Jack waited while Sarah unlocked her front door. There was nothing else he could do. She had all the answers he needed, and she would reveal them in her own time. Shouting and threatening wouldn’t get him anywhere, as tempting as it was.
She paused, then turned to the robot with a stern voice and pointed finger. “Guard.”
The squared little head bobbed. “Affirmative, Mistress.” And then the dog trundled off. Satisfied, Sarah went in, holding the door for Jack.
Her apartment was a small ground floor flat in one of the older Tudor style buildings that tended to house university students with more modest means. Jack had expected it to be sparse and transitory looking, but apparently Sarah knew how to make herself at home wherever she went. There were fresh flowers in the living room, the sofa draped with a cozy looking knitted afghan, the coffee and end tables stacked with magazines and newspapers and the occasional forgotten mug. The place smelled like tea and ginger and Sarah’s soft perfume. It was…comforting.
She bypassed the couch and went straight to the cluttered desk, pulling out from beneath it a silver security case. Dialing in the combination, she popped the latches and opened it, pulling out several thick manila files. “How much do you know about the origins of Torchwood?”
Circling the sofa, he came over to join her. “What does that—”
The document she slid across the table to him was a printout of an old, handwritten manuscript, the tiny script barely legible until one word popped out at him. Doctor.
“Last night’s experiences have left me haunted,” the stilted text read. “The Doctor has shown me a future filled with primitive, untamed women and horrors beyond even my worst imaginings. I no longer fear the thought of invasion from other countries. How can that matter, when there are other worlds out there that would devour us all, regardless of creed or nationality? What options are there for us? How do I protect my country and my people? That is what I need to know.”
“I knew he knew her, of course,” she said quietly as though not to intrude on his reading. “I just hadn’t realized he’d gotten her wind up. Although, it probably shouldn’t surprise me. He can’t seem to help challenging authority.” She drew out another document and offered it to him. “Sometimes I wish he could.”
“Read it. Article 9.”
Her tone was so stark, so out of character with the normally warm, engaging woman he knew that he couldn’t help studying her. She simply crossed her arms over her chest, her mouth tight and unforgiving as she waited. Finally, he surrendered and read the paragraph.
And read it again.
Then he turned the page over.
“Where did you get this?” It had to be a fraud. She was trying to pull something on him, she had to be.
“Out of the Torchwood databanks the day I arrived. It’s why I came, Jack.”
“This can’t be right. This—”
She snatched the paper from him and began reading aloud. “Article Nine,” she recited, flat and monotone. “Being acknowledged that the entity or personage known as the Doctor is not only the herald of such alien incursions but also our greatest resource in dealing with them, all efforts are to be taken to secure his capture and direct his abilities into Torchwood’s research and activities using any means necessary.”
“That’s ridiculous. I don’t know where you got that from, but that’s not what we’re doing.”
“Any means, Jack. Any. Don’t you understand?” With an anger he somehow knew wasn’t focused at him, she snatched another page from the file and shoved it at him. “You’re a means to an end, Captain.”
The photograph was achingly familiar, a half forgotten memory after all this time brought to vivid life with the reminder. Even in the grainy, colorless picture, his mind filled in the riot of hues in Rose’s scarf, the scent of old leather off the Doctor, the gentle touch of Cardiff air on his skin for the very first time. He let his fingers drift over the image, burning them into his memory.
“Didn’t you ever wonder?” Despite her obvious disbelief, her words weren’t harsh now. “Torchwood One had five hundred employees and the biggest office building in all of London, while here you are, five people in a hole in the ground. Even after the battle, no one was relocated here, and you received no new directives to take up any of the policing work being done by the London office. And you never asked why?”
“I didn’t think…”
“Who pays your salaries, Jack? Who’s paying to keep the lights on? Do you even know?”
His hands fell, but still he couldn’t let go of the picture. So much had happened, so much had been done, and he’d been so focused on his own concerns, he’d been blind to all of it. “No,” he admitted finally, his voice rough.
She seemed to realize she was getting through to him. “I’m sorry, Jack. They’ve given you enough gadgets and purpose and your very own pet dinosaur so that you don’t notice, none of you, that it’s not a job. It’s a prison. A very specialized concentration camp where you all hold the keys and don’t even realize it.”
“And the others are trapped in here with me.”
“Not necessarily. They’ve all seen things that made them need watching, too. Suzie, Owen. Toshiko’s actually met the Doctor, although I doubt she realizes.”
He closed his eyes, feeling the pain of his responsibility in this. “And Ianto?”
Her understanding made the words even harder to hear. “Was one of Yvonne Hartman’s golden children. He was put here to be her eyes and ears. But then she died in the battle, and he had other things to concern himself with at that point.” Her hand on his arm somehow surprised him, that it could be so warm when she was handing out so many cold truths. “He’s not your fault, Jack. None of them are.”
“Except for Gwen. I brought her in here. I thought—”
She waited for him to finish the sentence, but he couldn’t. The weight of what he’d brought down on all of them shattered him, choking the words in his throat.
Sarah’s hand curled around his, and he realized he had crushed the surveillance photo in his fist. With gentle fingers she pried it away from him before stroking his arms comfortingly. “You mustn’t blame yourself, Jack. You didn’t know any of this. I know you well enough now to know you would never—”
“Stop it.” Guilt turned to white hot anger in an instant, driving out the cold pain as he caught her wrists, gripping slender, fragile bones tight enough to snap them. “Stop coddling me like some child, Sarah. I’ve told you before, you’re not my mother.”
“You’re not my mother,” he repeated, the heat within him shifting. Her eyes darkened, realizing his intent an instant before he acted, but by then it was too late.
It wasn’t the first time he’d kissed her, but this time the sense of familiarity had an explanation. Shared experience lingered on her lips, essence of time woven around her like a veil. He knew it for what it was now, and that knowledge connected them. Her tiny body fit against his nearly perfectly, her hair a soft tangle beneath his fingers as his kiss softened, taking the time to savor each flavor that he could identify now, refusing to brook any denial. They were connected now, and he needed that. Needed to connect with her more.
When she opened her mouth to him, he knew he was going to get what he wanted.
And he laughed.