Jack wasn’t in any particular hurry to get to the Hub. It was still quite early, anyway, and he was enjoying the walk from Garrett’s apartment. It was a crisp, cold morning with a clear sky. He was feeling pretty mellow about his life. It seemed to be working out pretty well just now. He was in love with Garrett, and Garrett was in love with him. But they still managed to maintain that ‘no pressure’ easy going relationship. He slept in Garrett’s bed almost every night. But he was not, in any real sense, living with him. They weren’t tied to each other in any set in stone way. He didn’t keep any clothes in the wardrobe, or his shaving kit in the bathroom. No mail was ever addressed to him there. The room under his office in the Hub was still the only place he called home. It was just a very nice, easy love affair that was good for them both.

He stopped to buy a cup of coffee at a small cabin called ‘The Lunch Box’ which, despite that name, was always open early to catch people like him who wanted something on their way to work. Their expresso coffee was almost as good as Ianto’s and it was another of his comfort zones, just like Garrett’s bed. He knew that the middle aged woman in a striped apron who stood behind the counter serving coffee and making sandwiches was called Bev. She knew he was called Jack and liked his coffee hot and strong. She would always have a cheery word for him. It was a little bit of what other people called normality before he entered the Hub and tackled everything that challenged that definition of normality.

“Hi, Bev,” he said, approaching the counter. “You got my usual?”

“Coming right up, Jack,” she replied. And if he was a less observant person, he might not have realised anything was wrong. She sounded almost as cheery as usual as she filled a large polystyrene cup with coffee. She took his pound coin and gave him the cup. He slid a plastic lid on it and took a sip through the small hole in the top.

He didn’t say anything. There wasn’t even a flicker of surprise on his face as he tasted strong black coffee with at least three spoons of salt in it. He just walked away and then quietly slipped around the back of the cabin. He wrenched open the door, the safety catch off his gun, but held at his side, just in case he had read the signals wrong and she was just absent minded this morning.

He hadn’t. Bev screamed as the barely Human creature sprang up from under the counter where it had been concealed and lunged at Jack. He fired once, and he knew he had hit it, but the creature didn’t even flinch as it stabbed him through the heart with a steel skewer from Bev’s rotisserie grill.

He came around with the usual shocked sensation, lying on the sofa in his office. Ianto stood nearby and pressed a cup of coffee into his hands. The taste brought back the memory of what had happened.

“Is Bev all right?” he asked.

“She’s been retconned and Gwen has taken her home to her bed,” Ianto replied. “She’ll wake up in a few hours thinking her alarm didn’t go off and she slept in. She’ll never know anything happened.”

“Good,” Jack sighed. “She’s a nice lady. I don’t want her getting the shakes every time she pours me a cup of coffee.”

“She described the creature that attacked you very thoroughly before we gave her the Retcon,” Ianto continued. “Tosh has some interesting photo fit pictures.” He grimaced. “When I say ‘interesting’, I mean something that I might just have nightmares about tonight.”

“Yeah,” Jack drained his coffee and stood up. Ianto passed him a clean, pressed shirt. The bloodstained and ripped one had already been spirited away. Ianto was a proper field agent these days, who nobody took for granted, but he was still also a very good valet.

Jack made himself presentable and stepped out of his office. Gwen was coming down the pavement lift and waved at him warmly. Alun looked up from his desk. Owen came to the top of the steps from his lair to tell him he would want to give him a once over later to make sure he was fully recovered from his latest resurrection.

Toshiko was at her workstation. Etsuko was in her playpen beside the desk. Jack leaned over and ruffled her dark hair and was rewarded with a smile from the toddler before he turned to look at the image on a screen deliberately turned so that the child couldn’t glimpse it. Jack wouldn’t want her to see this.

“It’s like a clown nightmare,” Toshiko said with a shiver as she looked at the picture of a bald, white fleshed face with a furrowed brow and one huge bloodshot eye in the middle of the face. The mouth was full of jagged, broken teeth as it laughed manically.

“That’s him,” Jack said. “The bloody joker who attacked me.”

“Funny you should say that, sir.” Jack turned to see Alun standing nearby. “This was found pinned to your coat lapel.”

Jack looked at the playing card that Alun put into his hand. It was the joker.

“We’ve analysed it,” Alun added. “It’s just an ordinary mass produced playing card. You can get them at Poundworld. There’s nothing there that helps.”

“That would be too easy,” Jack answered. “But… is this an alien serial killer? Are we going to have a rash of bodies with jokers attached to them? Have we checked with the police?”

“Done that,” Gwen said. “No other jokers. I’ll keep an eye out for a pattern. There’s not much we can do about it, though, until we know more.”

“Until he kills again.”

Jack nodded grimly. Then he thanked his team for their support and reminded them they all had assignments. He had work of his own piling up and went to his office to get on with it. He tried to put the start of the morning behind him and recover the contentment he had been feeling before he went for his coffee.

Midday brought him an opportunity to do just that. Garrett rang and asked if he would like to meet him for lunch. Jack tried not to sound TOO eager as he grabbed his coat and headed for the pavement lift.

They ate within a stone’s throw of the Hub, at the Strada on Mermaid Quay with a grand view over the waterfront. Over their starter, Jack told his lover about his morning. Garrett was shocked.

“If you didn’t have that miraculous ability… I could have lost you today… just on the way from my apartment to your office. That’s… a bloody awful thought.”

“I’m ok,” Jack assured him. “I wasn’t expecting it with my morning coffee, but I’m used to it by now. I’ve lost count of how many deaths I’ve come back from. It’s over a thousand, anyway. I’ve been shot, stabbed, burnt alive, run over….”

“Don’t.” Garrett reached out and touched his hand. “I’ve lost so many friends and colleagues in the line of duty. It could be me one of these days. That’s something we accept in our line of work. Knowing I won’t lose you is a relief. But it still freaks me out… looking at you… knowing you should be dead…”

“I should have been dead long before you were born,” Jack reminded him. “Hey, look at it this way. This body was reborn a few hours ago… that means I’m a virgin! Want to be my first….”

Garrett laughed. Jack laughed with him and started to feel a lot better. The waiter brought their main course and they ate and talked happily.

Then Jack coughed and dropped his fork with a clatter. He clutched his throat and tried to stand up. Garrett pushed back his chair with a crash and reached Jack as he collapsed. There were shrieks of horror from other diners. Garrett felt Jack stop breathing as he held him in his arms. His eyes were glassy and staring and his mouth twisted in pain. He looked up as a figure stood over them. He was dressed in kitchen whites that matched a chalk face with a single eye and an evil grin. The creature dropped something down and then turned and ran. Already shocked diners screamed as they saw the demonic face. The creature crashed through the door and was gone. Garrett wondered if he should have given chase. But his first thought was for Jack.

He looked at the thing the creature had dropped.

A playing card.

The Joker.

Jack woke up in his office again. This time Garrett had the coffee for him.

“Thanks,” he whispered hoarsely before he took a sip of the coffee. “My throat hurts.”

“Your pasta was laced with strychnine,” Garrett told him. “Your people have already analysed it. Shit, Jack, what did you do to this freak? Why does he have it in for you?”

“It was… him? Again?”

Garrett showed him the playing card. Jack groaned.

“A serial killer with me as his only victim?”

“I don’t think twice counts as a serial killer,” Garrett said and then instantly regretted it when he realised what that implied. “Oh, shit, Jack. I didn’t mean… I don’t want this to happen again. Twice in one day is enough.”

“I forgive you,” Jack told him. “Want to try another restaurant for dinner, later?”

“I’m game. But your team might want to provide you an armed escort. They’re worried about you.”

“I’m worried about me,” Jack said. “But I’m not going to let this ruin my life. Dinner at Giovanni’s, then I think I’ll take you to the After Dark Club. They have some unique security there. They won’t let some alien weirdo like that in.”

“That’s a date,” Garrett promised, kissing him warmly. “I’d better get back to my office, meanwhile. The ordinary Defence of The Realm still has to be maintained.”

Jack walked with Garrett to the pavement lift and claimed one more kiss from his lover before he ascended.

“You be careful out there,” Jack told him. “You could be…”

“I can look after myself,” Garrett assured him before he stepped onto the lift.

Jack turned and sprinted up the steps to the boardroom, calling for his team, who quickly gathered the flimsy evidence they had from this latest incident.

They at least knew a little more now. There was that small compensation for his suffering.

“It’s a shape shifter,” Alun said as he ran a piece of CCTV footage from the restaurant followed by another piece from outside on the boardwalk. “It came out of the kitchen just as Jack started to show symptoms of the poison. You can see it has an ordinary Human face at this point. The waiter said he had been handed the plates for your table by him. Kitchen hands come and go, he didn’t think about it. You can see when the face changed as it stood over Jack and Garrett and dropped its calling card. Then when it ran outside… the face changed again as it mingled with the crowds.”

“That face!” Gwen shuddered. “I've never seen anything like it. Jack, have you? Is this something from your past? Is that why it’s after you?”

“We are sure it’s just after Jack?” Toshiko asked.

“Bev was scared shitless by it, but it didn’t do anything to her,” Jack pointed out. “Nobody else’s food was interfered with at the restaurant. Not even Garrett’s. The creep didn’t even try to hurt him to get to me. It seems to be a fairly specific vendetta. At least so far. If it keeps going, there’s no telling if other people might get hurt in the crossfire. We have to stop him.” He paused and looked at Gwen. “For the record, I have never seen anything like that in my life. If I had, I’m pretty fucking sure I’d remember.”

Unless this was something from those missing two years of his life, of course. The thought flashed through his mind as he looked at the frozen image of the creature. It wouldn’t be the first time something reared its ugly head from that period. But if that was the case, he couldn’t tell them anything that would help.

“Are you serious about this date with Garrett tonight?” Gwen asked him.

“Of course, I am,” he answered.

“Even though The Joker is bound to have another go at you?” Ianto added.

“Bring it on,” Jack said. “I’ll be ready for the bastard this time.”

“So… it’s not exactly a date,” Toshiko pointed out. “It’s more like you and Garrett are offering yourselves up as bait to draw this… this monster out.”

“We’re going to have dinner and then dancing at the most exclusive nightspot in Cardiff. Garrett hasn’t been to the After Dark Club before. He’ll love it. Davina will drool at the thought of two handsome hot-blooded men like us patronising her establishment.”

“Hot-blooded would be a refreshing change,” Owen caustically replied.

“Jack, what about Garrett?” Alun asked. “You’re putting him at risk. He’s not immortal.”

“Garrett isn’t just a vulnerable civilian. He’s an MI5 agent. A good one. He knows about taking risks. And he’s willing to take one with me… for me.”

“Jack, we all are,” Ianto told him. “We’re with you on this.”

He spoke for them all. Jack looked around the boardroom table at their solemn but determined faces and knew he could count on them all.

He wasn’t the only one with a team he could trust, either. When they were shown to their table at Giovanni’s, there were already two of Garrett’s MI5 agents drinking mineral water and toying with their antipasto and others placed discreetly near the door, the staff entrance and the kitchen.

“Ianto makes a fantastic wine waiter, don’t you think,” Garrett commented as they sipped a glass of chilled white and digested the calamari they had chosen for their first course. “He has service down to a fine art.”

“He grew up ‘above the shop’,” Jack answered. “He used to be the same in bed. Always ready and willing to please.”

“I might be that, later, if you’re lucky.”

“Mmm, yes,” Jack laughed. “Would you wear a butler’s uniform?”

“Only very briefly, I hope,” Garrett replied. They both laughed and relaxed and managed to forget for the duration of the meal that they were under the constant vigilance of both their agencies and that their date could be cut short at any moment by another violent and painful death and another sinister calling card. They didn’t think about Owen and Toshiko pretending to be diners in another part of the restaurant or Gwen in a waitress’s outfit moving around the room avoiding catching the eye of other customers. When they finished their meal and went out into the busy nightlife of Cardiff city centre they didn’t think about the two cars that were always in sight of them as they headed towards Castle Street, or the fact that one of the After Dark doormen was not a member of the Undead community tonight, but an MI5 agent.

Garrett was too distracted by the fact that he was in a vampire night club to worry about anything else for a while. As VIP friends of the manager, their drinks were brought to them as they sat by the dance floor. Garrett noticed that the tray appeared to float in mid-air when he looked into the smoked glass partition. And when Davina, the club manager came down to see them she, too, cast no reflection.

“My people have all been briefed,” she told them. “They’re ready to lock down the building if this character shows himself.”

“Thanks,” Jack said. “For all your help. I hope nothing will happen. I don’t want to put your clientele at risk – or the reputation of your business… but…”

“I owe you a great deal, Jack,” she said. “If I can at least partially repay you by this…” She smiled, her carmine lips opening to reveal very white teeth with just a hint of long incisors. She glanced at Garrett and reached a well manicured hand to brush his cheek. “No wonder I could never tempt you, Jack, with such a beautiful friend as this.”

“If I’d known you fifty years ago, we could have been hot stuff,” he answered with a flirting smile. “But these days, I’m spoken for.”

Davina laughed and reached to kiss him on the cheek before she turned and went back to her boudoir on the top floor of the club. Garrett looked at Jack with a bemused expression.

“She has the hots for you,” he said. “If… a vampire can have the hots.”

“I don’t have the hots for her,” Jack assured him. “Time was, I would have taken her up on it. The Undead Vampire queen and the Immortal Captain Jack Harkness going all night. But… I guess I’m getting old.”

Garrett smiled and touched his hand. Jack’s fingers entwined with his. He smiled, too. He was very happy with Garrett. Happier than he had been for a long time. Which only made him a little suspicious of that malicious bitch called ‘Fate’ and what she might do to ruin that happiness. Even if nothing happened to Garrett in his own dangerous line of work, how many times could he ask him to watch him die before he started to feel their relationship was too heartbreaking to go on with?

“Come and dance,” Garrett said. “I want an excuse to hold onto you.”

“You don’t need an excuse,” Jack told him. But he came onto the dance floor with him. He liked dancing. He liked dancing with Garrett. It was the next best thing to sex with him.

And they almost literally danced the night away. The After Dark Club stayed open until an hour before dawn for those who came out at night. Jack and Garrett made the most of every hour of it. By midnight they had stopped expecting anything to happen at all and just enjoyed being with each other.

“Jack, my friend,” Davina said as she circulated among the dancers. “Will you let me have one dance with your beautiful partner?”

Garrett looked bemused by that idea. Jack’s first instinct was possessive. But then he smiled at his lover and pressed his hand into Davina’s.

“Just dancing,” he said to her. “I’m the only one who gives him love bites.”

“Perfectly understood, Jack,” Davina said. “And don’t worry, he shall have the last dance with you. As it should be.”

Jack watched his lover on the dance floor with what was, without doubt, the most beautiful vampire he had ever met. Then he turned and headed for the men’s room. He definitely would have that last dance with Garrett but he might as well do it with an empty bladder.

He noticed somebody following him into the toilets. One of Garrett’s men, of course. Keeping an eye on him to the last.

“It’s… Agent Kendrick, isn’t it?” Jack said to the man who stood by the door as he went to the urinal and unzipped. “You were on the Endurance trip with us, weren’t you?”

The agent didn’t answer him. Jack heard him step closer, though.

“Hey, that’s a bit closer surveillance than I need, buddy,” he said. “Back off a little. I’m already spoken for, remember. And I’ve never been into quickies in toilets. Not even nice toilets like these.”

He felt a hand on his shoulder and warm breath on his neck and he shivered. There were no mirrors on the urinal side of the room. There were only two small ones by the washbasins, given the sort of club it was. But he didn’t need to see a reflection to know the ghastly face he would see behind him. He winced as he felt a syringe plunged into the back of his neck. Then he gasped as he felt a fast acting neural inhibitor freeze his muscles. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t scream for help. And when the drug reached his heart, basically a more sophisticated muscle than the others, he would be dead.

The Joker pushed his paralysed body against the tiled wall and Jack’s brain recoiled in horror as he felt alien hands tugging at his clothes and an alien body pressing against him forcefully. Did he really intend to do that as well as kill him this time?

Then his heart spasmed painfully and stopped. He felt nothing else for a while.

“Jack!” Davina’s eastern European voice was the first he heard as he woke again. Then Gwen’s, followed by Ianto’s. He was lying in the decadent bed in Davina’s inner sanctum, where she romanced and fed upon her choice of lovers. He couldn’t have ached more if she had been feeding on him. And he noticed that he was naked as he reached a hand out of the covers.

“Where are…” he began.

“Owen took your clothes,” Gwen told him. “For forensic testing. Along with…” Gwen blushed and looked away from him.

“Jack,” Ianto continued. “The Joker… He… do you remember what he did to you this time?”

“Yes,” he answered. He remembered only too well. But he was being philosophical about it. It wasn’t the first time he had ever been raped. It wasn’t the worst of those times. He was dead through most of it, at least. The thought of that creep touching him that way made his skin crawl, though. He would want the hottest shower he could get as soon as possible. Hot enough to remove the top layer of his skin and let him feel cleansed of that filth.

“Somebody… took… samples?” he asked.

“Owen,” Gwen managed to say. “He thinks we should be able to get DNA, maybe identify what The Joker is.”

Gwen possibly meant that to sound like a positive thing, but Jack’s expression suggested that he wasn’t looking at the positives just now.

“I brought you some clean clothes,” Ianto said holding out a neatly ironed pile of clothing in his favourite military grey and blue. “When you’re ready, we’ll get you back to the Hub.”

“I would rather….” He sat up and looked around. Apart from Davina, Gwen and Ianto, there were two of Garrett’s men by the door. But…

“Where’s Garrett?” he asked. “Why isn’t he…”

“It’s ok,” Ianto assured him. “He just popped out a few minutes ago. Agent Morgan had something he needed to see.”

“What?” Jack pushed himself up out of the bed, grabbing the trousers from the pile Ianto still held. “But THAT’S Agent Morgan standing right there. Beside Agent Kendrick… who the bastard was pretending to be when he attacked me.”

Davina looked at Jack and then at the two men and stepped closer to them. They both recoiled slightly from her cold hand touching their faces.

“They’re both Human, Jack,” she assured him. “The other one…”

Jack sighed as he caught her expression. After all their caution, after everything they had done to prevent The Joker getting to them, it had been as simple a trick as that. The shape-shifter disguised itself as somebody Garrett trusted and lured him away. Jack’s guts twisted as he ordered a search of the now empty club and the CCTV of all the exits examined. So far The Joker hadn’t hurt anyone other than him. But now he had Garrett. Was he upping the ante? Did The Joker know just how much he loved Garrett. Did he know he’d be willing to die once and for all if he was taken from him. Was that what The Joker wanted? His final suicide? His body minced beneath the wheels of an intercity train or burnt to a cinder in the furnace of the Baglan Bay gas power station or one of the other half a dozen ways Jack had considered he really could die when his immortal life got too unbearable to go on with.

He was still thinking thoughts like that in the passenger seat of the SUV, making its way through the quiet pre-dawn streets of Cardiff when his mobile rang. He recognised the ringtone as coming from Garrett’s phone, but he knew even before he answered that it wasn’t Garrett calling.

“If you want to see your pretty boyfriend alive and in one piece, come alone, unarmed. Don’t even think of playing any games. You come to the address I’m sending you by text, just in case you’re not paying attention.”

Jack cut the call and immediately looked at the text message that came through. He glanced at it and then flipped off his seatbelt and opened the car door. Ianto and Gwen both yelled in shock as he dived out of the vehicle. He landed and rolled and came up at a run. He heard the SUV screech to a halt and Ianto running after him. He tried to outrun him, dodging down sidestreets, but Ianto knew his way around Cardiff as well as he did.

“You have to let me go,” he said as Ianto finally cornered him. “He’ll kill Garrett if I don’t go alone.”

“Jack, you know it’s a trap, don’t you?” Ianto answered. “The Joker wants to kill you. He’s using Garrett to force you to play his sick game on his own terms.”

“Yes, I know that,” Jack told him. “But I still have to go. I can’t let Garrett get hurt. I can’t let anyone else get hurt. If it’s me he wants, then he can have me. I have to go. Please… don’t follow me.”

“All right,” Ianto replied. “But…” He reached out and hugged him briefly. “Please, be careful. Garrett isn’t the only one who cares about you.”

Jack hugged him in return, then turned and ran. The streets were quiet. Nobody got in his way, nobody challenged him as he sprinted, his long legs covering the pavement and tarmac and cobbled back streets with the ease of a practiced distance runner. His heart pounded as it circulated blood around his body and gave him the strength to keep going.

Even so, he stopped to gather breath before he reached his destination. If he had to fight this Joker character he would do it without gasping for oxygen.

He looked at the old, abandoned building. A faded fascia proclaimed that it was Doctor Syn’s House of Waxwork Horrors. It had been a short-lived tourist attraction in the mid-nineteen eighties. Jack remembered going in with a team of Torchwood operatives and shutting it down when it was discovered that the real horror was in the basement where an alien ghoul ate the flesh from bodies stolen from the morgue and then used their skeletons as the frames for the wax models. The place had been occasionally leased since for storage or low key manufacturing operations. It was due for demolition in the near future when Cardiff’s regeneration into a modern capital reached this corner.

Not soon enough, Jack thought as he surveyed the building and decided how he was going to enter it. Not through the front door, that was certain. When he felt composed enough he approached the side door cautiously, expecting just about anything.

He didn’t expect to be impaled by a metal spike that flew through the air and pierced his lower abdomen, ripping through his intestines and just missing his spine before lodging in the wall behind him. He didn’t scream, though it took an effort not to do so. Mostly he cursed himself for not anticipating some sort of mechanical trap. He looked down at the lump of metal protruding from his body. There was something tied to the end. Another ‘joker’.

He groaned out loud. The pain was getting slowly worse as his intestines bled. But he knew it would take a good few minutes for him to actually die like this. He was meant to suffer this time.

Why? He wondered, not for the first time. What was this all about? Was it revenge? Had he done something to this bastard, or to his planet, his species, in that blank period of his personal history? Even if he had, how did The Joker find him here? He had a different name. He lived a completely different life. And how did The Joker find out about his immortality?

The questions seared his mind along with the pain. He was getting weaker by the minute as his own blood pooled around his feet. He was dying.

“Hello, Jack!” A voice spoke his name and he looked up through eyes that he was having trouble focussing. He gasped a short gasp of air as he saw what looked like Garrett standing there.

“No,” he said. “It isn’t. It’s YOU… you bloody madman… where is Garrett? What did you do to him?”

“That’s a surprise for you to anticipate as you rise from your grave and I kill you again.” The figure stepped closer, his features resolving into the crazed, one-eyed demon again. Jack screamed in agony as The Joker grasped the spike and pulled it out of his body. He collapsed to the ground, his own congealed blood smearing his face as blissful oblivion overtook his senses.

He woke with a scream, aware of burning pain all over his body. He opened his eyes and was immediately blinded as a shovel full of quicklime was thrown in his face by the grinning maniac. He scrambled to his feet, groping until he found the legs of the fiend who took such delight in torturing him and pulling him into the pit along with him. He fought with burning, bleeding hands and feet, kicking, punching, grasping at the creature’s neck, squeezing the life out of it.

But The Joker fought back with equal ferocity. Jack felt its long, bony hands around his own neck, crushing his windpipe. He fought to kill his opponent before he killed him.

And he lost. He didn’t know how long it was before he regained consciousness, but when he did, he was fastened to an electric chair.

“Where the fuck did you get this from?” Jack asked the grinning face that stood above him. “Ebay?”

“You won’t be laughing when I pull the switch,” the creature replied.

“Actually, funnily enough, the muscle spasms that come with electrocution do cause a rictus grin in many victims,” Jack answered. “Seen it… done it once. You do realise that every one of the ways you’ve found to kill me, I’ve already survived at least once before. Stabbing, poison, disembowling, electrocution, I’ve been there, done it.”

“I know,” The Joker answered. “I’ve followed your career. That’s what makes you so much fun!”

He pulled the switch. Jack screamed as the electricity coursed through his body and threw his heart into arrhythmia while his skin blistered and burnt.

The next time he woke, he was weighted down in a tank of water. He drowned almost straight away as his lungs filled.

Then he was lying face down on a stone flagged floor. He was naked. He knew he had been raped again while he was dead, but that hardly seemed to matter as much as the means by which he was going to be killed again.

There was some sort of rounded rock about the size of a tennis ball placed in the small of his back and a board balanced on top of that. The Joker was piling weights on the board.

This form of execution had a name from history. It was called Peine forte et dure and was used as a means of torturing and sometimes actually killing heretics and witches. Weights were added little by little until the victim confessed or their back broke.

The Joker obviously didn’t want a confession from him.

But he wanted to ask The Joker a few questions, and since this was going to take a while, he might as well ask them.

“Why are you doing this? Why me?”

“I feed on death,” The Joker answered. “I have roamed the universe for a thousand years living on that which is released from sentient bodies when death comes.”

“You mean…. The soul?” Jack was not a religious man as such. But he was pretty sure he believed in the soul, and he knew he had one. Because his body was just – as somebody had once said – a way of keeping meat fresh. Something bigger and more important returned to inhabit the flesh each time he died and was resurrected.

“No,” The Joker answered. “I have no need for that. But there is an energy… and it’s sooo… good. But ordinary mortals… their energy is weak. I need thousands at a time… slaughtered on battlefields or going down with the ship, trapped in burning skyscrapers, sacrificed to ancient gods. It’s just so much hard work. Whereas an immortal… But there are so few of them around these days. The Time Lords are all gone now. The Asscintians, too. The Gelth are no use. They’re nothing but gas. There are always vampires, of course. They turn up all over the universe. But they just don’t taste right. Then I found out about you and I searched you out. And you’re amazing. I have so enjoyed you. I’m going to keep on enjoying you. Your friends can’t find you. I have you to play with for as long as I like.”

Jack’s back broke finally. He died painfully, but he gritted his teeth and didn’t make a sound. He didn’t want to give The Joker the satisfaction.

The next time he opened his eyes it was to find himself sitting upright in a chair facing The Joker with a sub machine gun in his hands. As he felt the multiple rounds rip into his body he wondered if he really was immortal or could he actually run out of lives one of these days.

He woke to face yet another painful death at the hands of the grinning Joker and knew it wasn’t going to be this day. It was worse than the year of torture and murder he endured at the hands of The Master. At least he only killed him once a day.

He wasn’t even sure how long this had been going on for. Was it hours, or was it days? Usually he ‘died’ for between fifteen minutes and an hour. Sometimes he had been gone long enough to wake in a body bag or a cadaver store in a morgue. Occasionally, if it had been a particularly difficult death, like the time when he faced Abbadon, it could be days. But he had a feeling that these multiple deaths were all in the course of the same day that had been dawning when he came so willingly into The Joker’s trap.

“What have you done with Garrett?” he asked when he came back to life after being garrotted with a piano wire. He was lying on a wooden trapdoor with a noose around his neck and his hands fastened behind his back.

“That’s still torturing you, isn’t it?” The Joker laughed. “What have I done with your pretty boyfriend? You’re imagining the worst. You’re hurting so much because of what I might have done to your mortal lover. Just keep on torturing yourself. It makes your death so much more pitiful.”

He pushed a lever and Jack’s body dropped. The noose didn’t break his neck, though. He strangled slowly, trying hard not to prove The Joker right by crying either for his own pain or out of grief for his lover.

Because he was sure now that Garrett was dead. And he grieved, not just because he loved him and the thought of living without him hurt, but because he was the reason why Garrett had been killed. They had talked about the possibility, accepted the risk, that Garrett might be called upon to lay down his life for Queen and Country, as an active agent of MI5. But for him to be murdered just as a part of this sick game, that was too much to bear.

That same terrible thought was in his mind when he opened his eyes again. He was surprised to look into what appeared to be his own eyes. Now the shape-shifting demon looked like him. It was even naked like he was and sporting the same non-lethal bruises and cuts that he had accumulated in the course of his long drawn out torture.

“What the fuck are you doing now?” Jack demanded. “If you think I’m going to let you…”

Jack was surprised when The Joker stood up and walked away from him without tying him up or in any way incapacitating him. He pulled himself up from the floor and ran after him, pulling him to the ground and grappling at him.

“Your friends have tracked you down,” The Joker said as he fought back with equal strength. “I can hear them… I can smell them. Two women… lipstick and perfume and gun oil… and the men… your loyal pack… come to rescue you. But who will they rescue? Who will they shoot?”

That was a very good question. Jack turned his head to look as Ianto, Alun and Gwen rushed into the room, their guns presented, ready to shoot. All three were startled as they looked at the two figures wrestling naked on the floor. They hesitated.

“Shoot this bastard,” yelled The Joker, in a perfect imitation of Jack’s voice.

“No!” he screamed. “THAT’s the shape shifter. Shoot him.”

“Shoot HIM!” The Joker insisted.

Running feet came from the opposite direction. The rest of the team coming in from the back to outflank The Joker.

“Shoot them both!” said a voice that gladdened his heart despite the chilling instruction. A fraction of a second later the first bullet ploughed into his skull. The sound of six automatic pistols firing twice echoed in his head. As his injured brain shut down he thought about court martial firing squads in the old days. One rifle was always loaded with blanks so that none of those shooting would know who had fired the fatal shot and whose conscience was clear.

None of his friends had blanks. But they all fired. They all took equal responsibility for his death and the death of his doppelganger.

He woke, still naked, but wrapped in blankets, a cushion under his head and somebody holding his hand. He opened his eyes and looked into Garrett’s.

“You’re alive,” he said, reaching out to his lover. “I thought he’d killed you.”

“He hit me over the head and locked me in the wine cellar of the After Hours Club,” Garrett told him. “He wasn’t interested in me. He just wanted to lure you away. Ianto told me you went rushing off, to rescue me. My knight in shining armour! But I didn’t need rescuing. You did. If Owen hadn’t found a way of tracing the alien DNA and locating you…”

“You shot me,” Jack added as he claimed a warm kiss. “You told everyone else to shoot me.” He looked around and saw Ianto with a cup of coffee for him and the others by the door watching anxiously. “You all shot me.”

“It was the worst thing I ever had to do,” Ianto told him. “But we didn’t know which one of you was real until you were both dead.”

“What happened to the bastard?” Jack asked.

Everyone looked at each other sheepishly. Jack groaned.

“He got away?”

“He turned back into one-eyed plug ugly after he was dead,” Owen said as he leaned over Jack and took his pulse carefully. “We got him into a body bag, but….”

Jack sat up and looked at the faces around him.

“He… sort of… melted away…” Ianto explained. “Like…. liquid….”

“But at least that means he’s dead, though, surely?” Garrett said. “I mean… what could survive that?”

“He’s alive!” Jack said in a fatalistic way. “He might be soup right now, but he’ll be back. I don’t think he’s done with me.”

“Then…” Garrett said. “Before he catches up with you… I’m taking you away from here. You’ve been through hell at his hands. We’ll go over to Ireland, spend a couple of weeks somewhere quiet with room service.”

Jack looked about to protest about the idea, but Owen stopped him.

“That’s exactly the prescription I was going to write. Go on, we can hold the fort without you for a while. You’re relieved of duty on medical grounds, Captain.”

Jack looked at Owen, at Ianto, at the rest of his loyal team, then back to his lover. He closed his arms around him, treasuring the warmth he thought he would never feel again.

“Room service sounds good,” he said.


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