Spoilers: All of Children of Earth and scattered references to series one and two
Summary: Set three years after Children of Earth. Strange events force Jack to reconsider his opinion on the existence of ghosts along with his definition of impossible. Yep, you guessed it, more Children of Earth fix it fic.
Gwen had wanted to come with Jack back to the hub to see what Harry had dug out of the archives. Jack had said no and was incredibly grateful that Rhys had backed him up on that. He’d whisked his wife away upstairs to bed so fast that Gwen hadn’t even asked Jack to call her when he was done. Well done, Rhys.
Gwen still had a tendency to act a touch mother hen with him and he was quite relieved when she forgot about him. She had a family and she should spend her time worrying and mothering them instead of him. It was almost a relief to Jack when Gwen had taken her maternity leave after Tegan had been born. It was all well and good to know that he had one person who gave a damn about him but was not a fan of the smothering technique. When it had been just him, Martha, Lois, and the UNIT boys, one of which was still on reserve staff and happened to be Mel’s estranged elder brother, it had been much easier to operate. People either didn’t know how things had operated before or were smart enough to shut up.
When Gwen had returned to active duty she’d had a hard time dealing with the different atmosphere. Torchwood had always been Jack, Ianto, Tosh, Owen and her in any combination. Torchwood was different now, was structured differently, and had different people than Gwen was used to. All but one of her original co workers was dead and dead in action no less. Jack forgot how unsettling that was to someone who had never experienced it before. Especially to someone like Gwen.
As much as Gwen loved her new co workers she still wished things could have stayed familiar. She couldn’t have her three best friends back but she could at least have the Jack she knew back. Jack had never really asked her if that was how it was but he hadn’t really needed to either.
Mel, who was famous for being incredibly vicious when anyone tried to mollycoddle her, once asked Jack how he stood this. The answer had been simple: he stood it because he had to. Gwen remembered the man he was, the organization that was and she worked to have something of that back again. Besides, who was he to say that it could never return? He didn’t want to push Gwen away and if that meant putting up with some of her more naïve notions that was just fine by him. Again, who was he to say they didn’t have their uses.
He stepped into the SUV, more or less identical to the one that Ianto had lost all those years ago, and headed back toward the Plass. As he made his way back to the main work area he shouted out for Harry. No reply. He sighed. “Harry if you’ve gotten lost down there again I will make sure Mel hears about it.”
“I’m not lost!” Jack smirked as Harry appeared from the conference room. “It was one time, are you ever going to let me live that down!”
Jack raised an eyebrow. He was fairly sure that it had happened more than three times but less than ten times and told Harry so. That ended that. “Come on,” the doctor sighed and led him back to the conference room. “I found one thing that might be of use.”
“I meant to ask you about that,” Jack interrupted. “Not to assume the worst about you yet again but-“
“How did I find these things and how did I think to check the archives in first place?” Jack nodded. Harry was not the most intuitive of individuals, especially not when it was something outside of his field. He wouldn’t think to check the archives unless he was sent there, the fact that Harry had thought to go down on his own was interesting.
Harry’s response was enlightening. He shrugged and tapped the familiar binder under his arm. “Ianto’s Rule,” he replied easily. “It’s all right there. I’m surprised no one thought of it before I did.”
Ianto’s will had been quite explicit and thorough. Jack had, unfortunately, read and carried out many a will in his time and Ianto’s was by far the most detailed. It was for this reason that he was unsurprised to find a section dedicated to the fate of the Torchwood Three Archives.
I know that I do not own the Archives, he wrote, but I will say one thing regardless of that fact. I spent a good few years of my life putting that mess into order and any rest I head to will be MUCH more restful if the Archives remain that way. Jack, Gwen, whomever, be sure to let the new Archivist know this one fact: if they fuck up the Archives I will kill them. I will find a way. There’s more than enough tech in the Archives to help me carry out that threat. I say again: Fuck up the Archives and I will end you.
Jack and Gwen had told that to Mel and Harry each when they had first been hired. In fact Jack had gone as far as to copy out that section of Ianto’s will and attach it to the inside of the binder that Ianto had written up to govern the care and feeding of the Archives, the binder that was under Harry’s shoulder at this moment. Mel had begun to refer to the passage as “Ianto’s Rule” and the name had stuck.
“Section 691 is what Jones labelled as ‘supernatural devices’.” Harry went on as they entered the conference room. “Half of that stuff could resurrect someone easily but all come with a large price to pay, usually the end of the universe, or else it’s only temporary.” Jack nodded. He wasn’t going to admit to Harry that one of the first things he had done before fleeing the UK was to raid the archives for anything that could help bring Ianto and Stephen back to him. He still did not know what sort of willpower had kept him from using some of that stuff.
Harry’s find, a black box that seemed to look like a subwoofer for a mid 29th century stereo, was something he did not remember seeing during that trip. When Harry began to explain what it was that made perfect sense. It wasn’t a tool to bring someone back from the dead. It was paranormal amplifier. “This should amplify any sort of paranormal energy in your flat and allow anyone trying to talk to you a much easier time of it.” Harry mumbled as he flipped through what appeared to be whatever fact sheet whoever had found it had typed up. Another one of Ianto’s procedures for found artefacts. Judging by how quickly Harry seemed to reading and the fact that he wasn’t standing there trying to figure out any complicated words or poorly constructed sentences told Jack that Ianto must have filled this one out himself. Either because he’d found the device or because whomever had found it had failed to live up to Ianto’s idea of a good fact sheet.
“Who found it?” Jack found himself asking.
“Jones filled out the report,” Harry dictated. “The person who brought it in was…you actually.”
Jack laughed. It must have been something he’d found centuries ago and Ianto must have written the report soon after he’d begun work here and had begun his work on the Archives. That was later confirmed when Harry read out a date of discovery that predated Ianto’s birth by several decades. “Apparently this measures the activity as well,” Harry added, setting the sheet back on the table with the Archive manual. “Something on the inside there.”
Jack reached over and pulled a tab on the device’s right side. A simple needle, currently resting at zero on a scale of one to two hundred, was hidden there. Whoever had made this, Jack decided, must have had a bit of a nostalgic streak. Jack liked them already.
“Alright,” Jack announced, silencing Harry’s droning listing of notable features and other minutiae that was irrelevant to Jack. “Wrap it up and I’ll take it with me. Here’s hoping it works.”
Harry didn’t smile. “Do we want it to work, Jack?”
Good question. “Well,” Jack began with a shrug. “Either I’m hearing things or dead friends are trying to tell me something important. Be ready for either eventuality.”
Harry nodded. “So it’s the madhouse or the end of the world then?” At Jack’s nod, the younger man sighed deeply. “I’ll get the paperwork started.”
“Thanks, Harry.” Jack wasn’t sure if he was trying to be sarcastic or funny with that tone of voice but it seemed that Harry was taking it as the latter as he watched Harry’s face light up like a Christmas tree.
“See?” he crowed, pointing his finger at him and stabbing at him wildly. “I’m not totally useless! Now will you forget the archive thing?”
Jack said he’d consider it.
- - -
Jack had been sitting on the couch for nearly three hours surrounded by empty take away containers and a pile of discarded magazines. The amplifier was sitting on the floor next to the couch and was not making a sound. He knew that the thing was on, the needle was wavering and everything, but he wished for some more obvious that the thing was doing its job. He was not going to sit there and stare at a needle jumping back and forth all night to be sure of it, though. He’d had the television going for a bit but had eventually shut it off out of his own boredom. Television, at any rate, could not be any more insane than what he was sitting here waiting for. He seen so many strange and wonderful things over his long life but the fact that he was sitting in his living room waiting for ghosts to appear was just ridiculous. Dead was dead. You were in the dark, alone, where nothing and no one could reach you. There was no holiday from that.
You might want to stop that thought right there. Owen’s going to start smashing the china any second now.
That was Toshiko Sato through and through. Same matter of fact but cheery voice and delivered as easily as though they were back in the hub playing cards. “Tosh?” he whispered. He was convinced his mind was playing tricks on him but he was equally convinced that the machine was working.
The air seemed to change for a moment. The living room felt like the air before a storm, full of electricity and potential energy just waiting to burst. Out of thin air, a translucent Toshiko Sato walked to stand in front of him, wearing the same clothes she had died in. She looked well. She looked like she always did when she reported for work, all smiles and anxiousness to get started on whatever lay in store for them.
“No. Damn. Way.” He pronounced. It was a reflex statement with very little actual conviction behind it.
The apparition of Toshiko Sato shut her eyes and a look of peaceful concentration crossed her face. After a moment she opened them, reached out and pinched his arm with a strength that could be nothing but supernatural.
“Ow!” he yelped. “Tosh, what the hell…” He trailed off as he realised that she was still there, this time smiling that devious smile she’d had on her face that time her and Ianto had managed to change all his passwords and preferences without leaving a single trace. It was a victorious smile and it was the most beautiful thing in the world to him at that moment.
“You are not mad,” she told him softly. “The situation is a little mad but you certainly aren’t.” Jack was still staring in shock at Tosh. Her eyes glistened despite her blinding smile. “Never thought you’d see me again, did you?”
Jack flew off the couch to pull this wonderful woman who had come so far and done so much into his arms only to find that he couldn’t do it. She was as insubstantial as a dream no matter how tight he grabbed.
Tosh’s smile fell from her face. “Sorry,” she winced. “That pinch was all I could manage.” She gestured at her body, or the appearance of it. “I can do this and that’s about it. Owen even had to help with the pinch.”
“Owen’s here too?”
Tosh snorted. “Who do you think did that trick with the windows?”
The china rumbled ominously. Tosh rolled her eyes. “Would you quit that? We need to be here for awhile yet!” The china stopped. “Sorry, Jack. Once Owen figured out how to move objects around he’s been having a bit too much fun.”
Fun? His two dead friends were having fun? He’d never spent a great deal of time dead but his visits to the darkness had not been those of fun and games. “I’m, I’m sorry…I just don’t quite…” He paused and took a few deep breaths. The image of Tosh dying in his arms, looking at him with that pained but peaceful look danced before him in his mind’s eye. It was unbelievably hard to reconcile that awful image with this seemingly healthy looking woman before him. “I’ve seen a lot of things in my time but I’ve never seen this.”
Tosh shrugged, as if people appearing to their friends years after they’d died was nothing extraordinary. “First time for everything. Oh, and we’re so glad you found that box by the way,” she jerked her thumb toward the amplifier. “It makes things a LOT easier on us.”
Yeah, came Owen’s voice. This is a lot harder than it looks. Of course you had to sleep through our last visit. Stupid git.
“I’m pretty sure,” Jack lectured, “that you wouldn’t have believed it yourself if positions were revered.” Owen made some muttering noise of dismissal while Tosh stared at the space next to Jack on the sofa as if it were a complex computer program. She shut her eyes again and that same expression of deep concentration crossed her face. Her face beamed with pride as she settled onto the couch.
“Three years of hard work certainly paid off!” she crowed and then winked at him. “And I knew that bit about Ianto would get you to believe us.”
Owen’s snort echoed through the apartment. Why the hell did you hang on to that resignation letter so long? I know you said he gave you a copy for safe keeping-
“I said I’d remember, so I held on to it.” Tosh said quietly. Her tone of voice was so sad that Jack wished he could hold her all the more. The television chose that moment to flicker on and scan through a few channels before settling on some sex scene from some movie Jack hadn’t seen. Tosh threw a glare toward the chair on the left of the television, the same place where she had directed her eyes every time she’d addressed Owen. Jack got up and unplugged the television from the wall and glared smugly at that same spot.
The move had the desired effect. Tosh laughed, the china rattled and a muttered fuck you, Harkness followed. Jack felt another sort of electrical charge in the air and slowly but surely the image of Doctor Owen Harper, appeared. He was also wearing that same t shit, jacket and jeans that he’d gone to the reactor in and was looking far too relaxed for a properly dead man. He stretched his hands behind his head and leaned back casually. “Would you mind turning that thing up a bit?” he asked nodding toward the amplifier. “That way we can get Tosh back.”
Jack look to his right and could barely make out Tosh sitting next to him. He got up and adjusted the dial until Tosh was in full focus, and looked less pained. “Thanks,” she breathed.
“Hold on,” Tosh interrupted. “Little bit more. Can’t hear a word you’re saying.”
He cranked it up as high as it could go. “Can you hear me now?”
“Fantastic, because now I can’t see,” Owen griped.
“For god’s sake,” Jack grumbled as he toyed around with what had to be the equalizer on the device. “Quite the pair of ghosts you two are.”
“Oi!” Owen snapped, throwing a vicious glare at his former boss. It seemed his vision was back. “How many ghosts do you see wandering around the globe? All those hauntings you hear about? Those are people who have been dead for centuries. The fact that you can see two of us and hear three of us is an impressive feat so a little recognition would be lovely!”
Three? Jack thought. He’d heard Tosh’s voice that night and he’d heard Owen’s voice he did not remember a third voice being heard at all. He was about to ask who the third person was until Owen looked at him as though he were the stupidest person who’d ever lived. “Really?” Owen sighed. He stared at him long enough to make even Jack uncomfortable before sighing yet again, this time angrily. “Are you deaf man? Really now?” He looked over at Tosh. “Is he sure that Jack’s heard him?”
“Beyond sure,” Tosh replied. She turned her attention to Jack. “Have you ever heard anyone else talk to recently? By recently I mean since about the time you returned to Cardiff, usually in response to some offhanded comment or thought that reminds you of him.” she asked warily.
No way, Jack thought. Tosh and Owen was one thing. He was dealing fairly well with them. Throwing him into the mix was the express route on the road to insanity. He opened his mouth to deny what Tosh was implying but something flew across the room to smack him across the back of his head. He suspected it was the post.
“Ianto’s been talking to you, you daft sod!” Owen’s outburst was like an explosion. Everything in the living room rattled and Jack swore he heard something break in the kitchen. “Every single time since you came back to Cardiff, every single time you’ve heard his voice that’s actually been him! My God did you really not see that coming?” He threw up his hands in disgust. “Tea boy was clingy enough when he was alive. Did you really think death was going to rid you of him?”
“Owen, stop!” Tosh ordered, her voice frantic but Jack could barely hear any of it. All he could hear in his head was Ianto’s voice, all the times he’d ever heard it played through his brain on loop in what sounded like triplicate. His mind faithfully brought up every opinion, reply or comment he had thought had been his imagination. He’d never been alone, that same voice told him, never been alone at all.
His hands started to shake and he gripped tightly to the couch cushions to still them. Tears began to gather in his eyes and he fought to keep them from travelling any farther. As the symphony of Ianto’s voice finally silenced he called out for Ianto mentally. “You there?” he asked. No reply, not even after a yell that would certainly have any telepaths in the area reeling. Not a sound.
“He’s not here, is he?” Jack asked. He prided himself on managing to most of the emotion out of his voice. Having a flat, emotionless voice would fool them, right? “Not here with the two of you?”
“Oh look the drama queen is catching on,” Owen mocked with a roll of his eyes. Jack wanted to fire something callous right back at him but the deceased doctor vanished from view and then Tosh’s arms were around him, cold but solid and real. He clutched back, accepting the comfort and the closeness of his friend for as long as she could maintain it. It was ten seconds before felt the embrace dissolve and Owen came back into focus looking quite indignant. “Oh what was that little miss hold-off-because-we-want-to-stay-longer?
Tosh ignored Owen and continued to focus her attention on Jack. She waited until he was looking at her until she spoke again. “Ianto has never been able to make you totally aware that he’s been here so don’t feel too bad about it,” she comforted. “He doesn’t always hear everything you think toward him and you don’t always hear his replies.” She sniffed, a barely subdued sound of wry amusement. “He’s not very strong at this, this…manifesting thing. Even if he were here right now I don’t think you’d be able to see him and he’d definitely have problems hearing and seeing you.”
“Where is he then?” That was all that mattered. He’d take hearing Ianto and nothing but that if that was all Ianto could do.
“Out looking for your grandson.” Owen had left the chair and was pacing the flat. Jack was too taken aback to feel the stab of grief that usually appeared on the rare times that Stephen was mentioned.
“How do you know about that?”
“We’re not omniscient,” Owen explained with uncharacteristic gentility. He did sound tired, though, so Jack marked it up to the effort he was putting in to staying in this world. “We only found out about it a short time ago, and when dear Ianto found out Stephen hadn’t found his way out of the dark yet he decided to lead him out.”
“Wait,” Jack interjected. He held up a finger, tried to put his thoughts into coherent sentences. He was receiving one too many shocks tonight, he decided. “Every time I’ve died it’s been the darkness and nothing else. Owen you said it was all darkness and so did Suzie.”
“Well, yeah, you have to find your way out of it,” Owen rolled his eyes as if he were stating the obvious.
“Or someone has to come find you,” Tosh supplemented with grateful and loving expression directed at Owen. The Owen Jack remembered would have looked away, made some harsh comment, and then pressed on. Owen said nothing though, merely returned the gaze. Jack’s heart warmed for the love he saw on both of their faces. Nothing had ever worked out for them when they were alive. Better late than never
“When you first die you’re in the dark,” Owen carried on. “That’s all that their seems to be but if you wander around long enough, and avoid whatever is growling at you down there, you get out of the dark into the light.” Jack snorted and was rewarded with a pillow thrown into his face. “Shut up, there’s no other word for it. There’s no tunnel of light, nothing flashes before your eyes, nothing stupid like that. You’re out of the dark and in the light, and…” Owen trailed off, sitting himself down in the chair again.
Jack looked over at Tosh for an explanation but even she was unable to explain things. For a moment Jack felt a stab of jealousy. They were somewhere good and safe from what he could discern and he would never join them. Never get to see what was beyond the dark. Never get to join all those who had gone before him, those he had sent to their deaths.
The darkness wasn’t permanent though and that thought filled him with relief. Then he remembered what they’d said about Stephen. Stephen had been alone in the dark for three years and he hadn’t been able to find his way out and no one had gone after him. He wondered why Stephen’s grandmother hadn’t gone out after him; maybe it was because she didn’t know what he looked like. Or because she was still in the dark herself. Jack stopped thinking about it; he didn’t know which eventuality was more heartbreaking.
“No one figures out that there’s more to the darkness right away, Jack,” Tosh explained, trying to sound soothing instead of merely informative. “I’d be there right now if Owen hadn’t gone to get me.”
“I think I got an automatic pass out of the dark thanks to the whole zombie mess,” Owen shrugged. “After I lost consciousness in the reactor room I was just there already.”
Tosh nodded. “Anyway he found me and I found Ianto.” She flashed a look of pity his way. “He was looking for you. He said you had to have died just after he had and he wanted an extra few seconds to say goodbye properly.” She shook her head. “We couldn’t find you, though. No matter how loud we yelled.”
“I didn’t hear any of that,” Jack sighed. He’d looked for Ianto in the dark when he’d gone too. He yelled and reached and done whatever he could. He’d taken the lack of an answer as proof that maybe his last ditch attempt, the kiss that had revived him once before, had worked. Waking up to the realisation that it had been nearly as bad as watching Ianto die all over again.
Suddenly an odd sensation rippled through the air again and Tosh and Owen vanished for a few seconds before appearing again. ‘Fuck,” Owen gasped. “Okay, suffice to say death’s not as bad as you think and Ianto’s out trying to find your grandson. I’m sure he sends you his regards, or something like that, but we need to get to the point.”
Jack sighed. The reunion had to have its dark point. “Alright,” he said with a hint of defeat in his bravado. “What way is the world ending this time?”
Tosh arched an eyebrow. “Who said anything about the world ending?”
Jack paused for a moment. “Not that I’m not pleased to hear that but why-“
“If we said to you,” Tosh began, that deviously victorious smile once again decorating her face, “that we think there’s a pretty good chance of sending a certain archivist back to your side of the looking glass would you be interested?”