Lady Paperclip (paperclipbitch) wrote,
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"Far Off, Like A Dull Rumour Of Some Other War", Torchwood 1918, Gerald/Harriet

Title: Far Off, Like A Dull Rumour Of Some Other War
Fandom: Torchwood
Pairing: Gerald/Harriet [Torchwood 1918]
Challenge/Prompt: philosophy_20, 10. Time
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 10,645
Genre: Gen/Het
Copyright: Title is from Wilfred Owen, Exposure.
Spoilers: 2x03 To The Last Man, 2x12 Fragments.
Summary: “What’s the point of trying to save the world if it’s going to end anyway?”
Author’s Notes: I loved Gerald and Harriet, and so wanted to write about an historical Torchwood that’s just as fucked up as the one we know and love. Also, since I’m studying World War One literature in English A-level at the moment, it was a chance to geek out with all my historical knowledge! I mean, I’m not going to pretend this is entirely accurate or anything, but it’s been researched a little, at least! *grin* The other characters of Torchwood 1918 are based on the meagre amounts of information given on the BBC website as part of the To The Last Man extras.

One thought: This either works, or doesn’t work at all. I’m not sure which. It’s kind of an experiment.

We only know war lasts, rain soaks, and clouds sag stormy.
Wilfred Owen

“What’s the point of trying to save the world if it’s going to end anyway?” Harriet asks, soft, under the humming of the car engine. She’s got the large, clunky box of her Rift detector cradled in her lap, the needle swinging aimlessly. The streets are quiet; it’s past midnight, after all, and the night is crisply cold and clear.

Gerald doesn’t take his eyes off the road.

“We have a duty,” he responds, flat, like a schoolboy reciting his Latin verbs. “And we will fulfil that duty so that others can fulfil theirs.”

Harriet closes her eyes for a moment. She is tired, hasn’t slept in hours, but sleep isn’t an option at the moment.

“All this technology,” she says, tasting the bitterness wrapped around the words, “All these possibilities of other worlds and yet we can’t end the war tearing our own apart.”

“We have a duty,” Gerald repeats, though his hands are tight on the steering wheel. He has thought of that, of course; they all have. But it must never be mentioned aloud, because what could that achieve?

Harriet turns her attention to the swinging needle of the box in her lap, searching out the trace particles left by tears in reality. Gerald is right; they must do the job assigned to them, and not try to interfere with the things they cannot change.

“Take a left,” she says, as the needle stops swaying erratically, and finally sticks. “The Rift opened East of here.”

Gerald nods curtly, and, simple as that, protocol takes over, and the wider world is shut out yet again.

Harriet lost her sweetheart on the first day of the Somme. Jimmy, with dark hair and a smile for her on Sundays. She has no false hope; they found his body, and his mother cried when the smartly-dressed officer had left, the green octagonal cardboard dogtag lying in her lap. She sobbed into her palms and Harriet bit her mouth together; grief tasted like chalk on her tongue, and she said nothing.

Mama expects her to be married by now; but Mama listened to Jessie Pope and she still knits socks for the soldiers with a dreamy expression. Harriet is hardly in a position to be married now, though she keeps Jimmy’s last Field Service Post Card folded neatly in an old Cadbury’s cocoa tin under her bed. Cryptic to the end, with its useless array of sentences and pencil lines. Whatever it says, it isn’t the truth. Not even half of it.

Harriet thinks she’d like a Field Service Post Card of her own to send out; her sister’s in a hospital in London and her brother’s in Belgium, and both of them want news. Harriet doesn’t know what to say; she can hardly talk of cracks in reality and creatures that come from other worlds. Susan’s letters come with the censorship of an older sister; always determined to leave out the worst of the news, she writes with brittle brightness. Harriet spends enough of her time in the hospitals around Cardiff, she knows what Susan must see every day, not that she will ever mention it. Their letters are made up of brilliantly phrased lies, pens stuttering on paper with all the things that must not be said. Although Harriet thinks she knows what Susan is not telling her, and Susan does not have any idea what Harriet is going through.

Robert’s letters are even more censored; the letters might be intercepted, and so his words are tired, tinged with bitterness as ever. Robert is an officer; he doesn’t expect to live to see the end of the war. Some days, Harriet can’t help but agree with him: there are so many who leave and then never come back.

In the back row of the lecture hall at Oxford, she’d watch them all. Neatly combed hair, charming smiles, perfectly formed vowels. The slightly patronising way they spoke to her, until they realised that the young woman sitting at the back with blue pen ink on her fingers, allowed to sit in on the lectures but definitely not allowed to actually study for a degree, knew more about physics than they did. Once they found that out, they feared her. It was a lonely existence, though Harriet tries not to dwell on that.

Not that it matters any longer. Most of those young men fell to pieces on the Front Line a year or more ago, officers leading companies of doomed men.

It’s the same story, day after day after day. Never any deviation.

Lydia Childs brings Harriet a cup of tea, a soft smile on her lips. She hasn’t been here long; Torchwood One in London sent her along after that terrible business with their last secretary. Gerald was on the telephone for days after that happened, trying to explain adequately how the man had been turned inside-out. Harriet assisted with the autopsy; and wished that she hadn’t.

“Not going home?” Lydia asks. Professional as ever; spick and span and tidy, though it has been a long day for all of them.

“Not much point anymore, is there?” Harriet smiles, picking the teacup out of the saucer and taking a sip. Assam, soothing and aromatic. “In any case, I need to check the latest readings from the Rift.”

Lydia smiles slightly. Harriet doesn’t know her as well as she should; but the Torchwood lifestyle is a solitary one, and in the end it is simpler to stay detached. She and Gerald have been working together for the best part of three years, and yet they barely know the first thing about each other.

When Lydia has walked away to take tea to Douglas Caldwell, seated at his desk and looking as though he would rather be anywhere but the Hub, Harriet turns her attention back to the ledger open in front of her. Neat columns of numbers, calculations, figures. The Rift is like nothing else; it defies conventional physics, it defies definition. All of which makes Harriet all the more determined to work out exactly how it does work. Her achievements will never be heralded, of course, because no one can know about the Rift or about Torchwood’s investigations into it; but, nonetheless, it’s a matter of principle.

For a blissful hour of numbers and formulas and trigonometry, Harriet manages to forget all about the complex mess that is her life at the moment.

They might catch aliens for a living, but Torchwood is still expected to put on a neat and respectable face to do it. Standards must be maintained, after all. Harriet fiddles with the tidy string of pearls around her neck, a gift from her mother years ago. They were her grandmother’s, and Harriet feels guilty every time that she wears them. She suspects her grandmother did not ever have to spend hours working extraterrestrial blood out of the necklace links.

“Nervous, Hattie?” Charles – Doctor Quinn – grins up at her from the well in the autopsy bay. His table is immaculately clean, and there’s a dead alien laid out flat on it, leaking navy blue. His sleeves are rolled back, and a fresh white apron is tied over his suit.

“No,” she replies, dropping her hand down to her side. “Why should I be nervous?”

Charles shrugs, laying out his instruments – knives and cleavers; he looks more like a butcher than a doctor.

“You’re our Rift expert,” he reminds her lightly, “You tell me.”

Harriet walks down the stairs to join him.

“I’m not nervous,” she says. “I’m uneasy.”

“Unusual readings?”

“Very unusual readings,” Harriet agrees. “Of course, I can’t be certain exactly what they mean. For all I know, this is a good thing.”

“Statistics imply it won’t be,” Charles tells her. He’s been at Torchwood since he was a child, he knows this life better than any of them do. He gestures to the corpse on the table. “Would you like to help?”

Lydia comes down the stairs, holding a pen and a pad of paper, ready to take Charles’ dictation. She sits down on the bench against the wall, resting the paper on her knees. Normal secretaries merely make notes on meetings, financial issues, social calendars. Lydia writes about alien autopsies.

“I’ll help,” Harriet agrees, anything to take her mind off the readings she can’t identify. She unbuttons the cuffs of her shirt, rolling them back, and slips the rope of pearls from her neck for safety’s sake. Charles begins speaking as she walks over to put her apron on.

“Ready, Lydia?” She nods. “Autopsy of an alien creature, killed November eighth, 1917. Performed by Doctor Charles Quinn, assisted by Miss Harriet Derbyshire. The alien is male in appearance, appears human but for the green skin and indigo blood, around seven feet in height…”

Harriet folds another letter from her mother up small, sighing as she puts it into the top drawer of her desk.

“Something wrong?” Gerald asks mildly. He is reading The Times at his own desk, and frowning. It is just them in the main Hub; Lydia is in the archives, and Douglas and Charles have gone home.

“No.” Harriet smiles a little bitterly, and this is the point at which she should stop speaking, but she doesn’t. “My mother is just wondering why I’m not married yet. As ever.”

Gerald looks first shocked, then mildly amused. “Ah.”

“She doesn’t seem to have noticed that the war has taken away a great deal of eligible young men,” Harriet continues, reaching for a cup of coffee only to find it cold. “It has made finding a husband rather awkward, I don’t suppose Kitchener considered that.” Her voice has gone dry, cynical.

“And you haven’t…” Gerald begins delicately.

“He died,” Harriet replies tonelessly. “At the Somme.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.” Gerald watches her for a long moment. “You didn’t say anything.”

“It wasn’t anybody’s business,” Harriet replies, a little too sharply.

There is another, brittle pause.

“No,” Gerald agrees quietly, “I suppose it wasn’t.” He swallows, opening the back of his mahogany desk to reveal a crystal decanter and glasses. The strain on all of them these days, and he can usually manage to stop after two. Or three, at most. “Would you like some?”

Harriet hesitates. “All right.”

He measures her off two fingers, which is all she really wants. Harriet takes a sip, and the heady taste of scotch burns the roof of her mouth. It’s testament to how much life at Torchwood has hardened her, that she doesn’t cough.

“You might have told me,” Gerald says, it’s almost a reproach, downing his glass in one. Burning the edge off, and, my God, it’s an edge.

Harriet smiles weakly. “I wasn’t sure how to. It didn’t seem… important enough. To you all, I mean.”

Gerald considers this, splashing a good measure more of scotch into his glass.

“We are friends, though, aren’t we, Hattie?” he asks.

It surprises her. It shouldn’t. “Of course we are,” she replies. “It was two years ago,” she adds, sounding more defensive than she means to.

Gerald nods, and then sighs. Long and heavy and weary.

“Did you ever…” Harriet trails off, unsure exactly how much she wants to ask. How much she wants to know.

“I did,” Gerald admits softly. “I was a lot younger. We were childhood sweethearts.”

Harriet feels a reluctant smile tug at her mouth. “That’s nice,” she says, and means it.

They are silent, and then Gerald sighs, putting the stopper back in the decanter with a clinking sound.

“You’re too polite to ask where she is now,” he says. Finishes the last of the scotch in his glass. “Well, she’s dead.”

“I’m sorry,” Harriet murmurs.

“It was a long time ago,” Gerald murmurs. “Sometimes I think it was another life.”

Harriet knows what he means. Sometimes, she has to close her eyes for minutes at a time before she can recall the exact way Jimmy used to smile at her. She was a different woman then, before the war, before Torchwood.

“Come on,” Gerald says, looking suddenly uncomfortable. “I’ll drive you home, Hattie.”

Robert always called her “Harry”, a bright, wicked smile on his face because it annoyed their mother. Susan was a girl’s girl, porcelain dolls and silk sashes for best. Harriet was the one with grazes on her knees, helping Robert with his schoolwork and far better at the mathematics than he was. Robert wanted a brother, not two younger sisters, so Harry it was. “Hattie” has done well enough for everyone else, though mama calls her nothing but “Harriet”. Mama has dreams and hopes for Harriet that she will never match; a hope for the future that it beautiful in its futility.

Even if Jerry does leave one man half-whole and alive long enough to marry her, there’s still the question of Torchwood to contend with.

Harry has gone the way all of all things, lost inside the woman struggling to live in a man’s world – Mama almost had a fit the day Harriet announced she was going to Oxford to study Physics – and sometimes she misses the girl she once was, before all this started. Now, the bruises and grazes are carefully and meticulously hidden, not gained from climbing trees in the garden with her big brother, but from vicious and dangerous aliens who have little regard for human life.

“Whatever shall I do with you, Harriet?” her mother asked, last time she went home. They were sat in the parlour, the silver sugar tongs clasped tight in Mama’s hand.

“Don’t worry about me,” Harriet replied, sucking a trace of jam from the Victoria sponge off her thumb. “I’m safe, I’m happy.”

White lies, told from necessity. Mama’s face crumpled, and she reached a hand up to brush a loose lock of hair from Harriet’s cheek.

“I do worry about you,” she said, tilting Harriet’s face to the light streaming through the back windows, and it was awkward because Harriet belatedly remembered a black eye that was still healing. Almost gone, but the green shade remained in good lighting, though Charles had done his best. “Susan writes to me so much more often than you do; she sounds so… bright. Not like your letters.”

Harriet managed a feeble smile. Susan always was better at sincerity.

When the Rift is quiet, everyone in the Hub is edgy. At least when they’re having aliens and strange devices and violence thrown at them from all sides, they know where they stand. When they’re merely sitting around, writing up reports and waiting, cracks of reality start to slip through. Gerald starts brooding in the archives, getting in Lydia’s way as she silently reorganises the filing system, Douglas starts drafting long, angry letters to The Times (“Sassoon has the right idea,” he says, “And they can put me in Craiglockhart too, if they think it would help.”) and Harriet ends up recalculating equations she doesn’t understand all that well to begin with.

Lydia is watching a kettle boil on the stove when Harriet joins her, the sound of the steam pouring out making a low, shrieking sound. There’s a tea service all laid out on a tray; tidy and neat and ready for the team’s next break.

“Can I help you with something?” Lydia asks, deftly wrapping a cloth around the hot handle of the kettle and removing it from the stove. Steam fills the air between them for a moment.

“I wanted to ask you a question,” Harriet begins awkwardly. She laughs. “You’re the first woman I’ve worked with at Torchwood, you know.”

“There weren’t many women in London either,” Lydia tells her. “And only in administration.” She glances sideways at Harriet. “No scientists or anything.”

Harriet smiles feebly. “I’m hardly a scientist,” she says, “Sometimes I think I don’t do nearly enough to earn my keep. I can’t even handle a gun, you know.”

Not quite true; Gerald taught her downstairs, gave her a little pistol and showed her how to line up with the target and fire. But Harriet won’t. There are enough guns in the world at the moment.

“It’s probably for the best,” Lydia murmurs, pouring hot water into the teapot. “You wanted to ask me something?”

“Just a silly thing, really,” Harriet says. She swallows, and decides not to back down. “I just wondered if you ever thought about… marriage.”

Lydia watches her for a long moment, dark eyes unblinking.

“Torchwood isn’t really the place to look for a husband,” she says at last. “And there isn’t exactly a plethora of eligible men around, is there?”

Harriet’s helpless smile feels ugly. “It’s going to be something we’ll never have, isn’t it?” she says, admitting it for the first time. “You come to Torchwood alone, and it keeps you that way.”

Lydia offers her a comforting sort of smirk. “You never know; it could still work. I like to think we haven’t forfeited everything.”

Harriet laughs softly. “Jane Austen never foresaw this, did she?” she mumbles. “Two women searching for suitable husbands while avoiding not only a terrestrial war, but the threat of alien invasion. She somehow left that out of her novels.”

Lydia looks amused now. “At this point in time I’d even settle for a Willoughby,” she murmurs, picking up a tea strainer and resting it on the edge of one cup, pouring the hot, steaming liquid out.

“Wouldn’t we all,” Harriet replies.

And she tells herself that she is in no way bitter.

A Sunday afternoon finds Harriet reorganising some of the filing. Lydia won’t ever admit that she needs help, but Torchwood Cardiff has existed for a long time, and things constantly need updating. The Special Operative drawers have neat paper labels on the front, naming the people willing to help Torchwood (or threatened into it; Harriet is by no means naïve. At least, not any more). Harriet has met a few of them in her time; they tend to be strange, slightly nervous men and women, most of whom have a not-quite-human characteristic about them. Torchwood runs not so much on cooperation as on fear.

“Looking for someone?” Gerald enquires, joining her in the freezing cold archive corridor. It’s threatening snow on the surface, and down here it’s hardly warmer. Harriet is wearing a warm coat and the scarf she knitted herself last year to cope with the Cardiff winter, thick navy blue wool.

“The Rift is being quiet at the moment,” Harriet points out, sliding the GE-GR drawer shut. “I’m worried,” she adds softly.

“You should be,” Gerald replies. “It’s the instinct you get, living this close to the Rift.”

Gerald has been here for ten years now, and working for Torchwood for far longer than that; Harriet pities him some days. Then she remembers that Torchwood is not like any other place on Earth, and there is nowhere that any of them would rather be. How could they live somewhere else, knowing what they know now?

“I can’t help thinking that the Rift is going to throw something particularly bad at us, next time it opens,” Harriet admits.

“Maybe it will,” Gerald replies. “But we’ll be ready.”

Harriet brushes her fingers over HA, and finds a man with an entire drawer to himself. Jack Harkness. She pulls it open, revealing thick sheaves of paper. When she draws out the file in the front, it reveals a yellowing profile sheet, with sparse details concerning Captain Jack Harkness written in fading, browned ink. There’s a photograph pinned to the top left-hand corner. The pin has leaked rusty-brown red colour onto the paper.

“This can’t be right,” Harriet says. “It says here that Captain Harkness has been working for us since 1899. But he’s still classified as ‘on active service’.”

Gerald gets an odd little smile that Harriet doesn’t understand.

“Captain Harkness is… special,” he says, at last. “It’s the reason he is so willing to work for us.”

No matter how many times they iron their smart clothes and smile their tidy smiles and save lives every week, Torchwood has its ugly side. Harriet has nothing to do with the dirty work; the blackmail and threatening and the cold blood murders that Douglas and Gerald do behind the warehouses at the docks, coming back without speaking and scrubbing blood off their hands with carbolic soap. Charles is sickened by it, but he helps hide the bodies anyway.

“Where is he now?” Harriet asks, smoothing a thumb over the crumpled photograph of Captain Harkness. He’s smiling like he knows something she doesn’t; it’s entirely possible that he does.

“France,” Gerald replies shortly. He waves his hand, managing to encompass all the drawers. “Most of these men have volunteered by now.”

Harriet puts Captain Harkness’ file back in the drawer so fast she bends the edges of the pages. She can hardly bear to look at the face that must, by now, be buried under the soil over the sea.

“I wouldn’t worry,” Gerald says carefully. “He’ll come back. He always does.”

The telephone rings on a day when she’s got dark green blood soaking into her shirt, sticky and it smells foul. Lydia answers, and looks toward Harriet with an anxious expression.

“It’s for you,” she says. “It’s your sister.”

Harriet knows, even as she walks over to Lydia, what the news must be. Lydia must have figured it out too, because she hands Harriet her pocket handkerchief, clean and not stained green.

Left alone, Harriet takes a deep breath.

“Hello, Susan.”

“Oh, Hattie…” Susan’s voice is trembling, broken but just about holding fast. Made of steel, her big sister. “You must be very brave, Hattie.”

Lydia’s handkerchief is clutched into a small ball in Harriet’s sweating left hand, and she sits down in the leather armchair beside the telephone.

“I told Mama I would tell you,” Susan continues. “She is… indisposed.”

“Did he die in action, or of wounds?” Harriet asks quietly, and is surprised at how strong her voice remains. “When did the telegram arrive?”

“This morning,” Susan tells her. Harriet hears her swallow. “Wounds.”

Harriet shuts her eyes and a teardrop crawls out from beneath her eyelid to wend its way down her cheek.

“I’ll come up to London as soon as I can,” she murmurs, the way her lips are shaking making it nearly impossible to form words. Her face feels numb. Her fist is clenched so hard around the handkerchief that she can feel her fingernails digging into her palm.

“Thank you,” Susan replies, and she doesn’t sound like herself. Harriet wonders what you’re supposed to do at moments like this. People up and down the country do this every single day, and yet somehow it doesn’t become any easier. “I love you,” she adds, sounding a little desperate.

“I love you too,” Harriet replies, and puts the telephone down.

It takes a few minutes of sitting in a horrified, aching silence before Gerald walks over, slowly, carrying a cup of tea. He puts it down on the desk in front of Harriet, then gets a bottle out of the bottom drawer of his desk and adds a generous measure of brandy.

“Take as much time as you need,” he tells her gently, in his grave, sturdy voice, and Harriet manages to nod. She feels a little like she’ll never be able to move again. He coughs. “Is it… is it your brother?”

Harriet manages another nod, and feels she should get a medal for it.

“I’m so sorry,” Gerald tells her. Harriet isn’t sure she wants to hear it. She looks down at her hands, clenched in her lap, and she doesn’t really know if it’s tears or alien blood rolling down her face.

Harriet spends a week in London trying to help put her mother back together. It is more time than Susan is able to get, but it eventually becomes clear that she must return to Cardiff. She has duties, much as she hates to admit it. Gerald says that he will drive her back to Cardiff, and Harriet finds herself sitting on her small brown suitcase on the front steps, waiting for the car. She feels like a child, wrong-footed and tired from what has easily been the worst week of her life. It’s cold out here, early December, but Harriet cannot be in the house right now.

Bitter, weak winter sunlight bathes her in its tired glow, and Harriet briefly wonders if she’ll be left here, waiting forever. If it would be such a bad thing, not to return to Torchwood. But she cannot think like that, because she knows that they need her. Sometimes she wishes that they didn’t, but they do.

“He’s late,” Mama remarks, opening the front door and coming to join Harriet on the steps.

“Cardiff is a long way away,” Harriet replies peaceably. “It’s cold out here; you should go back inside.”

“I think I’d like to meet this Mr Carter that you never speak about,” Mama replies, with a hint of a brave smile. Heather Derbyshire is stronger than she looks, perhaps stronger than she knows. Ultimately, she’ll survive this.

Harriet sighs, standing up and taking off her scarf, knotting it safely around her mother’s neck. Sometime, in the last few days, her mama has become old and tired. It stings her eyes when she notices this, and Harriet quickly turns away, blinking hard. Finally, the silver and black car rounds the corner and draws to a halt. Gerald unfolds himself from the driver’s seat and walks up the steps to greet them.

“Mama, this is Gerald Carter,” Harriet says, realising introductions are in order, “Gerald, this is my mother, Heather Derbyshire.”

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Mrs Derbyshire,” Gerald says, leaning over to shake hands.

“Likewise,” Mama replies with a hint of a smile. “Would you like a cup of tea, Mr Carter?”

“That’s very kind of you, but we’ve a long drive ahead of us,” Gerald replies, picking up Harriet’s suitcase for her.

“I can carry it myself,” Harriet whispers.

“I don’t want your mother thinking I’m not a gentleman,” Gerald replies, a hint of humour sparkling in his eyes. Harriet scowls, watching as he carries it down to the car.

She exchanges goodbyes with her mother, feeling awkward and sad and promising that she’ll be safe, though she suspects that she might not be. Harriet all but flees down to the car, just wanting to leave now, if she has to go.

“We missed you,” Gerald says, after a solid few minutes of silence.

Harriet nods. “I don’t want to talk right now,” she admits, turning her head to look out of the window at London flashing past.

Gerald seems to understand, and doesn’t try to speak again.

Three Weevils have been running around Cardiff causing huge amounts of damage. Douglas and Charles manage to drag them in, getting only minor bruises for their troubles, and Harriet helps them to lock the creatures in the cells downstairs. They’re hardly secure; two lots of bars, vertical and horizontal, to create a sort of grid that makes it difficult for the creatures to reach out their hands. Douglas did once tentatively suggest using barbed wire, but somehow that doesn’t sit quite right. They’re fighting a war of a different kind, after all.

“Terrifying, aren’t they?” Douglas remarks to Harriet as they watch the Weevils roam around their cages, snarling and hissing. “I wouldn’t like to go wherever they come from.”

Harriet laughs quietly, and Lydia comes down the stairs, carrying a heap of cheap oversized shirts, trousers and jumpers. Needlework and knitting were never Harriet’s strong points but then the Weevils don’t exactly appreciate the neatness of the clothes.

“Charles is coming down with some chloroform,” Lydia says. “Then we can dress them, check that they’re all right, and try and return them to the sewers.”

Harriet brushes her fingers across the bars; a Weevil hurls itself forward, lips drawn back from its teeth, and she stares into its dark, alien eyes. Hollow pits, a girl could lose herself in them and never find her way out again.

“Hattie.” Douglas puts an anxious hand on her shoulder, squeezing just the wrong side of too tight.

“Sometimes,” she mutters, spilling a little too much truth, “I wonder who is more human here.”

A breathless moment; she’s losing control. And then Charles walks in with a bottle of chloroform, proving a welcome distraction. She and Douglas never bring it up again.

Harried keeps a diary in curly black handwriting, which she hides in the archives in a drawer labelled Forgotten Dreams by some other Torchwood employee years before. The paper label is yellowing with age and there were already a dozen or more diaries lying hidden in there when she first opened it. For the sake of decency, Harriet has done little more than skim through them, but the words and phrases are always the same.

Reginald fell last night… the creature had too many teeth… I’d never seen that much blood, not ever, not even when Miranda died… the device exploded into white light… thank God Horatio’s wife had already died of the typhoid last summer… and I saw the future… sometimes I wonder why I still stay here… Emily watches me all the time, I don’t know why… the creature looked human, right up until it uncurled its claws… I can’t remember the last three days, no one can… as long as the stitches hold, Ferdy promises I’ll come out all right… I know it was improper, even illegal, what he and I did in the cells last night, but I am tired of being alone and he kisses like an angel… I just don’t know what to tell my wife.

If she is caught keeping a record of her life at Torchwood Three, there will be severe punishments. It’s a matter of national security, even if no one is really all that secure at the moment. Somehow, though, Harriet doesn’t care; if she didn’t have an outlet somewhere she would go quite mad.

It is a Friday, she writes, with a cup of steaming coffee at her elbow (bless Lydia). They expect snow tonight and I think the Rift is restless. Its fluctuations come almost hourly now. Everyone looks at me to know, because it is, of course, why I am here, but so much of the physics at Oxford was theoretical, and this is decidedly not.

She thinks about it for a moment, brushing her lips with her left thumb.

Charles sustained a sprained wrist two days ago from our latest visitor, a strange creature who spoke no English and preferred to express its opinions with its teeth. We are lucky that it was able to repair its transportation and leave without harming many civilians.

It’s somehow easier to think of it all as clean-cut like that.

Tonight, we all feel tense, she continues after a long pause. Lydia has swept the floor three times and is now alphabetising our bookshelves according to some system only she understands. Douglas is pacing and getting pipe smoke everywhere; it is close to unbearable. Charles is sterilising his instruments again, occasional metallic clatters coming from the autopsy bay indicate that he has forgotten his injured wrist cannot adequately support the weight. Gerald keeps brushing the drawer of his desk where he keeps his brandy. It is a battle of wills I am not entirely sure I can watch.

She closes the book when the needle of the Rift Monitor on her desk begins to swing erratically.

“Rift opening,” she announces, and the team snap to attention immediately, as they always do.

Harriet sometimes wonders what will happen to her words when she is gone. If they’ll lie in the drawer with the other diaries, perhaps to be added to by team members of the future, until some other secretary takes them all out and files them correctly, or destroys them. This much is certain: she will never know.

“Come for a walk with me, Hattie,” Gerald suggests.

“It’s late,” Harriet replies. It isn’t a no, but it isn’t quite a yes. Propriety reigns here, although since everything else abandoned ship long ago, she doesn’t know why she clings quite so hard to conventionality.

“You’ve been at that desk for hours,” he tells her. “You could do with some air.”

It is entirely possible she will freeze to death under the cold, clear December night sky, but Harriet obediently goes to take her coat from the hatstand. Double-breasted, with large buttons down both sides. It’s warm and thick – the winters here are devastating.

They remain silent as they walk up the stairs to the surface. It takes eight minutes to navigate the flights of steps and narrow brick corridors if you walk briskly; ten if you drag your feet, six if you hurry, and four and a half if you’re running with a wounded colleague braced against your shoulders.

“You have another motivation,” Harriet decides under a streetlight. “Care to enlighten me?”

Gerald smiles, face stripes of light and shadow. It really is very late. He reaches into his pocket, draws out cigarettes and he cups a match carefully in his hands to protect it from the wind.

“Would you like one?” he asks.

Harriet only hesitates a second before nodding, accepting another which he lights from the end of his. Smoke bleeds from her lips into the night air.

“What did you want to talk about?” she asks.

“I wanted to see if you were… all right,” Gerald admits, as they begin to walk towards the town itself. Nothing to see at the docks today, and it’s ink black around them, streetlamps dimmed in case the Hun take it into their heads to sweep over Wales and drop some bombs.

Zeppelins came to London, you know, tore buildings apart. What seems like government hysteria can so easily flick into sensible precautions.

“I’m quite fine,” Harriet tells him, tasting the smoke bitter in her mouth.

“It is all right for you not to be fine,” Gerald tells her earnestly.

None of them are fine, not really. Torchwood does not breed ‘fine’ or ‘normal’. Gerald is half the man he was, held together with his stiff upper lip, his cigarettes, his alcohol, and the tattered remains of propriety. Lydia is facing spinsterhood with an exhausted expression, papercuts on her fingertips. Charles is all smiles and laughter, until he is reminded that, still, Torchwood is one of the only places that will take him for the simple matter of skin colour. Douglas is a seething mess of frustration and guilt (he thinks he ought to be in France, doing his bit. He’s never once said it aloud, but Harriet can feel it nonetheless).

And if Harriet allows herself to feel the way she ought to feel, then the blaming might never stop.

“You know,” she begins, forcing her mouth to move, “You know that in Craiglockhart, in hospitals all over the country, there are men who have been sickened by the war. Who cannot talk, who cannot eat, who cannot see, who cannot sleep. They scream and vomit and shake and it is all because of what they have seen and done.”

Gerald watches her, saying nothing, waiting for his moment. Harriet can feel her eyes growing full, and looks down at the cigarette held between the fingers of her left hand. Her warm leather gloves, a present from Susan for her birthday years ago. They lose the ability to grip, sending the final sparks of paper and flame to the ground, and she cannot look at Gerald.

“I think, well, at least my brother was spared that,” she says at last. “I don’t think Robert could have borne it. I don’t think my mother could have either. I am sure that he would rather be-”

Her tongue sticks. She cannot say it. And her eyes spill over; quick and sudden, her wind burned cheeks are wet. Gerald drops his cigarette to the pavement, crushing it quickly under one carefully-shined boot. He pulls her against him, and she presses her face into the itchy wool of his winter coat. She shouldn’t be doing this, she is sure this breaks too many conventions, or perhaps they are merely barriers she has put in place in her mind.

Gerald says nothing until she stops weeping, feeling too young and too weak and too embarrassed, and he even lends her his handkerchief when she cannot find hers quickly enough. Harriet runs her thumb over the initials embroidered so carefully into the corner, and cannot quite look at him.

“Better?” he asks finally, as they walk back towards the Hub.

Harriet finds her voice. “I don’t know.”

Her Rift monitor lies on the floor a few feet away, the casing cracked. The needle quivers and Harriet watches it for a long second, sprawled on the floor as she is. Her skirt is torn and her arm is bleeding profusely.

Swallowing hard and tasting blood – she’s bitten the inside of her mouth, her teeth feel slick and salty – Harriet fumbles for her gun, a pistol that seems too heavy in her hand. The world spins around her as she carefully sits up, clutching the gun safely. She hates using weaponry, but this latest creature isn’t leaving them much choice. On the floor above, Douglas and Gerald chase the alien through corridors; occasionally there are crashing or splintering noises that echo down the stairs. Harriet was knocked aside a few minutes ago, and so has been left down here.

Just as she finally regains her balance, Harriet hears a pounding sound and the creature comes streaking down the stairs. Instinct kicking in, she steps back to block the doors, but she can’t raise the gun. Her arm won’t move.

“Harriet!” Gerald comes running down the stairs after the creature. His temple is cut and running blood down his cheek, he’s limping and he’s lost his gun. Harriet is the last barrier between the alien and the rest of Cardiff. “Harriet, kill it!”

They save the world by destroying one creature at a time. Neutralising a threat at a time. Charles told them about the reproductive habits of this alien, how if they let it alone for too long it’ll divide and double itself. And so on. It could overrun the world in a matter of a couple of years if they don’t stop it. Harriet has to kill it, and kill it now, or it will already be too late.

But… why should she? Why should Harriet save a world where her sister is surrounded every day by the little pieces of men that manage to struggle home, and her mother can lose her only son, and her brother can die alone and in pain in a country too far away to get to? What’s the point?

Harriet!” Gerald calls again, and Harriet unfreezes, raises her gun and fires until her cartridge clicks empty. Then the weapon clatters from her hand, she takes two steps away from the doors and her legs crumple. She was so close to just stepping aside and letting that alien destroy the world, and she can’t afford to slip. Not one bit.

She is dimly aware of Douglas joining them, one eye a livid purple bruise and a sway to his step implying he’s only just regained consciousness. He begins to drag the limp alien corpse away, to be wrapped up and taken back for Charles to autopsy and lock away. Harriet stays where she is, feeling weak and slightly guilty.

“Are you all right?” Gerald asks, sitting beside her. Harriet raises her head and looks at him, finally managing a nod.

“Yes,” she says. “I shall be.”

She becomes aware that she’s shivering, from tiredness and shock more than anything else. Gerald pulls off his coat and tucks it safe around her. Harriet brings her knees up to her chest, resting her head against them, and Gerald doesn’t move away.

“Merry Christmas, Hattie,” he murmurs at last.

Charles carefully pins a pile of reports together, straightening them. It is very late, and Harriet thinks that she would like to be asleep. However, she seems to be incapable of sleeping at the moment; and she’s not the only one.

“You’re not happy, Harriet,” Charles observes quietly.

“A lot of people aren’t happy,” she replies noncommittally, watching Lydia dusting on the other side of the Hub. There’s a cup of cold Darjeeling sitting near her, put there three hours ago and somehow forgotten.

“Perhaps.” Charles smiles slightly, carefully. “You’re not happy, Hattie.”

Her fingers curl against the desk, smooth mahogany under her hands. Charlie, please, don’t do this, she thinks weakly.

“No one’s happy,” she tells him tightly. “We’re all irrevocably sombre, and when we’re not it’s only because we’re giddy with relief.”

Charles reaches over to take her hand. Harriet squeezes back, tightly, not looking at him because she can’t.

“Find something,” Charles murmurs. “Find something, anything.”

Harriet presses her dry lips together and only doesn’t start crying through sheer force of will.

The new year heralds an inspection from Torchwood One. The Hub is forced into a degree of order; Lydia spends days straightening books and wiping imaginary dust from every surface (although Harriet suspects that might have more to do with the telegram that arrived relating to the death of a cousin last week). The cells are cleaned out and the aliens given more sedative than is really necessary. Everyone is ready, though Harriet is unsure as to why they’re all so nervous. No matter what is found here, they won’t be shut down. Their work is too important.

The young man who walks down the stairs and into the Hub doesn’t look old enough to be here. He looks as though he should still be at school, with a pile of books under his arm. His hair is parted neatly, smoothed flat, and his tie looks more like a noose around his neck. Too smartly dressed, and he’s terrified; Harriet can tell.

“Where’s Rogers?” Douglas asks, never one for treading gently around a subject if running straight in will work faster. “He usually conducts these inspections.”

The boy – Harriet cannot think of him as anything else – licks his lips before replying, anxiety creased into his youthful face.

“Mister Rogers is in Belgium,” he says. “Most of the men from Torchwood One have left to serve in the war.”

Harriet catches sight of Charles tensing out of the corner of her eye. Douglas is plagued by constant guilt that he should still be serving; he was a draughtsman in the Royal Engineers up until nearly ten years ago. They live in constant fear he will be pushed a little too far, and will leave them.

They all remain silent for a minute that lasts too long, no idea what to say or how to cope with social niceties.

“And what’s your name?” Gerald asks at last, taking command and pity on the poor young man, probably only been with them a few months, sent to ensure that Torchwood Three is doing all it can. They might be tired and angry with Torchwood One, but that’s no reason to take it all out on the child sent to them.

“Williams, sir,” he says. “Rupert Williams.”

“I’m Gerald Carter,” Gerald says, holding out a hand. “And this is my team: Harriet Derbyshire, Douglas Caldwell, Doctor Charles Quinn and Lydia Childs.”

Handshakes all around; Williams’ hand trembles a little, but he’s firm enough. There’s hope for the poor boy yet.

“Would you like to see our containment cells, Mister Williams?” Harriet suggests. She catches Gerald’s eye and he frowns a little, but she winks and turns to Williams, pinning a bright smile to her face.

“Yes, that would be… interesting,” he replies, sheer blind panic in his eyes, and follows her downstairs. Harriet takes him to level minus three, which is currently empty, and offers him one of the two chairs they keep down there for observation purposes.

“You don’t know what you’re looking for, do you?” she says, ensuring to keep her voice kind.

He flushes; an impressive flush that covers not only his face but his neck as well.

“I’ve only been working for Torchwood for three months,” he admits. Harriet leans forward a little and smiles gently at him.

“And how old are you?” she asks.

“Seventeen,” he confesses.

Harriet nods. “I tell you what,” she suggests, making sure to keep her voice bright, “You will go back to London and inform them that we are doing the best job we can with the resources at our disposal. And right now we will go back upstairs and Lydia will make us all some tea.”

Williams gives her a grateful expression, and Harriet smiles.

Gerald is preoccupied. There is rain against the windows of the car and there’s a tense silence that Harriet cannot quite unravel. She cradles her Rift monitor in her lap, held like the child she’ll never have. There’s a crate in the back of the car, nailed shut, with a silver device in it that has so far killed three people.

“Do you think…” Gerald begins, and then trails into silence.

“Do I think what?” Harriet asks carefully. Then she realises. “No, I don’t. We need you here, Gerald.”

“Most of Torchwood One has left,” Gerald says. “If I stay here, then…”

“Our job is to keep the world safe,” Harriet tells him sharply. “If you leave, then Douglas will leave, and Charles, Lydia and I cannot police the Rift alone.”

It sounds calm, cool, logical. Gerald nods after a moment, and the tension in the car relaxes just enough.

What Harriet’s explanation does not account for is the feeling that something is stuck tight in her throat, refusing to move. She watches raindrops down the windowpane for a few minutes, waiting for her breathing to ease.

It only takes a moment, a dropped guard, for disaster to strike. Harriet finds herself lying on a damp pavement, a Weevil bite a little too close to her neck. She thinks that she lost consciousness for a while, and even now the world is sliding and blurring in front of her tired eyes.

Running footsteps, splashing, shouting. She curls her fingers against the ground, groaning softly, the word ‘help’ starting and failing on her mouth. It is late and dark and cold, so cold… and she can’t make her arm move to feel the injury on her neck.

“Harriet! Harriet, oh Jesus…” Gerald is struggling to keep calm, she can see, knelt down beside her.

“My pearls,” she says weakly, forcing words out of her mouth. “My pearls, are they all right?”

Shadows move; she thinks Gerald is touching her neck. His hands move, and a moment later, he holds up her grandmother’s string of pearls in front of her eyes. Many of them are reddish-pink with her blood, which is frightening, but they seem to have survived.

“That’s good…” she murmurs, and her eyes start closing.

“Oh no you don’t,” Gerald snaps, easing her up. She falls against him, limp like a doll. Not like the dolls she had as a little girl though; they were porcelain and cold and stiff.

“Getting blood on your coat,” Harriet mumbles, lips barely moving.

“I don’t mind,” Gerald replies gently.

Harriet makes a soft moaning sound, and stays boneless against Gerald, cradled in his arms. They left propriety behind a long time ago, and there’s no one whose arms she would rather die in.

“Stay with me, Hattie,” Gerald says into her ear, rocking her like a child. And Harriet tries. She really does.

Wrapped up safe in bed, a bandage itchy around her neck, Harriet sits up against the headboard and begins a letter to her mother.

There are clanking sounds at the other end of the corridor – Charles insisted on her staying in the lower levels of the Hub and she’s too tired to argue – and she smiles slightly.

Mother, she writes, I have not been entirely truthful. And I am sorry for that. I am not working directly towards the war effort on the government’s behalf as I have told you. I work for an organisation called Torchwood…

She finishes the letter, describing the true nature of her work and admitting that she nearly died two days ago, folds it all neatly into an envelope, and knows that she will not send it.

The weather continues cold, she writes on a fresh piece of paper, but I am wrapping up warm so do not worry too much! The new rationing measures are not helping matters either, but I suspect that we shall muddle through.

Writing about the little things, the unimportant things, calms her a little. She cannot tell her mother the truth; in spite of everything, Harriet still feels the need to protect mama from the ugly truths of her life.

If she did admit the truth, the hideous injury and the mercy of the machine they found that seems to smooth scar tissue, then Harriet has no doubt that her mother would probably manage to survive the revelation anyway. Mama has nerves of iron and whatever misgivings Harriet might have about her determined and misplaced idealism born entirely from lies, she will never forget that. Papa killed in the Boer war; medals, and the memory of red uniforms in a stiff, discoloured photograph on the mantelpiece. Harriet was five and the youngest of the three grave-faced, blonde children, dressed gracefully in mourning black. Robert cared more – ten years old, and once Harriet walked in on him gripping Papa’s posthumous medal so tight it was nearly cutting into his hand.

Still dressed dark for grief, three months later, Mama had to deal with three tetchy children with whooping cough. Harriet remembers the sickness a little more vividly than she remembers the telegram and the sound of her mother crying, though not much more. She wishes that she could recall those times better – but so many things have happened since.

Sometimes, Harriet forgets that she is still young. It barely seems relevant any longer.

“I was worried about you,” Lydia says quietly, seated on a chair beside Harriet’s bed with her knitting and a cup of coffee.

Harriet attempts a feeble smile, and tries not to remember Gerald carrying her back to the car, Charles shouting desperate instructions, and Douglas driving like a madman through the streets.

“I always come out all right,” she offers, voice quiet and brittle.

Lydia shrugs her shoulders, saying nothing, knitting needles flashing in the rather poor lighting. Harriet knows what does not need to be said – that at any second any or all of them could die, and there will be no fanfare and no warning. Death is ugly and sudden, whether it’s taking place on the Western Front or on the rainy streets of Cardiff. Whether it’s the war for the world or the war against the universe, in the end it’s all the same.

“You looked so still,” Lydia admits, soft, and drops three stitches in her attempt to stay calm.

Harriet sucks her lower lip into her mouth, and it tastes bitter as liquorice. Her eyes ache, like someone’s been sticking pins into them, and she didn’t want to worry anyone. Her guard slipped long enough for the bite of teeth, and if she hadn’t twisted when she did her jugular vein would have been severed and no amount of Charles’ determined medicine would have been able to save her.

Working for Torchwood, reading the lies on the pages of their newspapers, they all live purely on if onlys, their sleep torn open with the nightmares of what they might have done, what might have happened if the slightest circumstance had proven itself to be more negotiable.

“These things happen,” Harriet murmurs. It almost cheapens her suffering and the words sting her lips but a misplaced Weevil doesn’t seem important when compared with Robert bleeding alone in the mud and blood of Ypres. “We just have to learn to live with it.”

“Of course,” Lydia whispers, all propriety and stiff fingers shaking. She’s already unravelling her knitting.

Susan will have to turn out the best, Harriet decides, fountain pen sliding over the page of her diary in loose swirls of letters. Susan will have to be married with children – Mama will crumble and suffer if she is not given grandchildren, and after all the things that have been taken from her she deserves to be given something – because Harriet has lost the option.

Eight weeks after she began working for Torchwood, she attempted to write her will, to leave what she had left to her family. By then, she’d realised how thin mortality became at Torchwood, how one moment you were life and breath and determination, and the next left you flattened out, dead, white. But it turns out that her body is not hers and will remain in a drawer forever when she is done using it; and everything she owns will be shut into a cupboard on level minus six, kept from the world in death as so much of her life is now.

Grandmother bequeathed her pearls to me, she writes tiredly, veins sluggish with the morphine she insists she no longer needs and that Charles gives her anyway, And I will have no one to bequeath them to when my time comes.

(My time may come sooner than I wish it to) she adds in smaller letters. (No one seems capable of lasting long here. I do not think myself any better than those who served before me and they have all left their old age to neglect and fantasy.)

Douglas and Charles worked her blood out of the necklace links one night when the Rift was not open and Harriet tossed in fevered dreams, and now the creamy pearls lie on her blanket. When she blinks, a tear of more heat than she expects slips down her cheek; Susan must be everything for their mama because Harriet no longer knows how to be.

A new note – look after them – accompanies her pearls in a brown paper parcel on its way down to London a day later. Harriet can think of nothing else to do. Not any more.

Harriet’s sleep is dark and curled in on itself and she wishes that Charles would announce her fit for active duty once more because she cannot face lying around in a bed for much longer. She is beginning to realise that the only thing worse than being a member of the Torchwood team and seeing death, destruction and potential apocalypses every day is being inside the Hub and watching it all happen without being allowed to take part. The inactivity is destroying her.

A light makes her open her eyes from the shallow grey dreams she cannot escape from, and she finds Gerald sitting in the chair beside her bed, face wan. It is the first time Harriet has seen him since he carried her back to the Hub; the others have come to see her with snatches of reports and words of support and fresh cups of tea. But not Gerald. For some reason, this did not surprise Harriet in the slightest.

But he is here now, dirt smudged down his cheek, a crust of blood tucked at the corner of his mouth, watching her with hollow eyes and her heart thumps out of time in her chest.

“Gerald?” Harriet’s voice catches in her throat, as she pushes herself upright, back smooth against the headboard. “Gerald, you shouldn’t be here.”

His mouth curls into a deadened smile.

“I don’t know if I can do this,” he murmurs, and suddenly she can see the man beneath the leader, the expression that usually only whisky can unpeel. The expression that only Harriet is ever allowed to see; but that doesn’t make her feel any better.

She stares at the blood on his mouth and feels her chest get too tight. “What… happened?” she manages, suddenly fearing the worst. Isolated from the rest of the team, whenever they leave she can’t help the piece of her that wonders if they will be able to return.

“Charles is seeing to Douglas,” Gerald tells her quietly. “Just a cut.”

“Oh.” Relief pours into Harriet; she of all people knows how much worse it could have been.

“I’m so tired, Hattie,” Gerald admits, fingers bunching around a clump of Harriet’s blankets. Before she thinks about it, Harriet closes her hand over his, rubbing her thumb over his knuckles. The touch is strangely intimate and yet she can’t bring herself to pull away.

“We will do this, Gerald,” she tells him, conviction coming from somewhere indefinable inside her. “We will do this until he cannot do it any longer.”

He pulls her close, her head resting against his strong shoulder. Gerald smells of blood and dirt and exhaustion but Harriet doesn’t care. It occurs to her that she never has.

“Morning, Charlie,” Harriet offers with as much brightness as she can scrape up from inside her.

“You don’t call me ‘Charlie’ unless you want something,” Charles points out, smiling. “So why don’t you tell me what it is you’d like, Hattie.”

“I need you to pronounce me fit to return to duty,” Harriet explains, giving up on pretence. “Please, Charlie.”

“You’re not ready, Harriet,” he says carefully, sitting down beside her and taking her hands in his. His touch is warm, certain, but nothing like Gerald’s. “It has barely been a week.”

“We make up our own rules here, and you know it!” Harriet pleads, grasping his hands tight. “Charles, you’ve got to let me back on the team. You know you do.”

“I won’t,” Charles tells her, shaking his head, whispering so quietly Harriet can barely hear him. “I won’t put you back out there to die. Not the closest friend I have.”

Harriet knows what he means because she understands Charles better than anyone; the lingering glances over a military uniform on a lanky male frame and she’ll carry that secret with her forever, but he loves her and she supposes that she loves him.

“You need me out there,” she murmurs; choosing not to say Gerald needs me because Charles already knows. He sighs, letting go of her.

“There’s an emergency at St Teilo’s,” Charles offers. “The ghost problem that started last month has been getting worse. You should probably be there.”

Harriet reaches to squeeze his hand again. “Thank you, Charlie.”

“The world goes on,” Gerald says, when Charles and Douglas are putting Private Thomas Reginald Brockless into cryogenic stasis and Harriet is completing her sketch of Toshiko Sato. Mama insisted they all learn to draw as children; something to keep them occupied on wet afternoons.

“Hard to believe,” Harriet replies calmly, laying down her pen. Gerald has the box for them to put their information in, which will be permanently sealed until the Torchwood of the future need it. “And they spoke English,” she adds uncertainly. “Not German.”

“That’s a paradox, Hattie,” Gerald reminds her softly, fingers brushing over her shoulder. “We cannot make any assumptions.”

Harriet rolls up her drawing and tucks it into the box; Gerald clicks the lid, and they both stare at it for a long moment, knowing that they will never see it opened again.

“At least we know there is a future,” Harriet decides at last. “Some days, I don’t know what to believe.”

Mama’s latest letter lies open on Harriet’s desk; strings of I do believe Haig will win this war for us; he seems such a dashing man, and the reports are so very positive and then, unexpected: I expect your sister will write to you, dear, but I was halfway through this letter when I received the news so I thought I would pass it on to you. Susan is engaged to be married! He used to be a soldier, lost half his arm in battle; but he seems a lovely fellow.

Harriet is in the archives with sheets of paper and an emotional dilemma. She’s happy for Susan, of course she is; Susan will be daughter enough for both of them, when Harriet has slid away into darkness and shadow or maybe had her throat torn out by just the wrong sort of alien. But it’s a harsh reminder, yet again, of what she wanted and what she cannot have.

Footsteps sound in the corridor outside, and she schools her facial features into something sensible and calm and collected.


“I’m here!” she calls back, slotting another sheaf of papers into a drawer – Lydia always needs the help and Harriet always needs the quiet – before turning around.

Gerald seems uncharacteristically nervous, standing in the doorway and just looking at her. Harriet wonders what pretty words he put together to tell her, and what he decided while watching her sleep two nights ago.

“I don’t need to hear you say it,” she says, voice cracking and trembling, “I don’t want to hear any of it.”

Gerald smiles uncomfortably. “But you do want-”

“Yes.” Her mouth trembles, her eyes feel weak and wet. “Oh God, yes.”

In two long strides, Gerald reaches her side and pulls her into his arms. Harriet looks up at him and knows that whatever this is, it will never be enough and somehow it doesn’t matter. She won’t be able to write to mama with news of an engagement – she will never be able to mention Gerald at all – but his hands at her waist feel strong and certain and Harriet also knows that she won’t regret this.

She closes her eyes, and, after a moment, Gerald claims her mouth in a kiss.

Over the years, Harriet has read extracts from all the Torchwood diaries hidden in the Forgotten Dreams drawer and has read of love affairs and of no-love-at-all affairs and of how all of them inevitably finish. Messily, tragically, quietly. She and Gerald are each other’s strength but that will not protect them from the unwritten rules of working for Torchwood.

In her own diary, Harriet simply writes: I know that this won’t last forever, and sooner or later it will end. But God, I hope it’s a bloody long time before it does.

She closes her book as Charles runs past, already loading up his gun. A spaceship has crashed into the Bay, there’s silver fire everywhere and of course everyone’s swearing blind that it’s the Germans, so there’s panic on the streets. And, presumably, soon there will be vicious aliens to eat the terrified population, because Harriet has learned to her cost that bad luck will always double itself if given the opportunity.

Even Lydia has a rifle cradled capably in her arms, whilst Douglas is filling his coat pockets with Grenades. Harriet quickly starts loading a round of bullets into her own pistol, aware that pacifism gets you nowhere if you want to live. And she wonders where her inner peace vanished to, as she runs after Gerald through the winding brick corridors to the surface. When they reach the door, all five of them ready to face whatever comes next, Gerald’s fingers brush the inside of her wrist, a second of shared intimacy that makes her swallow down a smile.

Then he’s pushing the door open and the sky is alight with metal and flames, and the screaming is high and terrified and endless, people running around on the streets with end of the world and it’s the Germans! on their mouths. Harriet watches the pandemonium for a long second, unable to move.

Oh Jesus, she thinks, Oh Jesus make it stop.

The End

Tags: challenge: philosophy_20, character: charles quinn, character: douglas caldwell, character: gerald carter, character: harriet derbyshire, character: jack harkness, character: lydia childs, pairing: gerald/harriet, torchwood 1918, tv show: torchwood, type: gen, type: het
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