Counting Stars

Primary Characters: Jack Harkness
Rating: T
Spoilers: minor ones
Warning: adult themes
Description: The team’s hunt for an alien stirs up memories for Jack. He has to take action to subdue them again.

The mobile phone beeped and the man on the bed untangled himself from the youth sharing the bed with him. After a glance at the boy, he moved into the bathroom. The young man sat up, gazing curiously around the room. This punter usually didn’t bother with hotel rooms. They’d meet in his car and get their business over with in less than half an hour. Today, the man had wanted a longer meeting. It had been less than an hour since they’d booked into the room, so the boy assumed the punter would be back. When he wasn’t, the young man began to take a look at his surroundings. On a chair by the bed, the man’s clothes lay, neatly folded. Something about one of the pockets caught the boy’s attention. There was this object sticking out a little. The thing was shiny and relatively small, but had an odd shape. He couldn’t figure out what it was. Unable to resist the temptation, he reached out and touched the object. It looked like metal, but felt oddly warm to the touch and emitted a faint buzzing sound. When he closed his hand around it, he felt a slight vibration. It was relatively heavy, and looked intriguing. Perhaps it was valuable?

The boy hesitated. He didn’t normally pick the pockets of his punters. It would have to be something really valuable to pay better than what he already made, but in the past couple of nights, the baby had kept him and Denise up until dawn, coughing and crying. Denise said she was feverish and they would have to go and see a doctor. Emma was awfully tiny. The way her little fingers would curl around his finger made the boy feel strangely protective. At first, when he’d learned that Denise was pregnant, he’d just seen it as an unnecessary complication. Some time between the first time he heard of the pregnancy and now, the baby had come to mean a great deal to him. As much as Denise did. They couldn’t let her die. His concern for the baby had kept him from his other job. That one Denise knew about, but preferred never to refer to.

His cousin Mark was always on the lookout for any cool gadgets. Old computer stuff would do as well. Anything electronic. Denise didn’t like him to go searching rubbish dumps and any other places people threw out garbage, but once in a while, Mark would give him a computer game. Besides, you didn’t say no to Mark. He was bigger and stronger and had a quick temper. If you got him angry –

He never made a conscious decision. One moment he was sitting on the side of the bed, the next he was fully dressed and tiptoeing out of the room, then running down the stairs and into the afternoon traffic. He saw a bus stopping and got on it. At least it was going in the right direction. It was so full it was a long time until the conductor made an appearance. By that time, the boy had jumped off. He repeated the process twice more, then walked for about fifteen minutes.

When he walked in, Denise looked up, her eyes red from the sleepless night.

“Billy? You’re home early?”

“The boss had to go to a funeral so he closed up early.”

The lie had left his mouth before he stopped to consider if he could get caught at it. He didn’t think so. If Denise ever got it into her head to visit the shop where he supposedly worked, he’d be in trouble anyway.

“Oh. Do you have any money?”

His cheeks heated up when he recalled the fifty bob he’d tucked away in his jeans pocket. How was he going to explain to Denise that he’d been paid in the middle of the week? She’d believe he’d been fired or that he’d been lifting from the cash register.


“Could you go to the chemist’s and get something for Emma?”

“Of course. Is she worse, then?”

“I don’t know.”

Denise’s face was tense with worry. It made her look ten, fifteen years older than her eighteen years. If Billy hadn’t been feeling so guilty about where he’d been and what he’d done, he would have hugged her. As it was, he tried to think of something to say.

“Don’t worry, love. I’ll go to the clinic, shall I?”

“Thanks, love.”

“We can’t take any chances.”

“I know, love.”

Denise got up and took a look at her daughter, touched the tiny forehead, then smiled sadly at her boyfriend.

“Go on, then. I’ll have your tea ready when you get back.”

Suddenly, someone was pounding on the door. The two teenagers stared helplessly at each other. Denise moved closer to the cot. Billy glanced at the door that was shaking on its hinges and hesitated. He had time to take one step towards the door, before it fell into the room. His eyes widened, when he recognized the man he’d just left at the hotel. How had that punter managed to find him so soon? It was impossible. Before he had time to wonder at that, the man seemed to waver, then change into something else. The creature that had taken his place had eyes that didn’t look like normal eyes. They froze him to the spot. His thoughts moved sluggishly too, but he had time to think that if he flung himself at that thing, maybe Denise would be able to get the baby out in time.


“To the right over there.”

“Right, Tosh. Then what?”

“Straight ahead for two more blocks then left and it’s the second building on the left.”

“Straight ahead, then left and left. Right.”

Captain Jack Harkness glanced at his newest team member, Gwen, and noted how well she handled the steering wheel. Nice work. He fingered the gun in his hand. Five minutes, maybe less, and they’d be catching up with the creature they’d been looking for over the past five or six weeks. Normally, it wouldn’t have been a threat, at least not yet, but after what they’d learned only that morning, they might as well move. Rather too soon, than too late.

“There. Do you see it, Jack? The door has been broken down.”

“Yeah, I see. Do you have your gun? Excellent. You know what to do. Owen?”

“Don’t worry. I have the sedative here. Just knock him out and I’ll pump him full of it.”

“Go easy on the sedative. We’ll need to question him. Preferably tonight.”

“Yeah, yeah. Don’t try to teach me my job.”

Jack didn’t reply. He and Gwen were already running across the pavement. Screams from inside, told them the creature was attacking someone, at least one person. As soon as they stepped across the threshold, they heard another scream, which told them that one of the people in there was a baby. Gwen didn’t hesitate, she emptied her clip into the creature’s back. Jack fired too. The creature dropped the human figure it had been shaking, then keeled over backwards. Jack and Gwen only just managed to step out of the way in time to avoid being crushed underneath it.

A girl in her late teens was standing by an open door some distance off, holding onto a crying baby, yelling a name over and over.

“Billy. Billy.”

Owen stepped inside and jabbed the creature in the neck. He considered a moment and just to make sure, jabbed it again. What did Jack know? He caught sight of the young man lying on the floor and cursing silently, bent over him, pressing his fingers to the side of his neck. Good pulse. After a quick visual inspection, he decided it would be alright to turn the kid over, to see what he was dealing with. He nodded to himself. They’d arrived in time. The boy only had some scratches. He tried to recall if this particular creature had poisonous claws, but decided he’d have to check with Jack for that. Quite annoying, really.

“Jack, do those creatures secrete a venom?”

“No. They’re just big bullies. Mercenaries. Let’s pack him up and get him out of here.”

The young man on the floor was already coming to. His girlfriend placed the baby in the cot and ran over to examine him herself. The baby didn’t stop crying. Gwen studied the room. It was small and run down, but clean, as far as she could tell. Neither teenager seemed to be a drug addict. Poor, but healthy. So why was that baby crying? Just the shock? She decided to take a look. The high color on the tiny face could be due to the screaming, but when she touched the little cheek, it was burning up.

“Hello. You. Are you this baby’s mother?”


“What’s your name? And hers?”

The child wore an intensely pink pyjama, so she didn’t hesitate over the gender.

“I’m Denise. She’s Emma. Are you a copper?”

Gwen hesitated, then nodded.

“Sort of.”

“Emma’s got a temperature. Billy was just going to get some medicine for her.”

“It’s alright. My – colleague here, is a doctor. Owen? How is the boy?”

“Oh, he’ll be fine. Just put some bandaids on those. Well, wash them first. That never does any harm.”

“Come here and take a look at the baby.”

Owen cringed. He hated live patients, but if he got Gwen upset he’d be sleeping alone for the rest of the week. Once they’d dealt with the baby and Owen had run back to the car to get some antibiotics, which they carried for their own use – no telling what infections they’d be exposed to in their line of work – Gwen had the two parents sitting on the sofa. Jack rolled his eyes, then hoisted the alien up on his shoulder. Might as well get that thing out of sight before those kids got it into their heads to wonder about what it was. He locked it in the back of the trunk and returned to check if he might get his team members to come along. Mission accomplished. He was just in time to hear the girl yelling at the boy. Some things never changed.

“What were you doing at that hotel? With him? Come to think of it, what is that thing?”

Jack tried to intervene. If he could just get them to postpone their fight until he’d managed to get Gwen and Owen out of there –

“It’s an escaped mental patient. Don’t worry about him. We’ll deal with him.”

She ignored him.

“What were you doing with him, Billy?”

She glared suspiciously at Billy, who couldn’t seem to find anything to say. Gwen had a sudden insight.

“Billy? Are you on the game?”

Denise’s eyes narrowed and she cast an icy gaze at Gwen, then turned it towards her boyfriend. It was clear that he was more in shock than she was. Instead of replying, he burst into tears. Gwen recognized the type. Not tough enough to sell drugs or any of the more ‘macho’ occupations available to kids in their situation. So he sold himself. Denise got up and began to shout straight into Billy’s face.

“How can you even think of doing that? With little Emma in the house? What if you get infected with -”

Gwen got up, grabbed Denise and pushed her back down again on the sofa.

“Listen to me, Denise. You should be pleased Billy’s taking care of you and your baby. Can’t you see he’s had enough for today? Try to go easy on him. And you, Billy, Denise is right. You could end up in all kinds of trouble. I’ll put you in touch with social services and they’ll sort you out.”

Billy sniffled, and fastened his gaze on her. Nice looking boy. She could see why he’d turned to prostitution.

“But they might take Emma away. We are looking after her, but they’d never believe that. I’m only eighteen and so is Denise and -”

“Calm down. I can see you’re doing a good job of taking care of your baby and I’ll tell the people from social services that. In fact – if you promise you’ll never go on the game again, I won’t mention that to them. Do I have your word?”

Billy sobbed so hard it was difficult to hear his reply. He must have been aware of that so he nodded for emphasis.


“Good. We have to go. I’ll make that call today. Just as soon as I get back to the office. Denise – look after them both.”

“Well – I – oh, Billy. Why did you have to do that? After you told me you’d never let me do it, I didn’t think you’d -”

“I’m sorry. No one would give me a job and then there was this man who offered to pay me thirty bob just to -”

“Shut it. I don’t want to hear it. You’ll never do that again, you hear me?”

“Alright. I won’t. I was only trying to look after you and Emma.”

“I know. I’m sorry. Come here.”

When they left, the two kids were sitting on the sofa, crying, holding each other. Gwen thought she’d managed to get through to them. Hopefully, they’d be alright now. On the way back, Owen complained loudly about how tiresome live patients were. She tuned him out and wondered if she’d ever be able to start a family. Not with Owen, for obvious reasons, but with Rhys – or someone else.


The rest of the day, no one wondered much about Jack’s silence. He was like that. Sometimes he’d go for days on end, without a word, except to order them about. It never occurred to Gwen or Owen that something was on his mind, but there was. That kid and what he did, had forced Jack’s memory back – or rather forward – to a time in his life he’d done everything he could to forget. By now, he was getting quite good at it. Then something like this would stir it all up again. He was pretty sure the members of his team would be amazed if they’d learned the truth about him, or rather about his background. Just as well that they’d never find out. He certainly wasn’t going to tell them and the people who could were in another time, another life.

It had started out quite differently. His early years had been good. He’d had everything you’d come to expect from a normal life. Parents – even one of each sex – a home, friends. School. He’d had an education, though he’d never been able to finish it. Then one day he’d met her. Arlea. And things had never been the same again.

“You’re beautiful, do you know that?”

Jack had looked over his shoulder, convinced she was talking to someone else, maybe that blonde, with hair down to her ankles. But the woman had been talking to him. Her smile had made him hot all over and he’d followed her to her room, more excited than he’d ever been until that day.

He’d been fifteen, but he’d never looked back, never stopped to consider that he was leaving his family, his loved ones behind. If he’d known where his obsession would take him, would he have hesitated? Made a different choice? He didn’t think so. Even now, after all that had happened, he’d follow her anywhere, do anything she asked of him. Damn. He blinked angrily to clear his sight.

Then one day, they’d made a huge mistake. They’d messed with the wrong creature. The one thing in the galaxy they should have stayed away from. That was it. End of the road. There wasn’t any way out. Literally. Their world had shrunk to the size of a room not much bigger than where those kids lived. Turned out there had been a way out, only not for him. It took him weeks to realize that she wasn’t coming back. She’d kissed him and told him she’d be back, but that had been a lie. She’d never intended to come back for him.

Time passed so slowly in that cell, he had lost all sense of how long he was in there. Judging by the way he looked, when he looked in the mirror the next time, maybe a year or two, but it had felt much longer. Then one day that guy had shown up. An old guy, the oldest person Jack had seen. It was impossible to tell how old he was, but he wasn’t frail, and his mind hadn’t begun to fail either. Jack never knew what had brought the man there or what he did to get him out of there, but it hadn’t taken him long to realize that he had it in his power to get out. To be free again. It had been in the way the old man looked at him.

“My name is Ugarty. Vixtec Ugarty. And you are -”

It wasn’t the question, it was the way the old man asked it, that gave Jack the first indication he had a shot at leaving that hellhole. And he took it, without hesitation. There had never been any choice. He’d seen the look in the old man’s eyes as his gaze travelled across his body. Even emaciated and in rags, apparently he had something this old guy wanted.

He told him his name, and even managed a smile.

“I see. Nice to meet you. How old are you?”

He considered quickly. What would the old man find most attractive? But somehow he found himself telling the truth.

“I’m not sure. Eighteen. Nineteen. I was seventeen when I got here.”

“Well, boy, you’re beautiful. I think you and I can be useful to each other. For your sake, I hope so.”

He went on for a while longer, specifying in what way, and Jack heard himself agreeing, though he knew this was far worse than what Arlea had taught him. It wasn’t his first time with a man, naturally. Just as everyone else, he’d had flings with other boys, growing up, but this man was older than any humanoid he’d ever seen, and that wouldn’t be the end of it. He’d be forced to give himself to anyone the old man told him to. Despite that, he never hesitated. It was that or stay and die. Of course he accepted. Though dizzy from hunger, he crawled closer and began to earn his pay.

It was just as well that he was as good at it as he was because over the following three years, he had to learn to like just about anything, with just about anyone or anything. Until one day, when the old man was eaten by a Noorian ekwil. It had been about to get Jack too, but it seemed there had been more to Ugarty than met the eye – or any other part of the body – and in the time it took Jack to escape he watched the enormous mass of creature undulate and swirl, then begin to melt.

He’d never looked back, but from time to time, he’d run into those who knew who he was. That was one reason he’d taken to time travel the way he had. He’d never been able to gather up the courage to contact his family again. Sometime between the night he’d gone off with Arlea and the day he was free of Ugarty, their Jack had become this Jack and he’d never been able to face anyone from his past.

Damn those kids and that brainless mercenary for making him remember, and damn Gwen’s well-meaning efforts to help. For once he felt a trace of warmth towards Owen. You could always trust Owen to look out for number one. It was a lesson Jack himself should have learnt long ago.

Defiantly, he began to look for the perfume bottle, then changed his mind and sat down again. Not tonight. That, too, might bring back memories and he’d had it with those memories for tonight. His eyes began to search the room for a certain anonymous folder. When he found it, he glanced furtively around – none of the snoops seemed to be present tonight – then quickly, before he changed his mind, opened it and grabbed the tiny vial, unscrewed the top, then inhaled, briefly. As usual, the effect took him by surprise and he had to hold on to his desk to stay on his feet.

He held the vial tightly in his hand, while the drug spread through his body. When he could see again, he carefully replaced the top, then put the vial away. His legs felt steady, but he knew from experience that it was easy to overestimate the control he had over his limbs, so he pushed back his chair and sank down in it. Again, he closed his eyes and let himself drift away.

To his relief, it still worked like a charm. Any time now, it would stop, abruptly, and the next time, he’d need more, until – but he wouldn’t do it again. This was the last time. For a second, concern nagged at the edges of his well-being. He always promised himself it would be the last time, and so far, he’d always gone back on his word. The next time – he’d go out, and seek oblivion in someone’s arms – at least as long as he was here, on Earth, in this time. As he always used to say, different places, different limbs. He bit his lower lip not to burst out laughing. That would only call those busybodies here and make them ask more of their tedious questions.

He listened carefully, and concluded that his team had left – everyone except Ianto – and tonight he didn’t need to worry about Ianto. It felt as if he could fly, so he got up and began to wander around his office, then the rest of Torchwood. They sure had some cool stuff here. Where was that – He forgot what he was looking for and spread his arms wide and began to circle around, not quite dancing. Flying. He was flying. What was that? A pile of paper, lying on the edge of a desk – he couldn’t for the moment recall who it belonged to – fluttered to the floor. It looked beautiful. No, someone else was beautiful. Someone else. He was beautiful. Jack was beautiful. Everyone thought so.


“You’re beautiful.”


Ianto was standing there looking as solemn as ever, or was it dull he was, their Ianto? His Ianto. Jack pulled Ianto into his arms and kissed him. As usual, he didn’t get any response, but met with no resistance either. It was getting old, this passivity. Jack frowned, in concentration. In fact, it had never been attractive.

“Come on, sir, let’s get you to bed.”

“Exactly what I was going to suggest. How servile of you.”

Jack put the short distance to his bed to good use, groping Ianto. Very nice. When they arrived at the side of his bed, Ianto carefully put Jack down on it, then before Jack could get a good grip again, neatly evaded his hands.

“Goodnight, sir.”

“Hold on. Aren’t you coming to bed?”

“Yes. My bed.”

Ianto did that annoying little bow, that was really just a slow nod.

“That’s an order.”

But Ianto didn’t seem to hear him and in any case, lying like this, staring up into the ceiling, set Jack’s mind off on another track. Stars. He’d seen the stars. The real ones, up there, and the ones down on Earth. Great kissing. Another one – His thoughts lost coherency and maybe this time he really slept. When Ianto brought him his coffee in the morning, he didn’t remember anything.


© Tonica

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