For Darius, the good thing about winter was the dark evenings drawing in. By early December it was getting dark at half past three. It meant he had a chance to do some of the ordinary things that fathers got to do with their children. As soon as it was dark enough he wrapped Gabrielle in warm clothes and put her in her pushchair. Together they went out of the Hub through the bright, welcoming Welsh Tourist Office and into the busy streets of Glasgow. Darius took his daughter to see Father Christmas in the Princes Square Shopping Centre and let her look at the illuminations in St. George’s Square and into the lovely old fashioned Argyl Arcade where the festive decorations were always tastefully done and where he bought presents for his friends at Torchwood and, especially, for Gabrielle to celebrate her first Christmas.
Nobody paid him any special attention. If they did, they just noticed a good looking young man with a slightly pale complexion and a taste for dark clothes who had a foreign accent when he spoke. Nobody had any reason to suspect he was anything but an Eastern European immigrant.
He liked that. He enjoyed being near humans. He felt their lifeforce as a balm to his long-tortured soul. He liked the feel of their minds as they passed him by in the crowded walkways of the shopping arcades or stood with him in the queue at the checkout. He was pleased when people looked at Gabrielle and said she was a beautiful child. She was growing up just like any Human baby. Her milk teeth were perfectly normal. There were no indications of fangs. She had no cravings for blood, preferring a bowl of oatmeal and milk for her breakfast and pureed chicken and vegetables for tea.
The only part of the shopping experience that Darius and Gabrielle didn’t take part in was the food court. Darius had no use for Human food and Shona made sure the child was fed before he took her out.
It was nearly Christmas. That fact filled him with joy. Undead, unholy, rejected by Heaven for his sins, even so Darius believed in all the reasons that Christmas existed. He watched and listened as the Salvation Army band played festive hymns under the Christmas lights in the fully pedestrianised part of Buchanan Street. He wondered what would happen if he went to a church carol service. He had passed the newly refurbished St. George’s-Tron parish church where one was going on tonight. He knew that the idea of vampires not being able to go onto sacred ground was just superstition. He could enter a church if he wanted. He could sit quietly at the back and watch the proceedings even if he couldn’t fully take part in them.
That thought occupied his mind as he listened to the band and idly felt the minds of the people hurrying by, paying so very little attention to the music.
Then he felt a different sort of mind. He looked around, trying to find it. He knew it wasn’t one of his own kind. He had seen other vampires from time to time, moving through the crowds. They were like himself, enjoying the proximity of the life that was denied to them. There were no dangerous vampires here in Glasgow now. The worst of them had been destroyed when he fought Gabriel. These were vampires at peace with humankind even if they weren’t at peace with their own souls.
No, it was something else entirely. Something he couldn’t quite catch hold of either with his mind or with his eyes.
He looked down and saw Gabrielle laughing at something. He followed her deep brown eyes and spotted a rather unusual looking child - unusual for several reasons, but most especially because his clothes were completely wrong. It was a dry night, with no sign of rain, but it was still December. The temperature would drop to freezing later in the evening. Here in the city centre the lights, the central heating systems of hundreds of shops, the warm bodies of shoppers made it slightly warmer than it should be.
Even so, this child was thinly clothed in a checked shirt that was ragged at the cuffs and collar and a pair of cotton trousers that were roughly cut off at the knees. He had no shoes on at all. His feet were muddy, which struck Darius as odd. The pavements were dry. He would have expected bare feet to be dusty and dirty, but not necessarily muddy.
And where had he come from? There were some beggars in the streets of Glasgow. That was inevitable in any city at any time of year, but they were usually adults and they all had shoes even if they weren’t very good ones.
The strange child was making faces at Gabrielle. That was why she was laughing. But Gabrielle was very firmly in the care of her father. She was no use in this one’s game. The child turned his attention to a boy of around six years of age who was standing beside his mother. She was talking to another woman. They had been doing so for some time. The boy was bored and impatient to get on to more interesting and possibly warmer activities.
The ragged child attracted his attention. The boy laughed at his antics. Then the child skipped away and turned to beckon him. The boy left his parent’s side and followed him.
“No!” Darius exclaimed. “No, don’t.”
He reached out to the boy and stopped him from going around the corner from the brightly lit shopping street. He called out to the mother who became aware that her son wasn’t at her side. She hurried to grab his arm. The boy protested loudly as she scolded him with a choice selection of Scots dialect words.
Darius looked at the woman and her boy then he looked at that street corner. He turned the pushchair around and headed down there.
This street was beyond the reach of the illuminations and most of the shops were of the sort that wouldn’t gain from late opening hours in the run up to Christmas. There were street lights, of course, but it felt like another world entirely. It was quieter. Even the Salvation Army Band sounded muted here. His footsteps and the sound of the pushchair wheels were loud on the pavement. A white van with the name of a family butcher on the side crossed the end of the street and then it was silent again.
Darius’s sharp ears caught one other noise, though. It was footsteps – unclad feet on a hard surface – echoing as if there was much less space than there was in this street. A glance around and he saw an alleyway with an arched entrance. He headed straight for it, aware immediately of how very much darker and colder it was there. The pushchair ran over uneven cobbles making Gabrielle giggle with glee.
There wasn’t much to see, even with vampire eyesight. It was an access area at the back of the shops, a place where the bins were kept. It was a dead end. Even so there was nobody there. He wasn’t sure whether to be surprised by that or not. He knew how to disappear into a cloud of dust, after all. Why shouldn’t barefooted children?
On the left side was the high blank wall of a three story building. It had not been attended to for decades. Near the top of the wall, where it became the gable end of the roof, was an old painted sign – Gallaghers Toy Emporium – Est. 1899. Darius hadn’t paid a lot of attention to the front of the building, but he was sure it wasn’t called Gallagher’s Toy Emporium now. Toys tended to be sold by franchises like Toymaster and Toys-r-Us or multi-purpose stores like Argos. There were very few independent toy shops and he couldn’t imagine one called an ‘emporium’ in these modern times.
At eye level there was something else that hadn’t been attended to for a long time. It had been defaced by graffiti and some of the original paint had flaked away, but at some time in the past, maybe as long ago as when Gallaghers Toy Emporium WAS the Toys-r-Us of Glasgow, somebody had painted a mural on the wall. Darius recognised it as a scene from Peter Pan with a crowd of ‘Lost Boys’ playing in Neverland. It obviously pre-dated the Disney film that characterised the boys as chubby, pink faced babies. These were much more realistic wild urchins. They were dressed in ragged clothes and were barefoot, but they had a tropical beach and a forest to play in and they would never grow up. What use were shoes to them?
Darius stared at one of the ragged boys. He recognised in the painted features the child who had been playing in the streets of Glasgow a few minutes ago, trying to entice a little boy to follow him.
Darius had plenty of imagination. He had two hundred years of experiences to colour it. But he wasn’t quite ready to believe what that imagination was telling him right now.
There had to be another explanation.
Gabrielle whimpered slightly. She didn’t like hanging around in this cold, dark place.
“I quite agree, mano maasis meile,” Darius told her. “Let’s go back home to your motina and light and warmth for us both.”
He didn’t linger to listen to music, this time. He paused only long enough to note that the former Toy Emporium was now occupied by the Footlocker franchise. He turned towards ‘home’ - the Torchwood Hub.
Shona was there when he arrived. She was back from the field mission Owen had sent her and Dougal on and was looking daggers at him for keeping her waiting. She wanted to take Gabrielle home.
“She’s had a nice time with me,” Darius said. “Haven’t you, mano kudikis!” He lifted the child from the pushchair and hugged her before handing her over to her mother. “Motina is cross with us, but she still loves us both.”
“Don’t count on it,” Shona responded. “And stop talking to her in Lithuanian. You’ll confuse her.”
“No, I won’t. She’ll learn my tongue and yours from her earliest years. It will be good for her to know our two cultures.”
“Blood-sucking isn’t a culture.” Shona scowled at him as he folded the pushchair and carried it to the car, putting it into the boot while she fastened Gabrielle into the car seat. Darius smiled no matter what she said to him. She DID love him, and she loved Gabrielle, too. She just had very odd ways of showing it.
She straightened up from the back seat of the car and turned to him. She didn’t indicate anything by her body language, not even a flicker of her eyes, but he knew she would permit him to embrace her. He kissed her hungrily and she responded in equal measure for a few minutes.
“Enough, you’re not biting down on me before I drive home with your kid in the back of the car,” she said.
“I wish you could stay the night,” he said.
“I’m going to be holding the fort with you over Christmas,” she reminded him. “Until then I want to sleep in a normal bed in a room with windows. And so does Gabrielle.”
With that she broke away from him and got into the car. He watched until she drove out of the yard then turned away. He walked slowly back to the Hub and sat down at his workstation.
“She treats you like shit,” Dougal commented. “I don’t know why you put up with it.”
“She makes me feel as if I still have a heartbeat,” he answered as if that was a good enough answer. Dougal was ready to go home at the end of his day. Munroe was on the nightshift. He had just come in with that unmistakeable smile on his face that told both his colleagues that he had stopped off with Lady Heather’s girls on the way in.
“Dougal, will you come out somewhere with me before you head home?” Darius asked. “I need your help.”
“Sure, no problem,” he answered. “What is it?”
“I need something photographed, but I can’t do it. The flash is painful. The last time I took a snapshot I knocked myself out for hours. Woke up with minutes to spare before sunrise.”
“Let me get my coat,” Dougal answered him. “It’s bloody cold out there.”
They walked together through the dark streets. It was still relatively early. Most of the shops were open until eight o’clock. There were still shoppers bustling around. The Salvation Army Band had finished their set, though. The music that accompanied the scene now spilled out from the pubs that were starting to fill up in the overlap between shopping and nightlife.
“Down here,” Darius said. Dougal looked at the dark alleyway and grinned.
“If anyone sees us, they’ll think we’re up to no good,” he pointed out.
“If we weren’t both spoken for, perhaps we would be,” Darius replied with a teasing smile. “I’ve got up to plenty of mischief up against a wall in dark places. But let them think what they like. This is what I need evidence of.”
He pointed to the mural. Dougal looked at it carefully.
“This is really old. I’m surprised it hasn’t been painted over by now.”
“It’s not just old,” Darius said. “There’s something else about it. I saw that child wandering around the streets an hour ago.”
“Really?” Dougal touched the image on the wall. It felt like old, dry plaster to him. “I suppose there could be some sort of morphic resonance.... We should take samples for analysis. But let’s get your pictures, first.”
Darius moved away towards the entrance to the alleyway with his back to Dougal and his eyes covered by his hands. Even so, each of the flashes left bright resonances on his eyelids. A camera flash didn’t burn his flesh like sunlight, but it did cause his unDead brain to convulse and left him incapacitated for a long time.
“That wasn’t easy. I couldn’t get far enough away to get the whole mural in frame at once, even on panoramic mode,” Dougal said when he was done. “I’ll take a couple of the front of the building, too, for the record. You stay here and get the samples.”
Darius did as he asked. The job was completed in a few minutes. They turned their feet back towards the Hub.
“Wait,” Darius said as they passed along St. Vincent’s Street and noticed a small but agitated crowd near the cash machines at the Lloyds TSB. “What’s going on over there?”
“Nothing to do with us,” Dougal answered. “The police are handling it.” Two cars had just pulled up and officers immediately set about their business.
“I’m not so sure…. There’s a child missing. That’s why the police are here. That woman in the middle of the crowd… she’s lost her son.”
“That’s a police matter,” Dougal insisted. “What could we do? Besides, two men hanging around where a child has gone astray… we’ll be suspects one and two. Utterly unfair, of course. The number of children abused by gay men is tiny. But people don’t think that way when they’re in a crowd - especially one with a potential of becoming a lynch mob.”
Dougal had a point. But Darius was sure there was a connection.
“If there is, you can just as easily get the facts from the police report back at the Hub.”
That was certainly true. They had access to every detail ever inputted into the police database – often in real time as it was being filed. Before Dougal had signed out for the night and Darius had found a bottle of mineral water for himself and made coffee for Munroe the initial report was available. It didn’t amount to very much, yet, just the verbatim report from the officers on the scene giving the name and address of the mother, and the age and general description of her seven year old son who had wandered off while she was getting cash out of the machine.
“Why do you think it’s a Torchwood matter?” Munroe asked.
“Because I saw this child from the painting trying to entice another boy away from his mother an hour earlier,” Darius insisted. Munroe looked at the image on the monitor. It was a close up section of the mural. It looked brighter than in reality because the camera flash at close quarters enhanced the colours. But it still looked like a very old painting on a wall, not a flesh and blood child.
“Am I talking nonsense?” Darius asked. “How does a painting come to life?”
“How does a dead man come to life?” Munroe asked. “Some people would disbelieve your existence, my friend. And I’m the man who looks after the Loch Ness monster. I’m prepared to keep an open mind about this. Did you say you took samples of the paint?”
Darius set several plastic sealable packets down on the desk. He giggled. The contents could easily be mistaken for some kind of recreational drug at first glance. Perhaps it WAS a good idea not to get involved with the police, after all.
“Well, it was going to be a quiet night,” Munroe said. “We’ve got time to run a full gamut of tests on the stuff.”
The full gamut of tests included some that any police forensic department would be familiar with and quite a few that had been developed by Toshiko using alien technology to find out the properties of elements that hadn’t been added to the known periodic table.
By morning they had established that the flakes of paint didn’t contain any hitherto unknown elements, nor were they radioactive. Nothing unusual showed up under ultra-violet, infra-red or several other spectrums of light.
But there was a strong ion particle residue within the paint.
“Ion particles are associated with transmat technology, interstitial portals and Rift activity,” Munroe said, looking at the data on the screen in front of him and condensing the pages into a single sentence. “Transmat technology is unknown on Earth in the twenty-first century and Cardiff is the only known location of an unstable Rift. So that suggests an interstitial portal.”
Munroe paused, hoping that Darius wasn’t going to ask him what an interstitial portal was, since he wasn’t entirely certain. But his vampire friend was too busy looking at the digital signature at the bottom of the official Torchwood document.
“Jack wrote this,” he said with a smile. “Jack Harkness.”
“Ah, the legend!” Munroe nodded. He looked closely at Darius. He actually looked slightly flushed, which was supposed to be impossible for a vampire. “You’d better not be thinking about him when Shona gets in. It’s just a bit obvious that you still hold several candles for him.”
“I hold a Cathedral full of candles for Jack,” Darius admitted. “He’s… something special.”
“So I’ve heard. But his libido aside, it looks as if he’s something of an expert on ‘magic doors’ to other dimensions. Can we get hold of him?”
“Probably. But we already have Toshiko here in Glasgow. She also knows a lot about this kind of thing. We should talk to her when she gets in.”
Dougal Drummond came in first, at a little after eight o’clock. He brought a camera that he immediately plugged into a USB port to download the images.
“I thought I’d have another look at this wall in daylight,” he said. “Not that it exactly was daylight in that poky alley in December. But take a look at these pictures compared to last night.”
They saw what he meant straight away. The mural had changed. The tide was in on the tropical beach. Some of the ‘lost boys’ were swimming in the water. Others were sitting who had been standing before.
“And there’s one more of them.” Dougal added. “This boy wasn’t there last night when we photographed it.”
Everyone studied the pictures closely. They counted the ‘lost boys’ carefully. Dougal was right. There was an extra one. But did that signify anything?
The question was waiting to be answered when Shona arrived with Gabrielle and Owen and Toshiko came in with both of their children. Munroe asked why Etsuko wasn’t at school.
“Two children went missing in the streets of Glasgow last night,” Toshiko answered. “I’m not letting Etsu or Genkei out of my sight until we know what happened to them.”
Owen rolled his eyes and pointed out that Etsuko’s primary school was a perfectly safe environment. He clearly felt she was being over-protective.
Shona lifted Gabrielle out of her pushchair and hugged her tightly before placing her in the playpen with Owen and Toshiko’s youngest. She said nothing, but Darius had the feeling even she was in over-protection mode right now.
“Heaven help any child-snatcher who tried to get near our little ones,” Dougal said. “Those two will rip him apart.”
“The female of the species….” Munroe added.
“Well, if you ask me, those women were bloody irresponsible, letting their kids out of their sight,” Shona commented. “They don’t deserve to be parents if they can’t look after them.”
Toshiko said nothing. After giving Etsuko a carton of orange and her favourite toys to play with she sat at her workstation and pulled up the reports about the two missing children. One of them was the report Munroe and Darius had already seen, about the child who was taken from near the Lloyds TSB in St. Vincent’s Street. They hadn’t seen the second report that came in an hour later. Another seven year old boy went missing in the Princes Street Centre just before closing time when his mother was picking up her purchases from the gift wrapping counter.
Both reports now had pictures of the missing boys.
“Oh šudas!” Darius swore in Lithuanian and turned to his own workstation. “He’s here. Look. He’s the extra lost boy.”
Dougal looked from the image on Toshiko’s screen of a boy in a royal blue jumper and tie in his annual school photo to the ragged child in the mural.
Munroe looked at the pictures Dougal had taken the night before.
“This is the first one,” he said. “Standing next to the one you said was wandering around the streets.”
“You mean both of the missing boys are in an old mural?” Owen looked sceptical for a minute then remembered that he was talking to a vampire, an immortal man and one who looked after the Loch Ness monster. “Oh, fuck. Don’t tell me it’s that lot again.” He looked at Toshiko. “Remember the bother we had a few years ago in Cardiff, with those bloody fairies and their ‘Chosen One’.”
“I remember we all gave Jack the cold shoulder for days after because he let the girl go with them. The mother was absolutely wrecked. She lost her husband to those murderous creatures, then her daughter. Jack said he had no other choice, but I wonder if he really tried. I mean, he’d never been a father… at least as far as he knows or cares. He didn’t know what it was like to lose his own flesh and blood. I sometimes think… now he has Gray and Ashley in his life… would he have fought harder?”
Owen shook his head. He wasn’t going to get started on Jack Harkness’s version of morality. He looked at his own two children. He looked at Shona, who hadn’t taken her eyes off the playpen. She hid it behind a hard-faced demeanour a lot of the time, but she would be like a lioness defending her cub if anyone tried to harm Gabrielle. Toshiko would be the same, he had no doubt. He remembered what Shona had said about the two mothers whose children were missing and wondered why they hadn’t done more than stand around screaming when they knew their sons were missing. A moment later he chided himself for being unfair. Children had been snatched in seconds in all sorts of circumstances from under their parents’ noses. Accusing them of neglect wasn’t going to help.
“We’d better go and look at this bloody wall,” he said. “Darius, the sun’s up. You’ll have to hold the fort. Toshiko, do we have a gismo for measuring ion particles?”
“Yes,” she answered. “I made one up ages ago, based on Jack’s wristband tech. It’s in the archive. We never had any use for it up here, away from the Rift.”
“I’m coming, too,” Shona decided while Munroe found the archive number for Toshiko’s ion monitor and went to fetch it. “Darius, if you let those kids out of your sight for a minute, I’ll smash your fangs out. Try blood-sucking with false teeth.”
“They’ll be perfectly safe in the Hub,” Owen assured her. He put his coat back on. Dougal did, too. He looked at his service pistol hesitantly. “Bring it,” Owen told him. “I don’t know what we’re dealing with here. It might still be something we can shoot where it hurts.”
They walked. There was nowhere to park the Torchwood car that wasn’t nearly as far away as the Hub itself.
“It must be awful for the parents,” Toshiko commented as she looked at the shops opening up for the day’s business and people already crowding in through the doors. “Losing a child… at Christmas.”
“I don’t think it’s any worse than losing a child at any other time of year,” Shona responded. “It’s the same loss. The rest is just….”
“Everyone else looking forward to celebrations while they grieve their hearts out.” Owen and Dougal both stood with Toshiko on this one. Christmas was the worst time to be experiencing this sort of misery. Shona stuck to her guns, but they all secretly wondered if she really was that hard.
“The tide’s gone out again,” Dougal noted when they reached the alleyway next to Footlocker and looked at the mural closely. “Some of the kids are down on the beach. The missing boys must be among them.”
“We should compare some of these faces with the missing persons register,” Owen said of the boys who were in the foreground, still. “Maybe this has happened before. It could go back years… decades.”
“They’d be adults now, you mean?” Toshiko asked.
“Lost boys… Peter Pan… never growing up….”
“I don’t think we ought to get too deeply into that idea,” Owen said. “I always hated that story when I was a kid. I always felt… if I went to Neverland, my mother wouldn’t care. If I came back… she’d probably tell me to piss off again so she could have her freedom from looking after me.”
“Nice woman, your mum,” Dougal commented. “I’m surprised you didn’t go looking for Neverland.”
“I didn’t want to never grow up. I wanted to grow up as fast as possible and be somebody other than her son.”
“Do you think those boys last night wanted to run away?” Shona asked. “Maybe their homes weren’t as happy as their mothers are making out to the police.”
“Hush, everyone,” Toshiko said. “I’m getting strong readings on this thing. It IS an interstitial portal, I’m pretty sure of it.”
“What exactly IS an inter….”
“A magic door, for want of a better word. A weak point in space… less sophisticated than the Cardiff Rift, but….”
She yelped as the counter on the device began to spin faster. The ion particle density was increasing. Instinctively she stepped back from the mural. Shona stepped closer. Toshiko called out to her but she was reaching out to touch it.
Then she was gone. There was no blinding flash of light or anything dramatic. She was just not there.
They all looked at the mural. She wasn’t there, either. But the boys were all running down to the beach. Something had their attention.
“Wait,” Dougal said. “Count them again. I think….”
Then Owen’s phone rang. It was Darius, to tell him that Shona was in Cardiff.
“How the fuck did she wind up in Cardiff?” he responded. But that was a stupid question. The Rift, of course. It was lucky she ended up there, and not the home planet of the Weevils or something even nastier than that.
“She has three kids with her. She went straight to Mermaid Quay, of course. Jack is working with the police on a cover story. He’s also pulled a few strings with U.N.I.T. to get a plane from St. Athans. She’ll be home by tea time.”
When Shona arrived back at the Glasgow Hub, she had more to say. But she picked Gabrielle up out of the playpen first and held her on her knee while she made her verbal report.
“I actually went there… to Neverland, whatever you want to call it. I don’t think it was on Earth, anyway. The light was too bright. It was like ‘daylight’ on stage at the theatre, completely unreal. That’s the best way I can describe it. It was a tropical paradise, though – fruit hanging from the trees. The kids said there was always food. They never went hungry. And it was always summer. They didn’t need clothes or anything. Some of them were nearly naked, just loincloths. I think they were in some kind of null time – the same day repeating itself endlessly - because some of the kids had been there for decades. The first one was from way back when the toyshop was there. He was a street urchin, homeless, so he was perfectly happy to find his way to a warm place where he wasn’t hungry. The others… the earliest of them were the same – homeless kids who preferred that place to real life. But then they started enticing other kids in… like the two last night… kids who did have homes to go to. They wanted to come home. So did one other. I wasn’t sure about him. He went there in the 1970s. I didn’t know what would happen to him when time caught up.”
“What did happen?” Toshiko asked on behalf of everyone else. They had all worked out what might happen to a child who had forty odd missing years suddenly thrust upon him.
“He’s still a kid,” Shona assured them. “Jack called some people he knows in social services. He’s going to be looked after. Torchwood will acclimatise him to life in the twenty-first century. It’s going to be a shock to him. The last time he set foot in the real world Gary Glitter was still allowed near children. But he’ll be all right. The other two flew back with me. They’re with the police, now. I’m not sure what’s going to happen. If they tell the story about being in a tropical paradise nobody is likely to believe them. The poor buggers will probably spend years in therapy.”
“But they’re home with their parents in time for Christmas,” Toshiko said, risking a scowl from Shona, who still maintained that it didn’t matter what time of year it was.
“That’s all right, then,” Darius said, reaching to take Gabrielle from her mother and finding that she wasn’t giving her up this time. “It’s all over.”
“No, it isn’t,” Shona said. “There’s nothing stopping them doing it again. We need to do something about that mural.”
“Take flame throwers, paint strippers, get rid of the whole thing,” Dougal suggested.
“Would that work?” Owen asked.
“Yes,” Munroe said. “The ion particles are in the paint, not the plaster or bricks behind it. Destroy the mural, we destroy the interstitial portal. It would be closed from this side.”
“Will they be safe in there?” Toshiko asked. “The other children… if we destroy the mural….”
Everyone had visions, briefly, of children screaming in agony as their faces were melted and burnt away.
“I don’t want to risk it,” Shona said. “Don’t look at me that way. Just because I’m not sentimental about Christmas doesn’t mean I’m completely inhumane. I’m a soldier in the British Army. Despite what some pinko liberal apologists think, we don’t knowingly kill children in any theatre of war. And I’m not going to let Torchwood do anything that might endanger them, either.”
“Is it possible to neutralise the ion field,” Owen asked. He wasn’t sure if that was a stupid question or not, but he thought Shona had a point about the flamethrowers. Even Dougal, who had first suggested it, was changing his mind, now.
“There is such a thing as anti-ions,” Toshiko said. “They’re polarised in the opposite field. I might be able to do something. Maybe if we covered the wall with a whitewash infused with negative ions…. I think I’d better have another look at the thing… take some more readings.”
“Not you,” Shona said. “Or me. If anyone’s going back there, it had better be one of the men. I’m not being sexist….”
“Perish the thought!” Owen remarked dryly.
“No, seriously. That’s the other thing. The reason I was able to slip through in the first place.… I’m a mother.”
Sitting there with Gabrielle on her knee, that fact was patently obvious. She looked like a modern artist’s concept of a Madonna and Child. But they didn’t quite understand her point, yet.
“That’s why they took the two boys last night. They both had mothers. They were hoping that they would follow their kids. But the silly cows were both too busy worrying about their shopping.”
“Oh!” It was Darius who worked it out first. “The Lost Boys want a Wendy.”
“I made it clear that it wasn’t going to be me,” Shona said. “Ok, I admit I do have some feelings for my own kid. But I’m not the sort of supermum they wanted. They let me go, along with the kids that wanted to go home. But they’re still looking for somebody to look after them. Toshiko would fit the bill all right. She’s a regular mother type, not like me.”
“Not if I couldn’t get back to my own children,” Toshiko responded. “I wouldn’t want that.”
“Then we’ve got to put a stop to it right now,” Munroe insisted. “Before some other poor woman gets separated from her children. That would be just as bad as them taking children from their mothers.”
“Toshiko, start looking at the possibilities with those negative ions,” Owen decided, picking up the monitor. “Dougal, Munroe, you both come with me and look at this thing again. Darius… it’s dark again. If you want to join us….”
“I want to stay here with my child,” he responded. “I feel….”
“If it wasn’t so sunny there YOU could be the mother they want,” Shona told him. “You’ve got enough maternal feelings for me and Toshiko put together.”
Darius smiled toothily. That made a change from being called a blood-sucker.
The other three Torchwood men headed back through Glasgow city centre in the dark of late afternoon in December. They noticed just how many mothers were in the streets, juggling pushchairs and shopping bags while clinging to the older members of their brood and responding with various levels of impatience to the usual ‘I want…’ demands and the tantrums that accompanied them. Munroe looked at some of the mothers and children disparagingly and commented about how he and his wife would not have allowed their son to be so demanding in the street.
“I’m glad I’m gay,” Dougal remarked. Neither Owen nor Munroe had any answer to that.
When they reached the alleyway they tried not to look as if they were up to some kind of homosexual threesome. They were all surprised to discover that somebody was there before them, though. Owen spoke to the woman who stood looking at the mural with a distant expression on her face.
“This really isn’t a very safe place for a lady,” he said. “You never know what sort of characters are about.”
She didn’t respond to that, but she looked at the three of them, blocking her way out of the alley as if they were a case in point. Then she noticed the ion monitor in Owen’s hands. It was based on Jack Harkness’s wristband technology, but Toshiko hadn’t been able to make it quite as small and discreet. He felt more than a little self-conscious about it now.
“You’re here about them, aren’t you?” she said. “You know those children last night went with them, don’t you?”
“How do you know about them?” Dougal asked.
“Because I went there once, with my brother. That’s him, there. The blonde haired boy. He’s called Nathan. I’m Natalie. We were twins.... believe it or not.”
She stopped talking, as if she had realised she was telling a precious secret to three strange men in a dark alleyway.
“It’s all right,” Munroe said gently. “We might be able to help. Tell us everything.”
The woman looked at Munroe and saw nothing threatening in his face. Instead there was just that simple gentle nature of his that was almost too good to believe. She nodded.
“It was 1993. We were both in care after our mum died, and we hated it. We followed that boy… He’s called Jeremiah. He’s the one who looks for new children to join them. I was the only girl. They wanted me to be their mum. But I was only ten years old, and I was scared. I wanted to go back. They let me go. But my brother stayed. I was taken into care again. They kept asking me what happened to Nathan, and concluded that something really bad had happened to us both and I’d blocked the memory. Three child psychiatrists later I was eighteen and no longer the responsibility of foster parents. I got a job… I did ok for myself. But….”
She paused again, looking at the children in the mural.
“I’m alone. I don’t seem to be able to make relationships work. The adult psychiatrist I see now thinks it’s the childhood trauma that makes me insecure. He might be right. But all I can really think is that I made a mistake coming back. I should have stayed with them. It’s too late now….”
The three Torchwood men looked at each other.
“No,” Owen said. “That’s too much like what happened last time. When Jack….”
“If you could go back, is there anybody here in the ‘real world’ who would miss you?” Munroe asked Natalie, ignoring Owen’s protest.
“Nobody,” she said. “Only the finance department of Glasgow City Council, and I’m sure they could get a temp.”
“It’s Christmas,” Dougal pointed out. “Don’t you want….”
“I told you, there’s nobody here for me. Christmas… is just another day for me. I’m one of those people they put that helpline up for over all the films… in case I feel suicidal. I never have. But the best Christmas I could have is….”
She looked at the mural again. The blonde haired ‘lost boy’ seemed to be looking back at her, as if he knew she was there.
“They still want a mother,” Munroe told her. “You weren’t ready for that when you were ten. What about now?”
“Yes,” she said emphatically. “Oh yes, now I would. If it was possible.”
“Could you keep Jeremiah from coming through and enticing kids away from their parents?” Owen asked. “No more missing children in Glasgow… at least not this way. We can’t stop the usual nutcases.”
“Yes,” Natalie told him. “
“Ok, then. Do it.” He looked at the monitor. “The ion particles are building up. Go for it. Before I change my mind and drag you back out of this alley and take the damn mural apart brick by brick. That’s my other option if Tosh’s negative ions don’t work. That or we go back to the flamethrower idea.”
Natalie looked shocked at both of those proposals. Munroe and Dougal both smiled reassuringly at her. Owen didn’t look at her at all. He was studiously concentrating on the ion monitor.
She stepped towards the mural, reaching out her hand towards her still ten year old brother. Dougal and Munroe watched carefully. Afterwards they swore that Nathan reached back out of the image and clasped her hand before she disappeared.
When Owen looked up, the children were all on the beach, gathered around a figure that was taller than the rest of them.
“They’ve got their mother, now,” Munroe said with a satisfied nod.
“I just hope she can control the lot of them,” Owen responded. “Because I mean it about the flamethrowers.”
He switched off the monitor and walked away out of the alleyway. Dougal and Munroe followed him back towards the bright Christmas lights of Buchanan Street and the sound of the Salvation Army Band playing Christmas carols. Owen wasn’t completely convinced, but the rest of them were sure they had just given Natalie the best Christmas she had ever had.