Title: It's Like Having a Dream Where Nobody Has a Heart
Author: nancybrown
Fandom: Torchwood
Rating: NC-17
Characters: Jack, Ianto, Gwen, Owen, Toshiko, OCs
Pairings: Jack/Ianto, Jack/others, Gwen/Rhys
Warnings: character death (effectively); does not go to the Special Hell as far as I'm concerned but does peer over the gates and wave madly, so use your best judgement before reading
Spoilers: COE (characters only), otherwise though "To The Last Man" and AU from there
Beta: czarina_kitty
A/N: Written for Trope Bingo square: de-aged
A/N2: Sequel to Golden Years (see Nancy's Torchwood Minifics) because I am incapable of writing standalone fic.

They would have been perfectly fine, had one of the following things not occurred:

1. Had Tosh not spied the unusual energy signature in the Bay, no more than a minor fluctuation above the normal background for the area,

2. and having noticed, had Gwen not insisted they go scouting rather than leaving some poor local to discover whatever it was, thus finding the less than aptly-named Geezer Laser,

3. and having brought it back to the base, had someone (no-one had pointed fingers but Owen was the last to have held the damn thing) not activated the artefact, giving the entire team an added fifty years or so in age,

4. and had Jack not managed to reverse the process, albeit by also taking away approximately twenty years from their proper ages,

5. and had Ianto then not stepped on it by accident, clumsy in his newly-reclaimed childhood.

In short, due a chain of events so unlikely as to be unbelievable for anyone who didn't deal with five impossible things before breakfast every morning, the staff of Torchwood Cardiff now consisted of four young children and an immortal adult with a headache coming on.

"Tell me you've got an idea," Jack said hopelessly to Toshiko. She looked the oldest of the set, practically a pre-teen, but her scowl of consternation was as familiar as the back of his own hand. She pushed her glasses up on her face for the tenth time - too small a face now, and she was squinting as though the prescription had changed - and stared at the broken electronics spread out before her on the workbench.

"I just don't know. I got a good look at it when I was fixing it before." She gestured at her screen, where she had photographs of the innards as they'd looked prior to their destruction. "But I really don't know this technology at all." She gave a little sigh. "I'll keep trying."

"That's all I can ask," he said with as much reassurance as he could put in the words and the hand on her small shoulder.

She nodded, and he walked back to the others. As soon as they'd discovered this would not be a ten-minute fix, Jack had run out to Primark for clothes. He lacked a good eye, and didn't dare take the others with him in their oversized regular outfits, but had done his best. Tosh and Gwen had oversized jumpers that swallowed them up, with tights under. Owen's t-shirt was too small, and his jeans held up with an impromptu belt. The only thing Jack had brought back in Ianto's size was a long-sleeved t-shirt with cartoon monsters he didn't recognise on it, and padded trousers.

God alone knew what they were going to tell Rhys. He'd allayed suspicions for now by having Gwen text her husband that she was on a case and would be gone for a day or three. If they were lucky, the issue would be sorted by then, maybe even by the end of the day.

They weren't lucky.

Tosh barely slept for the better part of a week whilst she pored over the artefact, reworking and rewiring as Jack looked over her shoulder offering advice from his own patchy memories. He didn't know if he was helping or hindering, only watched the lines in her face grow deeper, odd to see on such a young girl.

The rest haunted the Hub, going about their normal tasks as best they could. Jack had some problems out alone to handle the various issues the Rift handed them. He died twice, but thought ahead and brought spare clothes to clean himself up before he came back. He remembered these days, no-one at his side helping to surround a mating pair of Weevils, no-one to help haul the stupefied body of another Hoix tripping balls on meth. When Jack dragged in the corpse of a Horendi for Owen, he hid his grin watching the pint-sized doctor in a too-big lab coat scoot a step-stool beside his autopsy table, but the sight also made him too aware that he wasn't used to going things alone, and that this situation wasn't going to last.

"Tosh, any joy?" he asked, dropping tiredly into a chair beside her work bench.

Her eyes were red from lack of sleep, and possibly from tears. Without even thinking about it, Jack reached out to brush her hair away from her face. "Hey. When's the last time you took a break?"

She let out a short laugh, and yeah, she'd been crying, he could hear the hiccup in her voice.

"It's broken," she said. "Worse, it's burnt." She pointed at what passed for the circuit board with her soldering iron, and he followed her gaze to see the small, charred wires.

A sick feeling grew inside him as he asked dully, "What happened?"

"It caught fire as I tried another connection. At least two pieces are utterly gone, and the rest hasn't been salvageable. Jack, I can't fix this."

He sat back. Around them, the others worked, oblivious to Tosh's announcement. Owen was swearing in his little boy's voice at a particularly stubborn leg joint. Gwen curled up in her seat, bare toes peeking out, as she scanned through the police logs for their daily sweep for the unusual. Ianto puttered around in the background. He'd managed to keep up with the routine cleaning and paperwork, and let Jack handle calling out for food, but his small frame was at a loss for tinkering with the heating and power systems, not with the tools too large for his hands. They were all dealing with their current problem by reminding themselves it'd be back to normal soon enough.

And now Tosh said they were going to stay this way.

"Owen said the ageing process should work normally for the four of you," Jack said, as from a great distance. "Given time, you'll be back to your old selves in, oh, twenty years or so."

"Twenty-two," said Tosh. "It's his best guess, and I agree." She started to tremble, and Jack immediately pulled her into a hug.

"At least we didn't break it when we were older," he said, knowing his own condition made the point moot. "Yeah?"

"What are we going to do? We can't go back to our families like this." Tosh indicated her small body. "Owen doesn't even have a proper family to go to, and I can't. I just can't."

Jack nodded. "We'll figure something out." But as the days had dragged on, he'd already made a plan in the quiet of his own mind, during the last few lonely nights when he absolutely wasn't going near his lover. "Tosh, I need you to start a paper trail for me."

Rhys did not react well, not to the news that his fiancée fought aliens for a living instead of working Special Ops like she'd said, not to the fact that she'd been lying to him about where she'd been the past week, and certainly not at all to the discovery that he now had a child-bride-to-be.

"I don't know what kind of sick game you're playing here," he shouted, glancing around at the science fictional technology surrounding him, and the pterodactyl overhead. "Where's Gwen?"

"I'm here, Rhys," she said in her small voice, aiming for the same soothing tone Jack had watched her use on suspects, aliens, and victims alike. However, Gwen's 'Let's be best mates you and me, yeah?' tone didn't work nearly as well coming from a six-year-old.

"Ask me anything," she tried again, though the calming voice was shot through with irritation. Gwen's well of patience was drying up.

"How did we meet?"

She launched into a story about Rhys The Rant, giggling as she spoke. His face scrunched in disbelief, then went slack in wonder as she went on about college, about their friends, about that ugly couch he'd wanted to buy. Jack refused to shoo the others out, but he could read their discomfort as Gwen and Rhys talked inside their own private world, and Rhys gradually started to believe her.

"This is impossible," he said, sitting down heavily on the sofa. Gwen perched next to him, talking hold of his arm.

"No, this is Torchwood." She smiled at him, her baby teeth (they'd grown back the way Jack's teeth always did even after particularly gruesome deaths) gleaming cutely. No gap yet. She was brand new, and didn't even know it.

Jack tore his eyes away from her, and watched his other three friends. The boys made eye contact with him before scurrying off. Tosh stood awhile, staring sadly, though when she noticed Jack's gaze, she nodded quietly and went to huddle in her chair at her workstation.

Jack clapped his hands together with a buoyant joviality he didn't feel. "I know Gwen's not technically a minor, but I can't justify giving her a lager. How about some of Ianto's famous hot cocoa? He melts an entire bar of chocolate in heavy cream, but don't let him know I told you the secret."

That was enough to catch Rhys's attention. Rule number one of any con: know the audience. Gwen ignored the offer, taking the chance to squeeze her fiancé's arm again.

Rhys's expression had softened, gazing at Gwen. However mad this situation was, however lost any hopes he may have had for a normal life with her, he believed their story, and he still loved her. Jack covered his mouth with his hand, watching the pair of them. Had Rhys run, had he denied her, had Gwen flown into a snit when he didn't immediately accept her in her condition, then Jack would have had options.

"This is bloody mad," said Rhys.

"We need a plan," Gwen said firmly. "I can't live the rest of my life hidden here. I want to be with you."

"What do you mean, 'with,' love? You're a little girl."

"I know." She flopped back on the couch, looking very much her full six years. "We can't be together, obviously. Not ... not like that. But I want to be with you, beside you."

"And what? Introduce yourself as my intended wife? I'm not worried about people talking, I'll end up in prison." His eyes flashed to her sadly. "I still love you, you know. What do we do about that?" He glared at Jack. "This is your fault, isn't it?"

"No more than everything else that goes on here is." He thought about saying more, thought about telling Rhys he knew exactly what he was going through, Jack was falling apart each time he looked at his own lover, and knew that part of their lives had ended. He wanted to tell Rhys he understood about dying inside, but it didn't matter, not now.

The cocoa was up. Ianto, looking tiny and ridiculous in his little clothes as he balanced the tea tray unsteadily, brought over their fragrantly steaming drinks. Jack's drink was in his regular striped mug, Gwen's cocoa was in her mug, and the mug they set aside for guests was for Rhys. Ianto didn't look at Jack or Gwen as he handed out the cups, focusing intently on his work. He didn't spill once.

"We should make a plan," said Gwen, blowing on her hot cocoa and then sipping appreciatively. "Tell everyone I'm your long-lost daughter or something. You had a wild time in uni."

Jack cleared his throat. "Actually, I've drawn up some preliminary papers to start the process. Turns out the two of you just completed an adoption process. Foreign, from Russia. I also had a long poke around our spare body stash, and I've found one that we won't have any trouble matching to Gwen's dental records."

"You're faking my death?" she asked him sadly.

"I'm faking everyone's deaths. Your families will get a payout and they will get closure."

"'Spare body stash?'" Rhys asked.

Gwen said, "You get used to it." She blinked slowly.

One last test, then. Jack never played at cards if he could help it, knowing his bluffs and cheats were nothing against the massive force of bad luck that followed him everywhere. But in this private poker game, the one where he was betting the lives of his friends, betting the happiness of this little family he'd cobbled together for himself here underground, Jack went all in. He turned to Rhys, tilting his head at Gwen's small form. "Could you get used to it?"

Rhys was mid-slurp on his cocoa and took a moment to reply. "To this? Aliens? Or the love of my life suddenly twenty years younger and likely to stay that way?" He was working his way up to a full burn. The Rhys Gwen had described, and that Jack had privately and thoroughly vetted when he first recruited Gwen, would wind himself up into shouting at any moment, if he had the chance. Instead, he covered a massive yawn with his hand, and took another drink before he said, "No. I don't know if I can pretend she's my daughter." Gwen frowned, which on this face was more a pout, and he added, "I love you. Don't ask me all at once if I can bear being in the same home as you, the same room, and never get to hold you again."

"You don't think I feel the same way?"

Rhys blinked at her. Then he blinked again, taking a long moment to open his eyes. Gwen yawned, and suddenly, her entire body jerked. She twisted her head in horror to stare at Jack, dropping her mug. Cocoa spilled everywhere. "No."

He couldn't reply. The sedative was merely a sedative. Owen needed an accurate weight for both to calculate the exact dosage each would need, to be administered intravenously. Gwen jumped to her feet, and tripped, holding herself unsteadily against Rhys. "Don't you dare," she croaked, the last word swallowed by another yawn.

"You would never, ever be happy, not for the rest of your days. I promised myself you would always be able to go back to a normal life." He stared down at her, trying to stand, and he wanted to go to her, and hold her hands until she fell asleep. He stayed where he was. He didn't tell her he was sorry. Sorry implied he wouldn't do the exact same thing all over again given the same circumstances.

Gwen crawled up to her feet, shaking. "Jack, please!"

It only took another thirty seconds for her to fall dead asleep. Behind him, Jack could hear Toshiko trying to muffle her own sobs.

When he was sure, truly sure, he hefted first Rhys and then Gwen into the autopsy bay.

Owen gazed up at him, old, wounded eyes in a baby face. "Are you certain?"

"Give me an alternative that wouldn't leave her miserable. Find me a future where she doesn't have to lose him and we don't wake up to a newspaper report about Rhys Williams arrested for bedding a child. I'm all ears, Owen, but I am out of ideas."

Owen turned away. "Two years from him, everything from her. You know it's murder, and you've made us all complicit."

Jack watched the two sleeping bodies, watched how even in repose, Gwen nestled closer to Rhys. He'd phrased everything in orders, giving the rest an out for their consciences if not for their actions.

"I know. Do it."

After arranging one false adoption, three more were child's play. With a few key taps, Jack created a backstory no-one would ever feel the need to question, a paper trail life for his deceased partner "Mike" and the three children they brought into their home. He already owned three houses and a flat in the city, and simply chose the one with the most bedrooms and best access to high-speed internet. Officially, they no longer worked for him, but Jack just knew he'd be asking for assistance all the time until he managed to recruit new people.

"I hate it," said Owen, carrying a box from his old flat. Tosh followed him inside, her own box piled full of candles. Several boxes of books waited outside.

She said, "It's not so bad." Her expression clearly expressed her disappointment. Compared to her own well-apportioned and lovingly decorated flat, this house stood empty, sterile.

Ianto said nothing, leaning wide-eyed next to Jack. He wouldn't say more than necessary to him, but he lingered close by, not meeting his eyes, not bringing up the obvious. At (probably) three, he could barely carry his own boxes of personal items, the few he'd held back; the rest went to Rhiannon along with the faked records of his death and a generous payout from the government.

Ianto looked around. "Get in some better furniture, spot of paint, refinish the floors, get in a decent telly and sound system. It'll be fine." Jack watched him stumble up the stairs towards his new bedroom.

With a sigh, Jack turned back to Owen. "Fine. Buy a nicer house and we'll all move."

"Fuck that. I'm buying a better house and moving in alone."

"Write us from the children's home," Tosh said, and went up to her own new bedroom to unpack.

The first month was so full of work to be done that none of them had time to complain (much). Nothing Jack said could keep Toshiko away from Mainframe, even if she was no longer allowed to be at the Hub, and he used her dedication shamelessly. Owen and Ianto managed to work together poring over records and background checks for the new people Jack was considering to fill their positions. Among the three of them, they fixed up the house into something not especially child-friendly but practical for people one meter high. Jack himself was once again the sole guardian of the city, run ragged from crisis to crisis and barely sleeping.

At the beginning of the second month, Jack accidentally met the neighbours.

"Mr. Harkness," said Mrs. Ogilvie, meeting him at the pavement again. She was middle-aged bordering on elderly, but no amount of shuffling through his memories turned up a younger version that he may have taken home one night.

"Gemma," Jack replied as pleasantly as he could. "Nice night for them."

"Mr. Harkness, I couldn't help but notice the lights on inside your house today."

"Yes?" He was almost to the front garden, and could leave her there.

"And I saw your 'daughter' in the window." She dropped the quotes daintily around the word. "How old is that dear girl?"

"Nine? Nine." Sorting out the new set of birthdays had been a nightmare.

"And she's the oldest?"

Jack nodded, putting a hand on the front gate. "Clever girl, apple of my eye." Ten would have been better, he decided.

"And who do you have as a child minder for her and the dear little boys? Only my niece is looking for a new caregiver, and I'd like to know which agency you went through to find yours."

Child minders hadn't even occurred to Jack. The three children were functionally adults, no more needing a babysitter than they did toilet training. "Tosh is very mature. She watches the boys when I'm not there."

Mrs. Ogilvie pursed her lips. "At nine? I'm sure that's not allowed. Only my niece has two sons that are ten and eleven, and they need constant supervision."

Jack managed to slip inside the gate and shut it again before she could follow. "You know, I'll keep that in mind. Thanks, Gemma. Have a nice evening."

He could feel her eyes on him as he rapidly walked away, intent on the looming front door.

Over dinner – it was Owen's turn to cook, and therefore burnt sausages for everyone – Jack said, "The neighbours have noticed you're not in school or with a nanny during the day. We need an adult in the house when I'm not home, or we need to think about school."

"I'm not going back to school," Owen said, as Tosh peered into space thoughtfully.

"I'd be the top of every class," she mused.

Ianto said, "I am not going to daycare. Children this age all wee themselves and play with dolls." He shoved an unhappy fork into the least burnt sausage on his plate.

"I can hire someone." But that opened another world of issues. According to everyone else, even the new employees Jack was getting up to speed on things alien and strange, his previous team was dead. He made a point of never talking about his family at work. How on Earth could he explain three preternaturally mature children to anyone without endangering their cover? Whom could he trust?

"Consider her a nanny," Jack said. He'd wheeled in the crate under cover of darkness. Aware of how this would look, he'd asked Toshiko to take Ianto out to the shop down the way for milk, but now they were back, standing around the seated figure like it was Christmas and Jack had brought them the biggest box full of socks they'd ever smacked eyes on.

"It's a robot granny," said Owen, poking the faux-human skin poking out under one knee. Sure enough, the robot looked like nothing so much as any of the old women he passed by every single day on the streets, her grey-and-pink dress hanging primly just below her knees, grey-and-vaguely-blue-tint hair in a neat perm, hands resting on her legs.

Jack shrugged. "Robot, yes. Granny, not exactly. But she'll respond to voice commands, and if Tosh will help me poke through her neural net, we can give her a few basic conversational touches, hello and all."

"It's creepy," Owen declared, poking her knee harder.

Ianto nodded, not speaking. Jack glanced at him, worried. "She's not a mad killer robot granny. She doesn't have even the most basic AI installed. She's a tool. My other option is to hire you all a real nanny, and frankly, this is better. Is everyone on board with me?" The question was for them all, but his eyes stayed on Ianto.

"Does she have a name?" asked Tosh, casually walking up behind the robot and flipping open a panel on its head. The perfect hairdo touselled under the flap of exposed skin.

"Pick one. I think she looks like a Glennis, myself."

"Miss Bligh," Owen said, and wouldn't explain why.

"She'll do," Ianto said, and went back upstairs to his room.

"I can fix her up," said Tosh, tapping her fingers idly against Miss Bligh's cheek. "Should I? Or should we keep her a statue?"

Jack said, "Better if she's moving."

"He hates robots," said Owen, already bored and going back to his paused video game. "All I'm saying is, don't be surprised if we wake up one morning and someone's taken an axe to her."

Child care sorted, Jack returned his attention to recruiting. He had leads on a few good candidates for field and office work, and he'd even called Martha for ideas. He was up to his neck working alone, missing Rift calls and having to set aside weird sightings for a better time to sort them out. There was only so much Tosh could do to assist him from home, and even less the boys could. Once, Jack kept pushing off investigating one alert because of three others pending, only to finally reach the site and discover two small boys unsuccessfully attempting to catch an alien the size of a car.

"But we had it!" wailed Owen, miserable in the booster seat Jack made him ride home in as punishment. "I had my tranq darts ready, if you had just rushed it at me better," he snapped at Ianto, who stewed in his own booster, tight-lipped.

"No more alien hunts," said Jack. His worry had converted nicely to anger, now that he was sure neither of them had been trampled or gored. "You are too small, and anyone who sees you will toss me in jail faster than you can say, 'Child endangerment.'"

"Fuck you."

But there were no more chases, as far as Jack knew.

He met Morgan the next day, smack dab in the middle of a rampaging Gr'nak's assault on a Bendy Bus outside St. David's Shopping Centre. Amidst the screams, and Jack's sullen acknowledgement that he was never going to be able to Retcon the entire crowd, one woman kept her head, managing to form an impromptu plan with Jack to distract it while he took the creature down.

After, he asked her out to dinner and ran a background check. The background check came back clear, unremarkable but with potential. Dinner fizzled before it became breakfast, but the kiss she gave him over dessert was enough for him to start examining her other potentials, and sent him home with a lighter step than he'd had in months.

Two days later, he made her a job offer. The night she accepted, he didn't go home.

He checked in via phone call the next morning, grateful it was Toshiko who answered, and feeling bad for the gratitude. "We're fine," she assured him, and yes, they'd received his text. No reason they wouldn't be, he knew. Even if they didn't look it, all three were adults, and anyway he often didn't get home until three or four in the morning, if he didn't spend the night at the Hub. He was making justifications. He knew it, and he didn't like that about himself.

At lunch, Morgan brought them both sandwiches as big as Jack's head, and asked him out again with a grin. He didn't even pause to swallow the bite in his mouth before he agreed.

He mused over what he was going to say, and finally decided the simpler, the better. He phoned at four. Tosh didn't answer this time. He took the coward's way out. "I'm going to be late tonight. Probably won't make it home at all."

"Thanks for letting us know." Ianto had a soft palatte still, mushing his words. "What're you going up against?" he asked, casual in his interest.

A leggy brunette with a great laugh and a wicked sense of humour. You'd have adored her. "Nothing major."

"Need any back up?"

"Let's not get into that again."

The conversation paused. Were Ianto actually his son, Jack would ask about his day, and he would end the call with an endearment that they'd both know meant "I love you" even if those exact words were rarely spoken. But Jack avoided endearments with his lovers, present and past, avoided near-misses as much as actual statement. Some words he only spoke inside his own thoughts, and a careful few he whispered into a sleeping head nestled close in a tight bed. He'd been certain Ianto had been asleep, as much as Estelle had been, and Mara, and Harold, and the rest on his very short list.

For now, Jack said, "Be good."

"I'm always good. You be good." They said their goodbyes and Jack listened to the click of the line closing.

Six hours later, Jack had just managed to get Morgan's bra unclasped when her telephone rang. She broke off the kiss with a swear and answered it. "Hello?" She was delightfully out of breath. Jack considered taking this opportunity to get his own clothing out of the way. Before he got a single button undone, Morgan shoved the phone at him. "It's for you. Asking for Dad?"

Jack took the phone. "Hello?"

There was a long pause. Then Owen said, "You have to come home, Dad. I, um, hurt myself."

Horrifying scenarios ran through Jack's head, most of them dispelled with the thought that Owen was a damn doctor. "Call 999 if it's bad."

"Oh yeah, I'll have them talk to Granny, shall I?"

Jack ran his hand through his hair. The speaker on the phone was loud enough that Morgan could probably hear what they were saying. He watched his night evaporate in front of him. "What happened?"

"I was, uh, running. With scissors. I fell. Ow. Ow. Ow!" The last 'ow' sounded real, and had been accompanied by a strange sound in the background. Worry raced back to the forefront and Jack stood.

"Is someone there hurting you?" He was already headed for the door.

"Just my stupid, uh, brother." There was a quieter, "Quit it or I swear I'm hanging up."

"Owen, what the hell is going on?"

"Um. Nothing. Except I'm hurt. Yeah. And so you need to come home from whatever you're doing at Morgan Seaver's flat."

Jack felt the weight of his mobile in his pocket. It wouldn't have been hard to track him, not for Toshiko, certainly not if she was asked oh so innocently where Jack was working tonight. "A thought occurs," said Jack, annoyed, sitting back down on the sofa next to a mystified Morgan. "You're not hurt at all." He wondered how Ianto had put Owen up to it, then recalled the recent bills Owen had been running up for porn and gambling websites. "How much did he pay you? Twenty quid?"

"No, in massive pain here. Blood everywhere. It's awful." Owen's acting was getting progressively worse. Jack could actually hear the eye-roll in every word. "Fifty."

"Good night, Owen." Jack rang off. With a sigh, and a forced smile, he turned back to Morgan. "Now where were we?"

She had the bra off, but had pulled her shirt back into position. "You have kids?"

Oh. "Three." At least two of whom were in deep trouble when he made it home. "They've got a caregiver at home."

"Not your wife?"

He'd been practising this for a while. "Mike passed away a couple of years ago."

"Is Owen the youngest?"

"No," he said, and then mentally kicked himself.

"Because he sounded awfully young."

"He's older than you'd think." Jack scooted closer to her, reaching a hand to her neck to stroke the very tender flesh he planned on sucking a mark on later tonight. "Let's get back to where we were."

Morgan moved away. "I don't like surprises, Jack. I'm not looking to be someone's new mummy."

He opened his mouth, and was bright enough not to then say that was nowhere near the plan. "The kids aren't in the market for a mum," he said. "And neither am I."

"I think you should go home. Your son is clearly vying for your attention right now, and I don't want to get in the way."

"You're not. The kids are fine."

"Goodbye, Jack."

She saw him out, her body language closed. As he drove home, because he may as well, he pondered what he was going to do. In the morning, as much as he hated it, he was going to have to give Morgan a nice coffee full of Retcon to make her forget the last week of her life. She wasn't stupid. Eventually she'd realise it was no coincidence Jack's kids shared names with his departed team members, and if he was to keep their faked deaths quiet, it was best if she went.

And she'd been such a good recruit, too. He grumbled under his breath as he parked in front of the house and let himself inside. Three children who weren't children waited for him in the living room, almost but not quite meeting his eyes.

"Go." Jack pointed, uncomfortably aware that he was acting at this moment exactly like he would were he the children's actual parent.

Tosh and Owen slunk upstairs to their own rooms and shut the doors. Ianto stood, arms folded, outside of his. Jack indicated the master bedroom with a sweep of his arms, and let Ianto march inside first. For a moment, Jack considered leaving the door open. This whole situation smacked up against the plate glass of impropriety. Nonetheless, he followed Ianto inside, and he did close the door. This was a private conversation.

"You had no right to do that." He kept his voice calm, accusing but not angered. It worked; Ianto's spine, obviously steeled for a shouting match, slumped.

He turned a chastened face up at Jack. "I know."

"You and I need to talk. And we should have done it weeks ago. So let's talk." Jack sat on the edge of his bed. After a moment, Ianto climbed up and joined him, sitting without touching him.

"What's there to say? Whatever it was, it's over." The treble in his voice was almost unnoticeable.

Jack nodded. "I know it's you in there. And yeah, there's a good chance I could make myself get over my issues with how you look and focus on the person I know you are, but even if I did, even if we did..."

"No-one else would, and it would come out, and worse."

There was plenty of 'worse' to go around. Jack nodded again, agreeing.

"Before, we had an agreement. We weren't settled on exclusivity. You said you were fine with it."

"I was fine with it. You dated, when you had time. I dated, when I had time." Of course there was the joke: neither of them had ever had the time. Jack had enjoyed knowing he had his freedom, but he'd never gone beyond a quick kiss or two with anyone else. He hated to put things so bluntly, to hint that Ianto had been more a convenience than a lover, and part of Jack would always wonder now, had things gone on, if he would have found honestly that he preferred this unchained yet closed arrangement he'd been building with Ianto. He rather thought he might.

"And now?"

"Now it's different. It's one thing to watch you go out elsewhere, knowing for a fact you're coming home to me after. But now you're not. You can't. And I can't watch." His jaw was held in a stern line, but Jack was sure it was to keep him from welling up.

"I miss you," Jack admitted. "I miss waking up next to you."


"In twenty years, I'll still be here. We could pick things up again."

Ianto shot him a look of combined anger and misery. "I'm not talking about sex."

"Neither am I. It's more than just sex that we've put on hold."

"I can't bear standing by for twenty years watching you, Jack. That's an awful way to live. I won't demand you not move on, because it's not fair to you and I'm not sure you'd be able to contain yourself regardless," Jack scowled but didn't refute him as Ianto continued, "but I can't live this way."

"I know."

"Swear to me you won't Retcon me." It wasn't a demand, was barely a plea. He'd said the same thing after that awful night over a year ago, blood congealing on his ruined suit and three dead bodies on his conscience.

Jack considered him. He could give Ianto the amnesia drug without his knowledge, as he'd done with Gwen, as he would with Morgan. He could let Ianto start over, forget all the horrors he'd ever seen, forget all the loves he'd ever lost. Gwen's last look at him, the hurt and the betrayal, still haunted him. He was the boss because he made those hard decisions.

"All right. I swear." He took a breath. "And in return, you have to promise on everything you ever held dear, that you will not contact me or the others again."

Ianto stared up at him blankly. "What?"

"So you see," Jack said, with his best 'delivering good news amongst the bad' tone, "since Ianto was paying support out of his own personal accounts, and he never mentioned, I didn't have a clue until two days ago."

Rhiannon Davies made a face which Jack couldn't read. Was that exasperation with what she saw as yet another of her dead brother's failings? Annoyance at the task set before her now? "What happened to his mam?"

"Died a month ago, I'm sorry to say. He's been staying with his aunt, but she's gone into hospital and the doctors don't expect her to come out again." Especially as Jack had already done the paperwork to report the imaginary woman's death. "He doesn't have anyone else but you."

Rhiannon's head turned to look at the boy she'd been told was her nephew, conveniently named after his father. Jack had brought the birth certificate and a few mocked up photographs of both adult Ianto and the child version with a woman who'd died at Canary Wharf. "He looks just like Ianto did at that age. It's spooky."

Jack shrugged. "I can imagine. Mrs. Davies, I was contacted because I was Ianto's last known employer. No-one will force you to take a child into your home that you don't know, but please think about it. I know things are tight financially..." He let her cut him off.

"They're not. I didn't realise the death benefit was so large." Her face crumpled, and he gave her a moment to recompose. Ianto had always said his family wasn't close, but this was a woman clearly grieving someone she'd loved, not knowing he sat in the next room listening in and pretending to be fascinated with a video game.

"Most of his clothes and toys were accidentally disposed of," Jack explained, "but he has a few things, and I've arranged a sum to purchase him what else he needs." He smiled sadly. "I was half considering adopting the lad myself. He's adorable."

"Yeah." She watched Ianto for a moment. "He never said, you know, but then he never told me anything, not ever."

"I'm sorry," Jack said, because Ianto couldn't.

"He'll stay. The kids'll budge up. Got some of David and Mica's old things stashed away in case we had another. It'll be fine."

Jack smiled, and he sat with her as she filled out the bogus paperwork he'd brought, leaving another copy for Johnny to sign and mail to a Torchwood dummy address. When they finished, he asked, "Mind if I say goodbye to him?"

She held out her arm, and at his glance, rolled her eyes and went upstairs, giving the two of them a moment's privacy.

"It's done."

"I don't know if I can do this." Ianto's voice was even smaller than before.

"You can. Grow up, go to school. You could go to uni this time. You always said you wished you could have. It's all second chances from here."

"What are you going to do?" Ianto already knew, had to know. However, faced with the enormity of the decision they'd made, he was lingering, and Jack knew he himself could linger for hours, days, years. Which was why he'd chosen this instead.

"You know me. I'll tell the others you said hello." He managed a neutral, dismissive note, from long experience. He turned away and gathered his coat, still unused to getting it for himself after his acclimation to the many little details Ianto had always smoothed over in Jack's busy life.

When he glanced back, Ianto still watched him. "Jack."

"Don't," Jack said, and let himself out. It only hurt to breathe for a little while. By the time he'd driven back to the house, he'd set his face in a firm, settled expression which Tosh and Owen were too bright, or too kind, to question.


He had a new flat to call home, a new fling at work he was considering, but the same name. He'd have to do something about that eventually. The kids had gone off to uni, first Toshiko and then Owen, and without that last necessary charade binding him to them, he felt the ragged edges of his assumed identity. He needed mending, but perhaps it would be better to make a clean break.

It had been a long, annoying day, chasing the purveyors of the latest alien narcotic to burn through the city. The dealers and the users called it Playpal, but Jack knew it was made of ground up stomach lining of a particular breed of otherwise harmless alien rodent. Someone was farming the bloody things, and so far, none of their leads had turned up anything useful except abandoned houses with what weren't actually mouse droppings left to moulder on the floor. Jack was the last to leave at just past ten, and smelling of rat piss wasn't the best way to convince Zayn that he ought to come home with him. Maybe tomorrow night Jack would sweet-talk him into some fun.

With a bone-weary sigh, Jack let himself into his flat and headed straight for the shower.

He'd always been aware of his surroundings, even before centuries of experience had honed those senses to nearly supernatural standards. Little things were off in his bathroom, from the hang of his towels to the torn strip at the end of the bog roll. Jack paid attention, even as he sluiced off the dirt of the day. Could be he'd blasted through here this morning too quickly to realise his errors, but he didn't think so. An intruder, then. Nothing had been overturned, so unlikely to be a common thief rummaging for quick cash, but a more conscientious burglar who knew what to search for wouldn't have used the restroom, for fear of leaving prints.


Jack considered his abandoned clothes, but they stank of sewer and worse. Besides, he generally did his best work naked. He wrapped a towel around his waist and grabbed his pistol.

The living room was still empty, as it had been when he'd come home. Same with the kitchen, and the small laundry room. He'd spent time in the bathroom, which really only left one place to look.

Worried, though not as worried as he could be because honestly, the worst that could happen wasn't so much, he threw open his bedroom door, holding his gun down but at the ready.

The intruder lay supine on his bed, naked, eyes closed, hand lazily drawing long strokes up a semi-erect cock. Jack's mouth went dry. He reminded himself that this did not mean the intruder wasn't a threat.

"I think you have the wrong flat," Jack said. "I'm the one who wanks in that bed."

The intruder opened his eyes slowly. He was young, an adolescent in perfect bloom, hair prickling out on his chest but chin still smooth. Absolutely gorgeous, Jack thought, and then his brain checked in to fill in details his libido had already noticed. He knew those eyes, that face, even though it'd been years since he'd last seen them.

Much later, he would find the gun where he'd set it down, but at the moment, it was the furthest thing from his thoughts.

"Officially, I turn sixteen at midnight," Ianto said, continuing the slowly movement of his arm. Jack dragged his eyes away from Ianto's hand. "Note that the paperwork could have started me off at four or even five, and I could be finishing school now."

"Nobody would have believed you were five." Jack wanted to sit next to him, and reminded himself that this body was still a child, was still too young.

As if reading his mind, Ianto said, "I'm thirty-eight. And you're two hundred."

"No kidding."

"I've spent the last thirteen years trying not to think about you. I've tried starting over, but this is Cardiff, and there's only so much I can ignore."

"You weren't supposed to contact me."

"Lot of things I'm not supposed to do. Lot of things I am, and can't." He moved his wrist, twisting himself as he stroked. A breath caught in his throat, matching the one in Jack's as he couldn't help watching. "I went out with a few girls. Had a girlfriend. She was my age, and we fooled around until I couldn't bear it any more. She wanted to sleep with me, and all I could think was, you're a little girl, and I'm nearly forty. I couldn't. Not and live with myself."

Jack could sympathise. Even when he kissed men in their fifties, he was often aware of how much older he was. The knowledge never stopped him, merely gave him more fuel for his own self-loathing when he inevitably broke their hearts, and his own. "Yeah."

"I want you. I've wanted you for years. I dream about you, Jack. I've been stuck in a body too young to know the things I remember doing with you, to you."

Jack centred himself, though it took all of his self-control. He stood, mostly naked, in his own bedroom with an incredibly hot youth who wanted him, and who was more than old enough to make his own decisions. It would be so easy to crawl into bed right now, let his own mouth take over for the rapid motions of Ianto's hand, take everything offered before him.

"I can't," he said, the gravelly need in his own voice audible even to himself. "You should go."

"Go where? I can't fuck girls or boys my age, because I'd feel like a damn kiddie fiddler. If I'm lucky, I can sneak into a bar and convince some paedo to fuck me, and if I leave here, I probably will." He met Jack's eyes, never stopping his arm. "Find a club with low light and lower standards, convince some nervous, middle-aged man to buy me a drink. I'll have to play shy, flirt, tell him I'm curious, hesitate like it's my first time. His hands will shake, as he leads me outside, in anticipation or in fear of getting caught. Doesn't matter. He's probably married, so we'll end up in the back of his car, his fingers everywhere now that we're alone. I'll still play shy, only because if I'm too into it, he'll think something's up, but I'll moan 'yes' in his ear as he touches me."

Jack couldn't swallow past the thickness in his throat. Ianto didn't notice, or maybe he did, as a tiny, satisfied smile touched his lips while he kept talking. "I've got condoms, though I'll let him bring them up first, again so I look like a trembling virgin. I'll ask to put it on him, rolling the latex over what we both know isn't the biggest dick I've seen. He'll expect me to bottom, and I will this time. It's been over a decade since I had you inside me, and I'm too tight for it to be comfortable. When I moan, when I cry a little, it's real pain at first. Won't have to fake that. But this man, it'll drive him on, thinking he's so big that he's hurting me. Loser." He laughed in a low voice. "I'll close my eyes, and I'll imagine I'm with you again, writhing under your hands, kissing you instead of his cigarette-tasting lips. I'll stroke myself, and fly apart with your face in my mind, his cock buried in my arse. When we're done, he won't even bother kissing me again, just tell me to get dressed and get out of the car."

His hand trembled. "That's the night I'm looking forward to if you send me away. Do you want that?"

Ianto always had been good at emotional manipulation. And Jack knew he'd fallen for it every single time. He approached the bed, kneeling beside Ianto with the thick carpet against his tired knees. "Tell me again what he'll do with you when you're alone."

"Ah, well, you see, he'll ... " Ianto broke off as Jack's steady hand joined his, stroking firmly, all teasing set aside. Jack was well-versed in bringing off handsome young men, and remembered clearly the nights he'd spent with this one. They'd made time to learn each other the first time, and then again after Jack's return from his travels. He knew what Ianto liked, and how he moved, and he also knew Ianto had been keeping himself on the edge for several minutes. It took considerably less than one more minute before Ianto bucked into their joined hands, spilling in a sticky mess which Jack was too weak to resist licking off his own fingers after.

Ianto's ragged breath spoke volumes, and Jack accepted the wordless compliment. "Come here," Ianto gasped out, dragging Jack's head in for a kiss, pulling their bodies flush. He was warm, and beautiful, and willing, and it took the last of Jack's resolve to keep the kissing just kissing.

Ianto scraped his teeth against one earlobe. "I got myself ready when you showered. Wet and slick, you can slide right in." Jack moaned into another kiss, unable to push back the thought of Ianto, legs spread wide, working his own fingers in and out to spread lube everywhere. Jack didn't drop his hands to feel, knew it was the truth.

Damn damn damn damn damn.

He broke the kiss, made himself look at the face of the boy. ("Man," his libido reminded him hopefully. "Totally an adult, definitely an adult. Mentally, that's what counts.")

"I want you," he said. "Do not doubt that for a moment."

"Good," said Ianto, bending up demandingly for more kisses. "Because I'm getting my second wind."

Jack dared a glance, but no, Ianto wasn't already hard again. He was young, though. A few more minutes, he might be able to manage another erection yet.


"I can't," Jack said, helpless and worse.

Ianto blinked. His eyes dropped to the barely-adequate towel, which was rapidly coming undone. Jack's own erection was making itself known, even before Ianto drew the towel away entirely. A smile touched Ianto's lips. "For a moment there, I was worried. That'd be unbearably cruel for you."

"I'm not sleeping with you," Jack said. "I promised myself I wouldn't."

"That was when I was three. I'm grown now. And you just got me off."

"You got yourself off. I just lent a quick hand. You're still in a kid's body. The answer is no."

Ianto stared at him. "You are kidding me."

Jack reckoned he must have really pissed off some major gods in his lifetime to have to face this. "I'm not. You can stay if you want, but we are not having sex."

"But why?"

Jack wished he'd sounded younger, wished the question had come out like a whiny adolescent's plea. He could have dealt with that. But Ianto merely sounded sad, and weary, and older than his face. Jack knew too much about that.

Jack bent in, slowly and deliberately, and he kissed him again, not with passion nor with the want he'd be lying to claim he didn't feel now. Even as Ianto pushed for more, Jack kept the kiss tender and restrained. One of them had to keep their senses, and although Jack's Little Captain was standing firmly at attention, it was going to have to be him. Totally unfair, but again, his life tended that way.

Ianto broke the kiss first, frowning at Jack. "You are the king of mixed signals."

"I care about you," Jack said, because he wasn't in any place to admit more. He stroked the nape of Ianto's neck until he squirmed from the tickle.

"You didn't raise me, we're not related, and I'm of age, or will be in an hour. I don't believe you don't find me attractive. I've heard your tales of having sex with llamas."

"Larmas," Jack corrected. "Llamas are bastards."

"I don't want to know."

Jack pushed on. "Of course I'm attracted to you. My god, Ianto, you're sex on a platter and you're naked in my bed."

Ianto grabbed for Jack's shoulders to pull him closer. Why wouldn't he just let himself fall into this? But he knew exactly why.

"I ruined your life. I helped you ruin it when you joined my team, when you did what you thought you had to for Lisa. And I ruined it by keeping you there when I should have cut you loose and wished you a happy life somewhere else. If you and I get back together, it'll destroy you. I know it. You know it. And I won't do that to you again, and I certainly won't make myself live through watching it. You can spend the night here. I'll hold you." Jack let himself touch that emotion, knowing how much he ached for such merciful contact. "And in the morning, you need to go out and live your life. Do something amazing, be someone. Don't get mixed up with Torchwood again. I told Owen and Tosh the same thing, so don't give me that look." And Gwen was dead, or as good as, but a young woman wearing her face was alive and well as she attended uni, studying psychology. That had to count for something.

"What if I want to come back?" Ianto had a stubborn set to his chin. "Will you wipe my memories then?"

"Don't tempt me."

"What if I sit on your doorstep every day, with a flask of coffee and too much knowledge?"

Like he had the first time, Jack remembered. "Come back in ten years."

Ianto's face fell. "That's unfair."

"No, that's about where we were. Come back in ten years. Come back with a degree in something you want to do, and snaps from the countries you visit on your gap year. Show me a CV with real experience. Ten years. And I'll say yes."

He shouldn't. He should make good on the threat of the Retcon. But he knew if Ianto came back again, came back with proof of having lived his life, Jack wouldn't be able to turn him down again. Here and now, his control was crumbling, and he wasn't sure he'd make it through a night of holding Ianto in his arms without breaking his rule and making love to him. In ten years? He wouldn't have a prayer. But perhaps if Ianto got through that decade seeing that the world was more than aliens and old boyfriends, he might decide to get away for himself.


When Jack woke from the catnap he fell into around three, he was alone.

Jack left Earth. Jack went back to Earth. Jack almost forgot Earth, locked inside a box for three decades. Jack travelled back in space and in time to an Earth he could remember.

Jack came home.

The new Torchwood facility stood camoflaged as a little shop down the bay, selling dusty knickknacks and geegaws for outrageous prices. The Director had been a new recruit when Jack had vanished. Now she watched him with an annoyed downturn to her mouth, not directly asking him if he intended to take over from her but clearly assuming that was the case. While it was true that Jack spent more than his share of times second-guessing her decisions, he'd come back this time with another fifty years of experience and too little taste for responsibility. He took his turns sitting idly at the front desk surrounded by overpriced plaster models of Cardiff Castle and dishes painted with cartoon dragons, watching the people go by or catching up on his reading.

When the door jingled open, Jack didn't even look up from his book. He'd had a long night dealing with the Rift's latest emesis and would happily allow anyone who wandered in to shoplift as long as they didn't bother him.

A polite cough accompanied the shadow that loomed over his book. Jack looked up.

The suit was a little old-fashioned, given the latest trends in wider ties and more angled tailoring between the jacket and trousers, but Jack liked old-fashioned. The face whose eyes he met was more weatherbeaten than was usual for someone who looked twenty-five or thereabouts, a veteran of sunnier climes and harsher winds. His eyes were still as blue, though.

Ianto set down a slim photostick. "Places I've been. Don't expect any obscene snaps."

Jack stood and picked it up, glancing at the white plastic, then set it aside. There'd be time to go through them, demanding a story (either real or tales Ianto made up for him, Jack wasn't picky) for each one. There'd be time to look through his records both academic and otherwise, and time to go over the changes in Jack's own life. There would be time to catch up. Later.

Now was for reaching across the desk, and taking Ianto by the shoulders, and pulling him across for a kiss welcoming him home.

The End

As ever, my three favorite words are, "I liked this."