A/N: No, I haven't disappeared off the face of the Earth. I only wish. Seriously, circumstances have conspired to keep me from both working on and updating this particular story (and every other story I have on the go at the moment). I had planned to post this chapter before Christmas, but I had disc malfunctions. Don't ask.
Here is the new chapter now, and I will have a new chapter of "Another World" up soon as well, thanks to the help of a fellow fic writer. In the meantime, enjoy...
ps, much Jack/Ianto slashiness in this chapter, and I had a LOT of fun writing it.
It was a curious experience for Jack, to be the one leading the way for a change while the Doctor appeared to simply be tagging along. Although, Jack knew well enough that that was a fallacy. The Doctor had never merely 'tagged along' anywhere, at any time, and Jack knew that he was being carefully observed to see how he dealt with this situation. It was an unnerving experience, he thought ruefully; like being the new star recruit to the Time Agency, with his superiors and co-recruits all watching him, just waiting for him to screw up.
They headed back to the Hub to gear up, and Jack couldn't help but notice the way the Doctor stood back and observed with a critical gaze. It was only when Jack collected a fresh round of ammunition for his Webley, though, that the Doctor spoke disapprovingly.
"For someone who used to be so proud of his sonic blaster, I'm not sure whether that thing is a step up or a step down."
Jack paused, eyeing his gun and then raising an eyebrow in the Doctor's direction.
"Well, since you accidentally left my blaster behind on Cyrus 12 right as it was about to get sucked into a black hole, and I can't get another one anytime soon, I had to find an alternative."
"So you picked something that was actually designed to kill," came the scathing remark. Jack shrugged unapologetically.
"I like the Webley. It has character."
The Doctor snorted derisively.
"Character. Guns don't have character, Jack. We're going to have a little chat about this weapons fetish of yours before I go."
Jack only smirked, and holstered the gun. It sat comfortably on his hip, and he knew that no matter what the Doctor said, he would never give up his precious Webley.
"Tosh, have you got a location?" he asked, striding over to where she sat at her computer. It felt good to finally have something to focus on; something to distract him, however briefly, from the awful memories that were never far from the surface of his mind. He suspected that his team were guessing something similar, from the way they were enthusiastically going about their individual tasks, as though for just a short while they could shut out a different, bleaker reality.
Tosh nodded in answer, shifting a little so that he could see the monitor clearly. She hated having anyone looking over her shoulder, but just this once she didn't mind making an exception… providing Jack didn't make a habit of it.
"Yes. It appears to be in central Cardiff. It doesn't seem to be on the move at the moment."
Jack slapped his palms together.
"Okay. Let's go catch ourselves a weevil."
Tosh volunteered to remain at the Hub, clearing the way for Ianto to go with them, but Jack only laughed and took the liberty of shifting some unnecessary pieces of equipment out of the SUV, making room for a sixth person to travel with them.
Ianto tried to offer the front passenger seat to the Doctor, but he declined, instead clambering into the very back of the SUV like an over-exuberant schoolboy. The others appeared bemused, but Jack knew instantly why the Doctor had chosen that particular vantage point in the vehicle. The Time Lord wasn't just observing Jack – he was observing the whole team.
Jack drove, and for a brief while it seemed like old times, back before the Master… before Abaddon… before all of it. He floored the accelerator, relishing the squeal of the brakes, and the way that all passengers had to hang on for dear life to avoid being thrown against each other as he took corners at breakneck speed.
"Blimey, Jack," the Doctor burst out as the SUV finally screeched to a halt in a relatively quiet corner of city. "Exactly where did you learn to drive again?"
"We keep asking him that exact same question," Owen remarked as they piled out of the SUV. "And he keeps ignoring us."
The Doctor lifted an eyebrow at Jack as he straightened his coat.
"And to think I let you help me fly the Tardis…"
"I've never crashed yet," Jack said with absolute confidence.
"First time for everything," the Doctor muttered. Grinning, Jack looked back at Tosh.
"Has it moved?"
Tosh looked up at Jack slowly, and for the first time he spotted a hint of worry in her eyes.
"No, it hasn't moved at all. According to the readings, it's approximately seventy-five metres in that direction… Just around the corner, at a point where three back alleys intersect. I don't like this, Jack. Weevils never stay stationary for this long. It's unnatural for them."
The look on Jack's face suggested he was thinking much the same thing, but he chose not to voice those concerns right then.
"Okay, let's split up. There are three different ways in, there are six of us. Gwen, you and the Doctor take the east side, Owen, you and Tosh take the north side, and Ianto and I will cover the west side. Keep your earpieces on, people, and be careful. Let's move."
He was off and running, with Ianto close behind almost before the others even realised it.
"Like he said," the Doctor said with a glint in his eyes, "let's move, shall we?"
"I would have thought you'd keep the Doctor with you," Ianto said breathlessly as he lengthened his strides to keep up with Jack.
Jack smiled faintly as he slowed to a walk at the west end entrance to the alleys.
"I have to let him go some time," he said quietly as they walked into the shadowy alley together. "I know that. You, on the other hand…"
Ianto grunted as he suddenly found himself flattened against a wall, with Jack's body pressing hard against his own.
"Jack, what are you…?"
"You I have no intention of ever letting go," Jack murmured, and promptly put an end to any protests Ianto might have made by sealing his mouth firmly across the Welshman's.
Beyond the undeniable pleasure Ianto felt at the realisation that Jack was consciously choosing him over the Doctor, he could sense something else, something much deeper and darker. There was a real desperation in that kiss, an unspoken plea for help. Ianto responded in the only way he knew how; he clutched at Jack's arms and returned the kiss with fervour, trying to convey his own love, loyalty and support through the physical embrace.
When Jack finally broke off the kiss and moved back a little, Ianto was quietly relieved to see that the raw despair had faded just a little, to a bearable level. Maybe, Ianto mused as they began to move again towards their target, just maybe there was some hope to be found after all.
"You never answered our question," Gwen said flatly once they were out of earshot of everyone. She took care to adjust her earpiece before speaking, so that anything said now wouldn't be overheard, and potentially misunderstood. The Doctor glanced at her with an unnerving curiosity as they trotted along the alley.
"Really? What question was that, then?"
"Ianto asked how Jack came to be separated from you. You never answered him."
"Neither did Jack," the Doctor pointed out. Gwen, however, would not be deflected.
"Ianto asked you."
The Doctor looked away, and Gwen knew he had no intention of answering. Fine, she decided. Time to put her own skills to use.
"When I first met Jack, he talked about finding a doctor. The right kind of doctor, he said, who could help him to figure things out. Obviously he was talking about you."
"Was he?" the Doctor asked vaguely. Gwen ignored what she now knew was purely an act to put her off.
"He used to travel with you… but when I joined, he was trying to find you… to get answers about why he couldn't die…"
Gwen slowed to a halt as the pieces fell into place inside her own mind.
"You left him behind."
The Doctor stopped a few paces ahead, not turning around to face her. Gwen, however, knew she was right without having to look at his expression.
"I'm right, aren't I? You abandoned him on that satellite! You abandoned Jack!"
Slowly, the Doctor turned to face her. Any signs of levity were gone now, and Gwen found herself wanting to run and hide from the depths that she could suddenly see in his brown eyes.
"Yes," the Doctor admitted quietly. "I ran away from him. After Rose did what she did to him, I couldn't get away from him fast enough. Is that what you wanted to hear, Gwen Cooper?"
"How could you?" Gwen choked out, tears filling her eyes as she tried with little success to imagine how devastating it must have been for Jack to be abandoned like that. "All that crap about how much you care about him, what was that? Just a show? Just a game?"
"No," the Doctor replied soberly. "It wasn't a game. I do care about Jack. I care about him a lot… more than I ever thought I could, and it nearly broke my hearts to run away from him like that, but I didn't have a choice."
Gwen started to argue, but she was silenced when the Doctor suddenly strode towards her and clamped his hand firmly over her mouth.
"Stop it. Just stop it. What happened on that satellite is between me and Jack, and we've worked through it. I avoided Ianto's question because I don't need to be going over something that we've already resolved, and neither does Jack. Yes, I did abandon him, and I can't change that… even with a time machine, I can't change it. Jack knows it, and he's accepted it. I think it's time the rest of you did as well."
Gwen pulled roughly out of his grip, her expression hard and angry.
"The worst thing that could ever happen to a person is to be left behind by the people who are supposed to love them and take care of them, and that's exactly what you did to Jack. How are we supposed to accept that?"
Incredibly, a small smile touched the Doctor's lips.
"I can see why he thinks so much of you, Gwen Cooper. Just as pig-headed as he is."
Chuckling, he turned and strolled off up the alley. Gwen watched him go in frustration before shaking her head and hurrying after him.
Owen and Tosh were already on the scene when Jack, Ianto, Gwen and the Doctor arrived.
"Nice of you lot to turn up," Owen said dryly. "Tosh and I were starting to think we'd have to have the party on our own."
Jack approached slowly, his gaze fixed on the sight at Owen's feet, feeling his stomach start to roll ominously.
"Well," Ianto stated uncomfortably after a long silence, "we found the weevil."
Their target lay on the ground at Owen's feet, battered, bloody and an almost unrecognisable mess, even for a weevil.
"Is it…?" Jack started to ask.
"Dead?" Owen queried. "Very. Can't say for sure how long it's been dead for. Definitely couldn't give you a cause of death yet."
Jack glanced around as the Doctor came to stand beside him, his very posture radiating a familiar fury as he stared at the creature's abused body.
"We need to find out what did this to it, Jack," he said softly. Jack nodded in agreement.
"We will. We'll find them, and deal with them. I promise."
The trip back to the Hub was made in silence. Owen and the Doctor crowded into the back of the vehicle with the weevil's body, each one observing the creature's body in silence. Upon arrival back at the Hub, they carried the weevil into the medical area, where Owen immediately began to set up for the autopsy.
"Mind if I stay?" the Doctor queried, speaking in a tone that suggested he intended to stay whether Owen minded or not. Owen, however, shook his head.
"Not at all, Doctor. Had much experience with weevils?"
"None at all," the Doctor answered, circling the body with a thoughtful gaze. "I'm a fast learner, though."
"Yeah, I'll bet you are." His gaze went up to where Jack, Ianto, Tosh and Gwen were standing. "And in the meantime, the rest of you can just bugger off. Jack, I'll call you when I have something to tell you."
Jack chuckled, although it was a forced sound.
"Okay. C'mon, people. Paperwork time."
The sounds of groaning were lost on both Owen and the Doctor, who were both already engrossed in the task before them. It was only once Jack was well out of earshot, though, that the Doctor spoke up in a much more sombre tone.
"Well, Dr Harper, what do you think?"
Owen looked up grimly.
"I didn't want to say it in front of Jack, but this weevil was tortured to death."
The Doctor nodded approvingly.
"Very good. So the task, therefore…"
"Is to find something that will point to the killer," Owen concluded. He picked up a scanner that would allow him to see all the weevil's injuries, both internal and external, without so much as picking up a scalpel. He caught the curious look the Doctor was giving him, and smiled tightly. "We prefer the non-invasive methods when possible. Less blood and guts to clean up afterwards."
"Non-invasive," the Doctor echoed approvingly. "I like that. I like it very much. All right, then, Doctor Harper, let's get started, shall we?"
Jack made a pretence of doing paperwork for perhaps five or ten minutes before finally conceding that it was useless even trying to concentrate. Tossing his pen onto the desk, he instead swung around in his chair to look at the wall. He wished he had a normal office; one that had a window with a view, but something like that came with a normal job… and that was something he would never have.
It wasn't that he hadn't ever had what humans generally regarded as a normal job – no, during the hundred and thirty-eight years he'd had to live on Earth, he had indeed had a regular office job at one stage. It had been in the early 1930s… 1934, if he remembered correctly… in between the wars. A little out of the way company in London, and his job had been overseeing requisitions.
He'd lasted a total of three months in the position, and had been so utterly and mind-numbingly bored that in the end he'd shot himself in the head just to get out it. Not a bad way out of a dead-end job, he'd thought at the time, although fighting his way out of one of those locked drawers at the local morgue had been a pain in the ass. And then, that was when Torchwood One had more or less discovered him.
Jack grimaced at the memory. That had been a thoroughly unpleasant five years, and had it not been for the outbreak of World War II, he may never have gotten away. As it was, some patriotic soul in the organisation at the time thought it would benefit England to have an immortal soldier, and set him free.
He'd had no qualms about fighting, but he knew he had to get out of London to avoid running into either himself or the Doctor and Rose at that stage. As badly as he'd wanted to find the Doctor again, it would have been next to useless to go chasing after him at that point. Not only would he not have gotten the answers he wanted, he would also have risked creating a paradox that could have ripped open the fabric of time.
No, he had to wait a while longer for his answers, and so he'd claimed some sort of ill health to avoid being drafted and fled London to go to the countryside, ending up in a small coastal town where he instead joined the home guard so as to avoid drawing attention to himself as a coward who was afraid to go to war.
Not that being with the home guard had been without its dangers, of course, and Jack had found his inability to die being put to the test multiple times thanks to minor raids by German squads. It was during that time, though, that he had met and fallen in love with Estelle.
Jack shook his head, as if to force those memories back into the farthest reaches of his mind. The last thing he needed right then was to shake out those particular cobwebs.
So lost in though was he that he didn't realise he was no longer alone until a hand alighted on his shoulder. Startled back to reality, he looked up to find Ianto standing there, watching him with a familiar concerned gaze.
"Are you all right, sir?"
"Fine," Jack murmured, embarrassed at being caught 'spacing out', as Rose might have one put it. He looked up at Ianto questioningly. "How long were you trying to get my attention?"
"Only a minute, sir. You've been in here for over an hour, though, and you haven't even started on your paperwork."
With a start, Jack realised Ianto was right. Though it felt to him like no time had passed since he'd walked into his office, in reality over an hour had gone by.
"Is Owen done yet?" he asked, hoping vainly to shift the topic. Ianto answered with a brisk shake of his head.
"Not yet, although I suspect they won't be long. Jack, what were you thinking about just then?"
Jack fought the urge to frown at Ianto's tactics. If the younger man had called him 'sir', he would have been able to just brush it off. In calling him 'Jack', though, Ianto had made it just that much more personal, and Jack couldn't ignore him. He slumped back in his seat, not quite able to bring himself to smile.
"Just daydreaming," he admitted softly. Ianto paused, and then sat down gingerly on the edge of the desk.
A part of Jack wanted to yell at Ianto, to tell him to mind his own business and leave him alone, but a much bigger part of him wanted the company and the understanding and kindness that Ianto offered even more, and before he knew it he'd started talking.
"About having a normal life… a normal job… about just being a normal human being."
Despite his sympathy towards Jack, Ianto still couldn't suppress his amusement at the thought of Jack attempting to hold a normal job. Jack caught the tiny smirk that crossed the Welshman's lips, and felt a spark of irritation mixed with his own self-deprecation.
"I know," he muttered. "It's as ridiculous as it sounds."
"Oh, I don't know about that," Ianto mused. "It would depend on what sort of job you were thinking about, wouldn't it?"
"What are you thinking of?" Jack asked, while wondering at the same time whether he was an idiot for even asking. The cheeky grin that lit up Ianto's face confirmed his fears.
"I think you'd make quite a good housewife. I've seen you in an apron, after all."
Jack eyed Ianto incredulously for a long moment before the absurdity of it overcame him, and he burst out laughing. Ianto didn't laugh outright, but the smile on his face clearly said 'mission accomplished'. Feeling the weight of everything lift from his shoulders just briefly, Jack reached up and pulled Ianto down onto his lap, quickly capturing the Welshman's lips with his own.
"Thankyou," he murmured after a lingering kiss. "Not just for that. For everything. For being you… and being here."
Ianto threaded his fingers lightly through Jack's hair and smiled affectionately at him.
"I don't expect the same from you, but I have to say it. I love you, Jack."
He fully expected Jack to freeze, or to pull back at the admission. To his surprise, it didn't happen. Instead, he found himself caught in an almost crushing embrace, and the breath all but sucked out of him as Jack kissed him ferociously. And then, when they finally parted once more, Jack whispered a reply that Ianto, in his dazed state, very nearly missed.
"I love you, too, Ianto."
Ianto found himself staring into a pair of pale blue eyes that welled with unshed tears, and the gravity of what they had just admitted to each other was just starting to sink in when there was an embarrassed cough in the doorway.
They both looked to see Gwen standing there, looking redder by the second. Ianto spoke in a calm voice that completely belied the butterflies in his stomach, while making no effort at all to dislodge himself from Jack's lap.
"What is it, Gwen?"
For a split second, she could only gape at them before snapping back to reality and stammering out what she'd come up to tell them.
"Owen asked me to get you. He said you weren't responding on your earpiece. They… uh… They're ready for us."
Ianto felt the tension, which had previously bled out of the captain during their intimate moment, suddenly return with a vengeance.
"We'll be right there, Gwen," Jack told her tensely. She nodded, and backed rapidly out the door. Ianto slid off Jack's lap, and stepped back to allow Jack to stand up and straighten himself out.
"Better get down there," Jack muttered, sounding as though he wanted to do anything but. Ianto eyed him with open worry.
"Don't," Jack cut him off. "Please, Ianto, don't ask if I'll be okay. I know you mean well, but it just doesn't help."
Ianto smiled faintly.
"Actually, sir, I was about to ask, will you be wanting a cup of coffee ready for you when you come back to your office?"
Jack had to smile. They both knew damned well that Ianto hadn't been about to say anything of the like, but it was a slick switch regardless.
"That'd be great. Thankyou."
Ianto nodded as he followed Jack out.
"My pleasure, sir."
"You're done, then?" Jack asked brusquely as he strode up to the railing on the observation level of the medical area. Owen looked briefly as though he wanted to make a snide remark in response to the needless question, only to catch a look from the Doctor. Instead, he nodded and answered seriously.
"It was tortured to death, right?" Jack asked when Owen hesitated in going on. The young medic looked slightly uncomfortable, but nodded anyway.
"Yeah, it was. It was pretty brutal, too. Broken bones, internal damage, on top of what you can see on the outside… Even if it had still been alive when we got to it, we couldn't have saved it."
"Do we have any idea what did this?" Tosh asked.
"We may have a starting point," Owen answered. "It looks like the killer decided to leave his own personal mark. Jack, you want to come down and take a look at this?"
Despite a powerful urge to say no, Jack nonetheless headed down the steps and over to stand beside Owen.
"What am I looking at, Owen?"
"Well, you can't really see it, because the flesh has been burned, but I took a digital shot, and enhanced the image. Check it out…"
Jack looked to the laptop screen on the table to see a distinct and unnatural mark on the weevil's body that seemed separate to the multitudes of other injuries that could be found on the creature.
"What the hell is that?" Gwen wondered as she observed it on the larger screen along with Tosh and Ianto.
"It's a definite letter 'T'," Owen said grimly. "It looks like it's been branded onto the weevil's body."
On the other side of the table, the Doctor had been silent up until this point, intent as he was on watching Jack. As Owen spoke, though, the Doctor watched as the colour bled from Jack's face and he started to slowly back away from the weevil's mutilated body.
"Jack?" he asked quietly.
Jack's eyes snapped up to meet the Doctor's concerned gaze, and it was all the Doctor could do not to physically flinch at the horror that he saw there in the other man's gaze. For several seconds, Jack appeared to be frozen, locked in place purely by the power of the Doctor's stare. Then, the Doctor took a step forward, and his paralysis broke. Wheeling around, he fled up the steps and out of the medical area.