Live For Me, Die For Me

by EstelWolfe [Reviews - 17]

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  • All Ages
  • None
  • Angst, General

Author's Notes:
Rated R for relatively graphic violence. Some spoilers for Torchwood, though more by proxy than anything else. Same goes for Series 1 of Doctor Who.

Live For Me, Die For Me

He screams when he hits the wall, his arm shattering in at least three places. Blood floods his mouth for what seems the thousandth time in the last thirty minutes, and he can feel the imprint of the thing’s hand (though could a black, amorphous creature like that be said to have a hand?) outlined on his chest in broken bones.

It’s not enough, though. Not quite enough, and so he staggers upright, jerking his broken arm into a semi-straight position so that when he finally does die and heal there’ll be a good chance of it coming out properly the first time. Blinking blood and haze from his vision, he locates the alien threat once again. A choked battle cry sees him running toward the beast, arms outstretched to grab it, teeth bared in a bloody, feral snarl.

Something finally gives in his right leg, a crunch and a snap and the warm trickle of blood down his shin telling him not to look as a dull throbbing reaches into the back of his awareness. It should hurt more, should be agony, but his body has already given up on expecting pain to get a reaction from his clouded, driven mind. Stumbling under one flailing arch of darkness, he grabs the creature (though grabbing was a stretch, as its almost-liquid form immediately begins to slip through his fingers), twirls around on his left leg and puts all his strength into flinging it behind him.

White-hot light spills down his arm, across his vision, over his hazy thoughts. A quin-jointed arm is good for torque, bad for consciousness.

He doesn’t see the furious blow that knocks him aside again, breaking his neck in two places and shattering the back of his skull, finally triggering the regeneration process.

He wakes with the sound of singing in his ears (Rose, Rose is buried in that song, and he hates and loves her for doing this to him) and the taste of blood still fresh and warm in his mouth. Ghost pain echoes through his entire body, pounding, pulsing, aching.

There isn’t time to grovel in misery and his own blood, though. The black monstrosity is back pounding at the blast-proof glass windows that separate it from his team (and its target, and the only weapon they’d managed to grab that might actually subdue it). Already splinters are peeling off the glass, cracks appearing.

Not for the first time, Jack Harkness wishes he were dead. Not because it would be easier, neater, more meaningful (have you ever loved anyone, then) than being left behind, but because he wouldn’t be doing this. The old bitter Jack Harkness would have run for more weapons after emptying both clips into the enemy to no avail. He probably would have come back.

Probably.

The new bitter Jack Harkness (a crueler bitterness, because he’d been happy, and almost whole, those two missing years be damned), couldn’t even do that.

(I wish I’d never met you, but he didn’t, because he loved them both, even the remnants of the god-girl singing him to life.)

No, this bitter Jack Harkness threw himself at the beast with bare hands, bought his beautiful, broken, human people the time they needed.

(Owen, hand against the glass, horror in his eyes, and he stopped silently screaming after the fifth or sixth time he died.)

The thing is getting angry, frustrated, each connecting blow more damaging than the ones that came before. That’s all right. He’s getting angry, too, angry and blood-crazy, and he’ll be damned (but he is, damned by love) if he’ll let it get to his team before they’re ready for it.

(Toshiko, bent over her frantic work but constantly looking up at him through the glass, fury and tears on her face.)

The creature finally turns its full attention back to him, and it’s fast, fast and not hurting. With two hits it takes out one knee and a good number of his internal organs.

(Ianto isn’t crying anymore, not since round two or three (it’s all blurring together, hard to focus), when Gwen and Owen stopped him from running out to help. He’s not screaming, never screamed, but his lips move in a name, a prayer, an apology.)

He’s tearing at the beast, holding himself up on it, too uncoordinated to fight properly, not injured enough to die, too cursed to stay dead. The thing oozes toward his face and he bites, desperate, savage, because he can’t win and he can’t lose and (again) no one can breach that room, not while he’s standing.

(Gwen, sweet Gwen, too much like Rose for her own good and his, always seeing the human, the hurt, and he shouldn’t have brought her here, not to Torchwood with its broken, twisted, beautiful people that he salvaged, and what’s she screaming?)

His heart’s already stopped before he hits the wall again, darkness rising, closing, dulling, falling away to golden light and the singing.

(A plea, a command, stay with us, breathe with us, be with us.)

He screams when he wakes, chokes on the sound and the blood in his mouth as the world fractures. Everything hurts, makes thinking difficult, but he knows what he has to do. Stand in the way. Stop it. Don’t let it get them.

(Don’t you touch him!)

There’s no battle cry, no words, no growls even, just exhausted determination as he throws himself at the threat. It’s almost through, almost broken a hole in the glass, almost reached them. That can’t happen. It’s his job. His. His duty. Protect the room.

Hold the floor.

Keep the enemy at bay while the smart people save the world.

Keep the monsters from the good people.

(Now blurs into then blurs into eternity as it howls in his veins, tells him to get up, tells him not to leave them alone.)

His other knee gets taken out this time, and his shoulder, and blood’s dripping into his eyes, but it doesn’t matter. The howl is in his blood and he’s keeping the thing at bay and his people safe and Gwen is pointing at him, screaming at him through the fractured, battered glass (and she’s there, blond hair and kindness, and he’s there, pain wrapped in love of life, and the other is there, the singing, howling god who won’t let him go, and he’s got to keep the room safe).

One last strike, that glances off at an odd angle, tears muscles in his back, and the thing holds him this time, holds him to deliver the blow before tossing him back.

He sees the net of green and blue, solidity and energy, through a haze of red as the nothingness tries for him one last time, hears the beast’s roar of agony and hatred through the first low notes of the girl-god in his blood.

He dies again with their names on his lips, their faces in his mind.

He kept the room safe.

* * *

His clothes are a mess, tattered and torn and blood-soaked, and she doesn’t want to know what the bits of white are (though the copper in her says bone, bone from all the compound fractures she watched him take). Not that you could tell now, his skin already flawless where it shows through the gore, flawless and beautiful.

It shouldn’t be. No one should suffer like that, scream like that and not have a mark to show it.

“Jack.” His hair is sticky, made even darker by the drying, the dried blood. She doesn’t care. She needs to see his eyes, hear his voice, because he’s not dead but he should be. “Jack.”

Blue eyes open wide in an instant as his whole body tenses, ready to spring back into action.

“It’s all right, Jack. It’s over. Owen and Ianto have it.” (And she doesn’t care what they’re doing to it, turns a blind eye to Owen’s twitching, grinding, rhythmic fury and Ianto’s outbursts.) “You did it. You bought us the time.”

“Rose…” The word is quiet, hoarse, spoken around blood that’s mirrored in pained eyes. “No. Gwen.”

“That’s right.” It’s good, that he knows her, though the fact that he might not hadn’t occurred and brings with it a wave of terror, even retrospectively. “How’re you feeling?”

“Tired.”

The whispered word is accompanied by a sudden loss of the tension in his muscles, and Gwen chokes on a scream she refuses to voice as his eyes slip closed. He’s immortal. He’d just gotten himself beaten to death over a dozen times in front of her eyes, and every time he kept getting up. There was nothing to fear now.

(But that had been with a purpose, an increasing savagery as the alien threat had gotten closer and closer, and hadn’t he said before he didn’t sleep?)

“Jack.” Her fingers leave new trails of red down his cheek, bright and scarlet on the dried blood, smearing and mingling with the fresh liquid, jarring on his pale, undamaged skin. “Jack, stay with us for a little bit, all right?”

“Please, Rose.” So much exhaustion and grief packed into those two words as he turns his head away (and again that word, definitely a name). “Please let go.”

“No.” Anger, anger and again that terror, because she’s heard variations on that theme before (but they were people bleeding, dying, no longer fighting). “No, Jack. Sleep if you want, if you can, but you’re waking up for us.”

Her grip on his hand would leave bruises, she knew, and turning his head gently to face her again she finds herself pinned by beaten (tear-filled) blue eyes.

“Be here when I wake up?”

She hates her then, hates this Rose, hates this doctor that he’s sometimes spoken of, hates all the ones in his past with an irrational strength that frightens her, because somewhere along the line they’ve broken this man.

“We’ll be here, Jack.”

He smiles then, but it doesn’t reach his eyes, and she feels like crying as his gaze goes dull, his eyes close and his head rolls to the side, even though his breathing never so much as hitches.

Looking up, she finds her eyes caught by Tosh’s eyes, the other woman standing with arms crossed (in defense, not aggression) and a haunted look on her face. Ianto and Owen stand behind her.

“The ali–”

“Taken care of.” Ianto speaks evenly, his words precisely clipped, and she knows better than to ask if they put it in a cell.

(She can’t bring herself to care, either, and that, too, frightens her.)

“What do we do about ‘im?” Owen rocks back and forth, left arm wrapped around himself, right rubbing repeatedly at his hair.

“We find a cot, get him out of these clothes, and wait for him to wake up. What else would we do, Owen?” Her voice is ice, her gaze fire, but she can feel herself trembling as she stares up at the other three.

“He’s not human. He’s not human, and as Torchwood it’s our job to–”

“Bugger the job, and twice that for any one of you who so much as suggests he go in a cell in that bloody damned basement. For us. He let that thing beat on him for us, and if we do anything but help him we’d better put ourselves in the adjoining cell, ‘cause we wouldn’t be human, either.” Her voice shakes as she speaks, words fading away into a whisper, and she honestly doesn’t know anymore how these people will respond as they stare at the man lying prone (almost peaceful, God, so cruel that he be peaceful now) on the floor.

“It might have been on the job, something that happened working for Torchwood.” Ianto’s voice is low, hoarse, and he averts his eyes when she tries to meet his gaze.

“Or it could be some kind of mutation, an effect of being on the Rift for so long.” Tosh won’t look directly at her, either.

“Or he could be an alien and we just say that it doesn’t matter.” Owen doesn’t flinch from her gaze. “With London gone there’s not very much structure between the different branches, and if we decide to ignore it, it’ll likely stay ignored. But we’ve got to decide, because having this between us… that’s not fair, to him or us.”

No one says anything, but Ianto and Owen carry Jack (with a delicacy she hadn’t expected, deeply appreciates), and Toshiko helps her set up the cot, peel off the layers of bloody clothes, wash off the gore and trauma.

And that’s enough.

* * *

He sleeps, for the first time in months, the sleep of the utterly weary, the beaten, the damned. And in his sleep he sees it, feels it clearly, the thing in his blood, in his mind, in his soul. It prowls through every corner of him, finding the physical damage and culling it, replacing it with something new, something fresh, something unbroken.

“Why?” He doesn’t speak but it hears him anyway, turns, a beast and a mortal and a god, but he doesn’t fear it. “Why?”

“She wishes you healed.” The answer is growled, spoken, thought itself, and he understands all three at once.

“I would have died a hero. He, she, they, made me back into a good person, and I could have died a hero.” The desperation in the words is clear, even to him. “Why do this to me?”

“Because she loves you. He loves you. They wish you healed.”

“Then why leave me behind?” Out in the open, bared and bitter, the thought is black and poisonous and truth itself.

“Because Time is overwhelming.”

The beast/man/god both knows and doesn’t know pity, and the paradox of that in its tone is maddening.

“I would have rather died than be left alone there. I think… I’d rather die now.”

“But they wish you to live.”

The clear tones of its voice begin to fade into song, into a piercing, haunting, beautiful song that he’s come to know far too well.

“You’ll find him again, Jack Harkness, and he’ll need you.” The growl falls out of the voice; the part that is pure thought, pure energy fades away. It is only a girl’s voice, a girl that he loves and hates and wants, so very badly, to hold again, as he wants to hold him again. “Don’t hate us too much.”

He doesn’t get a chance to say that he really can’t hate either of them at all, because hate is just love inverted, and in the end, he’ll always love them for what they did to him.

Even if he has to face that love alone.

* * *

He wakes with singing in his ears, but this time there isn’t that ghost of pain as his body tries to figure out whether it’s living or dead, and he revels in the sensation for a moment. Just a moment, though, because he has no idea where he is or how he got there or even how he ended up sleeping.

There’s an IV in his arm, a partially-emptied bag of glucose and electrolytes attached to it, but the bed he’s lying on isn’t hard enough to be part of their med lab or in one of the cells downstairs. It actually doesn’t feel much like a bed at all, and a quick check assures him that it is, indeed, one of the cots that have been stashed in various places throughout Torchwood. It also assures him that he’s naked save for the light blanket lying over him, the IV in his arm, and the catheter that probably had someone blushing like hell when they put it in.

Disentangling himself from the medical equipment doesn’t take long, and he realizes that he’s in his office, with only the drawn curtains keeping him from flashing all of Torchwood (all four of them in his rag-tag team, but it could still get an interesting reaction). There aren’t any clothes laid out, but there’s someone’s old navy blue bathrobe, so he wraps that around himself and slips out the door.

He pauses for a moment, a smile flashing across his face as he watches his people working. He can see Toshiko’s computer screen flickering like mad, while Owen plays with some new alien toy he’s found, and Gwen and Ianto… stare straight at him.

“Coffee’s ready when you want it, Captain. Apologies for the lack of proper dress, but despite having a relatively thorough scavenger hunt, we couldn’t seem to find your closet.” Ianto’s voice is even, normal, as though this were any other day, not God knows how long after they watched him not-die repeatedly.

Gratitude doesn’t even begin to encompass the feeling that brings.

“I think you’ll be happy to hear that there actually hasn’t been any major alien activity in the last three days, Jack. I’m sure that’ll change, now you’re up, but so far as we know Cardiff is still standing.” Gwen’s smiling as she walks up the stairs to stand by him, and it’s a gentle smile, a subtle contrast to the brightness of her voice. “Glad to have you back.”

“Oh, look, it’s Sleeping Beauty!” Owen shoots him a grin that’s part relief and part mischief. “You might want to lose some weight, boss. Getting you up there was hell.”

It takes him a moment to find his voice, just a moment, and he hopes they don’t notice. “Note taken. What’s that you’re playing with?”

“This? No idea. Found it at a site yesterday. Seems to–”

“Jack, you might want to get dressed before we get down to work. Otherwise you probably won’t get dressed at all.”

“Would you have a problem with that?” The cocky grin he throws her gets nothing more than a sigh from the Asian woman, but he takes her advice and darts down the stairs.

He pauses for a moment at the branch in the corridor, considering going to check if they managed to get all of his blood off the walls, but decides against it. If they’re all going to act like nothing happened, he’s perfectly willing to go along with it.

And they do, for the most part. He doesn’t change his attitude, doesn’t cut them any slack, and they don’t behave any better than they have in the past, constantly slipping new alien devices into their bags to take home.

But when they’re out on a mission, when they’ve got their backs to the wall and no hope of escape, there’s always someone’s hand on his arm, keeping him from running out and acting as decoy, urging him to wait, buying them time to think of another plan.

They treat him like he’s human, and in return he doesn’t die for them, doesn’t show them the beast-god that lives in his blood and refuses to let him fade away.

It’s a fair trade.