Never Say Never Again by robling_t

Summary: Jack's in trouble. Yes, that kind of trouble. What's a pregnant guy to do when the employee handbook says "no guns at the baby shower"?
Rating: Teen
Categories: Other Doctors, Multi-Era, Tenth Doctor, Torchwood
Characters: Captain John Hart, Gwen Cooper, Ianto Jones, Jack Harkness, Jack Harkness, Jack Harkness, Martha Jones, Original Companion, Owen Harper, Rhys Williams, The Doctor (10th), The Doctor (10th), The Doctor (Author-Created), Torchwood, Toshiko Sato
Genres: Action/Adventure, Alternate Universe, Angst, Drama, Het, Humor, Hurt/Comfort, Introspection, Mystery, Series, Slash
Warnings: Swearing
Challenges: None
Series: Yours, Mine, and Ours
Published: 2008.02.08
Updated: 2008.05.30


Chapter 1: Oh, No, Not Again
Chapter 2: Unnecessary Procedures
Chapter 3: Babydaddy
Chapter 4: Treatment Plans
Chapter 5: Breaking The News
Chapter 6: Let's All Have Sex
Chapter 7: With Doors And Things
Chapter 8: General Relativity And You, A Primer
Chapter 9: Not Sure, But Really, Really Hoping
Chapter 10: Don't Know Where, Don't Know When
Chapter 11: Enemy Mine
Chapter 12: Well I Lie And I'm Easy
Chapter 13: Somewhere Just Beyond My Reach
Chapter 14: We're All Mad Here
Chapter 15: Are We There Yet?
Chapter 16: It's A Bitch Convincing People To Like You
Chapter 17: Anatomy Of A Scandal
Chapter 18: Waiting For The Penny
Chapter 19: Past The Wit Of Man
Chapter 20: Golf And Strangling Animals
Chapter 21: No, Not The Mind Probe
Chapter 22: (CH3)2C(C6H4OH)2
Chapter 23: The Perfect Self-Cleaning Con
Chapter 24: My Christmases Are Always Like This
Chapter 25: You Gonna Keep It In A Box?
Chapter 26: Briar Rose
Chapter 27: It's Not Easy Having Yourself A Good Time
Chapter 28: One Little Mistake
Chapter 29: Better With Two
Chapter 30: Lock The Doors And Close The Blinds
Chapter 31: Doctor's Orders
Chapter 32: Playing Doctor
Chapter 33: I'm Sure I'd Feel Much Worse
Chapter 34: Terrible Hazards Of Your Ungodly Profession
Chapter 35: And What Of Little Nell?
Chapter 36: Speaking In Tongues
Chapter 37: Don't Touch The Baby
Chapter 38: Storm Before The Calm
Chapter 39: The Things You've Seen
Chapter 40: The Last Temptation Of Owen
Chapter 41: It Takes The Truth To Fool Me
Chapter 42: And Now You've Made Me Angry
Chapter 43: The Good, The Bad, And The Owen
Chapter 44: Prophet & Loss
Chapter 45: Now All I Have's This Anguished Heart
Chapter 46: Purloined
Chapter 47: Dimple On Chin, Many Hearts You Will Win
Chapter 48: If I Had Known For Just One Second
Chapter 49: If I Stop Now Call Me A Quitter
Chapter 50: We'll Take The Trail Marked On Your Father's Map
Chapter 51: Please Don't Hang Your Head And Cry
Chapter 52: Ex Machina
Chapter 53: And All The Sinners, Saints
Chapter 54: Reel Me In, My Precious Girl

Chapter 1: Oh, No, Not Again

Author's Notes: Jack has a disturbing awakening.

(Hold on, how did I get here?)


Yargh. Jack rolled over and looked at the clock. Too early. Nightmares about hearing children calling for their Mummies should have the decency to come at an hour when you could plausibly give up on sleep and go do something useful --


Hang about, that wasn't a dream-voice. Jack wasn't especially psychic, but he did know the difference. And the woman sharing his bed may have been born human, but since a daring act of devotion with Time Lord technology two hearts beat blood through a telepathic brain... "Is that you, Martha?"

"S'zat me wha'?"

*Mummy, where are you?*

*Ssh, I'm here,* Jack tried thinking towards the mental voice. It seemed to like that. It seemed to like that a lot. "Something's telepathically calling for its Mummy, Martha. You and him didn't, um..."

"Hell no," Martha said, sleepily but engaged now. "Not since that first time. And I don't think I'm compatible with you. Not that I've been doing the Time Lord fertility dance anyway."

*Mummy.* Sounding almost content, now that Jack had addressed it. *Mummy's here, you're my Mummy.*

"I suppose we'd better head in to the Hub and start some scans," Jack said, rubbing a hand across his face. "If we've got a lost alien baby out there that's projecting strong enough for me to pick it up --"

"I still don't hear anything, Jack," Martha said, making to roll over and go back to sleep. "Either you're imagining it or you're the one who's pregnant."


"...Oh, shit."

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Chapter 2: Unnecessary Procedures

Author's Notes: Jack begins to understand how much trouble he's in.

"I'm all for recreational ultrasounds, but when it's him on the table I get nervous," Owen said, taking in the scene in his autopsy room with a look that suggested he was regretting having gotten to work early. "Is the story behind this one going to make my brain try to crawl out my ears again?"

"I'm pregnant," Jack said.

Owen considered this. "Strangely enough, around here that doesn't qualify as particularly weird. Coming from you, anyway. So, are we talking 'alien blob of goo' pregnant, or just 'Captain Jack Harkness is that big of a slag' pregnant?"

"It's definitely a mammal," Martha said from her position before the monitor. "About eight weeks, if it's comparable to a human fetus. Hold on, I think I can get the heart in focus if I -- Well."

"Oh, now, that is just fucked-up," Jack said, staring in disbelief at the unmistakable image of two tiny hearts beating in perfect synchrony. Confirmation of what he should already have known, really. *Mummy...* "We shouldn't even be biologically compatible enough to catch cold from each other, let alone..."

"I could make the point that that's hardly the biggest thing that doesn't make sense about this picture, but I really don't want to think about that part of it," Owen said.

"But I had that taken out when I joined the Agency," Jack protested. "I wasn't in that relationship anymore anyway and that mod's illegal before 4718. It couldn't have just, grown..."

I bring life...

"...Back," Jack finished, with a sudden hollow feeling. "Oh. Oh, Rose. What did you do?"

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Chapter 3: Babydaddy

Author's Notes: Jack finds out something surprising about himself.

Contacting the father turned out to be as simple as a phone call. Which Martha had to make, because Jack's hands were shaking too badly. "Doctor? S' me, Martha -- well, who else would have this number, I guess -- Can we put you on speaker? Jack needs to talk to you --"

"I can do a little better than a speakerphone," the Time Lord said, fading into view beside the conference table as a flickering projection. "See, there's Mummy, Jack-Jack, say hello --"

The infant buried his face in his Daddy's shoulder. "No, I don't blame you, it is a bit spooky," the Doctor said. "So, Jack. Torchwood's got so used to having me around that you can't do without me for a couple of months?"

"Actually, Doctor, this is a personal call. Pretty damn personal, really. Um, I don't know how to say this..."

"Who have you got in trouble this time?" the Doctor sighed theatrically.


At this the Time Lord looked surprised. "That was a joke. Really? How, erm, well, I suppose it's not exactly interesting for you but -- Who -- or what -- is the, ah, other party?"

"From the available evidence, that would be you."

An absolutely stricken look now. "Are you -- Never mind, I'll just --" The projection winked out as the Doctor leaned towards what would be the direction of the console. About half a minute later a sudden unnatural wind whipped up within the conference room. "You have got to be kidding me, Jack," the Doctor said from the doorway of the TARDIS.

"The ultrasound showed two hearts," Martha said.

"Yes, but --" the Time Lord ran a hand through his hair. "All right, come on in so we can have a look."

"Thanks for not wasting time on 'how does that work', at least," Jack said, following the Doctor into the TARDIS. Jack's erstwhile tea-boy Ianto Jones stood beside the console with the Time Lord's baby son in his arms, looking extremely confused. Hey, you thought running off with him was an escape from the weird shit...?

"You're Jack," the Doctor said, as if in the end this were the only explanation he had ever come up with that made the remotest sense where the Captain was concerned. "Up on here. Start at the beginning."

"Woke up a few hours ago thinking I heard someone calling for Mummy," Jack said, as the Time Lord peered at him through some arcane instrument. "Martha couldn't hear it, so I tried talking to it to calm it down, and I started to realize... I was Mummy."

The Doctor set the first instrument down and picked up another. "That developmental stage would agree with the likeliest date," he said. "And you, I might add, are getting to be a meddling old witch," the Time Lord added in the general direction of the ceiling.

"I think we had a little more to do with it than she did," Jack said.

"Considering the general odds against, I wouldn't be so sure," the Doctor said. "Hm, that's interesting."


"You've got some synthetic genes, Jack."

"Well, yeah, three thousand years of technology, sometimes I'm amazed I can still interbreed with the base stock," Jack said. "You didn't think these teeth were random chance, did you? Which ones were you surprised about?"

"This sequence in particular," the Time Lord said, turning a screen so that Jack could see the snarled clump of amino acid codings. "That's not standard-issue even in the fifty-first century. In fact... You don't see that sequence anywhere, except on the other side of the Chameleon Arch. You've got a Time Lord hiding out in your family tree, Jack."

"At the risk of you going all sciencey, not that I couldn't listen to that all day, that's bitten me in the ass how?"

"Well, most species' genomes have a lot of useless junk piled up from their evolutionary pasts. But in your case, Jack, some of that unexpressed rubbish is a holdover from that ancestor who appears to have married into your species. Under certain circumstances, which I'm not even going to begin to speculate about because it's making my head hurt, there's the slimmest chance of exactly the right proteins meeting up, and... Well. -- Which applies with Martha as well, you might want to think about that. It's probably a good thing that the female of the species normally has to make a conscious effort to conceive a child, or you might already have found this out, erm, in the conventional way."

"Lucky me. I feel like such a tramp."

"You feel like a tramp," the Doctor said, voice edging towards a squeak. "Nine hundred years of virtuous self-denial and suddenly I'm the neighborhood tomcat. You may be used to this sort of thing, but it's all rather new to me."

"It's usually more fun than this," Jack said. "So... what should I do?"

The Doctor shrugged. "You're in good overall health, not surprisingly, and the fetus seems to be developing normally and imprinting on you, so I'd say stay moderately active and pay close attention to any food cravings, no matter how strange they may seem." (Which wasn't exactly an answer to Jack's question, but then again perhaps it was.) "Martha should be able to help you recognise when the baby needs something unusual from your diet." The brown eyes creased with worry and something that looked very much like blind panic. "I can't stay, you know that. I can't do this again so soon. I'll visit, I'll be here when she's born, but... I can't stay."

"She," Jack said, grasping at the one straw he felt sure would hold his weight.

"Did you not want to know yet? Sorry, wasn't thinking." Hand in the hair again. Jack had a fleeting mental image of that brown tangle on a little girl -- she'd probably grow up hating them both for it.

"Knowing's good," Jack said. "You can tell Jack-Jack he's going to have a little sister."

"Half-sister," the Doctor corrected him absently. "It's not as if he'd understand yet anyway. I'm not sure I do, for that matter..."

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Chapter 4: Treatment Plans

Author's Notes: Jack tries to explain a few things.

"So I suppose you think I'm doing your C-section," Owen said, glaring up at Jack from the well of the autopsy room.

"Cardiff A&E can be so impersonal," Jack said with a shrug. "It might be complicated because I've already had one -- wanna see my scar?"

"I think I'll wait on that until it's absolutely medically necessary, thanks. Look... Jack... We've figured out by now that you're from the future, it's not like that's a secret or anything anymore. But you're not an alien. You're, like, from Iowa and you only work in outer space."

"Actually, I am from outer space, but it's a human colony," Jack clarified. "I'm roughly as human as you are, if we're granting that, but I won't be born for about three thousand years."

"So what the hell are you doing in Cardiff?"

"I took a wrong turn somewhere. Or maybe it was the right turn, I don't know. Doesn't really matter. I'm not anything Torchwood should be worrying about, if that's what you're getting at."

"And the pregnant with an alien baby part, how does that work? Are you how we're all going to be in the future?"

Jack shrugged. "You'll lose the provincialism about roles," he said. "This is a pretty common modification, in fact -- why should women get to have all the fun?"

"I don't know that I would consider this my idea of fun," Owen said.

"See, provincialism. You'd think differently if you met a guy you wanted to settle down with, believe me. Or if you wanted a really big family. Of course there's always machines, but a lot of people think that's --"

"All right, Jack, you've made your point, I'm just a stupid primitive ape compared to you and it's a wonder I can even oppose my thumbs enough to hold a scalpel." Owen slammed the tray of instruments he'd been sorting into the drawer with a clatter. "I'm going to go autoclave my brain now, maybe that will stop me trying to picture how the anatomical structures of this fit together. I'm sure the future wouldn't be safe if I stumbled upon that secret three thousand years early."

"Hey, how do we know you didn't invent it?"

"You're lucky you are pregnant or that would have got you a scalpel thrown at you."

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Chapter 5: Breaking The News

Author's Notes: Jack faces some music.

"Jack's pregnant."

Tosh nodded gleefully.

"Jack. Is pregnant."

"Does everybody in Cardiff have to know?" Jack exploded. He'd been dreading this moment. The moment word got around to Gwen.

"We're your team, Jack, if we're going to operate effectively we have to be kept informed about anything that could affect how we carry out missions. And if you're going to be sitting around knitting booties for the next six months --"

"We've got Owen for that, thanks --"


"-- All I'm saying is that we need to know about it. So, spill. Who's the, erm, other parent? Do we know them?"

"Oh, that's the best part," Owen chirped. "Future Boy is having himself an alien baby. I tell you we could sell this story to the papers and buy our own island."

"If the next word out of anybody's mouth is 'probed' I'm retconning all of you and mailing you to Tierra del Fuego."

"Oo, somebody's hormonal," Martha said.

"And I'm not poking airholes in the box."

"We're sorry, Jack," Toshiko said, "it's just... It's a surprise. I mean, we always thought you were a man."

"I'm just going to nip out back and shoot myself a few hundred times now." Jack buried his face in his hands.

"Seahorses," Gwen said. Jack risked a peek through his fingers to see the rest of his team regarding her with variously speculative looks. "Isn't that the way seahorses do it? Where the male, erm, hosts?"

"All right, that's good, that's an analogy we can work with," Jack said, lifting his head. "Will everyone stop prying into my personal life now and get back to work?"

"He still hasn't told us who the alien is," Tosh pointed out. To his horror Jack felt himself starting to blush white-hot.

"Someone with two hearts, apparently," Owen said with an air of studied innocence. "And since we've had a recent demonstration that Martha likes to look after her own buns in the oven, that leaves us with one other obvious candidate, does it not?"

"Okay, so that's where the seahorse analogy breaks down a little. God, I hate this stupid century --"

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Chapter 6: Let's All Have Sex

Author's Notes: Jack has an idea.

It was surprising how quickly the daily routines of Torchwood adapted around Jack's new circumstances. Not that he'd slowed down any yet, but the initial solicitude his team had showed him once they'd stopped laughing had lasted all of a couple of days before they were right back to looking to him for orders, and for a change actually following them for the most part. He'd noticed, too, that they hadn't fallen into old habits of expecting him to bounce. It felt strange to be leading from the rear, but he supposed it was probably best to get used to it now, before he did have to turn himself in for desk duty.

Although desk duty was exactly what he was on today, after a rare conflict between the baby's alien dietary demands and his all-too-human digestive system had left him out for two days already and blessing the genetic designer who had managed to leave morning sickness out of the overall package, maybe when they snipped out the lactation triggers. Staggering in to work at all had probably been a mistake, but he'd had a vague sense that a third day without adult supervision would really have been pushing things. Unfortunately, it meant that he'd spent most of his day mediating between Owen and Tosh, Owen and Gwen, Owen and Martha, and Owen and Owen for all he really knew by this point, stamping out all the little fires that seemed to crop up every time he dared take his eyes off Torchwood's medical officer for longer than about an hour. Jack suspected that the problem these days was that Owen was wrestling with a desperate desire to dissect his boss. For a different reason than the usual one, anyway.

It was Martha's turn again right now, another go-round of a complaint from the morning, and Jack was only half listening by now, knowing that the litany was more about venting than solving anyway. Not that there was a solution to The Problem Of Owen, not that would leave him with the capacity to be of any use to anyone including himself. Plus he wasn't sure if they had that much retcon in stores right now --

*Mummy, I have feet!*

"That's great, Rosie, keep it up!" Jack looked up from rubbing his belly to see Martha giving him the glare of death and realized he'd spoken aloud. "Sorry, didn't mean to drop out on you like -- Well, what am I supposed to call her, Rufus? This wouldn't be happening if Rose hadn't..."

"It's just like that for you and her," Martha said, looking bleak.

Oh, is that what this is about. "I think it's time you had a proper introduction," Jack said, taking her hands and guiding them to his temples.

Martha looked surprised, but open to the idea. "Can we do this?"

He wasn't sure, not exactly, but how hard could it be, really? The Doctor had riffled through Jack's head often enough by now that to invert the process seemed like a simple matter of issuing an invitation, throwing out a hand and trusting her to catch it. Of course, generally when he and the Doctor had been in such intimate contact the contact had been, well, intimate --

When Jack's vision cleared he was sitting on the floor beside the desk, suddenly aware of two things: he had knocked his head against something when he fell, and he was grinning like a lunatic. Martha was sitting back on her heels, looking... flushed. "That really is all you think about, isn't it."

"Hey, I'm a guy. Current appearances notwithstanding." Jack touched his throbbing scalp and found a tender spot but no blood. "Consider that a lesson about letting your mind wander when you let it off the leash. I think I'm gonna go lie down for a minute, unless it's your professional opinion that I shouldn't be moved yet."

"It's my professional opinion that I ought to drive you home and put you to bed," Martha replied, but fondly. "Alone, before you get any brighter ideas."

"You're no fun anymore." Jack wobbled to his feet, leaning heavily on his desk, and caught sight of the other three members of his team standing in the doorway of his office, staring at him with assorted degrees of concern and, yes, a touch of excuse me, boss, but did you just feel a psychic wave of something a little stronger than good-will-towards-men -- erm -- come through here? "Sorry, kids, Doctor Jones is sending me home for the day. Go on, go have an orgy or something, you can use my old room."

(And was it his imagination, or did the look they all gave him as he passed seem to suggest that a certain amount of serious consideration was being given to the idea...?)

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Chapter 7: With Doors And Things

Author's Notes: Jack shares a moment.

"This is... different," the Doctor said.

"Martha insisted." Jack leaned back in his chair. Only a couple of months they'd been moved in and it was already starting to show that neither of them was really here enough hours of the day to keep on top of what mess they did manage to generate while they were, but even Jack had to admit that the modest little house was an improvement over living in the Hub. And a lot easier to explain, when and if the day came that Martha couldn't put off her parents coming to visit any longer. Even if the average semidetached wasn't fortified in a few important ways that didn't immediately meet the eye...

The Doctor took another sip of his tea. Same old blue suit, but he looked more put together than Jack had ever seen him, pressed to a fare-thee-well like he was going in to pay his parking tickets. If you didn't look all the way down to the feet, anyway. Jack had half a mind to ask if Ianto was ironing the nappies as well. "She would, I suppose. She got us a place like this when we got stuck in 1969. Well, not nearly this nice, couldn't do this well just working in a shop, but... Curtains and carpets, whole thing."

"Whole human thing," Jack agreed. "Look at me, married with a house in the suburbs and a baby on the way. Is this the end of Captain Jack Harkness?" he intoned ominously.

The Time Lord laughed. "Not when you're the one who's pregnant."

"Yeah, I guess it's the little details that give you away." Out in the front room Jack-Jack shrieked with laughter at something his Mummy or his nanny was doing to him, and the Doctor's lips curled in a fond smile. "Still pretty domestic, though."

"You're barefoot, and here we are in the kitchen." The brown eyes twinkled.

"I had a nice pair of bunny slippers, but they got possessed by alien spores and had to be put down." Jack folded his hands over his stomach. It was beginning to be apparent to the naked eye that something was up -- still subtle enough to gloss over as a man of his apparent age having let himself go a bit, but he was already dreading the day when cheery euphemisms like beer belly or muffin top stopped doing the trick of camouflaging the improbable truth. Not to mention that it was going to be winter again before the end of this and Jack could just see himself being able to close his greatcoat by then --

Jack's passenger fluttered beneath his hand, a more emphatic statement of the barrel rolls she'd been working on for a while now. "Whoa, sweetie, that was a good one," Jack said, and looked up to see the Doctor's eyebrows flirting with his hairline. Jack took the Time Lord's hand and placed it over where his waistline was supposed to be. "Can you do that again for your Daddy?"

One advantage to carrying a psychic fetus, it was a lot easier to get them to perform on command. "Well," the Doctor said as his daughter obligingly repeated her manoeuvre.

"Never gets old, does it."

"This is so... wrong."

But his face gave the lie to the words. Oh, yeah, you're lost, pal, Jack thought, amused. Bet you're already seeing yourself forbidding her to date a guy like her Mum...

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Chapter 8: General Relativity And You, A Primer

Author's Notes: Jack worries.

"We could say it's short for Winifred."

"Like I'm not going to be in enough trouble if this ever gets back to the Brigadier."

Martha held up a hand as if she'd just thought of something particularly clever. "'Rosemary, that's for remembrance'," she quoted.

The Doctor looked surprised. "That's good, I think he'd like us to use that."

If it settled the argument Jack would almost have been willing to agree to Fred, but Martha's unexpected olive branch suited him well enough, and he could tell that it was just at the edge of what the Doctor would be able to live with. "Looks like you've got a proper name, Rosie. Your Auntie Martha owes me big-time."

She rolled her eyes, possibly trying to work out how he figured it that way around. "And 'Auntie Martha' says it's past Rosemary's bedtime."

Jack already knew better than to argue with that Doctor Jones look. "My life as I knew it is more or less over, isn't it." He made a show of hauling himself to his feet. "I'll just go slip into something a little more comfortable in case anybody wants to join me." You wish, said the look that both Time Lords gave him. (Ianto had long since dozed off on the sofa, seizing his chance at getting something closer to a human amount of sleep while Jack-Jack was in good hands with both parents. Jack had been trying very hard not to look at the wriggling infant as his own immediate future all evening.)

The stairs weren't as tricky to negotiate yet as Jack knew they would be once his feet started disappearing beyond his slowly expanding horizon, but even so his center of gravity had already shifted enough to make him wary. "The things I do for love," Jack groaned at the top of the staircase, pausing to readjust to flatter terrain before he lurched off bedward. And the real fun hasn't even started yet, has it...

Bed felt better than Jack really wanted to admit, muscles that were being asked to perform outside of their designed specs cheering heartily at the sudden redirection of gravitational forces. He found a position that didn't seem to put pressure on anything he couldn't spare and tried to settle himself, contemplating the looming shapes of furniture in the gloom (he still couldn't abide a dark bedroom, too many reflexes insisted on the need to know what might be sneaking up on him) and listening to the drowsy babble from his midsection of the baby conducting a systems check. Paradoxically the insomnia had returned lately even as logic suggested that the demands on his body should be trumping all else, certainly even that feeling of expectancy that kept him blinking into the night for a glimpse of whatever the universe was holding its breath for. (To protect his cub from it, maybe? Or had the years of waiting and listening for a time-rending engine gotten to be too ingrained a habit to break so easily?)

Whatever the reason, Jack was still awake when the bedroom door opened quietly and a tall figure looked in, dark eyebrows drawing into a frown as Jack sat up; "I'm sure that when Doctor Jones put you to bed she meant for you to get some sleep."

"I hate sleeping alone. Could be bribed with some company..."

The Time Lord chuckled, closing the door behind himself. "Suppose I should, at that," he said, long fingers moving to undo buttons. "Haven't spent much time with -- well, the two of you -- so far, she needs to get to know her Daddy."

"Hope you're not thinking of stealing Rosie's affections." Jack found himself wrapping his arms around his stomach as if mere flesh could separate the two minds from one another.

"You seem to be doing all right by her." A contented thread of Mummy slid through Jack's head. "Maybe if I'd been more patient..."

"Even you don't know everything, Doctor."

"Basest calumny." Aw, don't stop there, Jack thought halfheartedly as it became clear that the Time Lord had undressed as far as he intended to for the moment, but still made room for the Doctor to join him under the blankets.

Jack could feel the subtle change in the baby's fluttery awareness as one long-fingered alien hand came to rest on his abdomen, polite attention being paid to this new source of input but as of yet no more special significance than she gave to Martha's fumbling efforts. Score one for a not-so-stupid ape, eh? "Sometimes Mummy does know best," Jack couldn't resist remarking to the Doctor's slight frown.

The Time Lord shook his head. "Her timeline's strange, Jack. Sometimes it's clear as day, and sometimes... It's probably just you being all Factual," he hastened to add on top of the worried momma-bear look that Jack felt freezing onto his face. "Everything around you is a mess, I mean, look at your team, Owen collects near-death experiences like other people collect stamps. This is why my people couldn't stand fixed points. You create distortions like a mass that's acting as a gravitational lens, only in time as well."

"General hint here, Doctor: don't use words like 'gravitational lens' and 'mass' around somebody who's pregnant. I already feel like I'm developing an event horizon and I'm not even that far along yet. How worried should I be, though?"

The Doctor shrugged. "You're right, Jack, I don't know everything. Fixed points aren't usually people, much less pregnant. If you haven't managed to end the universe altogether by now, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that she'll probably be perfectly fine, at least physically. -- I already wasn't going to vouch for the course of her mental development, but I'm not any more worried for her than I am for Jack-Jack," he added as Jack drew in a breath to ask. "Now will you at least try to get some sleep? For her sake?"

"Oh, yeah, because that was ever so reassuring." But Jack rested his head against the Doctor's shoulder, telling himself it was only the absurd mix of hormones sloshing around in his system that made sleep, here, with him, suddenly seem right and safe. If he could get all the way through the rest of this year without blurting out something he'd find utterly mortifying in the sober light of day, he'd be a lucky, lucky man indeed...

*Mummy loves Daddy!*

"Shut up, kid."

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Chapter 9: Not Sure, But Really, Really Hoping

Author's Notes: Jack is unfashionable.

All is not right with the world. Never think that. Only an invitation to make yourself fate's bitch yet again...

It felt so right, though, soft hair to rest his chin against and a cool nose buried against the back of his neck. Almost like that morning in Kyoto. Of course the heads then had been close-cropped and peroxide, and there hadn't been a baby sleeping beside them, or one turning slowly in his own belly for that matter. Jack wasn't sure he cared anymore, at this remove. Better to store up new memories to lay beside that last perfect morning of his mortal life.

And one of those new memories would definitely have to be the delicate sensation of a tiny foot kicking out at the abdominal wall that lay between his Rosie and the hand of her father resting against Jack's belly. A hitch in the breath at his nape told him that the movement hadn't gone unnoticed, either. "So wrong," the Doctor murmured, but contentedly.

"Good morning to you, too." Martha stirred sluggishly under his arm. "I'm for a long, slow exploration of our sexuality, followed by some bacon and eggs." Jack considered. "Actually, this is gonna sound crazy, but I think I'd rather skip straight to the bacon and eggs."

"Okay, now I'm convinced he's pregnant," Martha said, propping herself on an elbow to rub the sleep from her eyes.

The Doctor leaned over Jack to collect his wakening son into his arms. "The baby's hungry too, I can go make everyone breakfast."

Martha reared bolt upright. "Not in my kitchen, mister."

He looked wounded. "I can cook, you know. Nine hundred years old, me, I have been managing to feed myself all this while."

"It's the washing-up I'm worried about. I've lived with you before."

Jack could well imagine, watching the two Time Lords all but falling out of opposite sides of the bed to be the first one to the door. "Don't mind me, I'll be down if I can find anything that fits," he said, wondering vaguely if Martha remembered that Ianto was presumably still at large in the house somewhere. Ah, well, leave them to work out their own awkward twenty-first century moments.

Jack's wardrobe had already been taken over by track suit bottoms, which rankled him -- no sense in trying to keep squeezing himself into decent tailoring, but privately he agreed with Owen's assessment of his new look as an ASBO waiting to happen. Hm, maybe track suit bottoms caused anti-social behaviour, he'd have to come up with some sort of study protocol for that...

His ruminations were interrupted at the foot of the stairs by the sight of Ianto still asleep in the front room, tucked up under the ugly crocheted throw that the house seemed to have spontaneously generated about a week after they'd bought the sofa. (Jack suspected the little old lady next door who kept asking Martha when the "newlyweds" intended to start a family. Cover story for Mrs. Jenkins was still high on his to-do list.) "Hey, sleepyhead, it's almost time for breakfast," Jack said softly, brushing a hand across the dark hair.

Ianto came awake with a start, blue eyes wide and blind, and started patting himself down, all too obviously groping for a gun. "Easy, Ianto, it's me. Remember? Your nanny gig, we were talking, you fell asleep on the sofa...?"

Jack could see Ianto's higher functions coming back on-line one by one. "Sorry, sir. I've been having some... extraordinary dreams, lately."

"I just bet. So, is it everything you were hoping?"

Slowly, the Welshman broke out into the goofiest grin Jack would have ever thought to see on that normally oh-so-reserved face. "I can see why you waited for him, sir. It's been... remarkable. Even the parts that you'd think were just looking after the baby... It's remarkable."

"Babysitting him is a full-time job too. How's the running for your life stuff working out for you?"

"There's not been so much of that so far, he's being very careful. Plus there's not much you can't charm your way out of with a baby."

"Sleeping with him yet?"

Ianto looked as shocked as somebody's elderly maiden aunt. "Wouldn't think of it, sir. The only reason he permits that from you is because you're, well, Jack."

"Nice to know that I've ruined him for anyone else."

"You're the closest thing he has left to an equal, sir."

Jack opened his mouth to object that Ianto was so far off the mark it wasn't even funny, that the Doctor would cheerfully have thrown him over in two heartbeats for his worst enemy just for the sake of having the company of a true peer, and foundered against the memory of one Owen Harper calling himself a stupid primitive ape in comparison to Jack. "That's as may be, but what about you? ...They're going to be a few more minutes with breakfast, wanna make out?"

"You're carrying his child, sir. It wouldn't be right."

Jack had to laugh at his solemn expression. "Good old Ianto, always trying to make an honest man of me."

"Also those trousers are about as sexy as an elephant's pyjamas."

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Chapter 10: Don't Know Where, Don't Know When

Author's Notes: Jack has cravings.

God, I hate bananas. Jack made himself take a bite, chewing it grimly. Apparently Time Lords needed a hell of a lot of potassium in their diets, even -- or especially -- in-utero-analogue. And here he'd been worried that the greengrocers of Cardiff might go under due to the drop-off in banana sales once the Doctor had cleared off after Jack-Jack's birth. "I hope you appreciate this," he muttered.

*Mummy loves me.*

"Right, whatever." Another bite of sickly-sweet fruit. Oh, he was never going to be able to so much as smell bananas without vomiting by the time this was over...

The worst part was that everyone else thought it was hysterically funny. Every morning for nearly a month now he'd arrived at the Hub to find a neat line of perfectly ripe bananas on his desk, one to represent each member of his team, exactly as if he were a teacher being buttered up by some well-meaning if confused first-graders. Or slightly older students trying to make an unsubtle hint about the proper usage of prophylactics. He suspected Tosh of being the ringleader of their little game because somehow the internal security footage never seemed to have caught them at it when he checked. He hadn't worked out yet whether Martha was in on it or not, since there were certainly the correct number of bananas for that but she almost always drove him in these days, meaning that the mysterious banana bandits had to be leaving hers by proxy...

Without really noticing it Jack had finished the banana. One down, three more to go. He chucked the peel into his wastebasket with a reverberating thunk. What he really wanted was some coffee. It was probably just as well that he'd effectively gone cold-turkey since Ianto ran off; in the old days he'd have had enough caffeine in him by this time of the morning to cause retroactive birth defects in an adult, much less any hapless fetus who had to marinate in the stuff. The others had been compensating for the loss of Ianto's talents by disappearing up to the nearest cafe off the Plass every time that they thought he wasn't looking, but even beyond the health issues involved Jack wasn't about to go flaunting his increasingly noticable girth anywhere nearby on that regular a basis. Sneaking in and out of the Hub was getting to be bad enough.

Bananas, so far, were the most insistent of the baby's demands, bananas and anything else with potassium, although while she could occasionally be bought off with avocados and, surprisingly, chips, in Martha's Professional Opinion he was probably best off sticking with the bananas for the most part. Yes, she probably was in on the conspiracy. "Never marry a doctor, kid."

Jack started to peel banana number two. Why couldn't it have been truffles, or peanut butter, or even the stereotypical pickles and ice cream? No, Time Lords had to fixate on bananas, and the odd flash of that same damn craving for wasabi that Martha had put them all through when she was carrying Jack-Jack. Hell, maybe that would make the bananas look better...

The hair on the back of Jack's neck suddenly stood up, instants before the rift activity monitors out at Tosh's workstation started shrilling an alarm. Bitter experience said that the heavy scent of ozone wasn't a summer storm rolling into his office. No, the gathering light was a tear in space, or time, or both, and how the hell was it managing to open within the Hub itself after everything they'd ever done to shield this place, dammit --

A figure swaggered out of the golden cloud. Gray eyes locked on Jack's, then flickered downward, back up. "Now who's the wife?" said Captain John Hart.

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Chapter 11: Enemy Mine

Author's Notes: Jack has his doubts.

"I understand about you not getting up, but is this any way to greet an old friend?" Hart said, gazing calmly down the barrel of Jack's gun.

"We didn't exactly part as friends," Jack spat. The security mirror behind Hart's head showed Jack a fun-house image of his team creeping towards the office doorway, guns at the ready. "Pushing me off a roof is pretty far down on my list of good foreplay techniques."

"No, really, I'm been working on that impulse-control problem and I think I've got it licked. Gone completely, boringly straight. Well, not straight. Legit, I think is the vulgar parlance of these times? Oh, and you've still got the cute team," Hart added, turning just slightly towards the bristling array of weaponry at the door. "No blonde yet, though. And where's that other bit of eye-candy you had, Squanto, was it?"

"Ianto. He -- got a better offer."

"Better than this? -- Hel-lo, and who is this lovely lady, now?" Hart interrupted himself, catching sight of Martha.

"Didn't I shoot you?" she replied, with a glare that was equal parts belligerence and worry.

"Oh, come on, if we're going to start getting into dreary details about who shot who now..."

"How the hell did you get in here, anyway?"

"Jack. Sweetheart. Do you mean to try and tell me that you've forgotten rule number forty-seven? 'If it's left your wrist, change the locks'." Hart caressed his own wrist-strap fondly. "She was so happy to see another one of her kind, too --"

"I did change the locks!"

"You see, now, that's why I came to see you. You've obviously got some glaring holes in your security coverage, and with the Agency shut down I, well, I sort of need a job."

Hart said this last with downcast eyes, as if reluctant to admit weakness. Classic con-man trick. Jack liked that one himself. "Pull the other one, it's got bells on."

"Jack. I'm begging you. I haven't got anyone else to turn to."

"And why is that, I ask myself."

"Please, Jack. Look at me. I barely had the resources left to get here. If you turn me out I'll still be stuck in this time. Sweet Goddesses, I don't even have a gun. I feel so naked, and not in a good way."

Hart did look a bit scorched, at that. "Assuming I was hiring: what could you possibly have to offer me?"

"Maybe you could use some help with that?" Hart gestured towards the swell of Jack's belly. "Extra technical advisor to consult with Loverboy there on the futuristic obstetrics? Wouldn't be the first time I've served under a doctor." No, he did not just give Owen a Look, for the love of god.

"As I recall, your medical expertise is mostly limited to taking people apart. I've got that pretty well covered already."

Jack was tempted, though. Scans and theory aside, the notion of having another brain to pick for information about fifty-first century anatomical modifications presented its definite appeal. "If it would help," Hart said, eyes never leaving Jack's, "I can give you a hostage against my good behaviour?"

And Hart held out his right hand, offering Jack the buckle of his wrist-strap. After a long wary moment Jack reached out and unfastened it. "Get him down to the vaults while I think about this. Strip him down and do a full physical cavity search. I'll be in the conference room when you've got him locked down."

"What, you're not going to come and watch the fun? But I suppose, in your condition... might be a bit too much excitement."

"Now was kind of implied, people."

Hart went with them docilely, sensible enough not to invite any excuses for their pent-up resentment of him to erupt into police brutality. Jack watched the security monitor until he was reasonably certain that the four of them could handle this escort duty between them, then got up to lock Hart's wrist-strap in his safe. Don't know what your con is this time, old pal, but I think I need to see how this plays out...

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Chapter 12: Well I Lie And I'm Easy

Author's Notes: Jack makes a decision.

"You can't be serious, Jack!"

"Would you rather we didn't have any idea where he is? If he's really desperate enough to have come to me, then he's desperate enough to do something really crazy if I turn him down. He doesn't need his wrist-strap to be a massive headache for us if we just chuck him out into the street. All in all I think I'm for keeping him where we can see him."

"But do we just... keep him locked up in the vaults forever?" Tosh asked, brow furrowed. Jack saw her eyes go to the monitor behind him, which last time Jack looked had been displaying the image of Hart in his cell, wrapped up in a blanket and for all Jack knew snoring peacefully away. Oh, yeah, Hart snored, all right. Jack scowled at the memories forcing their way to the forefront of his mind.

"We could try getting him to date you, Tosh, that's usually the kiss of death around here," Owen muttered.

"People --!"

"Maybe we should talk to him, see if we can get an idea of what he really wants." Gwen shrugged when Jack gave her a stern look. "What harm can he do? He's naked."

"He's more dangerous naked."

"Suppose you'd know." God, Owen was just asking to be retconned and dumped on the side of the highway today. Or was that the hormones talking? Not as if Jack could consider his judgement on anything to be infallible right now, not when he'd let Hart live past his first step out of the rift.

The vaults were eerily silent now the weevils had gone. Jack found himself thinking he almost missed the constant keening, if it meant that now he had to strain to pick up sounds that the ambient weevilsong had been masking. Dripping of water, humming of lights and equipment, and right now the contented snores of one more-or-less human prisoner, whom Jack knew he'd still be hearing down here long after they'd figured out how to get shut of him for good someday. Jack halted before Hart's cell and smacked the flat of his hand against the door. "Don't get comfortable in there."

Hart rolled over, completely indifferent to the fact that most of the blanket didn't follow. More scars than Jack remembered. "Isn't there a sign that says 'Don't tap on the glass' like at the zoo?" He sat up with a long lazy stretch. "Of course, I've been in zoos with better accommodations. Tyre-swing wouldn't be too much to ask, would it?"

"Save it."

Jack felt small hands taking his elbow -- yes, that would be Gwen, of course. "I'm sure we can come to some arrangements, Captain Hart. Dependent on your good behaviour, of course?"

"She's your new Good Cop, is she? Been wondering how you were managing that act without me." Hart stood up and came to lean casually against the frame of the door, the very picture of indulgent grace. Except for the eyes, flicking around to take in the effect his pose was having on Jack's team. And on Jack. He felt himself sliding down a rocky chasm between how could I ever have thought and maybe I still do, and wanted to shake his head to clear it. "Well, let's see, I've had a full-body search from three lovely ladies while a strapping young lad held my shackles, I think that makes today a rousing success so far," Hart continued. "Bit bored now, though, wouldn't mind having something to read. Since I'm sure your Captain probably wouldn't much care if I could come up with some creative way to do away with myself with a book."

Jack wouldn't, personally, but he could feel Gwen recoiling at the thought, as Hart surely had planned. "Go up to my office and find him something," he said, more to remove Gwen from the situation than to indulge Hart.

The gray eyes followed Gwen all the way to the door, narrowed thoughtfully. "I would have figured the lovely Miss Cooper to be the first one around here to catch pregnant, but I do suppose you're the alpha. Brave thing though, deciding to keep it in this day and age. They're practically still using flint knives back here, aren't they? How far along are you, six months?"

"It's complicated." Jack glared at him through the smeary polycarbonate.

"Daddy still in the picture? I thought you had a bit of a thing with mister sharp suits, is that why he...?"

"Ianto is not the father and that is not why he left," Jack snapped. "And before you ask, it's not Owen either, much as I'd love to see the look on both your faces if I suggested it. You don't know him and you're not going to meet him if I have anything to do with it."

"Another lantern-jawed hero much like yourself, I'm picturing," Hart mused.

"I'd describe him as more of a ferret-faced geek, actually," Owen contributed.

"Okay, Owen, you remember that talk we had about trying to be helpful?"

"Not in the slightest."

Hart looked amused by this exchange. "And here I'd been under the impression that you ran this place by the old-fashioned values of rum, sodomy and the lash."

"I wore out the lash and the off-licence canceled our account."

"Domesticity's making you soft. Time was you'd have had a pretty little thing like him begging you for the privilege of some harsh discipline."

"...I'm really not comfortable with the turn this conversation has taken," Owen muttered, taking a step backwards.

Neither was Jack, for that matter, however satisfying it might be to see Owen cowed by something for once. "All right, that's enough excitement for now," he announced, grimacing as Rosie took a swing at one of his kidneys. Gwen conveniently reappeared with a couple of books, and even better, one of Owen's lab coats, and Jack let her pass them into the cell to Hart, noting approvingly that she at least had the sense to keep her gun drawn on him the entire while. "You're staying with us, in here, but don't think this is any kind of an invitation to make yourself to home, understand?"

"Perfectly," Hart agreed, shrugging into the white coat. "-- Is this a good look for me, do you think? Always did fancy playing doctor as a kid."

Jack couldn't fight back a shudder. "Speaking of which, Owen, your assignment from now on is to see what he can explain to you about where babies come from in our century. Take whatever notes you like, but I need to see them, and under no circumstances is he to have access to our computers, got that?" Owen groaned, but settled himself down for a lengthy interrogation session as Jack turned and lumbered out of the vaults, wondering if he'd made any good decisions at all so far.

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Chapter 13: Somewhere Just Beyond My Reach

Author's Notes: Jack realizes that he has a problem.


He rolls over and looks at the clock. When is this kid going to start making it all the way through the night? Yeah, okay, the books don't really
apply here, but still, the size she is, it ought to be about time...

Chubby little arms reaching out as he approaches the crib. "Mummy, Mummy?"

"Ssh, I'm here." Lifting the toddler, letting her settle her head against his shoulder. Funny, how heavy kids can be. "Make you a deal, huh? You can come sleep in my bed again tonight if you'll try for another hour tomorrow night, okay?"

Yeah, reasoning with a toddler, real productive. But she's not just a toddler, is she. She's... whatever she is. His clingy little wild-haired oddball who watches him like she knows far more than she's letting on, and might well be humoring him to pretend to sleep in the crib at all. He tucks her in on the side of his bed that's come to seem too empty without her anyway and lies down beside her, feeling the telltale alien double-beat as he cradles her in his arms.

Jack expected nightmares, after this sort of a day. Welcomed them, even, as vivid proof that no matter how badly things had gone at least he wasn't adrift in the darkness beyond life again. But this, this was too real, the scent of baby powder lingering in his nose well after the furniture had stopped lurching at him through the gloom, and he found himself having to rub the mound of his abdomen to convince himself that his Rosie was still safely onboard, turning restlessly at his distress. Downside of the psychic fetus, the slightest thing could set them off, and then you were in for a night of having your bladder used for a punching bag. Think Happy Thoughts, Jack. Thoughts like hey, maybe Martha's awake anyway, and don't we all know what the best way to cheer Jack up is...?

Martha was, indeed, more or less awake, blessing or curse of the Time Lords that she largely ignored in her conviction that Jack needed some company at night, especially now, and proved not at all unreceptive to her husband's sleepy advances. He'd been neglecting her a bit lately, preoccupied with, well, the new woman in his life, let's say, and he hadn't really given much of a thought to the physics of how any of this would work these days when he did get around to trying -- "How did we manage this when it was you?"

Martha guffawed, scooping her disarrayed hair out of her face. "'S a bit different when everything's the other way around. I'm starting to think I might have to have an affair with Owen if I want to get any in the next couple of months."

"Y'know, time was I could have had you publicly flogged just for joking about that. Infidelity, I mean, not Owen. Sleeping with him would be its own punishment."

"You're the one in this marriage who's having another man's baby, mister."

"...I think if you scoot up and put your leg here --"

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Chapter 14: We're All Mad Here

Author's Notes: Jack takes advantage.

Jack was getting quite friendly with the Hub's sofa these days. As Rosie pushed him farther and farther away from his beloved old desk, it simply made more sense to hold court from the sagging comfort of that sofa's ugly embrace, letting Torchwood's daily business come to him. Less privacy to brood, perhaps, but he found that he'd been doing less of that lately anyway, worries all firmly rooted at the mundane level of a handful of weeks until my troubles really begin. And besides, it was such a convenient spot to gather the troops for a little team-building banter round a pizza. "So, Jack, how exactly are you going to know when the baby's ready to be born? I mean, it's not as if you..." Gwen trailed off, visibly groping for some sort of metaphor that would allow her to start wrapping a twenty-first century brain around fifty-first century anatomy complicated by alien genes.

Jack shrugged. "I assume it's like any other pregnancy, when my navel pops out she's just about done."

"God, I was still eating." Owen, of course. Jack chuckled.

"I think it's beautiful," Tosh said. "Bringing a new life into the world. It's so mysterious."

"Didn't realize you were such a romantic, Toshiko."

Her eyes grew shadowed. "I try not to think about it, really. It's not as if working here fills you with the sort of hope for the future that would make a woman want to, ah..."

"Run out and get herself knocked up?" Owen filled in. Tosh scowled at him, but didn't contradict this.

"Look at us, we don't even have an official maternity-leave policy, it's never come up before now. Jack could be the first Torchwood-Three employee who's managed to live long enough to reproduce."

"Hey, this is Torchwood, you signed away your right to human dignity when you filled out the application for our dental plan. Should have read the fine print, it's in the section that specifies how often we're contractually obligated to shag each other."

"We are not," Gwen protested, but with a look of uncertainty in her eyes.

"I figured since it's gonna happen anyway it was easier to make it mandatory than to try to forbid it," Jack said innocently. "I'll admit I'm a little behind on my quota because of the baby, but I have every confidence in being able to make it up before our year-end review."

"And here I was about to say, thank goodness Jack's shagging for two now," Owen groaned.

"Just for that you get to take the rest of this down to Hart," Jack said, closing the lid on the remains of the pizza. (Even Jack had had to concede that Hart would be more likely to relax enough to let slip some hint as to his intentions if he were treated to a more humane regime than Jack's initial thrifty notions about the leftover weevil chow, but damned if he was getting first pick either.) "Rest of you, back to whatever it is we do here, huh? Wasn't somebody about to go find me that file on the last gooey blue sphere to drop through the rift so I can cross-reference it with Thursday's?"

His team dispersed, grumbling about slave drivers, and Jack settled back on the sofa, hands behind his head. Oh, yes, he was going to take full advantage of these next few weeks, all right. Closest he'd had to a vacation in years...

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Chapter 15: Are We There Yet?

Author's Notes: Jack retcons the neighbourhood.

Grudgingly, the Doctor had conceded to park the TARDIS within the Hub to make matters easier on Jack for these last few prenatal checkups. Very grudgingly. Jack half suspected that the delay before the doors popped open represented the Time Lord running about Torchwood-proofing all his locks. And the console. And the kitchen cabinets, just for good measure.

Ianto emerged first, looking tanned and rested. "This is just not fair. Every time I ask him to take me to the beach we end up having to escape from a dungeon somewhere."

"You would have been bored, sir. Uninhabited beaches don't have bars."

"Or other nude sunbathers, I guess," Jack agreed, and couldn't resist a friendly grope. "Go on, go see your folks, I can check you over for tan lines later -- Doctor!"

"Look at you, you're getting... noticeable." When the Time Lord came in for the hug Jack was offering he had to approach from the side. Jack noticed that he was as pale as always, maybe a few more freckles scattered across that pointy nose but otherwise giving every indication of being as blithely impervious to ultraviolet radiation as to any number of more directly lethal emissions. "How has it been going?"

"So far this week I've had to retcon three tourists, the milkman, Mrs. Jenkins from next door and my mother-in-law. Twice. Basically I've been thinking it's about time to give up and camp out in the Hub until I can pretend to be normal again."

"Not a bad idea, at that," the Doctor said, looking thoughtful. "Easier to provide round-the-clock medical coverage in case there's an issue." He motioned Jack into the ship. "You really retconned Francine?"

"Just a little," Jack said. Martha pulled a face at him. "We keep telling her not to drop in on us unannounced, but she never listens."

"I can see where that might be an issue for you," the Doctor said mildly, prodding gently at Jack's expansive belly. "Wouldn't ordinarily approve, you know, but I think she's been through enough without being asked to make sense of this. And you've got about six more weeks to come up with an explanation for Rosie," he added, with a faraway squint.

"Damn, I was hoping you'd say tomorrow." Jack sagged. "Haven't I already been pregnant forever?"

Martha poked him. "Oi, you didn't even know about it for the first three months, you'll get no sympathy from this quarter."

The Doctor was trying very hard not to laugh, hiding behind his spectacles and an exotic device that appeared to be checking Jack's fluid levels. Much more dignified than any test Owen had in his arsenal, that was for sure. Which was why they were doing this in the TARDIS, away from prying eyes -- blinky lights inspired sticky fingers around here, and if it meant not having to work out the ever-changing geometry of peeing in a cup yet again, Jack was almost tempted to steal the damn gizmo himself. He was pretty sure by now that Owen and Martha hadn't needed all of those samples...

The device chirped out a pretty little tune that ended in a rude noise, and the Doctor scowled at it, twiddling at what seemed to be a click-wheel. "Not entirely happy with your blood pressure."

"With a job like this? I'm amazed my head hasn't exploded long since. Owen's got a log if you want to check the last couple weeks' worth of readings."

Owen's desk was in its usual state of needing only a few worms to make a nice compost heap, but with Martha's help the Doctor was able to lay hands on Owen's most recent volume of notes on Jack's condition. The Time Lord flipped through the notebook, eyebrows knotted in concentration. "Who's Hart, and why does he seem to be in the vaults?"

Damn. "Nobody, just a guy I used to work with. I couldn't have him running loose around Cardiff, so I decided to extend Torchwood's hospitality."

"I've seen your idea of Torchwood's 'hospitality', Jack," the Doctor said, frowning. "It's more than a bit mediaeval."

"Yeah, well, considering how well I know the guy he's lucky I didn't just shoot him," Jack said, levering himself up from the sofa as it became apparent that he had about three seconds to either follow the Time Lord to the vaults or risk having him down there with Hart completely unsupervised. "But like some noble idiot I know I had to go and give him a chance to talk first. And he could sell a donkey its own hind leg."

"I've had some experience with the phenomenon." Was that a suggestion of the Oncoming Storm in his eyes? Ah, well, if anyone could deal with Hart, it was probably a Time Lord. This Time Lord. Talk about your amputee donkeys...

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Chapter 16: It's A Bitch Convincing People To Like You

Author's Notes: Jack loses control of the situation.

The prisoner was currently occupying himself with exercises, up in a handstand that made Jack's blood pressure tick up another couple of points just to look at it even before it became apparent that Hart was doing pushups from that position. Effortlessly. Oh, yes, whole other school of modifications, his. Though they'd provided him with more clothes by now, he wore only a pair of blue silk boxers with ludicrous cartoon fish on them. Which Jack recognized as originally having been Ianto's. In Jack's current frame of mind he was tempted to read this as something to take personally, and had to remind himself that it was probably a miracle that Hart was wearing them at all. Either he'd worn out the immediate shock value of casual nudity or he thought this superficial act of compliance with local standards would serve to unnerve Jack more. And it did, all right.

Jack would have put money on Hart's having been well aware of their approach before they'd even gotten down to this level of the vaults, but the Time Agent gave no sign of it, methodically finishing a few more leisurely reps before scissoring his legs out in a needlessly artistic display of gymnastic prowess and flipping himself round to a standing position in one smooth motion that Jack couldn't exactly follow. "Visiting time already? I'd have put the kettle on if I'd realized."

The witty reply that Jack would have expected from the Doctor didn't come. He turned to see the Time Lord studying Hart with a frown of intense concentration. As if he were trying to place him. 'Didn't I shoot you,' she said...

Sure enough, one long alien finger suddenly stabbed out at the high-impact plastic. "That's, he -- He tried to kill me! Completely unprovoked, just minding my own business at a picnic, and right out of nowhere he's -- You have absolutely no idea who I am, do you," the Doctor stopped himself at the complete lack of recognition on Hart's face. "Never mind, then, forget I said anything. This is one of your Time Agent friends, isn't it," he added, lips curling as if the words tasted foul.

"Wouldn't necessarily call him a 'friend'."

"I'd have to agree with that," Hart said genially. "He doesn't usually play the bondage games with just anybody, you know. Well, maybe you don't, you do have pretty eyes but you don't quite look like the sort who goes for that. Then again," Hart's eyes lit up at Jack's glower, "I think I do see some chemistry here. Is this Daddy? God, this kid's going to be gorgeous."

Jack slammed his hand against the window. "Button it or you're going to be rooming with a grenade!"

"Hormones," Hart said, shaking his head. "Always brings out his bad side. Well, his worse side. I suppose you've already noticed how he has his moments."

"Quite, yes," the Doctor said. Jack risked a glance sideways. The Time Lord's eyes were hooded, unreadable as Jack had ever seen them. "So you're from the same time as Jack, then?"

"Let's say I'm familiar with it. Thought he could use a consultant in his hour of need. Unpaid gig, of course, but he's been kind enough to provide the room and board. Look, I've been making notes for his surgeon." Hart turned aside and picked up the twin to Owen's notebook. "Always prefer to earn my keep, when I can."

"I'd like to see that," the Doctor said, with a sideways look to Jack. Hart dangled the notebook invitingly by a corner. With a grimace Jack allowed him to pass it out of the cell to the Time Lord. The Doctor began flipping pages in rapt fascination. "That's... hm. Blimey, this is worse than Owen's handwriting and he's a doctor. Erm, I'm going to..." He wandered off in the direction of the exit, still muttering to himself.

Hart sat back on the bunk, hands folded primly in his lap. "That's a much better Good Cop style for you," he remarked. "Miss Cooper's almost too sweet to be believable as your partner, you need someone with just that hint of a suggestion that he switch-hits."

"You say one more word about the Doctor, ever, and I lose the keys to this whole floor."

"Who says I was talking about him?" And that was a look, too ironic to properly be called guileless, the sort of a look that said just between us con-men y'know and yet still captured enough of a simulacrum of genuine feeling to make even Jack have to catch himself up at the brink of belief. "Never anybody better at that game than us."

"You really wouldn't want to be part of my team, Hart," Jack said. "You might actually have to work for a living." Hart's rumbling chuckle followed Jack as he turned and waddled away to find his Time Lord, and that blasted notebook, and whatever shreds of his sanity he could still pull together from the ragged ends of this day.

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Chapter 17: Anatomy Of A Scandal

Author's Notes: Jack consults with his doctors.

The Doctor's idea of hot cocoa bore more than a passing resemblance to turkish coffee, strong enough to stand a spoon up in and frighteningly sweet. After this long without anything stronger Jack was almost happy to see it. "It's an interesting dilemma," the Time Lord said, settling into another chair at the conference table and taking a sip of his tea.

"At least now I know why I didn't shoot him," Jack said.

"Sorry, I missed something, could you go over that bit again?" From the look on Owen's face he was this close to admitting how far out of his depth he was, and in Jack's experience that was about the last corner one ever wanted to back this particular rat into. Jack had to forcibly remind himself of how much of the first part of a Time Agent's training was given over to wrapping one's mind around the intricacies of timelines and paradoxes.

"Put simply, I didn't shoot him because I didn't shoot him. Martha and the Doctor both remember meeting Hart, but he had no idea who they were, which means that from his perspective this is the first time they've met. So unless he's gotten even better at playing dumb about these things than I remember him being, which is one other possibility I wouldn't necessarily put past him, by the way, our past is still his future."

"Maybe," the Doctor added. "It can get messy around Time Agents. Bloody amateurs, most of you, blundering around like a game of blind man's buff --"

"And you wouldn't happen to have figured out what you did to charm Elizabeth the First yet, would you?" Martha interjected slyly. The Time Lord suddenly became very interested in his tea.

"Some paradoxes blow holes in the fabric of the universe, some just leave you with the equivalent of embarrassing rashes," Jack continued. "Depends on how neatly they're resolved. Time is pretty robust, as a rule, but there are limits."

"And here I've been thinking that I could make a fortune in the private sector with that notebook," Owen said dryly. "See, Jack, you've just changed history yourself. There goes the universe."

Jack grinned wolfishly. "And you wondered why Torchwood's non-disclosure agreement involves ending up in our cold storage. Can't have our trade secrets leaving the building with disgruntled employees."

"Considering how much of this job falls under 'and who the fuck would I tell?', I don't think you really have that much to worry about," Owen said, and flipped open the notebook to one of the more bizarre drawings. "That one, for example, that'd just be asking to get myself sectioned. I mean, I'm looking at you right now and I don't credit it."

"It's accurate, so far as it goes," Jack said. A bit crude, to be sure, Hart was no artist, but he'd managed to lay out the major points in roughly the arrangement that Jack recalled from anatomical holos. The text alongside tallied as well, to the extent that Jack could make sense of this rambling scrawl of a postmanuscript century. (The closest Jack had come thus far to bending his own decree about Hart not being allowed access to the Hub's computers had been when Owen had pointed out, quite sensibly really, that the process would go much faster if Hart could have some form of mechanical assistance to aid in his note-taking. Jack was still torn between telling Hart to suck it up, after all he'd had to manage the nineteenth century without so much as a decent typewriter, and fearing that something important would inevitably get lost in the translation when even Hart admitted to having trouble deciphering his end results.) "The real question is, is any of this helping you to get a handle on what you'll be needing to do? Because I can pull you back to your regular duties if you think you've gotten everything you need from him."

"Can't say it's a pleasure having to work with him," Owen grimaced. "At least you have some concept of personal boundaries. Still, I think the more we keep him talking the better the chance he'll say something to give us a better idea of why he's come back to haunt us. And if it's bad enough for me, I really wouldn't want any of the girls to have to do it."

Jack hid his amusement behind a long sip of his cocoa. God, but the stuff was sweet. "Fair enough, if you can stand it. The longer he goes without trying anything, the more the back of my mind starts wanting to say 'it's quiet... too quiet'." Jack set the mug down as within him Rosie suddenly gave a fretful lurch, and then another. "Oh, great, now she's got the hiccups again. Dammit, it's just like clockwork whenever I have too much sugar."

The Doctor frowned. "Must be some sort of unusual interaction between the bloodstreams. That could be a spanner in the works when it comes time to anaesthetise you."

"Actually I was going to just shoot him through the head," Owen deadpanned. "'S usually the most reliable way to shut him up for a while."

The Doctor looked appalled. "Is shooting each other some sort of team-building exercise with you people?"

"Pretty much, yeah. I think Tosh is the only current staffer who hasn't taken a shot at somebody yet."

"She prefers to kill people with kindness," Owen muttered, and pushed back his chair before Jack could take proper offense on her behalf, reclaiming Hart's notebook from the center of the table. "It's just about feeding time, I'll go copy the new bits from this and get it back to him. Wouldn't want him to forget something important because he hasn't had the chance to write it down, after all."

Jack lurched out of his own chair as well, the rattling hiccups in his midsection reminding him of one of the more annoying aspects of his condition. "And if you'll excuse me, I have to go try not to embarrass myself too badly trying to take a leak. If I had to pick a least favorite part about this..."

The Doctor raised a puzzled eyebrow. "Jack has been having some separation anxiety issues," Martha explained demurely.

"How so?"

Jack paused to lean heavily on the doorframe, gesturing at the moon of his stomach. "Don't make me draw you a picture, Doctor."

On Jack's personal list of life accomplishments, making tea come out of a Time Lord's nose was pretty high up there.

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Chapter 18: Waiting For The Penny

Author's Notes: Jack gets childcare tips.

As 'the nanny's night off' briefings to a non-custodial parent went, Jack reflected, what was disturbing about this one was exactly how ordinary it seemed until one began tuning in to the details. Take the nappy discussion, for example. Or more precisely, possible contents of. "And if you should see a, well, it's about this long, looks like a machine-screw but it's green, I kind of need that back."


"What? Do you know how long it took me to find another one of those?"

"That's not the point. He could have choked."

"Nah, he's a Time Lord, he is. Respiratory bypass, remember? Physically impossible for him to choke. Or drown. Or asphyxiate in the vacuum of space, not that I'm in the habit of sending him outside to play or anything. Poison gas, now, that can be a problem if it's sudden enough to get a breath of it unawares, but generally speaking --"

"Generally speaking you're letting our son teethe on machine-screws."

"It wasn't exactly a question of 'letting'."

"Whoa, whoa, time," Jack said, wishing he had a referee's whistle. "Alien baby, alien rules, remember? Kid can probably field-strip his own carseat by now."

Martha gave him a dark look as she cuddled her son protectively. "I can tell I'll be the one doing most of the childproofing around here, if you two are going to be such rubbish at it," she said. "I can just see you sitting there taking notes as one of them heads for the toaster with a fork."

"It depends in what regard I happen to hold the toaster in question," the Doctor replied haughtily. "Or the electrical grid it's attached to."

"I'm going to bed," Jack said, prying himself free of the sofa's clutches. His back was telling him that some prolonged horizontality might (might, mind you, not necessarily would, blast it) be in order right about now, and since this looked to be shaping up into an extended tiff over cross-species parenting standards he didn't think he'd be particularly missed at this point. And bed, for tonight, meant the rare comfort of the TARDIS. Since it's not as if I've been able to make it down that old ladder in months, and they would insist on having their argument on the sofa... Jack saw two pairs of dark eyes taking passing notice as he bent to fit his key into the lock and slipped into the ship.

Lying down helped, but not as much as Jack had been hoping. He was still tossing restlessly in search of a comfortable position when one not-particularly-surprised Time Lord turned up in the doorway. "Might have known I'd find you naked in my bed."

"Am I really that predictable?"

"Pretty much, yeah."

"I'm not stark naked," Jack pointed out impishly, winding the chain of his TARDIS key around a finger.

The Doctor was fighting off a grin. "That is a ridiculously short chain for a key," he remarked. "You should only see yourself when you use it."

"Hey, right about now I look like a manatee from any angle." Jack heaved himself onto his other side, feeling distinctly beached. Crap, that's not it either. "Don't suppose you could turn down the gravity in here to approximate a marine environment, huh?"

The Time Lord chuckled, and Jack felt the bed sag under a deceptively slight-looking frame. "Only make it worse when you have to readjust." Cool alien fingers traced down Jack's spine to the small of his back and began describing firm circles. Okay, nearly as good. In fact, maybe better. Yeah, definitely better. Jack could sense Rosie's contentment as well, a drowsy assuredness that she had a Mummy and a Daddy and all was as it should be. Time enough to disabuse her of that later, say when she got to college...

Jack was limp and almost dozing by the time he became aware that the Time Lord had slipped into the bed to spoon his cool body around Jack's warmer one. "Aw, you stopped," he mumbled into the pillow.

"Greedy." A cheek settled against the back of his neck. "S'pose you've earned it. Going through all this."

"Been through worse." Yes, given the choice between this year and another he could think of, feeling like a sea-cow was a mere trifle on the scale of things, wasn't it. Jack closed his eyes and concentrated on the steadiness of the doubled heartbeat at his back, warm and alive and trusting in him to see this through, to look after their tiny echoes for now and for the years to come. All right, Rosie, Mummy does love Daddy. Just don't you dare ever tell him I thought it...

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Chapter 19: Past The Wit Of Man

Author's Notes: Jack has a strange night.

He'd almost mastered the knack of not waking all the way up for this by now. At least until he got to the part that required some skill. Yeah, it's real funny, you nosy old gossip, Jack thought, drowsily aware of the TARDIS's amusement at his efforts. Like to see you try doing this blind. Oh, that's right, you're a semi-sentient spaceship, you can only make other people get pregnant.

He could have sworn that the ship laughed wheezily at that, a faint rolling echo of her mighty engines. Convincing enough, to a not-nearly-awake brain, to send Jack prowling out to the console room to be sure that the TARDIS hadn't gotten it into her head to sneak off in the night --

No, everything was in order when Jack poked his head out the doors for the physical reassurance of the sights of a Hub in its nighttime lockdown, ghostly lights of electronics here and there dreaming away the few hours when no humans were around to tend them. All quiet but for a faint undercurrent of humming electricity, and dripping water, and a whisper now and again where someone must have left an audio feed running. Careless, that. Granted, they'd taken to obsessively monitoring Hart for fear of missing something, anything, the ghost of a clue breaking past his mystifying complaisance, and it wouldn't take much to forget to shut absolutely every window they'd watched him from that day...

Not that that would account for the damp tracks on the floor at Jack's feet, concrete freshly muddied with the distinctive diamond-soled prints of size-twelve trainers. Prints that pointed straight to their maker, bouncing on his toes like his inner Jack Russell was off the Ritalin again as he peered up at the rift manipulator. Since when does he have a green pair of those? Jack was thinking in bleary surprise as the Doctor turned and saw him.

"Ah. Well. Awkward. Especially, erm. I don't suppose --?"

A head poked around the edge of the column. "You're dreaming, sir."

Yes, he must be, Ianto didn't have that streak of white in his hair, did he? "Dreaming, yeah, that would explain, well," the Doctor lowered his voice to a stage whisper, "the lack of pants. Back to bed, then, Jack, never mind us figments." The Time Lord grinned brightly at him and turned his attention back to the rift manipulator and whatever Ianto was doing to it.

All right, if that's the way you want to play it. Jack thought he knew a moment to stick his fingers in his ears and sing a round of 'la la la I can't hear you' when one crossed its timestream into his path. Assuming he wasn't really dreaming, at that. Hard to tell, with some of the hormone-twisted imagery his nights had been afflicted with lately.

Still, call it enough of a reasonable doubt, for now, for Jack to retreat with all the grace he could muster, retracing his steps to a bedroom filled with the sounds of the long, slow breathing of Time Lords, Jack-Jack in his crib and the Doctor curled around Martha almost as if they hadn't been working up to a roaring argument when he'd last seen them together. Maybe he'd gone to sleep too early and missed the make-up orgy. Ah, well, have to admit I'm not up to the acrobatic standards for that right now anyway. Gotta remember to pitch them a proper three-way one of these days when nobody's pregnant enough to crush everybody...

Dammit, now I have to go again.

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Chapter 20: Golf And Strangling Animals

Author's Notes: Jack hates his job.

The Hub always seemed quieter when the Doctor had gone, and it wasn't just a matter of the literal absence of his revved-up chattering. Jack sat on the sofa wondering if it were some brain-softening trick of the hormones that made the silences echo with the mocking want of a doubled heartbeat. Come on, Harkness, work to do, time enough for contemplation of your sins when they all make you take a leave to deal with the baby.

The task he'd set himself and everyone else today was a review of all the security footage from Hart's cell, in the hopes of finding something that the computer's pattern-recognition programs weren't flagging. Since Jack had deliberately assigned himself the records of late-night hours, it was about as interesting as watching someone watching paint dry, and Jack had spent most of the morning playing solitaire in another window, trusting in peripheral vision to capture his attention when something in the main image changed and generally winding up good and annoyed when it did. He always did have stamina, gotta give him that, but that's three times in the last hour. He can't be that bored.

Jack killed the video window as Gwen and Tosh came to flank him on the sofa, bearing sandwiches. "How are you holding up so far?"

"Well, we keep having to skip past all the parts where he and Owen are having sex, we figure you'd notice if that much retcon went missing." Jack stared at Gwen. "Kidding, Jack, kidding! ...We've been sneaking retcon for years and you still haven't figured it out."

"You're going to make me go into labor and that's not even how this works. Anything worth mentioning yet?"

"Mostly that Hart actually seems to be getting on with Owen," Tosh said. "Although that might count more as being unusual for Owen." The computer specialist turned and tapped a few keys on Jack's laptop, bringing up a feed from the vaults: Owen and Hart, sitting on opposite sides of shatterproof plastic, having what looked like a fairly amiable conversation over more of today's takeaway sandwiches. "He's made a few remarks that suggest he feels a bit humbled about Owen's having effectively saved his life after he attacked us all. Do you think coming here could have been some attempt at... atonement?"

"Guess anything's possible," Jack said absently, wondering where these pieces fit into his picture of Hart. The laptop's resolution was just sharp enough to make out that Hart's lunch included the last bright-green can from the case of Brains bitter they'd gotten Owen as a gag after the last time he'd been shot. Or maybe it had been the time before that, they did tend to blur one into the other by now. "He didn't share any of that with us," Jack noted, more intrigued than miffed.

"I've got this queued for a closer review later," Tosh said, ever the methodical mind. "Maybe if Owen can get him drunk..."

"Good luck," Jack said. "He's got some serious biochemical modifications, it'll take a lot more than a couple of beers to get him talking if he's not in the mood to go under. Might be fun to watch Owen try, though." Jack grinned, picturing how Torchwood's medical officer would react to Hart's hypertweaked capacity for liquor. He'd have to take a few minutes later to put together a shopping list that could even begin to approximate your average fifty-first-century-soldier's bar tab...

Nothing useful to the investigation had transpired on the screen by the time even Jack had to admit that they were all stalling over the last crumbs of the sandwiches and shooed his colleagues back to their separate sections of the analysis. Not that he wouldn't rather have spent the rest of the day wedged in between warm human bodies, and if he could have glimpsed any faint hope that the rest of his portion held only boringly innocuous views of Hart sleeping, he might even have considered calling Martha to shutter the tourist office early and come down to keep him company... With a sigh Jack braced himself and switched back from today's video to where he had left off with the archival footage. "Aw, hell. Monkeys have more self-restraint..."

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Chapter 21: No, Not The Mind Probe

Author's Notes: Jack gets probed.

This wasn't Owen's most attractive angle even without that expression, Jack decided, looking up at Torchwood's surgeon. "I know you get up to some perverted games in here, Captain, but does it have to be during working hours?"

Jack turned on his brightest grin, hoping that Martha was doing the same. "Rosie's complaining about a kink in her cord and we're not getting a good enough image from external ultrasounds. So... the alien finally gets to probe me."

"Oh, god."

"You're welcome to help," Jack offered. "After all, turnabout is fair play."

"If you ever mention that night again --"

"Come on, Owen, where's your sense of scientific curiosity?"

"...I suppose I'm going to have to retcon myself now anyway." With an exaggerated sigh Owen clumped down the stairs and took up a position beside Martha where he didn't, Jack noted with mild amusement, actually have a good view of the business end of the procedure that was underway. "Couldn't you just, I don't know, use the regular scanner and maybe keep your clothes on for once?"

"She doesn't like it. Just like her daddy, all about the sonic." Martha made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a strangled giggle, although when Jack twisted around for a glimpse her face was set in a carefully professional look. She murmured a caution about wriggling and turned his head back around to face the screen.

From the new angle Jack thought he could finally visualize the moves Rosie needed to make to untangle herself, and he showed her which way to turn to get free, marvelling as the shadowy image on the screen swam around in response to his suggestions. "That's it, sweetie, you should be, um, breathing easier now," he said at last, patting his stomach, and felt a purring note of contented relief.

Owen gave Jack a sour look. "And if the telepathy part is so easy for this lot that you can get a baby to do that, why didn't you just ask one of them to figure out what Hart's really up to before I had to spend all that time staring at his tackle?" The surgeon held out Jack's trousers to him, rather pointedly Jack thought.

Good question, actually. "First off, the Doctor's the only one who's got the proper credentials for it, and even if he would read Hart's mind against his will, which he wouldn't because unlike us he does have a sense of morality, there is no way in hell I'm letting Hart get that close to him." Jack finished dressing and let Martha help him up the steps, feeling as if he were about to roll back down at the first false move. "Sorry, Owen, we're just going to have to break Hart the old-fashioned way."

By making him spend time with you... Jack plopped down onto the sofa, whatever sense of well-being he'd gotten from resolving the nagging mental itch of Rosie's discomfort already past recall. It was the logical thing to have done, and it hadn't occurred to him, not once in all this time. The worst thing was that he couldn't figure out whether it was because he'd already known what the answer to his request would be, or that he himself was beginning to place certain actions beyond the thinkable -- not the smart course, Captain, not the tactical course when you never knew what asset might be the difference between safety and slaughter, and certainly not the hand that Torchwood was used to having at its helm. Obviously.

But is it the right hand after all?

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Chapter 22: (CH3)2C(C6H4OH)2

Author's Notes: Jack finds something new to dread.

One advantage of a time machine was that it let you skip over some of the boring bits that other people had to slog through, but then again, this practice also left you open to some awkward questions, as the Doctor was now discovering to Jack's great amusement. "What do you mean, you don't know how old Jack-Jack is? Don't you time travelling... people have any way of counting up how many days you've lived through one after the other?"

Score one for Gwen, that was a hatpin right through a seam in the Time Lord's armor. "If I thought about it I'm sure I could come up with an exact figure for you," he replied huffily. "It's more that I fail to see how it's at all relevant."

Gwen gave the Doctor a look that Jack was very glad wasn't being directed at himself for once. "You may be aliens, but he's still a little boy -- after a fashion -- and human parents like to celebrate a few of their children's milestones. Like their baby's first birthday?"

The dark eyes frowned, and Jack could see the likelihood that the child in question would have a grown family of his own by the time the Doctor got around to coming back for the party going up by the moment. "Never set much store by birthdays."

Jack could just bet, considering how polished the Time Lord's claims to nine hundred years often sounded. If it took Jack a few moments and all of his fingers and toes just to keep track of his own century and some, then you could probably figure the Doctor to have lost at least half as many more years than those he admitted to. Not that he'd ever own up to that, the vain bastard. "Come on, Doctor, let them make a fuss over Jack-Jack. It'll distract them from trying to turn this into a baby shower for me."

"Oh, we've already got that planned out," Martha said gleefully. "We can get Rosie some frilly little dresses, and --"

"Dresses? This is Jack's daughter we're talking about," the Doctor said. "I'm going to be lucky she doesn't grow up to be a hit-man for the Varcalian mafia."

Jack murmured an incoherent word of protest, too caught up in a sudden horrifying vision of an angelic brown-eyed toddler in a lacy pinafore toting around a gun that was bigger than she was. Probably smoking a cigar, too. Oh, yeah, with me and Martha for parents we're going to be getting calls from the rest of the neighborhood mums, all right... In fact he wouldn't be surprised if his staff had already started a pool for exactly what day of nursery school Jack was first going to end up having to retcon somebody, and whether it would be a teacher, another parent, or the police --

Jack tuned back into the conversation with a start. "Pfft, at this point I've practically lost entire regenerations," the Doctor was saying. "Second one's almost completely gone these days. Except for Jamie," he added after a thoughtful pause. "Everything else is all in bits and pieces, but I do remember Jamie. Funny, that."

From the look in the Time Lord's eyes, now was not the time to ask whether this Jamie had been an Oliver or a Lee Curtis. "Did I miss something? I thought everyone was about to run off to Mothercare to load my daughter up with adorable little clothes that I'll be blackmailing her with pictures of until she runs away to join the Space Marines."

"If you think you could spare us," Gwen said, looking startled.

"It's called a lunch hour, Cooper. Hell, if it means I don't have to hear anything more about this party for a couple of hours you can take the rest of the afternoon. You better take him along," he added as Gwen got up from the sofa. "Remember last time."

The Time Lord tried and failed to look completely innocent. "I suppose she does need some input on what would be considered appropriate for the young of our species," he said, hoisting Jack-Jack into his arms. "Martha?"

"Oh, hell no," Martha said, her face telling Jack everything he needed to know about the last time she'd accompanied the Doctor shopping for baby gear. "Lunch plans with Tosh and Ianto," she added quickly when Jack grinned at her. "In fact I'm late --"

Jack stretched out on the vacated sofa and gave in to the ever-present desire to nap until the sound of the Hub door rolling open woke him. Enter two aliens and one alien hunter; Gwen had the queerest look on her face, and appeared to have been having that look for quite some time. "Went that well, did it?" Jack asked cheerfully.

Gwen blinked, finally seeming to focus on Jack. "He tasted everything in the store!" she said, pointing a wavering finger at the Time Lord.

The Doctor looked indignant. "Babies put everything into their mouths. So if I wouldn't want it in mine --"

Jack had to bite his lip to keep from laughing out loud. "For once that sounds halfway reasonable, actually," he managed to say after a false start. "What did you manage to get before they ran you off?"

Gwen gave the Time Lord a glare that could have melted glass. "I believe he came away from the day with a grand total of a rubber duckie, two pink babygros for yours, and at least a dozen mobile numbers from women who'd noticed that I wasn't the baby's mother." Jack raised his eyebrows at the Doctor, who shrugged modestly. "I swear that baby is a bigger flirt than you, Jack, and I wouldn't have believed that was even possible."

"We are so going out on the pull together once I've got my figure back," Jack said.

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Chapter 23: The Perfect Self-Cleaning Con

Author's Notes: Jack is surprised.

The buggy steers like a tank. He's counting the days until she's reliable enough on her feet to park the damn thing for good. Although it does have its uses, like attracting the attention of the sort of woman who's turned on by a guy with a toddler and no wedding ring --

"Seen you before, haven't I? Don't you work with those Torchwood people?"

"Sorry, you must have me confused with somebody else. Somebody hot, obviously, but not me. Although I could pretend to be him, if that's what you're into --"

Dammit, he'd fallen asleep sitting up on the sofa again. Jack unlaced his fingers from their deathgrip across his belly and stretched with a groan, feeling kinked-up muscles spasming down his back. Why wasn't Martha ever in these nightmares? Or the Doctor, for that matter? Jack suspected his subconscious was serving him up some atavistic fears of being abandoned with the baby. No real surprise about the Doctor, the way the Time Lord had been blinking in and out on him these last few weeks, but you would think that at least Martha could put in an appearance in his dreams once in a while. Maybe he needed to give Gwen or Tosh another try at tourist-office duty so he could actually see the woman he was theoretically married to a little more often during the day.

Or he could just stick Owen up there until he went berserk and burned the place down, it would be about equally productive. Jack grinned at the memory of the time eternal soft-touch Gwen had spent an entire morning showing an elderly Swiss couple around the bay. Pity Martha was the only (presentable) one of them right now who knew exactly when to show her teeth, like Ianto had. It was a complete waste of her talents, of course, but then it pretty much was whichever one of them got stuck with it, and having an extra doctor on hand and safely going out of her skull with the boredom of paperwork had already come in handy more than once, considering how often Owen seemed to be landing on his head lately. Jack almost began to suspect him of doing it to get Martha's attention.

And here they came now, his intrepid band, cheerful enough that he was pretty sure they weren't dragging his other doctor in on a stretcher this time. "Sounds like you were having fun out there," Jack remarked, thinking wistfully of fresh air and danger.

"Turned out really to be an ordinary burglary, so we turned it back over to Cardiff's finest and went for lunch. Andy was asking about you, by the way, we told him you've been poorly."

"For the love of god please tell me you didn't get into any details." Gwen grinned at him and continued on into his office to write up the non-incident report. Tosh hadn't even made it past the workstation nearest the door, already plunged back into her usual deep communion with the Hub's main system. Only Owen paused to look his boss over critically, brown eyes narrowing as he took in the pinched look on Jack's face.

"Your back hurting again, is it?"

Jack grimaced as Torchwood's medical officer sat down beside him on the sofa. "It's not really designed to take stress from this direction," he admitted.

"Yeah, well, whose is, really."

And Owen must have been in a good mood from all that exercise and sunshine that Jack was missing out on, because he began gently rubbing Jack's back, surgeon's fingers expertly finding the iron-hard knots and sending them fleeing before him. Jack could have wept, out of relief and for the unexpectedly tender gesture from Owen, of all people. "Mmm..."

"I'm only doing this because you're in pain and I took an oath. And despite everything I do still take that seriously."

"I love you too, Owen."

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Chapter 24: My Christmases Are Always Like This

Author's Notes: Jack is fed up.

They had finally decided, just to be done with the bickering, to call it Torchwood's non-denominational end-of-year office party and let the specifics fall where they may. Jack was reasonably happy with this compromise, even if he was still fairly certain that Gwen harbored some nefarious plans involving duckies and bears in Christmas finery and some really horrific fillings in the crackers. Thank god Rosie wasn't actually scheduled to put in her appearance until after the new year, he wasn't sure he could have stomached the thought of thirteen lifetimes of reproachful looks about who'd had the poor taste to leave her open to all the jokes about Miraculous Conceptions...

(Thirteen lifetimes. What a prospect that was, for the fixed point in time and space. Jack could already picture himself fighting the desire to wrap Rosie in cotton, to keep her too safe from the world so that she would last. How long did Time Lords live, when they weren't the Doctor? How long would she walk the slow path with him before time parted them, one way or another?)

Not that you could really tell the holidays from any other time around the Hub, despite Gwen's best efforts at dragging in enough shiny tat to make the place look like they had an infestation of magpies. All right, so the evergreen boughs were an improvement over the usual background scents of overworked wiring and damp concrete, but if she was trying to cheer Jack up during his period of confinement it wasn't really helping, not with Owen acting even squirrelier than usual as Jack's due date barreled down at them all like a runaway truck and his phone repeatedly insisting on defaulting its ringtone to a boogie-woogie cover of "I Will Survive", which had caused him to miss several calls just trying to figure out how that combination was even possible. Jack sprawled on the sofa, too weighted down by the absurdity of it all even to try to get himself vertical when an unmistakable wheezing heralded the arrival in his constrained field of vision of a pair of red trainers. "I've been lying here thinking about genetic diversity and you can just cram it," he told the shoes.

A fond smile when Jack did manage to drag his gaze upwards. "I have been hoping the teeth will breed true," the Doctor said, sitting down on the table. "Biggest issue we still had with the genome, well, besides the occasional tendency to run to stout. Not that I don't agree that eliminating lethal recessives was a higher priority, but you would think that eventually someone would have seen to some of the more cosmetic issues."

"That's the trouble with living in your heads," Jack said, finally pushing himself up into a more-or-less sitting position. "All work and no play makes Jack a terribly dull-looking boy, healthy or not. I much prefer the sort of tweaking that has an eye for looks."

A dark eyebrow arched, as if to remind Jack of what he looked like near the end of a year of manic hormones and the world's best reason to put off that trip to the barber, but the Time Lord only said, "I take it from the looks of this place I haven't managed to miss the party. The way my luck usually goes at Christmas I thought I was going to get here and find out that Rosie was already five."

"No, it's worse -- you've got about an hour before Gwen calls Rhys to pick up the cake. I was just thinking it's going to take me at least that long to get a shower. Wanna ditch the kid with the nanny and come and help?"

The Doctor looked down at the curly-headed toddler in his lap. "I'm being incited to immoral acts," he told the brown eyes gravely. Jack-Jack gurgled.

"Sounded like he said 'go for it' to me," Jack said.

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Chapter 25: You Gonna Keep It In A Box?

Author's Notes: Jack blows a mind.

And if he was a wee bit late to what could at least partly be construed as his own baby shower, well, that wasn't really anybody's business, Jack thought, enthroning himself on the sofa with his best devil-may-care tilt of the eyebrows for the onlookers. "Go ahead and ask, I can see you're dying to hear it," he said to a frankly goggling Rhys.

Gwen's sometimes-fiancé swallowed hard. "At first I thought she was winding me up, y'know? 'Oh, we're invited to a shower because my boss is having a baby --' And you know I said 'I didn't know he was married'!" Rhys laughed nervously. "Of course it turns out you are but that's not what she meant! Should have known it would be something as mad as the rest of it."

That, that well-meaning but lost look was exactly why Gwen kept putting off the wedding, Jack knew, and the hell of it was that it wasn't even Rhys's fault, as such. It wasn't reasonable to expect anyone this normal to really wrap their head around the meaning of a pterodactyl in the rafters, or those couple of months when Owen came down with a particularly inconvenient case of dead, or that their girlfriend's boss was from a time in the future when men could gestate babies if they had a mind to do so. Jack decided this probably wasn't the moment to bring up the fact that three of the party guests were aliens. "'Mad' doesn't begin to cover this, does it," he agreed wryly, rubbing the side of his improbable belly. "Here, wanna feel her kick? ...Actually I think that's her butt, now I'm gonna have to kill you." Rhys snatched his hand away and Jack laughed. "No, go on, I won't bite you, unless you ask me nicely."

A little mental nudge and Rosie obligingly took a swipe at the hand on Jack's stomach. "There really is a baby in there," Rhys said, eyes gone completely round.

"For about another two weeks," Jack said, feeling his smile going distinctly sideways at the thought. "And then you might be seeing even less of Gwen for a while, I'm afraid. Gonna have to lean on her to pick up the slack around here while I'm out on leave --"

"No talking about work, Jack! This is a party." Gwen pushed Rhys down onto the sofa and dropped herself into his lap.

"But then who's the father, erm, other parent, then?" Rhys persisted, looking as if he wasn't entirely sure he wanted to hear the answer. "I mean, unless --"

"No, it happened about like you'd think," Owen said, and took a long pull of what Jack was pretty sure was already his third beer. Yeah, I think I'd be getting loaded right about now if I could... "Brown-eyes over there turns out to get around more than you'd think to look at him. 'Bout the only people who aren't having kids together are the ones who're actually married to each other."

Rhys seemed to be far enough out of his depth already that he took this in with barely a hint of the fuss Jack might have expected a local of this time period to have made over the details. "Right, well, who's to say them no, aye? You're all adults. And the baby seems to be well looked after," he added, with a glance to where Jack-Jack was methodically disassembling his slice of cake with tiny determined fists. "Should he be eating that much sugar, though?"

"It's his father we should be worrying about," Martha replied, looking askance at the Time Lord as he started in on a second helping. "And don't give me any of that 'nine hundred years old' rubbish, you might as well be five half the time when you're not all sugared up --"

Jack could see the precise moment when Rhys gave up trying to understand the byzantine interpersonal politics of Torchwood Three. "You know what Gwen said to me once, she said, 'Jack's a good man. A strange man, from the future, but a good man'." Jack grinned, not having to work very hard at all to picture that wide-eyed assessment of himself tumbling from Gwen's mouth. She'd ducked her head in embarrassment, hiding her face in Rhys's neck. "Wasn't sure I believed her then."

"Which part?"

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Chapter 26: Briar Rose

Author's Notes: Jack is a bad influence.

Inevitably, the party managed to devolve into something more resembling the usual Torchwood get-together once they'd started making a noticable dent in the supply of booze. "Okay, raise your hand if you haven't slept with Owen, then," Gwen said defiantly once the subject of her whispered argument with Rhys had shambled off to the loo yet again.

Rhys raised his, not surprisingly, and the Doctor, thank god, but Jack was more than a little surprised that that was apparently all the response she was going to get besides a few sheepish looks. "Oh, come on. When was that?"

He'd mostly been asking Martha, but Toshiko and Ianto followed her with their own versions of I thought it would cheer him up after..., which made sense individually but taken all together began to sound a bit calculated on Owen's part, especially since Jack had fallen for it himself. "There you go, it's like an occupational hazard around here."

"I'm sure it's in the employee handbook somewhere," Ianto remarked, with his usual deadpan expression. "Repetitive stress injuries, x-ray exposure, sleeping with Owen. Jack did write it, after all."

Rhys still didn't look exactly happy, but whatever old scabs between him and Gwen had been torn off just then seemed to have been cushioned some little bit by the implication that infidelity with Owen fell into the same uninsurable category as acts of god. "Remind me about that if I ever start getting jealous of your glamourous job again, eh?" he said wanly, as Torchwood's medical officer came staggering back in and dropped into a chair, scowling at the world in general. (And reached for another bottle. It was the most Jack had seen him put away since the bender he'd gone on to celebrate being alive to go on benders again, and even by 'Owen at the office Christmas party' standards Jack was beginning to worry a little.)

Other than Owen's intractable sullenness, though, and granted there was probably always going to be somebody at one of these, Jack had to admit that the gathering appeared to be a success by his usual measure of people enjoying themselves as inversely related to explosions. Even the Doctor seemed to be having a fairly good time, although whether this was down to the drinks or the sugar Jack had given up trying to guess. "-- And I said 'eighteenth century highlander', not 'naughty Catholic schoolgirl', so you can just drag that hemline down about six inches," the Time Lord was saying a little too loudly, apropos of nothing that Jack could remember hearing. Although it could well have been directed at Jack, it sounded like the sort of thing that might be marauding around his subconscious just waiting to ambush a slightly squiffy telepath.

Maybe the conversation had taken that sort of a turn while Jack's attention had been elsewhere, because now Ianto was recounting the sorry tale of the time when a mysterious airborne object they'd chased after late one night had turned out to be an inflatable sheep that pranksters from the Uni had filled with gas and then lost control of in a stiff wind. The explosion when Jack had shot the damned thing down had blown out windows for half a mile around and set fire to a car. All right, so it hadn't been one of Torchwood's better moments, and he really ought to have asked Tosh to scan it for what kind of gas before taking the quick and dirty way out, but Ianto didn't have to look so smug about it in front of the three people who hadn't heard this story a dozen times already. (And he did look smug, which for Ianto was practically the equivalent of most people's falling-about-slurring-I-love-you-man drunk.) Leave it to me to turn a baby shower into that kind of a party...

But it was cozy, sharing these moments with his strange ad hoc family: the sleeping alien child in Martha's lap swapping dreams with his unborn sister, Tosh whispering something in Owen's ear that made him crack a smile for the first time all night, Gwen and Rhys cuddled together in the same chair and a look on Rhys's face that suggested she'd just said something about it not being as insane as she thought to pick a date after all, Hart helping himself to a slice of the cake --

Jack's brainstem tried to grab his gun and roll for cover before the rest of his mind could bring up the inadvisability of that idea when he was fifty weeks pregnant and didn't actually have a gun on him. He ended up falling face-first off the sofa, nearly cracking his head on the table. Jack fought off the alarmed hands reaching out to him and struggled up to find the Time Agent regarding them all with a superciliously amused look, heavy frosting-smeared blade glittering in his hand. "Only had twelve gold plates, I suppose," Hart said.

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Chapter 27: It's Not Easy Having Yourself A Good Time

Author's Notes: Jack is in too deep.

It figured Gwen would have grabbed an innocuous book of fairy-tales for the entertainment of a hardened space criminal. Jack tried to keep his eyes on the length of silver in the Time Agent's fist, knowing that Hart barehanded was perfectly capable of killing at least one of them before anyone would be able to take him down, and even a blunt cake-knife tipped the odds farther in his favor -- "Why is he wearing my pants?" Ianto asked into the abrupt silence.

Okay, would not have been my first question. Hell, am I the only sober person here? Out of the corner of his eye Jack could see Gwen's fingers digging into Rhys's thigh, silent warning to the civilian to stay still. Couldn't see Tosh. Couldn't see Owen. A hand on his shoulder that had to be Martha's, and he hoped to god that the other one had a good hold on --

Oh, great. Just fucking beautiful. Hart had gotten his goddamned wrist-strap back. Jack wasn't willing to bet on its still being as 'dead' as it had seemed the last time he'd looked it over, either, after a couple of months spent basking in residual rift energies where he'd so obligingly left it to do so on an unshielded shelf in the safe...

Hart cast a calculating eye across the assembled company.

And stopped at the Doctor.

Jack had seen the Time Lord go from staggering to dead sober in less than ten seconds on one memorable occasion that had involved Rose's honor and a lot more guns than even the Captain was comfortable around, but he'd been a different man then, and Hart didn't even give him five; one blur of augmented muscles and the alien was on his knees with one arm wrenched up behind his back, and Jack was pretty sure that even a Time Lord's elbow couldn't withstand being bent that way. From the wildly dilated pupils, the Doctor certainly seemed to have his doubts --

One breath. Two. Waiting for the jump, waiting for the stomach-twisting shudder to steal away the last of the Time Lords, those telltale twin heartbeats racing so hard that Jack thought he could hear them, much less whatever Hart was picking up with combat-specialized senses -- no hiding that the Agency's oldest legend was real now, oh, no...

"Or would a little one be easier to train?" Hart mused, almost conversationally, and released the Doctor with a shove that sent him sprawling.

Ianto had finally made it out of his chair, hands up and ready to strike. "You stay away from him."

Jack realized he was waiting for Owen to say something like That's our Ianto, the Ninja Teaboy, and risked a sideways glance when he didn't hear it. White as a corpse, Owen was, too shocked to snark and wasn't that a picture for the cover of the year-end report, and Jack almost missed the moment when Hart met Ianto's lunge with a graceful step and casually swatted him on the side of the head with the butt of the knife. The Welshman crumpled.

Again the lazy predator's smile. "Sorry about all this, Jack -- you know the story, gambling debts, scary people --"

"Okay, for starters you can't trade anybody's baby to settle your gambling debts." Jack was surprised at how steady his own voice was, Ianto down, the Doctor gasping raggedly beside him, not one of his team with any sort of weapon on them by his own goddamned orders --

"Who said anything about trading?"

And Jack's world contracted to the wedge of silver driving into his chest and Owen shouting "You son of a --!"

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Chapter 28: One Little Mistake

Author's Notes: Jack is confused.

Cold, and dark, and beeping. Jack was having a little trouble figuring out that last part. Cold and dark was pretty easy, given that his head felt like it was filled with shards of glass and a bit of wriggling told him that he was in a confined space about the size of, well, a morgue drawer, he'd been in this situation often enough to have become a bit of a connoisseur by now, but beeping was a new one. It worried him. You wouldn't have thought it was possible to be that concerned about the specifics when you found yourself waking up in a drawer in a mortuary, but Jack was always finding new aspects of his life to be alarmed about. If nothing else it did pass the time.

Wasn't really a beeping, actually. More of a whine. Felt like an intermittent vibration being transmitted through the metal under his head, kind of. Maybe somebody'd tossed a mobile in here with him just in case he did find himself needing to call out, that would have been a considerate thing to do. Like the days before proper medical diagnosis of death, when people were so terrified of being buried alive that they invented elaborate alarm systems... Hm, there was probably money in this somewhere. Start a 'cellphones for corpses' recycling drive or something. Shit, he was already getting silly, that was never a good sign --

Light and air and motion, rolling abruptly out of the cabinet as the door was flung wide. Jack blinked furiously in the sudden glare, blurring shadows resolving into a face dark against a halo of overhead lights: lab-coated technician, good-looking at least, strong jaw and blue eyes to die for, and one lock of sandy hair a little too short to tie back with the rest falling in them as he leaned over Jack. He tucked the stray wisp behind one ear with a gesture that looked practiced, and weary, and somehow almost familiar. "You do get yourself into some interesting spots, Jack."

"'S obviously been some sort of mistake," Jack croaked. "Le'me out 'r I'll sue?"

"Do you practice this? Never mind, I bet you do and I really don't want to know."

Jack was beginning to think that there was something quite wrong with this picture.

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Chapter 29: Better With Two

Author's Notes: Jack finds an ally.

They'd taken his watch but left him his wrist-strap. Jack was still trying to puzzle this out when the technician cocked his head as if he were listening to something that Jack couldn't hear. "Well, that's, erm. I suppose." He exhaled with a hiss. "Right, time to go, then, can you sit up?"

Jack did, automatically, and only in the motion realized how easy it shouldn't have been. Rosie --

Touch told him what echoing silence already should have, fingers encountering only slack muscles as his eyes slid unimpeded to his unsurprising lack of pants. "You don't have to tell me how much fun waking up in the freezer is, but you might want to think about not adding falling off that drawer to our worries," the technician said dryly, eyeing Jack's scrabblings over the edge of a clipboard. "Oh, that must be..." He pulled a bin from a nearby shelf and began rummaging in it. "You won't want much of this, but."

And Jack caught his breath as what the technician pulled from the bin turned out to be a short chain, and swinging from it a perfectly ordinary-looking round-headed key. Jack lunged for it, not caring how the metal dug into his hand as his fingers closed around the teeth. Blue eyes watched intently as Jack fumbled the chain over his head. "They had it listed as a religious symbol. I keep telling you that chain's too short."


"That's me, the definite article." Eerie, how similar that grin was to both its predecessors.

"But --"

"Things have gone a bit non-linear, I'm afraid," the Time Lord said. "And you wonder why I have such a low opinion of Time Agents." He offered Jack his hand, a hand that was still long-fingered but not as elegant, and Jack took it, sliding down from the chilled steel onto tiles that were nearly as cold under his bare feet. The Doctor steadied him as his knees threatened to buckle. "Easy. I think maybe we need to find you some wheels. Fancy a ride on the gurney?"

"Sounds like fun," Jack said, letting himself be helped up onto the (freezing cold, again) cart. "I'm usually not in a position to appreciate it."

The Time Lord found a length of sheeting and tucked it in around Jack. "Can't imagine you're in much shape to enjoy it now, either. How are you feeling, Jack?"

"Like I had major abdominal surgery without anesthesia. Damn, I hate autopsy scars, always take forever to go away."

The Doctor snorted. "Ask me sometime why I've never been back to San Francisco." He pushed Jack's head down. "Shh, now, you're a semi-conscious patient in transit. -- And if you're opening that mouth to say 'Admiral' I'm turning this gurney around and going straight home."

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Chapter 30: Lock The Doors And Close The Blinds

Author's Notes: Jack goes for a ride.

It barely surprised Jack at this point to see guards in the corridor just outside the mortuary. Guards armed with really flashy blaster-type rifles. Definitely not Cardiff A&E, then. In fact Jack would have to peg the guns as fifty-first century or something close to, which suddenly made a lot of sense in light of his overall circumstances. Jump forward to somewhere all this would seem perfectly ordinary and start crying crocodile tears over your mortally injured 'partner' -- oh, yes, Jack could see that clear as a CCTV feed in his head. (Explained his wrist-strap too, any tech who'd have bought Hart's story knew better than to separate an Agent from his equipment -- even a corpse you'd just, well, lock up in a drawer somewhere with it until his superiors could come to sort matters out. Unless someone with a fondness for sonic happened along first...)

The guards seemed curiously unconcerned to see a dazed-looking man being wheeled out of the morgue, and Jack would have thought that'd be a sight to raise some eyebrows just about anywhen. One actually snorted as if she were trying not to giggle out loud. "Ma'am," Jack saluted her wanly, feeling it couldn't do any harm to appear to be in control of the situation. Always seems to work for him, after all.

Both guards returned the salute and fell in behind as the Doctor wheeled the gurney down the corridor at a pace just a little shy of too fast for Jack's still-reeling brain. Whoa, that must have been one hell of a cover story. The glimpses he could process of his passing surroundings confirmed his general sense of when he'd been brought to, all blinky lights and sleek white surfaces everywhere.

Jack's careering ride came to an abrupt halt when a young orderly in scrubs reached out to catch hold of the other end of the passing gurney. "Oi, that's a bit fast, isn't it?"

"I'm good," Jack said, trying to summon forth his most winning smile. Wasn't the easiest thing even for him, lying flat on his back on a chilly gurney, but it must have been coming off convincingly enough, because the Doctor cleared his throat disapprovingly. "You're no fun anymore, you know that?"

"That presupposes that I ever was," the Time Lord replied, and started to push the gurney again, more slowly this time, the orderly assisting him in steering it around a corner. Ah, so he's in on this caper as well? Jack couldn't shake the feeling that he knew the young man from somewhere, for that matter, his proper time in this century perhaps, or maybe he just reminded him of someone, because Jack would like to think he'd remember a coffee-skinned beauty like this no matter what the Agency had done to his memories --

Jack started violently out of his distracted reverie when a klaxon began howling somewhere off in the distance. "I suppose this is where we lose you, then," the Doctor said to the guards, pushing the gurney to a halt near a nondescript door.

The fair-skinned guard's brow furrowed and for an instant Jack was seeing another face, same close-cropped hair and steely eyes but all blunt planes and ears. Doctors on the brain today, Jack my lad, time for a long vacation. If you make it out of here. (Okay, so it was never truly a question of 'if', for someone in his general position, but he could think of any number of fascinating delays that this time period could come up with to throw in his path, some of which involved more thorough dissections than whatever he'd already missed by virtue of having been dead at the time, and spending a couple of centuries waiting around for some one of the scientists that would inherit him along the line to finally get bored enough of the game would get... old.) The darker one gave the Doctor a lazy grin. "Thinking of going for a recce to see if pretty-boy there has a brother."

"Piss off," the orderly replied, with a vehemence Jack would have thought demanded only by a particularly bad joke.

The fair-skinned guard chuckled, suddenly all blinding white teeth above the dimpled chin. "See you in hell, then," she tossed over her shoulder as they both loped off.

One hell of a cover story, Jack thought again as the Doctor helped him to sit up on the gurney.

And nearly didn't catch the young orderly fishing in his scrubs to draw out a round-headed key on a decently long chain.

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Chapter 31: Doctor's Orders

Author's Notes: Jack is ordered about.

Of course the Doctor had managed to park in a closet. Sideways. "I'm not going to say it."

An amused snort from the "orderly" as he fitted his key into the oh-so-ordinary lock on the beautiful blue doors. "He's just about caught up, then."

The Time Lord (or rather the senior Time Lord, for of course the other half of this double act had to be one John Leo Unpronounceable-Symbol Smith-Jones-Harkness, or Jack-Jack to his friends if he hadn't grown out of that long since by now) helped Jack to alight from the gurney and offered him a steadying arm into the TARDIS. "I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about. Would you get him into bed before he falls over?"

Jack bristled, drawing back from the younger Time Lord's attempt to take his arm. "Wait a minute, what about Rosie?"

"Covered," the Time Lord said curtly, already hammering at switches. "Well covered. We can take the long way home, give you a little more time to get back in fighting trim for what's ahead."

Jack frowned at the turn of phrase. "For you that's almost coming right out and telling me what to expect."

"Assuming I knew," the Doctor said, blue eyes dark with stormclouds. "But I don't. And that's the worst part of this. Jack..." He murmured a word in his own language that the TARDIS didn't translate, and Jack realized there were shadows under the blue eyes that suggested the Time Lord equivalent of adrenaline had been keeping him from getting even what little sleep he did ever need, waiting for the moment foreknowledge or logic or hunch said was the correct time to act. "This will make sense, eventually. I think. I hope. For now, go to bed. Please."

Reluctantly, Jack submitted to the insistent hand at his elbow. "All right, if it'll make you feel better." The ghost of a smile finally touched the Doctor's lips before he turned back to frown sternly into the monitor.

It probably said volumes that Jack-Jack led him to the Doctor's own bedroom, but loath as he was to admit it Jack was too wobbly with the lingering effects of blood loss and refrigeration and god knew what brick-wall decelerations of hormonal processes to really care to stand and parse it through. But there was no mistaking that dark-oak bed (easy to be vague about money when you were chummy with Stickley, wasn't it), even with the linens now the rich orange of wild lilies rather than flame-gold or the monkish saffron he'd seemed to favor before that under the red coverlet.

The biggest change to the room, though, was the short hall lined with bookcases where the crib had once been. Obvious where the hallway led, when the shelves were so cluttered with photographs of Jack-Jack with various girls, or the largest wolfhound that Jack had ever seen, and a few even of Jack and Martha or one or other of the Doctor's faces, no clues whatsoever as to the vaguest of timelines on any of these long-lived adults. (Not so with some of the "girls". Jack realized with a jolt that a few pictures he had initially taken to be distinct women in fact represented a progression over time.) Music began playing in the room beyond, something Jack didn't recognize that sounded like a swing band getting mugged in a dark alley. "Still living at home, then, I take it."

Heading into the hallway, the young Time Lord pulled the scrub-shirt off, revealing long lean muscles and a tattoo, a constellation of Gallifreyan script flowing from his left shoulderblade to disappear into his jeans at his right hip. "Moved in with you and Mum for a while once, that was... educational. But yeah, me and him, mostly. He did say bed, you know, do I have to come and tuck you in?"

"I'm trying very hard right now to keep in mind that the last time I saw you you were sitting in your Mum's lap eating cake with your hands." A ripple of laughter from the other room as Jack slipped under the covers. The Doctor had clearly raised the kid right, tattoos notwithstanding, if his easy manner and the evidence of the photographs were anything to go on (although Jack was a fine one to cast stones regarding the latter, the only picture he had in his office at the Hub was that one where Martha was sitting at his desk wearing his greatcoat and quite obviously nothing else), and Jack couldn't help wondering, despite years of training and later experience, what hand he himself may have had in how the boy, no, young man had turned out. And how on earth he was ever going to raise a daughter this well, assuming he got her back in time for it to make any difference.

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Chapter 32: Playing Doctor

Author's Notes: Jack wakes up happy.

It would have been enough, to Jack, just to wake up flat on his back like this, freed at last of the constraints of an unwieldy abdomen. Well, and not in a morgue drawer was a nice bonus, too. But what elevated this awakening into the ranks of the truly memorable was the slow awareness of a casually familiar arm lying across his chest, startling blond head tucked up against Jack's shoulder almost as if they had grown to fit together so naturally that the gesture had become ingrained reflex. No complaints now about finding Jack naked in his bed, apparently.

Long tawny eyelashes lifted; strange to see true blue instead of steel or sherry, and yet the same sharp alien intelligence glowed behind them, amused and a little sleepy. "Still with us, then?"

"Afraid you're stuck with me."

The Doctor sat up and laid a hand on Jack's stomach, keen eye observing the reaction as he palpated it carefully. "Everything seems to be back in whatever constitutes order for this. Although you're probably lucky you're you, I'd say."

Yes, Jack was Jack, indeed, and it hadn't escaped his notice that this new Doctor wasn't wearing a stitch more than he was. Jack covered the long-fingered hand with his own. "Would it break anything besides my brain if we..."

He seemed to have lost the knack for that archly lifted eyebrow with his old face, or he'd surely have been giving Jack that look now, but Jack could read his expression just as well all the same. "I'm sure there's a dictionary somewhere with a picture of you next to the word 'incorrigible'," he said.

But didn't shy away from Jack's hands.

Time was pretty robust, as a rule, but as asynchronous encounters went this had to be one of the weirdest of Jack's not inconsiderable experience. For one thing, the what-can't-I-tell-you babbling had generally been verbal, not this sense of holding back -- touches broken off half-completed, ghosts buzzing about at the edges of his mind that drew away as he tried to engage them. Still plenty to distract him, granted, wondering at how scent and taste were a little different yet not, but even as Jack let himself come undone he remained aware of the aching gap between potential and reality, too many connections that couldn't be made this time around to leave him anything but wanting. But hey, left wanting wasn't so bad, when he still had one at home...

The sandy hair was fun to twirl around his fingers. "This is a new look for you."

"I could say the same." The Doctor brushed a shaggy lock out of Jack's eyes. "Hardly your usual severe precision --"

"Ten-minute landing warning," Jack-Jack said from the hallway. As the younger Time Lord came all the way into the room Jack could see that he was dressed for trouble. (Not the same leather jacket, this one had a zip instead, and the bully-boy boots were red, but near enough to make Jack wonder.)

"How do you know we weren't --"

"She would have said," Jack-Jack said, with a look that suggested he thought Jack was being a bit thick. And, bless him, that he didn't particularly consider it any of his business who either of them might be getting off with in the first place so long as the TARDIS did give him a warning about when not to walk into a room unannounced. "Come on, are you waiting around for breakfast in bed?"

The mention of breakfast made Jack wonder just how long it had been since he'd had anything to eat besides a few bites of cake. "You go on, I'll catch up in a minute," he said as the Doctor slid out of bed and headed for the wardrobe. (Gorgeous arse, looked like he was back to running for his life on a regular basis.) "Kitchen where I left it?"

"Probably," the Time Lord said, pulling his hair back into a loose tail. (And oh, how Jack had missed having to ask questions like that.) "And I'm sure there's something in here that will fit you, if you don't feel like wandering around in that shroud any longer. Not that I'm passing any judgments on what sorts of practical jokes you might like to play on your team, but they do strike me as the sort who'd be slightly more appreciative of trousers."

"Really, no fun anymore." That got Jack a broad grin and a passing ruffle of his disorderly hair as the Time Lord dashed off to oversee the landing procedures, however much work there would still be to do with his doubtlessly able apprentice already at the controls. Jack found some clothes that looked suspiciously like his own in the wardrobe and went in search of something resembling food.

A few minutes later, munching a hastily buttered slice of toast, Jack came into the console room to find the two Time Lords guiding the TARDIS down out of the vortex. Side by side they could have been some Faces of 21st Century Britain poster, the classic Anglo-Saxon profile and his postmodern mixed-race son. If you didn't mind the detail that neither of them was technically even human, much less a subject of the lost Empire. Plain from the way they moved that this ship had never been designed to be flown solo; with that extra pair of skillful hands the dance became graceful rather than desperate, no need for the application of mallets or trainers to any part of the long-suffering console. "Wouldn't mind it if you pushed that black button for me, Jack," the Doctor said over his shoulder.

Jack hurried to oblige, wondering if he wanted to know why the button in question seemed to be labeled 'bloody Torchwood'. A moment later the slight hitch his experienced ear had been hearing beneath the usual roar of the engines smoothed itself out, and the time rotor juddered to a halt.

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Chapter 33: I'm Sure I'd Feel Much Worse

Author's Notes: Jack doesn't make the entrance he'd been hoping.

The look on Owen's face when Jack stepped out of the TARDIS -- the second TARDIS -- was nearly worth the price of admission in itself. "I might not be an expert but as fads in spaceship design go that has got to be one of the most rubbish."

"Actually they're the same ship," the Doctor said calmly. "And I'm the same Doctor. More or less. It's, erm --"

Owen held up a hand wearily. "No, don't explain. Don't ever explain anything to the stupid monkeys. Just like bloody Jack, you are."

Jack snuck a look sideways at the nonplussed Time Lord. "He's taking this remarkably well," the Doctor said.

"I can just imagine the conversation we missed. ...Where is everybody, anyway?"

Owen had gone back to scrubbing at the floor in front of the sofa -- cleaning up Jack's own blood, he realized with a start. "Still over at A&E with Ianto, which really ought to have been the first thing you asked, by the way. As for your Doctor, he's got some torn ligaments but the real damage was to the elbow, which is broken. We've got him sedated, well, I should say he's got himself sedated, wrapping up the arm was about as far as I'd want to claim any expertise here, but at any rate he's asleep, or was when we left him. And then when Tosh went to join them I got stuck doing the washing-up, which pretty well brings us to here. And how was your day, honey?"

"Complicated," Jack said, and let himself into the TARDIS that was properly supposed to be here at this moment in time -- strange contrast to see everything in the console room just as he'd gotten used to it of late, carseat bolted to the safety railing behind the captain's chair and a pair of red-and-orange booties dangling from a corner of the monitor. He was vaguely aware of one Time Lord following behind as he made for the Doctor's bedroom.

The Time Lord who belonged to this ship lay pale and drawn under that red coverlet, mummified left arm propped up on a pillow to keep the elbow from swelling. Bleary brown eyes dragged reluctantly open as Jack sat down on the edge of the bed and smoothed the tangled hair away from his brow. "You all right?"

"Of course I'm not all right, my bloody elbow's broken. Where's Rosie?"

"Travelling under separate cover," the sandy-haired Doctor said. Jack's squinted up at the frock-coated intruder.

"You could at least have had the decency to be ginger." He struggled to sit up, scrabbling in the pillows with his good arm until Jack helped him get more vertical. "I'd ask the obvious question, but I suppose it is practically your equivalent of a systems check. 'Who am I, where am I, try shagging nearest target'."

Jack couldn't help grinning at the Time Lord's grumpy scowl. "I guess this is why they always say doctors make the worst patients."

"Well, it's not something I have much experience with. Especially fractures. Considering how much denser my bones are than yours, I'm almost impressed that he managed it."

"And Owen set it?"

"Oh, yeah, he's got the bedside manner of a rabid stoat but the basic skeletal structure is comparable enough that I thought he was up to the job. And Martha had already gone with Ianto."

Jack suspected that last had probably had a little more to do with it. "We can leave you to sleep if you need it."

His Doctor was already throwing back the blankets to stand. "No, if he's here then I think I'm going to need all my wits about me. That bad, is it?" This last to his sandy-haired other self, who shrugged in a distinctly yes, but don't tell anyone I said it sort of manner. "Aw, that's just great. Brilliant. Could someone at least get me some tea, then?"

"I've put coffee on," Jack-Jack said, coming up behind his own version of his father. "Could go start you some tea if you'd rather."

"Now who the hell are -- Oh. Oh." Brown eyes met brown eyes and dilated with startled recognition. "Look at you! You look like me! Well, more hair. A lot more hair." Long fingers went out to comb wonderingly through the dark mane. "Pity you couldn't have got more your Mum's nose. Not something you'll have to live with forever, though -- you're...?"

Jack-Jack nodded. "So far, so good. Not necessarily for want of trying, of course. I'm just luckier, I guess."

"This is... Martha's going to love this. Is she back yet?" The Doctor made to bumble off for the door.

"Whoa, there, cowboy," Jack said, catching at his good arm. "As fond as I am of those boxers..."

Jack-Jack was already rummaging through the wardrobe. "I'll help him find something that will fit over the arm. The rest of your team should be getting back right around now, Jack, I'm sure they'd appreciate seeing you well."

Jack could tell a things we can't talk about in front of the human dismissal when he heard one. Or thought he could, and he was a little surprised when the blond model followed him out as well. "Is it a good idea to leave them together like that?"

"Jack-Jack knows which parts of this are safe to discuss," the Doctor replied, seeming quite unruffled. "Besides, it's always kind of demoralizing to see yourself naked like that. It's either an improvement or a disappointment, and I've never worked out which is worse, really."

Jack had some opinions on the subject, actually, but he got the feeling this might not be a good moment to share them. "Well, then, let's go lie in wait for the others, shall we?"

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Chapter 34: Terrible Hazards Of Your Ungodly Profession

Author's Notes: Jack lets other people sort things out.

When the Hub's main door rolled open Jack was more than a little surprised to see Ianto being led in under his own power, even if he was regarding the world a little cloudily from under a jaunty gauze headband and leaning on Martha's arm as if he wasn't too sure of how far away the ground was. Jack hurried to help Martha get him onto the sofa. "Sir."

"How are you feeling?"

Ianto looked to be considering the polite inquiry with an undue gravity. "Like the time the ambassador of K'planestha laid eggs in my ear," he said, brow furrowed as if the memory troubled him. (As well it might. Jack had dated a k'planesthian once. Just the once.)

"I hadn't realized it was that sort of party," the Doctor interjected apologetically. "Have to hand it to him, though, he barely squeaked."

"And who's this, then?" Gwen asked, eyeing the sandy-haired Doctor with something just one polite hair short of bug-eyed suspicion.

"Do you want to take that one or shall I?" said Jack's Doctor from the door of his TARDIS. He'd found a robe with loose enough sleeves to thread over the injured arm, all long lines in red, the most elegant and otherworldly that Jack had ever seen him looking despite the sling (and completely spoiled by what were probably some planet's equivalent of bunny-slippers, if you liked your bunnies more sinister than cuddly).

"Wait a --" Martha said, "Two TARDISes? I thought you said..."

"Except for cheap tricks," the sandy one said, with a wry grin. "Although dire emergencies also qualify. And what it took to track Jack down certainly fell under that header." Well, the long-suffering look that said Time Agents had carried over. Again.

"Sorry, I'm still not following what's going on here," Gwen said forlornly. "Jack's obviously had his baby... somewhere else... and you rescued him, is that right?"

"It's confusing, I know," Jack-Jack said, appearing from the direction of the Hub's kitchen with a tray of mugs. "Can't wait to see how it all turns out, myself."

Well, that got everyone's attention, all right, and Jack would have sworn by now that the average Torchwood employee was well past the capacity to be shocked by anything. "...Jack-Jack?" Martha finally said, staring openmouthed at the dark-skinned young man who looked so much like Jack's Doctor. The baby in her arms gurgled.

"Hold on," Toshiko said, "if you're him, but all grown up, wouldn't that mean that you already know how this comes out?"

"We would if this were a normal situation," the sandy-haired Doctor said. "But a normal situation wouldn't involve Hart. He's not born to this the way we are, disruptions in time don't heal themselves around him. I've got more than one set of memories right now, and I'm not at all sure which one represents the most plausible picture of the way I actually came to be sitting here now. It's very dangerous, not to mention disconcerting."

"In my head," Jack-Jack added, "I grew up with a little sister, and I grew up as an only child, and I even grew up with an older sister, which I really don't understand. And they're all right, and they're all me, and yet only one version could actually have happened."

"And I suppose this is probably all my fault somehow," Jack said.

"Pretty much, yeah. Sorry." The young Time Lord handed him a mug and set the tray down on the table with Ianto's cup still on it -- yeah, Jack wouldn't have handed the head-injury patient anything hot just yet either, he thought, taking an experimental sip. Exactly the way he liked it, to the extent that he still remembered what coffee tasted like, and Jack thought he could picture a solemn-eyed young boy soaking up a lesson or two on the subject at his nanny's knee --

"It's all right, sir, I never liked that one anyway."

"What?" Jack went to set his coffee back down and upset the entire tray as the Hub suddenly echoed with the unmistakable grinding pulse of engines. Ianto's mug smashed on the freshly-scrubbed concrete floor. "Oh, great. If that's Big Ears I don't know what I'm gonna do --"

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Chapter 35: And What Of Little Nell?

Author's Notes: Jack's faith is rewarded.

Close up you could tell the difference, this one had more crinkles around the eyes even when he wasn't smiling and a few threads of silver in the sideburns, but Jack could only guess at the impression the others were getting from across the room. No points for guessing what he had tucked under the wing of his coat. Not when Jack could feel the ghostly tickle of a familiar mind pricking up mental ears at the nearness of him. "Oh, you went to look for her first, did you?"

A sheepish look from the big brown puppydog eyes. "Figured you were a little more durable."

Instinct and training had said of course she's all right, they wouldn't be so calm otherwise. But Jack still found his hands shaking as he reached out to receive the bundle. Never doubted him. Never will.

Only -- "Sorry, I thought I ordered a newborn?"

"We had to stop off for a while, bit of an issue with, erm, Hart's sense of timing, shall we say -- she hadn't been quite ready to make her formal debut yet." The Time Lord reached out to stroke Rosie's fuzzy head with a long finger. "Have to hand it to you, Jack, all these years and that's the first time I've ever had to bust someone out of a high-security SCBU --"

"Excuse me, I was the one doing most of the busting out," his Jack-Jack objected.

"Couldn't just both run off and leave the TARDIS unattended, under the circumstances," the Doctor explained to Jack's skeptical look. "The assembled hordes of Genghis Khan may be one thing, but a Time Agent with a spanner and a grudge, yeah, that worries me a bit."

Well, one mystery down, maybe. Jack could live with handwaving the exact details of both halves of the rescue operation, with these eyes the kittenish unformed blue of many a fair-skinned baby looking up at him now so gravely. Her thoughts weren't as crisp to him as they had been, too many buffers of air and bone between them now, but still Jack could sense that his daughter knew that she was where she belonged again, with her Mummy, and her Daddy, well, several of her Daddy, in fact, and here was one of the others now, coming to steady him one-handed as Jack stumbled distractedly up the steps --

"Do I really look like that? With my nose going off sort of sideways?"

"Oi, at least I combed my hair this morning."

"Okay, that noise you may have just heard? That was my brain breaking. Congratulations." Both Doctors gave Owen a look.

"This happens to you a lot, does it?" Gwen said in a voice that Jack thought was admirably steady.

"You have your occupational hazards, I have mine." And this from the sandy-haired one, which got him Gwen's best some days I really regret taking this job look in return.

"The Doctor changes his face, Gwen," Tosh said. "I saw him once in London, and he had these ears --"

"Why does everyone always carp on the ears? That nose wasn't anything to write home about either. Never been very good at noses."


Too giddy with relief to stop himself: "Hey, don't be so hard on yourself."

Jack's Doctor gave him a black look. "Which of us gets to hit him first for that?"

Gwen drew in a deep breath and approached the Doctor who had just arrived. "So... you must be an older version of him, then?"

"I was hoping it wasn't that obvious," he replied with a grimace. "Although Jack's the one with the portrait in his attic --"

"Contrary to popular belief, I never slept with Oscar Wilde. Apparently I just wasn't his type."

The assembled company roundly ignored Jack. Fine by him; let him have a few undisturbed moments to lose himself in blue eyes before they noticed that there was something far more entertaining than the spectacle of multiple time travellers to be had here. Gwen, for one, probably much better that she seemed too stuck on the visual conundrum of the Doctors for now -- and no wonder she seemed so punch-drunk, was it really going on four in the the morning? Ianto looked to be nodding off, which seemed like a fairly bad idea if Jack remembered anything about what happened when normal people had head injuries; Jack was just about to reach over to shake him back to alertness when the Welshman came awake on his own and murmured, "Truth," as if he were answering a question that no one had asked. You always did have boring dreams, pal. I'd have picked Dare myself.

"The long and the short of it is that having more than one of me here is insanely dangerous," the Doctor who wasn't Jack's was saying as Jack returned his attention to the ongoing conversation. "But it ought to confuse that silly little space hopper of Hart's badly enough that he won't be able to bounce right back to this precise moment. Could only throw him off by ten minutes, of course, or it could be ten years, I don't even know, but it's the best I can really do without more information."

"Probably a little more than ten minutes, though," the sandy-haired Doctor said. But he didn't look as sure of this pronouncement as Jack might have liked.

"Right, then, I'm going home, 'cos I don't know about anyone else but I'm absolutely knackered," Owen said, launching himself out of his chair with an energy that belied his words. "Give me a ring if the world does come to an end, eh? Wouldn't want to miss it this time."

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Chapter 36: Speaking In Tongues

Author's Notes: Jack wants some quiet time.

Gwen and Tosh had also elected to catch some rest before fatigue made either of them more of a liability than an asset if Hart did manage to break back into the Hub any time soon. Jack would have found the absence of his human team members more of a relief if it hadn't been the immediate prelude to a ferocious argument between the two later Doctors. How that even worked he had no idea, but the sight of the Oncoming Storm getting in his own face started something small and pink inside of Jack squeaking a rodenty warning to get under cover before he got eaten. He retreated to his office with the baby and shut the door on the unlikely combatants, which damped down the volume but only somewhat. "I'd say this is a horrible introduction to life for you, but actually this is pretty much what you can expect most of the time around here," he said to Rosie, easing himself into the chair behind his desk. She gave him a distinctly skeptical look before yawning and closing her eyes, obviously unconcerned by the notion that her Daddy was yelling at himself.

It wasn't very long before Jack's version of the Doctor stuck his head in the door, whether seeking out a moment with his younger child or just a quieter spot Jack was reluctant to ask him. The other two were still managing to go at it hammer and tongs in a language that clearly wasn't meant to be argued in quite so fervidly. Jack had never been able to catch one word in twenty of the Time Lord's native tongue, and suspected that the little he thought he did know probably amounted to the Gallifreyan for 'please fondle my bum', but it was readily apparent from the context that the fundamental disagreement was far from any sort of resolution. "I'll still be rude and not ginger, anyway," this Doctor observed wearily, settling into a chair.

"What is this obsession with ginger with you all of a sudden?"

The Doctor shrugged lopsidedly. "My mother was a warrior queen from a certain muddier spot on the bank of the Thames, and the thing I remember best about her is that she had flaming auburn hair down past her bum. So why have I never in nearly a dozen lifetimes been ginger? Ah, well, that's Time Lord genetics for you. Speaking of muddy."

"Your mother was a queen?"

"Well, that was back when there were so few of you that 'royalty' was the loudest thug in your camp," he said, a little sheepishly. "What of it? I've been president of Gallifrey a couple of times, doesn't make me any better a person than I was when I started."

Sore spot there, all right. "So how did your dad end up with the loudest thug in her campsite?"

"I'm not entirely sure. He was a junior researcher, nobody really, and I guess... he wasn't important enough to be worth scolding when he brought her home to Gallifrey with him. There were some raised eyebrows, I'm sure, but obviously no one stopped them arranging to have me."

"Okay, it was all sounding terribly romantic up until that last part," Jack said. The Doctor laughed.

"Can't choose our parents, after all. Or at least it's more complicated than it's really worth. Believe me. I think Rosie's done all right for herself, though."

The tiny pink mouth split wide in another yawn as Jack looked down at the fuzzy head. "Never did pick out any middle names for her, did we."

A considering lift of the dark eyebrows. "If you think you could live with it... my mother's name was Gwerioneth."

Jack wasn't even entirely sure he could spell it, and resolved to ask Ianto if the word sounded vaguely familiar. "Beats trying to learn the Gallifreyan for 'Runs With Scissors', I guess. -- Hey, this is your kid, you want to start laying bets on which of us she'll get into worse trouble for taking after?"

The Doctor reached out to stroke his daughter's hair with his good hand. "I don't suppose the Gallifreyan for 'I Was Only Saying Hello' would be quite the best influence to grow up under either," he admitted.

"Either way, we're pretty screwed, aren't we."


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Chapter 37: Don't Touch The Baby

Author's Notes: Jack is a very bad influence.

"And another thing, why is it always blood? Why can't it ever be the Millennium of Candyfloss, or the Family of Strawberry Jam? Just once I'd --"

The Doctor broke off, and Jack became aware of the sudden silence out in the main room. "At least they're not shouting anymore," Jack remarked, wondering if that meant it was safe to leave his office yet.

"No... Now they're snogging."

Jack would have thought that the Doctor was winding him up, if the Time Lord's face hadn't locked into the horrified fascination of a man who was witnessing a sight so perverted it put even Jack's years of careful tutelage to shame. Jack whirled around in his chair just in time to see the new, um, old, um, well, the sandy-haired one breaking away from the distinctly dazed-looking other. "Shouldn't that have blown a hole in the universe or something?" he asked, jiggling Rosie absently to soothe her as she opened one eye to investigate the sudden movement.

"Nah, Time Lords are naturally immune to that sort of paradox. Be a bit silly otherwise, always creeping around to avoid bumping into yourself. Never get anything done living that way. Facts should probably enjoy a certain amount of protection as well, although you might not have the same reflex to blur out most of the memories afterwards. Not that that's an invitation to go around snogging yourself, Captain Jack Harkness," he added sternly. "Dreadfully vulgar, if nothing else."

"So I guess that three-way I was going to suggest is out, then."

That got Jack a fierce scowl, but whatever retort his Doctor had been about to make was cut off when both the others invaded Jack's office. "I'm still not sure what that proved," the one who wasn't Jack's was saying.

The sandy-haired one gave him a look that one would have had to categorize as smug, but turned to address Jack's instead; "To the extent that it's possible to discuss it, we've worked out that Hart's not coming within the next few hours. So if you want to put yourself to bed with that arm for a while, this would be the moment."

"If it means I'm not sitting here thinking about what I just saw, I'm for it," the injured Doctor agreed, pushing himself to his feet with his one good arm. "I've already got a headache from looking at both of you -- Come to that, where's Jack-Jack? Either of them?"

The other version of him pulled a face. "If I'm lucky, they're only destroying my kitchen."

"Come on, he can't need as much Adult Supervision as you do," Jack said incredulously. "He seemed like a nice kid."

Both the later Doctors frowned. "If you don't mind that he's got the morals of a shobogan hunting-cat --"

" -- Which you probably don't, since that is largely your fault." Well, that was an interesting argument about how much of the core personality remained constant across regenerations, if he could squeeze identical disapproving expressions out of such different facial muscles. "If you want to know where a lot of those grey hairs come from --"


And he makes cracks about me meeting myself. "Yeah, I'm not a fit influence on anything sentient, got that already," Jack said, rising to follow his Doctor out. "Well, Rosie and I are off to rob a bank in the nude, I'll let you know if I see your other kid while we're out."

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Chapter 38: Storm Before The Calm

Author's Notes: Jack is slow.

Contrary to Jack's fevered imaginings, both of the junior Time Lord turned out to be entertaining the head-injury patient. "I suppose you're going to make us clear off so you can go to bed," one said at the sight of Jack's Doctor, stilling his guitar strings with a long-fingered hand.

"Be fair, I think Ianto needs some sleep too." Martha patted the off-duty nanny on the shoulder and gathered the infant version of Jack-Jack into her arms. "I'm pretty sure his head would have fallen off by now if it was going to."

"You've been here too long, you're starting to pick up Owen's bedside manner," Jack said. Martha swatted him playfully.

"If anyone's head is going to fall off around here, it's mine." The Doctor slid open one side of the pocket-doors that Jack now saw led past the crib into his own bedroom. "The others can bloody well cover for me if they're going to insist on being here. Rosie's hungry, by the way," he added with a considering look at Jack.

"Hm?" Jack realized that he could pick out a separate thread of distress running beneath his own lack of a proper breakfast as he looked down into the baby's reproachful blue eyes. "Hey, you could have said something sooner, you know. Your Mum's a bit thick here."

"You'll learn," the Doctor said, as if he were pronouncing sentence, and swept imperiously into his bedroom. The Jack-Jacks glanced at each other and went after him. Jack could hear murmuring, too low even to make out the language but pretty clearly no extra points for a half-nelson in intent.

He hadn't been expecting to keep Rosie around the Hub for any lengthy stretch, but some primitive nesting instinct had still led Jack to lay in enough of the exotic fixings for Baby Time Lord High Octane Special Blend to keep her going during an extended siege, which seemed prescient now that it looked as if a siege might be what they had on their hands. Not that he had any idea how much more good it would do to be in the Hub as opposed to home -- or Antarctica, for that matter -- when and if Hart did manage to wrestle his vortex manipulator into a lock that would land him back in Jack's lap, ten minutes or ten years from now, but the illusion of security that the familiar damp echoes whispered to the reptile parts of his brain still went no small way towards calming that voice that said danger to the cub, beware, prepare. Jack settled in on the sofa to watch his daughter slurp greedily at the green formula, and waited to see what the new day would bring first, his team or his doom.

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Chapter 39: The Things You've Seen

Author's Notes: Jack confronts a paradox.

An hour crept by, and then another, and soon enough Jack found himself yawning into Rosie's fuzzy hair as his employees started to drag in, looking about as strung out as when they'd left but showered and changed, anyway. Jack's Doctor was the only person still not in evidence by the time that the Doctor who wasn't Jack's gently pried the baby from his arms and suggested in no uncertain terms that even though Jack had technically had something resembling sleep recently it still hadn't been sufficient relative to what he'd been through in the last day or so of his subjective timeline. "You just want her to yourselves," Jack mumbled, letting the sandy-haired Doctor tuck one of the Hub's scratchy wool blankets around him. Damn, but it was nice to have someone else around here to take charge of the world once in a while, though...

Jack woke from a puzzlingly banal dream of washing dishes and a banana-smeared toddler to a sudden cry of "You sold us out, you son of a bitch!" Well, that's almost back to just another day at the office, for this place. Jack cast about blearily and somehow failed to be all that surprised to see Owen backed up against a wall by a double fistful of shirt. More surprised that it was Ianto's turn at it, if anything.

"Right, mate, I think it's time for another scan of that head --"

"It's on the tapes! You and Hart!" Another hard shove. Jack thought he could almost see Owen's teeth rattling as his feet left the ground for a moment.

"But, Ianto, we went over every second of..." Tosh paled, putting a hand to her mouth.

Yeah, we went over them, Jack suddenly realized, throwing aside his blanket.

And we had included Owen.

But wait a minute, Ianto hadn't -- "Okay, people, before everyone piles on Owen here, can I ask you what you're basing this on, Ianto? When did you have a chance to get into the security footage?"

"I, erm..." Ianto faltered, looking blank. "I don't know, I... I don't think I have. Yet. I know I... will see them?"

"And since when does Teaboy have the Sight?" Owen demanded, all puffed-up outrage even as Ianto gave him one more knock against the wall.

"This occasionally happens," the sandy-haired Doctor said, not looking particularly concerned. "Call it Mrs Cake syndrome. Ianto grew up around the rift, so he's already unusually sensitive as it is, and that blow to the head must have knocked him off his temporal moorings altogether. Usually resolves itself eventually, until then just try to humour him."

"Check the tapes," Ianto insisted, directing a fierce glare in Owen's direction as Jack pulled him away from his victim. "I know what I saw -- will see?"

Out of the corner of his eye Jack saw Gwen sitting Owen down on the sofa, murmuring a question to which his answer was, "No, my life is absolutely brilliant, my boss thinks he's Batman and I'm living in the sort of film where something horrible happens to Veronica Cartwright, but other than that everything's just bloody peachy, isn't it?" Well, he's all right, anyway...

Jack sighed and tried to resign himself to yet another session in front of the endless security videos. "The sooner we figure this out the better, I guess --"

But Ianto resisted Jack's attempt to tug him into the privacy of Jack's office. "I can't stop to do this now, sir, I was going to have lunch with my mum. It's Christmas, I promised I'd see her."

Jack's chief recollection of Ianto's mother was of a small severe woman, more stylish than the typical pepperpot like Mrs. Jenkins, who had taken her son's rambling improvisation that his boss had grown up in a hippie commune and therefore couldn't really be held responsible for his confused morals with much the same enthusiasm as if he'd just come out and told her that Jack had been raised by wolves. "Perfect. I suppose if I even made you late she'd track me down and slap me again." (For some reason both of the Doctor suddenly seemed to be swallowing the same fit of the giggles.) "All right, we can sort out the causality later, just don't let her know we had anything to do with those spiffy stitches. Tell her you fell off your bicycle or something."

From Ianto's face, he thought that about as plausible a cover story as the actual truth would be, but it got him to clear off without any further attempt to go for Owen's throat. Not that Jack wasn't considering that himself right about now, if only for making him have to spend any more of his time wading through work that he'd thought safely over and done with by now. With a look that he hoped said don't let him go anywhere without being too obvious about it Jack stalked into his office and braced himself to face what he should have been looking at all along. Owen's portion of the security tape review.

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Chapter 40: The Last Temptation Of Owen

Author's Notes: Jack sees something he wishes he hadn't.

"Relax," Hart says as Owen scrubs furiously at his lips. "You did your job taking away all my toys. I just... needed to touch someone." A sigh, here, as Owen's eyes turn to wary slits. "You can't know what it's been like, day after day. Able to look, but not to touch..."

"Oh, try me, mate."

"Yes, I suppose you might have an idea, at that. You
are the legendary Doctor Harper, the man who fought death from behind the enemy lines. But you're alive now... And so warm..."

A hand goes out, slow, deliberate. Traces gently down Owen's jaw. This time there's less of a flinch. "You're worse than Jack," the surgeon says hoarsely.

"No," Hart says, and drops to his knees, out of frame. "I'm

Jack stopped the video as Owen's eyes squeezed shut, soundless testimony to the bargain being struck. And I put him down there with that. Shatterproof plastic no barrier to fifty-first-century pheromones, chemical whispers drifting in the power-vacuum presented by Jack's scrambled hormonal balance to dazzle poor primitive senses with promises a man of this time couldn't even know to expect, much less brace himself against. I should have listened, when he volunteered himself. I should have heard what he was really saying.

Still -- consorting, yes, but it would hardly be the first time Owen's, er, nose had led him onto the wrong side of a cell door, and accepting a quick offer of sexual favors while escorting a prisoner to the showers wasn't even exactly that. If one could really call it accepting... Jack brought himself up sharply, the thought too vivid reminder of a certain interval on the Valiant when more obvious tortures had apparently palled (writhing beneath the talented mouth, trying to compartmentalize the physiological response from the psychological) -- And though Hart was good (Jack well knew) and maybe even that good (although without the advantage of a respiratory bypass? -- no, I'm not going there again), one thing Jack was (reasonably) sure of was that Owen wasn't that stupid. Something else. Has to be something else here.

Please, let me not find proof...

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Chapter 41: It Takes The Truth To Fool Me

Author's Notes: Jack demands answers.

But there they were, those few shadowy frames he wanted to tell himself couldn't be what they looked like. "Owen! Get your weevil-loving zombie ass in here!"

"How many times do I have to tell you people I got better?" God, Owen would probably strut to his own execution, right up to the point where he tried to kick the headsman in the nuts. He closed the door behind himself with an exaggerated irritation that didn't slip even as his eyes turned to the monitor behind his boss's head frozen on the still image of a certain medical officer passing a familiar object into Hart's cell.

"It must have been a damn good offer," Jack said, trying to keep his voice level. "I just want to know what the going rate for our lives is."

What had he expected? Defiance? A cinematic attempt to go out with guns blazing? Not this, surely, this grim-eyed but steady gaze meeting his with all the calm of a man who'd already been waiting for his time to run out. "He said that the date of death on my drawer in the cold storage is tomorrow." Owen drew in a quavering breath. "But he thought, if I got him the wrist-strap back, he could stop it happening. How can you tell me I should've taken the chance he was lying?"

"Yeah, you do remember that one of your near-death experiences was when he shot you?"

Owen slammed his hands down on Jack's desk. "I'm not ready to die again. I couldn't put the rest of you through that again. I had to -- I didn't --" And here his whole face screwed up into the fierce scowl of someone who was just about to lose the battle not to cry. "I don't know how this works, Jack, how can I know if you never tell us anything --"

He's not a trained Time Agent. He's not even up on the innovations that the next three thousand years of glorious twisted brilliant humanity will bring to the party. If there's blame to be laid here, Jack Harkness... Jack rested a hand on the dark hair as Owen buried his head in his arms on the desk, and marveled that the young surgeon only flinched at the touch.

Presently Owen's gulping for air became less broken. "I suppose if you were going to break my neck you'd have done it by now," a muffled voice rasped.

"Call it postpartum psychosis," Jack said, holding out a tissue which Owen ignored in favor of his sleeve at first. "Besides, I went through too much to get you back just to turn around and kill you myself. Maybe someday, but not over this. You did what you thought you had to do based on the information you had available."

"That does sound like postpartum psychosis talking," Owen said, and blew his nose (in the tissue) noisily. "Next thing you know you'll be opening up to us about what this Time Agency of yours keeps sending its people to Cardiff for."

"If you really want to know, it's the chips at that little place on Caroline Street," Jack said. Owen managed a wispy smile, still wary of the teeth that could so easily have been in his throat but beginning to trust that his alpha didn't mean to drive him out of the pack today.

Tomorrow, well, they'd get to that when they got to it, wouldn't they?

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Chapter 42: And Now You've Made Me Angry

Author's Notes: Jack is disoriented.

It felt like days had gone by, as if he should have walked out of the office to find cobwebs and the shrouded furniture of a long-abandoned house, not simply a rabble of Torchwood employees and hangers-on all studiously trying not to eavesdrop. Tosh seemed to be doing the best job of distancing herself from whatever dismemberment Owen might have been suffering at their boss's hands, head bent over the screens at her workstation next to the tangled mane of what Jack thought was the younger of the junior Time Lord. "I feel like I should be warning him," Jack said absently, trying to shake off the vague sense of dislocation as he took in the stubbornly normal scene.

"Not for the reason you'd think," the other Jack-Jack said. "Although he's way too young for her -- Oi, you two keep carrying on like that we're going to have more than a paradox to resolve, you know..." His voice lowered as he leaned in to join their discussion, but Jack could tell from the accompanying body language that the interruption was being acquiesced to, but not liked. And that Tosh had just gotten herself invited out to dinner. With a backward glance to where a still shaken-looking Owen was just now slinking down into the depths of the autopsy room, Toshiko visibly set her jaw and took the older Jack-Jack's arm, heading for her coat.

Gwen turned around from her own desk to fix Jack with a look of puzzled suspicion that told him she'd overheard just enough of the shouting to have come up with a conclusion to jump to about it all, and now Owen's continuing existence was knocking said conclusion into a cocked hat. "He's looking remarkably not like he's about to be retconned and thrown in the bay?"

"Can't exactly punish him for buying the story that a Time Agent could reschedule his imminent death." And yeah, that wiped the outrage right out of Gwen's eyes, all right, that reminder of how Owen had his price like any other frail human, and knew damn well what it was...

"Considering this is Owen we're talking about, it wasn't even an unreasonable assumption," the sandy-haired Doctor said.


"Gravitational lens, Jack. When I look at Owen I see multiple images, and in at least half of them he's not supposed to be here. Even a blunt instrument like Hart would be able to see the potential for mischief there."

"Well, yeah, anybody could die tomorrow, maybe Owen more than most, but..." Jack wasn't sure which prospect rattled him more, the idea of Hart being honest about anything useful or the Doctor backing him up on the possibility.

Martha appeared at the main door, baby on one hip and a large brown bag in the other hand. "Who ordered the take-away for Cyrus Borg?" she demanded, not looking best pleased about having to sign to the prank name.

The Doctor who wasn't Jack's heaved a sigh. "That would be the great comfort in my old age, I expect." The remaining Jack-Jack had already relieved his mother of the bag, spreading out the foil-and-cardboard contents on the cluttered table in front of the sofa. "Ask him about the time he got the desktop theme stuck on 'Angst'. Black velvet everywhere, it was enough to drive a goth blind." Disapproval of his son's antics, Jack noticed, wasn't stopping either of the Doctor from poking into the take-away containers with considerable interest.

Jack found an unclaimed carton that looked as if it might have been meant for Tosh and pulled up a chair to enjoy the curiously domestic picture of three Time Lords on the sofa, even if one was a double-exposure, and Rosie sound asleep in a basket on the floor at the sandy-haired one's feet. (Which could well have been his laundry-basket, for all Jack knew, it did look suspiciously butch for the purpose.) Brown eyes were regarding Martha again with one of those wistful looks that told Jack all he needed to know about what the Doctor wasn't saying to her regarding their respective timelines. (Only took him about three hundred years, Jack-Jack had snorted in response to his delicate inquiry the first time he'd noticed how this pair of eyes wandered...) "You know, it's not every alien who could pull off those shoes."

"My dangerous shoes! Well, they're not really mauve, more of an aubergine, but." (He could see the sandy-haired one rolling his eyes, although where mister poet-shirt-and-jeans got off saying a word to anybody about fashion was beyond Jack.) "Oh. Erm." With a sheepish look the Time Lord took his feet off the table.

"And he tells people I'm not housebroken," Jack-Jack sighed dramatically.

"I am not the one who was up on the bar singing 'Material Girl' after two shots."

"Yeah, well, next time we get into a situation like that you get to wear the dress."

"But you're prettier than I am."

"Okay, maybe, with the hair up --" The younger Time Lord twisted his long curls into a knot and pinned them with a spare chopstick. Jack felt a chill track down his spine at the sight. The sandy-haired one, dark curls up in a knot --

A familiar siren and flashing light startled Jack out of the half-retrieved memory. He turned in his chair to see the Hub door rolling open again, Ianto returning from his visit to his Mum --

Ianto with a gun to his head, stumbling along under the hand fisted in his collar --

"You finally found a blonde! Well done."

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Chapter 43: The Good, The Bad, And The Owen

Author's Notes: Jack hesitates.

"Here's the thing: I may not have much of a work ethic according to some people, but I do take pride in being able to deliver on my obligations." Hart seemed almost elated, the light of adrenaline in his eyes too familiar a sight to his old hunting partner. Daring someone to try? Jack ran through a quick inventory in his head and came up with only maybe Gwen...?, cursing his own insistence on firearms safety around the children. "So, is this one worth a Time Lord in trade? Yes, or no?"

"Sir, I --"

Hart snaked his grip into what was left of Ianto's hair, pulling the Welshman's head back to silence him with a mocking kiss. "Now, you have a couple of choices," the Time Agent announced as he released a suddenly gasping Ianto to slump to the floor like a broken puppet. "We can stand here arguing about this until eye-candy runs out his clock --"

"Or you could fuck off and leave us the hell alone." Owen, crouching on the steps of the autopsy room with his gun trained on Hart -- oh, that is my brass-balled boy! Jack hoped he was the only one who could see the slight tremor in the surgeon's hands.

Hart sighed, looking disappointed and amused all at once. "Such loyalty after everything we've been to each other. Quite a... training program you must run, Jack. Do you suppose he's considered how he ends up in that cold-storage drawer in the first place?"

"If I'm not going to die until tomorrow, then what have I got to lose today?"

"Might shoot you somewhere to leave you lingering in agony for the next few hours."

Owen's cocky grin slipped sideways. "Yeah, I was hoping you wouldn't think of that," he muttered.

Neither one has the shot, Jack realized as Hart put his foot on the first step up to the platform and Owen mirrored the gesture, the dance of two evenly-matched predators sizing each other up for the opening. Instinct screamed at him to dive across the few feet to Rosie's basket, to put his own flesh between his baby and those ominous muzzles whether he would come back from death or not. Jack told instinct to get knotted and held himself absolutely still, trusting in the steady blue gaze from the sofa that said, Not just yet.

Hart shifted his weight smoothly and came up another step, gray eyes haunted with deeper shadows now even as his aim never wavered. "Jack. Love. You really don't want to know who's holding my leash on this one. But I will go through the rest of you if I have to. Your call."

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Chapter 44: Prophet & Loss

Author's Notes: Jack is lost.

"If I could point out --" Dammit, he would pick now to start gobbing away, Jack thought as purple trainers set themselves on the concrete and levered up one long drink of alien water. Jack-Jack had gone as ashen as his dark skin allowed, the sandy-haired Doctor's fingers twined through his in reassurance or restraint. "Technically, I'm not really Jack's to hand over," he continued mildly, scratching his ear. "I know Torchwood One had all that inflated opinion of its property rights concerning alien artifacts, but Torchwood Three operates under a revised charter that clearly states --"

"That the only weapon you have is that pretty tongue?" Hell, he's done his homework. Hart was on the third step now, sharp gaze still tracking Owen's gun. "Not that I haven't heard the stories about it, but --"

Another step. A fraction of a second, just a fraction, when Hart's line of sight had to pass behind the clutter of a workstation, Owen's trembling aim inching forward for his chance --

And then a pinstriped blur launching itself at a probability instants before it came to pass, bearing Owen to the floor even as the crack of a hammer falling echoed off concrete and tile. Which of them even fired? Jack wondered in frozen confusion as Hart grinned broadly and lunged up the steps, tossing his gun into Gwen's lap and diving for the basket beside the table. She fumbled at the pistol as if it were hot, shock-wide eyes reflecting the sudden gold sparks of an opening vortex.

Jack skidded across the concrete an instant too late to follow Hart's disappearing shadow. "Dammit!"

"Oi, mate, you are not as light as you look," came a muffled complaint. Jack snapped around to see Owen disentangling himself from a heap of skinny limbs, rubbing his head as if he'd struck it when they hit. "Not that I'm not grateful and everything --"

"Not your time." The familiar voice seemed strained. Oh. Oh, hell. The vortex had closed, so why could Jack still see flickers of gold in the dark eyes --

A wobbling attempt to stand, and now Jack took in the dark stain blossoming over the Time Lord's right heart. "Jack --" An untranslated Gallifreyan word then, the same word he had used -- would use -- ages from now and yesterday; and a bloody grimace. "No good. TARDIS --"

Jack-Jack was already there, getting in beneath his father's arm to help him to his feet. Amazing, how much punishment the species could take before it broke. But it broke. Jack caught the Doctor by the other arm as they made to pass. "I love you."

"Noticed that."

"Cheeky bastard." He let go of the pinstriped arm with an acute sense of loss, hazy memories of having seen the outcome of this staggering exit years before overlaid with the fresh red print one long-fingered hand pressed onto a blue door. A door that hadn't even properly closed before mighty engines screamed to life, frantic to reach some imagined point of safety to prepare for the transformation to come.

The Doctor, the remaining Doctor, came to place a hand on Jack's shoulder, shaking his blond head as the echoes died away. "Oh, damn, I was hoping it wouldn't be that version. Damn it."

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Chapter 45: Now All I Have's This Anguished Heart

Author's Notes: Jack grieves in his own fashion.

The medical officer's pale face brightened a little as his equipment returned the results of a hasty toxicology analysis: "Same stuff he used on Gwen -- 's a bit sloppy, innit? He'd know we already had the antidote handy."

"It's not as if it comes in cherry and grape at your fifty-first-century Boots," Jack said, watching as jerky movement returned to Ianto's limbs in the wake of Owen's ministrations. He'd used that poison himself, once, without a second thought...

It was plain from what would probably have been some pretty colorful language if the TARDIS's delicate sensibilities hadn't balked at translating the bulk of it that the Doctor was making little headway at coaxing the Hub's main system into explaining what the various rift monitoring programs had seen when Hart jumped away. "I should have pressed Toshiko to explain her notation system --"

Gwen tapped at her mobile, but the deep scowl almost as she had raised it to her ear told Jack the answer before she announced, "Her phone's off. Should we add that to the list of things to worry about yet?"

"Considering that she left here with my son, I could answer that in a couple of ways," the Time Lord replied absently, still frowning at the scrolling figures. "You may as well go home to your Rhys for now, I don't know if I can make sense of this before she decides to reestablish contact. And as for you, Jack," he added, long fingers dancing over the keyboard at a blinding speed, "I might be able to get a clearer picture here if you took what's left of that vortex manipulator of yours into the TARDIS to eliminate its signals from the background readings?"

Instinct and the shuddering afterimage of bright sparks in dark eyes sent Jack into his own Doctor's ship, shattered monkey nerves wanting nothing better than to wrap himself around cool alien skin until he forgot what this one's future would bring. But he sensed a sharp undercurrent of warning as he reached out to open that bedroom door, unmistakable mental do-not-disturb sign from the TARDIS herself; "Okay, okay, so long as he's getting some rest," Jack muttered, and decided to peek in on the au pair's room instead so long as he was here.

Ianto had curled up in a defensive ball under the covers, not in Jack's experience necessarily his favorite sleeping position, but the bigger surprise was the sight of his physician sitting guard beside the bed, snoring with his head pillowed on the hand not holding his gun to be sure but still a damned tempting invitation to blackmail. 'Teaboy' until the chips really are down, huh. "Oh, god, if I had a camera," Martha whispered, coming up beside Jack and lacing her fingers through his.

Jack pulled the door shut on the compromising scene. "He's still off-duty, I'd say."

"Future-Daddy can type and babysit at the same time," Martha replied firmly, drawing Jack around to face her. "Jack... That... what just happened... that was why he changed, wasn't it."

"It obviously doesn't happen for a while," Jack said, not sure at all of how much help saying it out loud really was. Not much, from the look in those dark eyes. Or maybe it was just that it had been a long couple of days on top of a long and strange year, and Martha still remembered enough of the monkey she'd once been to hear echoes of that same primal terror of the dark that whispered not me, not now, not like this... Enough, certainly, that Jack found her rising up to meet him as hands sought the reassurance of bare flesh, sudden driving urgency leading to a gasping consummation against the patterned alien metal of a scandalized corridor wall. (Interesting, to feel that ethereal sentience thinking the equivalent of get a room...)

Martha had sensed the ship's indignation as well, grinning sheepishly as she straightened her wandering blouse. "One of these other doors a spare bedroom, do you reckon?"

"Probably is now." The precise capabilities of the semi-malleable pocket dimension had always eluded Jack, but he wasn't at all surprised to see a bed in the first room he tried, wide and welcoming to knees beginning to wobble from too many rapid-fire shocks. He threw off the rest of his clothes and flopped across it with her, suddenly weary beyond measure. And fell down into dreams of his lost little girl, everyday moments he might well never see now -- "If it's nice out we'll go to the park in the morning, I promise..."

Jack gradually became aware of sharing his bed with the murmur of soft voices. "Not you you, Martha Classic so to speak --"

"I think we've woken Jack," she interrupted him as Jack opened one eye to check out what he was missing. Not so very much, unless he was a sounder sleeper than he thought, but he grinned at them charmingly anyway.

"Decided we were better company than Tosh's programs after all, huh?"

The blue eyes went stormy. "Still too many rift-echoes from that space-hopper of yours to get clear traces," he admitted, with a look that had to be this one's version of a feline tailwashing I-meant-to-do-that denial that he'd just conceded any defeat. "Even the TARDIS can't seem to mask out the extra signal."

"So putting me to bed didn't help anything --" Jack sat bolt upright as a wayward spark leapt between rested neurons. "Oh. Oh. Yes. He is that big of a bastard. He knows -- Dammit!"


Already tapping commands into his wrist-strap, unsurprised to see the answers. "I know where he'd have taken her."

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Chapter 46: Purloined

Author's Notes: Jack surprises himself.

He could have been any young father watching his child toddling around the playlot, bringing back handfuls of fallen leaves like trophies. All this time. All this time, and they were right across town.

The little girl turned her head towards the sound of the SUV's door thunking shut, and she pointed at Jack with uncertain fingers. "Mummy?"

The man was up off his bench and scooping the toddler into his arms even before he'd turned to see the threat, laughing self-consciously. "She's always called me Mummy, I think it's because she lost -- oh, hell," he said, ice-blue eyes going wide as he saw Jack. "This is a wiping offence."

"So's kidnapping," Jack replied. Strange, to hear your own voice from the outside, put-on newscaster accent not yet completely squelching the ghost of a Boeshani twang. Be fair, it took living in the TARDIS to finally iron that out of you. "I don't suppose he told you that part of the story."

Oh, no, and he hadn't asked, either. Jack wondered if it had been out of loyalty to the Time Agency or sheer naivete. "Look, all I ever knew is that the Agent who set me up with this said she was the last of her species, needed to be kept safe somewhere nobody would know to go looking until she was old enough for us to make use of her native abilities. Don't know why he thought that was here, I've been hiding out from those Torchwood bastards the whole time."

"I am those Torchwood bastards," Jack roared. "He brought you here because if anyone did see you they'd just assume you were me!"

"Now you mention it I do get a certain amount of that." God, had he really been that cheeky? Still are, a corner of his subconscious that sounded like, well, several people he knew chorused back.

She looked well cared for in her little overalls, one star-shaped clip still fighting a losing battle in the crest of brown spikes. Her eyes had stayed that babyish blue, maybe a little steelier now but as far as they could be from his daydreamed imaginings of a little girl with her father's eyes. Time Lord genetics, indeed. Then again, maybe they were Daddy's eyes after all... Somehow Jack wasn't all that surprised when a slight shift of the child on the other man's hip turned out to be the prelude to looking down the barrel of a compact laser deluxe. "You carry that thing around the baby?" Great, now I'm turning into my mother --

"For all I know you've decided you could get a better price for her outside the Agency, and I will be damned if I'm just going to let you walk off with her. I've been looking after her practically since she was born, and I've gotten kind of attached to her, in case you have forgotten that --"

"She's my daughter, you idiot. That's why Hart left her with you, she wouldn't have accepted anyone else. Or hadn't you noticed the telepathy part?" Or the chin, for god's sake?

The muzzle of the gun wavered. "But she's an alien, though. How --"

"Don't even ask, it's not like it makes sense anyway. Just, um... Trust me, that... you meet someone. Someone extraordinary. Someone you would do anything for. Even this. Now would you put the damn gun away before she grabs it?"

A visible start now, the pistol lowering almost as if forgotten; "Oh, god, you are for real, aren't you." Rosie squirmed as he disappeared the gun back to its improbable hiding place, and he let her down, not protesting now as Jack moved to take her other hand. "My own... Do I get to ask what I do to deserve this?"

"I'm still kind of working on that myself," Jack said. The small hand in his was just a little cooler than a human might be expecting, perfectly calm as if being handed off from one of Jack to another happened to her every fine cold morning at the park. But for all he really knew maybe she remembered all the way back to the confusion of Doctors Jack had just lived through... "I wish I could warn you to keep an eye on your next partner, but..."

"Yeah. Think I see where you're going with that." He let go of Rosie's hand to poke at his own wrist-strap. "I guess you should have this, then, if I'm about to get my brain fricasseed." He tossed Jack something small and glittering, and Jack caught it by reflex. A data crystal. "I thought I should be keeping a record, it's... you know, her baby pictures. And stuff. They'd just take it anyway -- You... we're not going to remember her at all, are we."

"Haven't so far. And I've been trying for a long, long time."

"Yeah, what are you now, forty?" Jack winced. But then again. Her young caretaker bent to ruffle Rosie's hair. "Well, so long, kid. You be good for your Daddy now, huh?"

"Um... that'd still be Mummy, actually."

"Forget wiped, I'm gonna get sectioned," he said, shaking his head ironically. "I think I'll leave that part out, if you don't mind, I'm going to be in enough trouble as it is."

Jack raised an eyebrow as his younger self started stripping off his clothes. The Doctor's right, it is kind of demoralizing -- "I'd say hey, I've still gotta live here, but then again every little bit helps add to the legend."

"Don't tell me you haven't thought about doing this. The few months of the year that you could take your clothes off they won't let you --" It wasn't exactly warm out today, for that matter, but Jack had to admire his (own) gumption. Once the twenty-first-century skin lay shed at his feet he straightened and snapped a salute. Jack returned it with his free hand, and couldn't help but grin as the other man tipped him a wink before turning to go bounding across the sward, yodeling exuberantly enough to wake the dead, "I wanna be an Airborne Ranger...!"

"Can't go wrong with the classics." A check of the nearby buggy's pouches turned up a stuffed bear wearing a surprisingly accurate spacesuit. As Jack crouched to offer it to Rosie he saw a flash out of the corner of his eye: a time vortex, opening and closing. "C'mon, kid, let's go home."

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Chapter 47: Dimple On Chin, Many Hearts You Will Win

Author's Notes: Jack surprises everyone else.

To say that Jack's arrival back at the Hub with a slightly larger child than he'd gone out to find caused a stir would have been an understatement even for this place. "There's Jack-Jack's 'older sister'," Martha remarked finally, looking from one child to the other. "Someone had her for two years?"

"It's... complicated." Jack really didn't feel like getting into the rules and regulations of the Time Agency right now, or the hole in his head that he'd tried for so many years to pretend didn't cry out to be filled with something, anything, some reassurances that whatever he'd done hadn't been so monstrous he was better off never knowing. All he wanted, right now, was as much peace and quiet as it was going to take to convince himself that the images on that data crystal had really happened to him, somehow, somewhen, and he didn't picture himself getting that any time soon around here.

"She's a beautiful little girl, Jack," Gwen said, daring to stroke the dark cowlick. "Although dimple on chin, the devil within, as my Gran always used to say."

"Which would make Jack Auld Scratch himself," Owen pointed out.

"It's a dominant trait, poor mite never stood a chance," Jack's Doctor said from the foot of the stairs, a wry twist of his lips emphasizing the faint notch in his own chin. The long rest or whatever it had been seemed to have done him a world of good, arm no longer bundled to his chest in the sling, although he was still wearing the loose-sleeved robe (and Jack really didn't want to know how many eyes those shabby slippers had originally had); "And how is my little..." Both eyebrows went up as Gwen stepped clear of his sight-line. "This is covering for me."

"There was an... incident, but Jack got it sorted," the sandy-haired Doctor said, with a don't ask for the details look that even Jack could read. "More or less."

Jack's Doctor heaved a sigh. "I suppose nothing should really surprise me at this point," he said, and scooped Rosie away from Jack. "So, my not-so-little girl, what have you been up to, hm?" (And yes, here came the spectacles, although why he'd bother to have them in a pocket of the robe was a bit puzzling, considering that Jack had once looked through them on a hunch and discovered that what they augmented was probably his ego, since they certainly didn't seem to be correcting anything in the human range of the visual spectrum.) "Appears to be in the bloom of health, at least. Her telepathic centres are a bit underdeveloped, but she's still well within the window where all she needs is a little practise. Seems well-nourished, too, somebody knew how to care for her properly?"

"He's being Jack about what actually happened while he was out," Gwen said with a disapproving frown. "Although it may somehow have involved streaking through a park, according to the police channels."

"Honestly, the suspicious minds you all have where I'm concerned, I'm really hurt sometimes."

"Andy said you had a nice arse."

"I'm not going to dignify that with a reaction," Jack said. "Although please tell me you got it on tape."

"Only the part after 'that couldn't be Harkness'," Owen said, rather gloomily. "Am I going to have to swallow my mobile now to keep from waking up with a new ringtone?"

So long as the tape ended, as Jack suspected it must, with some variation on you didn't see that and neither did I, he didn't much care what PC Davidson thought of his butt, either now or then. (Well, he cared, but not in a particularly invested sense, so to speak.) "Have it on my desk by the the time I'm back in my office and I promise nobody's phones will have to sing the praises of my ass. But for right now, Rosie and I are taking an early lunch. Doctor?"

The Time Lord handed back the toddler with just a hint of reluctance. "You'll be wanting some instructions about what to feed her at this stage, then," he said with a who are we kidding, of course I'm going to invite myself along sort of expression on his face.

"Hopefully you have something more substantial in mind than letting her live on chips and bananas." The Doctor gave him a wounded look.

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Chapter 48: If I Had Known For Just One Second

Author's Notes: Jack can't catch a break.

At this point Jack was beginning to wonder if he was ever going to be able to hear the main door rolling open again without jumping. And he wasn't the only one, either, by the way every head in the room except his Doctor's had snapped around as if they were all expecting to see another nightmare come to life at their doorstep, maybe a horde of rabid weevils this time instead of a hostage situation but surely something much more sinister than only a team-mate who technically hadn't had the morning off, and her escort one rumpled-looking and laughing young Time Lord who by the look on his father's face damn well should have known better. "-- And I turn around and he's nicked the bloody colander again!" Toshiko giggled. "So I'm standing there with this boiling pot in my hands, just knowing that at that very moment he had to be busy welding it into the displacement manifold that's been on the blink --"

Gwen's eyes narrowed into an expression that Jack was pretty sure after all these years of experience meant something like I find your motivations suspect, or possibly just get away from my sister, he still hadn't quite teased out every last nuance. "We've been worried, Tosh, we were trying to reach you last night but you turned your phone off?"

Was Tosh blushing? Yes, she was, Jack decided, even if she'd squared up her shoulders in a show of defiance. "We went to the cinema, I forgot to turn it back on after."

I'll just bet you 'forgot', Jack thought as Tosh resolutely turned her back on them all in favor of the nearest keyboard. From the glares shooting between the junior Time Lord and his father Jack thought he could recognize a blistering psychic argument when he didn't hear one. "Oi, still in the room you know," Jack's Doctor said with an affronted look.

The sandy-haired Doctor threw up his hands in a gesture of what could have been disgust or resignation and flopped down on the sofa with a scowl that looked like the threshold of an epic funk. After a wary moment to be sure that he wasn't about to explode, Jack settled in beside him with Rosie. "So I get the feeling he didn't sleep on her couch."

"We don't need nearly as much sleep as you puny humans, Jack," the Time Lord replied, a hint of amusement creeping back into the blue eyes. "Besides, she's a big girl."

"Is that... well, safe?"

"Define 'safe' in this context," he pointed out with a nod towards his brown-eyed self. "The short answer is, I really have no idea, but I can remember as many arguments 'for' as 'against'."

"To hell with paradoxes, then?"

"Some things work out the way they're meant to work out. And even Time Lords don't always see the same threads of possibility. He's got to follow his own instincts. Much as that occasionally annoys the living daylights out of his old father."

"That is what dads are for, in my understanding of it."

The younger Time Lord reappeared on the steps, now wearing a So's the President shirt instead of the faded Che Guevara, and came to sit on Jack's other side, regarding his sister curiously. "This explains a few things," he said. "It's weird, I can almost feel things squirming around rearranging themselves in my head when I look at her. You're getting that too?"

The blond head nodded. "She'll be all right now, I think." He petted Rosie's wild brown tufts fondly. "A little too enamoured of guns, but I suppose that was inevitable with Jack for a mother." Jack elbowed him, and he grinned, continuing, "She'll grow up to embarrass us in all the usual ways, like shaving her head, and dating werewolves --"

"Arira wasn't a werewolf!" Jack-Jack interjected hotly, what looked like a blush coming up on the dark cheeks. "And if you'd been paying more attention we might have figured out sooner that it was the wolfhounds who were the dominant telepathic species on that planet." Jack just managed not to make a crack about the internet and dogs. "Sorry, Jack, old argument. He's never going to let me live that one down, I don't think."

"Not after her mother bit me at the wedding." The Doctor turned a long-suffering look to Jack. "The nerve, saying my pup wasn't good enough for hers."

"You were both drunk off your arses."

"I had better be invited to this wedding," Jack said.

"Well, we had a little trouble getting you through their quarantine system, but a six-month wait is hardly anything to --"

No subtle ozone of rift-energy this time, just the actinic crack of normal-space teleportation: "You people are really beginning to cheese me off."

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Chapter 49: If I Stop Now Call Me A Quitter

Author's Notes: Jack has deja vu.

Jack's first absurd thought was that Hart looked good, tanned and windblown like he'd spent the last two years kicking back in the relative obscurity of a much sunnier island. Majorca, perhaps, or given the delay maybe somewhere in the Caribbean, or Fiji, far enough away across the face of a turning world to have received whatever alarms he had set on Rosie in the middle of his relative night.

Or perhaps he'd merely been gathering his instruments. That gun, for example. The one that Jack could clearly infer from the look on Owen's face, all focus reduced to the cold death suddenly kissing the small of his back. Hart squeezed the surgeon's bicep and he jerked. "You know I've never had much patience, Jack," the Time Agent said. "Now, turn over that little two-hearted bundle of joy, and I might even let Harper skip out on his date with the cold storage."

"Wouldn't you rather have me?" Oh, here goes that gob again -- Logic said this timeline was already set, but tell that to whatever organ had just leapt up into Jack's throat as his Doctor stepped forward, doing what always seemed to come naturally to him. Interfering. "After all, I'm sure that what a Time Agent would be more interested in is the knowledge of the Time Lords, not mere biology."

"I don't have a particular preference," Hart said, but Jack could see the grey eyes sizing up long lines in red silk, calculating the value-added along a couple of dimensions on his mental charts. "Although if it lets me out of changing nappies, then I suppose I could be persuaded --"

And Jack-Jack said, "No."

Even Hart turned to look at the younger Time Lord. "And you would be...?"

"More expendable than him," Jack-Jack said, rising to his feet. "But still a Time Lord, born and raised. And more important, Time Agent, I'm free to go with you without triggering a paradox. I don't think even you would want the trouble that mucking about with his timeline would cause."

"Fair enough," Hart said, with a tilt of his head that suggested to Jack he'd heard enough of the stories about the Doctor to be just as happy not to get sucked into playing out a Ransom of Red Chief scenario. "Coming, then?"

"You can't," Martha said as her son stepped around the table.

Jack-Jack shrugged. "You've got an idea that doesn't get everybody killed? ...Besides, he's got a nice arse."

"I do appreciate a hostage who knows quality when he sees it." Hart gave Owen one last jab in the ribs that sent the medic sprawling. "You might be more fun than the old man, at that."

"Oh, just try me," Jack-Jack said, with a teasing smile. An inviting smile, almost.

And didn't shy away as Hart leaned in to kiss him.

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Chapter 50: We'll Take The Trail Marked On Your Father's Map

Author's Notes: Jack has deja vu.

Hart's eyebrows contorted into a puzzled knot as he broke away from the kiss. "Oh, that's dirty pool," he said, staggering as if his knees were about to give way. "Clever, though. Clever boy. Clevercleverclever, allayouse." The Time Agent plopped down hard on his rump, a loopy grin spreading across his face. "All'us liked that trick. This is nice." And over he went, giggling quietly to himself.

"Well," Jack said into the sudden relative silence.

"Told you living with you and Mum was educational," the young Time Lord said, scrubbing the back of his hand across his lips.

"Non-lethal, I take it."

"Oh, yeah, he'll be having a good time for a while. You might want to lock him up, though, eventually it's going to wear off and I doubt he'll be as pleased."

Gwen left the rest of the fussing over a still-trembling Owen to Tosh and made a halfhearted attempt to haul Hart up into a sitting position. "He's going to be a handful to get down to the vaults in this state --"

Hart's head lolled into her cleavage. "Boobies!" he exclaimed in muffled delight, making a grab for them that missed by several parsecs.

Nose wrinkling in obvious distaste, Gwen let the Time Agent slump back to the floor. "Would it even be fair to slap him for that?"

"I think this would count as 'suspect not in his right mind at the time'," Jack replied regretfully. "You can smack him around once he sobers up." Jack handed Rosie to the sandy-haired Doctor and bent to lift Hart into his arms. "God, this takes me back to some memorable evenings," he remarked, setting his feet under the weight.

Eyes that were mere suggestions of silver around enormous pupils squinted at Jack. "And I--III-I have always LUVVVED YOUUUU..."

"Might have made it a little strong," Jack-Jack mused, not sounding particularly remorseful about it.

"Just a little."

"Thank Tosh and Owen, they designed it. Or will."

For some reason Hart seemed to find this even funnier than the rest of the input filtering through his skewed perceptions. "Bloody gratitude for you. Sod this job anyway, can we go home now, Jack?" He tucked his face into his ex-partner's neck in an entirely too familiar way, sighing contentedly. "I really do love you..."

Jack was aware that his Doctor had followed at a discreet distance as he lugged Hart down to a cell in the vaults, stripped him to the skin (no tan lines, of course) with a cursory check for imaginatively concealed munitions, and threw a scratchy blanket over him, leaving the Time Agent sleepily inventing new verses to the Altairian national anthem. Most of which seemed to have rather a lot to do with sheep. "Keeping me honest?" Jack said, latching the cell door.

The Doctor couldn't quite hold onto his I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about expression. "Jack-Jack seems to have gone to some lengths to see that we captured him alive."

"He's his father's son," Jack said.

The Time Lord gazed into the cell, where Hart was now extolling the virtues of the particularly buxom ewes of the Rangsan province. "And you?"

Jack shrugged. "My responsibility from now on, I guess."

"Yeah, but you can't trust him," the Doctor replied, with matching irony. "What are you going to do with him?"

"I don't know. But I want some answers first."

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Chapter 51: Please Don't Hang Your Head And Cry

Author's Notes: Jack plays bad cop.

The flip side of euphoria, for Hart, seemed to be sullen depression, hunched in the blanket on a corner of the bunk when Jack came back down a few hours later to check on his state of mind. "Time was you would have had the decency to kill me."

"I'm trying to set a good example for Rosie."

The gray eyes deigned to meet Jack's. "She's beautiful. I knew your daughter would be."

"Little hint here, Hart, the time for flattery might have been before you stabbed me in the chest trying to abduct her," Jack said. "As it is, I'd try another approach."

A mirthless snort as Hart wrapped the blanket tighter around his shoulders. "It's always all about you, isn't it." He shifted his weight on the concrete slab, one leg stretching out to the floor. "The worst part is you'll never even know what I saved her from," the Time Agent continued. "That's the trouble with this line of work, everyone's so ungrateful and you can't even blame them for it."

"So you have been deliberately screwing around with the timeline."

"Oh, I bet that's what your new boyfriend would call it." Hart's lip curled in an oddly familiar grimace of displeasure. "Time Lords. All that power and never the bollocks to do anything with it. If you had one chance, one chance... Wouldn't it be worth it to try?"

Jack thought of a small hand slipping out of his, and of a handful of Dalek dust, and of long, cool fingers. "Not at the price."

Hart's eyes were suddenly bright silver with moisture. "I was trying to help you. Tell me, Jack, whose blood would you rather have seen on that floor? At least you can take it --"

"Don't you dare cry, dammit." Jack had the distinct feeling that they weren't having the same conversation, too much information still missing from his side of the picture. "Just... tell me who. Why. Something."

The Time Agent looked for a moment as if he were considering an answer, but then his eyes flicked to a point behind Jack as the damp stone tunnels began to echo with a sound Jack knew better than his own heartbeat, the thundering tear of reality-twisting engines phasing in for a landing. Hart made a deliberate show of turning his back on Jack, curling into a ball under the blanket. "Ask him yourself."

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Chapter 52: Ex Machina

Author's Notes: Jack investigates.

The old blue doors weren't locked, for once, swinging in under the barest of touches. But behind the familiar panels an unfamiliar sight, soaring dome all honeycombed silver caught in a net of white strutwork. Still alien, yes, but more in the way that the delicate skeleton of a snake was alien at first, until the eye found the rhythm in the endless coil of ribs. The lighting too was wrong, red sparks within the time rotor clashing with the oceanic cool of the sourceless illumination. And capping Jack's sense of unease the figure at the console not the Doctor he might have been expecting, deeply tanned and -- "Ginger?"

"He's jealous as hell," the Time Lord -- Jack-Jack -- said with a self-conscious grin. "Went on for three days about skipping generations. I'm still not used to it, if you want to know."

"Suits you," Jack said. "I like the new look in here, too, very 'Flash Gordon goes to Rivendell'."

A slight tilt of the head that bespoke quiet correction. "Not a 'new look', as such. She was carved this way."

It took even Jack a moment for the implications of this to sink in. "Your ship, then?"

"Oh, no, I'm just hitching a lift." Jack followed the gaze of the not-quite-as-dark eyes to the captain's chair --

"Get a haircut, kid."

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Chapter 53: And All The Sinners, Saints

Author's Notes: Jack gets some answers.

Jack folded his arms across his chest. "And I thought this morning was depressing."

Yeah, the grin was everything people said it was, and that touch of silver in the hair just served to make it all the more dashing. "I could say the same thing. Do me a favor and hit the gym when we're done here, huh?"

"Tell me you haven't come here just to... slag me off." He wouldn't really put it past himself, as he thought about it, but after the day he'd already been having the timing seemed too suspicious for something that petty. Not that timing ever meant much to a TARDIS -- "Or even to show off the ship. Though she's a beaut."

An expansive shrug. "Rosie got the plans off Blue Peter. It's amazing what you can do with a little paste and an old rift manipulator. But... yeah. Some loose ends to tie up here."

Hart? Well, it would resolve his nagging headache about the potential logistics of keeping a rogue Time Agent locked up in the vaults indefinitely --

Jack found himself reflexively going for the gun he still wasn't wearing at the sight of Hart walking in a few paces ahead of the young Time Lord, quite free of any visible restraint, brows arching as he looked from Jack to Jack into an expression that suggested he'd just fried a couple of mental circuits and it had been completely worth it. "I'm either in much more trouble than I thought, or I could be if we wanted," he remarked with a wide-eyed disingenuousness that Jack almost had to admire under the circumstances.

"This is not the proper protocol for a prisoner transfer."

God, no wonder people found his bad-cop act convincing. "Lieutenant Hart --"

"You just have to rub that in every bloody time, don't you --"

"Lieutenant Hart has earned certain considerations in return for his cooperation." Although the eyes brittle as blue glass said that he thought Hart would be right to complain about being underpaid for his efforts, if his reward was his miserable life. "If he hadn't found the sense for once in his life to come to me for help before he got too tangled up in a developing timeline --" Jack made a note to brood more often, it was rather becoming on him. "As it is this was the best we could salvage from the situation. Some of the possibilities..." He shook his head, and Jack wondered if long familiarity or merely long existence would someday lead him to a rudimentary understanding of a Time Lord's everyday view of the universe, everything that was or might be laid bare for the looking. "Be glad it was only him coming after you."

"Scary people and gambling debts."

Hart made a small sound that wasn't denial. "You're the scariest son of a bitch I've ever known, Jack. Well, besides myself, of course, but that's what having a conscience will get you. The gambling debts... those were real." Again that darker cloud haunting the grey eyes. "Wouldn't have needed your help if I hadn't been poking around for a score to pay them off."

"Since when is that part of it my problem?" But a matching shadow in his own blue eyes told Jack that whatever had passed (was to pass) between them hadn't left him untouched, either. "Go put some clothes on, I'm not explaining this to everybody in the Hub when we get back."

Hart quirked a wistful grin, as if he'd have been perfectly willing to take that risk, and then turned somber eyes to Jack. "Do I say, 'it's been fun'?"

Jack finally, finally gave in to the temptation and swung hard for Hart's face. The Time Agent reeled back a pace with the blow and Jack tensed, readying himself for the return strike. But Hart merely lifted a hand to his bleeding nose, assessing the damage, and nodded, as if he considered it no more than his due. And with one last oddly gentle pat that left a smudge of red on Jack's shoulder, the Time Agent turned away and sloped off though the archway that led deeper into the ship, the old blanket wrapped round his wiry frame with all the dignity of the robes of some faded potentate. He could always make anything look good --

"You did not just give him that look," Jack-Jack interrupted as the ship's Captain drew in a breath.

"You're more like the old man now than ever, you know that?"

From the young Time Lord's expression he'd already heard that enough times in this still-new regeneration to be thoroughly sick of it. "Right, whatever, just leave me out of this. Maybe that's what's in the note he gave me for this one --"

The Doctor's son reached into his jacket (not the old dark leather anymore, more of a, well, fifty-first-century space marines' sort of number, really) and came out with a small envelope emblazoned with what looked like it might be an attempted transliteration of a word that Jack had heard the Doctor use twice now, all spikes and vowels appended to the four letters of his adopted name. Jack read the slip of card inside and laughed. "This is the weirdest damn relationship."

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Chapter 54: Reel Me In, My Precious Girl

Author's Notes: Jack finds closure elusive.

Jack realized that he was still staring blankly at the whiteboard that the kitchen had acquired now that they couldn't automatically rely on Ianto's invisible hand to restock the biscuits and sugar, his list of do's and don't's for feeding Rosie already scribbled round with dire warnings about rickrolling UNIT from company email even if it was 1st April and how Jack and Owen were absolutely under no circumstances to sing the internet song ever again, and shook his head to clear it, aware now that he'd heard the kettle click off some while ago. Too much slipping away like this these last few weeks, wrestling with that elusive sense of having been screwed over by the ghost of Christmas Future that any Time Agent would recognize as the hangover from one hell of a paradox, and always trying not to dwell on the question of how he had come to find himself waking up in Hart's empty cell butt-naked and clutching a note in unfamiliar handwriting that read Take two retcon and call me in the morning. (Not that this general scenario wasn't one of the known hazards of employment with Torchwood, but it had been quite some while since he'd last fallen afoul of it himself.) Jack filled the waiting teapot from the kettle and carried the tray back to his office, hoping he hadn't mistaken the day, or the year for that matter. For someone who called his whole lost race lords of Time, certain parties could be awfully vague about details like that.

But then, certain parties hadn't had the benefit of a stopwatch-obsessed assistant before, quietly seeing to it that schedules arranged with those left behind on the slow path got adhered to down to whatever fraction of a second one temperamental ship decided she felt like being precise to on a given occasion. "You're actually early, the tea's not even ready yet," he said to the grin that popped out of blue doors even before the echo of engines had quite died away.

"I'm precisely on time, it's the tea that's late," the Doctor replied, flopping down to one knee to hug Rosie. "Oh, how's my little girl then? Your Mummy teaching you all about saving the world yet?"

"You know this place, back to the usual grind of alien hunting and the sideline in necromancy --"

"Oi!" Jack grinned at the hurt expression peering up from the well of the autopsy room at them.

The Time Lord straightened back up with his daughter in his arms, face gone a bit more sober now. "How has it been going, Jack? This doesn't seem like the easiest sort of life to suddenly drop a toddler into."

He'd already spent several confusing mornings dodging Mrs Jenkins' attempts to find out whether his assuming the guardianship of his late cousin's little girl meant she'd be seeing them in the congregation at St. Loony-Up-The-Cream-Bun-And-Jam of a Sunday, which he really hadn't known how to answer without leaving the poor woman with the impression that the parents' wishes had been for him to raise the baby Satanist. "If you're asking whether there's a carseat in the SUV for her to come on ride-alongs, the answer is that Jack-Jack's probably seeing more action than she is. We usually keep Rosie on dispatch when we go out."

"I've been leading a perfectly responsible life, thank you," the Doctor said indignantly. "Haven't we, Ianto?"

"Safe and dull, sir." Ianto had already settled onto the sofa beside Martha, passing over his charge into Mum's care with what looked like the tiniest bit of relief. Couldn't be easy looking after a toddler and that hyperactive father at the same time, oh no... He looked okay but just a little worn, the hair growing back white around the scar where Hart had clubbed him giving him a faint air of dignified worry.

"Like it could ever be 'dull'," Jack laughed, escorting the Time Lord into his office. "Even 'safe' is stretching it a bit, around you."

"No, really, everything's been safe as houses." The Doctor sat down in the chair in front of Jack's desk and peered into the teapot. "My life could hardly be quieter. Especially since you've finally got shut of my One Louder, can't say it wasn't interesting having the glimpse but I don't miss the headache the TARDIS was giving herself."

"Speaking of him..." One thing that had continued to puzzle Jack all this while was an elusive sense that he could more than deduce who had left him that enigmatic note, that at some point he'd seen proof in the form of ink on paper that a speaker of an alien language had addressed that card to him in a way that he had been inclined to trust. "You, whatever... He, both of you, they kept saying something to me that the TARDIS wouldn't translate --"

The eyebrows arched into what Jack took as an invitation to make a stab at repeating the word, or phrase, or whatever the language broke itself down by, and so he did, knowing he'd come close when a crimson stain suddenly flooded the pale cheeks. "Erm. Well. That's certainly an interesting neologism... Erm."

"That filthy, huh?"

Color crept farther down the Time Lord's throat. "No, no, hardly, erm, it means something like... Well, I can see where it's built out from the idea of the fixed point, but it's... Call it more, 'unthinkable to be without'. There are some assumptions made there, it's almost impossible to unpack, but... Really?"

"Not quite 'I Was Only Saying Hello', then."

Man, blushing when you had two hearts to order up the blood must be exhausting, from the looks of him. "About as far from it as you could get, I should think."

From the way that the Doctor had suddenly become so interested in pouring and adjusting his tea, Jack sensed that the Time Lord was more than a little unnerved at the thought that his relations with Jack would eventually evolve to the point of Gallifreyan endearments. Fair enough, really, it wasn't as if they didn't both have the time to let it grow at its own pace --

Out on the sofa outside Jack's office, where Ianto was now sharing pictures of his adventures in babysitting with the subject's Mum, Martha suddenly exclaimed, "Wait a tick, that's never Woodstock, is it?"

Jack raised his eyebrows at the Doctor. "It suddenly struck me I never had thanked Janis properly for the coat," the Time Lord said. "And it had been so gallant of her to offer it -- you would think that a supposed genius who couldn't weigh seven stone soaking wet would have known better than to put just anything she was offered into her mouth before checking the dosage, but --"

By this point Martha had stormed into the office with one of the photos held out accusingly. Jack caught a glimpse of a very muddy baby in the arms of a man in a -- skirt? -- before his wife was shoving it under the baby's daddy's nose. "Is this what I was cleaning off him that time?"

In the ensuing confusion Jack managed to get hold of the offending photograph for a better look. Oh, yes, that was a well-turned ankle under that kilt, all right, and now Jack thought about it he was pretty sure he'd seen photos of both men in old UNIT files on the Doctor -- "More like littermates, from what I saw," Ianto said, taking the print from Jack.

"You're still answering questions before they're asked?"

"No, sir, you're just predictable."

Jack opened his mouth to object to this slander, then thought better of it as he noticed that Martha and the Doctor were both watching him with that small smile that said he's got you there. "Okay, everybody out," he said instead, rising to shoo away everyone but his Time Lord. "Not you, Doctor, I have something I wanted to show you."

He'd thought carefully about this, picking and choosing images that wouldn't create foreknowledge that he knew the Doctor's later self hadn't had, and the effort had been well worth it, from the look on the Time Lord's face as he flipped back and forth through the pictures of Rosie culled from the crystalline record of Jack's two missing years. The forgotten pot of tea had gone stone cold by the time brown eyes finally tore themselves away from the last photograph and turned back to Jack. "I won't ask how you could possibly have got these," he said, in a far more subdued tone than Jack had ever heard from him. "But... thank you."

"Those are your copies," Jack said as the Doctor started to hand the sheaf of pictures back. With another surprised and grateful look the stack disappeared into a pocket of the brown coat. "You think I wouldn't have the originals somewhere safe?" Wrapped in tissue, in a tin in the last drawer of my desk...

A wistful expression now, the dark eyes years and light-years away. "I didn't think I could do this again... Guess sometimes I am wrong."

"I'll alert the media." Jack picked up the tea-tray and went off to dump it in the kitchen area. Or started to, but got sidetracked in the doorway of his office by the sight of Rosie sitting at her stepmother's feet in front of the sofa, gleefully eviscerating a CCTV tape someone had left in the rubble on the low table. "Going to have to childproof this place better. Maybe we should find a corner somewhere to make over for a daycare --"

"Maybe we should," Gwen said from her desk, with the uncanniest look on her face.

As if he'd taken the words right out of her mouth.

And before he could even draw breath to ask, Martha's face visibly falling as she looked at the way her colleague's hand had strayed to her midsection; "Oh, not you too, this is going to be inconvenient --"

"Oh, hell. What? Hell --"

Off to one side a flurry of motion that resolved itself into the sight of Toshiko, doubled over her wastebasket. Heaving.

"Hell --!"

And now the real trouble begins...

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Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.

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