Chapter 29: With The Dawn Of Redeeming Grace
Ianto had nothing left as Agroná approached him. She was flickering, changing her appearance from young to old in a stretch and crumple of skin and bone. Something was affecting her hold on time and he hoped that Torchwood had something to do with it.
Her body shuddered, her eyes catching the dawn and diluting its light turning its beauty into something brutal and cold. Thomas Rees materialised before them, his face stony. Agroná regarded him as he joined the circle of his comrades, her face discolouring under the reach of light.
“Let me do it.” Stuart Bevan begged as his bayonet rubbed over Ianto’s abdomen catching the material of his jacket and slashing through to its rich lining.
“No,” the old woman hissed.
She staggered with the brunt of continual change. “Thomas must do this.”
Her gaze fell on the lieutenant, they exchanged a barbed look that seemed to cut through the soldier with many sharp points.
“Can’t do it yourself then?” Ianto taunted. “Goes against your creed, does it, to actually get your own hands dirty…”
She sneered through young lips. “You have a sharp tongue perhaps I will rip it out so you can spend eternity as a mute.”
Bevan moved the tip of his bayonet closer to Ianto’s mouth nicking the skin on his chin. Agroná leaned towards the small blister of blood and licked it from his face; Ianto turned away.
Her body rattled with laughter as she stepped back and handed Thomas Jack’s Webley, Ianto noticed the flesh of her aged hand had the texture of bark.
“Use this,” she commanded, “and aim for the stomach I want him to suffer a slow death.” Ianto rolled his eyes.
Rees took the gun feeling its weight in his hands. He looked at Ianto his stare deepening. Ianto held eye contact as Thomas pointed the weapon in his direction and smiled.
Jack held Tosh upright as the energy burnt from her body feeding the slit of time. “Owen, Gwen, get back here now!”
He watched as the sliver of light wrenched at its own edges widening itself in a flux of mirrored beams.
The flare of the bullet scored the new day hitting its target in a hungry explosion of dead flesh. Charles Davis had just a second to react against the hole in his wide forehead before death took his lifeless body in a cloud of dust. Agroná’s dry screech left her gasping as a second bullet tore Evan Thomas into a desiccated swirl of burnt ash that smouldered as it collapsed to the ground taking the charred remains of the rat with it.
“No!” The alien’s face became crusted with bark as she fell to her hands and knees. “Stop!”
Stuart Bevan pulled Ianto toward him as a shield. “We chose this,” he argued as sunlight filtered through the press of cloud and smoke.
“The corollary is too bitter a price.” Thomas took careful aim, his arm rigid.
“But I want this, please don’t take it from me, I want to live.” The bayonet dug into Ianto ribs.
“You’re already dead, we all are, we just don’t realise, we believed in a lie, her lies and now I’m breaking the pact.” His gaze settled on Ianto and the young man threw himself forward his momentum snapping the weapon from Bevan’s grasp.
“I’m giving us peace.” The bleak sound of the Webley discharged sending Stuart Bevan to his waiting grave in a plume of thick smoke.
“I hope Isaac is there for you,” Thomas whispered closing his eyes and letting his arm fall to his side.
“You betrayed us.” Agroná stood, her face vexed in folds of wood.
“You, betrayed us,” Thomas countered watching her skin split and knot with visible age.
“You were nothing when I found you,” she screamed, her movement weighted and stiff, “a coward, running away from life to death…”
“Then death has changed me where life could not.” He watched her wither.
“I gave you purpose, I gave you strength,” she hissed like the rake of dry leaves.
“No, I found hope….”
Agroná laughed with a hostile smile. “And I can take it away.”
With the last vestiges of the power held within her body she struck out at Ianto. Light seared through his body wrenching at each nerve and pooling around every joint. He felt his heart stumble in its rhythmic beat as it tried to gain its steady momentum but the pain was choking him; he was dying.
He was aware of someone shouting as his mind drifted, caught between the beckoning conundrums of life and death, his thoughts dancing like fireflies.
One. Two. Three. A repetitive punch of bullets shattered the daydream of his mind and he fell back into the void of his body with a scream.
Thomas Rees stood over Agroná, gun smoking. He spared Ianto a concerned look as the alien flared into a thousand pieces of burnished light spinning in the glassy hold of time.
The air thickened and tore at its membrane as light fractured the churchyard in a gush of overwhelming energy. The team backed away from the glare shielding their eyes.
A shadowy figure emerged from its epicentre, bleeding darkness along its outline, its form struggling against the rotating restraint of ruptured time. It screamed, a sound full of pain as its form was stretched and pounded without regret.
“Ianto?” Gwen’s question swung between them.
“No,” Tosh answered her eyes transcending the aura of light, “Agroná.”
Jack turned to her and then back to the figure. “She is being reset but her resilience is strong,” Tosh continued, her voice holding the timbre of an echo. “So much love begot so much hate.”
Agroná’s face pressed against the pliable skin, moulding it into a furrowed map of bark. “They will not cure me, they cannot repair what the heart has lost; I will return, my roots are as vast as my hatred; time will only make me stronger.”
Her figure was drawn back and expelled toward the yew, its darkness settling on the lay of timber before it sank into the confines of the wood, drowning her shape in its weave. Snow fell in an avalanche from its shaking leaves melting before it hit the ground.
“Jack, the breach is still open.” Gwen’s voice spoke through the silence.
Owen went to move but Tosh held firmly to his sleeve. “Wait.” She turned to Gwen. “We will keep our promise, Gwen Cooper.”
“Gwen?” Owen looked at her.
“We wait,” she answered.
Thomas Rees supported Ianto’s weight as they moved toward the opening. Ianto stopped him searching the older man’s weary face. “Why?”
He was rewarded with a soft smile that showed the man before death. “I hope one day you will come to understand and answer your question for yourself.”
He looked toward the rift. “I hope that you will also find forgiveness too. In youth we take so much for granted, we believe we are old before our time, wise before our years; we are not, we are young and naïve, only life can teach us to be men, only age can give us tolerance and understanding. In a way I was lucky in death, it gave me time to grow and make right the mistakes of my past. I will die a better man.”
Time slowed and Thomas felt a presence at his shoulder, a man devoid of skin. “I can take him back,” he offered.
Rees shook his head. “No, this is my burden.”
The stranger nodded and smiled. “Yes.”
He stepped back into the swirl of haze. “May you find peace in your homeland Thomas, our gift to you.”
The Lieutenant nodded and stepped through to the graveyard.
Jack swallowed as two figures stumbled through the breach, the man in the peek cap carefully handed Ianto over to Owen’s care before he approached him. “I broke the pact,” he said returning the Webley to its rightful owner.
Jack took the gun from him feeling its warmth through his gloves. “Thank you,” he whispered checking the chamber with a quick flick of his wrist.
Rees stepped back, his image turning patchy in the early snow of the morning. He crooked his head slightly. “I can hear the birds,” he said softly.
“It’s dawn,” Jack replied.
“It is.” Thomas closed his eyes, a tear rolling down his cheek. “And no one has died in its light.”
Jack looked back at the dark figure of Ianto against the deposit of snow, Owen met his gaze and gave a small encouraging nod. “Not today,” he countered reflectively again he held the Lieutenant’s stare. “Thank you.” This time it was personal the words unfolding from his heart.
Thomas smiled, its grace and splendour making light of the dead man’s face holding Jack’s attention with a sudden familiarity. “Have we met before?” he asked.
Rees shook his head and something in his eyes danced as he became dust in the swirl of falling snow.
Copyright ©RMC October 2018 Chapter 30