Pairings: Jack/Ianto, John/Nick, Gwen/Rhys
Characters: Jack, Ianto, Gwen, Rhys, John Hart and a cast of (probably!) thousands.
Spoilers: Set after Exit Wounds. Sequel to 'Will My Arms Be Strong Enough?'
Rating: Adult - it's going to get very dark in some places.
Warnings: Slash, language, angst, dark themes.
Summary: How will Nick's friends and family react to seeing him again?
Disclaimer: I'm a student. I don't own Torchwood.
The Master List (as it stands) is here: anduria-trianys.livejournal.com/27610.ht
“4th of November, 2012,” said Ianto quietly. “Nicky...you've been gone for over two and a half years.”
Nick sank down onto the floor, the newspaper slipping out of his hand and the pages scattering everywhere. But he didn't notice; he was shaking too badly with the news that not only was he an uncle, but also that his father was dead and so was one of his team mates – not to mention the fact that he had been gone for almost three years in Ianto's time when for him it had only been a couple of months.
Dimly, he heard someone speaking above him and then a moment later, he felt Ianto's comforting presence beside him as he put his arm around his shoulders and hugged him tight. At that moment, he wanted nothing more than to fall into that embrace and to never get up again, but he knew that was impossible. Slowly, he turned his head to look at his cousin, swallowing hard when he saw the myriad of emotions in his eyes; the love of a brother that they had always held for each other, joy and relief at his safe return, but at the same time, pain and sorrow at his distress.
Dimly, he heard Ianto speaking to someone behind him, though the words sounded like a rush of water to his ears, and a moment later a small glass of water was being gently but forcefully pressed into his hands.
“Drink this,” said a quiet feminine voice and he looked up and blinked incredulously as a cloud of red hair filled his vision. For a moment, he thought it was his sister, but then he remembered that Catrin didn't even know where he worked, never mind what he did, or what had just happened. He swallowed hard and tried to remember her name, but it just wouldn't come to him.
“Thanks, Emily,” said Ianto quietly, triggering Nick's memory as he remembered Jack introducing her. “I'll take it from here.” Slowly, he rubbed his cousin's back. “It's all right, Nick. It's okay; you're home, now.”
“Two...two and a half years?” To Nick's dismay, his voice came out in a raspy croak and he slowly started to sip the water in the hope that it would loosen the clamping around his throat. “I've really...been away for two and a half years?”
“Yes.” Ianto's trembling voice confirmed it. “I'm sorry, Nicky.”
Jack knelt down beside them. “If you need some time to yourself, to get your head around it all, I completely understand,” he said. “You look as if you've been through the mill, Nick.”
“Yeah, well...that's what happens when you find yourself overpowered by your own fire,” said Nick with a rather shaky laugh.
“What?” said Jack in shock. “You're...you're an Elemental?”
“Apparently, I'm attuned to fire” said Nick. Now more than ever, he appreciated Ianto's hand gently rubbing his back. “It must have been a side effect of jumping into the Rift – although I really wish it hadn't happened.” He stared at his hands miserably. “It's changed me...” He trailed off, shaking when he thought about what had happened at the slave sale.
Jack swallowed hard. Even though he had no idea what was really going through Nick's head, he knew that it had to be something pretty serious. He reached out and clasped Nick's hand. “No one is going to force you to use the fire, if you don't want to,” he said. “As far as I'm aware, it's not something that can be changed, but at the same time, it's not something that I would ask anyone to use if they weren't comfortable doing so.”
“Thanks.” Nick sat up slowly and turned to Ianto. “Is Catrin still living in the same flat she had before?” Ianto nodded. “Do...do you think she'll see me?”
Ianto laughed. “Nicky, I think she'll be overjoyed, if only so she can know that you're not dead!” He clapped his cousin on the back. “Now, get over there!”
Nick's hand trembled as he knocked on the door of his sister's flat. He was almost scared about what he could expect; would his sister really be happy to see him, or would she be angry that he had suddenly just left without a word? And what about Trev? Would his son even recognise him after so long?
The door opened then and he was greeted by a small girl with thick brown hair tied up in bunches. She was sucking her thumb as she blinked up at him with eyes as brown as his own.
“Hello,” said Nick, smiling at her. “You must be...Michelle, right?”
“Who you?” she asked with far more suspicion than seemed usual in a two-year-old.
“I'm –“ but before Nick could finish his sentence, he heard a yell of joy as someone rushed up to him and threw their arms around his neck...a small boy with bright auburn hair.
Nick stumbled and quickly caught the wall as he realised who was clinging to him. “Hey, Trev!” he smiled. “Did you miss me?”
“You back!” Trevyn was grinning wildly. “Aunty Catrin! Aunty Catrin, come here!”
“Just a minute Trev!” Catrin called from inside. A moment later, her footsteps echoed down the corridor and the next thing Nick knew, his sister was staring at him in shock.
He smiled nervously at her. “Hi, Cat.”
She blinked slightly. “Kids, can you go back inside, please? I just need a quick word with Trev's daddy.”
“Can he come inside later?” asked Trev as he shimmied down Nick's body. Once he had gotten a smile and a nod from his aunt, he cheered. “Yay!” Then he grabbed Michelle's hand and they ran inside.
Nick smiled. “She's beautiful, Catrin. Just like you and David.” Slowly, he opened his arms. “Come here.”
There was a long moment where Catrin seemed to hesitate, but then she stepped outside and wrapped her arms tightly around her brother, burrowing her face in his shoulder.
Nick stroked her hair gently. “She really is beautiful, Cat.”
“I know,” said Catrin, stepping back, though she wasn't quite looking her brother in the eye. “She's like a sister for Estelle as well.”
Nick chuckled. “I'm sure she is.” He grinned slightly at her. “You must be very –“ but before he could finish the sentence, Catrin had slapped him right across the face and pushed him against the wall.
“You left us, Nick!” she shouted.
He blinked a few times and steadied himself. “I know,” he said quietly. “I'm sorry.”
“Sorry!” Catrin almost yelled. “You were gone for nearly three years, Nick! None of us knew where you were or what had happened to you – hell, we thought you were dead! We actually held a funeral service for you, for God's sake! And now you just show up out of the blue!”
“Catrin!” The news that there had actually been a memorial service for him alarmed Nick more than anything he had heard since his return, possibly apart from his father's death. Quickly, he crossed the floor and took his sister in his arms again. “Catrin, it's okay,” he whispered, trying to soothe her. “I'm home now. It's okay.”
“But you left!” she yelled against his shoulder. “You just left without telling us!”
“I know. It was something that I thought I had to do...for all our sakes. Don't ask me to explain any more than that, Catrin, I can't; I don't really fully understand it myself. But I honestly thought I was doing it for the best.”
“You could have at least told me,” she mumbled. “At least so I could have said something to Trev!”
“There wasn't time,” insisted Nick. “If there had been time, I would definitely have said something. I certainly didn't want to leave like I did. But it was literally a split-second decision; there was no time for leaving messages. Even I didn't really know what was going to happen.” He decided not to add that, at the time, he wasn't even sure that he would have come back – that he hadn't even expected to come back; his sister certainly didn't need to hear that.
“I'm so sorry, Cat,” he whispered, rubbing her back as he felt her melt against him. “I'm so sorry I left like that and I let you think I was dead.”
Slowly, Catrin looked up at him, her pale face streaked with tears. “Well, you're back now,” she said weakly. “And I have to say I'm very glad you are.”
“I am too.” Nick let her lead him into the sitting room, where Trevyn instantly jumped back into his arms. “I thought about you guys every day – wondering how much my boy had grown! And my little girl!” he added, spotting Estelle playing with some toys on the floor. “Hey, there!”
“Daddy!” Estelle half-ran and half-crawled over and wrapped her arms around Nick's ankle. “Welcome home, Daddy! I knew you'd come back!”
“Really?” Nick's mouth twitched slightly.
“Ever since she could talk, she would talk about you,” said Catrin, laughing. “She got quite irate once when Trev asked if you were ever coming back.”
“That's...my girl,” said Nick, a brief sadness flowing through him as he remembered who Estelle's real father was. “She takes after her mother in that way, I guess.”
“She certainly does.” Catrin reached out and touched his arm gently and something in her eyes told Nick that she knew exactly what he had been thinking.
Quickly, he changed the subject. “Is David well? I heard that you got married shortly after I left.”
“Yes, he's fine; he really took to fatherhood from day one, you know.” Catrin laughed. “He also said that Ianto and Dad were right when they said that we shouldn't cancel the wedding. Oh, don't worry,” she added when her brother looked horrified. “We didn't call it off or anything; Ianto said you wouldn't have wanted that.”
“Too right I wouldn't have!” exclaimed Nick. He looked around and saw a picture of his sister in her wedding dress as she danced with her father. “I'm sure it was an amazing day.”
“It was,” she said, following his gaze. She sighed. “Dad was so happy, you know. The only time I saw him happier was the day he told me that you two had built your bridges.”
Nick sighed softly, feeling more relieved than ever that he'd had the chance to talk with his father before his death. To have left without having first done that and then come back to find he'd lost his chance would have been more than he could take.
Catrin rubbed his arm. “He was buried at Thornhill Cemetery,” she said quietly. “In the family plot.”
One hour later...
It seemed to grow colder as Nick walked through the cemetery in search of his father's grave. He wrapped his thick coat around him, thanking the powers that be that he had remembered to put it on over his Time Agency jacket and at that moment resolved to dispose of his uniforms from the Agency as soon as possible.
“Although,” he muttered to himself, “I do actually rather like the jacket. But everything else is going.”
A few moments later, however, he came upon a man with brown hair standing in front of a white marble headstone, a small child in a pram beside him. He let out a deep breath; he didn't even need to ask whose grave it was.
“Rhys?” he ventured as he approached slowly. “I...I'm...” he shrugged and stopped talking.
The other man turned around and his eyes widened in surprise. “Nick?!” he almost squeaked. “But...but we all thought you were –“
“Dead? Yeah, so I've heard,” said Nick with a rather tired laugh. “Ianto...told me what happened to your wife. I'm very sorry for your loss. We had our differences, but she was a good woman and a dedicated colleague.”
Rhys nodded and sighed. “I guess I always knew that I'd lose her to Torchwood one day,” he said. “I just didn't expect it to happen so soon after Alyssa was born. She was being so careful not to get hurt after that.”
Nick nodded. “I guess sometimes there are eventualities you just can't prepare for. You can take all the care in the world and yet, if you let your guard down just once –“
“You can guarantee that a walking fish will shoot you in the back,” said Rhys with a mirthless chuckle. “Yeah, I know.” Gently, he ran one hand over the headstone. “We had our differences, her and me, mainly over her job, to be honest. But I know that I wouldn't have forced her to quit for anything. I would have rather have cut my own head off than do anything to make her unhappy.”
“And...I guess you were also proud of what she was doing,” ventured Nick cautiously.
“Proud?” Rhys looked at him. “I was so much more than proud, Nick. I wanted to shout it from the rooftops that she was helping to save the world and bring a future that our children could be proud of.” He smiled. “Just as I'm sure your father would be if he'd known what you were doing.”
Nick squirmed slightly. “Yeah...”
Rhys then surprised both of them by patting Nick's shoulder. “I guess I should be saying sorry for your loss as well. It must have been quite a shock to come home and learn about his death.”
“It was rather,” admitted Nick ruefully. “We certainly had our problems, but...” he sighed. “Well, when push came to shove, he was my father. I just wish it hadn't taken me so long to realise that.” He closed his eyes slightly. “I should...go and...”
“Go on,” said Rhys, nodding. “He always believed you'd come back.”
“I know.” Nick smiled back and made his way towards the familiar plot, his heart pounding even more violently as he walked. However, when he came closer, he was slightly started to see that he wasn't alone.
There was someone sitting at the grave; a man with bright blonde hair who looked very familiar, but from the back, Nick couldn't be entirely certain that it was who he thought it was. However, as he approached the grave, a twig snapped below his boots, causing the man to whip round sharply.
Nick could barely hold back a gasp as he realised who he was looking at – and that it was the man he'd thought it was.
Well, I'll be damned.
Dan had often come to spend some time in silent thought at Nick's father's grave ever since he had died. Over the last couple of years, the two men had grown very close with Dan coming to see the older man as his own father. He had even started to call him 'Dad' from time to time. Obviously, he knew that he could never replace Nick, but he could still be a friend and a tie to his son in a way.
When he had passed away six months ago, Dan had felt as if his world had been ripped out from underneath him. He had finally found someone who he could look up to as a father, someone who treated him with kindness and love rather than his biological father who didn't think he was worthy to wipe the slime off his shoes and who had shown many times that he had wanted nothing more than for his son not to have existed. At the funeral, he had been asked to do a reading, but had barely been able to get through the first paragraph before his emotions had gotten the better of him. Fortunately, Ianto had been on hand to finish it, though Dan had not missed the flash of pain in his eyes and had known that he was thinking about the man who should have been there reading it.
The sound of a twig snapping behind him jolted him back to earth and made him turn around to see who or what had interrupted him. However, the person standing behind him was the very last person he had expected to see.
“Nick?” he whispered, blinking several times to make sure he wasn't hallucinating.
For his part, Nick seemed equally as shocked. “Dan?” he asked. “Is...is that you? I mean, I'm not going completely mad, am I?”
“Well, if you're going mad, then I must be too,” said Dan with a wry smile.
“What...what are you doing here?” asked Nick, slowly kneeling down beside the grave himself.
Dan smiled sadly. “Your dad and I grew very close,” he said. “I guess it started off as both of us finding common ground in that we each had a strong connection to you. But then he became like a father to me – like the father that I had always wanted. He treated me like a son, Nick.”
Nick's soft smile broadened slightly. “I'm glad to hear that,” he said. “You always deserved so much better than that awful man who called himself your father.” He frowned when Dan's eyebrows knitted together in anger. “What's wrong?”
“That man...” Dan's voice trembled in anger. “Don't insult me by calling him my father when he's the one responsible for what happened to us!”
“What do you mean?” asked Nick, confused. “What did he do to us apart from go nuts when he caught us in bed together that Christmas?”
Dan snorted. “You know that he threatened to disown me unless I stopped seeing you?”
“Yeah, I remember. I also remember that you told him exactly where he could go and how he could get there,” said Nick. “But I also know that he never said anything about it after that.”
“Yeah, and we both wondered about that, didn't we?” Dan's eyes were shimmering with angry tears. “Turned out he was just biding his time. Lulling us into a false sense of security before he struck.” He took several deep breaths before he spoke again. “Nicky, you remember what that lecturer said – that he warned us that we could get blacklisted unless we stopped seeing each other.”
“Of course I remember that. It's not exactly something you forget easily.”
“Yeah, but what he didn't mention then, what I didn't know until about a year ago, was that my so-called father,” Dan spat the word out as if it tasted bad, “threatened and blackmailed him to make sure we split up.”
“What!” Nick almost shouted and then quickly dropped his voice as he remembered that they were in a graveyard. “Are you serious?”
“Completely. I got a letter from our lecturer and he told me everything. I confronted my father and he didn't even try to deny it. He was proud of what he did, Nicky. He said that it was nothing less than a useless and worthless freak like me deserved.”
Nick swore softly. “That slimy son of a bitch,” he muttered, not even pausing to be shocked at his own words. “That is totally untrue, Dan, and you know it. You're so much better than that. And you know you are.”
“I did once,” admitted Dan in a quiet voice. “When I was with you. That was the only time I really felt like I meant something – like I was actually worth something.” He dropped his eyes. “It was only when I lost you that I realised that you gave my life meaning and...and just how –“
“Hold on a minute!” interrupted Nick, his defences suddenly going up. “Don't throw that line at me!”
“What line?” asked Dan, confused – what had he said? “All I wanted was to tell you how much you –“
“You know what line, Dan – the 'I still love you and I miss you' line!”
“But I do miss you and I do still love you,” insisted Dan. “Come on, Nick, you can't deny that what we had was amazing and you certainly can't deny that you still care about me!”
“I'm not denying that!” said Nick. “Dan, you know I care about you, but you can't just expect things to go back to how they used to be! We've both changed since then! Besides,” and he looked at his ex-partner, “let's not forget that you were the one who decided that we should end it in the first place!”
“Yeah, because I wanted what was best for you, not because I stopped loving you!” Dan retorted. “You and I both know how much being a doctor meant to you!”
“Well, yes, it did mean a lot to me,” conceded Nick. “But that doesn't give you the right to decide what's best for me! You can't make decisions for me like that, Dan.”
Dan swallowed hard. “You're right,” he said. “That was wrong of me. But, Nick, can't you see that it doesn't matter now? University was a long time ago, and now we're both working at, or with, Torchwood and we've got good jobs, we can be together again!” He reached over and grasped Nick's hands tightly. “We don't have to worry about being blacklisted any more We can go back to the way things were and...and make them how we want them to be. Together, Nick. We can be together again, just as we should have stayed.”
For a moment, Nick hesitated. He couldn't deny that his time with Dan while they had been at university had been amazing and that he had often thought about him and wondered what might have happened if they hadn't split up, even when he had been with Alison. Even now, he realised, thinking back to when he had been standing in the library on the Neokin planet, he still thought about their time together and what might have been had they ignored the professor who had threatened to blacklist them and just stayed together. Admittedly, had they known that Dan's father was responsible for what had happened, then they would certainly never have separated anyway! He sighed, still shocked and saddened at what the man had done; hadn't he hurt Dan enough as it was?
Apparently, Dan had taken his silence as a sign of acceptance, because he grinned. “You see?” he said. “We can be happy again, Nick. Never mind what anyone else thinks.” He leaned over to kiss Nick on the lips, but frowned when he backed away. “Okay, all right,” he said, holding his hands up. “It's too soon, I understand. You need time. That's fine; take all the time you –“
“Dan, please,” interrupted Nick, hating that he had to drive a stake through his friend's heart. “I can't do this. I can't be with you.”
“Why not? I thought...I thought what we had was special.”
“It was special and it always will be special to me. It's just,” Nick bit his lip. “Dan, if I had been single and you'd asked me that question then I would have said yes in a heartbeat. But,” he sighed. “I'm sorry Dan...but there's someone else. And...and he needs me. Now more than ever.”
Dan shut his eyes tightly. “I understand,” he said, though his voice broke. “I just...I hoped that...”
“I'm so sorry.” Nick's voice was breaking as well. “I hope we can still be friends.” Gently, he touched Dan's shoulder. “You mean an awful lot to me and I'd rather keep you as a friend than lose you altogether.”
“Of course,” whispered Dan, biting his lip hard. “I don't ever want us not to be friends. Letting myself lose you as a lover was the biggest mistake I ever made, especially knowing what I know now. If I lost you as a friend...” his voice trailed off and his breath hitched violently as he stared at the ground. “I don't think my life would be worth living.”
Nick couldn't help himself any longer and he reached over and wrapped his arms around his friend. He closed his eyes and rubbed his back gently, holding him tenderly as he trembled and sobbed quietly against his shoulder.
“You'll never really lose me, Dan,” he assured him firmly. “Never. I'll always be with you.”
They sat together for several minutes before Dan moved back and stood up. “I should probably go,” he said. “Lots of work to do and you know I was never very good with paperwork.”
“Wait,” said Nick. “First, I need to know...how did it happen?”
Dan sighed quietly. “He wasn't well for a long time, Nicky,” he said. “His health started started seriously deteriorating after Catrin's wedding and he was in and out of hospital for a very long time with various problems before...” he took a deep breath. “He had a sudden and violent stroke, Nicky. It caught all of us unawares. But we barely had time to even think about helping him when he had a heart attack.” He bit his lip and swallowed hard, thinking of how his friend's father had passed away. “Your uncle Steven authorised me to turn off his life support machine after two weeks and Catrin held him as he died.”
“I see.” Nick's voice was almost numb as he processed Dan's words.
Another silence fell over them before Dan cleared his throat. “Okay, well...now, I guess I really should go – that paperwork won't do itself, unfortunately.”
Nick nodded and also stood up. “Dan, I have to tell you...” but he let his voice fade before he gently kissed Dan on the forehead. “If you need me, all you have to do is call. I hope you know that.”
Dan nodded. “Thank you,” he whispered before quickly turning and walking away, dragging one hand over his eyes.
Nick didn't watch him leave. Instead, he turned back round and bent down in front of the grave, tracing the letters that had been carved into the stone.
“I will take the hidden paths that run,
West of the moon and east of the sun.
Here is the final resting place of Evan Nathaniel Jones, who passed away peacefully on the 17th May 2012 aged 55 years.
Rest in peace, you who was a dear brother, son, friend, husband...”
But the words trailed off underneath a large clump of weeds. Gently, Nick moved them away so he could look down and read the final words. His stomach clamped sharply at what he saw.
“And beloved father.”
Suddenly, a sharp and very familiar voice cut through the silence.
“Nicholas Gabriel Jones!”
He turned around and barely managed to stop his jaw from dropping open when he saw the woman watching him, her eyebrows knitted together like storm clouds. Well, shit, he thought. I'll be damned again.
Slowly, he stood up, not even bothering to dust the mud from his trousers and looked at her, gazing directly into a pair of eyes that were so similar to his own.
“Hello, Mum.” His face turned towards the other woman, the woman who had called out his name and was now watching him with a face that looked like she'd swallowed a lemon. “Hello, Aunt Philippa.”
Ianto was shaking his head slightly. “I don't believe it,” he whispered. “That's just...that's...” but to everyone watching the scene, it seemed as if words had simply failed him.
Jack wasn't sure whether he should be furious with himself or shocked by what he had just heard. About twenty minutes after Nick had left, Orion had suddenly materialised in front of his office door with a very familiar – and very nasty – smirk on his face. He hadn't even had to speak a word; just by lifting up his wrist, he had made Jack curse wildly in every single language he knew – including Welsh – as he realised that he had forgotten to confiscate, or at the very least disable, his former colleague's vortex manipulator, because he had been so worried about John's current state. Fortunately, as soon as the other Time Agent had re-appeared, Ianto had managed to activate some new technology he'd created and erect some kind of anti-teleportation field around the Hub and the Plass, so that Orion couldn't leave the base. Apparently, it was something that had worked on a science fiction programme that he liked and, right now, despite his scepticism for such things, Jack was deeply grateful for it.
However, then, Orion had proceeded to share some information that had knocked the wind out of him and left John slumped on the sofa looking scared and confused.
And Jack knew that he had good reason to feel that way. He had just been told something that, before now, would have been the answer to a question he had been asking for years. But now, he was being faced by something that he not only had no memory of, but also that he clearly wouldn't want to have remembered.
“That wasn't me,” he gasped suddenly. “It wasn't...I didn't...I can't have done...” He looked up, anguished. “Please...tell me he's lying...tell me I didn't do those things...”
Ianto went over and immediately sat down beside him. “It's all right,” he said, cautiously stroking John's hand, ready to move at any hint that he wasn't comfortable with it. “Whatever you did in the past will stay in the past. You're a good man, John. I promise.”
“You really think that?” asked John, his voice trembling.
“Yes, I do,” said Ianto firmly.
Jack was glaring at Orion. “That was entirely uncalled for! You knew what you were going to say would upset him and yet you just went ahead and said it anyway!”
“What?” spluttered Orion. “Don't tell me you didn't want to know the truth about why you lost those years?”
“Yes, I did, but you didn't have to say it in front of my friends!” Jack slammed his fist into his palm in disgust. “You haven't changed at all; you're still the same mean, arrogant, selfish –“ but the sound of the cog door rolling closed distracted him. He turned round and saw Nick stood stock still in front of them, his face pale except for a red handprint on one cheek.
“What's going on?” he asked, his voice shaking slightly.
Jack's gaze swivelled back to Orion. “Go on. Tell him.”
“It's not really necessary –“ blustered Orion.
“If you've said something to get John that upset, then yes, it is necessary,” said Nick, folding his arms. “Go on. Tell me what's going on.”
Next Time: A secret is revealed and gives Jack the answers he has been searching for, but is it good news? And later, when the enormity of everything that's happened hits Nick, can John put aside his fear and comfort him?