Author's Notes:
Warnings: Violence, swearing
Spoilers: None, as far as I can tell
Disclaimer: Jack belongs to the BBC (though they haven't exactly been treating him well as of late, and it's as good a reason for me to claim custody as any), as does the Time Agency. A couple of the concepts within were respectfully stolen from Babylon 5. (For details, check end of fic.) Having just bought a pricy season 2 DVD set, I feel entitled. All else is mine.

Part 1: Confidence Work

He’d been warned about the bombs, but right at the moment, Jack really wished someone had told him that it would be raining. His coat had ever-so-thoughtfully absorbed several gallons of rainwater, which made a simple walk down a London street feel like swimming with all your clothes on. Which was never a good idea, he might add, and there he spoke from experience.

The air around him smelled of mildew, ozone and kerosene. He heard the shrill cry of a missile before it exploded several blocks down, the impact shattering a blacked-out window right over his head.

Welcome to the twentieth century, he thought, and pulled up his collar as high as it would go.

Off in the distance, thunder rumbled halfheartedly. Jack ducked under the awning of a baker’s shop and leaned against the closed doorway. With luck, he wouldn’t have to wait very long.

Tonight of all nights, Luck was, indeed, a lady. A redhead, to be precise, wearing a brown coat, highly impractical shoes, and a wrist device that wouldn’t be invented for another thousand and a half years, if Jack had his dates straight. She walked briskly despite the shoes, unmindful of the rain.

He thought about sinking back into the shadows; surprising her, but his supervisor had already warned him about pulling that sort of crap. Particularly on agents armed with at least one concealed blaster and a twitchy disposition — example: one Nuala O’Brien, seen here.

She spotted him almost immediately; he could tell by the way her gait sped up and lost some of its surety. If only he would let her, she’d just as soon pass him by, face hidden. Of course, he wasn’t going to let her, but it was still a nice thought.

“Excuse me, Miss,” he called out. “Might I have a word with you?”

She stopped. Looked up. Her face looked younger than Jack had expected. So much younger, with her hair plastered down and twentieth century glasses sliding down her nose. “And how do you know I’m a ‘Miss’, if I may ask? I could have a husband and a passel o’ kids hidden away, with you none the wiser.”

Jack grinned, stepping out to meet her. “What can I say, I’m an optimistic sort of guy. I assume you’re married, and there go my chances.”

(The files had said she was thirty-one years old. Unmarried; no children.)

She sauntered right into his personal space. “Cocky of you to assume you have any chance with me at all, Time Agent.” Jack was surprised to note she didn’t emphasize the last two words. Most would, if only for effect. The fact that he found her lilting accent attractive, now that wasn’t surprising in the least. Who wouldn’t?

“Like I said,” he answered, letting pretense slip away, bit by bit, “I’m what you’d call an eternal optimist.” He held out his hand, palm up. Cats would hiss and shy away from you, if you approached them hand-down, and people were mostly the same way. “Lt. Commander Jack Harkness, at your service.”

O’Brien snorted. “Really? And what services could you possibly offer me?”

He grinned rakishly. “Oh, I could think of a few… That said, I’m more after something you could do for me. Word on the street is, you’re the go-to lady, when it comes to seventieth century artifacts.” Jack spread his hands. “You know how the Agency is. Stingy as all fuck. The higher-ups get the good weapons, the good ships — hell, they even get the good drinks. All that’s left for us peasants is charm and the fine company of our fellow man or woman.”

“My pity for you knows no bounds.” O’Brien appraised him. “How do I know you’re not a narc?”

“Narc? Sorry, I’m not up on my twentieth century slang. Or is it thirtieth?”

“It’s twentieth. Though I wouldn’t try using it now,” she added, in a tone that said ‘How did the Time Agency let this one roll out of bed, much less travel through time?’ With luck, she’d assume he was somebody’s nephew or sex toy, out on a joyride. “Very well. What are you in the mood for, Lt. Commander?”

“I’m looking for a Chameleon Net, if you’ve got one,” Jack said. “That’s the correct term, isn’t it? Something that would allow me to change my appearance at will. I don’t care so much about gene blockers, but if it can get me by security scans, I won’t say no.”

O’Brien narrowed her eyes. “What’s a nice boy like you want with a Chameleon Net?” Jack turned away. “That’s my own business. I can pay,” he added hastily.

“Let’s see it.”

Jack dug a credit chip out of his pocket. “Scan this if you want. We just hit payday a week ago. Relative time, of course.”

She ran the chip through her wrist computer, eyes lighting up when she saw the numbers. By now, she probably thought he was somebody’s paid sex toy. If Jack had a reputation to lose, it would be in flames.

“I’d like to see the goods too, if you don’t mind,” he said. “I’ve shown you mine. Care to show me yours?”

“Fair do’s.” She pulled a plain-looking armband out of her pocket. “It’s thought-programmed. Just put it on, and concentrate on the look you’re going for.”

He slipped the band over his wrist, shivering pleasantly as the Chameleon Net worked its magic.

“Well, aren’t you a looker,” O’Brien said, suddenly faced with a doppelganger. She ran a hand through familiar red curls. “Now in this form, I could take you up on an offer or two.”

“Kinky.” He grinned, then switched back to his own body. Really, it was a pity he wouldn’t get to play much with this little gadget. The possibilities were endless, and that was before he got around to tinkering with the inner works. The seventieth century was a mechanic’s wet dream come true.

After half a minute, O’Brien returned his cred chip, now half-empty, its tiny dial looking sad. “Deal’s done,” and she was in his space again. Clearly, she was the sort who relaxed, once the business side of the evening was settled.

Somewhere above them, the sirens sounded an all-clear. “You hear that?” O’Brien took his hands in hers. “A hundred years from now, some guy named Wilmer Knoyes is gonna take this sound, synthesize it with a few violins and make it a pop hit. Today, it’s the symbol of a raggedy, war-torn era. Tomorrow, all the kids will be dancing to it. They’ll call it bomb fusion. Not original, but that’s what you get.”

Jack shook his head. “Twenty-first’s not my thing, really. Give me the stuff they play now, and I’m golden.”

“Whatever spaces your ship,” O’Brien said. “You’ll still dance with me, though, won’t you?”

He pulled her closer to him as an answer. By this point, he was so cold and soaked as to come out on the other end and start feeling warm.

There was no music — none that Jack would consider such, anyway — but he had a good enough imagination. They danced, slow and deliberate, and to anyone watching they would seem to be nothing more than two kids. Suicidal, or perhaps in love. He held the illusion longer than he should probably have.

“Just one final thing,” he said, quietly and not without regret.

“What’s that?”

“You’re under arrest.”

He watched her face freeze in an instant. “You wouldn’t.”

“Really? That’s news to me.”

“The deal has already gone through. You’re as implicit in the crime as I am. You’re an accomplice. Whatever they do to me…”

“They’d do to me as well,” Jack finished for her. “Except for one small problem. That’s municipal funds. Doled out specifically for this sort of job. You knew a regular Time Agent would never get his hands on this kind of credit. You just happened to assume I’d gotten it through backdoor means. But no. I’m legit, sorry to say.”

She tried to pull her hand out of his grasp, but he held on. “I could scream,” she said sweetly, when her strength proved no match to his. “Do you know what they’d do to a man like you for assaulting a woman like me? And baby, that’s what it looks like, right now.”

Jack shook his head. “Screaming after a bomb raid? While everyone’s still getting out of the shelters? Good luck with that.”

“Should tell you something about how safe these streets are,” O’Brien muttered. “No one but yourself to rely on.” She yanked, and her left hand came free. “Fortunately, I’m all I need.” She had a blaster pulled out and pointed at his chest faster than Jack could blink.

“You wouldn’t,” he said, echoing her earlier words. Her smile was hollow, showing more tooth than mirth, right before she fired.

He went down, just barely managing to take her with him. The pain was incredible, like a thousand needles laced with liquid fire, cross-stitching his skin. The force-vest under his clothes had taken the lethal edge off the blast, but whoever had designed it didn’t seem to care much beyond keeping him alive and in working condition.

“Tough bastard, you are.” She sounded almost approving. Considering he’d managed to hold on to her through it all, Jack thought the grudging respect was deserved enough.

He forced the pain down to the bottom of his consciousness. “Nah. Lucky bastard’s more like it.” It was his turn, this time, to pull a neat trick out of his pocket. Only his took the form of standard issue cuffs. Much less offensive, in his opinion. He slapped one on her, and the other on his own wrist.

“Like I said, you’re under arrest. Your charges will include the smuggling of banned items, such as this beauty over here-“ he waved at the Chameleon Net, “as well as bringing unlicensed technology into a pre-tech era, thus endangering the whole timestream. Hell, I should arrest you for wearing your tech out in the open, only Congress never passed the bill that would make stupidity a felony. If one of the local lads took a look at your wrist instead of your pretty face — kaboom! There goes history, and there go all of us. You included.

“Add to that attempted murder of a temporal law enforcement officer.” He grimaced. “That hurt, you know. It really did.”

She didn’t say anything.

“You’ll be put on trial in your home era,” Jack continued, only to be interrupted by a barking laugh.

“Trial. Right. Seems that naive git act wasn’t all act after all. Do you think I’ll get some nice jail time, with these charges?” She was backing away from him, all the while. With the cuffs on, he’d felt it safe to let go of her. Arresting her was one thing; brutality was another.

“I’ll be killed,” she said, voice dead calm. “Or worse, they’ll authorize a wipe. No more memories, no more personality. No more me. All that’ll be left is a blank they can reprogram into a good little citizen drone.”

Jack smirked. “Touching story, if I believed a word of it. Unfortunately, we both know that memory wipes are only authorized for serious crimes. We’re talking genocide here, not smuggling. If you’d actually succeeded in chewing history up and spitting it back out, then yeah, it’d be bye-bye Nuala O’Brien. But you didn’t. Never thought failing could be a good thing, did you?”

“Like I said. Naive. Stop quoting laws at me, little boy, and take a good look at the reality you live in.”

“I do,” Jack said. “My reality just doesn’t happen to encompass conspiracy theories. Sure, they’re fun to read up on, but I wouldn’t want to pay too much attention. First step to going crazy, you know.”

She closed her eyes. Jack could see her body going limp, and he assumed she’d given up. Which only proved that old adage about assumptions. He sure felt like an ass when she moved back sharply, with no warning.

“Don’t go any further,” he said, mouth suddenly dry. “The cuffs are charged. You get too far from me, and you get electrocuted. Nothing I can do about that. Didn’t design them. Sorry.” Why he was apologizing was anyone’s guess. Maybe her words had gotten through after all. Or maybe he was just running short on sleep.

The look she gave him before she turned and ran would stay with Jack for months.

By the time he got to her, she had already fallen, curled into a convulsive ball on the wet ground. Normally, the shock would be excruciating, but just below lethal. The design, however, had failed to take the rain into account. Her body was badly burned, skin seared past red and into black. Her fingers had curled into claws, and the irises of her still-open eyes were bleached white.

Jack turned away. He hadn’t retched on duty since his cadet days, and he wasn’t going to start now. Besides, it would be disrespectful. Criminal or not, everyone deserved some basic dignity.

This is why stupidity should be a crime,” he told the empty street, before turning to pick up the woman’s body. He’d have to take her back to headquarters.

And after that? After that, he was going to drink himself blind and do his damndest to forget this whole mess had ever happened at all.

---

Author's Note: As mentioned above, the concepts of the Chameleon Net (called a Changeling Net in B5) and memory wipes as a capital punishment are both borrowed from JMS. Not sure about copyright, but Babylon 5 was where I got the ideas from, so it's only fair to give credit where credit is due.