Characters: Jack, Ianto, Lisa, Owen.
Spoilers: Cyberwoman, maybe Fragments.
Summary: Jack knows the devastation of loss and grief all too well. It can’t be cured, merely accepted and endured.
Word Count: 1278
Written For: Challenge 117: Remedy at beattheblackdog.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters.
Jack has been alive long enough, and suffered enough heartrending losses,
in truth far more than one man should ever have to endure, that he knows there’s no sure-fire remedy for grief over the death of a loved one; not even time. It hurts, ripping the heart to shreds, figuratively if not literally, and it goes on hurting while you cling to the memories of the one who is gone, though time does eventually dull the pain, making it more or less bearable. Or maybe it’s just a case of the body and mind adjusting, accepting the pain and learning to live with it. Whatever the case, there’s no pill or medicine that can take away the devastation of loss; it’s the same in the fifty-first century as it is in the twenty-first, and all the millennia that came before, and will come after. Grief can’t be cured, only endured until living with it becomes second nature and it can be tucked away in the back of one’s mind, unobtrusive but ever-present.
Owen is a doctor; his job is to cure illness and injury, dispensing medications, performing surgery, setting broken bones, and patching up all manner of wounds, both major and minor. While his bedside manner may leave a lot to be desired, he’s a dedicated healer, and he’s good at his job; one of the best Jack has come across during his travels, taking into account the tools he has available to him. Thousands of years from now, advances in medicine will make things possible that are a distant dream at present; it’s unlikely Owen will live to see them, but day by day, without even knowing it, he’s contributing to their future discovery.
Yet despite his dedication to healing, when Katie became so inexplicably ill there was nothing Owen could do either to save his fiancée or to heal himself in the aftermath of her tragic death. He sought solace in the bottom of a bottle, and in empty, meaningless one night stands, and Jack could have told him neither of those things would help in the slightest, having been where the grieving medic was more than once, but it would have done no good. Some things you just have to discover for yourself, and three years on Owen is still fighting that battle. He’s holding his own, more or less; the self-destructive streak he brought with him to Torchwood is less noticeable, while the heavy drinking and womanising are more of a habit now than a conscious, or even unconscious attempt to blot out the pain of grief. Owen will be okay in time, he’s holding himself together pretty well all things considered, but Ianto…
The young Welshman is shattered, weighed down not only by grief over losing the woman he loved, and still loves, but by the horrors he witnessed during the Canary Wharf massacre, and the overwhelming guilt he feels over not only failing to save Lisa, but betraying his colleagues, indirectly causing the deaths of two people, and putting the entire planet at risk of being converted into emotionless metal monsters. All of that makes for a burden too great for any person, no matter how strong, to carry, and it’s crushing him before Jack’s very eyes; he sees the evidence every time he looks at Ianto, and he wishes to any gods that might be listening that there was something more he could do to help.
If he knew of some way to cure Ianto, he wouldn’t hesitate. He’d take all the Welshman’s grief and guilt and shame onto his own shoulders if he could because it hurts to see the boy suffering this way; he’s seen too much for one so young. Jack knows he could easily take away the grief and guilt by erasing Ianto’s memories of Torchwood, and Lisa, and everything that happened to them both, but that wouldn’t be a cure; it would be an unforgivable betrayal. If Ianto asked him to, he might do it, if he could be certain it was really what the young man wanted and not just a passing whim, but he knows it won’t happen; it’s impossible to remove the bad memories while leaving the good ones intact, and no matter what kind of hell he’s going through right at this moment, there’s no way Ianto would want to forget his love for Lisa any more than Jack himself would want to forget any of his own lost loves. It would be like losing a part of himself. The loves he’s embraced and the losses he’s endured have made Jack who he is today; stripping their memories away would make him a lesser man, erase the lessons they’ve taught him, and if Jack can’t do that to himself, he won’t do it to someone else, least of all Ianto.
In the absence of a remedy, all Jack can do is offer support, friendship, a shoulder to lean on and a willing ear to listen whenever Ianto needs someone to talk to who’ll listen without judging. Jack understands better than almost anyone exactly what the young Welshman is going through. Ianto isn’t the only one who’s made serious errors in judgement for the sake of a loved one; Jack’s made more than his fair share of disastrous mistakes, and very few of them were for motives as noble as Ianto’s. But he can help, if Ianto will let him, and so can the other members of the team. They’ve already forgiven him, but accepting their forgiveness is a hurdle Ianto hasn’t managed to get over yet. He still holds himself too much to blame for circumstances that spiralled out of his control.
The hardest part though, perhaps even harder than learning to live with the grief of losing his girlfriend, and enduring the nightmares and flashbacks to Canary wharf… the hardest part for Ianto will be forgiving himself, and there’s nothing anyone else can say or do that will help him with that. Does he have the courage and the strength of will it’ll take to accept that he deserves forgiveness in spite of the mistakes he made? It’s impossible to be sure.
What he needs to understand and accept is that he was manipulated by a Cyberman wearing Lisa’s body; it held out to him the hope that she could still be saved if he got her someplace safe and found someone who could ‘cure’ her. But just as with grief, there is no remedy for cyberconversion; once it begins, once the first implants are inserted, it cannot be stopped. The Cybermen have made sure of that; they’ve spent centuries perfecting their methods. Think of the implants as seeds; they embed themselves deeply, send out roots to anchor themselves, and then they start to grow, taking over the mind and the motor functions of their ‘host’ as they go. The conversion of Lisa’s body was not completed, the Cyberman could not survive for long without life support helping it to breathe, but conversion begins with the brain and nervous system, and no one, not even the most skilled neurosurgeon in the galaxy, could have removed the implants twining through Lisa’s brain without causing irreparable damage.
Ianto hadn’t known any of that, of course; if he had, he wouldn’t have tried so hard to save Lisa. In time, perhaps he’ll realise that he can’t blame himself for not knowing information that, if it existed within Torchwood at all, would have been so far above his security clearance as to be inaccessible to him. Perhaps then he’ll finally be able to let go of the guilt, and learn to live with the grief.