Star of my life, to the stars your face is turned;
Would I were the heavens, looking back at you with ten thousand eyes.
There was an alien, and an energy beam, and Ianto didn't duck quickly enough. Almost, but not quite.
Jack left Gwen to get him to A&E, rage coursing hot and pure inside him, and he took the alien out from twenty feet away with a thrown boot-knife. By the time he'd disposed of the body, Ianto was in hospital and out of danger. Just as well.
The thing was, Jack had dealt with burn-victims before -- in Torchwood, in the wars. He knew what he'd see. He'd expected to see Ianto lying unconscious in a hospital bed, skin pale against the pillow, the livid red burns standing out wet and jagged on the left side of his face.
He just hadn't expected to recognise him, to remember him.
It took two months for Lo Boeshane, demobilised corporal of the 43rd guerrilla battallion -- purple heart, silver wing for valour -- to reach the Home System from the hospital station where he'd been recuperating. He still had nuskin bandages on his right arm, but his hand was healed and the strapping on his ribs was much lighter. The doctors said he wouldn't scar.
As long as he'd been a pilot he'd worn his hair cropped short, spacer-cut they called it, too short to snag in a mask buckle or drip sweat in his eyes during flight. On the passenger freighter bound for the Home System, carrying an assortment of tourists, refugees, and the wounded (he wasn't certain which he was), he grew it out.
It wasn't long by any means, but it was much longer than his captain in the wing would have allowed. It was a reminder in the mirror, every morning, that he was no longer a soldier; that he was back to being a student, a boy.
The day they were due to arrive, there was a general call to the dining room at 1100 ship's time. Vid-units mounted on the hull fed images live to the scroll screens inside the dining room, and they would have their first sight of Earth: the home planet, the core, the origin. Lo didn't particularly care to see Earth from space; he'd spent plenty of time dogfighting around planets in the war, and he wasn't very impressed by the stills he'd viewed of the tiny blue ball that had thrown Humanity up into the stars.
On the other hand, there wasn't anything better to do. He mooched along to the dining room and was standing at the back, watching the crowd, when he heard a familiar voice behind him.
"Grew your hair out. I like it," said Admiral Levy, and Lo stiffened to attention, turning swiftly.
"Admiral, sir," he said.
"At ease, Boeshane, you're not in the military anymore."
Lo let his shoulders drop a fraction. "Nosir, of course not."
"You're surprised to see me," Levy observed.
"I came alongside as you were passing Mars. War's going well; I was overdue for some leave. What do you think of it?" Levy asked, tipping his chin at the scroll screen.
"It's very blue," Lo replied. Levy chuckled.
"Not all that interesting, huh?"
"It's just a planet, sir."
"Mm. It's history," Levy said, gazing on Earth with hungry, possessive eyes. "Mine and yours. And the future, too, at least for you. But if you didn't care, why are you here?"
"Permission to speak freely is granted to civilians," Levy said gently.
"I was watching them," he answered, gesturing at the crowd.
"Good. What do you think of them?" Levy asked. "Not just now. How's the trip been?"
Lo shrugged. "Food was good."
"They lack discipline," Lo said. "Not the soldiers, I mean. The people who came to gawk."
"I didn't find I had much in common with them."
Lo grinned. "Oh yeah. Purple heart's like a signal beacon."
"Good lad. You prefer soldiers or tourists?" Levy asked. He swept the crowd speculatively. "Tourists're easier to impress, but soldiers have that little extra something, don't they?"
"I'm not really what you'd call picky," Lo admitted.
"You're seventeen. I wasn't either."
Lo cast an appraising glance at the older man. Levy caught it and shook his head, smiling.
"No. Nothing personal, Boeshane. I have some...romantic complications just now. But," he added, "I do want you to come with me. We'll be taking my private transport to Quantico."
"You came back to the Home System because of me," Lo surmised.
"Among other things. Don't feel overly important. This way," Levy said, and walked out of the dining room with long, easy strides. Lo caught up to him quickly, hurrying along a little behind.
"Your bag's been loaded, so all that remains is to get flight clearance and blow this burg," Levy said.
"Old Earth colloquialism. Means a place you no longer want to be," Levy said, not even stopping for a moment as one of the high-clearance doors into the flight bay opened at his presence. Whenever he'd passed the bay doors in the last two months Lo had caught a whiff of the familiar, beloved scent of industrial cleaners and ozone, but he hadn't been in a real bay in ages. Not since he'd skidded to a stop against the wall of one, his fighter crippled in the explosion that destroyed the enemy ship as he fled it.
"There," Levy said, coming to a stop at a balcony rail.
Lo looked down, expecting one of the squat transit shuttles they used to ferry people to and from the ship, or some kind of luxury yacht. Instead...
"Oh, wow," he breathed.
"Beautiful, isn't she?" Levy asked. "Courser 2.0.1, fully tricked out -- new beta-test thruster stabilisers, full AI, even got seat warmers," he added, grinning. The sleek little ship seemed to glow under his praise, all burnished-copper proofing and flat matte-black accents, sharp edges, slim gatlings, knife's-blade atmospheric fins, a hull as smooth as silk. She was the most glorious thing Lo had ever seen.
"Wanna fly her?" Levy asked.
"Seriously?" Lo turned to him.
"Sure. Soft-hand her, but otherwise she's pretty similar to what you already know."
"If I break something -- "
"Eh. Life's short. I'll get another one. Next time you fly one of these you'll be too old to fully appreciate it. Youth is meant for speed. Come on."
Lo almost jumped out of his skin when the AI kicked in as they were climbing into the cockpit, Levy on the left and separated from his right-side seat by a thin barrier, Lo on the right.
"Welcome back, Admiral!" said a cheerful female voice.
"Amelia, my love. Miss me?" Levy answered.
"Almost to perishing. And who's this handsome young man?" the voice continued.
"This is Lo Boeshane. He's going to be flying you today -- work for you?"
"I love it," she said decisively.
"Lo, say hi to Amelia. Go on, she doesn't bite."
"Hello, Amelia," Lo said, glancing around him.
"Good morning, Mr. Boeshane. Welcome aboard the Amelia Earhart. It's all right; just face forward. I have eyes everywhere."
"That's...good...?" Lo ventured.
"It's his first time with an advanced AI, Amelia. He was making love to rustbuckets when you were still a gleam in your engineer's eye," Levy continued. "How you feeling?"
"Pretty fine, Admiral. As soon as Mr. Boeshane figures out he doesn't need a flight mask, we'll be on our way."
"Pressurised cabin," Levy whispered.
"Oh," Lo whispered back. He reached for the gravity harness and buckled it. "Uh. You can call me Lo, Amelia."
"Very well, Lo. I've filed a flight plan for Quantico station but if Lo would prefer..."
"Yeah -- let's do a little swing," Levy said thoughtfully. "Okay, Boeshane. Take her up, bring her around, give me a high orbit of Earth and then we'll catch Quantico just as they're waking up in the Welsh States."
Levy was right -- the readout on the screen wasn't so different from the rustbuckets he'd flown with the 43rd. Lo initiated the engines, lifted off, cleared with the command desk to disengage, and burst out of the port at a little faster than he'd anticipated.
"Coo-ee!" he yelled, as they banked over a handful of comm satellites and streaked towards Earth. Next to him, Levy was laughing even as his hands worked to stabilise the thrust. Good copilot.
"Why don't you ever run me like that, Admiral?" the Amelia Earhart exclaimed.
"Baby, I'm a gentleman. If I knew you liked a little rough I'd have tried it on you sooner," Levy said.
"He has an answer for everything, doesn't he, Lo?" Amelia asked.
"Yes ma'am," Lo replied, drinking in the feel of it -- the delicate controls under his hands, the visualised space outside scrolling past, the thrill of being unfettered again. If you had a ship, you had anything your heart desired. And if you had a ship like this, there couldn't be much else you'd want anyway.
"Quantico station's ahead of us just now, around the curve," Levy said, when they'd slid into a slow, delicious orbit around Earth. "We'll catch her up. She's home to fifteen hundred of Humanity's best and brightest. Well, the ones who picked Fleet Officer Training, anyway. Most of your comrades will be continuing on to prestigious command careers with the Fleet. The veteran percentage hovers around five -- there will be a scant few who, like you, are attending post-demobilisation. Standard procedure is to enter them at the first-year level; most won't have seen any real combat. You're the only one entering classes at the third-year level just now. About ten percent come to Quantico from university training, so you will at least have some first-years in your high-division courses. You know where the name Quantico comes from?"
"Nosir," Lo said, pulling them into a spiral roll that nearly took out a defence satellite. He gave Levy a sheepish look.
"No real reason you would, I guess, but you'll have to learn it when you get there," Levy told him. "About three thousand years ago, Quantico was a place on Earth, the premier training ground for United States Marine officers. Elite soldiers of one of the most developed countries on the planet at a time when the planet was all we had. Quantico means excellence, military excellence. You'll fit right in, I expect."
"Coming up on Quantico, Lo. Shall I hail and dock?" Amelia asked.
"Yes, please," Lo replied.
"You're a sexy beast, Amelia," Levy said.
"Don't need telling. Stand by to disembark."
"Thank you, Amelia," Lo said. "It's been great."
"You can fly me any day, Lo."
They were met, just outside the bay's interior doors, by an intake officer who gave Lo a skeptical once-over. Lo had to admit he probably didn't look like much: tall but skinny, civilian clothing that didn't fit right, a small bag over his shoulder.
"Brought the boy yourself, I see," he said to the Admiral, without any preliminaries.
"Well, I didn't want you mixing him up and putting him in with the Skins," Levy said. "That's slang for first-years," he added to Lo, who nodded. "This is Sarge, he'll sign you in. I have a meeting on Earth in about an hour, or I'd stick around. Good luck, Boeshane. I'll be keeping an eye on you," he added.
"Sign here," Sarge said, and Levy scribbled his signature on an e-pad, gave Lo a cheerful look, and walked back into the bay.
"Huh, Admiral's pet," Sarge said. "Don't expect any special treatment."
Lo thought privately of the time he'd spent in the Flyer hold. "No, sir."
"Third year quarters are down the hall, E level, One-Two quadrant. Uniform and porterminal are there. Classes start in two weeks. Sign here."
Lo signed the e-pad just below the still-glowing signature of Admiral Levy. Sarge checked it, made another dismissive noise, and walked off. Lo looked around, adjusted the strap on his bag, and took off down the corridor.
Ianto was just waking up, for a given value of waking up, and Jack still wasn't back.
"Gwen," Ianto slurred, eyes huge and unfocussed. "We get 'im?"
"Yes, sweetheart, we got him," she said. "If he's a him. Don't move," she added, though it didn't look like he'd be trying too hard. "You're on a morphine drip."
"Mm. Th' good stuff," Ianto replied. "Limbs intact?"
Gwen smiled. "Yes. You took a shot to the head."
He groaned. "How bad?"
"Not too terrible," she lied. "Don't think about it now."
"Okay," he agreed. "Where's Jack?"
"Taking care of things," she said, hoping he was; hoping he'd be back soon. "He -- "
"Had to check the cells," Jack interrupted, coming into the room with a pack slung over one shoulder. He set it down and walked to the bed, standing and looking down. "Feeling okay?"
"Mmhm," Ianto answered, and Gwen saw him relax a fraction when Jack rested a hand on his arm. "Gwen says..." he began, and then frowned. Jack lifted an eyebrow at Gwen. "We get 'im?" Ianto asked again.
"Yeah, got him," Jack assured him. "Don't worry about it."
"Okay." Ianto closed his eyes and swallowed. "Face feels weird."
"You were burned," Jack said gently. "You'll be fine."
"Sleep a little," Jack said, and Ianto nodded, turning the uninjured side of his face into the pillow slightly. Jack let his fingers drift over his forehead, then looked at Gwen again.
"What's going on?" Gwen asked, tilting her head at the pack at the foot of the bed.
"I'm not sure yet," Jack replied.
"Jack, the burns on his face..." she began, not sure how to say it. "He's going to be scarred."
"No, he won't."
"You can't -- "
"It isn't denial," Jack retorted. "Do you think I'd care?"
"No," she said, a little ashamed. "I don't think you would, but..."
"I can't tell you what I know," he murmured, his other hand tracing the line of Ianto's knuckles, the curve of his long fingers against the bedsheet. "Not yet. And I can't come back to the hospital. But he'll be fine."
"What?" Gwen asked. "Jack, he'll be here for days, maybe weeks. He'll be upset if he can't see you."
"It won't be weeks. You need to stay here and watch him. Tell him I'm out saving Cardiff or something. He'll understand. Stay here," he said, giving her the sharp, piercing look that even Gwen wouldn't fight against. "Stay with him and if anything happens, call me."
"If anything happens?"
"I'm sorry, I can't tell you more," he said. "Just stay with him. Please, Gwen."
She nodded, numbly, then watched as Jack kissed Ianto's forehead, stroked his arm, and walked out of the room.
Lo's first impression of his quarters was that someone must have assigned him the wrong room. Surely these belonged to a teacher.
In the 43rd he'd slept in a barracks on the command ship or in his rustbucket if he'd needed privacy. There wasn't much room to spare, and no resources for real amenities. With fifteen hundred students on the station, surely space was at a premium?
Then, as he let his hands drift over the furniture and decorations in the room, he remembered that once he'd lived in a real house. Compared to the little home they'd had on the Boeshane peninsula, this was pretty spartan. And the station was huge -- large enough for upperclassmen to have their own quarters.
There was a bed on one side of the room, a metal frame with a pretty sunburst headboard, a mattress, neatly-folded sheets and a thick, soft blanket sitting at the foot. A nightstand to one side had a clock built into it and two empty drawers that opened when he waved a hand over them. A desk opposite the bed, with a porterminal on it -- smaller and much lighter than any he'd encountered before, easily sliding out of the desk dock when he tried to remove it. He plugged it back in and moved on to the wide raised counter next to the desk, with a food-heater built into it and a coldbox next to the heater. Practically a whole kitchen; did third-years cook their own food? He couldn't remember the last time he hadn't eaten in a mess hall or a public dining room. Below the coldbox was a panel labeled "LAUNDRY" that slid open to reveal a small sonic clothes-washer.
There was a door that led to a private bathroom, with an oddly-shaped shower that was far too long and had a raised lip, like an enormous basin. When he waved a hand in front of the activation panel, water poured out of a spigot at the very bottom of the shower, into the basin. Oh, of course -- he'd seen it in books, a bathtub. They hadn't had them on Boeshane; if you wanted a bath you went down to the clear, crystal blue water on the beaches.
He smiled nostalgically. Whole families at the beaches, bathing in the nude, splashing and wrestling in Boeshane's warm bays, playing games on the sand. When he was twelve his next door neighbour Mirra had been bathing one day when he'd noticed for the first time her small round breasts, the wide curve of her hips, and his father had caught him staring and laughed.
"She's pretty," he'd said. "Never regret for a moment the appreciation of beauty, Lo."
He walked back out into the larger room (so large!) and put his hands on his hips. At the foot of the bed was a dresser full of uniforms, and he gratefully shed his civ clothing. Regulation white underwear, tight but not constricting. Black trousers of a much higher quality than what he'd had with the 43rd. A white one-piece shirt with no collar or sleeves, and a black shirt to go over it with silver insignia sewn on and little stripes at the elbows and wrists where his pilot's straps would go when he was allowed to fly officially again. There was a separate collar that snapped onto the shirt, a simple band that brushed against his adam's apple when he fastened it with the heavy silver buckle. A long, light frock-coat that fell to his knees behind, with more silver buckles all the way up to his throat. A uniform.
He felt whole again.
He shed the coat and sat down at the porterminal, calling up the system's front page, studying it. Not much information on Fleet Officer Training, just PR and contact numbers. This was practically enemy territory, and he wanted to be prepared.
The head of the school was Admiral Cullen, and the school's calendar said she was in consultation with incoming first-years this week. He keyed himself in for a nine-am appointment with her, then ventured out past the school's system to the massnet.
His mother had been fond of saying you couldn't trust anything anyone said on the massnet, but he checked Wik anyway to see what they had to say about Quantico. Not much, as it turned out, though he picked up a little slang. First years were Skins, Admiral Levy had told him that much, and it was because of their shaved heads. Second years were affectionately called Peachfuzz but the collective term was Twos. Third years like himself were Cadets. Fourth years were Senior Cadets.
Cadet Lo. It was a little mortifying, after having been Corp Lo for two years, but he'd deal with it. Skin Lo would have been much worse.
The porterminal beeped and a little window popped up. MESSAGE FROM ADM. E. CULLEN. Lo touched it open. Form letter.
You are confirmed to meet with Adm. Cullen at 0900 tomorrow. A reminder alert has been set for 0845. Current time is 1344. Thank you.
He considered his next move. Recon would be wise, but getting lost in the ship would be easy. Research, then. Plan of attack.
He closed the message and was about to see if he could trawl the massnet for maps when another message popped up. He touched that one open, and grinned.
Welcome Cadet Lo Boeshane. Your login and password information are below. Please visit the Secured Academy Server and confirm your presence on Quantico Station.
Please reset your password from default when you log in.
Memo Base: All official communication is passed to you through Memo Base. When you log in to MemoBase for the first time, this temporary porterminal account will be terminated.
Resource Base: Room scheduling, maintenance calls, and other physical-requirement functions of Quantico Station are routed through the Resource Base.
Quartermaster: Requisition forms and supply needs.
FleetJournal: Your secure-server journal and social network during Fleet Officer Training. Cadets of any level found using a secure-server journal outside of Fleetnet will be disciplined. Please be aware your public communication is monitored. Private communication falls under the Free Privacy Ordinance of 4829 and is not monitored.
If you have any questions please contact the Cadet Officer.
Well. Very informative. Lo logged into the Secured Academy Server and made a beeline for Resource Base, where he hit the jackpot.
Maps of the station, complete with restricted-access notations. Excellent.
He popped out his new porterminal and moved to the bed to begin the long afternoon task of memorising the station, level by level. At 2200 promptly he took off his uniform, placed it carefully in the sonic washer, considered the soft, loose uniform pyjamas, and then went to bed naked.
Ianto came off the morphine three days later.
Gwen had spent most of her time at the hospital; whenever she showed her face at the Hub Jack ordered her back there, so she finally gave up and just reported for duty at visiting hours every morning. She did catch up on a lot of paperwork, and Rhys came by at lunch to bring her food and have hilarious, half-coherent conversations with Ianto about rugby and local Cardiff politics. Ianto hadn't remarked on Jack's absence so far, but the more lucid he became, the more she saw the way he watched the door, the way he sometimes seemed to want to ask.
He was also, she discovered, a fusser -- fussed with his IV line until it had to be re-inserted, fussed with the bedsheets, fussed that he couldn't get a proper wash, fussed that he couldn't shave properly, fussed at his bandages. She really was just about at her wit's end, that third day, when a strange man walked into the room.
"...don't see what all the bother is about. This must be the right place. If I've said it once I've said it a thousand times -- "
"It's sheer folly to mess about with the stream of time, yes, Grandfather," said a second voice, and a young girl -- surely not older than about fourteen -- entered behind the old man.
"You just keep that at the forefront of your mind, hm?" the old man told her. He turned to Gwen, who gaped at him in surprise. "Good afternoon. Is this Ianto Jones's room?"
Gwen glanced at Ianto, who was stealing a furtive, questioning look at her. He probably wasn't sure if he was seeing things.
"Well, speak up," the man said impatiently.
"Who wants to know?" Ianto asked. The man snorted.
"Impudent! Impudent! Are you or are you not Ianto Jones?"
"Grandfather," the young woman said, in a despairing tone. "I'm very sorry," she told Ianto. "This is my Grandfather, he's the Doctor. Oh -- not one of your doctors, naturally. I'm Susan. We've come to fetch Ianto Jones."
"Fetch me where?" Ianto asked hoarsely.
"There's no time for this nonsense," the Doctor said. Not their Doctor, Gwen would have recognised him -- but there was a hint of their Doctor's hawk-nose and strong chin about this one, too. Perhaps he was older -- so old he'd forgotten them.
"Did Jack Harkness send you?" she asked shrewdly.
"Jack who?" the man asked. "Nonsense. Levy sent me. Owed him a favour. Come on, young man, out of bed with you."
Susan was already at the bedside, offering Ianto her shoulder to lean on. Gwen took out her phone and speed-dialled Jack.
"For pity's sake, what are all these tubes?" the Doctor asked, examining the IV, the cannula and the heart-monitor Ianto wore. "Off with them all. Ridiculous primitive medicine."
"Jack," Gwen said, when Jack answered the phone. She rose and tried to block the girl, Susan, out of the way. Ianto was agitated, pulling back from the Doctor and his attempts to remove the cannula from his nose. "There's a man here claiming to be the Doctor, he says Ianto has to go with him."
"Put Ianto on," Jack ordered. Gwen elbowed past Susan and held the phone to Ianto's ear. She could hear Jack, even over the Doctor's tutting -- "Ianto, this sounds stupid and dangerous and I know that, but you have to go with him."
"Jack," Ianto said, panic rising in his voice. "I know what happens when the Doctor -- "
"That's not going to happen to you, I promise. Go with him. Go with him, Ianto."
"He's not our Doctor," Gwen said, putting the phone back to her own ear.
"Not your -- ! I should think not!" the Doctor squawked. "Your Doctor indeed, I'm my own Doctor, thank you very much."
"I can't explain this, Gwen, but he has to go with him. Give Ianto the backpack at the foot of the bed and tell him it's okay. He'll be safe, I swear."
Gwen looked despairingly at Ianto. "Jack says you'll be safe."
Ianto looked back and forth from Gwen's face to the Doctor's scowl to Susan's earnest smile. He bit his lip and pulled the tape off his arm, removing the IV needle with a grunt.
"That's the ticket! Good man," the Doctor said, as Susan helped pull the cannula over his head. When he took the heart-monitor off, an alarm sounded; the Doctor thwacked it in a very precise place, and it stopped abruptly. "Come along, we haven't much time."
"Where are we going?" Ianto asked, unsteady on his feet. Gwen gathered up the backpack and pressed it into his hands; Susan had her arm around his waist and was helping him towards the door.
"Never you mind that, young man, it's a short walk and you'll be fine," the Doctor said, patting his shoulder. Gwen followed them out into the hallway. A blue police box -- the Doctor's blue police box -- stood there, looking dark and imposing in the clean white hospital light. Ianto glanced back at her, and Gwen hurried forward to give him a sideways hug. As she did so, she flipped her phone open with her other hand and pressed the camera button.
"Jack says you'll be fine," she told him, and let go long enough for Ianto and Susan to disappear into an interior that looked not unlike the hallway they were standing in: white, clinical, scientific. She tilted the phone upward and clicked the shutter -- hopefully her angling was right, and she'd get a picture of the Doctor at least, if not his granddaughter.
"Now, don't fret about a thing," the Doctor told her. "You mustn't worry. Your young man is in very capable hands."
"But -- " Gwen began.
"Hush! Hush now. Run along," the Doctor said, with infuriating condescension, and disappeared inside the police box, closing the door after him. There was nothing more she could do but stand and gape as a light on the top began to flash, a mechanical groaning filled the air, and the police box disappeared.
A nurse came up behind her, glanced into Ianto's room, and then frowned. "Where's Mr. Jones gone? He's not supposed to be out of bed."
Gwen turned around slowly, and said the only thing she could think of to say that would cover this kind of situation: "Torchwood."
At 0845 the following morning, Station Time, Lo presented himself at the Admiral's office (he'd only got lost once on the way) in a crisp, fresh uniform and with a brightly-scrubbed face. Her aide seemed amused, and told him the admiral would be with him shortly. Lo thought he should probably sit down, but the office waiting room had several paintings of various battles hanging on the walls, and he couldn't resist the urge to look at them. The Admiral's aide didn't seem to mind.
He was studying one, which from the look of the ships had to be a long time ago, when the Admiral's aide looked up from his porterminal and smiled. "Cadet Boeshane, the Admiral will see you now."
The door in the wall behind him opened silently, and Lo hurried through. Inside, the Admiral's office was brightly lit, and the entire back wall was a scroll screen, designed to give the impression that it was a window looking out on the stars beyond the hull of the station. He spared a bare second to take this in before standing to attention in front of the Admiral's desk.
Admiral Elyce Cullen was a woman built on strong lines, by no means young anymore but still broad-shouldered and solid-looking. She had hair that was short enough to be spacer-cut, and Lo wondered if she taught fighter-flying or just enjoyed it as a hobby. She did not look like a woman one would want to tangle with.
"Good morning, Cadet," she said, looking up from her porterminal. "At ease."
Lo let his hands drop.
"Have a seat, Lo," she added, gesturing to the chair on the other side of her desk. He pulled it out and sat stiffly on the edge. She regarded him for a while.
"I was surprised to see you register for a meeting with me, especially so soon," she said finally. "I thought you'd probably spend a few days enjoying your freedom on the station first."
"I saw you were consulting with Skins," Lo replied. "I'm as new as they are."
"Yes, you are," she agreed, leaning forward. "But you're being entered as a Cadet. On the recommendation of Admiral Levy who, don't get me wrong, I respect enough to trust in these matters. You look a little bit like him, actually."
"Few people have said so aloud, sir."
The Admiral smiled. "That's a very diplomatic answer, Lo. I think our politics instructor will like you. Now, why don't you tell me a bit about yourself, and we'll see about setting up an appropriate class schedule."
Lo frowned. "Have you read my file, sir?"
"Your file is classified," Admiral Cullen replied. Lo blinked. "Admiral Levy is a fine judge of character and a good tactician but he's not much on details. If he wants you to start with the Cadets, that's fine, but remembering to tell me why he wants it, well. Bless his heart, he tries."
Lo watched her eyes, rather than listening very closely to her words, and decided she was lying. Not about the classified file, he was sure that was true, but about Levy not remembering to give her access to it. Admiral Levy didn't seem like a man who ever forgot anything like that. Which meant Levy had deliberately blocked his file from view, and what he told the Admiral would be what shaped her opinion of him.
He decided he respected Levy. A man who could lay traps for him that would spring shut days after they'd parted ways, that was a man with a fair amount of cunning in his head, and Lo respected cunning. How much he told the Admiral, and how he told her, would affect both his life at the school and his standing with Levy.
"So," Admiral Cullen finished, "why don't you read me in on the important parts?"
And Lo did -- he told her briefly about growing up on Boeshane, and noticed her perturbed look when he mentioned his parents' death and the strafing of his home planet. He listed off the battles he'd been in, with their designation numbers when he recalled them so that she could look them up. He told her about flying rustbuckets and learning maintenance and engineering; he told her he'd been wounded in a rustbucket malfunction after a battle (which was almost the truth), and that since the tide of the war seemed to turn around that time, Admiral Levy had taken a personal interest in his predicament and recommended him for Fleet Officer Training.
"Well, the Admiral was right, you'd be wasted learning basic discipline and comportment with the Skins," she said, at the end of it. "Over the next two weeks we'll give you a few tests to place you academically, but I'm confident you can enter most third-year classes without issue. MathSci might be difficult. How's your writing?"
Lo frowned. "My writing, sir?"
"Yes. You can read and write, I assume. Any good at either?"
His frown deepened. "I like to read, sir."
"Good, you'll be doing a lot of that. Well, I suppose we'll find out soon enough. Are you interested in any electives? Engineering, Drill, Historic Honours?"
Lo didn't know what Historic Honours were, but Drill sounded boring. "Will I get to work on ships if I take Engineering?"
Admiral Cullen smiled at him. "Are you a wing-head, Lo?"
"I suspect I might be," he said hesitantly, uncertain what a wing-head was.
"I'll sign you up to get your flight clearance. I'm also going to put in a request for medical to contact you about your rehabilitation -- I understand it's not complete. That will include a psychiatric evaluation," she added. Lo looked puzzled.
"I'm not seeing things, sir," he said.
"There's more than one kind of psychiatric disorder, Lo. You lost your family very young and spent some of your most formative years in a rigid military structure, under constant threat of attack. Now, I am all for a rigid military structure in its place, but child, in that uniform you look like you're about twelve. I want to make sure that we train you to be a healthy, flexible-minded leader as well as an honourable officer."
"Oh," Lo said, still not entirely sure what she meant. "Well, yes, sir."
"I can see why Levy took a shine to you. Now, off you go. My aide will send you a testing schedule by the end of the day. One word of advice, Lo..." she added, as he stood. He remained on his feet, at attention. "Don't make friends with the Skins. It'll only make life harder on you. When your fellow Cadets come in you'll either have to stand with the underclassmen, which is not where you belong, or abandon them for the upperclassmen, which they'll resent you for."
"Yes, sir," Lo agreed.
"Very well. Dismissed."
He turned smartly and walked out, because at least if his mind was in turmoil he could still look sharp while he made his exit. Once he was in the corridor, past the eagle eye of the Admiral's Aide, he leaned against the wall and exhaled slowly. That hadn't been so terrible. But of course now they would be giving him tests on math and science and history and writing and who knew what else. He should study for those, he should be prepared; he wanted to do as well as possible so that they wouldn't put him in with a bunch of Skins.
No time to waste, then. He pushed away from the wall and hurried down the corridor to his quarters. The massnet would probably have sites about what kind of math and science he should know; he could study until the Admiral's aide contacted him about his testing.
After Gwen returned to the Hub, Jack sat at his desk for a long time, studying the picture on her phone. It was a little blurry, but it captured the strange Doctor's face in profile, as well as his frock coat, high white collar, and old-fashioned tie.
"It's not a Doctor I know," he said quietly, after a while. He passed the phone back to Gwen and reached into his bottom drawer, where he kept the good whiskey. He poured out a glass for each of them and then sat there, studying his. Gwen took hers and sipped slowly.
"But it is the Doctor?" she asked.
"I think so. I don't know," Jack admitted. "I thought...when someone came for him, I thought it would be me."
"You!" Gwen looked at him, startled. Jack nodded.
"I remember...him. I remember the burns," he said. Gwen frowned at him. "From when I was...younger. But I was younger...centuries from now, so somehow he ended up there. I remembered when I saw him, and I thought, who else would come back in time for Ianto Jones? Nobody. Nobody but me."
"My head hurts," Gwen announced.
Jack smiled. "Sorry. Temporal physics can do that. Sometime in the future, someone came back to now, and brought him forward, and I don't know...why I would do that, but who else would? What did he say?"
"The Doctor?" Gwen asked. Jack nodded. "He said Levy sent him. He said he owed Levy a favour."
"Levy," Jack tested the name. "I don't know any...."
He paused. Gwen watched him.
"I knew a Levy," he murmured. "A long time ago. Yeah. That...clarifies...a few things." He picked up his drink and swallowed, and swallowed, and set it down empty. "Well, so the Doctor owed Levy a favour. That'll be interesting to see."
"Who is he?" Gwen asked.
"Levy? A soldier, in a war about three thousand years from now. I need to...I need to think about this," Jack told her, dread settling in the pit of his stomach. "And to do that I suspect I am going to have to get very, very drunk."
"Right now?" Gwen asked. "It's not gone noon yet."
Jack looked at her and smiled. "No. Not right now. Good point. Okay. Torchwood, we have work to do, let's go do it."
"Jack," Gwen said, putting a hand on his arm as he rose. "Are you sure Ianto's going to be okay?"
"I think so," Jack said, not quite able to look at her. "I trust the Doctor. This time."
Ianto was fuzzy on the details, and his vision swam a little, but he was almost certain that the interior of this TARDIS wasn't the interior he'd seen on the viewscreen when the Daleks had moved the Earth. That had looked dark, organic, amber-lit; this room was stark white-and-silver, white-and-black. The only spot of colour was a very mod-looking lime-green sofa, on which he was currently seated. It was a strange accessory to the room.
The girl sat with him, still smiling brightly. She was so young -- bound to be pretty one day, but still a little gawky and wearing oddly anachronistic clothing. Especially for a space traveler. She reached up and stroked his hair, gently, as a mechanical vibration filled the room.
"It's a very short trip," she told him confidently. "Grandfather's quite good at navigation. Though I have told him the directional stabiliser is on its last legs and he won't listen. Still, it's enough to get us there."
"There?" Ianto asked, confused.
"To the rendezvous spot! It's all very mysterious and Grandfather won't tell me much about it, but he owes this human -- Admiral Levy -- some kind of favour. You're a funny kind of favour," she added, squeezing one of his hands. "Still, I suppose he must like you very much to have us nick you out of history for him. Isn't that funny?"
"Is it?" Ianto asked.
"Poor thing, you're not well, are you? Well, I'm sure Admiral Levy will fix you up."
"I don't know anyone named Admiral Levy," he protested.
"He knows you," the girl replied. The vibration ceased. "Are we there, Grandfather?" she called.
"Just a minute, my child, just a minute!" the Doctor replied testily. "Let me look at the monitors. Now. Here we are. Hm. Yes...yes...atmospheric levels good...visual checks out...yes, I think we've landed quite nicely."
He chuckled, pleased with himself, and pulled a small lever. The doors on the opposite side of the room swung open. The girl stood up and helped him out of the sofa -- he was regretful to leave it, it was actually a very nice sofa -- and walked with him to the door, carrying the backpack Jack had left for him. The Doctor followed.
They stepped out into sunshine, warm moist air, and the sound of a crowded street. Nobody seemed to pay any attention to two time-travelers and a man in his pyjamas stepping out of a phone box.
They were standing on the pavement of a pedestrianised street full of people going about their business; across the brick-laid road there was a row of shops, including what looked like an alien's idea of a fifties diner. The shops were vaguely wrong, somehow; the doorways weren't right, or maybe he was just tired. He was tired. Next to them, a properly paved street curved around into a drive, and as he watched a van -- with no wheels, a floating white van covered in lettering -- pulled up to a much wider doorway.
Oh -- a hospital.
"Are we still in Cardiff?" he asked.
"Goodness no, my boy. Now, Levy said to bring you to these precise coordinates -- pardon me, ma'am," the Doctor said, stopping a woman as she passed. The woman was pink, neon pink, and she had several braids of hair sticking out at odd angles. Ianto wasn't actually sure she was a woman, in fact, but the Doctor had called her ma'am. "Excuse me, ma'am, what day is it?"
"The thirteenth," she said, as if he were an idiot, and walked on.
"Well. Proper location, proper date; I do hope we've hit the right year," the Doctor said, and a momentary look of worry crossed his face. "Levy should be here...aha!"
Ianto stared, openmouthed, as Jack appeared in the crowd -- Jack, wearing a uniform of drab grey, with gold stripes on the arms and a band around his throat with a heavy-looking silver buckle on it.
"Levy! Over here!" the Doctor called, and Jack hurried up to them, breathless.
"Sorry I'm late," he said. Ianto noticed there was grey in his hair, and at his temples. "Come on, you can't stand around on the street," he added, and took Ianto's arm without even saying hello. He dragged him, the Doctor and the girl following, down the pavement and into the building.
"This is all very hurried!" the Doctor protested, as Jack pulled Ianto up to a framework doorway and pushed him through it. Immediately a buzzer sounded, and Ianto found himself in the grip of two large orderlies, only one of them even remotely human-looking. A bed was shoved against his legs and he sat, bewildered.
"Jack," he called, through the doorway.
"I'll be there soon, I promise. Take good care of him!" Jack shouted at the orderlies.
"Who is this Jack fellow?" Ianto heard the Doctor demand, and then one of the orderlies puffed something in Ianto's face, and the world darkened for a while.