It’s dark when Jack dies. He screams into the darkness for Ianto, but the thing waiting there does not care.
* * * * * * * * * *
Jack came back quietly, with no dramatic inhalation to herald his return. He simply breathed in and opened his eyes. He could tell without having to look that it was Gwen next to him, and it was Ianto’s body that she was crying over.
He sat up, numb with rage and horror, and held her as gently as he could as she straightened Ianto’s tie. He didn’t say anything. He knew it wasn’t going to be all right and he knew he couldn’t protect her any more than he could protect Ianto. There was nothing else to say.
He wondered how long it would take Gwen to die.
Eventually, Gwen stood up. “We... we should see if there’s anything we can do.” Her voice broke. Jack didn’t look up at her. He already knew what she looked like when she was trying to be brave. Instead, he leaned over and kissed Ianto.
Jack poured everything he had into the kiss. He had brought people back to life before this way. He’d even done it to Ianto. It probably hadn’t worked when Ianto was dying because Jack had been so close to death himself. But it would work this time.
There was no response. Gwen rested a quiet hand on Jack’s back. “Jack,” she said softly. “He’s gone. He’s been gone too long.”
Jack kissed Ianto again. There was still no response. Ianto’s lips were cold and lifeless against his own. Finally, he allowed Gwen to help him to his feet. She hugged him, carefully, as if he was fragile and needed to be protected. He hugged her back, automatically, and wished she wasn’t there.
* * * * * * * * * *
He’d thought, when he was staring down at Ianto’s body, that it couldn’t possibly get any worse. He couldn’t possibly be more beaten than he already was.
He’d been around for long enough to know better than that.
He stared at the wall opposite him for a moment after Alice left, and then he stood up and walked out. It was too bright outside. He headed mechanically down the road, past the burnt-out hulk of the exploded fuel lorry, until he came to the quarry. The forklift was still where Ianto had left it, extended over the edge of the precipice.
Jack walked off the cliff.
* * * * * * * * * *
It’s dark when Jack dies. He screams into the darkness for Ianto, but the thing waiting there does not care.
* * * * * * * * * *
He wakes up gasping. Everything hurts, and there is something over his face. He tries to push it away but he’s too weak and the effort exhausts him almost immediately. He doesn’t know where he is, but it’s dark and smells musty. He panics and flails against his prison, and suddenly the ground tips out from beneath him and he falls. Everything goes away.
* * * * * * * * * *
Jack came back to life quietly. He lay there, and stared up. A piece of shattered cement was digging into his back and preventing two of his ribs from snapping back into place, but he did not move. He watched as the sky turned from bright to dark, and then, finally, he rolled to his feet and walked away.
* * * * * * * * * *
He wakes up again, more slowly this time. He’s lying on his side and it is very cold, but he can see a spot of light just above his head. He gets his hands up and works his fingers through the gap, and slowly it opens further. He has to stop and rest twice before his face is completely uncovered, but then he can take a moment and look around. He seems to be on a concrete floor, inside a black bag of some kind fastened with a zipper. There are a lot of other bags all around him, and a number of wheeled carts. He thinks he might have fallen off one earlier.
After resting for a moment, he manages to free his arms and shoulders. The cold air hits his bare chest and he starts to shiver. Slowly, he works his way out of the black bag and manages to sit up. It makes his head swim and his body ache, but he can see clothing of some kind hanging next to the room’s door and the prospect of warmth makes him feels better.
He sits there for a moment, getting his breath back, and tries to figure out what is going on. He doesn’t know how he came to be here and he realises, with a frisson of panic, that he can’t remember his name.
He looks down at himself, hoping for clues, but there is nothing. A bit of self-examination reveals some pretty impressive bruising on his torso and what feels like a cut over his right cheekbone, but none of it triggers any memories. He can feel a few faint scars under his fingertips – one on his leg and another on his neck, just under his chin – but he can’t think of what could have caused them.
Finally, the shivering gets to be too much, and he crawls over to the door to pull the clothing there down. It’s a coverall, dark blue, but the effort of making it across the room has exhausted him and he’s shaking too hard to put it on so he covers himself as best he can and falls asleep.
* * * * * * * * * *
Gwen was so tired she’d almost come around the other side to awake again. She stood in a huddle with Rhys and Rhiannon and the children as the soldiers who had chased them tried to decide what to do. Gwen kept a sharp eye on the soldiers. The unearthly sound the children had made had unnerved them badly, and to cap it all off they seemed to be having trouble getting in touch with anyone in charge. She was worried about what fear might prompt them to do.
“Do you think it’s over?” Rhiannon whispered. She had a death grip on a boy and a small girl who Gwen guessed were her children. “What are they going to do with us now?”
“I’m not sure,” Gwen whispered back. When she’d heard the children scream she had been sure that Jack had done something, figured something out, but reality and doubt had since set in.
She stepped forward and raised her voice. “Excuse me?”
The soldiers turned sharply towards her, clearly expecting trouble. Gwen put up her hands.
“No, it’s all right, I’m not trying to start anything.” She smiled disarmingly. “I just have a suggestion – could we take the kids back to the house while you wait for orders? It’s a little cold out here and some of them have got wet.”
The soldiers exchanged glances and then one of them nodded. “All right.”
They started off towards the estate. The part of Gwen that was too giddy with relief to be scared or exhausted was amused that the soldiers didn’t seem to know how to deal with the slow pace dictated by the children’s short legs. One of them, the one who had agreed to Gwen’s request, finally shouldered his gun and picked one of the smaller children up.
“Oi!” Rhiannon said sharply.
“She’s too little,” the soldier said defensively. “You can have her back when we get to the street.” He glanced away, and Gwen could almost hear him thinking Unless I get other orders.
Gwen had a sudden flash of insight. “You have children, don’t you?”
The soldier glared at her and refused to answer.
“He can’t have children,” Rhiannon said loudly. “If he did he wouldn’t try to take other people’s.”
“He might if they said they’d take his instead,” Rhys said slowly, and a few of the other soldiers started to look uncomfortable as well.
“Shut it, all of you!” the soldier barked, and they walked the rest of the way in silence.
The estate was in chaos when the little group reached it. Bands of soldiers were still attempting to load children into trucks but there were fights breaking out everywhere. It looked like the entire neighbourhood had gone into revolt.
A soldier broke away from a nearby melee and ran up to them. “Can you get through to Command?” he demanded breathlessly. His nose was bleeding.
Their soldier put down the little girl he’d been carrying. “No one’s answering.”
“Surrender,” Gwen said quickly. “Retreat. Look at the trouble you’re facing here. You can’t take this neighbourhood, there’ll be killing next.” And God, she really hoped there hadn’t been already.
It was a mark of how bad things had gotten that they seemed to be listening. Well, not ignoring her or telling her to shut up, anyway.
“You didn’t sign up for this,” Gwen pushed. “You don’t want to be involved in mass kidnapping. There are other soldiers in other neighbourhoods. Children are being taken from other places. This one isn’t worth the bother. They need the children fast, yeah? Look around. Do you really think you’ll be done here in time?”
They looked. They hesitated.
Their soldier’s radio crackled to life. He turned away, listening, then said “Copy that,” and turned back to them.
“We’re pulling out,” he said. “We’re to leave the kids here and return to base. They’re not needed anymore.”
“Thank God,” the other soldier said fervently.
The soldiers left quickly, chased down the road by several of the rioters, who threw bricks. Johnny jogged up to them, bloody and exultant.
“Did you see that?” he said. “That’ll teach them to mess with us!”
The neighbourhood calmed a bit after the soldiers’ retreat, and their little brood of children was quickly reclaimed. Soon it was just the six of them standing there.
“Look,” Rhiannon said suddenly. “Thank you. For what you did. What you tried to do.”
“You’re welcome,” Gwen said awkwardly.
“And... if you want to know what Ianto was like,” she said slowly, “Really like, you could maybe come round for tea sometime.” She didn’t quite look at them when she said this, and Gwen could see how much it was costing her to make the offer.
“I’d like that,” Gwen said with relief.
“Andy?” Rhys said incredulously behind her. “Were you rioting?”
Gwen turned. Andy’s police jacket and tie were gone and his uniform shirt was torn. He looked mutinous. “Andy, what happened to your uniform?”
“I took it off,” Andy said defiantly. “And I rioted. And I’m not putting it back on.”
“All right,” Gwen said soothingly. “You don’t have to.”
“You’re still willing to drive the police car, though, aren’t you, mate?” Rhys asked worriedly.
Several footsteps go past quickly. There is some shouting, and then the noises fade. Adrenaline gives him the strength to struggle into the coveralls and stand, leaning heavily against the wall. The floor is hard and freezing against his bare feet.
He listens against the door for another moment to make sure no one is there, and then he heaves it open and staggers out. The corridor is no warmer than the room was, but there is a door at the end with EXIT written on it in red, and he heads in that direction.
Outside, everything is in chaos. There are fires everywhere and people are running and screaming. He tries to go back inside the building but the door has shut behind him and won’t reopen. He presses himself back against it, terrified. Everything seems to be smashing and burning and he keeps hearing heavy metallic footfalls in his head that he’s certain aren’t actually real and he doesn’t know what to do.
He spots an alleyway that seems to be deserted and he makes his way over to it, wincing as the debris hurt his feet. He leans back into the shadows of the alley and lets himself breathe. There is a body in the alley with him. Most of its head is gone (upgraded, he thinks, and doesn’t know why) but it is wearing shoes.
He takes them. They don’t fit right and there is blood on one of them but there is too much broken glass around for him to be picky. He crouches down and ties the laces carefully. His legs are trembling badly and he is still cold but he hugs his knees to his chest and feels a little better.
There is an explosion outside and more screaming. He puts his hands over his ears and closes his eyes. The dark quiet is comforting and he can almost imagine that someone is waiting for him there.
He just wishes he knew how to find them.
Whoever they are.
Here and there were groups of police trying to restore order. Jack pushed past them as well and kept going.
The crater in the Plass had been blocked off but it was unguarded. Jack guessed that Agent Johnson’s troops had either gone with her to London or run off in the chaos.
He slipped through the barriers and stood for a moment, stunned by the complete devastation before him.
He’d known the bomb in his stomach had gone off in the Hub. He’d known, intellectually, that the Hub had probably been destroyed. He had not been prepared for the sharp pang of loss he felt as he stared down at the rubble.
He made his way down into the center of the crater, barely able to take in the absence of everything around him. This was where he and Charles Gaskell had made out in the stairwell, covered in alien slime. This was where the vault door had been. This was where he’d kissed Ianto for the first time, after he’d been thrown across the Hub by Lisa. This was where Alex Hopkins had killed everyone on his team except Jack. This was where Tosh had stopped and stared the first time she walked into the Hub. This was where he’d come across Alice Guppy and Emily Holroyd having sex and gotten shot when he offered to join in. This was where he’d found Owen passed out drunk after a night of mourning his fiancée. This was where Lucia Moretti had installed the sub-etheric resonator.
Their ghosts seemed to gather around him: Alex with his gun dangling from one hand, Owen with his flesh hanging in strips, Ianto blue and cold and stiff. Steven stood with them, blood dribbling from his ears and nose, and asked why me?
Jack backed up, stumbling over the uneven terrain, and the ghosts followed. Lucia demanded to know what he’d done to their grandchild. Tosh asked plaintively if she’d done something wrong. Ianto just stood and stared at him in disappointment. You’re the biggest monster of them all!
Jack tripped over something and went sprawling. The ghosts followed and he screamed at them I’m sorry I’m so sorry. They kept advancing. Desperate, he fumbled for his gun, firing wildly. It had no effect. He jammed the barrel into his mouth and pulled the trigger.
He shakes his head to clear it and glances around at his surroundings in momentary confusion. He had left the safety of the alley and wandered west, into the outskirts. He’s tried to stay out of sight as much as possible, away from the mobs and the protesters and the people huddled in their houses keeping their children well back from the windows and doors. They make him nervous and he isn’t sure why.
He pulls himself wearily to his feet and stumbles away from the doorway he’d taken shelter in, and continues heading west, towards Cardiff. He’d wandered for a little through the middle of the city he’d woken in (London, he’d realised eventually), and then finally just picked a direction and started walking. The city was too chaotic to stay in, and west feels right in a strange way he’s trying not to think too hard about, for fear it will evaporate.
Gwen rolled out of bed and landed with a bump on the floor, back against the bed, fumbling for the phone. “Jack?”
“Jack, are you all right? Is everything okay?”
“Everything’s fine, Gwen.”
“I reversed the signal the 456 used to kill Clem. The one in Thames House is dead. I don’t know if there are others.” Jack gave a wavering sigh. “Gwen... I had to use a child. To broadcast the signal.”
“I know, I heard them. It was dead eerie.”
“No, I mean... I had to use a single child. As the focus. To make it work.”
A horrible feeling was growing in Gwen’s stomach. “What do you mean, Jack?”
“I used Steven. My grandson. It killed him.”
Gwen put a hand to her mouth. “Oh my God, Jack...”
“It... Gwen, I can’t... I have to make sure they can’t come back. I have to go after them.”
“What?” Gwen yelped. “Go after them, you mean in space? We can’t go to space!”
“I can,” Jack said quietly. “I rescued some things from the Hub. I can go to space.”
Gwen sucked in a breath.
“You have to stay here, Gwen. With your husband and your baby. You have to stay and protect your family. Protect your world.”
“Jack, you sound – you’re coming back, when you’re done, though, right? You are, aren’t you?” Gwen started to cry. It was too soon after Ianto, too soon after Tosh and Owen, with the Hub lying in ruins and the whole world in chaos. “There’s so much to do, Jack. I need your help. I can’t do it by myself. I can’t fix it, I don’t know what to do!”
“Hush,” Jack said, and his voice was so gentle it took Gwen’s breath away. “You can. You will. I’ve seen the Hub – the main section is gone but the Archives and the lower levels are still there. You can start over with that. Get the Mainframe to help you – she knows where to find what you’ll need. You can call Martha, you won’t be alone.”
“Jack, please don’t go. Please don’t go.”
“I have to do this, Gwen. I’m sorry, I have to do this.”
“Promise you’ll come back. Please? Promise you’ll come back. You need to tell me if they’re gone.” She pressed the heel of her hand against her forehead, searching for things to make him stay. “It’s the twenty-first century, Jack. Everything’s changing. We have to be ready. We can’t be ready without you.”
Jack was silent for a moment. “All right. All right. I’ll be in touch.” He paused, again, and then said firmly. “You are strong enough for this, Gwen Cooper. You are strong enough to stand tall.”
And then the phone went dead, and he was gone. Gwen whimpered, pressing her face against her knees. Rhys’ hand was warm and comforting on her back.
“What’s wrong, love? What happened?”
Gwen took a careful breath, and then another until the lump in her throat had eased enough for speech. “Jack’s gone,” she said. “He’s gone after the 456. He said he’d be back, but...” She had to stop and breathe again. “I don’t know if... I don’t know how long it will be.”
Rhys’ hand tightened on the nape of her neck, thumb brushing the side of her throat. “I’ll help you. I’m not going anywhere.”
“I know.” The relief of that almost broke her again. She pushed up off the floor and hugged him fiercely, the edge of the bed and the angle making it awkward but no less heartfelt. “I know. I love you. I love you so much...”
The riots have mostly stopped, but in their place is a grim, unsettling sense of determination and anger. No one seems to know what’s happened or what will come next, but one thing is clear: Never again. Not to our children.
He hitches a ride into Cardiff, wedged in the back of a truck between crates of some kind of vegetable. It’s night when the truck pulls to a stop and it’s easy for him to slip away into the dark. He makes his way through the streets towards the Bay. The strange something is urging him forward and he walks quickly until he reaches a large courtyard by a golden building with tall letters on the side. The center of the courtyard is blocked off, surrounded by high fences. He slips inside.
There is a crater. He feels something yawn cold and empty inside himself and knows this is wrong but doesn’t know why. He falls to his knees, blood pounding in his temples. He had been so sure that he was headed towards something, that there would be answers or rest or warmth but there is nothing. There is only crumbled concrete and a hole where something is supposed to be.
His chest constricts. It is very hard to breathe. He stumbles up and away from the hurt and confusion and flees, blind and terrified and alone. Eventually he collapses, gasping and sobbing for breath, curled in on himself for protection.
Something is very wrong. He doesn’t know what.
First, there were phone calls to make. She needed to get in touch with Martha, she needed to make sure Lois Habiba was all right, and she needed the government to know that Torchwood was still a force to be reckoned with.
For purely selfish reasons she tried calling Martha first, but got Tom instead who told her that they’d both been arrested for trying to organize a resistance when the soldiers started grabbing children. He’d been freed but they were refusing to release her. This led to two hours of Gwen yelling at people in English, fractured Italian, and Welsh when she got too fed up to cope. Finally, finally, Martha was released, instructed to never set foot in Italy again, and allowed to get on the phone with Gwen.
“Gwen, what the bloody hell is going on? They were snatching people’s kids!”
“Martha, I’m sorry, it’s really too long to tell over the phone. We’re safe for now, at least from aliens, but I need your help. I need you to come back.”
“Of course, Gwen, you know I will, but – is it Jack? Is Jack all right?”
“He’s... it was a bad week, Martha. The Hub was blown up and – and Ianto... Martha, Ianto’s dead.”
“Oh, my God!” Martha said. “Oh, Gwen, I’m so sorry.”
“I know. Jack’s gone off-planet, I don’t know for how long, but it’s just me and Rhys right now, and I need all the help I can get.”
“All right.” Martha’s voice was firm and soothing. “Don’t worry, Gwen. I’m on my way back, and I know a few people I can call. Everything will be fine.”
Gwen knew it wouldn’t, but she appreciated Martha saying it.
Next, she called Whitehall. Bridget Spears wasn’t available to come to the phone and Gwen was just starting up a really good rant in preparation to getting Lois Habiba released from prison when someone knocked on the door. The next thing Gwen knew, her flat was full to bursting with heavily armed MI-5 troops, a determined Agent Johnson and a wide-eyed Lois in their midst.
“We’ve defected,” Agent Johnson said without preamble. “Does Torchwood need soldiers?”
“You still have a role to play,” she says, young and innocent but her eyes are ancient and cold. “Get up. You’re no use to anyone lying out here.”
She takes him to an abandoned building. There’s a torn mattress in one corner and he collapses heavily on it. The girl sets a sandwich down by his face and begins laying out cards on the dirty floor.
It only takes a few minutes for the smell of the sandwich to be too much for him to resist. The food in his stomach wakes him up a little, enough to roll over and look at the girl more closely.
The cards she is laying out are Tarot cards, oversized and ragged. He sees the Hanged Man, the Moon, the Knight of Swords...
He sucks in a breath. “I know him. I recognize that face.” It’s a nice face, strong and handsome, with dark hair and blue eyes, but his expression is a little bit scary. At first glance the man seems to be dressed like a knight ought to be, but on further inspection it looks more like he’s wearing a long blue coat.
The girl glares at the interruption. “You should know him,” she says witheringly.
“Who is he? I recognize him but I don’t remember who he is.”
She shrugs indifferently. “He’s gone now. He’ll be back at some point, you can meet him then.”
He manages to prop himself up. “Do you know who I am? Do you know what happened to me?” He asks curiously.
“Later,” she says firmly. “It’s not time yet.”
He can feel his strength ebbing. He sinks back on the mattress. “I don’t understand.”
“Not my problem,” the girl says absently.
By the end of one Earth week after leaving for space, Jack had enough credits to start buying information. By two weeks, he had a ship of his own and had been banned from three different space ports. He didn’t particularly care – in each place he had exhausted all the possible leads before being firmly escorted off-planet. There was nothing to go back for.
Answers were slow in coming. He chafed at the delay but relished the hunt, the clear sense of purpose in front of him. He knew the 456 were out there and he knew he would find them and kill them.
After all, he had all the time in the Universe.
The day after Jack left, Gwen spent three hours trying to get the Mainframe to cooperate with her before realizing it was sulking. It took to crashing her computer every time she tried to connect, and she felt so unexpectedly abandoned by it she wailed “I’m sorry I’m not Jack!” and burst into tears. Half an hour later, the Mainframe grudgingly allowed her to access some of the more basic systems.
Seven days after Jack left, Andy showed up on her doorstep and demanded more than requested to work for Torchwood. Gwen agreed, even though she wasn’t sure what he could do for them and Rhys was making emphatic ‘No! Don’t do it!’ gestures over Andy’s shoulder.
Ten days after Jack left they cleared away enough rubble to get into the Archives. Gwen found one of Ianto’s pinstriped suit coats folded neatly over the rungs of a ladder in the Mc-Na section and had to sit down for a little while. That was the same day they discovered that no one knew where Ianto’s body had ended up. Gwen made two PAs and a morgue assistant cry before Lois gently but firmly took the phone away from her.
Thirteen days after Jack left Gwen finally nerved herself up to go over to Rhiannon’s house for tea. She brought all the photographs she could find, even the classified ones. Rhiannon told her about what Ianto had been like as a child, and then broke down and cried so hard Gwen was afraid she wouldn’t be able to stop. Gwen didn’t go back again.
Fourteen days after Jack left Andy asked Johnson what her first name was, and discovered she had a sense of humour when she answered “Agent” with a straight face.
Twenty days after Jack left Lois took a call and Gwen found herself on the phone with the Queen agreeing that Torchwood needed to be expanded and it would be an excellent idea to start a branch in London as well. Gwen hung up the phone and hyperventilated while Rhys laughed at her.
Twenty-one days, and Gwen discovered why Jack, who really had no business casting aspersions on anyone, had called Torchwood Two ‘very strange’. She politely declined offers of assistance, and promised to keep the lines of communication open.
Twenty-six days, and Martha finally got through the blockades and checkpoints to arrive in Cardiff. She listened with quiet horror to Gwen’s account of the 456, and then slipped away to make a few calls. That afternoon, Gwen spent an hour on the phone undergoing what felt like the most grueling job interview of her life, but once she had promised faithfully that Torchwood London would be strictly a research facility with no combat responsibilities whatsoever, she was able to ring the Queen and tell her that Torchwood London would consist of Sarah Jane Smith, Lois Habiba, Mickey Clarke, and three teenaged ‘interns’.
On day thirty-four, they had cleared away enough of the rubble to move back into the Hub, as long as they stayed in the lower levels. Gwen had no idea what to do to rebuild the top section, but she was finally starting to feel like it was possible.
Of course, on day thirty-five, the Rift spat out a very confused and hostile platoon of what Rhys insisted on naming ‘Space Toads’. They killed three of Agent Johnson’s soldiers and started off the anti-alien anti-government riots again by trashing a residential neighbourhood before being contained. Gwen spent the day being accused of incompetence by UNIT, Whitehall, and the local police, and when Johnson politely but firmly told Gwen she would take care of informing the soldiers’ families of their deaths Gwen was so relieved she disgusted herself.
On day forty-nine Gwen had her first ultrasound. When he saw the baby up on the monitor for the first time, Rhys fainted.
That was the same day that that the United States of America officially dissolved into warring regional governments, Iran annexed Saudi Arabia, and China declared war on Russia. Gwen was starting to expect every instance of good luck or happiness to come with an equal-or-greater amount of tragedy, and was too mentally and emotionally exhausted to be upset about any of it.
On day fifty-one, Gwen wandered into the section of the morgue they’d converted to computer terminals, and discovered that Andy was carrying on a cheerful IM flirtation with the Mainframe, who was suddenly willing to do absolutely anything to help them as long as it was Andy making the request. Gwen muttered “Shameless hussy,” under her breath as she walked away, and the next morning she discovered that her driver’s license had been revoked as part of a mysterious computer error which had also canceled all her credit cards. On the unexpectedly unanimous advice of Andy and Rhys she sent the Mainframe virtual flowers and an apologetic note, and that afternoon everything was back in order.
By the end of the second month Hub reconstruction was underway, Sarah Jane had hired a pensioner by the unlikely name of ‘Wilf’ as an advisor, DI Swanson had become their new police liaison, and after a regrettable philosophical impasse it had become necessary to lock Agent Johnson and Sarah Jane in a cell together until they had hashed out their differences. Six hours later, Sarah Jane had reluctantly agreed to call on Agent Johnson for help with large-scale more military-based problems and Agent Johnson had reluctantly admitted to the existence of rubber bullets.
Gwen was busy enough that she found the pain of Ianto’s loss had eventually dulled a little, just like Tosh’s and Owen’s had. She still missed him terribly, both for his knowledge and his sense of humour, but she had found a certain kind of peace in remembering the friendship they’d had and the good he’d done.
She was so glad that he’d died in Jack’s arms. She liked knowing that Ianto had been looking up at the man he’d loved when he’d taken his last breath. There was solace in that, as long as she didn’t stop to think of what the experience had done to Jack.
When it came to Jack... she mourned him sometimes, as surely as if he’d died permanently, and was afraid for him and the ways in which he was utterly alone now. Sometimes she was also completely, incandescently, furiously angry with him. How dare he leave? How dare he walk away from everything that had to be done? How dare he give up when the rest of them were willing to keep fighting?
But those moments always passed, and she was back to worry. She knew better than most how huge the Universe really was, and how long it might take Jack to find what he was looking for.
What would it do to him if he came back to Earth only to discover the rest of them had died in his absence?
His sleep is frequently disturbed by terrible, confusing dreams when it isn’t interrupted by scavengers or riots in the streets. He sees things he doesn’t understand and knows cannot exist – fish-men and metal women and flying dinosaurs and always, always the man in the blue coat.
Sometimes these visions come to him while he’s awake. He’s starting to wonder if there was no traumatic event that made him the way he is. It’s possible he’s just insane, although he’s choosing to see it as a good sign that he hasn’t tried to have conversations with any of the specters yet.
Well. Assuming the little girl is real and not a hallucination, anyway.
When he’s awake, he sorts through the images and tries to fit them into a frame of reference. Perhaps he worked in the movie industry, and the creatures he sees are characters or special effects? Or maybe he spent a good deal of time in costume shops of some kind?
It’s also possible that at some point in his life he had an intimate acquaintance with hallucinogens. He tries not to consider that scenario too frequently.
There are never emotions tied to any of the pictures. He knows they’re important and he knows figuring out their significance is the key to something, perhaps to filling the empty feeling he’s had in his chest ever since he stumbled across the crater, but individual images provoke no particular response beyond frustration. He’s not sure what to think about that.
He spends a lot of time thinking about the man in the blue coat. In his dreams he’s tall, solid, but his face is always just slightly out of focus, as if he’s perpetually moving too quickly to be caught on film.
Whoever he is, he feels like the key to everything.
He’d landed the day before, after months of searching and bribing and torturing, with a gas mask to protect him from the atmosphere and a recording in his pocket of the wavelength that had killed Steven and Clem.
He’d routed the sound through one of the children the 456 had taken. It had killed her, of course, but Jack felt there had been a certain poetic justice to it.
He’d stood and watched as alien after alien exploded. Not all of them had been hooked to children but Jack hadn’t cared. He was covered in blood and slime and the ichor was starting to eat through his clothing. Ianto would be horrified by the state of his coat. Jack pushed that thought away.
He barely registered the familiar sound of the TARDIS materialising behind him. It didn’t really matter. The 456 were dead. There was nothing left to do.
The Doctor appeared before him. He was wearing a gas mask as well. Jack was fairly sure he was trying to ask what had happened, was Jack all right, but Jack didn’t try to answer. He didn’t even resist when the Doctor pulled him to his feet and guided him carefully into the TARDIS.
Jack sat on the ramp leading up to the central control column and stared at the floor as the Doctor gently removed Jack’s gas mask and ichor-spattered coat. He put his hand on the side of Jack’s face, trying to get Jack to look at him.
“Jack? Can you hear me?”
Jack didn’t respond. After a moment the Doctor pulled a purple bandana from one of his pockets and began wiping the blood off Jack’s face, cleaning him up as best he could. He even straightened Jack’s collar.
“Red shirt, Jack? That’s not your usual colour.”
“It’s Ianto’s,” Jack whispered. His voice cracked.
“Ianto? Ianto Jones?” The Doctor cocked his head to the side. “Tall bloke, pinstriped suit?”
“Yeah.” Jack swallowed. “He’s dead.”
“Oh, Jack... I’m sorry.” The Doctor hunkered down in front of him, trying to catch his eye. “Can you tell me what happened on that planet? I picked up a signal I’ve never heard before. I think it might have been what killed them.”
“I happened,” Jack said emotionlessly. “I killed them all.”
The Doctor rocked back in shock. “What?”
“I killed them.”
“What – Jack, why? Why would you do that? What are you even doing out here?”
Jack’s focus didn’t move from the floor. “They killed Ianto,” he said tonelessly. “They killed a lot of people. They demanded ten percent of the Earth’s children to use as recreational narcotics and they were going to hand them over.” He spat the last few words.
The Doctor shifted slightly, uncomfortably, and Jack’s gaze snapped to his face.
“You knew,” he said with sudden horrifying certainty.
The Doctor looked miserable. “The twenty-first century, Jack. Everything was going to change. It was an established event. You know what that means.”
Jack stood, shaking with anger. “You could have warned me! I could have saved people!”
“Jack.” The Doctor swallowed hard. “They had to be there. To fight. Ianto had to be there.”
“Why him? It didn’t have to be him!”
“Jack...” The Doctor hesitated a moment, clearly weighing his options. “Don’t you remember your Earth history?” He said, finally. “Didn’t you recognize Lois Habiba’s name? She’ll be...” he stopped himself. “She’ll be important. I can’t tell you why, but she’ll be important and it was watching you and Ianto die on that TV monitor that put her on her path.”
“I don’t care! I could still have saved Steven!” Jack shouted, but he could feel the anger draining away, replaced by an incredible bone-deep weariness. He knew, in his heart of hearts, that if the Doctor had warned him in time to save Steven, Jack would have tried to save Ianto too. “I didn’t know that, about Lois Habiba,” he said finally. He’d flunked Twenty-First Century Earth History when he’d taken it at the Time Agency. He’d been sleeping with the instructor and hadn’t bothered to go to class because he’d thought he’d get special treatment.
He really wanted to go back in time and kick the shit out of the stupid, thoughtless kid he’d been.
Jack slumped back down to sit on the ramp, head hanging low. After a moment, the Doctor approached him.
“You know you have to go back,” he said softly.
Jack laughed harshly. “I don’t have to go anywhere and I definitely don’t have to go there.” He sighed. “The whole planet feels like a graveyard.”
“They’re trying to rebuild Torchwood right now. You could help them, you could turn it into something positive and helpful. That’s what you said you were doing when you took over Torchwood Three, remember?”
“You don’t know Gwen Cooper,” Jack said drily. “It’s been, what, six months now? She’s probably already done it.”
“At least go back and visit,” the Doctor coaxed. “Let them know the threat is gone. I’ve been talking to Martha – she’s there now and so are Sarah Jane and Mickey. At least check on them.”
“Why are you so keen on this?” Jack asked wearily.
Abruptly, the Doctor’s gentle mood was gone. He bounced to his feet, rubbing his hands vigorously. “Can’t have you moping around all day on the TARDIS, now, can I? You’ll kill the plants!” He gave Jack a boyish grin. “And if you’re nice and safe on Earth, I can tell the Shadow Proclamation that whatever destroyed that planet back there has been dealt with and is safely contained, and I won’t be lying and they won’t come looking for you, so everybody wins, really.”
Jack rubbed his forehead. “Fine. I’ll go back and check in. I’m not promising to stay.”
The Doctor was already banging away at levers and buttons. “Fair enough, fair enough. Next stop, Earth, the twenty-first century!”
“That was Jack,” she said breathlessly. She’d stopped hoping Jack would return months ago, keeping it as a small, private wish in the back of her head, to take out and hold on the really bad days. “He wants to meet us outside the city.”
Rhys grabbed the keys.
The little girl watches him go, silently, then begins collecting her cards.
It’s no use. She’d been well conditioned in her years of working with Jack to feel that having him around again would magically make everything that little bit better, that they’d get back some of the shine that had been missing. She knew it was foolish but she couldn’t help it. Jack did it to everybody.
Surely it would be better if they were all together again. Surely he would be able to see that.
He wouldn’t be able to leave again now that he’d returned, would he?
He stumbles up the hill. There are people up there, a man and a woman and the man in the blue coat. Somehow, from some reserve he didn’t know he had, he manages to put on a little more speed.
The man in the coat steps back from the woman. The woman is crying, saying you cannot just run away and the man in the coat says oh, yes I can. Just watch me and just as he’s reaching for the device on his wrist he looks, just for an instant, off to the side.
His hand falls away. He says, “Ianto?!” and starts forward.
Ianto staggers and nearly falls, but the man in the coat catches him.
“Ianto? God, Ianto, how – what – you’re alive, how are you alive?” He’s crying and holding Ianto so tightly it hurts. The women is frozen just beyond, hands over her mouth in shock.
Ianto gasps. “I know you, how do I know you?” The humming at the base of his skull is spreading down his spine, vibrating in his bones.
The man’s face crumples, and he holds Ianto desperately close. “Yes,” he says, his voice breaking. “Yes, I know you.” He pulls back a little and kisses Ianto right on the mouth.
Something explodes in Ianto’s head. Heat shoots through him, electrifying him, and the humming is so loud he can’t hear anything else. Golden explosions are going off in his head and he tries to twist away as it becomes too much.
Someone screams “Ianto!” and suddenly he knows it’s Jack holding him and Gwen standing beyond with Rhys, always, at her back. His hands tighten on Jack’s arms as his vision starts to clear. His whole body feels like it’s vibrating with energy.
Jack is leaning over him – he must have fallen, after that kiss, and now he’s propped up awkwardly against Jack’s chest with Jack’s knee digging into his spine. “Ianto?” he’s saying frantically. “Ianto, are you okay? Please, please, you have to be okay.”
Ianto blinks. Jack looks terrible. “You’re crying.”
Jack gives a crazy little half-laugh half-sob. “God, of course I’m crying, you idiot!” He somehow manages to hug Ianto even closer. “Do you remember who I am?”
“You’re Jack, that’s Gwen,” Ianto says, smiling. Gwen throws herself down next to them.
“Are you all right? Is he all right?”
Ianto manages to sit up a little. He looks down at himself in horror. “Oh my God, what am I wearing?”
Jack laughs so hard he almost stops breathing.
Two months later, the scars are still visible.
Ianto still tires easily, and his memory can be erratic. He mostly stays in the Hub, since a) Agent Johnson can handle anything combat oriented, b) Ianto’s boyfriend is indestructible and can take care of anything Johnson isn’t around for, and c) Ianto is absolutely not allowed to put himself in danger ever again.
Or so it said on the flow chart that Jack carefully and very seriously presented to him.
Gwen is still in charge, which Jack forgets sometimes but Rhys never does. He tried to get Gwen to hand over control to Jack during her pregnancy, and stopped speaking to her for a full week when she and Jack both refused. He is back working at Harwood’s now, because he says if Torchwood is destroyed again then their child will at least have one parent left.
He’s still officially down in the books as a Torchwood Reservist.
Jack veers wildly between being too afraid to be anywhere near Ianto and not being able to let him out of his sight. There are days when the past coils so tightly inside him he thinks he will explode, and days when he looks around at everyone near him and wants to run as hard and as fast as he can before he has to watch any of them die.
He stays. It’s always for different reasons.
The Hub is nearly rebuilt. It will never be the same, but at least it keeps the rain off, and in any case it has always been more about the people inside it anyway.
Well. People and other things, between the cells and the recent sightings of a pterodactyl in the Brecon Beacons.
It may not be a classically happy ending, but it’s the Torchwood version, and that’s good enough to be going on with.