NO GREATER GIFT

It turned out to be less than dramatic. Stepping through the archway was like stepping through a thin veil of water -- mildly disconcerting, briefly disorienting but without the discomfort of getting wet.

Jack blinked hard to adjust his vision and stop it from blurring. He sensed rather than heard the others coming through behind him but by the time they did, his attention was already on the slight figure who had clearly been waiting for them.

"Oh, you can't be serious," Ianto hissed incredulously from somewhere behind Jack. "How many times is he going to keep turning up?"

"You know this man?" Anna asked and Jack couldn't help but laugh, albeit humourlessly.

"We're acquainted. This is Bilis Manger, the one who tricked my team into opening the rift and releasing Abaddon." Jack offered no further explanations, and instead turned his full focus onto Manger.

"So what's your real name? Are you Bilis Manger, or Argus Dinn?"

"I am both, and neither," Manger replied vaguely. "They are merely convenient identities that I have made my own, much in the same way that you took young Captain Harkness's identity for your own."

"I remember you looking a lot different," Jack said accusingly. Manger's head bobbed up and down.

"I daresay I did. After all, I could not allow you to see me in my other form when I sent you and Miss Sato back in time. It might have triggered your memories, and I couldn't take the risk that you might run again. I needed to know exactly where you were, Captain Harkness -- something that you made quite difficult for me during your time on the run."

A bitter smile curled Jack's lips.

"Good. I'm glad to hear it."

"And now to business," Manger stated, sounding for all the world like they'd merely been exchanging pleasantries prior to a business deal. "Where is she, Captain?"

"You don't serious think I would have brought her anyway near this place?" Jack asked darkly. "You're crazier than I thought. She's nowhere near this place, Manger."

For the first time that Jack could ever recall, Manger looked angry. It only lasted a split second before the gentleman's facade fell back into place, but for just a moment Manger let through a glimpse of the rage he felt.

"No matter. I shall merely do as I did before, and enlist the help of the Shadow Proclamation. They really can be very obliging."

"Not this time," the Doctor countered heatedly. "I'll make sure of it myself."

Finally, Manger's gaze came to rest on the Doctor and an unpleasant smile lit up his face.

"The last Time Lord. This is turning out to be an auspicious day. I am curious, though, as to what someone of your stature is doing, acquainting yourself with a second-rate cast-off like Jack here?"

The Doctor's expression turned cold.

"Taking Jack Harkness on board my ship turned out to be one of the best choices I've ever made. He is worth fighting for and your interference in his life is going to end right now."

Manger's smile never faltered.

"You do inspire loyalty in the most unlikely people, Jack. Take young Mr Jones, here. He is utterly loyal to you despite the fact that you executed his fiance. Although, it only took one vision of her to convince him to betray you, didn't it?"

Beside him, Jack felt Ianto stiffen in anger at the callous reminders. He felt a twinge of fear that perhaps Manger was getting at Ianto, but when the younger man spoke his voice was confident and clear.

"Jack didn't kill Lisa. The Cybermen killed her. What I was trying to keep alive wasn't Lisa anymore. Two more people died before I realised it, but Jack forgave me for that. He forgave me for betraying him that second time, too. I owe him more than just my loyalty. I owe him my life."

Manger sneered at Ianto in disdain.

"Simpering little fool. Too blinded by love to realise that one day he will cost you your life. No matter, though. We're getting a little off-track. We were discussing your daughter, Jack, and your belief that she is safely away from here."

Jack's breath caught. He really did not like the way that came out. He said nothing, though, but waited for Manger to elaborate.

"Ah, I believe we have more visitors," Manger announced suddenly with chilling delight. "Commander Dorn, come right in, please."

Dorn emerged through the barrier along with Jaydn Taark. Ahead of them, being held at gunpoint, was Bobby and Eleya.

"What?" Jack hissed in shock. "How...?"

"She was hiding on board the TARDIS," Bobby explained grimly. "When she couldn't find you, she ran out. I tried to catch her but I wasn't quick enough, and we were ambushed by these clowns."

Jack felt ill as he took his daughter from Bobby's arms.

"What about the others?"

"The TARDIS shut the door on them," Bobby said, sounding as confused as he looked. "I would have been locked inside too, but I managed to get out just before the doors closed. It was almost like the TARDIS wanted Eleya to get out, and didn't want anyone to stop her."

"What's she playing at?" the Doctor growled, determining to have a serious word with his ship when it was all over. "Why didn't she tell me Eleya was on board?"

"I don't know," Jack said in a tight, angry tone, "but I'll have a few words to say to her when we get back."

"You won't be going anywhere, Captain," Manger cut in. All signs of humour were now gone from his skeletal features, and he was staring at Eleya with unmistakable hunger. "This is what is going to happen. You will hand the child over to Commander Dorn. If you refuse, you will be shot dead in front of her, and we will use whatever means necessary to subdue her."

Expecting immediate acquiescence, Dorn stepped in with a smug grin.

"I don't know how you pulled off that stunt with pretending to be dead, or even how you're not dead, for that matter. I shot you in the damn head! No matter, though, I'm going to have fun getting the information out of you, boy."

He was reaching for Eleya when a fist came out of nowhere and drove him backwards.

"Keep your filthy hands off them," Ianto snarled at Dorn, and then immediately swung around to face Manger. "You can't have Jack and you can't have Eleya, and I will kill you before I let you get your hands on them."

Manger smirked in reply, but that smirk quickly turned into a frown.

"What's the matter?" the Doctor asked, sounding thoroughly amused. "Having a bit of trouble getting into our minds? Surely you ought to know the pointlessness of trying to access the minds of a Time Lord and two Mendyrians? As for Jack's mind, it's well protected by the vortex itself. Even a vortex creature like you can't break through unless Jack wants you to."

Jack smiled grimly.

"I always wondered why I never say anything when the rest of my team did. It's because you couldn't get into my mind to know what you could use to convince me to open the rift. You couldn't present me with a vision of Eleya, because you didn't want to risk triggering my memories, and you didn't know about the only other person that could have convinced me."

Manger glared at Jack in hatred.

"I underestimated you, Captain. I admit that. And perhaps I can't dispose of you permanently, but I'm sure I can find a way to incapacitate you for as long as I need."

"Give it up," Jack snapped, rapidly losing his patience. "This has gone on long enough."

"Quite right," Manger agreed. "Commander Dorn, kill them all."

In the split second between Manger's order and when Dorn and Taark opened fire, Jack spun to put himself between the guns and his daughter. He felt pressure on his body, the heat of lasers burning through his coat and scorching the flesh of his back, and he collapsed to the floor with Eleya held protectively beneath him.

He couldn't move, not even to try and see if anyone else was hurt. The laser fire had cut through his spine, leaving him temporarily paralysed. Even if no one else was injured, though, the random bursts of laser fire were clearly designed to keep everyone on the floor and stop them from coming to his and Eleya's aid.

"Dada?" Eleya whimpered, terror in her eyes.

As Jack tried to gather his strength to speak, he heard Manger's voice.

"Grab the girl, quickly."

A foot kicked him hard in the ribs, dragging a scream of pain from him as he forced over onto his back. Dorn grabbed Eleya, delivering a second rib-cracking kick to Jack's side as he did so.

"Give her to me, now!" Manger demanded, and Dorn handed her over.

"No!"

The cry came not from Jack, but from Ianto. Acutely aware that Manger could jump to any point in time and space, Ianto propelled himself to his feet and threw himself at Manger. He managed to lock his hands onto the evil man's shoulders just in time to be transported along with Manger and Eleya and, in the blink of an eye, all three were gone.


"Jack!" Bobby gasped hoarsely, crawling over to where Jack lay once the laser fire finally ceased.

"Can't move," Jack whispered. "Maera...?"

"They're still somewhere in these headquarters," Maera said softly. "I think Ianto interrupted his jump when he grabbed Manger."

"Don't worry, Jack," the Doctor assured him. "We'll find them."

"But Ianto," Jack protested. "He won't be able to defend himself against Manger."

The Doctor looked up at Maera and Anna anxiously as he realised Jack was right.

"Can you track them?"

"I can," Maera confirmed. She glanced warily at Dorn and Taark, who both seemed to have relaxed now that their boss had finally acquired his target, and they believed they'd effectively crippled their prime adversary. It seemed that they had a moment's respite. "But it's not entirely true that Ianto is undefended."

"Eleya?" Bobby asked in confusion. "But she's just a little girl."

"Don't underestimate her," Anna warned. "She used Jack as a conduit and destroyed Darien whilst still in the womb, when he threatened Jack and, by default, her. I believe she is more than capable of dealing with this Bilis Manger, given the opportunity. The incentive is certainly there."

"I don't want my daughter growing up thinking of herself as a killer," Jack whispered. "That's what Manger wants for her."

"Not a killer, Jack," Maera told him. "A protector. Ianto went with them, and she loves her Tad as much as her Dada. She'll protect him. You'll see."

"All right, enough," Dorn snapped where he stood, still holding his gun on them with Taark at his side. "The Director will be long gone with the brat by now, and your precious lover will be dead, I guarantee it. Then when he comes back, he'll have completely indoctrinated her to be greatest weapon this agency has ever had!"

Jack looked up at Dorn, caught between amusement and incredulity. He didn't want Dorn to notice that he was already starting to get feeling and movement back, so as to give themselves the best advantage possible.

He could feel Anna's hands pressing lightly on the back of his neck, under the guise of supporting his head. She was not technically a healer but she did possess some minor healing abilities, and Jack could feel her feeding that slim ability into his body. It fuelled the vortex power within him, speeding up his body's rate of healing exponentially.

"You really think he'll be coming back? You're an idiot, Dorn. The Agency is just a means to an end for him. He's got what he wanted all along, and he won't be coming back."

"You're in no position to talk," Dorn said with a sneer. "Look at you, crippled, pathetic and useless. Can't even sit up, let alone stand and face me. You're all our prisoners, too, in case you'd forgotten."

"Aren't you sick of him yet?" Maera asked wearily. Anna smiled and looked down at Jack.

"Well?"

Jack wriggled his toes experimentally inside his boots, and was pleased to find he could do so freely and painlessly. He grinned up at Anna.

"I'm good."

With that, he pushed himself up and quickly scrambled to his feet. The twin looks of utter shock on Dorn and Taark's faces were well worth it, too.

"Impossible!" Taark burst out, bordering on hysteria. "He got you dead centre in the back! I saw it with my own eyes! You shouldn't be standing!"

"I guess I'm still an impossible thing," Jack said, exchanging a brief grin with the Doctor.

"How?" Dorn demanded.

"Not your concern. All you need to know is that you can't stop me, and every time you try I'm going to just keep coming back. No matter what you do, you can't stop me."

With a howl of frustrated rage, Dorn lifted his gun, but he never had a chance to pull the trigger. The gun was ripped out of his hand by an invisible force, as was Taark's, and both landed safely in Maera's waiting hands.

"You don't get a free shot," she said. "Not again."

"What are you going to do?" Dorn asked. "Kill us?"

"No," Anna replied, "but I don't believe we can simply let you go, either."

"We're shutting the agency down," Jack said firmly. "Everyone and everything to do with this place is done. What you're going to do for us right now is summon every agent back to headquarters immediately. We'll be waiting here for them, and we're going to take every vortex manipulator in the place. Then, we'll completely evacuate the whole place and once we've found my daughter and my partner, we're going to blow this whole facility to hell."

The expression on Dorn's face see-sawed between disbelief and fury.

"You... You bastard! You'll cripple the agency!"

"I don't want to cripple it," Jack said flatly. "I want to obliterate it. When we're done here, the only thing left will be a memory."

"I'll hunt you down for this, you fucking bastard," Dorn snarled. "I swear, you'll always be looking over your shoulder!"

Jack glanced at Anna, who answered with a slight nod. When he spoke again, there was no joy in his voice -- only weariness borne of the realisation that it was nearly over.

"Dorn, you aren't even going to remember that I was here. Maera, have you located Ianto and Eleya?"

"Four levels down," she answered. Jack swore softly.

"He's headed for the docks. If he gets Eleya onto a transport, we'll have a hell of a time tracking them."

"Go on," Bobby told him. "I can keep an eye on these two."

"And we will stay as well," Anna decided, looking pointedly at the Doctor. "We will ensure Commander Dorn does as we need him to do, and then make our way to the appropriate place to intercept the incoming agents. The two of you go, quickly. Save your family, Jack."

Jack bolted, with Maera right behind him.


"Why?" the Doctor asked tersely, even as they directed Dorn over to the control table. "I should have gone with them, to help."

Anna smiled.

"Your concern for Jack is appreciated, Doctor, but trust me. Jack and Maera are more than capable between them. Trust me, they'll be fine. I suggest we concern ourselves with the task at hand, and let them do what they must."

The Doctor stared at Anna with interest.

"You have a lot of faith in Jack."

Her expression was inscrutable.

"After everything Jack has endured for you, I should think that you would, as well." Her gaze went to Bobby, and she smiled softly. "After all, if one who has known him for so short a time can have such strong faith and trust in Jack, then you have no excuse, Time Lord."

Chastened, the Doctor said nothing more.


Ianto was disoriented, to say the absolute least. He lay on a hard surface, his head spinning and his vision hopelessly blurred. His muscles felt like jelly and right then he didn't seem to be able to exercise any control at all over his own body. It was a most disconcerting experience, even more so because he couldn't for the life of him remember how he'd gotten into this state to begin with.

"Ianto? Can you hear me, Ianto?"

The voice was painfully familiar.

"Lisa..."

Slowly, her face swam into focus in front of him. Ianto groaned in pain and distress. Part of him knew she was only a hallucination but she looked so real, and it was only too easy to disregard logic.

"Ianto, you're in danger," she told him in that tone she'd always been able to use to keep him wrapped around her little finger. "I know it's hard, but you gave to get up and run. Run away and save yourself. Please, Ianto, for me?"

It seemed to Ianto like the most reasonable thing in the world, and yet he hesitated. Even as he got unsteadily to his feet, he hesitated. His gaze went past Lisa to the shrouded figures beyond but when he tried to focus on them, Lisa blocked his line of sight and brought his attention back to her.

"Did you hear what I said?" she asked, sounding agitated now. "You have to run, Ianto. You have to save yourself! Listen to me, please!"

And still he hesitated. He vividly remembered the love he'd once felt for her, and how that love had led him to commit unspeakable betrayals out of a misguided but unswerving trust. But it was only a memory, and he had long been loyal to Jack above and beyond anything he'd felt for Lisa.

There was a reason, scratching at the very edge of his mind, as to why he wasn't just turning tail and running to save himself. If only he could clear the fog surrounding his mind, and remember what that reason was.

He heard a new sound, beyond Lisa's pleading. It was the sound of a child weeping, distraught. Ianto shut his eyes. That sound struck a chord with him, though he couldn't immediately remember why. He breathed deeply and tried to focus.

Lisa was dead. He knew that, and therefore her presence in front of him wasn't real. It was a trick, just like the last time. His breath caught. Manger...

Ianto's eyes snapped open. Lisa was gone, and now his line of sight was Bilis Manger, easily holding Eleya despite her struggles. The little girl was crying, pleading for her Tad to save her. Manger regarded Ianto hatefully, but also with arrogance.

"You're stronger than I anticipated, Mr Jones, but no matter. You can't actually stop me, despite your best delusions."

Ianto's gaze fell on Eleya. She was staring back with a wide-eyed, pleading stare that broke his heart.

"You may be right."

Without warning, he lunged at Manger in an unexpected assault that clearly took the other man by surprise. Ianto collided with them, grabbing Eleya and wrenching her from Manger's possessive grasp. They hit the floor and rolled, with Ianto doing his best to shield the child.

Behind them, Manger uttered an inhuman howl of fury, and Ianto's stomach clenched in fear as he caught a glimpse of a long-bladed knife. In a panic, he did the only thing he could think of and curled his body protectively around Eleya.

A cry of pain left his lips as Manger unleashed a volley of frenzied slashes across his back, and Ianto knew then that the attack would not ceased until he was dead. Judging by the depth of some of the stab wounds and the rapidly encroaching weakness in his body, it wouldn't be all that long, either.

"Tad."

Ianto's gaze was drawn down once more to meet Eleya's, and he tried futilely to prepare to say goodbye to her. Tears fell from his eyes despite his best efforts to show her strength. It wouldn't be long now. He could feel himself weakening by the moment, and it was getting hard to breathe. He could almost hear a gurgling rattle in his own throat, and tasted blood in his mouth. Manger's frenzied assault had pierced a lung, and he guessed it was filling rapidly with blood. If he didn't bleed out first, he was going to drown in his own blood.

Eleya's little hands came up to touch his chest, one flattened against each side, and her green eyes suddenly flared bright.

"Ouch go 'way."

Ianto's body went rigid as power flooded through him. Somewhere in the back of his mind it registered that Manger's assault had stopped, but his focus was now exclusively on the little girl cocooned beneath his body; not on the evil troll of a man behind them.

The pain of his wounds didn't subside, it vanished in the blink of an eye. Renewed strength raced through him and he felt an amazing rush of energy as his mind reacted to the child's power, and opened up to her. And suddenly, he felt Eleya inside his mind -- not infiltrating in the way that Manger had done, but joining with him to combine their strength, and to boost her own power enormously.

Ianto knew without needing to look that right then, his own normally blue eyes mirrored Eleya's brilliant green ones.

Feeling a sense of calm descend over him, Ianto got up off the floor and at the same time lifted Eleya easily into his arms. Together, they turned to face Manger.

"Give her to me," Manger hissed, but now Ianto could hear the first real twinges of fear in the other's voice. Hell, he could practically taste it. Manger was fully aware of the power on display, and it frightened him.

Ianto said nothing; he realised quickly that this was now Eleya's show. She was routing her power through him and using him like an amplifier, and Ianto quickly realised that he had no desire to try and stop her.

"Bad man," Eleya said simply.

Ianto stared at Manger as he felt the child's power wash through him, expecting the man to simply drop dead -- much like the man at Pendefig Mall. To say he was surprised that it didn't happen was an understatement. For a moment, Ianto wondered whether Manger was far stronger than even Jack had realised, or if perhaps the bulk of Eleya's power had been used in healing him.

As he looked, though, he finally registered the panic and horror on Manger's face, and he realised what Eleya had done. The Doctor had called Manger a vortex creature. Eleya, demonstrating her phenomenal power, had just severed Manger's connection to the vortex, leaving him powerless and helpless.

No, Ianto corrected himself immediately as he took in the bloodied knife still clutched in Manger's hand. Not helpless, and still very dangerous, but he could no longer flee by vanishing via the vortex.

Eleya huffed softly and rested her head on Ianto's shoulder.

"Bad man go 'way."

Manger's beady eyes widened fractionally and he gasped as the very breath in his lungs froze. As he collapsed to his knees, one hand clutching at his chest whilst the other scrabbled at his throat, Ianto's awareness went elsewhere. His consciousness locked onto the mainframe of the Agency control computer and he could feel Eleya working through him, utilising his knowledge of computers to shut the Agency system down for good.

Databanks were wiped clean en masse, and the Agency's time travel knowledge was erased so effectively that it would be impossible for anyone to ever again use it on a large scale. The headquarters' life support systems were tripped and locked, ensuring that within a matter of hours the place would be uninhabitable by any life form. Finally, a countdown was triggered, giving only a limited amount of time before the headquarters imploded.

Ianto was left breathless by the rush of power, but even more so by the control. Control, he realised, that was there because Eleya was using him. Without him, it would have been chaotic, uncontrolled. It would have been devastating. Young as she was, Eleya clearly knew enough of her own power to know that she needed an older, more mature mind to keep her power in check.

Somehow, he doubted this would have been possible, had he not opened his heart and become as close to the little girl as he had.

Gradually, he became aware of the exquisite tension bleeding slowly out of his body, and the power that had been energising him winding down. As he came back to himself, he became conscious of a pair of strong, achingly familiar arms that encircled both him and Eleya. A voice whispered in his ear, begging him to wake up, pleading with him to come back.

So much different, and vastly more reassuring than the earlier apparition of Lisa, Ianto uttered a choked sob as Jack's face swan into focus.

"Jack..."

"Dada!" Eleya cried out at the same time, and all of a sudden it became a massive three-way hug.

"Thank you," Jack whispered. He kissed Ianto ferociously, and then kissed his daughter's forehead.

"We're okay," Ianto said. He sounded incredulous to his own ears, as though he didn't really believe it. His gaze went to the little girl in his arms and he smiled wearily.

"You saved us both."

No question, it was just a simple statement of fact. He didn't know whether she understood the actual words, but she certainly seemed to understand the sentiment. Her thin arms wrapped around his neck and she hugged him ferociously.

"My Tad."

Ianto no longer had it in him to argue, and he hugged her back equally fiercely.

"If you really want me to be," he murmured.

"We do," Jack confirmed.

Ianto shut his eyes, taking a rare but deserved moment of pleasure in Jack's quiet affirmation. It was short-lived, though, as a wailing alarm shattered the quiet.

"That's the alert for evacuation," Jack said, quickly checking the readings on his manipulator. "The life support systems have been compromised. They're going into shut-down, and a code orange cleansing has been initiated."

"Code orange cleansing?" Maera asked, raising an eyebrow quizzically.

"In just over two hour's time," Jack explained, "this place is going to be reduced to space dust."

"Ah, I think that might have been us," Ianto spoke up, indicating himself and Eleya. Jack grinned.

"Perfect. We can intercept all agents and staff at the evac ports, and strip them of their manipulators. We'll scramble the pod coordinates and scatter them across the galaxy. Then, when this place has been emptied out, we can go in to orbit in the TARDIS, and watch from safety while it's blown to bits." He turned to look pointedly at Manger. "The Time Agency is finished and so are you. We're going to put you in a pod, and send you to the most remote corner of the galaxy that we can think of."

Manger glared at Jack.

"Do you really think you can stop me?"

"Oh, please, enough with the cliches," Jack snorted. "If you could have escaped by now without needing a pod to do it, you would have. I'm guessing that my little girl has blocked your powers, somehow."

"She cut his connection to the vortex," Ianto said. "Severed it completely."

Jack nodded in satisfaction.

"Good. You're coming with us, Manger. We're going to head to the evac dock, re-group with the others and you're going to be put on a transport to some remote colony with minimal technology, where you can't do anymore harm."

The hatred on Manger's face was palpable, and later on when he'd had a chance to reflect on events, Ianto realised that both Jack and Maera were prepared for one last ditch attempt by Manger. The knife in Manger's hand was suddenly flying towards them, thrown with deadly accuracy straight at Eleya. Jack was already there to shield both her and Ianto, though, even as Ianto tried to twist around in order to once more put himself between blade and child.

As it turned out, neither of them needed to worry. The knife never completed the distance, slowing to a halt in mid-throw and simply hovering a good five or six feet from Jack.

"Seriously, a knife?" Maera retorted. "That's what you resort to? You sad little man." She looked across at Jack, her expression suddenly serious. "Take your family and go, brother. I'll catch up."

Suspicion and concern clouded Jack's face.

"Maera, you can't. You'll never be accepted onto the Elder Council if you kill him."

She smiled somewhat wistfully.

"To protect you, Eleya and Ianto, I think it's worth the sacrifice. He's never going to stop, Jack. You know it as well as I do. Let me deal with him once and for all."

When Jack hesitated, Maera directed her attention to Ianto.

"Get him and Eleya out of here, Ianto. Let me deal with Manger. It'll be all right, I promise."

Ianto made a snap decision. He grabbed Jack by the arm and bundled him away, around the corner.

"Ianto..." Jack protested, but Ianto was having none of it.

"I trust her not to make this worse for you, cariad. Let her do what she has to do. Now, c'mon. Let's get back. We only have a couple of hours to clear this place, and get out ourselves."

Reluctantly, but also with resignation, Jack conceded.


to be continued...

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