Characters: Jack, John, canon Victorian/Edwardian TW operatives, Estelle, Lucia, Martha, Ianto, Gwen
Genre: Angst, Five Things
Disclaimer: Torchwood and Doctor Who's characters, concepts, and events belong to their respective owners, including but not limited to Russell T Davies, Steven Moffat, and the BBC. This is a work of fan-appreciation and no profit is being made.
Summary: Nine times, in Jack Harkness' very long and varied life, that he didn't belong, and once that he (however briefly) did.
A/N: Written for Challenge 6 on whoverse_las: based on the prompt "Belonging". Originally "Nine times Jack didn’t belong". This is an edited and expanded version of that fic. The new title is from N. David Merman's description of gravity and orbits, from his book It's About Time: Understanding Einstein's Relativity. azn_jack_fiend and _lullabelle_ helped me to fix it up. You can also now listen to this story as a podfic, as read by the lovely azn_jack_fiend
He doesn’t know why he’s bothering rooting through his footlocker. He won’t need any of it, where he’s going. The vortex manipulator and what’s left of his wits will have to be enough.
His partner looks over from his place stretched out, languid as a cat, on the bottom bunk. The projector on his wriststrap is cycling through a series of pornographic stills, but he’s ignoring them: just background light to make him feel safe. “Why do you even care?” he drawls, “You’re clearly overreacting. They’re just memories. So maybe you killed some people, committed a genocide or two. So what? The Agency gave us everything we have. So what if it takes something back?”
He doesn’t know why it’s suddenly so important to convince his partner that he’s right, but it is. “Do you even hear yourself anymore? This isn’t... it isn’t... Come with me. Please. We’ll be full-time conmen. No missions, no orders, no lies but the ones we tell. We could be emperors.”
His partner just turns back to his pictures, eyes blinking up reflections of writhing alien bodies.
He lies down on his belly in the dust and closes his eyes. Cheek and ear to the floor, he listens to the low, tuneless hum of the space station as it spins, purposeless, through space. In orbit, every mile travelled just takes you closer again to where you started.
Jack stands with his hands folded behind his back, waiting as Emily dutifully writes him a cheque for his expenditures. She hands it over, not bothering to smile.
“Miss? Is this a bad time?”
Emily’s head tilts and Jack turns to see Alice loitering by the office door, clutching a gaily wrapped package in her hands.
“Of course not,” Emily replies, flashing Jack a look that dares him to argue. “Jack was just leaving. Come in.”
Jack gives Emily a brusque nod, pockets the cheque, and turns to go. At the door, he stops, but doesn’t turn. “Happy Christmas, girls,” he says, keeping his voice cheerful.
“Don’t be silly, Jack,” Emily responds, and waves him out. Alice shuts the door behind him.
“Took you long enough,” Jack complains good-naturedly when Carter approaches his cell.
Carter ignores Jack’s cheek, instead busying himself with adjusting his cufflinks—anything to keep from having to look Jack in the eye. “To be honest, I wasn’t sure at first if I wanted to come at all,” he replies, clipped. “Gross indecency? Scandalous conduct?”
Jack grins apologetically and just spreads his palms in a shrug.
“Didn’t I warn you?” Carter continues, seeming to take offense at Jack’s lack of earnestness, “That you’d never survive outside of Torchwood’s sphere? I hope now you can acknowledge the inherent folly in running off to play soldiers in an army and a conflict that don’t even concern you. As if that would make you one of us.”
“Hey,” Jack protests, “My men loved me.”
“I gathered,” Carter quips back. “I’m beginning to wonder if maybe you wouldn’t benefit from a year’s hard labour after all.” He sighs, turns to the guard. “Unlock the cell. Torchwood will take the prisoner from here.”
Dorothy screams and Estelle shrieks right along with her, her small body curling against Jack’s side. He can’t help but gather her closer to him as the wind howls and the music becomes frantic and the tiny farmhouse hurtles through the air.
“This is my favourite part,” he confides, forgetting himself, lost in that terrifying wonderful moment when Dorothy first approaches the door.
“What?” Estelle whispers back, confused.
Then the screen erupts into colour, blue and pink and green and gold, glistening, and the strings reprise “Somewhere over the Rainbow”, and they both forget Jack said anything at all.
Lucia touches her belly, strangely peaceful, and turns her gaze to watch the rain on the window. Jack swallows the rock in his throat.
“Do you know?” she asks, and her voice is gentle and cruel. A small, private smile plays at the corners of her lips. She is acting the Madonna: haloed by silver, fading light. “I don’t even mind, if they retcon me. I thought I would, but I don’t.”
He gets the call from London while he’s still busy moving the bodies, hands full of blood.
“No need to send anyone,” he tells the girl on the other end, some tired secretary. His voice breaks. “I’m still here. I can take it from here.”
She doesn’t ask him how he survived.
That evening, after the paperwork, nobody loiters. Even Gwen hurries out without her usual earnest goodbyes.
It’s Ianto, the traitor, selfish and selfless together, who wasn’t even there to see, who ends up standing beside Jack’s desk and saying, by his presence, by his shadow across the desk, by the steaming mug held out in offering, ‘I understand.’
“Go home, Ianto,” Jack tells him, because he deserves a lot of things in this world, but not this quiet, unassuming acceptance. “I order you to go home.”
It works. He doesn’t even leave the coffee.
Martha’s family gather her into a trembling hug, all bodies and arms and bowed heads.
Jack directs his turncoat UNIT soldiers to secure the area and gather the civilian witnesses. Things to do, things to do.
The crackling sound of Glenn Miller rises up from the atrium, and when Jack pokes out onto the catwalk to investigate, he’s greeted with the sight of Gwen and Ianto caught in each other’s arms. Dancing. Ianto leads clumsily, drunk and concentrating hard on his feet, while Gwen droops against his chest, laughing and hiccupping.
He’s about to turn back into his office, leave them to it, when Ianto looks up and gives him a watery, red-nosed smile.
“Sorry, but I took the liberty of borrowing your gramophone,” he calls up, a little louder than necessary. “You coming down?”
“Always room for one more,” Gwen agrees, although she’s clinging to Ianto tightly, like he’ll float away if she lets him go. “And honestly, Ianto’s kind of a shit dance instructor, anyway—sorry, Ianto.”
Ianto waves her off, hand flapping on his wrist too quick to be truly dismissive. “What she means to say is,” he corrects, archly, some drunken parody of good manners, “‘You may cut in’.”
‘But who with?’ Jack’s mind supplies, after a thousand years.
The grin he manages, just then, might be more of a grimace: it seems to hurt enough to be one. But he still takes the stairs down to them two at a time.