It had been a long time since Captain Jack Harkness had been this close to the Earth. Too long, and not long enough, all at the same time. Some nightmares were hard to forget, but memories were a lot harder to lose. Jack shook his head at the somber thought and made his way to the nearest pub. He'd made his decision to be here, he would try to stick to it. And wouldn't it be so much easier if he weren't entirely sober?
The sign of the 'Captain's Port' was welcoming enough as he walked by to catch his attention, and the name of the pub was enough like an invitation that he couldn't resist going in. Jack had always been quite the charmer and on any other night he could have had his pick of women... or men... or aliens, to be honest, and usually he would. But tonight was different. Tonight was an anniversary of sorts, one that he had come to pay his respects to. He'd been told once that he couldn't just run away, but that had been just what he'd done. Every Earth year that had passed since then, on this day, he would make himself remember everyone he'd loved and lost, everyone who'd died because of him... or even by his hand. It was his penance, his punishment for himself. One day of every year his usual mask would drop and Jack would see only the monster he'd become staring out at him from the mirror. His minds eye flashed to a little boy who'd trusted his 'Uncle Jack' and a women who'd always known better than to trust her own father. He needed a drink, and he needed one now.
Jack sat at the bar nursing his drink and reflecting on his past in solitude. It was going to be a long night. He still couldn't bring himself to set foot on the planet, but he was currently circling the Earth on one of the first space stations human beings had built for public use. A man who looked a bit younger than Jack sat on the barstool next to him and gave him a measuring look. Jack ignored him and finished his drink with one swallow, signaling the bartender to bring him another. The stranger put out the money for his drink before he could reach into his pocket for his own.
"Didn't you know? Captains drink free here." Any other night, and Jack would have smiled that million dollar smile, but tonight all the stranger got was a glare. The man payed no attention to Jack's mood and continued anyway. "My mum used to tell me all sorts of stories about a captain. A hero she'd call him, 'the Tragic Hero.' Mum was a bit into the dramatic."
He might be drunk, but Jack wasn't so far out of it that he knew he didn't want to hear the rest of that story. There was something vaguely familiar about the man, something about his eyes. Jack got up to leave without touching the paid-for drink, hoping perhaps that the man would take the hint. No such luck.
He hadn't taken two steps before the man spoke again. "How rude of me, I hadn't even given you my name. Jack. Jack Harkness Williams."
That got his attention. One Jack turned to look at the other. There it was. He hadn't been able to see it clearly before because it had been so long. That man had Gwen Cooper's eyes. Or rather, Gwen Williams. Jack wasn't sure if he wanted to laugh or cry, sit or run. Why today, of all days? Or maybe this was for the best, all the past coming back to haunt him at once.
The man, Jack, lifted his untouched drink in silent invitation. The Captain sat down once again, and knocked back the entire thing in one go. The man next to him chuckled quietly.
"It's an old family name, I'm told. Passed down through the generations to the first born son with a very interesting bedtime story and this." Jack looked over to see the man holding a photograph. A very old photograph, and one that he quickly recognized. Five faces stared back at Jack, one of them his own. All smiling and standing the in middle of the old Torchwood 3 hub. He took the photo in numb fingers. After all this time, and it still hurt.
He didn't want to do this. There was a reason he'd stayed away for so long. No one in this time should know who he is, or what he'd done. Gwen; he loved her and hated her all at the same time. She must have thought that she was honoring his memory or some such. All the alcohol was starting to work against him, he could feel the tears stinging at his eyes. "They always died so young." It was all he could think of to say.
The other Jack just sat there patiently, watching and waiting. When Jack finally met his eyes again it was to see a look of understanding. "Believe it or not, I've a message for you. Passed down with the name and the photo and the stories. I never thought I'd be the one to tell you, in all honesty, thought I'd just get to pass it down like everybody else." The stranger took a deep breath and pulled himself up straight.
Who knew that two little words could have such an impact. Jack's fight or flight was starting to kick in. He must have started to look a bit wild because the man plowed on before he could get his feet underneath of him.
"It doesn't have to be right now, but who knows how long it'll be there. Awhile for the rest of us, sure, but maybe not so long for you, right?" The man wrote an address down on a spare napkin and forced Jack's fist closed around it. "It really was an honor to meet you," he said, and then he was gone.
Jack sat there for a few minutes longer. He'd had enough ghosts for one night, he'd done his penance. It was time to start running again. Obviously he'd not run far enough last time. This time, though, he'd do it right.
Many more anniversary's passed Jack before he could bear to look at the Earth again. Each year ticking away like the second hand on a clock for him. In his fist was a crumpled old napkin, now yellowed with age, but the writing on it was still legible. He now found himself standing in Cardiff Bay, over what use to be his old Torchwood base. All of it having been rebuilt oh so long ago. It was hard for him to reconcile what he was seeing with the carnage this place had been the last time he'd been here. Even the fountain had been replicated in all it's towering glory. For a moment he could feel the ghost of eyes watching him stand there.
The only thing that had changed was the addition of a monument. From their perch on their place of honor six faces looked out at the world, standing vigil for all to see. Five of the figures he would have expected, if he'd known this was there. The sixth face, though, was a shock. In the middle of the team from Torchwood 3, sitting on Jack's hip and smiling, was his grandson, Steven Carter. Jack looked to the base of the statue at the inscription set there.
'To those who sacrificed everything
so the Earth could live in peace.'
Jack bent down to read the small lettering at the bottom. 'Dedicated in 2060 by Alice Carter.'
This is what Gwen had wanted Jack to see. He felt his heart swell at the thought. After all this time, and Gwen was still looking out for him. Those really had been some of the best years of his exceedingly long life, he thought. It was comforting to realize that before she'd died, his daughter had forgiven him. It gave Jack hope that someday in his future he'd be able to forgive himself as well.
A/N: I'd love any feedback/constructive criticism. How bad was my use of tenses? Was the story easy too follow? Did it flow well? How did I do in explaining why Jack was so out of character? All of these things will help me learn to be a better writer.
I really want to put together a photo of the monument that Jack goes to see. If I succeed I'll post a link in my bio.