Mhalachai\'s Writing
"Ghost Story"
Story Information
Jack knows better than to trust little girls in haunted houses. Honest.
Author's Notes:
Disclaimer: Russell T. Davis and the BBC own Dr. Who and Torchwood. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is all Joss, baby.
Setting/Spoilers Post BtVS, after Torchwood's A Day In The Death. Not BtVS comic compliant.
- Text Size +
Vacations, Jack thought in disgust. About twenty years after he realized he couldn't die, he'd given up on vacations. There'd always be another day for 'rest', he figured. So why he'd let Gwen Cooper talk him into a few days of vacation, he'd never know.

And now he was stuck in this backwards pocket east of Coberley Village, car broken down and cell phone dead and his wrist strap lit up with strange energy readings and the light was failing and he'd watched enough late-night horror films on the telly to know that going into the creepy broken-down house was a bad idea, thank you very much and yet he was pushing open the door.


Then, as Jack took that first step into the house, something moved in the corner of his vision and the door slammed shut behind him.

Of course, the door wouldn't open. Jack tried everything, kicking it and trying to dig out the lock with a knife and even shooting out the hinges, but all that did was make his ears ring and waste half of his bullets.

This was all Gwen's fault, Jack decided, sucking on his bleeding hand where the jagged metal hinge had sliced into his flesh. If he ended up dying a few times in this creepy house with doors that didn't open and people who just weren't there, it would be all Gwen's fault.

So. The front door wasn't opening any time soon, the glass in the windows wouldn't break, and there was nothing for Jack to do but go deeper in the house.

Very few things scared Jack. When he was on his own, with no other lives he might destroy with carelessness or blundering about or distraction, he got scared even less. But he was still human. Millions of years of evolution left him with that lingering sensation that there was something in the dark waiting for him and Suzie's voice turned into Owen's voice in his head and Jack swallowed hard as he headed deeper into the house.

In the dark.

By himself.

With something hiding in the silent dark.

The dust on the floor lay thick under his feet. The floor didn't creak as Jack made his way into the house, the halls coated in dusty shades of grey in the fading twilight.

And things lurked silently in the shadows, watching him.

Jack left his revolver in its holster. He had no one to protect, not in this dusty place.

In the kitchen, the door to the cellar lay open, a gaping maw of blackness. Jack stood in the doorway, drawing musty air into his lungs. No hint of blood or decay, no sound of movement from below.

Still. Jack backed away from the doorway. There was legitimate curiosity and then there was downright stupidity when one was trapped in a creepy house.

In fact, Jack decided, he was man enough to make the jump from creepy to haunted.

He went into a room that may have been a library, once upon a time. Books covered the shelves, the desks, the chairs, spilling over onto the floor. Something had put up quite a fight in this room.

Jack picked up a book at his feet and held it up to the dying light from the window. Peter Rabbit. He opened the cover. In a childish scrawl was written, "Billy's book."

Jack put the book back in its place. As he did so, he saw something out of the corner of his eye.

He froze.

A child.

Staring straight ahead, Jack stood up. Even out of the corner of his eye he could see the shape of the child, the tiny stuffed animal in its arms, the bright red jumper standing out like blood against the dusty walls.



Jack's breath caught in his throat and a spike of fear stabbed through his chest.

The child's jumper was, had been, white.

The colour on the jumper wasn't dye, but...

Jack let his eyes drift to the left, to move from the child's stuffed animal (a rabbit) to the collar of the sweater (white) to the gaping slash in the child's neck (an axe wound) to the grey and brown-red of the destroyed skull (blood and brains dripping down over the delicate, destroyed features) covering the soft blond curls (a boy's haircut, a boy's face, a soft and delicate little baby boy with his head bashed in) and the curious look in the remaining brown eye and pouting pink lips, just a baby's face, a dead baby, staring at Jack with his curious brown eye, then Jack looked directly at the space the boy inhabited and he was gone.

Jack let out a breath that might have been a gasp, might have been a sob, but there was no one around to tell him.

He had seen so many dead children in his life and it always twisted him up into knots. He, who would live forever, seeing little bodies, little living babies, turned into so much meat on the ground.

It wasn't fair.


Seeing little dead boys in a creepy house that wouldn't let him leave wasn't normal.

Jack took seven deep breaths, counted to the thirty-seven that was Ianto's favorite number, and left the library to its ghosts.

It took him another five minutes to complete the circuit of the ground floor. He didn't see any more ghosts, and none of the glass in the windows would shatter under the butt of his revolver.

He was immortal, but even immortals got thirsty after searching a haunted house for an exit. Hoping that the faucets still worked, Jack headed back to the kitchen.

Jack's shoes were silent on the solid dusty oak floor as he made his way across the ground floor. The way to the kitchen passed two empty halls, the empty library, past the staircase...

... which wasn't so empty after all.

Jack stopped. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see a huddled shape in the middle of the stairs, barely visible through the splintered banister railings. Whatever it was, was on level with Jack's shoulder.

It hadn't been there when Jack walked past the stairs earlier.

Just like the boy in the library hasn't been there.

Then the shape on the stairs moved.

Jack forced himself to stay still, to suppress that oh-so-human instinct to run. This was just another ghost in the dark, like the shadows in the kitchen and the boy in the library, and it couldn't hurt Jack, not even as it unfolded itself and stretched along the stairs, stretching a ghostly pale hand toward him, through the splintered banister railings, dark blood on the reaching fingertips--

--fingertips that stroked down Jack's cheek and he jerked back and grabbed the very real hand, attached to a very real person who screamed at the top of her lungs as she tried to pull her arm back.

Jack released her arm, retreating until his back hit the wall. The girl stumbled down the stairs and backed up against the opposite wall. The light was almost non-existent, but Jack could make out her features, wide eyes in a very young face.

Jack exhaled sharply. "You scared me," he said without thinking.

The fear on the girl's face was gone in an instant, replaced with incredulous anger. "I scared you?" she repeated. "You grabbed my hand!"

"You touched me first!" Jack retorted. "What were you doing huddled on the steps?"

"What were you doing going down the hall?" She had a very American accent, and for some reason Jack was pleased that she was so angry. Anger was better than screaming panic in situations like these.

Jack shrugged to settle his coat squarely on his shoulders. "I was going to the kitchen. What are you doing in this house?"

The girl stepped away from the wall and straightened up. "I've been trying to find a way out. What about you?"

"Same thing." Jack glanced down at the girl's outfit. It was very retro-chic, very sixties... a little too sixties. "How long have you been trapped in here?"

"A few hours, I think. My watch isn't working." She narrowed her eyes at him. "Why?"

"What year is it?" Jack asked.

The girl's frown deepened. "According to me, it's 2008. What about for you?"

"The same for me," Jack said, relieved. "So it's not like you've been..."

"Been what?" The girl crossed her arms over her chest.

"You know. Trapped here for longer."

"You're one to talk! What's with the outfit?"

"Hey, I don't look like I've escaped from the sixties!"

"No, you look like you fell out of a World War II bomber!" The girl took a step forward, then froze in place. Her eyes didn't move from Jack, but he had a feeling that he was no longer the centre of her attention.

Jack turned slowly. Something was standing at the top of the stairs, something very large and very wrong.

They all stood in a frozen tableau, then the thing at the top of the stairs moved down. Quicker than thought, Jack held out his hand to the girl and she took it and they ran to the library and Jack slammed the door on the charging thing and something large and heavy slammed into the door, shaking it on its hinges.

Jack put his shoulder to the door to hold it closed against the onslaught. That worked for a few moments, before he was unceremoniously shoved out of the way by the girl, who pushed a large desk against the door.

The pounding on the door stopped.

The girl pushed her hair back out of her face with a shaking hand. "I seriously hate when this happens!" she muttered.

Jack set his weight against the desk, just in case the attacking thing tried another assault on the door. "This sort of thing happens to you often?"

"More often than I'd like," she replied. "There are days when I hate my job."

Jack raised his eyebrows. "Are you some sort of ghost hunter?" he asked. "Like those boys on that American show?"

The girl made a face. "My job is nothing like Supernatural!" she exclaimed. In exactly the same sort of tone Jack used whenever anyone accused Torchwood of being like the X-Files. "I was just checking out this house for a friend."

"Some friend," Jack said. He shifted slightly to relieve the pressure from where his gun dug into his hip. "Sending you into a haunted house."

"Yeah, Andrew's off the Chrismahaunakwanzaka list this year."

"The what?"

"Chrismahaunakwanzaka," the girl repeated, the mishmashed word dancing off her tongue. "If you time it right, you get two whole weeks of festivities in December."

Jack blinked. They were stuck in a haunted house and she was talking nonsense...

... just like everyone back at Torchwood did at alien crime scenes.

"So," the girl said. "Let's get down to business." A thousand inappropriate ideas slid thought Jack's mind, but he managed to restrain himself. He wasn't sure if the girl was sixteen or twenty-six at this point. "What's your name and how have you tried to get out of here and what have you seen?"

"I'm Jack," he said with a flirtatious grin. She rolled her eyes. "What's your name?"

She hesitated for a long moment. "I'm Dawn," she finally said. "Dawn Summers."

"Dawn," he echoed, rolling her name around in his mouth. "That's a lovely name."

"Can we focus on getting out of here?" she asked, but Jack could see that she was blushing. "How have you tried to escape?"

Jack sighed. She was no fun at all. Quickly, he detailed how he had tried to get out of the house, and how everything he did had been spectacularly unsuccessful.

As he finished, Dawn bit her lower lip. "You said you shot at the hinges on the front door?" she asked. Jack nodded. "How many bullets do you have left?"

Jack pulled his revolver from its holster and checked the chamber. "Three," he said. "Why?"

Dawn waved her hand. "Getting an idea of available resources." She looked at the handgun in Jack's hand, and shuddered. "Although I really hate guns."


Jack hadn't expected the expression of intense grief that crossed the girl's face. Then it was gone. "Someone very close to me was murdered with a gun," she said softly. She shook her head. "So you didn't go upstairs? Or into the basement?"

"I didn't have time to go up, and I sure as hell wasn't going down," Jack said. "What about you?"

"I was probably upstairs when you came in," Dawn said. "Speaking of which, why didn't I hear your futile attempt to shoot the door into submission?"

Jack glared at her, but she didn't react. Very much like Gwen, he thought. "I didn't hear you knocking around upstairs either," he said. "Maybe it's the fact that we're stuck in a haunted house in the middle of nowhere."

"Perfect," Dawn grumbled. She examined her hands. Jack winced as he saw the reason her hands were bloodied -- she'd torn two of her nails down to the quick.

"What happened?" he asked quietly.

Dawn's head remained bent. "I didn't have a gun or a knife, but I had to-- I mean, I tried to get the door open," she said. Her hands trembled for a brief moment. "It didn't work."

Jack put his hand on Dawn's narrow shoulder and squeezed gently for a moment. "I've got a first aid kit in my car," he said. "When we get out of here, we'll get those hands looked at, okay?"

Dawn looked at him out of the corner of her eye. "You're taking all of this very well," she pointed out.

Jack removed his hand from her shoulder. "I have an interesting job."

"With what?"

He cleared his throat. "The Cardiff Tourism Board."

Dawn snorted. "Why do Hellmouths always have the weird ones on their tourism boards?" she asked the air. "'Come to our towns, you'll love it to death!' "

Jack nearly swallowed his tongue. He hadn't heard anyone refer to Cardiff as a Hellmouth in over seventy-eight years. And to have this girl say such things... He opened his mouth to say something, but then he spotted a little blood soaked ghost in the corner and he forgot all about distant Hellmouths.

Dawn let out a small moan. "Do you see him?" she whispered.

"Yeah," Jack replied.

Dawn sank to her knees beside the apparition. "What's your name?" she asked the boy. The ghost didn't reply, only... existed.

Jack thought of the stuffed rabbit in the boy's arms, of the dusty book with the childish scrawl. "Billy," he said softly. "His name is Billy."

The ghost moved his head in a tiny nod.

"Billy," Dawn said. She smiled, just a little. "Billy, why are you here?"

The ghost cocked his head to the side, the gashes in his neck gaping obscenely. "He can't answer you," Jack said, his stomach threatening to rebel.

"Not with words," Dawn shot back. "Billy, are you trapped here?"

A hesitation, then Billy hugged his rabbit tight and nodded.

Dawn's shoulders hunched in. "You can go on," she said. "There's nothing that can hold you back if you want to go, but you have to go on. That's the way it works. When you die, you go to heaven." She paused. "Do you know that you're dead?"

The ghost nodded.

"Smart boy," Dawn whispered. She blinked hard, and Jack realized that tears were slipping down her cheeks. "Nothing can hurt you if you go on," she continued. "Up in heaven, you're warm and you're loved and you're safe. You'll always be safe. Nothing is ever going to hurt you again."

Billy shook his head hard, bloody hair slapping against his face with the motion.

Behind Jack, something slammed into the door again, a sickening thud, the wood splintering under an axe blade. Jack shoved his shoulder against the desk and hoped that the thick oak door would hold out until he figured a way out of this house.

Billy froze, his eye focused on the door behind Jack. In between blows, Jack realized he was looking straight at the boy.

Looking straight at a ghost, a child who was utterly terrified even in death.

"Billy," Dawn called, her voice still soft. "Billy, you don't have to be afraid. We're not going to let it hurt you, ever again. I promise."

Billy stared at Jack, who nodded. "It'll have to come through me first," Jack promised. It didn't make any sense, handing out promises to a dead child, promises that even an immortal like Jack might not be able to keep. But in that instant, in that place, it didn't matter than the boy was dead. Jack had known enough of the walking dead to know that they could be as afraid as the living.

The ghostly boy looked back at Dawn. She smiled encouragingly. "You'll be okay," she said again. "All you have to do is move on."

Billy looked down at his rabbit, then hesitantly held it out to Dawn. Jack's breath caught in his throat as Dawn took the ghostly toy in her hands, and it was real.

Then Billy was gone.

The assault on the door stopped.

The whole house seemed to grow darker.

Dawn shot to her feet. "Did we just make it angrier?"

Jack shook his head. "Go towards the light?" he demanded. "How the hell does that work?"

"Did you have a better idea?"

Jack scooped up a heavy book and hurled it at a high, barred window. The glass shattered under the impact of the book. Jack grinned. "How about we get the hell out of here?"

Still gripping the toy rabbit, Dawn helped Jack move the desk out of the way, then Jack eased opened the mangled door. The hallway was empty. He held out his hand to Dawn. "Come on, let's hope that front door is open."

They got about five feet down the hall when something big and wrong detached itself from the shadows and swung an axe at them. Dawn screamed and they ran faster. Jack shoved Dawn in front of him, mostly because he knew he could better deal with any potential dismemberment and because she was a girl and no matter how far in the future Jack came from, he'd spent a hundred and forty years in this world where the hero was supposed to protect the girl from axe-wielding evil.

Then they were at the door and it opened under Dawn's frantic hands and Jack shoved Dawn outside just as the axe fell and he saw it out of the corner of his eye as the axe buried itself in his skull and--


Jack came back to a world of dark starry skies and the merry crackling of a campfire and the strong scent of petrol and the distant wail of sirens.

He sat up.

The haunted house was aflame.

He had been dragged far from the flames. He got to his feet, brushing cold brain tissue out of his hair as he looked around.

Silhouetted against the flames, standing straight and tall, was Dawn. She was watching the flames, ignoring the approaching sirens, ignoring everything except the flames and the stuffed rabbit in her arms.

Jack suddenly felt very tired. He should leave before Dawn saw him alive again. Except the sirens were approaching and Jack could smell the petrol on Dawn from where he stood, and she didn't deserve to be thrown in jail for arson.


Dawn whipped around. Her eyes went huge, and for a moment Jack thought she might faint. She took a step back.

"Look, it's a long story--" he began.

Then Dawn shocked the hell out of him by saying, "I wondered if you were coming back."


"The, um, gaping axe wound in your skull started to heal itself while I was finding your keys," Dawn said. She didn't look inclined to trust him, however, so Jack stayed where he was. "They don't usually tend to do that."

"I suppose not," Jack conceded. He looked around. The jerrycan from the back of his car was lying on its side about ten feet away. "You're taking this a little too well."

"We were just trapped in a haunted house with a dead boy and an extra from Army of Darkness," Dawn snapped. "That's a normal Tuesday for me."

Jack frowned. "It's Sunday."

The sirens crested the hill. Dawn didn't even spare them a glance. "No, it's Tuesday," she argued. "Tuesday, February nineteenth."

Jack shook his head. "It's the second of March," he said quietly.

Dawn's face paled. "I went in there on the nineteenth," she whispered. "You mean, I've lost almost two weeks? That's not possible!"

Jack nodded at the rabbit in Dawn's arms. "Neither is that."

The fire engine slid to a stop behind them. Out jumped four men, three of whom headed round to the back of the pump engine, while the last, an older man, headed over to Dawn and Jack.

"Aye, what's going on here?" he asked suspiciously. His quick eyes took in the jerrycan, the blood on Dawn's hands, the state of Jack's coat. His gaze lingered too long on the toy rabbit in Dawn's arms.

Jack put on his 'hail fellow well met' smile and pulled his ID out of his breast pocket. "I'm Captain Jack Harkness, Torchwood," he said. For some reason, Dawn physically recoiled, but Jack didn't have time to figure out why. "My colleague and I were investigating a report of suspicious behavior at this establishment and a fire started accidentally."

"Accidentally," the man repeated.

"Must have been faulty wiring," Jack said. It might not be a lie. To be fair, he hadn't actually seen Dawn set the place on fire.

The man peered at Jack's ID. "Torchwood. You're a mighty long way from London, son."

"I'm with the Cardiff branch."

"Uh huh." The man looked over at his three firemen, who all seemed to be taking their sweet time in getting the hoses attached to the truck. "Oi, Harry!" One of the firemen looked up. "Make double-sure the pressure's set, will ya?"

The fireman left his position and went around to the side of the truck.

Jack narrowed his eyes.

The older man caught the expression. He nodded his head at the burning house. "Been saying to everyone for years now, that place was a firetrap."


"Don't wanting to be risking good men on some place that doesn't merit saving." He looked back at the rabbit in Dawn's arms. "If I be reading this all correctly, you won't have a problem with that."

Jack was covered in brains and gore, Dawn's hands stank of petrol, and the head fireman was letting the house burn to the ground.

Jack gave a sharp nod. "Not a problem."

The man shook his head. "It's no secret in this town that this place is a bad one," he muttered. "Ever since Sally Kelter killed her baby son Billy with an axe in 'sixty-three."

A visceral thrill ran down Jack's spine. It had been the boy's mother that scared him so.

"Still, I suppose I'll be needing to prevent the fire spreading," the man said. "You be putting that jerrycan back in its place, and go into town and I'll be speaking with you tomorrow for the official report."

"Sounds good," Jack said, shoving his ID back into his pocket. "We'll go now."

He turned away from the man and the fire, scooped up the jerrycan, and took hold of Dawn's arm. She let him pull her, unresisting, towards his car.

"Where's your car?" Jack asked as he opened the trunk.

Dawn stared at the fire for a long moment. "I hitchhiked."

Jack paused in putting the jerrycan back in its place. "You hitchhiked to a haunted house and you didn't think it would end badly?"

Dawn ran a hand delicately over the toy rabbit's head. "You're from Cardiff," she said, apropos of nothing.

"Yes. So?"

"And you're the Captain?"

The tone in her voice set off all of Jack's warning bells. He slowly closed the trunk. "Cardiff is a port city, there's lots of captains."

Dawn gently laid the rabbit on the car's roof. "Do you know a little girl with ribbons in her hair who reads the future in Tarot cards in an underground tea shop?"

Jack laid his hands flat on the dusty car roof and tried to breathe normally. "Why?"

Dawn blinked at him. "I've been looking for you," she said. "At least, I think I was."

Jack jerked into motion, stepping around the car and opening the driver's door and getting in. He didn't understand why he waited until Dawn had slipped into the passenger seat, rabbit safely in hand, before trying the engine. Of course, now that the haunted house was in flames, the car started.

He didn't like thinking about her, with her hair in delicate ribbons and her dangerous words gently lisped. They had a history, longer and more twisted than he would ever admit to his team, if he ever mentioned her at all. That was a different world in Cardiff, one in which he danced on the fringes, unable or unwilling to step across into that particular brand of darkness.

That was the world in which the Hellmouth echoed.

"I went there looking for my sister," Dawn said after a few minutes. She toyed absently with the rabbit's ears. "She's been gone for months, and I heard that there was a little girl in Cardiff who knew things, things she shouldn't."

Jack shuddered. She did know things. That was a certainty he had lived. That Owen wasn't living.

"And I went and talked to her and she gave me some line about Buffy going nuts and running away from my death, which never happened, by the way, and finding some doctor to take away her pain and now she's dancing in the stars."

Jack almost missed the turn in the road. Dawn's shriek pulled him back. He overcompensated, almost drove into a ditch, then righted the car and pulled off the road.

"What is the matter with you?" Dawn shouted.

Jack undid his seatbelt and turned to Dawn. "She said your sister is traveling with the Doctor?"

"Why am I letting a man with a fatal cranial injury drive me around?" Dawn asked the air. "I told you what the creepy little girl told me! Do you know where Buffy is?"

"If she's with the Doctor--" Jack stopped abruptly as a few more pieces of the puzzle clicked in his head. "Wait, you're Dawn Summers?"

"Are you missing a vital portion of your brain?"

"Your sister is Buffy Summers? The Slayer? The Slayer?"

Dawn's jaw dropped. "You know Buffy?"

Jack couldn't help grinning. "I know her reputation," he said. "Did she really blow a crater in the middle of California?"

"It was on the coast, not the middle," Dawn said, sounding distinctly disgruntled. "Why does everyone always know Buffy?"

"Wow," Jack said, sitting back in his seat. He was acting like a star-struck kid, but this was the Slayer they were talking about. She had a whole section in the old Earth supernatural history books in the fifty-first century. "And you're her sister. No wonder you handled the ghosts so well."

Dawn crossed her arms over her chest. "Torchwood isn't the name for the Cardiff Tourism Board, is it?"

Jack waved his hand. "We're special ops," he said.

Dawn's expression darkened. "The only reason there's no Slayer in Cardiff is because we were told that there's some special group handling things."

"That's Torchwood."

"And what the hell is Torchwood?"

Jack turned the car on, and backed out into the road. "We're an organization that is dedicated to protecting the Earth."

"From what?"

"Same sort of thing your sister does." After a fashion, it wasn't really a lie. There were demons and vampires that came through Cardiff, and if they were chased off by the big bad aliens before they could do much damage, that wasn't necessary to the conversation at this point.

"Are you military?"

"Nope." Jack considered asking Dawn if she could get him the Slayer's autograph, when the full impact of the conversation came back to him. "So your sister is traveling with the Doctor." He frowned. "That's a recipe for disaster."

"So you know this Doctor guy?" Dawn asked. "Is Buffy in danger with him?"

Jack caught himself before he could give his instinctive response, of 'hell yes'. Maybe the Doctor's incredible ability to find a chaotic situation would be tempered by the Slayer's ability to find danger.

Yeah, and maybe Jack would drop dead in the next ten seconds.

"She'd probably not in any more danger than she normally is," Jack said cautiously.

Dawn slumped in her seat. "That's not particularly reassuring."

"She'll be fine," Jack said. He remembered from the books that Buffy Summers had a certain role to play in that little vampire incident in 2014, so she had to come back to Earth at some point. "She'll come home to you."

"Great." Dawn rolled down the window a little, letting in the cold air. "So am I just supposed to wait until Buffy comes back?"

"Why don't you go back to what you were doing before?" Jack suggested.

"Because before I was looking for my sister." Dawn set the rabbit on top of the gear shift. "Still. Maybe that little girl was right about you being able to help me. You told me my sister's with some Doctor."

Jack resisted the urge to correct her with 'The' Doctor.

"And then there's the rest of what she said." Dawn examined her hands and waited.

Jack ran his hand through his hair, removing a tiny shard of bone from the blood-matted hair. "Do you want me to ask about it, or are you going to tell me?"

Dawn turned her head. "Well, since you asked so nicely," she said sarcastically. "The creepy little girl who reads the future said to tell you that she's sent you a key for your locked memories."

Adrenaline shot through Jack's body. Honestly, he thought in disgust. If he'd wanted this much action, he'd have stayed at work instead of going on 'vacation'. "Is that a fact?"

"It is," Dawn said. "So, Captain Jack Harkness. Did I get the right Captain, or do I have to go troll through the rest of Cardiff's sea-faring population?"

Jack took his eyes off the road long enough to glare at her. "You have a thing for men in authority?"

"Can't stand them," Dawn said cheerfully. "But an immortal Captain who fights evil on a Hellmouth and who needs me to get at locked memories? That's just enough to intrigue me."

"You said that she sent along a key," Jack reminded Dawn. "You certainly don't look key-shaped."

"But I certainly can unlock things."

Jesus, was she flirting with Jack? This night was getting stranger with every passing moment.

Well, if there was one thing Jack could do under any situation, it was flirt.

"That certainly would be a reversal of traditional gender roles," he said, softening it with a smile.

Dawn blushed furiously, but she didn't back down. "Maybe I like coming at things from a different angle."

Jack couldn't help it. He laughed. "I think I'm going to like you," he said.

"Going to?" Dawn arched an eyebrow. "Everyone likes me. I'm adorable."

Jack let the smile on his face fade away. He lifted the rabbit off the gear shift and handed it back to Dawn. "Billy liked you," he said.

Dawn touched the worn rabbit's button eyes with a bloody finger. "Poor child, trapped in that house for so long."

"You did a good thing tonight," Jack said. It was on the tip of his tongue to tell her there was no heaven, no bright lights, no eternal safety, but he bit back the words. If she needed something to believe in, there was no deed to take that away.

The rest of the drive into town was in silence.


There was an all-night restaurant open, and Jack and Dawn tumbled inside. After a quick trip to the men's room, where Jack contorted himself in various ways to get enough of his head under the sink to rinse his hair of the blood and brain tissue, he headed for where Dawn sat in a booth by the front door.

Dawn was looking at him rather funnily as he slid into the booth. "What?" he asked. "Have I got something on my face?"

A newspaper was shoved in his direction.


"Look at the date," Dawn said.

Obediently, Jack looked at the date.

Monday, the third of March.

Somehow, Jack had lost a whole day in that house.


"I told you so."

He dug into his pocket for his now-functioning mobile. Seven voice messages and nine text messages. All from Torchwood. Six calls from Tosh requesting more information, one call from Owen demanding for a day out from the Hub ("without a chaperone, thank you!"), three texts from Gwen asking if Jack was having a good vacation, and six texts from Ianto (the first two asking about picking something up from the archives of old Torchwood One in London, and then four with increasingly vehement requests if he needed any back-up).

Rapidly, Jack texted everyone with a terse, "I'm fine, I'm on vacation and Gwen's in charge. Just do what you did last time (and stay out of my stuff!)"

When he looked up, Dawn was sucking coffee through a straw in ways that did wicked things to spark his imagination. She emerged with a look of bliss on her face. "I love coffee," she said with a smile.

"Please, don't stop on my account," Jack said.

Dawn rolled her eyes. "So, Captain, tell me. How exactly is it that you appear human, you have a pulse, and yet you can survive an axe to the forebrain?"

Jack raised his hand for the waitress. "I show you mine, you show me yours."

"In what way?" Dawn paused to order enough food to feed an army, then went back to staring at Jack.

"I explain the axe thing, you get to tell me exactly how you plan to unlock me."

Dawn tossed her hair over her shoulder. "You make it sound so dirty."

"Only if you're doing it right." He hid a smile behind his cup of disgusting coffee. "Anyway, now what?"


"Tomorrow, after we talk to the fire chief who very kindly didn't charge you with arson on the spot. What next for you?"

Dawn shrugged. "No one's waiting up for me, if that's what you mean. I was thinking of heading into London. There's an exhibit of Sumerian writing at the British Museum."

Jack looked at her. "You like Sumerian?"

"I read it," Dawn said, as simply as if she said she read French. "There's a rumor going around that one of the pieces has links to old Vedic Sanskrit writing, which should be impossible as the languages developed insanely far apart, geographically and historically, but I have a suspicion that it's part of an artifact that was used as a decoder on magical texts..." She let her voice trail off. "What?"

"You're a linguist?" Jack asked. Torchwood Three hadn't had a proper linguist since their last recruit got himself eaten by alien kittens on his third day of work. And just as quickly as that thought came to him, Jack shoved it back. He wasn't going to ask the Slayer's sister to come work for Torchwood.

"And a very good one," she said, still puzzled. She held up her hand as Jack started to speak. "And I swear, if you make any 'cunning linguist' jokes--"

"No jokes, I promise." Jack tried to fight back the stirring excitement. "Do you speak any non-human languages?"

Dawn blinked. "Why?"

"Just tell me."

"Speak and read five demon languages," she said. She fixed Jack with a glare. "Why?"

Jack pulled a pencil stub out from one of his pockets and scrawled something on his placemat. He shoved the paper across the table at Dawn. "What do you make of that?"

Dawn looked down at the writing, frowning. "What is this?" she asked.

"You tell me."

"There's repetition here and here," she pointed, "Which might be vowels or maybe punctuation..."

In spite of knowing what a very horrible idea this might be, would be, was, Jack found himself grinning. Dawn had picked out the basic linguistic structure of an alien language, and it had taken her moments where Toshiko and the Torchwood Mainframe had taken weeks.

Really, he shouldn't be doing this. But the last time he went with his gut, he'd got Gwen Cooper, and the last time he went with the paperwork, he'd gotten Suzie Costello.

And now, his gut was telling him that Torchwood might be well-served with an erstwhile linguist who had grown up with the Slayer.

"Why are you looking at me like that?" Dawn demanded.

Jack beamed at her. "I'm about to do something very stupid."

Dawn shoved a chip into her mouth. "Like walking into a haunted house?"

Jack waved that away. "Like asking if I can tag along with you to London. I'll drive."

Dawn took a large bite of her sandwich. "How is that stupid?" she asked around the food.

Jack didn't mind the manners -- he was beginning to realize he was starving. As if he'd spent a whole day without food. "Because then I'm going to ask you to come back to Cardiff with me."

"What for?"

Jack tapped the placemat. "To figure out what that really says."

"You're joking."

Jack shrugged. "Do you have anything else to do?"

Dawn sighed. "Well, when you put it that way," she said sourly, "How can I refuse?"

Jack settled back in the booth, strangely content. Maybe Gwen had a point about vacations after all.

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