Rewriting Time – 3/4 – 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 12

Jack had been afraid that he would be unable to hold back his glee and anticipation when this day finally came. There was less doubt this time about whether the Doctor’s plan would work out in such a way that they could overthrow the Master, because everything else of this year had gone nearly exactly as Jack remembered it – except that Martha had travelled with a companion, but he had no idea who that was and the Master had not had that person brought into the room with Martha –, and he couldn’t wait for the year to finally come to an end.

But now, as Jack was standing in what had basically been the Master’s throne room for the last year, with Martha kneeling in front of the stairs laughing about the absurd idea of a weapon and explaining what she had really done to buy time, he felt only exhaustion. He could not wait for all of this to be over, for the year to be reset, and for the moment he would be able to return to his team, but he didn’t have enough energy left for any kind of positive emotions.

Jack had thought he had remembered what was in store for him this year, but he had forgotten one of the first things he had ever learned about torture, long before he had met the Doctor for the first time. He had learned both to withstand and inflict torture himself before he had even gone to the Time Agency. There were very few races in the universe who could say they had never used torture as a weapon of war, and as far as Jack was aware it would never stop being such.

But the peculiar thing about pain for most races was that the memory of it was never quite as horrible as the moment itself had been. It was a protection mechanism to make it possible to go on after it if the victim managed to survive it. Jack had known that, and yet he had not remembered to apply that knowledge to this situation. He had gone into this year confident that he could get through it again because he had managed it once already, and had been completely unprepared for the depth of the Master’s depravity and his fascination with the man who would not stay dead.

Jack gathered the rest of his energy when the counter came to its end because he had still a task ahead of him, and he could not risk failing at it. Everything would be for nought if he failed in reaching the TARDIS and destroying the paradox machine. He muttered the Doctor’s name with everyone else, but it was not as wonderful as it had been the first time to see the Doctor revived because he knew that his next actions would lead to utter disappointment.

Jack left the room before the Doctor was even fully his old self, not waiting this time for the Doctor to order him to go after the paradox machine, and no one bothered to stop him. Most of the humans working for the Master on the Valiant were anything but loyal to him, either following him because they had no idea how they could oppose him or because he held someone hostage they cared for. With the help of the Joneses, Jack had spent most of the last year figuring out who would turn against the Master at the first opportunity and who they needed to take out.

Jack came to an abrupt halt in the hall before the door had even closed behind him, convinced that his eyes had to be betraying him. “What the hell are you doing here?” Jack asked, staring at Ianto, convinced he was seeing a ghost.

Ianto smiled. “Helping you save the world, hopefully.”

“How…” Jack closed his eyes. “Fuck, we don’t have time for this!”

“We assumed we would need to get into the TARDIS. It’s protected terribly well, but Tosh, Karen and Leo should have taken care of that already.”

Jack felt his knees buckle. “How many of you are up here?”

Ianto grabbed his arms and caught him before he could fall. “Everyone except Estelle. Plus a couple of additions. We’ll explain all of it later.”

“Yeah.” Jack allowed himself a moment to lean into Ianto, but they really had no time to let themselves be distracted. “There are Toclafane guarding the TARDIS, but you are right, I need to get in there.” He took a step back, but not enough to prompt Ianto to let go of his arms. “I’ll never forgive you if you’ll die on me now, do you hear me?”

Ianto nodded. “No one will die. And as I said, the Toclafane should already be taken care of.” He turned, leading Jack in the direction of the TARDIS.

Jack remembered the route. He had had a lot of nightmares about failing his mission along this route long after this year had been over the last time. No one got in their way, the few soldiers who had been truly loyal to the Master were subdued by those of their comrades who had bided their time waiting for the right moment. It was a lot less chaos than Jack remembered from the last time, and he suspected his team had a great deal to do with that.

They were running through the halls of the Valiant, but despite their dire situation, Jack had a difficult time holding back his questions. Not a single member of his team should be here, and fear was gripping his heart because if any one of them died now, they would stay dead if their body remained on the Valiant when the paradox machine was destroyed. He was not prepared to lose any of them, and every ounce of his confidence had vanished in the face of that possibility.

Jack was unable to mutter even a single word as they reached the door leading to the room containing the TARDIS, and he saw Toshiko, Karen and Martha’s brother standing in front of it. All of them were grinning widely as if they had won a great battle. A moment later Jack saw the apparatus they were surrounding, which Toshiko was patting with one hand.

“We have no idea how long that will take out the Toclafane, so we should hurry,” Karen shouted before Ianto and Jack had reached them.

The door was open, and there were three of the spheres lying on the floor. The questions burned on Jack’s tongue, but he forced himself to not hesitate. Four soldiers had sacrificed themselves last time to distract the Toclafane enough that Jack could reach the TARDIS, and he was glad it was something that would not need to be repeated. He passed his friends without so much as a greeting, aware that all four of them were following him through the room and inside the TARDIS.

“Tosh, Karen, I need your help,” he shouted. “Ianto, Leo, barricade the door and find something to hold onto. We’ll reset time back to the moment the US President was killed, and it will be a rough ride.” Jack didn’t wait for his orders to be acknowledged before he started to give out instructions to Karen and Toshiko on how to disable the paradox machine.

Last time he had just shot it because that had been the easiest and fastest solution, but it had left the TARDIS greatly damaged and he had always regretted that. With the help of Toshiko and Karen, and because he knew exactly how the machine worked after he had helped the Doctor take it apart last time, it took them only a little bit more than two minutes to disable it enough that it stopped working.

When the world stopped shaking, Jack found himself lying on the floor right beside the middle console of the TARDIS. He felt breathless and so exhausted that he contemplated just staying where he was. Someone else would stop the Master from fleeing, and Jack had not been needed to kill him last time, so there was no reason for him to get up. He could just lie here and try to forget the last year.

“Jack?” Ianto’s face was suddenly hovering above him, his voice and eyes full of worry.

“How did you get onto the Valiant? And why?”

Ianto smiled. “That’s a really long story. The short version is that we didn’t trust Saxon and set out to free you after the whole insanity started. It was not easy to get all of us up here, or to stay hidden from you and the Master long enough.”

“You said all of you are here,” Jack muttered.

“I think we still need to take care of the Master,” Karen interrupted them. “I don’t trust the Doctor to take care of him.”

Jack sighed, but he grabbed Ianto’s hand and let himself be pulled to his feet. The Toclafane in front of the TARDIS had vanished, but that was the only thing that had changed on the Valiant. Everyone on this ship would remember the horror of the last year, and Jack felt devastated by the knowledge that his whole team was included in it this time. He had been so glad last time that they had not remembered any of it, because it was something that would haunt them for the rest of their lives. He would have never wished this on them.

Once again Jack stepped through the door to the Master’s throne room at the very moment the Time Lord chose to make his escape attempt. Jack caught him and cuffed his arms behind his back with cuffs that Ianto handed him. He felt part of his exhaustion drain out of him with the knowledge that he was not alone in this situation this time, that he could allow himself to relax a fraction because there were people here he knew he could trust and rely on.

Jack’s eyes were already on Francine before she even raised the gun. “Don’t do this to yourself,” he said quietly. He knew about the pact she had made with her husband and daughter, of course, but he had never believed any of them would be able to live with such an act on their consciousness.

“After everything he has done…”

“I know,” Jack nodded and ignored the Doctor who had only now noticed what was happening. “But not by your hand. This is not your task. Give the gun to Karen, please.”

But it was Ianto who stepped up to her, followed by Leo. A sob escaped her when she saw her son, and Ianto carefully pried the gun out of her loose grip only seconds before Francine threw her arms around Leo. Jack pushed the Master to his knees just as Ianto turned, his back straight, his head held high, and his fingers confidently closed around the handle of the gun.

Their gazes met, but Jack hesitated for a long moment. He suspected that everyone except the Doctor knew how this day would have to end, and that everyone on his team had been prepared to take this step for a very long time. But he was not sure if he wanted Ianto to be the one to do it. In the end, he nodded because he didn’t feel he was in the right mind to make any kind of decision about it, and Ianto was clearly determined.

“No!” The Doctor stepped between Ianto and them, his hands held out in an appeasing gesture and facing Ianto. “There is no need to kill the Master!”

“Step out of the way, Doctor,” Jack said. “I think Ianto won’t hesitate to shoot you as well.”

The Doctor turned his head but stayed where he was. “He is one of yours, then?”

“Apparently all my team managed to get on board,” Jack shrugged and looked down at the Master. “Your little plan to send them on a false trail in the mountains on the other side of the world didn’t work, it seems.” He couldn’t help but feel proud of them despite the desperation it had triggered earlier.

“Jack is right,” Ianto said. “I won’t hesitate to shoot you as well if you don’t step away, Doctor. Your inaction played a big part in what happened during this past year.”

“It never happened!” the Doctor insisted. “Time was reset. No one remembers any of it!”

“We remember,” Francine said. She was still holding onto Leo, and they were surrounded by the rest of their family. Jack frowned in confusion and surprise when he saw Clement hovering right behind Martha, a hand on her shoulder.

“Because we were in the eye of the storm,” the Doctor explained. “We unmade all of it by destroying the paradox! The Master is my responsibility! He and I, we are the last of our kind. Executing him is not the solution!”

“You won’t be able to handle him, Doctor,” Jack said. “You can’t trap him in the TARDIS or anywhere else without taking the risk that he will flee. And you can’t redeem him. He is mad. Even you should understand that after the last year. You can’t cure him of it, you can’t keep the rest of the universe safe from him.”

“Oh, and you are the one to decide that, yes?” the Doctor spat.

“As Jack is the one who had to suffer the most under the Master’s madness during the last year, I don’t see why he shouldn’t be the one to decide it,” Toshiko said from somewhere behind Jack.

“Another one of your little team?” But the Doctor didn’t turn to Toshiko, instead, he took a step forward to Ianto. “We can find another solution. No one has to die today.”

Ianto took a step back. “Several groups in this room made the decision to execute the Master at different points in time throughout the last year. It wasn’t a spontaneous idea that Mrs. Jones took the weapon, I believe.” Francine, Clive and Letitia all nodded. “It was not primarily you who was harmed by the Master. He transformed humanity into the things he called Toclafane, but I believe you knew that already. He destroyed our whole planet, and he planned to destroy as much of the universe as he could. Do you really believe he will ever cease to seek this kind of destruction?”

Unexpectedly, the Master began to laugh. “You’ll never convince him, little apes. Even when we weren’t the last Time Lords left, he would have never let me die. He wants to save me.” No one spared him even a glance and his laughter died quickly when he noticed that.

“Step aside, Doctor,” Ianto said. “Or I will shoot you as well. I have sworn to protect Great Britain and this planet from alien threats. And I’m really not convinced Jack is right when he tried to tell us that Queen Victoria had it wrong when she named you our greatest enemy.”

Jack saw Karen move out of the corner of his eye, but he was as startled as everyone else when the shot rang through the room. He grabbed her arm and drew her back when the Doctor whirled around, first staring at her and then down at the Master, whose body had dropped down to the floor, blood pooling around his head.

The last time, Jack had felt pity for the Doctor as he had held the Master while he had died in his arms. This time, he felt no compassion at all as he watched the Doctor fell to his knees beside the dead Time Lord, murmuring things Jack did not bother listening to. Jack watched on, wondering if he really had lost every bit of compassion he had once felt for the Doctor, or if he was just too tired and exhausted to care about anything at the moment.

Before Jack could come to a decision about that, he found himself in a tight hug with Ianto, followed by Karen, Toshiko and then even Clement. They all looked gaunt, as worn out and tired as he felt himself, and Jack wondered what they had endured during the last year.

Jack had no time to ask any of the questions he had held back since encountering Ianto when a group of UNIT soldiers stormed the room, followed by Gwen, Owen and to Jack’s great surprise also by Rhys Williams and Andy Davidson. Whatever his team had to have been up to in the last twelve months, the story had to be huge. Jack knew Cardiff had been destroyed by the Rift breaking wide open with the arrival of the Toclafane. To see anyone from there up here was a small miracle.

Clement took control of the situation without hesitating, and Jack understood somewhere between being hugged by Gwen and Owen and then even Andy, that Clement had called for these soldiers sometime after they had reversed time, which really should not be a surprise. Clement had to be the most high-ranking officer from UNIT on board the Valiant because everyone else with any kind of rank had opposed the Master after he had revealed his true self and been executed on the spot.

“You need rest,” Ianto’s words startled Jack out of his musings. “And a shower, Sir. Colonel McDonald promised to organize a means of transport for us down to London. There is nothing here for us to do anymore, and you have earned a little bit of rest and peace before any kind of debriefing.”

Jack wanted to protest that there was still a lot to do: he still had to help the Doctor with completely disabling the paradox machine, he had to catch up with Martha, someone had to explain to the Secret Service and UNIT what had happened – there was just no time for him to leave yet. But neither his team nor the Joneses let him say a word as they ushered him out of the room, with only Clement and Martha staying back.

They were brought to a couple of helicopters and Jack felt his exhaustion overwhelming him the moment he sat down. He fell asleep on Ianto’s shoulder before the doors of the helicopter even closed.

***

Jack had no idea where he was or what day it was when he woke up. He was lying in a bed, and he could hear the faint sounds of a city, but the last thing he remembered was being on the Valiant, surrounded by his team and so tired that he had barely been able to walk on his own.

“We are in a hotel room in London.”

Jack opened his eyes and found Ianto sitting at a desk not too far away from the bed he was lying in. Ianto was working on a laptop, but he had turned his head to look at him. “How did I get here?”

Ianto raised his eyebrows and grinned. “Owen, Rhys and I carried you down from the landing pad on top of this building. We thought it a better idea to let you sleep. We know what you went through, and I’m really surprised you were able to stay on your feet for as long as you managed.”

“Will you explain now how all of you ended up on the Valiant?”

“How about I order us breakfast, you finally take that shower I suggested yesterday, and I’ll tell you our story while we eat.”

Jack frowned. “I slept a whole day?”

Ianto shrugged. “I didn’t expect anything else.”

Jack sighed. He couldn’t even argue with that. His body might regenerate after every death, but the exhaustion that had pushed away everything else had been purely mental. It had been so much harder this time to hold on to his sanity and his hope, despite the knowledge that their chances of winning weren’t as slim as it might appear.

He followed Ianto’s instructions without any protest. He stood under the warm spray of the water for a long time, just enjoying the warmth and the feeling of being clean, while trying not to think about when he had last had an opportunity to clean himself. The Master had not bothered granting his prisoners any bodily care except the bare minimum to keep them healthy enough to work, and there had been no need to grant Jack anything to keep him healthy.

When he finally got out of the shower, he was startled to notice that he had spent nearly an hour standing under the warm spray of the water. Ianto had to have come into the bathroom for a moment without Jack noticing because on the small shelf holding the fresh towels lay a set of trousers, a t-shirt and the usual type of shirt he wore most days. Jack smiled when he reached for them, feeling much more like himself after he put the clothes on.

Beside the bed and the desk Ianto had worked at earlier stood a small, round table with two chairs. The amount of food Jack found on that table when he left the bathroom was overwhelming, and Jack felt some strange mix of hunger and nausea seeing it. He had had nothing more than bland, undefinable mush for a year, and even that had been withheld from him for weeks at a time.

“I haven’t had a decent breakfast in a year either,” Ianto said. “I got a nice steak with baked potatoes yesterday for dinner. Believe me, getting something real to eat will help a lot with making it sink in that the insanity is over.”

“I’m not sure we’ll be able to eat all of this,” Jack muttered. But he sat down on the free chair and started to load his plate with eggs, sausages and beans. “Where are the others? We could have gotten breakfast with all of them.”

Ianto shook his head. “Clement and Martha are still on the Valiant, together with the Doctor as far as I know. The rest of the Joneses are happy to be at home and are enjoying their own space. And the rest of our team went back to Cardiff. We called Estelle, and she told us the Rift is very active right now. I hope it will settle down soon, but Karen and I made the decision that it would to be enough for UNIT if they had the two of us for a debriefing. Everyone else will write down a report whenever they have time.”

“Are Rhys and Andy part of our team now?”

“I don’t think Andy will come to us full time,” Ianto shrugged. “Technically, he is on vacation in Scotland right now for three more days. We met him halfway through the year when he tried to make his way back to Wales. He decided to stay with us and help us get to you.”

Jack nodded. He knew Andy was a lot tougher than he seemed, he had proven repeatedly that during the Miracle. “And Rhys?”

“Was on his first big tour for Harward’s outside of Cardiff. He had spent the night in a hotel because it was too far away to get back on the same day. Gwen knew where he had wanted to stay and called him just in time before the lines went down. We met up with him before we even had a plan for what to do. We stumbled over Martha in London, who told us she had a mission from the Doctor. Wouldn’t tell us what it was, but she accepted Clement’s help when he offered to accompany her.”

“Good for her,” Jack muttered. Maybe the experience would be easier to overcome for her this time when she could share her memories and her nightmares with someone who had been with her most of the way. She had come out of it strong and confident once, but it had also cost her a great deal.

Ianto nodded and took a sip of his coffee. “I’m not sure she would have been able to accomplish what she did on her own. Clement managed to get a couple of messages through to us during the year, and it was always very … dark. Also, he told us how we could take out the Toclafane, and we managed to adapt. With the weapon Tosh, Karen, and Leo built, we could take them out for a while at least. Killing them would have come with too much of a risk for the person using the weapon. And it would have been impossible to get that kind of electricity on the Valiant.”

Jack huffed. “I was surprised that they were able to disable them at all.” He shuddered and tried to cover it up by grabbing the coffee pot. “I thought I would have to sacrifice myself a couple of times to get past them.”

“You have died enough for a whole century in the last months,” Ianto muttered. He stared down at his own food, but Jack could still see the hard lines on his forehead indicating the frown.

Jack sighed. “Who told you about that? You can’t have been on the Valiant long enough to witness it for yourself.”

Ianto’s head shot up and he stared at Jack out of wide eyes. “You don’t know…? He liked to broadcast it. There were only a few days where he didn’t show the whole world his newest ideas to torture you. He liked to threaten the resistance with it. Ask us how long we thought we could withstand it, if we would be able to hold out longer than you or not.”

“Fuck,” Jack dropped his silverware and turned away from the table.

“I’m sorry,” Ianto murmured.

Jack shook his head. “You have nothing to be sorry for. I’m just … I remember that he wouldn’t stop talking, but I … it was easier not to listen. I didn’t know he wasn’t talking to me.”

“Maybe we shouldn’t talk about this right now,” Ianto whispered.

“Yes,” Jack nodded slowly. “I’ve been really enjoying having something to eat again. How did you get on the Valiant? Where were you when all of this started?”

Ianto sighed deeply, and then he began to tell a very long tale about how they had started to investigate Saxon only hours after it had been confirmed that he had won the election. Jack didn’t remember that he had spoken so often about his mistrust of Harold Saxon that his team had noticed it, and even taken on that mistrust for themselves. He had known that he had left behind a much stronger team than in the other timeline, he had worked hard for that, but he was still surprised what they had accomplished by building on that strength.

Jack listened quietly for the most part while Ianto told him how they had rescued Leo, and how they had taken over old Torchwood facilities in London that Saxon would not have learned about even as Prime Minister, only to start the resistance right under his nose.

The Master had counted on the Toclafane, corrupt humans who had willingly followed him for the mere chance to exercise any kind of power over others, and on the control the Archangel network had over the minds of all of humanity. He had greatly underestimated the will to live and fight for a good life and the strength of that will in humanity as a whole. Even without the Doctor’s plan that would have been the end of his grand plans eventually, at least this time, because Jack’s team had stepped in, organised a resistance all over the world and fought for a year with everything they had to save their planet.

In the face of this overwhelming threat most had been able to overcome even the deepest conflicts to work together, and they had used the Master’s own network without him noticing it to coordinate their efforts worldwide because Tosh had successfully hacked the Archangel network without notice weeks before everything had gone down.

“Owen had been on the Valiant the longest,” Ianto said hours later, their breakfast long gone. “The Master needed people to operate the ship, and those people needed health care. Owen could take the place of another doctor. Gwen, Rhys and Andy had been part of the crew of one of the supply planes, and they hid on the Valiant the last two days instead of leaving with the plane again. Karen and Tosh had been up there for two weeks after they needed a couple of technicians to repair one of the engines. That was Owen’s fabulous work. And Leo and I managed to get smuggled in with a supply run a week ago.”

Jack shook his head. “You are all insane. Did you have any idea how to stop the Master?”

Ianto laughed. “No, not really. But we knew the Doctor’s plan was coming to a conclusion. And while the Master may have believed that bullshit about a weapon, we were pretty sure that was a hoax to hide something else. Clement had gotten a message to us a couple of months back that we needed to be ready and on the Valiant when the Master’s countdown would end. – But you weren’t any better at coming up with a plan, were you?”

“I spent the year in chains, that’s hardly a position to make any plans,” Jack muttered. “But I knew whatever the Doctor had planned would be a big distraction to the Master, and that I would need to use that moment to destroy the paradox machine. We had seen it before it all started, but the Doctor stopped me from destroying it right then and there. I’m not sure why, but he was insistent we would need to determine first what it was meant to do.”

Ianto huffed. “Of course. He also thought he could control that bastard. I envy Karen that she was the one who got to kill him. I wouldn’t have hesitated to do it if the Doctor hadn’t stepped in.”

“Would you really have been able to live with it, though?” Jack asked. “To kill someone in a fight is a very different thing than to execute someone who is kneeling in front of you.”

“I wouldn’t have lost any sleep over it.” Ianto looked at him, and the determination shining out of his eyes took Jack’s breath away. “Even ignoring all the things he did to the world, killing him in retaliation for what he did to you would have been very satisfying.”

Chapter 13

Ianto was surprised how much he hated letting Jack out of his sight in the days after they had defeated the Master and restored Earth to the moment before it had fallen to his destruction. If someone had asked him a year ago – in his personal timeline, for most everyone else on Earth it would have only been a week ago – about a scenario like the one they had lived through, he would have told them that he did not see himself surviving such a thing.

The invasion of the Cybermen had taught Ianto how weak he was, how strong the impact of such a catastrophe was on him, and how little he was prepared to deal with such a thing. When the whole year had started, Ianto had been barely at a point where nightmares didn’t keep him up every night anymore. It had been easier during the day because he had found friends in his new team that had supported him, but at night when he had been alone the fear and horror had returned. Ianto remembered the moments during that invasion in which he had thought that it would be best for him to just give up. It had been Lisa all along who had kept him fighting, and Ianto had been convinced he would be unable to survive such a thing a second time.

He had been proven wrong, but Ianto knew that most of that had come from his desire to free Jack, from his loyalty to and love for Jack that he had not even noticed existed until he had been taken prisoner by the Master.

The hardships of the last year had been greater than anything he had experienced during the invasion of the Cybermen, but he had had a lot more support this time, and the fight they had led hadn’t seemed quite as hopeless as the fight against the Cybermen. The Master had played a long game, and that had given them a lot of time to prepare for the end as well. They may not have had a concrete plan when the day had come, but they had all been in place to take the Master down.

The most painful part for Ianto had been to see how Jack was treated by the Master. They all had lived under the fear of being discovered and executed, possibly even tortured before that. They all had been hungry, exhausted, and angry, and they all had hated the broadcasts about Jack’s torture, but Ianto had barely been able to stand that last part. It had been the anguish he had felt over Jack’s situation and the hatred for the Master it had inspired in him which had carried him through the year.

To see Jack free and clean and healthy again was a relief, and Ianto wished he could keep away everything that reminded him of the terrible Year, and for the moment that seemed to be life as a whole. Jack put on a good front for those who didn’t know him, but Ianto saw the haunted expression in his eyes, the stiffness in his shoulders when Jack encountered strangers, the flinch from every unexpected noise and touch.

But UNIT expected answers and a detailed debriefing, and they had no other choice but to go back to the Valiant a day after Jack had woken up. They were put in a room with Clement, Martha and even the Doctor, who was regarding Ianto with open disdain, even in the face of the detailed recounting from Martha, Clement, and Ianto about what life had been like on Earth in the past year.

The Doctor’s approval was the last thing Ianto cared about, so he just ignored the Time Lord. He wondered briefly why he was even still here. After the fall of Torchwood One he had very hurriedly vanished, but a short discussion between Jack and the Doctor revealed that the TARDIS was unable to leave as long as the paradox machine was not completely disabled. Ianto hated it when Jack left him behind to help the Doctor with that task, but he would be glad for the Doctor to be able to leave as soon as possible.

Besides the non-confrontation with the Doctor, the visit to the Valiant also brought some good news, chiefly that the US President had turned up alive on the ship. It had taken a while, but eventually, the Doctor had grudgingly explained that the President’s death had started the paradox, and the destruction of the paradox machine had brought them back not to the moment right after that as the Doctor had originally thought but instead right before it. At the same time, they had been lucky that the Valiant had been in nearly the exact same spot it had been when all of it had begun so that those who had been on the Valiant in the beginning and had died during the year had turned up on the ship instead of in mid-air.

Ianto had shuddered quietly when he had thought about what would have happened to those people if the Valiant had been somewhere else. The best thing for them would have been to not reappear, but he suspected they would have faced a very gruesome death.

For some reason, the broadcast of the assassination of the President had still been live even though technically it had never happened. The Doctor had had an explanation for that as well, but Ianto had been unable to follow it and had been very uninterested in it from the beginning so hadn’t cared enough to try. The broadcast had been announced as a hoax, as someone hacking into the news feed and altering the video, but Jack and Ianto had completely missed it because they had spent the last day wilfully ignoring the world outside the hotel.

The interrogation by UNIT ended three days later, and this time Clement accompanied them on their flight to London while Martha stayed with the Doctor but promised to call them soon. Ianto was sure that she wouldn’t stay with the Doctor for long since she had a family to support, and she had called them twice a day since Ianto and Jack had come back to the Valiant.

Jack and Ianto would rent a car to drive back to Cardiff, but first, they went to check on Martha’s family together with Clement. Ianto had found a good friend in Leo, and Jack had grown close to the others during their shared captivity on the Valiant. The family was gathered in Francine’s house, and the traces the last year had left behind were even more visible in them than Ianto had noticed in his other friends.

“Our neighbours are watching us as if we are criminals,” Francine bemoaned while she served all of them some tea. “I really needed to come back here and find a little bit of peace, but that seems to be impossible. The Master … Saxon had us arrested right in front of the house, and his people were shooting at Martha’s car.”

“There was a statement issued that he had put out a false warrant for you because Martha discovered his fraud, wasn’t there?” Clement asked.

Clive shrugged. He stood at the window, looking out over the street, and Ianto suspected he was searching for any threat to his family. “They don’t care about that. I don’t think they believe it. There isn’t much known yet about Saxon at all, only that he died on the Valiant. It will be hard to stay here after all of this. This neighbourhood is mostly a good one, but they can be very…”

“Vindictive?” Leo muttered.

“You could come to Cardiff,” Jack suggested. “We can find a nice house there for you. And you’ll be able to find a therapist you can talk to there. There are several in the city who know about aliens and all kinds of things. I needed them so that my team would have someone to talk to. I can give you their names.”

Ianto smiled into his tea. Even a year of torture had not taken away Jack’s insistence on taking care of everyone he had come to call his own.

“We have our work here,” Francine said. “Our whole life is here.”

Letitia frowned. “Really? What’s left of that life after the last year? Corinne called yesterday and … I could barely talk to her. She doesn’t remember any of it. I have no idea how to relate to her anymore, how to talk about anything other than this fucked up … I don’t even remember any of the gossip she wanted to talk about! And I don’t care to remember. And then there were her questions about Saxon. I don’t even know yet what the official story will be, but of course she was asking about it because I worked for him.”

“You shouldn’t just cut ties with your friends,” Jack said. “That’s not what I’m suggesting.”

“No,” Letitia shook her head. “I know that. I just … need time, I think. And someone to talk to sounds good. I thought I would be able to sleep again once we were away from that ship, but…”

Clive left his place on the window to sit down beside his daughter and wrap his arms around her. “You can talk to us.”

Letitia sighed. “Sure, but … you’re struggling just as much as I am!”

“It is at least a possibility you should all keep in mind,” Ianto said. “I’m sure we could even find work for all of you in Torchwood. Leo has already proven that he would be a good fit.”

“I have the connections to find you a job anywhere in Cardiff,” Jack watched Letitia. “Especially for you, Tish. It won’t be easy for you to find anything after Lazarus and Saxon.”

Letitia laughed, but it was anything but happy. “Yeah. Corinne told me I had to be cursed that my employers always die.”

“That’s a really bad thing to make a joke about,” Leo barked out. “Maybe you should think about finding new friends.”

Francine shook her head. “I don’t know…”

“No need to make a decision now,” Clement said. “There has been talk about compensation for you, but I haven’t heard anything about how much that will be. It will probably also be to buy your silence. There are a lot of people concerned that you could talk about what really happened.”

Clive huffed. “Right, because that’s so believable! No one would listen to us.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” Jack said. “But either way, take the money. It can only help, even if it’s just so that you won’t need to worry about work for a while. Or to take a vacation. You have earned yourself a break.”

They nodded, but Ianto could see that they weren’t convinced. They probably hadn’t reached the point yet where they even understood that the horrible year they had lived through was over, and so it was no wonder that they were still in the mindset of only thinking about how to get through one day at a time. It would take time and work for them to get over it, and Ianto was not sure if leaving London would help or hinder them in that.

“Did Martha say anything to you about her plans?” Francine was looking at Clement. She had her hands folded into her lap and was biting her lower lip.

“She will come home soon. She regrets greatly that her involvement with the Doctor endangered all of you. She wants to say goodbye to him, and I think she is worried about him, but that won’t make her change her mind.”

Francine sighed relieved. “I just want her here with us. At least for a while. I can’t even imagine what she went through over the last year.”

“It was a hard year,” Clement agreed. “We talked a lot about our lives. We had to remind ourselves what we were fighting for. Martha missed you very much, and she was worried about what you were enduring.”

“Do you have a family?” Francine asked.

Clement shook his head. “No. I’m an orphan, grew up in an orphanage. And I never had the desire for a family of my own once I was able to leave there. And thankfully my friends are all used to the fact that I can’t talk about my work. But I think it will be hard to get back into work. I’ve had a year to get used to the idea of not being in any kind of chain of command, and there are some who want to force a promotion on me.”

“You’ll always be welcome here,” Francine said.

Jack nodded. “And if you’ve had enough of UNIT, we’ll find a place on our team for you.”

Clement laughed. “If I retire, I’ll use my pension to concentrate a little bit more on my side projects instead of joining you in chasing after even more aliens, Jack. I have done enough of that for a whole lifetime!”

Ianto frowned. “You can’t retire before you’ve found someone else to be our official contact!”

Clement laughed. “I’ll remember that.”

“Ianto is right. You can’t just leave us behind with the task of breaking in a new contact all on our own!” Jack agreed. “You have been the only decent one in that organisation I have talked to in years!”

“Pretty sure you haven’t talked to anyone from UNIT but me for years, excluding the last couple of days.”

Jack grinned. “That’s what I said, isn’t it?”

Ianto sighed and turned back to Leo and his family. “How have you been aside from the suspicious neighbours? Are you settling back in? Is there anything we can help you with?”

Clive shook his head. “I have no idea what could help.”

“I would love for you to come with me when I go to Ashley’s parents tomorrow,” Leo said with a deep sigh. “I have no idea … I mourned her and Keisha for a year. I have no idea how I’ll react to seeing them again.”

Ianto nodded without hesitation. “Of course.”

He had been surprised to hear that Leo hadn’t been there yet, had not even called his girlfriend since he had left the Valiant, but maybe he shouldn’t have been. Ashley and Keisha had been killed during the first hours after the Master had taken control of Earth, but Leo had not learned about that for weeks, holding onto the hope that his girlfriend and daughter were as safe as they could have been in that time. He had been devastated when he had finally learned about their deaths, and most of that had been channelled into anger over the following months.

“Where are they?” Jack asked.

“Just outside of Bristol,” Leo said. “I can drive you to Cardiff afterwards and then back to Ashley. I don’t want to take more of your time than necessary, but … It’s not a good sign that I’m afraid to see my daughter again, is it?”

Jack cocked his head. “What are you afraid of exactly?”

Leo turned his head away. “What if I’m not able to relate to her anymore? I spent so much time trying to get over her loss, what if I…”

“That won’t happen,” Jack interrupted him quietly. “I can promise you that you’ll still feel the same love and adoration for her you felt a year ago. It will be overwhelming to see your daughter again, and Ashley, too, but it will be overwhelming in a good way.”

“How can you know that?” Leo asked.

Jack bit his lip, and hesitated for a long time before a deep sigh escaped him. “Your worry about this is a good indication. And I have … experience with this kind of situation. Thinking that someone died, mourning that person for a long time, much more than a year even, and then getting them back … And really, I’m not in a much different situation now, except that I knew I would eventually unmake all that happened and get my team back. They are my family. I made them my family, and I thought they wouldn’t remember any of this year when I came back because they weren’t supposed to be on the Valiant.”

Ianto swallowed hard, but watched Jack as he kept his focus on Leo even though his whole body had moved slightly, as if to turn towards Ianto. When they had made the decision to invade the Valiant, they also had made the decision to stay hidden from Jack until they were all there, until they had a plan for how to free him and how to end the Master. They had not wanted to put Jack in a situation where he needed to keep a secret amidst all the torture he had been enduring, but now Ianto wondered if it would have been worth the risk if it gave Jack even a little bit of comfort.

“You’ll probably be very protective of your two girls,” Jack continued. “You’ll feel the need to keep them with you, to never leave them alone again. And you’ll have to find a balance with that, but you really don’t need to be afraid of not feeling connected to them anymore. We’re prepared to tell Ashley as much as we can so that you don’t need to keep secrets from her, and so that she knows why you have changed, and what is causing your nightmares.”

Clive frowned. “The people from UNIT said…”

Jack shrugged. “I don’t give a shit about that. If they have any problems with it, I’ll put both Leo and Ashley on the list of consultants for Torchwood, even if they’ll never really work with us.”

“Thank you,” Leo whispered.

***

The support they had offered Leo led to Jack and Ianto staying one more night in London, and Ianto set out to take advantage of that evening. Spending days on end on the Valiant, arguing with people who had no idea what the last year had been like for all of them, had not helped drive home the fact that they were back on an Earth which had never seen the horrors they remembered. Ianto felt the need to remind himself of that, and that Jack needed the same

Ianto decided that they needed to spend their time someplace where they could see London undamaged and bustling with life, where they would be surrounded by happy, careless people, because that would be the best reminder that they had spared all those people what they had endured. Getting a table in a restaurant where one could watch over London was generally not easy or done in a couple hours, but with connections in the right places anything could be accomplished, and even though Torchwood One had been gone for more than a year, Ianto found their contacts could still be utilised.

“Maybe you were right.”

It was the first thing Jack said since they had been led to a table next to a pair of floor-to-ceiling windows. He had been reluctant to go out, but he had also been reluctant to leave his hotel room at all, so Ianto had just ignored his protests.

Ianto smiled. “Of course.”

“He showed me footage of the destruction in London,” Jack muttered, still staring outside. “And Cardiff.”

“We went to Cardiff two months after it had started,” Ianto whispered. “Or at least as close as we could get. We had hoped there would be something … anything to save. But the Rift had … I think it imploded. As much as Leo dreads the moment he sees his family again, I’m dreading the moment we drive back into Cardiff.”

“It’s a good idea that he’ll drive us then.”

Ianto shrugged. This was not why he had brought them here. He didn’t want to remember the destruction but forget it. In the hope of changing the topic, Ianto loosened the wrist strap he had worn hidden under his long sleeves since before they had returned to the Valiant, and put it on the table in front of Jack. “I think I can give this back to you now.”

Jack ran his fingers over the worn leather. “Thank you for keeping it safe for me.”

“What exactly did I keep it safe from?”

“The Doctor,” Jack sighed. “He would have … Martha used it to get off the Valiant in the beginning, but you know it can do more than transport a person through space. The Doctor is of the opinion that I should not be trusted with the ability to travel through time on my own because of what I am. I didn’t want to give him the chance to disable that function.” He took the wrist strap and put it back on his arm. “He asked to see it after I declined to stay with him and Martha for a while. And he strongly warned me against time travel after I showed him that I didn’t have it with me.”

Ianto frowned. “I thought you were friends of some kind.”

“We were once,” Jack said. “Maybe we’ll become that again sometime in the future. For the moment he thinks I shouldn’t exist, and I think he just has no idea how to handle the situation. He can’t undo what was done to me, but he can’t bear looking at me either. And I can understand why he doesn’t trust me very much. When we met, I was a conman, reckless and often without a care for what happened to others. The first time we met, my actions nearly led to the destruction of humanity.”

“And yet he let you travel with him after that.”

Jack laughed. “I still think that was Rose’s decision, and that he was just unable to say no to her. I grew on him, I think. And in the end, I died for him. Rose brought me back to life, but she was handling a kind of power no human will ever be able to successfully wield, and that’s why I am what I am. I’m a fixed point. A living fixed point in time and space that is continuously going forward through time. I’m wrong, I shouldn’t exist.”

“Bullshit,” Ianto interrupted him agitated. “Don’t tell me he dared to say that to your face!”

Jack stared at him full of surprise.

“If you shouldn’t exist, you wouldn’t exist. She wouldn’t have been able to bring you back at all in that case! How much time has passed for you?” Ianto asked. “It’s been well over a hundred years, right? And he has not once contemplated that you could have changed? That your whole situation would have changed you fundamentally? And I’m sure you had already changed from the conman when your paths diverged. I mean, as a conman you would have fled instead of sacrificing yourself! But even if you hadn’t changed, if you were still the same man he met however long ago, the one he abandoned, it’s a hateful thing to say something like that to you!”

Ianto seethed, and he wished he could go back to the Valiant and tell the Doctor all of this in much greater detail. He wasn’t surprised that the Doctor was capable of that kind of abuse – he had been condescending enough to let everyone on Earth suffer for a year when his entire plan was to get back his own youth and then just forgive the Master for what he had done as if it had ever been his right to do so – but Ianto hated that Jack was actively searching for excuses for his behaviour.

Ianto swallowed down his anger, lest Jack would think it was aimed at him. “He’s not earned your friendship or your loyalty if he is not able to give the same back to you!”

Jack smiled, and it was the first time since the Master’s death that it reached his eyes. “Thank you.”

Ianto sighed. “I had hoped we could manage a couple of hours without thinking about all of this crap.”

“The memory is still too strong and too near the surface for that,” Jack said.

They were interrupted by the waiter, who brought them their drinks and took their orders for their meal. They were silent for a while after that, staring out over the city. It was nice to see all of it alight again, to see cars and people on the streets, boats on the river. There had still been a lot of people in London even after the Toclafance had killed so many, but the city had nevertheless been dead.

“We had a couple of good and happy moments over the months,” Ianto admitted eventually. “Things that are worth remembering. I don’t think we could have made it through the year if we hadn’t found a little bit of joy here and there.”

Jack turned his head to him. “Want to share a couple of those with me?”

Ianto smiled. “Rhys and Gwen got engaged.”

“Really?” Jack’s eyes widened, but he didn’t seem as surprised as he tried to portray.

“He’ll ask her again now, I think. He told us he had bought a ring weeks before all of it started, but that of course had been destroyed. And of course, none of his plans about a romantic meal and getting down on one knee worked out in the whole mess,” Ianto chuckled. “It had been a month, I think. Not much more. We were still trying to get a hold of the situation, to find some sort of ground we could build on. We were in hiding, so we had to go raiding for food and other things. Gwen, Owen, Leo and I had been out to raid a couple of warehouses.”

Ianto took a deep breath. They had nearly been caught by a couple of Toclafane and later by a group of young man who had thought they could take advantage of the situation to force others to do their bidding. It had been the first time they had killed someone to save themselves and others, but not the last time by far.

“We had found a little bit of trouble,” he continued. “Gwen had come away from it with a nasty cut, but it hadn’t even been the first time she had been hurt. Rhys started ranting at her as soon as we were back, that she needed to take more care of herself, that she had a responsibility to stay with him, that she had to stay alive until we could end this whole insanity and they had a chance to get on with their lives and marry.”

Jack snorted.

“She defended her actions, shouting the whole time of course, and somewhere in between accused him that he hadn’t even asked her yet. He told her he couldn’t ask her yet because the ring had been lost, and Gwen said she didn’t need a ring to marry him, and Rhys asked if that was a yes. It was all very amusing, at least for those of us who were watching them. He never did ask the question outright, and she never did explicitly say yes, but they have introduced themselves as engaged ever since.”

Jack laughed so loud that he drew unimpressed looks from the tables around them. “I thought he was a fairly unassuming guy after his background check.”

“He’s told me he is happy to go back to being that kind of man again,” Ianto said quietly. “This kind of situation shows what kind of person we really are, right? Most people just never encounter a situation where they have to make the kind of decisions about how far they are prepared to go. Rhys took over most of the logistics for our operations, he never really ventured out of our hiding places until he got that spot on the supplies plane, but when he did … he can be fiercely protective, but you would never think that just looking at him.”

Jack had calmed down during Ianto’s speech. “I’m glad they both managed to survive through the whole year and are able to share those memories. A situation like Leo’s is much harder.”

Ianto met Jack’s gaze straight on. “I’m glad we all remember. I wouldn’t have wanted you to go through this alone.”

“You wouldn’t even have known that something had happened.”

“We would,” Ianto leaned forward, bracing his hands on the tablecloth. “I would have known that something bad had happened to you. You wouldn’t have been able to hide it. And I would have tried desperately to find a way to help you, but I know how stubborn you are. Getting you to talk would have been a pain in the arse.”

Jack looked down. “I would have preferred you not knowing over you dying on the Valiant.”

“But that didn’t happen,” Ianto whispered. “We all survived.”

Jack fisted his hands. “Seeing you up there when I wanted to go for the TARDIS nearly made me lose my mind from fear something would happen to you. Holding on to the thought of coming back to you after all of it was over was the only thing that helped me hold onto my sanity.”

Ianto reached out and closed his hands around Jack’s. “We are all safe and alive. And very happy to have you back.”

He dismissed his earlier thought that Jack could have found comfort in the knowledge that they had been gathering on the Valiant. Ianto believed him, he had seen it on his face when Jack had run into him, he just hadn’t been able to understand what he had seen until this moment.

Jack opened his hands and turned them to wrap his fingers around Ianto’s wrist, but he said nothing.

“It hasn’t even sunken in yet that you are safe yourself, has it?”

Jack shook his head. “I don’t know why it’s affecting me so much this time. It wasn’t like this last time.”

Ianto shuddered. He had no idea when Jack had lived through something similar, and he wouldn’t ask, at least not right now. He suspected that Jack had no idea what could help him at the moment, and so Ianto didn’t ask about it. Jack had a long road of recovery ahead of him, and Ianto would be at his side every step of the way.

Chapter 14

Coming back to Cardiff didn’t feel as suffocating and overwhelming as Jack had worried it would be. He had feared that he was not ready, but he felt nothing but relief and joy when Leo drove his car into the city and followed Ianto’s directions to the bay. Last time, Jack had spent nearly a month with Martha and the Doctor before they had brought him back to Cardiff, and he had needed that time to collect himself, to be ready to go back to his team who had known nothing about his experiences.

This time, it hadn’t even been a week yet, and while he still felt bone deep exhaustion, he also felt a longing for his team and the certainty that spending time alone with them would help to lessen the impact of the memories of the Year That Never Was. That they knew and remembered all of it themselves changed everything, but that was not by far all that had changed.

Jack had waited for this moment for years, and though he hadn’t thought about that aspect until they crossed the city limits, he was unable to think about anything else while they drove through the so well-known streets. He had held himself back from changing too much about his team because he had not wanted to risk changing too much of Torchwood’s interaction with Saxon. As the last week had proven, that plan had turned out not successful at all, but at least the changes that had occurred hadn’t had any negative impact on the whole event.

Now, with that terrible year behind them, Jack was free of the restrictions he had found himself labouring under because of his fear of changing any significant event in the Doctor’s timeline. There was another of those events coming up that Jack knew about, but his team would have barely any influence about what would occur when the Daleks would steal the Earth, so it wouldn’t matter how much he changed his team.

He had laid out many plans over the years for how to expand the team, how to restructure it so that they would be better prepared for the bigger catastrophes that would inevitably come. Jack had discussed all of it with Karen more than once, and had used One’s unwillingness to grant them any of their requests as an excuse for why none of it could be implemented. With the real obstacle out of the way now, they could finally let the team grow.

Jack planned to lose no time at all, and started right away with seducing Leo Jones into their employment. He really hoped Martha’s whole family would follow his invitation, not only because he remembered how much they had struggled last time, but more importantly because he would love to have them with them, and as Leo was already here, they could start with getting him on board.

They had brought Leo’s girlfriend Ashley with them to show her the Hub, because she had not been convinced by the story they had told her. That wasn’t such a surprise for Jack; what they had gone through was hard to believe for anyone who didn’t remember, but he felt it was important for Leo’s relationship that she understood what he had experienced. Jack knew Leo mostly from the stories the Joneses had told him occasionally throughout the year when they had been able to talk to him for a little while, but that was enough to convince him that Leo deserved every chance he could get.

Most of the rest of the team ignored their guest when the four of them stepped into the Hub, and even Jack forgot about her for a couple of minutes. He had seen his team for only a short time on the Valiant, but then he had been too out of it to appreciate it so this was really the first moment of reuniting with all of them. Ianto, Leo and he found themselves surrounded by their laughing team members, greeted with hugs and loud cheering.

When Jack finally remembered that they had a guest, he found her standing to the side, her arms wrapped around herself and watching them with a deep frown. Estelle stood beside her, one arm wrapped around Ashley’s waist, talking quietly to her, and Ashley nodded from time to time. Jack was sure that the display of Leo being so enthusiastically greeted by people she had had no idea even existed would do more to convince her than anything they could show her in the Hub, even though that was not what Jack’s plan had been.

An hour later, Karen and Gwen had taken on the task of showing Leo and Ashley the Hub and convincing Leo to join them, while Jack had settled down in his office with a big cup of Ianto’s coffee to just enjoy that he was back, that everything was how it should be again. He had been plagued by a vague anxiety ever since he had woken up in the hotel room in London, and he finally felt that calming down now that he was back home.

“Are you alright?”

Jack was startled by Estelle’s voice because he hadn’t even noticed her stepping into the room. “I’m really glad that at least you don’t have to remember any of it.”

Estelle laughed. “The others told me that I probably died right away when the Rift broke open.” She sat down on the chair beside his desk. “I’m glad I wasn’t a burden for them. I can’t imagine that I could have been of any help in what the world had become during those months.”

“You are underestimating yourself,” Jack murmured, although he knew that she was at least partly right. There had been comments from Ianto during their debriefing with UNIT about how difficult it had been to get their hands on any medical supplies, and Estelle was at an age where such a situation could become a problem very quickly.

“Karen told me what happened to you.”

Jack sighed. “That’s another reason I’m glad you don’t remember any of it.”

Estelle rolled her eyes. “I can just imagine what it would have been like if you had come back with none of us the wiser and you keeping this experience just bottled up so as not to bother us with it. – No one would think anything of it if you took a couple of days for yourself to get your feet back under you.”

“I know,” Jack shook his head. “But that wouldn’t work for me. Ianto went out of his way yesterday to try to remind both of us, I think, that life was back to normal, and I enjoyed it very much, but … It’s only started to sink in that it’s all over and done with since I stepped back into the Hub. I need this place and our work as a reminder. I would prefer it if the others could take a break. Their year has been much more terrible than mine. I didn’t have to fight for survival every day. I knew all along I just needed to wait for the Doctor’s plan to play out.”

“I’m sure we can arrange that,” Estelle agreed. “But I don’t think anyone here would accept it if you took yourself out of that. They are all worried about you, and after everything I’ve heard I’m worried, too.”

“I’ll get through it,” Jack shrugged. “It’s not the first time I’ve been in such a situation. I’ve always found a way to get through it.” He took a sip of his coffee and smiled at her. “I appreciate your worry and your support. It will make it a lot easier, but all of you have to trust that I know what I need.”

Estelle nodded. “We’ll try to remember that.”

“I haven’t talked with Karen yet, but I plan to finally get on with expanding our team.” Jack looked out through the glass walls of his office to the rest of their team. “Leo will just be the beginning if we can convince him. It was always a problem that we didn’t have enough people to keep up with the work.”

Estelle had taken over the maintenance of the personnel files of their team members months ago, and Toshiko had taught her how to do a basic background check on potential new recruits. Jack remembered that Estelle had started to put together a list of those potential recruits, but before he could ask about it, Owen called out through the Hub that lunch had arrived.

Lunch with the whole team had become a tradition long before they had lost Alex, and Jack had never been as glad for it as he was right now. It felt great to sit around the table with his team, sharing the meal and just being together. At times, the mood was subdued because every little thing still seemed like a reminder of the hardship they had just lived through, but they managed to distract each other from those dark thoughts and spent most of the meal reciting those stories that would lighten the mood.

Leo and Ashley left after lunch, returning to Ashley’s parents who were looking after Keisha. No decision had been made yet, and Jack was unable to read Leo enough to glean an insight into his thoughts, but at least Ashley seemed to have reached a point where she believed them about the Year That Never Was.

Not long after lunch, a Rift alert disrupted Jack’s plans to talk with Karen, who decided that Jack and Ianto would stay back at the Hub because they had just come back from London, and promptly left with Gwen, Toshiko and Owen. Jack watched her leave with a huff and settled down at Toshiko’s workstation, which always had surveillance programs for the city running in the background.

“I hope she’ll remember that I’m still the boss around here,” Jack muttered to himself.

“She’s been the boss for a year, and for a much bigger team than what’s left now. Cut her some slack, please.”

Jack flinched. He hadn’t noticed that Ianto was behind him.

“Sorry,” Ianto put a hand on Jack’s shoulder and squeezed reassuringly. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Jack took a deep breath. “I know. It’s … Having someone behind me unannounced was never a good thing during the last year. I’ll get over it.”

“And I’ll be more careful,” Ianto murmured. “You’ll need to give Karen a little bit of time as well. She led us through that horrible year, and she did a great job.”

“Or maybe I’ll take a step back and leave her this role,” Jack suggested.

“Talk to her before you decide anything. I don’t think she would thank you for such a suggestion. It never felt like she was happy with that role, it was just what she got settled with, and it was easier to run with it than to try to find another solution.”

“I know how that feels,” Jack raised his hand and put it over Ianto’s. “I’m not sure if it’s such a good idea to just go back to how it was before the Master. None of us should work right now. I’m not the only one who needs to get used to the fact that it’s all over.”

“But we can’t leave the Rift unattended either,” Ianto said. “So, we all just have to try to make it work as best we can. Take as much free time as we can to get used to this world again. It’s easier to remember that here in Cardiff. Maybe because all that was left of it was a huge crater.”

Jack nodded, staring at the monitor in front of him without really seeing anything. “Do you think there is any chance that Leo will come to work for us?”

“If Ashley doesn’t talk him out of it,” Ianto sighed. “Leo led a relatively quiet life before the Master came along, but I assume he is one of those people unable to keep that up now that he has seen another life. His first priority is his family, but we have spoken at length about what working for Torchwood entails during the Year.”

“Were you aware that we could turn all of it back?” Jack asked.

“No. We didn’t talk about it because we never thought we could go back to it. We were all convinced if we managed to kill the Master and ban the Toclafane that we would spend the rest of our lives rebuilding what was left of the world. – It’s a relief that it didn’t happen that way. I don’t know how we could have managed to rebuild any kind of society after everything that had been destroyed.”

“We would have found a way,” Jack sighed. They would need to find a way to rebuild their society in a couple of years, and hearing Ianto’s doubts was troublesome. But the destruction after the Miracle would be quite different to what the Master had accomplished during his year-long reign. His team had been unprepared for the Master because he had not dared to warn them, but they wouldn’t be unprepared for the Miracle.

“You sound awfully confident in that.”

Jack turned his head and looked up to Ianto with a soft smile. “I’ve seen it happen. I’ve lived through it. Not on the scale we saw, but it was near enough. We would have prevailed.” He sighed. “We should take time together to heal, as a team, as friends. We need to make time for it.”

Ianto smiled. “That does sound like a good idea.”

“Yesterday was a good start at it.”

Ianto stared at him silently for a long time and an emotion crossed his face that Jack couldn’t quite discern. “I would like if we could repeat it. Just the two of us.”

Jack turned fully to Ianto and he held onto Ianto’s hand when it slipped from his shoulder. That was not what he had expected. “Are you asking me on a date?”

“Yes,” Ianto nodded without hesitation.

Jack squeezed his hand softly. “I would like that very much.”

After his experiences with Lucia and Angelo, it had come as no surprise to Jack when he had fallen in love with Ianto again, but he had tried hard to keep those emotions back. He remembered only too well how he had asked Ianto out on a date the last time he had returned from the Year That Never Was. But then, they had already had a sexual relationship before he had gone away, as ill-considered as that had been in retrospect.

This time Jack had been much more careful of Ianto’s boundaries, and more concerned with being a friend instead of being a warm body providing a distraction. There had been no room for more than friendship before Jack had gone with the Doctor, and it had not felt appropriate to step over that line the past few days. He had thought about it, how could he not have with Ianto at his side practically all the time, but he had hesitated without knowing why.

Ianto smiled brilliantly. “Great.”

***

Jack remembered the promise he had given Olivia very well, and he took the very first opportunity he had to keep it not two days after he had returned to Cardiff. Since she had promised to go to her cabin for the weeks directly following the election in Great Britain, he chose that property as his destination. The risk was greater to be seen here by anyone watching Olivia or the property, but the Three Families had lost considerable interest in her family after Angelo had died, so it was unlikely that she was watched at all.

Nevertheless, he did not step out of the house, instead loudly closing the open door leading from the kitchen to the patio and waving to Olivia when she turned at the noise. She huffed and put aside the book she had been reading, walking to the door much too slowly for Jack’s liking, but he knew it was just one more precaution in case there was someone watching her. It was something Angelo had drilled into her head to keep her safe, and he had often bemoaned that it had been necessary.

Olivia stopped in front of him after she had closed the door and eyed him from head to toe. “You look awful.”

Jack laughed. “And I thought I looked exactly like I always do!”

Olivia frowned and cupped his face with both her hands. “That’s not what I mean, and you know it. Your eyes look haunted. And hurt. What happened to you? Nothing bad happened here despite your warning.”

“Nothing you can remember,” Jack wrapped his arms around her in a tight hug. “You are spared those memories, and you have no idea how thankful I am for that. I lived through a year in a paradox during which this planet was nearly destroyed, and humanity was enslaved. We managed to unmake all of it, and only those who were on the Valiant remember it ever happened.”

“Valiant?”

“It’s an aircraft carrier belonging to UNIT. A flying aircraft carrier.” Jack pressed his face into her hair. “I was tortured the whole year. But I knew that when I went into it. I also knew how and when it would end.”

Olivia took a step back and dragged him into the living room. She pushed him onto the sofa and sat down beside him. “That you went in there knowingly and willingly just makes it worse, you know? Why couldn’t you stop it?”

“It was one of those things I just couldn’t even attempt to change. Hopefully, it will have been the last one I could have any impact on, not counting the Miracle. I have been back for something like a week. I’m better than I was a couple of days ago.”

“Is there anything I can help you with?”

Jack shook his head. “Nothing you are not already doing. I’ll have to get a handle on my nightmares on my own.”

“Why did you send me here?”

“Because now I can at least live with the illusion that you were spared the worst of it inside that paradox.” Jack turned his head away. “You were far away from any civilisation here, and you would have had enough supplies to live comfortably as long as you weren’t discovered. I can dream of you making it through the whole year without being bothered by any of the threats that emerged.”

Olivia huffed. “Nonno prepared me my whole life to stand up and fight for those who couldn’t fight for themselves when the time came. Do you really think I would have stayed here and done nothing?”

“You could just let me dream,” Jack muttered as he rolled his eyes.

Olivia looked at him for a moment before she patted his shoulder. “Alright, if it helps to calm your mind, we can pretend I would have hidden myself away for a whole year and disregarded everything Nonno ever taught me.”

Jack huffed. Of course, he knew she was right. She would never have stayed here. She would have probably gone out and gathered together everyone she stumbled over who needed help. If she had lived in Great Britain, Jack would have been completely unsurprised if she had found her way onto the Valiant as well. It was probably pure luck that she had not ended up there anyway.

“Tell me about it,” Olivia asked.

Jack shook his head. “I don’t…”

“Do we really need to go over this again?” Olivia asked. “There is no reason for you to hold anything back. It will help you to talk about it, that’s always been true. And I’m the only one you can discuss both of these experiences with, and compare them.”

“That’s not quite true,” Jack muttered. “I could do that with Clement as well. And he even remembers the whole shit. My whole team remembers the whole shitstorm of a year, and I still have no idea what to think about it!”

“They didn’t last time?”

“I’m pretty sure last time they didn’t survive for very long.” Jack fell back against the backrest and closed his eyes. “This time I had apparently talked often enough about my mistrust of Saxon that they took it all in stride and started to investigate him instead of following his orders. And then they proceeded to plan my rescue and Saxon’s assassination. I nearly lost it when I found them on the Valiant shortly before we reset the paradox.”

“Your whole team was up there?”

Jack shrugged. “Not Estelle, but she is probably right when she says she wouldn’t have made it through the whole year even if she hadn’t been in Cardiff when it all started. But aside from that, my whole team managed to somehow invade the Valiant without the Master noticing, including Clement and Gwen’s boyfriend Rhys, and another man they had worked with and whose family had been held captive alongside me.”

“It’s a relief to know that they are so loyal to you,” Olivia said quietly.

Jack opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling. Their loyalty was staggering, but he was much more amazed by how strong of a unit they were. He felt guilty that it had not been the same during his first life, because he suspected it had mostly been his own secrets that had held them back. He had deprived them of so much with that, and he wondered if he ever would have come to the point of reliving so much of his life if he had been a better leader, a better man from the very beginning.

“They shouldn’t have to remember any of it,” he muttered finally.

“And what does your team have to say about that?”

Jack snorted. “Do you really have to ask? They send me dirty looks whenever I try to argue that point.”

“Good for them,” Olivia chuckled. “Was that the only thing that changed?”

“It’s a pretty big change! The team remembering will change everything going forward from here!”

“And wasn’t that your plan all along?”

Jack sighed. “Sure, but…”

“You have lost control of the change,” Olivia said.

“I never had any control, not really.” Jack dragged his fingers through his hair. The things he had been unable to change had been as much out of his control as the things he had been able to change in the past. “I think it’s more … I’ve become used to the fact that I’m not able to change much. Especially if it concerns my own life. It’s startling that suddenly that’s not true anymore.”

“Are you afraid of what that means?” Olivia asked.

Jack blinked at looked at her with a frown. “What do you mean?”

“We are pretty sure the Miracle will still happen, and that the timeline for that remains intact, right? But you’ll go into it with a vastly changed background. They tried to kill what was left of your team the last time.”

Jack shuddered. “I don’t think I have changed anything regarding the Miracle up until now. Every effort about that I have tried just … fizzled out. And I know something in it is a fixed point, so I’m not surprised about that. I fear the Miracle less than I feared the past year. As long as no one from my team gets hurt too much, they’ll manage to get through it and survive the reversal. I’ll be the one who needs to be very, very careful because I could actually die.”

“And we need you to end it.”

“No,” Jack shook his head. “I think any mortal blood would do it. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have destroyed the blood banks in Shanghai and Buenos Aires.”

Olivia paled. “You’re not thinking about using that situation, are you?”

Jack stared at her surprised, and he needed a couple of seconds to understand what she was even asking about. “No. I never…” Not once had he thought about that possibility at all. “I won’t end my life during the Miracle. I promise you, that won’t happen!”

“You better not!” Olivia snapped.

“It never occurred to me last time, and then I was barely holding on to my sanity. I won’t be as … damaged when it happens this time. I have a lot to live for now. Angelo made sure of that.”

Olivia nodded slowly and promptly changed the topic. “How is your team faring with what happened to you all?”

Jack smiled. “Better than I had expected. They could depend on each other the whole time. They have become very good at working together and depending on each other, trusting each other.”

There had been moments in the last few days when he nearly felt like an outsider, but that never lasted long. He would need to get used to the fact that his team had bonded through experiences he had missed, that they shared a lot of memories he had no idea about, but they were still his team, his family. And in the end, they had all gone through with it because they had wanted to help him. Every little step they had bonded over in the last year had been made with the goal of freeing him, and that showed even now in many of their actions.

“Karen has led them through the last year, but she was very happy to step back from the position again after I reminded her that she could very well do that now that I was back.” She had denied it, but Jack knew he had seen tears in her eyes when he had told her that he was still technically the boss around the Hub. Jack hadn’t realized how tense she had been all the time until he saw how much she relaxed when he had told her she could take a step back.

Jack sighed. “It’s hard for all of us to relax, but I think we have all reached the point where the first thought after waking up isn’t that everything being over was just a dream anymore. We have made a couple of plans to get out of the Hub together more regularly, explore the city again to remind us that we won.”

“I hope you won’t forget me with all those plans,” Olivia said.

Jack laughed. “Never. I’ll keep visiting you. And maybe I’ll introduce you to some of them in a while. I’ll start to prepare them soon. I think I need to tell them about what I know is to come.”

“How soon?”

“Not before next year,” Jack shuddered. “I can’t be sure … I feel I need to wait until after the 456 came back last time. I have to be sure…”

“You have to be sure Ianto won’t die on that day again,” Olivia murmured.

Jack stared at a spot on the floor without seeing anything. “It would have all been for nought.”

“Bullshit,” Olivia called out.

“That’s the reason I started this whole insanity, and you know it. Steven already doesn’t exist this time, so Ianto is all…” Jack trailed off. It was a fear that had lingered in the back of his mind for a long time, that Ianto could still die on the same day even if the 456 didn’t show up again. And it had only intensified in the last two days. “Ianto asked me out on a date. I … think we already went out on a kind of date in London, and I was too distracted to notice it.”

Olivia smiled softly. “I would have thought you would be happier about it than you seem to be.”

“I don’t know … I feel like I’m leading him on. I … know him much better than he is even aware of. I feel there is an imbalance in our relationship because of that, and I don’t know how to handle it.”

“How did you handle it with Lucia?”

“I didn’t,” Jack muttered. “I just never thought about it, ignored it completely. But Ianto is different.”

“Why?”

Jack shrugged.

“May I give you another perspective on this?” Olivia asked.

Jack hesitated, but nodded in the end.

“You are both very different people to the two men you were in your other life,” Olivia said. “In your case, you can’t even deny that. And in Ianto’s case … That year you just lived through would have changed him very much, don’t you think? In that respect, you could look at it as a good thing that he was on this … Valiant with you. He is not the same man you remember. And after everything you told me, I believe that even the history you share is not the same from nearly the first moment he came into your life.”

“Don’t hold onto my memories, but build something new,” Jack muttered.

“Exactly,” Olivia agreed. “And be as honest with him as you can. Get to know the man he is now. You fell in love with him before you left, that doesn’t mean that won’t fizzle out now after everything both of you have been through. Or maybe that love will burn much brighter than it ever had a chance to in your other life.”

Chapter 15

Coming back to Cardiff right away instead of spending a little bit more time with the Doctor and Martha bought Jack a couple of weeks before the catastrophe called Captain John Hart would descend upon them. He only noticed that a week after his return, when all of them started to settle back into their lives and Jack had a moment to compare the timelines.

He had spent another month with Martha and the Doctor before he had asked to be brought back to his team, and because the TARDIS had always been bad at getting the right point in time when you asked her for it, it had been a whole two months after the Year had ended before he had returned to Cardiff.

They needed those weeks, though, and Jack made sure they used the time wisely. He had mistrusted John the last time, and still had not been cautious enough, but he would not repeat that mistake. John would learn as little as possible about Torchwood, and not only because Jack had no idea how he could stop him from bringing Grey here again. The catastrophe of that would be much less if John, and therefore Grey, underestimated his team.

Jack had started to prepare for John years ago, and not only by building a tight support structure between Torchwood and the emergency services in Cardiff – although most of that had been inspired by the destruction Grey had brought to the city. One project Jack had only been able to start after Alex’s death, even though they had started to plan it together, was a second facility at the edge of the city on the other side of the bay, which could be used as a Hub if necessary and that they would present to outsiders as their Hub in any case.

They had used this secondary Hub already when John Ellis, Diane and Deborah had fallen through the Rift. None of them had ever seen the real Hub under the Roald Dahl Plass, though Jack suspected Diane would have had a chance for it at one time, but Owen’s infatuation with her had almost completely dissipated during the Year That Never Was. So, it came with no surprise to his team when he insisted they take John Hart there, and that only Ianto, Gwen and Owen should accompany him.

It was just another moment of staggering revelation how much his team trusted him. They had questioned every single decision he had made about John the last time, and Jack knew that had not only been because he had just come back to them. This time they followed his lead in everything regarding John, showing not one moment of hesitation, especially not in front of him.

John told them the same sad story Jack remembered, and he trusted Karen and Toshiko that they had already searched for possible places the three canisters could have ended up in when Gwen and Owen left in search of them. John protested loudly against them going alone, insisting he should help during the search of course, but Jack would not let him roam through his city.

“I had heard rumours you had your little secret base somewhere by the bay,” John said dismissively after he had given up his protests.

Jack smirked. “It wouldn’t be much a secret if a little rumour could lead you right to my door, don’t you think?”

“Your … acquaintance doesn’t seem like the sort of man who knows the meaning of keeping anything quiet, Sir,” Ianto said with a blank face.

John leered at him. “Oh, eye candy, you have no idea!”

“What is really in those canisters, John?” Jack asked. “You can’t think I believe a single word of the story you told me.”

“And yet, you sent half your team out to do my work for me.”

“That has more to do with the fact I don’t trust you to walk freely through my city,” Jack shrugged.

John laughed. “Your city, really? I don’t remember you getting so easily attached! In fact, you never could leave a place behind fast enough.”

Jack raised his brows. “You never got to know me very well. There are a lot of things you never bothered to learn about me.” He leaned forward. “If you threaten my people, or my city, you won’t know what hit you.” There was barely any chance John would heed that warning, but it was still worth a try.

Before he could reply, Ianto put the part of John’s little puzzle that they had found by the Blowfish on the table. Jack had insisted they bring the body into their secondary Hub after he had conveniently found the small black rectangle in the Blowfish’s pocket. He still needed to come up with an explanation for why he had suspected trouble would follow this Blowfish, but maybe he would be lucky enough and the others would forget to question him about it.

“That’s yours as well, isn’t it?” Ianto asked.

John looked at it for just a moment, feigning disinterest. “Where did you get that bright idea?”

Jack grinned. “This is a vault. Something is stored in there, and you want it. I know those things. They are broken down into four parts. It would be a little too much of a coincidence that you come here searching for three mysterious canisters just after we found this part on a now-dead Blowfish. Did he steal it from you, or did you promise to pay him for stealing it from someone else?”

“I really have no idea what you are talking about,” John shrugged and shook his head, but Jack could see that he was getting nervous, but then again nothing was going as planned for him right now.

He was not just chasing after the vault, Jack knew that. John had known too much by his return to not have used his first visit for a much more thorough investigation into Jack’s life than he led on. And his earlier comment about expecting the Hub to be on the bay only proved that, although Jack was not sure if John had noticed that slip up himself yet. It was obvious for Jack now that John was here for more than the diamond he was chasing; it should have been obvious the first time if only because John had known that he would find Jack here.

“It doesn’t matter in the end,” Jack shrugged. “You’ll open the vault for us, we’ll see if we’ll let you take it with you once we know what’s in there, and then you’ll leave this planet and never return.”

John sighed dramatically. “Why are you so harsh to me? And why should I open anything for you? Do it yourself, if you are so insistent I lied about what the canisters contain.”

Jack leaned forward and braced his arms on the table. “There is only one thing I trust about you, and that is that you’ll always value your own life above all else. You won’t hesitate to open the vault when I put a gun to your head. And I won’t risk letting someone from my team open it if it’s a trap laid by whomever you conned out of that vault.”

John put his hands over his heart. “You wound me, Jack! You trusted me once. There was a time you would share anything with me.”

“If you really ever thought that, you are much more gullible than I ever thought you were,” Jack said. “All we ever did was use each other.”

John shook his head. “No.”

“Why are you really here, John?”

“I told you already.”

Jack huffed. “Your little treasure hunt is a convenient excuse, I get that. You knew you would find me here. You explicitly called me. What do you want?”

“I missed you!”

Jack laughed. “Right.”

“No, really,” John said. “I missed you. We were great together; we can be great again. I can’t imagine that anything on this piece of rock and dirt is holding your interest. You could have the whole universe laying at your feet! The Agency doesn’t exist anymore, they can’t be a threat to you now.”

“I have plenty of reasons to stay here, but you wouldn’t understand any of them.”

John leered at Ianto. “Oh, I think I understand very well. We can take your little pets with us, as long as you are willing to share them, of course.”

Ianto smiled. “You wouldn’t regain your health long enough to have any use of us, Mr. Hart.”

John laughed and Jack sighed because threats of bodily harm and death would just excite John even more. He hadn’t wanted anyone in his team to stand out in any way to John, but for that to happen he would have probably needed to meet him alone, and that would have been inadvisable for several reasons. Presenting John with a team of four would satisfy him, and he would hopefully not wonder if Jack was hiding anything from him, and therefore he would hopefully not come back to dig for more information.

“I like your eye candy,” John said. “We should really take him with us.”

Jack sighed. “I’m not going anywhere. And you aren’t staying here.”

He had started this conversation with the hope that he would be able to get information about Grey out of John. Maybe it was not too late to save John if he hadn’t made contact with Grey yet and only knew where he was at the moment. Jack had made his peace about the whole situation surrounding his brother, and John’s attempt to get Jack’s attention and even gratitude for finding Grey would only lead him into peril.

John pouted. “I don’t know what happened to you!”

“I grew up,” Jack grinned. “Something you will never achieve, I’m sure. – There is a reason I broke contact with you as much as everyone else from the Agency, I would have thought you would get that. I don’t want you in my life, and if you can’t stay out of it, I’ll make you stay out of it.”

“Oh,” John looked at Ianto. “Is it hot in here suddenly?”

Ianto rolled his eyes. “I would be surprised if we could find anything you wouldn’t find hot in some way.”

Jack snorted. “Remind me later to tell you a little tale about some of the encounters I witnessed between John and others.”

“You never just witnessed those,” John cried out. “You were always part of them!”

Jack shrugged. “Your memories seem to be altered, but I’m not really surprised by that. You never could hold your liqueur.”

“That’s rich coming from you!”

“So,” Jack cocked his head. “I guess there is no chance that you’ll tell me the truth about why you are here, eh?”

John crossed his arms. “I told you already. I missed you.”

Jack huffed. “You just thought you would sweep in here and I would follow you, really?”

“There was a time when you would do anything for me before I could even ask. I remember those days very fondly.”

“Must have been in the two years the Agency took from me,” Jack raised his eyebrows. “Wait, is that the reason they took my memories?”

It was the first time that John’s easy going, flirtatious mask cracked, but he managed to overcome his frown in a matter of seconds. He grinned and shrugged. “If that’s what you have to tell yourself and your little pets to uphold your reputation.”

“Keep your little secrets if you must.” Jack eyed him for a long moment in silence. “But you should be aware that I’m completely honest when I say that you are not welcome here. Neither on this planet nor directly in my life. Don’t come back, don’t try any of your little games to change my mind, because I won’t.”

“I’m sure I could come up with a thing or two that would make you change your mind.” John was still grinning, but Jack thought he also saw hope in his eyes, and he had a hard time keeping back his shudder.

For a moment he contemplated just telling John that he knew about Grey, and that even finding his brother would not change his mind, but he feared what that would set in motion. John would want to know why Jack knew about any of it, and he was one of the very few people who would be able to ask the right questions and draw the right conclusions to learn what Jack had done. There was no telling what John would do with such information, but even with the Time Agency gone there would be so-called authorities who could take offence at what Jack had done.

There was no way to convince John to let go of the plans he had already made, whether he had met Grey already or not. John wanted to impress Jack because he was still obsessed with him, and once Jack had used that obsession for his own gain. It had always been a huge risk to use John in such a way; Jack had always known that it would not take much for John to kill him, although it had surprised Jack in the other timeline how easy it had been for John when the moment came.

Jack engaged John in easy banter until Gwen and Owen returned an hour later. He kept fishing for information, careful not to reveal too much of himself in the process, but every attempt was futile. John was too good at this game and not hyped up enough on the whole idea about Grey to boast about it.

Confronted with the four parts of the vault, John finally revealed the story about the diamond he was chasing after, and he even opened it without anyone needing to threaten his life. Jack watched John’s face this time instead of the projection of the woman he had killed for the diamond, and he was unsurprised to see a moment of hate and disgust before the panic set in.

When Jack had driven his team to the bar John had been waiting in, he had warned them to keep their distance, to never underestimate the man they were to meet, regardless of what kind of impression he made. He was thankful to note that all three had heeded that warning. John tried to handcuff the two of them together, but because Jack had expected the move, he managed to get the handcuffs away from John and derail his attempt to gain leverage.

Jack didn’t waste any time telling Owen how they could manage to detach the bomb, and they got it away from John and into one of the containment rooms Jack had insisted on well within the ten minutes they had before the explosives went off. It was the first time they could test the detainment rooms, which had thick walls built with a special concrete mixture that should be able to absorb part of the energy, and easily and quickly filled it with water to lessen the impact even more.

They sent John away through the same Rift opening they had used last time to get rid of the bomb, and once again John’s parting words were, “I found Grey.” Jack had thought he would be able to ignore it, but the thought of being confronted with his brother once again filled him with dread, and the memory of how much destruction John and Grey had brought into his last life let him be overcome with horror, something that neither Ianto nor Gwen nor Owen missed.

“Who is Grey?” Gwen asked right away, before the Rift had even closed around John, but Ianto had stated that any kind of discussion should be postponed until they had returned to the Hub.

Jack hadn’t missed Ianto’s thoughtful and worried look, and he was not surprised when it was Ianto who answered Gwen after Jack had stared silently at the conference table, which the whole team had gathered around, for several minutes.

“Grey is the brother you told me about, right?”

Jack nodded slowly, startled out of his memories by that question. They had only talked about Jack’s family once, shortly after Lisa’s funeral, and he had not expected that Ianto would remember that. They were slowly building a relationship since they had returned from the Year That Never Was, but family was a topic they were both happy to ignore. Ianto visited his sister regularly, but he was still not comfortable talking about his family, and Jack respected that.

“Brother?” Owen echoed.

“He was abducted as a child during an invasion,” Ianto said quietly.

“But that means it’s a good thing he’s been found, right?” Gwen asked. “Although, maybe not so good that it was Hart who found him.”

Jack shook his head. “It would have been better for Grey if he had died.”

Everyone was looking at him shocked, but no one dared to say anything.

“I’ve seen other survivors. I’ve seen what became of them.” Jack turned his head away. “He grew up enslaved and tortured. You can’t imagine what he would have had to endure. Every single survivor I found was insane, and there was no way to help them. If John didn’t lie and Grey survived, I’ll have to be prepared for the worst.”

“There has to be some way to help him,” Owen protested.

“No,” Jack looked up and met his gaze. “Those survivors have been conditioned to hate everything and everyone from their old lives. They are let go, they never escape on their own or get rescued. I fought in the war against that race. It was the very first war I ever fought it. We won in the end, but they had prepared all their holding facilities. They killed all their prisoners who hadn’t already been conditioned to go back where they came from and wreak havoc there.”

“You told me you searched for him for a long time,” Ianto whispered. He reached out and took Jack’s hand.

“It was all I lived for. I don’t think I ever really gave up on the thought of rescuing Grey until I had been stranded on Earth after the Doctor abandoned me.” Jack took a deep breath. “I went to the Time Agency because I thought if I was able to travel through time that I could somehow free him right after he had been taken, but I never found any trace of him.”

“But you told Hart about him?” Karen asked.

Jack shrugged. “You all listened in to our conversation, I assume? He wasn’t wrong when he said I trusted him once. As much as I was able to trust anyone at the time, anyway. I thought I loved him, and I knew he had convinced himself to love me. I used that, mostly. But yes, between all of that I told him why I was even doing that job. It’s not … It’s a quite fancy name for a bunch of scavengers who didn’t care much for the rules of time and travelling through it. Of course, they took great care in building up a very prestigious image, but no one outside of the Agency ever really knew what they were even doing.”

“What do you mean he convinced himself to love you?” Estelle asked.

“He’s obsessed with me, really.” Jack swallowed, not meeting anyone’s gaze. “He is … In the society of this time, he would have spent all of his life in a psychiatric ward. He is clever, but quite insane. Something the Agency fostered in him even more. Something I was asked to foster by them, and at the time I didn’t see any problem with it. I fear it will become a problem now because he’ll think reuniting me with Grey is his ticket to winning me back.”

“And your brother is probably insane as well,” Owen muttered. “Great!”

“If John tells Grey that he can find me here, he will come here with the goal of destroying everything I love or care about. You, Cardiff, the whole fucking planet if he feels like it. And when he learns that I can’t die, he will probably feel like it.”

“And would Hart help him?” Toshiko asked thoughtfully.

Jack shrugged. “I have no idea. Maybe if he thinks it will get rid of the things holding me here. But probably not so much when it’s actually going against me as a person. I have no doubt that John would kill me personally if I was in his way, but in his eyes, that’s probably a privilege reserved for him.”

Ianto sighed. “Good thing that he doesn’t know you are immortal.”

“And that there are more of us than he saw,” Owen agreed. “Up until now, I thought you were overly paranoid with that secondary Hub.”

Jack huffed. “That wasn’t planned for John specifically. I would be very happy if we could convince even UNIT that we changed our location. The risk that someone from Earth will get the idea to destroy us by destroying our Hub is much greater than aliens trying to destroy our base.”

“The Year would give us a good excuse for something like that,” Karen said. “It’s well documented how much of Cardiff was destroyed when the Rift broke open during that event. The information isn’t even classified, it’s masked as a theoretical model of the Rift getting out of control because that could still become very relevant. Our fake Hub is outside the boundary of that destruction.”

“And how would we maintain that image if we are not actually working from there but are staying here?” Gwen asked.

Estelle shrugged. “I don’t think it will be difficult to start the right rumour in the city so that people will start to point to our fake Hub instead of to the bay when someone asks them about Torchwood. We can even make up a story about taking a boat from here to our new Hub occasionally or even most of the time to make it harder to follow us.”

Owen raised his hand. “Could we just go back a moment to Jack’s brother and John Hart? Discussing how we can put out false information about which of our two bases we are using can wait for a bit. How sure are you we’ll have to expect a visit from those two?”

Jack hesitated, mostly because he didn’t want to seem too sure. If he didn’t remember what had happened in his first life, he would not be sure at all. He had not expected John to come back the first time: he had thought the remark had purely been meant to hurt him because that was what John liked to do when he didn’t get his way. But now he knew it had been a promise.

“Sure enough that I think we should prepare for it,” Jack said finally. “John decided he wants me back, and he won’t give up just because he wasn’t successful with it once. And Grey … I was with him at the beginning of that invasion. I let go of his hand. I don’t remember when it happened, I just … One moment I was holding onto him, the next moment he wasn’t there anymore. I really don’t know what happened, if he was transported away without me noticing, or if he slipped out of my grip because I was too fast, or he fell and I didn’t notice … But I should have protected him. If he is anything like the other survivors, that will be his focus for the revenge he was conditioned for. He’ll target me before he’ll target the rest of what is left of our family. And John has the means to bring him to our time. Neither will know that they could search for my future self because they don’t know about my immortality.”

“Any idea what we can expect from them?” Karen asked.

Jack shook his head. “No. I don’t know the man Grey became. And John is … unpredictable.”

There likely wouldn’t be an attempt to bury him for two thousand years this time because it would only lead to his death. But they would try again to bring as much destruction to Cardiff as they could, of that Jack was sure. He had made it clear to John that he regarded this city as his territory, and they would assume – and rightly so – they could hurt him by destroying Cardiff.

“I hate it when we have no idea what’s coming, or when,” Owen muttered.

“Cardiff is prepared for a lot of possible catastrophes,” Karen said. “If we inform the police that we are expecting some kind of terrorist attack, everyone will be more careful. And ready to react. There is no use in worrying about it as long as we don’t know more. We are prepared for attacks. We have to trust the network we built and concentrate on those threats we are able to handle.”

Jack nodded. “You are right. We need to be on alert, but we can’t do anything more.”

“Why do you want UNIT to be unaware where our base is?” Gwen asked.

“If UNIT thinks we are using the facilities on the other side of the bay instead of the ones here, everyone else will think so as well,” Jack said. “And … there are parts of the government and other organisations that I don’t trust. I feel we are vulnerable because it’s not much of a secret where we operate from.”

The destruction of the Hub after Frobisher had put out the order to kill him still rankled Jack. He had tried to make the Hub as secure as possible by putting the scanner at the entrance and making it a policy that everyone had to use it before the door would open, but that would only give them a warning if someone would manage to put a bomb in him again late enough before his resurrection that it wouldn’t just vanish. Even if that happened again, they would be able to contain it as their little test with John’s bomb earlier had proven.

That bomb had never only been meant as a means for killing Jack, though – there were much quieter possibilities they could have tried for that. They had wanted to destroy Torchwood as a whole, and had hoped to get that accomplished all in the same moment. And they had come so close to succeeding. Making sure that anyone searching for them would look at the wrong part of the town wouldn’t stop an attempt like that, but it would nevertheless be a useful distraction.

They spent an hour discussing how they could accomplish that deception before Jack gave Estelle and Ianto the task to put together a detailed plan out of the things their brainstorming had brought up and dismissed his team to return to their usual tasks. No one commented on it when Ianto stayed in his chair right beside Jack while everyone else left the room.

Ianto was still holding Jack’s hand, and he was startled that he had only just noticed that when Ianto turned to him. “How are you?”

Jack’s first impulse was to dismiss the concern, but he bit his lip and waited until the urge passed. “I’m angry and afraid at the same time.”

“Is there anything I can do?”

Jack shook his head. “I wish I hadn’t told him about Grey. Or that he wouldn’t have found him. I decided a long time ago that it would have been the best if Grey had died early on. I kind of detest John for destroying that illusion.”

It had destroyed him to see Grey again, and that would have been true even without the chaos and destruction his brother had brought. He remembered how he had asked Grey to forgive him, and how devastating it had been to not get that forgiveness. Jack had understood in the years since then how unfair it had been of him to ask that, and not only because of the brainwashing Grey had been subjugated to. He would not ask for that absolution again, and he hoped they would be able to derail most of the damage so that he would not need to forgive Grey for anything.

“What will be needed to stop him?” Ianto asked. “What was needed to stop the other survivors who you encountered?”

Jack closed his eyes. “We had to kill them all. And that’s not … No one would have ever gotten the idea that John needed to be killed to stop him. And he didn’t joke when he said he was addicted to murder. But those people…”

He shook his head. It had been a fool’s dream to put Grey into cryo-sleep the last time in the hope to someday find a cure for him. There had been no cure three thousand years in the future, and even if the Hub wouldn’t have been destroyed later, it would have been nearly impossible to keep Grey frozen for more than three thousand years. It had been a risk he should not have taken, and they had all been lucky that Grey had been killed instead of freed when the Hub had been destroyed, but after losing Owen and Toshiko, Jack had been unable to make any other decision.

Ianto was silent for nearly a minute before he said, “Then one of us will do it. I’ll take care of preparing the rest of the team. You won’t be the one who needs to do this.”

“Ianto…” Jack’s voice broke, but he would not have known what to say either way.

“This is one burden we can take from you,” Ianto whispered. “You won’t have to carry that.”

“I can’t ask that of you,” Jack muttered. He couldn’t hold back the sob, sliding from his chair when he tried to lean into Ianto. He pressed his face into Ianto’s lap, not able to hold back his tears or his weeping once it started.

Ianto carefully wrapped his arms around Jack, and he could feel Ianto pressing a kiss to his hair. “You are not asking, and we are not exactly offering. I’m making a decision so that you won’t have to do it, and I know that the others will agree with me.”

Chapter 16

Ianto stared at Jack, his nausea only slowly fading.

The day had been a clusterfuck from the very beginning, and although they had saved the day, Ianto wished it would have ended differently. He knew why Jack had done what he did, but he never again wanted to see what remained of Jack after an explosion or have to listen to Jack’s cries when for some reason he had regained something like consciousness several times only to die again right away because his body hadn’t healed enough to live yet.

“I hate it when you die,” Ianto said. “There’ll never be a good reason for you dying, especially not this way. You came back eight times before you were healed completely.”

Jack groaned. “I’m sorry, that wasn’t … I’m not exactly enjoying this, you know. But I’ll always be prepared to make this sacrifice.” He huffed and it sounded like a failed laugh. “It’s not the first or worst time I was blown up.”

Ianto sighed. “Yeah, Clement mentioned something about Hiroshima.” He knew it had been meant as reassurance that Jack would come back, but it had only made the whole situation worse for Ianto. To know that Jack had even come back from being killed by an atomic bomb might be a reassurance about him coming back at all, but Ianto didn’t have any doubts about that after the horrible year under the Master’s reign. It had only made him more nauseous because it had revealed even more horror Jack had lived through.

“Why is Clement here?”

“He isn’t. I called him as soon as the phones were working again,” Ianto said. “Our emergency services were able to react quickly and efficiently, but the military still came down on us in face of a terrorist attack. And UNIT is the only military branch we have any contact with, so I tasked Clement with getting a handle on the situation. He does have the rank for that nowadays.”

Jack chuckled, and Ianto counted that as a win. He suspected that Jack was still in pain from the way he held his body and how he was holding onto Ianto, and every little bit of distraction helped. Clement’s plans to retire had been derailed after he had seen how bad certain members of UNIT were handling the aftermath of the Year, and he had taken on the promotion because he felt responsible for getting the organisation into some kind of order, but he was bemoaning that decision every time one of them talked with him.

“You need to take more care of yourself,” Ianto muttered. “There is really no need for you to sacrifice yourself all the time.”

“I’ll always come back.”

“That’s not the point,” Ianto ground out. “You are still hurting, and I find that unacceptable!”

Jack sighed. “You don’t have to stay with me, you know.”

Ianto closed his eyes. “That’s also not…” He took a deep breath. “I won’t be any less concerned about you just because I can’t see how much you are hurt. I’d still know it. And I know for a fact that it’s easier for you if you aren’t alone.” He had seen Jack come back to life when he had not yet bothered to be by his side, or when he had been unable to reach Jack in time, and it had been broadcast numerous times during the Year, and he thought that it seemed to be easier for Jack when Ianto was there for him to focus on.

Jack sat up and looked at him, but Ianto was unable to read the emotions in his eyes. When he opened his mouth to speak, he turned his gaze away. “I can’t deny that it’s … nice to have you by my side when I wake up. You are the first one … everyone else I woke up to in the past was only ever there to study me. They only wanted to see my reaction or take note of whatever they were measuring at that point.”

Not for the first time Ianto wished he was able to travel through time himself, because there were just too many people working for Torchwood in the past who needed to be killed before they could have done any harm. He still wondered why Jack had even stayed, but the two times he had asked about it he had only gotten a very vague and dismissive answer. It was evidently something Jack had no interest in talking about, and Ianto tried to accept that.

“You wouldn’t have needed to get killed today though, we have Beth’s body to study,” Ianto said.

There was a moment of silence before Jack asked, “Did her programming take over?”

Ianto frowned confused and shook his head. “She killed herself in autopsy after she helped Gwen bring you back. And the body of the alien of course. She … took your gun and shot herself in the head.”

Jack sat back and stared at Ianto out of wide eyes. “What?”

“She left a letter for us. She wrote that she couldn’t risk going into cryo because it had already been proven that her programming could break that. She wants us to use her to study the technology and wishes us luck finding a way to watch for others like her. She left a second letter for her boyfriend.”

“That’s…” Jack dropped his gaze and stared at a point between them. “She was probably right, but … I wish there would have been another way.”

Ianto watched him curiously. There was something in Jack’s demeanour that confused him, but he could not say precisely what it was. It had become both easier and at the same time harder to read Jack since they had come back from the Year. It had changed Jack profoundly, although he had not yet acknowledged that himself, but they had also started to become more than friends and colleagues.

“Are you alright?” Ianto asked quietly.

Jack blinked. “Yeah, sure. Just more things that change and don’t change at the same time.”

Ianto frowned. He had no idea what Jack was talking about, but Jack’s gaze was so unfocused, that he was not sure if Jack was even really talking to him, or aware that he was talking out loud. This was not the first time he saw Jack acting in this way since they had come back from the Year, and Ianto was starting to get worried about it. Something was distracting Jack, worrying him, but whatever it was, he clearly did not want to share it.

“Did you know what would happen today?” Ianto asked because for some reason Jack had insisted they should put an old radio in the SUV just two days ago. It had come in handy after the phones had been cut off, but it had been much too convenient in retrospect.

Jack leaned back and crossed his arms in a clear attempt to put distance between them. “Why would you think that?”

“Wouldn’t be the first time you knew something like that,” Ianto muttered.

“I … didn’t know their names,” Jack whispered. “I knew they were here, I knew they would … The only name I remembered was Beth’s. And that wouldn’t have helped at all. Now we can at least be sure the Cell is taken care of. They are hopefully all gone for the moment. I don’t think they would have anticipated that something could go wrong, so none of them would have held back. Maybe we’ll even be lucky enough that they won’t return because this group would have just vanished for them. But we should not count on that.”

Ianto nodded. He knew others would have protested that Jack had done nothing to at least try to prevent it, but he trusted Jack that he had his reasons for that, and this time he could see them quite clearly. Jack had been able to prepare for this attack because he had known it would come, and because of that, they had been able to stop the last member of the Cell before he had reached the military base. The soldiers stationed there would have been no match against the alien.

They would never be able to save everyone, that had been one of the harder lessons Ianto had learned during the Year. Every single life saved was a boon, but there was no use in losing your head over every life lost. They did the best they could, and wherever Jack’s knowledge about the future came from, it was clearly a burden to him and not always very accurate.

“Will you ever tell me how you know these things sometimes?”

Ianto remembered Jack telling them that he had barely had any interest in this time period before he had met the Doctor and been stranded on Earth. Jack had said the first time he had ever been in this century had been his visit with the Doctor here in ‘06, and he came from so far in the future that there was no way any of this would be common knowledge anymore.

Jack looked up and stared at him with a blank face. “Not yet,” he muttered. “I can’t…” He shook his head.

“Okay,” Ianto smiled. He had learned when he needed to back off and accept Jack’s boundaries. More and more often Jack let certain things slip through, but none of what he said in those moments ever made any sense to Ianto.

“Next year”, Jack whispered. “September next year, when I can be sure…”

Ianto blinked surprised, and nodded after it became clear that Jack wouldn’t finish his sentence. “Okay.”

Jack took a deep breath and reached for Ianto’s hands. “I’m sorry I can’t … I’m not … I trust you. And I’m sorry that I’m not always able to show you how much I am committed to what we are building between us.”

Ianto smiled and squeezed Jack’s hands. “We both still have to fight a couple of demons from our past.”

As much as he enjoyed their time together outside of the crazy that was most of their life, the indoctrination about gays from his youth regularly raised its ugly head, making him skittish and outright uncomfortable when they were somewhere public. Other times he was overwhelmed by guilt for moving on already when Lisa had not even been dead for a year in the official timeline, regardless of the fact that it had been a very long year more for him, and it often felt even longer than that.

Jack smiled. “There was a time when I would have gladly just seduced you into my bed, even after … an experience like that Year. I’m sometimes startled about myself that I’m not that man anymore.”

Ianto snorted. “I don’t think I would have just followed you into bed!” He had been very hesitant about sex with Jack, or with a man in general really, in the beginning. On the one hand, he had been insecure about his lack of experience, and on the other hand, the echoes of the hard voices from his childhood and youth had plagued him. It had been much easier to overcome that than he had expected, but he had had a year of missing Jack and yearning for him to come to terms with his own emotions. He was sure, if he had lost the memories of that year, he would have still needed a long time to get comfortable with even the idea of a relationship with another man.

Jack leered at him. “Oh, believe me, it wouldn’t have taken any time at all to get into your pants if I had wanted to! There was a time when I would have had very little respect for your situation when you came here, and I would’ve gladly offered to be a physical distraction from your grief.”

Ianto laughed, because that was something he could not picture at all. Their relationship was developing very slowly, but Ianto didn’t feel uncomfortable with that. It had been a little bit more than three months since they had returned to Cardiff, and Jack was still so very careful with Ianto’s boundaries, even if Ianto himself did not feel the necessity of it anymore, so it was hard to imagine that Jack would have ever done anything differently.

“Alright, if you say so,” Ianto said.

It was much harder to not cross Jack’s boundaries, mostly because they often stumbled over things Jack had not expected to be any problem at all because they had never been a problem before his year of captivity. The first time that had happened had been shortly before John Hart had shown up, and it had rattled them both deeply.

They had come back from dinner and a movie, and had started to get lost in their kisses before Ianto had even managed to unlock the door to his flat, and they had been tugging on their clothes and stumbling through the corridor before the door had completely closed behind them. Ianto could not remember why or how, but he had suddenly found himself shoving Jack against the wall, pressing his whole body against him. He had known that something was wrong immediately by the way Jack had become still and rigid, and he had taken a step away before the strangled “Stop!” had even left Jack’s mouth.

Ianto had suspected right away that it had something to do with the torture Jack was only slowly and very reluctantly dealing with, but Jack had spent hours downplaying it and trying to ignore the issue. For someone who was so adamant about all of them seeing therapists, it was surprisingly difficult to convince Jack that he was susceptible to the same pitfalls, and that it was alright to seek out the same help he had organised for others.

Jack still often insisted that it had not been like this the last time, that he had been able to deal with it alone then, but he had at least reached a point where he was able to speak with Ianto about it, and had even started to go to one of their therapists himself. Ianto had no idea when Jack had experienced something like that horrible year before, despite the numerous files he had found about the times Jack had been subject to experiments by Torchwood, because in his eyes nothing compared to what the Master had done, but he didn’t dare ask Jack about it, afraid that he would only withdraw again.

Jack watched him for a long time, while Ianto was still laughing about the ridiculous notion of him using his grief over Lisa to seduce him, but eventually, he turned his head in the direction of the door. “Have the others gone home already?”

Ianto sighed. “No, Estelle is the only one who went home.” He stood up from the floor because his knees were hurting and sat down beside Jack. “Karen and Leo drove her home, and now they are out helping with the chaos. Owen and Tosh have started to take apart the body of the alien you stopped. I don’t think they’ll want to touch Beth for a while. Gwen and Rhys are somewhere around here, but I’m not sure exactly what they are doing, and I probably don’t want to know. Gwen was furious about Beth killing herself.”

Ianto had no idea how Gwen had managed it, but despite overcoming most of the hang-ups she had about parts of their work, she had somehow held onto her belief they would be able to find a solution to save everyone if they only looked long enough and hard enough for it. Sometimes he was jealous of her for it, but in moments like this, when she completely lost her mind about them losing someone, he was glad that he was able to cope much better with it than she was. Rhys had found his own ways to calm her down during the Year, but Ianto was glad when they were able to keep that away from the rest of them.

Jack frowned. “It’s late. And we had a long day.”

“Yes,” Ianto looked at him with raised brows. “And we were all worried about you. That reminds me, I have to call Francine back.” He sighed deeply.

“Why?”

“She called earlier after she saw the news about the attacks, and I took the call in here … shortly before you woke briefly. She heard you, and so I had to tell her what you had done. She made me promise to call her as soon as you were fully back.”

Jack rubbed his hands over his face. “Maybe I should call her.”

“That’s a great idea!” Ianto agreed. “She also called to let us know that she, Clive, and Tish have decided to move here because, despite what they hoped, Martha spends barely any time in London, and she is apparently the only reason to stay there. She asked me to get information about good estate agents, so I didn’t tell her that you already had a house for them. That’s a discussion you should have with them, not me!”

Jack grinned. “They’ll love it, and they’ll just have to accept it!”

Ianto was not so sure if Francine or Clive would agree with Jack about accepting that, but he had no interest in taking part in that argument.

***

With the move of the Joneses from London to Cardiff, the chaos wrought by the Cell 114 was quickly forgotten. All of them had gone to Beth’s funeral, and she had had so many friends in her life that they were barely noticed in the crowd, but after that their thoughts didn’t linger much on it, except for Karen and Toshiko who were working on dismantling the technology. They were determined to honour Beth’s sacrifice, and for a while it was hard to remind them that they had other work to take care of as well.

The logistics of the move were organized over the following three weeks, and Rhys managed most of the transport with two of his colleagues. They all pitched in when it was time to carry furniture and boxes into the new house that Jack had bought them. It was on the same street as Estelle’s house, who provided snacks and drinks for all of them, and only two streets over from the house Jack had found for Leo, Ashley and Keisha.

Ianto grinned about it, but he didn’t discuss with anyone Jack’s obvious plan to make sure the whole family could stay near each other and at the same time provide Estelle with support should it ever be needed. While Francine and Clive had searched for and found new jobs in Cardiff, Letitia joined their team to support Estelle and to take over the work Ianto had originally been hired for. He hadn’t spent much time in the archives since Jack had left with the Doctor because he had taken over most of the communication with the other organisations in Cardiff, and never picked up that job again after they had all returned.

Letitia didn’t even have three weeks to get used to her new job before they had to wake up Tommy Brockless, which was a deeply uncomfortable experience for Gwen, Leo and Letitia. Ianto had met the young man from 1918 already the year before, but this year it was a completely different experience, as the time for Tommy’s mission had finally come. It was sobering to see that young man go back to a time of war, and to know that he would be sent back only to be executed by his own people, because he had been unable to bear it any longer and tried to desert.

Toshiko was the one who went after him when it became clear that Tommy hadn’t activated the Rift key he had taken with him into the past. She was silently crying when she came back, and ripped the electrodes Owen had put on her from her skin.

“I’m sorry,” Jack muttered. He stood leaning against the far wall, his arms crossed and watching Toshiko worriedly.

“Yeah, sure,” Toshiko scoffed. She jumped from the bed and started to move in the direction of the door of their little infirmary, but then she turned to Jack. “They’ll send him back and let him die! Is that really his reward for saving the world?”

Jack sighed. “There is nothing we can do.”

“You could go back, organize a better life for him, or even bring him back here!” Toshiko shouted.

“I can’t,” Jack shook his head.

Toshiko pointed at him. “You can travel through time with your wrist strap, I know that! There is nothing to stop you from saving Tommy except your cowardice.”

Ianto flinched, and made the decision to step in because that was uncalled for, but Jack’s cold voice interrupted him, “I could go back yes, but there would be no opportunity for me to whisk Tommy away.”

“Oh, and how would you know that?” Toshiko crossed her arms.

“Because I’m the one Torchwood sent to keep an eye on him after he miraculously appeared back in his bed while he was still lying in our morgue,” Jack spat. “They wanted him to be monitored 24/7, and they were all too happy to send me to the front with him. I had no idea why they’d asked it of me, and I let him run because I really didn’t care about him back then, but he was caught by someone else. I witnessed his execution.”

Everyone in the room had paled, and Ianto noticed that no one could meet Jack’s gaze, himself included.

“I can’t cross my own timeline,” Jack continued.

“You knew this and didn’t try to find another solution for this whole mess?” Toshiko’s voice was quivering.

“That would have still changed my own timeline,” Jack shrugged. “And I didn’t remember any of it until two years ago anyway. I never even knew we had someone in cryosleep until a little more than ten years ago. And even after I had learned when he was coming from, I never thought about my own time at the front in 1918. It’s been about ninety years since then, and the most I remember about that year is that I was contemplating changing history and helping Germany win, just to get back at Torchwood.”

Toshiko stared at Jack for a long moment before she turned on her heels and left. Ianto stared at Jack until their gazes met, and after a short nod from Jack, Ianto turned and followed Toshiko. Ianto had already known the things Jack had just revealed. They had talked about it the evening before after Toshiko had taken Tommy home with her. And maybe that had been a mistake, as nice as it had seemed to be able to give Tommy that little bit of life before he had to go back.

He saw her leave through the cogwheel and just managed to hurry after her and passed it before it started to close again. She didn’t stop when he started to walk beside her up the stairs, and it was a sign of her anger that she took that way instead of waiting for the lift.

“Sometimes I really don’t know how you can stand him!” Toshiko spat.

Ianto sighed. “I know you are hurt right now, but you did him a great injustice with what you said, you know. Jack’s anything but a coward.”

Toshiko huffed.

“I’m sorry you lost Tommy,” Ianto muttered. “But there was never any chance of him staying here. We knew that all along. It’s not Jack’s fault that he was sent back to war. And even if he could have saved him from that, he couldn’t have brought him back here. Tommy didn’t even remember enough to activate the key on his own! He wouldn’t have been the man you spent the last night with.”

He knew that it might be insensitive, but he felt it was more important to defend Jack’s choices and confront her about her misplaced anger than to comfort her. He would gladly comfort her once that anger had vanished.

“You are just blind to his faults,” Toshiko muttered without slowing down.

Ianto snorted. “Hardly. But we have all seen what happens when someone plays risky games with time. You stood beside me when we stared down into the crater that was all that was left of most of Cardiff after the Rift storm. And you were the one to warn us that we could unravel all of reality after we clued in on the fact that the TARDIS had to contain a paradox machine just days before it all ended. The very same thing would happen if Jack went back to get Tommy. Or if Jack had stopped Tommy from going back.”

“I don’t care,” Toshiko muttered.

Ianto grabbed her shoulder and stopped her just as they had reached the top of the stairs. “Really?”

Toshiko started past him. “What do you want, Ianto?”

“I want you to calm down,” Ianto said quietly. “And then I’ll invite you to lunch. This was a hard day for you.”

She turned away from him. “I don’t care for your company. Or any company at all.”

Ianto sighed. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to wallow in your grief alone. I didn’t care much for the company of any of you either after Lisa, but you were still there all the time. And you know what? It helped. I didn’t want to believe it or recognize it for a long time, but you all kept me from a very dark place. I’m returning the favour because I know in a couple of weeks you’ll be able to appreciate it.”

“No, I really don’t think so,” Toshiko muttered. “Go back to Jack and comfort him.”

“I’ll do that tonight,” Ianto promised. “He is concerned about you, too. He was already concerned about you yesterday.”

Toshiko opened her mouth, but then she turned away even more, and her shoulders visibly sagged. “Sometimes I hate this job. I hate that Jack ever dragged me into this.”

Ianto raised his brows. “Wasn’t it Clement who sent you here?”

“After I had told Jack no twice. I’m still not sure that his first visit wasn’t the catalyst for my Mum nearly getting abducted!”

“I think he asked you and was there to rescue her because he knew it would happen,” Ianto murmured.

Toshiko turned back to him with a deep frown. “What?”

“I don’t know why or how, but he knows a lot about things that will happen. Not everything, and some things may be explained by being so important that it could still be known when he is born, like the fall of One, but the knowledge of other things will never leave the confines of this base, and still he knew about them.”

“So, I’m not imagining things then,” Toshiko muttered, clearly lost in her own thoughts and not really talking to Ianto.

“Jack more or less admitted to me that he knew some things,” Ianto sighed. “But he didn’t want to explain why. It’s not easy for him. And I recognized that long before I fell in love with him, so don’t even start with my emotions making me blind to his faults! And in this case, I think it’s quite clear why he knew about Tommy once it became clear the time for him to go back had come.”

“This is pure madness,” Toshiko muttered. “Why wouldn’t he try to change anything if he knows things?”

“I think he does try to change them sometimes, when he thinks there is a chance he’ll succeed or that it won’t make anything worse.”

Toshiko narrowed her gaze. “Really? Do you have an example for that?”

Ianto took a deep breath. “When he tried to get me and Lisa out of London.”

“What?” Toshiko stared at him open-mouthed.

“The archive is a mess, alright, but he could have asked for anyone. He asked specifically for me and Lisa. He sent us a gift card for a four-day retreat to Spain that we should have been on that day. I talked to Archie a while ago, and he doesn’t remember talking with Jack about me, so he can’t have sung my praises as profusely as Jack told me. And I’m pretty sure he knew all along that I would bring Lisa with me.”

“You think he knew what would happen to you and Lisa specifically, and he tried to change it, but it didn’t work.”

Ianto nodded. “Yes. He knew the invasion would happen, but that could have very well been something he learned about in the future. But anything specific about two agents so low in the food chain? I doubt even Yvonne Hartman’s name will be remembered in the future, let alone that of anyone else.”

“And that doesn’t make you suspicious about him at all?”

“No,” Ianto shrugged. “I’m thankful that he tried to save Lisa. Whatever his reason for that, he wasn’t obliged to do it. And I think that’s not the first or last time he couldn’t stop something he desperately wanted to stop.” He was sure Jack had known about the Year beforehand, and he had no idea how he had still been able to go into it, or how he had handled the inability to stop it.

Toshiko still looked at him with a deep frown.

“Let’s table this topic,” Ianto suggested. “I still want to invite you to lunch. I’m sure we can find a less horrible topic to talk about.”

Chapter 17

“Stop!” Jack shouted, reaching out his hand even though Clement was way too far away from him to hold him back physically. “Don’t touch that!”

Thankfully, Clement took a step back from the wooden box that had made Jack shudder. They had met for breakfast because Clement needed to leave later in the day, and between all the work in the last two days they had barely managed to exchange a word in private. With his promotion to brigadier, Clement should no longer be the one to liaise between UNIT and Torchwood, but it had been difficult to find a good replacement. They had finally managed to find the right person, and Clement had accompanied the young Major to introduce him.

The alert about the Rift spike had come just as Jack had paid, and since they had been nearest to the area where Toshiko’s programs had detected it, Clement had offered to accompany Jack. They had ended up in Roath Park and discovered the wooden box on the ground under a couple of trees, but something about it made Jack recoil in horror.

Clement took a step back and looked at him. “You know this thing?”

Jack shook his head. “No, I don’t think I have ever…”

He knew this box, but it was as if he couldn’t remember, as if something was blocking his memories. His first thought was the two years the Time Agency had taken from him, but at nearly the same time he remembered that there had been an occasion in his other life, right about this time, when they all had lost two days and never found any explanation for it.

“Something is wrong with this thing, I really don’t think we should touch it, or even move it. I have a feeling the best thing would be to destroy it right here.”

Clement frowned. “It seems to be just a wooden box.”

Jack nodded with a frown, and then finally he remembered that he had seen a very similar box – probably the same box – after those two days they had lost in the other timeline. He turned around to look out for other people, but they seemed to be alone, and they should be far enough away from the pathway that no one should notice them.

“I don’t remember anything specific, but I think this thing caused a great deal of trouble in my other life.”

“Okay,” Clement took a deep breath. “Destroying the box it is then. It’s made out of wood, so we should burn it.”

“Good idea,” Jack agreed. “Let’s make a small campfire around it, but take care not to touch it. I don’t trust that thing.”

Clement nodded, starting to gather branches from the ground. “The things you don’t remember are getting more and more frequent.”

“I’ve changed a lot now,” Jack muttered. “It’s gotten easier to change things since the damn Year. I don’t know if it’s because I’m less careful, or because I reached a point of … no return so to speak. Maybe too many things had to be in place for the Year, and now that it is over time isn’t working against me so much anymore.”

Clement sighed. “I’ll never understand that whole time theory thing, you know.”

Jack laughed. “I don’t think I understand it either most days.”

“If whatever force is keeping things on track isn’t as stringent about regulating your life’s path any more, it will get harder for you to know what will happen, right?” Clement asked. “So, you’ll have to be more careful. You have to learn again to roll with the blows, so to speak.”

Jack huffed. “I know. It’s probably a good thing that it will be a gradual change back to what should be a normal life. And I have to say I’m thankful that it will end soon. I’m so very tired of all of it. I never got used to being unable to change certain things. It’s gotten more frustrating the more I am able to change.”

“Sound’s contradictory,” Clement muttered, while he started to put the branches they had gathered around the box while Jack kept him supplied.

“Right?” Jack sighed. “I should be happy about the things I can change, and I am. But it’s gotten hard to accept that I can’t change everything. And … maybe I’m just afraid of the next couple months. The day of Owen’s first death is coming up soon, and it’s not too long after that that we lost him and Tosh. And then Ianto…”

“And that’s the one you don’t want to lose at all, who you would save at any cost.”

“He is the one I started all of this over,” Jack muttered.

“He and your grandson.”

“But that grandson doesn’t exist in this timeline,” Jack said. “I didn’t really save him. My daughter is a different person than she was last time, her children don’t even bear any resemblance to Steven. And that despite the fact that she found the same loser to have those children with as last time.”

Clement laughed. “I thought they had a happy marriage.”

“They do,” Jack agreed disgruntled. “Doesn’t mean I have to forget about how he was last time.” Although, it hurt to know that it had probably been Alice’s paranoia that had destroyed that relationship in his other life, a paranoia he and Lucia had been responsible for.

“You fear you’ll still lose Ianto another way.”

“Yes,” Jack shuddered. He was aware that his fear was hindering the development of their relationship, probably more than the mental scars the Year had left behind that he had not had to deal with the last time he had come back from that. Some changes he encountered about himself left him absolutely startled, and that was one of those. In his other life, he had had nightmares about the Year That Never Was, but that had been all. The memory of it hadn’t bothered him then as much as it did this time, and it was taking a long time and a lot of help from Ianto to find a way to deal with it.

“Last time, you had lost Karen a long time ago, right?”

Jack nodded. “And Estelle, and James, and Arianna. But that doesn’t mean … there are others I wasn’t able to save. Even if I was successful in destroying the 456, or that I at least could teach them to never come back, there are all kinds of ways Ianto could still die. And if that happens … none of this will have been–”

“Stop!” Clement narrowed his eyes at him. “You can’t really believe that. You did so much good, changed so much, so many lives. Don’t you dare say none of it mattered if your original reason fails! Ianto wouldn’t thank you for that either, I’m sure of that. He is a great young man, he will survive the day of his original death, but he doesn’t deserve for you to dismiss everything you have achieved in case he dies.”

Jack swallowed hard, lost for words. He could hardly help how he felt about it, although he knew intellectually that Clement was right. Ianto’s and Steven’s deaths may have been the catalyst, but nothing he accomplished would lose its meaning or value even if he couldn’t save either of them in the end.

“Use the time you have with him and hope for the best,” Clement said. “You won’t regret it regardless of what happens in the end. But you will regret it if you don’t use every minute you have. You have done everything you can to keep him safe. Don’t give up on your hope that it will be enough.”

“Hard to hold onto that thought,” Jack muttered. “I have fallen hard for him again, and I’m a lot more open about it this time. Our relationship is so much more … It destroyed me to lose him. And I know it wasn’t just losing him, it was the whole situation with sacrificing Steven as well, but … I’m afraid of what will happen if I lose him again.”

“I understand,” Clement frowned down at the campfire he had built. “You do have a lighter or matches, right? And we need something to start this fire.”

Jack tossed him a couple of pinecones and the newspaper he had bought on his way to meet Clement earlier. Then he tapped his wrist strap. “I have a laser that should do the trick.”

Clement stared at him open-mouthed. “Seriously? What else can that thing do?”

Jack laughed. “The laser is the only weapon option it has. I have to confess that I don’t remember why I chose that option, I only remember that it was customized.”

“Are you forgetting a lot of your earlier life?” Clement asked.

Jack shrugged. “Probably more than I’m aware of. Sometimes I’m surprised how much I do remember, and I think it’s mostly because my brain is being set back to its original state every time I die. It keeps some memories more present.” He opened the wrist strap and pointed the laser at the paper until the first flames were licking over it, and then he targeted the other two pieces of paper that Clement had stuffed between the twigs.

“If you lose Ianto, you aren’t as alone as you were last time,” Clement stated as they moved back from the fire.

Jack sighed. “Still…”

“As I said, use the time you have and hope for the best,” Clement said. “That’s all you can do.”

“Maybe I’ll be less anxious once Tosh and Owen survive,” Jack muttered.

Clement clapped a hand on his shoulder. “That’s right, focus on the things that are directly in front of you.”

They stared into the fire silently for a long time, and Jack tried to make a mantra out of Clements words. There was no use in dreading the months ahead of them: he had to face them and hope for the best. He couldn’t imagine losing anyone from his team, but he hadn’t been this anxious about a possible death since New Year Eve in ‘99.

“What happened to that whale you found?” Clement asked many minutes later.

Jack needed a moment to remember what his friend was talking about. “We had no other choice but to kill it, sadly.”

They had found the whale-like creature long before the man who had used it in his other life because Jack had insisted on following up on every single Rift spike. Their team was so much bigger now, with Tish and Estelle as support in the Hub at all times, and Karen and Leo as additional support in the field, that it was actually possible to follow up with every single alert, and that they managed to keep up mostly working a two-shift system.

“I thought you wanted to set it free in the ocean,” Clement said.

Jack shrugged. “That was the plan. But then we learned that it was a freshwater … fish is the wrong word, but you know what I mean. And Owen discovered how big it would grow. There was just no place on Earth where it would have been able to survive, and we have no idea where it came from. So, we put it down as peacefully as we could.”

“That’s sad,” Clement muttered.

“Yeah. At least it didn’t get butchered alive like last time.”

Clement gagged. “What?”

“They sold the meat, and we only noticed because their lorry driver had an accident. We had to kill it when we stopped them, but by that time it was big enough to fill out a whole warehouse. We didn’t eat anything with meat for a long time after that.”

Clement audibly swallowed. “Yes, I can understand that. So, that’s one of those occasions when you could change quite a lot, but not the end result.”

“Yes, but–” Jack was interrupted by several loud cracks, and then the air was filled with something that sounded disturbingly like a scream. He shuddered, not in sympathy with whatever creature they burned but in dread and fear. There was a lingering disgust and hate in him that he could not place, but it made him feel very satisfied with what they had accomplished today.

“Did we just kill something?” Clement asked quietly.

“We did,” Jack shrugged. “I don’t remember what it was, and not because time made me forget it, and that alone is reason enough to be glad it’s gone.”

Clement shuddered. “It made me feel … I can’t even put it in words.”

“Let’s wait for the fire to die down. We should gather the ash and analyse it. Maybe that will reveal something useful.”

***

Jack waited with bated breath for the day Owen would have died. He had taken care of Aaron Copley a long time ago, and he had kept an eye out for any signs that something like the Pharm could be built by someone else, but that had not happened. With Copley still in prison on the other side of the world, there was no chance he would get anywhere near Owen, but still, Jack barely managed to take his eyes off their doctor for the whole day.

Owen had died late in the night, and Jack took his whole team out to dinner, dragging it out until long past the moment Owen had been shot. It was his way to celebrate his success, but he was sure no one noticed that until Ianto closed the door of his flat – that had somehow become more their shared flat rather than Ianto’s flat – and he turned to him with raised brows.

“Something should have happened today,” Ianto said. “Something bad I assume. And you stopped it.”

Jack froze. That was not what he had expected at all, he didn’t even know where this came from.

Ianto smiled softly. “I think it would have had something to do with Owen. You weren’t exactly subtle in watching him the whole day.”

“I…” Jack swallowed.

“I’m not asking how you knew,” Ianto whispered. “You already told me when I can ask for that. I just … would like to know what we celebrated today.”

At first, Jack wanted to deny it, but there wasn’t a hint of accusation, neither in his body language nor in his voice. He sighed deeply. “Owen should have died. He should have been shot, and then come back to an undead life. Nothing like me, but…” He shrugged.

“You saved Owen today. And no one knows about it.” Ianto stepped to him and wrapped his arms around him. “Thank you.”

Jack frowned. “No one is supposed to know. There is no use in anyone knowing.”

Ianto sighed. “Then I have to thank you as well for telling me, not just for saving Owen.”

Jack closed his eyes and hugged Ianto tightly. “I hope I’ll be able to save you all.”

Ianto’s breath hitched, but he didn’t ask, and Jack was thankful for that. Not telling Ianto about any of it became more difficult every day. He didn’t dare to talk about it because he didn’t want to put that burden on Ianto, and so he had made the decision to wait after the day Ianto had died in the other timeline. If he survived that day, Ianto’s whole future would be undetermined, and it wouldn’t change how he would look at that future when he learned about what had once happened.

“Are you tired?” Jack asked.

Ianto chuckled. “Not really.”

Jack took a deep breath. “I want to introduce you to someone. But before I bring you to her, I think I need to tell you about a part of my life I have kept to myself until now.”

“Okay,” Ianto sounded hesitant.

Jack knew it was not what Ianto expected, but he was suddenly overcome with the urge to introduce Ianto to Olivia. He had not been accepted as easily by anyone as he was by Ianto in a very long time, and he felt the urge to connect the two parts of his life that had shown him this kind of acceptance. It would also be one less secret he kept from Ianto.

He took Ianto’s hand and led him into the living room and to the sofa there. “This story begins in 1927, on Ellis Island, with a young Italian man who had stolen my visa so that he wouldn’t be sent back. I chased him down to get it back, but I was fascinated by him from the moment I landed on top of him, and I forged him a visa so that he could stay.”

Ianto laughed. “I can just picture it!”

Jack grinned. “His name was Angelo. Back then he was a very religious man. And yet, we ended up in the same bed – we were both very infatuated with each other.” Jack sighed and talked in detail about the mission that had led him to New York, and how he had dragged Angelo into it. He told Ianto how he had been killed in front of Angelo, and how he had still gone back to him when he had gotten out of jail, even though he should have expected an adverse reaction.

Somehow Jack found himself lying on the sofa when he paused at that place, his head in Ianto’s lap. Ianto was playing with his hair, while the other hand rested on Jack’s chest. “Not a very happy ending,” he muttered.

Jack smiled. “That’s not how it ended. Although, our paths parted for a while at that point.” He decided to skip the part for now where he had found himself in chains, killed over and over again for people’s amusement and horror, and the part where he had been sold to the Three Families before Angelo had freed him. “In ‘69 I was in New York again. And there I met him again. We spent a whole afternoon sitting in the forest and talking about everything and nothing.”

“You forgave him?”

Jack chuckled. “I had already forgiven him when I left back in the twenties. It had been as much my mistake as his. I hadn’t wanted to let him go, but I had known how much he struggled with his religion already just because of our relationship. I should have never expected him to accept my immortality at that time.”

Ianto sighed. “Alright.”

“The situation had completely changed when we met again,” Jack continued. “A couple of very bad things had happened before we went our separate ways, and he had lived with a lot of guilt about it. – He had also married in the meantime, had three children. We became friends after that.” He paused, unsure how much he should or could tell Ianto. “We became friends, I visited him regularly and that quickly became a weekly thing.” He put a hand on his wrist strap. “It helped a lot that I had been able to repair this thing. No one here noticed that I went missing for a couple of hours every week because I could just go back those hours.”

Jack told Ianto how his friendship with Angelo had developed over the years without saying anything about the things they had been up to all that time. They had set so many things in motion, but all of it had been to secretly prepare for the Miracle, and Jack didn’t feel ready to tell Ianto about that. That would keep until after he could tell Ianto why he even knew about the Miracle.

“I had fallen in love with Angelo again, long before his wife died, but I have come to respect those things since I’ve lived here, and our friendship was too important to risk.” He blew out a breath. “I went to visit him right after the funeral. I thought I would need to comfort him. Instead, he came onto me.”

Ianto chuckled “When was that?”

“1983. He thought I would think him too old, which was a really ridiculous notion!”

“Sometimes it’s hard to remember how old you really are,” Ianto said. “Couldn’t have been any different for Angelo, even if he had seen you not age at all for a very long time already.”

Jack huffed. “I wasn’t sure about it for other reasons in the beginning, but our relationship worked out really well. I used my Vortex Manipulator nearly every night after that to be able to spend it with him. We worked great together.”

“The others told me you had lost someone not too long ago,” Ianto muttered.

“Angelo died in 2005. I was with him. I held him in my arms when he died. He went very quietly and peacefully. And I know he was mostly happy with the life he had lived.” Jack closed his eyes and sighed. “It hurt like hell. I should have been prepared for it, we had known it would come for a long time already, but…”

Ianto hummed in agreement.

“I still miss him sometimes,” Jack muttered.

Ianto nodded. “I miss Lisa as well. And you spent a lot more time with Angelo than Lisa and I would’ve ever had.”

Jack smiled, once again glad about Ianto’s easy acceptance. “I still visit his granddaughter, Olivia, every Sunday. Angelo snuck that friendship onto me despite my protests. Besides Olivia, the only other member of his family I ever met was his son Matteo.”

“If I understood that right, he never had a very good relationship with any of his other children or grandchildren,” Ianto said. “And you seemed to have kept your friendship quiet from the very beginning.”

Jack sighed. “Yes. For several reasons. Still, I hadn’t planned that with Olivia, especially not that we would actually become friends! I think Angelo wanted to give me someone I would feel obligated to take care of. He feared I would lose myself, I think, and maybe he would have been right. I’m not good at handling my own grief.”

“Really?” Ianto frowned. “You are very good at helping others with their grief.”

Jack shrugged. “Sadly, that doesn’t translate to helping myself.”

Ianto bit his lip. “Yeah, I … think I saw part of that after Suzie.”

“There was a time…” Jack frowned and put his hand over Ianto’s on his chest. “For a while, I tried to keep everyone at arm’s length, because I knew I would lose all of them in the end, and I didn’t want to handle the grief. But I learned that it wouldn’t matter, that I would still develop an attachment to them even if I didn’t allow myself anything more than superficial relationships.”

“That’s hard to imagine,” Ianto muttered.

“Angelo helped me to realize that it was a mistake, that I had every right to enjoy the time I had with the people I liked. He was the one who convinced me to visit Estelle that first time, to tell her the truth about me, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made.”

“And have you ever regretted any of it?”

Jack shrugged. “In some moments. But overall, I’m glad for what I have now.”

For a moment he wished he could tell Ianto how much better off their team was this time because he had fostered a much more open atmosphere, how much better they worked together because he had tried to help each of them overcome the hardships they had been confronted with.

“I assume it is Olivia you want me to meet?” Ianto asked softly.

“Yes.” Jack looked up until he met Ianto’s gaze. “She is as much family as I ever allowed myself to have. I want you to know her, I want her to know you.”

“And she is okay with it?” Ianto sounded sceptical.

Jack laughed. “Oh, she will be absolutely delighted. She asks about you a lot.”

“Do you talk about me often with your pseudo-granddaughter?”

“There aren’t many topics we aren’t comfortable talking about with each other. It took a while to get to this point, but … I know I can trust her with anything, and so I talk with her about everything. I even talk with her about the Year, though I’m very thankful that she doesn’t remember any of it herself.”

Ianto frowned. “And how is she taking that? I look at my sister, see her carelessness when I visit her, and I’m so glad she’ll never know any of the things we endured. I don’t think she would ever be able to handle it.”

“Olivia grew up in the sixties and seventies with a grandfather who never made a secret out of the affair he’d had with a man before he met his wife,” Jack muttered. “And half her childhood she was raised by that grandfather because her mother prioritized her new husband over her daughter who had been born out of wedlock. She may have grown up with a lot of privilege because Angelo managed to make a lot of money, but she also learned early on to not be bothered by the opinion of others and to be open to the most bizarre things.”

Ianto hummed. “You said you visit her every Sunday. And I assume you are going back in time for it because I’m sure I would have noticed if you had been missing for a couple of hours once a week. Can this thing take both of us?”

“Of course!” Jack grinned. “So, does that mean you’ll accompany me next Sunday?”

Ianto nodded smiling. “Yes. I’m looking forward to meeting her.”

***

Despite the burning desire to introduce Ianto and Olivia, Jack had not been sure about their first meeting for the longest time. But all his worries turned out to be unnecessary as he brought Ianto with him to meet Olivia the next Sunday. At the end of that visit, he even started to wonder if it had been a mistake to introduce them for completely different reasons because they immediately started to bond over their alleged burdens taking care of him as if that was even necessary.

It soon became a habit for Ianto to accompany him every other week when he went to visit Olivia in New York, and despite his exaggeration about their antics regarding him, he enjoyed spending time with both of them very much. It was one less burden, one less secret to keep from Ianto, and Olivia had a good handle on holding back those secrets he was not yet ready to share with Ianto.

Christmas came and went, and Jack pondered how peaceful life in Cardiff was for the moment. They still had to deal with the everyday chaos the Rift brought them of course, but the big events that had shaped and threatened their whole team in his last life had all been taken care of long ago. It gave the whole team a lot of time to enjoy life outside of their work, and they spent a lot of time helping Gwen and Rhys prepare their wedding which would take place a little later than Jack remembered.

There were a lot of things not happening exactly in the order Jack remembered them, but for the most part, he thought it was just his own faulty memory. For other things, he knew right away if they came earlier or later, and when Ianto mentioned the re-opening of the Electro while talking to Estelle in the second week of January, Jack had to fight the dread rising inside him.

He had spent decades browsing flea markets for old film reels, and he had found a considerable number of them, but that was no guarantee that the new owners of the Electro had not still stumbled across the wrong kind of reel again. The first chance he got, Jack used the Vortex Manipulator to pay the Electro a visit one night and inspect their archives, relieved to find no recordings of the Night Travellers.

He bought two tickets for the opening for Ianto and himself, and tickets for the whole extended team for a second showing a week later, because Estelle had been even more enthusiastic about the movie theatres of the old days than Ianto and had hyped up everyone with it. He told the team about the plans he had made for all of them, but he didn’t tell Ianto about the tickets for the opening even when they were already on their way to the Electro.

“Sometimes I think you are crazy,” Ianto laughed as Jack wrapped an arm around his shoulder while they were walking down the street to the movie theatre. “I thought we were coming here next week with the whole team.”

“We are,” Jack agreed. “But I thought it would be nice watching you enjoy this experience without everyone else tagging along.”

Ianto leaned into him, putting his arm around Jack’s waist. “Going to the movies is one of the very few good memories I have of my father.”

“I know,” Jack said softly. “Did you ever visit the Electro with him?”

Ianto shook his head. “It closed years before I was born. But if his tales are to be believed, my parents had more than one date here. He once said this was the place where he decided he wanted to marry her, but I’m not so sure about that,” he chuckled and shrugged. “Though, when I was … nine, I guess, he once took Rhi and me here when it was opened so that potential buyers could look at the building. I think most of those who were here on that day only wanted to inspect an old movie theatre without being interested in buying it at all.”

“I watched two movies here with Lucia, in ‘72 or ‘73,” Jack said after a moment of silence. “We were here to investigate Rift activity, but we used to make dates out of those assignments only the two of us were sent on.”

Ianto laughed. “So, making dates out of our weevil hunts is something like a tradition for you?”

“I never hunted a weevil with Lucia,” Jack replied with a grin. “The higher ups at the time didn’t think that was a task for a woman. But yes, I learned with Lucia that every opportunity that presents itself should be used. – Should we invite Rhiannon to our team outing next week?”

Ianto’s laughter died as he shook his head. “No, I don’t think it would be a good idea to introduce her to the team. And … her memories of our father are very different from mine. She wouldn’t see any value in this outing, and we would only argue again.”

Jack sighed. He knew how hard Ianto was working on the relationship with his sister, and that it barely bore any fruit. He wanted to help, but he suspected his role in Ianto’s life only made it more difficult.

Ianto’s arm around his waist tightened. “You can’t fix everything. Rhi and I will never be best friends, we have always been too different for that.”

“I can at least try,” Jack muttered. There were still a lot of things he needed to fix ahead of him, and there was nothing that could make him stop trying.


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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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