It was the same dream. Always the same dream, though not always at the same length, but so detailed that he could almost hear the quiet hum of all the machinery that had filled the Hub whenever he woke up. Jack woke up in space more often than not, so he was surrounded by sub-audible machinery there was well, and it took a while for him to realise he was awake. He never could decide whether that made the transition easier or harsher.
At least Jack had never any reason to doubt he was dreaming. There was the Hub, miraculously intact though he himself had been blown into pieces with it on the very first day the 4-5-6 had made their return known to the world. A symbol of his longing for an undestroyed past, Jack had thought the first time he'd had the dream, but that had been before he'd heard another sound, one distinctly not comforting but straight out of his nightmares: the Master's tapping, that insidious rhythm that once had enslaved a world.
It wouldn't have been a surprise for him to have nightmares about the Year That Wasn't. In fact, he used to have them on a regular basis in the immediate aftermath, as Ianto could have testified, Ianto, who'd held him and soothed him out of them more often than not. But this particular dream, in the fragments he could remember after his awakening, didn't take place on the Valiant, and it was remarkably free of torture and death, though not of mind games, the Master's other favourite pastime.
It had to be debris of his subconscious, Jack told himself again and again upon waking up: all the various catastrophes of his life coming together, yet somehow straightening themselves out as the Master talked to him about death and resurrection, obsession and love, and an apology in form of a gift.
It was as good an explanation as any, and it served Jack the first three or four times the dream had come to him. At some point between the fifth or sixth time, he'd started to allow for the possibility it might be something else. Something infinitely more disturbing and at the same time tantalizing.
He started to believe it could be a message.
"And that's what you've been doing here," Jack said incredulously. 'Making new memories. Chatting with someone you tortured and killed."
"Actually," the Master said, "as far as that last part goes, I'm apologizing to him."
"You?" Jack sat up straight, laughing in sheer disbelief. "Apologize? Oh, this I have to hear. Go on, then. Tell me you're sorry. I can't wait to hear the words you'll choose. Or maybe you've got one of those drippy greeting cards? Does Hallmark make a 'sorry I tortured and killed you' card? You'll have had to get a pen after that, and write in 'three hundred times', I don't think Hallmark would have thought of that."
"Words weren't exactly what I had in mind," the Master said, and he patted the device next to him. "I was thinking actions would have a better effect. And I've always been more a man of action."
He woke up. Usually the dream continued for a while longer after that exchange, but not always; this was one of Jack's better nights. Next to him, Alonso snored softly. In the wake of the 4-5-6, Jack had left Earth after saying goodbye to Gwen and Rhys, with no particular destination in mind. He hadn't believed geographical distance would make it easier for him to outrun the dead and the living that were preying on his mind: the children he'd handed over decades ago,Ianto dying in his arms, Tosh and Owen, his brother standing over him, hate and emptiness in his eyes, and above all, his daughter Alice, her cries mingling with those of her son, his grandson. Travelling Earth, travelling the galaxies; it didn't really matter. But the accidental reminders were rarer when you were hitting the bars in zero gravity or bargaining with three legged Velitars, and that was all he'd been hoping for. He didn't know how much time had passed when he saw the Doctor again, only briefly, across a bar. The Doctor, of course, was not only an expert in running away but also in surviving the unbearable, and he did it through finding new eyes to experience the universe with. What the Doctor had given him on that day had been such a pair of new eyes, in the form of Alonso, who'd been through horrors, betrayal, near death and survival himself. Neither Alonso nor Jack had been ready to fall in love again, but they had become friends who shared each other's beds now and then. Jack hadn't told Alonso about the 4-5-6, the children, Ianto, and most certainly not about Alice and Steven. Instead, he'd listened to Alonso's stories and thought he understood now how the Doctor must have felt when listening to Rose and Jack. It was easier to become part of someone else's story for a while than to continue to live in your own.
But it would only carry you so far. Sooner or later, your story caught up with you. He just hadn't expected it to do so in the form of dreams featuring the Master. For a moment, he toyed with the idea of talking with Alonso about them, but decided against it. Too many explanations would have to be made first, and besides, it would shift their relationship to something he still wasn't ready for, especially if any of the fears and hopes his dreams left him with were to come to pass. There was, however, someone he did want to talk to about them, and he knew where to find her.
When Alonso woke up, Jack put on the easy smile that had served him well through centuries now and ever so casually announced he would return to Earth. "You don't want me to come with you," Alonso stated. For all his youth, he was amazingly perceptive.
"Well, considering what happened to you the last time you went there... My idea of giving someone a good time isn't to revisit the planet they nearly crashed on while almost bleeding to death," Jack said, smile and flippancy firmly in place.
Alonso shook his head. The tips of his ears burned; like many people who travelled professionally through space, he was very fair skinned, with easily detectable blushes. "This isn't about what happened to me there, this is about what happened to you. Look, Jack, I get it. Just - don't go there to be alone, okay?"
"That's not the intention," Jack said, and for once, he was telling nothing but the truth.
"As a child I was afraid of death," the Master said. They were sitting at Tosh's old desk now, drinking tea; Jack could feel the heat of the water through the mug as he put it down on the table. "I devoted my life to devising ways to defeat death. To escape it, or overcome it."
"Keep working at it, son, you'll catch up on me eventually," Jack replied, but the joke was at his own expense, as if the dream had drained most of his anger out of him.
"This machine is the result of everything I've learned about returning from the grave."
There it was, on Tosh's desk. Jack stared at it, seeing it clear and clearer every time the dream returned. The panel the Master had connected earlier showed solid bands of green lights, one of them blinking impatiently, as if waiting for attention.
"This machine," and the Master patted it fondly, "is the result of a lifetime of study on how to defeat death. This is my gift for you."
"What does it do?" Jack whispered, as he did every time.
The look the Master gave Jack said that Jack had a perfectly serviceable brain and therefore knew quite well what the machine did, but was willing to indulge Jack's obvious desire to hear another sentient speak the words aloud. "It can bring Ianto back."
Jack hadn't seen Martha Jones since saying goodbye to her in Cardiff, after she'd helped him and his team through some terrible weeks. She wasn't with UNIT anymore; to Jack's surprise, it turned out she'd gone freelance with Mickey Smith, of all people. Since meeting Mickey might lead to conversations about the Doctor and Rose he would find distracting right now, he tracked Martha long enough to catch her alone when she was returning from visiting her parents and sister. Martha's survival skills were as keen as ever; she noticed someone was tailing her and led him through a chase that involved the London zoo and some extremely dirty water before realising who it was.
"Jack, you idiot," she said, and hugged him, fiercely, "you might've said. Mum, Dad and Tish would have loved to see you again."
"Would they?" Jack asked. He wasn't being coy. They had been prisoners together on the Valiant during the Year That Wasn't, Martha's family and himself, and it had created a powerful bond then, but it wasn't always a good thing to meet your fellow prisoner again if you want to leave the memories of slavery behind. Martha met his eyes without flinching.
"Yes," she said. "Might have done you good, too."
In other circumstances, he'd have laughed. The assumption that he was still needing help to cope with his year on the Valiant, given everything else that had happened since then, would have struck him as ridiculous. Except it wasn't, because here he was, with his dreams. Which was one reason why he needed to talk to her. But only her, and in the end, they were sitting opposite each other in a pub. It was strange; he'd visited drinking holes across three galaxies, but the specific smell of an English pub was still unmistakable. He tried not to think of the last time he'd visited one; at some point after Gwen's return from her honeymoon, when she'd invited the entire team. Owen had been coping with his undead state reasonably well by then, and had been back to sarcastic form. Tosh had been excited about a new program she'd developed to keep track of any alien artifacts that were coming through the rift, and Ianto...
"I keep having the same dream," Jack said, pushing the memory away, and described it to Martha in full, forcing himself to go through every detail that had stuck with him. She listened quietly, without interrupting. Her dark eyes were hooded, though; he couldn't tell what she was thinking. Jack remembered the young woman she'd been when he had met her, near the end of the universe, so full of obvious confusion, hope and eagerness, so easy to read, and knew that girl had already been left behind when she had started to walk the world.
"I know what you're thinking," he said, nonetheless.
"No, you don't."
"If my subconscious were to invent comforting dreams, Martha, they wouldn't feature the Master."
"Wouldn't they?" she asked back.
"How can you ask me that? Anyone who lived through that year would..."
"...Anyone who lived through that year and was on the Valiant when it ended," Martha interrupted, "would have heard the Doctor forgive him. Forgive the Master, who'd just put humanity and the Doctor himself through one year of torture."
"I don't resent that anymore," Jack said, "if that's what you're thinking. It made me furious back then, it's true. But not a year later, I held my brother in my arms. My brother, who'd just killed hundreds of people in Cardiff, including Tosh, and indirectly Owen. I had Tosh's blood still on my hands from cradling her. And he'd buried me alive, my brother, for what he meant to be the rest of eternity. But I still held him, and I loved him. Even then. So yes. I get it. I understand it. It's not a fair thing to feel, but you feel it anyway."
"I told you, Jack," Martha said, voice even, dark eyes still unreadable, "you don't know what I'm thinking."
He leaned back in his bench and conceded defeat. "What, then?"
"I'm thinking that if the Master, being who he is, and after everything he did, can change enough to want forgiveness from you, if you can believe, even in your dreams, that he'd offer to resurrect the dead for you in order to gain that forgiveness, if you believe that this man, the worst you ever met, can achieve change and forgiveness...then you can believe you could, too."
Everything in him grew still. He was in the base again, and Steven was screaming, screaming his name.
"If you can make yourself forgive the Master, then you can believe your daughter could one day forgive you," Martha continued relentlessly. "That's what I'm thinking."
"I never told you about my daughter," Jack said tonelessly.
"Jack, why do you think I left UNIT? I was on an undercover mission when the 4-5-6 arrived, and by the time I was able to reach anyone in charge, it had all gone to hell, for every organization on the globe, but I still couldn't continue serving afterwards. And I looked at the files before I left. I know how the 4-5-6 were defeated."
Alice had inherited his eyes. She looked more like Lucia otherwise, but her colouring was his, hair and eyes both, and when she'd looked at him silently that last time they'd seen each other in the wake of Steven's death, he'd read his judgment in those eyes, worse than any torture any pathetic Time Lord with delusions of grandeur could ever inflict.
During the Year That Wasn't, he'd been profoundly grateful that the Master had never been interested enough in Jack's background to research anything beyond Torchwood. He hadn't known whether Alice and Steven lived or were dead and had preferred not knowing, just clinging to the hope they were alive somewhere, unable to imagine anything worse than than the Master finding his daughter and grandson and bringing them on board the Valiant, the Master hurting them in various ways. In retrospect, he’d been naive.
"Do it," he'd heard himself say, giving the order that condemned his grandson to be tortured to death right in front of him. One child against all the other children who would be free as a consequence, one child as the price for ending the 4-5-6, and that one child his own flesh and blood, a boy who loved and trusted him unconditionally, the child of his own child, his daughter, whom he had destroyed as well that day.
Martha, who was younger than Alice was, looked at him in that quiet way of hers, reached across the table and clasped his hands.
"I couldn't have done it," she said. "The world would have been lost if I had to make that choice. But it was on you. I'm so, so sorry, Jack."
He thought she was either under- or overestimating herself there; when it came down to it, Martha Jones was a doctor, still - or, if one wanted to phrase it that way, a Doctor - and she'd have chosen the many, not the one. Still, he was grateful, and, to be honest, just the tiniest bit resentful that she'd been spared that revelation of her own capacity to be a monster.
"He never mentions Steven or Alice in the dream," Jack said. "The Master. Instead, he keeps mentioning Ianto. That's how it always goes. He's tinkering, he says hello, we exchange insults, he gives me the same story about the Time Lord rite of initiation the Doctor already told the both of us when we were on the run together, and then he basically says he'll resurrect Ianto as an apology present. Don't you think that if my own mind were making it all up, it would be Steven whose resurrection I was offered?"
Martha had that rare combination, a passionate nature and a dispassionate mind; she could analyze even when completely emotionally engaged.
"Not necessarily. He's a centuries old sociopath fixated on one single person who can't imagine love outside of a specific romantic context."
"The Master or I?" Jack asked back with a crooked smile. For the first time, he saw anger in Martha's face. She pressed her lips together. "I'm not joking", Jack continued. "That's the gist of it, don't you see? What you say is certainly true of the Master. Who hasn't got the slightest idea that my daughter and grandson ever existed, and for that I was always ridiculously grateful. But it wouldn't be true for a Master avatar my subconscious conjured up who'd say whatever I wished him to say."
She frowned, but he could see his arguments were starting to sink in. If it occurred to her that nothing he said touched on the question of forgiveness and his own hopes for it, she was kind enough not to mention the subject again.
"Jack," Martha said, "there is another possibility." She let go of his hand but didn't pull hers back. Instead, she looked at both their hands on the table, and he knew a second before she did it what she would do. Her fingers, the slender, capable long fingers of a surgeon moved, and then they drummed a very specific rhythm. Before he could stop himself, his own followed suit.
"He indoctrinated all of us," Martha said. "And he did it only via satellites, as Prime Minister. You, he had for an entire year with who knows what technology at his disposal. Tish said he killed you countless times during that year. He could have easily planted any number of posthypnotic suggestions in your mind. Just in case. And they only activated now and not before because you were on Earth before, and now you're back in space."
A dispassionate, brilliant mind who'd had an entire year to out-think the Master, and succeeded. Martha Jones, Jack thought, we can all be grateful you never decided to get into the world domination business yourself. It disturbed him more than he could say, but he knew she could very well be right. Unfortunately, it didn't change the siren lure the faint possibility that she was wrong continued to exert on his heart.
"Maybe," he conceded.
"No, I haven't tried to contact the Doctor. And I don't want you to try, either. You know why."
The experience with Gray had changed things for Jack; he hadn't lied about that. But understanding didn't mean condoning. His affection for Gray had contributed to a lot of deaths in Cardiff. The Doctor's affection for the Master had caused even worse havoc. Whatever was true about the dream, best to keep the Doctor entirely away until this matter was resolved.
"Well," Martha said, "let's take the best case scenario: the Master somehow is back, reformed and willing to atone, and he's sending you this message via dreams and Time Lord telepathy so you can resurrect Ianto from the dead. You've already resurrected someone once, Jack, and I was standing right next to you when you did it. I was also there when Owen made his opinion on that profoundly clear later."
The second resurrection glove, blown to smithereens now with the rest of the hub, desperation and sheer luck. Jack remembered, and not for the first time since his dreams had begun. And yes, Owen had been furious and profoundly depressed about a state that left him incredibly vulnerable and unable to experience any physical sensations ever again. Owen had accused him of playing God, and not for the first time.
"He changed his mind later," Jack said, because this was also true. In the end, Owen had wanted to live. Which made his second, final death even worse. Owen, with his mixture of self loathing and arrogance, stubbornesss, quick temper and a sharper tongue than anyone working for Torchwood since Lucia had left. Owen would have an opinion now, too, and he wouldn't be nearly as diplomatic in expressing it as Martha was.
"I wouldn't be using the resurrection glove."
"No, you'd be using a piece of Gallifreyan technology none of us can understand, courtesy of a megalomaniac sadist whose idea of a temper tantrum was to wipe Japan from the face of the planet. Do you really think Ianto would want that?"
This, he had expected, and he was ready for it. The secret of being a good con man was in many ways similar to the secret of being a good team leader, though he had figured that out rather late. There was no need to use a lie when the truth would do, and if you used the truth in a way that made people feel they wronged you, there was no end to what they would do for you. It wasn't fair to use manipulative tactics on Martha, but Jack was desperate.
"No, of course he wouldn't," Jack said. "But I wasn't planning to use it on Ianto."
The shock in her face as she understood his implication made way for pity. In any other circumstances, it would have made him run. He hated being pitied, at least if the pity was genuine and not just a tactic to get someone into bed. There were actual tears welling up in Martha's eyes.
"Don't tell me how sorry you are again," Jack said, mercilessly pressing his advantage, "if you want to deny me my one and only chance to undo it."
"But Jack, it's been months... the body..."
He raised his arm and showed her the bracelet he wore at his wrist, repaired and fully functional.
"I can go back to right after he died," Jack said. "Once I've built the device. Get the body. Look, Martha, I know I'm gambling on a fool's chance here. That's why I needed to talk with you first. If I'm wrong about this, and you're right, if this is somehow a trap, then humanity needs to be warned and prepared. Once I'm gone, spread the word. To anyone who could help if the Master comes back, anyone but the Doctor. And Alice. Because raising her hopes if I'm wrong is one thing I won't do to her."
"And if it is, after all, nothing but a dream?" Martha asked seriously. "If you find yourself sitting with the dead body of your grandson and nothing else?"
One thing Jack had learned through the centuries was to avoid the phrase "I've already been through the worst". The universe invariably found a way of proving you wrong. When hed'd woken up the morning after Ianto's death, he'd felt numb and empty. He'd loved Ianto, and hadn't been aware how much until losing him, but that hadn't been the only reason; he 'd also been aware that Ianto wouldn't have died if not for going up against the 4-5-6 at Jack's side, and that it had all been in vain; Ianto had died for nothing. The horror and guilt had hollowed him that day while he watched humanity follow in his footsteps, getting ready to repeat Jack's own sin of handing over children in decades past to appease the 4-5-6, only magnified a thousandfold. This is the worst, he'd thought, and then, unbelievably, hope had come back, hope in the shape of his daughter Alice, who'd persuaded her captor, Agent Johnson, to go against Johnson's superiors. To set Jack free. To allow him another attempt to save the world, save Earth's children, defeat the 4-5-6. And oh, how he had succeeded in fulfilling that hope.
"Then this is exactly what I deserve," Jack said.
"Do you think obsession is something that happens overnight? It grows slowly, like a cancer," the Master said, setting his tools down for a moment, giving Jack his full attention. The tools should have been barely visible in the dim light of the hub, but instead, Jack could see them as lovingly carved from the neon lights as if a modern Rembrandt had painted them. At some point during the dream, sometimes sooner, sometimes later, the Master always brought up the Doctor, and it inevitably offered the opportunity to examine every tool he used to create his device. "One day everything is normal. The next... a little less so. Eventually, there is nothing but the object of your obsession, and the things you'll do to possess them."
"That's terrible," Jack said faintly.
"Is it?" the Master asked, sounding honestly curious. "Try another word, then, one better suited to your culture. Love."
"Obsession and love aren't the same thing."
"Oh, yes, they are. Love is merely requited obsession."
He awoke. There was no one in his bed then, and he was grateful.
The recollection of his dream were getting ever more detailed. He could remember every detail of the instruments the Master used by now, even the red lacque on one of the plates the device itself consisted of. The technology itself wasn't completely unfamiliar to Jack; after all, he'd observed and sometimes joined the Doctor tinkering in the TARDIS often enough,and there were also some resemblances to the instruments Torchwood had used to harness the Rift energy.
Building the device was one thing; using it another. He kept holding off completion, and the dream only gained in vivid detail. Jack didn't know which of the theories he and Martha had been discussing this made more likely, but then, he was biased.
When not working on assembling the device, he fought against the temptation to visit Wales one more time. It wouldn't be of any use, he knew that, and would only get him the wrong sort of attention. Brian Green wasn't Prime Minister anymore, but Jack was willing to bet not many of the lower ranking government members, civil servants and spooks had changed. Some cautious research via public libraries told him Ianto's sister Rhiannon and her husband were at the centre of a support group of families helping each other and their children to cope with the aftermath of the 4-5-6. They were also pressing law suits against the goverment; good for them, Jack thought, and noticed that the person doing most of the paperwork was Lois Habiba, the young woman Gwen had befriended, who'd been their mole inside of COBRA. He thought about visiting Rhiannon Davies, risk or no risk; after all, he had a teleporting device. But then, he would be a stranger to her; he had never met her while Ianto was still alive, no more than Ianto had met Alice and Steven. What could he possibly say to her that would bring her anything but more hurt?
Liar, a voice inside whispered. Coward. You don't want to talk to her because it's you who'd be hurt, listening to a voice which may or may not sound like Ianto's, having to explain all over again why you let him die.
Going through the lists of names among the members of Rhiannon's support group, he didn't see Alice there and knew it had been silly to hope she would be. Looking for Alice was bound to trigger someone's attention, but he couldn't live with the uncertainty of his daughter's fate, so he had asked Martha for another favour before he left her. As it turned out, Alice had done exactly what he'd done, in her own way; she'd sold her house and travelled the world.
Currently, she was working in a hospice in India, but the month before that, she'd apparently spent weeks at a Club Med in Turkey drinking and partying. The mixture of hedonism and seeking out death and hard work was so achingly familiar that he couldn't speak when Martha told him.
Of all the things he'd wanted for his daughter, he'd never wanted her to become like him.
"There is a Russian fairy tale," the Master said, "about a young man who is terrified of death. He learns that he cannot be killed if he hides his soul away, because the body will go on living as long as the soul is alive. So he places his soul inside a needle, which he hides in an egg, which is swallowed by a duck, which is eaten by a hare, which he locks inside a chest. Then he buries this chest on an island that no one has heard of in an ocean no one knows, and believes himself immortal. His name was Koschei. Koschei the Deathless."
"What happens to him?" Jack asked, because he always did; this part of the dream never changed, and reminded him of the actual conversations he'd had with the Master on board the Valiant, when the Master wanted to philosophize before killing him.
"He dies," the Master said. "But Theta didn't tell me that part until much later."
"In every sense," the Master agreed.
When Jack woke up this time, he knew he would go through with it.
The moment the reports of the 4-5-6's defeat started to come in, the soldiers had let Alice through to her dead son. The next time Jack had seen her had been in a corridor where they had silently looked at each other, just before he'd left the base. He hadn't known or asked whether Steven's body would be released to her so she could bury him. He'd been in no condition to. As it turned out, Agent Johnson, the woman who'd captured both him and Alice and had turned out to have quite a different definition of serving the country than her superiors did, had granted such a release, but not before ordering an autopsy, which gave Jack, once he'd used his time agent's device to travel back to the worst day of his life, only a tiny temporal window during which his grandson's body was unattended. He used it. Taking up Steven's body as he'd done a hundred times when they boy had been alive was harder than anything he'd ever done before. The boy's eyes had been closed, but Jack could smell the dried blood, and the clean sweat of a child.
He held him tight as he activated the bracelet and thought that anyone who claimed that a dead child resembled a sleeping one was an ignorant fool. The first child he'd seen sleeping had been his younger brother Gray, and Gray had also been the first child Jack had lost to monsters. Steven had been the last, and it had taken several life times for Jack to understand that the role of the child snatching monster now was his to claim.
There was some physical resemblance between Steven and Gray, Gray as he had been as a child, not the adult stranger whom Jack had put into cryo sleep and whose remains must have burned together with Susie's, and all the other Torchwood dead when the hub exploded. Oddly enough, Jack had never noticed that resemblance, not until now, perhaps because Steven when alive had been such a vivid child, always moving, his features constantly animated and thus his own. But he thought about it while carefully putting his dead grandson on a bed under a sun whose light no human being in Steven's life time had ever visited. Jack's home on the Boeshane Peninsula was no longer occupied territory in the era he'd set his coordinates on, but not many settlers cared to live there in that period, not anymore. There would be no one to interrupt him here.
Cautiously, he put the device he'd recreated from his dream next to Steven. There was just one slate missing, and taking a deep breath, Jack put it into place. For a moment, nothing happened, and the mixture of disappointment and relief that started to creep up in him was dizzying. Then the machine started to pulsate, in a rhythm that was familiar, oh so familiar, and the cycle of hope and fear began anew.
The tidal energy wave that swept through the room was enough to knock Jack to the floor, even though he'd been prepared; it didn't feel unlike a time jump, for a short, painful moment seeming to turn his bones inside out. Then the device collapsed into itself, and Jack could breathe again. Immediately, he looked to Steven. His eyesight was blurred, but he could swear the boy's chest was moving. Jack's own heartbeat sounded deafening in his ears. Then he heard it, the unmistakable sound of lungs pulling in air, lungs not his own.
The boy raised his arms. Sat up. Looked at his own hands, and then at Jack. All of this couldn't have lasted even a minute,and yet it seemed the longest time of Jack's existence. Being buried alive had been nothing by comparison.
Then he spoke, and the sound of his voice, with an intonation both familiar and utterly wrong coming from Steven, both destroyed Jack and set him free.
"What have you done, Harkness, you blasted fool?" demanded the boy crossly, and in the middle of all the horror Jack couldn't help himself: he laughed. It was that or crying till the end of his days. He'd been overdue for a breakdown, and this was as good a time as any. The boy looked both furious and annoyed, and less like Steven with every second that passed. And yet this was Steven's body, born by Alice who at least this time was safely away, and would never learn of this.
"Martha Jones outthought you again, I'm afraid," Jack said, after he had calmed down. "After she brought up the possibility of posthypnotic suggestions on the Valiant, I combined that with what you yourself told me of the Matrix and your obsession to defeat death. And I recalled something else, too, something Sarah Jane Smith told me. The way you resurrected yourself after your regenerations had run out the first time was by stealing bodies, wasn't it? Including one who was the father of one of the Doctor's Companions."
"I improved that man's fashion style to no end," the boy said coldly, the Master's clipped tone utterly strange from a child, and yet, in a way, oddly fitting, considering the man's demented playfulness and incapacity to imagine anything not connected to himself.
"Look, Harkness, all you had to do was resurrect your boyfriend. Was that so hard? I'd have played along for a while, too, because believe it or not, getting stuck on Gallifrey inside a time capsule with bloody Rassilon reminded me again just why I always hated the place and wanted to leave. Your precious Earth would have been quite safe, I assure you. I'd have given you your Ianto back, you'd have inevitably gotten bored and fucked off again, and I'd have had a perfectly functioning adult body whose DNA I could have rewritten into something more acceptable and capable of regeneration. So why the hell am I in the body of a child?"
For a moment, Jack couldn't help but imagine it: resurrecting Ianto, embracing him, not knowing who was really inside that body because presumably the Master would indeed have put some effort into pretending to be Ianto instead of letting the outrage of finding himself in the wrong body take over. Jack imagined, and wanted to throw up.
The true answer would have been "You're in this body because if there was even the tiniest chance that what you were offering to me in the dream was real, I had to use it to undo the worst thing I ever had to do," but he couldn't say it, not to this man, not to this face. So instead, he replied witheringly: "You're in this body because you left some post hypnotic instructions in my mind during the year you used me as one of your personal chewing toys. I'm assuming you knew that sooner or later, the Doctor would defeat you; he always did in the past. You probably left several trapdoors open for resurrection possibilities, not just in my mind. But I'm immortal, so you could count on me using those instructions at some point. Well, I did. But not exactly as told, because I may be desperate, but not stupid enough to build and use a potential doomsday device on a planet you already subjugated once."
Martha's guess - that Jack's dreams started because he'd left Earth - was as good as any; the Master couldn't have known about the 4-5-6 when he planted them, but then, he did know about Ianto, who'd tried to rescue Jack from the Valiant during the Year That Wasn't and had been killed for his troubles. And given the death rate of Torchwood employes, the Master could count on Ianto dying again sooner rather than later. He'd not mentioned the type of death in the dream, so it could have applied for any scenario, and of course he hadn't known that at the point of Ianto's death, there would be no more Hub in Cardiff to wander around in.
"So you would rather resurrect some dead kid than bring back the man you supposedly loved," the Master retorted. His biting sarcasm, uttered in a child's voice, fell short of the mark.
"I wouldn't have brought him back either way." Jack said, and stared at the image of his grandson. "Just a parasite in his body."
The Master crossed his arms. "Well, I can't stay like this. I suppose this is where you take your revenge. We both know you want to. Get it over with."
Obviously, he still hadn't figured out who the dead child was, and why Jack, even now, with the full knowledge of what had happened, wouldn't be able to harm it. The universe narrowing down to one person, he'd said to Jack in the dream, about the nature of obsession which he called love. It was something to be grateful for, Jack supposed; the Master's lack of ability to imagine any other emotional connections but the ones he'd forged himself. He still didn't know about Alice and Steven. Jack took the bottle of water he'd prepared, since he'd assumed Steven would be thirsty.
"Where did you come from?" he asked, handing the bottle over. "From the Matrix you mentioned?"
"Oh, he's going to bore me to death. Yes, Captain. I had to circumvent a timelock in order to do it, which is no small feat of engineering, if I say so myself, but then, I am a genius. The device I wasted on you and the fact I had pre-established telepathic contact with your primitive brain allowed me to do so, and to download into," he gestured with distate, "this." He regarded the bottle. "Poison, Harkness? How quaint. I don't think I ever tried that one out on you."
Despite his words, he took the water and drank. Jack didn't regard this necessarily as a suicidal act. Despite the insults and the lack of awareness of what this particular child meant to Jack, the Master had to count on the fact Jack wouldn't be able to act against him in this form as he could have when faced with an adult man.
He wondered what it would be like, to live with a child who was one of his worst enemies in the form of his grandson. It would be punishment on a sadistic scale even the Master could not have come up with, but Jack, as he was discovering, wasn't masochistic enough for it, no matter how guilty he felt.
"I'm not going to poison you," Jack said.
"Then what are you going to do?" the Master asked, not maliciously but with genuine curiosity, then took another sip from the water, and for the first time, Jack could hear some resemblance to Steven in his voice.
What are we going to do today, Uncle Jack?
"You know, when I talked to Martha about all the reasons there could be why I would dream about you," Jack said, acknowledging the truth to himself now as he hadn't been able to when talking to Martha, "the one she suggested first struck me as the least likely. And yet it's the truest one of all."
A sullen look crossed the Master's face every time Jack mentioned Martha Jones. Evidently, it still irked him to have been outwitted by her.
"It seems my first guess is true, too. You'll bore me to death."
"If someone like you can be reformed, start anew, then maybe there is forgiveness for someone like me," Jack said, and the memory of Alice's face burned more than ever.
"But what - wait." The Master stopped. A small note of panic started to creep into his voice. "There is something in the water", he said, words coming out a bit slurred. "What..."
"Retcon," Jack said.
"But you had the water ready without knowing who I was!"
"I would have given it to the child I hoped you'd be," Jack said, and to his surprise, he didn't feel anger about the bait and switch anymore. It wasn't the old numbness returning, either. It was a sense of shedding one's skin, with the nerves under it exposed, yes, but also no longer encumbered with burned scar tissue. Jack had better reason than most to know what this felt like, and not metaphorically. "He had some memories no one should have. But then again... so do you. If even a bit of what you told me in the dream is true. So here it is, Koschei the not quite Deathless. Your new beginning. When you wake up, you'll remember none of this. None of me, none of you. For all you'll know, you'll be an utterly human child. We'll see who you'll become then."
"But you - this isn't - you can't turn me into someone else!"
"Only you can do that," Jack said, and watched the child who wore his grandson's face collapse into unconsciousness.
Steven, he'd have taken back to Alice. But retcon wasn't eternally reliable; he couldn't give what would be essentially the corpse of his grandson with the personality of the most dangerous man he ever met inside, amnesiac or not. It would be a perversion of what he'd insanely hoped for, against all the odds, and it would mean betraying his daughter all over again.
Watching the child who wasn't his grandson sleep, he didn't know whether what he intended was revenge on the Master, or as much forgiveness as he could be capable of towards this man, or both. But he thought about Gray, and what had become of Gray; Gray the child, holding on to Jack's hand, full of trust and love, and Gray the empty killer, who had no more cared about Tosh or Owen or any of the people in Cardiff he'd killed than the Master had about that tenth of the Earth's population he'd wiped out at the very start of his rule. They'd been stick figures to torment someone else with; all of Gray's actions had been about Jack, as all the Master's actions had been about the Doctor. They had been incapable of recognizing the reality of anyone else.
Eventually, there is nothing but the object of your obsession and the things you'll do to possess them, the Master's voice whispered in the memory of his dream.
He thought about himself, agreeing to work for Torchwood as a way to pass the time even though he'd known exactly what kind of organization it was, simply because it was the most convenient way to track down the Doctor. He thought about Clem, the child who'd gotten away that night Jack had handed over their first hit to the 4-5-6 to appease them. He thought about Clem the adult, a damaged man flinching away from Jack in terror, as surely as any of the Master's victims had ever flinched away from him.
If he could go back in time to save the child Gray had been without unravelling his own time line, he would have. There had been nothing he could do about the children he'd handed over to the 4-5-6, who'd spent decades as a living drug supply, nothing but kill them along with his grandson and all the 4-5-6 who were menacing the Earth. But this child, who would wake up remembering nothing, this child, who held the essence of a centuries old being who'd seen and created more horrors and wonders than most, this child could start anew. Even though the Master would never have chosen such a fate and would hate the thought of it. Even though? Be honest, Jack admonished himself: especially because.
The device Jack had built had melted down to an oval metal lump, not unlike the watches he remembered people carrying with them in the 19th century. There was a kind couple of settlers who reminded him a bit of his parents. He allowed them to find the sleeping boy, together with what was left of the device, remained long enough to be sure they would take good care of the boy, and found that the sight of him, awakening, so like and unlike Steven, so like and unlike Gray, so utterly unlike the Master, felt like it had a rightness to it.
He didn't think he'd ever see the boy again.
Johnson hadn't risen in the ranks by being sloppy. Jack found her gun on him before he had finished materializing in her office.
"I thought you were in Wales," she said she recognized him. She still wore the same clothes she had on the day of Steven's death. It couldn't have been more than 24 hours later then, in her timeline.
"I am," Jack said, not in a mood to explain time travel intricacies. "And I have no idea this is happening. I need you to tell my daughter you ordered my grandson's body cremated because the alternative would have been to hand him over for post mortem studies of the weapon that defeated the 4-5-6, and you owed her. She'll believe you. Given your line of work, it shouldn't be difficult for you to find suitable human ashes."
Her eyes didn't leave him, nor did her gun move. "And I should do this why?"
"Because you owe me," Jack said harshly. They both knew what he meant. Johnson lowered her gun.
"For what it's worth," she said, "if you hadn't given the order, I would have. It was my base. Once you'd figured out the method, the boy was dead. There was no way you could have saved him, even if you had refused to go through with it."
From one professional assassin to another, this was downright kindness. He remembered looking up to her while his eyes were still growing back into his flesh, the flesh she'd torn apart with her bomb, and thinking he would kill her for this.
It seemed a life time ago.
"You'll do it then," he said.
"I like your daughter," she replied, surprising him. "And I do owe you. So yes."
He noticed she didn't ask him what had actually become of his grandson's body. Professional to the last; people like Johnson instinctively accepted there were things they really were better off not knowing.
There was only one thing left for him to do before leaving Earth again. He went forward through several years. It was cheating, but then, he'd always been a gambler at heart. This time, he found Alice had taken up the law again; she'd originally meant to be a lawyer, which was how she'd met Joe in the first place. Between their stormy relationship, her pregnancy and the fact Joe was never around enough to take over child raising for her, that dream had gotten buried even before her divorce. Now, however, she was interning with a law firm that specialized in representing whistle blowers. "Too many lives were ruined in the name of national security for me to believe in secrecy over transparency ever again", he heard her say mid argument to a colleague, blue eyes blazing, and she was neither like Lucia nor like Jack; she was Alice, not without scars, but herself.
He didn't approach her. Maybe he'd never find the courage, or the cruelty to. But watching her from the shadows, the knowledge of his daughter's continued existence on this earth for the first time in a long while made him feel something like happiness.
The boy, looking into a mirror, found nothing familiar in his face. It was strange and not a little frightening, not even knowing your own name. At least he remembered language. He had no trouble understanding the couple who'd taken him in. They told him where he was, too: on the Boeshane Peninsula, part of the Silver Devastation.
It sounded beautiful, but as strange as anything else.
"The main thing is," one of his two new mothers said cheerfully, "that you're not alone. You know, that's what we'll call you: Yana."