Stealing Time – 1/2 – Bythia

Title: Stealing Time
Series: The Time Given to Us
Series Order: 1
Author: Bythia
Fandom: Torchwood
Genre: Science Fiction, Slash, Time Travel
Relationship(s): Jack Harkness/Lucia Moretti, Jack Harkness/Angelo Colasanto
Content Rating: R
Warnings: Major Character Death, Canon Typical Violence; Discussion of (canon): cannibalism, child endangerment
Author Notes: The Mayor Character Death is one of old age and peacefully. Many thanks to my fantastic beta reader and my artist. Both of their work and support have been so encouraging!
Beta: starlitenite
Word Count: 61,000
Summary: After losing Ianto and Steven to the 456, and being forced to endure the Miracle, Jack repairs his Vortex Manipulator to go back in time and take his revenge on the aliens that took his lover and his grandson from him. He doesn’t care for the consequences, but the last thing he expected was to set back his own timeline and to go again the slow route from 1965 into the future.
Artist: Izzy Hound



Prologue

Jack looked up into the night sky and took a deep breath. He had not remembered that this night had been so clear and that the stars had been so bright. All he had remembered for the four decades afterwards were the faces of the twelve children whom he had given to this unknown alien race.

The first time when Jack had been at this point, he had known that it was a mistake to give in to the demand of those aliens. He had been disgusted that the government was willing to just hand over those children. But he had not been in a position where his protest would have borne any fruit.

Jack had contemplated it for a long time, in the time after he had learned of this mission and while driving the bus with the children into the Highlands. He had been unable to come up with a solution, not with the soldiers following and with how little he knew about the situation. So, he had just let it happen and had taken on another huge regret on his consciousness.

Jack looked down at the machine he had built not even two miles from the place where a much younger version of himself would stop the bus with the children. He knew it was a foolish and dangerous thing he intended to do tonight, but he didn’t care.

He had not cared about anything in a very long time.

Those five days in which the 456 had come back to Earth to demand ten per cent of all the children of the planet had destroyed something in his soul. To first lose Ianto – to be responsible for his lover’s senseless death and those of hundreds of other people in the Thames House – and then to have to sacrifice his own grandson to save all those other children, had left him broken and utterly destroyed.

He had tried to get on with his life. There really had been nothing else he could have done. At that point he had not been able to reverse time. Even if he would have had an idea how to change those events without sacrificing another child, his Vortex Manipulator had still been disabled. He had been stuck in that time and had to live with the events as they had happened.

He had left Earth because it had been too painful to stay. He had seen Ianto and Steven everywhere. He’d had had no destination, not even a silver of a plan. He had just wanted to escape his own mind and memories. But then he had encountered technology he had forgotten in the long years on Earth and suddenly things had changed.

There had not been any possibility of repairing his Vortex Manipulator on Earth in the time he had been in. But outside of Earth there were plenty of opportunities, and with the Vortex Manipulator repaired he had been able to go to a time where he could build the machine in front of him.

Jack checked the settings for the last time. This time around he would not need a child as a transmitter or other children to reinforce the signal. It had not even been that great of a challenge to build the right transmitter; they could have done it in 2009 with a little bit of time and the right information, both of which they had lacked.

When Jack had come back to Earth in 2011, it had not been because of some alert, like he had told Gwen. He had been there to search for the right information about the frequency that the 456 used. And after the Miracle had started, he had been unable to leave because his Vortex Manipulator had been locked on this time. Jack had heard of something like this happening if one stumbled into a fixed point in time and space, but it had been the first time he had experienced it.

He would not have stayed otherwise.

What happened after 1965 didn’t matter anyway. Jack would destroy the 456 before they could take the first twelve children. They would not take those first children, they would not be able to come back, they would not kill Ianto or anyone else in the Thames House, there would be no need to sacrifice a child to save millions of others.

Jack knew the risks of this plan and he did not care.

He knew he would destroy his own timeline, knew it was unpredictable to imagine what would happen afterwards. Maybe he would destroy the whole universe, but that would mean his own end as well, would it not? If so, it would be a relief. Or he would just destroy himself. Either way, it wouldn’t be a bad end.

Jack looked up and waited patiently until he could see the lights of the bus in the distance. He didn’t hesitate as he activated the machine. There was nothing to hear or to see, nothing to show that the machine was working, but Jack was confident that it was fulfilling its purpose.

His eyes were focused on the lights of the bus, while he waited silently and patiently.

Whatever happened next, he just did not care any more.

***

Jack’s knees buckled and it was pure willpower that saved him from stumbling and drawing undue attention to himself. He took a deep, measured breath and let his gaze wander over the children in front of him. It didn’t take more than a second for him to get an idea of what had happened.

There had not been any transition period between him standing two miles away and waiting for something to happen to him standing in front of the bus. And as no one was in any way reacting to him, the change had happened without any outwards signs as well. Which was good, because he really did not need any more suspicion thrown in his direction than there already was at this point in time.

This had not been part of his plan, but then, there had not been much of a plan for afterwards all along. In the last few years he had been driven by the urge for revenge and maybe the chance for Ianto and Steven to survive those fateful days which Jack could not even think about.

There had been no plan for what would happen afterwards. But to be thrown back into his 1965 body would never have come to mind, even if he would have thought about the consequences of his actions. Which he had very deliberately not done. It would have made him hesitate and that was something he had wanted to avoid.

He had wanted to destroy the 456 before they could take the first twelve children, consequences be damned. So, why should he have thought about them? Whatever happened, he would just have to live with it.

And here he was, thrown back into the first moment of his life that he had changed with his actions.

Later he would need time to think about it. But for now, he needed to concentrate on the moment. This night would not go as anyone was expecting it. And the suspicion would first fall onto him because that was their standard procedure at this time. There were not many people around who trusted him, and even fewer whom he could trust.

Little Clement had stopped only two steps in front of him and as nothing was happening, the boy turned to him. “What are we doing here?”

Jack plastered on a bright smile that hopefully didn’t look as fake as it felt. “We are sending you on an adventure!”

Bile rose as he remembered the picture of the child that had been strapped to the creature in 2009 and that seemingly had not aged a day in the forty-five years they had been held captive. Jack had no idea which of the eleven children in front of him it had been, but it did not matter because in the end all of them had been tied to such an alien. It would not happen this time around, he was sure of that, but he had once sent these children to this fate and there were few things he had regretted more than that.

“What kind of adventure?” Clement asked wide-eyed.

The woman who had told him her name was Vanessa turned to them with a hard look and Jack just shrugged. It was not his fault the boy was talking to him and asking questions. These were children, of course they would ask questions, and of course they would ask him after spending hours with him in the bus while they had never before seen the soldiers surrounding them.

“We will meet here with the people who will take you on the adventure,” Vanessa said. “They should be here any moment. Now, be quiet.”

While the other children huddled together, Clement stayed by Jack’s side. Jack didn’t look at him, tried to ignore him as much as possible. He had enough problems without anyone getting the idea he had become attached to any of the children. His life had not been easy in the sixties and seventies because no one had trusted him. He already knew that he would be suspected of foul play as soon as they understood that the 456 were not coming to get the children.

This time they would be right, of course, and Jack had to hope the machine he had built had vanished when time had reset. Because that was what had to have happened. He had destroyed his own timeline, effectively creating a paradox. But because he was something else, something that had never existed before, it had not led to the destruction and chaos he had learned about in the Time Agency. Instead, he had found himself back in the very first moment that he had changed.

Five minutes went by without anything happening. The children started to get nervous and another couple of minutes later Vanessa was looking at him again after exchanging looks with the soldiers. Jack shrugged again. He could not explain what was happening, he would not court that kind of trouble with Torchwood. He would keep his mouth shut for the next couple of days and, hopefully, they would let him go and just forget about it.

The children started to talk twenty minutes in and Clement finally joined them. Jack stayed at his place in front of the bus while Vanessa went to the army truck, probably to use the radio and contact her superiors to inform them that the 456 had not come to collect their price. Nothing would happen here, and in the end, someone would decide to return the children, hopefully. The other choice would be to eliminate them, but Jack hoped that no one would believe that necessary.

In the end, they waited two hours before Vanessa gave the order for the children to go back onto the bus, and for Jack to drive them back to their orphanage. She had not allowed them to go back inside the vehicle when they had started to complain about being tired and cold, and Jack could see the same relief he felt in every single of the twelve faces while they passed him and climbed back into the bus.

The first couple of minutes, Jack drove in silence, listening to the low muttering of the children. They had complained of being tired for a long time, but nothing of that seemed to be left once they had been allowed back in the bus. Jack still had not been able to wrap his head around what had happened. With everything he knew about the rules of time travel, he should have destroyed their reality, and he still was unable to care about it. At the same time, he felt some kind of relief that it had not happened.

Jack watched the children through the mirror, careful not to let himself be distracted for too long from the dark street ahead of him. There was no other explanation than that he had been sent back in his own timeline. The Doctor had told him once that he was a fixed point, something that should not exist. Fixed points in time and space could not be changed and should be avoided at all costs by time travellers. That had been among the first lessons every Time Agent learned.

Whatever the consequences for him would be, he had achieved his goal. He had saved the lives of these twelve children. He counted Clement among them because it had been no life that man had led after he had escaped the 456. But these were orphans, they had been chosen to be sacrificed because no one would look for them, no one cared about them. Even if they fought with all they had for the rest of their lives, the chances weren’t good for them to ever achieve their dreams.

For a long time, Jack stared into the darkness before he came to a decision. Whatever lay ahead of them may be better than the torture they had endured in the timeline he suspected he had destroyed, but he still felt all of them deserved a better chance at life, a chance to accomplish everything they would ever dream of. He had the money to give them at least a start, but aside from Clement, he did know not a single one of their names.

Without thinking it over, he made a decision to use the rest of their bus ride to get a better idea about the children he had rescued. He opened his wrist strap to record the discussion he intended to start and was startled so much that he nearly turned the bus off the street. This was not the defective Vortex Manipulator he had worn for nearly all of his time since he had been stranded on Earth, but rather the repaired one he had used to come back in time to destroy the 456.

Jack swallowed hard, forgetting for a moment his plan for the children because this changed everything. He was not stuck any more, he could just leave and take himself out of the history of Torchwood. He would not have to endure any of the things the teams of the sixties and seventies had put him through, he would not have to endure another round of torture in the name of science.

Jack shook his head because as nice as that may sound, that was probably a way to the destruction he had expected out of destroying the 456. And the relief of it not happening was muting his carelessness. With every minute that went by Jack became more aware of the insanity he had to have been caught up in to go through with such a crazy plan. He would never regret it if it had actually worked and it turned out that the 456 would not return, but with every passing minute, he grew more unwilling to risk any damaging change to the timeline.

He decided to table those thoughts for a later point when he was not playing chauffeur for a group of kids. Whatever he decided to do with his situation, his idea about them would stay unchanged. They had endured so much in another life, they deserved the best life they could get, and that would not happen without significant help because the people who should care about them had already proven that they could not be bothered to do their duty.

“Hey, kids,” Jack said after finally activating the recording function of his wrist strap. “So, I introduced myself as Captain Jack to you, but I don’t even know a single one of your names!”

For a long time, they stared at him in silence. Jack already thought he would need to find another way to get them to speak with him when one of them finally spoke up. “I’m Clement, Sir. Clement McDonald.”

Jack turned his head back for a second to smile at him. “Nice to meet you, Clement. Please, all of you, come sit in the rows behind me. Maybe you can introduce me to your friends, Clement, if they are too shy to introduce themselves.”

Most of them didn’t seem to like being called shy, and while they gathered in the front rows one after another introduced themselves. Jack managed to keep the given names in his mind, he would not be able to match faces to names, but it would be enough to talk with them for the next couple of hours.

He asked them to tell him about their dreams and it was again Clement who made the first step, telling him about his dream to see the world, to travel to each continent, to learn foreign languages and to live in foreign cultures. Jack engaged in a small discussion with him, telling the children about his time in India and America because that was much more exotic than France or Germany. One of the girls was next, telling him about her desire to draw and how they often had nothing to draw on or to draw with at the orphanage, not even pencils, but that she would like to learn to draw with real paint.

Jack listened attentively, encouraging their narrations with questions or little stories of his own life, ever careful to never tell them any dates or historical facts. His heart broke a little bit in those hours. Even after seeing one of them in the tank with that alien, he had not perceived them as individuals, as different human beings, as dreams and lives lost. The horror of losing even more children to that fate had been too great and too threatening to grieve for the eleven children already lost.

He had to make up for a lot of mistakes he had made in his life. To help these children to achieve their dreams would only be the first step in redeeming himself for these mistakes.

Chapter 01

The 1960s

“How in the hell did you manage to stumble into this mess, Harkness?” Detective Inspector Lewis of the South Wales Police asked exasperated. “Isn’t it enough that you people make a mess out of every other crime scene in Cardiff?”

Jack shrugged. “I have no say in the things my superiors do in Cardiff.”

Out of all the things he had needed to get used to again two years ago, not leading Torchwood had been one of the hardest things for him to remember. There were so many terrible things happening in the Hub at the moment, and he could do nothing about them because any kind of protest from him would most likely lead to him becoming their prisoner again. He had no interest in becoming the subject of another so-called scientist.

“Normally you aren’t straying so far out of the city,” Lewis said, staring at the street in front of the car Jack was driving. At first, the DI had protested his inclusion in the operation, but the barn the villagers had used as their butchery was not easy to find and Jack had managed to worm his way into the operation as a guide, although he had been ordered to stay back for most of it.

“One of our witnesses vanished on this road a couple of weeks ago,” Jack explained. “I was tasked with finding her and while I was looking into her last known location and the route her parents told me she wanted to take to her aunt, I remembered that a friend of mine had vanished on this exact road through the Brecon Beacons ten years ago.”

Technically, that wasn’t even a lie, although Jack had not remembered that until after he had changed his timeline. To take care of the cannibals he had encountered with his team in 2007 was one of the easier steps in his various plans. After they had returned from that catastrophe of a team bonding exercise, Toshiko had thrown herself into research, supporting the police in rooting out all the missing persons cases that this village of psychopaths had been responsible for. Jack could not remember much of what she had uncovered, but he knew that they were having their ‘harvest’ every ten years throughout the whole of the twentieth century.

Jack had started to research cases of missing persons in this region as soon as he had come back to Cardiff from his trip through Europe at the end of ‘65, and it had taken no time to stumble over the file of the missing Torchwood operative who had vanished in ‘57. First Jack had been floored and then furious because he hadn’t drawn this connection earlier. No one had drawn this connection, even though dozens of people went missing in this region every ten years when barely anyone went missing there the rest of the time.

But although Jack had found hundreds of cases going back the last eighty years, he had found nothing tangible that he could have used to send the police after the cannibals because no one was interested in missing person cases from ten years or more ago, even if there were distinct clusters of those cases. He still felt ill about it, but there had been no other choice but to wait until the next person went missing, and then he had missed the first two because Torchwood had sent him on another mission outside of Wales. He had come back from that mission and had been told to search for a missing witness to a Rift spike, only to find out she had gone missing on her way through the Brecon Beacons.

“I dug a little bit deeper,” Jack continued. “Only to find hundreds of persons who had gone missing here and in a very distinct pattern, every ten years. As your colleagues had found nothing in any of those cases, I decided to take a little road trip to see if I would notice anything. It was just dumb luck that I stumbled over this village.” He would not have ended up at that barn if he had not already been aware of its location and its use by the locals, but Lewis didn’t need to know that. The whole village was even more remote than it had been in the future.

“And that you found all the villagers in their… butchery?”

Jack shrugged. “With so many people that vanished here, I wasn’t going to talk to the natives directly. But I wasn’t expecting to stumble over cannibals in the middle of bloody Wales!”

Lewis huffed. “No one expected that!”

“Thank you for trusting my word on this and mobilising so many of your people,” Jack said.

“You are a good man,” Lewis replied. “Despite working for Torchwood. You are the only decent one of them.”

Jack sighed because he could not even argue that at this point in time. The current Torchwood team was not a good one, neither in regards to the aliens stranded on Earth nor to the other humans in Cardiff. He knew when each of them would die and he had no plans to prevent even one of those deaths. There would come better people after them, more open-minded people, although it would never be perfect for a long time to come. His own team had been far from perfect. He had known that all along and done nothing about it, but his opinion about how Torchwood should interact with the rest of Cardiff had changed drastically.

For the moment, Jack had started to build up better contacts with the police and other important places in the city. He had learned from his mistakes and he would not repeat them. Most of the populace may not be ready for the knowledge of aliens and the cultures that had evolved all over the universe, but everyone who lived and worked in Cardiff in any critical position was well aware that there were things out there one could barely imagine. He planned to build a tight network in the following decades so that they would not be so overwhelmed with every catastrophe coming their way.

“I still can’t believe this was happening basically right on our doorstep,” Jack muttered. “Any idea how long they have already done this?”

Lewis shook his head. “Our archives only reach back those eighty years you have already uncovered. We’ll see if we find anything useful in the village or if these people are willing to talk about their abnormal tradition.”

“There will probably be a few of them who will be only too happy to talk to you about all of their crimes,” Jack said. “They’ll probably be all too happy to brag about it.”

“We’ll have to find an officer who’s willing to listen to them,” Lewis replied. “I have no interest in hearing them brag. This is one of those times when I wish I had chosen another job. After I served in the war I thought I had seen every horror possible.”

Jack sighed. “Don’t I know it.”

“At least we could stop it. All of them will be locked away for the rest of their lives.”

“What about the children?”

Lewis shrugged. “The two youngest ones are only two and three years old, they’ll be brought to orphanages. The next youngest is seven and while they didn’t make him take part in the killing, they did make him help in butchering their victims, so there needs to be done something to teach him that what happened here was wrong. The other two are thirteen and seventeen, and as they took part in the murders they will be put on trial with the rest.”

Jack nodded. It had been a shock to see the seven-year-old boy in the butchery and for Jack that was the most atrocious thing about all of this. Of course, he had already known that they were indoctrinating their children and that probably most of the adult villagers had grown up with this tradition themselves, but to see it actually happen had been pure horror. He had seen what would have become of these children. The seventeen-year-old boy and the thirteen-year-old girl had once been those to nearly kill Toshiko and Ianto forty years in the future. Jack didn’t doubt that there was no redeeming those two, but maybe the other boy could be saved from ever becoming a murderer and the two little girls would hopefully never remember what had happened here or where they came from.

“The outcry will be huge as soon as this hits the news,” Jack said.

“We hope we can derail that for a couple of days if not weeks,” Lewis replied.

Jack hummed thoughtfully. Everything seemed to be so much slower now than in the future, and he was still getting used to it. In 2007 it had not even taken half a day until the first news about a whole village murdering and eating travellers had hit the news, despite the police’s efforts to keep it quiet. This time around, Jack had seen no reporters anywhere near the village, so he could believe that Lewis’ hope was probably justified.

“You’ll need to be available for the trial and maybe even the investigation in the next couple of weeks.”

Jack shrugged. “I have barely any influence over where I’m sent to. You’ll need to take that up with Captain Turner.”

Lewis screwed up his face. “I’ll let my boss handle that.”

Jack snorted. “Can’t fault you for that.”

“Why are you even working for Torchwood?”

“What we do is important,” Jack said. “I believe in that, even if I don’t agree with a lot of things my boss or his superiors deem the correct way to go about our work.”

The first time he had been at this point in his life, he would have never dared to leave Torchwood behind even though he had only been a freelance agent, but the threat of becoming their test subject once more or alternatively not being able to stay in Cardiff to wait for the Doctor had been too big to take the risk. He had not believed at that time that Torchwood would ever become something good, and he had regretted more than once that he had not taken up Queen Victoria when she had offered him the lead of Torchwood London because maybe he could have done something good from that position.

This time around, he knew from experience that Torchwood was needed and that they could bring something good if only the right people were found to work for them. He knew he only needed to wait until the current team washed out and then he could start to change the way Torchwood Cardiff worked, although it would take years if not decades to bring about any significant change. He knew what he wanted to make out of Torchwood and even though he would probably have to wait until after the fall of Torchwood One – which he could not prevent because it was part of the Doctor’s timeline – he could prepare for that time now.

This time around he was not waiting for the Doctor to come back to Cardiff, he was not waiting to leave this planet for good. This time around, he was here to stay and to make something good out of his situation, out of the sacrifice he had made in his still lingering rage and desperation. He had risked the whole universe to avenge Ianto and Steven, and somehow he had been lucky enough to get a second chance instead of destroying his reality.

Jack felt obligated to use this second chance, and although Steven would never exist because he had no intention of ever revisiting his relationship with Lucia or having another child, chances were good that Ianto’s life would turn out the same as the first time, and Jack didn’t plan to let him suffer through the fall of Torchwood One and the loss of Lisa a second time.

***

Jack leaned against the wall at his back, arms crossed in front of his chest, and watched the traffic with a dark look. He had two days of downtime and had used them to come to New York with his Vortex Manipulator in search of any sign of the Three Families. In the future, he had been stuck in the Miracle which meant that something in it was a fixed point in time. But that did not mean that there wasn’t a chance to change at least part of if not most of it. Jack hoped that he could stop the Three Families or at least find out where they had gotten so much blood from him that they had been able to feed the Blessing enough of it to change the whole world. There was no chance that the blood they had taken in ‘28 had survived more than eighty years.

“Hello, Jack.”

He froze and his fingers searched automatically for the right buttons on his wrist strap to transport him away if it should be necessary. He knew that it was a risk to come to New York because the Three Families were probably very interested in getting him back into their custody, and he had prepared for it. But he had not expected to come face to face with Angelo.

“It is not a good idea for you to be here,” Angelo said quietly.

“You planning to sell me out a second time?”

Angelo kept silent for a long moment until Jack finally turned his head to look at him. “I’m so sorry for what I did. There is no excuse that I let myself be overtaken by my panic and … religious fanaticism. You have no idea how often I have wished I would have made another choice.”

Jack sighed. “I’m sorry, too. That was harsh and uncalled for.”

Angelo shrugged. “Not really. – Why are you here?”

“I’m searching for something,” Jack said.

“Another alien?”

Jack shook his head. “Why did you come to me? How did you find me?”

“That I found you here is pure coincidence,” Angelo replied with a small smile. “I … admit, that I have someone who is observing you sometimes in Cardiff. But as far as they are aware, you are there and not here. – I just wanted to talk to you. I still miss you and I regret how things ended.”

“You are married.”

Angelo looked at him surprised. “So, you are keeping an eye on me, too? I love my wife, but it is another kind of love and companionship. It didn’t replace what I felt for you.”

Jack eyed him for a long moment, before making a decision that he hoped would not bite him in the ass later. “This is not the right place to talk. We should go somewhere, where we won’t be … interrupted.”

Angelo smiled. “I would like that very much. My car is around the corner.”

Jack smiled. “I have my own transportation that can’t be tracked. I’ll bring you back later if you trust me enough to come with me.” Without waiting for a reply, he turned and walked down the street, turning into the first back-alley he passed.

Angelo followed him, looking around sceptically. “Your own transport?”

Jack grinned and held up his arm with the Vortex Manipulator. “This thing can do more than produce a fake visa. Put your hands around my wrist and hold on tight.” He put in coordinates to a forest outside of New York City and activated the transporter after Angelo had followed his instructions. Transporting two people got a little bit uncomfortable, but it was a lot easier than transporting three, especially if it was only through space and not time.

He was very careful how he used it, never taking big jumps in time and breaking up a long distance in space into several jumps if at all possible. Once, Jack had trusted his Vortex Manipulator completely, but that trust had vanished when he had found himself stranded on Earth a hundred and thirty years earlier than he had intended to land.

He had been able to repair it, and after a long time of contemplating his interaction with the Doctor during their encounter with the Master, he had begun to suspect that the Doctor had manipulated his Vortex Manipulator to cause the burnout. It had been too easy for him to repair it when they had needed it, and he had been much too intent on taking Jack’s ability to travel through time and space away from him again after the horrible Year had been over.

To know or at least suspect the reason for the failure of his Vortex Manipulator did nothing to bring back his trust in the technology. The only thing those musings had achieved was for Jack to resent the Doctor even more, and to distrust him more than Jack felt comfortable with.

Angelo did not let go of his wrist when they landed with a little stagger, but he stared at him out of wide eyes. “That’s how you got from Cardiff to New York without anyone noticing.”

Jack laughed. “Yes. There is nothing more tedious than dealing with visas and travel time if I only want to spend a couple of hours here. And go undetected, although that didn’t work out this time.”

“No one was following me. There is only one other person who knows that you are here and I trust him not to tell anyone,” Angelo said.

“I believe you. Otherwise, I would have vanished without you.”

Anglo sighed deeply. “They are searching for you. They know you are stationed in Cardiff, but their influence isn’t big enough yet to reach you there.”

“You are still in contact with those men?”

“With their successors,” Angelo confirmed. “And it is more that they don’t want to let me out of their sight too much. I’m not working with them, or for them. Whatever they plan can’t be good, and I’m trying to find out what their plan is exactly. I hope I’ll be able to prevent it, or that I can warn you at least.”

“I know what they plan,” Jack said. “Let’s sit down.” He took Angelo’s hand and drew him to a fallen tree, and he did not let go of the hand after they had sat down. “You discover their plan sometime in the future, but you never reached out to me. You did leave behind a message so that I could figure out what was happening in the end.”

Angelo furrowed his brows. “That sounds like you have already lived through it.”

Jack sighed. “I think you already figured out that I am a time traveller. I mean, you used the hints I gave you to build up a small fortune.”

“That was not difficult,” Angelo said. “You never really tried to keep that quiet. I thought for the longest time you were making it all up, even after I saw those things we destroyed before I got arrested. Only after … you had left did I start to think about the things you had said and then some of those happened and … It wasn’t as easy to find my footing here as I had thought when I had dreamed to come here. I worked hard, but with the situation as it was in ‘28 and later, even hard work wasn’t enough to survive. So I started to use the information you had given me, and I’m very thankful that it allowed me to give my children a much easier life than I had for the longest time.”

“How many children do you have? I only got to know a granddaughter of yours, Olivia. And she wasn’t very forthcoming with information. I don’t think she liked me very much.”

“Olivia is just ten now,” Angelo muttered flabbergasted. “My oldest daughter’s first child. I have two daughters and a son. How did you meet her? How can you come back and try to change something that has already happened to you? Won’t that create a paradox?”

Jack laughed. “I see you have studied physics and the theories about time travel.”

“You have influenced my life in a lot of ways,” Angelo said softly.

“I wish I had handled our relationship better,” Jack confessed. “I was … starved for someone I could confide in. And you had accepted so easily how I falsified the documents for you, I thought you were ready for the rest, too. I should have been more cautious, shouldn’t have dragged you into my work. I was just so overwhelmed to be able to share any of it with someone that I didn’t even stop to think where your boundaries to accept any of it would be.”

“At first I thought it wasn’t you, that some demon or alien had taken on your face and was mocking me.” Angelo sighed deeply. “When I finally could wrap my head around the fact that you had really come back it was already too late. I take it you won’t answer my questions?”

Jack shook his head. “I confided in you once and overwhelmed you with it.”

And yet, he yearned to share his experiences with Angelo, to talk with him about the path he had set himself onto. He had lived a solitary life for such a long time, and yet the last years in which he had not been able to share with anyone what had happened had been a greater burden than it had ever been before. There was no one in his current life in Cardiff he would trust with his story, but for some reason, he felt drawn to share his thoughts with Angelo.

“I learned from my mistakes,” Angelo said. “And I learned to be much more open-minded, to be accepting of who I am and who others are.”

Jack sighed deeply. “I fell in love, and he died because of my recklessness. A day later I had to kill my own grandson or let millions of children be sacrificed. And when an opportunity presented itself for me to prevent the event that led to all of this, I took it without regard for the risk to the whole universe. What I did could have unravelled all of time and space, I could have destroyed everything, all because I wanted to kill the monsters that had started the events that led to me losing my lover and my grandson.”

“But it didn’t destroy anything.”

“That’s not entirely true. I destroyed my own timeline, got stuck back in my old body. That’s not how time travel works normally, and I’m still not sure what really happened, or how it could happen. – There were aliens who wanted us to sacrifice twelve adolescent children to them. I destroyed them the night they would have gathered that sacrifice. The first time around they took eleven of the children; the last boy was left behind and managed to run away. But they came back, forty-four years later. And this time around, they didn’t want to have only a small number that could have been covered up, but ten per cent of all the children on the planet. And the governments were prepared to give them these children.”

“As sad as it is, I’m not even surprised about it.”

Jack sighed. He had not been surprised about it either, but that had done nothing to lessen the horror. “We tried to stop them, but all it did was kill Ianto and hundreds of other people. And then … basically in the last minute, we found a way to destroy them. But we needed someone to boost the transmission … a child because they had created a mental connection to the children to communicate through them. It was horrific. And … Steven was the only child that was there. I … I made this decision and…”

“I’m sorry you were in such a situation.” To Jack’s great astonishment Angelo did not withdraw his hand but leaned into him in support. “I can’t imagine being able to make such a decision.”

Jack swallowed hard. “No fury? No disgust?” Those were the reactions he was expecting because that was what everyone in this facility had regarded him with except for Decker. And it was what he felt about this day.

“You were in an impossible situation,” Angelo’s whispered. “I can’t even imagine having to make such a decision. To have to choose between millions of lives or one seems in theory easy, right? But to actually make this decision … I don’t think I would have been able to make this decision one way or another, especially if it would have been Olivia I had to decide against.”

“It was one of the hardest things I ever did,” Jack confessed. “But at the same time … I wasn’t thinking clearly any more by that point in time. It had been five very terrible days. I’m not sure if I could have ignored the pleas of my daughter if I hadn’t been so exhausted and desperate … and broken. – I destroyed these creatures in revenge before they could even get their first sacrifice, and now neither my daughter nor my grandson will ever exist.”

Alice had had ample reason to distrust him, her whole life had been shaped by being his daughter. He would put no child through that again, he would not risk fathering a child again. It had been a hard decision, but one of the first he had actually made after he had decided to stay here on Earth and try to change at least a few things for the better.

“When did you come back?”

“Four years ago,” Jack said. “They would have come back for the other children in forty years. A couple of years later the plans of the Three Families began to unravel. When that happened, I had already planned to come back, but suddenly I was stuck there and had to live through all this shit.”

“What are they planning?”

Jack shook his head. “It was a nightmare. We could stop it, but … I didn’t stay for long afterwards, but I’m sure the aftermath was its own kind of hell. I would like to prevent it, or at least prepare for it.”

It had taken weeks for Jack to come to the decision that he needed to use his knowledge of the future to prevent as many horrors he had lived through as possible. He had cared very little for the Miracle or its ramifications aside from the point that it was hindering him in his plans to take revenge on the 456. But the situation had changed now, and in a way, he was responsible for the Miracle ever happening. If he had not been stranded on Earth, the Three Families would have never gotten the means to start the Miracle with his blood. He felt obligated to stop them, or if that turned out to be impossible because of the fixed point, he had to help Earth to overcome the aftermath of that event.

Jack sighed deeply. “But I don’t even know where to start. That’s the reason why I was in New York today. I’m trying to find the Three Families and prevent them from building up the power base they had.”

Angelo eyed him with raised eyebrows. “And you want to do that alone?”

“Who could I trust with this?”

Angelo shook his head. “That is the wrong kind of question to ask. How do you find people you can trust? How do you build up a network in secret that can help you track these people down or help you prepare for whatever it is you know will come? You won’t get anything accomplished if you work alone! Even with your fancy travel device you can’t be anywhere at once, can’t keep an eye on everything alone!”

“I know.” Jack shook his head, but this was a very hard lesson he had learned after Alex’s suicide when he had been alone in Cardiff with the Rift. It was not a lesson he would ever forget and he knew it was true for this situation as well, but the truth was that he had forgotten how to trust anyone. There was still a certain familiarity connecting him with Angelo and the knowledge that it had only been his help that had led them to the right conclusion during the Miracle that had prompted Jack to be as open with him as he was.

“I would love to help you in whatever way possible,” Angelo said.

Jack shook his head. “You told me earlier that they are constantly monitoring you. How would that work?”

“I have gotten quite accomplished with giving them enough to keep their attention away from the important things I do. And I can keep an eye on them for you. I’m sure I could learn more from them if I tried, I just haven’t tried very hard in the past. And I didn’t say I should be the only one helping you. You need to build your own network, I would just be the beginning!”

“You should talk with your wife about this. It would endanger your whole family. These people don’t shy away from murder.”

Angelo snorted. “This has nothing to do with my wife. She will never know anything about it. She wouldn’t approve, if only because of your involvement. I won’t tell her I met you, or that I work with you. For the most part, she is a good person, and I do love her, but she can be very narrow-minded and she wouldn’t even try to understand any of this.”

Jack frowned. “I don’t want to destroy your family. You have managed to build a comfortable life for yourself despite the bad start I gave you here with landing you in jail.”

“You know how that record mysteriously vanished?”

Jack bit his lip, grinning. “No, really?”

Despite the fury and heartbreak he had felt over Angelo’s betrayal, he had been very aware of the fact that it had partly been his own fault. He should not have come back to him; he had known how much Angelo had clung to his religion that had made him hate part of himself so much. It had been the first time that he had ever chosen to reveal his immortality because he had been so infatuated with him that he had ignored how much it would overwhelm Angelo. Therefore he had set out to make his life easier as much as he could before he had left America.

“Of course, you had nothing to do with it!”

“Still, helping me could destroy everything you have worked for your whole life,” Jack said.

Angelo sighed. “You said I helped you in the future, so I did this once already. Why should I shy away from it now? Especially when I can do more now than the first time. It was my action that started all of this. Whatever these people are planning, they wouldn’t have come together if I hadn’t…”

“You can’t know that. They could have stumbled across me in many other circumstances. The people I work for know what I am, and they very regularly try to find out what makes me what I am.” Jack shrugged, ignoring Angelo’s appalled gaze. “Ignoring my little time loop, I’ve been stranded on earth for a hundred years now. It was neither the first nor the last time I was killed for sport. And although I don’t remember it, I’m sure they had some kind of access to me later on.”

“How can you not remember something like that?”

“There are several drugs that can alter one’s memories, and I’m not immune to them.”

“Will you tell me what happened? When it happened?”

Jack swallowed. “Can you keep such knowledge a secret? It would be dangerous if anyone learned what I know about the future. Aside from endangering you and your family, it could change things in such a way that I would lose any control over this situation.”

“You have gone back in time for more than forty years, how can you believe you have any kind of control over this situation?” Angelo asked aghast.

“Because I know how time works,” Jack replied. “I … I once made a living out of changing certain events in time. It is not so easy to disrupt the stream of time or create paradoxes as the scientists of this period think or fear, because time adjusts itself in most cases. It finds a way back to its original flow, like a river that’s blocked and diverted from its original path but turns back to the riverbank that was already there on the other side of the blockade. It depends on the severity of the event how long it takes for time to return back to its path, but it will return eventually.”

Angelo frowned. “So, change a small thing and it changes basically nothing but change a big thing and it will take years to get back to what was supposed to be?”

“It’s simplified of course, but yes,” Jack sighed. “The problem is to understand what are small things and what are big things. – What I did, that should have created a paradox, torn apart all of reality. I’m still not sure why it didn’t happen, but I suspect it has something to do with what I am, with the reason for my immortality. I’ll need to be more cautious in the future, especially if I want to direct the changes I do make in a certain way.”

“I’ll keep your secrets,” Angelo promised. “And I still want to help you! If you can’t trust anyone else but me with your true plan, then you need to come up with a cover story. Something people will believe in and will keep believing in when you finally have to reveal what your real goals are.”

Jack snorted. “That’s easier said than done.”

“What did they do? And when did it happen? Or, will it happen?”

“My biggest concern is that I could accelerate their timeline,” Jack confessed. “Because as of now I still have nearly 42 years until their so-called Miracle will happen. And if I can’t stop it in its entirety, I’ll need this time to prepare as many people as possible for those months.”

Angelo looked at him wide-eyed. “You said I helped you figure out what had happened. Did I still live in 2011?”

“You weren’t conscious any more, but you lived.” Jack raised their joined hands to press a kiss against Angelo’s knuckles. “Existed is probably the better word for it. Olivia kidnapped me and brought me to you, and you had managed to install a machine so that me coming to you let you die. You were the first person in more than four months to die, and the way you had accomplished it helped me figure out why no one was dying any more, while I had become mortal.”

Angelo blanched. “They managed to spread your immortality over all the world?”

“No.” Jack shook his head and took a deep breath. “No one came back after dying, no one healed faster than they did normally, they just couldn’t die. They kept living, even if they had been beheaded or caught in an explosion. I’m not sure how aware they still were in such extreme cases. Other less extreme cases could heal with enough time. That everyone still got ill was the biggest problem. If it had become permanent as they had planned, the second biggest problem would have been that no one stopped ageing.”

“Why would anyone want such a thing?”

“They wanted to capitalize on it. They had it all planned out to take over medical care, the disposal of those who were deemed too old or ill to live, and how that would be decided.” Jack shrugged. “It’s the same reason every time: money and power.”

Angelo sighed. “It is sad that humanity is so focused on those two things. But how do you want to stop them?”

“If they don’t find the … thing that helped them create the Miracle with my blood, they won’t be able to do anything. At the moment it is buried deep, so to try to find it and destroy it would draw too much attention to me and its location. If I can destroy their network before they get even bigger and more established, then they won’t have the resources to search for it once they start to suspect its existence.”

“Sounds very vague. And … they are well connected already. They were already well connected when I first met them officially after I had helped you flee,” Angelo replied. “Another reason for you to not work alone. That’s work for dozens of people and years to come!”

“Did you ever work with them?”

Angelo shook his head. “I had no interest in such a thing after what I had let happen to you. And they had no interest in me because of the relationship I had with you. But after I started to establish myself in New York they started to fear I could meddle in their affairs, I think. Thankfully I had already made a couple of influential friends so that they didn’t dare to kill me, but they made it very obvious that they were watching me and my family.”

Jack eyed him with raised eyebrows. “And yet you still insist on helping me?”

“Of course I do,” Angelo said smiling. “It’s the right thing to do, and not only because I have played my part in setting them on their way. And in a way, I’m already doing this, only on a much smaller scale of course. I’ve built my life up to be a thorn in their side, if only because they wouldn’t let me live in peace.”

Jack sighed. “I don’t know what to think about any of this!”

“Did you really plan to work on this alone for the rest of your life? I mean, you have to have some kind of plan when you are talking about preparing for those events if you couldn’t prevent them.”

Jack shrugged. “I don’t really have a plan. It’s been hard to come up with something. There are other things, much smaller and more insignificant events I’m trying to change as well. For those, it’s mostly been easy to come up with plans, and for others, I’m just waiting for their time to be nearer before I make any plans. But this one … it will span the whole world, it will change the whole world not only with the obvious but in the small things like how people react to certain things. I just…”

“You need a plan,” Angelo insisted. “And help. You are too involved in all of it, you’ll overlook things.”

Jack closed his eyes and leaned his head against Angelo’s shoulder. “Maybe you are right.” He felt tired, and he had not even noticed how exhausted he felt until this very moment. He had made so many plans, was trying to keep ahead of so many things, it was probably no surprise that he was overwhelmed.

“Let me help,” Angelo asked again. “I promise, I’ll be careful.”

Jack sighed, half in defeat, half in relief. “What do you suggest?”

“Built a network. It doesn’t even have to be a covert network, as long as its official purpose is not what you’ll actually use it for and no one knows you are involved in it. Allow yourself to accept the help of others because I think that is something you have forgotten along the way. I know the Three Families have established themself in banking and pharmacy, try to find people who will build a foothold there for you.”

“And politics and information of any kind,” Jack muttered.

“Start small, build a base you can trust and spread out from there. And don’t try to keep control of every little thing that is happening.”

Jack kept quiet for long minutes. “Maybe I already started something like this without even noticing. I … I have built a group of trusted associates in Cardiff because … we are getting in a lot of trouble there and I learned that it’s not a good idea to keep police and rescue workers out of the loop of aliens if you are living in a place with a Rift through time and space.”

Angelo sighed. “Sometimes I wish I could pretend you were only telling stories. A Rift through time and space, really? And in Cardiff?”

Jack laughed. “Oh yeah, we are getting visitors from all places and times. We can’t control it, and more often than not we have to help them either find a way home or get settled. At least that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m not really a trusted member of the team and those who have the last word at the moment go mostly for executing everything foreign.”

“Doesn’t sound like a very welcoming place,” Angelo muttered.

“It’s not,” Jack agreed. “But it will get better. And I’m working on making the right friends so that I’m not in constant danger of my teammates turning on me.”

“Maybe you should concentrate on that first, then. You do have more than four decades to get ahead of the Three Families. I’ll start here in the meantime. Not me directly heading any kind of organization of course, that would only draw their attention. But there are a lot of people they don’t care much about if I meet them.”

“And how do you suggest we keep in contact without anyone noticing?”

“How does this transporter of yours work? What do you need to get to a location?”

“Coordinates. Not the one used by you, but I have gotten very adept in translating them.”

“So, if I tell you where I live, you would be able to come directly into my house without anyone noticing?”

Jack shrugged. “That’s no problem. But what about your wife? Didn’t you just tell me you wouldn’t want to involve her?”

“I have a study that’s my room alone. She doesn’t even go in there to clean it. And it’s secure, or at least as secure as something can be. If you transport yourself directly into my office, no one would notice it and we wouldn’t take the risk of someone seeing us on the street.”

Jack nodded slowly, thinking through all the possibilities, although he was still not sure if this was the right thing to do. He had opened up to Angelo again but there remained a sliver of doubt if he should trust him at all. It had become so difficult to trust anyone since his return, but he knew Angelo was right in some of the things he had said. Maybe this was the right place to start, with someone who had already helped him save the world. Without Angelo, they would have never learned how to end the Miracle, and maybe he still needed to play this role a second time.

***

Angelo let out a deep sigh as the door of his home closed behind him. The day had brought him many surprises in which the joy of seeing Jack again had nearly been lost. He had yearned to see the man whom he had fallen so madly in love with in the month after he had come to America again, but although he had found him years ago in Cardiff, he had never dared to travel to Wales to meet him.

He had never managed to let go of the guilt for the things he had let happen to Jack, and Angelo had feared to be rejected by him once more. He had told himself to be satisfied with watching Jack from afar, but when his son Matteo had come to him this morning to tell him that he had seen Jack here in New York the temptation had been too big to ignore.

The hours they had spent in the forest had been nice, if at times a little bit awkward. The man Angelo had met today barely resembled the man he had known forty years ago, not only because for Jack so much more time had gone by, but also how hard and unforgiving those extra years had been.

“Are you alright, Dad?”

Angelo looked up the flight of stairs where Matteo stood, watching him with eyes full of worry. “I am. Let’s sit down in my study, shall we?”

Matteo followed him without saying another word. His son was the only one of his children who never questioned his paranoia, who had never told him he was a crazy old man chased by delusions. Once he had been close to all three of his children, but there had grown a distance between him and the girls when Sofia and Emma had grown from teenagers to adults. He had feared that happening with Matteo as well, but his son had grown up to be much more progressive and open-minded than his sisters.

“It was your friend, then?” Matteo asked only after Angelo had closed and locked the door of his study behind them.

Angelo nodded. “I’m so very thankful that you saw him and that you told me about it. I hadn’t expected to ever be able to speak with him again.”

Matteo watched him silently for a long time. “You know, I never really believed you. Until I saw him today I thought it was some kind of fairy tale when you talked about him. But he isn’t aging at all, is he?”

“No.” Angelo sat down in one of the armchairs in the corner under the window and gestured for his son to sit down in the other one. There was no reason for them to be separated by his too big desk. “Jack doesn’t age and when he dies he just comes back to life. Regardless of how often or how gruesomely he died. It’s a curse.”

“And yet you are trying to achieve the same state?”

Angelo shook his head. “No. I mean, yes you are right, I’m trying to prolong my life. But not to the same extent as Jack. I understood what a curse that is the moment … I got over my shock. I reacted very poorly when I found out he couldn’t die … but I’m fortunate enough that Jack actually forgave me.”

They had sat together in the forest and talked for a long time after Jack had finally relented to Angelo’s desire to help him. After they had come to the agreement that Jack would use his transportation device to visit him here in this office once a month going forward, they had spent hours discussing their lives, although Angelo had talked a lot more about his own life than he had learned from Jack. Angelo understood his reluctance, but he would work to regain Jack’s trust regardless of how long that would take.

“I assume all the things you have ever told us are true?” Matteo looked down at his hands. “The people you warned us about, the conspiracy you are trying to uncover.” He sighed deeply. “Mom told us over and over again that you were a little bit crazy from your time in the war and because you had had trouble right after you came here.”

Angelo frowned because he had never personally heard those things from Giulia. “Is that the reason Sofia and Emma are so distant?”

Matteo shrugged. “Partly. But neither of them is very comfortable … You never kept it a secret that you were sexually involved with this man. They are both deeply ashamed of that fact. It’s gotten worse with Sofia since she met Henry. Do you know what he said last month after the incident at the Stonewall Inn? He thinks the police should have shot all of them. I’m still surprised he married Sofia despite knowing your history.”

“I know Henry’s thoughts on the subject. He repeatedly told me that I’m not welcome at his home outside of family obligations.” Angelo had never liked his son-in-law and he still thought his oldest daughter had settled for the first man who had been willing to even look at a young single mother whose child had been born out of wedlock. He had tried to talk with her about it because in his mind there was no reason at all for her to search out marriage for any other reason than love, but she had not been willing to hear any of it.

“I’m worried about Olivia”, Matteo said. “Henry is … He doesn’t accept her and Sofia is doing nothing to protect her from him. When they married, I thought she did it to give Olivia a stable home and a father, but maybe it never was about Olivia. Maybe Mom and you should offer to take her in.”

Angelo sighed, but he knew that Matteo was right. Olivia spent a lot of time after school here with him and Giulia, most often only going home after dinner, and Sofia had never shown any concern about it. In the first couple of years after Olivia’s birth, Sofia had doted on her daughter, despite her grief over losing Olivia’s father before they had even known of Sofia’s pregnancy and even though Olivia’s other grandparents had never recognized her as their own. Angelo had no idea why that had changed, but he still had hoped Sofia would someday remember the love she had once had for her oldest child.

“I’ll talk with Giulia,” he muttered. “You are right, Olivia deserves to have a happy and secure childhood and if her mother can’t provide that for her then we will do it.”

“Will Jack become a part of your life again?”

Angelo blinked, surprised by the sudden change of topic. “I hope so. Although, no one will know about it, not even your mother. I hope I’ll be able to be a friend to him and to lift some of the burdens he is carrying. He is a very different man to the one I met forty years ago.”

“I imagine that holds true for you as well”, Matteo said.

Angelo chuckled. “Yes, of course. But it’s different for Jack. He is fighting against things you can’t even imagine. The conspiracy that I suspected is just a very tiny part of a much bigger picture. – And I know how this sounds, Matteo, but I assure you, we have a very dark future ahead of us if we won’t prepare for the fall out of this conspiracy. He is trying to stop them, and all on his own, but I’m not sure he’ll be successful even if he starts to allow others to help him.”

“And you want to help him.”

“I will help him, even though Jack isn’t fully convinced yet to let me or really anyone at all help him,” Angelo said. He took a deep breath. “You said you didn’t believe me until today. I’m surprised that only seeing Jack changed your mind.”

Matteo shook his head. “It’s not only that. There are a lot of small things … What you told us about Jack sounded too fantastic to be true, but there are other things you said, about people following you and trying to damage your reputation, that I never doubted. I encountered some of them during my time at school and college. People who came into my life and tried to alienate me from you. I think that is what happened to Sofia and Emma, too, you know. That there are people in their lives who they think are friends, when their only goal is to estrange them from you.”

Angelo shuddered. “I tried to keep them away from you, and I thought I had been mostly successful!”

“I can’t be sure, of course.” Matteo shrugged. “And those people who tried to befriend me didn’t try to include me in anything nefarious. All they did was try to drive a wedge between us. I didn’t even notice it at first until they became very agitated when I kept defending you. I severed those friendships of course, but I started to wonder after it happened for the third time.”

“I’m sorry that you were put into this situation because of my life choices!”

“It’s really not your fault.”

Angelo shook his head. “I’m working hard to undermine the influence of these people wherever I can. Of course, it’s my fault that they are targeting you.”

“And yet, you wouldn’t have done anything differently if you would have known about it earlier, would you?” Matteo said smiling. “You are a good man, Dad. And I believe that you are fighting for a good thing, even without knowing what you are fighting against exactly. I’m proud to be your son, I’m proud of what you have accomplished. If you need help with anything, I’m here.”

“You have talked a lot about leaving this country in the last couple of months,” Angelo muttered. “Are those false friends a reason for that?”

Matteo shook his head. “Maybe in part, but … I know you fulfilled your life’s dream by coming here and building up such a successful life, but I never felt at home here. You managed to travel so often with us, you showed us so much of the world. I just feel that I’ll be happier if I build up my life elsewhere. But if you tell me you need my help here, I’ll stay. As much as I would like to take the same leap of faith you did at my age, you are more important to me than that.”

“Where do you want to go?”

“You remember our holiday in New Zealand?”

Angelo nodded smiling. “Very well.”

The first couple of years after the war had been hard, not only because he had come back from his service in the US Army with a lot of nightmares, but also because they had been among those Italian American families that had lost their home when they had been declared enemies of the state purely for the fact that Angelo and Giulia’s parents had been born in Italy. Angelo had been better prepared for that time than most because of the things Jack had warned him about during the month they had spent together, but despite all the connections he had built in the years before the war, it had taken time for their family to get back on their feet.

They had managed to successfully rebuild their lives and reclaim the wealth Angelo had started to accumulate before the war, and after that Angelo had convinced his wife that they should show their children as much of the beauty of the world as they could. They had managed a three-week holiday during the summer for fourteen years with their whole family even after Olivia had been born. They had spent their holiday in New Zealand when Matteo had been sixteen, and it had been the only one without either Sofia or Emma.

“I fell in love with that country”, Matteo confessed. “That’s why I asked you if we could go back there again.”

It had not happened, because Giulia had lost all interest in holidays outside of the USA after Emma had married and started her own family a little more than two years after that trip to New Zealand. Angelo had contemplated giving Matteo the money so that he could spend a holiday there alone, but his son had thrown himself into his studies and never asked again about it after Giulia had made her decision known.

Angelo laughed. “You planned to go there from the beginning. That’s why you were so focused on getting through college and finding a good-paying first job. Why did you never talk about this with us until a couple of months ago?”

Matteo huffed. “Because I knew how Mom would react. She is already annoyed that Emma and her family are living outside of New York, as if Stamford is so far away. If she could dictate anything about our lives, she would have kept us all in this house! I didn’t want to have this discussion every other week for years on end.”

Matteo was not wrong, Angelo knew. They had bought the adjoining house to their own with the thought that one of their daughters, most likely Sofia, would stay there. They were renting it out now to another family because neither Emma nor Sofia had shown any interest in living there.

“I’ll support you in any way I can.” Angelo had made that promise to his son from the very beginning, but it never hurt to repeat it, especially concerning Giulia’s continued protest.

“What are you and Jack planning?” Matteo asked. “What’s your goal? What exactly is it you are so determined to stop?”

“You shouldn’t give up your own plans just because I plan to take on another fight that’s probably too big for me,” Angelo said.

“Tell me about it.” Matteo crossed his arms. “I’m not leaving you here alone if I’m able to help. You said earlier your Jack needed to learn to accept help, but I think the same goes for you. Tell me what really happened when you were with Jack because I always believed you left out a lot.”

Angelo sighed. “I did indeed, because Jack’s immortality is not the only thing about all of it that sounds too fantastical to be true. Jack showed me a whole new world and I fear you won’t be able to believe anything about it without seeing any proof.”

“I think your friend is proof enough for anything, don’t you?” Matteo grinned. “I mean, I’ve seen the nearly forty-year-old picture you have had on display here all of my life and I saw him today. If I’m able to believe in the existence of a man who doesn’t age and can’t die, I’m able to believe in anything else. If you are about to start a fight with some secret organization for that man, I’m not letting you do it on your own!”

“Are you sure?” Angelo asked. “I started all of this with my betrayal of Jack. The people we’ll try to stop want to use the curse Jack is suffering under to make money and gain power, and I was the reason they learned about Jack in the first place. I think if you go away they will leave you alone. You could concentrate on building your own family without the burden I brought onto our family.”

Matteo shook his head. “No chance in hell, Dad. You aren’t getting rid of me.”

Angelo eyed him for a very long time, but his son met his gaze calmly and patiently. He had never wanted to drag any of his children into the conflict he had found himself in with the Three Families, especially not on the scale Matteo was asking of him. But then, there was no one he trusted more than Matteo, and his son was old enough to make these decisions on his own. It was probably long overdue that someone in his family learned the truth about his arrival in New York.

“Alright,” Angelo sighed. “Let’s start with the truth about how I met Jack on Ellis Island. I have to confess that my first steps on American soil weren’t very honourable.”

Chapter 02

The 1970s

“A flea market, really?” Laughing, Lucia followed Jack into the tightly packed market. “Didn’t you say we had to check out something for work?”

“Flea markets are a treasure trove for all kinds of things,” Jack replied. “You wouldn’t believe what all we already found in a place like this. The Rift leaves behind things all over Cardiff, people find it and think flea markets are a good place to sell this supposed junk. I’m especially looking for movie reels, so tell me if you see anything, but we should keep watch for everything that … could be of foreign origin.”

Lucia had been with Torchwood for nearly a year now and surprisingly enough, at least for anyone but Jack, it had been a very calm year. After losing the old team in a matter of months shortly before Lucia had joined them, the calm had been a very welcome change and this time around he had used the opportunity to build up a better relationship with the new team.

Jack was glad that he was finally rid of the old team from the sixties, and especially that Turner had found the same gruesome death as last time. While he had never had a very tight relationship to any team before his own when he had lived through all of this originally, he had recognized the positive change the new team had brought at the start of the ‘70s.

Jack grabbed Lucia’s hand, partly not to lose her and partly because he just could. “And just for once, it’s something where we can mix work and a little bit of fun. We are all working way too much, don’t you think?”

Lucia grinned and leaned into his side. “We’ve been mixing work and pleasure a lot in the last couple of weeks. I do hope you aren’t doing that with anyone else on the team!”

“Don’t worry, for the moment you are the only one!”

Jack had tried to keep Lucia away from Torchwood. In his other life, he and Torchwood had ruined her life, had made her an old, bitter and paranoid woman in the end who had either mistrusted or hated everyone around her, including her daughter. It had been such a change to the carefree and loving woman who had come to Torchwood. The first time around, most of that attitude had been lost in the first few months of her employment with Torchwood, not the least because to work under Turner would destroy all illusions anyone had. But all Jack had accomplished was to push her employment back three years, which had at least meant that she had never met anyone from the old team and had not been influenced by their jaded and hateful views on everything alien.

After that, Jack had tried to keep his distance from Lucia because he really should not revisit their relationship. He had thought he had prepared himself for her return into his life when it had become evident that he could not stop it, and for the most part he hadn’t been able to remember why he had even fallen in love with her. The end of their relationship, when Lucia had decided to put herself and their daughter into witness protection so that they would be free from Torchwood and him, had been ugly and hurtful. In retrospect, Jack had been able to acknowledge that it had been the best decision she could have made for Alice, but that had not diminished the hurt he felt over it.

But then Lucia had been there, so full of life and laughter and wonder for all the things they encountered in their line of work. It had been startling at first to discover how many things about her he had forgotten over time. The little gestures, like her tapping a pen against the tip of her nose when she was deep in thought while working on some files, as well as the big things like the sound of her laughter or her love for the night sky had slipped his mind a long time ago. Rediscovering those things was a wonder in its own way in every single moment.

She had learned to hate Torchwood, even before the organization had become a threat to her child, but Jack knew that her first two years in Cardiff this time would be one of the most peaceful he had ever experienced in this city, and that had allowed her to hold on to her enjoyment of life. It was contagious, so much so that Jack had been unable to keep his distance.

He still reminded himself every day to be careful and not open his heart to her as fully as he had done the first time around. He would lose her like he would lose everyone else, and this time he would probably lose her to some kind of accident during their work. She would have never left Torchwood if she hadn’t gotten pregnant, and Jack took great care to have condoms with him and use his Vortex Manipulator to monitor Lucia’s hormone levels so that there was no chance for her falling pregnant again. However short her life would turn out to be, he was determined to give her as much joy in it this time as possible.

“And why exactly are we looking for movie reels?” Lucia asked. “I didn’t know you were a fan of movies.”

“I’m not.” Jack shook his head. “Not everything we encounter is of alien origin, you know. There are a lot of things from around here that could be a threat. I’m looking for records of a group of showmen who called themselves the Night Travellers. Wherever they showed up, people were… I don’t know, losing their soul. They would stand somewhere, awake but unresponsive and none of them could ever be healed. I tried to find them when it was rumoured that they were around here somewhere, I even travelled with a couple of those groups for a while.”

Lucia chuckled. “Really? And what were you showing the people?”

Jack raised his brows. “There aren’t many places in the world where no one wonders about the man who can’t die.”

“No!” Lucia frowned. “That’s … Why would you do that to yourself?”

Jack shrugged, cursing himself for having brought it up. At this point in time, his inability to stay dead was no secret to the team, but Lucia was one of very few who had never been fascinated by it. Since she had learned about it, she had shown deep sorrow about it, and every time Jack sacrificed himself for any reason she was greatly distraught over it. It had taken Jack a long time to understand that it was her worry about him and not any kind of disgust that let her react this way. It was just one more thing he loved about her.

“It was something I could do without any preparation”, Jack explained. “And we had no time to prepare anything else. I didn’t mind at all, but we never found out what happened to them. It didn’t seem important after the groups of travelling showman slowly vanished, at least to those making the decisions. But I never completely forgot.”

He had very willingly forgotten about it until they had returned in 2008 because the time he had spent investigating them had been gruesome, and after he had failed to find them he had found himself once more in the custody of a doctor whose goal had been to investigate the origin of his immortality. He had been informed that it was a punishment for his failure and a reward for the doctor, although Jack had no idea what he had been rewarded for. But this time he knew where they were hiding and he was unwilling to just let them be. He would destroy any record of them, one film reel at a time, and hopefully would find all of them before anyone could free them.

“And why are you searching for movie reels of them?” Lucia asked. “How could that help you find out what they did to their victims?”

Jack shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe something was caught on them. If not about their victims, I could at least find something about the place they are at now.” There was no way to covertly tell her the truth as long as they were here, surrounded by hundreds of people. Jack was not even sure if he would tell her later why he was searching for those reels, because he had no idea how he could explain his knowledge.

“Are any of those victims still alive?” Lucia asked.

“No.” Jack shook his head. “They vanished in the thirties when movie theatres became more and more popular. At that time … Nowadays nurses have ways to feed unresponsive patients, but it was impossible then. Most of the victims starved.”

“That’s horrible,” Lucia muttered.

“It’s life.” Jack sighed. “And it’s one of the really wonderful things of this time that everything is advancing so much. Despite all the conflicts all over the world, humankind is prospering. It’s great to be able to witness it.”

“It’s a reminder of what we are fighting for, right?” Lucia muttered.

Jack smiled and let go of her hand to wrap his arm around her shoulder. “Yes.”

“Do you ever get tired of it?” Lucia wrapped her own arm around his waist but she decidedly turned her head away from him. Jack was not sure if she was afraid of his answer or afraid to be admonished by him for her question.

“Sometimes”, he confessed. “But that greatly depends on who else is part of the team at the time. We have a great team at the moment. The last team … Let’s just say there is a reason most of the police look at us with so much disdain.”

“Not at you, though.”

Jack laughed. “I’ve gone to great lengths to make friends with the police, the fire department, and hospitals. The old team wasn’t listening to me about it, so I went behind their back to make my own connections. I’ve proven myself to them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll trust anyone else on our team anytime soon. Especially as they are still kept more out of the loop than I find necessary.”

“You really think they would be able to handle what we are dealing with?” Lucia sounded sceptical, but Jack knew that was something she had been taught by the rest of the team. The general consensus was that no average person was able to handle the knowledge of aliens, and nothing Jack said could change their minds.

“They could,” Jack assured. “If the police of Cardiff can handle a village full of cannibals, they can handle what we have to offer.” Even five years after dismantling that village, it was still very much present on everyone’s mind. It was a stain that would weigh on the region for decades to come.

Lucia snorted. “I’m not so sure about that.”

“Don’t you think we could use more help?” Jack stopped in front of a booth that was displaying several geodes and stones, among them a nearly perfectly round object that was no stone at all. “Look at that!”

“It’s fascinating, isn’t it?” the man behind the table asked with a grin. “It’s very rare to find any stone polished so round by nature. It was found on a beach not too long ago.”

Jack put on his broadest smile. “Where exactly did you find it?”

The man laughed. “You won’t find any more there. Interested in buying this beautiful stone?”

Jack nodded and started to bargain for the price, during which he also repeated his question. In the end, he paid ten pounds for the Dogon’s sixth eye and the information that it had been found between Swanbridge Bay and Ball Bay just outside of Cardiff. The chances were slim that this was the same one Eugene Jones had gotten from his teacher, but it was nevertheless better to secure it.

“I take it this is not just a stone?” Lucia asked as they had left that booth behind.

“Nope. I told you, this is a great place to find all kind of things. I’ll explain what it is later, alright?”

Lucia nodded. “I wouldn’t have even looked at it twice.”

“You’ll get an eye for it. You haven’t seen much yet. And that’s one reason why we are here, so that you can learn what to look out for.” He pressed a kiss in her hair right over her ear. “And that we are alone and undisturbed by the others is just a very good bonus.”

***

Angelo hurriedly closed the door to his study behind him and locked it as soon as he saw Jack’s trademark coat lying on one of the armchairs. It took a while longer to spot Jack, who was sitting on the ground beside his desk, his head hidden in the hole he had created between his arms and legs. He had not expected Jack today, had, in fact, not even planned to come into his study this morning. But he had forgotten his notebook the evening before and he would need that for the meeting he had after lunch.

“Jack?” Angelo sat down beside his friend, watching him worriedly. He had not seen Jack this distraught in several years now, not since the woman who had once been the mother of his child in another life had joined Jack’s team in Cardiff nearly two years ago. It had been fabulous to see Jack open up so much, regardless of how much Jack had tried to not fall in love with Lucia again. Angelo understood Jack’s reservations and the fear of losing her again all too soon, but he was also very happy for his friend and glad to see this joy for life return to him.

When Jack did not react, Angelo asked, “Did something happen to Lucia?”

Jack took a deep, shuddering breath. “No, not … not like this. I’m sorry I’m invading your space.”

“You are not invading,” Angelo muttered. “You are welcome here every time. And you are safe here, but you know that. What happened?”

“Lucia wants to talk to me this evening.”

Angelo frowned because in Cardiff it was already evening. “And why are you here instead of meeting her? It’s not very nice to not show up to a date with your girl.”

Jack raised his head and the pure anguish in his eyes took Angelo’s breath away. “I was so very careful! I don’t know how this could happen again! I don’t even know when it happened!”

“I don’t think I can follow you”, Angelo muttered. He put a hand on Jack’s shoulder.

“It’s later than last time, but the way she looked at me…” Jack took a deep breath. “She’ll tell me she is pregnant!”

“Are you sure?”

Jack nodded. “This moment, when she asked me for this talk the last time, I could never forget it. I was so naive and carefree at that time. I didn’t even think about the consequences any child would have to endure just for the reason that it would be my child. I saw what happened when I tried to build a family! My daughter was wary of me for all her life and in the end, I murdered her son!”

“You need to calm down and stop thinking about what happened last time.”

Jack shook his head. “How can I? It’s the same fucked up situation!”

“It’s not!” Angelo said. “And if you take a moment to stop and think about this, you will be able to see it. There are so many things different to what they were when you were at this point last time.”

Jack snorted. “We are still both working for Torchwood, an organisation that has repeatedly experimented on me. Some individuals won’t stop at experimenting on a child I fathered. It was Lucia who protected our daughter from this the last time because I wasn’t able to do it!”

“You have better contacts this time around”, Angelo started. “You know what to expect. You can hide Lucia and your baby before anyone even knows that there is a baby.” He closed his free hand around Jack’s wrist strap. “This thing gives you a lot of options. You told me it didn’t work right the last time, but you can transport her anywhere and anytime you like, can’t you?”

Jack blinked and Angelo was glad to see him fall out of the stupor he had been caught up in. “You are right.”

Angelo laughed. “Of course I’m right! I was right from the very beginning when I told you that you wouldn’t be able to do any of this alone!”

They had come such a long way since that first meeting five years ago. In the beginning, there had been many awkward moments between them, born out of the guilt Angelo had carried with him for so long and Jack’s reluctance to trust or rely on anyone. It had taken months to overcome, but somehow their monthly meetings had morphed into weekly meetings after less than a year and they had started to share their thoughts even about the mundane, daily things they encountered.

They had found a deep and fulfilling friendship despite the lingering feelings of love and guilt between them, and Angelo was thankful for it every day. His life had become harder again, managing so much work in secret and hiding as they slowly built up a network Jack could rely on in his fight against the Three Families, but the emptiness he had felt since his children had grown up had vanished with it. Once again Angelo had found a goal for his life that he had sorely lacked before Jack had come back into his life.

Jack smiled and leaned into Angelo, who readily wrapped his arms around his friend. “You were. I have no idea where I would be without you right now.”

“Freaking out on top of the roof of some tall building instead of in my study,” Angelo muttered.

It was something Jack had done when they had first met in ‘28 and Angelo still could not understand it. Then, Jack had often taken Angelo with him to those roofs and Angelo had loved the thrill and the sight of this so foreign and new town he was determined to make into his home. New York had changed a great deal since then, and the couple of times Jack had transported them onto a roof to talk because he had yearned for whatever those places gave him, Angelo had frowned down on the city that he had grown distant to.

“I’m not sure if I would still be here at all,” Jack muttered. “You convinced me to stay and take this chance with Lucia.”

Angelo sighed and rubbed a hand over Jack’s back. He remembered that conversation all too well when Jack had been spooked by the fact alone that he had started to fall in love with Lucia again the very moment she had joined his team. It had been the moment in which Angelo had understood how much Jack still hurt from losing the young man he had called his lover in the future and the death of his grandson. He had been so very afraid of allowing himself to love someone, not only for the fact that he would eventually lose them but also because he had somehow convinced himself he didn’t deserve it.

“Don’t tell me you regret even one moment you had with Lucia.”

“No.” Jack sighed deeply. “I don’t … But she will. This situation is … I don’t see how I can protect her. Even if she agrees to hide, I can’t stay with her. I’ll break her heart.”

Jack had changed so much in the last two and a half years since Lucia had become part of his life, even before they had been more than colleagues. Angelo had not seen a single smile on his friend’s face that had reached his eyes, and he had been so focused on the things he wanted to achieve and to stop, that he had forgotten how to live. That at least was the impression Angelo had had about his friend.

It had taken weeks, but in the end, Angelo had been able to convince Jack to take this chance, to allow himself to forget about his goals and tasks for a little while and just enjoy the presence of another human being. To see how Jack had slowly begun to smile again was one of the most beautiful things Angelo had ever seen. Jack had rediscovered a reason to live and to fight other than the penance he had burdened himself with.

“You won’t,” Angelo said. “She will understand it. You have told her of your past, of the things you had to endure because of your immortality. She will understand why you need to protect her in this way!”

“But where could I bring her?” Jack shook his head. “It will become very hard in a couple of years to hide anyone. I can’t risk that they could be found by anyone. There will be too many people who would use my family against me. And she can’t just quit Torchwood. At this point in time, no one leaves Torchwood alive.”

“So, let them think she is dead. And don’t just bring her to another country, but to another time as well. You didn’t tell anyone besides me that you can travel in time, right?” Angelo paused and swallowed hard when he remembered something that had made no sense up until now. “Put her in the past for just a couple of months. Even if we can’t forge documents for her that don’t leave a gap in her new past, no one will look twice at her when searching for Lucia Moretti if she started her new life something like say six months before her assumed death.”

Jack paused. “I did this already.” He sat up and eyed Angelo frowning. “You already know where I’ll put her!”

Angelo shook his head. “I didn’t make the connection until right now. But … with the need to hide Lucia, something Matteo told me when he visited a couple of weeks ago makes a lot more sense now.”

“I brought … will bring her to Matteo?”

Angelo shrugged. “New Zealand is pretty much the other side of the world. Francesca has no family left, either in Italy or anywhere else, and yet six months ago her pregnant second cousin moved in with my son’s family. But besides the help Matteo and Francesca are providing our project, they have also organized a program to help women escape from violent husbands and I just thought this cousin was one of those women who had taken on a new identity.”

“And why do you think now that it’s Lucia?”

“Because Matteo told me to expect trouble heading your way and that he was grateful to help whenever you needed it. He wanted me to tell you that you should just show up in his basement, but he didn’t want to tell me what trouble he meant, just that I would understand when the time came.”

“That does sound ominous,” Jack agreed. “But still…”

“You would be able to get news from her and your daughter,” Angelo said. “You wouldn’t have to cut all ties to them.”

“We have no idea if it will be a girl again,” Jack muttered, but he was staring at a point behind Angelo’s shoulder clearly distracted by other thoughts. “She wouldn’t be alone. That’s much more important than me getting any news from them. In the other time, Lucia detested me because she had to cut all ties to her family when she went into witness protection.”

“I’m surprised Torchwood employees have any family connections left.”

Jack sighed. “At the moment no one is really concerned about those details. It will become official policy in the next decade to hire only those who have no family left or have no contact with them. It’s not … the best decision that was ever made for the organisation. We need to have those ties to remind us of the people we are fighting for.”

“Matteo is a good choice,” Angelo said. “He has a lot of connections to help a single mother and like I did everyone will believe she ran away from an abusive husband to protect her child. Matteo will have help in creating a new identity for her because as far as I know, they are doing that occasionally.”

“I would have to tell him that I can travel through time.”

Angelo shrugged. “He already knows that you aren’t from this time originally. That was one of the harder things for him to believe, but he accepted it eventually.”

“You took great care in keeping me away from your son.” Jack looked at him with a blank face. “And I understand why you are doing this. Are you really ready to give this up?”

“Of course.” Angelo smiled reassuringly. “I didn’t really do that intentionally. With Matteo moving to Christchurch so soon after we met again, there was just never really an opportunity to introduce you. You know, he was the one who saw you on that day and told me about it. Without Matteo, we wouldn’t have met again. And he supported me in everything I ever did.”

Jack frowned. “I thought…”

“I’m sorry you got that impression.” Angelo took Jack’s hands. “I would have loved to introduce you prior to this. He will love to finally meet you. And I know he will take great care of Lucia and your child. They will be safe with him. Saver than they could be anywhere else, I believe.”

Jack sighed. “I just have to convince Lucia of this now.”

“First you have to give her the chance to tell you of her pregnancy,” Angelo said smiling.

Jack still looked unhappy and uncertain, but the tension in his shoulders had visibly lessened and his eyes were much less haunted. Angelo could understand why he wanted to avoid becoming a father again. They both knew what depravities hid in human curiosity and any kind of immortality was coveted by a lot of people. The threat those people could pose to anyone associated with Jack made it impossible for him to build a family, although Angelo had seen more than once the longing in Jack when he had talked about the time spent with his daughter in his other life.

***

“I would have preferred to meet you at the restaurant.” Lucia sighed deeply as Jack let her into the hotel room he had booked for them.

“I know.” Jack took her hand and led her to the table with their dinner. “But I don’t think we should have this discussion in such an open place. We can be much more open here, where no one can overhear us.”

Lucia frowned at him as she sat down across from him. “Do you know what I want to talk to you about?”

Jack closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He had used his Vortex Manipulator to travel back nearly half a day so that he would have enough time to arrange the room and dinner. He had also used that time to decide how much he would tell Lucia, had even briefly contemplated telling her the whole truth. In the end, he decided against that because he did not want to burden her with the knowledge of it.

“I think I have a pretty good idea, though I have no idea how it happened. I was very careful with our condoms and I can’t remember that one of them ever broke. You are pregnant, aren’t you?”

Lucia huffed. “Yes. How do you know this?”

“You had your hands on your belly when you told me earlier that you needed to talk with me. And two days ago when we were at that disco you didn’t drink any alcohol. You looked so earnest earlier, but also happy. I couldn’t think of anything else that would make you happy and at the same time so hesitant.”

Lucia bit her lip and looked down at her plate. “I went to a doctor last week. I didn’t want to ask Alan for the blood work.”

“You know that this is a very complicated situation, right?” Jack sighed. “This could be … I can’t have a child. Are you happy with this development? Do you want this child?”

Lucia raised her head again and looked at him out of wide eyes. “You don’t want this child?”

“That’s not what I said,” Jack replied. “But in the end, it’s not my decision. And we aren’t in a situation where we can just go with the flow. I know this is probably not the reaction you had expected from me, but it is the first decision we have to talk about. Do you want this child? Because Torchwood and children are two things that don’t work together. And I think you are already very aware of that, aren’t you?”

“I won’t terminate my pregnancy!” Lucia bit out angrily.

Jack grabbed her hand as she stood up. “Okay. I’m not asking you to do that. Meyer on the other hand will ask you to do exactly that. Your employment contract with Torchwood gives him even the right to ask Alan to terminate this pregnancy without your consent.”

Lucia went pale. “What?”

Jack sighed deeply. She had not been aware of that in his other life either and he wished he had remembered to make her read that contract more thoroughly. It had been a hard fight against Meyer in that other life to not order that abortion, and it had only been with the help of their current doctor that they had succeeded. They had learned later that Dr. Alan Jones had been more interested in studying their daughter than anything else, and he had been one of the many reasons that Lucia had chosen witness protection.

“Meyer doesn’t like me very much and our relationship is no secret to anyone on our team. Even if it weren’t for the fact that there are no plans for any kind of maternity leave for a Torchwood employee, the fact alone that this is my child will be enough for him to want to get rid of it. And that’s the reason why I wanted to talk to you here so that no one could listen in to us.”

“You really think Meyer would send someone to spy on what they have to think is a normal date?”

“He has gotten a couple of very nasty ideas about me.” There were people in Torchwood One who were suspicious of him because he was an alien himself, and Meyer was friends with them. In his other life, Jack had spent the better part of the years ‘77 and ‘78 in London’s custody because Meyer had sold him out shortly before he had been killed. He still held onto the hope that he could prevent it this time. Right now, he had just taken over the lead of Torchwood Three after his predecessor had been killed four months ago. Jack still didn’t have enough connections to One to get them to send someone else, and he suspected he would never have good enough connections to One to get anything useful out of them.

“I noticed a while ago that our work is taking a turn for the worse,” Lucia muttered and Jack was glad that she sat down again.

“You were very lucky during your first year or so,” Jack said, smiling wistfully. “It was a lot worse with the team that got wiped out shortly before you joined us. A lot of the people we are working with would like nothing more than to weaponize everything we find, including every alien lifeform. And others just want to kill or dissect them. I’m not so sure if I can trust Alan with my safety, or the safety of our child. You know how I was treated in the past. And you are right, the attitude on the team is getting worse again. I have tried to change it, but you’ve seen how little success I had with that.”

“I … you are the only reason why I haven’t started to regret coming to work for Torchwood,” Lucia murmured, averting her gaze.

Jack smiled. “I love you. I fell in love with you despite knowing better, I just couldn’t help it. You gave me back something very precious that I had lost. I think in a way you saved me.”

“Are you saying goodbye to me, Jack?”

“There are not a lot of options if you want to keep this child. And in none of them will I be able to be part of your life. You can’t stay with Torchwood and keep our child because we couldn’t protect them. And I can’t leave Torchwood, not for a long while still.”

Lucia stared at him in silence for several minutes. “I would need to hide from Torchwood. I don’t see … How would that work?”

“You know I’m not from this time. And that it was not the Rift that brought me here, right?”

“You came with the Doctor and he abandoned you.” Lucia nodded.

Jack laughed. “Yeah, that’s what I made them believe because it was the easiest solution I could come up with while they were killing me. I was really glad when those two women died. But it’s not the whole truth. I travelled with the Doctor, yes. And he abandoned me, that’s also true. But he left me behind a long time in the future.” He tapped a finger on his wrist strap. “This thing can transport me through time. I wanted to come search for him in twenty-first century Cardiff, but I miscalculated by a little over a hundred years.”

Lucia looked frowning at the Vortex Manipulator. “And why didn’t you just go forward those hundred years?”

“Because it was burned out. I have repaired it in the meantime, but it took a long time and now there are other reasons I need to stay here. My work for Torchwood is only a very tiny part of what I’m doing. I’m stuck here because I changed a couple of things that shouldn’t have happened and I’m trying to stop the consequences as well as I can.”

It was as near to the truth as he dared tell her. It was hard to explain why he stayed in this situation with Torchwood if he had such an easy way to escape it. Sometimes he had thought about going forward in time the next thirty years, or even just the next twenty years. But he had no idea what all that would change for Torchwood Three. If he wanted to change Torchwood into something less horrible, he needed to build the right connections for it, regardless of how slow-going that was.

“I don’t know how I could successfully hide from Torchwood.” Lucia shook her head. “Maybe they’ll let me go.”

Jack shook his head. “No. The only way to leave Torchwood is through death. I know that was made very clear to you when you signed your contract. They don’t want to have people running around knowing about aliens. I am able to hide you. But you would need to cut all your ties you have here in this life. You won’t be able to keep anything you have from this life. You’ll need a new name, you’ll need to start completely new in another town or in another country, which would be the better solution.”

“You already made a plan for that,” Lucia muttered.

“Yes. I lost my mind for a little while over all of this and went to a very good friend who offered me great advice. He helped me come up with a plan. It includes faking your death and bringing you back in time a couple of months so that even if someone would search for you your trail would be blurred enough that no one would even get the idea to look at you.”

“Is that safe?” Lucia put a hand on her stomach. “Traveling through time won’t damage our baby, right?”

Jack smiled and shook his head. “It’s perfectly safe. You’ll have a perfectly healthy child. And they won’t be affected by my immortality. It’s not part of my DNA, they won’t have inherited any of it.”

“But you won’t come with me,” Lucia muttered. “Not even for those couple of months in the past.”

“I can’t.” Jack closed his eyes. “I would love to come with you, to see our child grow up. But I’ll never be able to hide from Torchwood. They would never stop searching for me and I can’t fake my death. If anyone saw me with you in your new home they would be able to find you. I’ll prepare everything you’ll need, your identity, your new background, an account with enough money that you won’t have to work until the little one is going to school if you don’t want to.”

Lucia interrupted him: “Where would you get that money from?”

“I come from the future.” Jack grinned brightly. “That means I know certain things about what is happening in this time. I can make a lot of money by investing in the right things. I don’t hurt for money at all.”

Lucia looked at him without reacting to his humour, and then a single sob escaped her throat before she pressed her lips together and turned her head away. Jack sighed and left his chair to kneel down beside her and wrap her in his arms. When he had lived through this moment the first time, they had both been so excited and happy. He remembered the illusion they had both believed about the perfect little family they would be. Lucia had come here with this illusion in her head already, and he had had no other choice than to destroy all of it.

“I’m sorry,” Jack muttered into her hair. “I never wanted to put you in this situation!”

“There was one time when we forgot the condom,” Lucia whispered. “But it was not your fault. I … I didn’t know you had been drugged by that alien we had encountered earlier on that day. Do you remember that one that bit you? You went home with me in the evening and I didn’t remind you of the condom. I only noticed during our shower later that you were under the influence of something. If I had noticed earlier, I would have never…”

“I don’t remember that evening at all.” Jack sighed. What he did remember was how distraught she had been the next morning over the sex they had had, but he had never even thought to ask about the condom. “Maybe it was just meant to be. There is a good thing about this, and that is that I won’t lose you to an early death through Torchwood. You’ll have a chance to grow old, see our child grow up. You even have a chance to find someone else to fall in love with and maybe even marry and have some more children.”

Lucia huffed. “I’ll never understand how you can talk so easily about me finding other partners.”

“The time I grew up in, monogamy wasn’t really a thing. Love is very fluid and not as inflexible as all of you believe. I did learn to appreciate certain benefits of monogamy during my time here, but that doesn’t mean I won’t expect others and even myself to find other partners. I really hope you won’t hold onto our relationship for the rest of your life. I would like you to find someone else to be happy with.”

She had never found that in his other life, but he had long suspected that she had been too bitter about the end of their relationship and too paranoid about being found by anyone who wanted to use her and Alice against Jack. He wanted her to be happy, and pining after him from afar would not make her happy. She craved the security of a steady relationship and he wanted her to find that with a man who would love her as much as she deserved.

“You have already an idea where to send me I take it?”

“Yes. Could you trust me? Are you able to trust me enough to bring you to a safe place and take care of everything without telling you anything about it before I bring you to your new home? Including the exact date and how we’ll fake your death?”

“You aren’t trusting me with that information?”

Jack sighed. “I do trust you. But if you don’t know anything, you can’t let anything slip, not even to your parents. I don’t know how fast all of this will happen, how long you’ll have to wait. It’s your free day tomorrow. Use it to meet with your parents, I’m not sure you’ll have another opportunity for it.”

Lucia took a shuddering breath. “This is not how I had expected this evening to go.”

“I know, and I’m so sorry about it.” Jack buried his face in her neck. “You don’t have to do any of this if you don’t want to. It’s a lot to ask of you, to give up your whole life to protect a child.”

Lucia shook her head. “Of course it’s worth it! I always wanted to have children! I’m not giving up my child!”

Jack hummed and kissed the spot where her neck met her shoulder. He hadn’t expected a different decision from her, but he wanted her to be aware of the possibility. He never wanted her or their child to come into a situation where she would start to resent their child for the choice she had to make at this moment.

“Let’s use the rest of this evening to celebrate, okay?” he muttered against her skin. “Because despite all that we just discussed, it is something to celebrate!”

***

“I have something for you,” Angelo said with a smile after they had finally fallen into a comfortable silence following the hours they had discussed all the latest developments they had discovered about the Three Families in the past few months. They had started to be much more obvious in their efforts to amass power, at least obvious to Angelo and Jack who had been watching them for eight years now.

Jack face lit up because there was only one thing Angelo ever held back until they had finished talking about their various tasks. “Matteo sent new pictures?”

Angelo opened the drawer on his right and took out the thick envelope. “It’s from her birthday party two months ago.”

Jack took the envelope and retreated to the armchairs in the corner before he opened it so very carefully. “I can’t believe Melissa is already three years old. The time has flown by.”

His eyes shown brightly while he studied every single picture of his daughter thoroughly. Angelo never got tired of watching his friend in these moments, regardless of how much it hurt at the same time. Jack loved his daughter despite never having met her. These moments, when Angelo shared pictures that his son had sent him, were the only times Jack could get a glimpse of her life, but they were rare.

Jack rubbed his thumb over one of the pictures. “She is so big already.”

“Matteo told me your letters are starting to become the highlight of these days,” Angelo said. “She remembered your letter from last Christmas and was excited to get another one.”

Jack swallowed hard. “I wanted her to have something from me.”

They had never really talked about it and Angelo only knew about the letters Jack had written his daughter through his son. Matteo had told him of the fifty-two letters Jack had given him on the day he had brought Lucia to him. One letter each for her birthdays and every Christmas for the first twenty-five years of her life, one for the day she would start school, and one for her graduation from high school. Matteo had asked him if he knew what Jack had written about, but as he had not even known about the letters, he had been unable to provide an answer.

“I wanted her to know that I love her, even if I can’t be part of her life. I told Lucia to tell our child that I was dead, that I was a soldier and that I died after I was injured doing my job, that I had had just enough time left to learn about her and write those letters. She deserves the connection,” Jack whispered.

Angelo stood up, filled two glasses with whiskey and set down beside Jack. “What did you put into the letters? Matteo never told me.”

“Just little things about my own life. Things I did at her age, or what I was told I did for the letters she is getting at the moment. Of course, I had to censor many things or change them a little bit, so that it would fit in the time period she thinks I was born into. I saw Alice struggling after she grew up knowing nearly nothing about me, and maybe part of that was that I returned later in her life, but I don’t want that ignorance for this child.”

Angelo frowned. “Is Melissa not the same child Alice was?”

Jack shook his head. “She looks like her, sure, but she will have a completely different life. I explicitly asked Lucia not to name her Alice. I’m … still mourning Alice, but I’ll never confuse my two children. I hope Melissa will never know the fear Alice grew up with, and neither will she ever know the pain of seeing her child murdered.”

Angelo grabbed Jack’s shaking hand. “You have to learn to forgive yourself for this. You can’t keep carrying this burden for the rest of eternity. You avenged Steven, and you saved those other eleven children who would have been taken. Isn’t that enough to allow yourself a little bit of peace?”

“Some things you’ll never forget,” Jack muttered. “This is just one of those things. Steven’s last moment will forever be burned into my brain; he’ll forever be a warning that I need to keep backup plans for everything because most people who make the big decisions can’t be trusted. It can’t guaranty that something like this won’t happen again, but I’ll do my best to stop it.”

“Okay.” Angelo sighed. It was not the first time he had heard those words from Jack, but he still hoped his friend would someday change his mind. “Still, you have to find a way to not feel guilty over it any more. As you said, you changed things. If Melissa will have a child, they won’t face the same fate. Because you put her in a place where she’ll be safe, where no one will associate her or her children with you!”

“I’m not able to change as much as I want.” Jack shook his head and put the pictures aside. “I can make changes to my personal circumstances, but the things I try to change for Torchwood still happen. I tried to keep Lucia away from Torchwood, but I only could push it three years back before she joined our team. I tried to stop One from sending Meyer to take over, but it still happened, and he still killed any aliens I couldn’t get to first.”

“You weren’t held captive this time around.” Angelo had been horrified when Jack had informed him a little more than a year ago of the possibility that he would end up being a prisoner of the people he worked for because that had happened in his first life. He had dreaded the day Jack would not have come to their meeting, and he had been infinitely relieved when Jack had told him a couple of months later that the man who had been his boss and who had been responsible for Jack’s incarceration to be experimented on, had been killed earlier than last time, and therefore had never gotten the chance to issue that order.

“As I said, that’s a change for me personally.”

Angelo sighed. “Twelve young men and women are living their lives because you saved them from being sacrificed to the aliens. And I don’t even want to know the number of people you saved who would have been killed eleven years ago or last year by that village you told me about. That’s not a change for you personally.”

Jack frowned.

“You told me small, insignificant changes would be easier to accomplish. Maybe what happens with Torchwood has such a big influence that Time is putting things back on track as soon as possible as long as you aren’t making that completely impossible. Maybe all the things that are happening now in Torchwood need to happen so that you can take over eventually.”

Jack shuddered. “I don’t want to see Alex being driven crazy again by that thing. He was … is a good a man. He would listen to me if I asked him to change Torchwood for the better. I don’t have to take over for that.”

“That’s still more than twenty years in the future,” Angelo reminded him. “If you change too much now he might never come to Torchwood or Cardiff. You could get someone leading your team who could be more like your last boss, and you could be stuck with him much longer. If you want to get Alex back and save him, maybe it’s a good thing that you aren’t able to change much at the moment.”

“I still hope that it will get easier in the future. Maybe I’m too careful at the moment, too hesitant to actually change much, and that’s the reason why I don’t manage to make the changes I’m trying to achieve. I … don’t want to disturb the things I know will happen for the Doctor because I can’t even start to guess what that would do. It could be a huge ripple, not only for Earth, but for the whole universe, and I just can’t risk that.”

“Keep going for the seemingly small things,” Angelo said. “You have no idea if they are actually as small as you think they are. Matteo has started an international organisation that fights for woman’s rights and their protection from violent acts that you told me didn’t exist last time. I’m pretty sure that’s not a small change at all.”

Jack heaved a sigh. “It’s not, you are right.”

It was only one organisation they had helped to create in the last decade. All of it happened under the mantle of well-chosen goals, mostly helping minorities be better integrated into society because they agreed that it was a worthy goal to fight against discrimination of every kind. It was their way to build up a worldwide network, to be able to gather and distribute information. There was not much more they could do at the moment, but they had plans to use these connections later on to build up a support network for whatever they would need.

Angelo had learned a lot about the consequences of the so-called Miracle the Three Families had manufactured, and for the moment he and Jack were preparing to head off that chaos. Jack still hoped to be able to stop the Miracle by not letting them find the creature that lived inside of Earth they had called the Blessing. Angelo had no idea what he should think about that, but he had decided years ago to not ponder it at all and just ignore it.

“You are helping to make Earth a better place. It’s slow, I know, but it will get faster as soon as the organisations we have helped and even encouraged to build have established themselves. And your knowledge of what happened the first time for any movement, be it women or blacks or gays, will help them to head off a couple of issues or at least help them be prepared for them!”

Jack looked up smiling. “It’s a really good thing I have you to remind me of the reasons I’m staying.”

“Any time,” Angelo said.

When Jack had come back into his life nearly ten years ago now, he had been determined but desperate. It had not even been a year before he had to console Jack for the first time. Angelo still was not sure what had Jack set off, but he nearly bolted, leaving Earth behind. At that time it had been for purely selfish reasons that Angelo had argued with Jack until he had relented and had remembered the cause he had set himself up to fight for because he had not wanted to lose Jack again.

Since then, Angelo had learned enough about Jack to know that he would have come to deeply regret the decision to leave Earth, and therefore he argued for Jack’s sake whenever he contemplated leaving the planet. Jack had put all of his heart and soul into this goal; he yearned to reconnect with the people who had been his team in the future, especially the man that had been his lover. It was the desperation about the things he failed to prevent that let him doubt himself, but it never took long for him to remember why he was enduring all of this.

“Have you thought about confiding in someone besides just me?” Angelo asked. “Maybe someone in Cardiff, or at least Wales. Someone you don’t have to meet in secret every single time.”

Sometimes it hurt that every single one of their meetings took place in this room. It was necessary to protect them both, and yet it made their relationship appear unreal at times. He dreamed sometimes about sharing much more mundane experiences with Jack, they even regularly talked about those dreams that Jack shared with him. Theoretically, they had a chance for it, using Jack’s wrist strap not only to go wherever but also whenever they wanted, but Jack was too reluctant to use it in such a way. Maybe it was still a lingering mistrust on Jack’s part about the thing burning out and stranding him on Earth over a century earlier than he had wanted to reach.

Jack huffed. “Who is there to confide in?”

“The guy with the police you are friends with. Lewis was his name, right?”

Jack had many contacts all over Cardiff, but Lewis was the only one he regularly talked about. He had been the one to take Jack’s word when he had told the police about the cannibals and somehow they had stuck up a friendship following that case. Aside from the Torchwood team Lewis was the only name of anyone in Cardiff Angelo knew.

But Jack shook his head. “I can’t just go around in Cardiff and tell people what happened to me. Meyer might be gone, but others are just waiting for me to make a mistake. They are suspicious enough that I have so many friends in the police at all, and the only reason no one has called me out on it yet is that it actually has come in handy a couple of times. They don’t necessarily need to know about aliens to help us contain certain threats.”

“When will this stop, that you are watched so closely?”

Angelo could understand why Jack sometimes doubted his reasons for staying. Sometimes he contemplated encouraging Jack to leave. But then Jack would talk about the people he was waiting for, and who were for the most part not even born yet or just infants, and the happiness of those memories seemed reason enough to endure his current circumstances. Jack had exchanged living through all these decades waiting for one person to reenter his life with waiting for a whole group of people to appear. Angelo just hoped that this time it would be worth it.

“Not as long as One exists. And I’m not even sure if I wasn’t watched as closely afterwards by UNIT. After I took over in Cardiff I made the right connections in the right places so that I would be able to keep that control. But only because I knew my wait was nearly over and I wanted to be able to leave when the Doctor came.”

“You are making these connections right now. You are working on building up a support network for yourself since you came back. Isn’t that helping at all in gaining a little bit more freedom?”

Jack shook his head. “Not right now.”

“Aren’t there people who suspect that something isn’t right with you?” Angelo asked. “Hasn’t Lewis noticed that you aren’t ageing? A decade is a long time to not change.”

“He hasn’t asked yet, but … you are right, someone is bound to notice.”

“Find people you can trust with it!” Angelo smiled tiredly. “Not everyone will react as I did. You have found people in Cardiff who have already seen that they can trust you. Show them that you trust them as well. I don’t see any other way for you to build up a support system you can still rely on even in ten years let alone thirty years from now.”

Chapter 03

The 1980s

Jack closed his eyes and let his fingers hover over the doorbell. He had not been this uncertain about a decision in a very long time, but in the twelve years since he had met Angelo again, he had learned to savour any moment with the people dear to him that he could grab onto. He had hesitated for years now to visit Estelle and to tell her the truth this time. After she had died in this other future, he had learned from her journals that she had suspected the truth about him all along but never dared to ask.

He had started to trust others with his secret because Angelo had repeated the same very valid point until Jack had been unable to ignore it any longer. He had started with Robert Lewis, who he had originally met when he had led the police to the cannibals, and who had been a friend ever since that investigation. There really had been no other choice if he wanted to keep that friendship, and the reveal had gone a lot better than he had expected.

Others had followed, people Jack had worked with to protect Cardiff and its residents for many years, and to his great astonishment, he had never been let down by even one of them. Maybe Cardiff, with all the strange things going on because of the Rift, was the right place to find people who could handle his immortality.

“How long do you want to stand in front of my door?”

Jack opened his eyes surprised to find Estelle standing in the open door and eyeing him sceptically. In his other life he had never regretted reconnecting with her in the role of his own son, too afraid of her reaction if he told her the truth, but also too caught up in his yearning for her presence in his life to stay away. He wished to have her friendship for as many years as he could have, but again he feared to be rejected by her because that was the reaction he had become accustomed to over the long decades of his life.

Estelle huffed when he showed no other reaction. “I have seen you walk away two times already in the last month. You never even leave a note behind!”

“I … was … still am not sure of my welcome.”

Estelle huffed again. “You daft sod! Come on, I’ve made tea. I hope your taste is as unchangeable as the rest of you seems to be!”

Jack blinked but followed her inside the house and closed the door behind him. This was not what he had been expecting and he had no idea how he should react to what she had said. She seemed to be so sure of herself and of her knowledge about him; that had not been the case in the journals he had read after her death. She had never outright asked him about it in his other life because she had doubted her own perception too much. This time she didn’t seem to have the same problem.

“I guess it’s pointless to try to tell you I’m my own son?”

Estelle turned to him and eyed him with raised eyebrows. “Was that the plan you made while you stood in front of my door? – It’s not the first time I have seen you again since you said goodbye to me.” She sighed and all her confidence seemed to leave her, streaming out of her with the air. “I thought I was delusional, or that I saw a close relative of the man I once knew. But then you kept standing in front of my house.”

“A friend told me I should have faith in the people I love despite my circumstances. I have seen you from afar as well since you moved to Cardiff, and it was hard to keep away. I’ve missed you.”

“They told me you had died in Germany,” Estelle whispered. She turned her head away and wrapped her arms around herself. “I mourned you for a very long time.”

Jack sighed. “I’m sorry. I hadn’t planned that. I wanted to come back to you and spend a couple more months or even years with you, but … the notice had been sent out when I was captured and thought to be killed, and I didn’t want to put you through that twice. I … At that time I thought I couldn’t tell anyone about me, couldn’t stay with anyone too long because I can’t hide that I’m not aging.”

“How is this possible?”

“Let’s sit down with that tea you mentioned, alright?” Jack took the two steps separating them and carefully placed his hand on her shoulder.

He wanted to enclose her in a tight embrace, but he wasn’t sure if would be welcome at this point, maybe even ever. No one could guaranty him that reconnecting with Estelle would turn out like it had last time when they had been able to live under the illusion that he was not the same man who had broken her heart by not returning from the war.

Jack was only sure of one thing in this because he had experienced it with Lucia and Angelo in the last decade, and even with Estelle herself in his original life. His love for Estelle would grow strong again, as it had happened with Lucia almost instantly and with Angelo slowly over time. There was no escaping this, but Jack had learned with her the first time around that it was worth the hurt in the end.

Estelle gave him a curt nod before she stepped away and led him into her kitchen. A short while later they sat at the small table, each of them with a cup of tea in their hands and Jack started to tell her all he thought was necessary. Of course, there were a lot of things he skipped, either because he thought it would be too unbelievable for the moment or because he thought them unimportant. Estelle listened without saying a word for nearly two hours until Jack fell silent.

“And why did you come to me now?” she asked quietly.

“Because I miss you.” Jack sighed. “Because I learned that there are people in my life who deserve my trust. Because I finally learned that it’s better to hold onto every memory I can make with the people I love and spend all the time with them I can rather than to keep my distance.”

“How old are you?”

Jack snorted. “I have lost count. There is no reason to keep track of age if there’ll never come an end to your life.” Anyway, it was too complicated to keep track of it after all the jumps through time he had made. Should he count the nearly two thousand years he had been buried beneath Cardiff? And should he count the years he had lived through a second time again at all after he had erased the original timeline? He had never bothered to take the time to figure that out.

“I often dreamed of you coming back one day,” Estelle whispered without meeting his gaze. “But in those dreams, you had aged as I did.”

“I have,” Jack said. “It’s just not visible to the outside. I lived through the last forty years the same way you and everyone else did.”

He eyed her for a long while, leaving her to her thoughts. The fear of being rejected still had its claws in his heart, but there was nothing he could do now but wait. From the moment she had opened her door for him there had been no going back any more. He had wondered if there was any way to prepare her for his visit, but he had never gotten an idea about it that seemed manageable, and in the end, she had taken the choice out of his hand.

“Maybe I should give you a little bit of time and come back later,” Jack muttered finally.

Estelle’s head whipped up. “And would you come back? Or would you vanish on me again? You wouldn’t have rung that bell today either. You would have never rung that bell if I had left it to you.”

Jack swallowed. “Maybe.”

She was right, he thought. He would have hesitated until he thought better of it and he would have turned away again. The two times Estelle had caught him doing it were not the only occasions when he had stood in front of the door, trying to find the courage to ring the bell only to turn away in the end. She had been welcoming enough of him in his other life, but there had to be a reason that she had never spoken with him about her suspicions that he was the same man she had known and loved during the war. Maybe it was too much for her to accept.

“I … don’t want you to vanish again. This…” Estelle waved her hand in his direction. “It’s a lot to take in, but I’m sure you know that. Doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to reconnect with you.”

Jack smiled, and he felt a weight being lifted from his chest. “I’m glad.”

“I’m still … very confused.” Estelle shook her head. “But it’s nice to see you again. To listen to you again, regardless of how fantastic your words sound. Promise me you’ll come back. And tell me how to reach you. Where to reach you.”

“You have something to write with?”

Estelle provided him pen and paper and Jack wrote down the address of his small flat as well as the number of the phone in that flat. It was the first time ever, including his first life, that he had a place to live outside of the Hub. Up until Meyer had died he had never been allowed his own flat, even though most of that time he hadn’t been an official agent of Torchwood. They had wanted to keep him close, to keep an eye on him, and his protest about it early on had only earned him an extended vacation in a cell. He had learned to accept it, so much so that he had never even thought about his own flat even after he had taken over after Alex’ death.

Things had changed for him a lot in the last couple of years. With finding real friendships outside of Torchwood had come the necessity for his own place, and thankfully Matthew Ryder, who had been appointed Meyer’s successor, had been appalled that it was something Jack felt he had to ask permission for. Ryder was a good man and a good leader. He had been the first to show Jack that Torchwood could become something good after all.

“I’m not often home,” Jack said. “But I have an answering machine on my phone, so I’ll know if you call. And I’ll call back or come visit you as soon as I can.” He pushed the paper across the table and put his hand carefully on Estelle’s as she reached for it. He waited until their gazes met before he continued, “And I promise you, I won’t vanish from your life again, as long as you don’t want me to.”

Estelle smiled, and with that smile, some of the confidence she had shown in the beginning seemed to come back to her. “I trust you not to disappoint me again, Jack. I once dreamed of a life with you, and I never could let go of that dream.”

“I know,” he whispered.

***

It was the first time in the fourteen years since he had been regularly meeting with Angelo in his study that Jack was the one to pour them drinks from Angelo’s small bar. His friend stood in front of the window, still wearing the suit he had worn to the funeral, his hands clasped together behind his back. Jack had waited for him to come back from the funeral which Angelo had complained repeatedly had been much too grand of an affair.

“How are you?” Jack asked as he gave his friend one of the glasses he had filled with whiskey.

“Not as devastated as everyone was expecting me to be,” Angelo muttered. “It is really not … Giulia and I haven’t shared a room or even a physical relationship for many years now. I’m not even sure we were still friends. I cared for her out of respect for the years we spent together and out of obligation, not out of any kind of love. I mourn more the fact that she won’t have the chance to see all of our grandchildren grow up than the fact that she won’t be part of my life anymore.”

“And she didn’t go unexpectedly. That makes a great deal of difference in my experience.” Jack put his free hand on Angelo’s back and rubbed small circles over it.

Angelo nodded. “It does. And still, everyone is expecting it to be the end of the world for me, especially Sofia and Emma. They would hate me even more if they knew that I was relieved Giulia’s suffering has found an end. The last few weeks were hard, and I resent them for the fact that neither of our daughters was there. Matteo came for those weeks and he lives on the other side of the world.”

Jack swallowed hard, but he had no idea what to say to that. He suspected they would come to regret their own decision, although he had the impression that Angelo’s daughters were generally very distant and maybe even cold women. He knew Angelo barely spoke with them and that his granddaughter Olivia had lived with Angelo and Giulia since January 1970 when she was not even eleven years old. Angelo had sent her off to college a couple of years ago and she was starting to build up her own career without any contact with her mother, her stepfather or her half-siblings. Jack was still heartbroken over the fact that he was unable to be part of his own daughter’s life, who would turn eight this year, and he would never be able to understand how Angelo’s oldest daughter had been able to abandon Olivia.

“I’m just glad all of this is over.”

“You never told me your marriage had fallen apart so much,” Jack muttered.

Angelo huffed. “That had already happened before you came back into my life. Giulia and I … it was a marriage of convenience, you know. Her parents wanted to marry her to a business partner of her father twenty years her senior. She was twenty-eight when we married, and that was considered quite old to still be unmarried in ‘33. She had been engaged after school, but he was killed in an accident, and I think Giulia would have been very happy to never look at another man again. She needed someone to save her from an arranged marriage to a man she detested, and I could use something to deflect the attention I had garnered because of my relationship with you.”

“I didn’t know that,” Jack said surprised.

“Not something I like to talk about.” Angelo shrugged. “Our children don’t know it either, although I suspect at least Sofia and Emma suspected from a very young age that we didn’t marry out of love. The situation was different with Matteo. When I came home from the war I was badly injured and that changed a lot in our relationship, at least for a couple of years. Matteo was a happy accident born from that change. Maybe that’s one reason why Sofia and Emma came to hate me so much.”

“Do you really think your daughters hate you?”

“They at least have no love for me,” Angelo muttered and took a big gulp of his whiskey. “I learned to live with that. I have Olivia, and Emma’s children adore me, as I do them. It’s enough to not feel completely lost, you know. It’s more than I ever expected to get.”

“Still, they are your children, and I know you care for them very much. They should have more respect for you.”

Angelo turned and looked up at him. “You know that’s not how it works. Sometimes families fall apart, and I think Giulia and I never managed to build up the strong family we wished for because our relationship was never strong enough for it. The love of her life had died much too young, and I had betrayed the love of my life and driven you away. That lingered between us, even in those years after the war in which we were truly happy with each other.”

Jack sucked in a breath. “Angelo…”

“It’s true, you know. You are the love of my life. I didn’t recognize it until the moment I saw you die and I hated myself for it. The whole year I was in prison I spent torn between my grief for you and the hate that I hadn’t allowed myself to fully savour what we had. I felt it was some kind of punishment when I saw you again after that year.”

“You thought I was some kind of demon,” Jack muttered. “That’s what you told me after you found me in ‘69.”

Angelo nodded. “Yes. A demon who came to punish me, not for loving another man but for not being able to open myself up to that relationship. I was devastated when I finally recognized that it was really you.”

Jack took the empty glass out of Angelo’s hand and put it on the window sill together with his own, then he pulled Angelo against him, pressing a kiss against his temple. “I forgave you a long time ago.”

“I’ve learned to forgive myself since you came back into my life,” Angelo whispered. He let himself fall against Jack, trusting him to keep him upright. “I know that it was terrible things that let you turn back time and change things, but I’m so grateful that you did this. I don’t even want to imagine that other life in which I never had the opportunity to talk to you again.”

Jack closed his eyes and sighed deeply when Angelo wrapped his arms around his waist and pressed his whole body against him. “You just buried your wife.”

“A wife whom for the last seventeen years I was only married to on paper,” Angelo said. “If our marriage hadn’t been built upon the need to escape what society was expecting of us and to find security, I’m sure we would have talked about a divorce a long time ago.” He heaved a deep sigh before he stepped out of Jack’s arms. “And either way, I’m not coming on to you. I would never … I’m happy to have you in my life as a friend.”

“Angelo…”

“And I know, I’m an old man now, my time for romance has long gone.”

Jack interrupted him, enclosing his face with his hands and pressing his thumps over his lips. “That’s not it at all, and you should really know that about me. I’m not opposed to being used to give comfort over the grief of losing the person you spent most of your life with in whichever way you think you need it. I’ve done it before, with people I barely knew and people I loved a great deal. But I have been in this time period long enough to know how humans of this time tick, and this kind of thing can damage friendships, has damaged friendships I valued very much. I’m not prepared to give up this friendship with you for anything until the moment you take your very last breath.”

Angelo smiled and waited patiently until Jack remembered to lift his thumbs. “You didn’t listen to me very well. There is not much grief in me for Giulia, especially not for my relationship with her or for her as a person. It’s not comfort I would very much like to ask of you. To be a widower gives me a freedom I didn’t have before, one I didn’t dare to just take despite my marriage being one of convenience.”

Jack leaned his forehead against Angelo’s, overwhelmed and for the first time in a very long time unsure of himself. He hadn’t held himself back from searching for sexual partners since he had come back, either before or after his relationship with Lucia, but he had only searched for physical gratification and comfort. He learned in the long years he had been stranded on Earth to guard his heart because as free as he was in finding and giving love, it hurt to have to live on while everyone around him died or rejected him eventually.

“I understand if you don’t want to revisit what we once shared,” Angelo whispered. “Most days I’m still astounded that you were able to forgive me even enough to be my friend.”

Jack laughed breathlessly. “I love you. I still loved you when I left you behind back then, and it’s only grown stronger since you came back into my life.”

He had started to hold himself back long before he had met Lucia the first time, but after she had deemed it necessary to take herself and their daughter into hiding, he had vowed to himself to avoid any serious relationship, to hold back his love. Many people had tested his resolve over that decision in the following years, including Ianto, maybe especially Ianto. But it had been Ianto’s death and the regrets Jack had felt over so many things concerning his relationship with him that had broken that resolve.

Jack had taken his chance with Lucia, encouraged by Angelo but also from the realizations that had followed Ianto’s death. As much as it had hurt to let her go again, and to let his child go again, he savoured every single memory he had of the time with her. He had learned to hold on to those memories, and he would apply this lesson to his time with Angelo for whatever their relationship would become from this point forward.

***

“You are mighty distracted,” Estelle said while he helped her put away her groceries.

Jack had come by unannounced, only to find that she was not at home. He had stood in front of her door for nearly half an hour before he had decided to come back later, only to find her walking up to the house as he turned around. He had taken the groceries out of her arms without a word and carried them into the kitchen.

“It’s just one of those days I really feel my age,” he muttered.

Estelle laughed. “Only fair that you have those days as well. You are already spared everything else of growing old.”

It had taken her a lot of time to come to terms with Jack’s predicament, but she had learned to accept his circumstances in the two years since Jack had come back into her life. He knew that there were times when she resented him for his continued youth, when she was even jealous of it, but she was also aware of the sacrifices he had to make because of it. She did not truly see it as the curse it was: all the downsides she knew were from the tales Jack had told her, and he had not told her much about the truly gruesome things he had experienced. He wanted to spare her that knowledge, and it was nice to talk to someone about it for once who didn’t pity him for his immortality.

Jack eyed her with raised eyebrows. “You have barely started to get to know the downsides of growing old. And I’m sure you will be in good health for many years to come!”

“I hope you’re right about that! Do you want to talk about what is bothering you? If you are able to talk about it.”

He had told Estelle about his work for a secret government agency, but she didn’t know any details about Torchwood. He would tell her eventually, if only so that he would be able to tell and show her everything he knew about the fairies to keep her away from them. If they had not killed her the first time around, Jack was sure Estelle would have had many years left to live. He wanted to save her from that encounter, and to do that he needed to educate her about them long before the time came when they would collect Jasmine.

“It’s not work,” Jack muttered. “I … You remember I have this friend I’m meeting fairly regularly?”

It had been one of the topics Jack had dreaded discussing with her, but of course, she had asked about others he had abandoned like her and maybe even reconnected with later. He had told her about Lucia but had stuck with the story Torchwood knew, that she had died in a fire. Estelle didn’t know about his other life and he intended to keep it that way. She knew about Angelo though, even if it had taken Jack a while for him to open up about him.

“Your old lover from the twenties.” Estelle nodded. “You told me last week his wife had died. Did you go to the funeral?”

Jack sigh. “No. I never even met her and we are keeping it very quiet that we have any contact with each other.” So quiet in fact, that he had never used Angelo’s name when he talked with Estelle about him. “But I visited him after the funeral. And I’m not quite sure what happened between us there. I’m doubting my own decisions a lot.”

Estelle turned, gaping at him open-mouthed. “Are you telling me you seduced him on the day he buried his wife?”

“I wasn’t the one doing the seducing!” Jack protested. And really, she was insinuating more than had actually happened. He had spent the whole night there and used his Vortex Manipulator to come back far enough so that he was not missed in the Hub, but they had spent that time talking, not even leaving Angelo’s study.

Estelle huffed and crossed her arms over her chest without saying anything.

Jack shrugged. “I see him nearly every week, and I have done so for many years now. I fell in love with him again a long time ago. It wasn’t especially hard or unexpected. I never really stopped loving him. I hadn’t expected him to return those feelings. I don’t know what I should think about any of this.” He sighed. “And I don’t know if you even want to hear any of this.”

“It’s been sixty years since you were a couple.”

“A little less than that,” Jack nodded. “But what does that matter? Love isn’t so easy to understand or so set in its ways as all of you like to believe. Everyone can love more than one person at the same time, most just don’t allow themselves to do so in this time. I’ve missed that part of our relationship despite the very deep friendship we developed and that we didn’t have back then.”

“And yet you are standing here, clearly confused over it.”

“I have clearly spent too much time in this era!” Jack exclaimed. He sat down at her kitchen table. “I fear it will damage our friendship. Most of you don’t know how to maintain a friendship with someone you had an intimate relationship with. And I know I’ll lose him to death sooner rather than later. He is very healthy for his age, but still…”

“You fear the grief.” Estelle sat down beside him and patted his shoulder. “But you aren’t at the point any more where you run away to escape that grief.”

“Because there is no escaping it,” Jack murmured. “All of you will die anyway, and it will hurt no less to learn about it if I’m there for it or not.”

Estelle took a deep breath. “I have to say I’m glad you aren’t running away any longer. I’m happy to have you back in my life as a friend. You didn’t deprive just yourself of some great experiences and memories with your actions. I know you doubt it much too often, but to know you is an enrichment for everyone you allow to get to know you.”

Jack looked up full of wonder at the meaning of her words. In all his musings over his relationships, he had only ever thought about himself because he was the one who would be left behind. He only contemplated if the grief was worth it to have the happy memories of sharing moments of his life with the people he loved, he had never once thought about whether it was worth it to give them those memories as well.

Estelle smiled as if she knew exactly what revelation he had just had. “As long as both of you are happy, there will never be anything to regret.”

Jack eyed her for a long moment before he finally slid from the chair to his knees and drew her into a hug. “I’m really glad to have you back in my life, you know?”

She patted his back and chuckled. “I can tell. And I’m sorry that I’m not always able to be as grateful for your trust as you deserve.”

Jack sighed and sat back on his heels. “That’s never what I expected of you, to be grateful, I mean. I have seen every kind of reaction to this revelation. I was prepared for you to chase me away without listening to me in the worst case. But I knew the risk was worth it.”

Estelle raised her hand and cupped the side of his face with it. “Don’t tell me you are in love with me as well.”

Jack laughed. “How could I not be?” He turned his head and kissed her palm. “But it doesn’t matter. It’s easy for me to love, to fall in love. I never stopped loving you, even when I only had a bitter-sweet memory. I’m very aware of what is welcome here and what’s not.” And maybe that was the problem he was struggling with in regards to Angelo. He had thought he knew what was welcome there as well and Angelo had overthrown Jack’s expectations completely.

Estelle sighed and eyed him with a frown. “I don’t know if I should worry about you or not.”

Jack chuckled. “No reason for worry. I had over a century to get used to your view of love and relationships. I’ve learned to manage my own emotions.”

Sometimes he still forgot it, sometimes he still fell back into the mindset he had grown up with, where monogamy had been looked down upon. He had forgotten it with Gwen for a while and it had been one of the few occasions when he had greatly regretted it. That was another thing he was glad he would get a chance to make better decisions about this time. Neither Gwen nor Rhys deserved the chaos he had brought into their relationship.

“Are there people you ever stopped loving?”

“Of course.” Jack smiled and took her hand in his. “Most often if they change in a way I hadn’t anticipated, sometimes because they make a decision I can’t live with, that I can’t forgive them for. Sometimes because I forget them. I have lived too long a life to remember everyone. That’s one reason I came to you two years ago. The more memories I have with you the greater the chance I won’t forget you.”

“Oh, Jack,” Estelle sighed.

“I’ll be okay,” he promised. “I have made a lot of mistakes in my personal relationships since I found myself unable to stay dead, but I have learned from them. I have found a way to manage them and to manage my grief.”

For that, he only had needed to nearly destroy the whole universe and fall in love again with a man who had once ripped his heart out. With twenty years of hindsight, he could confess at least to himself that he had made a huge mistake with the 456. Somehow he had not paid the price it should have cost him. He had been lucky, not only because he had not destroyed everything, but also because he had been given a second chance with so many things. Jack only hoped he would remember that lesson the next time he fell into a pit of grief and regret.

***

Jack looked down, studying his copy of the file that Matthew Ryder, the current leader of Torchwood Three, had distributed to every member of their small team. He had expected that this topic would come up soon. ‘86 was nearing its end and in April of next year the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation would be founded, which would pose a couple of problems for them. It had brought numerous problems the first time around, but afterwards he had regretted the missed opportunities.

“This is not good,” Sam Edwards muttered. He was mostly a pragmatic man, but change was not something he accepted easily. He had come together with Ryder from One and was his second in command. He would die next year, not because of some accident on the job or an encounter with an alien, but because of a completely mundane aneurysm. He was one of those Jack would have liked to safe, but with current medicine there was nothing he could do to stop it.

“I don’t know,” Jack said. “Maybe it’s a chance we should use.”

Ryder looked at him with raised brows. “How’s that?” He was at least willing to listen to Jack, much more than any of his predecessors.

“Another building side will hardly be noticed if they restructure everything around the bay,” Jack explained. “There are a couple of things here that need to be modernized. No one will notice a thing if we do it while everything else around here is changed anyway.”

Alex Hopkins shook his head. “It will be hard to keep hiding the Hub at all.”

He had worked for London in the last two years and just recently joined their team. Jack still had a hard time not staring at him whenever they were in the same room. Alex had been the only leader of Torchwood Three who had ever respected him. They had been friends, and the memory of him shooting himself still hurt. Jack hoped he would be able to stop it this time, but he had no idea how Alex had gotten his hands on Object 1 in the first place.

“We need to get someone in there,” Ryder said. “We need to be able to derail their plans if they threaten to dig us up.”

“Call the Queen,” Jack suggested. “Or let One call the Queen.”

Last time, he had been the one to call on his connections with the royal family, but most of Torchwood had forgotten that he had that connection in the first place, and he would like to keep it that way this time around. This team was great and the next couple of years up until Alex’ death would be a breath of fresh air, but trouble was brewing in Torchwood One. Yvonne Hartman would soon start to climb up the ladder in One and Jack couldn’t do anything about it. As much as he hated it, he needed to let her run into her demise, but he would need every ounce of leverage he had to keep himself out of her hands.

Everyone was staring at him sceptically and Jack sighed resignedly. “What? We are only beholden to her. She wants Torchwood to remain a secret, she better gets us an in with that CBDC. You’re right, Ryder, we need to have some kind of influence over the changes that will be made in this area, but we don’t have the right connections to anyone here in Cardiff to get that influence.”

“Not even you?” Caroline Bell asked. She was their resident doctor and the only one on the current team Jack was uncomfortable with. She was, like so many other medical personals of Torchwood, much too interested in discovering the cause of his immortality, but at least she was neither pestering him nor Ryder about it all the time. “You have a lot of connections here in the city.”

“Not to the politicians.” Jack shook his head. “You want to have the private number of the Chief Constable? No problem. But I don’t know anyone associated with the Cardiff Council. I’m not very interested in politics, and everyone I know in the police or fire department I met while doing my job.”

He had plans to change that, but he would wait on that another ten years. He could not imagine ever telling any politician about his immortality, and he would be unable to maintain a relationship for over twenty years without revealing it. Maybe he could use this discussion later to explain his sudden interest in the politicians and their administrative stuff when the time came, although only Alex would probably be alive at that point.

“I’ll contact London over it,” Ryder said.

“Aside from the apparent problem this poses, Harkness is right,” Alex said. “Up until now we have never been connected to the power grid of the city, but our generators are hitting the limit of what they can support. We should keep them as back up, of course, but I think we should try to connect to the power grid for our everyday needs.”

“And update other security measures,” Jack continued before anyone could protest. “Didn’t you complain a while ago that you should have a closed-off lab, Dr. Bell?”

She nodded, for once not protesting his suggestions just for the sake of it. “That’s true. I’m working regularly with unknown lifeforms. If anything were to emit something toxic, it would spread through the whole Hub immediately.”

Jack leaned back and let her make her argument with Ryder and Edwards, who were trying to determine what was really needed. He had had a very similar discussion with Owen and Martha once, not only about the fact that they could not close off the med-bay from the rest of the Hub, but also that it was used for their autopsies as well as for medical care, two things Martha was adamant should be strictly separated. He had agreed with them, but at that time there had been no opportunity to change anything.

“We have a lot of room available. There are whole levels we don’t use.” Alex’s words brought Jack back to the current discussion. “We just need to equip them appropriately. Maybe every one of us should take the time to make a list of things they think are important, and then we come back to this discussion in a couple of days.”

“It’s not only a question of opportunity but also of our budget,” Ryder muttered. “A wish list doesn’t help anything if we don’t have the money for it.”

“I’m sure some of the cost can be covered through the official cost of that project for the bay,” Jack said. “A little bit of tweaking with the construction projects, so that they seem more expensive than they are. Or so that more materials are bought than are used, so some can be used for construction in the Hub.”

Edwards eyed him suspiciously. “You do that often, Harkness?”

Jack laughed. “I’ve never been allowed to even see the finances of Torchwood. I was lucky to see my paycheck every month with Meyer and those coming before him.”

“He’s not wrong,” Alex interjected. “If we have an in with the planning of this whole project, we can also use that to our advantage financially. It’s not as if it won’t be used for the development of the bay since we are part of the bay. But still, even if not everything we think of can be accomplished, we should at least make a comprehensive list and then cut that list.”

Jack was happy with the support Alex was showing him, not just during this meeting, but also during the following meetings. Previously only very few changes had been made during the thirteen-year period when the area all around the bay had been remodelled to make Cardiff more attractive for tourists. The team had been more concerned with keeping the Hub hidden, which would still be a challenge in the coming years.

The list Jack provided was short; instead, he talked with Alex and Bell and gave them most of the ideas he had for remodelling the Hub to propose them to Ryder. He wanted to keep a low profile and didn’t want to appear too interested in it. Torchwood One learned about everything he did, and he wanted to avoid their attention as much as possible. There was only one thing he wanted to add to these plans, and he knew the perfect opportunity to bring it up would come just a couple of weeks later.

As had happened the first time at the beginning of December 1986, the Rift brought them a present from a little more than forty years ago, when the German airstrikes had defined the nights in Cardiff and many other cities. The Rift had put the bomb right above their heads in the bay. It was one of many bombs that hadn’t exploded right away, but the travel through the Rift had made it unstable enough that it had exploded while they were transporting it. Dr. Bell and Jack died in that explosion the last time, but this time Jack was prepared and he managed to dismantle the bomb so that it could be transported without much of a risk.

That evening the whole team sat in their conference room celebrating. None of the others were old enough to remember the fear of the airstrikes, but the bomb had been huge and all of them had grown up with the stories about the war. They knew what could have happened, that the bomb could have exploded the moment it left the Rift. Jack, for his part, was mostly relieved that he hadn’t died and that he had managed to save Bell. It was the first time ever he had managed to save anyone from the death he knew was coming, and it gave him hope that he would eventually be able to save Alex as well.

“I didn’t know you knew how to dismantle a bomb, Harkness!” Ryder was laughing while he opened his third beer.

Jack shrugged. “Not all of them exploded during the airstrikes and I was the only one back then where it didn’t matter if they exploded during the defusing. It’s a very bad death and I learned very fast how to keep them from exploding.” When he had experienced this day the first time, he had suggested defusing it right away but had accepted it when Ryder shot him down. This time he had insisted on it. “And really, there was no place where we could have brought this thing. Maybe that’s something else we need to add to our list!”

Everyone was looking at him confused.

“I mean for the rebuilding of the Hub. A room, or even two, that could contain an explosion. Something that can be flooded with water, so that the impact would be reduced even more. I mean, there is nothing that could have completely contained that bomb, but the damage could have been largely reduced. Next time it could be a bomb from anywhere or anytime, something none of us know how to defuse.”

There was silence for a long moment.

“You are right,” Edwards finally said.

Jack nodded and took a bite from his pizza, trying to hold back his shudder. He could still remember the sheer hopelessness he had felt as he had watched Ianto on the lift waiting for the bomb in his stomach to explode. There had been nothing for him to do but to wait and hope, and he still remembered the first second of the explosion before he had died: the heat and the burning of being ripped apart from the inside had been awful, but the fear for his friends had been so much worse.

Jack did not want to lose the Hub that way a second time. He had not been the only one to die in that explosion, but with everything else that had happened afterwards the public had practically forgotten that three people had been killed and nearly a dozen badly injured when the Roald Dahl Pass had collapsed. It shouldn’t happen now given the destruction of the 456, but there was a chance that someone else would get a similar idea with different motives, and Jack wanted to be prepared for that.

“I think that should be one of the things we desperately need to include,” Jack insisted. “Like the lab and the overhaul of the med-bay. It’s to protect us but also everyone else in the city.”

He was relieved to see all of them nodding in agreement. He had been prepared to argue his case a lot more, but maybe their gratitude about what he had done today was enough to carry his wish through.

***

To remodel the Hub while the bay area was under construction brought a lot of work that no one had been prepared for. They were moving all of their equipment into the deeper levels of the Hub that the construction workers wouldn’t have access to. It would be hell to do their job while the construction was ongoing, but they all agreed that it was worth it. They had started hiding the equipment as soon as they had gotten their contact into the CBDC, which turned out to have been a good decision because two years later when the first round of construction impacting the Hub started they had just gotten everything secret stored away.

The lower levels of the Hub were much darker and closed-off than the level directly under the surface, and Jack was not the only one who often found himself somewhere unintentionally because he had taken a wrong turn somewhere while distracted by something else. He had never bothered to get to know all these parts of the Hub, which he dearly regretted after Ianto had managed to hide a half-converted Cyberman down here, but even after that, he had changed nothing about his ignorance. Now, several decades later, he had finally an opportunity to further his knowledge and he started learning in earnest after the third time he had found himself lost.

On one of his exploration tours, Jack stumbled over an old cell block that he remembered from the beginning of the century, one that he hadn’t thought had been used in decades. He was appalled to find three people there, barely cared for and lost to insanity. Victims of the Rift, he suspected, who had been brought back by it and found by someone from the team.

Jack cursed himself as he turned on his heels to search for Ryder. Of course there had to be Rift victims coming back to Cardiff all the time: the two victims he had found locked up in the Hub only days after he had put his whole team in the morgue couldn’t have been the first time victims appeared. He should have thought of them years ago, but they had completely slipped his mind until this very moment.

“Do you have a moment for me?” Jack asked without any kind of greeting as soon as he had found his boss.

Ryder looked up from his paperwork and nodded to the chair in front of his desk. “You look disturbed.”

“I just found three clearly human prisoners who don’t seem to have seen much care for at least the last couple of weeks!”

Ryder sighed and leaned back. “Yes, that is an unfortunate business. Those are people brought here by the Rift. I suspect they were also taken by the Rift earlier in their life, but none of them have been sane enough to ever tell us what happened to them.”

“They aren’t the first ones,” Jack said, although he already knew that.

“No, of course not,” Ryder shrugged. “As far as I can tell, it has happened from the very beginning. I’m surprised you didn’t know about them given how long you have been here.”

“You are the first one ever to trust me with anything more than what I absolutely have to know to be able to accomplish my job. I’m sure you have heard more than once from London that I’m not to be trusted.”

Ryder nodded. “I have indeed. I often wonder why you are staying here at all.”

“I’m sure there exist rumours in London about that.”

“They think you are waiting for the Doctor to get your revenge for making you immortal.”

Jack shrugged. “That’s not too far from the truth. I’m waiting for him, but I don’t see the enemy One thinks he is. He’s saved this planet several times, as UNIT could confirm for you. He has worked for UNIT, you know. It says a lot that Queen Victoria called him an enemy of the realm basically in the same moment she knighted him, don’t you think? I talked with her about it. He saved her life, but she was put off by the fact that there was so much out in the universe she didn’t know about, and he was the messenger who brought her that knowledge. She was aware that it was irrational, but she was unwilling to take it back.”

Ryder huffed. “Sometimes I forget that you have been here for ninety years already.”

“A lot longer actually,” Jack confessed. “I was lucky enough in the first few decades not to be found by your predecessors. But let’s come back to my discovery, shall we? Why are those people held here in the Hub? Wouldn’t they be better placed in a mental ward of a hospital?”

“We can’t risk that,” Ryder shook his head. “We don’t even know what all they know and what they could tell to the people who would be caring for them there.”

Jack frowned. “No one would believe them.”

He remembered how he had had a very similar discussion with Ianto and Gwen, only then he had been in Ryder’s position. Flat Holm had been the best he had come up with on his own because he had thought the same thing Ryder had just said. Gwen and Ianto had continuously argued with him that there should be a better solution for the victims of the Rift than to abandon them to an underground facility on a deserted island. They had just started to search for such a solution when the 456 had come back and Jack had not once thought about Flat Holm before he had left Earth after that.

“We can’t be sure of that,” Ryder said. “If there are enough of them, someone might start to listen to them. Or a doctor might clue in that things aren’t adding up with them.”

“So tell the doctor the truth.” Jack crossed his arms. “Or we could found our own facility for these victims. There are only three now, so I guess there won’t ever be a lot, which means we won’t need too many nurses and doctors for their care.”

Ryder snorted. “And how would we finance that? Not to mention that One will never agree with telling even one nurse or doctor about the Rift and where these people are coming from. Some of them have been thrown back in time. I have thought a lot about this, Harkness. Meyer and those before him killed these people as soon as they found them.”

Jack shuddered and closed his eyes. “I really shouldn’t have expected anything less from them. Torchwood is a cruel place, mostly because of cruel people working here. Haven’t we proven more than once already that there are a lot of people working here in Cardiff who already at least suspect that there is more going on here?”

“You have proven that a couple of times. We had nothing to do with that.”

Jack glowered at him. “And these are not some aliens we are talking about here. They are humans, citizens of Cardiff who had a lot of bad luck. It’s our mandate to protect them, isn’t it? We should take better care of them if we can’t provide the protection they need.”

“We can hardly protect them from something that can happen anywhere in this damn city at any time,” Ryder huffed. “We have no chance at all to predict when the Rift gets active.”

Jack nodded. They would finally make headway on that in the next decade, but only after Ryder had gone back to London and given Alex the lead of Torchwood Three. Jack wished he knew what would happen to Ryder to kill him so that he could give him a chance to survive, but if he had ever learned about it, he had long forgotten about it. Alex was the one who had first come to the conclusion that they needed someone who knew more about engineering and physics than about fighting and he had not hesitated to search for such a person. It was one of those things Jack had never attempted to change, to get done a little bit earlier, because he feared the consequences.

“I’m well aware,” he said. “I didn’t ask you to protect future victims of the Rift from being taken. I asked you to give those who are brought back a little bit of comfort and decency instead of putting them in windowless cells in a secret underground facility.”

Ryder sighed. “I understood that, Harkness. It still doesn’t solve the problem that we have neither the money nor the people for this. We can’t put them in a normal clinic, and we can’t find enough nurses and doctors to tell the truth so that they can take care of them, nor could we pay them.”

Jack pursed his lips. “I can pay for it.”

Ryder snorted. “Your paycheck isn’t that big!”

“I’ve been stranded here for one hundred and twenty years now. And most of that time I wasn’t allowed to live outside of the Hub, and the expenses for my journeys for Torchwood were paid for. I have spent almost none of the pay I received in the last ninety years, and I’ve been able to invest in the right things. Money is really no problem for me.”

Jack was surprised that Ryder was not aware of that. He had always left part of his finances unhidden in the hope that as long as Torchwood could find part of it, they wouldn’t go looking for the rest that he was hiding from them. The money for Melissa’s trust fund and Lucia had come from one of his hidden accounts and it had not made a dent there. His official fortune was not as big, but even so he should be able to rebuild Flat Holm. It may not be ideal, but better than the current situation.

Jack huffed and continued, “And I still think it wouldn’t be a problem to put them in a regular psychiatric clinic. Why would we even need to tell One about it? There are a lot of things we are doing here we never tell One because they don’t care about it.”

“You are proposing to play with fire here,” Ryder said. “I can understand that you don’t trust One, but we are part of the same organisation, Harkness. They aren’t as terrible as you think.”

“We’ll have to agree to disagree on that point,” Jack muttered darkly.

Torchwood One had always been the darkest part of the organisation. Even when gruesome experiments on him and on any alien unlucky enough to be caught by the Rift and brought to Cardiff had taken place in the bowels of their Hub, the things happening in London had always been darker. Jack was glad he had never had the misfortune to be brought to London during the periods he had been viewed as a prisoner and experiment instead of an agent; he was not sure he would have ever gained his freedom from there. Something dark festered in One, infecting everyone working with them, and it was a relief to know that One would eventually fall despite the loss of life that would bring.

Ryder sighed. “I’ll think about it. As you seem to have some kind of idea where we could put those people and where to find personnel to care for them, I expect you to put together a detailed proposal by next week.”

“Thank you,” Jack nodded, relieved. “I’m glad someone capable of feeling compassion is finally in charge here.”


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Bythia

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

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