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Care And Feeding

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Jack heard Graham screaming when he was already out of sight around the corner of a building, but when a Torchwood agent screamed like that you knew it was going to be a bad business. Under Torchwood's directive they were supposed to stay on target whatever happened but, since everyone else followed directive, it always fell to Jack to double-back and try and save a life if he could. Torchwood held life...cheaper than he did his own, which was saying something.

Besides, what were they gonna do if he disobeyed directive -- kill him?

"Graham!" he shouted, darting backwards and leaving Fiona to continue the chase. Weevils were attracted to Rift openings; the one Fiona was after had probably been on the scent of whatever had just fallen through. Whatever it was, apparently it was now mauling Graham...

"GET IT OFF ME!" Graham bellowed, his body twisting and convulsing as Jack rounded the corner. There was definitely something attacking him -- not a Weevil but a dark shape swirling and constricting, like a very flat snake. The pattern of movement was familiar, and it pinged a distant memory in Jack's mind...

"Everybody get back," he called, as Dai leapt from the car (Torchwood's newest, a '39 Ford Eight; Jack still wasn't allowed to drive it after the incident with the last one) and began a mad dash, gun drawn, towards Graham. Distantly he was aware of Annie approaching as well, and a gunshot that probably heralded Fiona's disposal of the Weevil. "Graham, listen to me. Hold very, very still."

"It's trying to strangle me!" Graham snarled, but he stopped flailing his arms at least. His body still jerked and twitched, barely staying upright.

"It's like quicksand, the more you struggle the tighter it'll hold on," Jack insisted, moving forward slowly. He heard footsteps in the distance; Fiona returning, probably. "Just stop moving."

He was almost within arm's reach now, and Graham had mostly stopped except for the occasional startled flinch as the thing continued to circle his body, slithering along his arms and across his shoulders, around his neck and torso. Almost as if it were looking for something...

"Listen to me, okay?" Jack said, keeping his voice level. "Stay very still. I'm going to get you out of this but you have to trust me."

Graham's fear-wide eyes darted back and forth from Jack to Dai, who still had the gun trained on him.

"I'm going to turn around," Jack said slowly, "and back into you. Get your arms up and slide your hands along mine, okay?"

"Jack, if this is one of your pervert games -- " Fiona started, and Jack held up a hand sharply to silence her. He turned, tilted his head at Dai to try and warn him to put the gun away.

"Annie, got your lighter?" he asked.

"Yes..." Annie said, confused.

"Toss it. Carefully..." Jack warned, and caught it in his left hand as she threw it underarm. "Good."

He flicked the lighter open and spun the wheel. A little jet of flame leapt up. He could feel, behind him, the thing on Graham starting to take interest. He stepped backwards until he could feel Graham's body heat, and then again into Graham's body.

There now, pretty girl, he thought. Doesn't the flame look nice? You've got to be starving. He hasn't got the food. I've got the food. Come on, sweetheart.

Ever so slowly, a tendril of foreign material slipped off Graham's wrist and around his own, as if inspecting the flame.

That's right, come on. You don't want him, he's got no fashion sense. You want me.

It felt like heavy silk on the skin of his wrist but it was cool to the touch, and slightly brittle. It must have had a rough trip through the Rift.

I'll make you so pretty, he crooned mentally. Come to the Captain. There's more where this came from.

He heard Graham exhale and felt more of the soft, silky fabric wrap around his waist, though over his shirt it was mostly just a cool weight.

"When it's on me, back away slowly," he said out loud. And then, because he couldn't resist, "By the way, you really don't need a big car to compensate for anything, you know."

"Jack!" Graham said, annoyed.

"Hey, I'm just saying." Come on, pretty girl, I'll make you beautiful.

"What do we do now?" Dai asked, his aim shifting from Graham to Jack as Graham made his getaway.

What did they do now, Jack wondered. They rarely had a whole, living body come through the Rift, much more rarely than he would have thought. Jack treasured every one of them as a reminder of his former life, of the freedom he'd maybe have again one day.

Torchwood did not treasure aliens. If they found out what it was they'd dissect it, kill it, and file it.

He thought fast. "Everybody get lost. I'll take care of it."

"What're you going to do, Jack?" Annie asked.

"I'll take care of it, Annie. Just get out of sight."

The lighter was beginning to heat up and if he didn't release the tab soon he'd have blisters. But the poor thing was starving and frightened, and burnt fingers weren't much in comparison.

Jack closed his eyes and thought hard. Handkerchief. Handkerchief. Be a handkerchief. Like this. A small handkerchief. I'll feed you more later if you be a handkerchief for me.

There was a certain flicker of annoyance in the tightening of the fabric around his body, but the thing folded in on itself and shifted colour until Jack was left with burned fingertips and a white linen handkerchief draped limply over one arm.

Carefully he reached out, folded it up, and placed it in his pocket along with the still-warm lighter. Then, for effect, he fired his gun a few times into the pavement.

"ALL CLEAR!" he yelled, and let them get on with the business of the night.

***

In the men's barracks that night he took the handkerchief out of his pocket and spread it gently on an electric blanket he'd scrounged up. Ancient early-model electric blankets weren't much more than firetraps, but it was going to save the little one's life. He could practically feel it purring as it soaked up the heat radiation.

"You and I are going places," he said to it, fingering one corner of the handkerchief gently. "Stick with me, sweetheart, and in forty years or so they'll invent microwaves. I'll get you a nice big microwave -- "

"Who're you talking to?" Dai asked, appearing in the doorway. Jack looked up sharply.

Dai was barely grown, really, and probably destined to die before too long, given Torchwood's track record. He had a freckly snub nose and wore his pale hair close-cropped; Jack didn't pay him much attention, because he had Fiona to manipulate and Annie to train and Graham to constantly antagonise. Still, he was a good kid and Jack had seen him looking upset at Fiona's catch-and-kill techniques more than once.

"Can you keep a secret?" he asked, beckoning him over. Dai sat on the bed next to his.

"I dunno, it's not like I work for a top-secret anti-alien organisation in an underground lair," he said, and Jack looked at him again. He didn't expect that much of a smart mouth off Dai. He didn't mean it as a reprimand, but the other man was already blushing. "Sorry. Yeah, I can."

Jack tucked a finger under the handkerchief. It curled around his skin. Dai stared.

"What got Graham earlier wasn't trying to kill him," he said. "It's an alien technology -- genetically engineered fabric. It just wanted to be his shirt for a while."

"What?" Dai asked.

"It's a living thing designed by scientists as a kind of clothing. It senses what you want and tries to be it. It's expensive -- someone's very upset that it's missing. Isn't it, sweetheart?" he asked the handkerchief. Dai looked like he thought Jack had gone round the bend. "It just wanted to know what Graham wanted it to be, but Graham was scared and thinking about being strangled. It feeds off radiation -- heat'll work if it can't get anything else -- and his body heat was probably the first meal it'd had in a long time."

"Wow," Dai said. "Where'd you learn all that?"

"Somewhere far away," Jack answered absently. The handkerchief slid up his hand and stretched itself over his fingers, forming a perfect black leather glove. Jack held his hand up. "Nice. It's new -- it needs training."

"You're going to train self-aware heat-eating fabric," Dai said dubiously.

"It wants to learn, look," Jack said, and the fabric slid up his arm, slowly forming a bright blue shirtsleeve. Jack concentrated hard, eyes closed, and it gave a little mental burble of frustration as it tried to form a stiff-cornered collar. He let the image fade and it drooped back onto the blanket. Although he noticed the handkerchief it had reverted to was crisper now, and had a gold CJH monogram in one corner.

He looked up to find Dai watching him, awe and wistfulness in his eyes.

"Want to try?" he asked.

"No," Dai said. "But that was wizard, Jack."

"You can't tell Fi, though," Jack warned. "She'd just dissect it."

"You don't like Fiona."

"No."

"Me neither. She's a bully."

"She's Torchwood." Jack shrugged.

"She's not very nice about you, behind your back."

"I know."

"Why do you put up with it?"

Jack sighed, toying with the handkerchief, picturing an angle-cut french cuff. It tightened lovingly around his wrist. "Dai, I've put up with a lot worse than Fiona. Besides, it's all pervert and freak with her." Good girl. How about two buttons? "Do you have any idea how many times I've been called a pervert? I'm starting to get proud of the name."

"D'you think people are born that way?" Dai asked. Jack frowned, looking down at the disembodied shirt-cuff.

"Sex is like this," he said, holding up his wrist. "It becomes what you want it to be. It's what makes you happy. People who are afraid, people with little minds, get strangled by it. That's all."

"You're never going to make Graham happy," Dai blurted. Jack gave him a hard look. "He agrees with Fiona."

"Well, thanks," Jack drawled.

"I just thought you should know. Because you're brilliant, Jack, and you shouldn't waste your time on people with little minds."

God, I must be getting old, Jack thought. The cuff frayed a bit. Not you, sweetheart. Go on, back on the blanket. We'll practice tomorrow.

"Are you propositioning me, Dai?" he asked, meaning it as a joke, but when he met Dai's eyes there was real fear there.

Oh god, Dai was propositioning him. Young, quiet Dai with the freckly nose was making a move on Jack Harkness. Where had that come from?

"I just think you could do better. I know I can't shoot as well as Graham and I'm not tall and heroic or anything, but I don't think you're a pervert at least, which all right is not much credential in the face of things, I mean someone not thinking you're a pervert is not an actual reason to like them, but it seems like you sort of like me when you notice me -- not that you don't notice me, I don't mean that -- "

"Dai, shut up," Jack said, and kissed him.

Dai kissed with his eyes open. He wasn't the first, but Jack loved that little quirk. He liked looking someone in the eye when he kissed them.

"So," Jack leaned back. "Want to help me train her?"

"Really?"

"Sure. Pick out something you like. Something I'd look good in," he said impetuously. It'd been a long time since he'd let someone else choose his clothing for him. After the Gamestation he'd lost his taste for it.

"Blue," Dai said immediately. Jack glanced at the rack across the aisle from his bed. Most of his shirts were blue. "Yeah, I know, but not that blue. It looks fine on you, but a really nice grey-blue..."

Jack tried not to chuckle.

"Okay. Find something in a nice grey-blue for me," he said.

"This looks like a conspiracy," said a voice from the doorway. Graham slouched in, shirt off, braces hanging on his hips. "Stop kissing Jack's arse, Dai, and get off my bed."

Jack gave Dai a significant look, then jerked his head, a gentle reminder that Graham was senior and Dai should probably do as he said.

"You could kiss my ass if you liked," Jack said to Graham, as Dai hurriedly vacated the bed and crawled into his own, on the other side of Graham. It was standard-issue flirt for Graham -- half-insult, half-banter -- but he did it automatically, without any real intent anymore.

"Kiss your own arse, you'll enjoy it more," Graham retorted, shucking his trousers and pulling on a pair of flannel pyjamas.

"You're welcome for saving your life," Jack answered.

"You can't die, Jack, it's not like you were taking much of a risk," Graham answered. "Come on. Lights out, soldiers."

Jack unplugged the blanket -- it was warm in the barrack-room already -- and folded the handkerchief up carefully. He caught Dai watching him from across the room as he tucked it up near the outlet, where it could at least pick up a little background radiation.

A few days later Dai dragged him into the local department store and showed him a gorgeous blue-grey riding jacket, thigh-length, a little shorter than Jack generally wore but perfectly heroic when he tried it on. He spent two weeks training his new coat to match it, mostly hiding out in the archives or a shadowy part of the morgue.

It wouldn't have taken so long, but he had a tendency to pull Dai down into the morgue with him. As much as he liked his coat, he had some lost time with Dai that he had to make up for.

The riding coat was nice, and it was pretty serviceable through the next year or so. Then the war came, which was -- good and bad both. One of the good things was the first time Dai saw him in his woolen Captain's greatcoat. Dai couldn't do anything about it, since Jack was on leave before shipping out and everyone else was there to see him too, but he still grinned at Jack like he was in on the greatest secret in the universe.

Jack thought about that a lot, over the next sixty years, until the bitterness of Dai's death in 1942 had worn away and all that was really left was his smile.

***

At first he thought that the only thing Jones Ianto Jones had in common with Dai Morris was a Cardiff accent; he was taller and had more breadth of chest to him, with dark hair and not a single freckle in sight (Jack still sometimes missed the freckles).

Later, after Lisa, Jack could have laughed at himself for how he kept getting older but kept making the same mistakes. He really should have learned by now that the quiet ones were always worth just that little extra bit of attention.

Besides, Ianto liked the coat. You couldn't go wrong with a man who liked Jack Harkness in a blue-grey coat.