Notes: The full oneshot for #21 out of 'Snapshots of Smiles'. Requested by toobeauty. There's no 'one per person' policy in action here. If I think I can make a oneshot out of it, and somebody asks, the oneshot will appear. Also, this story is more than a little weird and possibly hard to understand.

Disclaimer: I do not own Torchwood and I am not making any profit from this work.

The Alternatives

Jack knew what the device was the moment it came through the Rift. He confiscated it immediately, knowing how tempting and how dangerous it was, and locked it away in his office.

The problem was, Jack was not God. He was not immune to temptation; despite being immortal and from the future, he was still human, and he could still be tempted.

Perhaps it was the bad timing of the arrival, but his fingers itched to use it, itched to activate it and open the screen and just see.

It was a viewing window. They had been invented a couple of decades before Jack's birth, and had, shortly after he came of age, been destroyed by the Time Agency as dangerous devices. They let you view the other dimensions out there, just for a few moments, and see yourself and little bits of your own life.

Only, like simulation games, they had been dangerously addictive.

And then intelligent people had liked those other lives, and tried to breach the gap between dimensions, which was, for very good reasons, strictly not allowed.

They were like metal drugs, boxed heroin, and they had been destroyed.

Except for those lost, like all other bits of junk, in the Rift.

And Jack knew how to use them.

More than that, he knew who to look for. Not himself, but Ianto.

So one night, when it was all quiet and the team had gone home and the pain of loss was gnawing away inside him, chewing him up and laughing at his pain, he reached out for it. He switched it on, he programmed it, he watched and he absorbed.

And he obsessed.

In the first world, he saw a smiling young man with his dark-skinned wife and a couple of kids, living in a whole and undamaged London. He recognised buildings and parks and homes that had been obliterated, and saw a happiness that he had thought - perhaps correctly - destroyed forever.

He heard an accent fading from Welsh to Londoner, saw secret smiles he had never been privy to here, and cursed himself for his jealousy as the machine moved on.

In the second world, he saw a metal universe filled with the chorus of 'deletes' that struck fear into every sane man. He saw the machines moving in and out of fire and destruction, on a world he didn't know, and knew what - or who - the machine was tracking, even though that man was truly dead and now.

He choked on his breath and twisted the dial viciously.

In the third world, he saw the outside of a Torchwood morgue drawer, locked shut for weeks. The number was familiar, and he only realised when the machine moved on that it was the drawer next to Lisa's mangled corpse.

He didn't know what it meant, and nor did he want to.

In the fourth world, he saw a nondescript but joyous scene of young men crowded around a bar, telling jokes and laughing, annoying the other customers with their drunken, happy noise. He was there, in the middle of the crowd, smiling and laughing and loose. Relaxed, in a way that it had taken Jack too long to figure out, too long to recognise, too long to see.

He regretted how he had never been able to get used to that side of him, as these men obviously were.

In the fifth world, the screen remained black and dark, and moved on rapidly, which told all. He had never existed in that world at all.

In the sixth world, he is walking with a young man Jack doesn't know along a riverside. He is talking animatedly on a mobile phone, and being watched with exasperated amusement. After a little way, the man stops them both, with a touch to the arm, and pulls him close. The chatter dies as they kiss, first with gentle fondness, then with building passion. The mobile phone snaps shut, is thrust into a pocket, and abandoned to things more pleasurable.

And Jack hates the stranger for the kisses, but thanks him for the resultant joy on the young man's face.

In the seventh world, he is sitting on a park bench, watching a couple of children play with their puppy, and there is a contented look in his eyes that Jack has been privy to, but not nearly often enough. And he doubts his own role in his life here, and wonders if he shouldn't have let him go a long time ago.

In the eighth world, he received a storm of loud, excitable Welsh and a family reunion around a television, cheering on the sport he wasn't able to see from the angle of the screen. And for a brief moment, the man looked over and it's as if he was staring right out of the screen at Jack, and it was all Jack can do not to cry.

They flickered in and out of his knowledge, little scenes of domestic life and joy and pain and soul-wrenching sadness and death - horrible, repetitive death. In so many worlds he is dead, but in so many others he is alive and looking as though nothing disturbing has ever happened to him, and Jack prayed that somewhere, somehow, that's true.

Hours pass, and he watched and whispered and remembered.

Eventually, he switched off the machine, folded the screen away, and locked it back in his desk. He knew he mustn't look again, as much as he knew that he would, because his temptation is real.

Now, though, he leaves his office in the quiet of the hour before dawn, and heads down to the morgue drawers. It's his pattern these days - has been for roughly seven hundred days now, and is it sad that he is counting?

The quiet cool of the room welcomes him in, and he leans against the wall and touches the numbers burned into the front of the relative drawer.

"Missed you," he whispers.

He recalls the flashes of smiles and tears that the machine granted him, if only briefly, and hopes that in the brief time the man had here, with him, he at least got to use some of those beautiful, lost smiles.