Author's note: This takes place after "Journey's End", so SPOILER ALERT for that episode and for "The Stolen Earth". Please note that pizzas similar to the one described below really exist, and can be found on the menus of actual British pizzerias. Any readers who consume such pizzas without access to advanced alien medical technology do so at their own risk, and the author will not be held responsible for the consequences.
Their first meeting is at a private memorial service for Harriet Jones. The public ceremony is a State funeral, with all the attendant pomp and circumstance: horse-drawn cortege, Westminster Abbey, world leaders by the dozens and dignitaries by the hundreds. It seems fitting. Former Prime Minister Harriet Jones was not the only prominent person to die while fighting the Dalek invasion, but hers was the most recognizable face, and the most understandable role. She had operated the communications device that had summoned help from a "friendly alien species" – the official explanation, simplified but true – leading to the defeat of the Daleks and the return of Planet Earth.
Jack says simply, "She was ready when trouble came, she called for help, and she stayed at her post to the end. That was one classy lady." He raises a glass of whiskey from a bottle that has been sitting unopened in his room in the Hub for several decades. He's been saving it for a special occasion, and today certainly qualifies.
This memorial gathering is much smaller and much more exclusive. No heads of state, ambassadors, or generals here; no one whose name or face is known to the public, just a small group of people who helped to save the world. Again.
The group is incomplete, though it includes most of those who still reside in this universe. Martha, Jack, Gwen, Ianto, Mickey, Sarah Jane, and Luke are all there. The gathering is at Sarah Jane's. She's the only one of them who actually owns a house, and this is the easiest way for K-9 and Mr. Smith to be present. An invitation was sent to Wilf – for his own sake, as well as a sort of representative for Donna. No one is surprised that he turned it down. He's not ready yet.
Martha is the only one who knows that Jack used his superphone to leave a message for the Doctor. Neither of them expected the Time Lord to put in an appearance, but Jack felt it was important to give him the opportunity. "They didn't part on the best of terms," is Jack's understated summary of the Doctor's last conversation with Harriet. "On the Valiant, he used to tell me he regretted that." Later, when they all visit the grave together, they find a wreath of white flowers with a glorious, ethereal scent. Jack identifies them as stardust lilies from the planet Florana. The attached card contains a handwritten note in a geometric script that several of them recognize, and none of them can read. Ianto suggests taking it for the Torchwood archives. Jack gives him The Look, and Ianto's hand draws back as swiftly as if the small square of paper is lethal to touch. (When Jack's attention is diverted, Ianto snaps a picture of it with his phone camera.)
There are toasts to absent friends – both living and dead – and reminiscences. Mickey describes how Harriet ordered the missile strike on Downing Street when the old Doctor could not, and how she confronted the Sycorax on behalf of the human race. They fill in the gaps in each other's knowledge of the crisis. Gwen, Ianto, and Luke describe the tense hours of waiting on Earth; the others explain events aboard the Dalek Crucible.
The conversation turns to other, older adventures; some involving the Doctor, some not. As he expected, Jack does much of the talking. He's three times the age of the next-oldest person in the room, and he has a lot of stories to tell. Some of those stories are not his own, but ones that he heard from Rose and the Doctor. Gwen Cooper is amazed to learn why the Time Lord was interested in her family history. Martha avoids mentioning the Year That Never Was, but she has other tales, both sombre (Daleks in 1930s Manhattan) and humorous (flirting with William Shakespeare). Her anecdotes about UNIT – and Ianto's Torchwood stories – told in front of civilians with no security clearances, technically violate the Official Secrets Act so many times over that they would all have to be immortals to serve the minimum sentences.
When Sarah Jane starts reminiscing, Jack's jaw nearly hits the floor. He's hacked into the files concerning her former post with UNIT, knows that she had travelled with the Doctor in his third and fourth incarnations for a time period of more than four linear years, and that she has been in the middle of some major alien-contact crises. He's also heard Mickey's account of "the ex vs. the missus" squabble that happened at Deffry Vale School. My monsters are bigger and scarier than your monsters. None of it prepares him for the full story.
It takes a few hours and a few drinks. Normally, Sarah Jane is very restrained (setting a good example for Luke), but the past week has been anything but normal, even by her standards. After the third glass of Arexxian brandy, she explains her brief conversation with Davros. Jack blinks. She hasn't merely encountered Daleks twice before; she was on Skaro to witness their creation. She has visited Gallifrey, met Cybermen, Sontarans, and giant spiders; and survived an encounter with a vengeful Osiran god. Jack remembers his offhand, almost patronising, "Nice job with the Slitheen", and wonders if Ianto had slipped a stupid pill in his morning coffee that day. It is a terrible mistake to treat this woman as a well-meaning amateur, just because she dislikes guns and carries a sonic lipstick.
At some point in the evening, someone utters the cliché line, "We should do this again sometime." There are murmurs of agreement. It's Ianto – clever, practical Ianto – who points out that there are good reasons why they should do it again. "There aren't enough people trained in dealing with alien threats. In the last few years, it's not just UNIT and Torchwood that have suffered losses… most of the academic and technical experts in the field were done in by the Slitheen and the Sontarans." There are nods all around the room.
"Harriet knew that it was important for the Doctor's friends to be able to communicate with each other," Martha says.
Jack shrugs. "We've got the subwave network. It will take a little while to rebuild the hardware, but that's a small detail."
"It's not just the hardware, Jack," Gwen says. "We have to be able to work together, whether the Doctor shows up or not. That's another thing that Harriet was right about – he can't always be here. Big universe, this. I'm sure we're not the only planet he keeps an eye on."
"We're not – but Earth is special to him." Sarah Jane pitches her voice deeper and richer, with a posh accent. "It may be irrational of me, but human beings are quite my favourite species."
The post-invasion chaos is keeping them all busy, and it's over a month later before they can gather again, this time at Ianto's flat in Cardiff. Sarah Jane is leery about entering the Hub. "The meeting will come to order," Jack intones with mock solemnity.
"Disorder, more likely," Sarah Jane mutters. "I don't think we need Robert's Rules, Jack. We're not a real organization."
"Yeah. Don't even have a name," Mickey points out.
Gwen looks thoughtful. "Harriet Jones called us 'the Doctor's secret army'".
"A bit Harry Potter, that," Ianto says, wrinkling his nose. "Like Dumbledore's Army."
"No armies, thank you very much," Sarah Jane replies crisply, with a sidelong glance at Luke.
Jack smiles at her. "I don't have a phoenix on hand, but we could be the Order of the Pterodactyl." His smile broadens, and his eyes are bright with mischief. "When are you going to visit the Hub and see my pterodactyl, Sarah Jane Smith?"
Luke is thrilled. "You have a real pterodactyl? Mum, can we—"
Sarah is not amused. "You fight dirty, Captain Harkness."
He tilts his chair back against the wall, as comfortable as a cat on a sunny windowsill. "Whatever it takes to accomplish the goal. Learned that lesson a long time before I met the Doctor."
"And what did you learn from him?"
It's an honest question, not an attack, so Jack gazes into the middle distance, giving the question the time and thought it deserves. Finally, his blue eyes meet her brown ones, and he says, "Trust. I learned how to trust. And you?"
"Everything ends. Everything has its time… but until that time, you never give up. Never give up fighting or hoping."
Jack nods. The next voice surprises him.
"Improvise. If you don't know what to do, fake it until an opportunity comes along." Ianto smiles apologetically. "I was working at Torchwood One in London on that day. I was only an archivist, so I never got near him. That probably saved my life." His mouth twitches. "Later, when I could bear to watch, I went through the security camera footage. I wanted to understand, especially when I found out…" He gestures vaguely at Jack. "Anyway. The Doctor didn't know in advance about Torchwood. He was a prisoner the moment he walked out of the TARDIS. He had no weapons, only that harmless sonic screwdriver device—" Jack grins, but says nothing. "—and Yvonne Hartmann was clever and ruthless. He should have been… well, not helpless, but much more confused. He didn't even have a plan."
"Mate, don't you know? The Doctor's most dangerous when he's got no plan," Mickey says.
Ianto nods. "Sorry to keep blabbing on. I know I'm not really a member of the club. It's not as though I've ever been in the TARDIS, or met the Doctor in person—"
Sarah Jane waves his excuses away. "Liz Shaw – she was in UNIT a few years before me – never set foot in the TARDIS. The Doctor was in exile, and the Time Lords had blocked his knowledge of time travel."
"Not everyone who gets on board is worth the oxygen they use. There was a guy before me," Jack says, "who nearly got Rose killed. Tried to phone home with future information, so he could get rich quick." He shakes his head, amazed. "He was actually alive and breathing when the Doctor took him home."
Mickey is smiling to himself. Rose told him about Adam the stupid git during the long hours of waiting aboard the crazy ship with the fireplace. Made him realize that there were worse things to be than a tin dog.
"Anyway," Sarah Jane says firmly, grabbing back control of the conversation, "the Doctor never forgets anyone who helps him, Ianto. He's going to remember you as… 'that clever lad from Cardiff who operated the Rift Manipulator, and helped tow the Earth back home.' Trust me, he regards you as a real member of the club."
Jack grins. "A card-carrying member of the Order of the Pterodactyl."
"We haven't got cards," Mickey says, just as Sarah Jane protests, "We are not calling ourselves that silly name."
"Do we even need a name?" Gwen asks. "Just to have some chats?"
Luke speaks up for the first time since the discussion began. "What about 'Friends of the Doctor'?"
Jack shakes his head. "Sorry, kid. That sounds like some kind of twelve-step group, or a bunch of soppy protesters. Not my style at all."
"The Children of Time." Everyone turns to look at Martha. "That's what Dalek Caan called us in his prophecy."
Jack is incredulous. "Martha, do you really want to take a name from something a Dalek said?"
"Wasn't exactly an ordinary Dalek," Mickey points out. "He was on our side. Helped us to sort out Davros."
"Okay, so he was a crazy Dalek. Is that supposed to make it better?"
"Dalek Caan was a soothsayer," Sarah Jane says softly, as if thinking aloud, "which is a fancy word for 'teller of truth'. Truth is important, wherever it comes from, whoever speaks it."
"I second the motion." Ianto looks surprised at his own daring.
Jack shrugs. "All in favour?" There is a chorus of ayes. "The motion passes. The Children of Time. CoT for short. Next on the agenda?"
The discussion is brief but spirited, since they are a group of strong-willed, intelligent people with firm opinions. But they also understand the importance of teamwork, and eventually, a compromise is reached: three pizzas. One plain. One mushroom. One "breakfast special" with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, egg, bacon, chives, Cumberland sausage, and sliced black pudding.
The next meeting of COT is via subwave. The Londoners are in Sarah Jane's house; the Cardiff contingent are in the Hub. Wilf is with the London group. He chats happily with the others, though he barely knows them. "The thing is, if you try to talk to somebody about aliens, half the time it turns out they're a nutter, and half the time, they think you're a nutter. I was that chuffed when my Donna started to show an interest." He pauses just for a split second, then carries on. "Sylvia tried to say that it would have been better if Donna had never met him, but I told her to hush up. I said, where would you or I be – not to mention the rest of the Earth – if our Donna hadn't been there to help the Doctor."
Martha smiles. "Quite right."
The evening's topic is "So, you've got a new Time Lord". Mickey starts out with a mock-erudite lecture that sounds like a cross between Monty Python and a presenter on a dog training show, before leading a serious discussion of regeneration crises. Sarah Jane adds what little she remembers about the fourth regeneration, but most of the talking is done by the team of Jones & Jones (doctor and archivist). Mickey adds vivid anecdotes about long hours spent with a Time Lord who was alternately comatose and manic before saving the world in his jammies. Jack makes sure that everyone is aware of the benefits of a nice cuppa, and the deadly perils of aspirin.
They settle on Saturday evenings as the regular COT meeting time. The following week, Jack's subject is "Between a Time Lord and a hard place". They talk about the difficulty of dealing with Earth authorities on the one hand; and on the other, an alien who recognizes no higher authority than his own moral code.
"You have to remember, even when his own Time Lord government still existed, he usually ignored or even defied them." Sarah Jane says. She pauses, remembering. "Although he was rather respectful when Rassilon spoke to him." There is a another pause in the conversation as Jack attempts to recover from nearly inhaling half a pint of beer.
Martha adds, "And then there's the joy of trying to convince elderly generals that the daft-sounding man who looks to be half their age really is a 900-year-old alien with an IQ in the millions. They know it, but they have always seem to have trouble believing it."
"How did he ever manage to stay with UNIT so long, back in the 70s and 80s?" Gwen wants to know.
Sarah Jane replies, "It helped that the Doctor and the Brigadier respected each other. They were good friends, though I don't think they'd have used that word." By now, the other Children of Time know that when Sarah Jane says 'The Brigadier' with no surname attached, she means Lethbridge-Stewart, aka 'The Definite Article'. "Besides, he didn't have much of a choice. The Time Lords left him stranded. UNIT gave him a place to stay, assistants to bring him tea and sympathy, a way to help people, and a secure spot to keep the TARDIS."
"And it kept him safe – though he probably didn't realize it," Ianto adds. "I know from the records that there was a lot of manoeuvring for control of the Doctor between UNIT and Torchwood."
Jack snorts. "There used to be a recording in the archives of a conversation between Lethbridge-Stewart and a former Torchwood director. The Director tried to tell the Brigadier that it was his duty to Queen and Country to turn the 'enemy alien' over to Torchwood."
Sarah's expression says that she would have given a million pounds to have overheard that discussion.
"What did the Brigadier say?"
"After he stopped cursing a blue streak?" Jack intercepts Sarah's startled glance. "Sarah, the Brig's old-school – an officer and a gentleman would never use foul language around a lady, but he swears just like any other soldier when it's only the boys around. He pointed out that first, as a member of UNIT, his chain of command ended in Geneva, not London; second, that whatever misconceptions Queen Victoria might have held, Her current Majesty was well aware of the Doctor's contributions to the defence of her realm; and third, if the Director didn't shut his fat gob, he might find himself trying to pick his teeth off the floor… after pulling his head out of his ass." Jack grins. "That last bit is a paraphrase. The actual dialog was a bit longer and much more colourful."
And so it continues, week after week. Some meetings last until late in the night. Some meetings are hardly more than ten-minute roll calls, with some how-are-yous tossed in. Not everyone can be there every week, even with the subwave. Sometimes they quarrel – usually one on one, but occasionally it's a team sport, a verbal rugby scrum.
They don't do anything, other than talk. Despite the brief invocation of Robert's rules at the second meeting, COT has no defined purpose. Or maybe it would be better to say that they know intuitively what its purpose is, and what it is not. It is not meant to duplicate the work of UNIT, Torchwood, and S.J. Smith & Co., Ltd. It is meant only to keep the Doctor's friends ready to help him and each other when needed.
The need comes sooner than expected. On a dreary Tuesday in November, the subwave signal chimes. The signal comes from Mickey. He doesn't wait for greetings. "Have you seen this?" In his hand is a folded newspaper. A quarter-page advertisement on an inner page screams, "We know who stole our planet… but who brought it back?" Beside a blurry photo of a Dalek is a large red question mark. The text below promises an answer to the question in the Sunday edition.
"You're worried about that?" Jack scoffs. "That kind of nonsense has been all over the Internet since the day after we got back. Every looney tune on the planet has a theory about the 'friendly alien species' that saved us from the Daleks."
"This is different," Mickey insists. "First of all, the article is gonna be written by Gareth Linton. People listen to him. But the worst thing is, he's got a real source – some bloke who was on the Valiant when the Master died. He remembers the Doctor. And word is, he has photos, too."
"People won't believe it," Sarah Jane says, but her voice lacks conviction.
"Will it matter… if they do believe it?" Ianto wants to know. "I'm sure the Doctor would hate the fuss, the publicity, but it couldn't hurt him, could it?"
Wilf mutters a short, vicious phrase that makes Sarah Jane glad that Luke is still in school. "Never mind him. What about my Donna? What's it going to do to her if she sees a picture of the Doctor? She won't read the newspaper, but by Monday morning, it'll be all over the telly and the Internet, and all her girlfriends will be chattering about it." He adds, in a voice that is a shrill parody, "Ooo, he isn't half cute, this Doctor. Says here he's the 'Saviour of the Earth', He can save me any time, is what I say.' If she sees that, she's gonna remember."
Gwen's pale face has gone a shade whiter. "And if she remembers, she'll die."