Thanks to everyone who has read and reviewed so far. Hope you enjoy this update! Please review if you can, and I make sure I reply to all reviews (unless you have PM's disabled in which case I can't). Thanks as always to my exceptionally talented beta Prothrombintime.
Jack made a hasty exit from the apartment building and continued on foot towards the Plass. His mind and emotions were in a state of turmoil as he tried to comprehend everything that had happened over the last couple of hours. It was hard to believe that only a short time ago, he'd been looking forward to getting back to work and catching up with John. Instead John was dead, brutally murdered, and a mysterious man had appeared seemingly out of nowhere, claiming to be John's nephew.
None of it made sense, and Jack couldn't help but wonder when the nightmare that his life had turned into was going to end. A part of him almost wished for the tumour in his brain to advance and bring a swift end to his wretched existence.
Lost in his grief and chaotic thoughts, he looked around and realised that he'd reached his destination. He glanced at the nearby water tower, stretching up like a beacon into the dull, grey, morning sky. He tried to focus on the familiar sight of the shimmering, cascading water to settle his tortured mind. Moving over to the nearest bench, he collapsed onto it and continued staring up at the imposing monolith.
He kept thinking about the young man in John's apartment… Ianto. It was an unusual name, and he was certain that he'd have remembered if they'd ever crossed paths before. He certainly would have remembered John mentioning that Sarah, his deceased sister, had brought a child into the world. Ianto had looked at Jack so intently, a strange mixture of uncertainty and hope in his warm blue eyes. Those eyes had seemed to penetrate to the very depths of Jack's soul. The inexplicable feeling that they somehow knew each other remained, unnerving him profoundly as it gnawed at the edges of his thoughts.
He reminded himself again that his mind was just playing tricks on him – an attack of delusional paranoia, brought on by his condition. It had happened before and he knew that it was one of the symptoms he'd continue to experience. But acknowledging that intellectually and accepting it emotionally were two very different things.
Rising to his feet, Jack suddenly knew what he had to do. He began walking towards the south-west edge of the Plass and then made his way across to Stuart Street. He stopped in front of a building with a gaudy sign proclaiming it to be the Buffalo bar. He vaguely recalled that he'd been there before, but it had seemed to attract a younger crowd, and he hadn't gone back. The premises were narrow but long, stretching down the length of the block and backing on to Bute Street, with its side brick wall running parallel to Stuart Street. It was the last in the collection of clubs, bars, and restaurants on the block.
With a pounding heart, Jack continued along the street until he reached the rear of the building. He found a backdoor and loading area. It was fenced off and the gate was locked. No-one was around. The police and forensics team had already left. He scanned his eyes over the area, and narrowed in on a section of pale grey concrete around the doorway. A large area of the concrete was stained brown. It was stained with John's blood.
Jack felt his stomach churn violently as he stared at the place where John had taken his final breaths. It all seemed so mundane and commonplace; the sort of tragic end that happened to perfectly ordinary people every day. But John had been an extraordinary man, and for his life to end like that felt fundamentally wrong. John's contribution to the world had only just begun to take shape. And like Jack, John would never get to see the impact of his brilliance and hard work.
With John gone, and Jack on borrowed time, it was possible that their work would never be completed. Jack found the notion that John might never receive the recognition he deserved unconscionable. No amount of justice was going to change that, and nothing Jack or anyone else could do would make the situation better.
Jack choked back an anguished sob and eventually forced himself to turn away. He quickly fled back towards the Plass.
He hadn't noticed the back door of the bar crack open, or that a wiry man with slicked back brown hair and prominent cheekbones had been watching him intently, his eyes narrowed in an expression of curious malevolence.
Shaken and breathing hard, Jack made his way to the parking garage behind the Millennium Centre. He reached the access door, swiped his security pass, and entered his six-digit code into the keypad. With a soft click, the light on the panel turned green and he slipped inside. He was soon climbing down a flight of stairs and making his way along a dimly lit stone corridor. The sound of his footsteps echoed loudly as he walked quickly over the rough concrete surface of the floor.
The vast underground space, affectionately known as The Hub, was their workplace, their occasional home away from home, and the place where all their efforts had been based for the last six years. The complex dated back to the later-half of the eighteen hundreds. It served their needs well. It gave them the space they needed, it was secure, and it had the added benefit of its existence being largely unknown. A significant portion of the space had been sealed off, with the remaining area split between offices, labs, a large conference room, sleeping quarters, bathrooms, and rooms housing a vast array of computer hardware. The entire lower level, spread across several large rooms, was dedicated to their servers. The main level, which was located directly below the water tower on the Plass, was the primary work area, consisting of a central cavernous area that led off to all of the other enclosed, conventional spaces.
Jack reached the main area and glanced around the empty expanse. He could see some movement in the conference room on the upper level, and he assumed that everyone had congregated there to discuss the situation, probably all feeling as shocked and distraught as he was. He proceeded to Owen's lab and work area, having noticed the other man at his desk. Owen was sitting motionlessly and seemed to be staring blankly at the computer screen in front of him.
"Hey, Owen," Jack said quietly as he came to a stop beside him.
Owen spun around with surprise and looked up at him. "Jack! Bloody hell! Thank God you're back. What did the cops say?"
Jack shrugged and leaned wearily against the desk. "Nothing really. They're investigating. I had to identify John's body, and they asked me some questions. The detective will be here soon to talk to all of you."
Owen nodded and looked at Jack with concern. "Are you okay?"
"Not even close," Jack muttered. "Jesus, Owen… he was carved up like a piece of meat. No one deserves to go like that. Especially not John. He was…" Jack trailed off, shaking his head and closing his eyes as the terrible image assaulted his mind again.
"He was a genius," Owen finished, his voice unsteady. "He was the best of us. He brought all of us together." He paused as his voice broke. "He saved me… you both did… but John found me… he gave me a chance. It's such a damn waste."
Owen trailed off, his voice catching again. He reached up and rubbed roughly at his eyes. "Fuck. What's going to happen now? Is this the end, Jack? After everything we've all worked for?"
"I don't know," Jack replied sadly. "Maybe this is it. I'm not sure how we go on without him." He paused and then looked out across the Hub. "It doesn't make sense. What was he doing there? It's not the sort of place he'd go to hang out. Me or you maybe… but not John."
"Yeah," Owen agreed. "It seems weird to me too. Maybe he was meeting someone."
"Maybe," Jack conceded. "I don't know who it could have been though." He rubbed his hand over his face and sighed. "Did anything happen while I was away?"
Owen glanced up at Jack and then looked away. "He was jacking into the system a lot."
"What?" Jack exclaimed, staring in disbelief at Owen.
"Yeah. I thought you must have known. I told him he was an idiot and it was too dangerous. But you know what he was like. I couldn't stop him."
"It was meant to be me," Jack said with a frown, feeling both hurt and angry that John had gone behind his back. "We talked before I left and we agreed that I'd be the first to try it."
"Seriously?" Owen asked as he looked at Jack in astonishment.
Jack just nodded in reply, not wanting to elaborate. "Were there any problems?"
"Not that I know," Owen replied. "I checked him over after each session… he seemed to be perfectly fine."
Jack stood and paced across the room. "He was always too impatient. Why would he risk his life like that?" He shook his head. "It was meant to be me."
"He believed in it, Jack. He was sure it would work. I guess he needed to see it for himself."
Jack paced back towards Owen. "Did he say what it was like?" he asked curiously.
"Yeah," Owen replied with a hint of a wistful smile playing across his features. "He was so bloody excited. He said it was the most fantastic thing he'd ever seen… that the units were as real as you and me… he said the simulation really was indistinguishable from reality."
"So it actually works," Jack murmured. "At least he got to experience it before…" He stopped as he tried to process this latest revelation. "I'm furious at him for doing it, but at least he died knowing that his work was a success."
Jack tried to imagine how animated and ecstatic John would have been. He smiled sadly to himself as he remembered John's tireless energy and unwavering belief in what they were trying to achieve. "No one else has tried it?" he asked after a moment.
Owen shook his head. "The others don't know yet. He always jacked in after hours when nobody else was here. Except for me. I knew I couldn't stop him, so I stayed and monitored him while he was in there."
Jack nodded distractedly and lowered himself into a nearby chair. "Owen, did he ever talk to you about his family?"
Owen looked startled. "Not really. I know about his sister and that she died. But I didn't think he had anyone else. He never mentioned anyone. Why?"
Jack held Owen's curious gaze. "I met John's nephew an hour ago."
"You're fucking kidding me?" Owen exclaimed, his eyes wide.
"Nope." Jack rubbed at his neck. A dull ache had taken hold at the base of his skull. "Ianto Jones. Handsome guy, mid to late twenties, looks good in a suit. He said he arrived a few days ago and has been staying with John. He said that John invited him to come and work with us."
Owen continued to look at Jack with astonishment. "Jones? I spoke to him on the phone earlier. He was looking for John… said he's been staying with him. But he didn't say anything about them being related." He frowned. "You don't believe what he says?"
Jack shrugged. "I don't have any reason not to. He seems genuine enough. But it seems kind of odd, don't you think? Why did John never mention him?"
"It's bloody weird I reckon," Owen agreed. "Just turning up out of the blue. I can understand John not telling the rest of us, but he would have told you."
"I thought he trusted us, Owen," Jack murmured, feeling his voice catch. "I don't know what to think anymore."
Owen looked at his friend worriedly but didn't say anything further. Silence settled between them. Jack concentrated on the soft background thrum of the surrounding equipment of the Hub as he tried unsuccessfully to settle his thoughts. He wondered if he'd ever know any sense of peace again.
The ringing of his phone broke him from his morose reverie. Clumsily extracting it from his pocket, he answered the call. He reluctantly stood up a moment later and shoved the phone back into the inside pocket of his jacket.
"That was Detective Cooper," he said to Owen. "She's waiting up top. Can you go and tell the others? I'll bring her in through the tourist office. She can use my office for the interviews. And tell everyone that once she's done, they can go home and take a few days off."
Owen nodded and moved off in the direction of the conference room.
Jack took a deep breath, feeling overwhelmed and confused. He took a moment to steel himself. Then he walked resolutely through the Hub, and headed back up to the Plass to find Gwen Cooper.