Sunday, 1 May 2016

Fans Fiction Heaven & Nature Sings: Part 7 by Echo Fain


Heaven & Nature Sings

By Echo Fain



Part Seven:

His little lad is sitting across from him at a kitchen table. The table looks like the one he built for Jack as a Yule present, just two and a half months before Idris was born. There's the windswept sunflower and the stain. Above him hangs the golden ornament with its load of mistletoe. He looks up and smiles at it, spotting three white berries in its dark depths.

'Do you understand why the sacrifice happens?' The roasting scent of the Yule Eve meal is rich, heavy with meat. He's put a little too much pepper in the gravy and he can smell that, too.

'For a return of the light.' Says the child. When he smiles, the lad's cheeks dimple.

Young, so young, no more than three years old. He's seen this child as a man. He's seen him as a teenager. He knows him as an infant, too. But this is how he remembers him best, this child who has never existed.

Sitting on the other side of the thick green-tan beeswax candles, his baby face is aglow with golden light. Brown-haired, with eyes that are a pale blue-gray now. He has freckles and a grin like Jack's. He's a sturdy lad, lovely to look at. Like Idris as a little one. But different, too. And he knows what the child's bones feel like, held close in a cuddle.

'Aye, Thaniel. For a return of the light.'

The light...like the gleam of artron energy that swirls deep within the gaze of his never-was.

He wakes in a storage room. He doesn't remember how he got to this place and, for a moment, he doesn't recognize the shelves and pedestals. But this is the Black Archive and someone let him in. His DNA is coded into the system. It has been for a long time.

The lights are low but once he pushes his glasses up and blinks, he realizes where he is--yet can't remember how he got here. He's in a part of the Archive where very few go. It houses bits of TARDIS. He sits against a steel pedestal with a piece of coral held close between his fingers.

He shifts it in his hands and the stone-like shell scrapes against his wedding rings. Why is he here? Did he sleep-walk all the way from his quarters? He can't remember and, in waking, it doesn't matter. He's holding a piece of...her. He knows this as he knows his own blood.

It's not the first time he's held some discarded bit of a TARDIS and he knows the difference between living and dead and she's there, singing soft and half-conscious under his touch. The Doctor's TARDIS has a voice unlike any other. She's an aging madwoman with a fondness for cats and misfits. She adores the bold, heals the wounded. She is his mother--in a way--and he is her unruly, moody child.

Did she call to him in sleep on this, the longest night of the year?

He looks around the room and, with a heavy sigh of understanding, he lays the coral against his chest and draws his knees up. Wrapping his arms around them, he holds the slender branch in the hollow beween thigh and belly and lets his sleep-ruffled head fall back to rest on the pedestal. He is here for a reason.

His Rawleigh is dead. Kate offers him a chance to try rebuilding it but he knows that can't happen. At least Jack and Gwen are going to weather the storm. Torchwood will live and thrive in the new world, with its mixed population of Zygon immigrants and Earth natives and the odds and ends that cling on. Humanity is preparing to crawl out of its cradle at last and he is here to see it. He helped sing it into tomorrow.

But his Rawleigh is dead and there are no more options but this one. He doesn't need to use the space-time telegraph machine to make contact with the Doctor and he doesn't need to wait for Kate to attempt a mobile call.

She will hear him. She always does. Even when he can't bear the thought of asking.

He takes his glasses off and lays them on the concrete floor at his side.

Holding her close, he reaches out for her.

***

Yesterday Evening...

20 December 2011; 2001 hours
London

The invitation was written on a piece of UNIT stationary, nothing fancy but telling nonetheless.

Captain Jack Harkness & Gwen Cooper Williams are cordially Invited to the Tower of London for a late tea in Celebration of the Season.

It was signed Lyn Baskerville. And all of it handwritten, in Lyn's scrawl.

Behind the wheel of the Rover, parked outside the Tower of London, Jack looked at it again under the yellow dome light. His eyes didn't take in the meaning, only the writing itself. Blue ink, cream colored paper. Sharp angular upper-case letters. It wasn't something he'd expected. He'd spent the last five weeks ignoring his instincts where Lyn were concerned. Martha was right. It was entirely in the other man's hands.

The man who knew what his future held.

These days, he didn't get much of a chance to think about Lyn. Which told him how easily he might lose track of the things that could matter. The Hub was almost finished--it would open officially on the first day of the new year. He'd spent today picking out office furniture and then dealing with a Rift echo that appeared in the bay--a ghost ship from 1897 that didn't hang around for very long.

But things weren't slow. He'd filed a report with UNIT earlier this week--sent it to Kate Stewart--about the increasing number of Zygons he'd spotted in just southern Wales--and all of whom disappeared without explanation. Something big was brewing. UNIT hadn't sent a report to him yet, so he was asking for some clarification. Torchwood weren't the only ones noticing this...were they?

Gwen was talking. He wasn't paying attention. She'd decided on four candidates and they'd interviewed them all. Put them through the ringers, each with a Torchwood case that exposed the interviewee to a day in the life...sorta. They lost a lot of candidates that way. Lots of retcon.

Four candidates.

"Who?"

She didn't even look at the notepad she held.

"Detective Kathy Swanson, Rose-Marie Carter, Iksa El-Khoury, and Sergeant Andy Davidson."

So, yeah, Andy. He was good with that. Andy was already part of it. But would Andy sign on or continue being a consultant? No telling, really. Andy valued his connections to the police department--and Jack wasn't so sure the ginger was wrong.

Kathy Swanson had survived her first real encounter with the inexplicable--the kind that couldn't be ignored--with a pair of blowfish raising hell in Newport's underworld gambling halls. She would be good, too, and a constant thorn in his side. Something he needed. Gwen was settling down, didn't challenge his authority enough.

Carter...he didn't know. He couldn't find a face for her. Had he met her at all, in the interviewing process? Her background was good. Working class, scholarships, a medical degree. She'd studied under the same doctors who trained Owen. That was a plus. Her alien test had involved being presented with the body of a Zygon. She'd overcome her surprise quick, according to Gwen.

And El-Khoury. Well, that was going to be a genuine pleasure. They needed a bureaucrat, a dangerous one that could rattle cages at the highest levels. Educated at Cambridge as the adopted son of a lord, El-Khoury wasn't hard to look at, either. An Egyptian fox who already knew about alien activity on Earth. He was ex-UNIT.

"I like them all. Okay." He waved the invitation at her. "Tell me what you think."

"We're sitting outside the gates and you're asking my opinion. Now?" Unsure of how to dress this evening, Gwen mixed jeans with a man's dress shirt and tie under her leather suit coat. She wore diamonds at her ears; her sable-dark hair was tucked up into a lazy chignon that showed off the line of her cheekbones, her throat.

It was a good look. She cocked a curious brow at him. So far, since this invitation arrived, he'd voiced nothing but anticipation. Quiet but steady anticipation. Now he was questioning things?

"Yeah. What do you think's going on?" He pulled his earpiece off and dropped the device into a coat pocket.

"We don't know anything about what he's doing for UNIT. We can't speculate. Unless he's really just inviting us for tea." But she didn't believe it. He could hear the doubt in her tone.

Lyn had stayed silent since disappearing. And Martha was mum on the subject.

They were thirty minutes early and, in the darkness of growing winter, they silently and individually speculated about what waited inside the Tower's walls tonight.

***

2025 hours

He poured the steam engine kettle into the tea pot and put its ceramic lid on before surveying Osgood One's work. He nodded with admiration. "It's lovely, Nell."

She wore the Doctor's ridiculous old scarf and for a moment, her blushing cheeks almost disappeared from sight behind a fold. "Thank you, Doctor Llewelyn."

He leaned back on the workbench, being careful of the tea pot at his hip, and studied the room, the table, the food. He'd made coffee and tea while finishing his stale take-away sandwich from lunch. The whiteboard was set. So was the computer.  He tapped his ratty trainer on the concrete floor, stretched his brown cardigan in closer around his ribs, and tried to not worry.

His nerves jangled--they were taking a huge risk here, but Martha was right. Jack would believe him even if the immortal didn't believe anyone or anything else--and the shock of his healed face would play its role, too, in Jack's head.

By the time they finished tonight, Torchwood would be on board with the peace treaty and up to speed. And then Jack would forget that McGillop wasn't at this briefing. He might even ask himself if he'd ever really looked at McGillop, who seemed taller and fairer and more Welsh than Scottish. Tomorrow morning would dawn with Jack feeling proud of what UNIT had handed him and probably thinking that McGillop looked mad-scientist sexy with glasses.

The thought of it made Lyn snort and snicker as he rubbed his clean-shaven jaw and throat. His Jack had said that to him once, when he was twenty and too young to know how to handle something like Captain Harkness. He'd been offended for days, as he recalled, and stiff.

Convincing Jack would be easy. Sure, there'd be a few problems at first. But once Jack understood what was happening on Earth, he'd see the historical significance, too.

Gwen would be the problem. Not that he would let a little something like her acquiescence stand in his way. He wasn't the Doctor, after all.

Of course, once in a great while, when the stars hid their heads in fear, not even the Doctor was like the Doctor. He'd seen the Time Lord do this sort of underhanded manipulation several times. It was where he'd learned the trick himself. Not even John Hart could've taught him this art so effectively.

Never give up. Never give in. And sometimes that meant the compromise was bitter and the hand that brought help also brought consequences.

One way or another, Torchwood was joining Operation Double tonight.

It was Martha who'd convinced Kate that he should be involved in the briefing. The physician believed that the only way to really convince anyone was to have the Doctor give it to them plain. The Doctor wasn't on Earth at the moment--at least, not that they knew of. But Lyn was here and he saw Earth's situation from a non-Earther perspective, too. And he had the advantage of a psi-gift--with all the advantages it gave him in negotiating.

He wished Martha was with them. But she was on a resettlement mission, assisting a colony of Zygons in Canada.

At the table, Osgood One reshuffled the files. The sound grated on his nerves, but he said nothing.

He understood how she felt.

"So you're going home." She said, trying to sound cheerful.

Lyn turned to pick up the big tea pot with two towels. "If everything goes right." He carried it to the table. There, he poured a cup, busying himself with the milk and sugar as he went on, shifting the subject. "Are you certain she doesn't remember? That he made two of them?"

He didn't want any surprises tonight when it came to explaining the safeguard to Jack and Gwen. The safeguard itself was scary enough and the protocols for its protection and use were entirely in the hands of Osgood--together, both of them. Jack might have problems with that.

"No. At least she shouldn't. She hasn't mentioned it...you'd know better than me about the memory modifiers and how they work, the technical side." She pulled out a chair and sat down noisily. He glanced up from his mug and, over the rim of his glasses, he saw her curiosity return.

"What're you looking forward to the most? At home?"

For such an intelligent woman, she sometimes asked the most difficult questions. He liked her--and her twin--anyway. In his head, he'd labeled them One and Two but enjoyed the fact that he--nor anyone else--could tell them apart. Not even his empathy could differentiate. And if they switched clothes, he wouldn't know. It was delightful.

He thought about what waited for him, at home. About how he couldn't be sure of what he might find--or even if he could find his family at all. And he smiled, lifting his cup as he turned from the table again. "Pooshian black."

"What?" She laughed. "What's...Pooshian black?"

"A type of tea." He went to the whiteboard and sat down, wrapping one foot around a rung. "No, I look forward to it all, yeah?"

"Your husbands, of course. And your children." She gave him a sympathetic smile. It was an innocent one. She wasn't married, didn't have children.

He could explain it, he supposed. Tell her that living without Ianto was like being empty, that the missing heartbeat was deafening in its absence. She was linked closely enough to her twin now--she might understand that.

In the weeks they'd worked together, he'd told the Osgoods about himself--but not about the war. And he'd shared stories about the Doctor.

He found their devotion to the Doctor to be an endless source of amusement. He was gentle. He didn't mock. Their faith was absolute and devout. They were the first to believe in what the Doctor was trying to do when the peace treaty began. And he used the Osgoods as a source of information for events surrounding the invasion that became a resettlement. A lot of UNIT people died. There was a lot of cover-up to do. And the Osgoods were at the center of many projects. One or both of them.

He'd worked beside them, tirelessly, lending his perspective and shaping the future. He was at ground zero for a world-shaking piece of history. And for once, despite the turmoil and struggle, chaos wasn't happening. For him, that was new and refreshing.

"Will you play for us again? Before you leave?" She asked, from where she sat. Her tone was wistful.

He would be missed for his own sake. His throat tightened. And Lyn's smile returned, slow and tender. He studied her for a moment--her messy brown hair, her dark-framed glasses, the frumpy clothes that only the Doctor could love--and decided he would miss her, too.

"Yeah." He blew on his tea. "I'll put off leaving 'til the morning, Nell. I don't have to rush away. It's time travel."

They would go to St John's Chapel again. The acoustics were so perfect...and, in the darkness, only a candle would do. He could stand on the altar in mask and hat or he could squat bare-footed on the icy cold flags in a corner; it would not matter once the music began.

His pocket buzzed. So did Osgood's. They both looked at their mobiles.

"Torchwood's in the building." She bit the corner of her lower lip; her brown eyes widened in something approaching panic and she gave a wheeze.

"Inhaler, Nell." He frowned and put the mobile away, ignoring his own flutter of nerves.

***

2027 hours

Kate met them in the corridor outside the keep's security office and he caught, from the corner of his eye, how Gwen compared the other woman's clothes--favorably. It made him want to laugh and that eased his mood.

He'd entered the White Tower defensive but now felt relieved. The place was largely deserted, at least on this level, and things were quiet and darkened. Whatever was going on--for whatever reason Torchwood was here--it wasn't something little. After-hours meetings rarely were, in his experience. This had all the clues of a big thing the scientific branch of UNIT didn't want exposed.

They made small talk--Gwen and Kate. He listened with only half an ear as he watched the faces that passed them in the dimly lit spaces they crossed. Stone and heavy oak paneling to sheet-rock and back to stone again. Only one room held any activity and Kate said nothing about it as they passed the open doorway. No one there turned to give them even a glance. They were all busy at a bank of computer terminals and a large computer display map of the world. A high-tech command center, he thought, nestled away in a room with vaulted stone ceilings that dated back a thousand years to the Norman Invasion.

"Where are we going?" Gwen asked and Jack turned his attention to her. From behind, the two women were the same height; both wore heeled boots. His fierce second in command had a cool tone in her voice. She was taking nothing for granted or on sight. Not for the first time did he applaud--silently--the Welsh nature.

"To the Black Archive." Kate Stewart responded with a similar tone. Almost frosty but with a twist of wry humor. It sharpened his awareness of her, made him look twice.

The Black Archive. He was being taken into the Black Archive. Where he'd never been allowed before.

Gwen cast a look over her shoulder at him, green eyes shadowy but wide. Like a doe caught in the headlights of an oncoming lorry.

He nodded, shoved his hands into his trousers' pockets, and lifted his chin.

He recognized Kate's method. She wouldn't tell them what was going on until they reached their destination. There could be ears, even here. If this sort of secrecy was involved, then the Black Archive was sealed against such possible intrusions. And that made the skin on his nape crawl.

They walked down a steel corridor that looked like the interior of a space ship. The light over their heads came from small, embedded pods. Red and fluorescent white. Their shoes clicked and thumped loudly here.

Kate flashed her badge and an African-British woman named Wardi gave them access to the rooms beyond, using a barrel key that the blonde director produced.

It was a giant storage room. At the Hub, on Cardiff Bay, they'd had rooms like this, too. He suspected that, if he looked around too hard, he would spot things that UNIT had confiscated from Torchwood in the clean-up.

There was nothing high-tech about the security. Nothing he could see. But that just meant the place was secure against enemies that could use UNIT's computers against it. And not so different from his own security measures, at Torchwood. They were measures that worked.

Lights flickered on and then dropped again as they walked. There were blinking lights on the shelves.

They turned left. Kate led. "This way. We're going to the conference room."

But then a long set of work-boards set against the wall caught his--and Gwen's--attention. Jack's steps slowed and came to a stop. He stood beside the dark-haired Welshwoman and studied the faces.

"Ah. The Doctor's companions. We have at least a dozen boards, full. You're on there, too, Jack. See?" Coming back to them, Kate pointed at a series of pictures.

Jack chuckled. "Yeah. Even some early UNIT missions that I was involved in..."

But then his eye, sweeping from left to right on the second board, found a familiar--unexpected--face.

In four pictures, the same blond man with glasses. With the Brigadier. With Kate. With a honey-blonde he didn't recognize--but she had a likeable, dark-sexy smile. And--

"That's the Doctor. One of him, anyway." Kate pointed to the fourth picture.

He ignored that--for now. "What is he?" And he replaced her finger with his, on the other face.

She gave him a deprecating smile that didn't quite reach her dark eyes. "You know who he is."

She sidestepped his question. Wouldn't admit to what she knew. He shook his head and looked at each photograph again.

"I know him." Gwen sounded choked--and he looked around at her, surprised. She was suddenly a sick pale color. Her stare was bright and watery and she rubbed her brow as if it ached. "From somewhere. I know his face..."

Kate folded her arms over the expensive wool jacket she wore. "Probably from the Highgate Incident. We believe you encountered this man and the Doctor when you were flung back in time by a weeping angel." Her face softened as she turned to study Gwen. "You returned with no recall of the encounter, but we are reliably informed that a memory-altering technology was used on you there."

Jack thought about that case. Ianto and Gwen both disappeared on him. Tosh infected by a weeping angel. Owen...well, Owen had saved the day that time. Weeping angels didn't see the undead--or whatever Owen was, then--as viable food. But he'd used UNIT's prototype time-ripper to find Gwen in the seventeenth century and bring her back. And UNIT had known exactly where she was, in time.

But no one ever told him what they really knew. The officers in charge of handling that incident were very mum about the source of their information.

There were letters. Letters he wasn't allowed to read. Even the one addressed to him wasn't put into his hands. "The companion's letter. The one the officers wouldn't let me have. I got the paraphrased version and a promise that it was genuine. That it checked out. That letter? He wrote it?"

And Kate laughed. "Spot on, Jack. Yes. We've had multiple encounters with this particular companion. Always with the same Doctor. And his presence in Earth's history is well-documented. At least, the parts UNIT knows about."

"That's Henry Lyn Baskerville." He pointed at the man's picture again. The one with Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart.

Gwen beside him flinched and looked closer at the photos, her brows knitting hard. She'd never seen the photograph from Lyn's possessions and had no frame of reference. To her, the alien human was only a damaged, scarred face from Youngston's pictures.

"Well, yes." Kate admitted. "And no."

Before he could ask for clarification--what kind of game was she playing here?--a figure appeared at a doorway ahead and drew his attention.

It was the girl, Osgood. She wore a brown jumper with elbow patches that looked like it was made of tweed. And a red bow tie. Her long brown hair was pulled up in a loose, messy tail and she smiled breathily at them.

"We're ready, Kate." And then the young scientist was gone again.

At his side, Kate Stewart heaved a sigh that sounded almost like regret. "Some other time, then." She led the way once more, walking swiftly away. "Come along. We have something to show you."

Jack shared a glance with Gwen. She looked worried.

He took the lead this time, putting himself between his second in command and whatever was ahead of them.

***

2029 hours

He was so unassuming, his foot hooked over a rung of the stool, that it was easy to overlook him. Jack's eyes were drawn to the young woman standing at the whiteboard beside a lanky, unexceptional blond who slouched over his mug of tea like a disheveled scarecrow. Because the young woman stood in two places. At the whiteboard and at the long steel table in front of him.

They weren't dressed the same but they were identical twins. Dark-framed glasses and all.

An alarm began to rise in his head as several pieces of information suddenly started slotting themselves into a new picture.

The whiteboard was covered in paper and photographs. A few Zygon pictures glared at him from across the conference room.

"Welcome to Operation Double. We operate off UNIT's radar and beyond their reach on some very specialized fronts." Kate said. She walked to the other side of the table and began pouring herself a tea.

The suspicious bastard in his head knew--with very little doubt left--that the twins were not, in fact, twins.

"What the hell is going on here?" He demanded, focusing on the pair.

"Humanity's future. The form humanity takes as it begins to leave its homeworld." With a voice he knew well--damn well--the lanky man spoke up from his perch on the tall stool. He gave a sniff and raised his mug and spoke from behind its rim. And Jack felt his knees sag in shock; he hadn't noticed Lyn at all.

The chronoticist went on. "In your own timezone, Jack, what do the history books say about the way humans began exploring beyond this star system? Did you ever read about the sociology of the Exodus? What was happening on Earth in those ancient days?"

He blinked, his brain split between the physical reality of what he was looking at--who he was seeing--and the questions being put to him by the familiar voice of a friend.

Lyn wore a brown cardigan over a threadbare Bowie teeshirt. The teeshirt might've been black at some point in its life. It was a washed-out gray now. Faded blue jeans and a pair of scuffed running shoes completed the non-descript scientist's disguise.

In the flesh, as if he'd never crashed into Cardiff Bay, Lyn was youngish with sharp gray eyes and a long, expressive mouth.

Gwen stirred, moved to stand closer. She was bristling. "You'll have to explain this." She was talking to Kate Stewart. "Because I don't understand what I'm seeing. I don't think I want to understand. But I know there has to be a good explanation. At least, there better be an explanation."

There was fire in her tone and, watching Lyn's face, Jack saw how it changed. Lyn lit up with a grin that made him...distinct. As if the window to his beauty lay within a genuine, loving smile. Because there was real fondness in his angular, pale features, and it made him stand out.

How it happened, he could only guess. But it was real. That was a fact. Unless all of this was a game and he was looking at a Zygon.

How would he know? He needed to talk with Lyn privately--ask some questions. Find out how it happened, this unlikely recovery of a face he was never meant to see.

Lyn chuckled, a rolling laugh. And Jack's heart jerked at the sound.

"That's why you're here, Gwen. For an explanation." The blond said and raised his hand to activate the flat screen on the wall to their right. It hung above a counter where a coffee maker sat between the detritus of a take-away meal and a stack of books. "And...Jack, yes, we can talk. After, yeah?"

He didn't nod. He clenched his hands instead and held himself still.

On the screen, a map lit up. All over it, in clusters, were red dots that made up red zones. Whatever the red represented in this case, it was spreading slow and in patterns that moved from troubled areas to no-man-lands to large cities and then outward, into suburban towns.

"Gwen, Jack...Torchwood is being brought aboard a delicate mission. One that requires the utmost secrecy and care. Kate's right. We operate beyond UNIT here. And it's past time for you to be involved." One of the Osgoods--the one standing beside Lyn--said.

Lyn picked up again, his brow creasing behind the wheat-yellow front of his longish hair. "We are prepared to tell you everything pertinent to this situation. We'll share data. We'll put you at the vanguard of the mission. Because you are Torchwood and this is something you're good at. But this is all contingent upon an agreement."

The second Osgood said, from where she stood at the table's end. "If you decide, in the end, that you don't wish to be part of it, we'll understand. You'll walk out of here with no memories of this conversation. If you are not actively involved, you do not know. Understand?"

Gwen stiffened. "And what if we walk out right now?"

"You won't get far." Lyn pointed his mug at her. "There are armed guards outside the Archive and a gauntlet of memory modifiers between you and them. By the time you are arrested for treasonable theft, you'll have forgotten why you were here in the first place. Torchwood will disappear immediately. Loose cannons will not be tolerated."

Jack took a step backward and thrust a hand into his coat pocket, but was disappointed. He'd left his gun behind, anticipating a pat-down. He stared at each of them in turn before looking down at Gwen.

They'd walked into a trap. Rhys and Anwen and Andy would be targets, as would everyone they dealt with on a daily basis. Those who must comment on their disappearance. Those who could investigate and raise a fuss.

Their memories would be altered, regardless of what they chose.

Kate took a seat and crossed her legs at the knee. "Please, Jack...Gwen. Both of you, have something to drink. Sit down. You have a lot of catching up to do. Tea was an excuse but a good one. Merlyn was thinking of your comfort. You could be in the Archive for a while. The Prime Minister and his Cabinet were here a full two days."

"A big fat British headache, the bloody lot of them." Lyn said, behind his mug again. "But nothing compared to the Americans."

***

2259 hours

"This is our planet. Not theirs."

"And it was invaded by a species of shapeshifting aliens who meant to kill us all but changed their minds. Gwen, the invasion's over. It happened. They're not going anywhere."

Jack watched and listened as Kate Stewart argued with Gwen Cooper Williams through the brick wall the younger woman constructed of her fear and bias. The Osgoods--both of them--joined the conversation once or twice, but Lyn Baskerville stayed silent.

"There have to be other planets. Why wasn't this an option? Jack says the TARDIS is as big as a city. Why couldn't the Doctor take them all away and find them a different home?"

"They like Earth and...they're similar to us, in social evolution. They were a great warrior culture before the Time War reached their homeworld. They have stories that are similar to ours."

"A shared story is not grounds for destroying human culture here and now. If we can't tell the difference between us and them, we could...fall in love with one. We could accidentally offend one of them and then what? Hate crimes between us? Could there be children?"

Pots of coffee and tea were made. Food was eaten. Papers were examined. The story of the invasion was told--he wished he'd known, he could only imagine what it was like to work with three Doctors when the fate of Earth hung in the balance. The Osgoods explained the safeguard and his blood chilled at the idea of what could happen if the peace treaty frayed and collapsed under the small but steady knicks and dings of daily aggravations that developed when two species lived together.

He knew what they were looking at...and he privately thrilled to the challenge.

"Gwen, you're not hearing me. They were already among us. A few, here and there. And now we have a lot more of them--"

"If--" One of the Osgoods tried and then clamped her mouth shut when she got no further.

"No. I don't want it. Nobody wants it but the Doctor."

"There's no choice in this, Gwen. Why can't you--"

Jack estimated that they'd stepped into this conversation at about...eight-thirty. With explanations and coffee and some background information, the meeting had lasted over two hours now. And the argument was still in full swing.

The Osgoods abandoned ship together.

Gwen had a lot of intelligence backing her. But most of it was gut intelligence. That wouldn't help her here. Because gut intelligence was good for instincts but living side by side with an alien species--a shapeshifting species--would put alarm into any human's heart. Instinct and alarm were a bad combination for most people.

He stretched his back, walked around the conference room. He studied the pile of books on the work bench and the computer map of the Zygon re-settlement. But he did not approach Lyn, who watched the argument with folded arms and a somber expression on his long face.

Jack, in just his shirt sleeves, leaned on the wall beside the work bench and watched the young-faced chronoticist. And he didn't let himself shift a muscle when Lyn finally turned and looked directly at him. Met his eye.

This was what waited in his future? The story on Youngston's audio cassettes gave him an idea of what the other alien human was, under the skin. But years of Sunday afternoons told him more.

The other man's gray gaze was quiet, dark, and full of steel, and Jack had to admit...he didn't know the face yet, not really, but he knew Lyn's eyes. He'd played a lot of chess with Lyn and he knew what this expression meant.

It was more than 'I know better than you'. It was also 'I refuse to let you destroy yourself'. In either case, Lyn was backing the Doctor's choice to strip Earth's humans of their rights in the matter. Lyn knew more Earth History than him. Especially history that impacted Torchwood. But did that give Lyn the right to make a choice for Torchwood?

Gwen didn't understand why they couldn't just throw all the Zygons off the planet. Despite her intelligence--despite her time at Torchwood--she still didn't understand in her gut that Earth was already home and host to dozens and maybe hundreds of alien species. Some of which were definitely dangerous and wanted to kill humans.

She believed it was a 'them or us' problem.

There was, Jack knew, no such thing as 'them or us' where Earth was concerned. It was just 'us' and 'we', and in less than fifty years, UNIT and Torchwood would be on the first trans-system mission to visit another star and its residential planets--and its natives. And by then, Earth would acknowledge its true nature--that of a hybrid world. Where Zygon technology mingled with humanity's and, in time, would become powerful enough to take over the galaxy.

Telling Gwen didn't help. She couldn't grasp the sheer scope of what was happening.

The world had changed while Torchwood dealt with the surprise gift of the government's full support. And now, for the sake of preserving a tenuous peace, they would do as they were told. In his mind, the choice was made.

"But, we have the right to say no. To choose that for ourselves. It's our planet--" Gwen thumped the metal table's surface with the palm of a hand. "Not theirs."

The same argument, over and over. And he saw it, in Lyn's eyes--the blond time traveler recognized the stale-mate.

"Gwen." Lyn said, raising his voice. He didn't move, didn't turn away. He looked at Jack as he  spoke in the sudden, expectant silence. Kate and Gwen stared, waiting. "Gwen, it's already happened. Now we're down to the nitty-gritty of holding the line. Painting in the background of history. We help or we fight a lost cause. It's a fact, not a speculation."

"You're the only one here that fact affects, from what I can see." Gwen frowned at Lyn and tossed a scrumpled paper napkin on the table in front of her. It bounced off the side of her coffee cup. "For the rest of us, it's the future, not a fact in a textbook. It's our future and futures can change."

"Jack knows." Glancing away, Lyn shrugged--a forward folding of his narrow shoulders inside the brown heather cardigan. The wiry scientist shifted to look at Gwen once more from his perch on the stool. The somber dispassion was gone; Lyn's tone sharpened. "He's from farther ahead in time than me. He's letting you argue it out but he already knows. And if you change it now, you change the future that includes Jack--on two levels. This timezone of his current existence, and the timezone of his origins. And that affects a lot of other people who made a lot of little but important decisions. It might erase Zygon involvement but it might also erase Jack."

But Gwen's jaw was set. She watched Lyn with darkened, angry eyes that gleamed with unshed tears. She was furious. Beyond furious. "It's a maybe. Anything could happen."

"You want to create a paradox that could fuck with the fabric of time." The chronoticist argued. "And by fuck with, I mean mangle."

Both sides were right. There was no reason why they couldn't fight this. So what if it meant nothing in the big picture--a blip of rebellion and nothing more? They could fight it and they were within their right to do so. Gwen was prepared to fight for the lost cause and this might be the point where she found the strength to watch her child die for her sins.

He dreaded that day. They might become enemies.

Settling back in her chair, Kate made a face. She stretched and her whisky voice turned conversational. "What do you think will happen if our species goes to war with the Zygons on this planet?" Her smile was thin, bitter. "We are being watched by the galaxy. By the universe. Watched and judged. And some of those eyes wait to see us destroy enough of ourselves to make Earth easy prey."

What must it be like for her, walking in her father's shoes? Knowing--without any shadow of doubt--what nine-tenths of the planet was completely unaware of. Guessing correctly about what lay beyond the visible horizon and then doing what could be done. This peace treaty took every last sinew of her strength--mental and physical--and she was tired.

And he saw the moment when Gwen recognized what UNIT already understood. Her gaze swept to find him, to stare in dismayed surprised. He'd never told her what he knew. He'd told her it all changed in the 21st century but he hadn't explained how vulnerable Earth was. He'd thought she knew.

"There's a potential future when that happens. An invasion where the enemy cannot be placated, coming at a time when Earth is embattled from within." Lyn said, his voice dropping into a ragged softness. "I've seen it. No matter what you fear, it could be much worse than you dare to imagine. What the 456 did? Child's play next to some I could name. And if Earth is weakened, your enemies will never stop testing you."

Gwen gathered herself and the shock vanished to be replaced by determination. Her chin and jaw firmed again, her eyes narrowed on the blond man as if she held a sword. "We'll stop them. Like we stopped the Daleks. And the Cybermen."

"With the Doctor's help? Will Earth be his favorite when it's decimated by a war he tried to prevent? And what about the times when he doesn't show up, Gwen? You've seen a few of those. Haven't you?"

Jack stirred, moved his shoulders against the stone wall; his guts clenched. He didn't want to hear this--Lyn would use the 456 incident to break Gwen's argument. Because it was true--the Doctor might not arrive to help. Something about Lyn's expression--soft voice, fierce eyes--suggested the off-worlder knew exactly what that felt like.

He held his breath, waiting to hear what Lyn would say about the Doctor--and watched as his friend pulled out a mobile and looked at its screen with knit brows. Lyn's tone shifted. "Kate? The Osgoods need to see you for a moment. In the vault."

Silence lay heavy among them as Kate left.

Only after the director was gone did Gwen speak again. She'd gathered her anger and it was cold. "You set this up. Using Jack, you walked us right into a trap." And she gave a toothy grimace.

Jack opened his mouth to protest. He could speak for himself, when this was done. When he got Lyn Baskerville--no, that wasn't his name, wasn't it?--alone for a private conversation.

But the scientist beat him to it. Lyn sighed, gave a wry smile with his new face. "Just the latest example of how I disappoint you as a friend, Jack. You and I both know this is right. The Doctor is counting on us here. Our world is counting on us."

"But it's not your world." Gwen challenged. "Is it?"

The wry grin twisted. "My mother was from Hampshire. And my homeworld came from this one. I was born a citizen of the United Kingdom, just like you."

His second in command made a disparaging noise. Her hair was slipping free of its chignon. "Jack, you don't really think this has to happen...do you? There must be a way to stop it."

He put his back on the wall again and dropped his hands, slid them into his pockets. He looked at Gwen and then at the blond. And he realized what would have to happen, regardless of what else was decided here. He couldn't be allowed to remember this face, this voice. The name Kate had said...

"Merlyn...is that what Kate called you? Miss Osgood, one of them, called you Doctor Llewelyn."

The dark smile softened as Lyn turned to stare at him with quiet, gentle eyes. "Yes."

Jack nodded and smiled, too. He could enjoy the information while he still possessed it.

"You're a traitor to Torchwood and the human race, Merlyn." Gwen said.

It didn't bother Lyn. The time traveler drew something from the left pocket of his wooly cardigan and held it hidden in his fingers. "No...I'm far worse than a traitor. Liar. Thief. Murderer. Regicide and geocide. I was all of these in the course of my duty as the Queen's man." The expressive mouth curled up on one side as if there was some bitter pride to be found in the confession. "And always for reasons like this one. To save a world, to save the people I love. I'm worse than a traitor..." Gray eyes found him and the crinkle of sad amusement couldn't be hidden. "But then, Jack always did bring out the best in me."

Lyn raised his left hand--and the remote control he held--and pointed it at an embedded console below the conference room's clock, a red-black digital screen. Jack's heart jerked hard and he straightened.

"Not yet--" He moved.

"Goodbye, Jack." Lyn said and the world disappeared.

*****











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