NO GREATER GIFT

Alex rejoined them an hour later, looking as though she'd never been injured.

"They're incredible," she admitted. "I won't even have any scars!"

"Our healers take pride in their skills," Anna said. "They are among the best in the universe." She looked around at each of them intently. "I have assembled a group to accompany you to the Time Agency. Jack, they will follow your orders without question, but you must remember that they are doing this freely. Whatever happens, you are not to bear the burden of guilt. Do you understand me?"

"Easier said than done, Anna."

She smiled sympathetically at him.

"Yes, well, we will work on that if necessary. Now, I suggest you explain what you're about to do to your daughter. Otherwise, she will not understand why you're leaving her behind."

Jack felt his stomach turn. That was something he'd been hoping to put off for as long as possible, but Anna was right. He needed to tell her, or it would just seem like he was abandoning her. That was something he would not allow.

"C'mon, sweetheart," Jack murmured as he led his puzzled daughter away from the group. "We need to have a little talk."

"Dada...?" Eleya asked. Her earlier joy had evaporated in favour of an anxiety and fear that Jack hated himself for causing. Out of earshot of the others, Jack sat them both down and gathered the little girl to him.

"There's no easy way to say this," he said, slipping with ease into the hybrid dialect that he and Eleya had created between them. "Baby, I have to go away for a little while."

Not unexpectedly, Eleya wrapped her arms around him and gave a distressed cry.

"No! Don't go away! Don't leave again!"

"Eleya, I have to, but I swear it won't be like last time. I will come back. I promise you, baby. There is nothing in this universe that can keep me from coming back to you."

She was not convinced, and continued to cling fiercely to him.

"Dada stay. Tad stay. Aunty Alex stay. We all stay together. Please, Dada..."

Jack wanted to weep. Oh, how he wanted that, too, but there were five lives that depended on him taking a stand now.

"Eleya, listen to me. Our friends are in trouble. Tosh, Owen, Gwen, Bobby and Donna are all in trouble. The nasty people who have been chasing us took them prisoner. They're in a lot of danger right now, and if I don't try to help them..."

"They might get dead," Eleya said softly, tearfully. Jack nodded, hugging her tightly. He hated himself for having to be so brutally honest, but Anna had been right. Eleya had needed to know the truth, or she would never have understood.

"I'll help!"

Jack did a double-take.

"What? Eleya..."

"I'm a big girl," she told him with a ferocity that was born of childish determination. "I can help. I'm brave too. Wanna help."

Overcome with emotion, Jack hugged Eleya to him fiercely.

"I love you so much, Li-Li. Yes, you are very brave and I am so proud of you... but you can't come. Before you argue with me, let me explain."

Eleya pouted, but waited for him to speak.

"All right. Li-Li, I love you so much. I don't doubt how brave you are, but the truth is that I'm not as brave as you think. There's something that scares me so badly that even just thinking about it makes me sick to my stomach."

"What?" Eleya asked tentatively. Jack rested his forehead against hers.

"Losing you. If I took you with me, I would be so worried and scared for you that I wouldn't be paying attention to anything else."

Tears spilled down her cheeks.

"If I come, someone else might get hurt because you're worried about me."

"Baby, I'm worried you might get hurt because I wouldn't be thinking clearly. I need you to be safe, Li-Li. I need you to stay here with Grammy and Grappa so that I don't have to worry if you're okay. And then when we've rescued our friends and stopped the nasty people once and for all, then I'll come and get you and we can be a family again."

Eleya clutched at Jack tightly and cried softly into his shoulder. Jack was seriously starting to hate himself when movement alerted him to Ianto's presence. The younger man seated himself carefully beside Jack, and put his arms around both man and child.

"Tad," Eleya whimpered. Ianto kissed her forehead.

"Dada and I will only be gone a little while, I promise. And when we come back, you won't have to run from the bad people every again."

Eleya crawled from Jack's arms into Ianto's.

"I'm scared."

"We know, baby," Ianto murmured. "But I promise you that I'll look after your dada. You're not going to lose him again."

Eleya pulled back to look at them both imploringly.

"Tad look after Dada. Dada look after Tad. Dada and Tad both have to come back."

"We will," Jack promised her fervently. Even if I have to kill every last one.


Anna had organised a team of five Mendyrians to accompany them. The real surprise was when it became apparent that Anna was among that number. Jack knew better than to openly question her decision, but still risked a disapproving frown.

"Jack," she said with a smile that was borderline patronising, "how could I possibly ask any of my people to undertake a task that I am not willing to attempt myself? You are a born leader. You know I'm right."

He had no argument for that, much to his annoyance.

And then, finally, they were ready to move. Jal and Kyrii had taken Eleya with them already, as Jack didn't want to upset her further by watching the TARDIS disappear.

"Are we ready?" the Doctor asked, eyeing the group with approval. In addition to himself, Jack, Ianto and Alex, there was also Anna, Krandl, Kree and a younger man called Lu that Jack didn't personally know, and...

"Weren't there five of you coming with us?" Ianto asked. Anna nodded.

"Yes, and I do believe she is coming now."

On cue, the gateway that led to the area where the TARDIS sat opened and the last of their number came running.

"Maera?" Jack whispered hoarsely, stunned by the appearance of yet another familiar face. Anna smiled indulgently.

"She would not be left behind. And I suggest you don't try to convince her otherwise. Our Maera has become a formidable talent, and I don't doubt she will be ready for a position on the Elder Council before long."

Jack barely heard her. His focus on the young woman running towards him, tears on her face and in her eyes.

"Jack!"

She collided with him and Jack barely kept them both from toppling over.

"We thought we'd lost you forever," Maera sobbed as she clung to him fiercely.

"It's okay," Jack whispered, hugging her equally ferociously. "We found our way home."

"I am so sorry, my brother. I am so sorry I didn't stop them from taking you."

Jack sighed softly.

"It wasn't your fault, Maera. There wasn't anything you could have done. It happened too quickly. It was fate."

"Rubbish," she snapped. "I don't believe in fate. Neither do you."

"Once upon a time, I didn't. Now, I'm not so sure. What I am sure of is that in being so determined to have Eleya, the Agency has sealed its own fate. I'm ending it, Maera. The Agency, and anyone within the Agency who tries to stop me."

She met his gaze unflinchingly, and he knew she understood without him needing to spell it out.

"You know I'm with you all the way, Jack. I've been waiting a long time to pay back the hurt those shakkrans caused when they took you and Eleya. I'm with you all the way, brother."

"Just promise me you won't take any unnecessary risks? Especially for me? It's important, Maera. I don't have time to explain it to you right now, but don't put yourself at risk, even if it looks like I might be killed. Especially if it looks like that could happen. Promise me, Maera, or you won't be coming with us."

She looked puzzled, but agreed nonetheless.

"I swear, Jack."

The relief on his face was palpable.

"Thank you."

"Great. Now, let's end this so you and your little one can be safe."


Bobby awoke to a screaming headache, the likes of which he'd rarely experienced. It reminded him of the horrendous effect of Jack's vortex manipulator, only far worse. He opened his eyes slowly, and was alarmed by the greyish-white hue that obscured his vision.

"Shut your eyes and try to relax. It'll ease off quicker if you don't fight it."

The words were English, although in an odd dialect that Bobby had to think about in order to understand. Going against instinct, Bobby made a concerted effort to do as the as-yet unidentified person suggested. It took a few minutes, but the crushing pain gradually subsided to a tolerable level. Warily, he opened his eyes again and felt considerable relief at having his sight back to normal. His gaze found the one who had spoken and he started up, only to suffer a renewed wave of pain.

"Easy, there. Don't be in a hurry to move, my friend. You aren't going anywhere anyway."

A single look around told Bobby it was the truth. He and his mysterious companion were in a small cell, no bigger than ten or twelve feet square and surrounded by walls of light that hummed ominously.

"Electrified walls?" Bobby asked, grimacing at the thickness of his tongue as he tried to speak. There was a slight pause, Bobby assumed as his cellmate tried to comprehend his dialect in return.

"And then some. Not enough of a charge to kill you, but you'll be walking with a limp for the next galactic year."

"Thanks for the advice," Bobby said ruefully. Sitting up slowly, he offered a slightly trembling hand to the other man. "I'm Bobby Goren."

"Joss Alderley. Mind me asking who you pissed off to end up here?"

"I don't think it was personal. Not against me, anyway. But I think they believe I can tell them where to find what they're looking for."

"Which would be what...?"

Bobby hesitated, unwilling to trust a complete stranger in an unfamiliar environment. Joss smiled grimly.

"Good. You're smart. Might help you last a little longer."

Bobby eyed him critically, taking in the man's pale, bruised and emaciated features.

"How long have you been here?"

"Don't know for sure. Maybe two galactic standard months... I don't think it's been longer than that. It's easy to lose track when you've jumped around as much as I have."

"When are you from?"

Joss's eyebrows shot up at Bobby's turn of phrase.

"Fifty-first century. You?"

"Twenty-first."

"Damn. They must be desperate, to be picking people from as far back as that. Tell me, Bobby, did they take you on your own? Or was there more than one of you?"

"There were six of us altogether, but they left one of us behind... Something about leaving a message for our captain."

Bobby caught the look Joss gave him, and nodded.

"I know what that means, but I have to trust that Alex could protect herself. I won't accept that she's... that she didn't..."

Joss sighed.

"Look, I'm not the type to offer false hope, but I hope you're right, I really do. Enough blood has been spilt already."

Bobby fell quiet, turning his attention to his surroundings. There was precious little to see. It was impossible to see through the walls, and he could hear nothing beyond to suggest that anyone else was within close proximity. He was frightened, and he wasn't ashamed to admit it. Despite that, though, he found that he didn't regret his decision. To have stayed with the NYPD would surely have killed him in spirit, if not in body. Even now, trapped as he was, he felt at peace with his choices.

"If you don't mind me saying so, you don't seem like a man who knows his life is on the line."

Bobby couldn't help but smile.

"Oh, I do know it, believe me, and I am scared. I just have faith in my captain."

The former detective swallowed an urge to laugh. Those were words he hadn't felt comfortable saying since Jimmy Deakins resigned from the NYPD.

"Must be some bloke, if you're trusting him to save you from the Agency."

Joss was pushing subtly for answers. Bobby knew it, but had no intention of allowing himself to be drawn in.

"He is," he answered simply. "The Agency isn't going to know what hit them. He'll help you too, Joss, if you want him to."

Joss huffed derisively.

"Excuse me if I don't get my hopes up. This isn't the type of place that a person can walk in and out of at will, unless they're a part of the hierarchy."

"Time Agents, you mean?"

Curiosity filled Joss's face.

"That's more than I expected a twenty-first century human to know. Just who is this amazing captain of yours that he could clue you in to the existence of the fifty-first century equivalent of the CIA, and that you seem to think the Agency can't stop him?"

"Please tell me the CIA isn't still functioning," Bobby asked with a grimace. Joss chuckled humourlessly.

"No, it isn't. I'm just well-versed in Earth history. So, are you going to answer me or not?"

Bobby hesitated long enough to recall that Taark and her crew already knew that Jack was in the picture pun not intended and that he was also likely to arrive at any time. He only hoped that Alex had been able to give him sufficient warning, so that Jack knew to expect a welcoming party.

"I don't know his real name," Bobby said finally, "but he goes by the name Jack Harkness."

"Popular name, Jack. I'm stuck in this mess because of a bloke by that name. It's not his fault, mind you. I'm not saying that at all. But sometimes, you can't help wondering whether it's really worth it. Especially when it just lands you here."

Bobby gazed at Joss wonderingly, his mind in a whirl. Was it possible that they were talking about the same man? If they were, then did that mean he'd been placed with Joss deliberately? He couldn't discount anything, including the likelihood that one wrong word could land them both in some serious trouble.

He thought back carefully to the assumptions that Taark had made, and decided to take a chance.

"Li-Li found her dada."

Joss froze. His gaze came to rest on Bobby's face, and his expression was equal parts disbelieving and hopeful. Bobby said nothing else. All he offered was a tiny smile before shutting his eyes and attempting to relax and calm his body and mind. He heard Joss let his breath out in a soft huff before the other man settled as well.

No more was said. No more needed to be said.


Dorn scowled as he turned away from the viewer, and his harsh stare quickly found Jaydn Taark.

"Well, that was useless. All we've got is confirmation of what we already know."

"They did say that they hadn't seen him for some time," Taark offered. "Maybe the girl arrived at that location much earlier than we thought.

"Oh, please. I expect the grunts to be imbeciles. Not you. No, he was close by, and he has the little bitch with him. There'll be no more mistakes, Taark. The moment he shows his face, he's to be killed, even if it's in front of the girl. We'll do a complete mind wipe on her if need be, but I am not losing her again."

"What about the prisoners, sir?"

"Well... We need them for bait, but dead meat attracts the animals just as well as live meat. Kill them, and leave the bodies where our prodigal son will find them."

Taark grinned, finding that task much more to her liking.

"Yes, sir."


Whilst Bobby had been expecting it, he was still caught by surprise when the electrified walls vanished and a previously unnoticed door opened. Jaydn Taark walked in with a gun in her hand and a smug grin on her face.

"Come to kill us?" Joss asked in a resigned tone. "You do realise that would be counter-productive? I mean, I assume you are using us as bait to lure Jack and trap him and his little girl?

Jaydn shrugged.

"Well, as Commander Dorn says, dead meat will attract an animal just as well as live meat. Either way, you'll both serve your purposes."

"What are you going to do when he comes?" Bobby asked as he got awkwardly to his feet.

"We're going to kill him, and put an end to it once and for all. Then we'll take his little bitch and... What is so funny?"

Bobby couldn't help himself. He burst out laughing and couldn't stop. The mere thought that these people, who had clearly been a thorn in Jack's side for so long, believed they could get rid of Jack permanently was enough to reduce Bobby to hysterics. He roared with laughter, all the while fully conscious of the strange looks he was getting from both Taark and Joss.

"Are you insane?" Taark demanded.

"It's possible," Bobby admitted. "After all, my mom was legally mentally non compos, and my dad turned out to be a serial killer, so you could argue that he wasn't all there, either. But there is one thing I know for sure."

"And what would that be?" Taark asked, more amused now than anything.

Bobby's hand shot out, grabbing the weapon from her hands and turning it swiftly on her before she could stop him.

"When you've been ordered to execute someone, always take back-up with you."

"Nice move, my friend," Joss remarked. Bobby smiled thinly.

"Just a little move I learnt from my army days. Now, you're going to take us to my friends, and we're going to release them. Is that clear?"

"You're a walking dead man," Taark growled. It seemed that her sense of self-preservation was strong, for she acquiesced and moved back to let them out. "You'll be dead before you can leave."

"You were coming to kill us anyway," Bobby said. "So what's the difference if we delay it for a little bit? Now go. Take us to where you're holding my friends."

"Answer me one thing," Taark said as she started walking. "What did I say that was so funny?"

"You really want to know?"

Taark's scowl deepened.

"I asked, didn't I?"

Bobby chuckled.

"It's just that you have no idea what you're saying when you talk about killing Jack, and you're going to get the shock of your life if you try."

Taark sneered at him over her shoulder.

"Oh, we're not as clueless as you think. We have ways of containing the girl so that we can take her precious daddy about of the equation. She's no threat to us, I assure you."

Joss grimaced, but was stunned to see that Bobby's grin only widened at Taark's retort. Bobby saw him staring, and only winked at him in reassurance.


"Will you bloody sit down? You're giving me a ruddy headache."

Gwen ceased her incessant pacing of the small cell, but refused to sit. It was a small act of defiance, but right then she relished anything that didn't lend itself to her feeling utterly helpless.

Why, though, did she have to be imprisoned with Donna? Why not Tosh? Or better still, Owen or Bobby. What she wouldn't have given right then for a cuddle with someone who was actually capable of showing a little sympathy...

"Oi, snap out of it, blondie. This is no time to start trying out astral projection."

Gwen spun around to glare at the other woman, fed up with what she felt were unwarranted jibes.

"I am not blond! And I was not trying astral projection! I am trying to work out how to get us out of here."

Donna rolled her eyes.

"All right, then. No need to get tetchy."

"Yes, well, I don't see you doing anything productive."

Donna regarded Gwen with a look that spoke volumes about what she thought of Gwen right at that moment.

"I bloody well am. I'm waiting."

"Waiting for what?" Gwen scoffed. A deeper instinct warned her that she was wading into dangerous territory, but fear and adrenalin kept her talking. "Your precious Time Lord to come and save us? Jack said he couldn't land that ship of his in the right time or place to save his own life, let alone anyone else's. Why on earth would you trust him to get it right now?"

Donna's expression turned positively glacial, and she got up to meet Gwen head-on.

"Listen here, Little Miss Sunshine. I don't know what your issues are, and I don't really care. What I care about is getting out of this alive, and you aren't helping with that. Now, our best chance is the Doctor. You don't have to like it, but you sure as hell better accept it. Got it?"

Gwen started hard at Donna for a good half a minute before a weak smile flickered across her face.

"You really must give him a run for his money."

Donna returned the smile with a smug grin of her own.

"You're better believe it, sweetheart."

A soft groan escaped Gwen's lips and she ran her fingers through her hair in agitation.

"I'm sorry. We shouldn't be arguing. I'm just..."

"Scared?" Donna suggested lightly with an understanding and sympathy in her eyes that Gwen had to fight not to snap at.

"A little, yeah."

Finally, a genuine smile formed on Donna's face.

"So am I. Doesn't mean we have to let it control us, does it?"

Gwen stared at Donna, taking in the other woman's sure and determined expression. Her entire countenance radiated confidence, and for that Gwen couldn't help feeling a tiny hint of jealousy.

"Do you really believe that he'll show up in time to help us? The Doctor, I mean?"

"He did the last time, didn't he? When Jack, Ianto and Bobby were all in trouble, he was right in time to save them."

With some reluctance, Gwen conceded that point.

"All right, I'll agree with that, but..."

Donna held up both hands, silencing Gwen.

"You trust Jack, right?"

"With my life," Gwen answered without hesitation.

"Well, Jack trusts the Doctor with his. Why don't you think on that for a while before we keep on with this conversation?"

Chastened, Gwen sank to the floor and buried her face in her arms.

"We have to get out of here," she whispered. "Jack, where are you?"


to be continued...

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