Maera uttered a distressed cry as Jack's lifeless body crumpled to the floor, while Ianto and Bobby looked on in silent, weary resignation. Dorn's victory was short-lived, though. As her cry escalated to a scream of rage, Maera unleashed her power.

Dorn's smirk was wiped from his face in an instant as an invisible force lifted him clean off his feet and slammed him hard enough into a nearby wall to drive the air from his lungs. There he hung, humiliated and helpless.

"You're Mendyrian," Taark exclaimed in shock. Maera gave her a feral look.

"That's right, and your commander just killed my brother."

"Someone, stop her," Dorn wheezed out. Weapons rose, but a simple glance from Maera broke them into ineffectual pieces. One of the agents ran at her, but he never made it within three feet. Maera hissed softly, her eyes narrowing to slits with the effort of concentration. The agent's eyes rolled back in his head, and he collapsed in a dead faint. His fellow agents quickly followed suit until out of all their enemies, only Dorn and Taark remained conscious.

"Let him go and surrender," Taark demanded -- a demand that seemed ludicrous when she was unarmed. She was ignored as both Bobby and Ianto went to Joss's aid.

"He's not dead," Bobby stated simply as he peeled away the man's shirt to get a better look at the injury.

"What about Jack?" Maera asked tremulously. Ianto glanced briefly at Bobby before speaking flatly.

"He's dead. Maera, do you have any healing abilities?"

"No," she whispered. Her voice shook and tears spilled down her cheeks freely. She was barely holding it together, and it showed.

"Maera!" Ianto snapped. "Remember what Jack said. It'll be all right. Now, deal with those two so that we can get Jack and...?"

"Joss," Bobby confirmed. Ianto felt a jolt of recognition from Jack's stories, followed by a renewed desire to save the man's life. If they could just get Joss to the TARDIS, he might have a chance. He would not leave Jack behind, though, and he didn't think he and Bobby could manage both Jack and Joss.

A heavy thud dragged him out of his thoughts and he focused on the sight of Dorn, collapsed in a heap on the floor. Taark, however, had broken ranks and was running away down the corridor as fast as she could.

"Oh no, you don't," Maera snarled, but Bobby stayed her with a hand to her wrist.

"No, let her go. She thinks Jack is dead. That could work in our favour."

Maera looked down at Bobby in distress.

"He is dead. That shakkra shot him in the head!"

"Yes, he did," Ianto agreed, "and he's going to be enormously pissed off when he comes back. Getting shot in the head always gives him a migraine."

Maera was silent as she digested Ianto's words, and a calmness descended over her, erasing the grief from her face.

"Which is it? Is it that he's only in a suspended state while his body heals, or is he truly dead and he's going to come back to life?"

"I suspect it's a little of both," Ianto answered. "And I just hope it's soon. We need to get Joss back to the TARDIS if he's going to have any chance."

"Wait," Maera said abruptly, looking very much as though she wanted to slap herself up-side the head. "Lu is a healer. Let me call him. He can help where I can't."

"Do it," Ianto told her. "We can't let him die. It would destroy Jack."

"He won't die," Maera promised. "He'll be fine. Lu will help him. And when my little brother comes back, I'm going to kill him for scaring the life out of me!"

Ianto had to smile, despite the stress of the situation.

"You really do love him, don't you?"

"We all do," Maera answered. "Jack won us all over simply by surviving what Darien did to him. He then won us over again by having the courage to see his pregnancy through. He is one of ours and we don't say that lightly. Never before has an outsider ever been freely offered a permanent home on Mendyr. The Council's offer to Jack will stand for as long as Mendyr exists. He will always have a home with us."

Ianto's throat tightened with emotion. He doubted that Maera, even with her psychic talents, was fully aware of the magnitude of the gift that the Mendyrians had given Jack; that throughout his long, unending life, there would always be a place for Jack to run to, where he would always be welcome.

That, Ianto reflected, was a truly great gift.

Footsteps could be heard approaching, and both Ianto and Bobby tensed in anticipation of it being Taark come back with reinforcements. If it was, both men knew that they would be reliant on Maera to defend them -- and they had no doubts that she was more than capable.

"It's Krandl and Lu," Maera announced just moments before her fellow Mendyrians rounded the corner.

Lu went straight to Joss's side, examining him briefly before smiling.

"It isn't too late. He'll live. Krandl, Maera, be on guard. This may take a few minutes."

Without waiting for confirmation from them, Lu set his focus to saving Joss's life.

"He looks like he's praying," Bobby commented curiously as they watched the young man kneel by Joss's side.

"What is praying?" Krandl asked. "We don't know that word."

Ianto swallowed a chuckle at the look on Bobby's face. He could guess what was going through his colleague's mind, and he certainly didn't envy him being faced with trying to explain twenty-first century religious practises to an advanced race that apparently had no concept of organised religion.

"It's what we call it when a person talks to a deity," Bobby answered after a moment's consideration. Ianto was impressed. It was a simple and concise answer that didn't necessarily risk leading to other difficult questions. At least, he hoped that it wouldn't.

"Ah," Krandl said. "I think I understand."

Maera stepped over and looked down at Jack's face, now unblemished.

"How long?"

Ianto let his own gaze be drawn down to his partner's face, and allowed his fingers to brush against the pulse point in Jack's throat. His heart had only just started beating again and Ianto could almost picture in his mind the chain reaction that would follow, culminating with neurons firing in Jack's brain. It all happened within seconds, that was the wonder of the human body.

Sure enough, Jack came back to life in Ianto's arms with a wild gasp, flailing in momentary panic before it registered that he was in Ianto's protective embrace.

"Easy, love," Ianto murmured. "Just give yourself a moment."

Jack had no intention of taking a moment, though. The panic and fear evident on his face told them all that trying to calm him down was a pointless endeavour.

"Joss," Jack asked hoarsely. "Is he dead?"

With gentle but insistent hands, Ianto turned Jack's head so that his line of sight fell on Lu. The young Mendyrian offered Jack a reassuring smile.

"He will live, but we do need to get him back to the Doctor's ship. If need be, he can be placed in stasis until we return home."

"Can you stand?" Maera asked, eyeing Jack with a mixture of curiosity and concern. "It'd be better better if we only had to worry about carrying one person." She poked lightly at his stomach. "Especially since you're not exactly light-weight anymore."

Ianto barely held back a snigger at his lover's outraged expression, and a quick glance showed that Bobby, Krandl and Lu were all experiencing similar degrees of amusement.

"My weight is fine, thank you," Jack said snippily as he got awkwardly to his feet. "Let's just get back to the TARDIS. We still have a lot to do."

Krandl and Lu lifted Joss between them and they began to make their way back to the TARDIS. Bobby fell in step with Jack and Ianto while Maera brought up the rear.

"You okay, Bobby?" Jack asked, though his concern was diminished by his worry for Joss.

"I'm fine," Bobby answered dismissively. "But Alex... Please... She's not...?"

"She's fine," Ianto assured him quickly. He chose not to add that she'd been knifed. That was something for her to decide whether or not she wanted to share. As it was, both Ianto and Jack were warmed by the sheer relief on Bobby's face.

"Thank you," Bobby murmured in gratitude. Ianto smiled.

"According to Alex, it's Myfanwy we need to be thanking. Apparently our resident pteranadon saved her life."

"When we get home," Bobby declared, "I am buying her the most expensive chocolate I can find."

Ianto huffed in mock annoyance.

"Alex said much the same, and believe me, you'll both be cleaning up after her."

Bobby grinned, the weight of worry momentarily lifted from his shoulders.

"I can live with that."

They arrived back at the TARDIS to find Anna and the Doctor waiting in the doorway with matching looks of concern.

"Quickly," the Doctor encouraged them unnecessarily. "Take him to the med room. The TARDIS will guide you. She'll provide everything you need."

Lu nodded in acknowledgement.

"Thank you." He glanced back over his shoulder at Jack and offered a reassuring smile. "He'll be fine, I promise. Do what you have to do, and leave me to care for him."

Jack let them go, feeling quietly reassured that Joss would, indeed, be okay. Turning back to the group before him, he barely had time to process all the faces before Gwen literally slammed into him, wrapping her arms around him in a ferocious hold.

"I was so worried about you," she said in a muffled voice. Jack swallowed a sigh. Beyond the unconsciously possessive gesture, Gwen's concern was genuine and he would not disrespect that.

"I'm fine," he assured her. "I was more worried about all of you. Is anyone hurt?"

"Owen is," Tosh said, speaking over his protests. "He was electrocuted by those cell walls."

"Still can't keep your hands to yourself?" Jack asked with a grin. Owen glowered, unimpressed.

"Time and a place, Harkness, and this isn't it. Anyway, I'm fine. It was just a little tickle."

"Like hell it was," Tosh retorted with an uncharacteristic vehemence. "You were unconscious for nearly forty-five minutes!"

"Med room, Owen," Jack ordered. His tone was uncompromising, and Owen knew better than to argue. He went, all the while grumbling under his breath. Jack then turned his attention back to Gwen, and the magnificent bruise that was blossoming over one of her cheeks, and up towards her temple.


The defiant look on her face was tiresomely familiar.

"I'm fine. It doesn't even hurt."

"You could have a concussion," Jack pointed out, making an obvious effort to keep his tone even. He'd learnt through bitter experience that being confrontational with Gwen achieved precious little. Her expression was hardening, though, and he could see what was going through her mind as clearly as if he had telepathy. She knew something else was planned, some other action, and she was determined not to be left out. Jack clenched his jaw and his fists. He'd allowed her to dictate to him in the past, but not this time. The stakes were far too high.

"Gwen, I want you to go the med room. Bobby and Toshiko, you two as well, and Donna. Once Lu has taken care of Joss, he'll check over each of you as well."

"I said I'm fine, Jack," Gwen argued. "I don't have a concussion. If I didn't know any better, I'd think you were trying to get me out of the way. What are you planning? Whatever it is, you're not leaving me out of it!"

Jack could feel the already bad headache he had getting worse. He loved Gwen, he really did, but she was like a pitbull. Once she got hold of something, she refused to let go.

He was still considering what to do or say when Bobby stepped up beside Gwen and bent over to speak into her ear.

"Gwen." She jumped, taken by surprise by her new colleague, but Bobby went on as though nothing out of the ordinary was happening. "You have two choices. You either come with us to the med bay willingly, or I will pick you up and carry you there. Which is it going to be?"

Gwen stared up at him, wide-eyed and incredulous, as though she couldn't quite believe he'd had the nerve to make such a threat -- not only to her, but in front of so many people. Then the shock faded, and she realised with a sinking feeling that he was utterly and deadly serious.

Mutual respect aside, she realised that he fully intended to carry out his threat if she refused to comply with Jack's order. Worse still, Jack clearly had no intention of defending her.

She made a last ditch appeal to Jack, directing a well-practised pleading stare at the Captain, but his expression was set in stone.

"Go," Jack told her with finality in his tone that even Gwen dared not defy. Angry, but helpless to do anything about it, Gwen stormed out of the control room with Bobby, Tosh, Alex and Donna close behind.

"Well, isn't she colourful," Maera commented dryly.

"Her heart is in the right place," Jack said. "It's just that sometimes she just doesn't know when to back off." He stepped across the floor and flattened his palm against the coral strut. "Keep them all safe in the med room for me?" he asked softly. He sensed more than heard the ancient ship's acquiescence, and offered a silent thank you in return.

"Time for phase two, then?" Ianto asked. Unease flickered in Jack's eyes.

"We had a pretty close call earlier. Maybe... Maybe I ought to be doing this on my own."

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he braced himself for the anticipated angry rebukes. To his surprise, though, none came. Instead, Ianto stepped into his personal space and gathered him close in a comforting hug.

"You said you wanted me with you when you did this. I'm still not entirely sure why, but you clearly have a reason for it. If you've changed your mind and you really don't want me to come, then I'll respect that. I won't like it, and the next cup of coffee you get will probably be decaf, but I won't argue you. It's your call."

Jack hugged Ianto back fiercely.

"I want you with me, but I want you safe, as well. Dinn is ruthless, but he's also incredibly seductive. I need someone there with me who can anchor me."

"Does Dinn have psychic abilities?" the Doctor wondered.

"Just one," Jack said grimly. "He's a strong coercer."

"It was him that stole your memories," the Doctor stated abruptly. "There was no machine, no drugs. Just him."

Jack nodded, looking shaken by the bitter recollection.

"Yes, it was him. He interrogated me about Eleya, and it took everything I had, every ounce of mental strength to resist him. I had nothing left to fight with when he wiped my memories."

"Let me come," Maera said suddenly. Her voice was soft, but ice cold. "I can help to protect you and Ianto from this shakkra's power. Let me help, please."

"It is true," Anna conceded. "Her mental shields are the greatest I've ever seen. She could easily protect both of you from an assault by Dinn."

For an instant, Jack felt guilty at banishing Gwen to the med room whilst he found himself seriously considering allowing Maera to join them. There was a hell of a difference between the two women, though.

Whilst very capable and incredibly compassionate, Gwen had an unfortunate tendency to act before (or without, in some instances) thinking. It was a trait that would possibly end up getting her killed.

Maera had, of course, changed since he'd seen her last, but his newly regained memories of her were of a fiery but level-headed woman. He knew she would not put others in danger purely because she didn't stop to think an action through, or even just think. Also, the thought of her safe-guarding Ianto's mind was extremely tempting.

"Okay," he agreed finally. "But you focus on shielding Ianto, not me."

"Jack, you'll be vulnerable," Anna warned him gently. "Your shields were never particularly strong."

Jack smiled bitterly.

"My mind has been off-limits to anyone with psychic talent since I died that first time on Satellite Five."

"That's not strictly true," the Doctor pointed out, only to be silenced by his companion's weary expression.

"Communication is possible, and that's all. Doctor, why do you think he resorted to isolating me on the Valiant? Because he tried every trick he knew, and nothing worked. He couldn't control me, and if a Time Lord couldn't then Dinn won't be able to, either."

He felt Ianto move slightly beside him, just enough to remind him he was there. Jack took much comfort in that closeness, finding Ianto's hand and holding it tightly.

"Whatever happens, Dinn won't be able to break my mind or take my memories again. So if you're coming, Maera, then your priority needs to be protecting yourself and Ianto."

"Deal," she agreed solemnly.

Early on, not long after they'd found Eleya, Alex had told him that he deserved closure. Bobby had intimated it too, when Gwen had argued with him about where his responsibilities lay. Ianto had also said much the same, that he had a right to expect closure. Jack had assumed he was finding that closure by recovering his missing memories and reconnecting with his daughter. He should have known better than to expect it to be that simple.

He led the way down the corridor at a rapid pace, moving on autopilot as his thoughts were consumed by memories and the anticipation of the coming confrontation. He remembered Argus Dinn vividly now -- a very nondescript man who he now recalled had paid particularly close attention to him at the induction ceremony into the Time Agency.

Special, Dinn had called him with a shark-like grin, and it occurred to Jack now that it was no coincidence that he ended up with all the best instructors, and generally the best of everything. In retrospect, he had to admit it was that special treatment that had helped to cultivate his arrogance, which had in turn led to the recklessness that had eventually resulted in him being taken captive by Darien. In hindsight, Jack wondered whether Dinn had seen that particular future, and had actively worked to bring it to fruition.

If it turned out that was indeed the case, Jack was fairly sure that not even the Doctor's presence would keep him from killing the evil son of a bitch.

A hand on his arm drew him back to reality, and he found himself looking into Ianto's concerned face.

"Jack, this is no time to zone out. We need you to focus."

"Right. Sorry," Jack murmured, chastened. Ianto dared a quick, chaste kiss.

"It's all right. But we need you to show us the way to go. You're the only one who knows where to find Dinn."

Jack nodded, gathering up his courage.

"It's this way..."

"Wait," Maera interrupted softly. "Tell me, can any of you hear anything?"

They all had to concede no, and the Doctor quickly realised what she meant.

"These corridors ought to be crawling with security by now, but there's no one. Why is there no one around?"

"Especially since that woman saw you shot in the head," Maera pointed out, "and they must surely think you're dead, so why not have everyone out looking for the rest of us?"

"I don't know," Jack admitted, "and I don't like it."

"It feels like we're walking into a trap," Ianto said grimly.

"Jack?" Anna asked. "Do you want to return to the TARDIS? None of us will think less of you if you choose not to pursue this."

Jack bit down lightly on the inside of his cheek. It was tempting, so very tempting. They could turn around, head back to the TARDIS and leave the danger far behind them. He could forget all about Dinn and the Time Agency... until the next time Dorn and his ilk turned up, seeking to capture his daughter. Jack's stomach churned unpleasantly.

"If I don't see this through now, I'll always be looking over my shoulder for Time Agents, and so will Eleya."

"Then stay on Mendyr," Maera begged him. "Ianto would be welcome as well. Make your home there with us, like you once planned on doing. The Time Agency won't be able to reach you there, not again."

Jack's breath escaped him in a soft sigh.

"I can't describe how grateful I am to know I have a home on Mendyr, but my life is on Earth, at least for now. I can't abandon my responsibilities there. Besides that, if I walk away now and don't deal with this, then no one who's ever known me will be safe. These people went this far to get their hands on Eleya. They're not going to give up just because I've gone to ground. They'll go after anyone and everyone to try and force my hand, and I can't let that happen."

"Lead on, then, Captain," the Doctor said with respect in his voice and a hint of a smile on his face. "Let's shut this place down once and for all."

Jack led the way until they finally reached what appeared to be a dead-end, and Ianto said as much.

"Not exactly," Anna murmured as she approached the wall. "There is a door here... or at least some sort of doorway, but it has been carefully hidden away. It's not a perception filter, but rather a very skilful deception. Maera, come here. The rest of you, please stand out of the way."

The two women stood at the wall and flattened their palms against it, and concentrated. At first, nothing seemed to be happening. Then the floor, walls and ceiling began to tremble, lightly at first and then more violently until it seemed as though the corridor itself was about to collapse around them.

With a loud roar, the wall before them exploded inwards, swept away as though into a massive vacuum, leaving behind a gothic-looking archway that looked oddly out of place in the sterile, futuristic confines of the Time Agency headquarters. Beyond the archway, there was nothing visible but inky blackness.

"Well, that was dramatic," Ianto remarked dryly.

"And also very clever," Anna said. "This was a very carefully constructed illusion. We must be careful not to underestimate our adversary."

"Just remember what I said," Jack told them. "Okay... Last chance to opt out, folks."

No one moved or spoke. Jack smiled faintly through a combination of gratitude and trepidation.

"Okay, then. Let's do this."

And with that, he stepped through the archway and vanished into the blackness.

to be continued...

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