Title: An Impossible Thing
Betas: Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] smallcaps and [livejournal.com profile] graspthethorn for betaing the fic and to [livejournal.com profile] senry and [livejournal.com profile] littledarkvoice for helping me world build an alternate history mirror-verse.
Rating: PG
Theme: Through the Looking-Glass
Disclaimer: I don't own Torchwood or Doctor Who.
Summary: Living for so long on the edge of the rabbit hole, it never occurred to Jack that none of them knew how deep the Rift was - or just how far it could pull someone.
Warning: Post Children of Earth
Notes: Written for [livejournal.com profile] torchwood_s4 this is a diesel-punk alternate history Whoniverse. This is a first installment (a first chapter if you will) for a deadline, not a definitive piece, though it stands alone. There is a History of the World backstory that will be be continued to be fleshed out in-story.

The Rift was frightening in its intensity. Jack had experienced so much, seen even more, but nothing prepared him for falling through the Rift.

Once, when he was still working for the Time Agency, he had been to a beautiful planet, with beautiful beings and a wild lifestyle. It was just a training mission, back when they were cadets, when life was still carefree. He and John had given the rest of the team the slip, decided to see how their 51st century biology reacted with the local drugs. It was something like that.

Once, when he was traveling with the Doctor and Rose and was still marveling that the inside was bigger than the outside, the Doctor had stopped the TARDIS in black nothingness. He had shown them the formation of a black hole. It was something like that.

Once, when Gray had buried him and made him part of the very foundation of Cardiff, Jack had gasped to life in his subterranean prison. For the seconds he remained alive, Jack could feel the weight of the dirt pressing down on him, the worms and insects inside the tatters of his clothing, and he instinctively clawed at the soil that surrounded him, even though he knew it was a futile effort. It was something like that.

*

Jack literally stumbled out of the Rift and, conveniently, out of an alleyway at the same time. He braced himself against a brick wall and tried to get his bearings. He smiled at a girl passing by him, human-looking with her hair pulled away from her wide face.

She smiled pleasantly back at him. “Prynhawn da.”

Not sure that he could trust his own ears, Jack took a step away from the wall, which was a mistake. The fall through the Rift had left him dizzy and unsure of his own footing, and he fell onto the paving stones like a drunken sailor, muttering a few choice curses.

“Wyt ti'n siarad Cymraeg?” the girl asked from somewhere above him. Then, in a clear voice, she said, “Or are you Sais, then?”

Jack shook his head, clearing the dust of death from his ears. He looked up to see her standing over him, her dark hair pulling out of its braid into a halo in the bright sunlight. She wore a slightly-too-big pewter coat and held a knit cap in her right hand.

“Sir?” the girl asked, looking concerned. “Can you understand me? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Jack told her, getting up and brushing off his great coat. He looked around, slowly recognizing where he was. “This is Cardiff?”

The girl, who couldn’t have been more than seventeen, bobbed her head. “We are! Have you come for the celebration, sir?”

Jack had noticed that the shops lining the street were decked out with flags and flowers, some festive leeks mixed in with daffodils. “St David’s Day?” he hazarded, still not sure when he was - or if this wasn’t New Cardiff where they would be celebrating the defeat of the invading Abyxian army.

“Of course!” the girl said, in a tone that implied she thought Jack had been celebrating a bit too much the previous night. She looked at him for a long moment, her lips pursed. “I have to help Tad off at the shop, but have you a place to stay for the night? Only, if you don’t, we’ve got the room since Adaf’s off at the front and Tad’d love to have you if you haven’t got a place already.”

Jack smiled at her, knowing it was a weak imitation of his usual flirtatious grin. “Lead on then, gentle lady.”

“It’s only, we don’t get a lot of the soldiers coming back,” she said, leading Jack down the street. “And even just see you all in your uniforms will do us all some good, I think. That’s an officer’s coat, yeah?”

“Captain Jack Harkness,” Jack introduced himself, hoping it was the right thing to see wherever and whenever he was.

“Oh, a captain! Tad’ll like that. I’m Ceri. Morgan’s Clocks and Parts, that’s my tad’s shop. Maybe you heard of it?” Ceri stopped in front of a bakery and darted inside, clearly expecting Jack to follow her.

“Clocks and parts?” Jack asked, wondering what kind of Cardiff he had landed himself in. Most of the signs were in Welsh, even the ones propped up behind the counter, marking the price of each baked good, although some had English in smaller letters. He knew that in New New Cardiff they celebrated St David’s Day, but they didn’t speak Welsh and they were always New New Cardiff, never just Cardiff.

“Well, when Tad’s tad had the shop, it was Morgan’s Furniture and Fireplaces, but that’d be a silly name to keep these days. Everyone would think we were an antique shop or something!” Ceri giggled and placed her order with the baker. “Come on, this will only be a minute. I figured you’d like a coffee and a roll. We’ll have some eggs when we get to the shop.”

Ceri stepped aside and let some other customers place their orders. Jack realised that they were dressed much like Ceri and, to be honest, himself. Heavy wool coats, simple shirts, cloth pants, and bracers seemed to be the uniform of the day. It was simple and utilitarian.

“Here you go, Captain,” Ceri told him, handing him a cheese sandwich and a tin of coffee and taking a wax bag with her. “Come on.” She led him back outside and into a maze of narrow streets he didn’t recognise. “You sound like you’re out of New England. Are you a volunteer, then?”

“Just trying to do my part.” Jack bit into the sandwich. Irregular travel through time and space tended to wear him out and a sandwich would keep him going.

“Where’re you stationed? My brother, he’s down by the coast. Tad’s happy about that, says that if Adaf had to go, at least he’d be safer there.” Ceri chattered on, telling Jack about how her brother had joined up with his best friend from school and how she had come to work in her father’s shop after he left. She eventually led him into a shop decorated with daffodils and flags and cried, as soon as the door closed behind them, “Tad, mae’n amser cinio!”

“I was wondering where you were, we need to open up -” the older man cut himself off when he saw Jack. “Ceri, what have I told you about bringing your friends when we’re closed?”

“He’s not a friend. He’s a captain. He’s on leave for St David’s Day.”

“A captain?” he repeated, raising a bushy eyebrow.

“Jack Harkness is a volunteer captain,” Ceri clarified. “He’s on leave for St David’s Day, but no one’s taken him in yet.”

Something in what his daughter said made more sense to him than it did to Jack because his face cleared of worry and he smiled at Jack. “Welcome to Morgan’s Clocks and Parts, anything for your technological needs. It’s the least we can do to offer you a roof for your head after you’ve joined our troops.”

Jack grinned, thankful he’d taken his coat with him before he had pitched himself through the rift. “I’m just doing my part, Mr. Morgan. I’m no better than the men I serve with.”

“It’s Lloyd ap Morgan. We might be city but we don’t all go by your ways, sais. Call me Lloyd, everyone does,” he assured Jack. “Where were you stationed? My Adaf’s training down on the south coast, but I heard most foreign volunteers are stationed out in London Town. That Battle of the Wharf was something awful.”

“Tad!” Ceri hissed. “He doesn’t want to talk about it!”

“The Battle of the Wharf?” Jack echoed, his blood running cold. Jack remembered wars - so many wars in so many places - and imagining a battle in the wharf district in London was chilling.

Clearly, Jack wasn’t masking his emotions as well as he usually did because Lloyd looked chagrined. “You were at Canary Wharf? I’m sorry. My daughter’s right; it’s not my business to ask such things.”

Jack found a stool to perch on, his great coat billowing around him like a cape, as Lloyd and Ceri went about their business opening up the shop for the afternoon. It was nice, if a bit odd looking for modern Earth. There were copper lamps in the back of the shop that gave off a warm, yellow light behind frosted glass, but they seemed to mostly rely on the sunlight streaming through the shopfront windows. The shop itself was lined with shelves of merchandise. Jack recognised the clocks at the front of the shop, although they seemed to tell more than time, but even he couldn’t name some of the pieces that decorated the back of the shop.

When Lloyd was busy with the first customer of the afternoon, a statuesque woman wearing wide, delicately embroidered trousers, and Ceri was nowhere to be seen, Jack rolled back his right sleeve, revealing his wrist strap. He began working at it, trying to get it to tell him when and where he was, but it was worse even than when he landed himself in 1869.

“That looks like one of those antiques we sometimes get,” Ceri exclaimed, popping up beside Jack. “It’s electronic, right?” She didn’t wait for Jack to answer, but immediately ran her hands expertly over it. “This is a right fancy one. I don’t think I’ve seen one like this before. Oh. Oh dear. Looks like something shorted out the circuits.” She looked up at him, her grey eyes large and sympathetic. “Did you get caught in a blast? The bombs can play havoc with these old things.”

Jack pulled his arm back from her, but offered an easy smile in compensation. “It does look like it might have done something to it. You know, I usually tell the time and date by this old thing and that blast rocked my head a bit. I didn’t realise it was already St David’s Day. Could you give me the details of the date and all that?”

“Sure. It’s the twenty-eighth of February, year of our Lord 2010. What did you think it was?” Ceri grinned at him for a moment, clearly amused, but then it fell from her face and her eyes widened even further. “Oh! You didn’t travel with the Doctor, did you? My cousin reckons that the Doctor would have been at Canary Wharf and saved soldiers!”

“The Doctor? You know the Doctor?”

“Well, I don’t. But my cousin, she says she travelled with him a while, back before the war really broke out. You know, when it was just over the waters,” Ceri told him, toying with her dark braid nervously.

“Your cousin travelled with the Doctor?” Jack asked. If the Doctor was here, then it couldn’t all be wrong, not all of it.

“Are you boring the captain with your stories about the Doctor?” Lloyd asked, sweeping past. “I’m sure he’s not interested in your tall tales.”

“You don’t say that to Rose when she comes round!” Ceri protested. “You see, when she comes here tonight, she’ll be telling him all about her adventures on Raxacoricofallapatorius and you won’t say word!”

Lloyd sighed. “Rose has been through enough; she doesn’t need me nagging at her about her stories.” He eyed his daughter for a moment. “I can see you’ll be no good to me this afternoon. Why don’t you take your captain out and get him ready for the celebration? Just get back here before everyone else arrives.”

Ceri hugged her father impulsively. “Oh, Tad, thank you.” Then she grabbed Jack by the wrist and dragged him out of the shop. “Come on.”

Once Ceri realised that Jack would follow her, she let him go and slowed down a bit, allowing Jack to catch his breath. “So, your cousin, she tells stories about Raxacoricofallapatorius?”

“You got it right in one go!” Ceri exclaimed. “Rose can’t even say right, not even when she’s telling the stories. I had to get her to write it down for me so I could figure out what she was saying.”

“What can I say, I’m a natural.”

Ceri laughed. “Well, you’ll be able to ask her all about her stories tonight. She and Modryb Jaci are coming in from Llanelli for the holiday.”

*

With daffodils and a leek peeking out of his buttonholes, feeling a bit like a stereotype of a Welshman, Jack carried a bundle of daffodils into the dining nook in the flat above the shop. Ceri told him that she and Rose - and Jack, if he’d join them - would braid them to wear around their necks the next day. Ceri had swept Jack through the shopping district of Cardiff, taking him to the florists and grocers to get everything ready for St David’s Day.

While Jack acted as her porter and took the opportunity to flirt with her outrageously, she told him all about the war, that tensions had run high with Norway since the end of the second Great War, especially after a plague of some kind had ravaged most of Europe, but fighting had broken out in Reykjavik about five years ago after a terrorist bombing outside Edinburgh. It had quickly turned into an all out war between the two countries and Jack could see the toll it was taking on the country.

Jack remembered, all too well, what it was like, growing up and living with war on your doorstep. He took the time to adjust the daffodils in their water so they would be pretty through dinner before turning to see if he could find Ceri and ask when her family would be arriving. He stopped, one hand still on the table, when he saw a dark haired girl in the door way, looking at him with wide eyes.

“Oes brawd 'da chi?” she asked, clearly surprised by him.

“His name’s Jack, Jack Harkness. He’s a volunteer captain,” Ceri told her, coming in behind her.

“Oh.” Rose deflated a bit at her cousin’s correction. She was different from any Rose Jack had ever met. Her hair was a dark chocolate brown and she had only a trace of the London accent Jack knew so well. “You look a lot like a man I used to know.”

“Not this James Hardwick again,” a woman who could only be Modryb Jaci said, as she came into the room behind Ceri.

“Mam!” Rose said sharply. “ Don’t talk about him like that!”

Jaci looked contrite and disappeared again, saying she would help Lloyd with the meal.

Rose sighed at Jack and Ceri, tucking her hair behind her ear. “I don’t know why I didn’t stay in London this year. Mark’s coming back from Reykjavik soon. I just feel useless in Cymru.”

“You’re not useless,” Ceri said, taking a seat on Jack’s other side. “You’re safe and here for St David’s Day. Tad said your flat was ruined in the bombings. At least, in Llanelli you don’t have that.”

“Unless they start sending the zeppelins out here,” Jaci said darkly, bringing some dishes in from the kitchen. “Pedr’s last letter said they’re trying to bomb Alba to hell and back again.”



“Heavens forbid it,” Lloyd told her softly, carrying in the last plates from the kitchen. “And heavens keep Pedr safe.” He took his seat at the head of the table and motioned for everyone else to start eating. “This war can’t end soon enough.”

Biting into his stuffed chicken, Jack took the moment of silence to observe the little family. Given a closer look, he could see more than a passing resemblance between Ceri and Rose and he didn’t miss Ceri grabbing Rose’s hand when she talked about Leo. He had seen that look before; he wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Ceri had a sweetheart of her own at the front. He was also intrigued by this James Hardwick. He hadn’t been told that he reminded anyone of anyone since before he had taken up with the Doctor.

He swallowed a forkful of boiled leeks, reminding himself that he should be thankful he had been found by a family who wanted to feed him. “So this James Hardwick of yours, is he a friend? A sweetheart?”

“The captain was a friend,” she said, a little sadly. “He was out of New England, like you.”

“A volunteer then?” Jack ventured. “We don’t see many of them.”

“You wouldn’t know him.”

Jack raised an eyebrow. “You might be surprised, Miss Rose.” He remembered the first time he had called his Rose by that name. The three of them had fallen into the TARDIS, escaping from a rather upset mob of offended villagers - apparently it was forbidden to hold hands with anyone but your spouse. While the Doctor navigated them to a new planet, new time, and new adventure, Jack had helped Rose to her feet, calling her Miss Rose and acting every inch as unctuous as the infatuated prince in the village had. Rose had laughed, her easy joy echoing through the TARDIS, and told him that modesty didn’t suit him.

“He’s stationed in Cardiff, not London, Captain Harkness,” Rose told him, all formality. “Unless you are saying that you know all the volunteers in the isle, I doubt you’d know him.”

Jaci smiled, although it looked a little sad. “Where would we be without our intelligence officers?”

Rose had just rolled her eyes at her mother and mouthed something to Ceri in Welsh. Jack had never needed to learn any Welsh beyond standard greetings and the ability to say that he didn’t speak Welsh, so he couldn’t follow the rapid-fire conversation between the two cousins. Lloyd and Jaci made a point of speaking in English so that Jack could understand him and steered the conversation away from the war.

*

The streets were full of people in - and Jack was fairly sure this was an accurate term - their Sunday best. While nearly everyone had been in plain, utilitarian clothing the previous day, everyone appeared to be ready to celebrate, even celebrating with their clothing, on St David’s Day. There had been a parade through the streets of Cardiff in the morning and from everyone’s behavior, Jack assumed the rest of the day was spent in celebration as well.

He had been surprised that morning, to see Ceri and Rose in beautiful wool skirts and sweaters. The skirts were delicately embroidered and brightly colored. After they ate, Ceri and Rose wove flower crowns to put in their hair and even forced Jack, who was still wearing his clothes from the previous day, to wear a chain of daffodils around his neck. Jaci was a little more staid than the girls, but even she and Lloyd were decked out in red and white finery. Jack felt distinctly out of place, walking the streets in his blue coat.

“Come on, Captain!” Ceri cried, pulling Jack along by the hand, leaving Jaci and Lloyd far behind them.

“Maybe the captain doesn’t want to join us,” Rose said softly, on Ceri’s other side. “He’s not from here and not Cymru Newydd. They don’t have St Daffyd’s Day there.”

“I know what St David’s Day is,” Jack explained, trying to disengage his hand from Ceri’s, though she wasn’t having with it. “My lover was Welsh. I think he’d have had my head if I hadn’t known what was going on with St David’s Day.

“Oh, your lover?” Ceri asked, laughing. Her dark hair was loose, spilling over her shoulders and crowned with daffodils. “Are you here in his stead then, while he’s at the front?”

“He’s dead.” Jack was surprised that he could say it as easily as he did. It still burned, what had happened back in London, the brutal sacrifices that he had made. It was better that he had left, cauterized the wound before it could become infected and destroy everything else he had held dear.

Ceri dropped his hand, but not before squeezing it in apology. “I’m sorry.”

Rose broke the moment of sad silence, asking, “Did you at least like the parade, Captain?”

“I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It was brilliant,” Jack assured her.

“Do you want to join us at the Cymanfa Ganu?”

“Is everything going to be in Cymraeg again?” While his hosts had been more than willing to translate important things into English for him, Jack felt a little at sea, surrounded by Welsh speakers. It was clear that here, at least, Welsh was the native tongue. When he had asked Lloyd about it, Lloyd had just laughed and said that he couldn’t imagine why they would speak another language in their own country.

“Of course! Why wouldn’t it be in Cymraeg?” Both Rose and Ceri looked at him like he had asked the most absurd question.

“Then I think I’ll sit this one out, ladies,” Jack told them flirtatiously. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t while I’m gone.”

After he watched Rose and Ceri, giggling, disappear into the crowded street, Jack sighed and rolled up his sleeve to have another look at his Vortex manipulator. The universal translator was one of the simpler devices in it and, if nothing else, he could try to fix that before giving up and hiring a translator. He found a bench on the edge of a park and set about to working at it. He had only succeeded in getting the wrist strap to spark at him maliciously when he heard a familiar whirring noise coming from inside the park.

Abandoning his work immediately, Jack tore off into the park. He was sure, somehow, that the Doctor would have the answer. Even if none of this made sense and he’d fallen into some kind of bizarre paradox, the Doctor would be able to explain what the hell was going on. He froze, though, when he heard an all-too-familiar voice.

“Are you sure it’s 2010? Last time you tried to bring me home, we arrived three months before we’d even met and that was a bit of a shock to Rhiannon, I’ll tell you.”

“Of course, I’m sure,” a woman’s voice answered. “I wouldn’t let you off in the wrong place unless I meant to let you off in the wrong place and I don’t want to do that now unless I do and I don’t know it, yet.”

Jack crept closer, curious and more than a little shocked.

“You make as much sense as ever, Doctor,” Ianto replied. “If you are right - and I’m not saying you are, because you most often aren’t - I dare say that we’ve probably missed the parade.”

Jack stood on the edge of copse of trees and just stared, not caring how blatant he was being. Ianto stood on the edge of a little pond, dressed much as he always had in the Hub. Jack could remember the feel of the crisp edges of that white shirt under his hands and the pliability of that jacket.

The woman who was talking to him looked a little out of place in the quiet park. She had short, violently red hair and wore a dark bomber jacket with striped trousers and boots that Jack was pretty sure he had once seen on Svartos.

“Oh, what have we here?” she asked suddenly, turning to look at Jack. “Watching us, watching him. A friend of yours, Ianto?”

Ianto shook his head. “I’ve never seen him before. He looks military, though. Are you sure we’re in Cardiff?”

“No, we’re in Cardiff,” Jack told them, startled out of his silence, keeping his eyes on both of them.

“Oh good!” The woman looked delighted. “I told you I would do it! And what day is it, good sir?”

Jack stepped closer to them.”It’s March 1, 2010, or so they tell me.”

Ianto snorted at Jack’s statement, but the woman’s eyes widened. She walked up to Jack and lay a hand on his shoulder, looking him up and down. “Oh, and aren’t you an interesting one!”

“Doctor?” Ianto asked, stepping closer to the two of him.

“You aren’t from around here, are you?” she asked Jack, clearly delighted. “You are a wonder!” She cocked her head to the side, her hair brushing against her shoulder, and peered at him. “You’re a fact, you are!”

“Doctor, what are you talking about?”

“Our new friend is a fact,” she informed Ianto. She turned back to Jack. “I didn’t catch your name.”

“Jack, Captain Jack Harkness.”

“Captain Jack Harkness is a fact,” she repeated to Ianto.

Ianto nodded, wearing the same look on his face he would when he thought he was just humouring Jack. “Perhaps we can do some visiting, if we actually managed to get to the right place and right time for once?”

“Well, come on then!” she said and fairly dragged Jack up the path, toward the street.

Jack was surprised, briefly, but found himself following Ianto and the strange woman out of the park and into the streets of Cardiff. “Who are you?”

“I’m the Doctor!” the woman told him brightly, as she pulled a daffodil from a basket and tucked it behind her ear.

“The Doctor?”

“Just the Doctor,” Ianto told him. “She won’t respond to anything else, not even when my sister calls her, ‘Hey you!’”

Jack looked at her again, trying to see his Doctor in her. She was as different as she could be, but he could see something of both of them about her. He could see the Doctor who had found him in London in the way she took to him, dragged him along. He could see the Doctor he knew from the Valiant in her confident stride and easy grin. But she was obviously, all too clearly, her own woman beside that.

They stopped at a small house on a side street. It had a small garden, mostly dead, and a box of daffodils on the front step by the door. The Doctor loitered by the fence, toying with her sonic screwdriver and feigning boredom while Ianto knocked on the door. Slightly unsure of what to do, Jack inspect the daffodil basket. Back in the '20's, he and Gerald had encountered an alien who tried to use the lycorine in some collected bulbs to poison a good portion of Cardiff. It wouldn't do to let that happen again.

“Ianto Jones? What on earth are you doing here?”

Ianto bounded down the steps and enveloped the newcomer in a hug. “Gwen!”

Gwen laughed. “I wasn’t expecting to see you! Your sister tells me you’ve been traveling. I expected you’d still be abroad.”

“I’m just back for a visit,” Ianto told her, not letting go of Gwen’s shoulder. “Where’s Gareth? I was expecting him home. Or is he out at a Cymanfa Ganu?”

“He’s in London.” Gwen looked sad. “He’s enlisted.”

Jack instinctively went to Ianto’s side when he saw the other man pale, but managed to keep from touching him. He took the moment to study Gwen. She still looked the same, even if he had never seen her tuck her hair back in braids before. Unlike the other women Jack had seen at the parade or in the park, Gwen wore dark, narrow trousers, not unlike the jeans that were her daily uniform at home, and a beautifully embroidered waistcoat, decorated with the same patterns that had been on Ceri and Rose’s skirts.

“So the war is serious, then?” Ianto asked, in a deceptively steady voice.

Gwen nodded. “After the Battle of Canary Wharf, we’ve been trying to rally the front.” When Ianto just looked at her blankly, she added, “They’ve been stepping up the bombing raids. Some of the air men managed to knock them out of the sky by Canary Wharf. It was supposed to be a hell.”

Ianto looked disturbed and exchanged a worried glance with the Doctor. Jack didn’t say anything.

“We shouldn’t dwell on that.” Gwen tossed her head a little, as if to shake dark thoughts of war away. “Why are you looking for my brother? Going to steal him away with you, off to have adventures like when you were boys?”

“That was the thought,” Ianto admitted. He looked back at the Doctor. “But if there’s a war on…”

“Then what’s the point of having a time machine if you’re not time traveling?” the Doctor asked. “It sounds to me like Gwen here could use more of the sparkling beaches of Barcelona than you thought Gareth ever could.”

Ianto looked torn.

“You should go,” Jack told him, thinking of his Ianto, lying motionless under that red blanket, remembering his Gwen, pregnant and alone to run Torchwood. “We can hold the fort while you take a holiday."

The Doctor grinned at Jack, her teeth gleaming. "I think I like you, Captain Harkness. Tell me, do you know me or another me, perhaps a past or a future or even an alternative self of myself?"

Jack smiled flirtatiously at the Doctor. “Somehow, ma’am, I don’t think you’re anything like the Doctor I knew - or Doctors. I can never get his number right - is it just one of you or one for every regeneration?”

“Oh, you knew me as a man!” She looked absolutely delighted, her eyes wide and gleeful. “Or a Lord and not a Lady, I suppose. But what sort of man was I, am I, will I be?”

Ianto looked vaguely pained, as though he had been down this road with the Doctor before, but Gwen exclaimed, “You used to be a man?”

“Well, a Time Lord,” the Doctor explained. “But now I’m a Time Lady. I gave Rose a fright. One minute there I was, kissing her to get the Vortex out of her system, the rugged Time Lord she knew and then suddenly there I am, my delightful Time Lady self! And a ginger this time, too!”

Jack rolled his eyes affectionately. He’d long ago come to terms with the Doctor and it appeared that not much could be done to change a Time Lord - or Lady.

“We can be back in the morning, right, Doctor?” Ianto asked, looking a little beseechingly at her. “Tomorrow morning, right back in Cardiff?”

“Of course!” the Doctor told him.

Gwen smiled, looking like she knew Ianto was pulling her into the trip. “Let me radio the commander. If I tell him I’ll be bring you with me, he won’t mind me being a bit late tomorrow.”

Ianto scowled, but Jack could see that he really didn’t mind. “My holiday is for another two days!”

“Thom won’t keep you. He’ll just want to make sure she’s kept you in one piece.” Gwen assured him. She stepped aside, into the garden of the empty house and pulled a radio transmitter from her waistcoat. From where he was standing, he could hear the crackle of static. After a moment of murmured conversation, where Jack tried not to watch her too obviously, she came back to them, her mouth curved into a pleasant grin. “We’re cleared as long as we report in tomorrow.”

Ianto immediately began to lead Gwen back to the TARDIS in the park, but the Doctor hung back a little and looked at Jack. “Will you be joining us, then? They’ve got dogs without noses on Barcelona,” she told him, running a hand through her already wild hair and making it stand on end.

Jack gazed at Ianto, his head ducked down so that he could talk to Gwen, as he headed for the park. “I don’t think so. Maybe another time.”

“Well,” the Doctor said slowly. “If you won’t go traveling with me and you clearly aren’t from around here, fact or not, you’re going to need help. Something tells me that you can’t go five feet without finding yourself in the thick of trouble.” She paused. “If you find Commander Thom Ingergame and tell him I sent you, he’ll probably be of service. It wouldn’t hurt to let him know that you’re holding fort for those two.”

“Ingergame, Thom,” Jack repeated. “And where would I find him?”

The Doctor laughed. “He’s with the Cymru division of UNIT. Impossible to miss!”

Jack shook his head as he watched the Doctor take off at a run, her boots sounding heavily on the pavement as she caught up with Gwen and Ianto, her red hair a banner in the afternoon sunlight. She grabbed them each by hand, pulling them along excitedly, ready for the next great adventure, the next alien planet, the next rescue, the next escape. When they turned the corner, disappearing in the distance, Jack turned and walked in the other direction, back toward the little flat above Lloyd’s shop. If nothing else, he would find some revelers to join on his way.

He hadn’t be expecting to find much on the narrow little street, maybe a few drunk, overly flirtatious couples decked out in flowers and finery, or, perhaps some children playing games, safely out of the way of adults. However, Jack had not even entertained the idea that his brother could have even been in Cardiff, could be alive and walking the streets on St David’s Day. He instinctively froze and then did his best to blend in with a group of middle aged men who were loudly debating something in Welsh outside a printing house.

Jack’s instincts hadn’t lied. It did, for all appearances, look like Gray. He had not known his brother long, certainly not as a man, but the man in the street resembled the frozen body in the depths of the Hub remarkably. He wore an old-fashioned naval issue wool coat against the March weather, but stood out starkly against the celebrating citizens in their bright colors. Jack watched as the man - as Gray pocketed something that looked a like a Ethyron arrow and headed up the street, walking quickly into the heart of Cardiff.

Following his brother was easier than Jack imagined it would be. Either Gray was an idiot - which, even as children, he never was - or it just didn’t occur to him that someone could be following him through the crowded streets. He was a shadow, nearly mournful, while everyone around him celebrated. The crowds parted for him, though, as if they didn’t dare to disturb him.

Jack’s heart went into his throat when he realised that Gray was approaching a pair of women near the City Centre - two women and a man. He knew all of them. Ceri and Rose were clearly a little tipsy from the revels and talked in rapid-fire Welsh with Owen Harper. Owen supported Ceri with an arm while he wore a smirk that Jack recognised as his “on the pull” face. Jack wasn’t sure what worried him more, that his madman of a brother was making straight for his dead teammate and the two people who had fed and sheltered him, or that his dead teammate was flirting with the girl he knew was trapped in an alternate reality, pining for an alien. He stepped up his own pace, hoping to get close enough to Rose and Ceri that he would be able to intervene if Gray did anything.

What Jack was not expecting was for Rose to look up from her conversation with Owen and exclaim, “James!” as she threw her arms around Gray’s neck.

Gray embraced her briefly and then quickly disengaged. He smiled easily at Rose. “You know, I’ve been looking for you all day. You must have been the busiest woman in all of Cardiff today.”

Rose laughed, but Ceri answered the unasked question. “We had a guest today, another volunteer from across the pond.” She gave Gray the same smile she had shared with Jack when she’d given him a cheese sandwich. “His Cymraeg isn’t too good so we had to help him out a bit. I don’t think he’d stationed outside Anglaland ‘fore now.”

Gray exchanged a measured look with Owen. “A volunteer? Are you sure? He was a soldier?”

Ceri nodded seriously. “I was just telling Officer Mileyvates that. He says he weren’t a soldier, but he is. He’s got the captain’s coat and all. I heard my Tad talking to him; he was at Canary Wharf and his memory isn’t so good.”

Owen’s face went a bit ashen under his usual pallor. “He was at the battle? Shit.” Rose and Ceri looked confused at Owen’s reaction, but before they could ask, he pulled a radio from his coat, not dissimilar to the one Gwen had used, and barked into it, “Susanna! Get out here!”

“Got you, soldier,” a cool voice said from behind Jack. “I think you want to come with me.”

Jack turned to see Suzie, looking as cool and collected as she had on the day he hired her. Her dark coat matched Owen and Gray’s and her curled were pinned close to her head, decorated with small daffodils. She motioned at him with a small, old-fashioned pistol. “Come on, Captain Hardwick isn’t a man you want to keep waiting.”

“I’m not resisting,” Jack told her, keeping his voice even as he raised his hands in what he hoped was a sign of surrender. “I have to admit, I don’t fully understand what’s going on, so if you wanted to explain it to me…”

Suzie rolled her eyes and shoved him toward Gray and Owen. “I get it enough from my teammates, lad, I don’t need it from you. Go flirt with UNIT or your base captain.” Raising her voice, she got Gray and Owen’s attention. “James! Owain! No need for you to get any work done. I’m happy to give up my much needed holiday to round up confused volunteers.”

Gray’s eyes widened when he saw Jack, an action slight enough that no one else seemed to notice. “Soldier?”

“Captain Jack Harkness, at your service,” Jack told him with an easy smile he didn’t feel. He eyed Suzy’s uniform dress. “I take it that the Royal Navy has a problem with me?” When no answer appeared to be immediately forthcoming, Jack spread his arms, encompassing Owen, Suzie, and Gray. “There’s no need to be bothering these fine women if it’s me you want. I’m putty in your hands.” He winked at Ceri, who was openly staring at him. “Come on, I don’t think this is the sort of thing you like to do in public.”

Owen made a noise like he was physically in pain. “I refuse to deal with three of you. Does this attitude come with the name or do you just get like this when you get to be captain?”

Until Gray answered Owen, Jack hadn’t realised Owen hadn’t been talking to him. “You know you enjoy the harassment.” He stopped to pulled Jack into a quite side street. “Does that mean you don’t want to frisk him?”

Jack assumed Owen rolled his eyes because Suzie checked him over while Gray kept his eye on him. Once upon a time, Jack would have taken the opportunity to flirt with Suzie. They examined his Webley and the old PPK he liked to travel with, but neither seemed to bother them. Gray ran a measuring hand over Jack’s wrist strap, but did not seem unduly bothered by it.

Finally, Suzie sighed. “This is just another waste of time. Clearly, Sato’s system’s shot to hell.” She pulled something from a recesses of her coat and as soon as she pressed a complicated series of buttons, it let out a wailing siren. “See. Red alert all over him, but he’s got nothing on him.”

“Captain, I’m going to have to request that you remain in Cardiff for the time being,” Gray told Jack, as sharp and official as any of his superior officers had ever been. “I will be in contact with your superior officers and if you need placement in the city, Torchwood will provide for you.”

Jack tried not to let surprise show on his face. “I don’t think that will be problem. I was told to report to Thom Ingergame at UNIT Cymru.”

“He’ll be out somewhere in the streets tonight, Captain, but I will make sure you get an escort to their doors first thing in the morning. Even in times like these, very little business is done in this country on St David’s Day.”

“I don’t need an escort,” Jack told his brother, still waiting for him to give away the game, to let Jack know, somehow, what was really going on. “I’m sure I can find my way on my own. After all, how hard could it be?”

“I’ve already radioed him,” Owen told Jack disagreeably. “Do not make me deal with him without direct orders to escort you to UNIT.”

“Do you have lodging?” Gray asked him, as he wrapped an arm easily around Owen’s shoulders. “Or are you hoping to rely on charity again?”

“Jack!” an all-too-familiar voice exclaimed.

“John,” Jack replied, but his response was muffled by an open-mouthed kiss followed quickly by a right hook to the jaw.

“That’s for sending me out into that hell hole,” John told him low, under his breath so the others could not hear him.

“I take it you two are friends,” Suzie said dryly, not looking up from her notepad.

“Oh, Susanna, you break my heart every time you reject me,” John told her. “When will I ever convince you to join me in bed?”

“When Hell turns to ice,” Suzie muttered.

“We need you to escort your fellow captain to UNIT in the morning,” Gray told him, still formal, despite holding Owen in a half-embrace. “He is to report directly to Ingergame. And, as it appears our friend is homeless, take him with you to the boardinghouse and make him earn his keep.”

“Sir! Yes, Sir!” John called after Gray before striding off into the streets, clearly expecting Jack to follow.

“What the hell is going on here?” Jack hissed. “Is this another one of your games?”

“I was about to ask you the same question,” John told him flatly, “But seeing as I’ve been working for my own worst enemy for the past year, I’ve got a few more questions.”
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