And Indeed There Will Be Time
In 1919, Harriet Derbyshire was killed while investigating the disappearance of Torchwood Four in Dublin. In 2009, UNIT pulls a dying man out of the Irish Sea with a one-word message: Torchwood. Martha joins up with Jack's team in Cardiff to track down the errant branch of the organization – before a time-traveling race of aliens can change the course of history as we know it.
Spoilers: Up through "Exit Wounds" and "Journey's End"
Notes: Huge thanks to Amy and Quinn for the thorough, honest, and ridiculously fast betas. Title from T. S. Eliot.
Irish Sea, 2009
Some days, Martha kind of hated her job.
Then there were the days she found herself on a frigate in the Irish Sea in the middle of a bloody thunderstorm, with choppy waves and rain so heavy she could hardly see her hand in front of her face, clutching her med kit to her chest and swallowing back her nausea as she waited for the diver to return with UNIT's bounty, which may or may not have been alien in origin and may or may not have fallen into the waves in a flash of light that may have been a teleport or a rift in time and space or possibly just a bolt of lightning. Days like this, Martha mentally drafted her letter of resignation. And mentally signed it with a flourish. In mauve ink.
There was a shout, barely audible over the rain and crashing waves, and then the diver was hauled back onboard. He carried a dark, limp form in his arms. Human?
"Jones!" her commanding officer yelled, and she staggered forward, trying not to stumble and slip on the slick deck. The wind was dying down somewhat. Maybe. It was hard to tell. She really wasn't meant to be a sailor.
The bounty was indeed human, at least to all outward appearances. It was also male, probably in his late twenties, and more than half drowned, his reddish-blond hair plastered to his forehead. He was breathing, which was a good start, but his heartbeat was weak and irregular, and his skin cold to the touch. She wasn't sure how long it'd been since they saw him fall into the sea; more than five minutes, less than twenty. Too long, still, and God only knew what condition he'd been in when he - appeared? Teleported? - in midair to fall twenty meters down into the waves.
"We need to get him out of the rain," she shouted. "He's alive, but I can't do anything for him here."
Lieutenants Briggs and Denton helped her carry the stranger below deck. His eyes were open now, wide and frantic, and his breath came in short, wheezing gasps. "Hey, hey, you're all right now, you're safe," Martha said gently as she yanked open her med kit. She glanced up at the other soldiers. "Get blankets and dry clothing, now."
Denton jumped to her order; Briggs didn't. Typical.
"Cold," the waterlogged stranger gasped. He was shivering violently. "So...cold."
"I know, sweetheart, I know," Martha murmured, her stomach sinking as she looked him over. It wasn't good. When he coughed, a thin trickle of blood ran down his chin, startlingly vivid against the waxy pallor of his skin.
Briggs cleared his throat awkwardly. "We need to ask him-"
"I know," Martha snapped, not taking her eyes off the stranger. He was wearing a thick wool jacket, heavy with seawater; when she gently pulled the coat open, she bit back a curse. His shirt was as sodden as the rest of him, but the dark stain spreading across it wasn't water. She grabbed a pair of scissors out of her kit and carefully cut the bloody fabric away.
"Jones," Briggs said, more urgently now, "it's vital that we find out-"
"It's vital that you shut your trap and let me keep this man alive, or we won't get any information from him whatsoever."
There was an ugly puncture wound on the man's sternum, still bleeding freely; no corresponding marks on his shirt or coat, though, and how the hell did that make any sense?
"Cold," he stuttered again. His dark blue eyes darted about wildly.
"We're working on that, love," she told him, pressing gauze against the wound. "I'm Martha, I'll take care of you. Can you tell me your name?"
He focused on her face, just for a moment. "Liam...Dempsey." His hands clenched into fists, eyes unfocusing again, and she had to press his shoulders down heavily to keep him from thrashing about. "Oh God!" he gasped. "I have to-" He cut himself off in a fit of coughing, a horrible wheezing sound. Had he punctured a lung somehow?
"It's all right," she said, trying to calm him; but Briggs crouched over them, demanding, "What? What do you have to do?"
Martha layered another bandage over his wound, trying to staunch the renewed flow of blood that accompanied Liam's flailing. "What happened to you?" she asked in quiet horror.
"I'm-" Liam gasped for breath. His gaze snapped to hers again. "Torchwood," he whispered, and died.
The first time Tommy Brockless was defrosted, he panicked, screamed like a child, and bloodied Dr. Quinn's nose.
"Sorry, sir," Tommy said ruefully, after he'd had a chance to reorient himself somewhat. "I don't know what came over me."
Quinn waved him off, apparently amused despite the wadded handkerchief pressed to his face. "A brief period of disorientation is perfectly normal. I'll just be sure to remain well out of range next year."
"Next year," Tommy echoed, marveling at the oddness of it. "It feels like I've just had a good night's kip."
"Yes, well, three hundred and sixty five good nights' kips, to be precise," Gerald remarked, watching them both evenly. "This makes it April the fourteenth, 1919. Charles, are you sure there's been no damage?"
"He's fit as a bleeding fiddle, Gerald, and a good sight saner than he was when you pulled him out of that hospital," Quinn replied. "I fancy we did well by the lad by popping him in the icebox."
Gerald shook his head gravely. "Only time will tell."
Tommy shrugged. He didn't understand the half of what these people were up to, but they'd spared him the war, and that was good enough. Speaking of which - "What's the latest news from the front?"
"The front? Oh, lad, the war's over," Quinn said with relish. "Thank God."
"More or less," Gerald amended, a touch sternly. Tommy bit his lip, swallowing back a whoop of joy. What'd got the man's knickers in such a twist, anyway? He'd not been nearly this dour yesterday - or, rather, last year. Serious, yes, intent upon his mission - but this bordered on outright gloominess.
"What happened?" he asked Quinn instead, wide-eyed and gleeful, as Gerald passed him a set of civilian clothing.
"We won," Quinn said, smiling. "Now, if you want an eyewitness account, we'll have to sit you down with Harkness later today - he has a good tale or two from the front."
"We're not bringing Harkness in here," Gerald interrupted at once. His voice had a harsh edge to it. "Tales are all that man ever has."
He met Quinn's eyes coldly; Quinn flinched, but didn't break. "You can't still begrudge the man over the Irish matter," the doctor said softly. "He was scarcely involved at all, and that three years ago. He had nothing to do with-"
"Precisely," Gerald replied curtly. "And he'll have nothing to do with this case, either. He's unreliable. I don't want him knowing anything about Tommy."
Tommy glanced between them as he dressed himself, curious and confused. But whatever this was about, it hardly mattered to him. The war was over, and Tommy felt that some sort of celebration was surely in order. Perhaps - "Is Miss Derbyshire here?" he asked, craning his neck to look about the place. She'd held his hand when they'd put him to sleep, and spoken kindly to him.
And she had a very pretty face.
Quinn went quite still at Tommy's question, looking away.
"No," Gerald said quietly. "Harriet - Miss Derbyshire is no longer with us."
For a moment, Tommy willfully misunderstood him. "She left Torchwood, then?"
Gerald shook his head, looking away.
"She's gone to God, lad," Quinn said gently. "In service to her King and country."
The first time Tommy Brockless was defrosted, he realized exactly what he was giving up for Torchwood - and it had nothing to do with the time spent asleep.
"I'm going to kill him," Ianto said grimly. "It's only a matter of time."
Jack surveyed the Hub. "It's not that bad," he said, mostly managing to maintain a straight face. "He's just...doing a bit of rewiring."
"A bit," Ianto echoed, raising an eyebrow. "Much like Cardiff is a bit Welsh."
It wasn't as if they'd never seen the Hub in various states of disarray before. There was that time not so long ago when the Earth was dragged into the Medusa Cascade, for example, or the memorable incident in which the pterodactyl ingested Owen's stash of recreational alien narcotics. Really, Jack thought, on the scale of secret headquarter destruction, this fell far short of epic. It was more along the lines of mildly remarkable.
Had Mickey just hooked up the microwave transmitter to the Rift manipulator using a Haribartian neoplasmatic resonator?
"He's getting instant for a month," Ianto said flatly.
Jack grinned. "Now that's just cruel."
"Tell me you didn't approve this little project."
"He mentioned he had a couple of ideas for renovating our tech," Jack said with a shrug. "But I think he caught on pretty quick that it's easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission."
"Not from me it's not," Ianto muttered darkly, wincing as Mickey yanked a handful of wires out of the nearest computer power supply unit. "Does he even know what he's doing?"
"You know," Jack said, "the Doctor used to call him Ricky the Idiot."
Ianto blinked. "His name's not Ricky."
"And he's not an idiot, either, so there you go." Jack clapped Ianto on the shoulder. "Have a little faith. What's the worst that can happen?"
"You really don't want me to speculate that far."
The proximity alarm clanged as the cog door rolled open. "Good morning, boys!" Gwen chirped, stepping out. "How's - oh dear God in heaven, what is going on?"
"We're not entirely sure yet," Jack said, "but I think Ianto's plotting insurrection."
Gwen assessed the damage with wide eyes. Mickey waved at her cheerfully, then went back to deconstructing the mainframe. "Count me in," she said.
"I've already got a drawer in the morgue picked out," Ianto confided. "You distract him with your cleavage, I'll sneak up from behind and strangle him with jumper cables."
Somewhere in the depths of the chaos, a phone started ringing.
"Well," Jack said optimistically, "at least he hasn't disconnected the phone lines."
"Just imagine what a tragedy that would be," Ianto sighed. With a reproachful glance back at Jack, he waded out into the sea of discarded tech to try to find the chirping telephone.
Jack and Gwen stood by the door, mostly because they might step on something important if they ventured further. Knowing Torchwood, there would probably be explosions. Not that Jack minded the occasional explosion overmuch, but Ianto would probably get tetchy about the scorch marks.
"Mickey's not...quite like Tosh, is he," Gwen murmured. It wasn't a question.
"Not quite," Jack said. "Tosh had a rare gift with technology. She...seduced it. Coaxed it. Spoke to it in its own language."
"Whereas Mickey throws it a mad drunken party in the hopes of getting laid."
"Something like that, yeah."
"Jack!" Ianto shouted across the wreckage. "Martha on the phone. Seems UNIT's stumbled across something interesting."
"Seven victims," Martha said, passing copies of the file around the boardroom table. The manila envelopes were embarrassingly thin, containing just a handful of glossy photographs and a two-page report. "Unrelated as far as we can tell, but identical cause of death. There was a small puncture wound found on the chest of each victim, which bled profusely. We suspect lethal injection of some sort, but our labs haven't been able to trace the agent. Some kind of blood thinner, possibly, but that may just be a side effect. These people's internal organs basically shut down, probably over the course of several hours."
"Sounds like a fun way to go," Jack remarked. He thumbed through the photos. "I should try it sometime. Where'd you find the bodies?"
"The first six were in or around London, found already deceased. The seventh was still alive when we fished him out of the Irish Sea, a few kilometers off Holyhead." Martha held up one of the photographs. "Male, white, late twenties. Gave his name as Liam Dempsey - we can't verify if that was his real name or an alias. Irish accent, though I don't know what region."
Gwen glanced up at her. "He spoke to you, then?"
"A little, before he died. Not much." Martha put the file back down, folding her arms across her chest. "I notice none of you asked what he was doing in the middle of the ocean."
"Pleasure cruise, I presume," Ianto muttered.
Mickey sighed, clearly bored out of his skull. "All right, then, what was this Dempsey bloke doing in the Irish Sea? Apart from drowning in it."
"He fell into it," Martha told them. "After materializing in thin air twenty meters above sea level."
That got their attention. It was a sad day when seven fresh corpses dead from mysterious circumstances were only interesting when accompanied by a rift in time and space, Martha reflected. "It can't be our Rift," Jack said. "It doesn't extend that far north."
"There have been fractures recorded up to Aberystwyth, and we know of at least one pressure point in London," Ianto argued. "It's not beyond the realm of possibility."
Mickey shook his head. "Outside chance, mate. I'll run it through your old techie's program if you like, but it's nearly a mathematical impossibility. There're other rifts though, yeah?"
"Not many," Jack said. "And they're scattered throughout the galaxies. Another independent rift on this particular planet, so relatively close to the Cardiff Rift - now that's a mathematical impossibility. There has to be a likelier explanation." He looked back over at Martha. "That's not the only reason you brought this case to our attention, is it?"
"Not quite," Martha said. "Although it was worth checking into. But I'm more interested in what Liam Dempsey said to me just before he died."
Jack raised an eyebrow. "Which was?"
"Torchwood." Martha almost smiled at their reactions. "So, team, any ideas?"
After a long moment, Ianto cleared his throat. "I can look in our databases, see if there's anything on any of the victims, or if we've encountered this sort of thing before."
"Mickey can run a search through the mainframe," Jack said. "You check out the archives, see if there's anything down there that might match the cause of death."
Ianto exchanged a look with Mickey, who nodded. They both got up and moving, taking their copies of the files along.
"UNIT must have compiled more data on the victims than this," Gwen said. "If you give me the rest, I'll see if I can find any connections between them."
"We've already tried that-"
"With all due respect, you lot are soldiers," Gwen said, with an apologetic smile. "Not cops. I was a PC, I know the drill. I might turn up something you've missed."
Martha considered her for a moment, then nodded. She pulled out her Blackberry and tapped out a text. "I'll have my CO e-mail everything over."
"Great," Gwen said, standing. "I'll get started, then. There's bound to be some stuff on the web, at least. Jack?"
Jack waited until Gwen was gone and Martha had tucked her phone back in her jacket pocket. When she didn't give any inclination of speaking further, he leaned back in his chair, regarding her evenly. "Well?" he said. "They'd never have sent you out here just for a single word spoken by a dead man."
Martha took the seat Gwen had just vacated. "Of course not. This has nothing to do with Cardiff, or the Rift. But it made for a good excuse to get away for a while."
"Get away from UNIT?" Jack pressed her. "Or London?"
"Both," she admitted. Privately, she wondered when London had stopped feeling like home. Somewhere between traveling through time and space with the Doctor, walking the Earth for a year that never happened, and hopping all about the UK and then some with UNIT, London had become a mere rest stop. A place to sleep for a few nights or just grab a change of clothing; a city to defend against all-too-frequent invaders that no one else seemed to remember afterwards.
And then there was Tom.
"Boy trouble?" Jack asked, a little too shrewdly, startling her. She didn't think he could actually read her mind. He nodded down at her hands. "You keep rubbing your fingers, but I don't see a ring there anymore."
"We haven't split up, not exactly," she said quickly. "It's...complicated. I don't know how to talk to him, these days."
Jack raised an eyebrow. "Time was, you were never at a loss for words. I seem to remember a certain legend of a wandering storyteller who roamed the Earth..."
"But Tom has no memory of that year," Martha said quietly. "If he doesn't remember that I once saved the world, how am I supposed to tell him that I nearly destroyed it?"
Jack's face hardened. "That was UNIT, not you. Not Martha Jones."
"But that's just the thing, Jack, I am UNIT now." She sighed. "And they're...I don't know. I think, sometimes, they just don't understand."
"Oh, well." Martha exhaled in a sharp huff. "Life after the TARDIS, nearly blowing up the planet, the usual traumas. You know. How's Mickey settling in?"
"He's managing. We all do, you know, one way or another. Though it takes some of us a little longer than others," he added, with a self-deprecating grimace.
Martha dragged up a smile from somewhere. It was adequate, she supposed. "Yeah, I guess." She hesitated a moment, then took a deep breath and went on. "I just don't know if I can-"
There was a discreet cough from the doorway, and they both looked over to see Ianto there, file in hand. "Ianto," Jack said, quirking an eyebrow. "That was quick."
Ianto shook his head. "Didn't even make it down to the archives. I noticed something odd in the report - in the transcript of the conversation Martha had with Dempsey." He placed the page on the table between them, pointing to the relevant section.
JONES: Can you tell me your name?
SUBJECT: Liam Dempsey. I have to.
JONES: It's all right.
BRIGGS: What? What do you have to do?
SUBJECT: No time.
JONES: What happened to you?
SUBJECT: I'm. Torchwood.
Jack glanced back up, giving Martha a wry smile. "He really didn't give you much to go on, did he? Just his name."
"Yeah." She remembered the cold rain trickling down into her collar, the harsh rattle of breath leaving Liam's lungs, Briggs's insistent questions ringing in her ears. Feeling for a heartbeat that wasn't there. And what had he accomplished with his death, in the end?
Ianto cleared his throat. "Actually, he gave you more than you think. Ignore the punctuation, it's rather arbitrary." He tapped the last line of the transcript. "He wasn't just randomly mentioning Torchwood. He told you he was Torchwood."
After a moment's consideration, Jack shook his head. "Not us, and not Glasgow. And there was no Liam Dempsey listed among the London survivors, not that I can recall. Although you'd know that better than I would, Ianto."
"Not London, no," Ianto said. "But I had a thought. Martha, you said he was Irish."
"Sounded like it, yeah," Martha agreed, bemused. "Why does it matter?"
Jack started and looked over at Ianto, who nodded. "That's not possible," Jack said flatly.
"I was an archivist in London," Ianto said. "I remember those records. Bit of an unsolved mystery, wasn't it?"
"What?" Martha asked plaintively.
"Torchwood Four," Jack breathed.
Ianto gave him a small smile. "Torchwood Dublin," he explained for Martha's benefit. "Which vanished without a trace ninety years ago."
"What in the blazes do you want?"
"There's two gentlemen to see you, sir," Constable Martin said, a trifle timidly. Well, he was a fresh recruit, straight off the boat from London's East End, Sergeant Watkins reflected; he'd soon learn to bark right back when hollered at. But it was fun to terrorize them when they were still this wet behind the ears.
Watkins gave him a good glare. "And you just let them stroll into the barracks without identification, did you?"
The lad visibly wilted. "They...no, sir, they didn't have any identification. But they said they were Torchwood, and the constable on duty said I should bring them to you."
"Torchwood?" Watkins swore fluently, making Martin flush. "They'll be here for the croaker, then. All right, son, show them in."
Upon further reflection, Watkins stood and headed for the door himself; after all, these Torchwood dandies wouldn't find their corpse in his office. Besides, Martin became entertainingly flustered at the breach in protocol.
"So you lads are Torchwood, eh?" Watkins bellowed, looking them over. Both were of an age with Watkins, and thoroughly average-looking in every way - the sort of men you'd pass on the street and forget instantly. Useful in their profession, Watkins supposed - though what exactly Torchwood's profession was had never been made entirely clear to him.
One of the men, slightly older than the other, wore an air of authority like his drab overcoat - lightly, but well. He gave Watkins a curt nod. "We are. My name is Gerald. We received your wire."
"And hotfooted it over here, I see," Watkins said. "Well, no point in wasting any more of your time. She's down in the cellar."
He led the way, the two men from Torchwood following, while Martin scuttled back to his post. "You're lucky it's been a chilly spring," he called back over his shoulder as he headed down the cellar stairs. "I don't much care to keep a bloody funeral parlor in here, I'll have you know. Still, it's only been a few days..."
The body was laid out on a camp bed along the cellar wall, covered with a dark blanket. Gerald stiffened at the sight of it; he closed his eyes for a moment, visibly bracing himself. The other man laid a hand on Gerald's shoulder. "You don't need to-"
"Yes, Douglas, I do," Gerald retorted. "I'm the one who sent her here. It's my duty."
Watkins stood back, watching impassively. If this Torchwood was foolish enough to send a lady into a war zone, well, that was their lookout, wasn't it? But then, few of his compatriots back home in England seemed to realize how bad the situation here was becoming. They'd catch on soon enough - though it might well take more bodies like this one to open their eyes.
After a moment, Gerald strode over to the cot and pulled the blanket back. Perhaps it was unfair that she should look so lovely in death, but Watkins saw no sense in weeping over life's little cruelties, though he did regret he'd not encountered this one alive. She must have been a beautiful woman, though utterly lacking in common sense. Pity.
"She's the lady you were looking for, then?" he finally asked.
"Yes," the one called Douglas said quietly, when Gerald made no move to reply. "That's our Harriet. We'll take care of her from here."
Gerald gently replaced the blanket, then looked over. "How did you know to contact us, if I might ask?"
"I didn't, truth be told," Watkins said with a shrug. "That was the lad that brought her in. Another of yours, I presumed."
Gerald frowned. "I doubt it. What did he look like?"
"About six foot, dark hair, twenties. Unremarkable. When he told me to wire Torchwood Cardiff, I thought he must be one of your men. I didn't even know there was a Torchwood in bloody Cardiff, of all places."
The two men exchanged a look. "Not one of ours," Douglas said. "Maybe one of the London operatives?"
"None of the people sent over with Harriet had that look," Gerald replied. "But the description's vague enough to match a few men. Unless - he might've been using a British accent to throw us off."
"Not one of Dublin's, surely?" There was a distinct note of bitterness in Douglas's tone. "They already killed her - why bother notifying us?"
Gerald's mouth was pressed into a thin line. "Sends a message, doesn't it?"
Before Watkins had the opportunity to ask them what the devil they were talking about, Martin clattered down the cellar stairs. "Sorry, sirs," he gasped out. "Urgent telegram for...er, for Torchwood."
He held it out, and Gerald took it out of the boy's hands, bemused. He had no sooner glanced down at the message than his face blanched - with anger, Watkins thought, not fear.
"What is it, Gerald?" Douglas demanded.
"London's shutting down the investigation," Gerald said shortly. "Thoroughly, it seems."
Douglas took his meaning at once. "We have precious little time, then. Sergeant, might we beg a favor of your men?"
As it turned out, they needed help moving the body, as swiftly and secretly as possible. Watkins didn't follow the details, but it sounded as though there was a bit of animosity between branches of the organization, and these men feared that Torchwood London would claim the girl's remains for some unknown purpose. Fortunately for them, it was a relatively quiet afternoon for the constabulary - no irate Dubliners taking potshots at Watkins's men today, for once - so he was able to provide assistance. How they intended to smuggle the corpse off the island, he neither knew nor asked.
Once the two men from Cardiff had departed the barracks, the unfortunate Harriet with them, Watkins straightened up the cellar. No sense giving anyone a chance to notice a body had been stored here, after all. It had been a bad few months, and Watkins wasn't feeling particularly well inclined toward the government in London just now.
On the floor, he spotted a slip of paper, and picked it up. It was Gerald's telegram.
24 MAR 1919
INVESTIGATION OF TW4 CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE. LONDON TO INITIATE CLEANUP. BRING HD HOME ASAP BEFORE THEY GET THERE FIRST. SO SORRY.
It took Gwen a solid five minutes to realize three things. First, her bedroom was dark because it wasn't yet dawn. Second, this was no nightmare - she really was awake at three in the morning. And third, the reason for her appalling state of consciousness was her mobile, which was still ringing despite all her best efforts to ignore it. That could mean only one thing.
Blearily, she grabbed at the mobile and flipped it open. "I hate you so much," she mumbled, her face still pressed against her pillow.
"Yeah, sorry, you'll get over it," Mickey said. "Major Rift spike in your area."
"I don't care."
"About half a block from your flat, actually."
"I don't care."
"Right, so when some seriously pissed off monster from another world starts rampaging through your building-"
"Oh, so you've met my husband, then."
There was a chuckle over the line. Rhys, vaguely aware that someone somewhere was insulting him, reached out sleepily to swat her backside. He mostly missed and retreated back into slumber, muttering to himself.
Gwen sighed and forced herself to sit up. "What sort of monster is it this time?"
"How should I know?" Mickey sounded rather put-upon. "It's not like the Rift monitor tells me anything useful. Just, look, major energy spike, right on Gwen's street, and I figured you'd prefer fair warning before Jack breaks down your door chasing some alien wildebeest or whatever."
She reminded herself that it was three in the morning for Mickey, too, and dragged herself out of bed. It felt like peeling a bandage off a wound. "I'm surprised the monitors can tell you anything right now, the state you've got them in."
Mickey huffed. "They're fine. I'm just getting this place sorted is all."
Gwen managed to locate and pull on jeans and a jumper in the darkness, then stumbled into her trainers. "All right," she muttered, grabbing a torch out of sheer instinct and maneuvering out the front door of her flat by sense memory alone, "so tell me where this bloody spike is so I can sort it and go back to sleep."
There was an alley partway down the street; Mickey directed her there. At first, she couldn't see anything out of the ordinary.
Then she nearly tripped over it.
"Oh, God," she said. "It's not an alien, Mickey. It's a body."
By torchlight, the face of the corpse took on an eerie blue-grey sheen. It was a young woman, possibly even a teenager, dressed for clubbing. Her top was stained with blood, and visible above the low-cut collar was a dark smudge of dried blood on her skin. When Gwen looked closer, she could just make out the source of the bleeding: a puncture wound on her sternum.
Brakes screeched on the road, and moments later Jack was hurtling down the alley. "Gwen," he said. "So Mickey did get a hold of you. What was it?" There was a sharp intake of breath; he must have seen the body.
"She's been killed," Gwen said, a little shakily. "Jack, it's the same cause of death. Just like in the photographs Martha showed us yesterday."
"But this isn't London," Mickey said; Gwen had almost forgotten she was still holding her mobile. "Or the Irish Sea, for that matter."
"Nope," Jack replied grimly; Mickey must have spoken over his comm as well. "Looks like this case is going to be our problem after all." He looked over at Gwen. "Go home and get some sleep - you'll need it. You and Martha are heading down to London first thing in the morning."
After three solid days down in the archives, Ianto was beginning to think sunlight was a cruel myth perpetrated upon a subterranean populace. Not that he hadn't gone for longer stretches without leaving the Hub - there was that time Owen's little science experiment had triggered some arcane defense network and trapped them in lockdown for a week until the chemicals had been neutralized and Toshiko convinced the mainframe to release them. And that had been during the months that Jack was missing, so double negative for Ianto's mental wellbeing there. At least this time, in between uncounted hours spent dredging through the deepest and most disorganized sublevels of the Torchwood archives, Ianto always could rely upon Jack for the occasional pick-me-up.
Still, after his latest misadventure with Item #461206 (a foul-smelling alien goo that had apparently corroded its storage unit sometime in the 1970s, given the damage to the surrounding files), Ianto was perhaps more than usually terse when Jack called him over the comm.
"Twenty minutes, Ianto, that's all I'm asking," Jack said. "If there's anything helpful down there, it's been waiting to be found for a very long time. It can hold for twenty more minutes."
Shoving the goo-stained files back into their drawer with somewhat more force than was strictly necessary, Ianto turned and made his way back up through the labyrinthine sublevels. It took him a good five minutes to emerge into the main atrium of the Hub. Jack was waiting at the lift; apart from him and the technical debris still littering the floor, the place was empty.
"What?" Ianto demanded, folding his arms.
Jack appeared far too amused by Ianto's disgruntled demeanor. "You look like a man in need of fresh air and daylight."
"You look like a man in need of a swift punch to the jaw," Ianto retorted. "Was there anything else, or can I go back to work now?"
"Fresh air," Jack repeated. "Daylight. Are you coming willingly or will I have to forcibly remove you from the Hub?"
Jack sighed. "It's called lunchtime, Ianto. I realize this is a difficult concept, but some people actually like to leave their place of work for a few minutes in the middle of the day, often to consume food and drink."
Ianto lifted an eyebrow. "You're certainly one to talk about leaving the workplace. I'm not the person who actually lives here."
"You might as well. Do you remember what your flat looks like? Because I don't, and I'm pretty sure I was with you the last time you saw your own bed."
"Point," Ianto conceded. He looked at the lift with some longing. Fresh air. Daylight.
"Gwen's still in London with Martha and Mickey's off shopping for new routers or something," Jack said, extending a hand. "You can take twenty minutes for lunch, Ianto. I promise I won't tell anyone."
"All right, fine." Ianto stepped up onto the lift beside Jack and tried not to lean into his touch.
As the lift ascended, Jack tilted his head in. "You know, I'm pretty sure you weren't always this much of a workaholic," he murmured, breath warm in Ianto's ear.
Ianto shifted his weight uncomfortably. "There's a lot that needs doing, and fewer people to do it."
"We've got Mickey now. And Martha."
"Mickey's still too new. He causes as many problems as he solves right now. And Martha's just temporary, and this case she brought us doesn't exactly reduce anyone's workload." Ianto shrugged. "I'm fine. We're making do."
Jack ran his hand lightly down Ianto's arm and didn't reply.
When they stepped out onto the pavement, Ianto took a few deep breaths, trying to loosen some of the tension in his shoulders. Of course, early spring in Wales meant that the fresh air was accompanied not so much by sunlight as freezing drizzle, but it was the principle of the thing that counted.
As they started crossing the Plass, Ianto shot a sidelong glance at Jack. "You know, it's odd. All the time I've spent in the archives - and I don't mean just the past few days - I have never once come across a single mention of Torchwood Four."
Jack shrugged. "It's never been our job to police the other branches. I doubt there's much about the Glasgow office in there, either."
"Not much, no, but the occasional referral or cross-reference, yes. And we never opened an entire investigation on Torchwood Two."
"That was London's investigation, not ours," Jack said sharply.
"Which is why I know anything about it at all," Ianto shot back. "But they didn't lose a field agent in Ireland. Cardiff did."
"Believe me, I remember." Jack stopped walking and turned to face Ianto, hands on his hips. "Listen, the investigation of Four was a massive clusterfuck from start to finish, and there's nothing in our archives because no one ever found anything worth noting. Harriet Derbyshire might have, but she was killed before she could file any reports."
Ianto stuffed his hands in his pockets, hunching his shoulders a little against the stiff breeze. "You don't think this case is connected to Torchwood Four's disappearance, do you."
Jack sighed. "I'm not ruling it out entirely. But no, I don't think it's likely. That case was closed for a reason; I'd rather not reopen it just because UNIT pulls some Irishman out of the sea. Hell, I doubt Torchwood Dublin even exists anymore. They've been missing for a very long time."
That sort of blithe confidence rarely boded well, in Ianto's experience. Jack was on the defensive, and Ianto didn't know why. He really didn't like not knowing things - Jack's past had already come back to haunt them more often than he'd care to think about. What was Jack trying to protect them from this time? Just another Flat Holm? Or another John Hart?
For now, though, he let the issue drop. "Like you said, it was always a bit of a stretch."
"Don't worry," Jack said, probably thinking he sounded reassuring. "If there's any connection, we'll find it. In the meantime, lunch?" Jack stepped well into Ianto's personal space, smiling in a way that made Ianto completely forget the cold rain trickling down the back of his neck. "Or, you know, if you're not hungry..."
Ianto reached up to brush his knuckles against the lapel of Jack's coat, rubbing the rough wool with his thumb. "Did you have anything in particular in mind?"
"Oh, I don't know." Jack caught his wrist, warm fingertips making Ianto's pulse jump. "Surprise me."
After the London trip, it still took Gwen a few days of research and phone calls before she thought she'd found a lead worth pursuing. Even then, she was cautious - she'd rushed to confront Jack without solid evidence more than once before, and she wouldn't go to him now until she was sure.
"Mickey," she said casually, pulling up a chair next to his workstation. "Can you look something up for me?"
He glanced over. "I'm gonna assume this is more than just a Google search. Mainframe?"
"Possibly. Do we have anything on Monthu Industries?"
Mickey started typing. "I'll run it through a few different searches. Our databases and the internet - but you probably already tried looking it up online, right?"
"Yeah, but all I found was - that, there."
In one window, a very plain website popped up. Drab brown text presented the name of the company and its logo, which looked like some sort of bird. A falcon, maybe. Underneath were a phone number and a general e-mail address. "Well, that's descriptive," Mickey remarked.
"I tried the number, but it just directed me to a password-protected voicemail," Gwen said. "I couldn't find anything else online, not even a passing reference."
Mickey cracked his knuckles. "We'll see about that."
Forty minutes later, he'd hacked into the Ministry of Defense database and found her an answer.
"Monthu Industries," he said, tapping his screen. "Private defense contractor. Very private."
Gwen pushed her chair back. "Okay, print out everything you can find on them and meet me in the boardroom in an hour. I think it's time to bring this case to the team."
It took more like ninety minutes, but eventually, they all gathered in the conference room. Martha was still wearing a lab coat, and she sank gratefully into her chair, rubbing her eyes. Ianto fidgeted, uncharacteristically restless. Jack leaned against the wall in the back of the room, arms crossed, tacitly yielding the floor to Gwen and Mickey.
"There is a connection between the victims, after all," Gwen said. "A firm in north London called Monthu Industries."
"They handle defense contracts for the British government," Mickey explained. "Weapons research, looks like. They build the really big guns. Or, well, actually the very, very small ones. Nanotechnology as applied to advanced weaponry - grenades the size of a fingernail, that sort of thing. Creepy stuff."
Martha rubbed the back of her neck. "Any biological weapons? If they developed the toxin that killed these people..."
Gwen exchanged glances with Mickey, who shook his head. "Not that we know of, no," he said. "But we've barely uncovered the tip of the iceberg with these guys. It's possible."
"What's the connection to the victims, then?" Ianto asked.
"Tenuous at best," Gwen admitted. "But it's the one common thread. All of the victims were somehow related to Monthu Industries employees. Teresa Hyatt, the girl we found outside my flat - her uncle works for Monthu. The first victim's sister-in-law is a scientist there. And so on. It's a very small company, as far as we can tell, maybe twenty, twenty-five total employees. This is well beyond the range of coincidence."
Jack tilted his head, considering. "What's your theory, Gwen? I'm sure you have one."
"I think the victims were killed as leverage," she replied quietly. "None of them are close relations - a niece, an in-law, a good friend of a spouse, a neighbor. And so on. This is a threat. It tells these people that their loved ones can be gotten to. That if they don't comply with - well, whatever it is - their spouses, their children might be next."
"Or it's a test run of a new bioweapon," Jack said flatly. "This is purely speculative."
Gwen clenched her fists, took a deep breath. "I know. But it's the only lead I could find. And this Monthu Industries - I don't know, I've got a really bad vibe here. Don't you think it's worth investigating, at least?"
"Yes," Jack said, surprising her. "I do. Looks like we're going on another field trip to London, kids. Martha, it's still technically your case-"
"Gwen can take the lead on this one," Martha replied absently, thumbing through her files. "She did most of the research."
Gwen gave her a smile, but Martha didn't seem to notice. "Right, then," Jack said. "Mickey, did you turn up a central office of some sort for Monthu Industries?"
"Yeah. Something like that." Mickey passed him the address. "Do I get to come with this time?"
"May as well," Gwen said. "So Ianto will hold down the fort here, provide us with general support-"
"No," Jack cut in, before Ianto had a chance to respond. "Mickey's the tech expert. He'll be more help to us from the Hub, if anything goes wrong."
Gwen shot him a Look. Mickey was clever enough, sure, but she didn't trust him to run the place on his own yet. For a few hours, maybe, but if this investigation kept them out of town for more than half a day-
"I'll stay with Mickey," Ianto said, sounding resigned to his fate.
Jack shook his head. "You'll come with us." He met Gwen's eyes evenly, daring her to challenge him. "Mickey will be fine on his own."
"Mickey is standing right here," Mickey pointed out.
Jack grinned and clapped him on the shoulder. "We'll bring the car back by ten, Dad, I promise."
"If you're sure..." Gwen hedged.
"I am. Let's get a move on."
The others started moving, but Martha remained in her seat. She looked down at her initial file, tracing one photograph with her fingertips. "How was Liam Dempsey connected to Monthu?"
"Um," Gwen said. "That's the one I don't know. He doesn't fit in. All the others were found relatively near their homes - six in London, and the Cardiff girl. Not in the middle of nowhere. I couldn't find anything on him at all. It's like he never existed until he fell into the sea."
"Right," Martha said, more to herself than them. She glanced up at them. "I think I'll stay behind with Mickey. Now that we've got a place to start, I want to see if I can find anything on Dempsey. If Mickey helps me navigate the mainframe, I might turn up something Gwen missed."
Jack looked her over. "You sure?"
"Yeah." Martha's smile didn't quite meet her eyes. "Besides, your medical facilities are a right mess. I've been meaning to sort that out, if you ever intend to hire a new medic."
"Fine," Jack said, shrugging. "Your call. Ianto, get the jeep ready to go, will you?"
They all filed out of the boardroom and then split up, Mickey leading Martha to his workstation, Ianto to the SUV. After a moment, Gwen caught Jack's arm, holding him back. "Why wouldn't you let Mickey come with us?" she asked in a low tone. "He just wants to be part of the team."
"And he is." Jack ran his hand through his hair, sighing. "When I took over here, I had to start from scratch. It was just me and Suzie for a while, and when I brought Toshiko in, there really wasn't the option for one person to stay behind. We all had to do a bit of everything. And we started to forget, really, that your techie is the person you need to stay behind. When the shit hits the fan, you want someone secure in your base working to get you out of trouble."
"Ianto's a fair hand at that," Gwen pointed out.
"Yes, he is, but it shouldn't be his job. He used to stay behind because I didn't trust him in the field like I trusted Tosh. That's not the case anymore."
"So now Mickey's the one you don't trust."
"Mickey spent the last few years in a parallel universe hunting down Cybermen," Jack said. "Great man to have beside you in open battle, but that's a very particular skill set. He's not a field agent. Ianto is. Besides, I am not shoving Ianto back down to 'General Support.' He had to pick up most of the slack when we lost Owen and Toshiko, and it would be ridiculous to demote him back to playing butler now."
"Then we're going to need a new General Support," Gwen said gently. "Seriously, Jack, if you want to promote Ianto, that's fine, but someone still needs to do the filing and clean up after us and, yeah, even stay behind with the techie sometimes." She sighed, looking around at the mess that Mickey had made and Ianto hadn't had the time to clear up. "And sooner rather than later would be nice."
Dusk had fallen by the time Constable Martin made his way back to the barracks. "They've gone, sir," he reported dutifully. "I waited at the docks until the ferry was out of sight to be sure."
Sergeant Watkins harrumphed, not looking up from the paperwork on his desk. "Very good. That's the last we'll be seeing of them, I'd imagine."
"If that's all, you're dismissed for the evening."
"Thank you, sir."
Martin turned to go, but was halted at the doorway by the Sergeant's voice. "Oh, and Constable?"
He glanced back over his shoulder. "Sir?"
"If I were you, I'd forget anything you saw or heard today." The Sergeant's intent stare belied his casual tone. "I'd eliminate the word Torchwood from my vocabulary. Just a thought."
Martin touched his cap. "I understand, sir."
"Very well. Now get out!"
With a hasty salute, Martin obeyed, hotfooting it out of the office. Once he was sure the old man was no longer watching, he slowed his pace, strolling leisurely out of the barracks and onto the city streets. It was easy enough to fade into the deepening shadows outside. He stuffed his cap in his overcoat pocket and ducked into an alleyway. When he emerged at the other end, he'd shucked off the distinctive dark green overcoat that marked him as a constable, revealing the very ordinary, worn wool jacket underneath. The overcoat was wrapped up in sackcloth and tucked under his arm.
He only passed a handful of other pedestrians as he made his way down to the banks of the Liffey. Once there, a cursory glance around confirmed that there was no one else nearby remarking him. With one rueful glance down at his parcel - it'd been a nice coat, after all - he sighed and threw it into the river. The boots he'd keep; they were a bit posh, but not obviously part of the constabulary uniform, and good boots were hard to come by.
Twenty minutes later, he was in their usual booth in the back of the old pub, pint in hand. It didn't take long for them to show up.
"It's done," Oisín Martin said with a crooked grin. Good lord, it felt nice to be dropping that dreadful Cockney accent at last. After three months with the Dublin Metropolitan Police, he'd worried it might stick. "And I'm out last week's wages, since I suppose I'll not be in on Friday to retrieve them, so you owe me the next round, Liam."
"Well and good." Liam didn't smile - Liam never bloody smiled, dour bastard - but his tone was friendly, almost affectionate. "They took care of the body?"
"Aye, your men from Cardiff came and fetched him, like he wanted." He nodded at Liam's associate - Oisín never had heard the fellow's name. But neither had Sergeant Watkins, fortunately. "And I've news. Torchwood One's apparently called off the investigation. They're cleaning it up, lads. We're finally free of them."
He'd expected a bit of rejoicing at that, but Liam appeared unmoved, and the other one didn't react much at all, though the corners of his mouth twitched in what might have been a grimace. It was hard to tell, his face was that impassive. Oisín rolled his eyes. See if he'd do the man any more favors.
"It's good to have London off our backs," Liam acknowledged. "But we've more pressing problems at the moment."
"We're running out of time." This was the other man speaking for the first time. He kept his voice low - good thing, too. They'd have a spot of trouble for sure if any of the other patrons here noticed his accent. Oisín wondered if he ought to warn him about that, then decided against; he'd lasted this long without being caught out, and anyway, Liam knew how to discourage the wrong sort of attention. "Once the British Army gets involved, the situation will be out of your control."
Oisín glanced between them thoughtfully. He'd been missing out on a lot, apparently, while playing the constable. "The Limeys have already settled in, in case you hadn't noticed."
"Trust me," the Brit said with a grim smile. "You really have no idea."
"We'll explain later, but not here," Liam interrupted, before Oisín had a chance to respond to that. He glanced around, frowning. "Come along, lads. Let's head back to Torchwood."
Mickey didn't particularly like the Hub. Not that he'd ever say as much to any of the others - he supposed he'd get used to it eventually, and anyway, it wasn't his place to whinge about the décor. But there was just something...unsettling about this place. Beneath the tiles and grime, under the veneer of sleek metal and gadgetry, it felt oddly organic. Alive. Kind of like the TARDIS, actually - and Mickey had never felt entirely welcome there, either.
He wasn't fond of being left alone in here. So he concentrated on the work instead.
Mickey was good with computers. Even the Doctor had acknowledged that much. Heck, he was a goddamn computer ninja. So what the bleeding hell was the problem with this fucking motherboard? If he didn't know better, he'd think the blasted thing just plain disliked him.
Engrossed in his ongoing battle with the mainframe, he nearly jumped out of his skin at the touch of a hand on his shoulder.
"Oh," he said, as nonchalantly as he could manage. "Hey. Martha."
Martha Jones, now there was a piece of work. Not half gorgeous, either. Too bad she'd made it clear to him from the first that yes, she was already taken, and even if she weren't, she was not playing sloppy seconds to Rose Tyler again.
"Hey," she replied. "Any luck?"
"Sure, yeah, it's going great," Mickey lied, manfully restraining himself from chucking the keyboard into the pool. "Nothing turned up on your boy Dempsey yet, though."
She leaned over his shoulder, peering at the three monitors. "Did you try linking the name to Torchwood Four?"
"What, Ianto's pet theory?" Ianto had mentioned it a time or two in team meetings, but Jack had shot him down pretty quickly. "I didn't get the impression we were supposed to take that too seriously."
"I'm clutching at straws, here, Mickey. It's worth a shot."
Mickey sighed and maximized a window on the central monitor. "I could only find two files relating to Four, and we're lucky to have that much. Someone back in the mid-80s got a bit slaphappy with some alien tech and scanned a bunch of the really old documents into the main database. Which, hey, good on them, because the originals have since been lost - there's a whole huge section in the archives that got exploded in some accident ten or so years ago."
"So, the files?"
"Right. There's one copy of Four's original charter, dated 1904. The branch was established after some spaceship crashed up in County Meath. Looks like it was only ever meant to be a sort of administrative outpost, though. Then we've got nothing on them until 1919, when Torchwood One sent an investigative team over, and brought representatives from Two and Three along. The report's pretty sparse."
"May I?" Martha asked. Mickey nodded, yielding her the mouse and shifting his chair out of her way. She scrolled down, reading the scanned report. "It says the operative from Cardiff was killed in action."
Mickey reached forward to type out a series of commands. A new window popped up, an old personnel file. "Harriet Derbyshire," he said. The grainy photo showed a young woman, with pale hair and sharp intelligence in her eyes. "Physicist, apparently self-educated. Age twenty-four. There aren't any further details on how she died - looks like Four really didn't want to be found. The investigation was shut down immediately after her death. And that's all she wrote."
He leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms. Martha was still frowning thoughtfully at the screen. "What happened to her body? Was it ever recovered?"
Mickey blinked. "Uh...I don't know."
"No autopsy report?"
"Not in the database, there's not," Mickey shrugged. "But like I said, we don't exactly have complete records from that time. Ianto didn't turn up anything in the archives, and he was down there for days."
Martha toyed absently with her ring, eyes distant. "UNIT procedure calls for a complete autopsy, then cryogenic storage of the remains for a minimum of twenty years. But I don't know Torchwood policy."
"I haven't memorized the handbook, but I'm pretty sure it's changed a lot over the years, and between branches. Back then? Hard to say. London probably confiscated the body; if they held onto it, it would've been lost with Canary Wharf. Jack might remember."
Martha nodded and started to turn away.
"But I guess..." Mickey said slowly, thinking it through. "If Cardiff did recover Derbyshire's body, well, they probably would've placed it in cold storage. In the vault."
They exchanged a long, unblinking look. Then Martha smiled. "Let's pop downstairs and have a look, then, shall we?"
Monthu Industries was housed in dull, squat building off the A40, surrounded by equally unremarkable corporate offices. There was no identifying signage, and Ianto checked the GPS three times before reluctantly conceding they'd found the place.
Jack pulled the SUV into the car park. It stood out like a sore thumb among the handful of smaller, dingier vehicles. Whatever Monthu did, Gwen thought, they certainly didn't seem to pay their employees much.
"Well," Jack said, surveying the place with some distaste. "You've done the research, Gwen. How would you like to proceed?"
She gave him a bright smile. "Here's a crazy thought - let's try the front door."
Somewhat to her surprise, Jack just nodded and stepped aside, letting her take the lead. She tapped her earpiece. "Mickey, we're here."
There was a long pause before Mickey responded, sounding distracted. "Yeah - all right. Ianto, have you got the Snoop?"
Ianto pulled the tiny device out of his pocket, waving it for Jack and Gwen's benefit. "Got it, Mickey. Anywhere in particular I need to place it?"
"The closer to a CCTV or camera inside, the better it'll be able to pick up Monthu's secure frequency. But anywhere inside the building should do - just make sure you stick it somewhere inconspicuous."
"That shouldn't be too difficult," Ianto remarked, looking down at the Snoop. Mickey's latest little invention was dull gray in color, and about the size of a thumbnail. He might not have had Tosh's way with the Hub mainframe, but Mickey was tops with gadgetry, Gwen gave him that much. If this thing worked, Mickey would have access to and control over Monthu's security feed from the Hub.
The front door to the building was locked. Through its small window, Gwen could see a blandly tiled corridor, lit with fluorescents; there was no visible reception area. The keypad next to the door, however, was fairly self-explanatory. "Mickey, looks like we need a code to get in."
"Of course you do," Mickey said flatly. "What's the make on the lock? Should be a manufacturer's imprint on or near the keypad somewhere."
While Gwen looked for it, Ianto and Jack scoped out the building. "Just one story, can't hold much," Ianto said. "Unless they're dug in underground."
"I wouldn't be surprised. Once we're in, we'll see if we can find the basement," Jack instructed. "Assuming we get inside - Mickey?"
"Don't get your knickers in a twist, I'm working on it."
Jack eyed the keypad as though he'd like nothing more than to shoot at it. "Sure could use a sonic screwdriver right now. Or blaster."
"Yeah, well - here we go! Every program has a back door." Mickey rattled off a string of numbers, which Gwen dutifully punched in, followed by a muttered, "Eat your heart out, Doctor."
The lock clicked audibly, and Gwen pulled the door open with a grin. "Come along, boys."
Once inside, it was clear that Monthu Industries could have passed for any of a thousand other anonymous office buildings. The only remarkable thing was the silence - it was the middle of a weekday, but the only sounds in the corridor were their own footsteps and the gentle hum of central heating.
"Well, we found our first security camera," Ianto said quietly, glancing up. Unsurprisingly, it was pointed straight at the door.
"Just walk past like we're supposed to be here," Jack murmured. He flashed a grin for the camera.
They strode purposefully down the hall, Gwen at the lead. "There has to be some kind of centralized reception area," she said. "A copy room, at least."
The corridor veered sharply to the right, at which point it broadened noticeably and revealed a security guard seated behind a desk, a wall of TV monitors at his back.
"Does that work?" Ianto asked dryly.
"Yes, that'll do nicely, thanks," Gwen replied. "Now, boys, I realize this may be difficult for you, but I'm going to go ask for directions."
The guard on duty - the nametag on his uniform read "A. Webster" - was a bored middle-aged man just yearning to be interrupted. When he noticed their approach, he surreptitiously stuffed his magazine under the desk and pretended to fiddle with the CCTV footage. Of course, Gwen thought disparagingly, any security guard worth his salt would have noticed intruders the instant they stepped up to the front door of the bloody building. It was almost too easy.
In his defense, Webster did put up a good front of bluster, demanding identification and whatnot; it was hardly his fault that Jack could out-blag a barrister on a bad day. It took less than two minutes of unsubtle one-upmanship before Jack had the bloke convinced that they were representatives of the Defense Ministry special ops forces with their own passcodes and a scheduled interview with one Mr. Harrow (a name taken from Gwen's files). Informed that Mr. Harrow was out of town on an inspection call, Gwen entered into the fray, and by double-teaming the increasingly outflanked guard, they were soon rewarded with detailed directions to Webster's supervisor's office. Ianto just stood off to the side and observed the proceedings with a bland smile, the image of the model aide; out of the corner of her eye, Gwen saw him casually stick the Snoop alongside the bank of monitors. The tiny gadget looked like a smudge on the wall, maybe a thumbprint.
Webster's directions led them down another long hallway, which then branched to the left. "Hey, Mickey, ever get the feeling you're just going around in circles?" Jack said, tapping his earpiece, his other hand twitching near his holster. Gwen was a little concerned he might start shooting locks off doors just for the hell of it.
"You're good, actually," Mickey said. "Smile for the cameras, kids. The office you want is two doors down on your right."
"My heart leaps with anticipation," Jack said dryly.
The door looked much like any of the others; the little placard beside it read Security & Administration. It opened easily when Gwen tried the handle. Inside, they found what looked like a general administrative area - a large room with some ugly furniture and a water cooler accompanying shelves of office supplies. A few more closed doors presumably led to private offices. One tall set of filing cabinets dominated the back wall; a woman was busy wrestling a small mountain of paperwork into a cabinet, her back to them.
"Hello," Gwen called out. "Could you direct us to Mr. Dobson's office, please?"
Without turning around, the woman snapped, "Do I look like a bloody traffic cop? Direct yourself!"
Gwen exchanged an amused glance with Ianto; beside them, Jack frowned thoughtfully, but she paid him no mind. "Here," she said, hurrying forward to the woman - some sort of secretary, she assumed. "Let me help you with that."
"And who the hell are you?" the woman demanded, ungraciously allowing Gwen an armful of papers. She pushed a wayward strand of reddish hair back off her forehead, glowering. Gwen supposed she'd be having a bit of a sulk if she had to do all the filing, too.
She put on her cheeriest grin and tried not to stagger under the weight of the files. "Gwen Cooper. My goodness, they do like their paper-pushers here, don't they? What's all this about, then?"
The woman snorted. "Highly classified mumbo-jumbo. Don't ask me, I'm just the temp." She eyed Gwen contemplatively, then jerked her head to indicate a low table. "You can dump 'em over there, I'll get them sorted. You were looking for Dobson, you said? He's head of security, the door on your left."
"Ta very much." Gwen dropped the stack of files on the table, glancing them over furtively. Nothing particularly jumped out at her, but maybe after they'd interviewed this Dobson fellow, she might take the temp aside, chat her up a bit. Secretaries and temps, often overlooked by their bosses, generally saw more than anyone else; who knew what this one might have read in a file somewhere or overheard by the copier?
That, of course, was when the woman noticed Jack and Ianto; or, more specifically, Jack. "Well, hello there, gorgeous," she said, favoring him with a wide smile, while Ianto rolled his eyes. "What do you want Dobson for, anyway? I could tell you loads about security. I'm a very secure person myself."
Gwen mentally adjusted the plan; she and Ianto could handle Dobson while Jack chatted up the temp. He'd probably get more out of her, anyway. "Actually, Jack-"
But Jack suddenly looked a little pale, and a little ill. "Maybe some other time," he said hastily. "Come on, Gwen, let's go do the thing." And he turned on his heel and practically marched toward the indicated office door, leaving Gwen and Ianto no choice but to follow in his wake.
"Sorry," Gwen threw back over her shoulder. "It's a really...urgent meeting. I'm sure we'll have plenty of time to chat after. Lovely meeting you, um-?"
"Donna," the woman supplied, seemingly undaunted by the brush-off. "Yeah, I'll be right here!" she called, clearly for Jack's benefit. "Filing!"
Something about the name paired with the face tugged at Gwen's memory, but she shrugged it off. Later.
Never a man to knock first when barging right in would suffice, Jack was already well into Dobson's office by the time Gwen and Ianto caught up with him. Dobson turned out to be a slender, pale-skinned man of indeterminate age and unremarkable coloring, dressed in unprepossessing business attire. He stepped forward around his desk to meet them.
"Mr. Dobson," Jack said, before Dobson had a chance to speak. "I hear you're the go-to guy for security around here."
"Then perhaps I should be seeking new employment, as I certainly don't believe you people have any authorization to be in this building." Dobson had an oddly sibilant way of speaking that grated on Gwen's ears.
Gwen looked over at Jack, who nodded; he moved around behind Dobson's desk, casually glancing it over, while Gwen wandered around the periphery of the office. Ianto quietly took his place by the door, the only entry or exit point. "We do have authorization, actually," Gwen said. "Monthu Industries is currently the subject of a UNIT investigation."
"Is that so." Dobson clasped his hands behind his back, looking thoroughly unimpressed. "I find that rather surprising. They're our most loyal client. Our only client, actually."
Gwen frowned. "I thought you were contracted by the Ministry of Defense."
"A technicality. UNIT contracts with the Ministry, who then submit our services. I'm no litigator, young lady; I just keep the operations within this building running smoothly." He turned back to Jack. "Which is made rather difficult by this little intrusion, I might add. Ask me what you like and then go away."
"We've noticed a disturbing trend developing with your employees," Jack said. "Seems like it's getting a bit hazardous to know a Monthu staffer."
"Lethal, one might say," Ianto remarked.
"So we asked ourselves what sort of product Monthu might be developing," Gwen went on. "And how dangerous it might be. You wouldn't have any ideas, would you, Mr. Dobson?"
"You'd have to speak to one of our scientists for that information," Dobson said coldly. "I handle security, not product development."
"And might I add, you do an excellent job." Jack offhandedly rifled through the papers on the desk. "This company is nothing if not secure. It's funny - if you guys work so closely with UNIT, why don't they seem to know a damn thing about you?"
Dobson pale lips pressed into a thin smile. "I'm sure I couldn't say."
Ianto coughed discreetly. "Not much you can say, is there?" he murmured.
"Listen, I'd be happy to pass your inquiries along to the proper persons," Dobson said; Gwen wasn't a distrustful person by nature, but she deeply suspected the man was lying through his teeth. "But I'm afraid there's really nothing further I can do for your little investigation. Will that be all?"
"Just one last question," Jack said. His eyes narrowed, and something in his stance made Gwen instinctively reach for her weapon. "One pesky little thing I've noticed. You're not human, are you?"
For a moment, no one moved.
Dobson made a low, unearthly sound in the back of his throat, something between a hum and a snarl. He brought up his arm in an odd, almost defensive gesture, bracing himself as though about to spring. Ianto, anticipating that Dobson might bolt for the door, leaped forward to intercept him.
Then Gwen realized that Dobson was pushing up his shirtsleeve, reaching for something at his wrist. Something that looked awfully like-
"Ianto, don't!" Jack shouted. "He's got-"
But it was too late; it happened too quickly for either him or Gwen to react. Just as Ianto grabbed Dobson's arm, the alien pressed a button on his thick leather wristband - which looked exactly like Jack's, exactly like John Hart's - and they both vanished in a flash of blue-white light.
"Ianto!" Jack yelled.
Gwen bolted forward, then stopped herself abruptly, unwilling to step into the space where Ianto and Dobson had just been. "Jack? How-"
Jack strode around the desk, looking positively murderous. "He had a Vortex Manipulator," he said. "A fucking transporter." He tapped out a furious sequence on his own wristband, but nothing happened.
"Where did they go?" Gwen asked, feeling numb. "Can you get them back?"
But Jack wasn't listening. He glowered at his wristband. "How the hell did a goddamn Ygrivian get a hold of one of these? They're Time Agency issue! Ygrivians hate the Agency! How does this make any sense?"
"Ygrivians?" Gwen repeated, lost.
Jack's hands clenched into fists. He made a visible effort to calm down enough to loosen them again. "An alien race. Criminal scum, the lot of them - they were at war with the Time Agency for generations - I had a few run-ins with their scouts a time or two myself. They're leeches, war profiteers - oh, Christ." He paled. "Their bodies can generate this toxin, concentrated through these retractable claws - more like fangs, really - at their fingertips. If we've got Ygrivians in London - that's what killed all those people. Ygrivian poison. I should've known - but, God, how could I have thought to make the connection?" He tapped his earpiece with renewed desperation. "Ianto? Ianto?"
It was a futile gesture, and he clearly knew it. The comm remained silent, the air in the middle of the room still and empty.
Ianto was gone.
When Ianto came to, the first thing that registered was the nausea. He turned to the side and retched, but nothing came up; that set off a coughing fit that lasted a good minute or so. Once he'd caught his breath, he realized the world was no longer spinning around him. Thank God.
Which led to the next problem: this definitely wasn't Monthu Industries.
Or any sort of office.
In fact, he was lying in a ditch alongside road leading up to a bridge, it was very chilly, the ground was wet, and the smell from the tepid river almost made him retch again.
"Would you like some water?"
If he hadn't been lying on the ground, Ianto probably would have jumped out of his skin. As it was, he pulled himself up to a sitting position with more than usual swiftness. The sudden movement made him feel a bit lightheaded, but he gritted his teeth and bore it.
There was a young woman standing over him, wearing a vaguely compassionate expression. Something about her face seemed familiar to Ianto, but his muddled mind couldn't quite place it. She proffered a silver flask in a daintily gloved hand. Her soft russet dress was well-tailored, and Ianto supposed he shouldn't be surprised that it was the cut of a strange woman's clothing that finally brought the truth home.
"I have a very stupid question to ask," he said, with as much dignity as a man in an earth-damp suit sitting in a ditch could possibly muster.
A smile played at the corners of her mouth. "Yes, I imagine you do. If I'm reading this correctly" - she gestured to an awkward-looking device tucked under her arm - "and believe me, sir, I am most certainly reading it correctly - the distinct geothermal radiation spikes that corresponded with your appearance here would indicate that you have just past through an interdimensional gateway of sorts. What was your point of origin, if I may ask?"
Ianto pinched the bridge of his nose, breathing deeply. It took him a few extra seconds for his foggy brain to translate the technobabble, but he managed. "London, England. Planet Earth. Year 2009."
"Well, one out of three isn't too bad," the woman said. "You're still on Earth."
"That's eminently reassuring," Ianto said, doing some quick reevaluations. He couldn't be terribly far off - her accent was as Welsh as his own, and how much of a coincidence was that? "But not London, and certainly not 2009, I gather."
"Not quite." She gave him a sympathetic smile. "Dublin, Ireland. And the date is March 20, 1919. Water?"
"Yes, please." He snatched the flask and was almost disappointed to discover that it was, in fact, water. "I don't suppose you have anything stronger on you?"
"I'm afraid not." She crouched down beside him, heedless of the muck she was probably getting on her skirts. "Do you know how you got here?"
Ianto rubbed his eyes wearily. "It certainly wasn't intentional."
"You appeared with another man - he shoved you aside and ran off when he saw us coming." She looked back over her shoulder, and Ianto saw someone else walking up to them - a man, dressed in rough, workmanlike clothing which he wore rather uncomfortably. Not his usual costume, Ianto thought - there was a distinctly upper-class look to his bearing and expression.
"Couldn't track him," the man said, and his genteel London accent bore out Ianto's guess. "Did you get anything out of this one?"
"Point of origin," the woman snapped. She didn't look particularly pleased. "Unwilling passenger, I think. Next time, Stephen, aim for the man who's running away." She turned back to Ianto. "How did it happen, can you remember?"
"I don't...I'm not sure." Ianto passed his hand across his face, searching his memory. "There was a flash of light, and my stomach - it felt like being on the wrong end of a Tilt-a-Whirl. I had grabbed his arm, but he shook me off - I was so dizzy, I couldn't hold onto him. Something hit my head-"
"Yes," the woman said dryly, looking over at her companion with a scowl. "Something did."
"How was I supposed to know?" Stephen grumbled, crossing his arms in front of his chest.
The woman shook her head, lip curling into a sneer. "Bloody London," she muttered. "Shoot first, ask questions later. All right, sir, let's get you out of the open before anyone else blunders into this mess. What's your name, might I ask?"
There was no particular reason to lie, so he didn't. Although now that his higher brain functions were starting to kick back in, he did wonder how he'd just happened to materialize in front of someone so singularly blasé about time travel. "Ianto Jones," he said, looking her over again, more carefully. "And you?"
"My name is Harriet Derbyshire," she said, holding out a hand. "Come on, now, let's get you up."
Ianto stared up at her proffered hand as the pieces clicked into place. "Oh, fuck," he said with feeling.
Bambera, Abraham: file under B for Brigadier; Winifred Bambera, relation to. Plastosomatic artillery resonator: file under W for Weaponry, origin unknown, obsolete. Donna doesn't even need to think about it anymore. The absurdly obscure filing system at Monthu Industries had stumped her briefly, but she'd gotten the knack of it by the end of her first week and achieved full mastery within another. Now, her mind wandered, as she'd trained it, information flowing constantly past her with minimal retention. Just what the agency had hired her for.
She heard shouting from the office, followed by the door slamming open and then closed again. The American man in the long coat strode out - file under S for Shaggable, utterly.
"What's all the to-do, then?" Donna asked, tilting her head into its best position and making sure to add extra sashay to her hips as she leaned against the desk.
Mr. Bloody Gorgeous turned to face her, and the saucy smile faded from her lips. He seemed to be staring past her, not at her; his eyes held a darkness that turned the blue murky, chilling. She pulled herself away from the desk, taking an involuntary step back. Then his gaze focused on her face, and a wave of recognition swept over her, as though he could see a part of her she hadn't realized existed, had only just noticed was missing.
He didn't seem quite so attractive anymore. Rather frightening, actually.
"Never mind," Donna said quickly, "really, it's none of my business..."
"Maybe it is," the man - what had the woman called him, Jack? - said. "What the hell does this company do, anyway? You know, you must know-"
Donna blinked. "Know what?"
"That man in there," Jack spat out, "your Mr. Dobson, he just vanished. As in, into thin air. As in gone. And he took my friend with him. So don't tell me you've never noticed anything strange about this place, don't pretend you don't know what's been going on here!"
The fury in his voice made Donna recoil, shaking her head in vehement denial. Men vanishing into thin air? How did that even make sense? "I just do the filing and tidy up and fetch the coffee. I don't know anything! I'm nobody!"
Jack exhaled sharply, staring at her as though he'd just been punched. The edge of rage softened, revealing the desperation underneath. "The filing and the cleaning and the coffee - oh, no, you're not nobody. You're everything. You see everything that happens here, everyone who passes through..."
The urgency in his voice drew her to him even as she fought the urge to run away. "I'm not, I swear. I'm just the bloody temp!"
He crossed to her in three long strides and reached out to cup her face in his broad palms. Donna swallowed hard, unable to pull away, to breathe. "Donna Noble," he said, roughly, "I promise you, you are so much more than that."
Before she could do more than gape at the man - and how the bloody fuck did he know her name? - he'd dropped his hands back down to his sides, turning away. The woman who'd spoken to Donna earlier - Gwen - emerged from Dobson's office, leaving the door wide open behind her. The office was clearly empty. The third person who'd come in with Jack and Gwen - Donna vaguely recalled a youngish man in a smart suit - was nowhere to be seen. Neither was Mr. Dobson. Jack's words were starting to sink in - vanished. How was that possible? But there was no other way out of that office, not even a window to leap from.
"There was nothing useful in his desk," Gwen told Jack. She moved stiffly, looking a touch shell-shocked, but her voice was steady.
"You sure?" Jack asked, but it was plain from his tone that he didn't expect anything further.
Gwen shrugged and brandished what looked like a bin liner, filled with papers. "Grabbed the lot to look over back at the Hub, just in case. Maybe Mickey can run some scans..."
"You can't just walk out of here with Mr. Dobson's files," Donna protested automatically. She winced as her brain caught up with her mouth.
Gwen and Jack hardly even glanced at her. "If you've got a problem, you can take it up with UNIT," Gwen said wearily, not sounding nearly so friendly now. "They're your most loyal client, after all. Come on, Jack. We won't find Ianto here."
Something - maybe the emptiness in Jack's eyes - possessed Donna to open her mouth again. "Wait!" she blurted out, before they could leave. "Dobson's not the first employee here to go...missing, all of a sudden."
Jack turned back, shoulders straightening somewhat. "Who else?"
Donna fidgeted, wiping suddenly sweaty palms on her trousers. "Nearly everyone, actually." When they just gaped at her, she tossed her hair back with forced nonchalance and shrugged. "All of senior staff, most of the scientists - there's just a handful of us left."
"And you never wondered?" Jack asked incredulously. "You never thought to question--"
"Long as my paycheck keeps coming, what's to question?" Donna snapped, bristling a little at his tone. "It's not my place, is it?"
Gwen's face had drained of color, her eyes wide. "If they've all vanished - if they've got Ianto with them, whatever this weapon they're developing is-"
"No kidding." Jack touched his ear; for the first time, Donna noticed a Bluetooth device there, an earpiece like Secret Service on the telly might wear or something. "Mickey," Jack said, "Tell Martha to get on the phone to her pals at UNIT now." His mouth pressed into a flat, grim line. "If UNIT knows about this and hasn't been sharing..."
"There's something else," Donna said. She looked down at the file in her hand, hesitating. Notes on the Martin-Grogan Algorithm, to be filed under P for Physics, temporal, UNIT's early research into. Hundreds of files' worth of information, carefully forgotten, flashed through her mind, drawing the connections she'd deliberately avoided seeing. Well, in for a penny, in for a pound, she supposed. "UNIT isn't Monthu's client. It's Monthu's subject." She proffered the file, almost helplessly. "They don't contract with us at all. We do research on UNIT. Everything, anything we can find."
Harriet Derbyshire liked this investigation less and less with each passing day, and she hadn't been particularly fond of it to begin with.
First off, there was the unenviable team from London to whom she'd been shackled: Stephen, the highborn brute; his lackey Irwin, a lanky reed of a man with a religious devotion to regulations; and Emma, their simpering chit of a secretary. The representative from the Glasgow office, Will, was an amiable enough fellow, but thoroughly ineffectual. None were agents she'd have chosen to investigate a Weevil sighting, let alone an entire missing branch of their own organization.
Secondly, there was the mission itself. Harriet was genuinely dedicated to serving her King and Country, and certainly didn't approve of the Irish people's moribund attempts at insurrection; on the other hand, as a Welshwoman, she had no small appreciation for native loyalties reaching beyond just plain England. She'd certainly choose Cardiff over London any day - how could she honestly disparage Four for putting Dublin first?
And now there was this new distraction, the man from the future who'd appeared out of nowhere and set off alarms on all her instruments. There was no Rift in Dublin; how the devil had he fallen through here? And if his sudden appearance, right at this particular juncture of their investigation, was a coincidence - well, she'd eat her pocketwatch. Coincidences didn't materialize not ten meters from where Harriet and Stephen stood arguing about Four's reputed experimentation with time travel. The "accidental" case of temporal dislocation was vastly too precipitous for Harriet's tastes; if she didn't know better, she might suspect Stephen had staged the incident himself.
Moreover, Stephen was going about his interrogation of the newcomer entirely wrong.
"So you believe that the man you materialized with was an alien," Stephen said, voice dripping with disdain. He stood behind a coarse wooden chair, his large hands resting on its back; Ianto Jones sat in another chair, set apart in the middle of the unadorned sitting room of one of Dublin's many Georgian row houses. Irwin, Will, and Harriet had arranged themselves around the room, forming a loose circle around their new guest. Seated at a writing desk, Emma tittered over her note taking.
Ianto's lips pressed together in a thin line. "Yes," he gritted out.
"Do you have any evidence to support this claim?"
"You know," Ianto said, control clearly slipping, "I would've thought Torchwood might be rather more open-minded about the possibility of extraterrestrial involvement."
It was probably the worst thing he could have said; immediately, the rest of the team went on high alert. Even Will looked vaguely alarmed, while Emma's pen slipped across the page and Stephen's grip on his chair visibly tightened. Irwin actually reached for his pistol, the damned fool. "What do you know of Torchwood?" Stephen barked.
To his credit, Ianto didn't seem particularly impressed by the bluster; he didn't quite roll his eyes, but it was a very near thing. Harriet decided she rather liked the man.
"I am Torchwood," Ianto said, suppressing a sigh. "I work for Torchwood Three, in Cardiff. Or I did - will do? - in the year 2009. Which I'd very much like to return to, incidentally, so if anyone has any suggestions-"
"Why the devil should we believe you?" Irwin demanded. "Have you any proof?"
Ianto shot him a glare. "I know you're on a mission from London to investigate the disappearance of the Dublin branch. Does that count? How am I supposed to prove anything? It's not like I've made a study of this particular era of the organization!"
"What made you think we were Torchwood, then?" Will asked, reasonably enough.
After a moment's visible hesitation, Ianto grudgingly nodded at Harriet. "She introduced herself to me when you lot picked me up. I've seen her name in the archives. Harriet Derbyshire, Torchwood Cardiff. Physicist, if I remember correctly."
"You do," Harriet said. She glanced over at Stephen. "We've no reason to doubt him; what could he possibly gain from lying? And you know as well as I do that he fell through from another time. You were there."
"He could be a spy from Four," Irwin objected, before Stephen could respond. "We know they've been experimenting with time travel-"
"We suspect that," Harriet corrected him. "We've no proof."
Irwin scowled at her. "Besides which, that only proves he knows who you are, Harriet. It doesn't prove that he's Torchwood himself."
"A fair point." Stephen looked thoughtful; it was such an unusual expression for him that Harriet wondered spitefully if he might strain something. "But clearly we'd have no way of judging the veracity of any future events, so that wouldn't serve. There must be some test we might pose-"
"Wait," Ianto said. He turned to Harriet. His face was still relatively impassive, but she could see the desperation lurking in the shadows of his eyes. "I can prove it. Sometime last year, Harriet, you and Gerald - your boss - came across a time shift in a Cardiff hospital. You brought a young soldier back to the Hub with you and cryogenically preserved him. Tommy Brockless. He gets defrosted once a year."
"That's all true," Harriet said, watching Ianto intently. "Or will be. He's due for his first check-up in a month. He's still there, in the vault, in your time? So long?"
"He finally fulfilled his mission about a year ago," Ianto told her softly. A shadow crossed his face briefly, the ghost of remembered sorrow. Yes, he knew Torchwood, all too well.
Harriet nodded and turned to face the others. "I am satisfied." One by one - some more grudgingly than others - they accepted her conclusion.
"What do we do with him, then?" Emma asked from her desk. "We can hardly let him out on the streets. Although I suppose he could wrap this investigation up quite neatly, since I presume he knows whether or not we succeed in locating Four."
"No," Harriet said sharply. "We cannot know future events; it's far too dangerous. It could cause a paradox, or worse."
She glanced back at Ianto, and immediately wished she hadn't. Their eyes met, and although he quickly dissembled, the darkness she had glimpsed there chilled her to the bone. Ianto Jones, born years into a future she couldn't imagine, possessed knowledge she was never meant to have; she was as sure of this as of her own name.
Approaching Cardiff, 2009
Jack was really gunning it down the M4; Gwen thought they might shave a full hour off their travel time. She wondered if it would make the slightest difference.
For the first half hour of the trip, she and Jack had been talking nonstop over their comms, filling Mickey and Martha in on the situation. But there was only so much to tell, and eventually they lapsed into silence.
She'd got used to it being the three of them at Torchwood, before Mickey joined up; now the SUV felt uncomfortable with just her and Jack. Ianto's absence was like a tangible gap between them.
Gwen cleared her throat. "How did you know that Dobson was an alien? A...Griveen, or whatever?"
"Ygrivian," Jack corrected. He didn't take his eyes off the road. "Like I said, I encountered them once or twice, as a Time Agent."
"But how did you know?" Gwen asked again. "He looked so...human."
Jack shrugged. "The resemblance is close - largely due to crossbreeding. Lots of alien species start developing humanoid features after we discover proper spaceflight." He flashed his trademark leer, but it lacked its usual flair. "But there are a few subtle differences. Ygrivians have longer limbs - arms, legs - makes them look gangly. Their skin is abnormally pale - not quite albino, it's not a lack of pigment, just pasty. Might as well be British, though. And their bodies are completely hairless - I mean completely, apart from the eyebrows. Hard to tell when they're fully clothed, and Dobson was wearing an excellent wig, but if you know what to look for, you can spot it."
"So exactly like humans, except a touch taller and no hair and oh, by the way, poisonous hypodermic needles in their fingertips."
"Don't forget the exoskeleton."
Gwen raised her eyebrows.
"They've got a very rigid exoskeleton, kind of like insects. It's just under the dermal layer, hence the lack of hair follicles and pale skin - all the blood vessels are under the exoskeleton, not close to the skin like humans." Jack grimaced. "Makes them distinctly unfun in the sack and very difficult to kill. Normal bullets - well, in this century, anyway - ricochet right off. That wasn't much of a complication as an Agent; sonic weapons work on them just fine. God, what I wouldn't do for a good blaster right now."
"So, ehm, how do we kill them, then?" Gwen asked. She ought to be surprised at her lack of scruples - but they'd killed at least eight people already. Not to mention Ianto - no. She wasn't even going there.
But if she met another Ygrivian, she damn well wanted to be prepared.
"Oh, they've got their Achilles' heel, don't you worry," Jack said. "Neck, actually. There's a vulnerable point at the base of the skull. Or a direct shot straight through the eye, but that's a bit trickier. Back of the neck's easier, plus you get to sneak up on them from behind, which is always fun. They also don't swim very well," he added, almost as an afterthought. "Body density's through the roof, thanks to the exoskeleton - the bastards sink like stones."
Gwen stared out at the passing scenery without seeing it, her thoughts still back at Monthu Industries. "And we still don't know what they want, not really. Something to do with UNIT..."
"And time travel, I'll bet, given the tech they stole from the Agency," Jack pointed out. "They're trying to cheat the system somehow. The Agency evolved out of UNIT, you know, sometime in the 25th century or thereabouts. The Ygrivians are trying to screw with the timelines - I just don't know what their goddamn focus is!"
"At least we know that much, now, thanks to that secretary." Gwen snuck a glance over at him; sure enough, his jaw clenched at the reference. She'd thought so. "Donna - she was the woman on the screen with the Doctor, wasn't she?"
Jack remained silent for a long moment, then sighed. "Yeah," he said. "She was."
"But if you met her, why didn't she-"
"She doesn't remember," Jack said shortly. "She doesn't remember a damn thing. Martha told me about it not long after we got back - something about a metacrisis. The Doctor had to take her memories."
"What, of the Daleks, or-"
"Everything back to the first time they met." Jack's grip on the steering wheel tightened, his knuckles white. "About two years, give or take."
Two missing years, Gwen thought, her heart contracting painfully. No wonder Jack had looked ill at the first sight of her in Monthu. "So is that why we didn't...?"
"I couldn't give Retcon to Donna Noble," Jack said quietly. "She's already forgotten too much."
They drove on in unbroken silence.
Ianto flirted with sleep, but wasn't quite able to give in to it; somewhere, a clock chimed four o'clock. He'd spent hours listening to the investigative team of Torchwood One argue circles around each other, with nothing to show for it. At midnight, Emma and Harriet had finally retired to their shared room upstairs (not in the fun way, Ianto surmised); it had been the master bedroom of this house, once, whoever the original owners had been. Stephen slept in the smaller bedroom, and Will bunked down in the sitting room with Irwin. They'd set Ianto up with a pile of blankets in the study, where a banked fire didn't do much to keep out the chill of the damp March night.
Eventually, Ianto gave up on sleep and made his way out to the kitchen, where a lamp was lit. He found Harriet there, alone, in her dressing gown, writing a letter by candlelight. She looked up when he came in, unsurprised. "I thought I heard you tossing about in there. One would think that journeying through time might wear a body out."
"Yes, well, I tend to take the road less traveled," Ianto said, pulling up a chair. "You know, I always meant to holiday in Ireland someday."
"Not quite what you had in mind, is it?"
"Well, the décor is rather picturesque, but the welcoming party left something to be desired."
The ghost of a smile flitted across her face. "I must apologize. We weren't expecting weekend guests, you see."
They shared a quick grin. Then Harriet looked back down at her letter, while Ianto examined the room around them. It would make for a fascinating period study, he supposed, but right now, his appreciation of history was somewhat diminished. He didn't belong here, didn't want to belong here. Maybe Jack enjoyed gallivanting through time and space, but now that he was sampling it, Ianto rather wished he'd stuck to the slow path. Especially when there was no guarantee of a return trip.
No. He wasn't even going to go there. There had to be a way back; even if Ianto couldn't find one, Jack could. If Ianto trusted nothing else in the universe, he had faith in Jack. After all, Jack had always managed to find his own way back - if all else failed, surely he could call upon the Doctor to stop by sometime this decade.
Assuming they ever figured out where and when Ianto had been taken.
"Are you planning on letting me out of here anytime soon?" Ianto inquired.
Harriet gave a distinctively unladylike snort. "I should think not. By your own account, you've got ninety years' worth of future knowledge that most certainly cannot be unleashed upon the general populace. We can hardly chance you saying a word out of turn down at the market and thereby interfering with the course of history."
"I can be very discreet," Ianto argued, without vehemence. "But it's a fair point."
"Furthermore, I've encountered a couple of incidents of temporal dislocation before, courtesy of the Rift, and you're well overdue a very pleasant case of culture shock." She looked him over, not unsympathetically. "Actually, I'm rather surprised at how well you seem to be handling all this."
Ianto closed his eyes, swallowing back the sudden wave of nausea that accompanied his tightly suppressed panic. "Thanks for bringing that up."
When he looked at her again, he could see the sympathy in her eyes, bordering on pity. "I'm sorry," she said gently. "We'll see if we can help you - but you've worked by the Rift, you know the odds..."
"Yes, thank you, changing the subject now," Ianto interrupted hastily. "Why does One care so much about the situation here in Dublin all of a sudden? If I recall correctly, Four has been missing for nearly three years already."
"Well, that's London for you, isn't it? Always has to go blundering about where it isn't needed, and drags the rest of us through the muck with it." Harriet sighed, rubbing her temples. "The Director recently uncovered a report that Four was doing extensive research into time travel before it went renegade. If they made any real progress - well, that sort of technological advance in the hands of a rogue organization doesn't sit particularly well, does it? They're operating entirely without oversight. And then there's the political situation..."
"The Easter Rising?"
Harriet nods. "That was what prompted the split three years ago. But there have been some worrisome rumblings amongst the Irish lately. The Republican organizations involved in the uprising are supposedly mobilizing again. In January, two constables were killed in Tipperary. Locals harass the police force here in Dublin. The Crown is considering sending in troops, now that the Great War is over. So One is concerned that Four might be stirring up another attempt at revolution - not that I could really blame them. It's an ugly situation on both sides." She shook her head, as if to clear it. "But I suppose this is all just history to you, isn't it?"
"It feels rather immediate at the moment," Ianto hedged. They were veering into dangerous territory - Ianto wasn't well versed in temporal physics, and he didn't want to accidentally let anything slip that might affect the timelines. It didn't do to mess around with time. Which brought up the worrying notion that his unintended arrival here, ninety years into the past, might have consequences that could alter the course of history. What was he changing just by being here?
It occurred to him that right at this very moment, in this time, a Captain Jack Harkness was probably roaming the rooftops of Cardiff, impatiently waiting out another sleepless night. Ninety years younger and just as immortal, passing through along the slow path until the Doctor returned. Ianto could find him; he had no doubt of that. But this Jack was a different man, and the Jack Ianto needed had definitely not known Ianto when their paths first crossed in the twenty-first century. Had he?
Ianto shook the thought away and focused on the nearest distraction to hand instead - the letter Harriet had been writing. "Working on anything interesting?"
Harriet glanced down at the pages in front of her, then away, her cheeks tinted pink. "Oh, nothing in particular. Just writing a quick report to Gerald - my superior at Three, like you mentioned before."
Ianto smirked. "A report? Is that what they're calling it these days?"
To her credit, she didn't even make a token protest, just shrugged his teasing off with a private smile that quickly faded. "He...worries about me. It's very silly and pigheaded, but there you have it. We had quite the row about it, actually, before I left on this miserable mission." She traced invisible designs across the paper with her fingertips, staring into the lamp. "Well, I suppose I'll make it up to him once I'm back in Cardiff."
Of course, she never would. Ianto's stomach clenched. He'd managed to forget, for a little while; but he knew better. He forced a smile, keeping his tone light. "Shagging the boss does have its perks."
Harriet grinned. "What, not you as well? God protect us all from the leaders of Torchwood Three!"
"Oh, we use protection," Ianto replied absently; he was distracted by loud footsteps on the stair. They turned to the door. A moment later, Irwin burst in.
"Harriet, your instruments down in the basement are going haywire," Irwin said tersely; he was fully dressed, coat smelling of the streets, fair hair windswept. Ianto hadn't even realized that he'd left the house. "I've got the others up already. There's reports of massive temporal activity somewhere in Dublin. Four may be exposing itself at long last."
They raced down to the basement, which Ianto hadn't yet seen. The investigative team had set up a makeshift laboratory down there, apparently; Stephen, Will, and Emma were already dashing about the place. Harriet hurried over to one set of devices, which looked rather like a seismograph had mated with a tuba by way of a vacuum cleaner.
"Can you tell us what's going on?" Stephen demanded.
"The energy readings are off the charts," Harriet replied, hands flying over her instruments. "Focus appears to be - Will, will you get the bloody map out!"
"Just southwest of Trinity College," Will called. "The signals are coming from a park there-"
"St. Stephen's Green," Stephen said grimly. "That was one of the focal points of the rebellion three years ago."
Irwin's eyes blazed with triumph. "It's Torchwood Four, all right. They're mobilizing."
Martha was just about finished cleaning up after the autopsy when she got the call: Jack and Gwen were back, Ianto still nowhere to be found. "Okay," Martha said over her comm as she grabbed the data printouts. "Could you all gather in the conference room, please? I've got something everyone needs to see."
The remaining Torchwood team members filed into the boardroom; Martha presided. "While I was cleaning up the mess down in the medical bay, I found a few things," she said by way of introduction. "Turns out Owen had a few toys - by which I mean highly advanced xenobiological gadgetry - that he never shared with UNIT."
"You should see what's stashed in the archives," Jack said impatiently. "Yes, thank you, we've kept some things to ourselves - the way London used to operate, can you really blame us? Get to the point."
Gwen shot him a warning look, but Martha just shrugged it off. It wasn't personal, after all. "Anyway, I used this one device to run some tests on the Cardiff victim's blood, and it was able to identify the toxin. Extraterrestrial, of course, and nothing UNIT had any data on."
"So you can put a name to the toxin. Congratulations." Jack folded his arms across his chest. "But it doesn't really matter - we already know what killed them."
"Yes, but now that information is in your database. Which means if any new cases were to turn up-"
"New corpses, you mean," Mickey muttered.
"-I can scan them to see if there's a match. And there was." Martha took a deep breath, raising her eyes to meet Jack's. "The same toxin that killed these eight people was also responsible for the death of Harriet Derbyshire in 1919."
Gwen's eyes widened. "Which means the Ygrivians were here, on Earth, ninety years ago. Oh, Jesus."
"There's your Torchwood Four connection," Martha said softly. "Just like Ianto suspected."
Jack looked as though he'd just been sucker-punched. "Gerald was so sure - we always thought someone from Four had killed her."
"Not unless Four recruited Ygrivians," Martha said, shaking her head. "And there's more, Jack. Once I found the connection, Mickey ran another search on the anomalous victim - Liam Dempsey, the one we pulled out of the ocean."
She glanced over at Mickey, who nodded and took over the narrative. "It wasn't easy," he said. "It's not exactly an uncommon name, and the records from that era are patchy at best. But we found one person who stood out. There was a Liam Dempsey who was a member of the Irish Volunteers back in 1916, a known associate of someone called Eamonn Ceannt. And - this took some digging, mind - it looks like Ceannt-"
"-was all but running Torchwood Four before it disappeared," Jack finished. He finally took a seat, lowering himself down with uncharacteristic weariness. "Goddamn it. I should have known about Dempsey. I did know about him." He passed his hand across his face. "In my life, I've heard enough names to fill a phone book," he said quietly. "I suppose I was bound to forget one of the important ones eventually."
Gwen moved toward him, but Martha was already there. She reached out to lay her hand on his arm. "Jack," Martha said gently. "What happened with Torchwood Four? It's important. It might lead us back to the Ygrivians."
And Ianto, no one added. It wasn't necessary.
"Right." Jack shook his head, as if to clear it. "So we all know that Torchwood was established by Queen Victoria in 1879. London was the primary base of operations, with Glasgow as its satellite office - the original Torchwood was a manor house in Scotland, apparently, so they wanted to maintain that connection. The Cardiff branch opened a few years later. And around the turn of the century, the office in Dublin was established."
"Which then vanished in 1916," Mickey said, arms folded. "Yeah. We know."
"It's a little more complicated than that," Jack snapped. He closed his eyes for a moment, just breathing deeply. Then he sat up a bit straighter, looking over at them all again. "Sorry. Just let me tell this my way, all right? It's been a very long time, and I'd rather not leave out anything important."
Gwen gave him an encouraging smile; Martha supposed she was just chuffed to bits that Jack was finally opening up about his past. She'd never understood why Jack was so miserly with the truth when it came to his team - she'd never seemed to have any trouble getting him to share his history. It was shutting him up that was the difficult part.
But then, those sorts of stories were never the really important ones, were they?
"Torchwood Four, 1916," Gwen prompted.
"Okay. I'm going to need to delve a little into Irish history here for this to make sense, so bear with me," Jack said. "Torchwood One had a much firmer hand in running the other branches back then; this was still the age of empire and all that. The head of Torchwood Four at the time was an Englishman, Bentley, a younger son of some minor lordling whose family had an estate up in Ulster. London thought that gave him this great understanding of the Irish." Jack snorted. "Of course, Bentley was a pompous ass who didn't understand jack shit about the people he was supposedly leading. By the start of the Great War, he was the only non-Irish operative in Torchwood Four, which was a particularly remarkable bit of oversight on London's part - then again, shows you just how complacent they were. So Bentley thinks he's in charge of this backwater outpost, just one small base hidden below the General Post Office, monitoring passive alien activity and generally licking London's boots for a living.
"Thing was, though, Torchwood One's plants were only nominally in charge in Dublin. We never had any proof, but I'm pretty sure the Irish team had another base of operations, possibly outside the city proper. The second-in-command was always a local Irishman, and he or she was the one who actually ran the place. Bentley's second was a man called Ceannt, who incidentally moonlighted for a number of Irish Republican groups - like your Irish Volunteers, Mickey. He became one of the ringleaders of the Easter Rising in 1916 - which probably means a few other Torchwood operatives were involved as well. Again, no proof."
"That's when the Dublin branch broke away from Torchwood One, according to the files," Mickey put in.
Jack nodded. "Yeah. Ceannt was arrested after the Rising and summarily executed a few weeks later. The very next day, Bentley was found wandering the London docks, memory wiped to within an inch of his life. Retcon's a fairly recent development - the pharmaceuticals Torchwood used back then were far less refined." He shrugged, spreading his hands on the table. "And that was it. We never heard from Torchwood Four again."
"Surely London didn't give up that easily?" Gwen asked.
"No, of course not." Jack pressed his lips together in a thin line. "But this was during World War I, remember - Torchwood One was short-staffed and scrambling to keep alien activity in check while the government more or less conscripted them to assist the war effort. Hell, I was in France for most of the war myself. After the war ended, Torchwood One threw together this half-assed mission to try to hunt down the remains of Four - they even dragged a couple of operatives from Glasgow and Cardiff into it - but by then the trail was three years cold. They uncovered evidence that Four was still operating, apparently on its own terms, but never found its base. And Cardiff lost an operative - Harriet - in the process. Meanwhile, revolution is breaking out, British troops are marching in, and the whole situation is generally going to hell. Torchwood pulled out to let the rebellion run its course, and we know how that worked out. Once the Irish Free State was established, Torchwood no longer had any jurisdiction in Dublin, and London was forced to close the case. End of story."
They were all silent for a few minutes, digesting this. Finally, Gwen looked up. "So all this time, you thought Four had killed Harriet."
"Yeah - Gerald never forgave London for pulling her into that mess, or himself for letting her go." Jack's eyes were bleak, distant. "Hell, he never forgave me, either."
"You?" Gwen looked startled. "What did you have to do with it?"
Jack laughed mirthlessly. "He wanted me to go in her place, but I refused point blank. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. So Harriet went instead, and got herself killed." He clenched his fists, though whether his anger was directed at himself or Gerald, Martha couldn't tell. "How could I blame him? I helped Four disappear in the first place."
"What do you mean?" Martha asked.
"In 1916," Jack said. "London sent me over after Bentley's little accident. There wasn't much left to find, anyway. I just covered a few tracks where I could, sent One an apologetic report detailing my failure, and hightailed it off to the war."
Mickey frowned. "But why?"
"If One had tracked down Four, they would have executed them all for treason," Jack said flatly. "And then reinstated operations with their own people. Keep in mind, I had a passing familiarity with 20th century history already. For all I knew, a British Torchwood in Dublin could've been the tipping point that nipped the Irish revolution in the bud, and then maybe Ireland never would've won its independence. You don't mess around with timelines like that; bad things happen. I was just trying to keep the playing field level." He shook his head. "And then in 1919, Four killed Harriet, and I got to share a part of the guilt for that. Or so we thought. Goddamnit - did they really never do an autopsy?"
"Even if they had, they wouldn't have found this," Martha replied. "Not with the medical technology back in those days. But no, I found her body in the vault, untouched. For whatever reason, they just put her away and never looked twice."
"That makes no sense," Jack argued. "I was there, I knew those guys. Even if Gerald let sentimentality get the best of him, Quinn would certainly have..." His eyes abruptly focused on something intangible only he could see. "Martha, do you have the clothing Harriet was wearing when she died?"
Martha blinked. "Yes, it's still in the medical bay from the autopsy-"
But Jack was already up and moving, and she could only run after him, exchanging bewildered looks with Gwen and Mickey as they followed.
In the medical bay, Jack was unfolding the ninety-year-old dress, heedlessly shaking it out. Unsatisfied, he then moved on to the trim jacket, unbuttoning its several pockets. "Here we go!" he said.
There was a small roll of paper in one pocket; Jack took more care with this, opening it carefully. Spidery handwriting was scrawled across the top sheet, surprisingly clear; apparently the cryogenic storage preserved paper as well as bodies.
"It's a note written by Quinn - he was the medic here back in 1919," Jack said. "That man loved to document everything, left his notes scattered all across the Hub. Very big on posterity, bless. He says no autopsy was performed in accordance to Harriet's will, yadda yadda yadda, signed Charles Quinn-" Jack passed the page over to Martha, then suddenly went very still.
"Jack?" Gwen asked, reaching out to him. "What is it?"
He didn't move, still just staring at the second piece of paper.
Martha took another step closer as well. "Jack?"
"It's another note," Jack said. His voice sounded harsh. "Written by Ianto."
Ianto had been involved in his fair share of alien encounters on the streets of Cardiff. There were the countess nights of Weevil hunting, long chases through alleyways and scuffles in the dark. He'd followed Blowfish in sports cars and cleared hospitals to evade Death. At home, in his own time, Torchwood acted as covertly as it could afford, careful to preserve civilian life and evade witnesses, and used Retcon as a fall back when necessary.
He'd almost managed to forget that the Torchwood Institute, as an organization, had achieved near total secrecy for over a century.
Now, in the grey hours before dawn, Ianto played witness to an entirely new side of this Torchwood. The three men and Harriet quickly changed into dark, unremarkable clothing. Emma shoved a pile of coarse trousers, jumper, and workman's jacket at Ianto to replace his twenty-first century suit. "You'll go with them," she told him. "If you really are Torchwood, you might actually be some help. I'll have enough to mind back here without having to keep an eye on you as well."
Ianto dressed and donned a woolen cap as well, feeling faintly ridiculous. Still, he'd probably blend in with the people on the streets reasonably well, and at least the clothes were comfortable, though the jacket was a touch too large.
Once outside, Stephen led them through the maze of cobbled streets, avoiding the tram lines. Whatever their failings, Torchwood One had clearly assembled this team with a very particular skill set in mind: all four moved silently and sure-footedly, abstaining from unnecessary chatter. As they neared the park, the streets became increasingly deserted - Ianto could hear a few dogs barking somewhere in the distance, and in one house, a baby shrieked, but they didn't encounter a single soul.
"This doesn't feel right," Harriet finally murmured; in the unnatural silence, her voice carried easily to the others. "It shouldn't be this quiet."
The two Londoners exchanged a look. "Torchwood Four?" Irwin asked, voice breathy and not entirely calm, and Stephen gave him a curt nod.
Ianto felt a touch on his sleeve; Will was there, with a pale imitation of his affable smile. "Rumor has it Four cultivates an extensive civilian network," he explained in low tones. His light Scottish brogue was more pronounced than usual. "They must've cleared the streets around St. Stephen's Green."
"No witnesses," Harriet added softly. "There are never any witnesses when Four is involved."
The group continued onward in renewed silence.
The fight, when they found it, was just as inconspicuous. They had just reached the small park, emerging from one narrow street of somewhat a higher class of Georgian houses. Before they could step off the curb, Ianto noticed something glinting in the darkness. He instinctively dropped to the ground, wincing as his knees collided with the uneven cobblestones; the thrown knife cut through the air just above his head to clatter harmlessly into the brick wall of the house behind him. There was still no one else in sight, just the shadows of trees looming out of St. Stephen's Green just across the street.
"It's Four," Irwin hissed; he and the others had pressed themselves against the building, unwilling to expose themselves further. "If they've mobilized in the park-"
"Why give away their position like this?" Harriet argued, still keeping her voice low. She knelt down to pick up the knife. Its blade winked in the light from a streetlamp. "Will, you're familiar with knives, aren't you?"
"I'm the weaponry expert at Two, yes," Will replied, crouching down beside her. "It's a bit of a hobby. Why?"
Harriet held the knife out to him. "Have a look."
Ianto took a few deep, calming breaths; his heart rate definitely wasn't going to return to normal anytime soon. But once he'd pushed aside his instinctive panic at his narrow escape, he noticed what Harriet had: there was something entirely wrong about the sheen to this blade. It glittered with more than just lamplight; he should never have seen it hurtling toward him in the cloudy, moonless night. Yet still the blade shone. There was something odd about its curvature, as well.
"It's somewhat unusual, I will grant you," Will said, peering at it curiously.
By now, the rest of the team had gathered around them. "Alien origin?" Ianto asked.
"Possibly." Will studied the blade, running his fingertips along the edge carefully. "I need to run some tests..."
"What does it matter?" Irwin asked. He apparently got twitchy under pressure; he kept glancing back at the park. They could all hear what might have been the sounds of a struggle emerging from behind the trees - stifled gasps and muffled thumps. "So they've got alien knives - they're Torchwood."
"They're fighting something," Harriet pointed out. "What about the alien who brought Mr. Jones here?"
"If he even was an alien," Irwin retorted, definitely antsy now. "We've only got his word on that."
"I saw him too," Stephen said unexpectedly. "While I'm not entirely convinced he wasn't human, he was certainly in possession of vastly inappropriate technology. He might represent a rival organization, if not extraterrestrial..."
"Sounds just like Four to me," Irwin hissed. In his stress, he'd developed a slight lisp. The sound grated on Ianto's ears. "So why the devil are we studying a bloody knife when we could be over there fighting them?"
Stephen frowned, his brow furrowing. "No one wants interdepartmental warfare. Our stated mission is to locate Four and, if possible, bring them in to One for disciplinary action - not to eliminate them, Irwin. You know that."
"And what do you think the Director will do to them once we haul them to London?" Irwin scoffed. "Don't be so damned naïve. They'll thank us for dealing with those traitors here, now, and we'll save One the expense of transporting them!"
He started forward; Harriet leapt up to grab his arm. "Don't be a fool, Irwin-"
Irwin turned on her, lightning quick. "Meddling bitch!" he snarled - an unearthly sound that jarred Ianto's memory. Before Ianto had the chance to react, Irwin pressed his free hand to Harriet's throat, thumb resting just at her sternum. Assuming he meant to choke her, Stephen and Will were on Irwin in an instant, pulling him back; only Ianto noticed the quick, stabbing motion Irwin had made with his thumb. Harriet let out a sharp cry of pain. Ianto caught her as she stumbled back, pressing her hand to her collarbone.
With another inhuman snarl, Irwin threw the other men off him and ran for the trees. "After him!" Stephen shouted; he and Will sprinted into the park as well, taking the alien knife with them and leaving Ianto and Harriet on the street.
In the lamplight, Harriet's skin took on a pale, waxy sheen. "Oh, God," she said. "Irwin - he's an alien, isn't he? Like the man who transported you here..."
"I think so, yes," Ianto said, mind racing. His heart was in his throat; he helped her to sit at the curb, heedless of the muck in the gutter. "Are you all right?"
She brushed him off. "Just startled, mostly. He pricked me with something, but I'll be fine. Dear lord, what a blot on London's record - to not notice an alien spy in their employ! I suppose the thrown knife was meant to be some sort of signal to him - but what on earth did he want?"
"To get you involved in a war with Four, apparently." Ianto swallowed hard, feeling ill; he could see the sweat beading across Harriet's forehead, her lips beginning to turn bluish. It was only a matter of time before her blood, too thin to clot, would begin seeping through the breast of her jacket. "We should get you to a doctor-"
She laughed, then cut herself off with a short gasp of pain. "Irwin was the doctor."
Fuck, if only Martha were here! But she'd been unable to save the victim UNIT had pulled out of the sea, and Ianto had no doubt that beneath Harriet's dress he'd find the same puncture wound to her sternum that he'd seen on all of those autopsy photos in Martha's file. So now he knew what had killed those people in 2009 - but what the hell was he supposed to do about it, stranded ninety years in his own past?
Harriet still thought she'd be fine. Harriet didn't know that she was already fated to die in Ireland, in 1919, on a failure of an investigation that would accomplish absolutely nothing. But Ianto knew, and hadn't warned her. He wouldn't tell her now, either. What purpose would that serve?
And who the fuck had decreed that history had to be set in stone, anyway?
If what Martha had told them was true, the toxin was a slow killer. Harriet might still have time. No ordinary doctor could save her - not that Ianto trusted the medical profession of this particular time and place - but a branch of Torchwood would have at least one medic, trained on the bizarre, familiar with all sorts of alien ailments. And the nearest Torchwood to hand was Four, currently doing battle just across the street in St. Stephen's Green.
"You sit tight," Ianto said, giving Harriet's arm a gentle squeeze. "I'll be right back."
And he sprinted into the park to find the fight.
The darkness in St. Stephen's Green was complete; trees shrouded them from the street, the sky was overcast, and the occasional lampposts scattered throughout the park had been doused. Four's doing, Ianto supposed. He wondered how he'd distinguish alien from Torchwood; the race was too thoroughly humanoid, and Ianto hadn't noticed any obvious markers setting them apart. They were tall and thin, but not abnormally so. Their voices sounded a bit like nails on a chalkboard, but only under stress. Maybe he should provoke them to yell at him.
They could kill with a prick of their fingernails...
Someone was running toward him; Ianto tackled them blindly. A man, smaller and leaner than Ianto, athletically built. They struggled together for a moment on the damp earth; Ianto had the advantage of surprise, but the other man twisted under him with remarkable agility.
"Torchwood?" Ianto gasped out. He earned himself a blow to the ribs.
"Who's asking?" the other man demanded. His accent was pure Dublin; Ianto relaxed. He rolled away and jumped stiffly to his feet, palms open in the universal gesture of truce.
"I'm just a bystander to this little skirmish," Ianto said. "You're from Four?"
"You're from One, I presume," the man drawled, getting to his feet. He was at least four or five inches shorter than Ianto, and wiry; his dark blue eyes glittered with intelligence. "You can fuck right off."
Ianto shook his head. "Not at all. And I couldn't care less what you're doing or why Four broke off, I swear. But the aliens you're fighting - one of them injured my friend, and she needs a doctor. One who knows something about...unusual wounds."
The man regarded him impassively. "She was clawed by an Ygrivian?"
Ygrivian. Ianto filed that information to the back of his mind, to be checked and cross-referenced at a later date. It didn't sound familiar; he didn't think he'd come across this race in the archives at either Cardiff or London. "Yes. Please, you've got to help me - I'm a stranger here, I don't know where to take her."
"You are Torchwood."
"Not any Torchwood you've encountered, I promise."
The man studied his face; Ianto tried to look as honest and desperate as possible. It wasn't too difficult. After a moment, the man sighed, glancing back over his shoulder. "Christ, why the fuck not. Let me see her."
They jogged out to the street, Ianto leading. What he found there made his gut clench. Harriet had slumped back against the wall of the nearest house. Her breath came in shallow gasps. The breast of her jacket was beginning to show the bloodstain.
Ianto cursed under his breath. "I thought she had more time..."
"With the Ygrivian poison, it's luckier when they don't," the man from Four said, not unkindly. His pale hair glinted reddish-blond in the streetlamp; something about his face struck a chord in Ianto's memory. "All right. Do you offer me your surrender?"
Ianto's mouth dropped open. "You've got to be kidding me. She's been poisoned - what the fuck do I care about your stupid little turf war?"
"Surrender accepted, then," the man replied coolly. "And if you ever try to betray my trust, know that I will wipe your memories clean straight back to infancy."
He gave a low, piercing whistle, while Ianto remained frozen, gaping at him. Moments later, three other people emerged from the park at a run.
"Liam!" one - a slip of a girl, dressed in men's clothing - called. "The last of the Ygrivians teleported-"
"Cowards," a young man interjected, sounding nearly as breathless.
"-but the Limeys ain't caught on yet, we got a couple of minutes before they twig and come after us-" She cut herself off, staring at Harriet. "Oh!"
"The woman's been stung by an Ygrivian," the man with Ianto - Liam, apparently - explained calmly. "He's appealed to us for aid; I accepted his surrender. Bridget, you run ahead to the base, let Dr. Grogan know to expect us."
The talkative young woman nodded, giving Ianto one last curious look before sprinting off down the street.
Liam turned to the man. "Oisín, get back to your barracks before the other constables miss you. I'll be in touch shortly, never you worry." Oisín obeyed, darting off in the opposite direction; Liam turned to the last of the newcomers, a serious woman in long skirts seemingly unsuited to running. She was the oldest of the lot - Ianto judged her to be well into her thirties, chestnut hair flecked with grey, while Liam was only few years older than Ianto, and Bridget and Oisín both around twenty or twenty-two. "Kathy-"
"You'll find the door to No. 42 unlocked; the family's long since returned to England," Kathy said quietly. "There's a passageway out of the cellar. I'll fetch a car around in ten minutes for the girl."
"Thank you," Liam said. They exchanged a quick kiss, and then Kathy was gone as well, strolling sedately down the street as though she owned it. For all Ianto knew, perhaps she did.
Liam turned back to Ianto. "Come on, let's get your lady friend indoors."
Together, they carried Harriet halfway down the block, then up the stairs into an abandoned townhouse. Harriet was fading in and out of consciousness by this point; she made no sound but for the occasional panting breath. She wasn't getting enough oxygen - her lips were fully blue. Martha's autopsy reports had surmised that the victims' internal organs had slowly shut down over a couple of hours; Harriet shouldn't be this poorly off, not after only ten minutes. Less.
As if reading the desperation in Ianto's eyes, Liam said, "It strikes some differently than others. She's having a bad reaction to the poison - bad, but peaceful." His eyes were distant. "Better to go quick and quiet than linger on in pain for so long."
"She's not going anywhere," Ianto replied tersely. It was hardly fair, after all. She'd never said a proper goodbye to Gerald...
Liam was watching him compassionately. "You knew her well?"
Ianto let out a short bark of laughter. "Not at all, actually. I just met her yesterday." He began reciting the facts like a mantra, like a prayer, clutching at Harriet's hand. "Her name is Harriet, Harriet Derbyshire. She's from Torchwood Three - Cardiff. She's twenty-four years old. She hates London nearly as much as you do. She's in love with her boss. She's a brilliant scientist." He could feel tears pricking at the corners of his eyes, but he refused to let them out. That would mean giving up on Harriet. And he couldn't do that, for reasons he couldn't logically explain - but Harriet had to make it home, to Cardiff, to Gerald. She had to, because that would mean that maybe, just maybe, Ianto could get back as well.
"And you?" Liam asked, in low, soothing tones.
"Ianto Jones. Torchwood Cardiff as well - different Torchwood. It's changed a lot since then. Or maybe it hasn't changed much at all." Ianto rubbed his eyes, suddenly remembering that he hadn't slept in - well, probably well over twenty-four hours in his own linear timeline, but it was hard to say. "I'm a long way from home."
"You both are."
Ianto stared down at Harriet's still face, feeling as helpless as he ever had in his life. He marked the passage of time in breath after labored breath, in the irregular pulse in her pale wrist, until it dwindled down to nothing. Kathy brought a car around less than ten minutes later, as promised. It didn't matter. Harriet was already dead.
Cardiff, 2009 (and Dublin, 1919)
The second note - more of a letter, really - was composed of three sheets of paper, gossamer-thin but surprisingly durable. The cover sheet was mostly blank; the scrawl across it read To Torchwood Three, year 2009 or later, restricted by access code 147. Jack didn't give a damn about access codes, but he was pretty sure it was within his clearance level. What mattered was the handwriting. It was Ianto's, no question; the familiar painstaking calligraphy of someone who'd had to force himself to write legibly. Jack had teased him about it before, the indecipherable scrawl so completely at odds with Ianto's usual fastidiousness. Then again, maybe Ianto hadn't been a born neat freak, but had trained himself to tidiness.
Next time Jack saw him, he'd have to ask.
He realized abruptly that the rest of the team was watching him expectantly. "From Ianto?" Gwen repeated. "But - oh, my God - how is that even possible?"
"I guess now we know where he was jumped to," Mickey murmured.
Jack looked down at the papers in his hand and wondered how Ianto - clever, calculating, loyal Ianto - had come to choose such a method of contacting them.
("I'm from another time!" Ianto insisted, frustrated by exhaustion and grief and having to endure yet another round of interrogation from yet another antiquated branch of Torchwood. "The Ygrivians jumped me here by mistake, and I just want to get back! They - my Torchwood - need to know what I've learned here - I've got to get them a message-"
"You gave me your surrender," Liam said implacably. "I cannot allow you to return to Torchwood One."
"Not One. They won't help me. Three - Cardiff." The idea came to him all at once; he snatched it desperately, like a drowning man grasping at driftwood. "We need to get Harriet's body back to her team in Cardiff.")
"Jack?" Martha said softly, interrupting his thoughts. "Ianto's note - what does it say?"
He set the cover sheet aside gently, reverently. And read the letter.
If you're reading this - Jack, you had bloody well better be reading this - then Martha's probably figured out the connection between Harriet Derbyshire and UNIT's batch of victims. She wasn't killed by Torchwood Four.
("Of course we plan to return the poor lass to her compatriots," Liam said. "We may have no love of England, Mr. Jones, but we're still human."
Ianto shook his head. "I know. But that investigative team from London - they're not Harriet's friends, not by a long shot. If you leave the body for that team to find, One will confiscate it. That cannot happen. We've got to get Harriet back to Torchwood Three. I need her to carry a message for me.")
Dobson of Monthu Industries was an alien called an Ygrivian; I guess Jack knows how to recognize them, which is lucky for you, because they're right nasty buggers. They secrete poison through their fingernails, kind of like a hypodermic needle. It isn't pleasant.
They've got transporter-wristbands, like Jack's. Near as we can make out, they're jumping between 1919 Dublin and their ship, which I'm guessing is parked over with you in 2009, because it sure as hell isn't here. Mickey, do a scan for alien tech. A really big scan. It'll be cloaked, or we'd have noticed it by now, but you can hack through that. They're not great with technology themselves, Liam says - they just scavenge tech from other races. Guess they stole the wristbands from Jack's old buddies.
(Liam rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Oisín Martin - you saw him briefly; he was with us at St. Stephen's Green - he's been working undercover for us as a constable for several months. Torchwood One won't think to look for the young lady in the policemen's barracks.")
I found Torchwood Four, by the way. I suppose it would be rather poor form to say I told you so, but Jack - I SO told you so. Erin go bragh and all that. Anyway, it's important, though I'm not sure exactly how. The Ygrivians were trying to provoke outright war between Torchwoods One and Four. I don't know why. What do they stand to gain from wiping out Four? It's not like Four's been doing all that much in the intervening time, or we'd have found them again by 2009.
("I know the Sergeant in charge, Watkins," Oisín confirmed, when Liam filled him in on the situation the next morning. He looked positively gleeful at the chance for more action. "Good man - well, good enough. He'll do for you. Best use your man over there" - he nodded at Ianto - "to bring the croaker in, so they won't connect it back to us. He can get Watkins to wire her people in Cardiff, and Watkins won't let anyone else go near the body in the meantime. But why not just send them the message directly?")
Maybe the Ygrivians succeed, and that's why. I don't know. I'm mostly worried they'll wind up changing history as we know it, and cause a paradox of some sort that traps me here forever.
Ireland's not as lovely in the springtime as I've been led to believe. Suspect conspiracy of travel agencies - look into it, team. Sorry, haven't slept much lately. Jack, you never warned us how tiring time travel can be.
("They'll ask questions. They can't know I exist." God, for all Ianto knew, Jack might be the person sent over to fetch Harriet's body home. Wouldn't that be ironic? "And the message isn't for them - it's for my people, in my Torchwood."
"Ninety years from now?" Oisín asked incredulously. "But why would they think to go looking for it?")
I hope this letter reaches you, or I'm about to terrorize some constables for nothing. Anyway. Find the Ygrivian ship and put a stop to this nonsense, will you? The tech's rather limiting in this time. I'll do what I can to help. So will Four.
("We knew Harriet Derbyshire died somehow in relation to Four - to your team. I thought you might be connected to the case we were working on. Not that my boss agreed." Ianto dug a smile up from somewhere, dusted it off. It didn't fit quite right, but it would have to do. "But he'll feel obligated to follow the lead now, or someone else will make the connection for him.")
Running out of time, got to make this quick. Good luck. Someone tell Mickey about the trick we pulled to phone the Doctor that one time. See you on the flip side.
("It doesn't matter how. They'll find it. I have faith in them.")
They took a moment to let it all sink in. Then Jack rolled the note back up, tucking it carefully into the breast pocket of his shirt. "So there we have it, boys and girls," he said. "Looks like we have our work cut out for us."
Sometimes, in Torchwood, Jack gave an order and everything somehow magically happened overnight. Mickey suspected Ianto's industrial-grade coffee played a key role in those situations.
This was not one of those nights.
It had been an abnormally long day, all things considered; eventually, even Jack was forced to concede that Ianto was safely ensconced in the year 1919 and wouldn't be much bothered if the team got a good night's sleep before dashing back off to the rescue. Frankly, from the tone of the note, Mickey didn't think Ianto was a bloke much in need of rescue. He seemed like he had the situation pretty well in hand on his end.
It was Jack who was falling apart.
Oh, not obviously; not so much that anyone would notice. Even the girls hadn't, yet. He was all bluster and camp, as always, alternately shouting and flirting, showing them exactly what they needed to see. And Gwen and Martha wanted so badly to see it, to think everything was just hunky-dory and Ianto'd be back in the Hub before he'd had the chance to miss it.
Mickey wasn't the most observant bloke; he'd be the first to admit that. But he had an advantage over the girls in this case: he didn't need to believe Jack's act, and so he saw right through it. Anyway, Mickey knew what it felt like to lose the one person you'd thought constant in your life, the one you'd always taken for granted. And then one day they were gone, and nothing you could do would bring them back to you.
At least Ianto hadn't chosen to leave.
On the other hand, at least Mickey'd had the chance to say goodbye.
He slept fitfully that night, and dragged himself back to the Hub the next morning, preparing to wage war against the mainframe yet again. Martha and Gwen were already there, huddled over Gwen's computer monitor; Jack was still lurking up in his office.
"Okay," Mickey muttered to himself, settling in at his workstation. "Scan for alien tech, Ianto says. Does Ianto know how to scan for alien tech? No, he bloody well doesn't, because only their precious techie knew how to manipulate the program that - oh!"
The sequence came to him; it was just like hacking the Ministry of Defense files, except for the part where it was completely different, but whatever. The mainframe - he privately called her Mildred, the persnickety bitch - made little code rumbles of disapproval, but he ignored her. "Of course!" he said aloud; Martha and Gwen's heads came up, startled. "It's just a matter of shifting the parameters - shit! How the hell did we miss that?"
"Miss what?" Martha asked, coming over.
"Well, actually, I know how we missed it, it looks like a whole lot of nothing," Mickey went on, more to himself than her. "Except it's a concentrated mass of nothing where there definitely should be something. There's a ship there, all right, in orbit. I couldn't have found it last night even if I tried; it was shielded behind the moon. But not anymore. Now it's just got its own cloaking mechanisms to hide it."
Martha peered over his shoulder. "Can you hack through them?"
Mickey grinned. "I may not be much at writing my own alien programs, but hacking them? Yeah, that I can definitely do."
"Great," Gwen said. "But we can't just blast the ship out of the sky - I mean, not that we could, but even if we did, that doesn't mean the Ygrivians aren't still on Earth in 1919, making trouble."
"She's right," Martha agreed. "We still don't know what they're up to, or what they want. But at least Ianto's on the ground over there - over then? - gathering intel..."
Mickey shoved his keyboard away abruptly, gaping at her. "You've got to be kidding me. Gathering intel? Is that what the soldiers at UNIT call it? Sure, he's stranded in another time, but hey, think of all the intel he could send back to us via the Cryogenically Preserved Corpse Express!"
"I didn't mean it like that!"
"Yeah, well, just don't mention it to the boss man up there," Mickey muttered, rubbing his eyes. Shit, he needed more sleep. He hadn't realized he was so on edge.
Gwen frowned thoughtfully. "She has a point, though. We just need to focus on getting to Ianto; if we can track their ship, maybe we can track their teleports, too. We'll deal with the Ygrivians once Ianto gets back."
God, no wonder she hadn't taken offense before; no wonder Martha had even said it. They really hadn't thought this through yet, had they? "And what if Ianto doesn't come back?"
Gwen's eyes widened. "Mickey!"
"Look, I know no one wants to talk about it, and I liked the man well enough too, but we just don't know, do we?" Mickey shifted uncomfortably, staring down at his trainers. "I had this mate in the other universe, Jake. Great bloke. He really helped me settle in, you know, made me feel like I belonged there, even if I never was exactly who he - anyway. We were cleaning up after the Cybermen, after the walls closed for good - after Canary Wharf, here. I think it was in Chile or Argentina or someplace, we intercepted this distress beacon, right, and Jake went out to investigate it. And he just...never came back. We never found a body or nothing. He was just gone. And that was it."
They all avoided each other's eyes. No one could bring themselves to mention Jack.
Mickey cleared his throat, looking anywhere but up at Jack's office. "Sometimes," he went on quietly, "they just don't come back."
They'd had less than twenty-four hours to come to terms with it. No wonder the girls were still in the denial stage.
"Well," Gwen finally said, a little shakily, "I think I found a new lead on Monthu. I'm going to look into that."
"I'll go check in with UNIT, see if they've come up with anything new," Martha added, beating a hasty retreat.
Mickey sighed and went back to hacking the Ygrivian ship's cloaking mechanism.
He wasn't sure how much time had passed - his internal clock told him it was near to lunchtime - before Martha came clattering back into the Hub, shouting for Jack.
"What is it?" Jack demanded, heading down from his office. He looked older, somehow, exhaustion drawing deeper lines in the furrows of his forehead, at the corners of his eyes. Mickey'd heard he didn't sleep much, but apparently there were several different degrees of not-sleeping, and Jack had woken up on the wrong side of one of them.
Martha's eyes were bleak. "UNIT found more victims. Lots more, all in the past twenty-four hours, all somehow connected to Monthu. They're not bothering with subtlety anymore."
"What do you mean?" Gwen asked.
"Your theory was wrong," Martha said bluntly. "The victims weren't being used as leverage against Monthu employees. Monthu was just one big front for the Ygrivians - all its primary employees were aliens."
"They don't need Monthu as a cover anymore," Jack said, the realization dawning. "Whatever research they were doing on UNIT, they've already gotten everything they needed. And now they're cleaning up the operation."
"Which means killing anyone who knows anything about them," Martha added. She glanced over at Gwen. "I glanced through the new victims' files. One of them was Abe Webster - the security guard you guys spoke with."
Gwen clapped her hand to her mouth. "Oh, my God. But that means-"
The same thought had just occurred to Jack and Mickey. Jack said it first. "Oh, shit. Donna."
"Not on the list of victims yet," Martha said grimly. "But if we don't move fast, she will be."
Four days had passed since Harriet's death, three since Ianto had brought her body over to Sergeant Watkins at the police barracks. That afternoon, Oisín sent word that two men from Cardiff had finally arrived, and that he'd meet them in the pub that evening for debriefing. Ianto thought there were rather a lot of pubs in Dublin, but apparently Liam understood the message.
Ianto hadn't been allowed out on the streets of Dublin since his visit to the barracks; he didn't particularly appreciate the trip even now, scarcely glancing about his surroundings as he followed Liam, keeping his cap low over his eyes and head down. He didn't know whether the concern was that he might be recognized by one of the team from London, or a constable, or an Ygrivian, or whether he'd just trip over a cat and change the course of history; in all honesty, he didn't much care.
Under other circumstances, he might have enjoyed Dublin. Too bad there were poisonous aliens about fucking with the timelines and ruining Ianto's holiday.
They reached the pub - it had an Irish Gaelic name that slipped in and out of Ianto's memory - and Liam led them to a booth in the back, where Oisín was waiting. "It's done," the cocky young man announced. "And I'm out last week's wages, since I suppose I'll not be in on Friday to retrieve them, so you owe me the next round, Liam."
"Well and good. They took care of the body?"
"Aye, your men from Cardiff came and fetched him, like he wanted." Oisín jerked his head in Ianto's direction. They'd never been formally introduced, Ianto realized; the kid probably didn't even know his name. "And I've news. Torchwood One's apparently called off the investigation. They're cleaning it up, lads. We're finally free of them."
Ianto breathed a little more freely at that. He'd have a lot more room to maneuver, now that he didn't have to worry about stumbling across Stephen or Emma. Or Will, for that matter, though he suspected the Glaswegian would have just turned a blind eye to him. Still. Now they just had the Ygrivians to worry about - and that was worse.
Liam was of the same mind, apparently. "It's good to have London off our backs. But we've more pressing problems at the moment."
They'd been discussing the matter at length, back at Four's base of operations, and he was beginning to piece together the Ygrivians' plans. They'd have to fill Oisín in; Liam said the lad had a sharp mind. A budding physicist, to be specific - much like Harriet had been. Ianto would have preferred to have a sociologist or historian on hand instead, given the aliens' attempts at manipulating the political situation in Ireland to further their own purposes. Having failed to set One and Four to destroying one another in St. Stephen's Green, they might well attempt to provoke open war in the streets of Dublin. But for what ultimate purpose?
"We're running out of time," Ianto said, for Oisín's benefit. "Once the British Army gets involved, the situation will be out of your control." And he couldn't remember exactly when that happened. This year? Next? Too soon. He suspected the Ygrivians' plot would come to fruition well before then; the war that followed would serve to erase any hint of alien involvement - assuming anyone ever even thought to look for it.
"The Limeys have already settled in, in case you hadn't noticed," Oisín pointed out.
Ianto forced a smile. "Trust me, you really have no idea."
"We'll explain later, but not here," Liam added, getting to his feet. "Come along, lads. Let's head back to Torchwood."
The first time Ianto had been led to Torchwood Four's base, he'd been embarrassingly out of it, exhausted by the combination of culture shock, sleep deprivation, and inexplicable grief over Harriet's death. The car ride could have lasted ten minutes or ten hours, for all he'd been aware of it. He thought that at one point they'd crossed a bridge, but couldn't be sure. Liam and Kathy had manhandled him through the back door of an anonymous building - later, he would learn it was actually a popular theatre - then down a flight of stairs and through a locked door.
Then - something.
It felt like passing through molasses, or possibly mist; a weird energy made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. The sensation was sort of like being transported by wristband, except not. Even now with Liam and Oisín, several repeat passages later and in full control of his faculties, Ianto couldn't find the words to describe it.
And then they were in the base, miles out of Dublin, far underground beneath the Hill of Tara.
It was a sort of anomaly, Kathy had explained. "There was a ship that crashed here, back in naught-four," she'd said, sitting with Ianto in her office. For all intents and purposes, she seemed to be in charge of Four - Liam just ran operations. "Well - crashed is the merely the closest term one might use to describe it. As is ship. Not a spaceship, exactly; perhaps more of a time-ship, or interdimensional...something. I don't believe the word has been invented yet. We're not sure exactly what happened, but something on the ship went terribly wrong, and they began to crash - materialize, more like - in central Dublin. One of the beings aboard realized the devastation they would cause in such a concentrated civilian population, and they succeeded in jumping away at the last instant. To land here instead, underground; the subsequent implosion created the space you're in right now, which Torchwood converted into its base. But that final desperate jump created the Anomaly - a connection between the two points of entry. Objects or persons entering one end of it are transported to the other."
"Rather convenient for those building a secret base," Ianto had remarked.
Kathy had smiled. "Indeed. Torchwood Four may have been formally established to investigate extraterrestrial activity in Ireland, but our real purpose is to guard the Anomaly. And to study it. It's a most interesting phenomenon, Mr. Jones. Time passes oddly when one traverses the Anomaly. It takes only an instant for you, of course; but in the world outside, it could take as little as a minute or as long as a day. We still don't yet understand its governing principle."
Neither did Ianto, but he did understand one thing: the Anomaly toyed with time and space, like the Rift. If Four could learn to control it - and they were already conducting tests along those lines, experimenting with time travel just as Torchwood One had suspected - then maybe they could send Ianto home.
"Why did the ship jump here?" Ianto had asked, trying to suppress his excitement. It was still an outside chance, after all. "Under Tara? That's quite a coincidence, that they just happened to leap from Ireland's present-day capital to its ancestral one." There was a proper passage out of the base - a tunnel led to stone doors hidden in the vault of a church, which then led out to overlook the Hill of Tara. Ianto had gotten the grand tour on his second day. It was a lovely place, although the damp, chilly climate put Cardiff to shame.
"Not so coincidental," Kathy had explained. "Tara has a certain...aura to it, shall we say. A resonance. It's not the only location on this planet with such qualities - Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain, for instance, or Lhasa in Tibet. The Pyramids at Giza. Tara Hill."
Ianto still wasn't entirely sure about auras and the like, but he couldn't deny the base of Torchwood Four had a certain something. Or maybe that was just due to its odd resemblance to the Hub in Cardiff - a feeling of home, but not quite, that made Ianto's throat ache.
"Reacquaint yourself for a bit," Liam now told Oisín. "We'll brief you in thirty minutes." He glanced between Oisín and Ianto for a moment, considering. "You may as well show Ianto around your workshop; we haven't gone through the place since you've been on mission at the constabulary. He might be able to sort out some of your technology." With a nod to Ianto, Liam turned to head back to Kathy's office.
"Oh, I've missed this place," Oisín said, eyes gleaming. "Bridget!"
A complex mechanical hub dominated the main room of the base, designed to monitor and study the Anomaly. It spread through the space like a massive flora of machinery, vines of wire and piping interlacing across the floor and up through the walls, cogs and instruments blossoming from the core. Bridget, dressed in a workman's coverall, poked her head out from underneath a series of spiral-shaped gears. Her face was smeared with grease, jet-black hair curling at her temples. She and Oisín could almost have been siblings, with their shared dark coloring and greenish-hazel eyes, though Oisín was much taller and built on stockier lines than the pixie-like Bridget. They certainly acted like brother and sister, anyway, Ianto thought.
"Dragged your lazy arse back to work at last, did you?" Bridget demanded.
"It's not like I was on holiday," Oisín protested. "And you'd better not have touched my workshop. I know you've been dying to get your grubby hands on all my delicate instruments."
"Sorry, love, your instrument don't interest me none."
"Course not - you just wish you had one of your own."
Bridget shot back a response in Irish Gaelic that sounded a great deal like go fuck yourself and then returned to her work.
Grinning, Oisín headed down the corridor to his workshop, dragging Ianto along. "Liam really must be warming to you, if he'll let you play with our toys already. Not that you could tell from his manner, he's that aloof."
Aloof was right; in the three days he'd been with Four, Ianto could count on one hand the number of times Liam had engaged him in conversation. "You're a dangerous man, Ianto Jones," Liam had remarked once, in his usual brusque manner. "Your knowledge of the future is too tempting. There are some things no man should know."
And Ianto couldn't disagree.
"So you're called Ianto, then?" Oisín went on. "What is that, Welsh? And you're twenty-first century, Liam said. That's brilliant, that is. So how fast do cars go in your time? Do they fly?"
He kept up a constant string of questions and commentary, without once pausing for breath or any sort of response from Ianto. They passed a few other office-type areas, though none but Kathy's bore the slightest resemblance to anything Ianto would consider an office; a few closed doors that Ianto suspected led to bedrooms; and the inevitable medical bay, as presided over by Dr. Molly Grogan. The medic was a big-boned, busty woman with startlingly red hair and a temper to match. She was never called Molly - only Dr. Grogan or, if she particularly liked you that day, just plain Grogan. Bridget sometimes got away with calling her "Doc," but Ianto had his suspicions about the pair of them.
Several levels down below the hilltop - like Cardiff, Torchwood Dublin had dug in deep - they reached Oisín's workshop. Ianto hadn't yet been down this far. It wasn't nearly as impressive as the archives of Three, but it was a rather good start.
"We've got salvage rights to anything alien that touches earth in Ireland," Oisín remarked cheerfully. "And before the split, we spent years stealing the good stuff from One." He settled in behind a table stacked high with assorted tech with a sigh, well content.
Ianto turned to another workbench to find, to his considerable surprise, an IBM desktop computer from the early 1990s. "But...this is Earth tech, some of it. Future tech. There's no Rift in Dublin to spit this sort of thing out."
"No, but...didn't Liam tell you?"
That sort of sentence never boded well. "Tell me what?" Ianto asked warily.
"The Ygrivians," Oisín said. "They're time travelers. They used to trade us tech, back before the split. Not that the plonkers from One ever caught wise," he added, with some disdain.
"Hold on a moment," Ianto said, stomach sinking. "Torchwood Four is allied with the Ygrivians?"
"Used to do," Oisín corrected. "Why do you think Liam knew so much about the feckers? We didn't realize they were alien, at first - and I'm using we a mite liberally here, since this was back before the Easter Rising, and I wasn't recruited until October '17. Anyway, they went to old Eamonn - he used to run the place - and said they'd help us with the rebellion. Weapons, future tech, that sort of thing; that knife they threw at you in the park, that was definitely theirs. I don't rightly know what we offered them in return - information of some kind, I think. But the Rising went south and the Brits executed Eamonn all the same, and that's when the Ygrivians turned nasty. Said we owed them, and they were collecting payment. They stalked us for a while - Four used to have a large enough staff, fifteen or twenty. Now we're just the five of us here." His eyes darkened, more brown than green. "At least they never found the Anomaly. That's what's saved us."
Ianto's head was spinning. "I thought Four disappeared after the Rising for political reasons."
"Well, that too. We'd have split from London regardless. But One isn't as clever as it thinks it is. They'd never have driven us into hiding. That was because of the Ygrivians. And we had a lucky break of it, too. Someone helped cover our tracks - someone from one of the other Torchwoods, though the way I heard it, he was actually American." Oisín shrugged. "We ever knew why he did it, but Four owes him a pint or two, that's for certain."
Jack, Ianto thought, chest tightening. Honestly, given the choice, he sometimes wasn't sure if he'd kiss the man or belt him across the jaw. What else had Jack known that he'd never told Ianto? That might have helped him now?
Or was that just another coincidence, like everything else Ianto stumbled across in this fucking time? Everything seemed to be connected, yet to no purpose whatsoever. Or maybe Ianto was too close to the canvas to see the painting properly, just all the individual strokes and dabs of color that made up a greater picture he couldn't even begin to fathom.
Martha flipped her mobile closed with more force than was strictly necessary. Voicemail. Always voicemail. What good was a bloody universal mobile if the Doctor never checked his stupid messages?
She had tried calling him once before, while Jack and Gwen were still on the road back to Cardiff. He hadn't answered then, and hadn't returned her voicemail. But if he couldn't be arsed to help her track down Ianto - admittedly, a man he'd never met - she'd thought for sure that he would come running to the rescue of one of his own companions.
Then again, the Doctor had never even bothered to tell Martha what he'd done to Donna. Donna's grandfather had rung her up, a few days after Earth's return to its proper orbit; he said he'd found her number in Donna's mobile, and wasn't she one of the people Donna had met on her travels?
He had something she needed to know about Donna, he said.
God, Martha really hated the Doctor sometimes.
She turned to find Gwen standing at the curb, munching on the last of her chips. They'd left the Hub at five under the pretense of a girls' night out, united by their shared need to escape Mickey's gloomy prophesies and Jack's brooding. The astonishingly greasy fish and chips from a street vendor in the city centre hadn't done much to lift their spirits, though, and neither had wandering around the bustling shopping area. "I got in touch with my boss," Martha told her, tactfully omitting any mention of her other, less successful phone call. "They found Donna at her home, with her mother and grandfather. UNIT's found temporary housing for the family, but they're driving Donna up to Cardiff now. My boss agrees with Jack, that Torchwood should take the lead on this. "
"So he's also concerned UNIT might be compromised?"
"Sounds like," Martha sighed. She wandered over to a large, ugly fountain in the smallish square, and sat down on the lip; Gwen joined her. "The Ygrivians may not have gotten to Donna yet, but we don't want to accidentally lead them right to her. I don't like leaving her with UNIT, but I'm not sure Jack made the right call dragging her up here, either."
"It's pretty fucking simple from where I'm sitting," Gwen said sharply. "All we have to do is hide Donna in Cardiff until we sort out the aliens."
"And maybe this will lead the Ygrivians straight to Torchwood instead," Martha retorted. "Until we know what they want, it's too big of a risk."
"Risk to us! We're Torchwood, we can handle ourselves. Donna's a civilian. Isn't she an example of exactly what Torchwood and UNIT exist to protect?"
"We're here to protect all civilians, not just Donna. Look, I knew the woman, she's marvelous, I'd do anything to keep her safe. But you can't put the life of one person over the safety of an entire nation, Gwen, no matter how much you might like her."
Gwen bit her lip, looking at the ground; Martha sighed.
"Mickey was right, you know," Martha said quietly. "UNIT's made me a soldier."
Gwen shrugged uncomfortably, fiddling with her wedding ring. "You say that like it's a bad thing. We all do what we have to, to get through it. It helps to have someone to talk to - someone to keep you grounded. What about that boyfriend of yours? Weren't you engaged?"
"Yeah. We were. Before Davros and his Daleks." Martha held up her hand. Her fingers were bare. "Before the Osterhagen Key."
"But that doesn't make any sense," Gwen protested. "If he loved you-"
"Tom loved the person I was," Martha said flatly. "Even I don't like the person I've become."
Their Bluetooth earpieces buzzed to life, interrupting them before Gwen could come up with any more pithy reassurances. "All right, ladies," Jack said over the comm. "UNIT's giving us an ETA of thirty minutes. Party's over, get dressed, Martha's skirt is behind the couch and Gwen, you left your earrings on the kitchen counter. Let's make our new guest welcome."
"Right, Jack," Gwen sighed, rolling her eyes. "Heading back now."
They got to their feet, stretching. Gwen tossed her remaining chips into nearby bin. "All right, then?"
"Yeah," Martha said, waving her off. "I'm going to make a quick call, be with you in a mo'."
Turning away, she flipped open her phone and tried the Doctor, again. One last time. For Donna or Ianto or herself, she really wasn't sure anymore. It buzzed in her ear once, twice, three times, and then-
God damn it.
A stone angel gazed down at her from the hideous fountain, and Martha thought about being slowly murdered by old age, stranded in a time not one's own. Don't blink, she thought, and shivered.
Hill of Tara, 1919
It was a quiet night at the base under Tara Hill; Ianto supposed that should've been his first warning. Kathy was out in Dublin, attending a play; understandably, she was a frequent patron at the Abbey Theatre, whose basement housed the Dublin end of the Anomaly. Liam was left to run the base in her absence, which apparently meant squirreling himself away in one of the rooms Ianto hadn't seen yet. Bridget and Dr. Grogan were nowhere to be found; Oisín had already made at least three sly references to "playing doctor," proving that dirty jokes were not a unique feature of Ianto's time.
Oisín was in his workshop, fiddling with the old - or, rather, excitingly futuristic - IBM desktop. He'd managed to hook it up to a rather questionable array of copper wires and arcane gadgetry, which functioned as an impromptu power supply.
"Personal computers won't exist for decades," Ianto remarked, impressed in spite of himself. "And I grew up with the damn things. How is it you know nearly as much about programming as I do?"
"Because I'm bloody brilliant, that's why," Oisín said as he booted it up, well content with his lot in life. "It's just like maths. I love maths. And physics - well, that's just a different sort of maths, really."
Ianto pulled up a chair, curious. "You're well educated, then?"
"Eh, not properly. Me mam never held much with schooling." His accent thickened deliberately; Ianto had already noticed that Oisín had an actor's ear for dialects, and would switch in and out of accents as suited him. "But I've been sneaking into lectures at Trinity College since I was fourteen," he went on cheerfully. "Stuffed shirts, the lot of them, but there's one physics professor likes me well enough, he's always turned a blind eye."
Ianto opened his mouth to inquire further, but he was interrupted by a piercing, screeching whistle. The sound seemed to come out of the walls, and went on and on, making Ianto head ache fiercely.
"What the hell?" he gasped out, pressing his hands to his ears. It didn't help.
Oisín's eyes were very wide. "The alarm," he said, jumping to his feet. "Something's happened with the Anomaly."
They raced to the upper levels of the base; about halfway there, the alarm cut off, but they didn't stop running until they reached the main Hub. The others, save Kathy, were already there; Bridget and Dr. Grogan looked noticeably tousled, as though they'd dressed in a hurry.
Liam strode out of Kathy's office, grim-faced. "Your man at the theatre just rang," he said brusquely. "There's a riot broken out on Abbey Street."
"Is that all?" Dr. Grogan demanded. "I swear that theatre uses protests for publicity. What's all the fuss with the alarm, then?"
"I don't know, but we have to go check on it," Liam said. "If there's been any damage to the building, it could have affected that end of the Anomaly. And this just doesn't feel right."
"You're the old rebellion veteran," Bridget remarked, still fastening her trousers. She flashed them a grin. "Pistols?"
"What's on at the Abbey this week?" Oisín asked, as Bridget scampered off to collect firearms.
Liam shrugged. "Another revival of John Bull's Other Island, Kathy said."
"But that's been done there several times," Dr. Grogan pointed out with a frown. "There's nothing new in Shaw to riot over."
It was so glaringly obvious; Ianto wondered that no one else had brought it up yet. Or maybe they just didn't want to. "Unless someone knew Kathy was attending tonight," he said quietly.
From the shuttered expression in Liam's eyes, the possibility had already occurred to him. "Ygrivians," he said shortly. "It's always a possibility."
Ianto wondered how many co-workers - friends, lovers even - Liam had already lost. Between the Easter Rising and the ongoing skirmishes with the Ygrivians, it was no wonder he had a soldier's hardened outlook on life. And there was yet another war already upon them, Ianto knew, whether or not Torchwood Four chose to fight in it.
But that could wait.
Bridget soon returned, carrying a bag of assorted weaponry. They armed themselves, while Dr. Grogan clucked over them impatiently and Ianto hung back, uncertain as to his role in this whole operation. He wasn't Four, after all.
Liam decided the issue. "We'd best link arms when we enter the Anomaly," he said. "I don't want us to come through at different times. Once we're there, Bridget, you'll take the lead; then Ianto and Oisín. I'll bring up the rear. If this is anything like the Synge riots, it'll be a congenial sort of mayhem -- as much party as protest. We should be able to slip through unnoticed. Split up at the stage door and find Kathy."
While Bridget and Oisín bickered amicably over a particularly nice set of knives, Liam pulled Ianto aside. "Here," he said, placing a revolver in Ianto's hand. "We're short-staffed these days. You've got to aim it precisely; if it is Ygrivians, they're difficult to kill. Aim for the eyes if you have to, back of the neck if you can. Those are the only vulnerable spots. Stay out of claw reach; Ygrivians are very proud of their poison and they know they're nearly invulnerable, they rarely arm themselves. They won't be carrying firearms. They want the kill to be personal. Don't let them get personal."
Ianto nodded, tucking the gun into its holster. Back of the neck it was - he doubted he'd manage the other shot, especially not with such an antiquated revolver. "I'll do my best to avoid getting myself killed, sir," he remarked dryly.
"See that you do." Liam had the oddest expression on his face, as though he were looking at Ianto and not at the same time.
After a moment's awkward silence, Ianto started to turn back and rejoin the others. But Liam caught his arm, holding him back.
"Ianto," Liam said quietly. "I promised myself I would never ask, but...I need to know. Is this my time?"
Ianto just looked down at him.
"Whatever we're walking into here, is this..." Liam took a deep breath. "Is this when I die?"
And so it finally came, Ianto reflected. He'd been expecting this ever since he first put two and two together, very late that miserable night when he'd sat in shock over Harriet Derbyshire's rapidly cooling body and looked up from one corpse to see another.
The truth of it was, Ianto didn't know. Was it this skirmish to come, or in another week, another year? Not long, that much was certain - Liam hadn't looked much older than this in the autopsy photos. But none of that mattered. "No," Ianto said, with perfect honesty. "You don't die now."
Because regardless of what awaited them on the other end of the Anomaly, nothing would kill him in this time. Liam Dempsey would die in the year 2009, on a UNIT ship in the Irish Sea. And there was nothing Ianto could do to stop it - because if UNIT hadn't pulled Liam out of the sea, Torchwood would never have gotten involved, and Ianto wouldn't be here at all.
"They should have been here twenty minutes ago," Jack said, poking his head around Mickey's workstation. "Where the hell is the car?"
Mickey rolled his eyes, a little too obviously, and Jack had to bite his tongue to keep from snapping at the techie. Time was his team actually showed him the deference befitting his rank, he thought grumpily, conveniently forgetting that they never had.
"Like I said, they probably hit rush hour on the M4 out of London," Mickey said, in tones of infinite patience. "They could've come by helicopter instead, but I thought you didn't want to attract attention for once."
"Since when do we ever want to attract attention?" Gwen asked idly. "Secret organization, remember?"
Mickey gave her a pointed look. "I'm sorry, have you met Jumpin' Jack Flash over here?" Gwen giggled, which did not improve Jack's mood. So he had a swishy coat. So sue him.
Before he could come up with a witty and appropriately scathing comeback, Gwen's mobile chirped. She glanced down at the number, shrugged, and flipped it open. "Hiya, Andy, what's up?"
Jack huffed out an impatient breath, tapping the back of Mickey's chair. "Now, that man is a dose of Retcon just waiting to happen," he muttered. "Tell him we're busy, Gwen."
But she was frowning, brows knit in consternation. "What kind of incident? What did the car look like? Hold on, let me bring it up on CCTV." She flapped a hand at Mickey, who swatted Jack away from his keyboard. "Oh, God, that's just down the road from us..."
"Where?" Mickey asked, fingers already flying over the keys. He brought up the CCTV footage of the Plass, then flicking back to Bute Street and the A4232, scanning the traffic.
"Intersection of James and Adelaide," Gwen said, face pale. "Andy says it looks like an accident-"
Jack was already moving, shouting for Martha as the cog door rolled open to let him pass.
Up outside the Millennium Centre, he had to wait a moment for Gwen and Martha to catch up. It was already dark out, past twilight. Accident, he thought sourly. He'd long since stopped believing in things like accidents. Or coincidences. Not when Torchwood was involved.
Martha had had the forethought to grab her med kit, he noted with approval, as she and Gwen joined him on the Plass. They broke into a jog; the wind off the Bay was cold against his face, and he realized belatedly that he hadn't grabbed his coat. Hadn't even thought about it. Well, whatever. It was springtime, and they weren't going far.
Normally Ianto had the coat waiting for him before it even occurred to Jack to look for it.
"Turn right on Havannah," Mickey instructed over the Bluetooth. "The CCTV should pick you up in a second-"
Gwen yanked Jack's arm. "No - left, look, down by the boardwalk. What's the commotion?"
There was indeed a small crowd gathering by the Bay; no such thing as coincidences, Jack thought. They ran down. People were gawking about the railing, looking down at the rippling waters. A copper was already on the scene, interrogating a red-haired woman.
The woman turned away from the constable, and Jack could see her face in the light from a nearby streetlamp. Donna. Of course. "I already told you once," she said, working herself up into full strop. "He just bloody tripped, is all; not my fault if I happened to be in the way!"
"Tripped over a rail and fell into the Bay?" the constable asked incredulously. "Just how stupid do you think I am, lady?"
Donna gave him a withering glance. "Don't even get me started, mate."
"All right, we'll take it from here," Jack said loudly. Gwen immediately took over crowd control, dispersing the onlookers.
The constable looked up at Jack with increasing annoyance. "And who the hell are you?"
"Torchwood," Jack said. He could see PC Andy running down the Plass, and waved him over. "Look us up."
With Andy to take care of the put-upon copper - the guy did come in handy every now and then, not that Jack would ever admit it out loud - Jack was free to focus on Donna. "Hey," he said quietly, drawing her aside. "Good to see you again. I was getting a little nervous there."
She yanked away from him, hands on hips, leveling him with a glare. "You! I suppose this is all your fault, isn't it? Since you burst into my office nattering on about aliens and time travel, all my coworkers have either gone missing or been killed, soldiers in black vans took my family away, I narrowly escaped a car crash, I think I just accidentally-on-purpose killed my former boss, and to top it all off I've been dragged against my will to bloody Cardiff, of all the miserable places!"
Jack realized she was shaking; he gently took her arm and sat her down on a nearby bench, waving Martha over. "Yeah, we haven't been having the best week ever, either," he said, keeping his voice low and calm. "This is Martha. She's a doctor. Let her have a look at you, okay?"
"I'm fine," Donna insisted, her voice rising.
"Sure you are," Jack said soothingly. "Only you were just in a car crash - or something like - so you've probably been banged up a bit, and it's best to be sure, okay?" There was indeed a fresh bruise beginning to darken Donna's temple, and she'd favored her left leg as she walked.
Martha knelt in front of the bench, giving Donna a smile edged with sadness. "Hiya. Let's have a look at that leg. Did you bruise it in the crash?"
"Maybe." Donna frowned down at it. "I don't really remember. He's dead, you know," she said abruptly, with a shudder. "He couldn't swim. I knew he couldn't swim. I don't know how I knew, but I did. He tripped and fell into the Bay and he couldn't swim. I helped him trip."
She was babbling, the exhaustion and terror and quite possibly a mild concussion catching up with her. Jack let Martha take over, excusing himself to return to the Bay. Gwen and Andy were chatting together, watching a police diver search for the body.
"It was her boss, she said," Jack said, joining them. He leaned against the railing, staring into the dark waters. The Bay reflected the streetlamps, glittering globes of light in the rippling waves. "Dobson. He drowned."
"He's the one took Ianto," Gwen explained for Andy's benefit. "Oh, God. Now we can't ask him-"
Jack shrugged. "It doesn't matter. We know where they jumped, and we know he didn't kill Ianto. There's no other information I want from that bastard."
He hung around, though, until they finally brought up the body. It was Dobson, all right.
Seeing his corpse didn't make Jack feel any better at all.
Shoving the sick feeling in his gut aside, he made his way back to the Hub and called the others into the boardroom. "How's Donna?" he asked Martha, once they'd gathered.
"She'll be fine," Martha said. "Just a bit banged up, but nothing broken and no concussion. I gave her painkillers for the bruises. They're laced with a mild sedative, she should sleep for a while. I set her up in the med bay, but I know you people have a spare room or two about the place for overnight guests, so please share."
"Down the hall that goes off from the atrium, next to the door that leads down to the archives," Jack told her. "There are a few cots in there already; it's sometimes used as a quarantine area, or for extended medical care."
"Thanks." Martha took a seat, sighing. "She gave me some interesting information, by the by. Looks like she did some research of her own after you and Gwen left her, and she thinks she knows what the Ygrivians were after. They weren't investigating UNIT for what it is now - they wanted to find a way to stop it from ever being established in the first place."
It took a moment for that to register; Mickey let out a low whistle. "Oh, nice. So these bastards are at war with UNIT and the Time Agency, then?"
It was so obvious, Jack wanted to smack himself. "Oh, for the love of - of course they are. What better way to win a war than to wipe out your adversary in its infancy? The Time Agency evolved out of UNIT," he explained. "In about, oh, four hundred years or so. But that's insane. Time doesn't work like that. You can't pick one arbitrary point in history and see, well, if I turn right rather than left, this very particular event a thousand years down the line won't happen. There are too many variables. And in the meantime, you're mucking up a thousand other timelines. Insert paradox of choice here."
"It must be something more specific, then," Mickey suggested. "Donna may not have figured out what, exactly, but you can bet the aliens did. That's why they closed up shop here. They found something, in Ireland in 1919. And if Ianto doesn't suss it out..."
"And what if there's something we're meant to do on our end?" Martha pointed out. "After all, the Ygrivian ship is here, not in 1919."
Jack could feel the adrenaline beginning to course through his bloodstream, the faint head rush, like getting high. The possibilities were enough to make your head spin - and God, he loved this sort of challenge, in spite of himself. There was a reason he'd joined the Time Agency once. "So we need to get the Ygrivians back into our time so that Ianto and his new friends can put a stop to their plans ninety years ago."
"But that doesn't make sense," Gwen protested. "We already know Ianto succeeded, because this never happened! UNIT's still around - we know the Ygrivians didn't manage to destroy them."
Jack shook his head. "Time is constantly in flux. One wrong move, and we could alter our future irrevocably - or our past. And maybe the only reason UNIT is still around is because of some action we're meant to take tomorrow."
Gwen put her hands on her hips, clearly frustrated. She was still a constable at heart, Jack thought fondly, all logic and procedure; the four-dimensional jigsaw puzzle of time travel just wasn't her thing. "Hang on. UNIT's one thing, but this Time Agency - why are we fighting to protect them, again? This is the organization that produced John Hart and wiped two years of your own memories, Jack!"
"Says a member of the organization that instigated the ghost shifts and wipes the memories of countless civilians on a disturbingly regular basis," Jack remarked. "Glass houses, Gwen. The Time Agency wasn't always all bad, you know; it served its purpose admirably for a good couple of millennia. Besides, there isn't a police force in the universe that doesn't experience some degree of corruption. That doesn't mean we should do away with the whole system."
"So we just have to lure a bunch of time-traveling aliens back onto their ship in our orbit and then get rid of the lot of them - somehow," Mickey summed up. "Fantastic. I don't suppose we've any notion of how to do all this, then?"
Jack had to concede that the man had a point.
"Oh, my God," Martha said suddenly. "There might be a way."
Drepung, Tibet, Year-That-Never-Was
The first time Martha encountered Torchwood, Gwen was already dead.
Guides led her across the mountains of Nepal and passing through into the Republic of China; the Dalai Lama had been one of the first world leaders assassinated by the Master's regime, but the word throughout the Indian subcontinent was that her best hope lay with a band of resistance fighters in the Himalayas. Ironic, she supposed, that her safest point of entry into China would be through Tibet.
In a deserted village at the foot of Mount Gephel, her young guide gestured for her to stay put as he vanished into a dilapidated building that might once have been a school or a place of worship. A few long minutes later, a stranger emerged from the shadows. He looked to be about Martha's own age, dressed very sensibly in a heavy fleece and hiking boots - and, to her surprise, he was Caucasian.
"You must be Martha," the man said, in flawless English; after weeks of communicating through hand signals and broken sounds, it might well have been music. "It's good to meet you at last. My name is Ianto."
"You - you're Welsh," she said, startled. "But what on earth are you doing in Tibet?"
"I might ask the same of you," Ianto replied with a small smile. "I hear you're in need of passage into the Sichuan province?"
He led her along footpaths and hiker's trails through the sparse vegetation; after about a kilometer's walk, they reached a collection of tents set up among the ruins of an abandoned monastery. There, Ianto introduced her to the other resistance leaders - Owen, a lean, angry man, introduced as their medic, and Toshiko, a worn-looking woman with sad eyes. Toshiko oversaw their tech station - a couple of laptops hooked up to a Frankenstein-like mainframe made up of a rather ramshackle assortment of scavenged gadgetry, all but held together with spit and chewing gum.
"Saxon has control over the airwaves and internet, but he hasn't infiltrated our network yet," Toshiko said grimly. "Our contacts in Chengdu and Shanghai are coordinating with local guides across several provinces to get you into the ROC. It will take a few days before we can organize safe passage past the Toclafane perimeter guards."
"That's quite all right," Martha said. "Lhasa's only a few kilometers away, isn't it? I'd like the chance to take in the local color."
Toshiko and Ianto shared a wry glance; Owen just paced around the tent like a caged animal.
"But not today, I suppose. I'm knackered." Martha lowered herself stiffly to sit at the edge of a camp bed, dropping her backpack to the ground. "In the meantime, tell me. How did the three of you wind up out in the Himalayas, of all places?"
They exchanged looks; by unspoken agreement, Ianto was the one to respond. He might have been the youngest of the trio, but he seemed to be more or less in charge. "Saxon sent us out here immediately following the election," he explained. "It was a wild goose chase - he just wanted to get us out of England, I think. But we took too long to figure it out, and by the time we caught on and reconnected with civilization, he'd already unleashed the Toclafane. We couldn't get back. Gwen - she was our teammate - she tried. She had a boyfriend trapped in Cardiff, you see. We heard she made it as far as Sicily before Saxon's henchmen got to her."
"But why would Saxon pick on you, in particular?"
"We're Torchwood," Ianto said simply, as though that explained everything.
And, Martha realized with a rush of memory, maybe it did. "Torchwood - in Cardiff. Oh, my God, you're Jack's team."
Their reactions were immediate, and wildly different. Toshiko's cheeks flushed, her eyes lighting up; she suddenly looked ten years younger. Owen gritted his teeth and looked away - Martha could see that he was reflexively clenching and unclenching his fists at his side. And Ianto just froze, his face draining of all color.
"You know Jack?" Toshiko asked delightedly. "Where is he - how is he?"
"Who gives a fuck?" Owen spat, shoulders rigid with tension. He turned to face Martha, eyes blazing. "He up and left us, the bastard. You know why?"
He probably meant the question rhetorically, but Martha answered him anyway. "Yeah. Yeah, I do. He's on the Valiant. He's a prisoner of the Master - of Saxon."
They took a moment to digest this new information. Owen just shook his head. "He'll be fine," he said bitterly. "He's always fine. Right, Tosh?" When Toshiko wouldn't meet his eyes, he turned back on Martha instead. "Captain Jack bloody Harkness. He can't die, you know."
"Yes, he can," Ianto said quietly. "Again and again and again." He rubbed his hand across his face, looking very tired, too-old eyes in a too-young face. "We'll catch up with him eventually, I suppose."
But they never would, as she later learned. In Beijing, Martha would run afoul of some Toclafane scouts; she'd narrowly escape, but they would track her guides and trace her path backward. Owen would be the next to die, fighting to defend Lhasa from Saxon's wrath. Ianto and Toshiko would go to ground, trying to reach her family in Japan. Ianto would manage to get Toshiko aboard a transport out of Hong Kong, but he'd be picked up by Saxon's men there; Tosh would make it as far as Okinawa before the Toclafane finally caught up with her. But none of that mattered now, not yet.
Ianto cleared his throat, then, and deftly turned the conversation to other, more practical matters.
It turned out Toshiko was developing a computer program designed to punch through the Toclafane network. "If only we were back at the Hub," she said, eyeing her diminished technological empire somewhat balefully. "I could use the mainframe to hack Saxon's communications, and if we opened the Rift to boost a signal - surely there must be other races out there, out in the stars, that would intervene here, help us..."
"Hard to say," Martha said, thinking it over. "There's the Judoon - they're a kind of intergalactic police force, but they can cause as many problems as they solve, and I don't know if they'd consider this to be within their jurisdiction. The Shadow Proclamation might, but I wouldn't know how to go about contacting them."
Owen punched the tent wall in frustration; it billowed outward, unconcerned. "There's got to be someone."
It was as good an entry point as any. Martha took a deep breath. "There is," she said. "Let me tell you a story..."
They passed through the Anomaly together; Ianto felt the buzz of static electricity dancing from his hand to Bridget's, just ahead of him. When they emerged on the other end, it took a moment for Ianto's eyes to adjust to the dimly lit basement storeroom.
The first thing he realized was that there was no riot, or if there was, it was a very quiet one. They were only two levels below the stage of the theatre; the basement wasn't that well soundproofed. Then again, the riot could already have ended; how much time had passed during their passage through the Anomaly? A minute? An hour? More?
Before he could register anything else, Bridget darted forward to pull open the door to the corridor. She stopped suddenly at the doorway. "Oh!" she said, more a gasp than a cry.
And then stumbled backwards into Ianto's arms, her hand pressed to her chest, blood already beginning to stain her shirt.
"Ygrivians!" Liam hissed. "Get back, get back, the Anomaly is compromised, warn Molly-" And he grabbed Oisín's arm and shoved the bewildered young man back into the Anomaly.
Oisín vanished, leaving a trail of sparks behind him; due to the time dilation within the Anomaly, it might be hours before he could even try to return. He was safe, at least temporarily.
But Bridget's legs were giving out, and Ianto sat her down on the floor as three pale, bald Ygrivians entered the storeroom. Two were unfamiliar to him, but Ianto recognized the leader at once: the alien who'd once called himself Irwin, posing as a member of Torchwood One.
The alien who'd killed Harriet Derbyshire, and now, apparently, Bridget as well.
And they had Kathy with them. One of the Ygrivians clutched her tightly in his arms, his claw extended, lightly tracing her collarbone.
"Ianto Jones," Irwin said, in a tone of malicious delight. "So this is where you ended up."
"Lovely to see you again, too," Ianto ground out.
Irwin looked over at Liam, who stood frozen to his spot, jaw slack. "You can drop your weapons, by the way. They're not particularly effective anyway, and if you try anything, my colleague here would be more than happy to give your fearless leader a little prick."
"Go to hell," Kathy replied calmly.
But Liam had already dropped his pistol, kicking it away, and Ianto tossed his in that direction as well. Not that he could have used it, anyway, with Bridget slumped halfway across his lap.
"What the fuck do yous want with us, anyway?" Liam asked. His voice was rough, hoarse. He never took his eyes off Kathy.
"With Torchwood Four?" Irwin repeated. "Nothing, actually. I couldn't care less what toys you and your chums play with in your spare time. I believe we even gave you some trinkets to amuse yourselves with, once. Not me personally, you understand - I've been in London on business for the past few years, if you catch my meaning." He flashed an ugly grin in Ianto's direction. "My business is with a man called Mr. Martin."
Ianto stiffened. Oisín? What the fuck?
"Martin, eh?" Liam said, face impassive. "Never heard of him. Not an uncommon name in these parts, you understand."
"Don't be coy," Irwin chided. "We know he works with your little organization. For a while, we thought he was with Torchwood London, but they kept rather...exhaustive records. He wasn't in any of them. Our sources" - he must have meant Monthu's research on UNIT - "indicate that he was employed by Torchwood Four for a time. It must be now. Perhaps he is with you now, perhaps he is back at your base, perhaps he is elsewhere in the city. It doesn't matter. You will bring him to us."
"And what will you do with him?" Liam asked, never taking his eyes off Kathy.
The Ygrivian smiled in what he probably thought was a placating manner. "We won't kill him, if that's what you are implying. But we need certain information that only he possesses, in this time. We've seen the future, Torchwood. You have no idea what harm Mr. Martin's research will cause your own planet, your own people. Humanity becomes a race of murderers and thieves, all because of him. We're trying to help you prevent a future of mayhem and lawlessness."
Ianto snorted. "Trying to promote it, you mean. Jack tried to warn me-"
"Jack Harkness is a living example of the calamity that befalls the human race," Irwin snarled. "He and his precious Time Agency have wrought a culture of cruelty and unspeakable horrors upon twelve galaxies."
Ianto hugged Bridget closer to his chest, listening to her wheezing breaths. From what little he knew of the Time Agency - a certain Captain John Hart came to mind, not to mention a couple of years' missing memories - it was entirely too plausible.
"You know," Liam said casually, "I've noticed there are a lot fewer of you buggers these days. You've got only two backup here when you ought to have at least ten. I reckon your little war with the Time Agency isn't going so well."
The alien's eyes flashed a dangerous shade of gold. "The Agency is as much a danger to Earth as to our kind. That's why we need Mr. Martin. At first, we thought we needed to destroy all of UNIT - they mutate into the Agency in the 25th century. But we couldn't make the timelines work; no matter what we tried, the Agency still stood in the future. There are so many variables to time," he went on, taking on an aggrieved tone. "You backwater primitives have no bloody idea. We tried tracing it back to Torchwood instead, but there were so many branches to contend with over the centuries...no good. But then we realized - it wasn't the organization that mattered. It was the idea."
"Of time travel?" Ianto scoffed. "Nonsense. Why not assassinate Einstein, then? Or H. G. Wells, for that matter?"
"Because they never developed a viable theory for temporal mechanics," Irwin said shortly. "Martin did. And his work would destroy your world. That knowledge was never meant for humanity. You don't know what the future holds, Mr. Jones. You know a few decades ahead of time, that's all." His eyes were very cold. "That's nothing. And I am losing patience." He reached out and grabbed Kathy, yanking her out of his associate's arms, and pressed his extended claw to her neck. To her credit, she didn't so much as cry out, just leveled Liam with a calm, unbroken gaze.
At the tip of Irwin's claw, a drop of poison welled up, trickling down Kathy's neck.
"All I have to do is pierce her skin," Irwin said, voice deadly quiet.
Liam took an involuntary step forward. "Don't. Please." He looked at the three aliens, and Ianto could see the calculation there, realized what he was going to do a second before he did it. He gently disentangled himself from Bridget, laying her as comfortably as possible on the floor while Liam took a deep breath. "Let her go. You want me. I'm Oisín Martin."
"No, he's not," Kathy said at once, eyes blazing. "Don't listen to him."
"There's no need to go on protecting me, Kathy," Liam told her, with a gentle smile. He had never looked so tender, so tranquil. "They'd find out sooner or later. Besides, why should you all pay for my...future crimes?"
He stepped forward, palms open in a universal gesture of submission. Irwin hesitated, then in one fluid movement, shoved Kathy away and grabbed Liam instead, his arm coming up to press against Liam's neck. Instinctively, Liam reached up to grasp the alien's forearm, trying to loosen his hold.
Kathy pulled herself up off the dusty floor, regal in her rage. "You said you had no intention of killing him!"
"Ah, well," the alien said blandly. "Perhaps I lied." And he jammed his needle-like claw into Liam's chest.
Time seemed to stretch out, every heartbeat echoing in Ianto's ears, lasting at least a lifetime apiece. Liam grunted with pain, eyes widening, but his lips curved into a smile. He still grasped Irwin's forearm; with his fingertips, he'd flicked open the face of the wristband Irwin wore there.
"Éirinn go brách," Liam whispered, utterly at peace.
And with a deliberate lack of precision, he jammed all the buttons on the Ygrivian's Vortex Manipulator at once. There was a flash of blue-white light, and they were gone.
Ninety years away and miles off any sort of course, Liam Dempsey and an alien once called Irwin would materialize in thin air in the middle of a thunderstorm to fall twenty meters into the Irish Sea.
Here and now, though, there were two other Ygrivians to deal with, and they were distinctly unhappy with this latest turn of events.
Without allowing himself to think, Ianto dove for the guns. He was armed and aiming before the aliens had a chance to react. Kathy was at his side in an instant, hand gripping his elbow; he passed her one of the firearms, which she pointed directly at one Ygrivian's head.
"Tell me why we shouldn't kill you both," she demanded, in a voice harsh with unshed tears. Her eyes were dry, though, and her hand holding the gun perfectly steady, with the practiced air of one well accustomed to weaponry.
Outmaneuvered, one Ygrivian reached for his wristband. There was a flash of light, but much to his own apparent surprise, he remained firmly stuck in this time and place. His brows knit in perplexity. "Call for backup," the other Ygrivian ordered, and he tapped out a new sequence on the wristband, snarling something in an alien language.
For a moment, nothing happened. Kathy and Ianto remained in their stand-off, uncertain how to react to this latest development; the two Ygrivians gaped at their Vortex Manipulators and awaited a response.
Then a tinny but distinctly recognizable voice emerged from the first alien's wristband, a message with no accompanying holograph.
"Kiss my arse," Mickey Smith said.
Outside, dawn broke over Cardiff Bay, sunlight sparkling in the waters spilling down the fountain and painting the Millennium Centre gold. The city was waking up, coming to life.
All unbeknownst to Mickey, for whom time had lost all meaning.
He'd worked through the night, long after Gwen and Martha had given up in favor of rest, after Jack had retreated to the room under his office to stare sleepless into the murky darkness. But Mickey remained at his workstation, eyes bleary from the endless stream of code, fingers flying across the computer keys until his hands began to cramp. He didn't stop, couldn't stop. Somewhere out there in orbit around the Earth, the Ygrivian ship was broadcasting its coordinates through time to stolen Vortex Manipulators; but they were sloppy, inexpert. The Hub's mainframe could cut right through them, if only she would just cooperate. Mildred the mainframe was in a Mood, and no matter what Mickey tried, he just couldn't drag the fucking answers out of her. She was just so goddamn alien, like the Hub, like the TARDIS, like every woman Mickey had ever failed to understand. She didn't make sense, and he couldn't make her talk to him. He could do this, he knew he could, he could hack into anything, but he was getting nowhere and he'd been at this for hours and he couldn't remember the last time he slept or had a decent cup of coffee...
Until finally, pushed to exhaustion beyond his endurance, he gave up fighting. He stopped trying to force the mainframe into a shape he understood, stopped trying to remake Mildred in his own image. Instead, he let go, jumping in and letting the code flow up and around him. It was alien and organic and alive, and it pulled him in willingly, with just the faintest sense of fond exasperation.
Once he'd opened himself up to her, Mildred didn't just speak to him.
Oh, Mickey got it now. A line tweaked here, and the Ygrivian frequencies were unlocked to him. A phrase inserted there, and he'd cut them off, severed all the connections, blew out the transmission like cutting a fuse.
Dimly, in the back of his mind, the part that still maintained some sort of connection to the physical world, Mickey was aware that the others were in the Hub with him, crowding around his workstation. Somewhere, the pterodactyl screeched; he dismissed it as irrelevant. A hand on his shoulder - big, masculine, must be Jack, he was the only other bloke on offer - irrelevant. All that mattered was the code.
A ping bounced down from the other end of the line, like a lamb bleating for its mother. Mickey laughed, capturing the call, erasing it to nothing. He isolated that particular frequency, spoke aloud, knowing Mildred would catch his response on one of the many microphones scattered about the Hub and pass it along, your friendly interdimensional mail carrier - "Kiss my arse," he told the stranded Ygrivian, with no small amount of satisfaction, and dissolved the connection for good.
"What did you do?" Jack asked, voice low and proud.
"Isolated the Ygrivian ship's frequencies and cut them off from any of their lackeys with magic wristbands," Mickey replied. "No one's jumping anywhere now. Can't even communicate with each other. Whatever aliens were mucking about in 1919 - probably only a handful, all told; I didn't read more than four or five Vortex Manipulators accessing the frequencies - anyway, they'll be stranded there, now. Ianto can take care of them. And now we can do like Martha suggested and broadcast the ship's location to the Judoon - those Ygrivian bastards must be wanted for some crime or another, right? Or we can feed the intergalactic coppers a good line or two, just takes a couple of tweaks in the Ygrivian mainframe codes."
"Sounds good to me," Martha said with a smile.
"Sounds bloody brilliant, is what that is," someone else muttered, and Mickey glanced over to see Donna there with the team, arms akimbo. She looked like she'd like to throttle an alien or two herself. Well, given what happened to her officemates, Mickey couldn't half blame her.
Mickey cleared his throat. "Problem is, even though the mainframe's talking to me now, she still just doesn't have the juice." He glanced from Jack to Gwen, favoring them both with a good glare. "So now will someone please tell me what trick you lot pulled to phone the Doctor, like Ianto's note said?"
Gwen looked up, startled. "I thought Jack already - oh. Okay. We boosted the signal through Torchwood itself - opened up the Rift to give it the power."
"All right," Mickey sighed, "now why didn't either of you bother telling me that days ago, when we found the bloody note in the first place? Wouldn't have half saved me some trouble, you know."
"Yes, but that would be logical, Mickey Smith," Jack chided, a grin slowly spreading across his face. "What have I told you about using logic?"
Mickey grinned back. "Only on alternate Tuesdays?"
Jack clapped him on the shoulder. "Good man. Let's call the cops in and clear up the rest of this mess, then, shall we? Martha, you're on standby to deal with the Judoon; Gwen and I will handle the Rift if Mickey's got that transmission ready for broadcast."
"And what about me, then?" Donna demanded.
"Just stand there and be fabulous, darling," Jack replied, favoring her with his trademark thousand-megawatt smile. "We couldn't have done it without you. Ready, Mickey?"
Damn right Mickey was.
"Their wristbands aren't working," Ianto said aloud, marveling at the convenience of it. A minute earlier, and Liam couldn't have jumped with Irwin; a minute later, and untold hordes of Ygrivians might have answered the call for back-up. Now there was a Torchwood coincidence for you. "They can't jump!"
Kathy smiled. It was not a pleasant smile. "Hear that, boyos?" she remarked softly, aiming her pistol with an unwavering hand. "Yous two are all mine now."
She fired just as the two aliens lunged.
It was a good shot, but not good enough; the bullet ricocheted off one Ygrivian's forehead, leaving a burn mark across the skin but otherwise doing no damage. Liam apparently hadn't been kidding when he said they were hard to kill. Ianto had no time to worry about it, though; he was too busy fighting for his life.
One alien was on him, tackling him to he floor. He ducked and rolled, narrowly avoiding a slash of claws. Fuck. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Kathy involved in a similar skirmish, her pistol lost, using her shawl to catch up the Ygrivian's talons. Ianto's alien dove for him again with a snarl, and he brought up his own gun with hardly an instant to spare, firing instinctively. The revolver's recoil made all the bones in his hand ache, but he fired again and again, until it was empty.
He was lucky. One of his shots hit its mark, and the alien crumpled on top of him, getting discolored blood all over Ianto's borrowed shirt. He shoved it aside hastily, not bothering to roll it over onto its back; he really didn't want to see.
But now he was out of bullets, and on the other side of the storeroom the other Ygrivian was looming over Kathy, claws extended, and Ianto couldn't get there in time, could only watch as-
A single gunshot rang out, and the last Ygrivian crumpled to the floor, pale orange blood oozing from the back of his neck.
Bridget had propped herself up on one elbow; smoke trickled out of the barrel of her gun. "Go fuck yourself," she told the dead alien. The pistol remained steady in her hand.
It took less than two tense hours for the Judoon ship to arrive in Earth's orbit. As it turned out, the Ygrivians were wanted on fifty-three separate charges, in violation of the Shadow Proclamation and intergalactic law - including grand larceny, petty larceny, impersonation of a Time Agent, impersonation of another species, attempted genocide, attempted paradox, murder in the nth degree, and theft of government technology. The Judoon stormed in so quickly it made Martha's head spin, leaving the team in Cardiff with a disconcerting sense of anticlimax.
Much to Martha's relief, UNIT stepped in to represent Earth in the ongoing treaty negotiations, allowing Torchwood Three - along with Martha and Donna, who showed no indication that she intended to leave them anytime soon - to retire to a nearby pub.
"That's sorted, then," Gwen remarked, stirring her martini thoughtfully. "But how can we be sure that did it? How do we know the aliens stranded in 1919 didn't manage to accomplish their mission - whatever it was? I mean, I know UNIT's still standing, but if time's in flux and all..."
"Don't worry about it," Jack said. "The Ygrivians won't be causing any more trouble, in this time or any other. Besides, if the timelines had been altered, we wouldn't be having this conversation at all, would we? We might not even exist. And believe me," he added, "if they'd succeeded in causing a paradox, we'd know." He and Martha shared a wry glance.
That year had never happened, she thought to herself, but on the other hand...it had. And she'd survived it. Saved the world, even. And now, maybe, she'd helped save it all over again.
Her job wasn't half bad, in the end.
"Well, there you have it," Mickey said, with no small amount of well-earned satisfaction. He lifted his pint in drunken salute. "Planet saved."
"Planet saved," Donna echoed, with no small amount of wonder. She looked like she could get used to this sort of thing. Hell, Martha thought, she already had, once. And why shouldn't she again? Make some new memories to replace the ones she'd lost. "But...what about your other friend, Jack? The one Dobson took?"
Jack stiffened, eyes going dark. "Ianto? Honestly, we might never know."
That killed the celebratory mood right quick.
"Right!" Gwen said, falsely bright. "I'm going to go give Rhys a ring, see if he'd like to join us. I'll just fetch us all another round while I'm up, shall I? The same again?"
"I'll head out with you," Martha said quickly. She got to her feet. "I've got a quick call to make, too. Be right back!"
They headed outside, Gwen already chatting away on her phone. Martha gave her a wave and walked down the block a bit, giving herself a little privacy. She flipped her mobile open and thumbed through the contacts.
She hesitated, then kept scrolling down until she found the number she actually wanted, and hit send.
It buzzed once, twice. And then he answered.
"Hiya, Tom," Martha said, taking a deep breath. She clutched the mobile to her ear with a trembling hand, feeling distinctly lightheaded. "It's me. I...I'd like to talk to you."
Hill of Tara, 1919
Bridget was still alive when they brought her back through the Anomaly. She died in the med bay a few hours later, just as the rising sun broke across the Hill of Tara.
They hadn't had to clean up anything in the basement of the theatre in Dublin; shortly after the last Ygrivians were dispatched, the cavalry arrived. Or, rather, the constabulary.
"Got a call from a former recruit of mine," Sergeant Watkins had said, in a more muted version of his usual bellow. "Fellow by the name of Martin. You know, I always thought his story was a bit fishy. Don't generally stand for duplicity and desertion in my constables, but then, Torchwood always was a special case, eh?" He'd winked, then, and told Ianto and Kathy to clear out quick before he brought his men in to sort out the aliens' corpses.
The surviving members of Torchwood Four dealt with the loss of Bridget and Liam in their own, personal ways; for Ianto, so recently in a similar position, the grief was a little too close to hand. He buried himself in their limited archives, sorting through alien bric-a-brac while Dr. Grogan cleaned her entire med bay top to bottom over and over again, Kathy locked herself in her office, and Oisín got ragingly drunk.
And they went on.
Once, Kathy called Ianto into her office. "You can stay with Four, if you like," she said bluntly, shuffling some paperwork. "For as long as you're with us, and under the condition that you don't defect to the British Army when they inevitably send their troops over."
"I won't," Ianto said quietly. "I have more respect for history than that."
Kathy gave him a thin smile. "I thought so. But you will stay?"
"For now," Ianto agreed. He looked down at his hands, folded over his lap. "But I thought, perhaps...further investigations into the Anomaly..."
"I'm closing it down." Kathy waited until he lifted his gaze back up to hers. Her jaw was set. "It will take a bit of time to accomplish, but one of our former scientists developed the theory several years back, and Oisín should be able to implement it. The Anomaly is wonderfully convenient at times, but it's too dangerous, and it's inherently unstable. If it goes haywire, it could drag half of Ireland in with it. We should have destroyed it years ago."
So that was that, then. No shortcut home. Ianto shifted in his chair, running his hands along the soft wool of his trousers. Funny, he hadn't even realized how comfortable the fit of his clothing was, now that he'd found a few outfits in his own size. He liked the cut of the fabric, and once he had some local currency, he might even visit a tailor to get a proper suit made. His original clothes were long gone, lost the night he'd headed out with Torchwood One.
"You know," he said, thinking of London and Harriet Derbyshire, "for so long, I thought the Ygrivians' plans had to have been related to the political situation. I mean, why else pick an era of revolution, the beginning of the end of an empire? But all that time, they were just looking for Oisín. The time and place was just a fucking coincidence."
"Everything is related," Kathy replied. Lines of grief and exhaustion added years to her face; her chestnut hair was threaded with silver. "If it hadn't been for the Easter Rising, we would never have split from the other Torchwoods, and the Ygrivians would have found a full dossier on Oisín Martin from the start. If it hadn't been for the current civil unrest, Liam never would have recruited Oisín, and without Torchwood, Oisín might never have been open to even the possibility of time travel. And make no mistake; those aliens would have used the coming war to their advantage if necessary. We simply prevented it."
Ianto fiddled with his shirtsleeve. "Oisín still doesn't know that he was the Ygrivians' target. Do you ever plan on telling him?"
Kathy sighed. "Not now. Someday, perhaps. But certainly not yet. To tell him would be to explain why - that he's meant to invent time travel and all that rubbish your man was spewing - and that, I feel, is information he'd best come into on his own. If it's even true."
"Oh, I think it is," Ianto said thoughtfully. "That much, I do believe."
Though neither of them knew it, the first time Tommy Brockless was defrosted was also the day Ianto realized he was never going home.
It was just past dawn, a couple of weeks after the battle; Ianto was sorting a stack of alien debris into boxes for harmless, mostly harmless, and potential to transform Ireland into modern-day Atlantis. Molly Grogan slept in Bridget's empty bed, Kathy was working on some backlogged paperwork, and Oisín was tinkering with something or other in his workshop. Ianto's mind wandered as he worked - it had been relatively peaceful here lately, but knowing Torchwood, it wouldn't last, and with the loss of Liam and Bridget, Ianto was technically the most experienced field operative. He'd have to brush up on physical training, particularly weapons; maybe Oisín could give him a refresher course with present-day firearms...
And that's when it finally sunk in: he really was stuck here.
There was no way back to his own time.
If he was very, very lucky, and played his cards right, he might just live long enough to watch the first moon landing on telly. Gwen and Mickey and Martha wouldn't even be born yet; Jack roamed the streets of Cardiff, waiting for the Doctor, with decades still to go before his path would cross Ianto Jones's.
It was too much, all at once. The walls of the base were falling in on him. Ianto had to get out of there.
He made his way back up to the surface, pushing past the stone doors that concealed the tunnel, stumbling out of the church. The air was a chilly mist, not quite rain. It felt good against his too-warm face.
As he took deep, gulping breaths of fresh air, a preternatural calm slowly crept over him. He trudged across the field, hopping the fence and dodging a sheep or two. Tara unfolded before him, verdant and timeless, shimmering in the early morning mist. It really was beautiful here.
There were worse places to live out one's days. The twentieth century was hardly the Dark Ages; Ianto already knew the worst events to avoid, anyway. He just wouldn't invest in the stock market for another decade or so. And the slow path wasn't so terrible, after all.
Just a lifetime.
"Ianto? Kathy said she thought she'd heard you leave the base." It was Oisín, his dark, curly hair plastered across his forehead. His eyes were bright with excitement. "I think I've made a new development in the Ygrivian case."
He was holding their only salvaged Vortex Manipulator, the wristband Ianto had snatched off the body of the alien he'd killed.
"What did you figure out?" Ianto asked, glancing away. It looked so much like Jack's.
"Well, for one, why the Ygrivians got stranded in that deathtrap. I don't think they knew how to work these things, not really," Oisín said. "We already knew that they scavenged tech, and you told us the wristbands belonged to that other organization - the Time Agency, was it? Anyway, the Ygrivians could work the basics, but they relied upon the technology on their ship to plot the coordinates and synchronize the signal. That must be why the wristbands stopped working - somebody on your end managed to sever the connection to their ship."
"Mickey must've figured out to jam the signal," Ianto replied, mind whirring. He took the wristband from Oisín, turning it over and over in his hands. "He always was a dab hand at hacking."
"Hacking?" Oisín rolled the word on his tongue, tasting it. "Righto. As you say. The thing of it is, though...I think I've sussed out the basic principle of the device. So it's for you to use, if you like."
Ianto rubbed his thumb across the warm leather, trying to suppress the sudden surge of adrenaline. His heart knocked painfully against his ribcage. "You can program it?"
"Already have," Oisín replied. He swallowed audibly; Ianto could see fine beads of sweat breaking out on his forehead. "Best as I can devise, anyhow. The technology...God, I could spend a lifetime studying this and still not understand. It's centuries beyond us."
"Millennia, actually." Ianto's mouth was very dry. He looped the band around his left wrist, pulling it snug and fastening the clasp. "You're a clever man, Oisín Martin."
Oisín grabbed Ianto's elbow, too tightly. "You're taking a great risk, man. I could have it all arse-backwards."
"What coordinates did you give it?" Ianto's voice sounded distant, barely audible over the hammering of his own pulse, blood rushing in his ears, head roaring.
"Just the date - ninety years from now." Oisín's grip on Ianto's arm didn't loosen. "There are too many variables - I didn't dare alter the physical location. It's dodgy enough mucking about with time without adding space into the mix."
"That'll do just fine, I can make my way back to Cardiff once I'm in the right time." Ianto glanced down at the hand on his arm pointedly. "Do you plan on accompanying me?"
Oisín released him hastily, backing away. "Ianto - please think. If I bollocksed it up at all, you could end up anywhere. Anywhen. And ninety years from now - God, how do I even know if this hill will still be standing? All the ruckus Torchwood stirs up, the whole base may well have caved in by then. You could materialize fifty feet above the earth, and break your neck in the fall."
Ianto thought of Liam Dempsey and his long, cold dive. "Or I could walk back down the road a ways first, and wind up encased in concrete because some new shopping mall was erected there in the 90s," Ianto pointed out. "There's always a risk. It's worth taking." He met Oisín's eyes. "You're Torchwood, aren't you? We've survived far worse. I trust you."
"Éirinn go brách, right?" Oisín gave him a sardonic smile. "Ireland until the end of time. Or at least until you Brits wipe us off the face of the planet in this bloody war."
Ianto reached out and gripped his arm. "Oisín...this revolution of yours? Ireland doesn't lose." He thought about it a moment, then amended, "You don't win, exactly, not outright, and it takes a little while to sort out the legal situation, and even then there are some pretty serious troubles, but...Ireland gets its independence. Like America. Like all the other colonies, sooner or later."
Oisín stared out over the landscape, eyes brilliantly green. "An actual Irish republic? God. I can't believe I'll live to see the day."
"And Four with you," Ianto agreed. No need to tell the man that for all intents and purposes, this branch of Torchwood would have long since vanished by Ianto's time. "Just tell your team to keep an eye out for me, yeah? Engrave a memo into the wall or something so they know to expect me in ninety years' time."
Oisín nodded, flashing a quicksilver grin. "I'll work something out."
"Good man." Ianto glanced back down at the wristband, flicking the case open. "Which button do I press?"
After a moment's hesitation, Oisín pointed to the correct button. "That one, there. Should do the trick." He took a deliberate step back, eyes intent on Ianto's face. "Bail ó Dhia ort, Ianto."
"Thanks," Ianto said. He traced the face of the Vortex Manipulator with a light fingertip, hesitating. "Oisín - this is the only wristband we managed to salvage, isn't it? I'm taking a one-way trip here. You won't get it back."
"Aye, I know." Oisín took a deep breath and shook his head. "It's not technology we're meant to have, though, is it? Not yet. Though believe me, it's given me a thing or two to think about!" His hazel eyes were distant, thoughtful. "I'd never considered Time to be another dimension, like space, that could be physically traversed. If a person could find a way to plot the correct trajectory..."
Ianto grinned, almost in spite of himself. He supposed he ought to be worried - hadn't this just changed the course of history, after all? But then again, Einstein and relativity aside, someone at some point had had to develop the possibility of time travel to even create the device around his wrist, after all. Why not Oisín Martin? The Ygrivian had said it was him. Maybe this was the path history was meant to take.
The universe was a marvelous place after all, Ianto reflected, smile spreading, and he grasped tightly to that thought, to that wonder, that pure joy of being, as he pressed the button on his wristband and felt the world dissolve around him.
In the month since the Ygrivians' defeat, Gwen had scarcely had a moment to breathe. First Torchwood was dragged right back into the endless round of negotiations with the Judoon, a race of mercenaries if she ever met one (but at least they had some interest in upholding the laws of the galaxies, however dubious their motivation). Then they had to clean up the mess the Ygrivians had left behind - Monthu Industries dismantled, its building and files confiscated by UNIT, cover stories to be developed for the families of the victims. The work was tedious and emotionally draining, but that was what Torchwood did best, after all. UNIT helped where it could, but Gwen's initial evaluation of that organization had been spot on; they were soldiers, and lacked the necessary personal touch in delicate situations like these. Besides, UNIT had other things to deal with - the political repercussions of the Monthu connection, for one, and the usual international crises to handle. Not to mention an incident involving a flying bus in London over Easter weekend, whatever the hell that was about.
And in the meantime, of course, life at Torchwood went on. There was still Rift activity to monitor, Weevils to chase down, the usual flotsam and jetsam emerging from the Rift to be dealt with. Mickey's truce with the mainframe endured, and he developed a few new programs to enhance their control over the Rift manipulator - nothing staggeringly brilliant, but Gwen thought he was well on his way. He seemed more comfortable in the Hub these days, moving around his workstation with newfound confidence. Yeah, Mickey'd last with them a while. Gwen no longer felt nervous leaving him to handle the Hub on his own.
Martha made one long visit to London, right after the case had been closed. She returned a week later with all her luggage, a new flat in Cardiff, a ring back on her finger, and her transfer papers from UNIT. She spent two full days reorganizing the medical bay and then dragged the others out to a pub to be introduced to her again-fiancé, Tom, who was working on a transfer to St. David's Hospital. He was a friendly, attractive bloke, though he seemed a bit bewildered by the team; Rhys promised to take him out some other night to explain matters properly from, as he put it, a "Torchwood Widows' perspective." Gwen suspected they were starting a club up. She wondered if Andy was going to be invited along as well, just on general principle.
As far as Gwen knew, no one had ever made a formal job offer to Donna Noble. But the day after the Ygrivians were sent packing, Donna showed up at the tourist office with pilfered keys and an air of determination. She cleaned up weeks' worth of accumulated dust in the office, restocked the shelves, and hung the OPEN sign back on the doorway. When Jack came up from the hidden staircase to confront her, she met him with a formidable scowl and a mug of terrible coffee. He retreated back downstairs with a pensive expression. Three days later, he gave her the authorization codes to the Hub and limited access to the archives. She dove in with relish. Oh, they'd tread carefully about her at first, given what Martha had told them about why her memories had been wiped, but whatever the Doctor had done to her mind seemed to hold. She wasn't triggering any old memories, just building new ones.
And gradually, their collective sense of "normal" readjusted itself yet again. They walked carefully around the hole left by Ianto, never healed and rarely mentioned, like Owen and Tosh before him, Suzie before them, and all the countless others on and on before Gwen's time, ghosts lingering in the walls of Torchwood brushing elbows with those who remained.
Jack didn't talk about it, but Gwen knew he hadn't stopped looking for a way to bring Ianto back. He probably never would. The shadows behind his eyes had darkened in the intervening weeks, as he chatted and shouted and flirted and commanded and retreated ever further into the dark spaces within himself that Gwen couldn't reach. She wondered, sometimes, if she even still had the strength to try.
She wrapped herself around Rhys at night, feeling his warmth like a lamp lit in the darkness, keeping the ghosts at bay as she cried herself to sleep without tears.
And then the message came.
"UNIT called," Jack explained, moving restlessly around the boardroom as he spoke. "They've got offices in all the major world capitals, and their staff in Dublin picked up on some unusual electromagnetic readings out in County Meath. They've just dispatched some personnel to investigate, but apparently the energy signature matches another recent case, and they want us over there pronto."
Gwen's stomach sank. "Ygrivians again? Oh, God. I thought we'd seen the last of them."
"Yeah, well, that was a nice theory," Jack said grimly. "Anyone have a better one?"
Mickey raised his hand. "We know a few of them were stranded in 1919 when we cut the signal - at least four or five of the buggers unaccounted for. My guess is one of them knew enough about tech to reprogram his transporter and jumped back here to find his friends."
"How complicated would that be, Jack?" Gwen asked.
Jack shrugged. He toyed with a paperweight, picking it up and fondling it absently with none of his usual suggestiveness. "Depends. A Vortex Manipulator works simply enough when it's been preprogrammed, but if you screw up the wiring - well, let's just say it doesn't exactly come with an instruction manual. We had to pass a three-month intensive course at the Time Agency before they'd let us near one. That sort of tech can really screw you over if you miscalculate, and not in the fun way - well, unless you like accidentally materializing in the middle of a Kantow war ritual in Sector Twelve, and let me tell you, bloodplay is not all it's cracked up to be." He dropped the paperweight back on the table with a heavy thunk. "And if our friend in Meath is another Ygrivian, he's no expert."
"How do you figure?" Donna asked. "Bit racist, aren't you? The ones at Monthu were plenty smart."
"Oh, it's nothing against the species," Jack said. "Just the individual. If he really knew what he was doing, why jump back now? He's a month late to the party."
"Trying to evade arrest?" Martha guessed.
Jack snorted. "He's definitely an idiot, then. Same planet, same country as he left, and so close in time to his ship's capture? No, I think it's simpler than that. He managed to reprogram his Vortex Manipulator, but mostly by luck. There's no precision there. He probably only adjusted the temporal parameters, not the physical - he materialized in exactly the same spot he left."
"UNIT should do for him, them," Mickey remarked dismissively. "Why should we get involved again? I'm sick of cleaning up their messes for them."
"Because they asked me very nicely," Jack said, flashing a grin. "I think the lovely Captain Magambo is finally acceding to my not inconsiderable charms. Besides, I hate loose ends. Martha, you've got the inside scoop on UNIT, you're with me. Gwen, you're in charge here while we're in Ireland. UNIT's sending a helicopter in about..." He checked his watch ostentatiously. "...fifteen minutes. We should be gone a day at most. Don't destroy the place too badly in the meantime."
"Can I hire a decorator?" Donna called.
"Yes, but run the curtain patterns by Rhys first, Gwen has no taste," Jack replied. He got to his feet, clearly signaling the end of the meeting, and nodded to Martha to follow him.
As they left, Mickey shoved his chair back, grumbling. "Still think it's a waste of their time."
"Don't be a tit," Donna said sharply, to Gwen's surprise. "That's not why he's going, and you should well know it." She put her hands on her hips, glaring at him. "If E.T. over there jumped straight from 1919, of course Jack wants to talk to him personally."
"Ianto," Gwen sighed, throat tightening. Occasionally, for hours at a time even, she managed to push aside the knowledge that one of her best friends in the world was still...missing. She tried not to think about Ianto, dying quietly of old age or Ygrivian poison in a time not his own. "The Ygrivian might have information about Ianto."
Dublin had changed since his last visit, Jack noted with a disinterested sort of approval as the UNIT jeep drove him down O'Connell Street. Not that he'd expected otherwise; Europe in general was a very different place now than in 1916, in the throes of the Great War and the myriad other tensions simmering under the surface. Modern-day Dublin was a thriving urban center, streets packed with tourists and pedestrian traffic, and memory vied against reality through Jack's eyes, past overlaying present suggesting future as the unending timeline of eternity stretched out before him. Double-decker buses strove for space along the narrow old avenues, new bridges spanned the ancient River Liffey, cobblestones spread out below the gleaming Millennium Spire. The phantoms of Torchwood Four roamed the streets along with forgotten revolutionaries and occupying soldiers, and somewhere and somewhen Ianto had probably traveled along this very road, too, passing the old General Post Office and crossing the Ha'penny Bridge into Temple Bar.
The jeep eventually stopped in front of an old Georgian house, recently converted into UNIT offices. Jack and Martha climbed the steps into what might once have been a drawing room. "Captain Jack Harkness," Jack introduced himself to a young lieutenant seated behind a desk, flashing his usual grin. "This is Dr. Martha Jones. We're expected."
The lieutenant's nametag read H. Briggs. He didn't look very pleased to see them; Martha in particular earned a petulant scowl. One of her former co-workers, Jack surmised, and not a friendly one. "Yes, sir. I'll inform the Brigadier that you've arrived," Briggs said reluctantly, and busied himself with his telephone.
Martha smirked. "Honestly," she murmured, for Jack's ears only, "just because we closed his case for him..."
"He ought to be thanking us," Jack agreed. "Actually-"
"Jack! About bloody time." He turned to see - oh, really.
"Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart," Jack said, surprised. "It's good to see you again, sir. But I heard you retired years ago?"
The Brigadier grasped Jack's hand in a very firm handshake, as per usual. Jack refrained from wincing. "Yes, well, some of us aren't getting any younger. As it is, I only made the trip because I take rather a personal interest in this matter. I would have met with you in Britain and saved us both the journey, but I had to come in to be sure it was the proper time for it, after all."
Jack and Martha exchanged a confused glance. "Sir?" Jack hedged.
"Come upstairs, we can speak privately there." The Brigadier waved a hand expansively, ignoring the rather disgruntled expression on Lieutenant Briggs's face. "Dr. Jones as well, of course."
As they ascended the staircase, Jack said, "I was led to believe this matter was related to the Ygrivian case last month."
"What? Oh, yes, of course it is. And a very old, technically unresolved case opened by one of your associates back, oh, about ninety-odd years ago." They reached the landing; the Brigadier led them into a small office. He sat in a wing-backed armchair and took off his jacket, gesturing for them to follow suit. While Jack draped his greatcoat along the back of his own chair and sat, the Brigadier reached into the inner pocket of his jacket. "Jack, I bring you a message from Torchwood Four. It's been waiting a very long time."
He passed Jack an envelope, the paper yellow with age. Jack took it with nerveless fingertips. Ianto, he thought numbly. It was like the message concealed with Harriet Derbyshire's body. Ianto, trapped on the slow path, had written Jack one last letter and passed it along with the Brigadier, God knows how many years ago. He'd died of old age, probably right here in Dublin, while Jack lived unaging through the twentieth century, blithely unaware.
Martha nudged at him, but he couldn't bring himself to look at the letter. He just couldn't, as though leaving the envelope unopened could belay the truth, take away the reality of Ianto's death. Fuck. This wasn't how it was supposed to happen. Not like this.
"It was given me by an old friend," the Brigadier said, watching Jack with his even, unreadable gaze. "A mentor of sorts, and one of UNIT's first and greatest consultants. He was a scientist - brilliant fellow, old Oisín Martin. Irishman, did some of the best foundational work on temporal physics, as well as several other areas of xenological studies."
Jack had started at the name. "Oisín Martin? The grandfather of time travel? Jesus Christ, his work was seminal - the Martin-Grogan Algorithm laid the foundation for every important advancement in time travel. You people have no idea, but a thousand years from now, his theories will be mandatory studies for anyone applying to join the Time Agency..." He lost himself for a moment in another life, hours spent memorizing equations and algorithms to pass the entrance exams. "Oisín Martin was Torchwood Four?"
"Oh, my God," Martha said softly. "That's what the Ygrivians were after. Not Four as a whole - they weren't trying to destroy UNIT in its infancy. UNIT would've happened with or without Torchwood Four. They were trying to assassinate one man - Martin, the grandfather of time travel."
"To keep the Time Agency from ever being established," Jack marveled. "And if they'd succeeded - hell, they'd have created one of the most mind-boggling paradoxes imaginable. Wiping out their own ability to travel through time to fight the Agency in the first place!"
The Brigadier smiled fondly at them, as though they were particularly bright pupils of whom he was rather proud. "I'm an old man, and I've no head for temporal mechanics or paradoxes or whatnot. But I had the great privilege of knowing Martin, and for that, I must thank you and your team, Jack." He nodded at the letter. "And there's Martin's personal thanks as well, for saving his life without ever even being aware of his existence. You can read it at your leisure - he was a long-winded fellow, went on for pages. But there's one last note in there I'd like to bring to your attention - an apology. It seems in later life he revisited some of his earlier work, and found an error in one of his first temporal calculations."
"One of his first..." Jack echoed, trailing off in confusion. He glanced down at the envelope, still oddly hesitant, even though it clearly contained nothing like his original fears.
"Yes, the rather understandable mistake of a young man faced with technology beyond his experience," the Brigadier went on blithely. "But not a terribly grave one, in the end. He assures you that he was only off by about thirty-three days. Which I can now confidently confirm as accurate."
Martha was on her feet instantly, eyes wide; Jack's mind was still too slow to grasp what she had, and he remained seated in his uncomfortable armchair, staring blankly at the Brigadier.
"Where is he?" Martha demanded. "The man UNIT found out in Meath?"
"In the next room," the Brigadier said with a nod and a smile. "He's had a somewhat unpleasant reaction to the time travel; apparently it can be rather jolting to the system, especially when so inexpertly coordinated. But there, Martin was doing the best he could. He's had a few hours to sleep off the culture shock, and I imagine he'll bounce back readily enough. Young men generally do."
Martha was already gone, racing out of the office without so much as a salute; Jack followed, still clutching the unopened letter, still not quite comprehending. He felt as though he were moving through a time dilation; it just wasn't clicking yet, and he couldn't make sense of the Brigadier's words over the roaring in his ears.
He could hear Martha squealing; Jack walked through the doorway to find a smallish room, sparsely furnished with a battered desk, a pair of mismatched wicker chairs, and an overstuffed couch. Sunlight streamed through an open window; a cool breeze breathed air into the space, along with the sounds of traffic and pedestrians chatting on the street below. And sitting on the couch, fondly enduring Martha's suffocating hug, was Ianto.
Jack slipped the forgotten letter into his trouser pocket and reminded himself to breathe.
Ianto looked up and saw him; for a moment, he froze. Then he gently disentangled himself from Martha and got to his feet. "Jack."
Jack couldn't move, just looked at him. He was wearing simple, somewhat outdated clothing - certainly not the suit he'd been wearing when he disappeared, but this style suited him well enough, if far plainer. He seemed thinner, though not dramatically so, the lines on his face a touch more pronounced. He looked weary, pale, a little battered, as though he'd been knocked about by life somewhat of late.
Beautiful, Jack thought, without a trace of irony.
"I'm going to talk to the people who brought him in," Martha said quietly, her smile radiant. "I'll be right downstairs, yeah?"
She backed out of the room and unobtrusively shut the door behind her. Jack barely noticed.
"Ianto," Jack finally said. "You took your sweet time getting back here, didn't you?"
Ianto's face remained perfectly impassive, but Jack could see the smile in his eyes. "Well, I did have all that unused vacation time stored up, after all. I do hope you haven't taken me off payroll in the interval, sir. I presume you found my note?"
"Yeah." Jack swallowed. "Yeah, we found it. Good to know you weren't completely slacking off on your little holiday."
"Well, you know me. I live to serve."
They looked at each other for a minute, a year, unspeaking. Jack realized that his hands were shaking, of all the completely ridiculous things. Five minutes ago, he'd convinced himself that Ianto was dead. In five more minutes or five years or five decades, Ianto would be dead, and Jack would move on, as he always did. Always would.
But not yet.
Something shifted, snapped, and Ianto moved to him as though drawn, the arrow released from its bow. Unable to tear his gaze away from Ianto's, Jack reached out to pull him in. His hands went to Ianto's waist, one resting at his hip, the other curling around to press into his lower back; Ianto traced Jack's collarbone with his palm as his other hand lightly cupped Jack's neck. At the touch of skin, Jack had to close his eyes, exhaling sharply; they just stood there for a long moment, foreheads lightly pressed together, while Jack reveled in the sensation of Ianto's breath against his lips.
Finally, Jack pulled away, just enough for their eyes to meet. Heat coursed through his body, making his nerves sing; he clenched his fists convulsively into Ianto's clothing, and felt Ianto's breath catch in response. "I thought-" Jack said, then cut himself off, voice raw.
"Yeah," Ianto said with a strangled laugh. "For a while there, so did I."
Ianto's fingertips traced the line of Jack's jaw, coming to rest with his thumb pressed against Jack's lower lip. Jack could feel Ianto's pulse there, the faint echoes of the heartbeat racing against Jack's chest, proof of life.
Almost unwillingly, Jack made a soft sound in the back of his throat. He turned his head to place a kiss in Ianto's palm. Ianto shuddered; they were pressed together so closely that Jack could feel it hum along the entire length of his body. Finally Ianto's hand came up to cradle the back of Jack's head, pulling their mouths together.
Minutes or hours or days rushed past them, unheeded; Jack took greedy pleasure in this kiss, this touch of skin to warm skin, this man, stealing back the time he'd thought he'd lost. Well, it was their time now, he decided as he began unbuttoning Ianto's unfamiliar shirt without breaking the kiss, reveling in the feel of Ianto's fingers twining through his hair. The rest of the universe could just fuck off for a while.
Hill of Tara
"It's there, up ahead on your left," Ianto directed, as the rolling green hills unfolded around them. It looked much the same as the last time he'd seen it, yesterday or ninety years ago; the road was broader and better paved, there were a few trees out of place and some hedges freshly trimmed, and Ianto rather thought they'd just passed a tourist shop. But other than that - no, it hadn't changed all that much.
Jack turned the wheel of the jeep as instructed, then snorted in disbelief. "You've got to be kidding me. Torchwood Four's secret base was at the Hill of Tara?"
"Erin go bragh," Ianto replied with a smile. "Looks like we're not the only branch with delusions of grandeur."
"Hey, our secret base isn't tucked away under the seat of kings."
"Invisible lift and pet dinosaur," Ianto countered.
Jack thought it over, then nodded grudgingly. "All right, fair point."
"Pull up at the church at the base of the hill," Ianto instructed. "That's the point of entry."
Jack pulled over and parked, turning off the ignition. The place was deserted, Ianto knew - the Brigadier had called ahead to ensure that the church and Tara Hill would be free of staff and tourists. He and Martha were still in the offices in Dublin, keeping the personnel distracted while Ianto and Jack absconded with UNIT's jeep for the rest of the afternoon.
And speaking of distracted - Ianto ruefully broke the kiss, pushing Jack away gently. Tempting though it was, they hadn't come here to neck in the jeep. "Later," he promised.
Jack sighed, running his fingertips along the curve of Ianto's jaw. Ianto tried not to shiver. Fuck, he'd missed this. Missed Jack. Despite his best intentions, he found himself leaning into Jack's touch, drinking in the scent of him. He tilted his head back in for another kiss, closing his eyes to lose himself to sensation, the taste of Jack's mouth - oh, not now.
He must've said it aloud; Jack chuckled, pulling away. Ianto didn't bother with embarrassment, not when he could see for himself that Jack's eyes were still glazed over, his breathing just as ragged as Ianto's own. "Later," he said again, more firmly, trying not to look at Jack's lips.
"Right," Jack agreed, and visibly forced himself out of the vehicle.
The church was looking better than it ought to, ninety years later; Ianto supposed it must have been restored at some point in the intervening time. He led Jack down into the basement, which was rather the worse for wear.
"You jumped back here?" Jack asked softly, hand on Ianto's shoulder. "That was kind of chancy, don't you think?"
Ianto shook his head. "Not down here. Outside, on the hill. After materializing, I made it about half a kilometer down the road before collapsing into a ditch." He smiled ruefully. "Good thing UNIT caught scent of the energy signature from the jump, I suppose."
Jack's grip tightened. "Yeah."
"The entrance was over here," Ianto said, pulling away. He frowned at the very solid-looking stone wall. "Now, where was the - oh, here we go." Finding the latch, he tapped out the combination and took a prudent step back as the hidden doorway opened. "Torch?"
"Got it," Jack said, flicking it on. Ianto took it out of his hand and led the way down the long corridor. As they walked, he could feel Jack's warmth just at his back. It was a good feeling.
"It doesn't look like anyone's been here for a while," Ianto said, heart sinking a little. He didn't know why he'd expected otherwise; Four had disappeared a very long time ago.
"No," Jack said gently. "It doesn't."
"There should be a generator up ahead - oh, here." The handle protruded from the large metal unit; Ianto pushed it down. Electric bulbs flickered on, lighting the corridor and the door up ahead. "These are more recent make than 1919, though."
"1940s, early 50s at the latest," Jack judged. "I'm surprised they still work at all."
"Four had some good technicians." Ianto pushed open the door - it wasn't even locked - and walked on into the main room of Torchwood Four's base.
It was empty. All the furniture, the equipment, the life - all gone. The former entrance to the Anomaly was just empty space; so Kathy had managed to shut it down, after all. There were a couple of incongruous metal bed frames along one wall. A pile of bricks in one corner, right next to the entrance to the vault, marked where a bit of the ceiling had begun to cave in. The door to the vault stood wide open; Ianto didn't doubt that it had been cleared away as well. And Liam's offices down there, Bridget's hidden bedroom, Molly Grogan's medical bay, Oisín's workshop...
They were all long dead and gone. Intellectually, Ianto had known that already; faced with the fresh reality of it felt like a punch to the stomach.
"Whatever reason they left, they had time," Jack pointed out, voice low and soothing. He pressed a supportive hand to the small of Ianto's back. "It wasn't a disaster, wasn't a rush job. They cleared everything out when they closed down shop. This wasn't another Canary Wharf, Ianto."
"I kept the wristband," Ianto said abruptly, turning to face Jack. He could see Jack blink, confused by the change of subject. "The Vortex Manipulator. UNIT didn't confiscate it. I've still got it."
He pulled it out of his trouser pocket, proffering it to Jack. Jack didn't even look down at it, meeting Ianto's eyes with dawning comprehension.
"Jack," Ianto said, trying to keep his hand from shaking. "Take it. It's fully functional. You know how to program it. Yours is busted; this one works."
"So?" Jack said evenly. "What's your point?"
Ianto hated him a little for making him say it. "You're not stuck here anymore. I've been stranded out of my own time now; I know how miserable it is. Even doing important work with good people - it was never right. I never belonged. I wouldn't wish that feeling on anyone, least of all you."
After a long moment, Jack reached out and took the Vortex Manipulator out of Ianto's hand. Their fingers brushed; Ianto shivered. He forced himself to watch as Jack flicked the casing open, running his fingertips lightly over the buttons that meant nothing to Ianto and every point in time and space to Jack.
And then Jack calmly tossed the device away into the pile of rubble in the corner of the room.
"I'm pretty sure we've already had this discussion," Jack said. "I may have landed here accidentally at first, but I made my choice, and I'm not changing it. Looks like you're stuck with me."
Ianto felt lightheaded. He just nodded voicelessly, rubbing his hands against his trouser legs. He really needed to change into some normal clothing, he thought irrelevantly.
Jack gave him a smile, oddly muted. "And I'd prefer it if you stuck around for a while, as well."
"Yeah," Ianto said, voice hoarse. "Me, too."
"Ianto." Jack stepped forward, reaching out to rub his thumb along Ianto's collarbone. His voice was gentle. "Tell me. Torchwood Four. What were they like?"
And slowly, haltingly at first, then building up speed, like a dam bursting, Ianto told him. Liam Dempsey and Oisín Martin, and somber Kathy and boyish Bridget and no-nonsense Molly Grogan, battles in parks and theatre basements, constables and aliens and anomalies and conversations by candlelight and hasty rides in the darkness, Liam's final act of defiance and Harriet Derbyshire's blood slowly draining away in a Dublin gutter.
Finally, Ianto had nothing left to say. They stayed there for a while longer, under the hill of kings, while Jack filled him in on the development of the Ygrivian case from the present-day angle.
"Here," Jack concluded, reaching into his pocket for the still-unopened envelope. "Oisín Martin wrote this - I suspect the letter's addressed more to you than me." He sighed, looking down at the envelope reverently. "I can't believe you met Oisín Martin."
Ianto shrugged, thoughtful. "You know what? I think I had to meet him - so that I could send that message to you, so that you could stop the Ygrivians before they assassinated him. And if they'd never come up with that arse-backwards plot, then Oisín would never have gotten his hands on a Vortex Manipulator, and it never would have occurred to him to develop a theory for time travel." He opened the envelope, rubbing his thumb across the letter inside. "Maybe the grandfather paradox is all a grand hoax, and history unfolds the way it's meant to no matter what we try to do to alter it."
Jack reached out and ran his hand along Ianto's arm, lightly tracing the pulse at Ianto's wrist. Ianto caught his hand, twining their fingers together for a quick moment before turning his attention to Oisín's letter.
He read the letter quickly and silently; he kept his face impassive, giving no clue as to its contents. Finally he returned it to Jack with a smile. "Nothing private, and nothing we hadn't already figured out. He doesn't say what happened to Four, though."
"Martin joined up with UNIT when it was established a few decades later; I wouldn't be surprised if the other two did the same, if they were still around," Jack said. "He definitely kept up with the doctor, Molly Grogan, for a while - his most important work was the Martin-Grogan Algorithm; I assume she was the second author. Not much is known about her otherwise."
"So, for all practical purposes, Torchwood Dublin just evolved into UNIT," Ianto summarized, looking about the deserted base pensively.
"What little remained of it, yeah. Looks like they abandoned this place half a century ago at least." Jack reached out to Ianto, hand warm and comforting in the small of Ianto's back. "There's nothing left of Four, Ianto. Just us. You ready to go home?"
"Yeah. In a minute." Ianto glanced over to meet Jack's eyes, offering him a quick smile. "I'll be right behind you, Jack."
Jack studied his face, eyes intent, then nodded reluctantly. "You better be." He let his hand linger at the base of Ianto's spine for another moment before walking away.
Once Jack was gone, Ianto made his careful way across the room, stirring up a few decades' worth of dust. There, half-hidden in shadow by the doorway to the vault, he found the device that had caught his eye.
It was small and grey, not terribly unlike Mickey's Snoop in outward design, though a bit larger and more perfectly round. It had been set at about Ianto's eye-level within one of the many pockmarks in the wall, right next to the doorframe. The glass lens winked at him in the reflected light as the main door closed behind Jack.
The technology was manmade, not alien, and recent - probably within the last couple of years. Ianto had no doubt that the camera was still recording. As he peered closer, he noticed a mark against the doorframe: in tiny letters, written in fresh chalk, the words Éirinn go brách.
Ianto reached down to pocket the Vortex Manipulator, just in case. It might come in handy one day, after all, and besides, he couldn't just let Four pick it up. If they wanted to claim Oisín's salvage rights, they could send a representative to Cardiff to handle the negotiations in person. He smiled at the camera, giving it a little wave. Then he turned away to follow Jack back up and out into the brilliant sunshine of the fading spring afternoon.