Title: These Are the Stories
Author: nancybrown
Rating: PG-13
Characters: Jack (TW/DW ensemble)
Wordcount: 1200
Spoilers: up through CoE
Warnings: pointlessly emo
Author's Note: This fell out of my head. Don't ask why.
Summary: These are the stories he tells himself.

His hands are cut and bloody from the work, hard and unrelenting and mind-numbing and perfect. The wounds will heal before he reaches the place where he pretends to sleep, and no one will ask questions. His name is Jayce here, and no one questions that either. He works, he eats, he tries not to think and that is acceptable until it's time to rest. Four star systems now, two years if "year" means anything, and he has not buried himself yet.

He tells himself stories. He tells himself things were different. He creates histories that cannot all be true, but are true in the sense that they should have been true.

These are the stories he tells himself:

He held on, though his palm was slick with sweat and shaking with fear. He yanked Gray hard, pushed him ahead to keep an eye on him, shoved him into the lee of the shelter. The monsters flew overhead and death was everywhere and they huddled together until the danger passed. When it was safe they fled back home, and oh, their father had just made it in time, had just managed to lock the door and hide with their mother, and their parents embraced them weeping. So many were lost, and yet they clung to this one miracle: their family spared.

He had learned the importance of family, of sticking together, and so when the Agency came with their shiny lies, he turned away, happy to remain at Boeshane, happy to learn his father's trade and grow into a man under the bright sun, tending the cool waves. He married a local boy, and Gray married a local girl, other chaff of the raid (they called themselves chaff, but maybe they'd just be survivors) and their parents' home was filled with warm laughter and grandchildren, and he grew old among people who loved him.

Some things were important, and this was one of them. Jack handed in his resignation without a qualm. Sure they fought, but Lucia was right. Melissa needed both of her parents with her, and besides, he'd had enough of this life. The Doctor would come or he wouldn't, and Jack could wait just as easily in a nice house in a quiet neighbourhood as he could brooding on a rooftop.

They never married; Lucia refused. But he stayed anyway, and they argued and fought and loved, and they hid under their new names like jumpers that didn't quite fit. He found work from time to time, and so did she, and they moved every five years so none of the neighbours noticed that he stayed unchanging, and he tucked Alice (she would have another name, he thinks, not the one Lucia plucked from a woman who'd tortured Jack to death over and over) into bed every night and read to her. When she began to date Joe, he warned the young man not to break her heart, knowing he would anyway. When Lucia died, he grieved, and then he and Alice and Steven moved to another city where no one knew them, and he was her brother as far as the world knew, living just next door, babysitting as needed and over for dinner every night. He was like a second father to Steven, as much as he could be, and he watched him grow up as he had watched Alice, and he was always there for them. He blessed Rose and the Doctor for allowing him this gift, to watch over them always.

Jack was strong, stronger than anyone knew. He wasn't tempted by emotion or desire, wasn't foolish enough to believe himself capable of fixing another human being. He was brave, too, brave enough to smile grimly and wrap the other man's trembling hands around the mug of tea Tosh had fixed. Blood still caked Ianto's fingernails and soaked into his ruined suit, still formed sticky puddles on the floor of the chamber down in the archives although the bodies had been dragged away for disposal.

"Drink," Jack told him. "You'll feel better." It only took a few minutes for the already-shocky eyes to go glassy from the sedative. Jack allowed him to keep the memories of his first few months at Torchwood London, his first few months with Lisa, and stole the rest away forever. The diagnosis his sister would receive was post-traumatic amnesia, and she would cluck her tongue and say he'd always been delicate, hardly a surprise it had finally gotten to him with all he'd been through.

Jack was careful and checked up on his former employee only the regulated number of times to ensure the amnesia held, and never went by his new home to watch Ianto settle into his new life. Jack was smart enough to plant a suggestion that Ianto should travel, should see the world outside of Cardiff, and Jack was completely fine when Ianto returned after five years away married to someone he'd met in Alberta. The Retcon never broke. Years passed and Jack eventually forgot about the whole thing except a vague memory of a thwarted Cyberman invasion and a strange desire to smile whenever he saw a necktie.

Jack stepped in front of the bullet intended for Owen. It hurt like hell, and he hated dying in front of people who didn't know his secret, but part of him was glad. The others disarmed the doctor safely, and as soon as Jack recovered from his death, they all went to the pub to celebrate. Ianto fussed at him for getting his clothes ruined again but was quieted with a kiss. Owen bought the first round and won the drinking game he was teaching to Tosh and Gwen, while Jack sat back with Martha and chatted about the happier parts of old times like they didn't hurt at all. It was a good night.

Maybe Martha brought Tish with her when she came to Cardiff, and she met all the people Jack had told her about. Of course she didn't flinch when he stepped in front of the bullet for Owen, for all the times she'd seen him die. At the pub later, she and Ianto got along like houses on fire, swapping cute stories and comparing notes and it was a really good night.

Maybe the Doctor dropped in unexpectedly too, with Donna in tow and somehow Rose as well, and the group of them closed the pub down, laughing and singing songs that hadn't been written yet, and piled outside to hang out by the Bay, just watching the sunrise and being utterly content to all be together. And Jack appreciated it, and acknowledged it, and he told them all, told each one, how much they meant to him, and they knew it was true because he was completely sober.

Maybe things stayed like that forever.

When he wakes up knowing the stories are wrong, he leaves his name and his job behind him again, and moves on to the next planet, and begins weaving new lies. Someday, he'll find a story he can make himself believe.

The End