Author’s Note: Written for the house_of_cooper Gwen ficathon for ctjackharkness, who requested: “The team is on a mission, when Jack and Gwen are separated from the rest. One of them is hurt. H/C ensues with them deciding to finally confess their feelings for each other and begin a serious relationship. (Hopefully, they have already ended their current canon relationships amicably.) I would like the hurt party to be whole and healthy at the end. Or really, Anything where Gwen ends up reasonably happy with Jack is fine.” Not sure if this is exactly what they wanted, but hope it’s close enough! Set in a slightly-AU version of season 2. 🙂
It’s dark when Gwen comes to, the pounding in her head only exceeded by the pain in every other part of her body. She can’t help it; she lets out a small noise.
“Hey,” Jack’s voice emerges from the darkness, warm and liquid as a caress. He tries to make a joke, but there’s a strain in his voice that lets her know just how serious their situation is. “‘Bout time you woke up. I was beginning to think you were dreaming about something more interesting than me, and we can’t have that.”
Gwen’s throat feels raw, her tongue thick, and there’s a heavy smell in the air that she recognizes: coal dust. Why is there coal dust in the air? “Wh-what happened?” she manages. “Where are we?”
She can barely see him in the darkness, but she can feel him hesitate before finally asking, “How much do you remember?”
“Not much,” she admits. Her voice sounds weak and thready, even to herself. “It’s all a bit fuzzy.”
“In that case, the answer to your question is that we’re at the bottom of the Aberaman mine. We took a little tumble down a mine shaft.”
Now she does remember something about a creature sighted somewhere about the old abandoned coal mines in Aberdare. Jack had decided it bore investigating when one of the locals had managed to snap a photograph of the monster and he’d recognized it.
She tries to sit up, but an intense wave of nausea and Jack’s hands quickly put paid to that notion. He sounds more than a little concerned. “Easy. I’m pretty sure you’ve got a concussion at least. Probably a few broken bones as well.”
“Exactly how little of a tumble are we talking about?” Gwen demands as forcefully as her body will allow her.
Jack doesn’t answer, just switches on his torch and swings it upward. The beam splits the shadows like the light peeping through a barely-open door, and seems to go on forever. It’s all a bit overwhelming. “I don’t understand. How am I not dead?”
Jack’s silent for a long moment before finally admitting, “I broke your fall.”
It’s a simple phrase that bears a wealth of meaning. Nausea threatens once again, but this time at the thought of how painful that death and resurrection must have been. “Oh, Jack, I’m sorry.”
He turns off the torch, plunging them once again into total darkness before saying jauntily, “Hey, I can come back from that. You can’t. I did what I had to do.”
She suspects that there would have been other reasons written on his face if they’d still had light. “Where are the others?”
“Still topside, I hope. Considering I’m counting on them to get us out of this.”
Gwen frowns, struggling through the haze in her mind to recall the brief glimpse she’s been given of the walls of the shaft. “Can’t you climb out?”
Jack’s answer is immediate and unyielding. “I’m not leaving you.”
Silence falls, and after a moment it’s as if the conversation were all that anchored her to this time and place. She’s drifting suddenly in a sea of darkness, floating above and outside herself but the darkness doesn’t frighten her. There’s something warm and welcoming about it and she’s suddenly so, so very tired.
“Oh no you don’t. Don’t you dare die on me, Gwen Cooper. I won’t allow it.”
Like dropping anchor just before she drifts out to sea, Jack’s voice pulls her back with its quiet urgency and unspoken concern. “I wasn’t thinking to die,” she argues. “Just rest for a while.”
“Can’t let you do that either, at least not until we know for sure how serious that knock to the head is,” he points out. As if knowing she needs a physical anchor as well as a verbal one, she feels him take one of her hands in his own. “I need you to stay with me. Got that?”
She starts to nod, but nodding only makes her head swim again. “Yes.”
Silence lapses again but this time her second anchor remains firm, the feel of his rough palm against her own like a gentle chain binding them together, not allowing her to wander too far ahead on her own. It isn’t the first time, either; she’ll never forget the way he held her after Rhys had died.
She’s not sure why the words come pouring out as they do. “When Billis killed Rhys…and then the Rift brought him back, there was this little voice in my head that told me to grab hold of him and just hold on forever. That I’d never find another man so good, so steady.”
“So why didn’t you?” Jack asks softly.
“Because I couldn’t do it again. I couldn’t face the thought of watching him die again, of seeing him in danger because he was dear to me. And sooner or later, I knew I would. Someone, something out there would always be waiting to use him against me, and him all unknowing even of why.”
Jack squeezes her hand. Another long, sober silence follows and then Gwen asks, “How do you do it, Jack? How do you just go on living when the people you love keep dying?”
His answer is brutally honest. “I don’t really have a choice.”
And that’s the crux of it, then, isn’t it? It’s easy for her or the others to be glad of his immortality, because he’s one they’ll never have to lose. But for him it’s just the opposite; it just means sooner or later he’ll have to lose them all. She feels briefly ashamed.
“Although…” he adds, in a voice so quiet, so sincere it’s as though for once the con man, the flirt, has been dismissed. “There are some times…some people…that make it harder than others.”
“Ianto?” she guesses.
His answer surprises her. “Ianto was never about me. He needed a purpose, something to live for after Lisa died. Once he found one, he didn’t need me any more.”
“Don’t be. I always knew that’s how it would go. My job was to make sure he lived long enough to make it to that point.”
“Still, you loved him,” she points out. He’s never said as much, at least not in her hearing, but then he’s never needed to. Perhaps that was the reason he’d remained silent, so that Ianto would be free to let go when he needed to.
“I’ve loved a lot of people,” is the quiet answer.
Gwen shivers but not in pain. Somehow, even in the dark, she can feel his eyes on her, piercing her like the shaft of a fiery arrow.
Something about the darkness, the silence but for their voices, has made them both extraordinarily truthful. So Gwen’s not really surprised to hear the next words that come out of her own mouth: “It wasn’t just Rhys dying, you know.”
“The reason I left him. It was you. And Owen, but mostly you.” It hurts to be this honest, but she owes it to him and to herself. “Truth be told, I don’t think there ever would’ve been Owen if there hadn’t been you. Then after you swanned off with that doctor of yours, I nearly went back to Rhys. But then I thought, ‘What right do I have to make this good man a target for some mad alien to get at me if I can’t even be true to him when he’s right here with me and Jack’s gone off, likely never to return?’ He deserved better.”
It’s Jack’s turn now to apologise. “I never meant for that to happen.”
“I know. ‘Be normal,’ you always say. What you don’t realise, Jack, is that became impossible the moment I met you.” She sighs deeply, even though it makes her chest and her back hurt. “Poor Rhys. How was he supposed to understand when I couldn’t even explain to him the things I’d seen that changed me so?”
“That’s not what I meant. Or at least…not all of it.”
Gwen understands. Does she really want to be no more than a footnote in his extraordinary life: a life that’s only just beginning, though he’s already seen more centuries than she ever will? Why should he ask her to give up the chance to grow old with someone who will love her as long as he lives when that’s something Jack can never give her?
The answer, when it comes to her, is as simple as it is startling. She already has.
And besides, for all the things he can’t give her, there’s two he can: his heart and one other.
“Tell me, Jack,” she asks. “Ten thousand years from now, who’s going to remember little old Gwen Cooper?”
“I will,” he vows.
Fumbling in the dark, she reaches for his other hand and finds it. “That’s it, then? That’s what you think I need protecting from? From being remembered thousands of years after I’m gone? How many people can say that?”
Jack’s hands tighten on hers in the darkness and Gwen finds herself torn between wanting to see his face and fearing what she might find there. “Most people wouldn’t want to be left behind.”
“I don’t think you ever leave anyone behind,” she answers with thoughtful conviction. “I think you carry us all with you. That’s not a bad sort of afterlife.” A pause and then she adds, “Not that I’m anxious for it to start, mind you. I’ve a few things left in this life I’ve a thought to do first.”
When Jack finally speaks again, he’s teasing but at the same time there’s an undercurrent that’s new. “Gwen Gooper, are you trying to seduce me?”
Even though it hurts, Gwen can’t help but laugh. “Well, now, I don’t know. Did it work?”
Before he can answer, there’s a noise from somewhere above them and they both freeze.
“Jack…” Gwen whispers. “Come to think on it, that creature we were tracking – ”
“The terchyopterix from Hansa IV?”
“Right, that. Did we get it?”
He chuckles. “We did. In fact, that’s how we ended up down here. Turns out the death throes of a terchyopterix have one hell of a backlash.”
There’s another sound from somewhere over their heads, but this time it’s a familiar voice calling. “Jack? Gwen? Bloody hell. Tosh, are you sure this is where you lost ’em?”
She’ll never hear Tosh’s reply, because Jack shouts up to him: “Owen! We’re down here.”
She hears scrabbling, then the dim, distant beam of a torch appears over the edge of the shaft. “How the fuck did you wind up down there?” Owen’s disbelieving voice echoes down towards them.
“Long story, no time. Gwen’s hurt,” is Jack’s concise reply.
Owen lets loose with a few more colourful curses. “All right, hang on. Be back once I find something we can use to hoist you up.”
He disappears and the light with him and Gwen starts to drift again, back into that warm, welcoming darkness. Until she feels a touch on her lips, so feather light and gentle that she almost doesn’t realise Jack’s kissing her until he pulls away.
“Think of it as a reason to live,” he tells her, and even in the dark she can see the rueful, affectionate smile he’s no doubt wearing. “Because right now, the only place I want to ‘carry you with me’ is out of this mine.”
His fingers tangle carefully in her hair. “After that…we’ll talk about what to do with the rest of this life.”
When she wakes, there’s no ethereal light, no heaven or hell, no darkness, nor even the Hub. But there’s her own bed, in her own flat, with Jack standing to one side still clasping her hand in his and Owen on the other, with a stethoscope and a smile. There’s Tosh, looking sheepish as ever but sweetly concerned as well, and Ianto just coming into the room with a steaming bowl of something that smells like chicken soup.
Jack’s hand tightens on hers. “See?” he teases softly in a voice that’s really not teasing at all. “I told you: you’re not getting rid of me that easily.” Nothing’s changed, and yet in his eyes everything has.
Gwen just smiles. It’s good to be home.