Author note: Much praise and love to Galadriel1010 who can actually come up with summaries, huzzah! I've never written that much in first person, in fact I try to avoid it, so I hope this is all alright and makes sense yada-yada... Please read, tell me what you think, I'd love to hear your opinions. Oh, and this is set post Children of Earth, by the way.
Disclaimer: All chapter titles taken from John Keats's wonderful poem La Belle Dame Sans Merci. Torchwood belongs to Russell T Davies and the BBC.
Chapter One: Alone and Palely Loitering
Like being hauled over broken glass, I once said. Being dragged back into existence when all I crave is oblivion.
Broken glass would be a relief. I would love to experience that instead of this... this agony. Because it doesn't get any better: there is no 'becoming accustomed' to it. Each death is worse than the previous, and I just want it to stop.
I've had enough, I've just had enough.
"You've had enough," the familiar voice chided. "Come on now, Jack, the bottle won't solve your problems."
"Rehab teach you that?" I slurred.
"Common sense." John Hart slid his arms around my waist, hoisting me from the bar stool. "It may surprise you to know that I possess some."
I blinked, attempting to focus. "I'm gonna punch one of you in a moment, just so you know."
"Fine, fine," John said, not really listening.
"Then I'm gonna throw up on the other, okay?"
John let go of me and I collapsed, hitting the dirty bar floor and giggling giddily. I didn't care where I was, or what planet I was on. The floor felt nice and cool. The floor understood.
"Good god, Harkness, what's happened to you?"
I watch him and I hate it. How can he be doing this to himself? He'd said all those wonderful things about the universe and now he's just wallowing in self pity.
I loathe it, and yet still love him.
I stared at the two-up two-down detached house. However many times I shook my head, the building was still there.
Flowers grew under the window frames. I blinked again. No way, I told himself. No way can he be living here...
"Permission to say 'what the hell'?"
I gave the house another once over, noting with some horror the ivy growing along the side. It looked so quaint. "What the hell?"
John joined me by the garden gate. "Don't knock my house, if you please."
His house. An actual house. "Who are you and what have you done with Captain John Bite-Me Hart?"
"Oh," John said giving me a sly look as he opened the gate and gestured down the short path. "I think he's still around here somewhere."
"You bought a house. With flowers."
"I bought a house, yes!" John pranced over the gravel. "And don't you like the flowers?"
"I couldn't care less about the flowers. Get me a bucket."
My stomach chose that exact moment to roil and I threw up over his precious flowers, collapsing onto all fours on the grass.
"Right," John said, unlocking the door with his wrist strap. "Mental note, when the man asks for a bucket, get him a bucket." Twenty seconds later he reappeared with a large plastic bowl and looked down at me, aghast. "Why, Jack? Of all things, you had to hit my rhododendron, didn't you?!"
Screw his precious rhododendron. "Bed. Now. Wanna sleep."
"Come on then, Captain Cave-head." John put his arms under my shoulders and dragged me, with some difficulty, inside.
Maybe if I was lucky I'd die before morning.
Why does everyone have to die? I wish just one of them would stay, I really do.
But they can't handle it, being around me. It sends them all mad after a time. Some of them get out, some of them leave me.
They're the smart ones.
The people that stay are the people I hurt, they're the ones I ultimately kill in one way, shape or form.
In the end, everyone dies but me.
I feel like Death.
"Rise and shine, sleepy!"
I couldn't help it, it was an automatic reaction. My hand flew to the gun holster at my right hip, discovered it to be empty and sent an urgent warning message to my brain. I sat bolt upright.
"Looking for this?"
I glared at John and the Webley dangling from his fingers. "Gimme."
"And what, might I ask, happened to Mister Manners?"
"He got shot for not giving me my gun," I said. John grinned, throwing it to me. I caught it just before the barrel hit my forehead and gave him another glare. "You didn't turn the safety on, did you?"
Sweetly, John said, "Nope."
I stared at the weapon in my hands, reliving past memories.
It's never good when he starts looking at the gun. Sometimes I stop and wonder just how many heads he's held it against.
I can still feel it pressed against mine... but I forgave him that, I forgave him a long time ago, even if he never knew.
So I can forgive him the grief he's feeling now...
"Jack, I know you're hurting, won't you just tell me?"
I glanced up from the book I was trying and failing to read. "Since when did you get so lovey-dovey?"
John's serious, and concerned, expression did not waver. I gulped, not wanting to go through with this. Living under John's roof for the past few days had been a sort of heaven, like revisiting the past – nice for a holiday but you wouldn't want to stay there.
"You never did say what you were doing so far from that little team of yours," John observed.
This was one of the reasons I was so eager to leave, eager and itching to be away from anyone and anywhere that would try to get inside my head and make me remember. Through alcohol and determined non-thinking I had shoved the memory of him into the deepest recesses of my mind, and no old acquaintance feigning a show of compassion and concern would make me give Ianto Jones up. No. It wasn't working. It wasn't.
I started to say something that I hoped would have been witty, but my breath caught in my throat and the air whooshed from my lungs in a choked sob.
John was by my side in an instant: that just made it worse.
"Want to talk about it?"
Mute, I shook my head, dumbfounded by the tears that stained my cheeks and the care that John showed.
When you tell yourself that you've survived worse, it's never a comfort. Nor is saying it's better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.
Who would chose this?
Do any of us have a choice, or are we fated to suffer under love's cruel grip?
I wish I could have chosen.
"Jack, put the gun down," John's voice drifted across the living room (I was still in shock that he had a living room, although the 3D television was most definitely a plus) and I scowled without looking around. "Come on, Jack, no need to be hasty..."
"You know I can't die," I said around the barrel of my gun. "What's the problem?"
I just about heard John mutter, "Obviously you've never had to get blood stains out of leather," before pulling the trigger.
Blessed, blessed darkness. The relief before the pain.
And then, a voice.
"It must be really bad, for you to prefer this."
I'd like to say I turned around but how can you turn when you have no body, when you barely have a mind, when all you are is... you?
I knew that voice.
A whisper kiss brushed my non-cheek and, as I felt life begin to drag me back, I heard him say, "Be safe, cariad."
I woke up gasping Ianto's name.