. But I did… I do… love him.”
“I know, Jack,” Gwen assured him. “I know.”
She hugged him as he cried again. It was a strange situation for her. Jack had so often been a shoulder for her to cry on, for everyone at the Hub. But now his inner strength was gone. He was so utterly devastated.
Very gradually he fell asleep in her arms. She held him like a child, caressing his cheek, stroking his hair, hoping that his dreams at least were peaceful.
Jack woke to the six o’clock alarm that he set every morning. He reached out and knocked it off the bedside table.
“Clumsy,” a voice said by his ear. “Now we’ll need to buy a new alarm clock.”
Jack turned in the bed. Garrett smiled and kissed him on the cheek. He was naked. They both were. They always slept naked. He felt warm next to him.
“Your turn to get breakfast started.”
“Garrett!” Jack’s head was spinning. His heart was pounding, his stomach churned. “You’re… you’re…”
“I’m crazy about you. But we don’t have time for sex in the morning on a workday.”
“I don’t want sex,” Jack told him. “I just want to hold you. Just… let me feel you next to me and know that you’re real. Tell me I’m not dreaming.”
Maybe that was the dream, when his life fell apart. But it didn’t feel like one. He felt as if he’d been crying all day, as if he’d cried himself to sleep last night.
Garrett was dead. At least he had been, last night.
But now he was alive. He was warm and alive and dropping more hints about making breakfast.
Jack kissed him one more time then got out of bed. He pulled on a pair of pants and went to the kitchen to start breakfast. While he did, he switched on the TV on top of the fridge. He found the early morning news programme on BBC Wales. It should still be full of a story like a car bomb in Cardiff.
It wasn’t. The biggest story was a threatened postal strike. And that was followed by a ‘good news’ story about a bid to make a record breaking slice of Welsh Rarebit for charity.
Jack found the remote control to switch off the TV. As he did so, he remembered doing the same thing yesterday. He’d had no time for stupid stories like that. He had been anxious about whether they would complete the house sale today and Garrett had been talking about his appointment with Gray’s form head.
Garrett came into the kitchen.
“What’s the name of Gray’s teacher, the one I’m supposed to be seeing, today?” he asked.
“Mr Brophy,” Jack answered automatically. “Garrett… what day is it today?”
“It’s Tuesday, all day,” Garrett replied. “What’s up with you? You look a bit… spaced out.”
“I’m…” Jack shook his head.
It was Tuesday morning. It was the morning before Garrett drove to the school, where he was murdered by Saul Galen.
“Garrett, don’t take your car to the school. Phone your people. Get them to pick you and Gray up… protect you….”
“Why do I need protecting? I’m just going to a meeting at our kid’s school.”
“Please, Garrett, believe me. If you don’t... it’ll happen again. I’ll lose you all over again. I couldn’t bear that.”
“Jack….” Garrett put his arms around him gently. Jack laid his head on Garrett’s shoulder. He felt like he did when he was a boy and his father embraced him. He felt as if he was in a safe, safe place.
But his father was killed in an eyeblink by the enemy that destroyed their world. And Garrett could be taken from him just as easily.
“If you have information about a security threat, then you need to tell me,” Garrett told him. “I can’t pull those sort of strings because you got out of bed on the wrong side this morning.”
“It’s going to sound crazy,” he said.
“You are crazy, Jack. But tell me.”
He sat at the kitchen table and told him. Garrett’s expression was, at worst, sceptical. When Jack described his trip to the mortuary, to identify his body, he shuddered. It was one of those ‘somebody walking over my grave’ moments. But when Jack was done he still wasn’t sure.
“So, it’s like that stupid film… with the same day happening over and over again?”
“Not over and over… not yet. Only once. But… once is enough.”
“Jack… are you sure it wasn’t just a very intense nightmare, because as far as I can remember this day has only happened once.”
“I’m sure,” Jack told him. “Look… Gray’s going to come in the kitchen in a minute, complaining that he can’t find his football boots.”
“They’re on the shoe shelf in the hall, where they belong. Mrs Alva put them there when she cleaned yesterday. That’s not déjà vu. That’s domestic life. It can be repetitive sometimes.”
Moments later Gray came into the kitchen complaining about his football boots. The simple, dull monotony of it was almost comforting. But Jack knew it was all going to go horribly wrong later unless he could stop it.
Ashley came into the kitchen. He looked at Garrett sitting there at the table and flung himself on him, hugging him so tightly that breathing was becoming an issue for him.
“I’m just… so glad to see you,” Ashley said. “I thought… when I woke up… I thought you were… It was just a dream. You’re all right.”
Jack said nothing.
“I’m all right,” he told him. “Get your breakfast, son. I’ve got to make a couple of phone calls in my study.”
Ashley did as he asked. Garrett took ten minutes arranging for protection for himself and Gray for what was, in all other respects, an ordinary school run.
“Is something wrong?” Gray asked when he heard about the arrangements. Ashley stopped eating and looked around at his stepfather. Jack watched them all anxiously.
“There’s a possibility of a security risk,” Garrett answered, using the sort of language he was accustomed to using in his office. “We’re just covering every angle.”
“It’s Galen,” Ashley said. “He’s going to kill you. He wants you dead so that dad will suffer the way he did when his wife was killed.”
“No, he’s not,” Garrett assured him. “I’ve taken the necessary precautions. I’m not just a sitting duck for his crazed plots. I’m a very experienced intelligence agent. And I’m forewarned. I’ll be fine.”
“Ashley, you come to the Hub with me, today,” Jack said. “You’ll be safe there.”
Ashley nodded. He had plans for the day - the sort any sixteen year old would resent having a parent interfere with. But he knew this wasn’t an ordinary day, and he didn’t argue.
“WAS it just a dream?” Ashley asked when he and Jack were in the Hub. He hadn’t said anything until then, but Jack knew it had to be going through his mind.
“If it was, we both had the same dream. But it didn’t seem like a dream to me. It felt too real. Garrett died… caught in the blast when his car exploded. I saw his body… face half burnt… his arm ripped off, legs shredded….”
“I remember Galen grabbing me in the street… making me take a message to you.”
“Now you know how it feels… And you’ll keep on feeling it… every day… until you rip your own heart out to stop it aching.”
“That’s what he meant. I’ll lose Garrett every day… over and over… until I can’t stand it one more time.”
“How can it happen?” Ashley asked. “How can the same day happen over and over again?”
“It’s a time loop,” Jack answered. “I’ve seen it happen before. Only it was accidental that time. A vortex manipulator went critical. This time… If Galen did it, then he really is a clever bastard.”
Well, they knew that already. He was clever enough to create a living, breathing boy from stolen DNA samples and a clone tank. Manipulating time wasn’t much harder than that.
The phone rang. Jack answered it. It was the estate agent confirming that the contracts were complete and he could pick up the keys any time today.
Alun brought coffee.
Jack and Ashley looked at each other. Jack’s hand trembled and his coffee spilt.
Then Gwen came to the office door. Her big, dark eyes were wet with tears. She did her best to control herself.
“Jack, something’s happened. It was a bomb, they think. The car Garrett and Gray were travelling in….”
Ashley screamed in horror. Jack clutched him desperately, holding onto him as he cried his own tears.
“Who else died?” Jack managed to ask. “The driver?”
“I think so,” Gwen told him. “And some people on the street were injured. It’s quite bad. I’m sorry, Jack. I really am. It… must have been quick. They couldn’t have suffered….”
That was how she had learnt to break bad news of this sort to people when she was PC Cooper. It never seemed to her to make any difference. People let their own imaginations run riot. They imagined their loved ones suffering agonies as they burnt to death trapped inside their cars. Being told it was quick, that they didn’t suffer, really didn’t help. Nothing took away the hurt and grief at times like this.
“Not again,” Jack was saying. Gwen didn’t understand why he said that. She supposed it had something to do with losing people in the past. It must have happened time and again for him. She had never seen him quite this broken up, though, even when he lost Estelle, his wartime sweetheart.
This time he had lost his lover and his brother. Even a heart like his couldn’t take that without being utterly broken.
The telephone on his desk rang. Gwen reached for it.
“Is he dying by inches?” a cold voice asked. “Is he suffering as he deserves to suffer? Tell him we’ll do the same again tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.”
“You are a sick man,” Gwen replied with as much courage as she could muster. “Leave Jack alone, you bastard. You….”
He cut the call. Gwen dropped the phone back onto its cradle. Jack looked at her through eyes glassy with tears.
“Yes, it was him,” she said. “He’s… absolutely vile. I feel dirty from hearing his voice.”
“What did he say?”
“Nothing that matters. He just wanted… to enjoy your sorrow. That’s the sickest part of it all.”
“He’s never going to stop.”
Again Jack had to go to the mortuary. Seeing Garrett’s body broken and burnt a second time wasn’t as shocking but still as painful. What really hurt was when they pulled the cover back from Gray’s body. Jack did his best not to break down in front of the mortuary staff, but the sight of his brother lying there, his face burnt beyond recognition on one side and battered and bruised on the other, was almost too much to bear.
Again he walked back to the Hub. Again, he thought of ways to make the pain go away, but even the most desperate plan to kill himself would only be temporary. There was no point.
Ashley was there for him, at least. That was the smallest crumb of comfort. They were together in the same grief.
“You should go home,” Ianto told him. “Let us arrange something. Garrett’s people can secure the flat. You’ll be safe.”
“We’re staying here,” Jack answered. “There’s nothing for us to go back to in that flat.”
“Then we’ll stay with you,” Ianto decided. “Alun and me. We’ll look after you.”
“When have I ever needed looking after?” Jack asked.
“All the time,” Ianto answered. “Garrett did a fine job of it. But now there’s just us. Let us help you.”
Jack looked at his former lover. Ianto was the gentlest soul he had ever known. He knew he meant well. But there was nothing he could do to help him.
The afternoon turned to evening. Gwen brought food for them. Jack and Ashley ate because they needed to eat. But the food had no taste for them. It gave them no comfort. Jack made a bed for Ashley on the sofa as the Hub went quiet. He sat on the floor beside him, resting his head on the edge of the sofa, but caring nothing for his own comfort. He knew he would sleep eventually.
He knew that one of two things would happen in the morning. Either he would wake here on the floor of his office with the prospect of two funerals to organise and a bleak, sad future beyond that.
Jack woke to the alarm clock by the bedside. He groaned and rolled over as Garrett stretched across him to shut it off. He reached to hold his lover in his arms.
“Thank God!” he murmured. “At least we get another chance to stop him.”
“Stop who? What’s going on? Jack, what’s wrong?”
“The world is wrong,” he answered. “Don’t get up, yet. Please, just hold me.”
“I love it when you get like this in the morning,” Garrett told him. “But we really don’t have time. I’ve got to take Gray to school and then I’ve got a full day….”
“No,” Jack insisted. “No, we’re not going to play his game this time.”
“Jack, what are you talking about?”
Before Jack could answer the bedroom door opened. Ashley ran into the room.
“Dad!” he cried. “We’re home. Gray’s ok. He’s asleep, still. And….”
“It wasn’t a dream,” Jack said to him. “It really happened, twice. But we’re not going to let it happen three times. Go and wake Gray. Tell him he doesn’t need to worry about his football boots. He’s not going into school today. You’re all coming to the Hub with me.”
Ashley ran back to the bedroom he shared with Gray. Jack got out of bed and headed to the shower.
“What do you mean, we’re all coming to the Hub?” Garrett asked. “I have a job to do. An important one, in case you haven’t noticed.”
“You can’t do your job if you’re dead,” Jack answered. “Garrett, please, trust me. If you don’t come with me, I’m going to have to identify your body… again.”
“What do you mean, again?”
“I’ll explain when we get to the Hub,” he promised. “Just wing it for now.”
“Winging it is dangerous, Jack. It’s unpredictable. It’s how people get killed needlessly. And I’ve seen too many people die.”
“So have I,” Jack answered. “Including you, twice. So, please do this, and let me save you this time.”
Garrett looked at Jack carefully. He was acting irrationally and so highly emotionally he was barely fit for duty in any capacity. Ashley was like a junior version of him, exhibiting the same irrational emotionalism. Gray had less clue what was going on than anyone, but he was scared because everyone he knew and trusted was scared.
“All right, we’ll do it your way,” Garrett answered. “But when we get to the Hub, I want a full explanation of what’s going on here.”
It was only a few minutes’ walk from Century Wharf to Mermaid Quay. On ordinary days, when there wasn’t a psychopath with unlimited abilities to cause mayhem on the loose, Jack enjoyed the stroll. This time there was no question of doing that. Garrett took the driver’s seat in the car. Jack was beside him, the two boys in the back. The streets were relatively quiet. It was only seven-thirty. The build-up of morning traffic hadn’t begun. They were confident of reaching the Hub without incident.
Then, as they approached the junction of James Street and Adelaide Street, not far from where Gray’s old primary school was, Ashley cried out in fear. Jack and Garrett both saw the reason at once. Standing by the doorway to an old, closed down bank on the corner was Saul Galen, his leathery face twisted in an expression of hate. He was holding a huge, futuristic gun that looked capable of wiping out the entire street.
Garrett reacted as he had been fully trained to react. He swung the car sharply left into Adelaide Street and put his foot on the accelerator. He swerved back and forward across the road and then cut across the pavement itself as a missile streaked past and blew up a parked van outside a grey stuccoed council house.
“He’s coming, dad,” Ashley screamed. “He’s going to fire again.”
“Out of the car, now,” Garrett ordered. Both boys obeyed him quickly. Jack was already out of the passenger seat. His gun was in his hand. He got ready to fire as soon as the target was close enough to kill outright.
“Ashley, take Gray,” Garrett said. Jack was pre-occupied, but not so much that he didn’t appreciate the irony of those words. “Take Gray with you. Run, both of you.”
Ashley ran, clutching Gray’s hand. Jack didn’t dare glance around to see if his son managed to do what he once tragically failed to do – hold onto him. Galen was bearing down on them. The fearsome weapon was powering up again. The burning shell of the Ford Transit was testament to its power.
Garrett fired first. He shouldn’t have missed. He didn’t miss. The bullets that should have smashed straight into Galen’s head glanced off an invisible wall around him.
“He’s got a fucking personal shield!” Jack said. “Bastard. Garrett… get out of here. Go with the boys. I’m going to deal with him once and for all. But you get to safety.”
Garrett looked at him pleadingly.
“Just go,” Jack repeated. “Don’t forget to weave.”
That was a basic survival tip. Garrett didn’t need to be told. He didn’t run in a straight line. He swerved and made himself a difficult target for Galen’s weapon.
“Leave him alone,” Jack said, stepping out into the middle of the road in front of his enemy. “Leave them all alone. It’s me you want. Let’s settle this right now. Just leave them alone.”
“There’s no point in killing you, Harkness,” Galen responded. “You just get back up again. That’s why I want them. Because killing them rips your heart out, like you ripped mine when you killed Maria.”
“You used her as a Human shield. It’s your fault she died,” Jack answered. “She was an innocent woman who had the bad taste to love you. And you let her die, not me.”
“You killed her,” Galen snarled. He took aim, not at Jack, but at a target now a long way behind him. Jack turned as he fired, using the multi-purpose weapon as a machine gun this time, not a missile launcher. He saw Ashley putting his body in front of Garrett’s, taking the bullets for him.
“You bastard!” Jack screamed. He ran at Galen. He couldn’t shoot him because of the shield, but he could knock the gun out of his hand. He could wrestle him to the ground and beat the living shit out of him.
There were siren noises in the air. A fire engine was there to deal with the van, police called to the scene of a gun battle on a Cardiff housing estate, an ambulance because casualties had been reported.
Then the flashing blue, the shouts from the police armed response unit, the noise of the fire hoses on the burning van all cut off suddenly. Jack knew what had happened. Galen had a vortex manipulator - one that worked much better than his. He had activated it.
They were in the same street, but it was almost completely destroyed by some future holocaust. Jack hazarded a guess that they were in the time when the Daleks invaded Earth and employed scorched earth tactics on most cities where they met resistance.
It didn’t matter. What did matter was that his family were safe in another time. The fight was between him and Galen. He grasped his arm and found the thin metal band on his wrist, under the leather strap of the Vortex Manipulator. It was what projected the shield. He grasped it and pulled. The metal was just rolled copper. It snapped. He threw it aside and steadied his revolver as he brought it against Galen’s face. He pulled the trigger and saw that face pulped as he emptied all six cylinders into him.
He leaned back feeling no emotion at all about killing a man in cold blood – nothing except relief. It was over. Galen couldn’t hurt his family ever again.
He snatched the Vortex Manipulator from Galen’s wrist. He recognised that it was a more sophisticated one than his own. It included a time loop facilitator. He wondered briefly why anyone in the Time Agency had thought making the same day happen over and over again was a good thing. What possible situation had they envisaged where that would be useful?
He strapped it on his own arm above the one he had worn for so long that the flesh beneath it had taken on the texture of the leather. He got ready to press the fast return switch that would bring him home. As he did so he heard a sound that had haunted many of his nightmares in recent years – the staccato voice of a Dalek with its final and irrefutable command ‘Exterminate’.
He felt the death ray envelop him as he pressed the return switch. The Dalek dissolved and a police car resolved in the same place in the moment before he collapsed, his internal organs turned to boiled soup.
Several hours later, he woke up. He was on the sofa in his office. Garrett was sitting in his office chair. Gray was on his knee, resting his head on his shoulder. The boy was a little old to do something like that, Jack thought. But it had been a rough day.
Ashley was by his side, grasping his hand. He was pale faced and his eyes were wet from crying. He was wearing a t-shirt that was too big for him. His own one had been riddled with bullets that were meant to be for Garrett.
“You’re too young to know what death feels like,” Jack told him. “I’m sorry you went through that again, kid.”
“I’m glad to be alive,” Ashley responded. “And I’m glad you’re alive, dad.”
They hugged. Gray jumped off Garrett’s knee and came for his share. A few minutes later Garrett claimed a kiss from him.
“Galen is dead,” Jack reported when his head was clearer and he had been fortified with coffee. He explained everything to Garrett, the boys, and the whole Torchwood team gathered together around the boardroom table. “It’s over. He can’t hurt any of us again.”
“I still can’t believe what he did,” Alun said. “You actually went through this day twice before… repeated… like….”
“Yes, like that bloody film. Twice, Garrett was murdered. Galen meant to put me through that again and again, out-manoeuvring me every time so that nothing I did would save him. But he failed in that. I stopped him this time.”
“What happens now, though?” Gwen asked. “Are we still in a time loop? Will Tuesday happen again tomorrow, with you and Ashley the only ones able to remember that we’ve done it three times before? How do we get out of it?”
Jack put Galen’s Vortex Manipulator on the table. He picked up one of the heavy obsidian ornaments that usually stood in the middle of the table. He held it like a hammer, but he paused before bringing the blow down on the future technology.
“If time snaps back, what happens? Do we revert to the first Tuesday… when Garrett would be dead by now?”
“Is that possible?” Ianto asked.
“I don’t know. That’s the chance I have to take.”
Garrett stood up and came to his side. He gave him a long, lingering kiss. As he did so, he took the ornament from Jack’s unresisting hand and brought it down on the Vortex Manipulator himself, smashing it to pieces.
“Oh!” Gwen managed to say. Everyone else was silent.
“What happened?” Jack asked. “I was… kind of preoccupied.”
“it wasn’t that special, really,” Gray said. “There was a sort of shimmer in the air, and a flash. But nothing else. You’re both still here.”
Jack knew that much. He was still clinging to Garrett. He felt his breath against his neck.
“What happens tomorrow?” Ashley asked. “Will it be a new day, or will we start all over again?”
Jack looked at the clock. It was one o’clock in the afternoon. There was still a lot of Tuesday to get through. “We’ve got to go down to the estate agent and pick up some keys,” he said. “Then….”
It wasn’t often that Jack took an afternoon off - Garrett even more rarely. But for once they delegated everything they had to do and escaped their responsibilities for a while.
They went to Roath Park. They ate junk food and ice creams and sat by the lakeside in the sunshine. They did their best to put the nightmares behind them.
“I DID kill his wife,” Jack said, just once referring to the reasons for Galen’s hatred. “And I regretted that it happened. She didn’t deserve to die. Sometimes people die who don’t deserve it. Galen lost what was left of his sanity out of grief. I can almost understand that. What he did to me… I hurt just as much as he did. I learnt the lesson he wanted me to learn… about pain, grief. He punished me good and proper.”
“Let it go,” Garrett told him. “It’s over.”
“I hope so,” Jack answered.
“It’s over.” Garrett reached and embraced him. They kissed for a long time. Ashley and Gray looked away, watching instead the various reactions of other people in the park who saw two men indulging in such an open display of affection. They ranged from embarrassment, curiosity and amusement to outrage and disgust.
“They’d better get used to it,” Ashley said. “We live here from now on.”
When the sun was dropping low and they left the park, they crossed the road to a house that still had an estate agent’s sign planted in the garden. Jack unlocked the front door. The house was empty apart from a bundle of sleeping bags laid out over the living room carpet. There was no cooker in the kitchen. The phone wasn’t even connected. Garrett used his mobile to order supper from what would likely become their local take away. After they had eaten they settled down to sleep for the first time in their new home.
Early in the morning Jack woke up. Garrett was beside him in the double sleeping bag. He felt warm. He was breathing softly and easily. Jack pressed himself closer and listened to his lover’s heartbeat for a few minutes before he carefully extricated himself from the sleeping bag. He walked to the French window and opened it. He stepped out into the garden of the first house he had owned for at least eighty years. It needed some work. The previous owners had let it go a bit. Jack was adamant HE wasn’t going to be the one mowing the lawn at the weekend. He had an idea the boys might be happy to have a go. They didn’t have lawns on Boeshane, and Ashley had never had a home he could properly call his own. It was new and exciting for them.
“Hey!” Jack sighed as he felt Garrett hug him from behind. He kissed him on the neck tenderly.
“We’ll scandalise our new neighbours,” Jack told him. “I don’t think they all know what sort of family we are, yet.”
“Well, they’d better get used to it. It’s Wednesday morning, you know.”
“Yes, I know.”
“I still do a very dangerous job. I could still die long before you’re ready for that to happen.”
“I know. I came to terms with that long ago - the ordinary risks of loving a spy. Just so long as nobody wants to kill you just to hurt me, the rest I can live with.”
“Ok, then. Welcome to Wednesday - the first Wednesday of the rest of our lives. You realise we’ve got nothing in the house except left over prawn crackers and egg fried rice. We’ll have to go out for breakfast.”
“I can live with that, too,” Jack told him.