Unknown Time and Place
Interlude (Part Two)
“What do you want, Bayl?” Future-Phil demanded, climbing to his feet. His expression made Clint shiver; he was giving off this sudden aura of power that finally dispersed the image of the frightened, injured man who’d been pursued through time and had landed in Torchwood’s lap. His eyes actually seemed bluer than Clint remembered, and were practically glowing.
“I want access to the Torchwood Hub,” Bayl growled. His eyes fell onto Clint. “And you are going to get me that access.”
Clint snorted, getting himself to his feet as well, ignoring the pain in his ribs as he did so. “Yeah, right.” He didn’t give a rat’s ass what this bastard wanted, as far as the archer was concerned he could whistle for whatever information he was determined to get. It wouldn’t have been the first time he’d ever been tortured, and Clint doubted it would be the last, not in his line of work.
There was simply no way in hell he was going to cooperate, not with his current Phil in the Hub and with no clue as to what was really going on. Phil Coulson might not be on his Christmas card list at the moment, but he would still protect him as much and for as long as he could, since he’d failed so spectacularly with Loki.
He let his eyes settle on their antagonist, who didn’t look any less angry at Clint’s denial. He decided a dose of truth was called for. “Look, the moment you and your bully boys hit the Hub2, our boss would’ve been on the phone, ordering a complete lockdown of the Cardiff Hub. And, since we’re dealing with time travellers, that would include our own version of a time lock.” He’d lobbied hard and long about getting that same sort of protection for London, but there had been certain logistics to it that Toshiko, Luke, and Mr Smith were still working out, since they didn’t have access to the limitless energy of the Cardiff Rift to power it.
He was willing to bet that they’d be working on that even harder after all this.
Bayl didn’t lose any of his anger, but Clint could tell that the man believed him. “I need access!” he shouted. “My plan can’t proceed without it!”
“Just what is your plan?” Phil inquired, a bare hint of his own anger in his question. “You kidnapped me from the Throneworld; Goddess knows what you did to my niece…”
“That bitch took down three of my men before they were able to put a stop to her,” Bayl snarled, his hand tightening on the butt of his gun.
So that part of the story was true; there had been a niece of some sort, and she’d been hurt in the fracas with Bayl’s people.
Phil’s eyes narrowed with disdain. “And how many did I take out before Torchwood interfered in the park?” There was a slight tremor in his voice, and Clint read that tell easily as the man being so worried about this niece that it was making him even angrier than before.
This was something that had changed about the man Clint had known for so long; his Phil had been calm in the face of pressure, but this…this visible anger was different, and Clint could honestly say he was glad to see it. Sometimes he’d thought Phil too buttoned up, keeping things in that were best let out. Now, it was as if the years that he’d passed through had worn him down until only his inner emotions were left, and only in certain circumstances did the mask come back out for all to see.
Still, as he’d noticed before, it was a cracked mask, one that, someday, would receive that final blow and be gone like smoke in the breeze. He kinda wished he could see it when it did happen.
“But you won’t interfere with Torchwood, will you?” Phil went on. “You don’t dare. No matter what your endgame is, you can’t interfere.”
Bayl’s face went red, and Clint wondered just how high his blood pressure was going. Maybe he’d pop a vessel and they could escape without raising a fist. “I don’t get it,” he said to Phil, “just why does he need to get into the Hub? And what’s so big about Torchwood that he can’t interfere with it?” Of course he immediately thought of the younger Coulson there, looking for allies in his efforts to rebuild SHIELD. Why would Bayl want him and this version of him? Clint knew he was missing something, he just didn’t know what.
He absolutely hated that feeling.
“It’s obvious, of course,” Phil challenged. “He wants me. The much younger me, that is…the one who still doesn’t know the end result of what happened to him and thinks he might not last long enough to get SHIELD back on its feet and is looking for aid to do just that.” He took three steps toward Bayl, making the man back up a little if he wanted to keep the gun aimed properly. “And, if I can make a guess as to why, I would say that, despite the need to not interfere with Torchwood and its timelines, you are going to make an attempt on one of their closest allies. Am I correct?”
Just from Bayl’s expression Clint knew that Phil had hit the nail on the head. He ignored the fact that he hadn‘t really explained what Torchwood had to do with anything. “But why?” he asked his ex-lover, deliberately paying no attention whatsoever to their captor, wanting to piss him off more, to throw him off balance. “Sorry, but I don’t get all this timeline shit. Care to explain?”
“Certainly.” He tucked his hands behind his back, and Clint thought he’d look as if he were about to give a lecture if it weren’t for the now-wrinkled blue scrubs Phil was still wearing. “While I don’t pretend to understand temporal theory, I do know there are certain things a time traveller just doesn’t do. One of those things is having two people from different parts of the same timeline in close proximity to one another. It could be…catastrophic. So, bringing me back and having me meet my past self was obviously the plan.” He cocked his head, meeting Clint’s gaze. “I’m not sure why this me and past me, but it must be some sort of special circumstance; something that had to occur before Bayl could attempt to disrupt things to the degree he wants.”
Bayl was tired of being ignored; even though Clint wasn’t looking at him, he could actually hear the man’s teeth grinding. “At this point,” he spat out, “SHIELD and Torchwood hadn’t made their historic pact. This is the perfect time to destroy this timeline and shift it into something a bit more…amenable to the Time Agency. And I had to wait until SHIELD actually fell…I couldn’t do it before you became immortal or else the planet would have fallen to Loki because the Avengers wouldn’t have been able to get themselves together without your sacrifice. The paradox would have been far too extreme.”
This confused Clint even more. “What does exposing two versions of Phil Coulson make things easier on the Time Agency? I thought it was disbanded?” His head was spinning a bit. So, apparently Torchwood survives far into the future, but what did that mean? Were Jack and Ianto still in charge, or had someone else taken over? What did changing the timelines mean for whatever future form Torchwood had taken? Had SHIELD had that much influence that it had changed Torchwood, and therefore Torchwood had changed SHIELD?
But Phil wasn’t reacting the way Clint thought he would. In fact, he was laughing.
“Is that what you think will happen if you tamper with my timeline?” The sheer disbelief in his face and voice almost caused Clint to bust out into laughter as well, and he didn’t even know what was so funny. “You honestly believe that causing whatever you think will happen if I meet myself will make things better for the Time Agency? This is your plan?”
“The energy released by the two of you coming into contact with each other should be enough to erase you both from existence,” Bayl swore. “There will be no SHIELD, no Shieldsmen…and no immortal Grand Master to be the power behind the Imperial Throne. The alliance between SHIELD and Torchwood won’t exist, which means Torchwood would be weakened. Not destroyed, so the timeline would stay moderately intact, but it will mean the Time Agency would have a chance to be stronger and in a better position of power.”
“And you think that won’t get the Time Agency disbanded?” Phil was still laughing. “No, of course it won’t…because the Time Agency won’t exist!”
Bayl was puzzled, which seemed to dislodge the anger from his expression. “What are you talking about, Pendragon?” He took a step forward, and Clint saw his chance.
The archer launched himself forward, slamming his shoulder into Bayl’s chest and knocking him backward several steps. His antagonist snarled and tried to bring the gun around, but he was stopped; Clint knew immediately that Phil had taken the opportunity to join the fight.
The three of them hit the floor, Clint and Phil sprawled on top of Bayl and knocking the wind out of him. It took three good punches to the face to get the guy to stay down; two from Phil and one from Clint. Over the unconscious body Clint met Phil’s eyes, seeing in them once again that seeming glow that he had before; the other man was breathing just a little harder than normal, and the sudden, crooked smile that graced those lips did things to Clint’s stomach, things that were scarily familiar and not at all unpleasant.
Clint didn’t even know what he’d done until his lips were on Phil’s, and they were snogging quite enthusiastically over the body of their mutual enemy.
It was different, and yet the same as the many times that they’d kissed before, back when they’d been together and happy, before they’d somehow drifted apart and Audrey had come into the picture. One of them made a noise, Clint couldn’t tell which one of them it was, but it was a sound of encouragement that should have led to more kissing only Phil was pulling away reluctantly.
“Not here,” Phil murmured, sounding almost wrecked.
“Yeah, understood,” Clint agreed, panting. “Later.”
Phil wouldn’t meet Clint’s eyes. Instead, he began searching Bayl, handing the silvery future gun to Clint while taking what appeared to be the duplicate of Jack’s wrist strap and two knives. He tucked the knives under one arm as he stood then flipped open the Vortex Manipulator’s cover. He touched a couple of buttons, frowning as he saw the results. “We’re still on Earth, 21st century. The very same day we were taken, actually. Looks like we’re in Cardiff.” He strapped it to his own wrist just over the now-ragged cast.
Clint took in their surroundings. Beyond their cell there was an extremely short hallway, leading up to stairs that ended at an angled door in the ceiling. Another door was at the other end of the corridor, and it was closed. “Some sort of cellar I’d reckon,” he replied. “Or an old bomb shelter.” The latter was more likely; he’d heard from Jack about the bombing of Cardiff back in World War Two, and if anyone knew about that sort of thing, it was certainly Jack Harkness.
There was a sudden loud noise at the other end of the corridor, and Clint swivelled around and noticed that other door had slammed open, disgorging four men with the sonic guns. The moment they caught sight of their two former prisoners, the signature whine of sonic weaponry filled the corridor.
Both of them ducked, barely getting out of the way in time. “Back in the cell,” Phil suggested in his usual, calm-under-pressure tone.
They scrambled back into the cell, each grabbing a leg and hauling Bayl into the room they’d been in. They weren’t at all careful with him, either, dragging him roughly along the pitted concrete. Once Bayl was all the way in, Clint slammed the door shut, glad that it opened inward so he could put his back against it in an attempt to keep the other guys out. “Can you use that thing?” He indicated the wrist strap as the banging began. “I mean, teleport us back to the Hub in London?” He figured they didn’t need to step foot closer to the Cardiff Hub than absolutely necessary, not with whoever it was on the other side of the door still on the loose. He had no idea how much Bayl had trusted his cronies with his plan, but someone could take it into their head to complete it even with their leader captured.
“I am passably familiar with the Vortex Manipulator,” he answered primly. “It’s not unlike my shield generator, except it’s not genetically locked to one user, which is a good thing. I just have to get the right coordinates…” He pressed another button, and the thing beeped at him as if complaining about the treatment.
“Are you sure about that?” Clint teased as the door pushed inward under the outside assault. “Better hurry, because they’re in a rush to get in here!” He dug his heels in, ramming backward with his shoulder and forcing the door shut once more. His obviously bruised ribs protested the treatment but there was no way he was going to let them in there unless it was over his dead body.
And there was the eye roll Clint had missed. “I’m quite certain. I don’t think I’ve ever questioned your expertise with a bow, so please let me work here.”
Clint couldn’t help but snicker even as the pounding got louder and much more forceful. This was his Phil; calm under pressure, working as if there weren’t several very pissed off people outside, wanting to get in and do horrible things to them.
Then the pounding stopped, which could not be a good sign anywhere you look.
Phil cursed, grabbed Clint’s hand and rested it on the wrist strap, grabbing Bayl by the belt…there was that unmistakeable golden glow of time travel from within their cell…