Jack sat down on the narrow single bed in what had been described to him as a ‘twin’ room. He sighed as he looked at the flattened hollowfoam pillow, the nylon sheets and the patchwork counterpane.
“I’m sorry,” Ianto said as he sat on the other bed dismally. “I didn’t expect…”
“Why are you sorry?” Jack asked. “I told you to keep your foot on the accelerator. It’s not your fault that a gallon of alien stomach acid ate through the radiator when we hit the ugly bastard. It’s not your fault the only garage within thirty miles hasn’t got parts for a Volvo. Nor is it your fault that this is the only guest house that will accept two male guests at short notice. Or that most of central Wales is paranoid and homophobic!”
“I don’t think it’s a gay thing,” Ianto assured him. “Alun and I often drive up through the country at weekends and we usually find the little old ladies who run these sort of establishments very accommodating.”
“That’s because you and Alun are a pair of polite, blue eyed young men who look like butter wouldn’t melt in your mouths and you bring out the mothering instinct in them,” Jack answered. “Don’t worry, this will be ok for one night.”
Ianto examined the portable television fixed on a wall stand that was meant to qualify as ‘TV in all rooms’. He decided it wasn’t worth the effort. He wasn’t impressed by the sachets of instant Nescafe, tea bags, sugar and long life milk that passed as ‘tea and coffee facilities’, either. He made two mugs of what he regarded as very inferior product though, and passed one to Jack.
“It’s like one of those films where people from the city get stuck in the middle of some small hick town and have to cope with a whole different kind of life,” Ianto commented as he sat on the edge of his bed and sipped his coffee.
“Thelma and Louise or Deliverance?” Jack asked with a soft laugh.
“The first,” Ianto decided after a moment’s thought. “I’ll be Thelma…”
They both laughed. Jack put his coffee cup on the beside table. As he did, in a uncharacteristically clumsy moment he knocked his wallet onto the floor. Ianto reached for it. As he handed it back to Jack something fell out. A photograph that had been tucked into the folds of the leather. Ianto reached for that, too. He couldn’t help noticing how old and delicate it was. Elderly brown tape reinforced the back and prevented it disintegrating altogether.
And in the brief moment he looked at the picture he took in some obvious details. It had to be at least a century old anyway. The clothes worn by the man in the picture were a big clue. Late Victorian, possibly early Edwardian.
And Jack held the picture as if it was precious to him, gazing at it with his blue eyes softened before hastily putting it away again.
Ianto made a guess. Jack nodded and smiled.
“I know what you’re thinking. Just like Jack. A lover in every port.”
“Your reputation does go before you,” Ianto pointed out. “But you still carry his picture. He must have been more than just one of many.” Jack always portrayed himself as a love-em-and-leave-em lothario. But Ianto knew him better than that. He just wondered why he had never heard about this former lover before.
“I don’t carry it all the time,” Jack replied. “It’s…” He blinked and then swallowed hard. “Tomorrow… it’s… the anniversary… of the day Laurence Norman died…”
“Oh, Jack!” Ianto’s eyes welled up in sympathy. Jack half smiled and reached out his hand.
“If we’re going to tell bedtime stories like we used to, come and cuddle up.” Ianto hesitated. “It’s ok,” he assured him. “We’re both into monogamy these days, but we’re still friends. And I don’t think either of our lovers would begrudge us.”
Jack stretched himself on the narrow bed with his back against the wall. Ianto lay beside him. Jack’s arm slipped around his waist and his head rested on Ianto’s shoulder.
“He worked for Torchwood, of course,” Jack said. “Though he didn’t have to. His full name was The Honourable Laurence Edward Norman. His father was a Viscount. There was a fair bit of hereditary money floating around. He had a sizeable house near Roath Park and plenty of servants looking after him. And he was as queer as a nine-bob note.”
Ianto was surprised by that last comment, coming from Jack, who didn’t usually pigeon hole anyone in that way.
“He WAS!” Jack insisted. “He wore women’s perfume and practically minced when he walked. If he lived in this century he would probably have gone in for the ‘little operation’ and changed his name to Laura. In the late Victorian era he just had to be very discreet when he chose the men who would share the ‘love that dare not speak its name’ with him.”
“You were one of those men?” Ianto asked.
“Some of the time,” Jack answered. “When he needed me.”
“He was killed in the line of duty? For Torchwood?”
“You… could say that. You know the history of Cardiff? 1897…”
Ianto nodded. Yes, he knew.
“In the official history of Cardiff, it was the summer of the worst cholera outbreak in living memory. In Torchwood’s archives it was…” Ianto sighed and gripped Jack around the neck. He held him close. He knew, as did all of his friends by now, that Jack had been working for Torchwood Three from the late 1870s But even he, when he looked at the archive reports, never quite tied those long closed cases with the man who looked and felt not much older than forty. He felt a little shocked and very sorry as he realised what he must have been through in that terrible summer.
Jack appreciated his sympathy as he let his memory go back. He remembered the Hub under the militant feminist rule of Emily Holroyd and her ‘companion’, Alice Guppy. They both took a perverse interest in sending him on missions where he was almost guaranteed to be killed. He wasn’t sure if it was as an experiment to see how immortal he was or just a sadistic game they loved to play with him.
But that summer it was too serious for games. They needed him alive. Torchwood was up against an alien threat that might have destroyed the Human race if it had been allowed to take hold.
It was Alice who had given him the envelope with the address on. Another location to be sterilised. Laurence attended alongside him. They talked very little as they travelled on top of the long black horse drawn van. There was already something solemn about the vehicle even when it was empty. When they came out of the house and drove to the crematorium it would be even worse.
“Oh,” Laurence murmured as they came into the quiet street and parked in front of the infected house. “There are children.”
In the front garden of the pleasant looking villa, a doll’s house and a brightly coloured ball had been left out by the children. The mother - or perhaps the nursemaid in a house as well appointed as this one - must have forgotten to fetch them in. Perhaps the infection was already beginning as long ago as yesterday afternoon when the children played.
Jack sighed. It was so much worse when there were children.
They parked the van close to the gate. There was a policeman already there. He nodded to Jack and Laurence and said nothing. Nobody said anything to them on these occasions. Get it done, quickly, quietly. Get the bodies in the van, then the cleaners could come in and complete the sterilisation of the property. Nobody would even walk past if they could help it. Curtains would stay closed in nearby homes.
“These days, there would be a crowd with camera phones,” Ianto commented. “The whole thing would be on YouTube in an hour.”
“No,” Jack answered him. “It wouldn’t. If it happened now, if there was as much fear now as there was then, nobody would be there.”
Ianto shivered as he heard the tone in which Jack spoke those words. It seemed to come from beyond the grave.
The front door was locked. Jack burst it open. The noise had been loud in the early morning silence, but even so, nobody would comment. A curtain or two might twitch. But they would see the ‘hush wagon’ as it was becoming known and nothing more would be said.
“Them that asks no questions isn't told a lie - Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by.”
The words came into Jack’s mind, but he couldn’t remember if the poem had been published yet, so he didn’t say it aloud.
The house was quiet. They always were. Laurence nodded towards the narrow passage that would go down to the kitchen. Jack indicated that he would go upstairs. Larger houses always took longer to search. Yesterday they had gone into a terraced street by the docks. There had been three infected houses in a row, but since each house only had four rooms it had been easy to find the victims.
They were in their beds. It had come upon them in the night. Jack looked at the mother and father of the house, their faces so covered in the pustules that they were almost unidentifiable as faces. Their mouths were open as if in a scream. Jack didn’t have to get too close to see that they were full of dark yellow liquid. Their bodies would be almost hollow by now. The creatures that had infected them would be at least an inch long, swimming about in the bile, growing.
Nobody had actually found out what they were going to grow into. Torchwood had destroyed every larva they came across. The risk was too great. Every single one of them had to be destroyed.
He reached into his pocket and took out the small flask with a skull and crossbones label on it. He unscrewed the top and poured a drop into each open mouth. The bile fizzed and foamed. Jack stepped back. What happened next was nauseating. The catalytic agent spread through the body, and the dying larvae poured out of the body in the thick, vile foam. It turned his stomach every time he saw it. And he had been ordered to watch until it stopped foaming, to be sure.
He repeated the process in the maid’s room where the young woman lay on her side, yellow liquid spilling from her mouth. Then the nanny.
He steeled himself to go into the nursery. He knew what he was going to find, and he hated it.
There were two children. A boy and a girl, aged maybe six or seven. Their room looked like something straight out of Mary Poppins. Two little beds with Tiffany night lamps and a rocking horse in one corner, a big doll’s house in the other, a cuckoo clock on the wall.
The boy was dead. Jack made sure the creatures that had killed him died, too.
She had all the symptoms. The bumps under the skin where the larvae were burrowing, the yellowish tinge to the flesh. She was infected all right.
But she wasn’t dead yet. As Jack leaned over she opened her eyes. Her mouth twisted in fear of a stranger looking over her.
“Go back to sleep,” Jack told her in a gentle voice. “I’m a doctor. I’ve come to make you better.”
He opened the flask and dropped a little of the liquid into her mouth. She cried because it tasted vile.
“It’s medicine to make you well again,” Jack lied. He watched as the poison entered her bloodstream. It killed her fairly quickly and painlessly, and her face looked calm and serene in death – for twenty seconds, at least, before the foam and larvae spilled out between her lips.
Jack did what needed to be done. He wrapped the bodies in oilcloth and sealed them. He put every piece of bedding that had been touched by the foam into a box that would go into the back of the van to be incinerated. In a very short time, the cleaners would remove every piece of furniture and carpet and all that would be burnt, too. The wallpaper would be stripped and destroyed. Every inch of the house would be disinfected.
He carried the bodies downstairs one by one and laid them in the hallway. Laurence came up from the kitchen with the wrapped bodies of the cook and scullery maid, and a smaller body that he said was the family dog.
“The children?” Laurence asked.
Jack’s eyes told him everything. Laurence reached out a hand to him. But it was a hand enclosed in a glove that would go in the same box of contaminated cloth. So would the ones he was wearing. They didn’t dare touch each other in this place.
“We’d better get on with this,” he said after a while. “The sooner it’s done, the better.”
They put the bodies into the van. As they did so, the cleaners arrived and began their necessary task. The policeman waiting by the gate said nothing. He just kept on doing his duty until it was all over.
The street was quiet. Nobody watched them drive away. Nobody paid any attention when they reached the quiet place just outside the city where the grim task was completed. The cremation pit was hidden behind a thick stand of trees. The smoke rising up almost non-stop was unmistakeable. Everyone knew what it was. But nobody talked about it.
The smell was unmistakeable when they got close. Anyone who had ever smelt Human flesh being incinerated would know it.
Jack Harkness knew it. It was one of the eidetic memories he had of the Boeshane Peninsula. A certain perfume gave him soft, good memories. So did the taste of scrambled eggs, and a few other things. But the smell of crematoria reminded him of the days immediately after the massacre, when the bodies were gathered and burnt under an emergency ordinance to prevent the spread of disease. Even though it was done far from the refugee camp where he had ended up, the smell drifted on the breeze.
He would know it anywhere. And it would always turn his stomach.
They carried the bodies carefully from the van and brought them in the pit. They were all sealed in oilcloth, so he didn’t know exactly which was which, but when he picked up one of the small bodies, Jack was almost certain it was the girl. His heart thudded as he dropped her into the flames. He turned away quickly. Sometimes the oilcloth burned away fast, and the dead faces looked back at him briefly before they were engulfed.
“Come on,” Laurence said to him. “We’ve done our duty. Let’s get back to the office.”
“Yes,” Jack said. What else could they do? They climbed up on the van and Laurence took the reins. They drove back to the docklands of Cardiff without talking very much. Jack closed his eyes and breathed in the subtle scent that Laurence wore. It was some kind of musk, and it almost drove away that other smell that lingered in his nostrils.
“I know the smell,” Ianto said. “Canary Wharf… the cybermen… they incinerated the bodies they were done with…”
“Yes,” Jack remembered. “Yes. You do know, don’t you, sweetheart.” He hugged Ianto close. His body was warm next to him. His cheek when he placed a gentle kiss on it, was soft. Ianto was too young to have so many unpleasant experiences. All of his team were. And Jack blamed himself for putting them into so much danger.
He was blaming himself that day, too. Everyone in the Hub knew that Jack was out of sorts. His brooding presence as he sat and wrote his report about the sterilisation was affecting all of his colleagues. Not that any of them were especially happy just now. The infestation was the worst challenge Torchwood had faced since its foundation and nobody was sure when it would end. But Jack was having the most trouble being professional and methodical about the necessary work.
Alice Guppy stopped by the desk and picked up the neatly written sheet. She read his report cursorily.
“One of the children was alive when you got there?”
“She was infected?”
“And you euthanized her?”
Jack didn’t speak. He nodded cursorily.
“Then the job is done.” Alice dropped the page back onto the desk. “Finish your report quickly. Miss Holroyd wants to see you.”
“To hell with Miss Holroyd,” Jack responded angrily. “The job is done? Murdering a child is a ‘job’?”
“Euthanizing,” Alice corrected him.
“Murder,” Jack insisted. “I murdered a little girl. She was seven at the most. She was… beautiful… and I killed her and dropped her body into a cremation pit along with her whole family. And I’m supposed to pat myself on my back for a job well done? I’m supposed to… to take a bath and wash the ash of her body from my skin, and forget she ever existed.”
“Yes,” Alice told him. “Control yourself, Mr Harkness. You are being emotional.”
“That’s Captain Harkness to you,” he responded. “And yes, I am being emotional. Torchwood is meant to protect humanity. But if we forget what it is to be Human ourselves then there is no point.”
His outburst echoed around the Hub. Other agents looked up from their own reports and then turned their faces away. The door to the inner office opened and Emily Holroyd strode down the steps. Striding was something Jack thought only men could do until he met Emily. Despite his childhood in the sexually liberated fifty first century, he also had some thoughts about women being the weaker sex – until he met Emily.
“Captain Harkness,” she said when she was standing above him. “Go home, get some sleep and consider very seriously where you would be without Torchwood.”
Homeless for one thing, Jack thought. Didn’t she realise he usually slept somewhere in the Hub? He didn’t have a home to go to.
“I’ll take him to my home and make sure he rests,” Laurence said, standing up and putting a protective hand on Jack’s shoulder.
“Fine,” Emily snapped and turned away. The other Torchwood agents carried on pretending to be working as Jack stood and walked with Laurence up the steps that emerged in the middle of the busy docklands. They walked a little further until Laurence could summon a hansom cab from the rank. Jack didn’t say much on the journey, but in the privacy of the closed cab he appreciated Laurence’s hand around his own and the way he sat so very close to him.
“Where are your servants?” Jack asked as he saw Laurence produce a key and open the front door of the elegant town house near the only recently completed Roath Park. In any era he had visited, Jack had never known a member of the upper class to carry their own doorkey. They always had a butler who magically opened the door as soon as they mounted the front step.
“I’ve sent them all away, to my father’s country estate,” he answered. “The infection… I wanted to protect them.”
That was a plausible answer, of course. Many of the houses in the neighbourhood were closed for the very same reason. The families and their servants had gone to the country while the ‘cholera outbreak’ was dealt with.
“You stayed… despite the danger?” Jack kissed his cheek. “Brave of you.”
“I work for Torchwood,” he replied. “I can’t just run away. None of us can. We know the truth. Come on. Sit in the solar. I’ll fix a cold drink.”
The solar, with its big French window facing south, was bright and airy. Laurence opened up the window and the scent of summer flowers drifted in. Jack sat on the plush chaise and relaxed a little as he heard the sound of ice being broken up. Laurence actually could afford to have ice available for his drinks in the height of summer.
Presently Laurence pressed a fresh mint julep into his hand and sat next to him, his one arm snaking around his waist, the other caressing Jack’s face tenderly. He turned his head and allowed his rich lover to kiss him with cool, mint-flavoured lips.
“That’s better,” Laurence said. “You’re calming down a bit, now. I’ve been reading about this idea from the far east, about releasing pent up frustrations through massage and relaxation.”
“Yeah, I know about it,” Jack answered. “If you’re offering to give me a massage, I don’t mind. But when we’re done, the reason for my frustration will still be there. I murdered that child, Laurence. There’s no other word for it. And that’s not who I am. I’ve done a lot of bad stuff in my life. I’ve killed with my bare hands. I’ve had sex orgies that would make you blush with shame. I’ve… I’ve tortured and maimed those I thought deserved it. And I may have been right or wrong about that. I’ve conned money from those who were stupid enough to be conned. But I’ve never harmed a child.”
“She was infected,” Laurence reminded him again. “In a matter of hours she would have been dead. It was a mercy killing. You know there’s no cure.”
“Are we absolutely sure of that? Has anybody even tried? Did we condemn all these people far too soon? What about developing a vaccination – a comprehensive immunisation programme for the whole city? She could have been saved. So many of them could have been saved. Instead, we’re just mopping up afterwards.”
“We’re doing that,” Laurence assured him. “We’ve got people down there in the Hub basement working on the problem night and day. When we do, this will all be over. You know it will, Jack. You’ve seen the future. You know that this isn’t going to destroy the Human race.”
“It’ll destroy me,” Jack replied. “If it goes on much longer. Damn it. If Tom Gynne hadn’t escaped we might have figured something out by now. He was the one… the x-case… the one the alien pod affected in the first place. But we had it contained. We had him contained. Then he got away… and…”
Tom had escaped from the Hub and that was the last anyone saw of him. They knew he had taken a tram from the docks. Because that was how the infection had begun. He had coughed or vomited or something, and everyone on the tram had been contaminated. The tram conductor, the driver, had gone to their terraced houses in Grangetown and infected their wives and children. Likewise, three dockworkers on their way home from their shift. These had already been found and their bodies reduced to ash. The young housemaid who had been sitting near him had contaminated not only her own family, but also the household she worked for. Still worse, the piano teacher who had visited four addresses that day before going home because he didn’t feel well.
The only blessing was that once the infection took hold it worked fast. Those who had it were dead within a day. They had no further opportunity to infect others. Even so, cases were still popping up. The house they were at this morning – the parlour maid was the sister of the housemaid on the tram. She had been visiting her family and brought the infection back.
They thought they had that first wave of victims contained now. But if Tom Gynne was still at large, still infecting people, then they didn’t know where it might end.
“I don’t blame him for running,” Laurence said. “He wanted to live. The experiments they wanted to carry out would have killed him. The queen was lodged in his body in such a way…”
“Then he should have been prepared to die,” Jack answered. “Rather than spreading an alien infection around the city. He worked for Torchwood. He should have given up his own life for the greater good.”
“That sounds more like Emily Holroyd talking. Cold-hearted, calculating bitch that she is. Besides, it’s easy for you to say, Jack. Death is only ever a quiet interlude for you.”
“It’s not. It’s hard, and it’s painful. And sometimes I wish I could just die and be done with it. For me, sometimes, living is harder than dying. I have to live with so many memories… of so many terrible things I’ve done. Like… like killing that girl.”
“I think you’re just feeling sorry for yourself,” Laurence told him. “Finish your drink and come upstairs. I’ll give you a reason for living.”
Despite his gloom, Jack found that offer attractive. He let Laurence take him by the hand up to the master bedroom. He wasn’t quite ready to let go of his issues yet. But Laurence was a Victorian man. He had never heard of the concept of ‘letting go of issues’. He just wanted to have sex with him.
And it was good sex. It drove away the painful memories for a while. Afterwards he lay in the big, wide bed next to his lover and felt a little better about himself.
“But you’re a tease, Laurence,” he told him as they kissed. “You don’t really love me. I’m just a change from the usual working class roughs you like to bring to your bed.”
“This is true,” Laurence admitted. “You’re neither working class nor rough, Jack. You’re a beautiful enigma. As for love… Do I dare love you? You don’t belong here. You’ve no reason to stay. When your alien friend arrives to take you away you won’t give me a passing thought.”
“When did I tell you about… my alien friend?” Jack asked. “That’s a secret. I never told anyone about that.”
“New Years’ Eve, when you had a bit too much of the champagne from my wine cellar. And you told me you’re only here on planet Earth until ‘The Doctor’ comes to take you away with him.”
“I’ve got to stop drinking alcohol,” Jack admitted. “It makes me say stupid things. I don’t even know if The Doctor will have me back even if I do find him. A lot happened the last time we were together. Probably better if we kept our distance. But I wish I could talk to him just once. There’s some stuff we need to sort out.”
“So you could stay and be my Captain!” Laurence said delightedly.
“In the century I was born in, you could be my wife and I’d be your captain!” he said with a laugh. “But here and now… we’ve got to be careful. Anything more than just a casual relationship would be dangerous. Five years hard labour would kill you, sweetheart.”
“Let’s make the most of it while we can, then,” he said and embraced Jack again. They kissed softly and slowly and worked up their passions again. Afterwards they both slept peacefully even though it was still only mid afternoon.
When Jack woke, it was early evening, still very bright and very sunny. The sun shone in onto the bed and warmed his naked body as he stretched his limbs and dispelled the slight stiffness from sleeping during the day.
Laurence wasn’t in the bed. He had been gone a while. The sheets were cool. Jack sat up and reached for his clothes.
He headed downstairs and searched in the drawing room, dining room, library and solar. There was no sign of life. He headed down towards the kitchen. Since Laurence had sent his servants away he would have to fend for himself.
The kitchen was down a short flight of steps and along a narrow corridor. One door leading from it led to the butler’s parlour, one to the cook’s dayroom, others to storerooms and pantries.
Another door led to a dark staircase, which Jack guessed went to the wine cellar. The door was ajar, and he was surprised to hear voices. One was Laurence.
His heart froze as he recognised the other voice. A bitter sense of betrayal overwhelmed him. After all that Laurence had said to him earlier, he couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
He crept quietly down the stairs. At the bottom his view was blocked by a large cabinet that was cold to the touch – the ice cabinet where Laurence kept huge slabs to cool his food in the larder or to break up to make iced mint juleps. But he could hear the voices clearly. They were louder now, not because he was closer, but because the conversation was getting heated.
“I’m just as much a prisoner here as I was at Torchwood,” raged the voice Jack had never expected to hear again. “I might as well have surrendered to Emily’s vivisectionists…. Let them cut me to pieces to find the thing inside me… no matter that it is attached to my organs… that my heart is beating because it makes it beat, that I’m breathing because it wants me to breathe.”
“I’m sorry,” Laurence answered, his voice heavy with emotion. “It’s just for a little while longer. Once they find a cure… but until then you can’t go outside. You said yourself the queen is ready to spawn again. You could kill thousands. You’re safe here. I’ve sent my staff away. You can’t contaminate anyone.”
“I can’t touch anyone. Not even you. You brought me here because you loved me. But I can’t even touch you… and… and I know you’ve had another man with you today. I heard you. I’m your prisoner down here, without even the comfort of a Human hand on my flesh, and you’re… you’re upstairs making love to another.”
“I’m sorry, Tom,” Laurence answered. “I am sorry. I never meant to hurt you that way. I… I did love you. That’s why I risked everything to protect you. But… I have needs…”
“SO DO I!” Tom screamed. “I need to see sunlight again. I need to breathe clean air. I need to know whether it’s night or day. I’m not even sure how long I’ve been here. And every time I look at you… standing there on the other side of this screen… I can’t even kiss you…”
Jack thought quickly. And he thought like a Torchwood agent. He thought as Emily Holroyd would want him to think. When they came into the house, both he and Laurence were armed. They had hung their gunbelts on the hatstand in the hallway. Both were fully loaded. But he would only need one.
He turned to go back up the stairs. And then cursed himself for misjudging his step. He fell awkwardly, on his hands and knees, and the noise was enough to attract the attention of both occupants of the wine cellar.
“Jack!” Laurence yelled in anguish. “Oh, no, Jack. You weren’t supposed to know. You weren’t supposed to see….”
“Obviously not,” Jack answered coldly as he picked himself up and stepped fully into the cellar. It was well lit with high quality gas lamps that fully illuminated the sad conditions of Laurence’s prisoner.
And prisoner was the right word for him. Jack fully understood his frustration when he saw what had been done. The space was considerably bigger than any police or prison cell of this age, and certainly better than the detention cells at Torchwood. He had a comfortable bed and a chair, table, books, food. There was even a basket of fruit and a vase of flowers.
But it was still a prison. He wondered exactly where Laurence had got hold of the sheets of glass that enclosed the space. But even a glass cage was still a cage.
“Nothing I said to you was a lie, Jack,” Laurence assured him. “I DO love you. But Tom was mine before you… He was my first… when I didn’t even know why I was different, why I felt attracted to other men instead of women… He showed me that it was all right to feel that way. He taught me to enjoy the pain and the pleasure….”
“Yeah,” Jack understood that much. A long time ago, there was a man who had shown him that, too. He understood that Laurence loved Tom. He could understand that he still loved Tom even though he’d had many other lovers since. He fully understood that what passed between them this afternoon had nothing to do with what was happening here and now, what had been happening all along.
But that didn’t stop him feeling betrayed. Laurence had been with him on six separate occasions now when they entered houses full of vile death. Deaths that Tom Gynne had caused.
And Laurence had hid him away, protected him.
Jack looked from his lover to the prisoner. He was still recognisable as Tom Gynne – just. His face, his arms, every visible bit of his flesh was pocked and dimpled with the larva infestation. And his bare torso bulged where the queen was lodged in his chest cavity, a parasite, drawing nourishment from his body, using him to incubate her foul eggs before another batch was ready to be expelled into the air and infect more humans.
“Why are you even alive?” Jack asked. “Every victim we’ve found died within twelve hours. You’ve been infected for days.”
“She keeps me alive,” he answered. “As a host. If you call this living.”
“I don’t,” Jack said. “You’re… you’re a piece of rotting flesh, Tom, with maggots eating their way through you. You have no life left. No future. You can never be Human again even if we could kill that thing. It’s over.”
“Jack…” Laurence was appalled when he realised what Jack intended. “No, you can’t just… just murder him.”
“When I gave that child the ‘medicine’ you and Emily, everyone, called it a mercy killing, called it euthanasia... you made it ok for me to kill a child… but you stand in my way when I want to do the same to him…”
“I don’t want to die!” Tom pleaded.
“Neither did SHE!” Jack responded angrily. “None of them did. They didn’t deserve to die. You infected them… you killed them… all except her. I had to kill her. And she’s on my conscience. But the rest are YOUR responsibility. You’re a mass murderer, Tom, and you and that vile thing inside you have to die.”
Jack grabbed the nearest heavy object to hand – a heavy metal hammer on top of the cold cabinet, used for breaking up the ice. He ran at the glass and swung the hammer. Tom stepped back instinctively, but he was still showered in shards that cut his diseased flesh. Jack recoiled as he saw yellow bile instead of blood oozing from the wounds. What was left of Tom apart from his desire to stay alive no matter what the cost to others?
He reached into his pocket for the flask of catalysing agent. It would be just as deadly to the queen as it was to the lavae. And it would be a merciful end for Tom, even if it was painful for a few minutes.
“Laurence, help me,” he demanded. “Hold him while I…”
Laurence stepped forward, then hesitated.
“No,” he answered. “I won’t help you. I loved him. You can’t expect me to help you kill him.”
Jack grabbed Tom by the neck and pushed him back against the wall. Even touching him that much was vile. He could feel the larvae moving under his skin. The flesh on his face writhed, and Jack resisted the urge to throw up as he felt the pulsating mass of the queen in his chest.
He flipped open the top of the flask and poured a measure into Tom’s mouth. Then he hit him under the chin and forced him to close his mouth. Tom’s eyes opened in shock and pain as the catalyst began to work. Jack let go of him and stepped back.
“She… won’t… die easily,” Tom gasped.
And she didn’t. Jack watched in horror as Tom’s chest bulged out. Jack had been to the late twentieth century often enough for a film reference to spring into the forefront of his mind, and he called out a warning. But Laurence wasn’t listening. He stepped closer to his dying friend. Afterwards, Jack wondered if he really did mean to deliberately contaminate himself and die with Tom.
In any case, he was only a few feet away from him when the creature, amoeba-like with a shapeless body and gore covered feelers burst out of Tom’s chest and exploded, casting thousands of tiny microbes into the air. Laurence couldn’t help breathing them in. Jack put his hand over his mouth and nose, but he knew that was hopeless. At the microbe stage they could enter through his ears or tear ducts. He was barely two yards away. He was contaminated, too.
Tom was dead. His body was almost unidentifiable beneath the vile yellow foam full of dead larvae. Laurence was kneeling on the floor, crying in grief for his former lover, and for himself. Because he knew what had to happen next.
Jack knelt beside him and embraced him. He kissed him once. Tom had been distraught because the thing he craved most, Human contact, was denied to him. Laurence would have that in his last moments, at least.
“You know I’ve got to,” Jack sobbed as he lifted the flask to his lips. “If I don’t…”
“I know,” Laurence answered. “Do it, Jack. Please.”
He gave Laurence half of what was left of the catalyst. The rest he swallowed himself. It burnt like acid in his throat and he resisted the urge to retch it up again. It had to get into his bloodstream and kill anything that was already in there. The microbes could only survive for about thirty seconds in the air. Those that hadn’t reached either his or Laurence’s body would no longer be a problem. Once they were both dead, the source of the infestation would be destroyed.
He held onto Laurence, kissing his cheek tenderly.
“Jack,” he managed to whisper in his dying moments. “Forgive me, please.”
“I forgive you,” he answered.
He felt Laurence die in his arms. He laid him down gently and watched as the yellow foam spewed from his mouth. He felt his own heart slowing and his lungs burning as the bile forced itself up from his stomach, drowning him. He coughed and foam filled his mouth moments before his brain mercifully shut down.
He woke with a ragged and hoarse breath and tasted something vile in his mouth. He spat out the last of the contaminated foam and pushed himself upright. He was covered in the filthy stuff, from his own body and from Laurence. He looked down at the dead man and reached to close his eyes and mouth, giving him a little dignity in death. Then he turned and ran upstairs. He went to the telephone in the hallway first and called Torchwood. He told them to come immediately, though he knew it would take a little time. Meanwhile he went upstairs to Laurence’s luxurious bathroom.
The water in the taps was freezing. Nobody had lit the boiler. But it was clean. Jack used a nailbrush to scrub every inch of his body. He wanted to be sure that he removed every trace of the filth from the cellar from his flesh.
When Torchwood burst into the house, he was sitting on the floor in the solar, naked except for a towel around his waist. He was crying. Two of his colleagues looked at him and then turned away to get on with the ‘cleaning’ of the cellar.
Emily Holroyd stood over him with her hands on her hips. She was dressed in manly tweed and Jack always pictured an imaginary bullwhip in her hands at moments like this. Her words stung just as painfully as a lash across his back.
“She gave you a bollocking?” Ianto asked curiously. “But it was hardly your fault. Laurence…”
“Laurence was dead. She couldn’t lash out at him. So I bore the brunt of her anger. But it was over. They had their alien infection contained. A few days more and they’d tracked down the last remaining cases. They let the fires die out and the crematorium was covered over. Cholera was blamed for two dozen families being wiped out. Anyone who understood how cholera spread would have realised it was a lie. The random patterns, one house there, another there, no consistency of class, it was obviously a big fucking Torchwood lie. But nobody questioned it. They just thanked God it wasn’t them.”
“And you carried on working for Torchwood?”
“I had no choice. I really didn’t have anywhere else to go. Emily gave me all the shit jobs for as long as her tenure as director lasted. She seemed to want to keep punishing me for Laurence’s error. And I had to just learn to live with the memory of murdering somebody I loved for the greater good of humanity.”
Ianto looked at his face when he said that. And he remembered seeing that expression once before.
“When I… Lisa…”
“I understood then why Emily had been so angry. The betrayal of all we believe in. Lisa was… she was that infection that could wipe out humanity and you had protected her. Yes. History was repeating itself. And I felt… I could have killed you.”
“If she had managed to ‘upgrade me’ as she wanted…”
“Then I definitely would have killed you… what was left of you. Just like Laurence. And I probably would have felt just as bad about it afterwards. But you hurt me even worse in a way. You… ever since I gave you the job at Torchwood, you teased me with your coquettish ways, all those nods and winks and innuendos that I could have acted on. You never let it go further than a fumble in your pants. I thought you were a prick-teaser who wanted to try it with a man but was scared to go all the way. And I was looking forward to you actually plucking up the courage for it. It never occurred to me that you were just keeping me sweet while you hid the woman you loved in the basement. That hurt. And it fuelled my anger. And that’s my excuse. I’m not sure Emily had one for treating me the way she did. But… perhaps that’s why I was ready to forgive you.”
Ianto nodded and sighed as he felt Jack hug him a little more tightly.
After a little while he relaxed his hold and kissed him briefly on the cheek.
“Either we keep this going and you end up committing adultery with me,” Jack said. “Or we take a walk down to that pub and pretend to be two heterosexual travelling salesmen having a quiet drink in the evening.”
“I think we’d better do the latter,” Ianto decided.