Title: A Calming Hand
Summary: After something horrible happens to Jack, there's only one person he can turn to.
Author's Note: Okay, I should say, right off the bat, that this is VERY dark and potentially disturbing. Nothing graphic, but there are several implications. It stemmed from a dream I had recently - man, I worry about what goes on in my head at times. Oh, and I genuinely did not intend to make Gwen so snarky, but, I'll tell you one thing, she was worse in the dream! Much worse!
I’m sitting on the sofa with the lamp on, reading my book. Seven Ancient Wonders, by Matthew Reilly, and, would you believe it, the hero has to be called Jack – Jack West Junior. It’s a wonderful book, full of adventure and really brilliantly written, but right now I only feel frustrated when I read it, because I keep thinking about my own Jack and wondering where on earth he is – or if he even is on earth.
No, that’s stupid. He’s disappeared on us once before; I don’t think he’d do that again. He’s probably just been held up at work or something; trying to get his paperwork done, no doubt. It’s funny – it takes him ages to do it when I’m there, because he says I’m distracting him, and yet, when I’m not there, it takes him twice as long. But that’s just Jack, I guess. I know he confides in me and trusts me and everything, but I don’t pretend to be able to completely understand him. That would be impossible.
But I can’t help feeling frustrated with him. Even after Owen checked me over and said I was fine, Jack still insisted that I had to go home and rest (though it was nice of him to give me the key to his flat), and that he’d be home by seven. I even cooked dinner and everything. It’s now half past eleven and he hasn’t shown up. I know I’m being stupid and probably paranoid, but I can’t help it. He usually lets me know if something’s happening with the Rift or anything like that – anything work-related.
Well, the dinner’s ruined and I wouldn’t normally make a fuss, but…it took me so long and it was his bloody favourite as well. I tell you, if I didn’t love him so much –
Wait, there’s his key turning in the lock. I don’t abandon my book, because I don’t want to give him the impression that I’ve been sitting up waiting for him. If he can’t even call me and tell me that he’s going to be late, he doesn’t deserve that much.
But when he walks in, I can’t help myself. I leap to my feet, all ready to shout out ‘Where the bloody hell have you been?’ or something to that effect. But I’ve barely managed to get the first two words out before I look at him and my voice dies in my throat.
Jack is standing in the space between the hall and the lounge. There isn’t very much light here – the overhead light needs a new bulb – but I can see his face. He’s pale and shocked and covered in cuts and bruises. Even at Torchwood, we don’t usually see injuries like that, especially with Jack, because he usually heals quickly. These wounds look old – well, they look old for him, anyway.
He’s not wearing his coat, but instead he’s holding it so tightly his knuckles are turning white, even underneath the cuts and gashes on his fingers. His shirt’s been ripped partially open and his little white T-shirt’s missing. At first, I wonder why he hasn’t noticed this, but then I’m distracted by a large bruise by his neck…a bruise like the one I have in the same place, but much darker and more violent than the small soft ones he gives me. I can’t see much of his chest, even allowing for his ripped shirt, but from what I can see, he’s got some deep cuts there, which weren’t made by Weevil claws. I know a Weevil wound when I see one and that’s not it.
I walk up to him and move to take his coat and hang it up. But before I can even reach out, he backs away as if he’s been burned and I suddenly realise that he’s shaking uncontrollably. He backs into the wall and suddenly slides down it onto the floor, still shivering, even as his coat slips from his arms. I want to go to him, but he’s shrinking away from me, as if he can read my thoughts and I can tell that he’s terrified.
“What’s happened to you?”
I don’t even realise that I’ve spoken out loud until Jack looks up at me for a split second and then his face crumples and he starts to cry silently, burying his face in his knees.
At the same time, I notice the crumpled state of his trousers as well as his shirt and that they seem to be covered with something that looks horribly like…
“I’m going to call Owen,” I say, going over to the phone. “He’ll need to –”
But Jack looks up and shakes his head wildly, looking almost desperate as his tears fall thicker and faster. His eyes are wide, wild even, with fear, and even something that looks a lot like shame at the thought of Owen seeing him…seeing him like…oh, God.
As the truth of it slams into me like a boulder to the head, I cautiously sit down against the wall, not too close to Jack, but close enough that he’ll know I’m there for him when he’s calmed down enough. Touching him now would be unwise; if he’s as scared as he was when I went to take his coat, he’ll be in pieces at the idea of physical contact. For now, all I can do is sit and wait for him to come to me.
Then, as if driven by a force, I find myself singing softly to him; part of an old tune that I remember from when I went to the theatre once. It’s a strange song, but it calms me sometimes when I’m upset or scared and maybe it will help Jack.
The leaves have fallen.
This shadowed land...
This was our home.
The river's dry...
The ground has broken.
So I must..."
I stop abruptly when I remember the next part of the song. I must go...now I must go... no. I'm not going anywhere. I can't leave Jack now, not now he needs me so much.
He’s looking at me now, as if he’s almost expecting me to leave him. He looks so scared and lost and it’s breaking my heart to see him like that. It always does hurt to see him so vulnerable and fragile, but this time it’s even worse.
I feel my own tears start to fall, slowly, as I start to sing again. It seems to be the only thing that’s allowing him to be aware of where he is and that it’s me with him.
"And where the journey may lead you...
Let this prayer be your guide.
Though it may take you so far away...
Always remember your pride."
Jack turns suddenly to look straight at me and I suddenly remember being there when I heard him singing this very same song. I was the only one who knew about it…I was the only one who heard him sing it…no one else…just me. It shook me up then, just as singing it now myself is shaking me to the very core, but if it helps, I’ll do anything.
As if he remembers that very moment where I heard him, Jack’s hand suddenly creeps out from underneath his coat and sits on the floor beside him, barely five inches from my own. He still looks lost, but less scared and so I manage to edge closer to him and settle my own hand beside his, still not quite touching him until I’m sure that he’s ready. He’s clearly still shaken, but the desperation in his eyes says something so…deep that I can’t help but reach out and cautiously stroke the back of his hand, all the while watching him for any signs that he’s uncomfortable with it.
But to my surprise, he suddenly starts to sing quietly, though his voice is still thick with tears and the words are blurring into each other. But I can still hear the words.
"The touch of your hand says you'll catch me wherever I fall..."
The words hit me hard. “Oh, Jack,” I whisper, still cautiously stroking his hand. I want to reach up and stroke his face, but I worry about scaring him too much. “I’ll always catch you. Even if you hadn’t caught me so many times when I fell, I would still catch you.”
Jack looks at my hand caressing his and he starts to slowly stroke my fingers too, though his body doesn’t relax; if anything, he’s shaking more and more by the second. I’ve never had to deal with it, but I realise that he’s starting to go into shock and slowly start to move away from him, not losing contact until I absolutely have to. When I finally have to stand up, I move away from him, very slowly, still making sure I face him and walk around the back of the sofa so I don’t frighten him by standing on top of him.
“It’s okay,” I say, noting the anxious expression on his face. “I’m just going to get you some water. Look,” I move very slowly round the back of the sofa, making sure to keep in the light so that the shadow doesn’t fall over my face. “I’m right here, okay?”
I suddenly feel extremely thankful for the open-plan flat; there’s no way I can leave Jack’s line of sight when I enter the kitchen. I sing quietly, nonsense words under my breath, as I run the tap, waiting for the water to reach the right temperature, just so that he knows I’m still here and I’m not going anywhere.
At the same time, I let some of my own feelings cross over my face; I’m shocked, scared and distressed, but most of all, I’m angry. I know my face shows it, I can feel my expression changing, but I’m only doing it now because I know Jack can’t see me. He doesn’t need to see me break now; I have to be strong for him and pull him through this. The time for weakness will come later; for now, it’s all about Jack and being a helping and calming hand for him when he needs me.
Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, I take some things out of the cupboard, knowing that now Jack can see me and hoping he doesn’t see that I’m still shaken up from what I know. But as I fill the glass with water, I hear a whimper behind me, too quiet to hear if you don’t know what to look for. I turn round and feel myself shatter inside at the sight of Jack trembling all over and hugging his knees under his chin, his eyes unfocused, even as he’s turned straight towards me.
“Hey,” I whisper, moving back as fast as I dare without frightening him again, “it’s all right, I’m right here.” Cautiously, and very slowly, I ease the glass into his hand, tentatively letting our fingers brush together. “Don’t worry; it’s just water; you’ve just got to sip it very slowly; it’ll stop you going into shock. Just breathe gently and sip.”
Even as I stroke his palm gently, I note that he winces when the glass touches his lips. “Here,” I say, showing him some painkillers, “take one of these.”
That proves to be a mistake, however; when he sees the pills, he jerks away sharply, his eyes wide with fright and his breath becoming ragged once again. I swallow as I realise the implications of this and quickly put the pills away again.
“Jack,” I whisper, as though to a frightened child, “don’t worry; you don’t have to take them. I just thought they might make you feel better. They’re only painkillers, that’s all; just painkillers, nothing more. I promise.”
Very slowly, Jack turns back to me. Something in my eyes must have calmed him, because he comes back to me. I can tell that he’s still scared, but at least he’s sitting next to me again. Tentatively, still not taking his eyes off me, he holds out one hand and I take two of the tablets out of my pocket, careful to let him see them as I place them in his hand. I sit by him, still holding his hand, as he swallows them, but I’m careful not to watch him too closely as he does take them. If he was drugged, in any way, I don’t want to give any impression that I’m expecting him to take them.
He starts to fidget, all of a sudden, as if he wants to get up, but he’s scared that I’m going to leave him if he does. For a moment, at least, it breaks my heart, but then I start to follow his gaze; he’s looking towards the bathroom door and I suddenly understand.
“Come on,” I say, helping him up – again, very slowly, “let’s get you cleaned up.”
He lets me lead him into the bathroom and wash the blood off his hands with a warm facecloth. But when I go to run the bath water, he catches my wrist to stop me. I turn to look at him and see a look in his eyes. But this time it’s not asking me never to leave him.
“Please,” he whispers, the first word he’s spoken since his earlier song.
He doesn’t need to say any more; I know what he wants and so, still staying in his line of vision and, once again, only letting go at the last possible second, I back out of the room and back into the sitting room where I sink onto the sofa and pick up the phone to dial a number. With Jack the way he is, I have to be the strong one now – I can do it for him.
But when Owen’s irritated voice floats down the line, I have to fight to hold it together. This is what I meant when I told him that Jack needs me. He needs me to see past the coat and the Captain and see the man beneath the mask. He needs me to see him. Not the leader, not the boss and not the Captain – just him…just Jack.
“Owen,” I say, hoping he doesn’t hear me taking a deep breath. “I need…I need you to take the lead for a while. Jack’s…” I close my eyes for a second, trying to think. “He’s taking a few days off,” I finally say. “I think he’s just tired out.”
“Tired out?” Owen clearly doesn’t believe me and I realise then how ridiculous it probably sounds to him. “Ianto, Jack’s immortal. He doesn’t even sleep; how can –”
“Owen,” I whisper, suddenly finding myself on the verge of tears, “please…just…please, just do this, yeah?” I can’t tell him what happened or anything like that, because I know that, if I do, Owen will come over and insist on seeing Jack and…I can’t do that to him.
Some of my feelings must have slipped into my voice, because Owen doesn’t fight me. Instead, he just agrees and hangs up the phone, no more questions asked. I’m grateful, but at the same time, I can’t help but feel worried. Owen is, first and foremost, a doctor; there’s no way he’ll believe that Jack’s just tired out. He’ll want to know what happened, even if he doesn’t push it. Then there’s Gwen…she’s like a sniffer dog who just won’t give up. I know her heart is in the right place, but her digging isn’t what Jack needs now. Even with me, I can see that he’s scared and that he needs space, not smothering.
Sighing, I wander into our bedroom and pick out some nightclothes for him. It’s not very warm and I don’t think Jack will want to show himself off too much, so I find a pair of loose tracksuit trousers and a long-sleeved sweater. I lay them on his pillow and wait for him in the kitchen, looking through the cupboard for something. At the same time, I flick the radio on, letting the music ripple through the air. It takes me a second, but I can’t help but gasp when I realise what it is. It’s so perfect…Moonlight Serenade. Smiling to myself, I continue to look in the cupboard until I find what I need.
Jack comes out a few moments later. He looks pale and exhausted, but a tiny spark comes into his eyes when he hears the music and he gives me a tiny smile. I try to focus on that smile rather than the exhaustion seeping through his body.
“I remember this,” he says, still quietly, but slightly stronger.
“I know,” I reply. “Do you, erm…I mean, shall I –”
“Four days,” Jack whispers suddenly, catching me completely off guard.
“Pardon?” I say, staring at him.
“Four days,” he repeats, his voice growing hoarse again. The spark vanishes from his eyes and the exhaustion starts to take over again. “Four days…five people…I couldn’t –”
He turns away from me for a second, but that second is all I need to understand. I reach out for him, ready to take his hand and lead him to bed – hopefully, he’ll be able to get some rest – but Jack shakes his head.
“Let me,” he whispers, “please.”
I nod. “Call me when you’re ready and I’ll bring you a drink in.”
He nods mutely and walks away silently, all the while checking behind him as if he’s making sure I’m still there. I smile to try and reassure him that I’m not going anywhere; that I’ll be by his side for as long as I possibly can be.
He stops in the doorway and suddenly turns round sharply. But he’s not looking at me; instead, he’s looking past me towards the floor where we were sitting earlier. His coat is still lying in a heap against the wall, lost and forlorn, just like its owner. I pick it up and fold it gingerly before passing it to Jack. He takes it, almost desperately, and I can feel his hand tremble as it brushes against mine. Then, without another word, he turns on his heel and walks stiffly into the bedroom.
I finger the small bottle in my pocket, hoping against hope that it works and Jack will be able to get some sleep. I wouldn’t blame him if he couldn’t, but I can at least do what I can to try and help him. It’s not fair that he should get so much thrown at him, especially after what he went through when he was –
I shake myself out of it. Jack doesn’t need this right now. He needs me to be strong, he needs me to be there for him in any way I can. I have to hold it together for now. I know there’s no shame in showing emotion, but I can’t do it now, not when he needs strength. I manage to distract myself by getting him another glass of water and tidying up a little.
It’s only ten minutes, maybe fifteen, before his voice calls out to me, quiet and nervous, but at the same time, frantic, as if he doesn’t want to be alone any more. That hits closer than anything could and, within a minute, I’m there by his side, caressing his palm as he sits on the duvet, chewing his lip nervously.
“Do you think you’ll be able to sleep?” I ask.
Jack shrugs. “I don’t know,” he whispers. “I mean, I know that I should, but…I just…I don’t think…” he trails off, tears sparkling in his eyes again.
“Hey,” I whisper, shifting slightly so I can actually hold his hand. “It’s all right, I’m here.” Cautiously, I pass the glass to him, helping him take tiny sips again. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m right here.”
I wait until he’s calmed down a little before I take the glass out of his hands and rest it on the table. “Do you…do you want to sleep?”
He nods. “I’m just…I don’t know…”
“Okay, all right; come on.” I reach into my pocket and draw out the little bottle. “It’s all right, it’s just lavender oil. Whenever I couldn’t sleep, I’d just sprinkle a little bit on my pillow and it calmed me down quickly.” I don’t mention that I did it mainly because I couldn’t sleep when he was away; I don’t want him feeling guilty as well, especially since I understand why he left.
Jack looks surprised, but he visibly relaxes when the scent breezes through the room and his eyes gradually start to close, even though he still looks a little troubled.
“It doesn’t get any easier,” he whispers as his eyes flutter shut. “Nothing changes.”
I turn down the lamp, taking care not to switch it off completely as I take the chair opposite the bed. “I know,” I whisper as I curl up under Jack’s coat…
It's so dark...I don't know where I am...I can't see, can't hear, can't think...what's happening to me?
I freeze. What am I seeing?
Blurred images...the kind you see when you're half-asleep...I'm so confused...I can't even think straight...it's just so strange...wait...what's that?
What is it? As much as I almost don't want to know, I can't help but wonder what I'm seeing. The only thing I can think of is...but then...
Five of them...that's all I can tell...all bigger and stronger than the last...I can't think...I don't know...my coat...gone...my shirt...cold air...pain...darkness...shadows...it keeps going...a circle...never ending...pain...fear...oh, God...
The vision deteriorates into screams of pain and fear and harsh laughter. There are words in there, but I can’t make them out. I can’t understand them…I just know that…I’m seeing…but I don’t know how, I don’t understand…
I look up and see Jack burrowing into his pillow, trying to inhale the scent of the lavender as he sleeps. I want to reach out and touch his hand, but I’m scared of frightening him. Suddenly, his words make perfect sense.
"Four days...it doesn't get any easier...nothing changes..."
Even burrowed under the coat, I shiver as my tears finally fall.
I’m woken abruptly by a loud banging sound. At first, I think it’s in my head, but then I hear someone shouting and I realise that it’s coming from outside. Sighing, I stagger out of the chair, ignoring the crick in my neck and stumble out of the bedroom to answer it, briefly pausing to look at Jack. He stirs slightly as I stroke his hair, but he doesn’t wake.
When I answer the door, I barely have time to register Gwen and Owen standing there before she barrels inside and starts looking around. Owen sighs and looks apologetic.
“Where’s Jack?” she asks me when she finally seems to register me.
“He’s asleep,” I say calmly, although my hackles are raised already. “He just wants to be alone for the time being. I’m just trying to look after him.”
“Why?” she asks. “What’s happened?”
I close my eyes and count very slowly to ten. I know that Gwen’s heart is in the right place, but she’s just prying now, asking questions I can’t give the answers too. I won’t betray Jack’s trust, not again.
“Just…leave it, okay?” I say, looking beyond her straight at Owen. He looks back at me and evidently sees something, because his eyes widen in horror and understanding.
Gwen, however, though she also seems to realise what’s happened, doesn’t react in the same way. Instead, she just looks cool, almost indifferent. When Owen gives me a nod and leaves, he beckons her to follow him, but she doesn’t; instead, she just looks at me questioningly. I sigh and run my fingers through my hair.
“Okay, Gwen,” I say, “I know you’re going to ask something.”
She looks surprised, but ploughs on anyway. “Well,” she says, “I guess I’m just surprised that Jack’s so…I mean, it’s just another thing. Plus, I mean, he’s Jack.”
I stare at her, open-mouthed, barely able to believe that she’s saying this. Can she really believe that, just because of his nature, Jack could deserve this – that he could want it? I know Torchwood changes people, but it shouldn’t change someone that much.
“You don’t know,” I whisper, “you don’t understand.” I have to fight to keep my voice calm, because inside, I’m almost spitting with anger.
“Go,” I say, barely able to look at her, “go back to the Hub with Owen.”
“Ianto –” she starts to say, but I can’t listen to her.
“Just go, Gwen.” I keep my eyes fixed on the carpet, not even looking up until her feet have finally moved and the door has closed behind me.
When I do finally manage to look up, however, the sight before me is enough to make me feel as if my stomach’s full of rats. Jack has come out of the bedroom and he’s leaning against the door, but not with his usual post-coital smirk on his face. Instead, he just looks so lost. In that moment, I know what he saw and what he’s thinking now…
“Ianto…” he whispers, his voice hoarse and worn.
The minute I hear him sound so confused and frightened, I can’t help it. I cross the room in three strides and take him in my arms, holding him and stroking his hair as if he’s the most fragile being in the universe. For an instant, he looks surprised to see me, but then he collapses against me, sobbing into my shoulder. There’s nothing for me to say, nothing for me to do, except to just hold him and reassure him that I’ll always be there.
We all play a part at Torchwood. Tosh is the brains, Owen’s the healer and Gwen’s the heart. I’m the organizer for us all, but for Jack, I’m simply a calming hand.