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Saturday, June 8th, 2013 11:12 pm
Title: What Never Should Be: Ghost Machine
Chapter Four: A Much Anticipated Reunion
Author: blucougar57
Summary: Disharmony and conflict threatens the Torchwood Three family when ghosts surface from the past. (Sixth story in the "What Never Should Be" universe.)
Rating: T
Warnings: None, as yet.

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Jack sat in the first class carriage of the Cardiff-bound train, his greatcoat wrapped around him like a protective cocoon, oblivious to his surroundings. He never heard the conductor asking for his ticket, or felt the ticket being tugged gently out of his hand. He never so much as glanced up when the attendant went past with the refreshment trolley, offering tea, coffee and biscuits. He never heard his travelling companion request a coffee on his behalf.

He did notice, however, when a gentle hand closed over his own and a steaming coffee was held under his nose. Slowly, he looked up and was met by a smiling face that was tinged strongly with sympathy and understanding.

"Here, Jack. Drink this. It's not Ianto's coffee, but it might take the edge of the shock."

Wordlessly, with hands that trembled badly, Jack accepted the cup that the Brigadier held out to him. As he took a sip, the Brigadier rubbed his back in a soothing, paternal gesture.

"Good lad."

"I'm sorry," Jack whispered. "I really made a mess of things. Ianto will be disappointed. And Her Majesty..."

"Understands fully," a second voice said firmly.

"I let her down," Jack argued miserably. "She went to all that trouble, and I let her down."

"No, you did not," General Tom Anderson assured him. "You didn't make a mess of it at all. What happened today wasn't your fault and, quite honestly, I think you showed remarkable restraint."

The incredulous look on Jack's face said all too clearly that he believed otherwise.

"I put a UNIT chief in the hospital. How can that be anything but bad?"

"Jack, listen to me," Anderson told him seriously. "Mednikov played up to you all yesterday to try and gain your trust and then he tricked you into going with him on that so-called city tour today, and instead took you to the one place in London that you have every right and reason not to want to go anywhere near."

"Canary Wharf," Jack whispered, his breath hitching a little in his throat. Anderson grasped his shoulder in a reassuring grip.

"He thought taking you to that place was a joke. The fact that all you did was to break the man's jaw and give him a concussion is astonishing, and suggests you have a hell of a lot more self control than he did."

"I'm sorry," Jack whispered again, starting to retreat into himself once more.

"No, Jack," the Brigadier said sternly. "Don't go disappearing into your head again. We're not far from Cardiff, and I don't care to explain to Ianto why you're catatonic."

Jack sighed audibly but ceased his psychological retreat, instead focussing on the coffee in his hands.

"This is... awful!" he exclaimed, wrinkling his nose but taking another sip all the same. Anderson raised an eyebrow in amusement.

"I didn't think it was that bad."

"You haven't had coffee made by Ianto," the Brigadier retorted. "After his coffee, nothing else will ever be good enough again. Even I drink coffee when I visit, though he makes a pretty damn good cup of tea, as well."

Jack snorted in amusement but when he looked back up at the men, his gaze was full of worry.

"Is Ianto meeting us at the station?"

"No, Miss Sato will be there," Anderson said. "Ianto is out with the rest of your team. I didn't get much in the way of details, just something about looking for a kid who was trying to sell alien tech. I gather they wanted to be sure that whatever he had was it. So, it's just Miss Sato who will meet us."

"I don't know whether to be relieved or not," Jack muttered. The Brigadier's hand on his back was reassuring in its strength.

"You have nothing to be concerned about. You acted in self-defence, Jack. No one faults you for the way you reacted, and the Queen is furious that you were deceived like that."

"But the conference..."

"Is of less consequence than your wellbeing. She was insistent that Anderson and I accompany you back to Cardiff, and see you safely back to your people, and she wanted us to let you know that she will be dealing with Mednikov personally once he's sufficiently recovered. You won't suffer any backlash from this."

Jack stared bleakly at his hands.

"I just thought I had better control than that."

"You could easily have killed him," Anderson pointed out. "I think that's proof that you do have pretty good control."

It was painfully obvious, though, that Jack was not going to be persuaded, and both Anderson and the Brigadier eventually gave up trying. They both knew, without it needing to be said, that Ianto Jones was the only one who would be able to break through Jack's misery and convince him of the bleeding obvious. With that thought in mind, both willed the train to arrive in Cardiff as soon as possible.

* * *

Tosh watched anxiously as the London train pulled into Cardiff Central Station. She'd gotten the call from General Anderson from UNIT that he and the Brigadier were bringing Jack home from the London conference a day early and though he'd not really been specific, she gathered something had gone badly. She'd tried to reach Ianto to let him know, but Owen had been the one to respond to her call and for some reason Tosh didn't want anyone else to know ahead of Ianto that Jack was on his way back to Cardiff.

In the end, she'd said that she had to leave the Hub for an hour or so, but would be available on the comms. Now, she waited as passengers disembarked, watching for her Captain and his travelling companions.

The Brigadier emerged first. Tosh had never actually met him, but she knew him well enough by reputation. General Anderson appeared next, and finally Jack emerged. Tosh's heart clenched. He looked shattered and in that moment she wanted nothing more than to run over and hug him fiercely. Whatever had happened, it must have been significant.

"Toshiko," Anderson greeted warmly her as she made her way over to them. She answered his greeting with an equally warm smile. Since his part in saving her brother from another vindictive former UNIT commander, she'd been in regular contact with him and it often proved quite an enjoyable exchange. Indeed, he was the only UNIT official who she could handle communicating with – either directly or remotely.

"General Anderson," she returned his greeting. "Thank you so much for bringing Jack home."

"My pleasure," he said with a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. "I'm afraid it's not in the best of circumstances, though.

Her gaze flickered past him to where the Brigadier stood with Jack, one hand on his shoulder and all the while speaking to him in a low voice.

"Is he all right?"

"Not yet," Anderson said honestly. "He will be, but right now he's still getting over a pretty nasty shock. Let's go and find somewhere to sit and have a cup of coffee, and we'll do our best to explain."

* * *

Fifteen minutes later, they were ensconced in a little cafe with fresh coffee while Anderson and the Brigadier explained what had happened.

"The head of UNIT Russia is a drop-kick," Anderson said bluntly. "He's fond of the bottle and he is a narcissistic personality with a cruel sense of humour. He spent all yesterday doing everything he could to weasel his way into Jack's good books. Then this morning, he offered to take Jack for a drive around the city for a bit of sight-seeing. It wasn't until he came back alone with a broken jaw and one hell of a concussion that we found out that what he'd actually done was to take Jack back to Canary Wharf."

"Oh no," Tosh whispered in dismay.

"Exactly," Anderson confirmed. "Naturally, Jack objected. A bit of a scuffle broke out and Jack bolted. Took us the better part of the morning to find him."

Tosh caught Jack's eyes and in the moment before he dropped his gaze again, she recognised shame in his face and demeanour.

"I shouldn't have run away. Ianto's going to be mad."

Tosh reached across and gently covered his hand with her own. She could hear the beginnings of childish inflection in his tone, and that alone told her how badly he'd been affected. The childish persona only ever surfaced when he was badly traumatised or deeply upset about something.

"No, he won't, Jack. Not when he hears what happened."

To her quiet concern, Jack didn't answer. She looked worriedly to the Captain's two travel companions and saw equal concern in their expressions.

"Toshiko," Anderson said quietly, "can we contact Ianto? I think Jack needs him."

Tosh nodded in agreement.

"I think you're right." She paused, her thoughts going briefly to Gage, who was currently out with Ianto, Gwen and Owen. Part of her wanted to tell Jack about him, but Ianto had already expressed quiet concern to her about how Jack might react to Gage's reappearance. With that in mind, she decided that not only did she need to leave that particular challenge to Ianto, she also needed to try and forewarn Ianto so that he had at least a chance to broker a peaceful reunion.

"Perhaps we should take Jack home...?"

At that, Jack's head came up and he spoke firmly.

"No, I'll be fine. We'll head to the Hub." He looked around at Anderson and the Brigadier and smiled, though it didn't quite reach his eyes. "Neither of you gentlemen have seen the Hub since Ianto and I took over. Care to come have a look-see?"

"Why not?" Anderson said with a grin. "There's no hurry to get back to London."

"Great," Jack enthused. "Let's get going, then."

As they left the coffee shop, Tosh couldn't help but wonder whether General Anderson and the Brigadier were about to be treated to more than just the tour of the Hub that they were expecting.

* * *

Tosh tried to reach Ianto again on the way to Roald Dahl Plass, and was immensely grateful when the individual in question responded.

"Tosh?" Ianto's voice came over the earpiece, and it was all Tosh could do not to breathe a sigh of relief. "Where are you?"

"Ianto, I'm on my way back to the Hub now. Jack's with me, along with the Brigadier and General Anderson."

The momentary silence that met her words spoke louder than any immediate verbal response that Ianto could have made. When he spoke, there was a distinct forced calm that had Tosh wanting to cringe at. It was a definite tone that said "there had better be a damned good explanation forthcoming or someone is going to be in a lot of trouble".

"We're on our way back as well. We should be there in approximately twenty minutes. See you soon."

The communications cut out abruptly.

"He's mad, isn't he?" Jack asked in a small voice. Tosh smiled gently at him.

"No, not mad. Just concerned."

It wasn't strictly the truth, but Tosh knew that once Ianto heard the full story, any anger he had would be directed where it belonged – at the head of UNIT Russia. She just hoped fervently that he would give them a chance to explain.

* * *

By the time they arrived back at the Hub, it was obvious to all that Jack was close to breaking point. His flamboyance had increased massively but the real tell was when he all-but begged Toshiko to give their guests the guided tour, using the excuse that he had important emails to send.

Tosh knew that, given he hadn't been due back until the next day, there would be no one expecting contact from him. Secondly, she knew how much Jack loved showing off the Hub. It was something he rarely had the opportunity to do and she would have thought he'd pounce on the chance to show it off to two men whom he had the utmost respect for. The fact that he was asking her to show them around told her how much of a toll the strain was finally taking on him.

He needed to get away from being the centre of attention and that, too, was a big tell – Jack normally relished being the centre of attention.

"C'mon, gentlemen," Tosh said, offering Jack a reassuring smile. "I'll give you the grand tour."

Jack waited until they had turned from him before hurrying to his office. The door had barely closed behind him before the tears came in a flood. He stumbled to his chair and sank into it, reaching blindly for the toy dog that sat on his desk and cuddling it fiercely to his chest. It was a poor substitute for the comfort he craved from Ianto, but it offered some small reassurance nonetheless.

This was the first time since the incident had happened that he'd lost control of his emotions. Oh, he'd been in a real state immediately afterwards, no doubt about it. However, by the time the Brigadier had found him down in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral, he'd managed to recover enough to regain control and mask the worst of his distress. From that point on, he'd descended into a state of semi-shock, unable to properly process the fact that a UNIT chief had actually attempted to do the very thing that he feared most – lock him back up inside Torchwood Tower.

Even as a supposed joke, it still sent shockwaves through him.

Jack shut his eyes tightly, but it did nothing to dispel the panic and terror that rent him at his basest levels. The moment his eyes closed, he was back in that car, locks enabled to prevent him from jumping out, and watching with growing terror as the now empty shell that was Torchwood Tower grew closer. And all the while, General Filip Mednikov had talked with utter seriousness about how it had been decided in a clandestine meeting that he was a freak and needed to be locked up for the good of mankind.

He rubbed at his elbow unconsciously. When the car had gotten within a hundred metres of the tower, Jack had finally snapped. He'd punched Mednikov so hard that the man's jaw had shattered. The driver had, at that point, stopped the car and started to turn around to help his boss. Jack had been in a blind panic by then, though, and he'd smashed the window of the vehicle with his elbow. It had been broken badly but for once, he barely felt it. After punching the driver to prevent him from shooting, Jack finally managed to get his door open and bolted.

He didn't stop running until he found himself on the steps of St Paul's Cathedral. After just a moment's hesitation, he ventured inside and that was where the Brigadier had found him nearly four hours later.

Jack buried his face in the toy dog. He was fighting a losing battle against the shock and fear of the morning's events and more than anything, he wanted to retreat back within his own mind, and let child-Jack surface once more. He was right on the cusp of doing just that when a hand alighted gently on his shoulder, and another cupped his cheek. His eyes opened reluctantly; he was loathed to see the expected disappointment in his Ianto's eyes. It came as a shock, then, that it wasn't Ianto at all that he found himself staring at.

"Gage," Jack whispered, his eyes wide with shock. Gage smiled sadly at Jack.

"Hello, sweetheart."

With a guttural sob, Jack collapsed against his old friend, wrapping his arms around him in a fierce hug. Gage leaned into the embrace, exchanging an apologetic look with Ianto. He hadn't intended to use Jack's distressed state to his own advantage; it was simply that Jack had looked so miserable that Gage had wanted nothing more than to offer whatever comfort he could.

"I've got you," Gage whispered. "It's all right, my love. Just let it out."

Gradually, though, Jack managed to get some control over his emotions, and withdrew from Gage's embrace with some reluctance. He looked around for Ianto with obvious reservation.

"I'm sorry, I screwed it up."

There was also a touch of defiance in his tone, but Ianto ignored it. Seating himself carefully on the edge of the desk and reaching out to take Jack's hand in his own, he spoke in a deliberately neutral tone.

"Why don't you tell us what happened? Then we'll work it out from there." Jack opened his mouth to speak, but Ianto cut him off. "I want the honest version, Jack. If you really did something wrong, be honest. If you weren't at fault, then don't try to take the blame. Just tell the truth."

His breath hitching as he fought to suppress the sobs, and clinging to both Ianto and Gage as though his very life depended on it, Jack told them what had happened. Then, only once he finished, did Ianto respond.

"I'm proud of you, Jack," he said quietly. Jack looked up at him in confusion.

"Why? I hurt him. I shouldn't have hurt him."

"No," Ianto agreed, "but considering where he tried to take you? Cariad, you could easily have killed him, but you didn't. I really am incredibly proud of you. Are you all right?"

"Not yet," Jack replied honestly. "But, I will be... I guess." His gaze shifted to Gage. "How...?"

"How is it that I'm here?" Gage asked, and Jack nodded. The Irishman sighed softly. "Well, I suppose now is as good a time as any to tell you lads what happened after I left the TARDIS. Which, by the way, was no fault of yours, sweetheart."

Jack's expression was clouded, giving precious little away of how he was really feeling. Gage, however, knew him well, despite his long absence from Jack and Ianto's lives. He still recognised Jack's shifts in mood, and knew how to deal with it.

"Look at me, sweetheart. C'mon, look at me."

Slowly, Jack lifted his gaze to meet Gage's, and his defiant expression softened somewhat at the care in Irishman's face. Gage took one of Jack's hands in his own, and carded his free hand soothingly through Jack's hair.

"Now, listen to me. What was the tipping point for me leaving was what happened that day in the TARDIS, and I know you know what I'm talking about. None of what happened that day was your fault. You didn't understand what was going on with your own body and my own embarrassment and stupidity caused me to deal with it, and you, in a way that only caused you fear and upset. I let myself be consumed with guilt over that, and I convinced myself that I'd lost your trust and staying on board would only cause you even more grief. I wouldn't listen to the Doctor when he tried to tell me otherwise, and I couldn't bring myself to face you or Ianto, so I left. It was the wrong decision, and I knew that not too long after I'd left but by then it was too late. I had no way to contact you lads again, so I was on my own. But none of it was your fault, sweetheart. You were not to blame for my foolishness, and I'm sorry that I caused you so much hurt. I just hope you can forgive me."

Slowly, the wariness on Jack's face faded, and a more furtive expression took its place.

"I think I can do that, but I think you owe me something for it."

Gage glanced back at Ianto, but the younger man's expression gave no hint that he knew what Jack was edging towards.

"I guess that's fair," he conceded, all the while suspicious that he was letting himself in for more than he was really prepared. "What do you want...?"

He'd barely finished the question when Jack pulled Gage down to him, and captured his lips in a prolonged and enthusiastic snog. Whether he was simply too stunned, or whether he remembered Jack's preferred method of greeting when they'd still been in the Canary Wharf facility, Gage never made any attempt to pull away and even reciprocated a little before Jack broke away.

"Now there's the 'hello' that I remember," Gage said with a grin, and Jack broke into a broad smile before throwing his arms around the other man in a ferocious hug.

"I missed you, Gage. Missed you so much."

"Missed you too, sweetheart," Gage murmured, taking obvious pleasure in the embrace. "Missed both you lads."

"You don't get out of it, though," Jack said, even while he hugged Gage to him. "I want to know what happened to you. The Doctor said you wanted to go home. How did you end up here in Cardiff?"

Slowly, Gage withdrew from Jack's embrace.

"I know I owe you both an explanation, but can we not do this here? Please, I'd rather be somewhere more private, if you know what I mean."

Jack looked across to Ianto, who nodded in concession.

"All right," Ianto said quietly. "Tonight at home, then. For now, we have alien tech to deal with, and I believe we have visitors to cater to?"

Jack reddened a little.

"The Brigadier and General Anderson. I guess I wasn't sure how you'd react to what happened, and..."

"And you wanted some support," Ianto said. "That's understandable, but I hope you believe me when I say I'm proud of how you handled it."

Jack nodded slowly.

"I think so. Thank you."

Ianto leaned in to kiss Jack lightly.

"Now, how about we go and join our guests? Maybe they can even help us with the tech we found."

"Coffee?" Jack asked hopefully, and Ianto answered with an indulgent smile.

"Of course, sir. You catch up with the tour group, and I'll get Gwen and Owen, and we'll wait for you in the Boardroom. Gage, do you want to go with Jack? You haven't seen all of the Hub yet."

"I think I might, at that," Gage agreed. "Jack? After you, lad."

Grinning, and almost recovered from his earlier trauma, Jack led the way from his office to go and find Tosh, The Brigadier and the General. Ianto watched them go with a fond smile before heading in the opposite direction to prepare the promised coffee, and summon his other two colleagues to the Boardroom.

* * *

to be continued...


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