Jack should have been sleeping. After everything that had happened in the last few days, he should be exhausted. He was exhausted. But instead of sleeping, he was leaning against the outside of the warehouse, staring at the stars.
Why isn’t the Doctor here? he wondered, begging the universe to give him a break, just this once.
A tingling at the edge of his sense made him turn, slowly, to face the alley. The sensation was familiar, and he was relieved when a carbon copy of himself came around the corner instead of someone less desirable.
Other Jack looked tired, bone-tired. His feet dragged as he made his way toward Jack, the unusual green jacket he wore hanging off his broad form. He dug deep into one of its pockets and held out a folded sheet of paper before Jack could speak his first admonishments.
“Just read it,” he said hoarsely. “You’ll understand.” As soon as Jack took it- gingerly, between two fingers- he slumped against the side of the warehouse, a meter away from Jack.
When the universe did not implode, Jack unfolded the paper. Written in his own tense, cramped handwriting with blue ink, a hurried red scrawl, blotchy black tear-stained letters and faint, hesitant pencil, a list was drawn out. A short sentence at the top set off a silent vibration in the back of Jack’s head that spread inexorably down his back like a deep, deep gong being struck.
Beneath it was the multi-colored list, all the items crossed out. As Jack skimmed it, his hands began to shake, his stomach rolled, his heart recoiled and his mind began to fray.
Send Ianto after Alice and Steven.
Take Ianto to Thames House.
Send Ianto back to Wales.
Have Ianto stay in the warehouse.
Send Ianto to the park with Rhys.
Make Ianto go to Martha Jones.
Make Ianto hide somewhere out of the way.
Lock Ianto up somewhere where he can’t get involved.
Tell Gwen to watch Ianto at all times.
Send Gwen to Thames House; stay with Ianto.
The list went on, getting crazier and more reckless all the while. Jack’s mouth dried up and he wanted to close his eyes and pretend none of it was true. As he read on and imagined himself doing all the terrible things listed, he started to get dizzy, his inner ears reacting like he was being squeezed in a giant vice. Jack was frozen in place, but as soon as he reached the end of the list he was released. He stumbled to the wall of the warehouse and crumpled the paper in a trembling fist while he vomited onto the pavement.
“Why have you shown me this?” he gasped, his entire body shaking, trying not to retch anymore, trying not to cry, not to scream in horror.
“Because you need to think of something else,” Other Jack whispered. There were deep bags under his eyes and his skin was stretched tight over his face. He looked like he’d lost weight, his pupils looked like he was high.
“How many times have you done this?” Jack demanded, voice astonishingly reedy and pathetic. He would not have believed he was capable of making such a sound, not before knowing of this abomination.
“Me?” Other Jack’s pale, thin lips tilted in a grotesque smile. “Just this once. But I can feel the echoes of all the other times. They loved him too.”
Jack was shaking his head wildly, choking on the remnants of his puke and coughing. “No, never. I would never do this!”
“That’s what I said,” Other Jack said ironically. “But here I am. I… I couldn’t let him go.” He exposed his face, his eyes, to Jack, his expression so full of despair and oblivion that Jack couldn’t look at him any longer.
“What will happen to you, since you’ve warned me? Will you… go back, to the way it happened for you?”
“No,” Other Jack answered. “I don’t know how I’d… No, it’s the Reapers for me.”
Jack gaped at his future self’s relief. He didn’t say You’ll die, painfully and horribly. You’ll suffer for an immeasurable amount of time, agonized by your non-existence. Why don’t you care?!
He gulped, swallowing chunks of the take-away Ianto had sourced for them earlier that evening. It seemed like lifetimes ago, and Jack realized with a start that that was because he, too, could feel the echoes of this moment, like a house of mirrors where he could see himself a thousand times, and suddenly he knew that he, too, would not be able to resist trying to fix whatever went wrong.
Other Jack peered at him, dead eyes smiling in morbid amusement. “Now you know. It’s up to you to fix it. Because you don’t want to end up like me, do you?”
Jack’s hands began to shake again and he uncrumpled the list to stare at the most recent additions.
Take Frobisher’s family hostage.
Kill Ianto before he dies another way.
Link to Chapter 4
He hardly dared to look at Other Jack. “What did you do?” he whispered.
Other Jack just stared at him with eyes like carved out bores in dead trees. “You already know the answer to that.”
Then he walked away, turning at the end of the alley. The Vortex flared in Jack’s mind, and then was extinguished.
Jack stood in the middle of the alley for long minutes. At last, he pulled out a pen and birthed a new timeline at the bottom of the list. Refolding the paper and putting it into his coat pocket, he went back inside the warehouse, suddenly overcome with the urge to lay down beside Ianto and hold the young man as close to him as was physically possible.