Rewriting Time – 2/4 – Bythia

Title: Rewriting Time
Series: The Time Given to Us
Series Order: 2
Author: Bythia
Fandom: Torchwood, Doctor Who
Genre: Science Fiction, Slash, Time Travel
Relationship(s): Ianto Jones/Lisa Hallett, Jack Harkness/Ianto Jones
Content Rating: R
Warnings: Canon Typical Violence; Minor Character Death (canon); Discussion of (canon): Suicide, Torture
Beta: starlitenite
Word Count: 114,000
Summary: Despite all of Jack’s efforts, the invasion of the Cyberman has cost Earth, Torchwood and Ianto the same as it did when Jack lived through it the first time. Ianto returns to Cardiff in the same circumstances, but Jack has already changed much for his team in Cardiff, and he will do everything in his might to not let Ianto down the same way he did last time.
Artist: Izzy Hound



Chapter 06

Jack could not remember when Ianto had left their Pub night, but he had only realized that he was gone for a couple of minutes when the alarm on his wrist strap started to blare over the music of the Pub. With a loud curse, Jack turned it off before it could garner attention from the tables around him.

His team was staring at him in silence, clearly waiting for an explanation or the order to move. “I need to take care of an emergency, alone!” He ignored the rising protest while shaking his head. “I have no time to explain or to discuss this with you! The Hub is in lockdown, but I know how to get in. If I haven’t opened the Hub in 48 hours assume the worst, but under no circumstances open it yourself!” He looked at Toshiko and waited until she nodded because she was the only one who would be able to override their security.

“Jack…”

Jack interrupted Karen before she could say anything more than his name. “No, I can’t explain right now. You all know I’ll come out of there alive eventually. There is a reason I insisted we make plans for the possibility that the Hub is lost, and you will enact those plans if I’m not back in 48 hours.”

He had made those plans long ago, when Alex had still been in charge, because he had been unable to forget the bomb in his stomach even after they had built two rooms in the Hub that should contain any kind of explosion. They had a fully functional second base on the other side of the bay for exactly this reason. After Ianto had brought the Cyberman into the Hub, Jack had made arrangements so that the Hub would go into lockdown if it ever got free and most of the team was outside the Hub, relying on their backup so that the team could keep operating even while the Hub would function as a prison for a Cyberman.

Jack jumped out of his seat before anyone else could protest. “You need to trust me on this one!”

The only one slow to nod was Gwen, but she had barely been with them for two months and there was still plenty she didn’t know about yet, including his immortality. This time Suzie hadn’t killed him right in front of her and it was up to him when to tell her. He needed to learn to trust her for that, and she had not yet reached that point. The others knew this secret, as well as many other ones, which had led to a lot more trust in him than they had ever had last time. He could count on them to follow his directions and wait for an explanation later.

“Ianto’s probably in the Hub,” Jack said as he stepped away from the table. “Pray that I’ll be able to keep him alive.”

He didn’t wait for them to react before hurrying out of the pub in search of a dark alley. Jack had regularly used his Vortex Manipulator to go back in time for a couple of hours for decades now, but the realization he could have used that to explain a little bit more to his team only occurred to him once he opened the wrist strap to enter the coordinates of the bunker under his office that he had used as a living space in another life. He quickly disregarded that thought before he entered not only the right coordinates but also the option to bring him back to a little bit more than half an hour ago.

In the security of the bunker, Jack let out a frustrated scream and punched the wall. He should have acted as soon as he noticed that Ianto was gone, and he should have noticed it a lot earlier than he had. He had let himself be distracted, and now he needed to wait until the lockdown of the Hub was triggered, which meant he needed to give Tanizaki the time to stabilize the Cyberman enough to get out of the conversion machine it was stuck in. The insanity that had once led him to the point where he had destroyed the 456 without regards to the consequences had long left him, and there was no way he would risk a paradox by preventing the very event that had triggered the alarm leading him here.

The bunker still contained a bed and a small bathroom, although both were barely used. Additionally, Jack had installed another workstation from which he could access the security programs of the Hub. It was another layer of security, because he could lock down the bunker individually from the rest of the Hub. Now, he used it to determine exactly where Ianto and Tanizaki were without risking being seen by them.

Jack was not surprised to see their life signs just leaving the tunnel connecting the Castle to the Hub. For some reason, Ianto thought there weren’t security measures in place at that entrance, or at least not enough to register the entry of an unauthorised person. With the scanner blocking the main entrance, and the invisible lift not existing this time around, it was the only way to bring someone secretly into the Hub. Jack stared at the monitors, wondering how he should handle this situation.

He was prepared to take the Cyberman out, had been prepared for that since the day they had returned from London. He had even thought about a scenario like this, but more in terms of how to circumvent it. Jack had talked with Ianto about Tanizaki, had tried to tell him that Tanizaki would have no interest in helping Lisa but rather in completing the conversion process.

Evidently, Ianto had not believed him.

Jack connected his wrist strap to the security feed, grabbed the weapons he had prepared in case the Cyberman got free, and left the bunker. Maybe there was still a chance to prevent the Cyberman from getting free if he interrupted Tanizaki in his work and triggered the alarm himself later. But whatever happened, he would eliminate the Cyberman today because his attempts to let Ianto see reason had obviously failed.

When Jack reached the door to the staircase leading to the lower levels of the Hub, he found it locked, and despite the dire situation he had to laugh at his own stupidity. Of course, Ianto had taken measures to ensure his privacy in case anyone from the team should return early. Ianto was good at making plans and thinking of any eventualities, especially when he tried to protect someone dear to him.

Jack cursed Ianto and himself under his breath while he worked on breaking down the door, because it was blocked in such a way that it could not be unlocked. He had worked on shielding most of the Hub during the construction work in the ‘90s to prevent the kind of teleportation his Vortex Manipulator used to keep someone like John Hart from invading his Hub again, and now it bit him in the ass.

Ianto had been very thorough in blocking all the doors between the main area and the level where he had hidden the Cyberman, and by the time Jack finally opened the last door, he had lost enough time that the alarm for the lockdown just started to blare as Jack reached the hallway leading to Ianto, Tanizaki and the Cyberman. Ianto came running out of the Cyberman’s room a moment later, probably to take care of the alarm, and stopped abruptly just a couple of feet in front of him.

“J-Jack…!”

Jack sighed. “I wish you’d have trusted me about Tanizaki.”

“That’s not…” The surprise on Ianto’s face changed to anger. “You were never willing to try and help me! Why should I–”

“NO!” Tanizaki’s scream was heard easily even over the alarm.

Ianto turned, running back to the room he had just left, and Jack followed right behind him even though he already knew what they would find. The Cyberman was pushing Tanizaki down onto the table of the conversion unit while the man struggled in its unrelenting grip. It was ignoring that the power had been cut to this room, and Jack wondered for a moment why it still thought the unit would work.

“This is your reward for freeing me.” The Cyberman’s voice was low and flat, completely unaffected by the struggle it was caught in. “You will be the first to join my army, and the Cybermen shall rise again.”

“What are you doing?” Ianto shouted. He grabbed the Cyberman by the shoulders, trying to draw him back from Tanizaki and the conversion unit.

The Cyberman turned, letting go of Tanizaki momentarily, and shoved Ianto back. “You will get the same reward, of course. You have already proven your determination to our cause.”

“No!” Ianto lurched forward again. “What are you doing, Lisa? This is not you! This is…”

The Cyberman reached out for Ianto again, but Jack got to him first, dragging him out of reach of the Cyberman. “It’s not Lisa anymore!” Jack hissed. “Can’t you see that even now?”

He shoved Ianto out of the door, out of the room much too small for any kind of fight. He knew he should take out the Cyberman as soon as possible, but his first priority was still Ianto’s security. The Cyberman watched them, eerily silent and unmoving, before it turned around to Tanizaki again, who had retreated into the far corner of the room. It didn’t see them as a threat, which was no surprise for Jack.

“Let me go!” Ianto struggled against Jack’s hold on his collar.

Jack only let go of him after he had dragged Ianto into a room down the corridor, where he could lock them up behind a relatively secure door. He didn’t care about Tanizaki; in his eyes, the man had brought his demise on himself, and Jack knew he needed to take care of Ianto, or else the young man would try to interfere if Jack raised his weapon against the Cyberman. The Cyberman would not succeed in converting Tanizaki into one of his own, and he would not be able to leave the Hub without a lot of work and force, and that meant he had enough time to let it be for the moment.

“Lisa is lost!” Jack growled, ignoring the tears running down Ianto’s face. “Didn’t you hear what that thing said?”

Ianto shook his head. “No, she is still there! She was still herself before…” He paled and his eyes went glassy. “He made a mistake. He had to … But she still has to be in there. I just need to…”

Jack huffed, but that was at least some kind of progress. “You fought them in Canary Wharf, right? You didn’t just spend the whole invasion hiding or trying to free Lisa, did you?”

Ianto blinked and shook his head. “We fought as well as we could. There wasn’t much we could do, they just … our weapons had no effect. And then they captured Lisa and…” Ianto choked on his sob.

Jack grabbed his shoulder. “Do you think Lisa would want you to risk repeating that invasion to save her life?”

Instead of resignation or desperation, anger swept over Ianto’s face. He grabbed Jack at the collar of his shirt and shoved him against the nearest wall.

“You never wanted to help her!” he accused Jack again. “You thought Lisa lost from the moment I brought her here! You never once listened to me when I told you it was still Lisa! You never intended to help me find a cure!”

Jack swallowed. “You are right. I never believed you, not with everything I know about Cybermen.” Maybe that had been the mistake that had led them here again. Maybe he should have tried to listen to Ianto more instead of just trying to convince him that everything was already lost. But it was too late now for those kinds of regrets. The damage was already done. “I’m sorry, Ianto. I really couldn’t fathom that there was any chance for her.”

Ianto stared at him, and Jack was not sure if he had even heard a single word of what he had said. “He killed her,” Ianto muttered. “I brought him here to help, but he just…”

Jack sighed but didn’t move or argue. It was not the right time to argue about it, and maybe it would never be the right time to argue with Ianto about the fact that his fight for Lisa over the last couple of months had always been in vain. Maybe it was too cruel to ever expect Ianto to acknowledge that.

“She is dead…” Ianto trembled, and Jack caught him as his knees gave way. Every ounce of fight and anger seemed to have drained out of him.

Jack lowered him carefully to the floor and turned them so that Ianto could sit down with his back against the wall. “I’m so sorry it came to this,” Jack whispered. He pressed his forehead against Ianto’s. “I’m sorry I couldn’t stop this!”

Ianto showed no reaction and Jack was keenly aware of the threat looming outside. To take care of Ianto’s shock and grief had to wait until later. But at least this time he could prevent Ianto from witnessing the execution of the being that had overtaken his fiancée. What Jack had asked of Ianto in his other life had been cruel; he had even known that when he had ordered Ianto back inside to take care of the Cyberman, but he had learned from that mistake.

“I’ll go and take care of the alien that took over her body,” Jack murmured. “I’ll come back and get you as soon … as the threat is taken care of, okay?”

Again, Ianto did not react.

Jack cupped Ianto’s neck with one hand and leaned back a little bit. “You need to promise me that you’ll wait here for me!” He took a deep breath, and because he remembered how dark and deep the abyss had been Ianto had stumbled into last time, he continued, “And promise me you’ll still be alive when I come back for you.”

Ianto raised his eyes until their gazes met, but Jack was unable to read any of the emotions on the younger man’s face and he still kept silent.

“Promise me!” Jack demanded.

Ianto gave a tiny nod. “I promise.”

His voice was barely audible, but it was enough for Jack. He squeezed Ianto’s neck for a moment and nodded before he stood up to leave the room and hunt down the Cyberman.

He drew one of the knives he had brought with him before he unlocked the door, only to carefully secure and lock it behind him again. In its current form, the Cyberman was more vulnerable than it was probably aware of. While it might still absorb the impact of a bullet at least long enough to kill Jack, there was a good chance to stop it by dissolving the connection between the human body and the technology controlling it. Jack had used the past weeks to study the Cyberman, and he was sure he knew exactly where he needed to cut to reach that goal.

***

Ianto stared into the darkness enveloping him, numb and unmoving. He had let Jack go to kill Lisa without any protest, and he should feel guilty about that, but he was not able to feel anything. Today should have taken a completely different turn. Tanizaki should have brought the salvation he and Lisa had waited for. It should have been the end of all the suffering and work of the past months, but instead, it had ended in catastrophe.

Ianto kept replaying in his head the moment he had come into Lisa’s room after he had been alerted by Tanizaki’s cry. The change in her had been so palpable that he had known right away that something had gone horribly wrong, but he had only fully understood it after Jack had dragged him into this room. Her eyes had been empty, her voice had sounded mechanical and cold, there had been no recognition of him in her at all.

Ianto sobbed and pressed his palms against his eyes so hard that he saw lights flickering. This wasn’t right, this was not what his plans had been. Tanizaki had told him there was a risk, but he had also promised to do his best to help Lisa, to free her, and that he was not interested in completing the process on her regardless of his general interest in recreating the process of creating Cybermen. And Ianto had been stupid and desperate enough to believe him.

It was quiet in the room Jack had locked him in. Jack had clearly been prepared, and Ianto wondered how long he had planned to eventually kill Lisa. It was clear that Jack had programmed the current lockdown in case Lisa left the machine that had kept her alive for months now, regardless of the state she would be in at that point. He had been prepared all along to fight a Cyberman, and Ianto wanted to hate him for it. Despite what Jack had said over and over again, Ianto was convinced that Lisa had still been alive, had still been in control of her mind, at least until he had led Tanizaki to her.

It did not matter what Jack had planned, it did not matter why he had let Ianto keep his secret for so long, nothing mattered now anymore. Ianto had put every ounce of his energy into fighting for Lisa, and he had failed. In the end, he himself was responsible for the fact that she was killed because he put his trust in the wrong person, and it didn’t matter that it had been the only person who had been available to put any trust in.

Ianto wondered what had happened to Tanizaki. The last Ianto had seen of him was his frightened face as he pressed himself into the corner as far away from Lisa as he could get. Jack had left him there at the mercy of Lisa, or of the thing that she had become. Jack had not even looked at the man, his whole focus had been on Ianto, his intent to keep him safe very clear beyond just the promise he had demanded from him.

Ianto shuddered as he remembered the intense look in Jack’s eyes as he had made him promise to stay alive. There had only been a little bit of light shining from Jack’s wrist strap, but it had been enough to eerily illuminate his face as he had held onto Ianto’s shoulder and neck. It had thrown Ianto out of his stupor at least for a moment to see the naked worry in the blue eyes.

When Jack finally returned, Ianto was shivering and had lost any sense of time. He heard Jack talk to him, but he was unable to take in the words or their meaning. Jack grabbed his arms and directed him to stand up, leading him back into the main area of the Hub, and to the part of the open room where a couple of sofas and armchairs surrounded a low table. A short time later Ianto found himself wrapped in a blanket and with a warm cup of tea in his hands.

“I’m sorry.” Those were the first words that Ianto registered, and he had the distinct feeling it was not the first time Jack had muttered them since he had brought him up here.

Ianto stared into his cup. “You never intended to save her! You always planned to kill her!”

“I told you what I would do if the Cyberman got free.”

Ianto looked up sharply. “But Lisa wasn’t a Cyberman! Not until…” He frowned. “Why were you here the moment the alarm started?”

Jack sighed. “You left the pub without saying goodbye.” He averted his gaze. “I had hoped to be able to stop you, but I took too long to get through all the doors you blocked. I had feared you had contacted Tanizaki, despite knowing what I thought about him.”

“Is he dead?”

“Yes,” Jack nodded. “The conversion unit didn’t work, of course. The power to the room was cut the moment it did more than keep … Lisa alive. The Cyberman killed him. That’s what they do. Either a human is able to be converted, or they are killed. It would have killed you as well. It did kill me, but not before I had disabled it enough for it to still be right beside me when I woke up again.”

Ianto sucked in a breath, and he noticed only now that Jack had changed his clothes. “Where is…”

“We will stage an accident for Tanizaki. And I’ll organize a funeral for Lisa. I’ll free her of the technology and cremate her. There is no … I can’t give you another choice than that.”

Ianto pressed his eyes closed. “No, that is … she would have wanted that. She never was happy about Torchwood’s policy regarding…”

“It’s something I’m working on getting changed since I became the de facto leader of all of Torchwood. I’m in contact with a member of the royal family, reworking a number of Torchwood policies that are out of date and have mostly been out of date for decades.”

Ianto shrugged. He had no opinion about that at all, he was sure Torchwood’s policies would not concern him for long anymore. Just because he was sure that Jack wouldn’t necessarily kill him, as would have happened in One in this case – probably even before Lisa had been taken down – didn’t mean there was any future for him on this team.

“I would like to be there for you during the funeral, but if you would be more comfortable with someone else or even alone… I think all of the team would like to be there, but it’s your decision of course.”

Ianto frowned, confused. “Why would the team care?”

Jack sighed. “Because you are one of us. And if I had gotten my way with Hartman, Lisa would have been one of us as well. The others, except Gwen because she wasn’t here at the time, know that. They saw me rage about being denied a useful replacement for James and Ariana on the regular.”

“Big coincidence that I ended up here anyway,” Ianto muttered.

Jack shrugged. “Maybe,” he sighed. “That holiday you won, or thought you had been gifted by your co-workers…” He took a deep breath. “We’ve already talked about it, that I knew what would happen. That I tried to warn Hartman and she completely ignored me. I ordered James out of London before the attack. He was supposed to have worked a month longer in London before going to Archie permanently. I told him to get the hell out of London, and I told Archie to keep himself and his team hidden that day.”

Ianto blinked. He had no idea why Jack was telling him that.

“I kept my own team locked up here in the Hub. There had never been a ghost here, so I was pretty sure we should be safe from the Cybermen, and that they would probably not even know about this base. I sent Tosh’s parents and Owen’s mother out of London on a little holiday in the country. Owen’s mother to a small town on the coast, and Tosh’s parents into the Highlands because I knew that was what they would want to visit. I sent both of Karen’s siblings to France with their families, because last year their planned holiday there had to be cancelled. Suzie’s father was already in the hospital, so there was nothing I could have done for him, and she wouldn’t have cared either,” Jack sighed again. “And because I had fought for over a year to get you and Lisa onto my team, and because I felt you were basically part of it even if I had never got you, I wanted to send you to a little village on the Spanish coast, because there you would have been far enough away not to rush back to London when it all went down.”

Ianto felt floored. He had never really wondered where that holiday had come from, had just been happy for the opportunity because they had not often had a chance to go somewhere outside of England. Torchwood had paid well, but they had never taken much free time and they had wanted to save their money for their wedding and the honeymoon.

He had known about Estelle of course, and some Colonel from UNIT whom Jack had brought into the Hub to protect, but he had been unaware that he had gone so far out of his way to include him and Lisa in his plans.

“As far as I’m concerned Lisa was part of this team,” Jack continued after several minutes. “You are part of this team, and you will remain so for as long as you want to be. Every one of us will be there for you in whatever capacity you need and can accept.”

“I brought two unauthorised people into the Hub,” Ianto muttered, still highly confused.

Jack shrugged. “I knew about it, and Tanizaki brought the harm done to him onto himself. I knew you wouldn’t wait forever, and I should have known weeks ago that I would not be able to convince you of my point of view. I should have been more open to your opinion, despite my experience. I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you. I’m sorry any of this happened to you, starting with that terrible day in London.”

“I don’t even know why you care!”

Jack was silent for so long that Ianto believed he would not get any answer when Jack finally spoke up, “I tried for a long time not to care, to not let anyone get close to me. I kept everyone at arm’s length, didn’t reveal anything about myself that wasn’t forced out of me. Because losing them is hard. And I’ll never stop losing the people I love. I’ll keep on living, and I’m pretty sure that won’t stop until the universe stops existing. But that didn’t stop me from caring about them, even from falling in love.”

Jack fell silent again, and when Ianto looked up at him, he had turned his body away, looking at some point in the Hub Ianto couldn’t make out. He had his arms crossed, and his fingers dug deep into them.

“I lost someone I had been in a kind of relationship with. And I had made it very difficult to be in a relationship with me, so it was not really a good relationship, but I loved him, even though I never told him. He died in my arms, and other terrible things happened at the same time. I went a little bit crazy. Or maybe a lot. I avenged him, and others they had killed, and I did it in such a way that it should have destroyed our reality. It didn’t, for reasons I’m still not sure about. But even after all that, it still took a long time to get over it.”

Ianto shuddered, and this time he understood right away why Jack was telling him this. He wanted to make it clear that they had once been in a very similar situation, although they had accepted bringing danger to everyone around them because of different motivations. But if Ianto could, he would have set himself on a mission to destroy every single Cyberman out there as well.

“I can’t lose myself a second time like that. And since it didn’t work to keep people away, I’m trying to build up a strong support network for myself. So that I’ll be caught, and I think it will work as long I’m not losing all of you at the same time. I’ve had a long time to think about the man I was back then, and I’m afraid of that man. I don’t want to become him again. And maybe that means I let people in too easily now, maybe I still need to find the right balance. But for the time being, I started to care for you because Archie cared for you, and I started to care for Lisa because you cared for her. And I’m grieving her because you are grieving her.”

Ianto fidgeted on the sofa, uncomfortable with the emotional revelation. It did explain some things he had observed between Jack and the team; it probably explained why Jack had chosen to get back in contact with an old lover forty years later. And yet, he couldn’t help but feel undeserving of the trust Jack was showing him. This was not at all how he had expected this conversation to go.

“What if I don’t want to keep working here?”

Jack’s head and shoulders dropped down, but he nodded slowly. “I told you already when you came here that I can arrange everything you need to build yourself a comfortable life outside of Torchwood. Maybe that would be better for you.”

Ianto swallowed hard. Jack’s tone conveyed the same reluctance and disappointment his body language displayed, but at the same time, Ianto was sure that he meant every single word of what he had said. He would set Ianto up with whatever he wanted, and would probably do it happily. But Ianto also suspected he would never stop looking out for him, regardless of where Ianto would end up.

The truth was that Ianto had no idea what he wanted to do. He had been convinced in the last couple of months that he would leave Torchwood eventually, together with Lisa after she was healed. He hadn’t allowed himself to think about anything else because that dream had been what had kept him upright. But even then, he had never had a concrete plan for what they would do, and now, all alone, he knew even less what he should do.

“Now is not the time to make such a decision,” Jack said, turning his head back to Ianto. He watched him for a long moment. “I think you’re in shock, and it hasn’t sunk in yet what happened in this last hour. You can make the decision to leave anytime you want to. But as long as I’m leading this team, you’ll always have a place here.”

Chapter 07

The blowback from the whole Cyberman incident was so different from last time that it kept Jack flailing around for several days. He remembered the betrayal everyone had felt at Ianto’s actions in his last life, he remembered the deep depression Ianto had fallen into, he remembered the changed dynamic after that event between Gwen and Owen.

None of that happened this time, instead the team was rallying around Ianto. There had been a handful of hard words and accusations, but they had all been aimed at Jack, and he had been only too happy to take them if it meant sparing Ianto that experience. Jack had opted to tell the rest of the team what had occurred without Ianto present.

Owen had shouted at him for keeping such a huge secret, Karen had done the same but behind closed doors after the meeting, Gwen had been mostly confused because she had no experience with the Cybermen, but everyone had told him that it probably hadn’t helped Ianto one bit to have to care for the Cyberman who had taken over Lisa’s body, instead of being relieved of that burden right away.

Karen and Toshiko had taken care of arranging an accident for Tanizaki’s official cause of death, while Owen had very carefully and with as much respect as possible freed Lisa’s remains from the parts of the Cyberman. He had also been the one to cremate her, while Jack and Gwen had been busy taking apart the conversion unit in the basement. Estelle had taken over the care of Ianto, who let it happen without reacting to much of anything for two days.

Jack had managed to arrange a funeral for Lisa for five days after the incident, and Ianto finally blew up the day before it. Surprisingly it wasn’t Jack who caught him in his fit of rage and denial and anger. By the time Jack learned about it, Ianto was already lying in Owen’s arms of all people, sobbing uncontrollably while both sat in the midst of the utter chaos Ianto had caused in the archive. Jack was so stunned that he stood there and stared at them until Owen told him in very harsh words to go away.

Jack was glad for Ianto and proud of his team, but it left him feeling utterly useless. Estelle brought him tea – because Ianto had long become the only one in Hub who was allowed to make any coffee –, patted him on the shoulder and drew him into the kind of paperwork she needed his help – or at least his signature – to fill out.

As Jack had predicted, the whole team went to the funeral. It was a very simple and small ceremony, without any eulogy or sermon. They went together to the cemetery with Ianto carrying the urn, and met the undertaker at the grave, but all he was doing was watching them while Jack helped Ianto lower the urn into the grave. Ianto took his farewell silently, Jack muttered another apology to Lisa and promised to take care of Ianto, and the rest of the team stood by in silent support.

Toshiko’s program to predict Rift activity had told them that they could expect a quiet day, and so Jack had made reservations for a private room in a restaurant halfway between the graveyard and the Hub. At first, they sat in uncomfortable silence, Ianto staring down at the table and everyone else trying to not watch him.

It was Owen who broke the silence after they had gotten the first round of drinks, before anyone had even looked at the menu. He cleared his throat and stared at the table. “Half of you know how I came to Torchwood. My wife, Katie, died during surgery, but not because of something that went wrong, but because it wasn’t a tumour they discovered in her head, but an alien parasite that killed not just her but also the whole team in the operation room. … I started to work for Torchwood later because I wanted to learn more about the thing that had taken her from me.”

He took a deep gulp of his beer. “We hadn’t been married for long. And if we had followed the original plan, we wouldn’t have been married at all. We had the best honeymoon ever, four weeks in Greece. Harkness here still thinks we didn’t know, but he had arranged for us to get four weeks off after our wedding. I’ve no idea how he managed it, but I’m very thankful that he made it possible for us to have that experience. I’m holding onto those memories most when the grief starts to become too overwhelming.”

Jack frowned, unsure if that was the right thing to share with Ianto, or if it wouldn’t make it harder for Ianto to cope.

“Lisa and I hadn’t even started making wedding plans,” Ianto muttered. “The engagement alone had not been an easy decision at all. One didn’t support their employees making family plans, not even if both were working for them. I think they only let us get away with it because we had no plans for children. Lisa couldn’t have…” He took a deep breath. “We had talked about it a lot, so it was anything but a surprise when I asked her. But I had managed to arrange a weekend off for both of us. That was fairly rare because Lisa was working in research and that was very time-consuming. I took her to a small B&B basically in the middle of nowhere two hours outside of London, and we didn’t leave our rooms once. It was the last time we went away together.”

“Sounds like a very relaxed and fun weekend,” Owen said.

Ianto nodded and Jack thought he saw a small smile tucked away on his lips. “It was.”

Jack blew out air. “You all know I’ve been with Torchwood for a very long time already. More than a hundred years actually.” He had finally told Gwen about his immortality after she had been the only one to not understand why he had gone against the Cyberman alone. “In the seventies, there was a woman who was part of this team. Lucia. She was one of the happiest and most affectionate people I ever met here. I think because the first two years she worked here had been really quiet. It had been the quietest years I had ever experienced with Torchwood, and I think that helped her a lot to not be burdened down by the horrors the job throws at us.”

He cleared his throat. “I really hadn’t intended to even spend a lot of time with her, but she just wormed her way into my life. And suddenly, I found myself head over heels in love. I had spent years only focusing on the work, forgetting everything around me. I think I was a little bit caught up in the routine, in the knowledge that I couldn’t leave, that I was kind of trapped here. She insisted we would go out, and she re-taught me a lot of things I had forgotten.”

Jack took a sip of his water. “Of course, working for Torchwood, especially at that time, inadvertently led to her death. We died together when the house we were investigating while searching for an alien exploded. It wasn’t even related to our alien, it was a break in the gas pipe. We didn’t even know what happened. Or, at least I don’t remember dying, only the very horrible process of coming back from that, and I hope she didn’t feel any of it either.”

That was the official story he had come up with. He had taken the body of an unknown woman from a morgue in Edinburgh, swapped her dental records with Lucia’s, and then allowed himself and the body to burn in a gas explosion. It was the only way he had come up with without any risk that she could be identified as someone other than Lucia. It had been a very horrible death to come back from, and had taken the greater part of two days, but it had been worth it to protect her and their daughter.

“You all make it sound like Torchwood is a horrible, no good place!” Estelle exclaimed.

“It mostly is,” Karen conceded. “Mainly because it’s dangerous, and most often we don’t even know what we are dealing with ourselves. And the death of people we cared about probably sticks out more in our heads than everything else. I think we all are sticking with it because it’s still important work, and we protect innocent bystanders.”

“I stumbled into Torchwood without even knowing what it was,” Ianto said. “Lisa as well. And as far as One was concerned, once you worked for them you were stuck there. But I enjoyed the work. It’s fascinating how much there is to learn about the things that exist outside of our small little planet. There are so many things that no one aside from us is aware of. Lisa loved the research she was doing on the technology. I would have hated to be stuck in a lab all day and frustrated when I couldn’t figure out what something was intended to do, but she was really fascinated by it.”

“It is fascinating!” Toshiko agreed. “And to think that I told Jack no when he came to ask me the first time, and even the second time. I had no idea what kind of job he was even offering me, and I was much too suspicious of him to just follow him into some kind of job he wouldn’t tell me anything about.”

Gwen snickered. “Really, you withstood his charm?”

Toshiko rolled her eyes. “I was never blinded by his smile! And the second time he asked, he had just rescued my mother from a bunch of wanna-be kidnappers. I accused him of setting it all up. I accused him of that again when I was finally sent to him by McDonald for a job after he had freed me from illegal imprisonment by a rogue faction in UNIT.”

Jack laughed. “Took Karen and me months to convince Tosh we hadn’t set that up either. She was really suspicious, but by then she had already seen the technology we were working with, and that had managed to seduce her.”

“It was McDonald who convinced me, not either of you!” Toshiko informed them.

“Do tell!” Karen leaned forward. “I didn’t know you had any contact with him outside of his official visits as a liaison between us and UNIT.”

Toshiko shrugged. “That’s true. But he came to visit not too long after he had sent me in Jack’s direction, and he invited me out for coffee to catch up. I think he knows a lot more about Jack than anyone in this room, which seems weird, don’t you think? He didn’t tell me anything about Jack, but he asked very deliberate questions about my working relationship and Jack’s behaviour in general. Sometimes I wondered if he just very successfully manipulated me during that meeting, but I have long since learned that we can all trust Jack to have our backs.”

Jack smiled. “Thank you.”

Karen sighed. “Sometimes I miss the time when I wasn’t the only one not hired by Jack.”

“Who hired you?” Gwen asked.

“Alex Hopkins. He led Torchwood Three before Jack, died in 2000. I ended up part of this team very unspectacularly. Alex came to visit me one day, showed me some kind of alien tech, let me play with it for a while, and told me he had more of that and needed a new technician. Torchwood offered me a lot more money than my old job, and it seemed to be much more interesting, so I said yes.”

“It is much more interesting!” Jack insisted.

Karen snorted. “Granted. But there are a lot of things I was not prepared for when Alex hired me. Torchwood is probably the job with the steepest learning curve ever! And I’m somewhat surprised that I have made it more than ten years already.”

“Don’t talk like that!” Jack muttered darkly, pointing a finger at her. “If you want another job, fine by me, but none of you are dying on me!”

Karen patted his arm, but no one said anything about his outburst.

“No one wants another job,” Owen muttered into his beer.

Jack looked at Gwen. “Are you happy with your new job?”

“It’s still strange sometimes,” she admitted. “But I like working with you. Tosh is right, it is fascinating. And I feel I can accomplish more than I ever did as a police officer. There are so many strange things happening in this town and we never got any explanation for it.”

“A lot of the police force is in the know,” Karen admitted. “Mostly when they stumbled over something, or if they get promoted to a certain level, although it’s gotten very rare that they don’t already know when they reach the right pay grade. It wasn’t easy to get to this point, especially as all of it had to be kept secret from One.”

“Why was there such animosity between your team and One?” Ianto asked. “I heard about it a lot. But between all the bitching and gossip, I never heard a real reason. And most of what I had heard has been proven incorrect since I came here. Which was, just so that you know, very annoying.”

“But a good surprise, right?” Jack asked and was delighted to see Ianto roll his eyes as he nodded. “Hartman held a personal grudge against me, and I think most of that was that she would have liked to study me and hated that I had made enough contacts to put a stop to such a plan before it could even be put on paper. Other things were going on as well, but I have really no idea what that was. It began in the eighties, I think. That at least is when they started to cut our budget, and that at a time when there was a really big problem heading our way with the restructuring of the bay area.”

“I think it was that this team was starting to take a step back from the official policies. I remember a meeting between Alex and …” Karen frowned. “I forget his name. The leader of Torchwood One at the time I came to the team. I hadn’t been here for two months yet, and I heard them arguing about how we were handling people stranded here through the Rift.”

“Right,” Jack sighed. “There was a time when Torchwood regarded everything the Rift brought as their possession. Including every living thing. They caught them, studied them, and in the end killed them. That’s exactly how I ended up in Torchwood, even though I hadn’t come through the Rift.”

Gwen paled. “Studied them? You?”

Jack shrugged. “The last time was a long time ago now. Humans of this time in general are very fascinated with immortality. They would have loved to discover what made me what I am in order to recreate it. And some just liked to kill me, but that’s another story altogether. When I got a chance to change the view of a couple of people, I took it. So, maybe it is my fault that there was this rift between One and us.”

“It was not a bad thing to distance yourself from One,” Ianto said quietly. He sighed. “No one there would have come with me to the funeral of a woman they didn’t know. They didn’t even care much when one of their colleagues died.”

Toshiko, who sat at Ianto’s right, took his hand and squeezed it. “We are a small team. That makes a difference as well. And we have a boss who’s a mama bear in disguise. He has taught all of us to care for each other. You aren’t alone.”

“I’m not sure if I should feel offended or not,” Jack muttered.

Ianto pursed his lips. “It does seem like an apt description, Sir.”

“I don’t remember Jack being that way when I first met him,” Estelle said. “But I was a very young girl back then, barely a woman at all, and I was so in love, maybe I just missed it. When he came back into my life, I could hardly miss how protective he was, of me but also everyone else in his life.”

And so, the whole afternoon descended mostly into his team sharing stories about him, and Jack found himself often defending his choices, especially when Karen and surprisingly Ianto told stories about events they had only heard about in Karen’s case or read about in Ianto’s case. Jack didn’t mind too much because, despite the sad circumstances that had led them here, it led to a much better inclusion of Ianto and Gwen into their team than any of their other little team bonding rituals.

***

Jack had offered Ianto a couple of days off after the funeral, but Ianto had only asked for one day. Jack had not been able to help himself and used his access to the Cardiff security system to check on Ianto every now and then, relieved to see him visiting his sister. He was still very much surprised how much better off Ianto was this time around, and how much tighter the team had grown.

The next day, Ianto was the first one in the Hub after Jack. He heard him arrive but was too immersed in the update Toshiko had sent him on the Archangel network to greet him. Jack looked up when Ianto came into his office a couple of minutes later, but the “Good morning” died on his lips as he saw Ianto.

“Are you alright, Sir?” Ianto asked.

Jack blinked. “You are wearing a suit.”

Ianto put the cup of coffee on Jack’s desk and shrugged. “Yes. Is there a problem?”

“You just never wore one before,” Jack said quietly.

Ianto frowned. “It would not have been very practical. … I prefer suits for work, it feels more comfortable. But it was easier and less obvious to change jeans if they … They were more robust as well against any kind of damage when I was working on the machines.”

Jack nodded and worked hard on keeping the relief off his face. He had felt guilty about something that lay long in the past, that had never happened to the man sitting in front of him, and as much of a relief as it was to know that the Ianto of that other life had not changed himself as fundamentally as Jack had thought because of something he had said, it was nothing the Ianto of his life now needed to be confronted with.

Jack smiled. “We don’t have a dress code here, so, wear whatever you are comfortable with.” He took the coffee, keeping his reaction of joy to it to himself for the most part. “How are you?”

Ianto shrugged. “I don’t know.”

Jack nodded, glad that Ianto was at least honest about it. “I have learned over the years that grief is a very different process for every person I lose. It’s a struggle every time to learn what will help in this instance. I tried for a while to find a general method to deal with it, but that was an utter failure.”

Ianto’s gaze dropped to a point somewhere on the desk. “Thank you.”

“If you need something, anything, just ask.”

Ianto sighed and nodded.

“You did decide on one of the therapists I recommended, didn’t you?”

“Yes. I think I’m comfortable enough with the one I chose.”

Jack smiled. “There is always the option to vet someone else. I’m more concerned about all of you finding the right therapist than keeping the secret. Life in this town has gotten a lot easier for a lot of people since we started to not make the Rift such a closely guarded secret.”

Ianto shook his head. “No, I think it’s really alright.”

“Okay. – I would like you to go once a week for a while. Or even more often if you think it could help. What you lived through in London … I think it would be good for you.”

“That’s what I came to talk to you about,” Ianto murmured. “I’ve set up appointments every Wednesday. But that means I won’t be in until 11 on those days.”

“That’s great! And of course, there is no problem for you to come in later. We won’t call you in, except for world-ending events. Let’s hope those won’t be too common for a while.” Jack knocked on his desk three times, just to be sure. The next thing he knew about that would come close to a world-ending event was Bilis Manger and Abaddon shortly before the year under the Master’s reign, and he still hadn’t made any kind of plan for how to handle that.

Ianto fidgeted. “Thank you.”

“It’s no problem at all,” Jack assured. “I set it up that we had therapists available to help everyone on the team. It failed with Suzie, but I really hope that will remain the only incident for a long time.”

“You…” Ianto frowned and fisted his hands. “You really believe I would … Was Suzie the reason you had me make that promise?”

“No,” Jack shook his head and rubbed a hand over his face. “I’m afraid that was me projecting my own experiences with this kind of situation onto you. I told you that I lost my mind for a while there, and it wasn’t the only instance.”

“I won’t…” Ianto shuddered. “I don’t think I would do something like that. It hurts, to still be here without her, but … I wouldn’t.”

Jack smiled. “I’m glad to hear that. I can’t imagine Lisa would have wanted for you to follow her.”

Ianto sighed. “No.”

“Where you alright yesterday?”

“I visited my sister,” Ianto muttered. “Told her Lisa had died in Canary Wharf and that I’m living in Cardiff again. I … I haven’t had much contact with her since I went to London. And we weren’t exactly tight as children, but…” He trailed off with a shrug.

“It’s still nice to reconnect with family,” Jack agreed. “If you ever need time off to meet her, just tell me. I’m trying to remind the others to stay in contact with their families, to take the time to visit them regularly. It’s easy to forget sometimes with all the things that are constantly happening here.”

“Do you have any family?”

Jack took a deep breath. “That is … I couldn’t afford it. It’s too risky. Could you imagine what Yvonne Hartman would have done if she had known about a child of mine? And there are others who agree with her agenda still who concern me. I can’t risk something like that. And everyone else is far in the future. If they don’t start time traveling on their own, there is no chance for them to visit me.”

“And you can’t go visit them?”

Jack shrugged. “I’ve found my place here. I may not be stuck here anymore, but I have no interest in leaving this time. Not permanently at least, and this thing,” he tapped a finger on his wrist strap, “burned out once already. I won’t risk that happening again. I didn’t have any kind of good relationship with what was left of my family unit anyway.”

Ianto frowned. “Family unit?”

“The monogamy of this time is sometimes still quite irritating for me, although I have come to appreciate it in most of my relationships of the past decades. I basically grew up with three men and two women as parents and a whole bunch of siblings. But we didn’t live in a peaceful environment and … two of my fathers were killed during an invasion and one of my younger brothers was kidnapped. At least that’s what we thought happened because we couldn’t find his body. He had been with me when they came and…”

“They blamed you for losing him?”

Jack shrugged. “I was thirteen, I have no idea how they thought I could have protected him. For a long time, that was what drove me. I wanted to find him. For years everything I did was searching for the right connections to get help in the search for him. And even after I had to give it up because I had been utterly betrayed by the people I worked for, it took me a long time to accept that there was nothing else I could do to help him.”

He had forced himself not to think about Grey after he had been stranded on Earth because it had been distracting, and any chance to find him had been lost. By the time John Hart had shown up in his other life, Jack hadn’t thought about Grey for a very long time. Theoretically, he could go, and free Grey now, because John had told him after the whole cluster fuck that had cost Owen and Toshiko their lives how he had found Grey. But there was nothing left of the boy Grey had once been, and Jack had no idea how to handle him, and so he just waited and did nothing.

“Would you have wanted to have children?”

“Sometimes I thought about it,” Jack smiled, thinking about Melissa and her family. He didn’t hear as much about her from Olivia as he had heard from Angelo, but maybe that was a good development. To know that she was able to live a good and happy life was all he could ask for, and it would be better to make his mental farewell sooner rather than later. “There have been people in my life I could have imagined having children with. But it was never so strong that I was willing to take the risk, or to subjugate my partner and me to a life in hiding.”

“One actively discouraged their agents from having children. Lisa and I were okay with it, but I often wondered how that even worked in such a big organisation.”

“Forced abortion,” Jack said. “You should look up Lisa’s contract, I’m sure it’s still in there. Alex removed that part from the contracts we use here, but I know they put women through it repeatedly. Even at a time when it was technically illegal to abort at all. I don’t even know why they thought it was necessary to discourage any families. – Your sister has children, right?”

Ianto nodded. “David is seven and Misha is three. They can be cute, but they only confirmed my opinion that I don’t want to have any of my own.” He shook his head with a frown. “How did we even get to this topic?”

“You asked me about family, and children are the only kind of family I could have in this time,” Jack reminded him.

Ianto huffed. “I’m sorry. I should go back to work.”

“You don’t have to be sorry for showing interest in my life,” Jack said softly. “I’m happy to answer all your questions. I would like to get to know you better as well. … I told you I would make any arrangements for you to find a life outside of Torchwood, but that doesn’t mean … I personally would like you to stay. You are a good addition to the team, I think you are a good person, and I would like to call you a friend.” He raised the cup. “And all of us would dearly miss your coffee.”

“I…” Ianto frowned, not quite looking at Jack. “That’s good to know. Thank you, Sir.”

Jack nodded and let him go without another word. He could only hope he had not overstepped any of Ianto’s boundaries, but he had thought for a while now that Ianto should know what Jack thought about the situation. Of course, he would accept it if Ianto came to the decision to leave Torchwood, but that did not mean he had to like it, or that he couldn’t try to convince Ianto to stay.

Jack was selfish like that, and he had long ago decided not to lie to himself about it. He wanted Ianto to be part of his life, he had always wanted that. It felt wrong to think about it right now after Ianto had just lost Lisa, but Jack would also love to find a lover in Ianto once more.

Last time, Ianto had used the sexual relationship that developed between them to work through his grief. It was another reason why their relationship had been built on an uneven footing and had often felt awkward. If Jack got another chance at a relationship with Ianto, he would make better decisions for it this time. But for the moment, all that Ianto really needed was a friend, and Jack would be that and nothing more.

Chapter 08

Ianto had good days and bad days after his mistakes cost Lisa her life. He greatly regretted that he had ever even stumbled across the name Tanizaki, but he could not regret that he had reached out to someone outside of his new team. They had started to run out of time: the wounds caused by the intrusion of the Cyberman armour had been infected for weeks and Ianto had found nothing that helped get the infection under control.

Jack had made it clear from the very beginning that he thought Lisa was lost, and even now Ianto did not trust Owen enough to have told him about the whole situation, especially if Jack disapproved of what they were doing. Tanizaki had been their only hope, but that knowledge didn’t help the devastation he felt whenever he remembered that he had brought the man into the Hub who had ultimately killed Lisa.

Ianto was surprised by how much support he found in the team. He had not been present when Jack had told the others about his secret and about why the Hub had gone into lockdown. He had expected to be met with fury and rejection, but instead, they all had rallied around him and given him their support, and for the most part they hadn’t even been overbearing with it.

Owen had helped the most the first few days: he had let Ianto rage and scream, held him when Ianto had broken down exhausted, and had silently helped to take care of the chaos Ianto’s outbursts had created. Ianto had begun to understand why only after Lisa’s funeral and the afternoon they had spent in a restaurant when Owen had broken the silence by telling them about his wife. They never spoke about it afterwards, but Ianto felt much less embarrassed about those moments since he understood that Owen knew at least partially what he was going through.

The most surprising for Ianto was how much Jack was sharing about his own life. He was not exactly closed off with the team, but Ianto had learned in the months since he had come to Cardiff that Jack shared very few personal things with them. He never missed an opportunity to tell them stories about Torchwood: sometimes to lighten the mood, sometimes to remind them how much better they were in handling their jobs than others before them had been, sometimes he even shared stories about the time before he had been stranded on Earth, but he seldom revealed anything about the personal relationships he had to have had over the years.

Estelle was without question the one who knew most about Jack personally, but Ianto was sure he was learning things even she didn’t know. Ianto often wondered why Jack was telling him so much, because as much as Jack spoke about his own experiences with grief, it was by far not the only topic he spoke about. He had no idea why Jack seemed so invested in helping him, but he was unwilling to ask Jack about his reasons.

When Ianto had dragged Lisa and himself out of the ruins of Torchwood Tower, he had been convinced he would lose any will to live if he lost her. He had focused all his energy on her care because it had been the only thing that had still mattered. The horrible hours they had lived through during the invasion had taken away everything Ianto had thought he knew about his life and his place in this world. If Lisa had died there, if he had not had a reason to fight through the invasion and later to get up every morning, he knew he would have given up sometime in the midst of the invasion or in the days after.

It was startling to discover that kind of despair didn’t return in the days and even weeks after the night he lost Lisa. The sadness was overwhelming, as was the longing for Lisa, and he often found himself just sitting down where he was and starting to cry when something he had done or thought reminded him of her. But he was never overcome by the suffocating urge he had felt during and right after the invasion to keep sitting there and wait for the inevitable end to come.

Life went on, and most of the time Ianto didn’t feel as guilty about it as he had expected to. Whenever the guilt started to raise its head, Ianto was never alone – Toshiko and Estelle had some kind of sixth sense for those moments, subtly dragging him out of the situation that had triggered those emotions. They also knew every single time how to help him through it without having to ask what he needed, either by distracting him or by talking through it with him.

Ianto had declined Jack’s offer to take a week or two off after Lisa’s funeral, but he was thankful that he was mostly left in peace to work in the archive, although he didn’t spend much time completely alone. Everyone was pitching in, asking him how they could help. They never spoke much while they worked on transporting the files, giving them new labels, and sorting them. Ianto knew they did it so that he would not be alone, and he knew it helped, even if he would never admit it. A positive by-product of it was that the whole team learned the system Ianto had worked out for their archive, and he didn’t even have to prod them to use it on the new files they created.

The first time that Ianto was included again in the day-to-day work of their team was after one of Toshiko’s programs registered unusual weather patterns concentrated on very small areas around Cardiff, and a man, who had lost his mind in a mall and confessed to a failed kidnapping, was found dead in the holding cell, his mouth and lung filled with rose petals.

Jack was grim throughout the whole process while he explained to the team all he knew about fairies and their Chosen Ones. Ianto felt sick at it all, but he trusted Jack when he told them there was nothing they could do. He was the only one to accept that to his great surprise. He had expected Gwen to argue, because that was what she did and because she was the least experienced team member, but Karen and Owen and even Toshiko were supporting her, while Estelle had gone very quiet and pale.

It ended with Jack, Karen, Owen and Gwen going out to search for the Chosen One, while Toshiko stayed in the Hub to monitor the weather in Cardiff. Ianto stayed behind as well because he was unwilling to involve himself in the brewing conflict between Jack and the others, and Estelle never left the Hub anyway.

It was eerily quiet in the Hub, especially once they learned that Jack had let Jasmine go against the protest of the others. Toshiko was sad and subdued, sitting at her workstation but only staring at her monitor, Estelle had vanished, and Ianto dreaded the return of the others and the blow up he was expecting to happen then.

Jack returned long before the others did, and Ianto had no idea how he had accomplished that. He said not a single word as he strode through the Hub and vanished into his office. Toshiko looked up and followed him with her gaze, but she kept silent and stayed where she was.

Ianto went to the kitchen with a deep sigh and started to make coffee when the surveillance showed him that the others had arrived in the tourist office. Somehow, he had become the one responsible for keeping the others supplied with coffee, and his coffee seemed to be something that could calm them all down, at least most of the time.

“JACK!” Gwen’s shout echoed through the Hub before she had even stepped through the door.

Ianto decided to stay in the kitchen, where he hopefully would be safe from being pulled into the coming argument. He didn’t have much to say either way, except that he still believed that Jack knew what he was doing. Ianto had no idea how the others could have missed the clear anguish in Jack’s voice when he had told them that the Chosen One would go with the fairies in the end and that there was nothing they could do.

Jack stepped out of his office, arms crossed and face blank. “You are overreacting, Gwen!”

“Am I?” Gwen came to a halt in the middle of the room. Her fists were shaking at her sides and her face was a mask of anger and fury. “You let them just kidnap a small child!”

“Jasmine made her own decision,” Jack said. “You heard her, you saw her make the decision yourself. I told you all along that there was nothing we could do. The faeries have been on this planet a long time, longer than humans I suspect. Some things can’t be changed, Gwen, regardless of how much you scream about it!”

“She isn’t old enough to make any kind of decision!”

Jack shrugged. “I disagree. Jasmine would certainly disagree with that assessment. – Nobody died today, that’s the most we could have hoped for.”

Gwen scoffed. “Are you forgetting the man in the police station? And we have no idea what they are doing with Jasmine!”

“Jasmine is one of them now.” Jack frowned. “And I really don’t care about the paedophile they killed. At least he won’t be able to hurt another child.”

“And why do you think they are any better?” Gwen shouted. “There has to be something we can do to stop them!”

“There isn’t.”

“It’s not the first time you dealt with them! You told us so yourself, and they seemed to remember it. Do you make a habit out of sacrificing innocent children to those aliens?”

Jack flinched. “They aren’t aliens, their origin is on Earth. I’m not sure how they evolved originally, but I am sure most of them if not all are the children that they took over the years. And they never force the children. They take those children who have no problem with leaving their families behind, for whatever reason that may be.”

Gwen scoffed. “So, you are not denying that you’ve helped them more than once already?”

“You heard what they said.” Jack’s voice was quiet, and Ianto was sure no one missed that he was ignoring Gwen’s accusation for a second time. “They could end every single life on this planet in a matter of minutes. I don’t think it would even take much energy out of them. If we had tried to stop Jasmine, they would have targeted us first.”

“How many children have you sacrificed to them?” Gwen demanded.

“None. Not even Jasmine was a sacrifice. I only learned about them because they couldn’t kill me with the rest of my men after one of them had killed a Chosen One in an accident. Believe me, they tried repeatedly and were very frustrated with me when I just wouldn’t stay dead. They would have targeted each of you just to hurt me if we had interfered. They are vindictive and very … immature if their demands aren’t met. Which is the reason for my belief that they are in fact the children taken.”

Gwen shook her head. “I won’t accept…”

“You are free to go back to your old job any time,” Jack interrupted.

“What?”

Ianto was surprised that there was anything that could throw Gwen out of her angry rant. He wondered if she was aware that everyone who had led Torchwood before Jack would have threatened her with death instead. Yvonne Hartman would have long ago ordered her execution just for daring to question her.

“Working for Torchwood comes with the duty to make the hard decisions. Every single one of you has the duty to make the hard decision if it is necessary. If you can’t do that, if you can’t even accept that someone else makes those kinds of decisions, then you have no place here.”

Karen flinched and Owen turned his head away, but Gwen took a step forward. “You can’t be serious!”

“I am very serious in this, Gwen.” Jack stared at her for a full minute without anyone saying a word. “Don’t think it’s easy for me to make this kind of decision. It doesn’t get any easier regardless of how often I find myself in this position. But it doesn’t stop me. My job is to protect this city, and if necessary, even this whole planet.”

“At the expense of a child?”

“If the need arises.” Jack’s voice was steady, but Ianto thought he saw his shoulders tremble. “We’ll never be able to save everyone. We have to save those we can, and Jasmine was never meant to be one of them. In the first place because I believe with all my heart that keeping her here would not have saved her.”

Jack raised a hand to interrupt Gwen before she could continue her arguments. “This is the reality of the job we are doing, Gwen. I think I was very blunt about it to you when Karen and I hired you. I even remember Karen scolding me for it, but maybe it still wasn’t blunt enough. – Take the time to think about if you can shift the lines you have drawn for yourself so that you’ll be able to thrive in this job here. If not, we’ll be able to sort you back to the police without a problem.”

He stopped any chance for her to continue by turning around and closing the door to his office. Gwen huffed and turned around, leaving the room while ignoring everyone else. Owen followed her after a moment, and Karen dropped down on her chair, eyes closed and a deep frown on her face. Ianto finished preparing coffee for Toshiko, Karen and Jack, and delivered the cups to the two women without a word on his way to Jack’s office.

He had half expected to find the door locked, but it opened without any resistance. Jack was sitting in the corner, right under the access point to the secure archive that Ianto only knew about but had never been able to take a look at. He had his legs drawn tight to his body, his head leaning on the wall behind him, and he was pressing his palms so hard against his eyes that Ianto was sure it had to hurt.

“I really don’t…” Jack looked at him and blinked several times after he fell silent. “Is it terrible that I’m glad you aren’t Gwen?”

Ianto raised his brows. “I’m very glad myself to not be Gwen.”

Jack snorted.

“She stormed off somewhere, and Owen is taking care of her, I think. I brought you coffee,” He held out the cup in front of Jack, who took it with a small smile.

“Thank you. Did I ever tell you how much I love your coffee?”

Ianto grinned. “I think you hadn’t told me that today yet. And you may have forgotten the day before yesterday.”

“I know why Estelle kept out of the whole discussion, even before we went to search for Jasmine,” Jack muttered. “I’m not sure why you are so quiet about it.”

Ianto sat down in the chair beside the desk. “I trust your judgement. I’m not sure why the others don’t trust your word in this, maybe because we are speaking about a child here, but I never doubted that you would have done everything you could to save her.”

“She didn’t need saving,” Jack whispered.

Ianto nodded. “I’m still sorry you had to make this decision. That the rest of the team forced you to make this decision.”

“It was a good thing that we went there,” Jack shrugged and took a sip of the coffee. “They would have probably killed the step-father because he tried to hold her back. At least we could save his life. It’s devastating enough for the mother to lose her child; she didn’t need to lose her man as well. It’ll be easier to recover from it if they can do it together.”

“Gwen was out of line, and I think the rest at least got that message loud and clear,” Ianto said softly.

“Maybe we shouldn’t have hired her,” Jack muttered. “She is … too idealistic for this job. She needs to overcome that if she wants to stay here, but I’m not sure if overcoming it would be a good thing for her.”

Ianto sighed. “It’s her decision in the end.”

Jack nodded slowly. “Thank you for trusting me.”

Ianto watched him for a long moment. “I already paid a high price once for not trusting you. And … You have been very open about what makes you work in your attempt to help me. Maybe I know … parts of you that the others are unaware of.”

“Maybe.”

“Why was Estelle so withdrawn since all of this started?”

“She went searching once for the fairies. I’m not sure where her fascination came from, but I worked very hard to dismantle it. I feared for her life because … they don’t hesitate to retaliate when they feel threatened, even if the person didn’t mean them any harm. And with Estelle’s connection to me…” Jack shrugged.

“How would they have felt threatened by the interest of an old woman?”

“One can never know what they think about the things we do. I just wanted to make sure with Estelle. Like I told Gwen, we can’t save everyone. But I can at least try to save those I love. Doesn’t work out every time, but I seem to have gotten better at it.”

“Gwen shouldn’t have accused you of what she did,” Ianto sighed. The only moment he had felt the urge to step in was when she had just kept repeating that accusation. “Her lack of experience is no excuse for it.”

“When I asked Jasmine if she was absolutely sure she wanted to go with them … they started to speak about something they shouldn’t even know about. Gwen was referring to that, and I can understand why she would latch onto it.”

Ianto frowned. “I don’t follow.”

“There was a situation … I had to decide between giving millions of children to an alien race or killing one child to wipe out the aliens. It was one of the hardest things I had to do, but I did kill the child in question and as a result killed the aliens who had threatened us.” Jack turned his head away, and Ianto carefully took the cup away from him because he feared his trembling hands would spill the still hot coffee.

“I never heard of something like that,” Ianto muttered. Surely Torchwood One would have had some kind of record about such an event.

“It wasn’t…” Jack took a deep breath. “It was in another life, it didn’t happen here. I don’t know what it means that they knew about it. They shouldn’t have. It should have been impossible.”

Ianto watched Jack thoughtfully. He wondered when or even where this had happened, and what that meant for the reach those creatures had. If it had not happened since Jack had been stranded on Earth – and that had to be the case if he had not expected them to know about it – then it had happened in the future, and possibly not even on Earth.

“Are you worried because they knew about it?”

Jack shrugged. “A little. I can’t do anything to change it, but it makes me wonder about their … I just don’t know what to think about them. It would be great if we could at least know if they are a threat to Earth outside of their protectiveness for their Chosen Ones, or if they could even be allies if there was a threat from outside. Did something happen during that event that made them aware of it, or were they looking me up? And if they were checking out my life, why are they so interested in me?”

“And we have no way to get an answer to any of those questions,” Ianto muttered.

“No,” Jack leaned back, hitting his head against the wall behind him. “I hate these kinds of situations when I have to live with questions that I have no chance to find an answer for. How can I prepare the team for it if I don’t know about it?”

Ianto frowned. “It’s not your job to prepare us for every single eventuality. If there comes a day we need to step in, we will find a way to stop whatever is to come.”

Jack laughed, without any trace of amusement. “You have no idea … There is something big coming. I know it, and I’m trying to prepare you. I’m trying to prepare this city as much as possible, but it will never be enough. And what if something happens earlier that I’m not aware of and it ruins all the work I have done?”

Ianto had no idea what Jack was talking about, and he was not even sure if Jack knew exactly what he was talking about. He seemed to be as confused as he was distressed. Ianto had long suspected that Jack was trying to prepare them for something. He had even found hints of that in the files he had unearthed about him in One, but he hadn’t paid attention to it when he had read those.

He had gone back to those files not too long ago in an attempt to learn more about Jack because so many things about him were just confusing. The files may have been written with a lot of bias, but there would still be kernels of truth hidden in all of them. Hartman had personally noted down the changes Jack had been fighting for even while he had still been Alex Hopkin’s second, and had put down many degrading remarks about them, blocking everything she could.

Jack had fought for a bigger team and Ianto knew those plans still existed. He had built up a tight network between Torchwood, law enforcement, and any emergency services available in Cardiff without even asking for permission, and long before he had held any position of power on the team. The unauthorized changes to the Hub were so numerous that Ianto still had not discovered all of them, and Jack was pushing Karen and Toshiko to keep their security and their technology always a step or two ahead of what was even available for the military and governments of the world.

Whatever Jack was expecting to happen, Ianto started to suspect that he was terrified by it. The others had told Ianto Jack had been terrified of the Cyberman, but also secure in the knowledge that the Doctor would save the day during that catastrophe, and Ianto himself had seen no fear at all in Jack the night he had brought Tanizaki into the Hub. It was unsettling that there was something that could terrify Jack to this degree.

“What will happen?” Ianto asked in a whisper.

Jack shook his head. “I can’t tell you. Not yet. It’s too early. It could change … If I can’t stop it altogether, I can’t risk changing it too much.”

Ianto nodded, although he had no idea how Jack could manage not to change the events if he knew about them beforehand. The whole theory behind time travel was absolutely mind-boggling for him, and Jack had made more than one remark that current theories were very much inaccurate in most things.

“What do you need?”

Jack looked at him frowning. “What?”

Ianto sighed. “What do you need from us? From me? How can we help you? There have to be things we can do to help you prepare even if we don’t know what is to come.”

“You are all doing it already,” Jack muttered. He rubbed his hands over his face. “Stocking up our supplies, making the Hub secure, gathering certain intel. Those small little tasks I have given out that you all wonder about because there seems to be no connection to our day-to-day work.”

“So, it will happen in our lifetime?”

“If you lot don’t die on me,” Jack nodded. “And none of you is allowed to die. I’m not so sure if Estelle will still be with us, I’m not sure if Estelle would survive it.” He blew out a breath. “I don’t know if I should wish for her to die peacefully in her sleep before it happens, or if I want to be selfish and hope she’ll even see the other side of it.”

Ianto nodded and calculated that Jack was expecting something to happen in the next ten years. It gave him something to work with, he just had no idea yet what he could do. Jack had given him a lot of hints, and maybe Ianto would be able to get a clearer picture if he took a look at the tasks the others were working on. He was good at putting information together, at seeing the picture in something that seemed to be utter chaos, and it was a skill that his superiors in One had worked hard to hone in him.

Jack shook his head. “Sorry for bothering you with all of this.”

“I have no problem with being your sounding board,” Ianto said. “Maybe you need someone on the team to be aware of it. Just so that you don’t need to handle it on your own.”

Jack snorted. “Are you throwing my own words back at me? Didn’t I say something similar to you not too long ago?”

“When you tried to convince me that I should tell the others or at least one of them about…” Ianto trailed off, averting his gaze. He hadn’t even thought about that until Jack had mentioned it. “Maybe you were right then, but I couldn’t see it. Maybe you are still right and still not seeing it for yourself now.”

Jack looked at him for a long time before he pushed himself up. He grabbed the cup Ianto had put on the desk and emptied it. “You know about it now.”

“And will you let me help you when the burden gets too much, Sir?”

Jack looked down at him. “I just might.”

Ianto smiled. “Alright.”

“Does that mean you’ve made the choice to stay?”

Ianto hesitated. He had never really thought about leaving despite Jack bringing it up more than once. He still had no idea what he would do outside of Torchwood. When he had worked for One, there had been many moments when he had wished he had never stumbled into this whole mess. There had been a lot of policies as well as people he had been uncomfortable with, but even then, he had not known what he would have done with his life otherwise. But here in Cardiff – despite the circumstances that had led him here and despite losing Lisa – he felt comfortable.

“I’ll stay,” Ianto finally said.

Jack smiled and Ianto was overwhelmed by the relief he saw on his face. He had been so insistent about bringing up alternatives, that Ianto had sometimes thought Jack had no interest in keeping him on the team despite stating the opposite. Ianto wondered if any one of them would ever be able to really know this man.

Chapter 09

Jack came back to life gasping for air and clutching at Ianto’s arms, which were holding him down by his shoulders. The pain in his chest was receding very slowly, but even without that tell-tale sign, he remembered the two rounds he had taken to his chest when he had stepped in front of Karen. It was startling to be confronted with the open worry in Ianto’s eyes once more. Jack remembered from his other life how much Ianto had hated it every time he had died, but for some reason he had not expected for that to be the case again.

Jack wanted to curse Olivia for jinxing him, but he knew it was not her fault. She was just the only person in his life who knew enough about him and who saw him regularly enough to warn him about a situation like this. Olivia had been relentless in reminding him that unexpected things that had not occurred in his other life would happen now, and he knew that she had done it so that he would be prepared.

But when it had happened, it still had thrown him completely off balance.

“Karen?” he asked breathlessly.

“She’s alright,” Ianto murmured. “And the two Blowfish are dead.”

Jack nodded.

It had begun with a call from DI Swanson, who was the official liaison between Torchwood and the police this time around. She had told them about a robbery in a warehouse and how the workers there were telling the police about two perpetrators disguised as fish.

It wasn’t a unique experience at all to encounter a Blowfish in Cardiff, and for those not in the know they were easily explained by someone wearing a costume. For some reason, the Blowfish that the Rift brought to them all seemed to be criminals, and Jack had come to detest them. Maybe it was something about Earth or being transported from their home, but Jack really wished just once a Blowfish would be able to behave themself.

The two they had been chasing had for some reason found an interest in ibuprofen of all things and managed to rob a lorry full of it. It was not the kind of drug their kind was normally interested in, but Jack had stopped wondering about their behaviour long ago.

“Where is everyone?” Jack asked when he was finally able to breathe without pain.

Ianto averted his gaze and looked over Jack’s shoulder. Jack turned to find the old, long-abandoned house that the Blowfish had used as their base in ruins. Several people were working on digging through it, but they were all either police or firefighters, no sign of the rest of his team.

“Fuck!”

Jack tried to stand up, but Ianto held him down. Jack remembered that Owen and Gwen had gone in there during the standoff that had ended with the elder of the two Blowfish shooting at Karen. He had wanted to call them back, since them going in went against Torchwood procedure, but there had been no time to take his concentration away from the two perpetrators.

“They had the house booby-trapped,” Ianto explained. “Two officers went in after Gwen and Owen to clear the house, and then there was an explosion, and the house went down. We have contact with Gwen and Owen, they are trapped in what used to be the toilet, and they’re uninjured. We haven’t heard anything from the officers. Tosh and Karen are helping on the other side of the house, but they are fine.”

Jack turned back to Ianto. “You?”

Ianto rolled his eyes. “I slipped on a bloody rock and sprained my ankle, they won’t let me help. And they won’t let you help. When the backup arrived, I told them you had been hit on the head, so they will assume you have a concussion. The only ones besides the team who saw you get shot are inside that house, so it was easier to explain your status that way.”

“How long have I been out for all of this to get started?”

“Not long,” Ianto said. “Twenty minutes, maybe half an hour. The police were already on their way, and the fire truck was coming back from a false alarm just a couple of streets away. They heard the explosion and were already searching for our location when I called in for backup.”

Jack took a deep breath and closed his eyes before he reached up to activate his earpiece. “Owen? Gwen?”

“Took you long enough, Harkness!” Owen’s voice sounded gruff, but also as if he was in pain.

“Getting your lung pierced by a bullet is about as fun as getting buried in the ruins of a house. – Ianto said you reported no injuries, but that’s not what you sound like at all.”

Owen sighed. “Nothing life-threatening. Any news on how long it’ll take?”

Jack looked to Ianto, who shrugged and said, “We have no idea if there could be other explosives in the ruins, so we have to be careful. But that’s the reason we called in the police and fire department. We can’t give any estimate.”

“You heard that?”

“Yeah,” Owen huffed.

“How’s Gwen?”

“I’m not the one with my leg buried under rubble,” she answered quietly.

“Thanks a lot,” Owen muttered.

“For the moment I’m alright,” Gwen continued. “No idea how long that will keep trapped in a much too small space with this idiot.”

Jack laughed despite the awful situation. “We have a lot of help out here. Hopefully, you’ll be out of there early enough to be home with Rhys for dinner. Don’t smother Owen if at all possible. Finding a new doctor would be a pain in the ass. And as I’m obviously not getting a truthful answer from him, is he bleeding?”

“Not that I can see or feel, but I can’t reach very far. His leg is stuck from just below his knee, but he said earlier he can move his foot. We tried to dig him out, but we don’t have anywhere to move the rubble to and we’re not sure how stable all of this is.”

“Call us if he starts to behave oddly,” Jack demanded. “Or if anything else changes in your situation.”

He wanted to reprimand them for even going in there, but now was even less the time to do it than it had been when the rest of the team had still been trying to calm the Blowfish down. He could vent his fury at them when they were out of this situation, and after a good night’s sleep for all of them.

Jack tried again to stand up, but Ianto still had a hold on his shoulders.

“They won’t let you help,” he repeated. “And arguing with them will only lead to one less person digging our people out!”

Jack opened his mouth to protest, but he knew Ianto was right. Even getting up would probably lead to someone stopping and coming here to get him to sit down again, and that person would stay with them probably even after Jack had given up, just to make sure he would stay put.

“How bad is your ankle?”

“I can walk on my own, but it’s not very comfortable,” Ianto shrugged. “The paramedics should arrive any moment now, they can take a look at it. I hate having to sit here, unable to do anything.”

Jack huffed. “Yeah, me too.” Especially as he would be able to help, but that wouldn’t change the fact that no one else here would believe it.

He had planned for this day and the next one to be very quiet and easy for his team. Jack had dreaded this date because before they would have just lost their SUV to a thief in the middle of nowhere right about this time. The memory of what his team had gone through in the village of the cannibals had never completely left him, not even after he had taken care of them so long ago.

Jack wondered if in his last life the police had taken care of this whole matter and just never told them, maybe even because they had wanted to give them a little bit of space rather than because of petty rivalry. The cannibals had dominated the news and the gossip for weeks after they had come back from the Brecon Beacons, and it had been no secret, at least to everyone in law enforcement, that their team had uncovered the whole mess.

“You shot the Blowfish?”

Ianto shook his head. “They turned against each other after you got shot. The elder shot his partner, and then Karen took him down. I don’t think there would have been any chance to convince them to give up.”

“No,” Jack agreed. “Something here on Earth seems to make them lose their minds. I just wish I knew what it was so I could counteract it. I could bring them home if they just gave us a chance to speak to them instead of shooting at us right away.”

Ianto frowned. “I thought you didn’t want to use your wrist strap too much?”

Jack sighed and looked down at it with a frown. “I wouldn’t mind making an exception for a case like that, even if that meant telling the others it works for mor than just little jumps.” He looked up at Ianto. “You haven’t told them, have you?” It had not taken much after the incident with Tanizaki and Lisa for Ianto to discover that Jack had used his wrist strap to travel through time.

Ianto shook his head. “I’ll keep your secrets, even if I don’t understand why it is one. Do you think anyone would react badly to the knowledge that you could use this again to travel wherever you want? Whenever you want?”

There was no judgment in Ianto’s voice, and Jack wondered not for the first time what was going through his head. There had been a very palpable change in him after the fiasco with Jasmine and the fairies, but Jack didn’t feel that they were at a place in their slowly growing friendship where he could ask about it.

“Maybe,” Jack shrugged. “I don’t know. I just feel…” He sighed. “I have had to keep a lot of secrets for a very long time. You know that. You saw the files of what I had to endure at times. I couldn’t trust the teams that came before Alex. It’s hard to let go of that.”

Ianto nodded slowly. “I don’t think anyone feels like you are really keeping any secrets. No one can wrap their heads around how long you have already lived, but we are aware you either never really had the time to share certain details with us or they just slipped your mind. Even if there are things in there you are keeping back deliberately, that doesn’t matter. All of us have secrets.”

Jack scoffed. “I have a feeling you’ll be the only one with that opinion.”

“No,” Ianto shook his head. “I know for a fact that Tosh and Estelle agree with me. And I think Karen will as well. Owen is more difficult to read for me, and Gwen … yes, she will have a very different opinion.”

Jack knew that there was more than one discussion and even an argument with Gwen waiting for him. Despite working for the police, the concept that not everyone in the chain of command needed to know everything was foreign to her. When she found out how many things were still kept from her, and not just by Jack, she would blow up. She wouldn’t even pause to think about the fact that most of these things would be useless for her to know at the moment.

In his other life, she had become a very good friend and had proven later on to be excellent at the job he had hired her for, but the growing pains had been huge. Jack had thought that had partly been the case because their team as a whole had not been very close, but now he only hoped she wouldn’t need most of their team to die again to reach her full potential.

A disturbance behind them in the ruins of the house distracted Jack from coming up with an answer. He turned, and this time he shook off Ianto’s hands as he stumbled to his feet and raced to the place where they were dragging a lifeless uniformed body out of the rubble. He reached them just as they lowered the officer to the ground beside the ruins, but there was no need to ask about him. Everyone could see that help for the man had come too late.

“Fuck!” Jack pressed his fist against his mouth.

Someone grabbed his arm and dragged him back a couple of feet. “This is not your fault, Captain.”

Jack was startled to hear Andy Davidson’s voice. He had not noticed he was among those working in the ruins, and he had not turned to him while being dragged away. “Isn’t it?”

“You were already down when the house collapsed,” Andy shrugged. “I decided to not go inside with them but to stay on the street to direct the back up to us. You seemed to have a fairly good handle on the … fish alien until they started to shoot.”

Jack turned to him with a deep frown. “You were already here?”

“Because I know what your job is. There are a couple of unofficial orders in place to send those who are already in the know as your backup first.” Andy smiled. “Your secret is safe with me. I’m just glad you are able to come back from something like being shot in the chest twice. I’m the only one who saw it, and Jones gave a good explanation when the others came.”

Jack dragged his fingers through his hair. “You are very calm.”

“It’s not the first time I’ve seen you die,” Andy shrugged. “I flipped out the first time, but I was taken aside by the Assistant Chief Constable. There are only a very few who know that secret, and you have friends among us who take great care in keeping it a secret.”

Jack was sure he was unable to mask his relief. “Any idea how long this will take?”

Andy shrugged. “Thankfully we know where Gwen and Dr. Harper are, but we have to be careful. And there is more help coming our way. Maybe we should take care of the two aliens, getting them into body bags and arranging transport to your base. There are already a lot of people here who only know the gossip about Torchwood, I’m not sure they should get the opportunity to see enough of those bodies to understand that those aren’t costumes.”

“Good thinking. You ever think of switching jobs?”

Andy scoffed. “Thank you for the offer, but no. I’m quite happy where I am. I’ll help you out if you need it, but you aren’t getting more from me.”

“I’ll help Ianto to our car and get the body bags,” Jack said with a nod. “I appreciate your help. And if you ever change your mind, our door is open.”

He returned to Ianto who had managed to stand as well but very clearly had trouble supporting his own weight. Jack put one of Ianto’s arms over his shoulders and ushered him to their SUV, ignoring all his protests about it. He had made it sound earlier as if he was barely hurt, and Jack would have to talk to him about that kind of lie. At least he stayed where Jack had put him and ceased his protests in favour of calling Estelle to tell her what had happened.

With Andy’s help, it was only a matter of a couple of minutes to put the Blowfish in body bags and carry them to the SUV, laying them behind the car for the moment. By then the people working in the ruins had found their second colleague, who was alive but badly hurt, and Jack was relieved that the EMT finally arrived and left shortly after to transport the officer to the nearest hospital.

Now only Gwen and Owen remained trapped in the house, and thankfully everyone else seemed to have forgotten that Jack should have been injured himself. He found himself working alongside Karen and Toshiko at the back of the house because that was closer to the bathroom. They had contact with Gwen and Owen every twenty minutes, both of whom were growing restless very fast, but seemed to be okay otherwise.

In the end, it took them two hours to dig Gwen and Owen out, and they had a near-miss with another explosive. The fire department would have days if not weeks of work to clear this scene up, because there was no telling what the Blowfish had left behind in the ruins. Gwen hadn’t gotten even a scratch, but she was still transported to the hospital together with Owen and Ianto.

Ianto was back in the Hub the next day and on light duty for a week, but Owen had to stay in the hospital for a couple of days until the swelling in his leg had gone down and a cast could be fitted to his leg. He had suffered a hairline fracture in his fibula and would be confined to work in the Hub for several weeks.

The discussion with Gwen about following the procedure laid down by Torchwood instead of the police was not fun and was followed by three days of suspension for her after Ianto was back to full duty. No one should have gone into that house before they had scanned it for any kind of threat, especially explosives and any kind of chemicals. Jack had worked hard on getting that equipment working after it had come through the Rift to minimize as much of the danger as was possible for his team in such situations, and he was adamant about using it to prevent situations like this one.

Jack had expected a lot of whining and complaining from Owen over his confinement to the Hub, and while they got plenty of that, there were also certain advantages to it. With nothing else to do, Owen threw himself into some of the projects he had run on the side without ever having enough time to devote to them.

One of those was a study of the weevil population of Cardiff that he had started with Karen and Suzie nearly a year ago. The two women had developed an advanced tracker, and they had slowly put them in as many weevils as they could find when they were chasing them back into the sewers. Owen ultimately wanted to study their behaviour in more detail, but for now, the trackers helped them determine where they lived and how far they would wander.

“I have something you need to take a look at, Jack!” Owen hollered about seven weeks after their encounter with the Blowfish just as Jack came back with Toshiko and Gwen from investigating a Rift alert.

Jack turned to him with a deep frown. “Just me or the whole team?”

Owen shrugged. “Not sure yet what it means.”

Jack pulled a chair to Owen’s workstation and sat down beside him. “Shoot.”

“There is something strange going on with a couple of the weevils,” Owen said, bringing up a map of Cardiff on his desktop. “I’ve gone through the data collected by the trackers. The green overlay is what I have concluded is their normal movement. With the clusters as they are, I think we have three colonies in the sewers. The blue overlay is stragglers, most of them find their way back to the colonies on their own, the darker traces are those we have chased back.”

Jack nodded. He had a good suspicion where this would lead, and he felt nauseated at the realisation of how long this had gone on in the other timeline without them noticing anything. In that other life, they hadn’t stumbled over Mark Lynch for another three months. “Leaves the yellow and the red.”

“Yes, and that’s the things that fall outside of the norm.” Owen tapped on the keyboard and the green and blue on the map vanished. “So, the yellow is a movement that is strange, because they are staying confined to small areas over an extended time period, and I haven’t seen that happen outside of their colonies at all. And when they do move it isn’t in a pattern I have seen in the other data. But the red one is very … alarming. The signal the trackers send changes when they die. The red one is movement of dead weevils, and they are all brought out to the sea, and I assume they are discarded there.”

“So, what do you think does this mean?”

“Someone is catching weevils and … doing something with them. So far, every suspicious movement turned into movement of a dead weevil, so whatever they do it leads to the weevil’s death. And if I haven’t missed something, they never have more than two weevils at the same time.”

“Someone is doing experiments on weevils?” Jack asked.

Owen frowned. “They would have to be moving their equipment regularly, so it can’t be too elaborate. They never use the same place twice, and it’s always some abandoned property.”

“Any connections between the properties?”

Owen huffed. “That’s not my kind of research.”

Jack laughed and patted his shoulder. “Right. Good work, Owen. Put together a list of the properties we need to look at and send me the details about the yellow and red movement. I’ll put Tosh and Karen on the properties, and the rest of us will look through the footage of every camera we can find on or near those routes to get an idea of what is happening. How many weevils have they already killed?”

“Five over the last eight weeks,” Owen murmured. “I don’t think they know yet where to look for them. They are picking up stragglers. But it could be more. Not all of them have trackers.”

“Then let’s put an end to it before they can find the colonies, yes?”

It took Toshiko and Karen no time at all to unearth the connection to Mark Lynch through the properties, but any additional information was hard to come by. The idea to send someone to Lynch to talk with him under a pretext was something Jack put a stop to from the very beginning. He knew they wouldn’t be able to handle this alone; it had been utter insanity to do it without the help of the police in the other timeline. Of course, he couldn’t tell the others anything about that, so instead, he insisted they first gather all the information they could.

They spent three days mostly sorting through the footage and having Toshiko hack into Lynch’s systems, but it was a very frustrating search. The group Lynch had gathered around him was careful, and they chose locations for their meetings that were places with very low security, but that did not mean there was no footage of them at all.

“First rule of the fight club, people?” Owen shouted through the Hub, and then he groaned, throwing his head back. “Those people have to be bloody crazy!”

“A lot of crazy people out there,” Karen said. “What are you talking about?”

“I looked at the people leaving these gatherings. A lot of them are getting out with injuries. Most of the footage isn’t the best, but as far as I can see they have typical wounds of fights. I think I found a couple of them in the medical database and what I read of their files supports my suspicion. I think they are bloody insane enough to fight the weevils.”

“Why would anyone do something like that?” Gwen asked appalled.

“If some of them went to get medical help, what did they tell their doctors happened to them?” Ianto asked.

“Nothing,” Owen shrugged. “And the staff in the ERs haven’t caught a clue up until now, but not many have sought out help and they managed to spread out over the city. I’m sure we should have gotten a notice about strange animal attacks soon. We have two men who got bitten by the weevils and one who’ll get a couple of nice scars from their claws.”

“We could interrogate them,” Toshiko suggested.

Jack shook his head. “We’ll let the police take care of that. We’ll need their help to put an end to this anyway. Tosh, did your program get an estimate of how many men are meeting for those … events?”

She shrugged. “Anywhere between fifty to one hundred fifty. But the crowd is growing, so it could easily be more the next time they find a weevil.”

“Do we really want to wait until then to do anything?” Ianto asked.

Owen shook his head. “No, of course not.”

“And what do you suggest we do?” Jack asked.

“I’m still in favour of sending someone in there to Lynch to get a feel for him. I think you have the information now that you said we were lacking earlier.” Owen crossed his arms and stared at him daringly.

“It would have to be a man,” Jack concluded. “Because as far as we can tell there are no women involved. You are still out of commission, Ianto has no experience with any kind of undercover work, and I don’t feel qualified myself. That still leads us to involve the police. We are not trying to find a couple of stranded aliens here, or technology someone found. This is a crowd of humans probably performing some kind of animal cruelty and organizing an illegal fight club. This is not a situation we should handle.”

“I agree with Jack,” Karen said. “And as we aren’t a democracy, there is no point in wasting time by continuing this discussion. We have done all we can: we have determined that the threat is human in nature and at a scale that we can’t handle. We have enough people in the know in law enforcement here that they’ll be able to handle a weevil or two.”

“I’m proud of you,” Jack leaned forward and smiled at them all. “We have no idea how long that could have gone on if you hadn’t insisted on studying the weevils, Owen. Or if you hadn’t taken the time to analyse that data. And I’m glad to see that you are all worried about the weevils in this. I have worked with a lot of people here who believed we should kill them all.”

“Bunch of assholes,” Owen muttered.

“That they were,” Jack grinned. “I’ll brief Swanson, and I’m sure she’ll be able to keep us in the loop, or even include us. Can we keep track of the weevils so that we know when they abduct the next one?”

“Not all of them have trackers yet,” Owen said. “I don’t think we have even hit half the population yet.”

Toshiko huffed. “Lynch doesn’t take a single step anymore without me knowing about it. We will know when he organizes the next gathering. And he seems to be the ringleader, so he will be involved.”

Jack grinned. “Good.”

The briefing Jack and Karen had to give first Swanson and then her superiors, including the Chief Constable of the Cardiff Police, was one of the most strenuous experiences he had ever had with the police, but it also showed him how far they had come in building a good working relationship with them. They were taken at their word, and while the police investigated Lynch on their own again, they followed Torchwood’s directions only a couple of days later when the next weevil was taken.

A little more than a hundred arrests were made that night, and Jack took his team out to celebrate afterwards. He was proud of them and he wanted to show it to them, even if he was unable to tell them that they had not only saved the lives of several weevils, but also of at least two men. He was glad that it had ended with none of them ending up in the hospital and was happy about how well they had worked together.

It was the first time his team had brought about a change from the other timeline without Jack involving himself in it too directly. He had had no hand in Owen’s little project, he had not even thought about the possibility that it could unearth the problem with the weevil fight club earlier than last time. Jack felt his hope rise that he would be more successful at changing the rest that was to come now that he didn’t have to fight with all he had for every single change anymore.

Chapter 10

Ianto could barely contain his anger, but he did not care what the others thought about it. He knew he was overreacting, and he didn’t even really know why he was reacting this way. It was not the death of John Ellis that made him angry, and not even that Jack had helped him end his own life, but more how Jack had done it.

“Maybe you should search for something to do where you can let loose your temper a little bit?”

Ianto sighed but didn’t turn to face Toshiko. “Do you want something?”

Toshiko sighed. “I would like to help you, but I have no idea what has you so agitated. Let’s sit down somewhere, okay?”

“I have to find the right forms to request a new car,” Ianto muttered dismissively. “Jack let John use mine to kill them. There is no way I’ll ever get that stench out of it.”

“And that makes you so angry?”

“It’s not … I found them, you know. And I have no idea how long Jack was stuck in that damn car coming back to life only to suffocate again and again without any chance to free himself,” Ianto muttered. “I had to drag him out of it.”

“So, you have a problem with Jack dying?”

“Don’t you?” Ianto asked darkly.

“He won’t stay dead,” Toshiko said. “He comes back every time.”

“Which doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt him. Don’t you think he is too callous with his own life?”

“You are worried about him,” Toshiko leaned against his desk and nodded. “I think Jack uses this mostly to protect us.”

Ianto scoffed. “And who was there to be protected in that car?”

Toshiko frowned. “I thought you said that you weren’t mad at Jack for supporting John in killing himself. Or did you just say that to get Gwen to stop her shouting?”

“No,” Ianto shook his head. “Her little temper tantrum was really inappropriate. I can’t understand John, and I can’t understand Jack’s position on it, especially after what he said to me on that subject. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t respect the choices they made. Maybe Jack understood John on a level none of us can. But he could have found a way to support John without killing himself repeatedly for it.”

Toshiko reached out and closed her hand around his wrist. “You spoke with Jack about suicide?”

Ianto sighed. “More than once, after … I think Jack was worried I would end my life after Lisa was … I wouldn’t have. I may have been in a bad place, but I never reached that point.” Not then at least, but Ianto was unwilling to discuss with Toshiko that caring for Lisa right after the invasion had probably been the only thing that had saved him. “And Jack was very invested in keeping me away from that point. I’m confused that he didn’t do the same for John, but I’m not questioning him on that.”

Toshiko eyed him thoughtfully. “There is a big difference between you and John.”

“In a way, we both lost our whole life, in a very abrupt and shocking way.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Toshiko said. “Jack knows you, but John is a stranger. Jack is very quick in taking people into what he considers his family circle, and once you are part of that you have no chance to get out of his protectiveness again. It’s gotten even worse since his partner died.”

Ianto frowned. “Partner?”

Toshiko shrugged. “I don’t know much about him, except that he existed and that he died a little more than two years ago. Jack never talks about him, never even told us that there was someone in his life. But it was very noticeable when he died. Owen told us eventually that Jack had told him once when they met about a partner who was dying. Going by that timeline, they knew for more than two years that Jack’s partner was dying.”

Ianto swallowed, thinking about all the conversations Jack had had with him about grieving, about losing someone you loved, and even about the good and bad parts of caring for an impaired person. It had been clear that Jack was speaking from experience, and with someone who had to be nearly two hundred years old that was no surprise, but now he felt horrified with how near to the surface Jack’s own grief still had to be. Ianto could not imagine that their discussions hadn’t opened up those wounds for Jack again, and as much as it had helped him, he didn’t like the thought that Jack had put himself through that hurt for him.

“Whoever the man was, I’m pretty sure he greatly moderated Jack’s nature to sacrifice himself for those he wants to keep safe.” Thankfully, Toshiko didn’t seem to notice Ianto’s inner turmoil, or she had decided to ignore it. “He is quicker to block any kind of threat with his own body now, even if it’s not potentially lethal.”

“Has anyone ever talked to him about it?”

Toshiko shrugged. “No. I … To tell the truth, I never thought it was a problem.”

Ianto frowned. “Have you ever really looked at him when he comes back to life?”

Toshiko slowly shook her head.

“It’s agony for him,” Ianto muttered. “We have no right to be so dismissive about it.”

“We’re not dismissive about Jack dying!” Toshiko protested.

“Really?” Ianto looked at her with raised eyebrows. “You are never just shrugging it off, never turning your back on Jack and letting him deal with it alone, not because there is still a threat present but just because there is something more interesting happening elsewhere?”

Toshiko paled as he spoke. “No, that is not…”

“I believe you that you don’t mean it, but I have seen it happen more than once,” Ianto interrupted her. “Jack dying is such a common thing for you, that you barely take any notice of it. You make jokes about it. So much so, that I thought you were making a game out of pulling my leg when I first joined the team and didn’t know yet that Jack couldn’t really die.”

Toshiko shook her head. “I never noticed that.”

Ianto shrugged. “That’s the damn thing about bad habits, right? They slowly creep up on you and you don’t notice how bad it has gotten until someone breaks.”

“I’m sorry,” Toshiko whispered.

“I’m not the one who needs to hear that. And I think you are probably right that Jack doesn’t recognize his own behaviour either. Not in himself, and not in the rest of the team,” Ianto sighed. “Maybe I’ll talk to him about it. But I really don’t know … It’s a hard topic for him and he is really good at evading those topics.”

Toshiko stared at him for a long moment before she turned her gaze away. “You’ll have the best chance to get him to listen.”

“You think so?” Ianto frowned. “Really?”

“Jack is … He values your opinion. Which doesn’t mean that maybe you won’t have to talk to him more than once about it.”

Ianto huffed, not quite sure if he should believe her. He and Jack spent a lot of time together, that was true, but most of that time was dedicated to Jack’s attempts to help Ianto get over the horror of the Cybermen invasion. He had learned a lot about Jack during those discussions, but Ianto felt that had been more of a by-product than something Jack had deliberately done.

“How are Diane and Emma?” Ianto asked.

He hadn’t seen or heard anything about them since he had come back with Jack and John’s body, because he had come back to their actual Hub instead of the duplicate Hub Jack had insisted on creating long before Ianto had joined the team. Ianto had no idea what the reasons for that had been, but they used it as a front whenever someone came through the Rift. Everyone else had been much too focused on John’s suicide and Jack’s role in it to discuss the two women, so no one had told him what had happened with them.

“Deborah is very happy with her new name and has a job offer in London. I’m just glad Karen could stop Gwen from taking her home after she had that argument with John. That’s another lesson Gwen needs to learn, to not take this job home with her. I don’t even know how she wanted to explain to her boyfriend that they were housing a complete stranger, and on Christmas of all things.”

Ianto sighed. “I think the compassion she shows is a good thing, but we really need to find a way to teach her to moderate it. Or even to get her to see that it is necessary to moderate it. She has to get over this impression that her way is the only right way.”

Toshiko snorted. “Yeah, I know. But it’s like talking to a wall. It just doesn’t penetrate her brain, you know?”

“So, Em-Deborah will travel to London? Had she ever been there in the past?”

“No, but I don’t think that would have helped much anyway. There have been so many changes in the last fifty years that it would still be a completely foreign city. Estelle will go with her and stay for two weeks to help her, make a holiday out of it at the same time.”

Ianto smiled. “That does sound really nice for her.”

Toshiko nodded. “Estelle is working too much. Diane is more of a problem. She was talking about taking her plane back into the Rift, but I think I could talk her out of it.”

“And what did Owen have to say about that?”

It had been a big surprise for all of them when Owen had been instantly infatuated with Diane. He had taken her out on a date, had taken her home with him afterwards, and had been nearly hovering over her in his attempts to help her find a place in this time. Ianto was not sure if Diane was happy with that at all, or if she was just humouring him so that she wouldn’t have to deal with yet another problem. She did not seem like a woman who would suffer through unwanted advances from a man, but she was thrown into a situation that could very well lead to someone choosing the path of least resistance, at least for a while.

“He was … heartbroken. I’m surprised that he is so hung up on her. He has told us repeatedly, even if no one wanted to hear it, that he wasn’t interested in ever having a relationship again. I don’t know why he changed his opinion on that from one moment to the next.”

Ianto shrugged. “Maybe he just needed to find the right person. But I think it is a really bad idea to find that person in a Rift refugee.”

“I agree!” Toshiko shook her head. “I don’t imagine this will lead to anything besides heartbreak for him. Especially as Diane didn’t leave the impression that she is interested in any kind of serious relationship.”

“Why would she want to go back into the Rift?” Ianto asked.

“She thinks it could bring her back to her own time. She is intimidated by all the change and innovation she is confronted with. She doesn’t want to take on a new name, and I can understand wanting to hold on to her name, but … In this day and age that is risky. I’m not sure she understands already how easy it is to find a picture of her from fifty years ago with her name alone, and what could happen if someone got the idea to interrogate her about her travelling through time.”

Ianto huffed. “So, she judged John about committing suicide, but wanted to do the same?”

“She doesn’t recognize that it is the same. And there is a chance she’ll come out of the Rift again, even if it’s not in her own time.”

“Is there any record of her coming back?” Ianto asked.

Toshiko shook her head. “No. I think that was the argument that convinced her of the fact that she could end up anywhere in time. Fifty years into the future isn’t so bad all things considered. And I hope we can show her that she’ll have a lot more freedom here than in her own time. She won’t have to fight quite as much for the right to have her own opinion, and to shape her own life.”

“But that means our work there is still cut out for us,” Ianto said. “Maybe she can compromise on only changing her last name? That could be enough. And I imagine she wants to keep flying, so we should help her get a license for the planes she is used to. And get her the paperwork that confirms she owns the one they arrived in.”

“That part is already in the works,” Toshiko confirmed. “I haven’t been sitting around and doing nothing, you know. I created a whole background for all three of them. Got Deborah a school certificate and gave her a list of online courses she could take to learn the things she wouldn’t have learned fifty years ago. I can understand that she doesn’t want to let the opportunity she has in London pass her by, but I’m not sure she is ready to be alone yet. Things have changed so dramatically for girls since her time.”

“She has our numbers, right? I think it is better that she is going out there prepared to face that new world on her own than to force her to stay back. Estelle going with her for the first two weeks is already maybe more restriction than Deborah will feel comfortable with.”

Toshiko shrugged. “Maybe.”

“I’m glad the Rift brought us something that for once is relatively easily dealt with. Even if in the end only Deborah finds her way, it will feel like more of a victory than many other things the Rift throws at us. It’s so rare that someone who was taken by the Rift comes back sane. I’m glad we won’t need to put another person in that mental ward Jack told us about!”

“Yes, me too. It’s a good thing that they get all the help they need there, but it’s still sad to see and to acknowledge how much the Rift took from them. – But talking about victories!” Toshiko straightened and grinned. “That reminds me why I came here in the first place! Want to see what Eugene is up to on his holiday?”

Ianto laughed. “Sure.”

Eugene Jones was somewhat aware of what Torchwood was doing, and as far as Ianto knew, had been aware of it for a long time, bringing them all kinds of junk the Rift spat out. He was a good guy, but Jack had instilled a policy to monitor the online activities of people like him who interacted semi-regularly with them, just to be sure that no one started to tell tales about them. To be known in Cardiff was one thing – to be known to the world at large was something else entirely.

Four weeks ago, Eugene had put up an auction on eBay selling a Dogon Sixth Eye, although he had not known what exactly it was. They had monitored the auction and been surprised by the price shooting through the roof. It had taken Toshiko no time at all to hack into the account of the buyer and discover that it was a friend of Eugene who would never have the ability to pay the £15000 he had bid, and the communication between them made it clear that Eugene had no idea who had bought the eye.

Jack had made the decision to be there when the exchange of money and eye should take place, to give Eugene the chance to see for himself that his friends had played a prank on him, but to interrupt the transaction before anything could escalate between them. Jack had gone as far as to get the money and bought the eye for the ridiculous price Eugene’s friends had offered. In the end, Eugene had found himself with two friendships less, but enough money to get himself and the woman he had wanted to impress the holiday they had dreamed up.

“Has he sent pictures?” Ianto asked, as Toshiko turned around and took over his computer.

“No, but he has an account on Facebook and is very busy posting pictures and small reports of what they are up to,” Toshiko said as she opened Eugene’s profile.

Ianto had no problem at all with spending the next two hours browsing through the account together and writing comments on several of the pictures and stories Eugene had shared. It did distract him from his anger about what had happened earlier that day – if Ianto had learned one thing in this past year, it was that he needed to hold on to the positive things that working for Torchwood brought to his life, as few as they may be.

***

The weeks after Christmas and New Year’s were quiet, with the Rift behaving and barely anything noteworthy happening. The team managed to convince Diane to stay in Cardiff in the end, despite the unrest she was still showing. They got her a flat and a job as a pilot for tourist tours, but Ianto doubted she would be satisfied with that for long. She was talking about discovering more of this new world, and he expected her to pack her bags and go travelling very soon.

Her affair with Owen had cooled down significantly, and their medic was moping around the Hub. Ianto felt bad for Owen, but there was nothing to help him. Either he would be able to convince Diane to give him a proper chance at a relationship or he needed to get over it. All Ianto hoped for was that Owen would soon come to a decision which of those paths he wanted to take so that he would stop moaning about it all the time.

Estelle came back from London with a lot of stories about the city and Deborah’s experiences there. The young woman seemed to have found her footing there in no time at all, and Estelle had adopted herself a granddaughter. They had bonded over sharing their experiences of living through the war and the hard years after that, and that had given them a basis for a fast-growing friendship. They had already planned out the next time Estelle would come to visit Deborah, and as far as Ianto could tell, they were calling each other every other day.

Ianto’s plans to talk with Jack about his tendency to throw away his own safety and life were derailed over and over again by Jack himself. As Ianto had expected, Jack managed to distract him every time, and often Ianto usually only noticed after he had already left Jack’s office again. In the end, Ianto decided to change his tactic and make his displeasure known quietly every time it happened without trying to discuss it head-on. If that didn’t have any success after a couple of weeks, he would have to come up with another plan.

January was half over when Jack asked them all to the conference room after lunch without any of them knowing what the occasion was. Jack seemed nervous, sitting at the head of the table, back straight, hands folded together on the table and his face blank. Nothing really bad had happened for weeks: no one was working on any kind of project that was any kind of threat, there should be no reason for his behaviour.

Jack began before anyone could ask, “I told all of you at one point or another that I’m waiting for the Doctor, that I’ll leave with him for a while because I need a couple of answers he can hopefully provide.”

They all nodded, but no one said anything.

“I believe it will be soon that the right incarnation of the Doctor will show up,” Jack continued. “I have reason to believe that it will happen before the election. And because of that, I wanted to remind you of these plans. I’m not sure I’ll be able to say goodbye to anyone when the time comes. I think I’ll have to hurry when the Doctor shows up.”

“For how long will you be gone?” Gwen asked.

Jack shrugged. “No idea, really.”

Ianto eyed him with a frown because even now his body language made no sense. Jack had waited for so long, shouldn’t he be happy that this would come to an end finally? And if he was not happy about it for whatever reason, should he not be able to just decide to let the Doctor go without chasing after him?

“But I will come back as soon as possible,” Jack said. “And I think you are all prepared to keep going without me. You are a good and strong team, you work well together, Karen is a good leader. We are well connected in the city, so you can call for help if you need it.” He smiled, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “I trust you to keep this city and our whole planet safe if the need arises. And I expect all of you to still be here when I come back!”

Karen smiled. “We’ll take care of us, don’t worry.”

Owen eyed him with a frown. “Do you know of any pending catastrophes?”

Jack hesitated for a moment too long, and no one missed it. “No. I don’t know of anything compared to Cybermen or such. But that doesn’t mean much. Even something that we would think would be a big, historic event could be lost over time. It’s always better to be prepared in our business.”

Ianto met Toshiko’s gaze, and he saw the same disbelief in her eyes that he felt. Jack had told him that he had been unable to do much to stop the Cyberman invasion because he had known the Doctor was involved and he had feared the consequences if he changed an event in the Doctor’s timeline. The Doctor was involved in Jack leaving, and Ianto suspected that for some reason Jack knew again what was to come, even if all Ianto knew about time travel told him that Jack should not have met a future version of the Doctor he was waiting for. That was after all the whole reason for Jack waiting for the right version of the Doctor to show up.

Everything concerning the Doctor and his time travel was confusing, and maybe Ianto had misunderstood some of the things he had learned at One and what Jack had told him since he had come here. But still, Ianto suspected that something bad was coming their way, something Jack feared a great deal. For whatever reason Jack was not telling them about it, but he had warned them repeatedly over the last couple of months about several things. They would need to put as much of that picture together as they could so that they would be able to be prepared.

“Are you sure you have to go with him?” Estelle asked.

Gwen nodded. “Yeah, why can’t you ask him your questions while he is staying here?”

Jack sighed. “Because he won’t wait for me. He left me behind for a reason when I saw him last. And in other circumstances, I would probably respect that, but I can’t. I have to go with him.” He frowned and looked down at the table. “Time travel is a very … delicate thing. I need to go with him to maintain part of my own timeline. Theoretically, I should know nothing about it, but I stumbled across that knowledge and … I really have no interest in causing a paradox.”

Toshiko leaned forward, and Ianto was sure the worry they shared about Jack and the future was forgotten for the moment. “What happens if you create a paradox?”

Jack blew out a breath. “That’s a very complex question, and I’m not sure I know all the answers. I guess it depends on the impact the paradox would have, and on the events and people involved. There are so-called fixed points in time that can’t be changed. Regardless of what someone tries to do to change it, they will still be forced to occur. I have also heard stories of creatures called reapers that destroy people and whole events that created a paradox to stop it. And if there is a paradox created around a really important event, the general consensus is that it would unravel all of reality, destroying the past, present and future of the whole universe.”

Jack frowned down at his fingers, which were tapping an unsteady rhythm on the table. “And of course, there are theories that machines could be built to stabilize a paradox. Using something like the Rift here to power it, or even a TARDIS. The most common theory is that destroying such a machine would set back time to the moment the paradox was created, but there are also a lot of people who say it would lead to utter destruction. It’s one reason we need to monitor the Rift so that no one will use it with ill intent.”

Ianto thought Jack had forgotten for a moment that he was talking with them. His eyes were unfocused in the same way they often were when Jack talked about something that had happened to him a long time ago. Ianto wondered if Jack had ever experienced a paradox but was too reluctant to talk about it.

“I guess no one has ever really tried to create a paradox out of fear of what would happen,” Owen muttered.

Jack barked out a laugh. “Oh, don’t be so sure about that. One would think humans would have stopped experimenting with nuclear power after they discovered how harmful the radiation is, and look where we are today. And I’ve learned that most sentient races are the same in that regard. But if anyone ever tried to create a paradox, no one ever survived to tell the tale, and that is reason enough to be very careful with such a thing.”

“It is a very fascinating thought experiment,” Toshiko said. “The physics about time travel alone is very intriguing, and I really wish I could share the data I’m collecting from the Rift, even more now that I got the Rift manipulator to work enough that we can rely on it most of the time.”

“I don’t think we will get to a point where you could share this in your lifetime, Tosh,” Jack murmured.

Toshiko waved her hand. “I know. And it’s not often that I really regret it. I’m learning things I could have never dreamed of before you hired me, and I’ll never regret that I get to know all of this!”

“So, you only called us here to tell us that you would leave soon?” Owen asked.

Jack nodded. “Yes.”

Owen huffed. “Couldn’t you have done that over lunch? All of us have work we could do right now.”

“Playing video games is not working,” Ianto muttered because that was what Owen did most often in the hour after lunch.

“I think we need to talk about the change in the structure of the team when Karen takes over my position,” Jack said before Owen could protest. “Because that is something we haven’t thought about after all the changes the past months have brought to our team. Tosh has declined repeatedly to ever take over as second in command, and Suzie is not here anymore. I don’t want you to have to figure out all of that only after I’m gone.”

Ianto sighed because he could already imagine the argument this would lead to. He was not very happy when, an hour later, he got settled with the position of being Karen’s second. Toshiko still had no interest in the job, despite her seniority and her qualifications for it, and as much as Ianto had not wanted to take the position either, he thought that Owen was as unqualified as Gwen for it.

The mood of the team was subdued after that. None of them wanted Jack to go and knowing that he would come back didn’t make it any better. Additionally, Ianto was not the only one who suspected that something bad was coming with Jack’s departure or shortly after. He talked with Toshiko and Karen about it, and learned from them that the other three had dismissed their concerns.

Neither of them asked Jack about it, but they met repeatedly over the next few weeks to gather all the small bread crumbs Jack had given them over time. There was no picture forming out of it yet, but being prepared for something that might come would hopefully give them enough time to react quickly when the time came.

Chapter 11

Jack stared at the calendar with a deep frown. This had been one of the days he was dreading the most of all the things he was unable to prevent, but nothing had happened. There was no call informing them about sounds coming out of the Ritz, no sign of Billis Manger playing his game with them. No one from the team had seen things they should not have seen, and everything was much too quiet.

When the evening came and there had still been no call out to the Ritz, Jack started to search for Billis Manger in the city database and on the internet. At first, he searched for the shop that Manger had owned last time, but he came up with nothing, and even the man himself didn’t seem to exist.

Jack frowned at his monitor. Manger had been capable of time travel, at least between ‘41 and now, could he somehow know what Jack had done or at least be aware that Jack knew of his plans? Had he changed his timeline because he wanted to avoid Jack? Manger could not enact his plan before the Rift manipulator worked, and Toshiko had only got it working weeks ago. If Manger had changed his timeline, then he had pushed his plans forward into the future. If he chose to enact his plans while Jack was gone, there was nothing that would be able to stop Abaddon.

Jack shook his head and tried searching for him with wider parameters. His team knew not to use the Rift manipulator for anything besides predicting spikes, but they had also known that last time. Manger had managed to manipulate them all through visions, he could very well do that again. If Jack could not find him before the Doctor came, then he needed to prepare something to warn his team.

“What the hell?”

Jack had opened a local newspaper article about the Ritz from the archive, only to be confronted with the picture he could remember had been taken of Manger, the real Captain Harkness, Toshiko and himself. This picture shouldn’t exist as long as Toshiko and he had not been displaced in time. He knew for a fact that it had not existed the last time before they had been sent back in the Rift, because he had spent a lot of hours eradicating every trace of the man whose name he had stolen once he had found himself stranded in this time after the day had passed on which he had originally stolen the identity of Captain Jack Harkness.

No one at Torchwood at that time had suspected that he had stolen the identity of an American soldier, but they all had known him already for years back then. The concept of time travel still baffled the people of that time so much that they had not thought much about it, they had not once remembered that Jack came from the future as long as Jack didn’t remind them of it.

But Jack had still felt it necessary to eradicate all traces of the identity theft he had committed when he had still been a conman. The best way to do that was to get rid of all information that had ever existed about the real Captain Harkness. Back then, Jack had not once regretted wiping out his whole life. Only after he had met the man had he started to feel bad about it, but there was nothing to change about it anymore.

The picture of the four of them should not exist, and Jack had no idea why it was still there. Following a hunch, he searched through the newspapers of that time for Billis Manger and finally found a short note that the manager of the Ritz had vanished at the end of January 1941. There had been no sign of foul play, and no one had ever heard from the man again.

It made absolutely no sense. Manger had died after he had freed Abaddon. Owen, Toshiko and Ianto had witnessed how the man had willingly sacrificed himself to his master before Jack had been able to get the attention of the monster to overfeed it with his own unending life force. But he hadn’t died this time yet, so there was no reason why he should have just vanished in the past, and…

“Oh!”

Jack blinked. Maybe there was a possible explanation. He had reset time back in 1965, more than twenty years after this picture had been taken, and after Manger had vanished because he had been killed in the other future. Jack had changed everything that lay in front of him, but nothing that had happened before ‘65. Was it possible that the echo of Billis Manger’s death from the other timeline had remained, because it had been tied to events before the point at which time had been set back? And if so, did that mean that Abaddon was destroyed as well? Or was that monster still waiting to get free if the Rift was ever opened?

Jack shook his head and rubbed his hands over his face when his eyes started to burn from staring at the monitor for too long. It could be a valid theory, but he had no idea how he could prove it without opening the Rift, and that was something he would never willingly do. Frustrated and unsatisfied, Jack finally decided to shut everything down and leave the Hub.

Nothing had happened today, and there was nothing to be done until either Manger or another servant of Abaddon showed up. Jack still didn’t know how to stop all of it, so there was no point in trying to figure out what he had to expect. Either they would be able to find a solution when it happened, or the planet would be lost. In the end, it would be a day like any other for Torchwood, with the only difference being that Jack would have known this threat could show up.

The anxiety didn’t leave just because Jack had a possible explanation for the uneventful day, and so instead of going home, he used the Vortex Manipulator for a visit to New York. It was not a Sunday evening, so Olivia wouldn’t be expecting him, but he still found her in the office that had changed so much and at the same time not at all since Angelo had died.

Olivia looked at him alarmed. “Did something happen?”

Jack huffed. “No, nothing happened. And that’s the problem.”

Olivia visibly relaxed and sighed. “You have never shown up unannounced. You had me worried.”

“I am worried,” Jack muttered, collapsing onto the office’s sofa. “I hate time travel! I hate the whole theoretical concept behind it, and how inconsistent it all is!”

“Really? You use it quite frequently for hating it so much.”

Jack sent her a dark look. “The world should have fallen into chaos today. And I had no idea how to stop it. I thought that I would have to let someone force my team into opening the damn Rift in Cardiff to free a creature that would feed of the lives of humans, maybe even all life on Earth, and that I would have to step in front of it again to overfeed it to death.”

Olivia frowned. “Doesn’t sound very pleasant.”

Jack closed his eyes. “It took me so long to come back to life that my team had already lost hope. So, that should have happened today, but it didn’t. I’m very, very worried about it because that is something I would like to be at least mentally prepared for before I have to face it again. And now I’m wondering if it will maybe never happen because in a way, I already destroyed that beast, or if it could happen while I’m away, which would not be good at all. The only way we could save the day was because I sacrificed myself.”

Olivia left her place at the desk and came to him, but instead of sitting down with him, she stared down at him with a deep frown. “I have two questions about what you just said.”

Jack shrugged. “Okay.”

“How could you have already defeated it?”

“The beast was freed today in my other life,” Jack explained. “But before that, Tosh and I were first thrown back in time so that the rest of our team would open the Rift to get us back, which would free the beast at the same time. We ended up in ‘41. Which was before I reset time, and I found a picture of us that shouldn’t exist, and I think that maybe … there is some kind of echo from the other timeline that led to the destruction of that beast in this timeline because they only divided after part of it had already happened.”

Olivia blinked, and after a moment she huffed. “I can understand why you would suddenly hate time travel.”

“Right? There is just no way to find out if that is true. So, I’m stuck with just waiting and that sucks.”

Olivia nodded. “And what did you mean by ‘while you are away’?”

Jack was startled by that question. He was so used to Olivia knowing everything about his other life that he had forgotten for a moment that he had never talked with her about the Year That Never Was. He could not risk the Master finding out anything about his knowledge about it, and the only foolproof way to ensure that was to not talk about it. If the hope he held onto since he had sent Mary into the sun would hold true, the Master would be unable to take a look into his head, and therefore the only way to inadvertently reveal the Doctor’s plan would be to let someone else know about it.

Jack sat up and patted the place beside him. “Sit down.”

“Where are you going?” Oliva demanded without following the invitation.

“I’m coming back. I have a lot of people here I don’t want to abandon, and you are one of those people!”

Olivia watched him out of narrowed eyes. “That doesn’t answer my question!”

“Would you please sit down with me?” Jack asked. He reached out and softly tugged on her arm.

Olivia huffed, but she followed his request this time.

“I have to leave with the Doctor for a while,” Jack said. “I did so last time, and there is no way I’m changing anything in his timeline. That would be an even bigger headache than the problem we just discussed. I’ll be gone for a couple of weeks or maybe even a couple of months, but I’ll come back as soon as I can.”

“You never told me about this before!”

Jack sighed. “No. I’m really not looking forward to what is to come. It won’t be an easy time for me, but I can’t change anything about it. I try not to think about it too much.”

Olivia closed her hands around his tightly. “But you will get through it?”

“Yes,” Jack tried to smile, but he knew he failed miserably. “I’ll get through it, and I will come back. And I’ll come visit you again as soon as I can. I’m sorry. You are right, I should have told you about this earlier. It will happen very soon now, I’m not even sure I have another Sunday left to visit you.”

Olivia raised her eyebrows. “My promise still stands. If you ever miss two visits in a row without an explanation, I’m coming to Cardiff to demand one!”

Jack let out a sardonic laugh. “Oh, there would have been an explanation, even without me ever saying a word.” Olivia had people she paid to monitor the news all over the world, and she would have been informed about him being declared a public enemy in Great Britain only minutes after it happened.

“Is there something coming?”

“I … yes.” Jack took a deep breath. “But you can’t do anything about it. Though, you could do me a favour.”

“I’m listening.”

“Go to your cabin and stay there for two weeks. Go a day or two before election day in Great Britain. And prepare for the worst in the hope it will never come.” Jack looked at her until she met his gaze. “It would be a lot easier for me if I knew that you were safe.”

No one would be safe during the year, but Olivia wouldn’t remember anything about it when it was all over. The cabin Jack was speaking about was far away from any civilisation and fitted out to provide for a group of up to ten people for several months. Maybe Olivia would be able to stay safe there at least for a while after the year had started. Maybe she would even be able to stay hidden for the whole year.

Olivia opened her mouth, only to close it again. She sighed and drew him into her arms and a tight hug. “You are coming to visit me first thing when you are back. And then you’ll tell me what happened and why you didn’t tell me before. I’ll be waiting. Don’t you dare let me wait for the rest my of life!”

Jack chuckled. “No. I promise you, I’ll come back as soon as I can.”

***

Ianto ended the call with Prime Minister Elect Saxon with a deep frown. Saxon had been verified as having won the election just an hour ago, so there should be no reason for him to assume he had the right to send them anywhere. Technically, he had no right to issue such an order even after he was sworn into office. And yet, he had just ordered their whole team – except Estelle because for some reason he seemed unaware of her – to go on an expedition to the Himalayas to hunt a Yeti.

None of this made any sense, and there was no chance they would leave the country to hunt a mystical creature. They had no jurisdiction outside of Great Britain and the Commonwealth. If Saxon wanted someone to capture a Yeti for him, he should ask UNIT, but Ianto could imagine they would only laugh at such a request as well.

Ianto made coffee for the team, and called everyone, except for Jack who had been gone for not quite two weeks now, into the conference room. After everyone had sat down and taken possession of a cup, Ianto cleared his throat. “So, our new Prime Minister is a problem. And I think he is a very big problem.”

Gwen frowned. “Why do you think that?”

“He just called and ordered us all to travel to the Himalayas and hunt for a Yeti.” Ianto was not surprised to be met with blank stares from everyone. “That’s exactly what I thought about it.”

“I don’t even know where to start the list of what is wrong with that!” Toshiko muttered.

“But he is our boss, isn’t he?” Gwen asked. “He has the right to order us to do that.”

“Above the police and outside the government,” Karen cited. “The Queen is the only one who could order us to do such a thing. And even then, only inside the Commonwealth. The Himalayas aren’t part of that. – That leaves the question, why did he try such a thing?”

“Jack never trusted Saxon,” Estelle said. She looked first to Toshiko, then to Ianto. “Maybe you were right when you suggested that Jack was expecting something big to happen, but he wouldn’t tell us for some reason.”

“Doesn’t mean Saxon has to be involved in it just because he is overstepping the line with us,” Owen said.

“Yeah, but there are several things about Saxon that don’t add up.” Toshiko opened the laptop she had brought with her. “Jack asked me to hack into the Archangel network months ago. That was surprisingly more difficult than I had expected. The code used in the satellites is very … advanced. I would even say alien. And there is a signal underlying all communications routed through the network that I haven’t quite gotten a hold of.”

“That doesn’t have to come from Saxon. Anyone working on that project could have manipulated it,” Gwen said.

“Right. But Saxon is the one who did not exist until eighteen months ago,” Toshiko continued. “He has done a fairly good job of creating a background, but it doesn’t take too much digging to discover that it is fake. No one had ever heard from him before that, and yet he won the election in a landslide. Participation was a lot higher than usual, and Saxon got nearly ninety per cent of the votes. And yet, no one has voiced any suspicion about fraud.”

Ianto crossed his arms. “As I said, Saxon is a serious problem.”

“Did you find out anything about who he was before he became Harold Saxon?” Owen looked to Toshiko with a frown.

Toshiko shook her head. “No. Either he did a very good job erasing his old identity, but I think if that were true that he would have been a lot more thorough in creating a whole new identity, or he wasn’t on Earth until eighteen months ago.”

“Do you want to tell me we just elected an alien as Prime Minister?” Karen asked.

“Probably.”

Owen scoffed. “And he wants to send us out of the country so that we don’t discover it? Even if we followed that order, it wouldn’t take us out of the country for long.”

“Long enough if he isn’t playing a long game,” Ianto said. “If his plans will unfold in the next couple of days, right after he is sworn in, we would probably not even notice anything while on the other side of the world in the middle of nowhere.”

“So, we agree that we need to investigate Saxon and be prepared for chaos to descend upon us?” Estelle asked.

Everyone around the table nodded.

“What are we going to do?” Gwen asked. “What can we do against the Prime Minister? We can’t just accuse him of being an alien. The world as a whole would laugh at us.”

“We’ll have to find another way to undermine his authority,” Karen said. “To make his missing past public could be the first step, but we need to know more about what his plans are before we can do anything. I don’t want to end up inadvertently supporting him.”

“We should make him believe that we followed his instruction,” Ianto suggested. “Otherwise, we would have to deal with too much of his attention. If he thinks he needs us to be out of the country, he’ll try to find another way if his first plan doesn’t work out.”

“I’ll book plane tickets for us. It won’t be a problem to hack into the airline and make it look like we boarded the plane,” Toshiko said.

Gwen nodded. “Any preparation we need to make to stay in the Hub for a while should look like preparations for a journey into the mountains.”

“We don’t really need to prepare for that,” Owen said. “We have enough supplies here to stay hidden for up to a year if it’s only us.”

Gwen bit her lip. “Is there any chance I could get Rhys in here before we go into lockdown?”

Ianto and Karen shared a long look before Karen said: “I understand your desire, but … are you really ready to include him into this? You would have to tell him everything. And would he be able to stay put and out of the way until there was time to explain anything to him? Because right now all of us need to concentrate on investigating Saxon.”

“But you would allow me to tell him otherwise?” Gwen looked at them surprised.

“Jack vetted him months ago for this,” Ianto explained. “He expected that eventually Rhys would get pulled into our work. Rhys has passed every check we have in place, so yes, there is no issue telling him. But now might not be the right time. What explanation could we give for Rhys vanishing when all of us should be out of the country on a work assignment?”

Gwen looked down. “You are right. And we don’t even know if something bad will really happen. Maybe we are overreacting. I … I worry about him, but I don’t think he would react very well to the kind of work we are doing here.”

Karen smiled. “You are right, there is no sign that he is in danger. As long as that doesn’t change, there is no reason to bring him in. But he does have a place here if that ever changes. Let’s just hope he doesn’t do the same thing Estelle did in that situation and hire himself.”

Gwen laughed. “No, I don’t think he would be prepared to change jobs. He is happy where he is.”

“I have a bad feeling with this,” Owen muttered. “The last time aliens infiltrated our government the Doctor destroyed Downing Street to get rid of them.”

“Let’s hope we get away with less destruction this time,” Ianto said. But since he suspected that the Doctor would be involved again, he didn’t have much hope for that. Ianto could understand why the Doctor had been Torchwood’s enemy number one for such a long time given the destruction he left behind every time. He knew it was not necessarily the Doctor’s fault, but it was still the defining impression many had of him.

They spent the next two hours planning out what they needed to do to investigate everything concerning Saxon while, at the same time making the appearance of preparing an expedition into the Himalayas that would start that evening. Ianto felt uneasy when they ended the meeting and took care of the tasks everyone had been assigned. Whatever Saxon was planning, Ianto did not believe they had enough time to prepare for it.

Ianto found that feeling validated when two days later they still had no idea what Saxon was planning, but they were thrown out of their research by Jack reappearing. He was sighted in London, but they only learned about it because he was declared a public enemy together with the Doctor and a young woman named Martha Jones. Their focus changed, at least for a while, to investigating Miss Jones.

When they learned that her whole family had been arrested, except for her brother who had been able to flee, they made the decision that they needed to go out and help Jack, especially after Saxon had declared that an alien race called the Toclafane had made contact with him. Nothing about this boded well. Saxon should have consulted them about the Toclafane instead of sending them out of the country. Not for a moment did any one of them believe that the Toclafane came in peace or to be friends.

They left Cardiff separately. Gwen and Owen went to Brighton to search for Leo Jones and his family in the hope they could find them before Saxon’s men did and help them hide. Ianto and Toshiko went to London in the hope they would be able to board the Valiant during the night because that was where Saxon would officially welcome the Toclafane the next morning, and Karen followed them in a separate car to meet with Colonel Clement McDonald from UNIT because he was the only one in that organisation they knew they could trust implicitly. Estelle stayed in the Hub to coordinate with them.

Ianto tried to reach Jack, but he wasn’t surprised not to get in contact with him. Shutting down the Hub as they did would have led to Jack being unable to reach them upon his return to London. The chances were high that Saxon had told him about sending them to Asia, so Jack wouldn’t expect any one of them to come to his aid. Toshiko had been unable to find the number for Miss Jones’ phone, so they couldn’t make contact through her either.

They had to hope they would be able to get into contact with Jack on the Valiant, because there was no doubt Jack and his two companions would try to get on board as well. They would need enough time to come up with a plan, or at least coordinate enough that they could support whatever crazy plan the Doctor came up with.

As much as Ianto had tried to prepare in advance for this unknown threat, they had to scramble to try to catch up, and that always bore the risk of failure. They reached London in plenty of time, but none of their contacts with UNIT were able to get them on the Valiant. Their last resort was to call Karen, who was with Colonel McDonald at that time, but even he was unable to get on the Valiant at the moment, let alone get someone else up there.

Gwen and Owen called, and at least they had been successful in finding Leo Jones with his girlfriend and their daughter, and they had been able to escape Saxon’s goons. While Leo had decided to send his daughter and girlfriend to her parents, he was adamant about coming with Gwen and Owen to London to help his sister. They agreed to meet in an old Torchwood One safehouse just outside of London because there was nothing else to be done.

Ianto barely slept at all that night. He was worried about Jack and anxious about the Toclafane, but most of all he felt helpless because there was nothing for any of them to do. They could only wait, and he hated it. All their research about Saxon and his wife had accounted to nothing. They didn’t have even the faintest idea what Saxon’s motives were.

Gwen, Owen and Leo arrived early in the morning bringing breakfast for them all, but most of it remained uneaten as they gathered in front of the TV ten minutes to eight. Ianto winced when Jack was killed, but Leo was the only one of them startled when he came back to life a couple of minutes later. It didn’t matter much that Jack’s secret had been exposed to the whole world – most probably hadn’t even noticed it or would forget about it right away because other things were much more important.

It was the day the world ended, and nothing else had any kind of meaning anymore.


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Bythia

I've been writing since I was able to put the letters on paper, and if the stories of my family are to be trusted, I told stories long before that. Starting to write in English has been an adventure, but I found that I crave the environment Rough Trade and Quantum Bang are creating.

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