Rating: R for some disturbing themes
Word count: 1624
Notes: Well. It's not often that I write things in one sitting, but this one sidled into my head earlier this evening and refused to budge. I figure that Torchwood fandom may as well get its fanwanking of What The Hell Jack's Been Up To done early, before canon can prove us wrong.
Another McSweeney's fic, because they're good fun - fic title and section headings are all taken from McSweeney's list titles.
jokes I may have misremembered
1. methods other than song by which one can be killed softly
The faint outline of the TARDIS is still in the air when Jack starts running through reactions in his head, trying each one on for size and then discarding it. He wonders if crying would help; decides that it wouldn’t. He wonders if praying is viable; decides that he probably hasn’t racked up enough good karma yet for it to be worthwhile, considering his former occupation, and anyway, he’s an atheist, and now he’s babbling away on the inside of his head because he can’t hear anything but the hiss of air filters and the raggedness of his own breath and he is very, very alone.
Jack, after some further consideration, decides to start with anger.
Throwing things at the walls and cursing in more languages than he was aware he knew is good, it’s distracting, and it makes enough noise that he can block out the isolation for a while. Eventually, however, he catches his toe on the underside of a console and doesn’t need to hear the faint crunch to know that it’s broken. He hops over to a chair, still cursing, but by the time he’s taken his boot off the bone is sliding back into place and the purple bruise is fading under his eyes.
It is in this moment that Captain Jack Harkness remembers his own death.
2. a good salesman can sell
“Oh, Captain Harkness,” the Tuu’la female gushes, her gills turning a shade of pink that either means flirtation or extreme anger. Jack closes his fingers over the key to her ship and hopes rather nervously for the former. “I’m so glad you came along. You’re sure you don’t need anyone to give you a hand? The temporal engine can be so finicky to adjust.”
“I’m sure I’ll manage, ma’am.” He clicks his heels together and bows, still playing the soldier. “I’ve fixed ships like yours before. All it needs is a bit of crosswiring and then a few short trips to reset the timer.”
“I’ll just wait for you here, then, shall I?” She beams at him, and Jack manages to smile back.
He walks towards the docking bay and fights off the guilt that he’s never felt before, tries to muster the feeling of smug accomplishment that usually follows a successful con.
“How else am I meant to get out of this galaxy?” Jack mutters under his breath, and pretends he doesn’t know who he’s justifying himself to.
3. some reasons I’ve been fired
“Do I know you?”
Jack feels himself go very still. After a moment he reminds himself to lower the glass from his mouth and swallow. “I don’t know. Do you?”
“I’d like to,” the man says, his hesitant look turning into open interest.
“Fuck off,” Jack says, disappointment harshening his voice, and wonders which bar on which planet in which decade he’d have to walk into to find a witness to those two missing years; wonders, in acute awareness of his own cognitive vacuum, if there are any witnesses at all.
4. extreme ways to break your arm
Later he’ll blame it on the alcohol he hasn’t been drinking and the hysteria he’s never given in to and his own weakness for late twentieth-century science fiction films, which is legitimate, if illaudable. Long coats and too many guns and waking up from your own death – hell, a guy’s allowed to identify, right? He’s flying, he’s out of his depth, he’s Alice down the fucking rabbit hole.
And as the air resistance becomes a painful crushing force against his ribcage he wonders, insanely, if the concrete will turn to rubber and bounce him upwards.
5. things my boss said to me without elaborating
“Welcome to Villengarde, sir,” the robot says. “Would you like to buy a souvenir visor? A bag of dried banana chips? Management wishes to advise that quarantine regulations of some planets may not allow foreign foodstuffs to be imported. A set of postcards? A -”
“No,” Jack says loudly, “no, I’m fine, thanks.”
The robot trundles off and Jack sits down and rolls up his shirtsleeves, closing his eyes briefly against the sunshine.
“What are you doing, Harkness?” he asks the air.
The banana palms don’t say anything in return; they just sit there, casting intricate shadows onto the grass, potassium-rich and silent.
6. things to do in hell
In the past – whatever that means, considering the context – Jack has generally tried to avoid any part of the twentieth century before the discovery of penicillin, but one day he finds himself in London in 1910, talking his way into Westminster Abbey to watch the coronation of George V and wondering rather morbidly what it feels like to catch terminal tuberculosis and not die of it. But he’s not that bored.
Captain Jack Harkness, nominal American ambassador, makes polite conversation with a Duchess of somewhere-or-other and listens with half an ear to the chatter around him until he catches the words alien creatures and directs his attention abruptly to the men sitting in front of him.
“Her Majesty, God rest her soul,” one of the men murmurs, “only referred to him as ‘the Doctor’ in the original charter. But if Torchwood is to make any progress with –”
The trumpets drown out the rest of the sentence and Jack, through the rush of savage hope, remembers to breathe again.
7. people who know my sins
He makes one last trip before he contacts Torchwood; or rather, he makes tiny trips, hundreds of them, leaping blindly from planet to planet and century to century, leaving the same message scattered everywhere he can. Cards tucked into books, graffiti on walls. Three lines.
He travels and travels until the jetlag would have killed anyone else, until he can feel the time sickness shredding his sanity, and then he aims himself at the last clue he’s got and pulls back on the throttle.
8. rides from the amusement park of my collective memory
“ – reminded to turn off all mobile phones or similar devices, as they can interfere with flight instruments. Estimated time of arrival in Cardiff is just after noon. We hope you have a pleasant flight, and would like to thank you for choosing British Air.”
The woman to his left, who has been eyeing Jack since he sat down, leans across in a manner no doubt intended to show off her cleavage. “I never believe that, you know,” she simpers. She waggles her phone, which, true to her word, she hasn’t turned off. “About phones interfering with the instruments.”
Jack swallows the painful spike of memory and gives her his most charming smile. “Well, hopefully the plane will crash and I’ll die.”
“What?” She frowns.
“Just kidding,” he lies, and looks away.
9. places I’ve walked into with a confident swagger despite public warning
“What are you doing? How did you get in here?” The man’s hand flutters near his gun, which makes a clumsy lump under his shirt.
“I’m going to run this team. Torchwood.” Jack looks around the building, which isn’t much so far, but certainly has potential. “You’re the mediators from London, right? Scoping out the rift? You’ll need a leader. It’s going to be me.”
“How did you get in here?” the man repeats, staring at him.
Jack sighs. This looks as though it could take a while.
10. probable locations of trans-dimensional portals
“We don’t really know what caused it, but I’m sure you and your team will find a use for it. Just one of those handy little workplace quirks,” the woman says, flashing a smile at Jack like she’s trying to sell him the damn thing.
Jack stands on the ordinary-looking pavestone with his hands tucked deep into his pockets and entertains a brief, fervent wish that the perception filter extended to the weather. He likes Cardiff. He really does. But the fucking rain.
He tucks away a memory of sunshine, and a blue box – of seeing the city from exactly this angle – and plasters the company line firmly across his mind. We don’t really know what caused it.
“Yeah,” he says. “It’s bizarre.”
11. alternatives, should you not like pina colada and getting caught in the rain
“Jack?” Toshiko says, pulling on her coat. “It’s after six, are you...you’re not planning to stay here, are you?”
“I think I’ll finish this paperwork,” Jack says, waving one hand. “It’s been a busy first few days, and there’s a lot to organise. You go home, Toshiko.”
“I told you, Tosh is fine.” She gives him a smile that segues into a dubious look, but heads towards the door. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning, then?”
“Sure,” Jack says absently, staring at the list of reported sightings of a blue box in the UK during the past four years. “See you tomorrow.”
12. cinematic expressions of inner self-loathing if there are no mirrors to smash
The roof of the building is very firm under his feet. Sometimes, he thinks, it’d be nice if there was more to the existence of a dimensional rift than the constant appearance of alien flotsam; sometimes it would be nice if the earthquake-fault metaphor was a little more apt.
Jack watches the clouds building and boiling over the water. Wind scoops up the fabric of his coat and makes an invisible semaphore with it, signaling to the tiny faint stars that have been all but erased by imminent rain. The dull, greasy feel of a night storm is creeping up under his sleeves and smearing his cheeks.
He closes his eyes, gathers his karma, and prays for lightning.