The first time he died buried alive in 27AD was horrible. The earth pressed in around him, filling all available space, and though he tried to keep his mouth closed, tried to limit his breathing through his nose, there was no escape from the dirt. It filled his nostrils, made his mouth open involuntarily and try to suck in air, but all there was was soil. It filled his mouth, made him choke, made his body take more breaths to try and clear the way but there was no air to be had. Just the earth, filling his throat, worming down his windpipe to his lungs. Sound reached him as though through water; he was sure he was screaming, he certainly wanted to, but there was that pounding of his heart that was swallowing everything. Could a man scream with dirt for breath? His body tried to thrash, tried to turn, to find space, to find air, but there was only earth. His arms and feet were fastened securely together, but even if they were not he had no hope of moving them now. There was too much weight from the earth around him, holding him in place, unrelenting in its embrace.
He suffocated while everything his body did only served to bring more soil into him. As he slipped away from consciousness, from life, his final thought was; I deserve this.
The second time he died buried alive in 27AD was worse. He rushed back into life, taking a deep breath as he always did, his eyes popping open. More soil got sucked in and more took its place around him. He was sure his lungs were completely full by now and though his body reacted in the same way as before, desperately trying to get oxygen into his system, but he found there was something worse than that. Before his eyes had been closed, the soil dully pressing his eyes back into their sockets, and he had had bigger things to worry about. Now, though, his eyes were open and the soil was scraping against his eyeballs, the grit getting right into the sockets, invading him in ways he never thought possible. There was nothing to see, either. Well, a small part of his mind reasoned, there wouldn't be, would there? A complete lack of light meant that he might as well have been blind. Just him and the darkness. Soon he would be whisked away to a different kind of darkness; a void, a nothingness, before being cruelly deposited back into this one. He tried to close his eyelids, but it was difficult, especially since he could feel that familiar tug into the darkness. He managed it, knowing that they would shortly be opening anyway when he sprang back into life, but relishing in it anyway. His stinging eyes contended with his aching body, trying and failing to escape the earth around it, and he feared sinking back into the darkness again, knowing that when he came back, he would still be here, still be part of the earth…
The third time he died buried alive in 27AD was not as dramatic, but in no way less excruciating. There was no way his body could take in another breath; there was no more room for soil inside those lungs. His eyes opened again, but there was so much earth in them already that it did not make much difference. This time was much stiller, as he was already full of earth that it would not take long for death to greet him once again. The panic that gripped his brain, flooding him with adrenaline loosened its hold, and as he fell again into a different kind of darkness, he had time to wonder what nearly two thousand years worth of this would be like. And that was even if they ever found him…
When he woke again, he was aware that already he was slipping away. It seemed his time for pain would be short lived in between deaths, and he found he welcomed it. Was this how his brother felt? Praying for death, praying for escape…
He woke again and considered which was worse; this, being buried here forever more with earth filling his lungs and unable to move, or being dead, the possibility of staying dead. He could not decide which frightened him more.
The deaths began to blend together. Time passed, though he did not feel it. Now that there was nothing more than passing in and out of consciousness to him, the world's edges were dulled. The pain was just as bad as it was before, but he got used to it. Or at least, he took less notice of it. His brain, though starved of oxygen, continued to torture him with thoughts of his team.
Owen, stuck in death, unable to feel ever again and yet kept here in this world, as though being teased. Life was held tantalisingly close and yet he would never be able to grasp it ever again.
Toshiko. He had saved her from a life in a box, shut away from the world and all but forgotten about. Brilliant Toshiko, who deserved so much more from life than anything he could offer her. In love with a dead man who was incapable of returning her affections. Perhaps. Though Jack was sure he had heard of stranger things. Hard to remember them now, but there must be, surely…
Gwen, with her bright shiny life outside of Torchwood. A husband who loved her, friends who cherished her, colleagues who would die for her, and in Jack's case, probably already had. She had a spark to her that Jack never wanted to see go out, one that had come so close to doing just that one more than one occasion, but she always bounced back. He admired that about her. He hoped Rhys realised just how lucky he was.
And Ianto… the man managed to surprise Jack everyday. Whether it was his ability to find the lighter side of any situation with a well-timed quip, or even just his quiet acceptance of another one of life's turns, Ianto had something to him that made Jack feel comfortable. Who would have thought that his one-time stalker would become so much more? Jack would be truly sorry if he never got to see the other man again.
He loved them, all of them. There were different kinds of love involved, but it was there. They were his family, and though he knew he should not let himself get too close, should not care for them so deeply he could not stop. Even if he wanted to, he could not. They held him together, kept him sane. They would all die, eventually, through one way or another, and Jack would be alone again… but it would not last long. Though each one of them was special, and he would forever remember them, as he remembered all those he loved, he would always love again. A heart that has the capacity to love once has the capacity to love twice, thrice and into forever.
He was fading in and out of this world, and he hardly felt it anymore. At least, he did, but the constant agony became familiar until that was all there was; pain to keep his thoughts company. It was getting harder to think, to remember exactly who he was, what he was. He was a man – a prisoner – a god – a loner… He deserved – hated – earned – being here… He was cold – hot – exhausted – terrified – alone…
He was losing his mind.
It was like a cruel experiment in sensory deprivation, accompanied by everlasting pain. Who was pushing him this far, who was edging him that little further each time he died just to see how far he would go before he snapped? Except he could not snap, he could never break. He was doomed to stay here, a constant, a fixed point in time…
He would have laughed, but the earth pressed around him, inside him making it impossible to do any such thing. A fixed point in time, he had once been told. Wrong. What could he do to make himself right? Perhaps if he endured this he could be right again, and then maybe he would be set free. He did not want to be wrong, he had never wanted to be wrong.
He had wanted to see the universe once. He had wanted to experience all that life had to offer. Instead he was getting to experience all death had to offer, over and over…
He had wanted to earn money. Money could make life easy, make it bearable, put food on the metaphorical table. Money could buy him the things he liked, the things he lacked. Money had no meaning down here.
He had wanted to love. God, but did he have so much love inside. In the early days it had been a simple thing to love, to worship each and every soul that passed. Such love should be shared, but it was difficult sometimes, knowing that eventually everyone would be ripped away from him by the unfeeling hands of Time. But what was the point of living if he could not love too? Even though it hurt – it always hurt, cutting deep, achingly, powerfully, relentlessly – to see a loved one be taken away, it was worth it, worth every second of pain for the joy that preceded it, of loving and being loved in return.
The earth blocked out that love. It muted the world, darkened it, shut him away from it. What was the point of coming back to this grave of his? He could not stop though – he wanted to stop, would have begged to stop, yearned to stop. Every time he left he prayed it would be for the last time. If there was a god, it was cruel. Or perhaps deaf, he mused, feeling the hysterical laughter in his chest that could not escape. He kept being shuffled between one darkness and another, unable to tell the difference anymore. What did it matter anyway?
He deserved this. He deserved this, but after so long he was unable to remember why. It was not important, he supposed. All that was was that he deserved it and it was happening.
The clawing, all-consuming death pulled him in once more, and this time, this time, it felt like it may just stick for a while. It always did.
He became aware, after a while – a heartbeat, a lifetime, forever, no time at all – of movement. It was difficult to tell, but the pressure might have been lifting off him. Or maybe Time had finally remembered she had left him behind and was claiming him. Oh god, please, let her have remembered him…
Something hit him quite solidly, cutting into his skin. What was that, what was that? A different sort of pain to the constant that he had been feeling erupted from the area, making him squirm, only to realise that he could squirm. Movement, long forgotten movement. He moved his arms, swiped at the world, at the air that had eluded him for so long. He managed to sit up, the earth falling away from him, falling out of him, and he heard shrieking, beautiful screaming, cutting through his head with its sharp sound.
He choked and coughed, his body trying to rid itself of the cloying dirt, and his eyes blinked open painfully but desperate to see –
A man and a woman were staring at him, looking shocked, and if he had the energy he would have leapt forward and kissed them and held them, so very alive and real and there…
"Jack?" The woman said uncertainly, and it was funny, and now he had his lungs back he could laugh and promptly did so. He laughed long and hard, the sound tearing out of him, frantic to be heard in this world, this world that he was now a part of once again after so long – not long at all, a heartbeat, the amount of time in which it takes to go insane – and somewhere in that laughter it became a scream, wrenched from the bottom of his soul and clawing its way into the world.
Later, much later, after many cups of tea – what was it about the English and their tea? Had a hard day? Cup of tea. Missus left you? Cup of tea. Buried alive for nearly two thousand years? Cup of tea. – they had pressed him for answers. He remembered them, he knew he did, but right now he was focusing on the tea. He was just grateful to drink again, to be able to swallow, to quench a thirst unnoticed and overruled by suffocation. There were cucumber sandwiches too. Did he like cucumber? He could not remember. It did not really matter, it was food and he was plotting on ravishing the entire plate.
Eventually what they were saying started to make sense to him again, and he remembered their names, working with them, hating them and loving them at the same time, but there was more…
His team. His team a century away, separated from him only by time. Fighting for their lives, suffering, needing him, and his brother –
His brother. His guilty past, his cherished one, his murderer so many times now. He deserved it. His team did not.
Things snapped back into place, the world regained its proper focus and he knew he could not wait around for the right time to approach. He needed to be in the Hub, well placed and waiting. He demanded that they freeze him. They demanded answers. He explained as best as he could, and eventually they complied.
He sort of wished they hadn't as he stepped into the unit. Small, pressing in around him, no space to move, to breathe –
Thankfully, mercifully, one of them pressed the button and he slipped away. He knew what he had to do when he got back. But for now, for now he could have something a bit more permanent than death.
He deserved it.
Phew, that took a while! The first half was written just after I watched the episode, the second half written after being unable to focus on my university work. I blame that for the craziness (in general, not just in the story). I personally thought that one would be a bit more messed up than Jack appeared to be after being buried alive for so long. But hey, what do I know?
Let me know what you think, even if you think that actually Jack would only have died a couple of times before not coming back until being uncovered. Or if you think that my time would have been better spent doing university work so I can get my degree (and there I'm afraid I'd probably have to agree with you).