Title: Pathfinder

Author: Aeshna

Spoilers: TW Children of Earth; DW 4.12 The Stolen Earth and 4.13 Journey's End

Disclaimer: Not mine, no matter how many DVDs and toys I buy! Everything here belongs to RTD and to Auntie Beeb, who already has my licence fee.

Notes: Because I love Gwen as a character and I'm really looking forward to seeing where things go next. Gwenwood? Bring it on! :) Thanks as always to Mimarie for sterling beta work - any remaining weirdnesses are all mine. Feedback of any variety is much appreciated but not compulsory - I'll post anyway! I've suffered for my art, now it's your turn....

She could do this.

Gwen Cooper stood at the edge of the crater that had once been Roald Dahl Plass and took a deep breath. The day was bright and the breeze cool, with grey-backed gulls crying and circling high overhead, their angular wings sharply silhouetted against clear blue. The rubble-strewn chasm beneath her was deep, its broken shadows hiding secrets that she could barely bring herself to contemplate, but for now the Rift was quiet, even the Weevils keeping to their haunts and hollows, and there was time to retreat, to regroup and rebuild, to work out what, if anything, would come next.

The entire Bay area had been cordoned off while the surrounding structures were checked for stability, for safety in the aftermath of the explosion, and where Gwen now stood was in a cordon within the cordon, high barriers barring the more civilian contractors from entry. There'd be a lightweight roof in place before the end of the week, allowing them to finally relax the no-fly zone, but for now she could still see the sky, could see the sun flashing off the bronzed carapace of the Millennium Centre, the bright gleam belying the fact that the building might yet need to be demolished.

It wasn't alone in having had its foundations fractured.

Gwen shook her head, suddenly angry at herself for the thought. She could do this. She had to.

She had, after all, done this before.

Of course, the last time Jack had pulled a vanishing act, she'd had the rest of the team - argumentative and awkward and desperately dear - around her and the full resources of the Hub at her fingertips. Her role had been new but the road had been familiar, and it had simply been a case of keeping things moving, of keeping Jack's seat warm for his return....

But Jack had been seeking answers then, trying to make sense of his improbable nature. Now... now he was running, wounded and hurting and desperate, and she was the only one left to carry on. This time, there were no fond and familiar faces, was no Hub, and the road ahead was nothing but uncharted wilderness.

She sighed, wondering when she had signed up to be such an explorer. She had little to work with but a hole in the ground, a population on the edge of hysteria, a government in crisis, and a group of disparate newcomers who might one day form the core of something viable but who, for now, were still adjusting to one another and the world they found themselves in. She had Rhys's support this time, of course, carried his love within her just as she carried his child... and a part of her couldn't help but wonder if it might not be time to surrender gracefully, to step back into what passed for normal life and leave the mysteries of the universe to UNIT and -

Gwen snorted. UNIT, who had purposely set a nuclear suicide switch for the planet and been fully prepared to use it? Even the 456's demands paled to insignificance beside that.

No. There would be no surrender, graceful or otherwise, to UNIT or the government or anyone else. Torchwood was hers now, and - for now, at least - she was Torchwood. She was the last of them, the end of a line that stretched back for over a century, a long succession of too-brief lives defined by this place and its myriad secrets. Jack would return when he was good and ready, but she couldn't wait for him. He had done his part, guided them this far.

What came next was up to her.

Gwen raised her face to the sky, feeling the warmth of the sun against her cheek. Perhaps it was time for the Institute to step out of the shadows and into the light, to finally take its place in a world now fearfully accepting that it was not alone in the universe. It wouldn't be easy, no, but she had the makings of a good team and a political leadership with a very vested interest in keeping Torchwood on-side. What had been lost could be rebuilt, as it had been so many times before in the Institute's history, and with Whitehall's support there was no longer any need to hide beneath the Bay... although she was already determined that Cardiff would remain her base of operations. With carefully-forged links to academia and the military, open recruitment, and controlled access to what remained of the archives, they might just be able to work around the absence of Jack and his eclectic knowledge....

It wasn't what had gone before, was more than a little terrifying to contemplate. But it was hardly the first time that she had taken a step out into the unknown.

Gwen smiled sadly to herself and turned away from the gaping hole that had once been the Hub, a wound that might yet birth something new and vital. Something that, one day perhaps, she could introduce Jack to, bring him into her fold as he had once brought her into his. Perhaps it might even be enough to make him want to stay.

Yes, she decided, she could do this.

And she would.

~ fin ~