All the Myths are True
The image on the screen was no less impressive for having been stilled; Big Ben, one of the most famous landmarks in London, shattered by an alien space ship. Robert stared thoughtfully at the screen and wondered whether the time was right for him to become Captain Robert once more, rather than just plain old Robert Henning Brown. They'd even discussed the way to do it after Magdalene's offhand comment about steampunk, laughing over their beer at his outrageous stories of the Airship Ophelia and its crew of drunken pirates. Robert smiled to himself; what none of them realised was that the Airship Ophelia actually existed, and he really *was* Captain Robert, even if it had been some time ago and a fairly empty title even then. As for the crew of drunken pirates? Well, that remained to be seen, but he was sure that some of them at least would stay with him for the Great Adventure. There was just one thing he needed to accomplish to enable him to take that first bold step on the road that would both resurrect his past and let him live in the future. Now the time had come to do it, he was strangely nervous; he'd lived this life for a long time. He stood up, took a deep breath and straightened his shoulders; nerves had never stopped Captain Robert before and they wouldn't now. He left the room without another glance at the image on the screen.
The box lay on his knees, unearthed from the underground safe in his basement. It wasn't particularly big, about 12 inches on a side, and looked to all intents and purposes like an everyday version of a safe deposit box. It *was* a safe deposit box, but it certainly wasn't an everyday version. Robert fitted his fingers into the slight depressions on the side, and waited, unblinking. The box warmed under his touch while a light flashed briefly into his eyes, then it shimmered brightly, growing hotter all the time. He didn't remove his hands, but he did close his eyes against the light. When he opened them again the box was still on his knee, but it no longer looked the same; it gleamed with an oily sheen that attracted and repelled in equal measure. He ran a hand over the surface and iridescent colours reminiscent of a magpie's wing rippled in the wake of his fingers' passage. There was no obvious lock, no seams in the smooth surface; this box was coded to him alone, and would not open for anyone else. It was a long time since he *had* opened it, and he'd only done that once since he'd made a home on earth, when he explained to Kristina that he was, both spatially and temporally, not a local boy... He smiled at the memory; she'd been so delightfully sceptical even while trying to remain open minded. Digging around in his pocket, he finally found his pocket knife and flicked it open. There was only one thing that would open this box, and that was his blood, fresh and warm from his body. A small nick to his thumb gave all he needed, and then the box was almost *humming* where it sat on his knee. The humming stopped as the box suddenly flipped open with a faint click, exposing the contents to any who had the eyes to see. Robert laid the box, now looking like a lump of dead metal once more, down on the floor and leant over to retrieve his prize almost reverently.
Oh, how he'd missed the touch of the leather around his arm, it almost felt like a lover's caress as he tightened the straps and fastened the buckles. Some of the older agents had laughed at him when they'd first seen his modded wrist device, calling him a throwback and primitive but when they'd realised how much other people admired the workmanship they'd soon changed their tune. It was one of the reasons he'd hidden it; his wrist device was unique, and far too easily traceable. He had not wanted to be traced when he decided to relocate to late 20th century earth, but now he was ready to live a little more dangerously. His fingers flew over the keypad with unforgotten skill as he tried to discover if anyone had been searching for him or if there were any other refugees like him hiding in the temporal and galactic backwater that was early 21st century earth. The results puzzled him a little, and he resolved to investigate further, but first he had a ship to steal. With a smile on his face he began to call up all the information he'd saved about HMS Ophelia. Time passed.
His concentration was finally broken by the sound of footsteps on the stairs. Kristina. He raised his head as she opened the door.
"Robert, what are you doing down... oh." She glanced at his arm, and then back at his face. Robert grinned as he met her eyes.
"Are you ready to be an Airship Pirate?"
London, sometime in the 1920s
As the youngest, newest and most expendable member of Torchwood London, Peter Nichols had been given the thankless task of informing their boss, Evelyn Townley–Welles, of the disappearance of HMS Ophelia. So far the best thing to come out of the 'meeting' was that Peter was still standing and in one piece, even if he was quaking in his boots. Evelyn's temper – and marksmanship – was almost legendary.
"What do you mean, the Ophelia's gone? How can she be gone? More importantly, how can she be gone from a supposedly top secret location?"
"I don't know, ma'am," Peter answered helplessly. No–one had told him exactly how it had happened, beyond half hysterical accounts of a group of strangely dressed people appearing in a flash of light and making off with the ship – in broad daylight no less. He glanced up from his feet far enough to notice that she was tapping her fountain pen on her blotter. This was not a good sign, but as long as she was tapping, she wasn't shooting, so he counted himself lucky.
"Then I suggest you find out, boy!" She barked at him. "Contact Cardiff and try to speak to that man, Harkness. This is just the sort of thing that lunatic finds interesting. You never know, he could be useful for a change."
Peter answered the way he was supposed to – without hesitation – even though he had no idea what would happen by following the order. "Very well, ma'am," he said. Then he mentally kicked himself for being a fool, took a deep breath, and continued. "Erm, ma'am?" He dared a glance up at the woman behind the desk, to find her grey eyes snapping with irritation. He ducked his head again.
"What now?" She growled.
Peter shook just a little bit more – he'd *really* had it now – but he had to say *something* or he wouldn't be able to live with himself.
"It's just that Captain Harkness has an..um..reputation." He was sure she should be able to hear his knees knocking, and tried to will a bit more life into legs that felt more like blancmange than flesh and bone. She didn't appear to notice, or more likely didn't care.
"I know. Why do you think I asked *you* to contact him?" Somewhat shocked, Peter's head jerked upwards to meet his boss's eyes properly for the first time. The feral grin on her face was not reassuring in the slightest. "Pretty young thing like you – Harkness will never be able to resist and we might actually learn something."
Peter swallowed, terrified out of his mind, and unable to help the spread of warmth up his face that her words instilled him. Since when had Evelyn Townley–Welles thought that he was a pretty young thing?
"If you say so, ma'am," he agreed. It was far safer to agree than to risk another bombshell if he dared query anything else.
The smile stretched across her face unpleasantly.
"I do say so. Well get on with it then, it's not like just *talking* to the man is going to kill you."
"Yes ma'am. Right away, ma'am." God help him, he nearly clicked his heels and bowed before he left. He managed to cling to the last vestiges of his composure and nodded instead before making good his escape.
As he leaned back against the door breathing heavily in relief he became aware of a rather odd sound from inside the office. With some bemusement, he realised it was laughter.
Aboard the former HMS Ophelia, there was a celebration in progress.
"I can't believe we did it!" Kristina grabbed Robert and danced him round the main deck once more for posterity while Nathaniel and Magdalene joined in. The music of Ophelia's engines thrummed beneath their feet.
Robert – now Captain Robert in truth rather than an empty rank – crowed with laughter.
"Believe it! Just take a look around you," he said.
"I'm looking, I'm looking!"
Robert watched Nathaniel spinning Magdalene round and round happily, her delighted laughter echoing round the room. He glanced down at Kristina to find the same happiness shining in her eyes and squeezed her hand.
A taciturn sounding cough interrupted the moment. Robert swivelled round to see Jean–Paul leaning against the bulkhead, arms folded, and certainly *not* looking happy.
"Sorry to put a damper on all of this, but shouldn't we be going? I'm sure those people in London are going to be looking very carefully for the Ophelia."
"Don't worry so much, Jean–Paul. We can hide any place, any time on the whole damn planet – there's no *way* they're going to find us!"
"But we haven't gone anywhere yet. We're still above bloody England with far too many nervous people with guns down there for my liking. It's not that long since 1918, you know," Jean–Paul grumbled.
"We won't be here for much longer..." Robert tapped busily on his wrist device. "Here goes – I'd hold onto something if I was you seeing as it's our first trip..." There was a flash, and the ship rocked around them. Robert grinned as a chorus of complaints about the driving hit his ears; they'd soon learn that when he said hold on, he meant it.
Magdalene was the first to the window, and gasped at the sight that met her eyes. Robert joined her and had to agree that the view was kind of impressive – the forest stretched as far as the eye could see.
"Where are we?" Magdalene asked.
"Still above England, though it isn't called that at the moment. The right question would have been 'when are we?'" Robert said with a grin.
"So – when are we?"
"According to my calculations, we should be bang in the middle of the Iron Age. We can relax a little, learn more about this lovely ship and decide just what we want to do with our lives. Anyone remembered the champagne?" There was the sound of frantic rummaging before Robert got an affirmative answer from Nathaniel. Magdalene passed around a selection of mismatched pewter tankards and leather goblets but when Robert raised an eyebrow in silent question she shrugged, and grinned.
"Couldn't exactly bring glasses, could I? They would have gotten smashed." He had to agree with the logic of that, and merely held out his hand for his own tankard.
Robert stepped into the middle of the room – the Bridge, he amended to himself – once his cup was filled and raised it in a toast; he was beginning to think he'd made the best decision of his life.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, the world is our oyster and imagination is our only limit. To Ophelia and our travels aboard her!"
As they drank the happy thrum of engines and propellers reverberated beneath their feet as if the ship herself was happy to be part of this new life. Robert hoped with all his heart that would continue to be true.
Torchwood London, 1920s
The telephone was becoming decidedly slippery in Peter's clammy grip, and he just wished that the call would end quickly, so he could disappear back into the obscurity that being Torchwood London's most junior member afforded him. He hoped that his discomfort wasn't being picked up by the man on the other end of the line, but he knew that it was more likely that Harkness not only *knew* but was enjoying it. Right now, Peter was trying to prevent Harkness from making a visit to London; a visit would mean that he'd have to *meet* the man and he really wasn't ready for that.
"I can forward the eye–witness reports by special courier, sir. You would have them by tomorrow," Peter offered.
"I really don't think this can wait that long. Tell Evie I'll be there this evening. I'll want full access to the area where Ophelia was stored and I'll need an assistant. You'll do. You can tell her that as well. You don't have to tell her that I'm looking forward to seeing how the voice matches the rest of you."
"I...er..."Peter kicked himself for sounding like a flustered teenager and straightened his spectacles. He could always fall back on formality, he was good at that. "Very good sir; I'll see that Mrs Townley–Welles is informed."
"You do that." Harkness sounded like he was grinning, "I'll see you later, sweet cheeks." Face burning, Peter replaced the receiver and wondered if he had time to visit the bathroom before making his report but as he caught sight of himself in one of the mirrors he decided that he would just have to *make* time.
Standing back in front of Evelyn Townley–Welles' desk, Peter was wondering just what he had done to deserve a day like today. At least this time she wasn't smiling or glaring at him; if anything her expression was genteelly neutral. He realised that this surprised him.
"So, Nichols, what did Jack Harkness have to say for himself?" She asked.
"He felt there was a need to come here and investigate the scene in person. He said he would be here this evening and would require an assistant." Peter mentally crossed his fingers for luck and hoped that she would suggest someone else.
"That will be you, then. There is no one else available on such short notice," she said tersely. He sighed; so much for hope and luck. "Tell me, what did you think of Harkness now you've finally had the chance to speak to him?"
"I really don't think it's my place to offer an opinion, ma'am."
"I happen to disagree. Now, tell me what you thought?"
Peter took a deep breath and wondered just how he could say anything that would still be diplomatic. He dare not say anything that might be construed as slander, or he would be out of a job, and there weren't any jobs in London for a bookish young man with bad eyesight that paid as well as Torchwood.
"I found him quite... informal, ma'am," Peter said with what he thought was great restraint. To his surprise, Evelyn Townley–Welles burst out laughing. It made her look a lot younger.
"Informal! That's one way of putting it." She wiped her eyes, a wide smile still on her face. Peter chanced a shaky one of his own. "Tell me, did he refer to me as Evie?"
"I'd rather not say, ma'am."
"I could make it an order..."
Peter ducked his head. He might not be able to avoid telling her, but there was no way he was going to be able to look her in the eye when he said it without blushing. He raised his head again, the heat already rising up his face.
"Sweet cheeks," he said morosely. There was another surprising chuckle from behind the desk.
"You're lucky; it could have been a lot worse. Well, it seems you've survived your first encounter with Captain Harkness quite well."
"Thank you, ma'am."
"Now go and get everything in order for his arrival and I hope you manage as well when you meet him in person."
"Ma'am." Peter took his leave with alacrity, musing over the preparations to be made in his head; ensuring all information was in order would not be a problem, dealing with the man himself might well be. He decided to look on the encounter as a Torchwood baptism of fire, maybe it would be easier to deal with that way.
Jack took a lungful of the damp and smoky London air as he stepped off the train, it tasted different to Cardiff, but it was still good to get away from the Rift for a short while. He had no problem spotting his escort – a rather earnest looking young man in spectacles and a hat with startling red hair and the most gorgeous brown eyes. Jack supposed that the majority of people wouldn't look past the glasses and hair and decided it was their loss; he was actually rather cute. At that moment the young man spotted him and Jack had to suppress a chuckle at the mixture of relief and trepidation that flitted across his face, he also noticed that the man favoured one leg slightly – that, and his eyesight would have been enough to keep him out of the war which was obviously why the lad had ended up with Torchwood. Jack strode forward, hand outstretched and smile firmly in place.
"Captain Jack Harkness. And you are?"
"Peter Nichols." The handshake was a firm one, even though Jack could tell that Peter was nervous. He also managed to keep the nervousness out of his voice which Jack found surprising. "If you will come with me, sir, there is a car waiting to take us to the docks."
"After you, Peter," Jack said with a grin, which widened as he realised the lad had a really nice ass, despite the limp. He was obviously shy, but Jack had succeeded with less and was of the firm opinion that it was always the quiet ones you should watch. That would have to wait though; first of all there was a missing airship to find.
HMS Ophelia's erstwhile home was a cavernous and echoing warehouse in the London docklands. As they entered, Jack gave a low whistle of surprise, impressed despite himself at the sheer size of the place. Sure, Torchwood Cardiff was probably larger in terms of total surface area, but no one part had the same amount of open space. However, he knew he wouldn't be getting any answers by gawping and began to walk the perimeter of the area that had contained Ophelia, taking readings on his vortex manipulator as he went. He rapid–fired questions at young Nichols and was pleased when he received a clear and concise response to each one, without the concomitant demand for more information that he had half expected. As Jack correlated the information from his readings he realised he did not like the pattern that was forming. There was one more measurement to make, and that would confirm his suspicions – or not.
"Where exactly did the people who stole Ophelia appear?" Jack asked. Nichols made his way to one of the guards and had a quick conversation.
"About 9 feet left and 2 feet forward of your current position, sir," he replied. Jack paced slowly toward that point, eyes fixed to the 3d read out of his vortex manipulator. The frantic beeping of the device as he hit ground zero was all the confirmation he required.
"Goddammit!" He cursed, slapping the cover over his vm to silence the noise. Someone had used a fully functional vm to break into the warehouse, and break out the Ophelia. The only good thing about it was that the energy signature was not one he recognised personally so it was unlikely to be someone he knew. Jack scowled; he really didn't like the idea of someone from the Agency being around although if they were stealing airships, they were unlikely to be looking for him. There was an apologetic sounding cough from behind him; Nichols, he presumed. Boy, the kid had nerve. "What?" Jack snapped as he whirled around to face him. All credit to the kid – he didn't flinch at all.
"Would I be safe in assuming that you now know what happened to the Ophelia, sir?" Nichols' expression, like his voice was carefully bland.
"Not so much of a what, kid, more of a who, but unfortunately I can't tell exactly which person from the readings I'm getting now – too much time has passed. Let's get back to Queen Bee Evie and update her; I don't think she's gonna be happy." He received a nod in answer, then Nichols stepped back and indicated that Jack should precede him to the car. As he walked through the entrance, he was aware of the kid speaking behind him.
"Mrs Townley–Welles will contact you with further orders in due course. You will remain at post until then." Jack presumed that Nichols was speaking to the senior guard on duty and had to smile at the hint of a threat he'd managed to portray in such an innocuous phrase. The kid certainly knew how to use his voice.
Back at Torchwood HQ, Peter was more than a little surprised when Captain Harkness genially clapped him on the shoulder.
"Come see Evie with me, kid, you deserve to be a part of this," he said. Peter didn't think he'd done anything in particular to warrant such attention.
"But sir, I..."
"But sir, nothing. I want you to hear first hand what I've got to say." With that, Harkness disappeared into the twisting corridors without a backward glance, obviously familiar with the route and just as obviously confident that Peter wouldn't dare ignore his command, because command it certainly had been despite the jocular tone in which it had been issued. With some trepidation, Peter followed.
They were seated when he arrived, and Peter noted that there was a third chair. He carefully took a seat, half expecting someone to reprimand him. When no reprimand was forthcoming, he relaxed somewhat and settled into listen.
"So, where is my Airship?"
"*Your* airship, Evie darling?" drawled the Captain. "I think His Majesty might have something to say about that."
"You know what I mean. Now give me details."
"The short of it is that I have no idea where or when the Ophelia has been taken, but I do know *how* it was done. This device," he tapped his wrist, "can detect certain instabilities in time and space. Something similar was used to steal the Ophelia, but that one had the ability to move people – and objects – too."
"The people that stepped out of nowhere," Peter said, unable to keep the wonder out of his voice.
"Precisely," was the terse reply. Peter felt like his mind was a spinning mass of cogs and gears gathering speed as the pattern before him became obvious.
"But you won't be able to detect them again until they come into the range of your device, so as long as they stay away from the present day they're free to do whatever, whenever they want," he said in a rush, hoping that no–one would tell him to be quiet.
"That's the upshot of it," the Captain replied. Peter found his gaze snared by a pair of steely blue eyes that were frankly disturbing when they were so close, and he wondered what the man was looking for. Face flaming, Peter held his head high; he had nothing to hide, despite the overwhelming urge that overtook him to run out of the office to escape that oh–so–knowing glance. He breathed a sigh of relief when Captain Harkness turned his attention back to Mrs Townley–Welles. "Evie, what have you got this boy doing?"
"Languages? You're wasting him on languages!?"
"Oh it's not a waste, sir! It's fascinating – there's a pattern and a beauty in..." Peter trailed off, embarrassed that he'd in effect interrupted two senior members of staff, one of whom was his boss. Surprisingly they were both smiling at him. He blinked under their scrutiny.
"I see," Harkness commented. Peter rather thought that he probably did. "Well, if you ever get bored of listening to incomprehensible chatter there'll be a place for you in Torchwood Cardiff, I'm sure." There was no adequate answer to that, Peter thought, but he didn't have to say anything as Mrs Townley–Welles almost *yelled* at the other man.
"Captain Jack Harkness, you can't just poach my staff like that!"
Gaping, Peter silently stared at the two of them, his eyes darting between them. He realised that she actually wasn't angry in the slightest as her mouth was twitching as if she was trying not to smile. Harkness had no such compunction, about maintaining decorum; he was grinning broadly as he leaned back in his chair.
"I'm not poaching, I'm giving him more options," he said.
"So that's what you're calling it these days. Huh."
"You know you love me really, Evie, you just can't bring yourself to say it."
"Jaaack," she warned. At that point the strangled sounding squeak of surprise that Peter had been suppressing finally escaped and his seniors appeared to realise he was still present, and fell silent. He stood in a hurry, knocking over his chair in the process.
"If you have no objections, ma'am, sir, I'd best be getting on with my work." Without waiting for official dismissal, he fled. This time there was no mistaking the peals of laughter that followed him down the corridor. Peter decided he'd actually got off lightly and resolved to stay out of Captain Jack Harkness' way for the rest of his visit, he'd had more than enough of the larger than life man and he didn't think his boss would blame him for one minute.
Britain, sometime in the Iron Age
In the daylight, and as anchored to the ground as she was ever likely to be, the Ophelia looked even more impressive. What all of Robert's carefully gleaned research had neglected to mention was that she was beautiful. He drank in the sight of her as she floated above them. Beautiful, and *theirs*. He and Kristina were sitting on the ground, a short distance away. She nudged him with an elbow and pointed to the rigging that hung around the ship.
"Robert, why does an airship need sails?"
"They aren't sails, exactly."
"They look like sails to me."
"They're *supposed* to look like sails. Their function is a little more... esoteric."
"Esoteric? In what way?"
Robert grinned; he wasn't sure what she was going to think of the answer.
"They're moonlight collectors," he said.
"Moonlight collectors." Her expression said everything that her voice didn't.
"Yeah. Kinda like solar panels, but different."
There was no immediate reply, and Robert glanced down. Kristina was chewing thoughtfully at her lip.
"Seriously?" She asked.
"Told you it was an esoteric function. The people we... ah... acquired Ophelia from –Torchwood – had an elderly gentleman by the name of Doctor Calgori working for them. He designed the Ophelia and entirely by accident discovered how to make and use these moonlight collectors."
"So what happened?"
"He fell; it was a very long way down. The thing is, he never told anyone the secret of how the collectors functioned, and so our gorgeous airship was grounded and kept in the dark."
"So we didn't exactly steal her, we *rescued* her!" Kristina said brightly.
"That's how I like to think of it. We saved her from being confined to a dark, cold and damp cage, unable to fly. We gave her freedom instead."
"So we're not Airship Pirates at all, we're Airship Liberationists."
"I guess. As you know, I have my resources. I managed to unearth the lost secrets of Doctor Calgori for myself and here we are." He gestured expansively at the uninhabited land around them, with Ophelia incongruously the focal point. There was a loud crash from the vicinity of the airship and Robert winced. "I'd best go see what the others are doing to our lovely lady, and then we need to have our first crew meeting." He scrambled up and headed at a jog for the gently swinging rope ladder that was their only entry and exit point from the airship, glad that he'd ensured that they'd all had plenty of practice before they took the final step of breaking the Ophelia out of her confinement.
Robert was confident that the others would be happy with his plan; with the vortex manipulator he could ensure that they were never missing for more than a day or so from their lives in the 21st century but in the meantime they could live their dream. He would be careful that they didn't spend too long away from home at any one time – it wouldn't do to have them suddenly have their hair grow 3 inches in the course of 24 hours – but when they *were* away from home, they could do almost anything they wanted. If they were canny, they could even pick up the means to make themselves a bit of extra money back home without drawing attention to themselves, they were going to be Pirates after all. The only thing that remained for him to do was find a safe haven for Ophelia well away from the 20th century and the risk of being detected by Torchwood. He could get them back to Seattle the way he'd gotten them to 1920s London – with his vortex manipulator – and keep Ophelia hidden.
The meeting went even better than he'd expected. He knew he'd got them when Nathaniel started chuckling.
"Want to share that thought with us?" Robert asked.
"At least here we aren't going to disturb the neighbours when we practise. Just think of the difference that could make to the next album!"
As the sound of laughter echoed round the bridge, Robert knew that they'd made the right decision.
Gradually, the pattern of their lives took shape; in the 21st century they held down jobs, looked after children and performed with the band, but every so often they would meet to 'rehearse' behind closed doors, and then they would become the Airship Pirates in truth instead of it being a persona as the outside world thought.
There were parties, raids and close calls, sumptuous fabrics, precious things and copious amounts of alcohol. They pulled off daring rescues, landed in trouble and caused havoc. Life was ridiculous, and dangerous and fun – but it was never, ever boring.
Robert found he enjoyed the double life more than anything else he'd ever experienced. It surpassed everything he'd been through while he was a Time Agent because he was doing it for himself and his friends. Oh, he remembered the precautions that had been drilled into him when he was still a wet–behind–the–ears cadet but he didn't have the threat of what the Agency would do to him if he misbehaved hanging over his head. The one thing that was burned forever into his mind was what they did to people who didn't follow their rules exactly and Robert didn't want to lose *any* of his memories – it was what had tipped the balance in favour of him disappearing to a backwater like pre–interstellar earth rather than staying with the Agency. It was also why he kept his wrist device with its betraying vortex manipulator hidden when he was in the 21st century, except when travelling to and from the Ophelia. The only other precaution he always took was to never visit Britain after the formation of Torchwood in 1879 – now he had his freedom, he didn't want it taken away and he didn't trust Torchwood not to be upset about Ophelia even 80 plus years later, despite the fact that none of the people involved would still be alive.
South Africa 1870s
Jean–Paul dabbed at the cut on his head he'd received courtesy of an expertly wielded assegai.
"Will someone please remind me why I thought it was such a good idea to come to South Africa during the fucking Anglo–Zulu war?" He growled.
He was met with an uncomfortable silence, none of them had escaped completely unscathed, but Jean–Paul was their worst casualty. While he was fairly sure there wasn't any major damage, head wounds bled like hell and hurt like the blazes. He winced as he pressed the wad of gauze to his head; he was *not* having a good day.
"Here, let me check," Magdelene offered, stepping carefully out of the wreck of her petticoats. He consented with a brief nod, and let her approach, carefully lifting the gauze so she could inspect the damage. "Well the good news is that I don't think you're going to need stitches," she said after examining the wound carefully.
"And the bad news?" Jean–Paul asked.
"I think it will take upwards of a week to heal properly. Sorry."
Jean–Paul shrugged, trying to disturb his head as little as possible.
"Could be worse. Now if you don't mind I'm going to see if I can persuade our intrepid Captain to get us the hell out of this time and take us to one where the residents aren't as likely to want to throw sharp metal objects at us."
"I'll come with you – I can be very persuasive when I need to be – and I can patch you up on the way."
Ten minutes later, Jean–Paul found the flash and shudder of the Ophelia skipping through time strangely reassuring. It was a signal that there would be time for them to recoup, and for him to reflect on whether he wanted to make the decision he was contemplating or not.
Judging by the glare on Robert's face, Jean Paul guessed that he wasn't too happy with the way the conversation was going.
"What do you mean, you've had enough?" Robert demanded.
Jean–Paul sighed. "Let's just say that the last trip was an assegai too far, and leave it at that."
"You knew travelling in the Ophelia wasn't going to be safe and cosy. You were *happy* with that."
"Yes, I knew." They'd all known – Robert had made sure of that. "And yes, I was happy with that. Now I'm not, and much as it kills me to say this, I think I'm better getting out now – band and all. You can find another logistics officer, and I'm sure you won't have trouble finding a bass player either. If you're lucky they might even be the same person."
Jean–Paul reached out and squeezed Robert's shoulder in an effort to try and communicate in more than just words.
"I mean it. I've thought long and hard about this, and I've realised I need to have a normal life back again. It's been fun, Robert, but I really do need to leave."
"If you truly feel like that, I guess you do... just... Don't be a stranger, Ok?"
Jean–Paul smiled. "I won't, we've been through too much for that." He stepped back and threw an untidy salute in Robert's direction. "Goodbye, Captain, and good luck. I'll be seeing you around, you can count on that."
With nothing left to say, Jean–Paul turned and walked away from his life as an airship pirate, knowing he'd miss it even though it was the right thing for him to do. It didn't stop him from wondering who they would find to replace him.
Robert put out the word that the band was on the look out for a new bass player, but he already had someone in mind. Daniel had been picked up by the Ophelia when he was a ship's boy on a privateer that had gone down under fire near Gibraltar in the 18th century. He'd been settled into an earlier decade and adopted into a family who knew somewhat of Robert's unusual activities. Robert had kept a weather eye on him since and hoped that given the opportunity, he would jump at a chance of a berth on the Ophelia as well as playing in the band.
On both counts, his instinct proved correct and Robert had to breathe a sigh of relief as both band and crew were back up to full strength. Then Magdalene moved on too, though she had scouted out her own replacement before she left, and remained a peripheral member of the Ophelia crew providing them with opportunities to sell and use their acquired treasures.
Their dual existence as steampunk band and Airship Pirates continued in a curious rhythm all of its own and still no–one guessed that their stories of the Ophelia were actually true. Life, Robert reflected, was good and he hoped it would stay that way.
The Late Cretaceous Period – approximately 80 million years ago
Ancient sunlight shone down on the Ophelia through the 'sails' and dappled the observation deck beneath. Robert was leaning on the rail, Kristina beside him, drinking in the sight around him while he drew deep lungfuls of the clear, pure air. The faint sound of violin and guitar drifted up to them from the lower deck where Nathaniel and Daniel were practicing. He had no idea what Finn was doing.
"Better than 'Walking With Dinosaurs' isn't it?" He asked Kristina with a smile as he watched the pterosaurs swoop and dive and soar around them.
"Much. It's such a pity we can't share this with anyone at home," she replied.
"Imagine the comments we'd get on youtube!" Robert chuckled, Kristina's own delighted laughter joining him.
"No one would believe it was real!" she said. "In fact..."her voice trailed off and Robert cast a glance at her, only to catch a far too devious expression on her face.
"Oh, no. Don't you even *think* about it," he warned.
"Don't you 'but Robert' me. I am not using this," he raised the arm that was clasped by his wrist strap "to take footage of flying reptiles and putting it on youtube. No way. Captain's word is final, Ok?"
"I guess," she said, pouting at him. He ignored her with the ease of long practice and turned back to watching the pterosaurs.
"Good," he murmured.
"That's Captain Spoilsport, remember." Laughing, they both left the upper deck and went to join their friends in the practice room.
Later, as Ophelia cut through the encroaching dimness of the cretaceous twilight, they decided it was probably time to head on back to Seattle and the realities of 21st century life. After all, there were people who missed them back home. Robert couldn't help but think that no matter what else was in his life, Ophelia had become his true home. He wished it were only possible to share that with more of the people he cared about, but he knew that wouldn't be safe. He sighed.
As if she were echoing his sigh, the Ophelia shuddered around them.
"What the hell was that?" Nathaniel asked.
"Felt like some sort of turbulence, maybe there's a storm coming that we didn't anticipate," Kristina replied.
Ophelia juddered again, and Robert's heart plummeted as his wrist strap beeped disconcertingly. He dashed up onto the main deck leaving a chorus of questions behind him and froze as he gazed for a second at the horror in the sky. Ophelia seemed to convulse under his feet and that galvanised him into action – he grabbed for the cord on the emergency bell and started to ring it frantically, even as he tried to make sense of the readings that his vm was feeding him. A startled sounding shriek close by surprised him, and he realised that some of the pterosaurs that had been following the Ophelia were also caught up in the turbulence. He spared them a brief thought before he began wrestling with the Ophelia's controls, the others sliding into their positions around him until all hands were on deck.
"I'm not sure we can outrun that storm," Nathaniel said, after checking what the dials and printouts were showing him.
"Is there any chance you could jump us out of here?" Daniel asked as he fought the controls to retract the moonlight collectors – getting them out of the way would give the Ophelia much a much needed speed boost and Robert needed every advantage over the storm that he could get. Robert also wished he was able to do what Daniel had suggested but his reading of the data had made one thing unfortunately clear to him. He had to try and explain it to the others somehow so they realised just what they were up against.
"I would, but that is no ordinary storm. I'd have no control over where we ended up. We try to outrun this, or we risk never seeing Seattle again – and possibly not even this planet."
"Shit. What the hell kind of storm could do that?" Daniel sounded about as happy as Robert felt.
"A Rift storm. I hadn't realise there *was* a rift around here, the only one I ever heard of was in Cardiff, and we were nowhere near there!" Robert tried clamp down on the edge of panic that threatened to creep into his voice. A Captain did not panic, not even when there was a storm chasing his ship that had the potential to throw them anywhere in time or space.
"Er Robert..."Kristina sounded almost apologetic as she drew his attention.
"What?!" He barked.
"The location of Cardiff in the future is approximately 30 miles in that direction." Kristina pointed toward the oncoming rift storm. "It looks like we didn't account for all the variables when we plotted the course."
He couldn't blame Kristina for that, the check on whether a plotted course accounted for all the temporal variables was ultimately his responsibility. He'd failed his crew, and now their lives were at risk.
"Fuck." He didn't apologise, he could do that if he got them out of this mess. Right now he needed to try and get them as far away as possible. He patted the controls affectionately and whispered, "Come on Ophelia baby, give me everything you've got." She tried, they all tried, but it soon became clear that they weren't going to be able to outrun the storm. All he had left to do now was damage control. "Kristina, take the helm. Finn, over there." The switch of positions occurred with the minimum of disruption leaving Robert free to devote everything he could to finding a way to not only survive a rift storm, but come out of the other side of it on the same planet. His fingers flew over the keypad on his wrist strap, characters flashing across the small screen almost too fast to read but he found what he was looking for at last, and with precious little time to spare. The others weren't going to like it, not at all.
Robert took a deep breath and gave the command.
"Bring Ophelia about."
It didn't take long before the storm of protests erupted.
"That will mean we're flying directly into the storm!"
"Have you lost your mind?"
Then, like a diamond sparkling in sunlight, Kristina's gentle acknowledgement,
"Aye, Captain. Bringing her about."
Robert clung onto one of the supports as the ship started to shake around them even more violently, but managed to keep a close eye on the readings his vm provided.
"We've got one way of surviving this, and ending up somewhere recognisable. We need to get as close as we can to the eye of that storm. It will reduce our risks of a spatial shift, and increase my chances of controlling any temporal shift. We only get one shot at this, so let's make sure it's our best one."
Slowly, the shaking stabilised to a more tolerable shudder and Robert began hope that Ophelia would hold together long enough to get them where they needed to be. He had to admit that flying into the teeth of a rift storm was probably the most stupid, reckless and desperate thing he had done in his life – and he had more to lose now than he had when he first settled on earth – but it was also eerily beautiful. The storm blazed around them in myriad colours, shrieking with a thousand voices, reaching out greedy fingers to try and pull them elsewhere. Robert navigated purely by his vm, yelling instructions to Kristina in order to be heard over the storm. The further into the storm they travelled, the more the colours blanched out until there was a blazing pillar of white light ahead of them.
"That's it. Eye of the Storm... and the rift anchor too by the look of it. Hold on everyone, this is going to get a little bumpy!" He barely heard Kristina's grumble about ridiculous understatements, but the tone of her voice made him smile. He could do this, they *would* make it, and with Ophelia intact – or so he hoped. The white light at the centre of the storm began to expand and he made the last few entries onto his wrist strap with desperate haste, hitting the final enter command on the keypad just as the light hit them.
If he'd thought the turbulence was bad before, the bucking, plunging flight that followed the collision with the rift energy disabused him of that notion. All they could do was hang on – which they did, for dear life.
Torchwood Cardiff 2008
"Jack, I think you should come and look at this!"
Jack bounded out of his office and over to Toshiko's workstation with characteristic enthusiasm.
"What's the problem, Tosh?"
"It's not a problem as such, it's just the rift is throwing off some very strange readings. Mainframe recognises them as familiar but I keep on getting errors when I try to interrogate it as to *why* they are familiar, almost as if it is trying to stop me from discovering more. So far the only concrete thing I've been able to find is that the highest concentration of similar readings was in 2006 and there was an isolated blip some months later."
"Can you tell if anything has come through?"
"There's nothing yet. If anything it looks more like temporal resonances from a particular event." She turned away from the screen and removed her glasses before meeting Jack's eyes. "From right around the time we *all* went for training, when you told us not to worry about the rift and we came back to find that there'd been an 'earthquake'."
Jack sighed, frowning slightly as he shook his head to stall any further query. He couldn't explain about having to get them out of the way so he, and they, didn't meet his younger self, not even to Toshiko.
"So, resonances you say?" He commented as he drew closer, focusing her attention back on the immediate problem.
"Yes, and it looks like they go backward in time too, though I can't tell how far." She'd put her glasses back on and was tapping away at her keyboard. Jack rested a hand on her shoulder as he glanced at the screens.
"And you're sure nothing has come through?" He asked again, just to be certain. She gave him a tiny, but firm nod.
"Then keep a close eye on the rift, I have a bad feeling about this." Jack knew he had no need to elaborate further, Tosh trusted his instinct about the Rift almost as much as she trusted the computers and when the 2 tallied that only made her more vigilant.
Jack made a point of checking in with Tosh frequently that day, and found himself becoming frustrated by her constant assurances of 'nothing yet'. He *knew* something was brewing and he also knew that it wouldn't necessarily be good given the state of the Plass, and the Hub, after the original disturbance when the rift was forced open by the actions of Blon Fel–Fotch Slitheen. However, until something actually looked like it might happen there wasn't an awful lot he or the team could do besides watch, no matter how frustrating it might be.
The first indication that something *was* happening was when Ianto came in absolutely soaked, and headed straight for Tosh's work station, peeling his coat off as he went, with hardly a glance in Jack's direction. Unexpected rain storms weren't exactly unusual in Cardiff, so obviously something about this one had piqued Ianto's interest. Jack wandered over to Tosh's workstation, where Ianto was valiantly trying not to drip on her computers while he gave her the rundown on what was happening above. As Jack drew closer he finally received acknowledgement of his presence, but in the way that Ianto had, he also managed to make it a warning.
"Jack," he said. No more, just that one word, but Jack could tell that there was a riot of things going on behind Ianto's seemingly unflappable exterior.
"This is no ordinary storm," Ianto said. Jack trusted him on that; Ianto was Cardiff born and bred and had a sometimes preternatural awareness of what was 'right' with the city, probably a consequence of living on top of the rift for most of his life. "Look..."Ianto indicated the pictures now scudding across one of Tosh's monitors and Jack moved around so he could see the screen more easily. He realised at that point that they were watching footage from Ianto's phone. Footage that showed sickly coloured twists of what didn't – quite – look like lightning curving through the sky. The twisting in Jack's gut echoed what he saw on the screen.
"Shit. If Tosh's right and we're getting echoes and resonances of a previous event we've got the echo of a Rift Storm happening right over our heads."
"An echo is better than the real thing, though. Isn't it?" Ianto sounded like he was fishing for reassurance. Jack wished he had some to give him. The truth was he didn't exactly know what the echo of a rift storm would bring.
"I guess," he sighed. "Call the others in; we're probably going to have a busy night."
"They're already on their way."
"Pull up, Pull up! Land ahoy!" Finn's shout was as loud as a trained pair of lungs could make it, which at least meant everyone heard her.
Robert didn't think he'd ever been so glad to hear something in his life. If there was land then they'd made it through the storm. He kissed the nearest bit of Ophelia he could reach.
"Thank you for holding together, babe. It's much appreciated." He patted her absently and then looked around. Everyone *seemed* to be in one piece, but it would be prudent to check. He cleared his throat experimentally, somewhat hoarse from all the yelling he'd been doing. "Is everyone OK? All present and correct?"
"I'm not sure about correct, but I'm definitely present." Daniel's voice was muffled, but he sounded surprisingly cheerful. His affirmative answer was echoed by the others and Robert breathed a sigh of relief. It was time to find out where and when they happened to be, and if they could do anything about it as although his vm seemed to be in working order he had no idea what sort of repairs the Ophelia would need.
"OK guys. Report?"
Jack acknowledged Gwen's arrival with a brief nod, she said nothing, merely joined them around Tosh's workstation, glancing at the pictures streaming across the screens.
"Jack says it's the echo of a Rift storm," Ianto informed her. "Unfortunately we don't know exactly what the outcome will be."
"Might be nothing, but then it's almost as likely that everything might go to hell," Jack said.
"Nothing like being optimistic, eh, Jack?" Gwen teased. Jack gave her a half–hearted smile back, which did more to quell further comments from that direction than anything he could have said. The resulting near–silence was eerie, the usual sounds of the Hub overlaid by the frantic tapping of Tosh's fingers as they flew over her keyboard, but no–one seemed to want to break it; it was as if they were holding their breath.
Tosh's computer beeped shrilly into the silence.
"Rift Activity!" Tosh said, her fingers flying even faster over the keyboard – the images onscreen changing as she entered more commands. "Something's coming through," she continued.
"Can you tell what?" Jack asked.
"Not yet, but it's pretty big. Clearing up the data stream."
Jack found himself pushed away from the screen as Ianto leaned in for a closer look, intent on the screen
"It's not centred on the rift, seems to be holding position beyond Penarth," Ianto commented. Jack shot a glance at Ianto, his guts tightening unpleasantly with the implications.
"That's the middle of the Bristol Channel," he said "...out towards..."he trailed off, throwing another glance in Ianto's direction. Ianto met his eyes and nodded.
"Flat Holm. Yes."
Jack held his breath, hoping that certain decisions weren't going to blow up in his face. This would *not* be a good time for that to happen. Luckily Tosh interrupted his train of thought.
"Receiving visuals. Just give me a second to clean up the signal..."
The static on the screen slowly cleared to produce a recognisable, albeit still slightly fuzzy, image.
Tosh frowned. "That can't be right. Let me see if I can clean that up some more... Oh."
They all stared at the screen in startled silence – Tosh seated at her desk, the others crowded around and behind her. For long moments, no–one even seemed to breathe.
"Jack, I don't suppose you have any idea why there might be an airship hovering over the Bristol Channel, do you?" Gwen asked.
"And not just any airship – that looks like the Ophelia," Ianto added.
"What? It can't be! Let me see..."Jack pushed Ianto and Gwen out of the way in his hurry to get a closer look at the screen. The image that met his eyes was unmistakeable; it was the Airship Ophelia – albeit somewhat battered and broken – last seen in Torchwood London in the 1920s. "It's the Ophelia all right." He turned to Ianto. "But what I want to know is how *you* recognised her – and don't give me that spiel about knowing everything, Ianto."
To Jack's surprise, Ianto smiled.
"You can thank Peter Nichols for that," he said. "The Ophelia's disappearance and subsequent sightings were his personal project for over 15 years." Jack remembered Peter as an intense young man with a thirst for knowledge, in a way not so different from a certain Welshman, and the memory brought a smile to his own face.
"Then what happened?" He asked.
"1939. He didn't have the time or the inclination to continue his journal after that."
The sound of Tosh pointedly clearing her throat interrupted any further discussion.
"This is all fascinating, but don't you think we'd better do something about the immediate problem?" She indicated the screen, where the Ophelia now appeared to be listing slightly. "If we want to keep this quiet, we need to move quickly."
"Actually, I think it might be a little too late to keep it quiet," Gwen said from Owen's workstation.
"What do you mean?"
"According to this, the Ophelia is the transport of choice for a bunch of Airship Pirates, otherwise known as steampunk band Abney Park."
"Airship Pirates. Oh come on, Gwen..." Jack turned from watching Tosh and made his way over to the other workstation. Gwen glanced over her shoulder at him before turning her attention back to the screen.
"That's what it says here, Jack. And they're led by one Captain Robert..."
It hadn't taken Robert long to discover where and when they had ended up. He'd merely switched on the radio receiver, locked onto the strongest signal and within 2 minutes the announcer had helpfully informed them of the current date, time, weather conditions and local shopping opportunities.
"So we're in Cardiff?"
"Seems that way."
"And we're not in Seattle, too?" For one not born to the realities of Time Travel, Kristina had quickly picked up on the potential pitfalls and paradoxes.
"Luckily, no. Allowing for the different time zones, it's about 3 hours since we left and we were planning on being away for a couple of days at least. We've got that long to figure out a way of either hiding Ophelia or repairing her, although going by what they're playing I don't think it would hurt if we made this 'official' and dropped some cds off at the radio station." The comment was met with subdued chuckles.
"The idea has merit, but don't you think they'll realise there's an airship hanging around the coast for 2 days?" Finn sounded amused, but not averse to the idea. Robert grinned.
"They're Welsh. They won't even notice, apart from when they point out that Ophelia isn't shiny enough to be a decent publicity gimmick."
"Since when did *you* become an expert on the Welsh?" Daniel asked with a smirk.
"I had Welsh friends in school."
"But that's..."Kristina waved a hand, "a long time away. Ago. Whatever."
"Yeah, but I bet Welsh practicality hasn't changed a bit."
Gwen's pronouncement galvanised Jack into action. It might have been over 80 years ago, but he remembered only too well his conclusion that only another Time Agent could have stolen the Ophelia. If he was lucky, it was this very Captain Robert Gwen had found – which would account for why the other vm signature had been unfamiliar at the time as the R classes had been some years below him in the academy. All he had to do was access the files. All. He knew he would need a little bit of mundane help to do that as his vm's memory capacity wasn't limitless and searching the memory dump without specific cues would take too long.
"Ianto, you wouldn't happen to have Nichols' journal in the archives here, would you?" Jack didn't know exactly what had come over from the remnants of the Torchwood One archive – he'd left that to Ianto – but he suspected that the journal hadn't been part of the official archive in the first place.
"Not exactly in the archives, no. But I can put my hands on it fairly quickly," Ianto said evasively.
"Then get it. Fast." Ianto disappeared, and gratifyingly quickly. Jack grinned. "Gwen, I want to know as much about these 'Airship Pirates' as possible," she nodded in answer before turning back to the computer and Jack strode towards Tosh. "You just do your 'thing' as usual." He didn't have to elaborate – Tosh's 'thing' was based around misdirection, misinformation and observation; seeing the patterns in something in order to better disrupt them.
"Will do," she said, sounding almost cheerful. Jack breathed a sigh of relief; with the whole team all working with him, they would soon get to the bottom of the mystery, and hopefully find a solution. He glanced toward the empty autopsy bay and frowned; Owen still hadn't arrived.
At that moment the cog door rolled back and the sirens wailed, revealing one Owen Harper looking decidedly the worse for wear.
"Owen! Glad you could join us at last."
"I was busy..."Jack didn't stay to hear Owen's excuses; he'd heard all of them at least three times by now and wasn't particularly interested in hearing them again. "Tosh, update him," Jack said as he swept into his office.
Jack grinned as the data scrolled by on the holographic display of his wrist device. Once again, Ianto had come up trumps and provided not only Nichols' journal, but a copy of the official report to boot which meant that Jack now had enough information to contact the so–called Captain Robert directly if he was so inclined. He was cautiously hopeful of the outcome if he did; the guy appeared to have been in hiding since the late 1990s, only beginning to use his vm regularly again about 2 years ago. Jack found he liked the thought of talking to a person from his own time who wasn't out to get him, but didn't want to get his hopes up too much. The fact that the information about the band was genuine – with the music and live footage to prove it – was a point in their favour. That they'd donned the Airship Pirate personas at around the time Captain Robert's vm had become active again was too much of a coincidence; the theft of the Ophelia had been planned in advance, and for no obvious reason. Jack intended to find out why, and to do *that* he needed the captain and crew of the Ophelia to be in the Hub. It was time to examine all the options.
They gathered in the conference room, the image of the Ophelia on the large screen reminding them that the situation had the potential to go in any of several divergent directions. To that end, they'd been discussing how best to contact the crew of the Ophelia without spooking them.
"It's all very well to be able to contact Captain Robert directly using your wrist strap, but if you're right and he's been in hiding, won't he be just as likely to run as he will to listen?" Ianto said. Jack had to admit Ianto was probably right. If a previously unknown Agent had contacted *him* in his first 20 or so years on earth, he would have taken the opportunity to run if at all possible too, and he *knew* that the other man's vm was fully functional.
"So, what do you suggest?"
"Radio," Tosh helpfully supplied.
"Yes. It would work – it fits with the tech I've been able to detect on the airship – and it gives us the chance to prepare. We radio them with our initial contact, send out a boat to pick them up and bring them back here." Tosh explained.
"What about the bloody great airship in the Bristol Channel?" Gwen asked.
"Publicity stunt." Ianto replied. "They're a band after all and they'd be shooting themselves in the foot not to take advantage of the opportunity it offers. They aren't that well known over here yet by all accounts, but the steampunk thing is catching on rapidly in alternative cultures."
Jack smiled at Ianto; he loved it when he and Tosh got their heads together over a problem, they made it seem like nothing was insurmountable.
"Sounds like you've got it all covered. Let's do it."
The crew of the Ophelia were gathering themselves together in preparation of leaving when the radio crackled to life. Robert had turned it back to a communication frequency in disgust after listening to the Cardiff Radio dj's taste in music but he hadn't expected anyone to actually *try* to communicate.
"Airship Ophelia, are you receiving me?" Robert's heart plummeted; they had found them – whoever *they* were. The message repeated. Again. Nathaniel glanced over to him with a question in his eyes and Robert nodded, watching as Nathaniel toggled the reply switch on the radio.
"This is the Airship Ophelia; we are receiving you loud and clear – though we'd really like to know who we're talking to." A muffled sounding chuckle echoed from the speaker.
"You want to know who we are?"
There was a pause. Robert wondered whether it was for genuine indecision or for dramatic effect – it could have been either. He held his breath as he waited for the answer.
Jack clamped his lips around the wicked grin that threatened to escape as he listened to the explosion of chaos his announcement seemed to have caused on the Ophelia.
"They don't sound very happy," Ianto observed.
"Do you blame them?" Jack asked.
"Not really." Ianto listened for a moment; there was a lot of yelling going on. "I think you'd best intervene, it sounds like it might be getting nasty."
The yell from the radio had the desired effect on everyone, and Robert pushed his way through his now slightly quieter crew to take Nathaniel's place.
"What does Torchwood want with the Ophelia?" Robert asked.
"Besides reclaiming stolen property?"
"I think you will have to come over and discuss that in person. All of you. We are sending a boat out to collect you. The Ophelia stays where she is – and we will be watching to ensure that. Barring sea monsters and freak tides on the trip over, I guarantee your safety. Welcome to Cardiff."
The radio went silent, and Robert found himself wishing that his crew would do the same. He couldn't think. Turning away from the radio, he made his way to the observation deck to wait for the boat. He was distracted from staring at the sea by a soft beep from his wrist strap. Frowning, he pressed a button and read the words that scrolled across the screen – we will be watching – with foreboding. Only someone with at least a semi–functional vm would have been able to do that. Torchwood had a Time Agent on their books, and Robert didn't like the feeling of dread that followed that realisation. They'd found him. Unless he was really lucky and the Torchwood agent was another renegade like himself, the Agency would now pull him away from the life he'd made himself without a second thought – and then make him forget it.
The boat that came to collect them was a fishing vessel, with enough room for them all and their gear. The latter request had surprised Robert somewhat as surely if they were going to pull him from this time they wouldn't need the instruments. Tentatively, he allowed himself to hope.
They disembarked at a water–taxi stop of all things, and Robert found himself, along with the others, herded by the 3 Torchwood agents down the boardwalk behind it. None of them offered to help carry the instrument cases, but that didn't exactly surprise Robert, he could tell they were keeping their hands close to their firearms. The front door *did* surprise him – as did the dingy tourist shop behind it – but the dim corridor on the other side of the false wall was more akin to what he'd been expecting.
"Leave your gear by the lift, it can be picked up later," the Asian woman said. Robert complied, and with Daniel and Nathaniel's help he stacked the cases carefully, hoping that they would be given the chance to retrieve them. Once done, he took his place with the others in the elevator car, trying not to succumb to his incipient panic.
Kristina squeezed his hand.
"I'm sure it will all work out," she said. Robert wished he dared to share her optimism, but he couldn't, not when the life he'd worked so hard to get was possibly going to come crashing down around him.
The Torchwood agents seemed to conveniently forget about them as the elevator came to a halt and the door slid open, striding down the steps and along the short corridor without a backward glance. Robert and the others had no option but to follow in their wake.
Robert had no idea what he was going to find beyond the round door that led into the base, he presumed it would as modern, glass–filled and soulless as any contemporary office building, just below ground rather than above. He slowly moved forward, Kristina at his side, wondering if he was just going to walk through the door to be faced with the barrel of a gun. He didn't even make it through the door before he stopped, wide eyed in wonder. There were no guns pointed at him or Kristina, and while there *was* glass aplenty from what he could see, the place certainly wasn't modern or soulless. Instead he found himself gazing upon what was almost a paradise for someone with a steampunk soul, full of steel and stone and water and looking very much alive. He took a faltering step forward, another and another until he was through the cage that surrounded the door and into the room beyond, though thinking of it as a 'room' was rather a misnomer – the place was cavernous and more like a cross between a cathedral and a Victorian railway station. Before he'd even had time to think about what he was going to say to his crew something large and grey and winged swooped at him, squawking imperiously. Robert ducked; his gaze following the flying thing with some disbelief as it disappeared into a hole in the wall far above him. He straightened slowly and turned to face whoever it was that was chuckling at him.
"I think she recognises you," the precise young man said.
"Recognises me?" Robert hoped he didn't sound as stupid as he thought he did.
"Yup," he grinned at Robert who gave him a shaky smile in return. "She arrived in Cardiff a while back but she bears the same temporal signature as the Ophelia. She must have been caught up in the same rift storm but was thrown out of it earlier."
"She. We call her Myfanwy."
"Right." Robert felt the others gather round him, all seemingly as nonplussed as he was. It reassured him somewhat.
"Welcome to Torchwood Three, by the way. I'm Ianto Jones – you've met Toshiko Sato, Gwen Cooper and our doctor, Owen Harper already."
There were footsteps on the stairs to Robert's left and he turned toward the sound.
"And I'm Captain Jack Harkness." The man swept down the stairs looking like an escapee from the 1940s in his RAF greatcoat though as he drew closer Robert caught a hint of something he hadn't expected to smell ever again in his life – the pheromones of someone else from his time. His eyes flew to the man's face and caught an almost imperceptible nod. Robert swallowed nervously, he hoped – though he didn't know – that this Jack Harkness was a fugitive just like he was or else he would be saying goodbye to Kristina and the others very shortly. A large but gentle hand was laid on his shoulder. "Rest assured, I won't be sending you home without the rest of your crew," the Captain said. "But we do need to discuss just how and why you appropriated Torchwood property." Without further ado he spun around and dashed back up the stairs. Robert gaped after him for a moment before he followed more sedately, the others trailing behind him.
They were led down several dim, brick lined corridors – tunnels really – in a pattern that seemed to be unnecessarily complicated to Robert. He doubted that they were being taken along the direct route to their destination but he had no idea if it was because there were things about Torchwood that had to be kept from a stranger's eyes or whether it was get them off balance. Whatever the intention, he couldn't help but admire the workmanship that surrounded him; the brickwork, though utilitarian, was beautifully precise and from what little he could see whoever had been doing it had still had time to lay in contrasting courses. He felt quite envious of the Torchwood team for being able to work in such a Victorian treasure, though they probably didn't look at it the same way.
They finally emerged into a brighter lit area that appeared to be the confluence of several corridors which in turn gave into a meeting room of some sort. Robert's suspicion of the indirectness of the route to the room was proven by the sight of the rest of the Torchwood team sitting on one side of the table. Harkness strode in to take a seat at its head and indicated that Robert and the others should take the remaining spaces. The tension that settled over the room after they'd sat down was broken by the scrape of a chair as the man in the suit – Ianto Jones, Robert reminded himself – rose with a smile on his face.
"Coffee?" He asked innocuously. There was a chorus of slightly startled affirmatives from his crewmates but Robert didn't give his own until he caught the look between Jones and Harkness – the coffee had obviously not been the Captain's idea.
The coffee, when it arrived, was perfect and Robert had to stifle a grin at the expression on more than one face as they took careful sips. He wondered if Jones had ever thought of doing interrogation by coffee – he could probably ask the crew anything, and get an answer, as long as he promised them another cup. He resolved to watch the young man very carefully, just in case.
Even after the coffee the two teams eyed each other warily over the expanse of the table. Harkness leaned back in his chair and gave them what would have passed for a charming smile if Robert hadn't been watching for the steel in the man's eyes.
"I think we'll start with a very simple question," he said, pinning Robert with his icy gaze.
Robert nodded his acquiescence. Hiding anything at this juncture was not an option, despite what he might personally prefer; he wanted them all to come out of this in one piece if at all possible and he already knew that it was dangerous to cross Torchwood.
"Does the Agency know you're on this planet?"
It wasn't the question that Robert had expected, but he realised he actually wasn't surprised in the slightest. He was also relieved that he didn't have to step sideways around the truth in order to answer.
"I damn well hope not. I went to a great deal of trouble getting *away* from them, there's no way I'd tell them where I was going. The general idea was that they'd class me as another casualty of over–confidence, inexperience and poor planning."
"I'd say your planning was anything but poor, you managed to stay hidden for 10 years after all. Which brings me to the next question..."
Robert glanced at Nathaniel on one side of him, and down to where Kristina was clutching onto his hand before meeting her eyes. They both nodded, putting their lives very firmly in his hands. Harkness had shifted in his seat until he was leaning on the table and Robert doubted he'd missed the exchange. Another glance at Kristina, a squeeze of her hand and he was ready.
"I presume you want to know about the Ophelia," Robert said.
"That, and *how* you managed to stay hidden for 10 years. And Why."
"It may take a while..."Robert trailed off.
"Do we look like we're planning on going anywhere?" Harkness gestured at himself and his team, all in various states of pseudo–relaxation. "Now talk."
Robert met Harkness' challenging glare with one of his own. So the guy wanted him to talk did he? Then talk he most assuredly would, and open a few eyes on the Torchwood team in the process; he doubted the ever so charming Jack Harkness – or whatever his name was originally – had been completely honest with his team. Robert had not been completely open with the crew of the Ophelia either, but they knew the basics – they'd had to, travelling through time as they did in a supposedly impossible piece of technology. He took a deep breath and chanced a quick glance at the members of Torchwood on the other side of the table; most of them avoided his gaze. Harkness, as expected, still had the light of challenge in his eyes, his expression daring 'do your worst, see if I care' and Robert was tempted to take up the gauntlet just to see that expression change. Then his eyes touched on Jones – the man was worrying at his bottom lip with his teeth and when he met Robert's eyes the plea in his own was obvious. Ianto Jones obviously knew more about Harkness than the others and didn't want them to find out. Robert considered for a moment longer; he didn't really have anything to gain beyond the personal satisfaction of thumbing his nose at 'authority' by saying more than he had to and the silent appeal of Jones had affected him more than he expected. He gave Jones a slight nod of acknowledgement and was rewarded with a startlingly genuine smile that lit the young man's face.
Robert cleared his throat.
"Talk? You might regret that – just ask them," he nodded in the direction of his crewmates and noticed that Kristina at least was trying to suppress a grin. "It's difficult to know where to start so I guess going as close to the beginning as I can is a good place." Robert paused again, and cast another glance around the table; this time he met with varying expressions of polite interest. "As Captain Harkness is no doubt aware, I was not born in this time – or this place for that matter – but I don't think you really need to know all the details, just the relevant ones." He nodded to himself, pleased with his decision; there would be more than enough detail there to keep Torchwood happy and yet hopefully not enough to put anyone at risk.
Robert slowly began to relate to them the story of a boy who had always felt misplaced in time, distressed with the instantaneousness of everyday life, the lack of care and pride people took in their work and their lives. He knew there was once more than that from the tales his maternal grandfather used to tell him. Grandfather was a wandering man whose anachronistic outlook on life was something of an embarrassment to his daughter but not so to his grandson. It was Robert's grandfather who had given him his most treasured possession as a child; a real paper book, beautifully illustrated and bound, written by a man called Wells. The story was almost laughable when examined against the background of 51st century life but the words wove a rich tapestry of life in another time and place. It was after reading the book for the first time that Robert decided he wanted to visit the past himself. That desire influenced him in many ways but in the end it led him towards the Time Agency. He was always careful to do well enough at the Academy that he passed everything, but was careful not to do so well he drew attention. He was also extremely careful not to let anyone get wind of his private research.
The more time he spent at the academy, the more Robert realised that the Time Agency was rotting from within – the evidence was there for anyone with the eyes to see it even if it wasn't immediately obvious. He began to plan how he could get out in one piece and get to where he wanted to be but his first goal was to become a full blown Agent with his own vortex manipulator. In the end Robert had decided the best place to hide was late 20th century Earth; he was likely to fit in better in that time and he also had contacts there that had nothing to do with the Agency. His mind made up, he only had to wait for the opportunity.
Robert paused in his narrative to find he had a captive audience. He took a sip of water – thoughtfully provided by Jones – and wondered what to tell them next.
"So you've been here since the 1990s?"Harkness asked. Robert was pleased that there appeared to only be interest in the man's voice, and not hostility.
"Yet you didn't use your manipulator until a couple of years ago. Why did you do that?"
"The hiding or the using?" Robert asked. Harkness shrugged.
"Hiding it was the only way I could keep beneath the notice of the Agency. Luckily I had a contact who could provide me with the means to keep it hidden." Robert watched Harkness tap a finger against his lips as he appeared to think about what Robert had said. There was silence around the rest of the table, as if no–one wanted to interrupt what was becoming an almost private conversation.
"Quantum shielding?" Harkness eventually enquired. Robert nodded.
"Exactly. Hir also managed to include a DNA lock and a perception filter." There was a low whistle from Harkness.
"That's some containment device," he said. Robert grinned.
"We were very pleased with it." Before he could continue he was interrupted by an almost breathless question from the cute Asian woman – Toshiko.
"I don't suppose you've got it with you, have you?" Robert turned toward her, and smiled at the sight of her face alight with interest.
"I'm afraid it's back in Seattle," he answered. Her face fell and Robert felt like he'd just kicked a puppy.
"Tosh…"Whatever Harkness was going to say was cut off as she interrupted him.
"Quantum Shielding, Jack! I could… um sorry." The last words she directed at Robert with a somewhat embarrassed smile on her face. He couldn't help but smile back, her enthusiasm was infectious.
"Don't worry, I know what technophiles are like," Robert said gently. She flashed a quick grin at him before she turned her eyes back to the table, probably running calculations through her head if she was anything like the other techs he knew.
"So if you went to so much trouble hiding your wrist device, why did you start using it again? Where does the Ophelia fit into all this?" Robert grinned at Jack, whose posture now seemed to be more genuinely relaxed than it had done before.
"The simple answer is that I decided I could afford to live a little more dangerously. After seeing a London landmark almost destroyed by an alien craft it seemed that the rest of the universe was ready to come knocking on the door. I thought that in that climate the use of this," Robert raised his arm, "would be more likely to go unnoticed as the world would be looking outward, not inward."
"And the Ophelia?"
"That was the result of a long held fascination and a *lot* of research. I stumbled across references to the Ophelia at the academy when researching Victorian Torchwood and the development of science and science fiction. I dug deeper and discovered a surprising amount of information, but the jewel in the crown was finding parts of a journal kept by one of the Torchwood team at the time of the Ophelia's disappearance."
"A journal, you say?"
"Yeah. Kept by a guy called Peter Nichols; I only wish it had been complete and intact, it was real interesting reading."
"I'm sure it was." Robert would have missed the almost imperceptible flick of Harkness' eyes toward Jones if he hadn't been watching closely. They obviously knew something about either Nichols or the journal – possibly both – and he found himself hoping that he might be allowed to see it if they still had the book in their possession. But for that to happen he was going to have to give a little more first.
"I'd not touched all the information I'd brought with me to Earth about the Ophelia but that image of the space craft crashing stayed with me and I thought that maybe it was time to look into it a little more deeply. It also fit in with the direction the band was starting to take musically."
"How does stealing an airship fit in with music?" Toshiko asked.
"You've not heard of steampunk, then?"
"Until today, no. It's not exactly a mainstream genre over here," she replied. There was a chuckle from further down the table on the crew's side.
"We kind of figured that after we heard the drek the radio guy was playing," Daniel said. Nathaniel nodded in agreement,
"Yeah, we should do something about that." Robert could tell they were about to sail off in a completely inappropriate direction and reined them in the most effective fashion; by yelling at them.
"Sorry," Daniel mumbled, not sounding sorry in the slightest. Robert frowned at him before turning his attention back to Harkness.
"So that's it. There wasn't really any motivation behind stealing the Ophelia beyond seeing if we could. She wasn't exactly being used and such a gorgeous machine as that wasn't meant to be kept in the dark. We gave her back the light."
"While that's a commendable sentiment, it's not really a good enough reason. What about the damage you could have caused to the timelines?" Robert wasn't completely sure but he thought Harkness was beginning to warm to them a bit; his expression was certainly less hostile.
"We've been pretty careful to avoid that, which I think you'll find out if you check. You'll also find there's little mention of the Ophelia in anything that could be classed as a reliable resource," Robert said. It was something he'd kept an eye on in an effort not to leave too many clues for those who had the wherewithal to look.
"I can confirm that," Jones replied and Robert flashed a grateful smile in his direction. He *liked* Ianto Jones and the way he subtly steered his way through those around him.
"So if I didn't confiscate the Ophelia, what would your plans be?" Harkness asked.
"Get her airworthy enough to withstand the jump backwards to somewhen a bit less conspicuous, fix her up properly and then go home. You wouldn't see Ophelia in this century again unless you wanted to."
"You'd carry on being Airship Pirates?"
"If we could." Robert was sure that the 'if we were allowed to' was loud and clear despite not being articulated.
"How long will it take you to get her airworthy?"
"Couple of days. Less with help."
"And what would you do in the meantime?"
"Go and talk to that guy on the radio, promote the band, and make it look as if this was all planned. Goodness knows, the playlist could do with a kick."
"Free concert on the Plass?" Jones' tone of voice was far too innocent – Robert was convinced there was something devious going on behind that bland expression; he just wasn't quite sure what.
"Plass?" Robert asked. A couple of button presses of a handheld computer later and aerial footage of the city was being displayed on the large screen in the room. The image zoomed in to focus on an open expanse with what looked like an extension of the column in the main room of the base pointing toward the sky.
"The Plass. Up there," Jones said, pointing to the roof.
"You know I kind of like the idea," Robert said. A free concert, even if it was just a few songs, with the Ophelia in the sky as a backdrop would be very effective publicity and would distract people from wondering about the ship.
"So do I," Harkness agreed with a smile, which Robert found more than a little surprising. Jones was obviously a sneaky bastard and knew how to get what he wanted – which for some reason in this case appeared to be their continuing existence – without actually asking for it. "Ianto, find out what they need to fix the Ophelia and get that underway. Tosh, get onto the radio station and tell them they have an exclusive. Gwen, Owen – you're with Ianto. And as for you…"Harkness grinned at the rest of the crew of the Ophelia, "I'm going to steal your Captain for about 10 minutes." He rose from his chair and jerked his head to indicate Robert should follow him. Robert did, but not without some trepidation, though judging from the discussion behind him everything in that department seemed to be well in hand. He wondered if he was going to discover the real reason behind why Jack Harkness was going to allow him to live with both his memory unwiped and the Ophelia in his possession.
Ianto gave the rest of the Ophelia's crew what he hoped was a reassuring smile and blandly asked into the silence that had followed Jack and Robert's departure,
"More coffee?" As a distraction, Ianto's coffee was without peer and he was pleased when it seemed to have its usual effect. As one, the eyes of the Ophelia's crew ceased watching the door through which Jack and Robert had disappeared and focused on him. "I'll take that as a yes," he said.
As Ianto went through the process of fixing them more coffee, Owen insisted on checking the crew of the Ophelia over to ensure that they had suffered no ill effects from their travel through the rift storm; he knew they were unlikely to have the advantage of evolved biology that Jack, and probably Robert, possessed. Though he maintained that he preferred medicine without the complication of human, and more often than not live, patients Owen took his job as Torchwood medic seriously even if it didn't always seem that way, and that included ensuring that the health of any visitors, as well as his own team, was satisfactory. He said little as he scanned each member of the crew; he knew his 'bedside manner' left a lot to be desired according to the others and so he didn't see the point in making the effort to engage his living patients in idle and pointless chit–chat. He found the one sided conversations he had with his dead patients were usually more interesting anyway. The scans showed pretty much what he'd expected; boring, boring, boring, except for a bit of artron energy – which wasn't really surprising considering what they'd been doing – until the scanner chirped quietly as if it was pleased with what it found. Owen examined the results more carefully; it seemed that one of the other crew members also originated from a different time rather than just passing through it – the past though, not the future.
"You're not originally from this time either, are you?" Owen asked Daniel and was surprised when Daniel laughed.
"Is it that obvious? You can tell good Captain Robert that his reintegration/education program sucks serious brass monkey balls." Owen was pleased he managed to keep a straight face; the guy's laughter was almost infectious. He took a deep breath and studiously avoided looking at Ianto, or he would laugh and that wouldn't do his semi–professional face any good at all.
"No, it's not that obvious. The scanner is set up to detect temporal variables in DNA origin as well as some of the more obvious side effects of time travel."
"So you can tell who's from the past and who's from the future even among a bunch of other time travellers?"
"Pretty much, yeah. Comes in useful around here."
"I can imagine," Daniel agreed.
Owen continued scanning and inputting data until the scanner emitted a satisfied sounding beep, then he glanced at the results.
"Apart from a few superficial contusions you're all disgustingly healthy. Your Captain obviously looks after you."
"He tries; we don't always make it easy for him," the pretty blonde woman – Kristina – commented with a fond looking smile.
"Now why doesn't that surprise me?" Owen shrugged and glanced across to Ianto. "Ianto, they're all yours. I'm going to track down their elusive Captain and check him out too." Ianto gave him a nod of acknowledgement and Owen turned on his heel and left the conference room without a backward glance.
Owen marched straight into Jack's office and was pleased to find Captain Robert was still there.
"Right, I've checked out the rest of your crew and they all – luckily for you – seem to be fine. Now it's your turn."
"I really don't think that's necessary," Robert said. Owen glared at him.
"Why? Are you some sort of 51st century superhuman?" He demanded, pleased when Robert looked uncomfortable at the suggestion. Owen didn't need to look at Jack to see the huge grin that would be on his face, he could *feel* it; for some reason known only to himself Jack enjoyed watching Owen bully people into receiving medical treatment, or at least being examined.
"No…"Robert looked even more uncomfortable as Owen approached, scanner in hand.
"Then keep still and let me do my job," Owen said.
"Look mate, who's the qualified doctor around here?"
"Precisely. Now shut up; this won't take long." True to his word, the scan didn't take long and Owen grunted as the scanner beeped and the results scrolled across the screen.
"Well?" Robert asked.
"You're fine," Owen said casually, eyes still on the scanner as he spoke.
"Do have I your permission to get back to my crew then, doctor Harper?" Owen glanced up from the scanner.
"If they still want you after being subverted by Ianto's coffee, yeah."
Owen grinned at Robert's frown and chuckled at his retreating figure as he vacated Jack's office. Jack leaned back in his chair and put his feet on the desk.
"Your compatriot in time is more human than you are."
"Hey, I'm pure 51st century human!" Jack said with one of his typically expansive gestures and a trademark grin which Owen did his best to ignore.
"No–one who is pure human should have teeth as perfect as yours," he grumbled. "It's unnatural."
"These teeth are 100% natural, I'll have you know."
"Yeah, right," Owen snorted in reply and turned to leave. There was a brief pause, then Jack spoke again.
Something in Jack's voice made Owen turn back and he indicated Jack should continue.
"If you do all have to go back out to the Ophelia, I'm trusting you and Ianto to keep certain… things… under wraps. Especially from Gwen. Got that?"
"Loud and clear, boss," Owen replied with complete sincerity. As Torchwood medic he knew something of the secrets of Flat Holm Island, but it was Ianto who had much of the responsibility for the place, and had done since Jack's time away. Owen agreed with Jack; Gwen finding out would not be a good thing for any of them, but it would be particularly bad for her. One of the things that was appealing about her was the air of innocence she still had about many of the things Torchwood dealt with and Owen doubted that innocence would survive an encounter with Torchwood's Flat Holm institution and its residents. Best to keep her ignorant and allow her to hold onto the remnant of that innocence for just a little longer; she would lose it soon enough – they all did.
When Owen rejoined the others in the boardroom, Ianto was already busy scribbling lists and Tosh was tapping away into her PDA. There was a slowly revolving schematic of the Ophelia on the main screen which became more complete with every comment from Robert and each tap of the screen from Tosh.
Owen sat down and glanced around the table.
"What's the plan so far?" He asked. Tosh paused in her industry and smiled up at him.
"Fair division of labour. You and Ianto go over with Nathaniel and Daniel to assess the damage to the Ophelia more accurately, Kristina and I will ensure the schematic is updated which should enable us to give an estimate of repair time and Gwen gets to accompany Robert and Finn to the radio station and can let us know if we need to add any more traceable back story to the appearance of the Ophelia."
"Sounds like you've got it all sorted, then." Owen leaned back in his chair, taking a large slurp of the coffee that had been left by his place, glad it was still reasonably warm.
"Almost," replied Ianto. "The concert on the Plass is causing a few headaches."
"You aren't seriously going along with that, are you?"
"Why not? It's a good idea. And everyone else agrees with me." Owen took in the various nods and other indications of support from around the table and shook his head in disbelief.
"You're all certifiable," he said.
"Takes one to know one," replied Ianto. Owen had to admit that he had a point – you had to be at least a little mad to work for Torchwood – but he wasn't going to let Ianto know that he agreed.
"Whatever. So when do we head out?"
"In about 20, I think."
In the end it was closer to 45 minutes before they were ready to set out, but Owen didn't complain, it meant they'd had another cup of coffee out of Ianto before they left.
Initially Gwen thought she had drawn the short straw in having to accompany Captain Robert and Finn to the home of the Cardiff radio station they'd chosen, but she soon changed her mind. She'd had to bite the inside of her cheek more than once to stop herself from laughing while listening to the interview Robert and Finn gave. It wasn't so much that they were funny – though they both were in their different ways – it was the fact that the presenter obviously thought they were giving the interview 'in character' when they were actually telling the literal truth. Talk about hiding things in plain sight! Then there was the added bonus of Finn demonstrating some of her dance moves for the radio webcam which drew a veritable crowd of people outside the studio to watch her twist and shimmy and twirl. It became evident that there wouldn't need to be much tweaking of either available information or the memories of the radio station personnel; in typical Cardiff fashion they all remained stoically disbelieving of the truth that was laid out before them. Gwen settled back and allowed herself to enjoy her assignment; she bet Owen and Ianto weren't having half as much fun clambering around in the damp and windy weather as she was. It helped that she found she actually liked the band's music, which had been kind of unexpected as it wasn't really what she'd describe as her sort of thing. She was also more than half tempted to ask Finn to give her a lesson in belly dancing – all for Rhys' benefit of course. Maybe when they got back to the Hub…
The trip out to Flat Holm, and the Ophelia, didn't take long but to Ianto it seemed to be taking an age. Seeing the Ophelia with his own eyes filled him with a sense of gleeful anticipation and he could almost feel the weight of the years that had passed after his discovery of Peter Nichols' journal lift from his shoulders. It was like the clock had turned back and he was once again that carefree young man who had chanced upon the journal in an out of the way and near forgotten part of the Torchwood One Archive, before the daleks and the cybermen destroyed his world and almost his life.
"Quite a sight, isn't she? Even battered and broken like this." Ianto hadn't noticed Nathaniel joining him at the rail and he turned to give the man a smile.
"Just wait until you get aboard, you'll fall in love with her even more," Nathaniel said with a smile of his own and a playful nudge to Ianto's shoulder.
"I'm sure I will," Ianto replied, meaning every word and wondering just what would meet his eyes on the inside of the ship. The boat drew closer and Ianto knew he would soon have his answer.
Nathaniel, Ianto reflected, had been completely right. He'd fallen in love with the Ophelia at first sight. She was a thing of beauty, an exquisite amalgam of form and function without one being sacrificed to the detriment of the other. Ophelia was beautiful in the same way a hand built clock or watch was beautiful, but she was alive in a way that no piece of simple clock–work ever could be. His reverie was interrupted by a chuckle from Owen of all people. Ianto raised an enquiring eyebrow in Owen's direction.
"You should see your face. I wonder how Jack would feel about playing second fiddle to a time–travelling ship?" Owen paused, frowning. "On second thoughts, don't answer that; he'd probably want to watch or join in or something. Kinky bastard. And that goes for you too. God knows what you hide under those suits, and I have no inclination to find out either." Ianto cleared his throat and endeavoured to look as innocent as possible.
"I was only going to suggest that you accompany Daniel while I work with Nathaniel."
"Oh." Ianto smirked a little at the expression on Owen's face. So Owen thought he was a kinky bastard did he? He would no doubt find out that his suspicions were entirely correct at some point – but it wouldn't be today. He gave Owen a more normal smile and nudged his arm with an elbow.
"Come on, work to do," he said, before turning to join Nathaniel and Daniel who were both grinning fit to split their faces.
As the information began to flow in from the Ophelia, the schematic became more and more detailed. Tosh was impressed at how the motley collection of supposedly impossible things came together as a coherent and working whole, and moreover one that was strangely beautiful – almost like the Cardiff version of Torchwood. Her terse observation of this to Kristina got them talking and soon they were chattering like old friends about steampunk, music, clothes and whatever else took their fancy. Tosh grinned at Kristina.
"You know, I think I rather like the idea of being an airship pirate."
"You'd miss your computers," Kristina said.
"Maybe, but Ophelia is a living piece of mathematical genius and I think I'd be too busy to notice the lack of a 'normal' computer."
"I don't think your Captain would be very pleased with us if we stole his technician."
"He'd be jealous *and* he'd want to come along too." Their shared laughter echoed round the board room.
"Well instead of stealing you, maybe we should give you a taste of steampunk and being and airship pirate." Kristina frowned in a thoughtful looking fashion and Tosh found herself feeling a little uncomfortable under such scrutiny. "Would either of your team mates be able to estimate your size?"
"Ianto would; he has a good eye for that sort of thing."
"In that case, just give me a minute to make a call…"
By the time Ianto, Owen and the others returned laden with boxes, Robert, Finn and Gwen were back from the radio station. They all looked rather pleased with themselves but Jack looked like he was being hard pressed to keep a straight face. Ianto couldn't help but be curious as to why.
"I take it everything turned out in a satisfactory manner?" He asked. Gwen grinned at him.
"Oh, miles better than satisfactory, but I'll let Robert explain. I need to escape with Finn for a while." Without any further explanation she grabbed Finn's hand and they dashed off, giggling. Ianto glanced after them, and then toward Jack who had lost the battle with the grin that had been threatening since they arrived back.
"Do I really want to know?" Ianto asked. Jack's grin grew wider and Ianto found himself almost dreading the answer, even as he felt his own mouth twitch in reaction.
"Let's just say I think Gwen was appreciative of Finn's – ah – method of distraction at the radio station and decided she needed a few pointers for herself." Jack gave a happy but wistful sounding sigh. "Wish I'd been there now."
"Ask her nicely and she might give a repeat performance," Robert said with a smile. Ianto tried to conceal the grin that was sneaking over his face; he knew what Jack's likely reaction was going to be…
"Great!" Jack threw Robert a brilliant smile and hurried to catch up with Finn and Gwen. Robert stared helplessly after him.
"I didn't mean right this second though," he muttered.
As Robert glanced over to him, Ianto hastily schooled his face into something approaching a professional demeanour instead of the expression he had been wearing. He noticed that Owen didn't bother – and neither did Daniel or Nathaniel.
Robert gave a long suffering sigh. He was used to Daniel and Nathaniel but Jack Harkness was even more a law unto himself than they were on a bad day and it seemed that Owen Harper was made from the same cloth. Ianto Jones at least *appeared* to make an effort though Robert suspected he was just as bad as the others when he wanted to be.
"Give me some good news, guys," he said. Nathaniel and Daniel looked at each other and shrugged.
"There's not as much damage to the Ophelia as we first thought," Nathaniel offered.
"And most of the complicated work can be done here instead of on board," Daniel added.
"And that will keep us *all* away from prying eyes – which can only be a good thing," Ianto concluded.
"I assume the 'complicated work' happens to be in the boxes?" Robert asked.
"Ummm. Mostly," Nathaniel said evasively. Before Robert could demand a further explanation, Kristina burst through the doorway that let into the corridor leading in the direction of the conference room with Toshiko Sato close behind her. Ianto's face lit up and he passed Kristina the box he had been guarding zealously since his arrival from Ophelia; he was rewarded by a peck on the cheek from Kristina and another from Toshiko, then they disappeared again.
"I don't suppose you'd care to explain what that was about, would you?" Robert asked.
"Not really," said Ianto with a grin and flick of a glance in Nathaniel's direction. "But I'm sure you'll find out soon enough." Nathaniel gave him an answering smirk, which made Robert almost worry about what they'd been planning.
"And until then I guess we should make a start on these." Nathaniel nudged the stack of boxes with a foot, before grabbing one and heading for the conference room. With wordless grumbles, Owen and Daniel heaved their respective loads back into their arms and followed.
"Shall we?" Ianto asked, selecting another box from the pile. Robert nodded, trailing after the others once he'd grabbed a box of his own.
When Jack caught up with everyone in the conference room its clean and uncluttered lines had been subjected to an explosion of chaos, though going by the general air of industry that pervaded the room it was obviously very well organised chaos. He couldn't help but smile at the way his team and the Ophelia crew had gone from being wary about each other to working in what looked like close harmony. As if the smile had been an audible signal, Ianto glanced up with a smile of his own for Jack. He appeared to be holding a complex piece of… something… still while Nathaniel carefully probed at it with what looked suspiciously like a giant pair of tweezers. Jack didn't see Ianto flinch in the slightest when a shower of sparks erupted from the esoteric looking machinery but then he knew how steady those hands could be in an adrenaline fuelled situation so it was probably not surprising.
"Gotcha!" Nathaniel growled and then pulled out a blackened and twisted tangle of rods and wires from inside the whatever–it–was. Jack moved closer and peered at it.
"Looks like you could do with a new one of those," he commented.
"Nothing that can't be sorted with some wire, a bit of creativity, a soldering iron and some enthusiasm," Nathaniel said as he waved the dead lump of metal around. "Or we could just take the easy way out and use one of the spares, then strip this one down when we get the chance." He carefully laid the burnt out piece aside and rummaged in the box that sat on the table close by. Jack glanced around at the various boxes as he approached Robert.
"Just how much of all this is spare parts?" He asked.
"About a third," said Robert. "We can't afford to be stuck somewhere in time without the wherewithal to at least get ourselves relatively air and time worthy. Even so, these things take time; Ophelia is as complex as she is unique."
"It's still a lot of work; must be time consuming."
"It is. But then we can make time, kind of. Plus we're very good at scavenging – we're pirates after all! Helps that I had superior scanning properties built into my wrist strap before I left my old time."
"Yeah, about that…"Jack cast another glance around the room, everyone appeared to be engrossed in their respective tasks. It was as safe as it was ever likely to be to discuss what was on his mind. "The programming of mine was altered by someone who has an exceptional affinity with sonic technology. I don't think anything will ever get the time travelling capability working again, but it would be good to have a few of the other functions restored." Jack did his best not to look too hopeful; the fact that the Doctor had been able to fix his vm so quickly and then had chosen to un–fix it again when it was no longer needed to save the world still rankled, even though he in theory understood the Time–Lord's reasoning.
"I can't promise anything." Robert looked about as wary as he did interested but Jack could understand that too.
"I know, but…"
"I'll give it a try. No time like the present," Robert said. Jack grinned and unfastened his wrist strap, turning to lay it in one of the niches that lined the wall. Placing it there meant that the others would not be able to see exactly what he and Robert were attempting.
Robert followed suit, laying his wrist strap alongside Jack's and Jack watched Robert's fingers fly over the old fashioned keypad with a speed that would rival Tosh. A cone of faint bronze coloured light was emitted from Robert's strap bathing the niche in a warm glow. Characters slid across the screen too fast for Jack to read although Robert seemed to have no such trouble and began to tap in commands. The light intensified, centred on Jack's own wrist strap, accompanied by a faint hum and then just as suddenly blinked out.
"Well?" Asked Jack.
"You're right about the temporal functions – there's nothing I can do about them – but I've managed to work around the teleport problem to a degree. Thing is, you still need a numeric code to activate it and try as I might I can't get the last 2 numbers. Would your sonic wizard have left that as a failsafe mechanism in case you did manage to repair this?"
"Probably; it's the sort of thing he'd do," Jack sighed. "Still, that's a hell of a lot closer to having it working properly than it has been in a long while." He reached out to grab his vm, fastening it carefully back around his wrist. Robert did likewise.
"If you don't mind me asking, what happened? There's been a lot of damage done and over a long period of time too by the look of it."
"I…"Jack glanced over his shoulder at the members of his team who would no doubt like to know that self same thing. He didn't feel particularly guilty for not having told them in the past but it didn't seem right to tell a near stranger the story before he told them, no matter that they had a shared background.
"You don't have to say anything, you know," Robert said gently and his eyes flicked over the group seated around the table as if he could hear the doubt and desire to tell warring in Jack's head.
"I know; it's just…"Jack risked another glance toward his team and Ianto raised his head, unerringly caught Jack's eyes and gave him a faint smile and a nod. It was all the permission Jack needed. He drew a deep breath and let it out in a noisy sigh before turning back to Robert.
"A long time ago I ended up alone on a space station full of death. My only way out of that place and time was this," Jack tapped his wrist strap in emphasis. "I probably shouldn't have attempted such a long jump but Earth in the 20th century was the first place I thought about and it was the one whose coordinates were the most familiar to me at that time and I was desperate to get of that place. Needless to say the damn thing burnt out and it's never been the same again, despite being subjected to a bit of sonic jiggery–pokery since then."
"Sorry I can't do more, Jack," Robert said.
"It's more than I thought I'd ever have so thanks for that. Now all we've got to do is get that gorgeous ship of yours air and time worthy again, though it looks like they've been making a good start."
"Yeah. Can't help wondering what Kristina is up to though."
"Should we be worried?" Robert asked with a smile.
"I have no idea – you tell me!" Jack chuckled, nothing Tosh did would be too worrisome, but he didn't know Kristina.
As if their discussion had summoned her, Kristina swept in with a pleased looking grin on her face.
"What have you been up to that's got you looking like the cat that got the cream? I don't trust that expression for one minute."
Jack had to agree with Robert; when a woman looked like that she was generally up to something.
"You're going to love this, believe me," she said.
Jack leaned against the wall with both arms folded, smothering the laugh that threatened to escape at the sight of both of Robert's eyebrows migrating in disbelief toward his hair. Kristina's smile softened as she glanced around the at all of them, her eyes lighting briefly on Jack.
"Trust me, you'll *all* love it!" She disappeared back through the door and Jack had to admit he was completely intrigued. He wondered how long he would have to wait to find out; he was not a patient man by nature, even if necessity had taught him otherwise.
a short while earlier
Tosh examined the box that Ianto had given Kristina with wary eyes, it seemed over–large to contain items just for her use and she tried to say as much to Kristina who just shook her head and laughed.
"Tosh, honey, what that lovely Welsh boy has done is provided you with a choice, and rightly so. If he'd only sent one outfit over, what would you do if you didn't like it?"
"With Ianto I'm not sure that's possible. He..." Tosh shrugged helplessly, at a loss to explain. If nothing else, she and Ianto understood each other even if – or more probably because – they weren't as garrulous as the rest of the team.
"Your Mr Jones does have a certain style, I have to admit," Kristina agreed. Tosh smiled at her.
"He's not *my* Mr Jones."
"He's your *friend* Tosh. That means after himself he belongs to you as much as he belongs to Captain Shiny Teeth."
Tosh had to giggle at that, Jack's patented smiles did flash his pearly whites to their best advantage, and he knew it. She turned her attention back to the box and its unknown contents.
"So, what did Ianto send?"
As Tosh watched Kristina unpack the box she decided she wouldn't be surprised if it was dimensionally transcendental going by the sheer volume of *things* that were drawn out of its depths; petticoats, bloomers, froths of tulle masquerading as dresses and skirts, blouses, corsets, boots, scarves, belts; lace, velvet, leather, cotton and silk and last of all a smaller box that clinked in a most interesting fashion. Kristina grinned.
"Ianto Jones has a *very* good eye. I think you're lucky that Magdalene isn't travelling with us any more as she'd probably want to kidnap him. Not that either Finn or I would complain if he fancied a trip on the Ophelia."
"And probably very loudly too. Now let's see... what sort of look would you like?"
"Nothing too restrictive, I need to be able to move!" Tosh glanced at the corsets with regret. "I suppose that rules the corsets out."
"Not in the slightest, you just need to wear the right one. Hmmm. Manoeuvrability, I think we can do that. Now come here..."
Tosh looked at her reflection in the mirror hardly able to believe her eyes. Kristina has persuaded her into a corset after all and she was surprised to find it comfortable and supportive rather than restricting. The soft chemise–like top she wore underneath the corset prevented it from chafing her skin and she loved the contrast of the soft ivory colour both with the gold of her skin and the warm burgundy of the leather. Brass clasps provided extra security for the front fastening of the corset so Tosh didn't feel there was any risk of her falling out of it unintentionally and they also caught the light every time she moved – they'd been polished to almost as high a shine as the buttons on Jack's coat which made Tosh suspect Ianto had been at work. As for the rest of the outfit... Tosh executed a reasonable facsimile of a pirouette in front of the mirror, all the better to admire the bloomers that ended in a cascade of gathered lace just above her knees showing the boots off to perfection. She loved the boots to death and hoped that Kristina would let her keep them; colour wise they matched the corset better than she could have hoped for and they had enough of a heel to keep her happy but her most favourite thing about them was the triple lacing that made them feel like a second skin around her legs. She'd topped the ensemble with a silly, frilly miniskirt that she'd also fallen in love with just so she didn't feel like she was parading around in her underwear. She discovered that Ianto had even catered for her need to not be separated from either her gun or her gadgets and provided a selection of beautifully tooled leather and embroidered canvas pouches that could be either clipped to the corset or slung from a belt around her hips. The woman in the mirror was not the Toshiko Sato that everyone was used to seeing, but Tosh felt like she'd let a part of herself free that few people suspected existed. She struck a pose, glad that the slight creak of the leather had subsided as it warmed to her body temperature and conformed more closely to every curve while allowing her to move more easily.
"You make a damn fine Airship Pirate, Tosh," Kristina said, coming up behind Tosh so she was reflected over her shoulder. "There's just a certain something missing..."
"We could do with making sure your hair matches the rest of you. Trust me?"
"With my hair? Of course I do."
"Then come and sit down so I can see what I'm doing."
Tosh obliged, wondering just what the hell Kristina was going to do. The fingers in her hair were gentle, almost soothing, as they parted and twisted and pinned. Eventually Kristina stepped back with a satisfied sounding mumble and prompted Tosh to turn back toward the mirror with a gentle push. Tosh had to admit that her hair was perfect, it was the half up/half down sort of style that Gwen carried off with such aplomb but that Tosh's too–straight hair struggled to maintain; obviously having someone to help made all the difference. It was held in place with combs and pins decorated with bits of twisted wire, gear cogs and tiny rubies. She shook her head experimentally and was relieved when nothing appeared to fall apart.
"It's perfect, Kristina. Thank You."
"Thank *you* for letting me play dress up. Now I'm off to see if the boys are ready for you to make your grand entrance. I won't be long."
Tosh stared at herself for a little longer until she decided to investigate just what degree of manoeuvrability she could hope for dressed like this. She danced around the room with gusto – all in the name of research of course. The boots seemed pretty robust even when she decided to jump on and off one of the chairs. Kristina came back through the door just as she landed.
"Manoeuvrable enough for you?" Kristina asked with a chuckle.
"I think I'm a corset convert," Tosh agreed with a smile. She felt like a million dollars.
"So are you ready to unveil your new look?"
Tosh spun in place again, laughing.
"You know, I think I just might be!" Tosh was grinning as she and Kristina headed back toward the conference room; she was *really* looking forward to witnessing her team's reactions.
Kristina had insisted on entering the conference room first, emphasising that Tosh should make a grand entrance on her own. Tosh didn't argue, she was more than happy to comply; she felt she deserved at least one grand entrance in her life and knowing Torchwood, this might be her only chance so she was going to grab it with both hands. She waited a good few seconds for Kristina to move away from the door before she stepped around the corner and into full view of everyone in the room, pausing for dramatic effect. An appreciative wolf whistle echoed round the room and Jack almost dived out of his chair in his effort to reach her. His hands were firm on her hips as he picked her up and twirled her around, kissing her soundly as he set her back on her feet, leaving her feeling rather breathless. She grinned at him.
"Toshiko Sato, you look even more amazing than usual." He turned his attention to the rest of the room, though he still had her hand caught in his. "Don't you think she looks amazing?" He asked. Jack then gently led her toward the table as a chorus of affirmatives rang through the room and she was conscious of every eye being drawn toward her. It was a heady feeling, being the centre of such attention and she decided she liked it. Ianto gave her a wink and a discrete thumbs up but it was Owen's open mouthed stare that really made her want to laugh and dance round the room; she could really get used to this. She let go of Jack's hand and stalked around the table
"I hope that this doesn't mean you're going to run off with this bunch of reprobates?" Jack asked, still smiling and watching her every move with an expression of frank appreciation on his face.
"Oh no, I'd miss Ianto's coffee too much," she said lightly, giving Ianto a quick peck on the cheek and a whispered thank you as she moved past him; in return he pinched her bottom as she turned away, making her giggle. Tosh returned to Kristina's side where her new friend was examining the schematic of the Ophelia and scrolling through lists with an occasional nod and a satisfied looking smile.
"Looking good, boys. Keep on with the good work," she said.
"Yes mother," Daniel agreed. Kristina gave him a playful slap upside his head and Tosh had to fight down another giggle – she *liked* the Ophelia crew and their irreverent informality of command structure; despite Robert being the Captain she got the feeling that it was Kristina who was the real power in the crew at times and that they were all more than happy with that.
"So, did anyone figure out what to do about playing up top?" Kristina asked.
"I have some ideas," Ianto said, "but I'll need to get together with Tosh before anything is finalised."
"Oh yeah?" Jack drawled. Tosh didn't need to be looking at Ianto to see his eyeroll – and she could hear his long–suffering sigh just fine.
"Mind out of the gutter, Jack – if that's possible," Ianto said.
"With Tosh looking like that?" Tosh coloured slightly, she could feel the heat of Jack's appreciative gaze sweeping over her again. "Nah, not even remotely possible," he continued.
"You have a point," Ianto agreed. "But at least her brain will still be working even if ours aren't." There was a scatter of laughter around the table at that and Tosh was glad when they turned back to their various tasks, having *Ianto* look at her with the same expression on his face as Jack was a bit disconcerting; it wasn't something she exactly expected from him, not that it hadn't been gratifying all the same. She bent her head and focused on the screen, immersing herself back into her work with Kristina a comforting presence at her side.
Robert had watched Tosh's entrance and the resulting exchanges with something akin to amusement, though if she *had* wanted to travel on the Ophelia with them he certainly wouldn't have refused; brains and beauty in one package were something never to be spurned if the opportunity arose. He glanced at one the clocks that adorned the walls of the room and realised it was later than he'd thought. He glanced around at his crew – Finn had returned without fanfare and had taken Jones' place at Nathaniel's side – they were all still working diligently but he could tell by the lines of tension in their shoulders and around their eyes that if he didn't stop them soon, someone would make a mistake and undo hours of good work. They'd had an exhausting day what with fighting their way through the rift storm and ending up in their own present and he knew that they would just keep on going until they dropped unless he stopped them. He met Kristina's eyes, she nodded in agreement and he moved away from his position against the wall, better to make his point. However before he could open his mouth, Ianto Jones beat him to it.
Robert was impressed at how quickly one softly spoken word could command someone's attention so intensely, even though Jack didn't make any verbal acknowledgement.
"I think it's time we called it a day," Ianto continued. "We've all been busy, but Robert and the others must be exhausted – it's a long way from the Cretaceous after all."
Jack nodded. "You're right. Okay people – time to get out of here. Robert, speak to Ianto." With that, Jack swept out of the room, closely followed by Owen. Robert turned to Ianto.
"So what am I supposed to speak to you about?" He asked.
"Accommodation," Ianto answered with a smile. "You're very welcome to stay here if you want, though facilities are somewhat basic I have to admit, but I presumed you would prefer something a little more... informal." Robert stifled a snort; so it had been decided that they weren't going to be formal 'guests' of Torchwood had it? Or was Ianto just taking things into his own hands – something Robert was suspecting he did more often than was apparent on the surface. Ianto Jones seemed to be Torchwood's background logistics guy, the person who had already sorted things out by the time anyone else had realised they needed doing; the Alfred to Jack's Batman, almost.
"Informal is good," said Robert with relief.
"Then I think I've found just the place for you. I just need a few words with Tosh first." Robert gave a Ianto an open armed shrug and a smile that gave his answer far more clearly than trying to say anything. As Ianto made his way round the table, Robert went to help his crew members pack away their projects for the night; it didn't stop him from keeping his ears open though. Most of Ianto and Tosh's almost whispered conversation was inaudible but he picked up the odd word here and there – 'power', 'incompatible', 'undercover', 'acoustic' – enough to make him realise they were discussing Ianto's concert idea. Whatever Ianto had proposed Tosh vehemently shook her head in reply and Ianto sighed; Tosh then patted him on the shoulder with a gentleness that seemed to take the sting out of whatever her disagreement had been, whispered something else that Robert had no chance of hearing and then they both broke into huge smiles before Tosh left the room.
"So, what's the grand plan?" Robert asked, his eyes following Tosh down the corridor until she turned the corner despite a swat to his shoulder from Kristina.
"We get you to where you're staying for the next couple of nights. Bring your instruments." Robert folded his arms, leaned against the table and frowned. He didn't divert his attention from Ianto, even when Gwen entered the room.
"Great idea, but just how do you propose we manage to fit all five of us *plus* the instruments in your SUV? It didn't appear to be dimensionally transcendent when I was in it earlier."
"It isn't," Ianto replied with another one of his warm but fleeting smiles "We do have access to rather more mundane but practical methods of transportation though."
"You do?" Robert asked warily. He wasn't sure he liked the sound of mundane and practical in Ianto Jones' mouth. Gwen chuckled – Robert decided he must have pulled a face or something as he didn't think it was *that* funny. Maybe it was if you were Torchwood, Robert decided he didn't want to know. Gwen sauntered over to him and patted his arm reassuringly.
"We do," she said, "Courtesy of my long–suffering fiancé. I'll also make sure he'll be driving so you, and your gear, will arrive in one piece."
"I'm relieved to hear that. How the hell are we going to get the gear loaded up?"
"The old fashioned way, of course..." Ianto said over has shoulder as he offered his elbow to Gwen and they wandered out of the room together. There was a muffled snort behind him and Robert whirled round to glare at Daniel and Nathaniel who were both trying and failing to look innocent, while Finn shrugged with a smile on her face and Kristina was grinning outright. Robert growled slightly to himself, then took a deep breath.
"I guess we'd better move our asses then; the gear won't load itself after all," he said before turning and leaving the room; the others all trooped out after him and together they made their way toward the main area.
'The old fashioned way' ended up being not quite as back–breaking as Robert had envisaged thanks to an elevator platform up to the square above that he hadn't realised existed. That, coupled with the fact that the transport was pulled up right alongside where the platform halted made life a lot easier. Gwen's 'long–suffering' fiancé Rhys didn't seem to think he had much to actually suffer – he was friendly and more than willing to lend a hand.
"Used to be a roadie in my misspent youth," he said with a grin as he set about *carefully* hauling their gear into the back of the box van and ensuring it was effectively secured. "Heard you on the radio today too; some good tunes you've got there, mate. I'd pay to see you if you were ever doing an official tour."
"Thanks," said Robert and decided that if they ever did come back to the country 'officially' he would make sure that Rhys – and the rest of the Torchwood team if they were interested – would get backstage passes. He doubted that the rest of the band would disagree.
"So when my Gwen called me and said I'd be doing both you and Torchwood a favour, I thought 'why not?' and here we are..." In no time at all, everything was packed safely away. Robert cast an eye over everything and tested a few of the securing straps but Rhys obviously knew what he was doing and there was no danger of anything coming undone en route to wherever it was they were going. He nearly jumped out of his skin as Ianto joined him by the open door of the van; the guy moved way too quietly for Robert's comfort at times.
"All set?" Ianto asked. Robert nodded, but was still wondering how they were all going to fit in the van. "If Kristina and Finn would prefer to sit in the cab with Rhys, the rest of us can rough it in the back – Rhys has left us a nice cosy space to squeeze into right behind the cab."
Between them Ianto and Rhys gallantly assisted Kristina and Finn to clamber into the cab and Robert had to stifle what threatened to be a rather inappropriate chuckle, though he was sure both the girls appreciated the help. Ianto then herded the rest of them into the main body of the van as Rhys checked the back doors were locked. Robert was glad to see that some thought had gone into improving their comfort – there were slabs of thick foam along the walls and floor of the van.
"It's going to be a lot more comfortable than sitting directly on the floor of one of these things is, believe me," Ianto said as he settled himself down. Robert couldn't help but agree – he'd had to travel on the floor of a van a time or two himself and it wasn't an experience he cared to repeat at this point in time. Rhys leaned his head through the side door.
"Sure," Robert answered.
"I'll leave the light on, bit dark in there without it."
"Thanks." The door was than slammed closed and Robert was very glad for the light, it would have been pitch black in the back of the van without it, never mind a bit dark; Robert had to love the Welsh tendency for understatement.
Despite Rhys' attempts at making the back of the van more comfortable, it was still just that – the back of a van – and not made for passenger comfort. Ianto was heartily glad when the van finally stopped and he presumed by the various relieved sounding sighs from around him that the guys from the Ophelia were too. He scrambled out of the van first, Robert close behind him, leaving the others good naturedly bickering in their wake. He didn't miss Robert's speculative glance in his direction as he took note of the tree lined street and the Victorian town houses stretching in either direction but deliberately avoided acknowledging it – he was waiting to see what the reaction would be to the place that would be home to the Ophelia crew for the next few days. Considering he'd never consciously heard of steampunk before, Ianto thought he'd found the perfect place for them; he just hoped they would agree with him. Knowing that Captain Robert wasn't a native their current planet or time gave him an almost pleasantly anticipatory tingle as he wondered just what the 51st century man would think.
Robert was still standing in the middle of the road, staring at the rows of houses. Ianto cleared his throat somewhat theatrically to gain Robert's attention.
"While the traffic on Cathedral Road isn't exactly busy at this time of day, it probably isn't advisable to stay where you are," he said.
"What? No, it wouldn't be," Robert agreed and threw another look in Ianto's direction which wasn't far off being a glare. Ianto met it with one of his patented bland and unthreatening smiles.
"And I think Kristina and the others would prefer you in one piece, don't you?" He added and suppressed a chuckle as Robert's eyes narrowed even more before turning away to approach the front door of the van.
Ianto led the way toward the closest house – a grey, stone built, 3 storey, Victorian edifice – and past a wrought iron plaque that announced 'Ty Llwyd'; not a particularly imaginative name in Ianto's opinion, but it was descriptive. Rhys stayed with the van, though Ianto thought he was probably content to stay well out of the way.
The arched porch of Ty Llwyd still bore its gas lamp – presumably converted – and the stained glass panels that surrounded the sturdy wooden door. Somehow it managed to look both imposing and welcoming and Ianto was pleased with the overall effect. He held the door open for Kristina and Finn before following them into the reception area. The first thing that was apparent was that much of the Victorian character of the house had been retained – or lovingly restored – but what really caught the eye was the artwork; vintage style photographs predominated on the walls but the surfaces were decorated with sculptures fashioned from what was essentially junk – bits of wire coat hangers, bicycle chains and gears, cogs, tin cans and glass amongst other things – that somehow ended up as harmonious conglomerations and were surprisingly beautiful. Behind him Robert gave a muttered exclamation and Ianto refused to allow the grin on his face that threatened to surface, instead he schooled his features into a carefully neutral expression as Robert came to stand beside him.
"You said you'd never heard of steampunk before," Robert said, his tone not quite accusatory but certainly heading in that direction. This time, Ianto did grin.
"That's correct," he replied.
"Then how the hell did you manage to find a steampunk hotel? Because that's what this is." Robert gestured around him for emphasis.
"I have my sources," Ianto said enigmatically. "And strictly speaking Ty Llwyd is a guest house, not a hotel."
"Now if you'll just excuse me, I must get you all checked in." Ianto was aware that Robert was probably glaring at his back as he stepped toward the reception desk, but he didn't really care; the place so far was everything he'd hoped it would be and he couldn't help but feel a trifle smug.
Robert listened to Ianto Jones and the woman at the reception desk chattering incomprehensibly in Welsh for a moment before allowing himself to be distracted by the décor and artwork. He was examining a particular piece more carefully when Kristina joined him, waving a flyer under his nose.
"Apparently all the sculpture is made by the daughter of the owners and is for sale," she announced. Robert gave her a smile in reply.
"I might be tempted; it's really good." He picked up the one he'd been studying. "Don't you think it would be perfect in the music room on the Ophelia?" He asked.
Robert carefully replaced the piece and stepped closer to the wall to look at one of the photographs when there was a polite cough behind him. He turned, expecting to find Ianto but it was the woman from the reception desk whose face was startlingly similar to the one in the photo. Robert glanced back over his shoulder at the photo just to make sure, then returned his gaze to the living dark–haired woman; she was smiling widely, presumably used to the reaction.
"That's my great–aunt Dilys; she was apparently a very determined woman."
"She looks it." With a wrench in her hand and a smudge of what Robert presumed was oil on her cheek incongruously coupled with a hat and long dress, Dilys wouldn't have looked out of place on the Ophelia.
"The family resemblance is quite impressive, though I'm sure you're aware of that," Robert said to Dilys' still nameless great–niece.
"Couldn't really miss it," she replied with a chuckle.
"Anyway, I'm sure you didn't come over here to discuss your family. Are the rooms ready?"
"They are, and I'll show you up in a minute, but that wasn't what I wanted." She glanced down at her feet for a second as if gathering her thoughts. "I… er wanted to ask you something."
"Mr Jones had mentioned you would require storage for your instruments. While that isn't a problem at all I wondered…"
"Yes?" Robert said encouragingly into the silence that had fallen between them.
The woman fidgeted a bit under his regard before continuing.
"That's your airship over the Bay, isn't it?"
Robert nodded, a little puzzled at the change of tack and to have her mention it. He threw a quick glance at Kristina, who shrugged at him with an equally bemused expression on her face.
"Thought so. Anyway, we heard you on the radio and we were wondering if you'd be able to play a few songs while you were here; if it wouldn't cause any problems, that is. We have a pretty decent sound system and function room here at Ty Llwyd."
Robert was pleased that he managed not to burst out laughing; Ianto Jones was one devious bastard and Robert wasn't entirely certain whether he wanted to hug the man or hit him, though he knew which the girls would prefer. He refused to look at Kristina as he doubted the managing not to laugh would survive if he did.
"No, I don't think it would cause a problem," Robert said. "I'd have to discuss it with the others first though, if that would be OK?"
"More than Ok! Right then, let me show you the rooms. I've put you at the top of the house for privacy." Without another word she bustled off leaving Robert to trail after her, Kristina giggling beside him.
The next morning, they were met outside the hotel – guest house, Robert reminded himself – by Rhys in a minibus.
"Ianto thought it would be more comfortable than the van, see," Rhys said to Robert with a smile as he gave them all a hand to clamber in. "And if you need your gear I can come back to get it – one of the lads can help me."
"I don't think we'll need to do that, Glyn and Lowri said it will be quite safe – they've locked it up and given us the spare key."
"No concert on the Plass today, then?"
"No." Robert thought it highly likely that the 'concert on the Plass' idea had been firmly put aside in favour of 'concert at Ty Llwyd' in both his and Ianto Jones' mind.
"Never mind. Best get you to the Bay I suppose, before someone in Torchwood gets it into their head that you're not going to turn up and comes to fetch you instead."
As if to prove his point, Robert's wrist strap let out a plaintive beep, though the message was a relatively innocuous 'ready when you are' which considering that Robert had gained the impression that Jack Harkness lived at the Torchwood base – officially at least – probably meant that he was getting impatient. There was no need for Harkness to worry; Robert bet he wanted to be out of Torchwood's hair as much as Torchwood wanted him – and the Ophelia – out of Cardiff.
Robert was not in the slightest bit surprised when Ianto met them as they clambered out of the vehicle. He was surprised at the open and friendly smile on his face; obviously Ianto Jones at least hadn't changed his mind that the Ophelia and her crew weren't just a problem that needed solving. More than ever, Robert wished he could persuade Ianto to join the crew but he knew that would never happen, not while Jack Harkness was in charge of Torchwood and for more than one reason. Instead of dwelling on the impossible Robert made a point of greeting Ianto's welcoming smile with one of his own as they all followed after Ianto, leaving Rhys to deal with the minibus.
"Ready to get started?" Ianto asked as he held the door of the dingy office that was Torchwood's cover open for them as they trooped through.
"Sure," Robert replied. "But I know we wouldn't object to some of your to die for coffee."
"It's already brewing – we've all had an early start today." Ianto let them through to the hidden corridor but Robert didn't miss him locking the outer door first, though that could have been just a general precaution and not specifically related to them.
By the time Robert and the others were ensconced back in the Torchwood Hub conference room the day had taken on an almost familiar tone; Ianto provided coffee with a smile and few words, Jack bounded in enthusiastically said about as much as Ianto but with more words and a great deal more volume and Tosh almost immediately started chatting with Kristina. Robert noticed with disappointment that she wasn't wearing the corset from the day before but she *was* wearing the bloomers and boots with what he presumed was her more normal attire as well as one of the hair clips; he rather liked the effect. Owen and Gwen briefly showed their faces but it appeared they were only after Ianto's coffee as they soon disappeared once they had cups in their hands – not that Robert blamed them, he wouldn't really want to start a day without Ianto's coffee either once he'd gotten used to having it on a regular basis.
They made good progress through the morning, enough that Robert was confident that they would be able to fit in a rehearsal and the impromptu concert the next day. He'd been so engrossed with the repair work that he hadn't really been paying much attention to the intermittent presence of the Torchwood team and it was only when Ianto almost manhandled Tosh from the room to have a low voiced but intense conversation with her that Robert realised he'd not seen any of the others for some time. He glanced at the rest of the Ophelia crew, relieved to find them still hard at work, then Kristina caught his eye and gestured for him to follow Ianto and Tosh, her meaning clear enough that he could almost hear her say "if there's a problem, sort it; you're the Captain."
He wasn't exactly nervous as he left the room but he did wonder how well they would receive his interference in Torchwood matters.
"Is there a problem, guys? Can I help?" He asked.
The answer was contradictory.
"Yes," Tosh replied, frowning at Ianto while he threw a glare at her for presumably answering in the affirmative. Robert turned his head and cleared his throat to prevent the smile that was threatening to emerge from appearing on his face. When he turned back Tosh was still frowning, but Ianto's glare had thawed somewhat.
"Well there is a problem Ianto, potentially at least, and Robert could help." Robert silently thanked Tosh for her faith in him while wondering what he'd done to deserve it.
"I'm sure he could, I'm just not sure Jack would be very happy about it." Ah, so *that* was Ianto's issue, not that Robert exactly blamed him.
"So what's the potential problem?" He queried, unsure whether he'd receive an answer or not. Ianto and Tosh shared a look and Ianto sighed before he straightened.
"The rest of the team are out on a job, which just got a whole lot more complicated."
"They could do with both of us as back up," Tosh added, "but..."
"You can't leave me and my crew unattended in the Hub. I understand."
Tosh nudged Ianto with an elbow.
"See, I told you he would."
"Yes, yes. But it doesn't solve the underlying issue does it?"
They both looked at him, frustration and concern for their friends evident on their faces. Robert shrugged, then smiled as he thought of a way round the situation.
"I can think of an alternative, though I'm not sure how happy you'll be with it," he said. Ianto and Tosh shared another look.
"Go on," Ianto prompted.
"I go with whichever one of you heads out, the other stays here and keeps a weather eye on the rest of the crew. We're all under supervision and when you're a time–travelling airship pirate you're used to improvising, and the odd fight." Robert paused briefly. "Very odd, some of them," he added with a grimace. He didn't completely understand the rapid fire non–verbal conversation between Ianto and Tosh that followed but the gist was clear when Tosh pushed past him to head towards the conference room and Ianto took off in the opposite direction.
"Well come on then," Ianto said. Robert was fairly certain he wasn't supposed to hear the muttered 'Jack is going to kill me' that followed though it didn't exactly surprise him. He *was* surprised when Ianto pressed a weapon into his hands, a stun gun, he realised after a second or two. "Know how to use that?" Ianto asked. Robert nodded his confirmation as he checked the stun gun over, he would also have been able to use the hand gun which Ianto was currently loading and that hadn't been passed to him but if their positions had been reversed *he* wouldn't have given Ianto a firearm either and he was surprised that the guy trusted him enough with any sort of weapon. Robert noted that the grip of the stun gun was well worn, and that there were signs of heavy use even though it was obviously in perfect working order. That meant there was only one reason Ianto had been carrying it, as well as the more usual gun.
"This is yours, isn't it?" Robert asked. Ianto nodded.
"I don't particularly like guns, more chance of people getting caught in the crossfire." Robert bet he was still an excellent shot though. Ianto nodded at the weapon in Robert's hand as they made their way through the hub corridors. "I like the close control that affords."
"I think you have too much conscience for a Torchwood agent."
"Maybe I'm just a control freak," Ianto added with a glimmer of a smirk.
"Or maybe you've just seen too much damage done in Torchwood's name," Robert replied, deciding as he did so that he had probably cut a little too close to the bone judging by the narrow eyed frown that Ianto gave him. The rest of their journey passed in silence and Ianto led them to what appeared to be an underground parking lot. There were only 2 cars in there and Robert wasn't surprised when Ianto headed toward the stylish sedan rather than the neat 2 seater sports car. The earpiece Ianto passed him once they were seated in the car was more unexpected but Robert took it, and fitted it, without comment.
"You're only able to hear Tosh for now," Ianto said. Robert neglected to mention that with his wrist strap he could easily override the earpiece but he suspected that Ianto was quite aware of that fact.
"Thanks," he said instead and left it at that.
Robert's appearance at the scene of the problem job went down about as well as he'd expected, the only difference being that it was Owen and not Jack who protested at his presence.
"What the fuck is he doing here?" Owen yelled at Ianto, while pointing at Robert. "Have you lost your bloody mind, Ianto? He's a civilian!"
"He's an ex–time agent," remarked Jack quietly as he acknowledged Robert with a nod while placing a hand on Owen's shoulder. "We might require that experience." Jack turned from Owen and touched his comm. "Patch him in, Tosh."
There had already been a brief but bloody fight judging by the purplish fluid and black clad lumps that decorated the open ground. Jack waved a hand in the general direction of the unmoving lumps but didn't draw any closer.
"They're rift scavengers, not sure what species. So far we've managed to stop them from leaving with the tech that they followed through the rift but we can't get to it either."
"Bloody stalemate," added Owen with a snarl.
"I should be able to help with identification," Robert said, busily tapping at the keyboard of his wrist strap with an apologetic glance at Jack; he couldn't help it if the programming of his was more up to date. Luckily, Robert struck gold; not only was he able to identify the species – Zzlotti – but also a way to disable them en masse using ultrasonic pulses of a specific frequency. Between the two wriststraps, Ianto's PDA wired up to the sound system in his car and the sound system in the SUV remotely controlled by Tosh back at the Hub they were able to cover the entire area in which the Zzlotti had hidden.
After only a few minutes of sonic barrage a single Zzlotti stumbled out of the concealing bushes and laid down his weapon before collapsing in a shuddering heap beside it.
"Gwen, Ianto; go."
They were obviously used to Jack's somewhat truncated commands and aware of what was needed as Gwen grabbed what looked like a containment box from the SUV and headed toward an area that would have been in range of the Zzlotti's weapons with Ianto close behind.
Owen knelt beside the fallen Zzlotti, scanner in hand.
"This one appears to be alive, still. Don't know about its mates in there though," he said indicating the bushes that presumably contained the other Zzlotti. "And I'm not entirely sure what classes as normal for this bunch of tossers anyway."
Recognising a Bekaran scanner when he saw one, Robert helpfully transmitted the information on the Zzlotti from his wriststrap to it, Owen's pleased smile an indication of success as the new input enabled the scanner to make more sense of the results that had been obtained.
"There doesn't appear to be any permanent damage to this one," he said without glancing up from the scanner. "I'd have to check the others to see if that's the case for them too." Jack stepped up to Owen's shoulder and peered over it at the scanner.
"If it is, we send them back through the rift as soon as they show signs of stirring – without that device they were so interested in acquiring," Jack said.
"Which is now safely locked up in the SUV," Ianto announced. "Is everyone OK?" He added with concern.
"We are now," said Owen with a pointed glance over his shoulder at Jack. Robert didn't understand the cause of Ianto's black look, but he couldn't miss the tense undercurrents between the Torchwood team in general and Jack and Ianto in particular.
"Glad to hear it," Ianto said tersely, he shrugged and then continued in a more normal tone of voice. "Well, I suppose we'd best get this job finished so I can get Robert back to his crew; I'm sure they'll be more than happy to have him back undamaged." The last was said with another glare at Jack, who glanced away rather than meet Ianto's eyes.
"Yeah. About that… Well, ummm." Jack then raised his head and looked at Robert with a slightly shamefaced grin. "Thanks for your help, Captain," he said. Robert grinned back – even a smile like that was infectious when it was on Jack's face.
"I'm just glad I *could* help." Robert then made a point of removing his comm, passing it back to Ianto before walking back to Ianto's car to stay well out of the way of the clean up but within shouting distance if he was needed; there were some uncomfortable dynamics out there and he didn't want to interfere any more than he did by merely being present.
When Robert eventually joined the rest of his crew back at the Torchwood Hub, they were all looking incredibly pleased with themselves.
"You've good news, I presume?" He asked. Kristina nodded, her face wreathed in smiles as she tucked a wisp of blonde hair back over her ear.
"Better than good. We're just about done here; a couple of hours on the Ophelia and we should be ready for pre–flight checks."
"That's great. So we could go ahead and tell Glyn and Lowri that they'll have their concert tomorrow evening and still leave ourselves with time to rehearse." He was met with an affirmative chorus from his grinning crew.
"And then?" Tosh asked.
"And then we slip away into the night like the pirates we are and in a few days everyone will have forgotten the battered airship over Cardiff Bay."
"With no retcon required; I like it." Tosh nodded and then gave them all a smile. "Still, I'll miss you being around – I've kind of grown used to you."
"Same here." Robert turned to find that Ianto had appeared – silently as usual – through the door behind him and was pleased to see that the Welsh man seemed much less tense than he had done earlier. Owen and Gwen were just visible over Ianto's shoulder.
"Don't forget that when we get back to where we should be you'll be able to keep in touch the mundane way and even if you can't Jack will be able to contact me through this," Robert tapped his wrist strap, "no matter where or when The Ophelia happens to be."
"That's reassuring to know," Ianto said as he drew closer to the table. "There is just one thing though…"
"Which is?" Robert asked. Ianto gave him a fleeting smile.
"When are you going to end up on this side of The Pond in an… ah… official capacity?"
"We'll let you know, don't worry."
The conference room dissolved into a flurry of activity as boxes were packed and the evidence of hours of hard work slowly vanished. Robert watched with amusement as Ianto deftly organised everyone to his liking without any of the Torchwood team seemingly aware that they were *being* organised. Kristina cast him a glance that let him know that she at least was entirely aware of the fact, but was more than happy to let Ianto get on with it; Robert supposed it saved her from having to nag at them instead.
The next day dawned calm and clear, a perfect day for flight – or a boat trip. Robert hoped the weather would hold into the night and that the Ophelia would be blessed with clear skies in which to leave Cardiff. Dealing with turbulence in her current state of repair would not make for an easy flight, but they'd dealt with worse over the years. They applied themselves to Ty Llwyd's most excellent breakfast while Glyn and Lowri were almost buzzing with anticipation around them making it difficult to discuss their plans for the day as a group.
Robert wasn't surprised when they were met by the minibus again, though he hadn't expected to see Gwen behind the wheel instead of Rhys. His face must have been a picture judging by how rapidly she dissolved into fits of giggles when he approached the vehicle.
"Rhys had to work today and we decided that it was safer if we didn't subject you to Jack's driving, not when he's going to be taking you out on the boat too," she said after she'd regained control. Robert couldn't help but grin in response though he was sure Jack's driving couldn't be as bad as his team implied when out of his hearing. On the trip down to the Bay it was decided that Kristina and Nathaniel would stay behind, heading back to Ty Llwyd once the boat was loaded to set up for the impromptu concert that evening. Robert didn't know which of the Torchwood team would be accompanying them, but he felt that he, Daniel and Finn would be able to deal with the repairs that needed to be done on the Ophelia as well as the pre–flight checks.
While the rest of the crew, with the Torchwood team's help, brought the boxes that needed to go back to the Ophelia up from the main part of the Hub, Robert begged a little computer time from Ianto and in short order was ensconced in the back room of the tourist office out of the way, though still under Ianto's watchful eyes. He didn't need long, just enough time to make a quick post to his own online journal and the UK steampunk forum; it would be enough publicity to ensure that Ty Llwyd had at least a few out of town steampunk fans in attendance that night and so ensure a bit of extra custom for Glyn and Lowri, which he felt they deserved after all their help.
As the last box was brought up, Jack burst in through the outside door in his indomitable fashion, bright and toothy grin firmly in place.
"The boat's at the jetty and it's a perfect day for a little trip. Who's coming with me?"
Robert was curious when it seemed that only he, Daniel and Finn would be accompanying Jack out to the Ophelia. There would doubtless be a perfectly good reason for it but it was also entirely possible that Jack just wanted to talk about home where none of his team could hear him; whatever the reason, Robert was sure he would only find out when Jack was good and ready to tell him.
Ianto helped load the minibus with what needed to go to Ty Llwyd rather than the Ophelia, but found himself ushered back to The Hub by Owen of all people. He wasn't going to complain about it as he always seemed to have mountains of paperwork – electronic and otherwise – to do no matter how quiet the rift had been and it also gave him some time to think. He absent–mindedly made coffee for himself, Tosh and Gwen before ensconcing himself upstairs; it was one of the two places he was least likely to be disturbed but did not offer the same distractions as the archives and so by default was the best place for him to go when he needed to think. He removed Peter Nichols' journal from where it had been burning a metaphorical hole in the inside pocket of his suit jacket, laid it on the desk and stared at it as if it would burst into flames or something equally dramatic at any moment, wondering what its long-dead author would have done. Needless to say it just sat there on his desk in all its worn and dangerous beauty, unaware of all the turmoil it was causing. He muttered a curse and shoved it to one side before firing up the computer and trying to actually get some work done, hoping that his brain would come to a decision about the journal while he was focused on something else so he didn't consciously have to think about it.
Robert joined Jack on the small bridge of the boat as it sped its way across the water toward the Ophelia. If Jack wanted to say something to him with a degree of privacy then this was the best opportunity they were likely to have. Daniel and Finn were busy with their own conversation where they sat close by the carefully packed boxes toward the stern of the boat.
"I almost envy you, you know," Jack said quietly. "The freedom, the ability to travel whenever you want; I miss all that, I've become too earthbound."
Robert didn't think there was really any answer to that, especially not considering Jack's wistful tone of voice. Still, he felt he ought to at least try to make an effort.
"Couldn't you…" his voice trailed off, he really didn't have any idea what to say. He glanced over to Jack, who shrugged.
"I made my choice, and that's to stay here for now. Doesn't stop me being envious, especially not of *that* beauty." Robert realised that the Ophelia had come into view though they were still some distance away. Jack gave him a smile. "You're right, she is much better being out in the light and the air rather than tethered in the dark."
"Do you ever think of going home?"
Jack sighed. "I think about where I came from, but it isn't really home any more. Plus if I went back, I'm not sure just what I would be going back to. I had word that things had changed."
There weren't many ways that news would filter from the 51st century to the 21st but Robert had his suspicions.
"Another Time Agent?" He asked cautiously, half fearing the answer.
"Yeah, my ex–partner." The words were terse and didn't offer much information in and of themselves, but the tone of voice told Robert a whole lot more about the situation than Jack probably would have wanted.
"Must have been an…um… interesting encounter for the rest of your team," Robert said diplomatically, struggling not to smile at the expression on Jack's face.
"That's one way of putting it. He told me that the Agency was being shut down, I'm just not sure how much I trust him."
Robert wasn't entirely sure how he felt about the news. In one way he was glad as it meant the likelihood of someone from the Agency searching for him was greatly reduced but in another way it saddened him; if it wasn't for the Time Agency, he wouldn't be here and he would never have had the opportunity to acquire the Ophelia.
"Have you tried to confirm it?"
Jack shook his head. "Even if I did, what could I do? For the time being at least, my place is here, in Cardiff; this is as much home now as anywhere else has been."
Although Robert was certain there was a lot more to it than that, he decided he wasn't going to push; it really wasn't anything to do with him, no matter how curious he felt.
It seemed that telling Robert about the Time Agency had been what was on Jack's mind as he passed the rest of the boat journey in silence, not that Robert minded particularly as it gave him a chance to gather his own thoughts, a pocket of calm in the tumult that had been his existence for the last couple of days. Truth be told, he needed the breather and he wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Jack Harkness had realised that and had given him the gift of a quiet moment for reflection as much needing one for himself.
Calm disintegrated in the flurry of activity that followed their arrival at the Ophelia and all conversation then revolved around her and her needs and nothing else was said to Robert about his original home or the Time Agency. He was glad about that as he didn't really wanted to be distracted from the task of getting the Ophelia air and time–worthy again. Jack proved himself a fairly capable tech along with being a great help in persuading the recalcitrant temporal interface that it really *did* want to work, despite the battering it had received from the energy of the rift storm and they managed to finish even earlier than Robert had dared to hope. One glance at Jack's animated smile convinced Robert they could afford to take a little time out – linear of course – to enable him to show Jack around the airship they had stolen from under Torchwood's nose all those decades ago.
"Finn, Daniel, do you think you can manage the pre–flights on your own?" Robert asked. Finn grinned and made shooing motions at him, while Daniel shrugged.
"Sure," he replied.
"Thanks." Robert turned and tapped Jack on the shoulder to get his attention. "Come on Jack, let me show you over this lovely lady while we've got the chance." He wasn't surprised that Jack was right on his heels as they left the bridge.
Owen had willingly got stuck in with helping to unload the minibus and lug the rest of the gear out of storage, enjoying the banter between himself, Kristina and Nathaniel but had then allowed himself to be relegated to the guesthouse lounge while they, with Glyn's help, began their set up. He decided it was probably time to make an exit when a guy wearing old fashioned khaki and a pith helmet turned up.
"That'll be the first of the steam-punkers," Lowri whispered to him as she hurried to greet the person. Owen shuddered at the thought of having to deal with a whole room full of anachronistically dressed people that he didn't know and didn't want to know and got to his feet, stopping off long enough to check if Kristina and Nathaniel needed anything before he disappeared back to the comparative normality of the Hub with the minibus; he would rather babysit the rift all night than have to be polite to a bunch of people dressed in clothes that made him want to laugh. Now of course if they all looked like Tosh had after her steampunk makeover he'd be more than happy to stay, but judging by the bloke with the pith helmet that was unlikely to be the case.
When he got back to the Hub Jack and the others still hadn't returned from the Ophelia; it seemed almost eerily quiet with only the four of them – and Myfanwy – knocking around the place but they comfortably resorted to their old habit of gossiping over cold pizza until Jack was back.
The others returned more quickly than Ianto had expected, which was good for the band but bad for him; he was still just as undecided as what to do about Peter Nichols' journal as he had been when they left. Ianto allowed himself to be diverted by Gwen and Owen's bickering – she wanted the opportunity to dress steampunk while he was firmly against it – and the 'helpful' suggestions provided by Daniel and Finn though he had to smother a chuckle at the look on Owen's face when Jack refused to accept Owen volunteering to stay behind on Hub watch. Obviously Robert had also noticed as Ianto heard him murmur to Owen,
"Don't worry Owen, we still need a gopher. I think you just got the job."
In the end they all piled into the minbus; Ianto ensured that Owen got to drive in an effort to try to minimise the tension, and then plonked himself in the passenger seat so Owen would at least have a familiar person to grumble about – and to – right next to him. Naturally, Jack knew exactly what he was doing but Ianto pointedly ignored Jack's smirk and kept his professional face firmly in place, refusing to even consider what the Ophelia crewmembers must be thinking of them.
Owen managed to avoid the areas in Ty Llwyd that held a growing number of weirdly dressed people by dint of making himself useful as the resultant teasing from Gwen, Tosh and Ianto was better than trying to keep his mouth shut and be polite to strangers. He didn't want to upset the Ophelia crew – he *liked* them, for God's sake – but he did find a lot of the steampunk style laughable. Being useful did have its perks too – he'd had more than one fee drink pressed on him, which of course he wasn't going to turn down in case he offended someone. He also got the job of ensuring that no-one was in the function room who shouldn't be – which meant the Torchwood team (minus Gwen and Tosh who had disappeared somewhere with Kristina and hadn't come back with her), the Ophelia crew, Siân (Glyn and Lowri's non-artist daughter) who was doing the sound mixing and intermittently Glyn and Lowri themselves. Owen had to laugh at the idea of him being a bouncer, but at least it meant he was able to tell people to sod off and listen to the band in relative peace while they did their soundcheck.
After the soundcheck, Owen followed the band when they disappeared the back way to avoid the screaming hordes of steampunk fans that were now trickling into the function room once the doors had been opened by Ianto. Not that he heard any actual screaming, but there certainly seemed enough of them to be decidedly horde-like.
"This many people on just a few hours notice?" He asked Daniel.
"Gotta love the power of technology," was the reply. "Plus," Daniel added, "We've not played in the UK before and fans always love the idea of a 'secret' gig." Owen had to admit that Daniel had a point; he'd travelled for hours once to see one of his favourite bands play in what was essentially a pub rather than the big venue they could fill and had found it to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Cardiff was also relatively easy to get to, from both England and Wales, courtesy of its road and rail links so a gig in the city made a strange kind of sense and Ty Llwyd certainly suited them.
A short while later, Owen plopped himself down in an out of the way corner to watch the bright, the beautiful and the downright peculiar mill around, while he nursed another free drink. Ianto came to join him, mercifully without Jack in tow.
"So what have you done with the girls?" He asked Ianto.
"You'll see," Ianto replied. Owen wasn't sure he liked the sound of that. Tosh in her steampunk get up he could cope with – she'd looked bloody gorgeous, though he wasn't actually going to *tell* her that – but he had no earthly idea what would be classed as suitable for Gwen.
It wasn't long before he found out.
"Ta dah!" Ianto murmured in his ear as Tosh appeared round the turn of the stairs in her corset, bloomers and boots outfit – and still looking bloody gorgeous in it – to be closely followed by Gwen. Owen felt his jaw drop just like the first time he'd seen Tosh in her costume and was aware of Ianto chuckling quietly beside him.
"Scrubs up nice, don't she," Owen said. Where Tosh was all in burgundy, cream and gold, Gwen presented a much starker picture in black and bronze but she looked bloody gorgeous and all. She wasn't wearing a corset like Tosh but the black and bronze brocade cropped top was just as eye-opening – running around for Torchwood was obviously more than enough to keep Gwen trim, despite Rhys' infamous lasagne – and the black skirt was cut high enough at the front to show off her legs while it descended in a cascade of frills at the back. The ensemble was topped off with a neat feathered black hat and an elegant pair of black boots with bronze buckles and heels. "I bloody well hope you took a picture before you came down, Ianto." Owen tried for threatening though it came out as more of a strangled croak, but was reassured by Ianto's grin and the firm pat he gave to his suit pocket which said 'all sorted, mate' without uttering a word.
The concert went with barely a hitch; the sound only packed in once and Robert managed to only get the words wrong once too, though technically he hadn't got the words wrong, he was just singing the wrong song. He had no doubt it would be added to the list of 'things that Robert has messed up' that he was sure Kristina kept somewhere. All in all he classed it as a great success, especially as Ianto had managed to rustle up some limited edition tshirts to sell, thanks to a printer who 'owed him a favour' though Robert didn't dare to think what sort of favour would be owed a team of alien hunters. Not having any other merch besides a few cds, they hung around afterwards to sign items that people had brought with them from corseted breasts to a steampunked zimmer frame as well as the more normal cds, posters and tshirts. Eventually, the last person had gone leaving Glyn and Lowri to lock up behind them and make their tired way to bed.
"I guess it's time for us to vanish too," Robert said.
"Are you sure it wouldn't be better to get some rest first?" Tosh sounded concerned and Robert had to smile at her.
"We can rest when we've gotten the Ophelia somewhen away from prying eyes, that's got to be our priority right now." Tosh nodded her understanding and Robert patted her hand, and wished – not for the first time and probably not for the last – that they could take Tosh and Ianto with them.
It didn't take long to get everything together; Rhys had appeared and loaded up their instruments in the minibus, with Owen's help, before spiriting Gwen away and Ianto had settled up their bill with Ty Llwyd claiming it was a Torchwood expense.
It was Ianto that drove the minbus to where the boat waited and Robert presumed they were still being protected from Jack's driving though it did make him curious all over again about just how bad it could be, not that he wanted to find out with their gear on board, which was probably Ianto's point. The boat was quickly loaded and they chugged quietly through the bay and toward the barrage, the open sea and the Ophelia.
Robert was pleased the sea was calm that night as having to load their instruments onto the Ophelia from a boat in the dark was interesting enough as it was; if the water had been the least bit choppy he would have had to resort to using the teleport function on his wrist strap, no matter that it would have made the process more complex. It was a beautiful night; the breeze was soft, Cardiff was a bright glow in the distance and the gentle slap of waves was all that could be heard beyond the muffled curses of his crew above in the Ophelia. The rope ladder began to dance beside him and he looked up to find Ianto descending. Robert turned back to his perusal of the view.
"It's a beautiful sight, isn't it?" Ianto murmured. "I love to see the city from out here, it's a reminder of what Torchwood is trying to protect; I need that sometimes."
"I'm not surprised; it can't be easy to always take the long view when you're in the middle of the mess the rift causes."
"Like yourselves, you mean?"
They both laughed.
"Yeah, but at least we're a mess that is going to vanish out of your hair soon," Robert said.
"True. Which is why… Oh hell… here, take it…" Robert had no option but to take the small leather bound book that Ianto thrust into his hands or he would have dropped it, which was something you didn't do with books, particularly ones that were obviously more than fifty years old. He turned towards the light leaking from the bridge of the boat and carefully opened the worn cover. He read the first page with disbelief and then reverently turned another and another with shaky fingers. It was impossible, and yet here it was, in his hands and whole.
"Do you know what this is?" Robert whispered.
"It's the personal journal of one Peter Nichols, who worked for Torchwood London at the time of the Ophelia's original disappearance. I'm an archivist, of course I know what it is… but I also know what it means to you."
"You can't give me this! What about the timeline?" Robert realised that although his voice protested as his head wished him to, his heart was ensuring that his hands clutched the precious journal close to him. He had no doubt that this discrepancy was noted, which was confirmed by the gentle smile that Ianto gave him.
"I think there's as good a chance of it showing up in a Time Agency library in the 51st century if it's looked after with care by your family as there is if it stayed with us, but if you're genuinely concerned you can always bequeath it back to Torchwood when you're ready."
"I can't… Ianto… I don't…" Robert looked at the book in his hands, the ultimate reason behind his presence in this place and time, its cover was blurring as his eyes filled; he blinked to clear them. "Thank you," he whispered though he felt that mere thanks were woefully inadequate for such a rare and precious gift.
"It's a pleasure – at least I know you'll truly appreciate it."
Robert ran his fingers over the finely tooled cover once more, almost unable to believe that the journal was his for as long as he wanted. He wished there was something he could give Ianto in return that could tell him how much he appreciated the gift of the journal. Above, the Ophelia shuddered slightly as the manoeuvring engines started up and he realised he *did* have something to offer.
"Ianto, are you able to predict when the rift is likely to be more active – or quieter for that matter?"
"To within a week or so, yes. It's been Tosh's pet project for a while. Why?"
"When it next looks like you're going to have a few quiet days, call me. I'd like to take you for a trip on the Ophelia when she's a little more ship–shape than she is now – as long as Jack is willing to part with you for a short while."
"For a trip on the Ophelia, I'll make *sure* he's willing to part with me." For all Robert could hear the longing and determination in Ianto's voice, he looked kind of conflicted. Robert didn't really need to guess why.
"Don't worry, I'll have you back before he has the chance to miss you; my time management has to be accurate or I'd end up in a lot of trouble."
Ianto gazed up at the Ophelia above them, a slow smile taking over his face as his eyes swept over her. Robert turned away to hide his own smile – the Ophelia took some people like that and it gave him great pleasure to know that his own pride in her was echoed by people who barely knew her. He suspected that after Ianto's trip, Tosh and Jack would be also making enquiries. As if his thoughts had summoned them, the ladder began to twitch again as first Jack and then Tosh joined them on the deck of the boat. Tosh had acquired a bag and a veiled hat while on board and Robert would have not been the least bit surprised to find the bag loaded with other things; judging by Ianto's grin as he noted Tosh's hat he wasn't the only one. Robert glanced upward to see Kristina's face framed by the hatch – it was obviously time for him to be going. He put one hand on the ladder, ready to swing himself up and then paused, taking one more look at the distant lights of Cardiff. They'd been lucky when the Ophelia had come through the rift storm in this time, he hated to think what would have happened to them if they'd arrived before Jack was in charge of Torchwood Cardiff. There were other reasons to be grateful for the rift for spitting them out in this time too; he patted his jacket where he'd stowed Peter Nichols journal for safety and gave the three Torchwood agents a grin.
"Thanks for your help and understanding; we all appreciate it."
No–one answered with words but Jack acknowledged him with a salute, Ianto with a nod and a smile and Tosh was grinning fit to split her face. With a last wave, Robert began his climb up the rope ladder, glad of a job well done; having friends in Torchwood was no bad thing when you were a time–travelling Airship Pirate who'd acquired your ship from that very organisation in the first place!
Ianto watched as Robert climbed the rope ladder up to the Ophelia much more quickly than he'd been able to manage; it was obviously something Robert was used to doing, even in darkness. The ladder was rapidly pulled up once he'd vanished through the hatch into the belly of the airship.
"Siwrne saff," Ianto called up softly as the hatch closed. Even though he knew that Robert most likely wouldn't hear the words, it didn't make any difference to his wish for their safety. He'd become fond of the crew during the short time they'd spent in Cardiff and to finally see the Ophelia with his own eyes had been like an unbelievable dream come true; Peter Nichols' journal had sometimes been his only escape in the dark days and months following Canary Wharf. Giving Robert the journal had seemed like the right thing to do and Ianto almost felt like there was a part of himself up there, travelling on the Ophelia. He smiled as the Ophelia drew away from them, silent in the darkness. Jack came to stand next to him and slung an arm round his shoulders; Tosh received the same treatment on the other side. They were both drawn close and Ianto relaxed into the hug with a sigh.
"Do you think we'll ever see them again?" Tosh asked, she sounded rather wistful. Ianto felt the bunch and pull of muscles under Jack's coat as Tosh was pulled a little closer.
"I think we can count on it," Jack replied. With one last hug for both Ianto and Tosh, Jack stepped back and headed for the bridge area of the boat. "Come on kids," he said, "Work to do." Ianto, with Tosh beside him, followed Jack into shelter. He threw one last glance over his shoulder; the Ophelia could no longer be seen. He sighed; Torchwood was going to seem almost mundane without the Ophelia crew around and that was something he never thought would happen. As Jack went through the motions of getting the boat underway Ianto smothered a chuckle as he reminded himself that he still in effect had to bribe Jack in order to let him have that trip on the Ophelia on his own. Jack wouldn't know what had hit him but Ianto was sure he'd enjoy the process of being bribed. He was grinning into the darkness as Jack turned the boat away from Flat Holm and headed back towards Cardiff, and Torchwood.