One Down, Twelve Hundred Million To Go

Jack is hanging around London, watching the bombs fall and skittering his way back and forth between them. There's no close call; he's got everything timed too well, down to the platiosecond. It's nothing he hasn't done a hundred times before – maybe more, he can't remember.

It's almost simple, and if the perks weren't enough he might almost have called it boring. But the war makes everyone more willing to bend rules, and the constant threat of another attack makes it easy for someone with his experience to hide whatever he has to, in order to escape notice.

He sets up his ship, plants the advertisement with just the right amount of marketing, and sits back and waits. Has a bit of wartime gin, another bit of wartime buggery, and makes sure all they ever remember is his smile as he departs.

He surprises himself at how much time he spends thinking, regardless. He's learned not to think about those years, that missing black hole in his mind that hurts even when he's drunk, well-fucked, or running away from a man with a blaster. But he surprises himself at how much he thinks about those years, so long ago in the distant future. That kid, tall and gangly and handsome even for the standards of an age that had every part of cosmetic surgery known to the human race and beyond. When babies were sculpted before they were born to be winsome and charming and beautiful - or whatever the day's fashion was; Jack is grateful he wasn't born thirty years earlier when it was all the rage to have three eyes implanted in one's forehead and a prehensile tail extending from the spine. Tails might make for fantastic sex, but he likes being able to sit down for extended periods, thank you.

He thinks about those years, and he doesn't really understand why. That boy he was - not naive, not exactly, but wide-eyed and innocent in the way that only comes from being surrounded by people who loved him. Every step he took was cheered on by family and friends, every dream he had was encouraged.

Jack remembers his face on a hundred posters, plastered all over the peninsula. Already well-known by everyone, Jack had been out-going and friendly and willing. One more accolade had been hardly surprising. He'd accepted it with the good cheer only the very young can mange - full of ego but entirely well-meant.

Jack sometimes thinks about his acceptance speech, the day they unveiled the poster. Standing on the stage, his mothers and father and bians all gathered to one side. His friends throughout the small crown, cheering and clapping and calling out insulting names. He'd had such grand plans, join the Time Agency and save the world, change each tiny little corner of the universe until it was safe and loved and welcoming for all.

And he wonders how long it took for that boy to fade away. He knows he grew up fast - Time Agency cadets didn't last if they didn't. He knows he lost himself long before those years he can't recall. But exactly when....

Was it the first time he had to run, leaving behind the entity he'd been assigned to rescue? Or had it been the supervisor. Quellin Marks, who'd graded his reviews as 'unsatisfactory', simply because Quellin was always hung over when paperwork was due?

Jack doesn't exactly know how he changed, but a blind non-sentient rock would have to agree: the man standing on a roof-top in London, watching the fires burn, waiting for someone to buy a piece of alien waste-craft, was not the boy who had sailed off to Mars, hoping to be a part of the salvation of the world.

And Jack thinks it's a shame, because the man he is now has so much more fun than that boy ever did. Sex with five different species at once has no comparison to fleeing death, a second at a time. Jack remembers flying home-made gliders over cliff faces and across the sea waters; the thrill of settling into the seat of a stolen spaceship and waiting for the ship's computer to recognise him as a pirate - that negotiation is one he plans to remember for a long time to come.

He still doesn't know if he's promised the computer his fifth-born child, or a glass of brandy.

The adoring faces and loving praise of his family fades easily in the distant sound of gunfire, and Jack turns towards the zeppelins. The wind is cold, and the night is lit with flames, and he can feel his heart pounding.

He does not know what sort of man he is. He knows what he does: con man, slipping ahead of the game as fast as he can dance, squeezing every molecule of life out of every breath he breathes. There is danger, and romance, and friendship and loss, and the mysteries inside his own mind are more horrifying than any he has ever encountered in his journeys throughout time.

Jack knows he is not this man. He plays a game until the next one comes along, as dedicated to nothing as he was dedicated to his dream as a boy.

He doesn't know why he dreams about that boy. He can't go back, and knows with all his heart he would not want to. But sometimes he thinks about the way it was. The choices felt so simple. Love, sex, adventure; family, friends, and a place to call home.

Jack has three of those left, and he honestly does not know if he has the better part of himself anymore, or if that, too, faded away with the boy whose face smiled on the people of Boe.

What he does know, with utter certainty, is that he will never go looking for what he used to be.

~ ~ ~

The soft footfall warned him, unnecessary as it was. Jack knew it was intentional; Ianto scuffed his toe against the step so as not to appear to be sneaking up on him. Intentional, because there were times when Ianto was silent as a cat and Jack only knew he was there out of the sixth sense that told him anyone was near.

Jack waited until Ianto was beside his desk before he raised his head. "Yes?"

Ianto looked unperturbed; that much was normal, but Jack honestly knew of nothing that might be the slightest bit upsetting. Torchwood had been quiet to the point he'd given most of the staff the week off for holidays.

There was a pause before Ianto asked, "Did you need anything, sir?"

The question wasn't odd, but for the fact there was no reason for Ianto to have come all this way to ask. Couple that with the fact there was no one around, and innuendo was hardly necessary. If Ianto had wanted the excuse to come over and indulge in a bit of fun....

Jack narrowed his eyes. "No, thank you. I'm fine." He waited to see the other's man's reaction. There was none -- face expressionless like a good English butler, Ianto inclined his head and said nothing.

Neither did he walk away. Jack waited another heartbeat, thought about counting to yentish, or maybe just five, then tossed away the head games and asked, "Was there something you wanted?"

"No, sir," Ianto replied, quiet and calm and still giving nothing away.

Jack started to nod, returning to his paperwork and let the inscrutable Ianto Jones get whatever it was he came for.

A memory, then, or cold night air and distant thunder. A girl's laughter and the whisper of an impossible engine and a thousand days of what he knew, now, he could only call family.

He looked up at Ianto and said, "I'm about due for a break, here." He hesitated, then there was the slightest bit of a crinkle around the edge of Ianto's eyes. Sunlight, then, and Jack smiled in return. He lifted his hand and Ianto reached out and took it.

"I thought maybe we could go dancing."

the end