Debbie turned, smiling at the tall, well-spoken customer who'd attracted her attention.
"Can I help you?"
"I hope so," the lady said, smiling warmly back. "Do you do this in blue?" She held up a dappled brown scarf which looked drab against her light blue top and navy skirt.
Frowning, Debbie shook her head. "I'm sorry. It only comes in red and brown. But blue's the main colour in the Austen collection this year. It's just round the next corner."
"Thank you very much." The woman smiled, walking off in the direction indicated, leaving Debbie to go back to her stocktaking.
The scarf was discarded, hung on the end of a lingerie rack, and the woman took the escalator up to the next floor. As she stepped off, a hand grasped her elbow, guiding her away from the flow of people and a low voice in her ear said,
"Where is he?"
Sapphire turned, still aware of the firm grip on her elbow, and looked into Jack Harkness' grim face.
"Hello to you too," she said, raising an eyebrow at him.
"Where is he?" Jack asked again, drawing her further from the main traffic route through the shop. "If you're here, then he's here too. Where?"
"In the cafe upstairs," she told him, her voice light and easy. "I was just on my way there. Care to join me?"
He didn't let her go as they stepped onto the escalator again, standing close to her as though they were just out for a shopping trip together. Reaching out, she felt his mind pressing against hers as his fingers dug into her elbow hard enough to bruise.
"Jack," she said, and he shook himself, loosening his grip.
"Sorry." He let go, transferring his arm to her waist and holding her close.
"I'm not sure where you think I'm going to go," she said, amused, as they made their way towards the café.
Jack's eyes were scanning the seated customers. "I just don't want you warning him that I'm here," he replied. "Not until- ah."
Steel was sitting in the far corner, his back to the wall and his arm resting on the windowsill beside him. Sensing Sapphire's arrival, he turned and his eyes widened for a moment when he saw Jack. Even from this far away, his expression radiated annoyance.
"Now see what you did," Sapphire murmured, seeing Jack's lips twitch.
"You go calm him down," he said, releasing her at last. "I'll get us some drinks."
Approaching the table, Sapphire saw the hard line of Steel's mouth and the clenched fist that rested lightly on the windowsill. She took the chair next to his, dropping her eyes to the table and his untouched cup of coffee before meeting his accusing stare.
"What was I supposed to do?" she said reasonably. "He knew you had to be here somewhere."
"So you decided we should all go for coffee?" Steel shook his head, his mouth twisting in a humourless smile that reminded her of Jack's. "How friendly."
"Steel," she began, only to be interrupted by Jack's return, bringing a glass of water for himself and a camomile tea for her.
"It's not her fault," he said, passing her cup across. "I knew you were around the moment you crossed my timeline."
"This is none of your business, Jack." Steel's voice was as grim as his expression. "Stay out of it."
"The girl is my business. Leave her alone."
Sapphire took a sip of her tea, watching the two men glower at each other.
"She's an anomaly," Steel said at last. "Anomalies are our business, you know that."
"And I'm telling you that she's under my protection."
"Is that supposed to impress me?"
"It's supposed to warn you."
Steel leaned forwards, dropping his voice. "Do not threaten me, Jack. Remember who you're talking to."
"Is that supposed to impress me?" Jack echoed, also leaning forwards. "She's doing no harm to anyone. She deserves a chance to make a life for herself."
Rolling his eyes, Steel sat back in his chair, looking to Sapphire for help.
"She's a gap in time," she said to Jack. "All three of them were."
"Two of them have been resolved," Steel put in, "but she-"
"Resolved?" Jack's angry movement knocked his glass, spilling water across the table. Ignoring it, he shook his head. "You're talking about human beings."
"No," Steel said firmly, "we're talking about anomalies in time. Fractures in the chronology. We have to put them right."
Something in his tone must have given him away, and Sapphire shot him an exasperated look as Jack frowned.
"Put them right?" he repeated, the frown clearing as his mouth fell open. "She was going to fly back into the rift, Owen said. She flew into the rift and you were there waiting for her, weren't you."
Unable to meet his accusing stare, Sapphire looked at Steel, who shrugged.
"I don't have to justify myself to you. Holes in time must be patched."
For a moment, Sapphire thought she was going to have to intervene. Jack's face was flushed and the muscles in his jaw clenched as he struggled to get a grip on himself. She reached out to lay a hand on his arm, but he pulled it away, spreading more water across the table.
"Don't," he said in a strangled voice, then took a deep breath, his fingers trailing through the spilt water. "Do you know how the other i anomaly /i resolved itself? Do you?" Before she could answer, his hand snaked out and grabbed her wrist. She heard Steel's cup rattling in its saucer, felt the cold wetness of Jack's fingers, caught a glimpse of Steel's surprise as Jack caught his wrist too, all of which was overwhelmed by the sensations coming from the simple skin-to-skin contact.
She was sitting in a car, contemporary to this time period by the feel of the soft seat beneath her. The air was stifling, clinging to the inside of her mouth and throat and layering grime across her face. Someone was holding her hand, and she turned her head, gasping from suffocation and surprise. The man in the driver's seat had his eyes closed and was taking deep gulps of the choking air. As she watched, his head began to fall forwards and she felt the hand in hers stiffen, then grow limp. She closed her eyes, trying to focus beyond this moment, to bring herself out of the waking nightmare. When she opened them again to look at the slumped figure in the other seat, she felt the panic rise in her again. Steel's head was on his chest, and the pale hand in hers was cold and lifeless.
There wasn't enough air in her lungs for her to scream, but she pulled away reflexively, breaking the contact and bringing her back to the here and now. Panting hard, she reached out to Steel, hand and mind, trying to ground herself again. Steel was leaning over the table, his head down and his hair falling into his face. She could see his shoulders rising and falling as he rode out the end of the emotional surge, and he returned her brief contact with a squeeze of her hand. After another moment, he looked up at Jack, normally calm eyes blazing with anger.
"How dare you-" he began, then stopped short. Looking across, Sapphire saw the trail of wetness running down Jack's face and the paleness of his cheeks and forehead.
"I was there," Jack whispered hoarsely. "I sat in that car, and held his hand as he died. I was there."
"We've been there, now," Sapphire said, rubbing her hand across the base of her throat. "You're getting stronger."
"I learn fast." Jack's eyes were still on Steel. "Find another way."
"What makes you think there is one?"
"There always is. Find it."
Steel looked away, staring out of the window, lost in thought or frustration, she couldn't tell. Sapphire was acutely aware of the conversations carrying around them and the steady i drip-drip /i as the puddle of water ran over the edge of the table. She noticed that Jack's sleeve was soaking, and her wrist was still blanched white where he had gripped it. Eventually, Steel stirred himself, glancing at Jack, then meeting Sapphire's curious gaze.
"Can it be done?" he asked, and she caught the shape of what he was thinking. Very slowly, she took the idea and moulded it, giving it structure and order, pushing at it until it was complete and whole in her mind. Then she nodded.
"I think so."
That was enough for Steel. It always was.
"It can be done," he told Jack. "We can patch the damage, anchor her in this time and place. But it takes a lot of power to do something like that."
"You can do it though?" Jack asked, looking from one of them to the other.
Steel shook his head. "Not us. You." At his glance, Sapphire reached out and took Jack's hand, showing him what they could do. His eyes widened for a moment, then he nodded.
"You understand the risk?" Steel asked. "It will loosen your own grip on this time, if not break it entirely. Even if we do manage to keep you here and now, you live on top of a dimensional rift. You could end up pulled through it at any moment and you'd have no way of stopping it."
"I've got a good team," Jack said, standing up. "They wouldn't let me go that easily. I agree. Let's go."
It had been a long day. What with stocktaking and the new lines coming out and some particularly obnoxious customers, Debbie was exhausted by the time she got off the shop floor. She was almost too tired to notice the man standing outside the staff locker rooms.
"Hi, Emma," he said, and Debbie jumped. Lounging against the wall with that so-familiar smile in place, was Jack Harkness. She gaped, then closed her mouth quickly.
"No-one calls me that now," she reminded him, looking up and down the corridor. "What are you doing here?"
"I've just come to see you." Jack pushed off the wall, coming over and taking her hands in his, lifting them as if to get a better look at her. "Don't you look great? How's the job?"
"Fantastic." Smiling despite herself, Debbie let him look her up and down. "I love London."
"Good. Because you're going to be here for a very long time."
Before she could ask him what he meant, Debbie felt hands pressing onto her shoulders and the world spun and faded to black.
She woke up feeling as though someone had taken a sledgehammer to her head. Groaning a little, she opened her eyes a fraction, squinting in the light of the corridor.
"Easy does it," someone said, helping her to sit up. When she managed to get her eyes all the way open, she was looking into Jack's smiling face. He seemed paler than when he'd met her and there were deep shadows under his eyes that she was sure she would have noticed. But then, she'd been fairly tired herself. Strangely, apart from the pounding headache, she actually felt quite a lot better.
"You skipped lunch today," he said, wagging a finger at her. "Never a good idea when you're on your feet all the time." He stood up, holding out his hand. "I'll buy you a really good dinner to make up for it."
She hesitated. "Is everything alright, Jack? I mean, you're not here to take me back to Torchwood or-"
"Nothing like that," he said quickly. "I just wanted to see how you were doing. Catch up. That kind of thing. Come on." He waggled his fingers. "I've got an expense account warmed up and ready to go."
Laughing, she took his hand and let him pull her to her feet. "I'll just get my coat."
Coming back with her bag over one arm and coat over the other, she heard Jack's voice up ahead, low and gentle, then a woman's, warm and honeyed. It reminded her of one of her customers from earlier in the day. Turning the corner, she was surprised to see Jack standing there alone, still leaning against the wall and still smiling his ever-charming smile.
"I thought I heard voices," she said, feeling a little silly.
Jack raised his eyebrows. "Anyone specific?"
"Not exactly, I just..." she trailed off, shaking her head. "Must have been coming from the other direction."
"That's probably it," Jack said, taking her coat and helping her into it. "Now, let's get some dinner. What about Italian?" He offered her his arm and they set off towards the exit.
"Actually, my housemates took me to a wonderful Thai restaurant the other night. We could try there."
"Thai?" Jack laughed. "You are settled in, aren't you? Thai it is."
Their laughter echoed down the corridor for rather longer that it should have done, carrying on even after they had left the building. Steel gave Sapphire an amused look.
"You can stop doing that any time you like."
"I like the sound," she said, smiling at him. "It's a good sound."
"It's an annoying sound. You do know what you just did, don't you?"
"What we did," she corrected, her smile fading as she let the laughter die at last. "Yes. But it's worth it. You know that too, don't you?"
Steel sighed. "I suppose so. Although how he always talks us into these things, I have no idea. I think you let him charm you."
"Me?" Sapphire feigned offence but she was smiling again as she took Steel's arm. "I knew it would be my fault."
"Who else do I have to blame?"
This time, the laughter faded as the two people, arm in arm, disappeared from sight.