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you build a fine shrine in me ([personal profile] amber) wrote in [community profile] synaesthesia2009-04-19 08:30 pm

(for what were less than dead). [Torchwood]

(for what were less than dead)

fandom torchwood / doctor who. [post s2/s4]
characters captain jack harkness.
archived @ AO3
notes spoilers for all of Torchwood. title from E. E. Cummings' now what were motionless move. written for [ profile] paralinguistic.

Time may not be linear, but human life is.

Scatter a handful of rice on a piece of paper and it could be something like Jack’s life throughout history; a clump near the Blitz, a bigger one in the twenty-first century (when it all changes) and a few grains almost falling off the end of time. Crumple the paper and all you get is a ruined metaphor, but for Jack his life is an arrow, from birth to death to death to death to death to

Along the way, there are stutters which suddenly begin to gape like chasms as the years go past and more and more memory shucks itself of detail before falling away.

One day he just woke up and it was there in his head; his childhood all tinted with gold, the grit of sand between his toes and at the back of his mouth, the unbearable feel of fingers slipping from his. It’d be easier to pretend he dreamt it, but lies are always easy.

I’ll show you fear in a handful of dust. He lets that tiny displaced piece of Boeshane trickle through his fingers, and Ianto will have to clean it up later but for now he just lets it fall away, the last he has of his homeworld, sand that won’t really exist for another three thousand years. He lets it go.

In the back of his head, his mother asks; “Where’s Gray?”

Jack doesn’t need sleep anymore, not in the way a normal person does. The first time he tries he awakes shuddering and gasping in his bunk, bile at the back of his throat. For a moment, he remembers death. Not the brief red jag of dying that can stretch an instant into a lifetime, nor the slap of the real world against his consciousness as he revives, but the place in-between. The emptiness. It hangs promisingly behind his eyelids and then the boat sways with the motion of the waves and his stomach roils and the memory slips away like a dream. Jack is left tangled in bedsheets with an unplaceable ache, as though he’s been chewing aluminium foil or having his heart broken.

“Sleep is for the dead,” he says when people ask, when lovers find him on the roof or at the window watching the sun rise. He chuckles, and they join in, but the words grow dull with use.

It’s a lie, of course. Sleep is for the living, and Jack’s remembrance of that is slipping, slipping.

“I knew someone,” Jack says, haltingly. “Someone like Beth. A long time ago.”

“Jack—” Gwen begins, but he cuts her off.

“We would have had to kill her eventually Gwen. She did the right thing.”

“Beth was human, Jack. She was frightened, and guilty, and trapped. What you did was assisted suicide.”

Jack doesn’t look at her, just stares out over the Torchwood offices. “What else would you have had me do, Gwen? There is no cure, no magical piece of technology which would have made her all better. She would have had to live the rest of her life knowing what she was, what she could become.” He crosses his arms tighter across his chest. “Until she became it. Beth gave us a way out.”

Gwen rounds on him, fiercely, and her eyes are huge in her pale face, make-up slightly smeared from her crying. “And is that what we do here, Jack? We look for the easy way out?”

He doesn’t respond.

“You know,” he tells Tosh, “This is the first war I haven’t fought in for a while.” They’re going through the papers, looking for clues to a recent smattering of alien buzzwords in the phone conversations of key American political figures.

“Our war is more important,” Tosh tells him casually, and then double-clicks: “Ah! Got it! It’s the Kennedy Assassination, some new evidence has been called into play that suggests extraterrestrial interference, and the recent sightings have got the current admin worried that—”

Jack isn’t listening. He wonders how many of the others think of this as a war. If Torchwood has really changed that much after all.

“How many wars have you fought in?” Ianto asks; it’s another world away. Tosh (and Owen) are dead, and they’re in a bar; Jack drinks two shots for every one of Ianto’s G&Ts but his immune system’s too fucking strong, his cells regenerating before he can slip into the easy drunken state he used to search for at the bottom of a Martini.

“Three,” says Jack. “Give or take.” At Ianto’s look, he embellishes; “First, Second, and— another one. A long way away from here.” In time, if not in space. He pushes the glass of water at Ianto again. “Which is why I know hydration’s important.”

Ianto sips it without relish. “Were you at the Battle of Canary Wharf? I always wondered.”

The question takes Jack by surprise. Which is why he likes Ianto so much — not much surprises him these days. “No,” he says, blunt and truthful. He should have been. Not because of the people who died, or because of loyalty to Torchwood, but because it would have been his one chance. When he’d seen Rose Tyler’s name on the list of the dead, he’d thought: The Doctor will never come back to this time again.

Wrong, of course. But he doesn’t explain any of that to Ianto, just kisses him in the way that means he doesn’t want to talk about it anymore.

“I want you to monitor me sleeping,” he tells Owen. Who of course looks at him like he’s going crazy, which maybe Jack is. A hundred years of insomnia can do that to a man.

“You’re mental,” says Owen, already getting the equipment.

When he wakes up he can almost feel the ship rocking under him, the sensation is so similar. He coughs, rubs a hand across his eyes as he sits up so Owen won’t see that he’s almost weeping with the knowledge of death. His voice is gravelly. “Results?”

“Jack.” Owen’s voice is atypically careful. “You’re fucking weird, let me say that much. Admittedly, if I was on that table my readings’d be a whole lot of nothing, so I’m not here to judge, mate, it’s just that. Well.”

Jack snatches the paper from his hands. Nothing. No changes in brainwave patterns. No REM. Not the flatline some part of him secretly expects to see, as though sleep is as close to death as it feels. His body heals itself abnormally fast already; it doesn’t need rest to do so.

“Don’t tell anyone about this,” Jack warns, and he doesn’t give back the printouts.

“What? Who’m I gonna tell? Why would this interest any-bloody-one, including you, is completely beyond me.” Jack’s already detached himself from the strings of electrodes and slipped his suspenders back over his shoulders. “In fact,” Owen calls after him, “I’d go so far as to say this has been a complete waste of time and Torchwood equipment! So thanks a whole bunch for that, Jack! Lovely speaking with you!”

The sound someone makes before they die is infinitely variable. He’s heard the brief wail of a woman struck down over the cold corpse of her husband and the long gurgle of a torture victim as he welcomes the relief of death. Normally Jack likes music he can dance to, whether it’s a bold flourish of a tango or a heartfelt waltz, but on the bleakest days he visits classical concerts.

In his seat, still as the grave, the music washes around him. The Doctor may listen to the music of the spheres, but when the violinists play high and melancholy Jack can only hear screaming.

They had lived with the threat of invasion. The monsters hadn’t bothered with Boeshane in the beginning; such a tiny, peaceful place. The waves met the stone with gentle sounds which mixed with windchimes and the laughter of children, and even the desert was beautiful in its own harsh way. Once upon a time it had been great Redwood forests, but the green dwindled to carefully tended window-boxes, long tendrils spilling brightly coloured flowers down the walls.

Jack had a different name then, but that was so many names ago it doesn’t belong to him anymore. It belongs to a young boy who had sat in front of a tiny holoscreen, watching people dying in other countries and longing to fight alongside them. It belongs to a boy who had broken curfew with his brother to play cricket on the beach in the last rays of the dying sun. It belongs to a boy who was innocent.

“They’re already here,” the sleeper agent says as he dies, and Jack hears the aliens’ howls on the wind as clear as day. Was this the beginning of the invasion? If he rooted out every single person with a blade in their arm and a core of evil in their head, would it change everything?

A world in which Grey never let go of his hand, a world in which he never spent a thousand years in agony muffled by ten feet of earth.

Sometimes he still coughs up tiny black specks of Welsh soil.

There’s too much for just one person. Though Jack makes noise about one day writing it all down, he knows he never will. Instead he uses people as archives, telling anecdotes, dropping clever little hints about his past. Even the things they find out through their own means, through John and the rift and the endless stream of co-incidences that sends everything back to haunt him.

His worst fear is that one day one of them will turn to him, mention casually a picnic or an affair or a battle they remember him talking about, and Jack will reach to agree with them and find he has forgotten.

Underneath Torchwood, in his cramped little room like a cabin in the bowels of a submarine, Jack toys recklessly with sleep; dozing just on the brink of it, grasping for what he dreads.

That’s when the dreams come. Brief images and colors that burn like dying suns. The taste of them is wrong; he remembers once dreams that made sense and yet no sense, twisting storylines the abstract and the absurd intermingled.

It only comes clear once, like a shift in focus and suddenly everything he’s seeing is outlined in sharp detail. He gasps sharply, and startles himself back to wakefulness.

Ianto’s questioning hand on the curve of his bare shoulder is unwelcome, but for once Jack hasn’t the heart to shake it off. Memory, it’s just memory, his subconscious throwing up things it doesn’t have room for so he can forget them again in the light of day. “Nightmare,” he murmurs. “Go back to sleep.”

“Jack,” Ianto says, but his tone is inscrutable, his voice muzzy, and he says nothing more.

Jack feels the smooth rise and fall of his chest under his splayed palm, his occasional snuffling snore, and wonders (not for the first time) if it’s possible to sleep through osmosis.

Story may not be linear, but human life is, and Jack sees his future fly out before him like an arrow. An infinity of waiting and warring and dancing and dying, one moment blending into the next until the years slip by untouched and Torchwood is nothing but a half-remembered dream.

And after that? he wonders.

now what were motionless move(exists no

miracle mightier than this:to feel)
poor worlds must merely do,which then are done;
and whose last doing shall not quite undo
such first amazement as a leaf-here's one

more than each creature new(except your fear
to whom i give this little parasol,
so she may above people walk in the air
with almost breathing me)-look up:and we'll

(for what were less than dead)dance,i and you;
high(are become more than alive)above
anybody and fate and even Our
whisper it Selves but don't look down and to

-morrow and yesterday and everything except love
e e cummings

hab318princess: by september_icons (Default)

[personal profile] hab318princess 2009-09-01 02:32 pm (UTC)(link)
these were lovely vignettes, heartbreaking too

thanks for sharing, great insight into Jack's life now
amand_r: (Default)

[personal profile] amand_r 2009-09-01 04:55 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh baby, you had me at the rice metaphor and didn't let go.

Is it wrong to be heartbroken?