Jack was dead. It had happened as it invariably did in the line of duty for Torchwood. He and Ianto were chasing a Myau-Nhigln along Southerndown Beach. Gwen and Alun were heading it off on the other flank. The thing was desperately trying to reach the water, where its amphibious space capsule lay at anchor, bobbing up and down on the waves like a ten foot long mussel.
He took the creature down with a tackle that would have got him a standing ovation at any rugby ground in Wales and fought to disarm it. But the sneaky bastard had four weapons and six arms. He hadn’t seen the two hidden under its wing carapace, and he hadn’t expected the blade that sliced up through his ribcage and into his heart. He at least had the satisfaction of hearing the squelch of the exo-skeleton breaking open as it cracked against a rock and he saw the creature’s brains spilling out onto the sand before it all went black.
When he was aware of anything again, Ianto was sitting on a dry patch of sand, cradling his body in his arms. He had a lot of blood on his hands. He must have put them over the wound. Bless him, he had been through this routine so many times, but Ianto always tried to do first aid on him. Alun was putting the dead Myau-Nhigln into a body bag and Gwen was phoning Rhys to arrange to collect the space capsule in a Harwoods lorry to bring back to the Hub for analysis. They were doing everything he had taught them to do in these situations, calmly and professionally, and without going to pieces over him.
The only strange thing about this was that Jack saw it all from outside his own body, as if he was a third party to it all.
“What the fuck is going on?” he asked, and he was sure he had opened a mouth and words had come out. He raised his hands and looked at them. They looked like his hands. Those were his shirt cuffs with the silver aeroplane cufflinks, and the grey wool of his air force greatcoat encased his arms. His feet, in brown Timberlands covered in wet sand were planted firmly on the ground. He was standing there.
But he was also lying in Ianto’s arms, dead.
“Oh, my God!” he groaned. “I’m really dead this time. I’m... I’m a fucking ghost... watching my own end.”
The thought scared him - a lot. Many times in the past he had died hoping this was the last time, and that it would be over. But now it had happened, he was scared. And he was angry. He didn’t want to go so stupidly. And he didn’t want to go now. Not when he had something to live for... when he had Garrett and Gray and a job he loved doing, friends he cared about. If he had to go, let it be when he was alone and friendless and it didn’t matter any more.
Then Ianto gave a relieved yell as Jack’s body convulsed once and he took a deep, hoarse breath. He was alive again. Ianto kissed him quickly, knowing his own lover wouldn’t object to him doing so in those circumstances and helped him to stand up.
Jack felt a strange tugging sensation and then he noticed the almost invisible line of energy that connected the body he thought he was in and the one Ianto was holding onto. He took a step closer, because he had no choice. The line was only a certain length and at full stretch it felt as if it was pulling his heart out of his body.
He heard himself say something to Ianto, who laughed and kissed him again, on the cheek this time. Then he held him by the hand as they walked up the beach to the cliff path that would bring them back to the SUV.
Jack came with them. He was like a dog on a lead, going where his master went. He walked beside his own corporeal body, attached to it, but not a part of it. He listened to the conversation, mostly from Ianto’s side, about the technology inside the space ship and what they might be able to use it for. He said very little.
“I can’t, yet,” said a voice he didn’t know. He looked around, but nobody else had spoken. The voice was inside his own head – the head he was thinking with, not the one walking ahead of him.
“Who the fuck is that?” he demanded.
“Oh dear, most people in your position are too afraid of their impending final judgement to swear. Either you’re very stupid or an unrepentant sinner!”
“I’m neither,” he responded. “And the question remains. Who are you? And what have you done to me?”
“I’m Frijda,” the voice replied. “And I’ve taken over your body. It’s how I survive. Usually happens in hospitals, these days. People are clinically dead, their ‘soul’ for want of a better word for it, leaves their body, and I jump in before they’re revived. You’re interesting. Something different about the way your body came back to life. But same difference. I’m here, you’re not. King of the Castle, Finders Keepers, squatters rights, call it what you will. You have no way of stopping me.”
Ianto spoke to him. He heard himself reply in a vague monosyllable. Ianto helped him to fasten his seatbelt in the front seat of the car. He promised him a hot cup of coffee back at the Hub.
Jack dived into the car just before Ianto shut the door. He landed in a heap at his own feet, under the dashboard. It occurred to him that he shouldn’t be able to fit in a space like that.
“You don’t REALLY have a body any more. You’re imagining you do, projecting an image of what you used to be, because it’s comforting. They all do that. But it’s not really there. You’re not really there. You’re a disembodied life force, a lost soul, a ghost, even. Humans have such interesting words for things they don’t even really believe in half the time.”
“I’m not a fucking ghost.”
“No, you’re not. But if anyone knew you were here, that’s what they’d think you are. He doesn’t know, of course. That nice young man doing the driving and talking in that bright, deliberately cheerful voice, trying to make you feel better. This really is unusual, I must say. He’s taking your death really well. Like I said, I’m used to hospitals. Usually there’s an intensive care unit with things bleeping and relatives talking in whispers around me. They don’t notice that I’m not very talkative. He’s going to be suspicious, soon. You’d better help me out. What do you usually talk to him about?”
“I’m not going to help you impersonate me,” Jack responded.
“You can’t stop me. That’s the thing. It’s why you’re still here, still ‘attached’ as it were. It won’t be for long. A week, maybe two. Gradually, I’ll absorb your personality, your memories. There will be less and less of you hanging on, until you just disappear and I’m you, able to live your life. I can do your job, live with your family and friends, be you. But the fun thing is, I am still me, in the driving seat. It’s interesting. Did you ever hear of people completely changing their lifestyles after a near death experience. That’s me. All the effort to get into a new body, I want it to last. I don’t need it dying of a heart attack five minutes later from unhealthy food and no exercise. One time, I took over this woman... she was a religious sort. Never had sex outside of marriage. Even within it she was once a week, very clinical. Poor husband was gagging for it. He had a heck of a shock when I got in control of the bedroom. And she had affairs with the organist and the choirmaster as well.”
“Don’t expect me to be shocked by that. I’ve done worse. Much worse. It’s just sex.”
“That’s what they all say, until they watch me shag their wives or husbands. That’s when a lot of them finally give in. They hate that. It’s not just sex when it’s personal.”
“Oh, shit,” Jack thought. “Garrett.”
“Garrett?” Frijda laughed. “Oh, you’re one of those. That will make an interesting change. I’ve been a man with a wife and two mistresses and a woman with a string of men. But man on man! I’m going to have a bit of fun this time.”
“You sound female,” Jack pointed out. “And Frijda is a woman’s name. Were you a woman once? A real woman?”
“I was a woman last. Her name was Frijda. Still got a bit of her mixed up with me. That’ll disappear the more of you I assimilate.”
“You are not assimilating me,” Jack replied. “I’ll fight you all the way. And you just stay away from Garrett. You leave him alone.”
“No can do. I have to act like you... live your normal life. And Garrett goes with the territory. Is he good looking?”
Jack tried not to think about Garrett. But Frijda laughed coldly in his head.
“He’s gorgeous. Oh, it will be fun being you.”
“Lady, you have no idea what it’s like being me,” Jack replied.
They got back to Roald Dahl Plas. Ianto again held Jack’s hand as they walked through the corridor from the garage and stepped into the Hub. Jack felt a twinge of sadness as he watched his own body sitting on the sofa drinking Ianto’s coffee. Beth brought him a clean shirt and spoke to him kindly and he again replied in monosyllables. Jack heard Ianto whisper to her that it had been quite a nasty death, and he needed a bit of time to adjust.
“He doesn’t usually,” Beth replied. “Are you sure he’s ok?”
“He’s got to be,” Ianto said. “We need him.”
“I need you, Ianto,” Jack said, knowing he wouldn’t hear him. Frijda laughed coldly again and made a very cruel and crude comment about his feelings for Ianto.
“You leave him alone,” he said. “Ianto is...”
“He’s an old boyfriend! Oh, how sweet. You still have feelings for him. Perhaps its time to rekindle the flame. A little office romance on the side.”
“Don’t you dare! Leave him alone. I mean it. Leave all of my friends alone or I’ll...”
“There is nothing you can do. You CAN’T fight me. You’re ephemera. You’re just an essence of yourself hanging on because I need you for a little bit longer. You can’t touch me in any way.”
“They’ll work it out. They’re smart. My team. They’ll know I’m not myself.”
“Of course. Your little friend just explained it. You’ve been dead this morning. You’re feeling a bit out of it. But that will pass. The more I absorb of you, the more like you I’ll be and they will never suspect a thing. Now, I think I’ll go to my office. Which way is it? Only kidding. THAT sort of thing is easy.”
Jack had no alternative but to follow. The ‘rope to his heart’ hurt if he tried to resist. Besides, he needed to keep an eye on her. His office contained too many secrets, not all of them his own. He couldn’t let some alien entity mess with them.
For the time being she didn’t seem interested in the secure vault where some of the more dangerous Torchwood artefacts were kept or the direct line to Whitehall. She contented herself with exploring his desk, commenting from time to time about what the contents of his drawers revealed about him.
“Tidy, but not anally so,” she said about the drawer where he kept pens, pencils, ordinary office essentials. “You like to be able to find things. No hidden bottles of liquor. You’re not a secret drinker. Just the pair of cut crystal glasses and a half bottle of single malt up there on the shelf. For medicinal purposes?”
Jack didn’t reply. Besides, she lost interest in his drinking habits when she found the tin he kept in the bottom drawer. Her delight as she fingered through the photographic evidence of his life was palpable. Jack felt as if she was fingering through his actual memories. And she was. Each photograph she looked at told a long, and usually exciting story, mostly about his chequered love life. Each one gave her a clue about who he was and what he was. She was taking him, bit by bit.
And she was right. He could do nothing about it.
“So, you’re not exclusively gay,” she remarked as she separated the photographs of men from those of women who had been his ships passing in the night. “You’ve swung both ways. How about the ladies in your office, now? That one who was at the beach. Shall I make a pass at her and see what happens?”
“She’ll break your... my... arm,” Jack replied. “I taught her to defend herself. And her boyfriend will come down and break my nose, as well. I didn’t teach him. But he plays rugby.”
“Better not try it, then. Oh, look. They’re back. And they’ve brought lunch.”
Frijda made him stand and walk out of the office to meet Gwen and Alun, along with Rhys who had personally driven the lorry with the alien space ship in the back. They had brought a Chinese take away with them and Beth was arranging the plates and containers of food on the boardroom table. Jack watched as his hijacked body joined his friends for a meal. He noticed that Frijda knew enough about him now to interact with them. She made him tell the usual collection of dirty jokes about sex with aliens that they had come to expect from him at mealtimes. Ianto looked relieved to see him back to normal.
In the afternoon, Frijda took a phone call from the Prime Minister and sounded convincing as him. She was doing his job, living his life.
“It’s not difficult, really,” she pointed out. “You work for an interesting organisation. Defending the Earth from aliens! Amazing stuff. But on an average afternoon it’s all just paperwork.”
The phone rang. It was Garrett. He rang to say he was likely to be a bit late out of the office this afternoon and wouldn’t be able to pick Gray up from school.
“We’re a family!” Frijda taunted Jack as she assured Garrett that he could swing by the school and collect the boy. “How sweet.”
“Don’t you mess with him,” Jack said. But he was starting to feel like a stuck record. There was nothing he could do to prevent her hurting Gray physically or emotionally if she chose. He fretted over that through the rest of the afternoon until Frijda cheerfully said goodnight to everyone in the Hub and took the keys for the SUV from Ianto, promising not to get it scratched on this non-Torchwood mission.
“Why don’t you get a car of your own?” Frijda asked him as his insubstantial faux body sat in the passenger seat and she used his real body to drive to the school. “This is a cool car, but a bit conspicuous.”
“I never needed a car when I was on my own,” he replied. “I slept at the Hub.”
Then he wondered why he had told her that. Every little detail of his life, every emotional response, was literally a nail in his coffin. She was taking him apart little by little.
Gray came out of the school gate with some of his friends and said goodbye to them before running across the road to the SUV. He got in the back and waved to his friends, who seemed impressed by the car.
“Why are you here, Jack?” he asked. “Is dad ok?”
“Tell him Garrett is just working a bit late,” Jack said. “Don’t you dare say anything to worry him. He’s a good kid and he loves Garrett as if he really was his dad.”
“I know,” Frijda replied. “I assimilated all that complicated little story about the three of you while we were waiting for the bell.” She turned and reassured Gray that his dad would be home in time for supper, then started the car. Jack turned to look at his brother. The boy talked about his day at school. Frijda replied to him warmly and with genuine interest as Jack always did. There was no way Gray would suspect anything was wrong.
He was relieved. He didn’t want Gray to be upset. His brother had adapted well to living in the twenty-first century. He enjoyed school. He’d made a few friends. He was happy with Jack and Garrett as his adopted parents. He only occasionally had nightmares about Boeshane and the death of his mother and father. Jack didn’t want anything to disturb him, now.
“Did you really think I would hurt the boy?” Frijda asked. “It’s not the first time I’ve acquired a family this way. I like kids. He seems a bright sort.”
“He’s not yours,” Jack insisted. “He never will be.”
But he would be. When Frijda had her way, when he was gone, she would live his life, become Jack Harkness. Gray would be her child. Knowing that she intended to take care of him was very little consolation to Jack.
He reached out what he thought of as his own hand and brushed Gray’s cheek. He felt as if he had touched him, but the boy didn’t notice. He carried on chatting about a forthcoming school trip to Weston Super Mare all the way back to Century Wharf and up to their apartment.
Frijda made Gray a sandwich to keep him going until supper and then set to work in the kitchen, preparing the evening meal. She was using Jack’s own knowledge of what Garrett and Gray liked to eat.
Garrett came into the apartment when the food was nearly cooked. He looked tired, but he hugged Gray affectionately and then came into the kitchen.
“I wasn’t expecting you to cook tonight,” he said.
“Why not?” Frijda replied and Jack thought she was a little wary of having done something out of character.
“Ianto sent me a text to say you’d been killed this morning. Usually when that happens you don’t feel like cooking. I thought we’d be having a take out.”
“It wasn’t so bad,” she replied. “Routine, you could say. Besides, don’t you like me being domestic?”
“You’re nobody’s little wife, Jack, tied to the kitchen.” He reached and kissed him lovingly. “I’ve had a bugger of a day, but it’s over now. And the evening is ours.”
“Never mind the evening,” Frijda replied saucily. “Once Gray’s in bed and we’re alone...”
“You never know your luck,” Garrett responded. “I’ll pour us a couple of drinks.”
The simple domesticity of it all seemed at odds with the jobs both Jack and Garrett did. But the truth was, both enjoyed it. Neither could actually bring their work home. There were Acts of Parliament preventing them doing so. Their evenings, therefore, were devoted to drinks, supper, and sitting quietly watching DVDs with Gray until it was his bedtime. Frijda wholeheartedly joined in with that arrangement, sitting on the sofa with Gray beside her. She put Jack’s arm around the boy’s shoulders as they watched the film and he happily snuggled close to his older brother who had become his surrogate parent in the past year.
Jack watched as an outsider, burning with jealousy and at the same time cherishing every moment of that simple evening. Frijda had made it clear he wouldn’t be a part of them for very long. He wanted to make the most of the time he had left. He wanted to be near to Gray and to Garrett. Even if the boy didn’t respond to his touch he was able to be as close to him as possible.
“Do you kiss him goodnight?” Frijda asked as Gray’s bedtime drew close.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Jack answered. “I never did that when I was only three years older than him. I certainly don’t, now.”
But that was a poor attempt at a lie. Gray hugged his much older brother and kissed him on the cheek before going to do the same to Garrett. He said goodnight to them both and went to his room.
“Now for some real fun,” Frijda said. “The boy is safe. I won’t hurt him. But your pretty lover is fair game.” She stood and moved over to the other sofa and embraced Garrett amorously. He responded enthusiastically with kisses and caresses, gentle, easy foreplay in the living room before retiring to the bedroom.
“Couldn’t you have had a headache?” Jack complained. “For pity’s sake, don’t do this to me.”
“But I want to have fun with him. That’s what this is all about. It’s why I do it. The joy of being alive, of love and sex. And you’ve had more than your fair share of both. Now I’m going to have some of it. And it’s going to be delicious.”
Jack could do nothing but rage impotently as she whispered to Garrett and he nodded. They brought their late evening drinks to the bedroom. They kissed and undressed each other slowly and lay together, limbs entwined, hands touching. Garrett laughed softly as he felt his lover move down the bed.
“Well, I’ve had a long day interrogating enemies of the state. I’m feeling a bit dominant right now. If that’s how you’d like it tonight.”
Jack screamed with rage. This was completely unfair. As a matter of fact, he enjoyed it very much when Garrett wanted to be on top. When they first became lovers, Jack had been the one who took the initiative. Garrett was a basically straight man who had fallen for his charms and was curious to find out what it was like to have sex with a man, and he had let Jack show him. As his confidence in their relationship grew, though, and he began to feel it was what he wanted, he began to take the dominant role at least as often as Jack did. They were, if truth be told, two natural doms who loved each other enough to be a sub to please each other.
Now Frijda was playing the sub to Garrett and he was responding in all the ways Jack loved him to respond, pushing all those sensual buttons. And all he could do was watch. He wasn’t even connected to his own body enough to enjoy the touch of his lover’s hands caressing him, his urgent kisses, or Garrett’s weight pressing down on him as he got ready to reach the final consummation.
He didn’t want to watch. But he felt unable to turn away. He burned with anger and humiliation and wished it could be over.
But Frijda wanted him to suffer. When Garrett was done and he rolled over in the bed, reaching to kiss him, she made Jack respond amorously. Garrett was surprised, but not displeased, to find his lover wanting to reciprocate. Usually it was one way or the other on work nights.
As bad as it had been watching Garrett make love to a stranger in his own body, it was even harder watching that stranger making love to Garrett. That hurt deeply. Jack came as close as he had yet to crying out of sheer self-pity. He couldn’t, of course, since he didn’t really have tears to cry. But he felt like it. And Frijda taunted him over it. She had him at his lowest ebb, yet.
“Just give up,” she said to him. “Make it easy on yourself. Give me the rest of your memories and just fade away. Go on to heaven or nirvana or whatever you think might be waiting for you. Or just go to oblivion if you don’t believe in anything. But I think, deep down, you believe in SOMETHING, don’t you, Jack. That’s why you’re holding on. You’re scared of what awaits you after death. You’ve lived a bad life and you’re scared of judgement.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” he replied. “I’m scared of nothing. I have lived the best life I could. I’ve made up for any wrong I might have done in the past. I am not afraid of any judgement. But I’m not giving up, no matter what you do to me. I’m staying. And I’m getting my body back from you. I’m getting my LIFE back.”
But again it felt like empty words. What could he do to stop her? He couldn’t even touch her. He couldn’t touch anything. He watched as Garrett reached to kiss him in the warmth of the bed after the sex was over. Slowly he fell asleep. Beside him, Frijda let Jack’s body sleep, too. She stopped taunting him. Obviously she slept when his body did.
He didn’t sleep. He kept a sad, lonely vigil beside his lover. He leaned over once and kissed him, but Garrett wasn’t even aware of it. Neither he, nor Gray, the two people he loved most on this planet, knew that he was missing. They didn’t grieve for him, because they didn’t know they needed to.
That was a blessing, he had to concede. They wouldn’t be hurt by this. Frijda would take over his life as a going concern. Garrett and Gray would still have him.
At least they would as long as she behaved. He was worried about her interest in Ianto. Pursuing him could do so much harm. It could break up Ianto and Alun as well as destroying the family life he, Garrett and Gray had. It could break up the Torchwood team, too. All for her amusement.
The morning brought a bitter-sweet familiarity to it. Jack watched as Frijda played his role at the breakfast table, talking to Gray about school and his plans for the weekend. He watched Garrett take a confidential phone call and then go off to his office straight after his second cup of coffee. Then he was forced to follow Frijda and Gray down to the garage. He was aware of every moment of the journey to Gray’s school and from there to the Hub.
Yes, he was acutely aware of every single passing second. He was only just beginning to realise it as his morning at the Hub went by. Ordinarily, even he managed to lose himself in paperwork and let a couple of hours drift by without him noticing. And maybe Frijda did that when she tackled the latest collection of UFO reports sent down to Torchwood from the Ministry of Defence. But he didn’t.
He had worked in the Hub for more than a century. He had seen it undergo many changes, while remaining essentially the same. He had come to take it for granted. He worked in this office that he had inherited from a series of former directors without really looking at it very much. He had long ago ceased to find the idea of an invisible lift or a pterodactyl as the office pet surprising.
Now, he noticed everything, down to the shapes an old watermark made in the ceiling of his office or the rust around the edge of the circular window behind his desk. He noticed it all and hung onto it as if it was precious.
Though not so precious as the sight of the people he cared about. Those lunches with the team, even though he couldn’t taste the food, even though he was a silent spectre at the feast, unable to take part in the jokes and the banter, were special to him. Being close enough to any of his friends, most especially Ianto or Gwen, to touch them, was good, even though they never knew he was there, and never felt his touch.
Being with Gray and Garrett for meals, for the quiet evenings in the apartment, for Gray’s homework or a film on the TV, was precious to him, too. He drank in every detail and held onto it.
It was because he had only a short time to enjoy any of it, of course. He understood that even when Frijda wasn’t reminding him that he was doomed to fade away soon. When he had eternity, he focussed on the bigger picture and didn’t see the little things. Now the little things mattered.
The only thing he couldn’t bear was watching Frijda use his body every night to make love with Garrett. Those hours were a torture to him. And she knew it. Even Garrett started to comment about how much more intense their love-making had become. He said so with a lustful smile and it never even occurred to him that it wasn’t Jack who was the driving force behind the passion. Why would it? Frijda had not made any mistakes. She had enough control over him, over his personality, his memories, to live his life to the full.
“You are a persistent bastard,” she commented as she lay beside Garrett in the aftermath of sex. “Two and a half weeks and you’re still hanging on. You’re still strong. I’ve never had one last this long. But you’ve got to weaken soon. Every time you watch me shag your man it’s a wound in your soul. How many more can you take? You’ve got to go sooner or later.”
“Then it’ll be later,” Jack replied. “Maybe I won’t fade. Maybe I’ll be here at your side forever, haunting you.”
But even if that was possible, he wasn’t sure he wanted it to be so. Frijda was right about one thing. It did hurt watching her take everything from him. The oblivion that should come eventually would be a blessing. No more pain, no more misery, no more frustration. Just that darkness that he glimpsed every time he died.
But the darkness had never tempted him before. And he had learnt a long time ago one simple lesson - as long as he was hurting, he was still alive. He chose the hurt of watching his world being stolen away from him rather than giving in and letting the thief have her way.
It was near dawn on one of those mornings when he had watched Garrett fall asleep stretched beside Frijda after hot and mutually satisfying sex. Jack’s phone rang. Frijda reached out to take the call.
“Boss,” Ianto said. “Sorry to wake you, but we’ve got a dragon on the touchline at the Millennium Stadium.”
“We’ve got a what...” Frijda asked sleepily.
“A dragon. I’ve got the markers. But we need your wrist gismo. Can you meet us there?”
“Yeah, sure,” she replied. “Ten minutes.”
Garrett had stirred. He sat up and watched his lover dress quickly.
“I just have to fight enemies of the state. You get dragons.”
“I’ll swap if you like,” Frijda replied exactly in character for Jack. She leaned over and kissed Garrett and promised to be back for breakfast.
“Dragons?” she queried as she drove the SUV out of the secure parking below the apartment block. “What the hell...”
“We haven’t had one for a couple of years, now,” Jack told her. “Dig into my memories. You’ll find them. You’d better, if you want to live.”
“You’re giving me advice?” Frijda was surprised.
“You fuck up, somebody I care about might die with you,” he replied. “So find the knowledge, and find it quick.”
She found it. ‘Dragons’ were an occasional hazard of living on the Rift. Jack was the only member of the Torchwood team who knew about their true origin first hand. He had seen them in the genetic zoos of fifty-first century Earth when he was a Time Agent. They had been the big thing for a long time. The first one was grown by a genetic engineer called Harlan Dean in 5077. There was dinosaur DNA in there somewhere, extracted from the blood of insects sealed in amber, the same way it was done in Jurassic Park. But he’d used something else, too - something extra-terrestrial. He created what was, to all intents, a fire breathing dragon.
Then he had cloned it and sold the progeny to public zoos and private collectors all over the world. Even the Time Agency wasn’t sure how many there were to begin with, even before they started to breed. Fire breathing dragons became an unprecedented public menace in the summer of 5085, before somebody had the bright idea of using a time corridor on them. Every dragon that was sighted was tagged with an electronic marker and then zapped into the time rift. A really concerted effort disposed of several thousand dragons in a matter of weeks. By October, the people of 5085 were able to buy cheap insurance without dragon damage premiums again.
“They were meant to go back to prehistoric times and die out along with the dinosaurs,” Jack explained. “Mostly they did. Although it’s obvious from the literature and mythology of almost every country in the world that some survived. George and the Dragon, Chinese dragon mythology, WELSH dragons, even. And ever since the Cardiff Rift opened up in 1869, they’ve been slipping through. They’re simple enough, as long as you have a marker and some way to open the Rift for a few seconds – long enough to drag them back in and hopefully dump them back in the Pleistocene era.”
“And Ianto has the markers?”
“I keep them in my safe in my office. Ianto has the password for breaking the deadlock seal. But the only way to open the Rift is with my Vortex Manipulator... the thing on your wrist. You press Alpha 5, 6, 4, Delta to initiate the opening.”
“Ok... so what’s the catch?” Frijda asked.
“You have to be right next to the dragon when you open the Rift. Don’t worry. It won’t pull you in. That’s why the dragon has to have the marker. But you’ve got to be close enough to smell the charcoal on its breath when you activate.”
“Shit,” Frijda swore.
“Comes with the territory,” he replied. “You wanted a quiet life, you should have stuck around A&E for a heart attack victim.”
“I don’t want a quiet life. I like YOUR life. Even if I have to fight a dragon now and again.”
There were fire tenders outside the millennium stadium, as well as police and ambulance. They had all been alerted when the smoke alarms went off. The fire crew had been damping down fires all around the stadium. But there was nothing they could do about the cause of it.
“There’s a man dead,” Ianto confirmed. “A nightwatchman, burnt to a crisp.... after the dragon cut him in half with a swipe of the claw. It’s on the CCTV we confiscated. Not pretty.”
“It has claws, too?” Frijda asked Jack.
“Sorry, forgot to mention those. Tell Ianto you’re going in on your own and everyone else is to stay out of the way.”
“Because it’s how I do it, obviously. I’m the modern Saint George the Dragon Slayer. Any more questions or do you want to get on with it?”
Frijda took the electronic marker from Ianto and told him to pull everyone else back. She walked into the stadium through one of the emergency gates. Fire hoses still trailed as far as the pitch which was not looking as pristine as it should. There were scorched patches of turf all over and one set of posts and several of the advertising hoardings on the side lines had been reduced to ashes.
The dragon was sitting in the middle of the pitch with its wings outstretched. It seemed to be basking in the floodlights that somebody had thought to switch on.
“Go on,” Jack urged Frijda. “Keep moving. The closer you get before you shoot the marker into it, the better. It has less time to get angry before you zap it out of here.”
“You’re enjoying this,” she complained.
“Well, I guess I am. Whatever happens, I’m not going to feel any pain, am I? You’re the one with the central nervous system, not me.”
“Bastard!” Frijda responded.
“Body-snatching, man stealing, thieving bitch,” Jack replied. “Just get on with it.”
Frijda edged towards the dragon. Jack kept up the taunts. It was the first time since this surreal situation began that he actually felt as if he had the upper hand, and he was making the most of it.
“You see, even if you take all of my memories, everything that I am, you’re still you. And you don’t have the courage to really be me. That’s something you can’t steal. That has to be in you from the start.”
She had no answer to that. Though, to her credit, she kept going until she was right beside the dragon. She withdrew the specially adapted gun with the marker loaded in it and pressed it against the creature’s flank.
Its skin was tough. It shouldn’t have felt anything. But it did. It screeched angrily and the head whipped around. Frijda jumped out of the way of a gout of red hot flame, only slightly singeing Jack’s greatcoat.
“Get closer again,” he urged her. “Remember the sequence. Alpha...”
“I know the fucking sequence,” she yelled back. He watched her edge closer again and begin to press the tiny buttons on his wristlet. But in doing so she had taken his eyes off the dragon and she didn’t see the claw that whipped around until it dug right into his chest and ripped it open.
“Finish the sequence,” Jack yelled to her as his body slid to the ground. “Finish the fucking sequence. 5, 6, 4, Delta and then the big grey button. Do it.”
“I can’t,” she moaned. “I’m... there’s a bloody big hole in my chest. I’m dying... it hurts...”
“Goes with the territory,” Jack answered. “Do it now.”
His fingers moved slowly. Frijda was having trouble focussing on such fine motor movement. But finally his index finger pressed down on the large button. There was a brief orange glow in the air and the dragon disappeared.
“Done it,” she gasped. “But... what’s happening now?”
“I’m dying. You can’t stay in that body any more. It’s too fucked up to live. Another thirty seconds, I think. Then you get dragged out of it.”
“But... If I lose this body now... I can’t find another one... I’m still assimilating you. Even if I find somebody else, the personalities will be incompatible.”
“Sorry,” Jack told her. And he was, just a little bit. Because she sounded like she was in real distress. But she brought it on herself. And besides, he was too busy concentrating on that moment when his body literally ‘gave up the ghost’. It was a moment he had experienced from the inside too often. This time he watched himself die. He heard Frijda’s scream of rage and anguish.
Then it all went black.
He opened his eyes and looked up at Ianto as he held him in his arms. He was aware of the smell of singed cloth and sticky blood all over his shirt. And it was that awareness, being able to smell burnt coat and spilt blood, that told him he was alive. He was in his own body again.
He pulled Ianto into a long, deep kiss. When he released him, his one time lover and firm friend was grinning and blushing at the same time.
“That was so good,” Jack told him. “I am so glad to be back.”
“I’m glad you’re back,” Ianto told him. “I’m always glad.”
“Yeah. But this time... I’ve been away longer than you think.”
Ianto put that comment down to post-resurrection confusion. But Jack told him the whole story over a cup of strong, hot coffee from a flask belonging to one of the fire officers.
“Is she still around?” Ianto asked. “What if she tries it again?”
“I don’t think she’ll dare. With my life expectancy, and knowing I can get back into my body when I die, it wouldn’t be worth her trying again. I think I’ve seen the last of her.”
“Next time we hear of somebody coming back after being clinically dead we’ll be wondering,” Ianto pointed out.
“We’ll never know for sure.”
“What are you going to do now?” Ianto asked him after a long pause.
Jack glanced at his wristwatch, savouring the ability to do that.
“It’s still early. I’m going home. I’m going to get a shower and some clean clothes. And I’m going to have breakfast with the people I love. Then I’m going to have a quiet day at work, writing out a report on the latest dragon incursion. Then I’m picking my boy up from school. After that, tea, homework, DVD, and some hot sex when we get to bed.”
“Sounds like a good plan,” Ianto said. “Enjoy it all.”
“I will,” Jack told him. “Every last minute. I never felt so glad to be alive.”