From the moment he’d fled the Time Agency Jack had known his days were numbered; he’d only hoped he might last long enough to learn what had happened in the two years they’d stolen from him. For all he knew, he might have discovered where Grey had been taken. He couldn’t ignore the missing years and simply carry on as before; he had to know.
So he’d run cons against other Time Agents, getting them to pay for scavenged junk he touted as something far more desirable, making sure what he was selling got ‘accidentally’ destroyed before the buyer got their hands on it. Everything he did had been with the intention of getting his stolen memories back by any means necessary. Nothing else had mattered to him.
Then in the middle of the London Blitz he’d run into Rose and the Doctor, the two people who were to turn his whole life around and, although he didn’t know it at the time, seal his fate. The Doctor had cleaned up the mess Jack had made with the Chula ambulance and its confused nanobots, rescued Jack from certain death astride a German bomb, invited him to join them on their travels aboard the TARDIS, and it had been amazing, the best experience of his life. He would have loved to travel with them forever, but the Doctor was a danger magnet, drawn to any place there was trouble, which was how they’d all ended up on the Game Station just in time to battle a Dalek fleet intent on invading earth.
Somewhere along the way, without Jack noticing, the Time Lord had changed him for the better, taking a shallow coward who’d cared only for himself and making of him a hero willing to sacrifice his own life for the good of the universe. Jack had done his best to buy enough time for the Doctor to create a Delta Wave and destroy the Daleks once and for all, but he’d known all along how it would end. No man could stand, poorly armed, against so many Daleks; there was no way he’d survive.
Still, what better way for him to go out than in a blaze of glory, the last man standing, making a heroic if futile attempt to hold the line single-handedly against impossible odds? All he could hope as the Dalek’s extermination ray hit him was that he’d held out long enough and that his death wouldn’t be in vain.
Dying, much to his surprise, had proved relatively quick and painless; his nervous system had been fried in moments and there’d barely been time to realise that this was the end of Captain Jack Harkness, former Time Agent and conman, before everything had gone black.
Waking up again had been a whole other story; it had been shockingly abrupt, agonisingly painful, and totally unexpected. Death was supposed to be a one-time deal, and for months after his first revival he’d assumed he must not have been killed after all, just hit with some kind of electric shock that had temporarily knocked him out.
Left behind when the TARDIS departed, Jack had escaped the deserted, lifeless Game Station, managing to get his Vortex Manipulator working just well enough for a single trip. He’d made it to earth but miscalculated a little, ending up somewhere in the middle of the nineteenth century…
That was when his problems had really begun. He’d died in every way imaginable, and some he would never have considered; shot, stabbed, drowned, asphyxiated, trampled to death, strangled, pierced through the heart by a stray javelin… On one occasion he’d even been accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake, standing there helpless as the flames had licked their way up his legs, mercifully dying from smoke inhalation long before he could be burned to a crisp. And yet somehow he’d even come back from that, the superstitious villagers fleeing from him in terror as his bones had reconstituted and his flesh had reformed. It had been a deeply unpleasant experience, and one that no amount of hard alcohol had been able to completely erase from his mind, although not for want of trying. There was nothing remotely glorious about dying in a blaze; funny how repeatedly getting killed and then resurrecting could change your whole outlook on life and death.
Knowing that at some point the Doctor would have to stop off at the Cardiff Rift to refuel, Jack had made his way to the Welsh capital where he’d come to the attention of the Torchwood institute. He’d been involuntarily conscripted first as test subject, then as freelance operative, in time becoming an official team member, and eventually leader of Torchwood Three.
Over the years his attitude towards his own death had changed yet again. He’d learned to see his ability to survive death as a useful tool; if by dying himself he could save the lives of innocent civilians or members of the teams he worked with, then why not? Better that he should die temporarily, no matter how painful that death might be, than that someone else should permanently lose the only life they had. Dying was the one thing he did better than anyone else ever could, and if nobody else valued his life then why should he?
It had taken Ianto Jones to make him understand that he mattered, that he was more than just convenient canon fodder, and that he deserved to be treated with kindness and compassion. It had been a revelation, and at times he still struggled to believe he was worthy of love, but Ianto refused to give up on him, or to let Jack give up on himself.
Right now, cruelly, there was no choice; Jack was going to die and there wasn’t enough time left to do anything about it. The bomb planted inside him would go off in just a few minutes and Ianto, stubborn, beautiful Ianto, didn’t want to leave Jack to his fate, was still desperately trying to find a solution. Jack had to force him to go, compelling him bodily onto the invisible lift and sending it up to the Plas. If anything happened to the young Welshman, it would be too much for Jack to bear; Ianto’s safety would always be more important to Jack than his own life.
Besides, what was one more blaze of glory in the grand scheme of things? If he didn’t come back this time, at least he’d be going out with one hell of a bang.
As the final seconds ticked down to zero, Jack managed a wry smile.
“Here goes nothing. It’s been a blast.”