beatrice_otter: I always have been what I chose (Choice)
[personal profile] beatrice_otter
Title: Looking In
Author: [personal profile] beatrice_otter 
Summary: They are all children of Earth.
Fandom: Torchwood
Character: Jack Harkness
Rating: PG
Word Count: 3,227
Betaed by: [personal profile] alixtii 
Notes: Post-CoE, but NOT a fixit.

The first place Jack went was a nice house in a quiet neighborhood. 27 Cromer Road. It was a good neighborhood. Parks, good schools, other children. Not that it mattered, now.

No one was there. He let himself in. Sat on the sofa, stared at the photographs on the wall. Steven looked happy. He was a happy kid.

A key turned in the lock. Jack tensed, fight-or-flight reactions taking over. He didn’t know how long he’d sat there. He closed his eyes, concentrating on his breathing. He couldn’t take this out on her.

When he opened his eyes, Alice was staring at him. She’d been crying—her face was red and her eyes were swollen. She wore a black dress, plain and elegant, in a Jackie O. kind of way. She got her style from him, when she chose to show it.

Jack fancied he could smell the grass from the graveyard. The press of dirt weighing down.

“I’m sorry,” he said. It was completely inadequate. There was only one thing that might make up even a little for what he’d done, and Jack couldn’t do it for her. Couldn’t do it for anyone. He was offering the next best thing.

Her eyes followed his to the coffee table in front of him. The butt was facing the door, waiting to be picked up. He waited.

“No, Jack,” she said at last, voice distant, as if he were a stranger. “I’m not giving you that satisfaction.”

Jack nodded. He shouldn’t have come. He picked up the gun, put the safety on, slipped it into a pocket. He slipped out, careful not to touch anything.

There was something wrong in his head. He’d known for a while. To survive in the Time Agency, sometimes he had to … shut down parts of himself. Parts that taught him how to interact with other people. Made him human, in more than just the technical sense. Torchwood had refined that. And now he couldn’t undo it. He thought, for a while, about seeing if he could look up John Hart. The two of them would make quite a pair, these days. But Jack had more important things to do.

He went to Dublin next, to a small house on the outskirts in a quiet, well-kept neighborhood. It was a good place to raise kids, but none of the neighborhood children were playing out in public. It would be a long time before parents anywhere allowed that, again. Jack sat in a car a few houses down the street, windows open, basking in the spring sun.

Two teens walked down the sidewalk hand in hand, a red-haired girl and a dark haired boy, both in school uniforms. Old enough to largely escape parental paranoia. Old enough to have been safe. They stopped just outside the hedge around the garden. The girl tucked her hair behind her ear, glanced coyly at the boy with the clumsy flirtation of the innocent. Jack was in her line of sight, but even if she’d had a care in the world other than her boyfriend, she wouldn’t have noticed him. She’d never met him, after all, and he was fairly sure there were no pictures of him anywhere in her house.

“I had a good time, Mary,” the boy said.

“Walking home?” Mary said with a smile.

“No! I mean, yeah, with you.”

Jack watched with interest as a flush crept up the back of the boy’s neck. He couldn’t remember being that young and clueless.

“Can I kiss you?” the boy asked. “You smell so good.”

“All right, yeah,” Mary said breathlessly, closing her eyes and leaning in.

“Mary and Caleb, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S—”

“Branna!” Mary shrieked, turning around to face her little sister who was leaning out the front door.

“All right, that’s enough,” their Dad said, coming up behind her. “Caleb, thanks for coming out of your way a few blocks to walk her home. Safety in numbers. Will you be all right walking home by yourself?” He peered nervously up and down the block, as if looking for government spies or squads of soldiers. Jack busied himself fiddling with the navigation system. Harry’d never met him, anyway.

“Yeah,” Caleb said. “Too old for the aliens, aren’t I? Government never wanted me.”

“Let’s just hope it stays that way,” Harry said. “Inside, girls.” Both went inside without complaint, and young Caleb walked off by himself.

Jack sat there for a few minutes, wondering what criteria Ireland had used to decide who would be sacrificed to the 456’s appetites. In England, Branna would have gone to a school too good to be at risk, but they might have done things differently here. He shook his head and started the car, driving past Caleb on his way back to the main part of town. Young love. And possibly 51st Century pheromones, to boot, which neither her father nor her grandmother had shown any sign of. Mary and Caleb would have a grand time. And Branna and her younger brother were safe. Steven wasn’t, but Branna and Liam were.

As were their cousins who lived in a flat in Roscrea in County Tipperary. Jack headed down the N7.

A working-class neighborhood, this time, brick row-houses, but neatly kept. More people. Wary people, eyes moving, watching. Had Ireland’s leaders made the same decision the UK had? A nice car with a stranger in this neighborhood wouldn’t go unnoticed. That was okay, Jack had a plan. It was a good plan, this time. He parked right in front of the proper house, wearing jeans (slightly baggy) and a jumper. Ordinary. Nothing-to-see-move-along. Walked up to the front door. Rang the doorbell. Didn’t take long to open.

“Yeah?” The voice belonged to a teenager, tall and broad, though not so big as Jack. Brown hair, gray eyes, sharp features, hard set to the face. Brown hoodie.

Jack let out a harsh breath. “This the O’Neil house, then?” he said in his best Cardiff accent, keeping the shock from his face. It had to be Devin. No matter who it looked like.

“Who’s asking?” The boy didn’t cross his arms, but his tone gave the same effect. His arms hung straight at his sides, not tense but ready to use.

“My name is James Cooper, and my father was good friends with a man named Jack Harkness, from Cardiff. He had a daughter named Brighid, who married a Conlan O’Neil. Is that the same O’Neil’s as you, by chance?” He had a sudden urge to apologize, beg for forgiveness—this wasn’t even the right person. God, he was out of it.

“My grandparents.” Devin was settling a little, less belligerent.

Jack was grateful; it made him look less like…. “I was going through some of my Dad’s things, after he died, and I found some photographs that I think belonged to Harkness,” he said, burbling on in his best impression of harmless cheer. Rhys was a good model. “I had the address, and thought your family might like to have them. Didn’t know if you still lived here so I didn’t want to just mail them, but I was going to be in the area anyway on business and thought I’d stop by and see. Not that I want to be travelling just now—didn’t want to leave the kids even though my wife said they’d be just fine—but this had been on the schedule for a year and my boss wouldn’t reschedule.”

“Tosser,” Devin said with a snort. “Yeah, can’t blame you; we’re all sticking pretty close to home I can tell you.”

“Oh, I know. Still, everything’s fine now, I hope?” Jack cocked his head and tried to put an open, friendly grin on his face.

“Yeah, sure,” Devin said. “All fine now. That is, Mum got knocked around a bit in the riot, but nothing serious. And they never did get their hands on any of the little ones in the neighborhood—to hear the kiddies, it’s as if nothing happened.”

“Ah, well, that’s childhood,” Jack said. “They bounce back so quickly.” His throat tightened, and his smile was probably more like a grimace. “Anyway, here they are.” He forced the words out as he handed over a manila envelope. He had copies of everything in it; he didn’t need the originals. “I’d better be on my way. You take care, now.”

“You too,” Devin said.

Jack had to pull over three blocks away. His hands shook so much he couldn’t shift. He leaned forward, feeling the smooth vinyl of the steering wheel stick to his forehead. “Gray…”

The Hub was deep and solidly built. Parts of it had to have survived, but the cryo-chambers were too close to the surface and medical. He rubbed his face, trying to chase away the sensation of dirt hitting his face. Of the cryo-chamber door closing, leaving him alone in the dark again, no one to know or care he was there. Surely that whole area had been obliterated, living and dead gone in a fraction of a second. Surely. Gray and Tosh (but not Owen, not enough left) and Suzie and Alex and….

That night, Jack sat in a pub in Roscrea, pint in hand. Usually, he preferred drinks with a higher alcohol content, but … it wouldn’t be a good idea to let loose his demons. Not here, anyway.

He needed to decide what to do next. Jack sipped his drink. Ianto would have planned out their route from stop to stop logically and efficiently, with travel all preplanned ahead of time and proper supplies packed. Jack’s mind shied away from the image of Ianto, lying dead in his arms, the weight dragging Jack down into the abyss.

Jack could use some time to wander. See if that would help him straighten his head out. Gwen wasn’t expecting him back any time soon, and Rhys and Martha and Mickey and Andy were all there to back her up. She’d be fine. Better without him. He’d always tried to have someone at Torchwood who was real, whole, in touch with his or her humanity … someone who could challenge the darkness deep inside him. Gwen was perhaps the best he’d found for that, but this was too much for her. Now, of all times, with a baby on the way, she needed to focus on life. Not on trying to fix the holes in her boss.

Wandering aimlessly sounded good. See the world. The place he’d saved. The people who lived in it. A few in particular. There was no hurry.

Jack’s stomach grumbled and he realized he hadn’t eaten in a while. He was debating what he should order when a pair of pretty girls in their late twenties caught his eye from their seat at the bar. One, dark-haired with elegant cheekbones, slid off her seat while her friend laughed, and made her way over to his booth. A shag would be nice, and Jack rarely turned down the opportunity, so he plastered his most charming smile on his face and watched her approach.

“I’m Lucy,” she said in a sultry voice, extending a hand.

“Jack,” he said automatically, seeing another woman he’d known decades earlier. Lucia. Alice’s mother, Steven’s grandmother. “Look, I’d love to stay and get acquainted with you,” he heard himself say, “but unfortunately I already have plans I can’t break. Some other time, perhaps?”

“Sure, yeah,” the girl said, sounding so impossibly young. “Whatever.”

Jack closed his eyes as she flounced back to her friend, smile sliding off his face. After a few seconds he stood up. He wasn’t hungry any more.

That night, Jack stared up at the ceiling in his hotel room, faces flowing in front of his eyes. In a century of life, two thirds of it in a time before truly reliable birth control, well, accidents happen. Jack had tried to stick to men, for that reason, but he did like variety and Earth’s pre-space sexual mores severely limited the number of men willing to fool around with another man. And there you have it: Alice, and Steven, and all the rest.

Not that Jack regretted any of them. Each life was a miracle, and precious, and they were all so very wonderful, and he saw so much death every day (caused so much death, died so much himself) that he could scarcely believe life could come from him at all. But he couldn’t protect them, any of them. What right did he have to create life he couldn’t save? Lucia had had the right idea when she’d taken Alice and left. She just hadn’t run far enough.

Jack didn’t sleep that night. He was haunted by too many faces. The living danced with the dead, until he couldn’t separate them.

Four days later he was in New York. He spent the flight from Dublin to JFK looking at pictures instead of sleeping. All types—surveillance, snapshots, posed photographs. Faded black-and-whites mixed with yellowing early color pictures and crisp modern digital prints. He wasn’t in most of them. Children. Alice, when she was Melissa, before Lucia took her—big dark eyes in a pale face. And Brighid, and Brighid’s children, and grandchildren. And Mike, and Mike’s children. And … there were a lot of photographs. He arranged them all by family, suddenly paranoid that he was missing one. Then he arranged them by generation—all the children, all the grandchildren, all the great-grandchildren. Then he arranged them by era. Then by alphabet. Then by ...

New York wasn’t a big city by galactic standards, although it certainly tried. He stood at the top of the Empire State Building until the platform closed, watching the city, trying to keep his mind as blank as possible. If he concentrated on the buildings, the horizon, he could pretend he was in Cardiff on one of his roosts. That Ianto and Steven and Tosh and Owen were still alive, along with all the others who’d come before him. But even so, he could still hear that alien whine, feedback, 456, Alice screaming.… He leaned against the railing and kept his face tilted so no one could see the tear tracks.

There were four houses in America to visit. He’d rent or buy a convertible, drive with the top down. Wind in his hair, life without care … it was a nice dream, anyway.

He sat in a park in a Chicago suburb, loopy from lack of sleep, watching children play. Jamal was a chubby ten-year-old with his grandmother’s rich brown skin and his grandfather’s smile. His birthday was in two weeks, and he kept talking about it with the other children. Sometimes the wind carried his voice to where Jack sat. Steven’s birthday was only two days after Jamal’s. If they’d lived near one another, known about each other, maybe they would have shared their party. If Steven were still alive.

“Who’re you?”

Jack looked up into a face he’d only seen in photographs. Booker’s mother Adeela had been even smarter than Lucia. In his stack of photographs, Booker was five years old in a long-sleeved shirt with bright horizontal stripes and an Afro. In person, he was a slim, handsome man with Jack’s ears. “J—John Hart,” he said, and couldn’t help wincing at the first name that came to mind. Adeela had probably never said the name Jack Harkness where her son could hear it; he didn’t know why he was being so paranoid.

“I don’t mean to be rude,” Booker said, “but as far as I know, you’re not a parent of any of the kids playing.”

Jack couldn’t help a laugh. It came out sounding almost more like a sob. “No,” he said. “I’m not.” He studied Booker’s face, looking for … something. Even suspicious, Booker had an openness about him that Alice had never had. Not around him anyway; she knew him too well.

“Now’s not a good time to be hanging around kids that aren’t yours.” His voice was hard, and Jack turned from him back to watch Jamal. “We’ve got more to worry about these days than just random perverts.”

“I know,” Jack said. He slouched a little; sitting up took too much effort.

“Then you know why I’m concerned,” Booker said. “Yeah, sure, all the kids are fine now, and they say nobody’s gonna come after them again. But—”

“Not all,” Jack’s voice was low and harsh. “Not all the kids are fine.”

“Is the government—”

“No. It’s over, all of it. But the signal at the end, the one that killed the 456 …” Jack trailed off, couldn’t make himself say it. Say what he’d done.

“Should I take my son to get checked out by the doctor? There’s such a long waiting list, and he seemed fine, my wife and I decided not to bother unless something came up, but if some kids got hurt by that, maybe we should get him looked at anyway.”

“He should be fine.” Jack forced the words out through lips that didn’t want to cooperate.

“But better safe than sorry,” Booker said. “What exactly happened to the ones who were hurt? What do I tell the doctor to look for?”

Jack took a deep breath. Let it out. “When the tone started, he started convulsing. And had a nosebleed. And died.” Killed by Torchwood. Killed by Jack Harkness. He stared at the ground as if it might open him up and swallow him down. It would be quiet, and no one else would hurt.

“Oh, man, I’m sorry.” He felt a hand on his shoulder. “Was he yours?”

Jack gave a short nod, never looking up.

The hand left his shoulder, and the bench creaked as Booker sat down next to him. “I’m sorry. That sounds so inadequate, I just can’t imagine what you must be going through.”

Mercifully, he shut up. Jack couldn’t have taken any more comfort under false pretences. They sat in silence for a while before Jack left.

Jack sat against a tree in Golden Gate Park staring at the bridge and fantasizing what it would be like jumping off it, if he could die and actually stay dead. Given his inability to manage that simple task that every other being in the history of the universe managed just fine without any help at all, jumping wasn’t a temptation. Pain didn’t give him any release.

The sun went down and he wasn’t in a mood for stargazing. As he walked back to his car, he realized he’d come to a decision he hadn’t been conscious of considering. In this state, he would only be a danger to others if he returned to Torchwood. He couldn’t expect anyone to fix him. It particularly wasn’t fair to Gwen, the only other survivor of Torchwood. She was half-broken herself. Jack recognized the signs. Knocking around Earth some more might be a good start, but it wouldn’t be enough to make up for all he’d lost. Jack would finish checking on everyone, and then he would leave.

He’d spent over a century waiting for the Doctor to fix him, but the Doctor couldn’t. The Doctor was too damaged himself to fix anyone else.

Jack couldn't pretend he was fine any longer.  It was time to see if he could mend himself.  And he couldn't do it here.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-09-19 04:12 am (UTC)
mtgat: (Coffee (Selina))
From: [personal profile] mtgat
Oh Jack, and all his families. Loved this so much.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-09-19 04:24 am (UTC)
thedeadcat: Dead Cat Harvest Cat (A Cardiff TARDIS)
From: [personal profile] thedeadcat
*spends some time sniffling*

It is so very believeable that he would leave so much of his genetic material scattered around the globe. :-)

(no subject)

Date: 2009-09-19 08:27 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
This was wonderful. It reminded me in a way of the year that Martha walked the Earth and I liked the feeling that gave me.

jo02 from LJ.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-09-19 12:53 pm (UTC)
hab318princess: by september_icons (Default)
From: [personal profile] hab318princess
*sniffs* great story, heartbreaking but I can so see it, thanks for sharing

(no subject)

Date: 2009-09-20 01:56 pm (UTC)
selenak: (Women of Earth by Kathyh)
From: [personal profile] selenak
Touching, and rings true.

Icon

Date: 2009-09-20 06:51 pm (UTC)
selenak: (Women of Earth by Kathyh)
From: [personal profile] selenak
Made by the fabulous [personal profile] kathyh!

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