Title: Preserving Memories
Characters: Jack, Ianto
Word Count: 1190
Summary: Jack’s memories are starting to fade. What can he do to keep from losing them forever?
Written For: Challenge #144: Memory at fan_flashworks.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood, or the characters.
Jack is painfully aware that his memories of home are fading. It’s been a very long time since he left the Boeshane peninsula to join the Time Agency, and so much has happened to him since then. Travelling with Rose and the Doctor, becoming immortal, living through more than a hundred and fifty years on earth, a year that never happened, and close to two thousand years buried alive; it’s all taken its toll on his ability to remember. The human brain simply isn’t designed to hold on to so much for so long.
He uses more of his brain than most humans will ever be able to access, but even that doesn’t give him the ability to recall things from centuries ago in his unnaturally long life.
His childhood has become little more than a hazy blur by now; he remembers sand and sea, dunes and thorny trees, an overall sense of the way the place looked but none of the details, and it’s the same with his family and friends. Just days ago it hit him that he could no longer remember his father’s face, or the sound of his mother’s voice; they’ve blended with a thousand faces, a million voices, the multitude of people and beings he’s encountered in his travels, all jumbled together. It makes him feel sad, as though he’s losing them all over again having already seen them die once. The only reason he can still remember his brother so clearly is because the day Gray was taken was so horrific that it’s indelibly engraved into his mind.
Why is it that the things you least want to remember are the ones you can never forget? It hardly seems fair; memory should be more selective, so that you can pick what to remember and what to forget. There are a lot of memories Jack would cheerfully wipe from his mind if he could do so without affecting the ones he wants to keep. Retcon is no help; it isn’t that precise.
But he knows that as time passes, even those unwanted memories are going to fade away and vanish. Newer memories will pile on top of the old ones in an endless succession, burying his past so deeply that to all intents and purposes, it will cease to exist. It’s a terrifying thought. How much of what makes him the man he is might be lost along the way? Will losing those parts of himself make him a better person, or turn him into a monster? Experiences shape people, but does that remain true if you have no memory of them?
There’s something else that scares him about losing his memories: One by one, everyone he knows and loves will die, and no matter how hard he tries not to, he has no doubt that eventually he’ll forget them all. The little things will go first, the colour of their eyes, the way they used to smile or laugh, the clothes they liked to wear. Gradually he’ll forget their faces and their names, forget that he knew them, loved them, and one day he’ll stop thinking of them altogether. It will be as if they never existed, never touched his life, his heart; it doesn’t bear thinking about. Those who mean the most to him deserve to be preserved, if not in life then at least in memory.
And then one day, out of the blue, he finds a way to do just that.
The device is small, fitting easily into the palm of his hand, but unlike the human brain, its capacity to remember is almost limitless. It’s also able to draw what little power it needs from any convenient electrical source, and can just as easily be powered by solar energy. Ianto says it’s nifty and he wouldn’t mind having one himself; it does away with the need for photo albums, and even journals to a certain extent. Not that he’d willingly give up his journal; it holds more than mere memories. All his most private thoughts and dreams and hopes are written within the pages of the leather-bound volumes.
The alien device has come along too late to save most of Jack’s earliest memories but he stores on it what he can still remember from that time before adding newer memories. He leaves out a lot, there are events in his long life that are better left to slide into oblivion, but everything he can recall of the people who have mattered to him, for whatever reason, he commits to the flat, glossy little black rock that Ianto jokingly calls his other brain. As long as he has it, those people will live on, he’ll be able to see them again whenever he wants, carry them with him through the endless millennia that lie ahead of him. It’s the best he can do as a tribute to their importance in his life; they won’t be forgotten.
Jack’s file on Ianto Jones grows bigger every day as he jealousy gathers his lover’s every smile, every gesture, every roll of the eyes and every kiss, copying them to the device with such clarity that when he plays them back, he can not only see Ianto, but touch, taste and smell him. Ianto’s coffee gets a sub-file of its own; if Jack ever finds himself in a place where coffee doesn’t exist, he can activate the device and re-experience enjoying a cup of the finest blend in the universe. He tells Ianto, and laughs at the way his lover rolls his eyes and accuses him of being an unrepentant caffeine addict. It’s true after all, and they both know Ianto’s coffee is to blame.
In the end though, a lot of his stored memories of Ianto prove unnecessary. It’s very difficult to forget someone you spend practically every waking moment with, although sometimes when they have a fight Jack accesses his memories of his husband, just to remind himself why he fell in love with the infuriating Welshman in the first place. Ianto has his own memory device by now, and Jack suspects he uses it the same way when it’s Jack who’s being infuriating. Neither of them is perfect, and living with someone for eternity isn’t all hearts and flowers; they have their share of fights, and sometimes they don’t speak to each other for days, but the making up is always worth it.
They talk about the past now and then, of the people they knew and those they loved, all of whom are long since gone. Dipping into the treasure trove of memories stored in the shiny black stones is in some ways much better than flipping through a photo album, although they still have some of those too, relics Jack brought with him from earth. Seeing friends and family again in living colour is always bittersweet; it hurts, but it’s a good kind of pain and because of that, they’ll never give it up.
Besides, they promised to always remember, and if there’s one thing their long lives have taught them, it’s that a promise made should never be broken.