Warnings: Psychological trauma...
Word Count: 1128
Summary: Just why does Jack stand on all those tall buildings?
Prompt: 005. Outsides.
Gwen thought Jack stood on the top of tall buildings because he wanted to jump, to test whether he still had his immortality.
Tosh thought Jack stood on the top of tall buildings because he liked to observe as much of the world below as he could, and keep watch over everything.
Ianto thought Jack stood on the top of tall buildings because he’d somehow got used to being up high before he’d joined Torchwood, and he missed it.
Owen claimed he thought Jack stood on the top of tall buildings because he was trying to make up for his own shortcomings, or because he just wanted to look cool. He really thought Jack stood on the top of tall buildings for the rush it gave him. The adrenalin that came from being one step away from death, the sense of his superiority over others. He did it because he wanted to prove how much better than everyone else he was.
Jack knew what they thought, and he thought that they were all partly right (except Owen). But there was another reason, one they didn’t know.
Jack was claustrophobic.
He hadn’t always been – there had been a time when he told himself he was afraid of nothing, when he couldn’t be killed and used it to its full advantage. But that had all changed, years ago, when there were just the three of them in Torchwood Cardiff, and he hadn’t even been in charge. Long before Tosh and Owen and Gwen and Ianto’s time. Back when they’d had to keep everything secret – even Torchwood London hadn’t heard half of what was going on.
It had all been a ghastly mistake. One of the unhappiest memories Jack had of that time, and that team.
There’d been an alien loose on the streets of Cardiff, leaving a trail of unmarked bodies in its wake. They’d tracked it down – Jack had got there first, found it hunched over its third victim of the night, weeping huge tears and keening miserably. He’d realised, with horror, that it was just a child. An alien child, sucked through the Rift and lost and lonely, seeking comfort and incapable of understanding that its very touch brought death to the men and women it turned to for help. He’d lowered his gun, pitying, sympathising, and it had come to him with a desperate wail, catching him as he backed away, and clinging to him, sobbing as he screamed, and died and didn’t die in its embrace.
There had been a gunshot, and then the alien was beyond misery, and Jack had died.
The alien had killed him well – it took him so long to come back that he woke up covered and confined, put away like so many other corpses, in the drawers of the morgue. And though he’d managed to tear away the material covering his face so he could breathe, he’d still been trapped in the drawer with no way out, unable even to turn over, and nobody hearing his cries for help.
He’d fought the panic as long as he could, but he was stuck there for hours, shivering and freezing, his hands and feet numb, with the knowledge pressing down on him that if nobody came to his rescue he’d be trapped there forever, dying again and again, of the cold, or thirst, or asphyxiation. It didn’t matter which way – they were all as sure as each other.
And he’d screamed, lashing out at anything he could hit, bruising and grazing his body as he thrashed around in such a confined space. He’d gone wild, twisting his arms to beat on the little door, clawing at the sides of his prison with fingers so numb he couldn’t feel them bleeding, and screaming and cursing and begging for his release with every breath.
It had been close to eleven hours before they’d come to let him out. By then he’d been sobbing helplessly, his tears only broken by sudden screams and cries, his entire body so cold he could hardly move, and when the drawer was yanked out into sudden light he half-dived, half-rolled off it, careering into Charles and knocking his gun from his hands. They’d pulled him to his feet, asking a thousand questions and trying to calm him down, but he was beyond calming. He’d fought madly to break free of them and bolt, crying out for open space but too weak from death and the cold to tear away before they managed to pump a sedative into him, and he’d collapsed.
He’d come round on the couch in the main, central area of the Hub, the two others sitting with him, all concern and soothing hands on his hair, but he’d pushed them away and staggered to his feet, feeling obscenely enclosed in the building, huge though it was. He’d bolted for the nearest exit, closely followed by the other two as he went flying up the stairs, registering as he stumbled that they’d dressed him, but not caring.
He’d burst out in the middle of Cardiff, spinning round and finding himself surrounded by people and buildings and not enough space. He’d vaguely heard Dai calling breathlessly for him to wait as he took off again, but he hadn’t even slowed down. He headed for the nearest tall block of flats, racing up the fire escape outside like his life depended on it.
On the roof he’d finally slowed, looking around at the cloudy sky on all sides, and then he’d fallen to his knees and rolled exhaustedly onto his back, staring up at the vast, empty, grey-blue expanse above him. He hadn’t moved when he’d heard the others catch up, just lain there and told them, quietly, to keep out of his field of vision.
It had taken them an hour just to get him to stand up, and even then they’d kept fussing, trying to stop him from going to stand on the edge of the roof, though he simply stared down for a few moments, then quietly descended the fire escape with them.
It had taken him a week before he could go back inside the Hub again. They’d offered him his own amnesia pills, been terrified by the fury of his reaction. After that they’d simply taken it in turns to sit outside with him until he was ready, watching people go by and occasionally squeezing his hand in an unseen gesture of reassurance and support.
And even now, however many years later, he sometimes felt the need to get outside and up, though he’d long since overcome his fear of the morgue.
But all that was something he would never explain to this team, unless he had no choice. They didn’t need to know.