Voodoo Child by robling_t

Summary: They've never needed a maternity-leave policy before, because Torchwood employees don't live long, but when the odds catch up with a vengeance, Jack is left scrambling to fill in the gaps, any which way he can.
Rating: Teen
Categories: Tenth Doctor, Torchwood
Characters: Captain John Hart, Francine Jones, Gwen Cooper, Ianto Jones, Jack Harkness, Martha Jones, Original Companion, Other Character(s), Other Character(s), Owen Harper, PC Andy Davidson, Rhys Williams, The Doctor (10th), The TARDIS, Tish Jones, Torchwood, Toshiko Sato
Genres: Action/Adventure, Alternate Universe, Drama, Het, Humor, Hurt/Comfort, Mixed, Mystery, Series, Slash
Warnings: Swearing
Challenges: None
Series: Yours, Mine, and Ours
Published: 2008.05.30
Updated: 2009.04.20


Chapter 1: Don't Say Maybe, Maybe
Chapter 2: Do I Twist, Do I Fold?
Chapter 3: Not A Single Body That Exists In Nature
Chapter 4: The Element Of Surprise
Chapter 5: The Batley Townswomen's Guild Presents
Chapter 6: All Dolled Up And Nowhere To Go
Chapter 7: And I've Tried And I've Tried But I Haven't Yet
Chapter 8: Nobody's Perfect
Chapter 9: The Handbook's Not For Reading
Chapter 10: But I'm Never Sure Why I Need You
Chapter 11: Pleasing Everyone Isn't Like You
Chapter 12: And I Don't Mean Maybe
Chapter 13: Don't Want To Be A Bad Guy
Chapter 14: Line My Eyes And Call Me Pretty
Chapter 15: This Is Not My Beautiful Wife
Chapter 16: Culture Shocks
Chapter 17: Living A Life That I Can't Leave Behind
Chapter 18: I'm Not A Gangster Tonight
Chapter 19: Tiger By The Tail
Chapter 20: Just Because You're Paranoid
Chapter 21: Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead(ly)
Chapter 22: Ik Ben Bedrogen Door Jou Sinds Wanneer Weet Ik Niet
Chapter 23: Sumer Is Icumen In, Lhude Sing Cuccu
Chapter 24: But If You Leave, Don't Look Back
Chapter 25: I Swear I Will Not Kill Anyone
Chapter 26: The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight
Chapter 27: What Have I Done To Deserve This?
Chapter 28: Double Down
Chapter 29: Wham, Bam, Thank You, Ma'am
Chapter 30: Kiss And Tell
Chapter 31: We Said Goodbye Before Hello
Chapter 32: We're Putting The Band Back Together
Chapter 33: Every Time I See You Falling, I Get Down On My Knees And Pray
Chapter 34: Carry On, My Wayward Son
Chapter 35: I Don't Give A Damn About My Reputation
Chapter 36: A Little Bit Of Rhythm And A Lot Of Soul
Chapter 37: Come Midnight
Chapter 38: Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said
Chapter 39: Here Be Dragonnes
Chapter 40: Same Thing We Do Every Night, Pinky
Chapter 41: Expecto Patronum
Chapter 42: You May Ask Yourself, Am I Right? Am I Wrong?
Chapter 43: You May Say To Yourself, My God, What Have I Done?
Chapter 44: Wish I Knew What You Were Looking For
Chapter 45: I'm So Much Older Than I Can Take
Chapter 46: If I Could Just Hold You Again
Chapter 47: Fit So Nice He Said I Could Keep It
Chapter 48: Reason Will Not Reach A Solution
Chapter 49: Come On, Pretty Baby, Kiss Me Deadly
Chapter 50: Hold You In His Arms, Yeah, You Can Feel His Disease
Chapter 51: I Have Detailed Files On Human Anatomy
Chapter 52: To Serve Man
Chapter 53: I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man
Chapter 54: And My Affection, Well, It Comes And Goes
Chapter 55: The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of
Chapter 56: Modern Love (Walks On By)
Chapter 57: How Can The Usual Formation Vary?
Chapter 58: The Daily Torture Of The Commonplace
Chapter 59: Bod Yn Gymwys I Gael Absenoldeb Mamolaeth Statudol
Chapter 60: Which One's Shiver?
Chapter 61: Love Is Not A Victory March
Chapter 62: Everything You Never Wanted To Know About Sex But Have Been Forced To Find Out
Chapter 63: Weapon Of Choice
Chapter 64: Beware The Fury Of A Patient Man
Chapter 65: Insane In The Mainframe
Chapter 66: Design For Living
Chapter 67: The One You Warned Me All About
Chapter 68: Mythical Beasts, A User's Guide
Chapter 69: No, You Can't Go Back To Constantinople
Chapter 70: No Fate But What We Make
Chapter 71: It's Just The Power To Charm
Chapter 72: Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey
Chapter 73: Strange Things Are Afoot At The Circle-K
Chapter 74: Along Came Jones
Chapter 75: Biggles Takes It Rough
Chapter 76: Sweet Mystery Of Life
Chapter 77: A Private Little War
Chapter 78: If Only In My Dreams
Chapter 79:
Chapter 80: Yes, We Know Who You Are
Chapter 81: A Lot Of Fond Memories
Chapter 82: Take It Like A Man Baby If That's What You Are
Chapter 83: Said The Joker To The Thief
Chapter 84: You Can't Stop Now, It's Already Begun
Chapter 85: The Devil You Know
Chapter 86: Another Head Aches, Another Heart Breaks
Chapter 87: Dancing Jigs Until I'm Crippled
Chapter 88: If You Lose, I'm Taking It Back
Chapter 89: Don't Want To End Up A Cartoon In A Cartoon Graveyard
Chapter 90: Here We Are Now, Entertain Us
Chapter 91: Couldn't Escape If I Wanted To
Chapter 92: Ever So Much More Than Twenty
Chapter 93: Get Moose And Squirrel
Chapter 94: And Another For The One You Believe
Chapter 95: Fear Me, Love Me, Do As I Say
Chapter 96: And If I Had A Dollar Bill For All The Things I've Done
Chapter 97: Suspicious Minds Are Talkin'
Chapter 98: The Hang Of Thursdays
Chapter 99: One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)
Chapter 100: I Can Call You Betty
Chapter 101: Last Call For Sin
Chapter 102: And They Say That A Hero Can Save Us
Chapter 103: Or Fail Him In The Hour Of Danger
Chapter 104: Exit Wounds
Chapter 105: To The Last Man
Chapter 106: You Play Me Like A Puppet
Chapter 107: Put Your Cards On The Table Baby
Chapter 108: With All These Things That I've Done
Chapter 109: I Won't Deny I'm Gonna Miss You When You're Gone
Chapter 110: The Man Who Walked Home

Chapter 1: Don't Say Maybe, Maybe

Author's Notes: Test results. Torchwood confronts a lack of planning.

(Haven't we been here before...?)

"Pregnancy number one." Owen was far too cheerful for the circumstances, Jack thought, frowning at the image on the monitor. "Torchwood Three employee Gwen Cooper, presumed human, all available data goes along with the assumption of the other parent being one Rhys Williams, also presumed human, and the subject's current romantic partner. File goes on to note that Williams has some basic knowledge of Torchwood's existence and purpose and that the standard policy of retconning has been waived in this case with the approval of Torchwood Three's commanding officer."

Owen pressed a key and the image changed. "Pregnancy number two. Torchwood Three consultant Martha Jones-Harkness, scribbled note here about her biological status being classified even from us; record indicates that subject was evasive as to the possibility of the other parent being subject's legal spouse, one Jack Harkness, generally presumed human although we do wonder about that on occasion, and otherwise known as 'Captain', 'Boss', 'My Feegle Name Is Shag Anybody', or 'Commanding Officer of Torchwood Three'. Possible alternate candidates for said other parent also to remain classified with extreme prejudice."

"You don't have to look so smug about it."

"Actually, yes, I do. I'm looking at at least a year of being joined to Jack at the hip for all of Torchwood's field missions and I do mean to get in my complaints about it before any of you are showing enough to make me feel guilty." Owen pressed another key. "This is the good bit, now. Pregnancy number three. Torchwood Three employee Toshiko Sato, presumed human, no available data as to possible identity of other parent. Testing as laid out in appendix B of this report supports a preliminary conclusion that the fetus is also to be presumed human, but subject's reluctance to provide a detailed personal history for the relevant period has hindered investigative efforts. Testing as laid out in appendix C of this report does however eliminate any current or recent Torchwood employees from the pool of suspects. Sorry, it may have been a formality but I still had to do it." Jack could hear Toshiko's muttered litany just about well enough to recognize how savagely she was cursing Owen in Japanese. "Look on the bright side, at least you won't have to wait in the queue to hit up Jack for support."

"There isn't a queue," Jack said, the toddler in his lap pressing her face deeper into his chest at his harsh tone. "At least not at the moment. -- Ssh, Rosie, it's all right, I'm not angry at you."

"What are we going to do, Jack?" Of them all, Jack thought, Gwen was possibly the one who bore the least blame for the unfortunate situation, considering that her so-called home life was the closest to anything resembling what most humans would consider 'normal', but she still seemed quite prepared to shoulder more than her share of the collective wrath as Torchwood faced this prospect of an extended period of reduction in its already tiny workforce. "Owen's right, we'll be down to a field-team of two by next winter and who even knows how long any of us may need to be out overall --"

Owen couldn't quite manage not to look self-satisfied. "Any organisation where I am the voice of reason has far bigger problems than its maternity-leave policies. God, I love my job sometimes."

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Chapter 2: Do I Twist, Do I Fold?

Author's Notes: Necessary conversations. An interruption.

Gwen would be all right, Jack was pretty sure, at least for whatever value of all right one could ever assign to anyone remotely connected with Torchwood, and Martha had already made it through one twelve-month-long alien gestation with the support of, well, mostly Jack to be completely honest about it, but it was the sight of Toshiko determinedly banging away at her keyboard as if nothing were out of the ordinary that made something within him twist and fall away into measureless space. Jack came to stand at a respectful distance behind the workstation, careful not to crowd her. "Are you all right, Tosh? I mean, are you all right with this?"

The rapid-fire clacking continued for a few moments more, and then Tosh's hands faltered and stilled, falling limply into her lap. "I ought to have told you sooner, Jack, I'm sorry, but there was so much to think about. And there was always that statistical possibility that it might, well, not exactly go away on its own, but the first few weeks of any pregnancy are always the riskiest for the fetus --"

"Yeah, unfortunately fate's kind of a bitch that way, though," Jack said. Thinking of surprises that had hung on to haunt his dreams, and desperately wanted ghosts slipping away before hopes could even be properly raised.

Tosh's eyes were bright with unshed tears when she finally looked up at Jack. "I considered a termination, but... this life, Torchwood... this may be my only chance to..."

Jack nodded. "If anything does ever happen, Tosh, you know I'll always be here. She'll be looked after. Always."

"It's a girl, then?" Tosh seemed to brighten, just a little, although whether she was seeing little pink dresses or merely not having to figure out how to raise a boy on her own Jack couldn't guess.

"We're three for three, or four if you want to count Rosie. And I swear I'm not putting anything in the water cooler, it just happened to work out that way. I don't know if Owen's told Gwen yet, you might want to hold back with the commiserating until you sound her out a bit."

"But he has told you and Martha." A pause, and probably not the last time he'd be detecting it just today; "Is she... Do you know if she's...?"

"We haven't actually had the 'motive and opportunity' conversation yet," Jack said. Not that it was really any of his business even now whose genes Martha saw fit to carry on, although the prospect of a blonde-haired blue-eyed temporal paradox did give him just a bit of pause. "I think she's turned her case over to a more qualified Doctor to figure out what's up." You mean which of you is to blame, Jack, be honest. Even if this one had already taken himself off the list of candidates with one well-timed look of genuine surprise upon hearing the news, Jack knew damn well that that skittishness around her wouldn't continue to hold indefinitely into the future...

Jack's phone buzzed against his hip and then cut off before he could reach to answer it. He frowned in momentary puzzlement, then relaxed as he heard Owen's muffled voice down in the autopsy room, taking the call for him. "I'm not going to let this interfere with my work," Tosh was saying. "Even if I have to strap her onto my back and home-school her here at the Hub with your Rosie, we can --"

The thump of boots on tiled stairs then, Owen waggling a mobile in Jack's direction as he came into view: "Better call up the reserves, Captain, we've got a situation."

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Chapter 3: Not A Single Body That Exists In Nature

Author's Notes: Sting operation. Ianto Jones, Action Transvestite.

The overall effect didn't say quite so much drag queen as Elizabeth Regina. "I look like my mum," Ianto mumbled, pulling at his bra straps.

"It's not going to look past the skirt," Jack said, straightening Ianto's hemline. "A travana needs female hosts to incubate its larvae in, but they're kind of thick once one thinks it's got a handle on a planet's local gender cues. And this one's taste seems to run to little old ladies in tweed, from the reports."

"Why can't Owen do this? He's shorter."

"Can't walk in heels, mate, sorry."

"I'm not wearing heels!"

"We can't risk anything happening to Owen right now, we wouldn't have time to recruit another backup medic before the babies are all due. You look... fine."

"And here I thought I was done with the flasher stakeouts," Gwen remarked, darting in to apply one last dab of mascara. "You do have the prettiest eyes, Ianto, we have to doll you up like this more often."

"I'm going to get you for this, Jack..."

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Chapter 4: The Element Of Surprise

Author's Notes: A walk in the park. Jack's fan club.

"This is stupid, Jack."

"Hey, at least we're outside on a sunny day." Jack took another sip of his coffee. For early spring in Cardiff, it was surprisingly nice out, although he was beginning to see the wisdom in Ianto's insistence that a nearsighted travana wouldn't give a damn if its victim were wearing hiking boots and knee-socks. They had the park mostly to themselves at this hour, on a school day, only a few rebellious teens slamming each other around in between cigarettes down by the football pitch to figure into his tactical considerations for this operation. And, of course, the occasional old age pensioner wandering along the path, blithely unaware that somewhere in the tangled hedgerows lurked something far more dangerous than the usual nutter in a mac and no trousers. Most of them were giving Ianto a very wide berth when they happened to pass. "I think it might be time to start quartering another section, though --"

Owen's voice broke in over the comm: "Jack, there's a woman fitting the travana's preference heading in your direction. I think she's coming over to talk to you."

Jack turned around on the bench for a look. "Great, now I'm being hit on by Margaret Thatcher. Which surprisingly enough isn't the first time."

"I really didn't need that mental image right now, Jack."

At least Ianto wasn't calling him 'sir' all the time anymore. Jack wondered if the change was down to a final transfer of allegiance to the Doctor, or if he was simply pissed off on this particular day about having to wander around in public in that rig. Strange, when the use of his name was almost more effective as a distancing technique than the formality had ever been...

The vision in tweed and faux pearls stopped directly in front of Jack. "What are you and Jones doing out here?" a decidedly unladylike voice hissed.


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Chapter 5: The Batley Townswomen's Guild Presents

Author's Notes: Unwelcome interference. Je suis le president de Burundi.

"Am I going to have to break it to Gwen that this is PC Davidson's idea of an afternoon out?"

Suspicious eyes glared back at Jack from under the world's most unflattering wig. "There's a suspected sex offender in the area approaching grandmotherly sorts. I was working undercover."

"You guys really need to work on your interdepartmental communications. Detective Swanson called us to take over the case nearly an hour ago."

Andy shifted awkwardly in his sensible shoes. "I did wonder why Dai was sniggering the last time I checked in with the car," he admitted.

"Yeah, well, this is a bad time for screwing around," Jack snapped, making a mental note to put getting through to the rank and file about what 'Torchwood will be handling this investigation' really means on his list of issues to bring up next time he talked to Cardiff's finest. "This isn't just some weirdo in the bushes --"

"More of your spooky bloody bullshit?" (Andy was kind of cute when he was mad, Jack decided.) "I've seen what you've done to Gwen, you know, you and your secret organisation --"

Two voices shouted Jack's name in unison over the comm. Jack whirled around on the bench, knocking over his coffee. "Jesus Christ, what the hell is that?" the Police Constable yelped.

"Short answer, Andy, it's an alien." Jack already had his gun out, judging the distance -- no, too close to Ianto -- "You gonna help, or what?"

Give Andy credit, even in a skirt the man had a lot of quick; the officer was right at Jack's elbow for the charge across the green to where Ianto wrestled with two metres of dark-blue ugly. Even as Jack was running through scenarios in his head that wouldn't involve the risk of shooting Ianto in the confusion, Andy wound up and hit the travana over the head with his handbag. Which must have had a brick in it, because the alien staggered back and nearly went down, its, well, call it an ovipositor, Jack really didn't want to get into the semantics of it right now, flailing obscenely in the frantic attempt to stay latched onto its intended host.

The whipping barb lashed out and caught Andy across one hip, shredding through wooly tweed like tissue. The constable sprawled to the grass, knocking Ianto off his own feet with him but also toppling the already-shaky alien; all three wound up in one writhing heap of stringy azure limbs and drab gabardine, trading punches and claws. Jack looked for an opening to wade into the fray himself, but none had presented itself before Ianto abruptly managed to get a foot braced beneath the travana's chin and emptied his clip into the warty skull.

In the sudden quiet as the last report died away Jack heard an odd strangled sound and realized that it had come from his own throat. Ianto lurched upright, kerchief askew and boots and knee-socks splattered with verdigris gore. "It's not funny, Jack."

"Actually, I'm with Jack, it's fucking hilarious," Owen's voice said on the comm. "Does my contract say anything against selling film rights?"

"It's in the part about the Official Secrets Act, I'm pretty sure," Jack answered absently, noting that while PC Davidson had sat up under his own power, the officer was pale beneath his blusher, one hand over the rent in his skirt as if the flesh beneath were as torn.

A deep sigh from the earpiece. "Right, then, get Mrs. Premise and Mrs. Conclusion over here, they may not be suitable hosts for the larvae but we don't want any scratches getting infected."

"I think we might have to take Andy back to the Hub," Jack said, stooping to check over the PC's gashed thigh. "He needs more work than a field patch."

"Bugger. I hope you know what you're doing, Jack."

So did Jack, helping the limping constable up. "Here, give me your radio -- Look, you, Dai-whoever-you-are, this is Captain Jack Harkness. Torchwood. When you're told to turn over an investigation to us, you don't leave your partner running around in the park for another hour just because you think he's got great legs." Spluttering that might have been an apology or a denial. "I don't care what you have to say for yourself. You tell your superiors that PC Davidson needs medical attention and we're handling it. And I suggest you do some serious thinking about your choice of career. Over and out."

"I can see why everyone at the station thinks he's a prick," Andy muttered through gritted teeth, not quite able to put his weight on the injured leg.

"Heart of gold, though," Ianto said, lending Andy his arm for support. "Keeps it in a jar under his bed while he's at work, of course."

"I meant it about the legs, if it helps," Jack offered. Two disheveled makeup-smeared glares were his only answer. "Fine, see if I vote for either of you in the next beauty contest, then..."

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Chapter 6: All Dolled Up And Nowhere To Go

Author's Notes: Home again, home again, jiggety-jig. The internet is for what?

Andy was a little too dopey from the painkillers by the time they arrived at the Hub to do much more than glance around with the same look of glazed incomprehension he'd been wearing for most of the drive back through the mundane streets of Cardiff. Jack rather suspected that had been Owen's objective all along.

The acquisition of an extra female impersonator, and a wounded one at that, did not go unnoticed by the rest of Jack's staff. "Oh, my god, Andy! ...Andy?" Gwen turned to look over her shoulder at Jack as if the constable's current state of attire were somehow his fault. "Only you, Jack."

"Hey, he was like that when I found him. I feel like suddenly I'm running an extremely specialized escort service."

Owen gave him a doubtful look as he and Ianto eased the limping officer onto the operating table. "I don't think even the internet has porn of gormless Welsh tossers dressed like Harriet Jones. And I've seen Tosh's collection of naked midget pictures."

"Those were Suzie's! I was wiping an old server."

"We do have amnesia pills," Gwen offered at Andy's look of sudden focused horror in the awkward silence that followed.

"Don't retcon him yet, I need to talk to him," Jack said, as a tousled head popped out of the parked TARDIS to investigate the shouting. "-- Don't worry, Doctor, I've brought your nanny back in one piece. The parks system is safe for the Mrs. Jenkinses of Cardiff, thanks to Torchwood's own travesti d'action."

"'Travesty' is right," Ianto growled, scooping the kerchief off his head as he stalked into the ship. The Doctor turned to watch him, eyebrows raised.

"He's just mad because Andy was the butch one who clocked it with his handbag," Jack said. "Hang on, I gotta go turn Mrs. Doubtfire back into a real boy before he manages to hog-tie himself with that bra --"

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Chapter 7: And I've Tried And I've Tried But I Haven't Yet

Author's Notes: Off-label uses. A revelation.

Jack found Ianto scowling into a mirror at kohl-rimmed lashes. "This mascara Gwen used is waterproof."

And not like there would be cold-cream on this boy's-treehouse of a ship, not even in Rose's old room (she'd never bothered with decent makeup, always raccoon-eyed by the end of the day but too stubborn to switch to a better running-for-your-life-proof brand) -- "You look like you lost a bet with David Bowie. He's probably got olive oil or something in the kitchen --"

"Olive oil?"

"Old travelling-show trick. Fight oil with oil. What are they teaching them in the schools these days..."

By the time Jack returned from his quest Ianto had managed to wrestle his way out of most of the frumpy disguise, still a bit tangled up in the bra but doing quite a lot better with it than he might have feared. "Sit," Jack instructed, pressing him down to the edge of the bed. "Close your eyes."

"You've done this before," Ianto said as Jack began to dab gently at his left eye with an oil-dampened tissue. "You've done everything before, haven't you."

"Feels that way sometimes." Jack started on the other eye with a fresh tissue, glad that the improvised remover seemed to be doing the trick. Ianto hadn't really needed the mascara, his natural lashes long and dark beneath the crusted gunk. "There, no more Ziggy Stardust impression."

"I've met David Bowie," Ianto said, lashes still lowered. "Playing in a tiny club, before he was famous. Before I was born." And the blue eyes opened now, looked directly up into Jack's. "But not three thousand years before. How do you stand it, Jack? Having all these impossible things in your head?"

"More impossible than working for Torchwood?" Jack sat down beside him on the bed. "At least when you're out there you can tell yourself that it's nothing to do with your life when the weird stuff happens. Not like having to fight off alien degenerates at the park down the street from your house. Good job out there today, by the way."

"I don't actually work for you anymore, Jack. I was doing you a favor."

"And never think I don't appreciate that," Jack said, wondering if it sounded glib. "Couldn't have done it without you."

"I'm more expendable than Owen."

"Less accident-prone," Jack corrected, feeling as if he'd blundered into something that had been brewing beneath the opaque surface for some while now, and not all of it even necessarily to do with him for once. "You know him, he'd have tried to shag it."

This won him a reluctant-looking hint of a smile. "Wasn't the worst-looking alien I've seen lately either," Ianto said. "Jack --"

He should have been expecting this. He really should have been expecting this. Too much stress, too much emotion, too goddamn much playing it safe and not getting into the sort of situations where the nanny could take a little time to blow off some steam in time-honored human fashion -- Not that Jack wasn't kissing Ianto back, oh, no, one simply didn't look a gift like this in the eye and remind it that it was the one who had broken whatever they'd been doing off in the first place, after all. Especially when it was this close to naked already, which didn't seem quite fair to Jack. But easily enough remedied, with Ianto so aggressive with pent-up need; nothing for it but to give in to the sort of angry does he do this for you sex that Jack usually found rather entertaining under the proper circumstances. And it did feel good to lie next to him after, thirty-seven C and a single beating heart beneath Jack's cheek...

But duty called, with a doped-up Cardiff police officer doubtless already being told enough tall tales out there to warrant retconning him back to his childhood, and Jack reluctantly dragged himself out of the sleepy human embrace to gather up his clothes. No hope even of creeping out quietly, either, with the Doctor perched there on the captain's chair with both his children balanced beside him, the Time Lord breaking off from some rattling Gallifreyan narrative that might have had something to do with the fractal images dancing on the monitor or just as likely a translation of Peter Rabbit to crane his neck round as Jack approached the console. "You're not letting them watch daytime telly, are you?" Jack asked, more for the form of it than anything.

"Martha asked me to run a deeper scan," the Doctor said, nodding at the screen as if he expected Jack to be able to make heads or tails of it. "It wasn't easy to sort out, since the Time Lords weren't exactly a shining exemplar of genetic diversity even before this population bottleneck, but... Congratulations, Jack. You're going to be a daddy."

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Chapter 8: Nobody's Perfect

Author's Notes: Some like it hot. Extending an offer.

Someone, most likely Gwen, had found Andy a dressing-gown to wear over the tattered remains of his matronly finery, for which Jack was profoundly grateful, even if Arthur Dent wasn't that much of an improvement over Dame Edna. "Hell of a day, huh," Jack said, showing the constable into his office.

Andy still looked a bit woozy, but Jack thought that now it seemed to be more from the outlandish surroundings than the lingering effects of whatever Owen had dosed him with in the SUV. "I suppose a secret lair under the Plass is of a piece with the creature you were after," the officer said, sinking into the chair Jack indicated with a look somewhere between relief and trepidation. "I've heard the stories, but..."

Jack settled into his own chair, trying to gather his dented aura of authority about himself. "It's not exactly the sort of operation you can just run out of some converted warehouse, after all."

"Is it usually aliens, then? The number of cases we get called off from because of you -- I'm talking as if this makes any kind of sense," Andy broke off, looking as if he'd just run up some mental figures and realized he didn't have enough cash on him to cover the bill.

"You're doing pretty well, actually. You haven't even thrown up yet. In fact, that's kind of what I wanted to talk to you about," Jack said, and took a deep breath, hoping he was making the right call on this one. "You kept your head under pressure out there today, for coming into this completely cold. And looked damn sexy doing it, if I might go so far." Andy scowled at him. "Thing is, Andy... I don't know if Gwen's told you yet, but... she's expecting. Which makes me a little short-handed for field work in the immediate future. You've just seen how rough and weird it can get around here, and you didn't flinch, which suddenly makes me see you in a whole new light."

"Are you offering me a job, Captain Harkness?"

"The position wouldn't be permanent," Jack cautioned. "Although we obviously need a better arrangement with the Cardiff police if we're going to avoid getting into any more fuckups over jurisdiction. So I'm proposing that Torchwood borrows you until Gwen is back on full duty, and then we release you back into the loving arms of the Cardiff PD to be our man on the inside, so to speak. With an idea of what Torchwood does for this city, so maybe the next time we say 'leave this one to us', you'll be more motivated to get everyone to listen."

"And if I turn you down?"

Jack leaned back in his chair. "Then you won't remember anything after you went in to work this morning."

"Gwen did say you're a ruthless bastard."

"Hey, this is me being mellow. If I didn't have some gaps in my duty rosters to fill you'd already be waking up in the back seat of your own squad car wondering whether you always liked to dress like that."

Andy's eyes had gone dark with calculations. "I suppose it goes without saying that I mustn't speak of what I've seen to anyone under pain of... well, something," the constable said. "But I'd need some explanation for my superiors, if I'm to have a position to go back to after."

"We're very good at cover stories," Jack said, trying not to let out a sigh of relief. Or to think about how Gwen was going to have kittens when she heard. "Kind of goes with the whole 'secret organization' thing. So, how about it, Andy Davidson? Ready to sign up to see the universe, or at least the part of it that washes up in Cardiff?"

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Chapter 9: The Handbook's Not For Reading

Author's Notes: Hazards of thoroughness. Yellow spandex?

"Ah, ah, what do we say?"

Rosie screwed up her face in thought. "Now?"

"You're horrible, Jack," Gwen remarked, trying to stifle a grin as Jack handed over the biscuit. "I pity the neighbourhood lads when they come round to date your daughters."

"I plan to enforce a strict policy of not letting them go out with anyone they can't take three falls out of five," Jack said, taking a biscuit from the tin for himself. "Can't be too careful, after all."

It had been absurdly quiet these last few weeks, which Jack supposed was just as well since it had given Torchwood's newest recruit time to ease into the daily non-crisis-mode routine while his leg healed. Andy had turned out to be quite sharp given the chance to apply himself to something, with a knack for asking surprisingly insightful questions, and he made drinkable coffee, which was a huge point in his favor with Ianto gone walkabout again. On the down side, he was worse than useless with a firearm so far and an even softer touch than Gwen when it came to tourist-office duty. But taken overall, Jack thought, they could have done a lot worse.

Gwen had made less of a fuss about having Andy temping for the team than Jack might have thought ("I suppose he's better than a complete stranger", was how she'd put it), and even more to his surprise she had heartily endorsed the notion of having a mole in the Cardiff constabulary. "There's a point where all the secrecy begins to work against us, Jack, and I think we've well reached that. It's not as if we have to start taking out advertisements, but putting it about that anything strange will be properly handled might help to keep people calm when we have the next emergency." And then she'd changed the subject back to the argument she'd been having with Rhys over whether it would be better to move into a bigger place right now or wait until the baby was a little older, and he'd let her use of when pass without comment...

Andy's style was patiently methodical, the sort of mind that probably actually read the instructions instead of plunging into a jazz improvisation that left three bolts and a stereo cable extra afterwards from a flatpacked end-table; Jack assumed that this attention to detail would have served him admirably in police work, but to suddenly have an employee at Torchwood who could be arsed to read through the entire handbook from cover to cover was more than a little unsettling, since Jack was fairly certain that vast swathes of said document had been drawn up while he was roaring drunk and he barely remembered what was in it anymore himself. "This lists 'sleeping with Owen Harper' as an occupational hazard that's not covered under the supplemental insurance plan," the officer said, with a look that suggested he was beginning to think he'd been set up for something if only he could figure out what.

"Wouldn't apply to you, he usually doesn't go for interns. We're not even going to make you get the Torchwood logo tattooed on your butt. Yet, anyway."

Andy swallowed hard, looking down at his sandwich as if he suspected that someone might well have spiked it with something to make him hallucinate this conversation. "And this part about 'clothing-optional Fridays'?"

"That he enforces," Owen contributed from the steps of the autopsy room. "Hope you've been working out lately."

"For everybody?"

"Well, I'm exempt 'cos I'm shagging the boss," Martha said with a he's fun to wind up twinkle in her eye. Jack grinned at his wife as she rubbed her bump. However it had happened -- probably much the same way that Rosie had come about, a meddling old ship seizing the odd chance to add another grandchild to her clutch even if this one wasn't in any sense 'hers' at all -- Jack had to admit to getting a certain atavistic charge out of watching his woman's belly expand with the promise of a new member of the tribe, measurably less swiftly compared to the human conceptions that had occurred at roughly that same time but beginning to make its presence known all the same.

Tosh hadn't left her desk for lunch, sandwich still lying barely touched on her plate as she continued to worry at a reading she hadn't liked from sometime last night. "I think I've traced that ripple to a location," she announced, swiveling round in her chair.

Fine and dandy, Jack thought, realizing afresh just how goddamned bored he'd been getting with all this sitting here catching up on the paperwork. Past time to be out and about again, and see if a little action could chase away that nagging sensation he'd been getting lately that he was being shadowed every time he set foot outside the Hub -- his guilty conscience, he supposed, conjuring up the ghostly presence of Andy's mum just waiting to leap out and slap him silly if he caused any (more) outlandish harm to befall her little boy. "Well, lunchtime's over, time to change back into our superhero tights. Ready for your first outing as a professional sidekick, kid?"

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Chapter 10: But I'm Never Sure Why I Need You

Author's Notes: Day one. Could be worse, could be raining.

It always seemed to be abandoned warehouses lately, as if alien rehabbers had one eyestalk on gentrifying Earth by force. Jack supposed it at least beat hanging about at the bottom of quarries or something; less climbing involved, for one thing, which was nice considering how lumpy he was feeling from all the recent inactivity. He'd take a drive out to the docks over scrambling around in some slate pit up in Blaenau Ffestiniog any day.

And as abandoned warehouses went, this one was looking particularly abandoned, unless the rift had chosen today to spit out an entire lost race of creatures shaped like piles of shipping pallets. "What do you think, have we missed the rave?"

Owen frowned into the tiny screen of Tosh's current favorite all-purpose gadget-with-the-blinkiest-lights-so-far as if he were this close to having to admit that no, her fifth explanation of how the damn thing worked hadn't taken either. "Maybe up in the office there?" he hazarded with a gesture that suggested to Jack he was guessing more than anything.

"I must say that this job isn't as glamourous and sci-fi as I'd been led to believe," Andy remarked, eyeing Owen with grave cynicism as the doctor swapped out the scanner for his pistol.

"Wait until the first time you end up covered in goo that makes you want to mate with the nearest warm body," Jack replied, cocking his own beloved Webley. (Jack had equipped Andy with Ianto's old stun-gun for safety's sake, on the grounds that he was still marginally more likely to follow in the grand Torchwood tradition of picking off one of his own comrades if they'd issued him a ranged weapon yet.) "Don't want to scare you, but Owen has a real knack for managing to be that warm body, too. All right, fan out, I'll take the direct approach..."

Ah, this was why he loved this job, all right, not the nonexistent fame or glory or even the very real satisfaction of defending home and hearth but this primal adrenaline rush of advancing into a shadowy cavern to meet the unknown. Every stack of junk could be hiding half the miniaturized robot army of Caladias IV, or a swarm of space bees with foot-long stings, or --

Or a half-glimpsed human figure, gun drawn on Jack's head. Oh, this is going to be a bad one --

A weight slammed into Jack and carried him to the floor, the hand on the back of his head pressing insistently as he tried to struggle up. "Stay down." And a grunt as lead scored across flesh, across but not into, that would have been a different sort of noise altogether, Jack knew. Kind of like that noise, the one that followed the report from a gun that wasn't one Jack could place in the hands of anyone he'd led into this building --

Crackles of rift energy then, and the sound of breath rasping around whatever tear that first bullet had ripped in flesh loud in the sudden silence. "Winged him," said a masculine voice, edge of annoyed petulance all too familiar to Jack. "Damn it."

No. Can't be. Can't --

Jack fought his way to his feet and turned to meet gray eyes, gray eyes blinking back pain and maybe the beginnings of shock but still always that goddamned smirk even as he clutched at a bleeding shoulder. "Erm, come with me if you want to live?"

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Chapter 11: Pleasing Everyone Isn't Like You

Author's Notes: Bloody Torchwood. Oh, no, not again.

"You can't be working for Torchwood," Gwen said. John Hart merely gave her a sphinxlike smile through the scratched polycarbonate. The Time Agent looked five or ten years older than he had the last time Jack had seen him a few months before, a new lump in the bridge of his nose bespeaking some rough adventuring in his intervening timeline. "I mean, how would you -- they -- we -- How can we be expected to just believe you, after everything you've done to us?"

"I would have thought you'd already had your demonstration of where my loyalties lie." Hart flexed his bandaged shoulder. "Although I could show you my company tattoo if you like." Out of the corner of his eye Jack could see Owen frantically shaking his head and mouthing no! Leave it to Hart to find a new angle on his fetish for being strip-searched...

"And now you would take a bullet for Jack -- I mean, Jack?"

Hart pulled a face. "Like I could really give a toss about him and his immortal arse right now. However pretty it is. But if you must make me break temporal silence..." He heaved a sigh, and looked a little disappointed when none of them rose to his bait. "My assignment is to preserve Commander Jones's timeline. By force if I have to, which I can see I probably will --"

"Commander Jones?" Jack interrupted, glancing instinctively at Martha. When he looked back to the cell Hart was shaking his head in mock despair.

"Ye gods, Jack, you never used to be this thick. Or..." A puzzled look creasing his brow now, gray eyes studying Jack's face with sharp interest. "Oh, this is awkward. You don't know, do you."

"Know what?"

"That you're pregnant."


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Chapter 12: And I Don't Mean Maybe

Author's Notes: Bearer of strange tidings. ''He's Jack.''

"Well, at least we've figured out why you haven't been taking off those last few pounds from having Rosie," Owen said in his best imitation of a more reasonable doctor's bedside manner.

Jack squinted at the image that Owen had called up on the screen he could see, trying to make sense of the chunky shadows. "I still don't see how you can tell anything from that."

"Trust me, that biggest blob there is a baby," the medical officer said, not making the faintest effort to conceal his irritation. "Bloodwork is in line with a normal human pregnancy, if there is such a thing with you of course, and the apparent gestational age does fit with the last time we saw the relevant Jones. Unless there's something else you wanted to tell us?"

Jack tried to think of something clever to say, maybe well, the Cardiff Blues were very grateful when we got that gigantic prehistoric centipede out of their locker-room shower, but the words wouldn't come. After a moment's awkward silence Owen patted him on the shoulder.

"I'm sure Ianto will be very proud. Or else he'll want to drag you onto the daytime chat shows to throw some chairs at you. Should I save us all some time and book the two of you on now?"

Jack wanted, very much, to be able to go away somewhere for about a year or five, and to hell with always having to be the one who had to make sense of a fundamentally insane world for everyone else. "God, how does this keep happening to me..."

"Well, when a Mummy and a Daddy love each other very much --"

Jack fixed Owen with his best lead-melting glare. "Don't make me retcon you again."

"What do you mean, again? What? Captain --"

Up on the sofa Gwen was doing her best to fill her old colleague in on one of the more unusual aspects of working for Captain Jack Harkness. As he thumped out of the autopsy room, still fumbling at his shirt buttons with shaking fingers, Jack could hear her getting to the part about exactly what cabbage leaf they'd found Rosie under. "But isn't he, well, a man --"

Owen had followed Jack up out of the autopsy room; "The standard answer to inquiries of that nature, Andy, is 'he's Jack'. 'S kind of an all-purpose acknowledgment that we're too fucking primitive to understand the explanation even if we could ever get one out of him."

"'By the way, Jack's from the future' would also have done, Owen --"

Jack shut his office door on them all before he could get drawn into that one and sank into his chair, Hart's wrist-strap staring mockingly up at him from the clutter of his desk. The first order of business, he knew, would be to hook the damn thing up to a quarantine terminal and let Tosh pry apart its tiny brain to plunder through whatever layers of information their current capabilities could drill down to. But that would involve getting up from this chair and organizing his thoughts to a point where he could bark out orders, and right now either one seemed like an insurmountable goal. Pregnant. Again. Already.

'Commander' Jones...?

Jack looked up when the office door opened, ready to let fly all the day's snarled emotion at whoever dared, and checked himself when he saw his wife, Rosie's worried steel-blue eyes peering out from her embrace. "She knows you're upset," Martha said gently, lowering the toddler into his arms.

Jack stroked his daughter's wild brown hair, feeling a little -- only a little -- of her tension easing as his own slowly began to ebb. "I've screwed up."

"Yeah, I'd say."

"You're not supposed to agree with me, woman. You're supposed to reassure me about how brilliant I am and then shag my brains out against the desk."

"You've been watching too much television again." Nevertheless, Martha did come to straddle his lap, resting her forehead against his. "Did Owen give you a guess at a due date?"

"Not in so many words, but I think one of the grunts was 'that'll be both of them out'." Actually it had been more like are you going to owe me the overtime pay, Harkness, but Jack had grown fairly proficient at working out what his surgeon meant most of the time. Which should probably worry him more, he reflected.

"Bugger," Martha said. "All that walking the earth, and now I'm going to have to leave it in the hands of the Owen and Andy show."

"We're boned, aren't we."

"Should be fun to watch, though. Fiver says the second time Andy shoots him it's on purpose?"

"Pessimist. Tenner says first, his aim has to improve sometime."

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Chapter 13: Don't Want To Be A Bad Guy

Author's Notes: Interrogations. No easy answers.

Hart had made himself as comfortable as the cell afforded, sprawled out lazily along the concrete bench, but he made a point of sitting up straight as Jack approached. "So you've met the bun in the oven for yourself, I take it," he said, gray eyes lingering on Jack's general state of unpressed disorder. "That's good, a little paranoia is always healthy in a situation like this --"

"Why you?" Jack interrupted. "Why send me the last person I'd ever be inclined to trust?"

"Besides that I was the one with the vortex manipulator going spare?" Hart sighed when Jack redoubled his glare. "I don't know, Jack, I've never pretended to understand half of what you do. Especially then. God, you're barely tolerable now."

Jack had the distinct feeling that wading into Hart's morass of tenses was an invitation to get sucked right down into the quicksand of a paradox, but the implication was already out there, stark as the light of an exploding star; "So now you're claiming that you're working for me."

Hart shrugged. "You've been known to argue the point of whether to call it working. But we've arrived at an arrangement."

"And just what have you 'arranged' to be to me?"

Oh, that innocent look did not suit him. "Trusted lieutenant. Right-hand man -- well, left-hand man. Lucifer to your God-complex. Not unlike the old routine, I suppose. These days the position basically involves a lot of standing about saying things like 'he'll do it, he's crazy'. Though occasionally you let me off the leash like this, when you're desperate enough."

Jack was having a hard time picturing becoming that desperate, no matter what Torchwood might have mutated into by that point. "The flaw in your line of reasoning here is that whatever you may have done to earn my trust hasn't happened for me yet. So what the hell is to stop me from walking out of here and retconning this whole level of the vaults out of existence?"

The trouble with old partners, Jack thought, was that it got harder and harder to out-crazy them as familiarity with each other's moves settled in. "The bullet that's in my shoulder instead of your baby?"

Jack drew in a shuddering breath, wishing he could blame the chill that had tracked down his spine on maternal hormones. "Okay, that might buy you something. Might. But until I can figure out what, you're going to have to get used to the view down here --"

In a blur Hart was on his feet, fingers laced awkwardly through the ventilation holes cut into the plastic. "Jack, please. Even if you're not going to let me carry through on the part of my orders that involve making sure you don't break your stupid immortal neck any time in the next few months, you have to at least give me my wrist-strap back. It's broadcasting a signal that's keeping the rift locked down. You can disable the manipulator controls proper if you like, but I need to be able to keep the damping program fine-tuned. You really wouldn't want that to start to drift, believe me."

"But I suppose I've conveniently forbidden you to explain why?"

Hart shook his head. "You don't want to know. Truly."

That had just enough of the ring of truth to it to give Jack pause, the flinty stare of long Agency drilling in maintaining temporal security layered with just a touch of something else, something personal and too dark to speak of openly. "I'll see what Tosh has to say about it."

Was it Jack's imagination, or had Hart brightened a little at the mention of his tech expert's name? "So cute, having a team to turn to for these little things," he said. "I hope your Toshiko is well, I understand this is around the time when she ran into some, erm, personal difficulties --"

Jack slammed a hand against the window, making Hart withdraw his fingers from the airholes. "If you had anything to do with that --"

The Time Agent shot him a contemptuous look. "As if I'm even cross-fertile with your precious primitives. I'm amazed you are, frankly. But then I suppose your parents were aiming more for looks than... practical skills." With an arrogant lift of his chin Hart made to throw himself backwards onto the concrete bunk, the elegant motion calculated to land as precisely yet carelessly as if he were flopping into a nest of the softest pillows spoiled when his lacerated shoulder betrayed him, buckling under the load. For an instant, just an instant, Jack caught a glimpse of an old soldier fighting the eternal losing battle with personal time, three thousand years of improvements to humanity's genetic arsenal against the enemy slowing but never quite suspending its advance. "Still a little stiff," Hart admitted, rubbing at the injury.

"I'll send Owen down to change that dressing," Jack said, and turned his back on the cell with the creeping sensation that something had just changed in a way that he would live to regret, many times over.

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Chapter 14: Line My Eyes And Call Me Pretty

Author's Notes: Undercover brothers. One down.

Strange how a little thing like having a problem like Hart tossed into his lap could suck all the joy out of a visit by Rosie's noncustodial parent, Jack thought as he and the Time Lord poked at the rogue Agent's wrist-strap. They'd been cloistered in Jack's office all the way through lunch, combing over the figures Tosh had derived so far, and in Jack's case trying to avoid Ianto until he'd thought of some halfway reasonable way to broach the subject of his impending parenthood. He was beginning to suspect that there wasn't one, really. "And he took a bullet for you?" the Doctor said again, clearly finding that the least plausible part of Jack's story.

"He says he's working for me, up-time somewhere."


Yes, this was perhaps the one creature left in the universe besides Hart himself who could even begin to understand the technical side of Jack's current fix. The personal side, well, Jack was working his way up to that part --

Jack's almost-formed thoughts were disrupted by the return of his field team from the morning's mission, still in one piece but decidedly unhappy about how things had gone by the looks of them. "The nature of this organisation was distinctly misrepresented to me when I signed up," Owen announced as he stomped into the office.

"Men In Black, the Village People, same difference --"

"The Village People didn't have a bloody Morris dancer!" The young surgeon began savagely divesting himself of anything that still jingled.

"It could have been a dress," Andy pointed out, looking entirely too philosophical about his own silly rig. Poor kid, already to the point where some of the alternatives make being covered in bells look good to him...

"Quite right, I think you've both got off lightly," the Doctor remarked, eyeing Andy as if he'd been getting an earful about Ianto's big afternoon out for the last few weeks. "You must be Andy, then -- I'm the Doctor, by the way." Jack was reminded with a jolt that the young PC was the first new hire he'd made since definitively reconnecting with the Time Lord when Andy merely smiled nervously, as if at an important and possibly unstable guest. The Doctor looked almost surprised at the lack of adverse reaction to his introduction. "What, not going to jump on me and try to lock me up? You have been remaking Torchwood, haven't you, Jack --"

"No, it's just that we've figured out you're a bit rubbish, as alien threats go," Owen said.

"I wouldn't presume to judge that," Andy said with all the diplomatic grace of a police constable who'd been trained to humour the obviously mad until he could call for backup. "But then the only threatening alien I've seen so far was quite stereotypically blue and trying to lay eggs in my abdomen. Is it, erm, common to look human, then?"

"There's a school of thought that says it's your people who resemble mine," the Doctor said, looking a bit miffed. "We were here first, after all. But it's an adaptable enough template that one does seem to find something like it in a lot of places, yeah. Though why all the eyes are usually on the same side of the head I'll never know --"

Jack thought that it would probably be a good idea to add something to the effect of and by the way, try not to get the brown-eyed one started to the new charter's section about relations with the Doctor. "Didn't you have a mission report to write?" he asked aloud, with a pointed look at Owen.

"That depends on how much lying you're going to let us get away with about the Morris dancing," Owen replied, rather gloomily for a man who still had a garter of bells in his hand. "If it's as much as I'd rather, then I could probably fit my summary on a post-it note. But I suppose he's going to go all stickler-for-procedure on me like Gwen used to and insist on turning this into a deathless classic of ethnography."

"That video has me in it too, you know, I'm not any happier about the idea of ending up on some alien version of YouTube than you are --"

Jack managed, barely, to let his two employees get all the way out of the office before he broke down laughing. He realized that he was perilously close to not being able to stop, but the sudden release felt good after all the wound-up tension of late, so many of his staff down and the unresolved threat of Hart hanging over his head -- "I'm pregnant, by the way," he said when he raised his head from the desk to find the Doctor regarding him as if he feared imminent head-explosion. "It's not yours. I'm sorry."

"I wouldn't necessarily have expected it to be," the Time Lord said, looking spooked by Jack's outburst. "Are you all right, Jack?"

"I'm as all right as I can be when that's the field team I can put together." Jack sighed, slumping in his chair. "I almost hope Hart is telling the truth about this thing trying to stabilize the rift, I could really use the break."

"It wouldn't be the long-term solution, not with this technology, but so far as a temporary calming effect..." The Doctor started fiddling with Hart's wrist-strap again, looking as if his mind were somewhere else. "Who is the father, then, if you don't mind me asking?"


A slight lift of that eyebrow. "He's good with children," the Time Lord ventured.

"Apparently the TARDIS thinks so."

"Ah. Sorry about that. I take it you haven't spoken to him about it yet."

"I'm hoping I'll have thought of a way to tell him before the kid's ready for college."

"You seem a little ambivalent about this, Jack."

"Hart called the baby 'Commander Jones'," Jack said, glaring at the wrist-strap. "It's how I found out. He says part of why he's here is to keep me from doing anything to disrupt its timeline, like getting myself killed while I'm carrying it."


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Chapter 15: This Is Not My Beautiful Wife

Author's Notes: News, breaking and mangling of. Bad influences.

Jack still wasn't much closer to having worked up the nerve for his confession when he came down the spiral stairs and practically tripped over Ianto where the young man was standing in front of the Hub's short refrigerator, pouring juice into a sippy-cup for Jack-Jack. So strange to see the Doctor's au pair in what for him was practically a state of undress, dark shirt and dark jeans as if he were headed out clubbing just as soon as the sitter for this kid here showed up -- running after weevils in a suit was one thing, Jack supposed, but now that his charge was more mobile it only made sense to be ready to squeeze into ridiculous spots at a moment's notice. "You're really good with him," Jack hazarded once Ianto had finished fumbling the cup's lid closed and offered it to the baby.

Ianto tilted his head to regard the brown-skinned toddler on his hip. "Sometimes I think of Lisa," he said. "What it would have been like. But." The blue gaze shifted to meet Jack's. "Gwen's told me about your baby, Jack."

Great. Just great. "Well, I guess at least you didn't have to hear it from Owen," Jack said.

"That came after."


"By the time it came round to getting the story from Andy I was the one correcting him about the details," Ianto continued, still perfectly deadpan. Jack winced. "He seemed to have been left with the impression that I was some sort of alien as well. Not a bog-standard tailor's son from Llandaff."

Whatever you do or say in the next thirty seconds will be wrong, Jack realized with grim clarity as Ianto slid down the front of the refrigerator to the floor, trying and failing to stifle a choking sob by burying his face in the young Time Lord's black curls. Might as well get the most obvious question out of the way -- "Look... If you're not okay with this... All we have is Hart's word that this kid is important. Owen could still --"

"No!" Well, it had shocked him out of that first impulse to turn inward in despair, at any rate, blue eyes blinking as if Ianto had startled himself with his own answer. Probably had. He'd startled Jack, that was for sure.

"...All right, then." Jack made himself comfortable on the floor next to Ianto, reaching out to draw the dark head down to his shoulder. "So where do we go from there?"

Ianto drew in a breath somewhere between a sob and a laugh. "I don't know. Where does anyone go when this sort of thing happens? Besides to get married and end up hating each other for it, which I don't see as one of the options here for a number of reasons."

"I'm already hiding from one mother-in-law I can't explain anything to," Jack agreed, trying to picture what would happen if word of her son's strange indiscretion ever got back to Ianto's mum. The picture ended with him getting his ears boxed. "Although the thought of siccing your mum on Francine is strangely intriguing."

Ianto did laugh, then, pulling back to settle the squirming Jack-Jack more firmly in his lap. "I should stop trying to guess how my life is going to go," he said. "It's obvious that I'm total crap at it. I'm an alien's nanny, for fuck's sake. I'm still trying to figure out how that follows, even after Torchwood."

"And you just said 'fuck' in front of the baby," Jack pointed out as the little Time Lord tossed aside his sippy-cup.

"Ssh, cariad, mae'n iawn. Ssh." Ianto fetched the cup back, to a distinct lack of interest. "I'm not in a mood to be much but a bad influence right now. I --" Ianto shook his head, the white streak in his hair flashing. "I need time, Jack. Torchwood crazy is one thing, but..."

"Hey, I don't blame you, it's not like you'd ever have been expecting this. Hell, I obviously wasn't thinking about it either."

An oblique look from those blue Welsh eyes. "Would that have stopped you?"

And for that, Jack found he had no answer.

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Chapter 16: Culture Shocks

Author's Notes: Dressings down. Back to the future.

Jack finally caught up to Gwen in the hothouse, tweezing slivers of raw meat into the carnivorous vine they'd nicknamed Cleopatra. "Do we need to have the talk about interfering again, Cooper?"

No shame, no sense of having overstepped her bounds, only that too, too familiar look of defiant self-righteousness; "Were you ever going to tell him, Jack? This is Ianto's child too, he has a right to know. How would you feel if your positions were reversed?"

"That it was none of my goddamned business until he wanted to bring it up to me himself." Damn this stupid provincial century anyway --

Gwen set the dish of chicken scraps down with exaggerated care, as if it were an effort for her not to throw it at her boss's head. "Is that really how things are in your time, Jack? I know you treat us like we're disposable sometimes, but I always thought it was because you're afraid to get too close. If it's because you really don't care --"

"We still have families in the future, Gwen. Hell, I had six moms and three dads looking after me and my -- But you can't just demand parenthood from someone because your kid has half their genes."

"I should hope it would at least be considered polite to notify them!"

"I was working my way around to it."

The vine made a sucking noise. Gwen picked up the dish again and started poking chicken down the leafy gullet. "You're a coward, Jack Harkness. You would have waited until Owen said something rude about it in front of all of us and then jumped down his throat for it."

This was actually a fairer assessment of the situation than Jack really wanted to admit. "How did you tell Rhys, then?"

"I sat him down on the settee and said, 'I don't care what Jack has to say about it, you and I are having this baby'."

Jack could picture that, too clearly, the set of Gwen's chin as she made it clear that the absurdities of working in the alien-hunting industry weren't going to stop her from taking this flyer on an everyday sort of life. "And that worked?"

"He's scared, Jack. Who wouldn't be knowing anything about what Torchwood does? But he's willing to take the chance on this, because it's what you do. You make babies, together, and -- you really had six mums? How does that even work?"

He'd been wondering when she was going to get over herself enough to catch up to that. "Let's just say that my current home life isn't a patch on the way I was raised."

Gwen shook her head, setting aside the empty dish and shoving away the vine as it nuzzled her looking for more. "You're amazing, Jack. Sometimes I think you are making half of it up as you go along."

"Hey, I'm a pregnant man from the future who just gave birth to an alien a few months back, how much more proof do you need? Compared to how things have been going lately I'd say having Ianto's baby seems almost normal to me. Whatever he thinks of me for it."

Gwen reached out and caught up Jack's hand to give it a reassuring squeeze. "He'll love your baby, Jack. I'm sure he will."

"Glad one of us is."

"He loves you. God knows why, the way you've treated him, but --"

"Yeah, you all love me, even Owen, in his own psychotic way, but I'm not sure that means he's ready to have a kid dumped in his lap."

"That's not what I meant, Jack." Gwen pulled her hand away and turned to leave the hothouse, pausing in the doorway. "Just -- let Ianto deal with this at his own pace. He'll be better off for having the time to think about it. You never trust us, Jack. You'd be surprised what we can do when you back off a little and let us work things out for ourselves."

Jack rather doubted that, in this particular instance, but as the door swung shut behind her he had to concede that it was well and truly out of his hands now, cats and bags and burning bridges all receding in the mirrors regardless of how he might have wanted to manage any of it. He pushed the hungry vine away as it started snuffling at his hair and made up his mind that one decision that was still in his hands was that it was the boss's prerogative to claim that his condition warranted going home early to take a nap. They want more autonomy, well, fine, I may be going to live forever but that doesn't mean I'll be here every second of it to babysit them...

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Chapter 17: Living A Life That I Can't Leave Behind

Author's Notes: Dreams and portents. The case for?

Jack rolled over, grimacing at the infinitesimally delayed wobble from his midsection that told him his center of gravity was already beginning to wander, and buried his face in the back of Martha's neck with a sigh. The curtains were brightening with the dawn outside, which at this time of year meant that he really should have been getting ready to head in to the Hub by now. Trust his body to wake him up this early anyway on the one day in a long while that he'd already declared he meant to sleep in.

Or maybe it had been the soft tread outside the bedroom door that had awakened him, eyes glittering warily through a crack to check for blatant indecency before an oddly-shaped shadow let itself into the room. An oddly-shaped and snuffling shadow. "Couldn't get him to settle, sir."

On Jack's other side cooler alien flesh pulled away and sat up, reaching for the fretful toddler. "Sh, sh, it's all right, daddy's here."

Jack-Jack buried his little face in his father's chest, still hiccuping tearfully. Ianto had already ghosted out without another word, ninja nanny in black tracksuit bottoms. "Nightmares?" Jack guessed.

"Mine, actually," the Doctor replied, stroking his son's black curls. "Dream I was having it's a wonder I didn't set Rosie off as well. Not always the worst thing that she's a bit thick, telepathically speaking."

"That's my daughter you're talking about, you."

"What sort of dreams?" Martha said, rubbing sleep from bleary-looking eyes.

The Doctor eased out of the bed and went to stand by the window, rocking gently with the child to soothe him. He wasn't so painfully skinny these days as Jack had seen him a time or two that he tried not to think of, heck, another stone on him and he might even aspire to wiry, and in the rising light of an earthbound morning Jack thought that the Time Lord would have laughed if he'd tried to describe this vision of tender domesticity to him even a couple of years before. "Violent ones," he finally said, dark eyes troubled. "All guns, and shouting. People dying. Your people, Jack. By your own hand. Or at least I think it was, that was about where I managed to wake myself up."

Jack had been expecting to hear... he didn't know what, fragmented memories of the Time War, maybe, or their year on the Valiant. Not something so out of the blue like this, that complicated alien brain conjuring up simple phantom threats to the people he'd begun to grow close to like any mere mortal's might. "Yeah, well, welcome to my world, Doctor, I have nightmares like that every time something goes wrong when I send them out into the field. I could barely close my eyes the whole time Owen was dead. You wouldn't believe how much coffee we'd gone through when I went back and totaled up the accounts."

The Doctor didn't look terribly reassured by this argument. "The random static in my head isn't quite the same as yours, Jack," he said. "Half of it isn't even coming from the inside. For all I know I could have been picking up on your anxieties."

"It's not as if I don't have enough worries to go around right now," Jack agreed morosely, wondering if this meant a return to less interesting sleeping arrangements for the duration. He hoped not, he'd been surprised enough when the alien had proposed that both the toddlers could share Rosie's room with Ianto last night --

On the bedside table Jack's phone twittered the insistent tones that meant the Hub needed his attention right now. "I think you had better come in, Jack. Hart's wrist-strap just stopped some sort of rift-storm."

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Chapter 18: I'm Not A Gangster Tonight

Author's Notes: Ankle bracelets. No good, I've known too many Spaniards.

"I told you, you sent me here." Hart was doing his best to look positively angelic, or at least as angelic as it was possible to look with the whole of Torchwood Three doing their best to glare him into a paste. It still felt wrong to see him sitting on the sofa like he belonged there, but the readings had been unambiguous, first the gathering wave of energies and then a pulse that matched up perfectly to the frequency of Hart's wrist-strap dropping in to cancel out the ripples. And if he'd been telling the truth about that part of his mission --

The Doctor finished prodding the wrist-strap with his sonic screwdriver and handed it over to Hart. "I've hobbled it as much as I can without compromising the rift-minding," the Time Lord said. "It'll be reporting in to Jack's, so we'll know where you are and if you try to tamper with it or take it off."

"Kinky." Hart made a sensual show out of buckling the strap back round his right wrist and turned a coquettish gaze to Jack. "Does this mean we're engaged?"

"What is it about you future people that you never stop?" Gwen looked about as disgusted about the overall situation as Jack felt. But he couldn't deny that the preponderance of the evidence had begun to swing in Hart's favor, unbelievable as it seemed, and maybe, just maybe, having him running around loose made sense from some future perspective that he only hoped he'd be able to explain to himself when he got there...

Hart stood up from the sofa with a loose-limbed stretch, looking as if he were trying not to look like a tiger that had suddenly tried the door of its cage again to find it unexpectedly open this time. "I appreciate this, Jack. I know you're not big on trust, but you seem to have believed that I wouldn't disappoint you, so I'll do what I can to live up to your expectations."

"You had damn well better surpass them," Jack snarled. "Follow me around, follow me home, I honestly don't give much of a shit if you want to go out and play in traffic so long as you stay out from underfoot and try not to touch anything. Including my people. But the first hint of trouble and you're back in the vaults, understand? The last thing I need here is something like the metraxian gin incident."

The Doctor raised an eyebrow, but it was Owen who said, "The metraxian...?"

Hart shrugged, looking somewhat abashed for once. "I'm told I ended up engaging a policeman in single combat with a bath brush. But I've only Jack's word to go on for that, since the time loop reset the next morning and metraxian gin has a tendency to blur the memory after a couple of fifths."

"It was the part where you were accusing him of stealing your rubber duck that made it so memorable for me."

"Why am I getting the feeling that this is like most of Jack's stories where we find out at the end that everyone was naked?"

"Well, the cop wasn't." He'd been a bit like Andy, now Jack thought about it, doing his best to stay polite and professional in an extremely trying situation. He hoped he wouldn't ever have occasion to find out how his constable would handle a nude and belligerent Hart half out of his skull on something or other, especially given that sleeping with him to smooth out the ruffled feelings probably wasn't an option. And dammit, now he was thinking about PC Davidson's personal life and apparent lack thereof, and he really didn't need any more complications around here right now --

He'd missed something just then, and tracking back through what he thought he'd heard suggested that it had been Owen muttering They were so married, and a general nod of agreement. Certainly the slow smirk on Hart's face supported this. "I promise I'll be on my best behaviour, Captain," the Time Agent said with just the faintest trace of irony in his eyes.

"That's what I'm worried about."

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Chapter 19: Tiger By The Tail

Author's Notes: You drive what? The House That Jack Built.

Martha's vehicle was about as unsexy as the SUV was fabulous, but what could you do when your family activities occasionally included more than two adults plus a couple of carseats? "Never figured you for the MPV set, Jack."

"You want to be riding in the carseat?" Jack gestured Hart into the passenger side of the front, ignoring the philosophical disappointment in a pair of chocolate eyes. The ignominy of realizing that he had the choice between leaving Hart in the Hub unsupervised overnight (since the Doctor hadn't been able to block the circuit in his wrist-strap that made any attempt to keep him in the vaults an exercise in absolute futility) or actually letting the blasted man follow him home still had him fuming.

Martha drew Jack aside as he went to cross around to the driver's side. "Shouldn't we be, I don't know, blindfolding him, or something? Seems a bit weird, him knowing where we live."

"He doesn't need to see to find his way back. He can also hear us, by the way."

"I can hear your hearts beating, my lady," Hart interjected, lips curved in a faint sardonic smile. "Although normally it would be impolite to mention it. But then, so is whispering."

"You're going to be one hell of a houseguest, aren't you." Martha all but slammed down into the rear seat beside the Doctor and belted herself in with a sulky expression settling onto her face, from whence Jack suspected it wouldn't depart until Hart did. At least from their home.

The drive out to that semidetached in the suburbs had never seemed so long, with the rogue Time Agent watching out the window with keen interest and pointedly refraining from making any comment on what he saw, or the glare of death that he could surely see in the mirror. In fact he hadn't spoken another word by the time Jack eased Martha's land-whale into the driveway and yanked the keys out, which surely had to be the longest period of silence that Jack had ever seen his old partner pull off. "Aren't you going to start complaining about how bourgeois and soft I've gone without you?"

"I thought it was its own punishment, actually." Jack could see the gray eyes noting the light in the front room. Wondering what Jack's instructions had been against the event that Hart had turned out to be up to his more usual violent mischief, maybe? (And Jack didn't doubt that methodical efficient Ianto had made the Doctor put together some emergency plans for his au pair that would have included enough lessons in TARDIS care to escape to safety and foster those children until they could come into their inheritance, if ever need be...)

The nanny met them at the door, automatically seeking to shelter the toddler in his arms while the other clutched at his leg as blue eyes went wide and then hard. "You didn't say you'd be bringing him here."

"Name me an alternative that doesn't involve risking the Hub." Jack swept Rosie into his arms as he pushed past, the small face burying itself in his neck going some ways to both ground him in his own distress and sharpen his resolve to keep all of them safe.

"So you'd rather have him here with your own child?"

Jack turned to face the accusing eyes. "He claims he's here to protect yours from me. Pissing me off by threatening Rosie again wouldn't be the most productive approach with that. He's a lot of kinds of crazy, but that's not his favorite brand of death-wish." Not enough nudity and intoxicants involved, for starters.

Hart had wandered into the front room, which from the look on his face completely failed to impress him with its Torchwood: the College Years rabble of mismatched furniture. "I'm used to you being rude to me in front of people who barely know me, but don't I even get the tour?"

"Kitchen's in the back, bathroom's at the top of the stairs, and if you know what's good for you you won't go exploring beyond that. If you even go near the TARDIS it's not me you'll be answering to, so I really wouldn't try it. Amuse yourself however else you like so long as I don't have to retcon any of the neighbors. Or pick you up at the police station for indecent exposure."

"'Good night, sleep well, I'll most likely kill you in the morning'?" Hart plopped down onto the sofa with a knowing look. "Relax, Jack. I swear I'm on your side this time. Your happy little suburban life is in no danger. From me, at any rate." (And did his expression twist, just there?) "Go put your darling babies to bed before the nanny strains something glowering at me and get some rest yourself, you're threatening me for two now after all."

"I am so going to kill you in the morning." Hart's mocking laughter followed Jack up the stairs and into the nursery, even through the closed door. Jack suspected that most of it was in his own head.

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Chapter 20: Just Because You're Paranoid

Author's Notes: Trust issues. A breach widens.

I don't remember this starting this early last time, Jack thought as he made his sleepy way across the landing. Although I guess the timetable's going to be different with a human --

Jack paused at the bathroom door, noticing the baby-gate at the top of the stairs all askew and unlatched. And the door of the nursery was open, too, no nanny in residence amidst the tangled sheets on the futon...

Alarmed now, Jack was about to go charging in to check on the cribful of little Time Lords when he realized that Ianto was standing at the foot of the stairs, looking into the front room with a deep scowl on his face. Jack descended as quietly as he could, and wasn't surprised to find that intense blue gaze fixed on Jack's new 'bodyguard' stretched out asleep on the sofa, innocent as a deranged angel. "I kept thinking, maybe --"

"You'd never get close enough, Jones." One gray eye opened to gauge the reaction, then shut again in supreme confidence that the message had been received and understood.

"Did I mention he doesn't exactly sleep the way we'd understand it?" Wouldn't do for the perfect weapon ever to take all the systems offline at once, no, some clever biodesigner taking a cue from dolphins there (although Jack tried not to think of that handful of times they'd managed to exhaust each other, all that coiled potential for murder lying slack against his chest in absolute boneless trust), and if he was twice as irritable in the mornings even when he wasn't hung over than any mere Homo sapiens sapiens it was probably no more than a learned response, some poor attempt at camouflage gone a bit awry. "Come on, if Jack-Jack wakes up again he'll be upset if he doesn't see you there."

Grudgingly, it seemed to Jack, Ianto allowed himself to be coaxed back up the stairs. "Why are we trusting him now, Jack?"

Because I'm out of ideas, if you really want to know. "I'm not," Jack said aloud, stopping in the doorway of the nursery as the nanny crossed over to the crib to check on his charges. "I'm trusting myself. I think." I hope.

Jack-Jack made a mewing sound in his sleep as Ianto dipped a hand into the crib to stroke the dark hair. "I hope you know what you're doing, then," he said. "Then or now."

Jack had his doubts about either case, but he held his tongue as Ianto re-settled himself on the futon. "If you want some company..." he finally said once it appeared that Ianto had curled himself up into as tight of a ball as the human body could manage.

"No, Jack, I really don't. Close the door before you wake the children."

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Chapter 21: Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead(ly)

Author's Notes: Houseguests and fish. Wash day tomorrow, nothing clean, right?

Dawn came as a relief from restless dreams of mayhem and dissipation. Jack slipped out of bed without disturbing his slumbering companions and wandered over to the window to greet the new day, enjoying this rare moment's peace to appreciate the vista of a cloudless spring morning and Hart in the back garden, stretching --

Three seconds later Jack was down the stairs and out the back door. "Put some clothes on!"

"Really, Jack, you've gone completely native." The gray eyes flicked sideways to where Mrs. Jenkins stood gaping in her own doorway, the fence between the gardens doing nothing at all to obscure the fact that her neighbor was talking to a very naked man. "Well, hello there, I don't believe we've met --"

Jack grabbed Hart's arm and started pulling him towards the house. "He's my, um, cousin, Mrs. Jenkins, he's always been a little..." Jack made a vague gesture that he hoped would cover sudden manifestations of crazed nudists and shoved Hart through the back door into the kitchen.

"You never did have any bloody imagination when it came to cover identities," Hart said, frowning. "Although I suppose it's better than 'Uncle Bob', anyway."

"'Uncle Bob'?"

The Time Agent chortled. "You should only hear what Harper calls the rest of you behind your backs." Hart apparently didn't feel like spoiling Owen's fun, either, turning to the sink to devote his attention to filling the kettle. He still looked as good as ever (and oh, dear, the tattoo was, um) and Jack didn't doubt that he was fully aware of the fact, perfectly at his ease parading naked around someone else's kitchen as if they'd long since gotten past the awkwardness-over-breakfast stage of their affairs. Jack felt a sudden twinge of sympathy for the many innocent bystanders of his acquaintance whom he'd always expected to accommodate themselves to his mores, and went looking for something resembling a pregnancy-safe breakfast to distract himself from it.

Out of boredom or sheer self-preservation Ianto had cleaned out the refrigerator, and there were dishes in the drainer that Jack hadn't seen in months. There was something breathtakingly sarcastic about that, Jack rather thought. He poured himself a glass of the children's juice and sat down to the table with it, hoping that if he ignored Hart for long enough the Agent would eventually get bored enough to move on to a different tactic. Who knew, maybe he'd get cold before anyone else came down looking for breakfast --

No such luck for Jack this fine morning, though, here came the heavier-than-you'd-think-to-look-at-him thump thump thump of a Time Lord loping down the stairs to see what all the commotion was. "Ianto and Martha are getting the children dressed," the Doctor said, eyebrows drawing up into a frown as he took in the full scene. "Should I go tell them this one seems to need a hand as well?"

Hart managed to convey a general sense that he was making a heroic effort not to pout. "You really do run with a dull crowd back here, Jack."

The Time Lord's nose wrinkled. "Not getting much out of seeing the Full Monkey, no --"

"Oi, let's have a little less with the ape cracks, if you please," Hart said with a look of hooded malevolence. "You may have less in common with these random-bred savages than I do, ap Gwerioneth, but that's hardly licence for you to be rude about my base stock."

If the Doctor had been primarily descended from primates he would surely have been baring his teeth by now, Jack thought, looking from one genetically engineered superbeing to the other as they stared each other down. "If you mention my mother's name again I'll make sure you never learn it," the Time Lord said in a carefully restrained voice.

Just what Martha needs, the Oncoming Storm hitting her kitchen -- "Okay, guys, can we just take it as read that there's some serious asynchrony going on in this interaction and move along to the part where the Monkey King goes to put his clothes back on?"

Hart gave Jack a long-suffering look. "They're in your wash," he said, nodding to the machine under the counter that surprisingly enough did not appear to be threatening to explode or vomiting pea soup, which was sometimes more than Jack could manage from the device. "Haven't had the opportunity to retrieve the rest of my gear yet."

Jack hadn't actually given much thought to what preparations Hart might have made for this mission, although it certainly made sense that if this trip had been planned out beforehand he would have more resources than just the clothes he stood up in. Armaments, for one thing, he'd been travelling uncharacteristically light when Torchwood took him into custody. "Okay, we can put that on today's agenda. But for now will you just find something? A robe, a blanket, anything?"

Hart cocked a wry eyebrow. "I'd be insulted by your lack of aesthetic appreciation, but I suppose that's the hormones talking." With a backwards glance over his bandaged shoulder the naked Time Agent sloped out into the hall. If he'd had just an ounce more cheek he'd have been whistling.

Ianto edged into the kitchen with his eyes still turned towards the fading sound of Hart's thundering ascent to the upstairs bath. "He really does have a Torchwood tattoo. I thought Owen was just taking the piss about that."

"Now, see, if you'd shown that kind of dedication..."

Ianto gave Jack one of his most unreadable looks. "You should have let me kill him last night."

"You're many things, Ianto Jones, but you're not a cold-blooded assassin," the Doctor said, taking his child from the au pair. He seemed to have recovered himself well from that black-eyed look of barely checked menace, all smiles again for his little boy as together they went to peer into the cavernous depths of the refrigerator. "Erm, are we having breakfast out, then?"

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Chapter 22: Ik Ben Bedrogen Door Jou Sinds Wanneer Weet Ik Niet

Author's Notes: Mamma mia, here I go again. Private lessons.

"I can almost deal with having a homicidal maniac on the premises but if he does not stop with the bloody ABBA --"

The trouble with keeping the rift damped down, Jack had begun to realize, was that it meant spending proportionately more time hanging around the Hub with an increasingly bored predator who couldn't even be kept distracted by setting him loose on the paperwork. (Not that Jack hadn't tried, but Hart's lousy penmanship fell too far onto the more-harm-than-good side of the ledger to make the enterprise at all worth the trouble...) Lunchtimes were the worst, when the space-raised Agent turned up his nose, quite literally, at the idea of being on the same side of the Hub as anything that had chunks of non-vat-grown animal protein in it and took himself off to the other side of the huge room to work off his sulky energy in exercise. Usually to the accompaniment of the most obnoxious music he'd been able to hit upon so far. They'd been eating a lot of vegetable-supreme pizzas lately, but today Tosh had finally cracked and claimed that her baby needed something more substantial, so they'd been working their way through a meat feast special to the original cast recording of Mamma Mia! In Dutch. It wasn't, Jack reflected, unlike trying to eat in a really cheap disco.

In a rare show of mercy, Hart turned off the music just as Andy came upstairs with his latest paper target from the firing range, a few holes actually within the outline this time but still woefully far from any vital organs. "Didn't think it was possible, but we have found someone who's a worse shot than Ianto," Owen remarked with his mouth full.

"For the last time, I was aiming at your shoulder!"

Andy's eyes widened into saucers. "You shot Owen?"

Jack snorted. "Half of Cardiff has shot Owen. You'll probably find yourself wanting to have a go before we're through with you. It's actually pretty therapeutic, I'm told."

"I'd have to think about that," Andy said with his customary guarded diplomacy in the face of yet more evidence of Torchwood being, well, Torchwood. "Although as the alternative is apparently sleeping with him --"

"Who said that was an either/or, mate?"

"Have you actually shagged your way through the entire workforce here?"

Owen screwed up his face as if he were pretending to tally it up. "Well, except the alien, that whole room-temperature thing brings back too many bad memories. -- They did tell you about the time I was dead, right?"

And if that wasn't the world's most priceless look on the Doctor's face, caught somewhere between his usual pedantic impulse to correct Owen on the details and the basic instinctive horror at the idea of shagging him, then Andy's was, visions of zombie attacks dancing almost visibly before the officer's eyes. "No, Jack hadn't seen fit to mention that yet," Andy managed after a long moment. "And, erm..."

"I got better," Owen offered helpfully, with a disturbingly cherubic grin.

"I see," Andy said, although Jack thought from the look still on his face that he didn't, not even remotely. "Was this before or after the orgy, then?"

"Which one?"

Jack had come to recognize by now that one of Andy's great flaws was an inability to figure out when to give it up soon enough. "At least tell me that you didn't shag Ianto after he shot you."

"You might think that, but no. I can be a remarkably forgiving sort of man, given sufficient incentive."

"'Police suspect alcohol was involved', as they say," Ianto mumbled into a slice of pizza when Andy directed a horrified gaze to him.

"And you could probably still out-shoot Andy even when you're that pissed."

"What Davidson needs is a firearms tutor," Hart called from the bottom of the steps. Even Jack was a little surprised that he'd been eavesdropping from that far away. The Time Agent waited until he could see that he had their startled attention before mounting the stairs and coming to a halt at the top, eyes daring Jack to forbid him to approach. "It seems to me that you're being inefficient in your resource management, Captain. After all, I am part of a certain half of Cardiff."

An armed Hart loose in the building, versus a bored Hart loose in the building -- "You know what, fine, if it'll keep you out of trouble for five minutes." Jack caught at the young constable's arm as he started to turn towards Hart. "If he starts getting fresh you have my blessing to shoot him. If you can," he couldn't help adding after a moment's consideration.

PC Davidson shook his head. Jack could see him resigning himself to another insoluble case, and that mystery was what had become of what he'd thought was his world and his life. "This is quite an organisation you run here, Captain Harkness."

"I do my best."

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Chapter 23: Sumer Is Icumen In, Lhude Sing Cuccu

Author's Notes: Alien body, alien choice. For SCIENCE!

It was something of a puzzle to Jack that the Doctor hadn't cleared off yet. Granted, Hart's presence had them all rattled, and it only made sense that the Time Lord might want to stick around for a while to keep an eye on the situation, but as a couple of days turned into a couple of weeks and Jack's garden grew tall around the strange blue box next to the shed, he began to suspect the alien of having other motives. He'd certainly been quieter than usual, watching all the slowly expanding bellies around the Hub as if he were calculating something more profound than due-dates or destinies. "Penny for your thoughts," Jack asked when he finally couldn't stand it any more, settling in beside the Doctor on the sofa.

The Doctor looked away from his brooding contemplation of Tosh with an expression that Jack couldn't quite place. "All this fecundity around here. I'm almost jealous."

"Don't give me any ideas, Doctor. Between us we've got access to enough technology to clone a whole race of atomic super-mutants. If you really wanted to satisfy your curiosity about the so-called joys of motherhood, I'm sure it could be arranged, possibly when you're least expecting it. I notice that you haven't stopped me talking yet," Jack observed.

"Bit off cloning, as such," the Time Lord mused thoughtfully, scratching his ear. "But putting something together the old-fashioned way, well, what Gallifrey would have considered the old-fashioned way..."

"What, you want me to get you pregnant?" Off to the side Jack heard a cascade of metallic noises that sounded suspiciously like Owen dropping a tray of instruments.

"Well, not necessarily you, it would probably be easier if we asked Martha to contribute most of the other party's genetic information --"

"You're serious, aren't you."

"One adventure I haven't had yet," the Doctor said, as if this were a perfectly logical argument.

"We've finally gone mental, you know that? We're sitting here discussing this like it's even remotely reasonable."

"Rosie's got a sister on the way, Jack," the Time Lord said quietly. "But Jack-Jack just has me. It's hardly an ideal situation."

Jack opened his mouth to say You could always adopt, and realized the flaw in that argument just in time. "Why would it have to be this way, though?" he asked instead.

The Doctor shrugged. "Everyone else seems to be having a go."

"You know, I think I'm beginning to understand why Time Lords regenerate," Jack said, after a long moment of scrutinizing the earnest look in the big brown eyes. "You need all those lives to get yourself back out of the things you get yourself into. You have to be descended from cats, I swear."

"The theory has been mooted."

Jack took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. "I would ask you if this is really the time to take on a project like this, but I suspect you've already given that your idea of due consideration."

"With the rift by and large locked down for now, when would be a better time, really?"

Jack could think of a couple of arguments, but on second thought most of them involved buying into the basic premise in the first place. "Well, I can hardly accuse you of being as impulsive as I am about it, anyway."

"As legs to stand on go, yours isn't particularly convincing, no." The Time Lord stood up and offered Jack a hand to pry himself away from the sofa. Damn, but everything about this seemed accelerated after the leisurely pace of Rosie's alien gestation... "I'll have to get a second opinion from Doctor Jones, of course, especially considering, but as a technical challenge at least it's far from insurmountable, obviously," he said with a pointed look at the bump beginning to announce itself beneath Jack's buttons.

"It certainly wouldn't be the weirdest thing that's ever happened around here..." Jack considered. "Maybe the third or fourth weirdest, although that's probably counting Owen twice."

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Chapter 24: But If You Leave, Don't Look Back

Author's Notes: Not this again. Story time.

The bed seemed too large now, with only his legal spouse to keep him company in it. But with the Doctor hell-bent on getting himself into a delicate condition (and much to Jack's surprise, Martha had approved of the scheme, although he rather suspected that it was in a that oughta learn 'im sort of a way), it probably wasn't so surprising that the Time Lord had retreated to the relative calm of the TARDIS, after leaving them with one last rambling discursion that had managed to touch on topics from exactly what degree of voluntary control he had over nearly every system in his body to something about glassblowing in early renaissance Venice that Jack had had some trouble seeing the relevance of in this context. About all Jack was sure of by this point was that it wasn't likely they'd see him up on his feet again until this experiment was settled in to his satisfaction, which could be a couple of days, or... well.

There were some advantages, though, to simplifying the equation of how to get up in the middle of the night without starting a minor riot, as much as Jack missed the comforts of being bookended in by his aliens. And I hope he does move back into the house once he's got everything on course, because I want to see how funny he thinks this is then...

A light was on in the nursery when Jack went to stumble back across the landing after conducting his business. Always one moment of alarm, with that rogue element of Hart in his household, until Jack opened the door a crack to hear the soft voice: "Ond am Cwta Wen, Fflopsi a Mopsi, cawsant hwy fara-llefrith a mwyar duon i swper. Y diwedd, now, go back to sleep and we can go to see your Daddy in the morning."

"And you all complain when my stories end up with everybody naked." Ianto rolled his eyes at Jack and set the well-worn book aside, coming to shoo him out into the hallway. "The language thing is so adorable, by the way."

Ianto shrugged. "My parents were nationalists. Never spoke a word of English in the house except to swear at the boiler."

Coming from a man whose birth certificate said Ifan Glyndwr ap Gwilym Jones this was hardly a revelation. "I suppose if you're going to have a bilingual au pair you may as well take advantage of it," Jack said, wondering a little how exactly that worked in light of the TARDIS's capabilities.

"Since we're going to have so much opportunity to practice now," Ianto said, and sighed. "It's not that I was so glad to see the back of Cardiff, but..."

"How are you going to keep 'em down on the farm once they've seen Gay Paree, yeah," Jack said. "Still, there are worse places than home to be stuck for a year."

"I suppose there is always that." He didn't sound as if it were much consolation.

"You don't necessarily have to hang around with us so much, you know. Take a few days for yourself, go back to your place --"

"I haven't got one anymore. I gave up my flat when I knew I was leaving to travel with him. Everything's in the Torchwood storage."

Leave it to Ianto to be that methodical about running away to join the circus. And the implication that he'd arranged his affairs according to Torchwood's own protocols for the disposal of employee effects, as if he'd wanted to save them all the trouble -- "At least you've got an everything to keep somewhere," Jack said. "It's usually more of a 'hurry up before your ship explodes' affair with him." And lucky to be dropped anywhere near home after, more often miles or years or universes away from what one might have expected life to bring and fortunate to have anything remotely useful on you, much less a rucksack with a change of clothes, or a similarly broken-hearted stranger to keep company with in exile... "Any time you feel like stepping back into the old grind, it's all here waiting."

Ianto gave him a look that made Jack suspect that had come out just as transparently desperate as he'd feared it might. "I'll keep that in mind, Jack." He looked for a moment as if he might have been about to say more, but just then Martha made her way out of the bedroom, grumbling sleepily about much the same complaint that had driven Jack out of bed to begin with. By the time Jack had turned back from watching her pass Ianto had retreated into the nursery and closed the door.

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Chapter 25: I Swear I Will Not Kill Anyone

Author's Notes: Special Operations? Taking charge.

Rift stability was a relative thing, of course. "And it's up in the tree still?" Andy was saying as he motioned to Jack to patch the comms into his phone.

"So far as we were able to see," replied a voice that Jack recognized as that of Andy's former partner Dai. "So are you going to drag your flash arse down here to give us a hand with this, or was it all just talk?"

Jack broke in to grill Dai for a few more specifics about this creature the police had allegedly treed, growing more concerned with each detail they were able to fill in for him. "This is not a two-man job," he said once Andy had rung off with a promise that professional assistance was on its way. "I've seen these things before, you and Owen wouldn't be able to take one down alone." Even if either of you knew what you were doing --

"Whoa, whoa, Jack, this isn't the best idea you've ever had," Hart said as Jack came out of his office buckling his Webley over his bump on its loosest hole. "Your orders --"

"Which is why you're coming too." Jack held out the other pistol he'd retrieved from his safe, the one Hart had been wielding when he'd dropped back into their lives. "You want your chance to prove that you're one of the good guys now, here you go."

Hart looked at him as if he suspected that this might be some elaborate ruse on Jack's part, but reached out to claim his gun. "And you're not even going to make me swear on my mother's sainted knickers that I won't just turn around and take out my pent-up frustrations on your medic again?"

"Hey, it's been weeks since anybody's taken a shot at him, I have to keep him on his toes somehow. Owen! Saddle up, it's your turn to drive --"

Jack wasn't all that surprised to find one more face in the lineup at the side of the SUV, Ianto's steady gaze daring him to send the mere au pair back to the children's table while the greater threat might well be climbing into the back seat right beside them. "Have you at least got a gun?"

"You never removed my passwords from the system. Not all of them, anyway," Ianto added with a slight lift of one eyebrow as Jack opened his mouth to object that he had.

It probably should have worried him more to know that his staff were running around installing their own backdoors to the Hub's mainframe, but if it meant getting back into the action any faster Jack was just as happy to let this wash past him in the burst of adrenaline as Owen floored the accelerator. "So basically we've left three pregnant women and a couple of toddlers to mind the shop in case this is only a cover for the real invasion," Andy remarked with a backwards glance, as if this had just occurred to him for the first time.

"Now you're getting it," Owen said.

"And having anyone to cover us is a luxury, really," Jack said. "With you and Hart on board, I can finally field a full team and still keep an eye on the Hub --"

"Oh, so you are counting me for something now," Hart said. "That's a step up in the world. I think."

"Since I'm stuck with you, I may as well make the best of it for now."

"I just had to go and sign myself up for this," Hart said with a world-weary sigh. "Word of advice, kids, never agree to anything he asks you in bed, it'll only end in tears."

Andy blinked, digesting this. "Just what are you to Jack, really?"

"Would you believe ex-husband?"

Andy's brow furrowed in thought. "By this point, actually, I think I would," he replied, looking disturbed that this thought didn't trouble him as much as it probably ought.

"We were never technically married," Jack felt compelled to point out. "Legally. On that planet."

"I can think of a dozen worlds that would have said we were."

"You're going to be dragging up that hotel register for the rest of your life, aren't you."

"Which might be very short if the two of you don't stop bickering and focus," Owen said, slamming the SUV sideways into a position that would more or less pass for parked. "Do you suppose I would be correct in assuming we're looking for that tree with all the coppers standing around pointing their truncheons at it?"

It did look a little absurd, on the face of it. But then, even in Cardiff it wasn't every day that the average British police constable would find him- or herself filing a report that ran something along the lines of and then suspect transformed into a giant green panther and scarpered up a nearby plane tree. With an encouraging nod from Jack Andy stepped forward to take charge of his old colleagues with what the Captain thought might have been the tiniest trace of glee; "Right, you lot, this case is under the jurisdiction of Torchwood now, so if you would please start helping us to evacuate the area..."

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Chapter 26: The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight

Author's Notes: First blood. Repercussions.

Getting it down from the tree was the easy part. It was what came next, when they had half a tonne of alien flesh and fur with several bulletholes only serving to make it even madder backed up against their own SUV that Jack began to doubt Torchwood's gameplan on this one. "Left, dammit --!"

"Next time we're all going to listen to Owen when he says 'wouldn't it be a good idea to get the biggest gun out of the boot before we need it', aren't we?" The surgeon ducked out from cover to snap off another round and only succeeded in putting out the SUV's other rear light as the panther blurred into its human-seeming camouflage. "Coming around your side again, Ianto --"

And breaking straight for Andy, charging head-on into the constable's look of wide-eyed horror as Jack tried to bring his aim around for a shot that would hit the alien and not his own man. Hart had vaulted onto the SUV's roof at the opportunity, flat on his belly and sighting for the head-shot --

As if he'd done it a thousand times before, Andy's arm came up into position and he lightly, almost casually, squeezed the trigger of his gun. The alien dropped instantly as the back of its head disappeared, disturbingly human in the way that it tumbled and broke like its strings had been cut. Jack could see Andy's mouth working without sound as he stared at the sudden pile of gawky pink limbs lying too still in the bright grass.

Hart slithered down from the roof of the SUV and clapped Andy on the shoulder companionably, a gesture from a teacher to a student who had learned his lessons well. The young policeman twitched as if the hand had had a live wire in it. The constable had gone very pale, and for a moment Jack thought he was about to be sick.

But -- "I liked that," Andy said hoarsely as Jack relieved him of the pistol. "God forgive me, I liked that."

Owen took Andy by the elbow, trying to get him turned away from the carcass. "Welcome to our little criminal syndicate. I'll buy you an ice cream when we get back."

This got the medic a startled laugh. "You people are unbelievable."

"There's a point where this does start making sense," Ianto said, with a look that suggested he wasn't sure whether this was necessarily a good thing.

Andy rounded on him, eyes already starting to go suspiciously bright. "Have you ever killed anything that looked human?"

"Besides Jack?" Ianto replied absently, and turned bright red as his brain caught up to his mouth. Even Hart was giving him a look of surprised speculation. "Erm, that's a story for another venue, I think --"

"It's not like you're the only one," Owen said, and then looked again at the blush spreading down Ianto's neck. "Oh, tell me that you don't. That's just too weird even for this place --"

"It wasn't human, though," Hart said, cutting across the chatter. "It's a common defence out there, to take on a form the attacker will hesitate over. Buys the time to get away, or to retaliate from a position of surprise. Not every mammalian biped deserves your fellow-feeling."

Jack managed, barely, not to make a remark about pots and kettles, although he could see from Andy's face that the sketchiness of Hart's own claim to full-blooded humanity hadn't escaped him. Trying to ignore Ianto's growling "It was once and it was an accident!" to Owen in the background, Jack held open the rear door of the SUV and motioned Andy inside, exempting him from the rest of the cleanup.

"This is the sort of operation that the Time Agency used to take care of, back in the old days," Hart was saying as Jack pulled his head back out of the car. "Temporal displacement isn't all joyriding around gawking at dodos and thylacines and tigers. Some of us have to work for a living." This last with a sidelong look at Ianto, glaring back from the side of the open boot as he cleared a space for the dead alien. (And good thing that it hadn't had the energy left to shift back, Jack could just picture the police they'd cleared off getting curious and returning to the scene to find Torchwood dismembering the huge felid into disposable chunks...) "Oi, Jack, a word?"

Leaving Owen and Ianto to manhandle the corpse into the SUV, Jack stepped aside to see what Hart was about. The Agent tilted his head back towards the car. "Is the kid going to be all right? I didn't realise that this was really his first kill, I forget sometimes how soft parts of this era are."

"He should be, once he's had some time to think about it. You really got some results there."

Hart shrugged modestly. "I told him to imagine that the target was threatening his Mum. Or that it was his Mum, whichever worked better for him."

This seemed like surprisingly sound advice considering the source, and if Jack was eventually going to find out that PC Davidson was painting Rhys Williams's face over the targets in his mind's eye that was a domestic dispute for another day. "Can't argue with it from here."

"Wouldn't let him go home alone tonight, though."

"I think Owen's already on that," Jack said, glancing back to where his medic had climbed into the back seat of the SUV to speak with Andy.

"This team thing," Hart said, and Jack thought he sounded -- what? Wistful? "It does have its points."

"Is the one-man army going soft on me in his old age?"

Another shrug, looser this time. "Few hard lessons lately about having backup. Maybe they're beginning to sink in."

That would be the day, Jack thought as they returned to the car. Although as Hart slotted himself meekly into the back seat on Andy's other side, looking for all the world as if he did give two figs about PC Davidson's mental state and his own hand in it --

And the moon is made of cheese, I'm sure...

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Chapter 27: What Have I Done To Deserve This?

Author's Notes: Doing domestic, Torchwood style. Wait, what?

Owen had driven Andy straight home after the encounter with the shapeshifter, and neither of them had been available for comment until the surgeon slouched in alone late the next morning, looking hung over but fairly chipper. "He doesn't actually live with his Mum. I know, it was a surprise to me as well." But if anything of particular interest had transpired that night, Owen was maintaining doctor/patient confidentiality about it for once, saying of the constable's absence only that on his discretion as Torchwood's de facto GP he'd told Andy he'd kick his arse if he showed up again before Monday. Jack considered this more than reasonable, under the circumstances.

The postmortem on the alien's carcass had necessarily been delayed until Owen's arrival, and he plunged straight into counting the bullets with an enthusiasm that bordered on the unseemly. "The final score would appear to be Jack five, Hart eight, myself three plus the couple of bonus hits to the SUV which were not my fault because that's where Jack pushed me behind cover, Ianto four, and Andy exactly one, out of the one bullet he appears to have fired all day. Which luckily for all of us was the one that really counted."

Jack cocked an eyebrow at Hart. "How could you have hit it eight times without catching anything vital?"

"Oi, I got it out of the tree, didn't I? Took that much blood-loss to get it to let go in the first place. It didn't seem to be feeling much of anything until it spent all that mass downshifting."

He'd missed this, Jack realized as Hart continued to detail all the technical ways in which yesterday could have gone so much worse. He'd missed having someone around who could keep ahead of all the insanity without being briefed for a week first, without getting hung up in arguments about the morality of what they were doing either. And if that felt like disloyalty and more than halfway to madness besides, well, beggars couldn't exactly be choosers --

The rest of the day looked like it was going to be given over to domestic concerns, if Jack didn't miss his guess. They'd already been treated to one of Gwen's best I am changing the subject now to something that normal people would care about and no I am not jealous that all of you got to go out while the girls got left to mind the phones yesterday blowups as it was, and with Tosh coming off her keyboard to back her up this time they'd managed between them to corner Owen into something that did almost sound like the sort of conversation that one might overhear in a quote-unquote Normal Office Setting. "And trying to explain to Rhys why we can't name the baby after his great-aunt Minerva --"

Owen snorted. "Yeah, the half of the schoolyard that's not calling her the Minnie Cooper is going to be following her around asking her to change into a cat."

"Exactly! But she's a hundred and seven and everyone's afraid of offending her --"

The world went away for what could have been a second or a century. Probably a little closer to the former, since when Jack became aware of his surroundings once more he was still in his office, lying on the floor with what felt like a hastily wadded-up article of someone's clothing shoved under his feet. "Whhrg?"

"You fainted," Hart said, brow creased with worry. "Or... something. Harper?"

Torchwood's medical officer was waving a handheld scanner over his boss's body. "Looks like just a momentary loss of consciousness, doesn't seem to have been an actual circulatory event of any sort. I'll concur with that diagnosis, I think. It's a common enough complication of pregnancy, even if it's not like you're --" The scanner beeped a beep Jack wasn't familiar with. "Hm. Well, that's interesting."

"I don't think I like the sound of your 'interesting'," Jack said warily, letting Hart help him to sit upright. (Yes, that was Hart's red jacket under his feet --) Owen flipped the scanner closed with an unnecessary flourish.

"I'll want to run more tests, of course, but... I think you might have more than one passenger."

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Chapter 28: Double Down

Author's Notes: And don't call me Shirley. Suicide and bacon.

Jack was really coming to hate sitting around half-naked in the autopsy room. More than usual, anyway. There was a time and a place for that sort of thing, and given a choice he'd much rather it involved tastier condiments than ultrasound gel. "Are you seriously telling me I'm having twins?"

"I'm not sure 'serious' is the word I'd have used," Owen replied, with a look up and down Jack's body that suggested that this was just about the funniest thing that had ever happened to somebody else. "I'm barely restraining myself from making a remark about twinning rates in older mothers as it is." Jack's view of the blobby images on the nearest screen was suddenly replaced by the silkscreened outline of a pterodactyl carrying off a car as Owen stepped in front of it to recapture his wandering attention. "The only medical issue that I can find that might have caused you to faint just there is that you're a little short of iron for my taste, which is understandable for a multiple gestation so soon after the previous one. I'd suggest having more red meat, if you can get away with it around mister 'soylent green is people too' here."

Jack followed Owen's gaze to see Hart leaning on the railing, keen gray eyes watching the proceedings. "You could have mentioned this, you know."

"Didn't I? Must have slipped my mind."

"I really don't know what frightens me more when I think about the future, your pregnancy or his diet," Owen continued, scowling as Jack began to button his shirt. "If it's going to be all Quorn instead of bacon we may as well just top ourselves right now --"

"Owen!" Yeah, he might have figured that the rest of his team was up there listening in, and that was enough to get Tosh down on the medic's resurrected head. She hadn't figured out yet that Owen's jokes only got more morbid in proportion to the notice anyone paid him over them. Or if she had she still couldn't help herself. Here she came, anyway, clomping down the steps to check on his state of mind, or maybe just to sock him a good one for even raising the subject. Jack took the opportunity to make his escape up the other side of the stairs.

"You do have to understand, Jack, there's not a lot I can say here without getting us all into trouble," Hart continued. Below them Tosh was working her way up to a rant about how bacon wasn't a suitable focus of religious devotion. "Although, I don't think telling you they both have dark hair and blue eyes would be giving anything away." Jack glared at him. "All right, then; one of you, and I would hazard a guess that it's him, decides on the given names of Geraint and Gareth, and they'll have his nose and your chin, god help them. And more than that, I really am not at liberty to divulge at this juncture."

"Not even which one of them you're supposedly protecting?"

Hart gave him a look. "Come on, Jack, you know better than that."

"No, seriously, I clawed my way back to life for the sake of the almighty bacon. Even shagging is only a nice bonus --"

"He's even more impossible now than he ever was before," Tosh said, shaking her head as she followed the medic up the stairs. She'd put on less weight with her pregnancy so far than Gwen, but she was still getting on towards the characteristic waddle that Jack dreaded falling into himself sooner rather than later, with two new lives competing for the space rather than one.

Lights and alarums from the main door (interesting to see that it triggered a startle response in Hart as well, only fair since he was responsible for theirs), his remaining trooper looking in for a check of the situation below. Jack did wonder what any of the area's regulars would think to step back into the tourist office today to see their old mate Jones so dressed down, all he needed was a textbook to make him look like he was working the gig to put himself through grad school. (Since Jack well knew he already had that look of bored contempt down pat.) "Gwen said I should come down because you'd fallen," he said, a suspicious expression beginning to settle onto his face.

"Yeah, had a funny turn, Owen says it's nothing really. But he did find something else," Jack added as Ianto looked as if he were about to leave again. And only now realized that Hart had given him one other piece of information as well, as the blue eyes turned back to him; "Um, well, it seems that congratulations are in order for the proud papa, because it's a boy."

A flicker that could just as easily have been annoyance at having been disturbed for nothing. "I suppose that's interesting to know, Jack, but --"

Jack held up two fingers. "And another boy."


So that was what a tall man going down in a dead faint looked like from the outside. No wonder they'd been alarmed. "Ianto? Ianto...?"

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Chapter 29: Wham, Bam, Thank You, Ma'am

Author's Notes: Overcrowding. We're going to the short-bus hell for this.

Another interesting legacy of Hart's shipboard childhood was a fascination with the idea of bathing in real water rather than a sonic cleanser. Interesting, that was, if you weren't pregnant with twins in a house that only had the one combined facility. "Oi, you've got a dimensionally transcendent omnitruncated pentachoron parked in your back garden, it's got an infinite number of loos," the Time Agent finally deigned to shout above the sound of the shower in response to Jack's banging on the door.

Really, really need to put 'look into converting the cupboard under the stairs' on the agenda, Jack thought crossly as he stamped down the stairs and out the back door. It was a nice enough day now, getting on towards what passed for summer in Cardiff, but they really had to do something before they had more tiny messy creatures joining the household in the dead of winter. (Jack refused to let himself imagine what configuration that household was going to fall into more permanently when the time came. Too many variables, too many opportunities for dashed hopes --)

The Doctor was out of bed at last, Jack found when he went to look in on the Time Lord's progress, slightly off-key singing coming from the shower; "And he left his home and kissed his mommy goodbye --"

"Might have figured that would be your style."

The Doctor looked out from round the curtain, hairy chest and week-odd's growth of beard always mildly shocking to a fifty-first-century eye conditioned to expect a smooth expanse from lips to toes broken maybe by a rudimentary signaling-patch depending on the fashions of the day. (He'd lapsed into the habit of not really giving a damn, after a century marooned with cut-throat razors.) "Jack! Did I miss anything exciting?"

"Found out that I'm having twins."

There went the eyebrow. "That would qualify."

"Ianto's... I'd say thrilled but that'd be a bald-faced lie."

The Time Lord ducked back into the shower to turn off the water. "It would be a lot to absorb, yes," he said, emerging to reach for a towel. "Even the thought of this is... a little larger than I would have been expecting."

Just wait until it really hits you what you've done, buddy. "How, um, how did it go, anyway?"

"He's bedded down on my auxiliary spleen, I never use it these days anyway." The Doctor peered into the mirror, examining himself critically. "I feel like I should look different, I can feel him in there fizzing away and dividing and you'd think it would be loud enough for everyone else to hear as well."

"Most mothers wouldn't even be that aware at this stage. Hell, I'm lucky I figure it out before I start to show. I'd probably still be living in blissful ignorance for a while yet if Hart hadn't said anything."

"Blessing in disguise that he did, then, at least you know to take care of yourself better now. Proper pre-natal diet, and all that."

Which was rich, considering the Time Lord generally seemed to live on bananas and chips half the time. Jack would have to remind him of this conversation when he started complaining about odd cravings. The Doctor dried his hair vigorously with the towel and left it draped across his shoulders as he went rooting around for his razor. "That's a good look for you, very Lawrence of Arabia, if he'd been into pink terry," Jack remarked.

The brown eyes glared at Jack's reflection in the mirror. "Don't tell me you dated him too."

"It was never really anything as formal as 'dating'."

"Now I'm going to be having all these inappropriate mental images of Peter O'Toole, thanks for that."

"Hey, I'd still do him."

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Chapter 30: Kiss And Tell

Author's Notes: Secrets and lies. Doth protest too much.

"So, let me be sure I have this straight, Martha's baby is yours. Your baby is Ianto's. And the Doctor's baby is Martha's?" Jack nodded and watched Andy's incredulous frown deepen. "I do not envy you having to sort all this out at the sectioning hearing."

"At least with Jack it makes a little bit of sense," Owen said. "For certain values of making sense that are probably far too small to measure with any of our equipment here, but the alien's just taking the piss."

"In his case it is an arrangement like a seahorse," Martha said wearily. "Not like with Jack; the Doctor's just... hosting."

"Which still never answers how Jack's managing it, I notice."

"Okay, could you all just stop thinking about my optional equipment now? Just pretend everything's normal next time he decides to come in and bug us." Jack bit into his sandwich, wishing now that he hadn't gathered them all together over lunch even if they did need to be briefed about the Doctor's ongoing experiment sometime before it became too obvious. (He'd even got Hart to come as close as the stairs despite the presence of so much cold chicken, which Jack found himself counting as a small victory of some sort. The Time Agent appeared to have some elaborate hierarchy of I can't believe you're going to eat that which they were slowly beginning to sort out, including Tosh's gobsmacking discovery that he was actually rather partial to very fresh sushi, although Jack noticed that he was still at the far end of the platform from Owen's bacon butty.)

"Oi, oi, you don't want to put that in your mouth," Andy said as Jack's daughter reached for a plastic fork and started to chew on the tines. The constable held out one of his chips to get her attention. "Trade you, eh?"

Rosie regarded the chip gravely, then let the policeman substitute it for the utensil, sucking on the salty potato wedge contentedly. "Excellent fake-out," Jack said approvingly.

Owen suddenly had a hey, maybe I know something Jack doesn't look on his face. "Well, he's had some practice, yeah? He's got a kid."

Andy looked pitifully young to be a father, but then they all did, to Jack. "Guess I could have been more thorough when I was setting up your personnel file," he said as the constable stared at the floor as if he wouldn't mind it swallowing him up right about now.

"His ex buggered off to Australia with her in the company of some tosser named Mick, as I understand it," Owen went on while Andy continued his intense scrutiny of the stained concrete. "I hear Gwen was quite the angel of mercy during the breakup. Or possibly before, I'm a little vague on the chronology there."

"What you are is a bastard," Gwen snarled.

"Is it my fault workplace romances don't work?" Owen countered. "I mean, who wouldn't, anyway, he's tall, he's fit, he comes with his own handcuffs --"

"There is some question as to which of us Thursday night was a pity-shag for, you know," Andy broke in, glowering.

Owen could blush. That was... interesting to know, if more than a little frightening to witness. Without another word he slammed down his sandwich and turned to duck up the stairs to the catwalk. Andy gaped after him for a long moment and then rose to follow. "It's always the quiet ones," Hart remarked into the stunned silence.

Jack held up a hand as Gwen made to go after them. "For once in your life, Cooper, let them work this out." And if Jack didn't miss his guess, he'd just seen two people realizing that what they'd thought the other regarded as a truant weekend might more properly qualify as the beginning of an affair. Well, hell, who'd notice a little more office drama around here, anyway. (Besides perhaps Tosh, who looked like she wanted to find a hole to crawl into. Or maybe shove them both in, which would at least be a little healthier for her.)

Gwen settled back into her chair with the blackest look he'd ever seen on her face, but kept her peace during the rest of the meal, and even better, waddled off in the direction of the archives once she'd finished eating, eyes still weighed down with thunderclouds but lips zipped tight. As Jack rose to return to his office he noticed that Owen and Andy were sitting side by side on the catwalk above, both wearing more or less the same fuck, what do we do now expression. When Torchwood's medical officer heaved a sigh Andy reached across to clasp his hand -- "Piss off, Jack," Owen called when he noticed they had an audience.

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Chapter 31: We Said Goodbye Before Hello

Author's Notes: Reasons to be thankful. Visitation rights.

He'd made it through another day at Torchwood without actually murdering any of his employees, and that was the main thing, Jack thought, teasing apart yet another knot in Rosie's damp hair. (He'd learned already that they had to keep it cut very short, because otherwise it tangled if you looked at it wrong, but there hadn't been time lately, and now it was almost long enough to plait, which seemed to distress her. Martha kept trying to do girly things with ribbons and bows, but they never stayed in for more than a few minutes.) "Hey, so long as they bring enough for the whole class," he said.

Ianto gave him a skeptical look over the wild curls of his own charge. "You're never going to be happy until the day you walk into the Hub and everyone's naked, are you," he said, looking rather as if that was the day that he'd try to arrange to have called in dead.

"It'd be a start, yeah." Bollocks to the prudish local norms, anyway (and he was slipping not to have been more suspicious when Owen had suddenly asked for the weekend off), even if the neighbors did seem willing enough to accept that some distant relation of Jack's had been eaten by a rhinoceros or something and left him the sudden guardian of a confused little girl who insisted on calling him 'mummy', and hadn't even called the police in when the houseguest had tried to introduce himself to an Alsatian. (He'd left it to Gwen to explain the concept of subsentient companion animals to Hart again the next day at work and counted himself lucky that the incident hadn't gone any further than a one-sided conversation.) He was starting to think that the other Time Agent might be right in his complaints that Jack had begun to worry too much about passing under some elusive consensus about normality, and if that made him picture himself patiently enticing a bird to come eat crumbs from his hand only to get that hand snapped off by a vicious beak when it did, maybe he'd needed a shock like that, anyway. Jack set the comb aside and went to hoist his daughter into her crib. "How did it go with your mum?"

"I think I may nearly have convinced her of how becoming an au pair is actually a valid career advancement over the tourist office position when it's for my employer's superior." Ianto paused, fingers fussing restlessly over the snaps of Jack-Jack's pyjamas. "I still haven't told her she's going to be a grandmother. I keep coming out in hives every time I start to think about it."

"If it's any consolation, your mother makes me break out in hives too. I still want to see her and Francine fight it out in a steel-cage match --"

Both of the little Time Lords started fidgeting and looking towards the window onto the back garden at the same moment, a fraction of a second before Jack caught the distinctive sound of vortex-shredding engines. What? Hell -- He couldn't be leaving, not now, not with the baby --

Not leaving, though. Arriving. Jack watched with a sense of deja vu as the TARDIS duplicated herself in the bottom of the garden, managing to flatten the half of the peonies she hadn't taken out the first time around. Jack hated peonies, anyway. Always covered in ants...

Never easy to tell with the Time Lord, but Jack thought he couldn't be that much older, only a hint of the crinkles around his eyes beginning to set into permanence. Mostly, though, he looked tired. "Right, then, Jack, it's time Martha gets to know her son a little better," he said, looking unsurprised to see Jack waiting at his door even before it opened.

"What's he done?"

"Nothing... specifically... it's just that... it's your turn."


"It's your turn to look after Jack-Jack for a while. He needs to learn what the slow path is like, and I need a break. It's wearing, being the only responsible adult available --"

Jack decided to let the responsible adult remark pass without comment. "Yeah, and neither of us has been alone in the bathroom for nearly a year, if you want to trade parenting horror stories." Jack did some quick math in his head, trying to figure from earlier asynchronous visits about when along his own timeline the Doctor must have parted company with his au pair. "This isn't about giving him the talk, is it?"

"No, you've already bollocksed that up quite nicely, thank you." Damn, it was annoying trying to raise kids when time travel was involved, Jack thought. Especially when you kept hearing about the good bits long before they happened. "He's not exactly little anymore, Jack, in fact he'll be a great help around here what with everything that you're in the middle of right now, it's just that... there are things he needs to learn that I can't teach him. Not right now, not sharing a TARDIS."

How not to be the Oncoming Storm and the last of the Time Lords if he doesn't want to be, Jack thought he could begin to read between the lines. "I guess when you put it that way we can turn the office into a guestroom for him. Are we talking about a sullen adolescent who's going to spend all of his time dressing in black and writing morbid poetry on his blog, or a clean-cut young student I don't have to worry about except when there are strange girls in the house at breakfast?"

"I think he's about twenty," the Doctor said, which didn't exactly answer anything without a frame of reference. "He's just getting his bags together, will you tell Martha while I go help him finish up?"

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Chapter 32: We're Putting The Band Back Together

Author's Notes: Goodbyes and hellos. Needing no introduction.

Jack-Jack at 'about twenty' turned out to be a quiet young man who would have blended right into the incoming class at the Uni, at least if you didn't consider his exotic good looks as a factor. "I've never really lived on a planet for very long that I can remember. I mean, we'd get locked up places, but..."

"Yeah, that's about how I figured things were going," Jack said. "Hope the gravity's to your liking, because I'm afraid you're stuck with it."

"It's about TARDIS standard," Jack-Jack replied, with a hint of his father's mobile eyebrows. "I think I can live with it."

"You'll have to," the Doctor said, looking as if the reality of seeing his nearly-grown son standing in the doorway of the TARDIS with a rucksack was something quite else again from anything he'd been picturing. There was a silence, while the Time Lord stared down at his yellow-Chucked toes. "You know how the money works?"

"I have been here before. -- This is after decimalisation, right?"

"He'll be fine, Doctor. What kind of trouble can he get into here that he couldn't get into with you?"

"Quite a lot, actually. Which reminds me, be discreet in your choice of company, this time still gets some funny ideas."

"Just for that I'm going to go have an affair with the whitest boy I can find." Jack-Jack couldn't quite hold the cheeky grin in the face of his father's haunted look, succumbing finally to the impulse to tuck himself into those long arms for one last hug. "Take care of yourself, eh? You're supposed to be having a holiday, no 'accidentally' saving the spa planet from Certain Doom while you're about it."

"That was genuinely an accident," the Doctor replied, looking a bit caught out that his son thought him so predictable as all that. "Well, I'm off, then, I'll try to stay out of trouble, but you know me, can't really make any promises..." And as if it had suddenly become all he could do not to break down in front of them, the Time Lord spun on his heel and closed the blue doors behind himself.

"I give him a week before he rushes off to pick up Al," Jack-Jack remarked once the whine of the engines had faded.

Jack had been wondering why there was still only one son in evidence in the Doctor's future. "I was trying not to ask, but..."

"He met a girl." For a moment the dark eyes looked far older than their still-tender years. "She didn't want to come with us. So... But it was true, about the needing a break. We all needed a break from each other, really. Even the TARDIS can get small sometimes."

He'd be learning what small was, if he stayed here for very long. The Doctor -- Jack's Doctor -- stepped aside to let them through the back door, murmuring something in his own language that would probably have translated as oh, lord. "I must be mad, leaving a boy his age with you," he said.

"Most of the damage has already been done," Jack-Jack said brightly. "And it's not as if your TARDIS is some sort of cloistered bubble like Gallifrey to begin with --"

A movement in the hallway beyond: Hart pausing, looking as if he'd just seen something that he liked very, very much. Okay, situation needing defusing here --


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Chapter 33: Every Time I See You Falling, I Get Down On My Knees And Pray

Author's Notes: Mistaken identities? Pascal's wager.

The young Time Lord was giving Hart what Jack had always thought of as the 'time traveller suddenly presented with a not-quite-dead fish' look. "Sorry, do I know you yet?"

"Apparently not." Hart recovered well, but maybe just the least bit slow, for a Time Agent of his experience and long practice. Like I needed a couple more bagfuls of bad on top of this --

"You know my son's middle name." It wasn't a question. The Oncoming Storm didn't ask.

"Well, usually I call him Dangerous Beauty, but not to his face."

"It's right in the Torchwood records, though," Jack-Jack said. "It's not as if that proves --"

Hart fixed him with a piercing gray gaze. "When you were five years old you wanted to grow up to be Wonder Woman. Owen Harper once told you that eggs come out of a chicken's arse and you wouldn't eat them for years even after he gave you a long medical explanation about cloacas. I can go on, eventually I'll come up with something that even Jack isn't twisted enough to have logged into the archives --"

Jack-Jack had gone very pale, for him anyway. "Who are you?"

"If you don't know yet, that's probably for the best," Hart said, looking as if he might have wished it were otherwise. "I thought you might be at a different point in your timeline than you obviously are, so never bloody mind, all right? Just carry on with whatever twisted scheme you were up to out here and leave me out of it." Hart stalked off towards the front room, stiff-backed as an angry cat. The Doctor watched him go with one eyebrow cocked nearly into his hairline.

"Right," Jack said, feeling that he might as well be the one to attempt to wrench the situation back onto something resembling an even course. "We can worry about who knows who from when later, for now let's get you settled in, okay? You'll have to double-up with Ianto in the nursery for tonight, we can work on getting something set up for you in the office tomorrow."

"You didn't offer me a guestroom, I notice," Hart called petulantly from where he was sulking on the sofa.

"You don't sleep enough to make it worth bothering," Jack shot back. (He wasn't entirely sure how the Agent did spend his nights, he could be up on the roof baying at the moon for all it mattered as long as he wasn't attracting enough attention to get the police involved.) " -- Come on, upstairs, both of you, it was already past my babies' bedtime an hour ago."

Jack-Jack startled visibly at the sight of Ianto, waiting for them in the nursery doorway and not even trying to look like he hadn't been eavesdropping. "I hadn't thought, how young you'd be, I mean..."

Blue eyes took this in with just the barest hint of suspicion. "This is one of those time-travel things that I'm supposed to politely ignore, is it?"

"Pretty much, yeah."

Jack-Jack gave his one-time (and present) nanny a shaky grin. "Like Uncle Jack says, we can sort this in the morning. The babies need their rest, after all. You and Al too," he added with a pointed look at his father. The Doctor reflexively put a hand over his still-flat stomach even as he gave Jack-Jack a wry look.

"Well, I know when I'm being put to bed. Coming to keep us company, Jack?"

"In a minute," Jack said, and let them all disappear behind closed doors before he descended the stairs once more. Hart was sitting at one end of the sofa, drawn in on himself as if he had already been expecting to get a talking-to, or perhaps a beating. Jack folded his arms in the doorway and waited.

"He's my partner. You assigned him to keep an eye on me, I thought maybe you'd sent him along for backup. But he's just a kid yet, isn't he." Hart's shoulders sagged. "Might have known you wouldn't make this that easy for me. Bloody typical, both of you. First time I met the kid he punched me in the face."

"I'm sure he must have had his reasons."

"Classic ginger temper, well, will have done, anyway. And then he snogged me off my feet -- or would have if I hadn't been off them already in that nanocast, he'd have made one hell of a candy-striper -- erm, have I got ahead of myself?"

For a Time Agent that was practically an encyclopedia entry. How much of it was true and how much deliberate obfuscation, well, that was another matter, but that Hart had even loosened his tongue this much suggested either the deployment of a carefully constructed mask, or worse, an unguarded glimpse of the real face behind one. And he wasn't at all confident of which would be the bigger disaster to believe -- "Just a little," Jack said.

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Chapter 34: Carry On, My Wayward Son

Author's Notes: Morning sickness. Strange bedfellows.

Jack's determination to ignore anything else that went wrong before morning came up short at the very break of dawn, when the Doctor suddenly rolled over in the bed beside him and bolted for the bath. "Not completely exempt from the hormonal seesaw, then, is he," Martha said with an edge of sleepy vindictiveness.

By the time Jack had managed to haul himself out of bed to go check on the Time Lord's well-being, or to hold his head if he still needed it, the Doctor had recovered himself sufficiently that he was standing in the doorway of the nursery instead, gazing fondly upon the strange tableau within. Jack came to look over his shoulder, trying not to trip over the big red Doc Martens discarded carelessly at the threshold, and nearly laughed out loud at the sight of a grown Jack-Jack rootling into Ianto's shoulder in his sleep in exactly the same pose that his infant self had struck in the crib at his sister's side. In the damp night air his dark ringlets had devolved into a passionate explosion that looked as if it might start melting like candyfloss if it got any more humid. "I've had that hair a couple of times," the Doctor remarked with what sounded like deep sympathy. "Even curlier, actually. You think I'm a mess now..."

Yes, Jack had seen enough photographic evidence in old UNIT files to suggest that bad hair in one form or another was almost as much of a constant across the Doctor's regenerations as the idiosyncratic fashion sense. "Go back to bed, I'll bring you some tea and toast or something."

Any slim hope that Jack might have been clinging to that the threat to his own timeline would have driven Hart to take off, either for now or for good, was dashed when he came into the kitchen to find the Time Agent sitting at the table eating Weetabix as if nothing out of the ordinary had taken place the night before. "Got yourself sorted, then?"

"I'll try not to do anything to the kid that I haven't already," Hart said, not looking up from his breakfast. "Not that I've been briefed as thoroughly on the subject as I might have been, obviously."

It was about as much as could be expected, maybe even a little closer to a declaration of willingness to abide by Agency protocols than he'd have dared demand outright. Jack went rummaging for some bread that was still fit to make toast of. "I imagine you have some guesses, though."

Hart shrugged. "Somebody taught him to fight. I'm starting to think it may not have been an accident that we work so well together in the field. And he could use the training regardless, if he's going to be working for Torchwood right now."

"Hold on, I never said anything about that."

"Why else would he have come to this time? You're still short-handed, Jack, are you going to be able to tell him no if he offers to help?"

"The Doctor is not going to let his son head off to work with me," Jack said. "However desperate I am. I can just see him the first time the kid picked up a gun --"

"No guns, Jack," the Doctor said from the doorway.

"Hey, I said I'd bring this up for you --"

"But he will want to help you, and out in the field where it's exciting, of course," the Doctor continued grimly as he thudded down into a chair, dark eyes shadowed with more than that fleeting touch of hormonal wobbliness. "And I must have approved, because, well. So he'll need to be taught to look after himself in some way that would make him at least marginally useful on a field team. I'm not exactly in shape to teach him Venusian aikido anymore, wrong centre of gravity in this body even if I weren't, erm." He patted his stomach protectively. "But I'm sure he knows a few forms of self-defence that even I wouldn't take so much issue with."

"I don't always have in mind to kill people," Hart said with a disingenuous look. "Or even maim them, necessarily. That toast is about to catch fire, by the way," he added as if it were merely part of the conversation, and it took Jack a moment to process this well enough to make a lunge for the toaster.

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Chapter 35: I Don't Give A Damn About My Reputation

Author's Notes: The new new guy. Full disclosure.

Jack-Jack insisted on riding the lift down into the Hub, of course. Jack could appreciate that instinct to make a dramatic entrance, but it meant having to endure Hart's indulgent smirk from the sofa on the way down, long since come round the more usual entrance with Ianto. "We're on to this again, are we," Owen observed wearily as the lift came to a halt.

Jack-Jack stepped off the paving-slab with the appropriate care and turned a curious face to the row of onlookers. "I remember Owen," he said, in a tone that made Jack suspect that he was recalling Hart's anecdote about the eggs. "And Gwen, and... Toshiko?" (She had looked up from her desk, if only to see what was coming to eat them all this time, but that was apparently all the attention even a time-displaced alien youngster warranted this morning, because she was already right back to banging away furiously at her keyboard behind a curtain of dark hair.) "But I'm not used to seeing Inspector Davidson here."

Andy's mouth had fallen open. Gwen gave him a good-natured poke in the ribs. "Future Boy is having you on, there's no way a lump like you will make Inspector."

"Not with Torchwood's usual life-expectancy, anyway," Owen muttered.

"Sorry, excuse me, would someone mind at least telling me why he seems to recognise me when I know I've never seen him before in my life?"

"Well, you have, actually," Gwen said, with a look to Jack to be sure that she was handling this correctly. "You see, he's the Doctor's little boy, only some, oh, twenty years on this time? Assuming you age the same way we do, I mean, I might be flattering you but that's about how old you look?"

"It's close enough," Jack-Jack said, sounding as indifferent to an accurate answer as his father was. He seemed to be trying to catch Tosh's eye for long enough to draw her out of her determined concentration on her work, and she just as clearly wasn't having any of it. Jack was beginning to get a sinking feeling that he might be about to be dethroned from his position as the most incorrigible flirt in the building.

Andy had that bloody Torchwood look on his face again. "And this happens often around here, does it?"

"The all-powerful time-travelling alien is a crap driver," Owen said. "This isn't even the first time the kid's been here twice over."

"Come on, the last one wasn't really his fault," Jack said. "So, people, what have we got on our plates this fine morning, anything that was worth me getting out of bed for?"

"The rift's been behaving itself," Tosh said, still not looking up from her keyboard. "If Martha's not coming in today I can watch the tourist office. We could use a change of scenery once in a while," she added by way of explanation when everyone turned to look at her in astonishment, stroking her growing belly to emphasize her use of the plural.

"If you think you're up to it," Jack said. "Anyone else got anything?"

"Not as such," Owen said, not looking all that unhappy about this state of affairs. "I'm almost bored enough to start catching up on the specimen archives from back in the nineteen-fifties. Note that I say, almost."

"Hell, we've put it off this long, you may as well come help me brief the kid instead," Jack said, heading for the conference room.

"He's here for for a while, then?" A raised eyebrow from Gwen, and no wonder, even at Torchwood it wasn't every day that the boss's stepson turned up from the future and applied for an internship.

"Says he works here, figured we may as well call his bluff." (And Jack didn't envy the future archivists who'd have to sort out the entries in the employee file he'd created when the Doctor's son was born, all of a year and a half ago from the linear perspective...)

"Well, you're the one who's going to have to live with his Mum after the experience has warped his tender mind," Owen said with a shrug.

"You're assuming it's not already warped," Jack-Jack said with a devilish glance through his lashes. Damn, he is going to be a handful.

"...Okay, I think we'll start with rule number one: don't do anything I'm not going to want to have to explain to your mother. Or your father. This would include playing with guns, crashing the SUV, or sleeping with Owen, for example."


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Chapter 36: A Little Bit Of Rhythm And A Lot Of Soul

Author's Notes: Everybody was kung fu fightin'. Rule, Britannia?

As new hires or whatever one wanted to consider the nearly-grown Time Lord's relationship to Torchwood went, Jack-Jack's integration into the team was going remarkably smoothly. He and Hart had immediately dragged out some mats to the widest area near the kitchenette and now spent long stretches of each day cheerfully beating the crap out of each other for everyone else's entertainment. It was something to watch, too, Homo superior and Gallifrans temporodominus moving together in a dance whose elegance belied its deadly potential. And more importantly, this new project was absorbing most of Hart's ever-restless energy.

It meant that Jack got to see more of the Doctor during the day as well, since the Time Lord hadn't been about to let any of this go unsupervised. He'd relaxed a tiny bit since the first few days, as Hart's skill at nonlethal teaching methods had become apparent, but he still tended to watch the proceedings as if he expected to see his baby boy regenerating at any moment. "I think they call this sort of thing 'helicopter parenting' these days," Jack said, coming to join the alien in his vigil at the corner of the platform.

"He's actually getting quite good already," the Doctor said, just as Jack-Jack made an impossible twist and managed to lay Hart out flat.

There was a moment of startled silence, in which Jack thought he could almost hear the boy blinking in surprise, and then the Time Agent burst out into genuine laughter, free and unaffected (and when was the last time he'd heard that? if ever?), and reached up to meet the large brown hand offering him a lift off the mats. "I think that makes it lunchtime," Hart said, stripping off his sweat-soaked shirt. (But no more, thank god, he seemed to have grudgingly accepted that arbitrary ruling of Jack's with only the occasional wounded look.)

"Owen's still up there waiting for it," Gwen said, tapping a few keys at her workstation to show them the image of the surgeon saying something that made Tosh giggle as they sorted through the tray of cartons together up in the tourist office. "Oi, while it's still hot, you, flirt with the pretty girls after we get our food." Owen made a rude gesture in the general direction of the CCTV and disappeared from frame while Tosh waved at the lens.

"Right, we've got a chicken with mushrooms, a prawn curry, and no prizes for guessing who ordered the bean curd." Hart reached out to take the container from Owen with wry acknowledgment, the motion calling Jack's attention to a long scar under his ribs that actually looked surgical as opposed to careless. Probably digging out a bullet that had gone deep. The medic finished apportioning out the containers and settled into a chair. "Did I miss anything good on the Kung Fu Theatre while I was stuck up there listening to Tosh banging on about alien linguistics?"

"Only Hart being an incredibly good sport about hitting the mat," Gwen said, with a grin for the still-glowing junior Time Lord. "It's so sweet, how he treats you almost like the son he never had or something. Or --" Gwen's face crumpled as she turned from Jack-Jack to the Time Agent; "I'm sorry, we don't really know that much about you -- do you have a family when you come from? Or whatever the arrangement would have been for your time?"

"Do I look stable enough to use in a breeding programme?" Hart arched an eyebrow at her. "Mind you, I've probably got as many bastards scattered across my home sector as Jack does -- and we can get into the pissing match about that later, thank you -- but as I understand it you people wouldn't count that."

Owen gave Hart and Gwen both a scathing look. "Well, there's some solid information for PC Clever-Clogs to set beside homicidal, psychotic, and there'll always be an England --"

"God, no," Hart cut him off, seeming quite offended. "What's left of this benighted swamp is uninhabitable after the North Atlantic Current shuts down, except for a few bright stars up in the Grampian Archipelago who all marry each other and eventually go on to become Jack's ancestors. Most of my gene-lines were originally patented in the Republic of San Gabriel. Which I suppose means that I have a better claim to being an American than him, really," he added with a sideways glance at Jack, looking as if this were the first time he'd sat and reasoned it all out. "That's actually rather frightening, now I think about it."

Torchwood's medical officer looked about as skeptical as he had the last time the Doctor had tried to explain the TARDIS's translation mechanisms to him in any detail. "So what is the story with the accent?" (And Jack had occasionally wondered that himself, for that matter, though English was after all the tongue that had hunted down and eaten the rest of humanity's languages before fragmenting into a billion shards itself as curious apes fell out with each other in spilling across the stars he knew damn well that Hart's current register was as much a deliberate adoption as his own --)

Hart shrugged. "With colouring like this should I try for Brazilian? That's more the kid's line, I think. -- And now I'm thinking of that one time in New Casablanca that made for such an incredibly entertaining report once we managed to get out, thank you very much for that. I hate doing undercover work in slave irons. Well, real ones, anyway. Although there was this other mission on Yoshiwara Six --"

"Even without the causality issues I'm not sure I want to hear this," the Doctor said.

The Time Agent gave him what Jack was coming to think of as the spoilsport look, but settled back against the sofa with a sigh and plucked a sliver of carrot out of his bowl. "Suppose you're rubbish at bondage games, you'd keep escaping."

"It's a reflex," the Time Lord mumbled into his noodles.

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Chapter 37: Come Midnight

Author's Notes: In sickness, health, and Torchwood. We're just following ancient history.

"You all right?"

The heap of red coverlet stirred sluggishly. "My nipples are going to fall off. And then I won't have any nipples. Remind me again why I thought this was a good idea?"

"I was never entirely clear on that myself. So you're not coming, then? Gwen will miss you."

"I'm rubbish at weddings anyway. I may not be on top form at the moment, but I'm probably still quite capable of turning a garden-variety Torchwood cock-up into a Godzilla-scale disaster. You had better go or you'll be late. I'll be all right."

If Jack didn't miss his guess they'd come home to find the Time Lord watching random track and field events with that look of abstracted melancholy again, still unaccountably upset over something that had apparently failed to go wrong during the opening ceremonies. Jack was afraid to press him about it for fear of having to wade through another mumbled rant about brown suits, butterflies, Papua New Guinea, and the effects of developmental environment on the phenotypical expression of genotypes, which last seemed to be a complaint about his nose. "We'll bring you back some cake," Jack promised, and patted the lump in the coverlet when it groaned.

For a Torchwood wedding the proceedings came off with an almost disappointing lack of Things Blowing Up, only a slight bit of unpleasantness when a jealous Rosie had lunged out of his arms and bitten the flower girl and that near-riot over the outcome of the bouquet-toss (and how Owen had come to end up holding it when the dust cleared over the scrum was still something of a mystery to Jack, although he wouldn't necessarily have put it past Gwen to have tossed it straight at him on purpose), and any of that was the sort of thing that might have happened at a normal wedding, anyway. Jack found himself cooling his heels at the happy couple's table some hours into the reception wondering what good fairy had suddenly chosen to bless him with the kind of luck that had even Hart under control for once. Although come to think of it, where did he --

Gwen nodded towards the bar, where Hart was apparently chatting pleasantly enough with the groom's mother. "Brenda thinks he's Adam Ant. I'm not sure enough that she's wrong to say anything about it."

"I'll just get out the retcon now," Jack groaned.

"You are not giving those bloody amnesia pills to my mother!"

"Listen, if he gets started I might have to dose the whole party. I've seen his act."

"No retcon, Jack." Gwen patted his hand. "Half of our friends aren't going to remember any of this tomorrow anyway. And it's traditional for someone to make a colossal arse of themselves at these things, at least no one here knows him."

Jack slumped in his chair and tried to ignore the occasional glimpses of gyrating red and fawning green that he kept catching out of the corner of his eye. By the end of the evening he'd managed to restrain himself to only retconning the git at the next table who'd kept on making remarks back to the beginning of the ceremony rather than his infancy and considered it a heroic effort. Granted, Owen and Andy had been doing something that could get you arrested back in the day and probably still could in a few jurisdictions, as Jack knew from bitter experience, and god knew it did look funny trying to figure out where two pregnant bellies went, but it wasn't his business if the bride's mates were all crazy, was it?

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Chapter 38: Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said

Author's Notes: Double-blind study. When clowns attack.

"Right, okay, it was careless, yes, but it wasn't deliberate, all right?"

Never fails, every time I come in late -- Jack glanced again at the monitor showing the feed from the cell where they'd left Andy to sleep it off in relative safety. Nope, still lying on the floor with his legs up the wall, barest whisper of the speaker warbling, 'I used to think maybe you loved me, now I know that it's true...' "And he's been out of it for how long?"

"Thirty-seven verses of 'I'm Henry The Eighth I Am' and a surprisingly large back-catalogue of pop songs," Tosh supplied wearily from her own desk, with a dirty look at Owen. "He does have a rather nice voice."

"We've been keeping an eye on his vitals and he doesn't appear to be in any danger," Owen said, tapping keys to call up a wriggling graph.

"Well, when he sobers up you owe him a new lunch, at the very least." And a long-overdue warning about how unattended food achieved sentience at an accelerated rate on these premises. Jack went to add don't put Andy's yoghurt in the specimen fridge to the 'care and feeding of Torchwood and related aliens' list on the kitchen's whiteboard, between stop watching so much Top Gear, our mechanic is getting suspicious enough as it is and remember what happened the last time nobody knew who brought in the brownies? (Which, actually, none of them did, at least clearly, and Jack thought that this rather proved his overall point. When the effects had begun to clear he'd found Ianto sitting behind his desk, the disoriented team apparently having reasoned that their leader must be the one wearing the suit. He'd actually made more headway on the paperwork than Jack ever seemed to.) Yeah, accidental human trials of euphoriant spores, just another morning at the office around here...

The bouquet from the wedding had somehow managed to end up on Tosh's desk. Jack suspected that the explanation he'd get if he asked Owen about that would involve some mumbled posturing about Gwen's idea of funny that wouldn't even resemble the real reasoning process. Probably for the best that Jack-Jack had begged off altogether today to nurse an epic hangover, he could see the young Time Lord making some careless remark about it and spooking Tosh further. (Of course, that in turn left Hart unoccupied enough to get into trouble, but for now he'd sloped off to the firing range and gave every indication of being perfectly content to stay down there all day.) Jack settled onto the sofa where he could be ready to leap up if anything suddenly changed with Andy's condition and tried to lose himself in budget calculations.

Presently Jack became aware that the connection from the cell had begun relaying some increasingly querulous demands for release. "What do you think, Doctor Harper, is the patient past a point where he's gonna be a danger to himself if we let him loose in here with all the shiny things?"

"Yeah, he should be ready for life back on the outside by now, I reckon," Owen replied, striking a few keys to release the cell door. "Straight up to medical, sweetheart, don't stop off to two-time me with the hoix." He'd already killed the audio pickup, but Jack could see Andy mouthing tosser at the camera.

"So that display of lewd conduct last night wasn't necessarily all for Gwen's benefit," Jack said.

Owen shrugged. "Well, I'm not saying it's a deathless romance to sing down the ages, but... some of the broken edges match up, yeah." The medic spun back around in his chair to turn off the video feed, but not before Jack had caught a glimpse of a wistful smile creeping onto his face.

Andy came staggering in from the direction of the vaults, rubbing his eyes. "God, that was like being kicked in the bollocks by a clown," he said hoarsely. "Who insisted he was doing it for my own good." He let Owen take him by the elbow to lead him down into the autopsy room. "I could see the potential for making that into something like pepper-spray, it'd certainly leave people happier about being dropped."

"Not a bad thought," Jack said, pleased that the experience seemed to be spurring Andy's creativity rather than a fight-or-flight response in regards to his position with Torchwood. "Have you got enough of an analysis of it to look into that?"

"Will have done by the time he's completely stabilised," Owen said, brandishing a syringe that was probably several sizes larger than strictly necessary for the sample he intended to draw. "Actually, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see some derivative of the active compound ending up amongst our weaponry with the fear, surprise, and complete lack of ruthless efficiency, considering -- D'you think Hart would mind if I tested this on him to verify a hypothesis?"

"Probably, yes," Jack said. "At least ask first, I do need you in one piece for the next few months."

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Chapter 39: Here Be Dragonnes

Author's Notes: Vanity, vanity, all is vanity. It's not based in Cardiff.

That fabled control that a Time Lord had over nearly every bodily system was apparently something that took some growing into, judging from how miserable Jack-Jack still looked. At least he'd made it as far as the kitchen table by now, which was some improvement over the ball he'd been curled up in when Jack had finally given up and left for the Hub without him, but he still hadn't mustered the coordination to put on a shirt. It was the first time he'd stayed at rest long enough for Jack to study the tattoos on the boy's left shoulder-blade, sketchy fragments in his father's native tongue that Jack knew would one day grow into an epic tale of... what? "I don't suppose your Mum's been one to give you a hard time about those scribbles you've put on yourself," Jack said, drawing out a chair beside the young Time Lord. "Unless she thinks they say something rude."

Jack-Jack took the glass of water his stepfather offered with a grateful look. "It's a... map, I guess you could say," he said. "Places we've been. The first one's here," he explained, twisting round to point to the largest and most intricate of the circles. "Cardiff, I mean. Says where it is, what it's like... that I was born here. Everything else follows from there."

Jack thought that most inhabitants of the city, and the whole island for that matter, would be somewhere between gobsmacked and in hysterics to think of Cardiff in all its damp gray glory as the center of the universe. "You can be sure no one else is going to have one like it."

A flicker of amusement through the hangdog look. "Except for Ianto's."

"Ianto does not have a --" Jack-Jack raised a credible imitation of his father's deftly flexed eyebrow. "All right, never mind, I suppose I'll find out." A long silence, while the young Time Lord drank down most of the glass of water in a long gulp. "What about when you regenerate?" a morbid curiosity finally drove Jack to ask.

Jack-Jack shrugged, ideographs colliding like continents across his skin. "I guess I'll start over again," he said. "If I still feel like it. Might not, you never can tell." The dark eyes had gone thoughtful. "Could ask Hart what goes with ginger. But it seems a little petty."

Unreasonable not to have expected some leakage of information, considering, but Jack wondered just where the line was for a Time Lord. "He's not a reliable source, anyway," Jack said. "And I hope you've learned your lesson about trying to out-drink him."

From the tiny shudder Jack-Jack gave, it wasn't a challenge the boy was eager to take up again against anyone, much less ask the Time Agent for a rematch. Maybe there was something to this idea of letting the kid make his own mistakes, after all.

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Chapter 40: Same Thing We Do Every Night, Pinky

Author's Notes: Slow day at the office. Evolutionary theory.

Gwen breezed into the Hub an hour later than she'd said she'd be coming back after her brief honeymoon, looking tanned and markedly more pregnant. "Good thing we had the wedding when we did, Jack, you're getting noticeable," she said, maneuvering in for an awkward hug. "Is it a good idea to let Jack-Jack watch the tourist office? We got in to forty-seven messages on the machine wanting to know if we could hook people up with the pretty Greek boy from the reception. And they weren't all from women."

"He wanted to see what Tosh thinks is so fascinating all of a sudden," Jack said with a resigned shrug. "And I think he's a little too dark to pass for Greek -- Tosh should actually be here by now, really..."

To Jack's surprise, when Toshiko's number connected it was Owen's sleepy voice that growled at him about the hours Torchwood expected them to keep. "Is Tosh all right?" Jack asked, cutting him off in mid-rant.

The voice ratcheted down a few levels of annoyance. "Yeah, she's fine, she was just... you know. Needed somebody to cry at a stupid film with. Fell asleep before it ended, is all. What the hell time is it?"

"Nine-thirty in the morning."

"Bloody hell."

Owen came strolling in forty-five minutes later, not looking particularly repentant about it. "I said Gwen wouldn't be able to stay away long, a beach in Majorca just can't compete with the joys of sitting about doing paperwork while you're being sexually harassed by cyborgs --"

"Please, they don't let cyborgs into the Time Agency, you wouldn't want to break down in some Dark Age or leave your inorganic parts behind in a bad jump. Hundred percent biological, this."

Ianto shot Gwen a morose look from where he sat at Tosh's desk, doggedly trying to set an example of a good work ethic for the toddler in his lap in the face of the slothful chaos all around them. "Welcome back to what you've been missing all week."

"All I said was that she reminded me of my Mum. If my Mum had had impractically large breasts."

"I am never going to be able to play Tomb Raider again," Owen moaned.

Jack rather thought that the issue was how this particular controversy had managed to erupt during what had ostensibly been working hours, but then again if it was slow enough lately that they were playing games that might be a good thing overall, really. Slow enough that it didn't really matter if he and Martha were paying more attention to entertaining Rosie this morning than to the rift monitors, certainly, or that it was another hour again before the last member of his regular staff trailed in and then immediately sat himself down on the sofa to take a long phone call when he did. Jack tried his best not to listen in on a conversation that appeared to be about a 'promotion at work' and real-estate transactions, although he couldn't help but catch the odd tidbit like "special ops" and "His name's Owen, actually" and "No, Nerys, that's not why she moved to Perth" before Andy rang off with "Love you too, Auntie Nerys" and curled up into as much of a ball on the sofa as his long legs would permit. "Now my aunt thinks I'm gay," the constable said with an air of weary resignation.

"Just because you spend your first day at work in a dress some people get completely the wrong idea," Owen said.

"I can have her house, anyway," Andy said, and pushed himself up straight. "She's finally agreed that she's serious enough about the farm that she won't be moving back here. I may need a bit of time off to sort out what she wants sent down to New Zealand," he said with a look to Jack.

"He may need a lot of time off," Owen corrected, with an I've seen the place sigh, and flopped down onto the sofa beside the constable. "Or just to ring up Cash In The Attic without telling her."

However that relationship was getting along on their own time, so far they'd been carefully restrained here at work, and Jack was a little surprised to see the dark head and the fair dip towards one another and remain tucked casually together as if this were the most natural thing in the world. "Evolution in action, Jack," Hart said approvingly when neither seemed much inclined to break the pose. "Now if we could just get the girls to kiss we'd really be getting somewhere."

"Now, see, that's him coming up with a good idea for once," Owen said, sitting up to rummage in his pockets. "Ten quid enough to get any action started, ladies?"

"What have I told you about bribing people to kiss, Owen?"

Owen frowned as if he thought that this might be a trick question. "'Don't be such a cheap bastard'?"

A flurry of typing from Ianto then, as Jack tried to not grin at his medic's usual gross insubordination: "Tosh says we've had rift activity, Jack, something might have come through out in Roath?"

Hart shrugged eloquently when Jack lifted an eyebrow at him, as if to say, well, it's not going to block them all. "Want we should go check it out, Boss?"

And we no longer included Jack for the duration, he knew as his field agents started gathering up their kit around him without ever quite meeting his eyes. So this was Torchwood: the Cardiff-born alien and the soldier out of his time, the native son long since lost to the lure of the stars and the constable still sworn to protect his city, and pretending to be in charge of them all a doctor who knew damn well what the other side of losing a patient was like. "Go get 'em, kids," Jack said, looking over the team that wasn't exactly his any more, not this time around. Do me proud. Please.

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Chapter 41: Expecto Patronum

Author's Notes: Emergency procedures. The value of rehab.

The waiting, Jack had decided, was the worst part, always having to guess from the stream of patter over the comm how much longer it would be before he could at least see what had gone wrong this time for himself, instead of imagining from the fragmented data available in his confinement to the Hub. "No, that could trigger seizures with this --"

"Well, maybe I should bloody well drive then and you can come back here and treat him --"

Not nearly soon enough the muffled squeal of brakes that had to be Hart just about rolling the SUV (Jack still wasn't sure where, or for that matter if, he'd learned to drive vehicles from this period) and Owen's rundown of the merits of the Hub's several hosing-down options heralded half the field team's appearance, Ianto slung over Hart's shoulder with dangling arms bound. "Stay back, he needs to be decontaminated," the Time Agent warned as Gwen started to heave herself off the sofa.

From the ineffectual thrashing and the slurred stream of bilingual abuse being directed into Hart's backside, Jack guessed that Ianto had caught a hearty faceful of the bhabvian's psychotropic spittle. "Some people actually take this stuff for fun, believe it or not."

"Even I'm not that crazy," Hart replied with a glance to Gwen's horrified expression. (Although Jack suspected from the fact that he hadn't bothered to put on protective gloves that it was more because he happened to be resistant to that particular category of poisons...) "Come watch, Jack? I'm not sure how much he's taking in, but having you there might help him settle."

Surprised that Hart would be thinking in such terms, Jack followed along to the facility that Torchwood used for particularly nasty cleanups and de-sliming of alien detainees, the one that had been designed with an eye towards the occasional need for the use of restraints. Hart let Owen guide their patient down to sprawl against the wall, seizing the moment to strip off most, well, make that all of his own clothes while Torchwood's surgeon performed a quick check of Ianto's vitals. The blue eyes were completely blown to pupil, and Jack doubted his brain was recording much of anything right now, which was probably a mercy.

Odd, to watch Hart taking the lead in the proceedings, murmuring instructions to Ianto in a surprisingly reassuring soft voice that he had likely picked up from having been on the receiving end of countless such interactions. "I'm going to untie your hands now, Jones. We need to get your shirt off."

Ianto snarled an incoherent string of consonants that Jack supposed was something very rude in whatever language he thought he was currently speaking. Hart smiled as if he'd grasped the general intent regardless and pulled the knot loose, steadying Ianto as the sudden change of balance sent him wobbling on the slick tiles. "You've done this before," Owen noted with what sounded like reluctant approval as he helped the Time Agent to strip Ianto of his befouled shirt.

"May not have learned what they wanted me to in rehab, but I can't say it didn't have some educational value." Hart ducked a wild swing that probably wouldn't have connected even if Ianto had been sober and started to undo his belt as well.

"Oi, leave him some dignity --"

"I am," Hart replied, weary pity in the gray eyes. "Think about it, Doctor Harper."

With a look that suggested he was having a hard time keeping a grip on his professional detachment Owen lifted Ianto up far enough for Hart to finish undressing him like a large floppy child. Bruises already coming up all over the incandescently pale Welsh skin gave Jack a fair picture of how Ianto had ended up close enough to the bhabvian to receive such a large dose of its toxic saliva. I think we need to have a long talk about coping mechanisms, when you're speaking to me again. "Soap?"

Jack handed in the bottle and stepped well back as the medical officer reached up to turn on the spray. Ianto let out a full-throated howl as the water hit him (god only knew what he was perceiving it as by this point, a swarm of fire ants for all Jack knew) and renewed his struggling with fresh if disjointed vigor, bucking against Owen until Jack began to worry that somebody was going to lose teeth from this exercise. "Couldn't you have sedated him for this?"

"This is sedated." Ianto had turned blindly toward the sound of Jack's voice. Hart spared one last sidelong look and then focused himself on capturing the windmilling arms. Watching over the curious sight of the Time Agent holding Ianto down, or perhaps up, as Owen scrubbed lather through the young man's hair with latex-shrouded fingers, Jack wondered exactly when this sort of scene had come to look normal to him.

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Chapter 42: You May Ask Yourself, Am I Right? Am I Wrong?

Author's Notes: The brown acid. Waiting game.

Ianto had gone limp by the time he'd been cleansed to Hart's satisfaction, head lolling back against Owen's shoulder. Jack's sketchy acquaintance with bhabvian venom suggested that this was a more encouraging sign than not, flailing reflexes knocked off-line as the brain began reorganizing its inputs. "I think he's past the critical point," Hart said, thumbing one of Ianto's eyelids up to check the response. "I'll stay with him. If you'll let me. He may need someone to hold him down if he comes round before it's cleared completely."

Jack considered this, as Hart returned a steady gaze, and nodded reluctant approval, forced to acknowledge that of anyone available to him at this moment his old partner was the closest he had to an expert on bad trips. "Yeah, well, I'm gonna go change into something a little less covered in soapy alien spit," Owen announced, already pulling his shirt over his head as he slouched towards the door. "Fuck, now I'm going to have to burn this. You owe me a new shirt, Harkness."

It didn't seem like the moment to point out that Owen could have saved himself a bit of trouble by taking it off first. Jack held out a blanket as Hart hauled Ianto into a more or less upright position, and together they bundled him up into it, a slack unresisting package in gray wool that the Time Agent hefted into his arms as if Ianto weighed no more than Rosie. Not for the first time, Jack wondered how Hart managed to conceal himself even as well as he bothered to in backwater time-periods like this, when sooner or later some instinct would always bring those transhuman modifications to the fore.

Uncongenial as they were, the vaults were still the only place to take Ianto where he wouldn't be at any increased risk of hurting himself or one of the others if he did have another fit before this was over. Jack picked a cell in the warmest section and helped Hart to get the unconscious man supported as comfortably as seemed possible, lying quiet against Hart's chest like a damp and exhausted infant birthed into some strange new reality. "You're sure you're really up for this," Jack said rather doubtfully.

"Considering that your idea of a bedside manner is 'I've laid out your body for burial and it wasn't over this', I think I can do at least that well, yes," the Time Agent said, with a long-suffering look that made him wonder if it had been a joke. Jack reached out to smooth the white lock sticking out at at an angle from the dark background, but Ianto shied away from the touch with a whimper, eyelids flickering but not lifting. "I wouldn't take that personally," Hart pointed out with just the faintest trace of amusement. "He probably thinks you're a three-headed falaxian bugbear right about now. He should be more himself in a couple of hours. You might as well go back upstairs to wait for the others to find their way home, there's not much to be done here for a while."

"You left them out there to come home on the bus, didn't you," Jack realized suddenly, doing the mental tally of team members and vehicles that he hadn't had a moment for yet and coming up very short.

Hart shrugged, careful not to disturb Ianto. "Was that wrong? I thought getting this one back to you was a higher priority."

It was, and Jack was reasonably sure that Andy could manage to navigate his way through Cardiff's public transit system with little enough trouble even trying to look after an alien boy and whatever residue from the mission that there hadn't been time to throw into the SUV, but the question of the dignity of the thing still rankled a little. "Just try to call it in first next time you have to split up the team like that," Jack said, feeling the sudden need to reassert some sort of dominance over the proceedings, and left the cell before he could let himself start to dwell upon that.

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Chapter 43: You May Say To Yourself, My God, What Have I Done?

Author's Notes: Merits of public versus private transit. Martyrdom complexes.

Andy and Jack-Jack, it turned out when he came back up to the main level of the Hub, had just then arrived back, the latter already slumped on the sofa looking uncharacteristically green for a Time Lord, at least one who wasn't busy actively attracting nature's wrath through unholy acts of procreation. "Don't tell me he got into it as well --"

"No, he got sick on the bus on the way back," Andy replied, looking as if this had been quite the revelation to him. "Can't say that I entirely blame him, but as time-travelling aliens go, you're a bit of a lightweight, mate."

"I told you I'd never ridden on one before," Jack-Jack said, still sagged over his knees. "All that stopping and starting --"

"You got off easy, I think Hart must have been a driver for the Russian mob." Owen threw himself down onto the sofa beside the young alien, giving him a cursory glance that seemed to be made up of equal parts nah, can't be arsed to worry about a motion-sickness case just now and if you do sick up on me you'll regret it. "Never thought I'd live to see the day when I missed Jack's driving. And I use the phrase 'live to see' quite advisedly here."

Owen's left eye was starting to puff up into one hell of a shiner, which Jack suspected might well have something to do with why they'd bound Ianto's hands for transport. The Captain caught his medic's attention and nodded him into the office. "You look like you need a drink," Jack said, passing him the decanter of whiskey from the stand behind his desk.

Owen poured himself a hefty glass and made a good start on it before answering, "I didn't think we were going to make it back. I almost needed the paddles by the time I was sure his heart wasn't going to give out. But at least that would have saved you killing me for losing him," he added sardonically as he slumped back in the chair.

"Like you care about my no-good babydaddy," Jack said.

"Yeah, well, you might want to think about making him go out there again, or you could end up raising those kids as a single mum."

"He asked to be back on the field team." Jack had the horrible feeling that he knew exactly why, too, all Ianto's capacity for stubborn loyalty dovetailing too neatly with the real opportunity to get out there and put himself on the line for his convictions. Not that Jack didn't live in a glass house on that one.

Owen couldn't stop glancing at the monitor showing Ianto cradled in Hart's arms, troubled and lost even in repose. "We'll have to archive these tapes for reference in case it happens to somebody else," the surgeon said, visibly disturbed by the thought. "Poor sod."

"What did go down out there? From the bruises I'm picturing him wrestling it to the ground single-handed."

"He was drawing its attention from the rest of us." Which somehow failed to surprise Jack in the slightest, really. "He lost his gun when it jumped him, but he managed to keep it busy until we could put it out of its misery, even after he got covered in that stuff." Owen paused, eyes gone dark. "I'm not sure whether that was the bravest thing I've ever seen, or a suicide attempt that we got in the middle of."

Jack could well imagine. "He's got a lot to work through right now."

Owen set his empty glass on Jack's desk and stood up to leave. "If it were up to me I'd put him on a medical leave for as long as I thought I could get him to stay away. But it isn't up to me, is it." The medic gave Jack a penetrating look. "I gotta go put some more ice on this eye. Give us a shout if anything changes with him, will you?"

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Chapter 44: Wish I Knew What You Were Looking For

Author's Notes: Coming down. Contractual obligations.

Ianto came partway around several more times in the next few hours, as wild as Hart had predicted and a very good thing that they'd had the minder to spare for him. And a strong one, at that. Jack sat and watched, all of it, how his old partner carried out this charge with such strange gentleness, holding Ianto's shoulders as his body twisted, and thought that of all the frightening acts he had seen this man commit, somehow his compassion was the hardest to bear.

Presently Ianto seemed at last to have fallen into a true sleep, rather than the stupor of drugged unknowingness. Jack wondered if it would be premature to relax yet. Hart certainly seemed to have dropped his guard a bit, lips moving to whisper some sort of reassurances into Ianto's ear. Jack tweaked volume pickups until he had the barest hint of audio. It sounded like a lullaby, not in any language he could make out yet familiar, hauntingly familiar, and with an icy shock Jack realized that if you pitched it down a little, and pronounced the words correctly, with those harmonics that no human throat could fully reproduce...

Before Jack could fully wrap his mind around the implications of where Hart would have learned a Gallifreyan lullaby well enough to repeat it there was a sudden flurry of activity on the monitor. "Could you send Owen down here, Jack?"

Jack caught a few phrases like deliriant effects on humans and buy you a new shirt over the comm as he lumbered vaultward as fast as his changing center of balance would allow, too distracted by thoughts of what visuals might be attached to that narrative in his ear even to snap at Owen when the medic took his elbow solicitously. By the time they had reached the cell it was to find Ianto pressed back against the wall as far from Hart as he could get, radiating distrust so palpably that Jack bet he was giving every psychic in Cardiff hives. "What am I doing in here with him?"

"Medical emergency," Owen said, with few traces of his usual acid. "You had a bad reaction to an alien substance, and he volunteered to watch you while you were coming down. Apparently he's something of an expert on the subject."

The blue eyes appeared to be evaluating this statement carefully. "Why are we naked?"

"Don't worry, he's been being a perfect gentleman," Owen replied, looking as if this puzzled him too. "Which is more than we can say for you I'm afraid, you really ought to buy your paramedic dinner before you start humping his leg. Not enough retcon in the world to get rid of that moment, believe me."

Still, none of that stopped Owen from taking Ianto gently by the shoulders and leading him away upstairs to the autopsy room for a checking-over. Jack watched with Hart from the railing above as the young man now shivering in another gray blanket answered the medic's questions in a small subdued voice, until he caught a glimpse of Gwen approaching him with a disapproving finger pointed at the Time Agent. "He appears to believe that the right to wander about naked as he deems it necessary is in his contract somewhere. I know it sure as hell isn't in mine."

He was running way behind events today, dammit. "Yeah, general rule of thumb for the office, if we can see the tattoo you're not wearing enough," Jack said, drowning out whatever Hart's intended comeback to her might have been.

Hart made a rude noise. "Just because you're twice my age right now doesn't make you my dad. Unless you want to get into that sort of game --"

"It's actually more like three times, and I can't believe you even suggested that."

"Okay, then, gramps."

Andy was still staring after Hart as the Agent disappeared up the stairs. "I'm going to be misinterpreted for saying this, but Greek statues could take lessons from that arse."

"I'm sure that was part of the design brief," Jack said absently.

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Chapter 45: I'm So Much Older Than I Can Take

Author's Notes: Old soldiers. The Wrong Trousers.

Ianto's spirits seemed marginally improved by the time they'd found him some fresh clothes. "Hart does seem to have... mellowed," he admitted grudgingly as he settled in on the sofa, finally surrendering his blankets. "I can't picture having made it through that as well if it had been just us."

Jack sighed, just as puzzled as his crew for once. "I don't know. Maybe he's just... getting old." It was a strange thought to wrap his nearly ageless head around, that the companion of his wild youth might actually burn low and go out before he managed to get himself splattered in the noisiest and most artistic way he could contrive. "He's gotta have at least sixty Standard under his belt by now, that's got to have him thinking."

Andy was frankly agog. "Are you saying that that man could be my father's age? I mean, the things I've seen him do --"

"You wouldn't believe what bioengineering will come to in the next couple of millennia, kid. And you really don't design an expensive asset like him with a practical working lifespan of only a decade or two. I don't even know how long his people do live, it's not as if I've ever seen one make it to a quiet retirement in the country." And the Time Agency had loved that ruthless enthusiasm, always eager to embrace the few outcasts and mavericks too feral for the harsh discipline of a wandering mercenary race. Even the need for a full-time minder had been considered a trivial price to pay for Hart's services...

"I almost feel sorry for him now," Gwen said, eyes distant. "He's as much an alien in this time as you are. He couldn't even settle down somewhere -- somewhen -- like this and have a normal life, could he. Couldn't start a family..."

"Stop nesting, Cooper. It's a damn good thing he can't, anyway, can you imagine little superbabies running around Cardiff? One of him's hard enough to deal with."

Gwen gave him a sour look. "What about your people, Jack? What were you selected for?"

"Looks," Hart said, coming down the stairs from the catwalk as silently as a stalking panther. "Since god knows it wasn't intelligence or penis size. He may have some everyday advantages like the posh olfactory bulb, but other than that he's just about as helpless as you lot. Kind of like Batman without his toys."

"Don't say it," Jack warned as Owen started to open his mouth.

"I was going to point out that those appear to be my trousers," the medic said, but without much rancor. (And considering that by now it felt like a gracious indulgence on Hart's part that the Agent could be coaxed back into anybody's clothes without that much of a fight, Jack for one didn't much care whose trousers he might borrow in extremis just so long as he did.)

Hart had stopped in front of Ianto, evaluating the young man with a critical eye. "Feeling a bit better, then?" A small nod that wasn't nearly so sullen as it might have been even six hours before. "Right, then, probably best to call it a day, if you can talk your slave-driving Captain into it."

Jack spread his hands in a gesture of acquiescence, more than willing to let Hart be the one to make that call since he seemed to be on a run of luck with this case. "Thank you," he said to the Agent once Owen had led Ianto off to drive him home.

Hart shrugged. "Rough business, these things, but it's a little easier when there's someone there to hold your hand as you come round," he said, a shadow crossing the gray eyes that suggested he wasn't seeing Jack, not as he was now... "Now, would this be a good moment for me to hope that someone's about to call out for take-away, because I've well missed lunch?"

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Chapter 46: If I Could Just Hold You Again

Author's Notes: Custody decisions. A fantastic life.

Perhaps to reinforce the idea that Ianto was most decidedly off-duty for the next little while, Owen had put him to bed in the guestroom rather than the nursery, which Jack-Jack took with amused grace when they found him huddled in a ball beneath the wrong blankets. Jack sat down on the edge of the bed. "All of you, shoo for a while, will you?"

Once the rest of the household had cleared off Ianto hauled himself up into a more-or-less seated position, looking as if he were beginning to feel each and every one of those bruises. "If you've come to tell me what an idiot I was being today, Owen's probably already covered it," he said.

"It could have been any of us, Ianto."

"It could," he acknowledged, deep shadows in the blue eyes. "And... I think that's the point." A deep breath, as if he were on the brink of saying something he'd been considering for quite some while now and wasn't sure he'd be able to take it back if he did. "I want custody, Jack. I'm not having them growing up Torchwood."

He'd been expecting this, Jack realized as he met Ianto's steady gaze. Waiting for it, really. And there was only one answer he could honestly give. "Okay."

Ianto blinked. "'Okay'? That's all? If I said I was going to take them to Outer Mongolia and live in a, a yurt --"

"I said, 'okay'. You're right. This isn't going to work."

Now Ianto looked suspicious, as if he'd expected to have been retconned and dumped on the side of the highway by now. "This isn't just about today, I mean --"

"Why shouldn't it be? I let you go out into the field when you're rusty and nearly get you killed, on your birthday --" (and from the look in his eyes Ianto had forgotten the date, but then time travel could do that to you), "I'm lucky you're not trying to kick my ass right about now."

"Not when you're pregnant," Ianto said, looking a little disturbed at the combination of images.

"Right. Anyway, if you want the kids, yeah. Getting as far away from Torchwood as possible is probably their best shot at anything like a normal life." Or yours. "I'd just... like to come visit you in Outer Mongolia once in a while?"

This wrung a reluctant laugh from Ianto. "I don't think I'd go that far. Maybe Swansea."

"Good choice, I hear the market for yurts there is kind of soft right now. Ought to be able to get a good deal."

Ianto rolled his eyes, but looked as if Jack had freed him of a weight he'd been carrying for longer than he could quite recall. "You're impossible, Jack."

"So I've been told. Now try to get some sleep before I have to have Martha come sedate you."

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Chapter 47: Fit So Nice He Said I Could Keep It

Author's Notes: Routine maintenance. A peculiar accident.

"I'm really not sure we ought to have left them there together," the Doctor said again.

"He's got stitches in his femoral artery, Doctor, I don't think even Hart could be in any state of mind to get into trouble for a while." Souvenir of an altercation with some all-too-human entrepreneurs, for once, one of them getting off a lucky enough shot in the defense of their tidy little racket in alien junk that if it had caught any of his other employees he'd have been down a man permanently. As it was it would be some time before any of them would be able to shake off the memory of Hart lying ashen-faced on Owen's table, and Jack-Jack had volunteered to look after the Time Agent until he was back on his feet. (And if that meant that Jack wasn't the one who was going to have to listen to most of the carrying-on about being contaminated with Torchwood DNA, he was just as happy...)

Today, though, everything had been quiet, enough so that he'd felt justified in starting a long-overdue reorganization of the archives that was going to take, well, he didn't exactly know, since Torchwood had never actually managed to finish one in all of his tenure here. Realistically speaking, of course, there was probably more chance that somebody would get maimed or killed down in their own sub-basements, but it still felt like a holiday after yesterday's bloody scene, and Jack was more than content to sit watching Rosie and the baby Jack-Jack throw alien legos at each other as his team sporadically emerged to bring some of their more puzzling finds to the Doctor for an expert opinion that hadn't been available to Torchwood at the time of original archiving.

Owen and Andy were the first to straggle up from the depths when Jack decided to call a break for lunch. Torchwood's medical officer was wearing a military coat he'd apparently taken a shine to down there, double-breasted khaki wool that had to date back to the Great War; "'I shall call him Mini-Me'," Jack said, and got a two-fingered salute for his trouble. "If you're going to keep that make sure you log it out, I'm still finding bad records from when somebody didn't itemize properly when they stole half the unidentifiables."

"Wouldn't say 'stole'," the Doctor objected mildly. "'Misappropriated', there's a better metaphor. It's not as if I've asked for a proper salary ever, don't see where anyone could object to me going off with a few odd bits nobody was using."

"And anything you didn't want us having. Or that was just plain shiny and struck your fancy."

"I did put it down on your books to TARDIS repairs. Oh, you've got a box, that was planning," the Time Lord remarked with delight as Andy set it at his feet. "Anything particularly remarkable, do you think?"

The constable sneezed as he began to rummage through the collected trinkets. "Sorry, I think we were in the part that's not been dusted since this place started -- In addition to the coat, some of the other highlights include a copy of the first Superman comic, what Owen swears are half of Ianto's missing marbles, and an entire tiny civilisation that had evolved in a jam-jar."

"Put that under my desk-lamp with the other one. We can race 'em."


"Oh, all right, if they're still going strong by the time you're back in flight condition you can go set them free in some tiny woods somewhere. Honestly, you can be such a grouch."

Despite Jack's amusement Owen seemed to have well and truly adopted the old coat. The medic leaned over Jack's shoulder to peer at his open wrist-strap; "That's showing my patient, yeah?" Jack tilted his wrist so Owen could see the telltales showing Hart safely contained within the confines of Jack's house and his lifesigns within normal parameters, at least for someone with the metabolism of a meth-crazed chipmunk. "Not rid of him yet, then. Is he still whingeing about my medical brilliance?"

"Was when we left him."

Owen pulled a face. "He's just lucky he could take our blood. Even if he did make it into a dirty joke when I asked him what type he was."

Not so much luck when the odds were always that a single one of his people would be serving auxiliary to a force of less-modified humans, Jack thought, just glad that Hart's forebears had been designed with a firm eye towards the probable need for crude emergency treatment on the most unlikely battlefields. Like this, for example. "You realize of course that he's spoiled your perfect record of being the bullet-magnet around here."

"I will happily patch him up after for as long as he's interested in hanging on to the title."

Something was nagging at Jack, and as his three pregnant employees emerged from the archives together it occurred to him that up until about an hour before they'd had themselves divided in teams of two, each of the women doing the lighter duty of record-sorting while the men wrestled boxes around. And Tosh had certainly given Owen and Andy a look when she saw them, pink-cheeked as if she'd actually caught them in a quiet corner together. Poor thing. She and Gwen seemed to be steadying each other under Martha's watchful eye, and no wonder if she'd seen a thing like that in her condition --

Ianto staggered out at last, dust thick in his hair and several buttons missing from his torn shirt. "What happened to you?"

"I think that's for Gwen to explain, really," Ianto replied with a strained sort of dignity.

"Tipped a stack of boxes down on you, did she?"

"Not exactly." Well, now Martha was blushing, what in the hell had they --

Gwen mumbled something. "Sorry?"

Dilated eyes met Jack's as her head snapped up. "I said, I dropped a jar of alien sex-pollen. I'm going home."

It was at about this point that Jack fully registered why Owen was wearing the coat. "...I always miss out on 'orgy in the stacks' day, dammit."

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Chapter 48: Reason Will Not Reach A Solution

Author's Notes: Fear and self-loathing in Caerdydd. Moments of grace.

The sting in the tail came the next morning, when Jack arrived at the Hub to find Owen stitching up a gash above Ianto's eyebrow that he had apparently caused. "It was an accident," they both insisted staunchly as Jack waited for the explanation.

"If this is still about yesterday, it's nothing to be embarrassed about --"

"Turns out he didn't just give Tosh a ride home last night," Owen said baldly. (Which Jack had more than suspected, when Ianto hadn't turned up again after his perhaps-not-so-gentlemanly offer...) "Words were exchanged."

"Which escalated to a bit of shoving."

"And now I owe her a new coffee table," Owen finished, snipping the thread after the last suture and stepping back to admire his handiwork. "But we've got this sorted, and I really don't feel like going over it all again, yeah? She'll be in as soon as Andy can get her to stop crying, so I'd appreciate it if you'd just leave me to live out my last moments in peace."

"It doesn't sound like a hanging offence, Owen," Martha said. "More like you thought you were defending her honour or something. It's actually kind of sweet, really."

"It was the part where I pointed out that I'm not the one who's been in love with her since day one that he's worried about," Ianto said. "Since it wasn't the most diplomatic thing for me to have said in front of Andy."

"There's a good reason spores like those are outlawed in most systems, you know," Jack observed into the silence that followed.

Owen slumped onto the bottom step, hunching into a ball of misery. "I just don't want her to be hurt," he said into his crossed arms. "Fuck, sometimes I have nightmares, that I'm scrubbing her blood off the floor in here because I couldn't save her..."

Which as metaphors went was peculiarly appropriate for Torchwood, Jack thought, but judging from the look on Ianto's face the medic wasn't the only one worried to distraction about Tosh's impending single-parenthood. Hell, so was Jack, when he could spare the time from the rest of his list of insoluble problems. "She might not need saving, have you ever considered that?"

Owen raised his head far enough to give Martha a yeah, right look. "I know what it did to my mum," he began, and jumped nearly off the step when the main door's siren went off. Got to rethink that thing --

Neither Toshiko nor Andy looked particularly enraged or grim or anything of the sort, Jack noted, just tired and maybe the slightest bit sad. "You are a bastard," Andy said straight off as he came to the railing, sounding as if he were probably speaking for both of them. "But we knew that. Are we going to be able to get through the rest of today without any more GBH, do you think?"

Owen looked for a moment as if he were about to retreat behind a smartass quip, but then Jack saw him swallow, and take a shuddering breath, and then he was rushing up the tiled steps to bury himself in the constable's arms, trembling like forgiveness was the last thing he had been expecting. Considering Owen's history, that probably wasn't so far off the truth. "Should have been there for you last night, Tosh," he said presently, turning his head to look for her but not pulling back from the embrace.

"That would have been such a bad idea," Andy said into his hair, ears going red. "That... pollen..."

"It kind of goes without saying that the archives are off-limits until we get the scrubbers fixed," Jack said. "Unless you want to invite me this time?"

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Chapter 49: Come On, Pretty Baby, Kiss Me Deadly

Author's Notes: Gift horses. You're messing up my hair.

Fixing the ventilation systems in the archives seemed like a fairly low priority right now, to be perfectly honest. Not when Jack had discovered what an effective motivation threatening to assign people to go down there and poke around for a while was for getting the non-archival chores taken care of up top. It almost seemed a shame when Hart's bullet-wound healed to enough of a degree that Jack couldn't find any more excuses to keep his self-appointed bodyguard from hobbling back to work, where he immediately insisted on going down to check out the current status of the archives for himself. "You're not letting him in there with that bloody stuff, seriously, you can't --"

"If it's in the family I'm thinking it must be from the way you've all described your experiences it's most likely something I'm not susceptible to, more's the pity," Hart said. "Besides, I do prefer a bit more of a challenge than that."

Jack had his doubts, but if Hart was willing to risk himself to get a look at the underpowered scrubbers he could hardly turn down the offer, and at least with the Agent still a bit off his game they'd have a fighting chance to outrun him if his guess about the specifics of the pollen was off the mark. Jack still made him wear a filter-mask, though, despite Hart's protest that they couldn't even be sure the mechanism of action wasn't skin contact or for that matter a low-level telepathic field, given Ianto's ability to keep something of his head even as Gwen had been rather determinedly banging it into the floor. (Pun... perhaps intended.) "I still get nervous when he's being this, erm, altruistic," Owen observed with a skeptical frown.

Hart paused in his fiddling with the mask to give the medic a look. "Please, I've been stuck with your daytime telly all this while, by now I'd do the damn archiving if it meant not having to watch any more of those chat-shows. Primitive savages, all of you."

"And if I'd tried to obtain enough drugs to keep him sedated enough not to care, I'd have got my licence pulled, Torchwood or not," Martha added.

"There are not enough drugs on this world or any other to make me sit through one more moment of Bargain Hunt," Hart replied with grave dignity, and disappeared down into the archives.

"Well, he wasn't well enough to try to keep him entertained any other way, and we ran out of videos he'd put up with on the Wednesday," Jack-Jack said when several curious looks turned in his direction.

There wasn't much else to do but worry, right at this moment, sitting at desks trying to pretend that any of them did have any more pressing tasks to hand than toying with the various ways to display airflow functions throughout the many levels of the Hub. Eventually Jack noticed that they had given up on anything resembling work altogether: Owen in the middle of the sofa rubbing Tosh's back while Andy sagged against his other side (and whatever rough arrangement slouched towards Cardiff to be born there Jack wasn't sure that any of them quite knew yet), while Ianto and the young Time Lord had actually ended up on the floor, looking as if they were about to start passing a bottle back and forth any minute now. "Was a better day around here than some, anyway," Owen was saying as Jack tuned himself into the conversation.

Ianto cast a probably unconscious glance skywards as if he were thinking of how Gwen had exiled herself to the tourist office ever since the... incident, her qualifications for that job be damned. "Well, it's a question of free will, isn't it."

"Strangely enough, I can respect the idea of refusing to mate in captivity," Hart remarked over the comm. "Sometimes you just don't want to give the bastards the satisfaction. Although that zoo on Thaderis was nearly posh enough to have me considering it --"

"Everyone who did not think he was some sort of escaped circus freak, you owe me five quid," Owen said.

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Chapter 50: Hold You In His Arms, Yeah, You Can Feel His Disease

Author's Notes: Next to godliness. Does anybody love anybody, anyway?

It wasn't so very much longer before Hart re-emerged, grubby but not unduly libidinous relative to his usual baseline. "System's just clogged, someone's missed out a few maintenance cycles along the line." Hart cast an arch glance at Ianto, and Jack wondered afresh just how much background research the Agent had done on any of them, and Torchwood itself. "'S fixable, but I'll need a volunteer?"

For a moment Jack-Jack looked as if he might spring at the chance, but it was Ianto who ended up hauling himself to his feet, a look of resignation in his eyes as he reached for another mask. "If I'm never seen again, I just want you all to know that I regret everything," he said lugubriously.

Jack was still trying not to grin as the two comm signals made their way down through the maze past the level where the jar of spores had detonated. "How's our canary holding up?"

"I think it is an airborne, since he hasn't tried to jump me so far. Unless he's just that much of a stubborn bastard."

"I'd say he has better taste, but then again he does consort with Jack," Owen said. "And it wasn't even his idea to try to pull Tosh --"

"There wasn't any point in us both being miserable all night," Tosh said, rather defiantly Jack thought, as if she'd been going over and over it trying to convince herself. "I was only being practical --"

"Do we have to keep going on about this, please?"

"Depends how well that mask keeps working, mate."

And that might well be a problem, Jack thought, one eye on the readouts showing accelerated respiratory rates as the two men began wrestling about with the machinery below. Not that he wouldn't be willing, to, um, sacrifice himself if Ianto got another dose of those spores, but he was getting a little tired of all the awkward mornings-after around here, and some vestigial instinct told him that was a reckoning even he wouldn't be prepared to handle. It was a relief, then, when the grunting over the comm turned into quiet murmurs and at last an approving Ha! of triumph as the airflow indicators started blinking from reds and oranges into the smooth steady green of normal operations. "That should have it, Jack."

"And he hasn't even managed to kill us all," Owen said in not-entirely-mock wonder. (And now it occurred to Jack that they could well have been fretting that the Time Agent had had in mind to shunt the contaminated ventilation through the main level --) "For his next trick maybe we can get him to break the seals on those cryounits we've lost the documentation for, I still say we need to know what's in there before it tries to eat us."

"Nobody's messing around with any timelocks," Jack said absently, a little irritated still that Owen couldn't let that sleeping dog lie even after the lesson of poor Tommy Brockless. "Besides, what would you do if it was something that wanted to eat us?"

"Well, that's why I'd want him to do it, innit?"

Jack was still contemplating the bloodthirsty pragmatism of this when Hart and Ianto came up out of the archives, covered in a truly impressive layer of dusty grease. "It'll be a while yet before the air down there cycles, and we'll still need to clear the residue out of the capture unit, but it's on the mend," Hart reported, and then raised a hand as Ianto started to reach up to pull his mask off; "No, best to scrub up first, don't want to go breathing in any of it that's settled on you. -- Suppose I should as well, or I'll have the lot of you all over me. Not that I'd have any objections, but I suspect Jack might."

"And we might as well," Andy said, rather surprising Jack with the fire in his eyes. "It was a strange enough experience with someone I do fancy, and I can't say that I'm interested in you at all."

"You people and your quaint notions," Hart said with a small shake of his head. "Wouldn't last five minutes under a proper breeding programme."

"Wouldn't want to if I didn't have the choice about it," Andy responded heatedly. "I mean, my god, are the people in your time even still human enough to feel anything like love?"

"It's a little hard to tell, when you've been selected to have such a powerful instinct to submit to a commander." Hart's eyes were two gray stones. "But then, we're all slaves to our chemicals, in the end. Unless we put in one hell of an effort."

Well, that wasn't anything Jack would have thought to see, the constable and the soldier staring each other down across that gulf of biology and engineering. It was even more surprising when Hart blinked first, turning abruptly away and stalking off towards the showers. "Did I just win that argument?" Andy asked, almost forlornly.

"I'm not sure," Jack answered, staring after Hart's retreating back. "But if I were you I'd stay out of his way until he has had a chance to clean up."

"If he tries anything with you, I'll break his fucking neck," Owen said with quiet certainty. And as Andy raised surprised eyebrows at this declaration, Jack thought that he might even give his bantam rooster of a medic the odds on that one.

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Chapter 51: I Have Detailed Files On Human Anatomy

Author's Notes: Unfortunate timing. An experiment.

And then there were the days like these that made all the rest of it worth it, Jack thought, trying not to grin at Owen's obvious suffering as Andy helped him hop past the sofa and down into the autopsy room. "Patient has suspected fracture of the left second metatarsal. I've administered painkillers, which aren't doing shit but at least I'm too high to really care." Owen eased himself up onto his examination table and motioned to the specimen cooler. "Ought to be one in the back, I think. Christ, this hurts."

"I keep telling you steel-toed boots aren't a license to kick doors in," Jack said.

"Yeah, well, they might have been if I'd been wearing them. Oh, god, have I told you lately how much I love you?" the medic added with a groan as Andy found the cold-pack and wrapped it around Owen's bare foot. "Bearing in mind I'm not exactly in my right mind right now, so if this ends up on the CCTV highlights reel later I'm denying everything." Owen glared up at Jack meaningfully.

Martha held a small scanner up to the injured foot and raised her eyebrows at the image that appeared on the main displays. "Second and third, actually," she pointed out for the lay bystanders. "I'm impressed, how did you manage it?"

"He was showing off," Andy said, with a grimace that suggested there had been more to it than that but he was trying to spare Owen's feelings.

"Excuse me, that should have worked."

"The side door wasn't even locked."

"In all fairness to Owen, shooting off the lock would have got us into more trouble," Ianto said, to a general nod of agreement from the rest of the field team. "Although we really ought to have checked for other entrances first --"

"All right, all right, I shouldn't have done it, could we maybe move along to what we're going to do now? I've got three normal-risk births and a c-section to worry about in the next few weeks, I was really counting on having the use of both feet."

"Erm," Jack-Jack said. "I might have an idea."

"Oh, you wouldn't." Hart looked alarmed, obviously in on whatever train of thought had the young Time Lord's brow so furrowed in thought -- "Not on one of them, sweet Goddesses, it was bad enough even with my mods --"

"If he's got something better than trying to get around in here on crutches, I'd like to hear it," Owen croaked, white-faced and sweating.

Reluctantly, it seemed to Jack, the alien reached inside his jacket and came out with a slender device, the shape familiar but clearly next-generation technology, just like the young man himself. "I've been working out some theories about what else a sonic can be made to do," Jack-Jack said. "It isn't too hard to stimulate the body's own repair mechanisms into working faster, at least on a small enough scale. But, erm..."

"He's not got much practise at fine-tuning it yet," Hart finished for him, grimly. "So it hurts. Like hell." (Jack had thought the Agent's recovery seemed swift even taking his combat-specialized physiology into account --) "And bearing in mind that I have been designed to withstand punishment, I don't say a thing like that lightly. But under the circumstances... it may be worth it to you to let him try. Your call."

Owen didn't hesitate, shifting on the table to offer Jack-Jack his foot. Jack could see Andy biting his lip as the medic's grip tightened around his with the first tentative pass of the sonic device. "Shit, you weren't kidding. Oi, this isn't going to give me bone cancer later, is it?"

"Shouldn't, it's just temporarily overclocking the chemistry. Once there aren't any more signals that the bone's still damaged it'll shut itself down like it would normally."

"This is worse than just fucking dying. Permission to pass out, Captain?"

"Whatever you think is medically indicated."

Owen couldn't quite manage to give up his iron grip on consciousness, though, despite his litany of profane outrage devolving into something that put Jack in mind of some violent and pornographic lost work of Doctor Seuss. He was almost clear out the other side to stone lucid by the time Jack-Jack switched off the screwdriver and stashed it away in a pocket. "It's still fragile, you shouldn't be putting any weight on it at first -- not that you'll want to -- but that ought to have cut the overall recovery time down to a few days instead of a few weeks."

"During which I'm as helpless as a dead turtle," Owen said, but he was already starting to recover some of his color. "Don't like to leave Tosh by herself --"

Andy sighed. "All right, then, you can both come to mine, it's not as if I don't have the room."

"I wouldn't want to impose," Toshiko said frostily.

Owen gave her a look that said I'm going to regret this when I'm sober, but. "Haven't we learned anything from Jack? Need both of you in m' life. And you had better not be fucking taping this, Harkness," he added with a walleyed squint in the direction of the railing. "God, I want more painkillers."

"I'll take him home," Andy said, helping Owen to slide off the table and catching him when his good leg buckled under him. "Oh, now you faint? Come on..."

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Chapter 52: To Serve Man

Author's Notes: Wino Forever. What to expect when you're expecting the unexpected.

Once Owen was cleared for the full use of his foot again he decided to celebrate by taking his young benefactor out for drinks after work, which somehow managed to metamorphose into dragging the non-pregnant half of Jack's staff along on a pub crawl across Cardiff till all hours. The Captain came into his Hub the next morning to find Ianto slumping on the sofa beside Jack-Jack, looking as if he'd distinctly gotten the worst of the night's revels. "I suppose there's a good story behind this."

Owen shrugged. "Dunno. When Harold and Kumar there got it into their heads to go off on a recce after god knows what I decided that discretion was the better part of cowardice and went home. They were here when we got in."

Hart had only snarled at Jack when he'd made a delicate inquiry about his plans for the day, and Andy looked as if he were having some second thoughts about having come in as well. "What were you drinking last night?"

"The only part I really remember is something that had rum in it and it was on fire." Owen stumped down the stairs into the autopsy room and started banging metal around, more for effect than anything Jack thought.

Ianto lifted his head to peer out at Jack blearily. "Out of curiosity, does the Time Agency training programme include a unit on what to do when you spend the night out drinking with an adult version of the child you're currently au pairing for and wake up with a tattoo in an alien language?"

"I think it was in the section on recognizing rashes and the best ways to gracefully climb down a period trellis." Jack lifted away Ianto's left sleeve gingerly for a full view of the black loops-within-loops traced on his bicep. "Whoa, that's a beauty. How did you find someone who'd even do this when you were as drunk as you had to have been?"

"It's kind of hard to tell with him, you know," Owen pointed out.

Jack could just about buy this, actually, thinking of many a team night out where they'd determined the mission had been put decisively behind them not by Owen's rages or Gwen's tears but by getting to the point where Ianto stopped speaking English, since it was the surest measure short of trying to stand up that it was probably past time to find a taxi. He'd appear sober enough to sign a contract until he actually fell down. "It's an interesting aesthetic decision, to say the least. Got any idea what it says, or did you just take Jack-Jack's word that it's not cooking and serving instructions?"

From the look on Ianto's face, he hadn't even got as far as that stage of worry yet. The Doctor settled his spectacles on his nose and peered at the scabbing ink on Ianto's bicep. One eyebrow went up. "Erm, well, it's not obscene, at any rate, that's something anyway." (Jack thought that the Time Lord then muttered something under his breath that sounded very much like it had included the words cultural appropriation. And serves you right.)

"I think it's lovely, Ianto," Gwen said. "It doesn't have to mean anything. It could be your address here in Cardiff and it'd be just as mysterious and sexy."

"Part of it is, actually," the Doctor remarked. "Coordinates, I mean, I wouldn't consider myself qualified to pronounce on 'mysterious and sexy'."

"Thank god for that," Owen said dryly, and went to take Ianto by the other arm to lead him off for a lecture about aftercare.

Jack-Jack didn't seem as bad off as the last time he'd attempted to out-drink Hart, at least. Jack glanced down into the autopsy room to be sure that Ianto was well distracted and leaned in closer to the two Time Lords. "C'mon, guys, what does Ianto's tattoo really say?"

The Doctor cleared his throat with a pointed look at his son. "Loosely translated, 'If found please return to Captain Jack Harkness, Torchwood Hub, Cardiff'."

"You didn't."

"He'd gone a bit maudlin by the time he was asking me to write it out," Jack-Jack said innocently. "Thought I'd clean the sentiment up for him."

Jack thought he was probably better off not asking what Ianto's original request had been. "Just so long as you're not going to tell me you did it yourself with your screwdriver, I don't think I could handle wondering what I was going to wake up saying --"

"Erm, Jack? I think we might have a problem," Gwen suddenly interrupted, eyes gone perfectly round.

Worse than the prospect of having a mad tattooist on the loose? Jack almost opened his mouth to say, and then took another look at Gwen's face. "What? Oh. Oh, shit. You're, you're not, not for --"

Owen had already come bounding up the steps. "Steady on, Cooper, keep breathing -- Yeah, I'd say we've got a rupture of the membranes. This is a little more than I can really deal with here, I'm afraid --"

"I'll get her down to A&E," Andy said, already moving to lift Gwen off her soggy chair. "Somebody, bloody call Rhys, will you --"

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Chapter 53: I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man

Author's Notes: Waiting games. The naming of cats.

"You don't have one of those, Owen. Trust me."

To pass the time in the grim waiting room, Tosh had pulled out the flexible screen that they had decided was the 67th-century equivalent of Cosmopolitan, which was printed in a language close enough to something that Jack actually spoke that they'd been using it to troubleshoot some of her translation algorithms. Jack had the vague feeling that the process ought to get them hauled up on charges for contributing to the delinquency of the Hub's mainframe.

"All right, then, number squid-purple-tickmark: 'you, tentacle-having, insert mate-prospect (desire) up the'... bum. I think this is an idiomatic translation."

"You don't have one of those either. Although that one can be faked pretty convincingly. I remember this one time..." Jack trailed off as he realized that neither of them were listening. Tosh had turned the color that she always turned when they got to the page with the picture of Mister Dress Left, Right And Center. (He couldn't exactly blame her, that one made him a little nauseous too. Or maybe the word he was looking for was nostalgic.)

Jack instinctively hunched inside his greatcoat to obscure his more-than-noticeable belly when the door opened, but it was only Andy, looking shagged-out and yelled-at but surprisingly content about the world for all that. "Rhys finally turned up, he was out by Llantrisant. Nearly missed the good bit."

"So they went ahead and induced." Owen still looked put out about having been chased off what had effectively been his case before getting to hear the punchline.

"Turned out to be just under three kilos, apparently that was close enough to term for the purpose. Mother and child both doing reasonably well according to the nurse who made me clear off when she realised I wasn't family, but I gather we won't be seeing either of them at work for a while yet."

"Had they decided on a name for her before you left?"

Andy turned pink. "Andrea," he said, seeming as if he couldn't decide whether to be pleased or flustered. He went to sit on Tosh's other side to give her a reassuring squeeze (and that was an unusual gesture, the first time Jack could recall seeing him paying so much attention directly to her) and whispered something into her ear that made her duck her head with a giggle. "But I'll be keeping up with my mad driving skills just the same," he added in a slightly louder tone.

"Just so you remember to put the seat back if you're doing it in my car," Owen said, looking as if yes, they'd got to the stage of things where this was an issue. And he found himself objecting more for the form of it. "I'm going to go see who I can pull rank on around here to get an update on her condition for us, anybody want anything?"

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Chapter 54: And My Affection, Well, It Comes And Goes

Author's Notes: You did what? No, seriously, you did what?

Owen was even later to work this morning than his recent habit of hanging around the SCBU until all hours to put the fear of Torchwood into little Andrea's nurses would seem to warrant. "Got some paperwork on Gwen's medical leave for you to sign off on," Jack said, ambushing the medic with the folder as he sat down at his workstation.

"You lie in wait with these things, don't you."

"Because if I give you any warning you disappear for another hour --" A glint of gold caught Jack's eye as Owen began to shuffle through the papers. "That isn't...?"

Owen looked at the ring on his left hand as if he'd forgotten it was there himself. "Oh, yeah, that, Tosh and I just... Didn't say anything because we didn't want Gwen making a fuss, you know?"

Of all the surprising and occasionally appalling things that Owen Harper had done in the time Jack had known him, this was quite possibly the one act that could still catch his Captain completely off-guard. "That's... wow. You, got married."

Owen's face screwed itself into a familiar half-scowl. "Yeah, well, with you for my sterling example and all, I figured the baby needs a daddy. And Tosh... deserves to know she has someone she can count on to be there."

Which said all you needed to know about what Owen thought regarding the baby's biological father, Jack thought. And, quite possibly, his own. "Well, far be it from me to judge anybody's domestic arrangements. You going to be wanting some time off for a honeymoon?"

"Already kind of had it, yeah? Since you have to know that sitting about with a broken foot is the closest it gets to having any peace and quiet around here. Might try to claim parental leave when the baby comes, though."

"The ulterior motive comes to light."

"Why can no one ever give me credit for having a full and rich inner emotional landscape?" Owen scribbled a signature on the last of the papers and handed the folder back to Jack. "Now if you'll excuse me, I do have some paperwork of my own to sort." He pulled up his employee record and began typing in adjustments to the personal information section.

"Owen." The surgeon looked up from the keyboard again with the scowl back in place, ready to engage full-on cranky bastard mode. "Congratulations. I'm happy for you. For you both. Good luck with it."

Owen shrugged. "Hell, I've already been dead, what's the worst she could do to me now?"

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Chapter 55: The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

Author's Notes: Half an oaf. Wedding presents.

"Good morning, Mrs. Harper."

Tosh stopped dead in the doorway, her whole face flushing rose as she swallowed an apology for her lateness. "Owen's told you."

"Owen Harper is wearing a wedding ring. Call me crazy, but I tend to notice little details like that." Jack smiled at her, growing a bit worried at her expression. "I suppose he just dragged you down to the register office, but I hope it was a romantic proposal, at least."

"We were watching The Maltese Falcon," Tosh said, coming all the way into the office. "All of a sudden he turned to me and said, 'do you want to get married?' I thought at first that he meant, you know, ever -- And then he said no, this is stupid, never mind, and I realised he was serious --"

Jack hadn't meant to make her cry. Silently he handed Tosh a tissue and waited until she was able to compose herself. "Not how you pictured it, huh," he said.

"I'd stopped trying to picture it," Tosh answered bleakly, dabbing at her eyes with the tissue. "Even told myself I'd stopped wanting it. But Owen's right, I can't do this on my own. Not working here. And I'd rather she grows up calling someone 'daddy' who's at least a good friend."

A bit more than that, Jack thought, but let them work that out on their own. "Do I need to go find something to scrape Andy up with?"

A sly look. "Who says we weren't all in his bed when Owen asked me?"

"Toshiko Sato," Jack said, shocked despite himself.

"Toshiko Harper, in the eyes of the law," Tosh corrected him demurely, and then with an impish lift of her chin: "And after all, it's not as if Owen will be able to complain if I'd like the occasional bit on the side as well, is it."

"My babies are growing up." And if their arrangement seemed uncommonly sophisticated, if not cold-blooded, Jack had only to think back over a bare century's time to recall days when a woman would be fortunate to have even this much say in her destiny, and doubly so if her husband got on as well with her as his mistresses. At least everyone seemed to be going into it with full disclosure, anyway. "Hope you can make it work out, a kid could do worse than to have both of them watching her back."

Tosh had turned to look out his round window as the other other party to her new domestic arrangements came in from the garage and fairly flew up the stairs to pounce on his... whatever they'd decided they'd be calling this, but now she looked back to Jack with a spark in her eyes that said she hadn't thought of considering the situation in that light. "I suppose when you put it that way, maybe I'm lucky," she said, a hint of a real smile now.

(Murmur of voices from where two heads were now bent over Owen's keyboard, can you do that? and the answer coming back Jack wrote it...) "Hell, if I didn't have enough complications of my own right now I'd be jealous," Jack said, and kissed her on the cheek. "Go on, go home, all of you, there's nothing going on right now that I can't really spare you one day. Consider it a wedding present. Since you didn't give me any warning to shop," he added petulantly, and got her to smile all the way at last, blushing again as she retreated from his office.

Owen's newly formalized menage would probably always be a little lopsided, judging by the body-language as they worked out how quickest to bugger off before their boss changed his mind, but it was a start on the future Jack remembered, at least. He turned to the landslide of paperwork that in truth was all that Torchwood did have on its agenda for the day barring the unexpected, and presently found that he was grinning like a sappy idiot. Damn hormones.

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Chapter 56: Modern Love (Walks On By)

Author's Notes: Offers rejected. Won't somebody please think of the children?

Jack nearly literally stumbled across Ianto in the kitchenette, where the young man was staring disconsolately into the coffee machine as if he'd been considering his options for quite some while now. "Hardly worth putting any on when it's just me here to drink it today," he said by way of explanation when Jack opened his mouth to ask.

"Hell of a thing, huh."

Ianto looked sideways at him as if he weren't certain whether Jack meant Owen's marriage (and its circumstances) or simply that being selfish about filling the Hub with the scent of good coffee was likely to get him lynched by a pack of pregnant wo -- erm, people. "I was a bit surprised, after she'd turned me down, but I suppose it was a matter of holding out for the better prospect," Ianto said, rather too blandly Jack thought.

It took a moment for what Ianto had just said to fully process. "You. Would have married Tosh."

"If she'd felt she needed me to. She did seem to be giving the idea serious consideration. I think it came down to that neither of us would be doing it for the right reasons, though."

Ground that Jack sort of recognized under his feet, here; "The 'you're a sweet guy, but' speech, huh."

"Something like." Ianto didn't look too broken up about it, at least, more as if he'd felt it his duty to make the offer and now it had been honorably discharged that was all right by him too. And who knew, maybe it had been the nudge she needed to consider the rest of her options. "I think she'll be all right, though, Owen may be a git but he does care for her."

"And her baby's got a daddy now. Two daddies, really, I don't think we're getting Andy away from him with a pry-bar now."

"That was my understanding of their arrangements," Ianto said. "I'm going to be remembering their stag-night for the rest of my life, barring some laser treatments." He rubbed his left bicep.

"...Did everybody know about this but me?"

"They needed another witness." Ianto shrugged, as if he'd become resigned to this sort of always-the-bridesmaid position being his lot in life in general.

"So that colossal booze-up you all had was...? I think I'm a little insulted now, I invited him to mine."

Dragged him along was probably more accurate, but Ianto forbore to correct him about it. "You weren't pregnant then. And anyway I think you managed to traumatise him rather badly somehow at yours. I didn't really want to press him about it," he added with a look that suggested he had some theories he'd just as soon not see confirmed.

Jack's single recollection from the latter part of that evening was of the medic putting him to bed in the old quarters below his office, and then collapsing on the camp-bed beside him with a mumbled I still miss her, Jack. (He was reasonably convinced that something resembling pity-sex had followed.) It occurred to Jack to wonder, now, if he'd pre-empted Ianto doing the same. "Speaking of pregnant," he muttered as some sort of violent argument broke out inside his abdomen. "Hey, don't make me come in there."

When Jack looked up again Ianto was doing his level best to squelch an expression of rapt fascination. "They're fighting already?"

"Or possibly moving the furniture, it's a little hard to tell. They're not as talkative as Rosie was." Jack grimaced as the left twin swung hard for his spine. "You haven't got any pro wrestlers in your family tree, do you?"

Almost as if he couldn't help himself, Ianto reached out and laid a hand on Jack's bulging belly. Blue eyes went wide as Lefty took this as a personal affront and put up a big punch for Daddy. "Sometimes... this hasn't seemed quite real," Ianto confessed, eyes coming up to meet Jack's.

"Still bent on custody?"

A flicker of doubt, here, but Jack couldn't tell if it was directed at him or at Ianto's own sense of his potential talent at the job. "I think it might have been the other reason Tosh said no," he admitted.

Back to index

Chapter 57: How Can The Usual Formation Vary?

Author's Notes: Swimming lessons. Confrontations.

For once Jack couldn't complain about Hart wandering around the Hub wearing only a blanket, since at least he matched the rest of the field team. It had to be some sort of record even for his Torchwood that they'd all ended up floundering around in the bay before one of them had managed to reel in what had turned out to be the alien equivalent of a flight recorder. Still, any mission where the punchline could be I'll say when I've had enough CPR from the handsome policeman had to be counted a success no matter how much gear had sustained water damage. Or how many booster inoculations the human members of the team were now having to endure after the exposure to the suspect water. "Oi, I just had to do this to myself, you know," Owen pointed out as Andy twitched under the needle.

Jack couldn't hear what the answer to that had been, but Owen's response made it pretty clear from the context. "Martha's saying that's not accepted medical procedure," a speaker pointed out in Tosh's voice.

"I think she's beginning to suspect. Act casual." Owen grinned broadly for the CCTV and went right back to the unseemly display of 'kissing it better'.

Ianto looked as if it were probably just as well he didn't have a fork handy to poke his eyes out with. "She goes out for her leave, and we still have to put up with newlyweds."

"And this after I let you take over command of the mission today."

"After you were the first one to fall in," Ianto countered, spoiling any notion Jack might have had that the gesture had been some spontaneous act of magnanimity on Owen's part. "We thought something tried to drag you under."

Owen still looked completely unrepentant. "Ianto's actually dead sexy when he's waving his gun around like that," he commented as he set aside the last of the used hypodermics.

"You're a married man now, Owen."

"Doesn't mean I've gone blind." Owen sloped down into the autopsy bay to put his equipment back in order. His new home-life certainly seemed to be agreeing with him, Jack thought, trying and failing to recall the last time he'd ever seen his medic in anything resembling this good a mood on a day when he hadn't come a whisker away from drowning half his workmates.

Lowering the volume on the door alarm had been a good idea, but Jack still jumped when it started to cheep soft warning of the I'll-just-run-in-to-find-my-purse-since-none-of-you-can-seem-to-manage visit that Gwen had been threatening ever since the hospital had discharged her. Instead of heading for the changing-room where Jack suspected the offending article had to be, though, the new mother bypassed the upper stairs and marched straight up to him. "I wouldn't have believed it was possible, but you have found someone worse than Jack-Jack for the tourist office."

"Oh, come on, at least the Doctor will only chatter people to death. So, how's the Mini Cooper? Ready to hit the track yet?"

"If you try to paint racing stripes on my baby, Jack Harkness --" Gwen cut herself off as she took in the rest of the scene. "What is it with men that if there aren't any women around for a couple of days they end up forgetting how to dress themselves? Did you send them down to clean out the ventilation system downstairs again or something?"

"No, it's just been the usual around here -- Let's see, so far this week you've missed three false alarms, another hoix in a takeaway, Owen's wedding, and everybody falling in the bay this morning. Have I left anything out, guys?"

"...Wait a moment, say that again?"

"Well, apparently somebody got it into his head to stand up in the boat --"

"No, Jack, the part about... Owen?"

"Oh, yeah, that, he, um... kind of ran off and got married. No big deal."

Jack had to admit to himself that he was probably enjoying the look on Gwen's face just a little too much. "No big deal? Jack... who to?"

He pretended to consider. "The legally part or the extracurricularly part?"

By now Gwen was gaping like a fish. "Jack, if you're having me on I'm going to --"

"I'm afraid it's true, Gwen, the great Owen Harper has retired from the game," Owen said, doing his best to look insufferably smug about it despite the indignity of being clad only in a scratchy gray blanket. "Career cut tragically short at age thirty-one, but then you did have your chance --"

"All right, first off you're thirty-two, and who the hell did you marry?"

"I've told all of you, if I don't get to count being dead for a year off my tax --"


It was Ianto who took pity on her by handing over the photograph he had taken, Tosh looking smart if hugely pregnant behind a restrained spray of flowers and Owen always faintly ludicrous to Jack's eyes in a good suit, and standing behind them the other member of the wedding party, telltale hand on the groom's shoulder and a smile more enigmatic than the bride's. "I'd say it's fairly blindingly obvious that he's shagging the best man too," Jack remarked.

"Well, when he cleans up like that."

Andy had come up behind Owen to enfold the medic in a corner of his own blanket, grinning like they'd pulled off the best office joke of the age. Gwen's eyes were very round. "And this is, you've still got some sort of, of, arrangement? Alongside being, well, married to Tosh?"

Instead of answering directly Owen drew off his ring and handed it to her. Andy was turning bright red. "Brilliant secret, she asks, you tell. Well done."

"Not exactly a secret --"

Gwen turned the ring to read something engraved inside. "'Where you go, I shall go'?"

"Your people shall be my people, and where you die there shall I be buried," Hart mused. "-- What? Just because Jack slept through most of his Cultural Literacy classes --"

"Are the police ever getting you back from us, then?" Trust Gwen to cut to the real heart of things, Jack thought, watching the shadow that clouded Andy's eyes.

"It's what we agreed," the constable said, although Jack could see how he'd drawn Owen in closer. "Maybe this shouldn't just be me, either, I can think of a few lads down station who might have the right eye for this sort of work."

"When Jack said we could use a mole, I don't think he meant infiltrating the entire force," Gwen said.

"I think he's got a point, though," Jack said, marvelling at how before his eyes the man had become a Torchwood agent working with the police, instead of a policeman on special assignment. "Wouldn't hurt to have a bit of extra coverage now and again. After all, you have to sleep sometimes."

"I wasn't planning on letting him do much of that," Owen said serenely. Gwen gave him a look.

"No, I suppose you're all going to be too busy trying to come up with ideas that even Jack might not --"

"It's not really like that, Gwen --"

Owen glanced at the speaker as if he were trying to decide whether or not to back Tosh up, and dropped his voice so the audio pickups might not be able to relay his next words: "Well, all right, there was this one bit last night where they cuffed me to the headboard and started going at it while they went on about how great I am --"

"Okay, that's getting into overshare even for me," Hart said, looking as if he were genuinely surprised to find that there was such a thing. "Some things you really have to have been there."

From the look on Gwen's face, the barest thought of 'having been there' was enough to crash several important subroutines in her brain. It was probably for the best, then, that Jack-Jack had come down the stairs with a basket. "The wash is done," the young Time Lord announced. "-- Oh, I see Gwen's heard."

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Chapter 58: The Daily Torture Of The Commonplace

Author's Notes: Communications breakdown. I half expected you to get out the measuring tape.

The whiteboard in the kitchen now read:

milk, sugar, tell Owen that if he doesn't stop calling me Rogue I'm going to feed him his own testicles, biscuits for Rosie, sugar [underlined here, as if that would help], tell Rogue I'd like to see him try it, tea, if the two of you don't stop this I'm locking you in a cell with Gwen (and the Doctor isn't supposed to have tea), sugar [more underscores this time], mustard, kitchen rolls, I'll bring the camera if you bring the lube, SUGAR

Jack added see me in my office, all of you to the bottom of the list and took his glass of juice back to his desk to wait. "Well, we are out of sugar," the Doctor said when he popped his head in a few minutes later. "And tea. But especially sugar."

"I was mostly talking to them. And how come you get to have tea?"

"You're beginning to sound like Martha. I think if I can manage to do this at all a cup of tea now and again is hardly going to upset my entire chemical balance."

"If I have to suffer through this job in an undercaffeinated state, so does everybody else."

The Doctor looked as if he might be about to try to refute this line of reasoning, but one of the few legitimate spoilt-brats on the premises came toddling into Jack's office to interrupt, followed by the other and then their harried semi-nanny. "I ought to have known it was a trap when they suddenly both decided to run in the same direction," Ianto said warily when he glanced up to see the look on Jack's face.

"Are you suggesting that my daughter may have been trying to lure you in here on purpose?" Jack answered innocently, although for not-quite-three Rosie certainly did look damn smug about something as her father led both the children out quietly. "Somebody sounds like they have something to worry about around an empath." Jack settled himself behind (way behind) his desk and motioned Ianto to sit. "Having a little disagreement with Owen?"

Jack wondered if Ianto had noticed yet that he'd picked up this new nervous habit, fingers winding into the streak in his hair to rub at the scar underneath. "What do you care, you get to be Wolverine in his lunatic cosmology. I don't even get to be a man."

As nicknames one acquired behind one's back went, Jack thought this cut a bit close to the bone. (So to speak.) "Nothing wrong with Owen a good exorcism wouldn't cure. Just to clarify things here, are we talking about the movie version or do I have to start having nightmares about spandex?"

"I don't fucking know, Jack, does it matter?" Ianto took a shaky breath. "You just want to know if he's thinking of Hugh Jackman."

"I wouldn't deny that it had crossed my mind, yeah."

Ianto slumped back in his chair. "Baby out to there and you're still as vain as ever."

I think that's what's really going on around here. God knew Owen was just about as twitchy right now, cracking savage jokes at everyone else's expense to distract himself from the third, or was it the fourth, due-date that Tosh had merrily barreled right past without so much as a twinge. Jack wondered whether it was really better or worse to have a concrete worry like that to focus upon. "Hey, if there's anything more important than my ego around here, I want it caught and shot now, as they say."

"Are you sure you're not thinking of your libido?" Owen said from the doorway. "Not that they're not generally the same thing, of course. What tales has he been telling you out of school this time, then?"

Ianto rose smoothly from the chair and fixed Owen with one of his blandest looks. "Don't trouble Jack about it in his condition. I'm sure we can work this out like reasonable adults... Edmund."

Owen looked profoundly puzzled for a long moment, and then his brow abruptly twisted from confusion to disapproval. "Of course you realise, this means war," he said, and spun on his heel to take himself off to start thinking up something worse to call Ianto.

"You're a twisted man, Ianto Jones."

"I'm what Torchwood's made me," he replied, turning his head towards the sound of low conversation from the sofa outside as it abruptly dissolved into gales of laughter punctuated by demands to know which one of them had to be Susan. Jack waddled past them all and went to add Torchwood does not use call-signs to the whiteboard.

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Chapter 59: Bod Yn Gymwys I Gael Absenoldeb Mamolaeth Statudol

Author's Notes: Registration errors. A united front?

It seemed that this was going to be one of those mornings when the workday never really got started until after lunch, judging by how little Jack's employees seemed to be accomplishing in between his laps from office to loo and back. Trip number seven of the morning actually caught out Owen on the phone with a call that certainly didn't sound work-related, not on the way to nor yet on the way back from upstairs.

When next Jack glanced in the direction of the sofa, considering trip number eight, it was to see Owen drawn up into himself, Andy petting his hair fretfully with an expression that said he wasn't completely in on just what was going on with Jack's medic but if his best mate was hurting then so was he and that was that. "Is Tosh okay?"

Brown eyes looked up at Jack from the depths of hell. "My mother sent us a wedding present."

From the look on Owen's face Jack wouldn't have been at all surprised to hear the surgeon's next words be something along the lines of filled with syphilitic rats. But as fraught as he gathered that relationship to be, maybe just having any idea whatsoever what was going on in her son's life was about the equivalent for shock-value. "You need to head home to make sure the box isn't ticking?"

Owen sighed and unwound himself partway from his ball. "No, if anybody should be taking time off around here it's you, I've been thinking it's about time to figure out how to tell you to bugger off home for the rest of this. Not like there's been much going on, after all."

And to Jack's surprise, Ianto stepped in to back the medic up; "I think we've got things well enough under control to spare you, Jack. And you'd certainly be more comfortable. Not having to sneak in and out of here, I mean, I know we're going to have to find some way for you to work from home like Tosh and Martha have been or you'll just be taking it out on the rest of us over the phones anyway."

"I'm not sure if this is maternity leave or a mutiny," Jack said in disbelief.

"Depends whether I'm going to have to shoot you again to get you to go home. -- All right, wasn't funny, you don't have to point that thing at me."

Jack knew that if he were to turn around quickly enough he'd see Hart putting away the gun he'd been expressly asked not to carry around the office. "If I'm going out on my leave now we're going to have to have a moratorium on shooting Owen," he said. "At least until after the delivery."

"But until Toshiko drops her sprog that puts you away from proper supervision," Hart replied, calculation in the gray eyes. "I know you're mad for the alien, but he has his own worries just now even if he wasn't a bloody pacifist, and I'm no medic --"

"I think I could manage him," Jack-Jack said. "Or isn't this what you've been training me to do?" he challenged Hart's skeptical look.

"I suppose maybe it has," the Time Agent acknowledged, slowly. "If Jack would be all right with that arrangement."

A field team of four, and one of them a Hart out from under his watchful eye -- but damn it all, he'd barely had a day off in more than a century without having to die for it, and it wasn't as if he was in much shape to intervene in any crisis that might have come along right now as it was. "You don't know how tempted I am to say that Andy's in charge until the rest of you stop being five," Jack said, shrugging into his greatcoat.

It was absurdly dangerous, and he suspected he'd eventually find out that Owen and Ianto had taken the opportunity to settle their differences with a good old-fashioned session of cathartically beating the crap out of each other the moment the door rolled closed behind him, but Jack felt a curious lightness as he turned his back on his office. Let it all be somebody else's problem, just for a little while. Haven't you earned that? Hart quirked a grin as Jack passed. "If you need me, let me know, and I'll be around."

"And could we please also have a moratorium on the bloody ABBA!" Owen stalked down into the autopsy room.

Back to index

Chapter 60: Which One's Shiver?

Author's Notes: Nomenclature issues. On tactics.

"Well, it is a classic dramatic unit," Ianto commented, voice a bit fuzzed across the comm with the background growl of traffic. The field team had already run straight through every topic of conversation remotely relevant to the operation itself and wandered out into the flowery fields of gratuitously slagging each other off; Jack found that he was having to keep reminding himself that just because he was stretched out on his own sofa at home this wasn't some bizarre radio soap he could doze off to. "Sooty and Sweep, Butch and Sundance..."

"Rocky and Bullwinkle," Hart contributed.


"Are we there yet?"

"The driver doesn't get to ask that, Owen."

"Bad enough somebody changed my IM name to 'Baldrick' when I wasn't looking --"

"You know, when you think about it, there just aren't nearly enough buddy-movies where the heroes are shagging like drunken ferrets," Jack remarked wistfully.

A long moment's silence on the comm. "...Permission to go and get myself killed nobly in the line of duty to get that image out of my head, Captain?"

"Denied, and quit asking. Speaking of IM names, kid, why does the mail-server suddenly think we're a sandwich-delivery place called Hot Rod Cow?"

"It was an accident," Jack-Jack said meekly, handing over the glass of water he'd been sent to fetch. (It was kind of nice getting to sit on his ass while other people were the ones doing the running for a change.) "Are they there yet?"

"You see, I'm not the only one who wants this over already. Oi, what was that number again, Rupert?"

"Don't bloody start with -- wait, that's it, green shed on the left."

A squeal of brakes that had probably alerted half the neighborhood much less their quarry, and much thumping of doors and boot. "Remind me never to take a long trip with any of you," Andy said, rather plaintively Jack thought.

Hart now, sounding distracted as if he'd begun tapping commands for a trace into his wrist-strap: "Well, the sooner we find this damn thing, the sooner you and Harper can get back to working your way through the Boy's Big Book Of Knots, so --"

"You can talk!"

"Did I mention that they were in your office, Jack?"

"Six times."

Damn, but Ianto could pack a lot of nuance into a long-suffering sigh. "Yes, thank you, we do have a mission to attend to right now, if you will..."

Seniority and experience notwithstanding, Ianto had more natural talent for command than Owen, but then so did some breeds of herding dog, and Jack chuckled at the mental image of the reserved Welshman nipping frantically at his teammates' heels like a corgi in a futile attempt to keep them rounded up and on-task. From the whispered narration coming over the comm, this wasn't all that far off how the actual operation was going down, either. "Anyway I'd like to see how vanilla anyone is after they've been dead for a year --"

"Permission to change Harper's IM name to BondageZombie, Captain?"

"You just fucking try it, 'Tintin' --"

"I'd say discipline has gone straight to blazes without me, but this is actually an improvement," Jack-Jack said, looking far too entertained for the gravity of the situation.

"I don't suppose I could get you to go make me another sandwich?" The young Time Lord gave him a look, as if he suspected (and rightly so) that he was being Got Rid Of to head off an accounting to his parents of what Jack had been exposing him to all day, but he sloped off towards the kitchen.

The team seemed to have cornered their target, when Jack tuned himself back into the stream of chatter. Or anyway he was guessing this, since in the absence of anything resembling a suddenly increased level of quiet confidence and professionalism they at least appeared to have found something other than each other to swear at. "No, Harper, wait, I'm reading an increase in --"

One gunshot.

A boom.

...And a splatter.

And the next thing audible over the comm Andy's voice saying, quietly, "Think ya used enough dynamite there, Butch?" And Owen growling.

Back to index

Chapter 61: Love Is Not A Victory March

Author's Notes: Eavesdropping. Sex as a weapon.

"All right, Jack, I think we can say that it's neutralised. Owen and Andy are collecting the, erm, bits, we'll head back when we're sure we've got them all."

"Right. Be sure to bag it up well before you drag it through the garage." Jack left the channel transmitting while he opened up a window to start putting together the paperwork on the mission, listening with half an ear to the muffled cursing as Ianto helped Hart to bundle the main part of the carcass into the back of the SUV. It went a little ways towards soothing his frustration to be able to sit in on the action through the drowsy murmur of an open comm, the reassurance of the usual buzz of cleanup chatter --

Sound of the boot slamming closed. "You all right?"

"Mm. You?"

A pause, and a heavy breath. "Jones...?"

Then wet noises, and the thunk of a door, fabric rustling...

And he could have sworn that sudden gasp was --

(was he meant to be hearing this?)

Growling, one of them, low in a throat, perfectly obvious from the rhythm what Jack was suddenly listening in on --

(and was he meant to be hearing this?)

"Oh... Oh, god, oh, duw... Jack!"


"Sorry, that was..."

"Happens." (Sounding... what? Not insulted, almost... gentle?)

"Yeah, the rude part was forgetting to turn off your comms," a third voice broke in. "I may be making up my share of the exhibitionism around here lately but at least we weren't in the middle of a mission --"

From the flurry of squeaking and Ianto's muttered "Shit, shit, shit" now coming across the comm, Jack was getting a depressingly clear mental picture of Owen standing outside the locked SUV. Probably with his arms folded primly. Lord knew where Andy was by this point, halfway to Abergavenny, he wouldn't be at all surprised. (Then again, if the constable was still coming in each morning at this point he'd probably long since gone past any capacity to be shocked.) It didn't seem like the proper moment to point out to Owen that accepted Torchwood procedure when one discovered one was receiving accidental and compromising transmissions over a comm channel was to discreetly ignore the matter. (But then...)

Andy was apparently still with them, because now Jack could hear a muttered gloss on the history of the situation filtering through the comm: "Pavlovian bloody response, you should have seen him with Jack --"

Jack jammed the laptop closed on its speakers as his young minder reappeared from the kitchen with a plate piled high with sandwiches. "Did I miss anything good?"

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Chapter 62: Everything You Never Wanted To Know About Sex But Have Been Forced To Find Out

Author's Notes: Sandwiches and speculations. More interruptions.

It wasn't the most opportune moment for the Doctor to have wandered into the house on some preternatural hunch about the existence of the plate of sandwiches, but then Jack had the feeling this was how the rest of the day was now fated to go. "Looks as if he's being a good minder to you, Jack," the senior Time Lord said, taking the last sandwich and handing the empty plate to his son with a look that said and another one like this but with bananas on, more or less. With a grimace Jack-Jack slunk back into the kitchen. "Have you been having an interesting morning of it, then?"

Oh, the usual, I just had to listen in on my babies' father getting a blowjob from my other ex but really it's nothing -- "Paperwork, mostly," Jack said, cocking an ear carefully for signs of further lewd transmissions before reopening the laptop. Dead silence, actually, or at least from the team, faint hiss of traffic crackling in the background, and Jack tried not to let out too obvious a sigh of relief.

Jack-Jack had had time to make more sandwiches and take himself off somewhere in a funk over having his place on the sofa usurped by the point anything resembling proper communications from the team resumed. "Let's get this onto the slab and you can --"

"No, they're going to wash up first," Ianto broke in firmly, in a tone that after this long Jack could read right down to the exact viscosity and color of the goo that Andy and Owen must have been dripping through the Hub. "And I've got to go try to clean it off the seats."

The Doctor raised an eyebrow. "Something went boom," Jack elaborated.

"Tell me that's the alien you're explaining this to and that he happens to know what's spongy, purple, and tends to smoke when exposed to ferrous metals," Hart's voice said through the speakers, sounding for once as if he didn't already know the answer to his own question.

At Jack's invitational gesture the Doctor bent over the laptop and began an animated speculation as to the identity of Torchwood's latest specimen, supplemented by some shaky images from Hart's wrist-strap. Finally they reached a tentative conclusion that neither seemed much pleased by. "Well, if it reacts to that, you'd have to neutralise it before it eats through the table, have you got a scanner that will detect Thnedrian particles handy?" the Time Lord said, frowning.

From the noise that Hart made, the Time Agent had just exceeded his reserves of patience for this task. "Look, I'll just go find the real bloody medic and see if he does keep that much citric acid in stores just on the off-chance, he seems paranoid enough that nothing would surprise me anymore." The sound of boots clattering up metal stairs accompanying this, and shortly the echo of tile and running water; "Oi, Harper, do you know if we've got -- oh, sorry, you're shagging again, I'll come back."

"Get out!"

The Doctor's jaw had dropped. Jack couldn't exactly blame him. "It's just that we sort of have -- that's the cutest tattoo, is it some sort of fish?"

"It's a bloody dolphin --"

"Get. Out."

Even Jack would have hesitated in the face of Owen at that pitch of rage, but Hart was made of very stern stuff. "Probably another hour or so before it melts down altogether, anyway, I suppose you may as well carry on."

"Not exactly in the mood anymore, am I --"

"Wait, wait, it's melting?"

"You see, now I've got his attention. Honestly, it's nothing but sex, sex, sex with you people until something explodes." A put-upon sigh as Jack heard what sounded like hasty dressing. "Citric acid, the alien says," Hart added, as if he were calling after Owen's departing back. "Erm, good day, then, Davidson?"

"Will you just go?"

Jack found himself surprisingly torn between annoyance and amusement. "Seems to be your day to bedevil them," he said as Hart's footfalls went from squeaking on ceramic to the muffled cement of a bare corridor outside the showers.

"They're persistent, I have to give them that," Hart said, sounding as if he wasn't torn about being amused. "And painfully earnest, really. Wouldn't have figured to find that one on his knees, but people do surprise you."

"Are we going to have to have the talk about boundaries again?"

Hart appeared not to have heard this, probably deliberately. "The fur is always an interesting kink, of course. But I suppose you'd know."

Yeah, and there's a discussion we're going to be having when you get home, Jack thought, and did a mental double-take at his own turn of phrase. "You see what I have to put up with?" he said instead to the Doctor.

"I'm just wondering if you've ever got round to doing a study of retcon's effects on pregnant subjects," the Time Lord answered forlornly.

"Probably contraindicated, I'm afraid. Although I'm considering it myself, believe me."

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Chapter 63: Weapon Of Choice

Author's Notes: Totem animals. Going native.

It was unfortunate, considering, that it had already been arranged that the field team would come round for debriefings over takeaway after any day so eventful in the strictly work-related sense as this had been. And probably just as well that Jack had the second comm incident to feign indignation over as a distraction from the first. (Whether any of them had even added up who must have left the channel open in the first place --)

Thankfully, though, the discussion had only strayed as far afield as the subject of management styles and Owen's general lack thereof by the time Jack was giving due consideration to whether the last slice of the pizza was too far congealed by now to be worth finishing off, whatever his little hitchhikers had to say about it. "If I'm a corgi, you're a manic-depressive golden retriever," Ianto said defensively when Andy agreed a little too heartily with Jack's analysis of their roles in the mission. "'Hail-fellow-well-met-oh-my-god-we're-all-going-to-die'?"

Ianto's characterization even got a bellylaugh from Hart. "What does that make Harper, then?"

"Owen's a stray cat," Andy said before Ianto could answer. "Thinks he doesn't need anybody, but just see if you can be rid of him once you've fed him."

"Oi." Owen's objection might have carried more force if he hadn't been draped on Andy's shoulder like a contented leopard in a tree. The medic pushed himself upright, rubbing his eyes; "If we've run out of anything constructive to talk about, I'm for home, I'm still on-call tonight unless Martha can get her to drop it before we get there."

It occurred to Jack, somewhat belatedly, that perhaps a good part of why they'd been so frisky at work this last while could well have had to do with it being the only stretch of their day when the not-so-impending delivery could be someone else's lookout for a little while. "I'm starting to think there isn't a baby," Andy said morosely, unwinding himself and reaching under the coffee table to fetch out his shoes.

Ianto made his excuses as well, slipping upstairs to catch what sleep he could before Martha came back with the children without giving any slightest indication that he suspected just how far and wide that open comm had been broadcasting his indiscreet actions. But then, he wouldn't, would he. Jack reached out and caught Hart by the wrist as he made to head into the kitchen. "Anything else you want to tell me about today?"

Hart extracted himself from Jack's grip with exaggerated care. "I did hear someone else breathing, then."

"What did I say about keeping your hands off my team?"

"Technically, he was the one who couldn't keep his hands off me. And before you accuse me of it, I'd like to point out that that boy is so imprinted on your pheromones he'd be able to find you on a beachful of rutting seals. If we want to talk about irresponsible." Hart paused to be sure this had sunk in before continuing, "He's lonely, is all. Went to his head in the heat of the moment. Maybe I shouldn't have taken advantage, but he didn't seem to be in a frame of mind to take no for an answer, and if I hadn't acted to defuse the situation you might have been getting one of those calls that you're always making disapproving noises about at me to come pick up all four of us." And here Hart couldn't keep himself from cracking a grin. "Not that it wouldn't have been worth it, but --"

"Okay, for starters, don't ever make me think about an orgy that involves Owen again, I've had a bad enough day as it is. But if that's the alternative to you taking matters into your own hands again, I suggest you step back and let nature take its course, all right?"

"Three millennia trying to cure the monkey of sexual jealousy, and here we always are," Hart said, with a knowing sigh. "He loves you, Jack. Abjectly. Completely. And he cannot stand that you have that sort of power over him."

"We are still talking about Ianto here?"

Hart gave him a look, part denial and part weary wisdom. "All I'm saying is that it would be cruel to abuse that sort of trust, even if you haven't been doing much lately to earn it. And while I do know how well you can get off on cruelty, when it's needful, it's not exactly in your interest, at the moment." A pointed stare at Jack's vast belly. "And I believe I hear your wife's vehicle," he added, cocking his head, and when Jack had turned back from the instinctive glance towards the door Hart had gone.

"No Toshling today, I'm afraid," Martha called from the doorway (quite some minutes later, but that was Hart's preternatural hearing for you again), and came to flop beside him on the sofa. "Have I missed anything good on your side of things?"

Oh, god, not again -- "Torchwood being Torchwood, mostly," Jack waffled, glad for the distraction of having Rosie trying to climb up the north face of Mount Harkness. "Exploding alien goo, random nudity -- I hear that our pet constable apparently has a somewhat compromising tattoo, by the way."

"It's only a dolphin," Martha shrugged.

"...Do tell."

His wife flushed. "Erm, that day in the archives...?"

"Do tell."

"He's apologised, like, sixteen times --"

"Not to me," Jack said, wondering if he really had gone this native.

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Chapter 64: Beware The Fury Of A Patient Man

Author's Notes: Sowing blushes for future archivists. Developments.

The endless chore of sorting through employee communications to decide which texts and calls needed to be preserved in the archives was an even more invasive task than usual lately, since the messages that had been flying back and forth between Owen and Andy and Owen and Tosh while Owen had been out with the broken foot were an odd admixture of cloying sentiment and the unabashedly lewd, not all of which even seemed to be for Jack's nosy benefit. Jack had half a mind to send a few of the pictures to the inventors of the cameraphone with a note to ask what the hell they'd been thinking. And a newfound appreciation of what, exactly, it was that Owen had stumbled upon behind Andy's front of angelic gormlessness that had so captured his attention. They deserved each other, was all Jack could really think, and if it was going to have his archivists bleaching their eyes for the next thousand years he still couldn't have conjured up a better outcome if he'd thrown them together on purpose --

Jack looked up at the rattle of keys in the front door, startled to realize that he'd spent the entire day crouched over the laptop in his horrified fascination. Some Fifties-sitcom housewife I make, plowing through cybersex emails all day instead of waxing the carpets --

Somehow he never figured on the one staggering in bloodied from a quiet day at the office being Hart. "What the hell happened and how many pieces is everybody else in?"

"Andy won," Ianto said. Sounding as if this rather strained belief for him too. "If you'd call it that. Not sure this one was really trying."

Well, he'd more or less been expecting his unsupervised employees to turn up with some internecine bruises before his leave was over. It was probably just as well that even now the constable had no real idea just how far from being human Hart truly was, or they'd probably never see him again once he realized what he'd just done. "Had all night to think about the shower, huh."

"Among other things." Hart didn't look all that upset, actually, more relieved that something he'd been waiting for was behind him. "Boy has the reach, I'll give him that." The Time Agent went to rummage through the freezer for some reasonable facsimile of ice to apply to his clearly broken nose.

Jack wondered exactly when his standards for acceptable office behavior had devolved to as long as nobody's actually dead. Somewhere around 1987, he thought. "I don't suppose asking you to keep an eye on them would really have helped anything, would it," he said to Ianto, who replied with a fatalistic shrug and headed for the stairs.

It wasn't the best of moments for Jack's mobile to ring, and he tried not to snarl as he lifted it to his ear. "Tell me this is good news, sweetie, I could use it right about now?"

Martha sounded happy, at least someone was having a good day -- "Owen's just got in but don't count me for supper, Tosh is finally having some regular contractions. Looks as if this might really be it."

"All right, that would count as good," Jack said, wondering why he didn't feel more relieved. "Think you could catch Owen to put him on, or is he already too busy?"

An extended rumble of phone-exchanging protocol, and then a different voice: "He didn't exactly mean it, Jack, it's just having to work with that bastard --"

"I was actually going to ask you how Tosh is doing, but if you want to discuss your co-workers' shortcomings I've got a minute," Jack said brightly.

A pause that somehow managed to come across the line as sheepish. "When I've said I'd break Hart's neck? Apparently so would Andy." Owen sounded surprised, as if having his honor defended was a new concept. "He's too bloody embarrassed for it ever to happen again, if that's what --" A squawk in the background that had Owen's name in it and not much else for actual content. Printable content, anyway. "Look, other things to think about right now, if you wouldn't mind..."

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Chapter 65: Insane In The Mainframe

Author's Notes: Technical difficulties. Senses of humor.

Chat log opened 26 October 2012
Crowd Hoot special meeting RE employee maternity leaves W/R/T HARPER, Toshiko (Sato)

Zaphod has joined the conversation

Zaphod: Okay, kid, we need to talk

WonderWoman: wasn't me this time

GunsAndPoodles: And now everyone's looking at me, I suppose

LucyP: Gwen's not here yet, she's still folding the wash

Edmund: right, who's let him on again?

Zaphod: And what have I told you about monkeying around on archival transcripts?

JonesIantoJones: "So long as it's funny", I thought it was?

GirlGenius: pretty much that was what he said, yes

JonesIantoJones: after all I know what it's like to have to go through all this rubbish
JonesIantoJones: could have used a good laugh sometimes

Zaphod: That's hardly the point of it

InnocentBystander: Gwen's nearly done with the wash, should I tell her you're not ready yet anyway?

WonderWoman: who IS doing that?

GunsAndPoodles: I think you may have corrupted part of the mainframe
GunsAndPoodles: in a moral sense, I mean

StarMan: it's nearly as sentient as the TARDIS, I'm surprised it hasn't had a proper nervous breakdown long since having to work with you lot

Edmund: and who let HIM in now too? I thought we were going to talk about the baby before she wakes up and starts terrorising us again

Carrot: she llikes teh keys clicking. jst like her mum
Carrot: (i cn type really just dont have both hands freee0

GunsAndPoodles: Noted without comment.

Carrot: oi1!

Edmund: ANYWAY.
OwenIsNotAmused: everything went great, she looks like Ziggy Marley

GirlGenius: We are not naming her Ziggy!

BigBeautifulBystander: hi all, what have I missed?
BigBeautifulBystander: ...besides that we're on to this with the names again?

Zaphod: we seem to be having some glitches today

OwenIsTheQueenOfTheUndead: 3.5 kilos and apgar of 9 @ 5 min
OwenIsASexyNurse: who is [REDACTED] dooing this???

WonderWoman: I swear to you it isn't me

BondIantoBond: not Hart either, I can see his creen from here

Greebo: not bloody appropriate
Greebo: ...

Carrot: ctuallly i think that one suits hm

BondIantoBond: does really

GirlGenius: I'm in

ShaggingYourBoss: Owen IS laughing his arse off, BTW

Zaphod: You are all so fired whenever I can find anyone crazy enough to take your places

GunsAndPoodles: I don't get it.

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Chapter 66: Design For Living

Author's Notes: Meet and greet. Twenty-four hours?

Marley Harper would be in for a lifetime of spelling out her name, on this determinedly non-rhotic island, but for right now the sleeping baby remained blissfully unaware of anything but the simple joy of being cradled against her mother's heartbeat. Jack couldn't see Owen's claimed resemblance to her namesake, unless that surprisingly long dark hair had been plastered into dreadlocks by the dampness of birth, just a perfectly ordinary-looking human newborn who had deigned to check him out with sharp dark eyes before yawning and tucking back into the fold of Tosh's robe. "I'll let you get back to getting acquainted, then," Jack said with amused relief as Tosh resettled herself in the purple sheets he remembered from a certain occasion when Owen had called him at two in the morning to ramble about the darkness and eternity sounding so spooked that eventually Jack had gone by the flat to comfort him bodily.

The men in Tosh's life had ended up downstairs in the kitchen, Andy looking on in bemused lay speculation as Owen conferred with Martha about the medical details of the case. (And I'm not even gonna ask how that metal headboard got so scratched up...) Two pairs of brown eyes glanced up as Jack nodded the constable out into the privacy of the lounge.

The house was still showing signs of its change in custody from the taste of a formidably traditionalist woman to the eccentric arrangement of the new management, the rabble of half-packed porcelain and silver overflowing from the fireplace mantel and shelves slowly being crowded out by an invading force of the framed memories of three young people who had already accumulated more than the usual share of regrets. Jack even spotted one forlorn dogeared snap of Owen with Katie, as battered as it was possibly the only one he'd kept. Recurring most, though, were a pair of women who from the resemblance to Andy in his turn in drab drag had to be his mum and his aunt Nerys, and a rangy fair-haired girl who in the most recent-looking photos might have been as old as twelve. Jack paused before the image of her that had been given pride of place next to the wedding picture. "That's my Maggie," Andy admitted. "Poor thing's always looked just like me."

"I didn't think she was... this big."

"Neither do I, in my head she's still not much older than your Rosie. God, she's probably dating by now. If they still do that. I can only hope Bastard Mick would be as put off by the thought of grandchildren as I am --" The constable took a deep sudden breath. "Look, if you're going to retcon me for conduct unbecoming could we just get it over with? It isn't fair to Tosh and Owen to drag this out."

Did I really leave him all night to think that? "Hey, if Hart let you live I'm not going to second-guess his judgment," Jack said, and watched as Andy crumpled visibly at the words, the burden of guilt replaced by the sick knowledge that he'd thought so little of his boss. "Wouldn't mind knowing what you think he did, though."

"I told him about the last time we got stuck with Hart," Owen said from the doorway, and came into the room to stand with Andy, arms lacing round each other with an ease that already looked like reflex. "It -- Let's say it didn't improve his opinion of the bastard, okay? Maybe we should leave it at --"

"If you mean this has something to do with what happened between Hart and Ianto in the back of the SUV the other day, I'm already aware of that little bit of business."

Owen had gone pale, but Andy was blushing. "It's the evidence that it's a pattern that... I don't care how badly he was brought up, he can't be going round taking advantage of us like we're too daft to know what he's about."

Jack had to stifle a grin at the thought of subsuming everything that was the matter with Hart under the header of 'badly brought up'. "And you thought getting the mule's attention with a two-by-four might make a more lasting impression?"

"Yeah, well, I'm not sure how much more talking would have helped, really," Owen said. "The words 'let the wookiee win' may have entered into things during the polite discussion part of it."

"That was when I hit him." By now Andy was a deep crimson from nose to ears. The constable ran his free hand over his face as if to wipe away the incriminating color. "You're not going to be taking any disciplinary action against me, then?" he said, hand still lingering over his mouth as if to snatch back the words if they went badly received.

"Hell, look at the two of you, I'd have to retcon Owen too and I can hardly spare him right now," Jack said, rubbing his belly and wishing that sitting down wouldn't have meant taking another hour to get back out of the chair. "I'm not even gonna yell at you for shagging my wife, you were both under the influence anyway --" A muffled oh, god escaped through the constable's fingers as the blush spread down past his collar. Owen had perked up with a keen look that suggested Andy hadn't mentioned that part to him. "Just try to put it down to lessons learned and remember to use your indoor voice next time, huh? If we're going to be outside the government and beyond the police, then it's up to us to figure out how to handle our internal disagreements without it coming to bloodshed. As often as it does, anyway."

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Chapter 67: The One You Warned Me All About

Author's Notes: The best policy? Sinking ships.

So life went on, as life tended to do, but if Jack had been waiting for any suggestion that the master of keeping his own counsel either knew or cared that there might have been another opinion to be offered regarding certain actions of late all that Ianto seemed prepared to offer him were laconic updates on the status of the children at home and the bigger children at work and the occasional dry observation about the advisability of the household's level of takeaway consumption at a time like this. Well, fine, that means it wasn't a big deal, then. Right?

Speaking of eating too damn much takeaway, here came his week-whichever-the-hell-this-was prenatal checkup, bearing a substantial bribe for the privilege of adding to his clandestine store of anachronistic medical knowledge. The weather had turned disagreeable enough for Owen's taste that he'd taken to wearing that brown greatcoat from the archives, freshly cleaned and now accessorized with a long woolen muffler that was just to the purple side of burgundy and a hair shy of clashing with the coat unforgivably. "If you tell me you made that I'm sending you in to have your eyes checked."

Was he blushing? "No, it's, erm, his Aunt Nerys's seal of approval, or something like. Although it's apparently when she starts naming sheep after you that you know you're really a part of the family in her mind."

Jack had a sudden vision of the entire Torchwood team incarnated as a gang of fluffy ill-tempered barnyard animals and thought for a moment that he might need to go lie down. Still, Owen looked fiercely pleased with the hideous thing, and it occurred to Jack that this could well be the first time anyone had ever been bothered to knit something for him. Jack had been an inadvertent fly-on-the-wall to several of Andy's conversations with his aunt by now (and Jack still wasn't sure whether the constable didn't get on as well with his mum or if it was simply that she lived in some time-zone not generally involving calls during work hours), enough to form an impression of a sturdy no-nonsense outdoorsy woman with an abiding fondness for her sister's wayward baby; apparently by this point she'd decided that if Andy had found someone then she could put aside the pesky details such as that this mate's personality was basically one giant flaw and he wasn't actually a girl. Jack thought he rather liked Nerys, considering.

The trouble with sandwiches was that since they didn't bear the risk of getting cold Owen was free to ramble on at length as they ate, a bit more confused and profanity-laden than the average new father's blow-by-blow of What The Baby Did Today but still recognizably of the genre. Despite everything he and Andy had still managed to find an opportunity to skive off to some sort of a fancy-dress party with the constable's old mates on the force, the obvious further inquiry about which Owen sidestepped with is it still drag if I was wearing trousers? Jack found the question sufficiently disturbing to change the subject back to the damn baby, which had probably been Owen's goal all along.

They'd taken so long to get through supper that Owen was still taking measurements when what amounted to the rest of Jack's field team these days came home, breaking off an argument amongst themselves as the improbable sight of their boss beached on the sofa sank in. "I knew even if we gave him a head start he'd still be here banging on about the sprog," Hart said, observing the tableau with a detached sort of interest.

With a not inconsiderable effort Jack wrestled himself to his feet, smoothing his shirt over his belly as best he could. "Hey, at least you got through another day at work without anybody ending up at A&E, right?" ...Right?

Hart glared at Owen with a jaundiced eye. "Since his attack-dog was home with the baby today."

"Oi, he might not have a problem with you if you weren't practically a serial rapist, all right? Don't care if Teaboy did --" Owen caught himself, medical eye spotting the way that the color had drained from Ianto's face as the blue eyes flickered from Hart to Jack. "Oh. Christ. When you said aware, I... Shit. Right, getting out now before somebody accidentally orphans the kid, yeah?" Owen grabbed the coat and the muffler off the coatstand and banged his way out the door before he'd even got them all the way on.

When Jack thought to check Hart and Jack-Jack had scattered as well, only Ianto still standing defiant in the doorway. "Ought to have known you'd have your sources of information."

"Accidents happen," Jack said, and decided that piano lifts be damned he wasn't going to stand up for this. He lowered himself back onto the sofa with a grunt.

Now Ianto looked puzzled, as the seconds ticked by and he remained alive. "I would have thought you'd object to the security risk, if nothing else," he said, a frown settling between his eyebrows.

"Your personal lives aren't any of my damn business, are they? I mean, I could question your taste, or possibly your judgment, but... He hasn't offered you anything, has he?"

"What? Oh -- god, no." Ianto went dead white, no doubt wondering what Jack might have thought his price was. Not that Jack didn't already know. "I... Erm. Just... It had, erm, been a, erm. And I wanted..." A look now in the blue eyes that Jack couldn't quite place, something between determination and confusion. "I wanted to prove... something. Don't know. To myself, I suppose. Maybe to you. But." A helpless, hopeless shrug. "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

"It usually does."

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Chapter 68: Mythical Beasts, A User's Guide

Author's Notes: Zombie vs. unicorn. Unexpected visitors.

It wasn't settled, exactly, but Jack had decided that for his own peace of mind he was going to have to sit back, stay off the damn comm, and resist the further impulse to backseat-drive any of his people's lives, simply trusting them to come to him if, and only if, they got in over their heads with something. And if this team wasn't quite the Torchwood of days past with all of its secrecy and weevil-wrangling and occasionally having to explain to Owen that if he was thinking coherently enough to fake his own death then he probably wasn't too hung-over to come in to work, it did appear to be in its own way a more functional organization than it had ever managed before, the occasional rank absurdity turning up on his doorstep notwithstanding. "Did this make any sense when it started?" Jack asked, lumbering out of the way as Andy finally managed to dislodge Owen from his limpetlike hold on the constable's back and poured him onto Jack's sofa.

"Define 'making sense'," Hart said, looking uncharacteristically at a loss for words.

The medic was peering up at his boss with absurdly dilated pupils. "You, you're almost restful," he observed, apropos of nothing Jack could follow. "But those birds were fucking weirdoes. Territorial aerodynamics? Shit."

"Maybe someone had better start at the beginning."

Ianto took a hesitant breath, and then looked round at his co-workers, and finally said, "Leave it to Torchwood to find a unicorn that was as bent as a paperclip."

"...I'm kind of doubting that's the beginning."

"It can't have been a unicorn, per se," Hart attempted to clarify, as Jack-Jack came back down the stairs from the nursery with both his parents in train. "Not if either of the Wonder Twins was able to lay hands on it. Unless I'm really missing something."

Andy spared Hart a halfhearted glare. "Maybe it liked me because I was the only one who cared that it was hurt, the rest of you just wanted to shoot it. Even him," Andy added with a dark look for Jack-Jack.

"I get nervous around powerful telepaths who aren't me. I mean, fuck, if it had seen anything I've --"

"Language," the Doctor interjected mildly, although he looked as if he agreed with his temporally displaced son's right to be more than usually wary. "And what have I told you about letting them shoot things?"

"Listen to your Ka Faraq Gatri, kid," Owen mumbled. "Got a scary head."

Martha had deposited her own gravid bulk on the sofa to examine her colleague. "What's he got into, then? I'd say he's as high as a couple of kites."

Andy had perched himself on the arm of the sofa nearest Owen to put a steadying hand on the medic's shoulder as Martha peered into the mad brown eyes. "Not quite sure, he started speaking in tongues before he'd finished the stitches, so we're thinking it's some sort of reaction to handling it?"

"You had its head in your lap," Hart pointed out maliciously.

"That end of it wasn't bleeding, was it."

"You're so worried about me," Owen said wonderingly, with a beatific smile spreading across his face. "That's why it liked you, even now you're still far too pure a soul to be working here."

The Doctor cleared his throat. "At a guess," he said, with that sort of mock-hesitance that said he'd given up on waiting for anyone else to figure it out, "Owen's hearing nearby thoughts. It's probably temporary, humans aren't really wired for this sort of thing yet -- I expect he'll either be right as rain by morning, or else he'll have had a psychotic breakdown from having to listen to all of us. Might be better to let him sleep it off here where I can, erm, keep an eye on his condition for changes? Erm." The Time Lord scratched his ear, looking as if he were weighing the relative dangers of supervision versus the mental peace and quiet of a less crowded venue. "Well, if he hasn't died by now, I suppose."

"I thought that was dragons," Ianto mused, as he and Hart and Jack-Jack turned towards the door to return to what was after all only a half-finished workday. "Drinking the blood of dragons, to understand the language of birds?"

"Fucking birds," Owen agreed, now tucked up contentedly against Andy under the ugly throw from the back of the sofa. (The constable had, of course, settled in beside his mate with a look that suggested Jack had better reckon that looking after Owen counted as doing Torchwood's work too.) "Fucking noisy fucking birds."

"This is Torchwood, kids. You're actually expecting any of this to go by the book?" Jack noticed that the Doctor had switched places with Martha, establishing a baseline for the patient's mental state he hoped. And she, in turn, had followed the rest of the team to the door to lock up, wait, no, why was she following them outside in the size-eleven-months tracksuit bottoms that he could barely get her to come downstairs in half the time --

And then Jack realized that what he had just heard out on the front walk was the sound that he'd been subconsciously dreading for months, and his wife's voice now raised in answer to it: "Mum, we keep asking you not to drop by without calling, you know we both work so much and there's never time to clean properly --"

"You have been putting me off for nearly two years now, Martha. I've barely even seen your first child and you're already about to have another. I do not care at this point what your house looks like, you could be ready to call out Kim and Aggie and I'd only want to meet my -- dear lord, what's wrong with him?"

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Chapter 69: No, You Can't Go Back To Constantinople

Author's Notes: Meet the in-laws. Happy Thoughts.

Jack mustered a wan smile for his mother-in-law, aware that the reduced wattage in itself would probably unnerve her just as much as anything. "Hi, Mrs. Jones. I'm, um, pregnant."

To her credit, Francine Jones took this revelation quite well, that is, she managed to stay on her feet, although she had gone deathly pale. "I see. And is this my daughter's baby, perhaps?"

"Ah... No."

"Mine is," the Doctor said helpfully from the sofa.

The look that Francine turned on the alien was about equal parts resistance to the insanity of the overall ideas being presented and a quite specific disapproval of their content. "And this is why you haven't been wanting me to --"

"You're gonna have to move your car," Owen interrupted, a few moments before the rest of the Torchwood team trooped back into the house making grumpy noises to that effect. Followed, a beat later, by Martha's sister, who was wearing the distinctly glazed look of having had both Hart and Jack-Jack introduce themselves to her in competitive stereo. Right, because this wasn't going badly enough yet --

Tish's look hadn't escaped Martha's notice either. "Right, let's start with getting this bit sorted before it gets any weirder around here: Jack-Jack, meet your Auntie Tish."

"...This is not fair," both of them said in perfect unison.

"This lot aren't very big on fair, I've noticed," Hart said in entirely too ingratiating a way for Jack's taste, all but batting his eyelashes at Tish. "Maybe we could --"


"You see?"

"No. Would it help if I told you to think of her as your Auntie Tish as well?"

Hart took on a thoughtful look. "Can't say that the idea of consanguinity is really that much of a hitch when we're not technically the same species."

"Would there be any use in asking you how it is that he's come to be pregnant?" Francine said into the moment of precious silence that followed.

"Well, it was sort of an experiment, really --"

"She didn't mean you." Jack took a deep breath, considering whether this might finally be the moment to exploit his delicate condition by having a conveniently timed fainting fit. But, hell, at least she won't dare slap a pregnant guy, that's something...

Tish had wandered farther into the front room, plopping herself down in a chair to sulk over being forbidden to consort with her sister's deranged-but-good-looking colleagues. Jack noticed that she was regarding Andy with a puzzled look, as if she were trying to figure out what this relatively calm stranger was doing here in this den of madmen. Owen struggled up out of the constable's arms to squint blearily at Martha's sister just as she clapped a hand over her mouth. "Well, that's just mental. What did he ever do to you?"

Jack put a weary hand to his eyes, wondering if there was anything left to go awry at this point. "Owen's not exactly in his right mind right now, just ignore him --"

"I'm the one who's not in my right mind? Look, sweetheart, I've only ever met you the once, that's no call for you to be thinking things like that --"

"Maybe I should take him home," Andy said, looking uncertainly from the increasingly incensed medic to an expression of dawning alarm settling onto the Doctor's face. Well, fine, leave the rest of us non-telepaths in the dark here, why don't you...? Jack thought as the Time Lord nodded tentative approval.

"She's still gonna have to move her car."

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Chapter 70: No Fate But What We Make

Author's Notes: Vive la resistance! Resignation.

Presently Jack found himself in the kitchen of a suddenly nearly empty house watching Tish as ingrained British instinct drove her to respond to stress by banging around with his kettle. (Even the Doctor had managed to bugger off with the rest of Jack's team once they'd got that car out of the way, cramming himself into the SUV with a mumbled justification about keeping an eye on Owen overnight that sounded suspiciously like an excuse to get away from Francine, whom Martha had now dragged upstairs to the nursery for the long-overdue confessions, possibly on the theory that she was in slightly less danger of filicide if she had the toddlers to use as a human shield.) "What do you think you might have done to Owen in some past life that he was suddenly picking up on with his new superpowers?" Jack asked, settling in at the table with a creak that made Tish look over her shoulder at him questioningly.

"Not him, I don't think." Tish's smile was a little wobbly. "That other man, his friend, he -- on the Valiant... I can still see him, I mean, you wouldn't think you'd remember, one out of -- but him, he looked that, that bastard in the eye and said 'Mister Prime Minister, on my authority as a Police Constable of the United Kingdom, I'm removing you from your position and placing you under arrest'!" And here her face went completely askew. "It didn't go well."

"I must have been out sick that day," Jack said, trying to imagine it. Or maybe trying not to. He already had enough vivid nightmares about the Time Lord's wrath when it had been discovered that Torchwood's medic had managed in an unguarded moment to kill first the others and then himself. "Sounds about right, though. Not one to let something like that go, our Andy."

"He must have been causing a bit of trouble, to be dealt with personally." Tish looked oddly proud of this man she didn't even know, as if finding one, just one, alive and well and as it happened now fighting the good fight all over again alongside her own sister made up for something, somehow. "God, it's so weird, never being able to talk to anyone. They don't even know it, do they."

"And I've tried to keep it that way." Jack raised an eyebrow as Tish came to join him at the table with two steaming mugs, one of which she set emphatically before him. "Your sister would be mad."

"Then we won't tell her, will we?"

Jack didn't even particularly care for tea, but that it was Tish's choice to have made it for him went a long way towards softening all those memories of cold mashed swede. For her as well, he suspected. He sipped carefully at the too-hot liquid and let her turn the conversation to baby names and family gossip.

He was just deciding how emphatically to agree with Tish's assessment of Ianto as a bit of all right when the stairs creaked under descending feet. "Should I have made Hart stay to protect me?" Jack asked as Martha came into the kitchen and confiscated his tea.

Francine looked perplexed, and tired, and distinctly of two minds about having had children in the first place. "It's not as if I can do anything about you, is it. And... I suppose I've seen enough for myself to believe that the work you all do is necessary. I only wish... Well. Beggars would ride, wouldn't they. You will call me this time when she's born, Martha?"

And, pausing in the doorway as Tish went to start the car, a mumbled, very mumbled, extension of that admonition to Jack's twins as well. He caught up Francine's hand and kissed it, making her smile for the first time since she'd come up the walk.

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Chapter 71: It's Just The Power To Charm

Author's Notes: Mornings after. I took 'Craft disturbing mental image' as my feat last level.

Somewhat to Jack's surprise, Owen was in good enough spirits by the next morning to have tagged along as Andy dropped off his minder back at the house, although whether he was actually going to make it through a full day at work was rather doubtful in the captain's assessment. "Seems to have made his sanity roll, insofar as you can tell around here," the Doctor reported cheerfully, all but pushing his charge into the house as proof that Jack still had a medical officer besides Martha to work with, whatever he might think about that. "Thought you might like to, erm, debrief him, or whatever it is responsible employers like to do after a thing like this?"

"I'm sure I wouldn't know," Jack said, eyeing his surgeon warily. At least both the brown eyes seemed to be tracking in the same plane after a night's sleep. "You seemed kind of off the hook yesterday, got much recall at all?"

Owen shook his head, looking as if he'd have liked to prescribe himself something stronger than paracetamol for the leftover headache. "Not a hell of a lot. I think there was something about... flying? Tell me that can't be right."

"Let's just say be glad they brought you here instead of back to the Hub, they could have had a lot of fun with you on tape."

By now mystified was shading into suspicious. "What in the name of fuck was I doing?"

"Basically? Blurting out everything that came into your head... and everyone else's. It was even better than that episode with Gwen and the sodium pentothal."

Owen scowled, clearly convinced that Jack was taking the piss at this point. "Bloody typical Torchwood, I never get to keep the interesting bits of the shit that happens to me." And the frown turned thoughtful; "Though I do sort of remember there was some really amazing --"

"We were late when we started," Andy interrupted, going red.

As well he might, Jack thought, if he'd gone and taken advantage of, or perhaps encouraged a little too, er, well, Jack did suppose a bloke couldn't be held entirely responsible for what might come into his head at a moment like that, considering either one of them and their usual habits, and it wasn't all that hard to envision a scenario where Owen might have been the aggressor, so to speak, and Jack's train of thought was probably written plain on his face for the Doctor to see because the alien was grinning at him as he stared blankly after their departing car. Still, it seemed proper to lodge at least a token protest: "You let them shag when he was in a state like that?"

The Time Lord shrugged. "Well, I was trying to see nothing upset him, might have been more harm in trying to stop them? Seemed to be enjoying themselves anyway, somebody certainly has a healthy pair of lungs --"

"You're getting to be as bad as the rest of us," Jack marveled. "What did you do with yourself all night while this was going on, hang around in the kitchen teaching their toaster to sing and dance?"

The Doctor looked wounded. "Toshiko's already voided every warranty in that house, thanks. No, I, erm, I spent the night looking after the baby." He said this reluctantly, as if he knew Jack would latch straight onto the suggestion that both of the household's allegedly sane adults had been otherwise occupied with thinking happy thoughts for Owen, and immediately plastered a wide-eyed look onto his face for a distraction. "You never said she was so cute, Jack."

Jack had to chuckle. "You've gone completely broody."

"S'pose I have, yeah. Haven't you?"

"Guess this isn't as much of a novelty anymore to me." It was getting damn old, in fact, and Jack's creaking vertebrae were really starting to envy the dead by this point. "Just wait another few months, you'll be begging Martha to fudge your due-date too."

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Chapter 72: Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey

Author's Notes: Change of seasons. Are we there yet?

Mornings had come to epitomize chaos in Jack's household, with three-fifths of Torchwood's active-duty staff falling over each other to get ready as if they were actually eager to go to work. (Jack had eventually realized that Owen's brilliant management strategy to get everyone rushing in on time had basically consisted of firmly establishing the risk of walking in on some retina-scarring images if they didn't beat the other two-fifths of the team into the Hub. Not that Jack wasn't now considering how to implement a similar incentive program of his own later.) Jack waddled downstairs following the pungent reek of charred toast and found that for once this morning it was the Time Agent who was running slow, spooning out jam with a look that presaged violence to anyone who dared mention the smoldering crusts drowning in last night's dishwater.

Hart had found himself a longer coat, still red and still as decadently inappropriate to the period. Jack thought it cried out for a furry hat but he wasn't about to suggest it. "If this story involves mugging a Cossack I don't want to hear it," Jack said, plopping down hard into a chair.

"Somebody may have done, you'd have to ask the Time Lord about that," Hart said, not looking up from smearing jam on the new toast. "Kid saw it in their wardrobe and thought it would suit me. Apparently at least the ship has taste."

The change of costume seemed to Jack to speak of a certain attitude towards the immediate future that didn't sit entirely well with Jack's rosy picture of having Hart gone as soon as possible after the imminent delivery, or indeed with his experience of Hart's general capacity to plan his way out of a paper bag when it didn't involve stalking prey or getting himself laid, which were pretty much the same thing anyway. "Looks from here like you're settling in for the winter."

Hart shrugged with the faintest air of discomfort, as if he was a little puzzled himself that he hadn't been contacted with further orders about his situation by now. "I'm sure eventually you'll arrange for an extraction. When he's damn good and ready and thinks I've learned the lesson of the week." Hart didn't look as if he were in all that great of a hurry, really. "And like the Agency says, 'here now'."

"Are you getting wise in your old age?"

"Figure one of us has to." Out in front of the house an annoyed honk sounded. Hart pitched the jammy spoon into the sink alongside the ruined bread and gathered up his toast into an oozy stack. "I'd kiss you goodbye, but it might lead to something that would make my ride even more cross at me," he said with a salacious lift of an eyebrow. Jack glared at him. "Right, pissing off now, then, don't strain your pretty head about the clearing-up, I'm sure Jones will have cracked and run home to tidy everything before lunchtime." Another honk. The Time Agent departed in a swirl of crimson that Jack felt sure he had already practiced and calculated to the greatest visual effect.

"Tell me they haven't done this to my kitchen again," Martha said, stopping in the doorway with an incredulous expression. "Mum was right, we're completely pants at this."

"Hey, the sooner you want to schedule my c-section the sooner I can go throw Owen and Andy out of my office," Jack pointed out.

Martha gave him a weary smile and lumbered in the few more feet to collapse into another chair beside him, leaning her head against his shoulder. "Do other people's marriages look like this, do you s'pose?"

"Only the ones that last."

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Chapter 73: Strange Things Are Afoot At The Circle-K

Author's Notes: Preparations. Hey, that's my line.

Everything seemed to be in order, but one final detail remained before Jack could truly relax and clear his mind for the birth. "You do realise we've probably just set our sweet little old neighbour up with a homicidal sex maniac," Martha said, turning from the front door with a faintly troubled look.

"Do you have a better idea for distracting both of them?" Jack let himself be helped out of his chair, lurching for the back door with all deliberate speed. "She'd probably have a good time, it's been too long since there was a Mr. Jenkins in her life -- What?"

The TARDIS seemed to find all the cloak-and-dagger ringing of doorbells and skulking across the back garden under cover of darkness amusing, judging by the giggling undercurrent to her usual hum. Fair enough, Jack supposed, considered objectively it was pretty damned absurd. It was just the part where they had to worry over any potential onlookers getting to wondering what was so horribly wrong with Jack that felt deadly serious, necessitating as it might a mass retconning of the neighborhood if tongues really got to wagging. But with the most logical option still being to conduct Jack's "confinement" as a test-run of the facilities Torchwood's medical staff would later be called upon to employ for the case of a far more valuable specimen (or as Owen had vividly dismissed the alternatives, "Well, I could do Jack on his kitchen table for all it would matter, but why should I have to be uncomfortable?"), piling into the mysterious blue box beside his shed it was, every last kit, cat, sack, and Jack of them...

Jack kept an expectant eye on Owen's ride home as the constable got his first proper look past the innocuous wooden doors. Wide-eyed wonder, check, turns to look back outside, check -- "Well. That's... How does it work, then?"

The Doctor's jaw dropped. "What, no 'it's bigger on the inside'? That's my favourite bit!"

"Did we mention that Andy actually bothered to read the handbook?"

"Yes, but, oh, blimey, you're no fun." A disappointed sigh, and then the alien was all manic grin again, bounding for the depths of his ship with an enthusiasm that anyone who hadn't known him before would still take for a lunar-gravity level of joie de vivre. "Right, then, Jack, soonest begun, they're not coming out of there on their own I shouldn't think, well, now, that would be a real surprise, wouldn't it, not really the way, erm..."

Owen was already starting to look as if had it truly been up to him he might rather have performed this operation on Jack's kitchen table. The Captain gestured after the fading echo of chatter; "Your surgery awaits, Doctor Harper, shall we get on with it before Hart comes back with that cup of sugar?"

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Chapter 74: Along Came Jones

Author's Notes: Hello, there. Arrangements and agreements.

Jack -- came to, more than woke, sudden gasping awareness of pounding pulse and splitting head filling in that something had gone badly for him. "With us again, then," Owen's voice said somewhere nearby.

He was in a bed, at least. "I died."

A familiar scowl as Jack managed to focus on his medic. "Well, let's say I found out one thing definitely not to do, which should be very helpful when it's the alien's turn or on the other hand might be absolute rubbish and I won't know until I actually get in there. Half of the schematics he's shown me make my eyes want to fall out as it is."

"But you think you've got a handle on it."

"Well, gonna have to, yeah, rather attached to my bollocks and I'd prefer it remains mutual. Tosh --" He broke off abruptly, and Jack could have sworn his cheeks had gone pink. "Anyway. Dunno what you've worked out about this between yourselves, but can we tear you away long enough that Mummy could have his own look-in?"

This last directed over Owen's shoulder, and Jack could see as he sat up in the bed that Ianto had been brooding over a double-wide bassinet at its foot. Could see that this was the room Ianto had been calling his own in the TARDIS, for that, full circle to where this had started all the way back in the spring. With a very un-Iantoish look of naked uncertainty the young man lifted one of the swaddled bundles and came to present it to Jack.

It looked like a baby, all right, all blotchy scrunched-up astonishment at this strange new environment it found itself cast adrift in. Jack decided against making any sudden moves such as trying to come between this child and that look on Ianto's face, instead settling for the token gesture of reaching out with one enormous-feeling finger to touch the dark x marking the back of one tiny fist. "You've already taken them out clubbing?"

"Owen did that." Ianto spread out the delicate fingers with the tip of one of his own, stroking the pearly specks of nails with his thumb. "This is the one he fetched out first. Geraint. -- Erm, I hope, we never did --"

"No, Geraint's fine," Jack said, trying to stifle the shudder that tracked down his spine. Damn Hart, anyway. "Family name?"

Ianto nodded, his gaze distant. "Nine boys my great-great grandfather had when he started Jones & Sons, and Geraint the only one to make it through the war and then the influenza. Thought this one could use that sort of luck."

"Not necessarily the best omen for his brother."

A faint smile here. "He'll be Gareth, for my mum's Da. Everyone says I look just like him, sort of expected that I'd name one of my sons after him if I ever had any." One split second of a look that could have been pride or blind panic. "Now I do."

"You really sure you're up for this?"

Sardonic glance from the blue eyes. "After spending most of my professional life playing Wendy to your tribe of lost boys? At least it should be a few years before either of them tries to call in dead."

"That was an unusual circumstance," Owen interjected from the foot of the bed. Jack couldn't help but notice the hand that had drifted to rest on the other twin's -- Gareth's -- head, tactile reassurance in the abrupt absence of his long-time roommate. No, Jack didn't think Marley was going to remain an only child for very long at all...

A head of messy brown hair poked into the room as Owen was laying out a schedule of immunizations that was just as comprehensive verging on ridiculous as that which he insisted upon for Jack's adult employees (although he agreed that the jabs for smallpox, anthrax and lassa fever could probably wait until they were a little closer to going along on field work). If the prospect of discovering for himself whether or not Jack's surgeon had learned anything practical from this experiment was weighing upon the alien mind under that exuberant hair, it was difficult to tell. "With us again, then, Jack?"

"As always," Jack replied, deciding that he could probably forestall the next six inquiries of this nature by getting up already. "Let me guess, Hart's outside beating on the door and you want us all out of here so he'll leave you alone."

"Hasn't come back from next door yet, I don't think," the Doctor said, not looking as disturbed as he really ought. But then, he wasn't going to have to live next to whoever inherited Mrs. Jenkins's house when they sent her off to the Home For Extremely Satisfied Little Old Ladies -- Jack reached to pick up the spare baby, and caught himself, and looked to their custodial parent to wait for approval. Which he got, with a small, troubled nod that promised some inventive tortures if he did anything Jack in their presence, like getting himself killed, or anyone else, or ruffling one hair on their fuzzy heads -- yes, Ianto was up to this job, he was. They're not going to grow up Torchwood. You're going to see to that.

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Chapter 75: Biggles Takes It Rough

Author's Notes: I'm an excellent driver. Sense of wonder.

Whatever Hart might still have been getting up to in terms of debauching a kindly old neighbor, Jack wasn't to know just yet, sidetracked by the confrontation brewing as he stepped out into the console room. "I've been flying her since I'm ten," the junior Time Lord was saying to the doubtful look on his father's face as Jack leaned down to pick up a fretful Rosie.

It appeared that a certain police constable of Cardiff had spent most of however long they'd all been waiting about for Jack bending a young alien sometimes-intern's ear about this frankly magnificent ship. And if Daddy was in too delicate a way to risk a trip into the vortex, said intern was more than willing to beg Daddy for the keys to go show her off himself. That's the Torchwood spirit, kids, can't leave it without trying to commandeer the alien technology for a joyride --

If one Doctor seemed almost willing to crack, another clearly had his doubts about the entire proposal. "Well, what if you lost him, yeah?" Owen's face had crumpled in on itself, as if he was a bit gobsmacked at just how completely unacceptable he found this thought. "Or missed bringing him back by fifty years?"

Jack-Jack's look turned sly. "Room for you both in here, you know."

"Yeah, but, oh, fuck." Owen swallowed hard, and clamped himself onto Andy's arm, about an equal guess as to whether he wanted to keep the constable from going or say he'd been bodily dragged along with if anyone asked him later.

The Doctor finally lost his battle not to break into a grin. "Aww, all right, then! One little trip, somewhere quiet, then straight back, right?" (This last seeming to Jack to be directed more towards the time rotor than his son...)

Bless testosterone, anyway, Andy looked as if he might have backed out given one more contrary word from Owen, but by now it was Jack's medic who'd gone past the point of saving face; "If we're never seen again tell Tosh..." And Owen faltered, and thought a moment, and then with a determined set of his jaw finished, "Tell Tosh we're fighting crime."

"Alien crime," Jack-Jack promised with a flicker of mischief.

The Doctor frowned at his grown-up son, possibly wondering where the sweet tractability of the littler version clinging to his hand had gone. "Just have them back by eleven!"

"And don't let them have sex in there, it's getting weird enough around here already without her knocking one of them up," Jack added, wondering if he was actually joking. The door closed on a pair of identically horrified looks.

A troubled gaze from the Doctor as the mighty engines wheezed to life, as if he was remembering some other moment when he'd been left to watch a fading blue shadow. But that was the thing of a ship that travelled in time as well as space; the echoes had scarce had time to die away before the sound reversed itself and grew stronger again, two wide-eyed Torchwood operatives staggering out even as the police box became real once more. Even jaded Owen looked a bit green. "I hate this fucking job."

It took Andy a couple of tries to get his voice working. "...That was the bloody moon."

Jack-Jack was grinning broadly at their stupefaction. Jack wondered whose choice the destination had been, Andy would most likely have been too young and too British to have secretly dreamed of growing up to be an astronaut, and god knew Owen didn't have an unbroken romantic bone left in his body --

Well, scratch that, Jack amended silently as he caught a glimpse of the look on Owen's face as Andy continued to gape up into the sky, looked like there might be one romantic bone that had just about healed cleanly. The medic noticed Jack's gaze and quickly reassembled himself into his usual scowl, but in Jack's mind the damage had already been done. "Yeah, can we just get out of here, I was already knackered."

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Chapter 76: Sweet Mystery Of Life

Author's Notes: Andy versus sex pollen, round two. A Certain Age.

"I'm not entirely sure I'm seeing your problem here, Owen."

"Well, it'd be taking advantage, yeah? Even if you're already shagging someone 's not good when they're too rat-arsed to know what they're about."

In the background Jack could hear the slurred protest that Andy was just fine, thank you, and could Owen get off the damn comm already and just -- "So basically you're wanting me to vouch for you that there wasn't really a better alternative when he snaps out of it and realizes it wasn't his idea that he's tied to the ladder in my office," Jack said. Today, anyway.

"Seemed like it might be a sensible precaution to -- Shit, he's managed to get his trousers off, I'll have to call you back."

At least it hadn't been Hart he'd seen first, Jack reflected, and thank god for small favors, the constable might get his nose a bit out of joint at the thought of being made to behave like a wanton co-ed by a Fraxian disinhibitor but Owen would be able to argue from a position of sincerity that his motives in throwing himself on this grenade for his people had been selfless. And that the medical officer had bothered to call Jack first instead of blundering in blindly to attempt to 'neutralise' the situation on his own seemed like an exceptional sign, considering that if it had been any of the rest of them Owen probably wouldn't have much cared whether they'd still respect him in the morning. Jack set his mobile back on the bedside table and wondered if he ought to have asked whether they were positive that the device had fully discharged. Ahhh, they can sort that out for themselves, I'm not dealing with any of this until at least Thursday.

It wasn't as if he needed to stay out on leave, not in the conventional sense, and certainly not for all that he'd really even seen of either of the small new additions to his household outside of the couple of occasions when he'd been called upon to stop Rosie poking at them in the bassinet. But if the law said a new mother was entitled to some rest, then who was he to argue? Jack for one could totally live with the guilt of sleeping in. Assuming the rest of his train of responsibilities could manage to grant him as much consideration as the relatively quiescent rift --

And damn it, that was a car in the drive, wasn't it. "Couldn't have just told them to run down to the shops for an hour or two, could you," Jack grumbled, levering himself reluctantly out of bed. Not that the thought of Hart and a certain young alien set loose to contemplate mischief amongst the thronging holiday shoppers wasn't its own nightmarish image, as hard as it was even to keep the Doctor from starting accidental riots around this time of year and he at least theoretically Knew Better.

Jack managed, just, to intercept his two wayward employees before they had the opportunity to scatter. "Early day of it, then?"

Hart shrugged, as if it wasn't like Jack was exactly paying him anyway so what was it to him if he skived off before it was even lunchtime? "I've been sent home to think about what I did. But I'm not sure what it was, so I'll be next door."

"Stop harassing Mrs. Jenkins."

"Evelyn is a magnificent woman," Hart insisted staunchly, and turned on his heel to depart in a flash of flapping scarlet coatskirts.

Well, fuck it, if it keeps him off the streets... "What about you, what's your story?"

"It didn't seem... prudent, to try to stay." Jack-Jack had gone pale as death at the thought of whatever horrors he'd abandoned Owen to, left all on his own to walk the delicate line between pacifying near two metres of psychotically randy policeman and not alienating his partner once it came time to wipe the CCTV together after. Then again, sending everyone else home might have been the mature and sensible thing to do in this situation, Jack had to give him a point for that. Just so long as they don't break anything to make me have to think about the evidence when I do go back in...

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Chapter 77: A Private Little War

Author's Notes: Early warning systems. No sex, please, we're Torchwood.

Jack-Jack slumped against the door of the vehicle with a distinct air of the condemned prisoner getting his first glimpse of the scaffold. "Their car's in."

Given the snatches Jack had heard regarding the latest work-safety violation, he was mostly just happy that Owen and Andy were still showing up at all, much less to hear that the conditioning program regarding the perils of tardiness sailed on without a hitch. The one surviving CCTV still of Owen rolled up under his coat on the floor of Jack's office, too obviously wearing nothing else but a slightly brain-damaged grin, was high in the running for the cover of Torchwood's annual report, if Jack could have been bothered to write one. Maybe the Christmas letter. (Not that he'd been arsed to write one of those, either, retconning half the Royal Mail was always such a chore.)

God, he'd missed this place, dank dungeon that it was. Even found himself fairly charging for his office, eager as if rushing to meet a long-parted lover. Remembering almost too late that he might well not want to know what said partner had been and could still be up to in his absence --

Although all that came immediately into view was Andy sitting behind Jack's desk with a look of wide-eyed innocence, the wrist he'd sprained during his lustful rampage still in a splint. "Captain! We weren't really thinking you'd be back this week, erm, it's just you keep the records for code fives in here and it's been easier to do the administrative from --"

"It's all right, kid, I've caught all of them trying out the chair by now. There was this one time when Ianto..." The constable still hadn't made a move to vacate his seat to its rightful master. "Owen's under the desk, isn't he."

"No he isn't," the desk protested in a strained Estuary accent. Andy put his head down on his good arm and started convulsing with silent helpless laughter, turning bright red from ears to scalp.

"You see what we've been having to put up with," Hart said piously. From the doorway, having generously allowed Jack to slip straight back into tanking for the party. Nice to see his priorities are back in order, then. "I believe what you'd advise us in this situation is that we leave Captain Andy to button up and get on with it?"

That did sound disturbingly like the sort of thing he'd been catching himself saying of late, almost as if Hart had actually managed to internalize something resembling what passed for Jack's conscience. "You could probably have made more of an effort to discourage this sort of behavior back at the start, you know," he said, glad enough to take the option of a strategic retreat. Nothing much seemed to have changed up on the platform, at least, maybe a few more archaeological strata of papers on the surfaces nearest the sofa and another taped-over crack in the glass beside his door. (Oh, and a new photograph at Owen's workstation that looked to be from that fancy-dress party he'd mentioned -- Jack wouldn't really have called it drag if the medic hadn't said anything, although that was certainly a lot of eyeliner.) You actually took a few weeks off and nobody died. What are the odds?

"Well, the copper thing's a bit off-putting, isn't it? Anyway he's bigger than me," Hart added with a sort of disingenuous petulance more suited to the schoolyard than the office.

The last member of today's staff roster had made the sensible decision to head off to get some coffee started rather than chance whatever lurked within the boss's office. Jack's nose was already twitching at the nearly-forgotten scent. "He's bigger than me," Jack pointed out absently, drifting towards the promise of recaffeination in involuntary spinal reflex.

The kitchenette, now, was an absolute bacheloresque tip, with rather more evidence of alcohol consumption scattered about than Jack was really comfortable about for an alleged place of business. The whiteboard, for once, had been completely erased, or as well as it could be these days considering some of the substances that had been splashed on it at various junctions, and now read simply I have a cunning plan and Owen's key to the drugs locker. And there, apparently, the argument had rested. The coffee machine was the one object in the vicinity that no one had dared defile, pristine and gleaming island in a sea of unwashed mugs. Jack sighed and set himself the task of clearing up to some degree where at least Owen wouldn't be treating any cases of accidental poisoning in the next few hours.

Coffee, the coffee that Jack-Jack had learned to make at Ianto's knee, went a long way toward erasing any ill feelings incurred by that breakup with the sweet sweet mood-altering substance lo those many months ago. Jack listened with half an ear as Hart ran down a desultory status report of the list of disasters deemed for one reason or another Not Worth Bothering Jack About Until He Gets In Again, such as what-all had had to be replaced from the petty cash accounts during his absence (three keyboards, a chair and half the kitchenette's glassware, apparently), or that one of their resident hoix had eaten the other, which was no more than Jack had expected really. Somewhere along the line the survivor appeared to have acquired the name of Brad. Jack was trying to puzzle out the story behind that when the smell of coffee finally drew his other two employees down to join them.

Owen, if anything, looked even more mortified than his partner for having been the one at least nominally in charge of the goings-on of late, flushed cheeks clashing with the green shadow of a monumental bruise across one eye. "Erm, yeah, about..."

"Hey, it's not as if I've ever been a decent role-model around here either. Pun intended. How did you get the shiner?"

The flush deepened, matched by an equally shame-faced look from Andy. "Filing cabinet in your office, I think. 'S a bit of a blur after a certain point."

"...Right. Dying to hand back my keys, then, or can I keep fobbing all this off on you until after Martha's had hers?"

From the suddenly sly look as the medic went to reach into his pocket, someone behind Jack had just made a please dear god give him the keys Owen face. "Well, if you wanted to stay out, I'm sure I wouldn't mind keeping an eye on the place a while longer..."

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Chapter 78: If Only In My Dreams

Author's Notes: Frosty the Hitman. Always somebody at one of these things.

"We don't let Jack pick films anymore."

"Now, Voyager would not have been improved by Bette Davis's character going on a shooting rampage halfway through the second reel."

"Would have been more true to life."

"We don't let Owen pick the films anymore either." Gwen finished fumbling the video into the player and switched it on to a chorus of groans. "Come on, you, I happen to have some very fond memories of Christmas stories, and I think the children will enjoy this."

Jack wasn't quite sure how he'd ended up hosting this party (he'd been arguing that Andy's house would make a better venue even despite Owen's best efforts to outdo Jack and Martha at a general level of perpetual untidiness), but given that it meant not having to figure out how to transport two highly mobile toddlers, two completely non-mobile infants, and one ex-human wife who was keeping stubbornly mum about whether her Time Lordly abilities had ever included any knack for estimating her own damn due-date, not to mention the rest of the entirely too many adults currently making up his household, Jack was inclined to consider this a lesser of evils. Dancing snowman videos and all.

Rosie was, Jack could swear, humoring Gwen, parked in front of the telly with a look on her three-year-old face that bespoke a solemn analysis taking place behind the steely eyes. Although a glance behind her caught out a Time Agent watching the screen with a surprisingly similar confused-but-game expression -- "I'm not sure I'm catching all the cultural referents, but I think I almost understand parts of this," Hart said when Jack came over to check on him.

"It's perfectly simple, actually --"

Jack already knew that the Doctor's perception of the holidays involved rather more explosions than the average, and decided that this was probably a good moment to step out to the kitchen for another slice of cake. Or three. He retreated to a minimum safe distance where he could only catch snatches of the Doctor's rambling account of spending a Christmas a hundred and some years back sealing the original rift with Charles Dickens and a housemaid he staunchly insisted must have been some relation of Gwen's, which seemed to amuse her no end. "They do say everyone has a double somewhere, it's like that old photograph Ianto had of his family's shop where we all swore the one bloke had to be Owen's great-grandfather --"

"Bollocks to that," Owen's voice interjected. "Not Welsh, never have been. I only work here because Jack makes me."

They'd teased Owen about how cute he'd look if he would switch to wearing glasses until he'd threatened to burn the photograph. Jack scooped the last buttercream flower out of the wreckage of happy ?th birthday Rosie and set it on the side of his plate for his daughter to mangle later at her leisure. Not that she's the one we need to worry about getting all sugared up...

When Jack ventured back into the front room someone had inevitably managed to switch out the video for something involving more guns and teeth. "Now, she really reminds me of my Mum," Hart said approvingly.

"Must you defile all of my fondest childhood memories?" Owen made a grab for the unguarded remote and switched the telly off altogether, scowl so deep that even Hart seemed suddenly inclined to go find something closer to the booze more interesting.

With the remote jammed safely down the cushions and sat on top of, Owen seemed to thaw a bit towards the idea of being at a party, if by thawing one meant settling in to make out with both of his partners so long as somebody else was keeping an eye on the baby for once. The look on Rhys's face had suddenly taken on that special bloody Torchwood quality to the goggling, reminiscent of how big Andy's eyes had gone as he'd looked through the folder labeled Why We No Longer Do An Office Gift Exchange. (The one with the... illustrations. Jack was quite proud of his gift-matching ingenuity over the years, particularly in 1967 and 1994, and he'd been rather sorry to see the tradition forcibly abolished shortly before he'd been left in charge of the branch, although not so much so to risk reviving it by directorial fiat. For one thing, he suspected Owen knew how to nurse a grudge from one year to the next.) "Always thought he might be playing both sides of the pitch, but I'll admit at the same time is a surprise," Gwen's husband said, as if his most valiant effort to remain neutral about Andy's new home life was still coming up a tad short.

"There's the usual kerfuffle about it when he becomes Prime Minister, but nobody can really be that arsed to care by then," Jack-Jack contributed in a calculatedly offhand way.

Rhys's eyes went comically wide. "You're joking, right? Tell me you're joking. Tell me he's joking?"

"Tell me he meant Andy," Gwen countered, looking every bit as disturbed.

"The 'this is my family and if you don't like it you can get stuffed' speech might not hold up against fighting them on the beaches, but --" Jack-Jack caught sight of his father shooting him a stern look and wisely decided to clam up.

"Aye, well, so long as they all think they know what they're about," Rhys said with an expression that said by now he knew how far he was out of his depth around anything connected with Torchwood and its personnel. "Wouldn't have guessed your one went so much for blokes, though?"

"I would characterise Owen's sexuality as 'opportunistic'," Ianto said gravely from his post at the corral of babies.

Rhys chuckled, a bit ruefully. "Anything with a pulse, then?"

Owen wasn't quite as engrossed as he looked: "Oi, that's discriminatory against zombies, it is."

"...He's still a little sensitive," Jack whispered.

Back to index

Chapter 79:

Author's Notes: Always the quiet ones. New creation.

"So this one comes charging in finally, sees Harper, and he roars, 'Nobody gets to tie him up but me!'"

Jack-Jack took over for the punchline with a dramatic sweep of his arms that said he'd clearly been forgetting some lessons learned about pacing himself, or at least bending them a little for the occasion; "And there's this pause, and then he goes, 'erm, honey, remember that busload of nuns?'"

"And this is why Torchwood aren't allowed to go to nice places anymore," Ianto wrapped up the story as Rhys nearly rolled off the sofa laughing.

"I thought it was reason number six hundred and twelve why we're going to hell this week," Andy said, not looking nearly as chagrined as Jack might have thought. Then again he had to be pretty damn loaded by now, even Jack's eyes were beginning to want to cross at this point. And the teetotaling nursing mother to drive you both home after, this arrangement looks more and more sensible by the day...

"There are probably people on the internet somewhere who would consider a bondage party with half a dozen gobsmacked nuns their idea of a good time, but surprisingly enough it turns out I'm not one of them," Owen said, pre-emptively defending himself against the accusation that no one, amazingly enough, had thought to make.

So what if it wasn't like other people's ideas about a holiday party with your mates from the office, Jack thought as he looked around the room at the sloshed and smiling faces, his people were having fun, dammit. Maybe wildly inappropriate work stories were the price to pay for being the only people on the planet who were for once absolutely certain that tonight was the one night that the world wasn't coming to an end, whatever the Mayans had to say about it. The important thing was that they were all together, well, and that nothing had blown up yet, right? Even if it meant introducing Andy to Torchwood's idea of a party game -- "The most embarrassing person I've slept with?"

"Besides Owen, well, you'd get a lifetime achievement award for that anyway --"


Andy looked to be considering the question with some degree of seriousness, actually. "Well, I don't know that I'd like to say, really, could be a bit, erm, prejudicial to events in the present company --"

"Don't, no, don't you dare --" Rhys caught himself, glancing nervously round at the looks of dawning astonishment. "Or have I just topped myself in front of the entire party?"

Gwen looked as if she couldn't decide which of them to hit first. "When the hell was this?"

"I told you she was that drunk that night."

"I think they win," Hart said, sounding rather impressed.

Rhys looked like he was about to ask Jack to be retconned, possibly all the way back to a point to do away with certain memories of a naked and sticky nature. "Bloody Torchwood, I suppose I'm not even the only one here whose embarrassing story's got him in it," he muttered, blushing furiously.

Andy might actually have been thinking of Martha, Jack suddenly realized, glancing around for his wife and finding her with her face scrunched up in contemplation of how she was going to pry herself out of the comfortable-but-deep armchair in the quietest corner. "Mine is not embarrassing," Owen was insisting a little too loudly when Jack returned his attention to the conversation. "We're just a couple of blokes who found out that we both like to watch the footie and go at it in the breaks."

"I have not seen the second half of a match since I took up with him," Andy admitted, ears turning pink.

"I'm seriously beginning to think he already wasn't exactly normal when we got him," Jack said as Rhys's expression of horror deepened further.

Ianto gave Jack one of those quietly withering looks. "And the dress wasn't your first clue?"

"That was for work!"

Now the disapproving look shifted to Andy: "Pearls before teatime?"

Martha had finally managed to get herself up out of the chair, coming over to touch Jack on the shoulder. "I'm going upstairs," she whispered into his ear. "You might want to come too."

And if they were rather busy for a while, the party was still in full swing by the time Jack came back down, Owen's voice above it all loud with drink: "...And I'm all 'no, bring the shroud, I like the shroud, it's gonna hide that I'm naked in Jack's arms and I'm rock-hard for the first time since I died' --" Andy guffawed. "Not saying there might not have been a bit of a kiss and a cuddle later, of course, but that didn't seem like the time --"

"Because you were too busy crying like a baby for nearly an hour," Jack said from the doorway. And then refused to take an aspirin, because even the headache felt so good to you. "And speaking of which, I would like to introduce Torchwood Three's newest hire. We will figure out a better name for her than Baby Girl Harkness before she starts work, I promise."

A traditional Boeshani welcome for his little daughter then, passed round from hand to hand for all the clan to greet her in turn. "She's on the small side, isn't she?" Rhys said as the infant arrived at him from his own wife's arms. "But she's heavy for all that." He gave the fragile newborn over into the next waiting embrace and lingered to give the tiny nose one last gentle poke. "Welcome to the Torchwood Ladies' Home Auxiliary, aye?"

The Doctor peered into the swaddling with the sort of goofy grin generally reserved for seeing old mates long thought lost for dead. "Welcome to the fourteenth b'ak'tun," the Time Lord added softly.

"You are such a fucking geek," Owen muttered.

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Chapter 80: Yes, We Know Who You Are

Author's Notes: babynames-dot-doc. Mums and dads and dads.

"We are not naming her 'Tallulah', I don't care how many L's and H's --"

Jack had already foiled someone's attempt to code-name the twins Engelbert and Humperdinck on most of Torchwood's internal records, and the longer he had to listen to the Doctor's eccentric suggestions the more tempted he was to start ripping pages out of that damn baby-names book Gwen had 'forgotten' to take back home once her immediate need for it had passed. He wasn't even sure why the Time Lord had bothered to grace the Hub with his presence today, since all he'd done since inviting himself along this morning was to sit on the sofa tossing out increasingly ludicrous ideas. Then again, it was Martha's first trip back as well, so maybe he'd had some vague notion of keeping an eye on her, or on the kids, or... something. Or simply not found the prospect of hanging about Jack's house as rife with the potential for amusement as that of hanging around Jack. Hanging around annoying Jack. But Marley needed her first round of jabs and Owen apparently didn't want to be the bad guy (although Jack noticed he hadn't had any trouble performing that duty for Gwen's), so here Martha was, and here the Doctor was as well, letting two preliterate (Jack was pretty sure, anyway) toddlers point at random entries in Beyond Jennifer And Jason. "How about Elvis?"

"Okay, I don't even know where to start."

Jack was granted a temporary reprieve from the Doctor's questionable sense of the dignity of these things by the arrival of Martha's appointment, fidgeting lump tucked into a garish sling against Owen's chest. It was the first time he'd seen anything of the odd little family unit since his medic had requested some well-earned time off for what was left of the holidays, and Jack was a little surprised to be getting the entire set today, even if Andy was on the duty roster. "How was the big christmas dinner?"

The three exchanged glances, and after a few moments Toshiko said, sheepishly, "The important thing is that we survived?"

"Tosh's story about the time her soup caught fire?" Owen looked sideways at his wife. "Not apocryphal."

"And then the part where his Mum nearly took a swing at my dad --" Andy shook his head, as if however low his expectations may have been regarding what would happen if they ever got all the families together at the same time, Owen's mother had still managed to slither right under the bar. "Still not sure what that was even about."

Owen's favorite scowl had an edge of melancholy to it. "Marley can make do with Tosh's mum and the DCIs Davidson for grandparents, I told you that when you wanted me to invite her."

Which was probably much for the best anyway, considering it was seeming less and less plausible as Marley settled into her coloring that mushroom-pale Owen could really get away with having put his own name on the paperwork as her father. Dark eyes sized Jack up suspiciously as he peered into the sling. "What the hell is that thing she's got supposed to be?" Jack asked, hoping to distract them all from lingering considerations of how to manage their extended extended family.

"The Yersinia pestis bacterium," Tosh said, fishing the shapeless black plush creature out of the baby's loose embrace for his inspection with entirely too fond a look. "It causes the bubonic plague. Owen found it on-line somewhere."

"She already seems to miss it when we try to take it away," the medic said, tucking the noxious microbe back in with Marley to the infant's seeming relief. "Of course we're going to have to put it up on a shelf when she gets big enough to chew the eyes off."

"Have I told you lately that you deserve each other?"

"She wouldn't even look at the bunny I got her," Andy said in mock offense. "Kicked it straight out of the cot. She's either going to grow up to be a bioterrorist or a cuckoo."

Tosh was divesting herself of her coat. "You staying a while?"

"I need to have a talk with the mainframe," she said in a voice heavy with the threat of soldering irons. "It was behaving particularly badly when I tried to log in this morning, if I didn't know better I'd almost say it was sulking."

"Simple case of separation anxiety," the Doctor said absently, trailing along after Owen as he headed down into the autopsy room to keep on making silly faces at the baby. "It's used to having you around all day, having to share your attention with Marley is like -- Awww, she smiled at me, Jack!"

"Completely broody." Halfway through the year-long gestation the Time Lord was starting to look, well, different, more noticeable than Jack's had been at this stage simply for being more slightly built, and it was about time for him to admit that he needed to resign himself to going suitless for the duration. Jack made a vague note to himself to spend the rest of the day paying the Doctor back for the baby-name barrage with some creative needling about wardrobe malfunctions, maybe a few well-timed remarks about whether he'd fit into either his or Martha's maternity cast-offs...

Jack brought his mind up short from contemplation of the spectral image of the Doctor in too-short pink trackpants at the jaw-dropping sight of Owen cooing reassuringly at the baby. In a mixture of English and what Jack was pretty sure was meant to be some simple Japanese -- and he had known that Owen actually did have enough of a surprising number of languages to ask the odd non-Anglophone patient where it hurt, but this was the first evidence Jack had seen of any interest that went much beyond a clinical setting. I think you hit the jackpot, Tosh.

Marley received her inoculations with a surprising patience, regarding Martha with a black-eyed stare that almost seemed to say I don't particularly care for this but if you say it's for my own good. "Who's a brave baby then, hm?" Jack's wife said once she'd finished with the injections. "Could we convince you to stick around for a few more rounds of peek-a-boo?"

Owen gave the Doctor a wry glance over his shoulder as he started wrapping Marley back into the sling. "Nah, I'm for fucking off home once Tosh is satisfied the mainframe's not missing her anymore. Unless you want me to start trying to crack into those two cryounits next to Harriet Derbyshire again --"

"Harriet," the Doctor said suddenly, head coming around sharply to give Jack a look.


"Harriet," Martha repeated thoughtfully, a slow smile creeping onto her face.

Owen looked from one of them to the next with an increasingly puzzled frown, then shook his head dismissively, as if he really ought to have known better than to expect anything around here to make sense in the first place. "Right, I've obviously missed something, but never mind me, just trying to do my job under these unreasonable conditions."

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Chapter 81: A Lot Of Fond Memories

Author's Notes: Don't call me Junior. You'll shoot your eye out.

"I think it's sweet," Gwen said, yet again. "Harriet Jones-Harkness."

"Harriet Indiana Jones-Harkness," Jack said, glaring in the general direction of most of the universe's population of Time Lords. Jack-Jack had been swearing up and down that whatever Tosh had done to get the mainframe to see reason had left him locked out of everything but his email account and Minesweeper, but Jack remained unconvinced he hadn't still had some hand in monkeying with his baby half-sister's record nonetheless.

"It's not as if we weren't already going to home-school her," Martha pointed out, stroking the infant's back as she squirmed to turn her head from one side to the other. So far as Jack knew, she'd been considering Letitia, but seemed far too amused by the mysterious substitution to really argue the point very hard. "-- I think somebody needs to go down for a nap, would you take her up?"

It was weirdly refreshing having one baby he could just relax and be daddy to, Jack thought, accepting the transfer of the sleepy bundle. Gwen followed along at Jack's elbow as he padded up the stairs. "So, anyway, I was thinking half-days at first?"

"If you think you're ready, I mean, things have been quiet anyway, but maybe that would be a good way for you to ease back into this."

"Not for fieldwork yet, I'm sure, but at least to help with the paperwork, Andrea's a love but there's only so much daytime telly I can --" Gwen opened the nursery door on the wholesome domestic scene of Ianto curled up on the futon with one of the twins tucked up under his chin. And a gun in his free hand drawn on the door -- "God, Ianto, jumpy much?"

Ianto swallowed, and nodded, and disappeared the gun back under his pillow. "That had better be the one with the biometric lock," Jack said evenly.

"Considering why I'm twitchy it would hardly be otherwise," Ianto said, with a hooded look that could have been referring to his babies or more specifically to Hart. "Shh, f'anwylyd, mae'n iawn."

"I think I'm not the only one who's going a bit funny from too many chat-shows," Gwen said with a too-knowing tilt of her head.

Jack had been thinking much the same thing lately, actually. "How about it, Quick-Draw, do you want to try strapping on the papooses to put some time in at the shop? Might make you feel better if you've got certain parties where you can see them."

A skeptical yet considering look from the blue eyes as Ianto stood up shakily to return his sidekick (Geraint, Jack thought) to the crib. "I do seem to recall saying that we weren't going to be doing this, but I suppose that while they're still too small to be warped by their surroundings it would be a way to resolve the security question. Of course it would mean bringing Harriet along as well," he added as Jack contributed his passenger to the set. "Might be time to formalise those plans you had for the on-site child-care facility, I'm sure Tosh wouldn't mind being able to have hers in too."

Gwen looked far too charmed by the sight of the three babies wedged together like F2 peas in a mutant pod. "Oh, that's so darling, they don't mind sharing?"

Jack shrugged, then had to blink as Ianto mirrored his gesture. "She's their sister, after all," the young man said.

Which was true, if easy enough to lose sight of behind the skin colors and species barriers. "As blended families go, it's beginning to look an awful lot like home on the Boeshane around here," Jack said.

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Chapter 82: Take It Like A Man Baby If That's What You Are

Author's Notes: Outcomes of wagers. Dignity under fire.

Jack occasionally wondered if other people's just another day at the office was this prone to including, say, a moment where most of said office was gathered round watching with barely concealed glee as one of their medics dug a bullet out of the other's arse. But then, it wasn't as if he wasn't standing right here with them. "Do I owe you that tenner now, or should we wait until the next time Andy shoots him to be sure?"

"You couldn't have hit me somewhere that they'd have had to take me to A&E, could you." Owen was doing his best to glower up at the spectators' gallery despite being flat on his stomach and pointing in the wrong general direction for it.

"But A&E would've asked too many questions." Martha withdrew her forceps from the wound with a fragment of plastic clutched in the tips. "Where I'm perfectly happy to think that if I can't even get the shooter to shove off out of my surgery it was probably genuinely an accident and not some weird passive-aggressive Torchwood way of breaking up with you."

"Wouldn't have shot him in the wallet for that, would I." Well, at least they could laugh about it, Jack thought, relieved that as friendly-fire incidents went Owen's bank cards appeared to be the only real victim here. Certainly the white-knuckled grip on each other's hands as Martha went fishing for more shrapnel seemed quite mutual, and if there had been more to the story than the instant of carelessness that they'd both already confessed to, Jack wasn't sure that even he wanted to hear it. He'd probably have Hart's intrigued speculation to listen to all the way home as it was.

Now Martha was checking over her work with a small scanner. "Just a bit more, there's a chip in there still. Unless you want your bum to be able to pay its own Tube fare." Owen groaned and put his chin down on the table as she resumed her probing.

Once satisfied that she'd cleared all of the foreign matter from her patient's mangled flesh, Martha set about washing out and repairing the bloody mess, needle flashing with a brisk efficiency that made Owen pull a face at each tug. Andy bent to whisper soft distractions into his ear, something to cause muffled chuckles about how cold the table was and, at the last, a look of pure wide-eyed wonder: "Kinky bastard."

Now, if it had been Jack performing this patch job he'd have given the undamaged cheek of that temptingly bared target a smack, but Martha merely secured one last bit of tape over the gauze with a professionally gentle pat. "And any time you want the kinky bastard to help you off the table so I can start clearing up, yeah?"

"Maybe if somebody hadn't cut my pants off." Owen looked up towards the railing meaningfully.

"As if you've got anything we haven't seen before. Pretty much literally," Jack couldn't resist adding with a grin.

Owen gave his boss a wounded look. "Excuse me for feeling a bit vulnerable under the circumstances."

And considering the circumstances included having to be carried up the steps once Gwen had taken pity and brought a blanket to preserve whatever shreds of modesty Owen might still have been clinging to at this late date, even if he did look marginally happier about being so transported in his constable's arms than when they'd come up from the range in an agitated flurry of curses, Jack was inclined to grant Owen the point. Andy helped the medic to settle himself on the sofa on his good side. "I suppose we're here a while yet for observation before she'll let you go home," he said, running long fingers through the head of dark hair in his lap.

"At least until he's had some time to pull himself together, he's lost enough blood to be feeling it," Martha remarked from the depths of the autopsy room, holding aloft the gore-stained remains of Owen's trousers for a moment in illustration before lofting them into the bin. "He'll need fluids, too, could someone see if there's anything besides beer?"

There usually was these days, side effect of running an impromptu daycare, and Jack shortly came back with one of Rosie's cartons of Ribena, which earned him a malevolent scowl for his trouble as he poked in the straw and handed it over. "Hey, they went through the jug of apple juice already, all right?"

"I suppose a little human dignity was always too much to ask for around here." Owen gave the carton a resigned shake and set to with a grimace. "Although at least it wasn't the sippy-cup."

Jack-Jack looked faintly incredulous. "You know, if it was me I'd be a lot more upset about the part where I was shot."

Owen fixed the young Time Lord with a supremely jaded eye. "Look, mate, over the course of eight years of employment with Torchwood, I have had my consciousness swopped with each and every one of my colleagues, physically turned into a woman and more than once I might add, mutated to any number of small furry creatures, and been let to believe I was a monkey for a week simply because the rest of them thought it was funny. My dignity is much more tender than my arse by this point."

"The monkey was more like two days," Ianto muttered truculently in the background.

"I'm not sure I can picture you as a girl," Andy said, with a strange sort of frown that spoke to just how hard he was trying.

Torchwood did actually have some file photos of 'Rowena', but Jack decided mentioning it would probably only complicate the discussion further, since the most immediately noticeable difference had generally only been an even fouler temper than usual anyway. "He sat around pissing and moaning about only being an A cup the first time. Dunno about later, he'd usually go off to the archives to sulk until we figured out how to undo it."

"Although the fourth time it happened he did decide to try it on at a club and ended up getting assaulted by a lesbian when he couldn't keep his cover story straight," Gwen added, too cheerfully.

"Can't bloody walk in heels," Owen muttered glumly. "Anyway don't think I didn't have some quality time with your tits that one time, either," he added with a glare in her direction.

"It should worry me how normal all of this has come to sound," Andy said.

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Chapter 83: Said The Joker To The Thief

Author's Notes: On the town. Signs and portents.

They hadn't had a Team Night Out in a while, and Jack was beginning to remember why. "You made us have to look at Owen's arse, you're buying." Gwen plopped down on the end of the bench, leaving Andy to either call her bluff and ask her to shove over or give it up and go to fetch the round. Sensibly, he chose to head for the bar. "Seriously, am I just the luckiest woman on earth for walking into these things my first minute back, or have you all really gone that completely feral?"

"Dunno how it'd really be 'gone'," Martha pointed out. "I've heard the stories. Some of the stories were bad enough."

"All I know is I've been scarred for life," Jack-Jack said, with such a woeful look that even he couldn't hold it for long and collapsed into a fit of laughter. "Sorry, no, Mum sewing up Owen's bony bum is far from the worst thing I've had to --"

Ianto broke in with a look of sudden alarm, glancing round at his colleagues as if he'd just realized which one had yet to claim a seat at the table: "Is anyone else getting nervous that he's got lost somewhere on our way in?"

Jack's discreetly panicked search of the pub environs found that Hart had managed in the span between the entry and Torchwood's usual table to sidetrack himself in an introduction to a new friend. "If you're going to deal from the bottom of the deck, gorgeous, you have to be less obvious about it. Try it like this --"

"And he accuses us of trying to teach him to suck eggs," Jack said. The girl looked up with the trace of a smile already on her lips. "I really don't think you want to know what she sees in your future, Hart."

The Time Agent countered with a smirk of his own, holding up a card with a figure dressed in a long red coat. "She says this one means 'bondage'."

"I seriously doubt it's in the happy fun I wish they would stop doing that at the office sort of way," Jack said, rattled. Hart's wasn't the only familiar face in the spread, either, the Magician, the Fool, the Page of Cups --

"We're all bound to our pasts," the girl said, plucking her card from Hart's fingers and inserting it back into the deck. "And our futures. If there's a difference, for any of us."

"Your girlfriend is spooky." Hart almost sounded as if he approved.

"Come on." Jack knew better than to lay hands on his fellow Time Agent, but a stout glare was nearly as good for moving him when he was about ready to be moved anyway. Hart sketched a courtly bow to the girl and suffered himself to be herded back to the group, somehow contriving to make it appear as if Jack were the wayward calf being retrieved by the time they arrived at the table.

Torchwood's constable made a vague gesture towards the glasses already arrayed on the table as Hart eased himself gracefully into the last open seat; "Hope bitter will do for you, you weren't here to ask --"

"I'd be a fool to argue." Andy cocked an eyebrow askance at the Time Agent's tone, but Hart merely leaned back and devoted his attention to his pint, smiling cryptically at the rest of them through the amber liquid.

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Chapter 84: You Can't Stop Now, It's Already Begun

Author's Notes: Easy dreams at the end of the day. Wibbly, meet wobbly.

The bed still seemed too big with just the two people in it, but for once Jack was kind of okay with that, content after yet another long strange day of Defending The Earth to relax and unwind with a lazy rehash of the workday just past that might even have sounded halfway normal to any of their married neighbors assuming one couldn't quite make out the specifics. "Yeah, but your bad day at work had to go and turn into everybody's bad day at work," he said.

Jack himself had spent a good part of his afternoon listening with less than his full attention to Tosh rambling on about the nappy-shuffling poltergeist that appeared to have taken up residence in Marley's nursery, which he rather suspected would kind of have to be one of the same absent-minded spirits who'd left that unfamiliar pair of cuffs under his credenza, but he'd humored her by agreeing to recheck the security provisions Torchwood had made for their house. It had still been a welcome distraction from the spectacle of Owen's followup check, pantsless once again as he flexed the stitched gluteus through its paces for Martha's critical evaluation. (Andy had already agreed to stand them to the next round of drinks, hopefully at a different pub.) The medic was limping a bit yet, but their cautious consensus was that it didn't look to be permanent, as opposed to the possible damage done to the rest of them by the examination itself. "You of all people should know that it happens, Jack," Martha pointed out.

All very well and good when she hadn't been the one to walk in on a certain constable easing his bosom companion's distress in the changing-room about ten minutes later. Gwen's shriek might have startled birds up in the Plass. "Still, he is a doctor, he should have been able to keep it professional."

His wife arched a playful eyebrow. "Like to see how long you'd manage with a beautiful woman fondling your bum..."

Not particularly long, as it turned out, but then it had been quite a while for both of them, babies inside and then outside conspiring until just this moment to put Jack off his game to the point where he'd been starting to worry he was losing his edge. But it all came right back, surprisingly quickly, and if he was going to let a little thing like shots fired out on the landing distract him at a moment like this then you had another think --

Wait, what the hell -- ?

Other reflexes came back quickly as well, propelling Jack out of the bedroom with only the briefest of pauses to make a nod toward local standards of decency. Blood, blood on the carpet in front of the nursery door, the stairs, the front threshold, and below him the most frightening thing he'd seen in a long, long while: Hart, facedown and unmoving at the base of the stairs, and Ianto just stepping in from outside, setting aside a gun to check the Time Agent's neck for a pulse. "Man down, Jack --"

Jack spared one second to marvel that in the defence of his children quiet well-mannered Ianto had apparently gone out the front door all but bare-arsed naked in his pursuit of whatever had left the trail. The rest of the household was scrambling to high medical alert, Martha and Jack-Jack clattering down the stairs nearly at his heels the latter with screwdriver already to hand. "His neck's not broken or anything," the younger Time Lord reported after a quick pass with the device. "But I think his skull's fractured here on the left side --"

"Get that thing outta m' ear," Hart mumbled, voice feeble but spirit more than willing to pick a fight over it. "Can we do this some place besides the floor of the front hall?"

Jack-Jack eyed him doubtfully. Hart was already trying to get up, shaky on hands and knees as he reached out to grab the banister. "You would know what you're built to withstand," the Time Lord said, sounding as if he wanted to make it a disclaimer in case of a bad outcome.

"Anything that doesn't kill me outright can damn well wait until I make myself more comfortable." But Hart seemed more than willing to let Jack and Ianto all but carry him up the stairs, and flopped across the guestroom bed with little of his usual grace.

Jack-Jack resumed the examination once he'd come to rest, ignoring the Agent's muffled protests into the pillow at having the sonic device so close to his ear. Pooled blood was already beginning to darken the skin around Hart's eyes. "There shouldn't be any intracranial hemorrhaging now, at least," the young Time Lord said finally.

Hart rolled over with a supremely annoyed grunt and reached out for the tea-towel full of ice that Martha had brought up, applying it to his left eye with a look of desperate gratitude. "Haven't you people got any painkillers? I don't care how damn primitive --"

"I might have paracetamol or something," Ianto ventured, and went to look. A short while later he came back in with a bottle and a glass of water. "There's so much blood it can't have got far, maybe once it's light out we'll be able to see which way it's gone or find the body --"

"You won't," Hart said, the gray eyes coming to squarely meet Jack's. "Because by now I'm centuries away from here, doing my best to convince you that while dying in your arms would be terribly romantic, we really don't need the paradox."

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Chapter 85: The Devil You Know

Author's Notes: Coming clean. Rest for the wicked.

"Start talking," Jack said.

Hart drew in a deep breath, and Jack noticed that one of his hands had strayed to cover that long scar under his ribs in what seemed like an unconscious gesture. "Do you remember what I said to you, when you turfed me out after that business with the canisters?"

"I didn't exactly turf you out --"

"You said, 'By the way, I meant to tell you, I found Gray'." Well, leave it to Mister Eidetic, Jack thought, surprised, before the words caught up to him. Ianto was continuing: "We thought it appeared to mean something to Jack, but he's never even enlightened us as to whether this 'Gray' is animal, vegetable or mineral."

"Gray is his brother," Hart said, eyes daring Jack to make him shut it. "He was taken by raiders when they were children. I thought, when I stumbled across a rumour that sounded like it might be connected to the species that took him, that I might be able to get myself back into Jack's good books if I could at least let you know if he was alive or dead, and... well."

"You don't sound as if 'alive' would be the good answer," Jack said.

Even Hart looked faintly ill. "They train some of their captives as janissaries. Soldiers, brainwashed from childhood into absolute loyalty to their masters. And we've all seen what good military material Jack is."

Jack found that he was shaking his head. Or maybe just shaking. "Not Gray. He'd never serve them."

Pity in the gray eyes now. "I'm sorry, Jack. But they're very good. And it doesn't really matter to them, if some of their toys break."

Yes, Jack was good military material, and part of that was knowing when to set his own emotions concerning the matter at hand aside until a more appropriate moment. He took a breath, surprised to hear his own voice coming out steady: "And you figure into this how, exactly? At whatever point of it?"

Hart shrugged, a little of his habitual insouciance creeping back into his manner. "He's mad as a brush, but he's not stupid. When he figured out that his targets here had defences he couldn't crack on his own, he went out subcontracting. Or did you think it was an accident that something as unpleasant as a bhabvian suddenly found its way here through your rift?" When Jack snatched a sideways glance Ianto's eyes had gone cold. "I... only meant to work with him for long enough to feel him out before I sorted things with you, but I did have to gain his confidence first."

"I suppose that was you trying to shoot me in the warehouse that day, wasn't it."

To Jack's surprise, Hart shook his head. "I think that would have been before he engaged my, erm, services. Might even have been why he agreed to hire me, nice and tidy to get me to dispose of myself while I was about it -- I didn't work out until tonight, I mean my first tonight, that I was caught in my own timeline on this one. But seeing it's yourself you've just coshed does tend to make you re-organise your priorities in a hurry."

"And you decided you'd rather try your luck with the other team," Jack-Jack guessed.

"Well, since it had apparently already worked. It may have helped that I was able to lend a bit of verisimilitude to my performance by actually nearly bleeding out when I got to Jack." A puffy-eyed glare in Ianto's direction.

"I've heard of working both sides of the street but you're really in a class unto yourself, aren't you."

"Fifteen years I've been working with Torchwood, trying to get this straightened out," Hart said, drawing himself up with all the dignity he could muster peering out of a smudge of developing bruises. "The Agency may be gone, but somebody has to keep an eye on things. Especially with a loose-cannon civvie running around with a stolen manipulator and no care for how to use it responsibly."

"What's Gray's mission, then? Why is he playing Terminator with 'Commander Jones'? Why did he want Rosie, if that was part of this?"

Hart sighed, deep and genuine. "Fuck me if I know, I'm just the muscle. Could we pick this up again in the morning, Jack? I really need to lie down for a while."

Yeah, Jack had kind of lost sight of the fact that the man had just gone three rounds with his conscience in a very physical way. "My turn on the sofa, then," Jack-Jack said diplomatically.

Hart caught at Jack's hand as he turned to go. "Stay? Please? I promise I'm in no state of mind to even try to have my wicked way with you," he added as Jack felt his face settling into a mask of suspicion. "Just... could use some company."

The Time Agent did look unaccustomedly off-balance, gravely shaken and (whether he could admit it to himself or not) hurting badly enough to instinctively seek refuge in the ordinary human oblivion of sleep that he could only fully realize by turning the guard-dog duties over to someone else. Jack supposed showing him this small compassion would probably beat having him clear out the drinks cabinet in pursuit of that elusive goal, and settled down beside his old (-- friend?) partner, drawing the face with its blacked eyes to his shoulder. "Whatever happens, I'm yours, you know that, Jack," Hart murmured against his throat. "Always."

"Don't go swearing fealty to me," Jack said.

Hart snorted, a little ruefully Jack thought. "Oath was mine to bloody give."

Yours to order as you will -- one last shred of his people's honor the closest thing Hart held to an article of faith so far as he'd ever been able to make out, and the suggestion that he had willingly uttered the words to Jack was a little frightening for what it said about Jack's own future. The fidelity of a broken assassin...

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Chapter 86: Another Head Aches, Another Heart Breaks

Author's Notes: It's not the years. Honey, I'm still free.

Hart was still soundly asleep when Jack roused from a doze in the gray light of dawn, nose buried deep in the pheromonic bonanza under Jack's arm and the tenor of his concomitant dreams plain from the hard heat against Jack's thigh. When Jack made to shove him off the Time Agent mewed like a heartbroken kitten and clung stubbornly until at last the gray eyes unsealed as best they could within the puffy mask of bruises. "My head."

He looked better than he really had a right to, accelerated biochemical processes already fading the dark stains to green around the edges, but the contrast with Hart's usual air of devil-may-care invulnerability was jarring. "I'll see if Martha's awake enough to come have a look at you."

Hart settled back in the pillows as Jack disentangled himself from the bed. "I wish the kid had been my version, I'd trust his on-the-job experience with posthuman physiology more than any formal medical education this barbaric century has to offer."

"Hey, Martha may be working with flint knives back here, but she's still a damn good doctor," Jack said.

"Oh, I've been on her table before, I know she's not Torchwood's chief medical officer just because of her connections," Hart said, raising a placating hand. "It's more the current state of the art that I question. I shudder to think what might have happened if I hadn't been able to jump away back then, correct me if I'm wrong but I'm pretty sure you're not quite at a level of being able to grow replacement organs yet."

Even had that sort of tech chanced to fall through the rift into their laps Jack couldn't picture that they would have had the capacity to keep Hart subdued long enough for a clonegraft to mature. "I don't think you're that bad off right now," Jack said, trying to keep his tone light.

"It's the mileage, as they say," Hart replied, and tucked into a loose curl under the red duvet. "To the extent I've even got any idea what my own timeline looks like anymore I'm reasonably convinced that I'm getting too old for this wouldn't be whinging, for this one."

"You've been saying that since the day I met you. Although as I recall on that occasion it did involve some actual underage schoolgirls."

A wan smile now; "We have had some good times, huh."

"Yeah, well, just, don't go getting any ideas from this, all right? I'm still not hiring for any positions you'd have in mind."

Only Hart could smirk like that through two black eyes, dammit. "But you wouldn't let me die, I like to think that wasn't all about the paradox."

Jack sighed and pulled the door open. "Think whatever you like, as long as I don't have to hear about it from Owen at work for the rest of the week."

Hart arched a sly eyebrow. "I won't tell them that nothing happened if you won't."

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Chapter 87: Dancing Jigs Until I'm Crippled

Author's Notes: Remember the trash can. Atheist, meet foxhole.

Somehow he'd never quite pictured that even he would live long enough to see Torchwood setting up a... well, a creche, was what this had turned into, bright cheery paint on the concrete walls still doing very little whatsoever to disguise the fact that it was basically adjunct to a dungeon. "But then Andy was the one up at half three this morning changing her nappy, so --" Tosh broke off as Jack let the door close softly behind him. "Jack, this turned out beautifully."

"I'll say it's right smart, Andrea couldn't do much better in the bloody Batcave," Rhys said with a wary glance to his wife. "Although I don't suppose he's invited me down here just to inspect the nursery facilities?"

"Not even to round out the numbers at an orgy," Jack said, grinning. "Although we can probably put something together later if you're interested --"

"We're fine, Jack, really," Gwen said wearily, as Rhys's expression froze into a sort of polite terror. "Could we get to the point of this before the baby wants her next feed then?"

The point was waiting for them all up in the conference room, bruised gray eyes flicking up from his wrist-strap to note the entry of the remainder of Jack's staff. "I suppose it would be too cliche to say 'I guess you're wondering why I called you all here today'," he said, looking as if he sorely regretted the missed opportunity. "I'll just jump straight into it, then, try to save your questions for the end --"

Whatever else Hart was, he'd managed somehow to pick up the knack for laying out what amounted to a mission wrapup in the simplest terms his audience could more or less be counted on to follow, probably the better to get through it and bugger off to the bar as soon as posthumanly possible. And Torchwood was the closest thing to a halfway educated debriefing panel that either Time Agent in the room was ever likely to see in their personal timelines again, even if Andy wasn't going to be able to read his furiously scribbled notes by the end of Hart's presentation. "Why now?" was Gwen's first question when Hart fell silent. "As opposed to hitting us five years ago, or five decades from now, I mean? What's the window we're talking about here?"

The Time Agent looked oddly pleased that Jack's team appeared to be quick learners. "He'll have a general notion of when it would be productive to his goals to target this rock, which I imagine may have something to do with the lot of you being so... distracted," he said, with a pointed look around the table at all the babes in arms. "So long as my wrist-strap is keeping the rift damped down, he's only able to scattershot his attacks, but sooner or later he's going to have hit upon a way to compensate properly for the interference."

Tosh heaved a sigh that said she'd nearly caught all the way up before he'd even finished. "Let me guess, which will let him surf right on in on top of us."

"One might almost think you'd been making a study of this bomb you've been living on top of," Hart said approvingly. "I obviously couldn't be told specifics, but I'm given to understand that something nasty does eventually go down. Whether it will be the same something that Jack wouldn't let on to me about in his future... Well, there's the game, isn't it."

"Is it too late to try to get out of here by sticking my pants on my head and going wibble?" Owen eventually asked into the deepening silence that followed, burying his head in his folded arms on the tabletop.

"You honestly think anyone would notice another madman around here?" Andy rejoined, looking as if the thought had crossed his own mind.

"Getting out isn't an option," Jack said. "Even if I retconned you, you'd only be in more danger because you wouldn't know how much danger you were in. That's why I wanted Rhys in on this as well, it's not like he gets to declare himself a noncombatant just because he's not the one who actually works here."

"That's... surprisingly considerate of you, for once," Gwen said. She'd gone chalky, but she wasn't quite grabbing her family unit and heading for Pago Pago. Yet. "God, I suppose now we're going to have to see Rhys carrying a gun, what are we going to do around the baby --"

"Look, I'll make it up to all of you when this is over. Vacation time, maybe, I know Torchwood owns an island somewhere --"

"Iceland, Jack. I know it was going cheap but it's still not much bloody fun for a hol in this century."

"Although it's nice to think that if we need to we could always weaponise Bjork," Owen came out of his tuck to remark.

Gwen fixed him with a venomous glare. "All well and good to make jokes when the only thing you remember about the last time the world nearly came to an end is the part where you fell off the settee."

"I thought getting drunk was a perfectly rational response to an unreasonable situation," Owen replied tetchily. "Since it seemed a bit inappropriate to suggest having one last group shag, with that thing watching us from the doorway."

"That usually doesn't stop you, Owen."

"Sorry, was that the one where everyone was going off their nut and Torchwood weren't even answering the phone?" Andy said, looking as if whatever explanation the police had eventually been given could still do with some fleshing out if anyone cared to let him in on the rest of the story now he was on the other side of the classified stamp. Jack tried to remember what cover they'd even concocted for that particular incident and realized a few moments later that whatever he'd missed while he'd been thinking about it had apparently included all the thin justification Owen ever needed to start physically sidetracking the constable. Jack rapped his knuckles on the table and they startled apart, looking properly abashed at having forgotten that they were, oh, in the middle of a board meeting --

"I'd carry a gun," Rhys said, as every head at the table turned towards him. "If you said that I had to. I may not have signed up for this, but I signed up for her, and if that's what it would take to make Gwen and our daughter even a bit safer. But I'm not working for Torchwood, and I'm not going to any bloody orgies, all right? You people can keep that mess here at the office."

"And if you're about to say 'that's fine with us', Owen Harper, so help me I'll shoot you in the other side of your arse," Gwen added, eyes flashing fire.

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Chapter 88: If You Lose, I'm Taking It Back

Author's Notes: Rhys the Rant. 7-Eleven?

Getting Rhys up to speed with his new role as a less than innocent bystander to Torchwood's doings went... about as well as Jack would have expected, if he'd ever sat down and given the mere possibility of having to do it any thought. "Any medical conditions we should know about, or piercings in weird places that might cause discomfort when they start to heat up in the split seconds before your head explodes from the alien death ray of the week?" Owen asked, too cheerfully.

Gwen's husband had that look again, the one that said he was trying very patiently to keep up with the crazy but he was really beginning to think it wasn't him who had the problem. "You never asked me that," Andy said incredulously.

"That's because we made the mistake of assuming that the checks you'd have passed to get onto the force would have been good enough for what we needed you for, which is how I missed Maggie," Jack said. "Speaking of whom, Rhys, you don't have to answer this in front of the missus if it's going to get you a one-way ticket to sleeping on the sofa, but it would be helpful to know if you've got any youthful indiscretions out there that we might need to start worrying about."

"No," Rhys snapped. "No to all of it. No medical issues, no secret families, or... bionic implants, or whatever mad thing was next on your list to ask me. And if anyone here does, I'm sure I don't want to hear any more about it than I might already know, right?"

"Contrary to popular belief, I am capable of maintaining patient confidentiality," Owen said, scowl daring anyone to come up with a relevant counterexample. "Which is a pity because it means I can't tell you the story about how I learned we needed to ask about the piercings."

"Be that as it may," Jack said (and oh, Suzie had been... interesting to work with, sometimes), "I think it's about time you came down to meet Torchwood's firing range so we can see what we're starting with."

Rhys didn't look much happier about the situation once he'd been kitted out in protective gear, nor would Jack really have expected him to be with his wife and most of her workmates shamelessly rubbernecking from the relative security of the rear. "Ah, ah, first rule of gun safety, always assume all guns are loaded," Jack warned as his victim, er, student reached a hesitant hand out towards the array of weaponry on the table.

"The second and third rules are also 'all guns are loaded', by the way," Owen added morbidly. "And if you need a visual aid to help you remember that, I can provide one for you if you get me drunk enough first."

From the way Rhys's face suddenly twisted, Gwen was behind Jack shaking her head furiously at that. "I think the Oyster Card chip that was embedded in your ass would count as one of the bionic implants he didn't want to hear about," Jack said, trying not to grin, and gestured towards the waiting targets; "So, Rhys, show us what you've got."

It kind of figured that Rhys was one of those people who stuck their tongue out just that little bit when they were concentrating too hard on something, taking his moment to get comfortable with the strange weight in his hand before raising it to the outlines downrange -- and slowly, Gwen must have been substituting the banal details of the aspects of her job that could pass for normal for some of the more outlandish realities, down the years. Not a bad stance, either, Jack thought appreciatively, marking where there was still room for improvement as Rhys frowned intensely along the barrel.

And neatly put three rounds straight through the paper target's head. "Well, fuck me," Ianto said after a long shocked hush.

From Rhys's wide-eyed was that me? expression as he turned back to the gaping gallery, the sentiment was pretty well unanimous. "He's either a bloody natural or he's been spending entirely too much time with your primitive videogames," Hart said, the look on his face as close to naked surprise as Jack had ever seen from him. "It took me weeks just to get Davidson not to hold a gun like it was going to bite him."

"Bit too conditioned to worry over being on the wrong end of one, thanks," Andy muttered.

"Yes, we're all quite aware of how you'd rather work out your issues about power," Hart said. "Not that your openness about your bondage games isn't commendable for this backwater era, but --"

"Yeah, could I just point out that you're scaring the civilian and he still has a loaded gun?" Owen interrupted, glaring.

"If he hasn't already taken his go at me after what he's seen by now --" Hart's eyes narrowed, observing Rhys's baffled reaction. "...But his lady would probably have offered him the option not to have to remember that party, I'd suppose. Sweet, really --"

"What? What's he on about? He's not saying you used that, that bloody amnesia pill on me, is --"

"I'll show you the note you wrote for yourself when we get back upstairs," Gwen said with a hard-eyed we'll talk about this when we get home look for her husband. "I knew around here we'd need it eventually --"

Even so, what was the odd no, we'll talk about this now moment but the price to carry on doing what Torchwood did for the Marleys and Maggies and Andreas of this stupid ball of dirt, however many Rhyses were dragged into the fold in the process? And at least he'd had the sense to set the gun down to argue with his wife, which was more foresight than Jack's own people occasionally demonstrated. Well, he'd have to start thinking of Rhys as 'his people' too now, wouldn't he, barring another round of retconning which the poor man would probably be on his guard to object to. And I ever thought Gwen was the one I had to worry about letting it drift...

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Chapter 89: Don't Want To End Up A Cartoon In A Cartoon Graveyard

Author's Notes: Regrets, tears, anxieties. Reading ahead?

"You said she didn't have a pool, you old liar."

"This isn't a pool," the Time Lord replied, flapping a hand indignantly. "The swimming-baths proper got jettisoned centuries ago. This, this is more of an experiment that I completely forgot about."

An experiment in what, Jack rather had to wonder. He'd seen ships where the water and oxygen recirculation intertwined with hydroponics systems, but leave it to the TARDIS to conjure up a grotto resembling nothing quite so much as a moonlit swimming hole, complete with long red reeds around the water's edge and pale suggestions of fish gliding under the surface. Whatever the original intent regarding the chamber, the Doctor couldn't deny that he was apparently regarding it as a pool these days, submerged to his metaphorical plimsoll line in water that a human would find unpleasantly cool for an extended soak. "I suppose as cheating on the gravity settings goes, at least you're not going to adapt permanently or anything." Jack settled himself on the incongruous decking at the water's edge and idly drew a rush through his fingers. "Like your decorating job."

"Gallifreyan marsh grass, the last patch of it left in the entire universe. And the fish are kruppies, native to the Lost Sea on Anxar Four. Very tasty if you don't mind picking out ten thousand razor-sharp bones."

"Where are the lizards from?"

"Woolworth's, I think. Susan dropped a jar of them once, they must have been in here breeding ever since." An alien hand darted out to scoop up one of the little red anoles, letting it climb in and out of the long fingers for a moment before he gently replaced it in the reeds. "Don't know if the time where I left her even applies anymore -- well, not that that would necessarily be a bad thing, it was a rubbish future, but. Did I mention that I've noticed I've developed a tendency to get a bit maudlin lately?"

Jack reached out to ruffle the distressed-looking hair. "Wait until you start bursting into tears at soap ads."

A penetrating look from eyes that were all pupil in the quiet gloom. "You didn't track me down all the way in here just to warn me off daytime telly, I don't think. Let me guess, we're at another of those bloody Torchwood moments?"

The Doctor barely knew Rhys even yet, except as the good-natured foil to most of Gwen's stories, but from the way that the alien was nodding thoughtfully as Jack laid out his reservations about his new responsibility it was a fair guess that he grasped completely what it was like to have to add the distracting influence of someone's partner to a situation as delicate as Torchwood could be even on what passed for a normal day. "Although I don't think Hart's going to be nearly as jealous of their sex life if Rhys has anything to say about it." (And Jack only thanked his lucky stars that Tosh was both cautious by nature and had the Hub's CCTV layout memorized, not that the endless archiving process hadn't by now served up a couple stray instances of Owen engaging in actual old-fashioned potentially procreative relations with his wife along with all those clips that would get the parties concerned kicked out of a few religions even in Jack's time.) "I guess my biggest worry is that I don't have any illusions about him being able to do the sensible thing if it comes to it. Even Andy's got some idea to at least call for backup before running into the burning building after Owen."

Long hands folded across the gently rounded belly. "Oh, well, I'm sure it's mostly the biochemical processes triggering some deep-seated protective instincts, but... not sure if I'd be in a frame of mind to hesitate myself, right now. Actual capability aside, I mean," he added, shifting with a slight wince.

Jack cocked his head at the Doctor curiously, struck by his tone. "You know, I've been making cracks about you going broody on me, but I'm starting to think you're getting a little too into this."

"Well, what can any of you do but what everyone does do? Soldiering on for the sake of the future, and all that." One dark eyebrow lifted as some small body-part visibly lashed out at its confinement. "That ordinary, everyday leap of faith."

Which was an argument that Jack had no hope of winning, or even countering, not as the improbable remnant of a species fought even to find the brink to struggle back from it. "Yeah, we're all kind of in this whether we understand it or not, really. Just... I think you're probably going to be wanting to rest a lot more now anyway, it might be, well... good to do what you've been doing, stay kind of scarce, until we've got this sorted. Or until you have the choice again, whichever might come first."

The eyebrow flexed again. "I could hardly strap the baby on my back and just leave you, Jack." And a mischievous glint now to match the brow; "Wouldn't want to miss the end of the story, for one thing."

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Chapter 90: Here We Are Now, Entertain Us

Author's Notes: Sleepovers. Film criticism as blood sport.

One problem with having made the creche so cozy was the occasional surprise such as coming in of a morning to find his medic's entire entourage snuggled together on the folded-down sofa like a set of nested matryoshkas, blinking spastically in the sudden light as Jack burst in on the not-so-empty room. "Sorry. Didn't know you were having a slumber party."

Owen shielded his eyes with one hand to glare up at his boss. "Got done with that last test so late it didn't seem worth going home."

With Andy nursing a sore forearm and some interesting psychological scars from an encounter with a nostrovite shapeshifter, Jack supposed that camping out where Owen's big diagnostic guns of machinery were for a night or two wasn't that unreasonable an impulse. "You guys need another hour?"

"I'm up," Andy said, one huge stockinged foot appearing at the lower margin of the blankets as he stretched.

"You're on light duty again today, you might as well stay up here and help with the kids as anything," Owen admonished with a glance upwards that dared Jack to contradict him. "Considering it myself, if Martha's in anyway."

Nothing had really changed so far, the difference of knowing that some directed threat was indeed out to get them manifest primarily in a certain edginess whenever a call like yesterday's did come in. As of yet Hart had pronounced most of the incidents they'd logged pure coincidence, the ordinary static of living on the rift quieter or not. "I think I can sign off on that, as long as you'll at least come down to say good morning at some point," Jack said.

"After breakfast," Owen said firmly, and when Jack looked again he realized what was going on behind the sheet that Tosh had drawn up demurely over her very obviously shirtless self. Both of Marley's de facto daddies were taking advantage of their literal position to watch the proceedings with about the same fond goofy look. It seemed like his cue to back out quietly, beating a retreat downstairs to what almost seemed a skeleton crew considering how crowded he'd got used to the Hub being of late -- no Jack-Jack or smaller Time Lords to fall over for today, all home entertaining the increasingly restless and fretful patriarch of their race, just Ianto on the sofa with his two dozing bookends and Hart at Tosh's workstation, settling in with some film the mainframe had randomly chosen to spit out of its eccentric stores of data while Martha banged around down in the autopsy room, muttering direly to herself about people who made executive decisions regarding clearing things up in the morning.

Owen and Andy finally came sloping down the stairs in search of their own breakfasts, still yawning. "He'll be disappointed, the blokes don't end up together," Owen remarked with a cursory glance at Hart's monitor.

Ianto looked up at the medic with a sort of woebegone horror. "Now I'm picturing Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood snogging and it is entirely your fault."

"Oi, you're the nutter who was bending my ear about the symbolism of the dresses in Pretty In Pink. About bloody well time I got some of my own back for that."

"I still say that film is clearly Duckie's tragedy."

Owen gave him a look that was actually a fair observation of one of Ianto's own favorite expressions of disinterested contempt, which Jack thought was an impressive feat especially this early in the morning. "'M not even going to start about that one."

"And this is us not mentioning someone's apparent expertise on obscure musicals and or westerns, is it."

"I was dead and it was half four in the morning, right? It was that or come in to work three hours early --"

Hart was observing the exchange with an amused quirk to the corner of his mouth, clearly filing away the details for their possible future utility in blackmail attempts against the participants. But really this was only Torchwood being Torchwood, Jack thought, sniping at each other over trivia because it was easier than wondering where the other shoe was going to drop on them from. Jack was considering whether it would be better to separate the combatants or just point out that getting some coffee into Owen would probably be a win-win situation all around when Martha's voice rose above the squabbling: "Can I get you to take a look at this, Jack?"

Jack charged obediently down into the autopsy room. "What, don't tell me Andy's still going to need to make a run to Mothercare, is he?"

"No, you just looked like you needed rescuing from that," she said, grinning at him. "Here, pretend to be scowling at this in case any of them look down here."

Jack took the folder, which turned out to contain nothing more sinister than Owen's restocking list for the first-aid locker in the SUV, and made a show of studying it intently while a small strong hand rubbed his back in a companionable way. "I don't know what I ever did without you."

"Listened to them talking bollocks all day, I imagine."

"Yeah, that was it."

"I'm only hoping Rosie and Harriet don't bicker like this when they get bigger," Martha said with a philosophical grimace.

Somehow while he had been listening to his wife the conversation up top had managed to degenerate further into an argument about who had wanted to grow up to be Buffy the vampire slayer. "Don't make me come up there," Jack called as it started getting loud.

"I was eleven," Andy insisted sulkily. "Only got let into the film because I was already tall enough to pretend to be my sister's date."

Andy had some indeterminate number of sisters whom Jack gathered were mostly enough older than he was that the existence of some incriminating photographs involving doll-prams and frocks could be presumed. "Come on, everybody, remember, no more beatings until morale improves, all right?"

"I'm almost sure that's not how it goes," a rebellious voice muttered, and they were off again, this time on the subject of recreational flogging in the workplace. Jack chuckled and went to shut himself in his office before anyone missed him.

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Chapter 91: Couldn't Escape If I Wanted To

Author's Notes: Got soul but not a soldier. Ça plane pour moi.

And it continued to go about that well, for entirely more days and then weeks than seemed quite reasonable when they'd got themselves all keyed up for a proper disaster. The worst they'd managed to get into so far they'd mostly dealt to themselves, such as a pileup in the chase after some six-legged equivalent of a spoilt pocketbook dog that left them back at the Hub late into the evening sorting out who'd got trodden on by whom in the scrum. "Scalp wounds for you, bleed like a sodding abattoir but it's usually nothing under it. All right, mate?"

Ianto nodded, a little shakily maybe but seeming more annoyed at it all than truly hurt. "Just, trying to recall why I thought Torchwood would be a safer career choice than joining the French Foreign Legion and ending up in Afghanistan, is all."

"Wouldn't have needed as many exotic jabs," Andy said, feet up on Owen's workstation and flopped way back in the chair to regard the rest of them upside-down, the angle betraying the beginning sorties of a losing battle with male pattern baldness. If Owen was Torchwood's bullet magnet, then Andy seemed to be competing instead for the title of most likely to be bitten by something, decorated now with several fresh pads of gauze to set beside the double arc of still-pink punctures on his arm. "Though I can't see any of us having the discipline to be proper military, I've got mates who give me grief about how rough it must be to knock sense into drunks."

"I don't work well in overly structured environments," Hart said mildly.

"Such as say a basket of puppies." Owen finished swabbing out the last scratch on Ianto's neck and sat back on the table to glare at the Time Agent. "If you hadn't turned the fucking radio on it might not have tried to claw its way out through the roof."

Hart shrugged, a bit disingenuously Jack thought. "I thought a little music might calm it down."

"Trust me, very little that we've heard you listening to qualifies as music, much less soothing."

"I'm beginning to get the impression that matters escalated well past the ABBA stage while I was out on my leave," Jack said.

Owen gave Jack his best long-suffering look, which wasn't quite as polished as Ianto's but still managed to convey the general point. "Two words. Plastic. Bertrand."

Considering that Owen's taste in music generally sounded like a washing machine full of trainers to Jack, he was finding it a little hard to pick a dog in this fight. Or an alien chihuahua, as the case may have been. "You know he's only jerking you around with it because he thinks you're cute when you're angry," he said.

As Jack had expected, this drew a look of distaste from Hart. "I have the distinct feeling that no matter how I try to respond to that I'll get my nose realigned again for it, so I'll just be down the range, if you'll send Williams when he gets here for his lesson?"

Andy was grinning. "Actually I was thinking we've put in our hours for today anyway," Owen said, once Hart had stalked out of sight, and pulled his coat off the rack. "We'll just be off to play at being undisciplined tommies tramping round in the rain, if you don't mind."

"That would have been a cavalry officer's coat, the infantry issue was longer," Jack said absently, and then noticed Owen wasn't the only one staring at him. Rather... expectantly, at that. Jack frowned, and replaying the last few seconds in his head realized that Andy had just pulled a note-perfect impression of a batman holding out the greatcoat for his officer to don. And that Ianto was trying not to burst out laughing as Jack twigged. "Aw, just go on and get out before I decide to send you over the top first next time, dammit."

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Chapter 92: Ever So Much More Than Twenty

Author's Notes: Hot potato. In loco.

Hard to say whether the failure of the voice on the other end of the line to immediately make much sense was a function of the hour or the caller's distress, or possibly both; "Wait, say again?" Jack said, rubbing his eyes.

"There is a Time Agent in our nursery. The only reason there is not a dead Time Agent in our nursery is that he has the baby and he's asking for you. Now would you mind getting your arse over here before Tosh gets any twitchier? It's going to be harder to ask him any questions if she decides she can make a shot without hitting Marley."

Somehow it seemed only natural that Owen could manage to get involved in a hostage situation at three in the morning in his own house. Jack staggered blindly through the formalities of dressing and making sure that the rest of the household was alerted to a possible Situation before collapsing into the passenger side of Martha's vehicle and allowing the one member of his retinue who was physically incapable of having been more than half-asleep at this godforsaken hour navigate through the darkened streets of Cardiff while he tried to work himself into a state of alertness remotely suitable for meeting a crisis.

Oddly, all the players in the drama had gathered together in Andy's lounge over some hastily made tea. And the stranger still had possession of the baby. Jack noted that the device on the arm holding Marley didn't appear to be standard Agency issue from any time that he knew of, sleek and pretty rather than utilitarian leather. For that matter the man was sleek and pretty, dark-skinned yet incongruously ginger. All the baby's parents were regarding him with something that looked more like pity than righteous outrage.

Hart knelt in front of the intruder, capturing his attention with a steady gray gaze. "I'm supposed to be the one who needs adult supervision, Kosch."

A number of ugly truths slotted quietly into place. "I just wanted to see her," Jack-Jack said in a leaden voice. This future regeneration had an altogether different accent, not contemporary to anywhere Jack could place. The Doctor would be so happy about that hair --

"Obviously this is why I wouldn't say who the father was," Tosh said, caught somewhere between downcast and defiant. "Even without the potential paradoxes involved in keeping who knows what when sorted, it's just... a bit, well, weird. Even for Torchwood."

Owen was clearly still having some trouble with elements of the story other than Tosh's understandable reluctance to disclose Jack-Jack's paternity. "But Marley's human. Every test I have done --"

A shrug that reminded Jack uncannily of the half-grown boy, some element of underlying personality carrying over through regenerations. "Three-quarters of my genes come from here, by weight if not by volume. I don't think we'd breed true anymore even if it was a possibility." The eyes were a lighter hazel now, disconcertingly sharp as the Time Lord looked up at Jack: "Oh, erm, by the way, I wouldn't get too angry at Rosie, he does turn out to be a decent bloke in the end."

"Spoilers," Hart murmured, with the ghost of an indulgent look that said he rather enjoyed getting to be the one to scold. "Rather goes without saying that none of this leaves this room, right?"

"What's another secret for the list?" Andy looked irritated, yes, but not really much more so than at any other confrontation with the insanity they dealt with every day, paradoxical one-night stands with time-travelling aliens about as likely an explanation as any for the odd unexplained pregnancy. Certainly more plausible than, say, an egg-laying bite, at the very least.

It was Owen who appeared to be building to a slow boil, glower of pure primate challenge settling across his face as he regarded the man with his cub. "As long as we're not having to explain where she's got to, yeah? 'Cos if you're thinking --"

"Owen." Jack put a restraining hand on the medic's shoulder. "If he wanted to take her, I think he'd have done it by now."

"I grew up with her," the Time Lord said, looking chagrined at not having considered what this impetuous break-in must look like to the casual observer. "Thought she was just another of my Torchwood cousins for -- years and years." From the sudden shadow that clouded his eyes Jack suspected finding out the truth had involved a deathbed confession. "Her and your -- well, here, see for --"

Jack-Jack stroked the surface of his wrist device and out sprang the projected image of a family gathered together on a doorstep for a formal photograph, a large family (and good god, Jack certainly hoped for Tosh's sake that a few of those were grandchildren, or spouses, or adopted) with Andy uncharacteristically front and center of the shot. Jack's eye stuttered across the absurdity of an Owen with silver hair and silver beard before picking out which one must be Marley, leggy even in fairly sensible shoes and a surprising resemblance to her great-aunt if you knew to look.

Hang about, he'd seen that fence before, head-high iron spikes in front of dull dark brick -- The hologram vanished before Jack could quite put his finger on where as the Time Lord shifted his wrist. "I turn into my Da," Andy said, sounding dazed.

"I turn into my Mum," Owen said with an equally stunned expression.

"At least your Mum still has hair."

They hadn't even noticed Jack-Jack passing his daughter back into Tosh's arms. "You'll keep her safe, I know that," he murmured. "I mean, I think I do, the future as I remember it right now says... She's safer here, anyway. I..."

Hart seemed to have reached the end of his patience with all this sentimentality. "Never mind that, Kosch, is this my bloody extraction?"

"Op's not locked down. I'm sorry."

The Time Agent looked as if he'd been kicked in the face, but then so did Jack-Jack, hazel eyes meeting gray with a barely constrained panic that one could have been forgiven for mistaking for fury. The Time Lord keyed a sequence on his wrist device, hesitated, and leaned forward to press an impulsive kiss to Hart's lips before the swirling nimbus faded him from their sight. "Always was too passionate for this game," Hart remarked once the crackling swirls had dissipated. But he looked oddly bereft.

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Chapter 93: Get Moose And Squirrel

Author's Notes: Ohana? You eeediot!

Jack was almost thankful for the distraction that Torchwood's latest acquisition provided, able to lose his thoughts in the trivialities of how to keep a workplace on-task around a shivering little alien rat-dog that one of his staff thought was the cutest thing she'd ever seen and the rest wanted to drown in the pool at the base of the rift manipulator before somebody had to start a betting sheet on which of them the damn thing was going to bite next. "I still say it's going to give us all space rabies," Andy said morosely, watching Gwen cooing at the beast as she fed it scraps from her lunch. "Are we quite sure it's not just some sort of futuristic rat?"

"Dentition is consistent with something analogous to a dog or a fox within its native ecosystem," Owen said. "And it's certainly domesticated, or it would have better survival instincts."

"Hey, it managed to take two of you down," Jack pointed out. "Even by our standards, getting owned by a sugar-glider wasn't exactly one of Torchwood's finest moments."

"I was trying not to hurt it," Andy returned, glowering at the tiny animal. "Even if it's not willing to extend me the same courtesy."

Jack actually suspected that the small, hairless, pink, six-legged creature liked Andy a little too much, or rather his hands, which were nearly the same size it was and could in the right light be taken for rivals, or, quite possibly, mates. "I doubt it's part of the attempt on us, anyway. The alien assassins we get aren't this competent."

"I think I've just been compared unfavourably to Pepe the prawn," Hart said, frowning.

"His name is Stitch." Gwen scooped the little alien off the table, tucking it into a fold of her shirt. "And if you're quite through slagging him off now, I've got other feedings to see to."

"I suppose it fits with the biting people and destroying everything in sight, anyway," Andy muttered once Gwen had disappeared up the stairs.

Jack shrugged. "Hey, if I haven't fired Owen for that yet --"


So, back to the usual routine, then, and if Owen and Andy were both casting the odd considering look at a certain oblivious young Time Lord as he and Ianto conferred quietly over a screen, at least so far they'd both had the sense not to say anything out loud about their concerns. "Got some of the babydaddy issues sorted, then?" Jack asked carefully.

"Eh, it's a better excuse than that he really couldn't be bothered," Jack's medic said with a distracted scowl that said he wasn't near in a mood to draw complicated psychological parallels to his own childhood traumas just now, thanks. "Just wondering what's got him making the 'won't somebody please think of the children' faces, 's not like they're even..."

Owen wadded up the wrapper of his sandwich and drifted over to investigate the siren lure of possible illicit materials, followed a moment later by one equally curious constable. Jack did his best to ignore the muffled sniggering that ensued until it became outright muttering and at last Andy saying, incredulously, "Care Bears?"

They even had Hart's attention by now, leaning over Ianto's shoulder to take in whatever was on the screen with a raised eyebrow. "You people are sick," he pronounced solemnly.

Jack sighed and hauled himself up from the sofa. "You know what I've told you about things I don't want to have to explain to your mother --"

But the specifics of whatever lurid work they were perusing on company time were never to be known to Jack, as on the catwalk above Gwen burst out of the hothouse, screeching like a small Welsh banshee. "The vine! Owen's vine ate Stitch! It just snatched him out of my shirt and sucked him down like a chip -- It's not funny, you!"

Andy wasn't the only one who looked to have jumped to writing up the gleeful plant-bites-dog headline, either. "But humour is so subjective, Gwen," Owen said, his own lips twitching. "I am worried what that's going to do to Cleopatra, though," he added with a slight frown. "Raised that fucking thing from an egg, be a shame to lose it to improper feeding now."

"I possibly ought to have mentioned that the proper name for that specimen would be the Andarian rat-eating vine before she went in there with her tasty little friend, I suppose," Hart mused.

"This is why we can't have nice things." Gwen glared down at them a moment longer and turned on her heel to storm off, presumably to go console herself with a cuddle of her human offspring.

"She's got a point, though, we're going to have to keep the hothouse doors locked around the kids."

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Chapter 94: And Another For The One You Believe

Author's Notes: Fragments. State of grace.

Then there were these days, days when they dragged back from the mission too filthy and exhausted to have a care for modesty and started struggling out of ruined garments even before their reserve medic had finished evaluating the walking wounded. "Scan looks all right, take more than that to crack your thick skull, yeah? Go on, get yourself cleaned up -- And you be careful to wash out those scratches properly, right?"

Andy looked blankly down at his hands as if he'd never given a thought to what he must look like after shifting that much fallen rubble to find Owen. The surgeon was still chalk-pale even under the gypsum dust, gratefully cradling a cold-pack to the knot blossoming above his eyebrow. "Showers," Hart said, looking for once as if the fact that he was already naked was merely incidental to that goal.

They had all joined him in their bare skins before any of them had reached the changing-room, scattered trail of plaster-choked wreckage (don't think about wreckage) left to be a problem for another moment. Part of Jack's weary mind noted with a clinical sort of appreciation that Andy had a respectable bum, if that were one's area of specialization. The constable evidently had his own protocols for aftercare to a mild concussion, herding Owen subtly but distinctly into the farthest end of the communal shower from where Jack was already reaching for a tap before the captain had caught more than a glimpse of the infamous tattoo.

Hart's and Jack-Jack's, however, were more than enough to keep company with as he tried to wash away thoughts of how carelessly they'd walked into a setup. "It's the first time anyone's tried to blow me up on purpose," Jack-Jack said in a voice almost too subdued to carry over the sound of the water.

And it probably wouldn't be the last, either, Jack thought, wondering how much longer the young Time Lord could go without picking up a showstopper souvenir-of-Torchwood scar to set beside Hart's stomach or Andy's thigh or Owen's heart. Gently he began prompting the boy through a debriefing, dry businesslike analysis to deflect visceral memories of Jack's blood red on their hands and those few harrowing instants when their field medic had answered yes to visual disturbances before working out that the blast and its aftermath had dislodged a contact. (Andy seemed to be taking good care of Owen over there, anyway, soaping the dust from his mate's hair with more care for the hard-done-by scalp than his own lacerated fingers.) And Hart stepped in with his own thoughtful distractions, parceling out a few relevant anecdotes of his rough-and-tumble early years that even Jack hadn't been privy to before now until a hint of the alien's usual good humor began to peek back out. Just a hint, but maybe enough to save Jack from having to answer for breaking the Doctor's little boy.

Jack came to the end of his own gloss on one of Hart's more unreasonable tales of the life of a trainee Time Agent and noticed that he'd lost his audience altogether, heads inexorably turned in the direction of the breathless grunting he himself had been trying his best to ignore. "Well. That's..."

"Athletic," Hart supplied, in a tone that Jack would almost have to describe as admiring.

Nothing for it but to look, he supposed, even at the risk of hysterical blindness -- "I guess that would count as... keeping him awake, or... something..." Jack shook himself and turned back towards the wall. "Eyes front, people, let them have some space. You thought he was dead when we pulled him out too."

"Flexible, I will give Harper that," Hart said, but grudgingly returned his gaze to the showerheads. "The 'Tree Frog' isn't a position you can get yourself into without a certain amount of practise --"

"Enough, all right?" Bloody Torchwood. Where did they even find any -- well, bloody Torchwood, I guess. Jack sighed and devoted his attention to helping his young charge to be sure that the plaster dust was quite rinsed out of his tangled curls, which was a chore he was beginning to think called more for scissors really but he knew about how far he'd get with that suggestion. Hart had already lost interest altogether and wandered out, humming under his breath acquiring off-key words in the changing-room beyond: Gave me gear, thank you dear, bring yer sister over here -- A wary glance towards the corner as Jack turned to leave showed the lovers still standing beneath the hot spray, so wrapped round one another that it was difficult to tell who was keeping whom upright, the existence of anyone else simply irrelevant.

A few items were conspicuously absent from a gathered pile of laundry when Jack traced his way back to the main area, three coats whisked away by hands that couldn't bear to see vintage tailoring left to languish grubby and unmended. Well, they all coped with days like this in their own ways. Hart was poking at the remains of one of the explosive devices they'd recovered with a tiny stylus; Jack settled in beside him at the workstation and tried to lose himself in the intricacies of dissecting forty-fourth century circuitry.

Eventually his two wayward operatives came down from the showers, Owen swimming in a dark jumper that had to be Andy's and glaring at Hart, who come to think of it was wearing a familiar-looking purple shirt. They collapsed onto the sofa and started passing a mobile back and forth, reassuring Tosh, and possibly themselves, that they were both coming home in one piece tonight despite Jack's best efforts. And they'd been damn good efforts, from the looks of what was left of this device. Jack drew up notes as Hart prodded, listening absently to the hush of a local accent now murmuring, "Don't change a hair for me, not if you care for me..."

Presently Jack realized that the soft voice had fallen silent. He looked over to the sofa again and saw that both of them were sound asleep, Andy's cheek resting lightly on the hedgehog of damp black hair buried against his neck. Neither stirred as Jack gently draped a blanket round the pair and withdrew the further operations for the day to his office.

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Chapter 95: Fear Me, Love Me, Do As I Say

Author's Notes: Area of effect. Conduct unbecoming?

Probably not much surprise that tremors rippled through everyone's sense of security after such a graphic confirmation of their greater troubles, although Jack thought that finding one young alien stretched out on the floor indulging the assembled and mostly oblivious ranks of his tiny siblings in a spot of very early-morning telly was perhaps a bit to the extremes of it. "Pulled babysitting duty today?"

Jack-Jack nodded towards the sofa. "You could say that."

Well, better the reek of gin to be coming from a sit-ee than the sitter, anyway. "Did his crotch get a separate paycheque for this film? 'Cos, I mean, I have tried wearing trousers like that and it just doesn't work, the first time you actually try to move they're off into the next room like a broken rubberband."

"You're drunk," Jack said. Hart squinted up at him.

"Working on it, anyway. Not easy around here. Don't s'pose you'd be a love and make us another run to the off-licence?"

"It's six-thirty in the morning."

"Not following you."

Jack cast a questioning glance to the young Time Lord, who shrugged fatalistically. "He'd already got a start before I came down, seemed like the best thing to do was let him get drunk off his arse so long as he wasn't getting violent."

"I'm w' Harper, rational response to an unreasonable situation. N'wonder the man has the Prime Minister's... ear."

Hart could probably reboot himself into a condition that Jack would feel comfortable about sending out into the field fairly quickly if he cared to make the effort, but then there would be the question of the danger that having him pissed off at not being pissed would pose to everyone else on the team. "And you've decided to step valiantly into the breach, huh," Jack said as Ianto came down the stairs dressed for a stint of possible fieldwork.

Ianto gave the muttering Agent on the sofa a resigned look. "Anything to save us having to retcon half of Cardiff."

It felt downright odd leaving without any bundles in carseats, the new normal of planning movements for a small army already well ingrained in Jack's hindbrain. But, hey, somebody would only be left watching the creche anyway even if he did drag Jack-Jack in, and the sign that he was taking Ianto's word said closed for St David's Day might as well stay up another week for all they'd been taking much care to mind the tourist office lately. Jack left Ianto and Martha to split up for their own chores and went to check on what looked to be the rest of his staff for the day, Tosh deep in calculations for a reconstruction of yesterday's bombs and Andy poking at what looked shockingly like the report that he'd actually be expected to be filing regarding that mission. (Nearly a year with Jack's gang of hooligans and the constable still managed to cling to some vestigial recollections of how the rule of law was supposed to work, anarchic enthusiasm all very well and good in the heat of the action but a proper accounting always to put into a file somewhere after.) "Just us, then," Jack observed, pausing to peer in at the text on one screen: at approximately 1645 CJH corroborates communication from JH/JS and calls evac, however device #2 has already entered detonation sequence near AD/OH...

Andy heaved a sigh that suggested his mind wasn't necessarily entirely here either. "Owen looks like he walked into the roughest pub in the city on match day and stood in front of the telly. Dunno that he'll be in tomorrow, either."

A generation or two before and the duo would probably have been the sort of fast friends who wenched their way across the landscape together without ever really understanding why their orbits always seemed to return to a common center. Jack was only glad that Andy seemed aware of the responsibility inherent in saying to something as fragile as Owen, mine. "Wouldn't really have taken it amiss if you'd stayed out today as well."

"Figured you'd need everyone who didn't have a wall fall on them." Andy made an abortive jab at his keyboard, then let his hands fall still across the keys. "I owe Gwen... several apologies. This job gets inside your head."

And leave it to the one who'd married into the family to find the perspective to see it, Jack thought, wondering if it might be getting on time to sit down for a serious look through that folder the constable had been compiling on potential recruit material within the Cardiff force. A window flashed for attention in the corner of Andy's screen:

DeadManShagging: think she'll stay down a while, looking for something else to keep me entertained now
Carrot: report to write, sweetie
DeadManShagging: might need some adult supervision of my own here
DeadManShagging: ...Jack's standing behind one of you, isn't he.
GirlGenius: he's nibbling A's ears

Andy muffled a snort. "Why, Toshiko, who knew you were such a troublemaker?" Jack said, and glanced back to the screen at the sound of keys clicking:

Carrot: "Well, I could stay a bit longer..."
DeadManShagging: [REDACTED] OFF, JACK
GirlGenius: Sorry, Jack is busy making creatively futuristic love to us both

There was a pause, perhaps a trifle longer than merely composing a reply might indicate.

DeadManShagging: cant be doing it very well if you can still SPELL THAT

"He's got us there," Jack called. At the other workstation Tosh ducked her head, giggling. Jack chuckled and went to continue on to his office; "Carry on, then, don't let me keep you from it."

And later, when Jack went to check over the day's comm logs:

Carrot: I think he's just ORDERED us to have cybersex
GirlGenius: well, that takes all the fun out of it
DeadManShagging: bring home takeaway, the chicken's gone off

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Chapter 96: And If I Had A Dollar Bill For All The Things I've Done

Author's Notes: In flagrante. Tenses.

Jack-Jack had ultimately taken several more days away from his nebulously defined duties at the Hub to concentrate on shepherding Hart through the throes of a spectacular bender, a reasonable enough assignment of resources since his presence seemed to calm the Time Agent even if marginally, and anyway the rest of the Captain's people had more practice at making themselves scarce when these questions arose. The pair of them had thus managed to skip out on the recovery of a device that had briefly caused the rest of Jack's staff to physically regress to childhood, which Jack had to concede at least made a change from the usual alien sex-toys provoking mindless rutting that made up a whole wing of the archives by now. (It hadn't exactly come as a revelation that Owen had never been cute.) Not exactly the most opportune of moments to have actual toddlers around the Hub, Jack reflected wearily as he juggled (appropriately) small people out of Martha's vehicle at the end of a long day that he knew he hadn't even gotten the worst of, technically. "Are you even going to make it to supper there?"

Ianto shook his head, still looking a little green as he reached out to receive a little boy whom they could now say with an eerie certainty stood a very good chance of growing up to look just like him. "All I can think of right now is a shower and bed. Unless the world coming to an end has stopped by your house instead of the Hub," he amended himself with a frown as Martha finished fumbling with her keys and the door opened on the sound of raised voices.

Fairly obvious that the argument in progress somewhere upstairs was a blistering one, even if the Doctor was pointedly carrying on his part of the heated conversation in the all-but-dead language of the Time Lords. It crossed Jack's mind to wonder if by now the Doctor's people would think he spoke Gallifreyan with an Estuary accent. "You have your coping mechanisms, I have mine," the English-speaking voice tossed off in what sounded as if it might be intended as a parting shot. And indeed, here came the defiant Jack-Jack, glowering as he clattered down the stairs and pushed past his Mum and stepfather and nanny to stalk off down the street for all the world like any young man taking himself off down the pub after a disagreement with his housemates. If any young man had had such housemates, or been such a young man.

The Doctor appeared in the doorway of the guestroom, leaning heavily on the frame as if the fight had taken more out of him than he would have expected. Jack hurried to lend him an arm. "I left him here. Will leave him here," the Time Lord said, sounding like he was trying to convince himself of the wisdom of his own actions. "However back-to-front everything's gone, this must make sense, or I wouldn't have done that. Would I have?"

The alien looked haggard, in that way that Jack had seen on many another parent suddenly noticing that their child wasn't a child any more. "What's he done, did you walk in on him with a girl? A boy? ...Owen?" (Although how that would have worked considering Jack's medic had spent most of his day being literally rather than metaphorically five --)

"I almost wish it had been Owen," the Time Lord said, letting Jack sit him down on the edge of Jack's bed.

And suddenly Jack knew exactly what the Doctor had interrupted, and the thought sent him hurtling down the stairs in search of a specific someone to throttle. In Jack's kitchen Hart stood at the countertop (in Jack's own dressing-gown), brazenly making himself a pot of tea. Jack lunged at the other Time Agent and backed him up against the cabinets with a hand at his throat. "You had better give me a damn good reason not to squeeze."

The gray eyes never wavered. "Timelines, Jack. Actions, ramifications, ripples in the pond. Some things are bigger than your bloody ego, you know. Bit hard to explain myself with your thumb there," he added in a croak.

Jack backed off to let Hart draw a breath. "What possible timeline could have given you the nerve --"

"Well, if you'd prefer to have watched half your team bleed out on the floor of the Hub five years ago, I would have thought seeing Harper and Davidson go on embarrassing the grandchildren right to the end seems more what you'd rather but --"

Jack swallowed. "If that was what was supposed to happen --"

"No, Jack, that's my point. I've been working to change the timeline back from that dog's breakfast your brother's made of it. To help you to change it back. Since... it was sort of my fault that it had gone askew in the first place."

"Only 'sort of'?"

Hart gave him a black scowl. "All right, it was largely my fault, if that makes you happier about it. We have already had this conversation, I think -- but I suppose you'd have retconned yourself after," he added as Jack felt himself going blank with incomprehension. "Bloody typical. It doesn't matter, really, you're going to have to trust me for a little while longer on this, because I'm the only one you've got who's seeing this from the right way round. Even Daddy's caught up to that, am I correct?" Jack nodded, reluctantly, and Hart squared his shoulders and stepped aside to attend to the whistling kettle.

"And 'embarrassing the grandchildren' isn't a spoiler, then," Jack said, dropping heavily into one of the chairs at the kitchen table.

"More of a punchline, from the way you were telling it." Hart's lips twitched as if he'd considered grinning. "Had the impression you'd approved, anyway." He leaned against the counter with an uncharacteristically world-weary sigh. "I don't know everything. I don't even know enough, I don't think. But I know more about this than you, and while I know how spare that's been driving you... Let it be, Jack. Let it work out how it works itself out."

"Do I have a choice?" An eyebrow quirked, but Hart only set a mug in front of him, and didn't answer.

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Chapter 97: Suspicious Minds Are Talkin'

Author's Notes: Waiting up. Office hours.

"He was wearing a panama hat. Rather in the Tom Jones sense of wearing a hat, if you follow me."

Jack thought he did, and desperately didn't want to go where he was being led. The Doctor had been rambling on for the better part of an hour now, the mug of tea Jack had made for him quite forgotten on the kitchen table. The kid wasn't back yet; Jack was beginning to think that the best-case scenario for the immediate linear future might be for him to pull someone and go back to theirs, it certainly wouldn't even be the first time he'd spent a night unaccounted for. (And now Jack was trying not to correlate those absences against a list of Hart's suspected whereabouts at the time, damn it --) "Hey, the high point of my day was getting a bunch of toddlers blitzed on Laphroaig, so I'm not sure I'm really the authority on parenting skills you should be turning to right now," Jack said. "For either one of them."

This drew a halfhearted grunt of objection from the next room. Hart had absented himself from further discussions of his contribution to the delinquency of a Time Lord by burying his nose in Jack's laptop, whether to browse for pornography or write morbid poetry on his blog or rewire the damn thing to explode the next time Jack touched it Jack wasn't really sure and didn't especially feel like finding out just now. It was keeping him quiet, anyway, even if Jack still wished the Time Agent had buggered off farther than the corner of the dining room that had mutated into a replacement for the lost office upstairs, although it wasn't as if he couldn't have eavesdropped on the conversation from just about anywhere else in the house regardless.

The Doctor chuckled. "I suppose you have exactly as much standing to complain about whatever possesses you to send him here. Congratulations, Jack, the tenses are even making my head hurt at this point."

"I'll learn from a master." That got Jack a dirty look as he got up to start a fresh pot of tea.

"Oi, he's still not supposed to have that, you know," Martha said from the doorway, and let the Doctor's pyjamaed toddlers clamp themselves onto their father while she went to rummage through the cupboards. "They got back up 'cos they're hungry, or anyway Rosie got up and threatened to start a general mutiny. Here, sweetie, will this do?"

"You get the charmer and I get the Oncoming Demand For A Biscuit," Jack remarked as his daughter accepted the bribe of a Hobnob with a look that said there had better be another one where this had come from, too. Her brother settled for importuning his Mum with those huge dark eyes until she laughed and parceled him out one as well.

The front door slammed. "You did like me better when I was too small to talk back," Jack-Jack said, glaring down the hall at the domestic scene in the kitchen. "Yes, I'm pissed, no, I'm not talking about it, and I'm going to bed now. Alone," he added with a vitriolic look round for challengers to this, and disappeared to thump noisily up the stairs.

Jack looked to the Doctor for comment, but the Time Lord only raised one thoughtful parental eyebrow. "Now mine's turned up safe I'll leave you to deal with yours," he said with a pointed glance over into the corner of the dining room, and waddled out the back door to go find his bed.

Hart was staring at the shivering lines of one of Tosh's better rift-analysis programs, Jack found when he made a cautious approach, flipping back and forth between different spectral filters and occasionally tapping some of the cascading figures into his wrist-strap. "You're working," Jack said, more surprised than if Hart had turned out to be having a pleasant and age-appropriate chat with a class of schoolchildren.

The Time Agent shrugged bitterly. "Since it appears I've been left here in the shit with the rest of you, I thought it rather behooved me to at least try to contribute to everything not going tits-up on us."

Well, and not as if either of them had ever taken much heed of Agency admonitions against throwing one's lot in with the natives, but there was acting out and then there was acting out. Jack looked over Hart's shoulder at the flickering pixels for a while longer, but had to admit that even a long acquaintance with the rift's proclivities didn't make anything the Agent was doing jump out at him as an attempt at sabotage, entirely the opposite in fact. He retreated upstairs to his bed feeling as if he were missing something in this picture, but damned if he could begin to say whether it spoke to his failing, or Hart's credit.

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Chapter 98: The Hang Of Thursdays

Author's Notes: Holding patterns. Debateable milestones.

As the spring sputtered damply along it seemed better to stick to fighting the mundane battles about leaks in old brickwork, or who had forgot to check the charge in the SUV's power-cells again and left everyone to walk home from Tremorfa, or the utter inadvisability of feeding Marley strained bananas. The affair, if that was what it had been rather than some idle curious impulse, between Hart and their alien intern seemed to have fizzled conclusively, not least because as the Doctor's self-inflicted condition began lumbering into the home stretch (or stretch marks) it got easier and easier to find excuses to assign the kid to 'staying home and keeping an eye on him' sorts of duties. Which, in a perverse sort of way, was completely within the spirit of Torchwood's original charter, Jack reflected, so one could probably set forth an argument that he was closer to being on-task than any of the rest of them seemed to be managing these days.

Take this typical-of-late Thursday afternoon, for example, which saw one Captain Harkness sitting behind his desk contemplating a size-huge trainer that didn't look as if it ought to have been in the archives as long as the associated strata said it had. The closest thing to a break in the routine all week had been the subdued party to mark the not-so-small miracle of Torchwood Officer 564's celebrating her tenth year of service (which officer 564 capped off by disappearing somewhere with officers 565 and 569 for slightly longer than even Jack thought was quite reasonable during office hours, and resurfacing so completely and uncompromisingly off her face that he had given up and sent them all home). Torchwood One might have been the sort of workplace where the less exotic pay-grades looked forward to the occasional manifestation of cake as a welcome distraction from keeping the mundane books, but for Torchwood Three it almost qualified as dangerously sedate.

Last week, now, last week had been a different story, what with the Hilarity that had inevitably Ensued when they'd found yet another sex-swapping trinket and the damn thing had gone off just as Rhys showed up for firearms practice. So there went one more note-to-my-retconned-self into the files to keep company with the usual reference photos and the new folder that was not actually labeled Andrew Davidson, case against getting in touch with feminine side of but may as well have been, and Jack still hadn't decided whether the fact that Owen had for once chosen that precise moment to be waiting upstairs for pizzas was evidence for or against the existence of a benevolent or anyway easily-amused God. (He'd probably have had one more employee filing for unusual-circumstances maternity leave if the switch had gone beyond the recreationally superficial, but at least they were consistent.) It had been Doctor Jones's first first-hand experience with that class of technology as well, but her only public comment afterwards was Let's just say I think I see why Owen never seems to get anything done. He was pretty sure his medics were collaborating on a paper.

Although right now the diagrams scattered around from Owen's desk down into the autopsy room were all of a different gender-tweaking nature, Jack's two resident medical minds working overtime to suss out the best way to perform a unique operation on a uniquely valuable patient. Right now the systems under consideration appeared to be those covered by the subset of the blueprints infesting the area immediately surrounding the sofa, even if as Jack paused to listen on his way to fetching himself some coffee the current conversation had lapsed into a more general discussion of the well-being of their subject. "We know he doesn't regenerate over this... assuming we know anything... but he's so miserable," Martha said.

"See, he could have given at least a bit of thought to that before he started," Owen replied, with a distinctly put-upon look. "Not like he can say it's unplanned." He sat up straighter on the sofa as his wife came down the stairs, wriggling bundle in her arms. Marley was going through some sort of phase where she raised hell if she didn't have her mum in sight, which meant that when Tosh ran into a task that couldn't be performed from the workstation up in the creche whoever happened to be expendable at that moment would find himself with a lapful of squirming ballast. Which, at this particular moment, appeared to be Owen. "Oi, c'mere then, yeah?" he said, reaching out to take the baby.

And Marley chose that moment to burble, very distinctly, "Da da!"

Owen went pink. "She's been practising that on the neighbours' dog," he protested to the knowing grins.

"It is a bit early for her to have figured that out," Martha conceded graciously as her fellow medic's blush deepened. "I think we'll let you off this time. But next time she does it I'm reserving the right to wind you up about it for weeks."

So am I, Jack thought, and continued on for the kitchenette, chuckling to himself.

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Chapter 99: One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)

Author's Notes: Consultations. It ain't Ozzie and Harriet.

The patient wasn't being very, and while Jack sympathized -- oh, Jack did sympathize -- he was starting to wonder if anyone was going to come out of this exam alive. Including his already-decimated drinks cabinet, from the remind me again how my life has come to this look settling onto the face of the attending physician. "Right, well, that's... about where it was last time, which if you're going to tell me that's normal I'll just smile and nod, I think," Owen announced, settling back on his heels as the Doctor let out a disgruntled sigh. "Was that the bit on page seventeen?"

"Eighteen," Martha said, leafing through the sketches. "I think I have one of those now and I'm not even sure how it works."

Brown eyes gazed dolefully up at Jack from the sofa. "Your surgical team has me brimming with confidence."

"I'm sure they'll get it right on the night," Jack said, although increasingly he wasn't certain of anything of the sort. The Time Lord started wallowing around to get himself back upright as the conference over his latest round of diagrams looked to be settling in for an extended debate over tactics that Jack half expected to break out into the drawing of theoretical flanking maneuvers on the battlefield of the subject's abdomen with the nearest marker at any moment. "You need help there, or are we still on the 'I can bloody well manage' week of the hormones?"

A rueful smile. "Well into 'are we there yet', I should say," the Doctor said, accepting Jack's steadying hand, and smoothed his shirt back over the ridiculous mound of his belly once he'd achieved a position closer to vertical. "And getting on for remembering that it's not as if I have a choice about finishing this, however daunting a prospect it is. -- You will stay to help them, won't you, Jack?"

"I didn't even want to be there for mine."

"Yes, I noticed how you managed to get out of most of that." A pointed look at an oblivious Owen where the surgeon was turning one of the charts this way and that trying to relate flat drawings to the squishy reality of a Time Lord's outlandish complement of multiply-redundant organs. "Although while I might even have the option I think I'd rather not break established causality to try it on --"

"Oh, all right, you big baby, I'll hold your hand while they're working, if it'll make you feel better," Jack said, and was rewarded with a blinding grin. Yeah, you get to that point where it isn't even to do with the actual argument...

By now Owen had given up on making sense of his notes for the evening and stepped into the hall to ring home base for a status report. "You are watching the match, admit it -- no, no, if you're having sex then why can I hear the announcer? Right, that's it, I'm coming home -- Jack? Never mind that takeaway, I need to go discipline my household --"

"His home life's gone weirder than ours," Martha said in awed disbelief as the grinning medic let himself out.

Even gazing at the improbable tableau of Pregnant Male Alien, With Attendant And Schematics on and around his sofa, Jack thought she was probably right. "I will admit I might not be the best role-model for impressionable twenty-first-century minds."

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Chapter 100: I Can Call You Betty

Author's Notes: Very special episodes.

And after everything was said and done you still ended up sitting in a corridor somewhere, waiting for a door to open. "I just wasn't expecting it to be that colour," Andy said for about the fourth time.

Well, that was partly why they'd brought the extra hands on deck for this, even if Jack had been thinking more of weathering a deliberate disruption than losing one or two of the support staff to a first sight of alien blood. "It's easy to forget he's not human," Jack said.

"Never even done that at a crime scene --" the constable broke off as one shagged-out chief surgeon finally appeared in the doorway, sagging against the frame. "This is going straight home to Tosh, isn't it."

"I won't breathe a word about it if you won't tell her he made me wear these," Owen countered, plucking wearily at his festive borrowed scrubs, and then turned his attention to the Captain; "Right, Jack, should be safe to go in, he's making... about as much sense as he ever makes, really, so any delayed-reaction alien head-exploding past this point is going to have to be Martha's lookout, 'cos I may not make it past the next flat surface I see. Wouldn't expect me for breakfast tomorrow either."

Andy had already stepped forward to support his trembling partner. "Might as well take the rest of the week, it's not like we've been busy," Jack said, and gave his medic a gentle pat on the shoulder. "Owen. Good work."

Owen lifted his head, a flickering smile creeping onto his face. "As if you ever bloody doubted it."

Because no mere utilitarian recovery-room would do for this spoilt patient, the Time Lord had been settled into his own huge bed under Martha's watchful eye, one deflated streak of alien not-quite-nothing under the flame-gold sheets curled round a small bundle. Jack sat gingerly on the edge of the mattress. "You look wrecked."

"Pfft, you should see the other guy." The Doctor managed to muster the strength to uncover a pair of alert dark eyes. "Say hello, Al. That's your Jack. You're going to have his teeth."

"That's all I am to you, a million-dollar smile to use for the breeding program. -- Well, it's not like it's the first time for that, anyhow." Jack reached out to cup the headful of ruddy fuzz with his hand. "Cute little guy. Dunno that he looks like an Al, though."

A look of slightly doped-up parental pride. "James Alistair. And Jack-Jack says 'wait until he starts growing out the dreads, you think I get questions'." The Time Lord shifted himself restlessly, gazing at his tiny new dependent. "Think I understand about mums now, I'm feeling this nearly uncontrollable urge to slap myself."

"I am so telling my Mum you said that when she comes round to meet him," Martha said.

"I'm taking it that your experiment is a rousing success," Jack said, feeling a goofy grin of his own starting at the way the Doctor couldn't quite tear his eyes away from his infant. "So, if you had it to do again...?"

An amused look in the brown eyes now. "That's a loaded question to a time traveller." The baby yawned hugely as a long finger stroked one fat cheek. "Him... Absolutely. In an instant. If you mean would I put myself out to have another, hell, no. My curiosity on the subject is quite satisfied, thanks."

"Kind of figured."

Martha had started giving them a sort of look that suggested visiting hours should be wrapping up for now. Jack suspected the alien would want the privacy to zone out to whatever degree he could around a squirming new life, little chance of managing the concentration to do much to accelerate repair of long-violated tissues although maybe a bit better off than the average human recovery from extensive surgery, but still he lingered a moment longer to tuck the blanket closer around the drowsing infant. "Enjoy the quiet while it lasts, huh?"

"I suppose I had better, I can already hear him thinking about his next feed --"

"I was talking to Al."

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Chapter 101: Last Call For Sin

Author's Notes: Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the fandango? Wiggly lines.

"Eddi and Patsy?" Gwen suggested, poking listlessly at her game of solitare.

Even Tosh was playing along by this point. "Doesn't really fit any more, last night's the first I've seen Owen off it in ages. What about... never mind, we did that one already. Ianto?"

Blue eyes frowned in thought. "Crowley and Aziraphale."

Owen turned in his chair to give him a look of creeping realization. "At least now I know who thought the zombie needed to catch up on his reading."

"We were all leaving you books, Owen. Scooby and Shaggy."

Hart shook his head. "While you were off. Harper nearly threw a scalpel at me, I think we counted it an extra point for getting a reaction."

They were, to Jack's eternal surprise, caught up. With the paperwork, with the archiving, even with the long-deferred retagging of scanned-in documents dating all the way back to the initial charter. The logical next project would be to work on addressing some of the nagging infrastructure issues of this hundred-odd-year-old base of theirs, such as that corner of the locker-room ceiling where seepage had quietly grown an impressive formation of stalactites as Jack looked on in idle fascination, but somehow he hadn't got round to pulling up any of the blueprints just yet, leaning heavily on the cover story that getting up from the sofa to do it now would disturb the twin who'd fallen asleep in his lap after a bottle.

Tosh was the only one of the crew who was even pretending to any discipline, extending some rift simulation out well past any point where the information derived would be at all meaningful on the human scale. Jack suspected the futile intellectual exercise was her equivalent of Gwen's card game. It still beat the way Owen and Andy had spent most of the morning on the sofa looking ill after a night out with the constable's once and future mates on the force (Jack hadn't caught all the specifics of how the evening had gone down, deftly sidetracked when he'd asked by a longwinded explanation of how it was that someone called Medium Dave was actually the largest out of several Daves at the station, but he'd gathered there had been enough friction to raise worries that this returning nestmate might have the wrong scent after Torchwood had handled him), and now appeared to be pursuing research that from the occasional muffled snort Jack rather doubted was at all work-related.

Alert-windows in corners of various screens flashed with a ring to the tourist-office's number. Owen was quickest off the blocks to answer it: "Jack's Lemming Ranch."

"That had better be someone we know."

"Just Dead-Eye Williams," Owen replied with a barely stifled grin that said he was getting an earful on the subject of his manners. "Wants to know if he can get anyone anything from the chippy before he comes down."

Gwen was glaring at Andy in a sort of you had better not say it way, for some reason. "Tell him mine's just chips, thanks," Hart said with the martyred expression of the vegetarian amongst carnivores.

"And could we not have a repeat of the garlic-sauce incident, I still haven't been able to look at a kebab --" From the pinched look on Ianto's face Jack thought it was probably just as well he'd missed out on that particular episode somewhere along the way. Maybe it was time to give the rest of today a miss as well, with another shift of fetching and carrying for a still-recovering Time Lord yet ahead for the night, Gwen could just as easily lock up after Rhys had put in his practice --

Jack drew his thoughts up short, caught by the way Toshiko had suddenly gone on-point before her main screen. "Jack? I think... You need to look at this, I..."

The baby protested sleepily as Jack handed him sideways to Ianto. Tosh had pulled up a riot of graphs, the crazed heartbeat of the rift captured in serial snapshots, and Jack's own heart sank as he recognized the similarity of the magnified blip on her realtime chart to the frozen squiggle of a reading from the day Hart had dropped back into the picture, the tiny quaver that logic and hindsight now suggested was the signature of a misused vortex manipulator struggling mightily to pull in a lock on its interdicted target. Here we go.

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Chapter 102: And They Say That A Hero Can Save Us

Author's Notes: Battle stations. Skin in the game.

"Right: Hart, Owen, Andy, you'll be with me for the mobile ops, the rest of you get to defend the fort. I don't think I have to tell you how important it is not to let him get in here, huh?"

Nods all around, some distinctly whiter-faced than others. "The revised armageddon protocol, then," Ianto said quietly.

Jack nodded, as in the background Gwen drew her arriving husband aside to sketch out the gravity of the situation: in the event of a catastrophic breach, no effort was to be spared to keep the Hub and its systems out of enemy control, up to and including destroying the facility itself if necessary. The revised part had been to designate a plan to get Torchwood's growing population of minors to a better position of safety once it was clear all hope was truly lost, and to make sure that the appointed caretakers would have the resources in place to look after a motley collection of... orphans. Potential orphans who were now being ferried downstairs from the creche to be crowded into a playpen in the line-of-sight of their stressed parents, Rhys settling himself onto the floor beside to make silly faces at his daughter through the mesh.

Hart was already ready to go, well, Jack never had been able to break him of the habit of wandering around armed to begin with, fidgeting impatiently as their medic fetched his field kit and Andy slipped into the yellow hi-vis that he'd left here on their rack for just such a moment as this, when Torchwood might need to project the stabilizing image of the city's properly constituted police forces to a nervous mob. "Two blokes and a fuckload of cutlery?" the constable said in response to some muffled remark of Owen's, and cracked a nervous grin; "Sorry, just... Whatever good I can be when the world really is coming to an end."

Actually, Jack did know, for a fact, that during the earth's last close call Andy had saved thirty-seven lives by his insistence that everyone should hide quietly in the lockup, not counting his own. "See if you can get somebody from the police to sit in on a comm channel, we might be able to help them keep ahead of a panic. The more we're acting instead of reacting here, the better."

The constable nodded, exchanging a look with Gwen, and started fiddling with his earpiece. He wasn't the only one of them with an external contact to coordinate, either, Martha on her mobile directing the team member who was already in the field: "Make sure he stays in the TARDIS. And if you have to --"

Whether her next words had been head into the vortex or sit on the Oncoming Busybody, Jack missed them, busy suddenly with an armful of anxious Rosie. For a split second he saw the Hub through the fractured lens of his daughter's extra sense, Hart's jangle of predatory impulses, the blinding star of despairing fury that was his medic and the shepherd moons steadying its orbit, a warm steady stillpoint that he suddenly realized was him -- "Sh, sweetie, Mummy will be all right." Mummy is always all right. Even when no one else comes out of it. Out of the corner of his eye Jack caught Owen seizing the distraction to snatch one last kiss before Tosh should regraft her attention to the management of the ops, followed by the unexpected sight of Andy laying one on her as well, which almost made him want to take the minute to go find her a box to stand on. Jack spared a moment's glance to find Ianto's grimly determined face and turned resolutely for the garage.

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Chapter 103: Or Fail Him In The Hour Of Danger

Author's Notes: For a moment there I thought we were in trouble. Worse luck.

For once there wasn't even the usual baring of teeth over who'd called shotgun, reaching each for a different car door as if in silent exercise of long-assigned roles. Hart punched the ignition and speakers blared into life: You're gonna bring yourself down, yeah -- Scowling, Jack toggled the audio system back to relaying the comm. The SUV's displays were already blinking red with rift activity, breaches littered across the map of Cardiff like garish confetti. Or drops of blood. "Tosh, what have we got so far?"

"I'm tracking disturbances all over the city but most of them are tiny, maybe artifacts from the larger flares. Scattered reports of fires and explosions though, it looks as if the disruptions are causing incidental damage to gas lines and old petrol stores."

"Keep looking for a pattern, it could tell us where Gray is operating from. Where should we be heading first?"

"There's been a major flare at the facility that hosts most of the local government's servers. Physical integrity of the power supply appears to be compromised, if it goes down altogether official responses will be crippled."

"I could put in a word here about eggs and distributed baskets," Hart said.

"Hey, we did warn them after the last time somebody took out the phone network," Jack said. "Now it would take two bombs."

"The city's emergency management centre is dealing with calls about blockages on most of the major roads," Tosh continued, as Jack heard the clacking of keys. "Ianto's handling your routing, watch the heads-up for sudden changes."

A flash of purple as she spoke, some crossing nearby suddenly filling in on the ghostly windscreen map as impassable. "Oh, and you've put it in mauve, that's a nice touch," a familiar voice chirped on the main channel.

Jack groaned. "Doctor, you're supposed to stay in -- Wait, where's Jack-Jack?"

"There was a hoix going through Mrs Jenkins's bins, he's trying to get it shut up in your garage before anyone else sees it. Erm, I'm afraid you may have some questions to answer when you get back, by the way. But she and Al are getting on smashingly --"

"Don't tell me you're having a goddamned tea party in the middle of all of this?" Hart turned his head at Jack's outraged tone and the SUV lurched alarmingly. "All right, never mind, we'll deal with it later, so long as you're here have you got anything useful to add?"

Jack could almost hear the Time Lord's wounded look right over the phone. "I think Toshiko is right that the smaller events are a secondary effect, Jack. Although enough little fractures put together could still peel the rift open like a banana."

"Not to mention running us ragged worrying what might come through where. Or from when."

Owen grimaced. "And the last thing we need to see right now is another plague carrier." ("Another?" Andy squeaked.) "Martha, there's a list of contacts at A&E to alert --"

"Another large flare, Jack, near -- no, within central police headquarters."

"Bright boy," Hart murmured, as their constable began some frantic muttering of his own. "Go after the opponent's capacity to hit you back."

"This isn't the time to be admiring his strategic thinking," Jack snapped.

"Not admiring, starting to see a pattern --"

Andy's abstracted comms-face snapped back into focus as he leaned forward: "Dai says they have officers down, assailant with some sort of 'gigantic sodding laser' at large on premises."

"Is it him?"

"Dunno, is he green?"

"Diversion, then." Hart glanced sideways to Jack. "Risk it?"


Hart slammed the SUV into a wild turn. "I never thought I'd live to say it, but we might need the coppers tonight. Do what you can to get them sorted and we'll come back for you."

A flood of nonessential personnel had already evacuated onto the streets surrounding the station, small knots here and there tending injured and worse. "Right, no one's on medical yet, you and Hart will just have to manage, Jack," Owen said, opening his own door as Andy made to hop down from the car.

The constable shot his partner an alarmed look. "Oi, it's still a live-fire situation --"

"Which is my skillset, yeah?"

One beat as they stared at each other across the back seat, two, and then they both burst out laughing. "Bloody romantic," Andy managed once he'd caught his breath again.

The medic grinned back and hitched his rucksack of equipment onto his shoulder. "I think the marriage has a good shot," Hart murmured, looking after them with a strange wistful smile.

"Don't even start." Jack grabbed for a handhold as Hart threw the SUV into reverse to back out of the thronging alleyway. "Where the hell did you learn to drive, anyway?"


Jack didn't doubt it, either, the maniacal light in the grey eyes stirring up so many memories of half-assed plans and frantic escapes that it was hard to jerk himself back to the here and now of such laughable concerns as traffic regulations. If he wasn't careful he could slip into thinking of this adrenaline high as great fun --

"Jack, I've pinpointed the origin point of the interference pattern. It's the nuclear station at Turnmill."

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Chapter 104: Exit Wounds

Author's Notes: Signal to noise. Too quiet.

Jack sighed and scrubbed a hand across his face in response to the chorus of dismay on the comm. "New plan, people, find me a clear path to Turnmill."

"But Jack --"

"If we lose that reactor the city won't need their servers, they'll be scrambling a hazmat team all the way from Swansea." Or London. Or possibly what's left of the moon. "Come on, Ianto, what have you got for us?"

Much clattering of keys as half the windscreen blossomed lilac with street closures. "From where you are you'd have to swing all the way around the city, Jack, even the way he drives it would take..." A pause. "But there's one open route. From here."

"You're not, you can't, it must be --"

"You heard Jack, we have to secure that plant --"

"Ianto, we can handle this, stay with the Hub, damn it --"

Jack's only answer was the sound of the great cog rolling shut to the accompaniment of some pointed feminine muttering about men. "What part of 'it's a trap' do you suppose he missed?" Hart said.

The part where he'd turned to look into his children's eyes, Jack rather thought. The navigation display was flickering suggestions, two conservative tracks along roadways and three more shortcuts that would involve putting the SUV's suspension to the test. Jack dismissed all but the most direct line and hoped that the next flare wouldn't divert them straight into the Taff. "Andy, any progress on getting those police out on the streets?"

"Still sorting it, Jack, the shooter's down but we're missing senior officers -- Oi! If he's not bleeding go wait by Littlest Dave, all right? -- Sorry, it's bloody pandemonium here yet. Control's systems are out, what's happening in the rest of the city?"

"Good question. Gwen, I need you to step in to play relay for them, we've probably got the best overview of --"

Rumbling, then, more a vibration transmitted straight through bone than true sound, and a sudden blur of voices raised in fresh alarm. "What's, what the hell -- Owen?"

A shrill tone, enough to make Jack rip the comm from his ear. And when he reinserted it, warily... Silence. "Andy! Andy? Talk to me, Davidson -- Tosh, help me out here, what the hell was that?"

"I don't know, Jack, there was another flare and their comms just -- vanished, I'm not even seeing the tracking chips in the electronics and they'd have to be, well, gone, vaporised, something, I don't..." Tosh's voice cracked. "Jack, I don't know!"

"Steady on, Tosh, it's got to be an equipment failure." Oh, does that sound like bullshit. "Martha, can -- can you take over for a minute?"

In the background he could hear Rhys offering to make tea, bless his Welsh heart. "We've stopped getting new reports in from the emergency centre, Jack, I think their system's gone down as well. All I've got now is some CCTV and people's bloody mobile snaps on the internet. If we start losing those servers..."

Or power, Jack thought, power would do just as nicely to finish blinding them. He braced himself as Hart made to bull the SUV over an inconvenient pile of fallen bricks and almost missed the soft chirp of another line patching into his comm: "Jack, I've reached Turnmill's administrative building. I don't see any signs of -- Wait, the security desk is --"

Jack heard a sharp crack.

A comm's microphone clattering to the floor.

And silence.

Followed by a drawn-out gasp cut off by the sudden loss of signal -- "Ianto? Ianto?"

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Chapter 105: To The Last Man

Author's Notes: You're just not thinking fourth-dimensionally. Oh, boy.

Jack drew in a deep breath, trying to steady himself. "Okay, I think we can assume that whatever that was it wasn't good. Can I get as much of this picture as we have before we walk right in on it?"

The sound of an equally steadying breath being taken on the other side of the comms. "I'm getting 'camera off-line' errors from the site, which I think means they may be physically damaged but at least there's power?" (Well, one would hope, it was a power plant after all --) "I can see the chip in Ianto's comm -- Shit!"


"Movement down in one of the cold-storage bays, heat readings look human --"

"I'll cover it," Tosh said, the steel of bleak resolution in her voice.

"Nobody goes anywhere alone right now, dammit --"

"Then I'll go down with her -- what? You taught me how to use this --"

Jack could just see the look being exchanged between Gwen and her husband. And then Gwen and Martha, once it had become evident that Rhys was quite bent on his chivalric gesture. Well, maybe better to feel like they could do something, so long as someone was still left up top to get out with the children... "Guys, I think it's time to start loading the escape pods."

"But there wasn't any rift activity here," Martha replied, sounding confounded even as she slammed away at a keyboard. "How could something have got in --"

"I've got internal CCTV, Jack, Tosh is closing on a single intruder in bay one, it looks -- there's a capsule pulled, he's trying to get into -- Oh, god, have we had sleepers in the Hub all along?"

The angle Gwen had fed on to the SUV showed a distorted view of Toshiko creeping towards a corner, gun drawn in trembling hands, and Rhys a pace behind very obviously thinking he was playing her backup. Too damn much telly, Williams. And then Tosh whipping out of frame to confront the interloper, just before her comm picked up a familiar London accent exclaiming:

"Oi, I don't need a matched set!"

A strangled cry and a moment later some extremely snoggy noises, as in the background Jack could just hear a puzzled, How does he have a beard? from Rhys. "Not quite the homicidal sleeper agent they were expecting, then," Hart glanced away from the road to remark.

"Dunno, I've seen him when he first wakes up," Jack answered slowly, wondering if the other Agent could smell his neurons frying. From the tenor of the garbled chatter he could take a fair stab at there being some issue with opening a certain second cryodrawer straightaway. "Hey, would somebody mind letting the boss in on what's going on down there?"

As usual, Jack's staff seemed to regard this as a rhetorical question. "-- months in World War fucking One," Owen's voice came clearer suddenly as if he'd taken the earpiece from Tosh; "Martha, we're looking at a level four quarantine, Gwen, do you still have the police on a --"

"Jack. Jack." Jack jumped as Hart touched his arm. "We're here. Let it go and focus."

The facility appeared to have undergone a hasty evacuation of its own, far too still even for a largely automated operation. Jack eyed the fence that restricted access to the generating station proper and turned his attention to the utilitarian block of concrete that housed the mundane offices. "Better clear this first, he said administrative."

"Aren't you going to say, 'it's quiet, too quiet'?"

"Not with you along to --"

Jack swore long and creatively in a language he barely remembered as he saw the swath of gore across the neat slate floor of the building's reception area, punctuated with shards of an earpiece and mobile. Hart's uncanny reflexes already had him launching himself to vault over the security station at the head of the trail: "Two down back here, Jack."

The guard had died instantly where he sat, that was fairly obvious. It was the carefully calculated gut shot to the other that had had plenty of time to leave that roadmap, left Ianto just enough strength to crawl towards the hope of finding some line of communication that Gray might have left intact amongst the security desk's fittings. Hope as shattered as the remains of the console. But a shallow breath and a blink, that was another sort of hope, and Jack caught at a crimson hand as it reached out to him, feeling the pulse scratching in the wrist. Ianto murmured something with far too many consonants in it, then swallowed, and tried again; "He's on the roof."

"Ianto? Ianto, stay with me, all right? We'll get you help --"

"Hypovolaemic shock," Hart said, and something in his voice made Jack look up. "Not the most drawn-out sort of distraction, as it goes."

It was never a choice, and anyone Torchwood knew that. "Ianto... I --" But his feet still weren't moving to carry him away, to follow the brain's orders that the practical thing was always to leave the one you couldn't save anyway --

Hart crouched and pressed something into Ianto's other hand.

Jack would be seeing those shocked blue eyes until the stars burned out, last to fade into the nimbus of vortex energy like the cheshire cat's grin. "What have you done?"

"You should have told the kid not to leave his toys lying about." Hart rubbed his bare wrist as if the sudden exposure chafed him more than the wrist-strap ever could, though the leather had left deep scars from long wear. "I'm sorry, Jack, but I have my orders."

He'd forgotten how hard those augmented muscles could punch when Hart wasn't in a mood to play with his prey. Jack hit the bloody slates and lay blinking away stars. And then the world went upside-down, slung over Hart's shoulder like a sack of potatoes --

"Up to the roof, now. Can't keep him waiting."

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Chapter 106: You Play Me Like A Puppet

Author's Notes: Honor among thieves. Smile for me now, brother.

He'd been on better roofs, Jack thought. Better views, better amenities, this one wasn't even that many storeys off the ground, for pete's sake. Still, it served the purpose of providing a vantage over the plant, and keeping the damp out of the offices below, and Hart had definitely broken something besides his earpiece with that punch, he could feel the bones reknitting within the stabbing mask of pain.

One thing this roof did have going for it was a forest of convoluted piping sprouting in avant-garde thickets here and there, ventilation or exhaust for the floors beneath. Hart dumped Jack at the base of a formation on the side of the building that looked out over the distant skyline of Cardiff. "Sorry, Jack, it's been wild, but I do have my honour to consider," the Agent murmured as Jack felt cold metal being fitted round his wrists.

"Is that what's you're calling it these --"

Hart's eyes flicked to something out of Jack's field of vision, and he raised a hand to give the Captain a casual -- for him -- belt round the ear. "Oi, none of that, now, whether you can stay dead or not there's still an easy way and a hard way here."

"Oh, sweetheart, you are a fucking amateur. I've had better than this before breakfast."

A flash of amusement in the grey eyes. "Have you now."

And a blur of motion, one quick snap --

Jack gasped back to life still chained to the pipes, the barely-changed sky telling him how trivial an investment of time a mere broken spine was to him anymore. Hart had drifted a few paces away, speaking with a second figure of about Jack's own coloring and build. Oh. Oh, Gray... "-- Bog-standard op really, a few kind words and a flash of the tackle and they all fell over themselves to spread for the old infiltrate, seduce, divide and conquer. I don't appreciate having my arse defaced, by the way, bugger the verisimilitude --"

Gray shrugged, a certain alertness coming into his stance to say that Hart's whinging no longer had his full attention. "I'm sure you'll find a way to compensate yourself. Was that him coming around over there?"

"Think he's been listening for a while now."

"Good. And try to remember, I'll want him alive when you bury him."

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Chapter 107: Put Your Cards On The Table Baby

Author's Notes: When everything changes. Rebel angel.

Jack rattled the handcuffs against their mooring, more out of reflex than any real hope that the hypersteel or the pipe or maybe his hands would give way. "Would it help to start with 'we can talk about this'?"

Blue eyes gave Jack a look of cool disdain. "This isn't personal. It's just that there's no physical way to neutralise you permanently, so I have to remove your capacity for rational action. Burial alive tested best for driving the subject insane even if a retrieval was later effected."

It kind of would, wouldn't it. "I'm not a subject, Gray, I'm your brother. I can make this right, whatever they did to you --"

"They taught me to dream, Jack," Gray said, and indicated the city beyond with a sweep of his arm. "They taught me how a fat world like this one can be made eager for a firm hand, with a bit of pressure in the right places. At a delicate period like this, events can be... shaped."

"Jack would know," Hart observed. "Seeing as he's gone to the trouble of training his little team in it for me. Shame you had to expend the eye-candy downstairs --"

Gray sighed with an obvious air of weariness at having to deal with the undisciplined tangents of civilian contractors. "He'd only have been a conflicting influence to the children."

"Dammit, Gray, if you touch my kids --"

A sharp frown. "We do have rules about the treatment of mamluks." Oh, that what do you take me for? look did not sit well on his face. "All of Torchwood's little soldiers will be raised properly."

Commander Jones -- Jack jerked at the pipe and nearly dislocated his shoulder. "You think any of my people are going to go along with this, you are crazy."

"You've let go of their hand before, Jack." A hint in the depths of Gray's eyes that maybe, this wasn't just business, after all. "At least this time they'll have been left with someone they've come to trust to take it up again."

Yep, there went the shoulder joint. "You son of a bitch, Hart!"

The Time Agent shrugged, as if to say what should you have expected of me? "Jack, my love. Don't insult us both by pretending to be surprised." Hart buried his fingers in Jack's hair and leaned down for a long invasive kiss. (A kiss that tasted of metal --)

Gray had put a foot up onto the low parapet. "Come and watch, then," he said, extending a hand to Hart. "The first breaths of the new empire."

The rogue Agent joined his master at the wall, linking his arm around Gray's as they took in the infernal panorama beyond. "'To reign is worth ambition'," Hart said, eyes glittering as he glanced back over his shoulder at Jack.

And pulled Gray over the edge of the roof.

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Chapter 108: With All These Things That I've Done

Author's Notes: Old Artesian tricks. Honor him.

Jack spat the metal sliver Hart had passed him into his palm, feeling only a dull surprise to find that it was a key. Verisimilitude --

No point, really, in running, but Jack did anyway, taking the stairs at a speed that nearly lost him the more time for stumbling. He skidded through the drying blood in the lobby (you would have hated to leave the mess) and faltered at the doors as he saw the two bodies lying on the tarmac, one still, the other stirring faintly. Jack knelt beside the survivor, hesitating to offer more pain to the broken flesh with his touch. "Why?"

Breath rattled behind smashed ribs. "Ver'simil'tude. Only way to make sure." A hiss as Hart attempted to grin. "Jack --"

Jack caught the Time Agent as he tried and failed to struggle up, augmented instincts still sending out commands impossible for a shattered body to carry out. "Stand down, soldier. You did good. You did good."

The bright face of the full moon had risen into a darkening sky when the rest of his team found him there, still holding a bloodied hand long after the fingers had gone slack in his. And even Owen was at a loss for words, finding the grace to keep a respectful silence at the sight of Captain Jack Harkness weeping over the body of John Hart.

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Chapter 109: I Won't Deny I'm Gonna Miss You When You're Gone

Author's Notes: Mopping up. There will be an answer, let it be.

Gray's body would simply be buried in a Cardiff cemetery, alongside so much of Jack's long past. But Hart had been Torchwood, at the last, and to the extent that a Time Agent ever had family waiting to hear of their fate, his would be along in the fullness of events. So let him rest, here, and leave future archivists to wonder how one of the drawers had come to be labeled 5062-2013 under a seal that Jack's hand alone could open.

His people were bearing up, mostly, sort of. If by 'bearing up' one meant that he hadn't caught any of them crying in the loo for a couple of days now, and none of them had caught him. The city was rebuilding, slowly, the damage in retrospect carefully orchestrated to sow chaos rather than devastation but still fully enough to keep them all half-crazed from sleep deprivation trying to sort things for everyone. Especially now the rift was back to its old unconstrained self without the influence of Hart's wrist-strap, spitting out new hazards left and right as if it were determined to make up for lost time.

They missed him, damn it. Jack missed him, when he dared admit it to himself, trying not to think about that scrap of paper he'd found tucked into his pocket: has to be, Jack, I'm sorry. maybe see you around. Which as a parting shot from one Time Agent to another could have meant everything or nothing, a promise of an explanation or an admission that one would never be coming. And if they had all focused their regrets upon Hart because none of them even knew whether to grieve their other loss that night, much less how --

Jack looked up from his desk as his medic stopped in the doorway to say good morning and felt once again that inevitable moment of cognitive shock to see him so gaunt and bewhiskered, still glaring out at the world from behind antique wire-rimmed spectacles. "Hey, stranger. How's Andy doing today?"

"I'd say he's mostly just trying to pull the nurse at this point," Owen answered with an air of unshakable confidence that by this he meant himself, of course. "Not that I shouldn't still be in hospital, if I thought you could spare me."

Owen had apparently turned in a virtuoso performance to get them both home safe from an unimaginable situation, armed only with the medical equivalent of chewing gum and string; it sounded like a feat that might have been beyond a trained Time Agent, much less an informed layman, and Jack was almost sorry that the medic had been responsible enough to retcon away an earlier Torchwood's brief part in the drama. "Got a start on a report yet?"

"No, first I have to write a thank-you letter to Green Day for saving our arses, which doesn't even make sense to me and I was there."

"...I'm not even gonna ask."

"Probably best not to, yeah." A flash of that same haunted look Jack sometimes caught gazing back at him from his own mirror. He wondered if Owen had noticed yet that it wasn't just his chin that had started to come in white. "Suppose I shouldn't complain, it could have been the fucking Ramones. By the way, I did rewrite some of our emergency protocols, the draft's waiting in your box."

And that was another change, Owen voluntarily doing paperwork he hadn't even been asked for. Jack scrolled through the file once the medical officer had dismissed himself to be about his duties, finding that he'd mostly added recommendations about useful secondary skills for the well-rounded Torchwood employee and several lists along the lines of the ten things that I really, really wished I had had in my pockets. There was also a cryptic note about owing the descendants of someone named Angus MacGinn the current replacement value of a Highland bull and an apology, which Jack wasn't sure he wanted the story to.

From down in the autopsy room came the sudden shock of the typically loud and vulgarly upbeat music his medic seemed compelled to surround himself with now, Gonna do my very best and it ain't no lie -- In the corral in the corner of Jack's office Geraint began to snuffle a windup to a full-throated critique of Owen's taste. Jack sighed and went to scoop the baby out of the playpen. "Shh, shh, it's all right. Mae... mae'n iawn? Shh. You've gotta stop being so high-strung, kid, I know it's rough but I can't keep you on time-out down here till you're dating."

Walking seemed to calm Geraint's restless nerves, and Jack drifted out onto the platform, rocking him gently and shooting a malevolent look down into the autopsy area as he went by, which Owen ignored completely. At the farthest workstation Gwen and Tosh were sitting huddled with their heads together over a keyboard. As Jack approached he realized that they were staring at an employee record. "I was wondering..." Tosh started, and then broke off as if her voice had been about to hitch.

Jack looked to the sofa, where their intern was listening in on this conversation with a perfectly wretched expression. Jack-Jack gave the tinest shake of his head, as if to say I couldn't tell you even if I could. "Put him down as 'inactive, status unknown'," Jack finally said. "Leaves his record open for..." Figuring it out, eventually. Or not.

Toshiko's fingers flew across the keyboard, reclassifying Ianto Jones from 'on special assignment'. "That's it, then?" Gwen said once the record had been dismissed. "We just say 'sorry, we don't know where he's got to' and leave it?"

"Short of finding another 'get out of death free' card, I'm fresh out of leads at this point," Jack said, and gritted his teeth when she winced at his harshness. They had tried. But one fleeting signal against the backdrop of the convulsing rift...

"And we just -- go on from there?"

"We're going to have to." Jack nuzzled into his son's dark hair, heartsick to think of Ianto never getting to see the next generation of Torchwood growing up safe and as normal as their Captain could ensure. "The end is where we start from."

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Chapter 110: The Man Who Walked Home

Author's Notes: Reunions. There was a harem involved, as I recall.

One thing Jack didn't need when he was this deep in a disassembled engine was an insistent tugging at his trouserleg. "Mummy! Someone wants you at the door!"

"You're not supposed to be answering the bell, Ger."

"Rosie answered it," he replied with impeccable small-human logic. Jack wiped his greasy hands and picked up the little boy. "She's talking through the letterbox."

That did sound like Geraint's sister. Given half the chance she'd be holding off the postman with Mummy's Webley. Jack closed the door into the garage behind himself and made his way into the front hall, where a fairly intense interrogation session was taking place. Jack could only imagine the view his visitor was getting through the narrow slit, fierce if small steel-blue eyes demanding to know how he knew her name. Yes, the lectures about taking no crap, much less candy, from strangers had certainly sunk in, and for that matter where had this person learned his daughter's name --

Time Agency duty-blacks were the first thing he saw as he looked up from shooing Rosie out of the way of the door, duty-blacks with a commander's bars at the shoulder, and around the left wrist a leather strap a little smaller than his but just as worn from long years of service. Lines creased the corners of blue Welsh eyes, and a few strands of silver had crept in to keep the old white blaze company, but for anyone who'd ever worked for Torchwood signs of age were a badge of honor, marking only the wiliest, and luckiest, of operatives. "I was told that there's a safehouse for temporally displaced persons here?"

"That's Mrs Jenkins's spare room, next door." Jack couldn't hold back the beginnings of a grin. "You looking for shelter, or work?"

"Well, I do have good references from a previous employer. I could be a butler..." The attempt at a smile faltered and collapsed. "Jack... is he..."

Jack let the child in his arms down onto his own feet. "Geraint? This is your daddy. It's okay, you can say hello to him."

An extremely skeptical look. "Hello, sir."

Ianto hiccuped something halfway between a laugh and a sob and went to one knee to put his arms around the startled boy. "I never thought I'd see you. I never thought I'd get close enough to the right time."

"Could sure have used a hand with them these last few years."

Ianto gave him the sharp look of a man who wasn't a stranger to the vagaries of time travel. "When people say that they would move heaven and earth for the sake of their children it's not usually meant so literally as I've had to to get back here. And I think I may accidentally have been instrumental in the creation of the Time Agency along the way," he added, rather sheepishly.

"It happens." Jack could probably have dated Ianto's exile to within a few decades by the fact that though the uniform still bore a flag on its sleeve it was the red dragon rather than the union jack, but it felt too much like something he wasn't supposed to know yet. "I've had some help while you were gone, anyway," he added as behind him the back door opened to let in a giggling pack of juvenile humanoids, led as always by the biggest kid of them all. "-- Hey, what have I told you about running in the house?"

"That they can never have enough practise," the Doctor replied impishly. "Ianto Jones!" he added, as if he weren't at all surprised to see his old nanny turn up at the door. "I think this one's yours, then."

Which rather went without saying, since the other little boy with his father's blue eyes had already separated himself from his mates to throw himself on Ianto beside his twin. (That the same genotype could produce two such very different temperaments still amazed Jack, always, how lively Gareth would follow his cautious brother through fire --) Jack couldn't quite tell if Ianto's broken murmurings into his sons' hair were in any language he was familiar with, but he wasn't about to interrupt them to ask...

Finally Ianto lifted his head, one arm round each small pair of shoulders. "I've missed so much," he said, voice still unsteady. "But it looks as if they've been in good hands."

"Martha and I have tried to see that they had some normal time worked in around the Torchwood gig." Jack hesitated, and gestured to the black uniform. "So, um, you on the clock right now? So to speak."

"I have... certain responsibilities," Ianto said, as an oddly sly look crept into the blue eyes. "But I've managed to arrange a posting near my family. ...All of you?" he added with a faintly puzzled look across the crowd of small curious onlookers, as if he'd got round to counting and the numbers weren't coming out to what he might have expected.

"This week's company playdate," Jack explained, catching at the collar of Andrea's jumper as she tried to sneak past him to head up the stairs. "I'd hire it out, but I can never trust them not to spill government secrets --"

And the smallest of the boys looked Ianto in the eye, scowled, and said, quite clearly,


"...Or not to be Owen's," Jack said, deciding later might be a better time to break it to Ianto about his little namesake.

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