"You forgot this."
Sarah Jane blinked when the boy produced her communicator. She'd been sure he'd left that in the attic; he must have slipped it into a pocket when she wasn't looking.
"What is that?" Mrs Wormwood snapped.
"A signal device from another world."
She frowned. "What of it?"
"Like a mobile phone." The boy glanced at her, smiling. "Only to call across the stars. It must be a million times more powerful."
"Then it's a good thing you don't know our frequency."
He shook his head. "Mr Smith said it out loud."
"That was dozens of numbers," Sarah Jane protested.
"And I remember them." Looking back at Mrs Wormwood, he added, "You gave me the memory of ten thousand humans."
"Stop him!" Mrs Wormwood ordered two of her workers.
The boy stood, trembling, fingers blurring across the device as he muttered the numbers. "...one oh five dash five. Calling the Bane!"
The device screamed. Alarms went off all around, piling on top of each other, adding to the cacophony. The workers stumbled away, barely able to think. Sarah Jane clutched at her ears; Maria cowered beside her.
"The Bane Mother!" Mrs Wormwood cried. "You're killing her!" The Bane Mother was retreating into the ceiling, trying to escape the relentless noise.
"Archetype! I order you to stop!"
Maria watched in disbelief as the boy obediently flipped the communicator closed, slipping it into a pocket somewhere in his tunic. "No!" She scrambled over the rubble to him. He stumbled as she reached him, falling to one knee. "What have you done? It was working!" Sarah Jane scrabbled for her sonic, hoping to activate the little communicator again. Without it they had no hope of stopping the Bane.
"I must obey." The boy was trembling, barely able to stay upright; whatever Wormwood was doing to him it was happening faster.
Maria tried to snatch the device, but he blocked her hand. She couldn't believe this was happening. They'd been so close to defeating the Bane, but if the boy was defecting back to them she and Sarah Jane could be in serious trouble.
"You didn't think, Miss Smith, that I would make a tool as powerful as the Archetype without a way to control it, did you? It's built in. He must obey me. He has no choice." Mrs Wormwood gestured sharply and the boy relaxed, energy flooding back in. "His mind is even stronger than I'd hoped. Perhaps he can still be useful."
The alarms shut off, one by one. The workers skulked back, eyeing them warily.
The Bane Mother roared overhead and Sarah Jane looked up. Maria, still huddled with the boy, was out of reach of the creature, but Sarah Jane herself was pinned in place against the bus. If she moved the Bane Mother would be able to reach her. "Maria, run!" she urged frantically.
"Archetype, don't let that girl leave," Mrs Wormwood snapped. The boy caught her wrist, preventing her from rising.
"You're hurting me," Maria protested.
"Sorry." He loosened his grip a little, not quite enough to let her up.
"Tell me, Maria," Mrs Wormwood said, "you're in the two percent, yes?"
"I wouldn't touch that muck if you paid me, if that's what you mean," she spat.
"I see. I was going to feed you to Mother, but I think there are better uses for you. Say goodbye to Sarah Jane, you'll never see her again. Archetype, take her to the medbay and keep her there."
He helped Maria to her feet. She went dociley for a couple of steps before throwing all her weight backwards. Surprised, he let go, and she scrambled across the rubble into Sarah Jane's arms.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Sarah Jane murmured, holding her tightly. "I should never have brought you here."
"I'd be dead or a Bane out there anyway." Maria argued, sobbing. "I'm so glad I met you."
"Yes, touching," Mrs Wormwood agreed. "Archetype, get her to the medbay."
Sarah Jane pulled Maria's head down, whispering directly into her ear. "He's the key," she said intently. "He's human, he has a soul and a mind of his own. Find it. Promise me," she added more loudly as he tugged gently at Maria's arm.
"I promise." Maria let her go, standing and following him under his own power.
"Goodbye, Sarah Jane," the boy said as they left. "Thank you for the food and drink."
He didn't speak as he led Maria to the medbay, and once they were there he just stood and watched her explore. Waiting for his next order, she thought uncharitably.
"Is this where you were kept?" she asked, eyeing a table surrounded by tubes and machinery.
He thought carefully, stepping up beside her and touching the table gently. "I was born running." When she frowned at him he added, "I have no memories before the corridor, and you. I just had to run. But I must have been built somewhere. It could have been here." Glancing at her, he continued in exactly the same tone, "How is your arm?"
He mimed gripping her arm. "I didn't mean to hurt you."
"Oh." Maria rolled up her sleeve, studying the rising bruises.
The boy touched her arm lightly, tracing the shape of the bruise. "Contusions," he said, sounding surprised. Lifting his own sleeve, he studied his arm. "They're so fragile."
Maria frowned, seeing a fresh scar inside his elbow. "Are you hurt?"
"I don't know," he said distantly, fingering the scar.
"Looks like an IV mark. Does it hurt?"
"No. It doesn't hurt."
Maria glanced around at the instruments and machinery. "Why do you think I'm here?"
"Because we were told to stay here."
"You were told to stay here. I'm a prisoner," Maria corrected him. "Anyway, I meant what do you think she'll do?"
"I don't know. I hope she doesn't hurt you."
Maria smiled faintly. "You're not going to promise me you'll keep me safe? That's what usually happens about now."
"Does this happen to you a lot?" the boy asked, frowning.
"No. I mean, in fiction. The hero usually promises to protect the girl."
"Oh." He shook his head, turning away and sitting against the nearest wall. "I can't promise that. If my mother commands me I must obey. I can't promise you anything, Maria, but I will help you if I can."
"She's not your mother." Maria knelt beside him.
"She made me. Everything I am is because of her."
"No. It's not. You're good, and you're nice and kind, and you're sorry you hurt me. None of that is Bane. That's all you. Just you."
He smiled faintly but didn't answer. Maria glanced at the door, considering.
"I'm faster than you are," he told her. "I'd catch you."
"And there are Bane in the corridor, and they won't be sorry if they hurt you."
"Oh." Sighing, she slumped down to sit next to him.
"I'll help you if I can," he repeated softly.
He shrugged. "You were kind to me. My mother hasn't been kind to me. She hurt me."
"She's not your mother."
"It doesn't matter."
"No. I suppose it doesn't." They sat in silence for a minute before she asked "Do you have a name?"
"No. I am the Archetype."
"Can I give you a name?"
"If you like," he said warily.
She considered him for a moment, thinking. "Nathan," she finally pronounced, watching his reaction.
He mouthed the name a couple of times before nodding. "I like Nathan."
"Good. Nathan it is." She stuck out her hand. "Hi, Nathan. I'm Maria."
He mimicked her. "Hi, Maria. I'm Nathan."
She carefully caught his hand, shaking it lightly up and down. "Like that."
"Oh." He frowned, watching their hands. "Why?"
Mrs Wormwood strode in some time later. Maria glared up at her from the floor; Nathan rose to his feet, standing quietly.
"How are we all getting along?" Mrs Wormwood asked, rummaging through one of the carts.
"She gave me a name, Mother," Nathan reported.
"Did she." Mrs Wormwood turned back to them, studying them. "Why?"
"He's a person," Maria said from the floor. "People have names."
"He's an Archetype. A tool."
"And a person."
"Nathan," he said proudly.
"God has given," Mrs Wormwood said thoughtfully. "Fitting, I suppose." Smiling at Maria, she added, "As I am now your god."
Maria snorted. "You wish."
She scowled. "Archetype, put the girl on the table."
Nathan turned to Maria, who scrambled to her feet. "I can get on a table by myself," she snapped. He shadowed her anyway, standing awkwardly beside her when she boosted herself up. She had to hang on to the sides to keep from slipping off as it was tilted down.
"Well, strap her in!" Mrs Wormwood snapped. Nathan hesitated, but Maria nodded quietly and he obeyed.
"What are you doing?" Maria demanded.
"Oh, nothing for you to worry about, dear. Hold still, now." Mrs Wormwood smiled coldly, sliding a needle neatly into Maria's arm. She groaned, scrabbling across the table until she found Nathan's hand and hung on.
He was still staring at their hands when the darkness swept over her.
Nathan was sitting on the floor under the window when Maria finally stirred.
She'd been unconscious for hours, sleeping off Mrs Wormwood's experiments. Once she'd finished Mrs Wormwood had lost interest in both of them, sending them away with two of her Bane minions. Nathan had no orders, other than 'Don't let the girl escape you.'
He didn't know what to do. Without orders he was crippled with choices; he couldn't prioritise, didn't know what he should be doing right now. He didn't understand anything.
Maria's voice was thick and she coughed harshly. Nathan grabbed the bottle of water he'd been keeping, opening it and offering it to her.
"Thanks," she murmured a minute later, sounding better. Glancing around without actually moving, she added, "Where are we?"
"Bannerman Road. Sarah Jane's house." Shrugging at her look, he added, "Mrs Wormwood liked the thought of it."
"You stopped calling her Mother," Maria noted, sitting up. She swayed for a moment and he caught her shoulder, terrified. "It's all right. I sat up too fast, is all. Blood rush."
"Orthostatic hypotension," he muttered, carefully letting her go. "Are you alright?"
"Yes...no." She touched the neat bandage on her upper arm. "What is this?"
"It's your tracker. Mrs Wormwood put it in. So you can't go anywhere without her knowing."
"What, you're not my jailer anymore?"
"I can't let you go on your own. She didn't say stop you."
"Smart boy," Maria said with a grin.
"Ten thousand minds."
"Are we alone?"
"In the house. Why?"
"Come on." Maria scrambled past him, heading for the attic stairs.
"What are you doing?" Nathan asked, trailing after her. Since he didn't have any idea what to do, he didn't mind following her around.
"Mr Smith, are you there? Please!"
The computer powered on, somehow managing to sound disapproving. "Maria. What are you doing here?"
"Mr Smith, I think Sarah Jane's dead. Mrs Wormwood has taken over. Can you help us?"
He whirred for a moment. "Confirmed the Bane have taken control," he said finally. "Maria, who is that?"
"What?" She glanced over her shoulder. "Nathan." He waved awkwardly, slipping down the steps to stand at her shoulder. "You know him, he was here earlier. Sarah Jane rescued him from the Bane factory."
"He is Bane?"
"He...no, it's complicated. But can you help us?"
"I can send distress calls. That is the extent of my abilities at this time. Forgive me, Maria, who is Nathan? Sarah Jane's research indicated he is an artificially-created human."
"The Bane made him," she agreed.
Mr Smith considered that. "Then I cannot aid you in his presence."
"If the Bane know that I am here and what I am doing, I will become useless to you. You must not attempt to talk to me in his presence, do you understand? Do not call me again."
Maria looked at Nathan, who shrugged helplessly. "If she asks me I'll have to tell her." He thought about apologising again, but he'd already done that several times and so far she hadn't seemed to blame him.
"Yeah." Maria blinked quickly. "I know. All right, Mr Smith. I won't call you again. Please, do your best."
"I shall. Good luck, Maria. Stay strong."
He retreated back into the wall and Maria glanced around the room. "I wonder if there's anything here we can use."
"We don't know what anything is," Nathan reminded her. "And it's probably dangerous."
"You don't know what any of these things are? Super alien brain?"
"I don't know any of these. I've only seen Bane technology and the communicator, and there aren't any of those here."
"No." She sank down onto the steps, wrapping her arms around her knees. "What's going on outside, Nathan?"
"The Bane have control." Standing while she was sitting felt odd, so he sat carefully next to her.
"England, anyway. Mrs Wormwood was getting all kinds of reports but she wouldn't let me see most of them." That didn't make sense to him, if she was keeping him around for his mind, but very little made sense to him anyway.
Maria took a deep breath. "What's happened to the people? The ones under her control?"
"Mostly she has them waiting." He looked away, hands fidgeting nervously. "I saw your father. Out on the road. He's one of the guards, making sure we don't go anywhere. I'm sorry."
He tried to put a hand on her shoulder and she twitched away, staring at the wall. He shifted away a little, enough that he was still beside her but not quite so close.
They sat in silence until she nodded firmly, straightening. "Right. Let's go see if there's anything to eat here. You must be hungry. I'm starved."
"It's not our food," he pointed out. "Isn't stealing wrong?"
"Usually, yeah, but she's not coming back for it." He watched her pause and take a shaky breath before adding "And I doubt your mother is going to think of it. Do the Bane eat?"
"The Bane Mother eats her children if they fail. The man – the muffin?" Maria nodded and he grinned, happy he'd remembered the word. He continued quickly, "He was to kill Sarah Jane and return me to the Bane. When he failed the Mother ate him."
"Charming little race, your family," she noted, heading down the stairs. "Nathan, what's she going to do to me?"
"I don't know. She isn't telling me anything. I'm sorry."
Maria nodded, deliberately not looking out the windows on the ground floor. "Right. Let's have a look."
It turned out that Nathan was pretty useless at recognising food, but he also didn't have any preferences and ate whatever was put in front of him. Maria watched carefully, but he didn't seem to especially like or dislike any of it.
When they were finished eating Maria cleared up and started washing the plates out of habit. Nathan watched until she tossed a towel at him; with a little direction he started drying up.
"Right," Maria said when they were done. "Now what?"
Nathan shrugged amiably. "What would you like to do?"
"Figure out how to overthrow the Bane?"
He frowned. "I don't think I should help with that."
"Because you'll have to report on me. No, I know. Nathan, do you have to obey every Bane?"
"Only if Mother tells me to. Why?"
"Oh. I know lots of things."
"Good." She smiled at him. "Do they have to obey you? Can you tell them you're on a mission from her?"
"I don't know. I haven't tried."
"So tell me, then, what would you do if I walked out of this house?"
"Follow you. Where would you go?"
"I don't know. You wouldn't try to stop me? What orders do you have right now?"
"I'm not to let you get away from me."
"What, that's it?"
Nathan looked away, studying Sarah Jane's shelves of books. "That's it. Are you planning on running anywhere?"
She considered lying to him, but she couldn't bring herself to do it, not yet. With Mr Smith lost to her she needed all the allies she could get, and so far Nathan was the only one she had. "No. Not yet, anyway."
"Will you tell me?"
"Will you tell on me?"
"Not if I can help it." His fingers were twitching towards the books.
"Go read the books. I'll tell you if I'm going anywhere. I promise."
He smiled brilliantly, all but diving at the bookshelf. Maria watched for a minute – he was speed reading, and she wondered how much he was actually retaining – before wandering back up to the attic. Artefacts and pieces of machinery littered every surface and she fingered several of them, wondering if maybe she was holding the answer to everything in her hands without even knowing it.
It hit her then, really hit her for the first time. Sarah Jane was dead. She would never look at any of these things again, never use them, never touch them. Maria sank to the floor, crying quietly. It was all too much to handle and if it hadn't been for Sarah Jane's last request, she'd have given up by now. But Sarah Jane had put this in her hands and Maria was determined to live up to her trust.
She didn't know if she could do it. She believed Nathan didn't want to hurt anyone, believed that he had a good heart. But he had allowed Sarah Jane, a woman who'd been kind to him, to be killed. He'd stood by and allowed Maria to be hurt, and maybe he couldn't help it but it still made her resent him a little.
Dragging herself off the floor, she collapsed onto the nearest couch and curled up. Her head was aching and she just wanted everything to go away.
She woke out of a doze a little later to find Nathan kneeling by her couch. He was pale, apart from a brilliant red hand print on his cheek.
"What happened?" she breathed, sitting up and reaching for him.
Nathan pulled out of her reach, ducking his head. "Mother is here."
"And she hit you?"
"I shouldn't have left you alone. Please come downstairs." He pushed to his feet, still not looking at her.
"Yeah, okay." Maria headed downstairs, letting him follow on her heels.
Her father was standing just inside the front door. Maria clenched both hands into fists, hard enough to feel her nails pierce her palms, but she managed to avoid reacting in any other way, glancing dismissively past him.
Mrs Wormwood looked up as they entered. "So you can follow orders. Good to know."
"Yes, Mother," Nathan murmured, stopping by the door. Maria didn't look back at him, halting in the middle of the floor.
There was an Indian girl sitting in the chair beside Mrs Wormwood. She looked scared, but not terrified; when Maria caught her eye and smiled encouragingly she returned it.
"Oh, look, they're getting on already." Mrs Wormwood's voice dripped false sweetness. "How nice, since they'll be spending time together. Isn't it nice, Archetype?"
"Oh, get a brain cell," the girl snarled.
Mrs Wormwood smiled but didn't reprimand her. "Archetype, Rani will be staying here..."
"You wish," Rani spat. Mrs Wormwood ignored her.
"...make sure she doesn't leave, understand? You may need to be proactive. She seems more feisty than the other one."
"Yes, Mother. Does she have a tracker?"
"Why is she here?" Maria asked.
"That's none of your business," Mrs Wormwood snapped. "Show me your arm." Maria didn't move, and she sighed. "Archetype, show me her arm."
Nathan obediently reached for her, gripping the wrong arm. Mrs Wormwood pushed him aside impatiently and snatched at the other arm, lifting her sleeve to inspect the bandage. "Good." Letting go, she pushed Maria back a step; Nathan steadied her easily. "I shall be back soon. Do not let either of them leave."
"Mother," Nathan said quickly. "There are two of them. May I command the Bane guards if necessary?"
She studied him for a moment. "You may command them only to follow my orders. Understand?"
"Yes, Mother. Thank you."
She smiled, reaching for his face and deliberately pressing against the bruise rising on his cheek. "Don't disappoint me, Archetype. The Bane Mother is hungry."
"Yes, Mother." The grip had to be hurting him, but there was no sign of it on his face or in his voice.
She let go, stalking past him and out of the house. Alan didn't move, and Maria could see a Bane by the back door as well.
"Right." Rani pushed to her feet. "I'm out of here."
"I can't let you do that," Nathan said apologetically.
"Oh yeah? Stop me, then." She made to push past him; Nathan shoved her into the nearest chair, gently pushing Maria out of the way at the same time.
"Hey!" Rani disentangled herself and stood; Nathan waited patiently, this time tripping her as she tried to get past him. She skidded into the table, hissing in pain.
"Stop. Both of you, stop." Maria crouched next to Rani. "Let me explain, a little, okay? He really can't let you leave. Just let me tell you."
Rani scowled, eyeing her skinned elbow. "You've got three minutes."
"Thank you." Maria helped her to her feet, gesturing her towards the couch. "Nathan, lift your top for a minute."
"What's with the...pajamas..." Rani trailed off, staring at Nathan's perfectly smooth stomach.
"The Bane built him. He's human, and he's nice and kind and sweet, but there's a switch in his head. If Mrs Wormwood gives him an order he has to obey it. He has no choice." Maria perched on the arm of the chair next to Rani, watching her. "He wants to help us. But he can't break his orders and if she asks him what we're doing he'll tell her, understand?"
"So if I keep trying to leave..."
"He'll stop you. Whatever way he has to."
"He's as bad as they are, then."
"No." Maria glanced over her shoulder. "No, he's not."
"For one thing he feels badly about it."
"Oh good!" Rani snorted. "An alien invader with a conscience, that's good. Just what we need." She stood, stepping past Maria.
"He's not an alien, he didn't invade anywhere, and this isn't his fault!"
Nathan stepped calmly into Rani's path as she tried to leave the room. She jerked to a halt, glaring at him, and then turned back to Maria. "He give you those bruises?" Maria didn't answer and she nodded firmly. "Yeah, let's hang around with the brain washed boy while our world gets ripped apart. That sounds like fun."
"You're not a Bane," Nathan noted. "Are you in the two percent?"
"Bubble shock," Maria said quickly. "Did you drink Bubble shock?"
"That stuff? No. Foul." She glanced towards Alan, still immobile by the front door. "Is that what..."
"There's only two percent of the population who didn't like Bubble shock," Maria told her. "Anyone else who drank it has fallen under Bane control."
"That's Maria's father," Nathan said when Maria didn't answer. Rani sucked in a breath; Maria turned away, refusing to react.
"So you didn't like it either?" Rani said after a minute.
"No. Tasted weird."
"She's gathering us up. Why?"
Maria shrugged, looking at Nathan. "Any ideas?"
"Perhaps she wants to understand how to convert you. That's why I was made. With two of you it's more likely we can find the factor that makes you different from everyone else." He shook his head at Rani's look. "She isn't telling me anything. Just to keep you here. I don't know why. I don't know why you. Two teenage girls is not a good sample."
"I fought her Bane. Nearly tore the eyes out of the man who caught me."
"She'd think it was brilliant, turning you to a Bane," Maria agreed. "She wanted Sarah Jane to be Bane, but..." She had to stop, taking a breath.
"So...what?" Rani looked back at Maria. "Sit here and take it?"
"For now. Until we know what's going on. We need..." She glanced at Nathan, who returned the look. "Well, we need things I can't talk about right now."
"Yeah." Rani sighed, approaching Nathan. He watched without reacting as she touched his chin, turning his head very slightly. "You should put something on that. Does it hurt?"
"There's probably ice in the kitchen. Give me a hand," Maria told Rani. To Nathan, she added, "There's a Bane at the back door, we can't go anywhere. All right?"
"Yes," he agreed, watching them head for the kitchen.
In the kitchen, rummaging for a clean towel, she murmured, "She did that 'cos I was upstairs?"
"Yeah. He said he was following his orders and she said not well enough, and then she hit him. And he just took it, he didn't yell or back away or anything." Rani found an ice tray in the freezer and started hacking the pieces out. "Whose house is this anyway?"
"Sarah Jane Smith. She was a journalist trying to expose the Bane. I think Mrs Wormwood liked the irony."
"You knew her?"
"Not really. We'd just moved in over the road, Dad and me." She caught her breath as a wave of grief threatened to swamp her.
"Hey," Rani said gently. "You okay?"
"Yeah." She took a deep breath, calming herself forcibly. If she did break down, it wasn't going to be anywhere that any of the Bane could see her. "I'm fine. Come on. I'm pretty sure he'll come looking for us if we're gone too long."
Rani caught her arm, halting her. "Do you trust him?"
Maria glanced at the Bane watching them from the back door. Leaning forward, she said directly into Rani's ear, "He won't hurt us if he can help it." Stepping back, she added more loudly, "I trust that."
Rani considered her for a moment before nodding. "Good enough. Come on."
Nathan was waiting patiently in the sitting room, flicking idly through one of the books. Maria thought it was one he'd read earlier, so he was probably reading for fun rather than to learn.
Rani tossed him the towel package. He fumbled it for a moment, looking helplessly at Maria.
"Press it against your cheek," she directed him. "It'll help bring down the swelling, and make it hurt less." To Rani, she added, "He doesn't know anything about the world. He was only born..."
"Yesterday," Nathan offered, pressing the towel against his cheek. "Ow."
"Not so hard it hurts," she said, exasperated. "Just hold it there. What are you reading?"
He held up the book. "Sarah Jane wrote it. It's about travelling through space and time."
"Oh." She took the book, scanning the back cover briefly. "She must have got the idea from the Doctor, I guess."
"I'd have thought you'd be reading a maths book or something," Rani remarked. "Aren't you a genius?"
"I know maths already," Nathan said vaguely. "I like fiction. It's interesting." Glancing at the nearest clock, he added, "We should eat?"
It was a question, Maria knew, and she nodded. "Soon. Keep holding that. How does it feel?"
"How does your face feel?" Rani said more pointedly.
She rolled her eyes, looking at Maria. "It's like talking to a robot."
"He just doesn't get context," Maria defended him. "Nathan, is the pain going away?"
"Yes. It doesn't hurt any more."
"Good." Rani rolled her eyes again, and Maria shrugged at her. "He's getting better."
"Take your word for it. We're eating here?"
"Whatever's in the cupboard, yeah."
"I'll go see what we have, then."
Nathan let the towel slip out of his hands. "She doesn't like me."
"She doesn't know you, and she's afraid and angry." Maria took the towel, pressing it back against his cheek. "Keep it there."
"You're not angry."
"I hide it well," Maria said evenly. This wasn't really Nathan's fault, after all. "Keep it there."
"Are you angry with me?"
"Nathan..." She took a deep breath, forcibly calming herself again. "Keep it there. Please."
Rani came back in. "There's aspirin."
"Aspirin is contra-indicated for contusions," Nathan murmured.
"First aid handbook?" Maria asked.
"What did he say?"
"You're not supposed to take aspirin for a bruise."
"It decreases clotting, thus spreading the bruise," Nathan offered, adding more quietly, "I'm sorry you're angry."
"Sorry doesn't help me," Rani said quietly, turning on her heel and heading back into the kitchen.
"Ten minutes," Maria said, forcing brightness into her tone. "Then we'll see what there is to eat."
She almost wasn't surprised when Nathan stood, exactly ten minutes later, and headed for the kitchen.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Nathan didn't seem to need much sleep. Rani found the spare room and stayed there all night, but Maria slept in the sitting room. She drifted off to the sound of Nathan paging through a book, and she woke almost eight hours later to the same sound. "Morning."
"Good morning." Nathan was sitting against the couch beside her; she could see the book over his shoulder.
"What time is it?"
"Six forty eight AM."
Way too early to be up if she didn't have to be. Maria curled onto her side; Nathan shifted slightly but didn't move away, lifting another book from the pile at his elbow. "What are you reading?" she asked.
"History." Glancing at the larger stack on his other side, he added, "Politics, geography, more fiction..."
"Everything she has," Maria translated.
"Not everything yet."
He shrugged. "I asked her to come down last night. She was very rude. So I sent a Bane up to watch her. She yelled a lot but I haven't heard her for a few hours."
"You sent a Bane to watch her?"
"I told it not to touch her unless she attempted to leave the house. It won't have hurt her."
"It might have scared her, though." Maria glanced towards the front door; she couldn't quite see it from where she was lying. "Is my dad..."
"Still there." Nathan moved, finally, kneeling up to study her. Maria sat up, holding his gaze. "I sent the other one upstairs. I can send your father outside if you want, but I can't make him leave." Maria shook her head and he persisted, "Are you scared, Maria?"
"Yes. But not of him." She glanced towards the door again. "Has he eaten?"
"The Bane sustains him. He doesn't need to eat any more. At least, not for a while."
"How long is a while?"
Nathan frowned, considering for a moment before answering "Weeks at least. It's dependant on the individual's metabolism rates and the..."
"Weeks," Maria cut him off. "So he's just going to stand there for weeks."
"Unless he gets other orders, yes."
"She won't give him other orders." She sighed. "He'll be following me around until the day one of us dies."
"Maria." Nathan touched her arm hesitantly, eyes troubled. "I can send him outside."
"Not right now. Come on. Let's see what's left for breakfast."
Nathan watched intently as she cooked breakfast. She didn't let him help – she was frying, and she didn't trust him not to hurt himself – but he watched the whole time, and she had no doubt he'd be able to do it perfectly the next time.
When it was ready he went upstairs to fetch Rani. The other girl's eyes were swollen and her face was red when she joined them. Maria watched from the corner of her eye as the Bane appeared outside again. It hadn't come through the rooms; had it actually climbed down the outside of the house?
They ate in awkward silence for almost ten minutes before Maria glanced at Rani. "Did it hurt you?" she asked softly.
"No," Rani muttered. "It didn't touch me."
"So you didn't try to leave?"
"Course I tried. It kept blocking me. Wouldn't even let me look outside." Glancing at Nathan, she added, "What's the plan?"
"There is no plan. Not until my mother comes."
"That's creepy," she declared. "Your mum is one of those octopus things?"
"She isn't really his mum, she was in charge of making him," Maria said before Nathan could answer. "He calls her mum but I think that's the programming."
"Where is your mother?" he asked.
"I dunno. She loved Bubble shock. Both my parents did." Rani scowled at her plate, stabbing angrily at her food.
"Aren't you hungry?" Nathan asked, watching her.
"Nathan, why don't you go read some more?" Maria said. "We'll clear."
"Just this once."
Nathan studied her for a moment before nodding, rising and heading into the sitting room.
"Why are you so nice to him?" Rani burst out, shoving her chair back to stand. "He's keeping us here!"
"He's just as much her prisoner as we are."
"He could let us go."
"Even if he could, we'd never get past the Bane. Nathan doesn't want to hurt us, but they don't have any restraint." She stood, gathering the plates together. "He's just another kid who got caught up in this. Same as us."
"Maybe," Rani muttered, shoving out of the room and upstairs.
Mrs Wormwood arrived a little later. Nathan was sent to retrieve Rani from upstairs and by the time they got back down Alan was holding Maria still while Mrs Wormwood prepared a syringe.
"What are you doing?" Rani demanded.
"Just a little experiment, dear. Archetype, make sure she watches this."
Rani tried to back away but Nathan was behind her, blocking her. "Watch," he said quietly.
Maria tried to squirm away from the syringe but Alan was holding her too tightly. "Do hold still, Maria," Mrs Wormwood urged her. "I wouldn't want to injure you with this."
"Keep watching," Nathan said again when Rani tried to turn away.
"Ow," Maria hissed. Mrs Wormwood smiled, carefully withdrawing the syringe and laying it aside. "What is that?"
"Don't you think it would be more fun to find out for yourself?" Glancing at Alan, she added, "Let her go."
Maria jerked free as soon as his grip loosened, stumbling towards Nathan.
"Make sure Rani is watching!" Mrs Wormwood snapped. Nathan obediently turned her towards Maria, catching the younger girl with one hand as she tripped. He couldn't hold her up and she sank to the floor, arms wrapped around her stomach.
"What have you done?" Rani demanded, trying to kneel beside her. Nathan kept her on her feet without effort.
"I thought I'd turned her into a Bane." Maria sobbed, once, and Mrs Wormwood scowled. "Apparently, I thought wrong."
"You're sick," Rani told her. Nathan caught her chin, forcing her face down towards Maria. "Nathan...!"
"You have to watch."
"Let me go. I'll watch, just let me go!"
She dropped to her knees when his grip loosened, wrapping an arm around Maria, who was crying steadily now. "What's it doing to her?" she demanded, keeping her eyes on the girl.
"If it's not working? Probably burning her stomach lining to little pieces."
Nathan twitched; Rani started to turn to look at him before remembering. "Hang on," she murmured to Maria instead. Maria nodded, sobbing in a breath and clutching Rani's sleeve tightly.
"Archetype." Mrs Wormwood stepped closer to them. "Repeat the test on Rani."
"If it doesn't work, Mother..."
Something high-pitched whined overhead. Rani cringed at the sound, hanging on to Maria; Nathan gasped in a breath, dropping like a stone next to them. "One failure does not mean the formula is faulty," Mrs Wormwood snapped. "That's why we have two subjects. Inject the contents into Rani."
"Yes, Mother." He scrambled to kneel beside them, reaching between them to grip Rani's arm. Maria brushed her fingers over his and he smiled weakly at her. "Take some deep breaths," he advised Rani, sliding the needle neatly in.
Maria was sitting by Rani's bed when she woke. She looked terrible, pale and shaky, but she smiled when Rani met her eyes. "How are you feeling?"
"Terrible," Rani murmured. "What happened?"
"You threw up on Mrs Wormwood." Maria smiled shakily. "Nice aim. She declared the experiment a failure and stalked off, and Nathan forced about three pints of water down your throat before you fell asleep."
"I was drinking on my own. It hit you harder." She held up a packet of aspirin. "He says this'll help. And drink more. He's trying to find something we can eat without killing ourselves."
"Shouldn't we be drinking milk?"
"Dairy's not good, apparently."
"Who knew." She took the bottle of water Maria offered her, taking a cautious sip. "Euch. That burns."
"Mmm. How's your face?"
"My face?" Rani repeated.
"You're – it's bruised, where he was holding you to make you watch."
"Oh." She explored her face lightly, feeling heat and puffy flesh. "It's not too bad. Aspirin's probably helping. What happened to him?"
"She did something and he fell. A noise."
"Oh. He said it was a – phonic disruptor? Some kind of weapon she can target." Maria shrugged, mouth twisting bitterly. "He did question her orders, after all." She glanced up at footsteps on the stairs. "Look, try not to be too hard on him?"
"He did this to me," Rani pointed out.
"He tried not to. He can't do anything about it, he doesn't have any choice."
"You keep saying that, and I'm not seeing it."
Nathan pushed the door open. Rani could see the Bane in the hall, presumably keeping an eye on them.
"She's awake," Maria said, sitting back on her heels.
"Yeah, awake and angry," Rani agreed.
Nathan nodded, carefully lowering the tray in his hands to the desk. "Are you hungry, Rani?"
"You should eat something anyway. Here." He tossed an apple to Maria, who passed it on.
"They're very good for gastritis. Just chew it really slowly." He passed Maria another one, settling on the floor with a sheaf of papers.
"What are those?" Maria asked, taking a bite. Rani watched her carefully for a few minutes before eating her own apple.
"Reports from my mother. She wants me to read them."
"Why?" Maria snagged one of the sheets, frowning. "Is this written in Bane?"
"She is Bane," he reminded her. "She wants to see what I can see. Patterns, areas where Bubble shock didn't penetrate, where to send her people."
"And you're going to tell her?" Rani asked.
Nathan shrugged, eyes darting back and forth over the sheets. "I have to answer what she asks me."
"You don't have to volunteer, though, do you?"
He glanced up, smiling briefly. "I have to answer what I'm asked."
"Good," Maria murmured. "What can you see?"
"Most of England is Bane." He traced one finger along a line of squiggles. "Cardiff wasn't hit too hard. Sixty percent conversion. That's the lowest."
"That's not too hard?" Rani said in surprise.
"London's at ninety eight point seven."
"Any sign of anyone fighting back?"
"Who's left to fight?" Maria muttered.
"There's no organised resistance," Nathan agreed. "Some individuals are fighting, but my mother has enough troops now to overwhelm them. There aren't enough people. Certainly not here in London."
Rani bit her lip for a moment before blurting, "Do you know where my parents are?"
"I'm sorry. That's not in this information. Where did you live?"
He shook his head. "There's nothing here. I can ask..."
"Don't ask," Maria said quickly. To Rani, she added, "If you let Mrs Wormwood know it's worrying you, she'll use it against you. That's why my dad..." She swallowed hard, looking away.
"I can't send him away," Nathan said. Rani must have been glaring at him. "All I can do is send him outside the house, and Maria won't let me do that."
"There's no point," Maria said tiredly. "Mrs Wormwood will just order him back in and stop you giving them orders, and we need you to be able to order them around."
"For all the good it's doing us," Rani agreed. Maria glared at her and she shrugged unapologetically. "What good is it doing us?"
"They haven't hurt us, have they?"
"No. Nathan's been doing fine with that all on his own."
Nathan grimaced, gathering the sheets of paper together. "Drink as much water as you can. The Bane will be out on the landing; don't go near the window, you'll be fine."
"Nathan," Maria protested.
"I'm just upsetting her. It doesn't matter. I can read these downstairs. Get some rest and drink your water." He left the room before they could answer.
"I'm tired," Rani said before Maria could speak. "Need to get some rest."
"Drink your water," Maria told her, leaving the tray of fruit in easy reach. "And don't go near the window."
"I heard it the first time."
"Good. Try listening for once."
"God!" Rani sat upright, glaring at her. "You keep defending him!"
"Because it's not his fault!"
"It doesn't matter whose fault it is! He's the one keeping us here. Her orders, his orders, doesn't matter. He's the one who gave me that stuff, he's the one bruised your arm. Just cos you're going Stockholm doesn't mean I can't see what's happening.""I'm not going Stockholm," Maria snapped.
Rani grimaced. "I get that it's not his fault. Ok? I can see he doesn't want to hurt us. But if his mother tells him to, he will kill us. I don't trust him, I'm not going to trust him. I can't. And if I see a chance, I'm going to run."
Maria took a deep breath. "Don't say that where he can hear you. He'll be obliged to sic a Bane on you all the time."
"Yeah." Rani eased back down, curling onto her side. "I really do need to sleep."
"Mmm." Moving very carefully, Maria left the room, pulling the door almost closed behind her.
She fled to the attic and, surrounded by the remains of Sarah Jane's life, quietly began to cry.
Nathan was standing in the sitting room, studying the bookshelves, when Maria came in the next morning. She looked better, but still not quite well; she was still pale, and her eyes were red. "Good morning, Maria."
"Morning." She glanced over her shoulder at the front door. "Nathan, I need to go out."
"Out," he repeated, turning to look at her.
Maria caught the base of her top, tugging it away from her body. "I've been wearing this for four days. And Sarah Jane doesn't have anything here that'll fit me. Rani needs something new as well."
"You can go to your house."
"There isn't anything there that'll fit Rani. Or you," she added, studying him.
"Me." He looked down at himself, frowning.
"The tunic's nice, and all, but it's a tunic. We could get you some actual clothes. Make you look like a real boy." Looking towards the kitchen, she added, "We need food, anyway."
He considered, biting his lip. "I have to ask Mother. I can't just...if she comes and we're not here, she'll punish all of us."
"Yeah. Of course she will." Maria sighed, dropping into the nearest chair.
"I'll make her let us go," he promised, crouching by the chair.
"Mmm. Well, there's enough for breakfast today. I'll get that done. Where's Rani?"
"She hasn't come down yet. I'll go see if she's awake." She nodded and he headed out of the room.
Mrs Wormwood, when she arrived, had yet another new formula to try. This one temporarily blocked all the feeling in Maria's lower body; Mrs Wormwood checked, thoroughly, by poking needles and scalpel blades into various parts of her legs and feet. Nathan repeated the experiment on Rani, but since he was the one doing it he knew exactly where to bandage her up and where he hadn't gone deep enough to need treatment.
"Mother," he said when Mrs Wormwood was leaving.
"What is it, Archetype?"
"The girls require food, Mother, and clean clothes. May I take them out to find something?"
"I'll have something sent here."
"Maria has allergies," he said quickly. "I watched her react yesterday. It would be more efficient to let her choose her own food. And..." He glanced over his shoulder at them, lowering his voice just a fraction. "It would be better for their morale. Being inside all the time isn't healthy. It's no good for your experiments if they fall ill."
She studied him for a long moment. "You'll be accompanied, of course."
"Of course," he agreed.
"And if anything goes wrong, it will be your fault and you'll be punished accordingly."
"Don't let them escape you, Archetype."
Maria watched him jerk as the command settled in. "No, Mother. They won't escape me."
"I hope not. Very well, go ahead."
"Thank you, Mother."
"What was that about?" Rani demanded as she left.
"Maria wants to go out." Nathan vanished briefly into the kitchen, coming back with the first aid kit. "I didn't cut you deeply anywhere," he said, kneeling beside Rani and starting to clean the cuts he'd made.
"Get off, I can do that myself." She pushed him hard enough to knock him off balance; he studied her for a minute before turning to Maria and beginning to clean her cuts instead. They were rather deeper than Rani's, since Mrs Wormwood hadn't been as careful.
Finished, he carefully wrapped the few that needed it and then sat back on his heels. "Are you getting any feeling back?"
"A little." She rubbed at one leg, wincing. "Pins and needles."
"Yeah," Rani agreed. "Ow."
"When you're ready, we can go." He gathered the first aid kit back together, leaving to return it to the kitchen.
The pins and needles attacked them savagely for nearly twenty minutes before dying back down. Finally Rani tried a few shaky steps, speeding up her recovery. Maria followed and the pair lurched across the floor together until they could walk properly.
Nathan was studying a new sheaf of papers when Maria wandered into the kitchen; he glanced up, tidying them neatly together. "Ready?"
"Nearly." She caught the back of the nearest chair as she wobbled. "More reports?"
Something fell over in the sitting room and Maria turned, sighing. "Just a minute. Rani must have knocked into something."
When she came back Nathan was waiting to leave, reports nowhere in sight. "I think we're ready. What did you want to ask?"
"Later. Let's go before my mother changes her mind." Glancing at the Bane by the back door, he added, "Come with me. Make sure the girls don't escape, but do nothing else unless I order it." Maria looked automatically towards the front door, and Nathan shook his head. "He's staying here." Frowning, he added, "Unless you want him to come."
"No. Thank you, no."
Nathan nodded, heading for the front door. Rani skulked out of the sitting room to join them, scowling.
"Come on, Rani. Outside." Maria smiled encouragingly at her.
"Yeah. As prisoners." Rani glanced deliberately at the Bane skittering along behind them.
"Even so, we should try..."
She fell silent as they reached the end of the drive. Nathan was standing in the middle of the road, face completely blank as he looked down the street. The houses at that end were smoking, all of them burnt to the point of collapse. There were shapes in the street; Maria determinedly didn't identify them, staring past them.
Her own house was completely untouched. The one on its other side was unburnt but the doors and windows were all open and the furniture was strewn all over the lawn and road.
Nathan looked back at them, face still completely blank. "Which way?"
"Uh..." Maria jogged Rani's elbow as she turned, giving the other girl a moment to gather herself. "This way." She gestured away from the fire, wincing as something collapsed in a nearby house, sending a shower of sparks over the road.
"This wasn't burning when I came in," Rani murmured. Turning to Nathan, she added, "Did you know about this?"
"I don't believe you."
He shrugged, turning away. "Come on. This way."
The Bane crowded the girls until they started moving. Nathan led the way, though he had to keep stopping for Maria's directions.
"You really don't know where we're going?" Rani asked after the fourth halt.
"My mother drove us here, from the other end of the street. I've never been here before."
"You couldn't look at a map?"
"Sarah Jane didn't have one of this area. I can direct you to any town in England."
"No street map? We'll pick one up for you." Maria glanced at the street name. "I think the shops are this way."
"Think?" Rani repeated.
"I just moved to town. I drove along here once in a bus, and once escaping from the Bane. And I wasn't paying much attention that time." Frowning, she looked at Nathan. "You should remember that time."
"We didn't come this way."
"Are you sure?"
"We didn't come this way."
Maria frowned, studying the street. "Well, let's try. There's got to be shops around here somewhere."
They picked their way around a car crash; the girls carefully didn't look at the driving seats, though Nathan peered in curiously as they passed. It was one of many crashes they'd seen.
Two figures rose up out of nowhere, bearing the girls to the ground. Nathan flinched, taking a faltering step backwards.
"Kid, down!" A tall man unfolded from a car a little further along the street, weapon already aimed at the Bane. It trilled furiously, rearing up to attack.
"Do nothing!" Nathan yelled at it. It hesitated long enough for him to duck to one side; the man immediately opened fire and the Bane exploded, showering the area in thick orange sludge.
Maria squirmed free of her rescuer – a thin man who made no effort to stop her – and took several steps towards Nathan, catching at his hand. "What's going on?"
"I don't know," he said, bewildered. "I don't know who they are."
"We're here to help you." Rani's rescuer, a woman with a heavy Welsh accent, helped her to her feet. "Are you alright?"
"Who are you?" Rani said dazedly.
"Not important right now." The tall man – American, from his voice – scrambled out of the car and came towards them. "There anyone else with you?"
"Just us," Maria said when no one spoke. "How did you know we were here?"
"Distress call." Her own rescuer, another Welsh accent. "This area's been emptied, but we picked up a call said there were some kids still stuck here. You three and just one guard?"
"Two guards." Rani glared defiantly at Maria and Nathan. "He's one of them."
"No!" Maria got in front of Nathan, trying to push him backwards, trying to get between him and their weapons. "It's not his fault, don't hurt him."
"Maria," Nathan murmured, trying to ease her to one side without actually touching her.
"Maria," the American repeated. "Come over here to me." The woman was hustling Rani further away, steering her without turning her back on Nathan.
"Go," Nathan agreed.
"No," she said firmly. "You can't hurt him, it's not his fault."
"What's not his fault, Maria?" the woman asked, lowering her weapon and taking a step towards them. Maria tried to back up and bumped into Nathan. He didn't steady her, unusually for him, and it took her a moment to realise why; he was worried about antagonising them by touching her.
She closed her eyes for a second, thinking quickly. "Sixty seconds."
The American nodded, lowering but not holstering his gun. "We can give you that, but not much more."
Maria nodded. "Nathan's human. Made by them, but human. But their leader, Mrs Wormwood, made him and she built control into him. He has to obey direct orders from her. But he's been trying to help us, he really has. He wants to help us, I swear. He stopped that Bane from attacking you."
The American glanced at Rani, who shook her head. "She's gone Stockholm."
"We can't take him," Rani insisted, voice rising. "He obeys her voice. What's to stop her broadcasting her orders? He's dangerous." To the adults, she added, "He's some kind of genius and he's strong and quick and – we can't take him."
The adults looked at each other. There was a whole conversation in the lift of an eyebrow and the tilt of a head, but Maria couldn't read it.
"Nathan," the Welsh man said after a moment, "she has to speak to you? There's no telepathic component?"
"She's never done that," he said carefully. "Always spoken to me. But I am a tool, nothing more. She doesn't explain herself to me."
"What about implanted commands? Triggers?" the American man asked. Nathan spread his hands helplessly and he nodded. "Right, you wouldn't know. We can get you somewhere you definitely won't hear her, but we'll have a guard on you. You'll be restricted. How does that sound?"
"Would Maria be there?"
"Yes," she said before they could answer. The woman smiled faintly and Maria insisted "What else can you do with him?"
"He doesn't know who we are. We could leave him here."
"You're Torchwood. Cardiff, I think. Torchwood Three."
"Why do you say that?" the American asked. Maria shuddered; despite the light tone, she got the feeling Nathan had just strayed into dangerous territory.
"Why do you say we're Torchwood," he clarified.
Nathan smiled a little, the way Maria had come to learn meant he wasn't sure how he should be reacting. "You're not UNIT. My mother knew who was likely to come against her."
"So you know who we are. What are your orders right now?"
"Keep the girls with me."
"Standing order. She hasn't given me any others."
"Not today," Rani muttered. "He helped her with those bloody experiments!"
The woman glanced at her wrist, shifting. "Ja – Captain."
"Yeah." He straightened. "Nathan, these are your choices. Let us handcuff you and come with us. I guarantee she won't get her hands on you, and maybe we can figure out how to undo her control."
"Or?" Maria asked.
"Or," he produced a slightly different gun, "I can knock you out and leave you here. She knows we're in the city and you haven't heard anything else that can hurt us."
"She'll kill him," Maria protested.
"No, she won't," Nathan told her. "I'm valuable."
"You've got ten seconds to decide."
"Come with us," Maria said quickly, catching at his hands. "Please."
"Would I have to obey? I have to obey her. Do I have to obey you?"
"Some," Jack said honestly. "But we won't hurt you, Nathan."
He nodded, holding out his hands to the Welsh woman. When the restraints were secure he looked at the men. "If you separate me from the girls I'll fight you."
"Good to know. In." He helped Rani into the truck, boosting Maria in after her. He halted Nathan, fishing a set of earmuffs out of an equipment bin. "Nathan, these will block out sound. Just in case. Keep an eye on Maria, she'll let you know if anything's happening. Alright?"
Nathan was pale, but he let him settle the earmuffs into place, climbing into the truck. He carefully chose a position where he'd be able to see Maria without getting any closer to Rani than he had to. The Welsh man climbed into the row behind, watching them carefully.
Jack closed the door, glancing at Gwen. Taking a step away, he murmured, "Well?"
"Not sure. Rani could be right."
"If there's Stockholm there it's going in the other direction."
"He only came because she asked him to. He'd have taken his chances with Wormwood."
"Can we keep him safe?"
"We can keep him from hearing orders if they're broadcast. After that..." Jack shrugged. "I have an idea. I'll need time."
"For three kids."
"Two kids she wants and one she made. At the very least we've deprived her of a few samples. C'mon, we have to go."
"Captain?" Maria said carefully when they got in.
"What is it?"
"Rani and me, we have trackers. Mrs Wormwood put them in so we couldn't get away."
"Doesn't matter," Gwen said. "The car and base are shielded. No signals get through."
"Are you sure?"
"Nathan, do you know the specs on the trackers?" Jack asked.
Maria gently tugged the earmuffs free and repeated the question. Nathan listed off a set of specs she couldn't follow, but Jack nodded when he was done. "No problem. We're covered. Put them back on, Nathan."
Nathan grimaced, but he let Maria put the earmuffs back on. "Are you sure?" she asked again.
"You're safe, Maria. Our doctor'll have a look and see if we can get them out, but you won't be transmitting. It's fine."
"Do they hurt?" Gwen asked a little more sympathetically.
"Itches," Rani muttered.
Torchwood timeline: This takes place during season two, pre-Reset. Owen is alive at this point.
The base, it turned out, was underground. Jack drove through a maze of tunnels, going deeper and deeper, before abandoning the truck and hustling the others out to walk another half a mile. The path they took was convoluted and confusing and partly in pitch dark, and Maria was relatively certain that even Nathan wouldn't be able to find his way back out again.
When they reached the base proper Jack led them rapidly through a large main area into a corridor and through various intersections until he reached what looked like a work bay. Opening a door off it, he gestured to Nathan, pulling a knife free to cut his restraints.
"This is a zero room," he said, catching Nathan's shoulder and ushering him gently in. "Once the door is closed, no transmissions of any kind can get in. No radio. No telepathy. She could stand outside this door and yell and you wouldn't hear her. Sound good?"
"Very good, sir," Nathan agreed, taking a couple of steps further in. Maria peered around the frame; it was little more than a cell, with a bunk, desk and chair, all bolted down. Nathan, though, was looking at it as though it was the best room in the Hilton.
"The rest of the base is shielded from radio, but this is the safest room we have." Glancing at the others to draw them in, he added, "Let me tell you what we're doing here."
True to his word, Nathan was perfectly docile as long as he could see the girls. Ten minutes after their arrival Owen slipped Rani away to check her over. As soon as Nathan realised she was gone he started fighting.
He was quick and agile, and he didn't stop. Gwen tried to get Maria out of the way and Nathan attacked them, struggling to keep from losing track of Maria as well.
Unable to stop him without hurting him, Jack finally got a sedative into him; just enough to take the fight out of him without actually knocking him out. Maria slid back between them, dropping to her knees next to Nathan.
"You have to stop," she told him.
"Yes. You can. Listen to me. This is a secure base. No one gets in. We can't get out. We can't get further from you than the length of this base, and it's not big enough for us to hide. You don't have to be able to see us all the time. You know we're here. We can't be anywhere else. Just like in the house, you couldn't always see us but we were there."
Jack watched as Nathan drew a couple of breaths before relaxing. "Yes."
"Yes." His head dropped back as he kept breathing.
He was recovering already, Jack realised with some concern. That shouldn't be possible. The sedation was light, but he still shouldn't be able to shake it off like that.
He slid into a sitting position, scooting to lean against the nearest wall. "I'm sorry, Captain."
"You warned us. You're quick."
"Made that way. I'm thirsty, sir."
"That's the sedative. I'll get something sent down. Come on, Maria."
"Go," Nathan agreed before she'd even protested. "I'll sleep."
"Not on the floor," Maria warned him.
"I'll be back."
"Kay." He was still sitting up, watching them, when Jack locked the door.
"He hasn't done anything wrong," Maria muttered, following Jack along the corridor.
"No, he hasn't," Jack agreed patiently, "but he's dangerous whether he means to be or not, and we can't take risks. He understands."
"Because Mrs Wormwood beats him around so much he thinks it's normal."
Jack glanced up as Ianto passed them. "Can you bring some water down to Nathan? He's probably sleeping. Just leave it inside the door. And where's Owen?"
"With Miss Chandra." Seeing the look on Maria's face, he added, "Rani."
"Is that her surname?"
"Didn't you know?" Jack asked, leading her across the main floor of the base.
"We weren't exactly friends. I'd never seen her before the Bane."
"But you'd been living together?"
Maria shrugged. "We were in the same house, Sarah Jane's house. Mrs Wormwood thought it was ironic or something. Sarah Jane had been trying to stop her."
"Sarah Jane Smith?" Jack turned, catching her shoulder. "You were in Sarah Jane Smith's house? Where is she?"
"She died in the factory, the first day," Maria said. "Ow, Captain, you're hurting me."
Jack let go, taking a step back and steadying himself on the wall. "Sarah Jane," he breathed. "Oh, I'm sorry."
Maria swallowed. "Did you know her? I'm sorry..."
"Friend of a friend. He isn't around much, and I tried to keep an eye on her where I could."
Jack nodded, pushing away from the wall and leaning in through a nearby doorway. "Owen?"
"Owen's our doctor," he told Maria. "He'll be examining you at some point."
"How nice," Maria muttered.
"Oh, don't worry, it'll be fun." Owen joined them, and Jack added, "But first, we need to know everything you know about Nathan and the Bane."
"First," Owen corrected him, "I need to know how badly you're hurt."
"Gastritis? Injuries on your legs and feet?"
"Um – yeah, some. Rani's gastro was worse than mine, though."
"What happened?" Jack asked.
Maria shrugged. "Mrs Wormwood's experiments."
"Med checks first, Jack. Gotta insist."
"Can I talk to Rani?"
"She's asleep." Glancing at Maria, he added, "And angry."
"She always was." Maria rubbed absently at her arm. "Mrs Wormwood was pretty vicious."
"To both of you?" Jack asked, eyes narrowed. Owen, scowling, swept her into the medbay and gestured her up on a table; Jack followed, watching as Owen ripped her trousers to the knee to expose the bandages.
"Mrs Wormwood hurt me. She made Nathan hurt Rani, and she always hurt me first. Rani knew what was coming." She glanced down as Owen carefully peeled off one of the bandages.
"Whoever put this on knew what they were doing."
Owen glanced up. "He hurt Rani and then turned around and patched you up?"
"He didn't want to hurt her. He just can't refuse Mrs Wormwood's orders. He's nice really."
Owen and Jack exchanged a look. "Let me know when you're finished," Jack ordered, turning and ducking out of the room.
Ianto was waiting, talking quietly with Gwen. "He's a polite little alien, I'll give him that," he said when Jack joined them.
"Not an alien. At least, not according to Maria. Polite?"
"Sat exactly where he was and didn't move, thanked me for the water, asked after Maria and thanked me again when I answered."
"You were there. Rani's convinced he's a bad guy."
"Maria's just as convinced he's not, and she's a lot louder about it."
"And he hasn't done anything, apart from a fight he warned you about," Gwen added.
"If there's control there, it's a lot deeper than anything I've seen."
"Is it possible? Do you know the Bane?"
"Yeah." Jack scrubbed a hand over his head. "They're sneaky and cruel, and their tech's advanced enough that this is possible. I've never heard of them doing it before, but..." He shrugged.
"Get something to eat," Gwen ordered. "We can't do anything else until Owen says we can talk to them."
"Yes, mother," Jack agreed.
Gwen threw up her hands, turning to Ianto. "I can't talk to him. You make him eat something."
"Yes, mother," Ianto agreed, straight-faced. "Come on, sir."
"Right." Jack glanced around at his team. Tosh was virtually present; she was working from the lab outside the Zero Room, listening for any noise Nathan might make, and attending through the computers. Gwen was tired but clear eyed, nursing a coffee. Owen was hovering over Maria; she was muzzy from the painkillers he'd given her, but she insisted on attending and Jack had agreed as long as she didn't wear herself out. Ianto lurked at the back of the room, watching carefully. "You first, Owen."
Owen nodded, letting go of Maria's shoulders to fold his arms. "The girls are basically unhurt. Heading towards malnutrition but not there yet – gastro probably didn't help with that. The leg injuries, which Maria seems to have gotten worse than Rani, are painful but not debilitating."
"Mrs Wormwood hurt me," Maria offered. "Nathan hurt Rani."
"Not much, he didn't. Cut her in just the right places to bleed a lot and look very dramatic without actually doing any damage."
"Smart boy. What about him?"
Owen shrugged. "Every medical test I can do from here says he's human. Ageing perfectly normally, healthy – all his vitals are exactly human norms, and I mean exactly. He's like a walking medical textbook. He's not injured – a little tired, but that's about all. Telomeres say the body's two months old, give or take. He says he's been awake four days. I can't prove that either way."
"Every medical test," Gwen repeated.
"Every – test."
"Owen," Jack said, sing song.
"He doesn't feel human," Tosh said.
Ianto was nodding. "It's something in the way he looks at you, I think. He doesn't feel dangerous – he just feels different."
"Right. Well, different aside...Maria, can you tell us what happened?"
Maria did, starting with her first visit to the factory and going right up to their rescue. She was careful to include everything, all the times Nathan had hurt them as well as the times he'd helped, and everything she remembered Mrs Wormwood saying.
"You sent the distress call?" Jack asked when she was done.
"I asked Mr Smith to send it."
"And Nathan knew."
"He was there. He didn't tell her. He doesn't want to help her."
"I believe you," Jack promised. "We just need to figure out how safe he is. You understand, don't you?"
"Yes," she murmured.
Owen leaned around to look at her, sighing. "That's the end of question time, kiddies. Maria needs to sleep." She started to protest and he held up a needle pointedly. "Maria needs to sleep."
She gave in with a scowl, letting him help her to her feet. "I promised Nathan..."
"You can see him when you wake up." Owen hustled her out, ignoring the rest of her arguments.
"Tosh, any movement?" Jack asked.
"Not for a while. You want me to check?"
"No. I'll be down in a while. Just keep listening." He glanced at Gwen. "Any insight yet?"
"If we're wrong about him, we could be in big trouble. If half of what Maria says is true..."
"Depends on which half," Ianto pointed out. "If she's right that he wants to help us, he could be very useful."
"Right." Jack sighed, "I'll go down and talk to him in a bit. Ianto, see if you can make contact with the UNIT reserves we were talking to yesterday."
Nathan was awake when Jack unlocked the room, sitting quietly on the bunk, hands locked together in his lap. "Morning," Jack said brightly.
"It's night time, sir."
Jack raised an eyebrow. "Internal clock. Impressive."
"Where's Maria?" He added "And Rani," but it was clearly an afterthought.
"They're sleeping. Owen gave them painkillers for their injuries."
Nathan flinched, looking away. "Of course. I had given them aspirin, but he probably had something stronger."
Jack slid down the wall opposite him to sit, watching him carefully. "Maria says Wormwood was giving you intel."
"Bane movements through the country. Areas where Bubble shock failed to penetrate, or penetrated especially deeply. Cardiff had the lowest penetration of any town. Sixty two point seven percent this morning."
"Oh? Where was the highest?"
"London had ninety nine point two percent penetration this morning. Highest in the country. Because of the factory, I think."
"Uh huh. Nathan, are you going to tell me everything she gave you?"
"Do you want to know what she gave me?"
Jack considered him. "What if you end up back with her? Are you going to tell her anything we give you?"
"I have to answer what I'm asked."
"Not what I asked."
He flinched again, lowering his head. "No, sir. I'll do what I can to keep from betraying you."
"My mother – hurts people. I love her..."
"Do you?" Jack studied him. "Really?"
"She is my mother. Children love their parents. It's a truth."
"Yeah. I suppose it is. Go on. You love her."
"I love her. And I obey her, but I do not – want to be near her. She is not as kind as you."
"Kind?" Jack repeated. "Since we met you we've threatened you, tied you up, deafened you and locked you in a room on your own."
"That says kindness to you?"
Nathan caught and held his gaze. "You haven't hurt me. You helped the girls. You gave me water. This room is quiet and you said my mother can't get me here."
"She definitely can't get you here."
"Captain Harkness, your team is unaffected. How did that happen? Torchwood Cardiff only has five members. It's statistically unlikely that you're all two percent."
"We're not. At least, I don't think we are. We didn't drink Bubble Shock."
Jack smiled faintly. "Sarah Jane warned us. She told us there was something weird about it, but she didn't want our help with it."
"She was very intelligent," Nathan said quietly.
Jack considered him for a minute. "I'm going to get a map. I want you to show me everything you know about the Bane movements. Yes?"
Rani had found herself alone often since their 'rescue'.
It wasn't malicious; the Torchwood team were perfectly friendly, and apart from keeping her away from some of the equipment they hadn't tried to restrict her at all. Owen, the doctor, had examined her on their first day but hadn't spoken to her since; Jack and Gwen always seemed busy, often with Nathan, but Tosh and Ianto were always polite when she wandered by. She often found herself helping out with whatever they were working on. But they didn't seek her out; it was perfectly possible to spend the whole day on her own, since she couldn’t really help with what they were doing.
She was sharing a room with Maria, but since Maria was spending most of her time with Nathan they didn't see much of each other. They weren’t really friends, anyway, which was kind of a shame. Rani thought she might have liked Maria if they'd met in real life.
On their fourth day in the base she slipped through the corridors to Nathan's room. Gwen was nearby, apparently functioning as his guard, but she didn't try to stop her from going in.
"Hi, Nathan," she murmured, lingering in the doorway.
Nathan looked up, smiling at her. "Hi, Rani. How are you?"
He didn't seem surprised to see her, Rani noted. She'd barely seen him while they'd been here, only in passing, but his willingness to help and absolute acceptance of the restrictions Jack had imposed on him had made her start to rethink her impressions of him.
"Fine, thanks." She took a couple of steps forward, studying him. "You look well."
"More like a real boy?" He gestured to the clothes he was wearing – jeans, t shirt, sweat shirt. "Ianto found them for me."
"They're better than the pyjamas."
He nodded, laying aside the eReader he'd been holding. "Can I help you, Rani?"
"Where'd you get the Kindle?"
"Captain Harkness. The internet's disabled on it, but it's got loads of books. I'm learning a lot."
"That's good," she murmured, taking another step.
"Would you like to sit down?"
She almost laughed at the social niceties; someone had been teaching him. "Thank you. I will."
They sat in silence for a minute before he shifted. "Rani..."
"I wanted to apologise," she said over him.
"For..." she gestured vaguely. "Trying to leave you behind."
"Oh." His face cleared. "You were right. I am dangerous."
"You're a victim..."
"And dangerous. Is this about blame? I don't blame you. I wanted to stay behind. I don't want to put you in danger. I don't want to put anyone in danger."
"Then why did you come?"
He considered. "Captain Harkness promised that my mother wouldn't be able to reach me here. If she can't reach me, if she can't give me orders..." He shrugged.
"You wanted to be free." Rani laughed softly.
"Is it funny?"
"No, it's just...Maria told me you were a prisoner and I didn't see it. I didn't want to see it, I suppose. You were ordering those Bane around and keeping us prisoner and...I'm sorry. I misjudged you."
"Misjudgements are easy. Facing them is harder." He grinned at her.
"What are you reading?"
"A brief history of time. It's not very brief."
"It's not very accurate, either, but it's entertaining."
"You read for fun?"
Rani nodded, rising to her feet. "Well, let me know if I can help."
"I will. Thank you, Rani." Gesturing to the almost-healed bruises on her face, he added, "I'm sorry."
"Yeah, well. In the past, isn't it. Enjoy your book."
Maria was talking to Gwen and pretending she wasn't lurking when Rani stepped back out of the room. "Oh, Rani!" she said, unconvincingly. "I didn't know you were there."
"I bet," Rani agreed.
"Feeling better?" Gwen asked.
"Much, thank you." To Maria, she added, "I see what you meant. I'm sorry."
Maria shrugged. "It doesn't matter now."
"No. I suppose it doesn't. Do you need help with anything?"
"I think Tosh could use some help, she's in the radio room," Gwen offered. Rani nodded, heading away, and Maria slipped into Nathan's room.
"Hi, Maria," he said cheerfully.
"What did Rani want?" she asked, perching on the edge of the chair.
"To apologise, I think. I didn't really understand. She said she was sorry for thinking I was dangerous, but I am dangerous. It never upset me, the things she said."
"I think she thought she was being unfair," Maria explained. "Sometimes apologies are about the person making them as much as the person receiving them. Rani isn't an unfair person and she wanted to apologise to you so that she'd know she'd done it."
"She wasn't unfair. I did hurt her."
"No, the Bane hurt her. It wasn't you."
Nathan shook his head. "I'm not taking blame. It wasn't my choice, I would never want to hurt someone. But it was my hands that hurt her. She wasn't being unfair."
Maria considered him for a moment before nodding. "All right."
Jack leaned in through the door, eyeing them. "Everything all right?"
"Everything's fine," Maria assured him. "How did the raid go?"
"Perfectly. We took out the Bane with no injuries. Nathan's intel was on the money."
"You should move again, quickly," Nathan told him. "My mother will change the routes. I'm surprised she hasn't already."
"Maybe she thinks you're not talking to us."
"Maybe. But she never ordered my silence."
"Nathan, we want to try something," Jack said.
"Yes, sir. What would you like me to do?"
Jack smiled. "You're so eager." Nathan shrugged, and he continued, "We've caught an infected human. We want to see if you can still command them. Is that all right?"
"I was only permitted to command them to further my mother's orders. I can't create commands or missions for them."
"Anything that gives us an edge. Will you try, at least?"
"Yes, sir." Nathan followed him to the main room, waving cheerfully at Tosh when she joined them. "Good evening, Dr Sato."
"How do you always know the time? I can't keep track down here."
"I just know. How are you?"
"I'm fine." She grinned at him, pausing on the edge of the cleared area.
The human was a dark-skinned boy about the girls' age. He was standing, completely unmoving, ignoring Owen and Ianto and their drawn weapons. "Who is he, sir?"
"We picked him up in Ealing. Not far from Sarah Jane's." Glancing at Maria, he added, "Recognise him?"
"I didn't meet any neighbours. Only Sarah Jane."
Nathan was considering the boy's handcuffs. "Can you take those off?"
Jack frowned. "Rather not. He wasn't very happy about coming with us."
"Maria, can you help me?"
"What do you want me to do?"
"Can you stand there?" He pointed to a spot just out of his reach, several feet from the boy.
"Don't get too close," Jack warned her. Maria nodded, walking past Nathan to the spot he'd pointed out.
"Yes. Thank you." Nathan smiled at her before turning to face the boy. "Do you know who I am?" he asked.
"Archetype," the boy said in a flat monotone. Jack jumped; it was literally the first noise the boy had made since they'd caught him.
Nathan nodded, looking completely unsurprised. "What are your orders?"
"Escort two prisoners to the Bane factory."
Nathan half-turned, glancing at Jack, who shook his head. "They took off before we could get to them."
"You cannot complete your mission. You will take orders from me." The boy rocked slightly on his feet without answering. "Yes?"
"You are permitted to order us only to further Mrs Wormwood's orders."
Jack blinked at the phrasing. "That's a little creepy."
Nathan shrugged. "Do you know who that girl is?" The boy eyed her carefully without answering. "My orders are to stop her escaping. You will help me."
"Maria, come here," Jack said. Maria turned towards him and the Bane boy jerked into her path, blocking her exit.
"Don't touch her," Nathan added hastily. "Just don't let her leave."
"Nathan," Jack said warningly.
"Please, just another moment." The boy lurched towards Maria once more, teetering on the verge of crashing into her without actually touching. "Stop. I can deal with her now." Maria moved back towards him; the boy stayed exactly where he was.
"Thank you," she breathed, passing him to join Jack.
Nathan nodded, glancing back at Jack. "Does that help you?"
"Yeah. Some. Can you tell him to obey us?"
"No. He doesn't register you as people." Glancing at the boy, he added, "What was your name before you were Bane?"
The boy blinked, frowning. "I...Clyde."
"Clyde," Nathan repeated softly. "Do nothing without my order, Clyde. Understand?" He nodded and he turned back to Jack. "They have no autonomy. He won't do anything."
"Really nothing," Maria added. "My dad didn't move, eat, sleep..."
"They don't need anything?"
"The Bane sustains them. They wouldn't eat if you gave it to them."
"That's wonderful. Just perfect," Jack sighed. He glanced at the immobile boy. "All right. Get him – Owen, find somewhere you can lock him in."
"Go with Dr Harper," Nathan ordered. Clyde shifted, looking around to focus on Owen and then lumbering after him.
"They know who we are," Maria murmured. "They know our names."
"They know Torchwood. I told you, my mother knew who was coming against her."
"Will Clyde know any of her plans?" Jack asked.
"It's unlikely. I was given information because that was my job, analyse and plan. Clyde's a foot soldier. All he knew was his mission. He probably didn't know why he was escorting those people."
"Still. It's good to know you can give them orders."
"If those orders don't clash with my mother's," Nathan reminded him.
"Yes, if that. Go on back to your room for now."
"Yes sir." He paused by Maria, studying her. "Thank you for helping me. I wouldn't have let him touch you."
"I know." She smiled at him.
Jack raised an eyebrow, studying her as Nathan left. "You okay?"
"That was really creepy." She nodded firmly. "I'm fine."
"Atta girl. Come on; I could do with a hand."
Jack started taking Nathan on missions. His ability to order the Bane guards to ignore them made their missions much easier, and he could demand information from any Bane at any time. The information they gathered made the raids more and more successful; Jack set up a railroad, passing rescued civilians to UNIT who got them out of the city to safe houses.
In between mission Nathan still stayed in the zero room. On missions he kept the earmuffs on whenever he could; they were still wary of Mrs Wormwood finding a way to get commands to him. There was one close call, when she was arriving at a site as the team were running from the back; Jack kept one hand locked on Nathan's collar, though the boy showed no inclination to go to her even when they caught a glimpse of her. Jack left him off the mission list for a day or two after that and had Gwen keep an eye on him, but he didn't seem worried by the encounter. Jack thought maybe the weeks he'd spent in Torchwood's custody had dulled whatever feelings the boy had for his creator.
"He doesn't process things the way we do," Gwen said two days later. "Things happen, he learns what he can and moves on. He doesn't seem to dwell."
"Healthy," Ianto noted.
"Maybe. All right, if he's not bothered, let's get him back on the missions."
The lights flickered and he glanced up, scowling. "Tosh! What's up with the lights?"
"Not sure yet!" she called back. "Bug in the control systems. I'll get it."
He nodded, heading to his office. His computer wouldn't turn on, though, and after one look at his paperwork he abandoned it to go bother Tosh.
She was working in the bay outside the zero room, movements quick but not yet frantic. Jack frowned, watching her. "What is it?"
"These systems aren't even connected, I can't figure out why they..."
Maria hurried past, towing Rani, and dived into the zero room. Jack frowned, following them as far as the door to watch Nathan talking quietly with them.
"Anything wrong, kids?"
"No sir," Nathan said easily, looking up at him. "Everything's fine."
"Jack!" Tosh called from outside, bursting into coughs.
Clyde was standing in the doorway, and clouds of vapour were pouring from the ceiling. Jack lunged for Tosh, trying to get her into the zero room, but she was already sinking to the floor, unconscious.
Jack backed towards the room, Clyde shadowing him. Nathan was holding Rani's arm, pinning her in place, and typing one handed on his Kindle. Maria was jittering in place, trying to figure out what to do.
The lights flickered once or twice before dying completely, throwing them into red-tinged emergency lighting. Jack glanced at the monitor on his wrist. "Complete power outage. All our defences are down and the generator isn't kicking in." Jack lowered his wrist, staring at them. "Nathan, what have you done?"
Nathan barely looked up from what he was typing. "Clyde, kill him."
"Nath...!" Jack was cut off mid-word as Clyde shot him point-blank with Tosh's gun.
"Watch him," Nathan ordered. "When he comes back to life, kill him again. And lock that door!" Clyde wandered towards the door of the lab.
"What are you doing?" Maria demanded. Rani was tugging, trying to free herself, but Nathan's grip on her wrist didn't budge.
"I have my orders."
"You have...how can you have orders? You can't hear Mrs Wormwood from in here!"
"She knew Torchwood was here, Maria. She knew Mr Smith was transmitting. Why do you think we were in Sarah Jane's house?"
"Because she wanted to get Nathan in here," Rani realised.
"Nathan," Maria said quietly.
"I have my orders," he repeated. Looking up finally, he added quietly, "I'm sorry. I told you I was dangerous."
"I was right, all along," Rani muttered, still tugging.
"Stop that," he said firmly. "I don't want to hurt you, Rani."
"Yeah, it looks like it and all. What have you done?"
He shook her once, sharply. "Why do you think you're in here? Everyone else in this base is unconscious, Rani. There's just us."
"You knocked them all out? Why?" Maria asked.
He finished typing, looking up at her. "So my mother can get in."
"Nathan," she whispered.
"You were working for her all along. I knew it," Rani muttered.
"I didn't." Nathan didn't seem to realise he'd spoken, focused on the door. "Clyde, open the door." Clyde wandered towards the door; none of Nathan's orders had ever instilled anything like urgency in him.
Nathan jerked Rani after him, turning to look at Maria, and she followed him without a word. Tosh was crumpled on the ground outside the door; Nathan stopped while Maria carefully tugged her into a more comfortable position. Owen was barely visible in the entrance to the medbay, but the others weren't in the main room.
Nathan let Rani go as they reached the main control desk, freezing her with a look, and typed quickly. The doors rumbled open.
Bane poured in, some crawling on the ceiling or walls. Human Bane followed; Maria scanned their ranks quickly, relieved when she didn't see her father.
Mrs Wormwood strolled in behind them. Nathan jerked involuntarily at the sight of her, unsure whether to approach her or not; she spared them a brief glance before looking around the room.
"Where is everyone, Archetype?"
"One there." He pointed to Owen. "Two down that corridor. I don't know where the other two are, but they're on base and unconscious."
"You don't know? You left two unaccounted for?"
"I was locked up," he whispered. "They didn't trust me, Mother."
"And those two? They aren't unconscious."
"No, they were with me. I didn't need to knock them out."
"Why are any of them alive? Your orders were to kill them."
Nathan cocked his head to one side. "My orders were to make sure no one could fight back. They can't fight back."
She slapped him, hard enough to knock him into the nearest desk. "Be careful," she warned him.
"Yes, Mother," he murmured, straightening.
A Bane appeared, dragging Jack; Clyde was following, eyes on his body. Another human Bane was carrying Tosh. They were both deposited in the centre of the floor; another Bane was bringing Owen to join them.
Jack gasped in a breath; Clyde shot him again without hesitation. Mrs Wormwood raised an eyebrow, looking at Nathan.
"He doesn't stay dead. I don't know why, he wouldn't tell me. Something to do with the Time Vortex. But it means he metabolises faster, and I couldn't risk him waking before it was time."
"So you thought killing him was the best plan?"
"He doesn't stay dead. He heals without damage."
Rani bumped into Maria, retreating from an advancing Bane. Nathan pushed them both to one side, glaring at the Bane until it wandered away from them.
Gwen and Ianto were added to the pile of Torchwood personnel. They were starting to come around; whatever Nathan had used, he'd timed it out perfectly.
"Maria," Nathan murmured. She glanced back at him; he was sheet white, the red mark from Mrs Wormwood's slap standing out clearly. "If they try and fight my mother will kill them. She doesn't need them, they're not two percent."
Maria nodded, pushing past Clyde to drop to her knees beside Gwen. She could hear Nathan ordering someone off her, but she ignored it to catch the Welsh woman's eyes. "Gwen, it's Maria. You have to stay really, really still, alright?"
"Mari...what's going on?"
"The Bane are here. No, don't move! They're already here, they're in the base. Captain Harkness is dead at the moment and your team's only starting to wake up. If you try and fight they'll kill you, understand?"
"How did..." Gwen shook her head, eyes coming into focus. "Nathan."
"Yeah," Maria admitted. "Implanted, I think."
Mrs Wormwood's fingers closed around her shoulder, pulling her to her feet. "That's quite enough, dear." Looking down at Gwen, she continued, "Are you going to be able to keep your team under control?"
"Yes," she said firmly, ignoring the growl from Owen.
"Good. I had planned for you to be dead by now, so it really won't interfere with my plans if I have to kill you." She pushed Maria absently towards Rani; they nearly went down from the collision, and then again as Rani jerked away from Nathan when he tried to help. Gwen was furiously whispering at Owen, keeping him still as the other two woke and absorbed what was happening.
"Stand up," Mrs Wormwood said once they were all awake enough. There was some glaring, but they obeyed; she pushed Maria towards them, and Rani followed quickly.
"A Torchwood base, all to myself. Well done, Archetype," Mrs Wormwood said.
Nathan smiled, glancing across the room as Jack revived again. "Clyde, stop killing him." Clyde wandered away towards the door and Jack heaved himself to hands and knees.
"Be careful, Captain," Mrs Wormwood said warningly. "Make a move and the Archetype will kill one of your team."
"You mean he hasn't already?" Jack glanced at his team for confirmation.
"Methyl propyl ether in the fire suppression systems," Nathan explained. "My orders were incapacitate, not kill."
"Sleeping gas. Nice. Fire suppression systems?"
"You kept checking the air circulation systems. I was starting to think you didn't trust me."
"Looks like I was right on that one."
"Oh, he never had a chance." Mrs Wormwood smiled, reaching out to touch Nathan's cheek; he leaned into the touch without looking away from Jack. "Not from the very first day. He never even knew he was doing most of it. Implanted commands are such handy things when used right."
"Like a little puppet," Jack agreed, rising very slowly to his feet. "He could tell us he was on our side because he didn't know he was betraying us. Is there actually a mind in there at all, Wormwood?"
"Oh, yes. But you haven't seen it. Everything he did since the day I sent him to Sarah Jane's has been planned to this end."
"What, to capture a handful of people? UNIT's still out there."
"Yes. And all their details are in your computer system, and the Archetype can find it for me. He's really very good."
"Nathan," Maria said softly. "Were we friends at all?"
He hesitated before saying slowly, "I wanted to be, but..."
"Nonsense," Mrs Wormwood said briskly. "His orders were to befriend you, to make any 'rescue' more plausible."
"I felt sorry for you," Rani said, disgusted. "I apologised to you."
"Yes. And I told you I was dangerous."
"That's supposed to make everything better?"
"It was all I could do," he murmured.
"Aw. Poor little monster," she snarled.
Mrs Wormwood caught her arm, jerking her out of the group and into the middle of the floor, flinging her to her knees. Gwen and Owen tried to follow, but the Bane forced them back. Tosh was holding Maria's arm, keeping her with them.
"Archetype, kill her," Mrs Wormwood said calmly.
"Don't you need her?" he asked, already accepting a blaster from a human Bane nearby.
"No. Dear little Maria will suffice. Do it."
Maria threw all her weight against Tosh, breaking free. Before they could stop her she darted between the guards and threw herself between Rani and Nathan.
"No," she said again. "If you're going to kill her, Nathan, you'll have to kill me first." He stared at her and she added desperately, "Nathan. You're a person. Don't let her do this to you, you know this is wrong." Lowering her voice so only he could hear her, she added, "Sarah Jane thought you were a person. Mind and soul. She died thinking that. Prove her right, Nathan. Make it worth something."
"He knows only what I tell him," Mrs Wormwood reminded her.
"Yeah, except he's been out in the world for weeks. He's seen what it's really like out here, he's seen how people treat each other. Nathan, please. I know there's a person in there. I've seen you. Please."
He crouched, studying her. "I am the Archetype."
"You are Nathan. Come on, think."
"I have my orders." Deliberately, he dropped his gaze to his hands. Maria followed it automatically, breath catching in her throat.
Nathan had flipped the gun in his hand and was offering it to her. A quick glance confirmed that Mrs Wormwood couldn't possibly see – Nathan's body was blocking her view.
"What are your orders?" she demanded, carefully reaching for it, trying not to let Mrs Wormwood see her move. Rani was barely breathing, watching edgily.
" 'Play along.' Use the attacks to send messages to my mother – place, and time. Once I have the necessary information, allow her access." Glancing past her shoulder as she took the gun from him, he added, "Kill Rani."
"Yeah, well, me first." She swung the gun up and fired.
Torchwood exploded into action the instant Mrs Wormwood collapsed, taking on the Bane with whatever they could find. Rani scrambled to the nearest solid object and hid behind it. Maria couldn't blame her; she desperately wanted to curl up and pretend none of this had ever happened, but she planted herself outside Rani's hiding place to protect her. Luckily none of the Bane paid her too much attention; the human ones had no orders and so weren't taking any part in the action, and the real Bane were too busy attempting to fight off Torchwood.
Nathan knelt, very still, by Mrs Wormwood's body. He wasn't paying any attention to the battle; he didn't even flinch when a shot came so close to hitting him it left burn marks along his arm. He just knelt there and held her hand.
When the fighting was over Jack crouched on her other side, watching him. "Nathan."
"Can you stop the Bane fighting everywhere else? Make them stand down?"
He glanced around, wiping his face and only managing to smear dirt and tears across it. "Yes. But from the Bane factory, not here."
"You're going to trust him?" Rani demanded. "Again?"
"One of these times we've got to be right."
"He just saved us," Maria agreed.
"It's another trick!"
"His mother's dead," Maria said gently, hating the way Nathan flinched at the words. "There's no one else who can give him orders."
"You don't know that."
"She's right, we don't," Owen agreed.
"Mrs Wormwood never would have risked anyone else getting their hands on the Archetype," Jack told them. "There won't be any more orders."
"So we just have to worry about the ones she's already given him." Rani looked back at Nathan. "Look, I know it isn't your fault. And you saved us, and I'm grateful. But we can't trust you or believe you, you must understand that."
Nathan nodded dully. "I can recall the Bane and tell you how to destroy them. Or you can lock me up, or..." His eyes flickered down to his mother's body. "I won't fight you. But if there are any Bane around, of either type, they'll protect me. I can't order them not to."
"Nathan." Maria knelt beside him, aware that Gwen was watching them very closely. Nathan was obviously aware as well, because he wasn't moving. He was barely even breathing. "Tell me exactly what your orders for the people on the base were."
"No chance of resistance."
"Mrs Wormwood wanted him to kill you," she said to Jack. "He knew it, but he just knocked everyone out instead."
"He killed Jack," Gwen pointed out. "Repeatedly."
"He knew Jack wouldn't stay dead."
"I knew he wouldn't stay down," Nathan corrected her. "If I'd left him alive he would have attacked and people would have died." He slid sideways off his knees, rubbing at his temple.
"Nathan," Jack said warily.
"My head hurts."
Jack glanced at Owen, who sighed and rolled his eyes and dropped down beside them. "Nathan, look at me."
"Jack, what about them?" Tosh gestured to Clyde and the other human Bane, still standing wherever they'd stopped.
"Follow Dr Sato," Nathan said from the floor, and every Bane shifted just slightly, focusing on her.
"Find somewhere to lock them up. Gwen, go with her. Ianto, take Rani and..." Maria caught his eye and he amended, "Take Rani, get some sugar into her, make sure she's okay. Owen, what do you need?"
"Space," he said bluntly. "And time, and him in my medbay. I don't like what I'm seeing here."
Jack nodded. "Nathan, who else can give the Bane orders?"
"Mother's second was eaten when he failed to recapture me." Nathan was paling almost as they watched. Even the vivid handprint on his cheek was fading. "She wouldn't give control to anyone else. Not until she had to. And Bane Mother can only – she can't leave the factory."
"Jack," Owen insisted.
"Yeah." Jack looped his arm through Nathan's, levering him to his feet.
"Wait." He leaned down, brushing two fingers across the broach on Mrs Wormwood's dress. Her outline flickered, fading into her true Bane appearance; Maria skipped backward, startled. "I'm sorry, Mother. But you made me a tool. Maria made me a person. And people have choices."
He straightened, took two steps towards Owen, and went down hard.
Maria found herself appointed Nathan's nurse.
It didn't bother her. All she had to do was sit beside him and raise the alarm when he woke up. If he woke up. The Torchwood group were busy preparing to storm the Bane factory, and Rani – Maria hadn't seen Rani in a while. She probably wasn't the best choice for Nathan's nurse, anyway. Maria didn't mind, and there was no question she had more influence over him than anyone else on their side.
Gwen thought maybe he'd imprinted on her. "You were the first person he ever saw, yeah? And you promised to save him, and you were kind to him. I don't suppose the Bane were very kind." Whatever it was, he'd broken Mrs Wormwood's control for her, and she felt sort of responsible for him now.
She flicked idly through the Kindle Rani had brought from his room – a peace offering, she thought, though the other girl had been right about Nathan all along. Most of the books were texts, physics and chemistry and maths, but there were a few novels on it. Mostly chick lit, and she wondered who'd owned the Kindle before.
She was halfway through a Terry Pratchett novel, wondering who'd thought it a good read for a boy with no cultural background, when Nathan stirred. She pressed the alarm, rising to her feet. "Nathan?"
"Mmm." He raised a hand to his head, pressing against his temple.
Owen slipped past her, tugging Nathan's hand away from his head. "I bet it does. Open your eyes."
"The light hurts."
"Well, you're really going to hate this, then. Open your eyes. Maria, hold his hands down."
"What are you doing?" Maria asked, catching Nathan's hands in hers.
Owen glanced at her. "I'm checking for concussion. He went down pretty hard back there. Nathan, open your eyes."
Nathan winced but submitted to having Owen check his eyes with a flash light. Owen rapidly ran through a couple of other tests before nodding and taking a step back. "All right, I don't see any sign of concussion. Maria, you have to step away from him."
"Because we don't know which side he's on, so take a few steps back. Now. Nathan, I can give you a pain killer."
"No. Thank you." Nathan warily and very slowly sat up, watching him. "Where is my mother?"
"Mrs Wormwood's dead."
"I know. Where is she?"
Owen considered him. "She's in UNIT custody at the moment." Nathan nodded slowly, gripping the side of the bed tightly. "How are you feeling?"
"My head hurts."
"Nathan..." Maria started to step forward, halting at Owen's sharp gesture.
"I can give you something for that."
"It won't help, sir."
"Why not?" Maria asked. Owen glanced up as Jack slipped in, but he didn't speak and after a moment Nathan hesitantly answered.
"I had...I didn't want to follow the order. I needed not to follow it. But it was all tied up with – I burnt them out, all her commands. I burnt them out of my brain. It's still burning. Healing, but burning still." He looked up at Jack. "I don't have to follow any more. I can't prove it to you. But I am free of her. I make my own choices now."
"You can't prove it to me," Jack agreed. "But I'm going to give you a chance. We're ready to go to the factory."
Nathan nodded. "I can recall the Bane for you. I can tell you how to destroy them. I..." He stopped, swallowing.
"What?" Jack asked quietly.
"I would rather not do it, sir. I will tell you anything you need, but..."
"That's fine," Jack agreed. "Owen, he can travel?"
"Don't leave him on his own."
"Wasn't planning to. Maria..."
"I'm coming," she told him.
"No. You're staying here."
"You're staying here. That's an order, and Owen is lurking around with that needle. Rest and get better. We'll be back."
"You'll bring Nathan back?"
"I will," he promised. "Nathan, I'll be back for you in a few minutes."
Ianto was waiting just outside the medbay. "Sir, if Nathan does turn again, it might be useful to have Maria with us."
"If he does turn again it'll be because she can't do anything about it. No. She's staying here."
He nodded. "We're ready. I've double checked."
"Good. Grab him, will you? Where's Gwen?"
"Waiting at the car." Ianto ducked into the medbay, reappearing a moment later supporting Nathan.
"Let's go, then."
The streets were crowded, mostly with human Bane. Some were still working at whatever task they'd been given, but most had stopped what they were doing for lack of orders. Jack considered having Nathan order them home or to safety, but it would have taken too long, and when the factory was destroyed hopefully they'd be freed anyway.
There were Bane, real Bane, guarding the factory gates. Nathan made the team leave the car and walk in; no one tried to stop them, even though they were openly carrying weapons and clearly not Bane of either type. There were a lot more Bane inside, and some came worryingly close to the team, but Nathan pushed his way through without pause.
In the rubble of the main room he paused, eyeing the bus still embedded in the wall.
"Cosy," Jack noted. "Who did that?"
"Sarah Jane. She couldn't get the doors unlocked."
Nathan nodded, turning to a work station. "I can recall the Bane from here." Something roared overhead, and he added, "That's the Bane Mother. She can't reach us."
"Holy...are you sure?" Gwen demanded, automatically lifting her gun towards the ceiling.
"She can't reach us here. Captain, do you want to watch me?"
"Since the controls are labelled in Bane, that wouldn't help me much. I'll trust you. How long to get all of the Bane back here?"
"A few hours. They're spread all over the country." Nathan finished what he was doing and stepped past the group, looking up. "Greetings, Bane Mother."
The thing roared and he flinched, stumbling back a step. Jack caught one shoulder, steadying him. "She can't reach us, yeah? Can she set the Bane on us?"
"I can order them down. Bane Mother – the operation was in my mother's hands, and her death leaves it in mine. Planning isn't Bane Mother's strong suit."
"Nathan, are you alright?" Gwen said sharply.
"Oh yes." He smiled faintly. "She's yelling at me, but I don't have to obey. I'm wonderful."
Bane poured into the room from deeper in the complex; the team swung their weapons up, but they made no move to attack, just milled around.
"That the recall?" Jack asked.
"Yes sir. Those are Bane who were close by."
"Nathan," Ianto said thoughtfully, "was Wormwood keeping any other subjects? Other than you and the girls?"
"If she was, she didn't tell me." Nathan moved to another control panel, this one more conventionally labelled in English. Ianto followed, watching over his shoulder as he ran through a search string, demolishing the security protocol without seeming to notice it.
After a moment he blinked, studying the screen. "No. Or, at least...if she did there's no record of it here."
"She'd have recorded it?" Gwen asked, eyeing the Bane still milling around under Mother. The huge alien was still roaring, but they didn't seem to be reacting much.
"She was a scientist, more or less. She'd have recorded something." He glanced up as the Bane Mother screamed again, answering "No, I didn't kill her. It wasn't me." He was pale, and Jack tugged him away from the computer.
"If we leave now, can she undo what you've done? Send them away again?"
"Once they're all here, she can, but not until then."
"Right. We'll wait outside, then. Tell me exactly what I need to do to destroy her."
Nathan stayed in the jeep, in the end, watched by Gwen, while Jack and Ianto ventured back into the factory. The Bane now covered every surface, clinging to walls and ceilings and each other, but they cleared a path for the two Torchwood men.
"I once knew someone who'd have given you a chance," Jack announced to the Bane Mother; she'd withdrawn into the ceiling and was watching them suspiciously. "He'd have offered to let you leave the planet. Unfortunately for you, I'm not him. You and your Bane killed and hurt millions of people. You can burn."
He and Ianto set the little speakers on the computer, wiring them together. On Ianto's nod they set them going, broadcasting noise directly to the Bane Mother on the strongest signal they could devise. She immediately screamed, thrashing violently and knocking Bane down every time she moved.
Jack ducked out of the way of a falling Bane. "Time to go!" Ianto nodded, scrambling out past the bus with Jack on his heels.
Gwen was standing by the car, watching as the building started to quake. Nathan was huddled inside, carefully not looking; he didn't look up as they piled in and pulled the car down to the gates.
Jack halted there and they climbed out, watching as the building abruptly exploded. Thick Bane goo covered the debris and rained down around them, though nothing touched them or even came close.
"Is that stuff dangerous, Nathan?" Jack asked, toeing a lump.
"I wouldn't eat it, sir, but it won't harm the water cycle or anything." Nathan half-turned, watching through the gates. The human Bane outside were wandering around, completely confused.
"That looks promising," Jack said.
"Promising accidents," Ianto agreed. "They've no idea where they are."
"It'll clear." Nathan leaned against the car, watching them. "They'll remember."
"Jack, we should call UNIT, make sure they're ready," Gwen said. "We're going to need them on the streets until we get some order back...Ianto!"
Ianto spun, catching Nathan as he crumpled. "Breathing," he reported quickly. "Heart rate's – up a little – no temperature." He looked up, shrugging. "Exhaustion?"
"Maybe." Jack grimaced. "Should have brought Owen. Gwen, call UNIT while we're moving. Get hold of Martha, if you can, or that friend of hers – the Brig."
"Right," Gwen agreed, opening the door for Ianto. "Got it?"
"He doesn't weigh anything." Ianto slid in, managing Nathan easily. Jack shoved the door closed and climbed in the front. "Let's go."
UNIT took over control of the city; Jack moved everyone to another Torchwood base and he and Ianto spent a lot of time liaising with the various UNIT officials. Rani and Maria went out each day with Gwen and Tosh, joining the clean-up crews, pitching in wherever they could help. Clyde, back to himself, went with them. Jack had UNIT watching out for any of their parents; UNIT had taken the rest of the former Human Bane off their hands, but the thought of the kids in refugee housing made Jack uncomfortable and while they were in London anyway he didn't mind keeping them.
Nathan slept in the hastily-built zero room, slowly healing.
"He really did burn his brain," Owen told Jack. "It's regenerating, but he actually burnt parts of it away. I don't know how he stayed on his feet, let alone anything more complicated."
"His brain is regenerating?" Jack repeated.
"Who is he, Jack?"
"Still working that part out."
Four days into the rebuilding efforts, Jack's liaison of the day – they never seemed to last longer than a day, for some reason – arrived at their base. "Captain Harkness!"
"Colonel Oduya," Jack said brightly. "How can I help you?"
"I have someone you might want to meet." He gestured to his car; one of his men got out, directing a civilian.
"Alan Jackson. I believe you're acquainted with his daughter."
"Oh." Jack tapped his radio. "Tosh, you online?"
"Here, Jack," she said cheerfully. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. Need you to pull Maria and get her back here."
"She's not here?" Alan asked anxiously.
"She's fine," Jack promised him. "Tosh?"
"With you in twenty. What should I tell her?"
"That nothing's wrong. And it's not about Nathan."
Alan mouthed 'Nathan' but Jack ignored him as Tosh signed off. "Thank you, Colonel."
Oduya nodded, unsmiling as ever, and turned away. Alan glanced after him before advancing on Jack. "Where's Maria?"
"On her way back here. Where've you been, Mr Jackson?"
"I..." he swallowed, looking around. "I was on Bannerman Road when I woke up. Maria wasn't there."
"She's been here with my team. What did Colonel Oduya tell you?"
"Just that she was here."
"Maria helped us to bring down the Bane. She crippled their strongest weapon and gave us the power and the opportunity to stop them. Your daughter's a hero, sir."
"My..." Alan swayed, bracing himself on the nearest wall. "Maria?"
"Yeah. I'll let her give you the details. Come in. She won't be long."
Rani was with Maria when they arrived in. The two girls had started a tentative friendship, built mostly on being the only people each could really talk to, and on the fact that Rani was willing to give Nathan the benefit of the doubt. The revelation that he had literally given himself brain damage to protect them had shaken most of the team.
"Over here." Jack stood, pressing Alan back into his seat; the girls were coming from behind him and couldn't make him out.
"What's going on?" Maria asked.
"Nothing's wrong," Jack assured her. "Colonel Oduya was here. He brought you something."
"Brought me..." Maria's eyes widened as her father stood up. "DAD!"
Jack stepped away as the pair rushed at each other, collapsing together in a heap. Rani watched for a moment before turning away. "Is she leaving?"
"I haven’t asked. I thought I'd give them a few minutes." He glanced at Rani. "We'll find yours, Rani. Promise."
"You shouldn't promise things you can't deliver, Captain." She shrugged off the hand he tried to put on his shoulder. "I'll go get some coffee. They'll probably need it."
She was gone. Jack scowled, settling down at his desk where he could keep an eye on the Jacksons without interrupting them.
True to her word, Rani re-emerged with coffee once the Jacksons finally let go of each other. It took a while; even after they'd calmed down enough to actually start talking, neither was very eager to let go of the other. They kept touching, checking, and they stayed in each other's eyeline all the time.
"So," Alan said finally, once they were all sitting together with coffee in hand. "Captain Harkness says you saved the world. What's that about?"
"Crippled the Bane's strongest weapon?"
"Oh." She glanced at Jack. "I didn't cripple him."
"You stopped him," Jack pointed out. "He might have wanted to stop before that, but you're the one he actually did it for."
"They're not deliberately speaking in tongues," Rani said brightly, directly to Alan. "They've just forgotten that they haven't actually told you what they're talking about yet."
"I'm used to it." He grinned when Maria punched him, rocking with the hit. "It'd be nice if one of you could tell me, though."
Maria nodded, taking a deep breath. "Remember when I went with Kelsey to the Bubble shock factory? Well, we got separated when some alarms started..."
She went through the whole story. Alan listened carefully, still holding on to her, reluctant to let go. Rani added bits here and there; Jack gave Torchwood's side where it was needed.
"The Bane's weapon was a kid?" Alan said finally.
"A boy," Jack agreed. "It would have worked, too, if they'd been more careful. Wormwood thought her control would keep him from thinking about what he was doing, but he knew right from wrong. Sarah Jane and Maria taught him that much."
"And he's still here?"
"Healing. He hasn't woken up since the factory."
Alan sighed, shaking his head. "I don't remember anything."
"None of the human Bane do," Maria told him. "You were sort of – switched off. Nothing that happened actually registered with you."
"It really, really wasn't your fault, Dad. Trust me. It's fine."
He nodded, taking a deep breath. "Right. Captain Harkness, how can I help?"
"You're helping to rebuild the city, right? Or the country, I guess. How can I help?"
"What can you do?"
"You're not leaving?" Rani interrupted.
"I don't think we're going back to that house. And that UNIT Colonel, Odubya..."
"Oduya," Jack corrected.
"Oduya," Alan repeated. "He's promised to keep an eye out for Chrissie or Ivan, and he'll bring the information here." Maria shuddered and he tugged her lightly against him. "Sorry."
"It's fine. I don't mind staying here. It's nice to be able to help."
Alan nodded, looking back at Jack. "I'm computer security. Firewalls, viruses, hacking attempts."
"Alright. I think we'll be able to use you. But not today. Relax and catch up with Maria. I'll make sure you have a room."
Rani started to stand to follow him and Maria caught at her wrist. "Rani, stay?" Glancing at Alan, she added, "If you don't mind, Dad."
"No, of course not. Just give me a second to talk to Jack." Alan carefully disentangled himself, pausing as he started to stand. "Rani, do me a favour and hang onto her until I get back. Just in case she vanishes."
"Yes sir," Rani agreed with a grin, taking Maria's hand.
"Thanks," Jack murmured as they walked a few paces away. "Rani's a bit...she doesn't have anyone except Maria, anymore. We're looking for her parents, but..."
"It's all right. It was the other way around, I hope her parents would be kind to Maria." He glanced over his shoulder at them; Rani was talking quietly, holding Maria's attention.
"You don't have to stay. Between us and UNIT, we could set you up somewhere."
"I get the feeling she wouldn't be too happy about that."
Jack nodded. "She feels responsible for him. She taught him how to be a person and he burnt through the control to save her, but he doesn't really know anything about this world. She wants to make sure he's all right."
"And is he?"
"Owen says he's healing. I guess we'll find out."
"What are you going to do with him? Dangerous genius..."
"Possibly dangerous genius on the loose?"
"I have some ideas. Need to talk to him." Alan glanced over his shoulder again and Jack smiled faintly. "Go back to your daughter, Mr Jackson. This can wait. One of us will be around if you need anything, all right?"
"Thank you." Alan clapped him on the shoulder, heading back to join the girls.
Owen was checking Nathan's monitors when he woke.
"Hey." Owen glanced briefly at him, checking the readings. "How're you feeling?"
Nathan swallowed a couple of times before answering. "Tired. How am I?"
"Everything looks alright. You know who you are? Where you are?"
"I'm Nathan. The Archetype." He glanced around without moving his head. "I don't know this place, but it feels like a zero room and you're Dr Harper, so it's probably Torchwood."
"Correct on all counts."
"How long was I..."
"Days." Owen waved it away, reaching for a glass on the table. "Here. Can you hold this? Drink it slowly."
Some of the water spilled, but he managed most of it. "Thank you."
"Uh huh. Follow my finger, Nathan."
"I'm really tired."
"Yeah. Quick test. Follow my finger, come on. Do you want a painkiller?"
"I'm not in pain. Thank you."
Owen let him go back to sleep, stepping out of the room to call Jack. "There's no sign of brain damage," he reported. "Kid's wiped out, but he's not sick and he's not in pain. A little real sleep, I think he'll be his old self. Only hopefully without the homicidal intentions."
"Let's hope," Jack agreed.
"So what are you going to do with him, Jack?" Owen studied him. "You're not going to keep him."
"Put a kid on the team? Gwen would kill me. No, I have another idea. Let me know next time he wakes up."
Jack talked to Nathan the next time he woke up. Nathan was perfectly aware that he couldn't be trusted and couldn't stay with Torchwood, but he had no suggestions to make, only a promise that whatever Jack decided he would go along with.
"So what are you going to do?" Gwen asked when he left the room.
"I have a plan."
"Oh? And what's your plan?"
Jack grinned at her. "Nathan needs to be on his feet, so it'll wait a couple of days. Need some help out in the field? I'm very useful."
"Yeah, I'll bet. Come on then. We'll find something you can do."
Two days later Owen signed Nathan off medically; his vitals had all returned to normal, his brain was working at his usual speed, and his reflexes had picked back up. Jack wandered into a conversation he was having with Maria, Gwen on his heels.
"Alright, kids. Having fun?"
"Yes," Maria said warily. "What's going on?"
Jack gestured her to wait, pulling out his mobile – phone service was back, though reserved for UNIT and the emergency crews – and dialled.
"You're not supposed to have service yet," his target said disapprovingly.
"Voice of a nightingale. Where are you? I need to see you."
"I'm in Mount Snowdon," Martha said. "I can come to Cardiff."
"We're in London."
"Course you are. Near ground zero, I suppose. What do you need?"
Jack glanced at Nathan, considering. "It's a face to face favour."
"You just want to make sure I can't refuse."
"You never cease to amaze me. Can you come here or should we go to you?"
"Sounds serious." She spoke to someone else for a moment before coming back. "Can you get out of London?"
"Yeah. We'll be with you in a while."
"Me and – a guest."
Martha sighed. "You want to bring a guest onto a UNIT base and you won't tell me who? You're using up favours, Jack."
There was silence for a moment before she said, "Look, it'll take you hours to drive. Let me...give me five."
"Who's Martha?" Maria asked when he hung up.
"A friend of mine. A doctor." He glanced at Nathan. "She works for UNIT."
"Unified Intelligence Task Force," he told Maria. "They're like Torchwood, but they answer to the United Nations and they have better funding."
"Hey!" Jack protested. Nathan lifted one shoulder in a shrug.
Jack's phone rang and he answered it, listening intently for a few moments before nodding. "You're the best, Martha. I owe you for this." Hanging up, he glanced past the kids at Gwen. "She's rerouting an aid helicopter. Should be here pretty soon."
"Are you sure about this, Jack?"
"No. Gotta talk to her about it, then we'll see."
"Hmm. Maria, can you give me a hand for a while?"
"Yeah." She smiled at Nathan. "I'll see you later. Behave."
"Yes." He watched her leave before looking back at Jack. "Are you sending me away?"
Jack considered him. "Yeah. Maybe. We're going to talk to my friend. Does that upset you?"
It really didn't, Jack realised. Nathan hadn't reacted to anything much since Mrs Wormwood had died, taking whatever orders he was given without complaint or comment.
"Come on. We need to go meet the copter."
Martha was waiting when the helicopter landed at the Mount Snowdon base. "Jack," she said cheerfully, pulling him into a hug.
"Only UNIT would build their secret base under the most-climbed mountain in Britain."
"As opposed to under the biggest tourist attraction in Cardiff?" She let him go, eyeing Nathan. "Jack?"
"Nathan, come and meet Martha." Jack dropped a hand to his shoulder. "Martha Jones, Nathan. Nathan, this is my friend Martha."
"The doctor." Nathan shook her hand politely.
"Martha, we need privacy," Jack said quietly. Martha nodded, eyeing Nathan once more before turning away.
"Need you to sign in, but I've got your badges here." She took them from a soldier, passing them over. Nathan examined his curiously; Jack carefully pinned his on his lapel and Nathan mimicked him. Martha led them onto the base and into her office, firmly closing the door against her escort.
"Now. Talk to me, Jack."
Jack steered Nathan into a chair, standing behind him. "It's a long story, Martha."
"I'm good at long. Start at the start."
Jack took a deep breath before beginning the story. Nathan sat quietly through it, lifting his shirt to provide proof when prompted but otherwise unmoving.
Martha listened intently, scribbling notes as he talked. When he finished she sat back in her chair, taking a deep breath. "I see."
"Owen's sent his notes, I'll give you them before I leave, but..."
"What do you want me to do, Jack?"
Jack glanced down at Nathan, unmoving in his chair. "I want you to take Nathan."
"He needs someone who understands..."
"That's not me, then, I'm still completely lost."
"...understands his needs," Jack continued doggedly. "Nathan's a good kid, Martha. He could do great things here. Look...we gave him an eReader with no communication equipment. I mean, Tosh actually took out the hardware. No way that thing could talk to other computers. And he used it to reprogram our base without us noticing a thing. But the first time we gave him a banana he tried to eat the skin. He needs someone to look after him. Teach him how to be what he should."
"And if there's still commands buried in there?"
"We're fairly sure he burned them out. But if we're wrong..." Jack shrugged, eyes dark. "You're in the middle of a military base."
Martha made a face at him, turning to Nathan. "What do you think, Nathan?" Nathan shrugged and she sighed. "Really. If you're unhappy about it..."
"Will Maria be here?"
Jack shook his head. "Not straight away. I want to talk to Martha about that, too. But we'll get her here to visit you. I promise."
Nathan nodded. Martha glanced at Jack, frowning. "Talk to me about...?"
"Maria's father. He's a computer security expert, and he was one of Wormwood's Bane."
"He was Maria's guard," Nathan offered. "My mother liked to hurt the girls, whatever way she could."
"Sounds like a lovely woman," Martha agreed. "Computer security?"
"He's good, from the records we found and what I've seen him do. He works – worked – for big businesses, puts up firewalls, catches viruses." He grinned. "UNIT could use a couple good computer security guys."
Martha nodded. "I'll talk to him. It'd be nice if you weren't traipsing through our databases every time you felt like it." She grinned at the look on his face. "Didn't think of that, did you."
"I may have just outsmarted myself," he muttered.
Martha considered them for a moment before rising to the feet. "Nathan, come with me."
"Where are we going?" he asked, standing to follow her out of the room.
"I want to show you a project the team's been hung up on for a while. There's not much research going on right now, everyone's trying to sort out the mess the Bane left behind, so there shouldn't be many people around."
Jack followed them through the corridors, watching. Nathan was still withdrawn, but he was watching their path at least, paying enough attention to know where they were going and how to get back. It shouldn't have been enough to help him; his Visitor badge would get him detained by any UNIT personnel who saw him on his own, and it wouldn't give him admittance to anything. But Jack was learning not to underestimate Nathan.
Martha opened the door to one of the labs, glancing in. "Dr Aylaia. Got a minute?"
"Dr Jones," the woman answered. "Depends what you need."
"Just wanted to show off your project. Captain Harkness, Nathan, this is Dr Aylaia."
"Pleasure to meet you," she said, glancing curiously at Nathan.
"Tell them what you're working on," Martha told her. "Nathan, go take a look."
"Don't touch anything," Jack added. Nathan nodded, slipping between them and approaching the desk. Dr Aylaia glanced at Martha, who gestured for her to go ahead. Doubtfully, she started explaining the project.
It was completely over Martha's head; it had to do with propulsion systems, but that was as much as she'd ever been able to gather. Nathan was following easily, though, asking questions – and from the sudden look of interest on Dr Aylaia's face, they were intelligent questions.
Jack was nodding as he listened; after a moment he blinked, turning to Martha. "That's where I lose track."
"He's following? Dr Aylaia's our expert..."
"He's definitely following." Jack watched as Nathan leaned over the schematic, pointing something out.
"Jack, I don't know about this," Martha murmured, watching him.
"He needs watching, Martha. If he'd genuinely been on the side of the Bane, they'd have control of the world by now. We're just lucky they didn't leave 'conscience' out of the mix, and that he imprinted on Maria instead of anyone else."
"Yeah, but I don't know what qualifies me to be the person watching him."
"Don't touch," Jack said more sharply. Nathan glanced back at him, taking one careful step back from the – whatever that was he was looking at. Dr Aylaia flicked an annoyed glance at them, but she didn't miss a beat in her discussion.
Turning back to Martha, he said slowly, "Wormwood left him with two girls."
"Maria and Rani. You said that."
"Rani hates him. I mean, not really; intellectually, she understands that none of what happened was really his fault. But every time she visited the house Wormwood made Nathan hurt her in one way or another. And he was effectively their jailor. So she doesn't like him. Doesn't trust him."
"He needs someone who will trust him."
"But not too much."
"Not too much," Jack admitted. "You don't have anything to hold against him. Gwen's angry at him, and Tosh is afraid of him. I can't keep him."
"I could make a call," Martha suggested, but Jack shook his head.
"That'd be worse. He has less idea how to be human than the Doctor does. Way too easy for him to slide off the straight and narrow – Nathan, don't touch that!"
"I asked him to," Dr Aylaia said quickly. "Only to steady it while I work on it."
"Sorry. He's not cleared to touch anything." Martha gestured sharply; Nathan carefully laid the piece back down, shook Dr Aylaia's hand and came back to join them.
"Martha?" Dr Aylaia called. "I want him. I'll trade you my tech."
"We'll see." She steered Nathan out of the room.
"I didn't think Earth had technology like that," he said, glancing at Jack.
"Earth as a whole doesn't. UNIT and Torchwood, we're a little ahead of the curve. It'll be disseminated. Do you know where that came from?"
"No. It's not anything I've seen before."
"Then how did you know how it worked?" Martha asked.
Nathan shrugged. "It's all maths. There are only so many ways to lay out a system like that."
Over his head, Jack caught Martha's eye. She rolled hers at him, leading them back to her office. Nathan settled back into his seat, watching as Martha typed quickly.
"Ok," she said finally. "This is what I can do. We can house you here on the base, limited access to particular projects. You'll have a guard, at first. Like – a probation period. I'll contact Alan today. He takes the job, he and Maria will be living on base too." She leaned forward, watching him. "You'll have to answer to me. Do you understand?"
"You'd be my..." Nathan caught Jack's shift and edited himself to "Guardian."
"Something like that, yeah." She glanced at Jack, who looked blandly back at her. "How does that sound?"
"It sounds fine."
"Right. Let's get you settled in, then."
Jack hung around while Martha forced Nathan's paperwork through – being a known Companion gave her extra pull, but it still took both of them on occasion. The fact that Nathan kept telling anyone who asked just what his role in the invasion was didn't help; several UNIT officers thought he should be dissected rather than hired on, and they weren't shy about expressing it. Eventually Martha shrugged and pulled out her phone, tossing it to Jack while she faced off against the latest scientist.
"Martha Jones!" the Doctor crowed.
"Doctor, it's Jack. Are you busy?"
He pretended not to notice the sudden silence in the room.
"No. What's wrong? Where's Martha?"
"She's fine, here with me. I might need a favour. We've got a bit of a situation down here at UNIT, Mount Snowdon."
"I've come into guardianship of a pretty amazing kid. I was planning on leaving him with Martha under UNIT care, but they seem to think cutting him open is their best option."
"When are you, Jack?" the Doctor asked, voice sharp.
"Bubble Shock," he said quietly. "So Sarah Jane..."
"I think so. I'm sorry."
"Mmm." There was a long pause before he said, voice deliberately cheerful, "You found the Bane boy."
"Mm hmm." Jack carefully didn't react outwardly.
"Put me on speaker."
Jack obeyed, glancing at Martha, who grinned cheerfully. "Hi, Doctor!"
"Hi, Martha," he said fondly. Voice sharpening, he added, "Are the idiots who want to dissect your guest listening?"
"Good. Listen carefully, then. You might have to repeat this to them a few times before they catch on."
It was the Oncoming Storm who said very clearly, "Do Not Hurt That Boy."
No one tried to touch Nathan after that. The quarters next to Martha's were miraculously cleared, and Nathan was given a security badge that would grant him access to two or three of the labs.
"You don't go anywhere without me knowing about it," Martha told him. "Not unless it's a genuine emergency. Don't ever go with anyone who says they're from me; I'll have told you they're coming. Understand?"
"No. I mean..." he frowned, studying the radio she'd given him. "I understand the orders. I don't understand the reason. Captain Harkness said I would be safe here."
"You are. More or less. Especially now the Doctor's weighed in to protect you. But there are people who'll think what they might learn from you would be worth his wrath – people who've never met him – and they could do a lot of harm to you very quickly. Besides, if this is going to work I'll need to know where you are all the time."
"In case I start following my mother's orders again."
"Yes," she agreed honestly. Nathan knew exactly what the conditions on his life were.
"I would tell them if they asked me."
He gestured vaguely. "You said they wanted to learn from me. I know what I am. I could tell them anything they wanted to know."
She smiled softly. "Don't tell them that. In fact, don't tell anyone anything about yourself without checking with me first."
"Careful," Jack said from where he was holding up the wall. "You'll create a mute."
He shoved off the wall, coming closer. "You can tell them anything except how you were created, and your role in the invasion."
"That doesn't leave much," Nathan pointed out.
"It leaves your name. It leaves what you like and don't like. It leaves everything you know, everything you've learned."
Nathan nodded in understanding, and Jack grinned at him. "I'm going to go back to London. I'm leaving you with Martha, but if you need me, Nathan, or you want to talk to me, call me, alright?"
He glanced at Martha, who nodded. "We'll put you in touch any time you like, Nathan."
Jack caught Martha's hand, drawing her to the doorway. "One last thing." He glanced briefly at Nathan, occupied with examining his new bed and apparently completely ignoring them. "He's not a soldier. Don't try to make him one. Don't put him on weapons research."
Martha nodded. "He's in the system as a tech. He'll need basic hand to hand, but he won't need weapons training."
"I can shoot," Nathan offered. "Hand eye co ordination and reflexes well above human norms. I can fight."
"No," Jack said firmly. "You're thirteen."
"I'm less than three months."
"You're thirteen now. You're not joining the UNIT field teams. You're not going to be fighting."
"If I need to..."
"You're in the middle of a mountain, Nathan," Martha pointed out, not unkindly. "If you need to fight, we're in deep trouble." Turning back to Jack, she added, "Make sure and put me in touch with Alan as soon as you can."
"Captain Harkness, what about Rani? Is she coming here with Maria and Mr Jackson?"
"I don't know yet. Hopefully her parents..."
Nathan shook his head. "Her mother wasn't affected at first, but her father was. She held him off long enough for Rani to run. But there was a fire, two days later. The day before you rescued us. The whole street burned down, and a lot of the human Bane died."
"Why didn't they run?" Martha protested.
"They had no orders," Jack said quietly. "You didn't tell Rani, Nathan?"
"No. I only learned it shortly before you rescued us. There wasn't really time after that."
"I suppose not. Why are you telling me?"
"You're her guardian. And I don't...she should know, yes? People want to know?"
"Yeah. When they're missing, the families want to know."
"I can mock up a report," Martha offered. "Tell her UNIT found them."
"I didn't know if I should tell her," Nathan said quietly. "From me, then, she'd have thought it was a lie, an attempt to hurt her. She wouldn't have believed me. I was going to ask Maria what I should do, but it didn't seem right for Maria to know before Rani."
"You have a strange sense of morals," Jack noted. "You're sure about this?"
"The reports were very clear, sir. There were pictures."
"I like your mother less and less the more I hear about her," Martha muttered. "You want the report, Jack?"
"Right. One fake report, coming up." She slipped into her own quarters, leaving the door open so they could hear her moving around.
"Should I have told her?" Nathan asked quietly.
"I don't know. It's not something that has a right or wrong answer. Sometimes you just have to go with your gut – instincts," he corrected himself quickly.
"I don't think I have instincts."
"I was going to tell Maria. But we were interrupted, and then we had to leave."
"Right." Martha reappeared in the corridor. "Report will be in Ianto's hands by the time you get back to base."
"Martha Jones, voice of a nightingale, you are a miracle worker."
Martha grinned. "Wait until you taste my cooking."
"Is that an invitation?"
"Go home, Jack."
He nodded, turning to Nathan. "I'll be putting Alan on the phone to Martha later. I'll make sure you get to talk to Maria."
"If you're not happy here I want you to call me. You have choices, remember."
"Good man." He tipped a salute to Martha, striding down the corridor.
Martha glanced down the corridor, gesturing to a soldier there. "Nathan, this is Private Jenkins. He's going to be your guard, alright?"
"Alright," Nathan agreed. "Hello, Private Jenkins."
"Nice to meet you," Jenkins said cheerfully.
"You can stay here in your room, or go to the canteen. Those are your options right now, I don't have time to get you set up in a lab. Private Jenkins can get you onto the computer and you can read through the rules and regs, get to know the layout, that kind of thing. Got it?"
"I can get myself onto the computer."
"No hacking! Stick to your security level. Keep an eye on him, Ross, he's not too sure of the rules yet."
"I'll be back later to check on you, alright? And Ross will call me if you need anything."
"Yes," Nathan agreed.
Martha turned to Jenkins. "Don't interfere with him unless he's trying to leave or hack. Let him do whatever he wants within those limits."
She nodded, heading to her office to face down the first in what would probably be a long line of complaints.
Jenkins came by six hours later to tell her he was going off duty, leaving Nathan with another private. "He's just been sitting at the computer, reading the history and whatever reports he can get at on his security level. I've been watching him, and Private Little knows what to watch out for. I told her to make sure he eats something, as well."
"That's fine. Thanks, Ross."
"Dr Jones? Can I ask who he is?"
"He's a kid who was used by the Bane. Had his intelligence heightened. The Doctor thinks he's important, so we're keeping him here. You might be on babysitting duty for a while."
Jenkins shrugged. "He's a nice kid."
"Yeah. He is. Go get some rest, Ross."
Ross saluted and headed out, and Martha turned back to her work. She was halfway through the next report when her phone rang.
"Took your time, Jack. Getting slow in your old age?"
"Very funny," Jack said dryly. "You want to talk to Alan?"
"Yeah. Hang on a second." Flicking her radio on, she called Corporal Little and asked her to escort Nathan to her office. "Ok, Jack. Put him on."
Alan Jackson, it turned out, was very receptive to the idea of a new job that would house both him and his daughter. Neither was eager to return to the house across the road from Maria's prison, and theirs was the only house on the road that was even still standing. Alan offered it to Martha as refugee housing without the slightest twinge of regret; the only thing he asked was her promise that anyone who stayed there would be told to keep an eye out for Chrisse, just in case she made it back there. Martha had to interrupt the interview halfway through – Nathan was refusing to leave his quarters, since Martha hadn't told him to herself – and when she came back to Alan he hesitantly broached the subject of Rani.
"She got your report, when Captain Harkness came back. And – she doesn't have anywhere else to go, she doesn't know anyone..."
"Bring her along," Martha agreed easily. "UNIT can have her legally in your custody by this time tomorrow. We'll have to figure something out once we get off emergency status, the base isn't built for families, but right now as long as you can do the work and they don't get in the way no one will care."
"I can do the work. Thank you, Dr Jones."
"Mr Jackson, you know that Nathan is here, under my care."
"Yes, Captain Harkness told me. Maria will be happy. She's pretty mad she didn't get to say goodbye."
Martha glanced up at a knock on her door. "I can help you there, I think. Is she with you?"
"Put her on the line?" She flipped the phone onto speaker, gesturing Nathan forward.
"Hello?" Maria said uncertainly.
"Maria!" Nathan dropped into the seat, leaning forward. "Are you coming here?"
"Nathan. I don't know, where are you? Captain Harkness wouldn't tell me anything."
"A UNIT base." He didn't say where, Martha noted approvingly. "I'm going to work for them. I can do good here."
"You can do good anywhere you want," she said firmly. Alan murmured something the phone didn't pick up, and she said "Really? Brilliant! Nathan, my dad says he took a job on the base. We're coming there, Rani and us."
"That's happy." Nathan smiled. "I recognise happy."
"That is happy," Maria agreed, smile in her voice. "Nathan, my dad needs to talk to Dr Jones. I'll see you soon, alright? Be good."
"Yes." He stood. "Thank you, Dr Jones."
"Get something to eat," she told him, watching him leave. "Mr Jackson. When can you get here?"
Chapter 7: Epilogue
"Nathan!" Martha leaned around the doorframe, nodding to Ross, lurking in the corner.
"Morning, Dr Jones," Nathan said brightly.
"How's it going today?"
"It's going well, thank you."
Martha grinned. He'd finally gotten over his habit of explaining, in great detail, exactly what he was working on. Ninety-eight percent of it went straight over her head anyway, though it was nice to have him assume she understood everything he did. "Where's Maria?"
"On duty. She won't be by until later."
The girls had managed to talk their way into jobs shortly after arriving. Maria was helping in the infirmary, learning on the job and studying everything they'd give her. Rani was working in the information office, gathering field reports and generating something the officers could use to see where they needed to send what resources. It wasn't exactly a match to her professed desire to be a journalist, but the closest they could get her at the moment. Nathan studied everything they were given as well as his own lessons; it frightened Martha, sometimes, how quickly he absorbed information.
Nathan was turning out technology and information at an astounding rate. Martha's superiors were considering seconding him to the spaceship program; so far the only problem was that he refused to work on anything with the potential for weaponising, and UNIT refused to build an unarmed spaceship. The stalemate was holding, but Martha thought without the Doctor's implicit protection Nathan would have found himself in trouble by now.
Then again, if UNIT tried to force him into anything, they'd probably be the ones in trouble. He'd had plenty enough time to learn their computer system and, despite repeated protestations that he hadn't hacked anything, she was fairly sure he had backdoors and protocols in place by now.
They were relatively sure Mrs Wormwood's control was gone. Nathan would never be completely free of monitoring, and some of UNIT's personnel still wanted to study him. But the Doctor's protection and the presence of guards had so far deterred everyone. The two guards, Jenkins and Little, had become quite friendly with him.
Martha was fond of him herself. It was hard not to be; Nathan was well aware that his morals were skewed, so he was very careful to be polite and kind and not to harm anyone. He had trouble with humour, and he couldn't grasp metaphors at all; but he was interested in everyone and nothing ever bored him, and he was genuinely nice. Martha thought he probably knew more people on the base than she did, despite only being there four months.
It had surprised her when, after a week or so in her charge, Nathan had hesitantly asked to contact Jack. Worried, she'd called him straight away, and was even more surprised when Nathan asked after someone called Clyde.
"Clyde's fine." She'd heard the same surprise in Jack's voice. "We tracked down his mother. He didn't remember anything that happened, any more than any of the Human Bane. We're keeping an eye on him, but everything looks good. He's helping one of the UNIT recovery groups at the moment."
Nathan had politely thanked him and gone back to work, and he was barely out the door when Martha asked "Who's Clyde?"
"He was a Human Bane we caught to test Nathan's ability to give them orders. Nathan used him when he was taking over the base; he was stuck in our cells when we killed the Bane Mother. We kept him on the base to help out until we could figure out what to do with him, but we found his Mom in the end."
"I'm glad. I'm surprised Nathan worried about him."
There was a pause before Jack said carefully, "I think he worries about things because he thinks it makes him not a Bane. Not the Archetype. Mrs Wormwood's Archetype wouldn't have cared about some random Human Bane. Nathan was partly responsible for Clyde being with us in the first place, so he worries about it."
She'd watched him since and decided that Jack was probably right. Nathan deliberately tried to act the way he thought a person would. It made it easier to follow his leaps of logic when she knew his starting point.
"Captain Harkness is coming for a visit this afternoon. Anything going on you can't leave?"
"No. I'll be finished what I'm doing here by lunchtime."
"Good. I'll come back for you then. You can explain your project to him, he'll probably understand it."
"That'd be nice," Nathan agreed. Martha smiled; it would be nice. There were only three or four scientists on the base who could keep up with Nathan when he really got going.
"Good man." She hesitated in the doorway, glancing back at him. "Ross, did you see that really interesting distraction out in the hallway?"
Jenkins glanced at her, smiling. "I should go check that out. I bet it would be easier to see with the door closed."
"It probably would," she agreed, watching him go.
Nathan was watching her when she turned back. "A distraction?"
She shrugged, crossing the room to lean against the counter. "There's a new project come up my boss wants to recommend me for."
"Oh. Well done."
"It's Project Indigo."
Nathan hesitated, putting down the tools he'd been holding. "Project Indigo is based in New York."
"You couldn't work on it from here."
He bit his lip. "Would I go?"
"Yes. You're in my charge, you'd come with me."
"And the Jacksons?"
"No. Alan's working on his own project and Indigo doesn't need him."
She dipped her head to catch his eye. "Nothing's decided. They're just talking about it at the moment."
"You should take it. Indigo's an important project. Big step up."
"We can talk about it later. I just wanted to let you know. Even if I agree, it won't happen for a few months yet. You'd have time to finish up your projects here."
"Thank you for letting me know. I have to keep working if I'm going to finish this by lunch."
"Sure." She pushed off the bench. "Hey. We'll talk about it, ok? I'm not going to drag you somewhere you'd be miserable."
Jenkins was studying the wall outside; he saluted briefly as Martha passed him, heading back into the lab. Martha headed for her office, digging back into her work until lunchtime.
Nathan was finishing up his report when she came back by; he left it cheerfully enough, following her to the main entry of the base. "Where are we going?" he asked curiously.
"We're eating out today."
"Oh!" He grinned, and Martha smiled. Nathan hadn't been further than the car park since entering the base with Jack – he went out for fresh air and sunshine most days, but he'd never left the grounds – and though he hadn't complained she knew it wore on him.
"Ross, take the afternoon off. Jack and I'll keep an eye on him."
"Yes ma'am. See you later, Nathan."
Jenkins rolled his eyes at Martha – four months on and they couldn't break him of calling them by their titles – and headed off.
"Is it just Captain Harkness?"
"I don't know. He didn't say the others were coming, but he'd probably think it was funny to spring them on us. Nathan, don't mention Project Indigo to him, alright? Not by name."
"He probably knows, though."
"Still. Let's all pretend like he doesn't hack in every chance he gets. I think Alan is leaving him back doors."
"Mr Jackson is definitely not leaving him back doors."
Martha considered him for a moment. "Are you leaving him back doors?"
"Look, he's here." Nathan grinned, waving as Jack strode in.
"Nathan! And the nightingale. How are you?" He swept Martha off her feet into a hug and shook hands very solemnly with Nathan.
"I'm doing very well, sir. How is Torchwood?"
"How's Owen?" Martha added.
"Adjusting. We're all adjusting. Thanks for loaning us Martha, Nathan."
"I didn't..." He caught himself, correcting, "You're welcome."
"Ready to go? Hope you're hungry."
"Captain?" Nathan offered.
"I can live with Captain. Come on. Tell me what you're working on."
The meal was a lot of fun. Jack was able to keep up with what Nathan was talking about, and he even had some insights into the project that had Nathan scribbling furiously on a napkin for several minutes. Martha relaxed, watching them chat, and made a mental note to get them together more often.
The restaurant was near a park and when they'd finished eating they wandered out for a stroll. Nathan drew away from them a little, staying well within their field of vision but far enough away that he couldn't hear them.
"He looks well," Jack murmured.
"He is well. He's happy, I think. Much as he can be, anyway."
"He's getting harder to keep up with."
Martha nodded. "Give him a textbook, he can learn anything. Other things he has more trouble with."
She shrugged. "Human things. Instincts. Emotions. Morals, a little. He works hard at those."
"You're happy to keep him?"
"Where's he going to go? He's not a real boy, Jack. He can't go anywhere else. He'd never blend in to the real world. He's doing good work with us." She smiled faintly. "We had to set up a schedule for him to work with the other scientists, they were fighting over him. Some of the higher ups still want to study him, but he runs through intelligence tests every so often and they make do with that and his medical tests."
"Blood work, reflexes, stamina. Nothing invasive." Martha smiled faintly. "He's in my care."
"Hey." Jack touched her arm. "He's in your care because I knew you could do it."
Martha smiled, watching Nathan watch a flock of ducks fly overhead. He was laughing, eyes dancing in delight. "We'll see, I guess."
They walked on through the sunshine together.Every endless night
Has a dawning day
Every Darkest Sky
Has a shining ray