Ianto squinted into the grey morning light as he drove the black Torchwood SUV onto the Plass. Jack was beside him in the passenger seat, and the heater blasted over them both–-warm and cozy. Ianto tried not to smirk. Here they were, together, and it was almost becoming routine.
Then something appeared in front of him, smack in the middle of the street, and he barely had time to swerve to the left and shove his foot onto the brake. “What the bloody hell!” he shouted as they squealed to a stop.
Jack was already out the door and running, as Ianto peered out the rear view mirror and saw the strange blue box. He watched Jack pound on the Police Box door, and saw people on the Plass walking calmly around them. Ianto took a deep breath, reached over to close Jack’s door, and drove the SUV to the closest space he could safely park it. His heart pounded as he jumped out the door and ran for the Tardis.
He couldn’t lose Jack again–=not now.
The door was unlocked this time. Jack tumbled into the Tardis, his lungs burning. He still heard the SUV brakes squealing, Ianto shouting, and his heart thundering in his ears. He’d made it. He grabbed the railing and looked around–the coral struts, the glowing column at the center, a soft golden glow–like being home again. And there was the Doctor at the console in his pinstripes, watching Jack coolly with his fathomless eyes.
“You should be careful where you park this thing!” Jack said as he caught his breath.
“Yes, well,” said the Doctor, rubbing his neck, “I asked the Tardis to find you. She’s usually good at avoiding collisions.”
“Be grateful Ianto is, too,” said Jack, but the Doctor had already turned around, typing into the console.
Jack walked up the steps and looked at him. Either he was really in the middle of something, or for some reason wasn’t in the mood for a proper greeting. His eyes looked a bit puffy, his hair mussed and unwashed, and his face was dark with stubble.
“I take it you haven’t come to refuel.”
“I came for you.” The Doctor peered up from the console, but his thoughts were clearly distracted. Jack didn’t know whether to hang back or rush into his arms. “When is this for you, Jack? After the year?”
Jack nodded, his breath catching in his throat. “That’s absolutely in the past.”
“Good,” the Doctor nodded back. “I need your help.”
Jack followed his gaze to the monitor, which showed a solar system of red planets. So this was all business, then. “You need someone who can’t die.” Jack said.
The Doctor ran a hand through his hair. “Yes, well–-"
“Consider it done,” Jack answered, his gaze steady on the Doctor’s face.
The Doctor’s eyebrow twitched. He hadn’t expected Jack to agree so easily to just anything.
For some reason, Jack felt a flash of anger–-didn’t he know Jack would do anything for him? The Tardis hummed quietly around them. All the noise from the Plass filtered away, and it was just him and the Doctor, who opened his mouth to speak.
Suddenly, a pounding on the door startled them both. The Doctor pressed a button on the console and the screen lit up to show Ianto’s face, as he pounded at the Tardis doors outside. “You know him?” asked the Doctor.
“Know him?” Jack echoed. “He’s my–-" the Doctor’s eyes were fixed on him, but Jack didn’t censor himself–-“My partner. He was driving the SUV when we almost ran into you.” Jack surprised himself–-he’d never called Ianto anything that intimate, to anyone, not even to Ianto himself. Why was he telling the Doctor?
Yet the Doctor’s face twisted into a little smile. “Didn’t think you’d ever settle for one partner, Jack.”
Jack shrugged. “My reputation’s ruined then, isn’t it?” He glanced back at the screen, then added, “I waited for you for a hundred years, didn’t I?”
The Doctor again raised his eyebrow in surprise. “Not in the same way, is it?”
“Yes and no,” Jack answered honestly enough, and the Doctor’s eyes met his own again. There was something in there beyond the Doctor’s usual dismissal, a question perhaps, and Jack wanted to lean in closer to him.
But Ianto pounded the door again, calling his name. “Damn you, Jack!”
The Doctor’s face was impassive. “You want me to let him in?”
“Yes,” Jack answered. “He deserves better than to have me disappear on him again without a goodbye.”
The Doctor pressed a button, and looked over to the door. Ianto stumbled inside as the door gave way. Quickly, he recovered himself to his full height. He looked around with wide eyes, admiring the Tardis, then his eyes found Jack and the Doctor. “You must be the Doctor, then,” he said.
The Doctor nodded, his voice suddenly light and friendly. “That’s me. Hello.”
“Jones, Ianto Jones,” Ianto said, walking up the steps. They shook hands awkwardly, and Jack concealed a grin.
“So, this is the magic box,” Ianto looked around, his eyes wide with admiration. The Doctor glanced over at Jack, one eyebrow raised–-so, you’ve told him. And then Ianto turned back to the Doctor with a tight smile, “And you’re the alien threat we’ve heard so much about.”
“Well, not so much a threat,” the Doctor said, running a hand over his neck. “Ah, Queen Victoria–-right, there was a werewolf--“
Ianto nodded, “So I’ve heard.”
Jack laughed. “All right, Ianto, enough. Doctor, what’s going on?”
“Well,” the Doctor said, turning back to his screen. He punched the console again and the solar system reappeared on screen. “I’ve detected increasing thermonuclear levels from a star in Seven/apple/gamma,” he said. His eyes flicked to Ianto. “About seven light years from Earth and 10,000 years in the future. It’s going to cause an interstellar explosion about the size of your galaxy-–in about three weeks in my timeline.”
“So, people in danger, then?” Jack winked.
“This is a job for you, Jack--not Torchwood.”The Doctor glanced back at Ianto.
“Understood.” Jack answered.
“Sir,” Ianto said, standing at attention. “I’ll leave you to it then?” He took a few steps toward the door, then turned around again, “Jack–-you’re coming back, aren’t you?”
Jack turned to the Doctor. “Let him stay until we know what’s going on.”
“Your call, Jack,” the Doctor nodded. “But it’s much too dangerous for you to come along, Ianto. I’m sorry.”
Ianto gladly hopped back up the stairs to watch, and the Doctor looked concerned but turned back to the screen without another word, pulling on his brainy specs. “This star is sending out gamma waves and solar flares, driving up the radiation in all the nuclear facilities in the planetary system.” He glanced at Jack. “The nuclear plants will blow before that sun goes supernova.”
“Let me guess--it’s our job to shut them down.”
“And then evacuate as many species as we can,” the Doctor added.
“How many nuclear plants are there?”
“Just five, on two planets. If we fail, it’s a mass extinction. These species haven’t settled anywhere outside this system for another 3,000 years.”
“Hold on," Ianto asked. “But if you’re evacuating them now, or they die, isn't it a paradox to say they live there for 3,000 more years?"
Jack cut him off with a shake of the head. "Don't go there."
The Doctor turned around. “I issued a call for evacuation across the solar system, but some governments are more approachable than others.”
“Have you called on the Shadow Proclamation?” Jack asked.
“Out of their jurisdiction,” the Doctor interrupted. “It’s death by natural causes, not a police action.”
Jack nodded. “Right.”
The Doctor looked down at the console, flicking switches, then looked at Ianto, and back at Jack.
“Ianto,” Jack said, putting a hand on his shoulder and pointing, “Go down that hall, you’ll find the kitchen on the first door on the right. Would you make us a strong cup of tea?”
Ianto nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“The Doctor takes three sugars, and a teaspoon of milk,” Jack explained.
“Thank you,” the Doctor told him, and Ianto turned to wander the halls of the Tardis.
The Doctor leaned on the console and looked at Jack, whose eyes followed Ianto’s back. “Jack,” he said softly.
“What else?” Jack said, turning back to the Doctor with a deep breath. "What's this paradox?"
“Ianto had a point,” the Doctor said, grimly. “Something shifted the time line. Namely, the Time War. Radiation rippled out over the universe, making different planets form, different suns explode. It changes history."
Jack nodded. “The time war,“ he said softly, “wasn’t all your fault.”
“This star here, in Seven/apple/gamma, would have been stable for 3,000 more years. Its inhabitants by then would have gotten the hell off those rocks,” the Doctor leaned over and flicked a switch on the console, then ran a hand through his hair. “Jack, I’m responsible for that. If you want to walk out that door back to Torchwood, I understand.”
Jack shook his head. “You know I’ll help. But you also know, you don’t have to spend all your life trying to make amends.“
The Doctor crossed his arms, and his voice went cold, “Yes, I do.” He looked at Jack. “I’m the only one who can.”
“Then, you know I’ve got your back.” Jack said, just as firmly.
The Doctor took a deep, heavy breath. “Thank you,” he muttered. Then he whirled around, typing into the Tardis again, pulling up a closer look at the planets.
Yellow dots blinked at different spots on the planets. “These are the nuclear plants,” explained the Doctor. “We’ll go in and shut them down. Once we’re in that timeline we have to move fast. We’ll have to cut through security. The staff at each location may help, or make this harder.”
Ianto cleared his throat behind them. “Tea. I've never met a kitchen quite like yours, Doctor.”
"Brilliant!" The Doctor swirled around. “Thank you, Ianto Jones,” he flashed a manic grin. His eyes were big and brown, and Ianto felt his mouth fall open as he saw the Doctor’s face, disarmed, staring into his own. No wonder Jack had fallen for this man, he thought--this all-powerful leader who could still be utterly guileless and beautiful.
He glanced toward the Doctor’s cup. “On the left, three sugars, and a teaspoon of milk, Doctor.” And he glanced toward the right-hand cup. “And Jack, black, 1 teaspoon sugar.”
Jack smirked at him-–and Ianto flushed. Noticing the lack of a table, he set the platter down carefully on the floor and took his own mug. The Doctor took a sip and turned back to the screen. “Right then. We’ll try to fit as many people as we can in the Tardis for evacuation. We’ll bunk them. I may have to jettison the pool again,” he shrugged. “Can’t find my swim trunks anyway.”
“The pool?” Ianto said.
Jack chuckled. “Pool, library, zoo–“
“Bigger on the inside, I know,” Ianto nodded. “I was thinking-–if you have several species to evacuate, have you identified relocation planets with the correct atmospheric and geographic conditions?”
The Doctor shook his head. “Getting them off world was first priority.” He glanced to Jack. “Torchwood shouldn’t have planetary data as such-–do you?”
Jack glanced at Ianto. “If Ianto could access your database remotely."
The Doctor’s eyes went wide. “Right.”
Jack watched the Doctor pull up the Torchwood server and Ianto’s network profile. “How did you? Never mind. I don’t want to know.”
The Doctor grinned. “Network expert, me. You may have the best security for 21st century Earth, but even by your century’s standards, it’s easy work for a hacker.”
Jack shook his head. “I was hardly a computer whiz in the 51st century.” Ianto looked back and forth between Jack and the Doctor with wide eyes. Jack winked at him–-of course, Ianto was probably eating up every little comment to try to piece together Jack’s history.
But the Doctor had moved on. “Ianto. Start looking in the Azerbane cluster, maybe the Ozarnai galaxies. Look for sparsely populated planets, maybe those with ruins that could be rebuilt to suitable infrastructure. Nowhere too overcrowded. I’ll send you the species lists, planetary atmospheric conditions, habitat needs--everything for a comprehensive relocation effort.”
He reached behind the console monitor and pulled out a flash drive. “This has the access software and algorithm for your password. Reboots every 30 seconds. Like a 21st century RSA key. Keep it on your person at all times.”
Ianto nodded, turning it over in his hands, a bit amazed that the Doctor even had 21st century flash drives just lying around. “Consider it done.”
The Doctor gave Jack a warning look. “Torchwood is not getting permanent access. I’ll give you read-only rights that expire in 48 hours.”
Jack nodded. “So we’ll be back in two days?”
“Two weeks for us-–maybe three. But for you, Ianto Jones, 48 hours.” The Doctor smiled at him. “I’ll bring Jack home to you. Go be brilliant.”
Ianto nodded. “Happy to help, sir.”
Jack leaned forward to Ianto, who tried to hug him, awkwardly. But Jack grasped his shoulders and brought his lips to Ianto’s in a fierce kiss. His thumbs traced the edges of Ianto’s collarbone, and then he pulled away with his eyes open. He could see the arousal in Ianto’s eyes, but the rest of his body was tense, prim and proper as always. Ianto swallowed hard. “I’m coming back,” Jack reassured him.
“Please,” Ianto said, his voice thick, then turned to walk out the door.
Jack watched him leave, then turned back to the Doctor–-whom he found was watching him intently. “So,” Jack said. “Seven/Apple/Gamma it is, then.”
The Doctor swallowed and turned back to his screen. “You kissed me like that at the Game Station,” he said, doing his best not to look at Jack.
Jack’s mouth dropped open, “Doctor?”
“I’m bringing you home to him,” the Doctor continued. “Torchwood will have its Captain.”
Jack nodded. “And you? Travelling alone still?”
The Doctor was busy, typing away, bringing up data on the nuclear plants, but he paused a moment. “Yeah.” He flipped switches for the dematerialization sequence, then grinned. “Lift-off!” And he pulled the lever.
As the Tardis trembled and whooshed into the Vortex, Jack imagined Ianto climbing back into the SUV and walking into Torchwood for the morning. He had a brief flash of guilt for leaving him behind-–but he couldn’t abandon the Doctor now. The Doctor grinned manically at him as they both clung to the console, and Jack grinned back, excitement flooding through him. Time for another adventure.