Characters: Meriel, Jack, Ianto, Others.
Summary: Meriel has a tough question for Jack. He answers as best he can.
Word Count: 1735
Content Notes: None needed.
Written For: Challenge 142 – Forever at beattheblackdog.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters.
“Dad, what’s it like to live forever?” Meriel came to lean against the kitchen counter where Jack was peeling potatoes for dinner.
He turned a teasing smile on his eldest daughter. “I wouldn’t know; I’ve only been around for a few hundred years. Still got a lot of forever to go.”
“Dad, I’m serious! I asked Tad, but he said to ask you, so that’s what I’m doing, or trying to do.” Meriel gave her father a hard look, frowning.
Putting the potato peeler down, Jack grew serious, giving his not so little girl his full attention. She wasn’t a child anymore, to be distracted from the awkward questions or brushed off with half-truths; she was eighteen now and would be leaving home for university in less than a month. He hated the thought of her being such a long way from home; Brighton wasn’t really that far away, nowhere in the British Isles was, but to Jack it might as well have been the other side of the world because she wouldn’t be here, where he could watch over her and protect her. He knew Ianto felt the same way, but they’d both agreed long ago they wouldn’t hold any of their children back from doing whatever they wanted to do, especially not their firstborn.
“It’s hard, sweetheart. Your Tad and I will have to watch you and your brothers and sisters grow up, have families of your own, and eventually die, hopefully of old age. Then we’ll watch the same thing happen to your children, and grandchildren, and great grandchildren, and I won’t lie; it’s gonna hurt a lot. Your aunt and uncle, your cousins, the rest of the team and their families, everyone we know… they’ll all die while your Tad and I carry on, ageing so slowly it’s not noticeable. In ten thousand years we’ll still look just the way we look right now, but in that same amount of time we’ll have lost thousands of people we’ve known and loved.”
“It’ll never end for you and Tad, will it? You’ll just keep going until the end of the universe.”
“Maybe even longer than that.” Jack smiled sadly. “Forever is a very long time. I have to believe there will be an end someday, though. Everything ends eventually, even time itself, and then maybe we’ll be reunited with everyone we’ve lost.”
Meriel chewed on her bottom lip for a moment before asking, “Did you know we wouldn’t inherit your immortality?”
“Yes. It’s not something in our blood or our genes that makes your Tad and I immortal; it’s something that was… instilled into us through the time vortex.”
“Then how could you bear to have children knowing you’ll outlive us all?”
“Because we knew we would outlive you, that you’d get to have a normal life. Meri, we could never have inflicted our immortality on a child; that would’ve been beyond cruel. Your Tad knew what being immortal would mean even before he became like me, and he accepted it, but a baby can’t understand the consequences of having to live forever. However much we wanted a family, we would have never had children of our own if it had meant they’d have to share in our immortality, without being given any say in the matter.”
“But you’ll lose us.” Meriel’s voice cracked slightly.
“We know, and it’ll break our hearts, but even though each generation will die, our family will carry on and keep growing, spreading out across the universe. There will always be people out there who are a part of us; descendents of our children, and all of you will live on through them. You’ll always be with us, always in our hearts, for as long as we live.”
Meriel hugged her father. “I don’t think I could do it, watch everyone I love age and die knowing I never would.”
Jack returned the hug, holding his grown-up little girl close and resting his cheek against her silky hair. “I’m glad you won’t have to.”
“But even when I’m gone you’ll still remember me, won’t you? And Gareth, Jenna, Rhosyn…”
“You’ll all be remembered, forever,” Jack promised. “Why do you think we take so many photos and videos? We want to make sure we don’t forget a single thing.”
“Is that why me going to Brighton bothers you and Tad? Because that’ll be one part of my life you can’t share in, that you won’t have any memories of?”
“When did you get so smart?” Jack huffed.
“I’ve always been this smart; I get it from Tad.” Meriel pulled back a little to smirk up at her dad, her blue eyes sparkling.
He couldn’t help but chuckle. “Cheeky!”
“I get that from you. Now stop changing the subject, you didn’t answer my question; is that why?”
“Partly. Mostly it’s just that you’re our little girl, and we want you to live your life, to do whatever will make you happy, but we worry about what might happen to you if we’re not there to protect you.”
“I’ll be careful, dad, I promise, and I know self defence. You and Tad and everybody made sure of that.”
“I know you can take care of yourself, so does your Tad, but that doesn’t mean we won’t still worry; that’s what parents do.” Jack kissed his daughter on the top of her head and took a step back, hands on her shoulders, smiling down at her. “Now, how about giving me a hand with the veg? We don’t want Tad getting home tired and hungry to find we don’t even have dinner on yet.”
“That would never do. Will carrots and broccoli be okay?” Meriel went to fetch a knife from the cutlery drawer.
“That’ll be fine, Princess.”
“Princess? You haven’t called me that in forever.”
“Ah, well that’s because I seem to recall you telling me when you turned thirteen that you were too old for baby names and if I called you that again, you’d kick me in the shins.”
“I was a bit of a brat back then, wasn’t I?”
“You were just asserting a bit of independence.”
“Well, I hope you won’t have to go through that with the twins; double the trouble.”
“Nothing your Tad and I can’t handle,” Jack told her with a smile and went back to peeling potatoes.
Ten thousand years later, on a colony world several hundred light years from earth, Jack sat on the side of the bed watching his husband cradling their newborn daughter in his arms, the first child they’d had in fifty years. By now, thanks to a combination of natural evolution, crossbreeding with longer-lived races, and advances in medicine, human life expectancy had been extended to almost a hundred and fifty years; the youngest of their previous children was hardly into middle age, although he and his two life-partners already had four children of their own and another on the way.
“She’s beautiful,” Ianto said softly.
“Of course she is. Look who she has for parents! All our babies are guaranteed to be beautiful; it’s hardwired into their genes.”
Ianto snorted softly. “I knew you’d say that; you always do.” The baby gurgled and half opened her eyes, but kept sucking on her bottle. “So what are we going to name this one?”
“I was thinking maybe we should revive some old earth names. So many have gone out of fashion; it’s about time someone brought them back.”
“I hope you’re not suggesting we call our daughter Gladys, or Prudence, or Gertrude…”
“I said old earth names, not prehistoric ones! Gertrude?” Jack gave a theatrical shudder. “That would be cruel and unusual punishment for any child. No, I was thinking more along the lines of Anna, or Sarah, or Katie…”
“I like Katie, she looks like a Katie. D’you like that, Princess?” Ianto set the empty bottle aside and lifted the baby to his shoulder to burp her. It was quite an impressive burp for such a little one.
Jack laughed. “I think she approves.” Then he sobered, looking suddenly uncertain. “How would you feel if we called her Katie Meriel Harkness-Jones?”
That brought a gentle smile to Ianto’s lips. “Yes, I think that would be perfect.” It had been a very long time since they’d given that name to the first of their many children, although there had been at least one Meriel in most generations of their family since then, just as there’d been a lot of Gareths and Jennas and Rhosyns down through the centuries. They were traditional family names, along with Owen, Andrew, Michael, Suzie, Toshiko, Rose, Kathy, Martha, Gwen, and so many others. It was one way in which the people who’d been most important in their lives could be kept alive in their memories.
“Meriel asked me once what it’s like to live forever,” Jack said quietly.
“What did you tell her?”
“I said it was hard, but I was very young back then, I didn’t know what I know now.”
“Which is?” Ianto looked enquiringly at his husband, one eyebrow raised.
“It can be hard, but it can also be wonderful. We have the largest family in the universe, we have our friends, our Fluffs, and we have each other. We’re blessed.”
“Yes we are.” Cradling Katie Meriel in one arm, Ianto reached down to pet the big green Fluff coiled up on a blanket beside the chair. Nosy hummed contentedly; it was getting old by Fluff standards, there were flecks of grey in its fur now, and perhaps it slithered a little slower than it used to, but it still had a good few decades left, maybe even a few centuries. Certainly plenty of time to watch this new baby, the namesake of its very first charge, grow to adulthood and start a new branch of the family tree. It would start growing a Flufflet for her right away so that as soon as she started crawling she would have a companion to play and grow up with. It could teach them both together, as it had done with babies and Flufflets so many times before.
Jack and Ianto shared a smile; every new child was a new beginning, a new adventure to embark on together. No matter how many times they did this, it never grew old, and for the rest of forever they hoped it never would.