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We Could Be Heroes

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Previously...

Ianto collapsed onto the ground, tears soaking his shirt as he watched the golden cloud expand, encircling the two men. It still looked so fragile, as if it was merely made of the small flecks of ash you find on a bonfire, but he knew that it was so strong.

He started suddenly as he felt Jack’s arms wrap around his waist and pull him close, only to gasp in pain as he felt his lover’s tears mingling with his own, soaking his cheeks. He didn’t even have to think as he wrapped his arms around Jack and held him tight, both of them sharing their grief.

Neither of them looked up to see the cloud burn brighter and brighter, before it suddenly started to fragment and fade away, taking both men with them. But as the sun set over the bay, they both thought that they felt a feeling of calmness and of comfort wash over their minds, soothing their thoughts and calming their souls.

Jack smiled softly through a mist of tears. The sun had set on two more of his beloved team-mates, but it would rise again one day. Just as had happened with Owen and Tosh; they were gone, but never forgotten.

And, right there, Jack made a promise that, while they may not be with them, Captain John Hart and Dr. Nick Jones would never be forgotten.

~*~

Jack stood up slowly as the sun finally set and wiped his eyes on the back of his hand, composing himself. He could feel Ianto stood beside him, also trying to calm down, but his slim body was shaking and his breath was coming out in ragged gasps. With a deep breath, he reached over and gripped his lover’s shoulder tightly, restraining the urge to pull him into a fierce embrace, just to remind himself that he was really there.

He was reassured, however, when he felt a familiar hand slip on top of his own and slowly start to intertwine their fingers, holding them tightly together in an exchange of mutual comfort, friendship and love. Swallowing, Jack turned his head slightly, his clear crystal blue eyes meeting the stormy sea he saw in Ianto’s. He opened his mouth slightly, but the only word to pass from his lips was a tight whisper of his lover’s name.

Ianto nodded. “The Rift signal’s gone,” he said, forcing them back to business, even though he was still very pale and his face was damp with tears. “I guess that means…” he trailed off, unable to say the words out loud, but merely nodded vaguely in front of him.

Jack blinked slightly. “Right,” he murmured. “I…oh, yeah…right…” He shook himself, though he didn’t remove Ianto’s hand from his shoulder, and forced himself to focus on what happened next. “Gwen, Andie…back to the SUV. There’s nothing to see here…not any more.” Clearing his throat, he gently removed his hand from Ianto’s and turned his back on the view across the water, forcing a small smile to his face. “Come on, kids…let’s go back to the Hub. There’s work to do.”

Andie nodded, instantly recognising the shift into the ‘leader’ persona, and fell into step with him, without asking questions. Gwen, however, was not so content and started to run after him, firing questions and demanding answers – answers which Ianto could tell Jack was in no state to give at the moment. Before she could cause any lasting damage, the young man sprinted up to her and caught her by the arm.

“I’ll talk to him later,” he whispered. “Just let it go.”

“Let it go?” Gwen repeated. “Ianto, your cousin and his boyfriend just disappeared in a puff of smoke! Are you really going to –“

“Just leave it,” insisted Ianto. “Jack will explain things when and if he’s ready to. Don’t force him.” The last words were spoken with a firmness that made Gwen step back slightly, her large eyes wide with surprise. Convinced he had done his job, Ianto nodded curtly and followed Jack and Andie back to the SUV, trying to hide the slow ache in his chest when he reached out to caress his lover’s hand again.

~*~

Ianto moved slowly around the autopsy bay, gathering up Nick’s white lab coat and folding it in his arms, before finally placing it in a metal box, stroking the lapels back, revealing the faded photograph of the two of them that his cousin had always kept with him, alongside the old and chewed-up biro and the small red notebook where he wrote funny little poems. Ianto considered himself lucky to have been one of the few to have seen what was inside it.

Sighing quietly, he removed the small items from the coat pocket and laid them gently on top of the white fabric, his fingers running over the soft covering of the book. He was about to shut the box, when a hand appeared and gently removed the photograph, placing it in Ianto’s hand. Puzzled, the young man turned round to see Jack watching him with a small smile on his face.

“Keep it,” he said, his voice strangely hoarse. “He was more than just a colleague to you – and you know it.” He closed his eyes for a second and, before he walked away, he said, “You don’t have to do this, Ianto. Not for Nick.”

It was only as his lover walked away that Ianto realised he was holding John’s red coat tightly in his arms, gripping it as if it was a part of him. At the same time, he noticed that his hand was wrapped around the old picture of him and Nick. They had been fourteen, maybe a little older, leaning against a gate to a field, dressed in bright sweaters, threadbare jeans and mud-covered hiking boots, following a trek in the hills with Ianto’s father.

He choked back a small sob as he remembered the conversation that night.

~*~

“What’s the matter?” Nick asked as he spread the sleeping bag across the groundsheet. “You’ve been staring at me for the past hour as if I’ve sprouted a pair of extra heads.”

Ianto shook his head. “It’s nothing,” he murmured, fiddling idly with the hem of his jumper. “I’m just a little tired, that’s all. It’s been a long day.”

“But it was worth it!” Nick’s brown eyes sparkled as he kicked off his hiking boots and flicked some mud off his jeans. “The guys at school will never believe me when I tell them I did that!” A silly grin crossed his face. “Me…Nick Jones – a rock-climber extraordinaire…taking on – ow!”

“A rock-climber extraordinaire who still flinches when I throw a cloth hat at him?” asked Ianto with a raised eyebrow. “Tell it to the space cowboys, Nicky.”

“Space cowboys?!” repeated Nick. “What are you, five?”

“What?” Ianto started to laugh. “I wasn’t the one who almost cried at the sight of the cliff earlier and said that there was no way anyone was getting me up there!”

Nick opened his mouth to say something else, but the words wouldn’t come out. “Yeah, yeah,” he growled instead as his already pink cheeks darkened. With a small scowl, he replaced the round glasses onto the bridge of his nose and picked up his book. “And don’t think you’re getting me up or down any more of them, Ianto Jones. You may be my best friend, but –”

“Oh, come on!” Ianto plucked the book out of his cousin’s hands. “You enjoyed it really – we both know you did.” He poked Nick in the side playfully.

“Hey! Stop it!”

“No way!” Ianto was laughing now. “You admit that you enjoyed it first – and don’t forget I already saw your little rock-climber extraordinaire skit earlier.” He waited for a response, but when there wasn’t one, except for a small grunt, he crowed with laughter. “You did enjoy it!”

“Okay, fine!” snapped Nick. “I might’ve enjoyed it…a little bit…but you’re still not getting me to do it again!” He picked up his book again and disappeared behind it.

Ianto rolled his eyes towards the ceiling of the tent. “What are you like, Nicky?” he laughed. “What are you like?”

“Well, let’s see…I’m like a fourteen-year-old schoolboy with red hair, brown eyes and glasses, who happens to be something of a geek,” answered Nick. “And who also happens to be sharing a tent with an irritating so-and-so masquerading as his cousin.” He tried to frown, but his eyes were still twinkling merrily, taking any hint of a sting out of his words.

This time it was Ianto’s pillow that went flying.

~*~

Ianto closed his eyes and counted very slowly to twenty as the memory washed over him, making his chest ache with the violence of his heartbeat. His fingers tightened around the edges of the picture as he struggled to control his breathing. At this moment, he wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. Both seemed equally appropriate.

I told him that he was the one person I could never lie to…but in the end, I did. Whether I wanted to or not…I still did. And the last thing he said…the last thing I heard him say was…

“Why did you forgive me, Nicky?” he whispered to himself, feeling the paper of the photograph bending slightly over his fingers.

“Because he loves you,” said a quiet voice behind him and he turned to see Andie standing behind him. “You mean the world to him, Ianto –“

“Meant the world to him,” Ianto corrected her automatically. “He’s not here –“

“Just because he’s not here doesn’t mean that he doesn’t love you,” Andie retorted. “People leave us, but their love never does. I mean…you’re going to die one day, but does that mean that you’re going to stop loving Jack?”

“No!” gasped Ianto, not even shocked at how vehement his response sounded. “Andie, I’ll never stop loving –“ he broke off and smiled weakly as he realised what the woman was saying. With a small nod, he slipped the picture in his pocket and shut the box, pausing only to run his hand down the front of Nick’s coat. “We should get back to work,” he said quietly.

~*~

Two hours later…

“I feel sort of bad for leaving Gwen and Andie to watch the Rift when it should’ve been me and John,” admitted Ianto, running his finger over the crystal tumbler of Scotch in front of him.

“Don’t feel bad,” insisted Jack, rather sharply. “You heard them; they insisted that you take the night off and get your head around things.”

“I think it’ll take more than one night to do that, Jack.”

“I know. But it’s a start at least.” They sat where they were for several minutes sipping their drinks and carefully linking their hands together.

“I’ve seen a lot of people working here, Ianto,” Jack continued quietly, running his fingers through his hair. “I’ve worked with them, heck, I’ve led them too. I’ve loved them, cherished them and I can honestly say that it was a privilege to work with them. And you know I’m not one to play favourites.” He took a deep breath. “But you also know that I’m not one to lie when I don’t have to. So, believe me when I say that, even though he was here for such a short time…your cousin was one of the best operatives to work with me here at Torchwood Three.”

He smiled softly. “It wasn’t just a privilege to work with him. It was nothing less than an honour.”

~*~

Next Time: Jack begins to feel the strain.

Chapter Text

Three days later…

Jack splashed cold water over his face, not caring that he was making his fringe wet as well. He blinked a few times to clear the droplets from his eyes and looked at himself in the mirror, clinging onto the sink to stop himself from falling.

He knew this routine only too well by now. It had happened repeatedly in the first weeks after the…losses – Jack no longer liked to use the word deaths – of Toshiko and Owen. The guilt and shock had plagued him almost constantly, meaning that he would often wake up to find himself holding onto Ianto with far greater strength than was really necessary.

But after recruiting John, Andie and, eventually, Nick, he had found that he was relaxing more as he had something to do and take his mind off what had happened. Not forget, he would never forget, but he could at least get on with life. He knew that was what his friends would have wanted him to do.

As a result, he had found himself sleeping better and, even though he still woke up with Ianto wrapped in his arms, at least he hadn’t been squeezing the life out of him this time. He still missed Owen and Tosh, and he knew that he would always miss them, but somehow the tight grip of guilt around his heart had begun to loosen as he focused on his new recruits – just as he knew the others would have wanted.

But now, John and Nick were gone. Jack didn’t know where they were, or even if they were alive. All he knew was that they had sacrificed themselves for the sake of making the world a better place and giving the children of today a chance of future happiness and safety. That was what Torchwood was there for. It was what Tosh and Owen had already died for and what Ianto and Gwen would eventually die for. And it was what Nick would have wanted for his own children – it was what he had been willing to leave everything behind for.

And John…Jack was feeling constant aches of guilt as he remembered how, for so long, he had been unable – or unwilling – to believe that his former lover and partner could have changed for the better. He had always hated the idea of being judged for something that he had left behind long ago – a sentiment strongly echoed by Ianto – but he had in fact done exactly that with John.

And now the nightmares had returned.

They were not the same as the nightmares that had caught up with him after Owen and Tosh. This time, no one was blaming him for events that he had long held himself responsible for.

But he was willing to take those over what he was experiencing at the moment. Because this time, what he was seeing were more than simply night terrors.

These visions had once been real.

Jack felt bile rising unbidden and burning his throat as the moments he had just relived in his sleep returned to him, as clearly as if he was standing there now.

~*~

The road ahead was filled by a small group of men and women all dressed in clothes in various states of wear and tear, their heads covered by various scarves or headdresses all in shades of grey or blue, allowing them to blend in with the stormy atmosphere of this world. In the centre of their circle, hidden by the swathes of fabric, there burned a small but scorching hot fire and the pungent scent of roasting Abacore, a sweet meat that was filled with spices and then roasted over an open fire until the bright green skin turned black.

Suddenly, one of the figures broke away from the crowd and moved towards a cluster of thick bushes, the only thing visible underneath his hood being a pair of bright blue eyes. He glanced furtively around him, trying to conceal the way the brown strap on his wrist was vibrating and beeping loudly. As soon as he was out of earshot, he pressed it, frowning at the sight of the blue hologram of his commander, speaking in low and frantic tones before fading away.

Slowly, with the air of someone coming out of a shocked trance, the young man pressed the button on his vortex manipulator, frowning at the spot where the hologram had just vanished from. Then, with a small sigh, he replaced his hood and returned to his partner who was watching him with wild excitement dancing in his green eyes.

“We’re so close now,” Phoenix panted, his voice shaking wildly from excitement. “I can feel it in my blood, Sirius…we’re literally moments away now – maybe even less than that.” His pheromones, already naturally strong, were almost overwhelming now. “In less than a minute –”

“Nothing will happen.” Sirius’ voice was quiet and urgent. “Phoenix, we have to leave.”

“Leave?!” The other man’s face turned incredulous. “But…we’ve come so far…we can’t just go now, we’re too close!” His cheekbones stood out against the shadows created by his own hood. “Sirius, if this is about me trying to –”

“No. Whatever you’re going to say, it isn’t about that. I received an order that we were –”

“But why now?” Phoenix was starting to whine and his hands were starting to tingle. “We’re –” but before he could carry on, a burning feeling shot through the brown strap on his own wrist, sending spikes of white heat through his arm, more intense than any he’d felt before.

He looked up and glared daggers at his partner. “What are you doing?!” he hissed. “Are you actually trying to kill me?”

“I’m not doing anything!” exclaimed Sirius, who was rubbing at his own arm. “I don’t know what’s…” but his voice faded as both men were enveloped in a burst of white light.

A moment later, the space was empty, except for the crowd of bandits.

~*~

Jack closed his eyes tightly, wanting to banish the memory of one of the hardest and darkest days of his life. But whether it was because his state was weakened by lack of sleep, or because some force of nature wanted him to remember, the images poured through his mind, burning and scarring him like acid.

~*~

The tiny room was almost pitch black, except for the tiny light on the wall which occasionally flickered, illuminating strange marks on the floor. The temperature was freezing; Sirius could practically see his breath forming icicles in the air as he fought to stay conscious. He wanted to rub his hands together for warmth, but he didn’t dare; they had been stuck here for a long time already and he could already tell that there wasn’t much time before the air would run out; he was beginning to feel drowsy enough as it was and he had barely moved.

Phoenix, however, was moving enough for the pair of them; as soon as they had been unceremoniously dumped onto the stiff wooden chairs in the middle of the room, he had ripped off the cloak and hood disguise he had been wearing and was now moving his legs around on the chair and rubbing his hands, trying to bring an ounce of warmth. But he had managed nothing; not even the tiniest spark would be mustered, no matter how hard he tried. Nonetheless, he had refused to give in, even though he was visibly beginning to tire.

Finally, Sirius couldn’t stand it any longer. “Just keep still!” he barked, with as much authority as his weak voice could muster. “You’re not just tiring yourself out, you’re also driving me mad! And stop fiddling,” he added, nodding towards his partner’s hands. “It’s not going to help us; if anything, it’s only going to make the situation even worse, because you’ll just be increasing the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air.”

Phoenix did stop moving his body, but his hands still danced around. “I’d rather risk that than end up freezing to death in an interrogation room,” he growled.

“Hey. We are not going to freeze to death. We are going to get out of this alive and then we’ll get right back to that mission and sort everything out.” Sirius’ blue eyes sparkled. “Like you said –”

But a noise cut him off before he could finish speaking. It wasn’t a loud noise, but it was certainly enough to make his blood run colder than it already was.

It was little more than a tiny ‘click’ sound, but it was enough to make him freeze to attention.

With little more than a flickering glance between them, showing that they were sharing the same thought, the two men turned their heads behind them. When they saw the view, the temperature of the room seemed to drop a few more degrees and the air somehow became more dangerous.

Six figures, all clad in black, were standing behind them, their shadows blocking out all the light except for a tiny sliver that could be seen from underneath the doorway. The sputtering lamp had evidently given out without anyone noticing, because all that Sirius could see were six pairs of eyes glinting fiercely underneath the black hoods.

Cautiously, he moved his hand slightly and found his partners, squeezing it tight, ignoring the way a heavy band seemed to close over his heart as he recognised Cygnus, Kuman and Shukra, their height instantly giving them away. However, only Kuman gave him any hint of help when his black eyes briefly flickered towards the woman beside him – the woman who had given Sirius the order to return. He swallowed hard; if there was one thing Kanya was famous for, it was her unforgiving nature, something that was shown clearly in her slate grey eyes.

“You summoned us back,” he said, hoping that his voice didn’t shake. “We were coming close to completing the mission…I know things have been slow, but another few hours would have –”

But he was cut off when he saw the line begin to split up, revealing an open doorway behind them. He didn’t even have time to consider an escape, however, because a moment later he felt himself being held by the neck in a brutal grip as he was forcibly ripped from the chair. He cringed. He would know that grip anywhere.

“Cipactli…”

At the same time, he saw someone – who, he didn’t know – pull Phoenix to the floor, almost ripping their hands apart, except that the younger Time Agent reached out and gripped back at the last moment, his green eyes wide with a fear that Sirius had never seen in him before.

He swallowed hard. “I’ll…I’ll come back,” he whispered, before he could feel Cipactli and two others – he guessed Kanya and Kuman – dragging him away. “I’ll come back!” he screamed as his hand was ripped from his partner’s. “I’ll come back and find you again – I promise!”

~*~

The screaming finally died away and Jack was finally able to open his eyes again. However, the first thing he noticed was that his eyesight was blurred and his face was damp. He took a deep breath, gripping the sink harder as it caught in his throat and forced himself to look in the mirror at the damp tracks staining his cheeks.

As he did so, however, he suddenly became aware of someone standing behind him and rubbing his shoulder blades gently. He blinked and, looking closer, saw the reflection of a bleary-eyed Ianto staring back at him. Even with his tousled hair and tired demeanour, it was still clear that he was deeply concerned for his lover.

“How long have you been there?” asked Jack, blinking again at how hoarse his voice sounded.

“I came in when I heard you screaming,” Ianto replied softly. The motions of his hands switched from simply running over the skin to a deep massage.

“Screaming?”

“You were shouting ‘I’ll come back for you.’” Ianto’s hand slipped down Jack’s arm and he linked their fingers together. “You were promising someone that you would come back and find them again.” He paused. “Oh, and you called out a name. I didn’t quite catch it, but it sounded like –”

“Cipactli,” Jack whispered, feeling his body freeze at the mention of the name, even as he relaxed in Ianto’s arms. He closed his eyes and slowly turned around.

“Yes.” Ianto nodded. “Who was…?”

“She was someone from my past.” Jack sighed and gently led Ianto out of the bathroom. “She was a Time Agent, like me…and John.” The acidic pain rose inside him again, but with an effort he choked it down. “She was one of the ones who was responsible for us…losing our memories.”

Ianto shuddered slightly at the reminder of the violation Jack had suffered before his mind processed something else.

“What do you mean…us?” he whispered. “Jack…did I –”

“No.” Jack’s response was instant. “Not us as in you and me. Us as in –”

Ianto gasped as he understood. “You and John!”

Jack nodded. “When John came here, he didn’t come back to punish me or really even to bring me back. He came back because he thought I could tell him why his memories had been stolen. He didn’t know that I’d had mine wiped as well.”

He sighed quietly. “You remember the story of how we got within hours of completing the mission and regaining that piece of technology?”

“How could I forget?”

Jack smiled weakly. “We sat in that cold and dark room for hours, stuck there like prisoners. John could barely keep still; kept trying to…” he tapped his fingers together, “well, you know. Neither of us knew what was going on – until six high-ranked Time Agents came in. Three of them dragged me away as I screamed to John that I’d come back for him…but then –”

“Then the next thing you knew it was two years later and John had gone rogue.” Ianto finished the story, barely suppressing a shudder. “Did you know what they’d done to him?”

“No. I had no idea until he told me the day before he…,” Jack swallowed, “left. Apparently, that silver box we found in the old barn triggered something in his mind that he didn’t recognise.” He bit his lip, but decided not to mention that he had also seen something; he didn’t feel strong enough to go through that yet.

Ianto stroked his hand gently. “Do you think it triggered something?”

“I don’t know. But I will find out somehow.” Jack’s eyes hardened with determination. “I promised John that we would find the answers – for both our sakes. I owe him that much.”

“We owe him that much,” corrected Ianto. “You won’t have to do this alone, Jack. I’m with you all the way. We’ll find those answers – somehow.”

For the first time, a proper smile spread over Jack’s face. “Thank you,” he whispered, leaning forwards to kiss his partner gently. Then, he cleared his throat. “But first – I believe we have Catrin’s wedding to attend in a week.”

***

Next Time: Weddings are supposed to be happy occasions, but how long can our heroes stay strong when Nick’s sister gets married?

Chapter Text

One week later…

Ianto rested his hand against his cheek as he listened to the words of the speeches buzzing around him, mingling with each other. He knew he should be paying attention, but all he could see was Catrin Jones – Catrin Ashford now, he reminded himself – gazing up at her new husband with an expression of rapture on her face.

He knew that he should feel proud of her for going ahead with the ceremony, so soon after what had happened to her brother, but he didn’t. Instead, as he focused on the green trimming on her ivory wedding dress, all he could feel was anger that she could even have considered cancelling the wedding when it was clear that Nick would never have wanted that. He hated that he had been the one to tell her that, hated that it had brought home the fact that he had known her brother better than she did.

And, most of all, he hated that he felt guilty for it. He knew that there was no reason for it and yet it was there, gnawing at his insides and causing him pain. He suddenly wished that he hadn’t been so insistent that Jack stayed at the Hub with the girls. Right now, never mind what anyone else thought, he needed someone beside him who he could trust; someone to support him.

Suddenly, he realised that all the guests around him had stood up and were raising their glasses in a toast. It was a few minutes before he realised what was being said, but when he did, he instantly jumped to his feet and rushed onto the small stage that had been set up beside the dance floor. Wordlessly, he pulled a CD out of his pocket and handed it to the DJ before stepping up to the microphone.

As he listened to the twanging sounds of the guitars, he allowed his gaze to sweep across the room before gripping the microphone stand and letting the words flow.

“And the light of a fading star
Is what you were, is what you are.
Like the glow that christens the moon,
You shone to soon, you shone too soon.

Oh when will this war be over?
And the madness leaves the air?
This brick that's found between us
And the pulling of the hair.”

He didn’t look at anyone in particular when the first words flowed from his lips. Instead, he allowed his eyes to drift across the tables, never lingering too long, just long enough to take in how their expressions were shadowed by the flickering candlelight. At that moment, he could have been literally anywhere, but he knew that the words were right for the moment.

“But if there's a reason
I don't need to know right now.

And the light of a fading star
Is what you were, is what you are.
Like the glow that christens the moon
You shone too soon, you shone too soon.”

The spotlight flew into his face, causing him to wince slightly and half-close his eyes for several seconds as he grew used to the bright glare. When he did, however, he removed the microphone from the stand and calmly walked into the pool of light, this time fixing his gaze on the top table – or, more specifically, on the astonished, yet beautiful, face of the bride. He felt a sharp pang in his chest as, for the first time, he realised the resemblance between Catrin and her brother. Before, he barely given it a passing thought, but now it suddenly hit him and reminded him of exactly why he was standing up on the stage doing what he was doing.

“Volunteers are soon forgotten
And many more of us shall die.
The sick still feed the hungry
And the last battle song has cried.

But if there's a reason
I don't need to know right now.”

He knew that no one here needed to be reminded of just how much Nick had meant to Ianto. That had been made clear so many times; in the little moments, such as their childhood games in the old tailors shop, and in the more important events, such as when Nick had asked Ianto to be little Trevyn’s godfather.

Not to mention how he risked his life to help me get Lisa out of Canary Wharf and how he stood by me when she died, he mused to himself. He would never forget how, when he had turned up at the hospital exhausted and distraught, Nick had instantly called for someone to cover for him and had taken Ianto home and stayed by his side…and also given Jack a rather impressive bruise to go with the cut lip Ianto had given him earlier.

“And the light of a fading star
Is what you were, is what you are.
Like the glow that christens the moon
You shone too soon, you shone too soon.

Oh and I always thought
That you, you wanted me.
Oh and I always thought some how
That you, you wanted me.”

Ianto paused to catch his breath, letting the wild music fly over him. Suddenly, he felt as if he was outside, the music becoming gusts of wind, surging through him and giving him the energy and strength to carry on. As that thought dawned on him, he felt his heart jump in his chest as he caught sight of a familiar figure standing in the doorway, his hair as perfect as ever and the familiar chain of his pocket watch glinting from his waistcoat.

So you came, he thought, the initial shock giving way to joy and gratitude and the dull ache of loneliness that had been gnawing away at him for most of the day began to ease slightly.

“Ahhh, but if there's a reason
I don't need to know right now.

'Cause beyond the pale eyes' evening
And the shadow of the cloud.”

Eventually, as he came to the end of the song, Ianto noticed that his heart was beating so fast he almost expected it to burst out of his chest. However, he brushed his hair out of his eyes and belted out the final words.

“And the light of a fading star
Is what you were, is what you are.
Like the glow that christens the moon
You shone too soon, you shone too soon.

And the light of a fading star
Is what you were, is what you are.”

When the final chords faded, Ianto leaned on the microphone stand and picked up his champagne glass from the floor. “To absent friends,” he said breathlessly.

Catrin raised one eyebrow briefly before she nodded. “Absent friends,” she echoed. We need to talk later, she mouthed at Ianto, who gulped and nodded before hopping off the stage and making his way through the stunned crowds towards Jack.

“I saw you come in,” he whispered. “Is everything all right?”

“Everything’s fine.” Jack smiled. “The girls practically threw me back onto the lift after they promised me that they’d call me if there was an emergency.” He wrapped an arm around Ianto’s waist. “I was impressed with your singing, although I didn’t think you were into that kind of music.”

“I’m not,” admitted Ianto. “But that song is one of Nick’s favourites. And no, I really don’t need to know if you’ve slept with any of the members of the band.”

Jack raised an eyebrow, but didn’t push him. “So, where’s the bride gone off to then? I thought I might just go and grab a quick dance with her.” He tapped his feet, revealing that he had changed from his usual brown boots into a pair of highly polished black patent leather shoes.

Ianto’s mouth twitched slightly. “She’s over there,” he said. “Just make sure I get a turn at helping you break in those dancing shoes!” he called out as his lover half-walked and half-glided off.

Jack chuckled softly when he heard Ianto’s voice calling after him. “Don’t worry!” he threw casually back. “I wouldn’t make you go through a wedding without one dance from the champion!” Without waiting for a reply, he walked up to Catrin, who was dancing with a small boy who he suddenly realised was Nick’s son.

“Hi, Junior!” he said, smiling and bending down to the little boy’s height. “What say you go dance with your Uncle Ianto while I whisk your Auntie off her feet?” He chuckled as Trevyn gave a cheerful laugh and scurried over to Ianto before he straightened up and holding out a hand to Catrin. “May I have this dance?”

The bride took his hand with a smile. “You may indeed, Captain,” she said with a blush, making Jack feel a pang inside as he registered the resemblance between her and Nick. Forcing the painful thoughts aside, he wrapped his arm round her waist and led her across the dance floor.

“You look gorgeous,” he complimented her. “David’s a lucky man.”

“I know he is,” she agreed. “And I’m a lucky woman.” She tucked a loose curl behind her ear and stumbled slightly on her train. “Admittedly, he didn’t pick the best dancer.”

Jack laughed softly and helped her stand upright again. “I’m glad you didn’t cancel the wedding today,” he admitted quietly. “Nick wouldn’t have wanted that.”

“Ianto said the same thing. Our friends thought we were going to postpone the wedding, but we spoke to Ianto and he told us not to. He said Nick would want us to get on with our lives.”

“And he was right.”

Catrin frowned slightly. “What happened to him, Jack?” she asked. “You know the whole truth. I know you do. Tell me.”

Jack swallowed slightly. “Catrin –”

“Don’t blow me off, Jack. I’ve had enough of being lied to now. Nick couldn’t even tell me what he did for a living. Little Trev is starting to ask what’s happened to his dad.”

She dropped her voice, but there was a cold edge to it. “Two of your colleagues came to my flat the day after it happened and neither of them could tell me what happened to my brother!”

~*~

Ianto walked outside, carrying Trevyn in the crook of his arm. There was a faint wind springing up, but, considering that it was only the middle of March, it was still fairly warm and he soon found himself loosening his tie and unfastening the top button on his shirt.

“Uncle Ianto?” Trevyn’s little voice cut through Ianto’s thoughts. His large brown eyes gazed innocently upwards from underneath a fluffy auburn fringe.

“What is it, Trev?” Ianto asked, forcing back a small murmur when he suddenly realised just how much his godson looked like Nick.

The toddler’s eyes grew larger as he started looking around, his bottom lip trembling. “He not here, is he?” he whimpered. “Not here?”

“What d’you mean?” asked Ianto, tilting his head slightly. “Who’s not here?” To his surprise and dismay, however, Trevyn started whimpering even louder and his eyes began to fill with tears as he gripped onto the lapel on Ianto’s jacket.

“Hey,” he cooed softly, dropping a kiss into the boy’s hair. “What’s wrong? Who’s not here, kiddo? Who are you looking for?” He suppressed a shudder, suspecting that he actually knew the answer perfectly well, but wasn’t able to say it. “Talk to me, mate…talk to Uncle Ianto.”

“Da…Daddy,” stammered Trevyn, hiding his face in Ianto’s shoulder, his small body shaking. “Where he gone…he not here…Daddy…Daddy…” The words were fading as his voice became taken over by gasping sobs and he gripped Ianto’s jacket tightly in his small hands.

“Shhh,” whispered Ianto, cradling him gently and rocking him. “Shhh, Trev; it’s okay.” He rubbed his godson’s back gently, singing a lullaby to him, but he felt a sharp pang in his chest when the only result was the dampness of the boy’s tears hitting his jacket as he cried for his father.

Silently, he grimaced. Damn you, Nick Jones, he thought to himself. Damn you and your self-sacrificing habits…

Eventually, Trevyn looked up, his rosy cheeks stained with tears and his mouth trembling. “Uncle Ianto…does Daddy still love us?”

Ianto blinked several times. “Why would you ask that?”

“He’s not here.” The answer came as if it was obvious. “He’s stopped coming to see us…doesn’t that mean he doesn’t love us any more?”

Ianto took a few moments to recover and compose himself after hearing those words. “Oh, Trev,” he whispered, “I don’t know who told you that, but it’s certainly not true. Your daddy loves you very much…and that’s why he had to go away.”

“He left us…because he loves us?” Trevyn looked scared and confused, tears still filling his eyes and running down his cheeks.

“Yes, he does.” A different voice cut into the conversation and Ianto turned around to see his uncle Evan, Catrin and Nick’s father, beside him, a weak smile on his aged face. “He loves you very much – more than I think even he knows.”

But Trevyn still wasn’t content. “But…where’s Daddy gone?” he whimpered, his lower lip trembling even more.

Ianto took a deep breath and exchanged a quick look with his uncle before he lent in and wiped the tears off his nephew’s cheek, feeling himself welling up, but fighting it all back for the sake of his godson. "Daddy had to go away with John. They got called away on an urgent mission. He didn't get time to tell me where he's gone."

He watched another tear roll down Trevyn’s face before it hit his shoulder, splashing into the wet patch that was already there. "But the one thing I do know is that he loves you and misses you very much – you and your sister."

“That’s right,” Evan chipped in with a smile that didn’t hide the haunted look in his eyes as he gently gathered his grandson in his arms and stroked his hair. “And he will come home one day.”

Ianto stared at his uncle incredulously, but quickly swallowed the words he would have said, knowing that now wasn’t the time or the place. “And I know you’re going to get sick of hearing this, Trev,” he remarked, managing a small laugh as he realised that the little boy was starting to fall asleep. “But you really do look like your daddy.”

He waited until Trevyn was properly asleep before he turned to his uncle. “Why did you say that?!” he hissed angrily. “How can you know that Nick’s going to come back? I don’t even know if he’s going to come back!”

Evan looked firmly at him. “I know my son, Ianto,” he said. “And I know that he’ll find a way back here again.” He smiled sadly and started to walk away with the baby asleep on his shoulder, but turned back before he re-entered the hotel. “But I won’t be here when he does.”

***

Next Time: The team finally has to face the difficult task of clearing John and Nick’s flat.

Chapter Text

Three days later…

Andie threw her jacket over her head as she jumped out of the back of the lorry and onto the slightly cracked pavement underneath. “When we were down in the Hub, I didn’t anticipate the weather being quite like this,” she half-grumbled. “It doesn’t rain, it bloody pours.”

Gwen, who had been sat in the front, laughed. “Andie, how long have you lived in Wales?” she asked. “This is actually fairly pleasant weather for this part of the country.” She stepped nimbly over one of the puddles in front of the block of flats.

Ianto followed a few seconds later. “It is a little cold, I will give you that,” he said, flicking a soft smile in Andie’s direction. “But the rain isn’t too bad.”

Andie rolled her eyes. “After living where I’ve lived, you find that any rain is bad rain,” she replied, shuddering as several drops of water seeped underneath her coat. “Give me sunshine, give me wind – hell, give me snow; just don’t give me rain!”

Rhys, who had driven them over so that they could use his van, laughed softly. “You’re certainly in the wrong part of the world, Andie, if you hate rain.” He jumped out as well and wrapped his arms around Gwen’s waist. “My wife here is right; this is nothing compared to those April showers – and there’s barely a month to wait until they come about.”

“Don’t worry, darling,” said Gwen, seeing that the other woman was looking apprehensive. “I’ll be sure to warn you when the worst of those come about.” With a small giggle, she linked arms with Rhys and started towards the door.

“Don’t call me darling,” growled Andie, racing after her.

Ianto followed at a slower pace ignoring the amusing but slightly childish banter around him, allowing the rain to trickle through his hair and down his face as he gazed up at the stylish building in front of him. He rested his hand on one of the silver poles framing the doorway, tracing a pattern through the raindrops with one finger. He watched as the water slipped gently over his hand, dripping off his skin and onto the ground where it instantly vanished amongst the blades of grass at his feet.

Slowly, he reached into the pocket of his trousers and drew out the small photograph he had taken out of the Hub when they had locked away Nick’s lab coat. But he didn’t look at the picture this time; instead, he turned it over and slowly traced the faded lettering on the back, smiling as he heard the words whispered in his mind.

“Sometimes, I wish that I could freeze the picture,
And save it from the funny tricks of time…”

He swallowed hard on the lump in his throat. Those words hadn’t been there when the picture was taken; they must have been a more recent addition. He shuddered – had Nick known all the while that he wouldn’t have long? Or had it been a simple case of him wanting to preserve his childhood memories for the rest of his life? Or was it just Nick writing down a couple of random lines from one of their favourite childhood songs?

“You all right, mate?”

Ianto jumped out of his reverie and looked up to see Rhys standing beside him, armed with several large boxes and with an expression of barely hidden concern on his face. Blushing slightly, Ianto slipped the photograph back into his pocket and straightened up, picking up a few of the boxes and offering the other man a small smile before he followed Gwen and Andie through the glass doors and into the lift, his hand still brushing the picture in his pocket.

~*~

“Wow,” breathed Gwen as the four of them stood in the middle of the living room.

“I know,” murmured Andie, looking around her. “It seems…bigger.”

“No.” Ianto’s voice cut through the air like glass. “It’s barer.” He ran his hand gently over the back of the sofa, feeling his breath catch as the soft blanket slid to the floor and landed in a heap.

The moment his soft voice spoke those words, everybody else knew that he was right. The flat’s large living room had never been highly decorated or densely furnished, but somehow John’s wild personality combined with Nick’s cheerful and vibrant hospitality had made it seem so much more like it was being lived in. Now it just felt empty, too much like the home of someone who had only recently died.

Gwen was the first to break the uncomfortable silence by clapping her hands together. “Right, well, we should make a start then. No sense in lingering too long, so…Ianto, if you and Rhys can take the bedroom, then Andie and I –”

But Ianto had already started towards one of the other rooms. “No,” he said, his voice quiet, but his eyes cold. “Sorry, Gwen, but this is one time when you don’t get to take charge.” He bent down and picked up the blanket that had previously rested on the sofa. “Nick is part of my family, and I promised myself that, if anything happened to him, I would be the one to sort things out.”

“Ianto –”

“We leave the things in the bedroom until last,” insisted Ianto. “In fact, I would insist that we leave that room alone were it not for the fact that I know it’s not what Nick would want.” He finally managed a weak smile. “Besides, I’m sure there are things in there that Nick wouldn’t particularly want me to be going through – and I can safely say I agree.”

Gwen looked at him sharply for a moment, but then her mouth twitched into a small smile. “You’re right. I’m sorry; Nick was practically your brother.”

“Is,” Ianto corrected her, gently but steadfastly. “He will always be that to me, no matter what happens.” Just like Owen and Tosh will always be our friends…and our family…

“All right then, what do you suggest we do?” asked Rhys, who had been watching admiringly. He loved Gwen with all his heart, but that didn’t mean that he was blind to her flaws. He knew perfectly well that she needed to be put in her place occasionally.

“Andie and I will pack the things in the sitting room and the nursery,” Ianto answered. “Gwen, you and Rhys can take the kitchen and the study.” He pointed them in the right direction. “If I know Nick – and I do – he’ll have yards and yards of bubble wrap hidden in all the cupboards. Wrap everything delicate in bubble wrap, including the pictures. If in doubt, err on the side of caution.”

“Yes sir!” teased Gwen as she gave him a salute. Rhys chuckled.

Ianto’s face twitched slightly. “And finally,” he handed them each a couple of permanent marker pens and a notepad. “I want each box labelled with everything that’s inside it, so make sure you know before you seal it up. I don’t want anything unaccounted for. Oh – and put the pictures in separate boxes to everything else.”

“Why?” asked Andie.

“Because I suspect Jack and I will want to keep a few of them aside and I’d rather not have to trail through five hundred boxes to find them,” answered Ianto. “Plus, I think the rest of Nick’s family would like to keep a few pictures of him too.”

~*~

“So, why is Jack not here then?” asked Rhys as he examined a small box containing a set of small silver spoons with stones set in the handles. “I’d have thought that since him and John used to be so close, he’d be insisting that he come along and supervise us.”

Gwen shook her head. “If there’s one thing you get to learn about Jack Harkness, it’s that you can’t predict him,” she replied, wrapping a beautiful china bowl in bubble wrap.

Rhys smiled. “I guess it goes with the type,” he said. “I mean, I would never have thought that John Hart would own things like these.” He indicated the small spoons he had been playing with. “I wonder if all fifty-first century men are that nostalgic.” He waited for his wife to echo his surprise, but when she merely shrugged, he raised an eyebrow. “I’m starting to wonder if anyone will find anything to surprise you these days,” he half-joked.

Gwen looked at him. “Sorry, love,” she apologised. “I’m just getting less surprised by unpredictability by the day, I guess. One of the many side effects of working for this place – you start to just accept that some things are just plain odd.” She packed the bowl gently in one of the boxes and placed a cushion on either side of it. “But to answer your original question, Jack’s not here, because he said he had something to do at the Hub; something about finding new employees.”

Rhys looked a bit shaken at that. “So quickly…”

“We can’t afford to wait for too long.” Gwen started to fold up the tea towels. “Jack waited long enough to recruit Nick. He doesn’t want to do that again.”

They packed in silence for a while before Rhys spoke again. “You know, with how dangerous what you do is – and don’t think I’m suggesting that you give it up, because you know I’m proud of you – I’m surprised that you don’t have more than one doctor on your team.”

Gwen was silent for a few minutes. “I know,” she admitted. “With all the trouble Ianto and I get into on our own, it would be the logical thing to do. But it’s sort of a sore spot for Jack…after Owen…” she trailed off again.

Rhys waited for a while to see if she was going to speak again, but when she didn’t, he cleared his throat and showed her the open fridge. “What’s Jack going to want doing with all this food and,” he laughed suddenly, pulling something out of the fridge door, “these empty milk cartons?”

~*~

“We can take these to Catrin’s,” said Ianto as he slowly folded the quilt covering Trevyn’s small bed. “It’ll be good for her to have some spare sheets and pillows there, especially with how much Trev dribbles in his sleep.”

Andie chuckled softly. “Shall I make up another box of baby things to take to Catrin’s then?”

Ianto nodded. “That would be a very logical idea.”

She nodded. “Very well then, Spock,” she said, ignoring the quilt as it landed at her feet. “Hey, come on, you asked for it!” she added and then began to place the small pillows in plastic covers before packing them up.

But Ianto didn’t look at her. He was facing the window and running his fingers over a wooden mobile made up of several small coloured frames, each one holding a different photograph. It was old and the frames were slightly chipped and the pictures were fading, but it was still so beautiful. Below that was an ornate silver frame with a photograph of Nick and Trevyn playing on a beach. Again, the picture had faded slightly, but the memory stayed; a chance to remember a time that had long since gone.

“Gone,” he whispered as his hand dropped down to trace the moon and star patterns engraved in the silver, “but never forgotten.”

Eventually, he did turn around and smiled when he saw Andie looking over his shoulder. “Trev’s second birthday,” he explained. “They’d planned to drive down to Aberystwyth for the weekend, but then Alison came down with a nasty cold and she couldn’t go. But Nick didn’t want Trev to miss out on his birthday, so I went down with them instead. It was probably the one weekend in that month when it didn’t rain,” he added with a laugh.

Andie laughed and passed her friend some bubble wrap. “Why don’t you leave that photo with the ones for Trev?” she suggested. “That way, he’ll always have a way to remember the good times he shared with his dad.”

“Thanks.” Ianto nodded and wrapped the picture up and suppressing a small shiver as the bubble wrap covered Nick’s smiling face. “I think that was one of the happiest times of their lives. Nick got a chance to get out of that flat and relax…and Trev got to spend a whole weekend with the father he loved with all his heart.” He placed the picture in another one of the boxes and wrote something on the label. “The father he’ll never forget.”

~*~

Rhys coughed slightly as they stood in the doorway of the main bedroom. “No offence, Ianto, but…has your cousin always been this messy?”

“Oh yes,” replied Ianto as he picked his way through the piles of clothes that were liberally decorating the floor. “Still, at least they remembered to change the sheets that morning.” He paused for a moment to look around and then clapped his hands together once. “Right, well…if I know Nick, then that black chest of drawers in the far corner over there,” he pointed it out, “will be the one that I really won’t want to be going into – for what I hope are obvious reasons. So –” but he didn’t get any further before the two girls rushed towards the chest of drawers in question, giggling crazily. “Well, I guess you’re with me then, Rhys.”

“It would appear so,” replied the Welshman with a small smile. “Where do you want us to start?”

For the next half an hour, Ianto walked around the room, picking things up and putting them in boxes – only avoiding the black closet – until the room was almost completely bare, except for the heavy furniture. He forced back a smirk as he watched the wistful look on Gwen and Andie’s faces as they sealed the box they had been packing up; Gwen had almost been drooling over the sight of a certain black corset and matching stiletto-heeled shoes.

As they left, however, something fell onto the floor as Ianto’s hand brushed one of the bookshelves. He stopped, turned back and knelt down to find a small green velvet box lying on the floor next to the door. Quickly checking no one was watching, he bent down and picked it up, running his fingers over the smooth fabric and frowning. He had never seen this before in his life.

However, he didn’t have much time to wonder about it, because Gwen stuck her head round the door and asked him to help her with one of the boxes of things from the kitchen. He nodded and dragged himself upright – but not without hastily slipping the small box into the pocket of his jacket first.

***

Next Time: Jack’s been researching new recruits, but what has he come up with? And what was in the box that Ianto took?

Chapter Text

Back at the Hub…

Jack sat and simply stared at the computer screen, as he examined the profiles he had written up while reviewing some of the potential new candidates for the suddenly vacated positions at Torchwood. So far, he had managed to find three people who he would consider for the medical position, one of whom was a counsellor – with a medical degree as well – from Torchwood Two.

It seemed that, as eccentric as he was, old Archie from Glasgow did have some sense, although when he chose to display it was something that no one could predict. Although quite why the man seemed to want to offload someone so valuable, Jack didn’t know. He dimly wondered if something had happened in Scotland to sour their relationship.

He didn’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but, while this woman, Emily Potter, did seem like the perfect candidate for the job, he knew he had to be fair to the others, as well as to his own team. He wasn’t going to rush in and recruit someone without consulting them.

Instead, his eyes turned to the other two candidates, both of whom had been recommended to him by UNIT – or, more specifically, by Martha Jones. One was Declan Hamilton, a twenty-seven-year-old New Zealander, who had moved to work in London a year ago after the sudden death of his son and then a painful and messy divorce from his wife.

He studied the man’s picture; he looked very young with his cloud of bright blonde hair and baby blue eyes, but there was a sharpness to him that intrigued Jack. Also, his profile cited him as reliable, hard-working and sure-minded, qualities that Jack prized when he was hand-picking his team. There was definitely potential.

The second was a Welshman, Garrett Evans, who had worked in Newport for a time before unexpectedly resigning and going on to take a position as a doctor with the army. There were no details about why he had done this, but Jack would find out sooner or later…if he hired the guy.

He was twenty-five, small and elfin with round silver glasses, brown eyes and messy black hair that landed halfway down his neck. He was nothing like your average Torchwood employee, but his experience in combat situations could prove to be the difference between life and death.

So I have three possible doctors here…but no one to take on John’s job. Jack laughed softly to himself; there had actually been several people recommended to him, all of whom were well qualified – admittedly, some better than others – but he couldn’t see any of them taking John’s place…Tosh’s place…anyone’s place…

But he didn’t have long to think on that. Less than a minute passed before the alarm sounded. He turned on his chair to greet Gwen and Andie as they came into the Hub again.

“It’s all done,” said Andie quietly, hanging up her coat on the wall. “The flat’s been cleared out – everything’s been put into boxes.” She ran her fingers almost violently through her wet hair. “And I need to get into some dry clothes and maybe have a shower.”

Jack couldn’t help but chuckle. “Go ahead,” he agreed, “you look like you’ve been surfing in the middle of a rainstorm.” He winced as the young woman’s wet scarf was flung in his face as she disappeared down towards the showers and the lockers where the team kept spare clothes.

Gwen shook her head, chuckling softly. “You really know how to annoy her sometimes, don’t you?” she said as she came over.

“I can’t help that she’s volatile!” Jack squeaked. He was shivering as drops of water began dripping over his face; that scarf was wetter than it had looked.

“But that’s what you love about her, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, I guess it is. Where’s Ianto?”

“He’s showing Rhys the garage where you asked for John and Nick’s things to be stored.” She walked towards him, looking at him intently. “He was really strong back there, Jack. You would have been so proud of him.”

Jack nodded and stood up, making his way quickly over to the invisible lift. “I am proud of him, Gwen,” he agreed, giving her a smile. “I’m very proud of him.”

~*~

“Hi,” Ianto said as he turned around and saw Jack enter the garage. He had just helped to unload the last of the boxes and seen Rhys off and now he was sitting on an old desk chair.

Jack smiled and came over to stand beside him. “There was a lot of stuff, I gather.”

“An awful lot; I knew that Nick liked shopping, but I didn’t realise he liked it that much. It took us twenty minutes to get all his books packed!” Ianto laughed softly, but then turned serious. “Jack?”

“Yes?”

Ianto thought for a second before speaking. “I know you wanted to get your research done so we can get some new staff as quickly as possible, but –”

“You want to know if that was the only reason why I didn’t come with you.” This time, Jack’s smile was almost wistful. “No. It wasn’t.” He hesitated and ran his hands inside the pockets of his coat before bringing them up to rest on Ianto’s shoulders. “There were several reasons why I didn’t come with you. One of them was because…I felt that you deserved the chance to say goodbye to Nick properly – something that I wasn’t sure I could do with John. And the others…”

His voice turned reflective. “We were so complicated, him and me; I loved him and hated him in equal measure. I won’t deny that we shared some amazing times, or that he was a good friend and a worthy partner. But he frightened me too. He had too much power…too much for someone so young. He was wild.”

“Do…do you still have feelings for him?”

The question was innocent and there was no hint of jealousy to be found, but it still made Jack feel uncomfortable. He thought long and hard before he finally answered.

“Yes,” he admitted. “I do still have some lingering feelings for John. He was a very important part of my life at one time – like he said, we were partners in every way.” A small laugh escaped him; what had at the time grated on his nerves now seemed easy to smile about. “But what I feel…”

Jack shook his head. He didn’t think it was something that could be put into words easily. He was a man of actions, not a man of words. So, instead, he squeezed Ianto’s shoulder comfortingly, smiling as his young lover turned around and pressed his lips to his chin, showing him that he understood what wasn’t being said.

Ianto slipped his hands into his pockets as he stood up and gazed around the large garage. He could feel Jack’s hands on his shoulders, massaging the knots out comfortingly, even though his grip was a little strong; he offered support and at the same time, he held onto Ianto as if he was the only thing keeping him standing at this present time. The young man felt a sense of apprehension at this – he was deeply worried about what would happen to Jack when he died – but kept it to himself. Now was not the time to mention such things.

As his hands moved around his pocket, his fingers brushed over something solid, but soft. Feeling a slight frown of confusion run over his face, he removed his hand and revealed the small green box he had found on the floor of the bedroom earlier that day. Slowly, he stroked the lid, his fingers tracing the barely perceptible patterns in the fabric.

“What’s that?” Jack’s attention had been caught by the appearance of the new object and he was now leaning over Ianto’s shoulder.

“I don’t know. I found it on the floor just as we were about to leave.” Ianto looked up. “I think it fell off John’s bookshelf. It must have been hidden behind the books – I guess he didn’t want Nick to find it…but I don’t know why.” He turned the box over. “Should I open it?”

Jack thought for a moment, curiosity eventually winning out. “Yes,” he said. “It might be something important.”

Ianto nodded. “Yeah, it might,” he agreed and gently lifted the lid, almost as if he was afraid of what he would find. But when he actually looked, his heart gave an enormous jump and he felt his throat go dry. Slowly, he removed the object from the box and rested it in the palm of his hand.

It was a ring. At first glance, it appeared that it was made from a simple silver metal, but when he turned it in the light, Ianto could see that there were light flickers of colour – greens, purples, and blues – inside the metal, if metal was what it was.

Jack’s eyes widened when he saw it. “Oh my God,” he breathed. “He…it can’t be!” He took the ring in his hand and turned it around, the expression of shock growing more and more pronounced by the second. “But…when did he…?”

“What?” Ianto waited until his lover’s voice had trailed off before he spoke. “What is it, Jack?”

Jack blinked in surprise, almost as if he’d forgotten that Ianto was even there. “This metal is called Iridinite, Ianto,” he said, nodding towards the ring. “It was named for the iridescent colours you can see in it and was first mined in the fifty-fifth century.” He smiled slightly. “No one knew why it looks the way it does, but its beauty and strength meant that it quickly became the most popular metal for custom-made partnership rings.”

Ianto stumbled in shock. “You mean –”

“Yes.” Jack placed the ring back in the box and gently closed the lid. “John was going to ask Nick to marry him.”

***

Next Time: A team meeting in which the remaining members of Torchwood Three review the potential new recruits.

Chapter Text

Upon returning from the garage with Ianto, Jack called the team into the boardroom. His mind was still reeling over his discovery of the ring and the realisation of what it meant, but he also knew that there was still a very big job to be done. He waited for Ianto and the girls to sit down and make themselves comfortable before he started. Then, he took his place at the head of the table, but didn’t actually sit down. Instead, he leaned on the table and looked at what was left of his team.

“Right,” he said, “I realise that it might seem like early days, but we need to get cracking again.” He passed out the pages he’d printed out. “While you were out doing the,” he paused for a second and glanced sideways at Ianto, “last clean up, I was here doing some research.”

Gwen raised an eyebrow at him. “Oh,” she said. “Is that what you’re calling it these days?”

On any other day, they would have laughed at that (and at whatever comment Jack would have made in response). But this time, all she got was a frustrated look from Ianto and she blushed. “Sorry. That was inappropriate.”

“Yes it was, Gwen,” answered Jack. He cleared his throat. “We’ve got an important job to do here; whoever takes the position as Torchwood’s medical officer is going to have big shoes to fill and we need to make sure we choose the right person for the job.”

Andie had already started scanning the pages. “I think we need to interview them and see how they are in pressurized situations before we can even think about recruiting anyone. But, on balance, I would say that Garrett Evans is a good man for the job, since we know that he’s got experience of functioning in these situations from being in the army.”

“I agree.” Ianto looked up. “I think we do need to see them in action. Being involved with something like Torchwood is very different to being involved with the army.” He picked up another one of the pages. “I mean, Dr. Potter clearly has experience with Torchwood, but we’d have to see how she’d cope with the work when it’s this constant.

“Yeah,” agreed Gwen. “And if it doesn’t work out, there’s always Retcon.”

Jack’s response was a small laugh. “I think we’re a bit beyond Retcon now, Gwen. I’d be very surprised if there’s anyone out there who doesn’t know who we are.”

“Especially after the incident with the earth being stolen,” remarked Ianto. “I think you’d be hard put to find anyone around who doesn’t know that something strange is going on after that.”

“Exactly,” agreed Jack. “But my point is that we need someone who can cope in these situations; situations where you don’t know what you’re going to see every day. And I think we need to find someone fast. We waited two months before recruiting Nick and nearly paid the price.”

He rubbed his hand across his face. “I also feel that, as their friends and family, you have a right to know what happened to John and Nick and to know why they left.”

Ianto looked up sharply. His partner’s voice had been quiet and calm, but his eyes were downcast. “Jack, you don’t have to,” he whispered, reaching for his hand. “You don’t have to talk about anything you don’t want to.”

A tiny smile drifted over Jack’s face. “It’s all right,” he said. “I know you want to know and I know you need to know. Nick was your closest friend and your brother.”

Gwen chipped in then. “You don’t have to tell us, Jack,” she said kindly. “I know I’ve pushed things in the past and I know that I still will in the future.” Her eyes drifted to Ianto for a moment, showing Jack’s champion that she meant what she was about to say, before she turned back to her boss. “But this time, it’s going to be different. It’s up to you who you decide to tell, if you decide to tell anyone. I won’t push you. We won’t push you.”

“No,” agreed Andie. “We won’t. It’s your decision. If you want Gwen and I to go out while you talk to Ianto, we will.”

Jack was rendered temporarily speechless. Andie and Ianto hadn’t surprised him much with their choices, but Gwen’s speech had completely blown him out of the water. He couldn’t deny that her determination to get to the bottom of a case, while admirable, could often get exceptionally aggravating. To hear her say that she was prepared to let something go for his sake – as well as admit that she had a problem with letting go – at once shocked and delighted him.

“Thank you,” he breathed out, his voice catching in his throat, “for your consideration. But I think you’ve all got the right to know what happened and I don’t know if I can face saying it twice.”

He straightened up and looked at his team, keeping one hand on Ianto’s elbow. “When John and I were at the Time Agency, there were stories, myths, if you will. Fragments of some ancient history, from before what would be considered ancient today.”

He smiled slightly at the memories of hearing those wonderful stories for the first time. “Some were very obviously myths and no one believed them, but there were others that were believed by several of us. Some of them were about the Rift.”

Gwen’s eyes grew wider. “You mean the Rift survives to your time?”

“Yes. It’s legendary by my time. It found its way into several stories, many of which were not taken too seriously. But there were some that were. One in particular was treated with the utmost respect – treated like a prophecy.”

Now, it was Ianto’s turn to react. “A prophecy…about –”

“No,” answered Jack, knowing what his lover was thinking. “It’s nothing to do with our two missing years. Well, not directly,” he amended. He wasn’t going to tell everyone about what had happened then. Telling Ianto had been hard enough.

“Basically, the story was that a Time Agent would leave one day after being greatly wronged and travel through time and space, eventually ending up thousands of years out of his time after facing several trials and almost certain death.”

Andie’s eyes widened. “You think –”

Jack nodded. “I don’t think, Andie. I’m certain it meant me. But it also said that there would be another wronged one who would follow at the same time and search for his partner, wandering through centuries, maybe even millennia, before finally finding him –”

“Until they were ripped apart again,” finished Ianto.

Jack stared at him. “How did you know that?”

“I didn’t,” Ianto deadpanned. “But that’s always the way it goes.”

Gwen sat up. “So you think that the prophecy referred to –”

“I don’t think there’s anyone else it could refer to,” said Jack. “The Time Agency was an organisation that prided itself on its top level security. There were only two Agents who managed to leave successfully.”

“You and John!” gasped Andie.

“Yes. Anyway, it was said that the follower would find his partner eventually, but they would be separated when…” but he couldn’t carry on.

Ianto made the connection immediately. “John left!”

“Yes, he did. But there’s more to it than that.” Jack rubbed his head. “John didn’t just leave thoughtlessly. He was called – called to fulfil his part of the prophecy.”

He waved away any questions. “The prophecy said that when he was called, he would be lost, sacrificed…for the greater good.” The last four words were barely a whisper.

“Like Jasmine with the faeries,” whispered Ianto. “But what’s that got to do with the Rift?”

Jack smiled sadly. “Everything,” he said. “By doing what he did, John has proved that he truly has changed. He’s done something that will benefit others rather than benefiting himself.”

“What?” But Ianto suspected that he knew. And sure enough –

“He’s started to close the Rift.” Jack rubbed his face again. “And Nick went with him.” He did his part to protect the future so that his children, and the children of the earth, will be safe. The thought made him laugh slightly, but his eyes were clouding over.

Nobody moved for several minutes; it seemed as if Jack’s story had shocked everyone into silence. Then, without making even a hint of noise, Ianto stood up and laid his hand on Jack’s back before resting his head on his shoulder and smiling up at him. He could relate only too well to what Jack was feeling; he too had lost someone he cared for deeply to a greater cause.

Gwen followed a moment later, standing close to Jack on his other side, but this time she wasn’t touching him. She was letting him know that she was there for him, but also recognising that this was a time for her to step back a little.

A second later, Andie also stood up. Like Gwen, she kept a degree of distance from the two men, but she stood beside Ianto, smiling gently when he nodded to her.

Jack couldn’t help but smile back. His heart swelled to see his team banding together again and he was instantly brought back to the words he had spoken after the deaths of Owen and Tosh.

“Now, we carry on.” He rested his head on top of Ianto’s. “We keep doing what we do.”

~*~

Two hours later…

Ianto found Jack sitting on the roof of the Millennium Centre, apparently smiling at the city below him. However, as he drew closer, he realised that his partner was holding the green box with John’s ring inside it and turning it around in his hands. Slowly, he moved towards him and sat down beside him, letting their shoulders touch gently.

“If you’d told me two years ago that John Hart would have a partnership ring and would be planning to propose to someone, I would have said you were out of your mind,” remarked Jack with a small laugh.

“If you’d told me six months ago that John Hart would be dating my cousin and planning to propose to him, I would have had you sectioned under the Mental Health Act,” replied Ianto with a perfectly straight face. “I guess it just shows you that people can surprise you.”

“Yeah, it does.” Jack nodded. “It really does.” He started playing with the box again.

Ianto indicated it. “What will you do with the ring?”

Jack shrugged. “Well, I can’t get rid of it. This metal hasn’t been seen before; people would want to know what it was and where it came from.” He spoke calmly, but the way he was stroking the box told a different story.

Carefully, Ianto closed the box, eased it out of Jack’s hands and into the pocket of his greatcoat. “Then don’t get rid of it.” He didn’t add that he also didn’t want to get rid of it. Even though he knew that John had never had the chance to give it to Nick – and probably never would – just knowing it was there would be like having a still having a part of his cousin there.

The moment was broken, however, by a beeping sound coming from the pocket of Jack’s waistcoat. Sighing, the older man drew out the portable Rift monitor he’d been carrying around.

“Where are we going?” asked Ianto, standing up as he watched Jack shift from the contemplative lover to the alert Captain.

“Maindy Barracks,” answered Jack, hauling himself upright. “We’re picking up massive Rift activity there.” He scanned the device in his hand. “Whatever’s there is large, deadly…and definitely not human.” He thumped his earpiece. “Gwen, Andie, we’ve –”

“We know.” Gwen’s voice came over the comms. “I’m on my way. Andie’s volunteered to stay and man the Hub. Where are you?”

“On the roof of the Millennium Centre with Ianto,” answered Jack.

“I’ll pick you up outside there.”

***

Next Time: Our heroes spring into action – but what will they find? 

Chapter Text

When the team pulled up to the old barracks, they could instantly tell that something was very wrong. For one thing, the ground was covered in a strange silvery substance, almost like water, but at the same time too solid. For another thing, what little space there was outside the living quarters was packed out with army vehicles from which scores of soldiers were pouring, hardly any of them dressed in their uniforms, but most of them armed, and quite clearly very hastily. And finally, the small house was filled by a bright blue light.

Jack’s eyes widened as he jumped out of the car, his gun loaded. “It can’t be!” He seemed to be saying that an awful lot recently. But this time, he was truly shocked. Cautiously, he moved up to the barracks, but before he could get too close, he was stopped by a tall and muscular young man with short and spiky dark hair and a stern expression. He placed his hand firmly on Jack’s chest and started trying to manoeuvre him away.

However, Jack was not having any of that. Calmly, he dislodged the man’s hand. “As much as I wouldn’t usually object to having a handsome young officer lay his hands on me, I’m here on official business.” He flashed his Torchwood identification. “The name’s Captain Jack Harkness.”

But the man wasn’t impressed. In fact, he looked exceptionally annoyed. “And my name’s Matt Davies,” he said. “And I’m telling you now that if you think you can flash the Torchwood card and you’ll automatically have unrestricted access wherever you go, you’re wrong!” He shook his head and started towards the house once the last of the travelling soldiers had already gone in.

Jack growled and pinned him to one of the vehicles, his eyes blazing. “Now, you listen to me, and you listen hard,” he hissed. “Your men are in that house. Listen to them.” He directed the young man’s attention to the screams coming from inside. “Do they sound like they know what they’re up against?” He waited for the look of fear to enter the officer’s eyes. “If you’d just let me go in there straight away, that could have been avoided; I know what it is they’re up against.”

The young man’s pupils dilated as he took in the truth of what the other man was saying. “Okay,” he squeaked. “Go on; if you’re so sure you know what you’re doing.”

Jack moved away. “Thank you. Gwen!” The woman came running up, Ianto close behind her. “Gwen, I want you to stay with this young man; find out what, if anything, he was told.”

He dug his mobile out of his pocket and flipped through to the address book before handing it to Ianto. “I need you to dial that number,” he said, pointing at one of them. “It’s the number for a good friend of mine. Tell him to be ready.” He rubbed his head. “He’s going to need to be."

Ianto didn’t argue; he simply nodded and rushed to a quiet corner to make the call. However, Gwen turned to look at her leader. “Jack, what’s going on?” she asked.

Jack didn’t answer her question, just told her to make sure no one else entered the house, and then left her alone with Matt. He had a terrible feeling he knew exactly what was going on. And sure enough, when he stepped into the barrack house, it took him less than a moment to recognise the shapes of the once beautiful aliens. Swallowing, he bent down and examined the body, writhing with pain now that it had been shot full of bullets. He felt a surge of anger for what the men had done to the poor creature, but, as he looked around at the bodies strewn across the floor, he realised that there had been no other choice. This had not been a case of a gang of psychopaths abusing a hapless alien.

Sighing, he closed his eyes and drew his Webley, shooting the struggling being in the fins, stroking its head as it died. A moment later, he started at the sound of Gwen’s voice in his ear, asking him if he was all right.

“I’m fine, Gwen,” he said as he shut the alien’s eyes and stood up. “Is everyone okay out there?”

“Everyone’s fine; Jack, Matt just told me his partner’s in that house; one of the army doctors.” She paused. “His partner’s name is Garrett Evans.”

Jack froze as he recognised the name. “You mean –”

“Yes, Jack. I mean the doctor we’re considering recruiting.” Gwen’s voice crackled slightly. “Matt’s worried about him,” she added, stating the obvious.

“I’m sure he is.” Jack knew he would be climbing the walls if it had been Ianto. “Listen, I’ve asked Ianto to call a contact of mine from St. David’s – the hospital, not the hotel.” He heard her chuckle slightly. “His name is Dan Olsten.”

“Okay.” Gwen sounded relieved.

“Jack, the ambulance’s here,” Ianto’s voice cut in. “Dan’s arrived.”

“Good,” said Jack. “Tell him to come in; the coast’s clear. Oh, and for the record, I know he looks like him, but don’t compare Dan to that doctor from Twilight; he really doesn’t like that.”

He didn’t wait for a response, but instantly ended the transmission and stood up. “Is there anyone alive in here?” he called out. “Can anyone hear me?”

“Over here!” The response was muffled, but Jack still caught it. He rushed towards the back of the room and around to a corner where a short man with messy black hair and glasses was surrounded by eight others, many of them badly wounded.

Jack didn’t need to ask who the man was. “Dr. Evans?” When that didn’t gain a response, he tried again. “Are you Garrett Evans?”

The young army doctor looked up, his face pale but he looked unhurt. “Who’s asking?” His Welsh accent thickened with the suspicion in his tone, but then he caught sight of the familiar coat and sighed. “No, wait; don’t worry – it’s Captain Jack Harkness, isn’t it?”

“I see my reputation precedes me.” Jack smirked and then bent down to look at the other men. “I take it these are the only survivors?”

Garrett still looked distrustful, but he seemed to realise that Jack was there to help. “Yeah. Those,” he gestured at the alien corpses, “things…whatever they are – they just attacked.” He gently steadied a young man who was starting to collapse and placed a rolled up blanket – presumably rescued from one of the rooms – under his head as he carried on talking. “There were six of us staying in the barrack house; we’d been stationed here for a training exercise. We were just sitting down and having a few drinks when this really bright light just…it just seemed to appear. Next thing we knew, those things were attacking.”

Jack nodded. Garrett was clearly shocked by what had happened, but he had earned himself some brownie points with his calmness as he described the events, as well as his ability to do so while looking after his injured comrades. He knew that the full extent of what had happened wouldn’t truly hit until later, but for now he was displaying a level of maturity that might have seemed out of place on someone so young.

“Captain Harkness?” Jack jumped and turned round when he heard the soft Mancunian accent behind him. He smiled weakly at the blonde man who was stood in the doorway, an expression of confusion on his face.

“Hi, Dan,” he said quietly, beckoning him over. “Thanks for coming.” He wanted to ask the other man to just call him Jack, but that would be a waste of time. It always was.

Garrett looked up. “Who’s he?” he asked, his guarded expression returning.

“This is a friend of mine, Dan Olsten,” answered Jack. “He works in the Accident and Emergency department at St. David’s Hospital. I guess you could say he’s my secret agent,” he added with a small chuckle.

Dan rolled his eyes slightly. “It’s Dr. Evans, isn’t it?” he asked and then without waiting for an answer ploughed straight in. “Are you the only survivors?”

Garrett nodded. “Those things were vicious!” He looked at Jack, his eyes filled with anger and confusion. “You know what they were, don’t you?”

Jack nodded. “Yeah, I know what they are, but I also know that they’re all dead.” He couldn’t keep the bitterness out of his voice when he said that. Garrett flinched slightly.

Dan took charge again. “Right, there’s an ambulance outside,” he said and started to move around to the injured men. “You’ve done a very good job here, Dr. Evans, but I still feel that they should have some time in hospital, just to be on the safe side”

“Hold on!” interrupted Garrett. “Who do you think you are, Carlisle Cullen? Well, you may look like him, but you’re not in charge here, Dr. Olsten!” He applied a fresh bandage to a cut on a young woman’s arm. “I’m the official doctor for now and I’ll be –”

“Garrett,” interrupted Jack, his voice quiet but firm. “You’ve done a wonderful job here, but you’re tired out. I can see it just from looking at you. Dan can take over from here and finish things off. You get yourself home.”

He paused. “Besides – Matt’s outside and he’s worried about you. Don’t you think you should go and let him know that you haven’t been savaged to death by a bunch of aliens?”

Instantly, Garrett stood up. “Matt’s outside? Is he okay?” But he was halfway out of the house before he’d finished the sentence. Jack stood up and watched him get swept into the arms of the man who Gwen had been talking to a few minutes earlier.

“Your powers of persuasion are just the same as ever,” remarked Dan.

“Oh, really?” Jack allowed his amusement to show on his face.

“Yep.” Dan stood up as well. “Still as subtle as a brick.”

“Hey, this time it actually worked!” exclaimed Jack indignantly.

“Keep telling yourself that, Jack.” Ianto had come in unnoticed. He smiled. “Hi, Dan.”

“Hi, Ianto.” Dan smiled back at him. “I’ll be right back with the stretcher,” he called out from halfway across the room.

Ianto looked around the room at the alien corpses. He stroked the smooth skin gently. “What are they?” he whispered. “They seem so…beautiful.”

Jack, who had been lost in thought about how well Ianto and Dan seemed to know each other, turned and knelt beside him. “It’s a dalphonic rhapsadon,” he said quietly. “Space dolphin,” he clarified. “There’s a planet out there, galaxies away, that’s almost entirely made up of small islands. The dolphins live there in their millions.” He stroked the smooth velvet-like nose of one of them. “People keep them as pets, sometimes; just swimming through the sea and chuckling. You should see them, Ianto – they’re so beautiful…so peaceful.” He sighed quietly, lost in the images of the beautiful place and these amazing animals leaping through the water like silver rays flying through the sky. He remembered making friends with one of them, the way she’d let him stroke her nose and talk to him all day and all night. It had been one of the most incredible and heart-warming experiences of his life.

Ianto, sensing that his partner was lost in thought, waited for a few moments before speaking. “What happened to these ones?” he ventured cautiously.

Jack sighed. “Something’s turned them rabid,” he whispered. “But until we get Andie to do an autopsy on the corpse, I can’t say what it is for certain.”

“But you have a hunch?”

“I have a hunch, but I could be wrong.” Jack stroked the dolphin’s nose again and sighed. “What happened to you?” he whispered.

“Do you want some time alone with them?” Ianto’s tone was light, but the gentle hand he placed on Jack’s leg was a measure of his true intentions.

Jack smiled weakly. “You go,” he said. “Go and make sure everyone’s…okay, you know?” Ianto nodded and started to leave. “Oh – but tell Matt and Garrett they can come with us. I’ve got a little proposition for them.”

~*~

Back at the Hub…

“You’re going to hire them straight away?” asked Ianto, looking stunned.

“Trial period,” answered Jack. He looked down at Matt and Garrett who were looking around the Hub with a mixture of curiosity and apprehension on their faces. “Garrett handled himself extremely well earlier when I spoke to him. He was calm and efficient without being too hasty. We could use someone like that. As for Matt – quite aside from me not thinking that he’ll be leaving Garrett’s side in a hurry – we could really use a weapons trainer.” Especially with how quickly we seem to be going through employees, he mentally added.

“You’re right,” agreed Gwen. “However, I was also thinking about something Rhys said the other day.” She paused for a moment as Jack and Ianto looked at her curiously. “He suggested that, with all the trouble we get ourselves into…we should have more than one doctor.”

To her surprise, Jack nodded. “I’ve actually been thinking the same thing. Ever since I did that profiling job, I’ve been thinking that we need another doctor on hand. I mean, we’ll still have Dan as a liaison at the hospital, but it would make sense to have someone else on hand.” He paused to think for a moment as he looked over the remaining two candidates before coming to a decision. “Gwen, can you talk to our boys downstairs while I call Martha and ask her to send us a young blonde New Zealander down here?” He chuckled.

Ianto smiled at Jack as Gwen left. “I take it that means Declan?”

Jack nodded. “What can I say? I like the look of him. Besides,” he added, a small and slightly sad smile crossing his face as he glanced down to where Andie was elbow-deep in the dolphin’s corpse. “It can’t hurt to have another blonde.”

Ianto chuckled at the small reference to one of John’s earliest comments. “No, I guess it can’t,” he admitted. “Speaking of blondes – I didn’t realise Dan was our liaison officer. Well, I didn’t even realise we had a liaison officer.”

Jack shrugged. “I’m the boss and he’s a contact,” he said simply. “I didn’t think that you kids would need to know, unless something really bad happened.” He filed some papers away. “What about you? How do you know Dan?”

Ianto bit his lip. “He’s an old friend of Nick’s. They go back.”

Jack looked up. “Go back?” he repeated. “You mean…they go back in the same way that –”

“Yep.” Ianto nodded. “They go back in the same way that you and John go back.” He chuckled at the dumbfounded look on Jack’s face. “What?”

“Nothing,” stammered Jack. “It’s just…I always thought John was Nick’s first male partner. And that Alison was his first partner.”

Ianto shook his head. “No. Dan and Nick were together before all that. You know Nick went to university a year early, because he was pushed ahead a year in school?” Jack nodded. “Well, he and Dan were in the same hall of residence in their first year. They were the only two medical students on their floor and they became friends very quickly. From what Nick’s told me, they…dabbled for about three months before things got really serious.” He sighed. “Altogether, I think they were together for nearly two years before things went wrong.”

Jack looked curious. “It didn’t work out?”

“Well, given that Nick ended up married just over a year later, I’d say it didn’t,” replied Ianto dryly. “Apparently, one of the more…old-fashioned lecturers warned them that they could get blacklisted if they were caught together. I don’t know exactly what was said, but it scared them both enough to end it.”

“Wow.”

“I know.” Ianto sighed quietly. “They did stay friends, though.”

~*~

Back at St. David’s Hospital, Dan had finished the clean-up from the earlier events at the barracks and was sitting in his office. He had shut the door, apparently because he needed to do some paperwork, but really it was simply because he wanted to be alone for a while. He needed some time to think.

He opened a drawer in the bottom of his desk and removed a dark green photo album. The fabric was covered in dust, but he could still trace the letters he had embossed into it.

“The happiest days of my life,” he whispered as he turned to the first page and smiled sadly at the picture of himself as a bright young student wrapped in the arms of another man with beautiful hazel eyes and bright auburn hair blowing around him like flames. Swallowing, he turned the page and continued to look at the pictures, chuckling occasionally at the notes he had added at the bottom of each page. “They really were, Nicky,” he whispered. “They really were.”

But even as he smiled, Dan felt the hole in his heart start to expand painfully until he almost couldn’t breathe. Those two years had been perfect, the most perfect years he could remember.

From the first day they had met to the day that they had walked away from each other, he couldn’t remember ever feeling so cherished, so…complete, he finally realised.

Another soft laugh escaped him, only this time it sounded like a sob as he remembered the day that they had walked away from each other. They had spent one last night together, a night filled with tender kisses, soft strokes and silent tears. Even though they had promised to be together again one day, it hadn’t stopped Dan’s world from shattering beneath his feet as Nick’s hand had slipped out of his own.

“Oh, Nicky,” Dan whispered, wiping away a few tears. “I don’t know what’s brought this all up, but every day, I wish we hadn’t walked away from each other. I know we were young, but we shouldn’t have done that. It was the biggest mistake of my life. I lost you…and when I did that I lost the only person I had ever loved.”

He swallowed hard and shut the album, unable to look at the picture of them together on their last night for a moment longer. He hadn’t just lost the man he had loved then…

He had lost the man he would always love.

***

Next Time: Jack has made steps towards a new team, but he still needs a new technological officer. He knows who he has in mind, but how will they react?

Chapter Text


Three days later…

Jack rolled over in bed and gazed upon the sleeping form of his lover. Ianto looked so restful and childlike in his sleep and Jack loved that he was the only one who got to see that side of him. He loved that he could in the knowledge that Ianto felt comfortable enough to let his guard down in front of him; that he didn’t care what he looked like when he slept beside him. That Ianto would allow himself to curl up in the sheets and snuggle into the pillows as he murmured like a kitten was something that reminded Jack what he was fighting for. His young lover had grown up so fast, too fast even; without these moments, it was all too easy to forget that he was just a young man who should be going out and enjoying himself at night.

Often, Jack had to admit that he wondered if he was doing what was right for Ianto. He knew that he should be giving him the chance to get out and do what young people did these days. People often said that if you truly loved someone, you should let them go and give them the chance to be happy, even if that happiness didn’t necessarily involve them being with you.

“There’s just one small problem,” he murmured as he traced his finger down Ianto’s spine. “I love you too much to let you go.”

“If you think that’s the only problem, you’ve got another think coming,” replied a sleepy voice from somewhere in the pillows. “You’ve also got to deal with the idea that I might not actually want to leave you.”

Jack blinked. “Did I say all of that out loud?”

“No, just the part about loving me too much to let me go,” replied Ianto, propping himself up onto his elbows. “And let me tell you now, I love you too much to let you let me go.” He smiled and then blinked several times. “Did that make sense?”

“Yeah,” Jack nodded and gently stroked Ianto’s tousled hair. “Yeah, it did…probably a little too much sense,” he admitted. “Ianto –” but he was cut off when the younger man’s lips met his in a gentle but firm kiss, silencing any further comments he might have made.

Ianto chuckled and smiled as he got out of bed and pulled some clean clothes on. “You think too much, Jack Harkness,” he said softly as he climbed up the ladder. “I might have to start putting you on decaffeinated coffee if you keep it up.” He started tinkering with the coffee machine as Jack followed him out of the hole pulling his shirt on. “So, what time are we expecting Matt and Garrett to arrive?”

“They should be here in half an hour,” answered Jack with a cursory glance at his watch. “That should give us a few hours to test them before Declan arrives at half one.”

“Are you going to test him as well, if he accepts the job?”

“Of course I am. But first I want to interview him, make sure he’s not rushing into this rashly. He’s also been through a lot and I don’t want to break him any more than he may already be.”

“You won’t,” Ianto assured him. “Jack, you’ve healed so many people. You healed Owen and Tosh and me. You saved John from himself. And you brought Nick back from a point where even I wasn’t sure whether he’d come back.” He linked his fingers with Jack’s. “And I know it will take time, but I know that you can help Garrett as well.”

Jack looked at him and smiled. “Yeah, you’re right. And that’s why I want Garrett here. It’s not just because I was so impressed by the way he handled himself the other day, or really even because I know he’s a good doctor.”

Ianto blinked. “How do you know that?”

“What, do you think you’re the only one who can hack into a computer?” asked Jack, laughing. “After what happened the other day, I did some more research and…well, let’s just say I’ve now read some pretty glowing praise of young Dr. Evans.” He chuckled again as Ianto rolled his eyes slightly. “But you’re right. We can help him. And that’s why I want him here.”

~*~

“Okay, you two,” Jack clapped his hands as he surveyed the two new recruits. “I realise that this may seem like an unorthodox request on some level, given that you’ve both been with the army, but I want to be able to test your capabilities when you find yourselves in a pressurized situation. That’s why I called you both in early.” He clapped his hands. “So, I’m going to be testing each of you separately and then we’re all going to try something together. Garrett, you’re going to go first. Do nothing until you hear me give the order. Matt, Ianto, both of you come with me.”

Garrett nodded, trying not to watch the tall man lead his partner away. Just before he left, Matt turned around and gave him a smile that was probably meant to be reassuring. The smile said ‘It’s just a test, Garry. Every military organisation has them, you know that. And who knows, it might well save your life.’

The thought gave him no reassurance at all. Somehow, he doubted that whatever Captain Jack Harkness would come up with would be nothing like anything he had encountered in the army.

Somewhere, a door slammed shut, the sound filtering through into the small room, sounding too much like the sealing of a morgue door for his liking. He scowled as he felt a shudder rippling through him; now was not the time to panic. He took a deep breath and gathered together the skills that he had learned during his military training.

“Think logically,” he muttered to himself as he paced around the room. As Spock-like as it sounded, it was important. Not keeping a clear head could cost someone their life; he’d seen it happen before. Everyone who had ever been involved had, even if they weren’t on the front line.

Suddenly, the door clicked open and Jack arrived. He looked considerably worse for wear; his clothes were ripped and bloodstained and his face and hair were filthy. He had also apparently lost his coat, save for what appeared to be a ripped sleeve which he was currently pressing against a gash on his forehead.

He shook his head as Garrett went over to help. “There are others who have greater need of your assistance, Doctor,” he said. “You must come with me, immediately.”

Without questioning, Garrett nodded and followed the older man. However, as soon as he stepped outside the door, he was hit by a wave of sound that almost caused him to freeze – gunshots, screams and explosions. All around him, he could see piles of sandbags stacked up on top of one another, some of them stained with blood. He could feel earth underneath his feet and a harsh breeze on his face, slapping his hair against his cheeks.

As they walked on, Garrett realised that not all of the bloodstained sandbags were what they appeared to be. As something exploded in flames, he saw the corpses of three soldiers slumped over the wall of bags, their uniform soaked in blood and what he could see of their skin was covered in lumps of congealed dirt.

Jack’s voice, barking at him to hurry, brought him abruptly back to the moment and he raced after him, weaving through the perilous terrain until the other man stopped. He looked around – and froze at the sight in front of him.

He had seen people fighting to the death before. He knew that it would happen again and there would be little or nothing he could do about it. But even then, he wasn’t prepared to see Matt, his hands slippery with blood and his face almost lost under a mass of cuts, weakly firing at an unknown enemy. His right leg was stuck out at a strange angle and his clothes had been almost entirely ripped away, showing that his skin was ravaged by burn marks. Swallowing, Garrett began to go to him, but was distracted by a moan behind him and turned around.

Ianto was lying on a makeshift bed, almost unrecognisable from the sea of blood covering him. In fact, had it not been for the small quirk of his lip, Garrett would never have known that it was him. Jack was sat at his side, ripping up pieces of cloth and attempt to stem the flow of a gunshot wound to the younger man’s side. Also, the doctor could see at a glance that Ianto’s muscles were unresponsive and that, like Matt, he had suffered some serious burns. Instantly, he recognised some of the symptoms of an electric shock.

“Doctor!” shouted Jack. “This man needs your help! You were the only doctor who could be found quickly enough for there to be a chance to save him!”

Garrett nodded and started towards the bed. But he had barely gone a few steps when a cough distracted him and he turned to see Matt gasping in pain. Clearly, some of his ribs were broken and there might even be some internal damage. But Ianto could die if he wasn’t treated instantly…but Matt was his partner…his rock…but then…

Another choked gasp made the young doctor’s mind up; as bad as things looked on the front line, Matt was still conscious and fighting, albeit weakly, but Ianto was incapacitated. Wrenching his gaze away from his partner, Garrett rushed over and found a medical kit behind the tent and started dressing and treating the wounds as he tested his pulse and breathing at the same time. Once he had barked out orders to Jack to inform him if anything changed, he stole a weapon from one of the dead men and joined Matt in firing at the enemy.

At that moment, everything fell silent. The lights went down, sending the area into pitch darkness. Garrett yelped in shock and readied his weapon again, but before he could move another muscle, the lights came back up again. He looked around and blinked in surprise.

The war zone had completely vanished. Instead, Garrett was standing in a large room, rather like an old ballet studio. He looked around, but there were no sandbags and no bodies in sight. There wasn’t even a speck of blood on the floor.

Jack looked at him. “Illusions, Garrett,” he said. “That’s all it was; just a bunch of illusions.” He smiled at Matt and Ianto who were sat beside him and, Garrett realised, made up with very realistic wounds. Now, however, Ianto was wiping the congealed ‘blood’ off Matt’s skin. “Pretty convincing, huh?” finished Jack as he wiped away his own make-up.

“How the hell did you do it?!” spluttered Garrett.

“Little trick an old friend of mine taught me,” answered Jack with that maddening smugness. “I’d tell you, but I really don’t think you want to know.”

“There’s no ‘think’ about it,” piped up Ianto. “You really don’t want to know.” He stretched and stood up, his posture showing that he was ready to get back to business.

Matt looked at him. “So, it’s my turn now, is it?” He clapped his hands. “Can’t wait to see what kind of craziness you’ve got in store for me.” A grin spread over his face and he heard Garrett frantically cover a chuckle with a small cough beside him.

“Yep, it is.” Jack nodded. He checked his watch again. “There are just a few things I need to fine-tune first, make sure everything’s in perfect working order. If you’ll just give us ten minutes, Ianto and I can do our last minute checks and then we’ll call you through.” He tipped Matt a small wink and swept out of the room, Ianto by his side.

Matt let out a low whistle. “Well, I guess our new boss really has seen a lot,” he mused. “And there was me thinking the coat was just for show.”

Garrett shook his head. “It takes more than a just a fancy coat to make it as a Captain,” he said. “You and I both know that.”

Matt blinked in surprise. “Well, yeah,” he admitted. “But I saw the look in his eyes earlier. He knew none of what just happened was real, Garry.” Slowly, he rested a hand on Garrett’s back. “But he was just as shaken up by it all as you were – possibly even more so.”

“How do you know that?” Garrett turned round and stared at his partner.

“It’s the eyes, Garrett,” said Matt quietly. “It’s all in his eyes.”

Before Garrett could respond, Jack stuck his head around the door and called for him to follow him. Matt raised an eyebrow as he watched his lover leave and shut the door behind him. Shrugging, he sat himself down on the floor to wait for his call.

He didn’t have to wait long. Within a few minutes, the door opened and Jack’s black-haired team mate – Gwen, he reminded himself – led him outside again. She said nothing, but left him a few moments later inside a dark room alone.

As soon as she shut the door, however, a faint light began to filter in from somewhere. It eventually stopped and landed on what Matt quickly realised was a standard firearm. Cautiously, after ascertaining that it wasn’t a trap, he picked it up and readied it. The light flickered, flashing on and off, as if there was something sparking the fuse. Quickly, and trying not to panic, Matt made his way across the room to where another door was half-open. He stepped through it – and choked back a cry of horror.

The room looked worse than a morgue; it looked like a slaughterhouse. Bodies were strewn over the floor and the metal table by the wall. But the worst part was the sight of Garrett and Ianto, bound and chained to the wall, dressed in rags and covered in lashes. Ianto was curled up in a ball and shaking, while Garrett just looked blank and lost. And there, stood over them, his gun pointed at Garrett’s head, was Jack, his expression cold and calculating.

“So,” he drawled, “you found me.” His mouth twisted into an unpleasant sneer.

“Let them go!” demanded Matt, raising the gun. Any thoughts that this was just a test had long since vanished from his mind. “Let them go…or I’ll kill you!”

Jack laughed coldly. “You wouldn’t. You don’t have the guts.” The sneer became more pronounced. “And now…here I have you, powerless and shaking in fear. My God, the army must really be slipping if you’re anything to go by. No matter; it just makes things easier for me.” The light flickered overhead again. “Now,” Jack continued, “we can do this the easy way. Or,” and with a click, he released the safety catch on his gun, “we can do it the hard way.”

But Matt didn’t hear the end of the sentence. The moment that small ‘click’ had sounded, he knew what he had to do. Not even pausing to close his eyes, he slammed his finger down on the trigger and pulled. He didn’t even have to look up to know that the bullet had hit its mark; the sound of the tall man falling had seen to that. Breathing heavily, he put the gun on the floor and moved over to check Jack’s pulse, closing his eyes slightly when he didn’t feel one.

Suddenly, the door behind him crashed open and he instantly grabbed the gun, getting ready to fire. His jaw dropped in astonishment when he saw Ianto and Garrett in the doorway. Ianto rushed over to Jack and gently cradled him in his arms, while Garrett stood where he was, a look of shock on his face.

“You…you killed him,” he whispered, staring at his partner as if he’d never seen him before.

“I…” stammered Matt, “but…how…” He glanced around wildly at the corner where he had seen his lover…but there was no one there, except Jack who was sprawled out dead on the floor. “But…how?” he stammered. “I saw –”

“It wasn’t what it looked like,” Ianto explained. “Jack did something similar to what he did with Garrett; he created an illusion to make you see what you saw. Garrett and I were watching on the CCTV upstairs. We were never here.”

“Matt,” Garrett whispered, cautiously touching the other man’s arm. “Jack was the only person who was actually here.”

“No,” Matt whispered, feeling sick. But before he could say anything else, both he and Garrett were shocked out of their wits when Jack let out a loud gasp and sat bolt upright.

Ianto held him and cradled him, whispering soft words until his lover had relaxed. “Welcome back, Jack,” he said with a small chuckle. “And I think you’ve got a bit of explaining to do.”

“But you were dead!” squeaked Garrett. “Matt shot you…I’m sure he did!”

Jack shrugged. “Takes more than a gunshot to stop me,” he said. “In fact, I’m not sure there’s actually anything that can stop me, not permanently at least.”

“You mean…” Matt’s voice trailed off.

Jack nodded. “I can’t stay dead.” He rubbed his head. “I can get monster headaches, though.”

“Sorry,” said Matt contritely. “I just…what you did…it looked so real.”

“I know,” said Jack. “And you did well. No soldier should ever abandon his men – or women – when there’s a possible way out.”

Gwen poked her head into the room at that point. “Jack, Declan’s just arrived. He’s waiting in the Tourist Office.”

“Thanks, Gwen.” Jack stood up and stretched. “Ianto, would you care to work us some coffee magic?” he asked with a grin.

“It would be my pleasure,” replied Ianto, jogging after his partner.

Matt sighed. “I think this is going to be pretty eventful.”

“I’m inclined to agree,” replied Garrett.

~*~

Jack’s first impression of the man waiting in the tourist office was of a raw and young cricketer; a pace bowler, probably. He was tall and skinny with a wild mass of blonde hair and large blue eyes that seemed to be trying to take in everything at once. He took a deep breath and cleared his throat. “Dr. Hamilton, I presume?”

To his credit, the man didn’t flinch. Instead, his face broke into a wide grin and he leapt off the chair and ran to shake Jack’s hand. “That’s me, mate!” he affirmed with a chuckle. “Declan Hamilton – doctor and part-time fast bowler at your service!”

Jack blinked in surprise. “Captain Jack Harkness,” he eventually managed to say. The young man’s exuberant introduction had almost taken his breath away. “I hope your journey here was all right.”

“It was amazing!” Declan laughed again. “I’m telling you, I’ve never seen so many sheep in my life – and that’s coming from a country where it’s said there are more sheep than people!”

“Well, the Welsh do have a certain love of lamb,” replied Jack, finding himself chuckling; Declan’s cheerfulness was catching on. That could only be a good thing. “Come with me; I’ll introduce you to the rest of the team.”

They made their way back down to the Hub and Jack smiled as he saw Declan’s eyes widen even more as he took in his surroundings. He openly chuckled as he watched Gwen blush as the blonde man kissed her hand and winked at her. “Okay, Gwen will show you around and take you through the protocols of working here,” he said. “Ianto, will you take your coffee with me in my office? There’s something I’d like to discuss with you.”

“Of course,” replied Ianto. He smiled at Declan, who was reducing Gwen to a mass of giggles with a series of jokes that he seemed to pull straight out of his head, and followed his partner.

“So,” Jack said once he’d closed the door. “What do you think of our soon-to-be resident Kiwi?”

“I like him,” Ianto said honestly. “We’d need to see his capabilities as a doctor and as a fighter, but I think he could be good for this place. He’ll stop too much doom and gloom settling in. And I can see you like him too.” He sipped his coffee thoughtfully. “But that wasn’t really why you wanted to talk to me, was it?”

“No,” answered Jack. He looked down at the others going about their work. "The team is really beginning to come together,” he remarked and then paused. "Well, almost."

Ianto nodded. “I agree.” He waited to see where this was going.

“But,” continued Jack slowly, “we still need someone with the skills to fill in on the technical side. Someone who’s smart and knows this place and the procedures like the back of their hand – and someone who’s,” he paused and drew out the last word, looking intently at Ianto, “innovative.”

Ianto stared at him for a long moment, his brain quickly piecing it all together. “Me?” he gasped.

“I can’t think of anyone better suited to it,” answered Jack. “You underestimate yourself Ianto, but the fact is, you have the skills that are so beneficial to this job. I really believe you’d be an –”

“Yes.”

Jack blinked. “I beg your pardon?”

Ianto smiled. “I said yes. I can’t say I was expecting it, but if you think I can do it –”

“I don’t think you can do it, Ianto,” interrupted Jack. “I know you can do it.” He reached out and touched Ianto’s hand. “I believe in you.”

Ianto blushed with pride. “Thank you,” he whispered. He checked his watch. “Damn, I was supposed to get to St. David’s so I could give Dan the results of Andie’s toxicology report. One of the survivors from the barracks started exhibiting strange symptoms and he wondered if there might have been poison involved.” He jumped up and gave Jack a quick kiss. “I won’t be long.”

As the door to his office closed, Jack leaned back and sighed. He hadn’t been lying when he said that he believed in Ianto and that he knew that he could do the job he’d asked him to do. However, he knew that he would have been lying if he said that was his only motive.

~*~

“Thanks, Ianto,” Dan said when his friend handed him the reports. “The patient in question is having blood taken and other tests run on him now.”

“Have there been any other cases like that?”

“None that I’ve been made aware of, which makes this case all the more worrying.” Dan chewed the end of his pen, looking troubled. “We’ve got the man quarantined for now.”

“We’ll get to the bottom of this,” promised Ianto.

Dan nodded, still chewing his pen for a while. “So, tell me, how’s Nick doing? I heard that he went to work with you lot at Torchwood. How’s he finding it?”

Ianto bit his lip. “Nick’s…not with us any more,” he murmured.

“What?” exclaimed Dan, his eyes widening. “You mean he’s –”

“No, he’s not dead.” As far as we know.

“Then where –” Dan stopped, realising that the middle of the hospital wasn’t the best place for this discussion. He led Ianto upstairs to his office and sat them both down on the sofa by the wall. “What happened to him?” he asked. His stomach lurched at the uncomfortable look on Ianto’s face. “Ianto, if you know the truth, please tell me.”

***

Next Time: Ianto explains things to Dan and Jack learns some hard truths.

Chapter Text

Ianto sat down on the desk, kicking his foot against the drawers below him. “Dan,” he said, “you don’t know what you’re –”

“Yes, I do.” Dan folded his arms and stared hard at the man in front of him. “Ianto, you know my history with Nick. You know how much –” but he stopped. It was on the tip of his tongue to say ‘You know how much he meant to me,’ but found that he couldn’t just bare his soul in front of someone who was not only Nick’s cousin, but also, from what he had heard, his protector.

But Ianto had guessed the other man’s words. “I know, Dan,” he said. “I know…what a good friend he was to you – even if you did leave him broken-hearted.” He ignored Dan’s wince at those words. “But I’m not sure what I can say; even I don’t fully understand –”

“Then just tell me what you can!” Dan was almost pleading by now. “I’m not asking you to tell me everything, just –” but he was cut off by a knock at the door. Giving Ianto a look that warned him that this conversation was not over, he straightened up. “Come in.”

A brown-haired man was stood outside. He looked startled to see Ianto there and raised his eyebrows at Dan. “Not interrupting anything, am I, Dr. Olsten?” he asked in a thick Scottish accent.

Dan shook his head. “No, Sam, everything’s fine,” he answered with a weary sigh. “What can I do for you?”

Sam chuckled. “I just thought you might like to know that I’ve got your sister downstairs and she’s having some rather nasty contractions.”

Dan blinked. “She’s in labour?” He was already pulling his jacket back on and grabbing the keys to his office.

“Aye,” Sam nodded. “She came in not half an hour ago. I’ve been looking for you since then.”

“I can come back later,” Ianto said. From what Nick had told him in the past, Dan’s sister was the only member of his family he had any sort of relationship with.

“Oh, no, that’s not necessary,” insisted Dan. “My sister’s already had two children and they popped out almost before I had time to blink. No doubt this one will be the same.” He stuck his tongue out at Sam, who had snorted and said something about knowing that every pregnancy was different. “Besides,” he added, turning back to Ianto, “we still have to finish going over that toxicology report you were showing me.”

Ianto looked up. Dan’s tone was light, but there was something steely in his blue eyes that fiercely warned him against moving. Sighing, Ianto realised that he wasn’t going to be going anywhere until he gave his friend some answers. “Of course,” he said in his most professional voice. “I’ll see you shortly, Dr. Olsten.”

He waited until the door had clicked shut and Dan’s footsteps had faded away down the corridor before he eventually stood up. He had no intention of leaving – he knew that Nick’s former lover did deserve some answers – but he could at least look around.

The room resembled a small sitting area more than it did a doctor’s office in Ianto’s mind. The desk and bookcase filled with journals by the window were probably the only hints about the room’s actual function. The rest of the space was taken up by a circular table with an open copy of Harry Potter on it, two squashy chairs and a large sofa covered in a patchwork quilt – presumably from Dan’s old flat. There were two other bookcases behind it, but they were stuffed full of fictional books (including the rest of the Harry Potter series) and several photographs were tacked onto the sides, one of which caused Ianto endless amusement, as it showed Dan in cricketing whites wielding a bat which looked far too heavy for his slender build.

He jumped as something fell to the ground in front of his feet and looked around. He’d been absently stroking the wood of one of the bookcases and had knocked one of the paperbacks onto the floor. Bending down he quickly picked the book up and chuckled at the worn cover. It was old and faded, but he could still make out the outline of a large dragon’s head and trace the gold lettering which spelled out the word ‘Skybowl.’

As Ianto moved to replace the book where he had found it, what looked like a piece of white paper fell out from between the pages. Quickly, he pulled out his other hand to catch it and, at that moment, he realised that there was something written on it, in very familiar handwriting.

Dan – whatever happens, you must live your life and be happy. There’s no way to know what the future may hold, but whatever happens, I will always cherish the time we spent together, both as friends and as partners.
Always – your Nicky. (November 2003)

At that moment, it suddenly dawned on Ianto that what he was holding wasn’t a mere piece of paper, but a Polaroid photograph. Slowly, he turned it over and looked at it.

It was all he could do not to let himself fall onto the sofa at what he saw. He couldn’t even manage to laugh at Dan’s ridiculously tousled blonde mop which seemed to be flying off the top of his head. He was too shocked at the sight of seeing his cousin and his friend looking so happy as they lay, shirts removed, on a large blanket, Nick’s fingers idly tracing patterns over Dan’s chest, while his other hand was lying over the other man’s –

Quickly, Ianto slipped the picture back into the book before that thought had any chance to form properly. Moving to put the book back, he caught sight of something lying behind the row of books. He was just about to turn away when a flash of purple and yellow caught his eye. His curiosity piqued, Ianto began to gently move some of the other books out of the way so he could get a clearer look at whatever it was.

His jaw dropped when he recognised the crest from the University of Manchester on what he quickly realised was a photograph album. But that wasn’t all; underneath the crest there were words written in Dan’s flowing script:

Me and Nicky…the best years of my life.

Almost without knowing what he was doing, Ianto placed the book he had been holding on the table and lifted the album off the shelf and into his hands. He began to flip through it, feeling his chest tighten at the images of his cousin relaxing and having fun, without a care in the world.

It was like looking at a whole other person. The Nick in these pictures had none of the cares that the Nick of more recent months had had. He had now been exposed to the true nature of the cruelty of the world they lived in, and in some of the most awful ways possible. Now, looking at these pictures, Ianto could see his cousin looking alive and happy…and safe.

It made Ianto sad to think that, back then, Nick could never have known the fate that awaited him or his family. He had never thought he would have been put in so much danger, even if he wasn’t necessarily on the front lines.

That last thought suddenly made Ianto pause as he thought about his own new job. He wasn’t wondering whether he had the capability to do it, Jack wouldn’t have offered it to him if he hadn’t thought he could handle it, instead it was something that hadn’t really occurred to him at the time. Now though he realised that it meant he would be in the Hub or doing background work like Tosh had, rather than constantly being in the front line himself.

And, in that very moment, Ianto understood the reason Jack had offered him the job.

~*~

Jack watched Andie collapse on the sofa, laughing as Declan and Gwen played one-on-one basketball – or rather, Declan started running rings around the Welshwoman, causing her to eventually land flat on her back on the floor as he calmly sent the ball through the hoop and clung onto the rim of the basket. She glared up at him, but since her usually sleek black hair was sticking out as if she’d had an electric shock, the effect was rather less than terrifying. At any rate, Declan simply jumped back onto the floor, picked up the ball and twirled it in the air, the smile on his face never once wavering.

Next to Jack, Matt was chuckling softly. “He’s like a little puppy chasing a ball,” he remarked.

“Yeah, he is,” agreed Jack. “It’ll be nice to have a bit of madness – good madness – in this place. It can get pretty intense sometimes.” He smiled at Matt. “But I imagine you’re used to intense.”

Matt nodded. “But that doesn’t mean you don’t sometimes need a breather.”

“No, it certainly doesn’t.” Jack looked back at the others, his eyes flickering towards the autopsy bay where Garrett appeared to be ignoring the activity and the laughter above him, apart from the slightly disapproving frown he gave Declan when the blonde came over and grinned at him.

“Don’t worry about them,” Matt said, apparently reading Jack’s thoughts. “Garry’s enough of an adult to work with someone, even if he doesn’t relate to them or get on with them personally. He wouldn’t have survived in the army as long as he has if he wasn’t. He’s…” but he trailed off.

Jack watched Garrett ask Declan something, even though he barely looked at him and caught the other man roll his eyes slightly behind his back. He couldn’t help but chuckle again as he thought of Ianto’s early relationship with Owen. “Sounds familiar. I guess the only thing I worry about with Declan is that he’ll lose that cheerfulness too quickly. This job is pretty depressing at times, not to mention dangerous.”

Matt picked up on the way his boss said the last word. “Most jobs are, Jack. But the people who do them wouldn’t do them if they didn’t want to. You do this to help people – to keep them safe.” He smiled gently. “But sometimes you can’t.”

Jack whipped round. “What’re you saying, Matt?” His voice became very guarded as he caught the meaningful tone to the younger man’s voice.

“Don’t play dumb, Jack. You and I both know why you offered Ianto the job you did – and it’s not only because you know he could do it.”

Jack turned sharply, his mouth open to deny the statement, but the words wouldn’t come. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t refute Matt’s words. “I know he can do the job I’ve given him,” was all he could say. “I know he can.”

“And if he doesn’t get himself killed, that’s even better?” Matt nodded as Jack looked away. “Jack, I understand that you care about us and you want to protect us. But –”

“Wouldn’t you want to do that for Garry?” interrupted Jack. “Don’t you want him safe?”

“Of course I do. But there’s a difference between wanting someone to be safe and wrapping them up in cotton wool. I know you don’t want to lose Ianto any more than I want to lose Garry. But we’ve got to let them do their jobs.”

“But –”

“Jack, you can’t protect Ianto from life. You can’t keep him safe forever. He doesn’t have forever.” The unspoken ‘But you do’ sounded in the air and Jack flinched. “You know that.”

Jack walked away towards his office. “I need to make a phone call,” he said stiffly.

“Just think about –” but Matt was cut off as the office door closed. 

~*~

“Sorry about that,” Dan said as he came back into the office. “Susie’s going to be down there for at least another few hours; the dilation’s slower than we thought.” He shuddered. “God, I’d forgotten just how much my sister can yell. I pity her husband.”

Ianto chuckled weakly. “Yeah, I remember when Alison was pregnant with Estelle. Poor Nick almost ended up hiding under the bed.”

At those words, Dan’s face turned solemn again. “Okay, Ianto,” he said, seating himself in one of the squashy chairs and looking the other man straight in the eyes. “Talk to me. Tell me what happened to Nick.”

Ianto closed his eyes briefly. “Dan, I know you want answers and I can’t blame you for that. I know how much Nick means to you.” Neither of them missed the present tense. “But you have to know that –”

“There are parts of it you can’t tell. I know.” Dan nodded. “I understand that. But I just want to know where he is or if he’s alive.”

Ianto stared at the floor. “I don’t know,” he whispered. “I don’t know the answer to either of those questions, Dan. He might be alive, but he might not. As for where he is, he could be anywhere. Not just anywhere in the world, but,” he paused and looked up, “anywhere in the universe.”

Dan looked baffled. “How is that possible?”

“It’s,” Ianto rubbed his head, realising that saying ‘It’s complicated’ would not placate the young doctor. “Dan, how much do you know about Torchwood and the Rift?”

Dan shrugged. “Just the usual,” he said. “There’s a Rift in time and space – probably one of several – that’s running through Cardiff and it’s your job to monitor whatever comes through it.”

Ianto nodded. “That’s right. The stuff that comes through it slips from other timelines and even other galaxies.” He bit his lip. “But it’s also possible for people to be taken by the Rift – voluntarily or unwillingly. We don’t always know where they end up, or if they survive.”

“Do they come back?”

“Sometimes,” Ianto answered. “But they’re rarely the same as when they left.”

Dan gripped the arms of the chair and breathed out heavily. “So…he left?”

“He did it willingly,” clarified Ianto. “You see…” but then he faltered as he realised he would have to explain something very awkward at this point. “Dan,” he stammered, “you probably heard that Nick’s marriage ended…rather badly.”

Dan snorted. “Yeah, I heard. He met Alison while we were at Manchester, shortly after him and I split up. Personally, I didn’t think she was good enough for him, but I didn’t think I could tell him. We,” he hesitated, “drifted apart a bit then – needed some time to be objective.” He sighed. “I was shocked when I found out she’d cheated on him. He didn’t deserve that.”

Ianto blinked, momentarily derailed. “When did you find that out?”

“A couple of days ago; Will told me himself,” said Dan, sighing. “I couldn’t believe it at first, but,” he shook his head. “It’s true.”

“Yes, it is.” Ianto rubbed his temples. “But…Dan, he…he moved on. He’s with…or he was with…someone else.” He touched Dan’s arm. “Dan…he went into the Rift with a man – John Hart – so that they could be together…saving the world.”

Dan covered his face with his hands. “Oh, God,” he whispered. He couldn’t see or breathe. His mind seemed to have shut down as he replayed Ianto’s words over and over again.

“Dan?” Ianto caught his hand. “If it’s any consolation…even after you split up, Nick always knew how much he meant to you.” He took a huge breath. “And you always meant a lot to him.”

Slowly, Dan sat up and looked at the Welshman. Something else Ianto had said was suddenly coming back to him. “Did you say…saving the world?”

“That’s one part I’m not sure I can explain very well,” admitted Ianto. “I don’t fully understand it myself. But I think the simplest way to put it would be saying that he’s helping to close the Rift up. I can’t really tell you much more than that.”

“I see.” Dan’s response was almost automatic; he didn’t really understand, but he also knew that he didn’t want to hear any more.

Ianto sighed. “I’d better go. The others are waiting for me.” He stood up slowly and made his way towards the door. Just before he walked away, however, he turned back. “I’m sorry.”

Dan barely heard the door close. He was too busy trying to take in what Ianto had just told him. Nick had moved on. He had followed this man, John Hart, to a fate that he knew nothing about. He had done the one thing Dan had never had the courage to do; fight. He had fought to be with this man, even if it meant going into the unknown.

“You were always a much braver man than me, Nick,” he whispered. “You fought when I could not – when I gave up…and it cost me so much…too much.” His voice caught on the last words and, almost before he knew it, he dropped his head on the arm of the chair and burst into tears.

~*~

Jack looked up as he saw Ianto leaning against the doorframe. “Hi,” he said. “How did everything go with Dan?”

“I gave him the toxicology report; he’s going to compare it with the results from the tests they’ve carried out on the victim and get back to us,” replied Ianto in a neutral voice. “He said it will probably take a few more days.”

“I thought so.” Jack nodded. “I’ve also made a call to old Archie up in Scotland and I’ve asked him to send Emily down here. I can’t understand why he’d let her go, but there’s no way I’m going to let someone so valuable go to waste.” He smiled at Ianto. “She’ll be here in a couple of days and I’m sure she’ll be happy to talk with you if there’s anything you need –”

“Why did you offer me the technical officer position earlier, Jack?” interrupted Ianto. The thought had taken a back seat in his mind during his talk with Dan, but after his return to the Hub, it had suddenly come back to him.

Jack blinked, caught off guard by the question. “You know why I did that,” he said. “I do genuinely think you can do it well. You’ve been underrated for too long, you know.”

To anyone else, the response would have been convincing. But Ianto, who knew Jack’s mannerisms, heard the slight stammer in his throat and saw the way his eyes were focused on the paperwork on his desk.

“Jack,” he said, sternly now. “I know what you’re trying to do.”

“And what would that be?” Still, Jack didn’t look up.

“You’re taking me out of the field; putting me away from the front line of fire.” Ianto gripped the desk, forcing Jack to look at him. “You’re trying to protect me.”

“And if I am?”

“Jack. You’ve been here a long time. You know that you can’t keep us safe.” He gripped Jack’s chin. “You will lose me one day. Whether it’s to the job or to old age – I will die.”

“Ianto…” Jack whispered.

“No, Jack. I haven’t got forever.” Ianto took a deep breath. “I’m not like you.”

***

Next Time: Ianto meets Emily from Scotland and something left behind by a Rift flare forces him to face up to his feelings.

Chapter Text

Two days later…

Ianto sat down on the sofa in his small office area at the back of the Archives and looked around. He had tidied up a little and cleared away some of the artefacts he had been researching as well as the notes he had made on them (all properly labelled and filed, of course). He knew he didn’t actually have to do that; Emily had worked at Torchwood Two in Scotland after all (and in probably far messier conditions than anything down here in Cardiff if Jack’s comments about old Archie had been anything to go by); there wouldn’t be any reason to Retcon her, since chances were some of this technology had actually been sent down from Scotland at some point or another – and probably rather late as well. In all honesty, Ianto knew that it was more a habit for him now than anything else.

But that still hadn’t stopped him from doing it. He knew better than to bring visitors – even if they were potential employees – into an untidy environment. His father had taught him that.

The sound of footsteps echoed behind him and he turned round to see Declan climbing down the ladder which was leaning against the wall. He jumped back onto the floor, ran a hand through his hair and fixed Ianto with a now-familiar smile.

“I’ve shifted those last boxes where you wanted me to, Ianto, but I have to ask – what on earth do you keep in there, rocks? They weigh over a tonne each, surely!”

“You’d be surprised,” Ianto replied dryly; the New Zealander’s joking comment about rocks was actually more accurate in some cases than he was aware of.

Declan laughed. “I’ve also done some fiddling around and temporarily disabled the CCTV footage down here. You’ll have complete privacy – none of us will be able to see what’s going on.”

Ianto blinked. “How did you know how to do that?”

“I had a lot of practice when I was in New Zealand. Oh, don’t look like that,” he chortled as Ianto’s eyes widened. “I assure you, it was absolutely nothing unscrupulous like attempting to hide bodies. Nah, it was just a couple of my colleagues were rather, er, heavily involved,” here, he waggled his eyebrows suggestively, “and they didn’t want to get caught by our boss. So, because I was pretty well-known for being savvy with technology, I stepped in, like a good friend, and,” he stopped when he realised that Ianto was chuckling. “Well…the rest, as they say, is history.”

Ianto was more than just slightly dumbfounded. Even though it had only been a couple of days, he had begun to think of Declan as someone who might be a bit of a clown. He did like the man, and he enjoyed his sense of humour, but he had never, if he was brutally honest with himself, taken him particularly seriously or looked beneath his cheerful exterior – and he had definitely not thought of him as someone who would use a word like unscrupulous. It was almost like, he realised with a twinge of shame, the way he had at first thought of Jack as someone who he could con with a pretty face and some healthy flirting.

Now, however, he realised that, just as he had underestimated the former Time Agent, he had also underestimated Declan. He had been so caught up by his charm and his slightly outrageous personality that he had forgotten to look beneath that. After all, the man had passed whatever tests Jack had made up for him, so he had to be made of stern stuff. He had also shown some good initiative with disabling the camera feeds for Ianto’s counselling session.

And finally – Ianto mentally chuckled to himself as this last thought occurred to him – he had proved that not everyone seemed to like messing things up in the Archives!

Declan came over and sat down beside him, the cushions barely sagging at all under his skinny frame. “Looks like a place fit for a Queen now, I’d say,” he remarked.

Ianto snorted. “Please. You’re exaggerating.”

“Maybe I am and maybe I’m not.” The blonde man laughed softly, but then he looked at Ianto, his face turning more serious. “Look, mate, I may not fully understand what you’ve gone through over the years, but I’ve been where you are now with…you know, counsellors and everything and I know that it isn’t easy at first. But I promise you, it will get better. If she asks you about something you’re not ready to discuss, don’t force yourself; just tell her you’re not ready. If she’s any sort of counsellor, she’ll understand that.”

“What…what did you have counselling for?” asked Ianto. He knew it was probably the last thing that the other man wanted to discuss, and he cursed himself for letting the question slip out unchecked. “Sorry, you don’t have to answer that; it’s none of my business.”

Declan shook his head. “It’s fine; I’ve learned that the more you try to internalize your feelings, the harder they are to deal with.” He leaned back against the sofa. “You know that I moved to London about a year ago, don’t you?” Ianto nodded. “Didn’t Jack tell you why?”

“No,” replied Ianto. “I just thought it was because there were more work opportunities here than there were in New Zealand.”

“That’s partly true. But there’s more to it than that.” A slightly lopsided smile formed on Declan’s face. “This may surprise you, but once, I had a son and a wife.” He chuckled. “I know, hard to believe, isn’t it? But it’s true.” He drew a picture out of his pocket and pointed out the small boy. “That’s my little Brian; the apple of my eye, he was.”

“He’s got your hair,” Ianto commented.

“Yeah. Everyone said that he had my personality too.”

Ianto could picture that incredibly easily. “What happened?”

“He died.” Declan’s voice went very quiet. “He was diagnosed with meningitis shortly after that picture was taken. Apparently, it had been lying low for some time, but Lily – my wife – and I had never seen it. The only hint was that he was very skittish around bright lights.”

Ianto winced. “I’m sorry, Declan. I had no idea.” Cautiously, he touched the man’s hand. “You know it wasn’t your fault, don’t you? I mean, dislike of bright lights –”

“It’s not exactly abnormal. I know.” Declan sighed. “But that didn’t stop Lily from blaming me. She said that, as a doctor, I should have recognised it for what it was. We divorced shortly afterwards; she still doesn’t speak to me.”

Ianto scowled slightly. “She was wrong, Declan. How could you have guessed what was wrong with Brian just from something like that? Yes, you’re a doctor, but that doesn’t mean you can read something into everything.”

Declan nodded. “I know that now. I didn’t at the time. I blamed myself too.” He wiped away a tear from his face and chuckled at the shock in Ianto’s eyes. “Even clowns have tears, Ianto.”

“Sorry.” Ianto blushed again.

“It’s okay.” Declan was standing up. “Seriously, Ianto; if you’d found me six months after all this had happened, you probably wouldn’t recognise me. I was a shadow of the man I am now. I only got back to how I am now thanks to the help I had from family and friends. And yes, I do consider my counsellor to be a friend. She was the one who got me back on the right track. She even came with me to London and helped me get a job there.”

“That’s some friendship,” Ianto said with a smile. “Thanks, Declan.”

~*~

“I know what you’re trying to do Jack, but it’s not going to work and you know it.”

Jack looked up at the woman who was leaning on his desk. “I don’t have time for this right now, Gwen,” he said, firmly, but kindly. “I’ve got a mountain of paperwork to do.” He did; if he didn’t know better, he would swear that it mutated and grew overnight.

But Gwen was not to be dissuaded. “You can’t keep us protected from the world, Jack. There’s danger everywhere we turn; even here in the Hub. That Dalek in the –”

Jack was on his feet in an instant. “Don’t talk about that again!” he almost snarled, but then he added more softly, “Please.”

She backed off slightly. “I’m sorry. But my point is that, even with all the added security in here, when the Earth is being invaded, we’re at the heart of it. The Hub isn’t necessarily all that much safer than what’s outside if something gets in. Regardless of the job he does, when push comes to shove, Ianto is only marginally safer here than he would be on the street”

Jack rubbed his head. “What do you want me to do?” he breathed out. “Do you want me to be happy about the thought of sending the man I love into danger and knowing that there’s nothing that I can do about it?”

Gwen sighed. “No, of course not,” she said softly. “And, I can’t lie; Jack; if it was Rhys and I in your position, then, yes, I would probably be doing exactly what you’re doing. No one likes to send a loved one into so much danger.” She didn’t mention that Rhys had wanted her out of Torchwood for a long time after he’d found out what she did. “But in trying to keep him safe, you’re stopping Ianto from doing the job he loves. You’re lying to him Jack, or at least withholding the truth from him.”

“What’re you saying?”

Gwen sighed and started to walk out of the office. “You told Ianto that you offered him the technician’s job because you knew that he would be good at it. Oh, I know that’s true, and I agree with you; he will be good at it, very good even. But you can’t say that’s your only motivation for doing it, so you should just stop trying. Because it’s not only Ianto you’re lying to,” she added, pausing at the door. “It’s yourself too.”

~*~

Ianto’s first impression of Emily Potter had been that she reminded him of his cousin with her thick red hair and dark eyes. In fact, when she had walked in the door, he had almost mistaken her for Catrin (even almost wondering where David was), before he took in the manner of her dress and realising that he had never seen Nick’s sister wearing a peasant blouse and a waistcoat, and she had certainly never worn jeans with beaded fringing round the ankles. He supposed the casual look was her way of making patients – if he could use the word – more at ease, but in fact he kept on getting distracted by the way the beads moved as she twitched her feet about. Still, she was pleasant-looking and she didn’t push him to talk too much or bombard him with questions, which was what he had been afraid of. In fact, she seemed to take the opposite approach, which was simply to sit and listen and let him get as much out as he could before she made any judgements. The knowledge made him slowly relax as he explained about the battle of Canary Wharf and how he had attempted to rescue Lisa.

For her part, Emily was astonished. The young man in front of her seemed to be so calm and even stable, but the more he talked, the more she realised just how deep the trauma from the battle in London ran. She had found some of the reports from the incident in the Archives in Glasgow and what she had read had chilled her to the bone. She couldn’t even imagine not only being there and seeing the destruction firsthand, but also suffering the consequences even now. Nonetheless, she could see that, even then, Ianto must have had some serious mental strength to do what he did for the woman he loved. But when she mentioned this, the Welshman chuckled.

“It wasn’t really strength,” he said softly. “It was more to do with survival.”

She looked at him curiously. “What do you mean?”

“Well,” he said slowly, “I guess…I just needed something to do…some way to make me carry on living. Lisa was the one shred of normalcy I had…I felt I owed it to her to carry on.” He sighed quietly. “In a way, she stopped me from…” but he didn’t need to finish the sentence for the meaning to be clear.

Emily nodded. “And your cousin was at the battle as well?”

“Yes.” Ianto swallowed hard. “He wasn’t even supposed to be there; just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“Did you talk about what happened?”

Ianto shrugged. “Not very much, no. I tried to Retcon him – you know erase his memories of the battle. No one should have to live with those memories.” He could tell by Emily’s nod that he didn’t need to say that the only reason he hadn’t tried to Retcon himself at the time had been because of Lisa. “But…well, an event like that…sticks in your mind; it’s not really something you can get rid of with a little white pill.”

“I see.” Emily leaned back in her chair. “But you never really discussed it together?”

“No,” replied Ianto. “I mean, Nick knew about Torchwood now, which meant that I had someone outside of here to talk to if…things just got too much. But we never did talk about the battle much. I mean, we both knew it had happened, but neither of us wanted to broach the subject, I guess.”

There was a short pause while Emily digested this. “And…in hindsight?”

Ianto sighed. “I don’t know. Maybe we should have talked about it. It wasn’t until recently that I actually realised just how much Nick was suffering. I’m not really sure he did, either, if the truth’s known. Maybe I should have talked to him rather than just leaving the issue as the elephant in the room, if you’ll pardon the expression.” He rested his hands on his knees and let out another sigh.

“But you didn’t realise how much you were suffering from the after effects until recently, did you?” Emily asked gently. When Ianto shook his head, she sighed. “Ianto, I can’t make a conclusive analysis after only one session with you, but from what you’ve told me so far, I’m seeing strong signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Ianto laughed softly at that. “Emily,” he said, “I’m not sure post-traumatic stress disorder is the right term. I think a better term would be post-Torchwood stress disorder.”

~*~

Declan wandered into the autopsy bay where Garrett was stitching a gash in Matt’s arm and seemingly berating him at the same time. Apparently, the pair had gone out to catch a stray Weevil and it had lunged unexpectedly before the young firearms expert had managed to get out of the way. Really, he was lucky that it was no worse than it was.

Garrett looked up. “Something you wanted?” he asked, his tone level as he looked at Declan, who shook his head mutely. “Just fancied a quick eavesdrop, then?”

Declan blinked, startled. “No, nothing like that,” he said.

Matt smiled. “Don’t mind him too much; he’s just tetchy.” He hopped off the table. “Will there be anything else, Doctor?”

“No.” Garrett’s voice was still neutral, but Declan could have sworn that he had almost smiled. His face had certainly softened. “Just get on with you and don’t let me see you here too often.”

Matt snorted. “Duly noted, Sir.” He gave a mocking salute and openly giggled as Garrett swatted his shoulder. Declan bit the inside of his jaw to stop himself laughing, but he couldn’t quite hold back a small snort of his own.

Garrett looked at him. “This is no concern of yours,” he said stiffly, hiding behind his mask now that his partner was out of the room.

Declan sighed. “Garrett, whatever worries are on your mind, you don’t need to run away from them. There’s nothing for you to be ashamed of; we’ve all been there.” He paused. “I thought I could run away from my problems, but in the end –”

“Do you know where there is?” interrupted Garrett. “You said you’ve all been there, but how do you know you have? You don’t even know where ‘there’ is!”

“But together we can help –”

“Do you know what it’s like to be abandoned by everyone you’ve cared about?” Garrett’s eyes were bright with angry tears. “Do you know what it’s like to be taunted and ridiculed by people you’ve called friends because you have different preferences to them? Do you?”

“No, but that doesn’t mean –”

“Do you know what that’s like, Declan?”

Declan sighed. “No.” He rubbed his head. “But I do know how losing people you love because of something you have no control over feels.”

For a split second, Garrett looked surprised and Declan wondered if he would actually open up. But then the mask fell down again and he turned away. “Declan, I realise that we’ll be working together from now on,” he said, his voice monotonous. “I’m prepared to do that. But it doesn’t mean we’re going to be friends and it doesn’t mean that I’m going to discuss personal things with you any further.” He finished tidying up his kit. “Understand?”

Declan nodded. “I understand.”

~*~

Two hours later…

Jack looked up as Ianto knocked on his office door and leaned in. “There’s been a small spike of Rift activity up in Newport. It’s barely a blip on the system and it’s not showing up as anything dangerous, but I’d like to go and check it out anyway.”

A brief flicker of unease passed over Jack’s face before he nodded. “Okay, but take your phone and keep your comm on. Any hint of trouble –”

“I’ll contact you,” Ianto sighed as if he’d heard it all before, which he had. “Anyone would think that you didn’t trust me sometimes, Jack.”

“It’s not you I don’t trust, Ianto,” answered Jack, looking up from the mountain of papers that were cluttering his desk. “It’s that Rift.”

Ianto couldn’t stop a small chuckle at those words. “That makes two of us then.” He straightened up. “I’ll be back in a couple of hours at the most. If I’m going to be any later or if I should run into any trouble, I will contact you, if only so you lot don’t send out a search party looking for me.”

Jack smiled slightly back. “Just…be careful,” he eventually said, well aware that it sounded more like a plea than he had intended.

“I will.”

~*~

It had started to rain about halfway down the road towards Newport and Ianto was finding hard to concentrate when the driving rain combined with the speed of the windscreen wipers, meaning that the rest of the journey took considerably longer than it would normally have. Nonetheless, he did eventually climb out of the SUV, shielding himself from the rain, and rushed up to the familiar little shop, bursting in through the front door.

Slowly, he followed the tracker through to the back rooms, brushing past roll upon roll of fabrics and dimly registering that it was surprising that there was no one around. Clearly, business had been worse than he’d thought. However, he didn’t have long to dwell on that as the tracker suddenly started flashing brighter. Whatever the Rift had dropped off was behind the door he was currently facing.

Taking a deep breath, Ianto pushed it open, and almost recoiled. He could almost feel the Rift energy from there, even though it was concentrated in one small spot at the back of the room; on a chair by the large bookshelf, to be precise. Despite the size of whatever had been dropped off, it had certainly used a lot of energy getting here.

As he drew closer, Ianto almost closed his eyes as he reached down to pick up the artefact…only to start in surprise when he realised that it was simply a rather aged wristwatch. He relaxed briefly, even managing a small laugh at his moment of panic, but then frowned again as he realised that the watch looked very familiar. His heart started pounding as he turned it over and stopped all together for a second when he caught sight of the familiar Welsh dragon engraved on the back above the words ‘Cymru am Byth’.

“Wales for ever,” he whispered, stroking the watch…

~*~

“So, this is Manchester,” Ianto said, glancing out of the window at the end of the corridor. “You’re closer to Scotland than you are to England, I reckon, Nicky. I hope you’ve had your jabs.”

Nick snorted. “Ha, ha.” He took a few books from his uncle and stacked them on one of the shelves in front of him and came outside, pulling on a sweater. “No jabs, but I’ve got plenty of sweaters. I’ve heard it can get pretty bloody cold up here in winter.”

“You heard right,” replied a soft voice and the three men turned around to see a skinny young man with a mass of light blonde hair leaning against the door with a smile on his face. “I’m Dan Olsten,” he said, extending his hand.

“Nick Jones,” answered Nick, shaking it. He nodded towards the other two men with him. “This is my uncle Carson and my cousin Ianto.”

Dan grinned. “A couple of gorgeously rugged Welshmen, I see,” he chortled. “And one of them living directly opposite me, then. My, my, I am a lucky Mancunian, aren’t I?”

Ianto caught Nick’s arm while his cousin was still recovering from that remark. He dragged him into the small bedroom and shut the door. “There’s something I wanted to give you, but I wanted to do it in private,” he said a little uncomfortably.

“Oh?” Nick sat down on the end of his bed and waited for his cousin to enlighten him, but when Ianto didn’t move, he raised an eyebrow at him. “Going to enlighten me, mate?”

Ianto blinked. “Right, yes.” He took a square box out of his coat pocket and passed it to Nick. “I had it done last week,” he said, hiding his hands in his pocket so Nick wouldn’t see them trembling.

Nick’s mouth dropped open when he saw the watch. “You fixed it!” he gasped. “Ianto –” but he cut himself off when he turned it over and saw the inscription on the back. “Wales for ever,” he said with a chuckle. “And the dragon as well.”

“Well, of course!” Ianto laughed and rolled his eyes fondly. “I know you, Nicky; you’d go to the ends of the universe to keep a dragon on your arm.”

Nick smiled sheepishly. “Yeah, I would, I guess. But now, I don’t need to.”

“Just remember what that means, mate.” Ianto touched the writing below the dragon. “You’re a proud Welshman and if I don’t see you at home for at least one rugby international…” he let the threat trail off, realising he had no idea how to end it. “Well, you know.”

Nick nodded. “Yeah, I know. And I’ll be right there.”


~*~

“Ianto? Everything all right?”

The voice cut through Ianto’s memories and he looked up to find Nick’s father lingering in the doorway, an expression of concern on his wasted face. He looked as though he had aged several years in the days since Ianto had last seen him at Catrin’s wedding.

“You’ve been sat there for half an hour now,” his uncle went on. “You seemed…lost in thought. Is everything okay?”

“I…I’m…” Ianto tried to say ‘fine’, but the word got stuck in his throat as he felt the warm metal in his hand. He could almost feel it vibrating in his hand, some unknown energy surging through it. “I…I’m sorry!” he cried, leaping to his feet. “I have to leave!” He raced past his bemused uncle, into the SUV and slammed his foot on the accelerator, driving back to the Hub.

~*~

“Jack?” Declan jogged over to his boss. “Have you heard from Ianto since he went to Newport?”

Jack looked surprised and shook his head. “No, but he said he’d call if he ran into any trouble. Why do you ask?”

“Just that the SUV came back twenty minutes ago, but there’s been no sign of Ianto and I was wondering if you’d seen him or heard anything. I’ve tried calling him, but gotten nothing.”

Instantly, Jack was on his feet. “Come with me!” he said, already halfway towards the garage. “It’s possible that whatever came through the Rift was bigger than he thought and he’s been injured and can’t respond to us.”

As they entered the garage, Jack motioned for Declan to stay behind him as he knocked on the door of the car. “Ianto?” he called cautiously. “Ianto, are you okay?”

He waited for a response, but when the only sound he heard was a soft moaning, he pressed a button on his wrist strap and opened the door, gasping when he saw Ianto curled up in the driver’s seat and sobbing into his hands.

“Declan, get out of here,” he said quietly. “We’ll be back in shortly.”

He didn’t even wait until the younger man had left before climbing into the car, shutting the door behind him and gently pulling his lover into his arms and stroking his hair in an attempt to calm him. It broke his heart seeing Ianto like this, especially since he had no idea what had happened or how he could help him.

Eventually, Ianto looked up at him and passed the watch over. “It fell through the Rift…into the tailor’s shop…right into the back room where all the books are.” He wiped his face. “It was right on the chair where he used to curl up and read…”

Jack swallowed hard. Even before Ianto had said the last words, he had almost known that the watch had been Nick’s and it was only now that the young man’s departure was hitting home with his lover. A cold feeling seemed to settle in his stomach as he realised what this could mean…

Ianto seemed to be thinking the same thing, because he gently took the watch back and placed it in the pocket of his jacket. “I’ll keep it safe,” he whispered. “He wouldn’t want it damaged…”

Jack rubbed his back. “No, he wouldn’t.”

There was a long silence before Ianto spoke again. “You know…after the Daleks moved the earth, Nick asked me to quit working for Torchwood, because he was so worried about me being safe. I told him I could never leave this place…or you,” he muttered.

Jack nodded. “Ianto, you would have been in more danger outside than you would have been here,” he said gently.

“I know. That’s what I told him.” Ianto decided not to mention that what had scared Nick was the Dalek that had gotten into the Hub. Jack would be able to work that one out for himself. “He did back down in the end, but he said that he just wanted me to be careful…that he wasn’t ready to lose me yet.” He sniffled. “I never thought it would be me losing him first.”

“I know,” said Jack. “And I can understand that, because it’s exactly what I feel, Ianto. Every time I see you in the field, I’m torn between feeling so proud of how far you’ve come in such a short time, and feeling terrified that this is going to be the day that I lose you. I understand that Torchwood’s dangerous, but…”

Ianto nodded. “I know; you’re not ready to lose anyone else so soon after what’s happened. I understand that, Jack, I really do. I’m sorry if I was harsh with you the other day.” He bit his lip. “And I’m really sorry for that ‘I’m not like you’ comment. That was low.”

“It’s fine,” Jack reassured him. He used the sleeve of his coat to wipe away the tears. “I’ll try not to be overprotective of you; you’re a real asset to the team, both in the field and here. And I don’t just mean making coffee,” he added with a grin. “All I will say is…be careful.”

“I will.” Ianto took the watch back out of his pocket and stroked it gently. “Nick wouldn’t want me to start being rash with my life.”

“No,” agreed Jack. “He certainly wouldn’t.”

***

Next Time: Stay tuned for Part Two where we travel through space and time to meet with an old friend…but is Nick Jones alive and well wherever – or whenever – he is?


Chapter Text

~PART TWO~

Chapter 11

Time seemed to have stopped. Everywhere he walked, the landscape was the same. There was no way of knowing if he had walked around here before, if he was going in circles or not. The wind was cold and the sky was grey and thick mist whipped through the wind blowing through the thin man’s wild mass of red hair as it flew about his face.

He didn’t know how long he’d been wherever he was. All he knew was that he’d woken up face down on the coarse ground and since then he had been walking around trying to find his way out of this place. A trickle of blood ran down his face and he cursed that the small First Aid kit he would usually carry around was nowhere to be seen.

Even worse, he couldn’t see anyone around. There was no sign of his partner who had been beside him when they had set out, and no sign of anyone else. At the same time, however, he was sure he could smell something on the freezing winds. His gut instinct was telling him that walking into the unknown without a weapon (his gun had also been lost, much to his annoyance) was a very stupid thing to do. Despite this, however, he felt that he could defend himself physically without weapons if he had to and whoever was there might be his only hope of rescue from wherever he was. If he found them, he might also learn what had happened to his lover.

Quickly, he took a deep breath and searched the scent on the wind, much as he had seen a bloodhound do so when it caught the scent of a fox. To his surprise, however, he found that the person – or people – seemed to be behind him, as if they were tailing him. Shrugging to himself, he turned on his tail and made his way back the way he had come. But he had barely moved a few metres when a firm hand gripped his wrist and he looked up to see a tall man with a hard face and black hair flecked with iron grey watching him under imposing eyebrows. Another figure, this one a woman, stood beside him, her face equally cold.

She nodded to her partner. “Take him.”

The young redhead’s eyes widened. “Take me?” he repeated. “Take me where?” he cried out, trying to struggle against the vice-like grips. “Answer me! I know my rights!”

The man laughed; a cruel laugh which sent shivers down the spine of everyone who heard it. “Tell us who you are and how you came here…and then we’ll see about rights.”

The youngest of the trio swallowed hard as he fought back his fear. “My name is Nick Jones,” he stammered. “I came here…through…through a Rift in twenty-first century Cardiff with my…my lover.” He shuddered. “Did you see him? Is he here?”

“There is no one else here.” This time it was the woman who spoke, her monotone voice cutting through the air. “You have been alone here for two weeks.”

“Two weeks?” It had felt like far more time than that had passed.

She nodded. “We have been tracking you for two weeks, Nick Jones, if that is your real name–"

“Which I doubt it is,” interrupted the man, his fingers tightening on Nick’s wrist. “But, regardless of that for now, we tracked you so that you would not be a…danger to others.” He licked his lips. “As for rights…you have the right to remain silent.

Nick’s jaw dropped. “How could I be a danger?!” he exclaimed. “I’m just –” But his voice trailed off when he caught sight of something on the man’s wrist. He turned to look at the woman’s arm and his jaw dropped when he caught sight of the matching brown leather strap adorning her wrist…the brown leather strap that was so like one he had seen before.

“You’re Time Agents!” he cried out, shock coursing through him. “But…I thought the Time Agency had been closed down!”

The minute he said those words, the air around him seemed to freeze over. Then, the man spoke again. “Well, it would appear that you have been…misinformed,” he drawled softly.

“Orion!” the woman said sharply and began to speak in a different language that Nick couldn’t understand. The man – Orion – spat out something that could only have been a curse and started walking faster, his eyebrows knitting together like storm clouds.

Nick winced in pain. “But…but you can help me!” he cried, almost pleading. “You can help me find my partner and…and he can tell you why I’m here and –”

But he got no further. The woman interrupted him. “As my partner said – you have the right to remain silent.”

~*~

At just under six foot tall, Nick knew he was no slouch in the height department, but somehow being amongst so many people who were clearly warriors in their own right made him feel like an ant cowering under a rock. Some of the men and women there were clearly younger than he was, but most of them looked like hardened war veterans, even a fresh-faced youth with dark skin. The fact that they were all staring and whispering as he passed didn’t help and it was even worse that he couldn’t understand a word they were saying.

He hadn’t paid any attention to where he was being taken until he became aware that his two captors had stopped moving and that his wrists had been freed. Then, he had looked around and realised that he was stood in the middle of what looked like a large cloakroom where several men and women were talking amongst themselves as they sorted through piles of clothing. As he looked at the various shirt colours – among them red, blue, green and yellow – Nick couldn’t hold back a tiny chuckle, despite his situation. The colours, as well as the different logos on the front of the shirts, made him feel as if he had just walked into an episode of Star Trek. There’s my inner geek shining through, he thought to himself.

“These might feel strange at first, but you’ll get used to them.”

Snapped out of his musings, Nick jumped and turned around to see that Orion had picked up some handfuls of black clothes and was now passing them over to him. “You’ll have to get used to them, anyway,” he added.

Nick shifted slightly; the fabric did not look uncomfortable, but the sudden change of attitude from the older man certainly was. “What do I need them for?” he asked. “I’m not even going to train as a Time Agent.” He looked around. “Am I?” he asked.

“Maybe you are, and maybe you’re not,” answered Orion cryptically, which only served to heighten Nick’s frustration. “But you need to at least appear to fit in, if you’re going to get through this alive and save your lover from wherever he may be. There are places around here that aren’t especially trusting when it comes to foreigners and the Time Agency is one of them. The only reason no one questioned your appearance was because you were with me.”

“But I’m not a foreigner!” exclaimed Nick. And yet, even as he spoke, he felt a sharp pang in his stomach when he realised that he wasn’t at home either. Equally, as baffled as he was by Orion’s sudden change in attitude towards him, he realised that he didn’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, or do something that might make him change his mind again. So, dropping his eyes with a small groan, he nodded and started to leave – and then promptly realised something else. “Er, where am I supposed to go now?” he asked rather pointedly.

Orion turned around, a momentary look of surprise on his face. “Oh. Right of course.” He paused to think for a moment and then nodded. He turned round and called out something that Nick could only assume was a command. A minute later, a sullen-faced man with messy black hair, rather harsh brown eyes and a slightly pinched face arrived. He wore black trousers and a dark green shirt with the insignia of a white wolf’s head stencilled on the left breast. He nodded to Orion and the pair spoke, though Nick could understand little except that the other man appeared to be named Shani, though he had no way of knowing if this was his real name or an alias. The two men conversed for a moment before the younger man nodded stiffly and, with an even more sour expression on his face, he grabbed Nick’s arm and led him down the corridor.

“Hey!” protested Nick, trying to wriggle out of the firm grip. “I can walk perfectly well, if you don’t mind!” He finally managed to pull his arm away and gave Shani an incredulous look. “Do you lot treat all your new recruits like this?” he asked.

Shani looked at him, but his expression was now completely neutral. “Only the ones we have no reason to trust,” he replied in a cool voice.

Nick’s eyes widened. “You’ve got no reason not to trust me,” he said, forcing himself to stay calm and hide his frustration. “I didn’t plan to end up here. I didn’t actually plan to end up anywhere.”

He received a snort in response. “That’s what they always say, those so-called drifters through time,” replied Shani and gripped Nick’s arm in a tighter hold than before as he half dragged him onwards. “And then the next thing you know, you’re preparing for a war because that ‘drifter’ went and…” He muttered something under his breath that Nick couldn’t understand, but the gist of it seemed to be that the ‘drifter’ (or drifters) in question had then betrayed them. In light of that, he supposed he shouldn’t be surprised that people were a bit twitchy, or that they didn’t trust him. But it didn’t make it any less annoying; after all, he was innocent as far as that went.

They eventually stopped outside a door which opened when Shani ran his wrist over a keypad beside it. He led Nick into a small room with two single beds, each covered by a faded duvet and including two large pillows. “Seemingly, I’m to share my room with you,” he grunted, nodding towards the bed beside the window, which had clearly not been slept in. “So, I’ll be laying down –”

“You don’t need to lay anything down,” interrupted Nick as he sat down on the empty bed. “I’ll leave you alone and you can leave me alone. I’m not going to spontaneously blow anything up.”

An emotion that may have been surprise flickered over Shani’s face as the words echoed through the small room. “I’m watching you,” he said, but the words didn’t have the irritation to them that his previous comments had and he looked rather unsettled if anything. “If there’s even one hint that you’re…” but the words failed him. “Am I clear?”

Nick nodded. “Inescapably.”

Again, the response seemed to surprise the other man, because he worked his jaw silently once again before finally leaving with little more than a gruff nod before the door closed behind him.

Once the sound of his new roommate’s footsteps had completely faded, Nick lay back against the pillows and stared up at the ceiling, idly counting the white clusters of specks on the blue background. He could only assume they were meant to represent the night sky, although it didn’t resemble any version of the night sky he knew. In fact, it looked more like one of the paintings Trevyn used to bring home from nursery school than of something seen from a telescope.

He laughed softly at the thought of the day he had picked his son up from nursery school when it had been pouring with rain. Rather than go straight home, Nick had noticed how much the little boy had giggled and clapped at the sight of the rain and had brought their wellingtons along in the back of his car and taken them both out for a ‘puddle walk’. They had spent a happy half an hour running in and out of puddles and splashing each other until Nick’s hair was so wet that it had plastered itself all over his face. John – for this had been a recent memory – had almost killed himself laughing when he’d seen them.

“Couldn’t wait to get me out of those trousers either,” he mused, absently picking at a thread on his ripped old jeans. Funny, though; I never did get that big patch –”

He stopped abruptly as a bleeping noise derailed him from his musings and looked around wildly as he tried to work out what he might have set off. There were several strange gadgets dotted around the room, but as far as he could tell, they all looked the same as they had when he had entered the room with Shani.

It was only then that he realised that the sound was coming from himself and, looking down, he saw a faint light flickering underneath the sleeve of his jacket. Quickly, he rolled it up and his eyes widened as he realised that one of the buttons on John’s vortex manipulator was flashing. Frowning, he pressed it – and almost fell off the bed in shock when a hologram of his lover appeared before him, frowning slightly, apparently confused.

“Is this thing on?” he asked, tapping something on his arm, presumably the wrist strap. “Ah, there we go.” He took a deep breath and cleared his throat. “Okay…I’m no good at these things, these – well, I presume that you’ve guessed what this message is. Yes, it’s one of those horribly clichéd ‘If you’re hearing this, I’m dead’ things. Not something I thought I’d be doing personally, but hey, times change. Things change. People change.”

He was silent for a moment. “Well, to cut to the chase – Nick, if you’re hearing this, then it’s best to presume that I am dead. I did some tinkering around so that this wrist strap would bond with you and recognise you as its owner if anything should happen to me. You’re also the only one who can trigger this message – it answers to your voice saying a certain word – so I think I can be certain that it’s you who’s listening to it.”

There was another pause. “Nick, I…I don’t do long sentimental goodbyes, so I’ll say now that…well, we were good together. We were really good together. I can’t lie and say that we had enough time together, because with you, there’s never enough time. But I am glad we made the most of whatever time we had.” He cleared his throat. “There isn’t much left for me to say and certainly nothing that you don’t already know, being a Jones and all. So, to that end, and to finish on a famous line,” and he cleared his throat again. “So long, and thanks for all the fish.”

As the hologram faded, the wrist strap slipped out of Nick’s hand and hit the floor quietly. At the same time, he could dimly hear the sound of what sounded like an ancient radio playing long lost music from somewhere down the corridor. Slowly, Nick stood up and went to listen – and froze in his tracks, his heart almost stopping as he did so. The music wasn’t ancient and it certainly hadn’t been lost. In fact it was part of a song that he knew very well.

“I watch the birds fly south across the autumn sky.
And one by one they disappear.
I wish that I was flying with them.
Now you're not here.

Like the sun through the trees you came to love me.

Like a leaf on a breeze you blew away…”

The voices faded away and the words trailed off, but Nick didn’t need to hear the rest of the song to recognise it; ‘The War of the Worlds’ had been one of his favourite science fiction books as a child and he had adored the music for as long as he could remember. He had been able to sing the lyrics to that particular song word perfectly (albeit not pitch perfectly) since he was eleven.

It had always touched his heart in some way, but now, so soon after hearing his lover’s last words, Nick felt chilled to his very core by them. It was true; he really did wish he was flying away and disappearing into the mist outside the window. At least then he wouldn’t feel as lost and alone as he did now.

As he stood up and looked out of the window, Nick realised that the coldness he was feeling was not simply inside him, but was also coming from something around his neck. Slowly, he reached out and brought out the necklace that John had given him, glancing down at the black circle of Pizrra stone hanging off the black leather strap. He started in shock; not only did the stone feel icy cold to his touch, but the ribbons of silver which had become such a part of the stone had disappeared without a trace. He shivered; somehow, even the pendant was aware that John had gone…as if it was sensing the loss.

At that moment, a surge of white-hot pain ripped through Nick’s body, and made him sink onto the ground. Before he knew what was happening, his face was buried in his hands and hot tears were flowing through his fingers and soaking the fine leather chain. He pressed the stone briefly to his lips as he collapsed in a heap and curled up in a ball, gripping it tightly in his hand as the sobs wracked their way through his body.

He didn’t know how long he lay on the floor, but when he finally stood up, the first thing that he became aware of wasn’t the throbbing pain in his head or the dry itching in his eyes. Instead, it was the dark red glow from the setting sun that infused the room. Startled, he wiped his cheeks and looked out of the window at the area below him, cut off by a thick forest of trees on one side and a range of formidable snow-covered mountains on the other side. Beyond them, he could dimly see a stretch of glistening water, though he had no idea whether it was sea or a river, or even just a stream. It was beautiful, but there was something very dangerous about it all, something which was reinforced by the sight of several groups of people outside on the grass below his room. It looked like they were simply playing a game, but even that looked almost regimented, as if in preparation for something.

At that moment, a revelation shot its way through Nick’s grief-fogged mind. What was going on below…the harsh landscape…this wasn’t just a game. What he saw were preparations; preparations for battle if they were attacked or called out at any time to any place. These men and women had to be prepared for anything if they were going to survive. The thought made him shiver, half in fright and half in realisation of what he had to do.

Bending down, Nick picked up John’s vortex manipulator and, ignoring the pang in his chest, strapped it to his wrist before he made his way out of the room and back down to the hall he had passed through earlier. It took him mere minutes to pick out Orion’s heavy eyes in the crowd and he made a beeline for him.

The other man looked up at him. “Yes?”

Nick took a deep breath and gently stroked the leather band on his wrist as he spoke.

“I’m in.”

***

Next Time: A training session brings something strange to light about the Time Agency’s unwilling new recruit.

Chapter Text

The next day…

It was barely dawn when Nick felt a hand on his shoulder shaking him and heard a voice hissing in his ear, spitting words that he did not understand. Nonetheless, he grunted and forced his eyes open, to be faced by the stern visage of his room mate – Shani, his brain helpfully supplied for him – who was glowering at him and chastising him, presumably about being late to get up.

Looking out of the window, Nick groaned when he saw that the sun had hardly risen and was instead merely beginning to stain the clouds pink. “What time is it?” he mumbled, momentarily forgetting that Shani could not understand what he was saying. Vaguely, he wondered if anyone around here would understand him, or if he sounded as incomprehensible to them as the writings of Chaucer had been to him in school. At any rate, the only response he received to his question was Shani twittering impatiently at him before shocking him out of his wits by dumping a bowlful of ice-cold water over his head.

“Jesus Christ!” he yelped as he fell off the bed and onto the floor. “I’ve heard of wake-up calls, but I would have just settled for you pulling the covers off me, you know!” With a glare, he pulled himself up off the floor and wrung out his wet hair. Only then did he realise that, not only was he about to get dressed in front of a complete stranger, but also that, due to having decided against sleeping in his only pair of boxer shorts, he was stark naked.

“Would you mind…just turning away for a moment?” he asked, very conscious that his face was heating up as he turned his head a little, just enough to make brief eye contact with his room mate. However, he couldn’t be sure, but he thought that he saw a flicker of something like carnal appreciation in Shani’s eyes before he stiffened and turned away to face the wall, though not without a mutter of something that probably meant  “Seen it all before.”

Mortified, and more than slightly unsettled, Nick pulled his boxers back on – mentally resolving to ask about a laundrette and some clothes shops as he did so – and then picked up the clothes he’d been given the night before. He pulled the short-sleeved black T-shirt over his head and started in shock as the fabric stiffened and then shrunk, until the shirt fit him exactly. The same happened when he fastened his trousers, and again with the shoes. He stifled a giggle at the thought of what his father would say if he could see them. Self-fitting clothes would mean the end of having to use those awful tape measures!

Firmly clamping down on any sadness that thought brought with the laughter, Nick turned towards the mirror so he could tie his hair back. But before he did, Shani came up and, his face completely expressionless, passed him his glasses. “Don’t forget these,” he grunted.

Nick’s mouth fell open again. “You can speak my language?!” he spluttered as he put his glasses on. He couldn’t decide whether to be relieved that someone could understand him or angry that they’d let him think they couldn’t – something which was tantamount to lying in his mind.

“No.” Shani gripped Nick’s wrist and indicated John’s vortex manipulator. “This is translating what I say to you. I can’t understand your language any more than you can mine. But this can.”

Nick looked at him and blinked several times. “But why is it only doing it now?”

“I don’t know. It might be a time delay or something.”

Nick suddenly remembered that he had understood what Orion and the other woman who had found him had been saying to him the previous day (apart from a brief moment where the woman had spoken in an incomprehensible language). He decided, however, that the chances of Shani actually knowing why this was were slim and decided not to mention it and simply said, “So this works like the TARDIS would work for the Doctor?”

A hard expression flickered over Shani’s face. “In a manner of speaking,” he agreed tersely. “But if, as you seem to have said, you aren’t a Time Agent, how did you get it?”

Nick pulled his wrist away. “My…partner was one,” he said stiffly. “We were separated on our…journey and I can only imagine that his wrist strap somehow bonded with me when he died.” He didn’t feel like going any further into the matter with this man. The message he had received from John was still too fresh in his mind. Instead, he turned back to the mirror and hastily tied his hair back in a messy ponytail. “So, where are we going?”

~*~

Orion was waiting in the hallway when Nick and Shani came down the stairs. Nick looked annoyed – presumably at the early hour – but alert. He must have had experience with early rising before this, though that clearly didn’t mean that he had to like it. Next to him, Shani wore his usual scowl, though something unusual flashed through his eyes occasionally when he glanced towards the red-haired man.

Shrugging, Orion clapped his hands together and made his way towards the two young men. “Good morning,” he said, chuckling when Nick gave him an incredulous look. “Ah, I take it you’re not a morning person, then.”

“Oh, I don’t mind early mornings,” answered Nick as politely as he could. “I’m used to them – I have to be in my line of work back home. But I’m just not exactly enraptured at being woken up by an ice-cold shower!” He glared at Shani, who looked entirely unrepentant.

“Did he indeed?” Orion was still chuckling as he looked at the black-haired Time Agent. “Well, it’s good to see that you’re getting yourself a sense of humour, Shani. Although last time I checked, ice-cold showers were meant to calm you down, not get you up.” He winked heavily and Shani scowled, muttering something about simply doing what was necessary. Nick groaned, not only at the incredibly bad innuendo, but also at the notion that clearly, his presence, which the previous night had been a cause of intense suspicion, was now incredibly amusing. My God, he thought, if this is what the Time Agency’s like, it’s sure as hell gone downhill since Jack and John had been around. He didn’t even entertain the thought that his lover and friend might actually be here. That was too headache-inducing so early in the morning.

Orion clapped his hands together. “Well, we mustn’t linger here,” he said. “There is a great deal of work for us to do yet. Shani, you must go the training department at once and summon Nergal.” He looked at Nick. “You are serious about your desire to train as a Time Agent?”

“I am,” replied Nick. “I don’t know how I ended up here and I don’t know why. But I do know that I owe it to my…friends and my family to survive in any way I can.” While he had known, ever since joining Torchwood that he would die young, but now that he had ended up alive after his and John’s ‘save the universe plan’ had evidently gone hopelessly awry somehow, he would fight to survive and get to somewhere where he would hopefully be given some answers as to why things had gone wrong.

There was a long pause as Orion studied him as if he was scanning him for any hint of a lie. He was frowning slightly, but what he saw must have satisfied him, because he eventually looked up and nodded approvingly. “Then, you must be trained accordingly.” He turned back to Shani and spoke further with him, causing the younger man to bow stiffly and leave down another one of the flights of stairs. “Come with me,” he said to Nick then and swept off down the hallway and up yet another flight of stairs.

Barely having time to look around and wonder what the signs pointing to the various stairways and passages read, Nick sprinted to catch up. He couldn’t help chuckling at the look of shock that crossed Orion’s face when he did catch up with him. “I’m not a ghost, you know,” he remarked.

“Never said you were,” Orion replied simply.

“Sorry; it’s just you were looking at me –”

“Like I’d seen a ghost?” Orion laughed out loud. “No, boy, I’ve seen ghosts and you are assuredly not one. I was merely impressed by your running speed.”

Nick decided to ignore the comment about seeing ghosts and started to explain about how he enjoyed athletics. However, he had barely gotten a word out when he became aware of something tickling his arm. Turning around, he was shocked to see Orion’s nose running down to his elbow, his eyes narrowed in thought. Horrified, Nick pulled his arm away. “What are you doing?!”

Orion nodded. “Born towards the latter end of the twentieth century, but you came here from the early twenty-first century,” he said. “You have those typical pheromones. Faint, but distinctive.”

Dimly, Nick recalled John’s distinctive scent that he called his ‘fifty-first century pheromones’ and the way he would wind him up about them, just as Ianto did with Jack. He also registered, for the first time, a similar scent surrounding him, growing stronger the closer he came to anyone. That must have been what the time travellers had meant.

“Well…as impressive as that is, I’m not exactly used to having people sniffing me!” he exclaimed. “If you wanted to know where – or when – I was from, why not just ask?”

“Oh, I couldn’t do that.” Orion shook his head. “That would be extremely disrespectful. Only the Agency’s leader may ask such questions.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

A bitter laugh greeted that statement. “Of course it doesn’t. This whole place doesn’t make much sense. Dealing with time itself never does make sense.” At that moment, he produced an old-fashioned pocket watch from his pocket and cursed. “Come, or we will be late.”

As they ran through the corridor, Nick could just see the older man typing something into what looked like a futuristic version of a PDA. At first, he couldn’t read it, but when he cautiously raised the vortex manipulator towards it, he could barely hold back a laugh.

The note read ‘Don’t sniff people from the 21st century.’

~*~

The pair eventually stopped outside a pair of large silver doors framed by a silver arch with what looked like runes and strange words engraved into it. Nick pointed at it. “What does that say?” he asked, his wrist strap having decided to refuse to translate it.

“No one knows,” answered Orion indifferently. He touched his wrist strap against the side and the door hissed open. “All we know is that I’ve just shown you how to open the door. I doubt even Cipactli herself knows what it means.”

“Who’s Cipactli?” asked Nick as he hurried to keep up with the older man. “Is she another Time Agent?”

“She’s more than just that,” answered Orion without turning. “She’s the leader of the Agency.”

“You mean –” but Nick quickly caught himself, realising that what he was thinking would probably not be appreciated.

“Yes, we have a woman in charge.” Orion turned around and speared Nick with a glare. “Does that bother you?”

“No!” exclaimed Nick, mortified to have caused offence. “It’s just…well, just not necessarily that common where – I mean, when – I come from. I can’t say I’ve actually ever worked in an organisation that’s been led by a woman.” He bit his lip. “But, hey…I mean, I think it’s great that you’ve got her in charge; nice show of…equal rights…” He trailed off when he realised that Orion had moved on. Cursing, he picked up his pace, silently resolving to keep quiet – or at least to watch his tongue – for the time being.

After several minutes, and even more long corridors, Orion stopped again. He had covered his head with a white shawl and passed another one to Nick. “You always cover your head before visiting the Sage,” he said. “It’s a mark of respect, you see.”

“What?” Nick was derailed from his examination of the corridor. “I thought…we were going to see your leader.”

“Normally, we would. But these circumstances are different.” Orion paused. “You see, when you arrived yesterday, something strange happened; something we can’t explain.” He grasped Nick’s hand and closed his eyes. “There’s something about you that hasn’t been seen for many years, but I for one can’t place it.” He dropped Nick’s hand. “When the Sage noticed this, he summoned us to his chambers with great haste, so that you could be…” he chewed for the word, “analysed.”

Nick scowled; the use of the word ‘analysed’ made him feel rather like a lab experiment. “I’m sure there’s nothing odd about me at all,” he said frostily. “And if there is, it’s probably just something to do with me coming from the twenty-first century.”

Orion raised an eyebrow at him. “You must speak slower,” he said. “Your accent sometimes makes your words very hard to understand and you must see that such a thing can make you appear alien and therefore suspicious.”

There it was again; that mistrust that had been so present last night, but hardly there this morning. With a pang of sorrow at once again being vilified for something he had no control over, Nick realised that he should have known that the new friendlier attitude was too good to be true. “At least I have an accent to be proud of,” he muttered tensely, only then realising that no one whom he had heard speak had the faintest hint of an inflection, or if they did, they hid it extremely well. Nonetheless, when he realised that his companion was walking on, he covered his head with the white scarf and followed him through the doors.

When the doors closed, he looked around and found himself in a low-ceilinged room, which, when the smoke from the stifling incense cleared, was decorated intricately with gold panels. Patterns were carved into the metal and framed by ribbons of blue and purple patterned fabric which put Nick in mind of a silk dress his sister had worn for a party once. Weird plants that looked like descendants of some of the stranger things he’d seen in the Hub hothouse – on the rare occasions he’d paused to take them in – were placed around the room in alcoves where windows would presumably have sat in older days. A low platform was in the middle of the room and covered with a red and gold cloth.

“Come forwards, human child.”

Nick started at the disembodied voice echoing through the room that seemed to come from another alcove where a small black statue of something – or someone – was seated. A white candle – mercifully unscented this time – was burning below it with a flame that, strangely, was purple with golden smoke.

Goes with the décor, I suppose, he thought to himself as he stepped forwards and nearly jumped out of his skin as he realised what the statue closely resembled. “Dear God, I’ve walked into some sort of twisted version of the Wizard of Oz crossed with Star Wars.” The small black statue did indeed bare an uncanny similarity to Darth Vader.

Instantly, the temperature in the room dropped and the hangings seemed to shake as the voice boomed out, “You dare to disrespect the sacred oracle?!” The candlelight flickered and some of them sputtered out. “Insolent boy!”

Shit, Nick thought. I forgot my own rule; watch my mouth so I don’t offend foreign – or future – cultures. Holding up his hands in the hope that the statue would understand him, he started stammering, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry…forgive me.” Panicking, he dropped onto his knees before the alcove and bent his head. “I didn’t mean any offence…I don’t know how I came to be here, but I just…I want to get home and I’ll do whatever I can to do that.”

There was a long pause. Then, slowly, and much to Nick’s relief, the temperature returned to normal and the candlelight stopped flickering. “You’re not from here,” echoed the voice again, clearly still threatening, but at the same time rather more quietly than before. “And I’d be careful of how you answer me, otherwise I might not be as lenient as I was before.”

Nick bit back the response he had in mind. “No,” he said, “I’m not from here.” Once again, he restrained himself from sarcastically asking what the giveaway was.

“Do you know who I am?” asked the voice.

“You’re,” but Nick quickly stopped and changed tack. “Are you…the Sage?”

A loud laugh filled the room then, causing the two occupants to jump in surprise. “Well, give the boy a medal, he’s finally guessed something correctly!” it crowed. Orion seemed to hastily turn a laugh into a quiet cough.

By this point, Nick was beginning to feel annoyed. And I’m accused of being insolent? Blimey, moods change at the speed of light around here.

“I think you’ll find that changing anything at the speed of light would be impossible. We’ve still not managed to crack that one,” said the voice.

Nick almost fell over in shock. Star’s End! Do I actually have to watch my thoughts here?!

“Yes.”

Fuck.

“No.”

Bloody hell!

“You might get there at some point.” The voice was clearly amused and Nick was finding it extremely hard not to think something deeply offensive.

Orion cut in at this point. “As stimulating as this whole conversation is, don’t we have a job to be getting on with?”

“Indeed we do.” The voice of the Sage seemed to pause. “Come forwards again, young man.”

If a disembodied voice could have eyes, Nick was sure they would have been focused on him. Slowly, he stepped up to the front and, without anyone asking him, almost as if he knew, he knelt on the platform, the fabric rustling softly beneath his knees. A moment later, he felt a great rush flowing through him; a wild heat burning through his limbs, wind whipping through his hair and an adrenaline rush that gave him a gloriously powerful feeling and he thought that this must be what invincibility felt like.

And then, it suddenly stopped. Nick felt the energy surge out of him like a bolt of lightning ripping through the sky. He gasped out loud and pitched forwards, nearly landing face first into the vibrant purple flame burning from the candle in front of him. Blinking heavily, he looked around, his breath coming out in ragged pants. “Woah…”

An amused chuckle echoed around the now silent room. “You felt it too?”

“Yeah, I felt it.” Nick sat up properly and straightened his glasses. “What was it?”

“It was the power that is inside you.” The answer made Nick blink in shock. “You have a power that has not been felt…for a very long time.”

Nick was about to ask what that power was, but then he felt the invisible eyes of the Sage move away from him and turn towards Orion. He didn’t listen to what was said between them, preferring instead to think about what this power he had could be. He stared at his fingers; could some immense force be hidden within his very hands? And if so, what could be strong enough that it could send such a shockwave through him and through the room?

After a while, he felt, or rather smelled, Orion’s presence behind him and felt his hand landing firmly on his shoulder. He didn’t speak, but merely led them back outside into the corridor and carried on walking down it without looking back. Nick ran to catch him up.

“What was that?” he asked. “What was that power within me?”

“I cannot say,” answered Orion in a gravelly voice. “I have a hunch, but there is no way of knowing for certain until you are properly trained.” He took something out of his pocket and swore. “But enough questions; Cipactli will be waiting for us.”

In the excitement over what had just happened, Nick had completely forgotten about the leader of the Time Agency. His heartbeat quickened, partly in anxiety and partly in anticipation of who such a powerful woman could be.

A guard intercepted them at yet another pair of silver doors. He spoke briefly with Orion and then, without much more preamble, grabbed Nick’s arm and half-dragged him through the doors, almost throwing him in the room so he landed on his knees and walking away without another word. The doors closed silently behind him

“Well, get up then.”

The brusque voice shocked Nick out of his annoyance at being dumped so unceremoniously and he scrambled to his feet and looked around to see who had spoken. His eyes eventually fell upon a tall woman with her back turned to him. She had long black hair securely fastened in several tight braids tied together at the back and with a simple crown of what looked like silver laurel leaves sitting firmly on top, denoting her rank and power. Unlike anyone Nick had seen before now, she was also wearing deep purple robes over a short black tunic and matching trousers which were light but at the same time exuded a sense of great power.

When she turned around, she revealed a long sword at her side with patterns on the scabbard that Nick couldn’t quite see. Her dark eyes glinted as she studied him and sat down and her expression was so hard and stern that Nick almost recoiled. She looked too much like one of his most loathed professors from university for him to be comfortable. Nonetheless, he knew better than to show fear or weakness. This woman did not look like someone who would tolerate that.

“So,” she said, still with the stern voice. “Sit down.” Nick did so automatically, barely even noticing that his feet had moved. “You have been to see the Sage, have you not?”

“Yes.” It was all Nick could do not to stand and salute her as he spoke. “He said that…there was a power within me.”

“Did he?” An eyebrow was raised and Nick flinched back as if he had been hit by an arrow. “Well, that is very interesting…but not relevant at this moment.” She picked up a device from her desk and looked up fixing him with a stern glare. “What is your name?”

Deciding that arguing with this woman would be a very bad idea indeed since she could probably beat him to a pulp with both hands tied behind her back, Nick answered her instantly. “Nicholas Gabriel Jones,” he said. “But everyone calls me Nick.”

She fixed him with a quelling glare. “And what is your age?”

“I’m twenty-five,” he answered. “In earth years,” he amended.

“When is your date of birth and what was your date and location of origin?”

“I was born on September 3rd, 1984,” Nick paused. “And…what do you mean by my date and location of origin?”

The eyebrow was raised again. “You came here from the 21st century.” It was a statement rather than a question and Nick nodded nervously. “When and where in that time frame did you arrive here from?”

“I left in March 2010. I came here through the Rift in time and space in Cardiff. That’s in Wales.” The expression he received in response instantly made him regret the last three words. “But…you know it’s in Wales,” he quickly added.

“Did you have a job before you departed?”

Nick winced at how the question was almost spat out. I really do have to control myself. “Yes,” he said. “I worked as a medical doctor in one of the city hospitals before,” he paused thoughtfully, “I was recruited as medical officer for Torchwood Three.” He deliberately drew out the last words; if the Rift was well known by this time, chances were Torchwood would be too.

To his slightly childish disappointment, however, the woman – Cipactli, he suddenly reminded himself – didn’t even react to the mention of the famous organisation. “So, you’re a medical doctor,” she said. “And you have experience in combat.”

“I do.” Nick allowed him a small thrill of satisfaction that she had at least acknowledged his background at Torchwood with that small fact.

She nodded. “Very well; you may leave. Orion will escort you to our training department and Nergal, the head of the fighting department, will analyse your abilities and from there we will be able to discern just how much…experience you have.”

Oh, you just wait, Nick thought.

~*~

One hour later…

Orion sat on a bench in the large hall, staring at one of the faded stained glass paintings in the windows. He was lost in thought about his new young charge; the man with the bright red hair and the strange power inside him…the power that had apparently not been seen for many years.

He would have been lying if he said he wasn’t curious about what that meant and what the force within him was and why it had suddenly come to light after being dormant for so long. Could it be that the young man was a descendant of a past or present Time Agent who had passed the gift on? He knew that such a thing was not usual, but then again, there was very little that was usual about the boy.

He was suddenly interrupted when Nergal, one of the training leaders, came rushing up to him, his clothes covered in sweat and his black hair messier than anyone had seen it in a long time.

“Master Orion!” he gasped, skidding to a halt in front of him. “I am with the new recruit…but I find that I cannot train him! His technique is already flawless – far beyond what that of a twenty-first century Torchwood operative should be.”

Orion jumped up. “Show me,” he commanded and followed the younger man down to the training area, where he could see the red-haired man, who had removed his shirt, armed with two large handguns which he was firing simultaneously at a troop of moving statues. On occasions, he would actually toss the guns aside and drop to the floor, rolling out of the way of the movers and dodging athletically, even as he kicked and punched at them, before executing a forwards roll and getting up.

Nergal was shaking. “You see?” he gasped.

Orion nodded. He certainly did see. The boy was far too good for someone who claimed to be a Torchwood operative. In fact, the only people he had seen who could fight in such a manner had been trained at the Time Agency. But that wasn’t all; there was something more about the style that was all too familiar to him.

Suddenly, Nergal gasped. “Look at his shoulder!” he cried. Sure enough, the young man’s red hair had swung in front of his face revealing an elaborate design tattooed on his shoulder blade.

Orion’s eyes widened as he saw the black and white yin and yang symbol with a dragon on each side with the flames surrounding them shimmering like stars. “But he’s not a Time Agent,” he gasped. “I identified him myself…he’s from the twenty-first century!”

“I know,” replied Nergal. “And while tattoos were common at that time, it is less common to have them suddenly change.” He turned to a woman beside him who passed him a picture, showing a different design. “This is a twenty-first century Chinese dragon design,” he said. “It is also the same design that our friend’s tattoo was originally…and there’s no sign that he’s changed it. He was shocked when he saw the pattern that it had changed to. But no one here can explain it.”

The door opened before anyone else could speak and Nick came outside again, wrapping his shirt around his shoulders. He nodded politely before pulling it on, but not before he noticed an expression of shock on the faces of the two men who had greeted him.

“It can’t be!” exclaimed Nergal, his eyes wide.

Orion nodded. “I think it might be,” he said. “I must go.” With another intense stare at Nick, he raced out of the room and back down the corridor towards the leader’s office. Without knocking this time, he burst straight into Cipactli’s office and gripped the desk, breathing hard.

“He has the necklace!” he panted. “He has the necklace of Pizrra stone…that belonged to…him.”

She looked up at that. “Are you sure?”

“I’m certain. I saw it with my own eyes just now.” Orion knew exactly what he had seen; he would have known that necklace anywhere. “Cipactli – he told me that his partner was a former Time Agent who trained him in how to fight and defend himself. I just saw him fight; his movements are exactly like what we saw with Phoenix.”

He paused for breath. “He’s powerful, more powerful than I realised at first. If he is told about what happened…and that we were responsible…he could be –”

“We don’t tell him.” Cipactli’s voice turned very cold. “He cannot find out, ever. It would be bad enough that he knows that his partner was lied to, but to find out that we were involved would be catastrophic.”

Orion agreed. “So, what do we do?”

***

Next Time: Nick receives an unexpected gift, but with the new information about him, what has the Time Agency decided to do about him?

Chapter Text

Five days later…

The long hall was unusually dark, having only been lit by two rows of flaming torches, one on each wall. The curtains were shut, blocking out any light from the outside and creating a long black panel above the torches. The enormous flames, which were bright white, whipped through the air and sparked over the dark background, creating an effect similar to lightening against the night sky.

Two large wooden doors creaked open revealing a large high-ceilinged room, almost like a chapel, with stained-glass windows sending rainbows over those assembled there, though there didn’t seem to be any natural light. Even in the roof there was a long thin panel of coloured glass, the hue staining the white wooden floor below. It seemed like a snapshot of the past in somewhere so futuristic; totally out of place, but at the same time, seeming to fit.

As soon as the light shone dark red, however, a soft rumbling like distant hailstones sounded from inside the room and then, a moment later, two Agents, a man and a woman, both dressed in smart formal military-like attire, stepped out of the doors and, simultaneously, drew their swords and held them up to form an archway. As soon as the blades connected, another pair followed suit and the motion was repeated all the way up to the front of the room.

Feeling very small and self-conscious in the face of such power and majesty, Nick started to walk forwards, his knees trembling under the back tunic and trousers he had found waiting for him when he had returned to his room that evening. The red light falling from the ceiling flashed violently against his glasses and he had to blink several times to stop himself flinching too hard. Quite how the glass was giving off so much light out when it was clear that there wasn’t as much as a ray of outside light, much less sunlight, he had no idea. Must be some kind of futuristic lamp, he mused to himself as he carried on walking, keeping his eyes on the ground so that he wouldn’t end up blinding himself.

About halfway down the aisle, Nick realised that the sound he could hear echoing off the walls was not simply music, but there was also a chorus of singing from the men and women bearing the swords accompanying it. He cocked his head slightly, listening closer. The notes sounded so familiar, but the words did not. In fact, even the language sounded alien to him. But he could recognise the music, although he couldn’t quite think where from. It was on the edge of his subconscious, but just wouldn’t quite come forwards. In terms of grandeur, the whole ceremony was rather reminiscent of a king or queen’s coronation; an occasion of pomp and circumstance, for the want of any better words.

But Nick didn’t feel like royalty at all. He didn’t feel the nervous anticipation or the sense of duty that went with the crowning of a new monarch. Instead, he felt like a prisoner being escorted to his death and knowing there was nothing he could do about it. He could hardly stand to look at the people surrounding him and see the chipped granite in their eyes. The coldness was beyond frightening; it made him feel sick to the stomach.

And now I’m on the way towards becoming one of them.

The thought almost made him run back out of the doors again and raid the whole place to find something, anything, that would allow him to get back home again. Anything had to be better than doing this. At least at Torchwood he had actually been trying to do some good – what on earth could he do here? John, from what he had been like, had made this place seem utterly repulsive.

He froze in his tracks and almost keeled over as that last thought shot through his mind. Instinctively, he reached out with one hand towards a wall, but almost fell to the side when he came into contact with nothing except thin air. He blinked and straightened up, trying to focus on what was in front of him – and almost screamed out loud when a familiar face swam before him, his green eyes sparkling. Startled, Nick looked behind him, but saw nothing. At the same time, he heard a soft laugh – a laugh that, even now, sent warmth flooding through to his heart.

“John?” he whispered, his hand reaching out to touch the face before him, only for his fingers to grasp at thin air.

The phantom – if that was what it was – smiled. “Don’t give up now,” it said, that familiar lilt echoing through Nick’s mind. “You’re ready for this. I know you are.” There was a pause. “I believe in you, Nick Jones.”

The image faded before Nick could say anything in reply – not that he could think of anything to say. But the warmth he had felt at seeing his lover’s face again did not fade; if anything it intensified, rushing through him and calming his heartbeat to a gentle rhythm.

It also got him thinking about his situation. John’s been here himself for…I don’t know how long. He was one of these men facing me now – he’s done things I could never even have imagined; things I don’t think I want to imagine.

He frowned to himself. But even after that…he could change. He was able to put his past behind him and start a new life. He remembered the pained looks on his lover’s face when he had talked about the things he’d done. Whatever he thought at the time, whatever pleasure he got from what he did…it didn’t last. But he knew what the consequences would be if he failed, so he put a brave face on it and forced himself to do it.

That thought made up his mind. John had gone through this place and not only had he survived, but he had proved that he had the strength to move on and make a life for himself afterwards. Now, Nick would do the same thing in his memory.

Taking a deep breath, he steadied himself again and carried on walking up the aisle to the front. As soon as he reached the dais, two masked men came forwards and draped a large pure white shawl over his head before stepping behind him and kneeling. A door behind the dais closed loudly and, accompanied by a swish of purple robes, Cipactli herself stepped onto the stage. Her entrance brought everyone in the room, including those who had borne the swords, to their knees. Noticing her sweeping gaze, Nick swiftly followed.

She spoke out to the crowd as she drew a long sword from an elaborately carved scabbard and rested the blade underneath Nick’s chin, forcing him to look up into her stern eyes.

“You have been brought here to be initiated into this organisation known as the Time Agency,” she called out, her words echoing through the room. “Do you understand what this entails and do you swear to abide by our laws?”

Nick summoned his courage. “I do.” Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Orion and two others who he didn’t recognise watching him with undisguised interest.

Cipactli nodded and used her sword to draw Nick to his feet before drawing it out from underneath his chin. A moment later, another man came forwards and placed another sword, encased in its scabbard, in his hands, bowed to his leader and melted back into the background.

Slowly, Nick ran his fingers over the scabbard and allowed himself to smile when he realised that he was tracing out the shape of an elaborate dragon surrounded by stars. Evidently, the dragon is my symbol, he mused, thinking of his tattoo. Not that I’ll be complaining, obviously.

Cipactli resumed speaking. “Will you accept your position within the Time Agency?” Her eyes seemed to crystallise as she scrutinized him, much as she had on the first day that they had met, making him feel as if he was underneath a microscope.

“I will.” The words were out of Nick’s mouth almost before he could think about it. He stood up and recited the promise he had been given the night before to memorise. “I will strive to uphold the sacred and vital laws of this institution to the best of my ability and to find and use the best of what is here inside me.” With a nod, he stretched out his wrist and allowed one of the mysterious masked men to fit a thin black strap onto his wrist; it looked like a simpler version of John’s vortex manipulator; presumably, the more senior Agents had more advanced technology. Nonetheless, he would still keep his lover’s wrist strap with him; if nothing else, it would mean that there was always a part of him by his side.

And that gave him the courage to do what he was doing now; the thought of John beside him, even if it was simply in the form of a leather band.

Cipactli came forwards again and removed the white shawl from Nick’s head, letting it fall behind them. “Our new colleague has been initiated into the Time Agency society,” she said. “I now present to you Agent Seren Draig!”

Nick barely managed to hold back a gasp. Seren Draig…they’re calling me Dragon Star! Subconsciously, he once again traced the dragon design on his scabbard before slowly drawing the sword and touching it to that of his leader, acknowledging and accepting his new position.

~*~

After the ceremony, Orion took Nick over to where a woman with red hair was waiting. “This is Shivna,” he said, nodding to her. “She will give you a tour of this place.” And, with that, he was gone before anyone could speak.

The girl, Shivna, was wearing the same formal attire as everyone else had been, but Nick quickly noticed that she had the same emblem embroidered on her jacket as he had seen on Shani’s clothes. “What is that?” he asked, nodding at the white wolf’s head. “That symbol – what does it mean?”

“That’s the symbol of my department,” she explained. “I was assigned to the History department – which you might call the Archives.” She grinned at him. “Each department has their own insignia; Research and Development, Training, Medicine – oh, and of course, Timeline Monitoring.” She nodded towards a young man who bore the insignia of a snake stitched in turquoise thread and eating its own tail. “Come with me and I’ll show you what they get up to before we hit the enormity that is the Archives.”

Nick didn’t really pay much attention to the multitude of corridors he was being led down, but he did note that the signs were all written in a language he didn’t understand. When he asked what it was, Shivna explained that it was the 51st century version of English, which was almost universally spoken now. That, at least, gave Nick an idea of when in time he was, albeit not the most exact one. I wonder what would happen if I changed the writing on the signs to 21st century Welsh…

“Well, if you were to do that, I think we’d have a problem, since you’re the only one who knows twenty-first century Welsh,” responded Shivna, running her hand over the door so it opened with a hiss. “Here we are – the Department of Timeline Monitoring.”

Nick barely had time to curse himself for forgetting that his thoughts weren’t exactly private here before he was taken aback by the multitude of strange sounds and flickering lights from the machines surrounding them. Several men and women were working at the consoles, occasionally speaking to each other so quickly that Nick didn’t have time to set his new wrist strap to translate the language. Even if he had, he doubted that the conversations would have made much sense anyway. “So, what goes on here?” he asked Shivna.

She laughed. “Timeline Monitoring; it does exactly what it says on the sign,” she said. “There’s a lot more to being a Time Agent than simply being able to fire off a fast round of bullets, Seren. If you’re working in this department, then you have to be alert so that nothing happens that could create a serious paradox. It sounds melodramatic, but we really don’t want the Reapers flying around the universe.”

Nick didn’t know what the Reapers were, but he decided to take her word for it. Maybe if I see Jack again I can ask him. “So the people who work here…monitor the timelines to make sure the universe doesn’t implode,” he offered.

“That’s about the size of it,” agreed Shivna. She took his hand and led him into another room where there were several boards along the wall with sections mapped out in different colours. “This is what you’re seeing at the moment throughout time,” she explained. “Different colours have different meanings. Green means that everything’s as it should be. Blue means that there’s a potential for something to happen, but not anything that should warrant a full scale invasion, for the want of a better word; something that can safely be monitored from here. Flashing white lights mean that there’s a serious situation and when that happens, it’s up to these guys here to pinpoint exactly where the problem is and send a troop of Agents to sort it out.” She looked up. “Fortunately, today, everything seems quiet; just a few tiny little blips on the system, but nothing that can’t be resolved quickly and hopefully without too much intervention.”

“What’s that?” asked Nick, indicating a block on the wall which was entirely marked out in bright red. “Does that mean something more serious than the white lights?”

“Ah.” Shivna looked at where he was pointing. “That section indicates the Time War. The red lights indicate that a section is time-locked, which basically means that you don’t go there under any circumstances. Or if you do, get out of there as quickly as is humanely possible.” Her round face turned hard. “The white lights indicate serious tampering, but if something that’s time-locked is tampered with…it really could lead to a paradox that’s large enough to potentially bring about the end of the universe.”

Nick shivered. “I won’t be messing around with that then.”

“That’s not the only one,” said Shivna. “The twenty-first century Battle of Canary Wharf is another one that should never be messed with – not even to try and make it so the battle never happened.” She swallowed hard. “The consequences would be unimaginable.”

“Believe me, I have no intention of going back there,” said Nick without thinking. Shivna looked at him curiously and he quickly cleared his throat. “I had a friend who worked there at the time,” he said quickly. “What I heard about it wasn’t pleasant by all accounts.”

The young woman raised her eyebrow slightly as if she knew that he was lying, but she shrugged. “Well, that’s Timeline Monitoring,” she said. “Our next port of call is the Archives, which is right next door.” With a smile, she took his hand and led him back into the corridor.

~*~

Later that evening…

Nick was exhausted when he was finally able to return to his room. His calf muscles were screaming in agony after having been subjected to what turned out to be a fascinating but rather gruelling tour of the Agency and all its grounds. I really need to get fitter, he admitted to himself. I’ll be no help to anyone in my current state.

With a loud groan, and without even bothering to register the clothes placed on top of the chest of drawers beside the cupboard, he dropped down onto his bed, only to yell in shock as he felt something hard underneath the bedclothes. Cursing, he whipped back the bedcovers and found a large black sealed box sitting calmly on the mattress.

Curious, he turned the box over in his hands, listening to whatever was inside it moving and shaking around – though, thankfully it wasn’t ticking. There was no indication on the box of who had actually left it – or, for that matter, why they had left it. Still, somebody clearly knew where he was, even if he didn’t.

“Well, that’s not entirely true,” he amended. “I know where I am. I just don’t know exactly when I am, apart from some time in the fifty-first century – or how the fuck I got here.”

Shrugging, he looked around furtively before yanking a grip out of his hair and, following a cacophony of muttered curses as several strands of red hair came out with it, he ran the sharp end over the tape binding the box shut. To his surprise, however, the moment he touched the tape, it melted away and the box propped open.

“Wow,” he muttered as he opened the box properly. “DNA recognition really has improved in the future.” Quickly, he removed the piles of neatly folded clothes and unearthed five black discs with several silver buttons. He pressed one – and gasped as blue words started shining before his eyes.

“Wow!” This time, the word was said in a gasp of shocked delight as he realised what he was reading. “Sanity – in the form of me realising that Pol really does deserve to get kicked to the other end of the desert!” Dimly, he realised that he really should start unpacking – not to mention that if he was going to start reading this series, he should be starting at the beginning – but right now, he couldn’t care less. Instead, he leaned back on his bed and lost himself in the words of one of his favourite authors.

He was so gripped by the story that the sound of the door slamming shut promptly knocked him off his bed and had him pointing his gun between the slightly bemused eyes of his roommate.

The man held up his hands. “Are you actually trying to kill me?”

“You startled me,” growled Nick, quickly replacing the safety catch on the weapon. “You slammed the door really loudly.”

He received a loud snort in response. “So, who’s remembered you, then? I didn’t think you were from around here.”

“I’m not,” answered Nick, fingering the small stuffed dragon he’d found underneath the discs. “I haven’t a clue who sent me all this.”

Shani gave him a rather cold look. “Well, they clearly don’t want to be found,” he said, dropping a piece of paper onto Nick’s lap. “Still, at least you’ve got someone out there who’s looking out for you. Some of us aren’t so lucky.” Without another word, he picked up his jacket and stalked out.

Nick sat up and picked up the crumpled sheet of paper and smoothed it out. The writing was faded, but still legible. It read ‘So you don’t feel too homesick. I’ve been watching over you, but don’t try to find me. Stay safe.’

He frowned to himself. Someone who obviously knew him in his own time had somehow known that he would end up here and cared enough to ensure that he at least had something to remind him of his own home, even if he couldn’t actually be there. With a smile, he leaned back against the pillow and started to read again.

***

Next Time: Nick is hit by a staggering revelation and a piece of entertainment brings him some nightmarish memories.

Chapter Text

Chapter 14

One week later…

When Nick entered the training room, he was very surprised to see Orion and four others – three men and a woman – sat behind a table which had been brought into the centre of the room. He recognised one of them as Nergal, the training instructor, but the others were all strangers. They were also wearing different clothing to any Nick had seen before; purple shirts with two emblems on the front. The first was the same on each person’s shirt; a large Omega symbol stitched in gold thread, but below that, each emblem was different, denoting five of the different departments at the Agency.

Briefly, Nick recalled his tour with Shivna the previous week and remembered that anyone with purple shirts embroidered with not only the departmental emblem, but also with the gold Omega symbol was the head of their department. Looking at Nergal, now, he could tell from the blue trefoil emblem – which reminded him uncannily of the Scout’s trefoil – and the gold Omega that he was the head of the Training department. Obviously, however, all of the very large departments had sub-divisions, each of which had a leader and these people were identified also by the Omega symbol, but this time it was silver rather than gold.

Why they were revealing themselves as figures of authority now, almost two weeks after his arrival, however, Nick had no idea. At the same time, however, he was worried that the training-room with which he had become so familiar had been completely transformed. All the brightly-coloured floor mats, wall hangings, as well as the different targets – both moving and stationary – had vanished, leaving behind a room that was darker and colder than the dankest cells he had seen in the Hub.

Okay, Nick thought, I think I’m in trouble. He was also very conscious that he was covered in blood – blood that was not his own. Earlier that day, there had been a severe incident and the large medical division was almost full to bursting with casualties. In fact, now that he thought about it, that must be the reason why no one from the medical department was here.

“Might not really be that bad a thing if the head of my department isn’t here to see me in trouble,” he muttered to himself. The last thing he wanted was for those who were in charge of him to think that he couldn’t follow orders or that he had serious disciplinary issues.

Of course – not that I do have disciplinary issues – none of this is going to be a problem if I end up dead, he mused. To his consternation, however, the woman started to laugh. It wasn’t an especially pleasant laugh either.

“We’re not planning on killing you,” she crooned in a voice that was no more reassuring than if it had been the hiss of a snake. “You’re far too valuable for that,” she added and stood up, crossing the room to walk around him in slow circles. “However,” she added, her voice right next to Nick’s ear, “being valuable can be very dangerous…if the gifts are not handled properly.”

Nick felt her hand going to her gun before he saw it and, thanking the powers that be for John’s training at Torchwood, he grabbed her arm and pinned her to the wall, pressing his body up against her back as he disarmed her. “Tell me what you want with me,” he growled.

She looked startled for a moment, but then her face twisted into an awful smile. “My, my, we have hooked a feisty one, haven’t we?” She calmly dislodged herself from him and walked back to the others. “We’ll have to be careful with this one, won’t we, boys?”

“Look,” said Nick impatiently. “I don’t know what you want with me and I mean no disrespect, but there are people coming back here who are in need of help. So if you could just tell me what you want from me and let me go back to work, I think there would be several people, including your colleagues, who would really appreciate that.”

There was a long silence. Then Orion stood up. Unlike the woman, however, he made no effort to appear to threaten Nick, but instead he simply leaned against the table and smiled.

“Dedication to the job is a commendable attribute,” he said calmly. “But that should not mean a sacrifice of other qualities that make up a person.” He paused. “Especially a quality such as…curiosity.” Slowly, he ran his tongue over his lips. “And especially curiosity about oneself.”

Nick blinked. “Curiosity?” The thought that he had been called just to answer questions about himself – about his own inquisitiveness – was at once baffling and extremely infuriating, especially at such a time as this. “You actually called me here to talk about curiosity when there are people who need my help?!” he spluttered.

Nergal grimaced. “He’s got a fair point,” he muttered.

“I realise the timing may have been slightly inappropriate,” agreed Orion, his voice as calm as if he had simply been discussing taking someone out of their post as a weather reporter. “But I don’t think you can honestly tell me you aren’t a little bit intrigued by…your secret power, can you?” he asked, a slightly cocky drawl permeating his voice.

“My secret power?” repeated Nick. “What are you talking about? I don’t have any power!”

“Oh, but you do.” The woman stepped in front of him again. “Or have you forgotten your meeting with the Sage?” She laughed again at the dumbstruck expression on the younger man’s face. “My, my; it seems you really have forgotten. It wasn’t that long ago, surely?”

Nick shook his head. “Okay, even if I do have some kind of strength, or whatever it is, why couldn’t you have waited to tell me when everything had calmed down?”

The leaders looked at each other as they digested this comment; Nergal seemed to be the most uncomfortable with Nick’s words, almost certainly because he knew that he was right. However, after a pause, Orion stood up again and, with a slightly calculating smile, he extended one hand towards Nick.

“Come with me,” he said, his voice little more than a quiet drawl, but still carrying a biting command to it.

Deciding it was better – and quicker – to just agree, Nick nodded and took his mentor’s hand – and he was instantly escorted out of the room and down a long and dark tunnel. He didn’t ask where they were going, partly because he had learned by now that getting answers about almost anything out of Orion was like getting blood out of a stone, and partly because he just wasn’t sure he wanted to know.

Eventually, Orion stopped in front of a heavy door and pushed it open, revealing a long room lit by several enormous torches, each of them burning brightly with a strong flame that seemed to change colour every time Nick looked at it. “Go inside,” he ordered Nick. “Walk between the rows of torches and tell me what you feel as you pass them.”

Nick gaped as he looked inside. “But…” he stammered, noticing how thin the room was and how large the torches, and especially the flames, were. He had no idea how on earth he could walk in such a narrow space without getting himself burnt by the heat of the fire if nothing else.

Nonetheless, he found himself compelled by the flames, even as they hissed and spat before his very eyes. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes and stepped through the doors, shuddering as they closed behind him, making him feel as if he’d just walked into a tomb.

He expected to feel the heat ripping through his skin as if he was walking straight into the middle of a furnace. But he didn’t; instead the room felt pleasantly warm, like entering a chalet and curling up in front of the fireplace when there was a blizzard outside. Opening his eyes, he looked around and saw, to his great astonishment, that the flames seemed to be curling back from him as he passed them by, as if they were deliberately trying not to harm him. Even when a fragment of burning ash whipped across his hand, Nick felt no pain. He didn’t even feel anything across his skin, but instead he felt a rush of energy surging through his mind and his body, giving him a sense of control that he didn’t know he could possess.

He was very conscious of Orion’s intense gaze on him as he turned back round to face him, the flames glowing behind him, though still apparently being careful not to actually touch him. However, as he walked back down the corridor, he saw the flames he had left behind him appearing to be drawing towards each other again, just as they had appeared when he had first seen inside the room.

This time, Orion did not escort him out of the room again, but instead he took him into a smaller room attached to the side of the Flame Room, as Nick had hastily dubbed it. They sat down together at a small table.

“So, what did you feel in there?” asked Orion without preamble.

“It was weird,” answered Nick, his voice shaking, although whether it was from nerves or excitement he wasn’t sure. “I felt like…like the fire was submitting to me, as if I was ruling over it or something.” He shook himself. “But that’s ridiculous…I mean, fire doesn’t submit to anyone’s control,” he added, and then caught Orion’s expression. “Does it?”

Orion paused, seemingly considering his answer. “Some people have a gift, Seren,” he said slowly. “They can do things that very few others can.”

“I’d worked that out for myself, funnily enough,” said Nick in a tight voice. “I was hoping you’d be able to tell me exactly what it is I can do.”

“Well, I’d have thought that after what you just saw happen, you would be smart enough to figure it out for yourself,” Orion retorted. “But since you seem unable to make that leap,” he smirked as Nick scowled, “I will make it for you.” He sat back and ran his tongue over his lips.

“Oh, please, take all the time in the world, it’s a difficult thing to do,” snapped Nick.

Orion glared at him, but started talking anyway. “There are people here who are…special, even by Time Agency standards. They have been touched by nature and gifted that power.” His eyes locked with Nick’s. “You might call them Elementals. They are attuned with one or more of the Elements – earth, water, fire, air and blood – here, blood is considered an Element, since so much is shed that it becomes part of nature.”

Nick’s mouth was hanging open. “Okay, as much as this sounds like something out of a fantasy novel – are you telling me that I have power over elements?”

“Not Elements – just the one Element,” Orion corrected him. “Fire.” He sat back in his chair. “You can control fire and manipulate a blaze, or even just a dying ember, to do as you wish. You can conjure it yourself and use it to fight – and it will never harm you, because it recognises you as its Master.”

He smiled at the shocked expression on his pupil’s face. “I see that you had no idea of this.” Nick shook his head wildly. “That does not matter; I will train you.”

“Train me?” repeated Nick. “Train me to do what?”

“To use the fire. To fight with it.” Orion’s voice dropped. “To kill, if it proves necessary.”

Nick stood up, shocked. “No way!” he cried. “I accept that I’ll have to fight to defend myself and others, but I’m a doctor; it’s my job to save lives, not take them!”

Orion laughed. “You take the ethics of your Hippocratic Oath seriously then.” Nick nodded. “Surely, you must realise how outdated that is by this time – as well as the incredible number of contradictions within the text.”

“What do you mean?” asked Nick indignantly.

“Does the Oath not state that you will not condone a woman having an abortion or the practice of euthanasia, but at the same time say that what you do is always for the benefit of the patient?”

“It does say that.” Nick ignored any surprise he might have felt that Orion knew this, as he put it, outdated pledge. “Look, I didn’t write the thing and I don’t pretend that it’s perfect. But the principle of it is still sound; a doctor’s role is to save life, not to take life.”

“That may have been true. But now the times are different. You’ve seen the place now; you know what kind of an environment the Agency is. We all have to be able to fight – and fight to kill if we have to. Do you think we get a kick out of it?”

“Yes,” said Nick simply. “I do.”

Orion blinked, startled, and then sighed. “Okay, some of us do get a kick out of it,” he admitted. “I do myself. But some of us hate it, but we know that it has to be done. So often, it’s a case of kill, or be killed.”

“I understand that, but…but it’s fire,” stammered Nick. “It’s brutal.”

“Besides,” continued Orion as if he hadn’t heard Nick’s words, “did you not have the same issues when you were with Torchwood?”

Seeing that Nick had no answer to that, he gripped his hand. “Put aside the past,” he said, his grey eyes boring holes into Nick’s hazel ones. “Become who you were born to be and you can learn to accept who you are.”

Nick stared at him, his heart pounding. He felt horribly conflicted; while he couldn’t deny that sometimes you had to do unthinkable things to defend yourself – and others – the thought of killing someone, anyone, just felt utterly abhorrent. Even on an early mission with Torchwood, he had refused to kill a mortally wounded Jack, even though he knew he would come back.

Firing a single gun shot to the head to kill someone was bad enough, but at least the victim wouldn’t suffer and there were several occasions, especially here, that demanded execution. Nick knew that. But this wasn’t a bullet to the head that they were talking about; this was burning; a slow and excruciatingly painful means of death. No matter what else he could use the fire for – however much good it could do – he knew that he could never condone something so horrible, no matter what the circumstances were.

“I…I don’t know,” he stammered as he stumbled to his feet. “I just…I need some time to…to think.” He kept his eyes on his mentor as he backed out of the door into the corridor and broke into a trot, his mind racing with thoughts – the foremost being that he had somehow managed to gain the ability to do things with fire.

Must have been a side-effect of travelling in the Rift; it changed my tattoo after all…

“Hey, there!” One of the younger Agents appeared in the corridor, startling Nick out of his thoughts. “We’re being sent on an undercover mission – you know –”

“The one to the late twentieth or early twenty-first century, yes, I know,” interrupted Nick. “I know I spend half my life in the medical department, but I’ve still got eyes, ears and a brain that isn’t constantly located in my trousers.”

The boy blinked. “We were just watching some television,” he muttered sullenly. “I was actually going to ask if you wanted to join us.”

Nick raised an eyebrow. “What sort of television?”

“Well, just see how they represented the future in those days.” The blue eyes started sparkling. “You’re from that time, Seren…might make you feel more at home.”

“Well,” Nick said half-heartedly. “Just make sure it’s not a soap opera.”

That earned him a roll of the eyes. “Please. We’ve got better taste than that.” He grabbed Nick’s hand and dragged him into the room, barely pausing to let him look around before dumping him rather unceremoniously onto a very hard sofa at the back of the room.

“So, what are we watching?” asked Nick, sitting up and trying not to wince as his back protested. Clearly, Rift-travel hadn’t done anything to heal the damage done to his spine.

“I think your people call it sci-fi,” answered his companion. He squinted at the title and sounded it out slowly, in slightly broken 21st century English. “It’s called…Star Trek: The Next…Generation.”

Nick didn’t even notice the other man stumbling slightly over his pronunciation of ‘generation’. His face had lit up when he heard the title. “Are you serious?” he spluttered out, almost laughing at the dumbfounded expression facing him. “I love Star Trek!” he added, perching himself on the sofa as the lights dimmed and the episode started up.

The boy – Aurigae, Nick realised with an internal snicker as he remembered that another name for that star was Capella, which was rather funny to him, considering some of the books he’d read – sat down beside him, his eyes wide with shock and a small measure of disdain as the episode played on the screen in front of them.

“You mean people in your time actually watched this?” he asked Nick incredulously. “No wonder they call it fiction, though I can’t work out where the science comes in!” He shook his head. “But I suppose there’s no accounting for tastes, eh, Seren?”

But Nick didn’t hear him. The minute he’d looked at the screen, the room seemed to disappear as he recognised the blonde commander and knew he had to leave. He couldn’t watch that particular episode since he knew what was coming.

“But rumour has it that Commander Shelby's played a hand or two...”

As the dialogue continued on the screen, Nick poked Aurigae on the shoulder. “Can we watch a different episode?” he said, hoping his voice didn’t shake too badly.

“Why?” The young man turned to look at him. “Sure, it’s a wildly inaccurate portrayal of the future, but it’s not that bad, is it?”

Nick shook his head. “No, but I know there are better ones.”

Another Agent – a woman – turned around. “But we’ve heard that this is one of the best ones!” she shouted and tossed Nick a pile of papers. “Surely, this many people can’t be wrong!”

“Well…no, but it’s not one of my favourites, personally,” stammered Nick, hoping that the terror in his pounding heart wasn’t revealed in his voice.

Aurigae cocked an eyebrow at him. “But it’s also one of the most famous episodes there is,” he said. “Surely, if we want to blend in with the culture, we should at least –”

“Aurigae,” interrupted the woman. “He’s gone.”

~*~

Shani finished storing some of the artefacts that the Research and Development Department had finished testing for the day. He entered the relevant information regarding the removal, analysis updates and return of each item into the computers and then started to close up for the night. However, as he did so, he was distracted by a quiet sound down the corridor. It appeared to be coming from the planetarium.

For the first time, curiosity won out over the need to finish his job – he’d be coming back this way on the way to bed anyway – and, after clicking the safety catch on his gun, Shani quietly made his way through to the planetarium. Ignoring the stars and planets flickering around him, he slipped down the small flights of stairs, following the sound until he reached the lowest level. He moved to brighten the lighting, but then froze as a flash of bright red hair caught his eye. Cocking his head slightly, he was stunned to see the familiar figure of his room mate – Seren, he quickly reminded himself – curled up in a corner trembling and sobbing into his knees.

Shani stayed frozen to the spot for several seconds, watching this unusual display of grief from his quiet dorm mate before he finally moved over and knelt down beside him. He didn’t touch him, just sat and watched him.

As if he’d realised he was being watched, the redhead stiffened and sat up, blinking and looking around him. As soon as he spotted Shani, however, he flinched away and hastily wiped his face.

“Just came in here for a bit of down time,” he said quietly. “I didn’t realise anyone was still here.”

Shani blinked at him. “I was just finishing up here,” he said rather stiffly. “I heard a sound and came down here to investigate.”

The other man nodded. “Oh, right. Well, you can put the safety catch back on your gun; I don’t think I’m in any condition to fight you.” He got up as soon as he heard the click of the safety catch going back on. “I’ll see you upstairs.”

“No.” Shani wasn’t having any of that. “You’re not going anywhere until you tell me what’s going on.” He glared at the surprised expression on his comrade’s face. “Look, I may not have an ounce of interest in your personal situation or anything like that, but I can’t have your personal feelings putting anyone here in danger. So either you explain what’s happened and get it out of your system or…” and his voice trailed off. “Am I clear?”

~*~

Nick had honestly not intended to be discovered here, especially considering it was so late and he had certainly held absolutely no desire to have been found by his room mate, who had barely spoken to him at all since he had received the box from his unknown benefactor. Now, seeing the unsettled look on his face, however, he found himself talking to him, telling him what had happened and how the episode of Star Trek had reminded him of one of the most terrifying events of his life – the Battle of Canary Wharf.

As he spoke, he saw Shani’s face change from neutrality to confusion – presumably he didn’t know what Star Trek was – and finally settling on what Nick would have called an expression of understanding on anyone else’s face, but on the black-haired man’s, simply looked foreign, as if he was trying to put himself in someone else’s shoes, but wasn’t quite managing it.

“The Battle of Canary Wharf,” Shani mused, pacing up and down. “That day is known to this day. There were stories, historical accounts even, of humans being taken and…their bodies being used to form a superior race…a race of warriors, devoid of emotion.”

Nick shivered. “That’s what the Cybermen did.” Even now, when he closed his eyes and leaned against the wall, he could still hear the metallic sounds and toneless voices echoing across the sterile white walls of the London building.

“But why were you there?” asked Shani. “I thought you didn’t work for Torchwood then.”

“I didn’t. My,” Nick swallowed hard, “my cousin did, though. I was in the city visiting him at the time and when I saw what was going on, I panicked and,” he laughed sheepishly, “I didn’t even think. I just ran into the tower to find him.”

“Wow,” was all Shani could say to that. “Just…wow.”

Nick laughed. “Yeah, that sounds about right. The worst part was that I couldn’t tell anyone outside Torchwood about it, because I knew no one would have believed me. They’d have just put it down to me watching too much science fiction – or they’d have thought I’d gone completely round the bend.” He turned away. “Twenty-first society wasn’t always good at accepting things that were different or…strange.”

To his surprise, Shani smiled sadly. “It sounds pretty conservative,” he said. “A bit like here, really.” He laughed softly at Nick’s shocked face. “It sounds ridiculous – I mean, here you are; somewhere where no one would think you were mad for talking about soul-destroying robots and where sex and drugs are more freely available than water in some places.”

“And where murder seems second nature to some,” said Nick rather crossly.

Shani didn’t even blink. “Yes, there’s that as well. It hardly sounds like a repressive society, does it? But it is – more repressive than you think.” He glanced around. “I say that sex is available freely and easily and it is – too freely and easily. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a young man and I have all those…same needs. But I don’t want just anyone or anything. I have…” he paused for the right word, “I have preferences.”

“Preferences?” repeated Nick. “What –” but then he caught the look the other man was giving him and something occurred to him; the way he’d seen Shani looking at him the morning after his arrival, that open appreciation for his body, something he hadn’t seen him show to any of the women here and there were, undoubtedly, some beautiful ones. “You’re gay?” he blurted out. “I mean…you like men?”

“Hard to believe isn’t it?” said Shani with a twisted smile. “In a society where…well, anything goes – male, female, alien, human – you wouldn’t expect to see someone with a strict single preference, would you? But there are several of us, though we have to be discreet, otherwise we face,” he swallowed hard, “persecution.”

Nick nodded, understanding. “It’s similar at home,” he said. “It’s better than it used to be, but for a long time, there used to be a social norm of men taking women as their wives and having children with them. Anything outside of that was considered foreign, wrong even.” He sighed. “It’s sad that, three thousand years down the line, things are still the same, but different.”

“It is,” agreed Shani. “But we do what we do to survive. Hate crime still exists to this day, Seren and it is growing worse with every passing year. People like me are now afraid to come out in public, because of what’s being done to them.”

Nick sat down. “You have to do horrible things to survive sometimes, I suppose,” he murmured, absently running his hands together. “Hide in the shadows, deny who you are, fight, lie…I guess I hoped that after so long things would be better.”

“That’s what everyone hopes. But it never happens.” Shani laughed bitterly and Nick felt a surge of pity for him. Suddenly his prickly attitude made far more sense; he was trying to protect himself from being hurt. He’d probably been discriminated against for so long just because of his sexual preference and had joined the Agency as a means to escape.

“It never really ends, does it?” he murmured.

“I’ve almost given up hope of it ending,” said Shani quietly. “I’ve just accepted that there are things, awful things, that I have to do to survive, whether I like it or not.” He looked at Nick. “And so do all of us. Sometimes they’re things we don’t understand – things we don’t want to understand – but we still do them.”

“But why?” asked Nick.

Shani gave him a sad smile. “Because we have to hope that, in the end, it will make a difference in other ways. Look at me; I’m a Time Agent; a warrior and, as far-fetched as it sounds, a defender of the universe. I can’t do my job if I’m dead, can I?”

“It still doesn’t make things right though.”

“Of course it doesn’t. But sometimes it’s all you can do.”

***

Next Time: A battle at the Agency means Nick is forced to face his fears, but is then given an opportunity to show his greatest strength. But will he take it?

Chapter Text

Two weeks later…

Nick wrapped his coat tightly around himself as he tried to protect himself from the biting winds cutting through his skin and the thick snowflakes plastering themselves to his glasses and hair. Apparently, weather around here changed as quickly and dramatically as people’s moods did; only yesterday, they had been faced with glorious sunshine and clear blue skies, not to mention ninety degree heat, at least.

Now, more than ever, he really wished he had a pair of gloves and a scarf with him. Unfortunately, when he and the others had left for the base by the sea, not only had they all left in rather a hurry, but the weather had also been far too warm for him to even consider carrying, let alone wearing, woollen clothes. That had been two days ago and now his hands were so cold, he didn’t think he’d be able to hold his handgun, let alone one of the small syringes in his medical kit.

Apparently, however, he wasn’t the only one who felt that way, because several of the others there were also shivering and attempting to wrap what outdoor garments they had around them. One girl was even trying to burrow into her tent as she tried to get out of the freezing wind. A moment later, her partner, a slim man with wild blonde hair, came over and wrapped himself around her. Nick gasped in astonishment as he saw him clutch his hands together and instantly the girl looked shocked, but thankful and huddled closer to him. Nick couldn’t see anything that might have been conjured, but whatever it was must have had some effect, because they were both already looking visibly warmer and more relaxed. At the same time, some of the snow that had fallen beneath them was beginning to thaw.

The sound of snow crunching underfoot caused Nick to look around and he saw his partner approaching him with an amused smile on his face as he sat down in front of their tent and prodded at the frozen ground with a stick.

“Bit cold out here,” he remarked, pulling his gloves on and wrapping a thick scarf around his neck so that it covered his mouth.

“Centauri, I think ‘bit cold’ is a bit of an understatement,” retorted Nick as he paced up and down in an effort to stave off frostbite. “Try ‘it’s so fucking freezing I can’t feel my legs’ and you might be more accurate!”

The other man shrugged. “It’s your own fault for not bringing the right clothes with you.”

“Well, who on earth expects it to be ninety plus degrees one day and then like this the next day? And don’t come out with the ‘It’s perfectly normal round here’ line,” he added as Centauri opened his mouth. “In case you didn’t remember, I’m not from around here.” Scowling, he pulled off his glasses and wiped them on the bottom of his coat, mentally resolving to order Jack to use his Torchwood authority to do something about climate change when he finally returned home again. He refused to consider the possibility that he wouldn’t get home.

“I wasn’t going to say that, actually,” retorted Centauri, with that condescending drawl that Nick despised. “What I was going to say is that there’s no point in you having a gift if you don’t use it.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” asked Nick in a tight voice.

“Oh, it’s quite simple. You’re watching those two over there,” he gestured at the blonde man and his partner, “and wishing that you could get warm like that. Well, evidently, you’re someone who needs reminding that…you can do that.”

Nick almost choked on a snowflake. “What?!” he spluttered. “I can’t just wave my hands around and order hot air to just come over here like that! Do I look like a conjurer?!”

“Yes,” answered Centauri. “Not a conjurer of hot air, admittedly – although if you just kept moving your mouth, you would generate some eventually – but you can call up something else that can have the same function.” He laughed as Nick frowned before his eyes widened in comprehension. “You understand now?”

Nick stared at him. “I can’t!” he whispered. “It’s too dangerous; what if the fire alerts whatever’s out there,” he gestured wildly at the vast expanse of water, “to our presence? Using air is one thing, no one can see it, but fire’s a beacon to anyone watching us.” He shook his head. “No. I won’t do it. It’s far too dangerous.”

“Whether we’re spotted or not is a rather moot point if we freeze to death, I think,” retorted Centauri, still with that annoyingly superior air. “And besides, I think you’ve forgotten a rather important point – or it just went straight in one ear and out the other – namely that the fire need not give away our position.” He laughed again at the expression of baffled anger on Nick’s face. “Oh, come on, boy; don’t tell me you didn’t notice that fire round here isn’t all the same colour?”

“So?” Nick was cold and worried and he certainly wasn’t in the mood for playing games.

If looks could have killed, Centauri would have been looking at his partner’s bloodless corpse on the snow by now, but apparently even now, no one had figured out how to do that. “So,” he said, very slowly and clearly as if he was speaking to a small child, “fire is not just a tool to be played with. In this time, fire is intelligent – very intelligent.” He bent his head and lowered his voice to a whisper so that his icy breath was tickling Nick’s ear and making him squirm. “It’s intelligent enough to know when to camouflage itself.”

Nick stumbled backwards and nearly knocked their tent over. “Are you seriously telling me that any fire that I conjure will assess its surroundings and camouflage itself accordingly?”

“That is correct. Does fire not do the same where you come from?” When he received a shake of the head in response, Centauri smirked. “Well, you really are from a primitive age.”

Nick decided to ignore the insult. “Why did no one tell me this?”

“You didn’t know?” For the first time in the whole conversation, Centauri looked startled. “Orion didn’t tell you when he introduced you to your Element?” He frowned as Nick confirmed that he had been told nothing. “Well, he should have told you, it’s Time Agency law.”

“The Time Agency has laws?” asked Nick sceptically.

“Yes. Very few laws, granted, but it has laws.”

“So, why didn’t he tell me about this camouflage business?”

“I don’t know. But I do know that it’s all going to be rather irrelevant if we freeze to death, so can you please do something about that?”

Nick scowled at the patronising tone that had come back into play, but decided not to rise to the bait and instead he focused exclusively on fire. Slowly, a picture started forming in his mind’s eye; a plain ground from which flames were shooting up as they danced and curved, forming a circle. At the same time, Nick could feel his hand begin to twitch and stir as a white-hot power surged through his body, from the ends of his hair right down to his fingertips…

“There!” He was suddenly brought out of his reverie by Centauri’s triumphant voice as he indicated several flames, almost too white to look at against the snow.

To Nick’s astonishment, he could see that, as the snow underneath the fire melted, the flames changed to match the colour of the new ground. Grinning slightly, he bent down and warmed his hands by the blaze. “So, what’re we waiting for?” he asked, relaxing as the warmth permeated his body. “What’s coming?”

Centauri knelt down beside him. “Something that we were really hoping wouldn’t end up here,” he said grimly. “The Cryosentinels of Time.”

Nick blinked several times. “Wow, names for aliens that like to try to kill everyone really do get ridiculously strange over time,” he quipped. At least Weevil and Blowfish were easy to pronounce, even if they weren’t something you particularly wanted to run into! “So, what do we know about them – apart from that they’re bad news?”

“They are more than just bad news,” growled Centauri. “They’re cryo-frozen to recharge their powers. They can lie there for millions, possibly billions, of years, just growing more and more powerful, until they finally come out and fight.”

“And why are they coming here?”

Centauri sighed. “Two thousand years ago, back when the Time Agency was still a new organisation, the then leader made a deal with the Sentinels, swearing an oath that he would be their slave if they fought alongside the Agency in a battle. The Sentinels agreed and the battle was won, but the leader was killed on the field, so he was unable to fulfil his oath. When they learned of this, the Sentinels were deeply angered and vowed that someday they would come back and the reunion would not be so friendly.”

“But that’s not fair!” cried Nick. “It’s not as if the guy planned to get himself killed!” He paused and frowned. “Did he?”

“No,” said Centauri, “he didn’t. But the Sentinels didn’t care about that. As far as they were concerned, an oath had been violated and payment had to be made for it.” He gave a rather ironic laugh. “I suppose nothing more should have been expected from a race that was put to work by the Cult of Skaro, you know?”

“No, I don’t know, actually,” said Nick in confusion. “What’s the Cult of Skaro?”

There was a long pause before the older Time Agent spoke again. “Are you familiar with the battle of Canary Wharf?” he asked.

“Familiar with it?” Nick couldn’t help but laugh. “I was there when it happened. I shouldn’t have been, but I was. What’s that got to do with it?”

“The Cult of Skaro was involved in the battle. Others of their race, inferior to them, were…disposed of, but the Cult managed to escape by the use of a temporal shift to 1930s New York City where they,” Centauri coughed, “assisted in the design of the Empire State Building by insisting on the addition of a new metal to the top of it. A metal that has a name very similar to that of their race.” He paused and looked at Nick. “A metal called Dalekanium.”

~*~

Orion stepped nonchalantly into the room and leaned over the table, staring overbearingly at the other delegates who were assembled before him. “I am glad to see that you all received our summons,” he said. “As you all know, the Time Agency has been in place for several thousand years now and we have undertaken many missions, some extremely dangerous and some...” he paused and laughed softly, “that were less...hostile. Nonetheless, we have become a galaxy-renowned organisation, designed to stop inter-galactic wars and paradoxes.”

“But you’re not very good at it,” muttered one of the delegates. “How many of the types of incidents that you say you try to prevent has this Agency actually caused?”

Her words were followed by murmurs of agreement as several others nodded with their eyes on stalks – literally in certain cases, such as the Ephesi of Planet BZ-122.

Orion grunted softly. “I admit, it hasn’t always been easy, but as with any large organisation, there are always going to be a certain amount of problems. Nonetheless, we have done the best possible to ensure that these instances are few and far between.”

“What about the ones that you couldn’t fix?” someone else retorted. “What about that rogue Gallifreyan or two who are still running around the universe?”

Orion couldn’t help but shuffle uncomfortably under the accusing glares he was now receiving. “All right, that was bad luck. However, we have still –”

“And what about,” cut in the first speaker, “that incident involving two of your Agents having –”

“We do not speak of that!” Orion slammed his fist onto the table. “That was a necessary, if regrettable action, and it is no longer pertinent to discussions!” Seeing the stunned expressions on everyone’s faces, he quickly collected himself and smiled tightly at them. “We have more urgent things to speak of here. As you all know, the Neokin race have called on us all for help. However, as the highest available authority in this part of the Galaxy, the final decision is authorised by the Time Agency.”

He waved off the protests echoing round the room. “And after consultation with the higher authorities, we have decided that someone from this organisation will be sent to consult with and aid the Neokin in their issues...namely, myself.”

This time, silence greeted his announcement and he smirked. “And I won’t be going alone.”

~*~

Back on the water, Nick was watching in horror as his comrades were decimated before his eyes. Centauri hadn’t been lying; the Cryosentinels of Time were certainly not something that he would have wanted to run into, even if he had been at home.

And I thought that Torchwood had shown me the worst the universe had to offer, he thought to himself as he finished tending to the latest wounded soldier to be thrown in his direction – while pausing to try and get a couple of gunshots off. What an idiot I am! He winced as two of the aliens instantly wiped out a single legion of over two hundred men and women.

“It’s not even a case that these aliens are clearly very pissed off, or even that they were trained by some of the most evil creatures in the Galaxy, or even that their armour makes them look rather like them,” he muttered to his partner. “But do they also have to be oversized spiders?”

She looked up at him with something maddeningly like a smirk on her face. “Yes, they do.”

Nick groaned under his breath. “So, they not only act and think like something I hoped I would never have to face again, but they also look a lot like the subject of some of my worst nightmares,” he summarised. “Fan-fucking-tastic, that is.”

The woman snorted. “Welcome to the Time Agency. Now, go and make another syringe up.”

Quickly, Nick nodded and hurried towards one of the medical packs he had brought with him. However, just as he was removing the appropriate drug, one of the Sentinels fired a blast in their direction. A blast shook the makeshift medical bays, sending sand, sandbags and soldiers, dead, injured and alive, flying in multiple directions. The syringe Nick had been prepping shattered in his hands, as did several of the other packs, sending broken syringes, bottles and their contents, as well as several packs of blood and other fluids, covering the sand across a very large radius. Kicking aside the debris, the enormous spider nonchalantly picked its way towards them.

Nick thumped his communicator and tuned it to a station that everyone would be able to hear. “Everyone who is able to fight is to grab a weapon immediately!” he ordered, picking up his gun at the same time. “We may only be medical personnel, but we’re the last line of defence now. That includes you, Capella!” he barked at his partner.

“Hey!” snarled Capella. “You’re the junior partner here; you don’t give me orders, I give you orders!” She looked up as yet more blood was spilt by the ruthless aliens. “Although, given the circumstances, I agree with you!” She drew her own weapon and, jumping in beside Nick, started firing at the approaching Sentinel.

Nick had, however, noted that five people, two of them medical personnel, were unable to fight, possibly either insufficiently trained or too severely injured. Quickly, he ordered them to pick up the medical packs and take as many injured as possible into some nearby caves to be treated as necessary. “If they can come back into the fight after treatment, so much the better!” he panted, as he fired off a round of shots at another Sentinel who had bypassed Capella with terrifying ease. Remembering what John had taught him about never taking your eyes of an enemy, he lured the creature away from where the injured were being taken, firing bullets as he did so, attempting to avoid the armour, since the bullets simply bounced off it without causing any damage whatsoever. When the bullets ran out, he tucked his gun back into its holster – tossing it to the ground would have been asking for trouble – and drew his sword, finding strength in the way that the dragon emblem flashed in the light of the cold sun.

“That’s the only good part about all this,” he muttered, backing himself against a rugged cliff face. “Now that it’s stopped snowing, I can see what I’m doing.” Grabbing onto a bit of jagged rock, he hauled himself up onto the cliff, positioning one foot in a rapidly enlarging crevice and the other one on top of a ledge nearby as he brandished his sword. “Didn’t I see you in Eight-Legged Freaks?!” he shouted out.

It was a stupid line and Nick had no idea what had made him say it, but he was nonetheless relieved to hear that his voice didn’t tremble and that he wasn’t about to fall off the cliff. However, his heart nearly flew out of his mouth when the creature, having apparently decided that the comment was an insult, leapt forwards with a deafening roar, the force of its jump almost sending the entire cliff crumbling into dust.

“Oh, I see!” shouted Nick. “So, that’s how you want to play it! Well, that’s absolutely fine with me!” With a loud yell, he jumped off the rock and, barely pausing to think, rammed his sword into the spider’s eye, fighting the urge to throw up at the green slime that oozed out of the wound. Closing his eyes against the animalistic howl of pain coming from the alien, he withdrew his sword and stabbed it straight into the other eye. This time, when he removed the weapon, the spider, unable to see, started thrashing around as well as squealing in agony.

“Ha!” shouted Nick. “You didn’t like that, did you? And it was someone with severe arachnophobia who did that as well!” He laughed and polished and sheathed his sword. “Now, I am going to say this once and only once. Leave now and NEVER come back here! Or to put it in simpler terms – fuck off!”

Unfortunately, in his brief triumph over his phobia, Nick had forgotten that the Sentinel was not only blind, but at the same time, still had the use of all its limbs. In any case, he was extremely surprised to find himself suddenly crumpled at the foot of the cliff with a pounding headache, until he remembered that he had forgotten to hold onto something while he was climbing all over his enemy. Cursing softly, he started to his feet, only for a hand to catch his arm and pull him properly upright. He blinked and turned around to thank his helper, smiling slightly when he saw a familiar face framed by long red hair.

“Are you okay?” she asked, shouting over the sounds of battle.

“Shivna!” gasped Nick. “I...yeah, I’m fine...much better for seeing a familiar face.” He wiped his forehead on his sleeve and retied his hair. “Are you okay?”

Shivna responded with a rather bitter laugh. “Well, I’m alive, but that’s about the best thing I can say.” She pointed ahead of them and Nick was horrified to see that at least six whole squadrons were being exterminated in a matter of moments. Even worse, he could see what practically amounted to a whole armada of ships arriving and even more Sentinels disembarking, their Dalekanium armour flashing in the sunlight.

“We can’t hold them off any longer,” said Shivna. “Reinforcements have been called for, but it could be hours, possibly days, before they arrive.” She grimaced. “It was always told that the Sentinels would return and the consequences for the Agency would be disastrous, but none of us expected something on such a large scale.”

“What are you two doing here?” The cold voice of one of the squad leaders had approached. “Can you not see that we have a war on? There is no time for you to be standing around and gossiping! Lives are being lost as we speak!”

Shivna stepped up again. You must authorise the withdrawal of the troops immediately,” she instructed urgently. “If this goes on for much longer, we won’t have any troops left at all.”

“Withdraw the troops?!” screeched the other woman. “Are you insane? If we withdraw now, innocent people back at the base will die! We are soldiers, Shivna, and we must do our duty!”

“But if we stay, more innocent lives will be lost,” said Nick, also stepping up. “Shivna’s right. It would be better for us to retreat now while we still have the chance. Look around you. Everywhere, troops are being ravaged in seconds. Men, women and even those who would be children in my time, are dying needlessly. Hardly any of those still living are fit to move, let alone fight. Reinforcements are on the way; we must withdraw while we can.”

“We are at war,” repeated the leader. “Risks must be taken to protect others. We must fight on.”

Nick stopped her just as she withdrew her weapons again. “We can’t. Each unit has barely a dozen fit and able fighters as it is – down from several thousands.” His grip on her clothes tightened. “The medical personnel, the last line of defence, are being massacred as we speak. There is almost no one left to tend to the injured on the field, even though I insisted that the seriously injured be taken into the caves to be tended to as best as possible.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m saying,” Nick’s voice hardened, “if you won’t authorise a withdrawal...then I will. As a medical officer, I have the authority to not only withdraw individual personnel if their injuries are too severe, but also to pull the troops back if I judge the losses to be too heavy or the injuries sustained overall to be detrimental to our forces. So, is it going to be you who makes the final call? Or is it going to be me? Choose now.”

He waited several seconds for her to speak, but she didn’t. “Right, that answers that then,” he said and opened the communications channel for all the forces. “You have all fought bravely,” he shouted. “But the casualties sustained are too severe. As a member of the medical personnel, I am ordering a withdrawal of the troops, effective immediately. All personnel are to return to the Agency as quickly as possible. Treat the injured as well as you can here, but anyone with major problems should be taken to the medical department upon arrival. Use your judgement well with this issue; supplies and staff are already thinly stretched and we cannot waste them.” He ended the bulletin and watched as several of the soldiers began to use their vortex manipulators to teleport themselves to safety again. Then, he turned back to the leader. “At least we will now have some form of military left after this,” he said before teleporting himself back out.

~*~

“You look like you’ve just come from a battlefield and lost,” said Shani with an amused grin. “And that stuff you’ve got all over you smells worse than a rotting –”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m covered in rancid spider guts and consequently smell like a rotting corpse, I get it.” Nick didn’t look up from where he was setting up a blood transfusion with painkillers. “I’ll clean up when this is all over, don’t worry; I won’t be stinking out our bedroom.” He nodded at the sheets that his friend had over his shoulder. “Take those through the blue door on the right.”

“Is that where we’re storing the provisions?” The room behind that door was well known for being the biggest room in the medical department, ideal for mass storage.

Nick snorted. “If you mean storing our dead comrades, yes,” he said quietly, ignoring the soft intake of breath as the other man walked away.

Shivna came over next. “Reports coming in say that the reinforcements we called for have arrived and are setting about neutralising the threat posed by the Sentinels. We’ve been told to expect more casualties over the next few hours, but they’ll let us know when it’s safe.”

“Thanks,” said Nick quietly.

“You did a good thing earlier,” said Shivna, putting a hand on his arm. “Your call to withdraw saved hundreds of lives. We were outmatched out there and you knew it. It took courage to make the call you did.” She patted his arm and started to leave.

“You saw what I did before though.” Nick turned round to look at her. “You saw me stab that thing in the eyes and then gloat over it. You saw me getting a kick out of...out of murder.”

“It’s no more than what it would have done to you,” insisted Shivna reasonably. “If you hadn’t done what you did, it would have killed you for certain, as well as possibly several more of us.”

“No, you don’t understand.” Nick’s anguish echoed through the room. “Before I came here, I was just an ordinary doctor who never did anything like this. Even when I was at Torchwood, I was in the back ranks, there to protect and heal rather than to fight. But here...” he sighed. “Here, even a healer has to be in the middle of it...in the middle of the adrenaline rush, the carnage and the slaughter. And I don’t like what it’s doing to me.”

He turned away, unable to stand the pained look on Shivna’s face and to know that it was his words that had caused it. Looking up, he saw the morgue door open and stared up at the sight of masses of bodies, some covered by blood-soaked sheets, packed together like sardines – and he felt nothing. Those people were victims of tragedy, of a fight which had started through no fault of their own, but merely because of something that had happened thousands of years ago; surely, the least he could muster was some sense of shock or injustice.

But he couldn’t. And that scared him more than anything.

“I’ve changed,” he whispered, half to himself and half to the unconscious woman he was just about to start treating. “And I don’t think it’s necessarily for the better.”

At that moment, the doors opened and Orion stepped in, followed by two others, his face businesslike. He clapped his hands together when he saw Nick.

“Ah, gentlemen, here he is!” he said in a jovial voice. “This is the new recruit I was telling you about – the one who is accompanying me today...once he cleans himself up, of course,” he added with a laugh.

“Accompanying you?” repeated Nick. “To what?”

***

Next Time: Nick gathers his provisions and is briefed on his mission.

Chapter Text

Nick couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

“You want me to go on a mission with you?” he exclaimed, reaching out and grabbing onto a railing attached to the wall so that he could support himself. “I mean…you want me to go on a diplomatic mission with you now?!”

“Well, not at this precise moment,” answered Orion, folding his arms nonchalantly and leaning against the opposite wall. “You’ll have time to get upstairs, clean up, pack your things and change into your dress uniform, but then, yes, we really do have to go.”

“But I can’t just leave now!” spluttered Nick. “Look around here; there’s an attack going on outside, we’ve got casualties and…” he swallowed hard, “bodies…coming out of our ears.”

One of the two humans – or humanoid aliens, it was impossible to tell – who had accompanied Orion, blinked. “How can you have people coming out –”

“It’s a figure of speech – an expression,” said Nick impatiently. He knew that the person he was talking to was probably very important, but he was also tired and battle-worn, so manners weren’t high on his list of priorities at the moment. “But that’s really beside the point. Orion, I appreciate your faith in my apparent capabilities – although I don’t recall you having actually seen me do anything – but the timing couldn’t be worse. There’s just no way for me to walk away from here, not when there are people who are going to need me.”

A loud crash drew their attention towards the back of the ward where one of the windows had smashed, sending shards of glass flying through the room. The blinds rippled loudly as a gust of freezing wind shot through the space, ripping through Nick’s skin and causing the patients to cry out in shock and outrage as the temperature dropped. One of the medical staff muttered something under her breath that sounded like a curse as she and two others hastened to block the window with something.

“Here!” shouted Nick, rushing over and, reaching into a smaller storage cupboard leaning against the wall, grabbed several sheets of what looked like clear Perspex several nails and a hammer. Although it looked like Perspex, however, it certainly wasn’t the same stuff that he was used to back home; for one thing, it didn’t shatter upon contact with the hammer, but instead seemed to become softer so that Nick could insert the nails quite easily before hammering them in.

Clearly, that one design technology lesson I went to in school is going to be useful, he thought to himself with a rather amused smile – though he had no idea how he managed not to curse out loud when he accidentally hit his finger with the hammer, triggering, much to his surprise, a shock not dissimilar to when he’d accidentally touched an electric fence on a farm when he’d been a child. Right, I won’t be touching anything that looks like an electric fence around here, then!

“Is there any more of this stuff?” he shouted to the man who was watching him with his mouth hanging open, raising his voice above the pandemonium surrounding him.

“Yes, there should be boxes of it,” said the man. “But there are rules; it is only to be used –”

“Let me guess – it’s only to be used in an emergency?” Nick snorted as the other man nodded; he really couldn’t believe that there was so much red tape at this place. “Well, I think this does definitely qualify as an emergency. Now get over there, grab the stuff and start sorting these windows out before any more of this glass shatters!”

“You’d better do what he says.” Shani had come over and was picking his way through the broken glass. “This man has saved countless lives on the battlefield already today; he knows what he’s doing.”

Nick barely had time to feel surprised that Shani had defended him so readily – or that the others were now following his lead and securing the windows – before he realised that Orion was watching him curiously. “Something you want to say?” he asked, climbing up a ladder and reinforcing one of the top windows with Perspex.

Orion raised an eyebrow at him. “It was you.”

“What was me?” asked Nick, banging in a fourth nail and testing how secure it was.

“We had word that one of the medical officers had judged that the casualties suffered in the battle with the Cryosentinels of Time were too severe and that he took the decision to withdraw the troops so that there would be no more unnecessary deaths.”

“Yes, that was me.” Nick didn’t spare Orion and the couple with him anything more than a fleeting glance as he spoke. “And before any of you ask, no I’m not going to apologise for doing what I did. We were being decimated out there; just two of those Sentinels eliminated over two hundred of our soldiers in one go.” He jumped off the ladder, and wiped away any slime that had spread from his clothes onto the metal. “My only regret is that I didn’t make the call sooner so that fewer people would be lying in the morgue now.”

Orion stepped forwards and gripped his shoulder. “You must never second guess yourself,” he insisted. “When you make a decision, you must stick by it, no matter what happens. To change your mind because you fear someone doubts your action is a sign of weakness and weakness is one of the most deadly vices to befall a man or a woman.” He stood back and folded his arms. “You must always portray an image of strength, even if you don’t feel it inside. To do otherwise could be fatal for you, especially on a battlefield.”

The words echoed through Nick’s head and made him squirm uncomfortably as he realised that Orion was right. He couldn’t afford to be half-hearted, especially not when he was faced with a situation like that which had happened today, otherwise he could be killed. He felt a shiver run down his spine as he suddenly realised that his friends back home might think that he was already dead…closely followed by a rush of pain through his chest as he remembered the message he had found on John’s wrist strap. He almost couldn’t believe that his lover was really gone; the man had always been so full of life and energy that the thought of his death had never really occurred to Nick. Logically, he knew just how ridiculous that was – everything and everyone would die eventually, even Jack – but he couldn’t help feeling that way either.

With a sigh, he turned to glance back out of the window, expecting to see the battle still raging outside and yet more death and destruction – surely, not even the best reinforcements could stand up to the violence of the Cryosentinels of Time. However, what he actually saw turned out to be very different.

There was destruction and death, of that there was no doubt, but even so it wasn’t the same scene that Nick had left behind when he had pulled the troops back. Instead, it seemed like the Sentinels were being rapidly executed, although he couldn’t see what was doing it, because they were hidden by an enormous cloud of red dust which left strange dark marks in the ground behind it. Behind them, however, he could see a large army of black-clad aliens walking in stride like some sort of regimented police.

Orion came over and gave him a twisted smile. “That’s exactly what they are, Seren,” he said, nodding. “The Judoon are, essentially, intergalactic police. They might give you some fond memories of your own police officers; they’re certainly brutal enough and stupid enough.” He laughed rather scornfully. “They have no authority on your planet Earth, so when an alien fugitive decided to hide out in one of your hospitals, those…” he paused for the right explanation, “what’s that animal called…the one with the horn?”

“Rhinoceros?” asked Nick, starting as one of the Judoon took its helmet off. “Because that’s what it looks like from where I’m standing.” Well, it would do if it wasn’t standing up, of course.

“That’s the one.” Orion nodded again. “So, they decide to transport the hospital –”

“To the moon, yes, I remember that story,” interrupted Nick. The public and the news had apparently put the occurrence down to mass hallucinations, but Nick had long suspected that alien involvement was closer to the truth. After the battle of Canary Wharf, he’d learned to take publicised stories about anything too weird with a pinch of salt.

“A Judoon platoon upon the moon,” he muttered to himself.

“Yes.” Orion blinked at him. “Where did you hear that phrase?”

“I don’t know,” said Nick. “It just…popped into my head.” He shook himself and glanced back out of the window. “What’s that red dust?”

“Ah!” Orion clapped his hands. “That would be our reinforcements.” He pointed out of the window. “These are the Cryomancers of the Crimson Sun – they’re a little late, but at least they actually did arrive. If you look very closely, you can just see that there is ghost-like figure amongst the dust that resembles the mythical creature you might know as a unicorn. They are a peaceful race, but carry so many diseases that anything within their path is instantly destroyed…rather unpleasantly too,” he added, wincing as five Sentinels were crushed in a storm of red dust. “They’ve come from a long way away; from a place which we know as the Crimson Sun – hence where their name comes from – but it is a place that you might know as the Red Planet.”

Nick’s jaw dropped. “You have to be joking!”

“Seren,” Orion answered. “I never joke – well, not about something like this. These Cryomancers do indeed come from Mars, though they weren’t actually discovered until about five hundred years ago.”

“And why didn’t you just contact them as soon as you heard that the Sentinels were coming?” asked Nick. “I find it rather hard to believe that you could be stupid enough to wait until now.”

“Of course we didn’t wait!” Orion looked impatient now. “But you can’t honestly expect anyone – or anything – to travel across five galaxies in a few seconds, can you?!” He rolled his eyes before one of his companions nudged him. “Oh, yes, of course – well, you’d better go and get yourself ready; we have to make our way shortly.”

“And I’ve already told you, I can’t just leave now,” said Nick firmly. “There are people here who need me; who need treatment and help.”

“Don’t worry.” A gravelly voice spoke from behind them and Nick turned to see Ymir, the aged head of the medical department. “We can handle things here, right everyone?” The rest of the staff nodded and one of them, a girl Nick didn’t know, even gave him a reassuring smile. “Every Time Agent has at least basic medical aid knowledge. You know that. We can manage without one doctor for the time being. In fact, what’s that phrase you people use? Too many cooks spoil the broth?” He cackled softly. “Well, in this case…too many doctors spoil the medicine! Now go on – get out of here!” His dark eyes flashed dangerously. “That’s an order.”

Nick inhaled sharply. “Very well,” he said, trying hard not to show that he was a little hurt by the older man’s harsh words. “I’ll go and get ready.”

“Meet us in the main hall!” Orion shouted after him. “I’ll take you down to the transport later.”

~*~

“You look good,” said Shani as he closed the door behind him. “Very…official, if you ask me.”

Nick turned slightly, examining himself in the mirror. “I feel like a soldier,” he muttered, dusting down the front of his jacket with one hand and twirling the accompanying black beret in his other hand, the silver insignia pin showing his rank as a medical officer shimmering as he did so. “Well, I guess I’d better make the best out of this mess,” he said as he picked up the small bag he’d hastily packed. He extended a hand towards his friend. “So…I guess…goodbye?”

“Please,” Shani laughed. “It’s only a diplomatic mission; what could possibly go wrong?”

“Well, now that you’ve said that, anything could go wrong!” answered Nick, but he was also laughing. “I’m being a bit ridiculous, aren’t I?”

“You are.” Shani laughed again. “Just…” he frowned for a moment. “Oh – break a leg out there! Not literally, obviously…”

“I know!” Nick was laughing properly now, the sound echoing around the walls as he shut the bedroom door behind him.

~*~

This is Time Agency transport?!” spluttered Nick, staring blankly at the old wooden train waiting forlornly in the dank and smelly tunnel. “How do you hop to different planets or galaxies?”

“We have teleportation pads,” explained Orion. “Think of them like your train stations, except that you never leave the train, until you get to where you want to go.”

“So…it’s a train.” Nick had seen a lot of strange things in his time, but the thought of an intergalactic organisation like the Time Agency using rickety old trains for transport had to be one of the most bizarre. It’s certainly different to what I was expecting…

“Well, what were you expecting, flashy silver spaceships?!” asked Orion in a tight voice.

“Yes!” Nick blurted out without thinking.

Orion shook his head. “We did have them once,” he admitted, prizing the train doors open and guiding Nick into a carriage that looked like the interior of a carpet store. “But we had to stop using them when we had to go…underground…when we had to pretend to the outside world that we’d been shut down.” He laughed again. “Which, as you can see, we haven’t.”

Nick wondered how on earth the Agency managed to go about their business when they were supposed to be shut down, but decided not to ask; he wasn’t sure he’d understand the answer. Instead, he just sat down at one of the tables, resisting the urge to make a comment about magic carpets. “So, where are we actually going?”

Orion laughed softly. “I’ll give you the long version when we get closer, but the short version is basically that we’re trying to stop what could turn into an interdimensional incident.”

Nick blinked. “Right,” he said. “Well, I’ll make sure I don’t end up accidentally triggering any portals into Hell – we don’t want to unleash anyone like Jack the Ripper on the universe.”

Orion rolled his eyes. “Jack the Ripper was very overrated,” he said. “I met the man once on a mission to the 1880s. He was a very interesting character…and a fabulous lover.”

Nick paled. “Please tell me you’re not serious.”

“Oh, I’m serious.” Orion kicked some controls. “And believe me, if we don’t stop this incident, Jack the Ripper will be like a feather falling to the ground compared to what could be unleashed.” He sat down. “The Neokin race, with whom we are going to liaise, is known for being rather bad-tempered when provoked, so we have to be prepared to act as mediators. So, don’t go doing anything stupid.” He looked at Nick. “Put another way – make sure you stay out of trouble.”

***

Next Time: A horrifying event makes its presence known, but is it true? And, trapped three thousand years out of his time, can Nick do anything about it?

Chapter Text

Chapter 17

He was standing at the back of an enormous dark room, lit only by the glow of a pair of dim lights behind him. The sound of his shoes on the floor echoed as he tapped his foot, his heart banging violently against his chest. Even though he couldn’t see anything, something was about to happen. Someone, or something, was about to lose control, and, from where he was standing, Nick wasn’t sure he liked it.

“An injury to one is an injury to all.”

Nick jumped. That voice sounded so familiar, but he couldn’t quite seem to place it. But then, a strange bluish light seemed to fill one half of the room. At the same time, he saw what looked like a large glass tank, which, he suddenly realised, was where the light was coming from. It spread out slowly across the room and Nick almost shouted out when he realised who he was looking at – and who it was that had just spoken.

“Jack!” he shouted, a smile blossoming across his face as he rushed across the room towards his friend and leader. “Oh, God, Jack – am I glad to see you; you won’t believe what’s been happening; I got a message from John saying that if I was hearing it, he was dead and…” but his voice trailed off when he realised that Jack wasn’t reacting to anything he was saying. He didn’t even seem able to see him. Worried, he reached out towards Jack’s arm and shook it gently but firmly. “Jack, it’s me!” he called out. “It’s Nick – remember me, Jack? I jumped into the Rift with John – we were going to start the process of closing it – and I think I ended up at the Time Agency...but I think John’s dead, but I’m here and…” but still, Jack didn’t respond to him; he gave no sign at all that he could even see him.

“You’re not getting one single solitary child. The deal is off.” This came – and Nick’s stomach almost jumped into his throat – from Ianto who, he suddenly noticed, was standing side by side with Jack, making sure to emphasize the point so that there is no mistaking what they mean on the part of the 456.

The 456? The name echoed in Nick’s head, though he couldn’t remember anyone actually using it. And yet, he knew that it was the name of whatever was in the tank before his cousin and his friend.

Over and over, the alien said, “You yielded in the past and will do so again.”

Nick watched in astonishment as Jack threatened to lead the world into battle if needed and Ianto told them to go back in the records 150 years to see what they were dealing with. Then, in what Nick thought was a moment of pure brashness, his cousin told them his partner’s name was Captain Jack Harkness and to look it up.

The 456 then forced the building into lockdown and release a virus to show that they are acting. They were telling the two men that everyone inside the building will die.

“There’s a virus, there must be an anti virus. Release it now or I’ll blow a hole in the tank and we will all die together.” Ianto demanded before opening fire with Jack on the tank.

“No!” screamed Nick. “Ianto, please – don’t!” However, the bullets had no effect as it appeared to have been made out of bullet proof glass.

“We’ve got to get you out of here.” Jack sounded suddenly scared; no, he sounded terrified. “I can survive anything but you can’t.”

“It’s too late.” Ianto’s voice changed suddenly; it became much quieter, almost resigned. “I breathed the air.”

Nick’s stomach lurched. No…oh, no…not Ianto…he can’t…

“There’s got to be something. Gotta be an antidote.” Jack’s desperate voice echoed Nick’s own thoughts, though he hadn’t said a word.

“You said you would fight…”

“Then I take it back alright, I take it all back, but not him.” Jack was getting desperate here as he found himself faced with a nightmare, as Ianto collapsed.

“No, no, no…no, Ianto, no,” Jack went down with Ianto and pulled him into his arms. “It’s all my fault.” His voice was cracking as he spoke even as he cradled his lover against his heart.

“No it’s not.” Nick wasn’t sure who spoke the words first, but he knew what the broken tones in Ianto’s voice meant along with the rasping hitch in his breath.

“Don’t speak, save your breath.”

“I love you…” The words were said on a broken sob as Ianto realised that he was dying and there was nothing that could be done.

“Don’t…” Jack could barely get the word out, his despair was so strong. Somehow, it seemed like this was the last time his lover would ever reveal his feelings to him again.

“Ianto,” he gasped, “Ianto; stay with me. Ianto, stay with me please…” He was breaking down and begging between sobs as he felt Ianto slipping through his fingers.

“It was good, yeah?”

“Yeah…”

“Don’t forget me,” whispered Ianto, his eyes barely staying open. Nick’s stomach clenched even more as he realised that his cousin was almost gone.

“Never could.”

“In a thousand years time…you won’t remember me.” Ianto’s voice was breaking as he realised that Jack was not going to remember him forever.

“Ianto…” gasped Nick, barely registering his own tears falling as he spoke, even as they dripped between his lips. “Ianto…how could you even think that? No matter what happens, no matter how much time you live through…you never forget the ones you love.”

“Yes I will. I promise I will… Ianto, Ianto…don’t go. Don’t leave me. Please…please don’t.” Jack’s reply was almost lost in broken sobs as he tried to keep Ianto conscious.

“You will die and tomorrow your people will deliver the children.” The cold voice of the 456 cut through the air as Ianto slowly slipped away, his eyes slowly closing.

What little light was in the room seemed to fade before Nick’s streaming eyes as Jack leaned down and kissed Ianto as he slipped away in his arms, before he too finally collapsed beside him and also succumbing to the virus.

“No!” screamed Nick. He sank down to his knees and tried to move so that he could cradle Ianto’s head and try to find a pulse, some colour to the skin, some warmth – anything that he could find to disprove what his eyes were telling him. But even as he tried, he could not touch his cousin’s body; he couldn’t even lay a fingernail on the edge of his French cuffs. As soon as he got close enough to Ianto, something seemed to surge through his fingers, burning his skin and forcing his hands away. But even as he fought to catch the two fallen men, he could see the rising and falling of Jack’s chest slowing before it stopped all together and any remnants of colour in Ianto’s face fading before his eyes. Eventually, he knew he wouldn’t even have to touch them to know that life had passed from their bodies.

“Oh, God,” he gasped, clutching his stomach as he fought not to empty his last meal onto the clean floor beneath him. He half-closed his eyes, feeling a sense of numbness rushing through his veins; numbness that he knew had nothing to do with the virus that the 456 had spread and everything to do with the two men lying dead in front of him.

Although he was kneeling on the floor, Nick felt his legs collapse from underneath him and send him crashing forwards as the room started to shift and blur before his eyes until it was simply a mass of colours and that strange blue light that was coming from the tank. Slowly, almost as if he was in a trance, he found himself sinking to the ground to join his friends as the blackness of despair finally engulfed him.

~*~

Nick’s eyes flew open as a gasp of terror escaped from his lips and threatened to morph into a scream. He blinked and looked around wildly, ready to shield himself against the strange blue light he had seen so vividly, as his friends had died in front of him.

But now, looking up, he couldn’t see anything like that light. He couldn’t even see the tank with the shadow of the fearsome silhouette of the 456 – that name still sent shivers down his spine – or the black and red tiled floor that he was sure had been beneath him.

Instead, he found himself faced with dark chipped wood walls hung with faded and moth-eaten tapestries and rugs, in a room where the only light came from four tiny flickering lights set into the ceiling.

It was at that point that he remembered where he was; Orion had taken him from the Agency to accompany him on a mission to liaise with another race; he wasn’t entirely sure, but he thought they were called the Neokin, or something similar. And now, having been faced with the startling, but slightly anticlimactic, revelation that transportation at the Time Agency consisted not of futuristic and gleaming space ships but instead a railway system that reminded him of British Rail in its bad days, he was lying on his back in a musty-smelling carriage that squeaked and shook as the train crawled on its journey.

Slowly, Nick pulled himself upright and pushed the ragged blanket he’d been sleeping under back onto the floor. He hissed in pain as he stood up; the mattress that had doubled up as a bed had wrecked havoc on his already fragile spine; it had been so soft that Nick had almost ended up sinking through it and onto the uneven floor, meaning that he had felt all the nails and cracks in the wood digging into his body all night.

Thanking the powers that be that he had managed to get into some nightclothes before falling under the blanket, Nick pulled his long coat on over the top and walked out of the carriage, barely managing not to flinch as the sound of the door closing behind him echoed throughout the empty corridor. He eventually stopped at the other end where there was a large window which, unlike the others, was not covered by a blind. Instead, it seemed to have been once covered by a thin piece of paper, but that had been ripped and never replaced, and now only a small piece remained at the top of the frame.

When he looked outside, Nick expected to see the inside of a dark tunnel or possibly even the platform of an archaic station. But the view was markedly different. Instead of something that would remind him of the danker stations of the London Underground, what he actually saw, when he looked beneath the thin film of cloud, he could see a land glistening with ice and surrounded by tiny fresh snowflakes that swirled around the atmosphere. Looking closer, Nick also saw tall towers carved intricately out of stone or even the mountains that made up the rugged landscape of the place.

He shivered at the sight of such dangerous beauty; the glistening ice made the ground look as if it was made of glowing opals, occasional flashes of colour dancing off the ground as something cast a light over it. Looking closer, he realised that the light was coming from a small cluster near the ice planet; a cluster that, to him, reminded him of a vibrant city and he was struck by the contrast of nature at its finest and quietest with something that, even from a distance, looked so industrial and busy. It was beautiful, but at the same time, Nick knew that nothing in the future was the way it seemed and peril could be lurking at every corner. Inadvertently becoming involved in the Battle of Canary Wharf and later working for Torchwood had taught him that.

The thought of his job suddenly brought the memory of his dream flying back to him and he was abruptly thrust back into that room with the black and red floor tiles with the pale light shining across the room as Jack watched, heartbroken, as the alien virus took hold of Ianto and sent him to his death in the arms of his lover.

Shaking, Nick rested his head against the pane of glass and tried to force himself to focus on the images of the two different worlds outside the train and how they were surrounded by what looked like shimmering threads from a spiders web, but were in fact the lights of thousands of modes of transport moving through the galaxy and, eventually, maybe even through the entire universe. But no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t stop the scene from replaying in front of his eyes, he couldn’t block out the sight of Ianto’s life ebbing from him or the sound of Jack’s heart-wrenching sobs before he too succumbed to the virus.

“I saw your dream.” The hard voice suddenly ripped through the carriage and Nick, belatedly realising that he was soaked in sweat, turned around to see Orion looking at him with a mixture of irritation and mild confusion. “But I couldn’t break through to see who was involved; it seems that your mind shields itself somewhat when you sleep.”

Nick barely had time to feel annoyed that his partner had been snooping in his mind while he slept before the numbing fear at what he had seen overtook him. Sinking against the wall and barely conscious of his own voice, he told Orion about his friend and cousin. He didn’t see any point in explaining about Jack’s immortality; if the other man could read his mind while he was awake, he would be able to pull it out of his head anyway.

“What should I do?” he asked once he’d finished the story. “I can’t just stand around and do nothing now that I’ve seen that.”

Orion cocked an eyebrow at him. “But that’s exactly what you’re going to do,” he said bluntly. “For one thing, you’re three thousand years out of your time with no way of getting home, so you couldn’t do anything about it anyway. For another thing, we’re in the middle of a very important mission that could determine the fate of entire galaxies.” He paused. “And, finally, you don’t even know if what you saw is going to happen as you saw it – it may have been the future, but it may have been lies. But I am not going to let you risk ripping apart the fabric of the universe for something that may or may not happen. You know that the law states that you cannot alter the timelines.”

Nick snorted. “Do you really think that some crackpot law is really going to stop me from trying to save the people I love?!” he spluttered. “Do you really think that anything you can say or do will stop me? I know what I saw – I have to try and stop it!”

But Orion was unmoved. “I think ‘some crackpot law’, as you put it, will stop you from doing that if I tell you that, if it means keeping timelines intact, I will wipe your memories of your cousin and his partner for as long as I can. I’ll even replace your memories of your cousin with different ones so you won’t want to save him, if I have to.”

Nick’s blood almost turned to ice at those words. “You wouldn’t.”

“You want to make a bet on that?” asked Orion, his eyes colder and harder than ever. “Believe me, young man, I could do it and I would do it. I’ve done it before – what makes you think I wouldn’t do it again?” He smirked as Nick recoiled. “Besides, even if you did go back and try to stop it, even if you succeeded, what difference would it really make in the end?”

“What do you mean?” asked Nick.

“Well, whichever way you look at it, you are going to lose your cousin sooner or later anyway– probably sooner, considering how dangerous what he does is. Whether you like it or not, even if he wasn’t working for Torchwood, he would die one day. Everything and everyone will die in the end, whether we want them to or not. There’s nothing that we, or anyone else, can do to change that and you know there isn’t.”

“What about if it was someone you loved?” asked Nick, his voice trembling. “Wouldn’t you do whatever you could to save them?”

“If it meant doing something as dangerous as what you’re suggesting, no, I wouldn’t,” answered Orion bluntly. “He may be part of your family, but he is not worth that. There is nobody in the universe that is worth that – and there never will be. So, you need to put any thoughts of hair-brained schemes out of your head and start focusing on what we’re making this journey for. In fact,” and here he looked out of the window, “we’re getting close to our destination and we’ll be meeting with several delegates as soon as we arrive at the palace. So, you need to go and get ready, because you won’t have time to do it beforehand.” He paused and suddenly laughed. “Well, that is to say, I will be meeting with the delegates; you will just be around for if I should require your services. Now, go and get yourself ready.” With a rather unpleasant smile, he turned away and, his long robe sweeping behind him, he breezed out of the carriage, the door shutting firmly behind him.

For several seconds, Nick simply stood and stared at the door, his face slack with shock and anger. He could hardly believe what he had just heard; had Orion just suggested that Ianto, the man who Nick looked to like a brother, was essentially dispensable in the grand scheme of things, and that letting him die was a good thing, because he would die soon anyway?

“You…you evil…vile son of a bitch!” he gasped out, suddenly realising that he was crying, though whether it was from fear or fury he wasn’t sure. “Who are you to tell me who is or isn’t worth saving? If you think being a high and mighty Time Agent gives you that right, then you’re more of a monster than I thought you were!” With that, he stormed back into his own room and slammed the door so hard he could hear one of the lights in another carriage fall to the ground with a crash. He dressed angrily, hardly even pausing to make sure he looked more presentable than he had before leaving the Agency – although, considering that he had been wearing clothes covered in the guts of over-sized spiders, that wouldn’t have been hard – and then sank down onto the mattress and allowed himself a quiet cry as he calmed down.

It was then that he noticed something lying underneath his bag which he had overturned in his temper as he’d dressed himself. Reaching out, he pushed the bag aside and gasped in shock when he saw that the thing on the floor was John’s wrist strap. Slowly, he bent down onto the floor and picked it up, lightly caressing the soft leather with his fingers before making an abrupt decision. Taking a deep breath, he wiped his eyes on the back of his hand and unfastened his own wrist strap before tossing it into his bag and fastened John’s in its place, smiling to himself as he clicked the fastening closed.

***

Next Time: Nick and Orion arrive at their destination and there’s some light humour as Nick discovers some of the, er, weirder aspects of 51st century life. But how long will it last?

Chapter Text

The train rattled and juddered along for hours on end, moving so erratically that it often seemed to Nick that it would actually fly off the sides of the tracks – if there were any tracks there to begin with. He had looked out of the windows several times just to make sure that they hadn’t actually fallen off the rails, only to be less than reassured that, save for a few sparks which he presumed to be the result of the wheels touching metal, there didn’t seem to be any rails. Of course, it was only after that that it occurred to him to look behind him and then he saw that there were, in fact, very thin and faintly lit lines behind him with the glow reflecting off pieces of very heavily worn metal. So, there were railway tracks, but they didn’t look sturdy enough to be able to hold up a piece of rice paper, never mind something as heavy as a train.

Time Agency transport isn’t really that reassuring, he thought to himself, unless it’s stronger than it looks, but with all these years of wear and tear, who knows? He didn’t really care if Orion could hear his thoughts this time; after what had happened before, the older man’s attitude towards his vision of Ianto had made him feel past caring about whether he knew what Nick thought of his organisation. Logically, he knew that wasn’t entirely fair; it wasn’t as if everyone at the Agency had been unfriendly to him; some, such as Shivna and, eventually, Shani, had been exceptionally kind towards him, even made him feel as if he had a family to care for him. Even Nergal, the sometimes brusque man who had given him lessons in combat, had shown moments of kindness towards him and had even amused him with some of the more light-hearted tales of the Agency, back in the days when it had been at the height of its powers.

As unfair as he knew it was to tar those good friends with the same brush as Orion and those of his ilk, Nick found that he was feeling less than complimentary towards the organisation as a whole. Being treated with such suspicion on his arrival at the place when he had no idea what had happened to bring him there, while understandable on some level, had been bad enough, but now, having just told the other man what he had seen involving someone as important to him as Ianto, the uncaring and callous attitude he had received in return had really been too much. The suggestion that Ianto wasn’t worth fighting for, or even dying for, made the anger boil inside him as if his stomach had turned into a volcano.

“For someone who struts around like he owns everyone and everything in the universe, that man seems to know absolutely nothing about personal relationships of any kind,” he growled to himself. “I don’t want to rip the universe to pieces, but surely it’s worth at least trying to save someone, even if it doesn’t turn out the way you planned it.” He got up and paced around, trying to stave off the tremors shooting through his body. “I mean, really; what if it was his cousin or close relative or friend who was potentially in danger? I would bet my last month’s salary that he’d do everything he possibly could to ensure that they were kept safe! So if he can fight tooth and nail to keep people he cares about safe, why can’t I? Isn’t that what people are dying for back at home – isn’t that what Jack has devoted so much of his life for?”

With a growl of fury, he slammed his fist violently against the wall so that the hangings surrounding him trembled and the windows rattled, even from three carriages away. When he eventually removed his hand, however, he was briefly shocked out of his anger when he saw that the place where he had bashed the wall now had a large burn mark engraved in the wood and tiny flames were occasionally hissing in the charred surface. Startled, he pulled his arm towards him and gasped in surprise as he realised that a small ball of flame was burning in his palm. Cursing softly, he clapped his hands together and, forgetting in his panic that the fire wouldn’t physically harm him, attempted to snuff the flames out with his hands. However, the harder he tried and the more worked up he made himself, the stronger the flames were burning until they were leaping almost a foot in the air, even as he tried to control them in his hands.

His heart pounding even more, Nick clamped his hands tighter together, hoping that the lack of air would choke the fire and put it out as he sat down and breathed deeply, trying to calm himself. To his surprise, however, he found that as his heartbeat slowed, the fire also calmed down; clearly, it wasn’t governed by lack of air or anything else that would put out a normal fire back at home as much as by the conjurer’s emotions. Having realised this, Nick leaned back against the wall and made a concerted effort to relax until all the flames had finally faded away, leaving no trace behind them, apart from the burn mark on the wall.

However, as he lay back down on the mattress he had been using as a bed, his eyes suddenly hit upon the leather cuff that he had only moments before strapped to his wrist. Gently, he stroked John’s wrist strap, absently fiddling with the fastenings on the bottom, before a thought suddenly hit him and made him sit bolt upright again. Hadn’t John told him that there was a teleportation device installed within a Time Agent’s wrist strap that could transport a person to any place and any time they chose? Didn’t that mean – and Nick’s heart started pounding again at the thought and he had to fight to keep himself calm – that he could go back to Cardiff and warn Ianto about what he had seen? Even if the vision didn’t actually turn out to be true, but instead was merely a bad dream, at least he would have been able to do something!

~*~

“Nick…Nick…”

Nick sleepily batted the voice away with his hands; he was pretty sure it was only Orion calling him to order him to clean up some mess or other, or to interrogate him on his – theoretically – private thoughts.

“Nick! I know you can hear me – wake up!”

But that wasn’t right, he suddenly realised. Orion had never once called him by his Christian name, only by his Time Agency alias. And, now Nick actually thought about it, that wasn’t the other man’s voice calling out to him. He sat up and grabbed his gun with one hand and put on his glasses with his other hand, swearing softly in Welsh as he poked himself in the eye with them.

“Who’s there?” he called out quietly, flicking the safety catch off his gun. “I can hear you…show yourself or I’ll…I’ll shoot!” But his hand trembled as he said it and he knew that he could no more shoot at thin air than he could at a wounded puppy.

Suddenly, a small white light started glowing in front of the only blank wall in the room. Slowly, it expanded and twisted until it was the shape and size of a man. Then, the light dimmed slightly so Nick could see who his visitor was. His jaw dropped open.

“John?!” he spluttered.

“Hello, Nicky.” The vision smiled in a way that only John Hart knew how to. “It’s good to see you.”

Nick sank backwards and rested his hand on the wall. “I’m sure I’ve seen this very situation in The Empire Strikes Back!” he spluttered. “Dear God, I think that makes me Luke Skywalker!”

“Hey, being Luke Skywalker is better than being old Ben Kenobi!” said John with a laugh. “At least I look sexier than him, right?”

“Help me, Obi-John Kenobi, you’re my only hope!” simpered Nick, laughing. “Oh, wait, that’s Princess Leia.” He paused. “Hang on, doesn’t that make you Han Solo?”

John burst out laughing as well. “Didn’t you just call me Obi-Wan?”

“Actually, I technically called you Obi-John.”

“Whatever,” said John and then folded his arms, the amusement previously shown in his face vanishing as quickly as it had appeared. “Listen, Nick, I know what you’re planning to do and I need to tell you…well, don’t. Don’t do it.”

Nick blinked. “Are you serious?” he spluttered.

“Completely,” said John. “I know what you saw, Nick, and I know what you’re thinking. But you can’t just go tearing backwards through time like this, not when –”

“If you had seen what I saw, you wouldn’t think twice about trying to do something about it!” retorted Nick angrily. “This is Ianto we’re talking about!”

“I know it’s Ianto we’re talking about!” replied John. “And in any other circumstances, I would be right there with you helping you do whatever it took to contact him. But, as much of an ass as I know Orion is, on this occasion, he is right. You can’t do this, Nick – not just because of what could happen in the long term, but also because of what could happen to you.” His eyes hardened. “Be honest, Nick; do you trust yourself to do this? Do you honestly think you could do it without knowing how?”

Nick froze. In his panic over what he had seen, that thought had never occurred to him, but now that John had said it, he realised that he was right. “No,” he admitted, his shoulders slumping.

“Exactly,” said John, more gently this time. “It would be like, what’s it called, going betwixt in those Chronicles of Porn –”

“Pern,” corrected Nick automatically. “And I think what you mean is going between.”

“Whatever,” said John. “My point is that you remember how dangerous doing that was? Well, this is a hundred times more dangerous, at least, if you don’t know what you’re doing. You could get trapped in the Void, Nick, and then you’d have no way of getting home at all – you’d never see anyone you cared about again.” His voice seemed to crack. “Is that what you want?”

“I…no, of course it isn’t,” gasped Nick, the reality of the situation hitting him even harder now. “But…but what can I do? I have to warn Ianto or Jack about what might happen. I know I don’t know if it will, but I can’t take that risk, can I?”

“No,” said John. “You can’t – and I wouldn’t expect you to. But there is a better way to do it than what you were thinking and it’s something you can do quite easily now.” He grinned suddenly. “How do you think I let Jack know I was here?”

“You left a message,” said Nick. “He told me – oh!” He slapped his forehead in understanding. “You’re suggesting I leave a message for Jack to warn him!”

“Exactly!” grinned John. “And don’t forget – it’s the button on the top.”

Nick laughed softly, and then frowned as something else dawned on him. “Hey…how are you hearing what I’m saying? Unless something’s gone really weird since we last saw each other, you can’t suddenly materialise through walls.”

“No, I can’t.” Suddenly, John looked rather sad. “I’m not really here at all, Nicky. I’m just…” he paused to think, “I’m not really sure how to explain it. I guess it’s a combination of future technology and your subconscious mind that brought me here. In fact,” and suddenly it seemed to Nick that his image began to fade back into the woodwork, “my time’s running out as we speak.” He smiled and his voice faded even more. “Good luck, Nick…we’ll meet again, soon.”

“John!” Nick cried out, reaching out with one hand (and not realising just how much he resembled Luke Skywalker at that precise moment) as his lover’s image slowly disappeared until he was left staring at a blank wooden wall. Shaking himself, he sat up and blinked several times, before he suddenly remembered a part of John’s message.

“It’s the button on the top,” he whispered, smiling as he pressed the button in question. Instantly, a bright blue light started glowing in front of him, accompanied by a long beep before silence fell.

Nick frowned. “Right, I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that was whatever the equivalent of an answer phone is on this thing,” he said. “Well…hi, Jack, it’s me. Well, I suppose you’ve gathered that one already.” He took a deep breath. “Jack, this might sound a bit stupid, but…well, I had a dream where I saw…you and Ianto in London facing an alien called the 456. You both,” he stopped and collected himself, “you both died when they released a poisonous gas in the room you were in.”

He shut his eyes briefly. “I don’t know if what I saw was of your future, or whether it was from a parallel universe, or whether it was just a dream, but I just felt I had to warn you and short of doing something I later realised was really stupid…this was the best way I could think of to do it. That’s all I wanted to say – oh, except give my love to everyone and…and tell the kids that Daddy’s thinking of them and he hopes to see them again one day and…” he swallowed hard, “and that he loves them very much.”

With the message finished, he pressed the button again and sighed as the blue light faded away, leaving the carriage seeming darker than it had ever been before.

But he didn’t have long to brood. Barely a minute later, the door opened and Orion stepped inside. “We’ve arrived,” he said. If he knew what Nick had just done, he gave no sign of it. “It’s time to go.”

~*~

“What is this place?” asked Nick as they walked through dark and cobbled streets flanked by buildings with glowing signs all with lettering he couldn’t understand. “I mean…what is this area we’re standing in?”

“Rehab Central,” said Orion with a small grin. He waved his hand around. “This is where all the rehabilitation centres are in this century.”

“All of them?!” spluttered Nick. “How big is this place?”

“No one’s ever found out,” answered Orion dryly. “People tried, but eventually it got so ridiculous, they just realised that they couldn’t be bothered. But yes, this part of the planet is basically where everyone comes for rehab of some sort or another.” He paused. “Well, obviously, the Time Agency has medical rehabilitation there, but that’s a whole different pound of flesh.”

“This century is so weird,” said Nick fervently. He was about to ask which rehab centre was which, when Orion gave him a condescending glare and he remembered that his wrist strap had a translator function on it. Flushing slightly, he turned the function on and held his wrist cautiously towards the sign on one of the buildings. He read it and gasped out loud.

“There really is such a thing as Murder Rehab?!”

“Ah, yes murder rehab,” said Orion, grinning again. “There’s quite a story about that little place, you know. You remember I told you about meeting Jack the Ripper in the 1880s and you thought I was joking?”

Nick gasped. “Oh, you cannot be serious.” The thought that had entered his mind was at once highly unpleasant and completely ridiculous. “You actually brought Jack the Ripper in for rehab?!”

“We did.” Orion’s voice was unrepentant. “Well…we tried too, anyway. It went…slightly awry.”

“You mean more awry than bringing a murdering psychopath through time and space?” spluttered Nick, laughing. “Well, that’s an achievement.”

Again, Orion wasn’t remotely worried. “Our rehab centres are somewhat different to yours, I believe. You see, here, we have one centre for weaning someone off something and another one for making the same thing seem less…abhorrent.” He licked his lips. “Unfortunately, there was a mix-up with the case notes and our friend was taken to the wrong place.”

“Wait, wait,” Nick whipped round. “Are you seriously telling me you made Jack the Ripper even more addicted to murder than he already was?!”

“It wasn’t intentional,” said Orion, “but yes, we did.” Suddenly, he chuckled. “Mind you, I wasn’t the only one to put a bit of a spell on the man. When he was in murder rehab, he got hold of a former Time Agent who had also enrolled there and…I think the phrase was ‘got himself dragged into his bed.’, if you get my meaning.” He chuckled and shook himself. “Anyway, we’d better get going; time is short and we have much to do.”

Silently, Nick followed the older man, but his mind was actually racing. The phrase Orion had used to describe Jack the Ripper and his other lover had struck a chord inside him and had also reminded him of a story he had heard.

I knew John had been with several partners in his life and I knew that his taste was sometimes a little suspect, he mused to himself. But Jack the Ripper?! My partner shagged Jack the Ripper?! He was so shocked, he didn’t even care that Orion could probably hear his every thought. I’m not sure if I should be amused or just plain disturbed!

~*~

“Behold,” Orion gestured ahead of him, “the Neokin royal citadel of Amion.” He indicated a large fortress made out of what looked like ebony and ivory with several nooks and crannies carved intricately into the wood, putting Nick in mind of the pictures he had seen of foreign temples with their multitudes of carvings.

As he followed Orion up to the citadel, Nick could see multitudes of different coloured flames flickering in the window frames. The effect, however, wasn’t gaudy or tacky; instead, it actually looked quite beautiful, if rather unusual, especially when he caught sight of the coloured flames reflecting in the large fountain in the courtyard that they were currently walking through. He was, however, startled to see that there seemed to be more creatures than people pottering around the grounds and asked Orion if the Neokin race was a race of animals rather than humans.

“Not exactly, no,” said Orion thoughtfully. “The Neokin possess the ability to transform into an animal at will. In fact,” and he started moving faster as a large blue butterfly soared towards them. “I believe that may be R’nessa, the Neokin Queen.” He dropped his voice. “Now, listen carefully. The Neokin are a peaceful race, but they take slights against them very seriously and, while they may have called on us for help, the Time Agency isn’t popular here.”

“Why?” asked Nick.

"It doesn’t matter why. What does matter is that you need to be careful what you say.”

“Okay,” said Nick. That made sense; he was on his first mission with the Time Agency and he had no desire to offend a nation whose relationship with the Agency was already shaky.

“Good,” said Orion, but then he stopped and thought. “Actually, it may be better if you don’t actually speak at all and just stay out of trouble while I meet with the delegates.”

Nick frowned. “You’re going to be meeting them alone?”

“That’s right.”

“Then why did you bring me here?” asked Nick, sounding annoyed.

“Because Time Agency law states that everyone has to have a partner when they go out on a mission of any kind, and I wanted to show you what that entails. Now, be silent.”

Nick barely had time to scowl at the insinuation that he was nothing more than a body to make up the numbers when a tall woman wearing long blue robes escorted him and Orion inside. She had strange markings on her face – markings just like those that had been on the wings of the large butterfly Orion had pointed out. Ah, she must be Queen R’nessa. The theory was confirmed when Orion looked at him and gifted him with a subtle nod.

When they entered the citadel, R’nessa turned to Orion. “The delegates are meeting in the conference room down the corridor. I trust your partner will be able to occupy himself.” Orion nodded. “Good; then we should begin without delay.”

“Make sure you stay out of trouble,” Orion growled in Nick’s ear before he followed the Neokin Queen into the conference room, where several other delegates were already assembled. They went through the mandatory introductions before R’nessa spoke again.

“We have a severe incident on our hands that must be handled immediately,” she said, her quiet voice whistling through the room. “It appears that, in between fifty and a hundred years, the alien race known as the Nova Djinn will get hold of a device that could create or control a black hole, moving it into a part of the galaxy it shouldn't be in and creating on where there shouldn't be one. Such a situation will threaten the home worlds of several species, as well as a world where an important sentient species will one day evolve. Unfortunately, as you know, the Nova Djinn are not a friendly race and are very easily offended. However, currently, the device is being held by others, and it is the job of whoever undertakes this mission to retrieve it from them before it falls into the wrong hands.”

“Where are these places?” asked one of the delegates.

“I cannot say where all of them are,” sighed R’nessa. “But I do know that one of them is the Panjassic Asteroid Belt.”

Orion inhaled sharply. “The Forest of Cheem,” he said and stood up. “My partner and I will go. Since it is clear that the device must be found before the Nova Djinn get hold of it, a Time Agent is surely the best option.”

R’nessa nodded. “We may have had our differences with your institution in the past, but what you say is true,” she said. “You will go.” She paused. “You must find the Omega Device.”

***

Next Time: Orion gave Nick instructions to stay out of trouble, but how well is that really going to work out? Disgruntled at being treated like a piece of baggage, our young hero goes for a walk, and makes a shocking discovery.

Chapter Text


To say that Nick was annoyed or frustrated would have been an understatement of epic proportions. When Orion and R’nessa walked away, he had stood and stared after the older man, unable to move or breathe in shock. He was beyond angry; in fact, he was even beyond incensed. It would have been fair to say he was angrier than he had ever been before, including the day that he had found out that Alison had cheated on him and even had a daughter with William Cuthbert, one of his former colleagues at St. David’s Hospital, as well as one of his best friends and that Ianto, his own cousin – no, his own brother – had known about it and never said a word to him about it, even knowing how much he hated being lied to. Even his feelings about the night when John had brutally tortured and killed a group of men who had attacked and almost raped him paled in comparison with how he felt now.

On both the previous occasions, he had been able to forgive John and Ianto for what had happened; admittedly, in John’s case, forgiveness had come far easier when his lover had gone out on his own and almost died, making Nick realise exactly how much the former Time Agent – and how he loathed putting John in the same category, even though he was retired, as someone as detestable as Orion – had come to mean to him. As for Ianto, after everything that they had shared together since their childhood, Nick knew that there was no way that he could not have forgiven him. Even if it had turned out that Estelle had been Ianto’s own child rather than Will Cuthbert’s, the past would have made him come round and forgive his cousin in the end. It would have taken much longer, but when push came to shove, Ianto was more like his brother and his best friend than he was his cousin and nothing would be able to change that.

But the situation he found himself in with Orion was totally different. From the moment they had clapped eyes on each other, the older man had done absolutely nothing to cultivate a pleasant working relationship between the two of them. He understood that working for the Time Agency was, to say the least, stressful and almost always extremely dangerous. He also knew that different people dealt with such things in different ways, including shutting themselves away from everyone and being unwilling to open up. So, from that viewpoint, Nick would have been able to understand Orion’s coolness, were it not for the fact that he had been around him long enough to know that the mood wasn’t a front, but was instead his natural temperament. But he was also arrogant and cruel towards anyone and everyone who happened to stand in his way, especially if anyone dared to contradict his opinion or to suggest that they do something that might disrupt his precious lifestyle, whatever that was, beyond treating everyone as if they were somehow inferior to him.

At that point, he wondered whether Orion could actually hear his thoughts now that he was out of sight and, considering how big the citadel was, that was entirely possible. But a moment later, he realised that, once again, he didn’t care about his thoughts being heard. He didn’t care that he was probably pissing the guy off royally by thinking what he was thinking. And do you know what? That’s just too darn bad. If he can’t hear my thoughts now, then he’ll certainly hear them later on, even if it is just through my mind. If he can, then that’s all the better. He caught sight of himself in a mirror and nodded resolutely. I’m not going to be lying down like a doormat any more. There are some times when things need to be said and, unless he wants the entire universe to be enemies with the Time Agency, Orion needs to hear them.

Somehow, Nick had no doubt that his partner was the major reason behind the antagonism shown so regularly towards the Agency. From what he had been told, several old allies had become adversaries to the Agency after several slights had been made. He didn’t know the full stories, but from the uncomfortable glances in the corridors, he had come to realise that Orion had had something, or everything, to do with whatever had happened in the past – or what might happen in the future.

If he doesn’t hear a few home truths, his precious Agency will be annihilated, was his next thought. And while I’m pretty sure he doesn’t give a shit about most of his colleagues, it might put a bit of a damper on his ambition to be the new leader of the Time Agency; if he’s not been kissing Cipactli’s robes to try and get her to name him as her successor, then I’m a fire lizard! Nodding to himself, he straightened his jacket resolutely. And if Orion doesn’t like hearing this, then frankly, Orion can just go and fuck himself.

With a final nod, Nick turned away from the mirror and walked off to have a look around of his own. He made his way down several long corridors, taking great care to go in the opposite direction to where Orion and R’nessa had gone, before he finally came to a large circular room with a heavily decorated ceiling. His first thought was that the multitude of frescoes made the place look like the Sistine Chapel – or rather the pictures he had seen of it, never having been to Rome. But as he looked closer, he realised that he was seeing images, not of scenes from the Bible or of various prophets through history, but instead there were paintings of scenes of everyday life; working in fields or in offices, shopping on markets, playing games with friends, even such everyday jobs as putting rubbish out in the mornings or making the bed.

The only difference was that very few of the characters were in fact human; in fact, there were several different animals and even some figures who were part-human and part-animal. He was particularly drawn to a beautiful scene depicting six women, each of whom had the thin wings of dragonflies with faint tints of colour shimmering in them brightening as the painted sun seemed to drift over them. They were simply washing clothes in a stream and talking amongst themselves, but the texture of the paintwork and the delicate brush strokes made the scene look so alive that Nick almost had to turn away and then look again to make sure that it really was just a painted scene. But he was also quite taken by another scene showing a group of men, women and children, all of whom seemed to be taking on the form of something extremely familiar.

“Well, that puts a slightly different spin on the myth of the centaurs,” Nick remarked with a slightly rueful laugh, wishing for the first time that he had thought to bring his camera with him (he was so awestruck by the scene that it didn’t occur to him that the leather strap on his wrist might actually have a built-in camera). Then again, when I went with John to look at that Rift activity, which ended with us actually jumping into the Rift, I don’t think photo opportunities were exactly high on my list of priorities.

Tearing his eyes away from the ceiling, he started to walk around the room and explore some of the other artefacts on display, some of which, such as what looked like a skeleton of a human-flamingo hybrid, were considerably more disgusting than others, though he was rather intrigued by a skimpy-looking and very short green corseted dress covered in glitter and sequins and with a long tail of multi-coloured feathers. Although it looked scarily like something that the women might wear on Strictly Come Dancing, Nick also found himself thinking about it in a totally different light.

He stopped in the middle of turning round to look at something else. I did not just think that. I did not just start picturing John in that outfit! Although, he would look really hot...no, stop it! Now is definitely not the time to be picturing my deepest fantasies when there’s someone here who might be able to read my thoughts! Besides, his trousers were already rather close-fitting and if he wasn’t careful, he was going to be showing much more than he intended to. So, tearing his eyes away from the outfit, he turned towards the exhibit he had been about to look at – and almost laughed out loud.

He was staring at a statue of a figure – male or female, he couldn’t easily tell, since they were shrouded by a veil – who held out to the audience a long stone slab with a simple pale blue cloth draped over it, on top of which there lay the broken shards of a long sword with strange symbols carved intricately into the metalwork. Despite knowing that this was probably a very important piece of Neokin history, Nick’s all too literary mind instantly jumped to something very different.

“From the Sistine Chapel to the halls of Rivendell to gaze upon the Shards of Narsil,” he muttered to himself, not even pausing to feel unsettled at his unusually lyrical turn of phrasing. “Sounds like the story of my life at –” but he was distracted suddenly by the feeling of a rather sharp pointed object digging into his back. Touching his hand towards his closest weapon, which turned out to be his ceremonial sword, he turned around, only to find himself facing a tall Neokin man with long messy blonde hair and blue eyes which were currently sparking with fury.

Great, Nick thought. I’ve barely been here for half an hour and I’ve already managed to get myself into trouble. That has to be a record, even for me. He forced a small smile to his face and said in his most polite voice, “Can I help you?”

The Neokin’s eyebrows knitted together fiercely. “You just compared one of the most ancient relics of our race to something from a book.” The last word was almost spat out as if it tasted bad.

“Oh!” said Nick surprised. “Oh, that’s a compliment, sir; the book I was referring to is Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, one of the greatest literary works of my time and one of my personal favourites. I assure you, I meant no offence.” Cautiously, he backed away from the sword that was still pointed at his chest. “I apologise if I did offend you; as I said, it was entirely unintentional.”

But the man was unappeased; in fact, he seemed to grow angrier as Nick spoke. “You have insulted our culture and cast disrespect on our custom,” he growled. “Did you not know that the written word is not to be spoken of in this citadel, Time Agent?”

“Oh,” said Nick, too surprised to register the contemptuous voice in which his title had been spoken. “Actually, no I didn’t know that. I meant no disrespect to you or to your culture; in fact, I find it truly fascinating and...” but he trailed off when he realised that the man’s eyes were beginning to darken and his hair to lengthen so that it was forming a circle around his face...almost like the serpents that flew from the head of the goddess Medusa, or the mane of a wild lion...

Oh, shit.

The moment he had compared the man’s growing hair to a lion’s mane, Nick remembered the unique – as far as he had seen – characteristic that the Neokin race had; namely, their ability to transform themselves into animals. Whether that meant that each person had their own animal or whether it meant that they could transform into several different animals, Nick didn’t know, but when he was faced by a half-human and half-lion hybrid, he certainly wasn’t going to stay and find out.

He didn’t even feel himself moving out of the room or even register any of his surroundings; all he knew was that he had somehow suddenly ended up in what he initially thought was a corridor, but when he actually looked closer and breathed in the smell of the air, he realised that he was actually running down a path heavily shadowed by enormous trees, the likes of which he had never seen before. Dimly, he wished that he could stop to get a better look at them, but then remembered that he didn’t want to be caught by a Neokin-lion and quickly started running again.

Eventually, however, he came to what was either a small house or a very large cottage, lying secluded in amongst what looked like a forest of trees and other woodland plants. It was painted in the same dark green as the leaves on the tree and even the roof looked as though it was made of grass. Curious, Nick gently touched the door, only to be shocked when it opened without any further effort. It seemed like the building recognised him as a friend, because as he walked down the corridors, a warm light started glowing in the walls, guiding him through the place, until he ended up inside a very large and, at that point, very dark room. A gentle sound permeated the walls, almost like a tale from long ago being sung by a famous bard, although there was no one to be seen.

But then, as he looked around, he saw streams of light filtering in through the glass dome, which then split into several colours, making Nick feel as if he was standing in the middle of a stained glass window. As he looked around, he could now see that the room was much bigger than he had anticipated and held several comfortable sofas and chairs, some in fabrics and colours that he had never seen before in his life. There were also several beautifully carved tables upon which several beautiful cloths had been set, presumably so that the fragile-looking wood would not be damaged. However, this was not what caught his eye and made his heart sing out of sheer surprise and joy.

It was also then that he understood why the place had been so clearly camouflaged and hidden from plain sight. For, in a citadel where the written word was abhorred, forbidden even, and where any animal may be a watchful guard, alert to any transgression of the rules, where could anyone think to hide such a majestic and beautiful library?

***

Next Time: What was it that caused the Neokin to ban the written word?

Chapter Text

Nick leaned against the wall, listening to his heart pounding in his ears as he looked around, unsure whether he should feel more shocked or impressed by this room. He had never seen so many books in all his life, and certainly never in one room, not even when he had made an unexpected trip to the British Library back in his earlier days at university – although, in fairness, and unusually for him, he hadn't always been entirely focused on books at that time, especially considering who had accompanied him on that trip.

He shook himself. Now was not the time to be dwelling on his past regrets, or to be wondering what might have been had certain events not intervened. In spite of this, however, he did briefly find himself remembering something Jack had once told him about parallel worlds, where something that happened in the world that someone knew might have happened differently, or might not even have happened at all. Maybe there was one such universe where circumstances that had dictated events in his past had not in fact taken place. Maybe there was even a universe where he had never ended up in London during Canary Wharf and even one where he had never joined Torchwood.

I wonder what that could have been like; maybe if Dan and I had never split up, I would never have ended up going out with Alison or marrying her, and then I might never have had reason to have been in London when the battle happened. I might never have found out the truth about what Ianto did for a living.

He rubbed his head violently until he could almost smell the friction the motion was creating. Now is not the time to be wondering what might have happened between me and Dan. We had some amazing times together and I do still have a bit of a soft spot for him. But what's in the past stays in the past; I have to focus on my present first. And, at the present, I'm at least three thousand years out of my time, alone and John might be dead for all I know. He sighed softly. But I also know that, if he were here instead of me, he would be doing everything he could to have some fun in the face of adversity. And here I am, in the kind of place that I thought I could only dream about! Well, bring it on!

With a grin spreading over his face, he took several running steps until he stopped in the aisle between two heavily stacked shelves, his heart pounding in excitement. At this moment, he felt like he was five years old on Christmas Day, when Ianto's father had gone out specially and come back with an enormous stuffed dragon and a box of second-hand children's books, which, years later, he had found out had belonged to his own father. Even then, while his relationship with his father hadn't been easy, he couldn't deny that he had been extremely touched by the gesture.

He remembered how he had felt as if there was something fizzing in his stomach from the excitement of that moment when he had unwrapped the books one by one. But now, he knew that nothing could compare to what he was feeling now. Far from a simple sensation of having eaten a few too many fizzy cola bottles, he now felt as if fireworks built on adrenaline were leaping and exploding inside him, making him feel as if he could do anything; as if he was on top of the world. Books did tend to have that effect on him.

The energy inside him was calling out to be released in the most ridiculous way he could possibly think of and he knew that he could do nothing except oblige. So, without even stopping to think, he took several paces back and then, after executing his run up, proceeded to carry out a series of cartwheels and back-flips down the aisle until he came to the other end and struck a pose where he was down on one knee with his hands in the air and his head thrown backwards.

“Yahoo!” he shouted out, casting his eyes up to the domed ceiling and rolling to his feet as he struck a standing pose which – he thought – made him look like a gymnast. “Bring on the books, my friends!”

He felt, rather than heard, a ripple of amusement breathe through the atmosphere as if the room was laughing at him. But it was a friendly laugh rather than a mocking or cruel one and Nick felt completely at ease in this place. He always did feel that way whenever he was surrounded by books, but now, after having been caught in the middle of so much hostility, even from people who were supposed to be his colleagues, being in a place like this was like being welcomed back home again after a long absence.

For a brief second, he felt rather sad at the thought of being back home with his friends and his family. As fascinating and, in some ways, amazing as the 51st century undoubtedly was, he missed hearing his son's laugh and watching him pushing his little cars all over the carpet. He also missed reading the children a story before he put them to bed and watching them sleep with thousands of stars shimmering above their heads from the lamp he had found at a car boot sale a few months after Trevyn had been born.

But he quickly pushed any maudlin thoughts out of his mind and started looking around the shelves surrounding him and was momentarily disappointed when he realised that he could not understand the language that the signs were written in. Those feelings quickly faded, however, when he remembered that his wrist strap would be able to act as a translator. Grinning anew, he reached out and ran his wrist over one of the signs on the shelf. After a moment, the translation came up: 'Twenty-second century.”

“What on earth does that mean?” he wondered, frowning. “I sincerely hope it doesn't mean that this place takes you to a portal into a different century...although that might be an opportunity for me to get home if I can find something from the twenty-first century.”

However, before he had the chance to be puzzled at the nonsensical nature of the idea of having a portal in the middle of a library (or to kick himself for forgetting that nothing was impossible in a place that, so far, seemed to be lifted straight out of a science fiction film), he caught sight of another sign hanging from the top of the shelf. He wasn't sure if the signal from his vortex manipulator would reach that far, but decided that it wouldn't do him any harm to at least try it out and see what would happen. Looking up, he stretched out his arm as far as it would reach, even stepping up onto the second shelf to get a bit more height, a motion that shocked him as much as anything else. Had he been back home, he would never even have considered doing such a thing in case he damaged some of the books, but here something seemed to be telling him that what he was doing was not only accepted, it was normal, amusing even.

With a grunt, he swung himself up so he was crouched on one of the middle shelves, still hanging on to one above him with one hand as he held his other wrist up to the sign above him, squinting slightly in the flickering light of the star lights above him. He blinked and raised his eyebrows when his wrist strap finally showed him the translation of the sign.

Literature of Times Most Ancient and Revered.

That meant that the signs saying 'Twenty-second century' wasn't put there as an entrance to a portal or anything supernatural like that. It was simply fulfilling the function it would have been put to in any library back home; it was notifying readers of what books were stocked on those shelves.

“Well, shit,” said Nick weakly before his hand slipped from the shelf and he lost his footing on the shelf below and went crashing back onto the floor, landing hard on his back. He blinked sheepishly through his lop-sided glasses as he sat up and as he did so, the mood seemed to shift to one of a combination of sympathy and teasing humour at his slip.

“What?” he asked the room as a whole, trying not to be annoyed. “This century hasn't made an awful lot of sense since I've been here; you're expecting me not to be surprised that something actually does make sense for a change?” Gingerly, he stood up and straightened his glasses. “I feel like bloody Alice in Wonderland,” he muttered to himself. “But, since I'm here, it would be pretty ridiculous not to look round.” He picked out a book and scanned the title on the spine. “Great Art from the 20th and 21st centuries,” he read aloud. “That might be a laugh.” He flipped through the book, slightly amused to recognise several works in that book, especially considering that they all had rather acerbic captions underneath them – clearly, the author had a rather low opinion of anything that didn't imply sex or debauchery.

“Typical 51st century, I guess,” he muttered to himself, and was just about to close it, when his wrist strap picked up the words, 'However, the anonymous drawing over the page is what I, the author, consider to be one of the greatest works of the 21st century. It was found in an abandoned flat in the year 2050 in what was then known as the city of Cardiff, in Wales. No one has yet been able to discover who the artist was, but the techniques shown in the artistry show it to have been drawn at least forty earlier than its discovery date. The subject of the portrait has never been identified, but the smooth pencil lines show a great sense of tenderness and affection from the artist.”

Nick blinked. “There's an undiscovered artist living in Cardiff who becomes famous three thousand years later?” he spluttered. “Wow – I wonder what the picture is!” Quickly, and with his fingers trembling so hard he thought they might drop off, he turned the page.

He couldn't believe his eyes. It was a pencil sketch of him lying naked on a bed, his hair spread all over the pillow behind him! But not only that, he could actually remember when it had been drawn; that New Year's Eve the first time he and John had...Nick felt himself grow hot all over at the memory. At the risk of lifting lines straight out of Titanic, it had been quite possibly the most erotic moment of his life...up to that point.

He bit his lip and tried to focus on the translation of the writing below the picture, to see it as a piece of artwork and nothing more. But even before he started, he knew it was a hopeless task; the book was trembling in his hands as the memory of that night filled his mind. He could almost taste the rich dark chocolate as it melted over John's back, feel the soft sheets slipping over his skin, smell his lover's unique pheromones as his excitement and arousal grew...

A fierce current suddenly flew through Nick's body, jolting him out of his musings. He squealed in surprise as he remembered where he was and looked around to see if there was anyone around who had given him such a shock. But the aisle was completely empty of life forms, other than himself, but he could feel a presence surrounding him and watching him with an invisible smile of amusement on his or her face. Blushing furiously, Nick shut the book and quickly put it back where he found it and leaned against the shelf to try and calm the surges of passion that were racing through him.

“I think I might go and look at something else,” he muttered, before turning away quickly and walking further down the aisle, occasionally pausing to check the labels attached to the shelves. Eventually, he stopped at the section containing literature from the thirtieth century and picked out a book which, upon closer inspection, he discovered was a book of poems from that time. Curious, he dropped onto the floor and opened the book. But before he could start to get into it, he was distracted by the sound of heavy footsteps coming his way. Instantly, he jumped to his feet and drew his sword as he saw something appearing. At the same time, a soft voice spoke out to him.

“Lower your weapon; I mean you no harm.”

Nick raised an eyebrow. I'm in an unfamiliar place and something's coming at me. I don't know who or what it could be, whether it's friend or foe and I'm being asked to lower my sword? He snorted softly to himself. Yeah, right – seriously, how stupid do some people think I am?!

To his surprise, however, he was greeted a moment later, not by the large and hulking figure he had expected to see, but instead by a woman who was so thin and pale she looked almost like a ghost; in fact, upon looking closer and seeing that she seemed insubstantial, Nick wondered if that was exactly what she was. But still, he took no chances. “Who are you?” he asked, stepping forwards and allowing the tip of his sword to shine in the light.

The woman drifted closer to him. “You can put away your weapon,” she whispered. “I said that I meant you no harm, and I do mean you no harm, Nick Jones.”

Nick stepped back sharply. “You know my name!” he exclaimed, so surprised that he actually dropped his sword on the floor.

“Yes. And I also know that the man in that picture was you.” She came over and smiled, a soft gesture that blew over her face like smoke. “I knew that you would come one day.”

“How?” asked Nick, now even more unsettled, though he did not pick his sword back up. “How did you know? Who are you?”

“I saw it,” she answered simply. “I saw you coming. I am what you might think of as a ghost or a shadow of the past.” She sighed softly and flittered amongst the shelves. “I remember happier days, when great readers like you would pour into this room to read with each other. Races from all over the universe would sit and read together, learning the words and customs of the ancients, so that they might learn from them. Learn from the past, live for the future, they used to say. It was like an intergalactic book-club, I suppose; a time when a place like this did not need to be hidden away from view and was not treated with such contempt.”

“What happened?” asked Nick. “Why did it all change?”

“The Great War happened,” sighed the woman. “I cannot tell you much; to speak of it is forbidden, even amongst the dead. But books and literature were outlawed to be spoken of or used, because they were believed to have brought a great evil upon the Neokin race.” She swooped down suddenly, her body – if it could be called that – barely inches away from Nick's. “I beg you, Nick, do not go searching for more information on this matter here; the very mention of the event could be enough to have you imprisoned and if word got out that you had come here, or that this place was still functioning, you could be seen to be searching for books and viewed as a threat – you would be killed instantly, without a trial – especially considering your status as a Time Agent.”

Nick shivered. “But how can I know that I won't be discovered here? How do I know that I'm safe?”

“This house reveals its true self only to those whom it believes to be true friends of the written word – to those who would see it protected rather than destroyed. If you are one such person –”

“Of course I am!”

“Then you will understand why you must not speak of this place until you are out of the Neokin realm. You will be protecting not only yourself, but also the history of several millennia.” She started to leave, but her last words echoed through the room.

“The written word was almost destroyed by war a long time ago. For it to happen again would be a tragedy to terrible to contemplate.”

Nick watched the woman fade away slowly, his heart racing at what he had heard. He knew some instances of historical destruction of the written word, such as the repeated demolition of the ancient library at Alexandria. But it wasn't really history that was running through his mind; instead, it was a fictional novel.

Sighing, he wandered back along the aisle, occasionally running his hand over some of the spines. Eventually, however, one of them fell on the floor right at his feet. He bent to pick it up, but his heart missed a beat when he realised what the book was.

“Fahrenheit 451.”

***

Next Time: So, Nick has discovered a few pieces of Neokin history, but now he and Orion must continue on their journey. Will they make it without too many problems?

Chapter Text

Meanwhile, back in the citadel of Amion...

R'nessa clapped her hands. “So, it is decided,” she said. “Orion has volunteered himself and his partner to go to the world of the Nova Djinn and negotiate with them for the return of the Omega Device.” She looked over at the Time Agent, who was leaning nonchalantly against the wall and felt a stab of annoyance that it had come to this. She also pitied the young man who had come with him at being stuck out of his time and separated from his friends, and being forced into company with such an arrogant and thoughtless man. “Do you accept?” she barked at him.

“Yes, I accept,” said Orion in an indifferent voice. “I thought we'd already established that.”

She bit down hard on the angry retort that was aching to come out of her mouth and instead asked, “And what about your partner?” in as civil a voice as she could manage. “Is he willing to accompany you?”

“Yes,” said Orion immediately. “I'll speak for him – he will be coming too.”

R'nessa fought back the urge to turn into her butterfly form and batter the man with her wings until he was bleeding from the cuts that were ripping across his skin. That poor young man, she thought to herself. He deserves better than to be trapped with someone who thinks he's entitled to make his decisions for him.

“R'nessa,” Orion's voice cut through her thoughts. “In case you hadn't noticed, my partner isn't actually here and therefore, he can't actually speak for himself here. Therefore, I will be speaking for him.” He pushed himself off the wall and strutted back to the long table where the delegates were still assembled. “And I can tell you that he will be coming with me.” His eyes raked across the room as he leaned over the table, his gaze consuming everyone there. “Now that's settled; is there anything else before we have to leave?”

“Yes, actually.” A woman stood up, her brown eyes demure but earnest. “I am concerned about the wisdom of allowing this mission to be undertaken by a Time Agent such as you. Your organisation's reputation for disaster has preceded you and your own reputation for a lack of diplomacy is well known throughout the universe. How can we trust you not to make things worse?”

“You're going to have to,” answered Orion coolly. “Besides, my apprentice has good negotiation skills and he can sweet-talk us out of anything, if the occasion calls for it.” He clapped his hands, ignoring the indignant sputtering of the woman and the rest of the assembled delegates. “So, when do we go?”

R'nessa closed her eyes. “As soon as possible,” she said and then, in tones that echoed with defeat, she added, “Meeting closed.”

When the delegates had left, Orion looked over at the Neokin Queen and smiled. “It's good to see you again, R'nessa. You're looking just as beautiful as you did the last time I saw you,” he said with a smile.

She turned sharply. “And you remember what a wonderful day that was – or rather what a wonderful day it should have been.” She snorted. “You never change, do you?”

“What?” Orion affected a look of surprise. “I make one mistake and suddenly I'm the Nova Djinn incarnate? Come on, R'nessa, whatever happened to forgiving and forgetting?” Swooping across the room, he reached out and cupped her cheek gently. “You remember how good we –” but before he could get any further, R'nessa slapped him hard across the face.

“Don't you dare touch me,” she hissed, her voice as quite as a butterfly's movement, but as deadly as a poisoned bullet. “You lost that right a long time ago. After what you pulled, I thought that if I never saw you again, it would be too soon. It's just too bad that we needed your help and that, as much as I hate to admit this, you are the best qualified operative for the job.” With that, she whisked herself away from him and breezed out of the doors, leaving Orion trailing in her wake.

~*~

Nick couldn't help but feel deeply disappointed when he realised that the mood in the library was changing; it was as if the room was saying goodbye. Somehow, he knew that what it really meant was that now was the time for him to leave and to continue on his mission with Orion, whatever that may be.

“Will I ever come back here again?” he asked the room as a whole. But even as he said the words, and even without it being spoken, he already knew the answer. The depression surrounding him was almost stifling and a sudden unwelcome memory, one he thought he had long buried, began to resurface.

~*~

He wasn't quite three years old when they came; a man and a woman, both with sharp suits and stern expressions. They both looked around the small house, their voices quiet but harsh, though he could not hear any of their words. But even without speech, he knew that it couldn't be anything good. Sure enough, a moment later, the woman came over and tried to lift him from his father's lap.

“No!” he cried out, gripping his father's shirt. “No...want to stay with Daddy!”

“You'll see your daddy again very soon.” The woman was attempting a kind tone of voice, but she completely missed it. “He just needs some time to sort himself out. We're going to take you somewhere safe – somewhere you'll be very happy.”

“No!” Nick cried again as he felt his hands being forced away from the shirt that he was clinging onto. “No – don't want to leave!”

“Nicky...” His father's voice cut through the room, quiet and sad. “Nicky, it's for the best; you'll see me again one day.” Gently, he reached out to stroke his son's hair. “I love you, son...you and your sister.” Shakily, he passed him a large red dragon. “Take this, son...and remember that I love you...”

“Daddy!” screamed Nick, tears dripping down his chin as he was firmly removed from his father's arms and carried forcibly out of the door, still gripping the dragon. “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy...Daddy, please!”

“I'm sorry...” The words were barely audible, because of the sobs masking them, but Nick heard his father as clearly as if he had shouted. “I'm so sorry...my poor boy...I'm sorry...”

~*~

And now, as the tears streamed down his face as he remembered that one moment, Nick knew that he would never see this library again and the thought broke his heart almost as much as the memory of being ripped away from his father.

With a sigh, he wiped his eyes angrily and, after pausing to take a last look at the room, he walked through the halls and eventually stepped back into the woods and made his way back to Amion. He had barely made his way back through the room with the heavily painted ceiling – thankfully, the man he had inadvertently insulted seemed to have moved on – before someone came up to him.

“Come,” she said to him kindly. “I will show you both to your transport to take you to the land of the Nova Djinn.” She smiled gently and Nick suddenly recognised her as R'nessa, the Neokin Queen. Beside her, his face set in a dark scowl, walked Orion, hands in his pockets and his eyes firmly glued on the woman.

For her part, R'nessa was resolutely ignoring the senior Time Agent as she took them to a large landing pad on the outskirts of the woods. “Here is your transport,” she said, showing them to a sleek silver space ship resting quietly in front of a grassy bank. “It is simple, but comfortable and reliable, which is the most important thing.” She tossed a small silver gadget to Orion. “That will activate the controls inside; make sure you keep it with you at all times.” Then, she went over to Nick and slipped something into his hand.

“This is a key to a private room,” she whispered to him. “It's only a small room, but you can use it as somewhere to rest if he gets to you too much.” Smiling kindly, she placed a soft kiss on his forehead. “Goodbye, Nick Jones...and good luck.”

Nick barely had chance to wonder how the Queen knew his name before she had disappeared in a cloud of dark blue smoke and a flutter of butterfly's wings. With a small sigh, he turned around and followed Orion into the ship.

“So,” Orion said as the door hissed shut, “what did you find to occupy yourself while I was in the meeting?”

Nick was so surprised at the interest the older man was showing in his activities that he suddenly found himself telling him everything about the unexpected library he had found in the dark woods. “It was like it was sentient,” he said. “It recognised me as a friend, as someone who respected and loved the written word, and it just...” he shrugged. “I don't know; it was like...it looked straight into my head and knew me better than anyone has known me in a long time. It unearthed memories I thought I had buried for a long time...made me really look at myself and see who I am.”

“Interesting,” said Orion, who was fiddling with the ship's controls.

“What happened?” asked Nick suddenly. “I mean, why was the written word forbidden by the Neokin race? I heard something about a war, but there's more to it than that, isn't there?”

For a long time, Orion didn't say anything. Then, he straightened up and turned around. “You do have a habit of sticking your nose in where you shouldn't, don't you?” he said. “Yes, there's more to it than that. A long time ago, another race, which has long since died out, stole several books of Neokin history and claimed that everything that was said about their great triumphs was a lie, as well as claiming some of their inventions as their own. The Neokin took offence at this and, after apparently hearing rumours of the other race conducting dangerous experiments – rumours which were never proved or discredited – started a war which quickly became a bloodbath. They were able to prove that what was written in their history was true and to show that what they claimed to be their inventions were, but after that, books were reviled, because they were what caused a peaceful nation to become bloodthirsty in revenge.”

“So, it all started because of some rumours,” said Nick, frowning. “That's a pretty stupid reason to start a war, isn't it?”

“Yes it is,” agreed Orion. “And that's exactly what caused the race’s contempt for books; if you’re going to fight, it should be for the right reason. They were so ashamed of what had been done that they decided to abolish something that could bring them to do such a thing so that it would never happen again. That's why they forbade reading. You could see the bonfires from the burnings all the way across the galaxy.”

Nick sank down onto a seat. “It's like back home,” he murmured. “The war in Iraq; so many people believe that it was nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction, but it was just about lining the pockets of the oil industry.” He shook his head. “So many people have died for that. I thought that in the future things would change and people would realise the stupidity of fighting for pointless reasons. I guess I was wrong.”

For a moment, Orion looked almost sympathetic. “It's very rare that your hopes for the future are granted,” he said quietly. “You eventually learn that it's better not to have too many so you're not disappointed.”

A long silence followed before Orion spoke again. “So, you think I'm arrogant and cruel, do you?” His tone was light, but there was something slightly menacing in his posture. “And you knew that I wouldn't like hearing it, but you didn't care?”

“That's right.” Nick knew that he shouldn't bait the man, but he also knew that he needed to hear this. “And I'm not ashamed of thinking it. And,” he tilted his head slightly, “I don't think I'm the only one who feels that way, am I? Or did I miss something between you and R'nessa?”

Orion turned round, surprise in his eyes. “Oh, that – that's no big deal; ancient history.”

“Oh, really?” said Nick. “Then if it's ancient history, you won't mind if I ask what happened, will you?”

For a moment, Orion looked even more shocked, but then he smiled. “We were a couple once. Engaged to be married, actually.”

“And what happened, did she see the light?”

“If you're asking if we split up, yes we did. But personally, I would have thought she would have figured out that I wasn't going to settle down with her before I jilted her on our wedding day.”

“You did what?!” spluttered Nick.

Orion chuckled. “Oh, that woman is so beautiful when she's angry – it made the bruises I got from telling her that I'd been sleeping with her best friend while we were together so worth it.”

Nick sighed and leaned against the wall. “I don't know why I let anything surprise me any more,” he said, sounding defeated. “Just answer me one question – is there anyone in this century or in the universe who you haven't actually slept with?”

Orion turned around. “Well, actually, now you mention it,” he said, coming over to him slowly, “there is.” He had a feral grin on his face as he reached out towards Nick. “And he's standing right in front of me,” he added as he reached out to run a hand underneath Nick's shirt.

Nick was frozen in surprise for a second, but then he quickly pulled himself free, whipping out his gun. “Get your hands off me!” he growled, shaking in anger. He felt the power of the fire rousing itself inside him and had to fight to keep it down; the last thing he wanted to do was cause any damage to R'nessa's ship.

“What makes you think I would even consider touching you with a ten foot bargepole?” he asked, barely keeping his voice steady. Logically, he knew that this wasn't a very sensible way to go about dealing with anyone, especially a Time Agent, but right now he didn't care. “Even if I was desperate, I wouldn't think about doing anything with someone as arrogant, conceited and –” but before he could finish the sentence, he found himself with his face squashed against the wall and his arms twisted behind his back while his hands were held in a vice-like grip.

“Keep talking like that,” Orion's voice, husky with lust and power, whistled through his ear and into his head, “oh, please, keep talking like that, it is such an amazing turn-on.”

Nick bit his lip as he felt the other man pressing up against him, his breath hot on his neck and his body rubbing against him. Tears pricked his eyes and he clenched his teeth against the cry of fear fighting to escape. “No...” he whimpered, “please...” He would have fought his way away, but he could barely breathe through Orion's intense pheromones, much less move away from his weight.

“Shut up!” snarled Orion. He was shaking with arousal and Nick almost froze in fear as he felt the butt of his gun hard and cold against the skin at the waistband of his trousers. “If you even so much as utter a single sound, I swear, apprentice or not, I'll kill you.” Then, without another word, he yanked Nick away from the wall and plundered his mouth with a vicious, almost blood-curdling kiss, his tongue forcing itself down Nick's throat and making him gag.

God no...no, please...please, were the only thoughts to fly through Nick's mind as his body went limp and powerless, even as he felt Orion's rough hands reaching down towards the buttons on his trousers.

Suddenly, and with a sharp jolt, the ship came to a stop. It was entirely unexpected and sent them both flying back into the wall. For several moments, all was silent and still, but then the ship put on an incredibly violent burst of speed before hurtling through the air like it was a piece of paper being tossed about by a tornado.

***

Next Time: The sudden jump from the ship may have saved Nick from something extremely nasty, but what does it mean? Later, Nick is overjoyed to see a friendly face, but will that last?

Chapter Text

Chapter 22

The sudden motion of the ship brought any action on board to an abrupt halt as the two men froze in place, although Orion's hand was still reaching towards the buttons on Nick's trousers. But any stillness lasted only for a couple of seconds when Orion's hand moved again and started to unfasten Nick's trousers, that mad lustfulness returning to his face with full force as he moved to press himself back against the young man and pin him to the wall again.

Only this time, Nick had just about had enough of Orion's behaviour. He knew that he couldn't kill him – as much as he hated to admit it, there had to be a reason why he had been chosen to go on this mission, although his actions up to this point hadn't given him the slightest idea what that reason was – but he could certainly give him a shock. So, just for a second, he let himself go limp and weak, letting Orion think he had him exactly where he wanted him, but then, as quick as lightening, he whipped out his gun and jammed the handle straight into the older man's groin. Then, as Orion's eyes widened in shock, he pushed him hard onto the ground and jumped straight for the controls. A few seconds later, he turned around, his gun in his hand and the safety catch off.

“Give me a reason,” he said, almost scaring himself with how quiet and cold his voice had become. “Give me a reason to do it and I swear I will. I may not be able to kill you, but I can do other things with a gun, which will be even more painful and, believe me, you don't want me to do that any more than I want to do it. However, if you behave, I won't have any reason to do anything...untoward and our working relationship may become that little bit easier. Capisce?” He waited for a response, but when there was none, he added, “Do you understand?”

There was silence for several minutes as Nick's words reverberated around the walls. For several moments, Orion seemed shocked that anyone had dared talk to him like that and Nick mentally congratulated himself. I bet that's the first time that anyone's ever spoken to him like that, he thought and smiled slightly to himself. But then, the older man's face relaxed and some of that arrogant swagger started to come back as he let out a loud laugh.

“Don't think I'm joking,” warned Nick, his voice casual, but his fingers continually stroking the safety catch on his gun. “Because I have never been more serious about anything in my life. Now, you can either back down and make our relationship that little bit easier, which may ensure that we both make it out of this mess alive, or you can just keep it up and this will end in disaster. It's your choice.”

Anyone watching the scene would have been able to tell that Orion wanted nothing more than to remind the young man that he was the senior Agent in this, and that meant he was the boss. It was incredibly galling to have someone who only a few days ago had needed his power over fire to be pointed out to him lording it over an experienced officer like this! However, as tragic as it was, when he saw his partner's – and, oh, how he hated having to refer to the whelp like that! – fingers still running calmly over the safety catch on his gun and caught the hardened look in his eyes, he realised that he had no choice but to accept or be killed. “Fine,” he growled. “You win – for now.”

“Good,” said Nick. “But don't think for one minute that you're off the hook, here. You so much as look at me oddly and I will find an airlock and kick you through it. Got it?” Orion nodded. “Good. Now, let's try and get ourselves back on track.” He pressed some buttons on his vortex manipulator and hacked into the computer database with ease, biting back his amusement at the shock on Orion's face. “What? Do you really think someone could work for Torchwood, have an ex-Time Agent as a partner, a computer expert for a cousin and not be able to figure out how to do this?”

“Clearly, there's more to you than I thought,” said Orion sarcastically.

“That's right,” said Nick. “We twenty-first century types may be primitive by your reckoning, but we can come good when it matters – and don't make a joke,” he warned, his hand going back to his gun.

“I wasn't going to,” said Orion stiffly.

Nick didn't believe him for a second, but he didn't argue and went straight back to fiddling with the controls, occasionally pausing to check any scans on his wrist strap. “Clearly, this ship knows where she's going,” he said. “Apparently, there's a shorter cut to the Nova Djinn world than the one we were taking and she's changed her route and is taking us round there.” He grinned. “It beats having to use a sat...” but he trailed off halfway through his comment, frowning when something else flashed up on the scanner.

“What is it?” Orion leaned over and examined the display. “What's happening?”

“Can you just check I'm reading this right?” asked Nick. “Because from what I can see, it looks like we've jumped ahead fifty-two years.”

“What!” exclaimed Orion. He shoved Nick out of the way and rushed towards the controls to check for himself. “How did that happen? I didn't do anything to it!”

“Well, neither did I!” retorted Nick and then bit his lip. Getting angry with each other wasn't going to help them now. “Never mind who did it – can we try and get her back into the right time?”

“That's what I'm trying to do, but the controls are set! She just won't budge!” Orion kicked the dashboard angrily. “I bet R'nessa knew what she was doing; this is just a final trick so she can get her own back on me again and make me look like a fool!”

“Oh, what a load of rubbish,” said Nick in disgust. “Firstly, I think that, as the Queen of the Neokin, she'd be a bit more mature than to resort to something petty like that. And secondly, if she was going to do that, don't you think she'd have warned me first?”

“Why would she do that?”

“Well, she does seem to like me. After all, she did give me this,” Nick pulled the small key R'nessa had given him out of his pocket. “It's the key to a private room on this ship; she said I could use it if I got sick of your company.” He couldn't quite resist a smirk as Orion openly gaped. “And thirdly – if she did have some sort of master plan to humiliate you, can you really look me in the eye and say that you didn't deserve it?”

“Oh, shut up,” growled Orion. “The point is, while the short cut is fine, the fact that we've been thrown out of our time is certainly not fine.” He kicked the dashboard again and swore. “What do we do?”

Slowly, Nick rested his hand gently on the dashboard, stroking the surface, hoping to get some answers from there. However, he wasn't prepared for the sensation of something gently brushing against his mind and silently urging him to stay calm and relax.

It will be all right...

Nick blinked, even though his eyes were closed. What? He opened one eye and looked around, expecting to see someone behind him, but the only person there was Orion, who was watching him with a mixture of curiosity and extremely grudging respect.

It will be all right, the voice repeated. Just stay calm...I know where I am taking you.

“What?” exclaimed Nick, not realising that he'd spoken out loud. “Are you...driving the ship?”

He was rewarded by a soft laugh before the voice spoke again. I am not someone driving the ship, Nick Jones. I am the ship. I have the gift of what you might call sentience, you see, but only speak with whom I choose. You need only think what you want to say and I will hear you.

You...you chose to speak with me? Nick couldn't understand it. Why? I'm just a plain doctor who ended up somewhere I don't belong. I'm not important or anything like that.

That's where you're wrong, the ship answered him. You are extremely important; you will save thousands of lives on this mission, Nick. But that is not why I chose you; I chose you because, like R'nessa, I saw such deep compassion inside you; something that is so often found to be greatly lacking in this future.

You're not kidding, agreed Nick, allowing himself a sad smile.

When you came to the library, deep in the Forests of Amion, so deep that the Neokin never dare venture there, they saw within you what I see now. They saw someone who would do anything to protect and care for what they love. You were welcomed by them because of that; because they saw how much you cherish the written word, they accepted you. No one has been so well received there in centuries.

What must I do? Nick asked, shaking slightly. I mean, how can I get us to where we're going...

You don't need to do anything, answered the ship. I understand that you are worried; I would be too in your position. But I have also seen inside your mind and I know that you are free-thinking and intelligent in ways that your companion can only dream about.

Does he know? Nick knew he was frowning again. I mean, that you're alive?

No. Orion is arrogant and cynical. He will never believe that a machine like me can think or work like a human. He sees me as a pile of scrap metal, just convenient enough to take him to his destination.

For a moment, Nick wondered if there'd ever have been a time when he might not have believed that a ship or a machine could function like a human. He had read several science fiction novels, particularly one series where disabled humans were wired into a life support machine and eventually became what were known as brainships, or sentient starships. That had been fascinating and heartwarming even because it had meant that people who might never have seen the universe could go out and have a life. But then,after Canary Wharf, and seeing what had happened to Lisa, the idea had taken on a whole new meaning, one that had at best unsettled him and at worst terrified him.

I don't know whether to be scared or not, he admitted. It's like the old is warring with the new – well, newer, I guess – what I read in my books compared with what I have seen...I don't know how to reconcile the two.

I know.The ship seemed to smile. You have seen too much not to be wary of such technology, but I assure you, I am not like the race of Cybernetic creatures I have seen in your mind. I mean you no harm. She paused and Nick got the impression that she was deep in thought. Suddenly, pictures started flowing through his mind, images of a young woman seated in front of the controls and smiling, her face relaxed, as the ship started to rise gently and sore through the starlit sky until they touched down on a remote desert.

The scene faded out and changed to one showing the same woman, now with blood staining her clothes, carrying a fallen comrade over her shoulder. She gently eased him inside the ship and started cleaning his wounds. Then, to Nick's astonishment, without anyone saying a word, the ship took off again, this time landing in the grounds of a large glass building that looked terribly familiar. Then, the woman stepped out again, her friend unconscious in her arms. It was then that Nick looked closer at the man and gasped in recognition.

John?!

Yes. The ship's voice cut through the scene. R'nessa – yes, that young woman you saw there was the Neokin Queen – and your partner were friends at one time, but he was a wild adventurer, even as a child. One day, the two of them met on the desert you saw, but ran into trouble of a terrifying kind. But I was able to take them back to his homeland, where they have the best healers in the galaxy. As soon as I saw them, I knew that was where he had to be.

Otherwise he would have died... Nick's blood chilled at the thought. You saved his life. If you hadn't gotten him to somewhere he could be cared for... but he couldn't finish the sentence. Instead, he smiled softly. I guess you really do know where you're going.

So it would seem, said the ship, amused again. Now, open your eyes again before that buffoon who calls himself a Time Agent causes some serious damage.

Yes, ma'am! Almost before Nick had thought the words, he opened his eyes, just in time to see Orion wrestling so hard with a joystick it looked as if he was about to wrench it free of its holder.

“Stop!” he shouted and elbowed the older man aside with startling ease. “Just leave the controls alone before you break something!” Then, sensing that this might not be the best way to get Orion to do what he was told, he added more quietly, “Just trust me. This ship knows where she's going.”

“How do you know?” challenged Orion.

“I just do,” said Nick calmly. “Call it a side effect from reading too many science fiction novels, but I doubt she'd have just decided to throw us out of time without a reason for doing so.” He looked out of the window. “Besides, we're about to come into land.”

The satisfaction at hearing Orion's growl of annoyance would stay with him for a very long time.

~*~

Nick blinked several times. “It's an amphitheatre,” he said. “Are you seriously telling me that the Nova Djinn live in an amphitheatre?”

“Oh, yes,” said Orion. “The Djinn are, first and foremost, a race very keen on spectacles of any kind – apart from the kind on your face!” He laughed raucously at his joke. “They basically live in little hollowed out rooms underneath the seating in the theatre so that they can come out and see what's happening easily.”

Nick looked around nervously at the crowds of people screaming and cheering in a language he couldn't understand. “And what's happening today?” he asked, but before he received an answer, he caught sight of a raised platform in the centre of the arena where a well dressed man was brandishing a whip in one hand and a long scroll in the other. Behind him there was a long and straggly line that seemed to be made entirely out of raggedly dressed people of all species, all of them chained together and with expressions ranging from exhaustion to utterly heartbreaking misery, but all with the same deadened look of resignation in their eyes.

As soon as he saw them, Nick was hit by a sickening thought. “This looks like a slave sale!”

“Yes, indeed it does,” agreed Orion rather nonchalantly. “In fact, I know of nothing that gets the Djinn more excited than the smell of servitude on the air – well, assuming they're not the ones being enslaved, of course.” He gave a rather harsh laugh. “Don't look so surprised; slaves sales have been going on here for over ten centuries; since this world was first colonised.” He waved his hand around. “It is, in fact, called Segygand, which translates into your own tongue as Slave Land.”

“You mean they actively support slavery?” exclaimed Nick.

“Yes, they do.” Orion frowned. “Come on, Seren; look into your own history – you can't pretend it didn't exist in a time closer to your own.”

“No, but it was abolished, outlawed even, centuries ago!” retorted Nick, aghast at the thought that all the work that William Wilberforce had carried out during his life had been for nothing. “Why would anyone want to support, even celebrate, such a barbaric practice so far into the future?”

Orion brushed a hand through his hair. “Like I told you, don't raise your expectations too high,” he said. “The future isn't necessarily as enlightened as some people might like you to believe.” He sighed for a second and then tossed a large bundle of black fabric to Nick. “Put this on; it's going to get cold shortly and I can't have you freezing to death. That would look terrible for the Agency. I'm going to do some scouting.” Then, without another word, he walked away.

Nick scowled but did as he was told, letting the fabric brush against the dusty ground before he looked up at the stage, his blood boiling at the arrogant smirk on the slave master's face. His fingers tightened around the hilt of his sword and just for a moment he wanted nothing more than to go up there and slice the man into pieces. He shook himself; that wouldn't help anyone, not at this point. The first priority was to find, and obtain, whatever it was that they had been sent here for.

With a deep breath, he drew his cloak tightly around him – Orion had been right about it getting colder – and made his way towards the middle of the packed arena, trying not to get caught up in the mad crowds surrounding the stage. Suddenly, however, all the shouting and chatter stopped and silence dropped over the amphitheatre like a cloak of darkness. Then, a loud voice rang out, a voice harsh with malicious laughter. Looking up, Nick saw the slave master had come forwards and was speaking, a venomous smirk on his ugly face. He didn't understand a word of what was being said – and frankly, he wasn't sure he wanted to know – but it must have been popular, because the crowds suddenly started shrieking and cheering again.

The man's grin widened and then, to Nick's surprise, he went over and unchained one of the slaves behind him and dragged the man forwards before throwing him heavily down onto the stage so that his already bruised skin caught in the splintered wood. He then let fly with a rush of words that, even though he couldn't understand them, made Nick shiver in a way that had nothing to do with the cold. But it was nothing compared to how he felt when the victim was pulled roughly to his feet by the scruff of his neck and his face became recognisable.

Oh my God... Nick swayed violently and had to grip onto a branch that was protruding through the brickwork. It...it can't be...

But even as he said that, he knew it was. He would have recognised that face anywhere.

John!

In that moment, the world seemed to fade away. Even though John's eyes looked so dazed and lost and even though he was clearly severely injured, Nick's heart felt lighter than it had been since he had left Cardiff behind. Just knowing that John was alive and that message had been wrong was enough to bring a smile to his face. Maybe, just maybe, everything would be all right.

But then a loud cheer went up and Nick was abruptly catapulted back into the amphitheatre where the Djinn were yelling and screaming as they threw things at John and the rest of the slaves. Then, the master stepped up again, that horrible smirk back in place and he spoke. Only the last words needed no translation; for some reason, Nick instantly heard what they meant.

And he's so easy to discipline as well!

Instantly, he started running towards the platform, but he had barely moved three steps when, amid jeers and catcalls, the man pulled a sparkling silver gun from his belt and, never taking his eyes off the audience, he fired a bullet straight into John's forehead, and then another one into his chest, sending him to the ground in a fast flowing pool of his own blood.

***

Next Time: So, John has been found, in a less than ideal state, but is all as it seems? And, equally importantly, will Nick ever get home?

Chapter Text

Chapter 23

Time seemed to freeze once again as Nick watched John's body collapse in a heap on the stage. Blood from his wounds flowed everywhere, staining the surface firstly red and then almost black as it soaked deeper into the woodwork. The smirk of the slave master seemed to be burning into his eyes like a vicious taunt and his laughter echoed through his mind like black fire.

His heart pounded wildly in his ears for a long time before the scene shifted back into focus and the cheers and jeers surrounding him grew even more loud and even more cruel. Shock and anger drove him on and he tore his way through the screaming masses, pushing people to the floor so he could get to the stage. He heard several shots being fired and quickly ducked out of the way as a bullet whistled past his cheek from the silver gun of the slave master.

Without stopping to think, he summoned his fire power and, not even daring to look behind him in case the man shot him in the back, he blasted several small flames into the crowd to distract them. Then, as the screams of terror and the roar of the fire engulfed him, he whipped out his sword and struck the master deep in the neck, putting a bullet through his head for good measure before he recklessly kicked his body aside.

He ran across the platform and bent down to gently scoop John's body up and cradle him in his arms. Even if he was dead, he could still show him kindness. Even in that moment, he wished that he could do something for the remaining slaves, but they were shouting at him too, clearly urging him to go before he too was captured. At the same time, he heard a soft female voice in his head.

Run, Nick! The voice was frantic and Nick instantly recognised it as belonging to R'nessa's ship. I've moved myself out of the amphitheatre; just run straight out of that hole and I'll be right there!

Again, Nick didn't stop to think; he simply cradled John's body against the stones that were raining down around them – presumably from spectators trying to stop them leaving – and ran straight out of the doorway to where the ship was waiting. The door opened for him and he made his way up the steps immediately.

However, just before he entered the ship, something caught his shoulder and turned him round. He panicked and swallowed when he found himself faced by a guard dressed up in elaborate armour.

“Shit,” he whispered, thinking that the Djinn was going to take John back. “Don't take him,” he said out loud. “Please; he's dead and...”

“I have no intention of taking him.” The man's – for Nick was pretty sure it was a man – voice was quiet and calm. “I only wanted to give you this.” He passed Nick a very familiar box.

“How did you get this?” spluttered Nick. “I thought I left this behind when I came here!”

“Two travellers arrived a few moments ago,” said the guard. “They wouldn't leave their names, but they said that it meant a lot to you and that there wouldn't be another chance for them to get it to you. They gave me a description of what you looked like and then left – but not before they also gave me this.”

Nick took the picture that was handed to him and looked at it. His breath hitched as he recognised the two familiar faces; one was a man with messy black hair and a pinched face and the other a woman with long red hair and dark eyes.

“Shani and Shivna,” he whispered and absently turned the picture over. There was writing on the back and he burst out laughing when he translated it. “Live long and prosper.”

The guard's mouth twitched into a small smile. “They said you would appreciate that,” he said. “Now, don't waste any time; go and sit with him and look after him.”

“But –“ but the guard had vanished before Nick could finish his sentence. With a shrug, he stepped into the ship, smiling weakly as he felt her soothing presence surround him. But he didn't stop to communicate; instead, he lay John down gently on a long bench and stroked his hair as he opened the box, smiling weakly as he looked through the clothes, toys and reading discs he had received shortly after his arrival at the Time Agency, and remembering that those gifts, whoever they were from, had made him feel at home in this strange new world.

However, he was jolted out of his thoughts when the bench started rocking violently and desperate breathless screams started echoing through the cockpit. Instantly, he jumped to his feet, his hand going straight to his gun – only to stop in shock when he saw that the screams were coming from the man next to him, who minutes earlier had been dead. He was shaking and thrashing about in terror and flinched away when his eyes turned towards Nick's gun.

“Don't hurt me!” he cried out, tears spilling from his eyes. “Please, I'm begging you; I'll do anything! Just please don't hurt me!”

The words kick-started Nick's brain again and he dropped to his knees beside the sofa. “It's okay,” he said, desperately trying to soothe John with his hands, though the other man flinched away every time he tried. “It's all right; I won't hurt you. I'm here to help you.”

John stopped thrashing at those words and blinked at him in surprise and fear. “Who are you?”

Nick froze. “John, it's me,” he said quietly. “It's Nick – Nick Jones. I'm...I'm your partner.”

“No!” John shook his head, starting to shake again. “No...you can't be! I barely know you!” His eyes drifted towards Nick's neck. “You're wearing my mother's necklace!”

“Your mother's?” repeated Nick, gently fingering the black Pizrra stone.

“Yes!” John looked very agitated now. “How did you get it?“

“You...” Nick stopped, suddenly realising what the problem might be. “John – that's the name I know you by – what's the last thing you remember?”

Fresh tears streamed down John's face. “I was fourteen,” he sobbed. “My...my mother had just died and...and my father was training me to be a killer.” He started shaking again. “He hit me...and when I woke up, I was shut up in a cold room...” He curled up in a ball, weeping.

Nick felt tears pricking his own eyes as he remembered John telling him about his father's abuse after the death of his mother. “John,” he whispered, cautiously sitting down beside him. He didn't touch him or say anything; he just sat and waited.

It was several minutes before John looked up again and then he looked scared. “Please don't think me weak,” he choked out, but then he frowned slightly and cocked his head. Suddenly he gasped. “It's you!” he exclaimed. “You're...you're the man I saw!”

“Where?” asked Nick, moving back slightly in case he was triggering another bad memory. “Where did you see me?”

“In a dream!” John sat bolt upright and, to Nick's great surprise, grasped his hands. “I kept having dreams...almost always the same one...I saw a man with bright red hair, surrounded by flames, bending down towards something. And then I saw myself, eyes closed and pale as death...being lifted up and carried away in his arms...” When he next looked at Nick, his face was much more relaxed. “It was you. You were there to rescue me...you know me from a long time ago...from a time I can't remember...” He frowned. “And you said I was your partner?”

“Yes,” said Nick. “We haven't been together long, but you became very important to me.” He didn't want to explain everything about the Rift travel to John; in his current state, that could overwhelm him.

John nodded and slowly sat back on the bench, at which point he caught sight of the things that Nick had been looking through. “I recognise these,” he whispered. “I...I saw someone...putting the box together. He was the only one who was kind to me.”

“Did he tell you who he was?” asked Nick kindly, stroking John's hands to keep him calm.

“No, but he looked familiar,” said John. “Though I've never seen him before.” He thought for a moment. “He wouldn't tell me who he was sending them to; he just said it was someone he knew; an old friend and a very good man who would help me one day...” He trailed off and looked at Nick. “He knew we'd meet again.”

“He must have done,” said Nick with a small smile as he wondered who could have known him that well to send the gifts. Suddenly, his fingers brushed a parcel that was lying flat at the bottom of the box with a small electronic message bearing the words 'This turned up shortly after you left. We found a picture in the pocket, recognised you and realised it was yours.' Curious, he opened it and his eyes widened when his favourite jacket – the one he thought he'd lost in the Rift – spilled onto his lap. Instantly, he went for the pocket and found the picture the message had referred to; one of him with Trevyn making a sandcastle.

John frowned again. “Can I say something?” he asked.

Nick looked up in surprise. “John, we're equals here,” he said. “You don't have to ask.” He felt a pang as he realised that his lover must have felt that he had to request permission for everything at some point.

“That jacket,” John cautiously touched the sleeve. “I saw something...another dream...where I was with someone who was wearing it. I think there was an attack and...and I pushed the other person out of the way, but the only other thing I saw was a flash of their hair. It was red...just like yours...” Gently, he reached out and nervously touched a strand of Nick's hair. “It was you I pushed away.”

Nick didn't know what to make of John's words, but before he could say anything, Orion stepped into the cockpit with an extremely pleased look on his face. “Well, I suppose I really was wrong about you,” he said, giving Nick a pleased smile. “After all, it is thanks to you that our mission was successful.”

“What do you mean?” asked Nick wearily. He wasn't in the mood to play nice with Orion; he was tired, shocked and very confused by everything that had happened. “I didn't do anything...”

“Oh, really?” Orion cocked an eyebrow at him. “Well, if that's what you think, then you had better come with me.” He stretched out a hand and Nick, curious in spite of his dislike for the man, took it and allowed himself to be led back to the door of the ship. With a grin, Orion pushed open the door. “Look.”

“What at?” asked Nick, slowly coming closer. “What am I...” but he trailed off when he realised exactly what he was meant to be seeing.

The amphitheatre was no longer an amphitheatre. Instead, it was simply a large space full of charred and burnt grass and with only a few stone walls still intact. It was also completely deserted, but not because everyone had gone back home. Instead, it was empty because all that remained were...

“Corpses,” said Orion, stating the obvious. “Thousands, millions of corpses. The entire Nova Djinn race wiped out in one go. And ash, let's not forget the ash.” He grinned at Nick.

“But...but how?!” spluttered Nick, his heart pounding violently at the sight of such destruction. “I didn't do that! I couldn't have! I didn't...” but he trailed off when Orion pressed something on his wrist strap and a scene began to play out in front of his eyes.

The scene showed the moment where Nick had moved towards the stage, pushing his way through throngs of spectators, shoving them aside as he fought to get to John. Then, he saw the moment when he approached the stage and set off a few small flames as a diversion before he ran to his lover.

Except they weren't small flames at all. Instead, Nick watched, horrified, as an enormous fireball burst from his hands, engulfing everyone in the surrounding area in a matter of seconds while he turned away instantly and bent down before John, scooping him in his arms, the flames burning behind him, brighter than his hair.

Orion stopped the scene. “You see?” But far from looking disgusted or annoyed, he was grinning like a proud father on his son's wedding day. “That's your initiation; you're a proper Time Agent now – a proud and proper soldier, just like I told you to be, remember?”

“Yes, I remember,” said Nick quietly. “I remember that you told me to put aside the past and become who I was born to be.” He turned around, his hair flying wildly behind him and his eyes blazing with angry tears. “And now look what I’ve done!” He stepped outside the ship and waved his hand at the burnt out remains of the amphitheatre and the charred bodies scattered all over the ground. “You’ve turned me into a killer! Is that who I was born to be?”

“But look what else you did!” cried Orion, grasping Nick's hand and dragging him into the middle of the space. Grinning to himself, he pointed at the mass of smoking ashes that had once been the stage on which the slaves had stood. Bending down, he kicked away at something that Nick quickly realised was the skeleton of the slave master, now rapidly breaking as the bones were dispatched everywhere.

“Stop it!” he shouted, grabbing the older man's arm and pulling him away. “Have you no respect for the dead?”

“Says the man who killed him!” retorted Orion. Then, wrenching himself free of Nick, he bent down and cleared some of the ash and dust away, revealing a tangled and melted mass of some sort of silver metal. He grinned broadly again. “You see this? This is what's become of the Omega Device.”

“What's the Omega Device?” asked Nick, although he wasn't really curious, just worried in case there was another potential threat at hand, or if it was something that they needed.

“The Omega Device was what we were sent here to find,” said Orion, prising the mass from the skeleton's hands. “To find and either to reclaim it, or to destroy it.” He tapped the metal thoughtfully. “This device, if left in the hands of the Djinn, would have created a black hole, and would have moved it into a part of the galaxy it shouldn't be in and thereby created one in a place where there shouldn't be one. Had such a thing happened, it would have threatened the homeworlds of millions of different races, wiped them out just like that.” He clicked his fingers and a few flakes of silver fell to the ground at Nick's feet. “And I know that's not what you'd have wanted. So, really, it all worked out for the best.”

While he listened to Orion's explanation of events, Nick had begun to understand that the device could not have been kept functional. But then his partner said his final words and the full enormity of what he had just done hit him and sent that feeling of burning self-hatred coursing through him again.

“It all worked out for the best,” he whispered, his body shaking violently. “I wiped out an entire race in one go, just because I couldn't control my temper, and you think it all worked out for the best?!”

“Would you have rather seen countless other races destroyed?” asked Orion in the most reasonable voice Nick had heard from him during the course of the entire trip.

But he wasn't in the frame of mind to be reasonable. “No, of course I wouldn't, and I certainly don't agree with slavery, but these people did not deserve to die just because I'm too stupid to keep my temper!” He gripped his hair frantically. “What kind of monster does a thing like that – just obliterates an entire race because of anger?” He looked up at Orion and sighed. “No, don't answer that – I can guess. Well, I don't want to be like that – I don't want to be some kind of dispassionate murderer!” He waved Orion away when he tried to speak. “I just want to be like me – I don't want to be like you!” Then, he turned away and stormed back into the ship, not registering the look of confused fear on John's face as he rushed past him. A door opened in front of him and he rushed straight into the room, not even hearing it shut behind him, collapsed on a long bench and broke down in bitter tears, burrowing his face in his arms and curling up in a tight ball.

What was killing him more than anything, however, wasn't really the fact that he had done what he did or even the fact that his temper could get so out of control. What really distressed him was the knowledge that, if he had a chance to come back here and change things, he knew he wouldn't take it.

If I ever came back and faced this situation over again...I would do the same thing I just did, he admitted to himself as he cried softly. What kind of a monster does that make me?

It doesn't make you a monster, Nick Jones, a soft voice whispered. It makes you human.

Nick jumped up, startled – not by the fact that the ship was speaking to him, but by what she had said. But...but I killed them all! And I'd do it again, given half the chance! He leaned backwards and closed his eyes. If I say that and mean it – which I do – then doesn't that make me just the same as Orion?

He was rewarded by a sharp pain across the back of his head, but when he looked around, he saw nothing and no one behind him. But he could sense something very much akin to exasperation and disapproval from the ship. It was resonating throughout the entire room. Did you just hit me?! As implausible as it sounded, it somehow seemed like the most plausible explanation, which was rather worrying in itself.

Yes, I did. The ship was clearly annoyed. Anyone who comes out with something that stupid deserves to be smacked around the back of the head. Don't you even think about comparing yourself to that lunatic; you're a hundred times better than him! He's the kind of man who kills for sport and takes what he wants with no regard for the feelings of others! You heard what happened with him and R'nessa – did he sound apologetic about sleeping with her best friend when he was supposed to be marrying her?

No, answered Nick instantly. Suddenly, a thought occurred to him. Hey, who was her best friend? Surely, she'd have known that Orion and R'nessa were engaged.

There was a pause and then the ship sighed. He didn't know, she said. He knew she was engaged to someone, but he didn't know that it was Orion. As for who it was...well, he's currently outside trying to figure out what's just happened.

Nick almost fell off his seat. John?! Orion...Orion slept with John?! He pressed one hand to his mouth. Did he ever find out –

No. To this day, he doesn't know. And R'nessa never told him; she knew he'd despise himself if he found out. Even after he....changed into a much more debauched man, she didn't want him to know. She always believed that her best friend was still there.

And she was right, Nick mused with a sigh. Instantly, he resolved to never tell John that Orion had been R'nessa's fiancé. But a second later, he received another smack round the back of the head. Hey! he protested indignantly. I just don't want John living with the guilt of having been with his best friend's fiancé on the day of their wedding! He deserves better than that!

You're right he does. That wasn't why I slapped you. I slapped you because I know that you're still feeling guilty about what you saw. And I am telling you that you have no need to be. Those Djinn were far from innocent in what they were doing.

I know they weren't, but those people who were enslaved were! Nick could hear himself spluttering, even inside his head. I unleashed an enormous fireball! I condemned innocent people to a horrible death – I did something I swore I would never do!

“And in doing so, you saved innocent people from a fate worse than death.”

Nick jumped as the quiet masculine voice echoed through the room. He turned back towards the door to see John standing in the frame, watching him with a mixture of apprehension and conviction. However, as soon as he stood up to go to him, he saw to his distress that his lover turned very pale and backed away, holding his hands up in a gesture of surrender.

“I'm sorry,” he whispered. “I didn't mean to intrude. I just heard you crying and...” he swallowed hard.

It broke Nick's heart to see his once jovial lover cowering before him with his eyes so full of terror. He almost didn't want to think about what could have happened to have broken him like this, but he just couldn't tear his mind away from thoughts of where he might have been and what he had endured. Slowly, he walked over, and spoke to him, taking care to keep his voice low.

“It's okay,” he said. “I won't hurt you or make you do anything you don't want to do. And you never need to worry about interrupting me. If you need anything, all you have to do is come for me.” The minute he said those final words, he could have bitten his tongue out as the double entendre registered.

However, John seemed not to notice the slip. “May I join you?” he asked shyly.

“You don't even have to ask.” Slowly, Nick stretched out a trembling hand and smiled softly when John nervously took it and followed him inside, sitting nervously beside him.

“I know this sounds strange,” he said slowly, “but somehow, even though I can't remember you, I trust you. For you to do what I saw you do must have been very hard.”

Nick sighed. “I didn't even realise I did it,” he admitted. “I certainly didn't mean to cause so much death, especially to those innocent people on the stage with you.”

John thought for a moment. “I think they would be thanking you,” he admitted and then clarified when Nick looked astonished, “I know that no one deserves to die young and that being burnt alive is a horrible death. But you saved them. You saved them from being enslaved by the Nova Djinn. What they would have been subjected to would have been a fate far worse than any death you can imagine.”

“But...” but Nick never had a chance to finish that sentence, because Orion stepped into the room (causing John to shrink against Nick's side) and announced brusquely that they were returning to Amion to inform R'nessa of their success in the mission.

~*~

John was trembling by Nick's side as the trio made their way towards the gates of Amion. Nick couldn't blame him; from the shouting and the crowds, it looked like the entire Neokin race had turned up to welcome them back. It was even worse to think that they were receiving a hero's welcome for what essentially amounted to murder. Nonetheless, he managed to force a smile and make his way to where R'nessa was waiting. She smiled back at him, but he eyes were filled with sympathy and somehow he knew that she knew exactly what he thought about what had happened on Segygand.

Suddenly, amid rapturous applause, an enormous dragon made out of golden fire soared over their heads, surrounded by stars of white flame. Blazes of all different colours surrounded the creature, swirling around it and making it appear as if it was moving. Flames wound their way around the grounds, burning through the darkened sky before soaring into the heavens from the spire at the very top of the citadel, where they climaxed in a burst of colours.

“The Time Agency isn't the only place that teaches you how to use fire!” Orion shouted in Nick's ear. “The Neokin race can use it as well!”

Nick nodded vaguely. As spectacular as the display was, John's very real terror was distressing him far too much to allow him to even begin to enjoy it. Finally, when a burst of red flame shot directly in front of them, he realised that it was too much. Whispering a soft apology to R'nessa, who nodded in understanding, he caught John's hand and gently led him away, explaining that he was going to take him somewhere safe.

His heart pounded as he made his way back towards the forest where the house still sat, nestled in amongst the trees. Gently, he touched the door and, when it opened, he made his way back through the corridor and into the large library where he and John sat down on one of the long sofas.

“It's okay,” he said quietly. “We're safe here...aren't we?” he asked, looking up at the ghost of the woman he had seen before departing for Segygand. She smiled, but before she could speak, the door crashed open and Orion burst inside. John let out a tiny scream and buried his head in Nick's shoulder.

For his part, Orion seemed completely unworried by this. “Why aren't you enjoying the celebrations?” he asked. “They're all in your honour, you know.”

“Because I can't stand this,” answered Nick.

“What do you mean, you can't stand it? They're worshipping you on bended knee out there!” said Orion, laughing. “How can you not be happy about that?”

“I don't like being rewarded for what essentially amounts to genocide. I understand that the Omega Device had to be destroyed, but there was no need to wipe out an entire race just for that.” He sighed. “I should never have done that, even unintentionally.” He paused for a moment and then looked straight into Orion's face. “Take us home.”

Orion blinked. “What?”

“Take us home,” repeated Nick, still holding John gently. “I left Cardiff in March 2010 and now it's time for me to go back. My friend needs help and the only person who I know can help him in the way that he needs is there – and I desperately want to get away from here. You're an experienced Time Agent; you can get us back home again.”

Orion laughed uncomfortably. “Seren, this is ridiculous. You're tired, you've had a long day. Don't go making any rash decisions that you'll regret in the morning.”

“I'm not messing around here, Orion,” said Nick, placing his hand threateningly on his gun. “And I'm not making a rash decision and it certainly isn't one I'll regret in the morning. Take us home.”

***

Next Time: Stay tuned for Part Three where we finally catch up with events back in Cardiff. But will Nick be returning? And did the terrifying dream about one of his best friends come true?

~END OF PART TWO~

Chapter Text

~PART THREE~

Chapter 24

The tall figure of the water tower glistened in the early November sunlight as leaves swirled all over the Roald Plass, buffetted around by the wind. It was bitterly cold, though unlike the previous year, there had been no snow around the city, for which everyone was profoundly grateful; last time, the snow had been so deep, hardly anybody had been able to walk past their front door, never mind drive to work. Admittedly, the lack of snow hadn't been for lack of trying on the part of the weather and now it was as if everyone was just waiting for it to hurry up and land!

This was an especially tricky problem when working for an organisation like Torchwood, where getting to places quickly was at the least highly important and, in extreme circumstances, the difference between life and death. Fortunately, Captain Jack Harkness was not the sort of leader to intentionally put lives in jeopardy when they could be saved and he had come up with an alternative means of transportation, if the SUV was impractical or out of use. The fact that this was a rather large boat – he had picked up a bigger model after the original had been sunk on a mission – didn't matter; now that they had a bigger team, they were certainly going to need it, especially if the weather did as it had been threatening to do for a few weeks and took a turn for the significantly worse.

However, that didn't mean that the boat wasn't often used for other, more recreational, purposes sometimes. In fact, at this very moment, two young men were sat together on one of the benches, a thick blanket wrapped around their shoulders as protection from the biting cold as they talked quietly.

~*~

“I just really want to do something for Jack,” said Ianto, sipping coffee from the flask he'd brought with him. “Remembrance Day is always a hard time for him and I want to do something special for him, especially after he's been there for me with everything. But I just can't think of the right thing.”

“What do you usually do with him?” asked Declan. “Do you go to the services with him or lay poppies at the cenotaph or something?”

“Yeah, there's that.” Ianto bit his lip. “But...I don't know, I just want to do something more for him this time, you know? I just worry sometimes that I don't appreciate him as much as I should and I want to do something for him after everything he's done for me.”

A pensive frown crossed Declan's usually cheerful face. “Hmm. Well, there's the usual things; you said that Jack is a real romantic at heart, so you could run him a nice hot bubble bath with candles and give him a massage, or even book the two of you in for a weekend in a spa. Or you could take him to that place in Devon where they do all those sports and crafts.”

“Ashbury Hotel?”

“Yeah. It might be nice for him to have something to do; a time for him to have some fun and get into the open air. Or,” and here, Declan tapped the side of the boat, a reflective smile crossing his face, “you could take him out in the boat for a home-cooked meal and dancing under the stars. A domestic evening with a classy twist.”

Ianto raised an eyebrow at him. “Are you sure this isn't on the list of things you want to do on a date with Emily?” he asked, chuckling. “Oh, don't deny it, Declan – practically everyone in the Hub can see it!” He shuffled closer to his friend, a grin forming on his face. “So...how's it going with her?”

“There's nothing happening between us!” said Declan, flushing bright red as he laughed. “I mean, yeah, she's a beautiful woman and a very good friend and yes, I haven't felt this way since I split up with Lily – shit!” He clapped his hands to his mouth and blushed harder.

Ianto burst out laughing. “So?” he said. “What're you going to do?”

“Do?” Declan looked startled. “Well...I don't know. I suppose I should talk to her...but I'm scared.”

“Scared?” repeated Ianto. “Scared of what?”

Declan sighed. “What if I say something stupid? Or what if I just come out with a joke or something? Or what if I –” but he was cut off by Ianto slapping him across the back of the head. “Hey! What's that for?”

“Declan Hamilton,” said Ianto, shaking his head, “you are one of the biggest idiots I've ever met when it comes to asking people out. For one thing, coming out with jokes is what comes naturally to you. It's a huge part of who you are. For another thing, it's a part of you that Emily loves.” He patted his hand. “So, you need to get your arse into gear and ask her out while you still have the chance. After all,” and here he smiled again, “she's had feelings for you for quite a while, you know.”

Declan started to answer him, but before he could get a word out, the portable Rift monitor in his pocket started bleeping. “Rift activity,” he said, pulling it out.

“Where?” asked Ianto, pulling his gloves back on.

“The Millennium Stadium!” Declan laughed. “Amazing – something, or someone, has managed to land right in the middle of a rugby international!”

~*~

“So,” said Orion, picking himself up off the turf, “this is where you live?” He looked around rather disparagingly. “It's a bit tiny, isn't it?”

Nick stared at him. “You actually think that this is where the entire twenty-first century population lives?” he asked as he helped John to his feet. “Okay, I know the Nova Djinn lived in an amphitheatre, but seriously? There's more of us than this.”

Orion rolled his eyes. “Mind you,” and his eyes fell on the rugby scrum taking place in the middle of the pitch, “I do approve of what I see there. Looks like they're all open for an orgy!” With an impish grin, he sprinted over to the scrum, pausing only to turn back and wink at Nick as he did so.

Nick knew that he should go after Orion and stop him from getting himself into some potentially very serious trouble at this point – attempting to interfere in a rugby game was a very bad idea – but he didn't care. John was his focus at this point, not Orion, and the man was currently clinging onto him, his eyes wide with panic as he trembled before the sight of what he probably thought of as gruesome violence in front of him. He actually screamed loudly when one of the Welsh players was crushed under two of the opposition players.

“Hey,” he said softly, easing the terrified man over to sit in the dugout. The Welsh coach, already annoyed by their sudden appearance in the middle of the game, started to protest, but one mention of the name 'Torchwood' and one look at the state John was in instantly silenced him.

“It's okay,” he added softly, stroking his hand. “It's all right...you're safe now; you're safe.”

“How can people do that?” John's voice was practically a squeak of terror as he watched the rugby. “How can they...crush each other like that and...” he trailed off when a roar of appreciation went up from the crowd. “How can people watch this and not want to stop it?!”

Nick decided now wasn't the right time to mention that, before he'd left, he would have been one of the people watching the game. At this point, as far as John was concerned, it just looked like mindless violence or point-scoring. And while he couldn't deny that, to a degree, rugby was about point-scoring, Nick's gut clenched as he thought about what John could have been through to get so distressed about it.

“It's going to be okay,” he repeated. “Trust me. It's going to be all right. We'll get you home and you can get some rest and then I'll see Jack about getting you some help. Don't worry,” he added when John paled again, “Jack's a good man. We can trust him.”

“It's not that,” said John slowly. “It's just...there's something else – something I remembered from a dream.” He sighed. “I know it might sound far-fetched and...and stupid, but...”

“Go on,” soothed Nick. “You can tell me anything.”

John rested his forehead in his hands. “In that dream where I pushed you away,” he said slowly, “well, I just remembered that I saw myself pushing you away from something. I didn't see clearly what it was, but it was...it was like a mass of darkness – evil – with blazing sockets of fire instead of eyes. It had a whip in its hand...made out of bright white light.” He shuddered. “It was about to attack...” but his voice trailed off.

Nick inhaled sharply. “Me?” he gasped. “It was going to attack me?” He swallowed hard. “What was it?”

“I don't know,” said John. “I just remember pushing you out of its way and then...I took the full brunt of the attack myself. And then...everything went dark for a while, but I felt so...full of life...like something inside me was waking up.” He frowned to himself. “I don't understand why...”

Suddenly, Nick remembered something. “I think I do,” he said quietly. “When we were together, we had a row and...” he sighed, “well, things weren't good for quite a while. But you started taking risks and going out on your own and once you got badly injured. We thought...” and Nick struggled with himself for several moments, “we thought you were going to die. But Jack –“

“Hang on,” John interrupted. “Who is this...this Jack?”

“He's the leader of Torchwood – the organisation we used to work for,” explained Nick. “He can be a bit over-exuberant, but he's a good man. I would trust him with my life.” He sighed. “Anyway, he gave you a blood transfusion – with his blood.” He took a deep breath. “I think that when he did that, he passed the immortality potential onto you, but the attack was what triggered the reaction that made it a reality.”

“He's,” John struggled for a moment, “he's immortal?”

“Yeah,” said Nick. “He's –“ but he was cut off as John suddenly began to shake. At the same time, he registered that the sound of the crowd behind him was changing from raucous cheers to murmurs of irritation and confusion. But even through that, he heard the mutter of one word.

“Torchwood...”

Quickly, he jumped to his feet. “Come with me,” he said. “We can trust these people – they're friends.” He led John over to the stand where the whispers were coming from. Looking up, he saw two men making their way down the steps, each holding a handgun. One of them was tall and skinny with pink cheeks, dimples and wild blonde curly hair and the other, whose back was currently turned as he examined some empty seats near the pitch, was a brunette wearing what looked like a suit. A moment later, however, he turned round and Nick swooned slightly as he recognised him.

“Ianto!” he screamed, rushing over to the stand. “Ianto, it's me!”

Ianto turned sharply at the sound of his name being called. He blinked rapidly as he saw who was shouting at him. “Nick?” he stammered, descending the last of the steps to get a better look.

“Nick!” he shouted and rushed down the stairs and onto the pitch. “Nick, what're you doing here?”

But Nick didn't say a word; he just rushed up and crushed Ianto tightly in his arms. “You're alive!” he gasped, trembling as flashes of his nightmare shot before his eyes. “You're alive; my God, you're alive!” he babbled out as he felt Ianto's heartbeat against his chest. “God, you're actually alive!”

“Hey, hey, hey!” exclaimed Ianto, patting Nick's back in concern. “Nicky, it's okay – of course I'm alive! I'm right here, aren't I?”

“Yeah, but,” stammered Nick, “I thought you were –“ but Ianto cut him off when he suddenly slapped him across the face.

“And now you know what I was thinking,” Ianto said. “God, Nick – where the hell have you been?!”

Nick blinked, confused. “But...but you never expected him to come back,” he said. “And as for where I've been, that's a long story which I will tell you, but not right in the middle of a rugby international match!”

Ianto frowned. “Okay, just a few other questions,” he said, relaxing, but his voice more than a little frosty. “Just a few questions here. Firstly, what the hell has happened to John? He looks as if we're about to attack him or something. Secondly, who is that guy seemingly attempting to have an orgy with everyone in the scrum? And thirdly, what on earth are you wearing?”

Nick sighed. “Okay, I can answer all of your questions with one simple statement,” he said. “It's an incredibly long story. And, thinking about it, I've got a question too – who's the blonde?”

Declan stepped forwards with a broad smile. “Declan Hamilton – Torchwood doctor and part-time fast bowler at your service!” He grabbed Nick's hand and pumped it vigorously. John squeaked and backed away.

Ianto chuckled. “That's pretty much how he greeted Jack when he first met him.”

“He seems very...friendly,” said Nick as he soothed John.

“I think the word you want is exuberant,” said Ianto, laughing. “But he's good fun.”

“Well,” said Declan, apparently, not remotely bothered by the fact that the two men were talking about him, “maybe changing that to one of the Torchwood doctors would actually be more accurate.”

“One of them?” repeated Nick. “How many did you hire?” he asked Ianto. When his cousin answered him, he chuckled. “You mean I was so good it took three new people to replace me?”

“Well, yes,” said Ianto simply. “But there's also the fact that Jack decided that we'd need more than one doctor, considering how much trouble we tend to get into. And, to be fair, he's turned out to be dead right.” He smiled weakly and then blinked. “But anyway – seriously, what the hell happened to you two?”

“Seriously, it's a very long story,” repeated Nick. “But I will say that the first thing you need to do is take us back to the Hub – it is still standing, right?”

“Of course it is,” said Ianto a bit impatiently. “Why wouldn't it be?”

“Well, with the number of times it's gotten destroyed, who knows?” deadpanned Nick. “But, like I said, you need to take us back to the Hub – I need to speak to Jack. Urgently.”

***

Next Time: Nick might finally be back home and Ianto may be safe, but that doesn't stop the shocks coming! Upon arriving at the Hub, he reunites with a very old friend and hears some revelations, one of which devastates him. And just how long has he been away, incidentally? 

Chapter Text

Chapter 25

Nick smiled as he looked around the Plass. “It's still standing then?” he half-joked.

“What is?” asked Ianto.

“The Plass and the water tower,” chuckled Nick. “Hell, the entire Bay looks to be intact!” he added, laughing. “And considering that you get into enough trouble to need three doctors, that seems like a pretty impressive achievement, if you ask me.”

Ianto snorted. “Cheeky bastard,” he said, but his eyes were twinkling as he moved around to hug Nick again. “I have to say, it is so good to have you back – oh!” He reached into his pocket and passed something to his cousin. “I think this is yours.”

Nick gasped. “Oh, my God!” he cried, hastily fastening his watch around his wrist. “How did you find this?”

“It fell through the Rift a few weeks after you left,” said Ianto. “I picked it up in the little library back at the tailor's shop.” He sighed softly. “I've kept it with me since.”

“Thanks.” Nick stroked the face of the watch and turned to John who was watching in confusion.“I never thought I'd see this again; I thought I'd lost it when I left here. It was a gift from Ianto...he gave it to me when...” but he shook his head. “It doesn't matter. What matters is that he found it and kept it safe for me, even if he didn't know if he'd see me again.” He reached out and hugged Ianto again. “Thank you.”

Orion suddenly stepped forwards. “As sweet as this reunion undoubtedly is – sweet enough to make me vomit a little,” he said, “can we please get a move on? Unless,” and here he laughed disdainfully, “all of Torchwood is actually up here as we speak.”

Declan ground his teeth slightly. “Can't we ditch him?” he whispered to Nick, who snorted.

Ianto sighed and moved back. “Right, well, let's get going – what is it, Nick?” he asked when his cousin moved to intervene.

“Can we go in through the tourist office?” asked Nick quietly. “I don't think it's a good idea for John to take the lift yet; he won't want to be stuck on a tiny slab descending at that speed.”

“It's not that fast, Nick,” said Ianto, laughing. “But you're right; we'll take it easy for him. Come on, this way.”

He led them across the Plass towards the entrance to the Tourist Office – Nick's heart clamped briefly as his eyes flickered over the bench on the boardwalk where he and John had shared their first kiss – and escorted them through the office and down to the Hub. Unfortunately, just as they entered, Myfanwy, who had been flying around the ceiling, let out a loud screech and nosedived towards them, crowing with apparent joy at Nick's safe return. John shot backwards in terror and only his grip on Nick's arm stopped him from falling.

“Hey!” said Nick, quickly supporting him. “It's okay, she won't hurt you.” He wrapped his arms around the trembling man and soothed him. “It's all right now, it's all right...it's okay...it's okay...”

“Jack!” Ianto called out. “I think you need to come here for a minute. And don't touch that!” he added threateningly at Orion who was fingering some technology that had come through the Rift the previous day. “You don't know what that could do!”

“Oh, I think I do,” replied Orion with a lazy smirk. “I think I know perfectly well what it could do.”

Ianto groaned inwardly, but before he could say anything, Jack came out of his office. “You wanted to –“ but then he trailed off when he realised who was with his lover. “Nick?”

Nick jumped and turned. “Jack!” he gasped. He would have rushed over to hug his friend, but he didn't want to let go of John at the moment; the poor man was still absolutely terrified. “Jack, it's good to see you again!”

“I could say the same!” said Jack, bounding up to him with a grin, though that quickly faded when he took in Nick's appearance. “Okay, as sexy as you look at this moment, Nick, what on earth are you wearing?”

“Ah,” said Nick, instantly shifting into a serious mode. “Jack, there's something you need to know.” He took a deep breath and looked between Jack and Ianto. “The Time Agency hasn't been shut down. It's still as open as Torchwood is today.”

Jack paled. “Are you sure?”

“Absolutely. I was there, Jack. I was there and I heard people discussing an incident that involved two Agents having their memories wiped before they disappeared. I guessed that was you and John.”

At that moment, John suddenly looked up and stared at Jack, his eyes widening. “You!” he gasped. Quickly, he turned back to Nick, pointing a shaking finger in Jack's direction. “It...it's him!”

“What?” asked Ianto. “What's him, John?” He glanced at Nick, who shrugged.

“I met him...briefly,” stammered John, “I can't remember where I was, but...” his mouth trembled, “he was the only one who was kind to me...” Slowly he turned to Nick. “Until I saw you.”

Nick swallowed hard. “It's all right,” he repeated. “Go on.”

John frowned. “He was the one...who sent that box...” he whispered and then turned to Jack. “You...you sent him,” he nodded in Nick's direction, “a box of things...I saw you put them together and...and you added a note saying that you were watching over him, but he shouldn't go looking for you.”

Nick was stunned. John met a future version of Jack? And that same future version of Jack was the one who sent me those things? He swallowed hard and looked up at Jack with a small smile. “Thank you,” he murmured, only then realising how strange it must be to be thanked for something you probably wouldn't even do for another three thousand years.

Jack looked at Nick sharply for a moment, but then his attention was drawn to the tall man stood behind him and he instantly stiffened. “Orion,” he said.

Orion looked up. “Sirius,” he said coolly. “It's been a long time.”

“Indeed it has,” said Jack. “Long enough for me not to go by that name any more. It's Jack now – Captain Jack Harkness.” He looked around as the rest of the team started to join them. “Don't worry, kids, he's not another psychotic ex-lover of mine, though we did work together at one point.”

Orion scoffed and ignored Jack's words about his identity, instead focusing on the others. “So, these guys make up your team? Well, they are a pretty young bunch aren't they, just like those people I ran into earlier when we arrived! And boy do they know how to get rough and ready!” he added with a grin.

“They arrived in the middle of a rugby match,” explained Ianto.

“Well?” Orion tapped his foot. “Are you going to introduce me, Captain?” The last word was spoken on a mocking drawl.

Jack twitched. Introducing his team to this man was the last thing he wanted to do, but he knew that when Orion spoke like that, he didn't mean it as a suggestion. Slowly, he went round them, introducing them one by one, only to spin back when he heard a shocked gasp. “Nick?” he said, concerned. “What's wrong?”

“Did,” Nick hesitated, “did you just say...Garrett Evans?” He knew it was a pretty strange thing to be worrying about at this point, but he also felt that he had to ask.

“Yes, he did,” said a voice and, a moment later, Garrett himself appeared, his black hair just as messy as it had been on the first day Nick had seen him. His dark eyes looked shocked, but amused. “Good to see you again, Nick.”

“But...” Nick stumbled again and Ianto had to support him. “I thought...”

“Garrett,” interrupted Jack, “why don't you and Nick take Orion down to the cells? Don't worry,” he said quickly to Nick, who looked ready to protest, “I'll look after John.”

“What?!” exclaimed Orion. “Are you really going to treat me like I'm some sort of prisoner?”

“For now, yes,” said Jack simply. “At least until I'm satisfied you can be trusted.”

~*~

“What's going on?” asked Nick as they locked the cell door on the now extremely irate Time Agent. “The last time I heard from you, you were still working in Newport.”

Garrett snorted. “Well, then it really has been a long time,” he said. “I resigned my position there shortly after you left. I guess you could call it a protest resignation.”

“Why?”

“Why?” Garrett grabbed Nick's arm. “Do you really think I was going to stay with them after the way they treated someone who I considered my only friend? No way, Nick. I didn't want to be a part of an organisation who had been stupid enough to blame you for what happened to that young lad. Any idiot could see that it wasn't your fault if they'd only looked outside their rear ends!” He started making his way back up the steps.

Nick rushed after him. “So, what did you do then? I'm guessing you didn't come straight here, since Jack wouldn't have needed to hire me if you had.”

“No, I didn't,” said Garrett. “I joined the army as a field surgeon. That's how I met Matt; he was injured in the field and I had to treat him.” A small smile flickered over his face. “We just bonded, Nick. He was the only person, apart from you, who didn't care about my sexuality and I couldn't love him more for that. He was there for me when no one else was; at a time when I was getting bullied by some of the other soldiers when I didn't want to take part in their stupid games about deciding which woman in a twenty metre radius had the biggest tits!” He gave a bitter laugh at Nick's shocked expression. “I know, you wouldn't think it, would you? But soldiers can be pretty immature when they're off duty.” He sighed. “Anyway, there was an attack on the Maindy Barracks by an alien – I can't remember the name of it, but Jack said that they were basically space dolphins gone rabid – and apparently, Jack saw something in Matt and I that he liked and he hired us.”

“Well, if he sees the you that I know, then of course he'd seen something good in you,” said Nick. “You're a good man, Garrett, and a very talented doctor. Anyone who doesn't see that would have to be a fool.” Gently, he touched the other man's shoulder. “And you know what? I'm proud to call you my friend – just as I'm sure Matt is proud to call you his partner.”

Garrett stared at him for a moment. “We should go back upstairs,” he said and carried on his way. However, just before they made their way back into the main Hub, he turned round. “Thanks, Nick.”

~*~

The alarm suddenly sounded and Ianto turned round. “Ah, that'll be our dear police officer turned field agent back again, Weevil in tow, by the sounds of it.” He chuckled. “Declan, can you deal?”

“No problem!” The young New Zealander was on his feet in an instant to help the new arrival. However, Nick was shocked to notice that, instead of the black-haired woman he had once worked with, a skinny man with dark blonde closely curled hair was dragging the unconscious Weevil into the Hub. He looked up and smiled at Declan who was helping him, and Nick experienced another shock of recognition.

“Where’s Gwen?” he asked, looking confused. “And why is PC Davidson here?” He felt his palms growing slightly sweaty as he remembered a certain night when the young constable had caught him and John in a very compromising position on the Plass. In his defence, though, he had honestly thought that the slab they had been sprawled over had been the invisible lift! Although, whether John knew it was the wrong one is another matter altogether...

Ianto bit his lip. “Nick, Gwen’s dead.”

“What?” Nick stared at his cousin, shocked out of his musings. “She’s…but how? And…when?”

Ianto smiled sadly. “Would you believe it, she was shot by a Blowfish; took a shot that was meant for me, actually. It was about two months before you came back.”

“Oh my God,” breathed Nick. “I’m so sorry.”

“We all were.” Ianto nodded. “Do you know what the last thing she said to me was?”

“What?”

“That she did it because,” Ianto made quote marks in the air, “she didn’t want you to come back to find your cousin dead.” He laughed softly at the astonished look on Nick’s face. “I know. None of us thought that you would come back. I guess she just wasn’t prepared to let you go.”

“Stubborn right to the end,” murmured Nick. In all honesty, he had never been as close to the former police officer as he had been to the others. He hadn’t disliked her, but he hadn’t really warmed to her either. But now, hearing that she had saved his best friend’s life, he realised that he would be forever in her debt.

“How's Rhys?” he asked cautiously. He had only met Gwen's husband a few times, but he had found him to be an all-round good bloke, as well as a great man to watch the rugby with.

“He's not too bad,” said Ianto slowly. “Gwen's death hit him hard, especially considering their daughter was only a few weeks old. But she gave him a reason to hold on and he's gone from strength to strength.”

“What's his daughter's name?”

Ianto smiled. “Alyssa Cailin Williams. Speaking of babies, though,” and here he showed Nick a picture of a little brown-haired girl with bright hazel eyes. “This is your niece. Michelle Gabriella Ashford.”

Nick swayed. “Catrin has a daughter?”

“Yep. She was four months pregnant when she and David got married.” Ianto frowned. “Didn't you know?”

“No, I didn't. She never said a word.” Nick sat down heavily as he held the picture. “She looks just like her father – except for her eyes. She's got her mother's eyes.”

Ianto blinked at him. “Since when have you quoted Harry Potter?”

“Since the quote fitted the moment.” Nick chuckled softly. “So, how's Dad and Trev and everyone else?”

Ianto hesitated. “Trev's fine, but...” he swallowed hard.

“But...what?” asked Nick. “Ianto, what's happened?”

“Nicky,” Ianto gripped his cousin's hand. “Nicky...your father passed away in May.”

“What?”

“He was ill in hospital for a long time. I'm so sorry, Nick, but the doctors said that he didn't suffer.” Ianto took a huge breath. “They think that he never properly recovered from what he went through in Providence Park.”

Nick swore under his breath. “Was...was he in pain when...” but he couldn't finish the sentence.

“No,” Ianto assured him. “He was ill for a long time before it happened, but he didn't suffer. And I can tell you now, Nicky, he always knew that you loved him.” He paused for a minute. “He said something to me at Catrin's wedding.”

“What was it?”

“He said that he knew that one day you'd come home. But he wouldn't be here when you did.” Ianto smiled softly. “Even in the moments before he died, he believed in you, Nicky. The last thing he said to me was a request for me to tell you how much he loved you. And he did love you, Nicky. You meant the world to him.”

Suddenly, Nick started to feel that something was very wrong. “Ianto, what's going on?” he asked. “I mean, when I left, Catrin barely even looked pregnant and now I hear that she's got a daughter who,” he checked the picture again, “looks like she's just turned two.” He looked intently at his cousin. “I haven't just been away for a few months, have I?”

“Where did you get the idea that you had?” interjected Garrett. “No one said anything about you just being away for a few months.”

Ianto ignored his colleague. “No, Nick,” he said, “you haven't just been away for a few months.”

“Then how long...how long has it been?” asked Nick. “I mean...it was only a couple of months for me. How long was it for you?”

Ianto sighed. “I didn't want to tell you straight away, because I knew how much of a shock it would be, but...here.” Taking a deep breath, he passed Nick the newspaper and watched as his cousin's eyes widened in shock. “You see?”

“But...but this can't be right!” spluttered Nick. “It says that today's date is –“

“4th of November, 2012,” said Ianto quietly. “Nicky...you've been gone for over two and a half years.”

***

Next Time: Still reeling from the shock of how long he's been away, Nick still has to face the rest of his living family. But then there comes a reunion that even he can't forecast.

Chapter Text

Chapter 26

“4th of November, 2012,” said Ianto quietly. “Nicky...you've been gone for over two and a half years.”

Nick sank down onto the floor, the newspaper slipping out of his hand and the pages scattering everywhere. But he didn't notice; he was shaking too badly with the news that not only was he an uncle, but also that his father was dead and so was one of his team mates – not to mention the fact that he had been gone for almost three years in Ianto's time when for him it had only been a couple of months.

Dimly, he heard someone speaking above him and then a moment later, he felt Ianto's comforting presence beside him as he put his arm around his shoulders and hugged him tight. At that moment, he wanted nothing more than to fall into that embrace and to never get up again, but he knew that was impossible. Slowly, he turned his head to look at his cousin, swallowing hard when he saw the myriad of emotions in his eyes; the love of a brother that they had always held for each other, joy and relief at his safe return, but at the same time, pain and sorrow at his distress.

Dimly, he heard Ianto speaking to someone behind him, though the words sounded like a rush of water to his ears, and a moment later a small glass of water was being gently but forcefully pressed into his hands.

“Drink this,” said a quiet feminine voice and he looked up and blinked incredulously as a cloud of red hair filled his vision. For a moment, he thought it was his sister, but then he remembered that Catrin didn't even know where he worked, never mind what he did, or what had just happened. He swallowed hard and tried to remember her name, but it just wouldn't come to him.

“Thanks, Emily,” said Ianto quietly, triggering Nick's memory as he remembered Jack introducing her. “I'll take it from here.” Slowly, he rubbed his cousin's back. “It's all right, Nick. It's okay; you're home, now.”

“Two...two and a half years?” To Nick's dismay, his voice came out in a raspy croak and he slowly started to sip the water in the hope that it would loosen the clamping around his throat. “I've really...been away for two and a half years?”

“Yes.” Ianto's trembling voice confirmed it. “I'm sorry, Nicky.”

Jack knelt down beside them. “If you need some time to yourself, to get your head around it all, I completely understand,” he said. “You look as if you've been through the mill, Nick.”

“Yeah, well...that's what happens when you find yourself overpowered by your own fire,” said Nick with a rather shaky laugh.

“What?” said Jack in shock. “You're...you're an Elemental?”

“Apparently, I'm attuned to fire” said Nick. Now more than ever, he appreciated Ianto's hand gently rubbing his back. “It must have been a side effect of jumping into the Rift – although I really wish it hadn't happened.” He stared at his hands miserably. “It's changed me...” He trailed off, shaking when he thought about what had happened at the slave sale.

Jack swallowed hard. Even though he had no idea what was really going through Nick's head, he knew that it had to be something pretty serious. He reached out and clasped Nick's hand. “No one is going to force you to use the fire, if you don't want to,” he said. “As far as I'm aware, it's not something that can be changed, but at the same time, it's not something that I would ask anyone to use if they weren't comfortable doing so.”

“Thanks.” Nick sat up slowly and turned to Ianto. “Is Catrin still living in the same flat she had before?” Ianto nodded. “Do...do you think she'll see me?”

Ianto laughed. “Nicky, I think she'll be overjoyed, if only so she can know that you're not dead!” He clapped his cousin on the back. “Now, get over there!”

~*~

Nick's hand trembled as he knocked on the door of his sister's flat. He was almost scared about what he could expect; would his sister really be happy to see him, or would she be angry that he had suddenly just left without a word? And what about Trev? Would his son even recognise him after so long?

The door opened then and he was greeted by a small girl with thick brown hair tied up in bunches. She was sucking her thumb as she blinked up at him with eyes as brown as his own.

“Hello,” said Nick, smiling at her. “You must be...Michelle, right?”

“Who you?” she asked with far more suspicion than seemed usual in a two-year-old.

“I'm –“ but before Nick could finish his sentence, he heard a yell of joy as someone rushed up to him and threw their arms around his neck...a small boy with bright auburn hair.

“Daddy!”

Nick stumbled and quickly caught the wall as he realised who was clinging to him. “Hey, Trev!” he smiled. “Did you miss me?”

“You back!” Trevyn was grinning wildly. “Aunty Catrin! Aunty Catrin, come here!”

“Just a minute Trev!” Catrin called from inside. A moment later, her footsteps echoed down the corridor and the next thing Nick knew, his sister was staring at him in shock.

He smiled nervously at her. “Hi, Cat.”

She blinked slightly. “Kids, can you go back inside, please? I just need a quick word with Trev's daddy.”

“Can he come inside later?” asked Trev as he shimmied down Nick's body. Once he had gotten a smile and a nod from his aunt, he cheered. “Yay!” Then he grabbed Michelle's hand and they ran inside.

Nick smiled. “She's beautiful, Catrin. Just like you and David.” Slowly, he opened his arms. “Come here.”

There was a long moment where Catrin seemed to hesitate, but then she stepped outside and wrapped her arms tightly around her brother, burrowing her face in his shoulder.

Nick stroked her hair gently. “She really is beautiful, Cat.”

“I know,” said Catrin, stepping back, though she wasn't quite looking her brother in the eye. “She's like a sister for Estelle as well.”

Nick chuckled. “I'm sure she is.” He grinned slightly at her. “You must be very –“ but before he could finish the sentence, Catrin had slapped him right across the face and pushed him against the wall.

“You left us, Nick!” she shouted.

He blinked a few times and steadied himself. “I know,” he said quietly. “I'm sorry.”

“Sorry!” Catrin almost yelled. “You were gone for nearly three years, Nick! None of us knew where you were or what had happened to you – hell, we thought you were dead! We actually held a funeral service for you, for God's sake! And now you just show up out of the blue!”

“Catrin!” The news that there had actually been a memorial service for him alarmed Nick more than anything he had heard since his return, possibly apart from his father's death. Quickly, he crossed the floor and took his sister in his arms again. “Catrin, it's okay,” he whispered, trying to soothe her. “I'm home now. It's okay.”

“But you left!” she yelled against his shoulder. “You just left without telling us!”

“I know. It was something that I thought I had to do...for all our sakes. Don't ask me to explain any more than that, Catrin, I can't; I don't really fully understand it myself. But I honestly thought I was doing it for the best.”

“You could have at least told me,” she mumbled. “At least so I could have said something to Trev!”

“There wasn't time,” insisted Nick. “If there had been time, I would definitely have said something. I certainly didn't want to leave like I did. But it was literally a split-second decision; there was no time for leaving messages. Even I didn't really know what was going to happen.” He decided not to add that, at the time, he wasn't even sure that he would have come back – that he hadn't even expected to come back; his sister certainly didn't need to hear that.

“I'm so sorry, Cat,” he whispered, rubbing her back as he felt her melt against him. “I'm so sorry I left like that and I let you think I was dead.”

Slowly, Catrin looked up at him, her pale face streaked with tears. “Well, you're back now,” she said weakly. “And I have to say I'm very glad you are.”

“I am too.” Nick let her lead him into the sitting room, where Trevyn instantly jumped back into his arms. “I thought about you guys every day – wondering how much my boy had grown! And my little girl!” he added, spotting Estelle playing with some toys on the floor. “Hey, there!”

“Daddy!” Estelle half-ran and half-crawled over and wrapped her arms around Nick's ankle. “Welcome home, Daddy! I knew you'd come back!”

“Really?” Nick's mouth twitched slightly.

“Ever since she could talk, she would talk about you,” said Catrin, laughing. “She got quite irate once when Trev asked if you were ever coming back.”

“That's...my girl,” said Nick, a brief sadness flowing through him as he remembered who Estelle's real father was. “She takes after her mother in that way, I guess.”

“She certainly does.” Catrin reached out and touched his arm gently and something in her eyes told Nick that she knew exactly what he had been thinking.

Quickly, he changed the subject. “Is David well? I heard that you got married shortly after I left.”

“Yes, he's fine; he really took to fatherhood from day one, you know.” Catrin laughed. “He also said that Ianto and Dad were right when they said that we shouldn't cancel the wedding. Oh, don't worry,” she added when her brother looked horrified. “We didn't call it off or anything; Ianto said you wouldn't have wanted that.”

“Too right I wouldn't have!” exclaimed Nick. He looked around and saw a picture of his sister in her wedding dress as she danced with her father. “I'm sure it was an amazing day.”

“It was,” she said, following his gaze. She sighed. “Dad was so happy, you know. The only time I saw him happier was the day he told me that you two had built your bridges.”

Nick sighed softly, feeling more relieved than ever that he'd had the chance to talk with his father before his death. To have left without having first done that and then come back to find he'd lost his chance would have been more than he could take.

Catrin rubbed his arm. “He was buried at Thornhill Cemetery,” she said quietly. “In the family plot.”

~*~

One hour later...

It seemed to grow colder as Nick walked through the cemetery in search of his father's grave. He wrapped his thick coat around him, thanking the powers that be that he had remembered to put it on over his Time Agency jacket and at that moment resolved to dispose of his uniforms from the Agency as soon as possible.

“Although,” he muttered to himself, “I do actually rather like the jacket. But everything else is going.”

A few moments later, however, he came upon a man with brown hair standing in front of a white marble headstone, a small child in a pram beside him. He let out a deep breath; he didn't even need to ask whose grave it was.

“Rhys?” he ventured as he approached slowly. “I...I'm...” he shrugged and stopped talking.

The other man turned around and his eyes widened in surprise. “Nick?!” he almost squeaked. “But...but we all thought you were –“

“Dead? Yeah, so I've heard,” said Nick with a rather tired laugh. “Ianto...told me what happened to your wife. I'm very sorry for your loss. We had our differences, but she was a good woman and a dedicated colleague.”

Rhys nodded and sighed. “I guess I always knew that I'd lose her to Torchwood one day,” he said. “I just didn't expect it to happen so soon after Alyssa was born. She was being so careful not to get hurt after that.”

Nick nodded. “I guess sometimes there are eventualities you just can't prepare for. You can take all the care in the world and yet, if you let your guard down just once –“

“You can guarantee that a walking fish will shoot you in the back,” said Rhys with a mirthless chuckle. “Yeah, I know.” Gently, he ran one hand over the headstone. “We had our differences, her and me, mainly over her job, to be honest. But I know that I wouldn't have forced her to quit for anything. I would have rather have cut my own head off than do anything to make her unhappy.”

“And...I guess you were also proud of what she was doing,” ventured Nick cautiously.

“Proud?” Rhys looked at him. “I was so much more than proud, Nick. I wanted to shout it from the rooftops that she was helping to save the world and bring a future that our children could be proud of.” He smiled. “Just as I'm sure your father would be if he'd known what you were doing.”

Nick squirmed slightly. “Yeah...”

Rhys then surprised both of them by patting Nick's shoulder. “I guess I should be saying sorry for your loss as well. It must have been quite a shock to come home and learn about his death.”

“It was rather,” admitted Nick ruefully. “We certainly had our problems, but...” he sighed. “Well, when push came to shove, he was my father. I just wish it hadn't taken me so long to realise that.” He closed his eyes slightly. “I should...go and...”

“Go on,” said Rhys, nodding. “He always believed you'd come back.”

“I know.” Nick smiled back and made his way towards the familiar plot, his heart pounding even more violently as he walked. However, when he came closer, he was slightly started to see that he wasn't alone.

There was someone sitting at the grave; a man with bright blonde hair who looked very familiar, but from the back, Nick couldn't be entirely certain that it was who he thought it was. However, as he approached the grave, a twig snapped below his boots, causing the man to whip round sharply.

Nick could barely hold back a gasp as he realised who he was looking at – and that it was the man he'd thought it was.

Well, I'll be damned.

~*~

Dan had often come to spend some time in silent thought at Nick's father's grave ever since he had died. Over the last couple of years, the two men had grown very close with Dan coming to see the older man as his own father. He had even started to call him 'Dad' from time to time. Obviously, he knew that he could never replace Nick, but he could still be a friend and a tie to his son in a way.

When he had passed away six months ago, Dan had felt as if his world had been ripped out from underneath him. He had finally found someone who he could look up to as a father, someone who treated him with kindness and love rather than his biological father who didn't think he was worthy to wipe the slime off his shoes and who had shown many times that he had wanted nothing more than for his son not to have existed. At the funeral, he had been asked to do a reading, but had barely been able to get through the first paragraph before his emotions had gotten the better of him. Fortunately, Ianto had been on hand to finish it, though Dan had not missed the flash of pain in his eyes and had known that he was thinking about the man who should have been there reading it.

The sound of a twig snapping behind him jolted him back to earth and made him turn around to see who or what had interrupted him. However, the person standing behind him was the very last person he had expected to see.

“Nick?” he whispered, blinking several times to make sure he wasn't hallucinating.

For his part, Nick seemed equally as shocked. “Dan?” he asked. “Is...is that you? I mean, I'm not going completely mad, am I?”

“Well, if you're going mad, then I must be too,” said Dan with a wry smile.

“What...what are you doing here?” asked Nick, slowly kneeling down beside the grave himself.

Dan smiled sadly. “Your dad and I grew very close,” he said. “I guess it started off as both of us finding common ground in that we each had a strong connection to you. But then he became like a father to me – like the father that I had always wanted. He treated me like a son, Nick.”

Nick's soft smile broadened slightly. “I'm glad to hear that,” he said. “You always deserved so much better than that awful man who called himself your father.” He frowned when Dan's eyebrows knitted together in anger. “What's wrong?”

“That man...” Dan's voice trembled in anger. “Don't insult me by calling him my father when he's the one responsible for what happened to us!”

“What do you mean?” asked Nick, confused. “What did he do to us apart from go nuts when he caught us in bed together that Christmas?”

Dan snorted. “You know that he threatened to disown me unless I stopped seeing you?”

“Yeah, I remember. I also remember that you told him exactly where he could go and how he could get there,” said Nick. “But I also know that he never said anything about it after that.”

“Yeah, and we both wondered about that, didn't we?” Dan's eyes were shimmering with angry tears. “Turned out he was just biding his time. Lulling us into a false sense of security before he struck.” He took several deep breaths before he spoke again. “Nicky, you remember what that lecturer said – that he warned us that we could get blacklisted unless we stopped seeing each other.”

“Of course I remember that. It's not exactly something you forget easily.”

“Yeah, but what he didn't mention then, what I didn't know until about a year ago, was that my so-called father,” Dan spat the word out as if it tasted bad, “threatened and blackmailed him to make sure we split up.”

“What!” Nick almost shouted and then quickly dropped his voice as he remembered that they were in a graveyard. “Are you serious?”

“Completely. I got a letter from our lecturer and he told me everything. I confronted my father and he didn't even try to deny it. He was proud of what he did, Nicky. He said that it was nothing less than a useless and worthless freak like me deserved.”

Nick swore softly. “That slimy son of a bitch,” he muttered, not even pausing to be shocked at his own words. “That is totally untrue, Dan, and you know it. You're so much better than that. And you know you are.”

“I did once,” admitted Dan in a quiet voice. “When I was with you. That was the only time I really felt like I meant something – like I was actually worth something.” He dropped his eyes. “It was only when I lost you that I realised that you gave my life meaning and...and just how –“

“Hold on a minute!” interrupted Nick, his defences suddenly going up. “Don't throw that line at me!”

“What line?” asked Dan, confused – what had he said? “All I wanted was to tell you how much you –“

“You know what line, Dan – the 'I still love you and I miss you' line!”

“But I do miss you and I do still love you,” insisted Dan. “Come on, Nick, you can't deny that what we had was amazing and you certainly can't deny that you still care about me!”

“I'm not denying that!” said Nick. “Dan, you know I care about you, but you can't just expect things to go back to how they used to be! We've both changed since then! Besides,” and he looked at his ex-partner, “let's not forget that you were the one who decided that we should end it in the first place!”

“Yeah, because I wanted what was best for you, not because I stopped loving you!” Dan retorted. “You and I both know how much being a doctor meant to you!”

“Well, yes, it did mean a lot to me,” conceded Nick. “But that doesn't give you the right to decide what's best for me! You can't make decisions for me like that, Dan.”

Dan swallowed hard. “You're right,” he said. “That was wrong of me. But, Nick, can't you see that it doesn't matter now? University was a long time ago, and now we're both working at, or with, Torchwood and we've got good jobs, we can be together again!” He reached over and grasped Nick's hands tightly. “We don't have to worry about being blacklisted any more We can go back to the way things were and...and make them how we want them to be. Together, Nick. We can be together again, just as we should have stayed.”

For a moment, Nick hesitated. He couldn't deny that his time with Dan while they had been at university had been amazing and that he had often thought about him and wondered what might have happened if they hadn't split up, even when he had been with Alison. Even now, he realised, thinking back to when he had been standing in the library on the Neokin planet, he still thought about their time together and what might have been had they ignored the professor who had threatened to blacklist them and just stayed together. Admittedly, had they known that Dan's father was responsible for what had happened, then they would certainly never have separated anyway! He sighed, still shocked and saddened at what the man had done; hadn't he hurt Dan enough as it was?

Apparently, Dan had taken his silence as a sign of acceptance, because he grinned. “You see?” he said. “We can be happy again, Nick. Never mind what anyone else thinks.” He leaned over to kiss Nick on the lips, but frowned when he backed away. “Okay, all right,” he said, holding his hands up. “It's too soon, I understand. You need time. That's fine; take all the time you –“

“Dan, please,” interrupted Nick, hating that he had to drive a stake through his friend's heart. “I can't do this. I can't be with you.”

“Why not? I thought...I thought what we had was special.”

“It was special and it always will be special to me. It's just,” Nick bit his lip. “Dan, if I had been single and you'd asked me that question then I would have said yes in a heartbeat. But,” he sighed. “I'm sorry Dan...but there's someone else. And...and he needs me. Now more than ever.”

Dan shut his eyes tightly. “I understand,” he said, though his voice broke. “I just...I hoped that...”

“I'm so sorry.” Nick's voice was breaking as well. “I hope we can still be friends.” Gently, he touched Dan's shoulder. “You mean an awful lot to me and I'd rather keep you as a friend than lose you altogether.”

“Of course,” whispered Dan, biting his lip hard. “I don't ever want us not to be friends. Letting myself lose you as a lover was the biggest mistake I ever made, especially knowing what I know now. If I lost you as a friend...” his voice trailed off and his breath hitched violently as he stared at the ground. “I don't think my life would be worth living.”

Nick couldn't help himself any longer and he reached over and wrapped his arms around his friend. He closed his eyes and rubbed his back gently, holding him tenderly as he trembled and sobbed quietly against his shoulder.

“You'll never really lose me, Dan,” he assured him firmly. “Never. I'll always be with you.”

They sat together for several minutes before Dan moved back and stood up. “I should probably go,” he said. “Lots of work to do and you know I was never very good with paperwork.”

“Wait,” said Nick. “First, I need to know...how did it happen?”

Dan sighed quietly. “He wasn't well for a long time, Nicky,” he said. “His health started started seriously deteriorating after Catrin's wedding and he was in and out of hospital for a very long time with various problems before...” he took a deep breath. “He had a sudden and violent stroke, Nicky. It caught all of us unawares. But we barely had time to even think about helping him when he had a heart attack.” He bit his lip and swallowed hard, thinking of how his friend's father had passed away. “Your uncle Steven authorised me to turn off his life support machine after two weeks and Catrin held him as he died.”

“I see.” Nick's voice was almost numb as he processed Dan's words.

Another silence fell over them before Dan cleared his throat. “Okay, well...now, I guess I really should go – that paperwork won't do itself, unfortunately.”

Nick nodded and also stood up. “Dan, I have to tell you...” but he let his voice fade before he gently kissed Dan on the forehead. “If you need me, all you have to do is call. I hope you know that.”

Dan nodded. “Thank you,” he whispered before quickly turning and walking away, dragging one hand over his eyes.

Nick didn't watch him leave. Instead, he turned back round and bent down in front of the grave, tracing the letters that had been carved into the stone.

“I will take the hidden paths that run,
West of the moon and east of the sun.

Here is the final resting place of Evan Nathaniel Jones, who passed away peacefully on the 17th May 2012 aged 55 years.

Rest in peace, you who was a dear brother, son, friend, husband...”

But the words trailed off underneath a large clump of weeds. Gently, Nick moved them away so he could look down and read the final words. His stomach clamped sharply at what he saw.

“And beloved father.”

Suddenly, a sharp and very familiar voice cut through the silence.

“Nicholas Gabriel Jones!”

He turned around and barely managed to stop his jaw from dropping open when he saw the woman watching him, her eyebrows knitted together like storm clouds. Well, shit, he thought. I'll be damned again.

Slowly, he stood up, not even bothering to dust the mud from his trousers and looked at her, gazing directly into a pair of eyes that were so similar to his own.

“Hello, Mum.” His face turned towards the other woman, the woman who had called out his name and was now watching him with a face that looked like she'd swallowed a lemon. “Hello, Aunt Philippa.”

~*~

Ianto was shaking his head slightly. “I don't believe it,” he whispered. “That's just...that's...” but to everyone watching the scene, it seemed as if words had simply failed him.

Jack wasn't sure whether he should be furious with himself or shocked by what he had just heard. About twenty minutes after Nick had left, Orion had suddenly materialised in front of his office door with a very familiar – and very nasty – smirk on his face. He hadn't even had to speak a word; just by lifting up his wrist, he had made Jack curse wildly in every single language he knew – including Welsh – as he realised that he had forgotten to confiscate, or at the very least disable, his former colleague's vortex manipulator, because he had been so worried about John's current state. Fortunately, as soon as the other Time Agent had re-appeared, Ianto had managed to activate some new technology he'd created and erect some kind of anti-teleportation field around the Hub and the Plass, so that Orion couldn't leave the base. Apparently, it was something that had worked on a science fiction programme that he liked and, right now, despite his scepticism for such things, Jack was deeply grateful for it.

However, then, Orion had proceeded to share some information that had knocked the wind out of him and left John slumped on the sofa looking scared and confused.

And Jack knew that he had good reason to feel that way. He had just been told something that, before now, would have been the answer to a question he had been asking for years. But now, he was being faced by something that he not only had no memory of, but also that he clearly wouldn't want to have remembered.

“That wasn't me,” he gasped suddenly. “It wasn't...I didn't...I can't have done...” He looked up, anguished. “Please...tell me he's lying...tell me I didn't do those things...”

Ianto went over and immediately sat down beside him. “It's all right,” he said, cautiously stroking John's hand, ready to move at any hint that he wasn't comfortable with it. “Whatever you did in the past will stay in the past. You're a good man, John. I promise.”

“You really think that?” asked John, his voice trembling.

“Yes, I do,” said Ianto firmly.

Jack was glaring at Orion. “That was entirely uncalled for! You knew what you were going to say would upset him and yet you just went ahead and said it anyway!”

“What?” spluttered Orion. “Don't tell me you didn't want to know the truth about why you lost those years?”

“Yes, I did, but you didn't have to say it in front of my friends!” Jack slammed his fist into his palm in disgust. “You haven't changed at all; you're still the same mean, arrogant, selfish –“ but the sound of the cog door rolling closed distracted him. He turned round and saw Nick stood stock still in front of them, his face pale except for a red handprint on one cheek.

“What's going on?” he asked, his voice shaking slightly.

Jack's gaze swivelled back to Orion. “Go on. Tell him.”

“It's not really necessary –“ blustered Orion.

“If you've said something to get John that upset, then yes, it is necessary,” said Nick, folding his arms. “Go on. Tell me what's going on.”

***

Next Time: A secret is revealed and gives Jack the answers he has been searching for, but is it good news? And later, when the enormity of everything that's happened hits Nick, can John put aside his fear and comfort him?

Chapter Text

Chapter 27

There was a long silence in the room, so absolute it felt stifling. Even Garrett and Declan, who were working in the autopsy bay, seemed to sense it.

But then Orion laughed derisively. “You really can't be serious!” he blustered. “What business is it of his anyway?”

“It's his business because he's my friend,” said Jack angrily. “And he's John's partner; I think that gives him a right to know the truth about what happened to him.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Nick, his head swivelling between the two men. “What's going on?” He almost recoiled at the feelings of anger and disgust permeating the room. A truly wonderful ending to an already pretty diabolical day, I guess.

“Are you going to tell him, Orion, or am I?” asked Jack.

“Oh, be my guest and tell him yourself!” jeered Orion. “Since you obviously feel he has the right to know and since when have you let your word be anything other than the law?”

“Tell me what?” asked Nick; he was feeling very worried now rather than just resigned to the fact that he was probably about to get hit with more shocking news. “What's happened?”

Jack let out a deep sigh as he looked at his friend. “Nick,” he said cautiously, “I don't know if John told you, but...we both had two years of our memories wiped by the Time Agency.”

“Yeah, I knew,” said Nick. “He said that he remembered being called back to the Agency when you'd almost completed a mission involving a group of bandits and then the two of you were locked in an interrogation room before...” but he couldn't get the words out.

Jack nodded. “The last thing I remembered from that day was watching John being dragged away from me as I screamed that I'd come back for him. But the next thing I knew was that it was two years later and...and he'd gone.” He looked down, sickened. “I failed him.”

“No you didn't,” said Nick. “Just...tell me what happened.”

Jack sat down at one of the computers and Ianto came over and massaged his shoulders as he spoke. “We completed the bandit mission,” he said slowly. “The artefact we were sent to find was safely sequestered and, as far as we know, it's still in the Archives at the Agency.”

“You mean as far as I know,” corrected Orion smugly. “If it wasn't for me, you wouldn't even have known that you got past those bandits. You'd have thought you failed in your task.”

“Five months later,” continued Jack, ignoring the interruption, “John and I were sent off on another mission. But this one was very different; it's something that disgusts me now that I know that I did it.” He sighed. “Nick, we're talking meddling with time and wiping out entire races so that there wouldn't be a paradox. We blew up entire planets and star systems so they wouldn't interfere with timelines.”

Ianto rubbed Jack's back gently, letting him know he was there, but he didn't say anything. It wasn't his place to interrupt, only to reassure his partner that he didn't hold the past against him, especially when it was something that, until now, he hadn't even had any knowledge of doing.

“We completed the mission in a year,” continued Jack, “and came back to the Agency. But before we could say anything, we were knocked out and when we came round, we found ourselves shut in that interrogation room. Six of the most senior Agents came to see us and requested confirmation that we had done what we were instructed to do. Not realising what would happen next...we gave it.”

“What happened?” asked Nick.

“The Time Agency wanted the mission carried out. But they wanted to disavow all knowledge of it.” Jack sighed. “However, John and I were some of the best Agents in the business and they knew that, so they couldn't kill us.”

“So, they wiped your memories.” Nick shuddered. “But...you said that the mission only took you a year. How did you end up losing two years?”

Jack closed his eyes. “The device used to wipe our memories was too strong. They went too far back and wiped too much; we forgot that mission, but we also forgot some of the things we did beforehand, including the bandit mission. But to replace all of those memories straight away would have been impossible, because there would have been too great a risk of brain damage. So...they gave us fake memories of being pulled out of the bandit camp and send straight into the cell where we were separated. When I woke up, that was all I could remember, but I knew that something wasn't right, because it was two years later. They tried to pass it off as me having been unconscious for two years, but I knew that they were lying without anyone having to speak.” He looked up. “You know that –“

“Time Agents can read thoughts,” said Nick. “Yeah. Is that how you knew that you were being lied to?”

Jack nodded. “I escaped and went rogue shortly afterwards – before anyone had the chance to try and retrieve my memories. But it wasn't until shortly before the two of you left that I found out that John's memories had also been wiped. Until he reappeared again, I'd assumed that he was dead.”

Nick stared at Jack. “Who were the six Time Agents?” he asked, although he suspected that he knew who at least one of them was.”

Jack bit his lip. “I knew who five of them were straight off,” he said. “There were three men – Kuman, Shukra and Cygnus – who I'd thought were my friends. They were people I trusted with my life.” He sighed quietly. “Then there was a woman, Kanya. She was vicious; knew how to hold grudges against you. I was already in her bad books after a rather unfortunate incident involving her brother.” He swallowed. “We were on a mission together to her homeland, and he was killed in front of her by friendly gunfire – my gunfire.”

“But that was an accident!” protested Nick.

“I know. But Kanya was distraught. I can still see her now, kneeling in front of her brother's body and screaming in agony. I wanted to comfort her, but she wouldn't listen. It was probably one of the worst days of my life. I almost wish she had killed me then.” He closed his eyes in pain for a moment and then shook himself. “And another one of them was a terrifying and very powerful woman. Her name was Cipactli – and I hear that she's in charge at the Agency now.”

“Yes, she is,” said Nick shakily, remembering how scared he'd been upon facing her. However, Ianto's voice cut through his thoughts.

“It wasn't until now that he found out the identity of the sixth Agent,” he said quietly. “The man who Jack remembers,” he hesitated and bit his lip, “assaulting John.” He shifted uneasily as Nick's eyebrows knitted together very slowly.

“Was it...” he started to say, his eyes drifting towards Orion, “him?”

“Yes.” Ianto didn't see the sense in hiding the truth. “It was.”

Orion didn't apologise. Instead, he turned round and looked Nick squarely in the eyes. “I did what I had to do, under the circumstances,” he said. “In this case, brute force was necessary. Had I not done that, I would not have been able to do what I did.”

“Hold on.” Nick's voice was shaking. “You were the one who wiped his memories?”

“Yes,” answered Orion simply. “I was the one who recommended to our then leader that both their memories were wiped. If news of what they did got out, it would cast a permanent stain on the Agency. No one would want to join up any more. And yes, I was the one who wiped your partner's memories.” An extremely nasty smile played over his face. “Let's just say that there are certain...methods to keeping him quiet – gagging him, for one thing.” The implication, not shown by his voice, was clear by the way his eyes flashed with lust.

In that moment, Nick saw red. He knew that he had never really liked Orion, and he would never forgive him for his indifference at Segygand. But he had trusted him enough to partner him on a mission and even to allow himself to be mentored by him...and now to find out this...it was too much.

With a wild scream, he rushed forwards and slammed Orion violently into the wall, gripping him round the windpipe with one hand and jamming his gun into his stomach, his finger pressing halfway down on the safety catch as his other hand tightened around his throat.

“Nick!” Jack said urgently. “Nick, stop it, you're going to kill him!” He rushed over and grabbed Nick's arm, trying to pull him away from Orion and holding him by the shoulders.

“Get off me,” growled Nick, trying to wriggle out of his friend's grasp. “Get off me...I'm going to kill him...” It gave him an almost perverse satisfaction to notice that, possibly for the first time since he had known him, there was real fear in Orion's eyes.

“Nick!” This time it was Ianto who shouted. He wrapped his arm firmly around his cousin's waist and pulled him away. “Nick, you nearly set his throat on fire! I could see sparks gathering in your hand! You could have killed him!”

“That's fine!” growled Nick, fighting to break free. “Let him die!”

“Nick!” Ianto slapped his cousin across the cheek. “Look around you, for goodness sake! Look at what you're doing to John!” He turned him around to where John was curled up in a tight ball on the sofa and trembling, his eyes wide with fear as he stared up at Nick. “You need to stay calm, Nick. John needs you. He needs to know he can trust you.”

Nick looked stricken. “You're right.” Very slowly, he moved over to John and gently wrapped his thick coat around him. “I'm sorry,” he whispered, aching to wrap his arms around him, but not wanting him to run. “God, he's freezing,” he breathed to no one in particular.

Jack looked at them both. “There's a blue blanket in my old room,” he said. “Down the manhole in my office and on my bed. It's specially designed for maximum heat transfer. You can bring that up and put it around him; it'll make him feel better.”

“Okay,” said Nick and got up slowly so he wouldn't startle John too much. He slipped into Jack's office and glided down the manhole. The thick blue blanket was lying neatly on Jack's bed and as soon as he picked it up, Nick could feel the warmth flowing into his hands and through his entire body, even as he just held it between his fingers. With a deep breath, he made his way back up the ladder, but stopped just inside Jack's office door when he heard voices.

~*~

“So,” said Orion, looking around, “this is the fabled origin of the Time Agency.”

Ianto blinked. “What?”

Orion turned to look at him. “Oh, of course, you wouldn't know,” he said. “In fact, I'm not sure any of you here would know.” He gave the team a smug grin which made Nick, who was watching from inside Jack's office, seethe. “The Time Agency has its roots in the organisation that was founded by your own Queen Victoria to protect the earth from the threat known as the Doctor. And while,” and this time, his gaze was focused on Jack, “it has been said that opinions of the aforementioned Doctor may have changed somewhat over time, I believe that the organisation is still called Torchwood, is it not?”

Jack twitched. “Yes, it is.”

“I thought so. Mind you, if you're going to be really technical and anal about it – and I do so love being a bit anal, as you have doubtlessly heard, Sirius –”

“Don't call me that!” snarled Jack. “I stopped going by that name a very long time ago!”

“Fine, then – as you have doubtlessly heard, Jack,” Orion scoffed at the name. “But I digress. What I was going to say, before I was so rudely interrupted, was that you could easily just say that the Time Agency is in fact Torchwood. Tell me, Jack – since that is apparently your name now – did you never wonder what happened to Torchwood Four?”

“What?” Jack's voice became confused and guarded. “Torchwood Four disappeared a long time ago. No one's managed to find it, though several have tried.”

“And let me guess – many who have tried have never returned?” Orion nodded. “I thought not. Well, let's just say now that it didn't technically just 'disappear' or 'go missing' as you put it. It just...changed somewhat on the move.” He shrugged off his cloak and then, to Nick's astonishment, removed his jacket and carelessly tossed it to Declan, who was watching with his mouth open. “I'll tell you what, Jack, since you seem to – unless my eyes are deceiving me – still be wearing your wrist strap, why don't you scan it over the jacket your friend's holding – right over the logo that you used to be so familiar with?”

Despite his antagonism towards Orion, when he heard those words, Nick felt his curiosity give him a prick. Quickly shrugging off his own jacket, he proceeded to follow what Jack was doing in front of him and ran his own wrist strap over the grey logo embroidered on the right shoulder of his jacket, wondering momentarily why he had never thought of it before. He frowned and inhaled sharply when he realised what he saw.

“It shows up what looks like a capital 'T', like what I saw before,” said Ianto. “But...hang on...the other bit looks like the Sanskrit for the number four, but when you look at it without the wrist strap, it looks like the Greek letter Alpha.”

“The equivalent of the letter 'A', I believe,” said Orion.

Nick inhaled sharply as his mind processed what he was hearing. Quickly, he scanned the logo again, just to make sure he had seen it right – which he had. So...translating all of this into 21st century English...T4 becomes TA, so...oh, my God...

“Torchwood Four became the Time Agency.” Once again, Ianto had said what Nick was thinking. “Well, that explains why no one's ever found it.”

“Indeed it does,” said Orion. “But enough of the history lesson – sorry, Jack, but there's something that needs doing here.” With a very nasty smile, he pulled an elaborate black gun out from his belt.

Jack gave a harsh laugh. “Clearly, you've not heard the latest news,” he said. “But I can't stay dead any more. I can die, but it'll do you about as much good as a chocolate fire guard.”

Nick's mouth twitched slightly in amusement, but any laughter threatening to escape was quickly suffocated by Orion's next words.

“Oh, I know that, Jack,” he drawled. “But the thing in this gun is not designed to kill, merely to put the victim through an unspeakable...level of Hell.” He smirked as Jack turned white. “Does that sound familiar to you, Jackie-boy?”

“But,” Jack tried a nonchalant laugh, which failed miserably, “why would you do that?”

“Why would I do that? Oh, that's quite simple,” and Orion placed his finger on the safety catch of the gun. “Because I can.” He started to pull the trigger, his finger moving painfully slowly as he watched the look of utter terror in Jack's eyes. “Have a nice trip down Memory Lane...”

~*~

Ianto felt himself freeze in horror as the Time Agent's arrogant voice cut through him. He didn't know what was in that gun, but he knew that it could be nothing good to make Jack that scared. Reaching out to grip his partner's hand, he closed his eyes and turned away, unable to watch. All he could do was wait and hope that he could comfort Jack when he came out of whatever nightmare Orion put him under when he fired that shot.

But several seconds went by, and Ianto heard no sign that Jack was tormented by any sort of nightmare. On the contrary, all was silent except for a loud gasp, not of horror, but of shock and admiration. Quickly, Ianto opened his eyes, unsure what he expected to see. But whatever it was, it had certainly not been the sight of Orion stood frozen in place, his eyes wide with surprise...and with a huge bloodstain on the front of his chest. Looking over, Ianto saw Jack staring at his former colleague, clearly unsure whether to be disgusted or relieved at his state.

A moment later, Orion's eyes travelled upwards and his mouth opened slightly as he tried to speak. But before he could get any words out beyond a soft groan, his knees gave way and he fell to the floor.

Garrett rushed over to him and checked his pulse and other vital signs. “He's dead.”

But Ianto barely heard him. He was looking behind the body at the man who had fired the shot. He could barely believe his own eyes.

“Nick...” Jack's voice, hoarse with shock, cut through the room. “You...you shot him.”

“Yes, I did.” Nick looked Jack straight in the eye. “And I would do it again, given half the chance. “ He snapped the safety catch back on his gun and crossed the room to stand with his friend. “Jack, I know I'm a doctor and I know it's my job to save lives and not take them. But,” and his eyes flashed, “this time it's different. That man got what he deserved.”

Jack still seemed shocked, but he quickly assumed a professional mask. “Andie, can you...?”

“Of course.” The blonde woman, who had been watching from the autopsy bay steps, rushed over and, batting Ianto's hands away when he tried to help her, she expertly carried Orion's body down the stairs and to the morgue.

“I'll clean the blood up,” said Ianto quickly, though he didn't take his eyes off his cousin until he was out of the room.

Nick re-attached his gun to his belt. “I don't regret it, Jack,” he said firmly. “So don't ask me to. He's done too much damage to be allowed to live.”

Jack could see his friend silently pleading with him not to ask, even through his resolute statement, and nodded. “I know,” he admitted. “I know what he was like back when John and I were at the Agency. It looks like he's only gotten worse.” For a moment, he looked sad, but then he cleared his throat. “Nick, your flat never got sold after you and John left and the furniture is being brought back there as we speak. Why don't you take John home and get some rest? We can deal with things tomorrow."

“I'll take them,” said Garrett. “Nick doesn't look fit to walk more than a few steps, let alone get behind the wheel of a car,” he added with a grim smile.

“Hey...” Nick started to protest, but then sighed as he realised that his friend was right. “Come on, then.”

~*~

Later that night, John – the name felt less foreign to him now that he had heard so many others calling him by it – woke up abruptly. But this time, it wasn't a nightmare that had caused his sudden return to consciousness, as it had been on so many other occasions.

Instead, it was the sound of quiet sobbing that roused him and caused him to tiptoe through the flat until he was stood in the doorway of the bedroom. He didn't dare turn on the light, but he didn't need to. The faint glow from the street lamps outside was enough for him to make out Nick's slender form curled up in a ball as heartwrenching sobs echoed through the room. He wasn't facing the doorway, but even so, John somehow knew that his eyes would be screwed shut as the tears spilled over his cheeks. However, as he came closer, he heard Nick whispering something that shot arrows of pain through his heart.

“Papa...Papa, no...please...please, don't leave me...please...” And then, almost inaudibly through fits of fresh tears, “I'm sorry...I love you...”

He sounded like a lost child and in that moment, John somehow knew that it was his turn to be there for the young man who had been so kind and loving towards him.

Slowly and quietly, he crept into the bedroom and made his way across the carpet to sit on the side of the bed. He reached out a hand and gently touched Nick's hair, managing not to flinch when the younger man suddenly whipped around and stared at him in surprise.

“Hey,” he croaked, “did I wake you?”

John sighed softly. “Just relax,” he said, slowly moving his hand down to wipe Nick's tears away. “Let me be there for you, just as you've been there for me.”

“You don't have to...” began Nick, but John had already moved to lie down beside him. “I don't want you to feel that you're being forced into anything...”

“You're not forcing me,” John assured him, gathering him gently in his arms. “I want to do this. I know I can barely remember you, but...” he shrugged and gently stroked Nick's arm. “I'm here now. I'm here.”

Nick shuddered, trying to stifle his sobs. “Thank you,” he whimpered.

John smiled. “Just rest,” he ordered gently, knowing that everything that had happened was now starting to sink in for his friend. “I'll take care of you tonight.”

***

Next Time: What happened to John on his travels? And what did Orion threaten to shoot Jack with?

Chapter Text

Chapter 28

The next morning...

“Jack, are you sure about this?” asked Nick as he lay John down in Jack's little bed under the manhole. “I mean, it's not that I don't trust you, it's just –“

But Jack held up a hand to forestall any further protests. “You're scared,” he said. “And that's perfectly understandable. Nick, if I was in your position, I would be worried sick. But I can tell you now, John would not want to be awake for this. You don't feel anything if you have it done to you while you're asleep, but when you're awake...it's extremely painful.” He sighed quietly. “I should know...I've seen it happen.”

A brief silence followed before Jack took a deep breath and picked up a strange needle that seemed to be glowing bright blue. “This is a Memory Collector,” he said slowly. “It goes into John's head, penetrating his skull and deep into his brain to collect the memory, or memories, we want to look at.”

“But how does it know?” asked Nick.

Jack shrugged. “It's just that clever. No one knows how it was made, all we know is what it's used for – hence where it got the name from.”

Nick's lips twitched despite himself. “For people who once had more technology and equipment at their fingertips than even Bill Gates would probably know what to do with, you future guys sure are an unimaginative lot when it comes to naming things. I think the only name that could be worse was in a science fiction series where one of the characters made a device to basically turn vampires back into humans.”

“What'd he call it?”

Despite himself, Nick laughed as he remembered. “He called it...The De-Vamper.”

“What?!”

“I know. The most worrying part was that he probably thought it was a rather good name.”

Jack shook his head. “That is rather worrying. But then again, stupid names can hide a very interesting device.” He looked at the needle for a moment and then without warning, jammed it hard into John's forehead, digging it straight through the skin until only the loop at the top was visible.

“It's okay,” he said quickly, when Nick made a strangled noise of horror. “It's okay.”

“How is it okay?!” Nick almost squealed. “You just jammed that thing through his skull! Look,” and his trembling hands wiped at the blood that was seeping around the needle. “You've hurt him!”

Jack reached over and clasped Nick's hands, rubbing them gently. “Nick, trust me. Everything is going to be all right. I promise; you just need to calm down. I know this looks frightening, but you need to trust me. I've done this before and I swear to you, I won't hurt him.”

“But –“

“It's okay,” Jack repeated. Then, very carefully, he reached over and removed the Memory Collector, gently stroking his fingertips over the wound on John's forehead – except that there was no wound. “You see? It might look horrible, but as long as he's asleep, it won't cause him any pain.”

“What's the next move?” asked Nick.

“This.” Jack picked up a large silver bowl that was completely plain except for some tiny etchings around the rim. “Okay, I know what you're thinking and yes, the inventors of this probably did rip this off from Harry Potter. But this is what we're going to use to find out what happened to John. And once we know that, we can help him.”

“Okay,” said Nick. “How does it work?”

“Like this.” Jack calmly dropped the Collector into the bowl and watched as a dark blue light started spreading through it. “That light is what the memories are made of,” he explained and then took the Collector out of the bowl; it was now transparent. He set it on top of what looked like a long block of silvery metal. “Recharges its batteries, so to speak,” he said. “And now, we enter John's mind – without leaving this room.”

“Jack,” said Nick suddenly. “I'm scared.”

“Of what you're going to see?” Jack nodded. “I can't blame you. We both know that John has been through something horrific. That's why I've only extracted a few memories from him. Anything that goes into that bowl will be shown whether you like it or not. I didn't want to overwhelm you with too much.”

“How many memories are there in that bowl?”

“Three,” answered Jack. “And it looks like one of them's about to start now.” He came over and put his arm around Nick's shoulders. “Nick, listen to me. Any time you want to leave, that's okay. When the memory starts, there's no way of stopping it, but you can go at any time if it gets too much for you.”

“Okay.”

The scene changed before their eyes to a very long room with the walls painted a dull grey and only one tiny window just below the ceiling. The only other light came from the ceiling which was made like a large strip light, but it kept flickering and sparking everywhere. It certainly didn't look safe and Nick wondered how safe the place actually was.

“What is this place?” he asked.

“It looks like one of the fifty-eighth slave dungeons on a ship bound for Judatrul,” answered Jack quietly as he pointed out some inscriptions on the wall. “One of the most dangerous places in the universe. The city is right on the coast where slave ships dock and the slaves are sold to the highest bidder.” He frowned. “What the hell is John doing in a place like this?”

“Where –“ Nick started to say, but he was cut off when another spark from the ceiling highlighted something that turned his stomach.

Thousands of people, men, women and even children, were lying together, packed into tight rows and chained up together, so tightly you could see the tearing of the skin that the manacles were leaving. None of them had proper clothes, instead all they had were ragged tunics and shoes that were falling apart. Somewhere towards the back of the room, a baby cried and the woman, presumably the mother, hastily cradled it closer to her chest to calm it.

Suddenly, the door crashed open and everyone instantly sat up, visibly ignoring the pain that the motion caused them thanks to their chains. A tall man dressed in elaborate robes stepped inside, banging a silver cane loudly on the floor so that the sound echoed around the walls.

“That's the ship's slave master,” said Jack. “He keeps tabs on the slaves – makes sure they're fit for duty. Any that aren't are killed.” He laughed bitterly. “I saw many slave killings in my time – too many.”

The man strode up and down the rows, banging his cane harder and harder as he walked. Occasionally, he barked out a string of harsh words that Nick couldn't understand and, frankly, he didn't want to. Suddenly, without any warning, he stopped and, bending down, he fired two shots from a gun, a motion which was greeted by several screams, including one from Nick.

“Those weren't killing shots, Nick,” said Jack quietly. “These Masters never kill a slave with anything as humane as a gunshot. No, they prefer other ways.”

A moment later, the Master reached out and grabbed someone, pulling him to his feet and speaking coldly to him. Then, he dragged him forwards and further into the light, at which point Jack and Nick both recognised the prisoner.

“John!” cried Nick, rushing forwards to intervene.

“Nick!” Jack grabbed his friend's arm and pulled him back, holding him tightly as he struggled. “Nick, there's nothing you can do. It's a memory – you can't change it. All you can do is watch it and see what happens.” He softened his grip and wrapped his arms around Nick in a gentle hug. “I'm sorry.”

Nick watched as John was dragged from the room by the chain around his neck. It was then that he realised just how bad his partner looked; his face was a mass of bruises and his clothes and hair were matted with congealed blood and he was limping badly. He was also very pale and the sight of his ribs protruding against his tunic made it look like he'd been starved.

“Oh my God,” he whispered, fighting back tears as the two men emerged into the daylight and John's impoverished state became all the more apparent. “What's...” but he trailed off when another man emerged from the shadows of a large and impressive doorway – which presumably led to an equally large house. But the architecture wasn't his current focus. Instead, his attention was drawn to the man who had stepped outside, a look of utter shock on his face.

“Jack, that's you!” he spluttered.

Jack watched, dumbfounded, as his future self stared at John in shock for a second before nodding towards the Master, who promptly turned on his heel and stalked off, making no effort to avoid banging John's hip as he made his way back to the ship.

John was squirming visibly even as he looked up. “Just do whatever it is you have to do,” he said very quietly. “Just do whatever you must, sir.”

Future Jack stood still for several seconds before he moved very slowly towards the beaten man, giving him a kind smile. “I'm going to do what I have to do,” he said slowly. Gently, he reached out and touched John's fingers, stroking them slowly. “It's going to be okay now...”

The memory faded slowly before being replaced by another scene. This time, John was the first thing Nick saw, but his current state ripped shards through his heart. He was curled up in a ball, wrapped in a very thin moth eaten blanket and wearing little more than a pair of dirty shorts and a ripped vest. The room he was in this time was painted entirely white and had a bright bulb in the ceiling.

“It looks worse, in some ways, than that place on the ship,” he croaked to Jack, who nodded.

A loud 'crash' suddenly echoed through the room and several men in dark suits walked inside. All of them had evil smirks on their faces as they converged on John. Then, the man in the lead spoke in a long heavy accent. Again, Nick couldn't understand a word he was saying, but the drawl in his voice made him cringe.

Jack was shaking beside him. “Oh, God, Nick” he croaked. “He said...he taunted him...told him that now the champion sex addict of the universe is now getting a...” his voice cracked, “a reward...”

Nick cringed as he watched an expression of defeat cross John's face as the men moved closer to him. “Go ahead,” he said tonelessly. “Take what it is you want.”

The ringleader smirked horribly and stripped off his jacket, tossing it carelessly across the room, the others following his lead. Then, his smirk becoming a crude leer, he grabbed John's face and kissed him mercilessly before throwing him harshly back down and pinning him to the ground.

That was when it became too much for Nick and he turned away burying his face in Jack's shoulder. He couldn't bring himself to watch, although the evil laughs of the men coupled with their moans and grunts and John's stifled sobs told him enough.

Jack wrapped his arms tightly round his friend and held him, whispering soothing words in his ear as he sought to drown out the sounds from the memory. Oh, God, this isn't fair. Nobody, no matter what they've done in the past, deserves to have this happen to them...

It wasn't until the memory had finished that he gently tilted Nick's head up to look at him. “It's over now,” he said quietly. “That memory's finished. There is still one more, but if you don't want to stay, then –“

“No.” Nick sat up and took several deep breaths as he wiped his eyes quickly. “I said I wanted to know something of what had happened and I'm standing by that.” He put a hand over Jack's. “I'll be fine.”

Slowly, he turned back to look at the scene that the final memory would play for them – and frowned sharply. “That place,” he whispered. “It looks so...familiar; it's like being inside an –“

“Amphitheatre.” Jack's response was almost toneless. “Yeah, it does.”

Nick swallowed hard, his own memories almost overwhelming him. “Oh my God,” he gasped. “It's...it's Segygand, isn't it? The home of the Nova Djinn. That's...that's where I found John.” He shivered and gripped his hands together as he thought of the civilisation he'd unintentionally destroyed.

“And it looks as if you're about to find out what happened to him before you found him,” said Jack grimly as two Djinn soldiers dragged John into the middle of the underground room. They dropped him onto the floor and then, without warning, one of them drew a knife and slit his throat, spilling his blood everywhere.

“No!” shouted Nick – but he was frozen in place by what happened next. The other guard, apparently satisfied that John was dead, took a small device from his pocket and placed it over John's chest. A moment later, and amidst screams of pain, John was screaming as he was brought back to life.

Jack looked sick. “Forced resurrection,” he said, gripping the bed stand “Torture in it's most terrible form. That's what the Djinn specialise in, Nick. They take your greatest weakness and use it to torture you until you break.” He shuddered violently as John was killed and forced back to life again and again.

Nick looked away slightly, remembering what John had said to him on the ship back to Amion. He had been enslaved by the Djinn before I found him...he knew what they would do to those slaves if they were left there alive. He rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hand, once again trying to blot out the sound of John's ragged gasps. He said I saved them from a terrible fate...

He was distracted from any further thoughts, however, when Jack patted him on the shoulder. “It's over now,” he said quietly. “It's done. That was the last memory I extracted from him. He will still remember everything, but at least we can now begin to at least try and help him through it.”

“That...that first memory must have been why he trusted you,” said Nick. He was forcing himself to focus on the positive sides, but he was still deeply shaken by what he had seen. “You...you must have been the first person who had been kind to him in...” he shut his eyes. “Thank you.”

“I'm just glad I could help,” said Jack quietly. “We don't know what else he's been through on his travels and like you, I don't think I want to know. But at least we know that he had one moment of refuge.” Slowly, he started packing the equipment away.

“Jack?” ventured Nick suddenly. “What...what was it that Orion threatened to shoot you with yesterday? I'm guessing it wasn't something that would just kill you.”

Jack let out a bark of laughter that wasn't at all amused. “Those things don't kill you at all,” he said bitterly. “They're bullets designed to keep you alive, but trapped in your worst nightmares for hours on end. You see the worst things that have happened to you in the past and your greatest fears for the future playing right before your eyes. And you're powerless to stop them.”

“How...how did he get hold of them?” The thought that such a thing could even exist made Nick's insides freeze in horror.

“They're old torture devices from the Time Agency,” said Jack, averting his eyes. “And they were extremely effective. Believe me, Nick, torture does not always just mean physical pain.”

Neither of the two men spoke for a little while after that heavy statement sunk in. Then Jack coughed. “I got your message, by the way – about Ianto and...and the 456.”

It took Nick a moment to drag himself away from his thoughts of a torture device that seemed even more inhumane than knives and punches, and to remember what he had done after that nightmare. “Oh, you did,” he said quietly. “Good – when did you get it?” For a moment, he wondered why Jack hadn't told him about it straight away; surely he would have known that he would be worried about his cousin, even if the dream had been just that. But he was shocked by Jack's reply.

“I only got it yesterday, actually.” The older man gave a small laugh. “It arrived shortly after you left to catch up with your relatives.”

“Wow.” Nick whistled. “When I sent it, I suspected the timing might be a bit off, but I didn't think it would take get through this late. Then again, I didn't expect to not get home until two and a half years after I left.”

“Nick,” Jack sighed, “you and I both know how dangerous it is to work for Torchwood. You weren't even involved in the organisation when you saw first hand how dangerous it can be.”

“Yeah,” said Nick, shifting uncomfortably. “After the Daleks stole the earth...I tried to convince Ianto to leave, because I was scared that he'd be in too much danger. He didn't react too well.”

“I know,” said Jack. “And while I don't blame you in the slightest for being worried about him – Nick, I want you to know that I would never intentionally send anyone, not even a Torchwood operative, into so much danger. To do that would be literally sending them into the jaws of certain death.” He sighed. “And I've done that enough in the past – ironically, one of the worst being the last time that the 456 came to Earth.”

Nick blinked. “They've been here before?”

“Yes,” said Jack. “They came here nearly fifty years ago, before I took charge of Torchwood.” He rubbed his face. “I did something terrible, Nick; something I regret to this day...and something which entirely justifies the reputation I had in some people's eyes as a monster.”

“I don't believe that,” said Nick immediately. “You're not a monster, Jack. I know I once said that you were, but that was wrong and stupid of me. I know you've done unscrupulous things in the past, but I also know that you had reasons.”

Jack smiled sadly. “You wouldn't say that if you knew what I did,” he said. “I sacrificed twelve children to the 456 in exchange for a cure.”

“A cure for what?”

Jack paused. “I think the best explanation I could use would be that it was a new strain of Indonesian flu. They claimed that if it was released, the virus would kill twenty-five million people – probably more.”

Nick inhaled sharply. “And you gave up twelve children?” he said quietly.

“Yeah,” sighed Jack. “And one of them survived. I can only guess that the 456 rejected him, because there was something different about him. But he survived while his friends were...” but he couldn't get the words out. “I killed them, Nick,” he finally choked out. “I killed those children as surely as if I had shot bullets into their bodies.”

“No!” said Nick firmly, grasping Jack's hands. “Listen to me; you did not kill those children. If anyone did, it was the 456; you were only the middle-man, the messenger, if you will. And it's always been said that you shouldn't shoot the messenger.” He paused. “I won't deny that I hate the thought of innocent children dying like that, but I would also say that the thought of innocent people dying at Canary Wharf makes me sick to my stomach, even though there's nothing I can do about it now.”

“What are you saying?” asked Jack, unable to look at his friend.

“I'm saying that you had no choice,” said Nick quietly. “Just like you didn't have a choice with what happened with Jasmine.”

“It's nothing like what happened with Jasmine,” said Jack. “Nick, some the things I did back then...you wouldn't even recognise me.”

Nick winced inwardly at those words. “And if you saw some of the things I did at the Agency, I don't think you'd have recognised me any more,” he said quietly. “But all those things are in our pasts now. And what you've just told me is very much like what happened with Jasmine. I've read the files and I know that if you hadn't let her go, none of us would be here today.” He paused to think. “And while those twelve children may not have wanted to go – may not have known what was happening – if you hadn't done it, more than twenty-five million people would have died.” He sighed quietly. “I don't know all the ins and outs of it, but if you hadn't given those children up, they might have died from the virus anyway.”

Jack looked up in surprise at those words. He could honestly say he had never thought of it like that. “I know you're right, Nick,” he admitted. “But when I realised that the 456 had come back and when I heard that they had demanded ten per cent of the children of this world, I promised myself that it wouldn't let it happen again.” He waited for Nick to speak, but when he didn't, he continued, “I went into Thames House in London and confronted them myself.”

“How?” Nick looked worried.

To his surprise, Jack laughed. “With this.” He held up his arm so Nick could see his vortex manipulator. “John found a way to fix it so I could teleport – and that's exactly what I did. I teleported into the tank where it was being held and blew it up.”

“You did what?!” spluttered Nick. “Jack, that's dangerous! Just because you're immortal, it doesn't mean you're dispensable!”

“I'm more dispensable than most, Nick,” said Jack quietly.

“Bullshit!” stormed Nick. “Just because you can heal yourself and resurrect yourself, it doesn't mean you have to be used as cannon fodder!” His eyes trailed over to John, who was still asleep. “Would you feel the same way about him too?”

The minute he said those words, he wished he could take them back. Jack had turned as white as a sheet and closed his eyes, bending his head in pain. Swallowing hard, Nick came over and sat down beside him.

“I'm sorry, Jack,” he said, calming down and putting a hand on his friend's shoulder. “I didn't mean that. I just don't want you to think that you're less important than the rest of us. Because you aren't. You're just as important as all of us here.”

Jack smiled weakly. “I know what you meant, Nick,” he said. “And, just so you know, I didn't go in there with the intention to kill myself. I left an active bomb in the tank and teleported myself out before it blew up – taking the 456 with it.” He laughed ruefully. “I didn't particularly fancy blowing myself up again – coming back from that is extremely unpleasant.”

Nick chose to ignore that comment. “So, you defeated the 456 and no one got hurt,” he said.

“Well, a couple of people were killed, but by and large, no, no one got hurt,” said Jack. “And I also got a medical liaison officer out of it as well – no, not Dan,” he added as Nick looked confused. “A young man who changed sides and helped me out of a rather sticky situation. He's quite good-looking as well.”

“What's his name?”

“Patanjali. Dr. Rupesh Patanjali.”

Nick's mouth dropped open. “You're kidding me!” he spluttered. “Dan and I went to medical school with him!”

Jack's mouth dropped open. “Now you're kidding me! What is it with doctors who studied in Manchester coming to Wales and working for Torchwood?”

“I don't know, but there must be something in the water up there!” Nick chuckled. “And you're right, he is good-looking; he always was, really.” He decided not to mention that one time when his old friend had jokingly suggested a threesome; it might give Jack ideas, especially if he knew that both he and Dan had actually seriously considered it. “But yeah, he's a good doctor.”

“Yeah, he is.” Jack turned and smiled at him. “And so are you – but, more importantly, you're also a good friend, Nick. I don't know what I did to deserve your friendship, but I'm so glad to have it.” He reached out a trembling hand and touched Nick's cheek with it. “Thank you for being there for me, even when you might not have realised it.”

Nick squeezed Jack's hand. “You've been there for me as well, Jack,” he said hoarsely. “And I know you will be for a long time.” He smiled again and then reached over and enveloped Jack in a friendly hug, patting him on the back as he did so. “You do mean a lot to me,” he said, absently resting his head on Jack's shoulder. “I really hope you know that.”

They sat like that for a while until a soft moan distracted Jack enough to make him turn. Looking around, he saw that John's eyes were opening and he was looking around in confusion.

“Where...where am I?” he whispered. He blinked when he saw the two men. “Jack? Nick? Is that you?”

“Yes,” said Nick quickly, jumping out of Jack's arms. “It's me, John – do you remember me?”

“No,” said John sadly. “I mean...I know that I know you and I know that I trust you, but...” he shook his head. “You said that you're my partner, but...I just can't remember...”

Jack sighed. “Nick,” he said gently, noticing that his friend was starting to get upset, “why don't you wait outside? Ianto's on the board walk; you can go and catch up with him.” He dropped his voice and whispered in Nick's ear, “I want to try a piece of technology that I think can help John, but it would be better for both of you if you weren't here.”

“Okay,” said Nick. With a last look at John, he quietly made his way up the ladder and out of Jack's office, barely registering himself wiping his eyes as he did so.

Jack smiled down at his former partner and showed him a strange silver contraption that looked like an oversized pair of metal headphones. “I know that this looks very strange,” he said, “but if I can use it right, then it can clear any mental damage and give you your old memories back.”

John looked interested. “There's technology that can do that?” he gasped. “How...?”

“That doesn't matter,” said Jack. “What matters is that I can help you remember – if it's what you want. Is it?”

“Just tell me one thing first,” said John, sitting upright. “Me and Nick – he said that he's my partner and my lover?” Jack nodded. “Well, just tell me...before all this happened – were we happy together?”

Jack didn't even have to think about it. “Yes,” he said, reaching over and stroking John's hand. “You were the happiest I've ever seen you.”

***

Next Time: Will John get his memories back?

Oh, and a bonus point to anyone who gets the Sanctuary reference!

Chapter Text

Chapter 29

“Nick!” Ianto had been leaning against the railings on the board-walk but he turned round and rushed over when he saw his cousin coming out of the tourist office, looking visibly upset. “Are you okay?” he asked, reaching out to hug him. “What happened?”

Nick didn't say anything; instead, he simply leaned on Ianto and held him, burrowing his nose into his hair as he trembled. He didn't want to believe what he'd just witnessed, but it had all been there in full colour, playing like a gruesome film.

“Hey, hey, what's the matter?” asked Ianto, growing more and more concerned as he rubbed Nick's back gently. He couldn't remember ever having seen him in such a state; he looked as if his entire world had just been ripped out from underneath his feet, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake.

“Come on,” he said, leading his cousin to the grass near the white Norwegian church and sitting him down on it. “Tell me what happened.”

It was several moments before Nick had managed to control his breathing enough to speak, but when he had, all he could do at first was gasp out his cousin's name, his eyes wild and shocked. Without a word, Ianto rushed back to the Hub and came back with Nick's jacket which he draped over his shoulders.

“Now,” he said, holding him gently and rubbing his back. “Take several deep breaths and then tell me what happened with Jack. He told me last night that he was going to try and find out something of what had happened to John.” Nick nodded. “Did he find anything?”

“Yeah,” croaked Nick. “He's got this...this thing called a Memory Collector...think of it like a Pensieve, but from the future, and...and he used it to show me John's memories.”

“Wow, so apparently future technology not only copies of modern day fiction, but also has some incredibly boring names,” said Ianto, trying to inject some lightness into the conversation. However, when Nick didn't even smile, he realised that something was really wrong. “What did you see?”

Nick rubbed his hands over his eyes. “Jack extracted three memories from John,” he said. “We both knew that he'd been through something terrible, but...I never expected to see what I saw.”

He leaned back on the grass. “Well, actually...the first one had a happier ending, I guess; he was on a slave ship...chained up and...and beaten, but...there was some hope at the end, I guess.”

“Go on,” prompted Ianto.

“Jack was there.” Nick smiled slightly. “Well, a future version of Jack, obviously. He must have known what would happen after seeing that memory today and...and he made sure he was there for him. He told John that he'd do what he had to do and...and that everything was going to be okay...”

“Wow,” Ianto said again. “Well, it's good that he did have at least one person there who cared about him. And it does also explain how John knew to trust Jack, even though he lost all of those other memories – did Jack actually tell you how that happened, by the way?”

“No,” said Nick. “All I know is that John's had dreams of him pushing me out of the way of an attack. I think that something happened before we dropped out of the Rift. But I don't know if I want to know any more than that – seeing those other memories were bad enough. No,” he added when Ianto opened his mouth, “I'm not going to tell you what happened. John said that he trusted me and Jack and that was why he didn't mind us knowing some of what happened to him. But I won't betray that trust. If he wants to tell you anything, he will.” He sank back, biting his lip.

“Are you okay?” asked Ianto, noting that the subject of what had happened to John was closed, but that there was also something else bothering his cousin.

“Yeah,” said Nick. “Just stuff that happened yesterday starting to hit home, really.”

“You mean shooting Orion?” Ianto nodded sympathetically. “You did the right thing there, Nick. Jack told me what was in that gun and, frankly, after hearing him talk about wiping his and John's memories, I'm starting to think that shooting was too good for him.”

“It isn't that,” said Nick. “Well, not really. It's just,” he bit his lip, “I saw Dan at Dad's grave yesterday and...we exchanged a few words.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. Ianto, I didn't realise he knew about Torchwood.”

Ianto laughed quietly. “Neither did I for a while. In fact, I didn't find out that he knew until the incident at the barracks when we hired Matt and Garrett. Apparently, Jack's had Dan on hand as a medical liaison officer at St. David's Hospital since before I came here. But he had no idea that you and Dan had ever been together.”

“And we might still be together if it hadn't been for Dan's father,” said Nick a bit bitterly. “You remember I told you that one of the lecturers warned us that we could get blacklisted if we carried on seeing each other? Well, he only got involved because Dan's father blackmailed and threatened him to make sure we split up.”

Ianto's jaw dropped. “You're kidding!”

“No, I'm not.” Nick picked a few blades of grass. “Apparently, Dan confronted his father, who told him everything – he was proud of what he did.” He laughed and tossed the bits of grass away. “We both wondered why he hadn't done anything after he went nuts after finding us in bed together that Christmas. Now, it seems as if he was just lulling us into a false sense of security.”

“What happened then?” asked Ianto. But when Nick bent his head and stared at his hands, he gasped. “Oh, no,” he whispered. “He wanted you two to get back together, didn't he?”

Nick nodded. “I had to tell him that we couldn't be together again – that I was with someone else, who needed me. But I also told him that I wanted us to stay friends. He accepted that, but...” he shook his head and sighed. “Well, anyway...he went off to the hospital and left me there. And guess who showed up then?”

“Who?” asked Ianto.

“None other than my mother and our dearly beloved great-aunt Philippa.”

“Oh, no.”

“Oh yes,” said Nick with a humourless laugh. “They'd both overheard Dan and I talking and...well, you can take an educated guess about how that went down.”

Ianto thought for a moment. “Like a lead balloon.”

“Worse. Philippa just stood there without saying a word, but you could just see her lips pursing further and further – and then she started ranting about how I was a disgrace to the Jones name and how she'd never been so embarrassed in her entire life.”

“If that was the case every time that woman said that, she'd have melted like the Wicked Witch of the West from sheer humiliation,” said Ianto with a chuckle. “What did your mum say?”

Nick snorted. “That was a fun one,” he said. “She said that she'd never call me her son again and asked what sort of a man I was. Actually, I think she called me,” he made quote marks in the air, “a filthy sodomite and a worthless excuse for a Catholic.”

“But you're not Catholic.”

“Exactly. But, as you know, she is.” Nick sighed. “Even though she got divorced and shacked up with that young lad of hers. Anyway, when she said that people like me will be going to Hell, I just lost it.” Slowly, he picked at the hem of his jeans. “I asked her,” and again, he made the quote marks, “'If I'm going to Hell for loving another man, then where are you going for committing adultery? Because, last time I checked, Catholics didn't allow divorce.'” He laughed at the stunned expression on Ianto's face. “Yeah, she didn't take that one too well.”

Ianto frowned, suddenly remembering the red handprint on Nick's face when he'd returned to the Hub the previous day. “Did she hit you?” When his cousin squirmed, but didn't reply, he knew he had his answer. “She did, didn't she? Oh, God...”

“I got a bit of a slap from Catrin as well,” said Nick, trying to keep things light. “She wasn't exactly happy that I just upped and left like that. Apparently, you had a memorial service for me.”

“Yeah, just a small do at my flat,” said Ianto. “It was just all of us getting together and sharing our most treasured memories of you. And, believe me, Nicky, there were quite a lot of them.”

“Ianto!” Jack's voice suddenly cut over the comm, making both the young men jump. “Where are you? You and Nick are both needed at the tourist office.”

Ianto jumped up. “We're on our way, Jack,” he said. “Come on, Nick.”

They sprinted back across the road to the entrance of the tourist office, where Jack was waiting and looking rather serious. “Jack?” asked Nick, his heart pounding. “What's going on?”

“Ianto,” Jack said slowly. “I need your help with collaborating some figures, please, and everyone down there is clamouring for coffee. Can you oblige us?”

Ianto frowned, surprised, but nodded. “Sure,” he said and, after giving Nick a pat on the shoulder, he made his way back inside.

“Was there anything you needed –“ began Nick, but before he could finish, Jack followed Ianto. Shrugging, he started to turn back, only to start as John came outside, blinking slightly in the cold sunlight.

Without a word, he reached out a hand and beckoned to Nick over to the small bench by the door. Then, smiling slightly, he sat them both down and kissed him tenderly on the lips, wrapping their hands together and linking their fingers.

“Just like the first time,” he whispered when they finally broke apart. “You remember?”

For a moment, Nick was stunned into silence. “Of course I remember,” he said in a husky voice. “How...how could I ever forget?”

“Come here,” said John and tugged Nick over to the railings overlooking the water. “Do you remember this?” he asked before he kissed him again, only this time it was much deeper and more passionate than before.

That was all Nick could take. His knees buckled and he slumped into his partner's arms, trembling. “You remember,” he gasped, his voice cracking. “You remember...don't you?”

“Yes.” John cradled Nick's face in his hands. “Yes, Nick; I can remember everything – the places I saw, the things I did and the people I met. But the memories of us were the ones that came back to me first. It was like a waterfall breaking down a dam in my head until there were no defences left.” He smiled. “And I had never felt so alive as I did in that moment.”

Nick smiled as well, but he could still see the haunted look in John's eyes and he knew that, regardless of what had just happened, it would take a very long time for him to get over what he'd been through. But at the same time, he knew that he would do everything he could to help him through this.

“It's so good to have you back,” he said, stroking John's shoulder. “Even if you are now immortal and –“ but then he stopped and frowned.

“Nick?” John had picked up on the hesitation and it worried him. “What's the matter?”

“Are you sure you want to do this?” asked Nick. “I mean…you know, us,” he added as John looked puzzled. “I mean, one day, I’m going to die, whether we like it or not. But you’re just…” but he trailed off and sighed. “Well, you know.”

John laughed. “Oh, Nick,” he breathed out, reaching across the railing to clasp Nick’s hand. “I know we haven’t got forever; I know we may not even have five years. But I would rather share one lifetime with you than face all the ages of this world alone.” He blinked. “Did I just quote from Lord of the Rings?”

“Yes, you did.”

“Yeah, I thought I did.” John chuckled and shook himself. “But Nick, in all seriousness, I know we don’t have forever, but I’m not going to let that stop us enjoying every minute of our time together. For one thing, do you want that? And for another thing, do you think that Jack and Ianto would want us to do that?”

“No,” said Nick. “In fact, Ianto told me once that he doesn't want me to make the same mistakes that he made. He doesn't want me to waste any time like he did with Jack. And he's right. I don't want to waste any time with you, either.” He stepped up and took John's hands. “So, I'm yours...for as long as you'll have me.”

John smiled. “I'd say 'Then that's for ever,' but that would probably sound too soppy, wouldn't it?” he said with a laugh. “Besides, there's more to your original question than just us, isn't there?”

“What do you...” but Nick realised that he couldn't lie to his partner and sighed. “Yeah, there's more. I just...” he paused, chewing over the best way to explain how he felt. “After seeing what happened to you,” he stammered, “I just...I don't want you to feel like I'm expecting too much of you. I always worry that I'll end up hurting you or pushing you into doing something you don't want to do and...” but he was cut off when John came over and wrapped his arms around him.

“You could never hurt me, Nick Jones,” he insisted. “And you certainly couldn't push me into doing something I didn't want to do. Quite aside from the fact that I can defend myself, you're not the kind of man who would do that. And no, I'm not saying you're a pushover, I'm just –”

“John,” interrupted Nick, laughing, “I know what you mean. Now, stop digging yourself into a hole, shut up and just kiss me.”

“With pleasure,” said John laughing and he wrapped his hand around the back of Nick's neck and pulled him close for a long kiss, their bodies melting together.

Unfortunately, in that moment, Nick was transported to when Orion had tried to take advantage of him on R'nessa's ship and in that moment, the smell of those familiar 51st century pheromones made his heart race in terror as he forgot who it was holding him.

“Nick?” John's concerned voice suddenly cut through his fear and his scent suddenly drifted away slightly as he moved back. “Nick, are you okay?”

“What?” asked Nick, blinking slightly.

“You're shaking.” John gently stroked his shoulders and sat him down on one of the benches. “What's wrong? I just kissed you and you started trembling.”

“It's nothing.” Nick closed his eyes and forced himself to calm down. After everything he had been through, the last thing John needed was for him to start getting upset over something that hadn't even happened.

But John wasn't fooled. “Something happened while you were away, didn't it? Something that...” suddenly he stopped and frowned. “Nick, what did Orion do to you?”

“Nothing!” said Nick quickly, but when John fixed him with an intent look, he sighed. “It's more what he didn't do...what he tried to do...”

John looked at Nick in confusion for a bit, but then he saw a look of fear in his eyes that reminded him of the fear he had felt so often himself while he had been...

“Oh my God,” he whispered. “Nick, he didn't...”

“No.” Nick turned away quickly. “He didn't, but...”

“But he tried to.” John's voice was hard as the thought burst through his brain with horrifying clarity. That vile man, someone he was ashamed to once call a colleague, had attempted to assault the man he loved...

“I'd kill him if he wasn't already dead,” he growled, clenching his fists together. “No one hurts the people I love and gets away with it.”

“Don't,” said Nick quickly. “John, he's dead. There's nothing more any of us can do now. He got what he deserved.” Gently, he stroked John's face. “Please – don't make the same mistake you made last time. Leave the past where it belongs – in the past.”

“Okay.” John knew Nick was right. “I'll let it go.”

Nick smiled and lightly kissed his partner's forehead. “We're going to get through this, John,” he promised him. “We'll get through this together.”

~*~

Two weeks later...

“I can't believe Jack's doing this,” Ianto admitted with a slightly embarrassed smile. “After all that man's done, it seems so wrong to give him a proper funeral.” He didn't voice his opinion that Jack should have just tossed Orion's body on a compost heap rather than treating him with the respect normally due to the dead.

Nick smiled ruefully, the flames from the funeral pyre flickering over his face. “Yeah, but by doing this, Jack's proving that he's a better man than Orion could ever be,” he said. “He's a better man than I could be as well.”

At that moment, Jack was walking around the pyre, chanting the strange sounds of the traditional Time Agency death mantras in his deep melodic voice. He had one arm raised over the pyre and closed his eyes as a shaft of multicoloured light streamed out of his wrist strap, enveloping the corpse and dowsing the flames as his voice rose and fell as the colours faded and strengthened.

Nick frowned slightly. “What's he doing?” he asked John.

“The,” John paused for a moment as he seemed to struggle for a moment before he nodded. “The last rites of a Time Agent. He's cleansing his body and his soul, so to speak.” He chuckled slightly at Nick's baffled expression. “Don't ask.”

“I think it would take quite a bit more than some fancy lights to cleanse that git's soul,” Ianto whispered.

John snorted. “That it will, Eye Candy,” he said. “That it will.”

Jack smiled as he walked past his friends and heard the exchange. He never thought that he would be happy to hear his former partner call Ianto by that nickname, but now the words made his heart soar a little bit with hope that John would be all right after all. Then, very slowly, he withdrew his arm so that the lights faded, leaving nothing more than a mass of black ash on top of a small pile of what looked like charred paper. Then he bent down and scooped the ashes into a small cardboard box, before turning around and facing his friends.

“Commit this warrior to the earth where he may continue the cycle of life, death and rebirth,” he intoned. Then, without changing his expression even once, he walked away from the remains of the pyre and calmly tossed Orion's ashes into a nearby dustbin.

John blinked in surprise. “Er, Jack? I thought a Time Agent's ashes were supposed to be cast into water.”

“Usually, they are. However,” and here, Jack's mouth twitched with suppressed laughter, “in this case, I think an exception could be made. He'd probably give the poor fish indigestion.”

Ianto snorted. “Ah, so that's why you didn't just feed him to Myfanwy,” he said and slung his arm around Jack's shoulders. “So, am I cooking tonight then?”

Nick chuckled as he watched his friend and cousin leave before wrapping his arm around John's shoulders. “Well, we've said goodbye to him,” he said, nodding towards the smouldering pyre. “And good riddance.”

“I agree,” said John with a smile. “Home now?”

“Just a minute, before we go,” said Nick, who had suddenly remembered a rather disconcerting conversation. “There's something I need to know.”

“Ask away.”

“Okay.” Nick looked at his partner with his best raised eyebrow – the 'Jones look of doom', as Jack put it. “Jack the Ripper? Seriously?”

“Hey, it was a long time ago!” protested John. “And my taste in men has improved since then!”

Nick laughed. “I know, I know.” He snuggled up closer to his lover. “So, who was he?”

“What?”

“Jack the Ripper – which suspect was he?”

“Oh! Druitt – John Druitt,” answered John.

Nick blinked several times. “Ah,” he said. “So, it looks as if science fiction did get something right then.” He patted John's arm, smiling at his confused expression. “Let's get home and I'll show you.”

~*~

John's eyes flickered between the television and his partner. “What...what just happened there?”

“Well, the gist of it, to quote the next line of the episode,” answered Nick. “The guy who invented radio just dissed Jack the Ripper.”

“Yes, I thought that's what it was.” John laughed and threw his arm around Nick's shoulders. “You know, it's good to be home,” he said and leaned over to give Nick a kiss.

“Yes, it is,” said Nick. He curled up on the sofa and tucked his feet under his knees with a yawn.

John smiled softly. “Get some rest – it's been a hell of a day.”

“Hell of a week more like,” murmured Nick as his eyes slowly closed. “Been a hell of a week...”

John's smile broadened as he watched his partner sleeping. God, he looks so beautiful curled up like that – so young and innocent. He sighed quietly. He's so young...but he's seen so much...too much.

“And now it's time for me to do something I should have done a long time ago,” he muttered and picked up the phone, dialling a number. “Jack? Hi, it's me. Listen, I've got a plan, but I need you to check that you've got something of mine.”

***

Next Time: Well, we're coming up to the finale and while John's back, what's his new plan?



Chapter Text

Chapter 30

One month later...

“I never thought I'd say this about anything relating to the Time Agency,” remarked Jack, “but I have to admit, that jacket looks really good on you, Nick.”

“I do quite like the coat myself,” agreed Nick, turning slightly so he could check his reflection in the mirror. He was wearing close-fitting black jeans and a royal blue shirt (with a white Chinese dragon going across his shoulder blades) and the black jacket fitted snugly over the top. “But I do think that the cuffs look better in black than they did in red.”

“Nice arse,” commented Matt, who was leaning against the wall. “However, I've also got a lovely one of my own,” he said, slinging his arm around Garrett's shoulders.

Jack burst out laughing. “That you have Matt, that you have,” he agreed as Garrett blinked a few times and tried to work out if his partner had just insulted or complimented him. In the end, however, he appeared to give it up as a bad job and just chuckled softly, making Jack smile; the young man had certainly come out of his shell since Torchwood had recruited him.

“I threw the rest of that gear out weeks ago – it made a great pyre for Orion, if I recall rightly,” said Nick. “And I have to admit, seeing those red shirts go up in flames was a real highlight. I'm telling you, if anything was a death-knell it's wearing a red shirt when you work in a place that can sometimes bear a strange resemblance to classic science fiction.”

“How so?” asked Jack.

“It's an old joke from the original Star Trek series,” explained Ianto who had just walked in with a large carrier bag in his hands. “You remember, Jack – the 'red shirts' were always the ones who tended to end up dead the quickest.”

“Oh, I see,” said Jack, nodding. “I remember the original series when it was brand new – I think the problem was that I was too busy watching the eye candy to really focus on the plot – or on the colour of the shirts.”

Ianto shook his head. “You're hopeless,” he said, and then passed the carrier bag to Nick. “This is for you, by the way.”

“What is it?”

“Just open it.”

Curious, Nick opened the bag and his eyes widened behind his glasses as he pulled out a stunning forest green wool coat. It was made in a similar style to Jack's RAF greatcoat, only slightly shorter. It had silver buttons down the front, each with a small dragon design engraved on it, and matching buttons on the cuffs. Two large and elaborate dragons were embroidered in shimmering thread on each lapel, their heads facing upwards towards the neck and their wings spread majestically as they each stood on top of a jagged rock.

To someone else, it might have looked like something that should only be worn in a play or a pantomime. To Nick, however, it was one of the most beautiful things he had seen in a long time.

“It's beautiful, Ianto,” he breathed, gently stroking the head of one of the dragons. “Where did you get it?”

“I didn't get it anywhere,” said Ianto with a small smile. “Your dad made it.”

Nick blinked. “What?”

Ianto nodded. “He just sat up night after night in the shop. Even with his arthritis, he was determined to finish it. He used one of Michael Whelan's drawings as the inspiration for the dragons, as you can probably tell.”

“Yeah,” said Nick. “It looks like the cover illustration of Sunrunner's Fire.”

“It is,” said Ianto. “That was the cover he used for the pattern. He drew it out so many times before he was satisfied with it – only the best for you, he said.” He smiled and touched his cousin's shoulder. “It was amazing, Nick. Somehow, when he was working, he found some strength inside him – it was like he was living again. He was so determined to finish it – said he wanted it to be ready for when you came back.”

Nick gasped slightly. “He really did believe I'd come home.”

“He never stopped.” This time, it was Jack who spoke and he laid a gentle hand on Nick's arm. “He believed in you right to the end. He loved you so much, Nick.”

“And he still does,” said Ianto. “Love is something that never leaves us, even when someone dies.”

“Wiser words were never spoken,” said Nick with a grin as he put the coat on, exhaling deeply as he felt it sit comfortably on his shoulders. “How do I look?”

Jack wolf-whistled. “Sexy. Very sexy indeed, Dr. Jones.”

“Amazing,” said Ianto. “Although, I do get the feeling that you're going to become just as attached to it as Jack and John are to theirs – maybe more so.”

“It's an ex-Time Agent thing,” teased Nick as he tapped his cousin on the nose. “You wouldn't understand.”

“Cheeky,” retorted Ianto as Jack roared with laughter. “Now, get on with you or you're going to be late.”

“Cripes, yes!” Nick quickly grabbed his scarf and gloves, throwing them on as he raced out of Jack's office amid an explosion of laughter.

Jack chuckled and draped one arm around Ianto's shoulders. “And there goes Hurricane Nick.”

~*~

“Hey,” said Nick as he ascended onto the Plass where John was waiting. “You been waiting long?”

“Not very long,” said John, leaning over to give Nick a kiss. “Anyway, come on – we've got a busy night ahead of us.”

“Where are we going?” asked Nick, rushing to keep up with John. “And where did you get that car?!” he gasped, skidding to a halt as he saw the shining silver Jaguar parked on the road.

“Jack got it,” explained John. “Apparently, something happened to Ianto's Porsche while we were gone, so he took my other car – you remember the blue Jag?” Nick nodded. “So, in return, he splashed out and bought this baby.” He opened the door and revved up the engine. “And it drives like an absolute dream.”

Nick grinned. “And do I see leather upholstery there?”

“But of course.” John waggled his eyebrows. “And I for one can't wait to christen it – later on!”

“Why, where are we going?”

“Oh, you'll see.” John leaned over and kissed him on the nose. “You'll see.”

~*~

“Oh, John!” cried Nick, his eyes lighting up as he took in the familiar façade of the Cardamom Restaurant.

“You remember?” asked John with an amused grin on his face.

“Remember?” Nick lightly hit John's arm. “How could I have forgotten our first date? That curry nearly had me breathing fire!”

“Oh, yes, you were like my own little dragon, weren't you?” teased John, pulling a chair out for Nick before sitting down beside him and rubbing his thigh. “Although, tonight, I have a plan in mind that won't work very well if I burn my stomach lining.”

“And are you going to tell me what it is?”

“Nope. You're going to have to wait and see.” John waved the waiter over. “Monkfish and okra curry and boiled rice to share, please!” He sat back and cocked an eyebrow as Nick gave him an amused look. “What?”

“Nothing.” Nick turned and looked at him, but when John raised his eyebrow at him, he chuckled. “Just that for ages, it felt like I was stood frozen at the bottom of a mountain with an avalanche rushing straight towards me and I was powerless to stop it.”

“I can imagine,” agreed John. “But then, the snow receded.”

“Yes, it did. And I'm so glad that things are getting back to normal again.”

John smiled and rested his hand on the table, linking it with Nick's. “So am I.”

~*~

Two hours later...

“You're taking me for drinks in a gay bar?” said Nick, looking extremely surprised.

“Yeah, you know – like the song.” John started clicking his fingers and dancing from foot to foot as he started singing comically. “'I wanna take you to a gay bar, gay bar, gay bar!” He struck a pose in front of Nick and several of the customers applauded him.

Nick burst out laughing. “Yes, I know the song, John. And I guess it was only a matter of time before we came to one of these places. In fact, before we left, I wondered why we hadn't already done it. I mean, let's face it,” and this time, he started singing, “You're a superstar – at the gay bar!”

“Why thank you,” said John smirking. “I rather think so too.” He slapped Nick's backside and dragged him over to the bar. “So, gorgeous, what's your poison? Frankly, I fancy a bit of Sex on the Beach.”

Ten minutes later, Nick was sat in a booth with a cocktail consisting of cranberry, grapefruit and peach juice with a cherry on top (or, as it was called, to John's intense amusement, 'Virgins on the Beach') while his partner went to talk to the man who was running the karaoke machine at the front of the bar.

Suddenly, the lights on the stage went down, except for one bright white spotlight that came on when the karaoke announcer stepped up.

“Good evening, everyone!” he greeted them. “And welcome to our weekly karaoke night! Firstly, we have a very dashing young man who wants to sing a certain song for someone very special in this audience. So, let's all give it up for...Captain John Hart!”

As the audience clapped and cheered, Nick watched John stepping out onto the stage amidst a multitude of coloured lights and rested one hand on his hip, grinning broadly. He was also wearing a black trilby positioned on his head at a rakish angle.

“This is for my lover,” he said in a sultry voice. “The charming and oh-so-sexy...Dr. Jones!” Then, as the music started up, he whipped the trilby off and held it up before casting it into the crowd. As everyone in the crowd laughed and cheered, the former Time Agent stepped into the spotlight and began to sing.

“Sometimes, the feeling is right
You fall in love for the first time
Heartbeat, and kisses so sweet
Summertime love in the moonlight.”

“Oh, no...” groaned Nick as he was abruptly transported back to his university days when several of his friends had gone through a phase of finding it incredibly funny to sing that song to him every time he passed them in a corridor. Even the ring tone on his phone had been set to sing 'Calling Dr. Jones' repeatedly for the better part of a year, until Dan had thoughtfully changed it to something else.

Despite the memory of that embarrassing period of his life, he would have been lying if he hadn't thought that John playing the part of a lovestruck young man was exceptionally funny – and he played the part extremely well, even going as far as to produce a photograph, presumably of Nick, from his pocket which he gazed adoringly at as he continued to sing.

“Now the summer is gone
You had to go back home.
Please come and see me again
I never felt more alone.

Baby, I am missing you!
I want you by my side!
And I hope you'll miss me too!
Come back and stay.
I think about you every day.
I really want you too.
You swept my feet right off the ground, you're the love I found!”

“And here it comes,” Nick muttered to the couple sat at the table next to his. He braced himself as he waited to hear the words that had tormented him since he was a young man – and which a certain former colleague still liked to sing to him on karaoke nights.

Nonetheless, he still found himself humming along to the words, even as he shrank downwards in his seat, very aware that his face was almost as red as his hair.

“Doctor Jones, Jones, calling Doctor Jones
Doctor Jones, Doctor Jones,
Get up now!

Doctor Jones, Jones, calling Doctor Jones
Doctor Jones, Doctor Jones,
Wake up now!”

To Nick's surprise, however, rather than simply feeling embarrassed, he found himself rather amused, not to mention slightly aroused, by John's rendition of the song. He wasn't sure whether this was because it was John singing it or because the barman had slipped a few shots of alcohol into his drink when he hadn't noticed, but he was certainly feeling less inhibited and even allowed himself a chuckle as John leaned against the wall, a dreamy smile on his face and his cheek resting on his hand as he gazed up at the ceiling.

“All I think of is you, and all of the things we had
Doctor, what can I do?
Why does it have to be like that?

Baby, I am missing you!
I want you by my side!
And I hope you'll miss me too!
Come back and stay.
I think about you every day.
I really want you too.
You swept my feet right off the ground, you're the love I found!”

If Nick thought that John looked like the hero from a Harlequin novel, it could not have been more obvious that his partner either disagreed, or just simply didn't care. Having also unfastened his shirt, his free hand was wrapped around a pole that someone had brought onto the stage and he was dancing slowly and erotically around it, the multicoloured disco lights swirling over him and the fake smoke that was now surrounding him, making him look as if he was in one of those futuristic nightclubs he'd told Nick about once where the owners would have so many different colours of the smoke that it was like being inside a rainbow.

“Doctor Jones, Jones, calling Doctor Jones
Doctor Jones, Doctor Jones,
Get up now!

Doctor Jones, Jones, calling Doctor Jones
Doctor Jones, Doctor Jones,
Wake up now!”

Suddenly, John pushed himself up off the wall and strode out to the middle of the stage. “So, folks, I think I've been struck down with a terrible ailment,” he said, mock-pouting. “But will my beautiful Dr. Jones cure me? Or am I going to have to beg him?”

“Beg him!” shouted the crowd. Nick groaned and thumped his head briefly against the table.

“Are you sure?” John was clearly enjoying this. “Very well, if you insist...”

“Oh, my God.” Nick wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry as John dropped to his knees, his hands clasped in the classic begging pose. This reminded him rather too strongly of some of their 'nocturnal activities' back at home, and the thoughts were sending all sorts of extremely graphic images through his head.

“And of course, that's exactly what he wants,” he muttered to himself. “Cocky bastard.” But even so, he couldn't help but smile. It really was good to see that John was healing from the traumatic ordeals he'd suffered.

“Please, please cure me!
Please, please cure me!
Please, please cure me!
Please, please cure me!”

“Oh, baby!” shouted one of the patrons as John suddenly whipped his shirt off, amid wild screams of joy from the men in the crowd (and probably a few women as well). “Whoever this Dr. Jones is, if he's not interested, then I'm all yours!”

Nick buried his face in the tablecloth, hoping to hide the crimson flush of arousal that was spreading over his face and neck. If he wasn't careful, he was going to be revealing way more than he wanted to at this point!

“Doctor Jones, Jones – wake up now!
Doctor Jones, Jones – wake up now!
Doctor Jones, Jones – wake up now!
Doctor Jones, Jones –”

“Wake up now!” This time, the entire crowd in the bar had joined in with John and Nick almost jumped out of his skin as they yelled in his ears. Apparently, a few moments earlier, everyone had decided to gather around his table and wake him up to what was going on. Now, looking up, Nick saw that John was strutting around at the front of the stage wearing nothing but his black leather trousers, a pair of braces and a very cheeky grin.

“Doctor Jones, Jones, calling Doctor Jones
Doctor Jones, Doctor Jones,
Get up now!

Doctor Jones, Jones, calling Doctor Jones
Doctor Jones, Doctor Jones,
Wake up now!”

As the song finished and the crowd erupted into wild applause, Nick watched as John's grin widened and the look in his eyes grew increasingly predatory. Suddenly, two bright spotlights shone over him, drawing everyone's attention to him, even as he looked around in confusion.

“So, Dr. Jones,” drawled John into the microphone, his voice sending shivers down Nick's spine as he lay down and sprawled himself across the front of the stage in a very revealing position, and then looked straight at Nick. “If you wouldn't mind coming up here...I believe myself to be in need of an examination.”

~*~

Jack lay back on the sofa, smiling as Ianto gently pulled his head onto his stomach so he could play with his hair. They were watching the end of a comedy show and Jack loved the feeling of Ianto's chest rumbling slightly as he laughed at the jokes.

“It's nice to have a night in together,” remarked Ianto, absently picking a banana out of the fruit bowl and spinning it in his hand. “Seems like a very long time since we last had one.”

Jack turned his head around so he was watching his partner. “I thought you liked it when I took you out. You said you loved that nice French place I took you to the other week.”

“I do. Just sometimes it's nice for us to have some downtime here, you know?” Ianto leaned down and kissed Jack on the lips. “It gives me lots more opportunity to do that. And this,” he fiddled with the buttons on Jack's trousers. “And this...” he finally added, running his hand underneath Jack's shirt and rubbing at his skin. “And we both know...just how much you like this, don't we?”

“Oh, yeah,” groaned Jack as he writhed under Ianto's ministrations. “Yeah, we do...” He immediately forgot about 'Mock the Week' and instead set about divesting Ianto of his own clothes. Unfortunately, he had barely managed to get him out of his tie when the phone rang.

“I should...” panted Ianto as he tried to get up and answer it, but Jack pinned him down again with another kiss and a slightly garbled command to just let the machine answer it. However, when a very cheerful voice came over the loudspeaker, he couldn't help but sit up and listen.

“Hey, guys!” John's voice was raised over the music in the background. “I've obviously caught you at a bad time, given that you're not answering your phone, so I'll just drop the message in that...Nick said yes!” He laughed joyfully. “We're just heading back to the Hub to spread the joy, but we wanted you and Eye Candy to know first. But anyway, I'll get off the phone and leave you to do whatever it is you're doing – or maybe that should be whoever it is you're doing!” With another laugh, he hung up.

Jack stared at the phone for a moment and then jumped to his feet. “Ha! I knew that Nick could never refuse!” He picked Ianto up and twirled him in his arms before kissing his forehead and cheeks. “Come on, gorgeous – we've got a party to go to!”

***

The End.