In addition to the continued warning for slight blood, gore and disturbing concepts, I would also like to give you the heads-up that this chapter contains some Jack-whumping.
... Or is than an enticement? ^^
If I could bother you just a bit more to comment, I'd be forever in your dept. Feedback keeps the rift demons at bay!
DISCLAIMER: Torchwood is copyright BBC, and Russel T. Davies. I'm making no money off this, and am not affiliated with the above. Why can't we have nice things!? The short film Dumplings was written by Lillian Lee and directed by Fruit Chan. No infringement is intended in either case-- only honest admiration.
In Amnion 2/?
by Meredith Bronwen Mallory
"I only want what's mine."
The truth was as simple as it was sharp. Jack thought of all the aphorisms, the useless sayings about its power. Honesty is the best policy; if I'm lying, then may God strike me down. He should be so lucky.
("Tell the truth and shame the devil." Emily Holroyd again-- all baby doll eyes and expensive calfskin gloves. She'd been fond of that one, especially during water torture.)
The calculating look on Wei's face made the flavor of the memory stronger. She regarded him with narrow snake eyes and he moved not at all, standing almost at parade rest, with the coat
draped over his arm. At last, she tossed her head and made a guttural noise, busying herself with returning Ahn Mei's picture to its place of honor.
"You said you have nothing," Lan Wei spoke calmly, switching completely to Chinese. The cadences of her dialect were strong, "If this is true, then I am glad. You have nothing, I have nothing-- finally, after so long, we are even." She had to stretch to place the frame back on the shelf, but Jack made no move to assist her. Rocking back on her heels, Wei looked at him over one pale and perfect shoulder. It was an expression at once infused with the bravado of an adolescent, and the disgust of an elegant woman gazing on someone she considered far below her rank. "Why should I help you?"
"I have something of value to you," Jack replied, slipping with no small relief into the rhythm of barter and negotiation. His own Chinese was as clear and solid as textbook printing, and just as lacking in character.
Candy pink lips sneered at him, "You think to buy me?" She swept towards the kitchen, putting unnecessary strength into her steps to make her heels echo loudly.
"No," Jack said, following her to where a curtain of red beads swayed lazily in the kitchen threshold. He spoke to her through them, as they had conversed through the wire screen. "I have something you want." Wei gave him another haughty, operatic look of disbelief. He waited, while the beads tinkled and the building's old plumbing creaked in protest of its lot. Finally, she made a limp-wristed motion with her hand that could have been dismissal or permission. Jack read her easily.
Beyond the tacky, beaded curtain, the kitchen itself was as tiny and cramped as the rest of the apartment, walls yellow like the breast of a jealous canary. Wei moved confidently along the dated formica countertops, opening cracked cupboards and flipping on the gas stove. Of all the odors, the worst lay in here-- coppery crimson, hospital metallic; flowers and larvae gone to rot; that stink of sweat and despair and honey left out in the sun.
"What can you offer me?" Wei asked, seemingly focused on her work. She found a clean pot, filling it less than an inch of water from the tap. "You smell like death." Rummaging in the old monolith of a refrigerator, she came up with several bags of red fluid, all of them marked with medical pictographs.
Warning. Caution. Blood Type A Positive.
Jack turned away-- he could tell by the quality of her silence that Wei thought it was distaste or disapproval. Pressing his hand to his mouth, Jack bit into the flesh of his palm. Let her imagine that, he thought with barely reigned hysteria, it will serve me better. There was laughter in him, wild and inappropriate, blasphemous and filled with hatred for a clockwork Universe that dared to claim it had a God. She says I smell bad, Ianto, Jack murmured internally. The muscles of his stomach spasmed to contain the chuckles; with his free hand, the Captain clutched his folded coat like a drowning man. He'd had many moments of sick irony, but none quite like this. The worst part was, even with all her infected-blossom stink, Lan Wei was right.
Finally, finally, Jack was able turn back to his hostess and take a deep breath. She'd busied herself with pouring her pilfered goods into the pot-- stirring for the right consistency, adjusting the heat-- but she was shooting him quick glances from the corner of her eye.
"I know a nurse in East Central Hospital," Wei remarked, as if an artisan regarding the raw materials of her trade. "I have to pay her a lot, but it's good to have this. Sometimes, no one comes to see 'Auntie Wei' for a while-- not for that sort of help."
Jack folded his arms across his chest and leaned against the refrigerator. She thought she had the upper hand-- poking with her hot needle words, looking for a reaction. "The girls you help 'repair' their virtue."
"These men," Wei waved that dismissive hand, "they are animals. 'Trust me, baby,' they say. 'I love you, baby.'" She was using the English word-- it came out 'beh-bee', with a leering emphasis. "Old men, young men, all the same. Sleep-drugs in drinks, promises of marriage-- rings, fluffy white western gowns. In old China, white is the color of death!" Wei shook a blue lacquered finger in his direction, "And then, what do you think happens? A girl in trouble has only Auntie Wei to turn to for help."
"There are also women like Mrs Yang, though," Jack pointed out, his face the smooth mask of a man discussing business. His smile flickered with practiced ease, "You're a regular fountain of youth."
"Women like Mrs Yang pay with money, not trinkets and favors," Wei replied. She switched to briefly to English, laughing at her own joke. "I no work on credit!"
Jack flashed that cocky-bastard grin again, "Well, I have a trade."
"You have nothing I want." The contents of the pot were simmering-- Wei washed her hands quickly and moved to the small wooden table. She spread flour like fine snow, snatching up some dough from a nearby bowl.
"Are you so sure?" Jack parried back carefully, clenching his back teeth. The clock was old and made ridiculously loud, plastic ticks.
"I have also seen other customers recently," Wei said, seemingly changing the subject. Those tiny, nimble fingers, pinched and kneaded the dough. She rolled it into a long rope, let it hit the table top with a little cloud-puff of flour. Almost coyly, she said, "My other customers have been children."
There was no surprise in Jack-- only dull understanding. "Of course."
"You brought those demons here," Wei said. There it was, that punch in the dark. Jack thought of Clem, shivering in terror, calling him a bad man. Shouting that he was just the same as ever, even as Ianto and Gwen assured the old man-child that they were the good guys.
That's a laugh, Jack-my-boy, the Captain's internal voice once more picked up the flavor of John Hart. But then, you always loved to play the Knight in Shinning Armor. Big Damn Hero, yeah? What a lark.
"The aliens," Jack corrected Wei presently. "They were aliens. We called them the 4-5-6."
"And we called them demons!" Wei's tone was sharp. She began slicing her dough-rope into small segments, the click of her knife as harsh and unrelenting as the repetitive, sun-faded clock.
Click, tick. Click, tick.
(Snick! The cutting of the medical tags in that degrading gymnasium. The zip of the body bag, hiding Ianto's pale face away.)
"So many frightened mothers and fathers," Wei continued, with the dainty air of a lady gossiping over mahjong. "They came to me-- 'Help us, Auntie Wei', they said to me. I consulted my star charts for all the years; there were many children from the Year of the Rabbit, the Dragon, the Snake and Horse. I drew protective charms with gold ink, and I checked the lines on their palms."
Jack nodded, saying nothing. He could see it all too clearly-- so many children in this stuffy apartment, mothers and fathers frantically grasping small hands and shoulders as the world and business ground to a panicked, five day halt. And in the center of it all, 'Auntie' Wei, perhaps dressed up for the occasion in one of her fine silk cheongsams. In his minds eye, she flitted amongst them, pressing her own childlike hand over small chests, feeling heartbeats and pulses, tracing the line of the spine. Ah, Mr Tsao, what a strong daughter! A good spine-- she is centered firmly on the ground. Year of the Horse; she will run too fast for the demons to catch her mane. Wei would have looked each child over, searching for blemishes, for moles in places that predestined them for bad luck. Three good sons, Mrs Yi-- you are very lucky. Guard this smallest one, though, with his little pounding rabbit heart. All the while, the parents gazing on with anxious, ridiculously grateful eyes; accepting prayers and charms to misdirect the gods, fearfully clasping Wei's white hands.
(He thought of his own parents, striking out to build from nothing on a faraway, lonely star. His father, hiding a prayer in the name Jack had not used in over a thousand years. Not just a name, but a play on words-- written in a language that did not yet exist, a different emphasis could turn the sound of his name into the words for 'Strength' and 'Endurance'. Mother, reminding him of that duality when his brother was born.
"You are my strong boy," she'd murmured, kissing his hair and whispering his name. "You will look out for Grey." Implying some quality of fragility in her second, darker son.
And Ahmah, always the fulcrum between Mother and Father, holding balance with all the strange gravity of a rogue moon. He remembered raising his tiny arms up, willing her to embrace him. If he wanted fears put to ease, Mother was there with her blue-eyed logic; Ahmah was soft edged, and loved to coddle.
"Beautiful boy," she'd say, rubbing their noses together. She'd squish him to her pale, ample breasts, laughing. "So handsome. You are going to break some hearts."
He'd laughed with her, so long ago in the future- watching the sun catch on her dark hair and latticed earrings. Laughed and been so pleased with himself.
Now those words came back to him, as if she'd run a finger down the lines of his destiny and uttered a curse.)
"I'm sure they were very... honored to have your help." Jack said, forcing himself into the present, canary-yellow kitchen. That was the power of memory, of symbol-- it made the past immediate.
"Oh, I was so busy." Wei smiled to herself. She was flattening the segments of dough now, making tiny pouches for ancient, superstitious herbs. "Doctors and science and all your Western gods, what good are they? If they knew something, would they tell?" Tilting her chin up, the ancient young woman licked her lips. "When people are afraid, they always go back to the past."
"We stopped them," Jack said, not for Wei's benefit, or even for his own. It was an affirmation; he heard the echo of that death-buzz voice in his head, mocking him and his promise to fight. And he had, he had fought and won the battle, had lost everything. Don't, don't, don't.
"There was a price," Wei said, like foreign, fumbling fingers in the dark. She was feeling her way. "Paid in blood, yes?"
Stephen. Oh, god. His stomach rolled-- he was going to vomit up that shriveled thing Rose had insisted was his soul. So young, his brave little soldier, and bleeding... bleeding from places no one ever should. Red in Stephen's sun-blond hair; red in a sea around Ianto; red over his own face as he woke for the first time to remember. There was too much red! The color was strangling him and he was going to be violently ill.
"Yes." Jack said, slamming his hands down on the rickety wooden table. More little clouds of flour, and Wei looked at him solemnly.
Quietly, "Blood is the oldest form of currency."
"Yes, yes, goddamn you!" There was flour every where-- he was shacking his firsts in the air, trying to pull out his own hair. "You merciless, life sucking bitch-- do you hear me? I said yes! Every bit of it was paid in blood!" He bit his lip and thought about snapping her slim, white neck.
Except, it's never going end, is it, Ianto? I'll keep coming back, taking that first breath and waiting for you to scold me for being so careless. I asked you to stay, I begged you-- it was the closest I could get to saying those three little words. Why am I all alone, here? Why is the world rushing on, trying to make up for lost time? Buy, sell, eat, drink, fight, fuck, laugh and smoke and piss and moan. Wake up and do it all over again.
Wei shrank back for a moment, elbows against the sink. Her eyes were wide as she took in Jack's contained rage, and her skin was as bloodless as the accidental smudge of flour on her cheek. She saw the darkness in him, yawning and as infinite as his life-span, and she was afraid.
(Ianto, just a little drunk, stroking along Jack's back. Laughing, always turning that edge of sarcasm back on himself. "My darkness is darker than your darkness." So much self-reproach, for one so young. Later, kissing Jack, the words more felt against the lips than heard. "You are not a monster.")
Hatred and self-preservation waged a war across Lan Wei's expression. Finally, she put out a cautious hand.
"And everything goes on." Near silent words, trying to calmly define the present. "The Doctors are the busy ones now-- all children must have health certificates to return to school. And you saw the boys, playing downstairs? Some schools have started again, but not so many. China and Japan, America and Europe, they are so angry at Great Britain. Calling for conferences, using big important words. But the noodle shops are open, and the convenience stores. The trains run on time."
Jack snorted. "Pizza gets delivered." He raked a hand through his hair, knowing there were streaks of flour in his unusually artfully disarrayed look. See, Alice? Finally there's some white. He took a deep, centered breath-- there was no desire in him to finally lose that last, precarious grip on sanity in the middle of Lan Wei's kitchen.
Sensing the worst part was over, Wei herself turned back to her cooking, plopping each little dough-pouch into what she had simmering on the stove. When she turned back around, Jack held two memory sticks dangling between his fingers.
"I have something you want," he repeated, feeling as if minutes and hours slowed ice-molasses still despite that wretched clock. "This one," he tapped the silver flash drive with his free hand, "contains every file Torchwood ever had on you."
"No. Most of our equipment was destroyed. When UNIT came to retrieve what data was salvageable, I removed these from the restoration drives. This is it." Jack watched the surprise in those dark eyes, driving on. "And I do mean everything-- the Tunguska Artifact, Mr. Huang's murder, any mention of Ahn Mei. Even the deal you struck with Mrs Holroyd." Wei's eyebrows flew up, a true crack in that china-doll face. "Emily loved to play mad-scientist, you know," Jack grinned unpleasantly, warming to his subject. "So I couldn't figure out why she let you go-- I thought you'd end up on the dissection table. And yet, she seemed to get back a lot of her stamina, after Canton. She was cut down in the field-- death by Torchwood."
"A trade," Wei said, rolling her shoulders. "You will never understand what a woman's fears are."
"You were sending her your 'special recipe', weren't you?"
She made no effort to deny it. "It's only a small fix. For people like Mrs Yang and Mrs Holroyd, it makes the skin clearer, keeps color in the hair, makes the outside fresh. Old age comes, just the same."
"Or an alien energy bullet." The Captain could never help that dull sense of satisfaction at the thought of Emily's death, though it came with a twin ghost of strange compassion, now. He'd looked into her eyes, had seen she knew she wasn't coming back. 'Going to see my Alice, now,' she'd whispered with dull, unfocused eyes. 'Going to see my Ally in Hell.'
"There is a more powerful step," Wei reminded him. "Old, so old, and hard for even me to remember. You stopped me from helping Ahn Mei. You said you wouldn't let her become a monster, like me."
(Warm and trusting. Ianto, settling back against Jack's chest.
"You're not a monster."
Oh, but I am, love. Trust me, I am.)
"I can't take that back," Jack admitted. He tapped the second memory stick, hoping to distract his adversary. "This was harder to come by. Do you know the Jade Chamber?" Wei nodded, the fractional motion of her chin. Like Torchwood, America's Bureau 13, Japan's Kage Kaigi, The Jade Chamber was China's secret, black-box operation for all those things that slithered under the facade of everyday life. "They don't know you exist, they only have hearsay and myth-- which is good for you, especially considering Macao will have to pass back to the Chinese Government eventually. This drive contains the only copy of any file that could possibly lead the Jade Chamber to suspect there's truth behind the rumor." Oh, that distrustful gleam in her eyes! Jack looked at her, utterly serious. "Do you understand me? You're completely off the radar now."
Wei's chest was shaking, costume beads trembling on their strands. Jack came to understand she was breathing heavily, quick pants of disbelief. For a moment, just a moment, neither of them were standing in her tiny, 21st Century kitchen. They were in a nighttime courtyard, staring at each other over the Ahn Mei's fatally convulsing body. He could smell the bonfire, see the terrible life it gave to the shadows. If he looked away, he'd see Mr. Huang bleeding to death on the stone walkway, victim of Wei's interrupted ritual. Then and now; 1919 and 2009, Wei asked incredulously, "Why would you do this?"
"And," Jack went on, as if he hadn't heard her. The sense of time overlapping brought goose flesh to the back of his neck. "I know why you keep waiting, even if you have to live in cheap, squalid apartments and offer abortions for trade. You hate having gone to ground; you loved silk, jewels and fine things. I remember." Jack had his own hot needle-- he wedged it now, jabbing carefully into the gap in her armor. "You're waiting for her. You think she'll come back."
"The King of Hell will not let me go so easily once I get there." Her voice held an almost academic tone of consideration. "But Ahn Mei was good. They would let her drink of forgetfulness, and send her back to this world."
"And if you find her, I give you my word not to interfere." Jack heard the fervent edge creeping into his own words, but could do nothing to change it. "I'll even help you, if you need it."
Wei's eyes searched him, disbelief as tangible as the dough in her hands. "You can not be Jack Harkness," she said at last, finding footing in her cynicism. "Who are you?"
He shook his head impatiently, shoving the memory sticks in his back pocket. "I'll give you the records, and my word, if you help me. I don't have your patience, or your faith. I can't wait and take that chance-- I'm not even sure if I believe it's possible... I'd go crazy. Please. Help me fix this now. Let's trade."
"All this for me, in exchange for... _what_?"
Jack brushed his hands on one of Wei's kitchen towels, making sure they were clean before he reached inside the coat. Gently, reverently, he removed the photograph from its place within the inner lining. The Captain could only look at it briefly-- Ianto's genuine, affectionate smile caught unawares by Toshiko's camera. How he'd scowled at her for that, never a fan of the spotlight.
"I have... his body," Jack forced the words out, showing the picture to Wei. He thought of Ahn Mei's shy smile, caught forever in sepia and glass. They'd both been so young, so clean and forgiving under the dirt of the world. "With Torchwood's technology, we can preserve it indefinitely. We can even remove toxins from inert organic matter, but that's too little, too late. There are... things, in the debris of our old headquarters. If I dug long enough, I could probably find something to start his heart again. But it would only be a breathing body-- do you understand me? I need--"
"The soul," Wei finished. She reached for the photo, but Jack snatched it back quickly. Her neon nails missed it by mere centimeters. Carefully, Jack returned the picture to its place in the lining-- when he looked back at Wei, she was shaking again. He almost spoke-- to say her name, or ask what was wrong, he wasn't sure-- when a giggle escaped her lips. Lan Wei crossed her arms over her stomach and laughed. She took big gasps of air between her high pitched giggles, the sound so loud it filled the kitchen, the apartment, a beat almost as terrible in its merciless abandon as the Master's Drums. She laughed, eyes blinking with water and little flashes of fear but it was, for the most part, a sound of unrepentant joy.
"You!" Her finger waved towards him wildly, frantic in her mirth. "Oh, it's too good. You fell in love! Real love," she gasped again, "worst kind, best kind. Devastates. Jack Harkness in love." Shocked into English, she managed, "Too funny! I stop laughing, maybe next century."
"Shut up." He bit into the words with his teeth. And she did. As sudden as unexpected as sunshine while it rains, Wei became all business.
"I shouldn't help you," she murmured, her original village dialect all but caressing the words. "I should let you suffer, like me."
Tensed in mind and body, Jack waited her out.
"You are ready to let someone die to take his place?" Again, that almost academic curiosity. "That's what I was doing, when you stopped me from helping Ahn Mei. Our filthy husband's heart for her long life."
"No," Jack said, surprising her again. "Ianto would never forgive me. If you need a heart, you can get one very easily. Take mine." He grinned, taking comfort in erasing her self-satisfied laughter. "Oh, it'll grow back-- you can bet on that."
Wei frowned. She shook her head, sniffing the air and removing her simmering pot from the oven to cool. "You want me to use your heart."
"Yes, and my blood."
"You are not like other people! You are... wrong." Now she was straining the dumplings dry, letting the excess red liquid spiral down the drain. The smell was a strange, heady thing-- it made the mouth water and the stomach turn all at once.
Jack leaned against the counter. "Believe me when I say you're not the first person I've heard that from." He switched from foot to foot, suddenly filled with nervous energy, holding the coat close. "I brought him back once, you know. But it wasn't enough. Like you said to Mrs Yang, you have to work from the inside."
"He will have to feed from you. Only you. He will have to stay by your side forever." There was a pregnant pause, and her smirk came back. "He may come to hate you."
"I've made up my mind." Not even a glancing blow there, though the fear was deep and real in Jack's bones. It was simply in a part of his body that was still numb. Small mercy.
"You are not Jack Harkness," Wei said, having come to her own conclusions. "You are his ghost, driven mad by grief!" Briefly, Jack thought of Gwen, begging him to stay in Cardiff. One of her hands holding Rhys', the other trying to grasp for his, assuring him they could rebuild. Here, drowning in this odor of stolen life, someone was finally speaking the truth.
He rubbed a hand over his face, absently watching her arrange the dumplings in a plastic container. "I think you're right."
"Your boy," Wei asked in another flash of insight utterly without compassion, "where is he?"
"Already in Macao. They'll bring him after dark-- I just got the lease on an apartment nearby this morning. Hua She Street Number 10." For a moment, he thought Wei would take offense at the implied assumption, but she seemed focused on logistics.
"How long has it been?"
(How long? Are you crazy? How long? A moment. Ten minutes. He was just here, I was just shaking him, telling him he had to get out. I woke up and he was so still. He's been gone so long. It's been ten thousand years. It's been an eternity.)
He said, "This is the morning of the fifth day."
"We have to hurry, then," Wei said, determinedly snapping the lid shut. She shoved the completed meal in the refrigerator and reached for a ridiculously floral apron. "If he comes tonight, then we will have everything ready. We will start now." There was a long, sharp cleaver in a wooden block by the stove-- Wei grabbed that, a dry wash rag, and a cooler already packed with ice. Imperiously, she told him, "Go into the bathroom and take off your clothes."
Somewhere, far away, in that numb body, there was leering retort for that. In the here and now, there was only a sigh.
Mechanically, Jack did as he was told. The bathroom was in worse shape than the living space and kitchen combined. There were cracks deep in every cement wall, and a single, dirty mirror above the sink. The humidity blurred the already poor image, mercifully allowing Jack to disregard it as a phantom flash of color outside his gaze. He folded the coat, then his dress shirt and under shirt. He removed his braces, socks and boots. Gingerly, he carried them into the living space and placed them safely on a chair in the corner. He wore his skin like he wore his clothes-- with the utter confidence of one who knows they look good-- but Wei did not look at him, and his gaze never reached her. It was the sofa his eyes riveted on. While he'd been in the bathroom, Wei had taken the butcher knife off the couch and covered the upholstery with a blue plastic tarp. A strangled cry was beating in his chest. A thousand endless deaths as bone re-grew and sinew re-knit. The entire nervous system exposed to the air as he writhed, chained to the wall. Screaming, always screaming, even when they began pouring the concrete down his throat.
"Lay down." Wei stood there in her flowery apron, knife in hand.
He laid back, hating the sound of the plastic as it crinkled under his weight. He kept his hands at his sides, called upon Time Agent training that felt thousands of years old.
(Go away. Go elsewhere. My will is in my mind, and my mind is the barricade.)
"You know," Wei said with a girlish lilt. "Maybe I'll enjoy this job, just a little."
"Get on with it."
She rolled her eyes and switched to English, as if concerned there might be some sort of misunderstanding at this point. "You pay for him, with your heart, your blood. Yes?"
"That maybe not be all of it?"
He gazed up at her, an upside down baby-doll face. "Not all of it? My blood will keep him alive, my heart will help us find his soul. If you need anything else-- bone, a pound of flesh-- just take it."
Wei made another one of her delicate snorts, "Never mind. You only a man. You not understand these things. You agree-- yes, no?"
(Ianto, wearing that absurd vest, brushing the dust and remaining shards of concrete off Jack's skin. Those big blue eyes, so full of faith and feeling-- he'd petted Jack and cursed like a sailor. Cursed Britain and its Queen, the entirety of UNIT, the ungrateful bureaucracy and the foolish police and anyone else he could think of. Kissing Jack, quick little gentle kisses, until Rhys hollered that he wouldn't stand for them having sex in the back of his car.)
Jack said it like a vow, "Yes."
"Yes," Wei affirmed, even as Jack fixed his minds eye on his own, barren internal landscape. She raised the knife, but hesitated. "You not bleed on my couch." When Jack opened his mouth for an unexpected bark of laughter, Wei shoved the dry wash cloth inside. "Also, not scream too loud. Neighbors."
Ianto-- Ianto, are you there? It's always so dark. Stay still. You must know I'm coming for you.
Lan Wei brought the knife down and started digging.
Cheongsam- the tighter, high-collared dress that has influenced modern Chinese costume.
Kage Kaigi- literally "Shadow Council". Just me making stuff out of thin air, but Britan shouldn't get to be the only one with suspicious extra-government agencies!
Tunguska- an area in present day central Russia. On June 30th 1908, there occured the largest over-land explosion in recorded history-- 1000 times as powerful as the nuclear weapon dropped on Hiroshima. Scientists are still debating the cause of this explosion (meteor, comet, alien spacecraft? ^_~). At any rate, if something did land in Tunguska, we know Holryod's Torchwood would hunt it down and consider it their's for the taking. *grins*
*makes pitiful Ianto-type puppy eyes* Comments? ... Please?