It was hard not to feel a little insulted, after the Doctor had taken away his powers of time travel. He was a Time Agent - he had earned the right to those powers. And yes, alright, he hadn't always used them responsibly. Con-man, thief, criminal - it was quite a CV. But he was changed now. Perhaps, if they had spent a little more time together, the Doctor would have seen that. Hell, he should have known it anyway. The Jack he had abandoned in the year 200100 had not been the same man he had picked up in 1941. And hadn't Jack shown him that he had more sense than to mess with the timelines? He had been to see Rose, but he hadn't spoken to her. He had lived throughout the twentieth century - ageless, immortal - and he hadn't changed anything. Hadn't got in the way when there were several other versions of himself, from several other points of his life, nearby. His Time Agent self; his con-man self; himself with the Doctor, visiting Cardiff - whilst he was living right beneath his own unknowing feet. But he hadn't interfered; not once. He knew time - hell he was Time - the Doctor had made that clear. 'A fixed point in time and space'; forever unchanging, forever undying. Even after living for so long, Jack did not have the words to describe how that felt. It was weird, certainly. It was more than just a little bit scary. On the other hand, it had enabled him to save the world on several occasions, and that was pretty handy. Jack Harkness - defending the world. Emphatically not a liability. Well - not to the timelines anyway. So it had hurt when the Doctor had taken his powers of time travel away, like some jealous guardian protecting his own unique position. He was a Time Lord, of course. He was, in every sense that mattered to Jack, Jack's CO. Maybe that did give him the right. But it still hurt. On the other hand... He turned the vortex manipulator over in his hands, and smiled at it. At least he knew now that it could be fixed. And it wasn't as though he didn't have plenty of time to work out how.
"Hey Jack." It was Gwen, standing at his office door, jerking him back from his reverie. He glanced up, torn for a moment between past and present - always a jumble in his complicated life - and smiled at her.
"You're early." He slipped the manipulator back onto his wrist, and fastened the old and familiar strap. Some hundred and fifty years, he'd been wearing it. It had lasted well, the way good old 51st century workmanship should - but it wouldn't last forever. Not like him. He'd have to get a new strap for it eventually.
"And you're miles away. I said hello at least twice already." She perched on the edge of his desk. "You okay?"
"Yeah." He flashed her the Harkness grin, designated deadly weapon in six dozen star systems, and leaned back in his chair. "Just thinking. A little brooding is good for the mind."
"I thought you were the new improved Jack. No more moody staring into the middle distance. These last few weeks..."
"What, I make a few more jokes, and suddenly I'm not allowed my brooding anymore? Spoilsport." He jumped to his feet, steering her out of his office, and following her to the communal area where the other desks stood. "So why are you so early?"
"Rhys is away for a couple of days." She shrugged, sitting down at her desk. Ianto appeared as if by magic, with a tray of coffee mugs. "It's strange. I get lonely when he's away."
"And we all gravitate here when we have nowhere better to be." Ianto flashed her a cheerful smile that belied his apparently bitter words, and handed her a mug of coffee.
"Is that Welsh humour, or are you hinting something?" Jack took a mug from the tray, letting his hand linger near Ianto's own. The young Welshman smirked.
"Couldn't possibly say, sir. Anyway, it's just as well you're in, Gwen. Something interesting showed up on the computers overnight. Might bear checking."
"Overnight?" queried Gwen. She knew that Jack lived in the base. Was Ianto staying here too now? His expression was noncommittal.
"We have some good scanners. I have some of them rigged to alert me at home."
"And I already told you - this time it's nothing." Jack reached out for a piece of paper that Ianto had already placed on Gwen's desk. "Plain old pilfering. Let the local force handle it."
"Jack, ordinary pilferers don't take hi-tech electrical equipment like this." Ianto gestured at the paper. "This is specialist stuff. Precision tools, that sort of thing."
"So it was stolen to order." Jack scanned the list of stolen objects. "Call this hi-tech?"
"For most of us, yes." Ianto commandeered the piece of paper, and handed it to Gwen. "This used to be your area. Do you know any local thieves who'd take tools like this?"
"Thieves will take anything. I once got called to a factory break-in where two hundred packets of loo roll got taken." She leaned back in her seat, looking up at the pair of them. "That's life. If it's not nailed down, somebody will nick it."
Ianto raised an eyebrow. "Loo roll?"
"Dusky pink, quilted." She smiled. "It's a glamorous business, thieving."
"Precisely." Jack took the paper back, screwed it into a ball, and tossed it into the nearest wastepaper basket. "Let the cops handle it. It's what you tax payers pay them for."
"I don't know, Jack. This is a high security place that they got taken from. It doesn't look like some opportunist job." Ianto sipped from his own coffee. "You always tell us to be on the alert for things that don't add up."
"And to tell the things that don't from the things that do." Jack sighed. "Look, go feed Myfanwy before the others get in. You know how Owen complains if she drops her food all over the place."
"If you're sure." Ianto glanced over at the waste basket in a fashion that suggested the matter wasn't closed, then set down the tray and headed off, mug in hand, for the food store. It wasn't easy keeping a pterodactyl well fed, and the food store was sizeable to say the least.
"And no sharing your coffee with her," called out Jack, as the younger man departed. "It gives her the jitters. I have to live with that thing."
"I know." Ianto hadn't turned around to speak, but somehow they had both seen him smile; heard it in the tight briskness of his voice. Jack rolled his eyes.
"That boy is developing a rebellious streak."
"I rather think he's always had it." Gwen stood up, going over to the bin and retrieving the piece of paper. "You just inspire it to greater heights. And don't pretend you don't enjoy it."
He grinned - that ten billion gigawatt grin again, that always made her heart do things it shouldn't. "Why Gwen Cooper, I don't know what you mean. And what is it with my staff and that piece of paper this morning? He's hardly shut up about it since dawn, and now you're after it too. It's just a theft."
"And I'm a police officer." She shrugged. "Was a police officer. I have a different perspective to you lot. Especially you." She smoothed the paper out. "Did you ever find anything you did think was weird?"
"Touché." He gestured vaguely at the paper. "But this isn't weird."
She raised an eyebrow at that. "You seem very sure. Did you steal this stuff, Jack?"
"Me?" He was feigning a fine degree of outrage, although anybody could have seen that it wasn't genuine - even somebody who didn't know that there were all kinds of things that he got up to on the quiet. And the not-so-quiet. He grinned again. "Anyway, if I wanted hi-tech engineering tools, I wouldn't need to steal them. I'd just go into the basement. We have some little gizmos from Skaro that fell through the Rift about fifty years ago. Difficult to get the hang of when you've got fingers, but they're better than anything you'll find locally for a whole lot of years."
"That's just showing off." She finished smoothing out the piece of paper, and set it down on top of her 'to do' pile. "I'll ask a few questions. Can't hurt."
"I guess not." He raised his mug in a sort of salute, and took a quick sip. "I hear a cranky pterodactyl. I better go help with breakfast."
"I'll see you later." She couldn't help but laugh as he departed on his errand. Part of her still found the idea of a resident pterodactyl so bizarre, and yet a part of her had long ago accepted it. Settling back in her chair to enjoy her coffee, she let her mind drift. Somehow, it was always good to be here.
"Hey Ianto. You okay?" Setting down his mug on a convenient surface, Jack expertly caught the large joint of bacon that had suddenly become airborne. "Okay, death by bacon was not my favourite breakfast option."
"She's frisky today. And why wouldn't I be okay?" Ianto was struggling with the lid of the special 'sauce' that they used to help their out-of-time house guest identify her food. Jack laughed softly.
"When I came up it looked like you were about to lose your left arm. I know it's not necessarily as useful as the right one, but that's no reason to go feeding it to a pterodactyl." He took away the sauce, added some to the bacon joint, and let the large flying reptile take it from him. She flew up to a low perch with her prize, and sat there glaring at it. "You know, I'm pretty sure we shouldn't be feeding her bacon, anyway."
"You try doing the shopping." Ianto turned to leave, but Jack stopped him. "Jack, I have work to do. This place needs a lot more running than people realise."
"You think I don't know that?" Jack steered him over to the sink. "Raw bacon, Ianto. One of us isn't going to be looking too cheerful if he gets poisoned from storming off without washing his hands." He frowned. "Actually, I don't think either of us would be looking too cheerful. I'm next with the soap." Ianto smiled faintly, and Jack grinned. "Gotcha. Now what's up?"
"You know what's up." Ianto made a big show of washing his hands, and waved them in the air like a child showing its parent. "That theft last night. You know there's something weird about it, but you're just letting it go. Why all the secrets?"
"I don't know that there's anything weird about it. Burglaries happen. Cardiff might not exactly be New York, but it isn't the sticks either. You got criminals, just like everybody else; and they're not all aliens, and they don't all concern us." Drying his hands, Jack retrieved his coffee mug, keeping one careful eye on the pterodactyl lurking nearby. She had a thing for coffee, although he had never quite worked out why. Whatever the reasons for her fetish, he had lost mugs to her in the past, and he didn't appreciate it. Didn't much appreciate the after-effects, either. Caffeine and sugar did strange things to pterodactyls.
"Secrets. It's always about secrets with you, isn't it." Ianto shook his head, looking distinctly annoyed. "I'm supposed to help you keep this place running, Jack. It's not easy doing that when you're not playing it straight."
"No. Look, I don't expect the others to appreciate what I do around here, but I do expect you to. Half of the time they're oblivious to everything but themselves and what they're working on; but you and me, Jack, we see everything in this place. All the day to day stuff they never think about; all the things that lurk beneath the surface. And it's not made any easier when you're not co-operating. I don't understand what makes you tick."
"I'm sorry, okay?" It was clearly not the time to try turning on the flirtation to ease the mood, so instead he tried the businesslike approach. That usually got good results from his young associate too. "Look, it's not about secrets. Sometimes I just have to make executive decisions. It's my job."
"I know your job, Jack. Better than you might think." Ianto had started to walk away, but he paused now, and looked back. "There's something about that robbery that you're not telling me, isn't there. You don't have to tell me what it is, I suppose, but if we honestly have any future running this place as a team - or doing anything else - answer me that much. Honesty. Just occasionally."
"Honesty's a complicated business." Jack could see from the glint in Ianto's eyes that that had not been a well-judged answer. The young man turned away again, beginning to walk back to the office area. Jack sighed, swearing softly but eloquently in a little-known Theorian dialect that he had picked up halfway across the universe. "Ianto, I am way too old to be running after younger men."
"Then don't," came back the answer, with just enough sharpness to spur Jack into action. He caught up with the other man in a second, spinning him around with only the slightest of effort. Ianto was not a small man, but he didn't have Jack's build, or - certainly at this moment - his ready force. For a second he blinked uncertainly into the surprising intensity of Jack's blue eyes; then there was a hand at the back of his head, the eyes were suddenly far, far closer, and he was being kissed, annoyingly well. Annoyingly nicely. When he was free again, could breathe again, he straightened his shoulders into what felt like a suitably haughty posture, and checked that his tie was still neatly aligned.
"Forget about the theft, Ianto," Jack told him. Ianto almost flared up in anger again, but Jack's hand gently touched his own. "I'll tell you all about it. Just not yet, okay?"
"Perhaps." For a second they stood there; the immaculately-suited, resolutely proper young Welshman, and the magnetic, semi-uniformed enigma that had changed the course of his life. Ianto almost wanted to refuse; to make a scene; to demand more than this promise of future gratification - but that simply wasn't his style. Nor was it any way to handle Jack Harkness. Well aware that there was a time for confrontation and a time to back down, Ianto nodded slowly. For a moment his hand moved to tighten around Jack's; then with a taut, cool smile, he turned and walked away.
It was a large house, a little way off the beaten track, with wide, arched windows, and a long, winding drive. Jack climbed over the wrought iron gate, his long coat swinging around him like a cloak when he jumped to the ground on the other side. Centuries-old stone stared down at him as he walked up the path that led to the house; but he turned aside before he reached the main building, and headed off to the left instead. A large garage awaited him, with a 1920s Roadster parked just outside. Jack gave her faded black body a friendly pat as he walked past, then pulled open the doors of the garage and went inside. No cars stood inside; instead a chunky purple and silver spaceship more or less filled the interior. Jack ducked under a stubby wing, and followed the sounds of busy hammering around to the back.
"Hey." He sat down on an upturned beer crate, that looked almost as old as the Roadster parked by the door. After a second the hammering ceased.
"That you, Jack?" A voice, accented in well-spoken English, came faintly from somewhere just inside an engine nacelle. Jack had to smile.
"Expecting anybody else?"
"I rather hope not. It's supposed to be just the two of us who can see past the psi-field." There was the sound of scuffling, before a tall, wiry figure emerged from within the spaceship. "I don't suppose you brought lunch?"
"It's ten o'clock in the morning." Jack leaned back against the wall, arms folded. "What time zone are you on?"
"I don't know. Feels like way past lunchtime." The other man threw down the tool that he was holding, and wandered over to sprawl on a crate next to Jack. "Space lag. It's hell."
"You should try time travel. That can really throw out your body clock." Jack drew in a sharp breath. "Steven--"
"Lecture time, I suppose." With an exaggerated sigh, the other man - Steven - folded his arms. "Go on, then. Get it over with."
"This isn't a joke. I told you I can get you any tools you want; you just need to ask. I've probably got the manufacturers' recommended brand for this thing. Breaking into that warehouse was stupid."
"I'm a 21st century boy, Jack. I do things the 21st century way." Steven glanced over at the purple and silver spaceship, and shrugged. "Well, aside from the spaceship, obviously. I don't like all that futuristic stuff, and the alien stuff that you've always messed about with. It was bad enough having to take all those experimental new tools last night."
"I told you not to steal anything. I look after this town, Steven. It's my responsibility to take care of it. Having you waltz in here and start stealing stuff doesn't help."
"Jack..." Steven reached out, taking one of his companion's hands in his own. "This might be difficult news for you to hear... but I'm a thief. I steal things. It's what I do."
"I know you're a thief." Jack couldn't stop a lazy smile from spreading across his face, as Steven's fingers wrapped themselves around his. "And I don't care about that. What I care about is you stealing things here - especially when you're fool enough to teleport in and out of the place you're stealing things from. I warned you that my team have equipment to check for that kind of energy signature. I'm trying to keep them off this case, but they're not stupid. They're already starting to work things out."
"So let them." Steven idly kissed the fingers that he was holding imprisoned in his own. "What does it matter?"
"You mean aside from them handing you over to the local police, before your ship's ready to fly again? Or them coming here and finding your ship? Or the police finding the ship, which would really take some explaining." Jack eyed his hand, and with a look of faint irritation, rescued it from Steven's lips. "Cut that out. I'm supposed to be angry with you."
"You're not, though." Deprived of Jack's hand, Steven snaked an arm around his guest's shoulders instead. "I'll take the tools back, as soon as I've finished with them. I'll offer to pay for them, if it'll stop you acting like the head man at a killjoy convention."
"You could have bought them anyway," Jack leant in a bit closer, enjoying the casual embrace. "You're loaded."
"Correction - the family estate is worth a bundle, certainly. Several bundles in fact. But I've never touched that, and I don't intend to start now. Besides, it's bound to be all tied up in knots since my father died."
"Oh yeah." Jack offered his companion a gentle smile. "Sorry about that."
"I'm not especially. He wasn't much of a father - and if he knew what we were doing in the master bedroom yesterday evening, he'd do his damnedest to come back to life just to disinherit me. I won't miss him." Steven shrugged. "I know he named me as his heir - oldest son and all that - but with me having been out of the picture all this time, I don't know where the money will be at the moment." He sighed. "Listen to me. Talking about money - and my own, too. Other people's is so much more fun."
"Not in this town. You obey the law here."
"Or I confiscate your ship. I mean it, Steven. My town. My rules. You wanna steal some tools, go some place else."
"Yes sir, captain." For a second they glared at each other, before Steven relaxed at last into a smile. "I can't get used to this. You being on the right side of the law."
"The local police might not agree with you on that. They don't know what to make of me." Jack reached over with one hand, and wiped a smudge of oil from Steven's cheek with his thumb. "It's not about law, anyway. It's about looking after the city. Looking after the planet. Anything alien is my responsibility, and you're here, using alien technology."
"But not to hurt anybody," pointed out Steven. Jack looked disparaging.
"Somebody might see something. What if a security guard sees you on one of your robberies, zapping yourself about the place? It makes my job far easier if the local police aren't stepping on my toes, and I'd rather limit what they know, at least for now." He fixed his companion with a particularly intense stare. "And besides - stealing is wrong."
"Says the guy who stole the Tellurian sun diamond."
Jack shrugged. "I gave it back."
"You sold it back. To the king's daughter. That's not exactly honest."
"Fun, though." Jack's grin burst back into life, growing wider by the second. "I sold it to her for a kiss."
"Seriously? That's not how the story about it goes. The biggest known diamond in the whole of the Medes Galaxy, and you sold it for a kiss?!"
"Well, rather more than a kiss, as it turned out. But that was the original price, yeah." Jack laughed softly. "Hell, I didn't need the money that week. And she was beautiful. And so enjoyably out of bounds..."
"Only Jack Harkness would steal one of the most famous diamonds in the universe, and then sell it to a princess for a kiss." Steven sighed. "And then tell me off for stealing some tools in Cardiff."
"I'm serious about that. You need anything else, you can get it from me. I've got everything you need, and more besides."
"Are we still talking about tools?"
"And people call me incorrigible." Jack's light giggle was more than Steven could resist. He leaned over, kissing the other man hard, then pulled back.
"If we're on opposite sides now, are we still allowed to make out?"
"Are you kidding?" Jack settled into a more comfortable position. "Enemies are much more fun to seduce." They kissed for a moment longer, before he broke off again to add: "Anyway, we're not on opposite sides. Yet."
"But I'm a dastardly thief, and you're... what are you?"
"Insatiable." Jack moved closer for another kiss, but Steven pulled back.
"Seriously. What are you?"
"Oh, I don't know. What do you fancy? Protector of humanity? Defender of the Earth? Or maybe not the last one, 'cause I think that's a cartoon."
"We could dye your hair blond." Steven stifled a giggle. "You'd make a great Flash Gordon."
"You talk too much." They started to kiss again, but it was Jack's turn to pull back this time. "Hang on. Blond?"
"Yeah. And with a bright red lycra suit." Steven began to laugh in earnest this time. "This is hopeless. Stop making me laugh, or we're not going to get anywhere."
"Not sure we're going to get anywhere balanced on a beer crate anyway." Jack shifted his position, less comfortable now that he was taking much of Steven's weight as well as his own. "I'm good, but even I might have limits."
"I do have a bed in the spaceship, you know."
"I know. I remember." Allowing himself to be pulled to his feet, Jack followed his companion towards the hatch that led inside the alien vessel. "Something else I remember, though. Didn't I come here to be angry with you?"
"Yes." Steven closed the hatch, sealing them both inside his little ship. "But I think we both agreed to put that on hold. Didn't we?"
"Probably." Following the other man down the short length of corridor that led to the ship's small cabin, Jack reached out to encircle him in an embrace. "I should forget things more often."
"Uh huh." Steven leaned back against him, and tried to stop his legs from turning completely to jelly when Jack kissed him again. "I'll definitely go along with that."
"Where's Jack?" Striding into the Hub, leather jacket slung over one shoulder, Owen looked about rather irritably for their errant leader. Tosh didn't look away from her computer screens.
"Not in," she said. Owen made a face.
"He's never in lately. I've been in the library half the bloody day reading those articles he wanted summarised. So where is he? I thought he wanted my report."
"I think he's got other things on his mind." Gwen too was staring at a computer screen. Owen scowled.
"Well don't take any bloody notice of me, then." He slouched over to his chair, collapsed into it, then got up again straight away, and went over to Gwen's desk. "What are you doing, anyway?"
"Nothing." She tried to close down her screen, but was too late to prevent him from seeing it.
"That's the floor-plan of the place those tools were stolen from the other night." He laughed, not unpleasantly. "I thought Jack told you to let that drop?"
"He did." She shrugged. "But I'm a police officer, sort of. And it looked interesting."
"Yeah?" He had seen nothing interesting in the tale himself. Stolen tools were not the sort of thing to grab the attention of Doctor Owen Harper. He had nothing better to do just now, though, and anything was more interesting than nothing. "So go on, then. Enlighten me."
"Nobody could work out how he did it - the thief, I mean. The police were totally baffled." Gwen called up some reports on her screen, but they didn't mean much to Owen. "So then Tosh had an idea, and--"
"Tosh?" He looked up, grinning. "You're in on this too? You rebel."
"Funny." She shot him a disparaging look, and he laughed.
"So what was this great idea?"
"A teleport." She said it as though it were obvious - which, he supposed, it was. It was the perfect way to commit a robbery, when you thought about it.
"Nice one," he conceded. She flushed slightly, as she always did when he complimented her.
"I wasn't sure at first," she said, and clicked a few times at her mouse, bringing up a complex series of graphs and readings that he was obviously supposed to admire. He nodded, not really understanding what at.
"Put him out of his misery, Tosh." Gwen was laughing, and he offered her an eloquent glare.
"I suppose you understand all that stuff?" he asked her. She shook her head.
"Difference is, though, I don't pretend to."
"It's very simple really." Tosh didn't quite understand their lack of comprehension. "Basically it shows certain energy readings. There's always background energy anyway, you know that. Radiation, the local electrical supply, heat from nearby people - all that kind of thing. Well, there were certain spikes, which I isolated, and then set the computer to scan for, in case they were repeated."
"And I take it that they were?" he prompted, when she fell silent. She nodded.
"Last night. At a plant on the outskirts of town."
"And at a plant on the outskirts of town last night..." Gwen's fingers tapped at her keyboard, as she went through a few more police files. "There, you see. A generator was stolen. A big, heavy generator. And there's absolutely no suggestion of how. Nobody saw anything, there's no scuff marks, no sign of a vehicle having been used. You couldn't just walk off with one of those things."
"Teleport, then." Owen nodded, convinced. "Bingo. And what, are we assuming that Jack knows who's responsible?"
"Well, he certainly didn't want us investigating it." Tosh looked troubled. "Not going to have been committing these thefts himself, is he. He'd have no need."
"But if he knows who is doing it, what are his reasons for not wanting us to find out about it?" Gwen leaned back in her chair, wondering for a moment how a fresh mug of coffee had suddenly come to be perched on the edge of her desk. She started, like a guilty child. "Ianto!"
"Busy, are we?" He was eyeing her with a typically unreadable expression. She started to speak, but he shook his head.
"Do you really think I don't know what you've been up to? I know everything that happens in this Hub."
"He's playing teacher's pet again," jeered Owen. Ianto raised an eyebrow.
"You know, I'm remembering the last time we didn't trust Jack. Seems to me that that little escapade ended in us killing him, and then nearly destroying the world. Don't be so bloody flippant, Owen."
"Yeah, alright." Chastened, Owen gestured at the computer screens - at Gwen's police reports, and Tosh's unfathomable streams of data. "But that's nothing like this. This is some thief with alien technology. That's our department, surely."
"I'd have thought so," agreed Gwen. Ianto shook his head.
"Jack must have his reasons for wanting us out of it. He told me he'd explain it all eventually."
"Yeah - when his thief friend has stripped Cardiff bare, and then buggered off back to whatever planet he came from." Owen caught a sharp look from Ianto, and made a face in return. "And don't go looking at me like that. It doesn't exactly look good when our boss is consorting with alien thieves, does it."
"I suppose I can understand him wanting to keep it to himself." Tosh looked a little disconcerted when they all turned to look at her at once. "Well, think about it - we wouldn't be able to turn them over to the police, would we. How would we tell them that the crimes had been committed? Human or alien, it'd probably be a retcon job. And how would you feel if that was a friend of yours? Maybe Jack is just trying to handle this without having to resort to that."
"Makes sense." Owen sat down on the corner of Tosh's desk, as ever either unaware of or unconcerned by the effect that he had on her. "But what are we going to do about it?"
"Nothing," said Ianto firmly. Gwen looked away from him, at the mug of coffee he had left on her desk.
"But what if he's in trouble?" she asked. "After all, whoever is behind these robberies has just stolen a powerful generator. What's he going to do with it? I don't think there's anything wrong with just keeping an eye on the situation, is there? I trust Jack. I trust his judgement. But nobody's infallible, and he hired us all for a reason. It's our job to back him up. Right?"
"True," admitted Ianto. He set down the tray of coffee mugs that he had been carrying, and folded his arms. "Well, go on then. You've obviously discovered something else."
"What makes you say that?" asked Tosh, her turn now to feel like a guilty child.
"Because Ianto knows all," said Owen dryly. "And because we all know that there's no way you identified that teleport energy signature without tracking it to its source."
"Possibly teleport," she corrected him, fetching them both some coffee from Ianto's tray. "We don't know for sure that that's what it is."
"Seems pretty bloody obvious to me." Owen took a long drink of coffee, winced when he realised that it was hotter than he had expected, and swore under his breath. Tosh eyed him disapprovingly.
"Your vocabulary gets worse every day," she told him, and then tried to tell herself that the grin he shot her in answer didn't melt her heart. "Yes, alright. It does seem likely that it's a teleport. I've had the computer working on the problem, and it's not long finished. I was just trying to pull up some records when you came in."
"Records?" asked Gwen. Tosh nodded, warming to her subject.
"The teleport, as I suppose we might as well assume that it is, seems to have originated from a house. Quite an old place, owned by a local family. They're old money, well-to-do types." She tapped at her keyboard, and soon her findings were displayed upon Gwen's screen as well. "They're not a big family now. There's not many of them left. At one time they seem to have been virtually landed gentry."
"Alexander Hope," read Gwen from her screen. "I know that name."
"Not very Welsh," commented Owen. Tosh shrugged.
"Not everybody in Wales is," she pointed out, with a pointed look at his very un-Welsh self. "He married into an old Welsh family, by the look of it. Old money, like I said. He died fairly recently though."
"Yes of course. That's it." Gwen nodded, suddenly remembering. "Back when I was still on the force, just before I met you lot, I was called to a sudden death. Alexander Hope. Heart attack. Rich bloke, lovely old house. His son was there. Charles, I think his name was. Seemed a bit too eager to get his hands on the family money for my liking."
"That's right. Charles Hope." Tosh read on from her screen. "Alexander had twin sons, Charles and Steven. Steven's the older one, but according to this he's been missing for years. Charles has just had him declared dead."
"So he gets to inherit the lot." Owen raised his eyebrows. "Says here that Hope Imports is worth a packet. I bet Charles is pretty anxious to get his hands on that."
"Doesn't sound like something that Jack would be involved with," pointed out Ianto. "And how would stealing a generator help some bloke contest a will?"
"Good question." Tosh leaned back in her chair to concentrate on her coffee, and Owen continued looking through the data on the Hope family that her computer had dragged up. "Maybe we're completely on the wrong track?"
"Could be. It seemed so neat, though." Gwen also turned her attention to her coffee. "Unless with old Alexander dead, somebody else is using the house? Squatters, maybe."
"Squatters with a teleport." Ianto raised an eyebrow. "Different, I suppose."
"Or maybe we were on the right track all the time." Owen tapped the screen in front of him. "Look at this. Steven Hope, heir to the Hope business empire."
"He was nice," said Tosh, in obvious approval. At her own screen, Gwen was nodding.
"I won't argue with that. Very like his brother, but..." She gestured at the photograph. "Well, nice certainly covers it." The picture before her was of a man probably in his thirties, with dark hair and pale blue eyes. He had an angular face with a light dusting of stubble, and his clothes were neat and expensive; a brown suit, the tie loosed, though not enough to look untidy. He was pictured in front of a shelf brimming with books; and at least one of them, Gwen saw, was on electrical engineering.
"Now, I don't claim to be an expert on these things," said Owen, reaching for his coffee with the self-satisfied air of a man who had just made a major breakthrough, "but he certainly looks like he'd grab our good captain's interest. Him being alive and all."
"Not according to his brother," pointed out Tosh, smiling slightly at the man pictured on her screen. It wasn't hard to smile at him. He wasn't as classically good-looking as her boss, perhaps; but it was a face that it was certainly enjoyable to watch. Owen gestured at the screen with his mug.
"He's alive. The bloke's an electrical engineer. Degree from Oxford, according to the file there. Says it all, doesn't it."
"He's right." Gwen scanned the information, more than on familiar ground now. She liked reports like this. They were her lifeblood. "Steven Hope, born October 1965. Educated at Eton and Oxford. Masters degree in electrical engineering. And according to his brother, he disappeared in 2001. Nobody's seen him since."
"And you think he's our thief?" Ianto eyed the screen thoughtfully. "Some of it adds up, I suppose. The stuff about electrical engineering. But what about the brother? And where's he been since 2001?"
"Who cares?" asked Owen. Gwen glared at him.
"I do. And maybe we should find out."
"Ask the brother, you mean?" asked Tosh. Gwen nodded.
"Why not? This is my area. I think I can find us some answers. You coming?"
"Yes. Why not." The other woman rose to her feet, looking quite excited. "If we can find out more about the circumstances of his disappearance, we might be able to find out more about the man himself."
"Or you could just follow the teleport signal to its origin." Owen pointed vaguely at the computer screens, some of which were still showing her indecipherable numbers. "Go to the Hope house. Ask Steven himself."
"No." Ianto shook his head. "Jack might be there. If you're all right about this, Jack could be there with this Steven bloke, and I don't want him knowing that we've been checking up on them. Not yet."
"And besides, it could be dangerous." Tosh pulled on her jacket. "Well, we don't really know anything about him. And if Jack is trying to cover up his crimes, it might not be by choice. It's best to keep things low key for now."
"I guess." Suddenly left with nothing to do, Owen drank his coffee rather disconsolately as the two women headed for the door. "Be careful."
"We will." Gwen slipped a notebook into her pocket, and checked that her warrant card was still in its place. "If Jack comes back..."
"I'll think of something," Ianto told her. She nodded.
"Thanks." A moment later, she and Tosh had gone. Owen heaved a heavy sigh.
"Just you and me, then, Ianto," he muttered to the younger man, but the expected answer didn't come. He turned around. As quiet and as smooth as always, Ianto had disappeared.
Jack headed back towards the Hub in good spirits, his mind on pleasurable things. He had work to do, sure enough - some reports to finish, some phone calls to make, some equipment to overhaul - but nothing desperately urgent. A mug of coffee and some chocolate biscuits would help make the costing report easier to complete; and then with luck he'd be able to read some more of the scrolls that been amongst the latest debris to come through the Rift. A fisherman had found them, advertising them on the internet in an attempt to discover what they were; and Jack had been happy to pay him well for his discovery. The scrolls were a history - in a style similar to the epic poems of Earth's past. The fisherman had had an idea that he had made some great archaeological discovery, and as far as Jack was concerned, he had. It was one that nobody else on Earth would be able to appreciate, perhaps - but then like as not there was nobody else on Earth who could read Astruvian. So far the scrolls were making very good reading, and it was always good to polish up an old skill. Some of Jack's more esoteric intergalactic languages were getting a little rusty.
"Captain Harkness." The voice called out to him just as he neared the Plass, and he felt his senses tingle. There was no threat in the voice; no challenge. Just a note of authority and officialdom. Quite honestly, he would have preferred a threat. He turned around.
"We'd like a word, if we may, sir." There were two of them, burly and on the verge of middle-age, their blue uniforms showing signs of wear. Jack had come to know several of the local police officers, especially since becoming friendly with Gwen Cooper, but he didn't know either of these two men. They looked bored and distinctly unimpressed, as though just about anything else would have been preferable to them than being here, now, and with him. He grinned.
"Just the one word, boys? I'm not usually that brief."
"If you'll just come with us, sir." There was a note of strain in the policeman's voice. Jack knew it well. The local police didn't like Torchwood - they didn't understand them, they didn't know what they did. They knew only that they turned up sometimes at crime scenes, took over investigations, and never explained things afterwards. They were loud and flash and most definitely not by the book, and the police didn't know whether to hate them or envy them. Generally they went with both.
"Usually I'm more than happy to accept an invitation from a man in uniform." Pulling off his sunglasses, Jack let his eyes drift up and down the nearest of the two officers, and then raised his brows suggestively. Neither man really appealed just now, but maybe if one of them cracked a smile, he'd be encouraged to reassess his opinion. Neither man's mouth even twitched. He sighed, and put the sunglasses back on.
"You wouldn't rather go for a coffee?" he asked, in one last attempt to make either of them look less stiff. "Tea?" One of them put a large, heavy hand on his shoulder, and began to steer him towards a waiting patrol car. "Hot chocolate?"
"Just get in the car, sir." The second policeman looked even less likely to smile than the first, and Jack could see that now was not the time for more jokes. Either one of the pair looked about ready to reach for their handcuffs, and that sort of thing was definitely no fun. Not under these circumstances, anyway. Obediently, and without further comment, he climbed inside the car.
It was a short drive, followed by a brief wait in a tatty-looking reception room, and a journey up several flights of stairs. One or two hostile stares followed, along with several incredulous ones. He beamed contentedly at the attention. The Jack Harkness grin could have an entertaining effect on police officers - he had learnt that long ago. Those who didn't warm to it tended to steam at the ears and turn interesting shades of puce.
"Well well well. I was half-expecting you to refuse to come here." A female voice, familiar, amused - with just a hint of something like contempt. They had reached the top of the stairs now, and a door stood open off to the right. A woman was in the doorway, arms folded, dark brown eyes fixed solely on the approaching figure of Jack Harkness. Genuinely pleased, he offered her one of his biggest and breeziest smiles.
"Kathy! Suddenly this little detour is looking up. You didn't need to send the bulldogs, though. If I'd known I was on my way to see you, I'd have come over here like a shot."
"Really." She turned around, heading through the doorway. "Come on, then, 'captain'. This way."
"My pleasure." He followed her with a jaunty stride into an open plan office, where several detectives worked at a collection of desks. Hers was off to one side, her name - Det. Katherine Swanson - prominently displayed on a little plate. She seated herself behind the desk, and looked up at her annoyingly nonchalant guest, and at the two uniforms still lingering at his shoulder.
"You need us anymore, Kath?" asked one of them. Jack glanced back over his shoulder.
"Depends what you're offering," he said jauntily. The officer took several seconds to process that, and before he could respond, Jack had turned his back, apparently shutting the pair out completely. The policeman stared for a moment, as though contemplating saying something; then turned around and walked away, his companion at his heels. Jack dropped into the nearest chair.
"Do you like winding up policemen?" asked Swanson. Jack shook his head.
"Not especially. I'm rather fond of guys in uniform, as it happens. And women in uniform. And... anything else that happens to have a uniform. Especially blue ones."
"Really." It was always hard work talking to Jack Harkness. She remembered that all too well. He grinned, he made jokes, he flirted as often as he breathed... She wasn't entirely sure whether he was a pain in the backside, a total idiot, a combination of the two... or something else entirely. She also wasn't sure if she really wanted to find out. He was watching her now, blue eyes sparkling, lazy grin illuminating the face that he knew damn well was attractive. She kept her own expression as level as possible.
"You wanted to see me?" he asked. She raised an eyebrow.
"Not really. But needs must."
"You could ring me up, you know. It's a little more convenient than grabbing me off the street."
"But less entertaining for me." She steepled her fingers, staring at him intently. Heavens above he was weird - and, yet, somehow the weirdness was right. There he was, sprawled in a chair, long, dated RAF coat spread around him like a cloak - and somehow every fold of it, every inch of the material, had contrived to arrange itself to aesthetic perfection. It was almost as if he had it trained. As for the rest - designer sunglasses dangling from one finger, like a movie star posing for the cameras - and a waistcoat and gleaming watch-chain that made him look like he had inadvertently swapped clothes with a nineteenth century professor. Somehow it suited him. More than suited him. Her eyes narrowed.
"Do you always wear fancy dress?"
"Only if the offer's right." His smile remained steady, assured. "Is that why you had me brought in? To discuss fashion tips?"
"No." Her expression hardened. "It's about some recent thefts."
"Not usually my area." He straightened slightly in his chair, though his air of infuriating insouciance remained. She glared.
"You know damn well I don't know what your 'area' really is. For all I know it could be bloody well anything."
"It could." He folded up the sunglasses, and slipped them into a pocket. "Go on."
"Some electrical equipment has disappeared. I don't like to use words like 'inexplicable', but right now I can't think of any others that apply. Especially since this morning."
"Yeah?" This morning had been good. He'd enjoyed this morning. Up early, long before the others were due to arrive for work; off for a run before the streets got too full of people. A leisurely breakfast with only Myfanwy for company, then out to talk to one of his regular contacts; a half-mad old radio ham, who had been listening to alien broadcasts for the last forty years. Jack liked him. He had never once commented on the fact that Jack hadn't aged in all the time that they had known each other; and some of the broadcasts that he had heard had been of great use in the past. Plus he made the best home-made lemonade on the planet. A very good morning, all told. Come to that, it had been a very good day. He really didn't want it being ruined now.
"This morning we got hold of a tape of security camera footage from a recent robbery. It's an old tape, and an old camera, but it shows a man. He seems to appear and disappear out of nowhere. Now I'll grant you that there are frames missing, and I wouldn't want to go showing it to my boss as proof of anything, but it struck me as a little bit weird."
"People disappearing into thin air would be pretty weird, yeah." He smiled on. "Not got much to do with me, though."
"In my experience, most weird things involve Torchwood. At least to some degree." She picked something up off her desk, and looked at it. "It wasn't easy, but we managed to get a picture of him. There's quite a bit of noise on the tape, and he wasn't helpful enough to look straight at the camera, but our people managed to get a headshot anyway." She showed him what she was looking at. It was grainy, and not entirely in focus, but it was clearly a picture of Steven Hope. He showed not so much as a flicker of recognition.
"And it's interesting. You see, we did think that this was a local businessman named Charles Hope, but I have a colleague who never forgets a face. Handy talent in this job. And he swears that this is Charles's twin brother, Steven. But you know what's really interesting?"
"Probably not." He was fairly sure she was going to tell him, whatever it was. He wasn't wrong.
"Turns out that this Steven Hope is dead. Has been for years, according to his brother. I think that's interesting, don't you?
"Not really." Steven had looked pretty damned lively when Jack had left him about an hour before, but he saw no reason to mention that. "Dead? Well, I guess that explains how he managed to disappear into thin air, huh. Must be a ghost."
"Not funny." She certainly didn't look amused. "Anyway, that's not all. Because it seems that last night a restaurant reported the attempted use of a cancelled credit card belonging to Steven Hope. And guess who paid the bill when the card was refused?"
"Shirley Bassey," suggested Jack. Kathy smiled.
"Why don't we start again. You want to tell me what's going on, 'Captain' Jack? A series of robberies, and the most likely culprit is a man who hasn't been seen since 2001. A man whose brother has just had him declared legally dead. Why does a man let himself be declared dead, when there's a fortune waiting if he shows up alive? Why does a man with a family fortune need to steal? And why engineering equipment?" She looked almost triumphant. "And what was he doing having dinner yesterday evening with you?"
"I have no idea what the brother is up to - though I'd guess the father's will is a part of it, wouldn't you? And a lot of people have seen Steven since 2001. He just hasn't been around much locally. No great conspiracy there." He smirked. "As for what he was doing with me... there was some very good food, a little dancing, and... well. I'll leave it there. Use your imagination to fill in the rest."
"You and he...?" she asked. He grinned.
"Sleeping with a dead man. Actually that is a crime, come to think of it, isn't it. You got me, Kathy. I'll come quietly."
"I..." She shook her head. "Stop trying to complicate the issue. Where is he stashing all of this stuff? A couple of uniforms checked out the old Hope house earlier, but it was abandoned, they said. Couldn't find any sign of life. Where's he staying? We need to talk to him."
"I have no idea where he is." It wasn't a lie. He certainly had no idea where Steven was at that precise moment.
"And I suppose you have no idea about these thefts, either?"
"I'm not on the robbery squad." He stood up, coat immediately swirling around his ankles, stance effortlessly dramatic. She drew back slightly, with no idea what to expect, watching as he approached. All that he did was to pick up the top file on her desk; and with a brief smile, flip through it. The theft of the tools was listed, now joined by that of a heavy generator. Inwardly he scowled. Confound those light fingers. Clever, pleasurable, extremely dextrous fingers - but confound them anyway.
"Well?" asked Swanson. He stared at the file a moment longer, then dropped it back onto her desk.
"It'll all be returned," he said firmly, and with a sweep of his coat tails that made her feel oddly envious, he strode away across the room.
"Wait!" She was on her feet too now, staring at him across the cluttered office. Her colleagues were looking up, but she ignored them. "You can't just walk off like that."
"Am I under arrest, Kathy?" He toyed with his sunglasses, somehow back in his hand, his voice at once both amused and firm. She hesitated a moment, and then shook her head.
"No. But I want to speak to Steven Hope. You might be good enough to tell him that. It'd look a lot better if he came here willingly."
"I'm sure it would." He flashed her a brief, dazzling grin. "Be seeing you."
"Harkness! Damn it..." But he was gone, faster than she would have thought possible, though his movements had never lost that languid, easy grace. She wasn't going to run after him. Not him. And not in front of so many witnesses. Instead she went over to the window, staring down into the street, watching out for the telltale flash of blue that would be him and his damned showy coat leaving the building. She waited for a long time; far longer than should have been necessary; but she didn't see him. It was though he had simply disappeared.
Charles Hope ran the family business from an imposing building by the docks. Gwen flipped her warrant card at a security guard by the gate, and was allowed to drive on through into the car park. Tosh smiled.
"Very Starsky And Hutch."
"Flashing my ID at people is fine. I'll leave Jack and Owen to go bursting through doors and waving guns around, if that's okay." She drew the car to a halt in a corner parking space. "You happy about this?"
"Of course. It's just asking questions." Tosh climbed out of the car, straightening her coat. "This business about his brother's death gives us the perfect opening."
"True." Gwen rifled around in the back of the car, and came up with a a couple of old files. She tidied one up to use as a prop, and tucked it under one arm. "Shall we go, then?"
"Absolutely." Tosh still seemed rather excited, leading the way up the front steps and into the building. A young, bored and glamorous-looking woman at an imposing front desk eyed them sourly as they entered, but dragged up some grudging respect when Gwen introduced herself and showed her warrant card.
"We'd like to speak to Mr Hope," she said, in her best Police Officer On Duty voice. The girl didn't look impressed.
"Got an appointment?" she asked. Gwen glared.
"I think that official police business rather pre-empts regular appointments, don't you?" The girl apparently didn't think so, and flipped idly through a large book on her desk.
"No appointment, no entry." She pointed at the book. "And you're not listed, so you don't have an appointment."
"You don't understand, Miss..." Tosh stepped forward, noting the girl's name on its neat black badge. "Miss Rogers. Mr Hope is in the middle of a legal tussle at the moment, and I represent his insurance company. PC Cooper is assisting us in our investigations. You are aware that Mr Hope's brother went missing some years ago, and has recently been declared dead?"
"Yeah." Miss Rogers clearly knew nothing of the kind. "So this is important?"
"I think that if you call Mr Hope, and tell him that we're here, he'll be happy to see us, yes." Tosh smiled patiently, kindly, and with none of the irritation that she was feeling. The girl shrugged.
"Okay. I suppose. Hang on then." She reached for a telephone, dialling a number. Gwen offered her companion an admiring smile.
"If there's one thing I've learnt from dealing with Owen, it's that sometimes the best approach is to use a lot of information." She smirked. "Confuse them into co-operating."
"I'll remember that." Gwen turned back to the desk at the sound of the telephone being hung up again, and raised a questioning eyebrow. The previously sullen Miss Rogers was smiling brightly now.
"You're to go on up," she said, clearly now seeing them as worthy of at least a modicum of respect. "Floor four. End of the corridor."
"Thank you." Tosh gave her a bright smile, and led the way to the lift. "We appreciate the assistance."
"And aren't really imagining feeding you to a Weevil," muttered Gwen. The lift doors closed just in time, as Tosh couldn't help but laugh at that remark.
"For a police officer, you don't have all that great a manner with the public," she commented. Gwen laughed.
"You lot have taught me bad habits."
"We're good at that." The lift car lurched on upwards, and Tosh straightened her clothing again, trying to get into character. "I don't know a lot about insurance. Maybe I should have said I was somebody else."
"You won't have to know anything. We're just here to ask questions. Ninety percent bluster, ten percent intelligence, is this. You'll do fine." Gwen checked the file under her arm, making sure that she would be able to consult it if necessary without displaying to the world that it wasn't even nearly what it was supposed to be. "Just remember to stay on his good side. Always supposing he's got one." The car came to a halt, and the doors opened. "Make him think his claim is as straightforward as possible. That'll make him happy."
"Yes. Because it's lovely to claim that your brother is dead." Tosh summoned a smile in readiness for their meeting, her personal feelings about family pushed as far to the back of her mind as she could put them. Gwen nodded.
"That's about right. What's a brother when you have millions of pounds to think about?" She took the lead, heading for the door at the end of the corridor. "Come on. Let's get this done."
"Right behind you." Gwen's knock was sharp and precise, and the voice that called for them to enter was just as sharp, just as clear and exact. Gwen opened the door, straightening her shoulders as she did so, and slipping back into the old parade ground walk of her former career. She didn't smile, but kept her expression formal and detached.
"Mr Hope? PC Gwen Cooper. This is Toshiko Sato, who I believe represents one of your insurance companies."
"I'm a legal consultant," filled in Tosh. "I've been assigned to your brother's case."
"Fine. Fine. I've been hoping to meet with somebody." Charles Hope jumped to his feet, stepping around his desk to shake hands with the pair of them. He bore a strong resemblance to his brother, though his build was different, his eyes with an altogether different kind of spark. "Sit down, ladies, please."
"No thank you." Deciding that her character was going to be as officious as possible, Tosh stood stiffly. Hope smiled too, clearly feeling that he couldn't sit down now either. That was rather what she had been hoping.
"So what is it that I can do for you?" he asked. Gwen smiled breezily.
"Just some details to clear up, Mr Hope. Your brother was listed as missing for a long time before his death was officially declared. Who reported his disappearance?"
"My father. Steven was supposed to join us for a meeting about the business one morning back in 2001, but he didn't show up. He was never particularly interested in these things, but he always turned up. For the family, you know. We never saw him again after that. He and I both lived with our father in those days, in the old family home, and he just never came back."
"I see." Gwen appeared to be concentrating on her host, but her eyes had taken in much of the room. No family photographs. No sign that Steven was a brother missed. "It must have been hard for you to finally take this step and have him declared legally dead."
"Ah, well. No, not really." Charles fidgeted slightly. "You see, constable, I knew all along that Steven was dead. I kept it from my father, for the sake of his health. Once he died, though, things changed."
"No doubt." Tosh's lips twitched in a bare imitation of a smile. "How did you know that he was dead, if you don't mind me asking?"
"No, not at all. That's why you're here." He perched on the corner of his desk, looking as though he would much rather be back in the supportive confines of his big leather chair. "I found a suicide note, Miss Sato. It was unmistakably in my brother's handwriting. He had very distinctive writing, you know. Very distinctive. And it's not as though anybody would have wanted to fake something like that anyway. My brother didn't have any enemies. He was..." He trailed off, gesturing vaguely in the air. "Well, he was nice. Quite the academic, and something of a partygoer. Most people seemed to like him."
"He was an electrical engineer, I believe?" asked Gwen. Charles nodded slowly.
"Well, sort of. It was his big love, certainly. He wanted to work in aviation, or teach if that didn't work out. I don't think he ever had any great intention of running an import business, whatever our father might have hoped."
"It must be awkward when the heir has no interest in the business." Tosh smiled blankly. "He was the heir, I believe? The eldest son?"
"Yes, he was." Charles fidgeted a bit more. "My father declared him the heir to everything. He was quite the traditionalist in that way. Steven never showed any great desire for the money or for the business, but that didn't matter. There are ways of doing these things."
"Quite. Tradition is often important to the older generations." Tosh nodded slowly. "Perhaps that was why your brother killed himself? The pressures of a destiny he didn't want?"
"Yes, I suppose so. The note wasn't very clear on his motives, but that would make sense, I... I suppose." Charles shifted, clearly not very comfortable. Gwen offered him a reassuring smile.
"Well, it's not necessarily our business to know why he killed himself, is it. Do you still have the note?"
"I'm not sure. I was quite upset at the time, you understand, and I didn't want my father finding it. But I suppose I might still have it. Is it... is it very important?"
"It might help finalise the proceedings, Mr Hope. Help to hurry through the last bits of business, that sort of thing." Tosh kept up her blank, inscrutable smile, and wondered how Ianto did it. Nearby Gwen flipped through the contents of her file, apparently checking details, and nodding to herself.
"Perhaps you could tell us about the last time that you saw your brother?" she asked, closing the file as snappily as a cardboard file could be persuaded to snap. Charles nodded.
"Of course. Well, as I said, he was supposed to join us for a meeting. The previous evening we'd been celebrating our father's birthday. Quite a big occasion. There were a lot of local businessmen there, and one or two politicians. A lot of alcohol, a lot of food, a lot of entertaining. You know the sort of thing."
"Of course," said Gwen, who didn't. "And then?"
"And then we went home. Or rather Steven did. My father went off with some of his old friends. Some sort of nostalgic tour of the city, revisiting early points in his career. He was a self-made man, you know. It was the 14th of August. A warm night. I'd drunk rather a lot, so I took a walk along by the bay. When I got home there was no sign of Steven. The house was unlocked, so I assumed that he was in; but when he didn't turn up for breakfast, I checked his room, and his bed didn't seem to have been slept in. Odd, though. His coat was there, so he must have been back after the party." He frowned. "Actually, it was all a bit odd. The house has some rather big gardens, so it wasn't for several days afterwards that I noticed, but one of the trees had been knocked down. There was a place there where Steven liked to go to read, and the bench he always sat on was broken in half. Looked like some kind of vehicle was responsible. There was quite a furrow in the ground. I never did work out what could have happened. Anyway, that was the last I ever saw of my brother. I found the suicide note at round about that time; a few days after he disappeared. I couldn't say anything, though. It wasn't all that long since my mother had died, and I didn't want to upset my father."
"Quite." Gwen consulted her imaginary records again, and nodded. "Well, everything seems very straightforward, Mr Hope. I have to say, the police have never considered there to be anything suspicious in this case, and after all this time... well, it all seems perfectly reasonable. I hope you can get the details with the will sorted out quickly now."
"Thank you." He seemed ready to break into a big smile, but looked to be fighting the impulse. "And Miss Sato?"
"Insurance and such legalities are a complicated business, Mr Hope." Her blank smile had finally caved in. "Your father's will is the real barrier. Wills are difficult to contest, as you've no doubt discovered."
"Indeed." His vestigial smile disappeared. "But now that my brother is officially dead, the case is fairly straightforward, yes?"
"Oh yes." She nodded, still finding it hard to be polite to a man who seemed so devoid of feelings towards his brother. Perhaps he saw something of that in her eyes, for he looked away briefly, out of one of the windows, and sighed.
"This hasn't been easy. But I feel that it's time to move on. You understand?"
"Of course." She nodded again, not believing him for a second. This wasn't a man who simply wanted to move on with his life, and put a tragedy behind him. Somehow that fact seemed to ooze out of his every pore. It was a wonder that he had got anybody to believe him. "Well, once I file my report, hopefully we can get all of this dealt with once and for all. Thank you for your time, Mr Hope."
"No, no. Not at all. Thank you." He sounded too eager; too excited. Gwen shook his hand, half-expecting his palm to be slick with sweat. It wasn't, but she thought that she detected a faint tremble. Keeping up her polite, formal smile, she let go of his hand, and left as quickly as she could.
"What do you think?" asked Tosh, as they rode the lift back down to the front entrance. Gwen mimed wiping her hands on her trousers to remove the traces of his touch.
"Told you he was a creep. And I don't buy that about a suicide note."
"Neither do I. Why did he wait so long before producing it? How long do you have to wait before you can have somebody declared legally dead?"
"Seven years, officially. If he had a suicide note, though, he should have reported that. Tried to find a body. Done something. No, I don't believe that at all."
"Although on the other hand, if he's lying about the suicide note, why's he so sure that his brother is dead?"
"Exactly." They fell silent as they walked past the still-bored Miss Rogers, and picked up their conversation again in the car park. "He really did seem very sure, didn't he."
"Suspiciously sure. So are we back to the drawing board? I mean, if Charles killed Steven, it can't be Steven who's stealing things, can it."
"I honestly don't have a clue." They climbed into the car, and Gwen reached back to toss the file onto the rear seat. "What did you make of that story about a broken bench?"
"The tree and the furrow, you mean? That was weird. It didn't seem to make sense as part of his suicide story."
"No, exactly. It sounded like the truth." Gwen sighed. "Oh, I don't know. Let's go back to the Hub, and see if Jack's surfaced yet. Maybe we can get some answers from him."
"He's not always very good at answers." Tosh reached around for her seatbelt, and clicked it into place. "But I suppose it's worth a try. I just hope he's not cross with us for investigating all of this."
"Depends what 'all of this' is, doesn't it." Gwen switched on the ignition, and began to reverse the car out of its space. "And probably what sort of mood he's in, too."
Jack went straight back to the Hub, his thoughts lingering on Steven. There were things that needed doing, though, and he had to check in with his team. Stolen tools and generators would have to take their place on the list. So it was that he arrived back shortly after Gwen and Tosh, and rode down on the secret elevator into a scene that looked like something from an espionage movie. His four colleagues were huddled together at Tosh's desk, talking in low voices; and even Myfanwy seemed eager to get in on the act. She swooped low down over them as they talked, welcoming the lift, or possibly screaming Mesozoic obscenities at it. Sometimes her behaviour was extremely difficult to read.
"Jack." Tosh sat up straight as the lift approached the floor, her whole demeanour suggesting guilt. He took off his sunglasses.
"Meeting of the Women's Guild?" he asked. Ianto took his coat, folding it neatly, and laying it over the back of an empty chair.
"More like the Famous Five," he said in answer. "Can I get you some coffee, sir?"
"No. And I think you might want to review your analogy. I may not be the most in touch guy ever, but I do get some cultural references. And one of the Famous Five is a dog."
"Myfanwy's standing in for Timmy, sir." Ianto was in full butler mode again, his voice dry and dispassionate, his bearing painfully correct. Jack wasn't sure whether to slap him or kiss him.
"Just tell me what's going on, yeah?" He looked at each of them in turn, and rather as expected, Gwen caved in first. She held something up, and he recognised it straight away as the piece of paper he had thrown in the bin several days before. Ianto's pet concern; the missing tools that were allegedly so hi-tech. "You didn't let it go."
"No, we didn't. I didn't."
"Owen and Ianto didn't have anything to do with it," added Tosh. Owen shrugged.
"We're all in it now, I reckon. So what's the story, Jack? Who's Steven Hope, and what's going on with his brother and this stolen gear?"
"His brother? Oh, you mean the being dead thing." Jack sighed. "You know, usually when I tell you to butt out of something, I do it for a good reason."
"So you can cover up a theft?" asked Gwen. He shot her a sharp blue glare.
"It's not theft, it's borrowing. They'll get it all back. More or less. Listen Gwen, I'm as entitled to a private life as the rest of you, you know."
"Most of us don't have private lives involving thieves with teleports," she pointed out. He sighed.
"You worked that out, huh."
"Tosh did something clever with some numbers and some computer stuff." Owen gestured vaguely at her banks of computer equipment. "Traced an energy signature to an old house. So come on. Who is Steven Hope, and what's all this stuff about him disappearing? Tosh and Gwen reckon his brother killed him for the inheritance."
"Really?" Jack's eyebrow quirked. Tosh nodded slowly.
"We went to speak to the brother. He's so convinced that Steven is dead, we wondered if he might have a reason for thinking it."
"He was making a lot of alarm bells ring," confirmed Gwen. Jack shrugged, and sat down in a nearby chair.
"Well if he's knocked off some guy, it's not his brother. Steven was looking pretty lively when I last saw him."
"Who is he?" asked Gwen. It was a very different question to Owen's, somehow, even though the basic gist of it was the same. She stared straight at Jack, her gaze very direct. He sighed.
"You're not going to let this go, are you. Any of you."
"Not in a hurry, no." Owen sat down nearby. Tosh and Gwen were already seated. Ianto lurked behind Jack. "Go on."
"He's just a guy, Owen. I don't know what you're expecting, but he's just a guy. Okay, so he's a guy with a spaceship, but he's still just a guy."
"A spaceship?" asked Gwen. Jack nodded.
"If you've done your homework then you already know the rest. Born 1965, good education, disappeared 2001."
"Committed suicide, according to the brother," filled in Gwen. "He says he found a note."
"Then he's lying. One night in 2001, Steven was at home alone, and a spaceship crashed in his back garden. He went to take a look, found that it was empty, and got inside."
"And flew off?" asked Tosh. She sounded rather disbelieving. He grinned at her.
"Sure. Wouldn't you? He's a natural. Flies that thing like he's always done it."
"And that's where he's been since 2001? In space?" Owen reached for a nearby mug, and reacted with distaste when he discovered that the coffee inside it was cold. "You don't expect us to believe that?"
Jack shrugged. "It's true. He visits Earth sometimes. Has a place in the south of France, I think. For the most part, though, he lives up there." He pointed upwards, to the ceiling, and to everything that was above it. "And he's definitely not dead."
"But he is a thief?" pressed Gwen. Jack sighed.
"Yeah, okay. He's a thief. He's been robbing and double-crossing his way across the galaxy for years now. Crooked dealings are something of a family trait. In case you hadn't noticed, though, Earth doesn't have an extradition treaty with anybody out there. Not yet. So it's not our problem."
"The tools are, though." Owen shifted slightly under the force of Jack's gaze. "I'm sorry, Jack, but humans using alien technology to commit crimes are part of our jurisdiction. He's just the sort of person we're supposed to stop."
"Yeah." Jack leaned back, stretching his long legs out in front of him, and folding his arms. "I know. I told him to pack it in. Had to go back for that generator, though, didn't he. Now the police think they have security camera footage of him disappearing into thin air. Stupid idiot."
"What do we do?" asked Gwen. Jack shrugged.
"Kathy Swanson said it was old and jerky footage. One of us can stop by sometime and rough the camera up a little. If they think it's faulty, they won't ask any more questions about people disappearing."
"I meant about your friend," she clarified. He nodded.
"I know. I meant what I said, though. Those companies will get their stuff back. It won't be theft, so there won't be any crime. Not technically."
"I doubt the police will see it that way." Gwen leaned back in her chair with her arms folded, unconsciously mirroring Jack's pose. "If they were to really investigate, how much would they find out that he's stolen? On Earth."
"This. That." He shrugged, his turn now to look a little uncomfortable. "I don't know. Engineering equipment mostly, usually out of warehouses. Stuff that gets put down to normal pilfering. Maybe a bottle of wine here and there. Electricity. Never money, though; not on Earth. He's never needed to steal that here."
"Will do now he's dead," commented Owen. Jack nodded.
"Yeah. He said he was expecting financial problems. Being dead complicates stuff, I guess."
"He gonna want to stay dead?" asked Owen. Tosh looked up at that.
"Charles is going to be an obstacle there. Honestly, Jack, I'd swear that he really believes Steven is dead. He's killed somebody, I know he has."
"Then I believe you." He toyed with his old watch, on its gleaming chain. "Makes me wonder, though."
"Who he's killed, you mean? How can you mistake a stranger for your own brother?" She looked away briefly, as though searching for the best way to phrase her next question. "Jack... is there any way it could be Steven that he's killed? Does Steven have any sort of time travel device?"
"No, he won't touch that stuff. Hates the idea of time travel. Steven's a twenty-first century guy - it's what he always says. He might fly a spaceship, but it's hardly futuristic or alien inside. Not anymore. I offered him the chance to travel in time more than once in the past, but he'd never take me up on it." He was silent for a moment, staring into space. "It'd be easy enough to check, though. If there's a body, we can soon see if it's his."
"You're really suggesting that Charles could have murdered some future version of Steven?" asked Ianto. "I mean... doesn't it seem a little farfetched?"
"Hello? Torchwood?" Owen's voice was the verbal equivalent of sticking out a tongue. "Of course it's bloody farfetched. Not impossible, though."
"But highly unlikely. Does give me a very nasty theory of my own, though." Jack got suddenly to his feet. "Tosh, Owen. Get some equipment together. Go on over to the Hope house, and take it apart if necessary. If there's a body hidden there, find it. If you see Steven, tell him you're with me, but don't let on what you're doing. He'll probably stay out of sight anyway. Gwen!"
"Start going through records. Pull up all the police files on missing people that you can get hold of, and find me somebody. Anybody who looks enough like Steven that Charles could have made a mistake like that. Give us an easy explanation for all of this. Ianto, you're with me."
"Where are we going?" The younger man picked up Jack's coat, shaking it out and holding it for him to slip into. The movement was so natural it was as though he had been doing it for years.
"What's the best way to get an answer to a question?"
"We're going to talk to Charles Hope?" His young colleague blinked. "Isn't that a little... dangerous?"
"I'm not going to barge in there accusing him of murder, Ianto. Or not initially, anyway. Come on." He was already heading for the lift, but he stopped to look back before he was halfway there. "To work, people. Jump to it. And if Kathy Swanson calls..."
"Yes?" asked Gwen, who was already busying herself at her computer. He grinned suddenly.
"Never mind. Wouldn't sound the same coming from you. Just put her off as best you can, and don't get chatty. Come on, Ianto." And with a swirl of his coattails, and a tap on the band strapped to his wrist, suddenly he was rising into the air. Ianto had to scurry to reach him in time, grabbing hold of Jack to avoid falling back down.
"I do wish you wouldn't do that, sir," he said, trying not to sound too flustered. Jack just smiled, and pulled him into a teasing embrace.
Alison Rogers was bored, much as always. She had thought that it would be exciting working in reception, meeting people, dealing with enquiries, handling the stream of clients that would surely be going in and out of a big company's offices every day. In practice she seemed to do very little. Most business seemed to be done over the internet nowadays. Her job consisted almost solely of polishing her nails, and wishing for the door to open. It wasn't fair.
"Hi." Striding in through the doors, a long blue coat swirling around his legs, came a man to startle her back to life. She blinked at him, taken aback, whilst he leaned on the counter and grinned at her like an old friend. "Captain Jack Harkness. Ianto Jones. Charles in?"
"Yes. I... hang on." Somehow he had her appointments book in his hands, and was flicking through it.
"Nobody with him at the moment? Good. We'll go right on up."
"You can't do that." She was struggling to regain her composure. "He's busy. He's always busy. You can't go up without an appointment."
"Oh, he'll want to see us." Jack smiled on in the face of her discomfiture. "What floor?"
"The fourth." She frowned, not sure why she had told him that. "But you can't--"
"I told you; he'll want to see us." Jack caught her hand, gave it a quick kiss, and headed towards the elevator. Ianto was already there, and had somehow contrived to have the car waiting and ready.
"But you can't do that!" Torn between wanting to run after the strangers, and thinking about calling security, she started to follow them; then moved back towards the phone; then looked back to the lift. The doors were closing, both men inside. Jack waggled his fingers in farewell just before he disappeared, and her shoulders slumped. She was going to lose her job over this, she was sure. All the same, she didn't make the call to security. Instead she thought of that smile, and felt a pang of jealousy towards Ianto Jones. Some people had all the luck.
"What do we do if she calls security?" asked Ianto, as the lift went up to the fourth floor. Jack smiled.
"You don't think the two of us can handle a few guards? Ianto, I'm disappointed in you."
"It's a character flaw, sir, I know. I just don't like getting arrested."
"They wouldn't have us arrested. They'd just throw us out. And being thrown out of buildings is a vital part of your education, Ianto my boy."
"Possibly. But it's not going to get this done any quicker, is it."
"Point." Jack shrugged. "But she won't call security."
"Hard though it may be to believe, sir, not everybody is a sucker for your charm."
"So I'm told." He grinned, just as the lift doors opened to reveal no waiting guards. "But sabotage works wonders. I'm pretty sneaky, you know."
"I know." They walked along the corridor, reading nameplates on doors. Most of the offices seemed to belong to secretaries, which suggested that Charles Hope was either extremely fond of administrative work, or extremely fond of secretaries. Eventually they arrived at his office, at the end of the corridor; the door flanked by a pair of trees in large pots. Jack knocked, loudly.
"Yes?" The voice that called to him was very similar to Steven's, if perhaps a little deeper. Jack pushed open the door and went through, smile set to dazzle.
"Captain Jack Harkness," he announced, holding out a hand to shake in greeting. "And Ianto Jones."
"I'm... happy to meet you." Charles frowned at them both. "I'm sorry, I didn't realise I was seeing anybody this afternoon."
"Something came up. Sort of an emergency." Jack sat down, and gestured to Charles's large chair. "Take a seat, Charles."
"I..." Charles's eyes drifted towards the door, where Ianto was now standing. He looked distinctly like a guard. "What's this about?"
"Steven." Jack gestured towards the chair again. "Sit. Now."
"Well I..." Charles sat. "What is it that you want to know about my brother?"
"How he died. When he died. He's a good friend of mine - or was, I guess, if he's dead. What was it that killed him?"
"He, er... he committed suicide." Charles frowned. "Listen, Mr, er... Captain Harkness. I hope you don't consider me rude, but he never mentioned you. I think I'd remember if my brother was friends with... with some sort of soldier."
"Oh, there's a lot you don't know about Steven. So what happened?"
"He committed suicide, like I said. A long time ago now. It's taken me a long time to put it behind me, captain. I'd rather not rake it all over now. And I'm finding it very strange that this is the second time somebody has been to see me today about all of this. Who are you really?"
"A friend of Steven's." Jack's smile became narrower, more taut. "How did he kill himself?"
"I never found his body. I rather assumed that he'd thrown himself into the sea. He was always rather inclined to dramatics." Charles began to rise to his feet. "Look, I'm sorry if this has been a shock to you. It was a shock to me as well, and having Steven declared dead hasn't been easy. But he is dead, and I'd rather not talk about it."
"See it's funny." Charles had been all but telling them to leave with his voice and with his actions, but Jack didn't move. If anything he looked even more deeply rooted in his chair. "Really funny. 'Cause I was with Steven most of last night, and if he was dead, he didn't mention it."
"I--" Charles sat down, very heavily. "That's ridiculous."
"Not really. Ridiculous would be taking a dead man out for a meal." Jack straightened up, leaning forward in his chair to stare straight at Charles. "And now you're looking very nervous. Something wrong, Charles?"
"I think I'd be happy if I'd just found out that my brother was still alive," piped up Ianto. Jack nodded.
"Me too. Or disbelieving, maybe. But not ill."
"Maybe he's overcome with joy."
"Yeah. Joy's not usually so grey, though. Is it?"
"Not usually, no." Ianto came a little closer, his body language casually threatening. Jack had learnt some time ago that Ianto played a very good heavy when the situation called for it. They made a good tag team. "More sort of... pink and bouncy."
"That's what I thought." Jack turned his attention back to Charles. "Want to tell us what's on your mind?"
"I'm calling security." Charles's hand reached out for the telephone on his desk, but Jack beat him to it. Some small gadget in his hand flashed briefly, and a trail of smoke curled upwards from the wall socket. When Charles held the telephone receiver to his ear, he heard nothing but the silence of a dead line.
"You know, when I came here, I didn't know what I was going to find." Rising to his feet, Jack folded his arms, somehow managing to tower over Charles despite there not being any great difference in their heights. "I'd heard a story, about you maybe being up to no good, but I didn't pay that much attention to it. The Hope family is always up to no good. It's an old tradition. And I figured what's it matter if you try to get hold of an inheritance that Steven doesn't much want anyway?" He leaned closer. "But there's a big difference between faking your brother's death, and killing him." He paused for effect. "Or thinking you have."
"Steven is dead," insisted Charles. His voice sounded weak now. Behind Jack, slightly to his right, Ianto shook his head in a definite, smiling 'no'.
"And you know what all this means, Charles? This means that it looks very much like somebody is dead. Somebody you thought was your brother, but isn't. And suddenly it's not about the Hope family misbehaving amongst themselves anymore. It's about murder."
"Are you the police?" Charles's eyes narrowed. "No, you're not the police. You're American. Who are you?"
"Somebody with an interest in this case." Jack sighed. "And I was having such a great day. Well, aside from the police interrogation. This wouldn't be a good time to start causing trouble, Charles. It wouldn't make me very happy."
"What are you going to do?" Backing away slightly, Charles's eyes darted from one of his guests to the other. Jack threw a glance back at Ianto.
"What do you think?"
"Rather depends on who he's killed, doesn't it." Ianto had no idea what Jack's plans for Charles Hope were. Technically speaking this was a case of straightforward murder, and as such more a job for the police than for Torchwood. The business with Steven did complicate matters, though, he supposed.
"I... You can't prove that I've killed anybody." Charles backed away a little further. "I'm a respected businessman. I--"
"I don't care how respected you are. Right now we just want to talk. Don't make me want to do more than that." Jack advanced slightly, one of his hands falling casually to his waist. The long coat moved aside at its touch, showing the gun that he wore on his belt. "Why not come with us quietly?"
"Come where?" Charles took another step back, one hand fumbling at the desk's edge, as though his legs were suddenly unsteady. Jack pointed at the big leather chair.
"Sit." Charles had a point. Where could they take him? The Hub was no place for a family reunion, even with the ever-reliable amnesia pills to help ensure that it remained a secret. The Hope house, then. Being confronted by the brother that he was so sure was dead might be what was needed to make Charles talk - and Jack very much wanted to know who he had killed, and when. On the other hand, hustling the man out of the building was sure to attract attention somewhere along the line. Perhaps it would be better to get Steven to meet them here. His right hand moved speculatively to the computer on his wrist, as he thought about putting a call through to Steven's ship. Charles's right hand moved too, sliding under the edge of the desk. So sure had Jack been that the other man was no great threat, that he didn't give a thought to what was happening until Charles made a sudden lurch for something that his guests couldn't see. Ianto shouted out a warning, a second too late, and caught entirely by surprise, Jack found himself looking down the barrel of a gun.
"Get back," Charles told him. Jack took one step back, though that was all.
"Put that away," he told the other man. Charles shook his head.
"No way. You think I'm going to spend the rest of my life in prison? Or whatever else it is you've got planned. You're not the police. I'm not going anywhere with you."
"Everything was going fine. I'd nearly got the money. I was that close to being the richest man in Cardiff, more or less. You think I'm going to let you ruin that now? Whoever the hell you are." The gun wobbled slightly in his hands. He was clearly no expert with it, and Jack didn't like the way that he was holding it; didn't like the look of the gun itself. It was big, and it was old - older even than his own - and he knew from experience that a gun like that could be unpredictable. He wondered if Charles had any idea of the sort of recoil to expect from it. If he fired it, the shot could go anywhere.
"Just put the gun down," he said, trying on his best calming voice. The gun moved from him to Ianto and back again.
"Just keep back."
"I said keep back!" The shaking thumb moved for the hammer, and Jack knew that he had only a moment to react. He could try leaping at Charles, and risk the gun going off anyway, or he could move in the other direction. He chose the latter. As the hammer went back with a loud, dull click, Jack was already moving, throwing himself forcefully at Ianto. They went down in a heap, landing hard and heavy, just as a viciously loud gunshot rang out around them. A picture on the wall shattered, and somewhere down the corridor, somebody screamed. Charles swore, and Jack heard his feet thumping away across the floor. He was heading for the window.
"Ow," said Ianto beneath him. Jack glanced down.
"Sorry." He had landed on top of the younger man with enough force to have done considerable damage to anybody less resilient. Fortunately, Ianto was built well. He clambered off, rising to his feet just in time to see Charles's head vanish beneath the window frame. A fire escape, apparently. Damn. "You okay?"
"In one piece. Thank you for that." Ianto sat up, a little shakily. "Where did that bullet go?"
"Too close for comfort." Jack hauled his companion to his feet. "Come on. He's getting away."
"I thought I heard a scream..."
"I guess somebody knows the sound of a gunshot. Don't worry, there's no way that bullet went far after hitting the wall. Now come on, before we have security to deal with." As though to add weight to his words, there was immediately a heavy knocking on the door.
"Window?" asked Ianto. Jack nodded, already on his way there. They could see Charles struggling awkwardly on a fire escape that didn't look as though it would pass many inspections. Jack drew his gun, and fired once after the retreating figure, but he couldn't get a clear shot. There was too much twisting ladder in the way.
"Jack!" Ianto pushed the gun down, aghast. "You have got to stop firing that thing in public places."
"There's a murderer getting away, Ianto." Jack didn't object further, though, and instead clambered out of the window. The knocking on the door had ceased at the sound of the second gunshot, but a moment later it started again. Somebody was calling Charles, in an increasingly urgent voice.
"Long past time for us to be gone. Come on." Jack began bounding down the ladder as though lurching metal steps were one of his most favourite things. Ianto followed a little more slowly, finally hearing the office door open as he cleared the first flight of stairs. Somebody leaned out of the window and shouted something, but he didn't look back. Charles did, sending a shot up at a random point above him. Ianto ducked. Lower down, Jack fired back.
"Somebody call the police!" The voice echoed from back in the office. Ianto groaned. They'd get here quickly, too, as soon as the guns were mentioned. They always did, especially nowadays. Beneath him, Charles had reached street level, and hared off between two buildings on the other side of the road. Giving up on the steps, Jack vaulted the banister and leapt down after him.
"Jack! Hang on!" The captain made no response to Ianto's plea, and instead disappeared after his quarry. Ianto muttered imprecations to the god of foolhardy sidekicks, and clambering uncertainly over the railing, jumped as well. He hit the ground hard, falling onto his hands and knees, picking himself up in a rush and racing to the SUV. The idea of Jack and Charles dashing down an alley, shooting at each other in broad daylight, made him wince. Jack had given Owen a hard time for ordering pizza under the name of Torchwood - but it wasn't Owen who ran around Cardiff with an antique pistol, shooting at anything he felt needed to be shot at. Screeching around a corner, listening out for the inevitable sirens, he met Jack just as he burst out of the other end of the alley, gun still in his hand. Pedestrians blanched, and either dived for cover or looked for the cameras. True to form, Jack saw nothing odd in his behaviour.
"Jack!" Opening the door of the SUV, Ianto gestured for him to climb in, at the same time sliding over into the passenger seat. Jack flashed him a gigantic grin.
"Ianto. What would I do without you?"
"Get arrested, probably." As if on cue, the sirens started. Jack grimaced, and gunning the engine, sped off down the street. Only when they had put some distance between themselves and the offices of Hope Imports did he bring the vehicle to a halt. Ianto breathed a sigh of relief.
"You drive like a maniac," he said, conveniently oblivious to the fact that he had just been doing that himself a few minutes before. Jack shrugged.
"You wanna spend the rest of the day in police custody, explaining what the hell's going on, that's fine by me."
"I don't know what's going on! One minute you're telling me to forget about a theft, and the next Gwen and Tosh are talking about some businessman murdering his brother, and you're talking about spaceships and time-travel. Which is a fairly ordinary conversation from you, I suppose. It just doesn't usually lead to us chasing some bloke out of a window."
"You're cute when you're exasperated." Jack smiled blithely, unmoved by Ianto's glare. "I know it doesn't seem like our usual sort of case. Steven's a friend, though. And I have a hunch."
"Want to let me in on it?" He had softened his voice now that his initial outburst was over, and Jack responded to the change in tone, reaching out for the other man's hand.
"Later. I need to be sure of some things first." He sighed. "And in the meantime, we have a murderer to catch."
"I believe we have to consider him innocent until we prove otherwise, sir." Ianto reached for his seatbelt, which he hadn't had a chance to do up before. He buckled it now, rather pointedly. "But if you want to find him, I'd guess that he'd go to the scene of his crime. Check up on the body, now that you've made him think it might not be his brother after all."
"Yeah." It clicked suddenly where the most likely location of that crime had always seemed - and who was investigating it now. "Damn. Call them up, Ianto. Tell them to be careful."
"On it." Ianto was already reaching for his earpiece, contacting Owen and Tosh. Beside him he could hear Jack muttering to himself, the way he sometimes did when things weren't going well - though they were rarely words that Ianto recognised. Revving the SUV to new heights of ferocity, Jack spun it around and roared away, heedless of nearby sirens and possible pursuit. He'd be damned if he'd let Tosh and Owen suffer because he had dropped the ball. He wasn't going to let anything distract him now.
The Hope house had an unpleasant aura about it, decided Owen. Tosh rather liked it, with its ivy-grown walls, and old-fashioned outbuildings, but Owen just scowled and called her a romantic.
"Why don't people ever hide dead bodies in nice modern houses?" he asked. Tosh quirked an eyebrow.
"They do. Quite often, actually."
"Alright, fine. Then why do I never get to go hunting for those bodies? It's always the creepy places that I get sent to."
"It's not creepy. Just empty." She led the way up the garden path, looking out for any sign of Steven. She couldn't see anything that suggested the place had been inhabited recently. "Could well be ghosts, though. Old place like this."
"Ghosts I don't mind. Old ones, anyway. It's looking for dead bodies that I don't like."
She laughed at that. "You're a doctor, Owen. You shouldn't be worried by dead people."
"I'm not! Usually. I just like my corpses on slabs, not buried under floorboards." He sighed, knowing full well that he was looking for sympathy from entirely the wrong person. "Let's get this over and done with, then. Where do you want to set up the equipment?"
"Somewhere central, I suppose. Ground floor, somewhere towards the middle of the house? Then if necessary we can try again on a higher floor."
"Four storeys. Assume a cellar as well. We might be alright staying downstairs." He hefted the large metal case in his hand. "Goodness knows this is heavy enough. Must be powerful enough to find half the bodies in Cardiff."
"Not quite." They had reached the front door, which Tosh made short work of with a lock-picking gadget from the Hub. Technically they weren't supposed to take such things out with them, even if they could be useful, but Jack had given it to her this time. He seemed to think it impolite to make a mess breaking into a friend's house; at least if the friend in question was watching at the time.
"This way," announced Owen, striding into the house as though he knew it well. Tosh followed rather more slowly, as charmed by the inside of the building as she had been by the outside. The carpet was beautiful; the walls covered with paintings and aerial photographs of Cardiff. She stopped to look at some of them, wondering who the faces in the portraits belonged to, and when the aerial photographs had been taken. A long time ago in some cases, she could see.
"Come on, Tosh. We're here to dig up dead bodies, not sightsee." Owen was striding ahead, struggling now with the heavy equipment case. Tosh wanted to offer to share the load, but she knew that he would only turn her down. Jack seemed to carry it so effortlessly. Owen wouldn't want to admit that he could barely manage.
They chose the sitting room to set up in. It was a large room, quite modern in its furnishings, in contrast to the entrance hall and the corridors. A large leather sofa ran across the middle of the room, with several matching chairs, a large widescreen television, and a gigantic cabinet full of DVDs. Tosh didn't bother going closer to look, but they seemed to be mostly documentaries, and mostly about business - nothing that caught her interest.
"Nice TV," observed Owen. She nodded.
"And in an empty house, too. Either they don't care if it's stolen, or they're pretty certain it won't be. Do you suppose we've set off a silent alarm?"
"You couldn't have thought of that before we came in?" He sighed. "Bugger. Well, get started. If somebody turns up, we can play the Torchwood card and hope for the best."
"The Torchwood card seems to be carrying less authority with the police every time." All the same she set to work, busying herself with connecting all sorts of boxes and wires together. Owen still wasn't entirely sure how half of it worked, and that annoyed him. Tosh's preparations left him none the wiser, and he slunk off to browse through the DVDs. His job was to look at the body when it was found - if there was a body, and if it was found - not to do the looking. Ignoring the hum of the gadgetry behind him, he moved away from the DVDs, and started to look through the CDs on a shelf nearby instead.
"Don't go working too hard, will you Owen," called out Tosh, currently kneeling on the floor beside an instrument, twiddling knobs with far too much enthusiasm for Owen's liking. He grunted.
"I'd offer you a musical accompaniment, but all that's here is opera," he said by way of answer. Tosh smiled.
"I rather like opera," she told him. He glowered, and muttered something that sounded like 'Figures'.
"Looks like this is the bookshelf that that picture of Steven was taken in front of," he said, moving on from his perusal of the Hope family CD collection. "I recognise some of the titles."
"I'm sure that the contents of the bookshelf is fascinating, Owen..." Tosh was busy scanning the house now, gazing intently at a little display screen, and making notes on a small datapad. Owen pulled one of the books off the shelf.
"More interesting than that machine," he told her, and began to leaf through the book. "Anything yet?"
"A dead bird on the ground outside the window over there," she told him. He wasn't entirely sure whether or not to take her seriously.
"Yeah. Quite a big one, I'd say," She went back to studying her screen, and unable to resist, he crossed to the window. Sure enough, on the ground outside, lay a dead crow. Not remotely useful in helping to solve a possible murder, but impressive enough he supposed. He nodded slowly.
"Not really, no."
"I'm sure the crow appreciates it." He wandered back to stand next to her. "On the other hand, not that I want to sound critical or anything..."
"Yeah. If you were right about alarms, the police could be here any minute."
"I'm sure we'd have heard something by now if they were coming. Unless there's something big happening at the moment, they'd have come over straight away, wouldn't they?"
"Maybe." He felt restless, unable to help just yet. "If we do get arrested, though, I'm telling them that it was you who broke in."
"Let's just hope that they don't ask how." She turned another dial, gazing expectantly at the screen, and wishing that Owen would settle down. He sighed.
"I hope this isn't some wild good chase."
"I'm sure it isn't. You didn't speak to Charles Hope. He's killed somebody, and you'd know it too if you'd been there with him."
"Maybe." Owen threw himself onto the big leather sofa. "Doesn't mean he buried the body here, though, does it."
"Seems the most likely place to run into your brother, though. This was Steven's last registered address. Charles was here, saw Steven - or somebody who looked a lot like him - and killed him. Why would he bury the body somewhere else?"
"Maybe." Owen put his feet up on the sizeable coffee table, and leaned back with his hands behind his head. "It'd explain why the place has been left, I suppose. Who'd want to live in a house they'd just hidden their brother's body in?"
"Exactly." As if in agreement, Tosh's machine emitted a faint beep. Owen sat up straight.
"You got something?"
"Yes. Yes, I think so." She adjusted things, as usual being painstakingly precise. "Yes. Ground floor. That way." She pointed over to her left. "Quite a way away. The far end of the house, I think."
"Then let's go. And don't forget the tools." Owen jumped up, heading for the most likely looking door. It led out into another corridor, plainer this time. Some sort of servant's access, he supposed. They followed it past several other doors, and a large, old-fashioned kitchen, to a grimy-looking door at the far end of the house.
"Through here, I guess." Tosh put her hand onto the door handle, and tried it. The door proved to be locked, but once again her alien gadget made short work of the lock. Owen took the lead then, pushing open the door, and stepping through. He found himself in a dusty storeroom, with wide wooden planking on the floor, and cobwebs gathered a-plenty in the corners. Tosh came to stand next to him.
"Lovely," she said. Owen nodded.
"Great place for a corpse hunt, yeah. Lucky us."
"If I'm honest, I don't think I'd like to go digging corpses up in a nice shiny new place, either." She looked around. "Where do we start?"
"You're the one with the fancy equipment."
"It told us what room to look in. Isn't that enough?" She began to move about, peering at the floorboards. "Any chance of more light?"
"Yeah, hang on. So long as somebody's up to date with the electricity bill for this place." He headed over to the light switch - a big, antiquated affair with a metal facing - and clicked it on. A dull, unenthusiastic glow filled the room. "Better?"
"Hardly." She could see more detail now though, and as she peered at the floor, she soon spied what seemed to be scratch marks on several of the boards. She pointed. "Look. There."
"Where?" He joined her, and crouched down on the floor. "Oh yeah."
"Well you could at least look slightly pleased."
"That it's time to dig up the dead body? Oh, I am. Delighted." He opened their tool bag, and pulled out a crowbar. "Wish me luck."
"Just think of it as any old autopsy." She waited with him as he pried up one of the floorboards, as much to provide some moral support as to see what was beneath. Owen nodded.
"Any old autopsy carried out in a haunted house, yeah." He levered up another board. In the dark space beneath, something was clearly visible. It looked like sackcloth. "Should have brought a torch."
"Now he thinks of it." She rummaged in the bag, but was only able to find a pencil light. It was better than nothing, though, sending a narrow beam of bright blue light into the hole. Definitely a sack, although they still couldn't see it clearly. Owen pulled up a third board, and then together they heaved the sack up.
"Destroying forensic evidence," he pointed out. Tosh nodded.
"Somehow I don't think Jack was planning on bringing the police into this anyway." She turned off the torch. "What do you suppose he is planning?"
"He's Jack. Who knows." Owen began to open the sacking, and paused when a low beeping in his headset told him that he was getting a call through from another member of Torchwood. "They calling you too?"
"Yes. Don't worry, I'll take care of it." Tosh moved aside to answer the call, watching from a distance as Owen pulled open the sack. A skeletal form was revealed, nothing of the flesh left, and little enough of anything that looked like it could help with identification or investigation. Owen scowled.
"Brilliant." He made another discovery. "It's been gnawed half to pieces. Rats. This place must be full of them. Oh, great. I love my job."
"You're going to love it even more in a minute." Tosh was hanging up, the call clearly only a quick one. "That was Ianto. Charles pulled a gun and made a run for it. They think he might be heading here."
"Oh, terrific." Owen looked down at the body, then with a scowl drew the sack back over its grinning face. "Come on, then. Give me a hand."
"You're carrying that out of here like that?"
"You got any better ideas? Look, any minute now we could be up to out eyeballs in gun-toting psychopath. That's not the way I usually like to conduct my autopsies. We've already screwed the forensics, so we might just as well take this poor sod back to the Hub, and do things the new-fashioned way. Right?"
"Right. I suppose." She bent, helping Owen to lift the dead man, the pair of them carrying him like a wounded comrade back through the house. Bones shifted and grated, and Tosh was certain that the skeleton was falling apart as they walked. It offended the scientist in her, but Owen did have a point. Besides - as far as she could see, this wasn't anything like the usual kind of murder investigation. They weren't trying to establish guilt, and she doubted that Jack would be especially interested in learning how the victim had met his end. This wouldn't be ending up in court, either.
"Mind the furniture," Owen told her, as they passed through the living room. She was walking backwards, and nearly tripped over her own equipment. "Oh, and that."
"Thanks, Owen." They lowered the body to the ground. "You go back and get the tools. I'll put this lot away. Then we'll see about getting it all back to the car."
"Should have brought the SUV. We'll have a job fitting John Doe here in my car with everything else." Owen winced at the idea of having to put a corpse into his beloved vehicle. "Be as quick as you can."
"I don't intend on hanging around to greet the psycho brother," she assured him, already at work. He went back for the tools, arriving in time to help her pack away the last pieces of equipment into their metal case. "Now what?"
"Depends how quick you want to be," he told her. She raised an eyebrow.
"Gun-toting psychopath on the way? Very quick."
"Right." He slung the tool bag over one shoulder, then hauled up the dead body in its sack, and slung it over the other. The bones tumbled apart, but he hung on as they rattled against each other in their bag. "Think you can manage that case?"
"I'll have to." She picked it up, wishing for arms like Jack's, and led the way to the door. Behind her Owen was already struggling, but of course he would never complain. Not about something like that. Outside the air seemed sharper than before, the sky darker with the approach of evening. The pair began to hurry down the long drive. They were halfway along the path when the large, wrought iron gates at the end of it began to swing open.
"Run." Owen was pushing Tosh onto the overgrown grass at the edge of the drive, even as a long, dark blue car came through the gateway. She stumbled, dropping the equipment case, and began to run towards the nearby trees. The car ground to a halt, and she heard a yell.
"Just keep going," Owen told her. She would have shot him an annoyed look had the moment allowed for it.
"I'm not going to stop, am I!" She grabbed the tool bag off him, trying to lighten his load. The skeletal remains of whatever poor soul Charles had murdered, banged and rattled on Owen's back, the noise decidedly off-putting. A gunshot rang out.
"You'll never get out of the grounds!" Tosh recognised Charles's voice from earlier in the day. "Give me that bag, and I might forget I saw you."
"Like hell." Owen looked left and right. "Where do we go? This place is like a sodding jungle."
"We go right." Tosh started to head in that direction without giving him a chance to argue. It took them away from the gate again, but she was sure that some of the outbuildings had lain in that direction, and they might give some opportunity to hide. Another gunshot rang out. The bullet hit a tree near Owen's head, and he swore.
"I hope you know what you're doing, Tosh," he told her. She didn't answer. A shot went past them with a sharp crack, and fighting the urge to panic, Tosh led the way out of the thick trees, and onto a gravel path. Sure enough there were outbuildings there, along with a small vintage car sitting jauntily in front of a garage. It seemed odd to see it there, outside, when the grounds were supposedly deserted, but she wasn't going to wonder too much about that now. Redoubling her speed, she ran for the outbuildings - only to collide bodily with a man who had stepped out of nowhere. For a moment she thought that it was Charles, until her vision cleared slightly - noticed lighter hair, better defined features. Steven.
"What the bloody hell is going on?" he asked, in a voice that was almost his brother's. "Who's shooting at you?"
"Your sodding twin." Owen cannoned past the elder Hope brother, bag of bones rattling furiously. "Long story, but if he sees you, you're a dead man. Run."
"What? Who are you people?" Steven's eyes were drawn to the bag on Owen's back. "Thieves?"
"We work for Jack!" Tosh tried to push him into the shelter of one of the buildings, but before she could do so, Charles appeared, gun still held high. He jerked to an uncertain halt when he saw Steven, and the gun wobbled in his hand.
"You," he said. Steven nodded.
"Hello, Charles. Look old man, what's all this with the gun? I'm sure these people didn't--"
"You're dead." Charles stood stock still now, barely a muscle moving save those of his throat. "You're dead."
"No. I've not been around much lately, granted, but--"
"No. No, you're dead." Charles took a shaky step forward, and the gun swayed. "I killed you."
"Told you," muttered Owen. "Long story." Steven, understandably, didn't seem to comprehend.
"Charles..." he began, taking a step forward. The gun moved with sudden, unexpected stability, and pointed straight at his chest. "Now hang on a just a second."
"It was you. I know it was you." Charles advanced slightly, careful to keep a watch on all three of the people in front of him. In the distance, a police siren wailed.
"Well that's as may be." Steven didn't have a clue what his brother was talking about, but he was happy to play along. "But this is me too. See?"
"I... No, I--"
"Charles!" Jack's voice, sharp with authority, came from between the trees. "Put down that gun. The police are on their way."
"I can still kill the lot of you before they get here." Charles didn't seem remotely surprised to hear another voice coming from behind him. Slowly Jack walked out into the clearing, circling around towards the others. His gun was in his hand, and his aim, unlike Charles' at that moment, was steady and true. He smiled a cold smile.
"Ya think? Put down that gun, or you're a dead man." A second police siren screamed out, closer this time. There was the sound of car engines too now - several of them, speeding up the drive. "I don't know why they're here. Maybe they followed me. But at any rate, they're not going to let you get away if they start hearing gunshots. Now put that thing down, and stop being an idiot."
"Jack, go easy." Steven took another step forward, and the gun in Charles's hand gave a jerk. "He's my brother, for heaven's sake. What are you going to do?"
"This is the police!" A male voice, stentorian and hard, magnified many times by a loudhailer. The gun gave another jerk, Charles with it this time. Jack closed in slightly, determined to have this over with by the time that the police arrived.
"Steven, get back from him. I don't care what you think; he's dangerous."
"He's my twin brother. He's not going to hurt me." Steven held out his hands, the way that he had seen others do, on many worlds, right across the galaxy. Almost every race understood that gesture. "Charles, come on. Neither of us really wants to get shot..."
"This is the police!" came the voice again, more forcefully this time. Jack threw an annoyed glance back towards the source of it. Goodness knew how well informed they were about the situation, or if they were even shouting in the right direction. He had told Ianto to stay out of sight in the SUV, so the police certainly would have had no opportunity to ask him what was going on.
"Gunshots have been reported!" continued the voice. "If there are any weapons, you are advised to put them on the ground and walk towards the sound of my voice with your hands in the air!"
"They'll come soon," said Tosh, rather quietly. Charles threw her a disinterested glance.
"I know you," he said, a blank look on his face - then in a moment the look had cleared. "But you're not who you said you are, are you."
She paled. "I--"
"And if you're not who you said you are, then it's not a secret anymore, is it. People know. They must."
"Well I don't." Steven was exasperated and confused, and it was showing clearly. "Why don't we just--"
"No!" In a blur of motion, grim expression chasing away the emptiness in his eyes, Charles swung back to his brother and pulled the trigger. So did Jack, in the same instant, his own reflexes sharpened by some hundred and fifty years worth of adventuring. Charles jerked, his shot went wild, and gripping his shoulder, he fled. Steven shot a look at Jack that might have said anything, then raced after his brother.
"Damn." Jack put away his gun, mindful of nearby policemen. He didn't usually hide it for their benefit, but there was no telling what sort of mood they were in now, after two consecutive gun scares. "Time to get out of here, people."
"Fine by me." Owen snatched up his sack, just as, guns drawn, two police officers barrelled into the clearing. They were wearing body armour, and looked as though they were ready to shoot anything that moved.
"Armed police! Thrown down your weapons!" demanded the first. Jack sighed.
"No weapons," he told them. "The weapon ran away." He pointed, helpfully, in entirely the wrong direction. "Captain Jack Harkness. I'm with Torchwood. And you really shouldn't be here."
"A burglary alarm went off, and gunshots were heard." The second police officer lowered his gun. "It's alright, Stan. I recognise them. They're all Torchwood. And we can't shoot them no matter how much we might like to."
"Thanks." Jack beamed. "So you just go off after the bad guy with the gun, and we'll be on our way."
"Not with that sack, you won't." Lowering his weapon somewhat begrudgingly, the first officer indicated Owen's burden, whilst the second disappeared back through the trees. "What is it?"
"Top secret equipment. And unless you've got a government security rating of at least a nine or ten, you're not seeing it." Jack nodded at Owen and Tosh. "Get out of here, the pair of you."
"I left my equipment case--" began Tosh, but Jack nodded at her.
"I'll get it. Go."
"Now look here..." began the policeman. Jack smiled patiently at him.
"You wanna call the Home Office, and argue this out with them, that's fine. Really fine. Although honestly? It seriously pisses them off. See, they don't really know what we are either, and if you think that annoys you..."
"Well surprise, surprise." It was Kathy Swanson, appearing now with half a dozen uniformed officers, obviously having been briefed by the second armed policeman. Jack smiled at her, though inside he was less cheerful. As a general rule it was always good to see Kathy Swanson. Right now, though, he had a killer on the loose, and a good friend chasing blindly after him. He needed to stop them both. Owen and Tosh took the opportunity to leave, though he noticed that they didn't head back towards the drive. Intending to avoid the crowd and go over the wall, then. He definitely approved.
"Kathy!" A past master at keeping his feelings from showing, he greeted her as though he had been eagerly awaiting her arrival. "I didn't think this was your sort of thing."
"Whenever I get a report of your macho-mobile speeding through my city, I make it my sort of thing." She looked around. "Steven Hope not at home, I take it?"
"Not lately, no."
"I should probably take a look around."
"Probably, yeah." He thought of the purple and silver spaceship, and wondered what she would make of it. It might almost be worth telling her about it, just to see. "No offence though, Kathy, but I have to get back to work. Fun though this always is..."
"That's Charles Hope's car back there," she told him. "And at least one witness saw Charles running through the street outside his offices with a gun. Chased by a man who 'looked like he was making a movie'." She looked Jack up and down, without any apparent relish. "And he had a gun too. So what does Torchwood want with a pair of twin brothers, and why is one of those brothers stealing tools, whilst the other one runs about Cardiff shooting at things? You know what I think?"
"Am I about to?"
"I think it's not a pair of twins. I think whichever one of them it is was right, and the other is dead. We're not talking about Charles and Steven, are we. It's just one of them, and for some reason he's flipped." She looked pleased with the theory. "So which one of them is it?"
"Go home, Kathy." He smiled at her, in the way that he was only just beginning to learn that he had - the smile that was all Jack, but showed something of the experiences of his increasingly long life. "Have a nice hot bath, eat some chips, watch some TV. Stop thinking about the Hope brothers."
"No." Her expression was hostile. "Not if that's what you want me to do."
"That's up to you." He shrugged. "Well, good luck, then. I'll see you around."
"I haven't said you can go yet."
He just grinned at that. "Torchwood. Try to stop me."
"What does that mean, though? One of these days, Harkness, I'm going to find out just what the bloody hell it is that you do. Find out once and for all where it is that you get your authority from. We'll see what Torchwood looks like with all the secrets stripped away; and where that leaves you."
"In the same position as always." He held her gaze for a moment, letting her get, just for a beat, that near two hundred year old blue stare - then he winked and walked away. He could feel her eyes burning into his back as he walked, but he didn't look back; didn't let his easy, graceful stride lose its timing for a second. Only when he was in amongst the trees, and no longer in her sight, did he stop, and perform a brief scan of the surrounding area with his wrist computer. As usual the old gadget came up trumps.
"Ianto?" As ever it took the younger man only a second to answer. His mannered voice came sharply over Jack's earpiece.
"The others back with you yet?"
"Yes sir. Owen is just stowing away a very rattly sack that I have some nasty suspicions about. How about you?"
"I'm taking the scenic route. Meet me on the other side of the grounds. Tell the others they can get off back to the Hub in Owen's car if they want."
"You're not expecting any more trouble?"
"We have a lunatic with a gun on the loose, who's managed to escape from me twice today. Of course I'm expecting trouble. But probably not just now, no. He's long gone."
"We're bringing in a prisoner, always supposing he hasn't got himself shot. Just meet me on the other side of the grounds."
"Yes sir." Ianto signed off, probably already on his way. He didn't hang around. Jack, meanwhile, pausing only to pick up Tosh's fallen instrument case, set off across the grass away from the gate, heading past the house, past the neat little clumps of fruit trees, past the once sculptured flower gardens, and the hedges that at one time had looked like swans. They looked like a strange, shaggy sort of creature now. Ice Age swans, perhaps. Whatever they were, they marked the entrance to the quieter, more secluded area of the garden. The place where, years earlier, Steven Hope had seen a purple and silver spaceship crash, and had run off in it to a new life. The furrow ploughed by the crashing ship was long gone, though the old bench still lay there, in its two halves. Steven was sitting on one of them, looking a little uncomfortable. He didn't look up when Jack arrived.
"See, it's a weird thing," he said, apparently to the ivy that was trying to engulf his broken bench. "But my brother just tried to shoot me. And then I chased him, and he had a gun, and there were policemen. Jack, I've been chased by policemen on a lot of planets, a lot of moons. You've been right there being chased alongside me more than once."
"Yeah." Jack crossed over to him, and sat down on the other half of the bench. It was crooked and leaning, and not remotely comfortable, but it seemed like the right thing to do. Still Steven didn't look up.
"My brother just tried to kill me."
"I suppose asking why would be stupid?"
"Money." Jack shrugged. He had never quite got the hang of money. Once upon a time if he had needed it he had stolen it. Now that he had it by legitimate means, he was never entirely sure what to do with it. What did ordinary people do with money? He had never quite managed to find out.
"He wants the inheritance? He's welcome to it. How much of it do I need when I'm out there? It's more complicated than that, though, isn't it."
"Looks like it." Jack sighed, and rose to his feet. "Come on. You're coming with me."
"Am I under arrest?"
"Call it protective custody. I don't trust you not to do something stupid, and I sure as hell don't trust your brother. He's already killed once."
"The police could shoot him, Jack. He's got a gun."
"Yeah. I noticed that."
"And he might be needing medical attention. You shot him."
"Yeah. I noticed that, too."
"Well you could at least show a little sympathy!" The words snapped out sharply, and Steven sighed as soon as they were done. "I'm sorry. I feel like hell. My brother just tried to shoot me, there's policemen everywhere. I can't think."
"Like I said - come with me. Preferably before one of those boys in blue gets a look at you. I'll find Charles, I promise." Steven didn't respond, and he frowned. "Steven?"
"I don't want to be here anymore, Jack." His friend sounded distant; lost. "My repairs are finished, and I just want to leave. But I can't now, can I. I thought it would be nice to come home for a bit, but now it's all such a bloody mess."
"It was nice, wasn't it?"
"At first. Before the guns. I get shot at on moons half a galaxy away, and that's fine. But not here. Never here."
"Cardiff is a complicated city." Gently Jack reached out, taking the other man's hand, and pulling him to his feet. "Come on. Now."
"There some kind of rush?"
"Yeah. I'll tell you about it as soon as we're away from here. In the meantime, don't make me pull my gun on you. You're coming with me."
"Apparently I am." Steven made no objection as he was guided away across the lawns, heading for the far side of the garden. His step was slow, though - far slower that his usual almost jaunty stride. Jack sympathised, but sympathy wasn't his concern right now. He had more pressing matters to tend to first; the most pressing of all being a man who was already dead.
Steven's eyes lit up like the lights on a jukebox when he saw the Torchwood Hub, his sorrows temporarily forgotten. Jack glared at him.
"You even look like you're planning to steal anything, and you're getting strip-searched. And not by me."
"Ouch." Steven's eyes trailed across the other members of the team, none of whom were looking especially friendly. "I take it that the gloves are off."
"Too right. What's he doing here, Jack?" Standing by her desk, looking distinctly unhappy with this new development, Gwen gestured towards Steven as though to emphasise her distaste. Jack shrugged.
"Bringing him here is better than letting him get shot. Only marginally better, maybe, but better. He doesn't even live on this planet anymore, so he's a minimal security risk. Who's he likely to tell about the place?"
"And who'd believe me anyway?" Steven ducked as a large creature swooped down near his head. "Fuck! That's a bloody dinosaur!"
"No it isn't." Engrossed in something on her computer screen, Tosh didn't look up. "Dinosaurs don't fly."
"I'll take your word for it." He gave a low whistle. "Well I don't know about being better than your ship, Jack, but it's certainly pretty cool. The, er..." He gestured above his head. "What does it eat?"
"It's a she, and she eats anything I let her eat." Jack pointed at his office. "In there. Close the door, and don't touch anything except the whisky."
"Hey, I'm sorry. Really sorry, about everything that's happened. But we're in a mess right now that wouldn't be half the size it is if you'd listened to me, so don't play the wounded soldier card. What did you have to take that generator for, huh? Power? I can get you all you need. More than you need. You're flying a small ship, not a battlecruiser."
"Habit?" Steven sighed, and shook his head. "Never mind. I'll go sit on my own in the little room, and not touch anything. See you later." He went, not without a touch of drama. Several pairs of eyes watched him leave, and when the office door was shut behind him, all those eyes turned instead to Jack.
"We can trust him," Jack said. Gwen didn't look convinced.
"He's a thief!" she pointed out. "You're bringing him into Aladdin's cave, and you think you can trust him?"
"Yeah." For a second he sounded cold. Then he shrugged. "Yeah, he's a thief. But if you want to start casting stones, Gwen, you can start by casting them at me. He's nothing that I didn't used to be. Maybe still am. Remember that." He sighed. "Right, we've got work to do. Tosh? Go help Owen. I don't want him taking all night putting that body back together down there. Ianto? Coffee. Please. Something strong."
"Extra extra special blend coming right up." He disappeared on his errand, and Jack sat down in the nearest chair. Tosh lingered at her station, and he looked around at her. "Well?"
"I... I suppose I'm a little uncomfortable with the idea of laying out that body down there, when he's nearby." She gestured up at the office. "He could walk in on us."
"Not with me in the way. And besides, it doesn't matter. Whoever it is, he's not going to recognise them, is he. There's nothing there but bones."
"But if it is him... I'm sorry Jack, but it could be, couldn't it. And if it is, wouldn't it be dangerous? I'm surprised you brought them both here together in the SUV. You took so long getting here, we did wonder if something might have happened."
"It's dangerous having them both in the same place?" asked Gwen. Jack shook his head.
"No. Even if that is him - and I don't think it is - then the real danger only comes if they touch. And they're not going to. Steven's staying put for the time being. He's got a lot on his mind."
"So do you, by the look of things," observed Tosh. He smiled at her.
"Yeah. Look, your concern's noted, Tosh. And the thought's appreciated. We took a long time getting here because I got Ianto to stop for a bit, so I could bring Steven up to speed, that's all. There's no danger having that body here, and you don't need to worry about it. Or me. So go help Owen, okay?"
She nodded. "Okay. With a bit of luck it won't take long now. I'll see you in a bit."
"Thanks." He watched her go, his expression unreadable - though Gwen didn't stop trying to guess at it. Only when they were alone did she voice the other question that was bothering her, dragging him back from wherever his thoughts had been.
"What's going to happen about Charles?" Turning to look at her, Jack shook his head.
"I don't know. Have to catch him, won't we."
"Depends who he's killed. Depends... I don't know. I don't think he's a danger to the public - or he wasn't, until we got involved. We'll just have to wait until he shows up again. See how it plays out." He leaned back, staring up at the high ceiling, where Myfanwy swooped and circled. Gwen said nothing, and after a moment he smiled.
"I know what you're thinking."
"Read minds as well, do you?"
"Maybe." He shot her a sidelong glance. "Look, if I judge him, I'm judging myself as well. The day we met, I was ripping off an assayer's office in a mining town, about... three thousand light years that way." He pointed upwards, slightly to the right of the tower. "I got chased by what seemed like half the town. Stole a Terox glider, which let me tell you, isn't half the speedmobile the manufacturers claim it is. Steven came out of nowhere in his ship. Nearly crashed the pair of us. Saved my life, though." He smiled at her expression. "Yeah, he's a thief. So am I."
"Not anymore," she told him. He shrugged.
"Maybe. I'm still me, no matter what it is I'm doing now. And tomorrow, or next year, or a hundred years from now? Who knows. I got forever. And that's a long, long time to never steal anything in."
"You're making excuses for him."
"Yeah, I am. He's a nice guy, Gwen. Okay, thief. But what about me? I profited from Pompeii. All those people, dying in agony under the ashes? I made money out of that, and more than once. Him? He's got light fingers. He steals because it's fun; because it's more fun than making your way through life the usual way. He doesn't hurt people."
"There's no such thing as victimless crime, you know."
"Spoken like a true cop, Gwen Cooper."
"Thanks." She sighed, not wanting to argue. As far as she could see, they were just going to have to accept that they saw things differently. Ianto was heading their way with a tray of coffees, and she took that as a good excuse for a change of subject.
"You're a lifesaver, Ianto." Taking one of the mugs, Jack favoured the young Welshman with a particularly big grin. Ianto merely raised an eyebrow.
"And you're a caffeine addict, sir." He nodded to Gwen as she smiled her own thanks, then he departed once again with the tray. Gwen settled back into her chair.
"I think he's right," she said, drinking slowly. "About all of us. I never used to drink this much coffee before I joined Torchwood - and I was in the police."
"Coffee's good. I like coffee." He smiled to himself. "There's four great universal constants in the drinking world - aside from water of course. Beer, whisky, coffee and tea. Everywhere seems to have their own version. Wine's popular, but there are whole sections of the universe that have never thought of it. Rum, vodka... most places have something similar, but not everywhere. There's a tiny little moon about as far from this planet as you can get, where they have rum cocktails that you'd swear come straight from the Caribbean. Little umbrellas, too."
"You're kidding?" She had to laugh. He shook his head, as serious as she had ever seen him.
"I swear. Course, they serve the cocktails at 200°C, but other than that you'd never know the difference."
"Idiot. Now I know you're lying."
He shrugged. "It's a big universe, Gwen Cooper. It's got pretty much everything in it."
"Most of us don't get the chance to find out."
"Your life isn't over yet. Maybe tomorrow a spaceship will crash in your garden."
"You'd impound it," she told him. He shook his head.
"Not if you took right off in it. Steven managed."
"Steven's a lot sneakier than I am. And obviously the owner of his ship didn't feel like objecting. What happened to him? Her? It? Did you ever find out?"
"Him. And yeah. Bailed out over the bay. I guess he must have panicked when he lost control of the ship."
"I don't blame him." A sad look passed across her face. "All that way, just to drown off the coast of Cardiff."
"He didn't drown." Jack took a sip of coffee, smiling as if at some memory. "He's a Machadi. They're sort of amphibious. No, he's still out there, about three quarters of a mile off shore. Swims about a lot, scares the occasional water-skier. Loves the kelp - really loves the kelp. He was a refugee, escaping from the new regime on his world. He's as safe here as anywhere, and I'm not going to give him any hassle." The smile broadened suddenly. "Though he's worth hassling. All that swimming does wonders for the muscles. And he's a really nice shade of green."
She looked faintly ill. "Jack, you haven't..."
"Are you kidding? His kind like to mate at two hundred feet down. That's too rich for my blood." He grinned. "Though he might be willing to compromise. I should ask."
"You're a degenerate." She drank some more of her own coffee, smiling faintly. She occasionally thought about trying new positions with Rhys - Jack thought about aquatic sex with a green amphibian. One of them was definitely having more fun than the other. It didn't seem entirely fair. On the hand, an amphibious alien... She didn't really think that she was ready to entertain those kinds of thoughts; not yet. Probably not ever. By the look of him, Jack was entertaining just those kinds of thoughts. If he was about to speak further on the issue, though, he was prevented from doing so by the sudden approach of Owen.
"Body's ready," he announced, without a great deal of enthusiasm. He had put on his white coat, and with a mug of coffee in one hand, and a clipboard in the other, did actually look something like a doctor for once. Jack jumped to his feet.
"And?" he asked. Owen shrugged.
"And what? It's a mess. The skeleton's male, fully grown, not especially old. It was pretty battered, too. Bloody rats. They'd gnawed through just about everything it was possible to gnaw through. I think we got it all back together again right, though."
"You think?" Jack eyed him speculatively. "Isn't that what the Great British Public paid your way through medical school for?"
"To learn how to turn rat food into human jigsaw puzzles?"
"Smartass. To learn all that 'foot bone's connected to the shoulder bone' stuff. I don't just employ you for your pretty face, you know."
"We put it together right. You know Tosh. World's greatest perfectionist, and part-time medical expert." He led the way down to the autopsy room, where Tosh was examining the skeleton with a magnifying glass. "She's so futuristic, too. I've got banks of the best equipment money can't buy, and she's playing Sherlock Holmes."
"Never knock the old ways, Owen." Jack went over to join Tosh, looking the skeleton up and down. "So what you got?"
"Hard to tell the cause of death. The ribs by the heart look as though they've been grazed by a bullet, but I can't be certain." Tosh laid aside the magnifying glass, and looked up at Owen. "Wouldn't you say?"
"Yeah. It's as good a theory as any, and it's the best you're going to get without doing a proper investigation. Depends how much time you want me to spend on this. I'm guessing how he died isn't your first concern."
"Not really, no. How did your missing person search go, Gwen?"
"It didn't. I couldn't find anybody listed as missing who looked enough like Steven for his own brother to confuse the two. If he shot him in the dark, maybe..."
"Yeah, but who'd shoot him in the dark, and then wrap him up and bury him without turning a light on to check?" Owen went over to the body and gestured at the bones. "It's in good condition. I'm guessing this isn't any down-and-out - or not a long term one. So surely somebody should have missed him if he's local to this timezone? Jack, I know you don't want to believe it, but surely it's got to be Steven?"
"It's not." Jack pointed at the right clavicle. "Steven's got a hole through his shoulder bone. Almost a perfect circle, caused by a pulse gun on Minos. You can still feel it through his skin. Weapons like that, they scorch the bone so it never heals."
"There's not a mark on either shoulder bone. Well, aside from the rat's teeth." Owen frowned. "So who is he then? I know everybody's supposed to have a double, but it's a bit weird to have yours turn up in your own house quite by chance."
"More than a bit weird." Jack was staring at the body, an unhappy look on his face. Tosh reached out, putting her hand briefly over his to draw him back to the present.
"You said earlier that you had some sort of theory," she reminded him. He nodded.
"Yeah. Steven's never gonna time travel. He hates the idea of it, and he's the sort of guy who makes up his mind for good. But what if he never comes back to settle on Earth? And I don't believe for a moment that he will. What if he stays out there, maybe settles down one day? Has kids?"
"And what if one of them travels in time one day?" Tosh's eyes drifted back to the body. Jack nodded.
"Yeah. Fathers and sons can look a lot alike. Or sometimes a family resemblance skips a generation, turns up further down the line. Who's to say that Steven's son couldn't pass for his father one day? Or what about his grandson? There's always somebody who's got time travel technology for sale. Most of it's pretty basic in this era, but there's still plenty of it around."
"So you think that Charles has murdered his nephew? Or great-nephew?" Coming down the stairs to join them, Gwen took her turn at peering at the collection of bones. It wasn't much to show for a life - and certainly not for a life that might have begun somewhere out in space, and travelled back in time to be here. "Only you could come up with that theory."
"Can you think of something that makes more sense?" He picked up one of the bones, turning it over in his hands. "There's no problem doing a DNA test, to find out if this is a Hope. Be a start, at least."
"What about other tests?" Owen was suddenly all business again, galvanised by the new theory. "Is there anything we can do to see if this body has travelled in time, or if whoever it was was born out in space somewhere?"
"Time travellers have a sort of residual energy. A skeleton's not much to go on, but it might still register." Jack punched a few buttons on his wrist computer. Obviously it gave him some sort of answer, for he nodded sharply, and put the bone back down. "Trace levels. He's travelled in time. Probably more than once."
"Which proves...?" asked Tosh. Jack shook his head.
"Absolutely nothing, really. Doesn't help us much, either. It's still a murder, and Charles is still responsible, and he's still running around out there with a gun." He sighed. "Why is it always like this when old friends come to visit?"
"Probably because all your old friends are psychopaths," shot back Owen. Jack nodded.
"You could be right."
"So... was there some reason for going to fetch this body, and bringing him back here?" pressed Tosh. Jack nodded.
"Had to check, didn't we."
"Check what, exactly?" asked Gwen.
"Who he is. Was. If it was some ordinary guy, we could think about maybe handing it over to the police. As it is... this is a body we can't let the police examiner have. It's not anybody that they're going to be able to identify, and I won't take the risk that some bright-eyed scientist will notice something they shouldn't. Once they do a DNA test, they'll know that it's a relation of Steven and Charles's. And Steven and Charles don't have any relations. They know that."
"Everybody has some sort of relations, surely," protested Tosh. "It can be very easy to lose touch, but that doesn't mean they're not there."
"With that will, and that fortune, you think nobody's checked?"
"Illegitimate half-brothers, then?" queried Owen. Jack shook his head.
"No. Everybody always knew that the old man was too fond of his wife's status to risk an affair. There isn't anybody; and I'm not risking letting anything about this guy get back to Steven. You don't tell somebody that the son they haven't had yet is going to be murdered one day by his own uncle."
"We haven't proved yet that it is a relation," pointed out Owen. "You're making assumptions about that."
"True. But you tell me that you don't believe it. Brothers don't make mistakes like that. Charles is sure he killed Steven. This being a close relation is the only explanation, and you know it."
"Okay... so we assume that this is a Hope." Tosh wanted to believe anything but, but she trusted Jack's judgement, and he was clearly sure that he was right. "We still have to find Charles. Standing here talking about the person that he killed isn't going to help us to do that."
"It's all information. Information is good." Jack had begun to pace, head low. "Okay. So we spring a trap."
"Woah." Owen looked up sharply from his study of the skeleton. "How did we get from discussing the world's least probable murder investigation, to springing traps?"
"Keep up," Jack told him - rather unfairly, felt Owen. "You're all shook up, you're probably not thinking straight. What do you do?"
"Go home," said Gwen, sitting on the stairs behind him. He nodded.
"Though if you're worried about the police, maybe not."
"And where's home anyway?" asked Tosh. "The place where you've been living recently, or the place where you always lived before that?"
"He's not going to go back to that old place," scoffed Owen. "It's crawling with police, for one thing."
"They might not stay long. Depends what they're after." Jack resumed his pacing, hands behind his back, his shoes apparently suddenly of great interest to him. "Yeah. The family home. It's big, and even if the police are still crawling over it, he might be able to get in there without them noticing. He knows it better than they do, and there's plenty of places to hide. He could hole up there for a while, maybe."
"How are we going to find him, then?" asked Owen. "We can't go using our scanners if the place is still full of cops. And we can't really keep sending them packing. I mean, it's funny, obviously, but they're starting to fight back."
"We won't need scanners. We've got our own personal guide. Who better to show us where to hide in that house, right?" Jack turned about, starting to head back up the stairs. "Tosh, get a DNA test underway. He'll have had some whisky in my office. You think you can get a good enough sample from his glass?"
"I can extract a saliva sample, yes. It'll have been contaminated by the whisky, but that shouldn't be a problem for our equipment."
"Good. Do that as soon as we're gone." Jack was at the top of the stairs, leaning on the railing to look back down at the others. "Owen, get a sample from Bruce here. And... I don't know. Work on the cause of death. Maybe we owe him that much."
"Where are you going?" asked Owen. "Oh, right. Let me guess. If that place is still full of police--"
"I'll be taking a short cut into the building." Jack flashed him a wink, then spun around and headed for his office. Sharing a look, the other three went at once to follow, almost too late to see his blue shape pass through the door. A moment later they could see him talking with Steven. The words were inaudible to them, but they could see that the conversation was an animated one. Ianto came slowly down the stairs from the boardroom, looking from them to the office and back again.
"Trouble?" he asked, clearly suspecting the answer. Gwen nodded.
"Oh, not really." Turning away in disgust, Owen stalked back towards his desk. "Our great leader is going back to the Hope house to look for a murderer, that's all. There's police all over the place, they all want to talk to him; there's a killer wandering around with a gun; and the only person he's taking to help him out is a thief. He's a bloody lunatic."
"Steven's the perfect person to help find Charles, surely," pointed out Ianto. Owen glared at him.
"Maybe. But then what? Does Jack think he can just walk out of there with a murderer and a thief, past all those policemen? What's he going to do to stop them hearing gunshots? 'Cause there's going to be gunshots, let's be honest. And both those brothers are probably on the wanted list by now. Come tomorrow morning, we're going to be down the local cop shop begging for the release of our boss, you mark my words. And that's not going to help us hold our heads up high in this town. The police are already getting too big for their boots, if you ask me."
"Er... Owen?" But Owen was too caught up in his moment to register Tosh's interruption. He continued regardless, voice rising in volume.
"I vote we try to talk him round. At least wait until we're sure that the police have finished at the house before we go over there. And then all go. Surely we'd be better off trying to corner this bloke if we've got him seriously outnumbered? Break out the guns, and--"
"Owen!" Tosh finally managed to catch his attention, and he glared at her.
"Stop being a prat?" suggested Gwen. Ianto hid a smirk. Tosh looked a little flustered.
"No. Well, possibly. I just wanted to point something out."
"What?" asked Owen, his voice even more hostile this time. Tosh nodded over at Jack's office.
"They've gone," she said, making them all turn to look. She was right; the office was empty. Jack and Steven had already disappeared.
The light of the teleport had barely faded away when Jack felt arms snake around his waist. His body went instantly to battle alert, until it sank in that there were lips pressing against his own, and that the hands attached to the clasping arms were beginning to roam. Generally, enemies didn't tend to behave that way. At least not at first. He pulled back.
"Are you crazy?"
"Yeah. From waiting. I was bored in that office, Jack."
"Your brother could be here. The guy with the gun, remember? Plus there's probably policemen everywhere. And you want to have sex now?"
"You got a problem with that?"
"...Not really, no." The lips were back against his own, and for a second Jack reciprocated, before pulling away again. "Hang on. Psycho-killer and lurking cops aside... I'm still angry with you."
"You were angry with me last time." Steven smirked. "I liked last time."
"Yeah." Jack couldn't help grinning. "But you're gonna have to wait. Where are we?"
"Ground floor. My father's office. It'd take a good locksmith a week to break in here, so I thought it would be the safest place to head for."
"Good choice." Pulling out of Steven's embrace, Jack looked around. It was dark in the room, but he could see a desk, and shelves of a dark-coloured wood that lined the walls. "Your father liked security, then?"
"My father was a paranoid nut." Steven went over to one of the windows. Light beams criss-crossed the garden. "Damn. They're still out there."
"Probably looking for the loot." Jack joined him, wondering if any of those torches belonged to Kathy Swanson. "Told you all that stealing wasn't a good idea."
"Yes, alright. So consider me properly chastised. I promise to keep my thievery limited to outer space from now on, okay?"
"Glad to hear it." Jack turned away from the window. "How thick are the curtains?"
"Not thick enough for us to risk turning the lights on. What's wrong? Don't like being alone with me in the dark?"
"It's not you I'm worried about. Okay. You're Charles."
"I certainly hope not. He has lousy taste in ties, and shares our father's opinion on same-sex relations. Positively no fun at all, is dear Charles."
"Sorry." One of Steven's arms circled Jack's waist again. "Okay, so I'm Charles."
"Thank you. Where would you go? Is there anywhere in the grounds where he used to like playing as a kid?"
"No. No, the gardens were my place. All those outbuildings, all those places to be alone. Charles preferred playing at being dad. Reading the Financial Times, and all that sort of thing. He was a strange child."
"He's a strange adult." Jack nodded. "Okay, so what about his bedroom?"
"First floor. No lock on the door. If the police are in the building, it'd be the stupidest place to try to hide in. I think he'd head for the top floor. It's a lot smaller than it should be, if you get my meaning."
"Exactly. This is a very old house. It's been in my mother's family for years, and... well, you know they had a chequered history. At one time there were several secret rooms and passages. Any number of places to get up to any number of nefarious activities."
"Quite. You see, you shouldn't be too hard on me. I only grew up to be incorrigible because of my family history. Honest."
"If I believed that, I'd believe anything." Jack disentangled himself from the arm once again, and headed for the door. "You hear anything?"
"Through that door? You're kidding. The doors in this place are an inch or two thick, and made from good solid wood. Old house, remember? Use your wrist thingy."
"My 'wrist thingy' doesn't have a police detector setting." He used it anyway, scanning for nearby lifeforms. As far as he could tell, the immediate area was clear, aside from a number of rats almost directly beneath his feet. He tried the door handle.
"Locked, Jack. Remember?" Steven was clearly patting his pockets. Jack rolled his eyes.
"Let me guess. You don't have the key."
"I have a nasty feeling I left it beside the bed at Nancy's tavern."
"Yeah." Steven looked wistful. "She made me an offer I couldn't refuse. I'm glad I didn't bother trying."
"Nancy's tavern is clear across the galaxy. You couldn't have left it somewhere on Earth?!"
"Wouldn't be any less unobtainable just at this moment, would it. Don't worry, there's a spare." Steven headed back for the desk, flipping open the oak cigar box. "Cigar?"
"Good choice. My father was cheap about cigars." Steven hunted for the key, eventually finding it at the bottom of the box. "See? Do I ever let you down?"
"Only if there's profit in it." Jack took the key, then making another quick scan, unlocked the door and led the way out into the corridor beyond. It was even darker there, with no windows to let in even the basic moonlight. "Now what? I can't risk using a torch. Somebody might see it."
"It's okay. I could find my way about this place blindfolded if I had to." Steven took his hand, careful to take the left rather than the right. Jack liked to have his gun hand free; he had learnt that before. "Top floor, yes?"
"You know any shortcuts?"
"Not nowadays. The passages lead from the top floor down, and a few to the outside, but most of them were bricked up decades ago. My mother had the rest blocked off when Charles and I were young, though we managed to open one up again." Jack could hear the smile in his voice. "Couldn't resist. Anyway, that's all that's accessible now. Half-decayed when I was last in there, but it'd do as a hideaway still. So long as you don't want to go tap-dancing or something."
"It wasn't at the top of my agenda." Somewhere nearby, voices floated about in the darkness. "We'd better hurry up."
"Yeah." There was a tug on Jack's hand, and he let Steven lead him along a corridor, and up a flight of stairs. Behind them lights came on, and Steven dragged Jack swiftly around a corner. "They must be starting to search the house as well. That was close."
"Too close. Keep moving."
"Yes sir." Steven pulled him onward again, and upward again, on a carpet that felt thinner and less ostentatious underfoot than those of the lower floors. Upstairs felt very different. The house was quieter, the thick boards dampening the sounds from below. Small creaks and sighs followed them - the voices of a house speaking to its inhabitants. Steven's hand tightened around Jack's.
"You ready for action, captain?"
"Aren't I always?" Steven thought that he could detect a grin behind the words, and smiled to himself.
"Just up ahead. There's a hidden door at the end of the corridor."
"Into a passage between the inner and outer walls, and eventually to a space where Charles and I used to play. The floor's a bit iffy, but you don't worry about that sort of thing when you're twelve."
"You're a lot heavier now than you were when you were twelve." Jack followed on, but moved into the lead when the wall at the end of the corridor loomed nearer. "How do I open this thing?"
"He's my brother, Jack. And you're just a little too trigger-happy at times. I won't have you shooting him if I can help it."
"And I won't have him shooting you!"
"Time's ticking, captain. There's policemen on the way."
"Puts you in a worse position than me, if they find us."
"But maybe I think it's worth it. He's my brother."
"Yeah. So you keep saying." Jack sighed, and took a step back. "Alright, go ahead. But you get your brains blown out, don't say I didn't warn you."
"Promise." Steven leaned over, doing something that Jack couldn't see in the darkness. Nearby, voices hummed once again.
"Hurry up!" hissed Jack. Steven fumbled slightly.
"The catch is a lot easier when your fingers are small," he complained. Somewhere, footsteps came closer. Lots of footsteps. Around the corner, suddenly there was light.
"I'm getting there!" There was a click, and with surprising force, the wall swung away from them. Seizing Steven by the shoulders, Jack hauled him up and pushed him through the hole, tumbling after him. He pushed at the door with his foot, and heard it swing shut behind him. Immediately they were in total darkness again; total silence; with a musty smell around them, and an inescapable sense of age and decay. Jack reached for his gun, making his way carefully to his feet.
"Watch where you stand!" hissed Steven, his hands searching for Jack in the darkness. "Some of the flooring here is really bad. It's best to keep to the sides."
"Ssh." Mindful of the possible presence of an armed killer, Jack's own hands found Steven unerringly, one hand clamping tightly around the other man's mouth. He was answered with an indignant mumble, which, had it not been well muffled, sounded suspiciously as though it would have been very rude.
"Just wait a moment." With his free hand, Jack pulled a torch from his coat pocket. He hadn't dared use it before, but in theory they should be safe here from the eyes of the police. Charles he wasn't sure about - but thenif they were going to see him, he was going to have to be able to see them too. He switched the torch on, and shone it around. Cobwebs hung everywhere, and several broken floorboards showed that they would very likely have fallen through to the lower level if he hadn't turned on the light. Finally freeing himself of Jack's hand, Steven edged carefully towards the hole.
"Shine that down there," he said. Jack obliged. They saw a small, plain corridor, no more than a couple of feet across, a thick tangle of cobwebs stretching across it like a net. Clearly nobody had gone that way in a long time.
"Smugglers?" asked Jack. Steven shook his head.
"Not really. Just about everything else, though. Like I said - chequered history."
"You should write it down."
"Are you kidding? Charles would shoot me." Steven seemed to realise what he had said, and winced. "In the metaphorical sense. Hopefully."
"Come on." Stepping carefully around the hole in the floor, Jack pressed on. Steven followed him, more carefully, but with no less speed. After a while the corridor began to narrow and slope, eventually turning into a set of very cramped steps, that seemed to lead down to the next floor. Jack handed the torch to Steven, and holstered his gun in order to consult his wrist computer.
"Anything?" asked Steven. Jack glared at him.
"Silence is an alien concept to you, isn't it."
"I went to Eton, Jack. They teach us to be noisy and arrogant, not like good, quiet little soldiers. What's the wrist thingy say?"
"That I should have left you at the Hub." Jack flipped the leather cover closed. "One human male. Close by."
"Strong. I'm pretty sure I only grazed him."
"Yeah, well let's hope neither of us comes to regret it." Jack drew his gun again, and with Steven behind him holding the torch, he began to make his way down the stairs. They creaked horribly, and he winced. "Great."
"It's an old house, Jack. You can't keep an old house quiet."
"So I gather." Each step seemed to make more noise than the last, and when finally they reached the bottom of the flight, Jack wasn't sure whether to laugh at the situation, or punch something in frustration. So much for being quiet. Charles couldn't help but know that they were coming - and where exactly they were. Coming to a decision, he put his gun away again, then firmly pushed Steven back.
"Hey!" his companion protested. Jack wrested the torch from his grip.
"Just keep back," he said, making the genial tone that he usually used with his friend into more of an order. "Look, us 51st century guys heal a little quicker than you lot, okay?"
"I'll remember that." Steven relaxed slightly, apparently accepting that he should let Jack go first. Holding the torch out so that he would hopefully not look at all threatening, Jack stepped out away from the stairs, and around the corner at the bottom. He found himself in another corridor, blocked off by collapsed boards from overhead. Charles sat at the far end, his back to the blockage, his gun ready in his hand. He levelled it at Jack, his hand much steadier now than before.
"Don't come any closer," he said. Jack, who wasn't particularly eager to get any closer to a man with a levelled gun, obligingly stayed where he was.
"You're hurt," he said. Without directing the torch beam right at Charles, he could see him only in the half-light of the beam's periphery; and he couldn't really see if the other man was hurt at all. Charles made a vague noise that might have been confirmation, or might have been disagreement.
"I'm a pretty good field medic," offered Jack, who had done turns in that role during wars in half a dozen centuries. It wasn't a lie - he was pretty good, if sometimes a bit vague about which techniques went with which particular period. Again Charles grunted. "It hurt?" asked Jack.
"Steven's with you, isn't he. You know him somehow." Charles changed his grip on his gun, and Jack was sure that he detected stiffness in the other man's left arm. He filed the detail away, but kept the observation to himself for now.
"Steven's a friend, I told you that earlier. He has been for years." A good hundred and forty years from Jack's point of view - not that Steven himself knew that. Charles nodded, not looking especially interested.
"I killed him," he said. Jack nodded.
"Certainly looks like it."
"I was trying to get into my father's study, and I saw him. He'd been away for years, and I was waiting for the chance to have him declared dead. And then he came back, and it wasn't fair. I just wanted what was mine. I stayed here, while he disappeared and never told anybody where he was going - but it's him that my father left everything to. So I followed him, and I got the gun from the living room. Dad had guns all over the place. For security. So I got the gun, and I followed Steven, and I shot him. One shot. Used to be in a gun club."
"And then you buried him," pressed Jack, gently. Gentle wasn't his favourite approach, but Charles seemed unnaturally delicate. Fragmented almost. The head that was so nearly Steven's nodded faintly.
"I was going to throw him in here. Who'd find him? But I couldn't carry him." He shook his head, and mumbled something indistinct. "Don't remember, really. Buried him somewhere." He looked up suddenly, and his eyes stared brightly at Jack. "He is dead, isn't he."
"Somebody is. Not him, though. You killed the wrong man."
"Like I don't know my own brother." Charles frowned slightly, still trying to take in the notion that it hadn't been Steven he had killed. "Looked younger. Bit thinner. We've got the same face, though, more or less. It's not like I don't know it."
"True enough." Jack took a couple of steps forward, as casually as he could. "Mistakes happen. Isn't it good that Steven's not really dead?"
"I don't know." Charles looked suspicious all of a sudden. "Who the bloody hell are you, anyway?"
Jack grinned - his usual, cheery grin of introduction. "Like I said at your office - Captain Jack Harkness. This isn't the best way to say hello, but I've met people in worse places."
"If I shoot you, will the police hear?"
"Very likely." His smile didn't waver. "If I come a little closer, you could try strangling me instead?"
"No. No, I don't think I could strangle anybody." Distaste showed in Charles's eyes. Clearly the sarcasm had completely passed him by. Still the gun pointed straight at Jack, though, whether Charles was afraid it would be heard or not. Nearby, Steven shifted restlessly. Jack edged forward another pace.
"You don't look very comfortable," he said, in an attempt to keep the conversation light. "Steven said you used to play in here as kids. Did you have any chairs in here? I could get one for you."
"No chairs. Sweets, hidden in the floorboards. Biscuits we stole from the kitchens." Charles looked up suddenly. "He's with you. Where?"
"He's upstairs, looking out for the police," lied Jack. "They're all over the place now. Going to be difficult getting out of here unseen."
"You mean you're not going to turn me over to them?" Charles looked baffled. Jack shook his head.
"This isn't any of their business." Not strictly true, but again the lie was easy. Summoning a patient smile, Jack took another step forward. "Let me look at that arm. You can always shoot me later. Deal?" Charles glanced at his left shoulder, as though surprised to find that it hurt.
"You shot me," he said, in a moment of striking lucidity. It came as something of a surprise, given the wreck that he had appeared to be earlier. Jack nodded cheerfully enough.
"That's right." Advancing until he was within reach of Charles, Jack lowered himself down to a crouch. "No hard feelings, though, yeah? You were trying to shoot Steven at the time."
"But Steven is already dead." Charles spoke the words as though to a child, and Jack gave up trying to argue the point. Somehow Charles had convinced himself that killing his brother for the inheritance was acceptable; but he could not face the idea of having killed somebody else instead. Very gently, Jack reached out for the wounded shoulder - but at that moment, drawn no doubt by the conversation, Steven came around the corner. Undoubtedly he thought that he could help - that it would be better for his brother to see that he wasn't dead - but whatever his motives, the effect on his twin was electric. A ripple seemed to rush through Charles's frame, and with a shout of sudden fury he began to climb back to his feet. Caught by surprise, Jack made a grab for the injured arm, but Charles swung around, clubbing at him savagely with the gun. Jack fell without a sound, and Steven started forward, aghast.
"Charles, for heaven's sake! What the bloody hell has got into you? You've always been a prat, but this has gone well past the usual family stupidity. Put that gun away and stop acting like a--" He broke off, the insult dying on his lips. Charles was pointing the gun at him, its muzzle no more than a few inches from Steven's chest. They were closer now than they had been before, and Steven could see the look in the other man's eyes. The look that said that this wasn't Charles being typically idiotic, or unexpectedly vicious. It was a man on the brink of insanity. Steven turned quite pale.
"It wasn't me that you killed. Look, it's quite alright really. I mean, okay, so it doesn't seem it, but--"
"You're dead." The hand holding the gun was jabbed forward, unexpectedly, so that it struck Steven's chest with a sharp blow. Charles jumped back as though stung.
"Dead - but solid enough, see?" Steven wanted very much to do something decisive - to see about disarming his brother, perhaps, or at the very least giving him a good shake - but he didn't dare try. Charles was far too unpredictable, and his finger far too ready on the trigger.
"Not for long," he growled, and his hand seemed to tighten around the gun. Steven's eyes widened.
"Now just a--"
"Duck!" It was Jack's voice; Jack's form that came barrelling out of the darkness behind Charles. Steven moved instinctively, though he had no real idea which way to go. It wasn't as though there was very much room. Crashing into Charles's back, one hand going desperately for the younger twin's gun, Jack started to wrest it away. There was a brief, brutal struggle, and the gun fired twice. Charles went limp.
"What the--" Steven, who had thrown himself to the ground just to stay out of the way, scrambled over now on hands and knees. "Charles? Is he--"
"The bullets went into the floor." Jack slid off the other man, clambering wearily to his feet. There was blood on his head, Steven saw, though his main concern was for his brother. Jack at least was still moving.
"His head kinda went into the floor too." Jack hauled up the unconscious man, though there wasn't really the space to swing him up onto a shoulder. "We need to move."
"Will have heard the gunshots, yeah. With luck they won't be able to figure out where they've come from, though. Where to?"
"Steven, this is your house, remember? Where can we go? I'm guessing that teleport of yours can't take the three of us."
"No. Two's its limit, really. None of us is especially small." Helping Jack to lift the unconscious Charles, Steven dithered somewhat. "My father's study? They'll never get in there."
"No, and neither will we. How are we supposed to get down the stairs? Look, just get us somewhere where we can shut him up for a bit, and talk through what happens next."
"The library." Getting a better hold on Charles, Steven started towards the blockage in the tunnel. It wasn't easy to bend down and pick up the fallen torch, but he managed it, shining it onto the obstacle ahead. "Like I said, the passages have been mostly blocked off, but by the look of things they've decayed so much, I'm not sure that matters anymore. I think I can get us into the library. The police seemed to have searched downstairs already, so we should be okay in there for a while. We just need to get past this stuff here."
"No problem." Propping Charles up against the wall, Jack looked the debris up and down, then grabbed the nearest fallen floorboard and tore it loose. There was a shower of dust and cobwebs, but undeterred, Jack started forward, shoulder against the blockage. The mess of boards and plaster shifted, then with an almighty crack, gave way. Jack stumbled over the pile, and shook dust from his hair like a dog shaking itself after a bath.
"That was subtle," commented Steven. Jack dragged Charles over the debris, and shot the other twin an eloquent glare.
"After that gun went off, being quiet stopped being quite so important. Just get us somewhere where we've got some space to breathe, yeah? Where next?"
"Give me a second. I've not been been to the library by this route since before my mother blocked the tunnel entrance. That's a long time ago, Jack."
"Half the Cardiff police force is on the other side of that wall."
"I know!" He breathed out, heavily, mindful suddenly of the dust in the air. "Okay, we're on the second floor at the moment. The library is on the first floor. It should be straight ahead this way, and then down a level. There's a big cupboard in the library, and the back wall of it leads straight into these passages. Or it did." He sighed. "Oh, forget it. Come on."
They stumbled along over rotting floorboards, attacked at every step by dangling cobwebs and protruding nails. The unconscious Charles was just as much of an obstacle, draped between them like a curtain. In the narrow passageway they had to stagger along sideways, the single torch illuminating little save more holes, more cobwebs, and more patches of encroaching damp. Jack coughed bleakly.
"You people don't believe in house maintenance, do you."
"It was a part of the family history that my mother didn't exactly celebrate."
"Really? And with the two of you following the family traditions so splendidly."
"That's not funny, Jack." Steven frowned. "Well okay, maybe it is. I'm lucky she's dead, I suppose. She'd be pretty cross with me right now, otherwise."
"I think half of Cardiff is pretty cross with you right now." They took a moment to rest, half wedged in the tunnel, with Charles between them. The dust and cobwebs clung to them, and in the torchlight they could see each other grinning. The shouts of policemen drifted to them through thick walls; beneath ill-fitting skirting-boards; alongside the breeze that floated through the holes in the floor.
"Reminds me of our first time," said Steven suddenly. "Hiding out in that cabin. Police looking for us, and an unconscious guy to keep us company. Bounty hunter, wasn't he?"
"Yeah." For a second the blue glint in Jack's eyes gleamed with more than its usual share of mischief; then he changed the subject rather sharply. "Come on. Library. I need room to move."
"And I need to get Charles started on a diet." Shifting his brother's weight slightly, Steven started forward again. "Or will the prison service be seeing to that?"
"The what?" Jack stumbled on something he couldn't see, though by the way it ran off, he was betting that it had been a rat.
"Prison service. He's a murderer."
"You think any court would convict him right now? It's not a prison he'd be heading for." Muffled shouts echoed around them again, as more police officers joined in the search. Steven struggled to negotiate a corner.
"You will hand him over to the authorities, then?"
"How? They've got no evidence. I'll give him something. Probably for the best in the long run. He won't remember what he's done, and that'll help him heal."
"Heal? How can he heal if he doesn't know he's damaged? You're talking about making him forget. Mr 'My Bosses Stole Two Years Of My Life', and you're talking about making him forget?"
"Not a whole two years, no. Just a few facts. A few details, a few names. What, you'd rather he go to prison for the rest of his life? Or wind up in Broadmoor? He murdered somebody. Yeah, okay, so he thought it was you; and maybe that's acceptable behaviour in your family, I don't know. But it wasn't you he killed, was it. This is my case now, not the police's, and that means it's my justice he faces. I can help him."
"By making him forget?"
"Yes! By making him forget my friends and I, and that he thinks he killed you. By letting him go back to living his old life, inheriting the money your father left you. He won't be a danger to anybody else. Now do we really have to discuss this now?"
"You don't know that he won't be a danger. You can't know what his mind will do. It's all broken up, and he needs to deal with that, not have it hidden from him."
"So you do want him in prison, then? Well sorry, Steven, but they don't tend to arrest people for no reason. And all they could possibly have on him is the thefts you committed. They got no murder, no body, and no reason to suspect him of killing anybody."
"I didn't mean prison, no. You think I'd want that? I know you want your work to stay secret, and I know you don't want to wind up co-operating with the police in all this. You think I'd ask that either? Let me take him with me, Jack. I'll leave Earth. I'll take him... somewhere. I don't know. But he won't be able to get back here again, and I can find some way to fix him."
"You want to be trapped in a spaceship with a man who wants to kill you?"
"For the money. He wants to kill me for the money, yes. What reason has he got to kill me out there? What use is dad's money on another planet?"
"You're mad." Jack fought off a particularly resilient cobweb, and tripped over another rat. It screeched at him in annoyance, and he could practically see it shaking its fist as he passed. "I can't let you fly off with a psychopath strapped into the seat next to you. It'd be asking for trouble. It'd be--"
"He's not a psychopath. He knows he's done wrong. Why do you think he's acting like this? He's a mess. I can help him, Jack. I--"
"Steven?" Charles was stirring, his mind homing in on the familiar voice, and hauling itself back from the gloom. "Steven, I... No. No, wait a minute. I... didn't I... You're supposed to be--"
"Here we go again." Jack gave the slumped figure a jerk, in the hope of either silencing him, or tugging him back to proper wakefulness. At least then he could bear his own weight. Charles mumbled something indistinct, then stumbled, and with an almighty tug, tore himself free. Caught off guard, Jack went for his gun, but before he could reach it, Charles hurled himself back at his two captors, with a bellow of pure, blind rage. Steven let out a cry of surprise, slipped, collided with Jack, and together all three of them crashed into the outer wall. Its tough, unyielding stone gave no quarter, and they rebounded in a confused mass, crashing instead to the floor. Predictably it gave way, and with a terrible rending of wood, clattered in pieces to the floor below, its human cargo with it. Once again, the clouds of damp dust rose and settled, and once again the shouts of the police showed that the chase had been renewed. Somewhere in the midst of a pile of debris, Jack groaned and raised his head. Something was pinning him to the ground. Something warm and dusty and extremely familiar. A smile crawled across his face.
"Steven... ordinarily I rather enjoy being underneath you. But right now..."
"Point taken." Something stirred, and mumbled, and rolled to one side - not that there was much of a side to roll to in these cramped tunnels. "Bloody hell. The police can't have missed all that."
"Probably thought it was outside. Or... hell, I don't know." Jack sat up, wishing for a new head. "If I've ruined my coat, I'll turn the pair of you in. I only have a limited supply of these things, you know."
"So get a personal tailor." Steven made it to his feet. "The torch is broken."
"Wonderful." Jack flipped open the cover of his wrist computer, giving them a small, bright blue glow. It didn't illuminate much, but it was better than total blackness. "Where's Charles?"
"I think this is him over here." Steven knelt beside his brother. "He's not moving."
"Well don't move him, then." Jack gave the still figure a quick scan. "Nothing broken. Well, nothing you'll damage by picking him up, anyway. Where's that torch?"
"Here. And still broken." Steven handed it over, without the faintest idea why his companion might want it. "Library. Right?"
"Unless you can think of anything better?"
"No. I doubt we could find our way to one of the outside exits through these tunnels. Not without killing ourselves. And they're blocked off anyway."
"Yeah. Remind me to go thank your ancestors for that one day." Managing to hook one of Charles's arms around his neck again, Jack settled the extra weight as comfortably as he could. "Okay. Where is the library, then?"
"Not far. That was a quite a shortcut we just took." Steven staggered along, limping quite badly now. "Think I broke a bone in my foot." Jack grinned.
"It is just like our first time." He manoeuvred about, trying to take the greater part of Charles's weight. "Can you hear anything from the police?"
"Nothing too definite. Murmurs. They're shouting, though, that's why we can hear them. I doubt they'll be able to hear us talking."
"You forgetting our little demolition job back there? Forget who can or can't hear us. Just get us out of here before they get in. This is no place for a confrontation."
"Just up ahead. I've totally lost my sense of direction in here, but it must be up ahead. I just need to find out how to open the wall."
"That'd be a help."
"Take Charles. Hang on." Disappearing out of the wristband's tiny field of light, Steven thumped and thudded around on the floor. "If it's bricked up, we're probably screwed."
"Think positive." Jack shifted Charles's weight again, uncomfortable now. The air was increasingly damp and unpleasant in the tunnel, and he could feel that the floor here was just as feeble as the one above. It moved slightly as he did, and the sound of much scurrying underfoot told him that the tunnel's other occupants had about as much faith in it as he did. Another almighty crash and the police were sure to realise what was going on; if they hadn't already. They were hardly stupid.
"It's here, Jack. If I can just..." There was more scuffling, but human this time, rather than rodent. "I've found the handle, but it won't move. I think my mother must have had something done to the spring that operates the mechanism."
"Let me take a look." Lowering Charles to the floor, Jack crouched down beside Steven, wishing for a better light. With a bit more time, he could repair the torch. It wasn't of human design, and didn't rely on fragile bulbs and batteries. For now, though, his priority was getting out of this cramped and awkward place.
"The catch is here." Steven took his hands, guiding them to the spot. "In theory, you pull it up, rather like a handbrake. It won't move, though."
"Oh for a sonic screwdriver." Jack gave a low laugh. "And to think I once thought that was a rubbish idea."
"A what?" Steven frowned at him, face dark and blue in the bad light from the tiny computer. "Who'd make a screwdriver sonic? What--"
"Never mind." Jack gave the handle a tug, and felt its determined immovability. "You got your penknife?"
"Yes. Here." Steven dug out the tool, and Jack used it to scrape the rotting wood away from the catch. Underneath was a spring, and a series of small cogs. Somebody had jammed a long metal bar through the middle of it all.
"Not subtle, your mother." Jack lay down, reaching for the bar. Rats scurried past, and one bit hard at his hand. He winced, but kept pushing. Finally, when he was more or less buried up to his shoulder in mildew, dust, and other things that he didn't much want to think about, his fingers closed at last around the bar. He tugged. Predictably, it refused to move. He tugged again. One of these days, he was really going to have to think about trying to build himself a sonic screwdriver. Or a sonic pipe wrench. Hell, a sonic toothpick would be better than nothing. Something else bit his hand, and he felt blood run down his fingers. Terrific.
"There are passages here!" The voice rang out above them, loud in the narrow space, the holes in the floor making the noise carry further. Jack groped all the more desperately. There would be torches next. Bright beams of light sweeping the place. In their dark-coloured clothing, with all this dust and rubble, they might not be seen - but he didn't really believe that they wouldn't be. The way his luck was going just now, they'd be seen straight away, and probably by police marksmen. His fingers slipped off the metal bar, and he swore, very rudely, in Venusian. It was a good language for swearing in; guttural and harsh and staccato; a language for being angry in. Beside him, rather unexpectedly, Steven stifled a giggle.
"What's so funny?" He dared not speak too loudly, having just heard how sound travelled in here. The police were on their way now, he knew. In no time at all they would be discovered, and he had no idea what would happen then. He would get out of it all easily enough; that would be no problem. He couldn't work the same magic for Steven, though. There had been guns, and robberies, and there would be questions and trouble - and could the psi-field hold out against all those policemen, all looking for evidence? Looking for stolen tools and a generator, and anything else that might have been taken? And then what might happen? Half the Cardiff police force, face to face with a purple and silver spaceship hidden in a garage. He didn't know if they would believe in what it was, though he was sure enough that some of them would. He only knew that he didn't want them to find it, and he didn't want Steven locked away. Gwen probably felt that he should be. Jack, however - Jack's eyes saw everything from an entirely different angle. He had to get the stupid fool thief out of here, as soon as possible; and yet here was the stupid fool thief laughing at him for trying.
"Sorry." Steven looked contrite. "I just love it when you swear in alien languages. It's cute."
"What makes you think I was swearing?" His fingers slipped again, and he refrained from spitting out another alien curse. Steven smirked.
"I may not have your... talent with alien tongues... but I know a swear word when I hear it. And I've heard some fascinating ones from you in the past." He grinned. "I'd make a cunning linguist joke, but I'm guessing I wouldn't be the first."
"You wouldn't even be the first to guess you're not the first." Jack smiled faintly, and his hand sought the metal bar again. Cobwebs caught in his fingers.
"You're hot when you're under pressure," Steven told him. It was Jack's turn to laugh.
"You do pick your moments."
"Says the guy who seduced me in the middle of a police raid, with an unconscious bounty hunter tied up under the bed."
"I seduced you?" Finally he seemed to have a good grip on the bar. He tugged harder this time. Something moved. Up above him, somebody was shouting about footprints in the dust. Steven smirked.
"I was innocent until you came along. You do so much seducing, you don't even notice you're doing it."
"You could have something there." A light blinked into being far above. Jack saw it shine. Next to him, as though reacting to the sudden, distant glow, Charles stirred. Jack pulled harder. The torchlight swept nearer. Charles mumbled something indistinct, and his hands twitched. Rats squeaked, startled by the light; for a second, Jack could see the metal bar more clearly; could see his hand gripping it, and the wrist band above the hand, and the gleam of a tiny aeroplane-shaped cufflink above that. He could even see the blood on his fingers, and the puncture mark that had caused it. Any second, somebody was going to see him, too. He tugged again - and with a short, harsh clunk, the metal bar came free, the catch swung up, and a section of the wall slid away. Steven was tumbling through, and Jack was scrambling after him, and they were both tugging at Charles - and then they were through, and the tunnel was bright with light; and they knew that they had escaped once again.
They allowed themselves roughly half a second to sprawl on the floor of the library cupboard, before Steven pushed the secret wall shut, and Jack jammed the mechanism again with the bar. The library seemed deserted, so Jack ventured out into it, tearing down several curtain cords with which to tie up Charles. Steven gagged him with the least oily part of a very oily rag he had found in a pocket, then they left him shut in the cupboard, and turned their attention to the library door. It had a keyhole, but there was no key in evidence. Jack considered dragging furniture across it instead, but didn't want to risk making too much noise.
"I'd suggest making a run for it, but I can hear voices," he said. Steven came to stand next to him.
"Making a run for it with Charles? That'd be fun."
"I like a challenge." They smiled at each other, then Steven shrugged, and gestured around.
"There'll be a key here somewhere. My father was the Paranoia King, remember? Where would you be, if you were a key?"
"Desk drawer?" There was no desk. "Hook on the wall?" There didn't appear to be one of those, either. "Maybe we should just hide. If they find the door's locked, they'll know we're in here anyway."
"We need to talk, Jack. We can't do that if we have to keep hiding." Steven had begun to look on the bookshelves, which, given the nature of the room, was likely to take him a long time. "Can you hear anything?"
"Just those few voices down the corridor. I think they're in the stairwell. The others are probably investigating the tunnels by now."
"Great." Steven winced. "I hope there's nothing too incriminating in there."
"More family secrets?"
"Precisely. Old rivals buried in the plaster. Well, you never know." He sighed. "I can't see a damned thing."
"Sorry." Jack began to fiddle with the torch, trying to figure out what had stopped it from working. It was supposed to draw its power from its user, and theoretically could last forever. "So much for 'guaranteed shock proof'."
"Where'd you buy it?"
"I didn't. Found it in the wreckage of a spaceship in Pembrokeshire." He gave the thing a shake. "You'd think if it could survive being smashed into a hill at several hundred miles an hour, it could cope with being dropped on the floor."
"That's technology for you." Steven looked up suddenly. "Jack, you're a genius."
"I know." Jack ceased fiddling with the torch momentarily. "Why am I a genius today?"
"Technology. And bloody annoying technology at that." He whistled softly, and from across the room came an answering beep. He grinned, though Jack could barely see it. "See? Doesn't have to be alien to be hi-tech. And aggravating. Now I just have to track the blasted thing." He set off across the dark room, tripping over occasional obstacles, and periodically whistling. By the time he returned, the key in his hand, Jack was half convinced that his friend had hurt his head in the fall.
"There." The lock clicked into place, and Jack's torch clicked into life a second later. Steven pulled the curtains closed, and Jack kept the beam directed at the ground. With luck nobody outside would notice the light. Not that luck was in particularly great supply at the moment.
"Safe," said Steven. Jack nodded, looking around the room. Huge cases of books, clearly all ancient, lined the walls. This didn't seem like a library that was ever used - more a museum to the ancient treasures of an old family. He rather liked it. As a time agent he he had always had a fondness for history, and living through some of it had only reinforced that. Besides, there was something about huge old libraries that reminded him of the TARDIS - and that was always good.
"So now what?" he asked, sitting down on the arm of a large, overstuffed armchair. It had a definite fifties air about it, and looked as though it hadn't been dusted since then, either. Steven was silent for a moment.
"Room to breathe," he said. "Space. Hopefully a bit of time. You know what I want." Jack's grin was predictably lascivious, and Steven smirked, going over to sit down on the armchair. "I don't mean that. Exactly. I want to talk." One hand trailed up Jack's spine. "About Charles."
"You need to work on your seduction. The request comes after the playing nice bit is finished, not before it's hardly got started." Jack caught the hand that had been on his back. "He's a murderer."
"Then hand him over to the police."
"You don't know how complicated that is. How do I explain to them that the body of his victim is in pieces at my place, instead of waiting for their experts to dig it up? Look, there's stuff I can't tell you... and stuff I sure as hell can't tell them. You just have to trust me on this."
"I don't want you taking his memories. He's my twin. We've never got along as well as I'd have liked, but that doesn't mean that I want you messing about with his head like that. You could do more damage than good. Far more damage. He can't heal if--"
"If he doesn't know he's done anything wrong. Yeah, so you said." Jack let go of Steven's hand, and it wrapped itself around his. "This is so much easier with strangers."
"Steal memories a lot, do you?"
"I don't 'steal' memories. I hide them, for everybody's good. There's things that people can't know. I don't make these decisions lightly. It's not like I think it's fun."
"Let me take him with me."
"You chose to go into space, Steven. He hasn't. It could be a worse sentence than any prison term. I've been marooned on planets, you know. One particular planet, for a long time."
"He might come back. I'm not going to keep him prisoner - just help him to heal. There's people out there who can really help him. You know that. And think of everything he can see. Puts everything into perspective, all that space, all those stars. I know I can make things right."
"And if he just tries to kill you again? You haven't seen him in a long time. Do you really know what sort of a man he is?"
"Yes, I think I do." Steven smiled faintly. "He's a bit of a creep, truth be told. Always has been. But he's not so different from me, you know. I'm no angel, and you know it."
"You're not a murderer."
"I've killed. I've killed a lot of people. Oh, I always felt that I needed to at the time, but we both know that it wasn't always necessary. Think about the people that you've killed, and tell me that they all deserved it. I won't judge my brother, Jack. I suppose my sense of morality isn't quite the same as most people's; but all Charles wanted was the inheritance. He'd never have killed that person, whoever they were, if our father had divided the money equally between us, like he should have done. That doesn't make Charles any different to half of the people I know. Out there, I mean, where the laws are different."
"That's quite a speech."
"And one that makes sense. Jack, please."
"Maybe." He gave the hand a gentle squeeze, and summoned a hesitant smile. "Maybe. I've gotta think."
"I will. You wouldn't be taking on an easy case, though, you know. He needs a doctor. I'm not worried about his shoulder, but his head is a different matter."
"I know. He's a mess. Seeing that I was alive really shook him up, didn't it." Steven looked guilty. "He must have been terrified. And what did we do? Dropped him through a floor, and threw half a house on top of him. And don't laugh."
"I'm not laughing at him getting a house dropped on top of him. Honest." Jack couldn't fight the grin that threatened to take over his face, and didn't bother to try. "I'm laughing at you, being so worried. I'm not usually this nice to people who try to kill me."
"Yeah, but you're not as nice as me." Steven leaned back, and with a quick pull of his hand, toppled Jack off the chair arm and onto his lap. "I'm a paragon of virtue, me."
"A paragon, huh?"
"Yep. Not entirely sure what one is, but whatever it is, I'm it."
"It's from the Greek. Something about rocks." Jack smirked. "Also means a perfect diamond, bigger than 100 carats."
"You would know that." Steven smiled. "I like the idea of being a priceless diamond. I think I'll stick with being a paragon."
"Good. Virtue makes me nervous." Jack stretched. "We should get up. This place is still crawling with police officers. They're gonna find us if we just sit here."
"I could teleport Charles out, and then come back for you, I guess." Steven's arms had entangled themselves quite satisfyingly around Jack, and were reluctant to let go. "It's not much good for repeated use, though. Takes a while to recharge."
"Machadi technology." Jack sounded like a man who was too comfortable to be properly scathing. "They're so laid back it hurts. Don't even have a word in their language for urgency."
"Really. Best they've got is something kinda like 'hurry along please'." He thought of the Machadi refugee currently living in Cardiff Bay, and winced. "Poor sods. They didn't stand a chance when the invasion began." Steven's hand brushed affectionately across his hair, and he smiled faintly. "So what's the timeframe?"
"I could transport myself there and back pretty quickly, but with Charles as well I'd probably be looking at five to ten minutes or more before I could come back for you. I don't like the idea of leaving you alone here like that."
"The police can't do anything to me, even if they do get in."
"Maybe. Even so, I don't like running out on you. We could--"
"Fly out the window?"
"Maybe get out through the passages, I was going to say."
"They're blocked off, remember? They're also a deathtrap, and full of cops. And we can't move all that fast with Charles to think about."
"We're not leaving him behind."
"Did I say that? Hell, the whole point of this little adventure was to get him."
"And suck his brains out, yeah."
Jack sighed. "I think this is where I came in." He clambered off the chair, extricating himself from the tangle of Steven's arms. "Maybe you'd better just take Charles and get back to the Hub. I'll follow in my own time."
"Jack..." Steven went after him, across to the window, reaching out to hold the other man's shoulders. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean..."
"Didn't mean what? I have to make decisions, Steven - and you don't know the half of them. You don't have a clue what I have to deal with every day. You think I want to have to worry about your brother on top of everything else?"
"I'm sorry. Just don't expect me not to be interested in his welfare. I don't care how cracked or evil you think he is. I just-- Oh, to hell with it." He stopped whatever argument had had been about to make, and instead turned Jack to face him. He had expected resistance - he wasn't nearly strong enough to make the other man do something that he didn't want to do. Maybe Jack was caught off guard, or maybe he wasn't as annoyed as he had appeared - at any rate he spun on demand, winding up almost nose to nose with Steven, and half-tangled in a curtain. They kissed, and Jack started to laugh.
"Do I taste as dusty as you do?"
"Probably. The cobwebs add something, don't you think?"
"It's different, that's for sure." They returned their attention to each other, until the tangled curtain became an irritation that they both had to fight to escape from. This time it was Steven's turn to laugh.
"Ever get the feeling the universe is trying to tell you something?
"It might have a point." Half out of breath, Jack shook off the last of the curtain's embrace. "This might not be the best time to start making out."
"Do mine ears deceive me? Is Jack Harkness suddenly worried about the proper time and place?"
"Hell no." He got a particularly enthusiastic kiss to prove it, Jack's relentless energy, as ever, a pleasant surprise. "But I keep thinking that I hear policemen in the walls. And we've got your brother tied up in the closet..."
"Screw my--" Steven broke off. "Actually, please don't." They were backed up against a shelf now, fumbling like adolescents, hot and bothered and energised. Jack giggled slightly at Steven's comment, and Steven smirked.
"If you're going to try arguing against us doing this right now, don't giggle. You know I can't resist it when you do that."
"I don't know what you mean." The bookcase that they were wedged against wobbled as they moved, and Steven laughed.
"The house doesn't believe you. It thinks you're taking advantage of me."
"Maybe it's jealous." Had he not had his hands full at that moment, Jack might have give a wall or a shelf a friendly pat. He felt Steven's smirk against his own.
"I know your reputation, Jack, but if you think you're getting me into a threesome with a house..."
"Remind me to tell you about Arbutron one day." He had to break off momentarily, as Steven made it impossible for him to talk. "They live in bio-domes. Semi... semi-telepathic... What was I talking about?"
"Shagging houses, I think." Steven switched them around, so that Jack was pushed up hard against the bookcase. It wobbled again, and a dusty brass ornament fell with a clatter onto the floorboards.
"I don't think so. Oh yeah. Arbutron. Semi-telepathic bio-domes. They communicate with each other. Transmit emotion. They're... a close knit community on Arbutron. Not big on privacy."
"If somebody else is having some fun, so are you." Jack started to laugh again, Steven with him. "Ow. Damn it, this bookcase doesn't like me."
"There's a perfectly nice chair over there. And a number of nice... thick... rugs in the middle of the... the floor."
"Uh huh. We really ought... to be thinking about... about getting out, though."
"I know. But I'm supposed to be the level-headed one, and I can't drag myself away, so hard luck." Steven pulled him over towards the chair. "Thick doors, remember. "Who's going to hear?"
"When did I ever give a damn about people hearing?" They tripped over the edge of a rug, nearly ending up on the floor. "Might be kinda compromising, though, doing an emergency teleport back to the Hub right in the middle of things." His words made them both start to laugh again, and Steven, who was trying to lead, stumbled. They fell against the armchair, and Jack grunted in pain. At the same moment, somebody tried the handle of the door. Caught off guard like a pair of teenagers caught by a parent, Jack and Steven looked immediately towards the sound. They couldn't hear anything else, but it was obvious what was going on in the corridor just now. Moments later there was a heavy banging on the door.
"Damn." Jack sat down on the arm of the chair. Steven swore rather more eloquently.
"How did they know? We didn't leave a crack in the curtains, did we?"
"Probably torchlight showing under the door. Or maybe they were just checking all the rooms again anyway. Does it matter?"
"They won't get in easily." Steven's hand trailed up Jack's spine again, but Jack shook his head.
"And hurry things? If you're gonna do something, do it properly." He smirked. "Sex under siege is an artform, you know." He pulled Steven's head down for a quick kiss. "Come on."
"Where? Out the window?"
"With Charles? Hardly. We're getting him out the closet, and you're getting him out of here."
"Not without you."
"Right, fine. So we let him teleport himself, do we? That'll work. You can go retrieve his atoms from all over South Wales as soon as we can shake the police."
"Go." Jack crossed to the cupboard door, hauling it open. Trussed up inside, Charles blinked out at him. Maybe it was the darkness and the confinement, but his eyes looked a little clearer now, as though he were regaining some control. Jack pulled him to his feet, and manoeuvred him out of the door. Over to his left, the banging on the door had redoubled. He could hear Kathy Swanson's voice now, yelling for those inside to open the door. She called out his name too, though he was more or less certain that that was through pure guesswork rather than knowledge of his presence. Steve raised an eyebrow.
"They like you."
"First rule of residency. Always make friends with the local law enforcement agency. Or if that fails, make 'em hate you. At least then you won't be bored."
"What'll they do to you if they get in?"
"Nothing. They can't. They'll glare, I'll smile, they'll get really angry and leave. They might arrest me, if they're feeling lucky. Seriously, though, they can't touch me. Now get out of here."
"I'll see you back at the Hub then. If you're really sure?"
"I'm sure. And no you won't." Jack leant Charles up against the wall, then gave Steven a long, hard kiss. "Get him to your ship. You ready for take off?"
"If the generator did its job, yeah. There are some checks still, but I can do most of them in orbit, if I really have to."
"How long until you can take off?"
"Check the power levels, get the generator unplugged if it's all okay... say five minutes maybe. But Jack--"
"Forget it." Jack had one hand hooked around the back of Steven's head, and he drew them both in for another kiss - a softer, more lingering one this time. "Just don't leave it too long before you come back. We have some serious unfinished business."
"Tell me about it." The thundering on the door increased in volume. "Oh, somebody tell them to bugger off for heaven's sakes. Jack..."
"Go. Before I change my mind."
"Your job. Your friends. I--"
"It's not exactly the usual kind of employment. And the others'll roll their eyes and wonder what makes me tick. So what else is new. Just go, Steven. Quickly."
"You could come."
"I don't think so. That ship of yours is crowded for two, let alone three. And I don't think Charlie here would appreciate our in-flight entertainment." Something heavy thudded against the door, and he winced. "Go on. I don't want them wrecking this place. Promise you'll visit, and I'll see that it's looked after. Now for goodness sakes, will you get out of here!"
"We're going." Steven went over to Charles, putting an arm around his shoulders, and holding him tight. "And I will visit. I promise."
"And if you see me up there..."
"Yeah, I know. Never mention anything we've done together unless you mention it first. It'd make life a lot easier if you'd live your life in a straight line, you know."
Jack grinned. "Can't do that. Too easy to get caught. Take care, Steven."
"Always." Steven tightened his grip on Charles, who was currently eyeing him extremely oddly. Great. It struck him that there were going to have to be a hell of a lot of explanations in the near future. What fun. "Be seeing you."
"I'll be waiting." He raised a hand in farewell, just as the familiar shine of a teleport beam drowned out the torch, for a moment lighting up much of the room. Before it all faded from view, Steven caught a last glimpse of Jack - a vision in blue, standing in the middle of the room. With anybody else, such a glow of light might have seemed angelic. Not with Jack. His eyes glinted bluer than ever, and his teeth gleamed in a brighter than usual version of the Harkness Grin. Steven smiled at the sight. It was a good image to take with him on what could well be the toughest flight of his life.
After the others had gone, Jack waited for some time, listening to the pounding on the door; before finally he took pity both on it and on the police. He turned the big old key as quietly as he could, purely so as to catch the police by surprise when he swung the door open wide.
"Hi." There were half a dozen of them out there, two covered in cobwebs. Since they matched his own decorations, he didn't have to wonder how they had come by them. Six pairs of eyes blinked back at him, only one set not showing surprise. That set, and the person behind them, were rewarded with the grin that annoyed as often as it delighted. With her, he suspected that it was almost exclusively the former. "Kathy. Hi."
"Harkness. I knew you were here. I bloody knew it." She stalked into the room, looking left and right. "Where is he?"
"Who?" He smiled at all and sundry, the picture of one who was eager to help. She glared.
"Steven or Charles, or whoever he is. He was here with you, wasn't he."
"No, sorry. I'm alone." He gave a little shrug. "Got a tip that those stolen goods of yours were hidden here, but there's nothing in the house. Must be outside."
"There's nothing out there. We've looked." Her voice showed a controlled fury, though he suspected that it wouldn't stay controlled for long if he pushed her. He was almost tempted to try. In the meantime he maintained the affable smile in the face of her ferocious expression. Somebody turned on the light, and the angry gleam in her eyes brightened accordingly.
"I'm having you for this, Harkness." Her anger was already showing signs of bursting forth. A good hundred and one decidedly risqué ripostes leapt into life in Jack's head, but he fought the urge to pick one, and let his smile drift away. Around them, policemen were coming into the room, searching it, examining the huge cupboard, failing to discover the mechanism for the secret passage. They tugged back the curtains, too, clearly checking that there was nobody hiding behind them. The windows looked right towards the outhouse where even now Steven should be disconnecting the stolen generator, running his pre-flight checks, and preparing to taxi out into the great outdoors. With the lights on in the library, though, the dark world outside was invisible.
"You're barking up the wrong tree, Kathy." Voice gentle, and low enough to avoid its being heard by the other officers, Jack let her see that his expression was genuine. The teasing and the amusement with which he usually greeted her were gone. "Whatever you think is going on here - it isn't."
"But I only seem to have your word on that." Her frown deepened. "Okay. So what is going on? You can't claim that I'm wrong, and then not elaborate. The rest of them, they just accept it. They think that 'Torchwood' is explanation enough for anything. Not me. Tell me what this is about."
"You must know that I can't do that." For a second she thought that there was a sadness in his eyes, as though he genuinely would like to take her into his confidence. She frowned at that. What did he know? If it was sadness, though, it didn't last long. The glint of humour was back almost straight away, and with it the early dawn of yet another grin. She scowled.
"Secrets. Your secrets are going to undermine us all, Harkness. Torchwood has already put innocent people in danger - killed innocent people. And you seem to be involved more and more often with my cases. I am going to find out what it's all about."
"Maybe." It sounded almost like a dare; almost as though he wanted her to keep pushing. Her eyes narrowed at that, and she was about to query it; about to ask him if it was some kind of challenge; when she saw him look suddenly towards the window. What it was that she saw on his face, she was never entirely sure; never certain what exactly had alerted her and how. She knew only that there was something out there that he was looking towards. Something that was invisible in the blackness that lay beyond the windows. She swore, causing him to look back towards her, eyebrows raised.
"Language, detective." It was the mild scold of a teacher or a father, and it was the last trigger for Swanson. Her exasperation leapt forth in a rush, and she ran for the light switch. Doused in blackness, the other police officers present shouted out in annoyance, but she ignored them, pushing past them, racing to the nearest window. It was still too dark to see much, but there was something out there now. Some faint glow of light that illuminated something. Something purple? Something... she couldn't see for certain, but whatever it was, it was beginning to move. Her first thought was that it was a car, and she fumbled with the window, wrenching it up to shout out to any of her colleagues who might still be left outside. The words never left her mouth. With a howl such as nothing she had ever heard before, something streaked upwards into the sky, leaving a shower of lights and tiny stars in its wake. Her eyesight blurred, and she rubbed at her eyes in annoyance, the brightness of the light show imprinted on her retina. Somewhere, far up in the sky, she could just make out something - something purple? - moving further and further away. Only then did she remember the car; but when she looked back for it, it had gone.
"It's a nice night." Jack had followed her to the window, and stood beside her now. So did most of her colleagues, alerted either by her fight with the window, or perhaps by the light show. She looked across at him.
"What the hell was that thing?"
He shrugged. "Meteorite? Been a lot of them lately."
"I may be no astronomer, 'captain', but I do know that meteorites tend to travel in the other direction. They go down. That went up."
"True." He smiled. "But then they all have to start somewhere, don't they. You know, I think if you go down there, to where that little black car is parked, you'll find those stolen goods you were so worried about. Just a theory."
"I told you, we already looked outside. There's nothing." He didn't answer. He wasn't even looking at her now, and didn't seem to be hearing her either. Instead he was staring up at the dark night sky, with what could almost have been a wistful expression on his face. He smiled suddenly, though, and glanced back.
"You don't look hard enough, that's your trouble. I told you I'd had a tip off, didn't I?"
"You seem to be dating the thief, Harkness. I don't know if that counts as a tip off or pillow talk."
"Call it both. Still, it's your career. If you don't want to listen..."
"I have got no reason to trust you."
"No reason at all." He was grinning again, and even though the only light left in the room came from the corridor outside, and the almost forgotten torch in his hand, she could see his face clearly. The glint of the eyes, the gleam of the smile, the hint of so much mystery it drove her mad. "Little black car," he told her. "Put her back in the garage when you've finished. She's a classic."
"Little black car, huh." She didn't know why she was even listening, but she turned to look anyway, the move instinctive. It was too dark to see, of course, from all this way away. She couldn't see anything that might be a car - not anymore. "Where exactly-?" But even before she turned back from the window, she knew that he had gone.
It was a long walk back along the drive. Jack hadn't given much thought to what he was going to do when he got to the end of it, but he wasn't very surprised to see the SUV waiting for him outside the gate. Gwen opened the door as he came near.
"Busy night?" she asked. He smiled.
"It's been interesting."
"It looks it. Are those cobwebs?"
"Yeah. Just a few." He shook his head when she offered him the driving seat, instead climbing into the passenger's side. "They've gone," he said, in answer to her unasked question. "Both of them."
"I wondered about the fireworks." She seemed about to say something else, but didn't, instead turning on the engine.
"I don't know if it was the right thing to do," he told her, apparently mirroring her thoughts in his own. "But it's done."
"You think it's safe, sending your old friend off into space with some murderous brother breathing down his neck?" It didn't sound safe to her; but she had long ago learned that Jack had a different concept of safety.
"Steven will be alright." Jack was staring out of the window, and Gwen reached out to him, putting one hand on his arm. The move seemed to surprise him.
"You okay?" she asked. He smiled faintly.
"Yeah. Just thinking."
"I thought you said he'd be okay?"
"He will be. But don't you get it, Gwen? Charles has gone with him. That means two of them out there. Two of them who could be having kids one day." She understood now, and he saw it in her eyes.
"So the person that Charles killed...?"
"Could have been his own son, yeah. Or grandson. Same difference." He heaved a sigh, and flopped back in the seat. "Tosh never called. She get a result on the DNA test?"
"Yes. Close match, she said. But then you were expecting that, weren't you."
"You could say that." He stared bleakly out of the windscreen, then gestured after a moment to the controls. "Come on. Get us out of here. I want to go get cleaned up."
"Are you wishing you'd said something now?"
"To Steven? No. What if I'd told them, and they decided not to have kids? Think what that would do to the timeline. Knowledge of the future is a curse, Gwen. Didn't I tell you that once before? And it's a curse we keep to ourselves. One day, however many years from now, one of them is going to have a child. I'm as sure of that as anything. And that child, or maybe its own, is going to get the idea of visiting the old family home. I'd go, if it was me. Seeing where we'd come from. Maybe try to see it before it got run down, or before it changed hands? And whoever that kid is, they're going to wind up on our table, with Owen trying to fit all their pieces back together." He shrugged. "Nothing we can do about that. In a sense it's already happened."
"But his own son..."
"It's done now." He shot her a sharp look. "We're not responsible. Charles is."
"I know." She started up the engine, reversing the SUV out onto the quiet road. "That doesn't exactly help."
"It's not meant to." He sighed. "He's going to figure it out one day, too; you can count on it. When whichever kid it is doesn't come home, and questions get asked and answered, he's finally going to work out who it is that he killed; and his mind's going to shatter into more pieces than it's in now. Maybe that's poetic justice. I don't know."
"Neither do I." She glanced across at him, fighting the urge to reach over and brush away some of the cobwebs. He looked so young sitting there, his mind far away in dark places. "You need a change of scenery, Jack," she told him, wanting to help in the best way she could. "Soon as you've cleaned up a bit, we should all go out for a meal somewhere. Rhys is working late tonight, so I'm in no hurry. Cheer us all up a bit. Our time travelling corpse has put everybody in a bit of an odd mood."
"Yeah, maybe." The idea of going out as a group did appeal. They made a rowdy group; or three of them did. Tosh laughed at all the jokes, but hung back from joining in with the noise and the story-telling. Ianto, too, kept a lower profile; a gentleman out dining with the rabble. They were a good bunch to be with. He nodded, decided. "Okay, Gwen Cooper. Put your foot down. I'm hungry."
"Sure?" He hadn't looked, moments before, as though he was in the right frame of mind for a night entertaining the troops. He smiled.
"I'm sure. You lot choose the place, and I'm there. Just as long as I can get rid of the cobwebs. I gotta reputation to live up to, you know." He tried to look at himself in the rear-view mirror, a strange image doused in plaster dust and other debris. Gwen smiled to herself and sped up a little, far too conscious of the law, always, to go as fast as the others so often did.
"I know all about your reputation," she told him, "and I can't see cobwebs damaging it. Not unless... There aren't any giant, intelligent spiders out there anywhere, are there?"
"Oh yes." His expression was pure innocence. "Boy can they hug."
"You are joking...?" She glanced across at him, but he seemed absorbed now in the road ahead, thinking thoughts that were unknown to her. If he was joking, there was no means of knowing it. With Captain Jack, that was so often the way.
Jack disappeared into his office as soon as they got back to the Hub, leaving Gwen to bring the others up to date, as far as she was able. If anybody was surprised that he had let both twins leave, they didn't show it, at least not openly. If anything, Owen seemed amused by the notion of escaping capture by blasting off into space. Eventually, leaving him and Tosh arguing over where they most wanted to eat, Gwen went in search of Jack, anxious to make sure that he really was in the mood for one of their inevitably raucous nights out. She heard laughing as she approached the office, which at least dispelled some of her doubts; and going inside, found Jack just climbing out of his underfloor quarters.
"What's going on?" she asked. Negotiating the ladder one-handed, he was apparently eyeing himself somewhat critically in a handheld mirror. Ianto, nearby, was as ever tidying things up.
"Don't ask," her young countryman told her, his expression suggesting that, whatever it was, he had heard it before. Probably more than once. Jack made as though to throw the mirror at him.
"You're a hard man, Ianto. You have a heart of steel."
"No sir, I have a sense of proportion." Ianto set aside a dustpan, which appeared to be full of debris that he had just brushed off Jack's coat. "You know, I did suggest wearing a tie..."
"You do enough tie-wearing for the both of us." Jack flashed a sudden grin, and flipped Ianto's sombre black tie out of alignment, before vanishing back down the ladder again. His voice floated up from below. "And you look cute doing it, even if you are heartless and cruel."
"Thank you. I think." Straightening the tie again, the young Welshman flashed a half smile at Gwen. "He'll be ready in a few minutes."
"Oh, there's no rush." She had hardly been expecting Jack to hurry, and certainly hadn't been expecting to find him in such apparently high spirits. It was proof, perhaps, that there was no tonic quite like the company of friends. "Is there any particular reason why you're heartless and cruel, or shouldn't I ask that either?"
"I think it's because I've never been a poster boy." Ianto's voice suggested that this was an old joke, which made Gwen feel oddly like an outsider. "I don't understand about fragile egos."
"Poster boy...?" She glanced towards Jack, who was climbing up the ladder again, the mirror still in one hand, his gunbelt in the other. "You were a poster boy?"
"Oh, don't encourage him, please. Not if you want to eat tonight." Ianto eyed Jack critically. "And do you really need a gun to go to a restaurant?"
"Always be ready, Ianto." For a second there was real seriousness in the blue eyes; a flash of the soldier beneath the jokes; a flash of the man still grappling with everything he had learned that day. Then he smiled again. "And yes, I was a poster boy."
"Although for some reason the where, when and why changes every time you tell the story." Ianto took the mirror so that Jack could fasten the gunbelt. "And if you're going to make me suffer through it again, you're the one who's heartless and cruel."
"You see what I have to put up with?" Jack took his coat off its hook, and shrugged it on. "Makes me shower alone, and then mocks me in my moment of pain."
"Moment of...?" She was floundering now. Jack nodded, and gestured to the top of his head.
"Grey hairs," he said, in a tone of voice that suggested this should explain all. "Two of them. See?"
"Grey hairs?" She peered at his head, just to show willing. "Oh yes. Two whole grey hairs. It's not like you're going to get many more, though, is it. Unless we stress you out that much."
"You lot stress me out all the time." He sighed theatrically, ignoring an eyeroll from Ianto. "Just as well Steven didn't notice, or I'd never hear the end of it. Honestly, if somebody puts your life on an eternal reset, they could at least have the decency to do it before you start going grey. I keep pulling them out, but they keep growing back."
"They home," piped up Ianto. Jack glared at him.
"See what I mean?" he growled. "Heartless. And cruel." Gwen had to laugh.
"I'm sorry Jack. I love you, really, but you can be... how do I put it... a little vain at times." She reached out suddenly, ruffling the spiky hair, and losing the stray grey hairs beneath the brown. "Come on. The others will be wondering where you are."
"Have they decided where we're eating yet?" asked Ianto. Gwen smiled at the implication that the other two were arguing about that.
"Not unless they've had a breakthrough since I came in here, no. Tosh wants Italian. Owen wants Thai."
"So split the difference, and go for something from the Middle East." Apparently now content with his appearance, Jack headed for the door. "What do you fancy, Ianto? Second thoughts, don't answer that in polite company."
"I resent that, sir." Ianto quite clearly didn't. "It's a nice night, though. We should eat outside."
"We are not having chips on the pier again. Not for a while, at least." Gwen held open the door. "We nearly caused a riot last time. Nice though it is to taser the local skinheads, we can't go doing it every night."
"It was kinda fun," commented Jack, leading the way to where the others were waiting. Tosh glanced up from the computer magazine that she was holding.
"That's as may be." Gwen jerked a thumb at Jack. "All this time, you'd think he'd know that not everybody likes being flirted with."
"Oh, everybody likes being flirted with." Jack flashed her a decidedly lascivious grin. "It's just that not everybody wants to admit it. So, do we know where we're eating?"
"We thought sushi?" Tosh set aside her magazine. "I quite fancy the food, and Owen fancies the waitress who served us last time. So we found something to agree on."
"Fine by me." All swirling coat and gleaming, cobweb-free shoes, Jack led the way to the door. "So are we going, or would you all rather sit here and see if the sushi place delivers? 'Cause it doesn't."
"Well, I..." Owen gestured towards the autopsy area. "The body's still down there. Shouldn't we--"
"He's not going anywhere." For a moment the reflective look was back in Jack's eyes, but it was gone soon enough. "I'll take care of him later. Don't let it spoil the night."
"Sure?" asked Tosh. "I could do it if you'd rather." He smiled at her.
"I'm sure. I figure he's my responsibility anyway, one way or another. Now come on. I got the feeling we're gonna be getting a lot of phone calls from the local police sooner or later, so someplace else is gonna be a good place to be."
"Sounds like good thinking to me." Owen grabbed his coat. "Although I don't think not answering the phone is going to make them piss off. Especially that Swanson woman."
"You got a point there." Jack sounded spectacularly unconcerned. At some point he had managed to put one arm around Ianto and another around Gwen, and they looked, thought Tosh, as she followed on in their wake, like a very unconventional threesome. Owen snorted.
"You three want to be alone?"
"You wanna stay the night, Owen?" Jack glanced back over his shoulder, as ever not missing a beat. "Maybe we could teach you something." The young doctor's expression was priceless, and Gwen and Tosh shared a smile.
"Some of us are actually hungry, you know." Nipping neatly into the lead, Tosh hid her own smile from Owen. "For food. Honestly, at times it's like being stuck in a schoolyard."
"You must have gone to a more interesting school than me," Owen told her, as he followed on after. "We didn't have a secret underground schoolyard with a pterodactyl in it. Or if we did, nobody told me."
"That'll be because it was secret," observed Ianto. Owen opened his mouth to reply to that, but clearly couldn't think of a suitable riposte. He muttered something rude in the end, and stalked off out of the door. Behind him, arms still comfortably full, Jack just grinned.
And far, far up above them, a small purple and silver spaceship left orbit, setting off on its journey into space - whilst alone in a garden in Cardiff, Detective Kathy Swanson sat in a small, black, vintage car, and pondered the scorch marks that had blackened the grass nearby. Something was going on, and she knew it. She just hadn't worked out yet what it was - but she would. And leaning back in the car seat, listening to her colleagues manhandle the stolen generator out of an outbuilding that they would all have sworn had been empty before, she stared up at the skies.
And thought, dreamily, of meteorites.