Title: If At First You Don't Succeed
Fandoms: Torchwood and Doctor Who
Warnings (including spoilers): Spoilers for CoE, those thirty seconds at the end of End of Days.
Wordcount: 6,436 words in six chapters and an epilogue
Author's Note: The gorgeous art for this fic can be found at caz2y5 dot livejournal dot com slash 56928 dot html.

[*]

Jack should have been sleeping. After everything that had happened in the last few days, the explosion of the Hub (of Jack), the concrete burial, finding out that Alice and Steven were hostages, Clem's revelations… he should be exhausted. He was exhausted. But instead of sleeping, either in the fold-back seats of the stolen car or the cot Ianto had implied he'd be welcome to share, Jack was leaning against the outside of the warehouse, staring at the stars. Wishing for help to come.

Why isn't the Doctor here?

It was a plea, a prayer, one he'd made countless times before. Less often since he'd met up with the Time Lord again, but still… at the worst times, the ones he tried to put out of mind afterwards, he wished from a hidden dark place that the Doctor would sweep in and save the day, because that way maybe, just maybe, everyone would live.

A tingling at the edge of his senses made him turn, slowly, to face the alley between their warehouse and the next. It was an access road broad enough for a small lorry, and it was glowing with a sort of light that Jack could never forget; that light was a part of him, his history and his future.

He was more relieved than he should have been when his own doppelganger walked around the corner.

The other Jack was an absolute mess. Eyes shining fever-bright and red, skin ruddy and rubbed raw, he stumbled as he stalked toward Jack with a focus that hovered between violence and piety, hatred and hope.

The other Jack stopped a meter away, harsh breathing traveling the distance. In order to reach Jack, the sound passed through a wheezing throat, grinding teeth, and the repulsive force of a universe about to bend around and touch itself.

"You shouldn't be here," Jack said shortly, crossing his arms over his chest.

Other Jack shook his head, demon-eyes burning into Jack's. "It doesn't matter."

Jack stiffened. "Of course it matters. First contact is a major turning point for the Earth. You being here could make the timeline even more fragile. Tell me what you think you're doing!"

"I don't care," Other Jack said flatly. His muscles tensed, then released, his fists clenched, his eyes darted around but always came back to Jack's. He was a nervous wreck.

"Why are you here?" Jack asked.

"Don't," the other choked out, "whatever you do, don't send Ianto after Alice and Steven. Anything but that."

A silent vibration shook the back of Jack's head, spreading inexorably down his back like a deep, deep gong being struck. "I won't," he promised, his voice soft.

"Good," Other Jack said. He closed his eyes, and suddenly he seemed to be carrying the weight of the world. Or maybe he always had been, and Jack just hadn't noticed. "Good."

"What's going to happen to you?" Jack asked, unable to resist the knowledge even as he knew it could be the last straw on the universe's back. "Since you've warned me? Will you be able to go back?"

"Reapers," Other Jack answered.

Jack gaped at his future self's nonchalance. He didn't say You'll die, painfully and horribly. You'll suffer for an immeasurable amount of time, agonized by your own non-existence. Why don't you care?!

He gulped, loudly, and Other Jack cracked his eyes at last.

"I know," he said, and suddenly he looked more like a skeleton than a man. "Promise me you won't send him," he begged.

"I won't," Jack repeated. "I'll keep him with me."

Other Jack nodded once, then walked back to the end of the alley and disappeared around the corner. The light flared again for a few moments, then was gone.

Jack went back inside, suddenly more willing to take Ianto up on his earlier offer. As he walked, he drew his coat around him, grateful for its presence even if it wasn't truly his own.

Other Jack hadn't been wearing it.