Atonement

by Soledad

Author's notes: For disclaimer, rating, etc. see the Introduction.

Warning: There are some disturbing images in the third part of this chapter.


Chapter 10 – Back to the Fold

In a different district of Cardiff, the immortal man known as Captain Jack Harkness (and also under half a dozen different names, most of them too exotic for mere 21st century humans to pronounce) was standing on his favourite rooftop, looking down on the sleeping city beneath. His city. The one he'd chosen to protect, to return to after the Year That Never Was – the year that had changed his life profoundly.

Few people could have stood so calmly on the edge of a twenty-storey-deep abyss in such strong wind without becoming dangerously dizzy. Fortunately for him, mankind had long bred vertigo and similar weaknesses out of the human gene pool by the time of his birth – a time far in the future for the people he lived and worked with.

In fact, he liked to stand there, high above the city, the safety of which had been his responsibility for quite a few years. It helped him to think when he got closer the stars that had once – in what counted as the past in his personal timeline – been his home.

Now, home meant this insignificant little planet on the outskirts of the Galaxy, in the suburb of the great stellar cities. A pathetic neighbourhood, really; but it had Cardiff, it had the Hub and, most importantly, it had Ianto. He knew he couldn't leave Earth as long as Ianto was alive and he sometimes caught himself praying to the various deities in whose existence he didn't really believe to let his stay on Earth be a long one.

Ianto had touched his heart in ways few other people ever had.

Which was why he hated when Ianto was angry with him – like now. Angry enough to ban him from the Hub, which rarely happened. When it happened, though, it was enough for him to re-evaluate his own behaviour… no matter how reluctantly.

That was the reason why he was standing on the rooftop, soul-searching: to figure out for himself why exactly was he so mad at Adam – had been from the moment the young man's identity had been revealed.

Was he angry on the Doctor's behalf? Because Adam had disappointed the Time Lord? Or was it jealousy, because the Doctor had taken the young man with them, while he'd have let him blow up with that bomb over London if not for Rose? Not to mention leaving him behind on the Game Station, after he'd sacrificed himself to make their plan possible?

Why did it matter so much that the Doctor had been disappointed? He sure as hell had been unnecessarily cruel to Adam who, while definitely a git, wasn't truly evil. Why was he, Jack, still blaming Adam for disappointing the Doctor, while he wasn't blaming the Doctor for leaving the young man behind with a piece of highly advanced technology in his head that could have gotten him sliced and diced in some secret government lab and thrown over the balance of power all over the planet?

And it had been the ninth Doctor, too, not the recent one with the regeneration that, in Tosh's opinion, had gone wrong!

Perhaps Ianto had been right. Perhaps he'd looked at the Doctor through rose-tinted glasses, holding onto an ideal that had never been the real thing. Jack sighed and began to descend from his rooftop. He needed to speak with Ianto. Not at the moment, of course; he was forbidden to return to the Hub and Ianto could be very creative when it came to retaliation. But first thing in the morning.


The flat of Maggie Hopley – that was the suicidal blonde's name, according to the name shield on her door – was nothing Adam had expected. He'd thought it would be a cosy, girly place, with an abundance of family photos, cushions, plush animals and other knick-knacks, all kept in soft colours… instead, it was an almost shockingly bleak flat with stark white walls everywhere and almost empty.

The only thing breaking the strong monotony was a framed picture of a laughing man on the mantelpiece… the same man as on the folded photo Adam had found on the street.

"That's Brian," Maggie said in a flat, emotionless voice, heavy with old pain. "Today's my wedding anniversary," she looked at Adam with dry, haunted eyes. "My perfect day..."

"What happened?" Adam asked quietly. He could guess that it had been something bad, but perhaps she'd want to talk about it.

"Road accident," she replied, closing her eyes as if trying to chase away the images burned onto her retina forever. "On our way from the church to our honeymoon. We'd been married less than an hour. I was picking confetti out of my hair when it happened. In the next moment, I was climbing out of the overturned car, my wedding dress full of blood and Brian… Brian was dead."

"Shit," Adam muttered uncomfortably, not really knowing what to say. "I'm…"

Maggie waved off his awkward attempt to comfort her. "Sorry, yeah. I know. Helps me a fat lot, doesn't it?"

"Not really," Adam admitted. "And you've waited until your wedding anniversary to kill yourself? Why?"

Maggie shrugged. "Does it matter?"

"Perhaps not," Adam allowed. "I'm just curious. Why have you waited?"

Maggie now turned around to look at him directly.

"Cos I believe people," she said, her voice harsh with pain. "I-I believe them when they said it would get better. So, what do you think? Do you – do you really think it's going to get any better?"

For a while Adam remained silent, realising with a certain amount of shame that his problems were manageable compared with Maggie's loss. Sure, he had to be on constant alert, like some haunted best, but at least he hadn't lost anyone dear to his heart.

Or hasn't he? Had his Mum washing her hands on him not something akin? Well, at least she was still alive; even though she'd proved not to be the Mum he thought he'd known all his life. Besides, killing oneself over a loss, no matter how tragic it might be, seemed way too irreversible to him.

Maggie, however, appeared to see it differently. She took the framed photo of her late husband from the mantelpiece and looked at it forlornly. "What do I do now?"

Adam hesitated a bit before answering because who was he to give this broken girl any advice? His own record of right decisions was woefully short, to be honest.

"Obviously, I can't tell you what to do," he finally said. "But you've got a choice. If you think your life as it's now is too much to bear, then go for it. But if you think there might be a chance; that there might be some hope, just a little joy that makes your life worth living, then you should reconsider. Even if it's only having a cigarette, or that first sip of hot tea on a cold morning, if there's even a tiny glimmer of light then you should take that chance. Cos once you've done that final jump, you will be gone. And it will be too late to change your mind on your way down."

Maggie remained quiet for a while, thinking about his words. Then her glance fell onto his – well, Andy's – backpack and her eyes widened in surprise.

"Your backpack… it's glowing from the inside!"

Adam turned around and saw the light seeping through the thick canvas of the bag. He swore under his breath, kneeled and opened it on the floor, taking out the Pulse. Bursts of ribbons of light continue to fluctuate out from the device – it was an awesome sight to behold.

"Dammit, it's loading up again," Adam started to panic in earnest. "How on Earth am I supposed to shut it down?"

Maggie came over to him and kneeled to look at the Pulse, enraptured by the unearthly light show.

"What is this?" she breathed, almost reverently.

"I haven't got the faintest," Adam confessed. "A piece of unknown technology Torchwood wanted me to get from Mr. Parker's house, as they thought it might e dangerous."

"Why? What does it do?" Maggie asked, reaching out tentatively to touch it.

"That's the problem… no-one has a clue," Adam replied, gently shoving her hands aside. "No, don't touch it! I was holding it in my hands when the energy build-up reached its peak and it transported me all the way here from the Parker residence."

"Transported?" Maggie repeated doubtfully. "Like in Star Trek or what?"

"As I said: we don't bloody know!" Adam replied. "Torchwood intended to study it, find out what makes it tick, and then shut it away safely."

"Won't they be looking for you then?" Maggie asked.

Adam laughed bitterly. "Oh, they will. And now that this… this thing has started giving off energy again, they'll easily be able to locate me," he sighed. "I should go. I don't want you to get in trouble because me. They can be ruthless."

"I know,' Maggie said calmly. "My uncle used to work for Torchwood Three– until 2000, when his boss killed the whole team – including himself."

"His boss?" Adam shivered. "You mean Captain Harkness?"

He already knew that before Ianto Captain Harkness had been the Torchwood leader, although no-one cared to tell him why and when the change in power had happened.

Maggie shook her head. "Nah, it was some bloke called Alex Hopkins."

"How comes that Captain Harkness survived then?" Adam asked in suspicion.

"I don't know and I don't really care," Maggie replied with a shrug. "My Mum never told me much about Aunt Madelyn – or about Torchwood. Perhaps she didn't know, either. You should ask Andy Davidson; he had an uncle in Torchwood, too, and he's even gone to work for them as far as I know."

"True," Adam said. "I've met him; he's a nice bloke."

"He won't help you to get away, though," Maggie warned. "He may be nice as a person, but he's still Torchwood. They don't let anyone just walk out on them."

"I know," Adam sighed. "Not with their memories intact, that is."

"What do you mean?" Maggie frowned.

"They've got this amnesia pill," Adam explained. "They give it to you, and you forget you've ever met them."

"Why didn't they make you forget?" Maggie asked logically.

Adam shrugged. "It wouldn't do me any good, with this thing still in my head. It's kinda hard to forget when it comes out every time someone clicks their fingers around me."

"Why don't they take it out then?"

Again, it was a logical question. Adam began to understand that Maggie was an intelligent woman, death wish notwithstanding.

"They can't," he replied. "Not without causing me serious brain damage. They don't know how to."

"They weren't the ones who put it in your head?"

Maggie's surprise was understandable. Given her very sporadic knowledge about Torchwood, it would have been a logical assumption.

Adam shook his head. "No; it was a… a different organisation. It didn't even happen here."

Maggie's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Are you a spy or whatnot?"

"Nah," Adam's short laughter lacked any true amazement. "Just stupid. A bit greedy, too, perhaps. Let's just say that I got more than I'd bargained for and now I have to live with the consequences."

"What is that thing in your head anyway?" Maggie asked.

"A very advanced computer interface," It was a gross simplification, of course, but as close to the truth as he could get without giving her any information she wouldn't be able to believe anyway.

Maggie nodded, accepting the half-truth – and why shouldn't she? New technology was coming out each day with a speed hat would have been unimaginable fifty or even twenty years ago.

"I bet the ones who put it in your head would want it back," she said with the certainty of one who'd seen lots of Johnny Mnemonic-style films.

Adam laughed humourlessly again.

"Nah; those guys don't care. But a lot of other organisations would happily dissect my head to see what makes it tick."

Maggie looked at him like someone who'd just had a lightbulb moment.

"Is that why you're with Torchwood?" she asked. "For protection?"

Adam nodded reluctantly. "Sort of; it wasn't exactly my idea. I was found by unit… in a place where I wasn't supposed to be – long story, it was another transporter accident. They called in Torchwood and Captain Harkness picked me up and brought me to Cardiff. They… umm… didn't ask if I actually wanted their protection."

"Be grateful that they didn't," Maggie said seriously. "Aunt Madelyn always said that UNIT was a hundred times worse than Torchwood."

"Was she supposed to tell you such things?" Adam asked in surprise.

Maggie grinned; a broad, honest grin, the first true one he'd seen on her face.

"Of course not," she said. "But I was a young girl with an avid interest in espionage films and nagged her all the time about Torchwood. So much that she sometimes slipped. Besides, it ain't so that Torchwood would be such a big secret. They've been around since the nineteenth century. People ought to have noticed them, even without those big, black cars with the Torchwood label on them."

"Yeah, the car with the huge label surprised me, too," Adam grinned back at her. "A bit obvious for a supposedly secret organisation."

"The worst-kept secret in Cardiff," Maggie agreed.

They were quiet for a moment. Then she started speaking again, choosing her words carefully.

"I don't want to tell you what to do or what to leave, but… if you ask me, I think you should go back to them. You aren't safe with that… that thing in your head, and you can't keep running on your own forever. You don't really have that many chances left, you know."

"I know," Adam sighed. "But they would think I'd run away from them. They would shut me away in one of those cells in the basement and never let me out again. I… I don't want to rot in a cell for the rest of my life."

"Would you prefer being dissected in a lab?" Maggie asked bluntly. "Besides, why wouldn't they believe you? You said this… this device," she waved in the direction of the Pulse that released another ribbon of light that floated and waved back and forth between them, "had transported you without your doing. They can check it and prove that is what it does, can't they?"

"Probably," Adam allowed. "But the truth is… I've sabotaged a little their computers, so that I could get away if I had to. And since I didn't get the chance to log in tonight, their tracking programme must have floored by now."

"Oh, man, that was a bit stupid," Maggie bit her lower lip, thinking frantically and coming up with nothing.

"Hey!" Adam protested, "I didn't know them. Couldn't be sure they won't take my head apart."

"What about now?" Maggie asked. "Can you be sure that they won't hurt you?"

Adam allowed himself some time to think about the question. He was fairly sure that Captain Harkness would happily skin him alive, and he didn't even want to consider what Toshiko would do to him for having messed up her precious Mainframe.

Fortunately for him, the final word was Ianto's to speak, and Ianto seemed a fairly reasonable bloke. Ianto would understand that the infospike in the wrong hands would be a hundred times worse than Adam's minor sabotage of the tracking system.

Hopefully.

That still didn't mean that Ianto wouldn't make him pay for it. Creatively. But in the end Ianto would believe that he hadn't planned to bolt – not yet anyway. If there was a tiny spark of hole that he wouldn't end up in a cell next to the Weevils for the rest of his life, that small hope lay entirely in Ianto's hands.

Besides, Adam admitted reluctantly, what other choice did he have? Even if he managed to get out of Cardiff as originally intended – which, knowing how Mainframe watched the entire CCTV system all the time seemed less and less likely by the minute – where was he supposed to go? He was out of time, an anomaly.

There was another, completely clueless him, working in the states for Mr. Van Statten. He could consider himself fortunate that his presence, the fact that he'd crossed his own timeline, hadn't called the Reapers to the battlefield. He had nowhere to go – nowhere but back to Torchwood, as Maggie had suggested.

Which reminded him that she was still waiting for his answer.

"I'm not sure," he confessed. "But you were right. I have nowhere else to go. As much as I hate being shut into that base of theirs, even the cells are safer for me than living on the streets."

Maggie nodded. "Exactly. Now, are you calling a taxi or are you calling them to pick you up?"

Adam laughed. It had a slightly hysterical overtone.

"You know what the funny thing is? I don't even have an address. Or a phone number."

"No worries," Maggie picked up her phone. "I do. Aunt Madelyn gave me this number shortly before her death… just in case."

She hit the speed dial and waited for somebody to answer the call.

"Captain Harkness? I'm the niece of one of your ex-colleagues, Dr. Madelyn Conwy. I think I have something here that belongs to you. You can fetch it any time you want – but I'd prefer if you did it sooner rather than later."


Jack had returned to his – formerly Owen's – penthouse in the early hour right before dawn. He felt tense and exhausted – and he missed Ianto. The young man had become his anchor to sanity ever since his return. He couldn't even sleep without Ianto anymore. Only Ianto's solid, warm presence in his bed could keep the violent nightmares at bay.

Most of the time, it wasn't even about sex. Surely, they both liked sex – which healthy guy in his best years didn't? – but most of all, Ianto provided him with a previously unknown feeling of safety. After what he'd gone through in The Year That Never Was, Jack found, to his surprise, that he craved being held and coddled like never before.

He relished in being taken care of. And, fortunately for him, Ianto had a strong need for taking care of other people.

Sometimes he wondered if their relationship was an abusive one. Whether he used Ianto's need to be needed – and that didn't simply mean coddling him. Ianto never hesitated to set him straight if he thought that was what Jack needed. Despite the enormous age difference and Jack's vast experience in life, Ianto often acted as his moral compass.

People would think it strange, but it wasn't – not really, Ianto, young, polite, unassuming, brilliant Ianto was so much stronger than most people would give him credit for. Even his terrible mistakes – the Cyberwoman, or his role in opening the Rift – had been born of the strong imperative of doing the right thing.

Even if he'd been mistaken about the nature of the right thing.

God, Jack wanted to latch onto him and never let go, but that just wasn't possible. Firstly because Ianto was his own person, not some extension of Jack's and wouldn't tolerate to be treated as one. Not any longer.

Secondly – and most importantly – because there were things no-one could change. Jack was immortal. Ianto was not. Sooner or later Jack would lose him and couldn't even kill himself if the loss became too much.

Not permanently, that is. Fate was utterly inexorable.

Had Rose – sweet, loving Rose… stupid, selfish Rose – really thought she'd saved him? That she'd given him life?

A lifelong sentence, more likely. One that would last forever.

His phone rang. He picked it up, hoping it would be Ianto calling, but the number displayed was unfamiliar.

He frowned. Who could they be and where did they have the emergency number of his phone?

Well, there was only one way to find out. He answered the call with in clipped tone.

"Torchwood."

"Captain Harkness?" the unfamiliar voice of a young woman asked. "I'm the niece of one of your ex-colleagues, Dr. Madelyn Conwy."

That name brought back a flood of memories in one violent rush. The festivities on the streets at New Year's Eve 1999. Returning to the Hub after having investigated the mass poisoning that had taken down eighteen people. Him joking about the unexpected nature of the Millennium Bug…

The dead silence that greeted him in the Hub. The dead man's body on the floor, right behind the entrance, with still fresh blood upon his skin from the bullet wound in the middle of his forehead but no pulse.

Their archivist, Meirion.

Next to him the woman, Dr. Conwy, Madelyn, bleeding from the gut, her chestnut hair had come free from the French knot on the nape of her neck, her lilac blouse and charcoal grey suit jacket soiled with blood. What a brilliant scientist she had been! Jack never knew she'd had any family… well, not beyond the existence of an estranged sister.

He certainly hadn't expected from him entrusting her niece – she must have been barely more than a child back then – with the emergency number. His emergency number. They'd never been close.

Alex Hopkins, sitting on a barrel, watching the countdown on the telly, clutching to that ominous silver locket. Babbling about the upcoming storm and how the twenty-first century would change everything, while the dead body of their medic was dangling from the second floor balcony.

Telling him how he'd killed everyone to spare them the horrors.

Apologising for not being able to do the same for Jack. Leaving Torchwood Three in Jack's care.

And then blowing his brain out, with Jack watching hopelessly. His blood splattering all over Jack's face, warm and sticky, with a coppery tang.

He could never get that smell out of his nose completely.

Jack shook his head, reminding himself that this was not the time for a horror trip into the past. The young woman who wasn't supposed to know this number at all wanted something from him.

"What can I do for you, miss?" he asked flatly.

If Madelyn had trusted the girl enough to give her his number, she must also have told her that it was for emergencies only.

"I think I have something here that belongs to you," the girl answered. "You can fetch it any time you want – but I'd prefer if you did it sooner rather than later."

Well, that could only be Adam. Or the Pulse. Or both. Torchwood Three hadn't misplaced anything else lately. Which meant he had to go and fetch it. Him. Them. Whatever

"Can you give me the address?" he asked.

There was a short, surprised pause ion the other end of the connection.

"Can't you guys track the phone calls?" the girl then asked.

"Under normal circumstances we can," he replied. "But I'm not at work right now."

With some reluctance, she gave him the address and Jack rode the lift down to the garage to fetch his car. Not the Torchwood SUV – his own black jeep that would draw less attention. Speed and secrecy were at issue here.


Maggie bridged over the time of waiting with putting on the kettle. Making tea was something… normal and comforting. Something she needed when she was about to confront the infamous Captain Harkness of Aunt Madelyn's stories.

"I'd love to offer you something else than just black tea," she said to Adam apologetically, "but the truth is, I haven't got anything else in the cupboard. I've cleared everything out before… well, you know. I don't like leaving a mess in my wake."

She cleaned out the cupboards, the fridge, the chest of drawers, the wardrobe… everything. She'd donated all her clothes, books and what little jewellery she had possessed to charity. She'd even quit the flat, effective from the next day. Only Brian's framed picture and the tea had got overlooked somehow.

Adam nodded, understanding what she meant.

"Do you still want to jump?" he asked.

Maggie didn't answer at once. Instead, she watched the Pulse for a while, which had blossomed to even more ribbons of light, all growing and twisting and curling like the tentacles of some living, albeit completely alien, creature.

It was a mesmerising sight.

"I don't know," she finally admitted. "I mean I was so sure before I'd run into you, you know? I've been preparing for this day for at least three months. Giving all my things away. Selling the car, quitting the flat, quitting my job. I wanted a clean cut. I wanted the pain to end."

She paused, her voice lowering to a murmur.

"But now… I'm no longer sure I still want to just give up. This thing," she waved in the direction of the Pulse, "it changed the way I was looking at the world. A world where such beauty exists… perhaps it's worth living in."

"I'm glad you reconsidered," Adam said simply. "Then my coming to Cardiff was good for something, after all."

"Meeting you has helped," Maggie admitted with a sad little smile. "I don't think I really want to jump any more. But what am I supposed to do with myself? I've burned all bridges behind me. I've got nothing left butt he clothes I'm wearing and half a package of cigarettes."

"Perhaps a change of scenery would help, then," a voice with an unmistakable American accent said.

They turned around and saw Captain Harkness' tall and broad figure filling the doorframe. How he'd got in was a question of some interest, as Maggie clearly remembered having locked the door behind them.

He was not alone, though, and the young blonde girl in the black leather jacket and military fatigues showed him a thin, pencil-like device triumphantly.

"Told you!" she said in a high-pitched voice, full of delight. "It's very good at opening doors!"

"I know that, Jenny," Captain Harkness said with a tolerant, almost paternal smile. "Your Dad used to have one of those, remember?"

"Yeah, but mine is prettier," the girl replied with child-like pride; then she spotted the Pulse and her jaw dropped in amazement. "Oh, my! If that isn't a Chimaeran scouting device!"

"A what?" Captain Harkness asked with a frown.

"Some kind of First Contact vessel," the girl explained. "The inhabitants of the Chimaeran system – it used to have four inhabited planets and a densely populated asteroid belt between them and the outer gas giants of the system, just like yours – never developed interstellar spaceflight. Instead, they sent out these probes into deep space, with a map of their system, pictures, images and voices, music… in the hope that other races, the ones with spacefaring capability, will visit them."

"I assume it worked, since you know about them," Captain Harkness said.

The girl nodded. "Yeah, my Dad visited their planet in the late 39th century… unfortunately, so did the Daleks, shortly after him. Such a crying shame; Chimaerans were a delightful people. Very fond of music and waterfalls."

"You mean they no longer exist?" Adam asked, saddened by the fact that the creators of the Pulse would be gone.

Jenny shrugged. "Strictly seen, they still do… and will continue to exist for the next eighteen centuries or so. Temporal mechanics are always tricky. I think this is what Dad calls a wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey…thing," she added thoughtfully.

"Is your Dad insane?" Maggie asked suspiciously, cos the whole conversation was getting a definite Monthy Python-like quality.

Jenny grinned. "Some people think so, yeah. But unlike them, he usually knows what he's talking about. Well… most of the time anyway."

"So this… this scouting device is basically the same thing the NASA used to send into space in the 1970s?" Captain Harkness asked. Jenny nodded. "What do you suggest we do with it? We can't allow it to broadcast all the time… or transport people spontaneously from one place to another. Sooner or later, the wrong people ought to take notice."

"Well, for starters we can shut it down," Jenny pointed her pencil-like silver tool at the Pulse.

The tip of the tool glowed blue and the light show of the Pulse gradually decreased to a faint golden glow. Jenny beamed happily.

"See? Easy-peasy. Now if we could install this into my ship, its energy could be rerouted to the engines, instead of just going off to space, and the Donna Noble could become spaceborne again."

"Excuse me?" Maggie interrupted. "Are you telling about spaceships? Real spaceships that can travel between the stars? And you having one? Are you sure your Dad is the only insane one in the family?"

Captain Harkness scowled at her – he seemed awfully protective of the girl – but Jenny clearly didn't take any offence.

"I know it's hard to believe," she said gently. "But I can assure you that yes, I do own a spaceship – although a small and currently wrecked one – in which I came to Earth rather accidentally a couple of months ago."

"Yeah, sure," Maggie said doubtfully. "So you're some sort of alien, right?"

"That I am," Jenny agreed with a wide smile.

Maggie shook her head. "You don't look like those Roswell guys."

"Not all differences are visible on the outside," Jenny replied simply.

Captain Harkness interrupted their banter with a rather unhappy scowl. "Jenny, you shouldn't tell people such things on a whim. We've talked about this. Repeatedly. The population of Earth isn't ready to accept the fact of extraterrestrial life, despite the numerous full-blown alien invasions especially Britain had suffered in the recent years."

"They will have to face the facts, sooner or later," Jenny said.

Captain Harkness nodded. "Sure. But it ain't your job to force them… unless you want to end up in an insane asylum. Or, what's worse, in some UNIT prison. Cost he people who know about alien life for a fact would go great lengths to keep it concealed."

His cold blue eyes turned to Maggie and his voice gained a somewhat ominous undertone.

"Which raises the question: whatever are we supposed to do with you, Ms Hopley? You seem to know things you ain't supposed to; and we can't afford the luxury of letting you babble about it to anyone."

~TBC~