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Prologue
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From Report for the United Council 372Alpha6: On the Time Agency, written by Killandra Gaison, copyright 5092:

"The Time Agency was chartered in the year 4986 by the United Council for one purpose: the preservation of the human race. Other sentient species have been added to the charter via amendment, but the primary goal is and always has been humanity first …

[excerpt]
"The Time War is shrouded in myth and mystery. What was Gallifrey? The gods who lived there, whence did they vanish? We cannot know, because of the nature of the War, but what we do know is that it happened, and the fallout echoed through the universe. For one moment, which in our area of space lasted almost four standard days, we could know all of time, all that had ever happened, would happen. The Hypertime Moment. We could not identify all the information in that span, no one could, but what we could identify were the gaps, places in time where humanity was gone, or nearly so: bottlenecks of human history where the survival of our species depended on a tiny population.

"The Agency, using technology which was rapidly developed during the Hypertime Moment and further technologies as acquired throughout history, identifies these gaps and fills them. Small human populations are cultivated on unpopulated worlds a century or more before they are needed to mingle with the depleted gene pools.

"To maintain a healthy stock (some members of the radical humans-only fringe use the word 'pure') these populations are blended from several sources in Earth's pre-contact past. Sites of major, and minor, disaster are scouted by trained Agents for use as raw material: volcano eruptions, transportation failures, other locations where near-total mortality is guaranteed and the mass removal of the stock involved will not be noted by history. Special emphasis is placed on the acquisition of adolescents and adults; the infamous Hamelin incident put an end to the acquisition of child groups. (The Agent involved was fired.) The Agency has some interest in warfare situations, specifically those where the historical outcome indicates total annihilation of one side; in this case Agents are authorised and instructed to kill on sight, both soldiers and civilians, with an eye towards balanced male and female casualties. As Agency technology has limited range of use on deceased stock, one mass murder is more efficient than a series of strategic kills, although a savvy Time Agent will learn how to kill one person in order to line up thirty more for transport …

[excerpt]
"Regarding Time Agents: Agents are recruited as adolescents. A psychological test is administered to match against the desired profile; suitable matches are rare. An Agent must be able to exude physical and mental perfection to any given crowd of humans or other sentients, so as to gain their trust. An Agent should be well-dressed and groomed, attractive and easy-going. She/he/ze must also have the ability to kill someone without qualm, to acquire information by whatever means necessary, and most importantly, to identify large groups of people who are about to die and not be tempted into changing history to save a single one. Not all groups identified by Agents can, will, or should be saved for the program, and it is the responsibility of each individual Agent to decide whether her/his/zir assignment qualifies. Eighty percent of assignments do not qualify. The suicide rate among Agents, including missions that go bad and are later deemed suicides, hovers at twenty percent; the rate is highest among new recruits and lowest among those who have already drunk, drugged and fornicated themselves numb.

"They're all mad."[This sentence has been removed in final version of report, and the author has been issued a verbal reprimand.]

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Chapter 1
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The very first thing he was aware of was the sound of something beating. Fear gripped him, and a memory: four beats, very fast, ingrained in his thoughts, in everyone's thoughts. Saxon! But that had been four and this was two. In out. Beat beat. Crunching slightly like gravel under boots. His heartbeat, echoing in his ears.

Ianto opened his eyes. He was cold, though his clothes were on, and he lay still on something hard and flat. A table? He flicked his gaze to the side, saw other bodies (bodies? ) around him, squared up like checkers on a board. A floor.

A voice he could not see said something unintelligible, and he started, could not sit up. Weakness and nausea fought for control and he closed his eyes until both passed. A different voice, lower than the first, spoke. He opened his eyes again, and now, about two metres from his feet, he saw two men dressed in white with PDAs, noting something. The first one, with the higher voice, gestured away from Ianto to something he couldn't see, and the second made another note.

From beside him, he heard a whimper, and he turned his head, only gaining a little vertigo for his trouble. A woman, youngish, blondish, plain edging on pretty, had her eyes open and frightened. She also wore a suit, he noticed, and his memory tickled at him. The two men noted her; they were counting as people woke up.

He tried a friendly smile for the woman. They could be in mortal peril (virus? ) but he'd been in mortal peril enough times to know a smile was rarely amiss, even if it was just to precede head-butting someone who intended to eat him later.

He should probably have been more concerned than he was when that image led to thoughts of Jack.

"Jack," he said, or tried to say. His mouth was dry and bitter, like a hangover but also like nothing he'd felt before. His head was so fuzzy. Jack had been with him, hadn't he? They'd been …

Ianto sat up with a painful gasp, and his head was swimming and there was nowhere to puke that wasn't on himself or someone else, so he bent his head between his knees until it passed. The aliens, Thames House, the air was poison and he'd felt his body shut down and Jack had been there.

When he could move, he looked around at the wakening, terrified faces. No Jack, no Gwen, no one he recognised but still familiar. How many people had been locked in with them when everything had gone to shit so quickly?

Others were rising, not all of them as successful at stopping their nausea. He closed his nose to the sudden wretched smell, breathing through his mouth. The woman beside him moved into a crouch.

"What's going on?" she asked. "I was at work. The alarm went off."

"The building shut down. The 456 released a virus." We died, he did not add. Jack had been dying with him, but Jack always came back. Where was he? Had he revived them somehow?

"Please," said the man with the deeper voice. "Do not be afraid."

His partner said, "You are experiencing side effects from the processing. These will pass soon."

"Americans," said the woman.

"I don't think so," Ianto said, watching them closely. The room they were in was unadorned, but the quality of the diffuse light surrounding them, the feel of the floor beneath them, even the taste of the air (aside from the unfortunate response from some of the others), these were all wrong. The men's accents sounded American, but weren't.

The other (survivors? prisoners? ) men and women began to rise to their feet. Ianto joined them, offering a hand to the woman.

"Charlotte," she said quietly, shaking the hand before she let go. "Second floor, finance."

"Ianto." He paused. "Research."

She didn't question him, so he figured it was a safer answer than, "Torchwood. We apparently got you all killed."

The man with the deeper voice said, "You have all been chosen for a special project. The future of humanity is at stake, and we have selected you to ensure our survival."

Ianto blinked. He hadn't been sure what to expect. This wouldn't have been even close.

"Once your processing is complete, you will be given a skill set. Our needs are for farming, animal husbandry, hunting, gathering, food preparation and storage, maintenance of contemporary machinery, and child care. You will be matched with the best fit for your already existing skills."

"Excuse me," said a man close to where the two men stood. "I don't understand. I have two children at home, a wife. Where are they?"

The man with the higher voice spoke. "I'm afraid you will not see your family again."

A commotion broke out in the room. Charlotte gasped, and Ianto glanced at the diamond on her finger as she began to fidget. The prisoners with children became obvious quickly as they shouted for answers.

Ianto began searching the room for identifiable exits.

The man with the lighter voice - Ianto never did learn the man's name - raised his arms in a calming gesture. "All your questions will be answered," he said, and Ianto did not believe him. "You've been through a traumatic experience and you will need time to adjust."

His partner said, "You need to know that, in your time, you died." More gasps. His breath had been so hard to draw, he'd felt the numbness creep through his body from his feet up, until it claimed his heart and lungs. Then darkness. In your time?

"This isn't Heaven?" someone said, a woman towards the back of the room.

The light-voiced man looked confused, and his partner muttered something in his ear. "Ah. No. This is not an afterlife. You've been healed of your injuries and illness." Ianto's hand went to his face, found smooth skin on both sides. "You have also been immunised against any diseases you may encounter, as well as any to which you were previously exposed. You are healthier than you have ever been."

A trickle of fear went through him. This was familiar, too familiar. When the few poor bastards who came back from the Rift made their way to them, this was the same speech the nurses gave.

Against his better judgment, Ianto raised his hand. "What year is this?"

The two men turned their attention onto him, and he regretted asking. Drawing attention to himself was only going to make things worse. "That information will be given to you at an appropriate time."

So they had travelled through time. Someone had kidnapped them. These two men? Possibly more? The Rift didn't extend to London, but there were other ways. They were dead on the record, probably their families had been told the bodies were incinerated to prevent the spread of the virus, and they'd been stolen away. Just like any number of clean-up jobs he'd done himself.

Jack wasn't there. Jack would have recovered and walked out. Jack thought he was dead.

The nausea came back and he just missed his shoes. Charlotte patted him on the back kindly and handed him a handkerchief.

VVVVV

They were led into a different room, one that wasn't filled with sick. Here they found food and drink, and there were bathroom facilities, though these were not divided by gender. Ianto took the opportunity to wash his face and hands. Small mirrors were available, and he visually confirmed that the cut on his cheek was completely healed without a scar.

Jack had once given them a briefing on nanogenes, with instructions on the handling of same should they manage to find a sample. Owen had nearly wet himself with anticipation the one time Suzie had located a likely source, but the tiny robots had been deactivated and nothing Jack could do would fix them.

This looked like that handiwork, according to Jack's description, but if they were lost in time, who was to say?

He found Charlotte by the food table, looking lost.

"I just started last week," she said, nibbling something that Ianto thought tasted like stale crackers. "Kevin, that's my fiancé," she held up the ring nervously, "he wanted me to come to London with him, and I got the job. Plum position, civil service." Her voice cracked.

"My brother-in-law likes to tell jokes about the civil service. How many government workers does it take to change a light bulb?"

"How many?"

"Three thousand, two hundred fifty eight. But it's still dark when they're done."

"That's not really very funny."

"No. But I never could explain to Jonny why not." She smiled, a little.

He watched the others around him, noting the varying degrees of shock. The handful of survivors from Canary Wharf had looked this same way, huddled in the UNIT shelter as they awaited debriefing. Ianto had shivered beside Sheilagh and Quint, the sole remnants of their department; Penny had run from the forced lineup by their captors, had been cut down by the metal men, while Bob had stood first in line and had screamed through his conversion before everything had gone crazy. Crazier. Sheilagh's face had been so pale, and she'd swallowed an entire bottle of Xanax a week later. Quint had not been able to form coherent sentences, and he'd jumped from a bridge two months after Ianto started work in Cardiff.

Ianto was sane. He knew that he was sane because he'd worked hard at it, had found things to be sane for, found reasons to live.

Some of the shell-shocked faces in the room with him now were clearly not going to survive. He noted this as dispassionately as he could.

A man beside them at the food table had pulled out his mobile and was dialing fruitlessly.

"There's no signal," he said. "It's supposed to work anywhere in the world."

Numbly, Ianto reached down to his own pocket. He'd called Rhiannon, and then Gwen, and then he'd put it away rather than dropping it into the nearest bin. As he touched his mobile, one of their keepers, a woman, said, "We will need you to surrender your technology. You will be given appropriate tools to your time period upon arrival." She put on a smile. "I'm sure our technology will look like magic to you."

More keepers, these in blue, (guards, they are guards) circulated among them, taking mobiles, wristwatches, even the hearing aid from a fellow who seemed surprised that he no longer needed it. They made their way closer to Ianto and Charlotte.

He'd spotted the door the most recent guards had come through. Only a sliver of cracked light showed that it was unlatched.

In a very low voice, Ianto said, "If they take my phone, we lose the one very slim chance we have of getting home. I'm going to go, now. You have three seconds to decide if you're coming with me."

Charlotte stared at him, her mouth in a little O, and Ianto allowed her the full three seconds before he said, "Sorry," and moved as efficiently away from her and through the crowd as he could without drawing the attention of the guards. He never saw Charlotte again.

His handguns were still in the holsters. Empty now, they'd do him no good, so he palmed them into the coat pockets of people he passed.

Ianto was near the door now, could see nothing past the crack. Around him, people milled, some weeping, others still trying to call home before the guards came. Already, he watched two men struggle with the blue-clad guards, and fought down a surge of pride. He'd seen too many people roll over in the face of authority lately, and it was about time.

The fight gave him the distraction he needed to put his hand on the door, backing against it as though he hadn't noticed it was there. It gave, and he took a breath before pushing it open, right into another set of guards.

"You're just in time!" Ianto said. "They've got guns!" He pointed to the two people he'd given his weapons to, and as the guards hurried in to subdue them, he bolted.

Outside, there were corridors, the same odd materials, the same odd lighting. He had only seconds before they would pursue him, and given his complete lack of awareness of his surroundings, they would catch him. His choices were to find a place to hide, or to run like hell.

He ran.

Corridors led to corridors, and he passed open and closed doors, people in various forms of clothing. Only the ones in the area he fled seemed to be in primary colors, perhaps to soothe the prisoners. He saw signs, but everything was written in a language and alphabet he didn't know, and his eyes watered to make sense of what he read before he gave up and just kept going. He passed an open door with no one inside, and hurried in, praying to anyone who happened to be listening that the room didn't have someone behind the door, that his pursuers wouldn't look, that he had enough time.

The room was empty, and he hid behind the door. Around him, he saw incomprehensible machines, electronics (he suspected) which would have made Tosh drool with desire. And a window.

Footsteps sprinted by where he waited, his heart hammering in his mouth. As soon as they had turned the corner of another hallway, he pulled out his mobile.

Martha had given them the number when the Earth had gone on its voyage across the stars. Of course he'd committed it to memory.

No signal.

Ianto closed his eyes. Then he dialed again, because really, he had no other thoughts right now. The Doctor must hear the call, must come.

The mobile did not connect, did tell him its battery was low. He put it back into his pocket before risking a peek out of the room. Empty hallway. He peered out the window, but it was night wherever and whenever he was, and he could make out lights. He estimated that he was five storeys up, perhaps six.

He backtracked to the last turn, then made his way to a staircase. Ianto counted out five storeys' worth of stairs and tried the level. An alarm sounded. He jerked back from the door, but then his nose caught the blessed smell of fresh air and he pushed through. An emergency exit.

He was still one level up from the ground, at the top of a metal staircase. He took the stairs two at a time, jumped the last four, and ran as soon as his toes touched down.

Outside, the dark sky and the harsh lights confused him. He bit his lip nervously, taking a precious second to look around. Alien planet, or Earth far in the future. He didn't know where he was, either way, and if he was found, he'd be taken back to the other survivors, at best, relieved of his phone, and (skill set? ) sent somewhere else, never to see his own time again, his family, anyone.

Ahead of him, he saw a crowd of bodies, and he ran for them, hoping to lose himself in the crush of humanity. And other, as he immediately found out, dashing between a five-armed purple alien wearing an aquamarine coat and its companion, an upright dog naked but for the fur. He smiled and nodded in what he hoped was a pleasant fashion and hurried into the thickest part of the crowd, which bustled in a distinct direction away from the building where he'd awakened.

Perhaps he imagined it, but he swore he heard running steps behind him. Ianto glanced back, saw blue-clad men and women with long objects that could have been guns, or lasers, or just sticks, but none of them meant good things for him.

"Halt!" he heard one order, and he ran faster.

The guards spoke English, well enough to understand him. The voices surrounding him spoke tongues he didn't recognise at all. No help there.

In about ten more seconds, they were going to send guards to either side of him and ahead, and cut him off from the front. He dashed to his left, spying an alley, if that's what it was, forcing them to swerve behind him. The street was narrow, and unless they already had someone in place at the other end, they couldn't manoeuvre around him yet.

All he wanted was five minutes. Here in the street, there was a chance, however faint, that his mobile would pick up a slender signal and go through.

At the end of the alley, he ducked hard left, knowing he was in plain view of his pursuers, then dashed out on a long curve right, burying himself in a knot of slower-moving pedestrians and matching their pace as casually as he could. He heard the sounds of the guards as they followed his fake trail, refused to look around.

His mouth was dry, and he was finding it heard to breathe. Torchwood led him to more than his share of nightly chases, but he'd been dead a few hours ago, and that ought to account for the pain in his side.

The group he was in passed a series of open doors, where life in every shade and shape lounged out to the street amid music and smoke and scents he could almost identify. No one looked twice at him, not even the people, and he was using that term to include several someones with more heads than Ianto had fingers, he walked with.

As the sounds of pursuit tickled at the edge of his hearing again, he picked a smoky, sullen door at random and ran inside.

The darkness was practically its own entity here, and Ianto liked it immediately. Hard to see meant he would be hard to find. Bodies writhed, mostly dressed in clothes and fur, bumping into him without apology. Around him, his ears were assaulted by noise just rhythmic enough to qualify as music, which explained the dancing. His nose detected foodstuffs and something else.

His mouth quirked, putting it together.

A room full of not-especially-well-dressed humans and more, all intoxicated and all bent on finding a suitable partner or two to shag. Of course they smelled of sex, and a particular smell at that. And here he'd always thought Jack was lying about not using aftershave, though to be fair, anyone who tasted that good stepping out of a shower stall was probably telling the truth about his own body chemistry.

Telling himself this wasn't a good time for the beginnings of an erection had never worked before, either, not since he was fourteen.

Ianto moved towards the wall, out of the press of bodies. He kept his eyes on the doorway in case he was followed, then pulled out his mobile again. No longer inside the large structure, he had a chance.

No signal.

"Fuck," he said out loud.

"Ah, English!" said a green-haired vision beside him, in an accent that could have been German but wasn't.

"Yes. English. Do you speak English?"

"Yea," he, or possibly she, said. "English, yea." The alien began to grind against him, which wasn't helping with the arousal, or more to the point, was.

"Where are we?" he asked, dancing against the alien as he saw the others do in the dim light, trying to blend in as he got his bearings.

"Carbuncle." The ludicrous word caught him. Was that the planet? The city?

A laugh, deep and warm and filled with pleasure. Ianto would know that laugh if he had been dead a thousand years, and perhaps he had.

Jack.

Ianto broke away from the alien, struggled towards the back of the pub, this was a pub or a nightclub, close enough to either not to matter, and there Jack was sitting at a table with a gorgeous woman, human, pressed hungrily against him. His eyes were on her, and his hands. His laugh came again, low and perfect as he mouthed something in her ear that made her eyes go wide, and the smile on her face spread.

Anger would be easy now, and jealousy, but Ianto was out of his time, and this could be centuries after his alleged death, and this was Jack. Anger and jealousy had no purpose, no place.

But logic wasn't exactly knocking at the door, either.

Twice this had worked. Twice he'd been in a position for Jack not to know him, and had found a way to tell him without words.

He slipped into the seat next to Jack at the table, grabbed his chin as carefully as he could, and drew his mouth in for a deep kiss. Jack's eyes flew open, though he didn't pull away. Ianto pressed lips and teeth and tongue into service, moving his jaw exactly the way he knew would drive Jack wild.

He pulled back at last, tingling, waited for the recognition in Jack's eyes.

Which did not come. Jack said something that Ianto didn't understand, then shoved him away and returned his interest to the woman in his arms.

Third time? Not the charm.

Ianto dove in for another kiss, was stopped by Jack's solid arm, and then a futuristic gun was pointed between his eyes.

Jack repeated the thing he had said before. Ianto shook his head. "Please, I don't understand. Jack, it's me. Speak English."

"English!" shouted his former dance partner.

"English?" Jack said, in his accent that wasn't American. "Okay, in English. Go away." He enunciated like someone speaking to a small child or an idiot. The gun lowered.

"Jack, I was taken. It may have been a long time for you. It's Ianto. Please tell me you remember." He could take a lot of things, up to and including being kidnapped by unknown forces from the future and told he was dead to everyone back home, but right now, the distrust and complete unfamiliarity in Jack's eyes would be enough to send him over the edge he'd carefully skirted thus far. "Jack … "

"Is that your name in English?" asked the woman, her own accent heavy with vowels Ianto couldn't identify. Russo-Slavic perhaps, with a hint of Afrikaans.

"No," said Jack. But Jack had stolen his name from a dead man, hadn't he, and for all Ianto knew about him, his real name wasn't something that ever had come up. The woman slunk to her feet, holding Jack's hand as she did, and moved to the bar for more drinks.

Finally Ianto's eyes had adjusted to the light enough to take him in, and he drew back.

He'd spent nights studying Jack as he slept, those brief times Jack let himself sleep, redolent with sex in whatever bed they'd fallen into. Too, he'd watched him during long days, in his office, on missions, following every word and gesture until Ianto had memorised all the tiny surfaces on Jack's face, knew to a millimetre where the crinkles had formed at the edge of Jack's eyes and stopped forever. After everything with Owen and Tosh, he'd spent another week refamiliarising himself with the microscopic changes Jack had undergone with two thousand more years between them, even as they worked around Jack's newly touchy relationships with both enclosed and open spaces.

This Jack was young. Younger than he'd ever been in Ianto's experience, even the time he'd come to Cardiff with the Doctor and Rose, and their Jack had thought he'd wiped the CCTV completely.

Ianto sat back in his seat, and his eyes went to the door. The blue-uniformed guards had just walked in and were looking around.

He was lost. Of the two people in the universe who might have helped him, one was unreachable and the other hadn't met him yet. There was no time. He had nothing. He …

Ianto turned to Jack. "I know about Gray."

Like a laser, Jack's attention beaded on him now. "Say that again."

"Your brother. Gray. I have information. If they take me away, they'll wipe my memory." That was probably a lie, but he didn't know. While digging in his pocket for his mobile, he'd brushed a pack of Retcon that he'd taken to keeping on his person for missions gone bad. It was one way out, but a bullet would be faster. They'd probably confiscate it when they caught him anyway. "Help me."

Jack's eyes flicked to the guards, who still struggled with the light level as they closely examined the bar's patrons. "Under the table."

Ianto slid down, practically between Jack's legs. In other circumstances, this would be, and had been, the start of a really good night. As it was, terror and a growing sense of homesickness had killed any lingering desire he had, despite being suddenly up close to Jack's crotch.

Over his head, he heard Jack speak in that same strange language everyone spoke here, and the response from the guards. The tone in his words was easy to decipher: sorry, officers, not here. The tone in theirs was respectful but insistent, and Jack finally had to order them away, barking in annoyance.

Another set of legs came under the table - Jack's friend - and her laugh glittered in the air as the guards left. Ianto watched the guards from the cracks in the cloth over the table until their feet were out the door and past where he could see.

He counted to thirty, then climbed back up into the seat.

Jack's gun was waiting for him. "You know about Gray."

"You were holding his hand as you ran. His hand slipped from yours. You didn't know." Jack hadn't wept the words into his shoulder, as Ianto thought perhaps he would have done were their situations reversed. The quiet tone in his voice, absent, like he was telling a child's story, that had been much worse, and Ianto had held him for hours, that night two days after the bombs, after Tosh and Owen died and the world had ended.

The woman stood. "I'll see you," she said in English.

"This had better be good." Jack glared at Ianto. "I was going to get nobbed."

"No, you weren't," she said with a laugh, and was gone into the crowd again.

The gun held. "Tell me."

"He's alive," Ianto said, because it was kind and it was true.

Jack drew in a ragged breath. "Where?"

Ianto placed his hands on the table. He closed his eyes. He was still lost. No way to reach the Doctor and explain. If he went back to where he'd awakened, he'd be more lost, probably forever. Jack was, not for the first time, his only hope right now, and Ianto had only two things to offer him of any value. Sex was clearly available free-flowing hot and cold, so that coinage wasn't worth much. All he had was the very scant information about Gray, and he had to spend it as wisely as possible.

"I can't tell you that right now."

"Why not?"

"Because people are trying to capture or kill me or both, and as much as I'd like to help you find your brother, I'd also like to be alive in the morning and not shipped to another planet in another time to be a farmer."

"So you did escape the Agency."

"Agency?"

"The Time Agency. Which you wouldn't know about if you're one of the stock." Jack let out a breath. "I should turn you in."

"If you do, you'll never know about your brother." Not for over a century, anyway.

"Come on," Jack said, and grabbed his arm.

"Where are we going?"

"Away from here. I want some fresh air." He half-escorted, half-dragged Ianto into the street, where, fortunately, no one was waiting to arrest him.

Jack kept his hand close on Ianto's wrist, not allowing him escape, which Ianto was fine with as long as it meant avoiding the Agency. Jack had been a Time Agent, once. The new strap on his wrist indicated that time was probably now.

The streets they passed through were less crowded than when Ianto had made his bid for freedom. Humans and aliens and things that looked like mixes among them all wandered past shops and restaurants, lolled in doorways and spread arms and tentacles out windows from what could have been kitchens or torture rooms.

Bulged, organic buildings squatted around them like mushrooms, while spindly towers poked among them winnowed their way into the sky, piercing the night clouds. Ianto took it all in, wanting to remember this.

"Are we on Earth?" he asked as they crossed a street filled with low-riding wheeled vehicles zooming past at breakneck speeds. "No flying cars. I always wanted a flying car."

"Too pasten," Jack said, walking up to a spired building and swiping his hand across the front plate. "No, we're not on Earth."

Inside, the building appeared to be made of the same plasticky material as the Agency building, with the same diffuse light. Jack stepped onto a glowing pad, bringing Ianto with him, and the pad whooshed them in a blink to another floor.

Down one hallway and then another, and Jack wiped his hand over a door. As he stepped in, he removed his boots. "Yours too," he said, when Ianto paused.

He wondered what he had been expecting. The room wasn't large, perhaps three metres to each gently curved side. Chairs and a disheveled table were attached to one wall. The other was filled from floor to ceiling with shelves and drawers with half-folded clothing stuffed and overflowing, and objects Ianto could not name. Everything was in shades of brown and red and mustard yellow. A circular window like a porthole looked out from the far wall, and a few books were piled on the sill.

That was it.

As he stepped into the room, he noticed the floor was rather springy. He tiptoed his way to one of the chairs and sat down.

"This is more private," said Jack. "We can talk. Where are you from?"

It sounded like a friendly come-on, though most things did from Jack.

"Early twenty-first century Earth. We were attacked." He paused. Timelines were tricky things. "I woke up here."

Jack nodded. "Twenty-first century?"

"Yes."

"But you know about my brother."

"You and I have crossed paths before. We will." Ianto frowned, and Jack waved his hand.

"English isn't suited for time travel tenses."

"No." Ianto smiled.

"What do you want from me?"

"A trip." He pointed at Jack's Vortex Manipulator. "I want to be returned to my time, shortly after I left. That's all. And I'll tell you what I know about Gray."

Jack's mouth quirked. "Oh, is that all? Just a bit of a jaunt back to the twenty-first century?" His eyes went hard. "You can tell Georgn I don't appreciate jokes."

"What?"

"I'm not buying it. This is a test or a setup, and I'm not playing."

"It's neither. Please, Jack, I need your help."

"What is 'Jack'? You keep saying the word."

"It's the name I know you under. The one you use when we meet." He debated telling him the full name, but again, timelines. "I don't know your real name."

"Jaxon," he said, and Ianto's eyes went wide at the unexpected gift, and the implication he wouldn't live long enough to tell anyone else. "But I change it regularly. First rule: pick a name close enough to yours that you can remember, and be able to discard it quickly. Which leads us to your name."

Ianto didn't even hesitate. "James Bond. Glad to meet you."

Jack threw back his head and laughed. "You know, that's almost obscure enough to work."

"I can remember it, anyway."

"So, James, why are you trying to get me fired?"

"Excuse me?"

"The last half of the twentieth century to the beginning of the twenty-second are strictly off-limits to Time Agents unless operating under special dispensation. There's a team of maybe three people who get that dispensation. Nobody else."

"I don't understand. Can you not get there?"

"Oh, I can get anywhere I want to. They put in a binder circuit," he tapped his strap, "but if you don't gran it in your first two weeks, you're probably going to wash out anyway." He leaned in to Ianto. "But you're not nearly pretty enough for me to risk getting fired taking you there."

"Then I need you to help me contact someone who will. There's a man called the Doctor. He's a friend of yours, or will be." And then there were some forms of jealousy Ianto was less good at restraining. "A Time Lord."

"Time Lords are a myth. They're from a reality that doesn't exist anymore."

"Never mind that he comes over for tea, then." Not strictly true, but Ianto had always pictured it anyway: the Doctor in their Hub, a cup of perfectly-prepared tea in hand, and Ianto would find the ideal thing to say to him to make him rethink calling Jack away. The best fantasy ended with Jack telling the Doctor, "No, I choose to stay here," at which point even Ianto's imagination shut down in embarrassment.

"It's not happening." Jack sat back, lounging. "Look, you got caught up in a Time Agency operation. We scout out disaster sites, we bring back people who wouldn't have otherwise survived, we cover our tracks. That's what happens. You get to live, we get colonists for times and places where humans are scarce. Everyone wins."

"I didn't want to be a colonist."

"You were dead. You didn't get a vote."

"What about my family? My friends?" What about you? Jack would go to pieces without him, would blame himself just as he had blamed himself for Suzie and Owen and Tosh and their predecessors. He'd do something stupid and then run off in a sulk, and Gwen had her own life to live and could not be relied upon to bring him back, ready for another day. "I'm needed."

"Everyone thinks they're needed. Mostly, they're wrong. Other people will raise your children. Your wife or husband or whatever will move on. The paperwork will say the bodies were burned, by mistake or by order." Jack grinned. "I'm good at faking paperwork."

"Yes," Ianto said. He didn't add, "But Tosh and I were better."

"You're dead, James. You don't want to be a farmer and serve the greater good of your species in a time when it needs you, that's your business, but you're not going back. Now tell me what you know about my brother."

"No." His heart hammered in his chest. His eyes, not wanting to meet Jack's, scattered over the papers on the table. Nothing he could read.

"I could shoot you."

"Then you'd never know."

"I didn't say I'd shoot to kill."

"I have nothing else to bargain with," Ianto said. "You must understand, I would love to tell you. But I can't, not until I know you won't turn me in or abandon me to the street."

"You don't know that I won't as soon as I get the info."

"Let me stay here, at least tonight."

"Now that is exactly what I had in mind." Like a cat, Jack was around the table, and his mouth was on Ianto's, and he let himself enjoy this feeling, enjoy Jack's teeth on his lower lip, before he pulled away.

"Aside from the fact that I do know what you're like, what makes you think I intend to sleep with you?"

Jack's laugh was low, and his breath ripe with a drink Ianto couldn't name. "You show up at my club, at my table, and you evict the woman I'm trying to bring home with me. Then you stick your tongue down my throat … "

"I did not."

"Throat. Down."

"Maybe a bit," he admitted.

"While dressed in full fetish gear."

"Excuse me?" Ianto glanced down at his clothes again. He'd left the suit coat behind, but otherwise was dressed in perfect business attire, which he'd bought with a stolen credit card yesterday, for some version of the word.

Jack's grin was huge now. He wrapped his hand in Ianto's tie. "You're wearing a leash." He tugged, drawing Ianto's neck closer for a kiss. "And you're wrapped up like a present." His fingers went to the buttons of the waistcoat. "If you're not looking for a quick nob, you're dressed wrong, friend."

Fetish gear? This? Suddenly many of his past interactions with Jack made a lot more sense.

"You're telling me that twenty-first century business formal is the fifty-first century's equivalent to studded black leather pants?"

"If I had any idea what you just said, the answer would probably be yes." He'd shown up to work every single day wearing clothing with "Fuck me stupid" writ large on them, at least in the language Jack read, and by Jack's request.

Jack's mouth was learning its way across his jaw, as he scrabbled at the buttons to Ianto's shirt, and honestly, Jack was Jack, across however many centuries and wearing whatever name.

As Ianto fumbled with the waistband to Jack's trousers, he thought that things could be worse.

VVVVV

If he'd had his diary, he could make a list of things to know about the future: All light is ambient from the ceilings. The music is terrible. Jack Harkness or whoever he is has a lot to learn yet about sex. Spongy floors turn out to be beds once you throw the papers on the table to the side, fold up the chairs, and grab blankets from the drawers.

Bathrooms are not easy to locate with a quick visual search. Had he a pen and not just his head, Ianto would have underlined that last line.

Beside him, nested in tangled blankets, Jack made that soft noise in his throat that he often did following sex and preceding sleep, not a moan and not a purr and all contentment that normally warmed Ianto to his toes amidst lazy kisses as his eyelids grew heavy. They'd grown into that, would grow into that, evolving from the quick fucks in Jack's office after hours and the infrequent handjobs down in the Archives on slow days when they'd competed to see who could bring the other off faster. Before Jack had left the first time. Before he'd come back to them changed.

That led to another disturbing thought, one that momentarily distracted Ianto from the demands of his bladder. John Hart was out there, somewhere close, and while Ianto believed despite the evidence that Jack was a good man, he held no such illusions about John. Hart was a killer, and worse, and for all Ianto knew, he lived in this same small room with Jack, would come home at any time.

He sat up.

Jack cracked an eye open. "What?"

"I need a bathroom."

"You want a bath? Use a cloth to clean up." He gestured to one of the drawers, the same where Jack had kept the slick that was drying uncomfortably now on Ianto's chest and legs.

"No. I need … " What was a good word? "A toilet. A water closet."

Jack shook his head in confusion, and Ianto tried to think. Jack wasn't permitted to go to his time period. Maybe he'd been to the past? "A privy."

Jack's eyes lit up. "A private. You have to pee."

"Yes."

"Down the hall, third door." Ianto started to pull on his clothes. "What are you doing?"

"I'm not walking down the hallway in the altogether."

"Why not?"

They stared at each other, centuries between them. Jack had often said nudity was the national uniform everywhere.

"It's not done," Ianto mumbled, breaking first.

"The fetish wear is so much better," Jack said, and lay his head down again as Ianto buttoned his shirt.

Ianto found his way down the hallway and tried the third door. Then he tried the third door on the other side, which opened. He figured out the toilet quickly enough, and used the sink to clean up. The face in the tiny mirror was pale and shocky, the lips swollen in that distinct fashion he'd grown accustomed to since the first time he'd kneeled in front of Jack so long ago.

The sight was enough to stop him cold.

He wasn't thinking straight. He knew that his mind was cloudier around Jack, always had been, and as much as he sometimes enjoyed shutting down his rapid flight of constant thoughts to indulge entirely in animal sensation, this wasn't a good time. If Ianto was trying to preserve his own timeline, his own past, fucking the one person who was sure to recognise him later was a bad decision.

Ianto still had the Retcon. If he could talk Jack into taking him home, or even find a way to bribe Hart (he swallowed nervously, knowing that information would do him no good there), he could make Jack forget they ever met.

He wiped his face again and went back to Jack's room. Jack was already asleep, and Ianto curled next to him after removing his clothes again, taking comfort in Jack's regular breathing, his simple, mortal heartbeat. He could make Jack forget tomorrow. Tonight he just wanted something familiar.

VVVVV

TBC