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Five Ways Jack Didn't Come Back (and One Way He Did)

Okay, someone mentioned a five-way challenge when they were commenting on a story and, sucker that I am, I couldn't resist. Some of these may evolve, damn them, but for the moment I hope I've done this right...

Title: Five Ways Jack Didn't Come Back (and One Way He Did)
Characters: Jack and Ianto, some Doctor and Tosh.
Rating: Hmmm, PG, just to be paranoid.
Disclaimer: Not mine. The BBC and RTD are the smug ones.


I.

The door to the TARDIS opened and Jack stepped out into the main Hub. He breathed in the unique scent of the place and felt a grin spread over his face. It was ridiculous to think that someone as used to travelling in time and space as he was would think of this battered and chaotic place as home, but it did have that kind of resonance to it. He felt the Doctor come out to stand beside him and look around curiously.

“So this is Torchwood Three,” the Doctor observed. “It looks a little different from what I’d envisaged.”

Jack nodded thoughtfully, having realised the same thing. There was nothing really major and yet things were looking a little different. Little things in themselves, but together they added up to a different picture to the one he had carried inside his head.

“How long did you say I’d been away for, Doc?”

“One year, five months and two weeks, give or take a day or two.”

The voice coming from behind them was unmistakable. So too was the sound of a gun cocking, which wiped the smile off Jack’s face as he turned to see Ianto aiming a gun at them. The expression on the Welshman’s face was at its most unreadable.

“Ianto? What the hell are you doing?” Jack demanded in exasperation.

“You will take off your greatcoat slowly and carefully, Captain. You will then use your thumb and finger to take out your gun and drop it on the floor,” Ianto said calmly.

“And if I don’t, you’ll do what? Shoot me? Like that’s going to do you any good.”

“No, I will shoot the Doctor,” Ianto responded in an even voice. “In the head, to be precise. That will either kill him or trigger another regeneration. Either way it will mean the end of this particular Doctor. The decision is yours, Captain.”

“Well, this is slightly different from the welcome you promised me, Jack,” the Doctor said in bemusement, as he lifted his hands up and tried not to look worried.

“I didn’t expect Ianto to have gone completely off his rocker!” Jack snapped back. He tried to find some hint of amusement or mischief in Ianto’s eyes but there was nothing but a solid wall that gave him no hint as to what the other man was thinking. Needing to buy time, he did as he was ordered; lifting his own hands up in an exaggerated sign of surrender once he was done. “Now what?”

“Doctor, you will take out your sonic screwdriver and your key to the TARDIS and place them on the desk beside you. Please do not try and do anything clever as I would prefer not to have to clean up the resultant mess.”

“Oh, that’s a mental picture I could have done without,” the Doctor said with a wince. He obeyed without further argument.

“Thank you. Captain Harkness, you will now make for the containment cells. Doctor, you will follow after. Captain, please be aware that any attempt to resist arrest will result in the Doctor being shot.”

“I get the picture,” Jack said through gritted teeth.

He’d imagined quite a few different scenarios in connection with his homecoming, but this one hadn’t made it onto the shortlist. As he walked into one of the cells and watched the door closing after him, he wondered if Ianto had been taken over by some kind of alien. Either that or the man had gone insane. The Doctor was ushered into the cell next door to his and the door closed behind him. Only then did Ianto relax and lower the gun. When he turned away with the obvious intention of leaving, Jack was galvanised into speech.

“Hang on; you can’t just leave us here! What the hell is going on? This isn’t exactly how I envisaged my return.”

Ianto paused to look at him and for the first time there was signs of emotion as a weary amusement touched Ianto’s eyes. “What kind of welcome did you envisage, Captain? You left us without a word. After a while we found out that you went willingly. Technically, you deserted your post and therefore abdicated your position as head of Torchwood Three. You are accompanying the alien designated as Torchwood’s number one enemy. You entered the base at a time when no-one would be here, for unknown reasons-“

“I was coming back!”

Ianto gazed at him calmly. “What makes you think we want you back?” he asked, then turned and left while Jack was still recovering from his shock at the words.

OOOO

II.

"You are an enemy of the Dalek nation," the lead Dalek said flatly. "You will be exterminated."

"Your timing could have been a little better, Doc," Jack said in resignation.

The Doctor was managing to look worried and indignant at the same time. "But they're not supposed to be here!" he spluttered as he watched the three Daleks fan out to maximise the spread of their death rays.

Jack stared around them. At the shattered shell of the Millennium Centre, the toppled pillars of Roald Dahl Plass and further out to the ruins of Cardiff. "I don't think they realise that," he said a little bitterly.

"Exterminate!" the lead Dalek shrieked. The other two took up the chant as they powered up their weapons.

There was a low thrumming non-sound that hit somewhere behind the middle ear and Jack winced. Then he jerked back as the lead Dalek's head casing seemed to disintegrate in an odd rippling effect, the metal turning into fine black dust. The other Daleks slid back and away, their dome sensors swinging around in an effort to work out what had happened. The same non-sound came again and they went the same way as the first Dalek.

For a moment, Jack and the Doctor simply stared at the remains of the Daleks, trying to get to grips with the fact that they were still alive. Movement from out of the corner of his eyes caught Jack's attention and he looked across to where a familiar figure had come into view. Ianto was wearing some kind of fatigues instead of the suit Jack remembered, but he was still a sight for sore eyes, even if he was frowning.

"Ianto-"

"You took your bloody time," Ianto said with a growl as he reached them. He switched his attention to the Doctor before a startled Jack could respond. "Did you have to park the TARDIS right over our secret base?" he sighed. "Daleks are going to be all over this place in a few minutes, so we'd better leave."

A bemused Jack allowed himself to be chivvied along, watching as the Doctor started pumping Ianto for information about what had happened. He realised that this was his own fault. He'd kept telling everyone who'd listen that the 21st century was when it all changed, but it hadn't occurred to him that it would do so as soon as he turned his back. He was aware of a faint indignation. He'd always prided himself on his timing, but right now it sucked. A horrible thought struck him and he caught up with Ianto.

"Um, I know this might not be the right time and place, Ianto, but I realise that all kinds of things can happen when a place gets invaded. I was wondering..." Ianto turned a tired but mildly curious look in his direction. "You still have supplies of coffee, right?"

There was a moment of incredulous silence and then Ianto started to laugh. It sounded rusty, like he'd got out of the habit, but it was still genuine. He threw an arm around Jack's shoulders and pulled him close enough to plant a light kiss on Jack's temple.

"God, I've missed you!" he said ruefully. "And yes, we still have some coffee left."

Jack heaved a sigh of relief and clapped his hands together. "Okay, so let's get back to base, brew up some coffee and work out how to kick Dalek butt!"

OOOO

III.

"I'm sorry, sir, but do I know you?"

Jack stared at Ianto in dumbfounded astonishment. When he'd walked into the tourist-office entrance, he had anticipated several different kinds of reaction from Ianto, but this total lack of recognition hadn't been one of them.

"Is this some kind of joke?" he finally asked.

Ianto frowned faintly. "If it is, it's on your part, sir. I pride myself on having a good memory for faces and I am certain I would remember you."

Jack snorted, his uncertainty melding into irritation. "You sure as hell used to know who I was when I was screwing you over the desk!" he snapped.

"W-what?" A look of profound shock crossed Ianto's face and he backed up a couple of steps. "Look, I don't know who you are, but I really think you should leave," he said firmly.

Jack's exasperation was beginning to give way to serious unease. He knew Ianto as well as anyone on the planet could know the enigmatic Welshman, and every sign was telling him that the younger man was telling the truth. Before he could try again, however, the secret door to the inner sanctum of Torchwood opened and Bilis walked in.

"Sir!" Ianto all but vibrated as he came to attention, a look of deep apprehension on his face. "I-"

Bilis raised a languid hand. "That's all right, Jones. I saw what was happening on the monitors and decided to take a hand. Hello, Captain Harkness. Or have you adopted another pseudonym since we last met?"

"You... you know this person, sir?" Ianto asked, looking uncertainly from Bilis to Jack.

"What the hell is going on?" Jack exploded. "Since when were you in charge of Torchwood?" His brain suddenly caught up and he glared at Bilis. "You tampered with the timeline."

Bilis gave him a dry smile and a slow handclap of appreciation. "Very good, Captain, but what I did wasn't nearly so clumsy. I prefer to act with finesse rather than adopt the ham-fisted tactics used by others. Let's just say that I applied a degree of pressure to certain points in time and that resulted in a kind of ripple effect that I was then able to take advantage of. Regrettably I cannot influence the Doctor, so I was unable to arrange for your permanent removal, but now that you've been foolish enough to return, I'm sure I can correct that oversight. Jones!"

"Yes, sir?" Jack gritted his teeth at the nervy edge to Ianto's voice. He'd heard it whenever Ianto had spoken to him right after Lisa and it told him all he needed to know about Ianto's relationship to Bilis.

"Arm yourself. I will need Captain Harkness killed."

Cursing, Jack reached for his own gun, then froze when Ianto lifted his hand from behind the counter and pointed a gun at him. The weapon couldn't harm him permanently, but he wouldn't be able to help himself while he was dead. Alive, he could still look for an opportunity.

"So Torchwood is into cold-blooded murder now?" he asked. He was looking at Bilis but his attention was on Ianto and he felt a small flicker of hope at the unease he could see in the man's eyes.

"Torchwood needs to protect itself, Captain. Jones, please keep the mess down to a minimum, will you?"

"Sir, with all due respect, I could retcon him..." Ianto said almost timidly, then flinched as Bilis swung his head to give him a cool look.

"I make the decisions, Mr Jones, and you implement them. Need I remind you of what happened to Ms Costello?"

Ianto went several shades paler. "No, sir." He still hesitated, though, and Jack decided he had to take advantage of the limited opportunity.

"I don't know what you did to alter the timeline, Bilis, but Torchwood Three is mine. Ianto is mine, and I don't much appreciate someone coming along and ruining his potential the way you obviously have!"

"Was, Captain. Torchwood was yours. It's mine, now, and I will do with it as I see fit. I have to admit that Mr Jones can be a trifle awkward, but he's an efficient creature and there was a certain piquancy in perverting your protégé. Since you saw fit to destroy my master, I had to find something to do with my time and it amused me to take over your little kingdom and recreate it in my image. Having you return and hand yourself over to me on a silver platter is a delightful bonus I hadn't anticipated, but it's one I intend to savour. I wonder how many times you will have to die before I find the method that will make it permanent?"

Jack gave him a cold smile. "You're a lot of things, Bilis. Most of them involve my using words my mother would never approve of. The really nice thing is that you're also a self-satisfied, arrogant son-of-a-bitch who never gives other people credit for being just as clever as you. Like a certain person I know who has gone through more shit in a few years than most people do in a lifetime but who can still put two and two together faster than self-professed geniuses." He turned his head and Bilis automatically followed his line of sight to find that Ianto had the gun aimed firmly at him.

"Tampering with the timeline is most definitely against the regulations," Ianto said coldly as he pulled the trigger and put a bullet in Bilis' head.

Jack pulled in a shaky breath, then jumped and cursed as Bilis' body shimmered and faded away. After a moment, he shrugged. "Ah, well, I suppose it'll make things interesting." He turned to give Ianto a tentative smile. "Thanks."

Ianto was staring at him. "He said... he said he'd tampered with the timeline. That you used to be our leader?"

Jack nodded, then pulled a face. "Yeah. Not that I was that brilliant at it, otherwise I would have seen this little fiasco coming, but I was in charge."

"Oh." Ianto lowered the gun onto the counter and swallowed. "I... don't remember. We have a history?"

Jack came to stand beside him, his insides twisting as he remembered everything that had passed between him and this man. He reached out without thinking and laid his palm against the side of Ianto's face. "Oh, yes, we had a history. Full of wars and truces and all kinds of fun things inbetween."

Ianto stared at him wide-eyed for a long moment, then half-closed his eyes and leaned into Jack's hand. A small smile very gradually blossomed and he opened his eyes again to give Jack a curious look. "They do say that history has a habit of repeating itself," he said. Jack started to grin. "Hello and welcome back, Captain."

OOOO

IV

"He warned us," Tosh said, her voice seeming to come from an immense distance away. "He told us that he had seen something like it in the Archive records and that it was dangerous." She paused and sighed. "We laughed at him. Owen told him to go and make coffee and not try and play with the field agents. Then Gwen activated the device and all Hell broke loose."

She stopped and Jack simply stood there, waiting. After a while, she continued. "I don't know how he got Gwen to safety, but he managed to distract the device for long enough for her to reach the door. He told us to activate the quarantine before the nanites got out." Her voice started to shake. "We did, but it was t-too late f-for him."

The tears began but Jack's eyes were dry. This was too deep for tears. This was too deep for grief. There was only an emptiness where his heart had been as he looked down into the morgue drawer. Ianto looked like he was asleep, but his skin was as cold as marble and just as pale.

"I should have been here," Jack whispered, reaching out to touch the dark hair, unbelievably black against the white skin. "If I'd been here, I would have stopped you and you would have listened. But you never listened to him, even when he was telling you the obvious. I never listened to him, even when he was telling me the truth I was too blind to see."

He bent down to place a kiss against Ianto's lips. Too late for miracles now, he thought sadly. Too late for happy ever afters.

"What are you going to do now?" Tosh asked nervously.

Jack took one last look at Ianto and closed the morgue drawer gently. Then he turned to look at Tosh and wondered vaguely why she recoiled away, a look of grief shattering her tired face. He wondered why he felt so tired.

"Jack?"

He shrugged. "Defend the planet, keep you all safe, try and figure out how to die. The 21st century's where it all changes."

The 21st century is where my heart finally broke for good.

OOOO

V.

He'd deliberately asked the Doctor to drop him off at the Hub at some ungodly hour of the early morning. He wanted to be there when the others arrived, dealing with them one at a time rather than en masse. He held his breath when he punched in his security codes, wondering if he was still on the database or if he'd have to fall back on the sonic screwdriver that the Doctor had given him as a going-away present. To his relief, the door opened silently and he walked back into the Hub, feeling ridiculously as if he was coming home.

Small details were different but the general look of the place was the same. He'd been away for three months by linear time, a full year by his reckoning, and he wondered if the team had given up on him. He would have preferred to return closer to the date he left, but the Doctor didn't like risking the timeline without a much better reason than Jack not wanting to get yelled at, so he'd settled for three months. That was still more than enough time for his team to get into all kinds of trouble.

His office looked exactly the same as it had when he'd left, albeit a lot neater. Curious, he looked at the files on the desk and blinked when he saw that he had apparently been authorising expense accounts that afternoon and was also in the middle of some correspondence with Downing Street over MI5's appropriation of an alien device. He grinned. It looked as though Ianto had lost none of his skills at forging his signature and writing style.

Still chuckling over a particularly scathing comment that had been in the last email sent to the PM, Jack made his way down to his quarters, then paused and caught his breath at the sight of Ianto asleep in his bed. An unlooked-for bonus, but one that he was unutterably glad to receive. It took him moments to undress and then he slid in carefully behind the young Welshman, putting his arms around him and breathing in his scent.

"You're back, then," Ianto said sleepily, startling him.

"Yes."

Ianto stretched and then turned around in the bed so he was nose to nose with Jack. "Tosh will be pleased. She bet it would be around the three month mark."

Jack laughed as he started to explore the well-remembered and treasured body. His team. Always with the betting pool, on any and every subject. "What did you choose?"

Ianto gave him a level look. "I chose never."

Jack stilled in his gentle caresses. "You bet that I'd never come back?" Ianto nodded. "Didn't you trust me?" Jack asked, feeling a little hurt.

"I trusted you. I will always trust you. I didn't trust myself."

Jack frowned. "I don't understand," he finally confessed.

Ianto sighed. "It's sometimes better to put a particular dream out of your mind and concentrate on just living." He gave Jack a crooked smile. "Hope can hurt, Captain, especially when it starts to die. The lower your expectations, the better the chances that you'll strike lucky."

Jack smiled at him and leaned forward to kiss him gently. "And are you feeling lucky at this precise moment, Mr Jones?"

Ianto's face suddenly relaxed into one of those enchanting smiles that always made Jack's heart feel that little bit lighter. He leaned forward to kiss Jack back. "Right now, Captain, I think the correct technical term is 'jackpot'!"

OOOO

VI.

Jack made for the Hub at top speed. If the Doctor had got his calculations right, Jack had less than a day to get his team up to speed over the danger that was coming. He couldn't afford to waste time. The tourist office was empty and Jack wasted no time in triggering the secret entrance and making for the Hub. A quick look around when he got there and he realised that the others were in the conference room. As he bounded up the stairs, he could smell Chinese and realised belatedly that he was hungry. Oh well, maybe he could cadge a spring roll or two off one of them.

He burst in and found them in the middle of a heated discussion over.... which animal they would be if they were hit by a transmorgifier? What the hell was a transmorgifier, Jack wondered even as he grinned over the utter lunatic normality of such a lunchtime conversation. They sat and stared at him for all of thirty seconds before pandemonium broke out and they swamped him with hugs and questions. Caught up in the emotional roller-coaster, it took Jack a couple of seconds to realise that Ianto had vanished, but before he could worry, the man was back again with two foil containers and a fresh pot of what Jack's nose told him was coffee.

The containers proved to have his favourite Chinese meal option and he stared at Ianto in astonishment, even as he took his first swallow of what he realised was his particular brand of coffee. "Okay, this proves it: you're psychic," he said in disbelief.

Ianto simply grinned happily but Owen snorted. "Don't you believe it. He's been ordering a meal for you every time he gets something for us, not to mention pastries and coffee day in, day out. It's costing us a fortune!"

Ianto blushed and dropped his eyes. "Myfanwy gets the left-overs," he pointed out quietly, "and don't think I haven't noticed the rest of you fighting over the spare pastries."

Jack laughed and reached out to pat Ianto on a convenient hand. "Nice to know that one of you was still looking out for me! Now, I need to bring you all up to speed about what's going to happen soon-"

The briefing was soon over and the others scattered to start work. Ianto stayed behind to clean up the mess and Jack took the opportunity to pull him into an embrace that was tentatively returned. The uncertainty soon vanished when Jack kissed him and it was a while before Jack could get his spinning mind to focus again.

"Yep, definitely missed you," he said hoarsely. He'd spoken without thinking but realised he'd said the right thing when he saw the gleam of pleasure in Ianto's eyes. "Stay behind tonight?" he asked quietly.

Ianto chuckled. "Do we have time before ground zero happens?"

Jack pulled a face. "Probably not, but that never stopped me before."

"Better go and find my stopwatch, then," Ianto said lightly. "Always useful when time is of the essence."

He stepped away and went back to disposing of the lunch things. Jack watched him in genuine pleasure for a moment, then took a deep breath and turned his attention to other, less pleasurable but equally urgent matters. There was trouble in the air, and Captain Jack Harkness was back in town.

OOOO
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