Rewriting Time – 4/4 – 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 18

“How are you?” Gwen asked quietly while Jack was leading her on the dance floor.

Jack chuckled. “This isn’t the right day for you to worry about me. I’m alright. And I’m very glad our latest little catastrophe didn’t ruin your wedding.”

“It nearly did,” she murmured. “I would have never forgiven it if any of you had missed my wedding!”

“I would have never let that happen,” Jack promised.

He was happy with how the day had gone compared to last time, and it had once again been their much larger team that had made the most difference. Gwen had been long gone to prepare for her hen party when the alert about the shapeshifters had come in. Jack had gone out with Leo and Owen, leaving Ianto in the Hub to coordinate for them, because the women had all been gone to accompany Gwen on her hen night, even Estelle.

Leo had nearly been bitten by the male Nostrovite, but Jack had thankfully been fast enough to get his own arm between them so that he had been the one bitten. Jack had no idea what the effect on Leo would have been, if the eggs of the Nostrovite actually needed a womb, or if it would still have grown in Leo. He hadn’t waited to see the effects on himself and opted to kill himself after he had made sure the male Nostrovite was no threat for Owen or Leo anymore.

The death of her mate and her young had sent the female on a rampage through Cardiff, and the whole team had been so busy chasing her for most of the night and the early morning that Estelle and Letitia had been the only ones who had been on time to help with the last of the preparation for the wedding. When they had finally found the female Jack had been too careless and nearly been ripped apart by her before the others had been able to kill her. It had been a race after that, but they had managed to reach the hotel just in time for the ceremony.

“I hope it’s all you ever imagined,” Jack whispered.

Gwen laughed. “Yes, it is. For both of us.” She leaned her head against his shoulder. “Rhys and I talked a lot about it during that year. There was a time when I was convinced we would never get here, never have this chance. Sometimes I still fear it’s just a dream that everything is back to normal.”

“As sad as I still am that all of you remember it, I’m glad it’s not just one of you who remembers.”

“I’m just glad I don’t have to keep any secrets from Rhys anymore,” Gwen sighed. “That was the hardest part when you recruited me, the thing I struggled the most with.”

Jack nodded, but he kept his thoughts to himself. He could never quite stop himself from comparing the woman Gwen was now to the woman she had been in his other life, even if it made him feel guilty about the life he had thrown her into. She was happier this time, not just today, although that was the biggest difference he had ever seen, and he was glad he had been able to prevent not only himself but also her from repeating mistakes they had both made in the other timeline.

“Do you ever regret taking my offer of a new job?” Jack asked.

Gwen took a moment to think about it. “No. You may have made my life much more complicated, but you also made it better.”

Jack smiled. “That’s good.”

Their low conversation was interrupted when the song ended and Ianto stepped up to them. “May I interrupt?”

Jack laughed at Gwen’s face as Ianto turned to him instead of her for the next dance. “I believe you have a husband waiting for you.”

Gwen huffed, but then she grinned and turned around with a nod, clearly searching for Rhys in the crowd. Jack was glad to see them both this happy, and that they wouldn’t need to take the memories of their guests this time. Everyone would remember this wedding as the great celebration it had been, not interrupted by unexplainable non-pregnancies and feral shapeshifters.

Jack was glad for the slow song that followed because it allowed him to draw Ianto tightly against him. “Are you enjoying yourself?”

Ianto cleared his throat. “I might be feeling a little bit neglected.”

Jack laughed and kissed the spot right above Ianto’s ear. “You were the one who ran off to take care of the problem with the caterer before Gwen would notice anything! I had to occupy myself somehow, and I thought distracting her would help you.”

“That’s all taken care of. Are you enjoying yourself?” Ianto asked.

Jack sighed. “For the most part. Gwen and Rhys are happy and that’s the most important thing for today, right?”

“It is,” Ianto murmured. “It’s not bringing up bad memories, is it?”

“No,” Jack paused a moment, watching the other couples surrounding them on the dance floor. “A hundred and forty years on this planet, being part of this society, and the whole concept is still a little bit strange to me. And that after I was married once myself. I guess some things you learn as a child are never completely left behind.”

“You were married?” Ianto asked surprised.

Jack nodded slowly. “Before I knew that I couldn’t die. I thought I had to live out the rest of my life in the Victorian era, and I met a young woman I liked very much, so I decided to go with the custom of the time. I wanted to build a life for myself I could be happy with, but I didn’t want to attract the attention of anyone, so I tried to find a middle ground.”

“And that was settling down with a wife?”

Jack shrugged. “I hadn’t yet found the value of monogamy for myself back then. Monogamy and marriage, those were very antiquated concepts during my childhood and youth, and heavily frowned upon. I could enjoy being with a single partner for a while, but back then, I always thought it wasn’t enough because I had been taught that it shouldn’t be enough. So yes, settling down with a single person felt like a huge sacrifice, but I liked her, and it made me not stand out so much.”

“You never mentioned this before,” Ianto said.

“Because I still regret so many things about it,” Jack sighed. “I wasn’t a very good husband, and it ended with me being shot on Ellis Island. She eventually made a good life for herself in America, but it was carelessness that got me shot, and I’m still sorry that I left her a widow on the very day the new life we had dreamed about should have started.”

He could hear Ianto swallowing. “And that was how you learned you couldn’t die.”

“Yes. I contemplated going back to her, but I had been shot right in front of her. So, I came back here and built my life back up, tried to find out what had happened to me. I was angry for a long time, and it was a very dark period in my life.”

“So, in the time you come from, people don’t celebrate when a group of them decided to start a family?”

Jack was thankful for the change of topic because this was not the right place to rehash that part of his past. “No. Such decisions were a very quiet and private thing. I think one of the best things about that system was that there didn’t exist this dogma of dissolving such a union. If there were children involved, everyone in the family unit would care for them, and even if someone left the unit, they would still be part of the children’s life as long as they didn’t leave the planet for some reason, and most often even then a way was found to keep in contact with the children, whether they had been biological theirs or not.”

“What would have been celebrated instead?” Ianto asked.

“The birth of a child, someone leaving the family unit of their childhood to find their own, and a person’s death. Those three things were always very big parties, most often with the whole village involved. I don’t know how it would have been in bigger cities. By the time I left the place where I had been born, I didn’t care much to explore life in other places.”

Ianto nodded, but he was quiet for a long time. “I forget so often how much of a cultural difference you had to endure when you came here. Three thousand years is so hard to imagine.”

“I wasn’t completely unprepared,” Jack reminded him. “I knew quite a lot about the last century because I had a couple of jobs there.”

“I would like to learn about the time you came from,” Ianto murmured. “You have told us so much about your adventures, you have told me a lot about your life here, but I have only gotten a few glimpses of your early life.”

Jack hummed thoughtfully. He was surprised, both about Ianto’s interest and about the observation at all. “You’ll have to remind me and ask me about it. It’s so far away for me, and even when it’s still influencing me, I’m barely thinking about it. There is a lot about that time I don’t want to think about even, but I’ll gladly answer your questions.”

Ianto nodded, and when the song ended shortly after that, Jack took his hand and led him to the bar. He grinned when he saw one of Rhys’ older relatives frown at them, and winked at the elderly woman when he ordered drinks for them. The party was slowly winding down and Jack suspected that Gwen and Rhys would soon vanish to start their honeymoon, which would lead to others leaving as well. He was glad that this time they could leave the clean up to others, and that he would be able to just go home with Ianto.

“Did you know Owen was seeing Diane again?” Jack asked as he handed Ianto his drink when he saw them dancing together again. “I thought that had petered out during the Year.” He had been surprised when Diane had shown up after the ceremony and Owen had enthusiastically greeted her.

Ianto huffed. “No. I have no idea how or when that happened. He never even said something about seeing anyone.”

“Let’s hope he will find his happiness with her. It’s easier to build a relationship with someone who knows what we are doing. Do you know what she is doing now?”

“No,” Ianto shrugged. “I know I should have helped her set up her new life, but Owen insisted on doing it before you left, and … I guess he continued to do it after the Year. She knows to call Estelle if she needs anything, but I don’t think she ever asked for any help after we had gotten all the necessities set up for her.”

“And Deborah?” Jack asked. He had not thought about either of them since they had come back, and that had been more than six months ago, but he knew that Estelle still kept in contact with the young woman. Estelle had gone to London several times during the last year, always to visit Deborah, who had adopted her as a kind of grandmother.

“If she ever had problems, she asked Estelle for help,” Ianto said. “I haven’t heard anything from her, except the things Estelle has told us all. I think she had an easier start with the new life here than Diane.”

“Deborah hadn’t had her own life before the Rift brought her here,” Jack said thoughtfully. “Diane had worked hard to build a life for herself in the fifties and even earlier during the war. I can understand that she had a harder time finding her footing here. I’m just not sure if Owen is the right one to help her with that.”

“He matured a lot during the Year,” Ianto murmured. “I think he finally got over losing his wife actually. He wasn’t ready to continue his life without Katie before. That’s something we both learned during that year. I don’t think you have to worry about him or Diane.”

Jack sighed. Talking about the Year was the last thing he wanted to do today, and he should have thought about that before asking about Diane and Owen, because of course that would lead back to the Year.

“On another note,” Ianto said with a smile, “there is a room waiting for us upstairs.”

Jack looked at him with a grin. “Really?”

“I thought it would be nice to just stay here, order room service in the morning. – Karen knows we are not available should anything come up tonight that’s less than a world-ending event.”

***

Ianto smiled when Jack wrapped his arms around him from behind and put his chin on his shoulder. He was standing at the window of their hotel room and staring out over the vast garden, watching the sunrise. It was rare to have a moment of such peace and tranquillity, and he had learned to treasure them. It was never easy to convince Jack to take a free day for himself, and Ianto had learned to just surprise him with those days because most often Jack would not protest them in that case.

Karen didn’t expect them back until the next morning, and thankfully their team had grown enough to handle three of them being away. Gwen and Rhys had started into their two week honeymoon, and should already be halfway to Spain. It was early still, Jack had just ordered them breakfast, and he didn’t know yet that they had a whole free day ahead of them.

“It was a good wedding, right?” Jack asked.

“I know for a fact that it was everything Gwen and Rhys ever dreamed about,” Ianto murmured. “They talked about it a lot during the Year.”

“Yeah?”

Ianto sighed. “It had become something of a game for all of us to talk about what our lives would have been like if the Master had never come.” He leaned his head against Jack’s. “None of us knew that we could undo it all in the end, of course, but we couldn’t imagine what life would be like after we defeated the Master. And so, we held onto our memories to keep reminding us why we were fighting against him.”

“They made plans about a wedding they thought would never happen this way?” Jack sounded surprised.

Ianto shrugged. “No, that’s not what it was about. It was more a game of ‘What could have been’, and Gwen and Rhys weren’t the only ones playing it. We all build little fantasy lives for ourselves in the quiet hours, telling each other what our plans and dreams had been. Gwen talked a lot about this place. She said she had always wanted to celebrate her wedding here, and after I saw the pictures when we came back, I could understand her. I’m glad we managed to book this place for her.”

Jack was quiet for a long time. “And what would you come up with during such a game?”

“Not much, but it would have changed a great deal over time,” Ianto muttered. “I changed a great deal during that year, and with that, my dreams changed.”

“That’s not an answer.” Jack’s arms tightened around him slightly.

“In the beginning, I had nothing to contribute. I didn’t have … I was still too occupied with what had happened in London to make any plans for the future, and to be thrown in that mess only made it worse. And later, it would have all revolved around you, and that wasn’t a good topic when we tried to distract ourselves. Your situation was so horrendous at that time, Jack. We didn’t talk much about you because we couldn’t bear it, even though everything we did, we did for you.”

Jack stiffened, but Ianto grabbed his arms to hold him in place. This was exactly the reason why they had never talked about it, because it was so hard for Jack to hear, or maybe just to accept.

“I know you still wish we hadn’t been on the Valiant, that we didn’t remember any of it,” Ianto whispered. “But none of us will ever regret remembering it. It was a hard year, yes, but it also … it taught all of us a great deal, made us appreciate what we have now a lot more than we did before. I know you were terrified about losing one of us, but that didn’t happen. We all survived, you can stop worrying about us.”

Jack pressed his face against Ianto’s shoulder. “I’ll never stop worrying about any of you.”

Ianto turned in Jack’s arms. “For my part, I’m very happy to have those memories. Without these experiences, without these memories, we wouldn’t be here today.” He raised his hands and cupped Jack’s cheeks. “I said yesterday that Owen and I both learned to let go of our grief in that time, and I meant every word of it. I’m so very glad for what we share with each other, but without that year I wouldn’t have reached the point to be ready for any kind of relationship for a long time.”

Ianto brushed his thumb over Jack’s lips. “After London … I was convinced I would never be able to fall in love again. But then, after London, I also thought I would never be able to get through such a catastrophe a second time because I had only barely managed to get through it the first time. The Year taught me that I was wrong about both of those assumptions.”

“Ianto…”

He pressed his thumb against Jack’s mouth. “No, please listen,” Ianto sighed. “I hadn’t even noticed that I had fallen in love with you. I don’t remember when exactly I became aware of it, but it wasn’t too far into that year. I missed you from the very first day you were gone, but I didn’t understand what that was really about until all I could think about was how to get you out of the Master’s clutches. I don’t know how long it would have taken me otherwise to understand that about myself. And I had months to overcome my guilt for falling in love with you while still being in love with Lisa and grieving for her.”

Jack sighed. “That’s the thing I hate the most about this time’s concept of monogamy, you know.”

Ianto frowned. “What exactly?”

“That you learn to feel guilty about loving more than one person, that you feel guilty for moving on after your partner died,” Jack muttered. “It’s so much bullshit. I would never expect you to not love Lisa anymore just because we have found love with each other.” He closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against Ianto’s. “It was hard for me to find a solution for this concept of only being allowed to love one person, and I can’t even imagine how hard it has to be for someone who grew up with this concept as the ideal to overcome it.”

“What is your solution?”

“Monogamy for me is devoting myself to a relationship with just one person, not loving just one person. That never worked for me, and I tried really hard in the beginning, especially while I was married. I had basically promised her to love only her, and I wanted to keep that promise. I failed several times to keep that kind of emotional faithfulness. I don’t think it’s possible for anyone. I can’t imagine that I’m emotionally so different from someone born in this time, because otherwise there is not much difference between me and the humans of today.”

Ianto hummed thoughtfully. It was difficult for him to even imagine the process Jack had gone through in this aspect of his life, but the conclusion he had come to sounded good and healthy, and moreover, Jack seemed to be satisfied with it. Ianto himself still felt guilty sometimes when he thought about Lisa, which led to him trying not to think about her too much. Maybe he could adopt Jack’s stance to deal with this in the future.

Ianto sighed because as much as he tried, he couldn’t hold back the question burning on his tongue. “So, are you currently in love with someone else as well?”

Jack laughed lowly. “I’m surprised you would want to know that. – No one who is still alive.”

“Angelo,” Ianto murmured.

“Yes,” Jack nodded slowly. “I think it will take a long time for that love to fade.”

“I’m not surprised,” Ianto murmured. “You spent a very long time with him, as his friend and as his lover.”

“Would you really want to know if I met someone else I fell in love with while we are in a relationship?”

Ianto took a long moment to think about it because he could see in Jack’s face how much his answer would matter, even though he had no idea what exactly it mattered for. He couldn’t imagine he would be happy at all about talking with Jack about other people he loved, or even knowing there were other people, but on the other hand, right now it didn’t bother him at all to know that Jack was still in love with Angelo.

“I think I would,” he said finally and took a deep breath. “I can’t say I understand exactly where you are coming from, and maybe I never will, but that doesn’t mean I can’t try to understand your view on the whole matter.”

He could hardly expect Jack to change for him, and he did not want to expect that either. He trusted Jack; he had learned to trust him long before he had fallen in love with him, long before that horrible day when he’d had Jack let go to kill the thing that Lisa had become. Ianto had never expected to ever be able to feel this kind of trust, and it was just another thing that added to his guilt whenever he thought about Lisa, but he knew that there would have to happen a lot for him to ever doubt Jack.

“I feel I shouldn’t be as surprised as I am about your ability to be open-minded and … considerate of my point of view.” Jack took a step back and looked at him, his face full of open wonder.

“I trust you,” Ianto said, and the way Jack’s eyes widened showed clearly how rare it was for him to hear such words. “I’ve trusted you to protect us, this city and even this planet for a long time. And I trust you to not break my heart.”

“I’m not sure I’m worthy of that kind of trust,” Jack whispered.

“You are,” Ianto promised. “I’m angry at every single person who told you that you weren’t trustworthy. Especially at the Doctor because I know his opinion matters more to you than everyone else, and he really had no business to judge you after he abandoned you for over a hundred years.”

Jack shook his head with a smile. “His opinion doesn’t matter as much anymore as it once did. He was a very different man when I travelled with him as well. I loved him back then, but more for the fact that he saved me from myself than anything else.”

Ianto thought the Doctor’s opinion should not matter at all, but he had learned to keep those thoughts to himself. The way Jack talked about the Doctor had changed after the Year, but not so much that he was open to hearing the kind of criticism Ianto had about him. There was still a lot of hero worship in Jack for the Time Lord, and Ianto suspected that would never completely vanish.

“I trust you,” Ianto repeated because with the way Jack reacted it couldn’t be said often enough. “And I don’t want there to be unnecessary secrets between us. There is no reason for you to hold it back if you fall in love with someone else, or that you are falling out of love with Angelo. Or even me. I–”

“That’s not going to happen as long as you are alive,” Jack interrupted him with so much conviction that Ianto lost the train of his thoughts. “I don’t just stop loving people, and I think that’s been one of the things that made it so hard for me to find a way to deal with my relationships and my immortality.”

Ianto frowned. “You just said you weren’t in love with Estelle anymore.”

“And that’s true,” Jack agreed. “But that was a very long process. When I went back to her in ‘81 I was still very much in love with her, even though I hadn’t seen her in decades. It evolved only very slowly to the platonic love I have for her now. I had to work hard to overcome it, and the only reason I put that work into it was that I knew how uncomfortable Estelle was at times to know that I was still in love with her.”

Ianto blew out a breath. “Okay.”

“So, that’s something you don’t need to worry about ever,” Jack muttered.

“Alright,” Ianto smiled. “I’ll try not to worry about it, but maybe you’ll have to remind me of it sometimes. – What can we do for you to stop worrying about our experiences during that Year? We managed to get through it, and we all managed to find a way to overcome our hang-ups from it. It only hurts you to keep thinking about how you could have prevented us from remembering that experience.”

“I see every day how much it has changed you, how much it is influencing the whole team,” Jack said quietly. “Right after we came back, we all talked about how we should expand the team. Do you know why that hasn’t happened yet?”

Ianto frowned confused and shook his head. He had not the slightest idea what Jack was talking about.

“You have become a very … cohesive unit. To slot Letitia, Estelle, and I into that unit wasn’t so hard, because Estelle and I had been part of the team before the Year, and Letitia and I share the general memories of it with you, but even that has been hard at times. There is a lot of nonverbal communication between you, roles you took on during that time that all of you are still filling without even noticing, and it’s hard to keep track of those things sometimes. And you have all become very slow to trust outsiders. Andy has become the officer who works with us mostly because it’s become so hard for you to trust the others.”

Ianto blinked and cocked his head. “I hadn’t noticed any of that.”

“It’s hard to notice such a dynamic if you’re in the middle of it,” Jack said. “At first, I thought giving you time would be enough, but I think I was mistaken in that. I had to work hard to get any of you to show any kind of trust in our new liaison with UNIT, and the Major comes with a high recommendation from Clement, whom we all trust explicitly. That’s the reason why I didn’t push to expand our team more.”

Ianto knew he couldn’t argue that point. He had noticed a certain paranoia he had developed during the Year, a mistrust of strangers that lingered in him that he had not known before that Year, but he hadn’t thought much about it. He had certainly not thought this mistrust had contributed to the fact that it was hard for him to accept their new liaison with UNIT.

“That’s something we’ll need to work on with the whole team,” Ianto said. “I guess none of us has been aware of it.”

Jack nodded. “You are right. I shouldn’t have pushed it away for so long either, but … It’s my fault you all remember it, and I really don’t like pondering that.”

Ianto frowned. “Why should it be your fault? It was our decisions that led us to the Valiant.”

“And if I hadn’t aired my mistrust of Saxon in front of you without even noticing that I was doing it, you would have either followed his orders or stayed in Cardiff, and either way you would have died early on.”

Ianto decided not to ask further about it. He had learned when to take a step back from questioning Jack because he was approaching topics Jack was not ready to talk about, and he felt they were skirting such a point. Jack had promised to answer his questions later this year, and although Ianto had no idea where that deadline came from, he had accepted long ago to wait for it and not push Jack for answers he was so clearly uncomfortable to give.

“Or maybe we would still have come to London after you had been declared an enemy of the state because we would have never just accepted such a thing even if we hadn’t suspected Saxon of wrongdoing already.”

Jack huffed. “Maybe. – So, I’ll call Karen and tell her we need to have a team meeting later today. It’s important enough to deal with this problem that we shouldn’t wait for Gwen and Rhys to come back from their honeymoon, right?”

“Tomorrow,” Ianto corrected. “Karen isn’t expecting us back until tomorrow, and I’m not letting you sacrifice the first free day you’ve had in months. It can wait for another day.”

Jack frowned. “You are doing that quite a lot, you know? Sneaking free days up on me!”

Ianto grinned. “It’s the only way to get you to take a free day at all. Karen tells me you have always been like this, and that she can’t remember you ever taking a day off before I came along and just made those decisions for you.” He grabbed Jack’s hand and brushed his fingers over the leather of the wrist strap. “Though, I feel a little bit better about that tendency of yours since I know you used this thing regularly to spend extra time with Angelo.”

“I never feel comfortable leaving the team alone,” Jack whispered.

“Because then it’s out of your control to protect us if something happens.” Ianto nodded. He had come to that conclusion very early on after he had come to Cardiff. “Maybe we can use your Vortex Manipulator to take a couple of free days every month. If we travel back in time for that, we would still be with the team every day.”

“I would like that.” Jack smiled and drew him back into his arms. “I would like to show you the wonders of the universe.”

Ianto laughed. “Let’s start with the wonders of this planet and this time.”

Chapter 19

Ianto had learned long ago that they were never prepared for whatever the next catastrophe was, even when they had a warning about it. They had expected that something would happen sooner or later after John Hart had visited them in search of a diamond that had never been here.

In a way, Cardiff was prepared for John’s return. The bombs that had been placed all over the city were found and disabled, but the Cardiff emergency services were so well prepared for an occurrence like that that the Torchwood team had only learned about it after John had already gotten the drop on Jack and abducted him. They had scrambled in the Hub to get a lead on where John Hart had taken Jack when the alarm of an intruder in their secondary Hub had distracted them.

And that was how they had come to be in this situation, with Ianto, Karen, Owen and Gwen facing a man who had identified himself as Jack’s brother Grey while he held a knife to Toshiko’s throat.

They had been too careless, Ianto had even thought about that just a moment before they had stormed their secondary Hub. They had trusted the data of the internal sensors, despite the fact that their intruder had had nearly an hour to prepare for their arrival, and had fallen right into Grey’s trap. Their only saving grace was that he had not spotted Leo and Letitia, and they were slowly approaching him from behind.

“Put your weapons down,” Grey demanded, pressing the edge of his knife harder against Toshiko’s throat.

“Yeah, I don’t think so,” Owen muttered. “If we do that, we will all be dead. If you even injure Tosh, you are dead. Seems as if we are at an impasse here, buddy!”

Owen was right, if it weren’t for Leo and Letitia, they would have been at an impasse, both sides waiting for the other to make a mistake. As it was, for the moment they could still hope their two unknown-to-Grey teammates would find a way to sneak up onto Grey and free Toshiko. Which meant that they needed to buy time.

“If you wanted to speak with Jack, we could have found a much less exciting way for you to do it,” Karen said calmly.

Grey smiled, but it was so cold that Ianto shivered. “I don’t want to speak to Javic. I’ll burn down his world. In fact, he should be watching right now how this city is burning down.”

Ianto had doubted Jack when he had told them that Grey was lost even if he had survived his abduction. He had thought it was something Jack had made into a truth for himself after he had needed to stop searching for his brother, something to soothe his guilty conscience. He had made his promise to calm Jack down, but he had held onto the hope that it would be unnecessary to go through with it. He had hoped it would be possible to give Jack a part of his family back, but now he was glad he had never shared that thought with Jack.

“If you mean your little bombs, they were found and disabled.” Toshiko’s voice was strained, but she was calm and seemed to be completely unbothered by the blade at her throat. She trusted them to save her, and Ianto hoped they wouldn’t disappoint her. “Jack’s made sure for years that this city is prepared for any kind of alien threat, and also for any common terrorist acts. And you weren’t very creative.”

“Be quiet!” Grey hissed.

Ianto took half a step forward when a small trail of blood started to run down Toshiko’s throat.

“But she’s right,” Gwen said. “And you have to know that. Any kind of big explosion would have been heard, at least faintly. We found them all. Hart’s reconnaissance of this city and our team for you wasn’t very precise.”

Ianto forced himself not to look behind Grey when he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. If Grey moved his head even the slightest amount to look behind him it could of course give any of them a chance to take a shot at him, but the risk for Toshiko was much too high.

“Why are you doing this?” Ianto asked. “Jack … Javic isn’t responsible for what happened to you.” He copied the name Grey had used earlier in the hope it could awaken some kind of positive memories, or at least remind Grey of the connection between them.

“He let go of me to save himself!” Grey said darkly. “He sacrificed me, and he knew what would await me!”

“Really?” Ianto asked. “I thought it wasn’t known yet who the enemy invading several planets at that time was. Javic told me about that war. He fought in it, he spent years searching for you. He only gave up when he was stranded here on Earth.”

“Lies!” Grey spat. “I don’t care for the lies he told you to make you trust him. He was only ever interested in saving himself, long before that day.”

“So, what’s your grand plan then?” Owen asked, while Letitia carefully and very slowly began to approach them. “You want to destroy Cardiff, which already failed, kill us and then Jack?”

“No,” Grey sneered at them. “In the end, my brother will kill himself.”

Ianto swallowed, very glad that John Hart had not learned about Jack’s immortality. He didn’t want to even begin to imagine how that would have changed Grey’s plans, and how that would have inadvertently increased his anger as well.

Owen snorted. “Yeah, that shows that you haven’t seen him since he was a teenager. And I think John Hart is just crazy enough that he never really knew him with his obsession. But then, with your upbringing, we probably can’t fault you for not recognizing such a thing. Why is Hart even working with you? All he is interested in is getting Jack back. Or at least getting back in his pants.”

“He is more interested in staying alive,” Grey said. “Of course, he won’t have the outcome he is hoping for. I can’t wait to see Javic’s and his face when I detonate the bomb on him. It’s just sad none of you will get to see it.”

Ianto frowned, wondering if Grey was as delusional as he sounded or if he had some kind of backup plan they were not aware of. The latter would be bad, but Ianto couldn’t imagine he would have let them stall him for so long if he had another plan up his sleeve.

“The only way you’ll get out of here alive is if you let go of Tosh,” Gwen said. “There is no way for you to go through with your plans.”

Grey smiled. “You won’t kill me. You won’t even injure me. You won’t dare because it would damage your relationship with my brother.”

Ianto snorted. “Your intel is really bad, and I wonder if Hart did that deliberately for a couple of reasons. The thing is, I personally promised Jack that one of us would kill you if you couldn’t be stopped so that he wouldn’t have to do it. Every single one of us has been prepared to take this shot for a long time.”

Grey laughed. “And yet, none of you has done anything to stop me!”

Ianto shrugged. “See, that’s the difference between you and us. We gave you a chance to explain yourself and to back away. You have done neither, and you have made it very clear that you intend to wreak havoc and kill all of us. That’s reason enough to take a page out of the old rule book of our organisation and just kill you.” He cocked his head. “Tish.”

Grey frowned, and Letitia hesitated, but a shot rang through the room before anyone else could react. Grey sank down, dragging Toshiko with him, and Owen, Gwen, and Karen ran to her immediately. Karen dragged Grey’s body away, throwing his knife aside and searching him for other weapons despite the hole in his head, while Gwen and Owen helped Toshiko to get a couple of feet away before Owen ordered Gwen to get a medical kit and started to examine Toshiko’s throat.

Ianto turned in the direction the shot had to have come from, since it certainly had not come from Letitia. The main room here was modelled quite accurately after the main area of their Hub under the Roald Dahl Plass except for the water tower, and there was a metal railing circling the wall halfway between floor and ceiling. Leo was standing up there, near the room they used as a greenhouse in their main Hub and which was empty here, glowering down at him.

“As if I would have let my sister take the shot, Jones!” Leo called down.

“At least I knew Tish was in the right position!” Ianto called back. “I could have hardly known where you were!”

It had not been ideal to even take Letitia with them – there was a reason she was working with Estelle and in the archives, but never went out with them. They had trained her well, of course, and Ianto knew she would have been able to take the shot, but it would have been a difficult experience for her to overcome. She had decided to work for them mainly because no one else wanted to hire her with her history.

Jack had offered to get her a job elsewhere in Cardiff, and he had enough connections that it would be easy for him find one, but Letitia had declined. She wanted to work someplace where her work was actually valued, and she feared she would never find such a place if anyone had to use any kind of connections to get her into the job. She was happy enough taking over part of the administrative work for Torchwood, and she was more than happy to stay out of the rest of their work.

Estelle had proven that it was a good idea to have someone who worked for and with them: someone who never left the Hub, who never got distracted by the things the Rift brought them, and who could concentrate on the things that kept their organisation running. But while Jack had trained Estelle to seek shelter in the various safe rooms that were easily reachable from the places she spent most of her time, he had insisted that Letitia learn to defend herself so that she would be able to work with them in the field in an emergency.

Ianto nodded to Leo and turned to Letitia, who hadn’t moved from her position and was staring at Grey’s body with a mixture of dread and shock. He went to her and carefully took the gun out of her shaking hand before he led her to a chair.

“I’m sorry we put you in this position,” he muttered.

“How is Tosh?” Letitia asked, but she was still staring at Grey.

Ianto sighed. “Owen would have already shouted for us if it was more than a superficial cut. How are you feeling?”

“I’m sorry I hesitated,” Letitia muttered. “I heard everything he said, I know what Jack told us about him, but…”

“It was still a life you would have needed to end.”

Letitia took a deep breath. “On the Valiant … Mum, Dad and I talked about killing the Master. I was so sure I would do it if I got an opportunity. I don’t know … if I would have any more.”

“That’s not precisely a bad thing, you know,” Ianto knelt down in front of her, cupping her face with one hand and turning her head so that she would look at him instead of Grey. “The job we do makes us jaded. We stop considering some of the beings we encounter as sentient life, because they so often turn out to be a threat or because we can’t hold them and can’t send them back to their home, so killing them is much too often the only solution. But that’s exactly the reason why you don’t want to go out in the field, right?”

Letitia nodded.

“I’m sorry I asked you to come with us,” Ianto whispered. “And I’m sorry all of us weren’t more careful, he should have never gotten his hands on Tosh. But you were great, you know. You kept your head, you managed to creep up on him without being noticed. You knew where Leo was, didn’t you?”

She nodded again. “We had talked about it. I’m not good at taking a precise shot from too far away, that’s why he went up there.”

“I have faith in you that you would have taken the shot if Leo hadn’t been there,” Ianto said. “But we will get another weapon for you. A stun gun is very effective against most aliens, and enough for you to defend yourself. That’s most often my weapon of choice as well.” Of course, this time there had been no hesitation when he had grabbed his gun because they had all known for a very long time how this day would most likely end.

“Stunning him would have hurt Tosh as well,” Letitia muttered. “Especially with that knife on her throat.”

Ianto nodded. “Yes. But he would have still been taken out and we would have taken care of Tosh. – And I really don’t plan to repeat a situation like this. As long as we don’t have an intruder in our actual Hub or you aren’t accosted somewhere in the city, we won’t put you in such a situation again.”

Letitia swallowed, but before she could say anything else, a faint but loud bang made all of them flinch.

Ianto held onto Letitia’s hands but turned around to the others. “Was that an explosion?”

“Let me up, Owen!” Toshiko demanded while Karen was already firing up the system on the two nearest workstations.

“They didn’t find all of them?” Letitia asked with a shaking voice.

“No, I think that was the bomb John Hart was carrying,” Ianto muttered.

“Which is why we need to find Jack!” Toshiko said, batting at Owen’s hand, who was trying to hold her back as she stormed to the desk right beside Karen. “I can track him. I already started the process, but then we had to come here. Just let me…” She started to type frantically on the keyboard.

“The emergency line reports the explosion was right behind the castle,” Karen reported.

Gwen wrapped her arms around herself. “Which makes sense for a location for Jack and Hart if he was tasked with showing Jack the destruction the other bombs should have brought. Nearly every location would have been seen from the top of the castle.”

“What are we waiting for?” Leo asked.

“Just a moment!” Toshiko shouted.

“You aren’t coming with us either way,” Owen said, shaking his head. “Neither is Letitia.”

“I’m staying with them,” Karen said. “I’ll coordinate you from here and–”

“That’s impossible!” Toshiko paused in her work, staring at her monitor.

Everyone turned to her, voicing their confusion or their demand for an answer all at the same time.

“Jack’s not here,” Toshiko muttered. “He was at the castle, but this data says he vanished…” She started typing again. “His signal vanished seconds before the explosion, so my tracker can’t have been destroyed by that. He is not in Cardiff.”

Ianto frowned. “You have a tracker on Jack?”

“In his wrist strap, it was his idea actually,” Toshiko muttered. “Why would he just leave?”

“To get away from Hart?” Leo suggested.

“Wouldn’t Hart have taken Jack’s wrist strap away from him?” Gwen asked.

Ianto shook his head. “He wasn’t working with Grey voluntarily, so he might not have taken that precaution to give Jack an opportunity to get away. Or he gave it back to him for some reason. Or he got rid of the bomb and left, and Jack is still at the castle.” He shrugged. “One of us should…”

“Wait!” Toshiko interrupted him.

“There is no need for a search party.”

Ianto whirled around to find Jack standing in the door of his duplicate office, trying to grin at them, but Ianto was sure everyone was able to see that it was an empty gesture. There was blood all over Jack, but whatever injuries Hart had inflicted on him were already healed. Ianto took no notice of the blood at all as he ran to Jack to wrap him in his arms.

“I’m alright,” Jack muttered. “I’m sorry I let him get the better of me. I don’t know why I wasn’t expecting it.”

Ianto took a step back, but he kept hold of Jack’s arms. “Where is Hart?”

“In a hospital far in the future, where they can take more care of the stump I left him with than they could here,” Jack shrugged. “And as I didn’t want to have him stranded here, I decided to bring him to his proper time right away.”

“Stump?” Owen asked before Ianto could.

Jack nodded and his gaze dropped to Grey’s body. “Grey had put the bomb on his wrist, in a duplicate of his Vortex Manipulator. It was merged with the skin, and trying to cut it out would have made it explode right away. I cut off his hand instead after we got a one-minute countdown from it. I assume it was a precaution from Grey if he should be killed.” He took a deep breath. “What happened here?”

“Let’s get you back to the Hub and find clean clothes for you,” Ianto suggested. He wished Jack had never seen Grey’s body at all, but he could at least get Jack away from here so that he didn’t need to keep looking at it. “We can tell you everything after you have showered.”

Jack hesitated, and let his gaze wander over everyone, inspecting them thoroughly, probably searching for any sign of injuries. “Tosh!” He sucked in a breath and Ianto could feel him shiver under his hands. “What…”

“Just a small cut,” Toshiko interrupted him. “Nothing dangerous. It didn’t even bleed much. – Ianto is right. Take him back to the Hub, you both need a change of clothes. We’ll meet you there in an hour.”

Jack frowned, but when everyone started to voice their agreement, he gave in with a nod. “Alright. Search Grey for John’s VM. It wouldn’t be bad to have a second one, just in case.”

Karen nodded. “We’ll take care of it. And we’ll be very careful with the remains of your brother. Go and let Ianto take care of you.”

Jack sighed, but Ianto smiled encouragingly at him as Jack programmed his wrist strap. Ianto closed his hands around it and a moment later they landed in the bunker under Jack’s office. It was startling to see the sudden change in all of Jack’s demeanour, even though Ianto had expected it. Jack sank into himself, and every sign of the faked easy happiness vanished from his face.

Ianto caught him and helped him sit down on the barely used bed. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered.

Jack shook his head. “I knew this would happen. Or something like this at least.”

“That doesn’t make it any easier.” Ianto knelt down in front of Jack and started carefully to help him out of the soiled clothes. Jack was following his directions, but he took barely any active part in it. “We all knew they would come, and they still took us by surprise.”

“At least Grey is the only one who died,” Jack muttered.

Ianto sighed. “Yes. It was fast. He didn’t suffer. Leo took the shot and Grey didn’t see it coming. He couldn’t be reasoned with. He was set on destroying as much of your world as he possibly could.”

“You tried to reason with him?” Jack looked at him with a frown. “I had warned you already…”

Ianto shrugged while opening the buttons of Jack’s shirt. “I still hoped for your sake he wouldn’t be as bad off as you had seen with others. I guess I wished we would be able to give you a little bit of your family back, and maybe even give him back a life.” He sighed. “And then he had a knife at Tosh’s throat, so … we needed to buy time for Leo and Tish to get into a good position.”

Jack nodded but kept silent.

Ianto watched him worriedly while he helped him out of his shirt and pulled his undershirt over his head. “Did Hart injure you?”

“No,” Jack shook his head. “He hit me with something on the head, but I was only unconscious for a couple of minutes, so I don’t think there was any significant injury.”

“So, all of this blood came from him?” Jack’s clothes were completely ruined, and Ianto wondered if Hart would even survive such an injury.

“I cut his hand off,” Jack said. “That kind of injury comes with a lot of bleeding. But he should be fine. I think this looks like more blood than it actually was, and I got him to a hospital in less than a minute. They are better able to handle blood loss at that time, and he’ll get a prosthesis that will work like a real hand.”

“Sounds great,” Ianto muttered. He was of the mind that Hart could have lived the rest of his life with one hand for what he had done to Jack by bringing Grey back into his life, but he kept that to himself. “And he won’t come back to haunt us if Grey really had his Vortex Manipulator.”

Jack shrugged. “I wouldn’t put it past him to get another one somewhere. They are rare, but John knows how to get even rarer things. That was our job after all.”

“Let’s hope he learned his lesson from you abandoning him somewhere in the future and stays the fuck away,” Ianto muttered.

It had not been his goal, but it was nice to hear an honest laugh from Jack at his remark. “Don’t count on that,” he turned and looked at Ianto. “I’m not the only one who needs to get naked for that shower!”

Ianto grinned, glad that the apathy of the last couple of minutes finally seemed to vanish. “You didn’t seem very eager to get naked yourself up until now!”

Jack cupped Ianto’s face with his hands and drew him into a kiss. “I changed my mind. I think we need to have our own private little celebration that we are all alive.”

Ianto leaned his forehead against Jack. “And there is reason to celebrate this? Were you expecting something else?”

Jack closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath. “I’ll never understand how you seem to know so much.” His fingers started to fumble with the buttons on Ianto’s shirt. “There is always a reason to celebrate everyone surviving a day like this. It wouldn’t have taken much for us to lose Tosh today, right?”

“Okay.” Ianto kissed him again, accepting the answer for what it was.

Jack followed him when he stood up, crowding him against the wall. It took longer than it should have to get rid of the rest of their clothes between their kisses and wandering hands. Ianto had lost all sense of time when they finally ended up under the warm spray of the shower. Jack was skin hungry, never letting Ianto get too far away, always touching him in some way, while they washed each other, but nothing more happened despite Jack’s earlier remark.

Ianto wasn’t surprised by that. The day had been gruesome, and he was actually surprised that Jack was so tactile at all, that there had been no flashback to the Year. Ianto had no idea how Jack had been before that experience, but he tended to withdraw for a couple of hours whenever he had to inflict injuries similar to the ones that he had sustained himself at the hands of the Master. It had been nearly a year since they had come back, and Jack had overcome many of his issues, but that was something that seemed to remain.

“You told me at Gwen’s wedding that in your time the death of someone would be celebrated,” Ianto said quietly while they were drying each other off. “How would you celebrate?”

Jack sucked in a breath. “I don’t want that for Grey. Neither of us is part of that culture anymore.”

Ianto sighed. “Okay.”

“Also, it’s probably one of the few occasions where I would have wholly understood that tradition.”

Ianto cocked his head. “You weren’t happy with that tradition?”

Jack shrugged. “I never understood it, really. But then, I only ever took part in two of the traditional farewell parties. One was several years before the invasion, so I don’t remember much of it. The one after the invasion was much more … subdued, solemn. And I never took part in any of those ceremonies after I left my home. Maybe I’m biased against this tradition because for the only one I really remember I was basically cast out from my family and very nearly from the whole community.”

Ianto hummed thoughtfully. He remembered when Jack had first told him about Angelo, and they had spoken how difficult it was for Jack to work through his own grief. Maybe this was part of the reason for it, that he had never learned during his childhood to work through it. “Do you know where those traditions came from? It’s a big change to how we say farewell to our dead today if I understood you correctly.”

“There will have been a lot of change about how life and death are viewed today to in three thousand years from now. But that’s not really surprising, is it? There has been a great change about that in the last thousand years, even in the last one hundred, I think. There is this tendency to strive for eternal life in this time that is completely unknown in the time I was born in. I don’t know when this was lost, but no one wishes for eternal life anymore, it’s even frowned upon to even talk about such a thing, much less actually pursue it.”

“Sounds sensible,” Ianto murmured.

Jack was clearly not happy with his immortality, and Ianto couldn’t imagine that there could ever be a better circumstance, either for Jack or anyone else in his position. Sometimes Ianto wondered if it would be easier if he were not alone in it, but those thoughts were futile. Jack had no idea how exactly he had become what he was, so there was no way for anyone to become like him, and he had a distinct feeling that Jack would not be happy about such a suggestion.

“It was just one more thing that was really strange for me when I first visited this time period,” Jack said. “But there are a lot of those things. It’s one of those things I really noticed after I was stranded here, although only after I noticed my own immortality because this wish to escape death suddenly made even less sense for me than before.”

“The more I learn about your life before you came to this time, the more I’m impressed that you managed at all to get accustomed to it.”

Jack laughed. “There are a lot of people who tell me I’m still not accustomed to this time at all.”

Ianto grinned. “But what they mean is that you are stuck in the past because you wear clothes out of the forties. No one suspects you to be from the future.”

“You like the coat!”

“I love the coat! You should be happy that I managed to find a cleaner that gets the blood out of it!”

Jack drew him into a hug. “That’s the least of the things I’m happy to have in my life because of you.”

“I love you, too,” Ianto muttered smiling.

Jack pressed his nose against Ianto’s neck. “I don’t think I even want a grave for him. He has a grave in the future. We can burn his body here and give his ashes to the sea.”

“Okay,” Ianto whispered. “I’ll tell Owen to take care of it.”

“It’s bad that I don’t want to see him, right?” Jack shuddered. “I’m still the same coward I always was. I shouldn’t be glad that I wasn’t there, that you took care of him before I had to be confronted by him.”

Ianto sighed. “You are neither a coward nor is it wrong how you feel about this situation.” It was a sign of grief for much more than Grey as a person. Maybe at some point in the future, he would be able to discuss this with Jack, but for now, he felt that all Jack needed was support and encouragement.

They stood there for a long time in silence, only separating when the cold started to get to them. They didn’t speak while they put on clean clothes and Ianto put the old bloody ones in a bag. Instead of leaving the bunker after that, Ianto sat down on the bed with a heavy sigh.

“We need to talk about Letitia.”

Jack turned to him with a deep frown. “Why?”

“Karen and I made a mistake with her today, and I don’t know how to make it right. She asked to come with us, but we shouldn’t have allowed that. We should have left her here with Estelle.” Ianto shook his head. “I’m sure she would have taken the shot if Leo hadn’t been in place, but I don’t know if she would have ever learned to deal with it. We can’t put her in this kind of situation again.”

Jack stared at him for a long moment, before he nodded. “Barring any great emergencies, it shouldn’t be a problem to keep her in the Hub. And I’ll talk with her in a couple of weeks if working with us is still what she wants. I’ll make sure she understands that she can make this choice whenever she wants, and that I can get her a new job wherever she wants one.”

Ianto sighed. “Thank you. I think this is very important.”

Chapter 20

Jack cursed the Doctor when he realized he had brought Martha, Mickey, and him not to Cardiff, as Jack and Martha had asked him to do, but left them behind in a park in London. The whole situation with the Daleks had been as gruesome as he remembered, but thankfully everything had gone nearly exactly like last time. His team had been safe because Toshiko had developed the time lock again, and the clone of the Doctor together with Donna and the Doctor himself had been able to save the day again.

Jack rented a car and Mickey decided to accompany them to Cardiff. He had nothing left in London, he had no life at all in this dimension anymore, and Jack was not opposed to integrating him into his team. Mickey had learned a lot about life in the other dimension, about fighting for their existence and standing up for those who could not stand up for themselves. He was not the lovesick puppy who had followed Rose everywhere anymore, even after she had already physically and mentally left him for the Doctor.

Jack also hoped that Mickey could be a good start to break up his team’s habit of rejecting every possible new addition at first sight – although that had gotten a little bit better since he had sat all of them down and talked with them about the problem after Gwen’s wedding. They had not gotten to a point yet where they could actually bring someone new onto the team, but they had already learned to be more open again to help from outside.

Ianto waited for him in the part of the underground garage that was reserved for them. Jack cupped his face with his hands and kissed him deeply without even closing the door of the car behind him. It had been harder this time to leave Ianto behind, mostly because Jack had known how high the risk of a Dalek reaching the Hub was despite the knowledge that they were prepared for such a thing.

Jack had invited Rhys, Andy, Diane, Francine, Clive and Ashley with Keisha to the Hub before the Earth had been stolen by the Daleks. All of his team and their near family had been safe, but he had still feared for their lives. – Although, that had led to a little hiccup, because Martha had ended up with them in the Hub, but she had gone forward with her mission for UNIT without much prompting.

He felt he’d had too much luck in the last year, especially after the confrontation with Grey had led to neither Toshiko’s nor Owen’s death. He was waiting for the other shoe to drop; he had originally thought that not losing both of them would give him more security, more hope to not lose Ianto in the end, but it had had the reverse effect. Now he feared his luck would run out with Ianto, that it had to be impossible for him to change everything.

“I hate when you do these things,” Ianto muttered against his lips. “Going off without us.”

“You were safe here,” Jack replied. “I couldn’t have kept you safe up there.”

“He couldn’t keep himself safe,” Mickey chimed in. “Be glad you weren’t with us. You would have regretted it!”

Jack sighed and took a step back. “You know Martha of course, and this clown is Mickey Smith. He was once for a very brief time a companion of the Doctor. Or probably more the companion of the Doctor’s companion.”

“You were only with them because of Rose as well!” Mickey protested. “She told me all about it!”

Jack raised his eyebrows. “Maybe it’s not such a good idea to introduce you to my team if Rose told you all of those stories!”

“Too late!” Martha laughed. “You promised me my family was still safe with you, but I would really like to see that with my own eyes!”

“Everyone is alright,” Ianto said smiling. “You took all this time to come back, we have been busy while you were gallivanting through the country.”

Jack huffed. “Gallivanting?”

“Most of Cardiff has gotten through this alright,” Ianto reported while they led Mickey and Martha to the hidden door that would lead them to the Hub. “I mean, they are all used to strange things happening, and when the police tell them to stay inside for a couple of hours until the strangeness is over, most of them follow those instructions. But it’s still chaos out there now. And we nearly had a Dalek in the Hub, but the time lock from Tosh held it back. It was a relief to see him disintegrate into dust.”

Jack grabbed Ianto’s hand and squeezed it tightly. “I knew Tosh’s program would work.”

“We all trusted in it,” Ianto agreed. “It was still no fun to see a Dalek again.”

Jack sucked in a breath. “I’m sorry I didn’t warn you.”

“When did you see a Dalek before?” Martha asked.

“London,” Ianto muttered. “The fall of Torchwood One.”

Mickey turned to him. “You were there?”

“I worked for One before I came here.”

Mickey nodded grimly. “I was there as well. Still have nightmares sometimes, but then I fought against the Cybermen for months before they even came here.”

“I don’t think this is a good topic,” Jack interjected.

Ianto squeezed his fingers in gratitude.

Shortly thereafter they reached the main area of the Hub, and Jack and Martha were surrounded by the team and Martha’s family. It hadn’t been easy to convince Francine that she had to let Martha go earlier in the day, and Jack had only witnessed half of that discussion before he had had to leave himself, but she made it very clear now how unhappy she was about it again. She did not appreciate at all that it was her daughter who had needed to be part of saving the planet once more, and she had no intentions of holding that opinion back.

Because Francine was taking over most of the discussion and therefore put Martha on the spot to tell the team about most of what had happened, supported by Mickey who knew more about the beginning of the whole problem anyway, Jack managed to extract himself from the group a little bit. He ended up leaning on Ianto’s desk, watching over the large group that had become his team and their families.

Ianto sat down on the desk right beside him. “Are you alright?”

“Yes,” Jack nodded and leaned his shoulder against Ianto. “I just … had an epiphany how big this team has gotten.”

“Not as big as we had planned a year ago,” Ianto said. “And I can’t believe it’s already been nearly a year since the whole mess with the Master. Nearly half of this group isn’t even an official part of this team.”

“They are still part of Torchwood,” Jack muttered. “There was a time when we were only four or five people, sometimes even only three. To have more than fifteen people here seems a little bit weird when remembering that.”

“We are still searching for a second doctor at least,” Ianto remembered.

Jack grinned. “I hope we’ll be able to convince Martha to leave UNIT. I know she’s been unhappy with being sent all over the place, but after today … We need to disable the Osterhagen project, and she already said while we were driving here that she doesn’t trust UNIT anymore.”

“Did Clement know about Osterhagen?”

Jack nodded. “I knew as well, although he shouldn’t have told me about it, of course. He protested it vehemently, and he has found more and more support lately. I’m not sure if today will help us or not.”

“It has great potential to be abused,” Ianto muttered. “And I can’t imagine that it will ever be the right decision to destroy our planet instead of fighting for its survival, for our own survival and freedom. I don’t know how some people can get ideas like this.”

“It is a kind of mindset that is very persistent in the human race.” Jack sighed. “There will always be people who think it would be okay to sacrifice any number of innocents if it meant no side would win in a conflict instead of losing to their opponents. It’s one of the reasons that I’m glad Clement stayed in UNIT. We need people in place we can trust to do the right thing, to argue and fight against things like this.”

“But you don’t want Martha to stay in UNIT?”

Jack shook his head. “I don’t think she would be trusted with such knowledge. I’m surprised she knew about Osterhagen at all. The Doctor once worked for UNIT, but that doesn’t mean they really trust him, or want him to know all of their little secrets, and Martha will always be connected to him. And I’m not sure she would be happy being the one to lead this fight for her whole life. Clement is in a good position now to find us some people we can trust to step into his place eventually.”

“Francine would be happy if we could get Martha to come to Cardiff.”

Jack laughed. “Oh yes. But that’s not an argument I’m bringing up with Martha. She loves her mum, but we all know how overbearing Francine can get.”

Ianto laughed. “No, I don’t imagine that would be a good argument. But at least we can be sure that Francine will do most of our work in convincing Martha to come here eventually.” He reached out and closed his fingers around Jack’s hand. “I’m glad you are back. I was worried.”

“I promised it would all turn out for the best,” Jack whispered. “I was needed up there, otherwise I wouldn’t have left you alone. Although … I wouldn’t have been able to protect you from a Dalek if one had gotten in here. I’ll have to think of something big to thank Tosh for the time lock.”

“The Daleks weren’t the only reason I was worried about you.”

Jack sighed. “The Doctor barely had any time to spare me a glance. There were a lot of people up there. I didn’t talk to him much, and I think he was as glad about that as I was. But it was nice to catch up with Rose. I thought for a long time she had died in London. She is more or less happy in the other dimension, and now she’ll have the clone of the Doctor with her. I think that will actually make her life perfect there.”

“He didn’t try to disable your wrist strap again, did he?”

Jack shook his head. “Oh, he tried, but I already knew Mickey would leave with us and had given it to him when the Doctor wasn’t looking. I told him off for trying it again, but I didn’t give him time to question me about it. I think this will be the last time that I see this version of the Doctor. Let’s hope his next regeneration will be a little less … hard-headed when it comes to me.”

Ianto huffed. “I’m not believing that until I see it.”

Jack pressed his shoulder against him with a smile, but didn’t continue the argument. Ianto’s opinion about the Doctor wouldn’t change, and Jack saw no reason to even try to change it. He had no idea what to expect from the Doctor in the future, he had only seen him that one time again shortly after Ianto’s death when the Doctor had introduced him to the young man who had told his own mad tale about the Time Lord. It would not happen that way this time around, but Jack had no interest in thinking about what might happen instead.

They fell silent and listened to Martha tell the team about the clone of the Doctor and how they had brought Earth back to its rightful place in the universe after the Daleks had been defeated. Then she paused in the middle of a sentence and turned to them, staring at him with a deep frown.

“You knew what would happen!” Martha accused him. “Clement told me yesterday that you had told him we needed to order the Valiant to the ground and locked down. You knew this invasion was coming, Jack! How?”

Jack shrugged. “Some events are still known even far in the future.” With something big like this, that was always a good explanation. “The Earth being stolen and Daleks everywhere, that is approaching territory that can’t just be swept under the rug anymore. This will be remembered, even though it will still take years for the general populace to accept the existence of aliens.”

“And you just knew the exact date of this?” Martha asked sceptically.

“Let it go, Martha.” To Jack’s great surprise it was Owen who stepped in. “Jack knows a lot about this time specifically, and he never told us why. If even Ianto hasn’t gotten him to talk, you won’t accomplish that either.”

“Grounding the Valiant saved the ship,” Jack said. “The Daleks would have destroyed it, and there would have been no way to defend it. I made sure Clement would report critical damage to the engines as the reason for grounding the Valiant so that the Dalek wouldn’t view it as any kind of threat. I feared otherwise they would still come to destroy it. It was the only thing I could do, really. No one tends to believe me when I try to warn them.”

Martha frowned.

“Think about what you heard about Torchwood while you worked for UNIT,” Ianto said. “They don’t like us very much. They don’t think there is much use for us. And they mistrust Jack more than anything.”

Martha dragged her hands through her hair. “You are right. I’m sorry, Jack, that wasn’t … I don’t know…”

“You lost friends today because I didn’t outright warn UNIT,” Jack said quietly. “I can understand your anger. I’m angry about it as well, but I have had a long time to learn who I’m able to protect and who I can’t. I hope with Clement rising in the ranks I’ll get more recognition from UNIT.”

“I don’t know if I want to stay there,” Martha muttered. “And it’s not because of the things that happened today with UNIT. It’s not what I thought it would be after what I had heard from Clement about it.”

“You’ll always have a place here,” Jack said. “Although, there isn’t much work here for another doctor if you wanted to concentrate on that. We are looking for someone who can share the medical responsibilities with Owen, but most of your work would concentrate on other things. I know we could use your help in any kind of situation. – Or maybe you can think about returning to work at a hospital.”

Martha sighed. “I thought I would be bored in a job like that after all the things I saw after travelling with the Doctor.”

“Sometimes boredom is a good thing,” Mickey said. “Believe me, I know what I’m talking about.”

Jack watched him with raised brows. “You saying you don’t want the job I offered you earlier?”

“No chance to get rid of me, Captain Cheesecake!” Mickey laughed.

“Good,” Jack nodded. “We can set you up with a flat and a new identity, because as far as I know you have been declared dead and I don’t think it would be a good idea to resurrect you.”

Mickey shrugged. “As long as I can keep my given name.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem,” Toshiko said. “We can sit down tomorrow and work on your new background.”

“Let’s go somewhere and celebrate that we survived the day,” Karen suggested. “We have all been up for a long time, we have earned an early evening with good food.”

***

The weeks after Earth had been stolen by the Daleks were just as chaotic as Jack remembered, but it was a lot easier to manage this time. Large parts of UNIT had been destroyed by the Daleks, and most of the organisation would need to be built up again. Jack learned a lot more about the details of that than last time because of Clement’s position. Martha had decided to return to UNIT for the time being, but she didn’t plan to stay for more than a couple of months and the worst of the chaos was taken care of.

Cardiff rallied together, and life returned to normal in the city much faster than everywhere else on the planet. Everyone here was used to crazy things happening, and they knew how to deal with it. Jack watched the proceedings with a lot of pride and satisfaction. He had put the idea to build a tight network between all emergency services in the city in the right ears a long time ago to prepare for the Miracle, and it was good to see the network working.

It wasn’t just in Cardiff where he saw his work finally bear fruit. Angelo and he had worked hard on building up networks of organisations that would step up in a situation of a great emergency to prepare for the chaos after the Miracle. They did what they had been designed for in all the places that Jack and Angelo had managed to find a foothold. It was not perfect, nor as far-reaching as Jack had hoped it would be by this point in time, but Matteo and Olivia spent most of their time in the following months analysing where and why their network failed to support the general populace. There was still time to strengthen those structures.

The inclusion of Mickey in their team was not as hard as Jack had anticipated, but that was mostly because he won the team over with the stories he had heard from Rose about Jack’s time with her and the Doctor. It was something Jack barely spoke about, but evidently his team was very interested in that part of his life. The experience Mickey brought with him from the Torchwood of the other dimension was priceless as well, and they all would be able to learn a lot from him.

“How much time exactly has gone by for you?” Mickey asked a month after he had come to Cardiff. They were in the armoury, disabling a pile of weapons the Rift had sent their way earlier in the week. Mickey had turned out to be an expert on all kinds of weapons, even those not yet known to Earth.

“I spent a year in the time the Doctor and Rose abandoned me in,” Jack said. “When I came here, I ended up in 1869, and my transport burned out. For the most part, that’s not a very fun time to be stranded in.”

“But your … what did you call it, Vortex Manipulator is working again. And the Doctor doesn’t seem to be very happy about that.”

Jack shrugged. “He thinks I shouldn’t be able to travel through time with what I am. I disagree. Thank you for helping me hide it from him.”

“You knew I would stay before I had even made the decision.” Mickey looked at him with a cocked head. “That’s more than you knowing something about a big historical event.”

Jack stoically looked down at the gun he was taking apart. “I don’t know what you are talking about.”

“You gave it to me before you knew I would leave the TARDIS with you and Martha,” Mickey said. “It would have been safer to give it to her.”

“No,” Jack shook his head. “I couldn’t be sure she wouldn’t have given it to the Doctor if he asked her, or if she had heard him asking me about it. She trusts him a lot more than I do, but I knew you wouldn’t trust him.”

“But you trusted me with it? After we only met that one time?”

“I heard about your role in London. I saw how you held your ground up on the ship with the Daleks.” Jack looked up at him. “I knew very well that you weren’t the boy I had met so long ago here in Cardiff anymore. I trusted you more than anyone else on board the TARDIS. I barely know Sarah Jane, and I know she doesn’t trust me. She is biased against Torchwood for her own reasons, and she isn’t even wrong in that mistrust. This organisation has a very dark past, and she knows a lot about it. I trust Martha, and she is a good friend, but she idolizes the Doctor.”

“And what would you have done if I had gone back to the other dimension with Rose and Jackie?”

Jack laughed. “No, I can’t imagine you would have ever made that choice. You stayed there to get away from Rose and your obsession with her, didn’t you? And now she is stuck there herself. I saw how you looked at her. You haven’t been able to let go of that love yet, but you want to. And I know it’s the right decision for you. I knew the Doctor would bring her back and use the opportunity to get rid of his clone because he really couldn’t stand to look at him. I know he had a harder time looking at his clone than at me, and that’s quite the feat nowadays.”

“Why?” Mickey asked with a frown. “When I met all of you here in Cardiff, he liked you a great deal.”

“He told me I’m an impossible thing, and that it would physically hurt to look at me.” Jack shrugged. “Time Lords have different perception of reality and time than we do. I don’t know what a fixed point in time looks like for him, and apparently, I am one. – But maybe his problem with me is a completely different one. Who knows?”

“Rose didn’t know that you are immortal. She thought for the longest time you had died on the space station. When the Doctor sent her back here, before we managed to break open the TARDIS she told me you had gone to buy them time and had been killed.”

“I’m not surprised. When I said goodbye to her, I knew exactly I was going to my death, and she must have known that as well, even though she was denying it. The Doctor was expecting to die himself, that’s why he sent her back. And I can’t imagine that she remembers anything of what happened after she returned.”

Mickey shook his head. “No, she didn’t remember any of it.”

“She saw me die on the Daleks’ ship,” Jack muttered. “She didn’t ask me about it, and I hope she won’t ask the Doctor’s clone about it. She doesn’t need to have that on her conscience. She may have made me into what I am, but she had no control over it.”

“You’ll never stay dead?” Mickey asked.

“Not as far as the Doctor could tell,” Jack sighed. “And I have died in a lot of different ways. If there was something that could kill me permanently, I’m sure the Master would have found it. I think he saw that as a personal challenge.”

“That was the crazy Time Lord who nearly destroyed Earth a year or so ago, right?”

Jack snorted. “I’m not sure ‘crazy’ was something unique to him. Most of the time I’m not so sure the Doctor is sane, and I already thought that when I was still very infatuated with him.”

Mickey laughed. “Point.”

“How are you settling in?” Jack asked.

“Everything is good. Tosh’s a wonder, you know. I wouldn’t have thought it would be so easy to set up a new identity for me, or that it would be so little work. I’m impressed with what you have built here. I had heard about you while I was in London working undercover in Torchwood Tower, but none of that was very good. And I really hadn’t connected any of it with you personally.”

“Yvonne Hartman hated me and would have loved to study me,” Jack said. “She tried to paint a very specific picture of me in the hope she would find allies in her pursuit to incarcerate me again. I can’t say that I’m sad she is dead.”

“I never met her in person. But I knew she had ignored several warnings about her experiments, and that alone made me very … unsympathetic to her.” Mickey shook his head. “What I meant to say was, that I really didn’t know what to think about your offer in the beginning. For all I knew the team here in Cardiff was a ragtag group of barely competent people who were more of a danger to the city than any alien getting stranded here.”

Jack laughed. “Really? It was that bad?”

Mickey shrugged. “Maybe I was just in a position to only hear the really bad stories. – But I’m glad you offered me a place here, although I still can’t believe I’m working for you of all people! I really had no idea what I would do when I decided to stay here. I just knew I couldn’t go back with Rose. I tried to distance myself from her, but that just didn’t work while we were on the same planet.”

“If you ever want to do something else, just tell me. I’m glad to have you here, you are a good addition to the team, but that doesn’t mean you are bound here.”

“As much as I hated the Doctor for the uproar he brought into my life, he also led me to a point where I finally understood what kind of life I want to lead. I won’t leave for more than a vacation.” Mickey paused in his work to look at him. “Why are you still here? I would have expected you to leave this planet and this time as soon as you were able to. Especially after what I learned about your history with Torchwood.”

Jack frowned. “What did you learn? And where?”

“I went down to the archives. There is a whole bunch of files about what they did to you over time. Ianto tried to hide them, they aren’t part of the digital database, but for some reason they are still there.”

“I told him not to destroy them when he first found them,” Jack sighed. “Who knows, maybe someday it will come in handy to know the things that were discovered about me in those experiments. And my memories about a lot of it are hazy.”

“So, why did you stay here?”

“I believe I was able to turn Torchwood into something better, especially since One fell.” Jack avoided Mickey’s gaze. “And there is something … I still need to take care of. And now I have found a family here. I wouldn’t want to abandon any of the team, so I’ll stay even after that is dealt with.”

“Are you using your wrist strap to get a glimpse of the future every now and then?” Mickey asked. “Because I really want to know how you knew I would stay here.”

Jack laughed. “No, that wouldn’t work. And I told you already how I knew.”

Mickey shook his head. “I don’t believe a word of it. But fine, keep your secrets. Will you at least tell us what it is you need to deal with?”

Jack sighed deeply. “Yes. I’ll tell the team soon. We’ll all need to be prepared for it.”

The days in which the 456 had returned in his other life were fast approaching, and Jack had decided many months ago that he would tell Ianto everything he had done after those days had passed if Ianto was still with him then. The 456 should not return, and if they did Jack was prepared to kill their delegation again before they could even start to communicate with anyone on Earth. But that didn’t mean there was not another catastrophe waiting for them then.

He did not want to keep so many secrets anymore from Ianto, and it had become harder to do so in the last weeks and months. He suspected he had let slip more than he was even aware of already, but Ianto had become something like his port in a storm. Jack could rely on him, and he had learned to accept that kind of help since he had reset time. He wanted to show Ianto that he returned the trust that was shown to him, and it had become hard to wait for the moment he had set for himself.

As soon as Ianto knew everything, it would be easier to decide how much he could tell the rest of the team. Jack didn’t plan to tell them everything, but he would need to tell them a lot to prepare them for the Miracle. He would need to tell them about his first encounter with the Three Families and about everything he, Angelo and now Olivia had done to prepare for the Miracle and especially the aftermath.

“It’s a right mess that’s waiting for us,” Jack continued. “But I’m sure the destruction the Cybermen had to have brought to the world you spent the last years in will have prepared you for the chaos coming our way. That’s another reason I’m glad you are here and working with us.”

“Another end of the world situation?”

“Yes. Something brought to us by a bunch of power-hungry humans who want to create a new world order. It will be a change to the threats brought to us by aliens.”

Mickey huffed. “Don’t tell me someone here is trying and succeeding in recreating the damn Cybermen!”

“No, nothing like that,” Jack assured him. “I’ve made very sure that something like that won’t happen. Tosh has written a program that monitors any kind of activity pointing at someone even just contemplating that idea. The internet has made it easy to monitor for such things. – I’m not ready to tell you yet, but it will be soon. We won’t go into that situation unprepared; I just have to wait for something else before I can tell you.”

Chapter 21

Ianto knew that something was up with Jack, and he was worried about it.

Last evening Jack had told him that they would spend the next two days on a little holiday. They had used Jack’s wrist strap a couple of times to go back in time and enjoy a little bit of free time, but always in a different place, and always a place Ianto at one time or another mentioned he would like to see. In the beginning, he had not even noticed it, but it was a very typical thing for Jack to do.

This time was the first time that they had not gone back in time so that they would be back in the Hub only hours after they had left. Ianto had been surprised when Jack had insisted on them staying in this time.

Jack had been anxious for days now, and Ianto had no idea what was up with him. Three days ago, Jack had started to roam through the city, always accompanied by one or two of them, and he had clearly been searching for something, but he had not told them what he was looking for. He had gradually relaxed after nothing had happened, but at the same time, he had started to cling to Ianto more and more. Ianto suspected that Jack was expecting something bad to happen, he had just no idea what that could be.

Ianto had not protested Jack’s plans for a short retreat. Even with using his Vortex Manipulator, it was not always easy to convince Jack that he could allow himself a little time to relax, and with Jack’s current agitation, a break was something he especially needed. They had ended up in a house near a small Italian village, for once a place Jack had chosen without his input. Ianto had a suspicion about this place, but he had not asked, lest he agitate Jack even more.

The house sat on top of a cliff and had a small garden and a patio with a fantastic view over the ocean. They had arrived late in the evening and had spent most of the night having careful and slow sex. More than once Ianto had thought Jack was trying to spend as much time as possible with him, as if he feared it would be the last night they would spend together. Ianto had dismissed those thoughts, mostly because he had no interest in contemplating such a thing.

They had started the day very late, so it was already lunchtime by the time they sat on the patio and enjoyed the breakfast Jack had prepared for them. Ianto waited patiently, but Jack kept their conversation far away from everything that had to do with their work, but once their food was gone, he decided once more to try to get an answer from Jack.

“Will you tell me what you were expecting to happen in the last couple of days?”

Jack leaned back, staring at him for a long moment. “I promised you I’d answer your question someday a while ago.”

“I remember,” Ianto nodded.

Jack frowned. After nearly a minute of silence, he sighed. “I’ve thought about this moment for so long, and now I have no idea where to even start.”

“Maybe with the question I just asked,” Ianto suggested. “You were… You expected something to happen, right?”

“Yes,” Jack swallowed. “Let’s start with the hardest part of all, why not. – I feared that an alien species that had visited Earth a little over forty years ago would return. Back then, they asked for twelve children, this time they would have asked for ten per cent of all children on the planet. I wasn’t exactly expecting them. I killed them in ‘65, but I still wasn’t sure if it was all of them or only the delegation they had sent here.”

Ianto blinked. He had no idea what Jack was talking about. “Why should they have come back? And why now?”

Jack sighed and wrapped his arms around himself. “Last time they came back, and it was utter chaos. The powers that be tried to destroy me and what was left of our team with me so that I couldn’t tell anyone those aliens had already been here once. It made it nearly impossible for us to act at all, but I was still … I was arrogant and made a couple of the biggest mistakes I have ever made.”

“Last time?” Ianto frowned. He turned to Jack so that he was facing him head-on in the hope to overcome the distance Jack was clearly trying to put between them. “You went back and changed this? After all the lectures you have given me and the others repeatedly about the dangers of such a thing. What would drive you to do that?”

Jack closed his eyes. “You died.” His voice was so faint that Ianto could barely hear the words. “You died because of my own carelessness. And a day later … a child … my grandson … I had to sacrifice him to save millions of other children. I really didn’t care about the consequences when I went back to destroy them before they could take even the first child.”

Ianto took a deep breath, his mind racing with the information Jack had just given him. Jack had told him that he didn’t have children, and therefore he couldn’t have any grandchildren. But if he had gone back far enough to change this, he could have also used the chance to prevent himself from becoming a father at all, although Ianto had no idea why he should have done that.

“So, you went back to the moment these aliens came here for the first time?” Ianto asked.

“Yes,” Jack nodded. “All the way back to the moment they took the first eleven children, abandoning a twelfth and damaging him for life in the process. – Really, it should have destroyed everything. It should have created a paradox big enough to destroy all of reality, but at that time I couldn’t care about any of it. I have still no idea why it didn’t destroy everything!”

“Oh, I would say it did destroy quite a lot. You destroyed your old timeline quite thoroughly.”

Ianto was on his feet in an instance, silently cursing himself that they had no weapons with them, but Jack only turned his head to the man stepping around the table from behind them. He was tall, wearing a tweed jacket over a dress shirt with a bow tie, and he was watching Jack with so much sorrow in his eyes that for a moment it took Ianto’s breath away.

“Doctor,” Jack said with a flat voice.

“May I sit down?” the Doctor asked.

“What do you want from us?” Ianto asked, watching him suspiciously. Jack had told him that Time Lords could regenerate when they were near death, taking on a new face and even a new personality, but that only made Ianto mistrust the stranger in front of them even more.

The Doctor sighed, but he also showed a small smile. “I’m not here to cause trouble, Mr. Jones.”

“Excuse me if I don’t trust your word on that,” Ianto said darkly.

Jack grabbed Ianto’s hand and pulled him back down onto the bench. “Sit down, Doctor, and feel free to help yourself to what’s left of our brunch. How did we earn a visit from you?”

“I came to caution you, but maybe it’s as important to talk about what you already did.” The Doctor pushed the apple slices in front of him away after he had sat down, and pulled the plate with the grapes to his side of the table. “Although, I’m not here to lecture you about it in any way.”

Jack huffed. “You aren’t?”

The Doctor looked at Ianto and shook his head. “I know the kind of grief and desperation that drove you. And with what you are … You are probably the only being in all of the time capable of changing their own timeline without all of reality falling apart, though you did destroy your old timeline in the process. – I’m sorry for the way my last regeneration treated you. He didn’t know how to look at you without feeling overwhelming guilt, and he had no idea how to handle that.”

Ianto scoffed. “You talk as if you are two different people.”

“In a way that’s what we are. And at the same time, we aren’t.” The Doctor shrugged. “I feel the same guilt about Jack’s situation, but it’s not as … burning anymore.”

Jack shook his head. “Why should you feel guilty?”

“Because I know what a burden your existence is from my own experience. At least I will die eventually, but I don’t have any idea if that will happen for you even when the universe ceases to exist. And I’m responsible for what happened to you.” The Doctor shrugged and threw two grapes into his mouth. “I had decades – centuries, really, to come to terms with it. It’s been a long time for me since we last saw each other.”

“Why weren’t there any consequences for what I did?” Jack asked.

The Doctor laughed. “Wouldn’t you say the destruction of your old timeline is a consequence of what you did? The only reason it’s not more noticeable is that you decided to stay and live your life again as you had the first time, only changing those things you deemed worth changing.”

Jack snorted. “That’s not exactly true. There are a lot of things I tried to change that I couldn’t.”

Ianto was still only able to follow a small part of the conversation. He had still no idea what exactly had happened to Jack after he had gone back, but the bitterness Jack was showing right now was something Ianto was very familiar with. The first time he had seen this reaction in Jack was after Suzie had killed herself, and it had often appeared in situations where Ianto had wondered why Jack would ever get the idea that he could have changed anything.

“The number of things you were able to change is much greater than the number of things that happened despite your efforts.” The Doctor smiled softly. “Some of that would be because Time was working against you, making sure certain things, certain people were at the places they needed to be in. But you also made decisions based on keeping certain events intact, didn’t you? You limited yourself in what you could do and what you could achieve with that. – Though, I have to say I’m thankful you did your hardest not to disturb my timeline. I’m not sure if even you would have had a stabilizing effect large enough to prevent the catastrophe such a thing could lead to.”

Jack turned his head away, and his fingers squeezed Ianto’s hand hard enough to hurt. “The one time I tried to change even a small thing about something only happening in the vicinity of your presence here on Earth, I failed utterly.”

Ianto sucked in a breath, because the only thing Jack could be talking about was his attempt to get him and Lisa out of London before One had fallen. Jack had told him long ago how hard he had tried to get them out of there without drawing too much attention from Yvonne Hartman, but Ianto had wondered for a long time why Jack had even been interested in saving them.

Again, the Doctor looked at Ianto as if he knew more than Ianto was aware of. “Maybe what you tried to prevent had more to do with my own timeline than you know.”

Jack shook his head. “What?”

“I don’t think you remember it, Mr. Jones, but we met briefly in Torchwood Tower after the invasion had already started. You probably weren’t aware of it, but you cleared the way for me in a tight spot.”

Ianto shook his head. “I don’t remember that at all.”

The Doctor inclined his head. “I’m not even sure you saw me, to be honest. You were with a group of others, a woman and two men. You broke open a door, coming up the staircase. I used that door to get to the stairs while your group went down the other side of the corridor.”

Ianto shuddered and closed his eyes. He remembered that very vividly, because they had run into a group of Cybermen around the next corner, and Ianto had been the only one to survive that encounter intact out of sheer dumb luck. The other two men had died in the conversion machine they had been led to, and Ianto had only been able to take out the one Cyberman overseeing the process after it had already been too late for Lisa.

“Why do you know what has changed for Jack and what didn’t?” Ianto asked, unwilling to talk about anything concerning that day with the Doctor. “You didn’t know anything about it the last time we saw you.”

“I’m able to see time … I don’t think there is any way I could describe exactly what I’m seeing to you in a way that you would be able to even imagine this kind of perception. I see the shadow of Jack’s old timeline. I can see the differences.” The Doctor looked at Jack with a smile. “And those are much bigger than you think.” He turned his gaze back to Ianto. “As I said, my last regeneration was so driven by his guilt that he barely looked at Jack at all. And in retrospect, I’m glad about that, because my old self would have been unable to understand Jack’s actions, and I believe he would have reacted quite poorly.”

Ianto pursed his lips. “I still don’t understand what happened to Jack. Or why the paradox he was expecting wasn’t created.”

“Jack is a fixed point in time and space,” the Doctor said. “As the name says, those points are normally fixed at a certain place and a certain point in time to happen regardless of what is changed around them. One can try to change something about them, but time will always correct the events in such a way that the outcome will be the same. But Jack exists everywhere and at every point in time. He is a mystery, contradicting every single theory about time.”

The Doctor sighed, rolling a grape between his fingers and staring at a point somewhere behind Jack and Ianto. “As I said, a fixed point stabilizes the timeline at one certain moment to such a degree that the timeline can’t be changed at that point. Jack changed a very defining moment in his own timeline, effectively changing everything for him that happened … or should have happened … after that moment. For everyone else, that would have created a paradox, and as there would have been no way to fix the situation and solve the paradox, it should have destroyed Jack and his timeline, and with him everything that was connected to his timeline. But because he is a fixed point, time worked to bring him back on his path instead.”

“So, it erased my old timeline and dumped me back in my old body as it had been in the moment I changed,” Jack muttered.

“Not precisely,” The Doctor’s gaze focused back on Jack. “That would mean everything you had with you would have gone back to the state it had originally been in in that moment.”

Jack wrapped his fingers around his wrist strap without saying anything.

The Doctor nodded. “Your new self replaced your old self at that moment. That’s also the reason why I can still see the shadows of your old timeline.”

“The Master couldn’t see it,” Jack said.

“I don’t know. I think it was more that he didn’t understand what he was seeing. You are very … Every fixed point is confusing to look at, and you aren’t any different in that regard. Time is fluent, its flow is always changing. I look at Mr. Jones and see all the possible ways his life could go depending on what decisions he will make throughout all of his life. I could concentrate on a single strand and explore it without much work, but that can become confusing very fast. I look at you and … time is static in a very…” He shook his head. “I have no words to describe it. It’s very hard work to concentrate on a single possible future for you because everything seems to lead back to the same events, while at the same time your future is as fluent as that of Mr. Jones. The shadow of your old timeline nearly vanishes under everything else. It’s a little bit easier to find if I look into your past, but I think that’s because I knew you before you became a fixed point.”

Ianto frowned. “How can Jack’s future be fluent and static at the same time?”

The Doctor laughed. “That’s exactly the question! It shouldn’t be possible, but Jack’s existence proves that it is possible. As much as I regret the extinction of my race, for Jack’s sake I’m glad that the rest of my people will never meet him. They would want to study him, and that wouldn’t be very pleasant.”

“Time Lords aren’t so different from humans then,” Ianto muttered darkly.

“It’s probably something all races trying to find answers for the big questions of our existence have in common,” Jack said. “I’ll meet others who’ll want to study me, I’ve no doubt about that.”

“Yes, probably,” the Doctor sighed.

“Would the same thing happen if I changed something in my own timeline again?” Jack asked.

“I would ask you not to do it, but for all I know it will always be like this, yes.” The Doctor looked at him with a deep frown. “Time can be rewritten, but don’t ever forget that you can’t know if you’ll change things for the better. You had a great deal of luck this time around, but I think you are aware of that, aren’t you?”

“I had a lot of nightmares about what would happen should the Master pluck the conclusion of your plan right out of my head,” Jack whispered. “It got easier after I learned that my memories seem to be protected from that kind of invasion after an encounter with an Arcateenian.”

“And that’s by far not the only thing that could have been changed for the worse,” the Doctor said. “I’m aware that I’m not able to order you not to do it again, but I ask you to be very careful with it. And doing it while you are as emotionally compromised as you were this first time will only make it more dangerous.”

Jack sighed. “Yes, I know. – I shouldn’t have done it, but I’ll still never regret it.”

“No,” The Doctor smiled. “I can’t imagine how you would ever be able to regret it. I see the man you were before, and I’m very glad for the change it brought for you. And glad for the change it will still bring.” The smile vanished. “Though the events you have tried so hard to prevent that still lay in front of you can’t be prevented, and neither will you be able to change much about it.”

Ianto looked at Jack, who had paled and whispered, “Are you sure?”

The Doctor nodded. “Do you remember what humanity thought about immortality in the time you were born?”

Jack scoffed. “I have come to understand their opinion about it much more since I’m unable to stay dead. It’s still startling to see most of the people of this time talking about it like a dream, like something they should seek.”

“It’s the Miracle that will bring about this fundamental change,” the Doctor said. “The events itself will be lost to time very quickly, but the memory of the horror it will bring will become part of the racial memory of humans. The Miracle as a whole is a fixed point, one of the broadest fixed points ever to exist. You can’t stop it earlier than last time, you can’t stop it in any other way than you did the first time around. The only thing you can change is to decide who will be the other person in Buenos Aires.”

“No!” Jack shook his head.

“It won’t work if the blood isn’t coming out of a living, breathing body,” the Doctor said.

Ianto shuddered. “What the bloody hell are you talking about?”

“Jack can explain that to you later,” The Doctor did not even look at him, staring at Jack intently. “There will be a second person coming out of the Miracle who’ll be like you. It won’t be a fluke for them to come back to life, it won’t be a temporary thing. One reason why it is so hard to look at your time stream right now is that you were never meant to be alone. – This time, you’ll know what will happen. You’ll be able to choose the person who’ll become like you.”

Ianto sat up straight. “There is a possibility for someone to become like Jack?”

The Doctor turned his head to look at him. “Is that something you would wish for yourself?”

“To have someone he won’t ever lose is something I wish for Jack,” Ianto said. “If that means sharing his curse, it’s something I would gladly endure.”

Jack grabbed his shoulder. “Ianto…”

The Doctor nodded with a faint smile. “You still have two years to convince him that you won’t start to hate him for it later. Or to help him search for someone else if you change your mind.”

“It can’t be the only way!” Jack protested. “They started the whole Miracle by feeding the Blessing with blood they had stolen from me long ago. … Do you know how they got enough of it to even start it? What they took in ‘28 can’t have survived until today. And it can’t have been enough.”

“There are hours in the last years, decades, that you don’t remember, aren’t there?” The Doctor shook his head with a sigh. “As you said, they stole your blood. Sometimes a member of Torchwood helped them, sometimes they managed to abduct you on their own. They never kept you for long, they always were only interested in your blood. They didn’t think they would be able to hold you hostage for long, so they gave you drugs so that you would forget your encounters with them.”

“Fuck!” Jack leaned forward and rubbed his hands over his face. Ianto put his hands on his shoulders in an attempt to provide some kind of comfort, but he was shuddering in cold horror himself.

“They have five places where they are storing a lot of your blood,” the Doctor said. “One of those locations will be destroyed by someone else. Your team needs to take care of the rest. After the Miracle. And you should try to destroy the organisation responsible for it as thoroughly as possible. You’ll have months during the Miracle to root them out. They’ll step out of the shadows during that time, and that will make it a lot easier to find them all. Don’t give them a chance to regroup after the Miracle.”

“Will they come after my team again?” Jack asked. “They tried to kill Gwen, Rhys, and Anwen last time. And that was after Torchwood had already been disbanded for more than a year at that point.”

The Doctor sighed. “I have no idea. I don’t dare get sucked into these events. It’s dangerous to disrupt a fixed point, and this one has such far-reaching consequences…” He shook his head. “Be prepared for them to attack you again. They will try to kill you, of that I’m sure. Because they know you are the only one capable of ending the Miracle, and all their plans revolve around making it permanent. That can’t happen. You have to stop it, whatever the cost may be.”

Jack nodded. “Yes, I know.”

Ianto shuddered, but he refrained from asking again what they were talking about until after the Doctor was gone.

“So, you came here to warn me about the restrictions for what I could achieve during the Miracle?” Jack asked sceptically.

The Doctor smiled. “I came here to ensure that you would choose wisely whom you’ll share the rest of your eternity with.” He winked at Ianto. “Or maybe to make sure others would know that you need to make this decision and help you with it. – Maybe you shouldn’t be the one to make this decision at all, Jack, but let your friends make this decision.”

Ianto grabbed Jack’s hand and laced their fingers together. “I’ll keep it in mind and will remind him as well,” he said before Jack could even open his mouth.

He understood Jack’s reluctance, and he expected him to argue the point a lot, but as he understood it, someone had to take this step, and Ianto would make sure it would be someone who Jack could be happy with for a very long time. Ianto would do it himself in a heartbeat, but despite the relationship they had been able to build over the last year, he was not sure if he would be the best choice for Jack, and that would be the deciding factor over everything else.

The Doctor grinned. “As my job is done here, I’ll leave you to your little romantic holiday again!”

“Could you answer two … no, three more questions for me before you go?” Jack asked as their uninvited guest stood.

The Doctor hesitated before he nodded. “Of course.”

“There is something I have been wondering about for some time now. Something I wasn’t sure how to change or prevent, but it never happened.” Jack sighed. “Do you know of a creature hidden … imprisoned under the Rift in Cardiff?”

The Doctor stared at him with a frown. “I’ve heard rumours.”

“We were tricked into freeing it in my other timeline,” Jack continued. “My team was tricked into opening the Rift after Tosh and I had been sent back to 1941. When it didn’t happen this time, I tried to find the man who had orchestrated it all, and I found a picture that was taken in my other timeline. Tosh and I never went back in time, but there still exists a picture of us that was taken in 1941.”

“And what was your conclusion after you found it?” the Doctor asked.

Jack shrugged. “I’ve no idea, that’s why I’m asking you. I destroyed Abaddon by overfeeding it with my lifeforce in my other life. Can you tell me if it is still there? Is there still a possibility of this monster getting loose if something happened with the Rift?”

“I’ve no idea.” The Doctor shook his head. “You are operating in unprecedented circumstances. I assume you suspect the reason some of those events weren’t undone with everything else when you reset time was because some of it happened in a time you didn’t touch. And that’s possible. But I couldn’t tell you without a doubt if it’s true or not. I guess the only way to find out would be to open the Rift.”

“That’s not happening!” Jack muttered, eyeing the Doctor with a deep frown.

The Doctor sighed. “I’m sorry I couldn’t help you with this. But you had other questions?”

Jack pursed his lips, clearly unhappy, but after a moment he nodded. “Did I kill them all, or only those who came here to take the children?”

The Doctor shoved his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels. “You got them all,” he answered quietly. “Their mental connection wasn’t limited by space, and they weren’t able to shut it down. Your attack killed every single one of their race.”

“Good,” Jack said darkly.

The Doctor frowned. “Is that really what you think about committing genocide?”

“You know what they did with the children?” Jack asked.

“Yes.” The Doctor closed his eyes.

“120 million.”

The Doctor sighed and opened his eyes again, but he said nothing.

“There are roughly 1.2 billion children living on Earth right now. Ten per cent of that is 120 million. And that’s the number they asked for when they came back last time. We can’t know if they did the same thing to other races in the past, but I think they knew exactly what they were asking for in 1965. Those twelve children were a test run, to see if we would give them up, and to see if our children could be useful for them. I won’t lose a single second of sleep over killing them all.”

Ianto shuddered, and had to fight down the rising bile.

“I know,” the Doctor whispered. “And your other question?”

“Why didn’t you come to help with this situation?”

“I don’t know.” The Doctor sighed, shaking his head. “I have no memories of what happened to me in your lost timeline. And I can only see the shadows of your own life. – But I would think I didn’t know anything about it. I’m not some omniscient being, Jack. There are a lot of things I don’t know, things I’ll never learn about. I may pay a lot of attention to Earth, but I’ll never be able to know everything that’s happening here.”

Jack sighed deeply. “Okay, that’s … I can accept that.”

“But you knew about it now,” Ianto said with a frown. “You came here knowing what Jack had done. How?”

The Doctor cocked his head and started to grin. “Spoilers, as my wife would say.”

“You’re married?” Jack asked incredulously.

The Doctor laughed. “One day you’ll meet her. But now it’s really time that I take my leave.”

Chapter 22

They let the Doctor go without protest, and Ianto for his part was glad to see him go. He could have done without this visit at all, although he had probably gained information Jack would have never disclosed to him otherwise. For the moment, he was more confused than anything else, but they had still one and half days to discuss all the questions the discussion between Jack and the Doctor had brought up.

“What did these aliens do with the children?” Ianto asked because he felt still nauseous about the sheer number of children they had wanted to take. He wanted to get over this topic, but since it seemed to have been the reason for a very drastic step Jack had taken in his life, ignoring it was not an option.

“They used their hormones as a recreational drug,” Jack muttered. “At least that is what we inferred from the information they gave us. The communication wasn’t exactly easy, and it wasn’t us talking to them. … Apparently, they needed children at the edge of puberty to have any … use for them. And they were able to stop their ageing. They showed us one of the children they had taken. It was strapped to the alien that had come down here to lead the communication. I don’t know … the child was alive, but I really hope it wasn’t aware of anything that was happening around it.”

“Fuck,” Ianto pressed a fist against his mouth.

“Yes. The governments knew that, and they were still prepared to sacrifice the number of children the aliens had asked for.”

“What were they threatening to do if they didn’t get the children?” Ianto asked.

“They threatened us with a virus,” Jack shrugged. “Back in ‘65 they said it was already spreading and they would give us the right vaccine for it. This time around there was no vaccine and the flu that year wasn’t any worse than in any other year, so I suspect they were lying.”

Ianto nodded, not surprised by that at all. “How did I die?”

Jack tried to leave the bench, but Ianto grabbed his arm and drew him back until Jack sat back down with a huff. “They poisoned you. They poisoned everyone in Themes House to make a point after we told them we wouldn’t give them a single child. You died in my arms and … Our relationship wasn’t anywhere near what it is now. There are a lot of things I regretted.”

Ianto hummed, remembering some of the things Jack had said in the past that had never made much sense. He suspected Jack had told him much more about his other life than he was aware of right now, and he would need to take time and sort through all the things Jack had said that had confused him.

“It would have happened today?” Ianto laid a hand against Jack’s face and turned his head so that he would have no choice but to look at him. “That’s why you waited until today to tell me any of this. Because in your other life I died today.”

Jack nodded slowly. “Yes. I…” He swallowed. “I couldn’t be sure … I felt I needed to wait until I could be sure that you wouldn’t die today.”

Ianto remembered that Jack had said earlier only Gwen had still been alive when this Miracle – whatever that was – had happened, and he suddenly became aware that Jack had seen all of them die in the timeline he had destroyed. He wondered for a moment if Jack’s sheer panic about the possibility of one of them dying came from that experience, or if that had already been part of him back then and only been amplified by the events that he would probably have perceived as his own failure, but in the end it didn’t matter.

“I don’t plan to leave you alone any time soon,” Ianto said quietly. He leaned his forehead against Jack’s and cupped his neck with his hand. “I’m careful every single time I leave the Hub. I’m well aware that staying safe is more important than getting the alien of the week.”

The whole team was operating under that premise. It had never been a secret how hard it was for Jack to face the possibility of losing one of them, and none of them wanted to be responsible for putting Jack through that grief. Ianto had personally doubled down on those efforts since he was romantically involved with Jack, but they all knew how unpredictable their job could be.

“But I couldn’t be sure,” Jack muttered. He pulled Ianto into a tight hug. “I can’t even be sure now. Sometimes I managed to save someone, and it would only last for a couple of weeks or months. And this time … I started this whole insanity for you … to avenge you.”

“You said earlier that only Gwen was left of the team.”

Jack sighed. “Yes. It was only Gwen, Owen, Tosh, you and me back then, and you were the last one to die. We had already lost Owen and Tosh to Grey.”

Ianto frowned. “And Karen?”

“Was killed in ‘99.”

“If Karen is able to outlive her death in your other timeline for ten years, don’t you think the rest of us will be able to do that as well?” Ianto asked.

“I try to remind myself of that,” Jack muttered. “But on days like this, it’s hard to remember it.”

Ianto nodded silently. From what Jack had said to the Doctor, Ianto had to assume that there had been a lot of failed attempts to change certain events, although Jack and the Doctor seemed to have a very different perspective on how much had actually changed. Ianto’s thoughts kept circling back to Lisa and Suzie. With the knowledge that he had now, it was so obvious why Jack had acted like he had personally failed in those instances.

“Why did you decide to stay here on Earth?” Ianto asked. “The Doctor insinuated that you could have just left after resetting your timeline.”

“In the beginning because I didn’t want to risk changing the events that I was involved in concerning the Doctor. Then there is the Miracle coming, and all of that started because of me, so I felt obligated to stop it, or at least help Earth rebuild after it. And after a while … I started to hope I could give all of you a better life.”

“I think we have a pretty great life,” Ianto said.

Jack laughed slightly. “I’ve failed every single one of you in so many ways. – I made mistakes because I was selfish and wanted to have you back in my life.”

“I don’t see why you shouldn’t be selfish.” Ianto leaned back to look at Jack. “You are giving us so much. You are allowed to take things for yourself. What point is there in this whole second chance thing if you don’t use it for yourself as well? To be honest, I think using it for your own benefit should be your main concern.”

Jack frowned. “Even if that would have led to misery for others?”

“Could you ever be sure what trying to help someone else would lead to?” Ianto raised his eyebrows. “You could have easily made their situation worse. – I can only judge by what I have seen of you in the years since I came to Cardiff, but you are always overly concerned with everyone else, and never take care of yourself. I know that’s not always been the case, but after everything you’ve told me, I feel that was more Angelo’s influence than anything else.”

“I don’t know if I can follow your point.”

Ianto sighed. “The point I’m trying to make is, that you have sacrificed so much. I don’t know if that is because you feel guilty about the risk you took when you destroyed this alien race in ‘65, or if that was always part of you, but you need to learn to think of yourself more. – Feeling guilty for trying to make your own life better is bullshit. Especially as I don’t see how you have hurt anyone of us with it.”

“Don’t you ever wonder what your life could have been like if you hadn’t been dragged into the business of Torchwood?” Jack asked. “Or what Tosh’s life could have been, what she could have accomplished with her mind if she weren’t stuck working with us? Or if Owen would have rediscovered the passion he had for healing people that drove him before Katie became ill?”

“No,” Ianto shrugged. “Maybe Owen would have lost himself completely in his grief if you hadn’t been there for him. Maybe someone would have succeeded in extorting Tosh’s talents by threatening her family. I had pretty much no idea where I wanted to go with my life before One recruited me. And I wasn’t very ambitious while I worked for One. That’s where the Cybermen and later the Year shaped me the most, that let me find myself, as hard as those experiences were.”

Jack stared at him, and Ianto could see in his frown and the turn of his mouth how troubled he still was.

“You thought I would resent you for the decisions you made over the last forty-something years?” Ianto asked.

Jack nodded slowly.

Ianto cocked his head with a frown. “You wouldn’t have needed to tell me anything. You could have kept everything you did a secret.”

“No, I couldn’t have,” Jack sighed and turned his head away. After a moment he left the bench, walking to the stone balustrade surrounding the garden at the edge of the cliff.

Ianto watched Jack for a while as he braced his hands on the light sandstone and stared out over the ocean. He was glad that Jack had decided to confide in him because it enabled him to understand a lot more about the man he had so surprisingly and madly fallen in love with, but it was still galling that for some reason Jack had felt compelled to tell him despite his fear of rejection. Ianto had yet to decide if the fear or the compulsion was the more aggravating aspect of the situation.

“I don’t want that kind of secret between us,” Jack said finally, without turning to him. “I wasn’t able to tell you before today because I couldn’t burden you with the knowledge of a possible date for your death. To have this day approach was already unbearable enough.”

Ianto shook his head but decided against interrupting Jack. He didn’t think it would have been any burden for him personally, but he could see why Jack would project his own emotions about it on him. There was no point in questioning or protesting Jack’s decisions in that regard, and he was not even sure he would have the right to do so.

“When I was at this point the last time, I was still caught up in the conviction that it was better to keep my distance,” Jack continued. “I tried to avoid any kind of commitment because I thought that it would spare me the pain of eventually losing the friend or lover. Our relationship wasn’t … It had started out as comfort sex, but I fell hard for you, and I was stuck between trying to have you and keeping my distance. It wasn’t a good or fulfilling relationship for either of us, and in retrospect I wonder why you even put up with me.”

Ianto frowned, remembering a conversation in which Jack had told him he once would have had no problem with using Ianto’s grief over Lisa to seduce him. He had not believed a word of that, but now he understood that Jack wasn’t talking about hypothetical events, but about a memory of his other timeline. But Ianto had to wonder how much those memories were tainted by Jack’s self-loathing.

“I didn’t plan on a relationship with you,” Jack lowered his head. “Not even after I had failed to save Lisa for you. I hadn’t brought you anything but grief the first time around, had led you to your death.” He took a deep breath. “Of course, I knew I would probably fall in love with you again, Lucia and Angelo had clearly shown me that pattern. But I was determined to only be a friend to you, to not drag you back into my…”

“Do you make a habit out of comparing your relationships with any of us with the ones you had with ourselves in the other timeline?”

Jack laughed, but it contained no sound of amusement at all. “No. I’m very careful not to do that. It was hardest with Tosh, but I think that’s because she was the first to come back into my life.”

“Good.” Ianto was more relieved than he had expected. He did not want to compete with the memory of the person he could have become, and from the few things he already knew, he could infer that he had to have been quite different. If Jack was prepared to talk about it, he would like to learn more about the man he had been in this other life, but now was not the time for that.

“I’m just doing it now to explain why … Our relationship is a very big thing I hadn’t planned for, but I value it all the more. I don’t want to spoil it by keeping secrets from you.” Jack finally turned to him, looking at him with a mixture of love and desperation on his face. “This experience has shaped me a great deal, probably more than I’m aware of myself. I don’t want to keep it from you. I want to talk about it with you when the mood strikes, or if something important comes up. But there are also a lot of things I did that I doubt myself about and I can’t stop wondering how you will react to those.”

Ianto suspected at the heart of those doubts – at least in respect to himself – lay Lisa’s death and Jack’s apparent guilt over it. He had no idea how he was feeling about any of this yet, but resentment would not be part of it. He would need to find a way to make Jack understand that.

Ianto stood up and slowly walked to Jack, stopping in front of him just out of arm’s reach. “I’m grateful for your trust, and I’ll be thankful for every memory of that other timeline you want to share with me. – I don’t know anything about the decision you made then, but I know very well what drove you this time around. There is not a single person our team who doesn’t admire you for the protection and dedication you have shown every single one of us. I won’t turn my back on you for something you did in another life, and if there would be something in this life that would warrant such a reaction, I would already know about it.”

Jack averted his gaze, but there was a small smile on his lips. “I really hope you won’t find something that will make you change your mind.”

Ianto took the last step separating them and braced his hands on the balustrade on both sides of Jack. “You just need to keep trusting me. I love you for the man you are today, and I’ve known for a long time that you have a far broader past than I’ll ever be able to understand. This doesn’t make a difference at all!”

Jack wrapped his arms around Ianto’s shoulders with a sigh. “Sometimes I wonder how I have earned so much trust from you.”

“You saved my life,” Ianto pressed a soft kiss against Jack’s lips. “You have done that for every single one of us, and apparently in a much more literal way than I thought before today. You are a good man, and someday I’ll find a way to convince you of that as well.”

***

Jack was wide awake long before the sun had risen, and he spent most of the morning watching Ianto sleep. He had nearly convinced himself that he would lose Ianto regardless of what he did to prevent his death – he had half expected Ianto would just drop dead in the same moment he had died in his last life. To see Ianto still breathing, to feel his strong heartbeat under his fingers was something like a wonder.

Telling Ianto about his other life had taken a completely different turn than Jack had expected, and the unannounced visit from the Doctor had only been a small part of that. He had not planned to let his own insecurities take over so much of the early conversation, but he had not been able to help himself. A lot of it had eaten away at him for far too long, and so it had just broken out of him.

Jack suspected he would spend a lot of time in the near future answering all of Ianto’s questions about his other life and the changes he had brought about this time. Ianto had asked a lot about their team, but not so much about himself in that other life. Jack had no problem answering all of Ianto’s questions, and he felt a lot less anxious and agitated about it all now that the next day had come without any kind of catastrophe showing up.

Ianto turned to him with a sigh. “I had a thought shortly before I fell asleep,” he muttered without opening his eyes.

Jack smiled and combed his fingers through Ianto’s hair. “Yeah?”

“Is Clement one of the children you saved in ‘65?”

Jack snorted surprised. “Yes.” That was the last thing he had expected for Ianto to ask about. “How did you come to that conclusion?”

“Clement is an orphan and he is old enough to have been a pre-teen in ‘65. Did you keep in contact with those kids afterwards?”

“No. But … I anonymously donated enough money dedicated to those twelve that each of them could pursue the education they wanted. The first time around, Clement was the one they left behind, and he spent the rest of his life in a nursing home until they killed him when they came back. … It was the first decision I made after I understood that I had somehow reset time. I wasn’t very … I wasn’t in a good place mentally, but I looked at those kids when I drove them back and decided that all of them deserved the best life they could have, but their situation didn’t give them the best starting point for it.”

Ianto smiled, but he had still not opened his eyes. “So, you decided to give them the best start you could deliver.”

“Money was the only thing I could give them, but every single one of them used it well,” Jack muttered.

“Clement told us once about the scholarship his friends and he had gotten from an anonymous source. Does he know it came from you?”

Jack nodded. “He does. He learned about it when we met again. I wasn’t expecting him at all, but he already knew I was the same man he had met as a child thirty years prior. It was nice to hear from him how all of them had taken advantage of the chance I had been able to give them.”

“And they are continuing what you started, aren’t they?” Ianto opened his eyes and looked up at him. “The Doctor said you couldn’t see how much you had actually changed, and as much as it pains me, I have to agree with him. I don’t even want to imagine the shock of that moment for you, but instead of concentrating on yourself, you created a legacy that’s helped dozens of children in the last forty years.”

Jack frowned. “I didn’t do that deliberately. I had no idea how those kids would run with it.”

Ianto shrugged. “It’s still part of your legacy. And I feel it’s something you need to be reminded of!”

Jack smiled and leaned down to kiss Ianto. He should have known to expect nothing but support from Ianto, but the memories of his other life had been too heavy over the last couple of days. The fear of the 456 returning had been too all-consuming, and it had brought up the memories of everything else that had happened in these days in such a way that Jack had been unable to suppress them again.

“How much does Clement know?” Ianto asked.

“A lot.” Jack shrugged. “Angelo prompted me to tell him at least part of what I had done. And after I had gotten to know him, I decided that he deserved to know what the very people he was working with now had intended to do to him as a child, although he knew a lot about that already, and why it hadn’t happened in the end.”

“So he knows you changed the timeline.”

Jack nodded. “I never outright told him what would happen to us in the future, but I think I let a couple of things slip. Like I did with all of you. I didn’t even notice that until you told me after the Year that I had basically warned the whole team away from Saxon.”

Ianto smiled. “That only shows how much you trust us.”

Jack was not so sure about that, but he kept that thought to himself. Mostly, he only felt tired of keeping all those secrets, and he didn’t think that had anything to do with trust. The only one had he ever wanted to talk about his past with was Ianto, and he was still unsure how much he wanted to tell the rest of the team.

“What is that Miracle the Doctor and you were talking about?”

Jack groaned and rolled on his back. “It will be a pure horror. As bad as the Year, worse in some respects.” He frowned. “I tried to prevent it. It’s something Angelo and I worked on for such a long time. And now … if what the Doctor said is true, then my staying here on Earth is the reason it will happen in the first place.”

“If I understood the whole fixed-point thing even partially, there was nothing anyone could have done to prevent it.”

“They need my blood, and they gathered it over the years. If I hadn’t been here, they wouldn’t have gotten their hands on my blood. At least not enough to start the Miracle.”

Ianto sighed. “You still haven’t told me what the Miracle is!”

Jack closed his eyes and hesitated, but after a moment he began to talk quietly. He told Ianto about the Blessing, how the Three Families would use it, what it would mean for all of humanity, and how they had stopped it in his other life. He was still angry at the Doctor for bringing that part up, and for telling him that someone else would need to make the same sacrifice Rex had made last time.

Ianto was silent for a long time after Jack stopped talking. He had wished to spare Ianto and everyone else this experience, but he knew now that he needed to come to terms with the fact that they would all have to live through this hell again. He may have lost a lot of his respect for the Doctor, but he trusted that he had told them the truth about the Miracle. This was not something the Doctor would just let happen if he had any choice in it.

“Do you have a preference for the person going to Buenos Aires with your blood?” Ianto asked finally.

“I wish no one would have to do it,” Jack muttered.

“It’s a chance for you to not be alone anymore.” Ianto sat up and looked down at Jack. “I wouldn’t hesitate to do it, you know. I have thought about something like this sometimes. I want you to have at least one person you’ll never have to fear losing to death. It will have to be someone you’ll be able to spend a very long time with. It wouldn’t help at all if it were a person you can’t even be friends with.”

Jack huffed. “Like Rex.”

Ianto nodded. “None of you knew what would happen, and I can understand why he seemed to be the right choice from what you have told me. This time you have still two years to make a decision.” He bit his lip and fisted his fingers in the blanket. “I would like to be the one, but in the end, it will have to be your decision.”

“I don’t know how you can say that!” Jack whispered, shaking his head. “Angelo was the same, and I already didn’t understand it with him. How could anyone wish to become like me? There is nothing good about what I am, being immortal is a curse and nothing else. There’ll never be an end to it, and you would always live with the threat of being captured and experimented on by people who want to become like me. You have seen what Torchwood did to me because of it!”

Ianto brushed his fingers over Jack’s cheek. “I think Angelo and I share the same reasoning. It’s not about becoming immortal, it’s about staying with you. It’s about taking some of the burdens from you. – You could have easily used your Vortex Manipulator to bring Angelo to the beginning of the Miracle so that he could be the one to end it with you.”

Jack shook his head. “By the time we had that conversation it was too late for that. The person will be stuck in their body from that very moment, and Angelo told me himself he was too old to contemplate such a thing, but that he would have done it as a younger man. I still don’t understand…”

“You wouldn’t ever lose me,” Ianto interrupted him. “That’s the one thing you fear the most about everyone in your life. If I became like you, you wouldn’t ever have to look at me with that fear again. You could be sure that at least I would never leave you.”

Jack sucked in a breath and closed his eyes. “Until my presence became too much, or the reality of that new life became too overbearing and you started to resent me.”

Ianto chuckled. “No, I would never resent you. I have no idea if a relationship would work out for all eternity, but I would always stay your friend. Because I would have made this decision out of my own free will.”

“Only because someone has to take on this role,” Jack muttered.

To hear the conviction in Ianto’s voice was refreshing, and the scenario he was describing sparked a hope in Jack he could not remember ever having felt before, but it was still something that was difficult to imagine for him. Ianto was so hopeful for him, and Jack remembered the same kind of emotions from Angelo whenever they had discussed this topic, but he was unable to follow their arguments.

Ianto shrugged. “You are right, someone has to do it. But it will still be my choice to be the one. Or if you would prefer someone else, it will be their choice.”

Jack frowned. “Why would I want it to be someone else?”

“I don’t know. Maybe you would prefer to choose a friend instead of a lover for this role. Or maybe I’m just not the right lover you can imagine spending all of eternity with.” Ianto averted his gaze, but his fingers still lingered on Jack’s face. “I don’t want to pressure you. It’s a big decision, and you’ll have to be comfortable with the person doing it in the end.”

Jack swallowed and closed his hand around Ianto’s wrist. “To not have to lose you again would be … amazing. But I don’t … I really don’t wish my curse on anyone. This is–”

“I understand that,” Ianto interrupted him. “And still, I won’t hesitate to do it as long as you aren’t telling me that you don’t want me to be the one.”

Jack stared at him for a long time. It felt selfish to realize that it would be hard to even think about choosing anyone else but Ianto. He remembered the numerous conversations he had had with Angelo about this topic, because Angelo had been adamant in trying to convince him to use the chance the end of the Miracle would present him with, and he always dismissed the whole idea of it. But now, with Ianto so eagerly offering to take this step, it was suddenly hard to remember why it had always been a bad idea.

“I guess I’ll have to use the next two years to convince you that I won’t come to regret it,” Ianto said softly.

Chapter 23

Jack looked over his team as they gathered in the conference room. With everyone here, including Clement and Martha as well as Francine, Clive, Rhys and Andy, they had to grab additional chairs from the main area for everyone to find a seat. Jack had opted to stand as he suspected he would be too agitated to stay in a chair for most of the meeting anyway.

He had convinced Ianto to extend their time in Italy by two weeks, because he had felt they needed that time to talk through all the things Jack had held back until now. On Ianto’s insistence, half of the time had also been spent exploring the landscape surrounding the holiday house Jack had bought years ago. He rented it out through a holiday agency and had never spent time there before himself, but it had been no problem to organise another house for the family for the weeks after the two days Jack and Ianto had initially planned to stay there.

Originally, Jack had bought that house for Angelo, and it had taken Ianto no time at all to understand that they were not far from the town where Angelo had been born. Jack hesitated for a long time before he had decided that he would bring Ianto there, but his worry had been for nought. Ianto had always been open to hearing more about Angelo ever since Jack had first told him about his previous lover, and this time had been no different.

Angelo had never returned to his childhood town after he had gone to New York, but he told Jack a lot about the places of his childhood and youth. Some Jack and Ianto had been able to find and explore during their vacation, others had changed so much to be nearly unrecognisable, or had even completely vanished in the century since Angelo’s childhood. It had been great to see some of the places Angelo had told him about, and Jack felt more relaxed than he had in a very long time.

Between talking about Jack’s past and enjoying their free time, they had also used many hours, mostly late in the evening while overlooking the dark sea, to discuss the Miracle and how their team could prepare for it. Jack had been open with Ianto about everything Angelo and he had done in the past forty years to prepare for it, but they had come to the conclusion that not all of that would be helpful for their team to know, especially as Jack wanted to keep the existence and involvement of Angelo and Olivia from the others for the time being.

It took a good twenty minutes for everyone to get settled down. Jack and Ianto had returned to work a little more than a week ago, but it had taken time for Clement and Martha to organise a visit to Cardiff. UNIT was not as bad off as it had seemed to be in the first days following the Dalek invasion, but they were both still very involved in the rebuilding and restructuring that was necessary for several of their main bases. It had been a lucky coincidence that they had been able to come by for a day so quickly.

“We’ll need to make plans for a new conference room if our team keeps growing,” Jack said.

Estelle shook her head smiling. “Letitia and I are far ahead of you on that, Jack.”

“Oh?” Jack blinked surprised while Estelle, Letitia and surprisingly Ianto shared a laugh. “Okay, good. Remember to tell me about this later.” He waved his hand and sighed deeply. “That’s not why I have asked all of you to come here.” He fell silent, as again he was unsure how to start any of the explanations that he felt he owed the team.

“Why have you gathered us here?” Gwen asked after the silence had stretched on for nearly two minutes.

Jack watched her silently for a moment longer. One thing Ianto and he had decided not to tell anyone was that Gwen had been pregnant in his other life at this point in time. Part of him grieved for the fact that had been taken away from her, and he hoped it was something that still awaited her and Rhys in the future.

“All of you have at one point or another asked me how I could know certain things that were happening.” Jack crossed his arms in front of his chest and stared at a point on the table to avoid anyone’s gaze. “I have only ever given Clement and Ianto an answer, for very different reasons.”

Out of the corner of his eyes, Jack could see how everyone’s head turned toward Clement, but he only raised his hands defensively and shook his head. Jack raised his head and looked at Clement himself. He hadn’t asked his friend beforehand about how much he should tell the team about his history, and Jack wondered now if he should have. Clement held his gaze for a moment before he gave him a curt nod.

“You are all aware, of course, that Clement has been our liaison with UNIT since ‘95. But the first time that we met wasn’t when he came here for that first meeting, although I hadn’t expected to ever see him again, or that he would recognize me after thirty years.”

“It was a very scary night for us,” Clement said. “If you ever meet one of the others, they’ll recognize you as well. Although, they’ll probably assume you to be your own son or something like that. I did have an advantage in being able to access your file.”

Jack snorted. “Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve used that kind of cover story. To shorten a very long story which I don’t want to share all details with any of you anyway, I defied all the rules about time travel, and it was pure dumb luck that I didn’t destroy our universe in the process. Instead, I got to re-live my life of the last forty-four years. It all started and ended with the night in which I met Clement for the first time, and the alien race that had come to ask for twelve children back then. The first time around they came back around two weeks ago and demanded ten per cent of all the children on this planet.”

There were mutterings of “Fuck!” and “Bloody hell!” all around the table.

“Our team wasn’t what it is today: only Gwen, Ianto and I were left by this point, with a little bit of help from Rhys and Andy. We … lost Ianto to them, I had to sacrifice … kill a child to save the others, and I really didn’t fucking care if I destroyed the rest of the universe when I went back to destroy them in ‘65 when they first showed up. I wasn’t in my right mind, and I really hope I won’t reach that point again, but I have a very long time to live ahead of me still, so who knows.” Jack shrugged.

“I can’t say I fault you for doing what you did. It did lead to all of us still being alive while we were obviously dead last time,” Owen muttered.

“Not all of you,” Jack said. “Martha was with UNIT, but I had never asked the rest of her family to come here. I’m not sure where Mickey was. Clement had been left behind by the aliens in ‘65, but he was killed by them shortly after they came back. But yes, the rest of you were dead. Took me a great deal of work to keep you alive this time.”

“Did you kill the whole race?” Toshiko asked. “Or is there still a possibility of them returning?”

“I wasn’t sure for the longest time,” Jack muttered, averting his gaze from everyone again. “I had hoped I had gotten them all, but even now I don’t really know who they were. Ianto and I had a short visit from the Doctor during our holiday, and he confirmed that I managed to kill the whole race. They won’t come back.”

“You saw the Doctor?” Martha asked, and she was the only one who didn’t frown about that news.

“He came to disturb the first morning of our holiday,” Ianto growled. “With a brand-new face, pretending he isn’t as much of an asshole as he was in his last regeneration, but I didn’t believe that for a second. He came to tell Jack that he couldn’t stop the Miracle and that we wouldn’t be able to stop it until several months after it started.”

Jack snorted. “Ianto!”

“I’m entitled to my own opinion about that man,” Ianto muttered. “I don’t like him, and that new face hasn’t changed anything about that. He could have been a little less cryptic with the whole fixed-point thing.”

“I think he tried to explain it to us in the best way he could,” Jack said. “The theory of fixed points is never easy, especially if you include something no one ever even suspected could exist.”

“Miracle?” Karen interrupted him, looking at Ianto. “What are you talking about?”

Jack sighed. “Yes, that’s the real reason we are all here today. But I thought you should understand why I know what I know before I came to that. – Last time I had stupidly allowed the Doctor to disable my Vortex Manipulator. I needed one and a half years to repair it … Just one, really. The first six months, I didn’t do much at all, to be honest. I came back to Earth because I needed more detailed information about the way the aliens had communicated with us, and ended up at the beginning of a fixed point that would last five months.” He tapped his wrist strap. “All transportation options in this thing cease to work if you are stuck in a fixed point, so I had to live through those five months before I could go through with my plan.”

No one interrupted him with a single question as he continued to tell them about his first encounter with the Three Families, the Miracle, the ramifications, how it had come to be, and how they had been able to end it. He also told them what the Doctor had had to say about it. When he ended everyone was staring at him, wide-eyed and pale.

“I spent the last forty years trying to find a way to prevent it, despite knowing that at least parts of it were a fixed point.” Jack pursed his lips and shook his head. “I have also started to at least prepare Cardiff for it a long time ago, and you have all already seen those efforts bear fruit. It’s time we start preparing as a team for it.”

“We could have started to prepare as a team a long time ago,” Karen said.

Jack shook his head. “I was still hoping to prevent it and … I wasn’t ready yet to tell anyone about my … special trip through time. I was much more focused on building a stronger team this time, on saving as many of you as I could. It didn’t always work and I couldn’t be sure…”

“So, you waited until the last one of us had died,” Owen nodded at Ianto.

Jack nodded. “I didn’t want to talk with any of you about it as long as I knew a potential date for someone dying. Clement was the only exception to that, but that was … There is no one in this room my decisions made a bigger impact on than him. – I couldn’t be sure if … There was the chance that any of you could still have died despite everything I had done, and I didn’t want to put any of you in the position to know that your death could be right around the corner.”

Mickey snorted. “Death is always around the corner in this job.”

“True,” Jack looked at him. “But there’s a difference between doing a dangerous job and having a concrete date for your death. I couldn’t save everyone I tried to save.” He turned his head to Karen. “All I managed for Alex was six months. And I couldn’t save Suzie or Lisa.” He looked to Owen. “Or Katie.”

Owen turned his head away, and he was not the only one in the room looking everywhere but at Jack.

“So, what are we doing now to prepare for this?” Estelle asked, and Jack sent her a small, thankful smile.

“How much can we trust the Doctor about not being able to prevent it or to end it earlier than you did last time?” Clive asked.

“Dad…” Martha sighed.

“I know most of you haven’t had the best experiences with him, but his first interest has always been to protect Earth and humanity when he is dealing with this planet,” Jack said. “If there was a way to stop this, he would have done so, I’m sure of that. We should work with his information and prepare to deal with five months of utter hell. We know how to stop it, so we can concentrate on taking out those responsible during that time.”

“Could we take them out before the Miracle starts?” Toshiko asked.

Jack shook his head. “Since that would stop the Miracle altogether, I assume not. Something would have to happen for the Miracle to happen nonetheless, and I would prefer to face the known threat instead of something completely unknown. But I want us to be ready to take the Three Families out as soon as the Miracle has ended. – I would like to put you in charge of that, Tosh. Take whoever you need to help you, and unearth as much about them as possible. Prepare to dig into them during the Miracle because I suspect they will be less careful after their operation has started. Don’t bother with money. Whatever you need we’ll get you.”

“Including a hacker or two?” Toshiko asked. “Because you are all great, and Karen and Mickey are decent for such help on a normal day, but I suspect we are talking about a whole different level of security here.”

“We need to be careful about who we hire, but if you find someone we can trust, we’ll get them for you.”

“No one dying while at the same time still getting ill or injured will be a huge burden for all kind of resources. Food and medical supplies in the first place,” Martha said.

“And we can’t undertake huge preparations in this regard without possibly alerting the wrong people that we know more than they would like,” Clement agreed.

“I have prepared Cardiff for that as well,” Jack sighed. “I came to the conclusion a while ago that I can’t save the whole planet in this regard. We have our own stores, and we will stock up in the next two years, and Cardiff as a whole has very detailed plans in place, but that’s all we can do.”

“You just want us to let everyone else suffer?” Gwen asked.

“Without outright stopping the Miracle, which we have been informed is impossible, we can’t do anything else,” Ianto said. “Even if we had a lot more people than we are, the logistics alone to prepare even just Wales as a whole for such a catastrophe would be too big for us to handle.”

Karen raised her hands. “Let’s table that discussion for a moment. I would like to know more about how to end the thing. You were a little bit vague there. You said it started with your blood and it would need to end with your blood. And that there are two locations so a second person will need to carry your blood inside their body to the second location.”

Jack sighed. He had hoped they would maybe all forget to ask about that, at least for a while. “Yes. The Blessing has to be fed my then-mortal blood at both locations at the same time to make everyone else mortal again.”

“And it will turn the process for you as well again,” Karen said. “As well as this other person.”

Jack nodded, and he didn’t miss that nearly everyone glanced at Ianto.

“I guess things like wrong blood type won’t matter when everyone aside from you is unable to die,” Owen muttered with a frown. “Except, you said everyone could still get ill, or have reactions to chemicals, even if they aren’t mortal anymore. What if Ianto has a bad reaction to your blood? We can’t even really test it before the Miracle starts.”

“Why Ianto?” Jack asked warily.

“You just told us you nearly destroyed the universe because he died,” Estelle chuckled. “And really, no one here should be surprised about that after watching you the last couple of months. Of course it will be Ianto.”

Ianto turned his head away, and Jack knew he did it to hide his grin from him. Not one day had passed without this topic coming up between them, with Ianto insisting that he knew what he was agreeing to, and Jack was still unable to understand how he could offer this so casually.

“Is there really someone else you would want to do this with?” Clement asked with raised brows.

“Let it go,” Ianto said quietly, but Jack could still hear the mirth in his voice. “You are all right, of course, but I think Jack still needs to get used to the fact that there will have to be another person involved at all. Let me handle this, guys. We have far more important things we need to plan for.”

***

The meeting took the entire day, and Jack was relieved when they were finally able to find a break late in the evening. They had ordered lunch, but the various discussion about what they would face not too far in the future had overtaken all conversation even during that break. For once, Jack hadn’t insisted that they put work aside while they ate, mostly because he had not wanted to face anyone’s questions about the things he had changed.

Everyone was gathered in small groups around the main area, and Jack knew they were all still talking about the Miracle and their plans for it, but he was glad that he had been able to escape all of it for the moment. He felt exhausted from the whole ordeal of answering question after question, but also relieved that everyone finally knew what was to come. He had already noticed how much better he had felt after he had told Ianto everything, but he had not expected that keeping those secrets from everyone else had been as exhausting as keeping them from Ianto.

“May I join you, or do you want to hide for a little while longer?”

Jack laughed and waved for Clement to step into his office. “If I wanted to hide, I would have gone down to the bunker.”

“That’s a big thing you just put on all of our plates,” Clement said, closing the door behind him and sitting down on the chair beside Jack’s desk. “I had never expected that you were keeping such a big thing about what you knew about the future from me.”

Jack frowned. “Do I need to apologize for it?”

“No,” Clement shook his head. “Of course not. It’s mostly my fault for assuming you would have told me everything anyway. I can understand why you would keep such a thing to yourself, especially as there would have been nothing I could have done either way. It’s a burden I’m glad I didn’t have to bear for years already.”

“It won’t be the end of the world,” Jack muttered. “It will feel like it, but we’ll get over it. Our society will change a great deal I think, but we’ll find a way to go on afterwards.”

“You said nothing about preparing for the aftermath,” Clement said.

Jack shrugged. “I have no idea what happened in the aftermath. I left before it had even really sunk in for everyone that it was over. Everyone was still dealing with the sudden mass of dead people. A lot of people will die at the very moment we turn it back. Nearly everyone who should have died in the five months before. Some will be lucky enough that it will have given them the time to heal from otherwise fatal injuries, but there will be a lot who don’t.”

“It’s hard to imagine that you lived through all of this just to turn your back on everything and go back,” Clement said. “That’s not the man I’ve gotten to know in the last fifteen years.”

“I wasn’t the man back then that I am now,” Jack whispered and turned his head away. “I was shattered after what had happened with the 456. And while everyone else seems to think it was some kind of desperate love that let me do what I did, Ianto’s death was only a very tiny part in all of it.”

“Maybe not as tiny as you remember,” Clement said. “Even without telling them your story, no one thought for a moment anyone beside Ianto should take the place to be at your side for the rest of eternity. I don’t understand why you doubt that.”

“It’s a huge sacrifice,” Jack took a deep breath. “I fear what will happen when he starts to resent me for it. I love him, and I can see the possibility of a very, very long relationship with him. But being what I am is … I don’t want anyone else stuck in this position. Least of all someone I love.”

“But can you understand that this same man, who loves you as much as you love him, would want to give you the kind of companionship you have lacked for nearly a hundred and fifty years now? Two hundred, if we count your time loop?”

Jack huffed. “Yes, I know. I have talked a lot with Ianto about it in the last few weeks. I know his reasoning. I understand it even. And yet…”

“You told me that you met Angelo in the late twenties, but you didn’t mention him even once to the others earlier.” Clement eyed him thoughtfully. “Was he involved in any of this?”

“As I said in the beginning, I don’t want to rehash every detail with everyone,” Jack muttered. “Angelo is part of all of this, yes. He was responsible for giving us the crucial clue to the origin of the Miracle. But this time he is already dead, and we wouldn’t have needed him for that anyway. He wasn’t working with the Three Families, but they kept him close, watching him all his life. I don’t know how he learned about it last time. I changed Angelo’s life a great deal as well after we met again.”

“You won’t tell the other about him at all?” Clement asked.

Jack shook his head. “This time he is just an old lover. My time with him is in the past, and there it will remain. He helped me gather information, build connections, but his part in all of this is long done. I don’t want to share my memories of him with anyone.”

Clement inclined his head. “Okay.”

“Will UNIT be a help?” Jack asked.

“Martha and I will do everything we can to make it so,” Clement shrugged. “There is a lot of change going on, and I think mostly it’s a good change, but we still have a lot of work ahead of us. It’s much more urgent now with this new timeline you just threw our way.”

Jack frowned. “Martha wanted to come work for us at the end of the year.”

“She changed her mind earlier today,” Clement said. “She feels, and I agree with her, that she’ll be able to do more if she stays with UNIT for the next two years and helps me prepare them. We need to unearth every potential mole so that UNIT as a whole will be able to provide help during and after the Miracle.”

Jack’s first impulse was to protest, but he bit his tongue. He wanted to have Martha in Cardiff because he knew she would be safer here than anywhere else when the Miracle happened. He wanted to protect her as much as everyone else, but he knew she wouldn’t let him coddle her.

“Martha and I managed to stay alive a whole year while we were hunted by the Master,” Clement reminded. “And you told me she did that on her own last time. She is very capable of handling herself.”

“You know me much too well,” Jack muttered.

Clement laughed. “It’s no secret to anyone in this whole damn city that protecting those you claim as your own is always your first priority. Don’t tell me you haven’t already made plans to bring the families of everyone out there here as soon as the Miracle has started.”

Jack pursed his lips, trying to hide his grin behind it. “I really have no idea what you are talking about!”

“Sure,” Clement said, still laughing.

The truth was that Jack already had very detailed plans for everyone’s family, including Deborah. He would bring them all to Cardiff over the next two years if they weren’t already living here, and Owen had been tasked a long time ago with preparing the medical supplies of the Hub for another occurrence like the Year. They would be prepared for any emergency of their own, and Jack had plans to ask Owen about preventing the stroke Gwen’s father had had last time.

“There may be houses ready for everyone and a job for those who are still working so that they can move here,” Jack confessed after a moment. “That includes you if you decide on retirement before the whole insanity starts. Or anyone else you would like to send our way. Cardiff will be safer than most other places on Earth during those five months.”

Clement shook his head. “I don’t have anyone to protect.”

Jack shrugged. “That could change in the next two years.”

“I’ll keep it in mind,” Clement cocked his head. “Don’t try to sneak this on your team. They all know how you are anyway. Tell them outright to bring their families here to protect them, and what you have already organized for that. None of them will protest it.”

Jack sighed but nodded. It was good advice, and probably warranted. He had spent so much time keeping secrets, protecting his team in a way that would not clue them in on what he was doing, it would be hard to get over that behaviour.

He looked out of the window in front of his office over the Hub and his team. When he had taken over this team from Alex this time, he had started out to build it up with the premises to not keep any secrets from them, neither personal if something specific came up, not professional, and yet he had outright lied to them about so many things because he had felt it necessary.

Somehow he had managed to not let it damage his relationship with his team, but it had still been a huge burden. He would need time to get used to this change, but for the first time since he had reset his timeline, he felt completely free to breathe and to relax. They still had a huge task ahead of them, but for the first time in more than four decades, Jack was free of any fear of failure.


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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.

3 Comments:

  1. This is great.

  2. This was an excellent story, you did a great job. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Sleep? Who needs sleep? I was so comoletely hooked by this story and your writing. Thanks so much for sharing.

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