If I can bother you a moment more to comment, I'd be really appreciative!
Spoilers: 1x4 (Cyberwoman), 1x5 (Small Worlds), 1x6 (Countrycide), 2x12 (Fragments); DW 1x11&12 (Parting of the Ways)
[HERE AND NOW (I): Intersection]
[THEN AND THERE (I): Memoria]
[HERE AND NOW (II): Sweeter Than]
[THEN AND THERE (II): Each Small Piece]
[HERE AND NOW (III): Ex Parte]
Certain For the Dead 6/?
by Meredith Bronwen Mallory
THEN AND THERE (III): Sounds From Downstream
Jack Harkness had every intention of driving all the way back to Cardiff from Porthcawl, without stopping. The expediency was one of the rare benefits of not sleeping-- in some ways, he was looking forward to the long, silent drive. The job in Porthcawl had been dull, classified as a 'red-herring' in the eyes of his current Torchwood superiors, but many of the Doctor's mad-cap trademarks had lingered amidst the lack of evidence, leaving a hollow little bubble in between Jack's ribs. Loneliness ready to pop, burst like a blood-vessel in a way he sometimes wished could be fatal. He had no desire to be amongst people until the feeling had passed.
It would be hard to say, later, what exactly made him stop that day. Thunderheads gathered unseasonably as he navigated the country roads, but Jack didn't see them. His gaze was turned inward, so that he barely registered the little carved wood sign informing of passage near a little village called Camden Bright. He saw no signs of the outpost itself-- only the verdant, savage green of the ancient forests, trees and leaves shuddering under April's fickle hand. There came, eventually, a little prickle of warning, the mental equivalent of goose bumps at the back of the neck. The feeling of something moving in ones bones, a somehow instinctive distrust of reality that makes the lights too bright and the mirrors into liars. 'Someone just walked over my grave,' Jack thought, bitterness and the taste of his own heart heavy on his tongue. He felt it intensely; so intensely that it took him a moment to realize that his feelings of loss and betrayal had merged with someone else's. Like a small boat lifted by a massive wave, he felt a dull sort of shock at the emotional intertwining-- and perhaps that, even more than instinct, was what surprised him into stopping the car.
Very much alert now, Jack pulled to the side of the dirt road and stepped out of his borrowed vehicle. The forest around him was greedy and relentless-- underbrush and greenery started less than three steps from the actual road, as if laying in wait. The trees, tall and silent as stone sentinels, obscured much of the sky, but Jack could taste the lingering rain and thunder, which had not been there moments before. He stood there for a few heartbeats, feeling a little silly yet willing himself to listen. There was an urge, too strong for him to trust, to get back in the car and continue driving, for surely there was nothing of note here. Jack fought past it, and encountered once more the vibrant heartbreak that had, for a moment, felt like his own. One step forward, then another-- faster now, and he began to jog along the ride of the road in the same direction he'd been heading all along. The empathic call was not as strong as many Jack had felt. In his own time, it would have been considered standard requirement to register with a guild but, in the 20th century, it was like finding a smooth ruby amidst river silt. (RIVER) Still moving, Jack tilted his head a little, filtering through his own thoughts.
(river river motion of water light on the water on the ceiling of a cave river underground oh time like a river)
The cascade of images bled over him-- not a call or signal at all, but the untrained leaking of someone whose mental biology was a few evolutionary jumps a head of the norm. There were telepaths and empaths, even telekenetics, in Earth's 20th Century-- Jack had met a considerable number in his long tour with Torchwood-- but they were still very much a biological sport. This one was understandably untrained, and young. The despair crested, shading into a sullen sort of resolve, and Jack realized he could hear the river along with the images in his minds eye. A few meters ahead, the road gave way to a stone bridge; Jack came to its center and stopped, casting a wide mental net. Over the stone wall, he could see that 'river' was really too grand a word-- the waterway was narrow but swift, echoing under the archway. He stared hard at the rushing stream; there was a smaller stone footbridge a little ways down, and he knew there was something he wasn't supposed to see. He thought he heard laughter, that of many children; the smell of red, red flowers was almost overwhelming. For a moment, it was so complete that he could feel the heat of the box car, hear the laughter of those young and doomed soldiers.
'I know you're here,' he thought towards the entities in the woods, and his anger seemed to clear his sight. There, where the land slopped down from the footbridge to the banks of swift current-- there! Jack was moving before he fully registered what he'd seen; a little boy, standing ankle deep in the cold creek, staring sightlessly towards where the water ran under the bridge.
It took the Captain several minutes to fight past the grass and brush, but the child did not move, or give any hint that he heard Jack's less-than-subtle descent along the hill. He was a slight little thing in a sky-blue jumper; his dark hair had that fine, uncut look of very young children. Some steps away, Jack came across a pair of tiny shoes set carefully aside, socks tucked in with their mates.
"Hey!" he called out, making a bid for cheerful even as the child's intense emotions brushed against him like strong, unseen wind. This close, he could see that the boy had rolled up his trousers-- the water splashed along his little legs, and he stood just a few feet from where the current and depths would increase considerably. It couldn't be a very deep river, Jack thought, but that wouldn't matter for someone so small. The boy stood still a carving of ice, hands balled into fists at his sides. Around them, the trees seemed to laugh and chortle, and the sky filled with heavy, pregnant clouds. "Hey, kiddo!" Jack said again, stopping just short of reaching out to touch the boy. The sorrow was almost palpable, filling Jack's mind with strong colors.
(WHITE sheets everywhere there are white sheets.
It's a bad hospital, there's RED paint and that's bad. So hot and all the crying, she's crying, she's saying my name. SILVER, silver on the dark, on her pretty dark skin and RED, red is bad bad red. Noise and fire and she hurts so much.)
Oh, the agony was far too mature for a boy to feel. This child was soaking the emotion up and rebroadcasting it, the signal only strengthened by his wild, uncomprehending fear.
'Why are you showing him this?' Jack wondered at the Elementals, the so-called dancing faeries of children's stories. 'Where is it coming from?' No answers from the ancient powers, but the boy turned his head, becoming aware of Jack for the first time.
"It comes from Forward," he said carefully forming each word. There were tracks running down his reddened cheeks, but Jack could see that he wasn't really crying. Rather, the tears were welling in his eyes and overflowing, without him ever being aware of it. In that small, agonized expression, the eyes were very, very blue. "It comes from down stream."
(time is a river the sound of the river like the sound of their feet their marching the bad mens are marching on little tin soldiers oh she hurts so much, so much)
"It hasn't happened yet," Jack agreed, stepping into the water without really thinking about it. He stopped when the boy took an instinctive step back. Trying his best to sound soothing, he added, "It might not happen at all." It was the wrong thing to say-- the boy nodded eagerly. Too eagerly.
"They say so too!" So young, unquestioning, that smile.
"Who?" Jack asked carefully, aware of the rustling behind him.
"My tree friends." Said simply with no guile.
"Ah," he murmured, and thunder rolled in the distance. He gestured widely with his hand, feeling the April chill as the wind picked up. The child felt it too, his whole body shivering. He grinned a little, "Nice weather we're having."
"They do that," the boy said, seeming to lose interest. He looked away, his gaze riveted on the arch of the stone bridge. Over the sound of childish laughter and threatening rain, a cry came to Jack's ears. Distant, but as real as the sudden smell of burning flesh permeating the area.
('help me!' says the silver girl. 'ianto please it hurts i need the shot it hurts hurts hurts')
"Ianto?" Jack called out, reaching towards the child. "Is that your name?"
"Yes." Those blue eyes turned on him once more-- the voice so young that the affirmative came out sounding like 'yis'.
"That's a neat trick your friends have, Ianto," he offered his hand, making sure the boy saw it. "I bet they have lots of tricks."
"Lots, yep," and Ianto popped the 'p' at end, as if for emphasis. "My teacher says the clock goes like this--" he twirled his finger clockwise, as illustration-- "but my tree-friends make it go diff'ernt. They make it go both ways. Make doors go places they shouldn't."
"And archways, too, I bet." Jack had the gist of it now, and he barely managed to restrain the rage in his gut. Here was this child, this bright, naturally polished treasure; he'd seen Elementals tempt and coax, and this must be where it went when that didn't work. Down from the future, they had brought echoes of something horrifying, like a closet monster laying in wait, and... Look, Ianto! A magic door to get you out.
"It goes some place," Ianto agreed. It came out sounding like 'sum-pace'. "I don't want her to hurt." He looked at Jack with depths of fathomless blue. The eyes of an old soul. "I can save her."
Oh, some day, those words will haunt Jack. They will burrow into his mind while he sleeps, horrible, red little echoes, and he will see that same face streaked with tears. The little boy and the young man, both despairing beyond any actual use of the word, pleading with an inflexible universe. Jack will lock his jaw, steel himself to remain unmoved, and Ianto will say he will not, he can not, it will tear along Jack's heart. Make him as merciless, as inflexible as the black universe itself.
And maybe there was a hint of that, then; certainly, Jack felt an uncomfortable doubling around him, as if time had folded in on itself. His head pounded, there was bile in his throat. It was April of 1987, and his hand hung between himself and the little boy he'd just met.
"No, Ianto." He took another step forward, emboldened when the boy did not move.
'You can't trust him!' hissed the trees. 'He's a stranger!'
"I..." Ianto wavered, beginning to breathe heavily.
"They play lots of tricks, don't they, Ianto?" Jack insisted, ignoring the insults. "Some of them are fun, really neat. But I'd bet some of them aren't so much fun." Ianto blinked rapidly, and he knew he'd hit a nerve. "You know it's not nice to laugh at a friend when they fall down."
A very small voice agreed with him, "Not nice at all."
Here was this tiny boy, trying to shoulder a black grief that bent and consumed a grown man. The compassion on Jack's face was real as he added, "It's even more not-nice to push them, don't you think?"
"Take my hand, Ianto."
(take my hand, he added soothingly, a mental echo of his words. safe friendly we'll go home take my hand now)
"I..." The child turned back to towards the archway, where the sounds of a woman's tearful pleading were still strong.
"No!" Jack shouted, surprised by the vehemence of his own voice. More softly, "No." He took two more steps in the shallow water, knowing the final choice had to be made by the boy himself. "Come on, Ianto. It's cold out here. I'll take you home."
"Mam's at home," Ianto said wonderingly, as if grappling with a foreign idea. "Mam said I could play in the garden, and then they said to come play, come an' play a game."
"I don't like this game," Jack said honestly.
"Thief! Thief!" came the voices in the wind and in the leaves. "Liar and thief!"
"You're not a'posed to CALL NAMES!" Ianto shouted suddenly, turning towards the trees. "It's NOT NICE!" Anger and confusion were plain on his face, but they were a child's anger and confusion, and Jack knew the spell had-- for the moment, at least-- been broken. "S'not polite," Ianto informed Jack, finally placing his tiny hand in Jack's wide palm.
The Captain wasted no time in picking the child up and-- almost stumbling in his haste-- climbing onto the weed-strewn shore. He scooped up the boy's shoes and socks with one hand, carefully balancing Ianto on his hip.
"Oh, no," Ianto said, just moments before the clouds loosed thwarted rage, pelting them both with cold rain. Jack made for the relative shelter of the woods, pulling his greatcoat protectively over the already shivering child.
"Which way is home?" Jack asked, even as he saw the small but clearly beaten path through the woods. Ianto peaked over his lapel, making a general motion with one hand. "Up th'hill." He reached up, placing his cool palms on either side of Jack's face. For a moment, the older man stopped, regarding the child in his arms. "You saved me," Ianto said, frowning. "I'm not to swim in the little river, Mam says, 'cause itll pull me all the way out to Ogmore, the Big River. It's dang'rous."
"Your Mam is very right," Jack agreed, rubbing the child's back.
"But they said..." Now Ianto was crying for himself, fat tears that made his face scrunch as if he could escape the facts. "They're my friends!" he insisted, half sobbing. "They've never played like that before! That was mean!"
"Hey, buddy," the Captain tucked Ianto against him, "s'okay."
"I want to go home," Ianto said with almost regal petulance, muffled somewhat by the coat.
"And home is where I shall take you," Jack stated firmly. Already, he thought he heard a voice-- a real voice-- calling out. When he reached a small fork in the path, he was sure of it.
As the hill angled up, the clearing of weeds became a makeshift dirt-and-plank set of steps, leading up out of the woods and into the now calm, beautiful spring day. A female figure wavered precariously there, trying to descend in such haste that she nearly tumbled and had to right herself twice.
"Careful!" Jack cautioned. "It's okay! I've got him!" As she neared, he saw that the woman was really a girl. A slight creature, brown eyes wide as a startled doe, and the shape of her tearstained face had many angles and curves to match that of the boy in Jack's arms.
"Ianto Gareth Jones!" she cried, nearly stumbling again as she rushed forward. Her wisps of her short hair failed to obscure her frightened expression, and that relief which does not quite yet believe.
Ianto greeted her with a cry of his own, reaching out eagerly. "Mam! Oh, Mam!" Jack started a little as he watched them embrace; the girl covered Ianto's face with kisses even as she swatted at his behind.
"Oh, you naughty boy!" she said helplessly, laughing and crying. "You scared me! You did scare your Mam so!"
"Sorry, sorry," Ianto muttered, taking fistfuls of her yellow jumper. "I didn't mean to, Mam, I was s'posed to stay in the garden, I know."
"Exactly!" The girl-- Ianto's mother! Jack thought with self-effacing surprise-- was trying for stern, but couldn't keep from hugging her child again. "You won't be going out unattended for some time, that's for sure!"
"They said," Ianto began, even as she placed a silencing finger to his lips. For the first time, she lifted her gaze and truly looked at Jack, taking a deep, shuddering breath.
"They lied, Ianto," Jack said, kneeling beside mother and child. He watched the girl's face carefully-- saw her eyes widen, and her chin lift. There was youth in that defiant tilt, as well as motherly combativeness. Her pale and freckled cheeks drained of color, even as she set her jaw.
"Captain Jack Harkness." Delivered with his most charming smile. "At your service."
"Amser Jones," she said, picking Ianto up. Jack stood as well-- she was barely taller than his shoulder, and Ianto took the opportunity to nestle against her neck as she looked up at the stranger. "You've met my son, Ianto." Briefly, her expression thawed, became as open and earnest as a summer flower. "Thank you, for finding him. I thought I was going to lose my mind." She snorted, becoming guarded once more. "You must think I'm a terrible mother, but he never wanders. We have a little garden, and I thought he could use the exercise after all the rotten weather we've been having." She tapped the boy's shoulder reproachfully, "You'll just be lucky if I let you out of my sight again before you're thirty, mister man!"
"I think you're a fine mother," Jack said comfortingly. In his own mind, he pictured the girl washing the dishes or seeing to some other household chore. Working up a rhythm as she folded laundry, becoming oddly engrossed, almost mesmerizedas the 'tree-friends' lured her son away. In the same way he'd fought to be able to see the boy by the footbridge, she would have had to fight her way out from under that strong absorption, to go and check on her boy. She could have even seen him playing outside the window as he'd been scampering down these very wooden steps.
Amser rolled her eyes, shaking the hair away from her face. "That's refreshingly charitable. At least he didn't wander far. Our yard starts at the top of these old steps."
"He was down by your river," Jack told her. He reached out to pat Ianto's back, clearly telegraphing the move before hand, so she could decide if she would allow it. She did, but squeezed the boy tightly, biting her pale lips. Carefully, the Captain added, "I think his 'friends' wanted him to go swimming." Several emotions flickered over Amser's face, like water moving under solid ice. Ianto picked them up naturally, instictively boosting what he had divined.
(caution fear and he knows how can he know when i'm not even sure i do, tred soft, tred careful, keep it simple careful, fear)
"Beg pardon, Captain Harkness," she said with equal care, "but Ianto doesn't have any friends that live close by. I take him to nursery school in the village, but he doesn't have any playmates out here. You must be mistaken." She sighed heavily, pressing a kiss into Ianto's hair. The boy himself was watching Jack's face, thumb shoved in his mouth as he rubbed his cheek against his Mam's soft sweater. "Really, I do thank you for finding him. I'd invite you up to the house, but..." A pause, before she decided on, "It wouldn't look well. It was good of you to find him, before someone from the village."
"I see," Jack said, and he was just beginning to. He might have been surprised by the girl's youth, but that was all. It had been purely academic, taken in the context of his mental catalogue of "Wales, 1980's", for he'd lived in times when mothers had come far younger than the present Mrs. Jones. 'Context is deadly,' ; a professor at the Time Agency had been fond of saying that, and it was true. Aware of his scrutiny, Amser brushed invisible lint off long her denim skirt, seemingly willing to wait him out. Instead of commenting, Jack held Ianto's shoes and socks out to her, like a peace offering.
"Thank you," she said again, turning swiftly. Ianto lifted his head to peer over her shoulder, watching Jack with those ocean-blues.
"They are not just going to let this go," Jack kept his voice firm. "This has been going on for a while, if it's gotten this extreme. I've seen it before!"
"Please," Amser glanced back at him, back stiff. "Don't make trouble for me, sir. I can't afford it."
"You love your son?"
"More than heaven and earth," she responded, without taking a breath.
Jack said, "They'll take him from you."
She was climbing the steps as quickly as she dared, now. Words wafted behind her, ominous. "Over my dead body, they will." Solemnly, Ianto stopped suckling his thumb, lifting that hand to wave at Jack over his mother's shoulder.
In his soaked boots and wet coat, Jack stood in the unfriendly forest and could only wave back.