Huge props to Ayashi for the beta, and Vivian for helping with the Chinese again.
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.
by Meredith Bronwen Mallory (garnettrees)
The Void was absolute Nothing, and the Void was All.
It had no line of demarkation, no sense of horizon or space. It sprawled-- colossal beyond human comprehension-- in every direction, yet it was as close and inescapable as the body's own living flesh. Made out of absence, framed by angles that made no sense, it existed without animation or mercy or intellect. And yet, somehow it was alive.
The Void knew Jack Harkness; the Void remembered.
Jack lay in the darkness, in the absence that was neither of those things because it was so much worse. The mind could not grasp it, rejected it and looked for some frame of reference, finding none. The Nothing ran sticky, terrible black fingers along and through him; it probed and clogged his mouth, nose, and eyes, though he no longer possessed any of those things. As close as claustrophobia, as endlessly open as the worst nightmare of being alone. Jack himself lay at once trapped in its confines and scattered into tiny, still bleeding shards all across its unfathomable geography. Once, he'd stood with Martha and the Doctor at the end of the Universe-- they'd looked into the sky as entropy snuffed out the last of the stars. As horrible as that had been, that chill hand clutching the back of the heart, at least the memory of the stars remained.
This was so, so much worse.
(Here is a piece:
I want to scream, just let me have a mouth to scream with, and it will be better, because I can let this out. The kind of screaming no one comes back from, going on forever. It is the screaming that terrorizes nurses, making mothers moan and cry and it finally, finally stems the tide of Gwen's self-righteous words. The mind looks on certain things and turns away from sanity; Jack knows this, and Jonah Bevin knows this-- the Master knows this, and his laughter is only a scream in disguise. Later, in the close, warm night Ianto will swallow Jack's screams with a kiss, murmuring statistics and nonsense and maybe even the occasional covert endearment, drawing him back to the world.
That is gone now.)
(Here is another shard: Boeshane.
It is the word hidden inside each syllable of 'home'; it has not been built yet, and still it lay in ruins. Jack-who-is-not-yet-Jack runs down the slopes of white gold sand, he sucks in lungfuls of ocean air and whoops so the sound will carry. His legs are longer and faster than the other boys, faster than his brother's. One day, a shadow will fall, Jack will run and forever hate himself for running. Papa will lie prone amongst the fires, Grey will be missing, and Ahmah will be already dead years before. Mother will put her hands to her face and weep, refusing to embrace her son. There shall come another planet, clogged and industrial, and doctors with bland faces to tell Jack he'll been going to live in a crèche with many other children, and won't that be nice?
So Boeshane is, was, and will be no more.)
(And this bit, bleeding over here: I think I'm dying, Jamie.
They are old enough to enlist; they are way too young to be soldiers. Jack is still several years away from the Time Agency or John Hart-- he's barely old enough to drink, and he still gets carded at most professional sex establishments. He answers to Jamie, which is an easy way for his creche-siblings to shorten his birth name. Jace is slim and blond, he has eyes as green as a powerful squall whirling off the coast of Boeshane. They fight in a war that is just the latest in a long, long line of wars. In the daylight, the bombs blaze, and they see every terrible thing they were capable of imagining, and quite a bit they never could. At night, they touch each other and sigh as they once did in the darkness of their crèche bunks. They are soldiers, but they are also cannon fodder-- they are captured and tortured as a matter of course. The enemy is that same terrible enemy of the past, and thus cannot be named. Inevitably, their captors tear into Jace's body with detached curiosity, and they make Jack-who-was-Jamie watch. There are bits of Jace all over the room-- it doesn't seem possible he could still be breathing, but he is. The enemy applies green rods and blue electrodes, purple discs and orange fluids, and they force them onto Jace in what the other boy mockingly calls 'the rainbow orgy'.
Then, one day, he turns to Jamie with a smear of blood on one cheek and a spot of dried orange ooze on the other. He is speared through with green rods that are not the same green as his eyes. He says, "I think I'm dying, Jamie". Its the same bashful, honest tone he used when they were twelve, asking 'you wanna?' and reaching for Jack's hips. In the space of time it takes Jack to open his mouth, Jace's eyes go dull and he breathes no more.
All of that is dead and left behind.)
(Here is one more splinter, quivering in the dark: I was waiting for you, Sir.
Jack is gasping back to life in 21st Century Cardiff, already anticipating the ache and disgust that usually accompanies his return. Instead, he is warm and dry; he is not blind-sided by bright destruction, or faced with a human debris scattered around him. The Master is not breathing, hot and rotting, in his face. It is night, and rain patters gently against the roof of the SUV. Jack is laying with his head in Ianto's lap-- those long, beautiful Welsh fingers run through his hair and caress his temples.
"What...?" Jack asks, wincing at his own lack of brilliance. Ianto keeps up the soothing touches, waits for Jack's breathing to settle.
"You got 'im," Ianto assures his leader. In the blurry halo of the streetlights, the captain can just make out the slight tilt of Ianto's head.
"Cygnian Shell Serpent," Jack says, grounding himself in space and time.
"Already bagged and tagged in the trunk." It's very quick, but there's a little ghost of Ianto's smile. "That was not part of the Weevil-hunting bargain. I have a very clear checklist for Weevils, but Shell Serpents? Who knew something that size could have such a big mouth?" His hands are warm-- they abandon their hypnotic circles to brush hesitantly along the muscles of Jack's stomach.
"Don't let that fool you," Jack leers playfully. "Size does matter." He is warm, Ianto has brought him out of the chill Cardiff rain; they are pressed together in the confines of the SUV's back seat and, if Jack turns his head, he'll nuzzle into Ianto's thigh and smell that cedar-honey scent that rises with the younger man's emotions.
Ianto doesn't seem to have heard him. "Your shirt is a complete loss." Regret is in every touch of those hands, stroking again and again over the now-invisible places where the Shell Serpents tried to chew through Jack. There is, indeed, blood all over the tattered remains of Jack's dress shirt, but his coat is intact.
"It's okay." Voice too thick, the Captain captures one of those precious hands, begins laving the wrist with his tongue.
"No. No." Ianto's breathing is heavy now, Jack feels that pulse under his lips and it is so good. And yet, the young man has his eyes squeezed shut-- as if he is in pain. "You have to be more careful..." A pregnant pause. "Shirts don't grow on trees."
"How can you be sure?" Talented as he is, Jack manages to maneuver so that he and Ianto are nose to nose. He kisses his young man, this brave secretary who has a Weevil hunting checklist; this archivist who thinks nothing of collecting and cataloguing dead aliens so his boss doesn't have to worry about it when he comes back from the dead. Teasingly, "Maybe there's a planet where clothing *does* grow on trees, hmmm?"
"If there was, you wouldn't know about it," Ianto gasps, leaning in to suck a little on Jack's lower lip. "I can't see you going someplace where one could be so easily covered. You're more the clothing-optional sort. Always looking for an excuse to show off that arse." They're working on the clothing-optional part now, though there isn't a lot of room for movement, and they're hardly as far out of the way as they should be for this sort of thing. Jack is working on Ianto's tie, on the ridiculously difficult buttons of his vest.
"Why didn't you drive back to the hub?" the Captain asks, not really thinking about it. He has his coat off, and proceeds to simply tear the shreds of his shirt away. Ianto's grip tightens suddenly on his shoulders.
"I was waiting for you, Sir."
It's warm and dry. He's alive, and safe here in the rain-washed darkness with Ianto, who held him, who waited for him. Jack wants to say something-- thank you, maybe, and yet so much more-- but nothing will come out. Instead, he takes over the lovemaking; he reduces Ianto to little squirms and shudders and glories in his possession. He thinks-- without looking at what he is thinking, because he's not good at self-honesty-- this is mine this is mine he's mine.
And he's wrong. Ianto's dead and gone now, too.)
The Void held all of this. In the up-down, senseless geometry of nothing, there was no mercy, only a gibbering something that saw but could not understand. Jack had no eyes to cry with, no lungs for screaming, no lips to speak, but he struggled never the less.
Give him back! He projected with a violence-- all the rage of a storm trying to gain movement in a vaccuum. Whatever you want, it's yours. I don't care any more! Give me Ianto, give him back and you can have whatever you please.
He thought of Owen, battling the skull-and-bones image of Death in the middle of a hospital lobby. Of Toshiko, talking about the power of that last angry thought one held onto at the threshold of the end. Faith, swallowed by a coat she'd scrounged from somewhere, flipping tarot cards in a filthy back alley. The Tower. The World. The Knight with Jack's face. Gwen, muttering absently about the class she'd taken on Welsh mythology; faeries and the three weaver-women of fate. On Boeshane, Death was always portrayed as a woman in the pantomimes; a sexy, curved shadow that inspired lust and fear.
A knight in his armor. Three old crones spinning and weaving and cutting the threads.
You bitches owe me! Do you hear me? You've taken so much from me-- you've taken everyone! I want Ianto back.
Once, Faith had turned over the Death card, laying it out with that childish, delicate precision. Jack had laughed; he'd been drunk and brash and he'd told her maybe she should remove it from the deck.
God, he was such a fool.
In the darkness, something moved. It sounded like the shifting of ashes, the grind of bones in the charnel house. It was too large, too horrible to fathom, but it stirred.
The terror that lanced through Jack was chill and sharp-- it overpowered his anger, but not his need. With that fear came awareness of something much more familiar. It was the approach of life; that feeling of being dragged back, as if from a hook behind his bodiless spine. There were no muscles for Jack to tense, but he did it anyway, anticipating the hot-glass agony of resurrection. As much as he hated it, it made him bold.
I said, give him back! I'll come for him if I have to! I have nothing to be afraid of losing, not anymore.
There was movement in the darkness, the roaring of pain in his consciousness. And yet, neither of these things concerned Jack Harkness in those breathless moments before he returned to life.
He thought, he swore, he sensed something, like a sound right next to the ear.
Jack. A sigh. Fearful, exasperated, but filled with undeniable affection.
Then it was over.
Jack drew a quiet breath, and opened his eyes to stare at Lan Wei's cracked, watermarked ceiling. He still lay on the couch, naked and covered in dried blood, as well as whatever bits Wei had ripped out in her haste to get to his heart. His pulse pounded in his ears and his chest felt burned through with pins and needles, but he was alive. Fighting that strange sense of vertigo that always accompanied his return, Jack struggled to prop himself up on his elbows. The plastic made horrible little crinkling noises as he moved, and he quickly discovered a particular ache in his side. Reaching behind himself, he pulled forth a long sliver of bone. A rib, probably. Time refused to settle around him; he opened his mouth to say Ianto's name.
Instead, he coughed up blood.
"You're awake." Lan Wei appeared in the kitchen doorway, holding her gaudy red beads aside. She frowned at him; a curiously aged expression on her youthful face, all the more disconcerting for the wrinkles that refused to form. Carelessly, she tossed a rag at him. Jack took it quickly, chest heaving as he tried to expel the blood from his lungs. Probably drowned in his own fluids before he had time to exsanguinate, the Captain considered clinically. The terrible, stale-skin smell of the apartment had diminished somewhat-- Jack looked around to find the lightest of breezes coming in through the open balcony door. He had no idea how much time had passed, but the slant of the sun was different, and the air now swelled with the possibility of rain. Wei considered him for a moment, before disappearing into her den-like kitchen. When she returned, she had a bowl of water and another washrag.
"Xiexie," Jack managed, reaching for both when she set them on the nearby table.
Wei rolled her eyes, quickly admonishing him in Chinese, "What took you so long? Half the day is wasted!" She shook her head, buns and ribbons bobbing. "Don't make a mess."
"Well, you try regrowing a heart," he grumbled in English. He barely had enough patience to translate her speech, and he certainly wasn't in the mood to bother making his own mind switch languages. There was something he was struggling for, groping in numb vaults of his emotions. He had forgotten... what?
"Men so lazy," Wei sneered, tossing it back like a return volley. After a moment, she looked at him coquettishly. "Making more dumplings. You hungry?" Her skin might be smooth as fine white silk, but Jack thought it was that feline smile that gave away her age. The curve and sadistic pleasure belonged on the ancient hags of folklore-- all those cautionary tales.
Stomach rolling, he said, "No. I'm not hungry." It was a lie, of course-- he couldn't remember the last time he'd eaten-- but Wei didn't bother to call him on it. Instead, she vanished once more between the beads.
Dipping the clean rag in warm water, Jack began to systematically wipe away the evidence of his latest demise. Briefly, an almost comical milage gage flickered in his mind's eye, but the truth was simply that Jack had lost track of how many times he'd died. He'd woken in dirty alleys, covered in musty hay; he'd woken surrounded by the bodies of fallen comrades, and to a bucket of water courtesy Miss Alice Guppy. There had been moments of pain, trapped underneath fallen bricks and mortar, and there'd been Gwen's needy hand, grasping his as he lay in the Torchwood Morgue. Tish, crying into his shirt on the Valiant-- or the Master, already working on another death while Jack recovered from the last. He'd woken with the knowledge that he didn't want to; that he'd been cheated in succumbing to the darkness, because Ianto had remained behind. Now, he toweled off quietly as the cracked, green walls slowly stopped spinning around him. He stood, tossing the rag back in the now murky pink water, and folded the plastic tarp.
Wiping a hand over his face, he stretched and began to look for his clothes, instead finding himself staring up at Ahn Mei's portrait. High on her shelf, flanked by statues of Kwan Yin and several cheerful peach children, Ahn Mei's silent, frozen face seemed suddenly to have more power. As if she had somehow witnessed the whole thing, blushing in her long ago garden behind the glass. Jack bit his lip, really looking at her. He wondered if Lan Wei had explained everything before the ritual began-- if that painfully young, naive country girl had understood the intent. For all her fine jeweled combs and embroidered robes, there was an air about that two-dimensional moment, be it her shy gaze or the set of her shoulders, that showed how out of place she was. He'd never known her-- only stood over her as she died, convulsing with energy from some, ephemeral, uncompleted circuit. She'd called out for Wei, reached out a quivering hand, saying, "Baobei... deui mhjyuh..."
Photographs were only useless attempts to halt time. They showed the moment, not the context. So why did it feel like those doe eyes were on him, urging?
You've forgotten something important.
Death did that to him, sometimes, worse than a hangover from the alcohol that no longer affected him or the crash from any futuristic drug. It always felt like a crapshoot-- would he wake up feeling like he could take on whatever had already killed him, or would the damage linger like a ghost? Sometimes Ianto would...
(That sigh. Away, away in the vast empty, he'd felt it close and coming to comprise his whole world.)
"I can find him," Jack whispered, with only Ahn Mei's picture to hear him. His limbs felt energy return to them-- he dressed quickly, tucking, buttoning and zipping neatly, but absent of consideration. In the kitchen, Lan Wei was singing, her voice the light and airy soprano of Cantonese opera.
"See how the spring blossoms have yielded their beauty //
If only to the dry well and these crumbling walls..."*
As he pulled his braces into place, Jack felt a strange sensation. Everything was still so distant and foreign... was that feeling just his newly grown heart, or a tiny twinge of hope? Almost reflexively, he clamped down on the thought, shielding with a power completely unnecessary to a century lacking trained psychics. The instinct was an honest one, honed through time. Faith and anticipation had the same sharp edge, but he guarded it and reveled in the difference of its pain. If Gwen somehow came, bearing her guilt and her needy hands; if Martha came with her cool compassion and honest tears; if the Doctor came bearing all the weight and responsibility of shattered timelines, Jack felt he would simply shake his head and leave them gaping. He remembered Ahmah, sitting with him as they watched Papa and Mother dance, swaying to faintly melancholy strains. Her ringed hand had held his small one a bit too tight, and she'd whispered that the most dangerous weapon in the Universe was love.
"It seems we have met before //
and beheld each other in silent awe."
Lan Wei's voice was rising, playing over the high notes. He shrugged on his RAF coat like armor and looked at the clock. She was right, it had taken him a while-- the hands had cycled three times since he'd arrived, and it was now two o'clock in the afternoon. He would go into the kitchen and finalize things with Wei. Quickly, Jack amended internally, because he had a lot of things to do.
(Such a small thing, that sigh. But it had its own weight. It was real.)
He would be prepared. He would have everything ready for Ianto when he drew him gently out of the darkness. Nothing would be out of place; Jack would have Lan Wei's help and, afterwards, he'd draw soothing circles on Ianto's skin, to ease the transition.
Maybe there would be rain on the roof.
It was two in the afternoon in the humid port city of Macao. The sun swelled the air, baking the rooftops, but the sky gathered with darkening clouds in the East, out to sea. It was six in the morning in Cardiff, where already people turned in their beds and moaned at the sound of the machinery starting earnest excavation of the Plass. There was an alley, and a small hand that turned a card. It depicted a Knight with the face of Jack Harkness; the eerie illustration starred off and away from the viewer at some distant, fixed and precious point.
He held his love like a sword in his hand.
Xiexie- Thank you.
Kwan Yin- The Chinese goddess of mercy.
Baobei- Precious, darling.
Deui mhjyuh- I'm sorry (cannot face).
*The song Lan Wei is singing is from Peony Pavillion, a Chinese opera written during the Ming Dynasty by Tang Xianzu. It's a very famous play-- both a love story and a comedy. The love story revolves around the sixteen year old daughter of an Imperial Offical, and a young scholar. They meet in their dreams and, when separated by the waking world, the young girl dies of love sickness. Her young man ends up bargaining with the Courts of the Underworld to ressurect her. ... ^^; Okay, so I'm not subtle, and neither is Lan Wei. *sheepish*
... sorry about the darkness. I'll, uh, have complimentary flashlights next time, or something! ^_^;; But, regardless, feedback would make me happier than a bunch of Weevils dancing the Electric Slide.