Stealing Time – 2/2 – 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
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



Chapter 04

The 1990s

As the century neared its end with the start of the last decade, Cardiff started to resemble more and more the city Jack remembered from his years leading Torchwood Three. He was more conscious of the change this time around, either because he had already seen it happen once, or maybe because this time he regarded this city as his home instead of somewhere he was stranded and bidding his time until he could finally leave.

With the city taking on more of the form Jack had been so familiar with, he also started to remember things he had not been able to recall when he had made his numerous plans about the things he intended to change. Twenty-five years ago, when he had found himself thrown back into his old life, he had not recognized enough about it to remember where the Arcateenian transporter had been found in 2007. When he finally remembered, it took him no time at all to dig up the transporter and modify it in the same way he had already done once before.

“Hello, beautiful.” Jack grinned brightly when Mary stepped out into the clearing he had chosen for their meeting.

Mary stopped at the edge of the clearing between the trees, watching him with a cocked head. She was wearing the necklace she had given Tosh when she had tried to find a way into their Hub. “How curious. You aren’t from here either, are you?”

Jack raised his eyebrows. “And how would you know that?”

“As fun as it is to play with the people of this place, they are all so simple. They are not evolved enough to shield their mind as you are doing it. Where are you from? What are you doing here?”

“I could just be a little more evolved than the rest of my species and be able to shield my mind,” Jack said sceptically.

Mary shook her head. “No. There are those who have learned to attempt it, but they feel different to you.”

Jack hesitated because that was a surprising revelation. His mindscape was not so different from those of the humans of this time despite the three thousand years of evolution he had ahead of them. He was able to shield his thoughts against telepathic invasion, but Mary should not notice anything different between him and a human of this time. She had not been able to sense that difference the first time around, she had needed the pheromones of his not-human heritage to detect him as not being from here.

“I’m stranded here,” Jack finally said. “As much as you are, if this thing is any indication.” He raised her transporter.

“I thought I had safely hidden it,” Mary muttered.

“I repaired it for you.” Jack grinned.

Mary frowned. “And why would you do that?”

Jack shrugged. “This is my city, my people. I’ve dedicated myself to protecting them for a long time now. You are a threat to them. I want you gone. Judging by this, you are an Arcanteen, right? And you have been stranded here for a hundred fifty years or something? Aren’t you missing your people?”

Marry laughed humourless. “I do, but I doubt they will welcome me back. I’ll be too barbaric after spending all this time among the people of this planet. One just can’t help but take on some of their characteristics after spending so much time with them.”

Jack nodded. At least she was not trying to tell him the same story of a poor, misunderstood and discriminated victim who would be executed the moment she returned home. “What about your partner? This is a two-person transporter.”

“They didn’t make it,” Mary said shrugging. “Our landing was not exactly gentle.”

“I understand.” There was no regret at all in her over it, and she had proven numerous times with humans as well that the lives of others were of no consequence for her as long as she could go on with her own life.

“What if I don’t want to go?”

“As I said, I want you gone. I don’t much care if you take your transporter back home or if I kill you, really. I’m prepared. Either you take your transporter back home or you are dying here.”

Mary sneered. “You are as barbaric as the rest of them.”

Jack shrugged, not calling her out on her hypocrisy. “I’m one of them, and in contrast to you, I never had to pretend to be so, or have to steal a body to blend in. I may be out of time, but I’m still human. I’m with Torchwood if you are wondering. For an alien, like you, that should mean something. I could have just led you to them and they wouldn’t have hesitated to kill you.”

“And what is your price for your service?”

“What do you see when you look into my head?” Jack had not planned to ask any price of her, but her words made him thoughtful. To protect his memories of the alternate timeline had been a concern for him for a while now. He saw no way to get out of relieving the damn Year that Never Was, but the risk of the Master taking a dive into his memories and therefore discovering the Doctor’s plan and the end of his reign of terror was too big to go into it unprepared.

“It’s like a wall of silence. I have never encountered something like this, not even in my home. Mental shields are flexible, regardless of species, more like a sheet laying over the thoughts and concealing what’s behind it.” Mary paused. “You didn’t know that your mind was secured in this way.”

Jack shook his head. “There is a lot about me I don’t know. You are the first being I’ve encountered since I was stranded here who would have been able to get into my head. Do you think this is unique to your brand of telepathy or will this work for every species capable of invading other’s minds?”

Mary eyed him for a long time. “How should I know that?”

“Couldn’t hurt to ask.” He nodded to the transporter in his hands. “Are you taking your chance to leave or not?”

“My chances are good that you don’t even know how to kill me.”

Jack laughed. “Do you want to try me? I promise you, you won’t enjoy the consequences. You are hiding a very delicate body under the one you stole.”

Mary stared at him, fury barely concealed. “Alright,” she finally agreed. “I got tired of this place a long time ago anyway. It’s just the same all over again.”

Jack kept a secure hold on the transporter until Mary put her hands on it. He didn’t give her a chance to take it out of his hands before he activated it, sending her into the sun once more. Regardless of what she had done at her home, and if the story she had once told Tosh in another life was true, she had killed enough humans to justify her execution. He had never contemplated doing anything besides sending her back into the sun a second time as soon as he found her transporter to draw her out of hiding.

This was one threat less his team would have to deal with.

Jack sighed and decided that it was early enough to visit Estelle for breakfast before he needed to be present at the Hub. It had nearly been a week since his last visit, and she tended to come after him if he didn’t show up at her house at least once a week. Jack had learned to maintain a personal life outside of Torchwood since Angelo had encouraged him to find friends in Cardiff who he could be completely open to. Sometimes Jack would need his Vortex Manipulator to find the time, as he had spent nearly every night of the past seven years with Angelo, but for the most part Ryder was good at providing everyone in the team regular free time.

It would also give him the chance to think about what he had discovered about the protection of his own mind before he needed to return to work and was distracted by other things. He had not felt her attempt to get into his mind, but he had never been very good in detecting it if his opponent made even a token effort in being subtle about it. The only reason he had noticed it with Tosh was that she had had no training at all, using a device she had no experience with.

The Master had never bothered to look into his head, and the Time Lords was never subtle with anything he attempted to do so he would have known, but Jack was aware of how easy it would be for a Time Lord to access his thoughts. Up until now, he had thought he would need to gamble and hope the Master would once again be only interested in testing the non-existent limits of his immortality. It was too big an event in the lives of two Time Lords for Jack to risk stopping it. He dreaded nothing more than to live through that time once again, but he had come to terms with the fact that he needed to let it happen, to perform his part in it no matter how painful it would be. And now Mary had given him hope that his memories of the Master’s defeat would be safely hidden away from him.

***

“Captain Harkness?”

Jack turned to the UNIT soldier he had been waiting for and froze when he saw who was standing in front of him. He had known the name of the man he was meeting of course, but he had not drawn the right conclusion. The man had aged a lot better this time without being driven crazy by his near encounter with the 456.

Jack cleared his throat. “Major McDonald.”

McDonald eyed him critically. “This is more disconcerting than I had expected. I have seen a lot of unbelievable things, but this … you have not aged a day, Captain.”

Jack swallowed. “Maybe we should take a walk. This isn’t the place to talk about that, don’t you think?”

“You didn’t know it would be me?” McDonald nodded. “But you are right. Let’s take a walk and get away from curious ears.”

They had met near the castle and it took them just a couple of minutes to reach Bute Park, where they would be fairly undisturbed. They kept silent until they were walking down an isolated path in the park. Jack tried in that time to come to terms with being faced with a ghost from his old life, although the Major who was accompanying him now had no resemblance to the haunted man who had killed him in his panic when he had seen him again forty-four years after Jack had ruined his life.

“I remembered each of your names, but I didn’t make the connection when I saw the name of the man UNIT would send to meet me here,” Jack said quietly.

“I was handed the file UNIT has on you and didn’t want to believe it until I saw your picture.” McDonald laughed. “I thought that day wouldn’t haunt me anymore. We wondered for a long time what all of that had been about, but I never dared to tell the others the truth after I learned about it.”

“You are still in contact with all of them?”

“You gave all of us a chance to make our dreams reality. We had all been orphans long enough to know what a unique chance that was. That shared experience bound us together as much as the trip you took us on that night. We are giving the kindness you showed us back to other orphans now.”

Jack took a deep breath. “I really don’t know what you are talking about.”

McDonald shook his head. “We never forgot how you asked us all about our dreams when you drove us back. Not one of us ever doubted that the scholarships all of us received came from you. You were the only one there who showed any kind of warmth or compassion to us. The others wouldn’t have cared if those aliens had actually come to collect us.”

Jack swallowed hard, but he held back his protest. McDonald wasn’t wrong, no one had cared for those twelve children back then. He had not cared very much either until the moment he returned. As much as he had initially hated that they would be sacrificed, he had shoved his anger about it down and not allowed himself to care for them, because there had been nothing he could have done to help them. After he had turned back time, even before he had decided what he would do with his second chance, he had decided to give all of them a chance for the life of their dreams.

“I can’t remember you talking about becoming a soldier.”

McDonald laughed. “No, that’s true. All I wanted to do at that time was see the world, and I did for a while right after school while studying languages.”

“Ah.” Jack nodded. “I had wondered about your rank. Thought you were a little bit old to just be a Major.”

Clement snorted. “You have room to talk. You haven’t risen in rank in thirty years! And you should remember that I was the youngest of the bunch. I’m not even forty yet.”

“I thought all of you were eleven or twelve,” Jack said frowning.

“That’s true for most,” Clement agreed. “But I was always big for my age, and you weren’t the only one who thought I was older. As far as I can tell, the orphanage didn’t have enough children in the right age group, so they sent a ten-year-old girl and me along, even though I had only just turned nine a couple of months prior.”

“Fuck.”

Clement laughed. “Yes, that’s pretty much what I’m thinking now as well. – You left a great impression on me and the army was happy to take me with my language skills, despite me being on the older side for a new recruit. I had also hoped a little bit that I would get a chance to learn what that day had been about. I have to say, sometimes I wish I never learned the truth.”

“Why do you think all those scholarships came from me?” Jack had taken great care in setting it up in such a way that it could not be traced back to him. He had faced enough suspicion over the whole thing just because he had been there, and Torchwood liked to find fault in anything he did.

“As specific as they were set up?” McDonald shook his head. “No one had ever bothered to ask us about those things except for you. Our fate should have been decided the moment we lost our parents. We knew that. At that time, an orphan who wasn’t adopted ended up in some dead-end job without any chance to make something more out of their life. We were taught that from the moment we ended up in the orphanage, and we were all too old to find a new family. We only ever talked about you, our discussion with you in the bus, and our suspicion concerning the scholarships among ourselves, and I’m glad we did after I saw they suspected you of some kind of wrongdoing when the aliens never came.”

“The scholarships helped all of you achieve what you wanted to become?”

McDonald smiled. “All twelve of us are living our dreams. And we are making enough money to give it back to future generations. Some are fostering children, but we are all contributing to continue the scholarship you started. You made a great impact.”

“I’m very glad to hear that,” Jack muttered.

“Did you do something to keep the aliens away?”

Jack hesitated for a long moment. “And if I did?”

“I’m the last one to tell anyone who would care about it,” McDonald said. He stopped and turned to Jack. “I have no idea what they would have done with us, but it wouldn’t have been good. If you stopped them, I owe you my life twice over!”

“I was relieved that they never came,” Jack said solemnly. “I feared they would come back over and over again and ask for more children. We could have ended up in a very bad situation. There was a lot more at stake than only the lives of you and your friends.”

McDonald smiled. “Alright, keep your secrets. I’m just a stranger to you; I shouldn’t have expected anything else. I won’t tell the others that I met you either. I’m not sure they would be able to understand how you haven’t aged in thirty years.”

“Probably not,” Jack agreed. “How did you come to be in UNIT?”

“Pure coincidence,” McDonald shrugged. “I was in the army and came across a piece of alien technology. Next thing I know, I was transferred to UNIT. I’m sure none of my superiors ever made the connection to the 1965 event, and I never bothered to officially ask about it. I nearly quit when I learned that I was working for an organisation that had nearly sacrificed my friends and me to some aliens, but I figure maybe someday I’ll be in a position to do for other innocents what you did for us.”

“I hope you will,” Jack muttered. “There are a lot of bad things happening in UNIT and Torchwood. Anyone willing and courageous enough to stand up for the innocent is a welcome support.”

“And I’m living proof of the effect of someone stepping up for somebody everyone has deemed a lost cause.”

“Tell me about the others,” Jack asked.

He had never looked himself, partly because he didn’t want to have the reminder of what he had let happen the first time, and partly because he didn’t want to draw undue attention to any of the children. It felt good to learn that he had been able to make such a big difference in their lives.

***

Jack wrapped his arms around Angelo from behind, pressing his face into the grey hair. “You were right.”

Angelo chuckled and leaned back in his embrace. “There are a lot of things I have been right about. You’ll have to be a little bit more specific.”

“About the changes I try to make only showing slowly and over time,” Jack muttered.

Of course, he had seen that already in many of the things Angelo and he had been supporting in the last nearly three decades. There were laws ratified regarding equality of women, homosexuals and people of colour all over the world that had still only been discussed the last time he had lived through ‘95. But all of that was so far away from Jack’s everyday life, that it never quite sunk in that he had played a big part in bringing these changes into being.

“And how did you finally learn that?”

“I met a man who was one of the twelve children I saved when I came back,” Jack explained softly. “He told me what became of all of them. It was … brilliant and terrifying at the same time.”

“Terrifying?”

Jack sighed. “Some of them are making a huge impact in the world. One of the girls is a chemist and making a name for herself in the field. One of the boys is a medical doctor now, one of the best surgeons in Europe. Another is a musician filling halls all over the world. They are all living their dream. And there are others, beyond those twelve, because they are sponsoring other orphans as I did it for them. It’s fascinating to see this change cascading down.”

He hesitated for a long moment. “But it also shows how small my ability to control any of it is. I feel like I have lived in this little bubble, only seeing the impact of the small changes I could make in my own life, and I didn’t even notice how it all rippled out.”

“You once told me you knew you had no chance of handling or even keeping track of all the ripples,” Angelo said. “How is this different?”

Jack laughed breathlessly. “It’s not different at all. It just … it’s hitting me right in the face for the first time in years, that’s all. So few things have changed for Torchwood, and I was just focused on it, you know? I can’t even begin to think about all the people alive today because I took care of the cannibals. I don’t even know how many there are. Somehow … a couple of years ago, when I saved our doctor by preventing that bomb from exploding, she died only a couple of weeks later, and I thought … I lost hope, I think.”

He had lost hope to save Alex, and Susie, Lisa, Tosh, Owen, and Ianto a while ago without even realizing it. But maybe not everyone would just die a different way just a couple of weeks later. Maybe there was still a chance to save them, or at least some of them. What he did had an impact, a much bigger impact than he had been able to see.

“It’s nearly done,” Angelo muttered.

Jack frowned. “What?”

“Your wait,” Angelo whispered. “It’s only sixteen more years and you’ll be back in the time you left. You have managed to get through more than half of it already. I’m sure it will be easier for you when there aren’t expectations of your future knowledge weighing down on you anymore.”

Jack inadvertently tightened his hold around Angelo. “I hope those years go by very slowly.”

It was also a reminder that somewhere in those years he would lose Angelo. Every day Jack was able to spend with him was a gift, and he savoured every moment he had with his lover. He had thrown all caution about his Vortex Manipulator in the wind to give him the chance for more time with Angelo. Mostly he used it to turn back time and transport himself to Angelo so that he could spend nearly every night for the past twelve years since Giulia’s funeral with him, but he had also used it to show Angelo some of the wonders of the universe and to give them both a chance to spend time together outside of Angelo’s house.

He was creating memories for himself with that, but everything he chose, he chose very carefully for Angelo’s benefit. They had spent enough time together that Jack knew what would interest him, what would fascinate him. Jack barely ever glanced at the things he was showing Angelo, more interested in seeing his lover’s reaction. Sometimes Jack had to make changes to his plans when he forgot Angelo’s age. He was healthy and fit, but his age was still showing.

Jack greatly regretted that he had never taken this opportunity at a time when Angelo had been younger and they had still been only friends, but it was too late to change that. He couldn’t cross his own timeline to go back and take a younger Angelo on a couple of journeys. He had missed that chance and all he could do was learn from this mistake for future relationships.

“I’m not thinking much about the future when I’m with you,” Jack whispered after a long silence.

“I know,” Angelo chuckled. “And I’m very honoured by that. But sometimes we have to think about and even discuss it. And I believe this is one of those moments. The knowledge of what is to come and the things you could or couldn’t change are a burden for you. Who can help you with that burden besides me?”

“Clement helped today,” Jack muttered. “Although, he doesn’t know it. It helped so much to hear about his life and the lives of his friends. Maybe I will be able to save Alex and the others.”

“And even if it is only for a couple of weeks like it was with that doctor, it would still be a victory.”

Jack sighed. “Why is it so hard to remember that?”

“Because you would like to save everyone.” Angelo turned in his embrace to look at him. “That’s who you are. That’s the reason you turned back time and risked everything. It wasn’t revenge, really. You wanted to save Ianto and Steven, and even those children in ‘65. And since then you have set out to save everyone.”

Jack leaned his forehead against Angelo’s. “I … That’s not the plan with which I started this whole insanity.”

“No,” Angelo muttered. “You hoped to finally put an end to your existence when you started all of this.”

“I didn’t–”

“Yes,” Angelo interrupted him harshly. “You never used those words, but that is exactly what you hoped to accomplish when you destroyed those aliens, because you knew the risk. The first few years after we reunited, you wondered often enough why you were here that I know for a fact you were expecting to permanently die in the backlash of what you did.”

Jack closed his eyes and shook his head, unable to verbally disagree.

“You thought it would save those children and eventually Ianto, and it did. And when you found yourself thrown back in time instead of extinguished, you immediately made the plan to save even more people. You could have left this planet and don’t tell me there would have been any repercussions. You erased your old timeline, there can’t be any consequences for things not happening as they did originally.”

It was not true for everything; even if Angelo’s reasoning was valid for the most part, the timeline of a Time Lord could be a fragile thing. When Jack had learned the ins and outs of time travel after he had become a Time Agent, he had been warned repeatedly against dabbling with Time Lords, even though they had been thought to be extinct. Those lessons were the reason why he was so adamant to let the things he knew would impact the Doctor and the Master happen. But the rest Angelo had said was right, Jack had just lost sight of it.

“Am I still the only one to know your full story?”

Jack frowned. “Yes, of course.”

“I shouldn’t be,” Angelo whispered. “I’ll be gone before all of this ends. You need to find a friend you can rely on, someone who’ll be able to help you through these doubts after I’m gone.”

Jack sighed, but he held back his petulant reply that he didn’t want to think about that already. Angelo had become his anchor sometimes in the seventies, and the thought of letting him go was terrifying for more than just the heartbreak it would bring him.

“I’ll think about it,” he finally said.

“Maybe that boy you met today,” Angelo suggested. “You changed his life in such a profound way that he’ll probably show a great deal of loyalty to you. Or Estelle.”

“No, not Estelle.” Jack knew that would be more than she would be able to handle. “I’ll think about Clement. Or someone else.”

“Good.” Angelo patted his arm. “Or one of the friends you made in the police. You have established a great network there with the help of this Lewis fellow.”

Jack laughed slightly and shook his head. Lewis had been retired for a long time now, but Angelo was right that the former Detective Inspector had arranged for him to meet many more people in law enforcement, people Lewis had carefully vetted for him and who had been able to handle Torchwood and even Jack’s immortality. And apparently Lewis had given them all the directive to search for even more people trustworthy enough to join them in their support network for Torchwood. It was slow going to reach out to other important groups in Cardiff, like the fire department or the staff at hospitals, but the first careful connections were already in place.

“For most of them my immortality alone is hard to accept,” Jack muttered. “I don’t see any of them being able to handle me being a time traveller on top of it!”

Whatever Angelo intended to reply to that, they were interrupted by a knock on the door. Jack stiffened, ready to take his leave immediately. Matteo was the only one who had ever met Jack in Angelo’s study, but he was in New Zealand with his family so it couldn’t be him, but Angelo grabbed his arm and held him back.

“It’s Olivia,” Angelo said. “Stay. Meet her. She’ll take over my part in our plan very soon. I’ve been training her for it for a couple of years now. I’m too old to take care of all the details.”

Angelo smiled at Jack when he stood up to walk to the door and open it for his granddaughter. He had wanted to introduce them for a long time now, but Jack had been reluctant. Angelo could think of several reasons for that, but he was at a point where he was ready to take the choice out of Jack’s hand. He knew how much Jack tried to not think about his pending departure from the world, and meeting Olivia was part of that process for Jack.

Angelo unlocked the door and opened it for his granddaughter, who hugged him enthusiastically before the door was even completely open. She had turned out to be such a happy, open-minded and confident woman, completely different from the woman Jack had talked about during their first meeting. It was just one more thing he had changed that he was unaware of. Angelo knew he wouldn’t have thought about Matteo’s suggestion to take Olivia in if he hadn’t heard from Jack about how bitter she had been in that other life.

Back then, Angelo had thought the problems between Olivia and her step-father would sort themselves out over time, that it was something both of them needed to learn to handle. He had been unwilling to disturb his daughter’s family. He never thought about what it would mean for the little girl trapped in the toxic environment her step-father was creating until he had met Jack again and gotten a tiny glimpse of Olivia’s potential life. Giulia had been unhappy, convinced that Olivia was and should remain Sofia’s responsibility, but Angelo had not backed down and the change in Olivia’s behaviour and mood had been instantly recognizable.

“I want you to meet someone,” Angelo said smiling.

Her eyes lit up. “Really?” She knew there was only one person who could be in the study with him and had asked to meet him several times over the last couple of years.

Angelo stepped aside and let her come into the room. He locked the door, even though they were alone in the house. It was a habit he had developed because Giulia often had had guests over, and not all of them had had the decency to not go snooping through their host’s house. It had stopped years before Giulia had died, but Angelo had never learned to stop this habit. Truth be told he had not even tried to. There was a reason he was guarding Jack’s role in his life so fiercely, even though he tried to not think about that too often.

When Angelo turned around, Jack stood beside the armchair they had more or less shared a moment ago, back straight, a big, fake smile on his face and fear in his eyes. Angelo knew that kind of fear all too well, he had helped Jack overcome it over and over again, which was just one more reason that it was good that the years Jack had to relive were nearing an end. Meeting Olivia meant meeting a ghost of his other life, re-meeting another person who was not quite how Jack remembered them – and in Olivia’s case she was not at all what she had been in that other time.

“Olivia, meet Jack, my very dear friend and the love of my life.”

Jack took a step in her direction, holding out his hand. “Captain Jack Harkness. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Olivia.”

Olivia ignored the hand and instead hugged Jack as fiercely as she had done with Angelo only moments ago. “You liar,” she whispered. “But it is a very great pleasure for me. Nonno has told me so much about you!”

Jack looked at him helplessly over her shoulder, but he returned the hug until she stepped back. “It is a pleasure,” he finally repeated, this time with a much more sincere smile on his face. “Angelo talks a lot about you as well. I guess I’m just too used to hiding. The only other person of your family I ever met is Matteo, and I can count those occasions on one hand.”

“We’ll meet more often, I hope,” Olivia said. “And it’s good that you are here because this news is more important for you, I think, than for Nonno.” She held up the newspaper she had brought with her.

Jack took it with a frown, one that transformed into a big, triumphant grin as he read aloud the headline of the page Olivia had handed him. “Aaron Copley found guilty of fraud and unethical experimentation with animals and humans, sentenced to ten years imprisonment. Finally!”

Angelo huffed. “Took them long enough!”

For eight years they had worked on getting that man out of the way. It hadn’t been difficult to find irregularities in the studies he had conducted throughout his life, but it had turned out to be very complicated to find any kind of substantial evidence against him. One of the biggest problems had been to find trustworthy people to conduct this investigation, but Jack had been adamant that they needed to stop Copley as soon as possible.

Jack looked up at him, so much hope shining in his eyes that it took Angelo’s breath away. “More change, another chance to save at least one of them.”

Angelo nodded silently. He knew all about Dr. Owen Harper, who had been killed by Copley and whom Jack had brought back to some kind of not-life with technology that made him shudder every time he thought about it. Jack had been so gleeful when he had told him about destroying both of those gloves a couple of years ago when the second one had been found by a construction crew in Cardiff Bay.

Personally, Angelo theorized that it would get easier for Jack to change things that affected his daily life the less he knew about the future. He had come up with this theory after Jack had been able to save Dr. Bell from her original death. She had been the first one of the people working with him he had ever been able to save, and there were other, smaller changes that Jack only recognized subconsciously.

Angelo suspected that whatever force was responsible for incorporating changes in the timeline, like Jack had talked about during their first meeting, had been pushing Jack’s personal timeline so that he reached the same point he had been in once before at the end of that life he had eradicated. Jack had talked about fixed points in time, how he somehow was one, and that it was impossible to change the fixed events. Angelo hoped that it was Jack’s knowledge of the future that had kept things around him fixed for so long, and that the changes he had made in the past couple of years would ripple out to more permanent changes in the future.

He was thrown out of his musings by Olivia asking about Copley and their reasons behind the shadow campaign against him that had finally ended with the man in jail. Jack took over most of the talking, telling her about discovering Copley’s experimentations on aliens he had captured who had been stranded on Earth through the Rift in Cardiff. Of course, he didn’t tell her that this had happened in a future that would no longer come to pass, but that was irrelevant anyway.

Jack’s nerves vanished over the next couple of hours as they sat in the study and talked about plans for the future. Angelo was relieved to see Jack and Olivia warm up to each other, and he was relieved that for once he was able to hold himself back, to be able to let others handle the scheming and planning and world-saving. He tried to hide it from Jack and Olivia both, but he was tired of it all, feeling his age more with every week that went by.

Saving the world was a game for younger people, and Angelo was happy to let the next generation worry about it. All he wanted to do for the short time he had left was to spend as much time as possible with Jack, to give him as many good memories and his strength and support for as long as possible. He worried less for his family than he did for Jack in regards to his death. He had started long ago to prepare Matteo for that time so that he would be able to give Jack support, and he would start to prepare Olivia for the same thing. Jack needed a support system and Angelo did not trust him to build it for himself.

Jack spent the night as had become a tradition for many years now, but he left before breakfast since he planned to go back far enough to have breakfast with Estelle. Angelo only knew the woman from Jack’s stories, and while he had once thought she would be able to support him in grounding Jack, he realized that as great a friend as she was, there were limits to the things she was able to do. He was unsure if Jack was hesitating too much with her, or if she would be as unable to handle Jack’s whole story as he feared, but Angelo accepted his friend’s opinion about it.

“You have outstanding taste in men, Nonno,” Olivia said with a laugh while she put breakfast on the table.

Angelo laughed. “You know, most men of my age would be told that they shouldn’t have any kind of taste in men. Especially by their grandchildren.”

“I was sceptical about him for a long time.” Olivia sat down beside him. “Nonna had very terrible things to say about your ‘lapse of judgment’ as she called it. She hated him, and I think that was partly because she was never able to win over your heart. After all, you still loved him.”

“She was just as unable to fall in love with me,” Angelo muttered. “Giulia liked to forget that. We had as a good life together as either of us could have hoped.”

“I know.” Olivia reached over the table to pet his hand. “There were days when she remembered that. But I think … she hated your open support for the queer community so much not because she hated the cause you were fighting for but because it was a constant reminder of your lost relationship.”

Angelo smiled thankfully.

Olivia sighed. “That reminds me of something. My mother and Henry found it necessary to disinherit Julia. I met her last week during a shopping trip. She was outed to them three years ago and they haven’t spoken to her ever since she finished high school and they could throw her out. Neither have any of our siblings.”

Angelo frowned. “I can’t even be surprised about that.”

Julia was the youngest of Sofia’s five children, nearly sixteen years younger than Olivia. Aside from Olivia, he had had no contact with any of the children since before Julia’s birth, and Olivia’s contact with her siblings had not been much more. None of the children had reached out to him since they had become adults, but he suspected their father and maybe even Sofia had told them all kinds of horror stories about him.

“She is twenty now?” Angelo asked.

Olivia nodded. “Barely.”

“Do you know how to reach her? I would like to get to know her, and of course, support her in any way she needs.”

“I have her address, but I think it will take time to convince her she could come to you. She grew up with a very bad picture of you, and me. She was very hesitant to talk to me.”

Angelo huffed. “Of course. But even without contact, I can take care of the money she needs for college.”

“She didn’t go, Nonno. There was no way … I don’t think she had been prepared to be cut off so completely. She couldn’t afford to go to college without the support of her parents.”

Angelo glared at his eggs. “One reason more to get in contact with her.”

“I’ll visit her later,” Olivia promised.

“Thank you. – There are a lot of things I wish for you to learn and to take over for me in the next couple of months.”

Olivia nodded. “The things you are doing with Jack and Uncle Matteo in secret? I have waited for years now that you started including me in these things!”

Angelo sighed deeply. “I would have rather not burdened either of you with it, but Matteo was right all those years ago when he told me I needed the help. I wanted to give you as much time as possible to build your own life, to find your own way. But you never ventured far away from my business.”

“It’s not a burden to stick close to your family,” Olivia stated. “I never understood why my mother or Aunt Emma abandoned you, even as a small child. They should have reciprocated the love you gave them.”

“Sofia and Emma lived through very hard times with us,” Angelo said. “Their childhood wasn’t as easy or carefree as your childhood or even Matteo’s. But you know that part of our history. – Be that as it may, I won’t pressure you into taking on the fight I’m supporting Jack in. I made a very big mistake at the end of my first relationship with him, and when I met him again and started to support him it was my way to repay him for it. That is not a debt you have to take on.”

“You are trying to make the world a better place with this. I mean, I’ve already seen a lot of the organisations you have your hand in. You are helping a lot of people fight for their rights and equality. I want to help with this, whatever else it entails.”

“For the most part, I want you to take care of Jack after I’m gone.” Angelo met her gaze solemnly. “Most of the things we started are running themselves at this point in time. But Jack is … he is putting up this brave facade, but his circumstances are still very hard for him to endure. I was selfish, really, when I asked him to rekindle the romantic part of our relationship because it will hurt him all the more to lose me. He will need someone to hold him up and to remind him of the good times we had, and all the good times he’ll have with others after me.”

“How old is he?” Olivia asked.

“Going on two hundred years, I believe, but he isn’t sure of that himself any more. And up until this friendship with me, he avoided letting anyone stay in his life long enough to see them grow old.”

“I’ll keep watch over him in your stead for as long as I can,” Olivia promised. “Tell me about that mistake you made.”

***

Jack had been anxious for weeks now, watching Alex carefully. The end of the millennium was coming and Jack was haunted by the nightmares of losing Alex and the rest of the team again at the end of the year. Despite his best efforts in the last decade to keep members on the team, it again consisted of only the five of them. Karen and James had been recruited by Alex shortly before Ryder’s return to London six years ago left Alex in charge, and Ariana had only joined them a year ago as their newest recruit. Jack wanted to save them all and he still hoped he would be able to make this change.

James was the first doctor Jack had ever fully trusted in Torchwood, the first one who had never given him the feeling he wanted to examine him in any way. He was also the first to ever show any respect for peaceful aliens and for those people the Rift brought back. James had supported him when he had learned about those people, and after years of arguing Jack had finally managed to get them transferred into a special ward in a psychiatric clinic outside of Cardiff.

Karen was a good technician, which was what she had been hired for, but she was an even better agent, dedicated to helping and defending people. Jack trusted her at his back, and she had never once even suggested sacrificing him in a tough situation so that they could get out of it faster or easier.

It had taken Jack many years after he had turned back time to understand that this was a kind of behaviour he had been trained to accept and to suggest himself. Ianto had been so distraught every time Jack had made a sacrifice for the team, but Jack had only understood what he was doing when he had been confronted with the expectations of others. To understand why he was doing it had been a much greater motivation to overcome it than Ianto’s desperation had ever been.

Arianna was much too young for their job, recruited out of university because someone had tried to hire her to synthesise an alien substance, which they had planned to distribute as a recreational drug on the streets of Cardiff. She hadn’t been as gullible as her would-be employers had thought and led the police right to them. But by then she had already seen too much and it was basically inevitable to tell her about Torchwood. That had somehow ended up with Torchwood hiring a chemist who had just finished her Master’s degree.

Jack wanted to keep all of them alive. He would love to have them in his life for a long time to come. Many things had changed in the last couple of years that started to made a difference in how Torchwood was run, at least here in Cardiff and in Glasgow. Torchwood One remained unchanged, but then that was part of the plan. The biggest change of all was that Alex had made Jack his second in command against the avid protests from various people from London, chief among them Yvonne Hartman who was rising fast through the ranks. It was enough to give him actual hope that he would be able to save this team.

Jack had no idea when Alex had gotten the damn Object 1 last time, but he was sure it could not have been long before the fateful New Year’s Eve, so he kept close to his friend for the week before and after Christmas, and followed him in secret whenever Alex insisted to go somewhere alone. And yet, on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve Alex came back into the Hub a mere ten minutes after Jack and had the damn thing in his hands.

“Can I talk to you?” Jack asked before the door had even closed behind Alex.

Alex turned to him, looking surprised. “Yes, of course. How can I help you?”

“Your office?”

Alex shrugged and led Jack into his office. “What’s bothering you?”

“Where did you get this thing from?”

“A girl gave it to me.” Alex shrugged and looked down, turning the small, silver artefact in his fingers. “Why?”

“Because it’s a cursed thing that just has to come back here all the time.” Jack shook his head. “I put it in the Rift once, and it just came back. All it does is bring chaos and destruction. What did this girl say to you? Why did she give it to you?”

“A couple of years ago … someone came to me, from an organisation … they wanted me to spy for them. To give them information about Torchwood. I refused of course and informed One. But someone else seems … The girl said this thing could show me who was betraying us.”

Jack sighed and shook his head. “It won’t. What it will do is show you nightmares of things that may or may not happen. It could destroy you. And do you really think anyone among us, Karen or James or Arianna or I are spying for anyone? Why didn’t this girl just tell you who it was? Why give you that artefact instead of just telling you?”

Alex shook his head. “No idea.” He rubbed his thumb over it, mesmerized by it.

“Alex,” Jack said slowly. “Can you put this on the table, please?”

Alex kept shaking his head, still staring at the damn thing. “It’s fascinating, isn’t it?”

“No.” Jack leaned forward, reaching his hand out for Alex slowly, so as not to spook him.

He didn’t remember this thing having some kind of hypnotic effect, but Alex seemed to be caught in something like that. Before Jack could make a decision about taking the thing away from Alex, he was enclosed in a dim light. Jack jumped up, reaching for his friend but his fingers were repelled by some kind of force field.

“Fuck!”

Jack stepped around the table, kneeled down in front of Alex and tried to pry his shaking hands from the artefact, but for two long minutes he could not even touch Alex’s skin. As the light finally subsided, Alex stared at him with wide eyes, pale as a sheet and sweat running down his forehead. Jack finally grabbed Alex’s hands and turned them until the artefact fell out of his hands.

“Whatever you saw won’t become reality!” Jack said forcefully.

Alex took a shuddering breath. “The world is going to end!”

“No!” Jack shook his head and grabbed Alex’s face. “Listen to me, whatever you have seen, it’s a nightmare, it won’t come true!”

“They’ll come and take all these children,” Alex muttered ignoring Jack completely, his gaze focused on a point behind Jack. “And then we’ll stop dying. Not like you. We aren’t ready for any of this.”

“We will be ready. I promise you, Alex, we will be ready. And those aliens that took the kids are dead. I killed them before they could even take the first children. If there are others of the species out there that were out of reach of my weapon, they sure as hell will know better than to try a second time. And if not I’m prepared. I would kill them as I did with their brethren in ‘65. No one will take any children from us.”

Alex blinked, and his gaze finally focused on Jack. “You killed them? What are you talking about?”

Jack sighed and closed his eyes. He trusted Alex more than anyone else currently working for Torchwood, but he had never planned to tell him anything about this. “I know you’ve seen the report from ‘65 when Torchwood and UNIT were prepared to sacrifice twelve children to an unknown alien race. I was chosen to transport the children and after the aliens never came to collect them, I was suspected of having had something to do with it.”

Alex nodded slowly. “I remember.”

“I managed to get out of those accusations, but the truth is that I did kill them. Because I knew they would come back if we just let them take those children. I had to kill them, but I didn’t want anyone to expect me to do such a thing every time from then on. Killing an alien shouldn’t be our first solution but our very last resort and even now many don’t understand that.”

“How do you know they would have come back?”

Jack shrugged. “Human and alien psychology is not that different in this regard. Someone who was once successful with blackmail will come back to try again. I grew up knowing about and interacting with a lot of alien cultures. And that’s another reason why I know the world won’t end. You know I’m from the future, Alex. If the human race died out in the next century, I wouldn’t be here. Our race will start to explore our solar system in earnest in the next couple of decades and after that, they will go out into the universe and make a name for themselves.”

“It was so real…” Alex murmured.

“I know,” Jack smiled reassuringly. “But it wasn’t. It won’t come to pass, okay? We are prepared for the future as well as we can be.”

Alex shook his head. “It wasn’t just an illusion! It was…”

“It was a possible future, maybe,” Jack said. “Or something that happened in another dimension. The walls are close between dimensions now, but there could still be images of them be trapped in this thing. It doesn’t matter what it was, Alex. The only thing that matters, is that it was not real.”

“But what if it becomes reality?”

Jack sighed and closed his eyes for a moment. “So, write down what you saw, everything you remember, and then if it really starts to happen, we can use that knowledge.”

Alex shook his head. “We can’t–”

“Do you trust me?” Jack interrupted him.

Alex frowned. “Yes.”

“Then trust me with this. Nothing is as bleak as this vision made it out to be. This thing aims to destroy your mind. And it didn’t show you a betrayer in our ranks as the girl told you, did it? Isn’t that reason enough to not trust what it showed you?”

Jack desperately held onto Alex. He wasn’t sure of how to reach him, how to break the hold the vision had on him, but he needed to find a way. He cursed himself that he had never tried to get more information about this artefact, which had been reappearing all around Torchwood for over a century now.

“We are so weak,” Alex muttered. “So unprepared.”

“We are not.” Jack shook his head. “We save lives every day. We are making a difference. And we’ll find a way to handle whatever is to come. And there is every reason to keep doing that, to stay here and fight for the people of this city, of this whole planet. You have done that for over fifteen years now.”

Alex blinked, and the haze finally receded out of his eyes. “What is this thing?” he asked breathlessly.

“I have no idea,” Jack shrugged and shook his head. “It’s a curse, but it’s been around for a long time, despite several attempts to get rid of it. I’m much more interested in that girl who gave it to you. What do you remember about her? When did you meet her?”

“She stood at the quay near the tourist office. I think she waited for me, she was watching me long before I was even near her. I’ve never seen her before. She was young, ten, maybe eleven, long brown hair, but overall unremarkable. I wasn’t … even suspicious that she knew about Torchwood. Why didn’t I question it and just let her go?”

“Because she is no girl,” Jack muttered. “I have no idea what she is, but I have met her before. More than a hundred years ago, to be precise. She presented herself as a fortune-teller to me, laying me the cards.”

Jack frowned. He had not thought about her much, although he had been aware she had been around all this time. He had searched for her to tell him where the second glove was after Owen had died, but he could not remember why he had done that. Maybe he should invest more time in investigating her.

“Who were the people asking you for information about Torchwood?”

Alex shrugged. “No idea. I told them no before they could give me any information about themselves.”

“That is something we should look into,” Jack decided, finally letting his hands drop, but he kept his position kneeling in front of his friend. “Because either this group sent her to give you this thing, or they are big enough a problem that a third party knows about them. The first order of the new year should be to look into them and this girl.”

Alex nodded and colour slowly returned to his face. Jack picked the artefact up, using a tissue so that he wouldn’t touch it directly, and put it in the secure archive while making plans with Alex about that search. He used a code for the archive he had secretly implemented so that neither Alex nor anyone else would be able to get a hold of it. He needed to get rid of the thing for good, but he had some time yet to figure that out. For the rest of today and for the next couple of weeks it was more important to keep watch over Alex.

Jack tried not to think too much about his conversation with Alex the rest of the evening while they prepared their party and celebrated the start of not only a new year but a whole new millennium, but it had brought up problems he was unable to let go of. For the last couple of decades, Jack had relied on the knowledge he had of the future, despite the changes he had made. Enough events, especially in his direct vicinity, had stayed unchanged that he had never worried about being faced with the unknown for another ten more years.

That Alex had been asked to spy on Torchwood, that this strange little girl was somehow involved in all of it, was something Jack had never known anything about. He wondered why no one had ever approached him, because there had been a time when he would have happily sold out everything he knew about Torchwood.

Who else had been approached besides Alex? Had anyone actually been a spy?

Jack had spent so much time planning ahead for things he knew would come that being confronted with something unknown felt like he had had the ground pulled out from under his feet. This wasn’t a lesson he had expected: he had not even thought it would be a problem when the time came. But somehow he had become too comfortable with knowing what would come, and now he needed to not only find a solution for the problem that had been presented to him through Alex, but he also needed to find a way to get a grip on himself.

Chapter 05

The 2000s Part I

“Half a year.” Jack leaned his head against Angelo’s chest who was holding him in a tight embrace. “All I could give Alex was half a year.”

“But the rest of this team you lost last time is still alive,” Angelo murmured. “You have saved their lives, too. You aren’t completely alone now like you were last time.”

He knew that wouldn’t lessen Jack’s grief, but maybe it could give him hope to be reminded of it. This time he had managed to change many things, and for those changes to hold for a long time. Alex had worked sixteen years for Torchwood, which was a miracle in its own right, especially in Cardiff. And Jack was not alone this time around, he still had the rest of his team and they were backing him up against the scrutiny he was receiving from the London branch of Torchwood.

Jack closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “You are right.”

Angelo chuckled. “I think we have already established that a couple of times.”

Jack huffed but kept quiet.

“You told me you wanted to go and recruit your IT specialist right out of university this time to save her from being blackmailed, before things happened with Alex. Did you get around to that already?”

Jack sighed. “She declined. I should have expected it, really. Last time she only came to work for me because it was the only thing that kept her out of the hands of UNIT. She was never interested in working for any secret government agencies. To work for the defence department was already more government work than she had wanted. And you know, maybe it’s for the best. Maybe she can have a better life if I don’t draw her into this kind of work. It’s selfish of me to wish for her to come back.”

“You have held onto the memories of this team for a long time. I can understand why you want to have them back.” Angelo leaned his cheek against Jack’s head. “It’s not selfish. You want your friends back.”

Angelo could understand the desire especially in the face of his own pending farewell. He was very aware of how much Jack had come to rely on his support, but they both knew how soon that would end. This team had once been the first to fully accept Jack, of course he was craving to get that back.

“I won’t ask her again,” Jack murmured. “I’ll let her live her life in peace. I asked a couple of people to keep watch over her family. Last time, they abducted her mother to blackmail her. It won’t happen this time. I’ll keep her safe. In the end that will save her life. Torchwood would just kill her again. All of them would just die again. Even if I manage to prevent their death from last time, it wouldn’t last. Alex is proof of that.”

“You’ll need to search for a new team you can trust in that case.”

“I will. New people are coming all the time. You have taught me how to find people I can trust. I don’t know where I would be without you.”

“You would have found your way,” Angelo whispered. “You are strong. Much stronger than you often think you are. You don’t need me to hold you up.”

“Don’t try to prepare me for the time when you are gone,” Jack asked. “I don’t want to think about it. I know that it’s coming, okay? It’s inevitable and I know it will come earlier than last time. But for now, I’m not thinking about it, okay?”

Angelo sighed deeply. “Alright.”

He would let it go for the moment. Jack would have to deal with it sooner rather than later and Angelo wanted to be able to help with that as well, but maybe Jack was right and he wasn’t the right person to help Jack this time. Maybe he needed to have more faith in Jack as well and trust that his friend would find a way to handle it. He had spent a lot of time preparing Jack for this, had tried to give him all the support he would need.

“I promise you, I’ll be here for as long as I can,” Angelo whispered. “When I was a young man, I dreamed of becoming immortal like you. Not because I wanted to endure the same curse, because really, after what I had seen happen to you, there was no doubt that it was anything but a curse. But … I wish for you to have someone who will be with you forever. I wished to be that person for a long time.”

“But not anymore?”

Angelo laughed. “As old as I am now? No. You need someone as young and as fit as you are. Did you ever think about what happened at the end of this Miracle? We haven’t found a way yet to stop them. They found this thing already, right? You said they purchased the sites in Shanghai and Buenos Aires. They found it and we have no way to get it away from the Three Families again or to destroy it at the moment.”

“I know. What are you talking about?”

“You told me of how it ended. That there was another man who sacrificed himself to end it and that he ended up immortal as well after it was reverted.”

Jack sighed. “Rex, yes. But I’m not sure if he was really immortal. It happened once, doesn’t mean it would have happened more often.”

“But it could, couldn’t it? You could choose who to give this task to this time! You could have a chance to find someone to spent the rest of your existence with you.”

Jack shook his head and sat up. “No!”

“Jack…” Angelo began.

“I’m not putting anyone else through this!”

“So, you have another solution to end the Miracle after it started?”

Jack opened his mouth without saying anything. He rubbed his hands over his face. “Fuck!”

“You hadn’t thought about that yet,” Angelo muttered. “But you know I’m right, don’t you? Someone has to make this sacrifice. Someone will have to risk becoming like you. You should choose this person very carefully. You should spend the next couple of years searching for this person. Because this is important, okay?”

“I’ll find another way,” Jack insisted. “We can smuggle the blood in there another way. I’ll find something.”

“Jack,” Angelo sighed and took Jack’s hand in his. “This is a chance for you. I would have done it if this chance had presented itself when I was younger. You won’t have to be alone if you take this chance. You can find someone to share this burden with. You need someone to share this burden with. A friend or a lover, doesn’t matter. Just someone you can share this curse with.”

Jack shook his head. “I can’t do this. I can’t put another person in this situation. I dread the day I have to say goodbye to you, but I would have never done to you what you are suggesting here. You don’t know what it really means. You understand more than anyone else, but that still isn’t enough to really know what being like this means.”

“I would bear it.” Angelo raised their hands and pressed a kiss against Jack’s knuckles. “If only for you to not be alone any more, to have at least one person you’ll never lose, you’ll never have to bury. And I’m sure there will be others like me, who love you and who’ll feel the same.”

“No!” Jack kept shaking his head.

“Think about it,” Angelo murmured. “Promise me you’ll at least think about it. Especially if you end up using the same tactic again. Make a plan for who you want to have at your side for the rest of eternity. From the things you told me, you were barely civil with that man. Choose someone who can be a companion in whatever way the both of you want.”

There was still denial written all over Jack’s face and body language. Angelo decided to give it a rest for the moment, but he would come back to it. Jack needed to think about it, he needed to have a plan for it. Despite what Jack had said, Angelo knew very well why Jack balked at the idea to inflict anyone else with the curse of his immortality. If it were in any way possible, Angelo would have thought out a way to end this curse for Jack, but to find another person to share it with was the next best thing. He just had to find a way to convince Jack of that.

***

Jack paused mid-stride when he spotted Toshiko sitting on a table of a coffee shop at the edge of the Roald Dahl Plass. He had not expected to see her ever again, especially as she had told him no a second time after he had been involved in saving her mother from being abducted. She had been angry, and she had pushed that anger in his direction, accusing him of setting all of it up to convince her to work for her.

“Miss Sato, it’s a pleasure to see you!” Jack sat down at her table without waiting for an invitation. “Somehow, I can’t believe it’s a coincidence that you are sitting in a place where I have to pass by sooner or later.”

Toshiko eyed him distrustfully. “You are going to great lengths to convince me to work for you.”

Jack frowned. “I have no idea what you are talking about. That I was there to help your mother was pure chance. Maybe I shouldn’t have asked you right there to reconsider my offer, but you could be a great help to my team. I just couldn’t resist.”

He had tried to hold onto his resolution not to drag her into the life of Torchwood, but it had held for barely a minute after seeing her again. He missed her so much, and she had accomplished things for Torchwood that no one else would be able to do. She would be good for the team, and he was selfish enough to want to have her back in his life.

Toshiko huffed. “And after I said no again you let me be taken into custody!”

“Come again?” Jack stared at her in open horror. “What are you talking about?”

“Your palls from UNIT.”

Jack shook his head. There should have been no reason for anyone in UNIT to take Toshiko into custody. Her mother’s would-be abductors had been in jail before they ever had a chance to tell Toshiko what they wanted her to do. Toshiko hadn’t done anything shady at this point in time, she should not have been on UNIT’s radar at all.

“I really have no idea what you are talking about!”

“A Lieutenant Colonel McDonald send me here, after presumably freeing me. But he didn’t tell me I was waiting for you.”

Jack raised his hands. “McDonald freed you? I have no idea what has happened, Miss Sato. I swear to you, I accepted your answer.”

Toshiko snorted. “Right.”

“Let me make a quick call, okay?” Jack drew his phone without waiting for an answer and searched for Clement’s number in his contacts. He put it on speaker so that Toshiko would be able to hear both sides of the conversation in the hope that would somehow relieve her doubts and her distrust.

“Jack, I expected to hear from you by now. I take it the young woman I sent your way found you?”

“She did,” Jack confirmed. “Tell me what happened. Because there are a couple of misunderstandings here on our end, I think.”

“This isn’t a secure line, Jack!” Clement sighed. “So, the cliff notes. I found a couple of irregularities with some people who had aired questionable opinions in my organisation. I investigated and found a facility full of people held in custody illegally and inhumanly. You know how much I hate those kinds of things and I’m high enough up the chain of command now to do something about it. I got permission to shut this facility down and take care of the people who had orchestrated it. I’m trying to take care of the victims, but in some cases, that is not so easy.”

“You could have warned me that you were sending someone my way.”

“I wanted to, but it was all a little bit chaotic here,” Clement said. “Listen, this woman is a genius and it’s not the first time she was targeted by people with bad intentions. Her mother was nearly abducted not too long ago. I have no idea how to protect her from something like this happening again. I know there are still a lot of bad apples in my organisation, and I don’t think we’ll ever get rid of all of them. We are too big for that. But your team is small, and the police in your city back you up. You could protect her, and she could be a big help to you.”

Jack sighed. “The only problem is that I already asked her twice to work for me, the last time when I happened to be at the right place at the right time to save her mother. And she told me no both times.”

“Tough. If she doesn’t want the protection you could offer, that’s her problem. Shouldn’t she be a little more trusting of you and grateful after saving her mother?”

Jack laughed. “With how popular she is with the bad guys I can understand how she is slow to trust anyone. And for the time being, she thinks I orchestrated everything to lure her into working for me.”

“That’s the problem when you keep quiet about saving people left and right,” Clement replied. “No one knows to trust you, because no one knows that you saved their asses already multiple times. Just, try to convince her otherwise, okay? Don’t give up too soon. If she gets a chance, she could do so much good for the world.”

“I’ll try,” Jack promised. “Call me when you are free. Or come and visit. We haven’t sat down for a coffee in way too long!”

“Next month maybe. If I get a handle on this cluster-fuck before then.”

Toshiko crossed her arms and watched him thoughtfully as he ended the call. Jack returned the gaze silently, wondering how legal her incarceration had been in his other life. He had never bothered to investigate her situation much, and he had not even wondered about UNIT’s facility at all.

“I’m sorry this happened to you,” Jack said finally. “The world can be a dark place, but you probably knew that before all of this happened. Clement is right, I would be able to protect you, and even give your family a certain degree of protection. But I am also prepared to help you find a solution if you don’t want to work for me. It would probably lead to new identities at least for you, if not your whole family, but there are other ways to protect you than the one Clement thought of first.”

“And why would you do something like that?”

Jack shrugged. “I try to help people, that’s all. In my line of work, I often meet people who need to start somewhere new far away from here. There are a couple of reasons, but they are all very personal and I don’t know you well enough to open myself up that way. You want to hear about the job I’m offering?”

“I don’t have much of a choice, do I?”

Jack sighed. He hated that Toshiko was so distrustful, but she had been the same after he had originally saved her from UNIT. Only, this time she had already been suspicious about him before all of it had started, so he would probably need more time and patience for her to learn to trust him. But he could do that, he had gotten quite good in being patient since he had turned back time.

“As I said, I can help you get a new identity and a new life without any strings attached.”

Toshiko shook her head. “I wouldn’t trust you to provide that for me. So, tell me about that job of yours!”

“How about I show it to you instead?” Jack grinned. “I won’t be able to talk about much here. I can show you our Hub and show you what we would be dealing with. How does that sound?”

“I hope it’s not too far to walk. I’m not getting into a car with you!”

“The entrance is not too far from here.” Jack put enough money on the table to cover for her drink and stood up. “Were you ever in Cardiff before today?”

Toshiko shook her head. “No. Never ventured out of London much after my family returned to England.”

“That’s a big city to explore. So, you ever heard of Torchwood?”

Toshiko hesitated before she slowly shook her head. “Urban legends, nothing more.”

“It’s really no secret at all in this town, but I guess it’s easier to keep it quiet in London. What are the legends you heard?”

“Top secret government agency.” Toshiko followed him slowly and Jack had to adjust his pace. “No one knows what they are really doing, but there are a lot of rumours. Very absurd rumours if you ask me.”

Jack laughed. “I promise you, once you have seen what I’ll show you, you’ll change your mind about what is absurd.”

Toshiko frowned, but said nothing more.

Jack sighed and reminded himself forcefully that this was a Toshiko who had no idea about him, he had to be careful not to use his knowledge of her until she had worked for him for a while. He needed to give her and even himself time to rebuild the friendship he remembered. It had never been so hard before. Neither Lucia nor Alex, the two people he had been most connected with in the years he had relived, had ever aroused this urge to rely on the knowledge he had had of them or to share the kind of inside jokes with them they could not know because they had never happened for them.

Angelo was right, once more. This team, starting with Toshiko, was something special. It had been the first and only team he had ever build by himself, the first in a very long time he had trusted with his secret, although that had not happened as voluntarily as he liked to remember, mostly because he had still no idea how to handle Billis Manger and Abbadon when the time came. It was one of the things he had put off until it wasn’t so far away any more.

“A tourist office?” Toshiko asked when Jack led her into their front door.

“Secret organisation, remember?” Jack said laughing as he walked around the counter to open the hidden door that would lead them into the Hub.

Toshiko watched him unimpressed and Jack felt sent back to the time he had shown her the Hub the last time. She had been very unimpressed then as well. He sighed, remembering once more that he should not think about that. If he wanted to rekindle any kind of friendship with Toshiko, and later with the others, he needed to compartmentalise his old life. He had changed so much, about the timeline but also about himself. He wasn’t the same person he had been the last time at this point, it was unfair not only to his friends but also himself to expect to develop the exact same relationship.

Jack concentrated on showing Toshiko his world, teasing her with the things she would be able to learn if she came to work for Torchwood. He needed to seduce her into working with him because he wanted her to be part of his life again. It was easier this time, because Toshiko would be here of her own free will, not because it was the only alternative to incarceration, and because Jack knew what would pique her interest. It was easy to seduce her into accepting a job with Torchwood with the right technology. And it was so much easier to integrate her into the work because they were not alone this time.

***

Jack laughed and leaned a little bit into the woman he was talking with. “And then I told him, he could have spared himself the whole ordeal if he had just…”

“Am I interrupting something?”

“Owen!” Katie flapped her hand playfully against his chest, laughing about the glowering gaze he was sending Jack. “This is Captain Harkness, I told you about him. Captain, my fiancé Owen Harper.”

Jack held out his hand to Owen, grinning widely. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. And I have heard congratulations are in order, not only for the recent engagement to this lovely woman but also for your newly acquired doctorate!”

Owen still looked not very happy, but he took the hand Jack offered. “Thank you, Captain Harkness.”

“The Captain was nice enough to keep me company while I waited for you.” Katie took Owen’s hand and leaned against him. “You do remember we wanted to meet half an hour ago?”

“We were keeping each other company,” Jack corrected. “Whenever Mrs. Murphy is on duty when I need documents about one of our victims, it takes her a hell of a time to get me the information I asked for.”

Katie chuckled. “She is still angry at you because you wouldn’t follow up your flirting with any more actions. She is just not the kind of person to understand the difference between being nice and being actually interested in her. You aren’t the first man she thinks has led her around by the nose only because he smiled at her a moment too long.”

Jack rolled his eyes, but he did notice that Owen was relaxing a little bit. “Not the first person accusing me of that, either. My partner tried in vain to teach me not to flirt as indiscriminatingly as I do. Maybe I should have listened to him a little bit more.”

“You are with the police?” Owen asked.

“Not exactly,” Jack shrugged. “I do investigate in some cases of extreme violence, which is the reason I’m currently waiting for Mrs. Murphy to get me the clothes the last victim was wearing, but I’m with another organisation.”

Jack had spent a long time searching for Owen and learning as much as he could about him and Katie. There was nothing he could do to save her, but he did plan to get them to enjoy the time they had a little more than they had last time. For that, he needed to befriend them. Owen, caught up in his speciality training to become a surgeon and his doctorate, was hard to reach, but Katie worked as a junior doctor in the trauma ward and therefore encountered victims of attacks from weevils or other aliens Jack dealt with. It hadn’t been hard to get to know her or to set up a fledging friendship with her.

“Do you have a plan already for when your wedding will take place?”

Owen shook his head. “We are both very busy at the moment. We probably won’t start planning before Katie has finished her doctorate.”

“That could still be a long time away,” Jack frowned. “Maybe it’s only my personal situation raising its head here, but in your place, I wouldn’t wait that long. You never know how long you have. If you want to do something, do it right away.”

“What are you talking about?”

Katie sighed. “Owen…”

Jack shook his head. “It’s alright. My partner … he is dying.” It was not even a lie, and it had been Angelo’s idea to use this story, only leaving out how many years they had already spent together and that he was dying of old age, heavily implying that he had some terminal illness. “If we are lucky, we’ll still have a couple of years. But it’s as likely that he’ll be gone next week. It has put a lot of things into perspective, you know.”

Owen sighed. “I’m sorry.”

“You didn’t know,” Jack said. “We are taking every day as a gift. We made grand plans for the future and none of them will come true now. He’s not up for any kind of travelling anymore.” He waved a hand in front of him. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t burden you with my own regrets.”

“It’s not a burden at all,” Katie whispered, reaching out her free hand to pat his arm. “You are worrying about our happiness despite your own situation. – I’ll go look where Murphy is. You really shouldn’t have to wait here for more than an hour!”

Owen pursed his lips while Katie turned to walk back into the hospital. “Katie has talked a lot about you the last few weeks.”

“And you don’t like that your fiancée is talking so much about another man?” Jack grinned. “I assure you, if I were interested in one of you, you would be the more likely candidate. Katie is nice and sweet, but really not my kind of woman. I started talking to her because there was a rise in attacks on random people following the same pattern. For a while, I had to come here every other day to talk to a new victim, and Katie was the doctor for most of them.”

That wasn’t a lie either. There had been an upswing in the weevil population and at the same time construction work had driven them out of the sewers more often. They had finally gotten a handle on it just a week ago, and thankfully not many victims had died. Jack would not have come normally to personally administer the Retcon so that the survivors would forget what exactly had attacked them, but it had been a great opportunity to meet Katie more regularly.

“I heard about those animal attacks.”

“Someone was abusing their dogs to randomly attack people on the streets,” Jack explained. “We’ve got him, finally. It’s a horror what ideas some people can come up with.”

Owen nodded. “I hope he’ll be put away for the rest of his life.”

Jack shrugged. “I do, too, but that’s not my part of the job. I wouldn’t mind taking you and Katie out for a drink though, as a thank you for Katie’s help and in celebration of your engagement.”

“We’ll see,” Owen said.

Jack laughed, not phased at all by the other man’s mistrust. He may not have known Owen during his relationship with Katie last time, but he had seen how he had been with Diane when he had finally healed enough to open his heart again to another woman. Jack had expected this display of jealousy, even without Katie’s amused warning about her boyfriend when they had first met and Jack had flirted with her.

They did go out for drinks a couple of days later, Katie easing the way between them until Owen had warmed up to him. Jack relished in getting to know the man Owen had been before he lost Katie to an alien. He was so much more carefree and less caustic, although his sarcasm could still cut very precisely and deeply. Jack knew he had set himself up for another heartbreak in befriending Katie because losing her would hurt, but he was determined to give both of them the wedding they had missed last time.

***

“Are you drunk?” Estelle crossed her arms and watched Jack with a deep frown.

“I’m coming from a wedding, I’m allowed to be a little bit drunk!” Jack grabbed Estelle and started to dance with her to the music playing in his head. “And it was a really nice wedding, you know. All the work I did to get them to marry as soon as possible has paid off!”

Estelle chuckled. “I remember you talking about that wedding. But I thought you didn’t want to go.”

Jack shrugged. “I changed my mind. I wanted to have my own memory of seeing them this happy. They don’t have much time left, but at least they have this experience. Maybe that will make a difference for him when she is gone.”

Estelle stopped in their movement and leaned back to look up at him. “When she is gone?”

“She’ll die. Sometime in the next two years.” Jack sighed deeply. “There is nothing to be done to help her. But they’ll both have this experience. And the honeymoon of their dreams.”

Owen and Katie would spend four weeks in Greek. It had been hard work for Jack to get both of them so much free time, and later to find a way to hide who had actually paid for their honeymoon. He didn’t care about the money, but it was important for him that they got the honeymoon they had dreamed about, and that they would not argue about it. For the newly married couple, it appeared that all of their friends and colleagues had worked together to give them one big wedding gift.

“A bittersweet honeymoon that will be,” Estelle whispered.

Jack shook his head. “No. It … they don’t know it yet. She hasn’t been diagnosed, hasn’t even shown any symptoms yet.”

Estelle frowned. “How do you know it then?”

Jack tapped his wrist strap. “She walked into the room when I was scanning the victim of an attack. The scan caught her, too, but … there is nothing in this time period that would show the tumour right now. There is no point in telling them. Even if they knew, it’s nothing that can be cured in this time, it’s too deeply embedded into her head.”

“Oh, Jack!” Estelle wrapped her arms around him. “I’m so sorry.”

“They wanted to wait for her to get her doctorate before the wedding.” Jack leaned his cheek against the top of her head. “That’s something like a year away still. I just … you once told me that any time spent together is a gift not just to me because I would be able to savour these memories for a long time after you were gone, but that to have those experiences was also a gift for you.”

Estelle chuckled. “Did I?”

Jack nodded. “After my friend and I rekindled our romantic relationship. You dispersed my doubts with those words. And I remembered them when I discovered Katie’s illness. She deserves this experience, this memory. And Owen as well. I did everything I could to give it to them.”

“You are a good man, Jack.”

Jack huffed. “That’s debatable, but I try to be better than I was in the past.”

He didn’t deserve her praise, but he also could not explain to her the reason why he had done this for Owen and Katie. The moments in which he regretted not telling Estelle the whole truth about his life were few and far between, but this was one of those occasions. He had seen how much it had destroyed Owen to lose Katie, and although he couldn’t save her, he hoped that he could prevent Owen from falling into the same dark place again after her death.

Jack had spent a long time thinking about the parasite that would kill Katie, had tried to find a way to save her. But the parasite could have been in her head for years already, there was no chance at all to know when or where she had gotten it from. There was a slim chance it had not happened this time around, but Jack wouldn’t hold his breath for that. There were too many things he had not been able to prevent, and all of his actions had probably had no impact on her life at all. He had no recourse to help her at all, because even if anyone would believe him if he told them what was sleeping somewhere in her head, there was no way to get it out of her.

“Were you ever married?” Estelle asked.

“Yes.” Jack swallowed. “Before I knew that I wouldn’t die. I had tried to get to this time period, but I ended up in 1869 instead and my wrist strap was damaged. I couldn’t repair it back then, so I thought I would need to live the rest of my life in that time period. It wasn’t even the worst period I could have ended up in, so I settled down and made a life for myself.”

“Including a wife. And children?”

“No children, but not for lack of trying. Although I was glad about that later. I didn’t notice for twenty-three years that something was wrong with me. I had been married for five years by that point and we decided to emigrate to America. I got into the midst of a fight on Ellis Island and was shot. My wife saw me being shot, but thankfully not coming back to life. She went on without me, thinking I had died. I knew I couldn’t go back to her. She wouldn’t have understood it. didn’t understand it back then.”

“But the five years before that you were happy, right?”

“Yes, very much so.” Jack took a step back and led Estelle to her sofa, sitting both of them down. “She was a remarkable woman, a lot younger than me, but no one knew that. I had made myself a lot younger because even if I wasn’t immortal, I still would have lived a lot longer than was normal for that time. I did intend to grow old with her. I often wished I had died somewhere quiet so that I would have been able to go back to her. But then … I think in the end she had a better life with the new husband she found in Boston.”

“You weren’t married in your original era?”

Jack laughed and shook his head. “Family is done very differently there than here. It’s three thousand years from now to the time I was born in. When I first came here, the concept of monogamy and marriage was very foreign to me. Sometimes I still struggle with it, but I have also found great benefits in it. I think people should be more open overall to different kinds of relationships, but that is still true in the time I was born in. Why did you never marry?”

She eyed him with a sad smile. “No one could measure up to you. I wasn’t holding myself back, but … every man was lacking things I had loved in you. But … I’m still not sure if I was really so hung up over you, or if it was just a convenient excuse to not settle down. I never wanted to stay home and be a mother, or a housewife. To tell everyone I was still grieving for my fiancé who had died in the war was the easiest way to not be bothered by others about my choices.”

“At least something my role in your life was useful for then,” Jack muttered.

“To have known you was useful for a lot of things!” Estelle protested. “You always encouraged me to follow my dreams, no other man had done that back then! And you were right about not coming back. Losing you once was bad enough, to have it happen a second time when you would have eventually decided you couldn’t stay any longer would have destroyed me. To have you as my friend now for however long I’ll still be here on this world is worth much more than to have you a couple of more years as my lover.”

“Maybe I would have decided to take the risk and tell you about me.”

Estelle huffed. “I wouldn’t have been able to handle it. I don’t think I was able to handle it when you came back into my life for a couple years afterwards. I was stubborn enough to hold onto you because of the dream I had once had about a life with you, but for a long time, I was very disturbed by your appearance. I wouldn’t have been able to live with it as a young woman. And you would have known it. You would have never considered sharing this with me.”

She leaned against him and patted his knee. “You aren’t sharing all of your secrets with me now, either. I still don’t know the name of your lover, or where he lives. And that’s okay. But don’t let yourself be caught up in whether those dreams could have come true or not. You have to live with the reality how it is now.”

Jack kissed her head. “You ground me so much, both of you. I don’t know where I would be without either him or you. But it wouldn’t be a good place.”

Estelle chuckled. “Hopefully it will still be a long time until you’ll find that out.” She stood up but shook her head when he wanted to follow her. “Stay where you are. I’m just getting us some tea.”

Jack had long ago learned to not talk to her after she made such a decision, so he leaned his head against the backrest and closed his eyes for a moment. The endorphins had slowly vanished, leaving him tired and the good kind of exhausted. It had been a great wedding, fulfilling all the wishes and expectations Owen and Katie had had for it.

“Are you sleeping?” Estelle’s low voice startled Jack out of the light sleep he had fallen into.

He blinked and shook his head. “Not sleeping. Sorry, I’m more exhausted than I had expected. But I’ll manage to stay awake for your tea!”

Estelle laughed lightly. “I wouldn’t mind you sleeping on my couch. Though the guest room would be more comfortable.”

Jack shook his head. “No, but thank you. I have somewhere else to sleep.” Every single night he could spend with Angelo now was precious, because any one of them could be the last.

“How is your team?” Estelle asked. “You haven’t spoken about them for a while. Last I heard you got this new IT girl and were arguing with your colleagues in London about something.”

Jack sighed. “When am I not arguing with them, really? They just … There are a lot of people in London who think I should be in a cell being experimented on. But my team here is great, they are loyal and supporting me through everything London is throwing my way.”

It was so much easier to keep One out of his business with Karen and James having his back. Arianna was often too shy to voluntarily get involved in any kind of power struggle if she wasn’t drawn into it by someone else. Jack had made Karen his second after Alex’s death and never regretted it. She knew how to take the reins and how to stand up against One, especially Yvonne Hartman who had become a nuisance above all else since she had taken over the leadership of Torchwood One a couple of months ago. It had been a constant fight to keep himself out of her clutches the first time. This time, with the support structure he had built up all over Cardiff, it was much easier to keep her at a distance.

“I think James and Arianna are starting something,” Jack muttered. “It’s slow going, and I think it started a while ago, but I think they could be happy together. I just hope they’ll have a chance for that. I’m really trying to keep them safe, but … this job is unpredictable.”

“Maybe you need more people,” Estelle said. “You are such a small team, and there is always something to do. I don’t even know how anyone in your team has enough free time to find enough sleep, let alone start a relationship.”

Jack laughed. “I have wondered that, too, a couple of times. The others can’t travel through time. But I try to give them regular days off, or half days.”

“And the new girl has settled in well?”

“Yes,” Jack smiled. “She does wonders for us. She is a genius and I’m glad to have her.”

Toshiko had been hesitant for weeks, unable to let go of her suspicion that her whole ordeal had been set up by Jack. Winning her trust had been hard, but he had refused to back down, and it had paid off. For Jack, it had taken a long while to learn not to rely on the friendship he had shared with her in another life. It had been easier with Owen, and he suspected that was partly because of the experience with Toshiko. At least he hoped that was playing into it because separating his memories from the people he was getting to know now would not get easier with the others who would follow.

“It’s easier to be their leader than I had expected,” Jack said. “I wasn’t sure if they would really follow me or if I would be able to lead anyone at all. The last time I was allowed to lead anyone was in the war.”

It had been a harder change than he had expected, especially since he had already been in this situation once, but that had been a long time ago. He had been so focused on all the things outside of Torchwood he was trying to accomplish, that it had come out of the blue for him to be suddenly the leader of a team. He had been anxious about it all through December of ‘99, but after he had managed to break the thrall of the visions on Alex’s mind, he had firmly put the possibility out of his head again.

“You need to have more trust in yourself.”

Jack rolled his eyes. “It’s not the first time I’m hearing it.”

“You are stubborn, so it’s no surprise at all that you need to hear some things a couple of hundred times before they penetrate your thick skull.”

Jack laughed. “I love you, too!”

Estelle chuckled. “That part I’m leaving to others, nowadays. I’m glad that you have such a great team!”

***

Jack hesitated for a long time before he finally approached Suzie Costello. In the end, he only did because he had heard a rumour that people in London were interested in her. Last time, Suzie had been the first person he had recruited for his own team, but Torchwood had twisted her beyond all recognition and he wanted to spare her that experience. He was sure she would walk down a very similar dark path, maybe even before the fall of One, if he let them get their claws in her, and so he approached her in late 2004.

The team had grown strong and distant from London after Alex’s death. Karen, James and Arianna had all been recruited by Alex, and they had not taken it well when One had tried to overrule Alex’s decision about his successor. They were loyal to Jack, and he had learned over time to trust that they would remain part of his life. It hadn’t been easy in the first two years to get over his fear that they would fall to untimely deaths as well. Toshiko’s inclusion into the team had been seamless; they had welcomed her with open arms and Toshiko had warmed up to them quickly before she had even overcome her distrust of Jack.

Suzie’s inclusion into the team was not as easy, and Jack could see the sharp and problematic edges in her personality that he had ignored last time. But Karen managed to find a way to break through her defences, although Jack had no idea how the friendship between the two women worked. He hoped that it would be enough to keep Suzie from losing her mind and killing herself. Both gloves and the knife were destroyed, so she would hopefully not fall prey to her obsession with overcoming death.

Jack kept a weather eye on Suzie, especially on her activities in her free time, but for the most part, he tried to trust Karen and even Suzie herself. She was a talented woman, and she more than deserved a chance to prove that she could be better than she had been last time, even if she was unaware that there was something for her to prove at all.

Overall, Jack was more concerned with Owen and Katie after they had come back from their honeymoon. They were happy and mostly completely lost in themselves, but Jack managed to keep up a loose friendship with them. It was nice to watch them from afar, to see them so happy and carefree. When the week he remembered from one of Owen’s rants that Katie had shown the first symptoms passed and nothing happened, Jack felt hope for his friends, only for it to be crushed a mere two weeks later.

It came as quickly as last time, which had attracted Jack’s interest in the first place. Back then, he had heard two nurses talk about Katie’s unusual symptoms and he had remembered something similar from his time as a Time Agent. While in the future they had been able to sedate the parasites and safely remove them, Jack had not believed that was possible with current technology, so he had kept an eye on the situation, asking Toshiko to hack into Katie’s medical file.

This time there was no hacking needed – Jack was good enough friends with them that Owen and Katie shared their pain when he asked. It was hard to see Katie vanish, and even harder to witness Owen’s desperate fight to find an explanation and any possible cure for his wife. When the time for the surgery came, Jack contemplated putting a stop to it to save the team undertaking the operation, but he knew it would only lead to Owen finding another hospital that would do it. The other team would still die, but Owen would probably be alone with the aftermath.

And so, Jack sat in an uncomfortable hospital chair in a part of the hospital that was normally closed to visitors and watched Owen pace the length of the corridor while his colleagues tried to save Katie’s life. Jack kept silent because any kind of encouragement about everything turning out fine in the end would be a lie. This would be by far the worst day in Owen’s life, and there was nothing Jack could do to lessen the pain.

Jack closed his eyes when he heard the low thump of bodies hitting the floor.

Owen stopped in his pacing. “Did you hear that?”

“What do you mean?”

“It sounded like someone fell, or several people!”

Jack frowned. “I’m sure everything is alright.”

They needed to wait; the poison needed to clear out. It would lose potency fast the less concentrated it was in the room, but he estimated that the ventilation would need a couple of minutes to disperse it enough. Of course, Owen should know better than to storm into an ongoing surgery, but this was a trying and extraordinary situation for him, so Jack didn’t trust his training to override his worry.

Jack jumped up, grabbing Owen’s arm when he indeed turned towards the door, looking at it with more determination than he had shown the whole day. “Think, Owen! You can’t just storm in there! They opened up your wife’s head! Do you really want to risk an infection?”

It had been cruel the last time when he had let Owen see the parasite in Katie’s head. He would not let Owen go in there this time. He would eventually show Owen the parasite, but only after it had been removed from Katie and after Katie had been buried.

“Something is not right!” Owen growled.

“Maybe,” Jack nodded. “Let’s send someone else in there to take a look, okay?”

Owen shook his head, but Jack kept him back and sent a message to one of the nurses and a doctor who he had let in on the secret of Torchwood not too long ago. He had worked hard to reach this point, where certain people in law enforcement and medical care knew about Torchwood and the Rift. It had been easier with the police because he had found friends there starting with Lewis nearly forty years ago. Of course, Lewis had long resigned, living out his retirement at the edge of Cardiff, but he had helped Jack to find other people who could be trusted with the secret without being part of it.

It had been harder with the fire department and even more so with employees of the hospital because he had barely any point of contact with them. It had been the friendship he had cultivated with Owen and Katie that had finally brought him into contact with the right nurses and doctors, and it had been barely six months since he had been able to find a couple of confidants among them. He had warned two of them before the surgery that he suspected alien influence in Katie’s illness but could prove nothing. Hopefully, that would prepare them for what they would find.

Owen flinched when his colleagues passed them and hurried into the preparation room without sparing them a glance. He turned to Jack with a frown. “What’s going on? Do you know something?”

Jack sighed and grabbed Owen’s shoulders with both hands. “I suspect something. But there was no way to prove what I have suspected for a while now. If … if I am right … I’m sorry, Owen. If I’m right, then they never had a chance to save Katie.”

“No.” Owen shook his head, and then he shoved his hands against Jack’s chest hard, but Jack managed to hold onto Owen. “NO! Katie is getting out of there alright! She won’t…”

Jack drew Owen into his arms and held onto him hard, despite Owen fighting back against him. He said nothing while Owen was shouting denial and insults at him. Jack kept his eyes on the door, partly so that Owen’s back would be turned to it. It took them twenty minutes to come back out, and Jack suspected that they had already prepared the bodies of their colleagues for transport to the morgue.

Jack kept his hold on Owen when they were told that something toxic had been released and that everyone in the room was dead. Owen kept shouting and screaming, trying to free himself from Jack so that he could storm into the room that held Katie, but to no avail. It took Jack two whole hours to get Owen out of the hospital; he kept demanding to see Katie and denying that she was dead.

Jack stayed with Owen for the next two days, bearing any abuse Owen threw his way with a stony face. He accompanied Owen when he was allowed into the morgue to say goodbye to Katie, and he held him when Owen broke down sobbing and pleading that it couldn’t be true. He stayed with Owen after that, taking care of most of the preparations for the funeral because Owen was not able to do any of it, and he stood right behind Owen in the crowd during the funeral. Never before had Jack been so thankful that his Vortex Manipulator was working again, because it allowed him to get a break, spend time with Angelo, and take care of his other duties while giving Owen the support he needed.

“You said you suspected something.” Owen turned to him, anger distorting his face after Jack drove him back to the house he had bought with Katie shortly before their wedding.

Jack nodded. “Let’s go inside, please. I’ll answer every single one of your questions. But we shouldn’t talk about this out here.”

Owen turned to the door to unlock it and shoved Jack against the wall as soon as they stepped inside. “Could you have saved her?”

“No. Nothing could have saved her. Our medicine isn’t advanced enough. I’m so very sorry, Owen. If there had been a way to save Katie, I would have done everything to get her treatment. Neither she nor you deserve what has happened.”

“But you knew she would die!” Owen shouted.

Jack sighed. “I wasn’t sure. I thought it a big possibility, but the whole surgery was a risk. You knew going in the chances that she could have died from that surgery. And without the surgery, she wouldn’t have had much more time either. A week, maybe two. I tried to ask you if the risk was worth it, but I can understand that you had to grasp at every straw.”

Owen let go of him and turned his back to him. “What killed Katie?”

“I think I need to show you. You won’t believe me otherwise. … I have pictures of … the thing that was removed from her head during the autopsy. It was not exactly a tumour. In fact, it was nothing the medicine of today recognizes.”

Owen scoffed. “That’s bullshit.”

Jack drew out the pictures he had kept in his coat pocket for the past two weeks and held them up in front of Owen. “This is a parasite. It could have been sleeping in Katie for years, and once it found its way inside her brain, there was no way to remove it.”

Owen stared at the picture for more than a minute, before he shoved Jack’s hand away. “What kind of sick joke is this?”

Jack sighed. “No joke at all. This parasite should not even exist here on Earth, but I don’t think we will ever learn how it got here.”

“Stop! I don’t want to hear this nonsense!”

“Let me show you, then.”

Owen scoffed. “More pictures?”

“No.” Jack opened his wrist strap and entered the coordinates of the Hub. “Put your hand on my wrist.”

Owen lowered his gaze, but he neither moved nor said anything.

“Right.” Jack rolled his eyes and then he grabbed for Owen’s hand to press it against the Vortex Manipulator, activating it at the same time. Just a moment later they stood in the main room of the Hub. Thankfully only James was there, and he stayed at his place without saying anything, just watching them carefully.

Owen staggered back, shaking his hand as if Jack had burned it. “What the bloody hell!”

“Welcome to Torchwood.”

“That’s a myth.”

Jack shook his head. “Not so much. I can show you the parasite.” He pointed to a heavy door where once the med-bay had opened up. “Through there are our labs. The parasite is in the first one to the right.”

Owen turned slowly, taking in the whole room. “How the hell did you bring me here? What did you give me?”

“I teleported us. Look at your watch, or your phone if you don’t believe me, no time has gone by at all.”

Owen scoffed. “As if you wouldn’t have taken the time to manipulate them!”

Jack shook his head. “You are a stubborn son of a bitch. Would you just go and take a look at that parasite? Later I can teleport us to … I don’t know, Big Ben. I hope you won’t accuse me of manipulating that clock as well!”

Owen turned back to him, a deep crease between his brows. “What are you playing at? Why are you doing this? Showing me this?”

“Because I want you to understand what killed Katie.”

Asking Owen to work for them could wait. First, he needed to get used to the thought that aliens were real, that there was a Rift in time and space going through Cardiff and throwing all kind of craziness at them. In a couple of weeks, when Owen had had time to work through losing Katie, when he was ready to come back to work at all, then Jack would ask him if he wanted to join them. He wouldn’t put any pressure on him to join.

What Jack had done for Katie and Owen had never been about recruiting him. It had always been about giving the friend he had wronged in so many ways better memories this time around. He had managed to do that, and he was happy with his achievements. Katie and Owen had spent a lot of time together outside of their work, Owen could draw on a lot more beautiful memories with her than last time. He could find a better life that was not dedicated to his grief, and Jack would gladly support him in that.

Chapter 06

The 2000s Part II

“Come, lie down with me.” Angelo patted the bed beside him, watching Jack out of tired eyes. He knew that his end was coming. He had sensed it coming for the last two weeks already, and Jack had not left his side in all that time. Jack knew it, too, Angelo was sure of it, but there had barely been any hint of grief. He knew Jack was holding it back, putting on a facade to hide it for the time being. It would come crashing down when he was gone, but Angelo trusted Olivia to take care of him afterwards.

Jack followed his request, crawling under the blanket to snuggle against him and closing his hands around Angelo’s shaking fingers.

“I’m glad you are here,” Angelo murmured. “I’m glad you have been here for the last thirty-six years. You have made my life better. I love you, Jack. I thank you for every single memory you have gifted me.”

Jack kissed his temple. “I’ll miss you.”

“We’ve had such a good time together.”

Jack sighed. “My actions have taken nearly six years from you.”

Angelo huffed before he started to laugh. “Dreadful years those had to have been! Without you, without the purpose you gave me since you came back to me. They had to be very lonely.”

“You helped me save the world in that other life.”

“I helped you to save the world this time as well!” Angelo turned his head to kiss Jack, maybe for the last time. He felt too weak to move anything but his head anymore. “And we made the world a better place overall, didn’t we? We pushed forward changes in many countries that hadn’t happened yet the last time. You helped me leave my mark on history, even if no one will remember it.”

“I will remember it,” Jack whispered. “I’ll remember it for all eternity. I’ll never forget you.”

Angelo smiled without saying anything. He very much doubted that would hold true for more than a couple of hundred years, if even that long, but that was okay. Jack was still very much human; despite his curse, he would forget sooner or later. But Angelo hoped that he would always remember what it felt like to be loved, even if his name and his face would fade for Jack. He knew he had been able to make a difference for Jack, to give him strength and support even beyond his own death.

“Take care of yourself,” Angelo whispered.

Jack nodded silently, watching him with tears running down his face.

Reluctantly, Angelo turned his head to the other side of the bed, where Olivia was sitting on a chair. She was hugging herself, her face pinched and tears glistening in her eyes. He regretted leaving her alone here, to be confronted with the rest of his mostly useless family. A few of his grandchildren here in New York had turned out alright, but Sofia and Emma had become even more intolerable with time. Matteo and his family were really too far away to be of any support for Olivia.

“I’ll miss you, too,” Olivia murmured when their gazes met.

Angelo freed one hand from Jack’s iron grip and reached out to his granddaughter. “I’m so proud of you, mia cara!”

Olivia leaned forward, closing her own hands around his and pressing a kiss to his knuckles. “I’ll take care of Jack for you.”

It wasn’t the first time she had made that promise. The first time had been shortly after he had told her the whole truth about Jack, taking that decision out of Jack’s hands. She knew that Jack had changed the future, and why he had done it. She knew what had transpired in Jack’s first life, and what they were preparing for. When Angelo had lost hope that they would be able to stop the Miracle, he had made the decision to tell Olivia as well as Matteo everything he knew, so that they could keep preparing for the horrible time and for its repercussions.

Jack needed people in his life who knew the whole truth, but he was so very reluctant to trust anyone with it. It was staggering even so many decades later that Jack had trusted him with it so easily. Angelo had never dared to ask him why it had been so easy for Jack to trust Angelo after his betrayal when it was so difficult for him to put trust in anyone else. There was a man in England who also knew the truth, but it had been hard work on Angelo’s part to convince Jack to tell him. Angelo suspected that Jack had only confided in Clement McDonald because he had been one of the children Jack had saved back in ‘65 by changing the future.

“Shouldn’t I promise to take care of your family instead of the other way around?” Jack’s voice was hoarse and tiny.

As happy as Angelo was to have them both here with him, to be able to say a proper goodbye, he wondered if it would have been easier for them all if he had just died in his sleep.

Olivia smiled, unable to hold back her tears anymore. “We’ll take care of each other.”

Angelo smiled thankfully, squeezing her hand. He closed his eyes and turned his head back to Jack. He felt so very tired, but also content and happy. He had had a much more successful and exciting life than he had ever expected. He felt Jack press their lips together again in another kiss, but he had no strength left to return the gesture.

When Jack felt Angelo’s hand go limp, he could no longer hold back his sob. This day had been coming for a long time, and he had tried to prepare himself for it but to no avail. For a moment he was caught up in a bad feeling of déjà-vu because once again Angelo had died when Jack kissed him, but this time it was a much more peaceful occasion. There was no medical equipment blaring alarms, no one panicking because someone had died months after death had abandoned humanity.

Jack put his head on Angelo’s shoulder, no longer holding back his tears or his sobbing. Angelo had been so much more than a lover since he had come back into his life. He had been the one holding Jack up long before Giulia had died, at a time when they had truly only been friends. Jack had basked in it, had gotten comfortable with somebody knowing him, knowing so much about him. He wasn’t ready to let this connection go, to let go of the man who had helped him change for the better throughout the years.

Jack had no idea how much time had passed before he felt Olivia’s hand on his shoulder, carefully pulling him back from the bed. “Thank you for being here, for taking this last step with Nonno.”

Jack nodded, tears still streaming down his face, but he rolled off the bed, only letting go of Angelo’s hand as he started to tuck in the blanket around him. He took great care in placing Angel’s hands on his chest, before he leaned forward for the last time, kissing first Angelo’s forehead and then his lips.

“He was a great man to know,” Jack said as he turned to Olivia. “I’m honoured that he dedicated so much of his life to me.”

Olivia smiled, but she looked very strained, despite having already dried her own tears. “He told me once that there was no greater honour than to know you, and to be allowed to be part of your life.”

Jack sighed deeply. “You’ll need to call the doctor soon.”

Olivia nodded. “Could I ask a favour of you?”

“Yes, of course.”

“I don’t want to tell my uncle over the phone … You can … Could you go and visit him, tell him in person?”

Jack nodded. “Yes, of course. I guess the sooner he can be here the better. Will you be able to handle your mother and aunt?”

Olivia snorted. “I’ve learned how to handle them since the day Nonno decided to take me in. And Nonno has prepared everything, they’ll hit a wall no matter what they may dare to demand.”

Jack smiled, and after a moment’s hesitation, he opened his arms in invitation. She didn’t hesitate to step into his hug. “I met you once in the timeline I destroyed,” he muttered. “I’m very glad to see that you won’t be the same bitter woman as then. But even in that life, you were so very loyal to Angelo. He couldn’t have wished for a better granddaughter.”

“Someday you’ll have to tell me more about that other life,” Olivia stated. “I expect you to come and visit every week! Not only for business but also so that we can build up some kind of friendship!”

Jack sighed deeply, before he nodded. He would have never agreed to Angelo telling Olivia about his recklessness, but he had long ago admitted his friend had made the right decision. It did make it a lot easier to talk with her about the various businesses and organisations Jack and Angelo had founded or helped found, but much more importantly it gave Jack a freedom in his interactions with her that he had not even known he missed.

“I’ll come by every week,” Jack promised. “Sundays 8 pm for you, in the study?”

“If you aren’t there for two weeks in a row, I’m coming to Cardiff and dragging you out of your secret base there!”

Jack laughed. “I’ll remember that.” He stepped back and kept hold of her shoulders. “Call the doctor and be strong. I’ll see you Sunday.”

After Olivia had nodded, Jack put in the coordinates for Matteo’s house. The last time he had used them had been a little more than thirty years ago, but he still knew them by heart. He gave Olivia a little wave as he vanished and found himself in Matteo’s basement just a moment later. For a moment he stood there, staring at the washing machine that was probably not the first replacement for the one he had seen in the same place last time, and tried to compose himself.

It felt bizarrely like closing a circle, coming here on this day when he had to say goodbye to a part of his life he would have never let go if he had had any choice in it. Jack had been so appalled when Angelo had told him a couple of years ago that he would have gladly shared Jack’s curse as a younger man so that Jack would not be alone, but at this moment, he wished that Angelo had had the chance to do just that. Jack knew it would never stop, and as incredible as the years with Angelo had been, the grief at this moment was so overwhelming that Jack wondered once more if it was worth it to have to live through moments like this over and over again.

Many minutes later, Jack turned around to find his way out of the basement. Nothing much had changed in the basement and the door at the end of the stairs was once again unlocked. It was quiet in the house, but that was no surprise given it was late evening in New Zealand.

“Matteo?” Jack called out, loud enough that he would wake up everyone in the house if they had already gone to sleep.

There was a thump upstairs and something clattered in the kitchen. Jack raised his hands and his eyebrows as a young woman shot out of the kitchen, a knife raised in front of her.

“Who are you and what the hell are you doing in this house?”

Jack tried to smile. “I’m a friend of Matteo.” This was not how he had expected to see his daughter for the first time. She looked good, healthy and happy, not at all as hunted as Alice had been at her age.

“Put the knife down, Melissa!” Matteo scolded as he came storming down the stairs. He stopped two steps above the floor and eyed Jack for a long moment. “I can only imagine one reason why you would come here personally.”

Jack looked down. “Yes.”

Matteo took two deep breaths before he said, “Melissa, could you book a flight to New York for me as soon as possible? The rest of the family can come later.”

“What’s happened? How did he get in here?”

“I’ll explain later,” Matteo said. “Please, I need a couple of minutes alone with Jack, and then I’ll have to call the rest of the family.”

Melissa kept frowning, but she put the knife away, stepped around Jack and walked up the stairs. Jack followed her with his gaze until he could no longer see her.

“Let’s sit down and have a drink.”

Jack followed Matteo into the living room. He didn’t care to ask what Matteo served him before he took the glass and emptied it in one gulp.

“How long ago?” Matteo asked.

Jack shrugged. “An hour, maybe. I don’t know. Olivia and I were with him, but I … I think I lost a little bit of time there.”

Matteo sighed. “Even knowing that it’s coming doesn’t make it any easier. I’m glad you could be there.” He huffed. “I wish I could have been there.”

“I could bring you to New York right now, you don’t need to take a flight!”

“That’s a nice offer, but a very bad idea.” Matteo shook his head. “I’ll need the flight record. How are you feeling?”

“Like someone ripped the heart out of my chest.” Jack sat down on the sofa and buried his face in his hands. “I won’t be able to come to the funeral.”

“I know.” Matteo rubbed his hand over Jack’s back. “Dad wouldn’t want you there, I think, even if it were safe. He told me once he was glad you would never stand in front of his casket, and that there was a special place for you two that you could use to remember him and say goodbye.”

Jack nodded, but didn’t elaborate.

“You can come visit whenever you want.”

Jack slowly shook his head. “That’s not a good idea.” He watched the door warily. “I never expected to meet her at all. I can’t…”

“She doesn’t have to know who you are.”

“It’s too risky.” Jack shook his head again. “But maybe … if we could agree on a time and place where I wouldn’t risk meeting her again. Does she visit you often?”

“We have a very strong relationship. She and her mother have been part of our family since they came here. Melissa and my children grew up like siblings.”

Jack smiled. “That’s nice.”

Matteo nodded. “It was.” He sighed. “Thank you for coming here and telling me yourself.”

“Olivia asked me,” Jack murmured. “She didn’t want to tell you over the phone.” He hadn’t thought of Matteo. He would have gone home without thinking about anyone and drunk until he passed out or died. He still intended to do that later.

“Still, you didn’t have to, but I’m glad I didn’t have to hear it over the phone.”

“I’ll visit Olivia on Sunday, 8 pm New York time. If you still want to meet me, you can be there. And later we can make our own arrangement.”

“I’ll hold you to that.”

***

The weeks and month following Angelo’s death blurred together, and Jack had a hard time concentrating on anything at all. The whole team noticed, but Jack refused to talk about it. Owen, who had joined the team on a part-time basis out of curiosity, was the only one who suspected what had happened, and only because he had known all along that there was someone in Jack’s life close to death. Jack was surprised when Owen started to show up at his flat, dragging him out and muttering something about repaying the favour.

It was hard to learn to live his life without Angelo in it. It took Jack nearly three months before he stopped transporting himself to New York every evening, and another four months before he stopped planning the next short trip to take Angelo on, only to have all his grief come crashing down on him again each time he remembered that there would be no more outings with Angelo.

Jack started to find his way back to normal only when James and Arianna, who had been engaged for a little more than a year at this point, asked for a permanent transfer to Glasgow. Torchwood Two was a lot less dangerous to work for than One or Three were, mostly because Two existed in the first place to handle their Archive. They wanted to start a family, and Jack could understand wanting to do that in a place where they wouldn’t have to fear the crisis of the week destroying their dream.

As sad as Jack was to see them go, it made him happy to see them enjoying their lives and making plans outside of Torchwood. He was thankful for every single day they got to live, and he supported their wish with all he had. But the transfer had to be approved by One, and while they allowed Arianna to join Archie in Glasgow without any problems, they demanded James join them on a part-time basis for a little more than a year.

Jack offered to argue for James, but he was willing to agree to One’s demands. He would get to spent ten days out of each month with Arianna in Glasgow, and he was willing to pay that price instead of asking Jack to sacrifice any favours people at One owed him. They left at the end of April and Jack put a reminder in his Vortex Manipulator to order James out of London a couple of days before One would fall in a little less than a year.

The departure of two of his team members gave Jack the opportunity he had been searching for since the beginning of the year. They had Owen to take over James’s duties as their medic, and he gladly joined them on a full-time basis now, but that still left them short at least one field agent. Jack planned to get Ianto and Lisa out of London long before Yvonne Hartman would destroy One, but to ask for two more agents out of the blue wouldn’t have gone over well.

Jack expected to be shot down at first. Yvonne Hartman was very transparent in her dealings with him, and he had known all along that she would fight him. But he had nearly eleven months to convince her, and he would not relent until she gave him what he asked for. He would find a way to save Lisa from the terrible fate she had experienced in his first life, and he would spare Ianto from having to see his fiancée’s body used by an alien.

Leading Torchwood Three came not only with an unhealthy amount of contact to One, but also with the obligation to show his face at a couple of conventions every year: boring meetings of boring people talking about money and human resources without knowing anything about the work the agency they judged needed to do. It was the only thing Jack had been glad to get rid of after he had set back time, and he tried to send Karen whenever possible, but all too often that did not work out.

“I heard you are searching for a new agent, Captain Harkness?”

Jack turned to Mr. Vaughan, holding back his sigh. He had completely forgotten about the man until he had seen him earlier during the little debate that had turned out to be more of an interrogation about the amount of money Torchwood spent in Cardiff. He had struck Sebastian Vaughan from the list of possible team members before he had made any other decisions about what he would do with the years ahead of him in ‘65. The boy had been a catastrophe from the get-go, and this time Jack was much better situated to tell his father no.

“And I have a very specific wish list for who would fill my two vacant spots, at least for the foreseeable future,” Jack said.

“I think we both know Miss Hartman won’t give you the agents you asked for. I, on the other hand, have a … let’s say recommendation.”

“You think there is any reason I would take in your son after MI5 told you to go away?”

Vaughan huffed, looking very flustered. “I don’t know what you think you know, but–”

“Your son has no qualifications, does he?” Jack interrupted. “Does Sebastian even know how to handle a gun?”

“Of course not!”

“I’m in a business where it is a matter of life or death to be able to shoot a gun. And to defend yourself with any other kind of weapon or even your bare hands if necessary.” Jack glared at him. “I don’t need a dead weight who has ridden on his parents’ coattails his whole life. And you should think twice or even three times before you send your son into a position where his life depends on him being able to take orders. I believe that was the problem MI5 had with him, right?”

“How dare you–”

“Be quiet,” Jack snapped, before chuckling darkly. “Or do you want to get rid of him? I’m not prepared to help you with that either!”

“You took on a Nip convicted of treason, but my son isn’t good enough for you?”

Jack sighed. “If you are talking about Miss Sato, you are sorely mistaken. She was never convicted of anything because she never did anything wrong. A corrupt branch of UNIT incarcerated her. If you had done your homework, you would know that the people involved in that have all found a very miserable death.”

“My son deserves–”

“Put him into a dead-end desk job in your own Ministry. Something without any kind of responsibility, because otherwise he’ll put lives at risk. If you want him to work in any meaningful job, you should give him a kick in the ass and let him work for some kind of qualification. You won’t be here forever to hold his hand!”

It was such a relief to get this off his chest, even years after Sebastian had died after he had refused to follow Toshiko’s instructions. He had never shown any kind of open prejudice against her, but Jack finally had an inkling as to why he had never shown her any respect either. He would not put Toshiko or anyone else on his team through the ordeal of having to babysit Sebastian.

“You’ll regret this,” Vaughan spat before turning and storming away.

Clement stepped up to him laughing. “You really need to learn to make friends.” He had hovered at the edge of Jack’s vision for a while now, keeping his distance carefully while Vaughan had talked with him.

Jack huffed. “Someone like him doesn’t know what it means to have friends. I congratulate you on your promotion, Colonel McDonald.”

Clement grinned. “Thank you. I have worked hard for it.”

“I’ve kept an eye on your carrier. You have earned it twice over!”

“You think he’ll try to send his son to UNIT next?”

Jack shrugged. “He’ll probably try Hartman first if he is set on Torchwood. He will probably expect, and rightfully so, that UNIT would send his son through basic training and he would wash out of that before the first week was over.”

“You know the son?”

Jack shrugged again and gave a half nod. Clement knew that Jack had lived through these years once before; he knew what his life had been the first time around because he had insisted on it, but there was no way they could talk about that here. “I know men of his disposition. He is a boy in a man’s body because his parents never let him grow up or required it of him, and they have taught him despicable ideas. You heard what Vaughan said about Tosh, his son would never respect her or listen to her in the field.”

“Better not to be associated with someone like that,” Clement agreed. “You want to get out of here?”

“Doesn’t it hurt your carrier to be seen so openly with me?”

Clement shrugged. “Hasn’t hurt it yet. My direct superiors have a better opinion of you than of Hartman. I don’t think they would listen to her if she were to complain to them. And they set me up years ago to basically be a liaison, so they won’t even wonder about it if we go out for a pint together.”

“Then, yes, let’s get out of here before I have to tell another father no, who doesn’t know where to put his son so that he doesn’t seem like such a great disgrace.”

They managed to leave the conference without being disturbed by anyone, and found a pub near their hotel with a very secluded booth that gave them a lot of privacy. They would still need to be careful of what they said, but not as careful as they had had to be among all those politicians.

“To see you during these meetings is their only saving grace!”

Clement laughed. “Same for me, mate. I hate them, but I need another rank or two before I could delegate this duty to an underling.”

Jack cocked his head. “You planning to go up that high? No wish at all to retire?”

“I wish I could retire soon, but I don’t see that happening!” Clement huffed. “If only because I don’t trust them to keep on the right path. It’s a madhouse, really!”

“If you ever get tired of their bullshit, call me.”

Clement nodded. “I’m glad to see that you are feeling better.”

“Still hard sometimes,” Jack murmured. “I still miss him every day. But I try to remember all the things he taught me, you know.”

“I wouldn’t know how to go on in your place,” Clement muttered. “But maybe I just came out of that orphanage damaged. You know, all the others have gone on and fallen in love, married, had kids of their own, some of them have additionally adopted kids. And I’m sitting here, still single and have no interest at all in finding a permanent relationship.”

“That’s a very valid life choice as well,” Jack said. “People nowadays care too much about finding a permanent partner. The picture of the happy little family is too ingrained in everyone’s mind. As long as you are happy, nothing is wrong with you.” He sighed and drank half of his pint. “I tried to be someone who didn’t need relationships, didn’t need more than casual sex, because I knew myself well enough to know that I wouldn’t be able to forgo sex for any significant time. But I yearn too much for that kind of connection.”

“Despite the pain of losing them all in the end?”

Jack nodded. “It hurts like … being caught in the epicentre of an explosion. But I’ll get over it, and there will come a time when I’ll fall in love again.”

Clement stared at him open-mouthed. “Is that an experience you actually had?”

“Didn’t I tell you about that?”

“No!”

Jack looked out over the crowd in the pub. “There was one time I can’t talk about here, but … I was in Hiroshima on that day, so that’s a step up from your everyday bomb.”

Clement swallowed. “Shouldn’t you have known … I mean…”

Jack shrugged. “That it would be happening, of course. Exactly when? I had never bothered to even look up those dates. I didn’t even remember which of the two was targeted first. It’s … in my time, it’s a mere side note. People learned to overcome radiation poisoning for extensive travel through space. They learned to clean up the environment from it. It was no threat anymore compared to other weapons that had been developed.”

Clement shuddered. “It will never stop, will it? There will always come the next weapon, the more destructive weapon, the next reason for a war.”

“Yes. But it will never outweigh the good and beautiful things our people are capable of, even when there are periods in time when it is forgotten by many.”

“How hard is it not to forget that yourself?”

Jack closed his eyes and shook his head. “Sometimes it’s the hardest thing of all. It’s easier to be reminded of it when I’m surrounded by people I trust. Every time I see you it’s a reminder. For the longest time, I despaired because I thought I was unable to change anything. And then you stood in front of me and basically shoved in my face how much I had changed the lives of twelve children through such a small gesture.”

Clement snorted. “We’ll have to discuss what small means!”

“I’m speaking about the money!” Jack replied. He could hardly speak about saving their lives by destroying the aliens who had wanted to abduct them.

“Yes,” Clement eyed him with raised brows. “I know very well how much money was required to put each of us through a good school and the education each of us wanted after school!”

Jack shrugged. “Money doesn’t matter, really.”

“That can only come from a person who has never had to worry about it,” Clement muttered.

“Maybe. Although, I had nothing with me when I first came here. There was a lot to worry about for me in the beginning.”

“So, you are friends with me because I remind you that change is possible?”

Jack laughed. “I’m friends with you because you are a great guy. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have gotten in contact with you again after our first meeting, and would have requested someone else as liaison with UNIT. I have enough people I need to worry about. I could have watched you from afar, as I do with your friends, if I had only wanted a reminder that I was capable of changing things!”

***

Jack watched his team as they gathered around the conference table. “We are undertaking a special training session today. We’ll initiate a complete Lock Down of the Hub for 48 hours, with us remaining inside. I have bought enough groceries to feed us for those two days, but if any of you think you need something special, you have three hours to go get it.”

All of them looked at him with deep frowns on their faces, but it was Owen who asked, “Why?”

“You all know that I originally came from the future and travelled with the Doctor for a while,” Jack sighed. This time he had been much more open to the whole team, and not only because Karen but also James and Arianna had known about much of it all along. The secrets he had once kept from his team had done nothing to protect him, but they had done a lot to damage the trust his team had had in him. “There are downsides of being a time traveller. In this case, it means, that a younger version of myself will run through the city starting in probably something like fifteen hours, but I’m not sure anymore when we actually landed, or when exactly we left, although we weren’t here for much more than a day. Therefore, 48 hour lockdown for us.”

“You aren’t exactly an unknown face around town,” Karen said. “What if an officer or someone else tries to talk to your younger self?”

“They all know not to engage with me if I’m with unknown people. I always said it was a security measure for days we had unfriendly visitors, but I always had this day in my mind as well.” Jack shrugged. “I don’t remember anyone talking to me, or anyone behaving suspiciously outside of our lovely Mayor, but she won’t be a problem anymore at the end of this whole ordeal.”

“So, there is a reason you never showed up to any occasions where you could have met her?” Karen asked. She had aired her displeasure more than once that Jack had delegated all meetings with town officials to her since Margaret Blain had first shown up in Cardiff.

Jack nodded. “I couldn’t risk her recognizing my younger self as someone who has been in town and using the same name for many years. And I knew her nefarious plans would never go beyond the drawing board. She hasn’t even planned to let it come to that, she is fully counting on the Doctor finding her and that she’ll be able to fool him.”

“What is her plan?”

“To hitch a ride back home because she is an alien. You remember the destruction of Downing Street last year? She was involved in that and was the only one of the alien force to survive.”

“And you just let her come here, let her get elected to office?”

“I couldn’t change any of it without changing my own timeline, which would be a very bad thing. So yes, I just let it happen.”

“Is creating a paradox a real thing?” Toshiko asked.

“Yes, even more than the scientists are currently speculating about. And with me being part of the history of this city for over a hundred years now … And I already know all that will happen is a little bit of property damage, so there was no reason to risk it.”

“So, we’ll be able to catch up with all the work for the next two days,” Suzie said. “I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”

“Or we could just all go about our business outside of the Hub and just stay out of the trouble your younger self is bringing here,” Owen suggested.

Jack shook his head. “I’m not sure I could trust any of you to actually stay out of the trouble. And as Suzie said, there is a lot to do here. The first order of business will be to determine how well we are prepared for a real emergency where we would be locked into the Hub. I have a list of things I think we should check out, but there are probably things I haven’t thought about.”

Owen huffed. “And if any of us had plans?”

Jack shrugged. “They’re cancelled.”

They all knew that no one had made plans for the next couple of days, because all of them knew better. They had learned to use any time they had unexpectedly free, and to only make plans if they were sure that they would not be asked to come back to work. Jack and Karen tried to give everyone one free day every week, but all too often it did not work out. It would be easier if they had a second doctor, as the time when James had still been here had proven, and a couple of more agents, but Yvonne Hartman was not only blocking Jack’s attempts to get Ianto and Lisa transferred to them, she also denied him the funds for any more agents. As horrible as it was what was coming for Torchwood One, Jack could not wait to get rid of her.

“What is on that list you spoke about?” Karen asked.

“Medical supplies, food, water, energy, security, housing, weapons, communication inside the Hub and with the outside. I would like to be prepared to be stuck inside for up to two weeks with at least three times the personnel we have right now.”

All of them were looking at him with blank faces. Toshiko was the one to ask quietly, “Do you know of some kind of catastrophe coming our way?”

Jack hesitated, and he took a deep breath while he decided on his answer. “Not for a couple of years. And until that time comes, I want to bring up our capacity to be able to handle a lot more than what I just suggested. I think this is a good starting point, and we can build up from here.”

“What catastrophe are we expecting here and when?” Suzie asked.

Jack shook his head. “The most I have is a vision Alex had half a year before he died. He had been given an artefact, but I’m not sure if it showed him our future, a possible future or something that happened in another dimension. He wrote down what he saw. An alien race coming here and demanding ten percent of the prepubescent children of the whole world. And later, he saw that humans stopped dying. And not like me. They would still age, not regenerating if they burned, or were thrown apart in an explosion.”

He needed to start preparing the team for the Miracle, but he didn’t feel it was the right time to tell any of them about what he had done, what he had already lived through. Someday, he would tell them. Before the Miracle started so that they knew what was coming and would stay calm in the face of the utter chaos and destruction that would follow. But right now, there was still too much time left, he had still time to maybe prevent the Miracle altogether.

Karen started at him wide-eyed, her face pale. “That’s what rattled Alex so much that New Year’s Eve?”

“Yes. I was unsure how much I wanted to believe about it, but … I remembered something I was involved in back in ‘65 and it led me to believe that something in these visions was true. A bunch of aliens already came once, although they only asked for twelve children and never took them away. Maybe it was only a test to see if our Government would comply, or maybe they were disturbed by something. I hope they aren’t coming back, but Alex’s vision … There is no reason to not be prepared.”

“Why would they want our children?” Suzie asked.

Jack shrugged. “Any number of reasons. Experimenting, making them into pets or slaves, breeding, food, other resources.”

Owen gagged. “Bloody hell, Harkness!”

“Nothing we don’t do with any number of animals,” Jack said with raised eyebrows. “There are a lot of races out there who don’t see anything else in us right now. The universe as a whole doesn’t work any differently than life on this planet. That we are the dominant race here translates to nothing out there.”

“You said we had three hours to still get a couple of things?” Karen asked.

Jack nodded.

Karen eyed their three team members. “I have everything here I need even for a three-day shift. Go home and get ready for a sleepover. And as it’s not a real emergency, someone bring a movie and popcorn, so that we can include a little bit of team bonding. No one needs to work 48 hours straight without an emergency.”

“Very good idea!” Jack agreed. “Bring me the bill of everything you deem necessary for the team bonding and I’ll pay you back later.”

The change in the mood was instantaneous as Toshiko, Suzie and Owen left the conference room. The prospect of a little bit of fun time did wonders, and Jack chastised himself that he had not thought about it. He had sworn to himself he would do a better job this time, be a better team leader and be more open to the worries of his team, but he felt he was failing at it again, too distracted by other things.

He turned to Karen. “Thank you.”

“You have gotten better at interacting with others,” Karen said. “I don’t mind helping you out from time to time. But it would be nice if you would talk with me about decisions like this prior to announcing them! You could have presented this a little bit better, and I wouldn’t have complained about you sending me to the town hall all the time if I had known why you asked it of me instead of going yourself.”

“I warned those in the know about Torchwood that they should expect a little bit of chaos in the next couple of days. The Rift will be disturbed greatly, and it’ll cause an earthquake. Nothing too big, but no one here expects something like this, so it will cause panic.”

“What will One say if we are shut down while the Doctor is here?” Karen asked.

Jack grinned. “The alert going out will tell them that a toxic substance was detected in the Hub and the lockdown was initiated so that it would not reach the town. We can tell them afterwards it was a false alarm, but it’s protocol to shut down the Hub for 48 hours in that case. The lockdown will start hours before the Doctor shows up, so they can’t fault us that we were unable to react.”

“Hartman will still try to find some kind of fault in your actions.”

“Maybe.”

“Any luck with your pursuit of our new agents?”

Jack huffed. “Not even close. I tell her we need someone to take care of our archive, and that I want Ianto Jones because he comes with a great recommendation from Archie, and she offers me one newbie after another. She is unwilling to listen when I tell her that we have neither time nor resources to educate those kids.”

“And the woman you’re asking for?”

“Lisa Hallet. She and Jones are engaged. He didn’t want to stay with Archie for more than four months because she had stayed in London. I’m somehow hoping to get them to move here permanently if I get them together. And with two of ours going at the same time, I thought it was an opportune moment to ask for two replacements.”

“Maybe I should have asked for you.”

“Maybe,” Jack shrugged.

The truth was, that he hadn’t trusted Karen to be as relentless in his pursue of Ianto and Lisa as he needed her to be. There was no backing down on this matter. He needed to get Lisa and Ianto out of London before next spring. If he couldn’t get them through a transfer, he needed to find another solution. In the end, it would be enough if they were just not in London or anywhere near it on the day One would fall.

***

Jack was anxious when the day came on which One would fall. Karen had been right about Hartman of course, she had been livid about their inactions during the Doctor’s visit, but everything else had gone smoothly on that day. The earthquake caused by the Rift activity had left behind more damage than Jack could remember, but it had taken less time to repair it. Cardiff was prepared for any kind of catastrophe, and it was a relief to see his work in this regard bear fruit.

Other things had turned out less successful, like the recruiting of Lisa and Ianto, but Jack had at least found a solution to get them out of London for the day. He had tried to prepare Cardiff and his team for the Cybermen, but it still felt as if he had not done enough. All he could do now was to protect those close to him and to hope for the best.

This morning he had driven to Estelle, had told her to accompany him, and had shown her into the Hub. The day before he had called Clement and told him he needed his expertise with something, and that he needed to be in Cardiff early this morning. Matteo and Olivia had been warned weeks ago because the Cybermen would be everywhere, but since they would only attack and convert people in London he had instructed Angelo’s family to just stay home and wait. Lastly, he had ordered James to leave London three days ago and sent Archie a short message this morning to bunker down and stay safe.

His team arrived in the Hub an hour earlier than usual as he had instructed them, and he gathered them and their two guests in the conference room. A moment after everyone sat down, Jack initiated the total lockdown of the Hub, which would last until he reverted it. No ghost had ever shown up in the Hub, and last time Cybermen hadn’t materialised inside it, so they should be safe for the time being.

Karen jumped out of her chair the moment the alarm began to blare through the Hub. “What happened? What were we–”

“Please sit back down,” Jack said. “Nothing has happened yet. But it will soon, and I wanted all of you to be safe before it began. Most of you know Colonel Clement McDonald, and sitting beside him is Estelle Cole, a very dear friend of mine who has known about Torchwood and me for a long time.” He started to point at each of his team members. “My second in command, Karen Baldwin, our residential tech genius Toshiko Sato, our Doctor Owen Harper, and our second tech-wizard Suzie Costello.”

“What’s going on?” Owen asked, his arms crossed in front of his chest.

“In–,” Jack looked at his watch, “–a little more than five hours we will be invaded by the so-called ghosts we have seen these last few months. Yvonne Hartman in her greed and unwillingness to listen to the warnings of others will bring us all to the brink of extinction. But thankfully the Doctor is already in London and he will save the day, although not before nearly all of Torchwood One will be destroyed.”

“How do you know this?” Karen asked frowning.

“There are a lot of downsides to being a time traveller.” Jack sighed as he repeated the words he had already used a couple of months earlier. “Because the Doctor is involved and I have already interacted with a version of him later in his personal timeline, I can’t go to London and try to change something there. I did try … when I understood what Hartman was doing, what her little experiments would lead to, I tried to warn her off, but I went about it the wrong way because I was too panicked to take enough time to think about what I was doing. “

“I take it, you warned her, and it only convinced her she needed to put even more focus on this experiment,” Clement muttered.

“So what, you just want us to sit here?” Owen asked. “We need to go to London if you know of this threat! We need to help–”

“There is no help for One,” Jack interrupted him. “To go there would only risk your lives unnecessarily. We’ll stay here, sit it out, and prepare for the moment it is all over and we can go to London to help the survivors and secure the ruins of Torchwood Tower. We would be hard-pressed in a fight against one Cyberman, let alone the thousands if not millions that will descend upon Earth today. I won’t lose any of you today.”

“What of our families?” Toshiko asked agitated.

“As safe as they can be,” Jack assured her. “They have all mysteriously won a little vacation in the countryside. The Cybermen won’t attack anyone who isn’t aggressive if they aren’t in London.”

The idea had originally only been meant for Lisa and Ianto, who were still stuck working in London. He had sent them to a small village on the Spanish coast, far enough away that they wouldn’t be able to rush back to London. After Jack had arranged that, he started to think about Estelle’s security, and then he finally clued in on the fact that he needed to protect the families of his team members as well.

“I ordered James to leave London a couple of days ago,” Jack continued. “He has been in Glasgow for two days now with Arianna and Archie. I send Archie an agreed-upon signal before I initiated the lockdown. He’ll know to keep himself and his team in the Archive until I give the all-clear, which will happen as soon as we leave for London. I expect James and Arianna to join us there.”

“This isn’t the catastrophe you were talking about a couple of months ago, right?” Suzie asked.

Jack shook his head. “No. I knew exactly that this day would come, but it was another thing I couldn’t stop, for various reasons. The fall of Torchwood One will have a huge impact on the future and the Doctor. I didn’t dare to change anything about it. Mostly because I have no idea what Yvonne Hartman’s next great idea would have been and if we could have been saved from that.”

“What are Cybermen?” Clement asked.

“The stuff your worst nightmares are made of,” Jack muttered. He took a deep breath before he opened an array of sketches on the screen behind him. He launched into an explanation about everything he knew about them, from their origin, about the fact that they would use humans to convert them into more of their soldiers, and their weapons, to the horrible fact that they were nearly indestructible.

“So, this could very well be the end of the world,” Suzie said.

Owen frowned. “There has to be something we can do!”

“I promise you, the Doctor is taking care of it,” Jack repeated. “What we can do is prepare ourselves. I have a helicopter waiting and ready to go not too far away. I’ll fly us to London as soon as all of it is over so that we can take care of the aftermath. The Doctor barely stays for that part after he saves the world. There are things in Torchwood Tower I wouldn’t want to fall into the hands of UNIT, but I’m more concerned with finding the survivors. There won’t be many, I fear, but we need to do all we can for them.”

“You just want to let them die?”

Jack sent Owen a glare. He was the newest member of the team, and didn’t know Jack as well as the rest did yet, but it still hurt to have the accusation thrown in his face. All of his team should know better from the very beginning, but then a lot of his fragile friendship with Owen revolved around death and grief first for Katie then for Angelo, though Jack never told him the name of the man he was grieving for.

“There are very few people I actually want to see dead,” Jack snapped. “But I’m not responsible for saving every single life on this planet. I wouldn’t even be able to do that for Cardiff, and there are very few people in London who would even stop and listen to me. I’m protecting you and your family, even if you are estranged from them, that’s all anyone can expect from me!”

Owen raised his hands defensively. “Alright, I’m sorry, okay?”

Jack took a deep breath and nodded to him. “Our job for the next couple of hours is to prepare for our departure. We need medical supplies, we need a comprehensive list of One’s archives, we need a floor plan of the tower if possible, with every secret room noted on it. I need to be able to get into contact with whomever will lead the emergency service after it’s all over. We need to start coordinating with them before we even hit London.”

Toshiko smiled, and Jack suspected it should have been a gleeful grin, but she did not get that far in the face of the looming threat. “You finally allowing me to hack One?”

Jack laughed drily. “Yes. Secure all the information you can get.”

“You need to give me a list of all the things you don’t want UNIT to acquire,” Clement said. “I’ll be able to send at least some of those things to Glasgow using UNIT resources. Maybe we could concentrate on things that are nondescript and throw in a couple of things that are actually useless.”

Karen looked at him with a frown. “Suzie and I will prepare the contact information. I guess I’ll stay here?”

“You up to coordinating with the police here?” Jack asked. “There will be a lot of panic once the Cybermen have vanished again.”

“Yes, of course.” Karen nodded.

Jack smiled. “Thank you.” Last time, they had left Cardiff unattended, and it had not been a good situation. But then, they had also had a very bad relationship with the police and the fire department in his old life; no one then would have listened to any advice they gave.

Estelle cleared her throat. “If there is something I can help with, I would love to give a hand!”

Owen eyed her sceptically. “Do you have any experience with office programs on a computer?”

Estelle stared back with raised eyebrows. “I’m not one of those old housewives cursing anything new. I know my way around a computer.”

“Good.” Owen nodded. “I need someone to write down a list of the supplies I’m putting together for London so that I know what we need to order to refill our supplies.”

Estelle stood up. “Let’s start.”

Jack turned to Clement. “Can you monitor the communications coming out of London for the time being? We need to know as much as possible about what’s going on there.”

Clement smiled. “Of course. Show me to my workplace.”

Jack led him to a workstation and grabbed one of his shoulders after he had sat down, boosting up the computer. “Send your friends a little warning, would you?” Jack murmured. “No reason for any of them to get injured. Just tell them to keep calm and quiet for whatever is to come today. I didn’t know enough of them to get them out of the more populated areas, and I know they are your family.”

Clement nodded without looking up at him. “Thank you. You keep saving our lives.”

Jack sighed. “Not much saving to be done today.”

Jack turned and took a moment to watch over his team while all of them started to work. He still had nightmares about living through this day the first time. They had all been out there, not hidden in the Hub, had risked their lives to find any conversion unit in Cardiff, evading the Cybermen as best as they could. Jack had been reckless, had been caught and killed more than once in these few hours, but the rest of his team had thankfully been safe.

There had been no conversion units in Cardiff, or anywhere besides London as Jack later learned, so the risk they had taken had been completely unnecessary, which was one of many reasons why Jack had decided to lock them up this time. The Cybermen wouldn’t search for them here. They rightfully thought Torchwood Tower was the only threat to them, and that they would be able to overthrow the rest of the world without any need for haste after they had defeated Torchwood One. They were not prepared to find a fight anywhere else, and that meant they would not leave any of their technology behind after the Doctor threw them back into the void between dimensions.

Jack was proud to see his team ready and to see them follow his lead without many questions, accepting two outsiders in their midst without missing a beat because Jack had told them they were friends. He had become more aware of the change he had managed to facilitate in the last couple of years, Karen, James and Arianna reminding him of it every day. But this was the very first moment he felt that success deep in his heart.

The days laying ahead of them would be hard, emotionally and physically. But for the first time since he had been part of Torchwood, he felt secure in the knowledge that he could trust every single member of the team he had built unconditionally. He trusted them to help him bring even more change to Cardiff, Torchwood, and the world as a whole. Many dark memories still hovered in the back of his mind, casting a dark shadow over part of their future, but Jack was convinced that things would turn out better this time around.


Post Archive

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.

2 Comments:

  1. Amazing. I am without words.

  2. This was an excellent read. Thanks for sharing!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.