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Torchwood Fic: "Marigolds" (2/3)
star trek xi; finally gold
cirrocumulus wrote in cirro_media
Title: Marigolds (2/3)
Fandom/Pairing: Torchwood, Jack/Ianto
Rating: PG-13
Words: 3,799
Summary: There was someone else in the darkness.
Acknowledgments: Unquantifiable thanks to Liz for beta-ing.


Ianto was calm today; a general lightness flitted about his features and a mild smile allowed itself brief visitation. Which was nice, because if Ianto could buy into the notion that what they were doing here wasn't entirely terrifying, Jack could too.

"What do you do when I'm gone?" Jack asked. Ianto thought for a moment before answering, eyeing his own fingers pensively.

"I don't, really," he said, frowning slightly (Jack was always fond of his puzzled expressions). "It's like I'm not aware that I'm here when you're not. I suppose it's a bit like how it's always been for you, before."

"It is a weird place," Jack murmured, staring into the one-dimensional void that no one was really supposed to be able to see; it infringed upon the primitive center of his mind that couldn't conceive of nothingness and he looked away to avoid the nauseating idea of looping infinity, an end with no beginning.

"Gwen said some things today," Jack said, twiddling his thumbs pensively.

"Gwen says a lot of things," Ianto said with a smirk, and Jack's own smile felt like an ancient expression.

"She thinks I need to give you up," Jack said quietly.

Ianto turned very still, eyeing Jack fearsomely. "What do you mean?" he asked, scooting a little closer. "She doesn't know, does she?"

"Not really, no," Jack said, staring at the general space between them. "Though she knows enough. I suppose she doesn't really have to know the details."

Jack chanced a look at Ianto's face; his expression was indefinite, mouth down-turned in guilted sympathy. Jack was reminded of how he'd often been surprised by the clear, watery quality of Ianto's eyes, as if his irises were where he stored all his tears. Jack sighed.

"It's really great and all when you're here," Jack said. "It's good. But it also makes it harder when you're not."

Ianto looked away, expression a controlled blank, and Jack waited patiently for him to finish his mulling.

"It's... I've been thinking," Ianto started, glancing back and forth between Jack and the pressing darkness.

"Okay," Jack said, trying to find a way around Ianto's evasive expression.

"I don't want to be here and you don't want me to be here," Ianto said, enunciating each word carefully, though Jack was still at a loss to imagine where this was leading. "So it seems only natural to me that I... shouldn't be here."

At first Jack just stared, remaining very still, and though he didn't quite know why it seemed appropriate for him to shake his head no.

"I know you can do something," Ianto whispered, edging even closer to Jack until Jack could feel the fringes of Ianto's mind, his gentle desperateness confusing Jack's own halting thought processes. "You can get me out of here."

"Ianto—no," Jack whispered along the bow of an accelerating panic. "Whatever you're thinking—"

"Please," Ianto pleaded, staring directly into Jack's eyes, deftly stealing Jack's resolve in discriminate parcels.

Jack didn't say anything, simply admiring the feeling of a distinct point of dread falling like a coin hitting the bottom of a well; not the surface of the water, but the very stony bottom of it.


Jack woke up in his room, and although it was still as always, he was pretty sure his furniture was laughing at him.

He sat up eventually, trying to blink out the vague buzz that was cloaking some thought process he could feel unraveling underneath. He stood and looked around the room, unsure exactly what he was looking for or even at, but it became clear through some unknown impetus that this wasn't where he wanted to be at the moment. It occurred to him that there must be a lot to be done around the Hub; he felt like he had been asleep for a long time, even though he knew it was only the early morning.

And it felt like it, too: even though the Hub was deep underground with no input from the surface world to influence its mood, the Hub still rang in the mornings with a drowsy energy reminiscent of real mornings, the kind with sunlight and birds singing. Jack tried to remember what those were like.

The team finally started coming in a bit past the point when Jack had started to get truly uncomfortable. Gwen gave him a friendly smile as she walked by and Jack mirrored her.

"You look happy today," Gwen said, voice infused with encouragement.

I'm not, Jack very nearly said, instead offering another smile and failing to come up with anything at all to say. Gwen was eventually overtaken by the awkwardness herself, smile faltering until it was only an afterimage, and Jack slipped away as if he had something better to do.

Tosh and Owen settled into their respective places when they arrived and Jack watched them all peripherally, moving about the Hub with no real purpose other than trying to avoid the dark and empty spaces.

"Has anybody been running maintenance checks on our equipment lately?" Jack asked, bounding over to Tosh and Owen's desks.

"I don't know," Tosh said, looking up from her computer screen. "That used to be Ianto's job."

Jack regretted asking.

"Somebody still needs to do it, though," Jack said, feeling somewhat deflated. "Just run routine checks, making sure everything's in order..."

"I think Tosh should do it," Owen offered with a self-satisfied grin.

"Thank you, Owen," Tosh chided. "I think we could take turns, you know, we each do one on alternating weeks."

"Or," Gwen said, leaning against a railing holding a cup of coffee, "we could just hire someone new to do it."

Jack shot her a pointed look, though the others had also looked up from their work to check his reaction. He assumed a nonchalant expression.

"Possibly," he said, smiling despite the feeling that, like the universe itself, the space between now and the past was accelerating. Tosh and Owen returned their attention to their respective tasks, either out of satisfaction or embarrassment; Gwen was still leaning against the railing and Jack meandered over to her.

"Having any luck with your disappearing people?" Jack asked, assuming a spot next to her.

"Yes and no," Gwen said, examining her coffee intently. "I've found some more recent cases but there still aren't any distinct links between them."

"Of course you haven't given up yet," Jack said.

"'Course not," Gwen replied, smiling.

Jack just nodded, watching absolutely nothing unfold before his eyes for far too long. For a brief, tilting moment he felt entirely mad; and then it subsided.

Around noon Tosh voiced a surprised exclamation from her workstation and Jack, seizing the break in monotony with steel claws, bounded over to her computer.

"What's up?"

"We've received another one of those messages," Tosh said, squinting at the screen with a touch of frustration.

"Oh, joy," Owen remarked, dragging his feet off of his desktop and walking over to Tosh's workstation.

"Haven't had any luck translating it, huh?" Jack asked, leaning over Tosh's shoulder.

"No," Tosh sighed, scrolling through the new set of texts and diagrams. "It doesn't follow most of the language patterns I have established in my database so it'll still take some time."

In the middle of Tosh's scrolling a symbol appeared that set off distant cues of recognition in Jack's head; he signaled to Tosh to scroll back.

"That," Jack enunciated heavily, "is not good."

Tosh tilted her head and peered at it. "I don't recognize it."

"It's the intergalactic symbol for danger," Jack said. Tosh and Owen glanced at him.

"Are you sure?" Tosh asked, turning back to the screen with new concern.

"I've seen it in a few too many bad situations," Jack said.

"D'you think we're being sent these messages on purpose?" Owen mused.

Jack shrugged. "It all depends on what it's actually about."

"You think it's some kind of warning?" Tosh asked.

"No idea." Jack realized at that moment what component of their machine was missing. "Where's Gwen?"

"Working on her 'case,'" Owen commented with slight disdain.

"At least she's working," Jack quipped with a smirk; though if anyone had asked, he would have lied and said he wasn't jealous.

Day and night in the Hub was determined by the ebb and flow of people instead of changes in the light; the particular people within the Hub dictated the seasons. (The Hub was at the moment confined within the heart of a winter.) In this particular instance darkness was a particularly fickle indicator of time for, although it was indeed nighttime, Jack had turned on all the lights.

At first it was only his desk lamp, luminating shyly by his side, but there had been something too pressing about the surrounding darkness; the shadows had soured, somehow, and looked entirely too familiar to his vulnerable eyes. He knew well what the darkness was concealing, and though he was protected in his small shell of light, it was like being in a diving bell at the bottom of the ocean. It had occurred to him that although he had always thought before of the realm of the dead as existing in some far-away place not even worth considering, the dead might as well be everywhere the living were: in some parallel universe or alternate dimension or any other contrivance that Jack wouldn't understand, but still there, in exactly the same spot he was.

Slowly he rose from his chair and made over to the light switch on the wall. The light immediately dissolved swaths of the darkness' army, but for every space cleared the dark only formulated a retreat, still perching eagerly upon the boundaries of the light's reach. Jack pursued the dark, bulb to bulb, from his office to the atrium of the Hub. The Hub center was a vast bubble of darkness, all vanquished with the flip of a switch and the humming of a few fluorescent lights; the easy victory would have made Jack feel powerful had he not felt so pathetically weak, though in all honesty he supposed he had been giving in from the start.

Jack pretended he couldn't hear the buzzing and cracking of souls all around him and returned to his work, reigning his thoughts in close. He never wandered too near the simple presence in his mind of his own fragile Catrina, Eurydice to be led out of the underworld.

The dawning of the day deposited a new gift upon them: a young woman on the brink of death.

The team rolled out in response to the hospital's perplexed call, because among other things, Torchwood was apparently the team to call when people showed up mysteriously irradiated. The hospital was a hospital, with all the unpleasantries such a place entailed, and Jack kept his gaze fixed straight ahead, ignoring the wards and beds of people he didn't want to look at.

Angela Maddock was 26 and very unfortunate. According to the attending doctor she fell ill shortly after a run through the woods; investigators had detected a high level of radiation in the area but couldn't determine any source, disturbingly.

"Is she going to live?" Jack asked Owen, standing by the hospital curtain while Gwen talked to Angela.

"She might, she might not," Owen said. "Depends how severe her exposure was."

"To be honest, she doesn't even look that bad to me," Jack said. It was true; despite the context that the hospital afforded her, Angela on her own seemed to be fairly well, amiably chatting with Gwen and looking rather unlike the wretched sight he'd been expecting.

"Radiation sickness progresses in stages," Owen explained. "She's probably in the latent stage. First you feel sick shortly after exposure, then you feel better before you get a lot worse."

"Oh," Jack said. The curtains by Angela's bed hung a few inches off the floor, sick green against the pallor of the tiles.

"So what do we think this means?" Jack asked as he drove the team home.

"We've got a mysterious source of radiation that's frying people and nobody can find it?" Owen offered.

"Obviously we should go looking for it," Tosh said.

"I think we need to gather more information first," Jack asserted, watching the unenthusiastically colored landscape roll by.

"Why, wouldn't that just put more people in danger?" Gwen asked from the passenger seat.

"They've got a hazmat team quarantining the area so that nobody can get near the radiation zone. The issue is that whatever is in there is dangerous and I don't want us strolling in there without any idea what we're looking for."

Gwen boggled with some restraint. "And where are we supposed to get this information?"

"You know those messages you've been receiving, Tosh?"

"Yes, why? You think they're connected?"

"It would make sense," Owen mused. "We receive what appear to be schematics for an engine using radioactive materials and then we get a victim of radiation poisoning a couple days later?"

"I still don't see why we'd be receiving the messages, though," Tosh said, looking toward Jack.

"I suppose that's your job to find out," Jack said. He intended to give her an encouraging smile in the rear-view mirror, but the mirror was instead focused on the empty seat between Tosh and Owen. Jack stared at the road and tried not to think or breathe too hard the rest of the way back.

The return underground shouldn't have felt so ominous.

For Jack, he had decided, was angry, bitter about being handed a ball of loose threads precisely when he had forgotten how to tie knots, because although the Fates had apparently forgotten about him a long time ago, he could really use their help now. He would have taken some time to wander the archives, but there was something distinctly unappealing about the idea being left on his own to roam through a mausoleum of dead ideas. (Perhaps they were not dead, just sleeping; waiting. It was an idea Ianto would have supported.) He was a jumble inside; he had a vision of his thoughts parading around his brain in absurd dress, laughing hysterically and tripping over each other. Perhaps he really was going mad; it was bound to happen eventually. Though some part of him was watching the ongoing antics of the rest of his mind with disapproval, so maybe he wasn't completely gone, not yet. To pass the time Jack hovered about the base, trying to absorb some strength from the pale, fluorescent lighting that illumined every room, but it didn't feel like anything.

"Jack," Gwen announced from somewhere in the outside world, "I need to talk to you."

Jack turned in the general direction of the noise; Gwen stood some few meters away and motioned behind her once Jack met her gaze. He followed her across the footbridge over to her desk; they were far enough away from Tosh and Owen to have a secure if quiet conversation.

"Making any progress?" Jack asked, surveying her desk, which was covered with various files.

"A little bit," Gwen said, peering up at him. "Though I get the feeling that you aren't."

Jack stared at her with controlled incredulity, then cast about for, perhaps, a violent eruption in the space-time continuum to postpone the conversation. (None came.)

"This may be a bit blunt," Jack pronounced sharply, "but I really don't think this is any of your business and you crossed the line a long time ago."

"There's something going on that I don't know about, I get that," Gwen said with humble condescension. "But frankly, Jack, at this point... you're starting to scare me."

Jack snorted. "Well, I'm very sorry to have disturbed you. My suggestion is it may bother you less if you stop caring."

Gwen was unmoved. "You need to tell me what's going on."

"I do? Really?" Jack turned around and chuckled at the water fountain.

"I don't know what's happened," Gwen repeated, taking cautious steps toward Jack, "but whatever it is I know it's bothering you deeply and I don't want to see you like this."

Jack turned to look at her as she reached his shoulder. "I'm fine, Gwen. Honestly. I think you're overreacting a bit."

"It's just that I've never seen you withdraw from the team like this," Gwen nearly pleaded.

Jack stared down at her with a sudden sense of guilt and, laying a hand on her shoulder, whispered, "Yes, you have."

Jack let go of her and walked on into the armory, and Gwen trotted in behind him, closing the doors and immersing the room in a portentous silence. Gwen crossed her arms and stared at him, a gaze part imploring and part pitying, and Jack clenched his teeth in sudden nervousness. Gwen walked over wordlessly, staring up at him with a look that would have annoyed him had he not been so thoroughly uncertain.

"You can tell me anything, you know that," Gwen said. Jack nearly flinched at the sudden intimacy, looking up and away from her face. His gaze fell instead on the array of weapons surrounding them, staring as if they knew about anything other than crushing lives. When he sighed and looked back down Gwen was still peering at him, mouth twitching slightly, and though he didn't know exactly what she wanted, he wanted to give it to her nonetheless.

"I can't tell you," he said quietly. "I really can't. I never can."

"That's okay," Gwen whispered, nodding encouragingly.

"Then why are you here?"

"I just..." Gwen seemed to search for words, chewed her lip pensively. "There's always something you can do."

Jack shook his head slightly. "I don't know what you're talking about."

Gwen smiled, some foreign tension melting from her eyes; and in a singular display of talent or foolishness, she hugged Jack.

Jack nearly stumbled backwards, practically anchoring himself on instinct by placing a hand on her head. He would have been touched had he not been so frightened, but even more so he was lucidly confused. Gwen ran a comforting hand along his back once or twice; all Jack could really think was that it would be mortifying if anyone saw, and he glanced in panic toward Tosh and Owen's workstations to make sure they weren't watching. Though while he wasn't looking a sneaky ounce of sadness did absorb itself into his body and he gently placed a hand on Gwen's shoulder, trying to define what her body meant in relation to his. The warmth and solidness of her body felt dull, as if his hands had gone numb. He realized he couldn't even remember the last time he'd been hugged by anyone. (Or, he could. Suddenly he missed the tailored seams of Savile Row.)

Gwen eventually pulled away (Jack had stopped thinking about her a long time ago) and the cold air rushed back around his body, bringing with it distinct embarrassment as he looked at Gwen's face.

"I'll be here," Gwen said, pocketing her modest hands. "You know."

"Thanks," Jack said, nodding, matching Gwen's pace footstep for heartbeat as she left the room and returned to her desk as if she hadn't just destroyed her boss.

It had helped, in no significant way at all.

Jack dreamed, that night, of a memory.

It was couched, as dreams are, in the lucid emotions that no one actually feels in real life; both the real feelings involved in the event and all of the emotions attributed to it after many months of fond and grieving reflection were present, creating a glowing reconstruction of a half-truth the way it should have been.

There was no real rhyme to it, but the memory Jack's mind had plucked for the night's reminiscence was from the evening of December 12th, 2007 (in a time that they'd both retroactively denoted as Back Then so they would never have to talk about it). Everyone else had gone home, naturally, for that was the only time he and Ianto were allowed to stop pretending they didn't know anything about each other outside of "good day, sir" and "morning, Ianto." They'd been standing in the kitchen area, Ianto cleaning out some coffee mugs while Jack regaled him with a story that he had entirely forgotten by now because at the time he hadn't been caring about the story either.

"You could write a memoir, with stories like that," Ianto had remarked at the end—Jack remembered that clearly—as he placed the last mug on the drying rack and turned to face Jack with a polite smile.

"I don't know about that," Jack had said, flashing a charming smile. "I've never been much of an author, myself."

"Not such a pity, though," Ianto had said.

"I make up for it in other ways," Jack had replied, and it had felt strangely like he'd completed Ianto's sentence: a fleeting, spooky feeling that had made him glow with curiosity.

Ianto had smiled again, though it was characterized peculiarly by the silence that he'd afforded entry into the moment. After a couple seconds the smile had faltered, betraying, if Jack could read him right (he was working on it), some embarrassed little wish. Jack had had an idea of what it might be; either something he definitively knew Ianto wanted, or something that he tentatively hoped, with slight self-disdain buoyed on optimism, that Ianto wanted. Ianto himself had looked almost like a child for a second, surveying Jack with the caution of someone unaware of the proper boundaries. Jack had given him an encouraging smile, observing Ianto's response with calculating fascination.

Ianto had seemed to take the cue, taking a few steps forward (gaze fully diverted to the floor) until he was close enough for Jack to feel him in the air; Jack had caught only a glimpse of a blue eye before Ianto had made the decisive step, placing his hands along Jack's spine and tucking his chin into Jack's shoulder.

Jack had felt, at the time, a little stunned, and had stalled in any direct response, but Ianto had held onto him with such steadfastness that Jack had happily given in. He'd held him securely, right arm wrapped around Ianto's shoulder so that he could touch the soft skin of Ianto's neck with his thumb, just innocently enough.

But dreams were unfair, and Jack appreciated the memory much more now, when it didn't matter anymore. When he woke up the soft glow was chased away by the swift veil of consciousness, leaving only a gap that the emptiness filled.

At first he felt like he might survive, but the tears followed after only a moment of wakefulness. They were impudent just for being there and he wiped them away vengefully: they didn't exist, they had never existed.

| Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 |

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Gah, this is so good and so sad. Really beautiful. *is speechless*

I've been refreshing cirro_media page all day today (and will probably do the same tomorrow)

Jack's grieve is so poignant. The dream scene made me all wobbly.

Damn right there ain't no tears here*hides tissue*

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