The voice echoed from the other room, scarring and tearing him apart like it always did. He forced his eyes tighter together, as though that would somehow block out the words floating through the door. The words themselves didn't matter. They didn't hurt. Neither did the voice itself, per se; it was actually quite a nice voice, if one cared to listen. It was just the presence of the speaker, to have him close enough to hear his voice, that really hurt. That gripped him deep inside with a fear he hadn't felt for ages.

Yet some would argue he'd never felt it at all.

Footsteps, closer, echoing between the hard, flat walls. A solid, military rhythm; striding more than walking. He strode everywhere, as though to make an impression; as though the man he held prisoner could ever be impressed by anything his captor did.

"Still sleeping, are we?" The squeak of the dodgy basket chair in the corner as the speaker lowered himself into it penetrated into his brain. "I can't believe how much time you spend sleeping. I want you to spend it with me…" He sighed, stood, and left the room.

He didn't need to sleep. He liked to, and sometimes did; but usually the things that were going on kept him awake. He couldn't relax enough to sleep, couldn't release the tension that kept him coiled like a spring. And most of the time he simply wasn't tired. There wasn't enough to do in this tiny little flat that he couldn't leave.

It was a simple enough deal – every day he spent with his captor was another day that Gwen and Ianto lived. Every morning they ate breakfast together was another morning that Ianto could make coffee, that Gwen could go home to Rhys. He didn't want to be there, but he was keeping them safe. Safe from John.

Long experience had taught Jack just how impatient his captor was, and that John would soon come back into the room and drag Jack out of bed for more time together, and that was just one indecency too many. Silently, he slipped out of bed and went over to the closet, plucking out the same shirt and trousers he'd been wearing at the time he'd been captured.

Seven months ago.

Breaking his plan to be silent and evade John's notice, he slammed a fist against the wall in frustration. Hadn't he just done this? Been captive, slave, liar; suffering every day for those outside, dying over and over again at the clinical, practiced hands of the Master? But in some ways, this was worse. He'd never trusted the Master, never had that trust broken in the most shattering and horrifying of ways.

He'd never loved the Master.

And while John didn't kill him like the Master had, what he'd done – what he was doing – felt far worse inside, tearing at Jack's heart. He'd just started to trust him again, just started to believe that maybe he could have back his friend, the one thing from his past he hadn't locked away and wanted forgotten.

And then he'd done this.

He walked out of the bedroom, feet cold even with the carpeted plush beneath them. He always felt cold. His heart had broken too much to keep him warm.

"Morning," said John, sitting sprawled in an armchair in front of the TV. He lifted a glass of beer in something resembling a wave.

Jack passed by him, saying nothing. The shorter man sighed, swung his legs down to the floor, and followed.

"You're so rude to me," he rebuked, watching Jack pour cereal into a bowl. "You know, your little friends out there might think it's a good idea to talk to me."

"You are so deluded," Jack said, sounding amused, but that was a lie. Nothing really made him laugh anymore. Or smile. Or feel even the slightest bit of joy. "You really think that threatening them is going to make me want to stay with you?"

"If that's what it takes," John said, grabbing Jack's shoulder and spinning him around to face him, scattering cornflakes over the bench. "If that's what it takes to make you realize that I'm far better than either of them, then yes. To keep you here." He drew their bodies together again, wrapping an arm around Jack's back. "Because I love you."

"If you did, you'd let me go," Jack said, shaking his head and moving away. John always played that card, always tried to bring Jack back into the old patterns. But that was long over, and no matter how much John professed to love him, Jack didn't want any of it.

"Can't do that, Jack," John drawled, staring deep into his eyes. "Because one day you'll stop caring about them. I promise, one day you will want to be with me. I'm just… speeding up the process."

"I'm only here so they are alive. Nothing more. And nothing you do is going to make me prefer you over them."

"Oh Jack," John sighed, finally moving away, but catching Jack's hand and pulling him along behind. "I want you to want to be here, I want you to choose to be with me! Come back to the stars, leave this stupid little dirtball behind."

"I have a duty here," Jack said icily. "And more than that, I have them. They've kept me sane, they actually care about me! But you've shot them, poisoned them, threatened them; you're holding them hostage! Do you really think that's going to endear me to you?"

"I have not shot either of them," John said, deep echoes of wounded pride. "I shot your little doctor. And he's dead now anyway. Just like you're meant to be, but you've got all that life. What's a few decades with me when you have millennia, or longer?"

"Agony." Jack tore his hand from John's and moved away, leaning against a wall and dying inside.

Something cold and familiar wedged itself into the back of his neck. He sighed. He should have known that would cost him, would get him into trouble.

"Think how that would feel against Eye Candy's neck," John threatened softly, drumming his fingers in a hollow roll against the gun's barrel. Jack barely heard him.

Ianto…

"Jack, listen…" John's voice trailed away into oblivion; Jack was long past listening to him. He ignored the protests and arguments, rational points and motions. He waited for the gun to be removed from his neck and walked away. John must really be desperate, to resort to these kinds of measures. Just having Jack close, even if Jack wanted to be as far away as possible – that seemed to be his objective. He just wanted Jack with him.

Jack thought it over that night, lying still and stiff in the dark. John didn't care about Jack particularly; his scope had shrunk to only himself. John just wanted Jack nearby, and it didn't matter if Jack wouldn't have chosen to stay, because he had no choice. Slowly he lapsed into sleep, drifting down through the levels of consciousness. Nightmares chased one after another; the same ones in the identical pattern that had been with him for the last, long months.

Ianto dead.

Gwen dead.

Ianto dead.

Gwen dead.

Over and over he saw them again, saw them die – in front of him, on camera, in front of the survivor. Gunshots, stabbings, strangulations, beatings… They all spun on, everything he feared outside of what would happen to him. It was worse than the Master, so much worse; he knew the Master just enjoyed himself for the sake of it – Jack had been a shiny new toy to him, nothing more. But John just wanted Jack's presence, as though being together would make Jack accustomed to the arrangement, as though John believed he could make Jack love him back. Just that arrogance made Jack sick. There was nothing that made him feel appreciated like Ianto bringing him coffee in the mornings; nothing that made him feel like laughing like watching Gwen bring down an alien twice her size and then complain about the mess it had left on her shirt. They were his friends; his only friends, the two people he cared about most in the whole universe – excepting the Doctor, of course, but John wasn't holding death over his head – and here Jack was, living with the man who threatened to kill them.

Morning came, another morning – same as always, heralding another day with John and all the inevitable suffering that ensued. He dressed, went out into the main room, greeted John with his usual cold indifference.

"Jack, you really have to stop this, you know," said John, playfully swatting him with the newspaper. "You're no fun." He pouted like a spoilt little girl.

"You do know that what you're doing is illegal, right?" Jack ventured as he drowned he tea bag. He couldn't stand tea, but he also couldn't even look at coffee anymore.

"As if that ever stopped me," John laughed, surprised that Jack would try to bring in the law to get out of it.

"By anyone's law." Jack hesitated, considering – was the risk too great? – but continued. "Even the Time Agency's, and they're more lenient than any other people I've met."

"I told you before," John reprimanded smoothly, "in that dead-end little pub, the Agency's gone. Vaguely similar to your little Torchwood, in fact. Some tiny group of us, trying to make the universe right." John smirked, amused at the comparison he'd just made with Jack.

"I don't believe that," Jack said, straightening up and looking John dead in the face. "That was just another lie, wasn't it? To get me to come with you. To return and help out." Jack laughed coldly, certain he had it. "The Agency's fine. You've gone rogue, just like I did."

"Careful…" John tutted, but Jack was past caring. Too far gone to even think about the consequences.

"It was just another lie! Everything you've ever said to me, everything you've done, it's all just a lie, isn't it? How do I know you haven't already killed them, that they aren't lying in some morgue somewhere and you have nothing over me at all?" It still hurt, deep inside, the betrayal by this man who he'd loved; still loved, maybe, in some sick and tortured way. Everything he'd had with John, back when everything was right, had that all been a lie too? Everything they'd had together, John had lied about. Jack couldn't bear it, couldn't face losing yet another person he'd cared about.

John leapt up and strode over to where his gun lay on top of the cabinet, snatching it up. Barely contained fury pulsed within him; Jack could read it plainly. "They're both alive, as of now," John assured him, eyes blazing, loading the gun with a snap. "As of about thirty minutes in the future, little Gwen will be. No more Eye Candy." He took two steps towards the front door, pulling the key out of his pocket, before Jack found his voice.

"Stop."

John turned, hands on hips, reminding Jack sickeningly of Gwen. "And why should I? What's their life worth to you?"

"I'll do anything," Jack pleaded, without feeling shame or embarrassment, just trying to keep Ianto alive. The words sounded hollow, false – as empty as his soul.

"Anything?" John played with the word as it slid off his tongue, holding his gun out at arm's length and admiring it theatrically.

"Everything," Jack promised desperately. It was the last thing he had, the only thing left to keep John away from Ianto and Gwen and if it wasn't enough he had nothing left to offer.

"Then say it," John snapped, tossing the gun aside negligently. "Say you want to stay here. Tell me you want to be with me."

"It won't be true," Jack said flatly. He had to say it, had to.

"I don't care," John breathed. "I just want to hear it."

Jack closed his eyes, inhaling slowly through his nose, trying to get a grip on himself. This was the one thing he'd refused to do, constantly gotten out of throughout his imprisonment here; but there it was, right in front of him. Somehow it made him feel queasy, sick – he didn't want anything to do with John, not now.

But he had no choice. It was worth it for their lives.

"I want to stay."

It went on, for days, weeks; Jack lost track of the time. No clocks, no calendars, nothing to mark the passing of time existed between the walls he hadn't left in all that timeless time. John didn't need to orient himself with the rest of the world outside. All that mattered to him was keeping Jack close.

Time was irrelevant to Jack too by now. It had ceased to mean anything to him – whether today was Tuesday, or Thursday, or some other new day that was only invented last week, he didn't care. 2008, 2009, 2010 maybe by now, nothing mattered anymore. The only thing important was survival. Not his, particularly; he'd lost everything, he didn't care by now if he survived or not.

But their survival was paramount.

Their survival was the only reason Jack was still here, the only thing that kept him going long past the point where he wanted to break down and scream and never stop. Their faces, already patchy and fraying in his memory, floated over John's in every second he suffered for them.

Gwen.

Ianto.

Each time he thought of them it hurt, burned, cut him so deeply that he didn't want to live; just wanted to let it all slip away, forever, permanently; escape from John Hart and his sick little game.

A step beside him made him look up from the tight ball he had curled into. John stood above him, staring down at Jack's tearstained face with something resembling contempt.

"You really do love them, don't you?"

Jack had to laugh, bitter though it was. "You're only noticing that just now? It's taken you – how long? – to realize that?"

"But you shouldn't!" John growled, turning away, hand balanced on the ever-present gun, coded to only accept his DNA. Proof against Jack. "It's not supposed to be like this! Why don't you love me, Jack?" he pleaded, kneeling down to Jack's level. "What's wrong with me?" A hollow, sick tone totally unfamiliar to Jack entered John's voice. "What can I do?"

"You don't get it, do you?" Jack asked rhetorically. "You don't understand that they – they are everything I want. And I can be satisfied with this life. I don't need you to be happy. You don't need to make me want you to rescue me from a life of boredom and drudgery, in my own best interests. I'm happy when I'm with them. I'm not the way I used to be, John… I'm not like you anymore."

"No," he admitted, shaking his head, looking distraught. "No, you're not. And you'll never love me, will you? I can't make you."

Jack had to wonder what had happened to make John so… sad, so pathetic, so desperate that he tried to force Jack into loving him, into staying, to make himself feel wanted. Like having a puppet as lover. Where had that confident rogue gone – he'd loved Jack, yes, but was able to walk away and accept that Jack had someone else now. And that the two weeks, or five months, or however long it had been – whatever they'd had, it was over.

He looked over at John, who'd assumed a position much like Jack had: curled up, head on knees, arms wrapped over shins, and crying; deep, heaving sobs from somewhere far down inside himself. He sensed Jack's eyes upon him and dug into his pocket, withdrawing the key. He flung it in Jack's general direction without looking up.

"Take it. Go. Run back to your teaboy and your little cop."

"John…" Jack began.

"Get out!" he shouted, snapping his head up. "If you won't love me then I don't want you here!"

Jack bent down to pick up the key. It was cold, icy; made of a futuristic alloy John had brought with him from his timeline. He slotted it into the lock of the front door and turned the handle.

Freedom.

After timeless torment, of torture at the hands of this man, Jack could finally go, go back to the people who'd he'd suffered for so greatly. But John… after all he'd done, it still hurt to leave him behind, a broken, sobbing wreck. Jack hesitated, hand on the doorknob. He could still go back, still help, make it right with him. He had to. He turned and went back, wrapping his arms around the helpless man, cuddling him deep into his chest. John stayed put for a long minute, long enough for Jack to have hope that he could still fix this, that he wouldn't lose John as he had lost Gray.

"I don't want your pity," John snarled. He shoved Jack in the chest, knocking him back, pushing him out into the hall, before slamming the door and locking him outside. Jack looked down to the key still in his hand. John would want that. He slid it under the door before he turned and left.

Amazing, that all this time locked away inside, it was a normal apartment building, smack bang in the centre of Cardiff; not too fancy, but nice. He crossed the familiar streets, looked out at the Bay, felt all the joy of the city that he had worked for so long to protect. He found a newsagent's to check the date – it was only eight months since John had taken him. He left the paper and found a nice, empty alleyway; somewhere nobody could see him. He pulled a folded leather band from his pocket – his wrist strap, stolen by John the day he'd taken him. Ever since, he'd seen it on John's wrist, replacing the one ruined by Gray, and vowing to get it back.

And now he had – sneaking it off of John's wrist when he'd gone back to him, trusting him to be so distracted he wouldn't notice or care.

He looked down at it and laughed, for the first time in eight months, truly laughed. He'd been right. John had kept the ruined strap, had dug out several of its components and upgraded Jack's. His teleport worked again, as did the much more important part – the time travel.

Jack set it carefully, working in the hours and minutes with a precision long forgotten and unused since leaving the Time Agency. He activated it, feeling the familiar temporal displacement wrap around him and pull him back.

Home.

Jack met Gwen's eyes as he came in through the door, let himself be drawn in by her welcoming smile. In her face, he read that he looked like hell; unsurprising, really, considering what he'd been through in the last eight months.

"Hiya," she called out, waving. "No Weevils, then, eh?"

Weevils… yes, he'd been out tracking a pair down when John had caught up with him.

"How long have I been gone?" he asked, unsure of the accuracy of the cobbled-together teleport.

"About an hour," she called back after a quick glance at the clock. "Why? Forgot your watch or something?"

"Felt like much longer," he said softly, walking up the stairs and behind her desk. She sat there, smiling, safe because of him. He crossed over into his office, touching all the familiar things he'd left behind – desk, walls, his coat hanging in the corner – everything that spoke to him of safety, of belonging somewhere.

He called to Ianto for a cup of coffee, and melted into warm, happy relief as Ianto brought it in. He stayed for a while, perched on the edge of Jack's desk.

"What happened to you?" Ianto asked at length, voice low and quiet to avoid notice by Gwen.

"What do you mean?" Jack asked evasively, gulping down the mug's heavenly contents. He didn't want to talk about it.

"When you were out…" Ianto shook his head. "Something's happened to you, Jack." Ianto met his eyes, wouldn't let it go.

"I ran into an old friend." Jack shrugged like it was nothing, but remembered pain and fear twisted deep down inside him. "We had a minor disagreement."

"Jack, tell me what happened."

"Nothing happened," Jack protested. If you looked at the linear timeline, that was true – he'd only been gone for an hour. But he knew that it was still going on right now, still all happening, all his memories of what John did happening right now. He wanted to go back and stop it, kill John now, but knew he couldn't. It had already happened, in some ways, and changing anything like that would give the Rift a field day. It was risky enough just coming back in time to here.

Ianto nodded, clearly suspicious and knowing Jack wasn't telling the whole truth, but Jack knew there was no point in telling them. Ianto would get all worried, and Gwen would want to kill John, and then they'd be as miserable and cold inside as he was. Not everything was fixed by telling somebody about it.

Outside, Gwen laughed at something Ianto said, and the voices washed over him, welcoming, safe. Everything he'd done, everything John had done to him, it was all repaid in the knowledge that they were safe, were fine. Remembering the long days, hours; even minutes, he had to ask himself – was it worth it? It had been such agony, so painful in ways he couldn't describe, seeing John every day and fighting off his death threats. When he'd first joined Torchwood – been blackmailed into it, really – he would have gladly cheered John on as he killed them. But now Gwen and Ianto? When had they become so important? Were they worth this fracture of his soul?

Stupid question. Of course they were.