Nightmares of Immortality Part 1
Summary Not being able to die could drive you mad. Being mad for all eternity is not an option.
Authors Note This is the first time I have written fan fiction in many years, since my X Files days. I have only just discovered Torchwood. It has only just started screening here in New Zealand. We've just had ep 4 –Cyberwoman. I am hooked and Captain Jack is such a wonderful character, with such potential for angst, that I just couldn't help taking him out to play. I like angst, be warned. Captain Jack is also the sexiest thing on two legs and I think I'm in love.
I write and edit for a living and I had forgotten how wonderfully liberating it is to write for the sheer joy of getting a story out of your head. I have however tried to remember the craft of writing and this story should end up as a coherent whole -eventually. I was initially reluctant to post it in pieces before it was finished by decided to do so because it should keep me motivated to finish it.
Category Crime/Drama/Angst Jack/Ianto Jack/other/s in later chapters
Rating M for violence and adult themes
Edited to add the two paragraphs of the sex scene I had originally left out. Now I have read what some others have categorised as M rated I find my little scene rather tame. (Makes me wonder what they think MA is?) The new bit is right at the end of chapt 1, if that's what you're looking for. Nothing else is changed and from here on (having just posted chapt 2) I will just post it as written. As an aside, if you were writing for any other audience you probably wouldn't add the graphic sex, but with fan fiction anything goes and it is just fun to do it. It doesn't however do anything to further the story which is usually the criteria you use to decide if any scene of any type needs to stay or go. Mind you, ongoing torture probably isn't necessary once you've set the scene either.
Did I mention I like angst? We're going deep and dark here people. So take a deep breathe and proceed to take a dive…. down the hatch
The manacles pulled him up short as he inadvertently tried to roll over in his sleep. He was pulled back to the reality of the dank cell, the filthy mattress he was lying on and the ever present discomforts of captivity. He was cold, always cold, hungry and thirsty although the thirst bothered him more. His skin was raw in numerous places and bruises over his body were in varying stages of healing.
Curled on his side, conserving as much warmth as possible, his eyes focused on the raw skin showing under the metal cuffs at his wrists. It couldn't be long then before they came for him, to take him to his execution. And there was nothing that he could do to stop them.
As if the thought had conjured the brutes he heard the steps in the corridor. Always the same two. Large, subnormal, human. Biddable – but not by him. And another set of footsteps – he was getting good at this now; after all he'd had months of practise. As he feared, the footsteps stopped outside his cell and keys turned in the locks. Instinctively he cringed back but the chains didn't let him move far. The door flung open and he shut his eyes against the sudden glare, then, before he could even brace himself boots were flying into his body, finding the sore places from yesterday's hammering. His torso flared with pain.
'Enough,' said a familiar oily voice. The blows stopped but he kept his eyes shut. Fear tightened his throat and twisted his gut. The Master was here, and that couldn't be good.
'Good morning Jack,' the Master said pleasantly. 'I've thought of a new one. It must be possible to kill you somehow. I've been thinking about it. It makes an interesting diversion and I need that.'
He heard the manacle chains being detached from the wall. So it wasn't going to happen here then. One at a time all five chains that held him we transferred to the trolley they used to move him around. At no time did he have any chance of stopping the process or of overpowering anyone. He knew this now. He kept his eyes tight shut. He held on to his only defence. I can't die. I can't die.
'Yes,' said the Master cheerily. 'I think this might be it.' The goons dragged him onto the trolley and then pushed it out into the corridor. 'Of course,' the Master said from behind him, 'If it does work, I will miss it…' His stomach lurched and he fought to control it. '…our little sessions together. They have been very entertaining.'
The trolley ground to a halt in a large echoing place. He knew where he was. He fought against the panic that was rising in him. The Master's voice was nearly drowned out by the buzzing in his ears. The Master been talking for some time but he was beyond comprehending the words. He could hear metallic noises and his imagination could come up with multiple explanations for them. He realised that another sound close at hand was whimpers coming from his own terror closed throat. I can't die. I can't die. The mantra filled his head but it didn't help.
A hand grabbed his chin and he jumped with fright. His face was shaken, then slapped, the stinging pain threatening of much worse to come. 'Open your eyes Jack. Look at me.' It was an order to be obeyed and reluctantly he did so. The Master's face filled his field of view. The cold dark eyes were turned up at the corners as the sadistic bastard smiled. 'Although I have enjoyed our sessions – who knew it could be so much fun to kill the same person over and over again, I have to leave this ship now and you are far too dangerous to have aboard, regardless of how well you are chained up. I have been saving this. And I must say; if it doesn't work, then I have had a rather special prison cell built especially. It would be much easier however, and cheaper, to have you dead.
'So,' he said, standing back. 'What do you think? Can you regenerate, or revive or whatever it is you do, if your head is separated from your body? This really will be most interesting.'
The largest goon was standing just behind the Master. He was wearing an executioner's mask – that was a sinister touch – and running a steel along a large antique executioner's axe. His mate was manhandling a wooden chopping block across the floor.
Jack started to scream.
He screamed and fought as they brought the trolley across to the block. He fought as they moved the manacles to tie downs in the floor, positioning him with his head across the block, arms and legs pulled tight. The blood from his struggles was streaming from his wrists and ankles. The manacle around his neck was removed.
He kept screaming as the axe fell. Pain, shocking all encompassing pain filled him, the world tilted crazily, and he couldn't scream. No air moved. Pain - overwhelming. Complete and utter shock. This can't be. His vision dulled.
Heart pounding, his screams ringing in his ears, Jack opened his eyes to the realisation that he was alive. Terror was still consuming him and his body responded. Lurching off the bed, tangled in the bed clothes he fell into the bathroom, just making the toilet before gut wrenching heaves ejected everything he'd eaten in the last week.
He clung to the bowl heaving, crying, doing his best to calm himself, tears and snot adding to the mess. He was at Torchwood, at the Hub. He was safe. It was just a dream. Panting and gasping for breath he tried to will himself calm. You're safe. It was a dream. It was a dream. Dry heaving now he even managed to feel slightly amused, this wouldn't be happening if his head was rolling around on the floor. But that wasn't a good thought and for a little while things got worse. Finally the spasms eased and he sank heavily onto the floor. He leaned back against the wall moaning. Pulling his soiled tee shirt carefully over his head he blew his nose on it and found a clean corner to wipe his eyes. He reached over and flushed.
He sat there, breathing, feeling the air move in and out of his lungs. The whole dream had been so disturbing he was reluctant to think about it, but he was so aware of being able to breath. 'Yeah,' he muttered quietly to himself, 'and pleased about being able to vomit too.' Christ, what a way to start the morning.
Using the towel rail to pull himself to his shaky feet he rinsed his mouth and took a tentative sip of water. He was feeling better but he didn't know what to do now. 'It was a dream,' he told himself. 'Just a dream. Go back to bed.' But he'd turned the light on as he'd walked back into his room and his pillow was smeared with goo. He nearly retched again.
He had to get out of here. Sometimes this room was a sanctuary, right now it felt like a fetid cell. Pulling on his running gear as he went, he made his way out of the Hub. He was held up only slightly by the need to do up laces and charged up the stairs like the hounds of hell were after him. Letting himself out into the pre dawn darkness he started to run. Building up speed he was sprinting well before he had left the plaza.
Jack ran. He ran as fast as he could run. He ran until the carbon dioxide build up from his exertion was so great that his muscles could drive him no more. He collapsed against a wall, lungs burning, legs shaking, sucking great gulps of air in as the CO2 flowed out of his body and blessed oxygen flowed in. Even then he only rested until he could move again. The second burst was slightly slower and after one more brief rest he slowed again. The panic was starting to recede and he found his rhythm. He settled into a brisk jog, the blood singing in his veins and his breathe coming in and out with no strain. His vision started to expand and take in the surroundings. He began to notice his environment. It was still dark and it was very cold. Lowering clouds reflected the city lights and there were patches of ice on puddles. His breath, his precious breath, steamed in the cold air.
He kept running. His body was zinging along now, slightly euphoric as the endorphins kicked in. He wondered why he didn't do this more often. He felt great. He felt alive and he suddenly laughed out loud. Then his foot slipped on some ice and he just caught himself before he took a tumble. He was a little more cautious after that. Although just possibly, he thought, a few real grazes might ground him in the now; chase away the memories of dreamt pain.
There were other people starting to appear on the streets, dog walkers and other early joggers. He realised he had no idea where he was but the street was starting to rise as it curved up hill. He was heading roughly north in a part of suburbia with large stand alone houses, a nice area if you liked that sort of thing. An expensive area and the cars parked on the street and the security gates reflected that. There were lights on in some of the houses now. He wondered briefly about the people inside, going about their business; people hearing their alarms ring, getting up, having breakfast, preparing to go out to work, mothers getting children ready for school, the same as they did every morning.
He didn't want that life, never had, but sometimes he longed for the stability, the unawareness these people had of the bad things in life, their belief that the world and their little part of it would go on the way it always had. He of course knew different and sometimes that burden was so hard. How had he become a defender of their way of life?
He had been running a long time and he was tiring rapidly now, his muscles depleted of all energy. The hill became steeper. His run faltered to a walk and panting he became aware of his breathing again.
As he rounded a corner he saw that the road ended just ahead. He'd nearly reached the summit. There was a turning area for cars and just beyond that a small park was set on the hill top. The lightening sky allowed him to see a children's play area near to the road and a path running up through the grass to a small copse of trees right at the top. A white picket fence protected the park and he let himself in through a small gate. Breathing hard he leant on the fence for a moment, turning to look out over the lights of the city. The sky was rapidly lightening to the east, dawn wasn't far off. Sounds again found a place in his consciousness. He could hear traffic, birds waking and water running. He looked around for the water, aware now that his mouth was terribly dry and his throat was sore.
He spotted it, a small stream coming down from the trees above. The water was black in the dim light, gurgling over a rocky bed, barely more than a trickle this high up the hill. He followed it and found the spring only a few feet into the trees. It was completely incongruous to find water at the summit of a hill and he marvelled to see it. The spring itself had been hollowed out slightly and lined with stones to create a small basin of clear dark water. There was an old enamel cup set on a rock beside it. Beside the cup was a wilted posy of wildflowers. It was a peaceful place and Jack knew it for what it was straight away. Kneeling by the spring he dipped two fingers into the pool and welcomed the essence of the place into his being, wiping the cool water across his hot forehead then down his nose. Inadvertently he had made the sign of the cross and smiled to himself as he realised it. That was the way of things wasn't it? The old ways taking on new meanings.
The Rift ran close to the surface here and no doubt many thought it was a place of the Old Folk. The posy was an indication that people still honoured the spirits of this hill, even if it was completely surrounded by suburbia. He was pleased the spring had survived. He took the cup and drank. The water has a slight tang from some mineral in the water but it was clean and good.
Returning the cup he moved back out from the trees and settled himself on a rock. He felt very peaceful now. His level of fatigue indicated he had run a very long way but it felt good. It had beaten the demons from his mind. The sky was taking on that red silver glow that suggested that rain was on the way and he watched as the colour intensified, deeper, darker, more fiery red; focusing on the sky to force out all other thought. But it was cold, far too cold to do that for long, especially dressed in tee shirt and shorts and wet with sweat.
The sun rose, completely hidden by cloud and the city that had seemed magical, shiny and sparkly with its night lights on, now looked grey and drab and ordinary. With a sigh he got up and started to retrace his steps down the hill. Shutting the little gate behind him he made a mental thank you to the place for this brief moment of peace and started back down the road. Walking down hill seemed harder than coming up and stumbling slightly he realised he really had come a long long way. There wasn't however much he could do about it.
He managed to break into a slow jog again, forcing his body to keep going. Ten minutes later he found himself approaching a shopping centre and there he found the answer to how on earth he was going to get home – a taxi.
The taxi wasn't showing its light. In fact it was parked on a double yellow outside a McDonalds and there was no driver. Jack used the car for balance and did some stretches. A few minutes later a round bald man came out of the shop carrying a bag and a coffee. He didn't look best pleased to see Jack.
'Oi. Get off my car.'
'I want a ride.'
'Yeah. Well I'm sorry I'm off. I'm heading home for breakfast.'
'Oh come on.' Jack tried one of his best smiles. 'One more customer. Right into the Bay.'
The driver looked at him critically. 'You got any money?'
'Ah well….' Jack suddenly realised he wasn't carrying anything. 'Yes. Of course I have.'
'Aw come on pretty boy. Where you hiding it? Up your bum? No money, no ride. Sorry.' He unlocked the car and put his breakfast inside.
'Well of course I have money. I just haven't got it with me. If you take me home I can pay you when we get there.' The driver climbed in and made to shut the door. Jack grabbed it and stopped him. 'Look, I'm starting to get really cold. My friend works in the Tourist shop in the Millennium Centre Plaza. Take me there and he'll pay.' He had a brain wave. 'I'll give you his number and you can ring him and check.' He dredged up his best pleaseletmefuckyounow smile and turned it on the guy. It seemed to work. The cabby sighed. He also pulled out his phone. 'Okay. What's his number?' Jack gave him the number that rang through to Ianto's work mobile.
'Hey,' said the driver when the phone was answered. 'You know a tall dark haired guy, talks American? Looks like one of them poofta TV announcers?' Jack snorted. For the first time he noticed that the shorts he had pulled on hours earlier in his panic were actually bright red satin. He hadn't realised he still had them. He'd worn them once, on a Mardi Gras float at Nottinghill Carnival many years ago. No wonder the cabby had called him a pretty boy.
Whatever Ianto said seemed to satisfy the man because he hung up and grunted, 'Get in.' Jack was glad to. He was trembling with fatigue and cold. The driver glanced back at him and muttered, 'Well if your buddy isn't legit, there are other ways to pay,' and Jack tried to look like he thought that that was a really great idea. Ianto had better bloody be there. Mind you, he supposed it wouldn't be too bad if he had to. He'd just close his eyes. A shag was a shag after all. He did hope however, that he wouldn't be asked to perform in the car. Getting down and dirty in the back seat was something he was long past.
The cabby cranked the heat up without being asked and Jack slowly relaxed into the shabby upholstery. He leant his head against the window idly watching the world outside the car go about its business. A man and a child were walking hand in hand wrapped in layers of fuzzy coats and hats. The child, a girl with dark curls escaping from under her orange beanie was smiling up at the man. He had to be her father. She had on pink wellies and a red dress with a pink fake fur coat; a bright spot of incongruous colour on this grey day. He watched in delight as she stamped at the edge of a frozen puddle staring the ice, her hand held tight by her father. Then the car swept past. The little girl's brightness stayed with him. It was as if the sun had come out.
The trip took longer than he thought it would and made him wonder how far he had run. He'd had time to realise that he was ravenously hungry as the cabby ate his Big Mac and inhaled fries. The smell of the coffee was driving him mad. They eventually pulled into the plaza and came to a stop outside the tourist booth. Ianto was just putting his key in the lock, opening the door, and Jack realised that it was still ridiculously early. 'That's my friend,' he told the cabby, somewhat redundantly. Ianto didn't look best pleased to see him.
He got out and saw Ianto's eyes widen as he took in the shorts. 'I've been running,' Jack told him cheerily. He put on a pose.
'Running? In a car?'
'Well, I've always found it a bit of a nuisance to have to plan a route to bring you back. If you just run until you get tired, you can see so much more of the countryside.'
'I see,' Ianto sighed. 'I suppose I'm to pay the man am I?'
'Yes, thank you.' He glanced back at the cabby who was eyeing up Ianto in his crisp suit and tie, obviously wondering just how they fit together. 'Somebody better be going to pay me,' the man said.
On a whim Jack leant in through the open window and kissed the man. 'Sorry the other payment option wasn't available,' he told him quietly. He straightened, struggling to keep a straight face. Sweeping through the door of the shop he called out to Ianto. 'After you've paid the man make me some coffee. I need coffee.' He carried on through to the passage way and along to the lift. 'I'm going for a shower,' he yelled. He knew Ianto would hear him. 'Why don't you come scrub my back?'
Owen was sorting through his glassware, trying to decide which sized flask he might need for his attempt at neutralising tyralian frog venom. He figured that if he knew what neutralised it, he might have a better idea of what it actually did. He was afraid though that it might boil over and contaminate the whole building and he wouldn't want that to happen. It seemed very volatile. He was distracted by the sound of the cog door opening. He'd come in early so as not to be disturbed and so far not even Jack had appeared from his hole. He was a little surprised then to see it was Jack himself coming in through the door. Owen did a double take when he saw what his boss was wearing but it was too early in the morning for his mind to come up with a smart comment. Then his chance was gone as Jack charged through with a cheery grin and disappeared down into his den, presumably to shower or at least get dressed. 'Well I'll be…' Owen muttered. 'Where the hell have you been?' He made a mental note to decide later whether he ought to warn Jack against wearing those shorts in public. Christ, that was disturbing.
Ianto appeared ten minutes later with two coffees. He seemed surprised to see Owen. 'Have you seen him?' he asked cautiously. He left one of the coffees on Jack's desk and came over to see what he was doing.
'Yep,' Owen said. 'Can't decide if that was sex on a stick, or an invite to every gay basher in the city?'
'Especially with that wet tee shirt plastered to his chest.'
'Hmm, well yes. Do I get any coffee?' Owen noticed that Ianto couldn't keep his eyes off Jack's office, waiting obviously for him to pop back out of his hole. 'Has he been tom catting do you think?'
Ianto pondered that. 'No I don't think so. Not dressed like that. Although he said he'd been running but he did come home in a cab.'
Owen thought about it too. 'He was wearing running shoes. He wouldn't go out on the pull wearing running shoes.'
'He didn't have his coat,' Ianto agreed.
'But those shorts…'
'I know,' Ianto groaned. He cocked his head. 'Listen.'
They listened. Singing could be heard coming from Jack's hole. It was a forties show tune and Jack was belting it out. 'The acoustics are really good down there,' Ianto told Owen.
'I didn't want to know that,' Owen assured him. 'but boy, he sure can sing.'
The music changed to a haunting unfamiliar melody whose words weren't quite in English. They song cut off abruptly and Jack's head popped into view. He was flushed from the shower and was towelling his hair with one hand. He jumped fully up, dropped the towel back down the hole and reached for the coffee on the desk in one fluid movement. Thankfully he was fully clothed. Looking up he saw he was being watched and grinned at them.
'Great singing mate,' Owen said.
'Thanks. That was a song my mother used to sing.' He took a sip from the cup and winced slightly. 'I'm starved. Who's joining me for breakfast? Have we got any bacon?'
Half way through breakfast Tosh phoned in sick and Gwen rang to remind them that she wouldn't be in as she was going shopping for furniture with her mother. She sounded as though she desperately wanted to be told she was needed at work but in reality there was nothing happening. There was so much nothing happening that by nine o'clock the three of them were playing gin rummy and Owen was loosing badly. But then he remembered his frog juice potion and decided he would rather play with that. Jack stood up and announced that he was going to clean his quarters.
'You're going to do what?' asked Owen.
'I'm going' Jack said with dignity, 'to clean my room.' He stumped off to the autopsy room to find the cleaning equipment.
By lunch time it was pouring with rain outside so Ianto closed the shop and came downstairs. He was busy web surfing on the computer in the lab, keeping Owen company. There was a growing pile of clothing in Jack's office, presumably being tossed there to give to charity. The red shorts were on the top. Just after the clothing a pile of linen also erupted from the hatch. Jack followed it. 'I can't remember the last time I changed my sheets,' he remarked cheerily when he saw them watching him. He carried the bundle over to the washing machine in the autopsy room and proceeded to make a major fuss over trying to make it go.
'He can't remember the last time he changed his sheets,' Ianto told Owen, 'because he doesn't bleedin' need to. I change them every Monday.'
'And today is only Thursday.' Owen stated the obvious. 'You sure he's not catting around? Has he had someone down there?' The both shut up and looked innocent as Jack went back down to his room.
'I doubt it. He wouldn't.' Ianto didn't sound very sure. 'No. He doesn't.'
'You mean other than you?'
Ianto gave him a look.
'So what's up then? What's with the spring clean?'
Ianto looked worried. 'There's something not right. He does this. Have you noticed? He's so fastidious. He's so careful with his clothes and his personal stuff. And when something's wrong he likes everything else just right.'
When he thought about it Owen supposed he had noticed that. 'Go on.'
'Do you remember, about three months ago he was doing this? After he came back from where ever the hell he'd been. There was something really wrong there for a while and then all of a sudden he came right. He goes through truck loads of towels when he's upset too.'
'What?' Owen looked appalled. 'You mean he…' he made a pulling gesture '...on them?'
'No!' Ianto said shocked. 'Hell no. Jack likes a warm body. I mean he might, I'm sure he does wank but… Shit,' he looked thoroughly disgruntled. 'What I meant was he showers a lot. And he looks scrubbed, like he's tried really hard to get clean.' Realisation dawned. 'Like he looked this morning.'
They both groaned.
The three of them went out that afternoon to look into a suspicious body. It had appeared, almost as if it were posed, in a seat in a booth at a Mall food hall just after the lunch time rush. The body was desiccated, shrivelled and definitely unnaturally dead. The skin was crisp. It appeared to be human. No one saw it get there and the CCTVs had been tampered with.
Owen decided to bring it back to the Hub to autopsy. Jack wasn't sure. There was something about it that made him feel supremely uncomfortable. It didn't however feel alien or rift related and none of their instruments showed alien involvement. He felt they ought to turn the site and the body back over to the police. He nearly argued with Owen, but the fact that it gave him uncomfortable feelings seemed to indicate that there was something here to interest them. He just couldn't work out what.
It was a nuisance because he had been hoping that Owen would go home and he and Ianto could have had the rest of the afternoon to themselves. He caught Ianto's eye and realised he'd had similar thoughts.
He was quite pleased when a weevil alert meant that he and Ianto could leave Owen to his gruesome task and get off on their own. They didn't actually have much success, spending hours chasing the creature around in the rain. Without someone working the CCTVs they kept loosing it. It ended up eluding them completely, apparently heading back into the sewers. They gave up.
They were both wet, cold and pissed off. Back at the Hub they were delighted to find that Owen had gone home and Jack was even more pleased that the unpleasant body was away and out of sight. He still had enough energy to raise a smirk. 'Shower?' he asked. Ianto grinned back. As they flung themselves into the bathroom Jack had only the briefest memory of cleaning vomit off the wall behind the toilet earlier in the day. When Ianto grabbed his cock he forgot everything except his over for quite some time.
They made love in the shower, aggressively, battling for dominance as the hot water cascaded over their bodies. When it came to being his lover Ianto would not let Jack be the boss, and he loved him for that. They were equals as sex partners and the dynamic of discovering who was most dominant on any occasion added another dimension to the relationship. Ianto took him against the wall from behind, pumping into his body with Jack's cock in his hand. He surrounded Jack, encompassed him and kept him safe as he lost his heart and soul. They came together, shuddering and straining and calling each other's names. Then they turned and kissed.
Gently they washed each other, held and hugged, kissed some more until Jack this time lead them out of the shower, dried Ianto and himself and took them to the bed. He pushed Ianto onto it and lay down beside him. Stroking and loving it didn't take long before they were both aroused again. Jack moved over his friend to lie on top of him, skin to skin, feeling their cocks rub together, and their whole bodies connecting. Ianto knew what he wanted and drew up his legs, inviting Jack in. It was an offer he couldn't refuse and he fell into his lover's body, was held in his arms and gave himself completely to the beautiful man beneath him.
By the time he walked Ianto up to his car in the garage Jack was feeling warm, physically drained and pleasantly boneless. It had been a very good shag. He snuggled into Ianto's shoulder. 'You sure you don't want to stay?'
Ianto turned and they shared a lingering kiss. 'Not tonight Josephine.' He smiled to take the sting out of his words. 'You know I like my own bed. And so do you.' He kissed him again. 'I know you told Gwen you don't sleep. She told me. Why did you say that?'
'I was messing with her. She was looking at me like I was some sort of super hero. I just wanted to see how much she would believe.'
Ianto chuckled. 'That was unkind.'
Jack shrugged. 'So what did you say?'
'I said I had very rarely actually stayed the night, and when I did sleeping wasn't what we were doing.'
It was Jack's turn to chuckle. 'I'm sure she was pleased to hear that.'
Ianto gave a great yawn. 'What else have you told her?'
Jack rubbed his stubbled chin into the soft skin of Ianto's neck. 'I said my hair didn't grow.'
'Oi!' Yanto giggled. Jack loved that sound, Mr Buttoned-Down-Welshman didn't do it very often. 'Yes, well. It is time I did go home to my bed. And you need some sleep too, even if it isn't as much a normal people.' He turned suddenly to look at Jack, held his shoulders and peered at his face in the dim light. 'Are you all right?'
'Yes,' Jack said surprised. He was more than all right. What did he mean?
'Oh. Okay.' Ianto seemed to see that he was. He pulled him into a hug, planted a kiss on his lips and turned to go. 'Sleep well.'