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.
LINGUISTIC NOTE: I should have pointed this out earlier, but I didn't... cause I'm a dork. ^^; The Chinese I'm using (or rather, that Vivian is helping me with) is Cantonese. While Mandarin is the more dominant form of Chinese in general, Cantonese is far more common in Macao. (Not to mention, while Meredith's Cantonese is poor, it's still worlds better than her Mandarin.) Some Mandarin is going to creep in there, but Viv and I have tried to stick to Cantonese. I should have been more specific-- sorry! ^_^
In Amnion 6/?
by Meredith Bronwen Mallory
Softly, Wei said, "Tell me how he died."
"Ianto," Jack said, listening to the scrape of bronze pestle again bronze mortar. "His name is Ianto."
"Ee-ahn-tow," Wei frowned, tongue struggling with the exotic sounds. She looked down at him through the glass webbing. "He was young."
"Very young," Jack smiled a little, and it hurt. "I forgot how young, sometimes. He'd seen things, fought battles that would have terrified men twice his age. He held everything so close inside, moved with such assurance and intelligence, and that made it easy to forget." He took a deep breath, never stopping the pressure of his right hand on the pestle.
"It was the 456," Jack forcibly widened his eyes, fighting the images burned in the back of his brain. "They released a toxin when we refused to cooperate. It killed everyone in Thames House. I... I tried to get him to leave, but it was too late. He'd already breathed the air."
"Poison in the air." Dainty fingers plucked the mortar from him. Wei sniffed and stirred the mixture, apparently satisfied with the consistency. She took bright, almost comically red berries from another jar and began mixing them in as well. "Poison in the lungs is a yin death." Jack watched her closely as she added white and purple petals, grinding them in as well. "Ancient Chinese medicine is based on I Ching. Eight elements make up reality. Each of these eight things is either yin or yang."
"Dark or light," Jack said, nodding slowly.
"Yes." Wei held up a finger. "But not like in the West, where darkness is bad. This darkness is necessary. A little light in darkness, a little darkness in light."
(Rose, bathed in light so brilliant it put the stars to shame. He heard her singing in the darkness, the song was the darkness, the inevitable march of Time. It blasted the Daleks to dust, it yanked him back, fixed, into the fabric of the Universe. Ianto, kneeling but unashamed as he faced the barrel of Jack's gun, insisting that Lisa, his Lisa, was still in there, somewhere. Later, broken, pressing a kiss to the cyberwoman's ruined lips, asking her why she'd left him when he'd tried so very hard.)
"You can't have one without the other," the Captain said, more to his memories than to his current company.
"Exactly." Lan Wei was adding yellow, grassy leaves to the mix, along with something that smelled like cinnamon. Once they had merged with the rest of the dark, almost violet syrup, she reached for Jack's hand. He didn't fight, but allowed her to slice ruthlessly into his left palm, holding it over the bowl. The blood oozed out, a vibrant red that flushed into maroon. "Ianto," Wei used the name as a command, and it was powerful despite her still clumsy pronunciation. "When was he born?"
Breathe out. "August 19th, 1983."
"Morning or evening?"
"Just after midnight." Breathe in.
The flow was slowing. Drip.
"Right or left handed?"
The pool of blood lay over the rest of the mixture, like oil on water.
Wei began to stir, and the colors churned like Jack's stomach.
"'A' negative." Inhale.
The questions felt like they were burning, little flicks of still-firey soot, trying to trip him up.
Exhale. Don't laugh, don't scream.
"A little brown spot, on the back of his left thigh."
"Good," Lan Wei said, voice almost warm. Jack found there was still some anger in him, tightly wound-- she hadn't truly believed he would know any of those things. He felt tired, and every shadowed corner of the room seemed to jump. Unwillingly, his eyes flickered towards the closed bathroom door.
("You couldn't even guard the precious thing you stole!")
"He was my friend," the Captain said suddenly. Dark, china-doll eyes looked at him expectantly-- he thought of Wei laughing at him in her kitchen, saying something about 'real love'. Why were all these moments stuttering so strangely, jolting him along, refusing to flow? "He was... tsazhou." But she didn't know what word, no one would know that word for three thousand years. "Xingan," he said instead, forcing feeling into the word. His face felt wet. "Do you understand?"
"You think I don't?" A delicate little snort, as she set her tools back on the bench. She put a hand on his shoulder, turning him towards the casket. His skin crawled with her touch, and the almost desolate understanding in her voice. "You and I, we hate each other. But now, like or not like, we are the same."
"In this one thing, we are." Her voice wavered suddenly. "Do you understand what this is?" A hard yank on his sleeve. "Do you? This is no simple thing. These days, everyone is 'instant' this, 'instant' that. No, it is not the way of this century. This is an older thing. If Ianto was as xingan-- essential as your heart and your liver-- then you are going to have to work to have him back. You will draw his soul back into his body, slowly. This takes patience, time and care. He will breathe tonight, and his heart will beat when we are finished, but it will be a long time before he opens his eyes and knows your face."
Jack's lips parted, his voice was a ghost. "I'm not afraid of hard work. Not for him."
"He will only drink from you," Wei insisted, but her eyes were far away. Fixed on long ago, human hurts. "This is more than marriage." The smile was really a grimace, "Marriage is politics. Long ago, it was buy and sell. 'I will give you my daughter for your rich north pasture'. 'When you raise a daughter, you are really raising another man's wife.' They said these things. In the end, a man could say his wife can not give him sons, turn her away. Now days, a woman can say the man does not care for her, divorce him and find another. It means nothing. What I would have done for Ahn Mei.... this thing..." Wei was breathing heavily now, and there was a single, pink-tinged droplet rolling down her white cheek. "This is mating. It is..."
Tsazhou, Jack moved his lips silently. Breaking the unspoken rule. Aloud, he said, "Being bound."
Scrubbing at her face like an angry child, Wei turned from him suddenly. She reached into the valise, loading her arms up with stout white candles. With an eerie sense of precision, she began placing them in clusters at each point of the compass, occasionally making a soft, sniffling noise. Jack ignored her, as she had ignored the tears that were still drying on his face. He wasn't sure if that was mercy or understanding, but he supposed it didn't matter. Without warning, she flicked the light switch, and suddenly the only illumination came from candles she was lighting, and the casket's ethereal, yellow glow. Jack's eyes blurred a little; the light flickering through the glass seemed almost blasphemously cheerful. It made him think of Cardiff's deep December chill, of Ianto staring up at the Christmas tree near the entrance to the Plass. It had been snowing, and Ianto had been smiling, even as he shivered and shoved his hands in his pockets. That smile had been brilliant, a boyish grin, uncensored because Ianto thought himself alone. Jack remembered standing on the invisible lift, wanting so badly to join the younger man, but loathe to move and break the moment.
Having finished lighting the candles, Wei slipped back towards the workbench, feet almost feline in their silence. The light from the casket did odd things to her face, casting shadows of blemishes where Jack knew there were none. Looking at her, he felt a sharp stab of pity for the whomever came across her body when she finally 'stopped'. The rot she claimed to feel would have her corpse for its kingdom, then; everything she really was would be exposed. Even now, the Captain thought he could see a swath of infection across her exposed skin, like radiation burns. He was glad the apartment did not have any mirrors.
"Take him out," Wei instructed, unaware of the temporary chip in her polished veneer.
"Now?" Jack asked, casting an uncertain glance at the woefully small bowl of potion. "You don't really think just that is going to--"
"You're going to tell me how to do my job?" The faint impression of her grinning skull showed behind her frown.
Shaking his head silently, Jack reached down and undid the last catch. Lifting away the final lid was like lifting diamond lace-- the casket's engine hummed once and died, leaving only the flicker of Wei's candles behind. Ever so gently, Jack reached inside, lifting Ianto into his arms. He lie there, still and cold, cradled against his Captain's chest. No stir of breath, no huff of half-insulted laughter, no thrum of pulse in his strong wrists. Forcing himself to keep his grip firm but loose, Jack carried him to the bed. Ianto always preferred the left side, and Jack settled him there carefully, adjusting the pillow quickly when his head began to loll at an odd angle. The young man smelled of antiseptic, of white hospital linen and the metallic seal of alien technology. No natural, emotive whiff of cedar or sugar cane; no evergreen of his favorite after shave.
(It's a body, Jack. The Doctor's voice seemed suddenly very strong. The youthful one, that murmured Rose was alive and then said he couldn't stand to look at a fixed point. It's a corpse. Ianto isn't in there anymore. You can handle him as gently as you want, but he isn't going to feel it, because he's gone. He's gone, Jack.)
"No," Jack said, his body jerking in surprise when the word came out in his first language. The soft, guttural slides came back to him easily, so deeply a part of him that he was suddenly sure they were written on each twist of his DNA. He brushed his thumb over the cut on Ianto's right cheek. "I'm going to bring you back, Ianto. Just you see if I don't."
Surprised by the unfamiliar tongue, Lan Wei gave him a searching look but, when she spoke, she only said, "Undress him."
Jack's stomach rolled, but his fingers began plucking at Ianto's stripped tie. It slid dully away, and he folded it, before reaching for the buttons the black vest. "I'm sorry, Ianto. This is only for a little while. It's not so bad." Vest undone, he started in one the white dress shirt, head bent down, with eyes only for his task.
"You're going to be so cross with me when you get back. Worse than all that glaring you did when taking John's weapons on a tea tray, worse than when I came back from the Crucible with soot all over my coat. " Hand firmly between Ianto's shoulder blades, Jack lifted him, removing the vest and shirt at the same time.
"I know you fuss at me when I do that. I'll fold them separately, I promise." Jack kept his word, making a tidy pile of clothing on the nightstand. His hands hovered over Ianto's belt buckle-- he breathed in sharply and felt almost choked by the scent of the candles. It was a heavy, citrus scent, laced with finely aged spices. He forced himself to slide the leather through, setting the belt aside as well. Abruptly, he moved to the end of the bed and began removing Ianto's dress shoes.
"I know you think I wasn't paying attention, but I saw the way you looked at me after I brought Owen back. He was like a son to me, in a way. Spoiled and rough-nosed, but worth it on the inside."There was an honesty in his mother-tongue. It was built into the pitch-sensitive verbs, the differing levels of intimacy and pronunciation in address. It burned, to speak after so long, like the systematic stripping of the confessional. "How could I hope for a miracle for him, and not do the same for you? Don't be angry with me, Ianto. When I close my eyes, I can see that look. Like you didn't think you were worth that much to me." The shoes and socks were set on the floor, out of the way. Jack forced himself to move back up, to reach for the zip and fasten on Ianto's pants.
"You'd laugh if you could see me now." He was especially careful as he eased the black material past Ianto's hips. "My hands are shaking. I bet you'd tell me to keep my fetishes to myself." Ianto lay there, a thing of marble clad only in dark blue briefs. Jack had run his hands appreciatively over those briefs before they'd left Ianto's flat, on that morning that now seemed a lifetime behind.
("It's just a body, Jack."
And, goddamn it, what the hell do you know? Have either of your two hearts ever really broken, have you ever wanted anything, kept anything for yourself? I saw your face when Martha and I left. You took Rose back, pushed her back behind the barrier. I bet she cried, and still you left her, so you just shut up now.)
"Everything off," Wei said after a long pause. The Captain hissed through his teeth, and once again found his nails curling into the flesh of his palms.
"I'll make it up to you, Ianto." Jack pulled the briefs away, slowly easing them past knees and ankles. "I know you'd hate this, and I'm sorry." Ianto's penis lay limp in its dark nest of curls; the sight of that handsome, lifeless body nude seemed suddenly unutterably horrible to Jack. It was flesh and bone, unanimated-- it was only something shaped like Ianto. Like the golem of legend, it had all the things it make a human save that elusive, all important spark. It was awful, because it dared to look like Ianto when it wasn't; it was beautiful because it could be Ianto again, if only...
"Do something!" he shouted at Wei. She blinked at him, unperturbed but without comprehension, and he forced himself to repeat the words more calmly in Chinese.
"We will." Her face was all smooth beauty again, and also carefully blank. "Where is the cooler?"
"In the kitchen," Jack replied, turning his back on her. He put a hand over his mouth so he wouldn't scream. Time swam and unwound before him; he thought of Ahn Mei, bathed in the light of the bon fire and the full moon. Suddenly, he said, "You let Ahn Mei have a quilt." He'd thought nothing of it at the time, but he could picture it very clearly now. Eggshell white, embroidered with crawling vines and tiny pink blossoms. Ahn Mei had writhed under it, screaming, clawing at herself as her skin seemed to burn.
"Very well then," Wei spat presently, emerging from the kitchen with more force in her steps than needed. The memory was obvious in her expression, but Jack turned away. Gathering the comforter from where he'd left it folded at the end of the bed, Jack quickly covered Ianto's torso, unaware of his own sigh of relief. A grunt came from over his shoulder. "Leave his feet showing."
Jack complied, watching Wei as she dragged the stool away from the workbench. She waved an impatient hand at him, instructing him to take off his shirt and braces. The Captain did so, folding his things beside Ianto's and resisting the urge to pace.
"Lie down next to him." Lan Wei pulled something from her pocket. She dangled it in the low candlelight, and Jack could not find it in himself to be surprised. A thick, red silk cord hung between her fingertips, each sway like the shadow pantomimes of Boeshane. Something rattled in his chest, but it was only the memory of Papa's stories, and the sound of a lock finally sliding away home. The click of tumbler and bolt.
"You'll tie our hands. Bind them." It wasn't a question. Wei nodded in the darkness, coming to sit beside him on the bed. She reached over him, and he endured her fingers on Ianto's wrist, then felt them on his own. The cord pulled tight, just shy of discomfort. The room itself seemed to swell and shudder, the physical walls too small for the sense of possibility. He thought of Billis Manger's dance hall, hovering between past and present, yawning in its disrepair as if to whisper, I can be, I can, and maybe I will. The shift of timelines, like something more than gravity, pulling the universe back into its appointed orbit. Lan Wei moved off into the shadows, returning with the mortar and a tea brush. She took the potion and, delicately pinching Ianto's chin, coated the inside of his mouth with it. Pulling the comforter down just a bit, she used the brush again to paint a symbol on his collar bone. "That's not Chinese," Jack remarked quietly.
"Sanskrit," she was whispering now, the stifling atmosphere seemed to demand it. The world seemed drenched in the smell of candles, in rot of Lan Wei's perfume, and the tang of pomegranates like blood. "Om is the sound that preceded creation." She drew the same on Jack's chest, and it didn't tickle-- it stung. Again, she was gone, and when she moved back into the circle cast by the candlelight, she was carrying something. It was wrapped in red silk, and very obviously heavy from grip. Setting it on the stool, she let the rich crimson fall away. Startled, Jack very nearly sat up on his elbows-- stopping himself only for fear of jostling Ianto.
At first glance, Lan Wei's final instrument looked like a box built from latticed mirrors. Finely crafted, obviously expensive, but human none the less. However, as its owner stepped away, Jack watched the box shiver and pulse. It was as if the eye slid off it, or away from it, for just a moment, and it changed. Breathlessly, he realized it was much like staring at Wei's face without her flashy trappings. The mind could not place it, and thus rebelled. Now, the box seemed to be carved from a single piece of bone; it flushed a coy, pink coral; and then appeared to adopt the hideous consistency of flesh.
"That," Harkness said firmly, "Is not the Tunguska Artifact."
(Oh, god, Ianto. I'm sorry, and I'm not sorry. I don't think even this can stop me, now.)
"No," Wei said simply. "This, I hid from you that night. This has been mine since my teacher died."
"What is it?" The box shifted again, imperceptibly, turning an odd brown and almost seeming to inhale.
"'What is it?', 'Where did it come from?'" She sing-songed mockingly. "These are man's questions. It's not important. A woman does not ask these things, because she knows sometimes there are no answers. Why is the world here? Why do only humans speak? Why is there death? Why do we love, and why does that hurt? Ask, ask, ask. You'll never get any answers, only make them up so you'll feel better." Now the box was blue, a silver-touched cobalt that was so deliberate Jack had to close his eyes.
Keeping them closed, he asked, "So, what is the important question, then?" He heard the shifting of ice, and then a sickly, wet noise like the crashing of some polluted wave.
"Do not even ask 'What does it do?'." Wei's voice came from surprisingly close by. Opening his eyes, Jack's gaze came to rest first on the box. It looked almost organic again, humming, and his own dead heart sat atop it-- so red in the candlelight that it became black. A whisper, near his ear. "Ask only, 'What can it be used for?'"
(Of course. Suzie and her glove, groping in the Void, uncaring of what she might disturb. Lisa Hallet's body encased in metal, all facts and memories and personal information, but no soul. Toshiko, hair hanging to hide her tears as she put the pendant in Jack's hand. Tommy, the displaced soldier, living the century in weeks as Torchwood pulled him unwillingly through turmoil and culture shift and revolution. The TARDIS, warped beyond recognition, rending the sky until the blackness of entropy bathed humanity and they knew fear.)
"So, what can it--"
"Do you really think I have to answer your questions?" Wei interrupted him. She stood over him, hands behind her back as though a little girl with an eager surprise. "I keep my word, Jack Harkness. But I don't have to tell you my secrets."
He saw the flash of her knife, as quick and vile as her witch's smile. This time, when she stabbed him, there was no one around to hear him scream.
Xingan- usually translated as 'sweetheart'. Literally, 'heart and liver'.
Om- Sanskrit. Considered the mother of all other sounds, and so used for meditation.
Tsazhou- this one, I made up. From Boeshane, 'Bound One'. I know we see Jack speaking during English in the flashbacks in "Adam" but, since we're inside his head, I took some liberties. In the future, I imagine it wouldn't be all that strange to have a mother language and then a Standard used for communication across the universe. And I like the way it sounds. ^_~;;
+according to I Ching, there are eight components of reality, and five elements. The lungs are ruled by Jin (metal) and the universal quality of yin (the dark, passive, 'feminine' side of existence.
+Lan Wei's potion contains: pomegranate, wolf berry (the red berries; for longevity and the immune system), cinnamon (improve circulation), ephedra (open breathing passages), and columbine (purple and white petals; said in medieval medicine to drive away all poisons). All of this was taken from The Woman's Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects by Barbara G. Walker; Harper Collins, 1988.
... It's good to know that, even though high school was ages ago, I can still be a complete and total nerd. ^_~
Ianto's back in the next chapter! Well... alive, anyway. My hand to God! It's already at in the hands of my much less spastic beta. Ayashi, you're a doll.
Feedback keeps the Daleks conga-ing through the wee hours of the morn. Perhaps even Devros might join them? *shudders at the mental image* Seriously, by now you guys know I'm a feedback junkie. So sad, but true.