Detective William Blore dies on Soldier Island, stabbed through and through with a knife by the good Judge.
Or—well, that’s not quite right. He certainly does die—the blood gushes from his wound, his vision dimming, the Judge’s face, smiling, before he stands up to leave.
So yes: Blore does die.
He simply doesn’t stay in this state.
For some time, he floats in between, what—life, death, Heaven, Hell? Who knows? But at some point—a fortnight later, perhaps—he awakens.
The awakening is a queer thing, for his consciousness returns first, and thus, he has prime view of his surroundings: the white-washed walls, the cloth against his skin as he lays atop a metal bed, those used for cadavers. It thusly dawns on him that they must think him dead. The shadows lengthen and shorten, and he becomes aware of a tingling in his digits.
Experimentally, Blore attempts movement, the result of which is the faintest twitch of his index finger, the way one would curl it in a beckoning motion to another.’
For some time, this is the only movement—save for the blink of his eyes—he achieves. It is, to say the least, infuriating: while Blore has never deluded himself with the notion that his a particularly spry man, at three and a half decades, he is reasonably fit—his profession has ensured that. He is wholly unused to this level of restriction—though, he supposes, most would be, and he consolidates himself with the fact.
Presently, however, it occurs to him that he did die, regardless of the permanence, and thusly, he is most certainly out of a job and a home.
Additionally, it would hardly do to waltz down to the Yard and declare his state of undeath: not only is he naked, they will surely pin the blame for the death of the others on him, and even if they do not do so, he’d hang for witchcraft—after all, how else does one logically explain his survival of being stabbed in the heart? Witchcraft mayn’t be real, but the consequences of accusal of it are.
“Damn,” Blore mutters angrily, then rejoices at the return of his ability to speak. Then, “Fuck. Shit. Bloo—bloody hell.” His tongue trips a touch at the two-syllable word, but regardless, it is progress.
Once he’s regained some more motor-control, he contemplates how to proceed. Quite obviously, returning to the world as Detective-Sergeant William Blore shan’t do—William Blore is, by all accounts, dead. Therefore, he fancies, he shall have to either assume an identity crafted by the Yard for espionage, or he shall have to create a brand-new identity.
The former won’t do—it would be insane to adopt an identity of a dead man. Thankfully, however, he does have experience in the latter—and a sum of some amount tucked away to ease the paperwork through the great cogs that make up the library wherein the information on citizens is stored—no, no, he scolds himself, to be recognised is not a risk worth taking. He will have to create a foreign identity.
Think, man, he urges. What foreign languages do you speak?
Latin, of course, as it’s taught to all school-children to some degree, and French, conversationally. But—ah, yes: German. His late mother was fluent in German, and in addition, he speaks it quite well.
The issue thusly resolved, he turns his attention to the most imminent problem: locomotion. Certainly, of they are not already preparing his coffin, they will be soon. Time is of import.
Finally, he is certain of himself. With a grunt, teeth clenched, he levers himself up, the cloth falling away to bare his torso to the cold draft. The action reveals his chest, and he looks down fearfully; what state is he in? Is there a gaping wound, a slit through and through?
The answer, as it turns out, is neither: for there, at an angle, is a pinkened sliver of skin, a scant centimetre wide, and perhaps a finger long, above his heart.
He blinks in surprise, before remembering the situation at hand, and pulls the cloth up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed.
His legs nearly give out beneath him, and he makes a grab for the metal bed, bracing against it as his legs shake beneath him. Eventually, however, the tremors subside, and he draws himself up, wrapping the cloth as one would a toga, and creeps about the room till he reaches a door.
By some stroke of luck, the doors—great, big, wrought-iron things—have been left open, and he slips through.
Presently, it occurs that, though it is late in the night, he can’t simply wander around in his current state—both for reasons of modesty and personal comfort. He doesn’t particularly fancy wandering the halls of a morgue half-naked.
Keeping pressed against the walls, he makes his way through the corridors.
“Somewhere around here, they should keep clothing,” he mutters, gripping the cloth tighter at a draft. “They wouldn’t be burying the bodies naked—no, no, that would simply never do.” The scandal! No, there should be a room—ah!
He hits jackpot—for there, within the first room he tries, are shelves full of clothes: petticoats, shirts, breaches, jackets, and every item of clothing imaginable, folded and stacked upon the shelves.
Quickly, he gathers a set of underthings and a shirt, vest, trousers and coat, slipping into them with a sigh of relief to have escaped the cold—yes, he shall never envy the dead again; it seems now, having gotten a taste of deceasement, he’s more than content to leave it to others.
The last item is a smart black top hat, and he feels fully and properly clothed. He hurries out of the room, determined to start for himself a new life. He smiles suddenly at the thought; he’s always wanted to be a new and death, it seems, has given him the perfect chance.
Having successfully withdrawn his hidden sum of money—the entirety of which amounts to just under forty pounds—he whistles cheerily as he walks along, the recent events far from his mind. In fact, so far is reality from him that he doesn’t notice the ground in front of him—or rather, the lack of ground.
With a startled cry, he tumbles forward and downward, hitting both his legs and his head, carrying down with him a fair amount of dirt and loose stones and wooden beams.
He lays, winded and uncertain of the situation for some time. After his eyes adjust to the darkness—for the dirt and stones are blocking most of the light—it becomes apparent where he is: underneath a half-built building. Cobwebs hang from the beams, little space for him to move—and he couldn’t, even if he wanted to, as he discovers presently and quite painfully: his right leg is trapped at an odd angle beneath one of the beams that he brought tumbling down with him.
This discovery leads to a shooting, burning pain in his leg, which is obviously broken.
He lets out a strained laugh. “So, is this it, then? Am I to die beneath an unfinished house in the middle of the night after having survived getting stabbed? A sick, sick twist of fate...”
Tears well, unbidden, in his eyes—at the cruelty of the situation, the pain, or both, and he lays his head back, resting it against the ground, and waits to die.
And die he does, and again and again and again—once every half hour or so on and on and on. He opens his eyes, never remembering having closed them, until it all starts again; it would seem that his body—though able to bring him back from death and fix his wounds, cannot do anything against a sixty-kilogram wooden beam that keeps his leg bent at an unnatural angle.
Laughter, manic and raspy, bubbles within his chest; nevermind dying once or twice: the universe, it seems, exacts its punishment in other, more creative ways.
The situation, bleak as it is—for it is very bleak—gives him time for thought, and much of it.
He spends half-hour snippets pondering various issues—morality, Latin, the War, and, of course, the death of the young Mister Davis.
Davis’ death is the one that haunts him, and rightfully so. He beat the man to a pulp and then claimed it was the stairs that took the bloke out; the others––perhaps out of malicious glee, no, certainly due to malicious glee—supported his claims. Regardless of whether or not Davis’ buggery conviction, no man deserves to die like that.
No man deserves to feel the fury he has for his—his sins.
For he is a twisted, warped creature, a sinful caricature of a human: a sodomite, an invert, a deviant.
A horrific reality: to long for those of the same sex. A repugnant repulsive, unnatural inclination, a perversion.
He does not blame Davis for giving in—for taking the easy path. His all-consuming hatred of the man was simply a reflection of the hated for himself—his own sickness, his own disease. The fact that Davis obviously saw no wrong—or at least, very little—with his unnatural proclivities had been like the straw that broke the camel’s back.
At some point, the monotony is broken by the sound of bombs. He wishes that one would land directly on top of him and obliterate him—deliver him to the pits of whatever Hellish afterlife surely awaits him. As time passes, he suspects that this is Hell—and a well-deserved one at that.
Having yet again re-awoken from his previous bout of death, for the first few minutes, things continue as usual—darkness, pain, black spotting of his vision, et cetera—but then, something miraculous occurs.
The ground above him trembles, sending dust and debris and more than a few cobwebs onto him, making him cough, and then—a crack appears.
Could it be? Yes! It is! The crack widens, a face appearing. With a hoarse voice, he shouts, “Help! Help!”
The person peers into the darkness before scrambling back, calling, “Man down, we’ve got a man down!”
He passes out a few moments later.
Presumably, they get him out, as he comes to in what appears to be a hospital room, the sharp scent of disinfectant is heavy in the air. The nurse who comes to check on him wears white, the only deviance from the blankness a small black patch that reads, in stylised lettering, “T3” on it.
He floats for a while, drugged up on something—his leg is in some sort of splint, and presumably would be in immense pain. Well, it’s nice—not having to deal with the pain. At some point, they begin to wean him off of the medications. The pain is almost unbearable, but his mind is no longer as foggy as is was previously.
Someone comes to see him, then, when he’s coherent. It’s an odd bloke—American, messy black hair, long black trench coat.
The first thing he says after introducing himself—“Jack Harkness, pleasure to meet you”—is, “You have the same problem as me, don’t you?”
“I’m sorry—what?” he shifts, confused.
“The—death thing,” Harkness clarifies. “How long?”
“Ah. 19…39,” he replies.
Harkness quirks a brow. “Huh. I wonder how that happened…there weren’t any rifts, then, I don’t think…” he stares off into the distance before seeming to snap back to the present. “What’s your name?”
“Er,” he pauses for a moment, thinking. However long it’s been, it’s certainly had an effect. “Actually, I’m afraid I can’t say.”
Harkness blinks. “Alright, then, you might as well give yourself one.”
They lapse into silence for a moment, and memories of his mother singing to him in German float across his mind. “Hermann,” he decides.
It startles a laugh out of Harkness. “Do you know what year it is, Hermann?”
“No, afraid not.”
“What…no,” Hermann mutters to himself. “Do you mean to say that I’ve been trapped beneath a building for—for fifty years? What…what is to happen to me?” Tears prick at his eyes—he may not remember his old name, but he remembers what occurred before his entrapment, and…
To have lost fifty years… “What is to happen to me?” he repeats, voice hollow.
Harkness pats his shoulder. “There, there—they’ll probably get you caught up on modern history and culture before allowing you to pursue a career of your choosing—Torchwood may be full of dicks, but so long as you’re human, they probably won’t fuck you over.”
The way Harkness says it is lighthearted and joking, but the cryptic statement only unsettles him.
Harkness is right, as it turns out. They—Torchwood, that is—supply him with materials on the last forty years, as well as a new birth certificate for one Hermann Winchester Gottlieb, date of birth, June 9th, 1989. The latter makes him let out a bark of laughter, though he supposed it is true, in a sense.
He devours the former, fascinated especially by the advances in mathematical fields, a favoured subject during his schooling.
And it is—fascinating. Hermann delves deeper and deeper into mathematics as a way to pass his time—he has to wait until he is legally of age according to his birth certificate, which means he is to remain hidden away for sixteen years—devouring anything he can get his hands on. Nine years in, they allow him access to the outside world via letter. Though still highly restrictive, it allows him to correspond with a number of professors of various mathematical fields.
Thirteen years, and he’s allowed access to the interweb. He has to use the bulky computers in the archives, but it is wholly worth it, for he has a veritable library’s worth of knowledge at his fingertips. Computer coding attracts his attention almost immediately, one of the few things he can actually do individually, and he is enthralled.
At sixteen, he applies to TU Berlin—paid for by Torchwood, thankfully, as he has but forty-three euros to his name, officially—and quickly advances through his studies.
For some reason, mathematics speak to him, in a way nothing else ever has. It feels like he understands it, within the very fibres of his being, as if he lives and breathes them, his life functions controlled by complex mathematical equations, beautifully simplistic yet unimaginably intricate.
At nineteen, he graduates with degrees in mathematical engineering and physics. Within a year, he secures a position at Cambridge. Torchwood is—well, who knows what happened with them. He pushes it to the back of his mind, along with the other dark memories of Before, at least during the day.
At night, memories of bloodied fists and loathing plague him. He does nothing to dissuade them. They are his penance.
The years have hardly left him unchanged, however. His leg did not heal correctly, necessitating a cane and daily regimen of medications to manage the pain, the only physical mark of forty years spent trapped below an unfinished building.
Before, he was brash and hotheaded and paranoid. Now, Hermann is stiff and cold and wary. The students in turns revile and respect him in a terrified manner. He finds he prefers it to the alternative.
Forty years in silence have made him a creature of solitude.
Then, at twenty-three, the unthinkable happens: Earth is attacked by extraterrestrial life.
Harkness’ odd phrasing suddenly makes sense, but Torchwood is nowhere to be found.
The world is in a panic, scrambling to defend itself. Hermann, for one, is fascinated by the rift—or Breach, as they’ve taken to calling it—and turns to independent studies, attempting to understand it.
Somewhere along the line, he acquires a pen-mate: one Newton Geiszler. The man is enthusiastic in his correspondences and intellectually stimulating. He, too, is fascinated with the Breach, and part of himself he’d thought locked away, annihilated—the part of him that craves human companionship—slowly, slowly blossoms back to life.
They are acquaintances—perhaps, even, friends, though he has no experience with the term. They decide to meet at a conference in London.
It’s a horrendous disaster. Newton Geiszler seems to be fully unawares of how insulting he is, and when Hermann fires back a sharp, biting retort, he has the audacity to look—hurt.
It ends with Hermann growling, “Do not ever attempt to contact me again,” and storming out.
Yet, despite the abrupt end to their acquaintance, Hermann cannot bring himself to get rid of the letter; it seems wrong to destroy the only evidence of his—acquaintance with someone who understood him on a level no one else ever has.
The war—the War to end all wars, if he’s being theatric—drags on for ten more years.
Six of those ten, he is forced to share a workspace with none other than Doctor Newton Geiszler.
Geiszler is everything he isn’t—outgoing, attractive, reasonably charming. Loud, incorrigible. Fond of ignoring safety procedures.
And yet his presence grows on Hermann, the way moss grows on a rock—slowly and with an aggravating grip.
Then, when he’s thirty-five, they Drift with an alien hive mind, and Hermann feels the both of them die. He gasps awake to find his leg healed, Newton unmoving by his side, slumped onto the viscera-covered concrete, and his heart speeds up. “Newton—Newton, get up get up get up you can’t be dad, please—” his voice cracks, tears pricking at the corners of his eyes and with a sob, he shakes the other forcefully, harder, then, finally, slaps him.
Whatever miracle occurs then, he does not question, for Newton gasps, eyes snapping open, and Hermann hails him to his feet and then—
They help save the world.
As soon as the clock stops, Hermann slinks off to his quarters and buries his face into his hands, sobbing.
Newton’s death—his almost-permanent death—has brought into glaring light the true nature of Hermann’s feelings for him.
His is ashamed. The emotions, the desire for the man, they make him recoil in fear an disgust. If Newton—or anyone else—were to find out—
Hermann would be jailed at best. Newton must never, ever discover his—desires. Hermann cannot bear to lose him.
Once he becomes aware of the nature of his thoughts, every interaction is torturous. Casual touch is to be avoided at all costs, an endeavour that is gut-wrenchingly painful. Until now, he hadn’t realized how often Newton touches him—a hand on his shoulder, a nudge of his leg as they sit side by side, the warm embrace of a hug.
To rid himself of these indulgences is painful, achingly so, but absolutely necessary. He does not wish for Newton to turn to him, a disgusted expression on his face as he spits out biting words. He does not wish for Newton to face the ostracism that comes from associating with a homosexual.
Somewhere along the way, he’s become hopelessly entangled in Newton, and cutting ties feels like dying all over again.
Newton doesn’t notice at first. He’s blessedly oblivious in that way. As time goes passes, however, even he begins to notice. Hermann wonders how long he will be able to endure the flashes of hurt when he flinches away from Newton’s touch, the unknowing pain in his tone when Hermann speaks to him only when absolutely necessary, and even then with a cold, detached professionalism.
Seeing Newton in pain hurts worse than a knife to his heart.
Newton corners him eventually; invites him to his quarters under the pretence of checking over the solidity of his research for a paper.
The door clicks ominously as he closes it behind him, and he suddenly realises it’s locked. “What is the meaning of this, Geiszler?” he hisses, turning on the other.
“Just tell me what I did!” Newton bites back. “Tell me what I did to piss you off—I can’t keep doing this! I can’t go on like this, with you hating me!”
Hermann lets out a bark of laughter. “What you—what you did? You just—are you so egotistical as to think that my life revolves around you?” he questions, tamping down the pain and hurt that threatens to rise, and Newton recoils, hurt flickering across his face.
“See?” he shouts, “This is what I mean—we used to get along, more or less, and now you hate me, and I don’t know why! Why won’t you just fucking tell me, Hermann?”
Hermann’s panicky, breathing shallow, and laughter bursts from him even as his eyes tear with anger. “You don’t want to know,” he says darkly.
“Yes, I fucking do, Hermann! Tell me!” Newton exclaims, fists clenching.
Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck. His throat tightens, the room closing in on him, too much too much it’s all too much, his lungs are burning—
He drags in a shaking breath. Newton isn’t going to let him out until Hermann tells him.
With a shaky voice, he says, “Fine. I’ll—I’ll tell you. On the condition that you unlock the door and never, ever tell anyone. Swear it—swear to me you will not tell another soul.”
Newton looks about ready to argue, but snaps his mouth shut. “Fine, I swear whatever it is you’re going to tell me will never reach another soul.” He makes his water over to the door, and Hermann presses himself against the wall to avoid contact as Newton keys in the code to unlock the door before stepping away and returning to his previous spot.
“Talk,” he commands.
“I—I would like to apologise beforehand,” Hermann says. “For I—I find myself desiring your company. I ache for you, Newton. I love you—I,” his voice cracks. “I am so, so sorry.”
He flees for the door, escaping back to his own quarters without looking back, for he cannot bear to look at the disgust and repulsion that are surely written clear as day across Newton’s face. He slams the door behind him, locking it, and curls atop his bed, waiting for the authorities to arrest him.
For Newton, for all his kindness and his promise—Hermann does not expect him to be forgiving of this.
H falls into a fitful sleep, awakening at the slightest sound. Fear plays tricks on him, and he dreams ugly dreams of Newton, hateful and disgust.
He wakes and forces himself o stay so. If they come and take him, he’d at least like to have a shred of dignity.
It’s only a matter of time before they break down his door and lead him away in cuffs. Hermann wonders how they’ll do it—a bullet, an electric chair, or, perhaps, a hanging? He drifts at the edge of wakefulness for some time before he remembers, with a start, the cyanide.
In the back of a cupboard in his kitchenette, hidden behind the nonperishables, is a small tin of cyanide pills. He wonders how many he’d have to take to stay dead permanently—cyanide, being a chemical, would, in theory, stay in his system for longer than, say, a knife—removable—or a broken leg.
Suicide is more dignified than a slow death in prison or an execution.
He stumbles into the kitchenette on shaking legs—he hasn’t eaten in longer than he cares to remember—and pushes aside cans, scrabbling against the backing in search of the metal.
Finally, he finds it, opening it with shaking fingers, and plucks out a few capsules. The action brings back memories of Soldier Island, of a dead young man. Funny how things come full circle, isn’t it?
Hermann throws the first pill back, swallows it dry. The second joins the first, but the third gets stuck, his gag-reflex kicking it back up, and the casing dissolves on his tongue, acrid and burning. He forces it down anyway.
There’s someone at his door, still locked, and things feel—disjointed. He feels far too warm, heart beating at an impossible speed, loud, like a war drum, and the dizziness hits him all of a sudden, sends him toppling to the floor in a daze.
Whoever’s outside is banging harder and shouting, but it warps, sound and sight and smell and touch all melding into one another as he spasms.
Darkness encroached on his vision, and he accepts it.
Hermann doesn’t expect to regain consciousness, but he does, anyway. For a second, he lays on his side, staring dazedly at the ceiling of the kitchenette. It seems that he won’t be staying dead any time soon, then.
The second thing is also unexpected. Newton’s face hovers over his, hair wild, and is that fear in his eyes?
What on Earth is newton doing in his quarters? And more importantly, why does he look so horrified?
“Fuck you,” Newton whispers, voice breaking halfway through. “Fuck you—you ingested cyanide Hermann—I—fuck! Fuck!” he exclaims.
“I figured it would be the preferred method; the alternative was a slow death either in jail or by the noose,” Hermann croaks out, and Newton shoots him a look that is in equal parts alarmed and confused.
“Herms,” he says slowly, “what the fuck are you talking about?”
“Me,” Hermann points out. “I’m a—a homosexual, Newton.”
“What are you—?” a look of horror dawns on Newton’s face. “All of that—the stuff about the 30s…that all actually happened to you,” he breathes. “Fuck. Fuck! Hermann, that doesn’t—that doesn’t happen anymore.” Newton’s tone is quiet and broken. “You’re not gonna get arrested or—or hanged for being gay.”
“I—what?” Hermann questions.
“Since you seemed to have missed it in your reading, Hermann, it hasn’t…been like that for decades, Hermann,” Newton says, so softly.
Hermann feels fit to cry.
Newton gathers him in an embrace, letting Hermann cry into his shoulder as he rubs his back, muttering soothingly.
“I’m so, so sorry,” Newton whispers as they rock slightly, backwards and forwards. “I’m so, so sorry.”
Eventually, Hermann calms enough that his shoulders aren’t shaking with sobs, but he doesn’t pull away from Newton’s comforting embrace.
“Do you wanna talk about is?” Newton offers, continuing to rub soothing circles on his back.
Hermann remains silent for a moment, before he says, quietly, “I’m sorry.” He isn’t sure what he’s apologising for. Perhaps all of it.
“It’s…it’s not okay what you did,” Newton says, voice still shaking slightly. “But I…I understand why you acted the way you did. You were operating on incomplete data, so you drew incorrect conclusions.”
It’s such an understatement that it sends Hermann into wholly inappropriate, silent peals of laughter, shaking against the biologist like a leaf in the wind. Even Newton realizes the humour, letting out an amused huff.
“I am sorry, though,” Hermann says, soberly. “Instead of letting you say your piece, I panicked and ran off.”
“I…” Newton pauses. “Actually, that’s what I wanted to talk about. Like I said, incomplete data, incorrect conclusion, right?”
Hermann nods, a treacherous flicker of hope rising within him.
“Your…desires, as you put it,” Newton continues, “they aren’t unrequited like you thought. And I…understand that it’s hard for you, that this is going to be hard for you, but I wanted you to know that I’d…like to act on those desires. If you’ll have me,” he finishes, uncharacteristically shy, and Hermann mercilessly crushes down the knee-jerk feardisgusthorror as hard as he can.
He can be happy, if he wants, without fear of punishment. It’ll be a long time before he can banish the malicious thoughts, but…he deserves to be happy.
He just helped save the goddamn world. He deserves to be happy.
“Of course,” Hermann breathes. “It would…it would please me greatly…liebling,” he adds, choked.
Newt’s breath hitches, and he pulls away slightly, hand tentatively cupping Hermann’s cheek. “Can I…?”
“Please,” Hermann requests, and then Newt’s mouth is on his, soft and gentle, and it’s everything, everything, everything.