A/N: Fifth of six. No spoilers.
5th January 1968, Brecon Beacons, Wales.
"One day, you're going to learn to duck." Hugh pulled the tourniquet tighter, making Jack wince.
"Watch it. And if I'd ducked, he'd have shot me in the head rather than the shoulder and the leg." Jack considered this for a moment, then added, "Although, that might have been easier all round."
"For you." Hugh finished tying the knot and sat back a little to examine his handiwork while pressing his handkerchief to the wound in Jack's shoulder. "You're not the one who has to lug your corpse around for a few hours."
"Last time was barely ten minutes and you know it." Jack put his head back against the wall. "It's getting faster."
"I know." Hugh dropped down next to him, wiping the sweat from his forehead. "How much longer do you think?"
"Before we're found? By Torchwood or the other guys?"
Jack shrugged, then pulled a face as his shoulder reminded him why that was a bad idea. The bullets had passed straight through at both points, missing the bones, but that was just about the only good thing in the whole damn situation.
"Depends on our luck."
"Comforting." Hugh dug in a pocket and produced a small flask which he held out to Jack, who shook his head. "It's water," Hugh told him.
Jack shook his head again. "I know."
Hugh smiled and soon they were both laughing, at the ridiculous situation, their own bad luck, and because they knew it might be the last chance they got. When they could breathe again, Jack slung his good arm around Hugh's shoulders.
"We're going to get out of this."
"I know." Hugh looked up at him, not trying to remove the arm that tightened around him. "As soon as you tell me how."
"I'll think of something." Jack let go and closed his eyes, replaying every wretched minute of the last three hours, trying to spot anything that could help them.
They were currently leaning against a low wall, sheltered from the howling wind and at least some of the rain. The bleak countryside offered little other shelter, so making a break for it was out of the question, even if Jack hadn't been leaking like a colander.
"Do we even know who they are?" Hugh asked, pulling out his gun and counting his remaining ammunition.
"I've heard the language before. I suppose you'd call them space pirates. They're kidnappers and looters, looking for easy targets." Jack shifted a little, grimacing as the movement sent a fresh wave of pain through his body. "They probably use this place as a base to strike other towns and villages around here. No-one's lived here for years."
"Aren't bullets a bit low-tech for space pirates?" Hugh asked, finishing loading his gun and holstering it again.
"Maybe they're trying to blend in. We've been able to track energy weapons for years, but we've only had the transmat scanner for a few months."
"When I get back to base, I'm going to smash the bloody thing into a million pieces."
"No," Jack said firmly, "get Experimentation to send you some of their latest explosives. Much more efficient and they can use the results."
Hugh laughed again, grimly this time. Crouching, he turned to look over the wall.
"I can't see anyone."
"We didn't see them last time, remember?" Jack looked up at his friend. "Hugh,"
"No." Hugh didn't look at him, just continued to scan the countryside.
"I promised Marion I'd get you home in one piece."
"We're both going home in one piece." Hugh's voice was firm and Jack closed his eyes. There was no point arguing when Hugh used that tone. Time to try gentle persuasion. "It'll be dark soon," he said, opening his eyes again and squinting at the glowering sky.
"Might be better to sit the night out here," Hugh speculated.
"They've got better mobility than us, better technology and none of them has been injured. I don't think the cover of night is going to give us any advantage at all, do you?"
"No." Hugh sank down again, looking at Jack. "But do you have any better ideas?"
"Yes. You go get the car and come back for me."
"And if you're not here when I get back?" Holding up a hand to stall Jack's objections, Hugh went on, "You said yourself, they're kidnappers. I'd say a member of Torchwood would be worth a fairly high ransom, and you'll be a sitting duck."
"That depends how you leave me." Jack held Hugh's puzzled look for a long moment, until it turned to understanding then repulsion.
"It's my best chance. And you know it."
Hugh was silent for a long time. He wouldn't meet Jack's eye, examining the sky, the ground and the wall as he thought. Unfortunately, Jack had already thought this one through several times. They were miles from where they'd started, and from the car. Even if Torchwood managed to get the general area right, it might be days before they were found. They couldn't evade the pursuers for that long. The bullets might have missed the bone this time, but Jack couldn't be sure that he was going to heal properly unless he got medical attention. His best chance was to force his body to heal itself completely, and there was only one way to do that.
Five minutes passed, and still Hugh didn't speak or look at Jack. The sky was getting darker by the minute, and they needed to do something soon, or neither of them were going to make it out of there. Struggling to sit upright, Jack fished under his coat for his knife.
"What are you doing?" Hugh asked.
"Well, if you're not going to help me," Jack put the point of the knife against the bandage on his leg, carefully cutting through it, "I've heard that bleeding to death isn't too painful. And it'll give you time to get to the car and get back again before I'm back."
"Jack, there are other options."
"If they find a dead body, they're not going to be interested. It's not worth anything to them. If they find live bodies, they're either going to make them dead or take them away. It's that simple and there's nothing we can do about it." Jack gasped a little as he pulled the tourniquet all the way off, feeling the wound underneath his thigh reopen. He'd forgotten how much it had hurt in the first place.
"I can't." Hugh hung his head. "I'm sorry, Jack, but I can't."
"I know." Jack put a hand behind Hugh's head, pulling him forwards towards his good shoulder. "Don't be sorry." He bit his lip as Hugh fell against him in a clumsy, painful embrace. Then he let go, pushing Hugh away so they could see each other again. "Go get the car and come back for me."
Hugh nodded, eyes lowered and dark. "You'd better still be here."
"I'll try. Here, they're not going to get anything useful." Jack undid his belt, sitting up so he could get it off, complete with its holster and various pouches. Then, with a little help from Hugh, he pulled his coat off, shivering in the cold. He offered both belt and coat to Hugh, who took them with a nod. Jack patted the trouser pocket he could reach and Hugh checked the other one before gently undoing the wristband and wrapping round his own arm. "I'll hang onto this," Jack said, holding up the knife. "Just in case."
"Alright." Hugh still didn't move; he crouched over Jack, eyes darting round as though he expected the enemy to come at any moment. Which he probably did. Jack gave him a shove that toppled him over and sent a stab of pain through Jack's shoulder.
"Get out of here. Go. The sooner you do, the sooner you'll be back." Jack gave him a weak smile. "See you in hell."
Nodding, Hugh got carefully to his feet and began to move to the end of the wall. With a final, torn look at Jack, he pulled his gun and ran to the cover of the next abandoned house. Then he was gone.
Jack took a deep breath, listening to the wind in the grass and the driving rain. What he didn't hear was a gunshot, which he took to be a good thing. The world was getting quieter now, and he was shivering violently. He realised, somewhat vaguely, that his body was going into shock from the injuries and the cold. It was hard to remember, right at that moment, why this had been a good idea. Carefully, he lay down on the muddy grass, curling up as best he could, although the movement sent warm blood flowing over his leg and chest again. Closing his eyes, he tried to pull away from the physical, to apply the distancing exercises that he'd learned so long ago.
Marion Jones' face drifted into his vision, worried eyes imploring him to bring her husband back safely. They'd been at Torchwood Three for barely two months, and Jack's visit was just supposed to be routine. How had she known it was going to go so wrong? He'd have to remember to trust her instincts in future. Assuming there was a future.
He opened one eye enough to see that it was almost fully dark now. The nights came up quickly out here, but he guessed he'd been out of it for an hour or so. Give Hugh an hour and a half to get back to the car, if he didn't get lost. That wasn't right. Hugh never got lost.
Jack drifted again, and the part of him that never drifted told him that this was the kind of shock you didn't recover from. That had been the idea, of course. But he still couldn't remember why, even as the blackness at the edges of his vision was gradually suffused with light.
He woke with a gasp, as ever, and the knowledge that he had, officially, the worst timing in the galaxy. The man who had been leaning over him jumped back with a cry and swearing in the language Jack had heard earlier on. Then there were other shouts and lights in the darkness as the man's friends came to join him. Jack tried to get up, hampered by the pain that still ran through his shoulder and leg. He eventually managed to struggle to his feet, knife in hand, but by that time the first man had a gun pointed in his direction and his friends were nearly on them. Thin beams of light from their torches ran up and down Jack's body, while one settled on his face, making him blink against the glare.
"Drop the knife," someone said, in heavily accented English.
Jack obeyed, holding his hands away from his body and trying not to show how badly his shoulder and leg ached. He thought it was probably as much from the cold as anything else. The small gang began discussing in their native tongue, of which Jack only knew a few words. It was enough to know that the discussion did not promise good things for him. Where the hell was Hugh?
"Don't worry about me," Jack said, in as cheery a voice as he could manage, "I'll be just fine here. My friends will be along soon."
"No-one is coming for you," the same voice said again, and Jack felt a stab of worry. The discussion went on, and he heard the word for 'kill' at least three times. That was three times too many as far as he was concerned. Once was enough for one night.
"Look, if you guys come anywhere near a decision, could you let me know? I'm freezing here."
The discussion came to an abrupt stop and someone laughed. It was not a pleasant sound.
"You are alone, out here, in the middle of the night and you're trying to give orders?" The speaker took a step forwards. "Who are you?"
"What matters is that I found you," Jack said, with more bravado than he felt. "Earth can track transmats now, and every time you or your friends come down here, we're going to find you and send you back where you came from."
There was a whispered discussion, cut short by a bark from the man that Jack had come to think of as the spokesman for the group.
"You will tell us how you tracked us."
The spokesman raised his gun, and Jack could see that it wasn't an Earth weapon. In the dim light he couldn't make out exactly what it was.
"Tell us." The man fired, and Jack realised it was a variation on the Breil stun-pistol. The bolt of energy hit him in the middle of the chest, sending shocks through his whole body and throwing him to the ground. The pain was bad, but not nearly as bad as he knew it could get. The spokesman stepped forwards again, standing over him.
"Tell us how we were tracked." He raised the gun and smiled as Jack flinched. "You know these weapons, don't you? You know what they can do." He fired again, and Jack heard someone scream. It might have been him, but every nerve was too busy twitching with pain for him to tell. The ground beneath him was cool and wet, and he pressed his face into it, trying to ease some of the pain in his head. He needed to be able to think.
"If you tell us now, I'll end this. If not, we'll finish it on our ship. My first mate tells me you came back from the dead. Let's see how many times you can do that trick." He fired again.
Jack realised he must have passed out, because he came to screaming again. His throat was raw and every muscle was shaking from pain and shock. There was a rushing noise in his ears and, at first, he wondered if he'd burst an eardrum. Then the noise got louder, resolving itself from a general echo across the landscape to the roar of an engine nearby. The whole scene was suddenly flooded with light, and Jack laughed weakly as the Land Rover came bumping through the village, heading with unstoppable speed towards the small group of men. Two of them grabbed at their belts and disappeared, transporting themselves back to their ship and out of harm's way. One wasn't fast enough and was thrown aside like a rag doll as Hugh burst through the ruined village.
The man who had shot Jack began shouting orders to the remaining men, even as Hugh swung the car around for another pass. Taking a deep breath, Jack forced his protesting arm to reach out and grab the knife that he'd dropped earlier. He shouted one of the few words he knew in the man's native language and it wasn't a compliment. As the man turned back to him, Jack rose, knife in hand, stabbing upwards. They leaned against each other for a long moment, then Jack staggered backwards, letting the pirate fall to the ground. He turned and looked at the remaining crew members, his hand dripping blood and still twitching from the after-effects of the stun pistol.
Hugh had got the car under control and was speeding back towards them now. The noise, the lights and Jack's steady stare seemed to be enough to unnerve them and they both vanished into thin air. Only then did Jack let himself sink back down next to the man he'd killed. His legs were still trembling, as were his hands, although it was now impossible to tell whether it was from the blaster, the cold or simple shock.
He didn't move as Hugh pulled up, jumped out of the car and came running over.
The worry in Hugh's voice made him lift his head, although it was a struggle to keep it still enough to see. His vision seemed to be shaking as badly as his body.
Hugh was muttering in Welsh, something Jack had noticed him doing more since he'd been back in his native land. Within a few minutes, Hugh had pulled the bodies of the two dead pirates into the shelter of the wall, wrapped Jack in his coat and a blanket and got him to lie down in the back of the car. Then, much more carefully than he'd arrived, he drove back towards civilisation. Jack was unconscious before they reached the road.
Three hours later, he woke up on the sofa in the Jones' small sitting room. Hugh was sitting in the armchair, ostensibly reading the newspaper, and Jack could hear someone moving about in the kitchen. Jack lay still, watching his friend pretending to scan the headlines. Neither of them spoke.
They were still sitting in silence when Marion came through from the kitchen.
"Jack!" she exclaimed, coming over and perching on the edge of the sofa next to him. "How are you feeling?" She put a hand to his forehead, brushing the hair away from his eyes.
"Much better since you started doing that," Jack told her, turning his face into her hand.
"He's fine," Hugh said, still not looking up from the newspaper. Marion laughed, ruffling Jack's hair and standing up again.
"Can I get you anything?" she asked. "Tea? Coffee?"
"A cup of your coffee is worth coming back from the dead for," Jack said, making Marion laugh again. Hugh snorted and turned the page.
When Marion was gone, Jack sat up carefully, still feeling a residual trembling in his hands. He looked over at Hugh.
"Thanks," he said, quietly.
Hugh harrumphed, folding the newspaper and dropping it to the floor. "Got lost in the dark, didn't I? Sorry it took so long."
"Your timing, as ever, was impeccable," Jack told him.
"I take it you, er,"
"Er is about right." Jack stretched his shoulders. "I'm still not quite right but I'll get there. It's what they pay me for."
Hugh shook his head. "It's also why they refuse to pay you danger money. You'd bankrupt them within a week."
Jack laughed, and Marion, coming in with a tray of coffee and biscuits, gave both men a curious look. Hugh didn't even smile. He watched as Marion set the tray down, poured them all coffee and passed Jack his cup, along with a few biscuits. Jack took the cup with a murmur of thanks, then set it down quickly as it began to rattle in its saucer. Instead, he helped himself to more biscuits and settled back to eat. He thought that Hugh was going to send Marion off to bed, but she settled herself on the floor at his feet and they both watched as he devoured the biscuits.
"If I didn't know better," he said after a while, "I'd think you were mad at me."
Hugh put a hand on Marion's shoulder, gripping her tightly. At first, Jack thought it was for her sake, then he realised from the whiteness of his knuckles, that it was for Hugh's. Slowly, he said, "If it had been anyone else tonight Jack-"
"If it had been anyone else," Hugh said sharply, looking into Jack's eyes, "they'd be dead. We'd both have been dead."
"Are you blaming me for not dying? You know I can't help that." Jack's smile faded at the look on Hugh and Marion's faces.
"You asked me to kill you."
"I know." Jack looked away. "I'm sorry."
"You do it so casually, Jack, but what if you're wrong? What if one day, they kill you so badly that you don't wake up again? What if you use up the last of however many lives it is that you've got in there?"
"Then I'll die," Jack said softly.
Hugh shook his head. "That matters, Jack. To most people, that really matters."
"Not to me. Look at us, Hugh." Jack got to his feet. There was no space in the small room for him to pace but he couldn't sit still anymore. "You used to be younger than me but you've got older. I haven't, and as far as I can tell I never will. No matter what I do, how hard I try, I'm always stuck here while time passes. Harding's retired, they're going to make Jock go soon, and it's not just them. Hywel was born the year we met and soon he'll be a grown man."
Hugh also got to his feet, coming round the coffee table to face him. "Things change, Jack," he said. "It's what happens. They move on."
"They don't for me." Jack put a hand on his friend's shoulder, trying to make him understand. "I'm waiting for something that's years ahead, if it's ever going to come. Nothing to do but sit here and watch and wait and try to pass the time without going mad. I've watched you age, watched Hywel grow up and I'm going to be doing that with your grandson, and his grandson, and all their children for all the years to come. Can you imagine that, what that's like, Hugh? Can you?" Jack realised he was shaking the smaller man, and he let go, taking a step backwards.
"Did it ever occur to you that maybe I want you to see him grow up, Jack?" Hugh asked gently, reaching out and clasping Jack's arm. "That maybe I want you to be there for my grandson, and his son, and all those Joneses for years to come? Because I do. I want them to know you, work with you, drink with you, laugh with you." As Jack began to smile, the corners of Hugh's mouth twitched and he wagged a finger under Jack's nose. "You'd better look after them, like I've looked after you. You owe me that much. And I'm warning you, if you break any of their hearts, I'll come back and haunt you. You just see if I don't."
Jack laughed, freely and easily for the first time since Hugh had left London to come and work in Cardiff. He pulled him into a tight hug, feeling arms going round him and gripping even tighter.
"I promise," Jack whispered, pressing his face into Hugh's hair. "I promise." There was a touch on his arm and he looked down into Marion's shining, dark eyes. He let go of Hugh with one arm, pulling Marion into the embrace and suddenly all three of them were laughing and crying at the same time. When the flood subsided, Jack let go, stepping back and brushing at his face. His hands were still shaking. Marion took one of them, gently leading him back to the couch and pushing him down into it. Then she picked up his coffee cup.
"You'd come back for this, you said." Her eyes were shining still with something Jack couldn't quite place. "Is that all you came back for? Really?"
Jack looked away from her, down at his shaking hands, then up at Hugh. He smiled.
"It'll do for a start."