Author: sariagray Artist: thebuttonontop
Chapter: Stave Two of Five + Epilogue
Characters/Pairings (not chapter-specific): Jack/Ianto, Gwen/Rhys, Owen, Tosh, Alice and Steven Carter, John Hart, Estelle, Grey, Franklin/Wife, Rhiannon/Johnny, Mica and David, OCs
Rating: PG13 throughout.
Word Count: ~1700 for this chapter, ~10,000 for the story in its entirety.
Spoilers: The whole series, as certain characters are used. Most aspects of plot, however, are not spoiled.
Warnings: Occasional language, minor sexual innuendo, some relatively dark themes. Angst and fluff fluctuate throughout.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction and artwork. No monetary compensation has been or will be garnered from this endeavor. This is purely for entertainment purposes and is no way intended to disrespect the creators/owners of Torchwood, Charles Dickens, or any of the other pop-culture references throughout the story.
Beta: Thanks to thebuttonontop for dealing with my bipolar attitudes about this story, listening to me whine, and cheering me on all the while (in addition to providing very pretty pictures!). My unyielding gratitude also belongs to badly_knitted for a much needed Brit-picking and thorough cleaning-up. Without you both, this story would still be kicking around, disjointed, in my mind somewhere. Also, thanks to my mom, for encouraging this shenanigans (i.e. calling me up during its early stages to offer suggestions and making me read it aloud to her…even if she did laugh uproariously at my ridiculous phrases).
Author's Note: This was written as a holiday gift to all of you wonderful people. thebuttonontop and I are so grateful for your friendship, support, and the general sense of community that we have found through the medium of fan fiction, Torchwood, and all that that entails. I didn't once suspect, when I sat down to watch "Everything Changes", that it would lead me here (and hey! Everything did change!). But I'm glad it did. So thank you all and Happy Holidays. We really hope you enjoy this!
A/N 2: A new chapter will be posted every couple of days, ending on Christmas Eve, and a pretty, full .pdf version will be posted on December 25th for anyone who wants it.
When Jack awoke, it was so dark that he could scarcely distinguish the bed on which he lay from the low walls of his bunk. He was endeavoring to pierce the darkness with his bleary eyes when he heard a chiming like that from a clock tower. He shook his head of the dream he assumed he was still half-experiencing and fumbled for his watch. Illuminating it with a light from his wrist strap, he did a double take. Midnight. He shook the timepiece and looked at it again.
‘Must be broken,’ he thought. He knew it had been just past two when John had finally disappeared from sight. He hoped it was for good.
As though summoned by that thought, a light burst forth in his room and he clutched to his bed in anticipation of an explosion. He considered, briefly, that perhaps John wasn’t gone for good. But the light was soft and golden, slow-moving like honey, and he allowed himself to stare into it with curiosity. So used to the darkness of his room, he was certain at first that the form he saw within the glow was a trick of his eyes. But then the figure began to solidify and take on a defined shape. A familiar defined shape, at that.
“Estelle?” he half breathed, half choked.
“Yes,” came the voice, rich with the music of age and airy with the carefree tones of youth. “I am here to show you your past.”
Jack huffed a laugh. “How much time’ve you got?”
“Enough,” she chuckled. “Come, touch my gown.”
He raised an eyebrow at her and she laughed outright.
“Have you no desire to revisit your past?”
“Not really, no.”
She smiled sweetly.
“Trust me,” she spoke.
And he did, so he reached out and grasped hesitantly at her sleeve. With a whoosh of warm, sweet wind and a feeling like floating in antigravity, they flew through time. After a brief span of seconds, just enough for Jack to begin to get comfortable, they slowed. The scenery resolved itself around them like a photograph gradually developing.
He felt the warm sand underfoot and looked up into Estelle’s face, her wrinkles smoothed by the glow of youth. “We’re…are we…?”
“Yes, love, we are. Boeshane. Do you remember the way?”
Jack laughed, a faint light of happiness returning to his eyes.
“Of course I do. Come on!”
Estelle followed closely behind, Jack clutching her frail, sturdy hand in his. His grin was wide and real as he raced along the familiar trail. The house loomed in the distance and he could tell by the lengthening of shadows that it was coming on nightfall. Estelle chuckled at his boyish exuberance.
“Can they see us?” he asked her, suddenly worried as they approached the window.
“No, there’s a perception filter.” She wasn’t sure if she should be reassuring or apologetic. He simply nodded in response and turned back to the window.
“Oh, we’re so young.”
“What are you preparing for?”
“Christmas dinner. Well, it wasn’t called that then. I mean, it won’t be called that. In the future.” He shot her a helpless look and shrugged. “But the idea’s still the same.”
To her credit, she merely nodded her head back in the direction of the window.
“That’s Gray,” he explained a little wistfully. “He loved this time of year, though I suspect it was mostly because of the presents.” He chuckled softly to himself. "It's not like we ever saw snow. There were no myths and the holiday was completely washed clean of any religious influence."
Through the window, the pair watched as the boys cavorted excitedly throughout the dwelling while their parents looked on. Jack's mother said something in admonishment of their wild antics, but her eyes were merry and her mouth was turned up in a smile.
The room in which the family gathered, while inviting, was sparsely decorated. In fact, if Estelle hadn't known better, she would have assumed that it was just another day for the family. At least, she would have if hundreds of twinkling lights hadn't descended as though by magic from the ceiling.
Estelle gasped and the boys cheered jubilantly as their parents looked on in a partial embrace. Jack grinned at her.
"Some things," he admitted to his guide, "never change."
Estelle nodded. "The light of hope in the darkness of winter."
"It survived time," he agreed.
"Come," Estelle prompted gently. "There are other things to see."
He glanced back longingly at the window. It had been so long since he'd seen his family, whole and together and happy. He was about to protest their leave-taking, offer a plea to stay just a moment longer, when Estelle grabbed his hand. There was nothing he could do as the progression of time funneled around him.
As his surroundings solidified, he found he could immediately recognize the space. He was back in the Hub. He turned to Estelle and she offered a small smile.
It was then that he noticed the large decorated tree in the center of the room, candles illuminating its grey-green branches. He remembered that tree, how it had been set up joyfully by Torchwood's then leader, Dylan Tudor.
The man in question waltzed into the room, a benevolent smile shining in his eyes.
"What are you lot doing?"
"Working?" Jack heard his own voice echo from somewhere in the dark recesses of the Hub.
"I wasn't, really," Jack grinned as he informed Estelle, who laughed in response.
“Well, stop! The Rift hasn’t been acting up. It’s Christmas Eve. And you!” he laughed, pointing to Jack, who had stepped from his hiding place. “You’re on bloody contract. You aren’t even supposed to be here! Well, no matter. I’ve eggnog and cookies aplenty. Morwen, dear, the Victrola. Charles, help me with the drinks.”
Jack watched his younger self bustle around with his colleagues as he arranged chairs. It was a messy setup, but all the more appealing for being so. A lively melody, familiar across at least a few centuries, stuttered and scratched out from the phonograph. As he settled the last seat in front of the glowing tree, Dylan swept Morwen up into a dance. She was as pretty as Jack remembered, a study in contrast of light curled hair and deep brown eyes. She laughed prettily, too, as a soft pink flush tinted her pale cheeks.
Charles, not one to be outdone, grabbed Jack’s arms and mimicked the movements, a wry grin illuminating his blue eyes. Soon the foursome switched partners, and then again, until all had danced with each other. Breathless, they laughed and retreated to an empty workstation where Dylan had set up drinks and snacks in as festive a way as he could manage.
“I’ve presents, too,” he assured them. “But eat first. And carols!”
His enthusiasm was infectious and the others were grateful for the brief moment of respite. They laughed as they devoured the array of treats, joking with a camaraderie borne of risk-taking and secret-keeping.
“A small matter to make all of you so full of gratitude,” Estelle said.
“Small?!” Jack echoed incredulously.
“Isn’t it? He’s given you all but a few hours. Most get at least a day, if not more. Is that so much that he deserves praise?”
“It isn’t that,” Jack said, defensively crossing his arms in front of his chest. “He forced us to remember life, tried to take away some of the burden. For those few hours, we all forgot about aliens and death. We were just people, having fun. He made do with what he had and shared it all.”
“Ah,” Estelle smiled.
The two watched as the small group began singing, each in a different (and very incorrect) key. Words were stumbled over, phrases plain forgotten, but that didn’t make any difference at all. Finally, Jack spoke up again, his voice quiet and rough.
“They all died a few days later. I was away at the time. I came back to find a whole new team. If I had been here, maybe they would’ve lived longer.”
“And maybe they wouldn’t. Come, let’s leave these people to their merriment. My time with you grows short.”
Jack nodded solemnly, though his eyes lingered regretfully on the group.
The world and time whirled together once more, spinning out of control before steadying themselves. At first, he couldn’t recognize the place. Then, with gradual assurance, the shapes came back to him with an astounding familiarity.
“It’s us!” he gasped.
He watched as they sat next to each other on Estelle’s small sofa, their hands clasped.
“Must you go?” she was whispering.
He simply nodded and sighed.
“You can request leave,” she pressed. “Stay through Christmas, at least. They’ll grant it to you.”
“I belong there,” he said flatly to her. “It’s my duty. I’ll come back to you. I always do.”
“You left me that night,” his guide whispered. “You never did come back. At least, not as I expected.”
“I had to. I would’ve broken your heart.”
“Leaving didn’t break my heart?” Despite the words, her voice was gentle. “I would’ve managed just fine. It’s your heart that needed guarding, not mine.”
“Everyone dies,” he said simply.
He returned his gaze to the tableau in front of him. The fire was crackling soothingly, its luminescence the only light in the room. A barren tree stood in the far corner, ready to be decorated by Father Christmas for the delight of Estelle’s younger siblings. Stockings had been hung on the banister, the previous year’s incident with charred oranges and burnt wooden toys not forgotten. He had helped hang them himself earlier in the evening, the children bouncing on the stairs around him excitedly. Now, the pair sat alone, laughter replaced with tears.
“Go, then,” Estelle was telling him, a hand resting on his chest over his coat. “Play the hero. Save the world. I’ll be here.”
“I’m sorry,” both he and his counterpart whispered simultaneously.
His guide mirrored the image of the scene before them and Jack shut his eyes against the painful sight. As the light receded and he felt the familiar tug in his body of the shifting of time, Estelle whispered to him.
“We die better for having known you. You have so much to give.”
The movement and the voice ceased simultaneously, leaving a harsh emptiness in their wake. He was conscious of being exhausted and overcome by an irresistible drowsiness; and, further, of being in his own bedroom. He reached out a hand hopefully, only to grasp air, and had barely time to reel to bed before he sank into a heavy sleep.