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Title: Ex Machina
Authors: Saint-Olga & Eithne-Ame
Fandoms: Torchwood&Doctor Who/Equilibrium
Rating: R (for this part; mostly for violence)
Characters: Jack/Ianto, Preston, the Doctor
Genre: Kinky PWP Crossover, Action
Category: Gen
Wordcount: over 13 000
Summary: So imagine somebody is, for some reason, in need for something, in any place, any time, any point in the universe. And if this somebody just happens to have this, it may find any other point in the universe, any time, any place, where there is somebody, who is also in need for something and has another one like this, and snap! - they meet.
Authors' Notes:
1. It started as an idea of a kinky PWP which suddenly needed explanation and character development and stuff, so it grew into a longer story, and then to a cycle. This is the first part, which is mostly explanation and plot. Works as stand-alone.
2. Those who’ve seen Equilibrium will recognize John Preston; those who haven’t - it’s enough to know that he is played by Christian Bale, looks like this and knows a cool shooting/fighting technique.
3. The story is set after the end of Equilibrium, between Dead Line and Children of Earth for Torchwood and after The Next Doctor for Doctor Who. The 'he will knock four times' arch never happened here.

Continued from Part 1.

He woke suddenly, surprised at first that he was sleeping on a pillow, but quickly recalling the events of the day before. Everything was messy enough already but judging from bright light turned on in the middle of the night and Ianto’s voice and abrupt movements around the flat, it was about to become even more so.
‘You woke? Great. Welcome on probation.’
Preston stood up sharply, searching for his jacket, checking it and discovering that his spare magazines were left somewhere in the Jack’s office.
‘Is it always like this?’ he asked, buttoning the jacket.
‘Torchwood is not exactly nine-to-five. Hey! Gonna need this,’ Ianto threw him an earpiece, which Preston put on immediately.
‘Tap once to speak. The rest on the way. Now go!’
They left the flat almost running, rushing out of the house just in time for the Torchwood car to screech to the curb.
Jack was driving and at the passenger’s seat there was the Doctor, clearly continuing the chat started without them about how unused he was to anybody else's transport.
‘At least it doesn’t have any brakes to screech,’ Doctor yelled over the sound of engine.
‘As if nothing else screeches there!’
‘Yes, but it is more convenient to drive!’
‘Shall I remind you that it was you who once parked us front door to the concrete?’
‘You know it was because of excessive gravitation level there-‘
‘Later!’ Jack cut off, turning the wheel, and they finally saw a building, blazing like it was on fire – or like somebody was shooting fireworks inside.
‘What’s the deal, Jack?’ Ianto asked.
‘Somebody is using cyber technologies,’ Jack replied through clenched teeth. Ianto just closed his eyes for a moment and his mouth twitched a little.
‘What’s cyber technology? Here?’ Preston asked.
‘Danger!’ the Doctor snapped.
‘Yes, thank you. I already figured it out.’
‘Once people, now modified, kill easily and hard to kill, and oh yes, did I mention emotionless,’ Jack panted out, turning off the main road and now going sideways, in the shadow of the trees.
Preston felt like somebody was making fun of him.
‘It's not a good time for jokes, Captain.’
‘I agree. Just remember, you can’t chatter or reason them, and there is a big fat chance that you can’t shoot them, too.’
Jack spoke about danger, but his words were strangely calming, maybe because there were nothing new in this situation for Cleric Preston. Deal with the problem, put down whoever may interfere and don’t get yourself killed. Preston had no illusions about himself – he was good at all of the above, separately or at the same time. And the position he occupied when he left Libria proved that not only was he good – he was exceedingly perfect.
Jack stopped the car a few meters away from the main road, brightly lit with the lamps which surrounded the building. There were still these fireworks inside, and grinding sounds of steel, sharp and loud.
‘It shouldn’t be like this,’ the Doctor muttered under his breath, deeply concerned.
‘It shouldn’t be at all!’ Jack returned. The Doctor paid no attention.
‘Something must’ve gone wrong. Well, gonna check this out!’ he unfastened the seatbelt and before anybody could say a word, was quickly pacing to the front door of the house.
It was a bit different from how Preston imagined a force operation.
‘Don’t tell me it’s normal.’
‘It’s not. But for him, it works.’
‘Only for him,’ Ianto added. ‘Don’t try to repeat any of these tricks at home, kids.’
‘Ok. Do we have a plan?’
‘Check for your arms. We follow.’
The Doctor stopped under the streetlamp, hands in his pockets, taking a look around almost lazily, as if he was just passing by. Jack moved cautiously around, hiding in the deep shadows, behind the scrubs and trees. Ianto and Preston followed suit. Ianto had an unreadable expression frozen on his face.
They didn’t have to wait long. There were steps, heavy and kind of mechanical. A half-dozen of figures appeared from around the corner. They looked vaguely human at a first glance, but there was metal all over their bodies, gleaming in the dim light, and they were definitely armed.
Preston stole a glance at his… teammates, probably. Ianto was very, very still, his hand clenching a gun, and there was a light sheen of sweat on his brow. Jack, farther away, closer to the Doctor, was also motionless, but didn’t look so tense, more like ready to jump any minute.
The guards, or whoever they were, went straight to the Doctor, aiming their guns at him.
‘Hallo there’, he beamed, rolling on his feet from tip to toe.
‘Intruder’, said mechanic voice. ‘You shall not pass’.
‘Oh, but I will!’ the Doctor said cheerfully and raised his hands. ‘As a detainee. I surrender. Take me to your leader’.
The guards moved into the light. They were the weirdest thing Preston have ever seen. They were human, but with metallic armor over their bodies, which looked like it was made from some bits and pieces into a complicated net of shields and drives. There were also helmets on their heads, with handle-like extensions on top. They were naked under all this metal, and looking closer, Preston understood that it wasn’t an exoskeleton – it was built into their bodies. Not so long ago, because there was still blood on flesh and metal.
'They look injured,' Preston whispered.
'Try 'upgraded',' Jack hissed back.
'Upgraded, this?'
'He must've been using the metal he could find around here, and earthly materials are hardly suitable for cyber-conversion. They vary, they shatter... they are in pain,' Ianto's sigh sounded almost like a sob. 'Probably cannot electrocute, that's why they’re armed.'
As soon as the Doctor and his guards were far enough, Jack signaled to follow. They turned around the corner just in time to see the procession going into the door. It closed with an audible ‘click’ of locks, but Ianto was there in a second, pressing some odd-shaped device to it. The lock clicked back open.
Inside, the building was huge, and filled with mechanical screeching… and screams. There were human screams among all that noise, Preston was sure of it. They almost deafened him, echoing from the walls. He tasted copper on his tongue.
They stood near the beginning of a long straight hallway. The guards were leading the Doctor away right in front of them. But Jack didn’t go after them; instead, he moved to the side, checking the intersecting hallway for the cameras and doors.
'Maybe we're getting away with it, after all,' Ianto said, watching Jack. 'It was obvious that something like this would happen, though.'
'Why?'
'The monsters and the Doctor. One is always followed by another. He can handle anything and leave unharmed. It's only those following him who get harmed.'
'So why are we following him?' Preston started but cut off, as Jack signaled at them from the next corner.
'OK, go at the count of three,' Ianto ordered, but they hardly managed to move. The sound of a fire round ripped the air, right from the place where Jack was standing. Several vaguely gleaming figures were seen behind him, at the far end of the hallway.
Jack didn’t scream. He just stopped for a second, his eyes turning into glass. Then he coughed up a splatter of blood and fell face first.
Preston's body moved on it's own accord to the closest cover, the images streaming through his mind: Mary in the fire, Partrige in the church, Viviana looking at him for the last time… nameless offender in his arms, painting his fingers red.
Jack, face down on the cement floor, blood coming out from his open mouth.
He dared to look out: figures moved in the semi-darkness of the hallway, movements strangely similar – not even trained soldiers of Libria could move so simultaneously. Metal gleamed on their bodies, and on the guns in their hands.
‘Preston’, Ianto hissed from the opposite side of the hallway. ‘Cover me’.
Not waiting for his reaction, he ducked forward, to Jack.
Preston knew it was stupid, reckless – they could always take away the body later, if they survived. But there was something inherently wrong in the sight of Jack lying there on the floor, on the way of the metallic army marching closer and closer.
He didn’t have the time to think about it, actually – he felt it, all at once, in the split second when he jumped from his cover to the opposite side of the hallway, emptying his magazines into oncoming Cybermen, giving Ianto time to drag Jack behind the corner.
The closest Cyberman fell, with metallic crash and clatter. The others didn't even stop for a second. They were far enough, but coming closer and closer every second, step after heavy ominous step. Their bullets whistled around Preston.
They crouched in the cover, Preston near the corner, Ianto beside him, holding Jack in his hands. He looked eerily calm. With impeccably white handkerchief, he wiped away blood from Jack’s face and gently closed his eyes, but never let him go.
As far as Preston managed to figure out, Ianto wasn’t the man to behave illogically emotional while on duty, very much like himself. It was probably a reason that Ianto's presence made him so calm and self-confident even here. So Ianto’s behaviour had to make sense, it simply had. His eyes were still on Jack’s lifeless face, lips moved slightly as if in attempt to say something he didn’t want to be said aloud. Ianto waited, and Preston waited too.
Suddenly, Jack gasped and reached forward in a wide uncontrolled gesture. Ianto held him tight, caught his mad gaze and murmured softly, ‘I’ve got you. It’s okay, I’ve got you’.
At the sight of him, Jack calmed down visibly, and with a couple of deep breaths, he became himself, more or less. He squeezed Ianto’s shoulder and received a tight smile, then disentangled himself.
‘What was going on while I was out?’ he asked conversationally.
‘I guessed there must be some point when I go mad. But this one was… unexpected,’ Preston managed between the gulps of air as Ianto helped Jack to his feet.
‘Long story, some other time,’ Jack coughed. He didn’t seem well, though obviously much better than a moment ago.
‘How can I be sure it is still you and not some hostile technology?’ Preston said, squeezing his gun and ready to fire at the slightest sign of danger. Jack and Ianto exchanged embarrassed looks.
‘He has the point,’ Ianto said after a second and then added, addressing to Preston, ‘you have my word.'
Preston decided that it was better than nothing.
They made it down the intersecting corridor, temporarily not able to fight back. Ianto was still holding Jack, who moved heavily but straightened with every step.
'Too many, Jack,' Ianto said. 'Need to find another way round. Why did you have to go straight ahead at the first place?'
‘If many,’ Jack said impatiently, ‘say how many exactly. Ten? Fifteen?’
‘No less than thirty.’
Jack let out a deep sigh and closed his eyes for a moment as if accepting what was about to come.
‘Okay, I go at them and you two go for the exit.’
Preston wasn’t sure he understood the plan. Ianto got it in a second.
‘No, Jack’, he said forcfully, ‘no!’
‘Listen to me’, Jack took him by shoulders. ‘I can take it. I will come out of here, and hopefully bring the Doctor with me. You go outside. Wait.’ He nervously glanced over Ianto’s shoulder to where the steps sounded very close. His voice became desperate. ‘Run, you two, goddamn it!’
Ianto was breathing heavily, but Preston didn’t move. He didn’t turn his head or let out a single sound either. The time was right, he couldn't keep putting it off anymore.
'It's only thirty,' he remarked absent-mindedly.
'Only thirty!' Jack's voice pitched. But Preston wasn't listening.
‘I’ll need your guns.’
‘No way. That’s me who’s in command here,’ Jack choked.
‘A pair of guns. I’ll need them,’ he repeated, whether Jack wanted to listen or not. It only mattered if Ianto did. ‘Mine are half empty; they’ll go as a backup. See?’ He made sure both Ianto and Jack saw how his sidearms were drawn inside the sleeves and clicked to their place. ‘I need a basic option now.’
Ianto nodded and quickly reloaded his gun, then reached inside the jacket and took out another one.
‘Unused,’ he said. ‘It’s actually a backup for one man whose antique can fall to pieces any minute.’
Preston weighed both guns in his hands. They were Torchwood standard, not designed as a pair, but at least similar; fully loaded. Slightly heavier than his own and, according to Ianto, only twelve rounds each. Twelve. While his own sidearms could carry fifteen.
New. Not got used to. Not a problem, he thought, not after the Hall of Mirrors – and smiled, not wide, but as a man who was sure of what he was about to do. And the next moment he was serious and reserved again.
‘Please,’ he said, leveling his breath, ‘don’t you ever tell the Doctor about it.’
And he got up, walked to the main hall and stood tall, like thousand times before.
Lowering the guns, lowering the gaze, feeling how the air moved round him – ready to do the first thing he could do best.
The Cybermen were there in a second, and it was that single second the first of them were to live.
Front-45-sides. Get back-plunge down-change stand-more fire-ten down. Spin front-two guns-in turn-six more.
One comes close; spin two guns-in his palms-in a block-tear his head-handle wide apart. With the half of his head.
Arms ahead-guns in hands-spin two times-fire four times-just nine left.
Move side-get one-feel air-get two-one blink-two down.
One turns, one bleeds, four risk, all dead.
All thirty – within seconds – fall dead.
He froze. He could hear Ianto’s gasp and feel Jack’s shock. He turned slowly, looking at them, coming back to reality, then bent down and took Ianto’s guns from where he dropped them when they became useless.
‘Think-two-rounds-left-in-each-of-mine,’ he said with almost undisturbed breath but feeling tired, tired like never before. Jack glowered at him.
‘We should learn this.’
‘Jack,’ he said, his voice sinking, not even noticing he’s just called the Captain by name.
‘We must learn this. To live,’ Jack repeated and headed to the end of the hallway.
Preston felt like the floor was crashing under his feet at every step and was grateful that Ianto waited for him.
They were too much in a hurry to look around, but overstepping the fallen Cyberman, Preston couldn't help but notice the way their bodies were warped to fit the metallic exoskeleton. It looked surreal: chrome and steel protruding from flesh, thick wires braiding over skin... One head casing cracked open, and there was brain visible inside, untouched by the shot, but covered with wires and microchips.
They opened the door in the end of the hallway, the door the Doctor was taken to, slipped inside quietly and were hit by the wall of hot air filled with the smell of scorching metal and burning flesh. The source of the sounds was here, too – the screeching of saws, the whirling of drives, and screams. Gut-wrenching screams.
The room was big like a hangar, and along the walls, there were some units, looking high-tech if not for the fact that they were made from mismatched scraps. There was something like an eerie mechanical spider hanging over each of them, every leg ending with a knife, or saw, or drill, whirling and buzzing and cutting into people – people tied to the units and screaming their lungs out.
In the middle of the room, surrounded by armed Cyberman troops, was the Doctor. He was talking animatedly to the man in a chair, and his voice sounded surprisingly clear in the noise.
'Oh, Lumic, you're a clever man. I'd call you a genius, except I'm here.' He tapped his finger on a chin, thoughtful for a second. 'It feels like deja vu. Though I'm really a genius, and not shy to admit it. Anyway! You are so clever. You invented all this'. Making a wide gesture, the Doctor bounced up and down in a way absolutely unfitting for the setting. 'How do you miss the last bit of knowledge making your invention redundant?'
'What is it Doctor.' The voice of the man in the chair echoed over the room, devoid of any intonation, any shade of emotion. Measured as a metronome.
While he was talking, Ianto edged to the side, behind the closest unit. By Jack's silent signal, Preston took cover, arms ready.
'Humans!' The Doctor exclaimed in glee, and the next moment, all the units went dead.
The silence would have been as deafening as the noise was, if not for the screams of people still on the units. Nobody could switch them off, as Ianto did with the machines.
'It's over, Lumic', the Doctor said quietly, with deep sadness in his eyes. 'You can't fight humans.'
'I can,' Lumic said, and his cybertroops trained arms on where Preston and others were hiding behind the unit and slowly moved forward, every step as even as Lumic's voice.
'What for?' the Doctor asked, never looking their way, circling Lumic's chair.
'You care Doctor. You can know grief. Rage. Pain. Does it hurt.'
'Oh yes,' the Doctor breathed.
'Then I will hurt you.'
'No, you won't.'
The Doctor was standing behind Lumic's chair, holding one of the wires strained tight.
'Stop it,' he said gently, 'Stop it, Lumic, and we'll help you. I'll help you.'
'Or you'll kill me,' Lumic said, and the Doctor pursed his lips. Jack moved in his cover, scowling, his entire body tensed. 'But you can't'.
'Why not?'
'Because all the people you see around die with me'.
The Doctor froze, and slowly looked around, not at the Cybermen ready to shoot, but at people still in units. They were cut up, body parts missing, insides torn out, but they were still screaming and moaning and squirming in their restrains.
'The cyberblock is inserted first', Lumic said. 'They are all switched on to my brain. I die. They die.'
The Doctor faltered.
'Stop it', he asked. 'Lumic, please stop this madness.'
'I won't. Will you.'
'I will,' Ianto said emerging from between the units. He was fast, faster than anyone expected, or maybe surprise glued everyone to place. In a blink, Ianto was near the chair, grabbed the wire the Doctor was still holding, and ripped it out.
Lumic screamed, but the sound came to a halt as he jerked in scattering of sparks and went still. The screams ended only a half-second later. The guards suddenly went lax, like puppets on cut strings, and fell down in a clutter of metal and guns.
Now, the silence was not deafening but dead.
In the silence, Ianto was panting hard, looking at the Doctor with a fierce challenge in his eyes. Then he bent over and was violently sick.

~ ~ ~

They walked among the corpses. Once, Ianto stopped dead in his tracks, looking down at one body, with dark skin in between of metal panels, and moved on only after Jack brushed his back with his hand.
The Doctor stopped several times, tsking at some bodies and looking generally sad, but in the very beginning, when he opened his mouth, Jack said firmly:
‘Don’t you dare say a word, Doctor. Not now’.
Oddly, the Doctor shut up.
‘I have to do the clean-up’, Ianto said when they reached the door. ‘Count the bodies, get them back to the Hub… I will need a lorry, I think. It’s Sunday, they will charge more… I suppose I can call Mr. Williams, if Gwen is okay with him participating – I’ll need the car, not the driver, I can drive myself. And load them myself. Actually, we should buy a lorry for Torchwood. Will it be too much to have a lorry with Torchwood logo on the side? People already know that Torchwood is something at the Bay…’
‘Ianto’, Jack said softly, and Ianto stopped his monotone monologue. Jack steered him out of the door by the shoulders, and never let him go all the way to the SUV.
Jack drove them back to the Hub, cutting corners and breaking every limit possible. The Doctor was chatting all the way, commenting on Jack’s driving skills, on views of Cardiff, on the weather, and not caring that nobody answered. Ianto was eerily quite in his passenger’s seat. His hand was clenched into tight fist, and Preston couldn’t help noticing it.
He waited for an appropriate pause in the Doctor’s monologue and then asked him in a low voice (as low as the sound of engine would allow):
‘Can you explain something?’
The Doctor looked at him intently and then settled back on the backseat.
‘What is it?’
‘I suppose I missed the briefing. What was that we had to deal with?’
‘Trouble,’ the Doctor said, but Preston didn’t buy it. ‘Well, there was that man, John Lumic. Used to work for the Torchwood headquarters in London – now that was a weird place, if you ask me. A huge territory, times and times larger than you’ve seen today, all destroyed.’
‘How?’
‘Their own fault. They made Cybermen come from the other world.’
‘Like me?’
‘Well, technically…’ the Doctor started eagerly, but cut off at the look at Preston’s face. ‘…yes, in general, you can say so.’
‘And?’
‘Lumic was converted, partially, along with some of the others. He escaped, don’t know how. Started to build conversion units, tried to convince me he wanted to be healed. Oh yes, the problem was, he understood ‘healed’ not the way I did, you could see the result. ‘Healed’ himself, almost ‘healed’ his men and headed off for the rest of the world. The thing is, he was human, at least partly. That's why he came so far.' The Doctor looked right at Preston. 'He had human passion, human imagination, human cunning – and single-mindedness of a Cyberman.' He sighed. 'What a waste of a brilliant mind.'
In the back mirror, Preston could see that Jack's lips were pursed, Ianto's face greenish-pale and glistening with sweat. Thankfully, they were coming close to the Bay Area. Jack put the car to a halt in front of the waterpillar.
'Roald Dahl Plass. Out', he commanded. ‘Ianto, wait in the car.’
Fresh air, cold and salty, was a bliss. Preston rose his face to the dark cloudy sky, taking in the Plass, empty in the night, carefully chosen lights transforming it into a piece of art.
There was a blue box in front of the pillar, with the sign on what looked like a door, saying that it was 'Police Telephone Box'. Jack looked at it with strange sadness, then turned to the Doctor and took a defensive stance, legs set apart, shoulders spread wide.
‘Spill’, he said with a challenge in his voice.
The Doctor looked at him, and at Preston, and run his hands through his hair.
‘Will it make any good?’ he asked sadly.
‘Don’t think so’, Jack answered.
‘Then I better go’. The Doctor looked at Jack with deep sorrow.
‘If you should’, Jack responded evenly. The Doctor looked around, sighed and suddenly grinned from ear to ear.
‘C’me on, Captain! I’m not that passive-aggressive, you know,’ he exclaimed, clapping Jack on the shoulder. ‘The TARDIS is full to the rim, I have to go now’.
Jack smiled, but there were tense lines around his eyes. The Doctor ignored them.
‘Goodbye, John Preston’, he waved to Preston. To Jack, he cast, 'See you around’, turned on his heels and went straight to the box.
In a short second while the door of the box was open, Preston caught a glimpse of lights inside, green and yellow and golden, looking like they were further away than the size of the box suggested. Then the door closed, and a lamp on top lit into life. There was a weird sound, the whirling of engines, the rush of air, with a supernatural feel in it – and then the box blinked out, like it never was there.
Preston stared at the place it occupied just a second ago. Jack didn't waste the time. He called Ianto out from the car, and threw the keys to Preston.
'Take it to the garage. It's programmed in the navigator. When there, call me, I'll tell you how to get to the Hub'.
Ianto nodded to Preston on his way to the pillar. He looked like he was deep in trance. Jack caught up with him, and together, they stepped on the place where the box was before. Suddenly it was hard to look at them; Preston blinked, and they disappeared entirely.

~ ~ ~

Right-handed car and left driving were strange, but not that complicated. He reached the garage without any trouble and got inside through a variety of automatic locks and detectors. Stopping the engine, he tapped the earpiece and tried:
‘Captain?’
‘Yep,’ Jack sounded tired, almost as much as Preston felt. ‘The door on your left, follow the main corridor, won’t get lost. It leads to the Hub’s first sub-level, you’ll see the steps up when you’re there. See you.’
When Preston reached the Hub, Jack and Ianto were both on the sofa in the coffee area, sitting very close, Jack's coat thrown carelessly over the sofa's arm. Ianto was still looking absent, but he nodded to whatever Jack was murmuring to his ear. His hands were tightly wrapped around a cup of coffee.
Preston stopped, not wanting to interrupt them. But Ianto raised his gaze and smiled at him, a weak version of a polite smile that didn't reach his eyes.
'Ianto. To my office', Jack ordered. Ianto got up and slowly moved to the office, taking the cup and the coat with him.
Jack made a deep sigh and closed his eyes for a moment. Then he turned to Preston.
‘You okay?’
'Not the first time. Not the last, probably. I'll just need... practice,' and before he could think of anything else to add, he fell at the sofa, almost uncontrollably. Hoping it looked casual and relaxed.
He heard Jack walking around, opening drawers, clinking with glass. Then he sat down heavily beside Preston and put a warm hand around his shoulders. A glass was pressed into Preston's hands, half-full of golden liquid.
'Drink', Jack ordered in the same manner he ordered Ianto to go to his office a couple of minutes ago.
'Alcohol,' Preston stated in a plain voice. He could smell it, he had before. It seemed to him that Jack's arm, and his presence, and the cool glass in his hand were the only things to keep him on the edge of consciousness.
'Yes. Whisky. Red Label, total shit, Owen always knew shit about spirits, but it doesn't matter now'. Jack's words had a slight slur of tiredness, and his voice hitched at the name. 'It will help you relax. A drink, a few hours of sleep. Or do you want to talk?' He stroked Preston's shoulder in encouragement.
'Can't choose the question to ask first,' he let out a painful grin. 'Hope it helps.'
He made a gulp, at first feeling an urge to cough out the fire running down his throat and closing his eyes for a moment, recalling the vivid images of tonight – the Doctor, pacing round the Lumic's chair, Jack, holding Ianto on their way back to the SUV, Ianto, holding Jack, waiting for him to come back from the dead, Jack – dead...
'Am I doomed to kill wherever I end up?' he asked, not sure if he was addressing to Jack or to himself. 'That's why I'm here now, right?'
Jack chuckled without any fun in it and leaned back, staring at the ceiling.
'Are you doomed to kill?' he paused. 'There is a chance that you are'.
'Not encouraging,' he swallowed again. It was easier this time. 'What questions am I allowed to ask you, anyway?'
'You can ask whatever you want; I'm not obliged to answer'. Jack's fingers rubbed on his shoulder in circles. 'As for encouragement... if you need it, I can say that you don't have to kill. It may even be true. You can, for example, go live somewhere far away from guns and bad guys, and then, you have a chance not to kill anymore. But if you stay here... well, duh. And from what I heard about your Libria, it's not the most peaceful time and place in the Universe, either'.
'Not my choice where to be born. Or whom to become,' he stared at the glass, suddenly empty. 'I keep thinking that if I ever come back, there will be enough trouble for me there even without killing. And I don't know how to sort it out.'
So, he let that slip, finally. Like whatever.
'You offer me a choice and I thank you for that. But I can see no misinterpretation of the words 'needed here'. I know what duty is,' he fell silent for a moment thinking he had nothing to lose. 'So I just wish you could help me. And I will do whatever required.'
Jack was silent for a minute.
'You are a good man, John Preston', he said eventually, his tone warm and sad. 'And surely not a coward. When you go back, you'll sort it out. As for now...' He suddenly hugged Preston, drawing him into firm one-handed embrace. 'I'll take care of you'.
His eyes had a distant look at them, as if it wasn't just Preston he was talking about.
Then he grinned.
'Anyway, you are a perfect recruit for Torchwood: skilled, clever and a pleasure to look at'. He winked at Preston.
It was like tearing the paper away from the window, or stroking the puppy's fur – immensely emotional and at the same time calming, and just the right thing. Jack did confuse him, though, but he thought that as soon as he'll get used to the world around, he will accept Jack's weird manner along with anything else in this normal world.
'Okay, I think I have a question,' he threw a look at him. 'Does it help? Coming back in his arms, does it?'
Jack looked stunned by this question. For a second, his eyes sparkled, and he glanced at his office; then the friendly expression was back.
'Like nothing else in the universe', he said softly.
'So stop wasting your time on me and go,' Preston said, pushing the glass back in Jack's hands.
Holding an empty glass, Jack looked at him, raised an eyebrow, and then smiled, a real, wide and sincere smile.
'Take your rest', he said, getting up. 'This sofa is quite comfortable, and if you need something...' he glanced at the office again, 'deal with it yourself'.
He disappeared in the office, leaving Preston on the sofa with a well-worn quilt.
Not exactly nine-to-five, he recalled, making himself comfortable, relaxed after the drink and in the warmth of the quilt. It seemed like you never knew when the alarm will go off next time. But until then, he was going to have a proper sleep.
In the not-quite-silence of the Hub, full of electronic beeps, and murmur of water, and rustle of draughts, he heard something like a heartbreaking sobbing, and a soft soothing voice. Or maybe it was already a dream.

Fin
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December 2010

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