NO GREATER GIFT
A/N: Here is the first chapter of my NaNo story. I'll be posted it gradually, because despite reaching 50,000 words, it isn't finished yet. Damn my muse. Now, it's not absolutely necessary, but I would recommend reading my story "Another World" before this one. Otherwise, there are certain references, and the inclusion of some new characters that won't make a lot of sense. You can find it through by checking out my profile page on this site.
This is a cross-over fic with Law & Order: Criminal Intent. I'm posting this sequel at the Torchwood sites, because it is most definitely a Torchwood story - not a Criminal Intent story.
I've marked it with an adult rating, because although it starts off relatively mild, there will be chapters later on with explicit sex, and porbably graphic descriptions of violence and other nasty stuff. Hope you enjoy it....
The new safe house was a dive, even by his standards. After so many months of moving in and out of crappy little houses with dank, smelly rooms and extremely questionable decor, he took all of two minutes to conclude that this was the worst place yet. There were just three rooms — bedroom, bathroom and a room that he figured was supposed to be the living room. There was nothing but artificial light, because what few windows the place had were completely shuttered to protect the occupants inside from anyone nosey enough to be poking around.
The artificial lighting was too bright, too harsh, too everything, and it was giving him a bloody headache. Of course, the alternative was complete darkness, and that was no better, needless to say.
Bloody dark ages, it was, and he couldn’t risk utilising anything from his own time to brighten the situation any — literally or figuratively — because it would only bring their pursuers right to them. It was depressing, and that was putting it very mildly.
Joss Alderley sighed heavily and dropped down onto the crappy couch in the crappy living room of the crappy safe house with a dramatic thud. He was a lithe and wiry man ordinarily, but months on the run had stripped what little fat he’d still had from his body, leaving him looking almost skeletal in appearance. He’d given up looking too closely in the mirror each day at himself. It was simply too depressing.
After months in places with no decent facilities for washing, his hair looked like limp, overcooked pasta, his face was sallow, and he constantly looked like he had a half-grown beard. The latter was the unfortunate result of not having access to a decent razor, let alone the facilities that he was normally used to.
He wasn’t even sure how long they’d been on the run, now. It had been long enough that he occasionally found himself questioning the loyalty that kept him from simply giving up and handing himself and his charge over. But then, he’d look at the precious thing he’d been given to protect, and he’d see the face of his best friend, and all thoughts of surrender fled his mind.
To give up now... or at all... would be the worst kind of betrayal, and he just couldn’t do it. He’d been entrusted with this task, and he’d made a promise that he could not willingly break. No, there would be no surrendering, no matter how many crappy houses they had to go through; no matter how washed out his skin got from the shitty fluorescent lighting; no matter how bleak the situation began to look.
He caught sight of movement out of the corner of his eyes, and looked up from where he sat on the grubby, stained couch to see the reason for his force seclusion coming around the corner, cuddling a ragged looking teddy bear. It was the one personal item that had been salvaged before the agents came after them, however many months ago it had been.
He smiled, despite himself, and reached out to pick the child up as she toddled towards him, arms outstretched in innocent supplication.
“Hey, little button. You should be asleep, cheeky little monkey.”
The little girl threw her arms around his neck and hung on tightly. It was only then, as he felt wetness against his neck, that he realised that she was crying.
“What’s the matter, baby? Bad dreams?”
“Dada,” she whimpered. Her voice was muffled by his shoulder, and was soon followed by a fresh flood of tears.
She had bad dreams a lot, and it wasn’t entirely surprising, given the circumstances that had seen him take unofficial custody of her. He cradled her against him, not expecting an answer. It wasn’t so much that she wasn’t old enough to speak. As near as he knew, she was around three years old, going by the old Earth calendar, and that was plenty old enough for her to be chattering away. She did talk, too. She talked a hell of a lot, but the bottom line was that it didn’t matter how much or how little she talked. When she did speak, it was in a strange language that was a hybrid mix of fifty-first century English and another language that he was entirely unfamiliar with.
Oh, she seemed to understand everything he said, but it seemed she simply had no desire to learn to speak English. Only a few words were distinguishable to his ears. ‘Unna’ was one that he had concluded to mean ‘Uncle’ and he was quite happy to accept that, regardless of whether it was true or not. The other that she used most was ‘Dada’, and the meaning of that was painfully obvious. It damned near broke his heart that it was something he was powerless to do anything about.
And so Joss simply held her as she cried, and murmured nonsense words of comfort to the little girl.
Slowly, the tears eased, and she leaned back from him, staring up at him with intense green eyes that seemed to look straight through him.
Joss sighed again, and brushed the almost jet black, silver-streaked hair back from her face. She was a truly beautiful child, he reflected sadly, much like the china dolls that he’d seen pictures of in the more ancient history books of Old Earth. She looked fragile, as though the wrong move might just break her into irreparable pieces.
Fragile, however, did not equate to helpless.
He nearly laughed at the thought of this child being helpless, when nothing could have been farther from the truth. The truth was terrifying, and enough to just about stop his heart if he let himself think too heavily on it. The problem was, the ones pursuing them were all too aware of just how not helpless this child was, as well, and they were determined to do anything to get their filthy claws on her — even if it meant chasing her through time itself. Time and space were no boundaries to those bastards, Joss reflected bitterly, and it was their corrupt determination that had resulted in an innocent little girl being deprived of the only parent she’d known.
He felt sick to think about it, and the grim truth was that he didn’t even know whether the child’s father was still alive. He hoped he was. Gods, he hoped so... and yet, he knew better than to hope. The Agency was ruthless, and he knew for a fact that his friend had not escaped before they came for him. It had only been a miracle that the little girl had been with him at the time, and he recalled the day bitterly.
He’d responded to a call from his friend, acutely aware of the distress in the other man’s voice as they spoke over what Joss now knew had been a tapped communications line. Oh, the request had been simple enough. Could he come and pick Eleya up and take her out for a couple of hours? Maybe take her to the Tabor Viewing Platform, and treat her to some Granerium ice cream. She’d apparently been asking for days, but Dada wasn’t well, and he didn’t have the energy to leave the house.
Joss had agreed easily enough. He loved Eleya, even though their ability to communicate was limited to ‘Unna’, ‘Dada’, ‘hungry’ and ‘home’. Turning up at their little home, he’d soon realised that his friend hadn’t been kidding about being unwell. He’d been pale, sweating, and overcome with the shakes.
Just a case of Agiean Flu, Joss had been assured. Nothing to worry about. He’d be over it in a day or so, but it was cruel to keep Eleya cooped up inside. Not to mention, he really wanted to avoid her getting sick as well.
And so Joss had taken her out for what had turned out to be a very pleasant few hours. It was only when he brought her back to an empty house that had been thoroughly trashed that he realised the frightening truth.
The Agiean Flu line had been just that — a line. Oh, Joss didn’t doubt for a moment that his buddy had been sick, but a little discreet probing had unearthed that the illness had been man-made, and not a result of natural causes. A friend of a friend of a friend had made inquiries on the sly, and he’d eventually found his way to a vendor who had been ‘convinced’ to spike the guy’s coffee with a non-fatal but still debilitating synthetic microbe.
The vendor had been unrepentant for his actions, saying that the credits he’d been paid were more than worth it. Joss had answered that callous statement by beating the son of a Terrilian senseless.
The end result was the same, though. The poor bastard must have realised what had happened as soon as the illness overtook him. He had known they were coming for them, Joss had concluded, and he’d also known that if he’d fled with his little girl, they would have been very quickly captured. And so, he’d done the only thing he could think of — he’d given care of his daughter to his best friend, trusting him to look after her and keep her safe from those who wanted to exploit her.
Joss felt sick every time he thought about it. He didn’t know whether Eleya’s dada was alive or dead, whether he was still in the hands of the agency, or whether he might have somehow managed to escape. He doubted it, though. If the guy had escaped, he would have found them. Unless...
He tried to shut that thought down before it could take hold. He didn’t want to consider the alternative. It was simply too painful to consider.
“Dada...” Eleya whispered again, staring at him with that mournful expression. Joss hugged her to him again, and pressed a kiss to the top of his head.
“I’m sorry, baby. No Dada. But I bet wherever he is, he’s missing you something fierce.”
He didn’t try to say anything about Dada coming for her soon, because he knew in reality that the odds were she would never see her father again. The Agency... The bloody Agency....
“Fuckers,” he whispered bitterly, feeling his own eyes burning as Eleya buried her face in his shoulder once more.
He sank back into the couch, the little girl in his arms, and began to hum softly to soothe her. Gradually, he felt her relax against him, and eventually slip into a light sleep. He made no effort to get up and put her back to bed, though. Instead, he continued to cuddle her to him, taking comfort from the way she so trustingly snuggled in against him. Gradually, his eyelids grew heavy and he allowed himself to be lulled into an uneasy sleep.
Joss awoke to a piercing beeping sound. He stirred, and grunted softly as his sleep-fogged mind first registered the irritating noise, followed soon by the realisation that his left arm was numb. Grimacing, he carefully shifted the sleeping girl so that he could slip his arm out from behind her, and reach his vortex manipulator. It technically wasn’t his manipulator. It had actually belonged to a young Agent who had stupidly assumed he could bring them in on his own.
The poor kid was dead before he could even pull out his weapon. Joss had almost felt sorry for him. Almost.
He’d paused just long enough to divest the kid of his manipulator before they’d fled yet another safe house, and after hours upon hours of tinkering — interspersed with much cursing and threatening of inanimate objects — Joss had finally managed to get the manipulator to working order, so that he could use it without it alerting the Agency to their whereabouts. And now, it was beeping at him.
He lifted the flap, and felt his heart skip a beat. It was the proximity alarm that had been triggered. Someone was approaching the house. Someone who was not likely to be a friend.
“Lee-lee, wake up,” he whispered, giving the little girl a gentle shake to rouse her. She stirred and peered up at him sleepily, clutching her bear to her chest.
“Bad people, Lee. We have to go, baby. Got to get out of here, quick.”
He doubted she really understood anything beyond ‘bad people’, but that was more than enough. Her eyes widened in what would have almost been a comical gesture, had the situation been any less serious, and she scrambled off the couch.
Getting up, he scooped the child up into his arms and headed for the bedroom, and the hidden exit that was to be used only in an emergency. As he went, he cursed silently in every language he knew. They’d only been in this particular house for less than a week. How the hell had they been found so fast?
It was a question that he didn’t have time to contemplate. Angry and more than a little scared, Joss held Eleya with one arm and shoved boxes out of the way with the other, revealing a trapdoor in the floor. He was just reaching for the handle when the sound of the door crashing inwards forced a yelp out of him, and a shriek of fright out of Eleya. Too late, he realised just how long the proximity alarm must have been going for before he was actually woken by it.
“Unna?” Eleya whimpered, clinging to him in terror.
“Hold on, baby,” he murmured. Abandoning the trapdoor, he stumbled through into the bathroom and slammed carefully shut the door behind them, sealing the door locked with his stolen manipulator. With any luck, the intruders would think they had gone down through the trapdoor, and it might buy them a few extra precious minutes.
There was no shouting, or any hint of talking at all from the invading Agents, not that Joss expected any less. These men and women were professionals in every sense of the word, and they had no need to be shouting orders back and forth. Joss suspected he had a couple of minutes at the most before they were found, and it was barely enough time to do what he needed to do.
“Unna...” Eleya cried in miserable fright. He didn’t respond, desperate to get the coordinates right that he was plugging frantically into the manipulator’s key pad. He only had to get one digit wrong, and the consequences could be beyond disastrous.
A loud thud against the door startled him almost into tumbling backwards into the wall, and his fingers skimmed inadvertently over the key pad. There was a flare of light behind them as the manipulator triggered a time shift. Joss looked from it to the child in growing panic. He couldn’t be a hundred percent certain that he’d got the coordinates right... Hell, he couldn’t even be seventy percent certain.
“Open the door, Alderley!” a distinctly female voice spoke up on the other side of the locked door. “Surrender yourself and the child, immediately!”
“Like hell I will,” Joss muttered. “Oh... shit...”
The time shift was already starting to fade again, and he knew damned well that he did not have the time to input more coordinates. They would have the door open in a matter of moments, and then it would be over, for the both of them. He himself did not matter, but if the child was allowed to fall into Agency hands, then his life wouldn’t be worth living, even if he somehow escaped alive.
He heard the distinct sound of the door being unlocked remotely, and knew he had only seconds to decide what to do. In that split second, he made his choice. Even as the door opened, Joss ripped the manipulator off his wrist and shoved it into the hands of the child beside him. Then, as the time shift began to fade entirely, he grabbed her by the shoulders and pushed her through the portal.
The last thing he heard before the portal winked out of existence, and before he felt the piercing sting of a tranquiliser dart, was the heartbreaking scream of a three year-old as she was delivered to an unknown world, an unknown time, and an unknown fate.
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