Mum poured over the data display in front of her, muttering curse words in her native Hradoq as numbers and letters flashed by. Mom was stirring the rice listlessly, lost in her own little world of domestic contentment that only people who spent the better part of their life away from home could feel. Steam poured out of the pot holding the kurrat, and she turned down the heat with an unconscious, well-practiced flick of her wrist. As soon as the rice had cooled down, she’d pour the kurrat into the pot, and mix in some soft cheese and almonds. Taryn hunched down into his seat and buried himself in his own data display.
It had been Grey’s favorite meal.
Professor River Song was perhaps the most effective proponent of time travel. Far from the irreverent tourism proposed by the venture capitalists, or the reckless alterations proposed by the politicians, she saw time travel as something that, when undertaken with a small degree of caution, held a vast amount of intellectual potential.
No one said anything, but the truth of the matter could be read in the way Mum’s eyes tightened every time they happened to flick upon either Taryn or Mom. She was oblivious as she cooked; she’d receded so far inside her dream state that sometimes he wondered if she even bothered coming out any more. She certainly hadn’t been on any business trips for a while now. He preferred to fall upon the tried and true method of sliding further down into his seat every time Mum deigned to look at him. The fact that he’d expanded his data display to its largest size helped a bit as well.
“Archaeology is - and will remain, I believe - a valid scientific pursuit. But we cannot help but view our findings in the context of our time rather than the context of theirs. Even the most objective of scientific analysis can be tainted by an unconscious temporal bias. But if a person allows themselves to become immersed in a time period, to live and breathe the air of civilizations long past, how much more could we learn by being involved?”
There was a small hissing noise as the pot began to boil over. Mom scooped the kurrat up in a colander and turned the stove over completely. Steam billowed up, obscuring her face as she shook hot water droplets into the sink.
“Dinner’s just about ready!” she called out, cheerfulness intrusive and jarring. Mum’s eye twitched. Taryn slid a fraction of an inch further down in his seat, and forced himself to focus his attention on the data stream.
Professor River Song is considered a remarkable visionary in that she foresaw not only the eventuality of professional time travel, but how it might be conducted safely. This has led many conspiracy theorists to speculate that she may have had inside information in the form of a Time Agent, who is often also speculated to be her oft-mentioned-but-never-seen husband. While this theory has never been proven, it has entered popular culture through the best-selling holoseries “The Professor and I”. Ironically, it was her death under mysterious circumstances at the Library which provided the final impetus to start the formation of the Time Agency.
“Oh, put that away,” Mom admonished, gesturing congenially at the data in front of Mum. “What’s that for anyway?”
“Insurance claims,” Mum grunted. “Apparently, we need proof that we were invaded or we can’t collect the money to rebuild.”
Mom’s smile, false as it was, froze on her face. Mum gripped the stylus so tightly in her hands that it was a wonder it didn’t break. Taryn slid all the way down out of his seat and onto the floor of the kitchen, bringing the data stream with him.
When they first met, they were Agents 666 (“The number of The Beast, in case the reference is lost on your colonial mind.”) and 42 (“The answer to life, the universe, and everything, in case Adams is too low-brow for you.”). They couldn’t stand each other and so parted ways shortly.
When they next met they were Core Planet Bastard and Colonial Hick. They were thrown in adjoining cells and had no choice but to work with each other to escape. That didn’t stop them from parting ways again as quickly as they could.
When they next met, they addressed each other as “We’re stuck in a time loop. No way out of one of those that I know of,” and “I guess we’ll have to find one, then.”
For a short time they went back to being Agents 666 and 42. Then they were Agents Uthar and Collins. Then just Uthar and Collins. Then Ellian and Taryn. Then, just for kicks, they went through a period where every two weeks they would give people a new name.
“I’m Calvin and this is Hobbes. Please, don’t be alarmed be any screaming you might hear, he’s a real tiger.”
“John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt.” “His name is my name too.”
“You can just call me the Lone Ranger. This is my sidekick, Tonto.”
“I’m Anthony.” “Which makes me Cleopatra. You can call me Pat.”
Of course, the planet they were stuck on was in the midst of a bit of a xenophobic stage - ironic, considering that it was the home of the biggest space port in existence in their own era - so more often than not they were making these obscure cultural references to people who were either throwing them back in jail or threatening to shoot them. This quickly lost its appeal, and they went back to giving their real names. They’d become infamous this way - for being in six places at once, and getting almost careless at the end, missing other versions of themselves by inches, sometimes even catching glimpses of past or future versions. And then they found it- a way to return to linear time. They waited until the time loop was almost over and then killed the creature that was feeding off the energy generated by the loop. And suddenly a five year nightmare/dream/experience of a lifetime was over.
They’d met time and again after returning to headquarters. Laughed at the legends they’d become on that world, nearly a millennium later. Drank. Fucked. Flew. Fought. They always fought, because the make-up sex was amazing, and not because one of them was too cavalier about getting himself in trouble with the law and the other was too cavalier about setting that right again. They weren’t those sorts of people- commitment and love were charming in their own times, but obsolete now that it was nearly the 52nd century. They enjoyed each other’s company. They’d been through a lot together. There was no reason why Ellian should indulge some of Taryn’s more rural tendencies or for the thought of losing Ellian to disturb Taryn. If it looked like they cared, well then, it was all an act they put on because it amused them. Nothing deeper was going on, nothing at all.
It’s why Taryn didn’t bother telling Ellian that he was leaving. And Ellian was only still looking for him nearly five years later so he could give the man a well-deserved thrashing for abandoning the Agency.
The next time they met, they were Captains Jack Harkness and John Hart. They both knew what a lie they’d been living before, but only one of them was willing to fix it.
Rose stared at him, horrified. “I can’t eat pterodactyl!”
“Technically, I think it might have been a pteranodon,” Jack corrected her, waving the bit of meat on a branch in front of her face. “Although it is a bit difficult to tell in this light…”
“I’m going to go with pterosaur then,” the Doctor chimed in. “More of a general name.”
“I don’t care what you call it,” Rose protested. “I’m not eating it. It‘s dino-meat.”
“It’s a good source of protein,” Jack sing-songed. “You need to eat something. No telling how long we’ll be here for.”
“Oi!” the Doctor called, sounded insulted. “I’m resonating as fast as I can!”
“Which as we all know isn’t that fast,” Jack muttered.
“I’m resonating! I’m really resonating! I am a speed resonator!” the Doctor huffed. “The only reason I didn’t before is because somebody wanted to dance.”
Rose rolled her eyes.
“Concrete is more difficult to resonate than lava, anyway,” he continued. “And it isn’t poisonous, and I doubt it’s gone off, seeing as we saw it die not an hour ago. Eat, Rose.”
“Open up the cave, here comes the pterosaur!” Jack coaxed.
Rose snatched the branch away from him with a withering look, and took a larger bite than was strictly necessary. Her face scrunched with the taste, and she swallowed with great effort.
“Tasty,” she commented.
“Protein!” Jack reminded her.
“Aha!” the Doctor crowed. Jack and Rose ran over to help him lift the slab of lava up. It was a rather disappointing inch thick.
“How far down did you say the TARDIS was?” Rose asked doubtfully.
“Ten feet. Roughly,” the Doctor replied.
“So an inch every hour adds up to… five days? Roughly?” Jack confirmed mockingly.
The Doctor was already crouching down, his screwdriver whistling away. “Roughly, yeah. Might be a bit more.”
Jack and Rose exchanged looks.
“Fantastic,” they both groaned.
The Doctor didn’t comment, but Jack thought he saw his lips twitch upwards into a smile.
“Back to the pterosaur, then?” Rose asked. Jack nodded, and she made a face that suggested that there would be dire consequences when they got back on the TARDIS - the thought made him smile. It didn’t matter, really; the Doctor would get them out of this, and as long as the three of them were together there wasn’t a thing they couldn’t handle.
“There’s life on other planets up there, you know,” Jack said periodically throughout time.
“You’re silly. Always such a silly, silly man,” Rachel replied, her hand warm around the wedding band she wore. It was 1876, and she was dying of a disease that was laughably, laughably curable.
“And how would you know this?” Oscar asked, looking vaguely interested. It was 1889, and when he found a first edition copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray two years later it made him laugh.
“And one day we will live among the stars as well,” Emily declared proudly from her perch behind the typewriter. It was 1901, and he’d learned the hard way that stories of his life before Torchwood were the only things which distracted her from trying to figure out what could kill him.
“What a fantastic idea,” Marcel mused, attention already wandering as he twirled his moustache. It was 1902, and Jack thought he really ought to stop dating authors, no matter how famous they’d be after they were dead.
“Are you drunk again?” Rosalyn demanded, hands on her hips. It was 1909: he was married again, and realizing why people in his century had vastly different customs about forming families.
“Have you seen any of them?” Harriet inquired, eyes shining with intelligence and curiosity. It was 1915, and for one single shining moment he wanted to tell her everything, everything he knew about time and space, not because he loved her but because he knew that she’d be able to take it all in without wanting to use it destroy what was out there.
“Oh, you mean they don’t all come from Cardiff?” Rodney snarked. It was 1929, the early part of the year before the market crashed, and they were undercover in San Francisco - it was the most fun Jack had had in years.
“And they should be afraid,” Taylor snarled. It was 1936, and between the war brewing and this newer, more militant attitude Jack felt justified in taking a break from freelance work.
“And do any of them just stay there?” Greg cried, exasperated. It was 1940, and World War II had begun, but he wasn’t fighting in it. Jack was back under Torchwood’s thrall - but Greg made it bearable, was the reason he allowed himself to be poked and prodded out of bed and into work, hiatus on experimentation or not.
“Do any of them fight amongst themselves like humans do?” Estelle questioned. It was 1941, and he didn’t know whether or not she took anything he said when he was like this seriously, wasn’t sure of anything other than that he wanted to stay with her forever, and that could never, ever happen.
“No shit Sherlock,” Amelia belched. It was 1958, and he’d outlived three coworkers that night, good people, all of them. All he wanted was for something, anything not to seem serious and threatening, and Amelia fit that bill to a T.
“Tell me something new,” Meredith ordered. It was sometime in the 1970’s - he wasn’t sure exactly when. He’d spent that decade deep within Torchwood Three: time had lost all meaning to him after the first three years.
“And what would you know about that?” Dai inquired. It was 1985, and he needed to be back in Torchwood. It didn’t matter what they did to him, it didn’t matter what they did to others, it didn’t matter how many of them would die, all that mattered was that he was here, close to where the Doctor would be sooner or later, and that was all that was required. He needed to find the Doctor, and after that, everything would fall back into place.
“And as long as they stay well away from me and mine I don’t have a problem with it,” Alex stated. It was 1999, and later Jack would turn that moment over and over in his mind, looking for clues he should have seen, some sign that something terrible had come over his boss.
“Show me,” Suzie commanded. It was 2002, the twenty first century and they had to be ready. He’d build a Torchwood out of the best and brightest, in honor of Alex’s memory, he decided. That way they’d be able to defend Earth after he and the Doctor had found each other again.
Date night was not going as planned. Actually, it had gone so far off course from what he’d planned that he vaguely wondered why he was still referring to his plan for guidance.
Then he died.
When he came to, Ianto was trying to maneuver his arms into such a position as to lever Jack’s dead weight off of him. His breath was harsh against Jack’s ear, but not anymore than nearly being fried to death by an exploding warehouse warranted. Good to know the old ‘human shield’ trick still worked, even if being hit with concrete was an unpleasant way to die.
“This,” he groaned, flopping gracelessly off Ianto and onto the ground beside him. “Was not how I intended the night to end.”
“Well, at least there were fireworks as promised,” Ianto wheezed.
“Ha. I meant fireworks of a less alien kind,” Jack said, propping himself up on his elbows so that he could clearly see the smoking crater that inhabited the space where the warehouse had once stood.
Ianto made a choking sound that was probably a laugh. “The night’s not over yet.”
“Oh?” Jack asked hopefully, sitting all the way up to watch as Ianto rolled over on his belly and raised himself up on his hands and knees.
“We’ve still got clean-up to do,” Ianto informed him lightly, standing up with a moan and dusting off his pants with a motion that made them stretch tightly across his arse.
He’d chosen to come back to this, he knew. And strings of unmitigated disasters like tonight were as much a part of his life in Cardiff as anything else - he’d just (irrationally) hoped that he would be given a break long enough to patch things up with everyone properly. It was frustrating. Extremely frustrating. He was frustrated with the way they’d been too busy trying not to get eaten by dinner to enjoy it, frustrated at the blowfish who tried to hotwire the SUV, frustrated that the tip it’d given them in exchange for being let off with a warning turned out to lead to a legitimate threat, and frustrated at whatever idiot decided that it was better to explode himself and all his merchandise than allow Torchwood to confiscate it.
He fumed all the way back to Hub garage, right up until the point where Ianto pinned him to the hood of the SUV and tried to introduce his tongue to the back of his throat.
“You’ve been undressing me with your eyes all night,” Ianto panted into his mouth when he finally came up for air. There was something close to a whine in his voice.
“I’ve been undressing you with my eyes since we first met,” Jack retorted, sliding his hands down the back of Ianto’s trousers in an effort to press him closer. However, Ianto had other ideas, and forced a hand between them so he could undo Jack’s belt.
“I take your point,” Ianto replied smoothly - or at least as smoothly as anyone could when their breath was hitching like that. Jack’s frustration went back into the pit of nothingness it belonged in, and smugness of the sort that came as a prelude to really spectacular sex replaced it.
“We’re still going on that date,” Jack ground out.
“Good. See if you can find a place that doesn’t serve carnivorous chips,” Ianto answered, somehow managing to undo the button on Jack’s trousers with his thumb. He filed that away for latter use - the things that could be done with that level of dexterity…
But he was being incredibly rude - after all, Ianto’s trousers still needed to come off before things could get really interesting.