Spoilers for Torchwood up to episode 1.10 'Out of Time'. This fic was originally a fic written for twwotdfic's prompt 'ossify', but it became something entirely different on the way. Thanks to my lovely beta xwingace, I don't know what I would do without her.
Facing down Daleks with projectile weapons wasn't his best plan ever, Jack thought when he ran out of ammo, his still unscratched enemies closing in. He hoped his death would make a difference.
He had never been so wrong before.
---"It doesn't hurt", he whispers when Gwen touches his forehead where, just a moment ago, a bullet smashed through his skull. She nods, gripping his hand instead, satisfied with his answer. He's always been so good at lying.
Jack learned two things about death very early after Satellite 5. One was that dying was painful. The other was that dying twice was almost unbearable. Waking from a deadly wound was definitely an improvement to staying dead (at least that's what he told himself on his good days), yet living through the pain of being killed twice was worse than any religion's hell.
He would wake to the same pain that had him lose his grip on life and consciousness just minutes before, feeling death sneak from his body like an unwanted guest and leaving a mess behind. Like a recording played backwards by fate, the pain would soon follow, but until then he had to live through it all over again.
It felt like that first memory after being shot by a Dalek, time bending and flickering around his dead form and reversing everything ever done to his body. Bringing life. Sometimes he wasn't even sure it was still life that made him tick.
It was the last of the reasons he still looked for the Doctor, the only one he could still focus on. A Time Lord might to be able to explain it, might even be powerful enough to convince Time herself to stop torturing him.
It wasn't his best plan, but it wasn't his worst. And for a time, he clung to it as if it was the only thing that kept him alive.
---His team laughs as he is telling the story of Miller running unprepared into an Emsa'thrilan Goo Nest. He doesn't mention that this was nearly 3000 years in their future and almost 150 years in his past, editing his commander's sonic blaster into a 21st century gun.
He flashes a very well practised smile, "I tell you, I saw my entire life flash by when he ran out of ammo!"
In death, there was no memory. Nothing. Just shadows of memories, flickers of dreams long forgotten. Sometimes something stirred in the dark, something big and even blacker than death.
Jack could tell it was waiting for its time even before Suzie told him so. But not once during or after his many deaths had there been a chance to take a look back at his life, the choices he made that had brought him staring at the wrong end of a gun (again). The hole where two years' worth of memories should be rushing back with his final breath never let go of its secrets.
Death never gave him any answers, he was disappointed to find out.
Instead the coldness crept into his fingertips, and the stiffness of death mingled with the uncertainty of what he might have forgotten forever made him resurface and gulp in air as fast as he could.
The taste death left in his brain was even more irritating than the question of whether he left the coffee machine on this morning.
---"I can sleep when I'm dead," he smiles, ignoring Ianto's raised eyebrow, taking his midnight coffee off the tray.
He didn't miss death as much as he missed sleep.
He'd never had any problems with sleeping; back in his days as an Agent he could sleep through an entire battle campaign and three paradox implosions if no one woke him. Now sleep avoided him like death did.
Dying only made it worse, making
his body ache with the sense of something unnatural happening and
letting it hum with the strain of stolen rest.
Without sleep his muscles had long been one tight knot, and only long hours of jogging through the Hub and other training left him with a similar enough feeling to sit down and feel rested. Well, at least as soon as the pain from the screaming muscles were gone.
He pushed himself farther every night, exploring that barrier of exertion just one step in front of him. Ianto had eyed him with concern more than once, but after Lisa no one was there to care anymore.
He collapsed in the small room he'd claimed as his, exhausted from training, closing his eyes to pretend to rest for the remaining hours of the night. Yet the darkness of his eyelids wasn't as comforting as it used to be. Instead of sleep and dreams his brain sifted through his memories, people he met, conversations he had decades ago.
They haunted him better than any nightmares could.
---"Have you ever loved someone that much?" Ianto asks, staring at him, daring him to lose control. Jack has no answer.
He'd often wondered what he would do to the Doctor should he ever find him.
His first answer had been to give him a puppy dog look for leaving him behind, demanding a Welcome Back Kiss.
That idea had died with him on the Game Station. Several times.
had mutated into giving the bastard a good beating, but desperation
had changed it into demanding answers, pleading for treatment. Later,
in his darker hours, he had imagined taking this by force.
Oh Jack just knew he could break even a Time Lord with the knowledge he had acquired about interrogation. That had been 50 years ago.
Nowadays he wasn't sure what to do, the pain, anger and curiosity muted and faded like the old photographs he still kept of Estelle.
He was so tired.
How would he react to that blue police box materializing in front of him? He'd thought of so many plans, he didn't know which one to choose anymore.
---"When she had hold of you I thought for a second that you could die after all." Her voice is betraying her, revealing how scared she was with that slight tremor. Scared for him.
"Want to know a secret?" She nods. "So did I. And for a second there I felt so alive."
It took weeks for his split lip to heal, every wrong movement reminding him of Ianto's fist on his face. It healed, eventually, like any normal person's wounds would. For reasons Jack didn't fully understand, that scared him even more than dying used to.
Being deleted twice had obviously cost him.
Lisa's first attempt had left him with ears ringing and his body twitching with electricity, nothing out of the ordinary, but her second grip had horrified him. His last thought was that maybe this was it, that this was the final death, just as useless as his first. Protecting someone who didn't need his sacrifice.
Then he surfaced once more, body alight with pain, alone, a deadly threat still so near. This was exactly like Satellite 5. And for the first time in decades that meant something. He let his old rage take over, only lowering his gun when Ianto held the bloodied body of his girlfriend.
He never knew that death could still terrify him that much. He thought he had left the fear behind with the stupid plans to save all the people he cared for.
---After Lisa, he sits in his office, 'brooding', as Gwen calls it. She stays with him, talking that compassionate crap she's so good at. Jack has the feeling she's only here with him because he isn't ignoring her babbling like Ianto obviously does. When she asks what he'll do with the Welshman Jack gently shoves her out of his office, muttering "Time heals all wounds".
That convinces her enough to go home, away from this madness others call a job. He blinks at the door closing behind her. He's always surprised when people believe in what he says.
Old scars itched, and deaths were no different.
Not that his present state allowed for
permanent marks on his skin, but every now and then a word or a
gesture would take him back miles and centuries, into a police box or
back onto a dead Game Station.
He remembered so much pain, the physical wrongs done to his body not the worst he could think of (although tearing one's heart into pieces was even more painful when it happened literally, as he found out).
So he looked for ways to heal.
Immortality obviously didn't just come with a
death wish, but also with a hunger for life. It was another of his
not-so-brilliant-plans, but at least it kept him busy.
He had tried alcohol, but the 21st century wasn't exactly the right place to be to get smashed, the cure for hangovers not yet found and the alcoholic content of most drinks laughable.
He turned back to his old friends seduction and sex then, knowing very well the second one would bless him with precious seconds of oblivion. Nowadays this was all he could hope for. The touch of hands on skin, the feeling of breath against his neck, the taste of arousal in his mouth, and for a moment his world would be whole.
It wasn't redemption, it wasn't healing, and it made nothing better, but Gods it felt so good to be alive for a moment.
"Ianto, could you come up here for a second?"
---He takes another sip from the Emergency Whiskey he keeps in his office. His coat is still reeking of carbon monoxide, but fortunately he is the only one able smell it. His hands are still shaking from the shock of oxygen starvation, but he's still here. It's all he has left.
"I don't want to die," he retorts, but Ianto's silence tells him the Welshman doesn't believe him. They never talk about it again.
He stares, eyes wide, like a deer caught in headlights into the darkness of the night.
That familiar slightly unearthly sound mingles with the cold night air, dancing around him, mocking him, making his breathing quicken. Soon enough, he knows, the police box fitting to that sound will appear exactly where it stood before, in happier days, so long ago. It's the Doctor, finally coming back to Cardiff, to refuel, to mock the stupid apes, to hug Rose and grin that silly smile of his.
If Rose was still alive. If this wasn't another drug-induced hallucination, if this wasn't the beginning of a terrible paradox or the mind game of some bored telepathic alien. So many ifs it makes him dizzy.
And for the first time in more than a hundred years, Jack doesn't know what to do.
He grabs his gun, purely out of habit, and for the first time he has no plan.