Gwen gives birth to Anwen in their house in the middle of nowhere, and she's healthy and beautiful and perfect, and Gwen has never loved anyone as much as she loves her little girl. Her family is safe, and that should be a comfort to her, but she can't help thinking how Jack would dote on the baby, how Tosh would coo over her, how Ianto would be awkward but sweet, how Owen would only pretend to be disinterested. But they are gone now, all of them, and all she has left is Rhys. He'll never leave her, she knows—because God, anyone else would have left long ago—and she loves him and is grateful for him every day. But her heart still aches and burns at the thought that everyone, everyone from Torchwood is gone except her. How could she possibly be the only one left?
She had lost friends before, had grown up and grown apart and grown away, but Jack's absence is different. She mourns him just the same as she mourns Ianto, because it feels like he's dead.
She starts to think she might never see Jack again, and it's awful- it's the loneliest she's ever felt. She thinks about trying to find the Doctor. Maybe he would know where Jack is, or at least if he's okay. If he's happy. But she doesn't know where to begin- how do you look for someone who doesn't even have a name? (“Maybe he's just got an embarrassing name,” Ianto had suggested after Jack returned from his first disappearance. “Maybe he's called Keith.”)
Anwen starts sleeping through the night, but Gwen can't stop waking up anyway, expecting her phone to buzz on the nightstand next to her. It never does. It's been months and months and she's still waiting for him to call, like he used to. She rolls over, away from Rhys, and stares at the wall, pining for her best friend.
Her phone vibrates and she grabs for it blindly, half asleep, answering the call without bothering to look at the ID. “Hi,” she says. She keeps her voice low but doesn't get out of bed- Rhys will sleep through the quiet conversation, he always does.
“You say that like you know it's me.” Jack is quiet too, and she knows Ianto is asleep beside him.
“It is you.”
“Did I wake you?”
Gwen smirks and rolls her eyes as if he could see her. “Oh, what makes you think that? Surely not the fact that it's 2:30 in the morning.”
“You know, you might try sleeping during the nighttime, like normal people.”
“I'll sleep when I'm dead,” he says, thinking he's being clever, but something about it hits her the wrong way and she doesn't answer, waiting for him to speak again. “I've been thinking,” he says finally.
“How long will you stay? With Torchwood?”
“Oh, forever, I'd imagine,” she says. “I suppose it'll look at bit funny, Ianto and me running around saving the world as senior citizens. With you just as young.”
“Suppose it will,” he answers, and they don't say it, can't talk about it, that you can count on one hand the number of Torchwood employees who have ever died of old age. They were six and then five and then three, and she knows that sometimes Jack wonders which one of them he'll lose next.
“We'll be all right, the three of us,” she tells him like it's a promise, like wishing it will make it real. But sometimes, at night, when all his bravado is stripped away, it's what he needs to hear.
“We're a good team,” he tells her. “We don't need anyone else.”
She calls Jack as the plane is taxiing in Wales, as soon as she's allowed to turn on her phone. She doesn't think much about the fact that he's her first call- she'll see Rhys in a matter of minutes, there's no need to call him now.
“Ah, Ms. Pallister, you've landed,” he greets her. “How is Wales?”
“Just as I left it,” she says, looking out the window at the grey sky. “Didn't count on us being separated again so soon. I thought when I came back here you'd be with me.”
“I know.” He pauses for a moment, and then, “I won't disappear again.”
“Promise me,” she says, and she doesn't care if it sounds needy, she's only just gotten him back.
“I promise. Who else is gonna keep Rex and Esther in line? I'll be right here. One top secret, untraceable phone call away. We might even have a video date later.”
“Oh, a video date with Captain Harkness, be still my heart.” Gwen smiles and lets herself remember the early days, how she'd loved him in a different way, once.
“I'm afraid I'll have to invite the rest of the team.”
“Of course. It's still a bit weird, isn't it? New team,” Gwen says, and then she remembers. “But you've had new teams before.”
“Too many to count,” he says. “Give Anwen a kiss for me.” Gwen's heart leaps at the thought of her baby girl back in her arms again.
“I will,” she says. “You'll have to meet her properly when all this is over, won't you? Uncle Jack. I've told her all about you already.”
He chuckles. “Uncle Jack,” he repeats, but his voice sounds far away, like he's remembering someone else who used to call him by that name. Gwen wonders if she's made a mistake, but then suddenly he's back. “Gonna spoil her rotten as soon as I get the chance.”
“I'm sure you will,” Gwen says fondly as the plane rolls toward its gate. “Be careful, Jack. I'll talk to you soon.”
“He was gone for a year,” Ianto tells Gwen as he sits down next to her in front of a computer in the Hub.
“What?” she says, looking distractedly away from the paperwork she's been forced to catch up on. Surely he's talking about Jack, but he was gone for a couple of months—nowhere near a year.
“That Doctor of his, he's a time traveler. For us he was gone two months, for Jack, it was a year.”
Gwen studies Ianto quietly as she swallows this new bit of information. He seems awkward, which is not new, and nervous, which is not quite new either, but he's not one to talk much about his feelings, and it seems almost to Gwen like he might be trying.
“On purpose?” she asks, turning back to the computer.
“No. But he left on purpose.”
“Yeah,” she says, and it's what she keeps coming back to as well. He left them, and in the absence of any real explanation she can't help but be frustrated. “Are you all right?” she says, looking at Ianto again.
“It's just that... he was gone for a year and he acts like it's nothing.” Ianto averts his eyes, embarrassed, and looks off towards Jack's office.
“He's lived a long time, Ianto,” Gwen says, trying to be comforting, but it's strange to reassure the man Jack's sleeping with when she can't quite sort out her own feelings for their enigmatic leader. “A year is nothing to him.”
“Do you think he missed us?” he asks, and she knows he means "do you think he missed me?"
“He came back, didn't he? He didn't have to, but here he is.”
“Yeah, but that could be obligation. Maybe he felt like he had to come back.”
Gwen nudges him with her elbow and smiles. “Ah, but you're forgetting time travel, aren't you? He could have gone anywhere with that Doctor, he could have been gone years and then been back before any more time had passed for us. But he chose to come back. He chose us.”
They sit together a while, and when Jack comes in, seeming larger than life and just as impossible as usual, she repeats it to herself. He chose us.
She hugs Jack again, longer this time, before they get into Olivia Colasanto's car. Olivia waits impatiently, looking annoyed, but they ignore her. "I'm sorry," Gwen tells Jack before she lets go. "I mean I'm not, but I am."
"I know. Me too," he says, and her still-churning stomach settles a bit as he kisses her forehead. She thinks of firebirds and her little girl, and all the times she hasn't lost Jack Harkness.
Rex raises an eyebrow. "You're still gay, right?"
Gwen pats Jack's arm. "He's got a wild, bisexual nature."
He laughs and they grin at each other, the two of them against the world again, and Esther rolls her eyes good-naturedly.
“You remember what we said,” she tells them. “You tell us if something like this happens. I'll probably be smart enough to figure it out anyway, but it's easier for everybody if I don't have to.”
“I promise,” Jack says as he gets in the car, and Gwen nods her agreement. It's good to have a team again.
She's deported less than a day later, and if she weren't so furious she would laugh—all the fuss she'd made about that first forced removal from Wales, and now she doesn't want to go back. Not yet, not when it feels like they're getting close. She lets herself cry on the plane, when she's alone, and tries to believe that they will solve this.
She sees Jack only once after that before sending him off to hide in Scotland, with Esther to look after him. He looks terrible, but Esther assures her he's better than he was. He's conscious and talking, at least, and when Gwen inspects his wound she thinks it's the best she can ask for.
His pallor is nearly matched by Esther's—she looks like she hasn't slept in days, she looks weak, but Gwen knows by now that she's stronger than she seems. If she has to hide Jack away, if she can't take care of him herself, she's glad at least that it will be Esther.
“I'm sorry, Gwen,” he tells her.
“Shh,” she says as she changes his bandage. “Not your fault, now is it?”
“If I die-” he starts, and she cuts him off.
“Shut up, Jack. You're not gonna die. You're gonna lay low and you're gonna heal, and then we're gonna figure this out. As soon as we end this godforsaken miracle you can die as many times as you want to, but you're not gonna do it right now, you hear me?”
He's drowsy from the painkillers she's given him, but he manages an amused arch of his eyebrow, anyway. “You really are a mother, aren't you?”
“Yes,” she says simply, and fastens the fresh bandage, letting her hand rest lightly against his stomach when she's done.
He's like a fairy tale hero, Jack's Doctor. He shows up in his spaceship, that ridiculous blue box, and somehow, none of them die. A TARDIS full of people ready to give their lives, and none of them had to.
In the first moments after it's over, after the TARDIS has flown through space tugging the Earth impossibly behind it, Gwen decides it can't possibly be real. Even after everything she's seen, aliens and the rift and their beloved Jack coming back to life before their eyes time after time, she has trouble believing this. She's not used to battles ending this way, anymore.
She's dead, she thinks, she and Ianto. The Dalek infiltrated the Hub and killed them, and when Jack returns, if he returns at all, it will be to their broken bodies lying on the floor. It's a terrible image, and she shuts her eyes against it.
Ianto's noticed that the smile has left her face, that she's staring, dazed, into the center of the Hub. “What's wrong?”
Her mobile rings in her pocket. It's Rhys, and that seems to snap her out of it. Surely a dead person can't answer her phone? “It's all right, we're safe,” she tells him. “I'm coming home. I'm coming home right now.”
She hangs up the phone and gives Ianto strict instructions to let her know the very second Jack gets in, she doesn't care what time it is. They stand in front of each other for a moment before she goes, smiling, and God, this had better be real. “That mad man in a box,” she says, kissing Ianto on the cheek. “Look what he can do.”
It's hours before she gets a text from Ianto, and then she's rushing out on a protesting Rhys, promising him she'll only be gone a little while.
Jack and Ianto look a bit rumpled, and Gwen thinks Ianto might have waited to text her until after they'd had sex. For the best, probably. Jack doesn't seem to want to let go of either of them now, and his exuberance is catching. They're alive, they're together, they'll be okay, the three of them. There are some moments she believes it with all her heart, that they're still standing for a reason.
“So you didn't run off to have any adventures with the Doctor this time, hm?” she asks him.
“Now, why would I go and do a thing like that?” he says. “Too much to do at home.”
Gwen cries for Esther, when she gets a moment to herself. She cries for her father first, and longest, but Esther is a loss she hadn't counted on, and she feels it deeply. No fairy tale this time, no last gift from the Blessing, no blue box to protect them all.
She had been prepared for Rex to die. His wound was severe and she knew there was a chance that he wouldn't survive the end of the miracle. He knew it, too. So she had hoped—prayed, you could call it—that her father would make it, somehow, that her family would stay safe and that Anwen wouldn't grow too accustomed to her absence. That Jack wouldn't leave her again, that Rex's death, if it came, would be quick.
She realizes belatedly that she hadn't thought to spare any prayers for Esther.
Jack is solid and real and alive next to her, and she holds his hand tightly in her own as she tells him, “You'd better stay, if you know what's good for you.” Rex has just died and gasped back to life right in front of them, and they're walking it off, alone together on an unfamiliar American street.
“If you insist,” he says, sounding nonchalant, though he squeezes her hand just as tightly. “I figure I should stick around a while for Rex, anyway. He'll need an Immortality Yoda.”
Gwen gives him a look that's half-amused and half-skeptical. “So you're just staying for Rex, then, are you?”
He doesn't seem to have an answer. She remembers last time, begging him to stay and then losing him anyway. “I need you too, you know. You're my best friend. You big idiot.”
Jack lets go of her hand then, only to wrap his arms around her. “I'd say I'm sorry, but I think it's a little too late for that.”
“A few years too late, yeah. But I don't want an apology. I chose Torchwood. And I'm choosing it again, now.”
“Yeah?” he says, letting go of her. “You think we should rebuild the Hub?”
“Where else are you gonna live? Not in a proper house, surely. Not Jack Harkness.”
He shrugs. “Aw, come on. You don't think Rhys would be excited to have me as a semi-permanent house guest?”
Gwen's mouth twists to the side as she tries not to laugh.
“I thought he and I were on good terms, finally.”
“Oh, yeah. He's your biggest fan. Missed you more than I did,” she says, linking their arms.
The sun is bright in the sky, warm on her shoulders. She doesn't predict a great deal of tranquil moments ahead of them, but she feels calm, despite everything. They keep walking.