Jack woke in the dark with his head hurting, aware that he was not alone. Somebody was lying on top of him, breathing steadily near his ear. Any other time the sore head and the presence of somebody else that close to him would mean he had enjoyed himself. But this time, he hadn’t.
“Oh, God! You’re awake. I hoped you wouldn’t… I thought it would be easier on you if you didn’t…”
“Who is that?” he asked and noted the strange way both voices sounded. They were in a place where the sound didn’t have much space to expand into.
“It’s me, Alun.”
“Alun! Where are we?” What happened? What am I lying on? Why is it so hard?”
“We’re trapped, underground,” Alun answered. “Do you remember the cave in?”
He remembered. They had come out to the abandoned mine, the four of them - himself, Owen, Ianto and Alun. The other two had stayed up top taking readings. He and Alun had gone down into the tunnel to check things out because they both had experience of potholing. Alun had done it as a hobby during his army years. He, too, had done it during a military career, but in a different time and place.
They had been searching for what might have been another Uziga pod infestation. Something very like it had been reported. So they had come, of course, ready to deal with it.
As it turned out, these were Uziga that had fallen on fallow ground. Every one of them was a dry, dead husk. How they got buried in a coal mine, nobody exactly worked out, but they were no longer a problem.
They were just going to head back up when the ground beneath their feet had shifted. What had looked like solid tunnel floor was just a thin layer of debris over a long, deep shaft. He remembered that awful sensation of falling. He remembered the two of them grabbing each other as they fell. He remembered the ominous sound of rocks falling after them. He didn’t remember how far they fell. He didn’t remember landing.
He did remember a lot of pain. He remembered thinking that this could be it. The way he could die, finally, as a streak of organic matter pressed into a coal seam.
“We’re alive!” he said.
“We’re stuck,” Alun told him. “We’re VERY deep, I think. And there’s not much space.”
“We’ve got no lights?”
“The one on my helmet still works, but I turned it off to save the battery and so it didn’t blind you if you woke. We’ve no communications. Yours was wrecked when we fell and mine is just dead.”
“Let’s not use the word dead for a little while.” Jack moved his arm slightly and found there was very little space on his left side. He grazed his hand against a solid mass of fallen debris.
“Jack,” Alun warned him. “Keep still. Don’t try to move.”
Alun had called him Jack, not Boss, or Captain. That in itself was worrying. Something more was wrong than he knew so far.
“Why shouldn’t I move?” he asked. Alun was lying right on top of him and in any other circumstances he might have managed some innuendo laden remark, or possibly taken the advantage. But just now he was right out of innuendos and he didn’t seem to HAVE any advantage to take. “I don’t think I CAN move, anyway. Everything is numb. Can you move off me and maybe I’ll be able to feel my legs.”
“No, I can’t,” Alun replied. “I can’t move. There’s nowhere to move to. And… And the reason your legs are numb… Jack, that wristlet of yours… it did a body scan while you were unconscious. Your back is broken. Your legs are paralysed.”
“Shit!” Jack swore. “What about you?” Are you hurt?”
Alun was touched. After being told he had terrible injuries Jack’s thoughts had been for him.
“You broke my fall,” he answered. “I’m a bit scraped and battered, but I’m all right. Except I can’t move. The rocks fell in such a way that we’re in a sort of void. A very narrow one. The roof is right above my head. I think it’s a solid slab that got wedged in. That’s what saved us from being pancaked. But there’s no space either side of us. And even if there was, I’d be afraid to move. I might hurt you even more. All I can do is keep still. You might have a chance.”
“Ok,” Jack conceded. “What about air? If there’s so little space why aren’t we suffocating?”
Again, Alun was surprised that Jack was thinking of the practicalities for them both, instead of worrying about his own desperate situation.
“There seems to be a small amount of air getting in from somewhere,” he answered. “Your wristlet is monitoring that, too. Maybe there’s a bigger void near us. But we’ve got no way of knowing.”
“We might not be as far down as it feels,” Jack suggested. “And they MUST be looking for us.”
“It’s been an hour already, Alun told him.
“I was unconscious that long?”
“Yes. I thought you were dying. I thought… that it would be for the best. Your injuries… if you just stopped breathing, then it would be over.”
“It’s never over till its over,” Jack answered him. “But if we’ve been down here that long, then they might be close to finding us. They know we’re here. They won’t just give us up for dead. Ianto would tear up the ground with his bare hands to reach us. So would Owen…. And the girls won’t let them call off the search.”
“Maybe they think we’re already dead? No. You’re right. Ianto wouldn’t just accept that. He’d want to see our bodies before he’d believe it.” Alun sighed. “Poor Ianto. He must be hurting so much. He still cares for you, Jack. As much as he loves me, he is still very fond of you. This is so cruel on him.”
“I know,” Jack said. “I… never told him, because it doesn’t go with the cool image. But I loved him, too. Sometimes I think I should have fought harder to keep him, when I saw you stealing him from me. But the two of you are so great together.”
“I’m glad you made that present tense,” Alun told him. “You haven’t given us up for dead.”
“Before you woke… alone in the dark… it got to me for a while. I felt that I was going to die here. I wondered what it would be like. Would it be peaceful…”
“It’s very peaceful,” Jack told him. “But it’s not somewhere you want to go, Alun. Hold onto yourself. Fight to the last breath for your life. You only have the one. Stay alive.”
“Is that an order, Captain?”
“Yes, it is, soldier. So just you do as I tell you. Or I’ll have you on a charge for insubordination.”
“Obeying orders, sir,” Alun told him. Jack managed to laugh softly. Alun thought that was a miracle on its own. He must be hurting a lot. But he was so calm and cool about it.
“Aren’t you scared?” he asked.
“Yes. But you… I’ve never seen you scared. Not REALLY scared. You’ve had military training, haven’t you, Jack? But that doesn’t…. even soldiers get scared.”
“I’m scared, Alun. I’m just trying not to make a big deal out of it.”
“You don’t have to on my account. If you want to be scared, just… go right ahead. Just don’t die. And that’s me giving YOU an order, Sir.”
“I won’t die, Alun,” he told him. “I can promise you that. But I’m not sure this military stuff works. We’re here alone, in a VERY compromising position. Doesn’t really go at all.” Jack moved his arms very slowly. He put them around Alun’s shoulders. He couldn’t feel anything below the waist. He never felt LESS sensual in his entire adult life. But he could reach out and hold a warm Human being. He touched his shoulders and neck. His head was still covered by the safety helmet, but there was enough warm flesh there to comfort him. He felt Alun do the same. His hands on his neck and shoulders felt nice. He turned his head enough to kiss him on the cheek.
“Thank you,” he said. “For being alive, for being with me. I’m not alone in here this time.”
“You’ve been like this before?”
“Not like this exactly. But… couple of years ago… when Suzie was alive, before she went postal…. Owen was on the team, too. But the rest… the others have all gone now. Tosh, Ianto, Gwen, they came along later…” He stopped. He knew he was rambling on a bit. He had to stop that. If he was going to talk, then he should talk clearly. “I was tracking down an alien. A Jestican. Sadistic bastard. It liked to bury its prey alive…. Eat them when they’d suffocated. I shouldn’t have been out alone, of course. Should have had a couple of guys covering my back. But you know me, Jack the lad. Figured I could handle one alien. But the bastard got the jump on me. Next thing I know, I’m in a crate and he’s shovelling the dirt on top. I had about a half hour of air. It was dark, cold… crawling things were coming in through the cracks in the wood.”
“How did you…”
“I wasn’t that far down. The Jestican was a lazy sod as well as sadistic. Didn’t want to have to dig too far for its meat. My wristlet was giving out a homing signal. The guys got to me. I remember Owen trying to give me the kiss of life. He seriously compromised his ‘straight’ image for a minute or two.”
He didn’t tell Alun it had been eight hours later when they found him. The air had run out long ago. He had been dead. He came back to life with Owen bent over him doing CPR. He had pulled him down and French kissed him until he nearly expired from embarrassment.
“Owen cares about you.”
“Yes, he does. But not that way. Owen is…”
“He looks up to you. He doesn’t have to. He could tell you to fuck off. He could probably fight you if he wanted. He’s so full of pent up… I don’t know what. Anger, frustration, maybe just pent up OWEN. But he doesn’t. He looks up to you, his Captain.”
“He’s a good man. You all are. A good team. I’m glad I have you all. I hope… I hope I don’t lose any of you.”
“I hope we don’t lose you,” Alun answered. “We’re only a team because you ARE our Captain. Without you, I don’t think we’d know what we were doing.”
“Yes, you would. Torchwood is more than any one man, or woman. Even if I wasn’t around, you’d all find a way.”
Or would they? It was true that Torchwood HAD managed without him in the past. When it was a bigger organisation and he was just a cog in the wheel. He had been away from it a few times in the 60s and 70s, part of the 80s, too, and they had functioned. But now there were only seven of them in Cardiff. Glasgow was a mess. London was ground zero of what was officially a terrorist attack on Canary Wharf. NOW, Torchwood depended on him completely. He had a huge task ahead of him, building an organisation that really could defend this planet against what most of the planet didn’t know was out there. And there really wasn’t anyone else who COULD do it.
“Are you cold?” Alun asked him.
“No, not really. You’re keeping me warm. What about you?”
“Not as much as I thought I’d be. We’ve got no food or water. Do you think we’ll be down here long enough for that to be a problem?”
“They MUST be trying to get to us,” Jack answered. “I don’t think it will be a problem. I hope not.”
“When I did survival theory, they told us about… you know… recycling our own urine, sucking each other’s blood for protein….”
“Yeah. I know.” Jack remembered the same lecture when he was younger than Alun, training to be a Time Agent. More than three thousand years on, they hadn’t thought of anything better for when the chips were REALLY down.
“Have you ever….”
“NEVER been THAT desperate,” he answered. “Had to eat some very odd things to survive. Insects, worms, maggots, you name it. But never been QUITE desperate enough to start eating my mates.”
“That’s a relief,” Alun joked. “All that theory though. All that stuff I learnt. Never got to use most of it, and… and none of its any bloody use down here.”
“You wouldn’t believe some of the stuff I’ve been trained to do. But lying in a confined space with another man on top of me and not even in a position to get a fuck out of it, wasn’t in any of the manuals.”
Alun tried not to laugh. Even that much movement hurt them both. Even Alun’s chest moving as he breathed hurt Jack a little. That part of his back that wasn’t irreparably damaged was bruised and sore from lying on rubble, and even the slightest movement was agony. But he was glad, all the same, to feel him breathing. When he stopped talking, as he did from time to time, and lay there quietly, Jack listened to his breathing, to his heart beating. He could hear both their hearts, close together. Through the layers of protective clothing they had worn for their underground assignment their hearts were still going strong. Alun rested his head on Jack’s shoulder and his warm, expired breath was right by his ear, proving that he was alive still. He was sorry Alun was trapped with him, but at the same time he wasn’t. It was less terrifying.
He remembered another time he had been trapped in a confined space like this. One he couldn’t tell Alun about. It was back in his Time Agency days. He’d had to abandon a space ship. The escape pod looked like a peanut shell built for one. It didn’t even have suspended animation. It had a super compressed oxygen tank, enough to last one person up to eight days. And there were feeding tubes, and ‘waste disposal’. But eight days floating in space in a peanut shaped can, with his emergency beacon beeping away, waiting for somebody to come and get him, was one of the experiences that made him glad he didn’t need much sleep lately. The creeping horror he got when he woke from a dream of that time was almost unbearable.
This wasn’t quite so terrible. And the reason it wasn’t was that soft heartbeat and the steady breathing that tickled his ear.
Alun seemed almost to be dozing. That was ok. As long as there WAS air coming in somewhere it wouldn’t hurt. If it was because of CO build up that would be a different matter. He turned his wrist so he could see the readout on the monitor. They WERE ok for the time being. He really wished he could find out where the air was coming through, though. It might be a way out.
For Alun, anyway. He was going nowhere without help.
Ianto sat half in and half out of the back of the police Land Rover, watching the activity around the mine entrance. Police, paramedics, specialists in potholing and mine rescue in fluorescent jackets and hard hats were all busy. He was waiting with nothing to do but worry.
“Here, drink this,” said a woman’s voice and a young PC with a kind smile passed him a cup of tea. He sipped it gratefully.
“Is there any news?” he asked.
“Nothing, I’m afraid. They’re still trying to shift the rubble from the cave in. After that… They’ve sent for special equipment – that can pick up Human body heat. As long as…”
“As long as they’re alive.”
“There’s no need to give up hope,” the police woman told him. Ianto looked at her. She was blonde, with blue eyes, but he was reminded of Gwen. Did they have special training in the Welsh police force for women? That bright, cheery optimism, the reassuring smile in the face of whatever hopeless situation.
“Schrödinger’s Cat,” Ianto said.
“Theoretical experiment. This man Schrödinger said that you could put a cat in a box with a poison pellet, and until you opened the box again the cat was potentially alive or potentially dead.”
“That’s why it’s theoretical. Personally, I think you’d get a really pissed off cat. But… the point is… until we know… Jack and Alun are either potentially dead or potentially alive.”
“They’re your workmates?”
“More than that,” Ianto sighed. “Alun is my boyfriend. And Jack… used to be…”
“Ah.” The policewoman’s expression was blank as she processed that information. Then she chose professional sympathy. She patted his shoulder gently.
“Everyone is doing all they can to get them out safe and sound.”
“I know they are,” he said. “I’m… very grateful. I just…”
He trembled with the effort not to cry in front of the policewoman. He wished she’d stop trying to comfort him and go away for a bit. He wanted to be alone with his grief.
Alun gave a sudden gasp and woke fully. He apologised for the slight jolt as he moved his arm.
“That’s ok,” Jack told him. “While you’re about it, can you reach my jacket pocket? I’ve got a packet of mints in there. It’s not exactly lunch, but, you know, this close up against each other, we might as well have fresh breath.”
It was a way of passing the time, taking their minds off their problems. Alun reached carefully and found the half used packet of polo mints. He put one in Jack’s mouth for him and ate one himself. They lay quietly again for a while, trying NOT to make sucking noises. It was a rather strange sound in a confined space. But the mint did help them not feel thirsty for a while.
The SUV slewed to a stop next to the Land Rover. Owen jumped out of the driver’s seat and dragged a large instrument that looked like a Dyson crossed with a metal detector.
“You got it?” Ianto said.
“Lifesigns detector. Gwen and Toshiko tested it last week. They picked up Weevil heartbeats on the lowest level of the cell block from up on the Plas. If they’re alive, this will find them.”
Ianto followed him to the ‘police incident ribbon’ that cordoned off the mine entrance. The rescue workers were adamant that even being Torchwood was not a good enough reason for them to cross that cordon. For the moment they were doing as they were told. But Owen gave the alien lifesigns detector to the rescue co-ordinator and told him how to use it.
“They’ll find Jack,” Ianto noted. “He can’t die. But Alun…”
“They could both be ok,” Owen assured him.
“What if they’re not? What if this time even Jack… He must have limits. There must be some things he can’t survive. What if he was completely crushed… tons of rock… every bone smashed, his flesh compacted… remember that alien that time whose own space craft collapsed on him… the remains were about half an inch thick.”
“I have often wondered if there are ways Jack could be killed.” Owen admitted. “If he was chopped up, dismembered… eviscerated… surely there’s no way his constituent parts….” Owen stopped. Neither that nor the flatpack alien were images they needed to dwell on.
“Do the girls know?”
“No,” Owen answered. “I didn’t tell them anything. They’d want to be here. And there’s no point. Nothing they could do. Last thing we need is a whole crowd here.”
On his way back from the hub, Jack’s mobile had rung. He had left it in his coat pocket in the SUV when he changed into the potholing gear. The call went to voicemail. It was from Garrett, about a date they had tonight. Owen had debated with himself whether to ring him back and tell him. Their relationship was almost “steady”. That made him the nearest Jack had to a next of kin. He thought about telling him, then changed his mind.
He wanted to be the only one standing there worrying about the Captain. He wasn’t his lover. But he had a bond with him that was deeper than sex. And even if it was a selfish thought, he wanted to be the one who was here for Jack, fretting for him the way Ianto was fretting for Alun. He didn’t want Mr MI5 there.
“Tell you what though,” Alun said after a while. “I’m having trouble trying not to think about how much I really need to pee. They taught us to hold it in the army. Discipline… for in case of surveillance operations. But they didn’t teach us how to not think about it.”
“Yeah, I learnt that, too,” Jack told him, his mind briefly flicking back to that time in the escape pod with a tube attached for that purpose. “I used to be able to hang on for about nine hours. How about you?”
“Five,” Alun admitted.
“We probably WILL be rescued before then,” Jack promised him. “If we’re not, I won’t hold it against you if… you know… Besides…. I can’t feel anything down that direction at all. I probably won’t even know if I…”
“You haven’t so far,” Alun assured him. “If you did, I wouldn’t hold it against you, either.”
“Fucking embarrassing when they get to us, though.”
“It’s going to be embarrassing anyway,” Alun answered. “You know, they’ll never believe we haven’t….”
“Are you blushing?” Jack asked. “You and Ianto! You’re two of a kind. I’ve never known any other man who blushes just thinking about sex.”
“I shouldn’t think about it, anyway. You can’t. And anyway, I’m practically engaged. It wouldn’t really be appropriate.”
“What do you mean, practically engaged?” Jack asked, if only to take both their minds off their lavatory problems.
“Ianto asked me to marry him.”
“Wow!” Jack laughed softly but not unkindly. “When? What did you say?”
“Friday evening, driving home from work. We were at a set of traffic lights. And he just reached out and held my hand and asked me.”
“That’s Ianto, all right,” Jack told him. “Last of the romantics. He once seduced me with a stopwatch. So what did you say?”
“I said I’d think about it. He said that was ok, and the traffic lights changed and we drove home. He made supper. We watched a bit of TV, cuddled up on the sofa, snogging, went to bed, had some nice sex, and went to sleep. He hasn’t mentioned it again, but I know he’s just waiting for an answer from me.”
“What’s to think about?”
“I don’t know,” Alun answered. “But when he said it, it just threw me. I didn’t… I never imagined… I never expected to be that close to somebody. And after all, it wasn’t even an option for the likes of us until a few years ago when they changed the law. I always expected to grow old and decrepit still longing for a good fuck and never even hoping for LOVE. I certainly never expected to have the chance to answer that question. I just don’t know what to say.”
“Do you want to say yes?”
“Would we love each other any more if we had a piece of paper that says I belong to him and he belongs to me? Do either of us need to prove anything?”
“You don’t have to prove ANYTHING,” Jack told him. “It’s not ABOUT proving anything. It’s about telling each other, and telling the whole fucking world, that you ARE going to go the distance.”
“Would you?” Alun asked. “If I hadn’t come into the picture and you and Ianto…”
“No,” Jack answered truthfully “No, I don’t think I would. But my life is different. I’m not a long term relationships kind of guy. I’m pretty cosy with Garrett. But I don’t know if that will last, or if I want it to – or he wants it to. Or if our jobs will allow us to if we did. But you and Ianto…. Alun, when we get out of here… Tell him yes. There’s no reason not to. And… And tell him I’ll be your chief bridesmaid, in a pink frilly dress.”
“You’ll be Ianto’s Best Man,” Alun answered. “Pink’s not your colour.”
“Either way, I’ll be proud of you both.” Jack hugged Alun a little closer to him. That piece of news had cheered them both up a lot. He had been trying not to think about the future, at least not any part of the future beyond the next few minutes at any one time. But a pleasant vision came to his mind now. The whole Torchwood crew, Gwen and Rhys looking smart, Toshiko with Etsuko, Beth in the pink dress as bridesmaid, Ianto’s chapel going mum trying not to cry, and loving him even if he didn’t grow up quite how she expected, and Ianto and Alun smiling and holding hands as the registrar said the words hastily thought up a few years ago for ‘Civil Partnerships’.
No, it wouldn’t be his idea of a happy ever after, but he would be proud to play his part for his friends.
“Don’t tell him until I’m there to see his face,” Jack told Alun.
“Ok, that’s a deal,” Alun agreed. “But…Oh… Jack… what the hell are we talking about? Even if we DO get out of here… Jack, I’m sorry. Going on like this. When you… Christ, you’ll be in hospital for months. And even then…. Oh, God, I’m sorry.”
Jack knew what Alun was thinking of. It HAD crossed his mind briefly. But he hadn’t worried about it. Alun had.
“I know about these injuries. I’ve seen it in the army. Soldiers shot in the back, parachute accidents… It’s usually permanent. And… Well… The Hub isn’t exactly wheelchair friendly. It’s not even pushchair friendly. Ask Tosh…”
Yes, Jack knew what he was getting at. For anyone but him the picture Alun had conjured up was not a comfortable one. For someone his ‘age’ who was used to being physically active in every way, being confined to a wheelchair would be a frustrating life adjustment. It would certainly be an end to his life as the Director of Torchwood unless there was a really radical change to the Hub layout. And he was sure he would never be able to deal with losing his independence, his freedom, ANY chance of a sex life. He would rather die than live that way.
But for him at least that WAS an option. He could roll the wheelchair in front of a passing truck, save up his medication, slit his wrists, anything that actually switched off that life and let him start again.
But Alun didn’t know that. He had never seen him come back to life after some fatal incident in the line of duty. The others had all seen him do it, one way or another.
This wasn’t the best place. If help didn’t come, they might both be facing the prospect of a slow death. Only for Alun there was no resurrection. When he was dead, he was dead. Telling Alun, as he came to terms with that possibility, that HE wouldn’t die along with him, was cruel.
Alun… It won’t be like that for me. There’s something you don’t know. I…”
The rest of his sentence was lost in Alun’s scream as, for no apparent reason, certainly nothing either of them had done, the roof of their precarious tomb shifted. Rubble tumbled in on both sides, making it an even narrower space and the slab above Alun’s head dropped at least two inches. Alun flattened himself on top of Jack. They both felt even more trapped, even more confined, even more aware of how far down they might be and how much rubble and earth and God knows what might be above them.
“Ok,” Jack whispered. “I think we’re steady again. Are you ok? Nothing broken?”
“I very nearly had that embarrassing accident we mentioned earlier,” Alun replied. “I thought we were going to pancake. If it shifts again, we might. What about you?”
“I’m no worse than I was before, I think. Still can’t feel my legs. They are THERE, aren’t they?”
“Yes,” Alun assured him. “You’re whole. Just not quite working properly.”
“Ok. Then… Alun… I was trying…”
This time he was interrupted by his wristlet beeping ominously. He couldn’t move his arm enough to read it, though. Alun turned his head and looked at the LED screen.
“Oh, hell!” he swore. “We’re in trouble now. The air… wherever it was coming from before, it’s not now. We’re cut off.”
“Ok,” Jack responded surprisingly calmly. “How long does it say we have?”
“About half an hour before the CO build up overcomes us both.”
“So if there was only one of us breathing he’d have an hour?”
“Alun, listen to me. There’s something you need to know about me.” Alun listened as Jack gave him a short but detailed explanation of how and why he became the man who couldn’t die.
“You can’t die?”
“Well, if I was caught in a disintegrator ray or a mincing machine I guess I’m done for. But as long as I’m more or less intact, yes. I can come back to life, whole, mended….”
“It’s not possible.”
“Yes, it is. I’m immortal, or as near to it as matters. I’ve already lived nearly 180 years or thereabouts. I stopped counting. I’ve lived through the whole of the 20th century, including two world wars and a whole lot of other shit. I’ve had so many bullets in me I should be a sieve. I can’t die, Alun. So… this is what you have to do now….” He took a deep breath before he said it. Because it wasn’t something he really wanted to say.
“Alun, you have to kill me.”
“What?” Alun was stunned by the horrific idea delivered in such a matter of fact way. “No, Jack. I can’t. Don’t ask me to do that. we can’t give up hope, either of us.”
“I’m not giving up. I’m offering you hope. The air is cut off now. Two of us breathing it. We haven’t got long. Kill me, Alun. I won’t be breathing the air. It gives you more chance. It gives them more time to find us. When they get us out, I’ll be able to come back to life.”
“What if you don’t?” There was a sob in Alun’s voice. “Jack, what if this is the one time when you don’t…”
“Then at least I’ll have bought you some time,” he answered. “Even if I couldn’t, it would still make more sense. I’m so badly injured. You’re not. You should be the one to live, anyway. Alun…”
There was another possibility that occurred to Jack. He might die and come back to life in an hour or so, in an airless void with Alun’s suffocated body on top of him because the rescue party still hadn’t got to them. He might lie here for hours, days, alive, holding a corpse in his arms.
The same thing seemed to have occurred to Alun. He gave an even louder sob of despair.
“It’s a chance we have to take. If you don’t, I’ll still live and you’ll still be dead.”
“How?” he managed to ask.
“The way they taught you to kill with your hands in the army.”
“Oh, my God!” Alun replied. “Jack, I don’t think… If you don’t live again… Ianto will never forgive me.”
“Yes, he will. Alun, please. Do it quickly. For your own sake.”
“This… is for Ianto… and all those who love you, Jack,” Alun said. He reached and put his hands either side of Jack’s head. Then he kissed him. Jack responded. He made the kiss last a long, bittersweet time. If he didn’t come back, that wasn’t a bad way to go. Then Alun drew back his head.
“I’m sorry, Jack,” he said and twisted his head sharply, breaking his neck. He felt Jack’s body go limp. His heart stopped. His breathing stopped. Alun held him tightly. He was warm still. He kissed him again, but it felt wrong. There was no response. He could have slid off his broken body now. It couldn’t hurt him any more. But he didn’t want to. He kept holding onto him. He tried not to cry, tried to keep his breathing slow and easy. He tried to hang on.
It was a long, sad hour for Alun. Jack’s body started to go cold, though not as cold as it should. The tiny space was starting to feel warm and stuffy as the CO built up. Alun tried to stay conscious, stay aware of himself. He put the light on once. Jack’s eyes were open still, reflecting the light glassily. Alun closed the lids and put off the lamp. He lay there quietly, holding him, still. He closed his own eyes because the darkness of his own head was preferable to the oppressive darkness around him. He did his best not to give in to the despair that would have been so easy.
They had only been waiting half an hour since Owen brought the lifesigns device, but it seemed longer. Both of them, waiting by the cordon, watching the activity by the old pit head, had gone through several bouts of despair alternating with optimism. Ianto’s eyes were glassy with tears. He hadn’t wanted to cry in front of Owen any more than in front of the blonde policewoman but his eyes betrayed him.
“Alun!” he whispered in a broken voice.
“He knew the score when he signed up with us,” Owen said. “He knew it was dangerous working for Torchwood. We all did. The danger was what we wanted. The chance to feel that adrenaline rush.”
“I didn’t,” Ianto said. “I was good at admin. Methodical worker. And good at keeping secrets. I didn’t know about the adrenaline rush until I met Jack. But what’s your point? Alun knew the risk. If he dies in the line of duty it’s ok?”
“Something like that, I suppose,” Owen admitted, realising it wasn’t what Ianto needed to hear.
“It’s not ok with me. I need him.”
Owen put a hand on Ianto’s shoulder, a hand of comradely support. Ianto didn’t shrug him away, so he assumed it was helping a bit.
Suddenly there was a shout from inside the mine, echoed by those outside it. People who had been waiting to do their jobs became busy. The ambulance waiting on the approach road was waved forward. Ianto and Owen both pushed their way forward, too. They had waited too long already. They ran alongside the ambulance and were there as two stretchers were brought out from the pit head. Ianto shrugged off all opposition to reach Alun.
“How is he?” he demanded, looking at his lover’s bruised and battered body as a paramedic fixed an oxygen mask over his mouth. Alun opened his eyes and looked up. He reached out his hand to Ianto, who grasped it thankfully.
“NO!” Owen yelled and Ianto turned to see him stop them unfolding a plastic body bag and pulling it over Jack’s legs. “No, leave him. I’m his doctor. I’m looking after him. Get them both in the ambulance. Get us all out of here.”
He stayed by Jack’s side as the stretchers were placed in the ambulance, either side of the central space. Ianto sat by Alun, clinging to his hand. Owen stood over Jack and refused to let the paramedics near him as they slammed the door and the vehicle reversed out and then accelerated away from the scene. He felt Jack’s pulse and wasn’t completely surprised that there was nothing. He had done this before often enough. He looked really rough. His body was as limp as a rag doll and his neck was twisted disturbingly. But he wasn’t dismembered. His body was broken, but it was all there. And Owen knew Jack had his own private miracle. He kept holding on to him until he felt that systolic jolt as his heart beat again, the blood pumping through his veins and arteries. He heard a hoarse but deep exhalation and inhalation. Then Jack’s eyes snapped open. He looked up at him.
“Welcome back, Captain,” Owen told him. “Took you a while. I had to stop them putting you in a body bag.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time.” He glanced anxiously around and saw Alun straining against the stretcher restraints that held him down. He looked bruised and battered, but he was alive. Jack sighed with relief. They’d both made it.
“Speaking of taking your time, where were you guys?” Jack asked as he grasped Owen’s shoulder and sat upright. “We were down there for HOURS.”
“It took that long for them to get down to you without causing you to fall any further,” Owen answered. “You were wedged part way down a six hundred foot shaft. One false move and you were both mashed.”
“I felt pretty mashed anyway!” Jack said. “But I’m ok now. You can tell the driver to drop us off at the Hub.”
“You’re both going to hospital,” Owen insisted. “Alun needs at least a night under observation. He looks like he’s had some serious oxygen deprivation. I’m taking no chances with him. And you can take an order from me for once and rest up a bit.”
“Yes, DOCTOR,” Jack answered with a wide smile and a twinkle in his eye. He looked past Owen to Alun as he pushed off the oxygen mask and whispered something to Ianto. “Alun,” he said. “That question Ianto asked you the other night…”
Alun smiled and looked up at his lover.
“Yes,” he said.
For a moment Ianto looked as if he didn’t know which question he was answering. Then he did. And the look on his face was all the cure Jack needed for anything that was still wrong with him.