Title : The Wanderer - Chapter 3 : The memory of a man
Summary: At the far end of the universe, Jack has an interesting encounter with a too perfect woman and finds unexpected help to keep his promise. (Spoilers for Children of Earth)
Rating: All Ages
Characters: Ianto Jones, Jack Harkness, Original Character.
Genres: General, Introspection
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Notes: This chapter is specially dedicated to badly_knitted. I have rewritten it twice, hoping it will be more worthy and put all my heart into it. Comments and reviews are still highly welcome.Special thanks to my wonderful beta reader welsh_scotsman.
Chapter 3 - The memory of a man
Jack froze, instantly on the alert.
It had been so long since anyone had called him this name. Jack Harkness had died long ago, as Jonathan Harker was born. He had vanished in to the air, without a trace. Jack Harkness was a man who definitely had too many enemies and not enough friends to miss him anymore. This name had become a legend, a myth, and for him, a curse.
He glared at Glinn.
"Sorry, sweetheart, you must be mistaken. My name is Jonathan Harker."
She smirked at him.
"If you say so." She took another sip of her drink before carrying on with a curt voice. "First, I'm not your sweetheart and second, I'd like it if you'd stop making fun of me. I may be just a whore, but that doesn't mean I'm an idiot."
"It never occurred to me,” reply Jack dryly, narrowing his eyes.
She stayed silent for a moment, whilst she was playing with the ice cubes in her glass.
"You know, there are strange men prowling around here, these days. They ferret around and make a lot of fuss in order to find the man they call Jack Harkness. And they don't really look friendly."
Jack winced inwardly. He should have known that the Time Agency wouldn't give up the idea of making him pay for his betrayal. They were relentless and unforgiving. No matter that the Agency was supposed to be closed, according to John Hart's assertion. It would never be broken up. It would just pop up somewhere else and resume its activities as if nothing had happened. They would never drop him.
Glinn looked up and stared at him.
"Let's just say that they make a fairly detailed portrait of the man they were looking for". She brushed his cheek lightly. "Tall... Handsome face... In his forties." Then touched the lapel of his coat. "Usually wearing a grey greatcoat...".
She suddenly stop her movements and looked straight in his eyes before continuing :
"... and an uncanny inability to stay dead, leading, of course, to a not less uncanny longevity."
Jack tightened his jaws. He knew too well that it was just a question of time before they discovered his secret.
Glinn smirked again.
"You really should be more discreet, you know. Just changing your name is a little bit thoughtless with these kind of men. If I were you, I'd... "
He cut her off, grabbed her wrist and squeezed it tightly. Keeping an eye on the exit and nearly expecting to see a full squad of Time Agents invading the bar, he drew her towards him so he could whisper into her ear through his gritted teeth :
"I don't care about your opinion. What I want to know is : who're you ? And what do you want from me ?"
She whispered the same into his ear, letting people around them thinking they were in a tender conversation.
"I don't want anything from you, except a pleasant conversation before the departure of my flight."
"No kidding." He tightened his grip and saw her wincing but she didn't try to extricate herself. "That's quite a piece of information you've got there. And it could earn you a lot of money. Those men pay well."
"I have no doubt, but I don't care. I earn enough money by myself. And, most of all, I don't like their manners. They're atrocious."
He could hear a little voice whispering in his head and entreating him not to believe her. After all, he didn't know this woman at all. She had appeared, as if by magic, bragging about knowing who he was. And the fact that she and, worse, the Time Agency knew about his immortality wasn't made to reassure him.
"Give me one reason to trust you", he said.
"There's none. You'll have to take my word for it."
He looked her in the eyes, trying to find a sign that she was lying. But he had to admit there wasn't the tiniest hint of rogue or betrayal in her face and he released her wrist.
An awkward silence fell on them and they stayed that way for a long time, just looking down at their glasses.
After a while, not knowing what to say or do, he took the book and flicked through it. A square of dark, shining paper slipped from it on to the bar. She reached out and picked it up.
It was an old photograph, whose outlines were slightly blurred and colours faded, but for Jack, it was as vivid as it was the first day. He even remembered which day it had been taken. It was a few weeks after the second death of Suzie, when their relations had become more... intimate. They had had a drinks party for Tosh's birthday. Beer, pizzas and takeaway, like usual. Casually leaning against a wall, having loosened his tie and taken his jacket off, Ianto was raising his glass to the photographer. He was smiling, slightly uncomfortable. At the time, they were the only ones who knew that the sparks shining in his eyes owed less to the alcohol than to their latest "stopwatch session". Ianto looked so happy in this photograph. So young. Too young to die.
The sensation of Glinn's soft, warm hand on his arm dragged him back to the present as he felt a shiver running along his spine. Lost in his thoughts, he hadn't heard what she was saying. She stared at him and repeated :
"Tell me about him."
He let out a sigh. He didn't know where to begin and felt his heart constrict. It was so long since he had talked to someone about him. It was his most intimate wound, hidden in the depths of his heart.
She brushed the glazed paper and said with a soft smile :
"Well, I can already say that he had beautiful eyes and was really handsome."
"Believe me, it was the least of his qualities."
Jack turn towards Glinn and looked at her thoughtfully : her right hand laid on his arm, her head propped on the other hand, she was attentive. A soft and reassuring smile lit up her face. Without any reason, he felt he could trust in her.
He took a deep breath and suddenly, it was as if a dam broke inside him, freeing the floods of memories and emotion it had stemmed so far. Unable to resist to it, he let the whirlpool of pictures and sensations overwhelm him and burst into his head with a firework.
The confusion of their first encounter at Bute Park. Jack's anger and fear after Lisa's death, when he had thought that everything between them was a fake. His relief, when he had discovered that was nothing of the sort. The indescribable feeling of happiness he had felt the first time he had held him in his arms. His voice. His smile. The softness of his hand brushing his. His bravery and his self-possession in the warehouse. The warmth of his cheek against his as they were dancing at Gwen's wedding, when Jack had finally opened his eyes and realized the depth of his feelings for him. Ianto's skin against his. His straightforwardness. His laugh. The way he kept him sane. His strength. The way he had stood up to the 456's ambassador. His desperate thirst of love. Thames House. The unbearable pain that had overwhelmed him whilst he was seeing him dying in his arms.
"To hear you talk, he was an extraordinary man."
Jack startled and looked at her, stunned. He hadn't realized that he was speaking out loud. Leaving his daydream, he wiped the tears burning his eyes and drained half of his glass in one gulp.
"And now I make a spectacle of myself. It's pathetic. Give me five minutes, and I'll sob on your shoulder."
"I'd rather you don't. You'd ruin my dress and I don't think you can afford to buy me a new one."
He cracked a faint smile that didn't reach his eyes.
"He did it all the time."
"Laugh it off." Jack paused. "I miss him."
Glinn patted his arm gently but didn't say anything else and he was grateful to her for that. He didn't want her to feel sorry about him.
"He was only twenty five,” he said, almost for himself.
"Wherever he is now, I'm sure that he's in peace."
"You know... You're obviously a smart girl. But when it comes to death, you don't know anything. Believe me. I have spent enough time in her dominion to be able to say there are no green meadows, nor light or comfort. There is nothing. Just the nothingness that sucks you up and devours you. I learnt it the hard way."
"Well, at least, let me live in cloud cuckoo land," she replied dryly.
"As you wish, but don't ask me to do the same."
The tension between them eased as quickly as it had built.
"I'll never forgive myself for that", Jack let out wearily, running his fingers through his hair.
"There was nothing you could do to save him."
Jack watched her grimly for a moment.
"He trusted me and I got him killed."
"You can't say that,” she burst out. "It wasn't you fault".
"He shouldn't have been there. I shouldn't have let him come with me. I should've... I should... I should've protected him. It was me who should've looked after him. Not the other way round... He was so much braver than me."
"Courage doesn't seem to fail you, Captain. If half of what I heard about you is true, you can be called a hero."
Jack uttered a joyless laugh.
"It's not so hard to be a hero when you've got nothing to lose. It shouldn't have happened. He shouldn't have died. Not so young and not like that. He deserved better."
"He loved and was loved. Not everyone is that lucky. It's not so bad. At least he died knowing you loved him."
"That the problem : he didn't know anything..." His voice broke. "He was dying just in front of me and even then, I couldn't. I wasn't able to say to him how much I loved him. I should've done it. Everyday. Shown him how important he was to me."
Glinn took a deep breath and turned towards him.
"If only once, he had seen the look in your eyes you have when you talk about him, he would have known.”
"I'd like to believe it was so easy."
"It is. Believe me."
She paused before staring at him intently, as if she was speaking to a stubborn child.
"You were right. Maybe, I don't know much about death. But when it comes to love, I'm an expert. He loved you and you loved him. You still love him. What existed between you two is still there and no one can erase it. Never. »
Jack stayed silence and looked down. She leaned in, took his face in her hands and forced him to raise his head.
"It's not the death that kills us," she carried on with an insistent voice. "It's the oblivion. As long as someone remembers him, he's still alive. In your heart, in your memory. And it's the best proof of love you could give to him. As long as you live and remember him, he's alive in you... So do it. But not because you think that you owe it to him, but because you want to do it. By love."
He nodded slowly, letting the meaning of her words sink in to his mind and spread inwardly like a soothing balm, easing the pain and the guilt that had gnawed at him for so long. How he wanted to believe her...
She put her hands in her laps and closed her eyes for one moment, as if she was dizzy, before speaking again.
"Maybe you could read one of these poems to me. Perhaps his favorite, if you wanted to. I'm not sure that I would understand everything, but it must be very beautiful."
He pondered for a moment.
"I don't know which one was his favorite, but there's one of them that I love particularly."
What he didn't say to her was that it was the only one he had heard him quote, when they were in Switzerland and that, in this way, he could still remember the rich tone of his voice.
"I'd be happy to hear it."
Jack crossed his hands on the cover of the book, closed his eyes and let the words flowed freely between his lips, hardly aware of his surroundings.
"Clearly the blue river chimes in its flowing
Under my eye;
Warmly and broadly the south winds are blowing
Over the sky.
One after another the white clouds are fleeting;
Every heart this May morning in joyance is beating
Yet all things must die..."
Glinn was the first to break the silence that followed.
"It's very beautiful. Very sad, too."
"The two of them often go hand in hand."
A smooth voice filled the air, covering the humming of the conversations around them and calling on the passagers of the interstellar 235 to take on board.
A small smile flitted across Glinn's face as she raised her head and turned towards him.
"I 'll have to leave you, Captain. They are calling my flight. I'm very pleased to have spent this moment with you. Maybe, we'd meet again soon."
"I hope so", replied Jack with a broad smile, raising the hand she held out to his lips.
She gathered her purse and jumped off her stool. She was heading towards the boarding gate, when she suddenly stopped et turned around.
"By the way, you didn't tell me his name."
"Is it so important ?"
She nodded slowly.
"Jones. Ianto Jones."
Jack wondered when was the last time Ianto's name had crossed his lips and a bitter sweet feeling overwhelmed him.
"Thank you, Captain. You can rely on me. I won't forget the story of Ianto Jones and his beautiful Captain who still reads poems to him, a thousand years after his death. From now on, both of us will remember him."
She paused, frowned and seemed hesitate for a moment, but a second later her usual warm smile was back on her lips.
"Oh, I forget." she added with a wink, and in a perfect 21th century english, without the tiniest hint of accent. "If you want us to meet again, just think of me and I'll be there."
He looked at her quizzically.
"How would you know ?" he asked.
She just shrugged and offered him an innocent smile.
"Well, maybe because I'm a Wanderer and I know everything... By the way, he was right : I really love the coat too."
Whereupon, she saluted him by leaning two fingers on her temple and turned on her heels in a rustling of silk.
It took Jack few seconds to realize the meaning of her words.
He jumped from his stool, knocking over his glass as he went by and spilling water all over the bar. He hurried to grab his book, but by the time he turned around, she had disappeared, as vanished in the air.
Jack collapsed on his sit, stunned.
A Wanderer. Glinn was a Wanderer. By all the stars of the universe! How could he have been so stupid.
Jack didn't know what was the most embarrassing : the fact that he thought she was a prostitute or the fact that she knew it and let him miserably get bogged down.
The Wanderers, the Roamers, the Voyagers...
They had been called a lot of names throughout the centuries, but it didn't matter. If there were, somewhere in the universe, some people older and wiser than the Time Lords, they were them : the Mengajiards, the guardians of the universal memory.
Jack had heard about them during his training with the Time Agency, but his knowledge was very limited. Anyway, until Jack had met the Doctor, who was much better informed and learnt him a lot of things about them. Jack had to admit that it was the first time he saw the Doctor show so much respect for someone and he could only agree with him.
It seemed that they were as old as the Universe and some said they might be immortals. Several bodies, several minds, but only one memory, universal and limitless. Far more than humans but not exactly spirits, they had become a myth, a tale going through generations.
They had their own moral code and were free from all emotions. Observers travelling all over time and space in order to collect the greatest as the smallest history, they never intervened in the development of the events and weren't subjected to the Paradox Laws. Their only one constraint was to not being in the same place at the same time twice.
They were a shadow, a stranger crossed and immediately forgotten, a figure scarcely seen. They remembered everything, but no one ever remembered them.
It's part of the job. And what a job !
From one end to the other of the universe, the ancient Guilds, the Councils and the Trials of all kinds, eager not to repeat the errors of the past or to learn from them, called on them. Or rather on their official representative, given that the Wanderers themselves were never seen.
Their memory was infallible and unfailing. Nobody could doubt their word, because they were the ones who possessed the real truth. People said they were able to read minds and steal the memories of the ones who they met, but the Doctor had been unable to say what was wrong or right.
Jack remembered Glinn's soft and warm hand on his arms, the door that had suddenly opened into his mind and freed entire bits of his life, not to mention all those things that he was sure he hadn't said out loud but that she knew.
Actually all those rumors might be real.
It's not the death that kills us. It's the oblivion. As long as someone remembers him, he's still alive.
Oh yes, someone would remember Ianto Jones. Even if he had to fail, his memory would stay alive. Forever. Preciously kept in the depths of the memory of the Mengajiards, and this thanks to the beautiful Wanderer.
I won't forget the story of Ianto Jones and his beautiful Captain who still read poems to him, one thousand years after his death. From now on, both of us will remember him.
Jack smiled for himself. It seemed that the burden that had weighed heavily on his shoulders for so long was lightened. No, maybe not lightened, but more... bearable.
He grabbed the book left on the bar and waved the barman.
"I'd like something stronger."
One moment later, whilst Jack was finishing his previously interrupted reading, the barman came back with a glass filled with a softly amber liquid. He took the glass and raised it towards the atrium above him with a smile. Beyond the million stars which sparkled in the sidereal night, he drunk a toast to Glinn the Wanderer. He closed his eyes and let his lips whisper the words that he had never succeeded in saying until then :
"I love you, Ianto."
He felt a pleasant and warm sensation spread through him, but it owed nothing to the effects of alcohol.
To be continued...