Chapter 1 ~ Chapter 2 ~ Chapter 3 ~ Chapter 4 ~ Chapter 5 ~ Chapter 6 ~ Chapter 7 ~ Chapter 8 ~ Chapter 9 ~ Chapter 10 ~ Chapters 11-20 ~ Chapters 21-27

Art by kasu_chan

Headnote addition: 

The End Is Where We Begin I
Metal Tears for the Tin Man

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 1

"Thereís one thing I always wanted to ask Jack, back in the old days. I wanted to know about that Doctor of his, the man who appears out of nowhere and saves the worldóexcept sometimes he doesnít. All those times in history when there was no sign of him, I wanted to know why not. But I donít need to ask anymore. I know the answer now. Sometimes the Doctor must look at this planet and turn away in shame. Iím recording this in case anyone ever finds it so you can seeÖ you can see how the world ended."

The Doctor rewatched the tape for the hundredth time, all the while letting the TARDIS download the histories of Gwen Cooper, Ianto Jones, Jack Harkness and the events of 2009. Heíd come to 2509 for a little R&R and decided to look up Torchwood histories for a larkóafter all, Torchwood was where Jack was and had provided him so much amusement over the yearsóheíd thought he could do with a bit of a laugh with dinner. Of course he hadnít expected to find Gwenís video message on the public archivesÖ which had only piqued his insatiable curiosity.

The TARDIS suddenly let out a peculiar little whine that had him diverting his attention from the video to the monitor. "Ianto Jones, born August 28, 1983--died March 15, 2009. That canít be right! Ianto was supposed to live for at leastÖ wait, whatís this? The 456, what in the name of the Infernal Schism happened?" the Doctor muttered to himself, delving deeper, bypassing security protocols with childlike ease as he dug for the truthÖ

Only to do the one thing he thought heíd never do. He pointed his TARDIS towards the one fixed point in the universeóJack Harkness.

Jack wasnít sure what planet he was on, other than it was one of the pleasure planets in the Oskator system. It was dark on the planet for almost twenty hours a day, allowing only ten short hours of gloaming, and it suited both the pleasure trade and Jackís soul, he thought as he knocked back another glass of extremely potent alcohol. The club was all glitter and gloss, but underneath all the pretty it reeked of despair and deathÖ just like him. What was it Byron once said? And Jack should knowóhe slept with the bastardóoh yeah.

"íNameless, yet thus omnipotent, which here
Walkíst in the shadow of the midnight hour
With a deep awe, yet all distinct from fear;
Thy haunts are ever where the dead walls rear
Their ivy mantles, and the solemn scene
Derives from thee a sense so deep and clear
That we become a part of what has been,
And grow unto the spot, all-seeing but unseen.í

"Even sounds like me, donít you thinkÖ Doctor?"

"I highly doubt youíre ever unseen, Jack," the Doctor commented as he sat down, waving away the waitress and taking Jackís drink from his hand the next time the other man set it down.

"But do they see the real me? Do they see the perfect face and the far too attractive smile; do they smell the fifty-first century pheromones and all the allure; or do they see the dead man, sad man, murderer and thief?" Jack asked with a bitter smile. "Iím the proverbial honey trap of a black hole that sucks all that gravitates towards me into oblivion. Iíve buried so many, watched them all die but IaÖ Ianto," Jackís voice shattered like glass on metal, "Ianto and then Steven. One I watched die; the other I killed. Have you found a way for me to die yet, Doctor?" he asked, switching subjects at whiplash speed.

"Is it better to die or better to find another reason to live?" the Doctor asked, the weight of the Time Lordís own losses adding gravity to his words. "I know what happened to them. It shouldnít have; they shouldnít have been there, the race you called the 456; they should have been extinct."

"But they werenít, and IÖ I made a deal. I gave them ten kids, and they turned those kids into heroin, and like any addicted thugs, they came back for more. Because of me!!!!" Jack screamed, hurling the bottle next to him at the finito glass windows that let in the light of millions of rainbows reflected off the crystalline surface of the planet, a planet that looked oh so pretty but was completely devoid of any life due to the miasma of poisonous gases that made up its atmosphere.

Around him patrons shrieked in terror and fled towards the emergency exits. If that glass should crack, the poisonous atmosphere would seep in and kill every living thing in the room. Except Jack. Jack would come back, like the proverbial bad penny, like the cat that came back the very next day even though he was a gonerÖ Jack would still survive, still endure, still go on and on and on. Even when the universe ended, there he would be, in the vast empty void of infinity. A revenant of existence with an eternity of ghosts for company.

The bar slid into shrouded darkness as the security panels slid over the windows. What passed as planet security would be here soon, Jack thought with a dispassionate part of his brain. Maybe he should make that his new goal. See if he could get himself banned from every human-sustainable planet in the universe. Could be amusing for a while.

"And if you hadnít have done it?" the Doctor asked, having remained in the bar. "What would have happened then?"

"They wouldnít have stopped until they had ten percent of the children of the worldÖ and they would have kept coming back," Jack sighed. "Steven was my grandson. I murdered my childís child. What kind of a monster does that, Doctor?"

"One who wants to save a world and its people," was the quiet reply as the Doctor met Jackís gaze, his dark eyes full of his own memories of sacrifice.

"I canít do this anymore, Doctor. Iím not nearly as unselfish as you are. IÖ need a reason to go on, and I donít have it anymore. He asked me to remember him," Jack choked out, his laughter bordering on hysterical. "As if I could ever forget him. I never told him that I, oh God, that I loved him. Not when he was alive. But I did, I do, and God help me, I donít know if Iíll ever be able to stop loving him."

A hand closed on the lapel of Jackís greatcoat, and the Doctor hauled him to his feet. "And no one is asking you to stop; carry them in your heart, keep them alive. Weíre leaving now; come along." Keeping a firm hold on Jackís coat, he dragged the taller man toward the exit.

"Anyone ever tell you youíre a pushy man, Doctor?" Jack chuckled as his less than steady feet had him wobbling about like one of the Time Lordís infernal time loops.

"All the time, Captain," the Doctor laughed, steering Jack toward the TARDIS and inside. He pushed the other man into a chair and began to work the controls, sending them hurtling through time and space.

"Doesnít seem to deter you at all," Jack muttered and then turned green even though he didnít actually feel the TARDIS moving. He knew that it was hurtling through space and time at untraceable speeds, and that was all that was needed. "íScuse me," he muttered as he all but ran through the doors that led to the living quarters, hoping that the damned box hadnít rearranged itself while he was on Earth and that he could still find the way to the room that had been his so that he could throw up in private.

The Doctor watched him go, his expression turning concerned when Jack was out of sight. After a momentís thought, he worked the controls, selecting a general destination and assuring himself the TARDIS was on its way before walking back in the direction Jack had gone, sighing when he found the other man hunched over the toilet.

"I see you made it here at least."

"Nice tísee that it hasnít changed since the last time I was on it," Jack muttered, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand before getting shakily to his feet. "Marthaís married, by the way. Works for UNIT now. Wedding was nice, her familyís insane though."

The Doctorís smile turned wistful as he nodded. "The last time I checked, she was the retired head of UNIT and a great-grandmotheróher family was still insane."

"Must be nice to be able to leapfrog through time instead of having to live it day after plodding day," Jack sighed wistfully. "A great-grandmother, hunh?," Jack managed to get out without thinking about how heíd never have the chance to be a great-grandfather by his own actions. Heíd move on eventually; all pains dulled and became old wounds, and yet it felt different this time. "And she made head of UNIT no less. Go, Martha Jones. She always did have ambition. I was hoping sheíd come over to Torchwood and take Owenís place after heÖ but then again, at least with UNIT she got to live, didnít she?"

"That she did, as did the rest of the world."

"You keep saying that, and one day it will make a difference but not yet. Itís still too fresh, too raw. MI-5 blew me up, did I tell you that? Stuck a bomb in my stomach and I went ka-boom. Being knit back together didnít hurt this much. It couldnít have."

"Emotions are our greatest ally and our most terrible weakness," the Doctor nodded. "Itís only the strong who can go against what their heart tells them is right to do. What you have to decide, Jack, is whatís right for youóbut not right now, youíve had much too much to drink to be contemplating that. You need a bed and hopefully sleep. You wonít dream; the TARDIS can give you that."

"Hey, whaddya know, a silver lining." Jackís laugh was pained. "And Iíll wake up in the morning without so much as a hangover or an STD to show for the bender Iíve been on the last couple of months." Staggering into the room, Jack haphazardly stripped off his clothes and then caught up the RAF greatcoat, clutching it to his chest as if it were a life raft, or a security blanket, or possibly both. "Last thing he ever gave me," Jack murmured. "Gotta take care of this one. It has to last forever."

The Doctor gently took Jackís arm and guided him over toward the bed, tucking both man and coat under the covers. "Weíll look into helping you with that when you wake up. Now get some rest, Captain; you arenít alone."

"I know," Jack admitted. "Gwen said the same thing, but sheís got Rhys and the baby, and babies are... bad for me to be around right now, you know?" Jack sighed. "Iím sorry too, I know you understand better than anyone what itís like. You lost Rose. But at least sheís alive there, right? Thatís gotta be some comfort. At least your Rose is alive...somewhere." Jackís voice trailed off as he finally lost the fight and fell into a dreamless sleep thanks to the TARDIS.

"Somewhere," the Doctor murmured before a thoughtful look stole over his features. "And possibly..." After making sure Jack was asleep, he left the room, heading for the control room to put the beginnings of a plan into motion.

Rose Tyler-Smith looked up from the plans and schematics and shot a wicked grin at the man who was her best friend, her lover, her reason for being and, oh yeah, her husband. "It may not be the TARDIS, but itís bloody brilliant!" she grinned as she finally sussed out what heíd been working on. These were ĎDoctorí additions to the Valiant, the Doctor in question being the regenerated human version of the original Gallifreyan Doctor whoíd first swept Rose away after saving her from alien mannequins and torching the shop where sheíd worked at the same time. He called himself John Smith now, or Doctor Smith, or just ĎDocí, as he was affectionately known to the majority of the Torchwood staff and field ops teams.

The Valiant was a prototype helicarrier designed to Doctor Smithís specifications but with none of the extras that he wanted. The air ship was an international collaboration under the banner of the United Nations for use by Torchwood to help deal with the new reality of the world knowing for certain they were not alone in the universe. However, that being said, there were some things that the governments of the world didnít need to know, which was why Doc was currently redesigning some of the key systems in what was to become the Torchwood Armoured Rapid Deployment Inter-temporal Staffed Transport, or the TARDIS for short.

It had already been decided that Torchwood London would remain in command of all Torchwood operations and the other offices would answer to whomever Rose and Doc would appoint when they were gone on one of their jaunts. Cardiff would still have the Hub as it monitored the rift, or wormhole, that for some reason was anchored in Cardiff, Walesójust like the one in her old universe, smaller but no less bothersome. However, that was still some time away. For now she continued to watch John as he was adding some additional touches to his schematic for a large scale vortex manipulator.

Once Rose had twigged to what the schematic was for, it has been easy for her to figure out what her husband planned to do with it. He was going to build it and install it in the Valiant, thereby turning the flying command post into another TARDIS of sorts. And it was all thanks to that irrepressible reprobate Jack Harkness and his time agent wrist strap. Wouldnít he get a laugh out of that, if he only knew.

"Do we have what you need to build it here on Earth, or can we get it, do you think? Weíve got quite a few contacts throughout this galaxy now, thanks to being responsible for putting the universe back to the way it ought to be, oh great and glorious ĎOncoming Stormí."

"Oi! Are you saying I canít do it myself?" John huffed. "I think I deserve a kiss for that."

"Iím saying that even the Oncoming Storm has limitations without so much as a sonic screwdriver for screwing things," Rose snickered but reached across the table to catch hold of Docís tie and tug him half across it for a peck on the cheek. "Thatís just a sample, sir; we donít give our merchandise away for free, you know," Rose said in her best shopgirl voice. "However, I may be willing to take it out in tradeÖ say for finished schematics?"

"Oh, now thatís just cold, Rose. I mean, really nowówhat would, say, a rough draft get me?"

"A quickie in the bossís office. Oh, wait, I am the boss!" Rose finished with an over the top widening of her eyes. "So maybe Iíll let you sit in the chair and Iíll sit on you, then."

"You may want to tell Donna to knock off early thenóthat would honestly be too close to having a part of myself listening," Doc mused.

"Iím hoping all of you will be listening," Rose purred as she slowly backed away, her fingers sliding along Docís horrid tie as she did so. "How about you get rid of the lads and Iíll get rid of your better half," Rose laughed as she headed off to tell Donna to go get gussied up for her date with that hot emergency doctor sheíd met last week, Patinjali or something.

"Consider them gone," Doc murmured as he pulled off his glasses, tucking them in his suit pocket as he headed out to shoo off the field teams in the pit below the office area.

"God, I love it when he actually listens," Rose chuckled to herself as she headed through the glass doors that separated her assistant from the rest of the office and acted as a buffer zone between her office and the rest of the world. "Donna, go get dolled up for your doctor, and bugger off so I can have some fun with mine," Rose informed the opinionated redhead with a grin.

"Oi! If youíre gonna have sex in that office, I do not want to know!" Donna demanded with a shudder. "Itíd be like having sex with you míselfÖ I mean if I was his nibsÖ which I kind of am but Iím not. Oh whatever, Iím leaving. Donít leave body fluids behind!" she ordered as she breezed out of the door, her instructions as much to the man waiting to come in as to her boss.

"What do you care?" Doc called after her, "itís not as if youíd be cleaning them or anything. Now then, I believe you and I had an appointment with that large table..."

Rose looked up from the latest ĎWild Boysí report that sheíd been tutting over for the last half hour, thankful for the distraction of her husband walking into the office. "Thatís four Torchwood vehicles in as many months," she grimaced at Doc. "Iím running out of excuses as to why the Ďcompanyí vehicles keep ending up squashed, set on fire, irradiated or blown up with alien technology. I wonder what excuse theyíll come with nexÖ whatís wrong?"

"We have a visitor." Doc seemed as if he didnít know how he felt about the situation.

"We have many visitors, luv; youíll have to be a little more specific than that," Rose replied although she carefully put her reports away and gave Doc her full attention. "So, gonna fill me in?"

"This may be a case where seeing is better than telling."

"Okay, youíre beginning to scare me now," Rose replied nervously as her mind leapt to both plausible and implausible scenarios, finally vocalizing the one that terrified her the most. "Iím not letting you go, just so weíre clear on that, okay? He gave you to me, and Iím keeping you, dammit!"

Doc reached out and caught her hands, pulling her in for a kiss. "Iím here to stay. Now come on, you really need to see him."

"Him?!? Him who? John? John!" Rose demanded as she was tugged through the doors towards his lab. "Dammit, Doctor, as head of Torchwood, I demand answers right noÖ cor blimey!"

"Hi, Rose," Jack said quietly from where he stood by the window that overlooked Canada Square and beyond that, Canary Wharf. "Long time no see. Although time is relative and all that."

"And before you ask, yes, heís the Jack from your universe," Doc put in.

"And I canít go back. Not that I want to go back but the Doctor, ah, the other Doctor was very specific about this being a one-way trip, but Iím okay with that. IÖ I have nothing to go back for," Jack replied, his voice cracking ever so slightly under his emotions.

And it was more than enough to break Rose out of her shock. Before she knew it, she was across the room, arms thrown around her old friendís neck, tugging Jack down to her shoulder. "Jack Harkness, oh, how Iíve missed dancing with you, you great lout," she whispered as she held him tight, looking back over her shoulder at her husband as the man in her arms shuddered silently and held on for dear life.

Doc crossed over after Rose and rested a hand on Jackís back. "And as I said before, youíre welcome here; you might even enjoy the fact that itís quieter."

"Quiet is good," Jack choked out. "Iím so tired of being the big damned hero all the time, especially when I never manage to save the ones that count the most," he admitted after a while. "I couldnít save them, Rose, DoctorÖ it was my fault, and I couldnít save them."

"You may not have been able to save them, Jack, but it wasnít your fault," Doc said gently. "Sometimes you canít, no matter how much you want to."

"If Iíd just stayed out of Alice and Stevenís lives, theyíd be alive right now," Jack whispered. "If I hadnít loved them, if Iíd let Ianto continue to blame me for Lisaís death instead of fall in love with me, heíd have been safe with Gwen instead of standing next to me when the shit hit the fan. But I was selfish; I wanted some happiness for myself, no matter how transitory it was. God, Iím a prick."

"Bollocks," Doc stated flatly, the part of his personality added by Donna making itself known. "The fact that you loved him did not make him die. Were you happy together? Was he happy with you?"

"Honestly? I donít know. I loved him, but I never told him, not until he was dead," Jack admitted. "He wanted to be a couple, and I wasÖ less than enthusiastic about it. But I did love him. God, who wouldnít? I donít think that there was a person alive who could dislike Ianto Jonesówell, human person anyway."

Doc looked over at Rose at that, his eyebrows raised in recognition of the name. "Youíre going to have to find a way to make your peace with him and yourself, Captain."

"Itís easy to make peace with the dead, Doctor. Theyíre dead," Jack replied bitterly.

"Jack, letís not think about it today, okay?" Rose interjected before Doc could let the cat out of the bag about Ianto. This would require some careful handlingósheíd never seen Jack so bitter. Even when facing death, heíd always managed to find the humor in everythingósmiling through it all.

At least they had some breathing room before they had to deal with it as the Wild Boys had Cardiff Rift duty for the next three weeks, having just gone on Rift rotation last week, Rose remembered with some relief. "Youíll stay with Doc and me. And while youíre adjusting to this reality, Iíll get Donna to get started on the paperwork to make you an identity. If you want something to do, Iím sure Doc will be grateful for a handóheís trying to build a vortex manipulator big enough to turn the Valiant into a TARDIS of sorts."

"Ah yes," Doc enthused, stepping back and rubbing his hands together. "We probably wonít get all of time and space, but if everything works correctly, sheíll get us around nicelyóoh, and itís John Smith now, that or Doc. The Doctor is, well, him. He chose his life; I have mine.

Doc stopped talking for a second before raising a finger and pointing it at Jack. "And making peace with the dead is the hardest thing of all because, in effect, youíre making peace with yourself, and you are your own harshest critic."

"God, you may be entirely different entities, but you still sound like him," Jack muttered. "I think I liked you better as a hand."

Rose burst into laughter at that. "No offense, Jack, but I prefer him a man instead of a hand, thanks. I have much more fun with Doc the way he is now."

Jackís eyes lit up in amusement for the first time since he arrived. "Rose Tyler, more tenacious than even Scotland Yard. Looks like you finally got your Time Lord."

"Well, I am part Donna Nobleóthe Donna Noble where he is," Doc pointed out with a wry grin.

"Waaait a minute. She hit on me!" Jack groused insincerely. "Does this mean that because youíre part her, youíre going to hit on me too? Because if you did, Iíd have to decline; I like Rose too much, and she really sort of scares me too, what with that big gun of hers and all," Jack deadpanned.

Doc slipped an arm around Roseís waist at that. "He liked you as well, but no, Iím quite happy with my wife, so youíre safe from meónow, our version of Donna might prove to be different."

"Youíre marriedógood," Jack grinned, ignoring the other manís comment about this realityís Donna. There were some lines even Jack wouldnít crossónot many but that was one of them! "I like happy endings. My Martha Jones got married a few weeks, or is it months ago? Iíve kind of lost trackótoo much wine, women and song, you know how that goes. Anyhow, married, yes, a nice man, doctor of medicine, not of time. She works for UNIT now. Do they have a UNIT here?

"Nope, no UNIT, just us. And Britain is a democracy with a PresidentóPresident Harriet Jones. But youíve got all the time in the world to learn all this, pardon my pun. Címon, boys. Letís go home and have a drink. Iíve got my Doc, and Iíve got my dance partner back. This calls for champagne!"

Chapter 2

The double doors leading to the waiting room outside of Rose Tylerís office burst open, admitting four men dressed in black fatigues. "Hey, beautiful," the shortest member of the group, a blond whose hair was mostly covered with a black ball cap he wore backwards, crowed, "did you miss us?"

"Like the bloody plague," Donna Noble sighed before yelping as another of the men, this one lean and with dark hair, snuck up behind her and gave her a hug.

"Oh, you did and you know it!"

"I did not miss your groping, Ross Jenkins!"

"Pray tell then, just whose groping did you miss?" the oldest of the group, a man who was also the tallest and most muscular, asked.

"Not yours either, Tom Milligan."

"Ahh, then it must have been mine." The last member spoke from where he lounged against the wall. "Imagine, Jake, our good Dr. Milligan isnít up to snuff for Donna."

"Thatís because Donna doesnít think any of you pack of puppies is appealing at all," the redhead huffed. "And did the four of you manage to bring back a vehicle in one piece this time?"

"Does one squashed piece count?" Ross asked innocently.

"You can have a lovely time explaining it to Rose then."

"We were just on our way to do that, planning on announcing us?" the man leaning against the wall asked, favoring her with a bright smile.

"You lot... Rose, the Wild Boys are back... Yes, theyíre all alive though it may not last for long. Go on in, boys, and donít - "

"We know," the four chorused as they headed for the door to Roseís office, "donít touch anything and keep the feet off the furniture."

Rose was sitting behind her desk, chair facing the window as she tried to figure out how to do this. Sheíd become proficient at the whole HR thing by necessity more than interest; at her heart she was still Rose Tyler from Powell Estate who worked as a shop girl and had an overwhelming craving for chips when she needed comfort food. Doc had faith in her, as did Donna, her teams and even the President of Britain - would she ever get used to Britain being a democracy? - but at times like this the little girl from the less posh side of town reared her belligerent head.

Behind her the door opened and her four favorite Ďladsí poured in, pushing and shoving and joking about, having more in common with a pack of mongrels than the Ďwild boysí they claimed to be. Any other time sheíd smile and crack a joke, joining in their good mood, but today she felt like she had the weight of a whole different universe on her shoulders. More importantly, she felt she carried the possible future happiness and mental stability of the little slice of home that had suddenly appeared in her life - Jack Harkness. "Oi! knock it off, you four; this isnít nursery school, you know!"

All four of them blinked in surprise, not used to being dressed down by their superior in this fashion. Ross and Tom, revealing their military backgrounds, straightened to attention while Jake crossed his arms over his chest and lifted his chin as the street-renegade part of his personality came to the fore. The three remained quiet, waiting for their team leader to speak and hopefully smooth things over with Rose.

"Is this about the SUV?" Ianto Jones asked, deciding to keep things light and see if he could find out what was going on. "Because you know, gravity singularity, not quite expected, and we did get the tech away from the bloke who found it."

Rose sighed and pinched her nose - leave it to Ianto to remind her of her other ongoing headache - but had to smile nonetheless. "Smart arse," she muttered as she pivoted her chair to face them. "Oh, sit yourselves down; Iím not gonna ream you out over the SUVs that youíve destroyed this quarter alone. Next oneís coming out of your collective salaries, by the way.

"No, itís not about the cars. Have I ever told you the real story of Rose Tyler?" she asked after a lengthy pause. "Not the made up bubble gum one that the world at large knows."

"We know bits," Ross answered as they all dropped into the comfortable chairs facing Roseís desk.

"Jake tells us what he knows on a need-to-know basis," Ianto confirmed.

"Youíre from another universe, you and your mum," Tom continued. "You came here with - and forgive me if Iím not quite clear here - another version of Doc."

"And helped stop Lumic," Jake ended.

"Need to know, hmmm?" Rose shot Jake a hairy eyeball. "Do you and I need to have another talk about the definition of need to know?" she asked with mock sternness, buying herself some time and distance to figure out where to begin the story that would affect the lives of not just Jack but the happy-go-lucky leader of the Wild Boys as well. Because like it or not, Ianto Jones was just as much the star of this story as Jack, just a slightly different make and model, so to speak.

"First and foremost, what Iím going to tell you never gets discussed beyond you four, Doc and... the person this story involves, at least until they want it discussed," she quickly amended and then glared pointedly at the door. "That means you can get your bloody ear away from the keyhole, Donna Noble. Off to lunch with you!" Rose called out, laughing softly when she heard grumbling and the distant sounds of a desk drawer being opened and then closed rather forcefully.

Holding up her finger to silence the lads, Rose waited a ten count then reached under her desk and pressed a button. There was a soft hum, and then all the ambient noise that was all around them but no one really heard suddenly ceased, leaving the room as quiet as a tomb. "Didnít want her walking in just to see if weíd suddenly disappeared - the side effects of walking through the cascade are rather debilitating, not to mention unpleasant," she said matter-of-factly.

"Now where were we? Oh yes, story time. Once upon a time there was a shop girl from East London who met a Time Lord quite by accident, and her life suddenly became so very exciting, and she got to meet all sorts of interesting people, but one of the most interesting of all was a certain captain named Jack who loved to dance..."

Almost an hour later, Rose watched the lads in general and Ianto in particular try to digest the life and times of Rose, the Doctor and Captain Jack Harkness as well as deal with knowing that one of their other selves had been Jackís lover and was now dead, having sacrificed himself for Earth in order to stand by the man he loved until the bitter end. "Well, I did warn you it was quite a story," she said after long moments of silence.

"So this Jack," Jake began before grinning with gallows humor, "is he hot?"

"Apparently Ianto thinks so," Tom laughed, joining in on the teasing.

"Hey, be nice to him," Ross called, "heís dead."

Ianto leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and steepling his fingers in front of his chin. "All right, so this story obviously has a purpose, and it is?"

"How does a man who cannot die commit suicide?" Rose asked instead. "Luckily, we may never know the answer to that because the Doctor, the Time Lord Doctor, found his friend and found a way to let him leave a universe of heartache behind.

"My dear friend Jack is right at this very moment helping Doc in his lab with the new upgrades for the Valiant. Jack Harkness belongs to us now, and weíre going to help get him back to as close to his old self as we can but... well, I didnít want you all to freak out if a strange man suddenly stopped dead and stared at Ianto like his world was ending all over again," Rose sighed.

"Jack has a special fondness for our Doc as he grew out of the hand that Jack carried around for centuries," she said with a morbid chuckle. "So Doc is going to tell Jack about our Ianto so that he doesnít... do anything rash," Rose continued, "but like I said, I just wanted you to be aware of it.

"As for how hot he is - youíll have to figure it out for yourself. Heíll be the man walking around in a blue RAF greatcoat; canít miss it - or him."

Ianto was quiet as the others parried back and forth about the situation, coming up with one absurd situation after another for their meeting of the mysterious Jack, and when he finally spoke, it was directed at Rose. "So, would you rather I head back out, give him more of a chance to acclimatize, or get this over with quick and dirty?"

Rose was about to respond when movement behind the boys caught her eye. Sighing, Rose murmured, "Too late." Jack stood in the doorway, a silent sentinel frozen in time, his eyes riveted on the one face heíd never thought heíd see again.

It was one of the biggest negatives of the cascade shield that while people couldnít hear in you also couldnít hear out. Normally, Rose would have activated the motion sensors placed strategically around Donnaís work station cum reception area, but sheíd seen no reason to today, an obvious mistake.

Doc hovered behind Jack, his expression torn between worry for their friend and fond exasperation for Roseís forgetfulness. The cat was well and truly out of the bag now, Rose thought to herself as she turned off the cascade and sounds from the outside world flooded back in, and the four field agents turned to see who she was staring at, their hands automatically reaching for their sidearms.

"Ianto," Jackís anguished whisper resonated through the room, and then he was gone, the man abruptly turning on his heel and pushing past Doc, disappearing as quickly as heíd appeared.

"Well, that could have gone better," Doc sighed as he ambled into the room and perched on the corner of Roseís desk. "Wouldnít even let me finish my rather brilliant speech, just bolted up here as if an army of Daleks were after him.

"Right then, so howíre you boys doing? Destroy another car yet?"

"Oh yeah, heís hot," Jake said under his breath, causing Tom to reach out and cuff him on the back of the head.

Ross looked around the group then back at the empty doorway. "Someone going to go after him?"

"Well, I donít think it should be me," Ianto put in though he too was still looking in the direction the anguished man had gone.

"Do you want it to be Jake?" Doc asked with an affable smile and a waggle of his eyebrows.

"Iíll go," Rose said, pushing up and away from her desk. "Letís face it, you lot are useless when it comes to emotional trauma - even when youíre up to your neck in it. And, no, Jake, being bi or gay or whatever doesnít mean that youíre any better equipped to handle it," Rose finished with a slight chuckle, cutting him off before he could do more than open his mouth.

"Men, useless the lot of you unless thereís an itch to scratch or a spider to kill," she teased, bussing a kiss over Docís temple. "Play nice with the boys, and keep them out of the lab. I donít trust any of you not to blow up my building!"

"Hey now," came the almost universal response from the males.

"We never blow things up that we donít mean to," Tom protested.

"Well, most of the time, anyway," Ianto chuckled.

Roseís snort of derision was her only response as she headed out into the reception area, only to find Donna at her desk instead of at lunch.

"Wot? Did you think Iíd miss all the excitement? The beefcake went that way, by the way," Donna grinned up at her boss, pointing a thumb at the left hallway. "Hey, is there another one like him somewhere? Because if there is, Iím calling dibs!" she called out as Rose took off in the same direction.

"Jack!"

Jack spun on his heel, eyes wild and pained as he stared at his diminutive blonde friend with accusatory eyes. "You knew! Dammit, Rose, you knew Ianto was not only alive in this universe but he worked here, and you didnít tell me!"

"And what would you have done if Iíd told you right off, Jack?" Rose shot back. "Run again? This is your home. Weíre family, you and I, and you bloody well know it. You belong here. The Doctor gave you to me, and Iím keeping you too!"

"Iím not your Doc, and Iím not a pet, Rose."

"No, youíre my Captain and my friend," Rose replied. "And youíre my responsibility. I did this to you, Jack," she whispered, her lips quivering as she tried to contain her emotions, but her eyes already swimming with unshed tears. "I wanted so much for you to live that I did this; I gave you this pain. And I need the chance to make at least a small part of it right again. MaybeÖ maybe this could be your second chance, to get things rightÖ with Ianto."

Jack could never stand there and let a pretty woman cry, even when that was all he wanted to do himself. Wrapping his arms around Roseís shoulders, Jack tugged her forward and tucked her head under his chin before burying his face in her hair to hide his own wet eyes. "Canít do it, Rose," he whispered. "Losing him once nearly destroyed me. Heís still mortal; heíll still grow old and die; and Iíll be left alone again. Everyone leaves me eventually, Rose; itís just the way it is," Jackís voice was a strangled whisper. "So why should I court pain? Better to not get involved, not get attached and then my heart wonít shatter completely when I lose the next one. And the next one. And the next one."

"Oh Jack, Iím so sorry!" Rose wailed.

"Hey, hey! Sorry for what, Rose? For giving me my life back? For letting me come back to you and the Doctor? Sorry for giving me a purpose like protecting Earth? Never be sorry for that, Rose. Donít even be sorry for Ianto because as much as it kills me to remember, one day it wonít, and Iíll be able to remember the man who made me human again and how much I still love him, will still love him, even when the universe finally winks out around me."

Chapter 3

"So what do you think?" Tom asked Ianto a week later as the team changed out of their fatigues and into street clothes.

"About what?"

"Oh come on," Jake scoffed. "Stud from another universe who was in love with another version of you. What do you think heís talking about?"

"My own sloppy seconds? No thanks," Ianto chuckled as he pulled a skin-tight black t-shirt over his head and tucked it into his faded jeans, buttoning and zipping them and sliding a worn black leather belt through the loops.

"Besides, I heard that Lisa from accounting was going to the club tonight," Ross announced before meowing like a cat in heat. "Anyone ever tell you that you suck, Jones?"

"I have!" Jake announced with a snicker as he brushed his hair and ran his fingers through it so that it spiked up.

"Yeah, we all know you know that from personal experience," Tom snorted.

"And I meant because he bounces on both sides of the fence so he manages to snag everyone," Ross added, making Ianto smirk.

"Terrible life, isnít it? And Iím heading out, you lot coming or finding your own ride?"

As Ross and Tom called out their agreement, Jake declined. "Have a few things to do myself, see you later if they donít run over."

"We want details in the morning!" the others crowed as they walked out, leaving Jake to check himself over a final time before strolling through the mostly deserted halls, heading toward the apartments where Torchwood housed guests who elected to avoid local hotels.

Finding the room he had been searching for, he knocked on the door, then leaned against the jamb, waiting to see if it would be answered.

 

Jack contemplated ignoring the door but then figured it could be Rose or DocÖ and didnít that take some getting used to, calling him John or Doc instead of Doctor. Bringing with him the tumbler of whiskey that was almost overflowing, Jack heaved himself up off the couch, out of lifetimesí worth of habit drawing his sidearm as he peeked through the spy holeÖ and fought the urge to bang his head against the door.

Jack was going to turn around, sit his ass on the couch and continue getting absolutely shit faced, but instead he found himself opening the door.  "Well, well, well, if it isnít Mickeyís friend Jake. Fancy meeting you here. Did Rose happen to send you to check up on me?" he asked the Alpha Teamís munitions expert with a shadow of his former flirtatious smirk.

"Did that of my own initiative," the blond laughed before nodding at Jackís drink. "Looks like thereís enough for two there, feel like sharing?"

Jack contemplated telling him no butÖ he was so damned tired of being alone, and Jake was both familiar and free of baggage. Maybe Doc was right, maybe it was time to lay his ghosts to rest.

"What the hell," he said after a momentís hesitation. "Iím probably lousy company, but Iíd rather drink with a friend than with a ghost.  Címon in."

"Thanks," Jake said easily as he walked past Jack, glancing around the small apartment and noting it was functional but showed nothing personal other than the other manís navy greatcoat hanging over the back of the sofa. "And it looks like Iíll have to catch up Ė with the scotch and the information because it sounds like you know about me." He reached back and plucked the glass from Jackís hand, taking a deep drink before handing it back.

Jackís left eyebrow slid up at Jakeísí actions, but he said nothing as he accepted the glass, taking a drink of his own.  "I knew Mickey Smith," he said simply.  "We traveled together with the Doctor for a while, and then after he came back from here, I kept an eye on him, both as a favor to Rose and to make sure he was okay. But then he had to go and ask for all sorts of advice; we eventually went from being casual acquaintances with a mutual history to being friends of sorts. Iíd drop in whenever I was down in London for business and sometimes just because I wanted to spend some time away from Cardiff. Heís a good guy."

"Yes, he is," Jake nodded, dropping down onto the sofa and stretching his legs out in front of him. "Think I freaked him out some at first when I told him Ricky and I had been involved, but we worked well together, had some fun too."

"Freaked was putting it mildly," Jack laughed easily at the memory. "What do you think he was asking me for advice about? The latest fashions?"

Green eyes raked over Jackís length before sandy brows rose as Jake held his hand out for the glass again. "He needed some help there, and youíve got a certain sense of style."

"Donít think Mickey could pull off my style, though," Jack replied, tugging his braces over his shoulders, leaving them to hang off his pants. "Nah, truth was you had him confused as all hell by the end.  He was supposed to be in love with Rose, but youÖ you were the proverbial bad penny Ė always tempting him to pick you up and play with you."

Jake blinked in surprise at the statement. "Never showed it. He was easy to get going, but I never saw any attraction from him, and believe me, I knew what he looked like when he was attracted."

"You knew what Ricky looked like when he was attracted," Jack countered. "Not Mickey. And heíd never been attracted to guys before, so he sublimated.  And since he knew me and knew I had certain, shall we say, proclivities, he figured I was the best person to ask for advice. And to try flirting with.  I let him practice, patted him on the head and pointed him towards an equal opportunity bar. Heís mostly straight but a little bent, at least he was last time I looked in on him," Jack grinned, taking another swallow of his scotch.

"Good for him, everyone deserves a chance to be happy, and that wasnít going to happen with Rose, even before Doc got here." Jake leaned over to take the glass again, frowning when he saw there wasnít anything left in it. "And that includes you too, Jack Harkness," he added before leaning in, getting his taste of liquor from Jackís mouth.

Jack, whoíd opened his mouth to tell Jake that heíd had his shot at happy, found that mouth was promptly invaded by Jakeís tongue.  It was like setting a spark to dry tinder at the base of a parched forest - instant conflagration. Thereíd been times in the past where heíd had a dry spell, but he couldnít remember any lasting this long except when heíd been dead and buried for nearly two thousand years. Lust swept through Jack; fuck, but heíd missed this sort of human contact.  HoweverÖ

Pulling back slightly, Jack eyed Jake carefully. "I donít do commitments; I donít do relationships Ė not any more. Iíll fuck you, but I wonít be your boyfriend or your lover, and we sure as hell will never be a couple. I will, however, still respect you in the morning and still treat you like I am right now. Nothing changes.  You still want to do this?"

Jakeís lips curved into a wicked smile as he set the glass on the floor, then placed his hand over Jackís crotch. "Itís sex, Jack; it feels good; it makes your partner feel good if you do it right; there doesnít have to be more."

"The Doctor once told someone that Iíd flirt with and fuck anything that was sentient Ė and he was pretty much correct. Itís hard to have a relationship when you canít stick around long enough to grow old with them because you donít grow old. I tried it a few times, and each time ended even more badly than the last. So Iíve decided that itís not worth the pain; my last attempt damn near destroyed me, and it left me damaged goods. I canít do it again; I canít give anyone anything more than a fantastic fuck," Jack admitted. "And since we seem to be on the same page about the fucking part of itÖ" 

Jack didnít even bother to try to move this into the bedroom; he merely reached over and hauled Jake across the chesterfield and onto his lap and proceeded to reclaim Jakeís mouth as nimble fingers went to work on his clothes, Jake doing the same as much as he was able until the both of them were naked and lying back on the sofa, Jakeís hands roaming over Jackís back and down to his ass, pulling them closer as he hooked a leg over Jackís hips.

"I can pretty much guarantee that I donít have any diseases because I havenít died lately, and even if you do, Iíll just get better, so can we be irresponsible and dispense with the need for condoms?" Jack asked in between exploring Jakeís mouth, jaw and chest with fingers and tongue.

"Wouldnít matter if you did," Jake chuckled, arching into the touch as he trailed his fingers up the crack of Jackís ass. "Torchwood inoculations are damn good things."

"Glad to hear it," Jack murmured before biting down on one of Jakeís nipples. "Seeing as how itís your ass thatís gonna be leaking cum," he informed Jake with a wicked smirk. "I plan on fucking you stupid and then doing it again."

"You expect me to complain about this?" Jakeís tone was incredulous, and he squirmed and threaded his fingers through Jackís hair as Jack bit him again.

"Some people donít like to bottom Ė never understood that myself, but hey, it doesnít affect us right now, so who gives a fuck?" Jack murmured, nipping and biting and soothing all the while as he worked his way steadily lower.

"Why limit yourself, right?" Jake asked, gasping when Jack hit a sensitive spot near his hipbone.

Hearing the reaction above him, Jack smiled into Jakeís hip and then redoubled his efforts to really work the spot over, all the while leaving his hands fee to pinch and pull and stroke. "Definitely a smart one, arenít you?" he murmured against Jakeís stomach.

"Shh," Jake groaned, squirming so that his cock rubbed against Jackís chin, "donít want it to get out."

"Donít worry, your secretís safe with me," Jack chuckled and then ducked down the remaining few inches and took Jakeís cock into his mouth, deep-throating him in one smooth motion.

"Oh bloody fuck!" Jake howled, his hand fisting in Jackís hair as he bucked upward the moment Jack started to pull back.

Jack chuckled around his mouthful, the vibrations carrying into Jakeís flesh as he took a quick breath of air and then forced his way back down again, a hand coming up to roll and tug on Jakeís balls lightly.

"Got slick in my pants pocket," Jake murmured, rocking his hips in time with the bobbing of Jackís head over him.

"Youíre still talking," Jack groused, pulling up and off of Jake. "I must be losing my touch. You should be non-verbal." And with that he dove back in, intent on making Jake lose all semblance of speech even as he fumbled for the pants and the bottle of lubricant. It seemed that young Mr. Simmonds was a boy scout and a pornographic one at that. Jack was impressed.

When Jack pushed a wet finger inside him, Jake moaned, writhing between the heat of Jackís mouth and the slight pressure of the finger in his ass.

Humming his approval, Jack let his body take over and his mind shut down.  He was all for losing himself in the oblivion of a hard and dirty fuck. Since Jake didnít seem to mind either, Jack decided to just go with it. Working his throat muscles in order to maximize sensation for Jake, Jack inserted one, then a second and finally a third finger into Jakeís ass, twisting and plunging them in and out of the easily loosened hole, always making sure to hit Jakeís prostate sporadically, just to add a bit more zing.

"Rather come with you in me," Jake managed to get out, slinging a leg over the back of the sofa to open himself up more for Jack and moaning when that increased the pressure on his prostate.

"Mmmm," Jack hummed, licking one last stripe along Jakeís cock. "You want it, you got it," he whispered, using his already lubed hand to stroke his cock a few times, just enough so that he could work his way in with only a small amount of friction. He wanted Jake to feel it, every inch, and every pull. 

Jack wanted Jake looking fucked out, rode hard and put away wet.  He wanted Jakeís teammates to know that Jake had had the fucking of his life tonight, even if they didnít know by whom. And a very closely guarded part of him wanted Ianto to figure it out and decide that Jack belonged to him, not Jake and make Jack know it too.

Sealing his mouth over Jakeís in a hungry kiss, Jack guided his cock by a combination of skill and touch, aligning its tip to Jakeís hole and then pushed in steadily, inch by inch, filling Jake completely.  "Hold on tight, Jake Simmonds, Iím about to give you the ride of your life," Jack promised with a dirty chuckle as he began to move his hips, fucking in and out of Jake with increasing speed, hips twisting and circling as he began to ream the younger man out.

Jake was by no means a Ďlie back and take ití kind of guy, and he met Jackís every stroke, arching up against him and clenching down on the hard length within him, groaning as they slammed together, at times threatening to topple the sofa over with the force of their movements. His fingers dragged dull red stripes across Jackís back as they bit into his flesh, and he sat up enough to catch the older manís mouth, fucking it with his tongue just as thoroughly as his ass was being pounded by Jackís cock.

"Thatís it," Jack grunted as he was met thrust for thrust," take it, címon take it," he muttered over and over again, his mouth and teeth and nails leaving his own blueprint on Jakeís flesh.  He bit and sucked and scratched, even drawing blood a few times, as he continued to fuck into Jake with such violence that they finally rolled off the couch and onto the floor with a thud. 

Jackís hips never slowed even though he was now under Jake, the younger man doing the riding, for all intents and purposes. One hand dug finger-shaped bruises into Jakeís left hip while the other wrapped around his cock and began to milk it with squeezing strokes.  "Giddy up," Jack purred, his voice full of carnal heat as he brought his knees up to act as a back brace.  "Your turn Ė ride Ďem, cowboy!"

Jake whooped out a credible cowboy yell as he levered himself on Jackís body, working both of them as he rocked between the thick cock in his ass and the strong hand squeezing his shaft. His own hands were braced on Jackís broad chest for balance, and he rubbed his thumbs over the circles of Jackís nipples, pinching and tugging at them as they peaked tighter.

Jack laughed freely for the first time since the children stopped all those weeks ago, not even thinking about anything or anyone other than the amusing, good looking and deliciously fuckable man riding his cock like a bronco buster.  "Ever done it while riding a horse?" he leered.  "Lemme tell you, itís a whole lot of fun!"

He slid the hand clutching Jakeís hip back under the curve of that sweet bubble butt and slid his index finger up to where his cock was pistoning in and out of Jakeís body, caressing the highly aroused nerve endings with the lightest of feather touches. "Wanna see what kind of distance you get when you shoot Ė think you can actually get it in my mouth?"

Jakeís mouth curved into an amused smile before he gasped in pleasure as Jackís finger pushed inside next to his cock. "You planning on aiming me?" he panted, knowing he was close and soon it wouldnít matter where he was aimed.

"You work for Torchwood," Jack huffed as he somehow managed to shift his angle so that he was constantly pounding into Jakeís prostate. "Having perfect aim is a prerequisite, isnít it?" Jack shifted impossibly and shuffled his way into a semi reclining position against the back of the couch, his arm trapped between his knees and Jakeís body, but it put him in the perfect position to lean forward and chew on Jakeís nipples to add just that little extra bite of sensation.

The combination of sensations finally proved too much for Jake, and he threw back his head and yowled, his cock pulsing in Jackís hand, making the other man pull back enough to catch the gouting streams of semen in his mouth, several droplets missing and running down his chin.

Jack shuddered at the tightening of Jakeís ass around his cock but managed a few more strokes before he was throwing his head back with an inaudible gasp, then going almost boneless as he continued to shudder and pulse while coming down.  It took a while for his brain to reboot, but when it did, he smacked his lips together loudly and shot Jake a wicked grin.  "Gotta commend your shooting instructor; that was better than perfect aim, a gold star for Jake Simmonds."

"Shooting and driving, got top marks in those," Jake murmured as he managed a graceful roll off Jackís lap to lie sprawled out beside him on the floor, sighing as the bunched muscles in his thighs relaxed. "Pretty good technique there too, we can share the star."

"Really?" Jack laughed. "And here I was going to apologize for my lack of technique Ė itís been a while for me, and I was on edge." Sliding down so that he was wedged between Jake and the sofa, Jack pulled Jake in for a lazy kiss.  He was a tactile man, and heíd been denying his need for contact for too long, so it was almost impossible to stop touching, kissing and petting Jake. "For the record, Mickey missed out on one helluva good thing; youíre aces."

"Iíll remind you to tell Rose that come review time," Jake chuckled, one hand stroking over Jackís thigh as he reclined half-lying over the other manís lap. "Might get me a raise."

"Iím just Docís lab lackey," Jack chuckled. "Doubt my opinion holds much weight.  Fuck, itís weird calling him Doc, or John, or Doctor Smith.  This whole universe is a little skewed Ė but itís probably what I needed.  Keeps me on my toes, concentrating on my surroundings so I donít slip up.  Go figure, the Doctor really did deliver a cure for me."

"Change is good," Jake agreed before pulling Jack down for another kiss. "Felt the same when I went to your universe because of the whole Cybermen/Dalek mess, a little bit off but not wrong, just odd."

"Not my universe anymore," Jack pointed out with a small but sincere smile. "This is my home now.  I just need to learn the ropes so I donít make a complete ass of myself."

Jack thought, fleetingly, of Gwen and how he was abandoning her Ė but he wasnít, not really.  She had Rhys and the baby and a new lease on life Ė a life free of Jack Harkness and the trouble that followed him around. It was a win-win situation really.  With only one Ianto-sized problem on his new horizons. But Jack wasnít going to think about that tonight.  Tonight he had a new friend to play with. 

"So, how long before youíre up for round two?" Jack smirked as he rolled over on top of Jake, kissing him again but this time with a good deal more heat. "And then you can tell me all about that ink and the reason why youíve got the Torchwood crest permanently inked on your chest."

Sandy eyebrows rose in surprise before Jake burst out laughing. "Itís usually me asking that question, and to answer it, not long at all, Jack, not long at all. We all have one, Ross, Tom, Ianto and I, got Ďem when we were bumped up to alpha team."

"Does that make you all alpha males?" Jack joked, rubbing against Jake lightly. " SoooÖ where do the rest of the team have theirs?  Same spot?" he continued as nonchalantly as he could.

Jake shook his head, his hand curving around Jackís thigh so that he could flick his fingertips over the older manís balls. "We donít tell, only people who know are those whoíve seen them."

"Fair enough, not like I really wanted to know anyway," Jack murmured and then he proceeded to make Jake forget all about his little slip up and the question he shouldnít have asked.

The Torchwood locker room was silent as a tall, lean figure walked inside it, still wearing the clothes heíd had on the night before. No matter how late he had been out, no matter how little sleep heíd had and for what cause, Ianto Jones was always the first of his teammates to arrive at work, to gauge the readiness both of the others and of himself. For all of his outward exuberance and good nature, he took his job and the safety of those around him very seriously.

Stripping down, he was in the act of slapping his liquid body armor patch on, the shiny silvery complex polymer turning transparent and sliding outward to cover him from neck to feet, when Ross pushed open the door and came in, still yawning.

"Still no luck with Lisa?" Ianto chuckled, to which the other young man replied by flipping him off. "Sheíll fall eventually; she likes you; youíre the sweet one, remember?"

"Sod off," Ross grumbled. "I really, really hate that label, you know."

"Except when it gets you laid," Tom pointed out as he joined them.

"Thereís one," Ianto commented, pulling his t-shirt over his body armor. "And how is the lovely Dr. Jones, no relation?"

Tomís cheery smile turned sultry, and he stretched his arms over his head, yawning mightily. "Wonderful as always."

"And itís two," Ross snorted. "As if you didnít get any last night, Ianto."

"Never said I didnít," the other man smirked.

The door opened again, and the three of them turned and looked in its direction, their jaws all dropping as their last teammate entered.

"Holy Mary, mother of God," Tom whistled.

Ross shook his head as he pulled out his wallet. "Simmonds wins the pot. Iím so far in the hole, Iím never going to get out of it."

"Just keep working on Lisa," Ianto advised. "And you, are you going to be able to move today?"

"Oh yeah," Jake crooned, still high on the rush of endorphins. "Iím golden." He started to strip down, revealing more bruises and love bites, and the other men groaned.

"Youíre going to be good for shite until you get it out of your system, so, go ahead, who was he Ė and whatís his number?" Ianto chuckled.

"Not saying," Jake smirked.

Ross applauded at that. "Thank God, we donít need two of you mooning around like that."

"Exactly," Tom laughed, "weíd have to carry them everywhere we went."

"Sod off, the both of you," Ianto grumbled without heat though he looked at Jake again, plotting out how to get the information he wanted from the other man. "We need to be in the control room in fifteen; weíre the alert team today. Nothing going on last I checked, but..."

"Anything can happen," the others chorused, Jake beginning to look more alert after he took a hurried shower and pulled on his body armor and uniform.

"All right then," Ianto nodded as they headed out the door, "letís see what the universe throws at us today."

Chapter 4

It took several weeks of prying for information and several illicit bribes to view the security tapes of the building on the nights before the mornings Jake showed up looking like a refuge from an all-night sex show before Ianto discovered the identity of his partner in crime. He tapped his thumb against his front teeth as he watched Jake get yanked into Jack Harknessí room for the third time, pondering his options. Anyone else and it would be easy to talk to Jake and the other person about cooling it down somewhat, at least when Jake was on duty, but this situation was different.

Harkness practically bolted any time he was in the vicinity, and even if Ianto could understand his reasons, it was annoying and a bit frustrating. "All right then, no point in trying to beard the lion in his den or in the cafeteria; the first is too much his ground, the second too open, too many escape routes. The lab it is then." A quick call to Doc got him out of the space to investigate a supposed problem with one of his improvements to the teamís new SUV and Ianto his quarry where he wanted him.

On the way down to Docís lab, he mulled over ways of handling the situation. He decided that direct was the best, and, after the lab door swooshed open, he stepped inside the large, cluttered room, spotting the person he was looking for leaning over a table, working on a piece of equipment.

The thought flitted across Iantoís mind that Harkness had a damn nice ass before he focused on the task at hand again, and he crossed his arms over his chest as he stopped about ten paces away from the other man.

"I need you to stop fucking Jake Simmonds stupid every other night."

Jackís posture went from loose-limbed and relaxed to tense and ramrod straight before Ianto got the first syllable out. He did not, however, turn around.  There was no way in hell that Jack could look at this alternate version of his Ianto and still maintain his composure. God, what the hell was Jones doing here?

"Last time I checked, Simmonds was a consenting adult, and itís not like Iím the one paying visits to him," Jack replied with over exaggerated care.  "However, if you think itís interfering with his duties, I suggest you take it up with him or his boss.  Last time I checked that was Rose Tyler-Smith, not Jack Harkness. Now if thatís all, Jones, Iím kind of busy right now," he finished, trying to refocus his attention to the sonic laser he was using to weld two slender pieces of polymer alloy together in order to form a crŤche for some delicate wiring.

"I can see that, and Iím taking it up with the person who can do something about it," Ianto countered, closing the distance between himself and Jackís back. "I donít care who anyone fucks; my issue is that every morning after heís been with you, heís strung out for half the day. Sounds like heís been having a hell of a lot of fun but itís affecting his work. Iím going to have the same talk with him, but I figured Iíd do you the courtesy of knowing why he isnít going to be as available over the next few days."

"Didnít know team lead translated to den mother," Jack replied lazily, his voice dropping a few degrees.  "But thanks for telling me my calendarís been lightened a bit.  Maybe Iíll take up crocheting in between fuck sessions."

"Being team lead translates into doing whatever it takes to keep them alive," Ianto said pointedly. "And make yourself a dick cozy; it might keep you warm on the off nights."

Jack barked out a laugh. "I doubt Iíll have any problems keeping my dick warm," he commented.  "Besides Jake thereís a whole new world out there that I havenít even begun to explore, so Iím pretty sure I can find help keeping warm when Jakeís kowtowing to you."

"Kowtowing? Jake? Thatís rich," Ianto chuckled. "Donít bother trying Tom; his fiancťe might come after you, and Ross is so straight he squeaks, but then, as you said, thereís a whole world out there just waiting to have their IQ lowered."

"Whatís the matter, Jones, feeling neglected because I was fucking the other you but went for your friend here?" Jack retorted, dropping the sonic laser and rounding on Jones, ignoring the pain his words made him feel as easily as he ignored the way his chest constricted at the sight of that beloved face.  But it wasnít his Ianto.  That was the whole point. This wasnít his quietly resourceful, deviously kinky and deceptively mild-mannered, coffee-addicted lover; this was someone with the same face, same voice, same smell even, but not the same personality. 

And suddenly Jack was enraged at the whole fucking universe for snuffing out that uniquely perfect man that he loved far too much, far too late. "Now if youíve done trying to get under my skin, why donít you leave?  I donít have time to deal with little boys throwing temper tantrums because theyíve lost their favorite toys," he informed the other man softly, trying to keep his rage under control until Jones was gone and he could leave as well and find something to kill.

"Wouldnít you say that was my situation?" Ianto responded mildly, knowing he was goading the other man and realizing that was partly what he had come here for. "And you can finally look at me, very impressive. I was thinking you were too pissed at him and afraid you might snap if you got us mixed up."

Jackís icy calm turned into molten rage at Jonesí words, and before heíd even thought it through, heíd hauled back and thrown everything he had into connecting his fist to the bastardís jaw.  "You son of a bitch.  I loved him, and you are nothing more than a pale shadow of the man he was.  Donít you dare compare yourself to him.  You know nothing!"

Ianto reached up, wiping the back of his hand across the corner of his mouth and smearing the blood from his split lip across his chin. "I know that youíre bloody well pissed at him for leaving you. Canít take it out on him, so címon, give me a go; Iím betting Iíll put up more of a fight."

"You fucking bastard!" Jack roared, losing all semblance of control as he threw himself at Jones, fists slamming into the other manís solar plexus and stomach. He continued to crowd Jones back, raining blow after blow on the man who wore his loverís face, his fury only increasing as it didnít seem to have any effect on Jones at all. 

"Bastard! He didnít leave me; I killed him.  I fucking killed him, you son of a bitch, so donít you dare tell me Iím pissed at him for leaving me. You know nothing!" Jack raged, not hearing the horrified feminine gasp coming from the doorway or the male voice promising dire retribution if Jonesí antics damaged his lab.

"You didnít kill him," Ianto got out as he moved defensively, his body armor absorbing those blows he couldnít dodge. "The aliens did. Eventually youíre going to have to realize it."

He glanced away to give Doc a thumbs up. "Works perfectly Ė oof." The last was added when Jack took advantage of his distraction and punched him in the face again.

"I really need to work on that head covering," Doc mused to himself.

Rose thumped Doc in the stomach hard. "Heís going to kill Ianto, you realize that, donít you?" she demanded worriedly. "And youíre thinking about head coverings? Men!"

Turning on her heel, Rose took off down the hall in a dead sprint, slamming into the armory and making for the locker at the back of the room. Grabbing a modified Decadron Crucible, Rose ran back to the lab, sliding to a stop next to her husband.  "Just in case," she muttered as she watched the circling men carefully, looking for any sign that she would have to use the temporary containment device.

"Heís dead; itís my fault; what do you know about it?" Jack snarled, ignoring Rose and Doc, his entire being focused on the smart-assed son of a bitch in front of him. "What do you know about losing the first person youíve loved unreservedly in centuries!"

"Nothing," Ianto admitted, ducking another blow. "But I think Iím right in saying heíd be fucking pissed at you for acting like this."

"If I could only make the polymer selectively gas permeable," Doc muttered, wandering off to his workbench to start scrawling equations on his datapad.

"Shut up.  Shut up!" Jack screamed, raining down a few more blows before he just stopped, dropping to his knees like a marionette whose strings had been cut as soul shattering sobs wracked his whole body. Jack could no longer hold onto his self-hatred and rage thanks to the bastardís interference; heíd been stripped of the frozen shell heíd been using to protect himself from the excruciating pain of all the losses heíd suffered in such quick succession - Owen, Tosh, Gray, Steven, his daughter, for though Alice was still alive he was dead to her; and most devastatingly, his Ianto. Instead all he could do was sob as each loss stabbed him anew.

Rose started to step forward, and even Doc looked up at that before Ianto waved them off, crouching down beside the larger man, one hand rubbing over his back as he waited out the storm, saying nothing until the heaving of Jackís back slowed. "Itís not your fault; itís not his fault; itís life and itís bollocks at times, but itís what we have, so you have to appreciate what youíve been given. There was more to him than the ending; thatís what you hold on to."

Jack reached into his back pocket and fished out a handkerchief, wiping the moisture from his face.  "Yeah, well, youíre a little prick," he muttered, sounding like heíd swallowed shards of glass. "You have that in common with him, if nothing else; he could never leave well enough alone either.  Heíd keep right on digging even though I didnít want him to. Wouldnít stop until heíd gotten it out of me.  Hurt like a son of a bitch then, hurts like a son of bitch now.

"Fuck," Jack scrubbed a shaking hand through his hair, wincing as skin that had been rubbed raw on Jonesí clothing caught and pulled. "It was easier accepting Iíd murdered my grandson Ė and yes, I did.  I had no choice. It was the only way to stop the 456. I lost my lover, my daughter and my grandson Ė basically everything important in my life Ė in the space of twenty-four hours.  It really wasnít a good day for me," Jack chuckled bleakly.

"Understandable," Ianto nodded, catching Jackís hand and examining the abraded skin then snatching the handkerchief and dabbing at the torn and bloody flesh, cleaning it as much as possible. "You did what you had to do; someone has to make those decisions, and if it didnít bother you, you wouldnít be human Ė oh, and just to clarify things, the prick? Not little at all."

"Forgive me if Iím not all that eager to find out," Jack murmured quietly.  "ButÖ thanks.  I think I needed that."

"Didnít imagine you would be, but youíre welcome. Think you can stand on your own? I believe Rose is going to be on you the minute you do."

"Fuck," Jack moaned. "I adore her but sheís taking this whole mothering thing way too far." He paused a moment, his mind whirring as he eyed Rose carefully, trying to think of a way out of this and then asked loudly.  "Rose, are you pregnant?"

"Wot?" she exclaimed, looking shocked, then yelping when Doc raced to her side, tutting and fussing over her.

"Nice distraction," Ianto murmured as they both got to his feet. "Take care, Harkness; Iím out of here while theyíre going on." With that the younger man was gone, slipping from the lab and vanishing down the maze of corridors.

"Iím the ultimate survivor," Jack murmured despairingly as he watched Jones disappear down the corridors.  "I miss you, Ianto. So damned much," he murmured as he slipped out of the lab himself, heading in the opposite direction of Jones.  Stopping off at Roseís office, Jack popped his head in to give Donna a watery smile.  They were kindred spirits, he and this Donna Ė or they would have been if he were still the Jack Harkness that Rose first met.

"Hey, Red, be prepared to have Doc around a lot more and being insanely bothersome.  Rose was getting ready to pounce on me, so I turned the tables Ė asked her if she was in the family way," he chuckled.  "Docís gonna be a bit more manic than normal for a while."

Donna burst into laughter. "Youíre a piece of work, Jack Harkness.  I like you, dammit! And donít worry about Doc; I can handle him just fine."

"Should never have doubted it," Jack murmured, perching on the edge of her desk. "Listen, Iím gonna take off for a few days, so donít send out the National Guard or anything to look for me.  I need to get away for a bit, and I think that maybe itís time I go make peace with my past.  Iím going home Ė to Cardiff, that is. Itís time to close that chapter of my life for good. Besides, Iíd like to look in on this universeís versions of Gwen, Tosh and Owen Ė make sure theyíre okay."

Donna got up from her desk and came around to stand in the V of Jackís legs, hugging him hard.  "Take one of the SUVs," she said, finally pulling back, her eyes watery but her voice strong. "And donít worry about a thing; Iíll run interference if people start to get nosey."

"If you werenít head over heels for that Padawan guyÖ" Jack teased.

"Patinjali, you git," Donna laughed. "Rupesh Patinjali. Now get out of here.  And donít forget to disable the GPS Ė the code is Blaidd Drwg."

"Bad Wolf? Are you kidding me?" Jack chuckled as he pressed a kiss to Donnaís cheek and playfully swatted her ass. "These people have sick senses of humor, I tell ya!" he muttered as he headed out the door, making for the garage and pulling out his cell as he did to make a quick call to Jakeís apartment in order to leave a message on his machine.

"Jake, itís Jack.  Listen, Iím heading out of town for a little while.  Iíll call you when I get back, okay?  Try not to blow up any more SUVs andÖ stay safe.  Talk to you when I get back."

Chapter 5

"Christ, youíre still black and blue, and itís been a week," Tom sighed, catching Ianto by the jaw to study his face. "You sure you donít want us to jump him for you?"

"Oi, Iíll be the one doing that, thank you," Jake said sternly as he laced up his boots.

"Totally different ways, Simmonds," Tom corrected, poking at Iantoís face and making him wince.

"I told you, I goaded him into it, and Iím fine, or I would be if you stopped jabbing at me!"

"Anyone know where Jakeís boytoy has gone?" Ross questioned. "Weíve got Rift duty coming up; at this rate poor Jakey wonít get any before weíre gone."

At Jakeís sly smile, the other three men started to laugh, knowing him all too well.

"Wot? Itís sex. Mind you, heís bloody good at it, but Iím not going to throw myself in a nunnery if heís not around."

Ianto mimed gagging. "Are you trying to make me ill? The thought of you in a habit..."

"Oh, shut your hole," Jake laughed, flipping Ianto off. "Youíre just jealous because Iím prettier than you and could pull it off."

"Okay, now Iím going to heave," Ross groaned as he finished wiping the oil off his sidearm and began to reassemble it with efficient fingers. "Bloody hell, I canít even get one girl into bed, and here you are tarting about when youíve got your very own sex machine but a few floors away. Lucky sod."

"Donít worry, Ross," Tom said, pulling the shorter man into a headlock that masqueraded as a hug, "we still love you."

"Come on, you lot," Ianto laughed, "weíre on duty in five, no time for an orgy."

"Oh piss off," Ross muttered to no one in particular. "Iím suffering here Ė weíre talking Smurf-colored balls!"

"Oh gross," Jake yelled. "Now Iím going to have to scour my brain with a Brillo pad to get rid of that image! No, wait, Jack Ė naked.  Jack naked and doing that thing he does with his..." Jake began evilly, ducking out the door as Ross lunged for him and literally running into Rose.

"Bollocks! Rose, Iím sorry!" he yelped, catching her before she could do more than wobble a bit. "I didnítÖ hurt anything, did I?"

"Iím not pregnant!" she yelled, startling all of the men, who fell back from her quickly as she continued to rant.

"Right, Rose," Ianto said quickly as the others hid behind him, "not pregnant. Weíve got it, never mention it again, right, lads?"

"Got it!" the other three chimed in unison.

That only slightly mollified Rose, who still glared daggers at them. "When I get my hands on that Jack Harkness Ė well, itís a bloody good thing his bits grow back!" she growled to herself as she stalked off. "Because Iím going to cut them off for even suggesting that I might beÖ" Her muttering finally faded as she rounded the corner.

Ross waited a few long moments and then turned to his teammates and very quietly asked. "Are we sure sheís not preggers? Mood swings from hell lately!"

"She isnít," Tom announced. "She checked, and I happened to... glance at the report."

"Poor Harkness," Ianto said under his breath. "You better find him when he gets back and warn him, Jake, or youíll be in for a really boring time of it."

Jake looked at Ianto strangely.  "He beats the crap out of you, and you start worrying about his bits?" he asked slowly. "I mean, when I got nearly vivisected by that alien gizmo, you got me drunk and laughed when I ended up heaving in your loo.  And we were sleeping together at the time." He wasnít jealous about Iantoís sudden interest in Jack, well, not exactly, but Jake was puzzled by the sudden shift in Iantoís opinions when heíd been dead set against getting too close to him up until now.

"Maybe thatís why sheís so pissy," Ross muttered to himself, not really paying attention to Jake and Ianto. "Maybe she wants to be?"

"I wouldnít ask her that," Tom cautioned as they all trooped toward the command center, "or you wonít have to worry about the color of your balls."

"Not worried about his bits," Ianto shrugged as he told Jake. "I just donít want you whinging because you arenít getting any from him or me is all."

"You could always join inÖ" Jake began, his libido getting ahead of his brain. "Um, sorry, that was uncalled for," he murmured when he caught himself up. "I spoke without thinking.  I mean I know weíve teased each other about this sort of thing in the past, but this time itís different, yeah?"

Ianto eyed the shorter man as if heíd run mad and finally shook his head. "Good thing it was me you suggested that to and not him."

"My cock got ahead of my brain," Jake admitted, glad that Ross and Tom were far enough ahead that they couldnít hear the conversation. "Itís just thatÖ I kind of miss you, man. And if you tell anyone I said that, I will kill you."

"You could try," Ianto chuckled before swinging his arm around Jakeís shoulders. "And you should have said something. Itís not like itís a hardship, you know."

"I could succeed, too.  Jack ní I have been doing more than just fucking.  Heís an all right guy.  Knew my Mickey, he did Ė they traveled together with the Doctor, and they got to be mates after Mickey went back to his universe  Heís a bit of all right, Ianto, honestly. I think youíd actually like him too if you didnít have all the crap hanging over your heads."

Tom looked back at them, having caught the tail end of that comment, "Are we getting the return of Yenta Jake again?"

"Well, he did all right with you and the lovely Dr. Jones," Ross pointed out.

"I let him try to beat the shite out of me; how much more friendly can you get?" Ianto snorted.

"If thatís your idea of courtship, Ianto, no wonder youíre permanently single!" Jake snorted, elbowing his team lead in the gut and ducking behind Tom with a snigger.

"And I did all right with you and Lisa too; you just donít see any results yet because sheís a nice girl.  Itís not like with guys, you moron; you canít just whip out your dick to impress them.  Women take work, especially if theyíre worth it," Jake informed Ross with a haughty sniff.

"Oh, for fuck sake, what is it with you and your cock, Simmonds? Iíve seen it; itís not that impressive," Ross groaned.

"Itís not bad!" Jake replied indignantly and then grinned slyly. "But then seeing as how I tend to catch, not pitch, I donít need to be more than average, thanks all the same."

"And how the hell do you know about what women really want, mate? Itís not like your tackleís ever been near their net, so to speak," Tom snickered. "Iíd say Ross would be better off listening to our fearless leader regarding the fairer sex than you."

"Am I wrong?" Jake asked indignantly, shooting a look over his shoulder at Ianto.  "Tell me Iím wrong! And for your information, Thomas, itís because Iím not a muff diver that they do tell me about all this shite. Iím Ďnon-threateningí; you know, just one of the girls so to speak. So bite me, arse!" Jake finished with a huff, which sent Ross into paroxysms of amused laughter.

"Such a fucking queen!" he guffawed as they walked into the command center. "Heís practically rainbow colored!"

"Needs another tiara," Tom snickered, ducking the swing Jake aimed at him. "And you bought the first one!"

"Not getting into this again," Ianto announced to the world at large.

"Chicken shite," Jake groused and then straightened up as he caught Rose glaring at the four of them.  "Bugger, sheís still in a strop," he muttered quietly, warning the other three. "Better watch yourselves."

Ross immediately straightened and coughed, hiding his grimace.  Sometimes, he thought, just sometimes he wondered if he should try batting for the home team Ė a lot less mood swings to deal with.  But the positives of women always won out over the negatives.  But then again... he thought as Rose cleared her throat impatiently.

"If weíre done, children?" she asked pointedly, knowing full well the team was the same age as she was. "We have a potential situation which Doc, Jack and I all agree needs closer monitoringÖ"

"Jackís back?" Jake piped up with a grin, only to shrink back under Roseís glare.

"No, heís hiding somewhere, and Donna wonít tell me where, the bloody coward! Itís not like he wonít recover or anything," she grumbled. "Doc called him to discuss that toy theyíre building and got his opinion while he had Jack on the line.  And that oneís sleeping in the spare room for aiding and abetting the perpetrator of thatÖ rumor!"

"The situation?" Ianto cut in, hoping to forestall another rant.

"There have been small amounts of strange meat showing up in a few local butchersí shops and independent markets. Strange in that weíve had it analyzed and have no clue what animal it came from Ė it has no steroids, none of the standard traces of Earth-based food. Itís justÖ meat.  Jack ran into something eerily similar in his own universe, so when Doc mentioned the strange meat, it twigged, and he relayed all the info he could, based on his own experiences. Once I read the report, I had to concur that this had all the earmarks of what his Torchwood dealt with. And this is why weíre now on alert and investigating. Which is where you lot come in. Youíre going shopping for groceries.  Have fun, lads!" Rose grinned menacingly. "But you may want to not eat at any of the local kebab stands for a while, although it may be a good idea to pick up samples there too, just to see how far this alien meat has infiltrated our food chain."

"Shopping?" Ianto asked faintly before sighing. "Looks like we might find you another tiara after all, Jake."

"But I order take away all the time!" Jake almost wailed. "I donít know how to shop, let alone cook.  Jack does the cooking when we eat in!"

"How positively domestic," Ross sniggered, laughing harder when Jake growled and flipped him off.

"Have fun, boys, civvies over armor and only one concealed weapon," Rose snickered. "Pick me up some chips on your way back in.  Theyíd better be hot or Iíll have your balls instead."

Every male in the command center cringed, and Alpha team hurried out in search of alien meat.

 

"So what are we supposed to look for?" Tom asked, "alien cows?"

"No clue." Ianto shrugged as they trooped back in the direction theyíd just come, grumbling as they changed back into the clothes theyíd just doffed. "Oh, forgot to mention, if Doc asks you to try out a hood for these things, do not do it. He nearly suffocated Gregory yesterday."

"Bloody hell," Ross groaned.  "When are we due in Cardiff again?  Can we offer to go early and run the hell away?" he asked plaintively, sending the rest of the team into fits of laughter.

"Oh sure, yuck it up, you lot.  He likes asking me to help.  Every bloody time."

"Thatís because you canít tell him no," Ianto pointed out, sending Jake and Tom into fresh bouts of laughter.

"Heís a bloody force of nature!" Ross defended.  "Iíd like to see you actually tell him no when he gets it in his head that youíre the perfect person to assist him.  I donít know how Rose does it!"

Tom clapped Ross on the shoulder. "Itís because sheís more of a man than you," he said seriously before ducking out of the way when Ross rounded on him.

"Bastards, the lot of you.  Címon, weíd best get this shopping excursion over before all the chip shops close and Rose charges us with High Treason or summing." Oddly enough the thought of cranky Rose without her chips was actually even more terrifying than being voluntold to assist Doc with one of his crazy new toys, Ross thought with a shudder.

The team headed down to the motor pool and into an unmarked SUV, heading out into the London afternoon in search of their target. They returned several hours later, laden with bags full of meat and a wax twist of freshly cooked chips for Rose.

"Nobody mention cravings," Ianto warned as they carried their booty back to the lab via her office.

"Ooooh chips!" Doc grinned as he rounded the corner.  "Are those for my darling wife?  Iíll take them. And never say never where cravings are concerned. Iíve decided I want to be a father, experience the miracle of life and all that, so itís only a matter of time now," he gleefully informed the Wild Boys.  "Youíre all going to be honorary uncles Ė or aunties as the case may be.  Ross, I need your help with a thing in my lab later if you have time, thereís a good man!" And with that Doc grabbed the chips out of Iantoís hand and set off to Roseís office, whistling a jaunty tune.

"Okay, which of you are going to do me a mercy and put a bullet in my leg so I end up in hospital before he can kill me?" Ross whimpered.

"You know, if he wasnít happily married, Iíd wonder if he didnít have a crush on you," Tom snickered.

"Bite your tongue, you twat!" Ross snarled, throwing himself at his friend and beating him about the head in frustration.

Jake, who had a sack of the so-called meat in each hand, leaned against Ianto as he lost all semblance of balance from laughing too hard.

"You could try eating some of this meat," Ianto offered, trying to keep Jake upright and not end up on the floor himself while Tom almost slammed into them, trying to avoid Rossís blows. "Even if itís not the alien stuff, it might make you ill."

"I hate you.  I hate you all," Ross growled, picking up his own sack and stalking down the hall to the lab, head in the air and back ramrod straight.

"Oh, donít be like that, baby; you know we love you.  In fact, if youíre really so desperate for relief, Ianto and I may be persuaded to actually show you!" Jake crowed after him, his laughter doubling as Ross made a rude hand gesture over his shoulder without stopping.

"Heís going to find a way to get back at us; you do realize that, donít you?" Tom asked when they finally recovered enough to start after him.

"If he didnít, weíd be disappointed."

"You ever think that this is Docís way of getting back at Ross for that time he hit on Rose at the Christmas party last year?" Jake wondered with a grin.

"No bet at all," Ianto laughed. "He just hasnít twigged to it."

"Well, he was completely soused at the time. I was afraid heíd come down with alcohol poisoning," Tom laughed. "As it was, he was puking his guts out for days after the fact. And all because that tart he fancied himself in love with turned out to be an alien sex vampire or something."

"That was one time he should have been glad to have blue balls," Jake put in.

"And to think that people accuse you of being led around by your dick and being attracted to anything that had one. At least you never made out with a glowing blue half fish woman who made you think she was a busty blonde," Tom sniggered.

"Címon, Tommy, you know Jake doesnít have anything to do with fish of any kind," Ianto said before gently pushing the other two into the lab where Ross waited, his expression saying he was plainly plotting something.

Tom burst into gales of laughter. "Well, he does like Ďeelí, you have to admit," he fired back.

"The only fish I touch is the tuna I feed my nanís pussy," Jake retorted with a sinister chuckle as all three man began to convulse in disgust.

"You know what, after that, I think I am going to go offer to help Doc. Dying canít be any worse than listening to you lot !" Ross exclaimed.

"Oh, Ross, you know you canít we canít hide our secret love anymore," Jake gushed melodramatically as he threw himself into Rossí arms, simpering and fluttering his eyelashes.

"Well, if you donít want the eternal stud muffin, Iíll be more than happy to take him off your hands," Donna said from the doorway, her eyes dancing with amusement at the antics of her Ďboysí. "He keeps offering himself to me, but Iíve resisted for Rupeshís sake.  However, Ru and I had an interesting conversation last night about threesomesÖ" she trailed off with a satisfied smirk as all four men made sour milk faces.

"Címon, you lot, let the techies do their work; Rose wants to see you in her office. She wants you in Cardiff early."

Ross pushed Jake away, cuffing him on the back of the head even as he breathed a sigh of relief at dodging the proverbial bullet of helping Doc out in his lab.

"Any idea why?" Ianto asked, managing to put himself between his teammates who seemed determined to engage in a slap fight, one he joined in the moment he caught a glancing blow on his ear.

"Apparently most of the teams come down with something after ordering a Massive Meat Pizza from a local pizzeria which just happens to get their meat from the supplier weíre investigating for alien meat," Donna sighed. "Bloody idiots. Siobahn called it in this morning. She was off duty last night, and her partner had come up for the night, so sheís still all right, luckily, and has decided to give vegetarianism a go again for some reason," the redhead sniggered. "Anyhow, Dr. Jones and her team are on their way up there right now to assess and evac to a Torchwood affiliate hospital if need be."

"So you mean thereís no active team up there?" Ianto asked, his brow furrowing at the same time the others went alert.

"We have someone up there taking care of the fieldwork while Siobahn monitors the Rift and her teammates; if anything urgent comes up or requires more than one person to handle it, youíll be flown up, but for now weíd rather keep you here until Dr. Jones and her team do a full biological and toxicological and give the Hub building a green light for re-entry," Donna replied rather cagily as she led them into the express elevator to the administrative offices.

"Itís bad meat; theyíve cordoned off the whole building for that?" Ross asked, and Tom sighed.

"And if the reason theyíre sick is because the meatís infected with parasites or larvae or something of that sort?"

"You mean like that movie where that creature planted eggs in peopleís stomachs and then they hatched by exploding out of their chests?" Jake asked.

"Oi! Thereís a lady present; watch what you talk about Ė dis-gus-ting!" Donna shrieked.

"Are my eardrums bleeding?" Ianto asked as they entered Roseís office to find her eating her chips and reading a report.

"Why would your ears be bleeding?" Rose asked, bringing a ketchup-saturated chip up to her mouth absently. "And what did you do to Doc, Ross, to make him want to turn you into his permanent guinea pig for experiments?  He actually suggested that I make it part of your performance plan next review period."

"Jake made Donna shriek," Ianto explained as Ross shrank in on himself, shaking his head in abject terror. "And I think you just broke Ross, Rose; that wasnít very nice."

"I was being serious.  He just left, said he was tired of having to track Ross down all the time and that I should just make it part of his job spec.  I, of course, informed him that it was a waste of a field agent and that he really should find someone else to help him, and he walked out sulking and muttering about hands needing to stay with their owners and not with other peopleís posteriors or something to that effect," Rose replied, knowing full well the reason why Doc wanted to have Ross under his thumb.  It had been a pleasant reminder that her husband was well and truly human, because as far as Rose knew Time Lords didnít get jealous.

"Glad to hear it because I just got him trained, and it would be a pain in the arse to go through it again," Ianto chuckled. "So, I hear Delta ate something bad, and weíre moving up early."

"The bloody scanner didnít trip, nor did the fools bother to run a bioscan on their pizza despite the fact that I specifically warned them about the possibility of alien meat floating about.  Why do you think Iím having chips for dinner Ė at least I know where they came from!" Rose groused. "Itís also why the canteen is serving fish and chips and veg curry today."

"Either way, theyíve eaten what is most definitely some form of alien flesh Ė preliminary lab results from the samples you brought in, it didnít take long to confirm that whatever creature it is, itís not from around here. The teamís going to one of our quarantine areas for observation as soon as Martha okays it; Siobahnís going with, obviously. Luckily, weíve got a man in Cardiff right now with experience enough to handle anything short of a full scale invasion by himself. So while youíll need to go up earlier than planned, you donít need to go up right this instant. Martha figures tomorrow will be soon enough; she should have completed the decontamination process by then. Of course, youíll need to remain on standby just in case something requiring more than one person to handle crops up. He may be damned good at what he does, but he has yet to figure out how to clone himself Ė thank God Ė so he canít be everywhere at once, yeah?"

Iantoís eyes narrowed slightly at the last comment, but he kept his mouth shut, listening and nodding, the others growing serious as well. "So weíll pack up and be ready to roll when we get the green light."

"Right then," Donna took that moment to bustle into the office and place a large stack of papers requiring signature in front of Rose.  "Local hospitals have been warned; weíve people on the way to the shops with the tainted meat in order to close them down for Mad Cow Ė BBC is issuing a statement for a meat recall on all their stations and that anyone who bought meat from the shops with our alien mutton, or whatever, are being told to report to our alerted hospitals. 

"There are Torchwood doctors at each of the hospitals, each with a supply of Retcon just in case things start to look dicey. After all, itís one thing to know about aliens, and itís another thing to have eaten one. Isnít that right, Ross?" Donna smirked before getting back to business.  "You need to sign all of those where the colored tabs indicate, and you need to brief the President in an hour.  A carís waiting downstairs; Johnís gone to fetch one of your power suits; and this lot has to be out of here in twenty minutes so you can get dressed and put some make up on.  Any questions?"

Ross raised a hand and, at Roseís impatient look, swallowed. "So this means I donít have to help Doc, right?"

Jack sat behind the large chrome and glass desk that looked out through the floor to ceiling polymer coated glass windows, enjoying both the silence and the view. Cardiff Bay was to the left of the office and the Millennium Centre to the right, and both looked exactly as they had in his universe. It was not his Hub, for which he was grateful, but oddly enough it still felt the same, to be here in Cardiff, behind a desk, guarding the Rift.  What was it Jake had told him that first night? A little bit off but not odd. Yeah, that pretty much described where Jackís head was right now Ė a little bit off but not odd.

The scary thing was Ė he actually missed this. And he was oh so tempted to just take over here, butÖ heíd been given a new start, and he wasnít going to make the same mistakes again.  Heíd gotten too full of himself here at the Hub with no one to answer to, far too cocksure and full of his own invulnerability.  No, Jack wasnít going down that road again.  Heíd wait until the replacement team got here, stay for a few days to lend a hand if necessary and then go home to London and back to the safety of Docís lab and contemplate the offer that Rose and John had put before him.

"Dibs on the top bunk!" The laughing shout echoed through the entrance area below as four forms dressed in black fatigues carried their gear inside.

"Christ, not with the way you smell after a veg curry," another groaned. "And thatís all weíre going to be eating until they get this meat thing resolved."

"Yeah, but thereís shite all we can do about it here; the distribution pointís in London."

Jack slid his feet from the top of the desk to the floor, the chair heíd been leaning back in returning to its proper ninety degree angle as he stood and stretched, a small chuckle escaping at the antics of the newcomers. It was impossible not to recognize Jakeís voice, which meant that Iantoís ĎWild Boysí had finally arrived to take up the rest of Delta Teamís tour.

Feeling a small resurgence of his former mischievous ways, Jack sauntered over to the railing and, leaning on the railing to watch the reactions, called out, "Youíre more than welcome to bunk with me, Jake, but seeing as how youíre on duty, and your team lead may have issue with that."

"If itíll keep the rest of us from smelling him after that curry, youíre welcome to him," Ianto called up, surprise at Jackís attitude evident in his tone.

"Please, take him," Tom begged, at which Jake nodded.

"Yes, take me Ė ow!" The last was added when Ross elbowed him in the ribs.

"Work first."

"A great man from my universe once said all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," Jack chuckled.  "But, er, Ross is it?  Is right. Stow your gear and meet me up here in fifteen so I can brief you.

"Oh, the one whoís engaged to Dr. Martha Jones...? Milligan, correct? She left you a care package. Didnít ask, donít want to know.  She also left a list of Ďsafeí restaurants after taking great care to inform me of the complete neglect the lot of you have for maintaining a healthy diet."

"Are you sure he canít take me?" Jake muttered while the other men whooped at the mention of the safe list. "Seriously, I get shivery when he gets all large and in charge that way."

"I could send you home," Ianto threatened, knowing there would be no end to the complaining until Jake had gotten his rocks off.

"Just because you had a hot date you had to cancel out on doesnít mean I should have to go without too," Jake groused.  "Besides Ė heís hot. Címon, Ianto, donít be a killjoy."

Jack came back to the railing and looked down at the still loitering team. "You now have twelve of your fifteen minutes left," he said mildly, consulting a silver stopwatch that was, along with his greatcoat, his most prized possession.

Good natured grumbling greeted that comment as the four men carried their gear beck toward the living quarters, Jake looking up at Jack and winking as they left. They were back with thirty seconds to spare, Tom grinning from ear to ear at something heíd found in the bunk he habitually used.

They climbed the stairs and arranged themselves around the desk Jack had been using, for the moment mostly attentively serious.

"Okay, so hereís what I know from my own experiences with a similar situation, and hereís what weíre going to do about it," Jack informed them before launching into a long and detailed story about his own encounter with a similar entity, a huge feeling of dťjŗ vu washing over him as he did so.

Chapter 6

"I said it earlier but it bears repeating Ė smoking hot!" Jake laughed and then groaned in almost orgasmic delight as he sank his teeth into the best fried chicken heíd had inÖ well, a week.

"Simmonds, if you say hot one more time in conjunction with Harkness, Iím going to shove you through the Rift," Ross muttered. "Now knock it off Ė youíre ruining my lamb chops!"

"His headís too big to fit through it," Tom mumbled around his own pork chop, lifting a finger when Jake perked up. "Not that head."

"So, you gonna tell us what Martha left you?" Jake asked after giving Tom the stink eye. "Are you gonna share it?"

"No, and definitely not," Tom said forcefully.

"Locked it in the safe," Ianto commented around his mouthful of salmon.

"I bet it was pervy pictures for him to wank to," Ross chimed in with a laugh.

"Gross," Jake muttered, nose wrinkling in disgust. "Díyou mind, Iím eating here!"

"Oh, this from the one going off about Harknessí junk every five minutes," Ross pointed out.

"Still not telling you lot what it was," Tom said mildly.

"Yeah, well, youíre just put out because youíre the only one on the team not getting any," Jake shot back wickedly. "Even Iantoís pulling almost every night he goes out, but thatís because he gets to choose from everyone. Although it looks like I wonít be getting any until after the mission is overÖ thanks to my team lead warning my sex machine to lay off while Iím working," the young man finished, shooting his best mate a dirty look.

"You have down time in three days; use it well," Ianto countered, "but if you come in with your brain leaking out your ears, there wonít be any more until we get back to London."

"What brain?" Ross asked, ducking when Jake winged a chicken bone in his direction.

"Oi! No getting us tossed out of here!" Tom ordered, grabbing Rossís arm before he could retaliate.

Ross snickered as he put the chicken bone on his plate but nevertheless settled down. "I have to say this for our little Jakeyís Ďsex machineí; he wore that chair well today. And he knows his stuff. Iím beginning to see what Rose and the Doc see in the bloke. I think maybe we hit the jackpot, pardon the pun, when the Doctor saw fit to send him to us."

"Told you he was more than a pretty face and a great bodyÖ and a hugeÖ smile," Jake said with a leer. "Some of the stuff heís told me about his Cardiff and his Rift Ė weíve not only hit the jackpot with him, but this universe seems to have a proverbial horseshoe up its arse, Lumic aside, that is. Poor bastard hasnít had an easy time of it, that I can tell you. And thatís even before his," Jake shot Ianto an uneasy sideways glance, "erm, lover, died."

Tom and Ianto nodded before the physician spoke up. "Okay, Jake, never say I havenít done something nice for you. Iíll switch down nights with you; just keep the noise to a minimum."

"And if you leave suspicious puddles anywhere, Iím hauling your ass out of bed to clean it up Ė both your asses," Ianto added threateningly.

"Thomas, I love you," Jake whooped, ignoring Iantoís threat save for flipping him off. His chicken was suddenly the last thing he wanted, and he shoved the plate into the center of the table before fishing out his wallet and throwing down a couple pound notes to cover his share of the tab. "Have at, gents, Iíve got a captain to doÖ actually get done by, heís a bit of a top, that one."

Pushing away from the table, Jake threw on his jacket and headed for the door, reaching for his cell as he did so while wondering aloud if theyíd have enough time to make use of the office.

"Iíd make sure you brought disinfectant wipes with you if you decide to use the office for your shift," Ross sighed, his face scrunched up in disgust. "I, for one, will be avoiding it until the cleaning staff come through."

"And Iíll dig out earplugs for all of us," Tom added. "Still, itís better than three days of him whinging about it."

"Too bad we didnít borrow that cascade device Rose had," Ianto mused, knowing from personal experience how loud Jake could get Ė not that he had minded at the time.

"God, anyone got an iPod with them so we can plug it into the system and crank the music?" Ross groaned. "I hate wearing earplugs when Iím sleeping. It makes me feel exposed because I canít hear anything." And then there was the sad and sorry fact that he was the only one on the team not getting any, as Jake had taken great pleasure in pointing out just before heíd gone to get laid. The only thing worse than being frustrated because the bird you wanted to get horizontal with was taking her time deciding if she actually wanted you too was having to listen to someone else get lucky, even if it was your male friend getting lucky with a bloke. You still got to listen to sex sounds, and it still got you hot and bothered with only Rosie Palm and her five sisters to help you find relief. In other words it was going to be a bugger of a night all round.

Jack held a tumbler of scotch in his hand Ė a night cap this time, nothing more; thanks to Jakeís constant attention and promiscuous affections he had stopped needing the alcohol as a way to ensure relatively dreamless sleep. Looking out the office window at the glittering lights of Cardiff, Jack was lost in thought.

Upon sending the Ďladsí, as he too had come to call them, off to get something to eat, heíd called up Rose to brief her on their arrival. Heíd had to endure a multitude of threats about what she planned on doing to his masculinity if he ever suggested she was pregnant again , but once sheíd gotten it out of her system, theyíd settled down to the business at hand with no problem - once Doc had finally stopped chuckling, that wasÖ

And then, just as the call was winding down, Rose and John had hit him with their bombshell. They wanted Jack to take over operational control of the field teams, thereby turning the Torchwood leadership from a partnership into a triumvirate. Rose would still handle the admin and PR aspects, Doc the R&D and gadgets, but they both felt that with Jackís rather copious experience with running Torchwood ops in his own universe, heíd be the best person for the job.

It was tempting. Moreover, it was what he loved doing. Helping John in the lab was fantastic and fun, but... whether he liked it or not, Jack knew he was a born leader. And he was good at it. "And I miss the excitement," he murmured to himself, taking a sip from his glass. The perimeter alarm sounded, and Jack glanced over to the wall of monitors, quickly zeroing in on the breached quadrant. Jake. And he was alone and grinning like a cat about to get some cream. "Guess Jones let up on his no sex while working policy," Jack mused, not quite sure how he felt about that idea but not willing to look a gift horse in the mouth, so to speak.

But that brought to mind another thing Jack would have to deal with sooner rather than later, preferably before his saying yes to Doc and Rose became public knowledge. Because Jack already knew he would say yes Ė he just needed a few days to wrap up his personal business - from his present as well as his past. There was no way around it now; he would have to have a Ďtalkí with Jake and establish some new rules for sleeping with his boss, and then Jack would have to sit down and really figure out just how he felt about Jones and whether or not he could work directly with the man or not.

But not right now. Right now the door to the office was being flung open to allow a playfully predatory Jake entrance. "Well hello, soldier," Jack leered, "so what can I do you over?"

By the time the three remaining members of Alpha team had returned to the Hub, it was suspiciously quiet, causing Tom to breathe a sigh of relief. "Sounds like round oneís over at least."

"We should have chipped in and got them a hotel room," Ross muttered as they headed back to the bunk room where at least he started to strip down for the night.

"Tom, if you want to kip off for a few hours, I can watch the monitor," Ianto offered. "I need to catch up on the reports from the last crew."

"Iím not going to turn down a few hours of shut-eye," the taller man allowed, pulling off his fatigue jacket and dropping to his bunk, not bothering to remove anything else as heíd be on duty soon enough.

"What about those earplugs?" Ross groused only to have the pillow from Jakeís bunk dropped on him.

"Use this instead," Ianto suggested with a smirk.

"But what if I suffocate?"

"Then you wonít have to worry about the noise, will you?" Reflexively checking his sidearm even as he ducked the pillow that Ross lobbed at him, Ianto headed out of the room and out to the monitoring station, where he opened up his laptop and immersed himself in the minutia recorded over the last month by Delta team. It was at least an hour before he was distracted by noises coming from the guest quarters, and when he recognized them for what they were, he let his head fall back against the tall back of the computer chair he was seated in.

"Christ almighty..." Jakeís voice was easy enough to distinguish, but after a time, he realized it was the other one that he was listening to, the other one that was making the fit of his trousers tighter. "Bugger," he hissed, only to look toward the door at the sound of a snicker, relaxing when he saw that it was Tom standing there.

"That sounds like what theyíre up to, all right. Go to bed, Ianto, Iíve got it now. Anything interesting going on?"

Other than that? The words almost slipped out, but Ianto held them back by force of will. "The Riftís been quiet for the most part, only a few spikes and nothing they could find from any of them. Let me know if anything pops up."

"Other than Jakey and his sex machine? Will do," Tom chuckled, setting his mug of coffee on the desk and sinking down into the seat Ianto had vacated. "Go on, I can handle this," he said, shooing Ianto out of the room, waiting until the other man was gone before settling back to do his own reading.

Jack slid into his trousers as quietly as possible, only bothering to ensure his zipper was done up, and made his way to the bedroom door. Jake was asleep Ė well, passed out Ė on the bed with a silly grin still plastered on his face. Okay, so maybe Jones had a point, he thought with a dry chuckle as he slipped silently out of the room. Being back here, at the Hub, had his old habits coming to the surface, and he wanted to check on the Rift again just to make sure.

The readings from this Rift were still too new to him to be able to extrapolate correctly, but the way it had been surging lately had him sitting up and paying attention. Oh, it was nothing noticeable, not the kind of spike that would have Rose scrambling a field team, but it was constant enough that Jack suspected something was coming through Ė something small enough to slide in almost undetected, and with the other end of the Rift being unfixed, that could mean anything from animal and plant life to tech to an alien life form; there was no way to determine what came through. And that alone was enough to make Jack twitchy at the best of times, so he had no problem in giving in to old habits and checking things out Ė just to make sure.

"What I wouldnít give for Tosh and her whiz kid ways right now," Jack murmured as he headed down the stairs to the subterranean office that served as not only the team leadís office but as the board room and also housed the Rift monitoring equipment. "Maybe I should think about recruitingÖ no." Jones may have still managed to get himself into Torchwood, and Owen too as a consulting physician, but if Jack could avoid recruiting the rest of his old team to Torchwood, he would. "Not gonna repeat the same mistakes, Jack, this is a fresh start, remember?"

Tom looked up as he entered the room, momentary surprise flitting over his face as he took in Jackís state of undress. "Something you need, sir?" His dark brows furrowed together as he realized how that might have sounded, especially in light of what heíd been listening to for most of the night.

Jack shook his head. "Nah, old habits and not being able to die and all that," he told the Wild Boysí medical officer. "Sit down, Tom; I just want to check the Rift readings. Theyíre a little more erratic than I like, even with my limited knowledge of this version of the Rift."

"How so?" Tom asked, instantly concerned. "Have you told Rose or Doc?"

"Not yet," Jack replied, answering Tomís last question first and beckoning him over to the monitoring station where he pulled up the logs for the last three weeks. "Not until Iím sure. As I said, it could be nothing, but here, look at this."

Some deft manipulation of the program had the graphs turning transparent and superimposing themselves over each other in sequential order. "Thereís a pattern, you see?" Jack said, pointing to the almost minute rise in activity at the same times in each forty-eight hour period. "Iím currently leaning towards some sort of communication coming through on a wavelength that this system canít currently recognize. Itís just tooÖ consistent to be chance."

"We can download the data and send it back to London, let Doc take a look at it," Tom suggested even as he leaned forward to study the readouts.

"We could, but wouldnít you rather figure it out yourself?" Jack asked. "You boys arenít exactly lacking when it comes to brains and good instincts, well, for the most part. Docís running with an overflowing plate as it is, and to be perfectly blunt about it, heís never actually dealt with the Rift on a consistent basis, not as part of the Doctor or as John Smith himself. Heís got all the know-how and memories of the Doctor, but he does have limitations."

"Plus heís ga-ga right now about the possibility of Rose being pregnant," Tom added dryly. "And if thatís the case..." He nudged Jack out of the way and hit a few keystrokes, smiling in satisfaction as the display changed. "I think that shows the pattern youíre talking about in a clearer fashion."

Jack crossed his arms over his chest and watched Tom work, flashing the younger man an approving grin as the display changed. "Not bad, kid. Not bad at all," he chuckled. "Guess this means weíd better get the team up and get to work."

Tom nodded as he keyed the com panel. "Ross and Jake, you mean; Iíll call Ianto; heís out for his run. And you can have the honors of waking your sleeping beauty."

"Wouldnít exactly call him a beauty," Jack chuckled, ignoring the flip flop his stomach did at the thought of a sweaty and panting Jones. "He drools and snores in his sleep. But I probably should take a shower and get dressed. Wouldnít want to offend Rossí delicate sensibilities."

"At this rate weíre going to have to pay for him to get any," Tom chuckled as he keyed the radio to call Ianto back in.

"Trust me when I say the alternate reality was much worse when it came to Lisa. At least this one lived," Jack replied quietly. "Of course the other one had better taste in men," he continued, trying to make light of it. "She was living with Ianto."

"Huh," Tom murmured, surprised and intrigued by this tidbit of information; aside from what Rose had told them in the beginning, none of them except Jake really knew anything about Jack Harkness.

"Yeah," Jack replied, feeling the need to share at least a bit of his life. "You probably know part of the story - we had your Cybermen invade my old universe. They managed to take out most of Torchwood One before they were stopped, thanks to the Doctor, Rose, Jake and a lot of brave men and women who died trying to defend Torchwood, and the Earth, from the invasion. And to top it all off, the Daleks showed up too Ė fuckers.

"Anyhow, Lisa was in R&D and Ianto was the Alien Tech archivist at One. It was Ianto that ended up in Cardiff and talked me into letting him join Three, not Lisa. Iím sure you can fill in the blanks." Well, truthfully, he wouldnít be able to fill in all the gaps, especially Iantoís duplicity and the Cyberwoman in the basement , but Jack would rather forget the rest of the story himself, soÖ no, it was better to let those particular memories fade into nothingness; it wasnít as if Jack needed to remember those moments after all Ė he just needed to remember his lover and his love Ė he needed only to remember Ianto.

"Anyhow, a shower and a wake up call for me and you get to wake Ross the Grouch," Jack said, refocusing on the present. "Say meet back here in half an hour? Does anyone on your team know how to make a decent cup of coffee?"

"Not I and youíll have to ask the others to find out if they do," Tom called as Jack left.

"Damn. I could use a decent cup of Joe," Jack muttered as he climbed the stairs towards the guest rooms only to come up short as Jones appeared at the other end of the catwalk hallway. He was flushed, dripping sweat, chest heaving with his exertions and looking far too perfect for Jackís peace of mind. "Screw the Joe, I need a scotch," he groaned quietly as his libido kicked in and his mind tried to slap it back into submission while he tried to figure out if he should keep going or run and hide until the younger man passed by.

Ianto raised his head and stopped when he saw Jack at the other end of the walkway, half-dressed and his hair in disarray as if heíd just climbed out of bed Ė which he probably had. "Jesus fuck," he muttered under his breath as the arousal heíd finally run off slammed back into him. Recovering, he started to walk again, closing the distance between them, preparing to pass the other man and head toward the shower. "I hope the fact that youíre out here doesnít mean you wore Jake out," he commented.

Jackís chuckle was low and dirty. "He was still passed out and smiling when I went to check on the Rift," Jack glanced down at his wrist strap and read the digital display. "Shit, over an hour ago. Time really does fly when youíve got a mystery to solve," he laughed ruefully.

"Anyway, Iím on my way to wake him and grab a shower. Iíve got a project for you boys. Tomís waking Ross right now, and I want everyone in the monitoring room in half an hour, so weíd both better get a move on."

"Mystery, what mystery?" Ianto turned and shouted the question at Jackís vanishing back. Cursing at the lack of an answer, he took off, running toward the bunk room to grab a shower and change, beating the others to the monitoring room by a good ten minutes, winding up deep in conversation with Tom when the other three finally arrived.

"Let me guess, you also snooped around for your Christmas presents because you couldnít stand the suspense," Jack asked Jones mildly as he strode into the room, hair still damp from his shower. "He did, didnít he?" Jack asked Jake with a grin. "And he reads the last chapter of the book first to know what happens."

"In some things, surprise isnít good," Ianto shot back even as he moved back to give the others a view of the monitor. "So please, update us."

Jackís eyebrow went up at that. "Impatient and eager. An interesting set of personality traits," he observed. "Fine, Iíll update you," Jack continued, contemplating in amusement how Jones would react when he found out that Jack was going to be his new boss. This little mystery was proving to be even more beneficial than Jack anticipated because if nothing else came of it, heíd know for certain how well heíd be able to work with the other man.

"Tom, bring up the graphs on the wall display, will you?" Jack requested of the team doctor and then launched into his observations and an outline of this morningís findings with Tom providing the visual display of what he was saying. When he finally wrapped up, he looked at the four men. "So whatís your next move?" he asked, pointedly removing himself from the scenario. Time for him to see what the Wild Boys were really made of.

"I know this may sounds low tech," Jake began slowly, his mind working through the possibilities. "But has anyone tried running the signal through a Goldwave to see if that turns up anything?"

Tom glanced over at Jack and, at a negative shake of his head, started to do the requested task, only to be bumped out of the way by Ross. "It doesnít have a broken leg; let the master get to work." He performed the task Jake had suggested, then several others of his own devising as well, stopping when Ianto leaned in.

"Look, there, not only is it cyclical timewise, thereís also locational correlation. Ross, switch it to a 3-D layout of the city." After Ross did as he asked, he pointed out the clusters. "Itís bunching."

"Multiple targets then," Jack said from where heíd come to silently stand directly behind and to the left of Jones in order to watch them work. "This suggests that this isnít something physical coming through the Rift. It looks like we have deliberate Rift chatter or things coming through and being intercepted at those points. That means that this is likely a coordinated effort Ė but to what end?"

"The only way to find out is to check out those locations, see if we can find anything out there," Ianto pointed out.

"Uploading the data to the SUVís computers," Ross announced as his fingers flew over the keys.

"Sync to my wrist strap too," Jack ordered, taking it off so that it could be connected through the small data port on the underside.

"There are five of us, so weíll cover more ground if we break into two teams. Tom, I want you to stay here and be our eyes and ears through the CCTV cameras. It sucks, I know, but youíve been up longest, so your reflexes will be the slowest if something should hit the fan," Jack pointed out logically.

Tom looked over at Ianto for confirmation, nodding at his team leadís agreement. "Ross, you and Harkness take the eastern clusters; you can take the SUV he brought up. Jake and I will handle the western ones."

Ross handed Jack his wrist strap back. "Dataís uploaded there, also downloaded our communications program to it Ė unless Doc gave you a com patch or armor disc?"

"Didnít need the com patch before so I never bothered to get one, and I donít need an armor disc so I told him to keep it," Jack replied absently as he did up the fastenings around his wrist. "After all, even when I die, I come back so itís no big deal."

Jake frowned at the pronouncement. It might not be a big deal, but from what heíd gleaned from Jackís stories, it could be quite painful depending on the extent of the older manís injuries. However, he bit his tongue and remained silent as it wasnít his place to insist that Jack follow SOP. Having Jack ride roughshod over Iantoís command was one thing because he was a bit of a loose cannon to begin with, but Jake wasnít about to step on his friendís toes just because he was sleeping with Harkness. It was up to Ianto to address the situation Ė and deal with it when Jack refused like Jake already knew he would. "Iíll go load up the spare vehicle too, then. Ross, give me a hand, will you?"

After Jake and Ross left, Ianto looked over at Tom. "Review the time frames of the last cluster, and let us know if you find anything." Tom nodded, and he and Jack started out. "Doc didnít send an extra disc," Ianto commented as they headed toward the garage.

"Like I said, no big deal. I donít need armor because I canít permanently die. It doesnít make sense to waste it on me when people who do stay dead need it more." Shrugging into his greatcoat, Jack took out his sidearm and checked to make sure that there was a bullet in the chamber and that the clip was full and that the safety was off. "Sorry if I overstepped back there. Itís hard to remember that Iím not really in charge anymore."

"No need to apologize, Iím not going to turn down good ideas." Iantoís gaze went unfocused for a second before he subvocalized an answer. "Tom sent some new data to the SUVs Ė and it doesnít matter if you can come back from the dead or not, thereís no point in dying in the first place if you donít need to." Iantoís slightly skeptical tone said he didnít quite believe the claim.

Jack chuckled softly. "When youíve done it as often as I have, you get used to it," he pointed out with black humor. "Besides, think of all the new and interesting ways I can die. It never gets dull. But donít worry; I donít plan on dying in this jacket. Itís the last one Iíve got, and I want to keep it for a while. It was a," Jack paused a moment, "a gift from a good friend."

"Itís good to have something to remember friends by," Ianto agreed, stopping at the munitions locker and removing a machine pistol and checking it over. "Do me a favor; while youíre out there, remember that this isnít your Cardiff; follow Rossís lead if somethingís unfamiliar."

"Yes, Dad," Jack replied with a snicker. "Seriously, Jones, Iím not going to take any chances. Stop fussing over me; Iím not one of your team, and I can take care of myself. Thanks for thinking of me though. I mean that," and Jack did. It warmed an iced-over part of his heart - which both concerned him and filled him with a bittersweet sadness. He really was learning to live without Iantoís presence; because even if Jones was physically an exact match, personality wise they were as different as cheese and chalk, and yet, even in this universe which was so very different from his own, there was a Ianto Jones still taking care of him Ė even if this one was a pain in his ass nine times out of ten.

"Be that as it may," Ianto said as they entered the garage, "you are my responsibility while weíre here, so youíd better get used to doing as I say."

"Oh baby, I love it when you take charge like that," Jack shot back without really thinking as he headed to the SUV heíd Ďrequisitionedí when heíd come to Cardiff a week ago. Ross was already behind the wheel and waiting for him and it continued to amuse him how the members of Alpha team continued to play chauffeur for him despite his intimate knowledge of the city. Yet another sign of Jonesí need to protect the consultant, Jack guessed.

"So whatís the new information that Tom sent?" he asked the other man, his parting shot already forgotten with the thrill of the chase before him.

Jake, whoíd been waiting outside the vehicles for them to appear, laughed easily as he got behind the wheel of the other SUV. "Looks like heís finally stopped avoiding you at all costs, then."

"Makes it easier for all of us since it seems heís staying until we figure out whatís going on with these signals," Ianto shrugged as he climbed into the passenger side of the vehicle, giving everything a once-over as he did so to make sure they had all the gear they needed.

"Yeah, but thereís avoiding and then thereís avoiding," Jake replied. "Donít get me wrong, Iím glad heís coming out of that shell heís been burying himself under. Itís just weird, you know? Him flirting with you when heís getting over, well, you."

"From what I understand, him flirting is instinctual - now are you going to drive, or are we going to let the two of them figure this out before we even get to our site?" Ianto asked before logging on the computer to scan the information Tom had sent over.

Jake raised an eyebrow at the tacit order but did as he was told. Some things were better left alone after all.

Chapter 7

It was the third park out of three search locations, not merely a coincidence any longer and not monitored by CCTV, how very convenient that. Tired of playing it safe, Jack had been out of the car before Ross could even put it in park, saying theyíd cover more ground if they split up and to keep their comlinks open. Which was the reason why Jack was blithely ignoring Rossís grumbling voice echoing from his wrist strap as he poked around an isolated area of the park near the epicenter of the readings for this location.

"Trees, trees, and more trees," Jack muttered. "Oh look, a dog pissing on a bush and a dead owl, gross. Hunh. Dead owl." Owls were predators, so they usually only died of old age or when hunted by bigger predators. This one looked young, healthy and in its prime. So why was it dead? More importantly, why hadnít a scavenger already consumed it?

Going on instinct, Jack scaled the tree under which heíd found the owl, not sure what he was looking for but knowing he was on the right track.

"Harkness? Harkness!" Ross growled, easing through the trees in search of the other man, coming to a halt when he found himself staring at the barrel of a pistol. "Just me, mate. You went quiet on me."

"Yeah, well, I donít feel the urge to talk every waking second," Jack retorted. "We have any bag and tag equipment in the car?"

Ross nodded and tilted his head to the side, trying to see what was behind Jack. "Whatíd you find?"

"Dead owl andÖ something else, a cocoon of some sort, and it was definitely not made by local flora or fauna. Can you grab them, and let Jones know while youíre at it? Iím going to climb a few more trees while youíre gone to see if I can find another cocoon, and when you get back, Iíll collect the sample Iíve found in this one."

"Climb Ė just donít fall out on your head; youíd be hell to drag back to the SUV," Ross sighed as he turned to head back to collect the equipment and contact the rest of the team.

"Is the entire team made up of mother hens?" Jack asked, not expecting an answer. "Sheesh. Iím older than Methuselah, have died more times than the Doctorís regenerated, and still Iím being henpecked. I donít get it."

"Ross says that Harkness found something, some kind of cocoon and a dead owl," Ianto told Jake as they worked their way through the underbrush in an overgrown park area. "Theyíre bringing them back to the Hub for Ė " He fell silent and held a hand up before pointing toward a hand sticking out from beneath a bush.

"I think we found something a little bigger than the owl," was Jakeís only comment as he drew his sidearm and began to slowly walk forward, all senses on high alert. "No sign of movement in the surrounding area. Should we wait for Ross and Jack to back us up?"

Ianto gave a sharp negative shake of his head. "Too far away. Keep your eyes open, and Iíll check it out." Drawing his own pistol, he prodded the hand with his booted foot, crouching down when there was no reactive movement.

"Deceased," he called out after checking the wrist for a pulse. "Not totally cold so it happened some time in the night." He pushed back the branches of the bush and frowned as he studied the shabbily dressed elderly manís body. "Looks homeless. Heís got some kind of rash on his neck, not sure if itís related to the COD. Weíre going to have to bag him and take him back to the Hub, let Tom get a look at him."

"Bloody hell," Jake groaned. "I hate bagging duty. Itís the reason I went into munitions, not medicine! Nothing left but little bits after things go boom."

Grumbling half-heartedly under his breath, Jake made his way back to the car to get the body bag, gurney and gloves. As he did so, he hit the com to advise Tom of their discovery, figuring that Ianto would want to inform the other team himself.

Across the city Jack listened to Rossís one-sided conversation with Jones, his attention sharpening when he heard Ďbodyí and Ross asking if they needed back up. "I take it they found a stiff?" Jack interjected, tapping Rossís arm to get his attention. "Tell them to carefully look in the trees in the surrounding area. Theyíll be looking for a cocoon of sorts. They wonít be able to miss it Ė itíll look like a decoration from a parade float Ė brightly colored, translucent and almost crystalline in consistency."

Ross rolled his eyes at being the Ďmonkey in the middleí of this conversation but did as Jack asked. "Ianto, Jack wanted me to ask you to look in the trees surrounding the bodyÖ"

"And tell them to wear hazmat gloves if they find one," Jack interrupted again, making Ross shoot a fast scowl in his direction. Jack just grinned and continued on blithely. "That one I found was coated in a mild acidic compound. Ate the first couple of layers off my hand by the time I got down to drop it in the bag. Good thing Iím ambidextrous or that might have been an issue."

The SUV swerved slightly as Ross took his eyes off the road completely to glare at Jack. "This is something I do not need to know!" he all but snarled at the other man. "And why the hell didnít you tell me when it happened? You might need medical attention!" Ross railed. "And itís bad enough I get this shite from my team, but if you start on me, Harkness, so help meÖ"

"I didnít tell you because it wasnít anything that wouldnít heal, and I was referring to the fact that I may need to relieve myself thanks to the three cups of coffee I had this morning. Youíre a little tense, Ross; is there a problem?" Jack informed the driver far too innocently to be truly believed.

The younger man scowled, and after muttering under his breath about being surrounded by nutters who had no right to be getting more than he did, Ross relayed the message, keeping his eyes on the road ahead of them in the hope that Harkness would get the hint and stop nattering on.

The two teams made it back to the Hub, delivering their discoveries to Tom, who looked back and forth from the dead man to the three cocoons, Ianto and Jake having found two in the area around the decedent. "Which would you rather have me look at first?"

"The corpse," Ianto said, shooting Jack a glare when he started to speak at the same time. "Letís find out what killed him before we get into those buggers. They can go in the stasis chamber until weíre ready so we donít get any nasty surprises."

Jack held up his hands in mock submission. "Far be it from me to interfere with what the boss says to do," he replied, his voice full of barely restrained amusement.

"However, would it be possible for me to get a topical analgesic from Tom before he starts cutting into the body? My palm currently feels like itís been rubbed raw, and while not painful, exactly, itís kind of aggravating."

"Harkness!" Ross groaned. "You said it wasnít bad. And would you knock it off with the innuendo, would you? Else I might be tempted to find out first hand if you really canít die forever."

"Wot the hell were you two doing out there?" Jake asked even as Tom grabbed a tube of the requested ointment and tossed it to Jack, who caught it one-handed.

Ianto sighed and shook his head as he carried the containers with the cocoons to the stasis chamber, set them inside and turned it on, keying the lock to open at his code only - with his luck Harkness would convince Jake to include them in some kind of sex game if he didnít secure them.

Jack burst into laughter, at both Jakeís reaction and Ross, whoíd turned to bang his head against a nearby wall in frustration. "I followed my gut, climbed a tree and found a cocoon. Once Ross got the bagging gear, I grabbed it to bring it in. It started to itch right away, burn about halfway down, and by the time Iíd put it in the container Ross had grabbed from the vehicle, Iíd lost a couple layers of skin. Better that than dropping it," Jack said with a shrug. "Besides, itís already starting to scab over Ė which is why it itches like a son of a bitch right now."

Jake sighed and, with a shake of his head, grabbed the ointment from Jackís hand. "Címon, you daft bugger. You might be bloody talented with those hands of yours, but this time I think youíll need a little help tíget the job done."

"I thought we all were on duty?" Jack murmured quietly, eyes crinkling at the corners with suppressed mirth as he and Jake bantered back and forth. "Wouldnít want the Ďbossí to ream me out for not following orders."

Jake bit back a moan, shook his head as if to clear it and took a reluctant step back. Leave it to Jack to step up the game and make him want things he couldnít have until his next night off. "Yes, we are on duty, and no, you wouldnít want him to, considering you donít do that," he shot back with a shaky laugh. "Címon Ė weíll go into the infirmary to take care of this.

"Mmm, I always did have a thing for doctorsÖ" Jackís voice trailed off as he watched Jones walk back into the room, a scowl still firmly plastered on his face. It made Jackís heart beat slightly faster, much to his consternation. That was another of those roads he wasnít going to go down, dammit. Besides, he wasnít a long term commitment kind of guy. It was hard to be when you never grew old and died while your partners did. And then there was the whole issue of this being Ianto Jones - nothing like falling for your dead loverís doppelganger to fuck with your head even more than it already was. Nope, Jack was definitely through with commitment, relationships and anyone named Ianto Jones. He might be lonely, but heíd be safe Ė and sane.

"However, for the good of the job, and Rossís sanity, Iíll behave. Besides, I wouldnít want to get you in trouble with the boss," he drawled lazily. "Címon, letís get me patched up and back out there so no one thinks Iím molesting you behind their backs."

"Or in front of them," Tom commented between dictating notes about the body in front of him into the recorder.

"Ross, why donít you go over to the local constabulary, see if they have any information regarding any other suspicious deaths in the area," Ianto said, deciding the youngest member of their team needed a break. The locals were supposed to let Torchwood know about anything odd, but sometimes things slipped through the cracks.

"On my way," Ross breathed thankfully, practically racing out of the autopsy room.

"Youíd think heíd learn that if he didnít react as much, Jake would tone it down," Tom chuckled.

"Youíd think that, wouldnít you?" Ianto laughed, donning a spare surgical gown and gloves, then leaning against the wall and watching the taller man work. "Let me know when you need a hand."

Tom nodded absently, already immersed back in his work, calling Ianto over when he required assistance in removing the chest plate and various organs.

After Jake had finished washing, slathering and bandaging his hand and had gone to check on the armory stocks, Jack took a second to look in on the morgue where Ianto was busy with Tom. He didnít stick his head in or offer to lend a hand because it wasnít needed. The team worked well together and cohesively. It made him feel a little bit redundant, truth be told.

However, it also gave Jack some Ďaloneí time without one of the Wild Boys underfoot. Time enough to slip out and look in on one last team member before he called Rose and gave her his answer. Jack figured there was no sense delaying the inevitable. He wanted this, dammit, wanted back in the game even if it was only as a desk jockey.

Slipping quietly out a side door, Jack turned off his wrist strap and headed towards his last Ďgoodbyeí. During his week in Cardiff Jack had spotted a nearby flower shop, and it was a rare, sunny day in the City, so instead of grabbing a vehicle, and quite possibly having Jake volunteer to go with him, Jack set out on foot. The walk to the hospital was an easy one, and the solitude would give him time to get his thoughts in order.

Stopping long enough to pick up a dozen pink cala lilies, Jack made his way to the Llandough Hospital and, after flashing his Torchwood badge, let himself into the catatonic patientís room. "Hello, Suzie, my name is Jack Harkness, and once upon a time in another universe you and I worked together."

It was past midnight when the proximity alarm beeped, letting Ianto, who had Rift duty that evening, know someone was approaching the Hub. He glanced up from the book he had been half-reading, watching the screen as Harkness walked into the building. There hadnít been any Rift activity that evening, and the samples Tom had removed from the dead man were still being processed, so heíd had plenty of time to contemplate just what tack to take regarding Harknessí disappearance. It didnít matter if the man was on his team or not; he was part of Torchwood, and that meant he was Iantoís responsibility whether they liked it or not. Vanishing without a fare-thee-well and then turning off all communications - that didnít go over well, not in the least.

Jack let himself into the Hub as quietly as he could. He probably owed Jake an apology for taking off like he had, but he didnít really feel like explaining where heíd gone or why, so instead of heading to the barracks, he headed towards the upper level and the guest room heíd commandeered when Delta team had been evacced. Jack had come to Cardiff in order to let go of his past - a past no one but Rose and John truly knew about or understood - and he really didnít feel like sharing all the gory details of how each member of his team had ended up dead save one with all and sundry, even if he was sleeping with one of them.

Besides, it had been a rough day, and Jack was feeling more unstable than he had since first arriving in this universe. It had been rough, seeing Suzie and knowing that even without his involvement she had still found her way into Torchwood and sheíd still allowed her obsessions to control her. It seemed that some people truly couldnít be saved no matter what the circumstances.

Then again, some things did, Jack thought with a smile as he thought back on the conversation heíd had barely an hour ago. After leaving the facility where Suzie would spend the rest of her days, Jack had wandered the city for hours, lost in thought. He hadnít even noticed the setting of the sun, and it had only been when his stomach rumbled that he realized heíd been gone for the better part of the day. Parking himself in a local fish and chip shop, Jack had ordered dinner and called Rose.

"Rose Tyler-Smithís office," Donnaís voice had sounded in his ear.

"Hey, Red, why are you still at work?"

"Jack! How are you, beefcake? Things all right? Iím working a bit late because Ruís taking me on an extended weekend to meet his family Ė not a word out of you!"

"Wouldnít dream of it. At least tell me heís good in bed."

"Ooooiiiii, watchit you!"

Jack chuckled at that. "Patch me through to Rose, will you, Red? And have a great time." Jack listened as the phone clicked over and then was picked up again. "Iím in. Start the ball rolling, beautiful. You have yourself a new head of Field Operations."

"Paperwork went out yesterday, you prat," Rose laughed. "We knew you wouldnít say no."

"Please donít tell me Iím getting predictable in my old age," Jack groaned.

"No, we just knew you wouldnít be able to resist that particular carrot, which was why we dangled it," Doc chimed in. "Torchwood is in your blood, Jack, as is protecting people. And youíre good at it. You just needed time to realize that and to heal. Now you can start saving the world again and let Rose and I get back to making babiesÖ..OW!"

"Jack, Iíll call you tomorrow. Right now I need to have a talk with my husband," Rose growled in the phone before disconnecting the call.

And so it begins again, Jack thought to himself with a wry chuckle as he made his way up the stairs to his room. At least Rose would give him some breathing room to adjust to the idea Ė as well as give herself some time to break it to the teams Ė but by the time he went back to London, everyone would know that Torchwood was now led by three people Ė John and Rose Tyler-Smith and Jack Harkness. Drumroll please.

"Next time you take off, leaving your communications program open would be a good idea," Ianto commented mildly from the doorway to the monitoring room.

Jack pulled up short at the sound of Jonesís voice, sucked in a sharp breath and schooled his expression into the laid-back mask he wore when he didnít want people to see anything but the surface. "Well, technically now that youíve assumed command, Iím back on vacation agaiÖ" Jackís words died in his throat as he finally looked up and caught sight of the other man leaning casually against the doorjamb. Jonesí arms were crossed over his chest, and heíd crossed his legs at the ankles too, his hip and one leg bearing his full weight. The fatigues were standard issue for this Torchwood, although his were a little too snug to be truly decent, and his t-shirt was also standard issue black Ė except it looked about a size too small and highlighted every muscle on the manís torso from his rock hard abs to the bulging biceps andÖ holy fuck, was that a tattoo on his right one? Not good. So very not good!

"Youíre here, that means you check in, unless you want to... give up on our little mystery," Ianto shot back, his tone still even.

"I did check in," Jack replied, his voice going positively laconic. "With Rose and Doc. Had a long conversation with them too. Donnaís meeting Ruís family his weekend, by the way. Looks like itís serious."

"Good for them." A hint of frustrated tension crept into Iantoís voice. "Check in with the team where you are; it makes life simpler and saves me having to waste manpower sending someone out to find you."

"Did you ever consider that maybe I didnít want to be found for the short span of time Iíve been gone?" Jack was starting to get annoyed now. "I came here to take care of some personal business, and while Iím all for helping out where I can, Iíd already delayed my plans once thanks to Deltaís pizza fiasco. Donít get me wrong, Iím having a blast doing fieldwork again, but this was none of anyoneís business but my own. Now that itís done, the communicator stays on for the duration, but today was non-negotiable. Now if thatís all, Mr. JonesÖ"

"Actually, it isnít, Captain Harkness," Ianto snapped, straightening up and stepping out of the doorway. "I have no desire to snoop after your gallivanting, but you will leave us a way to get in touch with you, do you understand? If thatís too much trouble, I would suggest you head back to London and run around there."

Jackís fists clenched as he went from being mildly annoyed to fucking pissed in the space of a heartbeat, and he had to force himself to relax, let the tension drain away and shut himself down. "I was at Llandough Hospital visiting a woman who in my universe had been my second in command." Jackís tone was pure ice. "Sheís in the Lalanfair Unit Ė feel free to check; itís a Torchwood Psych Ward. I used my ID to get in to visit. Patient name is Suzie Costello. Apparently she played fast and loose with some alien tech and ended up catatonic. I spent most of the afternoon with her, and surprisingly enough after watching such a brilliant woman lie there, nothing more than a drooling, empty shell, I really didnít feel like going out and fucking the first thing that moved. A miracle, I know. Now if youíll excuse me."

"Christ, Harkness, all it would have taken was a few words, a note, something and to leave the fucking com on. You didnít have to answer it, hell, I donít think anyone would even have called you, but we would have been able to fucking find you if we needed to!" The volume of Iantoís voice had risen even as the tone turned harsh.

"Message received loud and clear Ė hell, I think they heard you in the barracks. Good night, Jones!" Jack growled as he stalked past the younger man, tired of politely waiting for the conversation to be over.

"You are such a fuckwit," Ianto growled, looking as if he was torn between strangling Jack and something else.

"And youíre an overbearing pussy, so whatís your point?"

"If weíre all so fucking useless, why are you hanging around? Why are you staying here? You could have come to Cardiff, and no one would have been the wiser."

"I didnít say you were useless," Jack retorted, surprise killing the annoyance in his voice. "I said youíre an overbearing pussy. I actually happen to think youíve got a great team with amazing instincts. Iím the one whoís feeling useless right now. As for why I didnít just come to Cardiff Ė I donít want to be in Cardiff. I came here to bury the past; why the fuck would I want to try and resurrect it?"

"I meant to visit, not to stay," Ianto pointed out, regaining his hold on his temper as well.

"I hate to break it to you, Jones, but I was staying somewhere else in Cardiff. Donna was the only one who knew where Iíd gone, and when Delta went down, she told, and Rose called me. Donna was my way of making sure that Rose and John didnít worry. They tend to do that when I disappear. Anyway, when Rose called and briefed me, I checked out of my hotel and came here to keep an eye on the Rift."

Ianto drew in a deep breath and ran his hands through his hair as he blew it out. "I understand that this situation is difficult for you, and Iím not trying to add to it, but we need to be able to get in touch with you. If you need privacy, just let someone know, and the only thing that will make us call you is the impending explosion of the Rift. Is that acceptable?"

"Not as difficult as I thought it would be," Jack said with a shrug of his shoulders. "And the last bit of business is taken care of, so I wonít be disappearing again. Youíve got my undivided attention. Iíll be a good boy and follow the rules from now until we get back to London. Youíre the boss," Jack finished with just the faintest bit of malicious amusement in his voice.

Jack had a sudden vision of the shit hitting the fan once Rose told Jones about his new role in Torchwood; however, he really did want to see the Wild Boys handle the situation with Jones calling the shots. Chances were that if he told the younger man of the new change in command, then Jack wouldnít have the chance to find out just what this team was capable of on their own.

"So glad you realized it, now get some rest, Harkness. Briefing at 0600."

Biting back the urge to laugh as Jones ordered him about, Jack threw a mock salute towards the younger man and made his way into his room before he could give in to the urge to laugh. Jack could already predict the coming explosion and, oddly enough, was looking forward to seeing it. "Definitely not my Ianto," he murmured with a bittersweet smile as he closed his bedroom door behind him. "But Iím learning to live with that. And Iím sure as hell not forgetting you, Ianto, I promise."

Out in the hall, Jake, Ross and Tom relaxed slightly as the situation seemed to defuse itself below them. True to Harknessí words, the yelling match had made its way into the barracks, and the three men had come out to make sure things didnít get too explosive. "Oil and bloody vinegar, those two," Ross muttered with a shake of his head. "Actually more like plastique and a detonator. Itís almost impossible to accept that in his universe Ianto was Harknessí lover."

"Oh, I donít know about that," Jake replied quietly. "You know what they say about opposites attracting and all that. I have a feeling that Jackís the sort of guy that you want to stick around Ė even if itís just for his prowess."

"Again with the sex talk," Ross groaned. "Prick, you know Iím not getting any!"

"Hit the rack, you lot," Ianto yelled in their direction, his volume much lower than heíd used before. "Itís not the bloody Eastenders in here."

"No, itís Queer as fucking Folk!" Ross yelled back with a chuckle. "Drama queens and divas everywhere. And our very own pretty princess with his very own tiara."

"Die, Jenkins," Jake snarled, rounding on his friend in order to kick his arse, only to have Ross dance away and make a beeline for the barracks. "Youíre Weevil meat, you bastard!"

"Christ, can I go sleep in one of the SUVís?" Tom sighed as Jake tore after Ross, the two of them making more noise than Ianto and Harkness had at the height of their argument.

"Drug them," Ianto snorted, sending Tom off to try to get back to sleep and turning to go back into the monitoring room, his mind whirring with questions he knew he wouldnít get answers to.

Chapter 8

At 5:59 am Jack wandered into the office, cup of coffee in one hand and the local newspaper in the other. "Two bodies were found overnight," he commented, tossing the paper in front of Jones, whoíd taken up residence behind the desk. "Same weird rash. A hooker and her trick. It made news because they were found in mid-act. Death must have been almost instantaneous," Jack mused as he slid into the chair farthest away from everyone else and became absorbed in his own thoughts as he tried to see a pattern where so far there were only body counts and glittery glowing cocoons.

"At least they went out with a bang," Jake snickered around his mug of tea, his laughter growing at the otherís groans.

"Too early for this," Tom groaned, smothering a yawn with the back of his hand.

"Yeah, well some of us werenít up all night cybering with their girlfriend," Ross pointed out, to which Tom gave him the finger.

"It wasnít all night; besides, hearing Ianto and Harkness yammering at each other destroyed the mood."

"My heart bleeds for you," Ianto said, his tone dry. "All right, weíve got two new bodies then. Tom, that means a trip to the morgue for you; check out the similarities. According to Ross, who spoke to our favorite PCís at the station, our derelictís name was Roger Parker. He frequented the park where we found him, generally the harmless sort, just panhandling."

"Certainly harmless now," Jake pointed out.

Ignoring him, Ianto pulled up a series of reports on the screen, then looked at Tom. "All yours, Dr. Milligan."

Tom stood at that and settled himself before pointing at the monitor. "Roger was killed by a paralytic neurotoxin that was injected into him through the neck by hundreds of tiny pin pricks Ė which is what the rash on his neck is comprised of." He hit a button on the control panel, and the view zoomed in to illustrate the area of the manís body that he was speaking about.

"Based on the scans, Iíd say that the toxin that was introduced to him killed him in a matter of seconds by shutting down his circulatory system Ė nasty bit of business. So far Iíve come up negative in the database for a match to it, but Iíll keep working on it and looking for a possible antidote."

"So weíve got someone going after miscreants with poisoned sewing needles?" Ross queried.

"What we have is a possible hostile whose presence is related to the Rift. There were no spikes in Rift activity last night, so things are at status quo in that regard. Today we need to get one of cocoons open, see whatís in it and if itís related to the situation." Ianto drained his coffee and looked around the group, noting that Harkness seemed deep in thought. "Anything else?"

"Not from me. You want a ride to the morgue, Tommy boy? Iíll pull rank with the PCís whoíre dealing with our love birds and get the name of the person who found the bodies. After youíre done, we can interview whoever it was and get some firsthand information - if there is any," Jake volunteered.

Getting to his feet, Jake made a circuitous trip around the room to touch Jack lightly on the shoulder. "All right there, Jack?" he asked softly.

The hand on his shoulder and Jakeís question pulled Jack from his introspection. "Yeah, fine, just trying to find the pattern and coming up with squat for the moment. "Thanks for asking though." Getting to his feet, Jack finally realized that the briefing was over. "So whatís my assignment, boss?" he asked Ianto with a perfectly straight face. "I can do a coffee run."

"Planning to be our admin, are you?" Iantoís amusement at the question was clear in his voice. "In case you hadnít noticed, we do have coffee." He nodded toward the carafe on the desktop then reached over and refilled his mug.

"As for assignments, you can take your pick; Iím going back to the parks to look around, and Ross is going to be digging back through the Rift records to see how long this phenomenon has been going on. When Tom gets back, heís going to be looking at those cocoons."

ĎTalk about a rock and a hard place,í Jack thought to himself as he mulled over the two options. The pale, almost pained expression on Rossís face scratched that one, but the idea of working side by side with Jones, being confined in close quarters in the car after his reaction to the younger man the night before, was without a doubt a very bad idea.

"How about we split the parks between us," Jack offered, hoping that heíd be able to take door number three. "That way we can get through them all faster."

"No transpo," Ianto said, shaking his head.

"Looks like youíre stuck with me then, Jones," Jack replied lazily, all the while cursing under his breath and gritting his proverbial teeth. "Must be your lucky day."

"Your choice, Harkness," Ianto replied, his tone a perfect match to Jackís. "Heaven forbid I tell you where to go and what to do Ė as long as you check in."

"Just playing by the rules, boss," Jack replied. "This way you know where I go and what I do. Let me grab my coat and then Iím all yours."

"Ahh, my day is complete," Ianto muttered under his breath after Jack was gone from the room, causing Ross to burst into a fit of laughter.

"You know, when heís not talking about sex, heís an all right bloke," Ross admitted after finally calming down. "Not that Iíd say it to his face or anything. And I guess as far as that other goes, well, Jakeís done a lot worse over the years, but other than you I doubt he could do much better Ė and if you tell the little shit I said that, Iíll have your bollocks for my car hitch!"

Ianto smirked at that and leaned over to pat Ross on the top of the head. "Just remember, Ianto never forgets, and Iíll be holding that over your head for years. As for Harkness, he knows his stuff, canít deny that; he just needs to get it through his head that heís not in charge."

"So, you ready to go, boss?" Jack said mildly from his position just outside the door, having returned just in time to hear Jonesí last comment and finding it almost too much to contain his amusement at the insane situation he found himself in.

Ianto winced, but his expression was placid as he turned toward Jack. "Am I ready, Ross?" he asked.

"Iantoís always ready," the younger man laughed.

"Funny, I thought that was supposed to be my line," Jack replied sotto voce, knowing full well that both men thought he was an indiscriminate sex hound who pretty much fucked anything that moved. While once that might have been true, it was so far from the case now it was laughable. Jack had one partner right now - Jake. Not that he was about to dissuade them of this either. His personal life was personal, and Jack intended on keeping it that way.

"All right, so weíll check Cefn-Onn Country Park first, where we found dear old Roger yesterday before we got to check it," Ianto announced as he walked out of the office and he and Harkness headed for the garage. "And donít go grabbing any cocoons without gloves, all right? Donít want you losing more skin and being inconvenienced again."

Jackís chuckle was low and dirty. "Iím ambidextrous and incredibly flexible. There was no inconvenience. But Iíll wear gloves just to make you happy."

"So glad to hear it," Ianto said dryly, climbing behind the wheel of the SUV and starting the engine. "Safe specimen collecting is important."

"Iím an old pro at it," Jack rejoined as he slid into the passenger seat and then put on a pair of aviator sunglasses, folding his hands behind his head.

"So do you have a sister and a nephew and niece?" Jack asked after a few moments of silence.

Ianto cut a sideways glance in the other manís direction, wondering if this was going to turn into a game of Ďfind out the ways that the same man in two universes was differentí. "Two actually. The older one lives in Penarth with her husband and kids, and yes, theyíre a boy and a girl; the younger is in university."

"Glad to hear it," Jack said, feeling a sense of relief that some things remained the same even as they changed. "Donít lose touch with them, okay? Familyís important." Jack paused and then laughed. "Cryptic and a little bit creepy, Iím sure, given the situation butÖ take the advice Ė it comes from hard-earned experience."

"Not a problem." Ianto eyed the other man again as he answered before a car swerving in front of him drew his attention back to the busy Cardiff streets. "If Uncle Ianto vanished, whoíd take the kiddies to fairs and get them puking sick on sweets and roller coasters?" he chuckled at the last. "The fact that it gives Rhia a night out with Johnny almost makes up for the mess I return the kids in."

"Iím impressed. I had a daughter once. Didnít see her much after her mother left, and then there was the fact that while she aged, her daddy never did," Jack said softly. "But I wouldnít trade the good times for anything. Of course, I never got her puking sick on sweets and roller coasters. Her mother would have had my balls if I did," Jack laughed, remembering Lucia Moretti, the feisty Italian woman whom heíd been involved with and whoíd borne him Alice.

"Thatís the fun of being an uncle," Ianto admitted with a low laugh. "Wind them up and then send them back to Mum and Dad. Claire swears that if she ever has kids, sheís not letting me near them."

"Never had any desire to have any mini-Jones of your own running around underfoot?" Jack asked. "You know, carry on the family name and all that stuff."

Ianto shrugged negligently at that. "Maybe someday; not while Iím doing this and I canít see myself stopping anytime soon." He almost asked about any other family Jack might have had but didnít want the conversation to come back around to his counterpart.

"As trite and clichťd as it may sound, thereís never a good time to have kids. Not that I plan on having any again. The negatives kind of outweigh the positives for me at this point," Jack said realistically. "However, given the current path my life is taking, itís not exactly biologically possible either Ė at least currently, and while being pregnant was memorable, it wasnít necessarily a good experience, so I think Iíll forgo going through that a second time."

"Shite, I never know if I should believe half of what comes out of your mouth," Ianto muttered to himself. Even though the story had been confirmed by Rose and Doc, the whole Ďman who cannot dieí parcel was a bit much to swallow, and Ianto wasnít going to trust it with Harknessí life, of that he was certain.

"Thatís probably one of the smartest things Iíve heard come out of your mouth to date," Jack laughed. "But I never lie unless Iíve got a damned good reason. So that leaves you between a rock and a hard place, doesnít it? To believe or not to believe and all that."

"And all what?" Ianto asked, sounding confused.

"Donít tell me you havenít read Hamlet?" Jack replied, gaping at Jones. "You know, ĎTo be, or not to be: that is the question. Whether Ďtis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them? To die: to sleep; no more.í Shakespeare, as in William Shakespeare, the Bard, the guy who made Stratford-on-Avon famous? No?"

"Never heard of him. Must be one of those differences between the universes; from what I understand, a lot is the same, but there are some pretty glaring differences."

"Thatís kind of a huge one," Jack laughed. "Shakespeare was considered the greatest playwright ever. His plays were mandatory study matter in schools around the world for centuries. Hunh. Oh God, please donít tell me that this is the Bubblegum pop universe!" he suddenly gasped in mock horror. "I donít know if I could live in a world where boy bands and pop princesses are considered high entertainment!"

"Youíve been here four months," Ianto snorted, "you tell me."

"Well, you do have a president instead of a prime minister and monarch." Jack began with a chuckle. "And I havenít been to any Ďiní bars or clubs, so I canít say I know whatís popular, quite honestly. Jazz, blues, anything from the turn of the century up to the 1960ís I tend to listen to, but most modern stuff Ė not a chance."

"You mean Jake hasnít played his crap music for you?" Ianto asked, sounding amused.

"Iíve kept him busy," Jack replied dryly, drawing a laugh from the other manís throat.

"Never stopped him before; almost blew my eardrums out a few times, had the neighbors calling to see if there was a riot."

"Yeah, well, I have a few advantages that you obviously didnít," Jack drawled, waiting a heartbeat before continuing. "Namely no sound system and a much bigger bed. Isnít that the turn off to the park coming up?"

Ianto was about to ask Jack how he could say that when heíd never seen his bed but thought better of it and nodded. "Best to start at the back and work our way forward. All the other samples were found in the wilder parts."

He eased the SUV onto the side of the road as deep in the park as motor travel was permitted, turning it around to make escape quicker if it came down to that. Climbing out, he headed to the back and opened the door, removing gloves, a reinforced container and a couple of unmarked cans. "Insecticide," he offered, handing one to Jack. "You never know what came out of those cocoons."

"And you think Raid is going to kill them?" Jack chuckled but took a can anyways. If nothing else, the chemicals made a great impromptu flame thrower. "Or is this one of Docís concoctions?"

Jack asked as he followed behind Jones, letting the other man lead the way to the location of the body heíd found the night before. "What I wouldnít give for a Bekkarin scanner right now," he commented idly as they walked further into the park where things were less kept up and a little more Ďwildí - the perfect place to hide if you didnít want to draw attention to yourself. "Because it would make looking for those damned cocoons easier! Parks tend to have a shit load of trees to climb!"

Ianto just smirked at the question about the origin of the repellant, though his gaze was on the ground instead of the trees, searching for any dead wildlife. "HrmmmÖ" he mused, stepping into the underbrush, moving deeper into the summer stillness before squatting down . "Dead squirrel Ė and something else," he called back to Jack, who was still studying the trees. "Unless the butterflies around here have suddenly taken steroids, I think weíve found our alien."

Jack stared at the vividly hued and far too large to be Earth-based insect in patent disbelief. "You gotta be kidding me. Weíre hunting butterflies?" But there was no doubt that the creature bore a strong resemblance to the harmless and attractive bug. "Yeah, but our butterflies donít kill. At least mine didnít; I donít know about the ones here."

"Not here either Ė Iíll send a picture to Doc to see if heís ever encountered them before Ė unless you have?" The last was asked as Ianto looked up at Jack from his crouched position.

"This oneís new to me too. Iíve dealt with emotion-sucking shrimp but not venom-spewing butterflies, so Iím as in the dark as you are." Jack knelt down beside the corpse and, taking a pen out of his pocket, pried open the mandibles of the creature to reveal hundreds of tiny little, razor-sharp teeth. "Oh yeah, definitely our creature. Talk about your pretty poison."

"All right then," Ianto nodded even as he bagged up the butterfly and the dead squirrel, "if weíre lucky, they have a very short lifespan, and thatís the end of them, but if this one just hatched early..."

"Christ, I donít even want to think about bigger ones than this," Jack swore. "But unless we get a few chrysalides in their cocoons, weíre going to have no idea. Guess I need to climb a tree or two. Try not to check out my ass too obviously when Iím up there, okay?" Jack snickered as he shucked his coat and, tucking a pair of gloves in his back pocket, started to shimmy up the tree closest to where the alien butterfly was.

"You do realize we have some cocoons back at the Hub in the stasis field," Ianto called up after him, ignoring the fact that Harkness commenting on his own ass made it impossible not to look at it.

"We have three," Jack called back down. "Three isnít enough to get a good sampling from, and you know it. We need at least two to three more so weíve got a good basis for comparison. AHA! Cracked cocoon up here. We have our leetle bug friend and - son of a bitch!" Jack gasped as he caught movement in the corner of his eye and turned, only to be forced to duck. The cocoon fell to the ground with a dull thud as he drew his gun and tried to get off a couple of shots at the rather large, living, breathing and pissed mutant butterfly heading straight for him. The recoil caused his footing to slip, which had him falling halfway down the tree until the larger, sturdier branches broke his fall. Not bothering to wait and see if it was pursuing, Jack dove to the ground awkwardly, rolling and coming up with the gun pointed in the general direction of the tree, but nothing emerged. "Bad news," he gasped for breath, his face and hands scratched and bleeding slightly. "They get bigger."

"Just how big is bigger?" Ianto asked, scanning the area as well, his pistol in one hand and the can of Docís insect spray in the other.

"Eat your face kind of bigger," Jack muttered, eyes darting from tree to tree. "Although it didnít attack me until I tried to take the cocoon. I think I just met Mom."

"And here she comes," Ianto said, shoving Jack down and raising his gun and the can, triggering both at the same time.

Jack cursed and struggled to his feet just in time to see Jones wing the alien face-eating butterfly, sending it shrieking away in pain and rage. "What the fuck? Do I look like a damsel in distress here? Did I suddenly grow breasts - again - What?" Jack asked, trying to figure out just why Jones was acting like a caveman with a protective streak all of a sudden.

"Grow breasts - what the hell are you on about, Harkness?" Ianto asked, following the alienís line of flight until it was lost in the trees.

"The sudden he-man throw me to the ground move you just did, Iím not a rank amateur, Jones. In fact Iím willing to lay odds Iím not only a better shot than you, but I know a shit load more about tactics and weaponry than you. You may be in charge of this little adventure, but donít treat me as a liability when Iím probably the strongest asset you have right now," Jack retorted, picking up the fallen cocoon and putting into the containment vessel.

Iantoís expression turned bland even as his eyes hardened. "Iím doing my job, Harkness; you ending up dead isnít in my assignment, so deal with it. Now come on, we need to see if we can track that bugger down."

Jack clenched his fists and bit down until he tasted copper. Heíd done this to himself by asking Rose to keep silent for a little while longer, and even now he could take control, but he really did want to see how this team handled the situation and interacted with each other.

Chapter 9

Several hours later they emerged from the undergrowth, disheveled and sweaty. There had been no trace of the queen butterfly, but they had found several more dead animals and four more cocoons. "At least weíre keeping the population down," Ianto commented as they carried the containers back to the SUV. "And Tomís back from the morgue, so heís getting started on the cocoons we have at the Hub; heíll transmit data as he gets it.

"One thing though... considering the size of the one that came after you, there should be more dead wildlife around. Now maybe it dissolves them as it feeds or something, but it doesnít make sense from an ecological standpoint."

"Could be cocooning them, creating a food cache for its young," Jack suggested as he walked along next to Jonesí, carrying his own containers. "Which isnít creepy at all, is it?"

"Depends how like our butterflies it is," Ianto murmured as they reached the SUV. "Itís the worms that spin the cocoons there, to house them while they metamorphosize. The butterflies, really, they just exist to procreate and lay eggs."

"I donít even want to think about the size of those caterpillars!" Jack grimaced. "Like alien tapeworms - not pleasant! But seriously, our butterflies drink nectar, correct? So far we only have bodies - animal and human, but I havenít seen any creepy crawly critters. Which begs the next questions - what do alien caterpillars eat? Maybe theyíre the carnivores. I think weíre food. I think weíre dealing with alien vampire butterflies."

"Why canít the ones that come through ever just be pretty and benevolent?" Ianto sighed as they reached the SUV and he opened the rear hatch so they could load their samples inside.

"Now where would the fun be in that?" Jack laughed as he added his own cases next to Jonesí. "Whereís your sense of adventure, Jones? Isnít this better than a desk job?"

"Anything would be better than that," Ianto gagged, slamming the hatch and walking around to the driverís side, unlocking the doors before climbing in. "Desk job." He shuddered at that. "Just kill me if that ever happens."

Jack felt a chill chase its way down his spine, and he had to fight to stop himself hyperventilating. Didnít mean it, didnít mean it, donít think about it, Jacko, just donít think about it, he ordered himself sternly as his hand trembled on the door handle. This wasnít his Ianto, and Jones had no way of knowing what Iantoís job function had been in Jackís universe, nor did he know the pride Ianto had taken in his work. All Jones really knew was that Ianto had been Jackís lover and now he was dead.

It didnít stop it from feeling like an eternity for Jack to get himself under control, but when he looked up, Jones was only just noticing that he hadnít gotten into the SUV yet. Pasting on Jack Harkness smile number 5, the ĎIím a big damned hero, look beneath the surface at your own riskí one, he climbed into the car. "So, back to the lab then and let the good Dr. Milligan have a crack at our little bastards?"

"And see what heís found about the bodies," Ianto nodded, starting the SUV and heading back to the Hub. "Iíll also get in touch with the police and news outlets, issue a warning to stay away from the parks after dark."

"Oh goody, nothing like staking out Cardiff parks at night," Jack replied with insincere enthusiasm. "Just donít pair me up with Ross again. I may not live to see the morning, given the current state of his, shall we say, frustration."

"Heís on Rift duty, so I think his not-quite virginal ears are safe from your comments," Ianto said dryly. "No chance on pairing you up with Jake, so if you want to go out, itís going to be with Tom or I. Not going to be out all night either way or weíll all be too fagged to think straight in the morning."

"Gee, thanks," Jack replied dryly. "Believe it or not, Jake and I do more than just fuck, and Iím pretty sure I can control myself on the job. But suit yourself, doesnít matter to me. Iím just the consultant, after all."

Ianto cut a sidelong glance at that. "Not talking about your control."

"Care to elaborate as to what you are talking about, then?"

Ianto sighed, his lips pressing into a thin line at having to explain the situation. "Jake is in lust, and keeping him away from temptation is the easiest way to deal with the situation."

"While Iím more than happy to take the compliment, Jake and I are just friends with benefits, as the saying goes," Jack said after a few moments. "Heís just acting like a dog in heat to yank chains. Honestly, we talk as much, if not more, than we actually sleep together."

"Glad to hear it." Conversation dwindled after that, and they drove the rest of the way to the Hub in silence. The group, minus Jake who hadnít returned from the police station yet, gathered in the office so Tom could go over what heíd found.

"The couple died from the same type of poison as our Roger did," he announced, bringing up a complicated looking chemical formula. "This is what was injected into the victims. Itís nothing Iíve ever seen before, but it works by shutting down the circulatory system almost instantaneously. Toxic stuff; if I can get a sample of it, Iíll work on an antivenin, but it would have to be administered within seconds of the bite to work."

"Well, that puts paid to my idea of using us as a food source," Jack sighed. "Why would you want to poison what you planned on eating?"

"Whoís being eaten, then?" Jake piped up from the entranceway, a wide grin on his face.

"Didnít get much out of PC Andy and PC Gwen, Iím afraid, even on the ride back when they were out of earshot of the officials. Beat cops are being kept in the dark, and not even the detectives seem to know what to make of this. Their coronerís report came back claiming it was neurotoxin, which has the constabulary on very quiet high alert. I had to pull rank and tell them Torchwood was handling it and they were to continue keeping it hush-hush Ė no leaking it to the media and the public, or thereíd be hell to pay from on high," he reported as he came to stand between Ianto and Jack, who were looking over Tomís shoulders at the formula.

"No oneís being eaten," Jack replied before any further comment could be made. "PC GwenÖ as in Gwen Cooper? Well, if anyone could dig up what was going on in the higher ups, it would be her, so if she canít get the dirt, theyíre really playing close to the vest."

"You knew her then?" Jake asked.

"Recruited her myself Ė Iíd rather it wasnít done a second time around, if itís all the same to everyone. The less my worlds collide the better for my sanity. Iím quite happy with the status quo as it is right now. There are enough differences that I donít think about it most days."

"Right then, note to self Ė donít suggest PC Cooper gets recruited," Jake replied. "That what our poison looks like then?" he asked, looking at the detailed formula on Tomís screen.

"That didnít take long," Ross commented as he studied the slowly rotating molecule.

"Analyzed it, still need to see what I can do with it," Tom answered. "Looking at our specimens will help."

"Weíve got some more for you," Ianto commented, glancing over at Jack as he spoke. "Found a dead sample of what probably comes out of the cocoons, and Harkness climbed a tree to get some more cocoons Ė also found what may be the primary infestation: big mother of a butterfly, seemed to want to hit on Harkness."

"Nah, not my type. I try to stay away from venomous life forms. Now if we were talking about an inhabitant from the Forest of Cheem... mmmm, what those sentient trees can do with their branches," Jack expounded, more to yank Rossí chain than anything else.

"Oh God, is he going on about sex again?" Ross groaned.

"With trees," Tom nodded.

"But apparently venomous bugs are beneath him," Ianto added with a small smile.

"Christ," Ross moaned before getting back to business. "All right, checked back over the records for the last three months, the pattern started showing up three weeks ago, centralized in one location first, then spreading out from there. It hasnít increased in strength, always staying low and in the background, but the quantity of signals has increased every two weeks."

"So what are we looking at?" Jack asked. "An infestation maybe? Our little buggy friends found a new hole to crawl into and ended up on this side of the Rift? Do we know itís the actual creatures coming through, or could it be a communication of some kind, like Ďcome and get ití signal?"

"But weíve only had one big bug sighting," Jake pointed out. "You know, when it tried to eat your face. So maybe something else."

"But what?" Tom added. "Weíre still missing puzzle pieces. This doesnít make sense yet."

"So we gather data, hopefully try to catch one of them alive," Ianto mused as he straightened up. "Tom, after you get your samples, send some to London so they can work on the antivenin as well."

"Can I requisition a giant flyswatter?" Ross asked.

"Irradiated butterfly nets," Jack suggested with a perfectly straight face. "No, how about butterfly prods?"

Tom snorted even as he closed down the program heíd been running. "Youíd find a way to do something sexual with it, so, no."

"Actually..." Jake began but then stopped at Rossís death glare. "Never mind Ė but it was me, not him, just to set the record straight."

Jack burst into laughter at that. "Jake, I think itís safe to say that that record is anything but straight!"

"Oh for fuck sake!" Ross growled. "Enough already! Please. I canít take the torture anymore."

Jake was about to open his mouth again when Jack laid his hand on the other manís arm. "Okay, fair enough. Moving on to other topics, according to the Ďbossí here, Ross has Rift duty, so, Tom, looks like you have either Jake or me to partner with for our little midnight strolls through Cardiffís parks. Any preference?"

"There are six parks; wouldnít it be easier it we each took one?" Tom asked.

Ianto looked around the group, not saying anything for the moment.

Jack was almost ready to open his mouth but reined himself in last second. "Not my call," he said with a careless shrug. "Iím gonna call Rose and find out how things are going in London. Someone let me know what my assignment is, okay?" he said easily, knowing he needed to escape fast before he tromped on Jonesí toes again and tried to take command.

Jake looked after Jack with a puzzled look on his face. "What was all that about?" he asked after a moment. "This have anything to do with your argument last night?"

"That was about keeping in contact. Iím going to keep him safe, not dictate how he wants to help. Iíd rather have him paired with Tom tonight. Iíll be at Rhiaís, but Iíll have my patch on if you need to get in touch with me."

"Iíll keep him safe," Tom cut in before Jake could voice his opinion.

Jake shook his head but held his tongue. If the rest of the team was determined to think that Jack couldnít take care of himself - a fact Jack seemed to be supporting through his actions and attitudes, which was another thing that Jake didnít get - then who was he to interfere? If there was one thing his life had taught him, it was to roll with the punches, so roll he would.

"Right then, we split them in half, yeah? Iíll take the west half of the city, and you two can have the east half. Iím gonna go and start loading the SUV; Iíll probably head out a bit earlier just to be safe," Jake finally said with a cheerful smile. "Enjoy your time with the family, Ianto; give the rugrats a kiss for me, and tell that lout of a brother-in-law he still owes me twenty quid on the Man U game he bet me on."

"At least you didnít take his odds that he kiss your ass if they won," Ianto chuckled before growing serious. "If you find something, call me; Iíll only be fifteen away, and we donít want to hear that you got mugged by a butterfly."

"Knowing Jake, he might like it," Ross snickered.

"Not bloody likely!" Jake retorted, smacking Ross upside the head. "And thanks for the offer, Ianto, but Iíve been taking care of myself longer than I care to admit. Iím not gonna get done in by a butterfly. But," he continued as his friend and team lead was about to open his mouth, "if I do find myself in a situation I canít handle, I will give you a shout. Okay?"

"Do that, or Iíll have to kick your cold, dead arse around the park a few times," Ianto commented.

"And then youíd leave me to pick it up," Tom grumbled.

"Oi, no picking me up when Iím dead and canít enjoy it," Jake shot back with a cheeky grin then loped out of the room before Tom could get half out of his chair to retaliate.

"No matter how much we see, how much heís seen, heís still a bloody brat, isnít he?" Tom groused good-naturedly. "God help the poor bastard he settles on, having all that attention focused on him," the doctor said with a shake of his head as he stood.

"Well, Iíd best go round up my partner and let him know weíll be working together tonight. Donít worry, Ianto, I wonít let Harkness die no matter how invincible the good captain would like us to think he is."

"If you do, you can explain it to Rose and Doc," Ianto laughed, "and donít forget to watch your own back; Iím not having Martha come after me!"

After Tom left, Ianto turned to Ross. "I wonít bother to tell you what you already know, but if something shows up, let me know."

"So Rhia can kick my arse for disturbing your family dinner?" the younger man groaned.

"Would you rather I kick it?"

"Good point," Ross grinned, "now go play Uncle Ianto, and spoil those kids, so she takes her ire out on you," he ordered his team lead, shooing him out of the office cum monitoring station so that Ianto could go get ready.

As he changed into civilian clothes and gathered up the presents heíd brought for his niece and nephew, Ianto switched gears mentally, putting aside the job with the same ease he would pick it up again at the end of the evening. After a final check with Ross, who simply yelled at him for bothering, Ianto headed out, whistling down a cab and giving the driver the address.

Two weeks later they were no closer to catching the killer butterflies though at least there had been no more deaths. Tom was on Rift duty, and the others were all asleep when the sudden sharp blare of the alarm sent them tumbling from their beds, throwing on clothes as they raced toward the monitoring room, almost colliding with Harkness as he barreled down the stairs.

"Big spike," Tom explained before anyone could ask. "Near where the initial pattern started."

"Right, gear up and letís get out there; we can monitor the status as we go, nip this in the bud," Ianto announced before looking over at Jack. "If thatís all right, boss," the last was thrown in coolly.

Jack sighed and cursed inwardly. Donna was one hell of an assistant, but that mouth of hers was going to be the death of him. "I told you before, Jones, this is a field op; weíre in the field; and youíre lead field agent. I havenít even signed a contract yet, so guess what, youíre still in charge," Jack replied stiffly.

"However, if it makes it easier for you, Iím staying here to monitor the Rift. Go and be big damned Alpha team heroes or whatever it is you do. I have paperwork to take care of." With that Jack spun on his heel and stalked from the room, making a bee line for his room and the files that were waiting there for him in the small office area heíd set up there, the door slamming shut behind him.

He wanted to go. Fuck, he wanted to go so badly he ached, but he didnít need the attitude either. So they could handle it themselves, and heíd stay here and stay out of it. Forcing himself into one of the club chairs in the small sitting area of the room, Jack grabbed the first folder off the top of a box of files Rose had sent up for him to familiarize himself with and determinedly ignored anything going on outside his door, no matter how much his instincts were screaming at him to be involved.

"Ianto..." Jake began, making the other man curse.

"Fine, I get it, handle it." He stomped after Harkness, rapping firmly on the door to Jackís room and ignoring the loud Ďgo awayí he heard from inside.

"Ross is staying here to monitor the readings; he can feed us the info we need, so it looks as if we need a fourth, and it looks as if you need some field time. Weíre leaving in five."

"Donít do me any favors, Jones," Jack growled. "You and your team are quite capable of handling things without me, and we both know it."

Why did it bother him so much, the fact that Jones had done a Jekyll and Hyde just because heíd found out about Jackís promotion? Rank and position had never mattered to Jack; titles were just that Ė titles Ė and ultimately unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Thatís how it had been with his teamÖ but this wasnít his team any more than it was his world, really. He was the outsider. End of story.

And yetÖ the cool looks and frosty tone of voice that Jones had been using on him still bothered him more than he either liked or wanted to admit. Fuck, how had the arrogant son of a bitch gotten under his skin so fast? It was like he was in cosmic freefall and heading straight for a gravity well; he could no more resist Jonesí gravitational pull than he could the black hole. And the end would probably be exactly the same Ė heíd be completely destroyed and be forced to rebuild himself millimeter by painful millimeter thanks to his particular affliction. What was it about Ianto Jones that Jack felt the unerring pull towards the man time and again, no matter what the universe nor what the previous outcomes had been?

"Youíve made nice; Iíve turned you down. Youíre relieved of the burden of playing nice. Now donít you have some alien to hunt?"

Fed up with talking to the other man through the door, Ianto pushed it open and lounged in the doorway. "I donít make nice, Harkness; I state facts. Now are you coming, or do you want to sit and wallow? You say you want to see what the team can do; this promises to be more active than this damn butterfly hunt weíve been on."

"That depends," Jack replied after a moment. "You gonna keep acting like a complete dick just because I let Rose and Doc talk me into doing a job Iím damned good at? Oh, and letís not forget the whole treating me like a damsel in distress thing, either - that definitely has to stop," he continued, watching Jones for a reaction.

"That depends," Ianto said easily, "you going to let us find out important news through the gossip chain rather than from the source?"

"I had my reasons this time," Jack replied honestly, if evasively. "But in the future, no, youíll hear it from me first. Good enough?"

Ianto nodded at that. "Good enough. Now are you coming with us or staying back with the paperwork?"

Jack knew he should stay out of it, let the Wild Boys do their thing and pull back; after all he was trying to change the path of his life and all that shit but... "I fucking hate paperwork - always have. Letís go," Jack grinned, grabbing his coat from the stand and ushering Jones out ahead of him.

Chapter 10

"All right, Ross says the signalís gone, but we have a fix on the location," Ianto reported as the black SUV careened through the blackness of the park, Jakeís expert handling skidding it to a stop as close to the signalís location as they could get. "Everyone have Docís bug spray?" At the affirmative nods all around, Ianto continued. "Strike force pattern Ė Harkness, that means you stay near Tom and try not to get eaten by our bug."

"Yes, Mom," Jack replied dryly as he rolled his eyes. This caused both Tom and Jake to smother their chuckles to avoid being glared at by their team lead.

Jack acknowledged that the care and concern Jones gave to his team kept them alive in situations that would have gotten most people killed, but Jack wasnít most people, and he was getting tired of having to reiterate the point over and over. However, heíd placed Jones in charge, so heíd follow the manís orders to the letter. "No getting eaten by bugs - got it. Any other instructions before we go?"

"Stay out of Jakeís way if he targets it," Ianto sighed, wondering if bringing Harkness along had been such a good idea after all. What was done was done, however, and he just had to make sure all of them returned alive and well, hopefully with their target bagged.

The quartet started into the woods, moving as silently as possible, zeroing in on the coordinates that Ross had supplied but knowing the target most likely had moved. Jake was in the lead with Ianto ranging off to the left and Tom and Jack to the right.

"Nothing so far," Jake murmured into his com patch. "Damn bugs, I wish someone would just Ė " His voice broke off as a large dark form rose from behind a bush catching him by the right arm. He grabbed for his pistol with his left, getting a shot off even as the form swung him around, slamming him headfirst into a tree, the low, hollow noise audible to the others who were converging on his position.

Ianto cursed violently under his breath as they lost contact with Jake, and sprinted toward him, moments later, he skidded to a halt next to his friendís body, seeing that Tom was already crouched over him with Harkness standing guard.

"Heís alive," Tom reported tersely as he dug in his pack for equipment and spoke to Ross, having him dispatch an ambulance to their location.

Ianto nodded sharply, fixing his gaze on Harkness. "Stay here; Tom canít work on Jake and guard them," he ordered before taking off, following the faint scuffed path in the leaves that Jakeís attacker had left.

"Jones! Son of a bitch!" Jack cursed. "He doesnít have anyone watching his own back. Does he do this often?" he asked the team medic, already knowing the answer to the question. "Tells me not to get eaten then takes off by himself. Fucking son of a bitch!"

Doing something that he was always extremely loath to do, Jack quickly undid his wrist strap and after hitting a few buttons, laid it on the ground next to Tom. Jack touched Jakeís shoulder lightly as he straightened up, murmuring. "Hang in there, gorgeous, Tom will have you patched up in no time. Your boss may not be so lucky though."

Turning to Tom, Jack gave a quick explanation. "It tracks life signs too. Itís showing us in a cluster, Jones by himself and something else just ahead of him on the path. It will pick up any life signs in the area and alert you to their approach. Jones needs back up."

"Agreed. Now go, let me work on my patient," Tom growled tersely, picking up the strap and placing it where he could see it and work on Jake at the same time. "Just donít get yourself killed. Bad enough we have to break in one new boss; donít want to have to break in another one if you die."

The night was silent around Ianto as he raced through the woods, a fact in and of itself that would have told him something was seriously wrong around him. He saw a flicker of movement ahead of him and plastered himself behind a tree as a spear of dark fire whipped through the air where he had just been. "Who the fuck is this guy?" he growled to himself even as he whirled at a slight noise, his drawn gun ending up in Harknessí face.

"I told you to stay with Tom, you fuckwit!" he growled nearly silently.

Eyebrow going up at the expletive, Jack mouthed more than spoke his reply. "You needed someone to cover your back, and Milligan didnít need me getting in the way. Donít worry, I didnít leave him vulnerable," Jack quickly assured Jones, holding up his arm and letting Jones see his wrist, now bare of itís always present wrist strap. "Handy little thing, tracks life signs and acts as an early warning system if programmed to, which Iíve done. Heíll be able to work on Jake without having to watch his back. Now whatíve we got?"

"Humanoid with an unknown energy weapon," Ianto reported tersely even as he risked a peek around the tree.

"Nothing in the way of attempted communication?" Jack murmured, wishing futilely for one of the Doctorís handy dandy little translator devices or some other alien toy. "And no visual either? Well, weíre going to have to rectify that. Okay, on the count of five Iíll draw fire, and you see if you can get a look and a shot off - try get it before it gets me if you can; I really donít want to damage this coat. Ready? And five," Jack said, darting out into the open.

Okay, so he didnít exactly play fair, but he already knew Jones would protest and try to stop him. This way he not only prevented an argument but gave Jones the chance to get the shot. The tree just to the left of him suddenly exploded into match sticks. "Shit! Judoon blaster, not good!" he muttered as he dove for cover.

"God damn it, Harkness!" Ianto shouted as he spun out from behind the tree, opening fire at the shadowed form that was the source of the energy blasts. The moment that he started to fire, the other shots stopped, and the figure vanished again, causing him to curse viciously.

"Did you get him?" Jack asked, picking himself up off the dirt and extricating himself from the bushes heíd landed in, all the while sweeping the vicinity for signs of movement. "At least say you got a look at him. I doubt itís a Judoon - theyíre intergalactic cops and wouldnít fire on civilians unless certain of their guilt."

"Donít think so, no sign of it." Ianto jogged back toward the other man, glowering at him as he neared. "And what the fuck was that about?"

"I thought it would be kind of obvious," Jack replied, dusting his coat off. "We didnít know where it was; you couldnít get a clear shot; and we needed more information, not that we got the last - other than the fact that itís using a Judoon weapon - or something very similar. Do you have Judoon here, I wonder?"

"No clue, things were quiet for the most part until Rose jaunted off to save your universe; Doc says what the Daleks did tore something open in our Rift, made Earth here more visible to the rest of the universe, so things have been busier over the past couple of years."

"Makes sense. Those damned things have a way of screwing up everyoneís life no matter if you kick their collective ass or not," Jack sighed. "As for the Judoon - we really donít want them here, trust me on this. They see everything in black and white. My universeís Martha Jones ended up the Doctorís companion because of them - they transported her hospital from the Earth to the Moon just to catch a criminal they were after and werenít going to put the hospital back when they were done - collateral damage was perfectly acceptable."

"So the question is, how the hell did this person get a hold of that weapon?" Iantoís lips pursed together in a thin line as he scanned the darkness around them before looking back over his shoulder as the faint sound of sirens grew louder. "He can wait; we need to get Jake to the hospital."

"I wonder if Doc has something we can use to see the echoes of what happened tonight," Jack mused even as he hit his communications patch. "Milligan, howís Jake doing?"

"Concussed, possible head and neck trauma, awake but disoriented," Tom replied tersely. "Iím worried about possible fractures, and itís a bitch trying to keep him still. How soon can you be back here?"

Jack shot Jones a glance and then broke into a fast jog, knowing that the younger man would be right next to him. "On our way now. Hit his com patch for me, will ya?"

There was a short pause, and then Tom replied. "Done, he can hear you now."

"Hear who?" came Jakeís voice, sounding thin and slurred.

"Hey, gorgeous," Jack murmured, knowing that Jenkins and Milligan could hear through the patches while Jones had the benefit hearing it in stereo thanks to being right next to Jack as they beat a trail through the park.

"Hey, Jack, or should I call you sex machine?" Jake snickered.

"Jack works just fine. I need you to do something for me, okay? Lie still and donít give poor Milligan a heart attack every time you twitch. I wouldnít want to have to explain to Dr. Jones why her fiancť had keeled over."

"Point," Jake admitted. "She can be downright scary when she wants to be."

"And she knows her way around medical instruments too Ė not a good combination. Jones and I are on our way back, so just hang tight, and try to be good."

"Will I get a reward if I do?"

"Whatever you want," Jack promised. "Within reason, that is."

"Mmmmm, forty-eight hours leave; you, me and a bottle of that scotch you like. We can do body shots."

"I think that can be arranged," Jack laughed quietly. "But you gotta earn it. So stay still."

"Yes sir, Captain Boss sir!"

"Tom," Ianto said, cutting into the banter, "do you see anything other than the four of us on that life signs reader Harkness left?"

"All clear," the doctor reported. "Whatever it was, itís gone now."

"And running around loose," Ianto muttered to himself as they reached the area where Jake lay, Tom crouched beside him, holding a blood-stained compress against the side of his head.

"Anything for some time off," he sighed, squatting down beside the other pair and shaking his head, though he was frowning as he took in the unevenness of Jakeís pupils.

Jack crouched down next to Jake and touched his shoulder, taking the younger manís hand when it automatically came up and kissing his fingers lightly. "Good thing youíve got one of the hardest heads Iíve ever seen, including mine," he teased Jake lightly, even as his eyes worriedly shot to Tomís grim expression and then up to Jones before returning to Jake.

"Think Iím going to offer to help Doc get that head armor up and running as soon as possible though; Iíd rather not have anyone else die under my command if itís all the same to you."

"Not dead, just slightly loopy," Jake replied, patting Jackís hand with his fingers. "Now whoís playing mother hen?"

"Youíre always loopy, Simmonds, so how can we tell the difference?" Tom commented as he gave Jack back his wrist strap. "Handy thing, that life signs scanner. You think you can convince Doc to incorporate something similar into our armor?"

"Itís already been put on my new to-do list, right under the head gear," Jack replied, his mouth a set line.

The ambulance pulled up moments later, and the paramedics loaded Jake into the back as Jack came to stand by Jones, watching.

"Give me the keys to the SUV," he ordered quietly. "Go with your teammate, your friend. Iíll head back to the Hub and get started on things, relieve Ross so he can meet you at the hospital if he wants."

Ianto started to argue but then simply nodded tightly. "Weíll let you know when we get updates," he said, glancing over at Jack as he spoke. "Be careful getting out of here; who knows where that thing went."

"Just take care of Jake, okay? Iíll be fine," Jack replied gruffly, staring out into the night. "Tell the paramedics to get Dr. Harper on standby. HeísÖ he was my team medic. You can trust him to do a good job." Jack didnít bother to wait for an answer. Without so much as a backward glance he headed to the safety of the SUV and the almost alien sterility of this Hub.

Ianto looked after him, his brows etched together in a frown before he turned and headed for the front of the ambulance, crowding in as Tom rode in back with Jake and the paramedic. The ambulance tore through the night, arriving at St. Helenís Hospital. Ianto stood back out of the way as they wheeled the stretcher bearing Jake inside, Tom and the crew going along with it while he watched.

"Right then, what do we have here?" came the calm and slightly sarcastic question from a man dressed in hospital scrubs. "And why is it that whenever I work a night shift, I get someone from bloody Torchwood?" Dr. Owen Harper asked of no one in particular.

"Letís see, patient, male, Simmonds, Jake. Age: twenty-eight, severe blunt force trauma to the head. Got smacked into a tree, I see. Treating physician a Dr. Milligan, Torchwood. Right then, how many fingeÖ" Owenís monologue was cut short as he looked down into the most gorgeous pair of green eyes heíd ever seen. "How many fingers, darling?"

"UrmmmÖ three?" Jake guessed, unable to focus on either the fingers or the man who held them up.

"Thatís normal for him," Tom commented before rattling off Jakeís vitals and what heíd observed since Jake had been injured. "Laceration to the right temple, looks as if itís going to need stitches," he concluded, furrows creasing his forehead as he watched the lean, sharp-featured man studying Jake.

"Iíll take good care of him," Owen promised, waving a couple of orderlies over. "You wonít even have a scar when Iím done," he promised the disoriented man on the stretcher. "But with head trauma you can never be too careful. Iíll want him to stay for a full battery of tests and for observation. Waiting roomís through there; donít worry, Iím the best A&E doctor in Cardiff; heíll be fine."

"No lack of ego in that one, eh," Tom murmured as soon as Dr. Harper was out of earshot. "Just because he was Jackís medic in his universe doesnít mean heís that good here. So why, exactly, are we trusting him with our Jake again?"

"Because, we have two unknown aliens out there that have to be stopped," Ianto said, his voice hardening in the cool tone of command as he watched Harper walk off alongside Jakeís stretcher.

"Right, Iíll stay here to answer any questions and monitor Jakeís progress if you want to get back to the Hub?" Tom offered. "Might give me a chance to see if the morgueís received any more John Does dead under suspicious circumstances that our search and monitoring programs havenít red flagged."

"Jakeís in good hands; we all need to be out working on this," Ianto said firmly. "They know where to get in touch with us if they need to, and right now we need to have as many hands in the field as possible."

"IantoÖ" Tom began, but the set look of his team leadís jaw was all the warning he needed that this was not up for debate. "Right. Just let me leave my personal cell number so they can get in touch with me ASAP instead of having to go through dispatch and then being routed to our patches. If itís something serious, time may be of the essence. Are we catching a cab or hoofing it back to HQ?"

Ianto cursed under his breath, having forgotten that Harkness had taken the SUV back to the Hub. "Fuckwit," he muttered to himself before rubbing his temples. "Right, no transpo. Go do what you need to with the staff, and Iíll watch for Ross; wonít be long before heís here."

"Right justÖ go easy on Harkness when we get back, okay? He lookedÖ off kilter," Tom murmured before heading off to give the duty nurse his information.

"Not his fault, was it?" Ianto muttered to himself as he walked toward the exit, watching for the black SUV and listening to Rossí updates as he drew closer.

"So howís Jake doing?" Ross asked through the window before the car was even in park when he pulled up a few moments later. "Oh and Harkness has been busy; weíre getting some special equipment of Docís flown up by military chopper, should be here in an hour or so. Didnít say what it was, just that it would help us get an idea of our new bad guy."

"Head as hard as cinder blocks," Tom grinned as he climbed into the back seat, letting Ianto ride shotgun. "And already turning on the charm to flirt with his attending. Poor bastard doesnít stand a chance. Heís got a concussion, lacerations that will require stitching, and is being kept for observation. But heíll live."

"Thank fuck for that. Harkness was a little bitÖ intimidatingÖ when he came storming in earlier," Ross admitted. "Couldnít get out of there fast enough to get you lot. Remind me not to piss him off, okay? I think Iíll take being Docís lab rat to being on Harknessís shit list."

"Itís called a Quantum Transducer. It came through the Rift from who knows where. It was in the vaults at Torchwood waiting to be catalogued. Luckily I gave a good enough description of it that Doc recognized it immediately," Jack informed the three men on the opposite side of the desk, who were staring at the alien tech as if it would spring to life at any moment.

"It uses nanotechnology to convert the quantum traces of emotional events into a form that allows humans to mentally experience them. When itís activated, it can show the person holding it an emotional event from the past," he continued, leaving out its other traits completely. The future wasnít set, and all this thing could do was show them possible events. That was why Jack intended to use it to recreate the past only. "The added bonus is that the Transducer will also show let me see the thoughts of the people in the event Ė namely our not so little alien friend. I should be able to get a good look at him as well as get an idea of what his intentions are Ė provided he speaks a dialect Iím familiar with."

"And itís safe?" Ianto asked, reaching out to pick up and examine what looked like a game system controller.

"Itís not dangerous in the conventional sense of the word, no," Jack answered, taking it back from Jones as soon as he could. "But itís not something I recommend you play with. It has a side effect or two that, if youíre not prepared for it, can be more of a hindrance than a help. However, Iíve dealt with this thing before and know how to work it. I just need someone to watch my back when I go back to the park because Iíll probably be in a trance-like state Ė easy target for killer butterflies and other things."

"In other words, no, it isnít particularly safe."

"But if it gives us intel..." Ross began before shrugging and falling silent. Wasnít his call and it was obvious that Harkness had already made up his mind. Ross couldnít fault the man for his decision, though. It was made sense - recreate the event and maybe catch a break at stopping whatever it was that was roaming Cardiffís streets.

"Itíll do that," Jack replied grimly. "I want to know what was hunting us tonight, and I want it stopped before anyone else gets hurt!"

"All right, so itís back to the park then," Ianto stated, glancing at his watch. "Iíll go with Harkness; the suníll be up soon, and we know the butterflies donít move during the day, so that cuts down on the issues. Ross, let us know if the Rift spikes; Tom, do the same with Jakeís condition."

"Then letís get this show on the road." Pocketing the transducer, Jack stood and shrugged into his coat. Fishing into his pocket, he pulled out a set of keys. "Yours, I believe," he half smiled, tossing them to Jones, who caught them easily as they walked toward the garage and climbed into the SUV.

"Heíll be fine," Ianto said as they drove through the streets of Cardiff, the just rising sun slowly lightening the buildings around them. "Jakeís got a hard head, and that bloke Harper seems to know his stuff."

Jack stared out the window of the SUV at the pre-dawn Cardiff streets that were so eerily the same to him. "He does. I looked him up when I got here a week ago. Said I was interviewing him for a medical journal," he finally answered. "I just wanted to see what kind of a man he was here, and heís a damned good doctor. I wouldnít have told you to ask for him otherwise. I wouldnít trust anyone under me to an incompetent doctor, let alone someone I consider a friend as well as a colleague.

"As for Jake, I canít think otherwise than that heíll be all right," Jack paused and then continued bleakly. "I know Iíll have to watch all of you die eventually, even Doc, but not yet. Not for a long time, I hope."

"Thereís always someone left behind," Ianto murmured before giving a rough laugh. "But those who stay behind are the ones who remember, and that keeps the ones who are gone alive as well."

Jackís laugh was bitter and tinged with great sorrow. "But sooner or later memories fade. Iíve forgotten more of my friends and lovers than you could possibly imagine. But thereís one I wonít. Even when the Earth is nothing more than cosmic dust and humans are nothing more than fairy tales told to children on distant worlds, Iíll remember."

It was obvious who Jack was talking about, and Ianto nodded, remaining silent as he drove, the brightening sunlight at odds with Harknessí mood.

The park came mercifully into view, giving Jack something else to think about, namely finding out what had attacked them in the park. "Like I said back at the Hub, it will look like Iíve gone into a trance. I wonít be able to hear you since Iíll be stuck in the memory, so if you need to, tackle me."

"Gotcha," Ianto agreed, looking as if he was willing to take Jack looking distracted as provocation. "How long does it take to get started?" That was asked as he parked and they got out of the SUV.

"It depends on how disciplined the mind is thatís using it and the strength of the emotions in the memory," Jack admitted. "I wasÖ upset with Jakeís injury. I donít know what you were feeling or what our hostile was, but Iím hoping based on the strength of my emotions, at least, weíll have enough to pull me in fast."

Ianto frowned at this additional information. "Wait a minute; I thought it only let you feel what the alien was feeling?"

"And how is it supposed to pinpoint one specific emotion when it doesnít know who to pinpoint?" Jack asked reasonably. "No, it reads all the emotions in the immediate vicinity. It usually shows the viewer, which would be me, the perspective of the strongest emotion in the area."

About to snap back, Ianto realized that he was reacting this way because he was still angry with himself over Jake getting injured, and he forced himself to take a calming breath. "All right, that makes sense. Is the viewing real time or sped up? Just so I know how long to let you go."

Jack thought back to the few times heíd witnessed the device being used by Owen and Gwen. "A combination of the two, I believe," he said finally as they walked towards the spot where theyíd encountered the alien. "Not long enough for the real memory but not like a data burst either."

"So if you arenít out of it in five, Iíll wake you," Ianto stated as they reached the spot, forcing himself to look at the pale spot on the tree where Jakeís collision with it had scraped away the bark.

"Iím not really sure if you can wake me up," Jack admitted slowly, staring resolutely forward as he strode a few steps past the tree of Jakeís encounter with the entity. "Gwen and Owen came out of it on their own as did the civilians we traced the tech to. After Ed committed suicide because of his vision, I had both halves locked up with a do not use order attached to it, so the deviceís potential was never explored.

"Right then. Donít let me get eaten by bugs, will ya?" That said, Jack took off his wrist strap and tossed it to Jones. "Life signs detector is already activated Ė it operates like sonar. Weíre the blue dots, you because youíre holding it and me because itís calibrated to my DNA. Anything moving towards us is red. Got it?"

"Blue good, red, blast it, I think I can handle that," Ianto said dryly.

"Red doesnít necessarily mean hostile alien, Jones," Jack chuckled. "It simply means another life form. You may want to check before you shoot the park horticulturalist."

"Go watch your peep show, Harkness; I have it under control."

"Not exactly my idea of a peep show," Jack commented. "Now if I were getting to watch something a little more titillating, that would be a different story." Rocking his neck back and forth to release some tension and hearing the bones crack, Jack pulled the alien device from his greatcoat pocket, hit the buttons and let himself get sucked back into the memory of Jake getting injured and Jones and he being fired upon by the hostile.

~ tbc

 

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