Last chapter, everyone! Thanks again to all my awesome reviewers, you guys rock my socks! Guardian has been so much fun and I'm glad you guys were along for the ride!
Jack! Jack Harkness! I'm looking for—
Coming back to life hurt. Air filled lungs that had emptied like old balloons, and blood pumped into an oxygen-starved brain. Jack gasped and sat up.
It was daytime, he was in a meadow and—
Jack scrambled to his feet, but his breath caught and his eyes pricked at what he saw.
They were dead. He could smell it from here, and the smoking curling up from the wreck made it obvious. The ship was destroyed, completely and utterly. Huge craters marked where the lightning had struck, the metal melted around the edges and the tang of rust and blood was in the air. He swallowed, feeling sick. All those innocent people—
Jack blinked at his name and turned. Owen Harper was standing behind him, wide-eyed.
"I'm dreaming," Jack said flatly, and Owen shook his head.
His friend was insubstantial; Jack could see the wreckage through Owen's black leather jacket, and his feet did not touch the grass. "I can't talk to you when you're dead," Owen said, voice soft. He turned his head and saw the ship; wincing, he turned back. "I couldn't stop them. Jack. You have to believe me, okay, I couldn't stop them. I had no idea they were going to do this—Jack—I'm sorry—I didn't—I—" he took a deep, shuddering breath, collecting himself. The ghost, and that was what he was—he was fading before Jack's eyes – looked like he was on the verge of a breakdown.
"I know, Owen," Jack said quietly, absolving his friend of guilt. "It wasn't your fault. It was mine."
"Yeah, okay," Owen murmured, and vanished with the wind.
"It was mine," Jack whispered again, staring at the ruined ship. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
Something soft touched his back and Jack jumped, spinning away. He relaxed when he saw Red, head hanging low and eyes rolling at the stench of death. A huge breath escaped Jack when he saw the horse was alive.
"Red," he whispered gratefully, touching his gelding's gray nose. Red locked his knees, clearly fighting terror, bending his neck to rest his nose on Jack's coat-covered shoulder. The fire retardant spell had done its job; Jack's poor coat was intact, as though nothing had happened, although his clothes beneath were somewhat singed.
That was something, Jack thought hysterically, and then immediately berated himself as Red's breath whispered out, warming his palm. He needed to calm down. He needed to take a deep breath, calm down, and ride Red back to make sure that his friends were okay. Oh, god, his friends—
That shook him out of his shock. Swinging up onto the horse's back, he urged Red to turn. The dappled gelding seemed grateful for that, spinning on a dime and racing to camp. He pitched to a halt, and Jack gasped at what he saw, leaping from Red's back and staggering to the ground so quickly that the horse started in surprise.
Daine was twisted at an odd angle, her body collapsed backward with Numair's head in her lap. Alanna was beside them, curled facing Numair on her side. Kitten was half on Daine's belly and half off, lying with her neck outstretched. They all looked dead.
Panic rose sharply in Jack's throat. I told the badger, he thought hysterically, I told him that the people I protect tend to die! He knelt down and placed two shaking fingers on Daine's throat, nearly collapsing with relief when he felt the flutter of her pulse. He moved to Alanna and Numair, and sighed deeply when they were alive as well, although Numair's heartbeat was worryingly faint.
"I'm sorry," he told the mage quietly, realizing that he had demanded too much of the man. "I won't ask something like this of you again."
Turning to Kitten, he sighed and held his palm over her nose. Jack swallowed as relief washed over him when he felt her warmed breath on his hand. Okay. They were alive. He took a deep, calming breath that seemed loud in the still morning. Everyone had died. That was nothing new. Everyone always died. But at least, at the very least, the people he had promised he would protect were alive.
Something hard clamped on his shoulder and yanked. He heard Red whinny in protest as he turned and saw Cloud, who looked beyond pissed off. Her teeth were digging sharply into his shoulder.
"Oh," he said. The pony's teeth tightened and her eyes sharpened with accusation. The animals here were too smart for their own good.
"I'm sorry," Jack told the steel gray mare quietly. "I really didn't mean for this to happen."
Red snorted and rested his nose on Cloud's shoulder. The pony released Jack, ears flat back, and lunged for Red. Darkmoon and Spots, Jack saw, were watching warily as Red darted back, half rearing.
"Stop it, both of you," Jack snapped. He should've felt foolish, but he really didn't. Maybe this was what it was like to go mad. "This isn't going to help."
The gray pony's ears remained back, and then suddenly pricked forward. Someone groaned, and Jack turned.
"Daine!" He rushed over to her side, Cloud hot on his heels.
She groaned again. "Jack?" she asked, slowly opening her eyes and then wincing at the sun. "What—" she paused, and Jack watched the memory steal across her eyes. "The Nepthalae!" she gasped, trying to sit up and held down by Numair and Kitten. "Oh—" she whispered, gathering the dragon into her arms and laying a palm frantically on Numair's cheek.
"They're alive," Jack told her softly, feeling guilty and unhelpful. A tremor went up his spine, and he fought for control. "Unconscious; I checked. Daine, I'm so—"
"You have nothing to apologize for," Daine interrupted him, one hand smoothing Numair's cheek and the other clutching Kitten. She leaned back and closed her eyes when Cloud rested her nose on her shoulder. There was a moment of silence as they spoke and then Cloud bit Daine, hard, as she had done to Jack. Daine waved her away and turned back to him. Firmly, she stated, "You were trying to help, and you don't know the laws of magic."
"There's laws?" Jack asked weakly, and Daine looked at him sharply.
"Stopping natural forces is one of the most dangerous things you can do," she told him flatly. "Stopping gods is deadly. You made Numair and Alanna do both." She wound a strand of Numair's hair around her finger anxiously before feeling his pulse for herself before sighing. "They're asleep," she whispered. "Drained, I'd imagine. They should be fine." She bent down to kiss Numair's forehead anxiously and there was a silence.
Jack looked away from the private moment, and then made a promise he couldn't keep. "I won't ask them to do it again." He looked at the ship, smoking in ruin. It looked like the Torchwood Hub in his dreams, he thought darkly, only it was above ground and there was no Owen to berate him. He suddenly wanted Ianto, he wanted his unfailing support or his hand on his shoulder or something, and the fact that his lover was not there was almost enough to swamp him.
"Liar," Daine accused. Jack bowed his head and nodded.
"You shouldn't be helping me," he said quietly. "I can do this on my own. I should do this on my own." Ianto died because I should've been on my own, he wanted to tell her, but the words would not come.
"Don't be stupid," Daine growled at him. "They're our Gates too. You're not getting rid of us this easily."
Jack shook his head and sighed. "Am I a horrible person to be grateful?"
"No." Daine offered him a half-smile back. "You'd be a horrible person if you weren't grateful."
"Thank you," Jack whispered, but it was a lie.
There was a silence.
"They're dead, aren't they?" Daine asked, voice choking up as she gathered Numair and Kitten closer as if to defend herself from her own words. "The Nepthalae."
Jack nodded. "Yes," he whispered.
"That was wrong," Daine replied after a moment, wiping her eyes. "I don't care what the gods say. That was wrong." She looked up at the sky. "And don't think I didn't catch that," she told the clouds angrily. "You knocked me out. I don't care what you say—whether you were Ma or Da, the badger or Mithros himself—you did it and I'm not happy. Don't do it again, if you please."
-A bit high and mighty of you to be demanding such things, kit,— a familiar voice said in both of their minds, and Jack and Daine turned.
"You again," Jack growled, and Daine's voice was only moderately more welcoming.
"Hello, badger," she said flatly.
-Do not blame me for the misdeeds of your two-legger gods,- the badger growled, appearing in a burst of silver light and waddling over. –The decision was not mine.—
"But you approved of it," Jack snapped before Daine could say anything. Almost unconsciously, he tensed, shifting himself slightly so that he could dive in front of her. Numair had told him that the badger was Daine's mentor, but after this fiasco he wasn't trusting anything that called itself a god. "I distinctly remember you calling weevils 'disgusting.'"
-I do believe that that was a sentiment your Torchwood shared, was it not?— The badger's eyes were cold and flat, and Jack's rage boiled over at the mention of his old workplace.
He shot to his feet furiously. "Do not talk to me about Torchwood," he snarled, but Daine reined him in, reaching up and taking his balled fist in her hand. Jack turned back to her, Kitten and Numair in her lap, and some of the fury left him. Here and now, his friends were in need. He stepped back and crouched next to her again, still in front of her but slightly to the side this time.
"Why did they kill the Nepthalae?" Daine's voice was very soft, and very dangerous. She, too, was not pleased, and Jack wondered for a moment at the loyalty of these people he barely knew.
The badger sighed deeply. –I do not imagine that you would understand, my kit,- he said.
"Try me," Daine replied, tugging on Jack to sit next to her. He resisted, preferring to crouch. He could get up faster that way, should he need to. She didn't let go of his hand, and Jack was absurdly grateful, even as he spoke angrily.
"Because the Nepthalae were beyond their control," he sneered. "They did not fall under their godly—"
-Do not speak of things that you don't understand, immortal,- the badger snapped. –There is more to it than that. I don't suppose your Owen Harper explained any of it to you?—
"Who?" Daine asked, looking up at Jack.
"Owen," Jack muttered. "My friend who's not really dead. He's been visiting me in my dreams."
Daine squeezed his hand. "You talk to Owen or no one at all," she remembered, and Jack nodded, squeezing her hand back.
-If I may continue?—the badger growled, -We, as gods, are obviously in some semblance of control of this world. The inability to control something is, indeed frightful – but we cannot control Immortals, so why do we react with such fright to aliens? I will tell you why. It is for the same reason that you are not allowed in the Divine Realms, kit. The presence of a thing on this planet that is not from this planet or its divine counterpart strengthens Chaos. With every alien that sets foot here, Queen Uusoae gains a foothold.—
"Queen who?" Jack demanded.
"The Queen of Chaos," Daine whispered, eyes wide. "The Great Gods stand for order," she explained, "and Uusoae stands for Chaos. The legend goes that when Uusoae breaks free from the Great Gods, the world will be destroyed. You think Uusoae stole the Guardian?"
"This would've been nice to know before," Jack snapped, but the batder spared him nothing more than an inscrutable look with its cold, flat eyes before turning back to Daine.
-It is doubtful. She was, as you remember, imprisoned. However, the aliens were here in such great numbers, and you saw what they did. They attracted the basilisks, creatures who desire to learn new languages. Here, in front of them, was a culture and a language that they could not learn, not because we forbade it, but because it was literally beyond them. Their power means nothing to beings from other worlds. Aliens that step foot here defy our natural law and feed Chaos. If there are too many here, Uusoae will break free. They must be eliminated.—
"What about me?" Jack growled. "Why don't you eliminate me?"
-You cannot be eliminated. The Bad Wolf protects you.— The badger watched Jack with keen eyes. –Although you, too, strengthen her.—
"But we were going to send the Nepthalae away," Daine protested furiously. "They weren't going to stay here!"
-It would have taken too long. The longer they are here, the more Chaos they cause. They had to be destroyed. Your mage is lucky not to have been destroyed with them.— He nodded to Numair. Daine swallowed and Jack tensed further. –The Graveyard Hag thinks that this is a warning to you, but I know you better, kit.—
Daine scowled and Jack looked away. "What she did to Jack was unfair," she accused.
"Leave it," Jack whispered.
-It was unfair,- the badger agreed, -And it was reckless. We have no control of other Places, and now your Ianto Jones is aware of what is happening. Dead or not, that could be disastrous for this world. The Hag will be punished.—
Jack's eyes whipped back to the badger. "Aware?" he asked, voice catching. The animal looked back at him, cold and intelligent. Daine squeezed Jack's hand again.
-The Hag will be punished,- it repeated softly and then turned to Numair and Alanna. Waddling over, it breathed on them. The exhalation came out as a white mist that swirled around the two mortals, and they both jerked awake.
-Go and find the weevils,- the badger commanded. –Every moment they are here, they increase the foothold of Chaos.— He vanished with a burst of silver light and Jack was juts about to make a sarcastic comment when he was interrupted.
"What just happened?" Alanna demanded. Jack rushed to her side as Numair groaned.
"I feel awful," he complained, sinking back onto Daine's lap. Kitten gave a miserable cheep from somewhere around her left knee, and Daine gasped. She swooped down and kissed Numair, clutching him tightly.
"Don't you ever scare me like that again!" she scolded, and then snatched Kitten into her arms. "Ever!" She squeezed the dragon tightly. Kit wriggled, squealing in protest.
"Urgh, I don't plan on it," Numair mumbled, sitting up a little for another kiss. Kitten trilled indignantly when they squashed her in between them, but neither seemed to care. When they parted, Numair rested his head on Daine's shoulder. "Can I throw up now?"
"No," Daine said, giggles that sounded hysterical muffling her voice. "You're alright now." She cupped the back of his head, fretfully stroking his long, dark hair, which had come undone from his neat horsetail.
"No, I think vomiting is a real possibility," Alanna told the sky, rolling onto her back. She closed her eyes, and spoke to Jack, who had his hand on her forehead in concern. Daine seemed to have Numair and Kit under control, but someone had to look after Alanna, too. "We couldn't do it, could we? They're dead." The lady knight's voice had turned soft and somber.
"Yes," Jack whispered. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. I won't push you so hard next time, I—"
"Don't be absurd," Numair scolded him, voice muffled by Daine's shoulder. "We couldn't just let them die." He clutched Daine to him then, and looked up at Jack. "But that's exactly what happened, isn't it?"
"It wasn't your fault," Jack told him softly, unable to look away from the mage's bitter dark eyes. "It wasn't anyone's fault but the damn gods here."
"What do we do now?" Daine asked, voice small. Numair hugged her closer.
"We look for survivors," Alanna replied darkly, beginning to heave herself to her feet.
"There aren't any," Jack said, and he rested a hand on the Lioness' shoulder, gently pushing her back down. "Rest. I'll go. You're exhausted." He held her down for a moment, making sure that she would not rise, before he heaved himself to his feet.
"They killed you," Alanna said after a moment, propping herself up on her elbows to look up at him. Daine, Numair and Kitten turned to Jack.
"Yes," Jack said.
"You came back to life," Numair stated the obvious.
"Oh," Daine said and Jack laughed, but it wasn't a pleasant sound.
"Don't worry about it. Rest here. I'll go see if they are any survivors, or if I can scavenge any technology from the ship."
Four pairs of perplexed eyes, and he almost laughed again at the absurdity of it.
"I might be able to find something for my wrist strap, or a containment unit for the weevils," Jack explained, forcing down the hysteria. "So we won't have to kill them to appease your bloodthirsty gods. It isn't disrespectful," he continued, a lie, "It's what people do out there." He waved his hand up to the sky. That was true.
The three exhausted Tortallans and the young dragon believed him, or they were too tired to argue. Either way, Jack nodded and beckoned Red over. He bridled the horse and saddled him this time, before riding him back out to the ship.
"We're going to have to keep going," he told the dappled gelding. "Despite all this. They're loyal to me, now. Shit. I'm really going to have to do this."
They reached their destination and Jack dismounted. Red lowered his head and pressed his nose onto Jack's shoulder, a clear indication that he was loyal to Jack, too.
Jack rested a hand on his cheek. "It's going to be scary," he warned his horse. "This isn't over yet."
Red bit his shoulder and squeezed before pulling back and butting him, gently, towards the ship.
Jack didn't need Daine to translate that. I know. We're with you, he seemed to be saying.
"That's what I'm afraid of," Jack replied sadly and, turning, marched himself to the ruined ship. He had bodies to count and technology to scavenge.
Just like Torchwood.
END PART I
And that's it! I told you it got worse before it got better. But I can say this—Part II has a happy ending, I promise! It's, you know—just a long way off. At any rate, the first chapter of part II, The Spaces Between, will be posted TODAY in the Torchwood section, so those of you in the TP fandom can find it. Just go through my author's page. The next three chapters of Spaces will be in TORCHWOOD as well, because this one ended in the Immortal section.
The chapters for Spaces will be just as regular as they always are – maybe three a week for the next few, and then I'll try for one a week when I'm back in school. HOWEVER, be warned, not only am I taking Organic Chemistry II next semester, which is an awful course that requires an obscene amount of studying, but the climax of Spaces also needs a ton of work, so when we hit chapter twenty or so, updates will likely slow down. Never fear, however! The story is finished, so it will all get posted! It is very much not a WIP; I won't leave you guys hanging.
Anyway, it's been great, you guys rock and look! I hit 100 reviews; that's never happened for me before! Thank you all so much, and I'll see you for the prologue of Spaces! Please drop a review, I love to hear from you all!