Jack was happy. He’d had a good night, met an interesting woman who told him she was open for anything. She came willingly to the hotel room and proved it. She had opened herself to him in every way he knew and he had enjoyed himself thoroughly in each one of those openings.
It was a little past dawn and she was asleep now. He had slept a little, but now he was lying awake, savouring the memory of the past few exhausting but satisfying hours, and hoping she would be up for a bit more fun before breakfast.
The early morning sunlight was suddenly blocked and he looked at the window. He reached for his faithful World War II service pistol that he had left under the mattress in case of emergency, but the dark figure moved faster. He felt something sharp – knife, sword, talon, he wasn’t sure, slice through his neck. He felt blood in his mouth and spilling from the wound. He felt the panic of not being able to breathe as his trachea was severed and not being able to scream as his overnight lover was murdered beside him.
His hand reached still for the pistol. It found first his mobile phone. His fingers identified the speed dial button that told his comrades that he had an emergency and activated the GPS signal that told them where he was.
That was the best he could do. He was hurting. And he wasn’t sure if he could hold on much longer.
“Jack!” He heard Gwen’s soft Welsh tones as he rose from the blackness of oblivion. He still had the taste of his own blood in his mouth and he could feel the congealed stickiness around his neck. But he was alive.
It was a ghastly feeling when his soul came back into his body. The very few people who knew about his strange ‘gift’ thought of it as a beautiful thing, but it wasn’t. It felt nearly as bad as being killed.
So far, though, he always felt glad when he was alive again. He liked being alive. Dead people didn’t have as much fun.
And besides, he had work to do.
“Lie still a minute,” Gwen told him as she wiped his mouth with a lemon soaked tissue that tasted like the ones in the little sachets from KFC. “That was a bad one. Took a while for you to come back.” She wiped his neck, too and made a typically Gwen comment about how it was a good job he was naked because it was hell getting blood out of shirt collars. She always had that touch of domestic about her. And that careful air of indifference to his sexuality that meant she was at least pretending that she didn’t CARE he was stark naked.
“What about…” He sat up quickly. Gwen stepped back to avoid banging heads with him. He looked at the corpse lying beside him. It was far too late to help her.
“Tosh and Owen are on their way up,” Gwen told him. “I was closer. I got here before them.”
“That was dangerous. Coming here on your own. Suppose the killer was still here.”
“Suppose they saw you coming back from the dead?” she answered him. “You don’t want them to know about this, do you?” She touched his neck. There wasn’t a sign of the wound now. The scar was mended. The one on his body, anyway. She couldn’t help wondering what things like that did to his soul.
The other two active members of the Torchwood team came into the room as silently as two people lugging boxes of equipment COULD come into any room. They took in the scene and began to do their jobs quickly and efficiently.
Owen examined the corpse carefully, gently and with respect for the fact that it HAD been a warm, living, breathing Human not so long ago. Jack watched, blinking back a tear. He was ashamed to say he didn’t even know the woman’s name. She had laughed when he asked and told him to call her Randy, but that had been an adjective, not a noun.
It wasn’t as if he was in love with her. Jack didn’t do LOVE. He didn’t do attachments. But he cared. She was a nice woman, who just happened to like fucking men she didn’t really know.
And now she was dead.
“What can you remember about the killer?” Owen asked him as Gwen put plastic gloves on his hands so that he wouldn’t leave any more fingerprints at the scene. A gadget that would have made a CSI officer weep for joy showed up everywhere he had touched in the room. They were all wondering just how he managed to get handprints in THAT exact position on the headboard.
“It wasn’t Human,” he said. “It came through the window as if it wasn’t there. It just kind of ‘soaked’ through it.”
The memory was coming back to him. The creature looked more or less humanoid, except that it had hovered outside a room that was on the eighth floor of the St. David’s Hotel, by the waterfront, and that wasn’t the window that led out onto the balcony.
And it had been black. Just black. A corporeal form with depth and height and width, but just black.
“Could have been a man wearing one of those suits. You know, like Spiderman wears, all over clingy stuff,” Gwen suggested.
“Zentai,” Tosh said.
“Bless you,” Owen responded. It raised a slight smile from everyone, but this wasn’t a time for jokes.
“He wasn’t wearing a zentai,” Jack said. “It wasn’t a he. Not by my definition of a he, anyway. And can somebody pass me my clothes.”
Owen passed him the neat pile of clothing left on the chair and he dressed himself quickly, noting that both women looked away as he did so. They’d both seen him naked, but putting ON clothes bothered them.
They baffled him.
He loved them.
They were the reason even he, a confirmed queer, liked feminine company sometimes.
“Oh, she was married,” Gwen said with a choked up voice as she examined the woman’s belongings. “Felicity Brennan, 29, from Kidderminster. She was a travelling rep for a cosmetics company, in town on business.” She held open the woman’s purse. The fold out bit for pictures revealed a nice looking man who shopped for his cardigans at Matalan and three children, aged from five through three, down to a baby of about six months old.
Jack viewed the pictures and thought about the woman he had slept with. Yes, she FELT like somebody who had given birth. There was a subtle difference, although it hadn’t been something he had commented on at the time.
“Why was she with Jack then?” Tosh asked as she continued to look for forensic evidence, not just of the murderer but also of the presence of Jack in the room. Evidence she was going to remove in a very short time. Apart from it being better for the Torchwood team not to have their boss implicated in a murder, it was going to be much less of a shock to Matalan dad to be told that his wife was killed alone in bed in a hotel room.
She emptied the waste bin full of used condoms into the portable rubbish compactor and incinerator and decided she was not going to comment on how many had been used in the course of the night.
“She’s been married at least five years,” Owen commented as he checked the computer records on his laptop. “I suppose it was getting a bit boring at home. She saw a chance of a bit of variety with our Captain.”
“Yeah, well, she paid the price for her fun,” Gwen said, giving Owen the kind of stare that said “Shut up and don’t say anything else until I tell you to.” She had seen Jack’s face. He had turned from them and walked to the window. He made a pretence of examining it. But Gwen knew he just didn’t want to look at anyone right now. She’d seen the tear in the corner of his eye. She wished he was the sort of man you could say a kind word to and he’d appreciate the thought. But he wasn’t. His hard shell might cover a soft centre, but it covered it good.
“Get all the evidence you can get of what went on in here,” he said. “Then go through the security cameras for the past 24 hours and erase the bit where I came into the hotel with her. Change the register so that she paid with her credit card. And…” He watched as the team did what they had to do, quickly, cleanly, efficiently. When they had to remove the bedding that revealed the presence of another person in the bed with her, he stepped forward and lifted the body. He held her in his arms until they were ready to replace her in a deliberately ruffled bed with blood spatter suitably arranged in order for the police investigators to conclude that she was alone when an unknown assailant attacked her. Let them puzzle over how a killer got into a locked room.
“Of course, a really CLEVER investigator would find out that most of the blood is synthesised,” Gwen said as they went down the back stairs, the security cameras blanking out in sequence to cover their exit.
“Cardiff only ever had ONE clever investigator,” Owen told her. “We’ve got you now. The rest are just plods.”
“You’re so bloody arrogant,” Gwen replied, defending her old colleagues in the ordinary police force. “One day the ‘plods’ will be onto us.”
“That’ll be the day,” Jack answered sarcastically. More sarcastically than usual, Gwen thought. Usually his opinion of the ordinary Cardiff police was about the same as Owen’s, but it was tinged with a little more humour.
“Jack,” she said. “If you need to talk…”
“We’re not the LAPD,” he replied. “We don’t need to run and talk to a therapist every time we experience something traumatic.”
“We’d never get anything done,” Tosh commented. “But Jack? Are you sure you’re ok? Gwen said the killer gave you a bad crack on the head… knocked you out for the count.”
“I’m fine. Bit of a headache. But I’m fine. Let’s get back to the Hub and find out what happened and why.”
But it was a frustrating day. The only thing anyone could come up with was the residual presence of a strange gas in the air and an unidentified substance a little like graphite on both sides of the window glass.
Unidentified, strange, and no help at all in working out WHAT had killed Felicity Brennan.
Everyone on the team noticed how bad-tempered Jack was all through the day. He sat in his office and brooded most of the time, and that worried them all. But it was worse when he came out and paced around the hub watching what they were doing, becoming more and more frustrated that they were getting nowhere.
“Ok,” he said at last. “Everyone fuck off home or wherever you go at night.”
They fucked off. Owen was the last one to find his coat. He turned to Jack as he loitered by the door of his office.
“Do you want to come for a drink?” he asked. “You look like you could use one.”
“I could use LOTS of drinks,” he replied. “But I’d rather drink them alone.”
“You shouldn’t,” Owen answered him. But there was a look on Jack’s face that clearly said ‘Don’t push this.’ He sighed. “Goodnight, Jack.”
“See you tomorrow,” Jack answered him. He waited ten minutes longer then he took the paving slab lift out of the hub, avoiding having to have the same kind of conversation with Ianto at the main exit through the faux tourist board office. He headed towards the waterfront and the drinks he needed to soften the blow of this day.
He hadn’t planned to pull tonight. He had really just wanted to drown his sorrows. But he hadn’t reached that stage of intoxication when the man had walked into the bar. He was drunk enough to think for a heart-stopping second it WAS the man he had longed to walk into the bar, and back into his life. He was the right height, build, age, with black hair cut very short and even a black leather jacket, though not the sort that was imprinted on Jack’s brain as an integral part of that bitter-sweet memory.
Even if it wasn’t him, he was near enough Jack’s type to set his libido screaming.
A man like that isn’t going to be gay, he told himself. He’s going to be uptight about it and give me a kicking for coming on to him.
He felt a brief longing for his own century when almost everyone was not only bi-sexual, but totally up for it. It was all a lot HARDER in the 21st century.
But there was a recklessness about him that made him try anyway. A good kicking might almost be as therapeutic as a good fuck, though he would PREFER the latter. He slid off his seat and approached the man as he stood waiting to be served.
“Can I get you that?” Jack asked. And to his astonishment the man looked him in the eye and smiled warmly.
“Yes, please,” he said. His hand covered Jack’s on the bartop. “Are you here alone?”
“Not any more, I think,” Jack answered. The man smiled warmly. Jack’s heart skipped a beat.
A different hotel this time. The top floor of the Marriot, overlooking the café quarter. And the night turned out to be everything he could have hoped for. The dark-haired man was called Llewellyn and his Welsh accent was the only jarring note in a sweet fantasy Jack wove for himself. His one unrequited love was for a man with a very different accent. But the fantasy was nice, and the sex was fantastic. Llewellyn gave as good as he got, several times. And afterwards they cuddled up close together.
Funny, he thought, but he liked cuddling up to warm flesh almost as much as he liked the sex.
He fell asleep in that warm, satisfied afterglow of really good love-making, thinking that he would buy Llewellyn the best breakfast the Marriott did in the morning, and ask him for his number. Surprisingly, Jack’s little black book was a slim one, and he didn’t have very many numbers in it. It wasn’t so much that he was a love them and leave them man – well not always – more that his life, his work, made longer lasting relationships tricky. When they asked what he did for a living, where he came from with that American accent of his, where he lived, whether he had any family, it was time to call a halt to the relationship.
It was better not to have attachments. But now and again even he wanted something more than a one night stand.
He woke suddenly and his heart thudded as he saw the dark creature standing over him. He managed to scream out once as the knife came down into his heart then everything went black.
When he opened his eyes again he felt even worse than he usually did. Because he knew what he was going to find when he turned over in the bed. He was covered in arterial blood spurt that wasn’t all his own.
“Llewellyn,” he whispered and touched the dead man’s face gently. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
He sat up on the edge of the bed. He put his hands over his face and it was a full ten minutes before he had composed himself enough to call Torchwood.
“Jack, what the hell is going on?” Owen asked him as the team set to work on the scene of crime. “Do you know what this would look like to anyone else? You are suspect number one in two murders.”
“Do you think I don’t know that,” he answered snappishly. “Do you have any idea how I feel… two people… two wonderful people – are dead because they slept with me.”
“Not because of you, surely?” Gwen said. “It must be coincidence.”
“Have any other people been killed in their beds last night?” he asked.
“Then it’s because of me.”
“Why?” Owen asked. “Why would anyone kill your lovers, Jack?”
“I don’t KNOW!” he screamed out. And everyone backed off and worked around him. Jack was a hard nut to crack, but he wasn’t far off it right now. And they all knew enough about him to know one thing.
If he cracked right open they didn’t want to be in the vicinity.
“It’s not possible that he DID do it?” Owen asked as they sat together and looked at the flimsy evidence. Jack was in his office, pretending to work, but everyone knew he was doing nothing of the sort.
“Does he LOOK like somebody who has murdered two people?” Tosh asked.
“It’s Jack we’re talking about. He WOULDN’T. He’s not…” Gwen trailed off. She knew what they were all thinking. None of them knew anything about who he was or what he was before he was the boss of Torchwood Three. They didn’t even entirely know how he GOT the job. Maybe he WAS a murderer in the past.
“NO,” she insisted. “He’s NOT. He didn’t.”
“Well of course I bloody didn’t,” Jack said. They looked around and wondered how long he had been standing there. “Have you GOT anything?”
“Same as yesterday,” Owen said. “A sort of gas in the air – if I had to guess, I’d say it was the alien breathing out. It takes in air and expels a completely different gas which I haven’t identified yet. But when I do, I think it will add another element to the known periodic table.”
“Fuck the periodic table,” Jack said. “Do something that helps us find that thing. Or else fuck off and stop wasting the air in here.”
“Jack, calm down,” Gwen told him. “Shouting at us won’t help.”
He turned to her with the phrase ‘you fuck off, too’ on his lips but he met her innocent yet firm, no-nonsense face and his mood melted away.
“Jack,” she continued gently. “You’re no good to anyone right now. Get out of here. Go find somewhere quiet and clear your head.”
He turned and headed towards the pavement lift. Everyone watched him go. They wondered WHERE somewhere quiet was for him. He didn’t have a home as far as they knew. He lived in a sort of ‘nest’ here in the hub, with a bed, some books, clothes. He was there when they all arrived in to work in the morning and watched them all leave at the end of the day and what he did there when they were all gone they didn’t know and didn’t WANT to know. It was his business.
But where did he go to get away from Torchwood?
Jack climbed out onto the narrow spar of reinforced steel that jutted out from the top of Cardiff’s third tallest building, The Altolusso. It was HIS quiet place, where he came when he wanted to clear his head. He looked out over the city he had come to love, that was ALMOST home to a man who had no home as such.
He looked down. A train went by 236 feet below.
If he threw himself off the building, if he fell those 236 feet, he would stand up and walk away a few minutes later. That was the gift that had been bestowed on him – or the curse.
If he threw himself off into the path of a train, his body would be MINCED. He couldn’t possibly wake up from that.
One day, he promised himself, when he was ready, that’s how he would do it.
Nobody was supposed to live forever.
“Jack!” He looked at the service door just below him and saw Gwen stepping out onto the roof.
“How did you find me?”
“A train driver reported a ‘jumper’ on top of the building. We tuned in on the webcam and there you were.”
“I’m not going to jump.”
“Good, come on down. Owen has a sort of an idea. You’re not going to like it, but it’s worth a try.”
“You have got to be kidding!” Jack said as he sat in the coffee lounge of the Jurys Hotel opposite The Altolusso. “No, no way.”
“It’s the best plan so far,” Tosh told him in a calm, quiet voice.
“A honeytrap?” Jack said the syllables as if they were poison. “You get me and some innocent dupe into bed and wait for the creature to turn up…”
“Exactly,” Owen said. “We’ll be right there for you, Jack. You won’t be in any danger. Nor will the ‘dupe’.”
“Who would it be?” he asked. “Do I pick up some lucky member of the public?”
“We thought it had better be one of us,” Ianto said.
Jack looked at them all. Two men and two women whom he worked with every day, whom he cared for as friends.
And whom he had NEVER slept with, any of them.
“Strictly business?” he asked with a wicked smile. “So… who gets the short straw?”
It was the first time they had ever spent social time together, all five of them. Ironic that it was in the line of duty. But they did their best to appear to be five people having a good time, eating dinner together, letting their hair down in the club, as they laid their plan for later.
Afterwards, Jack and Gwen went up in the lift together to the room he had booked on the top floor of the Jurys Hotel. The others quietly and unobtrusively went up the service stairs and were in place in the room even before they arrived. Ianto was sitting in the built in wardrobe, Tosh and Owen in the bathroom.
“Not exactly a romantic twosome,” Jack joked as he pulled off his clothes. He left his boxer shorts on. Something about Gwen’s expression as he stripped suggested there was a point where duty ended and voyeurism began.
Gwen didn’t take all her clothes off, either. She wore a very pretty black lingerie number under her skirt and blouse. Lacy knickers and a camisole top. Jack thought about her boyfriend, Rhys. He didn’t look like very much. He had wondered sometimes what she saw in him. But he was a lucky man if she put those on for him.
Can I cuddle up to you?” Jack asked as she slid between the sheets. “I promise I won’t do anything unbecoming our professional relationship, but it has to look authentic.”
“Come here, you daft bugger,” she said, reaching and putting her arms around him. He rested his head on her shoulder, nuzzling her hair as it fell around his face. He felt strangely vulnerable as she held him close to her.
He was completely and utterly sexually unaroused, she noticed. She wondered what she would do if he was.
“Would be a night to remember,” Jack whispered, and she didn’t wonder how he knew that’s what she was thinking. “But there’s a time and a place, as a good friend once told me.”
“Your friend was right,” she whispered back and cuddled him closer.
Apart from anything else, two people he had recently had sex with were dead now. NOT having sex with Gwen was safer for her.
“I wonder how long…” she murmured. “If I fall asleep…”
“We’ll be all right,” he assured her. “Our friends are here.”
“What if they fall asleep?”
“They’re all bloody fired,” Jack answered. Her whole body shook as she giggled at his joke. It cleared the slight tension that was building up and he was glad of it because he didn’t know how long it was going to take before something happened and the waiting was tearing at his nerves.
They both did snooze slightly in the warmth of the shared bed. The night passed slowly and but for the dread of what would happen next, rather pleasantly. Jack wondered what it would be like to be Gwen’s regular boyfriend, able to snuggle up to her like this every night.
Lucky man, was his conclusion for the second time that night.
Gwen almost, but not quite, wished she didn’t have a boyfriend and that Jack was the sort who would settle down.
Although if he did, she reasoned, he wouldn’t exactly BE Jack. That hint of danger and mystery and uncertainty was what he was all about.
It was just after dawn when the trap sprung. Jack leapt from the bed, his gun at the ready as the others emerged from their hiding places. They looked at the creature inside the mobile ‘cell’. It WAS exactly as Jack had described. It was humanoid in shape but looked at if it was made of coal or graphite or carbon. It had rudimentary features on the face. Black eyes turned towards Jack as he approached.
“Why did you kill those people?” he demanded. “Why are you trying to kill people who are with me? Why are you trying to kill me?”
“You killed my mate,” the creature replied in a voice that was like the sound of coal. Nobody quite knew why they thought that, but it was what they ALL thought.
“I did not,” Jack answered. “When? What are you accusing me of? And if I did, what gives you the right to murder innocent people?”
“You killed my mate.” The creature reached out a hand as if it wanted to make contact with Jack. He backed away at first, then he reached for his wristlet and switched off the cell.
“Keep your guns on it,” he told the others as he stepped near. The creature reached out again and touched his head, just above his left temple. Jack gasped as he felt the creature’s memory of the ‘crime’ he was alleged to have committed play back in his mind.
It was years ago, in another lifetime. It was when he was a time agent from the 51st century.
It was one of the events that happened in the two years that had been erased from his memory.
It must be, because he would have remembered otherwise. And until the creature reminded him he had no recollection of it at all.
“Yes, I killed him,” he said. “But he had killed fifty other people first. It was in the line of duty. I have nothing to feel guilty for. And you have no score to settle. Your mate was a mass murderer who turned an atomiser ray on innocent civilians in a space port shopping mall.”
“You killed him. I will kill everyone YOU care about.”
“Everyone I care about!” Jack laughed. “I’m Captain Jack the lad. I sleep with anything and everything. I’ve probably fucked one of your kind at some point if I was drunk enough at the time. Caring is another matter. The people you killed… They didn’t even know who I am. They were just people I had sex with. They weren’t my ‘mate’. They weren’t people I loved. They were just innocent people.”
At the back of his mind Jack had the strangest feeling he knew what it was called. It was a Cru’dyr-Giff. He couldn’t quite remember the planet it came from but…
“There is one you DO care for,” the creature said. And it stared at him so intensely. He wasn’t transmitting any pictures this time, but a face, a figure, came into Jack’s mind.
“You…” He said in a choked voice. “You touch him and… and I’ll blow your whole fucking planet up. I don’t know where it is, but I’ll find out…”
“Jack, what the hell are you talking about?” Owen asked him. “We don’t blow up planets. We don’t have anything that would do that.”
“No,” Jack said. “But I do have something. I’ve got a memory of how I killed his mate. How I got rid of the killer the last time.”
Bullets hadn’t worked. They made neat holes right through and left little piles of dust on the floor. But the creature had kept on shooting at everyone in sight. The only thing that worked….
He remembered turning from the creature and firing his gun at a much smaller target, on the far wall of the Food Court where the worst of the killings had occurred. People had said it was a lucky shot. But it wasn’t. It was a damn good shot. One he had been proud of at the time, he now recalled.
He looked at the window. It had started raining. It wasn’t before, when the creature came in, but this was Cardiff, Wales. The weather could change in an eyeblink. And now, it was raining.
He shot the window. In the split second as it shattered he ran forward, pushing the creature with him. His momentum took them both through the window. He screamed as he fell. Gwen and Tosh both screamed in the room, Ianto and Owen both swore loudly.
He didn’t fall all the way to the ground. The tiered roof of the hotel restaurant was only thirty feet below. They both landed on it. He got up first, winded and sore, but better off than anyone without his peculiar advantages. The creature stood up, too. It wasn’t going to give up easily, even though it must have known it was finished. It growled as it squared up to him and ran at him. He didn’t bother trying to shoot it. He hit it with an old fashioned upper cut that would have floored a Human being, followed by a knee in what would have been the groin if these creatures HAD a groin. He probably wouldn’t have fucked it, after all, he reflected. It didn’t seem to have any erogenous zones. He wondered briefly how it and it's ‘mate’ had ‘mated’, then decided that, for once in his life, he didn’t care.
In any case, not having erogenous zones was the least of the creature’s problems. It was starting not to have anything. When it hit back at him sticky bits of its ‘flesh’ - for want of a better word -stayed on his cheek like mud, and when he hit it in the face again his hand sank in as if it was soft clay.
He remembered the automatic sprinklers coming on in the mall as his bullet hit the fire alarm control panel square on. The killer creature had dissolved like a coal coloured snowman in the sunshine.
And so was this one. He stopped hitting it. There was no need to do anything more to it. It couldn’t even move now. Its feet were stuck to the roof tiles underneath it. He watched dispassionately as it slowly melted away and its constituent ‘mud’ was washed away by the rain.
He looked around and wondered how he was going to get back into his room and get dressed. He didn’t think they’d let him in the front door dressed in nothing but a pair of wet, muddy boxer shorts.
Then a fire door opened. He ran for it. Inside, Owen was holding out a hotel bath robe. He took it gratefully and wrapped it around himself as he went back up to the hotel room where the team were already starting to clean up the evidence of their adventure. The broken window was going to be hard to explain, though.
There were a lot of questions his friends would have liked to have asked Jack. What WAS the story of Jack and the creature’s mate? When had he killed it? Why had he killed it?
Who was the one man Jack really DID care about?
Nobody dared to ask him.
“Breakfast is on me,” was all he said. “Then you can all have the morning off to catch up on your sleep before business as usual.”