The warmth of life was crawling back through Jack's body but something was wrong. It was too slow; the ice was still in his limbs and he couldn't move. Couldn't open his eyes, couldn't breathe, couldn't even think.
And then, with a final, desperate surge born of panic, he broke free, gulped in a breath of stinking air - and found himself staring up at a small, blonde woman who beamed at him with delight.
"Oh, how wonderful!" she said.
Jack coughed, bringing up a foul, chemical-tasting fluid. "Who the hell are you?" He sat up and glanced around, taking in the state of the Hub. "Why am I awake? This isn't 2008!" His team was dying; his city was dying; and he was back in a past he'd left long ago. "Put me back under, damn it!"
The woman - on second glance, little more than a girl, dressed in a dusty FANY uniform - held out her hand. "I'm Poppy ffoulkes-Wilson. In charge of Torchwood Three."
Jack didn't take her hand and, after a moment, she dropped it. "Why did you wake me up?" he demanded again.
"There was a bomb," she said. "It caused some problems with our systems and your cryogenic chamber went offline for a few hours. Once the defrosting process had started, I didn't know if it would be safe to refreeze you."
"And you didn't ask anybody because…?"
Poppy glanced away and, for the first time, Jack noticed the shadows under her eyes. "There isn't anybody to ask."
"Where's your team?" Jask asked softly.
"The bomb," Poppy said, and it was as simple as that because now Jack understood.
He shut his eyes against the wave of pain. "I'm sorry, Poppy." The second of January, 1941. The night of the big raid on Cardiff. And if this girl was the only survivor, it meant that, despite appearances, she was the brisk, competent Penelope who would be running Torchwood when Jack was demobbed in 1946.
"It's been nearly two days," Poppy said. "I think I've arranged things properly but I'm really very new." There was something in the tone of her words that made her sound like a lost child.
"When did you last sleep?" he asked.
She sounded wondering as she said, "Oh, before the raid, I should think."
"You're no good to anybody, then. You need to sleep."
"I couldn't possibly. There's a report of alien artifacts down by the docks and it-"
"And I'm an experienced field agent," Jack interrupted. "Go to sleep and let me deal with it."
"Are you sure?" She sounded desperately hopeful.
"I'm sure." He tried to remember the layout of the Hub as it had been. "The medical room survived." A storey down and used, in his Torchwood, as just another storage room. "Tuck yourself up and go to sleep."
The alien artifacts turned out to be nothing more than the sad remnants of a ship's hull. The steel was twisted, ruptured, burned beyond endurance and recognition, and it was all too much of this time and place.
Jack was back at the Hub within an hour to set the paperwork in motion.
"Yes, I'm Jack Harkness," he said wearily, head resting on his hand as he slumped at what would one day be his desk. "Yes, I know Torchwood has released me for the duration. Look-" He waited while the Torchwood London bureaucrat burbled objections. "Do you have access to my full file?"
Jack wasn't especially surprised when the bureaucrat confessed that he didn't.
"Then put me through to somebody who does. Trust me, it'll make things run much more smoothly."
And eventually, Jack heard a familiar voice. "Jack, old chap? What are you doing back in Cardiff?"
"Bunny!" Jack shut his eyes in relief. "There's someone sensible down there. Look, there's been a time hiccup and I'm passing through again."
"Again? Jack, I'm starting to think you just can't keep away from me. When are you from this time?"
Bunny never changed. Even at the end, in constant pain from the cancer, he was still Bunny. "You know I can't tell you that."
"Anywhen with flying cars?"
"Yes. I fly a Bugatti to work every day."
"The 12-litre model, I hope."
Jack smiled. "Nothing so feeble. It's the 40-litre for me." He rubbed his face. "Look, Bunny, Cardiff's in a bad state."
"The bomb," Bunny said, the humour draining from his voice. "It's a bad show but ffoulkes-Wilson seems to be keeping on top of things."
"As well as she can," Jack said, "but she's got no experience. I need you to send a support team over as soon as possible."
"Hmm." Jack heard the rustle of paperwork over the phone. "If it's urgent, I can send Griffin's team but I'd thought Chandhar's would be-"
"Wait for Chandhar," Jack said quickly.
"You're sure?" Bunny said.
"Trust me on this," Jack said fervently. "It has to be Chandhar." Because Jack had a feeling that things would turn out very badly if Penelope didn't meet Jatinder Singh Chandhar.
"He can't get there for..." More rustling of paper. "It's going to be two, maybe three weeks. He's in- Well, it doesn't matter where he is. Can ffoulkes-Wilson cope on her own for that long?"
Jack wanted to say she could. He wanted to step back into the freezer and get to when he could save his own team, rather than worrying about somebody else's. But Penelope had always been there for him and he couldn't leave her now, not when it made no real difference to his own team. He'd wake up at the right moment, no matter how many stops he made along the way. "No."
Bunny cleared his throat and Jack already knew what he was going to say. "I know you're just passing through, but...?"
Jack sighed. "Issue the contract. I'll stick around until Chandhar gets here."
Jack hadn't remembered there being this many Weevils sixty years ago. Then again, he hadn't actually been in Cardiff at the time and it was very likely they were as disturbed by the Blitz as everybody else was. Even sewers could get bombed out.
He had remembered the primitive equipment. No anti-Weevil spray, so he was reduced to an improvised taser and straightforward physical force - and the Weevils had him easily beaten on that score. He groaned as the third Weevil of the night sent him flying into a pile of rubble. And no Ianto to rescue him.
He pushed the thought of Ianto out of his head and pulled himself upright. "Okay, my Weevilly friend," he said. "This is your last chance to come quietly."
The Weevil snarled at him.
"That's not very poli-" Jack broke off and twisted to the side as the Weevil lunged at him, and Jack was able to deliver a heavy shock to the back of the Weevil's neck. It let out a low groan and crumpled to the floor. "Polite," Jack finished. "Your mom should have taught you better manners." He bent over to snap the metal cuffs onto the Weevil's wrists, then turned on the alien radio set that Poppy had found in the depths of the archives. "Come and pick me up, Pops. And bring a bottle of whisky because your medical supplies won't cut it."
"Coming, Jack." Poppy's voice was muffled by the roar of the powerful Burney's engine, and Jack sat down on the Weevil to wait for her. It was only a few minutes until the black Burney Streamline pulled up with a screech and a scattering of gravel.
Poppy jumped out. "Oh, well done!" she said. "He's a big one."
"I know." Jack held his hand out for the flask of whisky and took a deep swallow. He gasped and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "I'm getting too old for this," he said.
"How old are you?" Poppy asked.
"Two thousand, one hundred and something," Jack said, and Poppy giggled.
"I hope I'm looking that good at your age."
"You will be," Jack said. He stretched and stood up, giving the Weevil a casual kick as it started to move. "Stay still." He opened the back door of the Burney and began heaving the Weevil in. "Any more for us to catch?"
"No reports," Poppy said. "But I did get a call from Colonel Marchbanks at Torchwood One."
"What did Bunny want?" Jack asked. "If he's querying my expenses, he can go and kiss a Sontaran."
"I have no idea what one of those is," Poppy said, "but I suspect that kissing it would be unpleasant."
"Very unpleasant," Jack confirmed.
"So it's a good job he had no problem with your expenses. He was actually calling to let me know that the support group will be here in the next two days."
"That's quick," Jack said. "He told me it'd be two or three weeks."
Poppy looked puzzled. "But it has been."
"Are you sure?"
"Absolutely positive. Today's the twentieth."
"January twentieth, 1941," Jack said. "Why's that familiar?"
"Because that's the day we were able to stop hunting Weevils before nine o'clock?"
Jack grinned. "That is, quite possibly, it. Let's get Freddy here home to a nice, comfy cell."
It wasn't until the Weevil was in its cell and Jack was hanging up his coat that he remembered why the date was important.
And then he ran.
He pulled up outside the Ritz Dancehall just as the door opened, flash of dim light absurdly bright in the blacked-out street. It was only open for a moment but it was long enough for Jack to catch sight of Captain Jack Harkness' face among the group of young men.
He was in time. Thank god he was in time.
"Captain Harkness," he called, and heard the group stop walking. Damn the blackout, he couldn't see a thing.
"I'll catch you up," he heard someone say, and then someone walking towards him, faltering as he grew closer.
"Here," Jack said, and there was renewed confidence in the footsteps.
"James?" Harkness asked.
"Yes." Jack reached out his hand and found Harkness'. "It's me." He was gripping too hard but Harkness was holding him just as tight.
"I thought it was."
Jack closed his eyes in relief, and pulled Harkness towards him for a single, too-brief kiss. "Get in," he said.
"I have to be back on base by midnight," Harkness said after Jack eased the Burney back onto the near-empty roads.
When Jack looked over at him, he was staring fixedly in front of him, lit by the faint glow of the car's far-from-standard instrumentation.
"I can fix that," Jack said. "I work for an organisation- a department-"
"Top secret," Harkness said and he still didn't look at Jack. "I guessed. Some kind of transport development, right?"
"Something like that," Jack said.
Harkness was silent until Jack pulled the car into the underground garage. "They decided it hadn't happened." He slowly shook his head. "They all saw it but they wouldn't believe their own eyes. Decided it was some kind of drug in the drinks, I think."
"The light?" Jack asked. His breathing was shallow and he felt as though the wrong word, the wrong silence, would shatter everything.
"Not just the light," Harkness said, and he didn't look at Jack but his hand rested on Jack's on the gearstick and, after a moment, he folded their fingers together.
Jack took a deep breath. "Coming in with me?"
And, finally, Harkness turned to look at him and there was a shadow of uncertainty on his face but he smiled and said, simply, "Yes."
Poppy was crouching over her desk, using a magnifying glass to manipulate a tiny screw into place on something Jack couldn't care less about identifying. "Jack!" she said, sitting up. "I wondered where you'd got to. I need you to-"
"Not now," Jack said, and took hold of Harkness' hand. Harkness was glancing between Poppy and Jack, frowning in confusion.
Poppy blinked. "Does he have clearance?"
"It's okay." Jack tried to fill his voice with reassurance but it wasn't enough because Poppy narrowed her eyes.
"You may have more experience than me," she said, "but I am in charge and if somebody gets in who shouldn't, it's me who'll get in trouble."
And it was great that Poppy was beginning to take charge but not now, dammit. "Poppy, I swear, I'll explain later. You just have to trust me for now." He didn't let go of Harkness' hand. "Phone Bunny at Torchwood One. He'll clear anybody I clear. And I'm clearing-" He stopped at the name. "Him."
"I'll call him," Poppy said, her tone making it a threat.
"Do." And Jack meant it.
"She called you Jack," Harkness said quietly, letting Jack tug him towards the stairwell.
"It's a nickname," Jack said. "James, Jack."
"John, Jack," Harkness said. "But it's okay. I figured you weren't using your real name. The Japanese girl looked surprised when you introduced yourself. And then…" He gestured, somehow making it take in both the strangeness at the dance and the Hub itself.
"I wish I could tell you," Jack said.
"You shouldn't," Harkness said.
"No." Jack paused at the doorway to the medical room that had been serving as his bedroom. "There's a lot I can't tell you. But I can tell you that-"
"Not now," Harkness said, and he kissed Jack.
A moment of surprise and then Jack softened into the familiarity of it all; one hand on Harkness' jaw, the other at his waist and moving to the small of his back as they settled closer together. And it was Harkness who pushed Jack gently backwards until he bumped into the heavy metal door.
Jack smiled into the kiss and took his hand away from Harkness' back to open the door, and when Harkness pulled back a little, he was smiling too. "I feel like I've been waiting for years."
"I have," Jack said.
Harkness rested his forehead against Jack's and let out a breath of laughter. "I don't want to wait any longer."
"I want it to last a week," Jack said. "A month. A year."
"As long as it starts now."
"It has," Jack whispered, and steered them across the room to his bed. Narrow, hard, serviceable, and he wished he'd found something better for them. But both of their hands were at the buttons of Harkness' tunic, then his shirt, and Jack licked at Harkness' neck, tasting the sweat and cigarette smoke and aftershave and Harkness' groan.
Braces and undershirt and, damn, Jack had forgotten how many clothes people wore back now. But finally Harkness' chest was bare and Jack ran his fingers over it, learning contours he'd never touched before and never would again, touching so lightly that Harkness shivered.
"Jack," Harkness hissed, making it a swearword, and Jack pushed him backwards onto the bed.
And it only lasted a night.
Jack lay still, Harkness' head under his chin, and watched the clock tick through to 8am.
When it did, it took him another ten minutes to make himself wake Harkness, who blinked up at him, warm and pliant and suddenly young.
"You've got twenty minutes before we have to leave," Jack said and Harkness smiled.
"I only need five."
And that gave them fifteen minutes to fill.
Fifteen minutes that were interrupted when Poppy rapped on the door and marched in without waiting. She stood stock still for a moment, eyes wide and face pale, then turned and fled.
Jack lifted his head and met Harkness' horrified gaze. "Oops?" he said.
After a moment, Harkness dropped back onto the pillow and laughed. "Shit," he said, shaking his head. "Are we always going to have an audience?"
Jack kissed Harkness' hip. "I should go and see what she wanted," he said. "It might be important." But then he looked at what was stretched out in front of him for the last time. "Oh, fuck it. If it was really important, she wouldn't have run."
They only had seven minutes left.
They'd been on the road for five minutes - in the far less conspicuous Rover 12 - when Harkness said, "This- Is it just one night?" and Jack felt as though somebody had thumped him in the chest, stolen his breath.
"Do you want it to be?" he managed.
"Not really." After a moment, Harkness grinned and turned to look at him. "Not at all, actually."
"Then it's not," Jack said. The lie came easily but he had to look away from the uncomplicated happiness on Harkness' face.
They were about a mile from RAF Llandow when Jack pulled over and rested both hands on the steering wheel.
"Something wrong?" Harkness asked.
Don't fly today, Jack wanted to say. Fuck history; stay alive. Instead, he leaned over and kissed Harkness. "Can't really do that at the base," he said as he sat back.
Harkness touched his mouth lightly, then said, "Doing anything tonight?"
Hunting Weevils; mourning you. "Nothing that can't be put off."
"I'm off duty at five. I'll be free then, if you want..."
"Oh, I want," Jack said, and he was momentarily embarrassed by the need in his voice.
This time, it was Harkness who kissed him but it was Jack who held him still when he started to pull back, and it was Jack who tried to pour everything he wanted to say into the kiss.
Jack drove fast and recklessly and he was disappointed when he arrived at the Hub without anything more more life-threatening than an indignant car horn or two.
Torchwood could always be relied on to make him feel alive, though, and he jumped down the stairs calling, "Alright, Pops, what have you got for me to kill?"
And stopped short.
There were seven people in the Hub and it seemed crowded after the emptiness of the past few weeks. Poppy was sitting on a desk talking to the tall, immaculately-dressed man who Jack immediately recognised as Jatinder Singh Chandhar. It took him a little longer to identify the others and two he only knew from photographs.
"Jack," Poppy said, looking up, and there was a chill to her voice that was new. "I wanted to tell you this morning that Jatinder had arrived."
"I was busy," Jack said with a grin that felt brittle enough to crack.
"I expected you to find me once you'd stopped being busy."
"I have." His grin was fading.
"It took you a very long time to stop being busy."
"Yes, it did. Because Torchwood isn't my entire life right now. Now why don't you say what you mean?"
Poppy stood up. "You brought an unauthorised person in with no notice. You abandoned your duty in order to..." She faltered but recovered. "To entertain him. And then, despite knowing I was looking for you, you went for a jaunt. With Torchwood petrol rations!"
The Hub was uncomfortably quiet and Jack wanted to shout at her, to throw something, to tell her just what was going to happen to the unauthorised person but there was the sanctity of the timeline, always the fucking timeline, to worry about, so all he could do was snap to attention. "Yes, ma'am. Sorry, ma'am."
Poppy cleared her throat. "Well, as long as it doesn't happen again."
"It won't." Jack paused. "You've got your backup. I can go back in the freezer."
Poppy's eyes widened but she said, "Of course. If that's what you want."
"It's what's needed."
She nodded sharply. "Are there any preparations you need to make?"
Jack started to say no but stopped. There was always a chance- Maybe he'd changed things just enough. A split-second made all the difference in the air, a hair's breadth faster or slower, and maybe- Possibly-
He had to be there at five o'clock. Not in expectation, nothing that positive. In hope.
"Yes," he said.
He was parked outside the base's entrance fifteen minutes early but it wasn't until the dot of five o'clock that he pulled into the gateway.
"I'm here to see Captain Jack Harkness," he said, showing the sentry the RAF ID he'd acquired a few hours earlier. Captain James Harper existed now.
"Just a moment, sir," the sentry said, and turned to telephone through to the base. Jack stared at the nicotine stains on the man's fingers and saw the exact moment they tightened around the receiver. "Fuck," the sentry said, quiet enough that Jack wasn't meant to hear. "I'll tell him," he said and hung up.
"It's okay," Jack said. It had been foolish to even hope for anything else. Time was good at snapping back into place. "You don't have to tell me."
He'd shoved the car into reverse when the sentry asked, "Don't you want to know what hospital?"
The car stalled and Jack said, carefully, "Hospital? He's-" He didn't even want to say it. Didn't want to risk bringing it to the attention of the universe.
"He's at St. Teilo's, sir."
Of course it was St. Teilo's.
It took an hour to battle through the various levels of bureaucracy but, eventually, Jack was shown into a dimly-lit room with a single bed, occupied by a figure muffled in bandages. "Jack?" he said softly.
"Who's that?" Harkness' voice was rough as hell.
"How did you get in?" He coughed, once.
"Shameless abuse of authority." Jack was close enough to see Harkness now. There was a bandage over his eyes but the rest of his face was clear and Jack felt a surge of relief that he'd escaped full blast of airman's burn melting his face and hands. "What happened?"
"Messerschmitts, out of nowhere." Another harsh, dry cough. "One of them managed to take out my landing gear." His mouth twitched into a smile. "Landed a bit rough after that."
"I can imagine." Jack knew the absolute concentration as you came in to land and that moment where there was nothing more you could do and everything was up to the gust of the wind and the cracks and bumps of the runway and sheer bloody luck. Jack took hold of Harkness' hand, careful of the splint on his arm. "What do the doctors say?"
"Bit smashed, bit burned but I'll live." His hand tightened convulsively on Jack's and he drew a deep, rasping breath. "They're just not sure I'll be able to see."
Jack shut his own eyes. "Shit," he said eventually.
They sat in comfortable silence for a long while until Harkness broke it, saying, "You didn't sign up for this. I won't blame you if you want out."
"I don't want out," Jack said. He stroked his thumb over Harkness' wrist and fought the temptation to kiss it. "I'm just not sure I'll be able to stay. I was meant to be shipping out tonight."
"Then you have to go." A simple statement of fact, no blame underneath the huskiness of injury, and Jack gave in to the temptation, pressed his lips to Harkness' wrist.
"There's no real rush. Where I'm headed - it'll always be there."
The crush in the Hub was down to one person - a black woman he knew from photographs was Alice Williams. "Poppy?" he asked.
Alice jerked a thumb over her shoulder. "In the office," she said, then turned her attention back to her papers.
Jack knocked briefly as he walked in. "I want to stay," he said.
Poppy cradled a mug of tea in her hands and studied him. "Why should I have you?" Her voice was still cold.
"Because I'm an experienced field agent and you need me."
"I have five experienced field agents now, and a very able second in command. None of them brings strangers into the Hub just to fuck them." The profanity seemed awkward and self-conscious.
Jack sighed and leaned forward, hands on her desk. "And none of them are immortal."
Poppy blinked. "What?"
Oh, shit. "Did you read my file?"
Poppy gestured vaguely towards the bombed-out area of the Hub. "The full files are in there." She didn't move her eyes from Jack's. "Immortal? Really?"
"You knew I'd been with Torchwood for fifty years. You never wondered why I don't look it?"
She shrugged. "I thought it was a codename. For a disposable agent." She had the grace to blush slightly. "I never thought..."
"Really? You can't die?"
Jack shrugged. "I die. It just doesn't stick for long."
"Goodness," she said, and contemplatively dunked a digestive biscuit into her tea.
Jack couldn't help smiling at that. "Oh, Pops." Slowly, reluctantly, she smiled back. "I'm sorry I didn't warn you I was bringing somebody, and I'm sorry I didn't take him somewhere more appropriate. I just-" He glanced away for a moment, then met her eyes again as he said, "I didn't have time."
She frowned but there was no real seriousness behind it. "Really, Jack, the back of the car, if you must."
"Not him. Not then." Jack took a deep breath and settled onto Poppy's desk. "He was meant to die today."
"Oh." It only took her a moment to realise, "When you say 'meant to'...?"
"He lived. He's in St. Teilo's."
She began to smile but then faltered. "What about the timeline?"
"If winged beasts were going to start ripping the world apart, it would have happened by now." Poppy didn't seem reassured and Jack rested his hand on hers. "As long as he doesn't meet the me who's actually from this time-" and that was a simplification "-it'll be okay."
"And what about the other you?"
"I'm later in his personal timeline. He won't be back until the war's over and I can be gone by then. He'll never know I was here."
She chewed on her lower lip. "I'm not sure, Jack."
"He needs me, Pops. And right now, I need him."
Poppy turned it over in her mind and finally gave a sharp nod. "Very well. You can stay."
On the second Thursday in June, 1967, Jack watched himself leave the Hub, arm slung around the shoulders of a tiny Indian woman, and smiled at the sight. Shabana had been so sharp and bright she lit up a room as soon as she stepped through the door.
He waited until he was out of sight, then entered the Hub.
The only person inside was Derek, arms buried up to the elbows in the corpse of a fifth-gender Sterevian. "Oh, thank god," he said when he saw Jack. "Scratch my nose and I'll love you forever." Jack complied and Derek let out a long sigh of relief. "You're a lifesaver, man."
"Is it going to take you long to finish up?" Jack asked. "I need a favour."
"Just give another ten minutes and I'm all yours."
Jack spent the ten minutes wandering around the Hub, trailing his fingers over desks and gadgets and memories. Finally, Derek bounced up from the medical bay, drying his hands.
"I've come across seven separate sexes for those things already," he said. "And two that seemed to be somewhere in between."
"Parties with Sterevians always were fun," Jack said.
Derek laughed and shook his head. "Man, your life must be something."
"You've got no idea," Jack said. He sat down at the nearest computer terminal and brought up the records for James Harper. "Here, read these. It's quickest."
Derek took his seat and quickly skimmed through before looking up at Jack. "Torchwood field agent, 1941-45. Retconned and retired to America with his boyfriend." He shrugged. "I don't get it. Why am I looking at this?"
"Override code: One-nine-eight-epsilon-seven-seven-gamma-omega," Jack said, and Derek's eyes widened as the hidden records opened.
"Shiiiiit," Derek breathed, eyes flickering between Jack and the picture on the screen. "Man, you're looking good for your age."
"Read the rest."
A moment later, Derek frowned. "So, you're not the Jack I work with. And the Jack I work with knows nothing about any of this."
"It hasn't happened to him yet."
Derek rubbed the bridge of his nose. "This time shit gives me a headache." He carried on reading. "Freeze you?"
Derek stood up. "I'll start prepping, then."
"You're taking this very well," Jack said.
Derek raised an eyebrow. "I've been with Torchwood for eleven years. You really think this is the weirdest shit I've come across?"
Jack grinned. "Good point."
Jack was waiting for the first of the injections when Derek said, "What happened to your boyfriend?" and Jack had to close his eyes for a moment.
"He died," he said finally.
Derek rested his hand on Jack's shoulder. "I'm sorry."
"It's okay," Jack said. "Stick around for long enough and everybody dies."
"That's a bit depressing."
"The years before they die? That almost makes up for losing them," Jack said, and he smiled as he sank into sleep.