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Title: Time for Penance
Author: [ profile] jebbypal
Fandom: Torchwood
Characters/Spoilers: Jack Harkness, spoilers through 2x13
rating: Teen
Summary: Time, Jack's always had enough of it until now.
Author notes: Un-betaed (no worries for those that offered). The longer I let this sit, the more self-indulgent it started feeling and the stronger the likelihood was I wouldn't put it up at all. Still, this is the fastest a fandom has bit me into writing a story. So yeah. *handwaves*

Penance. Not struggling as John buried him had been his penance. It had been his intention all along - to not burden John with the guilt. To accept his punishment both for Gray and for misjudging John Hart.

Only he hadn’t quite planned for the fact that his was a penance would never end. No forgiveness, no peace.

Waking only long enough to breathe in dirt and suffocate again, yet never long enough to remember the how or the why of his situation. Enough time to struggle, but not enough to think of digging. Not upward, downward, or sideways. Just synapses firing, eyes opening, lungs inhaling more gobs of dirt and insects before returning to the other all-encompassing darkness . Funny that. After having all the time in the world, he doesn’t have the time to appreciate the irony.

This isn’t the punishment that Gray intended. There’s never enough time for him to recognize the futility, the finality, or to fear eternity.

Synapses fire again, muscles spasm, his eyes open, and the world is different – light, warm sunlight burns his eyes, but breathing remains the same. Lungs packed with dirt choke every instinctual breath, and several deaths come and go before Jack can expel every single muddy grain. Enough time to claw and fight with those that rescued him. To realize with terrifying clarity that the cold moisture of soil surrounding him is gone, but that it’s not his team that surrounds him and the danger still looms – that they could already be dead in the future and he might not have the time to save them.

This is the punishment that Gray intended. Jack chokes on the irony that his brother isn’t human enough to have planned it this way.

Mere hours of breathing the dank, sweet air of the Torchwood Institute’s headquarters pass before he convinces these two of the necessity of freezing him. The memory of his team allows him to swallow the fear that this might be the time that Rose’s gift fails, now when he needs forever most of all. As much as he detests watching this life pass him by and all that he loves wither away, he’s been in that darkness long enough to know he’ll fight it with every fiber of his being. That’s why even knowing the danger, he couldn’t let Owen go without a proper goodbye.

Once again time passes him by without a mark, one hundred and seven years. Except not really because the younger him, still ageless, is out living every second of it. And another version, still mortal, meeting Rose and his Doctor for the first time. If his mind was functioning on any level, the paradox of his now would blow his brain to tiny bits for good.

But the plan he’d formed after John had thrown his ring on Jack’s chest before covering him with dirt works. He stops (saves) Gray. And fails Tosh and Owen by not timing it better.

Jack Harkness, all the time in the world, and still never enough.

After - he’s never been good at the after. You’d think, with all the practice he gets, he’d have it down cold by now. Maybe that’s the weakness of humanity, assuming any shreds remain in him after all these millennia.

Negotiating with UNIT to have Martha replace Owen. Watching Gwen and Ianto to make sure they don’t crack too much. Making sure they don’t leave him after everything. These are the things he fills his days and nights with, which consume the lamp oil.

Life, such as it is, returns to what passes for normal in their Cardiff - weevils to catch, the world to save, and deaths to cover up. After the first few, he starts looking for a new recruit. After the Master, he knows what it does to Martha to erase someone’s last moments. Gwen was never okay with it. And now, after everything, he sees it breaking Ianto bit by bit.

Jack once told Gwen that he didn’t sleep, one of the benefits of immortality. But, like his brief deaths when an immovable, fatal event encounters his body, Jack can’t completely escape slumber. As age sneaks up on the rest of humanity, sleep sneaks up on him.

The best he can do is control the episodes so that no one else witnesses Jack waking, coughing and screaming with memories of the dirt surrounding him being the only thing to separate the darkness of his brief moments of life from the darkness that stalks for him. That wants him with a palpable, greedy need. It detests the fact that Jack Harkness always escapes. Loathes that he’s managed to wrest a few poor souls back from the eternal fear it feeds on.

It’s the best he can do, but as in all things, Jack’s best simply isn’t good enough.

“Breathe, Jack. Just breathe. I’m here, you’re not alone.” Gwen’s dulcet tones reassure him before his eyes focus enough to identify her face blocking out the light that always burns in his office. Her eyes are pained and for a brief second, he struggles to identify what has hurt her – twisting skin burning the palm of his hand alerts him to the crushing grip that holds one of her hands even as the other firmly smoothes his forehead of panic induced wrinkles.

Her smile reaches her eyes as soon as he releases her hand, but he doesn’t take any time to appreciate the view. Instantly, he embraces her. The heat of her frame sears into chest, burning away the memory of the cold, damp weight of soil and worms and bugs and…

He’d never had time to fear or appreciate it through the innumerable deaths. Now when sleep captures him, it’s like being buried alive all over again, except death never releases him from the horror of the grave. Since Gray (Tosh, Owen), he’s always been alone when his screams wake him. And now he can’t let go of the comfort of another body, clinging to confirmation that this life isn’t a cruel joke.

And Gwen reeks of life, always has, always will. Life and hope and a future that he’ll only ever be a friend in unless he wants to be the thing that rips all that hope from her. (Never, not after Rose and Martha). He drinks in her scent in deep, gulping breaths, oblivious her words of comfort tinged with fear that the great unbreakable Captain John Harkness has shattered beyond repair. The smell of her overwhelms the earthy, wet smell of soil that still lingers in his nostrils, the sound of her voice echoing in his empty room, the feel of her skin against his neck. So warm and soft, a perfect counterpoint to the rougher cheeks of Ianto.

In his mind, he sees all the ways this could go. Kissing her like he’s inexplicably ached to do since meeting her. Continuing to hold her as he confesses his intensified fear of a dark that never ends. Pulling away and sending her home to Rhys, the man she chose.

For once, Jack Harkness decides to let go and let time unfold as another wills it.

(no subject)

Date: 2008-04-09 03:13 am (UTC)
settiai: (Default)
From: [personal profile] settiai
Oh, this was lovely.

(no subject)

Date: 2008-04-09 03:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you :)

(no subject)

Date: 2008-04-09 01:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oh, this is something I really wanted someone to write, about what Jack felt and feel.
And this is good, really good.

(no subject)

Date: 2008-04-11 03:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Really cool and honest and lovely. It's so true.

(no subject)

Date: 2008-04-12 01:27 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you:)

(no subject)

Date: 2008-04-12 03:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Beautiful and absolutely heartwrenching. The way you convey Jack's emotions is just superb- I could envision it all so clearly. You write lovely prose.

(no subject)

Date: 2008-04-13 02:11 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thanks for the lovely feedback - I really needed to hear something good today. Glad you liked it.


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