Disclaimer: Torchwood belongs to the BBC and I've never made any money from this. There's always the hope.
Author's notes at the end of the epilogue.
28 - Return to the House of Leaves
In the Cardiff suburb of the city of South Wales stands a house like no other. Amidst the tower blocks and raised walkways, it stands out; a splash of colour amidst a grey cityscape. It is nature's last refuge within the sprawling metropolis.
Hidden from view behind tall metal walls, the gardens have grown wild once more. The fruit trees and bramble bushes still bear fruit but no one comes in to pick it anymore. Only wildlife inhabits the gardens and the island of fields that surround it. The grass has grown tall enough to obscure the headstone of a woman who had once loved the garden with all her heart and had died in the shade of an old maple tree.
The area is prime real estate and developers often seek to purchase the land. But whoever owns the plot, no amount of money has succeeded in persuading him to sell. So the house and the gardens stand apart from their surroundings, abandoned and neglected. And safe.
Situated toward the middle of the plot, the house harks back to an ancient era of human architecture. Its wooden walls and moss covered roof tiles are worlds, or millennia, apart from the sleek designs that surround it. By all reckoning the house should not have survived through the passage of time but although paint has peeled from the walls, the structure of the house remains sound.
The House of Leaves remains unchanged by time.
Now, for the first time in centuries, a figure walked with purpose towards the metal walls. The closer he got, the more hesitant his footsteps became. At a small side door, his hand hesitated over a palm scanner for a long moment, before he lay his palm flush against the screen. A series of beeps later, several locks disengaged and the door swung open on rusted hinges.
Once inside the wall, he waded through waist-high grass to reach the front porch. Steps leading up had sagged a little more since his last visit but they were sound under his travel stained boots. A ceramic plaque had once hung next to the front door proclaiming the house to be called 'Oaken Home' but he recalled wrenching it off the wall and hurling it into the garden in a fit of rage. Leaning on her cane, Rosalie Gilbert had watched him do so. Although she had retrieved the pieces, it had never been mended, never returned to its place by the door.
From there on, no plaque portrayed the false name.
Standing by the front door, he hesitated again before pulling an old fashioned key from a pocket. No matter where his travels took him, he always carried the key with him. It was the only one remaining that could open door to the House of Leaves. With a steadying breath, he turned the key in the lock and pushed open the front door, sweeping aside a mound of leaves.
As he stepped into the gloom of the hallway, it occurred to him that this homecoming was much like the first time he had met the house. Then too it had stood empty and abandoned, leaves and dust gathering in every room. This time the absence had been much longer. This time there would be no lost travellers to help, no catalogues to maintain, no future plans to be made.
Torchwood was gone and only he and his memories were left.
He opened his mind to the leaves and they welcomed him back to the house; a long lost lover returning home. The memories of his time with Ianto in the House of Leaves brought a smile to his face, one that had not made an appearance in countless lifetimes.
"Ianto, I'm home." Only the leaves heard his words and their melody changed and intensified in response, recalling days of laughter and happiness, recalling the day he had returned alone and broken with grief.
They had been happy here, together.
A thick carpet of leaves and dust covered the floors and he waded through it to the stairs leading up. As if by their own design, his feet took him all the way up to the loft room. He noticed old sensors along the way, all broken and obsolete. How long had they continued to function after his departure, he wondered, sending data to a server even though there was no one left to receive it?
In the loft room, some of the mounds reached to the beams supporting the roof. In the middle of the floor was a clearer spot, where the Rift opened to allow the entry of travellers from across time and space. How many had visited the room since that long ago day he and his team had bid farewell to their distant visitors? He struggled to remember their names and had long since forgotten their faces.
He stood in the middle of the grove of memories, surrounded by the towering mounds of leaves and spread his arms.
The rustling of the leaves intensified and they began an elaborate dance, lifted by a breeze he could not feel. They whirled around him, brushing against his hands and face, moving faster and faster. He stood at the eye of storm, unmoving and unafraid. How much time passed, he was not certain, but all of a sudden the leaves dropped like stones. Only one remained aloft, a deep red maple leaf, and it floated a graceful pattern to land on his outstretched palm.
He needed no scanner, no language database, nothing but himself to decipher the leaf. As soon as his fingers closed around its edges, a familiar voice whispered in his mind:
Jack, I don't know how and when I'll die, so let this be my last wish for you; a wish for you to be free.
Let not past loves be shackles but memories to be treasured. Don't grieve me but celebrate the time we had together, celebrate who we were and how we felt. Every single memory of us was worth making.
Always remember how much you've been loved by the people whose lives you touched, mine included. Never be too busy to remember that you loved in return.
I don't expect you to remember me long after I've gone, but if you grant me this wish, then a part of me will be with you, always holding you aloft.
When you're too weary to go on, come and find me. I'm here. Waiting to remind you of the love that was yours.
The voice in his mind faded away but the leaves continued their whispering all around him. With deliberate slowness, he tilted his palm until the maple leaf slipped away and floated to rest on the nearest mound of leaves. It was tempting to try to keep it, to try to take it away from the House of Leaves, if only to hear Ianto's voice again. But the leaf belonged here,with the other memories. It would remain there until the end of planet Earth. He could always find it again.
One day, he would do just that.
There was only one task left for him and he opened his mind to the grove. As he did so, he recalled an unspoken commitment made outside the house on a beautiful autumn day, remembered a promise made to a lover dying in his arms. He had wondered many times what to say, when he had lain in the belly of a spaceship travelling through the cold voids between stars. The words had never felt right, had never conveyed all that he wanted to say. But now, here in the House of Leaves, he knew the words at last.
As he spoke, he felt the gathering of power around him. A bloom of Rift erupted in a flash of reds, golds and greens, and a new leaf came into existence. He wondered if anyone would ever decipher its content, if they could ever appreciate how rich he had once been, when he had loved and been loved in return. Was there a way, through the mysterious ways of the Rift, for his message to reach Ianto, alive many millennia ago?
He cast a final look around him, committing the room to memory anew. One day he would return, but that was an unknown for the future. There was still more for him to do, more the universe had to offer. And he was ready.
There was new determination in his steps as he walked out. A man once called Jack Harkness would honour a last, dying wish.
And there it is, all done.
I want to thank you all for your patience throughout all the years it's taken me to write this story, and I especially want to thank everyone who have posted reviews along the way. I was glad to know people still enjoyed the story, still read it. A special thanks goes to Alice Carter for her considered, delightful reviews.
With this story I wanted to try my hand at a mystery, preferably one that fitted into the canon (well, mostly). But it was the House of Leaves that dictated the tone of it. And so it became a warm gentle daydream on a sunny afternoon, which upon waking had really happened. Perhaps it did. Perhaps somewhere in the Torchwood Archives is a file for Alexander Hills, which has been closed with a copy of his death certificate and the Land Registry forms transferring the Oaken Home to Jack Harkness. If that's the case, the memories will endure far beyond the Hub and Torchwood.
The House of Leaves is also my farewell to Torchwood fanfiction. Writing original fiction has drawn me away and my dream of becoming a published author is what I'm focusing my energies on. Should you ever come across a scifi novel that begins at the House of Leaves or a paranormal detective story with a grove of memories, know that you read it first here. And whatever happens, this is where I learned to write.
As for the man who taught me to write… Darcy58 is my beta, my editor, my first reader and most important of all, a dear friend. This was always all for you, written with my gratitude and my deepest affection. Regardless of everything that happened along the way, I wrote this story for you.