Tish wouldn't have thought there was enough of her parents' ex-marriage to mend. Somehow, that year had pulled Clive and Francine together, while it had almost torn her apart. The Valiant was the patch on her parents' relationship--the shared fabric that made them stronger. For them, Jack's offer of forgetting was never an option.
If they wouldn't take it, and Martha wouldn't, then neither will Tish. She's seen how that horrible year separates Leo from them, an invisible line that love and family cross, but shared pain and sorrow don't. She doesn't regret her choice.
But she still dreams about Japan's burning.
"Kind of wish you'd come for Christmas dinner, but I can see why you didn't. Mum would've liked it, though. She knows you don't have anyone." Tish's voice is a little tinny through the phone.
"Never leave the office unstaffed on Christmas. Torchwood rule number fifteen. For all the good it did." Jack's disgusted. The ship wouldn't reply to them, he had no way to get up there with his Vortex manipulator dead again, and even blowing it up before it hit the surface wouldn't have saved Earth from the fallout of the engines. They were just lucky the Doctor had been aboard. "Besides, it lets my staff stay home for Christmas. I'm used to not having anyone."
"Take you long to get used to it?" she asks him. "Seems to be taking me a while."
Half his mind is still on the mess over Buckingham Palace this morning. "You have people," he says, encouragingly. He got good at "encouragingly" over that missing year, along with "comic relief," "distract and conquer," and "cuttingly." "Cuttingly" was particularly good for avoiding lingering deaths. "Your parents, Martha, me . . . "
Tish laughs a little, and her voice sounds slightly off-kilter, even taking the phone into account. "Mum and Dad have each other, mostly. I'm glad for them. I've got Martha, I suppose, but she's got her own demons, and they're not ours."
"I know," Jack agrees. "I've met some of them." He's been doodling on a scrap of paper. He scribbles the scrawl out when it begins to look like a stack of bodies. "Look, I'm sorry about Christmas, but what if I come down New Year's Eve and get you out of your house for awhile? We can not-feel-much-like-partying together."
Jack's booked a room where they can see fireworks, and Tish orders Chinese take-away that evening. Neither of them feels like drinking. Tish tells him about her niece's adventures with wrapping paper at Christmas and pretends she's not coming apart at the seams. She thinks she's not fooling Jack, who tells her how his team's reacting to having him back and doesn't mention the ways they died during that hideous year.
The fireworks are beautiful, but she's flashing on Japan and crying and she can't seem to stop. Jack holds her while she comes undone. She's not sure how she ends up in bed with him, except she's sure she kissed him.
She's not sure what to do about it after, either, but she feels a little better. "'m not sure if I should apologize, or apply for an 'I shagged Captain Jack' T-shirt," she murmurs, lying with her forehead pressed against the warm skin of his shoulder.
"Would it make you feel better if it weren't about sex?" he asked.
"If it's not about sex, what's it about?" She's not coming up with any options.
She feels him shrug. "Sometimes you just need someone. I saw Japan, too."
"Martha was there," Tish said. "Right before. Last one out alive." Martha could've been there, burning, and the whole thing would never have come undone.
Jack said, "Sometimes, when you're that close, you're too close to really see things."
A month later, Tish and Jack are walking together, and it's getting to where Tish can talk about what the Valiant did to them. Not just the servitude and the abuses, but the helplessness. The inability to protest, to say no, because it's one thing to choose consequences for yourself, and something else entirely to know that any consequences may fall on someone else around you at random. Probably someone you love.
She asks if she can take him to bed. They get a room.
By the third time, they've at least planned the room. That it would be Jack coming apart, neither of them could have expected. He pulls her on top of him, and she finds there's something good about choosing the speed, the angle, and the depth. Afterward, he tells her about an alien kept in chains and tortured. Horrors, he's had practice with, but the sense of identity caught him completely off-guard.
Jack's used to being in control of himself. With innuendo or action, smart-ass remarks or even just inside his head, he can always be in control. Failure is one thing. To not--entirely--be in control . . . is a whole new kind of helplessness.
It's Not a Love Affair
Jack comes into London for an afternoon about once a month, and he and Tish go for a walk. Francine and Clive seem to feel he's family, at whatever remove. He doesn't tell them how close he's come to getting Martha killed. Twice.
He doesn't tell Tish, either. She's finding her balance, pulling the tatters of her life together, and imposing some order.
She's testing the idea of control of herself. She's pushing her boundaries with Jack, but it's a one-way street. "If you get anywhere near my boundaries, I'll let you know," Jack says, wryly. "I'll also be very surprised." And somehow, that makes it okay.
It's a shag, and a learning experience, and an exercise in responsibility. Learning to lead in bed is somehow spilling over into the rest of Tish's life. It's still not about sex. It's definitely not a love affair. "More like therapy," Tish decides.
"But with . . . more . . . fringe benefits." Jack groans. "And I'm . . . getting all of them."
"How are you?" Jack asks.
"Not bad," Tish says. "I'm mending, I think."
Jack grins, and finds he believes her. "I think so, too, but it's nice to hear you say it." He kicks a stone into the street.
"What about you?" she asks.
He shrugs, still smiling. "Ah, you know me, Tish. No matter how many times I drop, I just keep getting up." It's gruesome and it's funny, and it keeps Tish from asking more questions. Gwen and Ianto did an end-run around him last week. Good work, when he looks at it objectively, but it means he'll be less and less able to protect them from certain things, and it's really appealing not to have to answer any questions right now.
In the room, he finds that Tish has brought a strap-on with her. That's far more self-possessed than he would have expected from her--these twenty-first century humans flinch in some places that are still odd to him, but it gets better with every passing decade. And Tish is, after all, mending. Jack says, "Well, in the interests of therapy. It has nothing to do with the fringe benefits. Really." And leers.
"Of course not," Tish agrees, dryly.
Tish hasn't seen Jack in a couple months when she hears from Martha. Jack lost half of his team in the mess in Cardiff. He's not good at losing people, even though he's had lots of practice, and he can't be ready to replace them, yet.
He also can't do with three people what he did with five, and what Torchwood does needs doing. She can't forget Japan's burning, but she can try to keep anything like it from happening, ever again. She needs to try. She already knows something about aliens, and she doesn't scare easy.
As she picks up the phone, she wonders if Jack's status as a friend of the family could be a problem. He might feel like he has to protect her. She shrugs, and calls anyway.
Later, it occurs to her that most people would've worried about being the boss's ex-lover. But then, it never was a love affair.