Jack listened to the familiar mechanical clunking as the door rolled closed behind Suzie. She was the last to go home tonight, leaving him alone. She had offered to stay when she saw him bringing in tonight’s weevil, following him down to the cells, eyes questioning, staring the blood staining his collar. Had worse from shaving, he had said, for the second time tonight. Go home and get some rest.
And so she’d left.
It was very silent now, the sound of his footsteps echoing up into the high ceiling, as he climbed the stairs to his office, checking his watch. 2:10am.
Perfect time for a bit of research.
He sat down at his desk, his computer’s display flashing bright blue in the dim light, making him blink. As he pulled up what he wanted, he found his hand going to the place on his collar which was still sticky with blood from a cut that wasn’t there anymore.
He wiped the blood off his hand on his shirt and typed his password where the cursor blinked.
It didn’t take long to pull up the Torchwood shared archives and there he was faced with a search bar.
He typed in, Ianto Jones.
After all, if he knew about weevils, then it was likely Torchwood knew about him. If not, then they had bigger problems.
The first result of his search redirected him to the now-defunct Torchwood One intranet. An employee profile. He clicked on it, and found himself suddenly faced with an unassuming ID photo of the man he had met earlier. Ianto Jones. Date of birth, August 19th, 1983. He really was young, Jack thought absently. He thought back to their meeting. Ianto had seemed both younger and older than his age, breathless and fierce and…something else, that Jack couldn’t quite name, all at once. There was a kind of desperate purposefulness to him, like he wanted something in particular, would stop at nothing to get it.
Problem was, Jack didn’t know what it was yet.
Well. Maybe he knew part of it. Ianto had said he liked Jack’s coat. He knew what people usually meant when they said that, and he had seen something very easily recognisable in his eyes, in his whole manner, when he said it. And Jack had been ready to take him up on it, too; Ianto was undeniably attractive, and it wouldn’t have been the first time the adrenaline of a hunt had turned into an enjoyable night for all concerned, and it doubtless wouldn’t be the last.
But he hadn’t. Because it wasn’t just that, was the thing. Jack knew flirting, and that wasn’t quite it. There was something else, too. Yet another layer behind it, which made him wary. Several, maybe. Layers all the way down. Jack was good at reading people, and when he couldn’t he knew to tread carefully.
He looked back at the profile pages in front of him. Childhood, medical records, education records, a minor conviction for shoplifting. Joined Torchwood One two years ago, as a junior researcher. In practice, that probably meant Ianto’s day-to-day involved sifting through records of strange occurrences, sorting through eye-witness accounts and blog posts and conspiracy theory websites and separating those few tenths of a percent that weren’t all bullshit, and might contain a grain of truth.
A boring sort of job, Jack thought. Didn’t seem quite consistent with the man he’d met tonight, the one who’d rushed in to save him, throwing himself into the fight like he didn’t have anything to lose.
Something else occurred to Jack, and he scrolled down, to the section that listed friends, acquaintances, family and relationships. Torchwood One collected this information habitually; with his own team he preferred the old fashioned way, of getting to know them and relying on his instincts about whether they were trustworthy. Learning their ways, understanding the pressure points they had that might cause them to break. Shoring them up against anything that might try to make use of that.
The advantage of living as long as he had was that you got better at reading people. And if, by that, he could protect them, then, well. That was just a bonus.
He certainly liked it better than the alternative.
The problem was, though, that when you got to know someone like that, you often came to care about them into the bargain. And that always, always came to hurt, in the end. Sooner or later.
With one notable exception, people who worked for Torchwood tended to die young.
Speaking of which. He peered at the list of people connected to this Ianto Jones. Family in south Wales, a mother, a father, deceased. Natural causes. A sister. Nearby, kind of. He could go pay them a visit, do some digging. He suspected, though, that this wasn’t the last he’d see of Ianto Jones; he’d probably turn up again soon, and Jack would have to deal with him when he did. At least it was easier this way.
(Why did he care so much, he wondered. Usually, he wouldn’t have done all this research. Usually, he would have taken him out for a drink and maybe kissed him, or maybe taken him to bed, before slipping him some retcon. Paid for a taxi home for him if he was feeling magnanimous.)
And yet here he was, doing research. He carried on looking down the list. A former flatmate. A few friends. And a girlfriend. Lisa Hallett. Jack frowned. Her name was hyperlinked, and he hovered the cursor over it. He smiled a little wryly; if he himself were to start trying to collect information about who his own staff were dating, he’d have a small riot on his hands. But Torchwood One never did let much go on trust, much good as it had done them.
He clicked on the name, and it took him to another profile. Lisa Hallett. Acquisitions.
Oh. Jack sat back in his chair. Dead girlfriend. Well, at least that explained the look behind Ianto’s eyes, the edge to his voice. The way he’d fought like he had nothing to lose.
There was always more to lose, though. If Jack’s long life had taught him nothing else, it had taught him that.
He looked back up at the picture of Lisa, staring out at him. At the top of it, was a link to another page; a list of casualties of the battle of Canary Wharf.
Despite himself, he clicked on it.
The list was long, each letter of the alphabet a separate page. So many. He remembered reading the reports. The ghosts had been Cybermen, bleeding through from a parallel world. He didn’t know much about them, but in fairness, he had been a little distracted that day.
Especially when the footage of the skies above London started coming in. After that, he hadn’t been concentrating on the Cybermen at all. Because there were Daleks flying over London, and suddenly, Jack had been able to feel it again, all through him. That final jolt that had hit him like a physical blow, feeling like unimaginable agony for the merest fraction of a second before it had stopped his heart, destroyed his nervous system and brain function.
It wasn’t real, of course. Just the ghost of old pain.
You never forgot your first time. So to speak.
The memories continued, picking up after he had died. He had been alive again, the pain still rattling through his spinal column and every nerve in his body, even as life crashed through him, too-bright, overwhelming. Like staring into the heart of the TARDIS, painful and tearing and so, so much. It felt like a hand reaching out into his chest, gripping, wrenching him back into the living world with unimaginable strength. Fixing him into the fabric of time and space like a butterfly pinned to a board.
In the present, Jack shook his head, pressing his fingers the heels of his hands over his eyes. It was late; that was why it was all coming back so strongly, again, as he sat here. He didn’t technically need to sleep in the same way anymore – he could, and did, function perfectly well without it, in the most technical sense. But nights like this, he suddenly wanted the darkness of unconsciousness for a while. He doubted he’d be able to now, though. He found himself scrolling mindlessly through the list of names, clicking on different letters at random. L. P. E. This had been a bad idea, probably. It was just making everything worse. A. F. J. X. T.
He blinked, eyes suddenly wide, pulling his awareness back. No. No, it couldn’t be. It was a common enough name, wasn’t it? He blinked a few more times, hoping that the name would go away, but it didn’t.
Above it, too. Tyler, Jaqueline. He bit his lip, remembering a day in the TARDIS, Rose telling some story about her mother. The Doctor, laughing. Jack had laughed too.
No. it couldn’t be her. Not Rose.
His hands were shaking as he went to the menu. He clicked on S., scrolled down. Smith, Mickey. Calculating the chances that this was a coincidence, all just a big mistake.
The probability of that seemed smaller by the minute. He could imagine it perfectly well. Of course she’d be there. Rose Tyler, defender of the universe. Not a soldier, just an ordinary girl from the twenty-first century, who would never, ever stop fighting, not when there were people to protect. Who loved so fiercely and blazed so bright.
She was nineteen years old. So very, very young. It wasn’t fair; none of it was fair, the whole fucking universe was unfair. And he was stuck in it, forever.
Then came another thought, forceful as a punch to the chest. If Rose was there, if the whole family was, then the Doctor would have been there too. With Rose. Unless the Doctor had left her, too. No, that wasn’t fair. Rose wasn’t the same kind of person as Jack. The Doctor wouldn’t leave her. He wouldn’t.
And another thing; he’d been so close, he thought, futily. He laid his head down, pillowed on his arms in front of the keyboard, squeezing his eyes shut and still seeing the light of the screen imprinted there. He’d spent a long time debating with himself whether, when he met the Doctor again, the first thing he’d do would be to scream at him, beg him for forgiveness for whatever he’d apparently done, to demand answers. To press him up against the nearest wall and kiss him, or to punch him in the face. He still wasn’t quite decided on that count.
But he knew one thing now. One question he had to ask, before anything else.
Tell me it’s not true.
Tell me it’s not her. Tell me she’s safe.
It couldn’t be her. It had to be a mistake. When the Doctor came, he’d ask him. He’d waited long enough; one day he’d come, and Jack would be ready.
Patience wasn’t a natural talent of his, but it was something he’d become better at out of necessity, over the years.
He’d wait. It couldn’t be true. He’d find out what really happened when the Doctor came back. It had to happen sooner or later.
This was the last coherent thought he had, before he was being jolted awake out of the darkness by the little alarm chime that signaled someone outside the outer door. He blinked, sitting up with a stiff back. If he had hoped, early on, that immortality might at least mean you couldn’t crick your neck and spine when falling asleep at your desk at an awkward angle, he’d learned better since.
He checked the time, blearily; 7:28am. He should check the CCTV, see who was outside. If it was one of the team, they’d let themselves in, but if it was someone else hanging around out there he should probably go out and tell them to go away. He winced at the damp patch on the sleeve of his shirt, where his face had been pressed against it; he must have cried in his sleep. The collar of his shirt was also still bloody from last night; he’d need a shower, and a change of clothes, and to calm down before he faced anyone this morning.
He stood up, stretching out his back and his arms. The computer had gone to screensaver sometime in the night, and he was glad that he wasn’t faced immediately with his research from last night, the page still open in front of him. This way, it felt more distant, almost like it could have been a dream. He knew it hadn’t been, of course, but small steps.
He stood up, going over to the door of the office, pausing for a moment before walking out.
First things first.
He was dying for a decent cup of coffee right now.