Tim isn't nervous.
Anita knows what she's doing. Cassie has given him the go-ahead. He's settled everything that needs to be (can be) settled, and left messages in the right places for the right people. All he has to do now is stand still and let Anita work.
He's not nervous.
Cassie, standing just behind Anita, doesn't look nearly as composed. "Are you sure - " she says, and stops, nearly putting one hand over her mouth before diverting it to push back her hair (again). "Are you sure you've got everything you need?"
He's certainly sure that wasn't the question she really wanted to ask, but he's grateful she went with the option she did. "I think so." He knows so.
She nods, jerkily. "I've got your list. I know who to contact in case - when something happens."
From her position cross-legged on the floor, Anita shoots Cassie a sympathetic look. "Are you sure you don't want to go? I can send both of you, it would only be a minor adjustment."
For a moment, Cassie looks tempted. Tim holds his breath. It might be easier with Cassie there, and she would be a big help if there's trouble, but he wants - he needs -
"No," Cassie says, decisively. "It's better to have me here. I trust Tim."
"Okay," Anita says. "Then we're ready to go."
Cassie gives him a tiny, painful smile. "Good luck."
Tim nods. It's now or never - depending on what happens when he lands, this may be the last time he ever gets to talk to her. "Cassie - I'm sorry I left. Before. And... for this. I'll get him back to you."
Her smile trembles noticeably. "Shut up. I understand, okay?" An expression flickers across her face, too fast for Tim to analyze, and she leans forward and presses a fast kiss to his forehead. "I'm sorry I didn't understand before. I do now."
Tim frowns. "I don't - "
"I understand, Tim," she says retreating back behind Anita. Anita looks... Tim's not sure what that expression is, either. He feels a surge of doubt - there are undercurrents here he can't translate and didn't anticipate. Maybe this is going too fast -
"Find Superboy, Robin," Anita says, and everything goes dark.
A CONFLUENCE OF PERSONALITIES (a. k. a. The Crossover)
Jack comes back to life gasping. He does his usual postmortem survey – teammates: clustered loyally around him; escaped Weevil: dead; personal physical integrity: fantastic as usual.
He sits up. His head feels a little weird.
Before he really has time to ponder this last detail, a voice that isn’t his own says through his mouth, “What the hell?!?”
* * * * * * * * * *
“This is very weird,” Ianto says, unhelpfully.
“You think?” Jack says irritably, just before the new voice in him says, with a tinge of hysteria, “Try it from this side!”
Tosh and Owen are both hovering over him with various alien and human scanners, muttering to themselves. Gwen crouches down and gives Jack her we’re-all-friends-here smile. It's unexpectedly disconcerting to be on the receiving end of it.
“Hello in there,” she says. “Can you tell us who you are?”
“I’m Superboy,” the voice says, sounding sheepish. Jack suppresses a shudder. It's been a very long time since he sounded that young and he hasn't missed it even a tiny bit.
“Superboy,” Gwen repeats, her smile becoming a little fixed. Behind her Ianto says, in that over-serious way he has when he’s secretly laughing his ass off at all of them, “Are we sure this isn’t just Jack?”
“Excuse me?” Jack says indignantly. “I would at least be Super Man!”
“Yeah, right!” ‘Superboy’ says, clearly offended.
“Well, there are definitely two energy signatures inside him,” Tosh says, before Jack can get into an argument with himself. “One matches Jack’s file, but the other one is something new.”
“Same with my scans,” Owen says. He taps a few keys on the computer and brings up a colorful picture of Jack’s brain. “The scanner is registering the same amount of activity in the same pattern it always does in Jack’s brain, but now it’s like there’s a second pattern superimposed on top.” He hits a few more buttons and the picture shifts slightly. He shrugs. “The good news is that it doesn’t seem to be doing any damage.”
“Except to my sanity,” Jack mutters, and glares at Ianto until he swallows the comment he is clearly dying to make. It is nice to know that he isn't just cracking up - after the year-that-wasn't and the Master's increasingly creative approaches to fatal torture a psychotic break isn't strictly outside the realm of possibility.
“Yes, there’s damage!” Superboy says. “I have no body!"
“Try to stay calm,” Tosh says soothingly. “We’ll figure it out.”
Superboy gives an exasperated sigh. “Look, just let me call Robin. Robin can totally figure this out.”
Jack frowns. “Who’s Robin?” Please don't also be in my head, he thinks. One new personality who can move Jack's mouth without his permission is quite creepy enough, thanks ever so.
“My friend. He can do anything, he’ll know what to do. I’ve got his number…oh. In my cell phone.”
There is a pause while nobody says right, the one that’s still somewhere with your body?
“The JLA, then,” Superboy says, recovering quickly. “Or the JSA. STAR Labs. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, freaking Ambush Bug, anybody!”
Team Torchwood trades dubious looks.
“And do you know how to get in contact with any of these colourfully-named people?” Owen asks, oh-so-politely.
Superboy makes a little panicked noise. “You’ve never heard of Superman?” he says, his voice heavy with dread. “Oh, shit. Ohshitohshit. This is Earth, right?”
“Yes, why?” Tosh says tentatively, when it becomes clear he isn’t going to explain.
“I think I jumped dimensions.”
Things do not progress well from there.
Since they don’t know how Superboy ended up in Jack’s head, and since Superboy can’t remember what happened to cause the transference or where he was before besides ‘somewhere way less lame which might have been Kansas and that should really worry you’, they don’t really have a clear direction to go in to figure out how to remove him. They establish, at least, that Superboy can't read Jack's mind (or vice versa) unless he's thinking 'loudly' on purpose, which is a relief but doesn't make anyone much more comfortable with the situation.
Jack can also already tell that a) Gwen is bonding with the boy and is going to be difficult if they find a way to remove Superboy from Jack’s head but kill him in the process, and b) Ianto is going to refuse to have sex with him until the intruder is gone. And, okay, it's not like they've been having sex since Jack got back from his interlude with the Doctor anyway, but the point is that now it's not even an option.
It’s not a good day.
It gets worse when Owen suggests, a bit too cheerfully for Jack’s comfort, that maybe if Jack dies again it will all magically fix itself. Superboy is not too fond of the suggestion either, although the rest of the team looks like they’re considering it. They've acclimated to the our-boss-can't-be-permanently-killed thing kind of worryingly fast. Admittedly, that acceptance was probably helped along by Jack abandoning them without explanation, but still - it's the principle of the thing.
Jack decides that he isn’t having sex with Ianto even if Ianto does get over his voyeurism hang-up. Which is sad, really, because voyeurism can be a whole lot of fun if it’s done right. There was this one time, on Atakiq VI, when Jack and an Atakiqusian tentacle beast -
“Ew,” Superboy says.
“Wait, what?” Jack says. “I’ve got a new personality in my head and it’s a prude?”
“I am not!” Superboy insists.
“Oh yeah, wanna bet?” Jack says, and thinks very hard about what he and Ianto did that one time in the SUV after Weevil hunting.
Superboy makes a gratifyingly scandalized noise. “Oh my God, how did he even fit that in you?"
Everybody looks at Ianto.
"It was before he left!" Ianto protests, blushing furiously.
* * * * * * * * * *
Jack spends the next three hours in one of the containment cells, swapping increasingly improbable stories with Superboy (definitely not a prude, and possibly nursing a crush or at least some serious hero-worship when it comes to the mysteriously capable Robin) and teaching him intergalactic drinking songs before the rest of the team snaps and allows them upstairs on the promise that they’ll stop singing. Jack’s kind of sad about that. The acoustics in the cells are actually pretty decent, and it was fun being able to harmonize with himself.
But it turns out to have been a good thing, because they’ve only been sitting meekly on the couch being glared at by Ianto for about ten minutes when every Rift alarm the Hub’s got goes off all at once. Before anyone can do more than scramble for the monitors, there’s a sort of spark in the air. Everything goes all wiggly for an instant, and Jack feels every time-sense he’s got screaming, and then it all snaps back into place and a teenager in tiny red tights and a cape drops neatly to the floor next to the sub-aetheric resonator.
Team Torchwood pulls their guns, the ridiculously dressed teenager slides into an unmistakable fighting stance, and then Superboy says “Robin! Man, you have no idea how glad I am to see you!”
It’s hard to gauge Robin’s expression behind his creepy little blank-eyed mask, but Jack swears he does a double-take.
“Superboy?” He says cautiously, not relaxing an inch. “Are you… all right?”
“I’m not sure where my body is,” Superboy says cheerfully. “But Jack’s okay. This is Jack, by the way.”
"Hello," Jack says.
"Nice to meet you," Robin says, only a little faintly.
“Wait, this is Robin?” Gwen asks incredulously, as Tosh demands “How did you do that?”
“Okay!” Jack claps his hands together and puts on his best dealing-in-the-face-of-insanity smile. “Everybody gather round, let’s get the boring exposition out of the way.”
Tosh, Owen, and Ianto glance pointedly at Gwen, and then obediently shuffle over and gather loosely around when she nods. Jack winces internally - he's still having to make an effort to remember the new power dynamics in place. Accustomed authority is surprisingly hard to switch off, as it turns out, and he's pretty sure the team's interpreting it as lack of trust in Gwen's leadership. Which it isn't. Mostly.
After a pause, Robin edges reluctantly closer, watching them all warily.
“So!” Gwen says when they’re more-or-less assembled. “Robin, according to Superboy here you can do anything. Can you tell us what’s going on?” She looks a little unnerved, like she can't quite decide whether to treat Robin as a potentially dangerous subject or a teenager. Jack can relate - if he hadn't spent four years in the trenches of World War I fighting next to fresh-faced farmboys he'd probably be unsettled too.
It's possible he's gotten a little jaded in the past hundred years.
Robin cocks his head to one side, just slightly, which apparently speaks volumes to Superboy, who mutters “Sorry, man, but it’s totally true.”
Jack thinks Robin looks obscurely pleased, but it’s hard to tell because the kid’s got the best poker face Jack’s ever seen, and he’s including things without faces in that lineup.
“May I ask, first, how long Superboy has been here?”
Tosh glances at her computer. “About four hours. How did you get in here? I’ve never seen anything like it. I’m not even sure my instruments registered it.”
Robin makes a noise low in his throat, and seems to come to a decision. “Superboy and I have a… mutual acquaintance,” he says slowly. “She helped me to track him here. It was with her help and the help of a few others that I was able to cross dimensions and arrive here. It is not,” he adds warningly, “Something that can be done more than once. You are under no threat of invasion, similarly you will not be able to cross back into our dimension.”
It’s informative without giving anything away, and just threatening enough to sound like more trouble than it’s worth. Jack is impressed. And, he has to admit, if Robin was a little older he’d also be pretty turned on. Those tights hide nothing and the underwear the boy’s wearing outside of them isn't exactly subtle.
Fortunately, Superboy is too caught up in the discussion to pay attention to Jack’s surface thoughts. Either that, of course, or he agrees and doesn’t want to get into it.
“Really?” Tosh looks fascinated. “Can you explain how it works? Just on a technical level, of course,” she adds hastily.
“It’s magic,” Superboy says helpfully. “You’re talking about Raven, right? Raven’s awesome,” he informs the rest of them. “She creeps me out in, like, a major way, but she’s awesome.”
“Magic?” Tosh says, her smile slipping a little.
Robin looks pained (or stoic, it’s hard to tell). “Yes,” he says reluctantly, then adds to Superboy, "And actually it was Empress."
"Oooh, Anita," Superboy says dreamily, and Jack gets a sudden impression of very nice breasts.
“I’m sorry,” Gwen bursts in, “But how old are you? Do your parents know you’re hopping dimensions?”
Robin twitches, just slightly. “Leave him alone,” Superboy says fiercely. “He came after me and I didn’t come here on purpose so if it’s anyone’s fault it’s mine. I didn’t come here on purpose, did I?” he asks Robin in an undertone.
“No,” Robin reassures him.
“Okay, great,” Owen says, looking bored. “We’ve done the exposition. What the hell now? I don’t know about the rest of you, but I don’t really want to spend the rest of the day babysitting teenaged body-snatchers.”
“Hey!” Superboy says. "For the last time, it was an accident!" Robin merely looks resigned.
"And we haven't done all the exposition, Owen," Jack says pointedly. "Robin, do you know how Superboy ended up here?"
"I have... hypotheses," Robin says. "I'm not sure how he ended up in your body, if that's what you're asking."
"Is Superboy dead?" Ianto asks, and oh, that hadn't even occured to Jack before, but it does make a nasty kind of sense.
"I'm not dead, I'm right here," Superboy says indignantly.
Robin's chin comes up just a little. "Yes. For about a year now, our time."
There's a moment of absolute silence.
"Oh," Superboy says finally, and goes very, very quiet in Jack's head.
"I ask because Jack had just... been revived when we discovered Superboy's presence. It's possible that that's when the... mixup occurred," Ianto says, looking apologetic.
"Hmm," Robin says. He gives Jack a (sadly) clinical once-over. "Immortal?"
"Just hard to kill," Jack says, and thinks "Superboy?", but there's no response.
Robin makes that little humming noise again. "That could definitely be how the crossover occurred." He gives Jack another inscrutable look. "I'm afraid I have no immediate solutions to the body-sharing problem, however."
"There might be something in the archives that could help," Gwen offers. Tosh and Ianto trade sceptical looks.
"We can definitely take a look," Tosh says, in what she probably genuinely thinks is an encouraging tone of voice. She touches Ianto lightly on the elbow and starts to back away towards the archives. Gwen takes the hint and collars Owen, leaving Jack, Superboy, and Robin standing alone. Jack can't quite decide whether to be proud that his team is practicing sensitivity and human feelings or annoyed that they've left him alone with a potential threat in the middle of the Hub.
"Is Superboy..." Robin asks tentatively, not quite able to look at Jack's face.
"I don't think he really wants to talk right now."
"Of course." Robin nods decisively, crossing his arms under his cape in a way that's probably supposed to be more tough-and-casual than I-want-a-hug. "Do you object to an extra pair of eyes when it comes to your archive? I have some experience with technology."
"He's good at that stuff," Superboy's voice says, quietly and just in Jack's head, when Jack hesitates.
"Sure, go play," Jack says, studiously ignoring about sixty pages of Torchwood regulations and a decent chunk of his own common sense, and then he's left alone with Superboy.
* * * * * * * * * *
It could be worse.
It's not what Tim hoped he would find, granted, but it could be worse. He knows this because he took the time to carefully think of every terrible thing he might find when he came through after Conner. 'Noncorporeal' was on the list, but at least it's not currently presenting in combination with 'enslaved', 'brainwashed', or 'evil'. And it's completely understandable that Conner doesn't want to talk to him right now. If he really doesn't remember dying, he probably has no idea how much time has passed - how long Tim must have been looking for him. Finding out he's technically dead was of course a huge shock, and Tim does regret that he wasn't able to ease Conner into it a bit more. Wanting time to himself is... normal. Even for Conner.
For a brief, pointlessly indulgent moment, Tim allows himself to imagine the best-case scenario: Conner alive and well, grinning down at him with that lopsided smile and those blue eyes crinkling just a little around the edges. Tim, man, it's about time! Maybe he would slap Tim on the shoulder, maybe mess up Tim's hair because he knows how annoying it is and that's always been a good reason for Conner to decide to do anything...
Tim cuts that train of thought ruthlessly short. It's... counterproductive to imagine what didn't (won't) happen. It doesn't help the current situation and serves as a potentially dangerous distraction. The people Conner has inadvertently fallen in with aren't overtly hostile (yet), which Tim can work with, and it's possible they may even have technology or expertise that can help, which is frankly more than Tim was expecting.
He can do this. Even if Conner doesn't want to talk to him right now - which is understandable - and even if he kind of suspects he might be having a mild allergic reaction to one of the amulets Anita gave him. With time Conner will come around (he hopes) and until then wearing the amulets is better than not having them at all (he knows).
Tim forces himself to focus and follows the sound of voices down a hallway past what looks like a board room, incongruously wood-panelled in a cement and tile complex, and through a deceptively fragile-looking glass door that opens with a pneumatic hiss. The voices stop abruptly and the man in the three-piece suit sticks his head out from behind a row of glass-fronted wooden shelves.
"Hello," he says, frowning. The Asian woman appears behind him and raises one hand to her ear, murmuring softly. Tim makes a mental note of it - it's probable that everyone else is wearing comms as well - and turns his attention back to the man.
"Hi," he says. "Sorry to disturb you - Jack thought I might be able to help." It's close enough to what happened, anyway, and hopefully more reassuring than 'I wandered down here to spy, by the way your security sucks.' He's seen Di- he's seen conversations started that way and it's really only appropriate if you're trying to provoke a fight.
"You have experience with alien technology?" The man's voice is friendly but he's carefully standing between Tim and the Asian woman. Tim's estimation of their professionalism raises fractionally.
He puts on one of his 'sheepish teenager' smiles. "Well, not from this dimension, but yeah."
The door behind Tim swishes open. He carefully does not react - the man in the suit and the Asian woman don't look alarmed, and there's no reason at this point to come off as jumpy or suspicious.
"What, they teach that to the Boy Scouts in your dimension?" The man someone upstairs referred to as 'Owen' says, pushing brusquely past Tim and into the Archives.
"After-school vocational program," Tim deadpans. The man in the suit looks moderately amused by this. The Asian woman blinks and says "Really?" and then looks embarrassed.
"No, Tosh," Owen says, rolling his eyes and throwing himself down in a wooden folding chair that looks structurally unsound. It creaks ominously but holds. "Can you guys get going with this? I hate the basement."
Tosh and the man in the suit trade excessively patient looks. "Robin," Tosh says, "You understand Superboy's situation better than any of us do. Would you be willing to do some brainstorming? If you can make a theoretical framework for us to start with it will help us figure out what components we should be looking for and in the meantime we can start by searching for mentions of anything similar happening before."
Tim nods. It's a clever solution - he'll be doing something helpful, but he'll be prevented from direct access to their records. It's annoying but not unreasonable, and it will give them time to feel him out a little before the hard work gets underway and he either has to take matters into his own hands or they all wind up elbows-deep in alien tech. It will also give him time to try and find out about this new world he’s landed in.
"Sure. You want it old-school or high-tech?"
She gives him an unexpectedly sweet smile. "Let's go old-school to start and we can see how it goes."
* * * * * * * * * *
Jack's only in his office for about a minute when Gwen comes in, out of breath and scowling.
She pauses in the doorway, eyeing him warily. "You just let a total stranger into the archives."
Jack blinks. "I think he can help us, and anyway, you left me alone with him in the middle of the Hub."
"You let a total stranger into the archives alone with Tosh and Ianto!"
That stops him. The look on his face must be fairly stricken, because Gwen softens a little.
"For what it's worth, I don't think they mean us any harm either, and they have just as much reason to want to figure this out as we do. But I've sent Owen down as a chaperone and I think we should lock you out of the Mainframe, just in case." She gives him one of her patented sympathetic looks. "Look, Superboy clearly trusts Robin. Maybe you're just picking up on some of his emotions. I doubt there's anything really wrong, Jack."
Jack nods, reluctantly, and then frowns as he notices the way Gwen's jacket doesn't quite fit right. "But you're still going to sit in here, armed to the teeth, and keep an eye on me."
She grins and trades him a deck of cards for his wriststrap.
"Have you ever heard of jumping dimensions?" She asks, a few minutes later.
"I've never done it myself," Jack says, reordering his cards, "But I knew someone who has. From what I understand it's not easy to do and it tends to cause a lot of problems."
Gwen looks up sharply, incidentally giving Jack an excellent view of her hand. He reorders his cards again. "What kinds of problems? Do you think Robin knew what he was doing?"
Jack snorts. "I've barely even met Robin, and I'm already pretty sure that he rarely does anything without planning it out first." He plays a ten of spades to give himself time to think. "There were... extenuating circumstances when my friend did it. It was accidental and there was alien technology involved." He grimaces, remembering. Thinking about Rose still hurts - it probably always will. "Of course, when Torchwood One tried it, they let in Daleks and Cybermen and nearly destroyed the universe. More extenuating circumstances, but two out of two known instances ending in disaster isn't great odds." He shrugs. "Tosh monitors this stuff, so I'm not going to worry until she picks something up. It's possible that Robin and Superboy's friend was able to bypass a lot of the pitfalls by doing it magically."
Gwen looks sceptical. "You believe in magic, Jack?"
"I believe that we can't predict what rules govern another dimension. Here 'magic' is trickery and illusion, but there it might be just as common as science."
Gwen is quiet for a few hands, thinking this over.
"They're very young, Jack," She says finally. "I mean, technically we don't know what age Superboy is, but Robin doesn't look much more than sixteen and Superboy doesn't sound any older, the way he talks. What are they doing jumping dimensions and getting killed?"
"I don't know. I don't think Robin will tell us without a good reason, either."
"He's been pretty quiet. I think he's thinking."
"Jack..." Gwen trails off and bites her lip.
"Do you think... maybe we shouldn't let them go back? I mean, surely it must be safer here. Did you see the way Robin reacted to us? I'm pretty certain that suit is armoured, too."
Jack rubs his forehead, suddenly tired. "I don't know, Gwen. We don't know anything about their universe and I think if they found the means to get here they'll find a way back, too, no matter what we do." He'd found his way into an intergalactic war when he was their age, after all.
Before Gwen can respond, he reaches up and toggles his earpiece. "Tosh, status report?"
Tosh's voice crackles in his ear. "Still on recon. Ianto's checking the archives to see what we've got buried, so right now we're looking over what we've got out already and trying to think outside the box." There's a rustling noise, and then Tosh's voice comes back, much quieter. Jack guesses she's moved far enough away from Robin to avoid being overheard. "Robin is being helpful, Jack. He's had some good ideas and he has just as much reason as we do to make this work. It's just going to take a while - there's no entry in the Codex for 'accidental transdimensional body-sharing reversal machine'. And... we do only have one body."
Jack grimaces. That is absolutely going to become a problem. "I understand, Tosh. Keep me updated."
* * * * * * * * * *
Tim watches Tosh surreptitiously out of the corner of his eye as she murmurs into her earpiece. Her body language is relaxed and casual, so he turns his attention back to his work. Ianto is off in the stacks somewhere, and Owen is rocking back and forth on the back legs of his wobbly wooden chair muttering “Bored, bored bored,” under his breath in between attempts to goad the rest of them into working faster.
He starts on a list of conjectures about brainwave manipulation and allows a part of his mind to speculate on his research partners. Their interactions remind him strongly of the Outsiders - sarcastic, gruff, but caring underneath the facade. It’s reassuring, a little bit, even if it does bring back that familiar pang of loneliness when he thinks about -
Well. That’s neither here nor there. Everyone at home has their own projects to work on, their own lives to lead. Tim’s life is here, and now, and he won’t get any closer to freeing Conner and getting him back to Cassie if he allows his mind to wander.
“Any luck?” Ianto asks, padding closer. Tim is amused to note that he’s carrying a silver tea tray with a motley assortment of mugs on it. He sets it down on the edge of the table.
Tim raises his eyebrows, and Ianto smiles a little sheepishly.
“We’re British. We’ve got tea stations pretty much everywhere down here. Or coffee, if you’d prefer.”
“Ianto makes amazing coffee,” Tosh calls from a behind a large bin of wiring and what looks suspiciously like a Lite-Brite. “You should really try some.”
Ianto chooses a light blue mug, pointedly takes a small sip from it, and hands it over to Tim. Tim smiles, almost against his will, and accepts it.
“You don’t want to wait and see if I keel over?” Ianto asks lightly.
“Wouldn’t benefit you much to poison me at this point,” Tim points out, shrugging. “Besides, if your coffee’s as good as Tosh says, it would be criminal to pollute it.”
Ianto smiles back. “Oh, it’s definitely that good,” he says smugly. “God of Coffee, me.”
“Oi!” Owen calls. “Stop hitting on the new kid and caffeinate the rest of us!”
“Owen’s mug I will not pre-taste,” Ianto confides, gliding off with his tray.
“What’s that mean?” Owen asks suspiciously.
Tim smiles and sips his coffee. It really is incredible. A world with coffee this good can’t be that bad, right?
He sighs, and forces himself to focus. Speculation will not get him anywhere, and wishful thinking will only serve as a distraction. Now it’s time to concentrate, and plan, and watch.
* * * * * * * * * *
Jack spends the rest of the day in his office with Gwen, playing cards until he apparently becomes too annoying and she agrees to let him watch the security feed from the archives. From what he can tell Robin is actually being helpful and nonthreatening and the occasional reports from Tosh and Ianto indicate cautiously optimistic progress, although nothing tangible yet. Jack winds up spending most of his time convincing himself that Superboy's continued silence and Robin's slightly workaholic tendencies are in fact more helpful than damaging and that everything will work out somehow.
If he spends just as much time watching Ianto move through the background, graceful and sure as he handles ancient relics and deadly technology with strong, gentle hands...
Well. No one can tell.
At eight, he pulls what's left of his rank and makes everyone gather for dinner. This means, of course, that the research team just relocates their work temporarily and Ianto spends half an hour fretting that someone will get tomato sauce on his precious archival records. Jack is pleased to still find this utterly adorable.
" - But if we found a way to modulate the transmission through a secondary system we could bypass the energy conversion problem completely - "
"Keep that index away from the food!"
"Everything we've got will just overload and fry! This is a huge amount of information and we still haven't solved - "
"Mind the salad dressing!"
" - the body-sharing problem, I know, but if you have something with enough storage we might be able to get Superboy out of Jack's body, which will at least buy us some time - "
"Guys, remember to stop and breathe every once in a while, okay?" Jack says, feeling almost unbearably paternal. They pause just long enough to each obediently take a bite of their respective dinners, and then they're off again.
"There's the Mainframe, but we can't put Superboy there - the security breach alone - "
"Okay, fine, we put Jack in and keep Superboy in the body - "
"Hey! I want Jack in his body, thank you very much!"
"They've been like this all day," Owen moans.
"I think it's sweet," Gwen says fondly.
Jack just sits back and enjoys the spectacle. These are the times he loves best with his team - no one is actively trying to kill them, no one is navigating a treacherous moral quagmire (yet), Ianto's taken off his coat and rolled up his sleeves and more skin on Ianto is always a good look... it's just incredible people being absolutely amazing. It strikes him that the Doctor must feel this way all the time, and he feels a sudden rush of affection.
Naturally, that's when the Rift alarm goes off.
Robin goes on alert immediately, scanning the perimeter of the Hub. Tosh, considerably more well-informed, makes for the computers, and Ianto sighs and begins the hasty about-to-have-a-crisis-for-an-undetermined-period-of-time version of clearing up dinner.
"What's up, Tosh?" Jack asks, making after her with Gwen hard on his heels.
"Rift spike," Tosh says absently, flicking through readouts faster than Jack can follow. "Looks like something came through... it's small and inorganic, but it's in the city center. We'll have to go check it out." She gives Jack an apologetic look.
"Right," Jack sighs. "Down to the containment cells with me. Us." It's possible that sending Tosh, Owen, Gwen, and Ianto out after something inorganic is overkill, but he feels better for knowing that even if they don't have their indestructible Captain they'll at least probably have superior numbers.
He turns to Robin. "Robin, I apologize, but I have to ask if you'll agree to come down to the containment cells with me - us - until everyone's back from checking this out."
Robin's stance doesn't relax an inch.
"We could share a cell, if it'll make you feel better," Jack offers, and finally Robin gives him a curt nod.
* * * * * * * * * *
Tim shifts impatiently against the cell door. They're making adequate progress in the Archives. It's going slowly, too slowly for his taste, but he estimates that their chances of success are still acceptable as long as they can continue to work quickly. Tosh and Ianto are good at what they do, smart and determined and they think at things sideways, which Tim likes. He doesn't doubt that they also want to separate Conner and Jack, and he's moderately certain that they are going to place a priority on plans that leave both Jack and Conner unharmed. That's a relief, although he won't let his guard down until everything's over.
He hasn't been able to figure out what this place is beyond the word ‘Torchwood’, which is written on the tile wall and effectively tells him nothing, or what everyone's doing here. The facility has clearly been around for a while, judging by the age of the structure and some of the documentation he's caught sight of in the Archives, but a good deal of the tech is new. Everyone carries themselves with the odd combination of alertness and stillness that comes of being used to sudden action, and they have the dry, dark humour of those routinely in unthinkable situations, which suggests that archival work doesn't make up the majority of their activities. They are also certainly experienced with alien technology, but he can't be sure yet what their reactions to Conner's alien origins will be if it becomes necessary to share that information.
He doesn't know what a 'rift spike' is, or why things come through it in unpredictable places. That will require some attention.
He rubs absently at his neck, where one or both of the amulets is still making his skin itch. He feels... unsettled. He doesn't like dropping his research partway through, although God knows that between Gotham's insanity and being on teams with Impulse - Kid Flash - he's had to get used to it. He doesn't like being locked up, either, although there are certainly ways around that, too.
Mostly it's just... hard to be around Jack.
Superboy hasn't said anything, and Jack seems more amused by the situation than upset, which considering he has an unexpected teenager lodged in his brain is fairly impressive. He also seems content to sit on the cement bench in the holding cell and not talk much, which Tim appreciates.
It would be easier if he had something to do - research, or a patrol to run, or even if he just had a sparring partner. This restlessness is unsettling, too, because Tim has always been able to go still and wait if the situation calls for it.
He allows himself to pace. It's a more obvious sign of distress than he wants to show, but if he doesn't do something active he's going to do something else, like try to talk to Conner. If he can't figure out how to free his friend the least he can do is give him space.
"Robin, Superboy wants to know how he died."
So much for understanding silence. Tim freezes instinctively, and curses himself for it. He darts a look back at Jack, concealed by the lenses in his mask. Jack's expression is... odd, like he's got something in his mouth that he wants to spit out but won't.
It isn't like Conner to let someone else do the talking for him.
Oh. Of course. Jack's being devious.
Tim takes a deep breath. If Conner wants silence, then that is what he should provide, but... it's hard. Harder than he'd anticipated. The last endless year of searching, hoping, spending late nights fighting with technology that just won't work, struggling silently towards an end no one else believed even existed, clinging to the hope that one day Conner would look down at him with that smile, and he's just... he's so tired. He's tired of constantly turning towards the Conner-shaped hole in his life and finding nothing there, of searching, of forcing himself to hope each time that this try will work.
And of course he owes it to Cassie, too. She’s suffered just as much as he has, this last year, and she deserves her happy ending with Conner. He likes the idea of the two of them getting to be together.
Cassie wouldn't give Conner silence. She would force him into action.
"He saved the world." Tim tries to smile, because it was such a Superman thing to do after all that time Conner spent being terrified he was turning into Luther, but it doesn't quite come. "It was... heroic. Superman cried. There's a statue." He clears his throat a little. The statue doesn't even look like Conner, not really, but it's important. Symbolic.
He's so sick of things like symbolism. He misses his friend.
He looks at Jack, deliberately, shoving aside the fear that he won't see some trace of Conner in Jack's face. "Such an overachiever - I would have come after him even if he'd just gotten hit by a truck. There was no need to be so epic."
"You always underestimate my style," Conner complains, and there it is - the slight eye-roll, the air of injured dignity.
Tim smiles, instinctively, and it feels right for the first time in a year. "You say 'style', I say 'insecurity complex'."
"Whatever, Mister Sarcastic," Conner snorts. "You wish you had my style."
It's perfect. It's like breathing. "I'm sorry," Tim says politely. "Those random yellow belts all over your first costume - that was style? I had no idea."
"Hey, first costumes are off-limits!"
"I'm not even going near the nineties leather jacket and the tragic haircut."
"Red, green, and yellow, Birdboy," Conner growls. "And at least I know not to wear my underwear outside of my pants. Speaking of which," he adds, "When did you go red and black? It's kind of cool."
Dammit. He should have used the old costume. He feels the smile slide off his face. This wasn't something he wanted Conner to... this isn't... this is outside the parameters of the mission. Forgetting the correct costume was... unprofessional.
"Oh!" Conner blurts. "Is it... those are my colors."
Crap. Of course Conner would choose right now to have one of those blinding moments of insight.. Tim coughs and stands up. "Jack, how long do these missions of yours usually take?"
Jack beams. "You two are so cute together. You know that, right?"
Tim gives up, and irritably thinks fuck in the privacy of his own head.
* * * * * * * * * *
Twenty minutes later, Jack's established that Robin is a master of not talking about things he doesn't want to talk about and not coincidentally that he can also beat both Superboy and Jack at I Spy, Two Truths And A Lie, and Kill Shag Or Marry, which Jack hadn't even known could be competitive. Jack is content to believe that Robin's winning streak is because of his own increasing distraction over how long it's taking his team to get back from what should have been a simple snatch job, and is more relieved than he really wants to express out loud when they finally hear the Hub door roll back and the familiar sound of Owen teasing Tosh echo down the stairs.
They wait. It sounds like the team upstairs is having a rollicking good time - too good a time, apparently, to waste a moment releasing anyone who might be going stir-crazy downstairs in the containment cells.
Robin gives Jack a look. Jack has discovered that Robin has extremely eloquent expressions, when he chooses to use them.
"Don't give me that. I trained them better than this, it's not my fault."
The look does not disappear. Jack rolls his eyes. "Fine. Hey!" He angles himself so his voice will carry through the air holes in the cell's door and down the hall. "Remember us? Let us out in the next five minutes or you're all fired!"
The merriment up top does not abate, but the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs is reassuring. Ianto walks briskly into sight and then stops, apparently confused by their presence.
"Well?" Jack says impatiently.
Ianto stares at them for a moment, then turns to call up the stairs. "Oi! Who put people in the containment cells?"
"Okay, even I don't think that's funny," Superboy grumbles.
"There's nobody in the containment cells, mate," An unfamiliar voice calls down the stairs.
"Check the bloody monitors!" Ianto shouts back, rolling his eyes.
Jack exchanges unsettled glances with Robin, which mostly only serves to make sure they're both creeped out.
"Ianto, seriously - not funny. Who is that upstairs?"
"It's a little funny," Ianto says calmly. "First time the Rift's left people neatly in the cells, to my knowledge."
"What?" Jack blurts. "Ianto, do you remember who I am?"
Ianto eyeballs them. "Nope, sorry."
Jack takes a deep breath, rapidly reordering the universe in his head to accmmodate this latest wrinkle. Don't panic. Don't panic. "Okay, Ianto, this is going to sound really weird, but I want you to listen for a moment, okay? I'm Captain Jack Harkness. About an hour ago we were all upstairs having dinner. You, Gwen, Tosh, and Owen left to check out a Rift spike. You all work for me and the fact you can't remember who I am makes me think that you ran into some Rift trouble while you were out."
"And we, what, locked you in the basement before we left?" Ianto says. There's absolutely no recognition in his eyes - he's giving Jack the bored look he uses right before he tasers people who are annoying him, and for the first time ever Jack doesn't find it insanely hot. Actually, he kind of feels like he's going to throw up.
"I locked myself, I was... compromised earlier in the day."
"Check the papers on the conference room table," Robin says, and Jack starts a little. He'd forgotten the boy was there. "You'll see that before dinner we were researching ways to separate accidentally combined consciousnesses."
"That would be me," Superboy says. "Hi."
"You're right," Ianto says. "That does sound really weird. It's unbelievable, in fact." He steps a little closer, staring at Jack intently. He's still not convinced, but for the first time Jack can see something behind the bored indifference. "You look almost..." He trails off. Jack can nearly hear the wheels turning in his head.
"We're not asking you to let us out," Jack says, pitching his voice low and persuasive. Ianto's a stubborn bastard - if anyone can spontaneously throw off mind control, it would be him. "Just look around and be suspicious. And I don't know who the person you were talking to earlier was, but I don't know him and I wouldn't trust him if I were you."
"Who, Adam?" Ianto says absently.
Clattering footsteps down the stairs announce the arrival of a red-headed man Jack's never seen before in his life.
"You weren't kidding!" The stranger says cheerfully. "Wow, look what we have here!"
"Yes, it's actually quite impressive of us," Ianto says, shooting a last look at Jack. "Well, I'm going to go clean up the conference room. You have fun."
"Sure thing," the stranger says, and puts his hand on Ianto's shoulder as he passes.
Ianto stops in his tracks, back stiffening.
"You were just going to go make some coffee, right, Ianto?" The man says, staring straight at Jack.
"I - yes. Yes, I suppose I was." He turns back and blinks at Jack and Robin, confused.
"Ianto?" Jack says, cautiously.
"How does he know my name?" Ianto asks.
"Must be telepathic," the stranger says, smiling broadly. "We'll have to careful around this one until he's gone, I think."
Ianto nods, still looking a little disoriented, and vanishes up the stairs.
"I'm Adam, by the way," the stranger says pleasantly, ignoring Jack's glare. "I'm in charge of this little operation, and I have been for about... ooh, I've lost track now, but long enough to have hired everyone who works here. I have to thank you, by the way, for doing such a bang-up job as a leader, because if they didn't distrust you so much already I'd have had some trouble. As it is in about five minutes I'm just going to go convince your team that you're too dangerous to be left alive." He leans forward, conspiratorially. "You and I both know that killing you is... problematic, but I'm sure I can figure out something suitable, and everyone upstairs is going to do whatever I say because they know me." His smirk widens. "They trust me. We've been working together for so long, you see, and they've never even met you." He gives Jack an insulting little salute and turns to leave. "Enjoy the next five minutes!" He calls back over his shoulder.
"What a dick," Superboy mutters.
Jack slams his hands against the cell door, twice, and then his brain kicks into gear and he reaches for his - fuck! Gwen still has his wrist strap.
"Captain." Robin's voice is calm and emotionless. "I can get us out of here, but we need a plan first."
"Get out, kill Adam." Jack grates, leaving for later the fact that Robin apparently could have escaped any time he chose.
"I'm sure we can work that in," Robin says soothingly, "But it will go more smoothly if we have a plan. I think that he might be controlling them or altering their memories through touch. Tosh said the item that came through the Rift was inorganic?"
"Yes." He takes a deep breath and forces himself to focus. "So this Adam appeared after they touched the artifact, and if we destroy the artifact..."
"It's certainly a place to start. It would be best if we could capture the artifact and study it first - destroying it might kill Adam, but I'm not sure what it would do to your team's memories."
"All right." Jack presses his hand against his face, struggling to endorse a plan that doesn't involve ripping Adam's smug, thieving throat out with his bare hands. "He's probably staying close to the artifact, which means it must be here. If we can get out and get to a terminal, we can access the security logs, figure out where it is, and collect it."
"Is there a terminal we can reach without going upstairs?"
"The morgue. It's left down the hall."
Robin nods, and slides over to the door. Jack's view is blocked by Robin's cape, but it only takes a moment of fiddling before the door clicks and opens. Jack barely forces himself to wait long enough for the boy to get through the door and out of the way, and then he's off towards the stairs.
"Captain!" Robin hisses, grabbing Jack's elbow in a way that makes shooting pains go up his arm. "What are you doing?"
"You get the terminal. I'll get my team."
"This is a bad idea - "
"He'll be back down in a minute anyway. I'll hold him off." He wrenches free of Robin's hold and runs up the stairs, not caring whether Robin is following him or continuing on to the terminal in the morgue.
He has a split second, when he reaches the top of the stairs, to take in the scene before him. Ianto is going around with coffee. Owen and Gwen are back by the door to Jack's office, deep in conversation. Tosh is at her station, leaning back into Adam with the easy familiarity that comes of sharing space and spending sleepy mornings in bed...
...And then Jack is past Ianto, heading straight for Adam. Gwen's gun is already half out but Jack only has eyes for Adam, who is turning calmly away from Tosh, raising one hand. Jack has an instant to think Controls through touch oh shit - and then his hands are in Adam's jacket, he's lifting him in preparation to throw him, and Adam's hand hits the side of Jack's neck.
Agony explodes through Jack's head. He can feel Adam trying to get into his mind but Superboy is there as well, screaming defiance, and Adam hesitates, confused. Jack pushes him away, hard, and sends him crashing into Tosh's workstation, but before he can gather himself Gwen's pistol butt cracks against the back of his head and everything fuzzes out for a moment.
"Thank you, Gwen," he hears Adam say, and then Owen says "How did he even get out? And wasn't there another one?"
Jack forces his eyes open. Adam is leaning over him, not even bothering to make his expression anything other than sinister.
"There's another one, all right," he says, sounding delighted. "There's two people in there, aren't there, Jack?" He flexes his fingers. "That's - "
Something dark and fast clips him in the side of the face and he rears back, clapping a hand to his eye. "Ow! What the - "
Robin comes out of nowhere, sending Adam sprawling with a blow from a silver staff Jack swears he's never seen before. Adam rolls to his feet and charges, inhumanly fast, but Robin's already moving - onto Tosh's workstation and up into the air, bringing his staff down hard on the back of Adam's skull as he arcs overhead.
It would have brought down any number of humanoid aliens Jack's encountered. Adam stumbles a little but doesn't even fall.
Robin lands neatly, and then has to throw himself to the side a split second before someone behind Jack - probably Gwen - gets a shot off. The bullet thuds uselessly into the wall where Robin's head was a second before, but it costs Robin just enough time that Adam is able to wrench his staff away and lunge for him.
Robin twists and ducks, barely avoiding Adam's hands. Adam moves with him, and for a moment it seems like he's managed to catch hold of Robin's cape but then the cape itself is tangling weirdly around his hands and arms. Robin slides free of it and rolls, coming up behind Adam. He reaches up and yanks something loose from around his neck and, just as Adam succeeds in pulling one hand loose from the cape and reaches for Robin's exposed face, he slaps the object into Adam's palm, holding tight to keep Adam from pulling away.
Adam screams. There's a blinding flash of light and a soundless explosion that knocks Jack flat against the Hub's grating.
For a moment the only sound is the ringing in his ears and a quiet groan from someone near the stairs to the medical bay.
"My fucking head what the fuck?" Owen moans, breaking the silence. "Fuck, why am I bleeding?"
Jack levers himself upright, blinking spots from his eyes. The world swims a little - Christ, but Gwen's got a good arm - and then settles.
Tosh is leaning heavily against her desk, the heels of both hands pressed to her head, a thin trickle of blood running from her left ear. Beyond her Ianto is sitting half-sprawled on the ground, shakily staunching a nosebleed with a folded handkerchief.
"Owen, stop saying 'fuck'," Gwen says thickly.
Jack ignores them and turns back to Robin. He's standing a few feet away, bent over with his hands on his knees. He looks winded. The floor where Adam had been standing is empty save for Robin's discarded cape, which is smoking slightly.
"...What?" Jack says, intelligently.
"Protection amulet," Robin says. He doesn't sound very good. "Empress gave it to me. It was all I had time for. I think I may vomit," he adds, matter-of-factly.
Jack pushes aside his confusion and takes a deep breath. "Owen, I know you feel like shit, but I need you to start checking everybody out. Tosh, Gwen, find out where that Rift artifact went and destroy it but don't touch it. Robin, sit down before you fall over. Ianto, for the love of God, find something extremely alcoholic. I don't know about the rest of you, but I have had it up to here with sobriety today."
That, at least, gets a wan chuckle from Gwen, and Team Torchwood staggers into action. Robin manages to make it to the floor without too much indignity and then turns his attention on Jack.
"Superboy." And wow, that tone of voice bodes no good for anyone on the receiving end. Superboy must agree, because when he answers he sounds distinctly like someone about to be called out for something even he admits was stupid.
"That is not your body, and you are not indestructible in it. The next time you fly off the handle without thinking we are going to have a problem, do you understand me?"
Jack blinks. "Wait, that wasn't me?"
Robin gives him a dry look. "It had Superboy's unmistakable flair, Captain."
"Not to spoil your little discliplinary moment, Robin," Owen says, coming in with med scanners and an ice pack for Jack's head, "But it was a pretty classic Jack plan, too."
"All it was missing was a shotgun and some melodrama," Owen says witheringly.
"Alive to complain about it, aren't you?" Jack retorts halfheartedly. It hadn't been a very well-thought-out plan, and he's honestly not sure if that can be entirely put down to Superboy's influence. He's rarely at his most reasonable when his team is in danger, a trait he strongly suspects Superboy shares. He holds the ice pack to the back of his head and glances back at Robin - ow! He presses his hands hard against his eyes. "Shit, that hurt!"
"What happened?" Owen says, abandoning Robin immediately and turning back to Jack. "Is something wrong with your eyes?"
"No," Jack says, a little muffled. "They're fine. Superboy was trying to use his x-ray vision to make sure Robin's okay and my eyes aren't set up for that, so..." His voice trails off. There is a moment of silence, and the Jack raises his head to meet Robin and Owen's worried gazes. "I don't think I should know that."
"I don't think I should know how to have sex with an Atakiqusian tentacle beast," Superboy says shakily. "Or how to hit on somebody in Polari."
"Okay!" Gwen says, coming back in with Tosh. "The extremely dangerous wooden box is sawdust - all right, what's happened now?"
"Superboy and the Captain appear to be... mixing," Robin says. Jack is starting to learn that when Robin's voice is that calm and neutral, it's definitely a bad sign.
"It got seriously funky in here after that memory-stealing creep tried to mess with us," Superboy volunteers. "If I had to guess I'd say he broke something."
"Memory-stealing creep?" Gwen says, puzzled.
Ianto's eyes widen in revelation. "Memory!"
Tosh gasps. "And the mind probe!"
They bolt for the stairs.
"No, seriously, what is going on?" Gwen says plaintively.
* * * * * * * * * *
It takes nearly an hour for Tim to escape from the med bay and make it back to the Archives. Between Gwen's incessant questions and Owen's desire to test everyone for everything, what could have been a reasonably quick briefing turns into a drawn-out ordeal as Tim has to use every trick he knows to avoid being examined too thoroughly. Owen seems to be a competent doctor, even if his bedside manner is fairly non-traditional, but Tim is wary of providing detailed reports on his physiology to anyone but Alfred and the destruction of the amulet has also left him more rattled than he wants Owen to know. He's worked through pounding headaches and shortness of breath before, and the sharp ache in his joints is really about equal to being on patrol after a particularly brutal sparring session with Batman. It will get worse, he knows, but he's stubborn enough and focused enough that he should be able to grit his teeth and get through it. Telling Owen would ultimately just be counterproductive.
In the end, he has to resort to dropping loaded comments into an originally mild conversation between Gwen and Jack on the subject of containment procedures and leaving quietly when Owen has to turn away and mediate. It's more obviously sneaky than he's strictly happy with, but it works.
On the silver lining side it was definitely the protection amulet that was giving him hives instead of the finding-Conner's-soul amulet, so he doesn't have itchiness to contend with anymore as he makes his way down to the Archives. He's careful to keep up a steady pace - he's pretty sure he spotted all the surveillance cameras and blind spots earlier, but it never hurts to be cautious and the last thing he wants is to be caught on camera having to stop and sit down or catch his breath. He allows himself one pause when he reaches the door, reasoning that it could look like brief apprehension instead of having to take a moment to lean against the doorframe so he won't pass out, and then carries on.
Ianto and Tosh are huddled over the main table in the Archives, surrounded by stacks of paper, a mess of jumbled machinery, and what looks unsettlingly like an old-school mad scientist's chemistry set.
"Robin, good," Ianto says absently. "We could use another brain."
Tim makes his way over. There's a wooden stool standing near the corner of the table and he claims it gratefully. "What have you got?"
Tosh unearths what seriously looks like a colander trailing a few sets of jumper cables. "This is a memory probe," she says, handing him a stack of technical specs and scientific reports. "We've used it before - "
" - more or less successfully - " Ianto mutters.
" - to access the buried consciousness of an alien sleeper agent and interrogate it," Tosh continues, undeterred. "We think it might be the key to separating Superboy and Jack prior to transferring Superboy out."
Tim scans the documents. Some of them are written on ancient crinkly paper in faded copperplate script. It does have possib- "Wait, exploded?"
Tosh looks embarrassed. "Um. We've used it successfully since then. And..." she trails off, looking at Ianto.
They have a complicated nonverbal interaction, and seem to come to a decision.
"And, well, as long as we can get Superboy's consciousness out," Ianto says slowly. "The physical danger is... less of an issue than you might think."
"Because Jack can't be killed," Tim says, nodding. "Well, not permanently, anyway."
"Empress wasn't able to give me much of an idea of what I was jumping into, but she said Superboy's soul was intact, that the environment was survivable, and that he was 'in the company of an immortal'." He shrugs. "To be fair, I don't think she realized how literal that was."
"Oh," Tosh says blankly. "Well."
"You seem fairly unsurprised by that," Ianto says cautiously.
"I jumped through a magic portal created by a voodoo priestess in a hare-brained attempt to rescue my best friend's soul from another dimension," Tim says dryly. "I'm just saying."
Tosh sighs. Ianto gives her a look.
"Shut up, it's romantic," she mutters.
Tim gives her a double-take and then decides to ignore this. "Do you have any ideas about what to do once they're separated?"
Ianto gives him an amused look. "This is Jack's old time vortex manipulator," he says, holding up a leather wristband. "It's been disabled, but Tosh thinks the reintegration circuits are still intact. We're going to try and use those to create a body for Superboy."
Tim frowns. "Create it out of what?"
"Well," Tosh says slowly, "This is where it gets a little complicated. The reintegrator relies on stored information to recreate a traveler's body at the other end of the journey. Sometimes in our line of work we use a drug called Retcon, which allows us to erase short-term memory. We think that by cooking up a, a reverse Retcon, if you will, we may be able to boost Superboy's genetic memory and trick the reintegrator into creating a body that way. It's not perfect, of course - we won't have time to test the reverse Retcon and there's more room for error than I'm strictly comfortable with, but I think it might be our best option, especially if Superboy and Jack are starting to mix."
The breath locks up in Tim's chest and his vision greys out a little. The Retcon is a terrible idea but the memory probe and the reintegrator... it actually sounds freaking possible. He reaches into one of his belt compartments.
"I have Superboy's DNA sequence and a full physiological schematic," he says, holding out his portable computer. "Is that enough information?" He's still not certain what their reactions to Conner's alien origins will be, but his options are dwindling rapidly and this is the surest shot he's had yet. He's going to have to risk it, as much as he hates the idea.
The look on Tosh and Ianto's faces, Tim thinks, can probably most accurately be described as 'boggling'.
"Seriously?" Tosh says. "No, that's fantastic. There was a pretty high probability the reverse Retcon would just be explosively toxic."
Tim blinks, alarmed. “Look, you’re not going to be able to help anybody if you blow yourselves up first,” he says. “Please don’t take any unnecessary risks.” He’ll take those himself. It’s only fair.
“Oh, no more than usual,” Ianto says airily.
"We’ll be careful," Tosh promises, giving Tim a fond look. "Robin, if you'll start loading this onto the Mainframe, I'll start working on the reintegrator. Ianto, the memory probe?"
Ianto makes a face. "I hate that thing. All right, let's get this done quickly."
Well, at least vaporising a memory-stealing alien seems to have worked as a character reference. Tim stands, ready to make his way to the computer terminal. The tightness in his chest becomes a sharp, stabbing pain and his vision swims.
Yes. They'd definitely better get this done quickly.
* * * * * * * * * *
Jack finally manages to divert Gwen from the inherent inhumanity of Torchwood's containment procedures and send her down to the Archives to help. He tries to pair that with a subtle hint that the research team should at least take a nap or something - it's well past midnight with no end in sight - but she laughs in his face and Tosh and Ianto both turn off their headsets when he tries to bring it up with them.
Jack sulks. Were they always this insubordinate, or is it another post Doctor-trip thing?
"Hey, I'll take a nap," Superboy says. "I'm more of an action hero. I usually nap when they're doing the thinky stuff."
Jack sighs. He might not technically be a genius but he does have a lot of applied and painfully earned experience that can be very helpful, thank you very much.
"Me too, dude," Superboy says feelingly. "But hey, this way we get to make fun of them when they get all tired and stupid."
Well... Ianto does get endearingly ruffled when he's overtired, and cute has nothing on Tosh asleep on the couch under Jack's greatcoat.
Robin curls up into an impossibly tiny ball when he sleeps and then twitches occasionally. He reminds Superboy of a kitten.
"Please dear Jesus oh God don't tell Robin that," Superboy says, his voice leaden with horror.
Jack laughs. Owen gives them a weird look.
"Oh, loosen up," Jack says, still laughing. "Kittens are hilarious and you know it."
Owen blinks. "I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt - which by the way you don't deserve - and assume that was the tail end of a conversation with Superboy that I don't know about because it took place entirely in your head."
"Oh, shit," Superboy says.
"Oh, yes," Owen returns dryly. "I'm just going to stick you two in the containment cells and go help in the archives."
"Okay," Jack says meekly. Owen's been trained to use the Archives - first by Jack and then, considerably more vigorously, by Ianto and Tosh - and while he's hardly the best researcher on the team Jack thinks this probably qualifies as an 'all hands on deck' scenario.
"I didn't even realise I wasn't talking," Superboy babbles. "Does that mean you can hear everything I think now? Oh my God, Robin's going to flip, he's such a security nut and I know his real name's Tim and Clark Kent is Superman and I'm pretty sure Nightwing's name is Dick something which, okay, he's got a pretty good package which is totally not something I think about by the way - "
"Superboy!" Jack shouts out loud, making Owen swear and drop the cell keys in surprise. "Stop it - think about math or something, I don't want to know!"
"Um. I'm not very good at math," Superboy says in a small voice, after several seconds of ringing silence.
"Good," Jack says, gritting his teeth. "Go with that."
Jack has never been more grateful for the course on Mental Discipline he took during his Time Agent days. There is a lot of stuff in his head he doesn't want anyone to know about - partly because he's been around for a while and some of the secrets he knows would be literally disastrous if they got out, and partly because he's been around for a while and seen a lot of shit that nobody needs to know about, let alone some poor dead kid who might not even wind up with a body when all of this is said and done.
"Thanks a lot," Superboy snaps. "What I really wanted to think about instead my best friend's hot brother was whether or not I'm actually permanently dead."
So much for Mental Discipline, Jack sighs to himself. He should have known that professor was full of shit.
* * * * * * * * * *
Somewhat to Tim's surprise, the work actually does go faster when Owen and Gwen show up to help. Despite what he's been able to guess about their different specialities, they all work together well as a team in a way that suggests a good deal of cross-training due to either friendship or necessity, and probably both. Tosh and Owen hunch over the reintegrator in a way that's strongly reminiscent of Tim's high school biology dissection labs, leaving Gwen to help Ianto design and gather the cables and wiring that will be necessary to hook the whole contraption together.
Tim's mostly left to his own devices, which is good because his gauntlets only hide the trembling in his hands so much.
He works quickly; it's mostly routine set-up programming that he could do in his sleep, and under other circumstances he'd take the opportunity to devote part of his attention to snooping. It's hard enough to concentrate through the blinding pain in his head, though, that he decides to prioritize his stamina reserves over his information gathering. He does manage to find several references to the mysterious rift, but nothing explicit enough to be illuminating.
"So," Ianto says from just behind Tim's shoulder. Tim grimaces internally - he must be worse off than he thought if Ianto was able to sneak up on him, even if Ianto does move very lightly for a man his size.
"So?" Tim returns, when Ianto doesn't seem to want to continue.
"Tosh and I were wondering... are you and Superboy - "
“No,” Tim says firmly. “It’s encouraging that you all seem to be very openminded about it, but no. He’s got an amazing girlfriend who will be very pleased to have him back.” He casts Ianto a sideways glance. It makes his head pound. “How about you and Jack?” The overly careful way they move around each other is very telling.
Ianto winces. “Well. We were but then there was a whole thing, and now it’s all sort of... in stasis.”
Tim nods sympathetically.
“Do you have anyone at home, if Superboy’s off the table?”
Tim takes a careful breath. “No. I - no. Not any more.” Steph’s gone, and so is his Dad. Even Bruce and Dick are... they’re still alive, fortunately, but ever since the Crisis things have been... different.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Ianto says. “I didn’t mean to bring up - I’m sorry.”
“It’s all right,” Tim says, forcing a smile. “You couldn’t have known. I don’t know what kind of lives you guys lead here, but ours can be pretty crazy.”
“Jack and I were together before he left to go time traveling with a friend of his,” Ianto says in a rush, apparently still guilty about bringing up Tim’s past. “It was something he needed to do, but the timing was bad.”
“Oh, time travel,” Tim says with feeling. “You can’t imagine how glad I was that this little trip only ended up being multidimensional. Time travel really never goes well for me.” Really, really not. At all. He shivers, and pushes that thought aside as if just thinking about them will conjure the Titans of Tomorrow out of thin air. He’ll probably always have nightmares about that dark, full graveyard and the man in the Batman suit who claimed to be him grown up.
“Does it ever go well for anyone?” Ianto says with exasperation. “Seriously.”
"Robin?" Tosh calls. "Are you ready? We're about to start taking everything up to the Hub to install."
"I'm done," Tim says. Ianto smiles at him and moves off to help Gwen gather everything up.
He hears Tosh coming up behind him and stands as slowly as possible but his vision still greys alarmingly. His head feels hot and tight and he distantly feels himself stagger a little against the table.
"Are you okay?" Tosh says, from much closer this time.
"I'm fine," he manages, grateful his back is to her. Slowly, his vision clears, although his heartbeat is still pounding hollowly in his chest. His fingers feel numb - he's not sure if it's because of how hard he's hanging on to the edge of the table or because his circulation has already deteriorated that badly.
He gropes for something to say that will make him sound unaffected. "Will everything I just did be accessible from upstairs or should I transfer it?"
"You can access it from upstairs," Tosh says, studying his face carefully. "Robin, you look really pale - "
"One of the dangers of being nocturnal," he jokes, forcing a smile, before realizing that the comment probably won't mean anything to her.
She doesn't look convinced, but lets it go. "Okay. If you're sure."
He can feel her eyes on him as she helps the others pack up their work.
"Oi, Robin, help carry some of this?" Owen calls.
"It's all right, I've got it," Tosh says quickly. "Let's go."
Owen rolls his eyes, but doesn't push it. Tim knows it makes him look like a jerk to refuse to help, but one of the things he's always extremely aware of are his own limitations. At the moment, carrying heavy objects is distinctly outside the realm of the possible.
Halfway to the stairs, the junction box Ianto cobbled together to link the mind probe to the Mainframe slides off the top of the pile Gwen's carrying. She makes a valiant effort to catch it but she's tangled in wires and cables and there's no way she can free herself.
They don't have time to rebuild any of the equipment. Tim dives for it.
"Oh, good catch, Robin!" Gwen says, relieved.
It was a good catch. Tim carefully sets the box down and braces his hands on the floor next to his knees, letting his head hang down. There's a very strong possibility of vomit in his future.
Owen gets the trash can into place just in time.
"All right, that's it," he says when Tim's done. "I want everybody in the infirmary. That memory creep - "
That will take too long. "It wasn't him," Tim interrupts, wiping his mouth. "It's not contagious. I'll be fine."
"Uh-huh," Owen says sceptically, taking Tim's pulse. "Your heartbeat's doing some really stupid stuff right now, mate. I want you in the infirmary."
"We don't have time for that," Tim says irritably. He concentrates for a moment and feels his pulse slow.
"Time enough for you to tell me what this is and for me to decide if there's time," Owen returns, unappeased.
Tim sighs. He likes the people here, he really does, but it doesn't mean he wants to go sharing information willy-nilly. Still... there are times when it's the only option available, and in any case in his current condition his ability to lie consistently is probably impaired. "All right, I'll give it a shot. Does anyone besides Tosh know anything about multidimensional travel dynamics?"
They exchange glances.
"Actually, I don't know anything about multidimensional travel dynamics," Tosh admits sheepishly. "I mean, maybe theoretically..."
"All right." Tim does some quick mental edit of the truth. "Imagine a stack of papers threaded on a string. Okay? Each paper is a parallel universe and the string is the path I took to get through. With me so far?" Cautious nods - good enough. "Now imagine that each of those pieces of paper is being pulled hard in constantly changing directions - "
"Wouldn't the paper just rip?" Gwen interrupts.
Tim grits his teeth. It makes pain radiate down his spine from his head. "Okay, imagine they're sheets of cardboard and the string is a thread."
Gwen nods. "Okay. Oh. That's very different."
Tim nods, carefully. Nausea rolls in his stomach but he manages to keep from throwing up again. "Exactly. That string isn't just the way I got here, it's the way back, too, and without it there's no guarantee we'll be able to find the correct universe again, so it's very important to protect it."
Ianto's eyes narrow. "Protection amulet?"
Tim smiles a little, impressed. "Basically. The way back is... tied to me, if you will, so echoes of whatever happens to the string reaches me too. The amulet functioned as insulation, essentially, and also provided most of the energy required to keep the way back intact." It's more or less the truth. It's as close as he'll get without a PowerPoint presentation and a guest lecturer from STAR Labs, anyway.
"And now that it's gone, all that energy is coming from you," Owen concludes, eyeing Tim closely. "How bad is it now, and how bad will it get?"
Tim shrugs. "It's not too bad now - really just preliminary tremors," he lies. Owen's a doctor - he will force Tim to accept medical treatment if he thinks it's necessary, no matter how that will affect getting Connor home. "It will get worse as time passes, probably at about the same rate, but the good news is I'll bounce back fast as soon as the connection's broken." Probably. He hopes.
Owen gives him a narrow look. "All right," he says finally. "Unfortunately, you're right that we're on a deadline and we need your input. But I want your solemn word that you'll tell me if it starts to get worse - if you have any trouble breathing or if you notice any signs of neural disruption, okay?"
"Okay." That ship has already sailed, anyway.
"And I want you sitting down as much as possible - no manual labour or moving around. Leave that to us, I don't care how good at it you are. And if you want something, tell us and we'll get it for you."
"Okay." All that's really left to do is set-up, anyway - if he has to sit out any of it, this is probably going to be the least annoying part to miss.
"Hmm." Owen still doesn't look entirely convinced, and the others are wearing expressions that range from concern to scepticism, but Tim really doesn’t care as long as they let him upstairs. “Can you stand on your own?”
“Yeah, just... give me a minute.” He smiles reassuringly, which doesn’t seem to help at all.
“We’ll go drop off the equipment and come back to get you,” Ianto suggests. “You stay here and gather yourself a bit.”
Tim nods, relieved, and doesn’t even protest much when Ianto returns a few moments later to help him solicitously to his feet. They move very slowly and Ianto watches him carefully, but he still greys out a little.
“It’s worse than you said, isn’t it?” Ianto says quietly. “I won’t tell Owen. I know a little something about doing what you have to in order to save someone you love.”
Tim shoots him a grateful look. “Thanks, Ianto.”
“Are you going to be able to make it?” Ianto asks, maneuvering them both carefully around the turn in the stairs.
“Yes,” Tim says firmly.
Ianto gives him a sad little smile. “I believe that,” he says.
* * * * * * * * * *
When Gwen comes down to check on them, they've both got a migraine from thinking in Latin (Jack) and trying to review trigonometry (Superboy).
"Well, they think they might actually have something this time," Gwen says, eyeing them worriedly. "Originally it was going to have something to do with cooking up some kind of reverse Retcon but Robin had a sample of Superboy's DNA handy and that's apparently better."
"Yeah, that sounds like him," Superboy says with a strained laugh, and Jack is momentarily swamped with guilt and bombarded by confusing images of a bald man wearing outrageous purple and green armor and Robin lying crumpled on the ground with an obviously broken arm before Superboy wrestles himself back to a contemplation of polynomials.
"Well, just... nothing to worry about, so hang in there?" Gwen says, backing away from the cell with an anxious smile.
"Is she always that bad at reassurance?" Superboy asks.
"Actually, she's usually quite soothing," Jack says, feeling even more worried than he had before. Granted, the team's been treating him differently since he left and came back again - and he doesn't blame them for it, he really doesn't, and he knows he has to earn his way back into their trust - but even so Gwen's usually a better liar.
Hopefully it's just that the solution they're working on is more harebrained than usual. Dammit, he hates being stuck uselessly down here.
"You betrayed your team too, huh?" Superboy says softly, and the guilt this time comes alongside a stunning blonde girl with a bloody face.
"It wasn't... on purpose," Jack says, and it sounds pathetic even to him. "I left to take care of something with a friend of mine who's a time traveler. I was supposed to be back before they missed me." It was sort of the plan, anyway. It was the plan after he realized he couldn't go back to traveling with the Doctor, which had been the original and much less responsible version.
"I tried to kill my team," Superboy says. "I mean, there was a whole brainwashing thing that was a factor, but still. I nearly did it."
Jack braces himself for the wash of images - people in Superboy's world sure seem to wear a lot of tight clothing - and rides out the wave of guilt. "Did they take you back?" he asks when it's done, a little more wistfully than he'd intended.
"Yeah," Superboy says, remembering a girl in a long hooded cloak and a tiny, beautiful light floating above night-dark grass. "Look, they're your team. Breaking up a team is harder than that. You know Empress, who helped Robin find me? She was my teammate, like, years ago, on a whole different team. She retired to raise her parents, and she still came back to help when Robin asked. And look at Robin - he just tracked me across the fricking multiverse. Your team's already taken you back. It's just a matter of degrees now." We're young, but we're just us, someone says in Superboy's memory.
"You're actually a lot smarter than you come off as," Jack says, and then his brain catches up. "Wait, 'retired to raise her parents'?"
"Whole big voodoo thing," Superboy says, as if that's all the context required to make sense of the story. Jack guesses that in a universe with magic it probably actually is. "And then her dad's partner started going out with Arrowette's mom and man, that was weird and wrong."
Jack has to laugh, because for a teenager, yeah - that would probably trump voodoo. "So, your parents all know you do this... whatever it is you do?"
"World-saving, crime-fighting," Superboy says nonchalantly. "Some of them do. Some of them are totally clueless." He thinks about a boy in a blue shirt and a guilty expression, saying My Dad found out. I had to quit and shuts that thought off fast. Jack still feels the sharp ache of it behind his sternum. "So, what is it you guys actually do?"
"World-saving, alien hunting," Jack says, copying Superboy's airy tone.
There's a brief spike of something from Superboy that abruptly turns into a fervent mental debate of sines versus cosines.
"Well, bad alien hunting," Jack amends, cautiously. "Technically I'm an alien, to this time period anyway, and I don't plan to hunt myself." Or, frankly, any of the aliens Torchwood One had been most keen for him to catch.
"Oh," Superboy says, sounding relieved. "And ow, that was a mental picture I didn't need, thanks Jack... who's the Doctor?"
"Another alien we don't hunt," Jack says, after a few seconds of panic. "What's the story with you and Robin?"
Superboy seems honestly confused. "We're best friends? I dunno, what's the story with you and Ianto? You keep thinking about him naked and it's really distracting."
"We were kind of a thing before I left. Now, I don't know," Jack says, frustrated. "But you and Robin - you like him, right? In a non-best friends kind of way?"
"He's T- Robin, of course I do." Superboy says. "He’s like whatever’s more than a best friend to me. And anyway I'm dating Cassie. I think. I’ve been dead for a year, I’m not sure if that counts as breaking up."
Aha - Blonde Girl With Bloody Nose. "Duly noted,” Jack says.
* * * * * * * * * *
The contraption is mostly together. Ianto and Gwen are building a scaffold to hold the junction box in the right place, Tosh is hooking together extra monitors and building herself a command center, and Owen is helping Tim link his program with the biometric scanners from the infirmary.
The vision in Tim's left eye flickers and goes dark.
He puts the finishing touches on the scanner interface and sends the whole thing over to Tosh's station. A weird cold sensation washes up his spine and he feels his skin go prickly and hot. The room smells, suddenly and overpoweringly, like Alfred's raspberry cookies.
She looks up sharply at the tone of his voice. "Are you all right?"
He ignores this, pulling the last amulet from around his neck. Tosh seems very far away. "You need to hang this by the reintegrator." The words sound weird, slow and stumbling, and he wants to tell her it will help Connor's soul wind up in the right place but his teeth are suddenly clenched tight and he can't open them.
Tosh is in front of him. He never saw her move. "Robin? Robin, can you - Owen! Get over here!"
He knows what this is. He's read about this. He pushes away from Tosh, hard, trying to put distance between himself and the delicate machinery.
Owen's in front of him now, too, trying to shove something between Tim's teeth. Tim's on the floor and the smell of raspberries is so intense he's having trouble breathing.
Lightning strikes, and everything else pales in comparison.
* * * * * * * * * *
Jack and Superboy have actually managed to doze off and have disturbing shared dreams by the time Gwen comes to get them, looking stressed and exhausted.
"Okay, we think we've got it," she says, letting them out of the cell and leading them upstairs. "Now, it looks kind of underwhelming and it sounds pretty crazy, but we've worked really hard on it and it's the best you're going to get, so be nice, yeah?"
"Okay," Jack says, even as Superboy is asking "Are you sure she was ever good at being reassuring? Because that sucked." Fortunately he keeps the comment internal.
Jack nearly doesn't have that much control himself when he first catches sight of the contraption his team has constructed. It's a bizarre mish-mash of wires, alien tech, lab equipment, and what looks suspiciously like a dreamcatcher, all hooked up to Tosh's computers and the sub-etheric resonator and held together with duct tape and string. It looks, more or less, like somebody tried to build a spiderweb out of odds and ends and had a psychotic break partway through.
"Wow, you guys did a lot!" Superboy says, apparently sincerely impressed.
The tension in the room eases just a tiny bit.
"All right," Tosh says. "I'm going to skip over a lot of the technical details because then we can get going faster and frankly they'll probably be pretty alarming - "
Ianto clears his throat.
" - But there's nothing to worry about!" Tosh interrupts herself, with what's apparently supposed to be an encouraging smile. "The upshot is that we cobbled together - I mean, we carefully integrated the memory probe, the reintegration circuits from the teleportation module on Jack's wrist device, and a few other odds and ends that don't matter right now and we think with all those together we should be able to - " she makes a slightly manic gesture " - pop Superboy free and give him an appropriate body. Okay! Let's get started!"
"Tosh," Jack says slowly. "I want to be clear - I absolutely trust what you guys have put together and I believe you when you say it will work, but I get the feeling you're not telling me everything and I have to be honest, it's making me a little nervous." Just the fact that Ianto willingly included the memory probe is cause for concern, frankly.
Team Torchwood exchanges worried looks. "Okay," Ianto says. "Maybe a little more detail will help? The memory probe should allow us to separate your consciousnesses. The reintegration circuits, working in conjunction with Superboy's DNA sample and the soul-tracking amulet from Empress - "
"Hey, where's Robin?" Superboy interrupts.
"Napping?" Tosh says, voice higher than it should be. "Um. Napping."
"Robin," Superboy says firmly, "Does not nap, and he especially wouldn't do it now. What happened to him?"
They exchange looks again. Gwen steps forward.
"Superboy," she says, "He's just, he's just really tired right now. Um. Remember the amulet he used to get rid of the memory thing?"
"Protection amulet," Jack remembers with a feeling of foreboding. "What was it protecting him from?"
"Well," Tosh says hesitantly, "I don't... entirely understand it, maybe you will, Superboy, because you're from that universe, but the way back was being kept open by a link from Robin to your friend Empress which was powered by the amulet. With the amulet gone - "
"It's being powered by Robin," Superboy says steadily. "Where is he?"
"In Jack's - " Gwen begins, and barely gets out of the way before Superboy and Jack charge past her through the door.
Robin's lying sprawled on his side just inside the office. It looks like he's unconscious but it's hard to tell with his mask in the way. His skin's an unhealthy greyish color and his breathing, from what Jack can see under the cape and the armor, is laboured. Jack and Superboy kneel down next to him.
"He obviously wasn't feeling well," Gwen says anxiously from the doorway. "He told us he thought it was from the amulet, but he seemed to be mostly okay so we kept working and then about five minutes ago it looked like he had some sort of seizure. Owen tried to examine him but there was an electric shock - "
"Taser," Superboy says quietly. "In his suit." His thoughts are going so fast that they've turned into a kind of horrified white noise. The only clear impression that Jack's getting is a rapid beat of Not him, not him, not him...
"The suit sparks every time we try to move him," Gwen continues. "Since Owen couldn't get close enough to check him out before getting tasered we thought the next best thing would be to get you both back to your universe as soon as possible. Robin said the symptoms should clear up as soon as he got back."
"Where's Owen now?" Jack asks.
"Couch behind Tosh's station," Ianto says. "I'll go see if he's coming around."
"I know how to disarm his suit," Superboy says. His voice is very calm.
"Superboy, isn't this a different one than what you're used to?" Jack asks. "You said before - "
"I can do it," Superboy insists. "I need control of your hands."
Jack doesn't even know how to do that, but apparently wanting it badly enough does the trick because the next thing he knows his hands are moving briskly over Robin's suit, finding hidden catches and pressure points in a random order that nonetheless seems deliberate. The cape comes loose and pools on the floor, then Robin's breastplate cracks open and shifts, and then finally Superboy touches the side of Robin's mask and the white lenses slide away.
"It's disarmed," Superboy says, and is just reaching for Robin's shoulder when Owen elbows them aside and kneels down to examine his patient.
"Come on," Ianto says softly, one hand on Jack's shoulder. "We'd better separate you two."
Jack stumbles back out to the contraption, still fumbling a little over control of his body. It doesn't look any better than it did the first time and he feels a pang of real doubt. He knows Tosh and Ianto are smart and good at thinking outside the box and he wants to trust that this will work, but it's been done so fast and the last time the team had a grand plan they executed on their own they threw open the freaking Rift and look how that had turned out -
"Hey!" Superboy says sharply. "Don't. Just - don't. We are doing this and we're doing this now. I don't care how many trust issues you've got with your team, Robin came all the way across the universe to get me and I am not letting him die for it. You can let them do this or I can take over and do it for you. You've got ten seconds to pick."
"Okay!" Jack says out loud. "Okay. Fine." I do not have trust issues! He adds mentally.
"Whatever, I don't care," Superboy says, his mental voice strained.
Ianto and Tosh are looking at him worriedly.
"Do I need to stand somewhere?" Jack asks.
They trade looks, then Ianto leads him to Owen's desk chair, which looks like it's been attacked by the Borg. He straps Jack in.
"Are you - " Ianto stops, and clearly changes what he was planning to say. " - ready?"
Jack takes a deep breath. "Do it," he and Superboy say at the same time.
Ianto nods, glances back at Tosh, and then leans in fast and kisses Jack on the mouth. Before Jack can respond, he's back on his feet and over by Tosh's workstation.
There's a rising hum, and everything fades into red-tinged agony.
* * * * * * * * * *
Tim's lying on something soft. His head really hurts.
It hurts even more when someone pries open his eyes and shines a bright light in them.
"Good, you're back," a voice says. "Who am I?"
Tim tries to blink the spots out of his eyes. "Isn't that my line?" he mumbles.
"Hilarious. Answer the question."
"You're Owen," Tim says, finally managing to bring his vision into focus.
"Hmm," Owen says. "All right, do you remember what I told you before?"
Tim frowns and tries to rewind the last few minutes in his head. They're... squishy. Soft-focus. He'd probably woken up before and passed out again, which would account for his difficulty in remembering -
"'Don't you dare pass out on me, you little wanker,'" he recites dutifully. There had also been something about 'Remember this phrase and repeat it back to me,' which is a standard test for short-term memory loss, but the phrase had frankly been pretty boring.
Owen snorts. "Nice accent."
Tim blinks. "Well, you said - " he stops, taking in his surroundings for the first time. He's lying on a cot in a sterile tile-walled room, surrounded by haphazardly stacked medical equipment. He's wearing a respirator, a lot of wires, and not much else.
That breastplate wouldn't have been easy to get off - he knows because he designed the security on it himself, and then Batman got involved and made it even more thorough. "Superboy's got his body back?"
Owen shakes his head. "He used Jack's. They're building his body now."
Tim struggles upright, and everything goes soft-focus again. Owen swears and shoves him flat, holding him down with one hand. "They're not ready yet and I'm not above tying you to the bed for your own good."
"You could try," Tim mumbles, trying not to look as grateful for the respirator as he actually is. Gradually, his vision starts to clear and the throbbing in his head recedes a little.
"Yes. About that," Owen says, giving him a penetrating look. "Since we've got some time to kill, I would love to hear the stories behind some of that scar tissue."
Tim eyes his chest and arms. There is a fair amount of scarring visible, he'll admit - more than normal, perhaps, though not as much as Bruce or Dick. "It's not actually that interesting." The endless variations on 'got in a fight with a bad guy' get pretty repetitive after a while.
Owen's jaw tightens. "Your 'after-school vocational program' sucks."
Ah. "I'm very good at it," Tim says calmly.
Owen's expression doesn't ease. "Is that what kids do, in your world? Become soldiers?"
"Actually, it's fairly uncommon." Unless you're superpowered, cursed, blessed, radioactive, born for it, created for it, or have an unusually strong sense of personal responsibility, anyway. "And it was my choice. No one coerced me." He gives Owen a considering look. "Would you stop practicing medicine if someone told you it wasn't good for you?"
Owen scowls. "That's completely different."
"If you say so," Tim says, shrugging. "Being a doctor, doing what I do - it's all about having the knowledge and the skills to help someone who needs it. That's not something you can just switch off and walk away from. Believe me, my dad did make me try once."
Owen looks away. "Your friend's old body have that much damage?"
"Superboy... didn't scar easily. That was what made him good at what we do." It's more information than he'd like to share under normal circumstances, but Tosh and Ianto already know Conner's biometrics anyway and depending on how much Jack and Conner are mixing he may know something too. Secrecy will only get him so far at this point, and it's important that Owen understand this. He sighs. "I know what it looks like. It’s probably easier if you just don’t think of us as teenagers.”
Owen’s expression doesn’t ease much, but he lets it go. “I’ll go see how they’re doing with Superboy’s body. You stay here.”
“I’m going to be there when he wakes up,” Tim says firmly.
Owen rolls his eyes. “If you can stay conscious, sure,” he says witheringly.
* * * * * * * * * *
Jack wakes up gasping. Everything hurts and someone's holding him down and shouting a lot.
Jack blinks, and everything starts coming into focus. He's lying on the couch behind Tosh's station with Ianto half on top of him, pinning his shoulders down. He lets himself settle back, which eases the throbbing in his spine somewhat. "Did it work? What happened?"
Ianto leans back a little. "It's still underway - Superboy's consciousness is out of your head, but his replacement body's still coming together. We should be able to try and transfer him in about ten minutes."
Jack frowns. It does seem... empty in his head. "Then where is he now?"
Ianto smiles a little. "Taking up most of the Mainframe's memory. We sectioned him off so he couldn't accidentally access anything, but I don't think he's really technically aware right now."
"Groggy but awake," Ianto says, glancing down towards the medical bay. "We still need to get them going sooner rather than later, but Owen says he's been able to buy some time. How are you feeling?"
"Sore," Jack admits. "A little fuzzy. Pretty damn okay, considering." Ianto's hands are still on his chest. He reaches up to cover one with his own. "Ianto, I need to apologize."
"I know we've mostly gotten back to where we were before - before I left, and I'm really, really grateful for that. I just wanted - I just wanted to say I'm sorry. For leaving."
"Nine," Ianto says.
"Nine times you've apologized for it now. Not always in so many words," he adds, seeing Jack's expression, "but yes, thank you, I've gotten the point now."
Jack frowns. "You're not - are you still upset?"
Ianto shrugs. "It was a shitty thing to do, Jack. It hurt and it was really hard and yeah, I definitely feel justified in giving you a hard time for as long as I want and so does everyone else. But no, I'm not still upset. None of us are."
Jack stares. "But... what?"
Ianto raises one eyebrow. "You came back. We have more important things to worry about. Besides, right before you left we had kind of rebelled, killed you, and tried to bring about the end of the world, so hey, call us even." He glances away. "We just... have some abandonment issues to work through. We'll get there."
Jack struggles up onto his elbows, bringing his face up near Ianto's level. "Adam said you didn't trust me."
Ianto hauls back and clips Jack smartly across the ear.
"Ow! Hey, what was that for?"
Ianto rolls his eyes. "Teammate and bit on the side," he says, pointing to himself. "Evil mind-stealing creep," he says, pointingly vaguely off towards the Hub's door. "Now, which one of us is trustworthy?"
Well, okay. Jack's feeling a little sheepish now. Also kind of stupidly relieved, which is the justification he uses for shifting his weight on to one arm and using his free hand to grope Ianto. "You," he says, smiling.
Ianto smiles back. "Good answer. And... I'll consider the option of having sex with you if you promise to stop being so idiotic in the future," he adds, magnanimously.
Jack beams. "Sweet!" Hey, potential sex is better than nothing, right?
From behind Ianto, Gwen clears her throat. "Tosh says we're almost ready to transfer Superboy."
Jack refocuses on the problem at hand and levers himself up off the couch, which, ow. "We should probably move Robin up here in case Superboy's disoriented when he wakes up." He's actually quite curious to see what Superboy looks like. For all that he feels he's gotten to know Superboy pretty well during their time cohabitating, there's something different about actually seeing a person. Plus, he's ninety-nine percent sure Superboy's an alien, and that's always fun.
Ianto goes off to help Owen move Robin, and Jack drifts over to spy on Tosh's workstation. There are more monitors than he remembers and a few new control interfaces with cryptic labels. One of the monitors has a wire-frame model of what Jack assumes is Superboy's body on it. It looks standardly humanoid, which is a little disappointing, but there is a series of graphics and schematics scrolling by beneath it that might have promise.
"That's Robin's work," Tosh says, interrupting his scrutiny. "He had a pretty complete program already written for Superboy's physical make-up." Her voice drops a little "Between you and me, from the way some of this data is set up I think he might have been toying with the idea of cloning or maybe some kind of advanced robotics if he couldn't track Superboy down."
Jack feels his eyebrows go up. "He already knew Superboy's actual body wouldn't be an option?"
Tosh hesitates. "It's hard to say. I think he knew that a clone or a robot wouldn't actually be Superboy, not without Superboy's... soul, for want of a better description, but I think he was pretty desperate. He might have been willing to take what he could get."
Jack whistles. "Could he have done it?"
Tosh considers this. "It would depend on what resources he had available on his world. He's smart enough and he definitely has the determination." She gives Jack a sideways look. "Look... I know we haven't known him for long, but I don't think he would have let it get out of hand."
For a moment Jack doesn't actually understand what she's getting at, and then he remembers Lisa in the basement with a dull sort of shock. "What makes you so sure?"
Tosh bites her lip. "Nothing really concrete," she says slowly. "But while we were working in the Archives... I don't know, he just came across as protective of us. It was actually kind of sweet."
It is kind of sweet. It's also no guarantee against things getting out of hand - Ianto and the Doctor, amongst many others, have proved that in the past - but he makes a note of Robin's protective instincts nonetheless.
The monitor showing Superboy's schematics blinks and gives a little ping, strikingly reminiscent of the noise a microwave makes when it's done. Tosh has the grace to look embarrassed.
"Okay, I think we're ready to go."
"No, I said you could sit - ow, dammit!" Owen snaps.
Jack turns. Owen's standing by the door to the office, rubbing his arm and scowling. Robin's partway to Tosh's station. He's trailing an IV stand and an alien respirator and leaning heavily against the wall but looks dead-set on making it to the monitors. Ianto's hovering behind him, caught between concern and amusement.
"Let him sit over here, he'll just get crazy if he can't see what's happening," Jack says.
"I will be rationally concerned," Robin corrects, voice thin with strain, and drops into the chair Jack pushes over to him with more relief than grace.
Tosh bites back a smile and turns to her monitors. Jack backs up to give her and Ianto more space, and winds up next to Robin, who has a white-knuckled grip on the sides of his chair. Jack drops a comforting hand on Robin's shoulder. He looks up at Jack, momentarily surprised, before turning his attention back to the monitors. He has startlingly blue eyes under his mask.
“Okay, guys - let’s get this party started.”
* * * * * * * * * *
Tim watches with growing trepidation as Tosh and Ianto begin to work. The specs are solid, and the others are intelligent and seem dedicated, and even though Jack is now free of Conner’s presence no one has shown any indication of hostile intent. There is no reason to suspect sabotage, and every reason to expect Tosh and Ianto to do everything they can to make this work. It will be fine.
"Okay - body matrix is done, connection to the reintegrator looks good. How's the Mainframe?"
"Catchment's still holding. I'm diverting power and setting up the transfer... there. Ready on your mark."
"All right - three... two... one... mark."
Tosh and Ianto flip switches. The lights dim and stutter as power goes to the device. There's a whine of stressed machinery which sends them both scrambling and gets Tim halfway out of his chair to help before Jack’s hand on his shoulder presses down in warning. He settles back reluctantly, biting his lower lip hard enough to draw blood. He reminds himself firmly that he won’t help Conner if he passes out in the middle of the transference, and he can’t guarantee that he’ll be able to stand up and work without blacking out. The logical thing is to stay in the background, no matter how much his instincts scream at him to go over there and do something.
An image begins flickering in the space between Tosh's station and the sub-etheric resonator as the Mainframe begins to download into the reintegrator. It's staticky but vaguely person-shaped and becoming clearer as Ianto and Tosh work. Tim’s heartbeat is thundering in his ears and the edges of his vision are darkening worryingly, but he can’t look away. He can barely even bring himself to breathe.
The image begins to take on a more solid shape, and bits of color begin to appear - out of deference to Conner’s modesty Tim had made sure to program clothing into the reintegrator, and as he watches that familiar red and black S-Shield begins to take shape in the air.
His heart lurches as the rest of Conner becomes clearly visible, and then Conner’s there, hanging in midair, eyes closed and face slack but solid.
Then there’s a shower of sparks from the junction box and all the power goes out.
Several people yell all at once, but over the voices of Tosh, Ianto, and Jack Tim knows he hears another.
“Conner!” he shouts, pushing past Jack’s hand and standing.
The floor lurches under him but he hangs on to the IV stand and doesn’t fall. Jack is yelling at Tosh to get the lights back up and Tosh is yelling at Jack for making it harder to work by yelling at her, but all Tim can hear is a voice saying, “Tim? Dude, the lights are out, right? I didn’t go blind or anything?”
Tosh gets the emergency systems back up just as Tim’s saying “No, it’s supposed to be dark.” He has a split second in which to see Conner picking himself up off the floor beyond Tosh’s desk and then a hundred and fifty pounds of superpowered teenager hits him like a freight train.
Tim laughs as Conner hugs him, giddy with relief. He can barely breathe even with the respirator but Conner’s solid and real and he really doesn’t care. He hugs back just as hard as he can.
“You can’t even believe how glad I am to see you,” he says breathlessly.
“Oh, man,” Conner says. “Oh, man, you have no idea how nice it is to have a body. Shit - Robbie, are you okay?”
“I’m fine, SB,” Tim says, even though his vision is greying out pretty badly and he can’t exactly feel his legs. “I think I should sit down, though.”
“Right, of course,” Conner says, and immediately gets him settled back in his chair. Tim’s smile broadens - he’s never been so glad to feel Conner’s TTK brush over him.
“Test drive,” he says. “Let’s make sure everything works.” It might not be the most prudent idea to have Conner show off in front of everyone, but Tim honestly doesn’t care. Conner’s back, and Tim feels like he can take on the world.
Conner grins, steps back, and hovers. Owen says something extremely inappropriate.
“Looks good,” Conner says, landing. “Feels right. Have I mentioned lately how totally awesome you are?”
“Team effort,” Tim reminds him, belatedly glancing over to check on his co-conspirators. They look surprised but pleased, and Ianto is surreptitiously passing a handkerchief to Jack.
“Shut up,” Ianto says pleasantly when he sees Owen notice.
Owen rolls his eyes but doesn’t pursue it, instead bustling over to check on Tim. He frowns when he sees the readouts on the monitor strapped to Tim’s chest.
“I hate to cut such a sappy moment short, guys, but we need to get Robin back. And Superboy.”
Tim swallows hard. He knew this moment was coming, but it still causes a pang in his chest. He pushes it aside - he’s had a long time to get used to the necessity of sidelining his emotions and doing what has to be done. “You’re right. We’d better open the portal.” He pulls a piece of chalk and a small piece of crystal out of his belt pouch. “Superboy, take these, please.”
Conner grabs them, hovering anxiously. “Okay, what do I need to do?”
“Just stand over there. Use the chalk to draw a circle on the floor around your feet and hang on to that stone.” His voice is very steady.
Conner frowns. “Wouldn’t it make more sense if I drew it here around your chair? Then you wouldn’t have to get up. Or would the chair come with us?”
“I’m willing to sacrifice the chair,” Jack says amiably.
“Over there is fine,” Tim repeats.
Conner stops, eyes narrowing. “Why is the circle only going to be around me?”
Tim frowns. “Superboy, I don’t have time to explain - “
Conner puts the materials on the floor and backs away from them pointedly. “Talk fast.”
Shit. If he was feeling better, he could have managed this. Conner never would have had to know until - well. It’s no good. He’ll have to do what he can, and hope Jack doesn’t react badly. "The circle’s only going to be around you because I'm not going," he says, voice as emotionless as he can make it. "Now pick it back up. Jack - "
"What?" Conner blurts. "Don't be stupid, man. Let's go home."
"It's best if I stay here," Tim says evenly. "The physical toll will ease as soon as the portal closes for good, so I’ll be fine even if I don’t go back. You’re needed there. I talked this over with Anita and Cassie before I left and they agree."
"That is total bullshit," Conner says hotly.
"It's not your decision."
"Fine," Conner bites out, and rises sharply towards the ceiling, well out of the reach of Tim’s grappling hook even if he’d had the strength to reel Conner in. "Explain it to me better or I'm not going either."
"Stop being childish," Tim snaps. "God, this is so like you - you never consider the consequences - "
"Yeah, well, you're bad at sharing!" Conner shoots back. "Stop being so damn Batty! Be Tim and talk to me!"
"Fine!" Tim shouts, composure well and truly gone now. He doesn’t have the lung capacity to get much volume going, but at least he doesn’t pass out. "Remember the Titans of Tomorrow? The alternate future?"
"Yeah, but we stopped that - "
"We didn't. It came back." He crosses his arms tightly across his chest. He hadn’t wanted to tell Conner this. Conner has enough to deal with worrying about his own potentially evil side, he shouldn’t have to worry about Tim’s. "The... most logical common denominator in terms of both frequency and personality is me. If I'm not there, it won't happen. It's a simple as that and if the only thing I can do to stop it is stay away, then..." His voice trails off. Conner drifts lower, looking concerned. "Look, Conner... after you died, it was... everything got... there's nothing for me, back there. Not anymore."
"But Dick and Bruce - "
"They’ll be all right. I'm not... necessary." It hurts to say that, it hurts, but it’s true. He’s nearly the age Dick was when Bruce pushed him out of the nest. Dick’s back on his feet now after the Bludhaven disaster. Both of them are increasingly involved in their own concerns and investigations, and Tim... Tim does what he can, around the edges. He knows that leaving will hurt them but he also knows where staying gets him, and if the only thing he can do is refuse to allow that the Titans of Tomorrow future to happen then that’s what he’ll do.
For a long moment, there's silence. Tosh and Gwen are frozen by the stairs, riveted, and even Owen looks like he's holding his breath. Ianto's hanging on to Jack’s arm, wide-eyed.
Conner touches down next to him.
"It started out as just the two of us," he says contemplatively.
"Poison Ivy," Tim remembers. It feels so long ago.
"I'm just saying - World's Finest. It's practically destiny. If we can't do it there, at least we can do it here."
Tim’s breath catches in his throat. He knows what Conner’s saying, what he’s offering. He can’t take him up on it. He shouldn’t. Conner should be home, with Cassie and Superman and the Teen Titans. Tim can’t justify taking Conner for himself.
“I’m not sure you’ve thought this through - “ he tries.
Conner shrugs. “Been dead for a year already, haven’t I?” He points out reasonably. “How many people did you actually tell you were doing this?”
“Cassie and Anita,” Tim says reluctantly. “And Alfred.” That had been the hardest, but he couldn’t in good conscience leave without talking to the old man. Alfred has been one of the few reliable constants in Tim’s life, and he couldn’t bear... it wouldn’t have been fair to go without warning Alfred about what was coming.
“There you go, then,” Conner says. “If you think about it, it would probably be more upsetting if I came back from the dead, considering where that got us last time.”
Tim winces. Superman’s resurrection, however fortuitous, had been linked to the Crisis and no one’s going to be pleased with the idea that could be back on the table.
“Besides, if I’m here I’m pretty well out of Luthor’s influence and that can only be a good thing.” He waggles his eyebrows. “Come on, man. Boldly go where no one has gone before?”
Despite himself, Tim smiles.
"Jack," he says slowly, turning hesitantly to look at the others. "I'd like to request asylum. I'm skilled at hand-to-hand combat, strategy, espionage, and computer technology, if any of those would be of help to you."
"I want to stay, too," Conner says defiantly, grinning. "I can - I dunno, hit stuff and be awesome."
"Done," Jack says immediately. Tim feels his shoulders slump with relief. "Do you need jobs?"
"Jack!" Gwen protests, appalled. "You can't hire children!" Owen looks like he agrees, and Tim knows that’s something he’s going to have to deal with again later. He’s just glad Owen’s not raising any objections now; he probably thinks here is at least better than wherever Tim and Conner came from.
"Well, they’re sort of an unusual case,” Jack says a little guiltily. “And it wouldn’t be the first time Torchwood’s had kids on staff. It was a long time ago, though,” he adds hastily. “Those Victorians, not so enlightened.”
"Or - or aliens!" Gwen continues, then gives Conner an apologetic look.
"Also not the first time,” Jack says, looking amused. Conner smiles back.
"There are conditions, though," Jack continues, focusing on them. "You'll work part-time, when I say and only when I say. You can live together without a chaperone but I expect you to go to school and get good grades."
Conner groans softly.
"You - " he points to Conner, " - no sports. And you - " Tim, "No taking over the world without my permission. Deal?"
Tim blinks. "Um. Deal."
“All right.” He claps his hands together, looking pleased with himself. “Now, how do we sort out this portal business?”
* * * * * * * * * *
Tim isn’t entirely certain the rock in a chalk circle is going to work without someone holding it, but he sets it up and recites the phrase that Anita made him memorise and a moment later the air wavers and bends above the circle. Tim feels something ease in his chest that he hadn’t even realised was stretched thin. It’s suddenly a little easier to breathe.
“Ooh, tingly,” Jack mutters behind them. “God, that feels so weird.”
Tim files this away for later consideration. “Empress?”
“Robin?” Anita’s voice calls. “Is that you?”
“I’m here and I have Superboy with me,” Tim says. “We’re both fine.” The air warps and clears, leaving behind a slightly out-of-focus image of Anita and Cassie.
“Conner!” Cassie says. “Oh my God, I’m so glad to see you!”
“Hi Cassie, sorry for dying,” Conner says, and winces.
Anita snickers. Cassie rolls her eyes but keeps smiling.
“Yeah, well, you saved the world so I guess it’s okay,” she says. “Jerk.”
Conner grins. Heart aching, Tim takes a small step closer to his friend. Conner made the decision to stay, and Tim’s more grateful than he can say for it, but he can’t ask this and he can’t hurt Cassie. He just can’t. If he can push Conner into the circle, Conner should go back through. He’ll probably be furious with Tim but that’s okay -
“Hey, Cassie, I need to talk to you about something,” Conner says uneasily. “The thing is - “
“You’re staying there with Tim,” Cassie says, smiling sadly.
Tim stops, one hand slightly outstretched. “What?”
“Uh, yeah,” Conner says. “How did you know?”
Cassie locks eyes with him. “I told you I understood, Tim,” she says softly.
Tim stares. “But I - “
“Look,” Anita says seriously. “We want you both back here, of course we do, but we know why that’s a bad idea. We decided that before we sent Tim. The thing is...” she glances at Cassie. “We’d both feel a lot better if you two are there to look out for each other.”
Cassie raises her chin. “We knew Tim wasn’t coming back when we got into this, and we didn’t like it but it was necessary. Conner...” her voice breaks. “You wouldn’t be you if you just left him there. Okay? We understand. We’re fine here and you guys need to watch each other’s backs.” She gives them a wobbly little smile. “Young, but just us, right?”
Tim puts his hand over his mouth. He’d known it was going to be hard to leave everything behind, and he’s glad beyond measure that Conner will stay with him, but God... it hurts more than he’d let himself think it would. He’s sure Cassie didn’t mean to make it worse by using that old catch-phrase - she’s intelligent and can be calculating but she’s never been cruel - but it’s a sharp reminder of just how much they’re having to walk away from.
“Cassie...” Conner says, voice breaking. He grabs Tim’s shoulder and Tim’s never been more grateful for the comfort Conner gets from being tactile. “I love you. We’ll miss you both so much.”
She smiles waveringly. “I know. I love you too. Now stop wasting interdimensional power, all right?”
Conner throws a concerned look at Tim. “Right. Tell everyone... tell them what you think they need to hear, okay?”
Anita nods. “We will. And hey - I found you once, I can find you again. So until later?”
“Until later,” they echo.
Anita gestures, and their images dissipate.
Tim sucks in a breath as warmth floods him, washing the pain and tiredness away. He feels... tingly. Flushed. Alive.
Owen grabs his arm as he staggers and checks his monitor. “What the crap... how do you feel?”
Tim locks eyes with Conner. There are tear tracks down his cheeks and Tim’s sure he looks just as wretched, but he gives Tim a crooked little smile and it lights up his entire face.
Young, but just us, Tim thinks.
“I’m fine,” he says. “We’re fine.”
Jack comes back to life gasping. He does his usual postmortem survey – teammates: clustered loyally around him; surroundings: reasonably secure; personal physical integrity: fantastic as usual.
He sits up. His head feels a little weird.
"What happened?" He asks.
Owen kneels down in front of him and checks his pupils. "Remember the bomb in your stomach?"
Jack rewinds the last few minutes of his life - Gwen's pregnant, Ianto lost the car, and oh yeah, there had been a bomb in his stomach, which was really just mean on somebody's part. "Yes?"
"Well, there wasn't time to defuse it, so Tim got you with a nerve strike - "
"Sorry about that," Tim says guiltily.
"Don't mention it."
" - and then had Conner pull out the bomb and fly it up out of the Hub to explode at a distance."
Jack blinks. Now that he pays attention, Conner's clothing is burnt and torn and his own is impressively gory, which Ianto will probably have a fit about.
He looks up. There is a very emphatic new skylight in the Hub's ceiling where Conner took the path of least resistance while carrying out his bomb disposal duties.
"Sorry about that," Conner says sheepishly.
"Don't mention it."
"I hate to interrupt this," Tosh says from her station. "But there's some kind of paramilitary SWAT team up on the Plass and I think they want to know why we aren't dead yet."
"Work, work, work," Jack sighs, getting to his feet. "Okay, team, huddle up!"
His teammates loyally trade 'humour him, it will be over soon' looks and shuffle around.
"Tosh, see if you can tap into their communications. Ianto, I need something to wear that doesn't make me look like a zombie. Gwen, congratulations on motherhood, you're grounded until the due date. Ah!" He says when she tries to protest. "Tim, Conner, you're upgraded to three-quarters time until Gwen's maternity leave is over and then it's back to school. Everybody good?"
"Great," Tosh says, smiling at Owen, and wow - Jack didn't know Owen even could blush. Between Copley trying to kill him and Grey trying to nuke all of them he's clearly managed to access his softer, more romantic side, which is nearly as adorable as Tosh being the boss of the relationship.
Ianto clears his throat pointedly. "Heavily armed bad guys?"
Jack blinks. "Right! Yeah, we should probably take care of that. Tim, Conner, and Ianto, you're with me. Everybody else - you know what to do, let's get it done."