Title: Cold Comfort

Author: Aeshna

Spoilers: TW1.08, They Keep Killing Suzie

Disclaimer: Not mine, no matter how many DVDs and toys I buy! Everything here belongs to RTD and to Auntie Beeb, who already has my licence fee.

Many thanks to Mimarie and Jwaneeta for looking this over for me. Feedback of any variety is very much appreciated but not compulsory – I'll post anyway! I've suffered for my art, now it's your turn...

There was a familiar damp chill in the air as he made his way down to the first of the holding levels, the chemical tang of industrial-strength disinfectant mingling with the more organic scents of piss and sweat and the curious boiled cabbage smell that they had never been able to get rid of after the unfortunate incident with that Yedilsan prospector. The Hub held its own climate this far below the surface of the sleeping Bay, the recirculated atmosphere immune to the patterns of the wider world above, and in the harshly artificial half-light it was all too easy to lose himself in other times, other circumstances, in the myriad memories that this place held for him –

Jack Harkness shook his head, forcing himself to focus on the present. The Hub was empty but for himself, a well-fed pterodactyl and Torchwood's various 'guests', the stresses of the last few days fading into a past that would hopefully stay dead and buried this time. It was the here and now that required his attention in this moment, the loose ends of a life twice wasted, and some tasks were best carried out sooner than later.

The Weevils in the first two pens eyed him warily as he passed, but Jack paid them no heed, heading instead towards the more human form that rocked and whimpered pathetically to itself three cells down. He stopped just outside the thick transparency of the door, arms folded across his chest as he watched the heavy-set man within, noting the blank gaze and the drool-sodden beard, the broken and blood-rimmed fingernails, the untouched tray of food on the floor. There was nothing here that he hadn't seen a hundred times before... but what made this one different was the nagging sense of responsibility. If he hadn't lured Suzie Costello from her research, hadn't offered her something more thrilling than a random succession of underfunded post-doc placements...

Jack pushed the thought aside – regrets were a waste of time and of energy better spent in action. He had made Suzie what she was and Suzie had in turn created this.

"Hey, Max. Thought I'd come down, see how you were doing."

There was no response, no glimmer of recognition in the dull eyes.

"Wondered if you might have any more little surprises in store for me? That poetry thing was a doozy – I don't even want to think about how many favours I owe Kathy for that one."

The rhythmic rocking continued, punctuated only by quiet, childlike sounds of distress.

"I imagine she'd quite like a word with you herself, what with those unsolved murders and that messy business in the club. I don't suppose she'd get much out of you, mind, not until she mentioned Torchwood–"

The solid form launched itself at him, slack features suddenly savagely twisted and small eyes narrowed in unthinking fury as heavy fists beat and clawed violently at the door, trying to smash through the screens, trying to reach its impassive tormentor. Every muscle and sinew strained with the desire to rend the world limb from bloody limb in a fit of howling, implanted vengeance... that abruptly subsided almost as quickly as it had begun.

"– and she would. Oh, she would. Which is why I really can't let her have you." Jack laid a hand against the cell's transparent wall as the larger man returned to his mindless movement. "Annoying as Kathy and her minions can be, I do owe her for saving Gwen's life. Which rather brings me back to you..."

Max didn't so much as twitch as Jack opened the door and stepped inside, crouching beside him. "None of this is your fault, you know," he said quietly. "Suzie was one of mine but, hell, you probably knew her better than I did. Well, until she stuffed you full of retcon, anyway. That's what you get for trying to help a pretty girl these days – she buys you a drink, tells you her story, erases your memory, and the next thing you know, you've been reprogrammed as her own personal pet angel of death. And I can't tell what else might be in there, in that programming, waiting to break free with the right trigger. You're a weapon, Max, just as much as that blade she used on her own victims. The same blade we used to bring her back."

A whimper gave way to a low keening that had the Weevils shifting uneasily in their pens, although the impersonal blankness of the other man's face never changed. Jack sighed and rested his hand on a broad shoulder.

"You were a good man, Max. You tried to help someone in need and she turned out to be a psychopath – it happens. It would have been easier for everyone if you'd never crossed Tor–" Jack winced and hastily corrected himself, "crossed our path. But here we are, and I have to rehabilitate you somehow. I can't feed you retcon and throw you to the police, not given your history with the stuff. I can't hand you off for psychological evaluation, in case they hit a hidden trigger. And I sure as hell can't just keep you here forever. Not like this, anyway."

Max continued his quiet rocking as Jack reached into his pocket with his free hand, thumbing the stun gun to a new setting. "I don't know if you're even in there anymore, but if you are... I'm sorry." He squeezed the shoulder sympathetically. "Look on this as a way back into civilised society, a chance to serve Queen and Country. Or possibly King and Country, depending on when we get around to needing you..."

The carbon-fibre contact shield slid easily against the base of the shaved skull, settling into position over a roll of flesh. A sharp flash and crack and it was done, the heavy body sliding bonelessly to the floor as the focused burst of energy shorted out the unfortunate Max's nervous system, rippling through his frame and reducing him to so much meat. It was – as Jack knew from personal experience, albeit one that he was in no great hurry to repeat – quick and painless, leaving little evidence of its touch for coroners to find, especially after they'd done whatever was needed to fake a suicide or otherwise cover their activities. It was a shame, it was a waste, but it was no doubt kinder – not to mention cheaper to the ever-complaining taxpayer – than an open-ended interlude in Broadmoor.

Jack stood, shaking his head as he looked down at the corpse, then moved to fetch the medical trolley that waited at the end of the corridor. "Easy come, easy go," he muttered as he slipped his hands beneath the lax shoulders, feeling himself separate from the mortal world a little more with that thought. Year in and decade out, through sacrifice, betrayal and honest mistake, they lived and they died and they left him behind to clear up the mess...

Five minutes of sweating and swearing saw Max on the trolley's chill metal surface and Jack wishing, not for the first time, that enhanced strength had been included amongst his improbable gifts. He could have left the body there until morning, but a quick freeze avoided many of the problems that came with rigor mortis and blood pooling, and he wanted to have this whole sorry affair over before daybreak. Wanted it done before the others arrived with their memories and their grief and their painfully tangled moralities.

The world always looked so very different to the young.

"Sorry, Max, but waste not, want not," Jack said conversationally as he steered his silent passenger through the Hub's still corridors and ancient elevators, making his way along the familiar route to the lower cryogenic storage vaults and the darkened ranks of impersonal drawers – no names, no identities, just neatly databased labels detailing age and gender, build and ethnicity – that waited there. "And it could be worse. I mean, prison food? Lawyers? You're better off out of it. This way... trust me, it's more dignified than Suzie managed. Just one short sharp shock and you're free of it all, we fill another slot in the cryostore and Kathy gets another cold case..." He suddenly grinned, despite himself. "Technically, another very cold case."

Chuckling softly, Jack continued on his way into the Hub's still depths.