Canon pairings, warning for violence, disturbing themes, major character deaths, domestic violence, and other darkfic things. Answer to prompt "a Torchwood fic detailing the team's deaths in front of Jack during TYTNW." Title from "A Burnt Ship" by John Donne.
A Burnt Ship
Out of a fired ship, which by no way
But drowning could be rescued from the flame,
Some men leap'd forth, and ever as they came
Near the foes' ships, did by their shot decay;
So all were lost, which in the ship were found,
They in the sea being burnt, they in the burnt ship drown'd.
- "A Burnt Ship," John Donne
Jack doesn't dream of his own escape. He dreams of Alice and Steven hidden far away from the Toclafane, with Gwen and Rhys making them quick, canned meals over a tiny bonfire made in the corner of a basement. Steven would complain and ask for his favorites, but Alice would tickle him and distract him with a story, and Rhys would do his best to be funny and diverting, and Gwen would give Steven that smile of hers that even makes Captain Jack Harkness himself smile in return at the simple thought of it.
He dreams of his team's exciting escape from the Himalayas; what a story they'll have to tell once this is all over. He dreams of an apocalypse-weary Ianto fighting despair as he switches off guard duty with Owen, their trigger fingers as ready on their guns as they were the day Owen shot Jack dead. He dreams of Tosh building a security system from scraps and nothing, her mouth set in a determined line as her eyes droop from exhaustion, unchanged in her drive to keep all of them safe and fighting.
He dreams of Tosh's half-smile to Owen, that they might find each other through this horror.
But they're all just dreams, and he is so very awake.
It's been a month. Mostly, Jack's shoulders ache. He's had lovers who were into bondage, but this is something else entirely.
The only clue that the Doctor has a plan is that, while the Master chatters and eggs him towards despair, he says nothing. Jack hasn't lost hope yet. He hopes he never will.
"The Captain!" the Master declares upon the sight of him, and salutes sharply, a smirk tugging on the side of his mouth. "Sah! Got a report for you."
"Oh, goody," Jack says dryly.
The Master gestures offhand to the UNIT troops behind him, come along. "Bring him in."
First, he thinks of Steven. Then Ianto, and only then, Owen, and that plus the look of broken misery on Owen's face as he recovers from being thrown to the floor is enough to make even Jack sick with guilt.
What have I done to you?
"Hey, Jack," Owen says, ignoring the gun barrel in his face, and his sarcasm is past biting into poisonous. "How's it hangin'?"
Jack laughs, hard, and his sides literally ache from the pressure. "Oh, great," he agrees, embracing the absurdity with a cheerful tone.
"Are you finished? I don't want to interrupt any heartwarming moments," the Master says, gestures impatiently, and receives a black suitcase from one of his guards. "Tell me, how many of you has Handsome Jack shagged now?" he asks Owen.
"He won't shag you," Owen says, amiably caustic. "He has standards."
"Ha," Jack laughs, appreciative, but it catches in his throat as the Master fires the taser at Owen and sends his body crackling and quivering to the floor with the blast of electricity.
The Master pulls a slender, shining knife from the case. "As I was saying," he goes on smoothly, "I've never liked doctors. Sanctimonious sort. Think they can save lives."
Jack wishes he didn't see where this is going, that he wouldn't know from experiences on either side of the knife. "Yeah. Far be it from someone to play God," he snaps with an unfriendly smile.
"I'm not playing," the Master says plainly, and as the guards come forward, he nods to Owen, who's still twitching and cursing under his breath. He grins, too pleased, as they shackle him to another set of chains across the room from Jack. "I am your Lord and Master, Jack." He snaps off the last syllable of his name like he's relishing a filthy turn of phrase. "Have a little faith in me."
"Oh please," Jack says, unable to help himself, and looks Owen in the face as the Master murmurs something low and smug to him, running the flat of the blade against Owen's cheek. I'm sorry, he tries to say with his face, but Owen just shrugs.
It doesn't matter. It's just death. Yeah. He knows how that feels.
"You're all going to die," the Master tells Owen, almost genially, and cuts into him, laughing at Owen's inward wince of pain.
When the Master gets to work with the knife, cuts through his clothes to get closer to the flesh, Jack doesn't close his eyes or wince in sympathy; he doesn't fantasize or plot. He just watches Owen, stays with him, until his bloodless face goes limp and the Master's hands are too wet with blood for any doctor, the definite article or not, to save him.
Jack finds out the day after – with Owen's blood is still staining the floor of Jack's cell – that Tosh and Owen were brought in together. Tosh is there. He tries to stay focused, unwavering, but Owen was different. Owen toyed with death, embraced it, begged for it. Owen lived. Tosh hasn't had the chance to live yet; she's too cold, too scared, too young.
He worries for her sanity, because, unlike most of them, she still has it.
They throw Tosh into his cell, handcuffed, and she lays on the floor for a moment before she struggles to her feet and looks at him. "Oh, Jack," she says, softly.
"C'mere," Jack says without an instant of hesitation, and Tosh rushes to him, her cheek against his in the closest they can get to an embrace. "Toshiko – "
"Owen's dead," she says, stumbles over it, apparently unable to believe it. "He – the Master."
He wants so badly to comfort her, but even if he were free, could he? "I know," he says.
"No," Tosh says, tensed now, and moves away. "He brought Owen – Owen's body. Into my cell."
There are flecks of blood on her face, on her clothes, and for the first time in quite some time, Jack is completely, vividly angry.
"We'll get him, Tosh."
"I know," Tosh says, with that tense little smile of hers, the one where she puts on a brave face to spite the way of the world and its inclination to fuck her up.
"Well that's enough of that," the Master says from the door, and strolls in idly. "Can't have you plotting against me, that's just terrifying." He raises the laser screwdriver and undoes Jack's shackles from there (Jack can feel him smirking from his spot on the floor as he drags himself up).
"What do you want?" Tosh says, icily forcing the words out.
"It's time for dinner and a show! You go ahead, Captain – we'll catch up," the Master intimates to Jack, who only moves once Tosh gives him the slightest nod. It's tempting to punch the Master in the face, no matter the risk, but his life isn't on the line. It's never on the line.
He isn't lying about dinner. There's a conference room tucked off to the side in the Valiant with a huge panoramic window, and the Valiant staff serve them disgustingly rich, luxurious food. They're still handcuffed, so it's difficult, but they manage. Jack doesn't taste any poison, but he eats sparingly; Tosh, for once, is actually eating, though he can't blame her. It's something to focus on besides the dreadful obvious.
"Good, you're in the spirit," the Master encourages her, and turns to Jack when he feels the glare from across the table. "And you, Jack? Enjoying your meal?"
"It's super," Jack says, with a brittle smile.
"Good," the Master says, and leans back in his chair, thoughtfully. He raises his screwdriver, and turns on the PA system. "Bring them in," he declares, and laughs to himself as the Joneses are ushered into the conference room. "Now for the show! Oh, you're going to love this, Toshiko – "
Tosh's fork clatters to the ground, and she just stares at the Master, daring him to do a thing.
He knows that look. She's unbreakable.
That's his Tosh.
The screens drawn back from the windows and Jack is facing away from the windows, across from Tosh, but he can see the look on her face, and it's horrible.
"What is it?" he asks, loudly. "Someone tell me."
"It's Japan," Tish says, her voice soft. "We're flying over Japan."
The Master is standing now, and grabs Toshiko by the handcuffs, hauling her forward. "Up, up! You need to see this – "
"No," Jack shouts. "Do you hear me, NO, you're not doing – "
"Oh, you know, you're right, Jack, what was I thinking, I'm going to go back to my old hobby of stamp-collecting," the Master says over him, cheerfully mocking. "Friends! Toclafane! I think it's about time we say goodbye to Japan."
"Fire, fire," the Toclafane sing-song, and Jack stares ahead at the wall in front of him as everyone in the room holds their breath – and it happens. The Master's glee is tangible, but the first sound to break the silence is Tosh's sobbing, like her heart's being ripped straight through her chest, and the Joneses lose it that instant, clinging to each other.
As always, Tosh and Jack are together, alone.
It's almost a relief when Tosh's sobs go near silent as her throat goes hoarse, and then the Master takes a gun from one of his guards and they stop entirely.
"Clean that up," the Master says to the Joneses, now bored with the whole thing, "and Jack, oh, Jack. You need some time to digest, don't you?"
"Fuck you," Jack says, plainly vicious, and he's never meant it more.
"Oh, play nice, or I might not let you see who else I've got in the toybox." The Master laughs as Jack jerks away from the guards, glares at him, tries to break away on sheer instinct and fury.
Jack only wishes the sight of a slumped over, dead and devastated Tosh could turn his stomach. But this is nothing new. This is the life he lives, the life he's always lived, even before it became the life he could never lose.
Everyone dies. One day he'll learn he might as well do it alone.
It's another two weeks before they find Gwen, and she gives them hell. There isn't much to smile about on the Valiant, so news like "Gwen Cooper fought the Toclafane and lost an eye and two fingers in her escape," is practically New Year's at Times Square.
Jack grins when she's hauled in front of him. "I gotta say, the eyepatch look is working for you."
"Shut up," she says, but is grinning through the prospect of death as well.
"You'd flip me off if you had the finger, wouldn't you?"
"Look, they're whistling in the dark," the Master says to Lucy, who wears a jacket over a sling on her arm. "How sweet. Should we leave you two alone?"
"Yeah, but leave the handcuffs," Jack cracks.
"Jack," Gwen chides him, and he laughs.
"I think we could have lots of fun with Miss Cooper," the Master says to Lucy, as though what's mostly left of Torchwood Three isn't have a conversation in front of him. "Don't you think? Even if she's Welsh."
"I'd like to see you try," Gwen retorts.
"A challenge! That's what I like to hear." The Master points the screwdriver at her handcuffs, and they clatter to the ground. She stares at them, and then back up at the Master. "Well?" he prompts her, and gestures helpfully to the door.
"Gwen," Jack warns her, voice low.
"Hold tight, Jack," she says, and punches the Master in the nose.
The Master laughs like this was what he was expecting (well, if he's read anything on Gwen, maybe he should have) and Gwen gets three feet to the door before Lucy's got her hands on the laser screwdriver. It doesn't work but then it does and it scrapes across Gwen's back, her shirt instantly striped red with blood along the tear in the fabric, but she bolts past guards.
"Lucy," Jack says, willing her to look him in the face, to realize what she's done and who she's standing beside, but she refuses to look him in the eye.
"That," the Master says, hauling himself up from the punch, "that was good! Get Cooper back here," he announces over the PA, and her footsteps disappear from earshot for an instant before a shot rings out.
Part of Jack is dreaming of Ianto, in a lab somewhere, maybe in the Hub, safe behind safeguards created by Tosh and Suzie and all of the Torchwood staff who came before them in an effort to keep him and their doomed colleagues alive. It's better to think of what might be than what is, right now, because –
"Jack," Gwen says, her eyes wide with the adrenaline, the chase, as they haul her back to the Master, bloody and beaten but not dead – not dead –
"You were brilliant," he says to her, just in time to see the terror clear and acceptance set in. Then the Master slits her throat and drops her to the floor to die. Her eyes never leave Jack's until the moment she dies.
There's nothing pretty to say or to think about where Jack is right now, about what Jack is feeling, doing, saying, thinking.
He'd like to hate himself, to blame himself for Owen's death, for Tosh's, for Gwen's. He'd like to blame Torchwood for it, or the Doctor. If neither of them had walked into the lives of these extraordinary ordinary people, they might have lived. Owen would have been an MD without living nightmares of creatures that most people couldn't imagine in their wildest flights of fancy, Tosh would be innovating on a daily basis, bringing the 21st century even further ahead, and Gwen would be PC Cooper, saving the day every day with her trademark blend of toughness and compassion. Martha Jones would be saving lives with diagnoses instead of guns and wit.
The truth is that they would have wound up here no matter what. Different aliens, different murders, but murder all the same.
The 21st century is when it all changes.
They weren't ready.
It's another few months before they find Ianto, and Jack beams desperately at him as the Master brings him along, as though maybe by sheer force of stubborn love in the face of disaster he can will them to somewhere, somewhen better.
"Hello, sir," Ianto says, perfectly calm, and Jack can't help but laugh.
"Isn't he pretty," the Master says dryly. "Have you got any suggestions for this one, Jack?"
"No," Jack says simply. Ianto is weary but strong and ready for this, and he knows, he was right about the Welsh kid all along. No matter what happens, he knows. If he had the chance to do it over... "Just let him go."
"This one? I don't think so. He was at what was left of your Hub, the sneaky little deviant," the Master declared, and takes a handful of Ianto's hair. "Trying to outwit me? Not smart," he informs Ianto.
Ianto glances up at him and doesn't miss a beat. "Yes, very stupid," he agrees serenely. "That's how you caught me so fast."
The Master snorts and shoves him away. "You think this is going to work?" he mocks him. "Annoy me into killing you quickly?"
Ianto doesn't hesitate or smile, although Jack can see a hint of amusement in the half-glance he sends him.. "Yes, you've proven so mature and patient over the course of your rule on high. Jack," he goes on as the Captain can't help but laugh, "behave, would you? I'm trying to get a quick death here."
"Sorry," Jack apologizes brightly. "Go on!"
"Are you going to kill me or are you trying to bore me to death?" Ianto asks the Master conversationally.
Ianto's sending him this look that says, It's okay, I trust you and Jack is thinking, he wishes that he deserved the sentiment, then the dread sound of the laser screwdriver (of all things) starts up and blood spreads across the front of Ianto's already uncharacteristically stained and battered shirt as the Master guts him.
"Boring," the Master declares, drops him to the floor, and tastes the blood on his hands. "Eugh. Humans," he says to Jack in utter distaste, and leaves without another word.
"Jack," Ianto manages, through the anguish. "I – you have to – "
"It's all right," Jack answers, his stock answer, his stock calm tone. He can't engage. He can't live in this moment, or any of the others. "Just let go, Ianto, trust me," he says steadily. "Let go, or it'll all be pain."
Ianto scoffs at that, and sends a wry smile up at Jack.. "Oh, I think it's all pain anyway – " He chokes, whimpers, and lets out an "Agh – "
"Close your eyes," Jack says firmly, and keeps his eyes on Ianto as he rolls onto his back. "And listen to me." He falls silent, his eyes fall shut, so Jack goes on. "The Doctor is here. Martha's here. And you have to trust me on this, we'll sort it. I swear it. No matter what it takes."
It's a strain to speak, but Ianto manages. "Thank you," he says.
"Thank you," Jack returns, genuine and pained, but there's no point. He's talking to the dead again; he's gone.
All those things, they still happened, because of him. I saw them.
Like always, Jack runs.