cuda: Jack Harkness from Torchwood (Jack Harkness troubled)
[personal profile] cuda
Play It Again Jack, Part 5

Gwen knew not to call. She had my number, of course - in more ways than one - but she had a family to protect. Until we made some progress with the Three Families, the entire world population was a potential threat.

So when Gwen called, somewhere between Breckenridge and Silverthorne, I got a little tense.

"Are you all right, Jack? Rex phoned yesterday, asking if I'd heard from you. I know as well as you do that Rex couldn't give a damn where you've got to or for how long."

Everybody's so judgmental of my taste in men. Do I point out Rhys's shortcomings to Gwen? Of course I do, but the point is, do I do it as often as I can and want to?

"Rex hasn't been himself this week," I said dryly, navigating the pickup around a long bend in the interstate. If I'd had the time to really look at it, Colorado was beautiful country. "Gwen, we've got a situation. It's dangerous. You shouldn't have called." I paused, and smiled. "Good to hear from you."

"What's happened?"

"Long story. Don't take any more calls from Rex. You still in that bunker of a house in Swansea?"

"Yes. We've moved Mum in just last week."

"Good. Get out as fast as you can. Go somewhere where there's no people. Make sure you're not followed."

"Jack, what--?"

"These creatures we're tangling with can steal everything about you if they touch you. Your memories, your face, everything. The one that got Rex had me fooled. They have his memories now. They know where you are and they know they can use you against me."

I heard a sigh on the other end of the line. That's right, Gwen, I thought, I've gotten you into trouble again. She was all business after that, though. Good girl; she believed me with no more explanation than that. "What do they want?"

"I'll explain later," I said, hoping I wouldn't have to, "and forget that arsenal in the broom closet. It's useless against these things. Just, run, Gwen, now. And don't let anybody touch you."

And then I thought: what if one of them already has Rhys? What if I'm talking to one right now? In the background, I heard sounds of shuffling, and then a muffled conversation, before Gwen returned to the phone.

"I'm off. Jack? Be safe."

"Don't worry about me," I said, glancing sideways at Castiel, who had been openly eavesdropping the entire time, "I've got angels watching over me."

She hung up. I replayed the conversation over again, hunting for signs that she wasn't the real Gwen. Had anything given Rex away? If I hadn't already been wary, would I have known?

"I can bring her here," Castiel offered, "Gwen Cooper is a valuable asset. She could be of use."

It was tempting. "If you go to Swansea and back, how much battery will it drain? Will it get anyone's attention?"

"Retrieving her might--"

"I just want to check on her," I cut him off, "just to make sure she's not one of them. And that wherever she's going, she gets there."

And then suddenly Castiel was gone. No, I didn't jump. My startle point is much higher than that, considering how things and people around me tend to disappear with even less warning. Sitting there alone in the pickup, I realized it was the first time he'd left since he showed up. Even more concerning, I realized I'd already adapted from skepticism to a kind of... utilitarian belief system about what he said and what he could do. No, I wasn't about to start believing in angels (not his kind, anyway), or God, or the afterlife. But if I he said he could do something impossible and then did it, I was willing to trust he could do anything else that he said he could.

I trusted him just enough to use him. Just enough to not even notice, until now, that he knew Gwen's full name. A name that I knew I hadn't told him.

Just a little over an hour later, with still no sign of Castiel, I pulled off the Interstate to fill up outside of Denver. I hadn't realized - and really, you think I would by now - that when a city in the Rockies says they have 'the last gas station for 100 miles,' they actually mean it. I'd been limping the pickup along on fumes and downhill grades, hoping that a store with the word 'mart' attached to the name would sell fuel.

I had no illusions of being off the grid by now, considering the Leviathan from L.A. had been able to track me all the way to Nevada. But I risked contact with the store clerk to pay cash anyway. He was bored, just out of college and clearly pissed about working a minimum wage job in a Denver backwater suburb. He didn't pay much attention to me. But I found myself watching him warily all the same.

This mission was definitely not helping my general paranoia, that's for sure.

Castiel was waiting for me at the pickup. He's not a big, imposing guy, but somehow, he made everything else seem... lesser. Mountains, sky, everything. The blue jeans, the ratty pickup, and the perpetually rumpled coat didn't matter. Whatever he was doing, he filled the space he occupied and the atmosphere around him with so much energy that the air nearly crackled. I stopped a minute on the curb of the convenience store, just admiring him from a distance. There was more to him than the body that contained him, I could sense it. Couldn't help but wonder though, why he looked like he did. When you could probably look like anything, why choose a fortyish average Joe?

How many other things like him were wandering around, and how had I missed them?

Like I said before, Castiel? Irritating. Arrogant, insubordinate and moody, and definitely repressed. Repressed in the Billy Joel, 'Only the Good Die Young' sort of way, if what happened in Nevada was any indication.

He was fantastic.

"Hiya, Halo," I tucked my free hand in my pocket and strolled towards him, as casually as if I hadn't just seen the fireworks, "Good timing. I got you a cherry pie." In the other hand I held a plastic bag, which I hefted to indicate the contents.

He tilted his head at me. With that he seemed to settle somehow, back into a reasonable amount of space. He also relaxed, which I took as a good sign.

"Gwen Cooper and her family are... safe," Castiel reported, "none of them have been replaced by Leviathan, nor do any Leviathan appear to be in their vicinity at the moment. I don't believe I was detected."

Relieved, I clapped him on the shoulder, using the gesture to propel him towards the pickup. "Good work. Let's get going."

"I also located Rex Matheson. I believe he was the other Torchwood operative you were concerned about."

I swung back to look at him, driver's side door held open. "Where is he?"

"Considering that he appears to share certain properties with you," Castiel's tone was dry, even for someone with a voice like a throat full of gravel, "he's in no danger of dying. The Leviathan seem to have realized this, and have detained him in an Illinois food processing and distribution center that appears to be a central base. To all appearances, he's fine and under observation for the moment."

I could work with that. I wanted Rex to suffer as little as possible, but if we stayed the course, he'd never have been captured at all. He could be furious at me later, if he ever found out.

"You move fast," I said to Castiel, and climbed into the cab. "I'm surprised you didn't show up on someone's radar, as much traveling as you did. How's the batteries?"

"Fine," Castiel replied, drawing his own door shut, "I've grown quite good at... camouflage. With such a small expenditure of energy, it was unlikely that I would be noticed."

"Good," I said, "let's stick to that plan." I guided the pickup back onto the interstate, headed for Denver. Just eight more hours on the road, and we'd be at our destination.

Whatever problems Castiel had with cheeseburgers, he had no problems whatsoever with Hostess cherry pies. In fact, I discovered, he liked them. A lot. ...Sort of an obscene amount, really, unless you're into that sort of thing. I didn't think I was. Then again, I'd never been turned on before by someone sucking the glaze off of a manufactured pastry shell. I pride myself on my driving skills, but that? That almost made me rear-end a semi.

Just eight more hours. Eight hours... without murdering him or tossing him down in the back of the truck. That's the kind of thing they give out medals for.

In the end, I made it through six. But in my defense, he started it.

Two hours outside of Bootback, Castiel had been listening to some late-night relationship talk show. He was driving, and I was glad just to have a break, so I didn't complain. It's those reflectors on the median strips. They're hypnotizing. Normally I really don't like being a passenger, but after almost twelve straight hours on the road, even driving gets monotonous.

"Doctor Sterling's going to tell Melissa that she should try and talk to her boyfriend first," I said, probably taking up more than my fair share of the bench seat, "they've been together over two years. If you haven't guessed from the past three callers, two years is apparently her high water mark."

"Melissa," the good doctor started in, all warm sympathy, "I think it's important that you approach Gary with your concerns. After all, you've been seeing one another for over two years."

"Then she's going to use a traveling metaphor to hint that maybe Melissa should just dump the guy."

Of course, Doctor Sterling didn't disappoint. "It's possible that maybe your paths have just come to a... you know... bend in the trail."

"You mean fork, Doc?"

"If things continue the way it sounds like they've been going, it may be... Melissa, it may just be time to look at where you've been, and where you want to go, and decide if... you know... if this is the man you see yourself with, driving down that long highway. Does that make sense?"

"She mixed highway metaphors with hiking metaphors. I call foul." I looked back from the window to grin at Castiel. "What do you think, Cas?"

"I will never fully understand humans," Castiel nodded sideways at the radio, "but regarding your concern with Doctor Sterling's response: I'm indifferent."

"And that's why you never will understand humans," I laughed, "taking a side and fighting about it is in our genes. For instance, me? I think this woman should not be on the radio, let alone allowed to give dating advice. There's a strong, absolute opinion for you."

"She seems to highly encourage communication. I believe that has some merit." Castiel reached over to turn off the radio when the broadcast took a commercial break. As old as the pickup was, the radio had separate buttons for power and volume. He'd worked out how to operate most of the buttons in thirty seconds, and had changed the preprogrammed radio stations in under two minutes. While driving.

I was bored. I counted.

"Her and everyone else," I shrugged, "not that anyone actually follows that advice."

Castiel absorbed this with a frown and lapsed into silence again, while I went back to looking at the passing fields. As if to mock us, there was a full moon tonight. Definitely not an eclipse. Absolutely no chance of one, whatsoever. With no more than the occasional floodlit barnyard to break up the dark, though, I could appreciate the silvery landscape.

"Jack," Castiel said suddenly.

"Yeah?"

"Two days ago, you kissed me." And while Castiel had a tendency to say things without question marks, I could hear his 'why?' floating around inside the observation.

"That's right," I said, cautious, "I do that sometimes."

"I'd like to talk about it."

Hoo, boy. Saw that one coming so far away, I could have picked it off with a scope rifle. I thought about trying to sidetrack him, at least temporarily. But an hour and a half is a long time to keep someone sidetracked. Especially when that someone is Castiel, and you're trapped in the cab of a very small pickup with him.

"Yeah, my kisses are usually worth talking about."

"Jack."

He did exasperation, order, and threat all in one syllable. A little ripple of power washed over me. Had to admit, I was impressed.

"What is there to talk about?" I spread my hands helplessly, "Unless you have constructive criticism. It was a kiss. It's over. If you're looking for a deeper meaning, you're barking up the wrong tree."

Castiel squinted. "I don't understand."

"You know, I'm beginning to think you say that when you do understand, but you want me to say it anyway."

"Never."

"Whatever," I replied airily, just for the sake of winding him up again, "And don't tell me you haven't tried that on this 'Dean' of yours."

Castiel shook his head while I watched, mouth working soundlessly while he searched for a comeback. "I don't understand how you could clearly be an active participant, yet ascribe no meaning at all to the act."

Well, that was just plain insulting. Not to mention, wrong. It wasn't the first time I'd been confronted by the same accusation, but it never felt any nicer. Random people, I could laugh at. But the thought of Castiel holding such a low opinion of me? "I said 'deeper meaning,' not 'no meaning,'" I shot back, "there's a difference. You're looking for the truth? It was a stressful situation and you were crowding me. I reacted."

"You kissed me because I encroached on your physical space," Castiel translated. He sounded confused, not that I blamed him.

"And you're hot, let's not forget that. Can we be done with this? Look! We're not that far from Abilene. That's just outside of Bootback, right?"

He still looked confused. And maybe upset; I wasn't sure. It was dark and reading his expressions required a field guide and a magnifying glass.

"I like you," I spelled out the obvious, feeling twelve for doing so. I don't think someone's been able to make me feel twelve in twelve hundred years. "But I like a lot of people."

"Enough to kiss them when they 'crowd you,'" Castiel said, and I could hear him trying out the phrase.

"At least," I agreed with a shrug.

I wasn't prepared for the sudden deceleration. I admit it. Luckily, I like to obey whatever traffic laws I don't deem an invasion of my privacy, and I had my seatbelt on. Castiel braked so hard that it threw me against the harness. He guided the pickup to the shoulder while I was still gasping for air.

"If I'm to spend eternity in Purgatory," Castiel turned off the engine and looked at me, "then I intend to crowd you once more before I go." And then he was. Crowding me. A lot. Putting out such a powerful field of energy that even my wrist strap beeped in distress.

"Watch that," I nodded toward my wrist, trying to be casual about the fact that Castiel had me pressed up against the window, "if I can see it, so can your old bosses."

The energy field dampened. "They aren't looking," Castiel growled, "without personal motivation, they never truly look." Then he stared at me, hard, and I could feel his breath and the heat of his body as the cab cooled in the October night air.

"You've got a job to do," I warned him, "this is not it."

"I will do my job." The five syllables dropped like a handful of unpinned grenades. Then he tilted his head, and this time it wasn't about being confused at all. My hand was on his cheek before I knew it, and that was apparently a green flag. Or a red flag to a bull - although we all know it's more about moving objects.

Boy, is it ever.

I held him to me, like I could hold off the future with just my hands, and he kissed me like it was the last good thing he'd ever get. I knew time might be running out, and while I'd tried to live the last few hours in the present, it was harder now than it had been in the beginning. I tried to draw back a time or two; stay focused. But he's got a way of looking; this innocence and intense determination, like he'd keep me pinned against that window until the next ice age. I gave up fighting with my own self-control. I wanted it too. I'm selfish enough to take an offer like that and not feel sorry about it.

All the while, I could feel the time bleeding away. It hadn't hit me that hard - not much does, anymore - until I thought of all the unspent potential Castiel would leave behind when the door closed on him. I thought of the sleeping Castiel, the frozen survivor in Angelo's basement. Would he disappear? I didn't know, although I believed he would. Time's funny that way.

I'd been going over my alternate plan again and again, looking for flaws, working out fills for the pieces of the puzzle I didn't have. Castiel's current intention was to capture his past self after he had released whatever 'power' he'd taken from Purgatory back into the portal. Together we'd temporarily neutralize the Winchesters - he assured me they would be there as well - and then move the Castiel from 2010 through the portal.

Whatever Purgatory was, it was not a space-time rift. A rift isn't a place. Using incredibly simplistic terms for the sake of my argument, it's a passageway. Sure, it's possible for things to tumble around in there for billions of years. But anything that goes in can come out on the other end, on its own, without any special effort in any time. If the angels were what they claimed to be, even a fraction of what they claimed to be, I figured it was a safe bet that they wouldn't throw something so dangerous as the Leviathan into such an unknown quantity.

Thing was, Castiel? My Castiel? The one in the morgue in his own personal freezer? He did tumble out of a rift. And not just any rift, but the Cardiff Rift. Whatever happened in 2010, Castiel ended up there, without his Leviathan payload. Maybe there was a reason I had specific orders not to interfere, but I trusted myself here and now far more than I trusted a set of instructions from a box on the shelf.

I had one thing going for me at least: Castiel seemed to trust me. Which meant he wouldn't know what I was doing until it was too late to stop me.

Whether he trusted me later would remain to be seen. But at least he'd be here. Somewhere.

Speaking of, somewhere in the middle of me reaffirming my determination to ruin Castiel's plans, he'd gotten my shirt open. "Okay," I laughed, torn out of my bad mood by the hungry hands on my skin, "that's more than crowding me, Cas."

He pulled back from me to look up, and I remembered that he was still convinced he was doomed.

Hey, can't deny a dying man's last wish, right?

Then I thought about Gwen on the run, with her husband, her mother, and her baby daughter. I thought about Rex held prisoner and Phil, already dead along with an entire L.A. city block. Did I have the right to take this time for myself? Even if what we were about to do in Kansas would wipe the Leviathan out of the past year, and with that, whatever time we took wouldn't matter?

The hands on my chest were tempting, but to be honest, the minute Gwen touched my thoughts, the debate was over.

So I improvised. I laid my hands over his. "Not right now."

He sat back, and my hands closed around his. It felt odd, but good, to do that. "Whatever happens, Castiel," I said seriously, "I promise you: this is not your last hour. I don't make promises I can't keep."

Silence folded around us while he thought it over, his fingers still and quiet underneath mine.

"You can't be certain," Castiel said. It was a statement, not an invitation to be pitied. I could respect that. He withdrew.

"I make it my business to be certain," I replied, nursing a twinge of something between disappointment and relief as he separated from me, "you know I've got plenty of time to make good. I don't know how you know that, but you do."

"Yes," Castiel said, grim as he leaned forward to turn over the ignition, "you do have the time." We pulled off the shoulder and I sank back against the seat with a long sigh. For a few seconds, I felt tired. Not physically, but... everywhere else. Death feels that way. It only lasts a little while, though. Castiel was right: I did have the time.

"You know," I told him cheerfully, a few miles down the road, "I've got plenty of cryptic people in my life as it is. Would you mind not being one?"

"I'll explain later," Castiel answered, turned his head just a fraction, and smiled deliberately where I could see. In spite of myself, I grinned back.

"Later? As in, 'after this is all over,' later?"

"Yes, Jack. When this is 'all over,' I will explain. Whatever you would like to know."

"You promise?"

"I promise."

"I'm holding you to that one."

"Please do."




With a name like Bootback, Kansas, you'd expect a dump or a quirky movie set. In reality, Bootback was a suburb of Abilene, interconnected by a sprawl of strip malls and apartment complexes. It looked like any other Midwestern suburb might; at least from the inside, with schools and a couple grocery stores and a Best Buy. Things didn't get weird until you waded into the weeds, which was where we were going.

Tucked into a thick windbreak of old pines was an abandoned train depot. A single stretch of track ran alongside the low brick building, vanishing at both ends in the shadows under the trees. Like the helm of a yacht, a second story structure rested in the middle of the building with large windows under small, round porticos. The whole thing looked very overbuilt, with heavy stone sills and eaves. A mostly overgrown gravel drive led across the tracks and up to a small lot beside the building. As we pulled nearer, the building grew more imposing. Large windows opened above our heads like empty eyes. It was taller than I'd thought. Train stations and I have a complicated relationship, have I mentioned that? Railroads, depots, tunnels: they attract temporal anomalies like syrup attracts hummingbirds. I don't scare easily, but my gut knotted up a little. "Is this place abandoned?" I asked as I came around the pickup to join Castiel. I wrapped my coat a little more snugly around my body. It was Kansas after all - we'd left all the sunny climates behind. October was just as frosty as you'd expect in the Midwest.

"It is owned by Crowley, under one of his many identities," Castiel said, gazing upwards a few steps in front of me, "although it has not been in use for over a year." His words left puffs of white frost in the air. So did mine.

"Crowley?" The last time I'd heard that name had been--

"Not that Crowley," Castiel interrupted, before I could finish my thought. I could hear the distaste in his voice and smiled to myself. Whatever else could be said of him, he was at least consistent with his own mythology.

I pocketed my torch and the Portable Prison Cell, which had been hooked up to the pickup's electrical harness until now. Castiel led the way to a pair of heavy, ornate metal doors closed with a chain and new steel padlock. "What's it doing all the way out here? There's nothing but farm ground for at least a few mile in every direction."

"It was the private station of a rail baron in the mid-eighteen-hundreds," Castiel explained. He cupped the padlock and I watched in surprise as it dropped open. "He had family here and traveled frequently between California and Kansas. When his fortunes dissolved shortly after the railway boom, the building was purchased and converted into a surgical theater."

"A surgical theater. Out here."

"Yes. It remained derelict throughout most of the twentieth century, before it was recently purchased by Crowley and repurposed." He held the door open.

"As what?"

"You don't want to know."

"I can guess." Clicking on my torch, I moved inside.

My boots hit metal, footsteps echoing out into empty space. A quick sweep of the light revealed a railing and a set of stairs, leading down into an open, white-tiled space. The door closed heavily behind me and Castiel moved past me, down the stairs. The light of my torch bounced off the walls, throwing out long, soft-edged shadows.

"We should find sufficient cover," Castiel said at the bottom of the stairs, "then I can--"

"Wait," I cut him off, "you said transporting someone used enough energy to be of notice, right? Maybe Heaven isn't looking, but it's something you might be expecting. Right?"

"It won't matter," Castiel replied. He turned to me and looked up, eyes unreadable in the dark shadows under his brows.

"If your past self notices that another angel on his paygrade shows up," I suggested, amazed at how quickly I seemed to have adapted to Castiel's vocabulary, "that could change how the whole series of events play out."

"It won't matter," Castiel repeated, insistent, "Jack, at that point I was weakened and hallucinating in agony. My thoughts were not on my surroundings. They were on redeeming myself to the people I betrayed." His head dropped.

I watched him for a few moments in silence, several replies on the edge of my tongue.

In the end, I closed the distance between us and put an arm around his shoulders. "Okay," I said, lowering my voice, "I still want to scout this place, before we do anything."

"This building is devoid of any activity," Castiel protested. He turned his head and drew back, and I followed his gaze after a moment with the beam of my torch. On the wall was a series of sigils drawn in dark, flaking paint.

Or maybe old blood.

"That's not the point, Cas," I swatted his back and pushed him off, redirecting the light elsewhere as I moved away, "It's just good sense to know all the exits. After all," I grinned back at him, whether he saw it or not, "I was born a coward. Stay here." And off I went.

The layout of the building was a wreck, frankly. Beyond the auditorium we'd walked into was a long ramped hallway ringing the central room. It spiraled up to the second level. There were other rooms off the main corridor; no bigger than closets, some of them. Some were empty, some were lined with shelves of unidentifiable liquids and objects in jars. The patina of age and disuse coated everything I saw. I didn't understand this place. I wanted to. I wanted to spend days here - in the daylight, mind, or with a decent generator to light the place - studying it. The very walls here seemed to hum with potential; with human secrets and emotions. A quick scan of the auditorium agreed. For whatever reason, the building pulsed like a heartbeat. Like a living thing.

I moved out onto the balcony above the central auditorium and turned off my torch, allowing my eyes to adjust to the moonlight coming through the windows behind me. My shadow fell over Castiel, standing near the dark sigils on the wall. He looked up at me.

"Scenic location, but the lighting leaves something to be desired," I called down to him, hoping to lift his mood. I had a pretty poor success rate at that, but I'm an optimistic guy.

"You've found what you were looking for, Jack?" Castiel asked.

"Not hardly. You should see this place," I walked the arc of the balcony.

"I have."

"That friend of yours, Crowley? He left in a hurry. Most of his stuff's still here. If that's his stuff."

I watched as once again, Castiel's head whipped away from the marks on the wall. Seemed awfully interested in that. "Crowley was not my friend." He was emphatic. Irritated. "And yes. He no longer had a use for the location, and he is unconcerned with repercussions should someone break into it. He has… other things to worry about, at this point in time."

"He must, considering he hasn't come barging in here yet." I shrugged. Hitting the end of the balcony, I started back. "Guy with the money to just buy a place like this, then hide it in a mountain of paperwork? He'd be watching this place somehow. I would."

"Crowley is a demon, Jack. I'm certain he's aware someone is here. But he's ultimately a pragmatist. And a coward. Unless we give him reason to interfere, he's likely busy with troubles elsewhere."

"Are the Leviathan his problem, too?"

"They're everyone's problem, Jack."

I paused, hand on the wall, looking down at him. From this far away, I could see the defeated slump of his shoulders. Whatever he was, he'd picked up human body language brilliantly. I didn't want to leave him. First, I'd just given this Crowley fellow an excellent opening for a dramatic entrance - and if he was anything like Castiel, he wouldn't be able to resist. Second, Castiel looked even more beaten than he had when we arrived. I've looked down the barrel at oblivion a few times myself. I understood. It's like ripping off a bandage to me: if I've got to do it, I'd rather do it quick than slow and have to really think about it.

Think what you want, I'm not a masochist. Not about physical pain, anyway.

Wait. Maybe I am.

"You want to come with me, Cas?" Fingertips still brushing the tile, I waved out the windows with the end of my torch. "I'm going to have a look outside. Hey, and where's that... pond, you were telling me about? Wanted to have a look at that too."

"I have no interest in the surrounding grounds," Castiel replied, "the aqueduct is a short walk west of here." He turned his back on me. I reminded myself that he had the ability to get himself out of trouble, shrugged, and started back down the corridor. Before I'd taken three steps, my fingers grazed the edge of a tile that pushed out significantly further than the rest, and I stopped.

Swinging the light up to take a closer look, I searched around the edge of the raised tile with my fingertips. Although it matched the other tiles on the wall at first blush, illumination showed that the grout around it was dirty. It had been touched, and frequently.

"First Angelo, now Crowley?" I muttered and pushed on the tile, "What's the deal?"

One of the door-sized windows nearest me swung open with a click, allowing me access to the first level roof.

Further up and further in, as they say. or in this case: out.

With a quick backward glance at the auditorium floor, I stepped through and into the chilly October night breeze. The auditorium floor wasn't any warmer than it was up here, really, but the walls - and the trees - at least cut down on the wind. Not so up here. Why would a train station or a surgical theater bother to conceal the roof access? Or was it a recent addition? Clearly, this building had more secrets than I had time to suss out.

Straight across from the window I'd come through, at the edge of the building, was a fire escape. The single iron ladder affixed to the brickwork looked sturdy, and I started down. It dropped me off on the western-most edge of the building, facing another wall of thick pine trees. The rail line I'd noticed before eased off into the woods, slicing out a narrow, dark tunnel. It was overgrown and choked with brush, but - not counting the building itself - it was also the most interesting thing on the property. Twenty minutes later, I waded into the weeds.

The rails were lost under a carpet of pine needles, but I could still feel them. Keeping the inside of the left rail against my boot kept me straight on the path. The windbreak was dense and dark, and I shut off my torch once more to make use of what little light there was. Weeds died back around me, unable to survive in the dim, until I reached the center. Here, I could more clearly see the bony fingers of tree trunks and naked skeletal branches. The thick dead carpet of needles reflected the scarce beams of moonlight from overhead. I don't get too worried about that kind of thing, generally.

But generally, I don't have someone following me.

I didn't stop. Turning around, pausing to listen would cost me precious distance. Castiel was as much soldier as I was, I knew that. He would have gotten my attention by now. That only left a couple options, and I didn't like any of them.

I ran.

Running in a dark stand of trees is ill-advised. Although I was no longer tripped up constantly by brush, the ground was still uncertain, and an unexpected tree root against my foot or a branch in my face would have put me down hard. But I saw the glimmer of light less than twenty yards off, the gray glow of an asphalt road, and the flicker of water on the other side. Almost there.

Behind me, I heard the footsteps that had been carefully moving in tandem with mine a minute or two earlier. Now, my pursuer made no secret of his presence. It was clear in a moment that he could run significantly faster than me. I'm an athlete. I do this for a living. I've had to chase down things that would make Olympic track stars think twice, and sometimes tactics and weapons fail and the only option is a test of stamina and will. But he had me. He had me from the minute I started down that railroad line.

A few feet from the edge of the windbreak, he slammed hard into my back, and we tumbled to the ground. I skidded face-first into the pine needles, the wind knocked out of me by the impact with him, and then the ground.

"Hiya, Jack," Rex's voice floated teasingly over my shoulder, "Got ya. Boy, you took a lot longer to track down than I thought you would."

Over the pain was the awful realization that I'd failed. The Leviathan had me. Whatever they needed, they had now. In a last ditch attempt to stop the inevitable, I tossed the Leviathan masquerading as Rex from my back and rolled after him, digging frantically for my gun on the way. He let me. He was laughing at me. I pummeled him. I lost control under the anger and the fear and whaled on him, and he kept on laughing. Warm, dark blood clung to my fists and splattered my face.

"You can't kill me, Jack," Rex chuckled through a split lip that - in a second - was no longer broken, "come on. Nice plan, but you shouldn't have come out here. Curiosity killed the cat."

"Maybe I can't," I growled, "but I bet I can put you down for the count."

"It won't matter," the Leviathan said in my voice, and then I was no longer holding Rex. A copy of my face leered up at me, pale in the fragmented light. "I've got everything we need now. You can't hold me forever." It rolled me over effortlessly, and pinned me down.

"In fact," I watched it tilt its head, eyes glittering, "I think you can't hold me at all."

And then its face split open. I looked into the pit of a huge maw. Leviathan have rows and rows of sharp teeth and forked snake tongues. I don't know where they keep all that in a human form, but they do it somehow. I couldn't see any of that right then, but I could see the massive black hole where my smile, my nose and eyes used to be, and I knew this was ending bloody. Temporarily? But bloody.

"JACK!" A woman's voice rang out over my head. I squeezed my eyes shut and snatched one more breath. Then, the clean, silver shiiing of a blade came down, followed by a profound darkness as a machete separated the Leviathan's head from his neck, and - well - let's not talk about where the downstroke ended.

As deaths go, I've had worse.




Coming back from death is never pleasant. It hurts, every time. A crackle of pain lances through every part of my body, like I'm just learning to feel again and even the lightest pressure is too intense. My chest hurts, lungs burning as if I've held my breath too long. There's usually a moment of vertigo, and a wave of deep weariness that's only gotten deeper as the years have passed. Then it's back to business as usual. This time, I had a mild headache as well, but considering where the edge of that machete had just been--understandable.

I pushed myself up and hurried to my feet, taking a moment to shake the needles from my coat before approaching the pair of dark shapes on the ground. My apparent rescuer knelt beside a body that looked roughly like mine in the low light. Only... decapitated. The head was missing, which was for the best, I think. Even if it wasn't my best look.

As the other figure moved to its feet, the moonlight revealed a glossy leather jacket in a feminine cut, long legs and a ponytail, and for an instant I thought it might be Gwen. Or, I thought, retreating a step, her doppelganger. It may have just killed another Leviathan, but that meant nothing. Infighting was just as likely as anything else.

"Thanks for the help," I said to the shadows, backing up another step, "but I don't remember calling for backup. Who are you?" The Leviathan with my memories was down. I wasn't about to give another one the same opportunity.

"Sorry about all this. How... how are you, Jack?" said Martha Jones.

She turned towards me, but didn't move forward, and I stopped backing up. We faced one another in the dark - presumably staring. I was, at the very least.

"Fair warning," I said, "if you're a Leviathan, I'm going to kill you on principle now."

"He said you might say that," Martha replied dryly, apology leaving her voice.

There was something in the way she said it. Just the tiniest shift of inflection. The smallest hint of significance. Once you know, once you've met him, you're always changed that way.

At that moment, I knew it was Martha Jones, because I do the same. I don't care how good the Leviathan were, that's something you can't counterfeit. My jaw clenched. "And by 'he,' you mean..."

"Yeah," Martha said, "him."

"So you're traveling with him again?"

"Not likely, Jack." She laughed. "But I happened to be in the area and he, you know, keeps contact. When it's important." Which meant 'not at all, I'm only okay with that sometimes, don't ask me about it.'

An open book, my Martha.

"I know what you mean," I said.

"But really," Martha came forward again, boots rustling in the pine needle litter, "how are you? Look, we've got to deal with..." she scuffed a boot at the body, although careful - I noticed - not to touch it, "then I've got a message. But I know you had something to do with Miracle Day - Torchwood was all over the news. And I haven't seen you since Ianto..." she trailed off. I knew how much she genuinely cared. Martha Jones could bluff with the best, make all the socially acceptable small talk, but I knew her. She knew me; us. But I couldn't talk about it. Not right now.

"Look me up when this is all over and I'll buy you a drink," I said, "You, me, and the angel."

"What?"

I grinned. "Just tell me what you've got for me, Martha Jones. It must be important."

There was a pause.

"You need to stop going back," Martha spoke slowly, like she was pulling the words from memory, "You've tried to fix it the way you want so many times, but you can't. You have to let some things be. The events you're trying to change have gotten so tangled up now that we're all in danger."

"What do you mean, 'so many times?' Does he mean I've done this before?"

"I don't know, Jack."

I let that simmer for a moment. "He didn't happen to elaborate, did he?"

Martha's smile was audible. "What do you think?"

Of course he didn't, and I knew that. I hadn't spent a few centuries ready to kill him because he was an upfront, transparent sort of man.

"I will fix this," I said stubbornly, "he can't stop me. Not unless he comes down here and does it personally. I've lost too many people."

"He said you'd say that, too."

"...Word for word?"

"Close enough. So, he said if you insisted on doing something 'incredibly stupid, as usual,' he'd help you out. Just this once, for the sake of the universe. Here. Catch." Something in a small paper sack arced towards me through the dark. I caught it, an inch from my face.

"What is it?"

"I didn't look inside. He called it a 'Gallifreyan party favor.' One-time use only. Said he doesn't trust you with anything else. He knows us better than we think he does, doesn't he, Jack?"

"Only sometimes. Why did he send you?" I asked, before I could catch myself, "Why's he got me doing this? He's the Doctor, he can snap his fingers and make all of this go away."

"You know why," Martha's voice was sympathetic, "there's rules."

Sometimes, in my bitter moments, I thought the rules that stopped the Time Lords from directly intervening were just a means of keeping their consciences clean. But then I knew better. I glanced at the headless body. "Is that how we stop them? Take the heads off?"

With a hiss, Martha hefted a large metal box. "Only stops them temporarily, unless you keep the head away from the body. Would soak it in Borax, if I'd got any. Lead-lined box'll have to do for now."

"UNIT must have an extended learning program."

"I'm taking this with me. You've got bigger problems to worry about." She turned.

"Wait," I called after her. I'd spent a week with a stranger, swimming currents I'd never even waded in before, and I was hungry for a familiar face. What was it about this life that kept everyone I knew just... skirting around one another? Maybe it was in our natures. Martha looked back.

"Love to stay, Jack. But--" She paused, then gestured for me to follow with her machete. "All right. Walk me to my car if you like. It's by the aqueduct."

"Aqueduct?" Oh. I glanced past her, out once more towards the road and the water beyond.

It was a lot further away than I'd expected it to be, and for a moment I wondered if I'd be able to accomplish everything I'd intended. Then I glanced down at the sack still in my hand. A Gallifreyan party favor?

"What about the aqueduct, Jack?" Martha asked.

"I'll explain later!" I called, and turned back the way I'd come, "Like you said, bigger problems!"

And I did. I had much, much bigger problems.

It hadn't occurred to me to wonder about the fact that Castiel hadn't showed up, until I was out of the trees and saw every light blazing inside the building. The parking lot by the building was empty except for our stolen pickup. I broke into a flat run, sprinting for the ladder that would lead me back to the auditorium balcony. When I reached the open window, I had a clear view through the grillwork. A short, stocky man in a dark suit had Castiel by the throat, backed against the wall. His voice carried up to the balcony, rough and accented.

"--flutter your lily-white ass to the Winchesters' front door, hm? That's right, you can't. Because those abominations you turned loose just burned it to the ground!"

Castiel started to say something, but never finished. Hot white light poured out of his mouth.

I'm a shoot first, ask questions later kind of guy. Exploding out onto the balcony, I braced myself and leveled my Webley at the stranger.

"HEY! DEAD MAN!" I yelled. He turned, and the light trying to choke its way out of Castiel went out. I had a split second to aim at the guy's bulbous forehead for a clean shot, and pulled the trigger. "Don't mess with the angel!"

He reeled backward. I had a split second to think maybe I'd finally taken something down with genuine bullets. Then he straightened, pupils of his eyes coming back to center. The hole in his forehead sealed. "Oh come on," I groaned.

"New boyfriend, Cas?" the stranger taunted, and made a one-handed gesture in my direction. I felt a freight train's worth of inertia slam into my back, crushing me against the balcony railing with enough force to bruise a few organs. I hit my knees as the wave of pain and nausea rolled up and over me, and then I was back up, moving as fast as I could limp from the balcony to the corridor.

Before I made it to the main floor, Castiel blocked the path. I skidded to a stop, he grabbed my arm, and then the world whited out.

"Warning," I groaned, sagging back against the wall of the corridor when things righted themselves, "warning, Cas! Where are-- we're still here."

Heat and humidity hit me. In seconds I was sweating under my coat. My kidneys and spleen, at least, seemed to have resumed normal location and function.

"It's late August of 2010, Jack," Castiel explained, looking down, "I'm sorry. I had no other options. I am not prepared for a battle with Crowley. He can't follow us here."

"That was Crowley?"

"Yes."

"...Expected him to be taller, somehow." As my bearings returned, I checked my pockets for the Portable Prison Cell and the sack Martha had given me. I felt both, exhaled slowly with relief, and lowered my voice. "This is the day, isn't it."

"Yes. We have a few minutes before the Winchesters arrive."

"Then let's get set up. You head to the balcony, I'll be there in a minute." When Castiel nodded and turned away, I jogged down the ramp to the floor of the auditorium.

The wall where the sigils would be was currently blank. Bits of red-brown stained the grout in between the tiles from the previous attempt. Bang-up cleaning job. Honestly, though? It matched the rest of the place. I didn't really need Castiel's non-explanation to know what Crowley had been using the depot for. What the trays of filthy dissection instruments didn't say, the old blood spattering the floor and lower walls just plain screamed. I recognized a few of the tools sitting out as torture implements, too. Didn't raise my opinion of the guy, though it did make me wonder how deeply Castiel was involved.

Sort of explained his reaction to my suggesting they were friends, at least.

"Cas," I called up to the balcony, pointing to the empty wall, "this is the spot where they open the portal, right?"

"Yes, Jack," Castiel's rough voice echoed down.

"Lucky guess," I muttered with a touch of gallows humor.

Ignoring my surroundings for the moment, I opened up the paper bag Martha had given me. A brick of prismatic crystal about the size of a candy bar spilled out into my hand. Evenly placed depressions, seven in all, dotted the surface like a domino made of glass. On one end was a conventional interface plate, and as I turned it, I could see filaments stretching through the crystal from the plate. Like most Gallifreyan technology I'd encountered, it was soft-edged, organic, and beautiful. I'd seen much larger versions of it in the past. They were permanent installations - not like this, which wouldn't be able to cope with the sheer volume of power running through it for more than half an hour. "Party favor," I grinned as I walked to the wall where the sigils had been - or rather, would be, "All right, Doctor. If you're watching this? Put me on the guest list for your next New Year's Eve party. Especially if you prank each other with time dilation fields."

For the uninformed, the building blocks of time dilation can be found in the flotsam of Albert Einstein's theory of relativity. Einstein's theory, however, described it only as the perception of time passing more slowly. Two observers in motion, each holding a clock, will observe that the other's clock is ticking more slowly than the one in their hands.

Gallifrey and other worlds - trust me, I've seen them - have had those building blocks for a lot longer than Einstein. Remember, Earth is a pretty young world in comparison to the rest of the universe. Or rather, Earth isn't all that young, but the species building movie theatres and Large Hadron Colliders on its surface is.

Right now, anyway. But trust me, they'll catch up. Oh, they'll catch up fast.

Time dilation can be more than just perception. Just as it's possible to hop through time, time can be slowed down and accelerated by the use of technology. It's better for all of us if I don't go into the maths (because neither you nor I have had enough hooch for that), just know that the device exists. Not only will it look like that clock's ticking slower, but when a time dilation field is deactivated, it will actually read a time behind or ahead of an identical clock outside the affected space.

But we're not messing with clocks here. Clocks can't steal your identity and tear big, messy chunks out of your ass.

Not if you use them properly, anyway.

I tucked the block against the wall directly beneath the spot where the sigils would be painted. For good measure, I shimmed it in place with a broken shard of tile, and pushed a rolling instrument cart over the spot. While I synced the device and the universal control interface on my wrist, I heard - and felt - the reverb of a heavy door slamming overhead.

Someone was in the building. Castiel hadn't given me specifics on the time (would've been handy), but I guessed it was the Winchesters and this morning's guest of honor.

"Come on," I growled under my breath at the light blinking red on my wrist, keeping one eye on the hallway, "come on." If I left before the device synced properly, I'd be up on the balcony doing it. At that distance, with so much energy disturbance in the building, I'd be lucky if my wrist strap could find it, let alone lock onto its frequency.

Slow, heavy footsteps echoed into the auditorium. Something kept their pace at a crawl, giving me precious seconds. The light I was watching flipped from red to a soft blue. On the floor, the device glowed briefly blue as well, then winked out.

"Synchronization complete," the dash on my wrist strap reported. Pausing just long enough to pump my fist in the air, I bolted for the balcony. I barely made it a few steps up the ramp before the commotion started behind me. The metal door leading into the auditorium swung open with a crash and boots clanked on the iron stairwell. The noise they made covered my own as I sprinted up the hall to join Castiel.

"What was that?" Castiel asked.

"The Winchesters. I know, rowdy bunch, right?"

"No," he clarified, "the object you placed against the wall."

"Insurance," I said. Castiel narrowed his eyes at me, but didn't press.

We stayed just at the edge of the corridor to avoid attracting attention. Or rather, I did. Castiel was next to me one moment, invisible the next. At first I thought he'd left, until I felt a hand on my shoulder. When I glanced at the spot, I saw the depression of palm and fingers in the wool.

Well, all right then. So he could disappear. Neat.

Leaning against the wall, clammy in the humidity, I watched the scene unfolding below one-eyed. I kept a finger over the button that would activate the time dilation device propped against the wall. Nothing to do after that but wait, and not intervene.

I guess you could say my first reaction to the 'Winchesters' Castiel talked about was purely physical. They probably get that a lot. The first two were in their early thirties, maybe older; hard to tell. These were probably the 'brothers' Castiel referred to earlier, although they looked nothing alike. The big one (and I mean big) had a soft, serious teenage face, ridiculous sideburns, and the fluid physical control of an assassin. The shorter one was more my type - or would've been if he bothered to shave. Big eyes, broad shoulders and military posture, but he moved like a man in constant pain. Knees didn't bend; back didn't flex. Old scars, I thought. Sad on a guy that young.

The third member of the team was a man in his fifties, maybe even sixties. His stiff walk reminded me of the short guy's. Those two were definitely in the same line of work. He had a light layer of fat, but did his share of lifting and pushing heavy furniture. Maybe with a little less puffing, even.

They all struck me as experienced survivalists. I could see their minds tucking away the high ground and potential weapons in the room. We probably wouldn't even get to throwing punches in a real fight. I'd have a knife in my liver or a bullet in my brain long before that. The three of them functioned like a tight-knit team, anticipating one another and communicating with glances and gestures. The whole scene resonated with the golden days of Torchwood Three. I reminded myself that my team wouldn't be caught dead wearing so much plaid, and felt a little better.

The big guy was the one chink in their armor. Though he outweighed everyone else and controlled himself like a natural born killer, he was distracted. The other two - judging from the looks they kept throwing his way - knew it and worried about him. If there was one weak link here, it was him.

In the center of the activity was Castiel. I've seen corpses in better shape. Deep lines of red ringed his eyes. Blisters marred his face and hands. He was bleeding, although I couldn't find the source from so far away. The Winchesters bundled him down against a cabinet when he couldn't stand on his own steam. He glanced up at us, once. Remembering what Castiel told me earlier, however, when he looked away I was sure he'd dismissed us as hallucinations. Up on the balcony, Castiel squeezed my shoulder a little harder, and I understood. I'd had to watch myself die a few times, too.

"Dean," Castiel on the floor said to the short guy with the big eyes. Now I had a face to put with the name. The exchange was quiet, but given the acoustics of the room and the surrounding silence, it wasn't too hard to hear.

"I feel regret," Castiel said, huddled against the cabinet, "about you, and what I did to Sam."

The fingers on my shoulder dug in a little more, just to the side of pain. I let it stand. Bruises heal.

Dean was angry. "Yeah, well," he turned his back on Castiel, sliding the table I'd moved away from the wall, "you should."

I held my breath as the one-sided conversation continued. Nobody noticed the device tucked on its side against the wall. It could have been a stray surgical instrument, or litter from the building crumbling around it. Nobody came near enough to disturb the tile holding it in place. I breathed out.

"If there was time, if I was strong enough, I'd fix him now," I heard Castiel say to Dean, "I just wanted to make amends before I die."

"Okay," Dean said. Might have sounded like a dismissal to the inexperienced, but I knew an emergency exit when I heard one. He wanted to lay into the angel for something, for whatever Castiel did to this 'Sam,' but there wasn't time.

"Is it working?" Castiel persisted. The innocent sincerity in the question startled me.

"Oh, Cas," I whispered.

Movement near the edge of the auditorium drew my attention to the old man in the ball cap and I realized that the big guy was missing. I heard a voice in the hallway leading up to the balcony and tensed. If that was--

"Sam," I heard Castiel murmur, so close to my ear that I could feel his breath. If his hand hadn't been cutting off circulation to my left arm, I might have jumped. I'd almost forgotten he was there as his scene played out on the auditorium floor.

"What?"

Castiel released my shoulder. Shaking some feeling back into my arm, I flattened myself against the wall and peered down the corridor, straining for Sam's voice. Whether or not it was actually 'Sam,' I tagged him anyway. Easier than trying to find another size-based nickname. I mean, there's plenty, but after a while it just gets old.

He was talking to himself. Reassuring himself. Arguing, softly, with someone who never answered - at least not where I could hear. It was a short conversation, but it told me plenty when lined up against his earlier behavior.

"Did you do something to that kid?" I muttered, when I felt Castiel return.

He answered in Old Aldurian. Or he may as well have, considering how little I actually understood.

"I broke the wall inside his mind that protected him from his memories of harrow Hell, and Lucifer's cage," Castiel said.

"Five words or less."

Castiel paused. I could almost hear him counting words. "He has lost his mind," he replied.

"And you did that."

"No--" Castiel argued angrily, then: "--yes."

"Can you fix it?"

"Yes. And I will, Jack. I--"

Sonorous Latin echoed up from the auditorium floor, interrupting whatever else Castiel was about to say. Energy crackled around us, shifting and centralizing like dogs called to a master.

I couldn't tear my eyes away from him. This whole plan needed to go flawlessly. It was starting right now, and I'd just realized that maybe I miscalculated.

Maybe he was the monster.

Setting loose the Leviathan by accident to save the world, sure, I could understand. But the idea of Castiel stirring around in Sam's brain-- I remembered his threat, suddenly, back in the Torchwood museum in Angelo's basement. Tell me or I will take it from your mind.

He could. He really could. And I'd just seen the results.

Everyone's got their moments of doubt. I didn't have time to gauge all the outcomes, but fresh from Miracle Day, I had time to wonder: what if I was setting off another catastrophe? Behind us, the Latin continued. I lowered my hands, and the paper bag leftover from the time dilation device crackled in my pocket.

The device.

The Doctor!

My heart lurched back into place. He'd sent Martha for a reason. I didn't know what reason that was, but I did know what it wasn't. He wouldn't help me save Castiel at the cost of the world. Not this world, anyway. He'd burned up whole suns for personal reasons before, but this little rock had priority.

Maybe I couldn't quite believe in Castiel yet, but I did believe in the Doctor. Always would.

I tossed Castiel my best grin and peered around the corner of the wall. While we'd been distracted, someone had painted the sigils. They glittered, wet and red in their circle; blood now for certain. As I watched, the pattern burned like molten gold, cracked open and sucked into itself. Around me, energy patterns shifted and intensified until I could feel physical pressure, like the Rift ready to open. Beyond the hole in the tile was nothing but blackness.

One chewed up, bloodied man in a trench coat stood between it and the Winchesters.

The old man had flawless pronunciation, I'll give him that. Wouldn't have expected it from someone who looked more trucker than theosophist. Serves me right, really; I know better. When he stopped chanting, for one breath everything hung suspended; silent. Waiting.

Down on the auditorium floor, Castiel's body lit up like a star.

Light poured out of him and into the open hole. I've seen beautiful things in my life, and terrible things, and things that were both. Castiel fell into the latter category, while the bloody scraps of him glowed and poured off more heat than the summer dawn outside the windows.

"Now," Castiel urged in my ear, "now, Jack! Throw the Prison Cell!"

I waited.

"Jack!"

Waited…

The portal to Purgatory was almost too quick to catch, but I did it. I activated the time dilation field around the section of wall, and everything in that tiny area slowed to a crawl.

Castiel collapsed, and the Winchesters hurried to him, too busy with his apparent death - and subsequent resurrection - to notice that the portal stayed open.

Then the Leviathan rose up. Inside Castiel's body. Countless numbers of them. Legion. All wrapped in that blood-spattered trench coat.

It got a little messy.

"Jack," Castiel hissed as the one-sided battle raged below, "what have you done?"

And then, behind us in the corridor, I heard Sam. "Cas?"

Down below, the Leviathan animated Castiel's body towards the exit at a heavy lumber.

At the entrance to the balcony, my Castiel turned back from where Sam faced him. I couldn't tell who was more horrified.

"Dean!" Sam raised the alarm, "Bobby!"

"Run!" Castiel ordered me.

Not caring who saw, I sprinted across the balcony. A flash of white light behind me tossed my shadow on the far wall, stark black on the tiles. My hand slammed down on the latch I'd found before, and I tumbled through the emergency exit hatch onto the roof.




The derelict tracks were easier to navigate in the pre-dawn than they would be in a year in the middle of the night. A thin haze of fog drifted between the trees. The landscape hadn't changed. The body of the Leviathan who'd attacked Phil and Rex was conspicuously absent, though, which made for one less thing to trip over. I wondered how Martha was getting on in 2011 with her head-in-a-box.

Considering the shape the Leviathan had when she chopped its head off, I guess you could actually call it a 'Jack-in-the-box.'

What? Too soon?

It hadn't occurred to me until then that the Leviathan might have stolen my unusual recuperative abilities, too. I sure hoped it wasn't busy growing another head.

I ran with everything I had in me, determined to get to the aqueduct before the Leviathan controlling Castiel's body did. It navigated at a shamble down the drive, evidently headed for the main road. Either they didn't notice the path cut by the old rail line, or they weren't too concerned about saving time. Maybe they just didn't want to pick up burrs. I think I still had a few leftover from Nevada.

Nevada already seemed like a lifetime ago.

Whoever designed the aqueduct access point should be shot. A footbridge - a footbridge - connected it to the main road, over a shallow runoff. The aqueduct itself was surrounded by a chain link fence. The entrance was locked with a heavy chain and a padlock, resistant to even my most determined attempts to break it. Wasn't sure what Castiel - my Castiel - was up to by then, but I sure could have used his help, and wasn't ashamed of my own wishful thinking.

As no angel seemed to be forthcoming, I drew my gun, backed up a step to fire... and stopped. The report from the shot could alert the things manipulating Castiel's corpse to the fact that someone was out here. It might stop them. They might go somewhere else. I didn't know how important this water supply was to them. I just knew - from what Castiel told me in the truck on the way to Kansas - they ended up here.

Swearing under my breath, I holstered the Webley and threw myself at the fence, going up and over with a relative minimum of scrambling. Most people would have taken off a long coat for a climb like that, knowing the tails would inevitably snag on the rough top edge of the fence. But that was an amateur move. I'd had a lot of years with this coat. Enough to get my shoulders dislocated a few times until I learned how to dismount properly.

It's all about the smooth exit. Trust me.

I dragged the Portable Prison Cell from the pocket of my coat, then bundled it and chucked it into the brush. It already needed a professional cleaning, and not only did I not want to swim in wet wool, I didn't want to deal with the inevitable shrinkage, later. Nobody, and I mean nobody, likes shrinkage.

With a firm grip on the slim silver case of the device, I waded in. The shore jutted out past the access point, giving some camouflage behind the curve of the bank. I crouched in the water, pressed against the steepest point of the shoreline, and waited for my cue.

I didn't have to wait too long. Castiel's coat sliced out a pale silhouette under the trees in a few more minutes. The Leviathan inside his body nudged Castiel unsteadily up the last of the path. With a touch, he broke the lock I'd been so careful to avoid. He went into the water and I went after him. The water here was cleaner than I'd expected, but still muggy with silt. I lost my bearings almost instantly, gamely kicking forward anyway because, well, that's what you do.

A hand closed around my wrist, jerking me sideways.

Desperation and anger swept over me and I fought it off, but it only gripped me tighter. Then a face loomed close out of the murk, and I was looking into Castiel's wide eyes. His gaze was sane, bright with intelligence. I knew which one had me. Mine. My Castiel. I'm not sure exactly when I started thinking about him in possessives.

He led me through the murk. Blind beyond a few feet, I let him. Then I felt a disturbance in the water, and a bloody trench coat sleeve swept a few inches from my nose. Castiel let go of me, and I saw his hands close on the scruff of the thing's neck. Blue lightning shivered away through the silt, like the underbelly of a storm and the reality of what we'd just done struck me. I'd just let Castiel cross his own timeline. On top of every other violation to the rules I'd already made, he'd just put his hands on his past self. There's a reason why you don't ever do that if you can help it, and I heard him make a noise of distress loud enough to echo through the water. He kept his grip and twisted to look at me, expression a rictus of pain illuminated by flickers of escaping energy.

The Blinovitch Limitation Effect. Somehow, he was controlling the energy surge, but every second clearly cost him, and I needed to move.

I dove down and activated the Portable Prison Cell underneath the struggling body. Like an inflating balloon, it bloomed open into a field of lightly glowing blue rings, illuminating the water around us as it encapsulated the rapidly disintegrating form. Castiel yanked his hands away just in time. It snapped shut.

Something was happening inside the cell. The body inside was there, and then gone in less time than it took to blink. To the uneducated, it might have looked like combustion. But the Rift energy monitor on my wrist strap bleeped, the sound made muffled and strange by the water. I didn't need to see the spike warning on the dash to know what had happened. Like so many creatures Torchwood dealt with in the past, the Leviathan had no true physical form. If Castiel's body had been destroyed, they would have gone with it. In order to leave him, the Leviathan needed to make a portal between their current existence and the physical world.

I'd never seen creatures make a temporal fissure to do it, but hey, firsts are fascinating things. Bottom line was: we'd done it. We'd contained the Leviathan. Castiel had been tossed into the Rift, where he'd be picked up by my team.

The cell was a piece of intuitive technology. It was programmed only to hold living things through complex algorithms that nearly shut down the Torchwood software when Tosh first interfaced it with our computers. It held our captives, but let the aqueduct churn in and out with the current. The process of opening up a fissure caused a powerful whirlpool. Castiel struggled towards me while I did my best to hold onto the imprisoned Leviathan. My lungs had finally started to take notice of the exertion and the lack of oxygen. They were burning. It took every fiber of will I had to stay put, because I knew I'd start drowning in less than a minute if I didn't get to the surface.

Apparently realizing their predicament, the Leviathan began to fight the cell. It held, but I guessed the battery wouldn't hold them for an hour at this rate, much less two. Castiel's hands closed around mine, and then he pointed up to the surface. As the swirling currents began to die, I kicked back from the spot and hurried in the direction I assumed was 'up.' The downward swirl of the current made every stroke a struggle. Each motion sucked away more oxygen, and my vision began to spot.

Then the gravel in the shallows swelled up under my hands, dragging at my palms. I pushed my head above the surface for a deep gasp of life-giving air. I'd come up around the bend in the bank, thankfully, and the Winchesters hadn't noticed my noise. To my relief, Sam was with them, in apparently good shape. As I paddled to the curve in the shore, I saw Dean bend down and fish something out of the water. It seemed to expand as he lifted it, the weight of water stretching it out into its original shape.

Castiel's trench coat. He must have lost it in the struggle.

The Winchesters didn't linger. When they were gone, I dove down again, following the soft blue glow to my target. I gestured towards the surface and Castiel nodded, evidently unconcerned about things like breathing. Together, we hauled the Portable Prison Cell and its occupants out of the water to the shoreline. No longer supported by its own buoyancy, the slurry of Leviathan goo was heavy.

"You lost your coat again," I panted, shoving wet hair off my forehead. Not that I mind the wet look, but there's a difference between looking attractively damp and, well, drowned.

"I did," Castiel agreed, looking down at his arms, "it got in the way."

"They do that." I flopped down on the bank, sucking in blissful lungfuls of air. "Go get the truck. You can move faster than I can. That cell isn't made to hold… however many things are in there."

Castiel vanished. I realized we'd left the truck in 2011, and groaned.

A few minutes later, Castiel reappeared.

"Sorry," I said, "I forgot we time-warped."

Castiel tipped his head. He was also dry, I noticed, and that was just not fair. "But I brought a truck, Jack."

"You did?"

"From a nearby residence."

My mouth fell open. "You know how to steal a truck?" I paused. "Of course you do. What don't you know how to do?"

Castiel looked indignant. "I didn't steal it," he protested, turning towards our captives, "I pressed it into temporary service. I will return it."

"Right," I muttered, dusting off my hands as I jogged to the bushes where I'd tossed my coat, "for 'the greater good.' Come on, let's get this thing loaded."

He left the truck running by the side of the road, which was a good thing, since he'd apparently started it without keys. By the time we got the tailgate up, the rings encasing the Leviathan were already starting to flicker. It made strange looking cargo, one tiny little shell and all that disgusting black goo floating over it like a hot air balloon. "Cas?" I said, "let me drive. You just make sure that thing doesn't tip over."

Castiel nodded, and climbed into the back of the truck.

"And hang on!" I called back as I swung up into the cab.

"What, Jack?" I heard Castiel ask, muffled through the rear glass. The pickup was brand new. Beautiful, bright red, and pristine. I hoped the owners would forgive me.

"HANG ON!" I repeated, and sent the truck careening off down the rail line. Shortest distance between two points, right? Right.

It was a hell of a lot more fun than the road, to boot.

The time dilation field was still holding when we arrived. A pair of heavy steel doors opened into the auditorium floor from right beside the rail line. Maybe the original owner used them to move cargo to and from freight cars. Maybe the second owner used them to load bodies onto flatbeds. I backed right up to them, parked, and - with a helpful angel to jimmy another lock - flung them open.

"I'm going to miss that thing," I panted, as we lugged the cell and its payload into the auditorium towards the waiting portal. He might have been able to carry the whole thing himself, but its balance was precarious and needed a second set of hands. The enclosing field around the cell was actually tangible now, and sturdy (although it tingled to touch), but trying to get a grip on it was like trying to get a grip on a plastic bag full of water. The sludge bulged and bobbled, and have I mentioned it was heavy?

"For your sake, I hope this is a poor attempt at humor," Castiel said through gritted teeth. We centered it as close to the edge of the field as we could safely get without being affected, and I stepped back.

"I meant the tech," I clarified, "Ready? When I say go, you shove it in, hard as you can."

The Portable Prison Cell flickered again. A few spots of black spattered onto Castiel's pullover. Somehow, though most of the time I'd known him he hadn't worn it, without his trench coat he looked naked.

"I find it hard to believe this was your plan, all along," Castiel glared at me, "this plan is horrible."

"I know," I grinned, "GO." I deactivated the field as I spoke, and Castiel jammed the Portable Prison Cell and its payload into the shrinking abyss. For a terrifying heartbeat or two, I thought it wasn't going to fit. Then, the last of it wormed through. The wall snapped shut behind it like a drawstring bag.

Everything went silent.

Red sigils dried slowly on the otherwise flawless wall. Underneath them, the time dilation device fizzled and pulsed. I edged over to the spot and squatted, watching the blue glow flicker in and out. "It'll shatter soon," I murmured, "or melt. That's what usually happens when crystals like these overheat. Either way, it's done."

"Jack."

I stood up. "We should get going. And you should put that pickup back where you found it."

For a creature as unspeakably long-lived as Castiel, he had very little patience in some areas. "Jack," he repeated, stern this time.

The power in his voice crawled across my skin, light and spidery. I turned, grinning, and held up a warning finger. "See, this ordering me around? It stops right now, Halo."

"You lied to me," Castiel said, "and you neglected to share your alternate plan."

"You're not bunking in Purgatory tonight," I shrugged, lowering my hand, "are you going to tell me you have a problem with that?"

"I don't understand why you kept it from me."

"You seemed pretty bent on taking the bullet yourself at the time. You might have tried to stop me, and I wasn't in the mood to fight about it."

"I would have appreciated disclosure, about that and the Torchwood morgue. That was my coat, and my vessel, Jack. I want to know why it was there."

"Oh ho, you want to talk about disclosure? I've got a list for you. How's Sam, by the way?"

I glared; he glared, then winced and clapped a hand to his temple. My wrist strap squalled a distress signal, as waves of energy rode over us like the wake of an aircraft carrier.

"Time is rearranging itself around us," Castiel said urgently, looking up at me with worry, "we only have a few more moments. Then I must return you to your own time, and return to mine as well."

It was true. Small things, imperceptible changes - that was the Time Agency specialty. Removing the Leviathan from the entire world timeline? The kickback would be extraordinary. Miracle Day hadn't even happened yet. Would it still?

"And Sam is alive," Castiel finished, tight and definitely defensive, "he has no memory of finding us."

I breathed out, slow, and panned the room to avoid his eyes. "Couple minutes left, huh?" That wasn't much time for an explanation. Wasn't time for a half dozen important things. But Castiel was still alive. Still free. Why not celebrate, I thought. Mission accomplished.

"Yes, Jack," Castiel said, still watching me. I could tell by the sudden shrewd narrowing of his eyes that he was thinking the same thing I was, and if I'd let him get away with it.

"You want to spend them arguing?" I asked.

Castiel had two handfuls of my shirt before I could do more than tack on a grin. He tossed me into the wall of bloody symbols and came after me. If you've never been kissed by a raging angel, you don't know what you're missing. An experience like that should have its own name.

When he pulled back, we were both breathing hard. It was hard for him, I could feel it. To be honest, I didn't want to let go myself. Pure hedonistic selfishness. I wanted to talk him into dinner first. Anything to drag it out. I'd felt better trapped in a pickup truck with Castiel than I'd felt since Miracle Day. Alive. Improvising. Not just going through the same, familiar motions. I opened my mouth to find some way to give him the option to stay. What did he have waiting for him in 2012? For that matter, what did I have waiting for me, in 2011?

"Goodbye, Jack," Castiel's voice brushed my mouth, all soft air and vibrations I could feel in my chest.

He reached up. I watched, fascinated, as the fingers of his right hand curled into a benediction. My eyes slid to his, and he paused.

"Look me up sometime," I said, and if I chinned up just a little it was to remind him to buck up too, "and take care of yourself, Halo."

"You as well."

The world whited out.

Master Post | Part 6
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