Chapters 1-10  ~  Chapter 11 ~ Chapter 12 ~ Chapter 13 ~ Chapter 14 ~ Chapter 15 ~ Chapter 16 ~ Chapter 17 ~ Chapter 18 ~ Chapter 19 ~ Chapter 20 ~ Chapters 21-27

Metal Tears for the Tin Man (Part 2)

By Angyl and Rina

October 2009-February 2010

Disclaimer: Torchwood belongs to Russell T. Davies and BBC Wales. Jack, however, is willing to share himself with everyone so we took him up on the offer!

Chapter 11

Ianto could tell the instant the device began to work as Jack froze, his gaze focused in the distance. He glanced at his watch and set the timer for five minutes, not willing to allow Harkness even a second over the limit. He settled his weight evenly on both feet, one hand near his sidearm, and waited, not envying Harkness having to relive the night’s events.

The device bore Jack’s mind back to the events of the night before and trapped him in the role of ghostly observer as he was once again made to watch a bipedal, lizard-like creature throw Jake into a tree and then dart into the undergrowth, its skin shifting to blend with its surroundings. A chameleon creature – great, that would make it so much easier to track. Jack raced to follow the creature, thankful that he was familiar with the events and could divorce himself from the team hovering around Jake before Jones took off with Jack following a short time later. It allowed him to be in the perfect position to watch the creature very calmly stop, position himself and lie in wait for Jones.

Jack was already dealing with the echoes of his self-directed anger and guilt at being responsible for causing injury to yet another person he cared for, so he was almost blindsided by the fresh wave of rage that inundated him as he watched Jones duck for cover while a tree exploded from the energy discharge. A new sort of anger crept into the equation – colder and more distant but equally intense – it was tinged with irritation, as he observed himself joining Jones in his defensible position. Disbelief, shock and an increase in that anger washed over Jack as he observed their quick conversation followed by him darting out into the open in order to draw the alien’s fire and give Jones the opportunity to take the thing out.

In hindsight Jack knew he’d been too busy concentrating on not getting vaporized by the Judoon weapon to feel that kind of hostility towards their newest Rift transplant, which meant that the emotion had to have come from another source. Turning from the sight of himself as he dove into the bushes, Jack watched Jones open fire on the alien position, his expression one of concerned fury… for Jack’s safety?

And then he heard Jones’ mental voice as clearly as if he’d spoken. "Fuckwit, fuckwit, fuckwit!" Guilt, anger, and focused intent all weighed down on him before morphing into relief as Jack watched himself get up off the ground and noted how closely Jones looked him over even as he was checking the area around him for the creature that had already slipped away into the night.

Well, didn’t that just make things a helluva lot more complicated than they’d been not five minutes ago? Jack thought to himself as the memory began to wind down. As if from a great distance Jack could hear Jones calling out to him, and he knew that his time was up. "Harkness? Almost five minutes, Harkness. You have ten seconds, and then I’m taking your ass down." Color began to seep into the black and white surroundings of Jack’s memories, and night bled into day as he was slowly released from the machine’s grip just in time to have Jones tackle him to the ground.

"What the hell?!"

"You were over the limit," Ianto explained unrepentantly even as he rolled off Jack and to his feet, offering the older man a hand up. "Did you learn anything?"

"Bipedal lizard-like creature with a very annoying chameleon-like ability to blend in," Jack replied after taking a moment to shake off the aftereffects of the vision. "It’s a fucking exterminator; we’re just collateral damage. It wants the bugs and it’ll take down anything or anyone that gets in its way." Of course that wasn’t all that Jack had learnt, but he wasn’t quite sure what to make of what he’d been shown of Jones’s reaction and the warm feeling that seemed to be centered in the vicinity of his heart as he’d witnessed the concern.

"A fucking exterminator?" Ianto demanded, staring at Jack. "And one that blends into the environment, we’re fucked." He turned, staring at the park around them, his mouth set in a thin line. "That’s our priority now; the butterflies are nocturnal; who knows what the new one is. We get rid of it, then we get the rest of the bugs."

"First things first, we need sleep," Jack countermanded firmly. "Your team’s been going for almost twenty-four hours straight, Jones. And before you argue, we’ve got time. If it’s hunting our bugs and they only come out at night, chances are it’s taking the opportunity to rest now too. We can sleep in shifts and have someone constantly monitor chatter and Rift activity if it makes you feel better, but you need to rest."

"I really hate it when you make sense," Ianto sighed, rubbing a hand over the back of his neck.

"Get used to it," Jack replied with a small laugh. "I usually do. C’mon, Jones, it’s time for all good little Wild Boys to be in bed. I’ll take first shift."

"Should I start calling you ‘Daddy’?" Ianto asked dryly as they reached the SUV and climbed inside.

"Considering your den mother tendencies, that would be a little disturbing. Does that make Jake, Ross and Tom our kids?"

"Good thing they got my looks," Ianto shot back, feeling some of the tension that had gripped him since Jake had been injured and Harkness tried to get himself killed ease with their banter.

"Your personality too, well, Ross did at least. He embodies piss and vinegar – just like mummy," Jack rejoined with an easy laugh. He’d learned to compartmentalize things a very long time ago, and now that he had a clear course of action he could focus on, next steps, so this… this quipping was as easy and as effortless as breathing.

"Of course, you realize that means you’re fucking your son," Ianto chuckled as he backed the SUV away from the curb, heading back to the Hub. "Kinky, even for our Jake."

"Well, it’s not like he can procreate," Jack grinned. "Besides, he may change his mind after I have a talk with him. While I’ve never understood why people tend to frown on hooking up with the people you work with, I think I’m going to have to set a few ground rules for this, whatever it is, with him. Then again, he could get a kick out of sleeping with the boss – which again, I don’t get. A title is just words on a paper; it means nothing beyond keeping the President and politicians happy. I’ve never run my division that way – we were too small to be anything other than a cohesive unit. I was just the front line of defense, and I caught all the flack from the higher ups, something I had no problem doing. So this whole ‘don’t sleep with the boss’ mentality doesn’t apply, not to me anyway.

"That being said, I guess you’ve finally got me toeing the line, Jones, because that whole no sex while on active duty in Cardiff? It’s going to become a permanent one. It’s going to be strange though; I was used to having free range of the Hub. Played many a game of naked hide and go seek after hours. The greenhouse was especially… inspiring," Jack smiled softly at the memory which was, surprisingly, more bittersweet than agonizing. He could actually breathe and remember. It was happening more and more.

"Hunh," he said after a moment. "I have a feeling there’s an ‘I told you so’ in my future from Doc and Rose. It’s kind of aggravating how often they’re right."

"Glad to hear it," Ianto answered, wondering what epiphany Harkness had come to. "And I never said I was against sleeping with people you work with, have done it quite a few times myself."

"Ah, so it was just my fucking Jake stupid then," Jack replied knowingly. "Well, like I said, you may not have to worry about that much longer."

"It was the stupid part – going out in the field hopped up on endorphins and loopy is a sure way to end up dead – and what do you mean by that? What have you got planned?"

"Well, Jake may not like the new rules. It’s not as if either of us is emotionally invested beyond being friends as well as fuck buddies. He helped me rediscover the desire to keep living, and I taught him a thing or two about many things. I knew he was sleeping with other people too, and I had no problem with that. If I had to choose between having Jake as a friend and teammate and as a lover, the choice is easy; lovers I can get without so much as batting an eye – friends are a lot harder for me to come by," Jack admitted.

"And he’s a good one; all the lads are," Ianto nodded, "and you’ve certainly won them all over."

"One team down, three to go," Jack muttered. "Gotta say though, I’m not used to running four teams. One was hard enough. This is going to be a challenge."

"Well, don’t offer to sleep with Bianca; she might get out her K-bar and relieve you of some bodily parts."

"Not even if she propositions me?" Jack retorted automatically before he could stop that. "Not that I’d take her up on it. I’d rather not set a precedent. I mean if I sleep with one team lead…"

"Anders might get jealous?" The question was asked with restrained amusement.

Jack laughed. "I think I’m looking forward to meeting this Anders. He sounds like just the kind of pompous ass I have the most fun with."

He was about to ask a question when Tom’s voice broke over their com patches. "Just got a call from Harper. Jake is resting comfortably; they’re following concussion procedures and waking him every half hour or so and waiting for the results of the CT scan and MRI they did on him. Harper will let us know the results as soon as he gets them. But he is guardedly confident that Jake suffered no permanent head trauma and he’ll be back to his normal self in a few weeks. He is recommending desk duty for at least a fortnight though, just to be on the safe side."

"Oh, Jake’s just going to love that," Ianto sighed, though his voice held a large measure of relief at the update.

"If those are doctor’s orders, he’s following them," Jack replied firmly. "Thanks for that, Tom. Next time Harper calls, find out when he can have visitors, would you? Wait, scratch that." The Millennium Centre and the glass and steel structure that was the Hub came into view as they rounded the corner, and Jones hit the code to allow them into the underground parking. "I want you and Jenkins to hit your bunks. We’re just pulling in downstairs. I’ll mind the store while you three grab some sleep. I’ll talk to Harper myself."

"Will do," Tom acknowledged before signing off.

"So, how are you going to explain to Harper that the person interviewing him for a medical journal is now at Torchwood?" Ianto asked as he parked the SUV.

"I was conducting an investigation for Torchwood, and the answers he gave proved that he was human," Jack replied, the lie rolling off his tongue easily. "Had to make sure he wasn’t an alien sleeper agent. There would have been a minute hesitation as they translated the information they were provided."

"Mmmhmm," Ianto nodded before chuckling. "You are good, Harkness; I give you that."

"Been doing this for a long, long time. Some things have become second nature." Getting out of the passenger side of the car, Jack waited for the younger man to precede him up the stairs. "Get some sleep, Jones. Someone can relieve me in five hours; it should give them at least the minimal amount of rest to function properly. Sleep well," Jack finished as he turned and headed into the office, expecting Jones to continue up to the barracks, but instead, the younger man stopped in the doorway.

"I’d like to apologize," he said carefully. "For my behavior when we found out about your position."

"You were pissed, and you had reason to be. I should have been honest with you from the moment I decided to take the job." Jack took the Quantum Transducer and carefully placed it on the desk. His first task once the kids were all tucked into bed would be to send it back to John with a brief explanation of what he’d gone through. Next job would be to log his report.

Jack kept his back to Jones as he carefully stripped off his greatcoat and hung it up in the closet "However, I had my reasons. I promised you the truth from now on, so here it is. I wanted to make sure I could work with you, considering my past... relationship. I had to know that I could function, and I’m sorry if it put you and your team on the spot but…" Jack shrugged his shoulders and slid his hands into his pockets as he turned around.

"Good news is I can. You’re damned good at your job and an asset to Torchwood. Chances are, with a few more years seasoning, Rose and Doc would have been offering you the job had I not come along."

Ianto nodded, accepting the explanation for the truth he was sure it was, and then smirked. "You never know, a few more years and I still might come gunning for it. Let me know if you hear anything, would you?"

"You’re more than welcome to try," Jack’s grin was shark-like, "if you think you can take me. I’ll let you know if anything about Jake or anything urgent crops up. Anything else I can handle. Good night, Jones."

Ianto turned but paused and looked back over his shoulder, giving a slight grin. "Don’t you mean good morning, Harkness?" he asked, raising a hand in farewell before he continued back toward the barracks, his steps now showing the drag of tiredness.

"Smart ass," Jack said loudly enough for the retreating man to hear him. "What have you gotten yourself into this time, Jack?" he muttered to himself as he rounded the desk and turned on the computer monitor to begin his reports.

"But I can monitor the Rift, Jack," Jake protested even as he yawned loudly. "I feel like I’m shirking."

Jack brought Jake’s hand up to his lips and kissed it softly. "Just heal, Jake. Those are your orders as given by the head of field ops. Got me? Besides, you’ve got great eye candy here," he teased as he noted the rather attractive orderly outside and, as if called by thought, Dr. Harper stopping in to check on his patient again. His Owen had never shown such bedside manner or dedication to his patients, which had Jack wondering if there was maybe something more to his impressive work ethic.

"I’m just leaving, Dr. Harper," Jack assured the other man. "I was simply reinforcing your orders with my own. Bed rest until your doctor releases you, understood?"

"Bollocks. No more wrapping you around my finger, eh?"

"I’m your boss now, sweetheart, so not a chance. Play nice for the good doctor. I promise that you’ll get updates on the investigation. Good day, Doctor." Jack walked out of Jake’s room and headed to the elevator at a fast pace. He still had one more report to write before he could get some shut eye – the incident report. He hadn’t wanted to until he’d read Jake’s chart and had spoken with him personally.

"Just a minute, Captain Harkness, I’d like a word!" Jack cursed under his breath – he’d almost made it.

"Of course, Doctor," he said pleasantly, turning to face Owen as he walked determinedly after Jack.

"My office is just in here." Owen indicated a set of doors that lead to the administrative wing. "I’d rather this be a private conversation if you don’t mind."

Jack’s eyebrow went up at that, but nonetheless he followed dutifully behind Owen and allowed himself to be ushered into a coldly clinical and incredibly utilitarian box of an office. God, how did people work in these things? It was little bigger than a prison cell and had about as much personality, Jack thought to himself in disgust.

Owen shut the door behind Jack and began to pace the small area next to the desk, collecting his thoughts. "You could have told me you were Torchwood instead of coming up with that cockamamie reporter story," Owen began.

"I was investigating the report that there might be an alien sleeper agent in the hospital. If you’d been one, you wouldn’t have been able to rattle off the information you did as effortlessly as you did. You knew the answers; the sleeper would have had minute pauses as their implant fed them the information which a lay person wouldn’t have noticed. A trained Torchwood operative, on the other hand," Jack replied, giving Harper the lie he’d constructed when asked the same question by Jones.

That gave Owen pause. "Okay, yeah, I guess I can see that," he admitted. "Bollocks, I was intent on giving you a proper reaming for that stunt."

"How about you just come out and ask me what you really want to," Jack suggested kindly as the proverbial penny dropped. The last time he’d seen this side of Owen Harper, it had been over the female pilot who’d been lost in time - Diane. Harper was smitten. "In fact, let me make this simple. Jake and I have sex and are friends. That being said, I have a feeling that if the right person showed the right kind of interest, he’d find himself in the enviable position of having Mr. Simmonds’ undivided attention. He and I? We’re fuck buddies, nothing more. And as I told someone earlier, if I had to choose, I’ll take the friendship over the sex. Does that answer your question?"

"Bloody buggering bollocks," Owen murmured faintly, stopping his pacing and collapsing into his chair in order to stare at Jack in shock. "How did you…"

"I have exceptional powers of observation," Jack replied mildly, and the advantage of knowing another version of the good doctor. "Now if that’s all, Doctor? I have an investigation to run, and you have a patient to visit."

Chapter 12

"Any new developments?" Ianto asked over the radio as he left the hospital several days later, having checked up on Jake, who was grumbling about still being kept for observation – except when his treating physician was in the room. Whatever happened between his friend and Harper, Ianto hoped it went well, Jake deserved someone who would be devoted to him, and unfortunately neither he nor Harkness had been that man.

"All quiet so far, but it’s not night yet," Ross reported back. They’d been patrolling nightly, trying to track down both the butterflies and the exterminator but so far had come up with nothing, and it was damn frustrating.

"Got that, I should be back within half an hour."

"See you then and pick up pizza."

By the time Ianto arrived back at the hub, carrying two boxes, the others were gathered in the monitoring room where Ross had managed to hook Harkness’ wrist strap into the detector, refining their search patterns to hopefully give them more information about their visitors.

"Pizza’s here, where’s the tip?" he demanded, setting the boxes on the table. "Jake wants to know when he can come and play; he’s tired of being under house arrest."

"Can’t say I blame him," Tom nodded. "But I can’t blame Harper for keeping him in hospital."

"Jake can come and play when Harper gives him the green light to be released and not a moment before," Jack replied firmly. "Besides, I think his grumble is more for show than anything else. He’s pursuing other leads while in the hospital. I hope for his sake they pan out."

"What leads?" Ross asked before his brain could tell him not to.

"Apparently he figures that Rose and Milligan shouldn’t be the only ones to land themselves a hot doctor," Jack chuckled. "God help us all."

Ross had just opened his mouth to speak when the Hub alarms started to blare as the wrist strap enhanced computer spiked. "Right, dinner will have to wait," Jack replied calmly. "Suit up. Ross, loop the Rift readings through my wrist strap. We’re a man down with at least two, possibly more, hostiles; we can’t afford to leave anyone behind. You’re in charge of field ops, Jones; other than the fact that all of us are going out, command is yours now."

"Right," Ianto said, nodding tightly. "Ross, bring the modified PDAs; they’re going to get a field test to see if they work like Harkness’ does. Tom, make sure we all have samples of that antivenin you’ve been working on –"

"It hasn’t been tested," Tom began, only to be cut off by his team lead.

"Doesn’t matter; if all else fails, we can try to inject the exterminator with it. Harkness – try not to go jumping in front of the gunfire, okay?" The last was offered with a tight smile. "Armor and ammo, people, and at the SUV in two."

They scattered, meeting at the SUV, and sped out into the night, screeching into the park before going lights dark as Ianto drove at a slower speed, trying to minimize their noise.

"Two major life signs," Ross reported as they pulled to a halt. "One at eleven o’clock, the other at two."

"For the moment, stick together," Ianto ordered. "We need to know just what we’re looking at."

Jack took up position between Jones and Tom with Ross on the other side of the doctor. "Best advice I can give is to watch for an area that looks a little off kilter. If the exterminator is moving, it will look out of sync with the background it’s blending with, but the lack of light will make it harder to spot - which is what it’s counting on. If it’s here and hunting, it means our bugs are probably in the area too, so keep your bug spray handy." Undoing the leather cover as he spoke, Jack hit a few buttons and quickly calibrated his life signs detector so that it registered the Wild Boys as green so that he wouldn’t make a mistake if he needed to fire on someone.

The four of them took off into the darkness, moving silently, guided by Ross and Jack. A small clearing opened up before them, and they crouched behind cover, watching for any kind of movement. The night was silent around them, and Ross spun. "Incoming!"

A large form swooped over them, then a second shadowy form blurred the air in front of them. Sharp pops sounded as the men aimed at both targets, only stopping when their aim was confounded by each other’s presence. The butterfly swooped in over them, and Tom turned to follow its path before falling flat as an energy beam scorched the air near him. When he surged upward, he saw Ross on the ground, the large butterfly they’d been tracking as the queen flapping into the air from his body to be torn by a blast from the exterminator.

"Jenkins is down," he reported, racing toward his friend, one hand scrabbling for the antivenin syringe even as he tilted Ross’ head back, searching frantically for a pulse or respiration, then slamming the syringe into the angry looking rash on Ross’ neck.

"Exterminator got the bug," Ianto said harshly, keeping his attention focused on the remaining alien. Catching movement out of the corner of his eye, he cursed, knowing what the cause was. Swiping his hand over the back of his neck, he pulled his armor disc off and lunged, slapped it on Harkness’ neck as the other man raced toward the exterminator.

Jack felt someone hit him in the back of the neck and a second later felt something cool, flexible and far too close fitting for his liking slide under his clothes and over his skin. "What the fuck? Jones!" he bellowed as he realized what the younger man had done. He was going to kill the stupid son of a bitch when he had the chance. One hand tried futilely to pull the disc off of his neck even as Jack lowered his shoulder and slammed into the lizard creature hard, sending them both to the ground, his need to take the son of a bitch out hard and fast increasing exponentially as his brain caught up with the rest of him.

With the fucking armor coating him like a bad rash, Jack was all too aware that Jones was now without it and vulnerable to attack. Jack’s heart stuttered to a halt at the thought of Jones getting injured or even killed because of his stupid den mother tendency to want to protect everyone, even those who didn’t need it – like Jack himself. Leave it to Jones to open himself up like that – fucking hero complex. Like hell Jack was going to let that happen. Like hell! Jack let the alien get the upper hand and roll him under its weight, leaving its back exposed and vulnerable.

"Take the shot!" he barked out, struggling to keep the lizard from taking a chunk out of his neck. Looking over its shoulder toward the younger man, Jack was incensed to see that he hadn’t moved. "Jones! You put this fucking thing on me, so use it to your advantage. Take the god damned shot! That’s an order!"

The lizard creature reared back to drive its teeth into Jack, and Ianto had the shot he’d been waiting for. In one smooth move he aimed and fired, the bullet taking the creature cleanly through the head, causing it to drop heavily down onto Harkness.

"I took the shot when I had it," he said coolly, stepping forward to help roll the body off of Jack, checking the other man over for injuries even as he listened to Tom’s terse update on Ross’ condition.

"Ambulance will be here in five; Ross is still breathing, looks like Tom’s antivenin worked."

Jack’s chest heaved, and his fists clenched as he tried to control the insane rage that threatened to boil over. What the hell had Jones been thinking? How could he have jeopardized his life like that? Didn’t the idiot understand how important he was to Jack’s sanity?

The thought was the douse of cold water that Jack needed. When the fuck had Jones come to mean so much to him? Jesus, Jack thought in equal parts disbelief and horror, It’s not enough that I’m insanely attracted to him; no, I have to go and start falling for him too. Wasn’t losing Ianto enough torture? Was the universe such a cruel and capricious place that it would force Jack to go through it all again, to fall for and lose yet another Ianto Jones? Hadn’t he suffered enough?

"Good, great, fan-fucking-tastic!" Jack muttered, realizing that Jones was probably expecting an answer. "Get him to the hospital; have him checked out thoroughly. Let Simmonds know what’s going on while you’re there," he ordered. Jack needed to get out of here and sooner rather than later.

"We need to get the bug and the lizard covered up; don’t want the civilians seeing what’s been running around Cardiff. We’ll also have to make sure there aren’t any more bugs to procreate. We’ll have to call in a clean up team from London, but at this time of night they should be here in a couple of hours. I’ll wait for them then head back to the Hub. You take care of your team, Jones.

"But before you do, get this god damned thing off of me!" Jack snarled, scratching at the armor disc still firmly attached to his neck, the armor still covering him from the base of his neck to the soles of his feet. It was a goad, a constant reminder of Jack’s internal revelations, and it made him frantic – filled him with the same intense panic that was usually reserved for being buried alive – made him want to claw the thing off even if it meant ripping it from his flesh in chunks.

Without a word, Ianto reached up and placed his fingers against the back of Jack’s neck, collecting the disc when the polymer resorbed into it. He glanced down at it, then set it back against his own neck, feeling the familiar slide as the armor coated his body. "Anything else?" he asked coolly, keeping a tight rein on his anger at Harkness’ reaction.

Jack let out a long breath of air, releasing the tension as best he could and trying to let go of cloying panic. He was being an ass, and he knew it. "No I..." he paused and gathered his thoughts."Take care of your friends, Jones; they need you now, and I can take care of the clean up. I’ll stop by the hospital as soon as I’m done to check in, but you don’t need to deal with this shit as well as with Ross being hurt." Jack would be damned if he’d apologize for being pissed about the armor stunt though, and just thinking about it had him gritting his teeth against the urge to start yelling at the younger man for being so pig-headedly stupid. Jones had warned him about the ‘den mother’ mentality of his, but tonight had taken it too far for Jack to ignore any more.

However, right now he had a job to do, and getting into a brawl at a scene with one of his team leads was not part of that job. Forcing his temper back down, Jack pushed up to his feet and made a bee line for Tom and Ross. "Good work on the antivenin, Milligan, that’s an impressive bit of medicine. How’s he doing?"

"Stable," Tom replied shortly, "but I want to run a full battery of tests on him to make sure it’s working, and I need a lab for that."

"Use the one at the hospital," Jack suggested. "That way you can stay close to your patient and work at the same time."

Tom nodded, his eyes on the readouts in the programs he’d pulled up on the medical scanner he carried. "I plan on it."

The rising sound of a siren cut through the night, and Ianto looked in its direction. "I’ll get them and bring them back here," he said, crouching down by Ross and resting a hand on his forehead, frowning at the clammy coolness of his skin. "Take care of him, Tommy," he murmured before standing and loping back toward the road where they’d parked the SUV.

"Bit harsh with him, don’t you think, sir?" Tom asked once Ianto was out of sight, "considering that armor probably saved your life."

Jack had to bite down on his cheek until he was sure he wouldn’t yell in frustration. "Let me ask you this, Milligan," he began in a carefully controlled tone of voice. "Have I ever lied about something truly important? More than that, have I ever played fast and loose with anyone’s life while knowing how dangerous this job is and how easy it is to die?"

"No sir," Tom replied immediately. Because while he’d lied about a few things and bent the truth on occasion to serve his purposes, the man from another universe had gone out of his way to make sure he took the risks that could get people killed rather than letting Alpha team do it.

"Another question – have either Rose or Doc ever lied or exaggerated about the big things – alien things?"

Again Tom was forced to admit that the answer was no.

"Then why the hell would any of us lie about this? Why is it so hard for you people to believe that I can’t die, but you have no problem with the alien bipedal lizard exterminator lying dead not five feet away, never mind the venomous alien butterfly that’s the size of a Cooper Mini. I just don’t get it!" Jack ground out, throwing his figurative hands up in surrender.

"I don’t want anyone else dying for me or because of me, and what Jones did tonight made that a very real and very terrifying possibility. I’m not letting him die on me too. No one else. Never again." With that Jack surged to his feet and stalked off towards the SUV, needing to do something with his hands or else he’d quite possibly go mad.

"Well shit," Tom muttered. "That went well."

Chapter 13

Jack paced his room, incensed at the absolute stupidity of Alpha Team’s lead, his mind whirling like a dervish, and he was unable to stop it. Jack had stayed at the site long enough to supervise the clean up and then had PCs Gwen and Andy give him a ride back to the Hub, commandeering them from where they’d been acting as crowd control for a handful of night-owls and some story-hungry journalists. Four Cardiff Police units had been a serious case of overkill, at least as far as Jack was concerned.

If Jack hadn’t been trapped in the never ending loop of his own thoughts, he might have found it weird to downright uncomfortable to be in the back seat of the cruiser listening to Gwen talk about her upcoming nuptials to Mr. Rhys Williams and Andy teasing her about her ‘hen do’. However, all Jack had been able to focus on were the events that had transpired earlier and how he seemed to be doomed to repeat the same stupid, selfish mistakes of his life over and over and over again. Never mind the fact that this version of Ianto was an insanely competent leader, excellent marksman, and had been trained within an inch of his life for all sorts of situations, alien and otherwise, he was still Ianto, and Jack seemed to have the need to protect and look out for Jones hardwired into his very being. But what had the stupid son of a bitch done? He’d exposed himself to danger without so much as a second thought while attempting to keep safe the one person on the fucking planet who didn’t have to worry about dying.

It was bad enough that Jack had failed Jake and Jenkins—that they were both in hospital because he hadn’t been good enough, smart enough, fast enough—but the very thought of losing Jones had Jack alternating between almost homicidal fury and hyperventilating from a panic attack to end all panic attacks. Why the fuck had Jones slapped his personal armor on Jack in the first place? Did this version have a death wish, or was he just suicidally stupid? "What part of can’t die doesn’t the fucking moron get?" Jack snarled, feeling trapped by fate, circumstances, his own insane emotions and by the universe at large. It was like being buried in ten tons of concrete, like being trapped in that fucking grave for centuries, dying and reviving in a never-ending cycle of torture and pain. Was this all he was ever going to be—a harbinger of death and destruction? Was he doomed to an eternity of pain and loss no matter how much he atoned or suffered for his past sins?

"Fuck it!" he muttered, tossing on the only armor he needed—his greatcoat—and grabbing his Webley. If he couldn’t sleep, he’d work out his fears and frustrations on the shooting range. Slamming out of his room, he made his way down to the subterranean level that housed the gym, armory and shooting range.

An hour and who knows how many expended bullets later, as Jack steadily worked his way through an assortment of weapons from light hand guns to semi automatics to the huge machine guns used to repel Cybermen and Daleks, he still wasn’t getting over it. If anything, he was getting more and more irate and panic-stricken by the second as his brain whirred, playing through one increasingly grisly scenario after another where Jones ended up dead—always dead. "Son of a bitch!" he snarled. "Stupid son of a bitch!"

"Now then, it wasn’t Ross’ fault he was bitten by a butterfly," Ianto mused from the doorway, having just returned from the hospital and gone in search of Harkness, who had vanished once again after they’d found out that Ross was going to live. "He’s stable, looks like shite, but he was grinning to beat the band when I left—Lisa showed up and was fussing over him. Jake’s still going on about Harper and complaining that his head hurts and that he wants to come home. Tom’s consulting with the staff at the hospital about that antivenin, and I’ve got a fuckload of reports to write up. Alpha team update complete… sir." The last was added with an almost insolent smirk.

"As much as I’m relieved to hear that Ross is going to be okay, I wasn’t referring to him," Jack snarled, all but throwing the high powered rifle to the weapons counter before wheeling to glare at the younger man. "I was referring to you! What the fuck was that, putting your armor on me? Were you trying to get yourself killed?"

"No, I was trying to keep you alive," Ianto snapped. "What kind of fuckwit are you, running into a hostile situation with no protection?!"

"What part of I. Can’t. Die! Don’t you get?" Jack yelled back at Jones, at his wit’s end to get through to the younger man. At this rate it would take Jack eating a bullet for Jones to get it through his far too thick skull!

"I don’t know, probably the same damn part of ‘you’re not going to get in that position around me’ that you ruddy well can’t understand!"

"You don’t believe it," Jack replied with patent disbelief. "I keep saying it; Rose and Doc have said it; and you’re just not buying it. God damned pig-headed Welshmen, I swear, you’re the bane of my existence at times," he muttered as he turned back to the weapons table and quickly surveyed his options.

"Well, if the mountain won’t come to Mohammed and all that," Jack sighed to himself as he picked up his handgun which was still loaded, safety off and bullet in the chamber. At least he’d taken his greatcoat off when he’d come down here, the last thing he wanted to do was put a bullet hole through it.

"Fuck, this is gonna hurt," he sighed to himself and then, before he could actually think about it, pressed the muzzle to his chest directly over his heart and pulled the trigger, dead before he even hit the ground.

"What the—" Ianto was half across the room before he even consciously realized what Harkness was about. Ending up on his knees beside the other man’s body, he frantically slammed one hand down on the small hole ringed by burnt fabric and singed flesh. Blood seeped out from beneath the body, and he frantically felt for a pulse, starting to call for medical back-up before realizing that there was no one else in the Hub.

"Fucker, fucker, god damn idiotic fucker," he rasped, working frantically to try to seal the wound, not realizing that it was closing beneath his palm—not until Jack jerked half-upright, gasping in an agonized breath as he did so.

"What the fuck?!"

"Son of a… I hate that part," Jack rasped and then slumped backwards, half-landing on Ianto’s lap. "No matter how many times I do it, it still sucks. You owe me a new shirt, by the way."

"You fuckwit!" Ianto rasped, his whole body shaking with tension before he grabbed Harkness by the lapels and hauled him in for a kiss, their lips slamming together with bruising force, and then shoved him off his lap, looking as if he had no conscious control over any of the actions. "Don’t you ever fucking do that again, or I’ll kill you myself," he snarled as he scrambled to his feet, feeling his fatigue pants slide against his thighs, the durable fabric dampened by Harkness’ blood.

"I’ll just come back again." Jack’s voice was hoarse with repressed emotion. Don’t think about it, don’t think about it. "Jones—you kissed me."

"And you fucking shot yourself!"

"Not my first choice but you weren’t going to believe me any other way," Jack sighed, slowly getting to his feet. "Jones, I’ve been shot, stabbed, poisoned, irradiated, had my life force sucked out of me by an alien demon, buried alive in cement and blown to teeny tiny bits, just to name a few. An alien with a gun isn’t gonna kill me permanently. So next time you feel like risking your very finite life, please don’t. I couldn’t take losing you too, okay?"

Ianto was silent for a long moment, looking down at his blood-stained hands. "I can’t promise that," he finally admitted. "I’m sure you’d rather I smile and nod and lie, but I won’t, and I can’t. I had Jake nearly get his brains bashed in by that alien motherfucker and Ross injected with killer butterfly poison; I sure as hell wasn’t going to let you go racing in to get yourself blown in half, and I won’t do it the next time it happens either, so fire me or transfer me if that’s what you have to do because I’m not budging."

Jack’s eyebrows went up to his hairline at the rather passionate speech. "You’re going to be a big pain in my ass, aren’t you, Jones?" he murmured right before he swept an arm around the younger man’s waist, tugged him close and returned the kiss with interest.

"Fuckwit," Ianto growled into Jack’s mouth, one hand fisting in the taller man’s hair, the other dropping down to his ass and dragging their bodies together.

It was like getting hit by lighting except a lot more pleasant, as Jack knew from personal experience. Gasping into Jones’ mouth, Jack raised his other arm around Jones’ waist and pressed them even more firmly together from chest to knees, instantly hard and straining. "Pussy," Jack retorted in kind, biting at Jones’ lower lip before soothing it with his tongue.

"That’s prick to you," Ianto’s retort was spoken into Jack’s mouth as he yanked at his clothes, dragging his hands up under Jack’s shirt to feel the unmarked expanse of his chest.

"Whatever you say, boss," Jack gasped, his head falling to rest on a well defined shoulder. "Fuck, Jones, you’re killin’ me here," he whispered into Ianto’s neck before sucking a far too tantalizing patch of skin into his mouth as his hands pulled at Jones’ back, trying to draw him closer.

Ianto shuddered and ground against him, panting for breath in the face of the overwhelming desire roaring over him. "Not today, Harkness," he rasped. "Bedroom."

"Christ. Yours or mine? At this rate I’ll be lucky if I can make it up the fucking stairs!"

"Mine is a bunk," Ianto pointed out, quite logically, he thought, considering that the stairs were looking better by the second.

"Mine it is," Jack gasped as he forced his hands to let go of Jones’ waist only to catch on the bottom of his t-shirt and all but rip it off him. "Need you naked, need us both naked—now."

Leaving his shirt where it lay, Ianto grabbed Jack by the waistband of his pants and dragged him toward the door and up the stairs to the guest room Jack occupied, leaning up against a wall to drag off his boots and shimmying out of his socks, pants and boxer briefs even before Jack had the door closed. That done, he pounced, yanking at Jack’s clothes, licking, kissing and biting at each inch of bared flesh.

"Fuck fuck fuck," Jack chanted as he was all but consumed by Jones’ mouth; it was driving him insane with lust. Planting a knee in between Jones’ legs, Jack wrapped his arms around the other man’s waist and, through sheer muscle mass, picked him up and pivoted so that Jones was pressed into the wall once more, this time with Jack’s body pinning his. "Sexy, arrogant fucker," he growled into Jones’ ear as he proceeded to return the favor and devour every inch of Jones that he could get his mouth on.

"Could say the same for you," Ianto groaned, his fingers digging into Jack’s scalp through his hair, tightening them to tilt Jack’s face up to his. "And fucking sounds damn good about now. Heard from Jake that you’re a power top; fine with me, I’m flexible."

"Let’s just say I have a few issues to work through before I switch off again," Jack murmured, his heart barely giving a twinge he was so consumed by his need for Jones. "But I have to argue about not being flexible. I can be very flexible," he chuckled, nibbling a path around Jones’ neck. "You’d be impressed by just how flexible I can be," he teased as he reluctantly backed off enough to walk them both back towards the bed, turning them and hooking a leg behind Jones’ to send him tumbling back on the mattress.

"You look so fucking debauched lying there, but I think I’d prefer to see you looking fucked out." That said, Jack fell to his knees in front of the younger man and swallowed him whole even as his hand scrambled for the nightstand drawer and the tube of lubricant he’d stashed there after the first night the Wild Boys rolled into town and Jake had tumbled into his bed.

"Oh hell that’s good," Ianto groaned, hooking a leg around Jack’s shoulders and urging him on, arching up with each dip of the other man’s head until he finally couldn’t take it anymore and pulled Jack up. "Fuck me already, Harkness," he growled.

"And this would be what they call topping from the bottom," Jack chuckled, hot and dirty, as he squeezed a dollop of lube into his palm and slicked himself up before taking his now lubricated fingers and working them into Jones’ ass one at a time, stretching him open, which hardly took any time at all.

"Fuck me," Ianto repeated, his eyes alight with lust and adrenaline as he dragged Jack’s hand away from his ass, catching Jack’s cock and jerking it, goading the other man on.

"You got it," Jack groaned, surging forward and burying himself in Jones’ ass with a long, steady push. "Oh fuck me," Jack gasped as he was surrounded by sweet, tight heat. It took a supreme show of willpower to keep from coming right then and there. "You beautiful, fucking bastard!"

Ianto bucked upward, driving Jack impossibly deeper into him, the leg hooked around his hips digging in to goad him on. "Damn, that’s good," he gasped, twisting his head to the side to catch Jack’s mouth, their tongues sliding together as they dueled for supremacy even as the motions of their bodies ripped the sheets from the bed and sent the headboard banging against the wall.

Jack couldn’t have agreed more, if he could think at all. He could feel Jones’ nails rip into his skin, mauling him, only to feel his flesh re-knit almost instantly, the constant, tiny spikes of pain only adding to the overwhelming pleasure. Sweat poured as Jack lost all finesse and simply pounded into the man writhing beneath him. He was well beyond being capable of speech; animalistic noises poured from his lips without him even realizing it as his fingers dug into sleek muscles as he tried to pin Jones down without success.

Rough curses and cries wrenched their way out of Ianto’s throat, and he clenched down around the thick length pounding into him, dragging out each thrust and pull, making Jack work for each slam of their bodies together. His cock was leaking copiously, wetting their flesh and creating a sucking slap whenever their bodies pulled apart. There was no way to jerk himself off; it was too wild, too frenetic, then there was no need; Jack’s cock hit his prostate a final time, and Ianto convulsed, spurting hot liquid between them.

"Oh God!" Jack howled as his cock was clamped down upon in a vice grip and Jones’ convulsions rippled along his cock in the most erotic torture imaginable. Barely a heartbeat after Jones started to come, Jack was flooding the younger man’s ass with his own release, collapsing on top of him as he did so.

"Fuck all," the younger man murmured once he’d caught his breath, lazily shifting so that his legs stretched out alongside of Jack’s. When Jack didn’t move, he poked the other man in the side. "Hey, Harkness, don’t tell me I managed to off you through sex."

"Damn close," Jack laughed, raising his damp and sweaty head from where it had been resting. Tilting his head slightly, Jack pressed a kiss against Jones’ clavicle before he rolled off the younger man. "Nice artwork, by the way," he grinned, bringing up a finger to trace down the triple galaxy that marked a nicely muscled bicep and then trailed it down over the Torchwood symbol shadowed by an alpha sign in the hollow by Jones’ come-spattered hipbone. "I’d heard about this, that all of you had one, but not the location. I like it," Jack murmured as he brought the now sticky finger up to his mouth and licked it clean.

"Jake..." Ianto chuckled, shaking his head. "I’m guessing you’ve seen Ross’ on his wrist; now you’ve just got Tom’s to find—sort of like an Easter egg hunt."

"Let’s not and say I did. I don’t know about this version, but the Martha Jones I knew had one hell of a right hook when she got riled. I like my jaw where it is," Jack chuckled, his finger dipping back down to Jones’ left hip to trace the inked skin, smearing come and sweat and rubbing them into flesh as he did so. "It suits you very well," he said after a few moments of silence. "Both of them do—not to mention they’re sexy as all fuck."

Ianto crossed one arm behind his head and caught Jack’s hand with the other, bringing it to his mouth to suck it clean. "Could say the same for you—even without the ink." They fell silent again, the weight of what they had done settling in over them like one of those cocoons they had found, though who knew what would be birthed out of this.

"Thanks," Jack said after a while, a bloom of warmth spreading through his chest. A shudder chased its way through him from the feeling of Jones’ tongue lapping at his skin. "You do that much longer and you may have something else to suck on," Jack warned the younger man, his voice slightly shaky. "Not that that would be a bad thing but..." he trailed off, not sure of what he was trying to say.

He’d just slept with Jones, Jack thought inanely. He’d just slept with Ianto Jones, and it was nothing like he’d imagined or thought it would be. It most certainly was nothing like he’d remembered because this was not the same Ianto. And Jack was beginning to suspect he liked the differences far more than the rarely discovered similarities.

Ianto felt the change sweep through the other man as a minute stiffening of his body, and he let Jack’s finger fall away from his lips, setting his hand back on his chest with a gentle pat. "When the brain re-engages, it’s not a good idea," he offered, giving Jack a graceful way out of the situation. "Besides, I’ve got those reports to write up, and you probably should clean up; you look like someone shot you point-blank in the chest then tried to fuck you through the wall."

He winked as he said the last and rolled out of the bed, feeling well-used muscles twinge. "I’ll have those write-ups on your comp in the morning, Harkness."

"Tomorrow afternoon is soon enough," Jack replied, feeling oddly bereft as he watched Jones get up to leave. "Hey," he reached out and snagged the younger man’s hand and gave it a squeeze. "The brain may have re-engaged, but I still don’t have any regrets about what we did," he told Jones quietly. "I am, however, annoyed that I had to ruin a shirt to get you to believe me."

"I’ll buy you a new one when I get to a store," Ianto promised, tightening his fingers around Jack’s in return before drawing away to get dressed, his nose wrinkling unconsciously as he pulled on the now tacky trousers, slipping from the room with his boots in his hands once he was dressed again.

As soon as the door closed, Jack sighed and got to his feet, heading for the bathroom and a hot shower. He spent a very long time under the scalding spray trying to convince himself that tonight was a fluke and should and would never happen again. Unfortunately, he had little luck convincing himself of either. There were very few things that held Jack’s attention like a good mystery, and it seemed that no matter what the universe, Ianto Jones was ever a conundrum to him. He was well and truly hooked, Jack thought morosely, he only needed to be reeled in, gutted, filleted and served up on a platter. And wasn’t that a cheerful mental image?

Shaking his head in disgust, Jack got out of the shower, toweled himself off and walked back into the bedroom. Wandering over to the small sitting area, Jack snagged the top report from a box of files Rose had sent by overnight courier. The overabundant reading material was part revenge and part necessity in order for him to start familiarizing himself with all four Torchwood field teams and their recent missions. It was also just what the doctor ordered in order to get Jack’s brain to concentrate on something other than the potential minefield he now found himself in—with both Jake and Jones. Pouring himself a drink, Jack settled, into one of the arm chairs and resigned himself to a night without sleep.

Tom locked up the SUV and scrubbed his face tiredly. Shit, he was exhausted. It had taken far longer than he’d expected for him to brief the medical staff, and he’d wanted to stop by and check on Ross and Jake before he left. Lisa had left for the night, but Jake still had a visitor fussing over him—his treating physician—and Tom had to chuckle to himself as he recalled the rather besotted expression on Jake’s face. He had a feeling that Harkness would soon be in need of a new fuck buddy if Tom was reading things right. He hoped that the poor bastard wouldn’t be too upset, considering his relationship track record. Harkness seemed to have one hell of a time keeping a lover.

Walking by the shooting range, Tom noticed that the lights were still, on so he stopped and stuck his head inside, expecting to find either Harkness or Ianto in there. Instead all he found was a mess of fired guns, Harkness’ greatcoat, a black t-shirt—most likely Ianto’s—and a whole lot of blood. Immediately on high alert, Tom palmed his sidearm and, walking over to a security panel, keyed in the code for possible Hub facility breach, sending a silent alarm racing to London even as he made his way silently up to the living area, hoping like hell that Ianto and Harkness were still alive.

"What the fuck?" Ianto yelped, almost colliding with him as he started down the stairs before taking in Tom’s crouched posture and adopting one himself as he scanned their immediate area, looking for potential threats. "Sit rep," he demanded, cursing the fact that his pistol was on his bunk with his jacket.

"You’re covered in dried blood; there’s a pool of it on the range floor along with a fuckload of fired weapons. I found Harkness’ coat and your t-shirt, but I can’t find Harkness," Tom reported in a hushed voice that was tinged with equal parts anger and concern. "I’ve triggered the breach alarm, so London should be mobilizing. And if you don’t know what’s going on, then why the hell are you covered in blood?"

"Fuck," Ianto muttered, lunging for the nearest wall panel and keying in his personal code to cancel the alarm, going through the protocols necessary to prove that he was who he was supposed to be, wasn’t being coerced, and wasn’t possessed by an alien. That done, he turned back to Tom, rubbing his forehead with the back of his hand.

"What happened was that Harkness was pissed that I dared to try to save his life, and he killed himself in front of me."

"He did what?" Tom bellowed. "And you just cancelled the alarm? Jesus, Ianto, Rose and Doc are going to be livid when they find out we let their friend kill himself!"

"He’s telling the truth," Ianto sighed. "He can’t die. Shot himself in the fucking heart and popped back up like nothing happened. It was—that’s a hell of a weight to live with."

"So Harkness shot himself in the heart, came back to life, and you… felt the need to strip down and wander around half naked?"

"You know I’m a closet necrophiliac, Tommy," Ianto snorted. "Seeing him lying there dead, I started to strip off so I could screw him." When Tom started to laugh, he cuffed the taller man on the shoulder. "I was trying to stop the damn blood, scared me half to death myself when he gasped and sat up."

"But he really shot himself? I mean, bullet hole and the whole nine yards? Maybe some alien tech he hasn’t told us about? Seriously dead?"

"I may not be a doctor, but I know dead. Through and through hole, blood everywhere, no pulse, no breath, dead. Not sure how long he stayed that way, because I was working on him, but one second he was dead with a hole in him, next he was alive and whole. Honestly, freaked me the hell out," Ianto admitted.

"Not even a scar?" Tom asked, sitting down heavily on one of the steps. "Son of a bitch, he really can’t die. Well, at least not permanently. Wow, so all those stories of how he died—he really did? Son of a bitch!" The doctor winced as he tried to imagine the amount of pain that their new leader had had to endure in his rather extended lifespan.

"The last thing he needs is you feeling sorry for him," Ianto warned, nudging Tom with his boot to get him to move before heading down the stairs. "I’m going to clean up the shooting range then clean up myself. Everything all right at the hospital?"

Tom got to his feet and fell into step with Ianto in order to lend a hand. "Ross is asleep; Lisa’s at a hotel; and Jake’s well on the way to recovery and starry-eyed over the attention Harper’s been showering on him. Don’t understand it myself, that man is nothing more than piss and vinegar, but Jake’s always had bizarre taste in men," he threw out with a sly grin

"Oi, watch it, Milligan, or our boss might toss your ass out on the street, and then Martha would have to support you," Ianto growled.

Tom chuckled. "Yeah, well, Harkness was an improvement, actually," he teased.

"Was that supposed to be an insult?" Ianto asked, mock-shock coloring his words.

"Prick," Tom laughed, slinging an arm around Ianto’s shoulders. "C’mon, I’ll give you a hand. Let’s get this place looking less like a slaughterhouse, and then you can return the coat to our boss and explain to him why Rose or Doc or both will be calling in the morning to know why we triggered and then cancelled a breach alarm. I’m knackered, so I’m going to bed straight after."

"Christ," Ianto muttered under his breath, not sure how he felt about seeing Harkness again that evening. There was too much still unsettled and raw roiling around under the surface of his thoughts. Too much frustrated desire from wanting to have stayed in that room and seen how many times they could fuck each other senseless that night. Bad idea all around, he thought. Even if there wasn’t the whole strange situation of his being Harkness’ deceased lover’s double, there was the fact that the man was above him in the chain of command and, to put it bluntly, you didn’t piss where you slept.

Once he and Tom had set the range to rights—and Tom had taken a sample of Harkness’ blood to examine in his spare time—Ianto sped through a shower, changed, then picked up the greatcoat and started upstairs, wondering if he should hope that the other man was asleep. A brisk knock on the door, and he settled into a position that was near parade rest, his feet slightly spread, weight balanced evenly on them, and the coat folded over one arm.

The room was dark save for one lone reading lamp in order to let the twinkling lights of Cardiff at night flood through the open curtains of the room. A half empty tumbler of scotch was on the table to the right of the oversized chair, and on the floor to the left was a growing number of read files. At the sound of the knock, Jack looked up from the current file he was perusing, describing Delta’s exploits with a neural disrupter that someone had mistaken for a disco ball and had hung in a night club; he felt a flutter of anticipation dancing in his stomach but forced it back into non-existence. Chances were it was just Milligan checking in with the new boss. Looking down. he abruptly remembered that he hadn’t bothered putting on any clothes after his shower and was sitting there in the buff.

Not wanting to delay his visitor, Jack called out, "Door’s open," thinking that Tom would just pop his head in and not notice Jack’s distinct lack of clothing. He did, however, keep the file on his lap just in case. Twenty-first century humans were still incredibly prudish about nudity, and he wouldn’t want to offend the team doctor’s delicate sensibilities, Jack thought with a small chuckle.

"I’ve brought your coat," Ianto announced, stepping into the room, looking around as his eyes adjusted to the lack of lighting, then going still when he saw Jack in the chair and just what he wasn’t wearing. "And I need to tell you that you’re going to be getting a call from London; Tom thought someone had murdered one or both of us and hit the alarm." His voice was remarkably steady as he spoke, years of having faced down life-threatening situations lending steel to his nerves.

Jack’s heart beat faster at the sound of Jones’ voice, and he had to take a few seconds to compose himself before he turned around to look at the younger man. Unfortunately, there was nothing he could do about the heat that burned in his eyes or the catch of air in his throat as he took in the newly washed and still damp man holding his coat and oh so calmly giving him an update. Son of a bitch, that man shouldn’t be allowed to look that good.

Jack had to give himself a mental whack to the back of the head to engage his higher brain functions again. "Well, he followed protocol, can’t knock him on that," Jack muttered dryly, thinking about the morning conversation. Oooh yeah, that would be a doozy to explain. "Thanks for the coat, you can just toss it on the bed," he continued before unthinkingly offering, "Now you’re here, want to stay? For a drink that is."

Ianto glanced at the wreckage of the bed he had left not an hour before, weighing possible consequences against the loneliness in Jack’s eyes. "Are you planning on putting anything on?" he asked, taking a hanger from the coat stand in the corner and hanging the greatcoat there instead, his movements crisp and precise as he brushed dirt and grit from the heavy wool.

Jack watched as Jones hung up his greatcoat and felt an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. Trying to swallow the emotions lodging themselves in his throat, he felt as if he’d swallowed a small moon. Tears pricked Jack’s eyes and forced him to blink a few times to clear them.

God, it was like the million times he’d watched Ianto do that, and his heart ached, sudden and sharp, with the acute reminder of everything he’d lost thanks to his own stubborn arrogance. The pain in his chest made it feel like it had happened only yesterday. "Ah, yeah, I’ll go grab my robe from the bathroom," he finally managed to get out, his voice gruff with unshed tears. "Just give me a sec." And with that he hastily set the file down and disappeared into the washroom, more to compose himself than out of any sense of modesty.

Ianto frowned after him, wondering at the sudden change of attitude, but decided not to call the other man on it. Ignoring the scotch, he settled down in the other armchair, picking up the report Jack had been reading and leafing through it when Jack’s absence lengthened

It took Jack longer than he thought it would to compose himself. Splashing his face to get rid of any trace evidence of moisture, he slid into his robe and fastened the belt snugly before walking back out. "Sorry about that, I got something in my eye," he covered, his voice full of its usual joviality. "And I was thinking, now that you’re here, maybe you can give me a hand by giving me your impressions of the other teams. You’ve got a pretty good eye about these things, and I trust your judgment."

Dark eyebrows rose over blue eyes as Ianto took a moment to acclimatize himself to the shift in topic—all right, if that was how Harkness wanted to play it, they would go that way. "Well, none of them are as good as we are," he said, offering a small smile. "But they’re all excellent; they wouldn’t be in field ops if they weren’t.

"But you asked for my opinion, not generalities, so... As I’m sure you’ve read, all of them are about the same makeup as us. Bravo team might be somewhat light in the munitions end of things; they lost a member six months ago, and they’re still looking for the right fit. I think Anders from Charlie is too conservative, but then he thinks I’m an insane jackass, so we’re even there. Delta... well, they ate alien pizza after being specifically warned about it."

"Right," Jack shook his head. "They either need a severe refresher course on basic procedures and protocols or need to be pulled from the field and a new team given a shot. As for Anders, you’ll seem positively normal once he gets a load of me, so take some comfort in that," Jack grinned, refilling his glass.

Settling himself back down in his chair, Jack took a steadying drink and a deep breath. The minute shift in Jones’ body language and tone had been all the warning he’d needed that he’d done something ‘fuckwitted’ again, and he had a pretty good idea what. Jack wanted to make it right or at least explain, and he knew it wouldn’t be easy for him to say this or for Jones to hear it, but it needed to be done, at least for his peace of mind.

"Okay, here’s the thing," Jack began softly. "And please, god, please don’t ever think that I regret what we did earlier because I don’t, not for a second. The thing is, and this is going to sound so unbelievably silly and sappy, but…

"When you were fussing over my coat before you put it away? Ianto used to do that, just like that almost every damned day, and it made me miss him like hell. So I did what I do best; I obfuscated and acted like happy-go-lucky Jack. It’s my first line of defense and probably my most annoying one, so I’m sorry. I know I don’t normally talk about him, and I’m sure you’d rather I didn’t, but I just wanted to explain and let you know that I know you’re not him, and fuck, this is hard," Jack muttered before continuing, "but I’m more than a little attracted to you, Jones, pain in my ass Welsh pussy and probably one the hottest partners I’ve had in my rather long and varied life."

Ianto was silent for a long moment, digesting the explanation before speaking. "You lost someone you loved, Harkness; it doesn’t matter if it was a day, a year, or a decade ago, it hurts, and there are things that will always make you hurt because you miss them. You of all people have to experience that a lot, and to tell you the truth, I don’t know if I could handle that burden; it means you’re a hell of a strong man.

"Obviously, the attraction is mutual, or we wouldn’t have ended up where we did, and yes, it was hot as all fuck, but, and don’t you take this the wrong way, you’re my boss."

"Understood," Jack murmured and then put his glass down and leaned forward, elbows on his knees and chin resting on his steepled hands as he watched Jones with quiet intensity. "But I should warn you, I don’t give up easily. I want to get to know you better, Jones, and I think that’s mutual as well. While I may be your boss in all things Torchwood—and I hate the word boss by the way—we both have lives outside of the office. Unless you tell me no flat out, I’m not giving up on the possibility that there could be an ‘us’."

"Tell me that again," Ianto offered as he stood "when you can look at me and not see him first."

"I’d tell you now, but I doubt you’d believe me," Jack smiled softly, getting to his own feet. "However, when you live as long as I have, you’re forced to develop this lovely little thing called patience. I can wait." Stepping closer, Jack took Jones’ face between his hands and pressed a soft kiss to his forehead. "Good night, Jones. Sleep well."

Chapter 14

Two weeks later, having survived an interrogation by Rose and Doc, something he, Tom, and Harkness were all involved in, dealing with the two replacement operatives sent to round out their team for their remaining week in Cardiff, and a week of sun and brainless partying in Cyprus, Ianto Jones reported back to work in London. Jake was back on duty, but Ross was desk-bound—not that Ianto thought he minded, considering the way Lisa seemed to be hovering over him—making him wonder if the team would even be put on backup duty this week.

Raising a hand to the others in the ops room, he dropped down at a computer and began to check his mail, pursing his lips together when the first thing he saw was a summons from Harkness for the team. ‘8:00 am and bring coffee.’

Jack sat behind the massive ebony wood desk in his new office and looked around with approval. It was everything his old office hadn’t been—sleek, modern and shiny with just a hint of old world and a few exotic pieces that had been contributed by Rose and John from their personal collection of alien artifacts and actually made him feel even more at home. Leave it to those two to know just what he needed, even when he didn’t want to admit it, Jack thought with a wry chuckle. After all, they’d been right about Jones too—not that he’d ever admit it to them as Rose and John were far too smug already about him taking the job.

In fact, there wasn’t a single trace of his old life save for the blue-gray RAF issue greatcoat, now hermetically encased in glass on a life-sized replica of him—courtesy of one Doctor John Smith and his far too familiar sense of the odd. It was the last piece of his old life as well as the fulfillment of the promise he’d made to the man he had loved. He’d sworn to Ianto as the young man had died in his arms that he would never forget him. And Jack never would. Jones might have the same face, voice, and genetic make-up, but he wasn’t Ianto. Ianto had been unique and oh so perfect in his acerbic wit, closely guarded vulnerability, fierce loyalty and blossoming love for Jack. Those were the things that Jack would remember for as long as he existed. Those were the memories he honored with this tribute to his Ianto, for at the bottom of the case was a little gold plaque with the inscription:

The stream will cease to flow;
The wind will cease to blow;
The clouds will cease to fleet;
The heart will cease to beat;
For all things must die.

But I will never forget.

Ianto Jones would always be a part of him, for he’d taught Jack so many valuable lessons, not the least of which was that love was worth fighting for. Which was what Jack was doing now—fighting for a new beginning with a man who had the potential to be the bright star that his dark planet orbited around. Now all he had to do was convince Jones that he was worth taking a chance on. It was time for Jack to put operation ‘woo Jones’ into effect. Hopefully, by the time Jack was done, the younger man wouldn’t be able to use the excuse that Jack didn’t know who he was in bed with anymore.

And speaking of the sexy devil himself, Jack thought with a grin as he watched while Alpha team, his team as he’d fondly begun to think of them, filed into his new office. There he was, looking oh so tanned and good enough to eat. Too bad Jack had been placed on a strict diet. Then again, that might be a good thing, considering the dirty looks that were being leveled at him as Jones very precisely walked over and placed a steaming mug of coffee in front of him, his glare barely concealed. "Why thank you, Jones, most kind of you. You’re looking well rested and very tanned. Good vacation? I trust you stayed out of trouble, well, at least the kind that would land you in jail," Jack said with grin before turning to Tom, Ross and Jake.

"Morning, kids! Nice to see we’re all back on the job. I’ve got a fun-filled day planned for you!" he laughed, winking at Jake. "We’re going to be playing a little game today. It’s called ‘Hunt Harkness’.

"Doc’s perfected the head portion of his body armor with only a few... mishaps, shall we say. Luckily, he had the perfect specimen of a man to test it on, since Ross was still in the hospital, that is,. I’m sure you’re heartbroken about being replaced, Jenkins, but suck it up and take it like a man," Jack deadpanned before continuing. "And now that it is up and running, it needs field testing, so again the perfect specimen is going to offer his services, and as you four are the only ones who aren’t in the middle of a case, you get to help me.

"So," Jack said, clapping his hands together and standing up. "You have ten to grab your weapon of choice, a couple clips of live rounds each, and meet me out front," he informed them, grabbing his coffee and taking his new, black wool trench coat out of the closet. "Chop chop, we’re burning daylight!"

"We’re to hunt you?" Ianto asked, looking for clarification. "With live ammo in London proper?"

"Hunt me with live ammo, yes, but we’re going out to a decommissioned military base, complete with buildings and all. I’ll be wearing the armor because the point is for me not to die this time around," Jack chuckled dryly.

"Local constabulary has been keeping the place free of vagrants and transients since it was decommissioned, and now Torchwood has taken control of it. Seems to me it’s the perfect place to test out Doc’s inventions, don’t you think? Far from the madding crowd and once it’s properly developed, it will make a great training ground for all the up and comers who want to be one of the few, the brave yadda yadda Torchwood," Jack grinned. "C’mon, Jones, it’ll be fun! Like a Wild West shoot ‘em up. Now if only there were a couple saloon girls in those outfits they used to wear," Jack mused, a leer of remembrance on his face. "Anyhow, that’s a story for another time. Grab your gear, kids; let the games begin! The first one to actually get a head shot gets a round of drinks on me after we’re done."

The members of Alpha team filed out of the office, all of them shaking their heads. "Damn," Ross muttered, "I’m going to miss all the fun.

"What?" Jake asked, snickering, "you want a saloon girl?"

"Maybe Lisa in a saloon girl outfit," Ianto added before growing serious. "All right, he’s going to make us work for this, so tracer ammo for everyone. Ross, see if you can hack into the surveillance video there and feed us information."

"Isn’t that cheating?" Tom asked.

"What do you think he’s going to be doing?" Ianto pointed out.

The team arrived at the designated spot just before their time ran out, all kitted out in full mission gear. "Just remember, Harkness," Ianto commented, "if you drop masonry on our heads, we won’t come back."

"Oh please, like I’d do something so mundane," Jack scoffed as he held the passenger side door open for the other man. And he wouldn’t. Jack had actually been out at the training facility for the past few days preparing a few little surprises for his team with John’s far too gleeful assistance. Including a few for their ‘eyes and ears’ because he had no doubt Jones would use all the resources available to him—namely Jenkins in C&C. But that didn’t mean that Jack wasn’t above suckering them in either.

"Ross, you’ll be monitoring from the C&C in the bunker," Jack informed the computer expert after he’d settled himself behind the wheel of the modified SUV he’d commandeered as his own, roomy enough for five—or two to spread out in the back. "You’ll have a feed to my vitals, so you’ll know immediately if the field test fails. If it does, call Doc. I’ll be a mess, so I’d prefer it if you let him handle the clean up. He’s had to do it a few times since I started being his test subject. Now then, buckle up, kids!" he ordered laughingly, peeling out of the underground car park at a less than prudent speed and barely missing scraping the top of the vehicle on the still rising door.

"Christ, Jack, what the hell did Doc do to you?" Jake asked. "At least he only partially suffocated Gregory!"

Ianto listened to the question with half-an ear, still wondering about the door-opening. Strange, very strange. Then he dismissed the thought and concentrated on tactics for the task at hand.

Jack looked back at Jake in the mirror and winked. "Too preoccupied with that new boyfriend of yours to notice the shorter hair?" he teased. "How is the good doctor anyways? Rose tells me he’s moving up in the world, the Torchwood hospital here."

Jake colored immediately and looked out the window. "I... erm... he’s fine," the blond finally admitted with a small smile. "And he’s not my boyfriend yet—but I have high hopes. That promotion he got came rather out of the blue," Jake continued with a pointed look in Jack’s direction, "not that he doesn’t deserve it. It will definitely make things easier having him here in London, though."

"Don’t look at me!" Jack protested. "Last thing I want is to recreate my old life, which would be why PC Cooper and Ms. Sato have been blacklisted for recruitment. But he’s a damned fine doctor, and he kept his head under fire when you and Ross were injured. Besides, I’m not the only one who can make those kinds of decisions, remember? And Rose and John were watching the whole situation quite carefully despite their lack of obvious interference. I think they’re even bigger den mothers than your Jones here," he grumbled, giving the man in question a pointed look.

"But all that aside, Jake, I think you’ll be great for each other. Just... don’t encourage him to try for a field team, okay? Call it a favor for an absolutely fantastic ex."

"You knew him," Tom murmured, following the non-conversation.

"I knew the other him. And if this him is even remotely like the Owen Harper I knew, best to keep him away from alien tech unless it’s Doc approved and out of the field," Jack laughed. "Trouble magnet with a penchant for pissing aliens off with that snarky attitude and the snide comments. Best to keep him in the hospital, I think, and far, far away from alien pheromone cologne."

"Pissing off more than aliens, I’d imagine," Ianto commented idly, recalling his initial run-ins with the lean-featured, dark-haired doctor.

"Yeah, that sounds like my version of Owen too," Jack chuckled, tapping Jones’s thigh lightly in mirth.

"So which one of you is going to be the one to get me, hrm? I’ve seen Jones in action, spent some time with Jake on the range, so you’re the only unknown here, Milligan, but you’ve got steady hands, and I’ve seen your shooting range scores. I’d say it’s fair game for any of you!" Jack continued, letting his hand fall back to his own lap. Small and simple, he thought to himself with an inward smile; don’t want to tip him off just yet.

"You also were out with us when we chased the damned butterflies," Ianto reminded him. "Jake was the only one who didn’t get shots off during that whole mess."

"Not my fault the exterminator threw me into a tree!" the blond protested.

"And I was too busy trying to not strangle my ‘team lead’ for trying to protect the ‘damsel’ as well as try and get a shot off to actually pay too much attention to what the rest of you were doing," Jack chuckled, winking at Jones.

"But it was my own damned fault for letting you keep thinking that I was just a civil contractor at the beginning," he admitted without rancor. "Talk about having a plan backfire! Ah, and here’s the turn off. Hang on," Jack called out before taking a hairpin turn at faster than safe speeds. "I love what John did to this engine!" he crowed.

"God dammit, Jack!" Jake called out. "Some of us can die, you know! And I’ve got a date tonight; I don’t want to show up looking like roadkill."

Jack glanced back in the mirror at the white-faced young man. "Relax, Jake, I’ll get you to the church on time, I promise."

"’m not getting married," the young man muttered. "Just going out to dinner and some art noire flick or something."

"Ooo, an artsy film," Tom and Ross crowed, both men snickering as they elbowed Jake in the ribs.

"You didn’t bother to tell him you liked slasher flicks more?" Ianto asked, looking back over the seats.

"Man deals with blood and gore and crap all day, you bastards. He’s a bloody A&E doctor. ‘Course he doesn’t want to go watch a movie where they paint the screen red. Besides," if possible Jake’s face turned even redder, "I want to make a good impression."

"Jake, you’re perfect the way you are," Jack replied with fond warmth in his voice. "But you’re right—it’s all about compromise. If he’s worth the effort, then even art noire can be interesting. Just take him to a slasher flick next time."

"Thanks, Jack," Jake grinned over the seat. "But for the record, I’ll be getting that round of drinks. This lot is going down!"

"Dream on, Simmonds," Tom snorted while Ianto turned to face the windscreen again, a small smile curving his lips before he turned his attention to the task at hand, one he knew wouldn’t be easy, considering Harkness’ devious mind.

They arrived at the decommissioned base an hour later, and Ianto studied the expanse of empty buildings and weed-strewn pavement. "Anything out of bounds?" he asked, glancing over at Jack, who was looking out at the base with an almost proud, paternal expression on his face.

Jack shot Jones an amused look. "Please, would I ever consider anything out of bounds?" he asked dryly, causing Jake to cackle in amusement. "Seriously though, anything within this complex itself is fair game. Jenkins can take the SUV; the command bunker is half a mile down that road," Jack said, pointing in the direction opposite the way they entered.

Reaching into his pocket, Jack took out a small, clear case that had two silver patches in it, the larger square being his body armor and the smaller dot being the head gear. The body patch he put on his arm and shivered at the sensation of it growing and crawling all over his skin, sealing him in under his clothes. The second dot he placed on his temple and took an instinctive breath in as he waited for the ‘skin’ to become permeable to air and a thin membrane to cover his mouth.

"Not the most pleasant thing," he said after taking in a few tentative breaths of air. "Rather feel like that gas mask kid that introduced me to all this madness. But at least I’m not being asphyxiated, strangled, or having random things cut off... Don’t ask. It wasn’t pleasant," he warned as Jake opened his mouth to repeat his earlier question about what had happened.

"Now then; ten minutes head start will give you kids enough time to try and out think me. Jenkins, you give us all word when you get settled and start getting my vitals—the system’s already set up, you just have to log in like you would any Torchwood terminal. Password’s Killshot." He grinned at the chorus of groans. "What? What’s the point if I can’t have a little fun with it?"

"Good hunting, Wild Boys." Flipping the four men a jaunty salute, Jack turned on his heel and headed into the complex at a fast clip. He had ten minutes to get as many of his surprises up and running as possible. The rest he’d trigger as he went or as needed. Time for some fun.

"Why do I get the feeling that this is going to be anything but easy?" Tom murmured, watching their boss jog away.

"Because it’s Jack bloody Harkness, that’s why," Jake groaned. "But I still plan on getting him first, so you two’d better be on your toes," he added, tossing Ianto and Tom a devilish look. "Anyone care to add a little side wager while we’re at it?"

"Such as?" Ross piped in. He might not be able to participate in the hunt, but he could participate in this.

"Night out at Belinda’s?" Tom suggested even as he checked his pistol and rifle, assuring that both were ready for easy access.

"A suite at the Halkin?" Jake suggested wickedly to the others’ snorts of laughter.

"Dinner at The Dorchester," was Ross’s contribution even as Ianto rolled his eyes.

"Domesticated, the lot of you. I’ll take a ticket to Rio, and, Ross, get your ass moving to that bunker; we need your eyes out there, not that he hasn’t rigged things his way." Ianto’s tone was almost admiring as he spoke.

"All right, since this is a test, everyone is on their own, Ross, if your intel leads to tagging Harkness, you win as well. Anyone Harkess takes out automatically foots half the wager, agreed?"

"Fine then—the winner gets the prize of his choice within reason. Simple enough, yeah? Damned good thing they pay us well," Jake muttered, already anticipating his victory. Jake slapped on his own armor patch, more by rote than by necessity and then strapped on his holster, slid the extra clips of ammo into their pockets and insured his guns had a bullet in the chamber.

"Works by me," Ross chuckled. "Now how’s about that—I win for sitting on my duff and helping you lot win. Can’t go wrong with that." Putting on his com Patch, he keyed it to the team frequency. "Sound check—all right then, lads?" he said, watching three identical nods as Ianto and Tom also geared up.

When all three were kitted out, Ross hopped in the driver’s seat, Harkness’s keys still hanging from the ignition, and hit a general communication frequency that he knew Harkness could hear as well. "I’m heading to the bunker now. Estimated time to game commencement five minutes. Best of luck, boys!"

"Well, you have to admit, things certainly have been a lot livelier since old Jack appeared," Tom chuckled as he re-checked his scope. "Not to mention a lot more creative. This beats target practice on the range any day of the week."

Jake snickered softly. "You have no idea, mate. None at all," was his only comment.

"Thought you were bonkers about that doctor of yours?" Ianto asked mildly even as he was studying the layout of the buildings before him that he could see, plotting his course of attack and the ones he calculated the other two would take.

"I am. Jack and I had a long talk while you were gone," Jake replied idly. "He very gracefully told me to go and get my guy, but I think he had his own reasons for doing so too," he admitted, decidedly not looking at Ianto.

"End of day he was an amazing fucking shag, but there’s no love lost, yeah? He’ll always be a friend and some of the best damned sex I’ve ever had, but it’s safe to say we’ve both moved on to greener pastures. Doesn’t mean I can’t remember being made to pass out. I just won’t mention that fact to Owen. After all, which of us will ever manage to have millennia to practice our techniques?" Jake chuckled. "Sex machine isn’t too far off the mark when you consider how long he’s been at it."

"Damn," Tom whistled under his breath. "Never really considered that angle. I mean I was too busy thinking about what a shit deal it would be to never grow old and never die when all the people you love turn to dust over and over again. But I guess there has to be a few perks to all the bad, and having all that time to hone your technique—that’s enviable that is."

"Enough talking about shagging," Ianto ordered as Ross counted down the time in their ears. "Concentrate on the task at hand; finding Harkness, not asking him for sex tips." Ross reached zero, and Ianto took off, veering to the right, Tom and Jake heading in their own directions, the three of them darting into the maze of buildings, all alert for traps Jack might have set, aware that he was testing them as much as the new addition to the armor.

Jack watched from the rooftop of the furthest building as his three hunters moved off in different directions, disappearing into the complex. Once they were out of sight, he pressed a button on his wrist strap, turning off the individual perception filter that had cloaked him from their sight. It was a bit of cheat to use it, considering it was technology from his universe, but this was a no-holds-barred exercise, and he didn’t plan on using it for the rest of the time, so he felt no remorse. With a small chuckle he hit a few more buttons and keyed in the start command on all the devices he’d activated so far. Only time would tell who tripped what first.

That done, he hit his communications patch, adjusting it to a frequency that didn’t include the Wild Boys. "John, the game’s afoot. Whenever you feel like injecting a ghost into Jenkins’ machine, go for it. Let’s see how he handles a cyber entity taunting him and screwing with his data."

"You are a cruel, cruel man, Harkness," John Smith chuckled from his lab back at Canary Wharf. "I’ve always liked you, but right now I’m in awe. Brilliant, bloody brilliant."

"What would have been brilliant would have been those fully integrated illusions that you’ve been trying to perfect. Oh well, next time I throw one of these little parties we can use them. I’m going radio silent. Keep an eye on my vitals, okay? Once Ross starts dealing with his own scenario, I don’t want to take the chance of Jones seeing me with my brains splattered from here to kingdom come if the shield fails."

"Got it. I’m monitoring you as we speak. Relax, Jack, I’ll handle it. John out."

Keying off his patch, Jack moved into the shadows of the building and continued activating his traps, all the while keeping an eye out for his hunters.

Chapter 15

Keeping one ear on Tom and Jake’s terse updates, Ianto moved forward, taking advantage of the available cover to maneuver his way through the deserted roadways. "Clear so far," came Jake’s report.

"Clear here—" Tom’s voice dissolved into static, and Ianto froze as he heard a distant bang. The only fact that kept him from sprinting to Tom’s last location was the fact that this was an exercise, and he knew that Harkness wouldn’t set anything lethal.

"Flash-bang," Tom said after a few tense moments of silence, sounding angry at himself for missing it.

"Sucker," Ross snickered over the channel. "I have Harkness’ vitals but no location yet. I’ll work on narrowing it down; I think the bastard is trying to jam me somehow."

John "Doc" Smith was idly listening to the chatter from the com in his lab office when his door opened to admit his wife. "So have I missed anything good yet?" she asked breathlessly, her hair windblown and her suit askew. "I practically blew off the vice president just so I could be back here in time for this." Wiggling her way between the desk and her husband, Rose happily took a seat on his lap and sighed in something akin to bliss as his arms came around her and he nuzzled the side of her neck.

"Tom just triggered a flash bang grenade," John chuckled. "He’s the first one to stumble on a surprise. I’m to inject Jenkins’ cyber stalker whenever I want to, but I thought I’d wait for you before I livened things up a little bit."

"Give it a few more," Rose suggested. "Let him get a bead on Jack then fry ‘im."

"Oooh, I love it when you talk dirty!" John chuckled and kissed her playfully just as the door to his office opened again.

"Oi, not in front of your better half, will you?" Donna groaned as she walked in and made herself comfortable in a chair on the other side of the desk. "So what’ve I missed?"

Rose raised an eyebrow at her assistant. Donna acted like she was the one who ran the place half the time—which wasn’t actually far from the truth, not that Rose would admit to it. "Don’t you have a desk to be sitting at, Ms. Noble?" she asked dryly.

"Taking my break," Donna announced without shame. "I’ve got Lisa from accounting sitting in for me. I promised to tell her how her Rossiekins performed as incentive. There was no way I was missing this!"

"You’re not going to win, Rose, better to just suck it up and admit she rules the roost," John whispered into his wife’s ear before answering Donna in a normal tone. "Tom found a flash bang."

"That it? Ooooh, I’m in time for the good stuff. So who do you think will get our Jack then?"

"Ianto’s the best shot," Rose began only to be interrupted by Donna’s snort and Doc’s small chuckle. "Wot? He is!"

"He’s also rather taken with the irrepressible and irresistible Captain Harkness too," John replied with a chuckle

"No, he’s not," Rose retorted, sounding a bit unsure. Was she really that far out of the loop on the office gossip? "They’re just behaving like adults at last, right? Playing together nice and all that," Rose continued only to be met with chuckles from her other half and her executive assistant once more.

everal more flash-bangs and found a containment field around a doorway that he was careful not to enter. Devious and in his own way as brilliant as Doc and sexy as—Ianto cut off that line of thought quickly before he ended up caught in one of Harkness’ traps, and as he recovered, he felt the ground sink slightly beneath his boot.

"Oh fuck," he muttered, careful not to move that foot, balancing himself before slowly drawing his other leg forward. Gathering himself, he leapt forward, tucking his body into a ball to shield his head as he hit the ground and rolled, his move propelled by the concussive wave that followed him.

"Careful, there are shock wave emitters out here too," he sub-vocalized, knowing that Harkness was probably listening in.

"I have a lock on his position," Ross announced, sounding triumphant. "Building 75, looks to be stationary—what the hell?" Ross yelped as the keyboard under his fingers suddenly shot up some sparks and a nasty little ghost danced its way across his machine.

"Ross? Jenkins, report!" Ianto demanded.

"Dealing with something in the system, nothing I can’t handle," Ross said tersely. "Might have a problem helping you out if this keeps up, though. Fucking tossers!"

"Means we won’t have to share the prize with you," Tom commented.

"Like hell you won’t! And this is… Harkness is a sneaky bloody bastard. Oi, look you, piss off, I’m in charge here, not you!" Ross snarled at his computer or, more correctly, the little pixel creature that was currently making very lewd gestures at him while screwing with his data.

"Ross, who’re you talking to?" Jake’s voice crackled over the com, sounding completely normal as he’d finally been released from his time dilation trap.

"There’s a bloody gremlin inside my monitor pissing on my algorithms. Literally. It’s a pixel gremlin, and it’s urinating on whatever I try to do. Bollocks! I need to reinitiate the system safeties and reboot to get rid of the rat bastard or at least lock it behind the firewalls. I’ll be down for at least ten to fifteen while this thing repairs itself!" Ross fought the urge to tear out the keyboard and beat the monitor with it. "Jack Bloody Harkness strikes again!"

Jack, who was monitoring what communications he could, laughed at Ross’s comments. He’d left the ghost—or gremlin apparently—to John, and John’s sense of humor was definitely inherited from his original incarnation, which meant that John was almost as twisted as the Doctor was, apparently.

The only warning Jack had was the slightest of noises, the sound of gravel shifting, just behind him. "Shit." Cursing, Jack dropped into a fast roll and ducked through a nearby doorway just as the first shots of the day imbedded themselves in the wall right where his head would have been had he not reacted. Recovering quickly, Jack was off and running, springing another trap as he sprinted past it, not even bothering to look back to determine who’d nearly taken his head off this early in the game.

"Damn!" Tom growled, tearing after his prey, leaping over the distortion he saw near the ground, noting that the gravel kicked up by his boots slowed as if they were caught in glue and hung suspended in the air below and then behind him as he raced after Harkness, who seemed to be part chameleon, considering the way he vanished once again.

Ianto had gained the high ground, clambering up to the top of one of the buildings, staying as low as possible as he surveyed what he could of his surroundings. He spotted movement to the east and, crouching low, raced in that direction, hearing Tom’s curse below him as well as over the radio. Unlike Tom, though, he could see which direction Harkness vanished in, and he raised his rifle, steadying it on the edge of the roof, lining up the perfect shot.

The only issue was that he couldn’t seem to make himself pull the trigger. Even knowing that Harkness had Doc’s hood on, even knowing that he would come back from any damage a failure in the armor would cause, he couldn’t do it—and then the issue was taken out of his hands when he heard the sound of Jake’s machine pistol and watched Harkness hold out his hand to catch something that dropped from head height.

"And we have a winner!" Jack shouted, looking down at the flattened bullet in his hand. "Whoever got that shot off, I owe you drinks!"

"Yes! Told you, you bloody rotters!" Jake crowed, hanging half out of a second story window and pumping his fist in victory. "And I’ll take that room at the Halkin, thanks much. I have a certain doctor to impress!"

"Good shot, Jake," Ianto praised as he stood, slinging his rifle over his shoulder and looking down at Harkness.

"What? Jake got him?" Ross asked, finally having beaten the gremlin in his system.

"Without any help from you," Tom laughed.

"Ross got the initial location; he gets his portion," Ianto cut in, thinking that he could use a stiff drink so he could avoid looking too closely at just why he hadn’t taken the shot when he’d had it.

"You all did exceptionally well," Jack praised. "I’d thought I’d last at least another half hour, to be perfectly honest. So you all get drinks on me. Ross, power down and come pick us up," Jack ordered the man in the bunker. "We’ve got a bar to close down. Well, those of us that have medical permission to do so, that is," Jack amended quickly.

Jack switched his com settings to an open frequency, knowing full well that certain people were listening in from the Canary Wharf facility. "John? Yeah, you heard right; Jake got me. It was a clean shot to the right temple. Pretty impressive actually. The shield worked great, and apart from this damned armor being able to show off my religion, so to speak, it’s functional. I’d suggest a few more field tests just to be on the safe side—situations where live fire isn’t involved or weevil teeth, but other than that it’s good to go. Is Rose with you?"

"Right here, Jack, as is Donna," Rose intoned dryly over the com.

"Hey there, Red, you missing me yet?" Jack chuckled, flirting with Donna shamelessly.

"If you ever followed through on your promises, Mr. Harkness, you’d be the one missing me, I guarantee it!" Donna laughed.

"As tempting as that is, Red, I’m afraid I’m off the market for the foreseeable future," he informed Donna, knowing full well that all three men were listening to his conversation from their various positions.

"Yes, well, that’s all well and good, Jack, but was there something you wanted?" Rose cut in, annoyed that she was the last to know the juiciest gossip concerning her friend as well as deciding that the less she knew about office romances the better.

"Actually, I just wanted to let you know that I’m taking Alpha out and getting them juiced up as a reward for work well done. Don’t worry, it won’t be a regular occurrence, but they impressed the hell out of me today."

"Just don’t get them so pissed they’ll have hangovers; they still have to work in the morning," Rose laughed. "And so do you, Mr. Harkness; we have a meeting with President Jones at 8:45 sharp, and she’s nothing if not punctual," Rose ordered before extending goodbyes for John and Donna as well and switching off their com feed. "Right then, back to work, Ms. Noble, and don’t forget to fill Lisa in on Ross’s pissing gremlin!"

"Oh, as if I’d leave that part out. Bloody brilliant, Doc. Well done," Donna sniggered as she made her way out of the office.

"Bloody brilliant indeed," Rose murmured, kissing John lightly on the lips. "And you’ll be amply rewarded for your creativity later tonight."

"Fantastic!" John sighed happily, watching his wife follow Donna’s example and vacate his office. Who knew, maybe tonight would be the night they made a little Rose or a John/Jack/Mickey.

Back at the decommissioned base Jack shook his head in amused resignation at his friends. "Well, I guess I’ve been told," Jack grinned, turning to locate the three men in their various nearby positions. "Okay, get down here you lot. Ross, shut it down and come pick us up—double time it! I’ll even spring for lunch in an effort to be a responsible management type and avoid getting you shit-faced before three in the afternoon."

"We aren’t lightweights!" Jake protested, a smug sort of strut to his step as he left the building he’d been in, and then grabbed Jack in a hug, whooping as he did so. "Right in the head," he laughed, knuckling Jack in the spot his bullet had hit. "I’m fucking phenomenal!"

"How soon before Doc can integrate those into all the armor?" Tom asked as he jogged up to join them, Ianto lagging behind as he slowly started down from the roof he’d been on.

"I’m sure he’s working on it right now," Jack laughingly informed Tom as he slung an arm around Jake’s shoulder in a friendly manner. "He can be a bit OCD about these things, haven’t you noticed? But it’ll need some more general field testing just to be on the safe side, no dangerous situations for a couple weeks yet, I’d wager, at least not without me being the one wearing the headgear." Jack looked around and noticed their party was still one short, which struck Jack as slightly odd. Since when was Jones such a straggler?

"Stay here, I’m gonna go round up your missing leader," he said to Tom and Jake, letting the younger man go and heading in the direction of the building of the roof he’d spotted Jones perched atop earlier.

"So you know how Jack said he was off the market, Tom?" Jake murmured, watching the taller man lope away. "You don’t suppose…"

"Suppose what?" Tom asked. "He’s gone into mourning because you dumped him for the love of your life?"

Jake slugged Tom in the arm. "Let me ask you this, anything interesting happen at the Hub while Ross and I were in the hospital?"

"Told you, Harkness killed himself to prove to Ianto he’d come back—then left us the mess of his blood to clean up."

"Unh-hunh," Jake murmured but let it go, a speculative look on his face.

Walking into the building where he’d spotted Jones, Jack shut the door quietly behind him and calmly waited for the younger man to come down the stairs. When Jones appeared at last, Jack looked him over carefully and, crossing his arms, leaned back against the door, thereby effectively blocking Jones from using it as a means of escape. "Okay, what’s wrong? And don’t give me a bullshit line—you’ve got your stoic face on. You only wear your stoic face when you’re pissed at me or troubled about something."

"Or I’m pissed that I just lost out on my trip to Rio next rotation," Ianto answered blandly. "And before you say bullshit, I had the shot; Jake beat me to it is all."

"So why didn’t you take it if you had it?"

"He got his in before I did; no point in wasting ammo."

Jack sighed and pushed off against the door, knowing there was more to the story but also knowing that it was a common trait among both Iantos of his acquaintance to have a stubborn streak wider than the English Channel. Jack knew better than to waste his breath trying to get a more realistic answer. "Got it," he murmured. "Ross is probably outside waiting, and Jake will be wanting his drink. We’d better go."

"What do you want to hear, Harkness? That I had the shot and hesitated and Jake got his in? Going to pull me in for an eval now, make sure I’m field ready?"

"No, now I’m going to say you’re human and that I’d never have been able to take the shot period if our positions were reversed. At least you tried," Jack replied with a shrug of his shoulders. "Guess that means I need an eval too, then."

Some of the stiffness left Ianto’s posture at that, and he smirked. "Any eval you have would find you batshit crazy. Now come on before Jake starts squawking about his drinks."

"Rose and Doc knew that before they offered me the job, so they got what they paid for," Jack chuckled, moving away from the door and holding it open for Jones. "After you," he murmured, keeping his smile internal.

Four hours, several platters of food and quite a few pints of lager later, the five men were sprawled out around the table at the team’s favorite pub in London, bantering back and forth and taking joking bets regarding Doc and whether or not he’d be hunting down Ross for his next item to test next since the young man had gotten out of the armor hood testing for the obvious reasons of injury and lack of ability to come back from the dead.

Jack didn’t offer much, just listened to the shop talk as he looked around the table and realized that he finally felt that sense of belonging again. God, he’d missed this, the camaraderie, the good times—being one of the team; it was if all was right in his world again for the first time in a very long time—well, almost all. Just one Jones-sized detail to hammer out and then all would be perfect. But that was for later. For now, however…

"Male pregnancy," Jack chimed in evilly, adding to the growing absurdity of suggested things that the good Doc Smith might be wanting to use Ross as a guinea pig for. "After all, John wants kids, and even if Rose isn’t ready to lose that fabulous figure of hers, he’s definitely gung ho to be a daddy, so the next logical option would be…"

Jake broke out into wild chortles of laughter. "Brilliant, bloody brilliant! Better not drink anything that Doc offers you for the next little while, Ross, else you might end up with a bun in the oven."

"Before you go off, you should all be thankful that you haven’t run into Nostrovites yet. In my old universe, one of my team got bitten by one on the night before her wedding—woke up the next morning looking eight months pregnant and had the Nostrovoite mommy hunting her down to rip the fetus out of her—it’s actually typical Nostrovite childbirth—use some poor schlep to do all the hard work, and then wait for the mommy to rip her precious little bundle of joy from the victim’s womb. Not to mention they’re ugly sons of bitches! The alien, not my teammate."

"I’d take Doc over that, Ross," Tom laughed.

"Sounds safer to me," Ianto nodded, "at least he’d let you deliver the little bugger—and maybe take it to the park on Sundays."

"Awwwhh, can we all be uncles? Uncle Tom, Uncle Ianto and Uncle Jack, how perfect!" Jake crowed.

Jack froze for a second as the memory came sudden and sharp of Steven running down the stairs, all elbows, feet and knees, crying ‘Uncle Jack, Uncle Jack!’ at the top of his lungs. It was like a physical blow, one that was swift and brutal in its attack and designed to deliver the maximum amount of pain in the least amount of time. Jack couldn’t breathe and felt everything he normally kept locked away rise up towards the surface like a poisonous miasma, like a scream that wouldn’t be caged. He needed to get away long enough to compose himself and shove the memories back down into the dark hole they normally resided in. This was Alpha team’s day, and Jack would be damned if he ruined it with a trip down insanity lane. He’d already conquered this, dammit, and he was moving on—building a new life for himself. These boys were his family now, along with Rose and John and the generations of offspring that would follow—his family to guard and protect even if it was himself he had to protect them from.

"Whaddya know, pitcher’s empty," Jack grinned, his voice sounding almost normal, if a little hollow and tinny in his own ears. "And since I’m the one throwing this shindig, I guess it’s up to me to get the refills. Be right back, kids, try to stay out of trouble while I’m gone." Grabbing the pitcher, Jack was on his feet and striding to the bar before anyone else could offer. Once he’d placed the order, Jack continued out the back into the alley, desperate for a few moments of privacy in order to compose himself.

Chapter 16

The four younger men continued their ribald ways, their voices growing louder as they teased each other. Noting their companion hadn’t returned, Ianto frowned and pushed himself up. "Back in a mo," he announced, cuffing Tom on the back of the head when the doctor offered a joke about the size of his bladder. When a check of the mostly empty bar revealed no sign of Harkness, he peered into the bathroom and, finding it empty as well, went out the back, spotting Harkness leaning against the wall. "You all right?"

"Flashback moment," Jack said, not opening his eyes to acknowledge Jones’ presence. "Needed a few to get it under control. Would you mind taking the beer back to the table for me? I’ll be back in after a couple more minutes."

Ianto studied him for a long moment before nodding although Harkness still wasn’t looking at him. "Got it." He replayed the conversation that had happened right before Harkness had vanished, and his eyes narrowed a fraction. "Kids, it was us talking about them, specifically being uncles..."

"Would you believe that the truly horrific part of never aging or growing old is actually having kids? Think about it—how do you explain to a child why Daddy never gets any older? How can you tell your child that they’ll grow old and die and you’ll carry on exactly as you have done their entire lives? And yet worse still is having your grandson call you uncle because your daughter doesn’t want him to know what an aberration his grandfather is," Jack replied quietly. "Steven, my grandson, used to call me Uncle Jack."

"I’m sorry," Ianto said seriously. "That you have to live with that and that you lost him."

"I didn’t lose him," Jack replied quietly. "I killed him. And before you try to tell me that, no, I didn’t, that I just have survivor’s guilt or whatever, I really did kill him. There was this alien race and a very bad deal with far reaching repercussions.

"Long story short, after many bad things and much death we finally figured out how to stop them—but we needed a child to calibrate the frequency that would send them running. The problem was that it would fry the child’s brain in the process. My grandson was the only child available. I had to make a choice, and now I have to live with that choice. So yeah, I really did kill him," Jack finished simply.

"That wasn’t a good week for me, all around. But I’m coping, and I’m even learning to live with it. Who knows, one day I may even be able to forgive myself."

"How many others did you save doing it?" Ianto asked. "I’m guessing it’s not thousands, or tens of thousands, but millions to have forced you to make that choice—which, hard as it was and still is, was the right one."

"Cold, hard logic dictates I made the right decision," Jack agreed quietly. "But Steven was part of me. He was my child’s child and probably the only decent legacy that I had to leave behind in my old universe. Instead of protecting and nurturing that legacy, I had to listen to my daughter’s screams as I killed her son, my grandson. That’s going to haunt me for as long as I live, which, as you know, is a very long time," Jack chuckled bleakly.

"I’m not arguing with you, Jones. I know you’re right; I know I did the only thing I could, but… apparently even I can have a disconnect between my head and my heart because the one is in agreement while the other is screaming as loud as my daughter did" Jack took a deep, shuddering breath and then opened his eyes and pasted on a grin.

"But enough about me. This is Jake’s, and Alpha team’s, day. I’ll survive this. I always do," he added with gallows humor. "The rest of them are probably wondering where their beer is. We’d better get back in there."

"If one wasn’t screaming, I’d wonder about your humanity," Ianto said quietly before nodding, "but yes, if we don’t show up, they’ll come looking, and who knows what they’ll think we were up to."

"Well, whatever they might come up with, chances are it would be way off base, wouldn’t it?" Jack replied with a quick smile. "Because we aren’t up to anything; however, that’s not the point. The point is you’d better get back to the table, and I’d better go get the beer. Don’t want the kiddies to get thirsty—or sober. It defeats the purpose of a good drunk." Jack opened the fire door and held it, motioning for Jones to precede him. "Go on, I’ll be right there after I get the refills."

"Get extra," Ianto muttered mostly to himself, as he walked back to the table. "Beer’s on the way," he announced as he dropped down in his seat.

"What took you so long?" Jake grinned. "Who’d you find? Hm? Bloke or bird? At least say they were hot, yeah? Now that the rest of us are off the market, you’re it for lewd tales, Ianto my lad, so you’d best do us proud!"

"Oh please, you telling me you’re being monogamous?" Ross snorted, choking a bit on his beer.

"I usually am when I’m in a relationship, unless we both agree to not be monogamous," Jake replied with a roll of his eyes. "I know I may talk a good game, but I still play by the rules, Ross. The only difficulty was that I was involved with Jack. Except that it really wasn’t at the end of the day. Jack and I had a long talk about it when I was in the hospital. Hell, the first time I made a move on him, Jack told me up front he didn’t want to do the relationship thing again, and given what had just happened to him, I completely got that. I wasn’t out for a relationship either. It was a case of we were attracted to each other. We didn’t want the complications a relationship could bring, so the arrangement worked for us.

"But in the hospital Jack told me I deserved better than just sex, as hot as it may have been. He figured that with Owen I had a shot at having what I’d had with Ricky. Said I shouldn’t throw away any chance at happiness because of him because he would never be the one for me. And then he very nicely and very gently dumped my arse so I could be with Owen," Jake laughed. "Gotta say, apart from us calling it quits, Ianto, it really was the nicest break up I’ve ever had. I just hope he can find someone to love again, you know? Everyone deserves a shot at happy, and he’s had so very little of that lately," Jake began only to color as he realized that he’d been overheard. "Awh shit, hi, Jack!" he stammered, coloring slightly. "Erm, sorry about that, I didn’t mean to wax poetic or anything."

Jack shook his head, set the two pitchers of beer down and then reached across the table with both hands to pull Jake forward so he could buss Jake on the forehead before sitting down. "I am happy, Simmonds, so stop worrying about me. And I mean it too. I am happy. My life is finally making sense again. Things are falling into place, and I’m content to wait and see where they go from here. Concentrate on your doctor, and don’t even think of playing yenta with me. I’m quite capable of doing that all on my own."

The other three men at the table looked at each other and burst into laughter at that statement.

"You do realize that means he’ll be working even harder to find you someone, don’t you?" Tom asked as he poured them all another pint.

"Offering up names, wanting to arrange dates..." Ross added with a snicker.

"Thanks but no thanks," Jack replied easily. "I can find my own, believe it or not."

"Oh, I know you can," Jake replied quickly. "But the question is will you? Like you said before, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. We wouldn’t want you to get dull, now would we?"

"Jake," Jack began warningly. "Don’t even think about it!"

Ross sniggered into his beer. "Like that’ll stop him."

"Do the exact opposite, actually," Tom agreed after swallowing his own mouthful. "Like waving a red flag in front of a bull."

"Or a pink one in front of a heifer," Ross cackled.

"Oi! Who you calling a heifer, Jenkins?" Jake demanded. "You’re gonna pay for that one!"

"Oh and who’s gonna make me? You? HA!"

Jack watched the antics of the two men and heaved an internal sigh of relief. Jake had been diverted…

"Just because he’s been distracted doesn’t mean he’s gonna forget, Harkness. You’d best stay on your toes," Tom warned quietly, leaning in between Ianto and his boss. "You may want to keep him very busy the next little while just to keep him out of trouble so he doesn’t try and play matchmaker for either of you."

"He’ll be busy planning that big night at the Halkin with Harper, then he’ll be mooning over it for days so we’ve got a few weeks leeway," Ianto murmured.

"Thank god, and by then you should be back on Hub rotation, so that gives me a month and a half of serenity," Jack smirked. "Of course there’s still one remaining single Wild Boy. Maybe I won’t be his next victim after all."

"He’s been trying that one ever since he and I fell out of bed together," Ianto snorted before draining his glass. "And check your math, Harkness, we’re here for three months, not three weeks."

"Hey, I’m still learning the damned schedules," Jack replied with an easy grin. "I should make some comment like ‘damn, now I have to avoid him,’ but truthfully, I’m glad you’re sticking around for three months. It means I’ll be able to use Alpha team as my guinea pigs for some ideas I have," Jack continued after a brief pause, adding the last in order to keep things easy. He’d said what he needed to say, now to cover it up and make it acceptable for all his kiddies.

"Guinea pigs?" Ross’s head whipped around so fast he felt the hot burn of protesting neck muscles. "You’re not handing us off to Doc, Harkness! I’m still on restricted duty, dammit!"

"Just partial," Ianto laughed.

"Yeah, we know Doc loves you," Jake snickered as he refilled all their glasses.

"So," Tom added, his interest piqued, "what ideas?"

Jack had to fight for air in order to answer Tom, he was laughing so hard at Ross’s reaction. "I don’t get it," he gasped. "The man is a domesticated pussy cat, and you act like he’s an Ogronian mercenary putting a hit on you," he teased the cowering computer expert. "But it’s me who’ll be using you as a guinea pig, Jenkins, not Doc," Jack assured the other man.

"As for what ideas, Tom," Jack began and then fell silent as he thought of how to phrase what he wanted to say. "I have some... concerns," Jack admitted slowly, "about the modifications that I’ve been helping John with for the Valiant. Time travel isn’t something to be toyed with, even when that someone has all the memories and knowhow of a Time Lord. I’m telling you kids this in the strictest of confidence, you realize," Jack warned them all.

"Rose is, well, she’s the closest thing I have to family in this universe, and I would rather relive every death I’ve ever experienced than hurt her or have her hurt. I’ve come to know, respect and genuinely like the man that is John Smith as well. I’d even be willing to say he’s probably my closest friend next to Rose. But he’s not my Doctor even though he’s much better than the Doctor in many ways. John is happy being human, and he definitely makes Rose happy, so I’ve kept my concerns to myself because they’re just so damned... cute together that you don’t want to rain on their collective parade, you know? They’re kind of nauseating really, now that I think of it.

"But I digress a bit. The point is, he isn’t a Time Lord, and time is... delicate. It was something the Time Agency drilled into my head over and over again, before I even knew the Doctor. You just don’t fuck with time without some seriously major repercussions—or even paradoxes. One wrong move, one wrong word, hell, one wrong bug you step on and you can do irreparable damage; you can even turn someone into a fixed point just because you want them to live," Jack sighed as he remembered the events that made him what he was today.

"The bottom line is that John and Rose are determined to turn the Valiant into a TARDIS of sorts, but I’m not so confident that they’ll manage to get the outcome they’re looking for. I wanted to—no, let me rephrase that; I was hoping you four would help me. I want to develop emergency protocols in case something goes wrong with upgrades," Jack confessed. "Anders and his team are good, but he’s a pompous twit who doesn’t like me very much on either a personal or professional level. He’ll learn eventually, but for now I don’t trust him or his team. The people on Stevenson’s team are just like Doc; their scientific egghead brains are eating all this up, so not a chance I’d approach them. As for Siobhan’s team... tainted meat, that’s all I have to say on that one.

"Bottom line, I need people I can trust, and I trust you four. What happened in Cardiff proved your mettle, and it’s impressive, to say the least. I know I can count on you kids to do what needs to be done, no matter what the cost. And there might be one hell of a price to pay," Jack admitted grimly. "The TARDIS was a much more advanced version of what Doc is trying to develop. The Doctor—my Doctor—once compared his TARDIS and my wrist strap’s vortex manipulator by saying that the TARDIS a cosmic sports car to my space hopper—not very flattering, really, but true nonetheless. A TARDIS harnesses the power of a time vortex to move through time and space; a vortex manipulator just latches on to that power and slingshots itself around—and not very precisely either. The last time I used my vortex manipulator, I was aiming for the late 20th century. I ended up in 1869! I’d overshot by nearly one hundred and fifty years, and that was a relatively minor error compared to some I’ve heard of."

Tom sucked in a harsh breath of air at this description, and the reactions garnered by Jack’s grim laugh were anything but pleasant. He didn’t want to know how bad bad could get, and his thoughts immediately turned to Martha and the wedding they’d been discussing. He’d do anything to protect her, and Earth, from disaster, even if it was of Torchwood’s own making.

"I see you’re beginning to grasp my concerns. For example, the TARDIS landed in the Cardiff of my universe, and it was both directly and indirectly responsible for taking the tiny rip in the Rift and turning it into a huge and often times bloody tear. I remind you that this was the ‘sports car’ that did that, not the space hopper. So yeah, I have some fairly substantial concerns, and I’m hoping that you four can help me come up with, for lack of a better word, a doomsday plan just in case we’re faced with a worst-case scenario."

"You’re worried that Doc is building an out-of-control clunker," Ross mused, looking thoughtful, "and if it crashes, it’ll take out all of London."

"Or the whole of England. Who knows, he could split the Rift wide open and the entire damned planet could fall through to who knows where. The good news is that John isn’t that far along from what I’ve seen and what he’s told me," Jack replied.

"Which means we can have the protocols in place before he starts making real progress on it," Ianto commented, tapping his finger against the side of his glass of beer as he thought.

"Since you’re helping him, you could slow him down until we have everything in line," Jake offered, only to be cut off by Tom.

"Even if he worked day and night, it’s still going to take years, but having a containment plan ready to go is the best way to go. You keep proving you’re not just a pretty face, Harkness."

"Though you can stop calling us kids," Jake said, pointing an accusing finger in Jack’s direction.

"Okay first, do you really think anyone can slow down or stop Doc when he’s got an idea?" Jack asked pointedly. "Second, yes, I have a pretty face, but I also have a killer mind; you may want to remember that in the future. Third, get used to it. It’s an old habit, and while I’ll try to remember your objections, it will probably slip out more than once," Jack finished, reaching across the table to tug on Jake’s finger.

"Now put that away before I give you a suggestion on what to do with it which your Doctor Harper may or may not appreciate."

Tom rolled his eyes. "Pretty face, killer mind. Got it. And the rest of us don’t want to know the suggestion, so don’t even ask, Jake!"

"Fine, ruin all my fun," Jake groused, tugging his finger back out of Jack’s grasp. "Tell me later?"

"No," Jack grinned wickedly. "It was a one-time offer, and time is now up. You’ll have to figure it out on your own. Don’t worry, I’m sure Owen will be more than happy to help you."

"Well bollocks!"

"Our hearts bleed for you, Jakey," Ianto snorted though his expression was still thoughtful as he mulled over Jack’s proposition.

"I don’t need to tell you that I want this kept quiet," Jack cautioned. "I’ll tell Rose and John when we have it hashed out and ready to implement as well as tell them the reasons why I did it. No need for you lot to take that heat since it’s my idea. But until then, just us five on it, got it?"

"We’ll need to encrypt the information we’re putting together," Ross mused, his mind already running through hexadecimal encryption protocols and redundant servers on which to bury the information.

"I’ll need blueprints of the Valiant indicating the areas where the modifications need to go as well as any current schematics you have," Jake piped in. "I’ll also need to pick your brain on what sort of explosives work on time vortex thingies or any other means to collapse the device or trigger an implosion of some kind to minimize damage."

"We’ll also need trauma scenarios and loss calculations and projections done," Tom added pragmatically. "Too bad we can’t bring Martha in on this; she’d be a right help in terms of setting up triage points and stockpiling medical supplies."

Jack shook his head in amazement. Just like that and they were all on board and thinking of needs. "No offense to your fiancée, Tom, because I like Ms. Martha Jones in both her incarnations but… Your feelings on the subject of bringing Dr. Jones into the containment scenario?" he asked, turning to Jones.

"I think this conversation would be better served if we all weren’t half snockered," Ianto mused. "But I’m inclined to agree with Tom; Martha knows when to keep her mouth shut, and she has the most mass-casualty planning experience. I also think we’re going to need to run drills once we get these protocols in place."

Jack picked up his glass of water and tapped the rim with a chuckle. "Speak for yourself, Jones. I’m as sober as a judge. Someone hasto drive you drunkards back to sleep it off. So we include the marvelous Ms. Martha in our plans. I volunteer my place for the first meeting—best keep this as far away from work as possible for as long as we can. I’ve got a fair amount of equipment at home anyways in order to help Doc. Jake can drive or give you the address once you’re all sober again."

"But I thought you were with Doctor McGrouchy now?" Ross demanded.

"I helped him move to his new flat and pick out stuff for it, you daft git; I already told you I’m not sleeping with him anymore," Jake growled, backhanding Ross’s arm in disgust. "And you lot have the nerve to say I have a prurient mind, trash-talking like that!"

"If you think that’s trash-talking, you’ve had more to drink than you can handle," Ross snorted as the others laughed.

"Oi, I’m a one man bloke now, so there!" Jake replied, startling his team mates into silence for a few moments.

"Oh, pull the other one," Ross finally got out.

"I’m not joking," Jake replied seriously. "I... Owen’s bloody amazing, and I’m not gonna tart around and jeopardize a chance to have what I had with Ricky before he died. So yeah, no more mucking about for me."

Ianto watched the blond before leaning over and slinging an arm around his shoulders. "If he treats you bad, tell me, and I’ll take it out of his scrawny hide," he said seriously.

"Hey now, don’t be denying us a piece if he hurts our Jake," Tom rejoined immediately.

"Hear hear!" Ross slammed his mug down, eliciting some covert glares from surrounding patrons. "Wild Boys stick together! He hurts one of us, he hurts all of us. We all get a piece."

"Remind me to never do that," Jack replied mildly, shaking his head in amusement as he signaled for another pitcher of beer. "I’ve seen what you can do when you get pissed."

"No threatening my boyfriend before we’ve even—" Jake stopped, colored, and cleared his throat at that before grabbing for his glass of beer. "Okay, so maybe he’s not my boyfriend, but I want him to be, and I definitely want the benefits that come with!" Jake mumbled into his glass.

"Still holding out? It must be a record!" Ianto laughed, tightening the arm he had around Jake’s shoulders before letting the other man go.

"Oh, I hope you have weeks of not getting any," Ross crowed gleefully. "Because I’ve got plenty of material thanks to you lot ragging me about Lisa!"

"Now, children," Jack interjected before another round of insults and slap fights erupted. "We don’t want these nice people around us to think you’ve got no manners. Try to keep it to a dull roar if you can."

"You bought the beer," Tom protested, "you deal with the results!"

"God, it’s like being partnered with John all over again," Jack groaned. "Yeah, the four of you pretty much make up one of him. Sex," he said pointing at Jake, "alcohol, the lot of you; Ross—drugs with your pain meds; and I’ve no doubt Jones had contemplated murdering me until I saved him the trouble just to prove I can’t die. So yeah, that about covers all of John’s more charming traits. But he was a damned good wife."

"Notice who didn’t get any bad traits," Ross snickered, elbowing Tom in the side.

"He said alcohol!" the doctor objected, glowering at the younger man.

"Never mind that," Jake asked, his eyes bright with interest. "Who the hell is this John fellow so we can avoid him?"

"Someone from my very distant past in a universe that’s far, far away," Jack replied, chuckling at the memory that his choice of words evoked for him. At the time he’d been ready to kill Hart but now... "It was literally another life. Before I ever met the Doctor or Rose, back when I worked for the Time Agency. John was my partner and my partner. A crazier son of a bitch you couldn’t imagine. We ended up going our separate ways, and the next time we met up, he shoved me off the roof of a high-rise office building; it was a damned good thing that by then I couldn’t really die."

"With friends like that..." Ianto murmured, shaking his head as he drained his glass.

"Tell me about it," Jack replied with a wry grin. "But I was a very different person back then, and John suited the man I was rather well. It took a very special Doctor and a girl named Rose to make me see my potential, and then it took someone equally amazing to help me get in touch with my humanity again," Jack admitted with a fond smile.

"Let’s hear it for humanity!" Ross laughed, raising his glass in a toast that the others echoed before they all dissolved into laughter again.

Chapter 17

"Hell, remind me never to let Harkness buy us drinks again, okay?" Tom groaned as the weary teammates congregated in the locker room several weeks later. "I still can’t feel my toes."

"Have some coffee," Ianto advised even as he took a drink from the steaming travel mug that had been waiting at his desk when he arrived, just as it had been every morning for the past few weeks.

"Yeah, well, not all of us had time to pick up a cup on the way in," Ross groused as he changed into his fatigues. "We have to wait for the bloody machine to finish percolating."

Jake picked up the cup he’d grabbed on the way in to work and sniggered. "And not all of us waited until the last possible second to crawl out of bed so we had no time to pick up a cup on the way in. You’re getting old, Ross; can’t hold your alcohol anymore!"

"Fuck you, Simmonds," Ross growled, lunging for the coffee pot as the machine finally beeped.

"No thanks, not my type," the blond snickered, neatly side-stepping the punch Ross threw in his direction, only to bump into Ianto and nearly get the other man’s coffee dumped over him.

"Much, much too loud," Tom groaned, pressing his palms against his forehead.

"What? Martha didn’t mix you up a hangover cure?" Ianto laughed.

"Said I got to enjoy the fun time with Harkness, I could deal with the aftermath," Tom muttered.

"See!" Ross chimed in, "It’s not just me; Tommy’s hang dog too!"

"Morning, kids!" Jack exclaimed cheerfully as he walked into the locker room, looking quite modern in a blue-black t-shirt with a rock logo on it, his hands tucked into the back pockets of a pair of sinfully tight, faded jeans.

"Bloody hell, Jack! What happened to the dress shirts and braces?" Jake asked, sitting down hard on the bench in shock.

"Trying out a new look for the new me. What do you think?"

"I’m gobsmacked. You look bloody brilliant—okay, who are they?" Jake demanded suspiciously as his mind leapfrogged from A to date, forgetting entirely about B and C.

"I have no idea what you’re talking about, Simmonds. Just came to give you all the heads up that Rose will be on the warpath when she finally makes it in this morning. Apparently John brought up the whole P word debate again last night. The man’s a dog with a bone right now." Jack chuckled wickedly.

"You know Doc, once he gets something in his head..." Ianto commented, watching Harkness out of the corner of his eye, finding that the more covered up look was easier to deal with; this one reminded him that he knew exactly what lay beneath the too soft-looking fabric. "And I thought you and Rose had a meeting with the president this morning; a little dressed down for that, aren’t you?"

Jack fought the urge to grin as he processed the question. Perhaps he’d keep this new look if it had this sort of effect on Jones. "Already had the meeting," he answered. "Madame President bumped her meeting up by a few hours as she started her day at five am today and decided to inflict the same punishment on Rose and I," Jack explained. "Rose decided to go home and get a few hours extra sleep. I, on the other hand, foolishly decided to take advantage of the quiet and slog my way through a few dozen older team reports and personnel files, so I just changed into some clothes I’d left at the office for emergencies when I got in an hour or so ago."

"Jack, you’re turning into a work-horse," Jake laughed, making the others chuckle as well.

"Well, you see, I have this problem team—always getting into the thick of things, destroying their transpo, causing waves… they’re responsible for generating about half of the paperwork that crosses my desk despite there being three other field ops teams," Jack replied pointedly. "So if I am becoming a work-horse, I rather know who to blame."

"Hey now, we haven’t totaled an SUV in months," Tom protested.

"I believe Rose’s take on that was ‘sheer dumb luck’," Jack said straight-faced.

"Not our fault we’re the best team you’ve got, so we get the almost cataclysmic assignments all the time," Jake added cheekily. "Better us wrecking a few cars than certain other teams that shall not be named wrecking a few city blocks!"

"I hate to break it to you, Jake, but cost for cost, your replacement vehicles and specialized equipment pretty much equals the reconstruction cost of the half-built subdivision that Charlie team torched."

"Sorry," Ianto said, not sounding repentant at all.

"Watch it or we’ll get some horrid powder blue Prius or something to drive," Ross muttered.

"I was thinking more along the lines of a camper van—big enough for you four and your equipment with room to spare," came Jack’s stern reply. "Don’t make me do it—because I will. I know a guy."

"Now that’s cruel and unusual punishment, even for you, Jack!" Jake moaned. "My da and mam took us camping in one of those nightmares when I was eight. It was the closest thing to child abuse that I’ve ever experienced! Traumatized me for life, it did!"

"Then don’t wreck any more cars!" came Jack’s rejoinder, which was accompanied by an evil grin. "And don’t forget to avoid Rose today. Be good, boys. I’ll be watching." With that warning Jack sauntered back out of the locker room, intent on grabbing himself a cup of coffee and a raspberry danish from the canteen now that he’d checked on his kids and made sure that Jones had gotten his cup of coffee.

"Torture from Harkness and Rose in a rage," Tom groaned. "And why the hell are you so chipper this morning, Jones? Shouldn’t you be as hung over as we are?"

"It’s called the morning run; does wonders for your health, Tommy, you should try it some time," Ianto chuckled, finishing his coffee and leaning against the wall, waiting for the others to change.

"Morning torture is more like it," Jake grunted, shuddering as he zipped his pants.

"Oh piss off, unlike some people I don’t see the point at getting up at the arse crack of dawn just to torture my body. I’ll take a gym any day of the week," Tom replied. "Especially when I’m this hung over. Never drinking again, I swear!"

"That’s what you said last time too," Ross chuckled after he finished tossing back his first cup of coffee and then headed to the pot for a refill. "I am merely going to thank whatever stars are smiling on us that we’re on standby this week. Today is the perfect day to hibernate behind my desk and play with some security protocols for potential special projects."

"Same here," Jake and Tom agreed while Ianto shook his head.

"Not I, it’s a day of catching up on what’s been going on here for me—anyone want my job?"

"Not on your life!" Ross shuddered. "I’ll stick to what I know, thanks, and leave you to the aggravation."

"To the kissing up to Harkness, you mean," a voice commented from the door, and the Wild Boys groaned collectively as they saw the tall, blond form of Charlie team’s lead standing there. "Or should I say sucking up in Simmond’s case?"

"And he does it so well, too," Ianto said coolly, his blue eyes narrowing as he watched Henry Anders come into the locker room, followed by the rest of his team.

"Awh, don’t mind Anders, boss," Jake replied coyly. "He’s just miffed because the captain turned him down when he offered. Not his fault really, Harkness just has exceptionally high standards when it comes to his partners."

"You watch your mouth, nancy boy," Charlie team’s munitions specialist growled. Phillips had been recruited from the Army and never could understand how Simmonds not only got into Torchwood with no real training but also got recruited to Alpha team.

"Don’t need to, I have someone to do it for me," Jake immediately retorted with a campy leer. "And he does it oh so well."

"Jake," Tom muttered warningly. Last thing they needed was a blow up in the locker room with Harkness likely to walk by at any time from the canteen and Rose in a strop.

"No, Tom, I’m sick of his whinging about how I don’t have the proper experience to be in Torchwood, let alone on Alpha. I earned my spot on this team and not on my back either. I did it by being one of the few people to have the balls to stand up to Lumic and his so-called advancements in science, which people like our boy here supported and defended. I did it by standing on the front lines of the Cybermen war and surviving, so don’t tell me take it easy. I’m sick of their high and fucking mighty attitude just because I didn’t toe the line and join the army and go through ‘proper channels’ to get my education. You lot can kiss my arse because I’m ten times the munitions expert any of you will ever be!"

"Hear, hear," Ross muttered from where he leaned casually against a wall, having moved into a more advantageous position in the room.

"You have a problem with my team, Anders?" Ianto asked, his tone deceptively mild.

"And you as you bloody well know," the larger man snapped. "No wonder you almost got taken out by a lot of butterflies."

"Lads, Henry has a problem with us." The corner of Ianto’s mouth curved up in a smirk. "I’d like to say we solve it right here, but that would piss Rose off and, besides, my coffee would get cold while we whipped their arses, so we’ll do this by the book. You do remember the book, don’t you, Henry? In the ring once we’re off. Care for today or do you need a while to get ready?"

Anders snorted in derision. "Unlike you lot, we haven’t been coddled by Harkness the last month or so. After shift is just fine, eh, mates?"

Phillips looked at Jake and bared his teeth. "Oh, I think after work would be just fine. So do we all get a go round or what?"

Jack stood just outside the door to the locker room listening and fighting back the urge to burst in and end this right now. Unfortunately, he knew that if he did, he’d just be confirming what Anders and his team thought, and that was the last thing Jack wanted to do. But he’d be damned if he’d just ignore the whole event. The least he could do was be there and watch, even from the shadows, as Jones dealt with this for the both of them. Although Jack thought that maybe Anders and his team could do with a day of ‘Hunting Harkness’; however, it would be without the camaraderie and fun that Alpha team had engendered, and who knew, maybe Jack would miscalculate on a flashbang or a concussive grenade or two. Jones’ voice pulled him back from his nasty little reverie, and Jack quickly refocused on the conversation taking place in the locker room.

"Team leads only," Ianto said flatly, his gaze taking in the other four men at once, noting that Liu, Charlie’s tech expert, and Berkley, their medic, seemed relieved by the announcement. "After all, you lot are active, don’t want you flat on your backs; who knows what Dr. Jones might come up with to treat you."

"You lot would know about being flat on your backs," Anders growled, drawing a laugh from the Alpha team members.

Outside, Jack quickly and quietly made his way to the bank of elevators that went up to the top floor of the central tower, the floor his office was located on. He had a lot to think about and, more importantly, some intelligence to gather on what sounded like something that happened more than once. Once he had the facts, he would then come up with a way to deal with this once and for all.

"You say that like it’s a bad thing," Tom snickered.

"Six o’clock, Henry, and remember not to wear your armor." Ianto waited until the other men stomped out of the locker room and rolled his eyes as he finished off his coffee. "Twats."

"One of these days I’m going to make Phillips kiss my nancy boy arse—literally." Jake growled. "Kick Anders’ in his peanut-sized nuts for me, all right, mate?"

"Glad to," Ianto promised, snagging an arm around Jake’s neck and pulling him in to give him a sloppy buss on the temple. "And you know we all appreciate your nancy boy arse."

"It’s a fine one," Tom agreed before Ross chimed in.

"From a distance."

"True, it seems to belong to Dr. Harper now," Ianto chuckled, letting the shorter man go. "Now come on, lads, we have work to do; the fun will start once we’re off."

Standing by the window of his office, deep in contemplation, Jack was pulled from his thoughts by the appearance of Alpha team far below him in what was known as the pit. The inside of this particular tower of the Canary Wharf facility had more in common with an open concept hotel or the New York Stock Exchange than with a normal office building. Many of the administration offices had inner windows that looked down into the central core of the building that housed the operations

He’d barely noticed when Anders’ team had strolled in a few moments prior, but he knew almost the second that Alpha team had entered the floor. He was too damned hyperaware of the team—and Jones, and Jack needed to get away from the window before he gave the wrong impression. In fact, getting out of the office entirely suddenly seemed like a brilliant idea. Leaning back, Jack hit the intercom button to the lab. "Hey, John, feel up to a visitor? I’ve got a few more ideas for upping the ante out on the training field, and I want to run them by you. All the teams could do with playing ‘Hunt Harkness’, don’t you think?"

"Brilliant idea! Come down, come down. We can brainstorm and come up with some really naughty surprises for our lads and ladies."

"You ready for this?" Tom asked casually as he leaned a hip against the side of Ianto’s desk and looked down at him.

"After a day of playing catch up with the last month’s reports? I think I’m ready to kill something," Ianto chuckled, shutting down his computer, standing and stretching once he was on his feet. "What about you?"

"Me? I just have to stand there and watch you beat the shit out of Anders and maybe stick a butterfly on your eyebrow if he gets a lucky shot in."

"Well, I wouldn’t want to tire you out."

"I’ve got the scanner to make sure that he doesn’t wear his damned armor this time," Ross announced as he and Jake came up as well.

"Wouldn’t put it past the bastard to find some other way cheat this time," Jake snorted. "You know he’s been itching to slide his team into Alpha spot for almost a year now. He’s just using the fact that we get on so well with Jack as an excuse."

"Speaking of our fearless top dog, has anyone seen Harkness around today? I mean other than him looking down from on high once or twice. I heard rumor that he was holed up with Doc in the lab plotting for most of the morning. This, I might add, fills me with much more dread than the thought of Ianto not being able to send Anders packing with his tail between his legs like the mongrel he is."

"He’s been quiet, which should probably worry me," Ianto mused, realizing that he’d grown used to seeing Harkness all the time during the month they were all in Cardiff. "And for that last comment, Ross m’boy, you’re buying the booze next night out."

"Hey, I was just saying that you winning is a no brainer and Jack plotting with Doc is bloody terrifying!" Ross protested.

"You really need to learn to think before you speak, Jenkins," Tom laughed. "You just dig yourself deeper. C’mon, let’s head down and make sure that the bastards haven’t rigged the place. Oh, and don’t look now, but Harkness is in his office window."

"That’s going to take some getting used to," Ianto mused as Alpha team trooped out, heading down to the gymnasium in the basement, where he turned off to go get changed, knowing that the others would check out the ring and wait for Charlie team to arrive. By the time he came out of the locker room fifteen minutes later, the area around the ring was crowded with field agents and general staff, and he groaned to himself, wondering what Harkness was going to do when he found out—if he hadn’t already.

Jack waited until the Wild Boys had left, walked back to his desk and hit the send button on the email waiting patiently on his computer screen entitled "Priority Directive from Head of Field Operations". Once it had gone out, Jack killed the office lights and locked up as he left. When all of field operations opened their emails next, they would find a very terse and clear cut set of new rules and regulations that all personnel would follow, or they would find themselves summarily dismissed and retconned to avoid any potential leaks of classified information with absolutely no exceptions to his rule.

And there would be no negotiating or appeal to either the Administrative or R&D branches of Torchwood either. The memo was a collaborative effort to tidy house a bit as evidenced by three signatures at the bottom of the memo. Rose Tyler-Smith and Doctor John Smith fully endorsed and supported the new processes being established by Jack and would be implementing their own in short order. There would be similar memos coming down from each of those departments in the next few days, but the events of the day had forced Field Ops to send theirs out first rather than waiting for it to be delivered simultaneously through all three branches of Torchwood. It was time to introduce everyone to Jack’s law.

Taking the back way, Jack used his security clearance to let him through places that very few people could get to, even within the Torchwood chain of command. Basically, he walked the routes that only three people could access, Jack being one of those three. In a little under five minutes he was on a catwalk hidden among the shadows of the ceiling, looking down at a gymnasium packed to the gills with Torchwood personnel.

Rose had told him earlier that afternoon how, in the past, these sorts of events were as much about sizing up the competition as well as letting off a little steam. They were almost gladiatorial battles with each ‘champion’ defending the honor of their team in a battle royal. The true test of who took top spot took place on the training field in an intense, no-holds-barred competition where the last team standing took the top honors. This sort of challenge, however, was often a precursor to an outright challenge if there was consensus among the majority of field ops that it was time for a changing of the guard.

However, this ‘calling out’ practice was about to become a thing of the past. The only one who could make those decisions from here on out was Jack with the assistance of Rose and John. From the moment Jack had taken over field ops, his word had become law. And field ops was about to find that out in spades come first thing tomorrow.

But, to be fair to everyone Jack had spent the majority of the day creating a brand new set of directives along with their checks and balances. It had been the only way he could get through the day without calling both Anders and Jones into his office and ripping them a new one for this. Jack understood tradition, respected it if the respect was merited, and so, despite his feelings to the contrary, he would let this play out. He would stay up here on the catwalk and watch, but he would not interfere.

And when he left here tonight, there was a bottle of wine waiting on the front seat of his SUV that he would take over to Jones as an excuse to make sure that he was okay. And who knew, maybe they’d actually be able to talk for once, really talk.

Chapter 18

"Time to watch Jones get his ass handed to him?" Phillips asked as he sauntered past the bench where Tom, Ross and Jake were sitting. "Maybe Simmonds can offer to kiss it better for him."

Tom reached out a restraining hand and wrapped it around Jake’s wrist. "Let it go. He’s a small-minded prick who can’t handle knowing that he’s second string material at best."

"I think they’re worried about getting bumped off the rotation and sent back to the general pool," Ross commented, watching Anders come out of the other locker room, his thick muscles gleaming in the fluorescent lighting. "Christ, has he been taking steroids?"

"If he has, that would explain the mood swings—kill your dick, those do," Tom chuckled, grateful when Jake smirked as well.

"What does? Looking at Anders?" Ianto asked as he joined them, dressed in boxing trunks and carrying his mouth guard. "Wrap my hands, would you, Jake? No need to bruise them on that idiot’s hard head."

"Or break them," Jake muttered. "He’s been bulking up in a major way. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s been planning this for a while. Watch that pretty face of yours, Ianto, wouldn’t want him to sideline you from pulling," Jake teased his best friend with a laugh as he took extra care in wrapping Ianto’s hands for him. "Besides, we don’t want any more Wild Boys in hospital for a while, yeah? The boss may not like it."

"Hell yeah, avoiding hospital is a good thing," Ross agreed fervently. "But by the same token, put him in his place once and for all, will you? I’m sick of these annual attempts to kick our arses. You’d think they’d have learned after the third attempt, but no, they came back for more year four too."

"Notice that they haven’t tried to make a real run at us—an official try to take our place," Tom mused as he watched Phillips prep Anders with Liu and Berkley assisting. "Probably scared of failing—again."

"Maybe Anders just wants to get his hands on Ianto, and this is the only way he can," Ross pointed out, making the others gag.

"You make me heave right now, and it’s going to be on you," Ianto muttered, flexing his hands to check the tightness of the tape around them and nodding. Tom strapped on his lightly padded headgear and slipped the mouth guard into place, and Ianto climbed into the ring, rolling his shoulders as he waited for Anders to come in as well.

The rules were simple: first one who went down and stayed down lost. There was no referee, no bell to end rounds, just brutal punishment and the knowledge that your team’s reputation was on the line. They were both going to be hurting once it was over, and Ianto wondered briefly what hell Harkness was going to give them when he found out, but the thought was wiped from his mind when Anders came at him.

They closed in the middle of the ring, trading a flurry of body blows, Ianto slipping out of the way of a vicious right hook that would have sent him reeling if it had connected with his jaw. Grunting as the left slammed into his ribs, he got in a pair of blows to Anders’ sternum, backing the other man up and giving them a second to breathe.

Far above the fight Jack’s hands turned white as he clenched the steel railing, his eyes glued to the ring where two men were beating each other bloody.

"You could go down there and stop it, you know," Doc—John Smith—commented as he came to stand next to his friend. "These are your people, and this isn’t exactly an aboveboard way of settling differences."

"And if I do, I just reinforce for the entire division what Anders and his team already believe—that I favor Alpha team."

"Don’t you? And before you jump down my throat, Rose and I did—and still do—as well. They’ve earned the right, especially Ianto and Jake. They’ve both had baptisms by fire."

"They’ve earned every one of their ‘privileges’ and not by Jake being my lover for a time either," Jack replied fiercely. "Cardiff taught me that; they deserve to be Alpha team."

"And because of that they’ve also earned the envy of the other teams. There will always be grumblings like this, Jack, and they’ll get worse before they get better if you’re determined to pursue Jones romantically. Alpha team’s lead sleeping with the head of Field Ops… it’s going to cause a shit storm of problems for both of you, and you won’t be able to step in and protect Jones when that happens any more than you can right now."

"I know, I know," Jack growled. "This was so much easier when there were just the five of us in Torchwood; this in-house politicking is bullshit! Whatever happened to doing your jobs and not worrying about who was sleeping with whom?"

"Think of it this way," John replied softly, "with this many people, your teams have more back up—and are more likely to live long and productive lives. Isn’t that worth the extra aggravation?"

"Have I mentioned how much I hate it when you’re right all the time?" Jack chuckled after a moment. "It’s fucking annoying."

"I’ll take that as a compliment," John chuckled. "After all, I’m sure it’s a rare thing indeed to be able to prove you wrong."

"Bastard."

"I love you too." Slinging an arm around Jack’s shoulders, John watched the brutal match for a few more minutes, silently lending his friend support as Jack was forced to watch Jones fight for his team’s honor. "Come round for dinner tomorrow night. Rose misses you; we both do."

"I guess I’ve been so busy trying to create a new life that I’ve forgotten the one I already have," Jack admitted contritely. "What time should I show up?"

"Seven. We’ll make up the spare room; you’ll stay the night."

"I’ll stay the night," Jack agreed, knowing that arguing was futile and also realizing that he wanted to spend the time with his friends—no, his family.

"And you’ll tell us all about your little visit to Jones once Milligan patches him up and sends him home." John laughed as Jack’s head shot around in surprise. "You forget, old friend, I know you. Just… don’t get hurt again, okay? Rose and I had a hard enough time putting you back together again this time."

"He’s going to die, John," Jack admitted, his voice cracking as he admitted his worst fears. Saying the words aloud made it far too real, and the pain they brought Jack was almost unbearable. "Sooner or later, he’s going to die on me. I can’t escape that fact. But I can wring out every second of time with him that I can, be with him any way I can—even if it’s just as his friend. After all, there’s no guarantee that he’ll say yes."

"Has anyone ever turned you down, Jack?"

"You and Rose both."

"Has anyone you’ve ever really wanted turned you down, Jack?" John asked again.

Jack smiled and let the silence speak for itself as he turned back to watch the match below.

"Son of a bitch," Jake growled as Anders got in a sucker punch. "The bastard’s going to pull out every dirty trick he knows. C’mon, Ianto, wipe the fucking mat with him!"

"I think I may need more than a couple of butterfly bandages," Tom sighed. He looked over to the other side of the ring and saw that Berkley had been thinking the same thing as the man was already rifling through his field medic bag to make sure he had everything he’d need.

"Christ, this is brutal," Ross murmured, wincing as Anders’ fist caught Ianto’s cheek, splitting the skin as it landed. Ianto responded with a blow to the other man’s stomach, forcing a grunt from him as they broke off, both panting and bleeding.

"Getting soft, Jones," Anders taunted, shaking his head to clear the sweat from his eyes.

"Getting stupid, Anders—or should I say stupider." Ianto dodged the enraged punches, sliding to the side and slamming his fist into Anders’ kidney, forcing the other man to his knees.

"Done yet?"

"Not by far." Anders staggered to his feet, straightening up, only to receive a punch to the jaw that laid him out on the mat.

"Guess you were after all," Ianto said, his voice ragged as he drew in deep breaths and leaned over to rest his hands on his knees, aware of both his team and Anders’ swarming into the ring, Tom and Ross hoisting him to their shoulders while Jake whooped out his exultation.

Jack let out the breath he hadn’t even realized he’d been holding as he watched Tom and Ross set Jones down and hovered at his side as Jake lifted the ropes for him to slide through.

"Well, I’d say Alpha team’s honor has been properly defended," Doc murmured from beside his friend. "Time for me to head home to my Rose and for you to go get ready to check on your Jones, yeah?"

"Oh, stop rubbing it in," Jack groused. "Kiss Rose for me. Tell her thanks, and I’ll see you both in the morning. Dinner at your place, I won’t forget. Now get out of here, and go be a married man."

Clapping Jack on the shoulder, John walked down the catwalk and out into the main complex, leaving Jack to watch as the gymnasium cleared slowly and bide his time until he could be sure Jones was home and he could go check on him.

Chapter 19

"Christ, Tom, I told you I was fine; if this is you and Martha come to check up on me..." Ianto grumbled, holding an icepack to the right side of his face as he walked toward the door. A check of the peephole had him cursing again, and he drew in as deep a breath as his sore ribs would allow, wondering what kind of reaming he was in for from Harkness. Of course, that thought drew his thoughts back to what had happened at the Hub the night Ross had been injured, and he cleared his throat as he unlocked and opened the door.

"Something I can do for you, Harkness?" he asked, the words only slightly slurred by his swollen lip.

"You can start by letting me in," Jack replied with an easy smile. "Then you can produce a couple wine glasses," he continued holding up a bottle of Chateau LaTour bordeaux, "otherwise we’d be forced to chug out of the bottle, and this wine deserves a little more respect than that, don’t you think?"

Ianto eyed the bottle and then his boss. "Yes, plus then the neighbors might call the police, thinking we were a couple of high-class winos." He stepped back, holding the door open, and ushered Jack into his apartment.

"Running for president now?" Jack nodded towards Jones’s white t-shirt which read ‘Vote Jones’. "Don’t tell me you’re one of those young politicos out to change the world and make the system work?" he teased as he handed Jones the bottle. The younger man’s only response was to snort in derision as he headed towards what Jack assumed was the kitchen, bottle in hand.

Turning his appreciative eyes from the fine form of a retreating Jones in t-shirt and black track pants, Jack took in the younger man’s condo. It was neat but looked lived in and was masculine without being overt about it. The sofa was black leather, the wing back chairs as well, and there was plenty of gleaming mission style dark cherry wood to leave an overall impression of tasteful but functional comfort. However, what caught and held Jack’s attention were the myriad of pictures that populated the fireplace mantle and above.

Wandering towards it, Jack took his time looking at the faces, recognizing Rhiannon Davies and her husband from Ianto’s funeral but not the young blonde woman with them. The children between Rhia and … Johnny, if Jack remembered correctly, bore childish resemblances to both parents, so these had to be the kids. Jack hadn’t been able to look at them at Ianto’s funeral, the loss of Steven still too raw and devastating. As for the young blonde woman, her coloring reminded Jack of Rhia, but that stubborn jaw –that was all Jones, so that had to be the younger sister Claire. There was a Tiffany framed picture of an older couple that had to be Jones’ parents. They were a handsome pair who still looked at each other with passion in their eyes. Jack could see Jones in both parents.

In Jack’s universe Ianto had never spoken of his parents save for the reference to his father being a master tailor—which had turned out to be a lie. Jack had never bothered to pry either, figuring that the younger man was entitled to his secrets. Who was Jack to judge if Ianto had wanted to fabricate his past? After all, his very existence as ‘Captain Jack Harkness’ was based on identity theft. . There were a variety of pictures of the Wild Boys in various combinations as well as one of Jake and Jones that looked much more intimate than the other ‘comrade pictures’. Picking it up, Jack chuckled. He recognized that look in Jake’s eyes; it was the ‘hurry up and finish so we can fuck’ look. Must be from when Jones and Jake were lovers then.

As he was about to set it down, Jack noticed the picture that was tucked off to the side, half hidden behind one of Uncle Ianto and his sticky fingered nephew and niece at an amusement park. Putting down the Jones and Jake picture, Jack carefully picked up the photo and studied it carefully. It was a team shot, and the Jones in this picture was much younger and almost identical to the Ianto Jones who had first come to him from Torchwood One all those years ago. If he’d looked like that when Jack first saw him in Rose’s office four months ago, Jack would have been convinced he’d finally lost his mind. The other man and two women were vaguely familiar but not because Jack worked with them. They’d been in Jones’ personnel file. His first field team assignment—Bravo team. Jones had been the only survivor of a mission gone horribly wrong. "Babies, the lot of them," Jack whispered, finger tracing over Jones’s image. "Too damned young. But then again, no one ever really gets old in Torchwood, do they?"

"I hope you aren’t expecting a snack to go with this," Ianto remarked from across the room as he emerged from the kitchen with an open wine bottle and two poured glasses. "Because, you know, just back in town, kept busy chasing my mad boss then dealing with an idiot; I haven’t had time to get to the grocer’s. I might have some crackers that would do in a pinch." He knew Jack was looking over his photos, but he had nothing to hide or to be ashamed of with them.

Carrying the glasses over, he looked at the picture in Jack’s hand and shook his head; he should have known that Harkness would ferret this one out. "That’s Bob Lansing on the left; he was the team lead. Clara Bennett’s the redhead; she was tech, and Bess Armstrong, the brunette, was the medic."

"Just wine is fine," Jack replied, accepting the glass with a smile, then turned back to the picture he still held on to. "Lansing looks about the age you are now; the rest of you, you must have been just out of university or med school or whatever. God, you’re all so young."

"Five years ago," Ianto murmured before taking a sip of his wine. "Bob was thirty, Clara twenty-six and Bess twenty-eight—I was twenty-four; they liked to joke that they were breaking in the baby—but then I suppose we’re all babies compared to you."

"I’m the most notorious cradle robber in history, and no one has a clue of it," Jack chuckled before sobering. "I learned to stop seeing ages compared to mine a long time ago, Jones. I can’t change what I am, and I can’t stop living life.

"Besides, it’s all relative, isn’t it? You have a finite set of years—ninety or so, god willing, so you cram as much living and experience into them as you can. I have the same amount of time to share with someone else when you think about it—even less because I tend to not have relationships with anyone under the age of consent and some level of maturity—be it friendship or otherwise," Jack half smiled as he took a sip of his own wine and tapped the edge of the picture frame with a finger. "They look like good people. Tell me about them?" Jack offered quietly. "I’d like to know them, not their files or what I read in yours."

"Come and sit," Ianto offered, "we can bring the picture if you want; it doesn’t bother me to look at it."

They moved over to the group of seats, Ianto taking one of the wingbacks and waving Jack toward the sofa. "I’d been in the program a year and a half, out of training for six months when a slot opened up on Bob’s team—through retirement. Spent the next six months rotating in and out of the team as they tried to settle on a new member, then I got the call.

"Bob was... like your favorite teacher in school: stern but fair, an excellent field agent, by-the-book but able to adapt quickly. Clara was brilliant, could crack a program, get into a piece of tech or hack a database in nothing flat and Bess—pin-up angel from heaven who could put you in your place faster than you could blink." Ianto smiled at the memory and sipped at his wine.

"To be honest, I was scared shitless when they told me I’d been picked for the team," he admitted, "but that eased up the first time they took me out and got me pissed."

"Ahh, the traditional welcoming ritual of seeing how much booze the new guy can hold before he passes out or reveals embarrassing things about himself," Jack grinned. "I’ve been responsible for more than a few of those in my past. Lansing sounds like a good guy—I can see some of that sort of style in you. You definitely don’t play as hard and fast with the rules as I do, but you sure as hell don’t have a pylon up your ass like Anders.

"Speaking of... how’s the face? I was less than impressed at the cheap shots he took, not that I can say much seeing as how I did the same myself once upon a time. Although those were deserved and, if I’m any judge of character, purposely provoked," Jack said pointedly as he set his wine glass down and shifted from the chair to sit on the coffee table directly in front of Jones. "May I?" he asked softly, not wanting to touch Jones without his permission.

Ianta winced internally at the admission that Jack had been there watching the bout, but he admitted to himself that he had known the other man would be. "What? Hit me?" he asked, sounding amused before scooting forward in his chair, supposing that this was a small price to pay—at least until Jack touched his chin, causing a tight curl of arousal to start coiling in his gut.

"Anders hits hard," he said to distract himself, "but he’s predictable—even the cheap shots. You were harder to duck, even considering how angry you were."

Jack’s fingers brushed lightly over the already swelling and discoloring flesh on his lover’s face—and yes, as far as he was concerned, Jones was already his lover—and winced as he felt the contusions. He ran the pad of his thumb over Jones’ split lip lightly. It was already scabbed over and had puffed slightly. "Was the Wild Boys’ honor satisfied, at least?" Jack reluctantly forced himself to draw back before he did something stupid—like kiss Jones.

Ianto sighed and leaned back, both relieved and not that the gentle touch had fallen away. "I’m sure you don’t agree with that way of handling disputes, but having it go through the team leads that way makes sure that most things are resolved by the parties involved. It happens less than you think. This—Anders was spoiling for a fight; I wouldn’t be surprised if they make an official run for the Alpha spot in the near future."

"Not a chance in hell of that," Jack growled softly. "I guess this is as good a time as any to warn you that there’s going to be an email waiting for all of Field Operations when you get in tomorrow morning. And..." Jack paused a moment, collecting his thoughts so that he could explain properly.

"I have to be two people right now, Jones, whether I like it or not. Tonight I’m just the man who wants to be your lover—and yeah, I know I have to prove it, but I haven’t changed my mind at all. Tomorrow, however, Captain Harkness is going to want to see the team leads of both Alpha and Charlie to have a little discussion on what will be considered acceptable means of dispute resolution on a go-forward basis. There won’t be any fallout this time, but from now on? From now on these things will be handled my way and through my office. I don’t need my operatives unable to work in an emergency situation because they beat the shit out of each other the night before."

"Understandable," Ianto answered as he took in Jack’s comments, choosing not to respond to the reminder that Harkness was pursuing him. "Your division, your rules. Honestly, I was expecting that when you showed up here."

"Nope. I’m trying to keep my personal life personal and separate from work as much as possible. I know I can’t stop the rumors of favoritism, but I can at least try to mitigate them. I was worried about you. Oh, I had no doubt you’d be the one left standing; I know what you’re capable of," Jack half-grinned, "but I don’t like seeing you hurt, Jones. Guess you’re not the only one who wants to protect the people they care about."

Realizing he’d let this get deeper than he’d intended, Jack slid off the coffee table and returned to his previous position on the sofa, giving them both a little breathing room. Taking a large gulp of wine to calm his racing nerves, Jack pasted on an easy-going smile and changed the subject. "So, they took the new kid out and got him pissed, hunh? How sick were you the next day?"

Having long since learned that dealing with Harkness was like dealing with the chameleon exterminator—they changed to fit their surroundings—Ianto rolled with the change of topic. "Don’t ask—and of course, Bob ran us through the training grounds first thing that morning. It wasn’t a pretty sight." He smiled warmly at the memory.

"Sounds like a man I could respect," Jack laughed easily. "I could tell you some stories... but it might be weird, so I won’t."

It took a second, but then Ianto realized that Jack was talking about the other version of him, and yes, he admitted to himself, it would be somewhat odd to hear. "What happened... it was no one’s fault. Bad case of wrong place, wrong time," he said quietly. "It was sheer luck I didn’t get hit, still don’t know how that happened. One minute we were all there; the next, I was picking myself up off the ground, and they were gone."

"Owen and Tosh died because… because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they knew me. Owen was trapped in a nuclear power plant, and the core went into meltdown. The room he was in was flooded with irradiated coolant. Tosh was gut shot. She stayed alive long enough to try and talk Owen through averting the meltdown, but there was a power spike. She had to listen to him die—she was in love with him," Jack remembered sadly.

"In my old universe Torchwood agents were always young because they never survived long. I wasn’t always with Torchwood, but I was with them for about a hundred years, give or take. I’ve had to put a lot of bodies into the vaults beneath Torchwood Three, bodies that had been my friends, teammates—even lovers on occasion. I’d like to be able to say it gets easier, but it doesn’t. You just learn to live with it."

"I suppose we have it easier here," Ianto mused, going to take a drink and realizing his glass was empty. Standing, he started to walk over to the wet bar. "Care for a refill?" he asked before continuing, "We’ve mostly had to deal with small bits of tech slipping through—at least until the Rift opened more."

Jack held out his empty glass with a grin. "Chateau LaTour has always been a favorite of mine. And you’ve had it easier with the Cardiff Rift, true, but it’s all relative, isn’t it? We may have had a bigger Rift, but Earth also had the Doctor, and me, and a handful of other humans who’d had their eyes opened and friendly alien races who wanted to help and/or look out for Earth, so my old universe at least had some foreknowledge and help figuring things out . Torchwood here had to do it blind until Rose showed up with John not far behind. That seems pretty damned hard to me."

"I suppose," Ianto mused, picking up the bottle and carrying it back over, refilling Jack’s glass before adding to his own. He set the half-empty bottle down on a coaster and settled back into the chair. "There’s always a difference between what you think you can handle and what you really can."

"Humans are amazing—I mean really amazing," Jack replied earnestly. "You always grow and learn and handle things that you never thought you could. You never let anything stop you; you’re always asking the questions, striving for the answers of why and how, and when you get one set of answers, you ask more questions. There’s just something so resilient, so wonderful about humanity. I’m in awe of this planet. The people of Earth are absolutely fearless in their quest for knowledge—full steam ahead and damn the consequences and all that," Jack grinned.

"Are you saying you aren’t human?" Ianto asked curiously.

"I’m not sure really," Jack admitted with a shrug. "I think so, at least half human. I just never found the time to do the research to back it up. I was, or I will be, born in the 51st century. By that time humanity has used up all the natural resources on the planet and has dispersed into space to resettle on planets like New Earth. We’ve met other humanoid races, and there’s been a lot of interbreeding. There isn’t anyone left who is ‘pure human’. I grew up on the Boeshane Peninsula in an Earth colony. One of my aunts had pale blue skin and the most startling cornflower-colored eyes—god, they were gorgeous. Whether she was an aunt by marriage or by blood I couldn’t tell you. Actually, I couldn’t tell you a lot about my past—the Time Agency wiped huge chunks of my memory, so things are a bit foggy," Jack shrugged. "And there’s not a whole helluva lot I can do about it now."

"Even knowing what I know, hearing you talk about ‘will be born’ gives my mind a turn," Ianto admitted ruefully. "Time travel—it’s a fascinating subject—oh, and the lads have some sketched together ideas for your doomsday protocols that they want to show you."

"Later in the week, when things cool down a bit," Jack promised. "And just wait until I introduce Milligan to the wonderful world of chronon particles. They’re probably among the things that he can’t identify in my blood—and yes, I know he has a sample of it—it’s what makes time travel easier to take. It’s hard on a body when you do it without transportation. This," Jack held up his wrist strap, "lets me—or used to let me. The Doctor disabled that part of it to make sure I couldn’t follow him. Apparently being a fixed point around a Time Lord is like being, oh I don’t know, like being a rocking chair in a room full of long-tailed cats—they just don’t like it."

"Doc seems to have gotten over that," Ianto pointed out. "That must be the Donna part of him because she certainly enjoys being in your vicinity." He offered a slight smile at the last, careful not to let it pull at his lip.

"I think it has more to do with the fact that John is one hundred percent human despite coming from a Gallifreyan body part. He has one heart, and he can’t regenerate. Gallifreyans have two hearts, and when their cells start to die, they can be ‘reborn’, so to speak. The man you know as Doc doesn’t look anything like the Doctor I met the first time I ever ran into him and Rose. It’s a long story; maybe I’ll tell you some time."

"Tease," Ianto shot back without heat. "As bad as Jake was when we first met, offering up tidbits about the other universe but not putting out."

"I eventually put out. I promise," Jack chuckled softly "You know how you said you wanted to make sure I knew exactly who I was with before…" he trailed off in order to let Jones fill in his own blanks. "It goes both ways, Jones. I need some reassurances too before I bare all my secrets. Rose and John are the only ones who know that story, and that’s because Rose lived it with me, and John has all of the Doctor’s memories, so it’s almost like he lived it with me.. The thing is, I could stand in front of the entirety of Torchwood stark naked and not feel as exposed as that story leaves me," Jack said simply.

Ianto nodded thoughtfully at that as he sipped his wine. "Fair enough, though from what I understand about you, you’d enjoy standing naked in front of the staff—and most of us would enjoy the sight as well."

"Not all of the staff," Jack replied with a grimace, thinking of Anders. "There’s an old saying—pretty is as pretty does. Anders—not pretty! But you can see me naked any time you want; all you have to do is ask."

"Oh, now that’s just wrong, bringing up Henry and naked in the same breath," Ianto laughed. "Good thing we weren’t eating, or it would have turned my stomach."

Jack chuckled, leaning back and sinking more comfortably into the couch. "Yeah, that is a rather stomach-turning thought, isn’t it?" Taking a sip of wine, he rolled his neck and let go of the night’s earlier tension. "I prefer to think of much more palatable things. Like blue eyes and brown hair and a pissy attitude."

"Don’t let Ross know that; he might run scared."

"Nah, he’s safe; he may be pissy with blue eyes, but… they’re not the right shade of blue, I’m afraid. And he’s more snarky than pissy. Reminds me of Owen, actually."

Ianto chuckled at that and shrugged. "Well, since it seems it’s my eyes you’re speaking of, sadly, you probably won’t be seeing them for a week or so."

"I have a pretty good memory," Jack replied easily. "Besides, if they’re that swollen shut, I won’t be as worried about getting caught out ogling."

"Ahh, but someone will see you, and then I’ll hear of it," Ianto shot back, enjoying the give and take of the conversation.

"Damn, I guess I’ll have to step up that timetable to have security cameras installed in the locker rooms so I can just perv at you from the comfort of my office."

Ianto burst into laughter, only to have the sound turned into a pained groan as his bruised ribs twinged. "That sounds like harassment, boss."

Jack’s smile fell and then came back, this time a little softer and a little sadder. "Not the first time I heard that," he husked, blinking back the sharp hit of moisture. "Guess I’m just being true to my inherent nature. Then again, do I really want to risk the chance that I might see Anders naked... that’s a tough call."

The abrupt switch in the other man’s demeanor told Ianto just where he’d heard that before, and he sighed as he sobered. "Rough call, that one. Of course you might see Tommy’s tattoo, and you could chalk off the last of Alpha team."

"With all due respect, I’d rather not chance Dr. Jones’ wrath on that one," Jack chuckled. "I don’t know about this Martha, but the one I knew has one hell of a right hook when she’s pissed."

"So you said before," Ianto smiled. "And I nearly found out if she had one when we all went and got the tattoos right after we won our spot."

Jack rubbed his jaw in playful reminiscence. "Some things just stick with you more than others. I’m surprised though; they’re quite sexy. I don’t know if I’d get one myself, or if they’d even stay on me since every time I ‘die’ my cells tend to revert back to… well, revert back to the original state they were in when I became a fixed point. But on other people? Hot."

"I think it was the fact that I delivered him home plastered out of his mind," Ianto laughed. "It was a good night. And if you ever decide to try one, I can give you the name of a girl that does great work."

Jack thought about it for a moment and then shook his head. "Nah, reminds me too much of one of the ways I died during this one year that never actually existed to anyone but a handful of people. Harold Saxon, what a bastard. He was actually a Time Lord who called himself the Master. Apparently he was driven mad by looking into the Untempered Schism, whatever the hell that is—I only got the short version of the story—and was pretty much on the same page as the Daleks—except he wanted to destroy everything, himself included. Suffice it to say he was bad news, and I got to spend an oh so delightful year in his company as his personal play toy slash torture victim. When he wasn’t being batshit crazy and trying to destroy everything else, he spent a great deal of time that year coming up with new and creative ways of killing me to see if I really would keep coming back. One of them involved needles. Lots of needles."

Ianto stared at him at that revelation, the bruised flesh of his face firming as his jaw tightened. "Please tell me he’s dead," he said, his voice rough.

"I think so—at least I was told he was dead. Time Lords are a tricky business though. But either way he’s not in this universe, so it’s not like I can do anything about it even if he wasn’t dead," Jack said with a casual shrug. "You get used to dying, as bad as that sounds. It’s the coming back that hurts the most."

"Then try to avoid shooting yourself to prove a point," Ianto said dryly, filling their glasses again and emptying the bottle.

"Well, if some people weren’t so damned hard headed about believing what they were told, I wouldn’t have had to do that, would I?" Jack replied mildly, quirking an eyebrow pointedly.

"Fine, just don’t do it again."

"Yes, boss," Jack replied, saluting smartly, then grinned. "It’s not like I do it on purpose, Jones, but if it comes down to me dying over someone who can’t come back, then I’ll gladly take the pain. It’s worth it—you’re worth it."

Ianto leaned forward in his chair and rested his elbows on his knees while shaking his head. "You make it damn hard to argue with you, Harkness."

Jack’s grin was entirely unrepentant. "I know," he agreed. "But if you actually stopped trying, I’d be worried. So, you told me what the Torchwood tattoo was for, why the triple galaxy and what for?" Jack knew he was fishing, and he knew he should leave and let the younger man rest, but… dammit, it had been almost impossible to pin Jones down like this, especially since he was being so easy and laid back right now. Jack couldn’t help but take advantage of it. The more knowledge he had to aid him in his little quest to woo fair Jones the better.

"Because I always wanted to know what was out there," Ianto admitted. "I got it while at university."

"It’s gorgeous. Bet you never thought you’d find out quite this way?"

"Hardly, though it’s strange that what brought this Torchwood to this point was human intervention. If it wasn’t for Lumic, Rose would never ended up here, and she made the institution what it is."

Jack burst into laughter at that. "Rose Tyler manages to find trouble even when she has to cross universes to do so! But yeah," he continued, sobering "she is one hell of a woman. And a very good friend."

"And a good boss—well, one of them."

"Yeah, John is pretty impressive too," Jack agreed. "But then again, he’s got a pretty big advantage over most people, all things considered."

"You’re going to make me say it, aren’t you?" Ianto chuckled. "You’re pretty good as well, even when you are a fuckwit."

Startled, Jack looked at the younger man. "I never even thought about me, to be perfectly honest. I... it’s what I do, who I am," he said simply.

"I suppose that means you’re a good man then—and no, I’m not trying to get out of the more-than-likely public dressing down that’s in my future."

"I’m more like a penitent man, truth be told. When Rose and the Doctor first met me, I was a time-traveling conman—I roamed time and space looking for easy marks and using my looks, charm and my umh, genetically enhanced pheromones, to do what I wanted, get what I wanted and weasel my way out of trouble when I got caught. I was anything but a good man. I was a fun man, but I wasn’t good. Rose and the Doctor changed me, for the better I’d like to think, and protecting Earth gave me a purpose and a reason to do the right thing. I can honestly say I like the man I am today. Oh, I’ve made some really bad choices, but for the most part, I can look back on my ‘after’ life and say I’ve done more good than harm with only a few glaring mistakes. Pretty good percentages so far, don’t you think?"

Ianto’s eyebrows rose at the pheromones comment, but he didn’t address it. "I’d say that’s all most of us hope for, to do more good than harm. There’s no one perfect; I learned that early."

"Well, if I’d learned that as fast as you did, I wouldn’t be here now, so I guess I can’t complain about my, shall we say, eclectic past too much."

"More the better for all of us," Ianto smiled. "Though I might remind you of that if you ever say I did something stupid."

"I have a feeling that you’re going to be my biggest watchdog, Jones," Jack chuckled, getting to his feet. "And on that note, I’ve probably overstayed my welcome, as you need to get some rest before you have to face that bastard of a boss you have. I enjoyed getting to know you a little better. Maybe we can do it again some time?"

Ianto rose as well and walked with Jack toward the door. "Without the beatdown first, right?" he asked, smiling slightly as he opened the door. "And thank you for the wine, Harkness, I enjoyed it and the conversation. It was... enlightening."

Fighting the urge to lean in and kiss the man once more, Jack did give in to the temptation to touch his bruised cheek ever so lightly. "I’d say I’ll see you in the morning, but the sad fact of it is that you very likely won’t see me," he chuckled softly. "Sleep well, Jones, or at least sleep pain free."

Pulling his hand back and stuffing both of them into his jean pockets to stop himself from reaching out and holding Jones steady for a kiss, Jack backed up a pace. "Now humor a slightly paranoid man, and go back inside, and lock your door. I know you can take care of yourself, but I’m kind of old fashioned."

Dark eyebrows winged upward as much as they were able before Ianto sighed and shook his head. "And you call me a den mother," he muttered, stepping back inside his condo, and, after raising his hand in farewell to Harkness, shut the door and loudly locked it.

Jack laughed and called out so that Jones could hear him through the door. "We’ve already established that I’m the father, remember?" Turning on his heel, Jack walked down the corridor to the bank of elevators, whistling an old war ditty and feeling much more confident that he was actually getting it right this time around.

Chapter 20

Captain Jack Harkness, head of Torchwood Field Operations, was in the office earlier than normal and desperately missing the military dress he used to sport like his personal shield; Doc’s polymer armor would be his next choice, but he’d foolishly not bothered to request it—and wouldn’t Jones have his head on a platter if the younger man knew that, Jack thought with a nervous chuckle as he tugged uncomfortably at the collar of the dress shirt he was wearing. The formal black suit and black dress shirt made him feel like a mortician, although from the number of comments and pick up attempts he’d received when he’d made his normal daily detour for two cups of coffee, he had to admit that his self perception might be a little off the mark on this one.

The cup of coffee that was his sat untouched on his desk as he fought to put Jack into his box so that the head of Field Ops could deliver the dressing down to two of his team leads that was more than deserved, given the events of the night before. Jones would be arriving in the next five minutes or so, habitually half an hour early to work. Anders would stagger in ten minutes after that. He couldn’t quite make the full half hour, and Jack had noted during his many mornings of silent observation from his office window which looked down into the field ops pit, more often than not Anders would shoot daggers at Jones for being better at just one more thing than he was.

Jack decided to give them fifteen minutes to read and process the new directives and then another twenty to stew. Well, if he was honest with himself, the extra twenty minutes was for Anders to stew since Jones already knew what was coming. Once the allotted time was up, he would have Donna page both men over the loudspeaker with the order to report to the captain’s office immediately. So if ‘Jack’ wasn’t locked down by then, he’d have to simply improvise, but either way, Harkness was tearing a strip off both Jones and Anders, and he’d make sure that all of field ops was aware of it happening.

"Christ, you look like shit," Jake said as he leaned a hip against the side of Ianto’s desk. "Tell me it at least got you laid last night."

The other man laughed roughly at that, wincing as he took a sip of his coffee, feeling the heat against his sore mouth. "Not hardly, got me a visit from the boss though," he murmured.

"Really? C’mon, spill," Jake coaxed, all smiles and speculation. Now wouldn’t that just be a total mind fuck? His exes hooking up when one of the exes had been in love with another version of the other. Talk about your twists and turns!

"Read your e-mail for the major part of it," Ianto suggested, leaving out the bottle of wine and the conversation they had had. "As for the rest, Harkness isn’t thrilled with the annual Torchwood cage brawl, so I’m expecting–" He was cut off as Donna’s voice came over the PA, effectively ordering him and Anders to Jack’s office. "Fill Ross and Tom in, would you—and have Tom have an ice pack ready; I expect my ass is going to need it after this." Getting to his feet, he squared his shoulders and headed for Harkness’ office, following Anders, who seemed determined to get there first. Of course, when he walked in, his swollen eyes widened as much as possible, and he fought the inane urge to lick his lips at the sight of the head of Torchwood Field Ops—the Boss was definitely here today.

"Sir, if you would allow me to explain," Henry Anders began, only to be cut off by Jack slamming his open hands down onto the desk.

"Did I give you leave to speak, Anders?" he hissed, glaring at Charlie’s head operative. "No? I didn’t think so." Jack was well aware that the door to his office was still wide open and that Donna had ‘accidentally’ left her PA on so that everyone in the division was getting an earful.

"Let me make this perfectly clear. I don’t give a flying fuck about your excuses. Either of your excuses! Whatever privileges or leeway field operatives may have been afforded in the past ceased to exist the moment I took command. Get it through your thick skulls here and now that I make the rules around here, and I have more than enough field experience to back up any and all decisions I make as well as the full support and confidence of the two other heads of Torchwood. In other words, I’m fucking God, got it? Any differences you have, any issues between teams go through me and me alone.

"What would happen if for some insane reason we were invaded today or the Rift decided to split wide open or we were invaded by Daleks or Cybermen or who the fuck knows what, and two of my team leads were not fit for duty because they’d beaten the shit out of each other the night before in some pissing contest over I don’t give a rat’s ass what! And don’t tell me it can’t happen; I’ve lived through it—four fucking times in the past three years before coming here, not to mention the little incident of Lumic and his Cybermen and the weakening of the walls of the worlds that had some of your people jumping into my universe to lend a hand," Jack shot off, voice dripping sarcasm. "So tell me, Messrs. Jones and Anders, what would my options be with two men down? And how would you feel if I sent your people out without you and they died because of you were in no condition to lead because of your fucking pissing contest? Answer me that!

"If this ever happens again, be it here or on civilian ground—and I will know about it, make no mistake about that—the person or persons who instigated such a match will find themselves suspended without pay, temporarily removed from the team lead position and will face a very thorough and harsh review regarding their competence to lead a field team. Not only that, their teams will find themselves in Cardiff for a fortnight scouring the sewers for any signs of Weevils while their leads are suspended and will be made aware of exactly why they have the assignment and who is to blame. Do I make myself clear, gentlemen?"

"Yes, sir," Ianto said calmly though, even with advance notice of the dressing down to come, it stung, and the logic hit close to home.

"Yes, sir," Anders grated, his jaw clenched.

"Consider yourselves both on notice that I will be paying very close attention to the interactions between Alpha and Charlie teams for the foreseeable future. Now get out of my sight. Dismissed!"

The two men turned as one, Anders walking quickly out of the office and Ianto following behind. There was a flurry of activity as those in the pit hurried to look as if they hadn’t been listening. Remaining focused straight ahead of himself, Ianto approached his desk, aware that his team was all standing there. Tom caught him by the shoulder and gently turned him around, clucking under his breath as he did so.

"It’s still there, but it looks as it’s hanging by a thread," he mused.

"Just so you know, it went over the PA as well," Ross said quietly, causing Ianto to groan to himself.

"Well, that means everyone knows what to expect if they come up against him," he sighed. "At least Anders can’t say I got preferential treatment this time."

"Which probably was part of the reason why he did it," Jake offered. "He’s fair, even when giving you a proper coring, I’ll give him that. But damned if he didn’t have some spot-on points."

"Didn’t say I disagreed with him," Ianto said, his tone mild.

"Bianca’s going to be pissed she missed it," Ross murmured.

"Somehow I think a feed will get up to Cardiff," Ianto pointed out, reaching for his coffee and grimacing when he saw it had grown cold.

"Wouldn’t put it past the same someone who left the PA on to make sure that it was being fed up to Cardiff too," Tom pointed out wryly. "He wanted us to hear everything, no doubt of that."

"Yeah, and he wanted to make sure he knew we were being watched too—and there he is, standing on high glaring down at us. Guess it’s our cue to get back to it then," Ross grumbled, knocking Ianto lightly on the shoulder as he passed by on the way to his own desk.

"Well, on the plus side, Charlie team is too busy burying their noses in their desks to be glaring at us any more," Jake pointed out cheerfully. "So it could have been worse—I mean we could have had to apologize or something obscene like that!"

"Now that would have been cruel and unusual punishment," Tom shuddered.

"True that," Ianto nodded. "And go read the memo Harkness sent out you lot; it details how disputes will be handled as well as how challenges for lead team will be run. Sounds like there are going to be more games of ‘hunt Harkness’ in our future."

"Then we’ll have no worries keeping top spot, will we," Jake said with a cocky grin but nonetheless did what he was told and thereby missed the instant messaging box that popped up on Ianto’s computer.

I hope your boss wasn’t too much of a bastard’

Ianto shook his head and glanced up toward Harkness’ office before giving in and smiling. Compartmentalization, the boss had it down to a science.

Well, my coffee’s cold, but he did have some good points and according to Tom, my ass is still attached to my body so I’d say he wasn’t too bad.’

Find an excuse to be outside the front door in twenty—there’s a delivery on its way for you. It’s called Bourbon Street blend, btw, and you can only get it at one place. Not telling you where though.

Is this a cup or a bag of beans?’

A cup. You don’t think I’d give up my little ritual, do you? Besides the barista is this hot little Norwegian number with piercings in some fascinating places—not that I’ve seen, she’s shared the information freely in hopes of reciprocation that never came’

Be careful, she might spit in your cup the next time you order out of spite—and didn’t I see a directive about not using Torchwood equipment for personal reasons? I may have to report you to my boss.’

In his office Jack threw back his head and laughed. It looked like he was forgiven, at least.

I’m not afraid of your boss—I hear he’s hot and I happen to like a good reaming every now and again.’

That’s not what I’ve heard,’ Ianto typed back.

Jack paused at that. He’d only ever topped with Jake, and the one time he and Jones had been together, he’d topped again, so yeah, he supposed that was what Jones would expect of him. Time to change the perception but first... ’What, your boss isn’t hot?

As for the other—that’s not necessarily the whole truth. It simply depends on the partner. I had some issues to work through but I’ve done that now and I’ve realized that what a very smart man once said to me is true. The source of my issues wouldn’t want me to live my life like that. He’d want me to move on, find love again. He simply didn’t want me to forget him and that won’t be a problem either. He changed my life for the better and I’ll always be thankful that I had the opportunity to know and love him but it’s time for me to live my life again. And just so we’re clear on it, Jones, I want to do that with you.’

Ianto rubbed his forehead carefully as he read the IM and glanced up toward Harkness’ office before answering. ’One day at a time, all right?’

Jack paused and frowned. He knew he shouldn’t have added that last part; he’d come on too heavy, damnit. But as the English were so fond of saying, in for a penny in for a pound. ’All right. But to clarify, if all I can ever have is friendship it’ll be enough. I like you, damnit. You make me feel 200 again!’

The last part of the response drew a chuckle from Ianto as he read it. ’Glad to hear it and glad you understand—and now I need to get back to work before my hard ass boss comes down on me again.’

Jack sighed but knew that Jones was right. It was time for him to be a hard ass again. Besides, he had a meeting in twenty minutes with John to go over some new ideas for the ‘Torchwood Zone’ as Rose had playfully dubbed the commandeered decommissioned base. ’Yeah, me too. I have to come up with some new hunting traps for a special project I’m working on. Don’t forget to go get your coffee—it’ll be here in,’ Jack checked his watch, ‘eight minutes.’

Gotcha, and I’m looking forward to seeing it. Jones out.’ Ianto closed the IM and rose, pausing to talk to Tom for a moment before heading out of the pit. When he returned with the promised coffee, Jack’s office was empty, and he settled in to work, developing a broad outline for his own contribution to the doomsday protocols.

"Right then, we have a slight situation developing in Gunnersbury. Young lad, about fourteen, is growing scales and suddenly likes to eat his steak and kidney pie raw. Mum’s a little freaked out by it, understandable really. Anyhow, I’m going to send Dr. Jones’ team in, but I wanted you to have one of the field ops teams on stand by just in case the little blighter decides to devolve suddenly. Got to go tell Martha now. Ta!"

Jack only had time to blink as Doc blazed in and blazed out again after delivering his far too cheerful message. "Hi, John, bye, John, sure thing, John… a kid is growing scales? Jesus—why me?" Jack groaned and picked up his tablet pen and, with a few taps, pulled up the field ops roster. "And the lucky winner in the active pool is... shit. Of course it is. Donna, get the Wild Boys up here, will ya?" he called out through his open office door. He never had gotten used to using the damned intercom, and this way he also promoted that whole ‘open door policy’ that Rose was always encouraging, so... it worked.

Within minutes Alpha team was standing before Jack’s desk, looking expectant, as if they knew they were about to be released on a task. "What’s up, Boss?" Ross asked curiously.

"Something fun, right?" Jake chimed in, the lack of an alarm telling them it wasn’t critical.

"You know, I sometimes tell myself that, considering how long I’ve lived, the universe has to be done throwing curve balls my way. And then one catches me right between the eyes." Jack shook his head in amazement.

"Doc is sending in a med team to Gunnersbury and wants back up just in case things go sideways. Apparently there’s a teenaged boy who, instead of growing zits like any normal pubescent male in the 21st century, is growing scales. Oh and he’s eating his steak and kidney pie raw, much to his mother’s disgust. Fatigues and standard issue weapons with a few exotics in the SUV and carry your armor patches just in case. Take those modified PDAs of yours just in case, and try not to blow up the neighborhood; people get testy when we do that."

"Understood," Ianto nodded with a hint of a smile. "No blowing up the neighborhood." Seeing as Jack had no more information for them, the team waited until they were dismissed, turned and headed out of the office.

"I thought that was supposed to make you go blind, not scaly," Jake snickered as they walked toward the armory, signing out their weapons, and then to the garage.

"Armor on," Ianto stated. "Better to be safe."

"You lot certainly took your time." The speaker was standing just outside the door to the garage.

"Blame the Boss, Martha," Ross objected. "Not us."

"Oh, so it’s Jack’s fault, is it?" she asked, eyeing them knowingly. "Come on, you lot, we need to check this out before young Roger Leeds eats the neighbor’s cat."

"She’s so damn bossy," Jake muttered as Martha and her partner Jacob Reese climbed into their vehicle.

"And don’t I love it," Tom murmured.

"So, you two set a date yet?" Ross asked as he slapped on his armor. "No, let me rephrase. Has she told you what the date is going to be, yet?"

"We’re looking at places, so it depends on what dates are available," Tom admitted to the other team members’ amused laughter.

"You’ll make a lovely blushing bride, Tommy," Ianto snickered as Jake steered the SUV out onto the streets, following Martha’s vehicle.

"Just you lot wait, you’ll all be escorting grannies to their seats."

"Just so long as I don’t get her mum," Jake piped up. "No offense to your darling beloved but that woman is a harridan! You need to ask Jack to be one of your ushers and let him escort her to her seat. Then again, I’m not sure that even Jack’s amazing charm could win that piranha over!"

"Good thing the old bat moved to Blackpool last year; otherwise, she might ‘want to help’ more," Ross commented. "Y’know, she kind of reminds me of that exterminator we ran into in Cardiff—same friendly manner!"

"You all do realize that we’re on the same com frequency," Martha cut in, sounding more amused than anything else. "I should be pissed with you lot, maligning my mother like that."

"Shite," Tom cursed succinctly. "Sorry, MJ, I’d muzzle them if I could, but Jake might like it too much."

"Hey! I resemble that comment," Jake laughed and stuck out his tongue at the vehicle in front of him. "And no distracting the driver, you lot."

"I think Ross should have the pleasure of escorting my mother to her seat," Martha mused out loud. "And since I’m the one telling people what they do, I can make it happen."

"Have him escort Rose as well," Jacob put in, making the youngest Alpha team member yelp.

"Sounds like he doesn’t want to do that, Martha," Ianto observed. "Guess it’ll fall to Jake or me."

Jake chuckled. "I’d probably be the safest one—not that our Ianto would dream of hitting on his boss. Far too by the book, eh mate?" he teased his friend, nudging him with an elbow.

"Right then," Tom interrupted loudly, "anything more you can tell us about our scale-growing teen? Doctor Jones?"

"Unfortunately, I know as much as you do—well okay, perhaps a little more since I read the report the clinic sent us. Leeds, Roger, Caucasian male, age fourteen, DOB August 2, 1998, came into the local clinic last night with an unknown rash," Martha said through the com, as if she was reading directly from the report. "Mother, Carolyn, was visibly shaken and made comment that the patient had demanded she not cook his pie for dinner and not to bother with chips or veg—he just wanted raw steak and raw kidneys, nothing else. The on call report says that the patient presented a strange dermatitis of the skin consisting of what looked to be scales surrounding what appeared to be a bite mark. Also noted in the file was that the whites of the patient’s eyes had a decidedly yellow cast to them and the pupil appeared to be slightly elongated. On call recommended a rash cream and then as soon as the patient was discharged, completed his report and faxed it to us."

"Damn, that sounds like there’s a genetic mutation underway caused by whatever bit him," Tom whistled.

"Got it in one, lover."

"You two have your armor?" Ianto cut in.

"Why?" Jacob asked, and Ianto’s sigh could be heard over the frequency.

"Biting, genetic mutation? You want to end up scaly with a craving for raw offal?"

"It’s under control, Ianto," Martha promised him. "Scales don’t go with white satin."

"Martha, you’re making Tom drool," Ross groaned.

"Well, then I guess I shouldn’t mention that it may be white satin for the wedding, but it will be black lace for the honeymoon," Martha laughed wickedly over the com.

"MJ, you’re killing me here!" Tom groaned, banging his head on the back of the seat.

"Unmanned by black lace—it’s a sad, sad thing," Ross snickered.

"Keep it up, Jenkins," Tom threatened with a growl. "Just so you know—that antivenin made you quite the little chatterbox. I know things about you that God himself wouldn’t!"

"The hell you say!"

"Mr. Tiddlewinks," Tom answered smugly.

"Shite," Ross gasped. "Okay, shutting up now."

"Oh, I so want to know," Jake snickered.

"Bribery will get you everywhere," Tom chuckled as Ross groaned.

"Save it, boys and girls," Ianto announced as they pulled up in front of a modest two-storey dwelling on a quiet suburban street. "Martha, you can have the lead as long as our darling Roger hasn’t gone mental," he continued as they all climbed out of the vehicles.

"Oh, thank you for your permission, Ianto," she cooed, making him grin wryly.

"Just doing my job, ma’am," he replied in a horrid attempt at a Texas accent, giving her a cheeky bow as she and Jacob walked past Alpha team, making their way up the walk to the door.

~ tbc

 

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