Chapter Nine: Truth & Manipulation
Summary: In the wake of his untimely death, Ianto Jones accepts a deal that will change his life forever.
Rating: Strong T, for now.
Warnings: Spoilers for The Series That Never Was (AKA, Children of Earth); brief description of torture
X-over: Torchwood/Doctor Who/Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunter books.
It took Jack no effort whatsoever to catch up with Gwen, given that she was engaged in a fierce argument with Quin, who was looking more irritated by the minute. Stepping around the bear, Jack clapped him lightly on the shoulder.
“It’s okay, Quin. I’ll deal with this.”
Quin nodded amiably.
“Be my guest. I was just about to chow down on her head.”
Jack barely suppressed a smirk. Little did Gwen realise how serious Quin was. He walked towards her and grabbed her forcefully by the arm, hauling her away from Sanctuary.
“Jack, you’re hurting me!” she cried out as he pulled her along. “Stop!”
“Just move,” he snapped. “I want you as far away from Sanctuary as possible.”
“All right! I’ll go! But I want you to come with me.”
When he gave her no answer, Gwen halted and yanked her arm ferociously out of his grip.
“Damn it, Jack, I’m scared for you. Can’t you see that?”
What made it so hard was that he could see it. He knew she was genuine in her concern and it helped to soften his ire, just a little.
“I know,” he conceded, “but it isn’t necessary, Gwen.”
“Not necessary? For God’s sake, Jack, you’ve been conned into thinking that... that thing back there is Ianto, and you think I shouldn’t be worried? Please, Jack, let me help you. Come home with me, before it’s too late.”
Something in her tone set him on edge, like a warning he didn’t quite comprehend. He peered at her in the darkness, trying to work out what it was that she wasn’t telling him.
“Gwen,” he said carefully, acutely aware that they were standing right out in the open, “how about we go and get a coffee, and we’ll talk about this. Okay? Just the two of us.”
He supposed that, in hindsight, he should have known better. Gwen had many traits, and one was a very sharp mind. From the narrowing of her eyes, he knew she’d seen the ploy for what it was.
“And then what?” she demanded to know. “You slip a couple of retcon into my drink? It didn’t work before, Jack. Why do you think it would work now?”
For once, Jack felt completely guiltless.
“It worked. Any level of retcon can be overcome with the right triggers. Trust me when I say I’ll be more careful this time.”
“I am not going to let you retcon me!” Gwen burst out. “Damn you, Jack, don’t you understand? I came here to save you!”
“And I’m telling you that I don’t need saving!” Jack yelled right back.
For a brief moment, he saw real grief in her expression. Then it faded, and she spoke in a flat, emotionless voice.
“I tried. I really did. What happens now is entirely on your head, Jack.”
He stepped back from her, that sense of dread growing exponentially in the pit of his stomach.
“Gwen, what have you done?”
“Her duty, and not too shabbily, either, for a pathetic human.”
Both Jack and Gwen looked around at the newcomer with equal measures of dread and hopeful anticipation.
“Stryker,” Jack said flatly. “It is Stryker, right? Son of Apollo, leader of the daimons?”
“What are you talking about?” Gwen snapped impatiently. “This is General Stryker from UNIT.”
“There is no General Stryker from UNIT, Gwen,” Jack said with an exasperation that was tempered with a gnawing fear. Whilst he had no reason to fear death at the hands of daimons, he knew well enough of the power that they had to steal the souls of victims and he had no desire to test out his regenerative abilities after such an attack.
“Of course there is,” Gwen argued. “You’ve dealt with him before...”
“You’ve been manipulated,” Jack told her. “He played you, and you did everything he needed you to do.”
Gwen looked across at Stryker in confusion that turned to fear at the evil grin he favoured her with.
“I’m afraid he is right. I’m not with UNIT, but fortunately your ignorance and your sheer desperation to get your hands on him made it easy for me to fool you.”
“What do you want, Stryker?” Jack demanded, his hand straying to the handle of his sword, ready to be extended at an instant’s notice. The leader of the daimons looked amused.
“Aside from the obvious, do you mean? You’re something new, Jack. A different kind of immortal. Unlike even the gods, you can’t be killed. I’m really interested to see whether that handy little talent will pass over to me when I feed on you and take your soul. You see, Jacky boy, you might be exactly what I need to kill all the gods once and for all.”
“It doesn’t work like that, Stryker,” Jack warned him. “You can drain me as many times as you like, and I’ll just keep coming back; but no matter what you do or how you do it, you can’t have what it is that keeps bringing me back. No one can take it. Not you, not anyone. Believe me, they’ve tried.”
“Hey, I’m willing to experiment. Take him.”
Jack had his sword out in the blink of an eye and swung it around in a wide arc to remove the heads of three daimons that appeared out of nowhere to converge on him. They exploded into dust in his face, leaving him momentarily blinded for a few precious seconds. He started to fight instinctively when he felt hands on his arms, only to stop at Gwen’s familiar voice.
“It’s me, Jack. Tell me what to do. How do we kill them?”
He wiped the dust from his eyes, managing to clear his vision, and pulled a semi-automatic from where it had been holstered snugly under his shoulder. It had never been used in battle, but Jack had learned from the other squires over the last month that it was important to always be prepared. The sword was elegant, but having a gun as back-up was definitely preferable. It was that which he now handed to Gwen.
“Aim for the heart. This will put a hole in their chest, but make sure you get the heart. Miss that, and it won’t matter how big the hole is.”
Gwen took the weapon and released the safety, priming it to fire.
“They’re not human, are they?”
“No, so don’t be suckered into thinking they are. Just take out as many as you can.”
He barely had a chance to finish speaking before the next wave of daimons were on them, and right away Jack knew that they had no chance. The number of daimons Stryker had summoned was even greater than those that had attacked Ianto on the night they’d been reunited. He therefore had two priorities – keeping Gwen and her unborn child safe, and ensuring Stryker didn’t take him. Both tasks were going to be one hell of a tall order.
A brief glance revealed what he had feared. His gun was no match for the sheer number of daimons converging on them. At the very most, Gwen was only able to slow them down and would be in serious trouble once the ammunition was gone. They needed help, fast.
“Ianto!” Jack howled, hoping against hope that Ianto’s new talents would allow him to hear the cry for help. Whether or not Ianto could hear, Jack had no idea. What he did see, though, was Eric, who was watching the unfolding scene with a look of horror on his face. The two men locked stares briefly, and Eric nodded once before taking off at a frantic run back in the direction of Sanctuary.
Jack’s last thought before the daimons converged en masse, and began to tear him to shreds, was that help would soon be on its way.
Ianto was almost flying by the time he reached the scene of the fight, although classifying it as a fight suggested more than just one side participating. Gwen had Jack’s sword and was swinging it ineffectually at a group of daimons that were taking great delight in taunting her, while Jack...
His breath caught in his throat. Jack was pinned to the ground by several daimons who were tearing into him with a nauseating enthusiasm. Drawing his own sword, he started forward, only to be brought up short by a powerful hand on his shoulder.
“I think you’d better let me deal with this,” Ash said grimly. “You’re no match for Stryker.”
As much as it galled him, Ianto knew Ash spoke the truth.
“So what do we do?”
“I’ll deal with Stryker and his cronies. You grab the woman. Simi will get Jack.” Ash lifted a hand and all of a sudden he held an ancient-looking staff that fairly vibrated in Ash’s powerful grip. “Be ready to move. You’ll know when.”
Ianto watched in breathless anxiety as Ash charged into the unsuspecting throng of daimons, most of whom scattered like the cowards they really were. Those who didn’t flee were either new to the daimon ranks and didn’t know enough to flee, or they were too busy gorging themselves on Jack to notice. Stryker, for his part, was visibly livid at the interruption.
“No! No, damn it, that’s not fair! Why the fuck can’t you stay away for once?”
“Call them off right now,” Ash demanded, in no mood to play word games with Stryker. “Get your daimon asses back to Kalosis and don’t ever think about coming after Jack again. Do you hear me, Stryker? If you try this again, I swear that the next time I see you, I will let Simi and her entire family eat you alive. Do you hear me?”
Stryker’s eyes narrowed.
“You’ve never made a threat like that before, even for that little human bitch you married. What’s so special about him, then? Aside from the obvious, of course.”
Ash lifted his staff.
“You’ve got three seconds before I obliterate your ranks.”
“Just you, against all of us? You’re in over your head, Acheron. Daimons, attack!”
All the remaining daimons converge on Ash at once, leaving Gwen and Jack momentarily unchecked. Ianto didn’t hesitate. He flew across the ground and snatched up Gwen before she could so much as squeak. In the split second before he teleported them both back to the safety of Sanctuary, he caught sight of Simi gathering Jack’s battered and bleeding body up in her arms. Then, everything blurred into an instant of blackness, until his vision cleared again to reveal he was back in Sanctuary.
“Ianto, are you all right?” Aimee asked anxiously as he sat Gwen down forcefully in the nearest chair.
“I’m okay. Jack, though...”
“Simi just arrived with him upstairs. You might want to get up there, he’s in a bad way.”
“Watch her until Ash gets here?” he asked Aimee in a low voice. “Don’t let her wander.”
“Don’t worry, hon. She’s not going anywhere.”
Ianto left the room without a backward glance.
“Well,” Aimee said coldly to Gwen as she walked around to get a good look at the other woman. “You’ve really managed to fuck yourself over well and truly. I just hope for your sake that you didn’t deliberately lead Jack into a daimon ambush, because if you did, then that baby you’re carrying will be the only thing saving your worthless ass.”
Gwen looked up at Aimee tearfully.
“I thought I was helping him. I didn’t know that would happen, I swear it.”
“Helping him?” Aimee echoed incredulously. “How could you ever think that what you did was helping him?”
“I needed to get him away from that... that thing pretending to be Ianto!” Gwen exploded.
“Oh, you sorry, deluded fool,” Aimee said with a shake of her head. “You don’t get it, do you? That is Ianto.”
“That’s impossible. Ianto died. I saw his body. He’s dead, and Jack should...”
“Jack should what?” Aimee asked darkly. Gwen looked away as realisation sank in that she wasn’t going to be able to make this woman see the situation from her perspective.
“Hardly. I can smell it, you know. We all can. The moment you first walked into Sanctuary, we smelled the lust on you. The only reason you want Jack to go back with you is because you want him. Well, guess what? He’s not yours to have.”
Gwen’s jaw tightened as she glared at the tabletop.
“You don’t know Jack like I do. He needs me.”
“Honey, even if that was true, what you did tonight will have well and truly put an end to all of that.”
“You’ll see,” Gwen said stubbornly.
“She’ll see what?”
Both women turned, and Gwen launched herself to her feet.
“Jack! You’re all right!”
Jack positively glowered as he entered the kitchen slowly, with Ianto, Simi and Ash close behind him. When Gwen reached towards him, he slapped her hands away.
“Don’t touch me. Just sit down.”
When she made me no effort to move, Simi advanced on her menacingly.
“Sit down, heifer lady, or the Simi’ll go gets her barbeque sauce.”
At the sight of Simi’s fangs, Gwen sat down with a thud. Once she was seated, Simi turned her attention back to Acheron.
“Akri-papa, can the Simi go clean up the dead daimons that didn’t get dusted?”
Ash smiled wryly. He knew full well that by ‘clean up’, Simi really meant could she go eat the remains.
“I don’t know how much is left, baby, but have at it.”
With a happy squeal, she vanished in a flash of light, causing Gwen to utter a small scream. Acting as though nothing untoward had just taken place, though, Jack sat down opposite Gwen. He was moving slowly, as though every little movement was agony. He was horribly pale, with dark circles under his eyes. His appearance was not dissimilar to how he’d looked after his encounter with Abaddon. He looked awful, and he knew it.
“Okay,” he said in a quiet, strained voice, “the only reason you are still in one piece is because you fought beside me when the attack started. The only reason your memories are still intact is because we need to know what you know about why Stryker wanted me.” He stared at her darkly. “You owe me an answer, Gwen, so start talking.”
“Okay,” she conceded. “I’ll talk to you, and only you. Everyone else has to leave.”
Ash walked around, then, and dropped his tall frame into an empty seat, effectively placing himself between Jack and Gwen.
“And in what reality do you think you have any rights to negotiate here?” the Atlantean asked coldly. “Listen closely, little girl. Your actions tonight resulted in one of my people being very badly hurt. I won’t take kindly to that at the best of times, and I am not the kind of guy that you want to piss off. More than that, though, you’ve managed to piss off Simi here. Jack is currently one of her favourite people, and you tried to betray him to the leader of the daimons. What I’m trying to say, basically, is that you fucked up, little girl, and if you want to live to see the next sunrise, you’ll start talking right now.”
Gwen stared at Ash, wide-eyed. Whilst a part of her wanted to protest that he had no right to speak to her like that, contrary to the belief of some, she wasn’t actually that stupid. Recognising the absolute authority that Ash represented, even if unconsciously, Gwen spoke in a stilted voice.
“I was approached by General Stryker a week ago...”
“He’s not UNIT, Gwen, and he’s not a General,” Jack said wearily. She flinched slightly at his harsh tone, but wisely chose not to answer back.
“He wanted to talk to me about Jack, and Torchwood. I told him that Torchwood had been disbanded...” Here, she shot Jack a filthy look, which he ignored. “He said it didn’t have to be that way, and then he asked me if I knew where Jack was. I said no. That was when he told me that Jack had fallen in with some very dangerous people, and that UNIT needed my help to rescue him.”
“Rescue me,” Jack said scathingly. “That’s rich. Even if it had been UNIT, rescue would have been the last thing on their minds.”
“He said you’d been brainwashed,” Gwen said defensively. “He said he had a way to make you realise you’d been fooled. I mean, come on, Jack! How could you possibly believe that this is Ianto? He’s dead, Jack. Ianto died. I don’t know who or what that is, but it can’t be Ianto. Except for you, the dead stay dead.”
Gwen felt confident that her words would have some impact. She wasn’t prepared for nearly everyone in the room to erupt into raucous laughter. She felt her face heat up as she found herself at the centre of their amusement. When her gaze came to rest on Jack, though, the heat turned to chills at his frigid expression.
“The dead stay dead. Really, Gwen?”
“You learnt the hard way with Owen,” she said in a low, warning tone. “This isn’t a game, you can’t mess around with life and death. Jack, please, see reason. If you’ve done something, I’ll understand, but you have to tell me now before it’s too late!”
Jack’s expression was positively dangerous by then.
“The dead stay dead. You goddamn hypocrite!”
Gwen jerked backward in fright at the force of his anger, confusion on her face.
“What are you talking about, Jack?”
“Rhys,” Jack hissed furiously. “You deliberately went against my orders and opened the rift on the chance that it might bring him back to life. He was dead, and you willingly risked destroying the world just on the chance that you might get him back. The dead didn’t stay dead then, did they, Gwen? Or do you only apply that rule to everyone other than yourself?”
She had no answer for that, and the deep blush that suffused her cheeks was telling. Jack nodded in bitter satisfaction.
“And that, Gwen, is the definition of a hypocrite.”
“We’re not going to waste time trying to convince you of anything,” Ash interrupted. “Just finish telling us what you know about Stryker, and then I’ll wipe your memory of all of this and we can all go back to our own lives.”
“You can’t retcon me,” Gwen protested. “It won’t work.”
“I don’t use retcon, little girl. I don’t need to. I can alter your memories and you will never know what I’ve done.”
“Just talk, Gwen,” Jack ordered her tiredly. “Did Stryker talk about anyone other than me?”
“No,” she answered shakily. “No, he was only interested in you, Jack. He said it was vital that they get a hold of you...”
Gwen trailed off with a confused frown, and Ash leaned forward with renewed interest.
“And? What else?”
“He said this to someone else, and I don’t think he knew I heard him. He said ‘we need to get hold of him before Aunty gets clued in’, whatever that was supposed to mean.”
“Fuck,” Ash muttered. “The last thing we need is a war between Artemis and the daimons over you, Jack. And don’t say you’ll leave, because it’s not happening. All else aside, you’re part of my crew. That, and Simi would eat me alive if I let you go.”
Jack’s mouth snapped shut; anything he’d planned on saying effectively silenced. Ash nodded in satisfaction.
“So, we have to assume that the daimons know that while Jack is no Dark Hunter or Were Hunter, he is immortal.”
“You think they might be hoping that they can absorb his immortality, like they absorb our abilities?” Dev wondered with a frown.
“It’s possible,” Ash agreed.
“It is what he’s after,” Jack said as memories of his brief discussion with Stryker began to filter back into his still fragmented mind. “He told me that I might be the key to him defeating all the gods finally. I tried to tell him that it doesn’t work like that, but he wasn’t interested in listening.”
“He wouldn’t be,” Ash muttered. “It also explains why he didn’t just cut and run when I got there.”
“We’re going to have to be very careful from now on,” Ianto said quietly. “It was difficult enough before, trying to keep under Artemis’ radar. She’s bound to find out about Jack if Stryker keeps going after him.”
“If you want him to be safe,” Gwen said, “then let him go. Stop being selfish, and think about Jack. You obviously can’t keep him safe here. Not against that.”
“Gwen,” Ianto said with a long-suffering sigh, “do you honestly think this is restricted to just America? To this city? It’s not. This is a global war, and now that Jack is known to Stryker, there is nowhere on this planet that he could go where he’d be completely safe. The best protection he has now is to stay with me.”
“Oh, bullshit,” Gwen snapped, momentarily forgetting the company she was in. “You didn’t like having to share him before you d... before, and you’re too selfish to do the right thing by him now, and Jack will eventually be the one to suffer for it. You know I’m right, Ianto.”
Jack tilted his head back to look up at Ianto incredulously.
“Share me? With who?”
“With her, cariad. You have to concede, you did flirt with her quite intensely.”
“Well, sure, but I flirt with everyone! Anyway, once I was with you, I never actually slept with anyone else. I never wanted to sleep with anyone else.”
Ianto leaned down to claim Jack’s lips briefly.
“I know.” He looked back at Gwen, who was watching them with plain jealousy. “I believe we have all the information we’re going to get from you. It’s time to say goodbye, Gwen.”
She shook her head frantically, unaware that Ash had risen from his seat and had moved around behind her.
“No, you can’t make me forget. It won’t work. Jack!”
“You’re going to have a great life, Gwen,” Jack told her. “You just need to learn to appreciate what you’ve got.”
“But you need me! You said you need me!”
“There was a time when I needed you,” Jack admitted, “but not anymore. Let me go, Gwen, for your own sake.”
“I’ll never stop,” she vowed fiercely. “Ever if you take my memories of this, I’ll keep looking for you, Jack. I’ll never stop looking. Do you hear me?”
“Enough,” Ash growled. He merely glanced down at her, and her eyes rolled back and she collapsed in a heap. “Dev, get her out of here. Take her all the way home.”
“You wiped her memory?” Dev queried as he lifted her up out of the chair.
“Altered, not wiped,” Ash corrected. He looked to Jack and Ianto. “As far as she’ll remember when she wakes up is that you’re dead, Ianto. You, Jack, vanished immediately after the 4-5-6 were defeated. Rumour is that you called the Doctor, and are no longer on Earth.”
“Good. As long as she thinks I’m beyond her reach, she’ll leave well enough alone.”
“Dev, make sure her husband backs up the story,” Ash instructed. Dev nodded, and flashed away with Gwen securely in his arms.
“Well,” Ash said wryly as he turned back to face the newest additions to the Dark Hunter and squire ranks. “This has been colourful.”
“I’m sorry, Ash,” Jack apologised. “It’s my fault that she came looking for me.”
“You can’t control someone else’s emotions, Jack,” Ash told him. “You are who you are, and if she couldn’t see that there was no difference in the way you treated her, compared to anyone else, then that’s her problem. Not yours. You haven’t done anything wrong, and you’re not the first of us whose past has caught up with him.”
“Maybe,” Jack mused, “if my vortex manipulator ever turns up, I can make a show of going back to get it, and then use it to teleport away in front of her.”
“You mean, trick her into believing that you’ve actually left the planet?” Ianto wondered, and Jack nodded.
“Mm, something like that. Sooner or later, she’ll start looking for me again. She won’t be able to help herself, and if her curiosity gets the better of her, if might make her vulnerable to another attempt by Stryker. As frustrating as she is, I still don’t want her to get hurt. Her, or the baby she’s carrying.”
“Play it by ear,” Ash advised. “Just talk to me before you decide to do anything. We’re already on thin ice, here, and I really don’t need Savitar going to town on my ass because things have gotten out of hand.”
An odd look flickered briefly across Jack’s face as he leaned back comfortably into Ianto’s embrace.
“You don’t want to be in a hurry to meet him, believe me,” Ash said wryly. “Especially if you’ve done something to piss him off, and pissing him off is likely to be the only reason you’d ever meet him.”
“Duly noted,” Jack murmured. He slumped against Ianto, the evening’s events finally beginning to take their toll on him.
“Ash, I’m going to take Jack home,” Ianto said quietly. “I’ll go back on patrol after I’ve got him settled.”
“Sure. Just keep your phone at the ready, and I suggest you don’t stray too far. I don’t think there’ll be anymore trouble tonight, but I’d also rather not make assumptions. They always come back to bite us in the ass.” He paused, considering, and then spoke again. “Actually, I think I’ll send Simi to keep an eye on Jack, just for tonight. Simi?”
The Charonte demon reappeared immediately, licking her fangs and pouting.
“Akri-papa, you interrupted the Simi’s dinner! I was getting good eats from those daimons you left for me.”
“Sorry, Simi, but I’ve got an important job for you. I need you to stay with Jack for the rest of the night, and make sure no one gets a chance to hurt him again. Can you do that?”
“The Simi can do that,” Simi confirmed. “The Simi will look after Jacky real good. He’s quality peoples, and the Simi likes quality peoples.”
“Thank you, Simi,” Ianto said with relief. Knowing Simi was guarding Jack would ease his own mind considerably, and allow him to do his job without his thoughts wandering. “You’re quality people, too, and we like you very much.”
Simi beamed with pleasure, and Ash rolled his eyes in fond exasperation.
“You two clowns are lucky you’re committed to each other. Otherwise, I’d probably have to kill you both. Go on, now. Get out of here. And Simi? If anyone even tries to get anywhere near Jack other than me or Ianto, chow down, baby.”
“I’m flattered,” Jack said tiredly as Ianto bathed him with particular care.
“Ash gave Simi permission to eat anyone who tries to come after me. I know I’m still pretty new to all of this, but I’m guessing that’s a pretty big deal.”
“I think you’re right about that,” Ianto mused. Jack lifted his head to peer up at Ianto.
“You sound distracted. What’s wrong?”
Ianto shook his head.
“Nothing’s wrong... Not exactly, anyway. I just couldn’t help thinking about Gwen.”
“Don’t, Ianto. She’s gone, and she won’t be back. All she’ll remember is that I’m gone, and as long as I keep a low profile... and Stryker doesn’t try using her again... it should be the last time we have to worry about her.”
“Are you trying to convince me or yourself that you won’t miss her?” Ianto wondered. A sigh escaped Jack’s lips.
“Yes, I will miss her. She’s stubborn, blinkered, self-righteous, and so amazingly alive. I’ll miss the way she’d argue with me, the way she’d take charge when no one else could. I’ll miss her love of life... Hell, I’ll even miss Rhys!”
Ianto laughed softly, and Jack smiled in return.
“But given the choice,” he went on in a more sober tone, “there isn’t really a choice. I love her, but I love you so much more.”
Ianto leaned down and kissed Jack lovingly.
“You don’t have to keep trying to make up for it, you know. I understand why you couldn’t say you loved me that night in Thames House.”
Jack tensed a little but, much to Jack’s relief, didn’t pull away.
“When you said it, I knew you were saying goodbye, and I wasn’t ready to hear it. I wasn’t ready to say it. Afterwards, I hated myself so much, knowing that you might have died not knowing how much I love you.”
“I didn’t understand at the time,” Ianto admitted, “but I do now, and I love you too.”
A self-deprecating grin lip up Jack’s face.
“I don’t know about anything else, but this string of near-death experiences has made us pretty damn sappy.”
“I think I can live with that,” Ianto said with a chuckle. Jack grinned broadly.
“So can I.”
to be continued...
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