Miles to Go

Remembering was his penance and his punishment.

Author's Note: This isn't intended as a fix for what happened in Children of Earth. As much as I hated what happened, I absolutely adored it, as well. I wrote this in about half an hour, the morning after watching Day 5. This is just my take on those six months and why Jack ran. Please let me know what you think.

Disclaimer: I don't own any of it. If I did, things wouldn't have ended the way they did. But it is what it is, and all we can do is work with what we're given.

'The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.'

--Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost

The first place he went was the Cromwell Estates. He didn't stop to talk to anyone there, hardly even slowed down, but he had to go, to see for himself, despite all of Gwen's reassurances, that Ianto's family really was alive and safe. He saw the woman who could only be Ianto's sister, a little girl and a young boy close by, and if he hadn't ripped out his soul and torn his heart into pieces already, he may have felt something, relief or guilt or anything at seeing the Davies alive and trying to find a way to live again.

He sent a letter to Francine. They hadn't exactly been close, but he had promised to keep an eye on her and her family, to keep them safe, except now he couldn't keep anyone safe, and it was just better if he left. He didn't tell her that of course, just that he was taking some time off and wouldn't be in contact, and he left her a list of names and telephone numbers of people who could help, and please pass along congratulations to Martha upon returning from her honeymoon.

After that, he made his way to France. He didn't talk to anyone except when necessary, rarely slept and hardly ate. He wanted to die, to just sit down somewhere and stop existing, but he knew he couldn't, and anyway, what right did he have to die? He would only come back, and somehow the coming back would be worse than any other time he could remember, worse even than the thousand years of hell under twenty feet of dirt or a year in the Master's hands or even that sharp, bone-aching pain of being exterminated by Daleks. Living was his punishment, now.

He walked across Europe, pushed thoughts of Martha Jones saving the world out of his mind. Stopped briefly in Pompeii, because he had never seen it after, and it worked as an excellent reminder of who he was, who he really was, instead of whatever idealized image his team had formed of him, his team that he had gotten killed, like so many others, and really, how was this any different from all of the others he had led to death? Except somehow it was, and it wasn't because he had loved them any more than anyone else he had ever known.

The Middle East was a relief, in its own way. He had never been there before, people had never heard his name, and so he didn't exist. He continued walking, and people gave him strange looks for wearing a wool coat in the desert, but he wore it like armor now, because it was the only thing holding him together and if he took it off he would break apart into a million tiny fragments and he wasn't ready to come back together again.

He skipped Japan completely. He could still remember the shock waves rocking the airship, even as high up as they were, as the entire island nation was destroyed for the sake of one woman. The people didn't even have time to suffer, except for all that they had already done before annihilation. But more than that, he remembered the ancient city of Kyoto and a smiling blond, the reluctant laugh of a gruff man clad in leather, and how absolutely everything went to hell after that.

America was something of a blur. He headed south, down into the ruins of ancient civilizations instead of towards gleaming cities and awe-inspiring skyscrapers. He had been to New York, had been to New New York, and three other permutations somewhere between the first and the fifteenth. He didn't want to be around people, needed to be alone, to remind himself that he would always be alone, that it was better this way and the only way to keep the ones he loved safe. The Amazon swallowed him and spit him back out, and so he made his way east to the jungles of Africa.

The Congo wasn't much different, and the Serengeti was just like a thousand other plains he had seen, and the Sahara just another stretch of sand and scorching sun and relics that were not much older than he was, except he was so young, still had millions and millions of years ahead of him, and he knew what was waiting at the end of the universe for him, could still remember the black skies and fools' hope, a stark reminder that humans would never, ever change. The thought disgusted him, because if humans never changed, there would always be the worst of them, men like him who would destroy everything that mattered and not even regret it enough to say they would do anything different if offered the chance to try it again.

He hadn't known how long he had been gone until standing on that dark hill, city lights twinkling like false stars. He knew Gwen wouldn't understand why he had run away, why he still needed to keep going, and that was part of why he loved her so very much, because she was so very human, in the best sense of the word, so alive and forgiving, and he hoped against all hope that she would never understand.

He didn't run to forget, though he wanted nothing more than to block it all away. He ran to remember, because he had made a promise to a dying man, and Earth wasn't big enough any more. There were too many people he had to remember, too many who had died because of him or in spite of him, people he had betrayed and forsaken.

This was his penance, and this was his punishment, and he would not stop now, could not stop now. He still had too far to go.