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Time Trap

Chapter Text


3 June 2014




Ianto Jones sighed, leaning back in his chair, at the desk he and Jack had taken to sharing in the main office of the Hub.  He stretched his arms over his head, the cloth of his jacket pulling across his shoulders and tugging his light blue shirt up around his throat.

He was so very glad to be back in Cardiff, after having spent a majority of the last four and a half years up at Torchwood House, working in the main Archive for the Institute.  It wasn’t that he hadn’t enjoyed the work; he had, taking care of the relics and technology that the Torchwood Institute had collected over the years of its existence.  It had been like walking through history, in a way, and Ianto had found it so very rewarding that, if he hadn’t had someone waiting for him back in Cardiff, he would have been glad to stay.

But there was Jack, and nothing would keep him from his mate’s side for very long.  Ianto had managed to make it back as often as he could, but it wasn’t the same as living in the same house and working in the same office, and being on the same team.  Torchwood House had held its own fascinations, but when Kate Stewart and her people had finally closed down the last of UNIT’s Black Archives at the Tower of London and had accompanied the last load of artefacts up to Glasgow, Ianto had turned the keys over to the Brigadier’s daughter and had gotten back to where he belonged as quickly as he possibly could.

And now, barely a month back from Scotland, Jack was in London and Ianto was in Cardiff, running the team as he was meant to do while his mate was away, doing his best to help out their teams in London.

It was a real mystery, to boot.

Ianto sighed, sitting back upright in the chair.  Just as he was getting used to sleeping with his mate every night, Jack had had to go and leave for London…oh well, there was paperwork to do, things that Jack had flatly refused to even look at, which meant that there was more shit to do than a dragon had time for. 

He really did love his mate.  Honestly.  Even if the immortal frustrated him in not so good ways sometimes.

“Ianto!” Toshiko’s voice called up from the main Hub floor.

The dragon got up and poked his head around the open door jamb.  “What is it?”

His technical genius was seated at her workstation, her fingers still on the keyboard in front of her.  Her glasses reflected the lit screens surrounding her, her eyes probing something only she could see.  “You really need to come and see this,” she answered, not looking toward him.

As Ianto got closer, he could really make out the stunned surprise on Toshiko’s face.  He frowned as he approached her.  “What’s going on?” he asked, resting a hand on her shoulder as he turned his own gaze toward the largest monitor in the cluster hung over her desk.

It was a view from the CCTV outside on the Quay.  Even in black and white, Ianto could see what a pleasant day it was; there were all sorts of people out and about: locals out for a walk along the Quay, and tourists seeing the sights of the Plass and the surrounding area.  The sun lent a brightness to the monochrome video as people went to and fro, and Ianto couldn’t help but feel slightly confused by what he was – or wasn’t – seeing.  “I don’t understand.”

‘You know I always keep the facial recognition software running in the background of the CCTV,” she explained.  Ianto nodded; he was aware of it.  Toshiko had fallen in love with the software when it had come over from SHIELD before it had fallen.  It had been light years ahead of what Torchwood had originally had, and it had only improved once Toshiko had gotten her hands on its code.  “There are certain facial parameters I’d programmed into it, you know…friends and such,” she went on, “and an alarm is set to warn me when those parameters are detected.”  She typed in a short command, and the images on the monitor froze.  “I was working on some of the specs for those generators that we found last week, and the alarm went off.  This is what I saw.”  Another command was typed, and the picture pixelated as Toshiko zoomed in.

There was a man standing at the rail overlooking Cardiff Bay.

He was wearing a suit that had to have been a shade lighter than black, judging from the shading on the image.  His face was turned toward the water, and Ianto could see what looked like a developing bald spot on the crown of the man’s head, the breeze ruffling the dark hair around it. 

Ianto frowned.  There was something familiar about the way the man was standing, his shoulders slightly hunched from the way his forearms were resting on the rail. 

Then the head turned, and the dragon shook his head, completely unable to believe what he was seeing.

“Tell me that’s who mainframe thinks it is,” Toshiko challenged him.

“That,” Ianto said, shaking his head, “is Agent Phil Coulson.”

“How is that possible?”

“Well, if the man in London resembles Phil Coulson so closely that it disturbed both Patrick and Clint,” he answered, “then who’s to say there isn’t another doppelganger running around?”

It was the only explanation Ianto could come up with.  Phil Coulson was dead; it hadn’t been a closed casket funeral, and unless the body they’d buried had been faked then either there was a ghost enjoying the view from the Quay…or something was very seriously wrong. 

Ianto made his decision in seconds. “I’m going up there.”

“Ianto,” Toshiko warned, “it could be some sort of trap.  After all, he’s just waiting, which means he knows we’re around.”

“Agent Coulson knew where the Hub was, as well,” Ianto pointed out. 

“Are you seriously considering it could be him?”

The dragon shrugged.  “We’ve seen a lot of strange things.”

“But you were also at the funeral.”

Yes, Ianto had been.  He’d gone with Patrick, Alice, and Steven, as the representative for the Institute and to support his family.  He recalled just how badly Margaret Coulson-Delaware had taken her brother’s death, as well as Steven, who had adored his adopted uncle.  Even Nick Fury, rest his soul, had been upset at the loss of his friend and his one good eye, and his eulogy had been particularly moving.  Unless Fury had been a consummate actor, he’d been mourning Coulson as much as anyone.

The dragon’s thoughts shied away from the memories of the abortive invasion of the Cybermen that had interrupted the service…

“As I said, we already know there’s one duplicate out there, even if he’d come from the future.”  Ianto squeezed Toshiko’s shoulder.  “It’s in our best interests to find out if this appearance is related to the one in London.”

“There’s no such thing as a coincidence,” she replied.

“There, you and I both agree.”  Ianto turned toward the autopsy bay.  “Owen!”

His shout not only brought out Torchwood’s lead medic out of his hidey hole, but Diane as well, who had obviously been down there with him, keeping Owen company.  “Hold your water, Dragon Boy,” was the answering call as the lovers joined them in the main area.  “What’s so important that you had to yell the place down?”

“We have a visitor.”  Ianto pointed at the monitor.

Owen’s eyes squinted.  “You’ve gotta be shitting me.”

“Isn’t he in London?” Diane asked. “Because I could have sworn someone looking exactly like that man was the reason Jack had me fly him down there.”

“If that person was gone,” Toshiko said, “then Jack would have contacted us.”

“This is someone different,” Ianto said, certain he was correct.  “Owen, keep an eye on the passive Hub sensors.  They won’t tell us much beyond if this…man is human, but at least we’ll know it’s not some sort of invasion hiding behind a dead friend’s face.”

“You got it.”  Owen headed back down into his own domain, muttering imprecations under his breath about being surrounded by people who didn’t seem to want to stay dead.

Ianto couldn’t blame him one bit. 

“Call Rhys up from the storage area,” he requested of Toshiko.  “I’d like the entire team in the Hub down here just in case we’ll need back-up.  Also, be prepared to go into lockdown, because there’s a reason we have two Phil Coulsons in the same country, even if one of them is named Pendragon and appears to be from the far future.”

“Should I head down to the armoury and pick up a little something?” Diane asked.  Ianto hadn’t thought it possible, but there were times when she could be just as bloodthirsty as Patrick.

“Sounds like a good idea,” he agreed.  “Owen has his own weapon down in the autopsy bay, so you don’t have to bring him anything.  Rhys might need a weapon as well, I don’t know if he put his away last time we were on a call.”

“And I have mine in my desk,” Toshiko added.

Diane nodded, and then turned on her heel and headed off.

“Keep an eye out,” the dragon added, once again touching Toshiko on the shoulder.  “I’m going to bring Deborah down when I come back, as well.”

His friend nodded, and Ianto made his way up to the cage, through it and then the cog door, striding toward the lift and then changing his mind and taking the stairs instead.

His thoughts whirled, not staying still as he considered just what it meant to have their own Phil Coulson in Cardiff while his doppelganger was in London.  Was this man even calling himself by that name?  Could he be from another time, or was there something going on that Ianto just didn’t understand?

He’d seen Coulson’s body in its coffin.  He’d mourned the man who had become another member of the dragon’s ephemeral family.  Yes, Jack was able to return from the dead but as far as Ianto knew there wasn’t anyone else out there with the same ability. 

No, Phillip J. Coulson had died.  There was no way around that fact. 

And yet, a man closely resembling him was waiting up on the Quay, obviously there because he was aware that the Torchwood Hub was just below his feet. 

Ianto didn’t like making snap judgements if he could absolutely avoid it, and he shook his head, trying to dismiss the chaos in his mind over what he would find when he got there.

He played with the idea of calling Jack, but no.  Not yet.  His mate had enough to worry about, and there wasn’t enough information to share.  He didn’t want to take Jack’s mind off whatever was going on in London, not when Ianto was perfectly capable of handling this situation…until he wasn’t, of course, and then he had his team to fall back on. 

The dragon took a quick glance through the eye hole, checking to see if anyone was up in the Tourist Office with Deborah.  The coast was clear, and he was through the secret door in a heartbeat.

“Tosh told me we have a visitor,” Deborah said before Ianto could open his mouth.

He should have expected that.  “When we get back I’m going to have you come down to the Hub with me to make the coffee.  I want us all down there in case this is some sort of trick or trap.”

Deborah nodded her understanding, and then Ianto was out the door and striding down the boardwalk, his sharper-than-human dragon vision seeing his target all the way down the Quay.  The man was a perfect copy of Phil Coulson, and Ianto found himself wishing this person was him, somehow come back from the dead, if only for Patrick and Clint’s sakes.  They’d both been devastated by Coulson’s death, and to give them back just a bit of that happiness would be worth it, in Ianto’s opinion.

The closer he got, however, Ianto knew something wasn’t right.  A gradual tingling across his mind grew until he could no longer ignore it; it wasn’t at all like the rain-shower fall of the Rift, or the itching caused by Jack’s proximity…no, this was something different.  Something that should have been familiar, but the dragon was having a problem identifying it.

He stopped just next to the man who so closely resembled his lost friend.  The copy – or Coulson, Ianto simply couldn’t tell on first perusal – didn’t turn to look as Ianto settled in next to him, one arm on the railing and his body facing in the man’s direction.  “Well,” Ianto began, “this is certainly a surprise.  By the way, I do happen to believe in ghosts, so I can guarantee there won’t be an exorcism.”

The man huffed a laugh.  “I can assure you I’m not a ghost.”

“The next question is…then just what are you?”

The man didn’t look at all fazed by that.  “I could use the entire ‘rumours of my death’ speech, but I think that would just be a bit crass, don’t you?” He finally turned his head to regard Ianto.

It was Phil Coulson, or so good a copy that there would be no way to tell the difference with a visual inspection.  “Yes, especially since the last time I saw you, you were in your coffin.”

That statement caused an almost minute flinch in his visitor.  Ianto wasn’t sure how he felt about striking such an obvious nerve.  “It’s not a pretty story.”

“Then why don’t we talk over coffee?”

“That sounds good.  I’m feeling a little exposed out here.”

HYDRA could be watching, was the unspoken follow-up to that comment.

Ianto stepped away from the railing, holding his arm out in the direction of the Tourist Office.  “You could have just come in, since you know the way down,” he said calmly as together they walked back the way Ianto had come.

“I wasn’t certain of my welcome, so I decided I’d wait until someone came to me. I knew you keep tabs on the crowds around the area, so it was only a matter of time before someone noticed me.”

That made sense.  “We wouldn’t have turned you over to HYDRA, if that’s what you mean.”

“No, I never thought that.  However, it’s not every day someone comes back to life.”

Ianto couldn’t help but roll his eyes.  “You seem to have forgotten who my boss is.”

A faint smirk decorated Coulson’s lips.  “Touché.”

Ianto had to admit, this person was very much like the Phil Coulson he’d known and shared quite a few conversations with over the years of Coulson being the liaison to Torchwood on behalf of SHIELD.  He and Coulson had talked about many things, mostly having to do with Patrick of course, but they’d also gained a respect for each other and Ianto had been happy to include him in his family, especially after Patrick and Alice’s wedding. 

He held the door open for their guest.  “Deborah,” the dragon said, as if he hadn’t already told her what he wanted her to do, “can you come down to the Hub with us?  I’m sure our visitor wouldn’t mind some coffee.”

“Certainly,” the young woman said brightly.  She used the remote lock under the desk to secure the outer door, and then pushed the button to open the secret passage.  “After you, gentlemen?”

“I’m a little disappointed,” the Coulson with them said as they entered the passageway toward the lift, “I was hoping for some of the real thing, as it were.”

Ianto let him into the lift first, the fact that this person knew about his coffee skills was just another check mark in the column marked, ‘real Coulson’.  Not a lot of people knew that.

“I taught Deborah everything she knows,” Ianto said, as the lift doors closed, and the car slid smoothly downward. 

“And I know where Ianto keeps the good biscuits,” she proclaimed, a wide smile on her face, her dimples in full view.  “It’s a secret stash, in order to keep Owen from locating them whenever he wants.”

The smirk had turned into a smile.  “Well, far be it from to turn down the offer of the good biscuits.”

The dragon escorted the man who looked like Phil Coulson out of the lift, down the corridor, and into the Hub, the cog door alarming as it rolled aside to let them inside.  “You remember Toshiko,” Ianto said as they passed his technical genius’ station. 

“Of course,” Coulson answered politely, nodding in Toshiko’s direction.

She gave him a welcoming smile.  “Welcome back from the dead,” Toshiko greeted, not giving away her doubt and concern.

“And Rhys,” the dragon motioned toward his Logistical Officer, who’d made it up from the storage rooms, where he’d been laying in the morning’s order of supplies.  He was at his desk, not even pretending to be working as his eyes narrowed slightly in suspicion. 

There was a wry twist to Coulson’s lips, but he also made the same little head nod as they moved toward the office.

“Owen and Diane are…well, we’ve learned not to interrupt them when they’re down in the medical area together,” Ianto went on, as Deborah headed toward the kitchenette and them into Jack’s office.  He motioned toward the visitor’s chair, while he made himself at home behind the large desk that he and Jack had begun sharing.

Coulson made himself at home in the offered chair, unbuttoning his suit jacket and then smoothing down his tie and shirt as he sat.  Ianto watched him carefully, trying to read his body language, needing more clues as to how to proceed.  There was still that something about the person sitting across from him, a niggling sense of a familiar power, but just beyond his grasp. 

Ianto met Coulson’s gaze, and unwittingly his eyes changed into their dragon aspect.  His guest didn’t flinch, didn’t change how he simply watched Ianto, not afraid of the dragon at all, his face perfectly calm.

There was an aura of blue, an aura that had not been there the last time he’d seen Coulson in person.  It was a sliver of power that glowed faintly against the background of Rift energy that permeated the very air of the Hub.  It flickered like a miniature St Elmo’s fire in this Coulson’s eyes, invisible to anyone else who didn’t have Ianto’s senses…

His magical senses.

How had he not recognised this?

In that moment, the Earth Dragon’s song swirled through Ianto’s mind, a rumbling symphony of acceptance that had him relaxing back in his chair, knowing that whatever happened in the future Ianto would always trust that this was Phillip Coulson, a friend who’d just happened to die in order to try to save the world, and brought back some way that had to do with magic.

That, of course, begged the question of just who the man in London really was related to, and what he had to do with the man sitting opposite him.