amnion- noun. the innermost of the embryonic or fetal membranes of reptiles, birds, and mammals; the sac in which the embryo is suspended.
Jack Harkness would later tell himself he did not consciously remember choosing to abandon the strictures that once governed his interference in the Timestream. Like so many other breathless, broken moments of his past, he would wall it off with the rush of instinct, as if that could somehow offer a sliver of absolution.
The truth was, he knew exactly when the decision was made.
The UNIT medics had been loading the body onto yet another of their seemingly endless gurneys-- cleaning up the remnants of the Thames House massacre like a hive of expressionless, waxy carrion bugs. Deathwatch beetles, in their dark helmets, breaking the general hum of work as they cut labels and called out numbers.
Snick. "One forty nine!" And then the zip of the body bag, thick and oily.
Snick. "One seventy seven!" Zip.
There was an awful, unconscious rhythm to the process, bureaucracy which even the dead could not escape, and Jack took dark pleasure in the ripple of disturbance he caused as he pushed past the technicians. There were looks, whispers, and some openly raised fingers to point; Jack kept his eyes on the hand of the nurse poised to zip up yet another bag. Crossing the room and making no effort to slow his strides for Gwen's sake, Jack grabbed the nurse's heavily gloved wrist, pushing her hand roughly away. Ianto lay still in that sick black cocoon, limbs arranged a little haphazardly within the confines. His tie was askew, waistcoat rumpled, and his sideburns were matted with dried sweat, but he was beautiful. As poised and empty as the marble boy-gods of Rome. Jack brushed a light touch over his lover's forehead, thoughtlessly straightening and smoothing his suit. The woman he'd swept aside was protesting, something about possible lingering contaminants. Jack spared her a single barren glance and she shut up, fluttering her hands uselessly as her eyes silently appealed to Gwen for help.
"Jack," Gwen murmured, putting a hand on his shoulder. Close-- too close. Cloying. He gently took Ianto's arms and crossed them over the younger man's chest in that attitude of eternal repose. So many funerals he'd attended over the centuries; priests and mages, acolytes and ministers, faiths and superstitions mingling into one long, disgusting buzz.
(An image rose in his brain, a tombstone on a quiet hill. 'She sleeps, and awaits her Lord'.
Ah. That one had been Estelle's. )
"How long?" Jack asked, consigning Gwen to a dark-toned shadow he saw out of the corner of his eye.
"I'm sorry?" the nurse asked, grabbing hold of her clipboard. She seemed to find some reassurance in it, for she took a step forward, putting a hand on the gurney handle. Jack raised his arm again to brush her off, but it proved to be unnecessary. "All bodies have to be collected, sir," she protested, though she moved away, arms raised in a gesture of placatory submission. "We're on a tight schedule." Almost as an afterthought, a bit ashamed; "I am sorry for your loss."
(Rote words. The Kingdom and the power, and the glory. Forever and ever, Amen. Owen, an empty casket next to Kate in those neat, well trimmed rows. A second death. Once more, this time with feeling. He could imagine Owen's cynical grin, all that bravado to cover the rough-nosed boy: 'If there's any justice, this time it'll stick.')
For a moment, there was no sound at all in Jack's ears; and then, the overwhelming mundanity of human motion. Breathing and footsteps, creaking and squealing of metal, rustling of papers. The murmur of indistinct, legion voices, like the ones that flutter on the edges of a sleepless night. Too much noise.
(The clinking sound of _juzu_ beads. White cloth and black clothing; the red and gold brocade folded over another box of nothing.
Why did Toshiko's mother have to have the same, achingly delicate features?)
"I said, 'How long?'" Jack reiterated, preferring to trace the shape of Ianto's lips than look at the medic's twisting expression of polite distress.
"Jack, don't cause a scene," Gwen was trying to pat him soothingly. He endured it, as he would the lash of the Master's electric whip.
"This man was a Torchwood Operative," the Captain said, tone hard. "All employee remains are to be kept by the Institute, as specified in Section 12 of Her Majesty's original outline."
Gwen made an exasperated noise, "Even if the tombs are unscathed, we won't be able to get down there for a long while!" Instantly, she made her voice softer, warm like burning sugar. "Love, I know this is hard, but you have to let this poor girl do her job. Ianto isn't--"
(Not dead, only sleeping. That was a good one-- very Victorian. Jack frowned, brushing an apologetic thumb over the half-healed gash on Ianto's cheek. Who had that been?)
"Contact Doctor Martha Jones at UNIT," he ordered brusquely, aware that he was interrupting what both Gwen and the nurse were trying to say, but unable to bring himself to care. "They have access to the same preservation technologies we used in our morgue." Jack bit his lip, casting his eye about the room. Mostly enlisted men, their sergeants, and interchangeable government types. Pencil-pushers and white-wash men. The General from UNIT was over in the corner, wearily signing clipboards and talking heatedly into his cellphone. "Never mind, I'll take care of it." He shrugged Gwen's touch away and picked up Ianto's still left hand.
(It had been Alice Guppy. Not dead, only sleeping; complete with a little marble angel, head bowed in prayer. No body of course, but the coffin had been piled high with white roses. Quite the burial for a woman with no living relations, but Emily Holroyd had seen to the whole thing. Jack remembered his inelegant snort of disbelief, watching his erstwhile nemesis cross herself before the formal grave. She'd shot him for that, of course. Later.)
Ianto did not look like he was sleeping. He didn't look like he was at peace, didn't look like anything other than dead. An empty shell.
'There's your power and glory,' Jack thought, choking. His throat was raw-- any moment, he would begin screaming, or else laugh hysterically. He thought of Ianto, forever consigned to that lightless pool-- the thick, inky _nothing_ that drowned him every time Jack himself died. No signing choirs, no Sheol, or Summer Lands of Paradise. Just that darkness too black to be real, the searing cold of something so utterly oposed to life. That, and those things that lumbered beneath, hideous and obscured.
(Further back, all the way back now. Boeshane.
May his spirit never wander, and always find home.
The hot sand; the endless, bone-crushing depth of the ocean. Papa, smoothing back his hair, talking about the red cord that bound the body to the soul. Mother and Ahmah, from the In-Worlds, laughing at his superstition, while Pa just shrugged regally. That expressive, strong shoulder roll Jack had worked so long to emulate.
'What is magic, but science you don't understand?')
He held that slim, capable hand in his own, marveling over the elegant fingers, the ink stain that remained, faint, on Ianto's wrist from two mornings prior. He kissed the knuckles, each one, with delicate attention.
You're not sleeping. Are you wandering, Ianto? I wasn't watching you, I'm sorry-- I let some damn fool cut the cord. I can't stand thinking of you down there, Ianto, stuck in all that nothing. I won't tolerate it. Just stand still, love. Don't get lost.
Now a single kiss to Ianto's palm, before he carefully settled it back against the archivist's chest. He took a deep breath, one last look at that still face, and closed up the body bag before the nurse could move to do it for him.
Can you be good for me, Ianto-- my good boy? It'll be just like hide and seek. Don't go wandering, and I'll find you.
"I'll take care of this," Jack smiled, full of charm but laced with frost, as he took the nurse's clipboard and forms away. He turned and stalked towards the UNIT General; the click of Gwen's shoes as she followed sounded like a dozen Deathwatch beetles, chasing at his heels.
"-- We can still hold a funeral, of course," she said, after a moment. There was bewilderment in her tone, as if she was picking up the thread of a conversation he'd dropped. "For his family's sake. And yours." She reached for the clipboard, which he deftly held out of reach. Something flickered across her pinched and pretty features. "You know I'm here for you, Jack."
"I know." He lifted his free hand, put it briefly against her cheek. She was alive and warm and, though he could barely admit it to himself, the vivacity brought a slow burn of anger to coil up his spine. Here was Gwen; healthy, mostly unscathed, getting ready to bring a new child into the world. Gwen, who'd ducked out from under Rhys' embrace to tread unwanted on Jack's shadow. He tucked the forms safely under his arm, patted Gwen's shoulder. He made his mouth smile, and it must have seemed more genuine, because her eyes softened. After a moment, she stepped back.
She said, "Good then." As if she had won some argument, convinced him of something. Perhaps she was even foolish enough to believe it was so.
"Thank you," he mouthed, rote, and turned back towards the General. Later, he would tell himself he hadn't made the decision yet, not then, but he was already making a mental list of debts and favors owed to him. The UNIT general was tired, probably newly promoted to deal with the mess his superiors had been swept up under. Experienced, but young as men of such caliber went; as he got closer, Jack could see a faint line of sweat along the other man's firmly pressed uniform collar. He gripped the officer's hand, shook, and the smile on his face was the smile of a con-man who'd once known exactly how to slip out before Volcano Day. He put a pen in the General's hand.
It's okay, Ianto.
Ready or not, here I come.