The TARDIS materializing in the Cardiff hub wasn't unheard of, not any more. But it was unlikely - odds against it in the upper mega-zillions. The Doctor emerging like a rampaging thunderhead from said TARDIS wasn't exactly unheard of either - he had stepped off the ship in the vicinity at least once, so the odds were only slightly higher against it. Plus, the odds were pretty much fifty-fifty of the Doctor being anywhere in Perfect Storm mode, so that actually lowered the previous odds to a number that could be written on a few less pages than the contents of the entire Library of Congress.
However, there was one thing that Jack Harkness had previously been sure was absolutely impossible, in the same way that un-detonating a Time Lord time bomb was impossible. Unfortunately for Jack, it seemed the impossible had decided to have him for breakfast.
The TARDIS did, against all odds, indeed materialize in the Cardiff hub. The Doctor did indeed emerge from the TARDIS looking for all the world like a pack of L-5 hurricanes stuffed into a blue suit. But when the Time Lord stormed up to him, glowered his menacing, ages-old glower, drew back an arm, and then slapped him like an outraged mother? Jack was actually now prepared to close up shop and call it a day for the rest of this generation.
Unfortunately, having been slapped by some rather impressive people over the course of both his now endless life, and his former career, he had a hard-wired response to such situations that didn't include encasing himself in cement until some future society dug him up. Even if the cement would have been safer for him.
He rubbed his jaw reflexively, put on his most charming pout and whined, "Ow. What'd you do that for?"
He grimaced as he realized his reaction was not at all likely to stem the torrent. In fact, the alien in front of him could, and sometimes did, talk for the Universe, so he'd actually in fact practically invited down on himself the sort of laying to waste the Doctor normally reserved for pandemic evil.
Thankfully, his luck had turned slightly. The Doctor merely leveled his dark, heart-stopping gaze at the younger man and announced in the voice of doom, the one that brooked neither defiance nor any sort of protest at all, "That was for seducing my ship!"
To say that Jack was thunder-struck was quite understating the case. He had, actually, been hit in the face by the entire Storm, not merely the sound effects. Then, of course, he got the sound effects to boot. "Wha?" he managed weakly, feeling his knees going quite soft.
This small, not quite whole word was apparently the pin tugged from the grenade. The Doctor drew a deep breath, the kind of dangerous breath he took before launching into full tirade. Jack rocked back on his heels, hoping against hope not to be deafened or driven mad. He'd enough problems to be going on with, without having to do his living forever in a mind that was, frankly, blibbering. While Jack's mind raced through thirty scenarios on how to stop it, he knew he was completely out of luck, as he was fresh out of Daleks, or even so much as a random escaped weevil. You could never count on doom and destruction to show up when you needed it. Without even turning his eyes away, the Doctor exploded into volume.
"It's quite like you, of course. Can't walk into a room without charming the hearts out of anyone in it, can you? Have to be all suave, and debonair. Got mysterious and appealing down to an art, I should say, all human and sweetly smiling and sexy as hell, I don't think. Go anywhere with you two and it was like I was wandering around trailing bait. She'd be leading a great steaming pile of vapid idiot boys and you'd be there on the other side, a whole string of besotted, gender-inspecific fools bobbing along in your wake. And don't get me started on Martha Jones. I had tried everything to get that girl to look at some human being, for her own good, you understand. And they all loved her, of course, but I was all she wanted, shouldn't have kissed her, know better next time, really, but there it goes, she meets you and she's just as clingy to you as a cheap dryer sheet to a new jumper, and although I admit I am proud of her for moving on with that David bloke... David, Darryl, Darren, Tom, whatever. I am proud as can be, you understand, but did you have to get her so worked up in the meantime? Of course you did, you couldn't bloody help it. And Koschei, the raving lunatic, he'd spend twenty minutes pestering the hell out of you and then run off and shag his brainless little sociopath, for like six hours straight, and I had to listen to it, and did I just tell you his name? Oh well, doesn't matter. He had too much fun making everyone call him Master, anyway. And where's this poor bloke Ianto, he needs a well chosen warning or two, you're like March wind, Jack Harkness, and a walking aphrodesiac besides. Did I begrudge you that? No, I did not. Did I say 'No Jack, we have to go now, I will not go and talk stilted Philosophy with my very lovely young companion while you hang out in here and get a leg over with the people who were killing us a few minutes ago.' Well, yes, ok, I did. But she was sensitive, she didn't need to see you playing all pan-galactic space tramp, did she? She is pretty and brave and kind and special and out of all the people in the Universe she could have picked up, it had to be you, didn't it. Why couldn't you have been a eunuch? That's what I should've done, made you a eunuch back before you could grow it back - you can, can't you? Nevermind, don't tell me, I don't want to know. I'm sure you could, though, but really, don't, absolutely, positively do NOT want to know. It's not like I'm interested, I'm not, I don't know where it's been, but I doubt you know, either. And then this! Why, tell me, why, of all the things and people and random plant life you seduced all through space and time, couldn't you just stop with every last man, woman, androgyn, and hermaphrodite we ran into? Tell me that. Why couldn't you stop with the animate objects, at least? And if you DID have to seduce inanimate objects - I'll warn your desk chair, too, while I'm warning Ianto, I think I'd definitely better do that - why did you have to pick a one-of-a-kind hyper-intelligent piece of incomprehensible living technology? Do you have any idea what kind of mess you can make meddling with someone who is not only a person but an actual noun-concept all unto herself? Person/Place/Thing/Idea, all rolled into one, my TARDIS, and you, you over-sexed, under-appreciative, megalomaniacal - no, sorry, that's not you, that's from a different speech, and it's the only apology you're going to get, so you'd better like it, and where was I? Ohh, yes. Over-sexed, under-appreciative, outrageously attractive, devil-may-care, stupid stubborn bucket of walking pheromones, you have to go and use your powers for evil - yes, Jack, evil - and seduce MY SHIP!"
The Doctor drew another breath to go on, but Jack couldn't take it any more. The Doctor'd done that first rant all in one breath and no one needed to get more of that sort of thing on them if they'd survived sane from the cortex-pummeling force of the first. He reached out while the Doctor was forming his mouth for another go, grabbed the Time Lord's tie, and jerked him forward. Then he planted his lips over the ones that were about to level him to the floor with crackling vituperation, and his small, immortal, human mind shorted out in bliss.
It was probably the most dangerous stunt he'd ever attempted, but then, thanks to a year spent in captivity by the aforementioned Master, Jack had suffered more deaths at the hands of Time Lords than most entire species. Besides, the Doctor didn't, generally, kill people. Jack forgot, of course, while he was indulging in the Earth moving sensation of trying to taste every micrometer of the Doctor's lips, that the reason the Doctor didn't kill people was because he had an outright arsenal of worse punishments he could inflict.
The Doctor broke away from him, making a face and wiping his mouth exactly like a small boy who'd just been snogged by an elderly maiden aunt at a Christmas party that had degenerated into a drunken melee. "Don't do that!" the Doctor whinged, sounding like the same kid, now having walked in on that maiden aunt snogging Father Christmas on the table that was supposed to be used to serve the pudding.
If Jack had been anyone else, anyone at all, at that moment, he would have found himself doing absolutely nothing but growing upside down in the ground like a turnip.
As it was, the Doctor was apparently a man on a mission, because he grabbed Jack by the ear - he'd apparently learnt a few tricks from his not-a-mother-in-law - and hauled the yelping, protesting human toward his office. He flung Jack unceremoniously into the chair behind the desk, slammed the door behind him, and planted his hands firmly on the desk between them, supporting his weight on his arms and still glowering as though his eyes were laser cannons.
Jack took a shaky breath and met that gaze with the lonesome force that more than 200 years without seeing it had given him. The Doctor didn't flinch at an expression that would have reduced even heartless young Owen into a quivering puddle at Jack's feet. Sighing, defeated, and having exhausted all his options, Jack settled for honesty, a weapon of last resort. "I don't understand," he admitted, quietly.
"Too right," the Doctor snapped and then, sighing, flung himself into the chair across from Jack's. "Just so you know, chairs, Jack is not a one being type of guy. Now all I have to do is warn Ianto and explain this mess to the TARDIS." His face dropped into his hands and he muttered, "How in the name of Rassilon's uncle Herman's goats am I meant to do that?"
"Ianto should be in now," Jack offered, in his most friendly, helpful voice. "I'll ring him, have him make us a cup of tea."
"You're shagging your tea boy!" the Doctor yelped. "That's sexual harassment, that is, Jack!"
"That's what I told him," said a voice from the doorway. "Tea, gentlemen?"
The Doctor gaped wordlessly at Ianto, who stood there utterly unruffled and offered a tray with two mugs of steaming hot tea. Jack took them, thanked him with a glowing smile and then tried to gesture Ianto quickly out of the room.
"Do you have any biscuits?" the Doctor asked, breathlessly. "I'd shag you for a biscuit right now. The TARDIS is sulking -" here, he stopped and leveled that shot-gun glower at Jack again - "and all my biscuits have suddenly gone off. Had some of them since the Roosevelt administration - the earlier one - but now, thanks to Captain Can't-Keep-His-Pants-On Harkness, I've got a time machine who won't keep time."
"I have biscuits," Jack offered, helpfully, and perhaps a trifle hopefully.
"You haven't," said Ianto evenly. "Tosh was in here while you were dead, you're lucky you still have paint. I'll bring you some chocolate digestives, there's a pack upstairs." He smiled that beautiful, innocent smile at the Doctor. "No shagging required, sir."
"That is an excellent tea boy," said the Doctor warmly. Then he turned to Jack, all quiet seriousness, and sighed. "You shouldn't use him just to get your rocks off."
"Thanks for that Time Lord typical sterile reduction of all human intimacy and affection," Jack replied blandly. Then he sighed, too, as the mood seemed to drift from angry to melancholy. All in all, he'd rather have the Doctor furious at him than weeping on him any day, if for no other reason than to spare the world from the horror of another drunken, off-key warbling of a crap tune by Air Supply. "Look, what's wrong with the TARDIS?"
The Doctor's face reverted immediately to outrage. That was better. Wait, he'd just said having the anger of a wandering trickster god leveled at him was better? Well, it just went to show you could get used to anything, if you were given something to compare it to.
"That's what I asked her," the Doctor said, now reminding Jack shockingly of the young woman whose name neither of them would say. "And she said she wasn't going to tell me, that it was a secret. And I said she had better tell me, and she wouldn't."
Jack stifled a grin behind his hand. He could just hear this conversation taking place between their brilliant, glowing, golden girl and any unsuspecting ear that happened to wander by.
Then, all at once, the Doctor started to make some weird, frightening sort of sense. "I couldn't figure it out, you see. She flew all the way to the end of the Universe, you know, so I assumed she rather didn't like you. But then she let you take down the paradox field just as sweetly as you please, started patching herself together from your very presence, closed the cataclysm and fixed the world. All for you."
Jack blushed as the Doctor snapped that last at him as if he'd been caught sneaking the TARDIS, a small, fluffy, teenaged girl, out of her bedroom window in the middle of the night.
Ianto, mercifully, reappeared right then. "The team have arrived - well, Gwen and Tosh, any way. They want to meet your friend." He offered them a plate of biscuits, which the Doctor snagged half of, stuffed five or six into his mouth at once, and crammed the others into his pockets.
"Ianto, I could kiss you," Jack murmured as the Doctor flung the door wide and darted out to meet the girls.
"Not in front of the children, sir," said Ianto with that small, mysterious smile of his.
..."And we've met, of course, Tosh. You might remember me, I had enormous ears and frightened you over a pig. Not sure what to make of you, Gwen. What planet did you say you were from, again?"
"Umm, Earth," said Gwen, looking as if she'd been groped by the wallpaper. Tosh was staring at him, probably trying to figure out the bit about the ears, or possibly even how to breathe the same super-charged air that was pouring out of the Doctor's mouth at his usual furious rate of speed.
"So you've all seen Jack's little shrine to my hand - I'd be afraid to ask what he did with it if I didn't know him better and know I didn't want to know."
"You've got two hands," Gwen observed.
"Three now, thanks to Jackie-boy, but I keep the other one in the jar. Jack, are you sure she's not a temporal anomaly? No, of course not, how could you be sure, you stupid ape."
"I remember that!" yelped Tosh, suddenly. "But you don't sound the least bit Northern any more."
"Lots of planets have a north!" chorused Jack and the Doctor simultaneously.
"I have got to meet your plastic surgeon," Tosh breathed.
"Sorry, plastic surgery is the least of my concerns. So, who wants to see someone make Captain Jack scream like a little girl?"
"I do," came the lazy drawl of Dr. Owen Harper from the doorway.
Jack rolled his eyes. "You're late, Owen," he said.
"Yeah, well, I got up on the wrong side of the bed. Plus, I spent so many weeks impersonating you, I couldn't remember whose bed it was!"
"What is this, pick on Jack day?" Jack demanded, looking at everyone in turn with his best 'kicked puppy' expression.
"Duh," said Tosh, after he turned the look on her.
"Anyone coulda told you that," added Gwen.
"And when did you start calling me a stupid ape again?" he demanded of the Doctor.
"Just now," said the Time Lord. "Probably shouldn't have stopped, considering. Well, people, as nice as it is to meet you all, I really have something very important to be getting on with and, as I said, it involves making Handsome Harkness here scream like a little girl."
"But," began Jack. Then he caught sight of the Doctor's expression and realized that, while he'd said only one word, it was at least two words too many.
"Let me just tell you something, Jack," said the Doctor, striding over and poking at his chest, "if she were at all humanoid, we would all be about to witness a rather startling new innovation in shot-gun weddings. As it is, I can't see how it's possible, or even slightly less than inconceivable at all. So do you want me to take this back to your office where we can at least pretend you have privacy, or do you want to do your shrieking right here in front of your admiring colleagues? I couldn't care less which, frankly, but there's something decidedly kinky about doing this with an audience and you, my libidinous friend, have had quite enough turning you on in my opinion, probably had done by the time you were thirteen."
Jack breathed again when the Doctor stopped prodding him. He gestured the Time Lord into his office and they reentered it, closing the door behind them.
"What happened?" Jack asked as soon as the door closed.
"I bribed her. With chocolate, if you can believe that. You owe me six pounds of finest Dutch cocoa."
"So what'd she say?"
"She ran away from you because - and remember we're talking about an omnipotent blue box here - because she was nervous. Stop smiling, I wish I were joking."
Jack hastily wiped the twisted, self-satisfied little grin off his face. "Sorry. So what was she nervous about?"
"You, Jack!" The Doctor started pacing about wildly and kicking things. "Seemed to think she was having a bad blue day or some damn thing when you turned up and she didn't want to tell you what she'd done to you, either."
"Thought you said that was..." he trailed off and swallowed a lump in his throat the size of a golf ball. He couldn't bring himself to say her name.
"It was both of them, Jack." He flung himself into a chair and started toying with a paperclip from Jack's desk, bending it into impossible shapes like some kind of origami crane. "They were together, and they decided. Out of all the beings in the Universe, there were two people there who they loved. One of them was me, and I still can't begin to guess - if they did anything to me, I didn't notice. The other was you, Jack, and you became exactly what they saw in you - storybook hero, ageless and ever beautiful."
The lump in his throat was now the size of a cricket ball and wasn't going anywhere. The were two people and a time machine, three things he loved more than anything in all the world, all the Universe, and they all thought he was beautiful.
"They didn't mean to make you so I had a hard time being around you, but I guess I should count my lucky stars they picked me to keep traveling with. If I had any lucky stars, which I doubt, 'cuz I probably had to blow them up somewhere along the way."
The Doctor's gaze now was tender and kind and soft. Jack basked in it gratefully, adoring the Time Lord and every one of his expressions.
Then, the eyes blinked and the gentle gaze was replaced by puckish wickedness. That made Jack have to try to swallow hard around that cricket ball. "I'd like to know if it ever occurred to you at any point to do anything different. When you first came aboard, I told you two things, didn't I? The blonde's off limits and so's the ship. You remember what I told you about sex at the time."
"That was before you looked like an innocent little bunny rabbit!" Jack said, indignantly. "And I still have no idea what you mean!"
"You could've come to me, Jack. I wouldn't have turned you away."
Under absolutely any other circumstances in his entire life, Jack would have stopped breathing to hear that honest, forthright confession. He also, probably, would have snatched the Time Lord into an embrace that promised all manner of decadent, illicit pleasures, and set in for a long day of worshipping the man with his eyes and lips and hands and...
But the Doctor looked nothing like an innocent bunny rabbit, or in fact an innocent anything. He reminded Jack mostly of that girl's father, back in 1898, when they'd been caught in the hay barn together...
But this situation couldn't possibly be anything like that, could it? "But I..."
"Oh, come on, Jack. I can't go back and tell her you don't even remember, can I?"
"But I don't!" Jack wailed. "I don't understand you, not at all! She's a time machine, she doesn't have..." He gave the Doctor a sick look. "She can't, can she?"
"Apparently so," the Doctor said, blandly. "You wouldn't happen to remember anything odd those few nights you spent on board, would you? An old memory, maybe, an extremely tactile... um... wet dream?"
Jack gaped at him, as his brain burrowed for cover in his skull. His body was trying to clench in on itself in defense of certain portions of his anatomy that he had a feeling he was about to learn to live the rest of his very long life without. "Uh oh," he managed to breath, around the cricket ball in his throat, the one that was rapidly mutating into some sort of large, furry object.
"I take it you do remember, now," said the Doctor, dryly, picking up another biscuit from the plate they had forgotten earlier. "It's something in your tainted bio-chemistry. Something of the Vortex in you. Time itself loves you, Jack, and a time machine wasn't going to resist you. It took me days to pry a confession out of her. She's gone all moody and girlish and giggly. A right Dashing Captain fangirl. It's insane." He popped the biscuit into his mouth and chewed reflectively. "Congratulations, Jack. You're going to be a father."
And the immortal Captain Jack Harkness, a man who had seen such wonders and terrors in his unnaturally long life span that he could witness cosmic scale destruction without blinking, contemplated this statement. As the world started to sparkle and fizz and the air grew stale in his lungs, he wondered vaguely how one went about making child support payments to a piece of hyper-intelligent alien technology.
Then, the world went black.