I hope this chapter doesn't disappoint. I was glad to hear that the ritual didn't come off as boring or cliche, but now we have Ianto's Official Return. (With capital letters and everything!) I will warn you that this chapter does have a lot of blood in it, in the more legendary 'vampiric' use. *crosses fingers* Hopefully, it works. As always, I have to thank Vivian (who teaches me to curse in Cantonese, yay! ^_~) and Ayashi, for putting up with my questions and helping me out.
And... here we go. *nervous smile*
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 7/?
by Meredith Bronwen Mallory
Jack Harkness was not aware of the absence of his breath until he suddenly, jerkingly, began to draw it in again. As always, this first gasp came not from his throat or lungs, or even his stomach-- it came from the back of his spine, where that gilded, burning hook seemed to yank him mercilessly back into existence. Briefly, a dim image flashed in his brain; a spill of crimson illumination (bloodlight) in the Void, shadowing over the edges of something that pulsed, far and ancient and away. As quickly as the impression formed, it was gone. Only a phantom conjured by his own mind, after all, meant to lend shape and texture to a horror that could not be grasped by the living brain. Almost unbearably dizzy, Jack squeezed his still-closed eyes tight and took a second breath. It hurt, as if he'd been removed from the pressured depths of an ocean between one heartbeat and the next. His body ached with it, but even that physical pain did not stop his sensitive psyche from registering a soft, misty warmth as it ghosted past him. Like the touch of Ianto's fingers against his as he passed out coffee, or the way their shoulders sometimes brushed as they walked back from a successful hunt. That casual intimacy had always inspired a fierce warmth in Jack, even as he fought down a flicker of fear.
He called the name not with his lips, but with his mind, not even cognizant of the regulations he was breaking. If he had been, he would not have cared-- his psyche seized upon that retreating presence the way a man in the desert grasps his last flask of water.
There were deceptively slim fingers entwined with his own. Jack felt them grip his hand suddenly, and knew exaltation.
For one long, cruel moment, he felt the potency of hope-- as sweet and hideous as poison caked in sugar. He was suddenly sure he would open his eyes to gaze up at the ceiling of the gymnasium. He would look up from where he'd been laid out amongst the bodies of Thames House and see Ianto gazing down at him, gripping their hands close. That expression of affectionate frustration would animate Ianto's pale face, and the younger man would lecture in a rough voice about thickheaded plans that always seemed to hinge on Jack's dramatic death, but it would be okay.
'I take it back,' Jack remembered saying to the 4-5-6, feeling Ianto's shoulders tremble under his hands. He'd said that he would take it all back, and he'd meant it then perhaps more than he'd meant anything in his life. I take it all back, just... not him. Never him. It was like standing in the eye of the maelstrom on the Valiant, watching the sky had mend and the clock rewind so that, like some perverse child's game, they'd been granted a chance to do it again. Harkness took another breath, so full of this feeling that he honestly intended to say, We made it, Ianto. We're okay.'
Then, the grasp of that familiar, well-loved hand tightened to the point of pain, and another, cooler palm struck him across the cheek.
"Wake up!" Lan Wei hissed, as close and unforgiving as the sinking in the pit of his stomach. Opening his eyes, he saw a pale glass-mask face hovering above him and couldn't place it. He didn't bother to struggle with the memory, instead quickly turning his gaze to Ianto. The young Welshman was almost convulsing on the bed, back arched unnaturally as his muscles spasmed. His lips were parted, but he wasn't breathing-- there was only his grip on Jack's hand, tightening and releasing like the pulse of a heart.
"What--" Jack began, barely recognizing his own voice under the panic.
"Jau mou gau co aa!" Wei spat when he looked back over his shoulder, and then he did know her. Her venom-filled voice, and every wrenching step that had brought him to this moment. Sitting up fully, Jack watched the remains of the red binding cord suddenly crumble as though it had been molded from ash. He kept hold of Ianto's fingers, turning on his side to lean urgently over the young man. His free hand moved thoughtlessly to stroke the alarmingly warm brow.
As if aware of the touch, Ianto's mouth opened fully, and cry rent the humid night air. The sound did not truly come from Ianto's throat at all, but it was of him-- a psychic cry abruptly given physical form. It was a desolate thing, this cry; a moan of someone so lost they have come to believe this abandonment defines them, that there is no such thing as being found. Jack felt a singular sob wrack his own body, but he couldn't hear it over the endless mourning pitch. It burrowed into his ears and his fresh heart, every nerve in his body reverberated with its song.
(This is Ianto. Ianto Jones, looking up at Jack from the gaudy, tiled floor of Thames House, watching tears roll down the immortal's face. He is so tired, each breath is acid on his tongue, but he fights to stay, to say those three little words even if he knows he will not hear them back.)
"No!" Jack shouted, the word torn from him. He felt Lan Wei's corpse-cool fingers close around his wrist and almost fought her, but she insistently drew his hand away from Ianto's face. Briefly, the Captain cast her an imploring glance; she rolled her eyes and drew forth once more the knife still warm from his stabbing. This time, she cut him across the wrist, deep and sure.
(Here is Ianto, in the stillness of the Hub, in that endless blank between midnight and three am. He's working-- tidying, really-- but it's only something to keep his hands busy, and there's precious little to clean with Tosh and Owen gone. The hum of the Rift monitor seems overwhelming in vast main room; everything feels so empty, and yet the world swells with ghosts. Biting his lip, Ianto moves quietly. Jack is sleeping-- a phenomenon that has become even more rare since Grey's unwelcome appearance. In a moment, Ianto will slip back down the hatch to lie carefully beside his Captain, knowing there will be dreams of suffocating cold and dirt raining across his cheeks. The grave will never truly grasp Jack Harkness-- Ianto will murmur this mantra even as he holds the other man close. But here, amongst the so-fresh reminders of loss, Ianto feels another truth.
He is Torchwood, and those of Torchwood die young.)
'It's not true!' Jack wanted to scream, well aware of the lunatic paradox this presented. Instead, he held his bleeding wrist over Ianto's mouth, watching each drop of garnet-black in the candlelight. The sound of despair began to wane, falling considerably with each splash of his blood on Ianto's tongue. Gently, Jack untangled their hands so he could massage the young man's throat, forcing the body to accept his gift.
(There's more. There is Ianto, looking at his teammates across the conference table; knowing they are his family and never wanting to jeopardize that by saying so. Feeling Jack's lips against his brow, so grateful and touched he has to turn his face away. There's Ianto, kneeling in the filth and blood of Lisa's second demise, grieving and filled with rage even as his lips still tingle from Jack's kiss. Ianto, in the fire and chaos of Canary Wharf, focused completely on one precious burden.)
Carefully attentive, the Captain watched Ianto's lips purse for a moment, before the wailing began to rise again. His cheeks were wet and his vision swam; he almost started to reach for Wei's knife, to make the cut deeper and give more.
"Give him suck," Lan Wei instructed urgently. "Would you have him die of loneliness in the lands of in-between?"
"Never," Jack whispered. There was a strength of purpose in his movements as he lifted Ianto, cradling the young man in the crook of his arm. Quickly, he pressed his wrist against his lover's mouth, rewarded when those lips formed a seal and began to draw the flow. Thoughtlessly, Jack began rocking a little, thumb stroking across the gash on Ianto's cheek.
(Further back, now. Lisa's voice, like honey and amber over the wires of Torchwood One's internal switchboard. They speak to each other for months before they actually meet and, when Ianto first lays eyes on her in the wide and busy lobby, he thinks that someone must have imagined her smokey tones and then designed a body to match. And down further, still, like the undisturbed depths of a well. Waiting in lockup, chin tilted rebelliously, while the police call his Da over the shoplifting bust. How terribly thin and small Mam looked, like a morbidly beautiful doll, laying amidst the wires and monitors and eyes open but empty at the end. Falling from the swing when Dad pushed him too hard, the crunch of bone a dull sort of surprise. Rhiannon, suffering him to walk beside her on their first day of school in Newport.)
Ianto was sucking steadily now, feeding. Broken laughter reached Jack's ears, and he realized it was his own, the sound of someone who has felt the whisper of the bullet inches away from their face. The fading cry was only in his mind now; it was a painful touch, but it belonged to Ianto, and that made Jack happy to endure. Once-- though he did not remember it-- he'd told his team to search their minds for a memory that defined them. That diamond-hard kernel of truth amidst the mind's soft flesh; the axis of the ever-tightening inward spiral.
(And here it is, at the end. A small thing, true, but all beginnings are. Here is the forming of Self, the first memory of Jones, Ianto Jones. A winter evening, the whole of the village draped in a thick swath of snow. He's very young, not yet five, buttoned and zipped and wrapped in a blue striped snow suit with red gloves, scarf and hat. All day, he's been itching to try out the snow. He'd tried to help Da shovel the front walk, but he'd accidentally knocked one of the piles back into the path, and now big-and-tall Da is very cross. Shouting at Ianto to get out from under foot, to stop dithering and give him peace. Now, he moves awkwardly through the drifts on the side of the house, sniffling a little, but pleased when the front lights become dim and night closes around him. In the backyard now, where the silence hangs alongside the icicles that decorate the trees. Ianto plops his tiny body down in the big drift formed by the stone wall; the snow is cold, but it cradles him, and the sky is dark as sapphire and dotted with stars above. He is all alone, sole ruler and citizen in the Kingdom of Back Garden Wall, and he likes it that way. Time passes-- he scoops up some snow and thoughtfully lets it melt in his mouth, not minding as the chill creeps into his toes and elbows. Mam comes for him, wearing snow boots and a thick coat over her house dress. She does not scold him, she only looks sad when she mutters that this is not what she'd meant when she set Dad to mind him. She lifts her boy, her baby, in her arms. In a moment, she will carry him inside, but for now she stands barelegged in the back garden, brown eyes drinking in the night. Raising a finger, she points to the stars, her voice soft next to Ianto's ear. There are the Seven Sisters, bright as you'd wish against the winter sky, and she tells him that those aren't really single stars, but worlds and worlds spinning together ever so far away.
Does it surprise Jack-- as he sits in his tiny apartment cradling the man this boy will become-- to realize Ianto and his mother are looking at the brightest sister, Alycone, whose four recorded stars hide a fifth that will someday know a tiny settlement on the peninsula of Boneshane? Once, it might have, but not any more. There are threads in the loom, a deliberate weave in the fabric of the universe. The pattern, the balance of it all, feels like a voice that mocks man's claims of self determination, all the while whispering to go ahead, make your own way, just try.
It seems like the work of a hand at once meticulous and insane.)
Jack Harkness closed his eyes briefly, not sure if he was savoring brush of coincidence, or fighting against sensation of being pulled on strings that had their own will. When he looked down at Ianto again, both thoughts were burned away as if they'd never been. The light flush on Ianto's face now was honest and real-- he was here, that spark safely housed again in the framework of flesh. Kissing the young man's forehead again and again, Jack tasted the sheen of sweat and his own tears. Ianto was still sucking gently at his wrist; the Captain could feel the fan of breath across his palm, and the thrum of pulse pressed against his arm. Warmth cascaded through him, fed by Ianto's the solid presence and the sensation of giving that flowed out with his blood. The mechanics of the ritual had crossed Jack's mind more than once during the past few days, but he was unprepared for the intimacy of the act itself. A gentle but voracious wave of possessiveness crashed over him; it made him faint and glad and afraid.
All at once, every stern and deliberate word of warning uttered by Agency Professors made sense. He understood now why-- in a century of designer drugs, casual student lounge orgies, and murder for sport-- mental integrity had been regarded with an almost Victorian prudishness. Nudity was fine, sex was fine, pills and body modifications; the callous manipulation of peoples from the past taken as a matter of course. Exploitation and personal freedom to the exclusion of everything else-- by all means, take your fill and then have some more! And yet, young minds were trained to shield from the very beginning, psychic intimacy forbidden and painted as an almost animal indecency. It was so obvious, Jack almost laughed through his tears.
"Tsazhou," he murmured, kissing Ianto's cheeks fervently. "You came back. I told you I'd come for you, Ianto. I told you I wouldn't forget." He cradled the young man close, relishing the unfamiliar mental touch as it twined with his own.
A delicate cough reached through the dim light and thick, lemony smell of candles. Jack up sharply, almost comically surprised to see Lan Wei standing by the closed bathroom door. She'd left his mind completely, fading into the shadows with the rest of the universe's concerns. Looking at her now, he found she was leaning almost limp against the wall, eyes closed. A long strand of black hair had escaped her careful twist, falling over a face that appeared no longer pale, but ashen. She did not look old-- Jack thought perhaps she was incapable of looking old-- but she did look extremely tired. There were smudges of violet weariness under her eyes and her hand, still clutching that treacherous knife, shook with exhaustion. There was a splatter of blood across her left cheek, probably from when she'd stabbed him, but the rest of the spray had soaked into her black qipao without a trace.
"Always dressed for the occasion," the Captain muttered in English, shaking his head.
Wei eyes flashed with annoyance under her heavy lids. "What?" she demanded in Chinese, pinching the bridge of her nose.
"Never mind," he replied, switching languages. His eyes were drawn back to Ianto; he forced himself to hold the other man carefully, though his arms longed to tighten for reassurance.
"Not too much," Wei said waspishly, nodding towards Jack's wrist. The strength of Ianto's lips had loosened somewhat, and Jack reluctantly pulled his hand away. He did look like he was sleeping, now, the mess of red around his lips making him look like a boy who'd drifted off after pilfering jam. Chuckling a little, Jack wiped it away with his thumb.
Pushing herself away from the wall, Lan Wei slowly crossed the room towards the workbench. Jack could see that several of the previously empty jars were full, strips of masking tape stuck against them for labels. Gathering them up, Wei moved off towards the kitchen, leaving Jack alone with his prize.
"I got you back," he whispered, watching each rise and fall of Ianto's chest. It seemed at first that only sounds were of breathing, and the occasional crackle of candle wick. The Captain rested back against the headboard with Ianto in his arms, feeling the flesh in his wrist knit with a well-known, absent itch. Shivering, he hitched up the comforter. There was something else, too, lacing a sudden chill in his bones. Not a sound, exactly, but a pulse... the exhale of something that did not have lungs. Alarmed, Jack looked over at Wei's 'box' for the first time since waking.
The thing that looked like a box had taken on a dull, tarnished cast-- a soot black that reflected nothing, but somehow seemed waxy as well. Jack could just make out the charred remains of his heart sitting atop it. Instinctively, he tightened his arms around Ianto, waiting for that capricious shift, the hideous change in the Box and its emanations. Nothing came-- there was only the dull black of an eye turned inward, and the faint flutter, like the ghost of a sigh.
It's asleep, Jack thought, though that did not make its presence any easier to bear. Even curled in on itself, the Box seemed to insult the living, like a thing that had grown outside reality. In some ways, Harkness was sure Lan Wei was wrong. It wasn't so much that the Box's origin did not matter-- it was more that attempting to imagine such a thing held a terror like that of the Void. Some things were just alien-- not to Earth, the solar system, or even the Galaxy, but to the elemental nature of the Universe. This thing, this Box came from Outside. If there was a way to discover what it was and who made it, Jack hoped the knowledge was never visited upon a human being. The image of the Toclafane swam in his mind's eye-- their capering, mad laughter as they screamed and sang of drums and horror at the Universe's End.
"I'm not sorry," Jack said, unaware that he'd intended to speak. He thought of that sick, poison-sweet moment, when he'd been sure he would wake in the gymnasium to find everything was really okay. That he'd believed such a thing for even a second made no sense, and it pierced hard. He moved a little, situating Ianto so that he lay back against against the pillows. Resting on his side, Jack propped himself up on his elbow and kissed Ianto's temple, tracing the pale jaw. "I'll never be sorry," he confided softly, only half-aware of Wei opening and closing cupboards in the kitchen. The words he spoke were bold, to combat the movement of shadows against this single safe space. There was a disquiet in him, a growing sense that he was staring down a long rope of interlocking events, the twist and curve of his lifetime somehow becoming a straight line that drew them together.
(Coordinates and timing; cause and effect. Jack, dancing with Rose during the Blitz; the Doctor rescuing him from the bomb, and what is perhaps his first noble deed since Jace died. Cardiff, where Blaidd Drwg is spray painted in an alley; where the Rift runs like Time itself, golden and merciless as the Big Bad Wolf. From Boeshane to 'pre-civil' Earth of 1941; from the 21st century to the Gamestation of 200,100, and then back to the late 19th Century of humanity's first home. Always Cardiff, always the Rift, more inescapable than gravity, drawing the pieces together. Rose and the Doctor at Torchwood One, the same day Ianto would lose Lisa and turn his gaze back to Wales.)
'How much is coincidence, and how much is just Time Herself?' Not a concept Time Agents were encouraged to think on, but a favored stumbling block of several Professors when they got into their drinks and drugs. He'd always thought that Agency work got to them after a while, too many timelines to separate, what-was and what-could-have-been. Not even a century on the Rift had been able to shake that youthful conceit.
"Now, I'm not so sure," the Captain murmured reluctantly. He held Ianto's hand in two of his own, pleased to find that the feverish heat of his resurrection had settled into a more healthy temperature. He smiled at that well-loved face, relaxed and free of worry in sleep. Joy swelled in him, bitter and sweet like the juice of a pomegranate. He was happy and tired, and more than a little afraid. Laying his head on the pillow, he draped a careful arm around Ianto's waist, not quite ready to get up and tend to any consequences. Here, Ianto was with him, blood rushing and drawing air unlabored; here, Ianto's presence settled, faint but sure, curling warmth in back of Jack's skull.
No, he really couldn't find it in himself to be sorry at all.
Jau mou gau co aa- 'Unbelievably stupid', 'so stupid I must mock you'. An insult.
Tsazhou- this one, I made up. From Boeshane, 'Bound One'.
+Alycone (Eta Tau) is the brightest star in the Pleiades, otherwise known as the Seven Sisters. Four hundred light years from Earth, it's made up of an eclipsing binary and three companions. I wanted to use one of the Seven Sisters-- I'm ridiculously attached to them-- but couldn't really find a suitable candidate among the visible ones. So I made up a hidden star in Alycone that would be capable of supporting life. Hey, in Doctor Who, we can move whole planets! ^_~ Actually, Clom is probably floating around in there somewhere, too. But no one wants Clom. *grins*
Ianto's back! Not awake, but back-- I promise he will be soon, though. This chapter just sort of wanted to end here and, since it was four am, I didn't feel like arguing with it. ^^;
Feedback is so powerful it can collapse Universe layers so that the Cyberman can conga with a Daleks. No, really! Silly physcists, thinking they can hide such things from us. Just like I can't hide the face I'm in possession of absolutely no shame.
... Please let me know what you think?