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Like It Actually Means Something to You

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Jack never meant to like Alice Guppy. He never meant to like any of them, not after they'd shanghaied him, after all their smug superiority and swaggering confidence, those children who thought they knew everything and didn't have a clue. Torchwood weren't his friends, they weren't his family, just a waystation and steady cash until he could find the Doctor and be gone.

But some things couldn't be helped. Over confident amateurs Torchwood might be, but Jack had been around them long enough to know that they were also well-intentioned (most of the time), clever and courageous and loyal by turns. Long enough to care about them. He wished he hadn't. Stay in one place, around one group of people long enough, and...

And he ended up here.

Alice coughed, blood on her lips, an gasped with a whistling edge to it, never a good sound. Jack gasped himself, for different reasons entirely, and pressed his hands against the hole in her chest, around bits of shrapnel he didn't dare pull out. Any civilized time period, there might have been something to be done, but here and now, in the early twentieth century and with his forearms soaked in hot blood, he already knew there was nothing to do but watch her die.

"Well," she said breathlessly, unable to draw the breath to speak clearly and voice strained with pain, "this isn't... exactly the way I expected it."

Jack's eyes flickered up to her face for a second, back to the wound. Up to her face again, because there was nothing to do about the wound and it was easier than looking at it. "Expected what?"

"Dying. I thought it would be... more dramatic. A boiler explosion doesn't quite have the romance that-"

She cut herself off with a gasp. Jack looked down at his hands, torn between pressing down harder - slow the bloodflow, like that would do anything but stall a little longer when it came to chest wounds - and lightening up so it would hurt less. He settled for gritting his teeth and answering, "You're not dying. Don't be silly."

"And you'd know." Alice smiled weakly, lips twisted in bitter humor. Better than panic, though he could see that rising in her eyes, because of course she was scared of death, who the hell wasn't? Except him, because he knew every time he plunged into oblivion there would be something to drag him back. But her...

"As a matter of fact..."

"If you say one more word, I will haunt you for the rest of-"

"You're not dying," he snapped, though the blood on his forearms was drying now and still hot on his hands and he knew if he could free a hand to check her pulse at her wrist, her hands would be cold, pulse thready... But he was a good liar.

Alice looked scornful. She always was good at that, rarely gave him a look that wasn't full of some measure of scorn and it was only fitting that she'd keep it up even now. "It should have been you," she said, and he smiled grimly.

"Next time, I promise-"

"Will you stop pretending-" She stopped talking, with a pained noise, jaw clenched like she was trying to fight back any further signs of pain. It wasn't surprising - Alice was something like a wild animal, and had been for as long as Jack had known her. Corner her and she'd bite, hurt her and she'd do everything she could not to show it.

Jack swallowed hard and looked down at the blood on his hands. The blood on her chest, the blood absolutely everywhere and it wasn't that he was unused to blood, he couldn't be with the Time Agency, as a conman, with Torchwood... but he'd gotten out of the habit of this, forgotten what it felt like when his stomach twisted and his chest ached because someone he cared about was dying beneath his hands and...

He'd gotten out of the habit of caring at all.

"You're right," he said quietly. "It should have been me."

"How noble of you," she remarked dryly, still through clenched teeth. A moment passed where she just breathed, slow and pained. He noticed blood on her lips, and immediately wished he hadn't. "Well, we both... knew this would happen some day. Make sure they hire someone pretty in my place, will you?"

"Don't-" Jack started, and couldn't finish the sentence. This shouldn't bother him, because Torchwood shouldn't matter. None of them were meant to, just a string of faces, an unpleasant necessity to work with them just until he could find the Doctor again, and if one died and was replaced, what would it matter, none of them really mattered to him anyway...

There seemed to have been an incredible failure of that plan, somewhere along the way.

"I'll make sure of it," Jack said, mustering the tiniest smile somehow, from the part of him that could manage a grin if the world was falling down. Alice drew a breath like she meant to speak, but it hitched, and stopped, and nothing ever actually got said. Jack leaned forward slowly, to rest his lips against her forehead, and kept them there until her blood grew cold on his hands.