Fahye (fahye_fic) wrote,

[my Yuletide fic]

Title: Paramagnetic
Fandom: Torchwood
Rating: PG-13
Word count: 5977
Notes: Written for calapine for the 2006 yuletide challenge. I had a lot of fun with it, and I've actually posted a commentary on my LJ, because there's a bit too much to say in just a few lines of notes. Anyway. I can't seem to extricate myself from the story of Captain Jack Harkness, and writing this was certainly enough of a challenge that I am very, very glad I signed up :)

This was so frequently Jossed during the writing so as to cause enormous bouts of hair-pulling and loud wailing on the part of the author, but such is the curse of active canon. All secondary canon found on the official website has also been roundly ignored, and this - being backstory - is therefore likely to be at least partially AU as far as that's concerned.

Enormous thanks are due to Sweeney, Mir and Ji for their comments and encouragements.

There's a lot of science and a lot of Suzie. I hope you enjoy it.


This iceberg cuts it facets from within
Like jewelry from a grave
it saves itself perpetually and adorns
only itself

- Elizabeth Bishop, ‘The Imaginary Iceberg’

* * *

One two and engine grease; one two three is the dance of Suzie Costello, in which three is the beat and two is her hand in Jack’s hand and one could be the partridge in the fucking pear tree for all he knows. One is the mystery. One is the mask.

* * *

He has a memory all wrapped up in painful associations and the cold night air of wartime London: the Doctor’s voice, implacable and furious, shredding him to pieces for crashing a nominally empty ambulance into a nominally empty warzone. For the nanogenes that found a mangled body and thought it was an ideal; for the mindless Platovian efficiency with which they forced that ideal onto everything they encountered.

Jack sits in his office chair through yet another sleepless night, throwing and catching a rubber ball, thinking about immortality. It’s almost a miracle he’s only got a single heartbeat; whatever fixed him had a pretty firm idea of what the ideal person should be, and that ideal person was the Doctor.

Jack Harkness rather resents this.

* * *

Torchwood Three gets bumped into the spotlight after Canary Wharf; the Institute as a whole is doing its best to pretend, after the stunning disaster that followed the finding of him, that they never really cared all that much about the Doctor. Fighting aliens! the party line now reads, tinged with slightly desperate enthusiasm. That’s what we’re all about! Arming the human race! Jolly good! Carry on! And by the way, Cardiff, you’re next up to bat.

(Luckily, the British believe in cricket, and cricket does not believe in strikes. Three is not an important number.)

Jack freezes in this spotlight – metaphorically, of course, he’s always worked well with an audience – and hides his metaphorical hands behind his metaphorical back and smiles in a way that nobody could mistake for any sort of metaphor. His smile is resonant and concrete.

Jack is summoned to a meeting with Harriet Jones, PM, and realises very quickly that he’s going to have to start recruiting in earnest. His ‘team’ has been crumbling, degrading, and by now is little more than a taxation front. The idea of actually working with other people for the common good of the planet – ha! – is at first too trite to be taken seriously and then too familiar to be comfortable. A while ago he would have leapt at the chance, and a while before that his cynicism would have laughed the idea down; sometimes it seems as though his personality is a palindrome with its centre in one perfect but unmarked hour aboard the TARDIS when he let himself believe that the universe could align itself in shining, savage, moral ways. He’s changed since then. But Jack is intrigued, Jack is awakening despite himself, and though he’s never abandoned the first objective of Torchwood, he’s prepared to allow his activities in that area to become more subtle.

“Good to meet you, Captain Harkness.” Harriet Jones has a firm grip and Jack searches her face for the fatigue that rumour would sketch it with. She looks very poised for a woman whose popularity is slipping, he thinks, and gives her his best smile.

“And you, Prime Minister.”

It’s not many official meetings that are held at Number Ten rather than at the PM’s daytime offices, but Torchwood has always needed to move between the cracks in the bureaucracy. Jack lowers himself into a plush armchair and accepts a cup of very good coffee from a silent man in a nice suit. Not tea, but coffee; he has found that the British tend to presuppose these kinds of things on the basis of his accent. It’s amusing. And he does prefer coffee, so there’s no harm in encouraging the stereotype.

“This is Ianto Jones. No relation.” The Prime Minister smiles as she lifts her own cup of tea from its saucer, and Jack finds himself exchanging nods with the suit. “We can speak quite freely in front of him; Ianto’s girlfriend was a member of Torchwood One.”

Was. Jack saw some of what happened at Torchwood One before the CCTV cut out, and his next nod has a lot more sympathy in it.

Still – “Do you make a habit of recruiting household staff from agency widows, Prime Minister?”

“Of course not.” She smiles her thanks to the man as he sets a plate of delicate biscuits on the table. “Ianto was also a high level clearance clerk in one of MI-5’s intelligence analysis departments.”

Regnum defende,” Ianto murmurs, and Jack hears the familiar Welsh cadences in his voice. “I am of use here.”

“As I’m sure you will be in Cardiff, Captain,” the PM says.

There’s probably a polite affirmation that should be inserted at this point. Instead Jack meets Ianto Jones’ friendly, unwavering smile with one of his own, and says, “I want him.”

She makes an amused sound and raises her eyebrows. “This isn’t like asking to have a chair for your office, Captain. He’s a human being and I can’t just order –”

“Excuse me, ma’am,” Ianto Jones says softly. He hasn’t looked away from Jack yet. “I would be interested in hearing Captain Harkness’s offer.”

Jack grins. “Would you, now.”

“I would. Excuse me a moment, ma’am.” Ianto gives something almost like a bow – it’s amazing, the manners these people have – and turns to take the tea tray back into the kitchen.

Harriet Jones fixes Jack with a hard look and then takes a sip of her tea. “Talk to MI-5 yourself,” she says calmly. “I’ve just got him on loan.”

So Jack does, and is pleasantly surprised by the cooperation he encounters there. They’ve clearly been well briefed on the importance of Torchwood; yes, Captain Harkness is welcome to employ Ianto Jones, and yes, Agent Jones will still have access to a certain amount of restricted information. Yes, they’ll have people transporting some of Torchwood One’s active projects over to Cardiff for him, yes, their utmost discretion is guaranteed, and is there anything else they can procure for him in the meantime?

“I want an underground lair,” Jack says, mostly joking.

“And a dinosaur,” he adds, completely joking.

* * *

It takes him less than three days to discover that a) MI-5 can’t actually recognise jokes when they hear them, and b) Ianto Jones is going to be just as useful as he suspected.

* * *

(Flash forward: there are bodies lying cold in drawers in a room of cruel, lovely, claustrophobic architecture. Many bodies. Jack, who has no holes in his memory beyond the same-old, as-ever, tries to actively remember only the events relevant to people who are still breathing. It’s easier that way.)

* * *

And so: Toshiko Sato, who has darting eyes and a fast voice and a phenomenal IQ, is working in a tall grey building when Jack comes across her. Thinking for the government. It doesn’t take a lot – just a handful of pretty gadgets – to show her that he can offer her much, much more. Jack likes the way her face comes alive behind her glasses, and the way her fingers caress the metal with intelligence and respect.

She’s a little more idealistic than he thinks tends to think is best: “Fighting the good fight, are we?” she says when he feeds her the lines about arming the human race, reducing alien threat, etcetera.

“Something like that.”

Jack seems to find himself in wars, everywhere and everywhen. He’s yet to determine in which direction that particular causal link works.

* * *

“You’re not serious, sir,” Ianto says over the phone, and it’s a fair statement because Jack can be flippant at the most inappropriate of times. This time, however, he is serious.

“It’s just a cut, Ianto, but it’s a bad one. I’m taking Tosh to the ER to get it looked at, and we’ll get some tired doctor who is just as willingly blind to the existence of anything beyond their sphere of experience as the rest of the damn human race, and we won’t even have to alter anyone’s memory. I’m not having a computer expert who can’t type because we didn’t know a tendon got nicked.”

Ianto sits through this minor rant with his usual stoicism. “All right, sir,” Ianto says, and you’d have to know him well to hear the deep dubiousness infusing his voice, so Jack pretends that he doesn’t and hangs up.

Toshiko looks like she might be about to say something as well, but she’s lost a lot of blood and she’s paler than usual and the protest never escapes past the expression on her face. Luckily, it’s a quiet night and they get ushered into a clinic room almost immediately, and a young doctor with a bored Cockney voice tells them that it’s deep but hasn’t damaged anything important. Tosh sits very still as his needle flashes – in, out, in, out – under the glaring clinic lights.

“How’d you get this, anyhow?” the doctor asks as he’s bandaging over the stitches. “You don’t strike me as the type to be getting into knife fights. Though he does, a bit.” He jerks his chin in Jack’s direction.

“That’s none of your business,” Tosh says, sounding crabbier than usual. “Just fix me up.”

“Oh, fiddle-de-dee,” the doctor says, pulling the stretch gauze tight and tucking it under it with nimble fingers.

“Ow!” Tosh jerks her wrist out of his hands and glares. He glares back.

“Don’t be such a wuss.”

“Hell of a bedside manner you’ve got there,” Jack says, amused.

“I don’t like patients,” he says, and: “No offense, sweetheart,” to Toshiko.

Doctor Owen Harper may not like patients but he does like a mystery, which is why he bandages up Tosh’s arm and then asks her about the remnants of yellow gunk which were turning a really hideous shade of olive green where they reacted with her blood.

Tosh bites the inside of her cheek and looks to Jack for help and Jack thinks this is all very handy because his last pathologist was atomised by a ball of pink hyperstring, an incident which wasn’t nearly as funny as it sounds. Finding someone who lives with their eyes open can be difficult, and Owen’s an arse but he’s perfect; maybe a little too perfect, maybe a little too sharp, but he has a loose hungry manner that makes Jack fairly sure he could just fuck the man into distraction if he ever started suspecting anything.

So: “It’s alien pus,” Jack says, watching him closely. “From a real alien. From another planet.”

“Jack!” Toshiko snaps.

“Oh,” Owen breathes, “well,” his fingers twitching with what Jack suspects is the urge to dissect.

“Not him, Jack.”

“Yeah, ta very much, sweetheart.” Owen looks Jack straight in the eye. “A real alien?”

“Fancy a drink?” Jack asks, and the rest is history.

* * *

Suzie Costello’s apparent lack of any sense of humour is what prompts Jack, who knows his own blind spots, to name her his second-in-command. She smiles maybe twice in the whole interview – in stark contrast to Own, whose patent smirk fits perfectly around the rim of a half-pint glass, and Toshiko, whose nervous smile kept darting out to jab at him like a cat with a ball of string. And that is what Jack does: he dangles the impossible in front of their noses, isolation and danger baited with intellectual honey. As good as magnetic, to a certain type. The right kind of person won’t be able to resist, and Suzie Costello is the right kind of person. Machines love her. She’s antisocial and smart and has a tough skin on her, like leather. She won’t break.

Her drinks of choice are Guinness and Cosmopolitans, neither of which Jack can stand. He sips at water and takes her slowly through the interview, always aware of the small box of amnesia pills in the pocket of his coat.

“You seem to have had a lot of jobs,” Jack says, looking up from her file and making sure she hears the question.

He gets a neutral look in return, all opinion filtered out by her lashes. “I wasn’t fired. I resigned from them,” she says. “I got bored.”

“Well, you’re in luck.” Jack made his decision ten minutes ago, but he changes the angle of his chin and smiles as though he’s about to make all of her dreams come true. (He used to practise this smile; in front of a mirror, no less. It’s still available and effortless to the muscles of his face.) “This is the one job you can never quit.”

Her face changes and all of a sudden he finds her beautiful in a way that has no immediate connection to sex; she’s luminous, but in a stained-glass way that denies him such a presumption. “Is that a guarantee?”

* * *

Months, and more months. One evening Jack looks up from his paperwork and frowns at Suzie, working overtime at her bench, soldering a shattered set of tiny cogs in dim light.

“You’ll ruin your eyes, doing that,” he says.

“They’re already a bit bollocksed.” She looks up and gives him a half-smile.

“Don’t you have any hobbies?” he asks. “Real hobbies, things you do for fun.”

“I find my job fun, Jack.” She puts down the soldering iron and stretches her arms above her head. “You know that.”

“Come on.” He leans back in his chair, chews on the tip of his pen, and grins. “Surely there’s something. Amateur theatre? Kickboxing? Knitting?” And then, because he’s never been able to resist showing off and because it’s good to give Suzie Costello a jolt, sometimes: “Dancing?”

Something like humour comes to life in her eyes; something like dignity, something like a candle flame. “That’s in my file, is it?”

Jack nods. Before she gained a degree in engineering, Suzie Costello spent two years ballroom dancing on the lower echelons of the professional circuits. Useless information, but Jack will take what he can get when it comes to this woman. Her rose window is more steel than glass; when colour shines through, it’s rare enough to give pause.

“So what was it you were you wanting, Captain? A demonstration?”

“Yeah, sure,” Jack says, hits a few buttons on his wrist transducer, and stands up. One of the highest ceiling lights flickers transiently, off to his left and Suzie’s right, as he walks over and pulls her out of her chair by the forearms. Shadows skitter across her face.

“Jack, come on,” she begins, and then the music starts – soft – and her mouth quirks and she stops pulling away, lets her warmth remain within his personal space.

Nevertheless, her hand wavers a moment before falling to rest on his shoulder. Jack is not sure when his manner, which used to bespeak effortless affection and the dark heat of the body’s crevices, ran so assuredly to the discouragement of touching him. It’s disappointing.

But after the smallest of intervals her palm is steering him gently forward a few steps and his own is at her waist and the others are clasped correctly, her hand in Jack’s hand. Jack hasn’t danced this way in a long time. Suzie is wearing grease-smudged overalls and flat boots, but she moves in such a way as to render this fact irrelevant; precise, sinuous, graceful. Jack notices quite abruptly as she passes under the line of his arm that her hair is tied back with a red lace ribbon, incongruous with the rest of her outfit, but suiting the music. He hooks his little finger in it as she completes the spin, and smiles.

Their waltz is slow and sure; there’s no hurry. And they make a neat couple, fitting together like charisma and composure, grins and gravity, lines and lace.

Hand and glove.

* * *

Three is not an important number, but five feels right. Jack ignores the pointed hints drifting in his direction from London and keeps his team constant at this amount.

“Smaller groups are more loyal,” he tells the Prime Minister.

“You seem to be highly capable of attracting loyalty, Captain,” she says, in tones that tell him she’s not buying that excuse for a second but she hasn’t got a good enough reason to argue it out.

“What can I say.” Jack grins into the phone. “I’m magnetic.”

A warning for those straying within the magnetic field of Captain Jack Harkness: extended proximity may cause dysfunction of one’s moral compass. Perhaps the disappearance of his touch me aura has less to do with self-punishment, as he was beginning to suspect, and is rather something along the lines of an unconscious warning beacon. Nevertheless, they’re changing; Jack has never needed to touch someone to win them. He watches them draw ever closer, gone to spinning needles and shades of grey, and wonders if he should be doing more to prevent this.

* * *

This is her dance: engine grease and ballistics, which can be defined as the mechanical art of unstoppable motion. Once begun, the momentum will carry it through to the end.

Jack likes to talk to each member of his team on a regular basis, to monitor their reactions to particularly intense incidents and gauge the graceful degradation of their systems. It’s an engineering term, that one: little by little they lose themselves, but it doesn’t affect their function. Not too much.

(Jack tries not to imagine them cold in drawers before it has actually happened, even though he knows that someday it will. He wonders if this is how the Doctor lives, has always lived: seeing people’s corpses overlaid onto their breathing selves.) Suzie, however, never wants to talk. She shrugs and claims that she has no need to chew her work over with someone connected to that work, and maybe if it were Tosh or Owen then Jack would argue the point but Suzie has never been quite as easy to push.

“No, Jack,” she says. “Let’s just dance. We’re good at that.”

So they do, and they are, but Jack is starting to feel the inertia of what they are becoming, so when their heads dip close together he leans in and kisses her as though he has every right in the world to do so. Suzie stops the dance and her face settles into something warm; warm, but distant. “I don’t get involved with people at work,” she says, as though she’s practiced it.

“Really?” Jack murmurs.

“Well,” she qualifies with a half-smile. “Not the ones I like, anyhow.”

Jack may be many things but he is also a man who knows when to let something go. He nods, loosens his grip on her fingers, and gives a smile that isn’t awkward in the slightest. “Fair enough.”

* * *

A paramagnetic material increases the strength of a magnetic field simply by existing within it. Existence can be a powerful thing, all on its own.

* * *

The Hub stinks of cardamon and generic curry; lately they’ve been working ridiculous hours to locate some scattered debris that might be radioactive or might be messing with the human grasp on temporal logic or might give off waves of peace and fucking joy; hell, it’s only a month until Christmas, and anything’s possible. But they don’t know because they can’t get enough samples together for long enough to study before they disintegrate and they’re running into dead ends left right and centre, and Jack is on edge, and Suzie got to choose the takeaway and she chose Indian and Jack is not overfond of Indian.

So he holds his paper plate in one hand as he wanders around, restless, moody, wiping up the remains of some lethal vindaloo with his last scrap of naan and seeking out the weak points in their investigation with merciless eyes.

“I wanted those tissue cultures done yesterday, Owen.”

“Getting to it.” Owen shovels rice into his mouth.

“Get to it now,” Jack snaps.

“A’m eahfig,” Owen says, swallows, and gives Jack one of his most annoyingly smug glances. “It’s not like I’m just dicking around. Need to keep my blood sugar up, you know, or my IQ might drop below the official genius levels.” He waves his fork and a lump of butter chicken falls off it and leaves a tumbling orange smear down his lab coat. Owen looks down at it and frowns. “Bugger.”

Jack gives up on him and strides irritably over to Toshiko’s workstation, pulls a chair out, and collapses in it with enough force to roll it backwards almost a foot.

“Owen,” he announces.

Toshiko doesn’t move her eyes from the screen. “Yep.”

“He’s such a…” Jack stares at the ceiling, searching for his vocabulary.

“Git,” Tosh supplies, and holds out a paper bag rendered translucent by grease. “Samosa?”

* * *

Ianto Jones, unlike most beings that Jack has had dealings with, dons an extra layer of complexity for each layer of clothing that is removed. The man has emotional barriers like silk; pretty, but sturdier than is immediately apparent. Ianto provides them with information from sources at MI-5 – occasionally useful, often not – and seems content to quietly organise the food and clean up their messes (in every sense of the word). On a rare occasion he’ll see some real danger, and he knows how to handle a gun. Jack relies on him absolutely and tries not to read too much into the trust that implies.

They’re dancing, just as surely, a quiet respectful dance. Ianto’s feet make no noise.

* * *

And so it goes, the life of Captain Jack Harkness. Some days are easier than others, sometimes his chest won't seize up when he sees a throbbing blue light, sometimes he can go a whole week without remembering what it feels like to die. Distractions help. His life has never flashed before his eyes, not once, but it glides sometimes in the in-between hours when Ianto is rebuttoning his shirt or the lights of Cardiff are spread out below him or he's dancing with Suzie. Gliding like ice on glass and spinning like a needle.

“Pas de deux,” Suzie says with mock severity, and of course she’s been classically trained, it’s in her cheekbones, in the discipline that stiffens her spine.

“Step of two.” Jack grins. “Two-step,” and he demonstrates, finding muscle memory from God knows how many years ago by his mode of reckoning.

Suzie’s mouth edges towards a smile. “You can be such a clown, Jack.”

Maybe so. Making her laugh is certainly rewarding, as hobbies go.

* * *

Toshiko, he discovers, is a right gossip in her own reserved way. And her idealism is crumbling, changing, losing its polarity. They take to sending each other emails, silly ones, bitching about dead-end cases and the latest royal scandals and how much of an arse Owen is being about the tests on this new organic compound and how much easier it would be to hate him if he were wrong. Nobody likes Owen. Everybody likes Owen. It’s a paradox, but they’re all getting quite used to surrounding themselves with paradoxes.

Tosh: he’s hard to stay mad at

Jack: I don’t know why I don’t fire him, some days

Tosh: of course you do, Jack

And she’s right, of course he does: even leaving aside the ghastly amnesial logistics that would be required if anyone were to leave this job through such a conventional channel, Jack sees just enough of himself in Owen that he can’t pull back, and this fascination generalises to the others as well. They are the house that Jack built, and they reflect the flaws of their architect. From the outside the arrangement might look eclectic, unstable, and perhaps he could have chosen for greater efficacy, but to Captain Jack Harkness these people are ideal because they are the extension of his own personality. No conman can ever quite trust anyone but himself, flaws and all, and Jack – faced with the necessity of teamwork, and not all that far from the cocky brat of a man who once spent two days painting a Tuu’la ambulance mauve – is employing his flaws. The distribution and dilution of his own sins.

Ianto is his effortless appeal, his ability to talk his way into or out of anything. Owen is his arrogance and cleverness; his conviction, muted (thanks to a certain blonde girl with a fragrant name and a stubborn heart) but still partly ingrained, that intelligence confers the right to bend the rules. Tosh is his blindness to consequence in the face of novelty, curious to a damned fault.

He is not sure what Suzie is, which makes him a little nervous – he can manage the others because he can manage himself, if he has to – but she must be something. Perhaps that why he watches her, sometimes, following her everyday dance from room to room; he is trying to recognise a reflection of a personal failing.

* * *

“Oh, wonderful,” Owen says when they find the glove. “Now we’re going to have to find the rest of a dismembered body. This is exactly what I wanted to do with my evening.”

“Don’t be in a hurry to be dredging the entire bay,” Suzie says, turning it over in her hands. “It looks more like a gauntlet, and I don’t think there are any signs of organic tissue in it. I’ll just check –”

Owen watches her slide her hand up into the thing and frowns. “Suze, I don’t think that’s –”

Blue light shoots through the cracks of the metal and Suzie takes a sharp breath in, and Jack spends two awful seconds worrying if this is the beginning of the end and if he’ll be losing another employee tonight, losing her. Nothing more happens, though, and he pushes away the most immediate panic.

“Hello,” Suzie says; wondering, curious, as though greeting a new acquaintance. Her stare falls short of both of them.

“– a good idea,” Owen finishes to no one in particular. “Bollocks. What’s she looking at?”

“I think I should…” Suzie’s voice is still vague. She starts to look around her as though searching for something. “I should find…” Her ungloved hand comes down hard and fast on a crawling insect, but before Jack or Owen can react she touches the dead thing with the glove and gasps raggedly. The blue lights flicker.

The insect shivers and starts to move.

Oh God, Jack thinks, God, except of course he means Doctor and he’s about as terrified as he’s ever been.

“Jack,” Owen says in an odd voice, “did you see that? That wasn’t just me going nuts, right?”

Jack shoves it all down and stares at the insect, but it’s stopped moving and once again looks well and truly squished. “No, I saw it,” he says slowly. “Suzie, how did you know to do that?”

Suzie finally looks at him, and then she pulls the glove off with shaking hands. “I don’t know,” she says. “I don’t. It just felt…oh, God, Jack, the energy. The energy.”

“Toshiko,” Jack says into his phone. “We’re coming back to the Hub.”

“What’s happened, Jack?” Tosh asks. “Did you find anything interesting?”

“Yeah.” Jack waves two fingers at Suzie in a wrap that thing up kind of motion, and tries not to look at the insect. “Yeah, you could say that.”

Three hours later they’ve laid out the ground rules, or rather the glove has revealed them: only Suzie can get the thing to work, only a recent and violent death can be reversed, and the resurrection only lasts a few seconds.

“I think I can get it longer,” she says, “if I work on it.” Jack thinks that her eyes are a little too bright, and orders Owen to run a whole battery of medical tests on her to make sure it hasn’t caused some kind of permanent damage.

“A close runner-up in the list of things I wanted to do with my evening,” Owen says, rolling his eyes, but he goes to get his kit.

“How many blood tests do you need to run, Owen?” After a while, Suzie is starting to sound woozy.

“All of them.” Owen shoots Jack a dirty look. “Apparently. Hold still, I need two more vials, and then you should get something to eat.”

“I don’t want to…I need to try again, Jack,” Suzie says, and for the first time in Jack’s memory there is a note almost like hysteria in her voice. He sits down and puts an arm around her.

“Ianto,” he says quietly. “Some food and coffee?”

Ianto nods and disappears. Jack rubs Suzie’s upper arm. “Well, this is certainly something I haven’t seen before,” he tells her, and wonders how much of that is a lie. Suzie’s head is warm on his shoulder, the tired rhythm of her breath very close to his ear.

“I think there’s something amazing out there,” she says. “Maybe we haven’t found it yet, but…something amazing.”

Jack turns to kiss the top of her head – friendly, comforting, no more and no less – and hides the bitterness of his smile in the late-night mess of her curls.

“I know there is,” he says.

* * *

The magnetic susceptibility of a material is dimensionless. You cannot capture it in units, you cannot pin it to a scale. It is a relationship.

(Jack thinks: this could be important.)

* * *

Jack goes walking one night and sleeps with a married man

There’s a ring on my finger, the guy says feebly, when his shirt is already half-undone and Jack’s neck is covered with fierce hickeys that will be gone by the morning.

And bells on my toes, Jack says in return, closing his own fingers over the slim band of metal. Come on.

Jack Harkness will have music (wherever he goes), and he will dance; and they do, and it’s good, but it’s not quite what he was looking for.

* * *

As is the way of their work, one new crisis or shiny novelty arises after another, and soon the glove is just one of those things that is somewhere at the back of everyone’s minds but never really comes to light. Every so often Suzie tells them that she’s extended the time by another ten seconds, but for the most part she doesn’t discuss it, and maybe she’s a bit distracted but she’s never really been one for talking. It doesn’t seem odd.

She also starts working late with greater regularity, but Jack can hardly call her out on it. They exchange a few surprised glances and then come to a silent agreement not to talk about it, and to stick to their private circles of light within the huge, silent room.

Sometimes – though less and less, as the weeks go by – they emerge from their spheres and dance.

One day Suzie breaks out of her own choreography and does the opposite: she begs important personal business and leaves work early. Her shoulder bag seems to weigh her down more than usual, some new ragged thing presenting itself to Jack’s eyes, etched into the tension of her shoulders. Jack can’t quite stop his own gaze from heating up with concern and a few other emotions that crowd his thoughts in. Too late, too late, these thoughts rage.

Tosh follows his eyes and shoots him a knowing look from behind her glasses. “She doesn’t get involved with people at work,” she says with suspicious immediacy.

“I know,” says Jack.

“Are you sure?” says Owen.

* * *

Later he will hate himself for the fact that when Suzie says, “Jack, I think…Jack, could we talk?” he’s running late for a phone conference with the PM, and angry at the local cops for screwing up a crime scene and with himself because someone reported seeing a blue police box just outside of Dublin but he can’t find any solid leads, so he just frowns and asks her if it can’t wait until morning.

“I’m sure it can. I have plans for tonight anyway,” Suzie says, and walks out of the door. There’s an odd note in her voice that almost makes Jack think better of it and call her back, but she’s gone and he’s got too much on his mind to make the effort. It can wait until morning. It can wait until morning.

But the next morning, Suzie walks in and –

“No,” Jack says before anyone can so much as greet her, striding towards her and waving his hands. “No, no, no. Go home and sleep it off, whatever it is.”

“You do look a bit rough, Suze,” Toshiko says.

Suzie’s eyes are far too bright, glittering like fragile wealth behind her glasses and above the smudges of fatigue. For a moment Jack suspects she’s going to argue, and almost hopes that she will, but then the angle of her shoulders changes abruptly and the fight diffuses out of her body.

“Right,” she says. “Sorry. Right,” and then she’s turning around and Jack is watching her walk away for the second time in twelve hours.

* * *

Later that week there’s news of a violent stabbing.

Suzie says: “I think I’m ready to test the glove out on humans.”

So they do.

* * *

Gwen Cooper’s burnout is written in the lines of her face, in the way she cares, so automatically and pugnaciously. Jack looks at her and sees the short decades that she has left before the job grinds her down. He sees the ideals she once had, he sees their edges already blunted by the pragmatism of her present self, and he sees the mundanely depressing fate of every good person who volunteers to face up to the ugliness of life on a daily basis.

Past and present and future. He doesn’t like seeing the universe this way; no suspense, no joy, no fucking fun. One more complaint to add to his list of symptoms.

Slipping the pill into Gwen’s drink is easy, harmless, but it still feels like murder.

* * *

“I’ve got to,” says Suzie, “I’m sorry, I’ve got to,” and through the searing pain in his forehead Jack’s wondering when it all went so terribly wrong, wondering how he missed the signs. Gwen is close to tears and even closer to breaking through the amnesia, her degradation not graceful at all. Time to end this.

He stands up.

“Put the gun down,” he says, and says some more things without really hearing the sound of his own voice, and holds out a hand – let me cut in?

But she is lifting her own hand in a swift arc, the gun is turning, beautiful and ballistic. And by the time Jack recognises Suzie Costello for what she is – his obsession, his self-destruction – the bullet is already halfway home.
Tags: torchwood
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