After Tosh and Owen's deaths, Jack finally thinks that the team is beginning to recover, but he might be speaking too soon. Meanwhile, in the future, Ianto has discovered why the twenty first century is when it all changes...
Notes: Angsty, I'm afraid, but not without some hope. Also, the plot made my head hurt, so I hope it makes sense! Writing this has been a huge, and yet satisfying challenge!
Thursday 24th May 2024
There's a breeze blowing off the Bay, and as Ianto comes to - his head lolling on his shoulders, the metal of the bench digging into his back - he could almost think it was a normal day. He might think he'd fallen asleep in his lunch break, might expect to find sandwiches wrapped in foil by his side. A lunchbox even, with an inappropriate cartoon character on it, bought by Jack no doubt, to make Ianto raise an eyebrow, or to make Jack smile every time he saw Ianto carrying it. The sea is the same, the wide curve of the Bay is the same, even the bench, and the slatted wooden decking beneath his feet might be the same, but when Ianto turns his head, and he's looking at people on their way back to the office, or tourists on meandering sight-seeing trips, he knows he's not in Kansas any more. Or rather, this is Cardiff, but not his Cardiff.
The roof of the Millennium Centre is still dull copper, but there is verdigris creeping in from the corners, and the building has an air of use and age, of weariness. The people are peacock-dressed, in bright blues and magentas and emeralds, they flock like birds. There seems to be a fashion this season for strange peaked hoodies, which makes the Plas look like the Sydney Opera House has come to visit, and brought all its little friends. The thought is odd enough that Ianto muses on who the Sydney Opera House would hang out with, who it would date - what an unholy offspring between it and the London Gherkin would look like. It's also by such thoughts that Ianto comes to the realisation that he's probably been drugged, because however twisted his musings can get - and Jack seems to think his subconscious is as kinky as Jack's own conscious mind, although Ianto has his doubts - nevertheless Ianto has more control than this. In normal circumstances. In fact, although the thought is sluggish and dreamy, in normal circumstances he's pretty certain he would be quietly freaking out by now, and he's not. Surely it's a sign.
Ianto turns his head the other way and then slowly opens and closes his eyes. It's not a blink, it's more deliberate than that, and then he opens his mouth.
"You," says Ianto, and he's sure there should be more heat to it. He's sure he should be angry.
"Me," says Captain John Hart, and smiles.
The Hub is subdued, no movement from the Rift, and it's late. Jack stretches his back in the chair, hearing his spine pop in a comfortable way, and contemplates calling it a day. Everything's gone quiet outside of the little pool of light his office lamp sheds, but Jack is reasonably confident that Ianto won't have gone home yet either. Maybe he won't go at all, if Jack can persuade him as to the benefits of takeaway Kung Po chicken and fried rice. It's not a meal out, with fine china and napkins and linen tablecloths, but Jack has found it suits them both better than the lavish dates Jack used to take Ianto on, and that, while a surprise, was a welcome one. Perhaps neither of them want to remember the stacked resentment etched through with candlelight, or the heavy barbs that spiced each mouthful, insults that only just fell under the category of wit. They'd been re-learning their boundaries, with Ianto both punishing and learning to trust again, all at the same time. Jack expects he learnt something too, but since he's never been one for too much introspection, he doesn't dwell on the specifics.
Finding himself in danger of maudlin reminiscence, Jack pushes himself out of the chair, intending to hunt down his recalcitrant employee and sometime lover - or part-time shag as Owen was known to say. He walks out onto the balcony outside his office, and leans on the rail, looking down into the cavernous Hub, searching for a certain distinctively suit-clad figure. It's a little ritual, Jack realises, as it occurs to him how very often he does something like this, a little gesture that probably goes unnoticed, although he's not totally sure about that, at least, Ianto's sharp about such things. Perhaps it's all one with the fact that his morning coffee always comes with a biscuit, but his afternoon one doesn't - although occasionally Ianto will have been out and picked up a pastry at the baker's, and somehow that's ok. Jack's whole life now is made up of these little rituals, that have just crept up on him, all unannounced, and that's also one of the things Jack doesn't really dwell upon, because that way madness lies, as he can attest, after all, since he doesn't really remember much of the 1950s. He puts it down to too many wars.
And so it goes, Jack is leaning, his shirt sleeves rolled up, the metal of the rail cold on his skin, when he spots Ianto coming from the vaults. He finds that he's suddenly smiling, but lets it drop, unused, because Ianto isn't looking up, and Jack was half-expecting him to do so. He shakes his head, mentally, and starts down the stairs. He shouldn't expect so much of Ianto, except that he patently does, which is ridiculous, since the both of them are long past that casual shag appellation, but neither of them have made the slightest bit of effort to talk about what it is they do have. Jack wonders at himself; he's the one who doesn't care about the quaint 21st century labels, but here he is dwelling on a look unreturned across an empty Hub. Dwelling again. It gets a guy in trouble. He needs a Rift alarm or something to shake him loose.
Ianto does look up though as Jack clatters down the stairs, and Jack's smiling again, unrepentant and unrestrained, for now. It's even returned, a hurried quirk of the lips, the smile that Ianto gives when he's stressed, or nervous, and Jack immediately worries, and finds himself starting to frown instead. There are no alarms, Gwen's at home with Rhys, there's no reason...
He catches himself. He's promised himself time off from acting like Torchwood Three's mother hen, something he's found himself doing after Tosh, after Owen. It's been stifling, for all of them, he's not god, or, god forbid, infallible, not even a reasonable facsimile, and he can't work miracles. But it's like he'd finally allowed himself to begin to care for this team, after the Doctor's return, and Gray, and even resolving things with John. So Jack reaches for Ianto, just his hand on his arm, for the reassurance, he can admit it. Because after Tosh, after Owen... Even Alex's deeds and the manner of his death hadn't hit him as hard as this. Jack isn't about to check into Armitage's Sanatorium for Gentlefolk again, but still. Sometimes he wonders if he should. Buried for two thousand years says he should, for a start.
"Are you all right?" he asks Ianto instead, pushing the demons away, as always. And then Ianto smiles more genuinely this time, but tremulously, as though uncertain of his welcome. It doesn't stop him however from leaning forward, as though his body is gravitating towards Jack, as though he can't stop himself, and Jack finds his arms are wrapping themselves around Ianto's shoulders and reeling him into a full-body hug right there beside the water tower. As a couple, they're not generally into displays of spontaneous affection when it's not directly related to sex, but there's no hint of that to this embrace. It's unusual, but Jack doesn't let him go.
Ianto smells different, like seaweed, or cloves, oddly scented. Jack wonders what he's been working on today.
"I'm fine," says Ianto, muffled, and holds on.
Thursday 24th May 2024
It turns out carbohydrate will help Ianto recover from the drug.
"It's only a sedative, I use it at parties, don't be such a girl, eye-candy," says John, but nevertheless he wanders off, still dressed in his strange hodgepodge of military and civilian gear, and it occurs to Ianto that John looks less out of place here than he does in Ianto's own time. Own time. There. He can handle it, he's put the pieces together, and he's still holding on. Ianto watches, head turned to follow him, as John meanders around the Plas. There are little stalls set up here and there, which makes it look more lived in, Ianto decides, than in his own day. It looks more homely. Strange to think of that wide wind-swept plaza as something so mundane and ordinary. It never had at home.
That's the way to think of it, Ianto thinks, still detached and numb. This isn't home, this is an alien land, really. It only looks like somewhere familiar. He watches as John buys something from a stall, something wrapped in a twist of newspaper, and wanders back again, but tangentially, never taking the direct route, walking a crooked path. That says something, Ianto decides, but he's not sure what, or whether it's really meaningful, or the drug talking.
But he understands the chips when they're thrust into his hand. They're fat and crisp, and fluffy inside when he takes a bite. The smell is sharp, redolent of vinegar, and there is the sting of salt on his lips. But they're still chips, fucking fantastic chips, and Ianto eats them quickly, but neatly, holding them in his hands so no grease will get through the paper and onto his suit. John stares at him, sometimes, but then stares out to sea at others. It's probably the longest Ianto has ever seen him go without speaking.
After he's finished them, the last flavour lingering on his tongue, a final grain of salt picked up with a dampened finger, Ianto spreads out the newspaper on the bench beside him. John smirks but doesn't stop him. It's the South Wales Echo, and apparently the Council Tax is set to rise again, there's a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat about to begin, put on by Cathays High School, and a set of triplets were delivered to Mrs Ceri Pratt of Grangetown. It's also at least the year 2024, possibly in April, although Ianto wouldn't swear to that given that the age of the newspaper is unknown.
"Things don't get any less boring the longer you stay here, believe me," says John, at last, leaning back along the bench, indicating the paper, with a flick of his fingers. "Yadda, yadda - births, deaths, marriages. You'd think nothing exciting will ever happen." His eyes crinkle with a smile. "But you'd be wrong about that - at least today. It's the 24th May 2024, and today's the day when things happen."
Ianto stares at him, baffled, angry. It feels like he's coming online again as the food hits his stomach, and with it his wits, his desire for answers. He's going to fucking kill Captain John Hart. "What the hell are you talking about?" He pauses for a second, thinking, wondering, "Why have you kidnapped me?"
John laughs, "The twenty first century is when it all changes. Remember that? Well, today's the day, eye-candy. It changes today."
It's funny, Jack thinks, as he watches Gwen potter around, watches her put one gentle finger to the photo she keeps on her desk, before sitting down. Tosh and Owen are smiling in it, laughing, and Tosh's hair is blowing in her eyes, because it was taken out on the Plas somewhere, Jack presumes. The quality is grainy, from a camera phone, but that doesn't matter either. It's funny, because there are better photos in the archive, Gwen could ask Ianto for one, but he knows that it's not the point. This is the one that Gwen took, personally, and blew up to a size to fit a silver frame, which she also bought. And that's why it matters to Gwen, Jack knows, those specific personal touches. That's what it's all about for Gwen.
He envies that so much that it hurts. It's been so long since Jack allowed himself such casual tenderness.
Jack looks over at Ianto, working on something dusty, his face one huge frown, although Jack can't tell if he's objecting to the mould and damp on a potentially priceless artefact, or the fact that said mould and damp may be getting on his suit, despite a remarkably cute apron that he's spirited out from somewhere. Jack thinks he needs to introduce Ianto to the concept of nakedness, except for that apron, and see how he reacts. Mmm. Although he'll let Ianto wash it first, or he'll never get away with the idea. Ianto is a stickler for some things, perverted mind or no, and stubborn. Jack has a feeling that dust is one of those things.
Jack lets the lascivious smile fall. He's trying to distract himself again, and it's not working. Because he's even started lying to himself. He does get to have that tenderness, if he wants it, he does receive those kinds of personal touches, every day. It's just...
He stares at Ianto. It's different, somehow, lately. There's still a biscuit with his coffee mid-morning, but sometimes now there's also a flower on the tray. A flower! A white one usually, often a Lily of the Valley, which reminds Jack, it reminds him of the Sand Gentian, shy and sweet, peeping out from the dunes that he ran up and down on every day, in Boeshane, as a boy.
And then there's the sex, which is great, no question, it's just... Ianto's talents seem to have risen to a whole new level, a hot, exciting, no-don't-stop kind of level but even so. It seems a little out of the blue. Jack shakes his head, shakes himself mentally even more. There's levels of paranoia that even he won't stoop to - aren't there?
It doesn't stop him wandering over to Ianto's work station and leaning over him. He gets a quick smile in return.
"I wouldn't," Ianto says, "The contamination is pretty deep. And I don't know where it's been. Literally."
Jack eases back from the table, stares down at the... Folian metacube? It's grimy, true, but hell, nothing they can't handle. They're Torchwood, outside the government, beyond the dirt police. The stupid joke threatens to come out with some kind of dorky laugh, and he's not going to let that happen.
"Yeah, well, nothing that a bit of soap and water won't cure," he says, jovially false, and rests a hand on Ianto's shoulder near the junction of his neck. One fingertip resting lightly on Ianto's skin.
Ianto tenses, just a little, and his eyebrows quirk, as if to say, here, now, in the middle of the day? But he leans back into Jack's touch too, involuntarily, maybe, but that still pleases Jack, makes something inside him clench in a painfully tender way, even knowing what he's here for.
"Too early to say if soap and water is the correct way to go," Ianto seems mildly outraged, his archivist's soul presumably offended, "I've read about chemical reactions to sodium fatty acid salts that could have easily been avoided."
"Kidding. I'll leave the analysis up to you. And the cleaning." Jack mimes holding his nose with one hand, and swipes the other into Ianto's hair, cupping the base of his skull for a second, feeling the silky hair run through his fingers, the slight drag of product against his skin.
Then he's stepping away, even as Ianto looks surprised and then pleased, vulnerable even, at the unusual caress. It makes Jack feel doubly guilty as he clenches his fist by his side, hidden against his leg, once for what he's really doing, and twice for the fact that the gesture is so obviously rare, and yet so welcome to Ianto.
Well, that's something, thinks Jack, if this goes right, I can make it up to him. We'll both enjoy that.
And he walks back to his office with his hand still fast closed, and hopefully with a hair or two trapped between his knuckles. DNA tests don't take much, after all. A hair will do perfectly well.
Thursday 24th May 2024
"Come on," says John, and sets off round the bay, a familiar route, Ianto could probably walk it blind.
There's an estate agents there now, not a tourist office, a minimalist affair, all pastels and mood lighting. Ianto supposes the properties advertised in the window are exclusive, horrendously expensive, and don't get a lot of customers. That's how he would set it up if he was running the place. There are other sophisticated, chrome and glass shops alongside and around the corner, providing a gentle haven of taste, class, and alien hunting. Apparently. Ianto wonders who designed the new look.
He protests when John prods his wrist strap, then calmly marches through the door, which is strangely no longer locked. A gilt notice on the window declares it to be a staff training day, but there's no-one in evidence.
"Calm down, eye-candy, don't get your knickers in a twist." John keeps walking, behind the rosewood and marble counter, and pushes a button. A discrete door opens revealing a panelled staircase. "There's no-one here. They're all off in London. Or is it the Himalayas? Same difference."
Ianto wants to protest, he wants to let John know that he doesn't want to go down there, it's not his Hub, it's not his home, any more than his flat would be if he rang on the bell now, with strangers answering the door, and that's supposing it's even still standing. He doesn't want to go down there where he doesn't belong, it will feel like rifling through somebody else's things, something cheap and nasty.
But John is staring at him, with those light eyes, too pale in this white sterility, they look alien, which is a more accurate reflection of John than anything else has ever been. Ianto doesn't know what John sees in his own face, but the mouth softens, spreads into a smirk.
"Fate of the world, eye-candy - you don't get to play the nervous virgin. Well - unless you do."
And then John's smile turns positively filthy, and suddenly Ianto is striding forward and down into the Hub, pushing past John, almost violently, and only just restraining himself from shoving him hard into the wall. Ianto is sure it's something John does specially to make him want to punch him all the time. Some unique Time Agent effect, because Jack can exasperate him like this too.
Jack. Ianto doesn't want to think about Jack. About how he'll be tearing reality apart to get Ianto back, about how he'll miss him. He hopes he'll miss him. He rather hopes Jack doesn't actually tear reality apart, but the thought that he might want to is nice. However, it's a niggling thing, and one reason he's walking down here at John's not so sophisticated dare, is that Jack may not be doing any such thing. He may be sitting back, and he may be sad for a day or two, and he might drink to Ianto's name, alone in his office, with a whisky tasting of peat nursed for hours in a crystal tumbler, but he may not, exactly, be looking for Ianto. The chance is high enough that Ianto is willing to invade another Torchwood's inner sanctum, for survival, and for the equipment, because it may well be up to him to get himself back. Ianto likes to think he's competent and organised, that he can think on his feet. He doesn't need anyone. Of course, he can rescue himself, and now's the time to prove it. He likes to think that, but he can't help it. There's a little voice inside himself that wishes things were different.
So Ianto is very conscious of John's footsteps on the stairs behind him, close behind, so close that if he stops, John will cannon into him. It gives Ianto an uncomfortable prickling feeling on the back of his neck, he wants to speed up, but doesn't, on principle. It means that the vastness of the Hub opens up before him with scarcely another thought for the violation, and Ianto finds his sense of wonder all over again, for where things have changed beyond recognition above, they've scarcely changed at all below. He swallows, because there is definitely not a lump in his throat as he stares up at the mouldering Victorian architecture, the water tower still pouring into the pool below the metal walkways, Torchwood still etched onto white tiles. The couch has changed though, for which he supposes he's grateful. It was a health hazard in his own day, he can hardly complain if at some time since it's been scrapped. The current incarnation is an acid green angular thing, it looks out of place.
John strides forward, towards the clutch of desks and screens on their several levels, and Ianto counts them as he dawdles, not overly willing to compound his invasion, and finds that there are six. A healthy number, better than in his own day, even before Tosh and Owen... His eyes stray involuntarily towards the windows of Jack's office, if that is still its purpose. There's the shadow of a coat rack, maybe something like a calendar hung on the window, facing away. It could still be Jack's office. It's hard to tell.
There's a beep, and the shriek of an alarm, hurriedly cut off. "Oops," says John, "I must have hit the wrong button." He doesn't look sorry.
He's stabbing keyboards, and booting up with abandon, and he obviously hacks into a personal music collection of some kind, because the strains of some pop anthem that Ianto's never heard before begins to thump through the Hub. John grins and taps his feet, nodding his head. It's crazy, and Ianto's head is beginning to hurt, because since when does he trust Captain John Hart's word about the fate of the world?
He walks forward, and leans over John's shoulder, studying the set-up, realising that some of what he's seeing is distorted because it's 3D and he's at the wrong angle to see it correctly. It doesn't stop him stabbing at the virtual display above the (apparently) real keyboard. The music dies.
"Enough," he says, leaning back, aware that John hasn't prevented him interfering, aware that he's still leaning on John's shoulder, and that he smells spicy, like Jack, but with citrus-like overtones. That John hasn't made a sarcastic remark for, oh, at least a minute.
"Tell me why today is so important," Ianto asks, at last, "Just tell me - why are we here?"
He's been in this job too long, Jack decides, because there's a possibility he's becoming paranoid, suspicious, and maybe, dare he say it, even a grump. He checks himself in the mirror in Ianto's bathroom for grey hairs, just because. There aren't any, of course, and his laugh lines are the same as ever. Although not to be ungrateful, muses Jack, absently, staring at his reflection, but why couldn't the daleks have shot him, and then Rose have brought him back to life, oh, five or even ten years earlier? Unchanging youth, as well as immortality, would have been nice. It's a ridiculous thought, and a selfish one. Jack knows it is. He quirks his lips, practising looking rueful, then rubs his chin, and turns away from the sink.
Ianto's DNA test came back clean, naturally, one hundred percent Ianto Jones, through and through. Jack smiles as he pads his way back to the bedroom. He can attest to that in more than one way, and very enjoyable it is too.
He's even had to endure a scolding from Martha, his Nightingale, about how ridiculous he's being, which Jack supposes he deserves. Still, it's better to be safe than sorry, and it's not like he hasn't been wrong before - just look at Suzie. As long as Ianto himself never finds out, there's no harm done.
It's good though, thinks Jack, as he walks into the room, the vision of a sleeping Ianto sweet in the dim light, it's good to be wrong sometimes. There's a sliver of sunlight slicing across Ianto's back, gilding the pale skin. He's pushed the duvet down, probably because the sunshine is making him hot now, and Jack follows the trail with his eyes, to the hint of a round sweet arse, shadowed still, beneath the covers. It's but the work of a moment to slide in, moulding himself to that form, which translates into warm, slightly sweaty flesh and sinew, a bit bony in places, but Jack's not complaining. He rests his chin on the point of Ianto's shoulder blade, and when Ianto stirs in sleepy protest, slides his hand down under the covers. Jack smoothes his palm down Ianto's thigh, feeling the faint tickle of hair, before seeking for his cock, hot and velvety, and secret, holding it small and vulnerable in his hands, until it slowly fills.
As Jack begins to move, sliding his hand up and down in gentle strokes, teasing Ianto awake, he nibbles at his neck, mouthing the leather cord of the necklace Ianto's taken to wearing lately. Jack wants to ask him about that sometime, but he always forgets as soon as Ianto is buttoned up again, all suited and be-tied. It's an incongruous thing, some kind of charm, a medallion with an image on it, maybe a St Christopher, and Jack wants to tease Ianto about becoming superstitious in his old age.
But as always, it's the last thing Jack is thinking about as Ianto moans softly and turns his head to capture Jack's wandering mouth. He tastes of morning breath, but Jack loves it, it's so normal, so human. It's intimate, in an odd way, that Ianto lets him be with him this way now, lets him taste at all. Jack remembers a time when a quick fuck down Jack's pit would be all that Ianto allowed. They're precious, times like this, for all their present regularity.
Jack lets his hand speed up now, and Ianto is huffing soft breaths across his chin, his lips. Jack leans in and kisses him again, hot and lush, but not rushed, for all his hand's urgency. Ianto sighs into Jack's mouth when he comes, a gentle release, pleasure stretching into contentment, with scarcely any pause. Jack surreptiously wipes his hands on the sheets, before moving his arm until he's cradling him in a loose embrace. Ianto, for his part, shifts until he's curled up to Jack, but not so close that he can't open his eyes, pupils blown, an indigo gaze, to stare at Jack, sated and happy.
"And good morning to you too," says Ianto, at last, in a sleepy rumble.
Then abruptly oofs in protest, as Jack launches himself at him properly, intent on reciprocity, whether he likes it or not. It's so good to be normal.
Thursday 24th May 2024
"So today everything changes," Ianto says, his hands on his hips, his suit jacket pulled wide open, "But you haven't told me how."
John is lounging back in his seat, arms behind his head, tipping it dangerously. Ianto wants to stop him, he wants to tell John that if he falls he'll hurt his back. It's just a natural instinct. Somehow he restrains the urge.
"It's easy, eye-candy. Your species fucks things up."
Ianto rolls his eyes. Random insults to enliven and inform. "Really helpful. Please carry on. What are we doing here if it's so hopeless?"
John chuckles. "I didn't say it was hopeless, now did I? We can fix it. Stop what happens from happening."
Ianto stares at John, but he doesn't add anything more. "And that would be?"
"Oh, hadn't I mentioned that bit? The Osterhagen Key, ever heard of that?"
There's a musical plink as water cascades down the water tower and into the basin at the bottom. There are ornamental stones in the pool now, Ianto's noticed. He can see them shimmer from his perch here by John's desk. The water sounds are as soothing as ever. He feels cold.
"Martha was going to use the Key to destroy the Earth. It was her final effort to ruin the Daleks' plans, and save the universe. Several universes, I believe," Ianto says slowly.
"Close enough, but that was what it was for. What it actually did was control a network of nuclear weapons buried in your planet's crust at appropriate weak points." John licks his lips. "Cracks in the mantle. Flaws that can be... probed. That kind of thing."
Ianto wants to roll his eyes again, and although he supposes that working with Jack should have inured him to all such base innuendo, he finds it doesn't quite work like that.
"So what? The Doctor ordered it all to be dismantled. I think, in the grateful heady days after the planet was towed to the Medusa Cascade and back, that he was listened to."
"Ten out of ten. Go straight to the top of the class. Milk and cookies all round!" John is still smirking. Ianto has changed his mind, one good shove and he could tip the chair over himself. He restrains that urge too.
"Just bloody tell me, before I walk down into the Archives and start looking for my own time machine!" He realises his fists have clenched.
John spins the chair, eyes him up and down, and then leans forward. The chair rights itself with a shriek, but John begins to talk rapidly over it, all humour gone. That scares Ianto. The last time John was this serious, this easily, Gray had got Jack, had blown up Cardiff, had... He listens, and he learns.
"Look, people are stupid, right? And have short memories. Monkeys are always playing, always testing, trying things out. You're no different."
Ianto clears his throat.
"All right - we're no different, although my Mum always said there was some Syraz blood-viper spliced into the genome somewhere down the line - anyway... The Doctor's instructions were followed, right, but there's always someone who thinks they know better, that they're right, and it's impossible to bury an idea once it's out there, so. Well, there you are. Basically, there's a bunch of scientists on Venus who think they know better."
John blinks up at him, sincerity oozing out of every pore. "Oh, don't worry, they haven't mined the Earth. No, we're cosy here, for now. They think they've got it sorted - it's just an experiment, after all. Nothing world-shattering, ha ha! They just want to find out if it's possible. There were even arguments that it wasn't a sufficient test, due to the inadequate size."
John pauses and Ianto finds he's leaned in, and he's gripping the arm of the chair tightly, too tightly. John is very near, close enough that Ianto can see the brown flecks in his blue irises. "What are they going to do?" he asks, his voice grating, tension warring with his apparent calm.
"Oh, they're going to use the Osterhagen Key to blow up Mercury in twelve hours from now," says John, simply, "Unless we stop them."
There's a shuffling noise, at the door to his office, and Jack looks up with a smile. He might have expected Ianto, but Ianto doesn't shuffle, he lurks, if wants to attract Jack's attention, and glides the rest of the time. Jack's not sure how he does that precisely, but he thinks it's something to do with smooth-soled shoes and the genes of a lynx. The analogy makes Ianto smile usually, so Jack counts it as a win.
No, it's Gwen who's hovering in the doorway, which is unlike her. Gwen is a natural at pushing through barriers that would stop others in their tracks, so it's odd that she's looking... hesitant. The slight air of privacy on Jack's office door has never even made her pause before. Perhaps it's just instinct, acquired over several lifetimes, or just that the modus operandi of his Torchwood is hardly disaster free, but Jack's guts clench, and his hands feel suddenly cold, all the blood rushing to where it will do most good, whether his decision is flight or fight.
He shakes it off, Torchwood is just like that, people lurking in doorways with an air of doom, there's probably a nasty looking alien Gwen hasn't seen before, fallen through the Rift - until Jack realises that the Rift alarm hasn't gone off for some time. He makes a mental checklist, where all his people are, and suffers another pang when he realises all over again that the list is so short, too short, and that he's been putting off increasing it, that he's not even really looking, the way he has in the past. People have fallen in his lap before, in a professional as well as a private sense - just look at Gwen - but not as often as you might think. Before this he used to keep an ear to the ground - the dirty gossip of a world's security services turns up a remarkable range of offers, some of them even legitimate. He's let things slide, he knows he has, but Jack also knows that he's not ready. He should be, but it's getting harder and harder each time to pick up the pieces and carry on. After a hundred years, especially after a recent couple of thousand, a few days or months hardly seem to matter. He knows it too, and that he has to fight the tendency. It doesn't always help.
But Gwen, here and now, is leaning on his door jamb projecting unease. That's real, and frightening, the backs of his hands are prickling. Which is a crazy reaction, and he beckons her in, trying to be normal, about to make a quip. Her eyes are huge, and her mouth is solemn, as she shakes her head, "No, Jack, I think you better come with me."
"What?" he asks, "What is it?" As Gwen leads the way down the stairs, across the floor of the Hub, towards the vaults. As they cross the turntable, the swing bridge creaks a little under his heavier tread, but Gwen doesn't pause, her boot-heels tap-tapping, until she stands, arms akimbo, in front of the rows of vault doors, their promise, as ever, sombre and grim, even for Jack, especially so perhaps, because he remembers all he did to put their inhabitants in there. All that was done to them. His people and the monsters they were fighting, the monsters and the aliens they hunted. The line was very thin at times.
"Jack?" Gwen breaks the silence at last, staring at the side of one of the doors, one in the bottom row. "Is that supposed to be happening? Jack?"
He's staring, he can't look away, because there is a trickle of dark liquid staining the corner of a drawer, sticky and black, and he can smell it now, a sickly sweet hint of putrefaction. He doesn't move, he can't process, because he knows the drawer, he programmed it himself, he kept it up here, not shuffled down below, because he wanted him near. He wanted him nearby. Gray. It belongs to Gray.
Thursday 24th May 2024
"So what do we do?" asks Ianto, angry and baffled, staring at John, as he lounges in his chair and pushes buttons, seemingly at random.
"I told you, we stop them." John stares up at him under lowered brows, as though the effort of sincerity has been too much, as though he's regretting it. "Look, I knew this current crop of bright-eyed eager hopefuls were off sorting out a different problem, I knew that Torchwood here would be empty. It seemed like the best place, on this day, at this time, to try and fix this. Resources, equipment, all that jazz - unless you'd prefer us to head out to the research station on Venus, all guns blazing." John licks his teeth. "That might actually be kind of fun - you want to blow away a little scientist ass, eye-candy?"
Ianto turns away, disgusted, a jumble of half-formed, confused thoughts making it impossible for him to answer. The slow pulse of anger is still there, beating behind his breastbone, but as he has long learned to do, he presses it down, forcing it into a tiny ball, where he can safely ignore it. For now. Instead, he looks for somewhere to start, looks instinctively for his own workstation, and eyes the strange desk there with automatic suspicion. There is a teddy bear with a red bow sat by the keyboard. It doesn't stop him walking over to it, sitting down and booting up. There are some half-hearted coughs and blurts on the screen that might translate as a security system having trouble, before it becomes his own. Ianto glances up and sees John lowering his wrist-strap, looking smug.
Ianto ignores it, and begins to familiarise himself with the layout, with the ways that technology has changed in the last fifteen years. There are stops and starts, the virtual 3D keyboard in particular gives him some trouble, but he ploughs on through it all, learning to rotate images in mid-air, learning to switch angles so he can read documents at the perfect place for his eyes, for all they're hanging in mid-air. Then he looks deeper, finding out how this Torchwood ticks, only skimming their records, because more seems like prying, looking at their archives - he's pleased, even touched, to see a familiar set-up, like an archaeological ghost of his own devising - it makes things easier. If he needs to, he'll be able to find anything they might want, or, anyway, at least as easily as he can at home. He checks too, that John's story holds water, that there really is an Osterhagen Project, that it is indeed being tested on Mercury. Unfortunately, everything in the news feeds seems to agree. Dammit.
At length, he rubs his eyes, realising that despite the chips, they were a while ago now, and he hasn't had any coffee at all. That seems wrong. He glances around, trying to spot the equivalent of his coffee alcove, wondering if he'll even recognise a futuristic espresso machine. He discovers though that he doesn't need to worry - it's one piece of tech that doesn't seem to have changed much, and as he stands, in the appropriate corner, watching the beans grind, he finds he goes a little dizzy. It's all been a bit fast, being drugged, John, the future, saving the world. If John's telling the truth. The rich smell of freshly ground Columbian beans curls round him like a lover, and Ianto closes his eyes and breathes deep. It's not the same, it's not home, but this is as close as he's going to get, here in this strange land.
After due thought Ianto makes John a coffee too, black like his own, and brings it over to him. Ianto truly hopes that John isn't lying this time, isn't just playing a game - isn't, in fact, playing a complicated version of solitaire for some incomprehensible reason of his own, while Ianto struggles fruitlessly to understand.
Ianto puts the mug (hideous purple flowers) down on the desk with a clinking sound. Looking through his lashes, John smirks, "Ooh, have I graduated to my own tea-boy? I've gone up in the world." He reaches forward and hooks his finger through Ianto's belt-loops, tugging him forward. "Do I get the other perks now too?"
Ianto steps back, swallows, pushes the knot of anger back down. "What's the plan?" he demands, "There is a plan, isn't there?"
John pouts a little, then shrugs. "Oh dear. I don't know, this is your bag, isn't it? Saving the Earth? I don't go in much for that kind of thing."
Ianto opens his mouth to say, he doesn't either, he's here because John kidnapped him, he hasn't a fucking clue, and he's going to fucking kill John...
"Hacking," says John, hurriedly, "We'll try hacking."
Ianto can only assume he looks murderous. He's glad.
"Hacking," he repeats, and then wanders off to his workstation. Nine hours. They only have nine hours left.
It's going to be a very long day.
"Don't look," says Gwen, hurriedly, putting her hand on his arm. "You don't have to look. There's no sense in looking."
Except that he has to see, he knows he's going to regret it, but he also knows he'll regret it more if he doesn't. He has to know that it's over, that it is what it appears to be. That Gray is gone.
Jack hits a control on his wrist strap and the door swings wide, the mechanism whining in faint protest, and the drawer pulls out. They both take a step back as the smell hits them with full force, and Gwen makes a choking noise and turns away. His gorge is rising, but Jack holds his sleeve over his nose and tries to breathe through that, before stepping forward. There's a body, he can tell that much. There is a skeleton, partially uncovered from its flesh, but it's swimming in a soup of dissolved fat cells and enzymes, the body's own microbes busy working in an environment that is still mainly sealed. Jack takes a long look, trying to observe what he needs to impartially, but it's hard. He tries to lock his personal feelings away, let's them scream at him in a corner of his mind. The body must have bloated, and then perhaps some of the built up gases must have ruptured, there is a dark stain on one side of the casket, presumably some on the drawn back lid. Jack supposes the trickle of matter that Gwen saw has leaked from there. The skeleton's head is sunk inward, into the muck, Jack can't see if there is enough of the face to give an identification. He takes a breath, wishes he hadn't.
It might not be Gray. This could be part of some elaborate scheme. Gray could have escaped, he could have left a victim's body in his place. Gray could be out there, among the stars, still free. Jack bows his head, his hands dropping to his sides. He's wishing the deaths of dozens, if not hundreds or thousands of people, in order for his little brother to still be alive. Because Gray wouldn't stop, once he was loose again, John warned him about that, and Jack knows it, he's always known it, but he's not wanted to think about it, or deal with it since. Not once.
It's not a nice thing he's doing, but it is a personal thing, this kind of hoping. It doesn't damage anyone, because it's like a bandage on the wound. Jack takes in a gasp of air, and lets it out again, trying for silence, but not quite succeeding, he thinks. Fuck it. Gwen's there, he has to stay strong for Gwen. Or does he? Because the pain is still leaking through the band-aid, through his illusions, however much he pushes at it, and it hurts.
Jack turns then, walks back to the Hub proper, and turns toward the medical bay. He hears Gwen calling after him, but he ignores her. He sees Ianto come bursting in, as though in slow motion, probably having just run down the steps from the Tourist Office; his face is chalk white and his eyes are wide. He may even be saying something, but Jack isn't listening, can't hear anything beyond a kind of roaring noise in his ears. He clatters down the steps into the medical bay and begins to pull out drawers in the stainless steel storage cabinets. He finds he doesn't much care if the drawers end up on the floor. It seems to take an age to collect the supplies he needs, but eventually he turns, hands full of equipment, and retraces his steps.
Gwen seems to have gone quiet, and Jack is distantly grateful. He appreciates Gwen's sympathy, her empathy, he really does, but not right now. Not quite yet. Ianto is standing stock still, his hands stiff by his sides, as though he's at attention, parade rest, like he's waiting for a General, perhaps, or a court martial. It's a show of respect, Jack thinks, and a distant part of him is touched, but he has no energy for that either, not right now. He's got to get through this, because there's no-one else to do it. No-one he can delegate it to, and Jack's never missed Owen more in his life. This should be the job of a doctor, Martha should be here to take these things out of his arms, to hold his hands between her cool slim palms, and tell him it's all going to be ok. Even when they both know that it's bullshit. It doesn't matter, but Jack would like to hear something like that right about now, he really would.
He walks back to the vaults, past Ianto, past Gwen, and stands once more looking down at the reality of death, at what it all comes down to in the end. For everyone apart from him. And he's used to it, after all he's seen, after his own eyeballs have rotted in his skull only to regenerate, after he's been buried with bits of his own platoon, in foxholes, in jungles - of course, he's used to it. But this is different, because it might be Gray, this could be his own baby brother, and that's a thought so unbearable that Jack has to push it away. But he doesn't let it stop him leaning over the casket, and pushing the metal probe down into the muck, into the dissolved fatty tissues and stringy cartilage, and tipping the skull up. Empty eye sockets stare, becoming dark and hollow as fluid drains from their orbits, and the rotted mouth gapes. Jack swallows, and then pushes the jaw wider still, until it flops on the remains of its ligaments. He stares, and then slowly closes his eyes. Gray has a missing tooth. If this is Gray, there will be a gap at the back of his mouth, where Dad made him have a tooth removed, so the others would have room to grow. Jack counts. The skull is missing a tooth.
Then, mechanically, continuing with as little thinking as possible, Jack withdraws the probe, and begins the second of the tests he's forced himself to conduct. He reaches into the casket, almost gagging, finding in himself more control than he thought he possessed, and dips a small plastic sample jar into the fleshy soup. It will do. There'll be DNA, enough to test, at least. To be sure.
Even when he doesn't want to know, Jack has to be sure.
Thursday 24th May 2024
His back is killing him, and Ianto rolls his neck, hearing at least one cracking sound as the bones shift into an alignment that is marginally more comfortable. He's used to crouching over desks for hours at a time, but he's usually down in the Archives, and there he'd be getting up and down, to fetch a new record, or artefact, or being surprised by Jack. He pauses for another second as sense memories swamp him, the drag of Jack's fingers through his hair, the taste of him, the feel of rough stone walls against his bare arse. He shivers, feeling cold. Jack isn't going to find him, not here in the future - there's a lot of future, after all. He contemplates, for a mad second, finding the Jack from here, now, before remembering all the Torchwood One warnings about crossing your own timeline. If Jack is even here. Doing that would open all kinds of cans of worms, including potentially discovering his own fate. Which while tempting on the one hand, leaves him absolutely cold on the other. He doesn't know, of course, that's the point. But he's read enough old personnel record files to be reasonably sure he won't have made it fifteen years as an active Torchwood agent. Of course, the other cheerful alternative is that he never makes it back at all.
Always present, niggling at the back of his mind, there is the thought that he doesn't seem to have got very far with the hacking either, and that the countdown is getting closer. He wishes he didn't think in bites of time like this, but he always has, always needing to know exactly what the time is, what the deadline is, carrying a stopwatch with him at all times - it's not exactly normal. He supposes it goes some way to control situations, the things that keep happening to him. He supposes that one day a long time ago he wasn't like this, although he can't remember when.
John keeps firing over little emails, juicy with pieces of code. And Ianto incorporates them and starts again. He's hazy now as to how they're both doing, it's been hours, and the code John sends doesn't always seem to make sense. The emails begin to seem like little presents after a while, like scented billet-doux, and that's when Ianto knows he's probably losing it, at least a little. It also makes him keep his head down and working on the stupid problem long after he might have given up by himself. It's painfully obviously that John is better at this than he is, at the technical aspects, at least, at the code. Ianto's out of his depth, and that's when his thoughts wander to his own demise - was it quick, did Jack mourn, does he have a lovely headstone with a tasteful message? Is his body lying below in the vaults?
Not for the first time, Ianto wishes Tosh was here. She's just what they need right now, a mind as sharp as hers, she'd have breezed through the security defences on the satellite link, or the code for the weapons themselves, in a fraction of the time. John would be smiling his cracked, smug smile at her, instead of occasionally shooting it over his monitor at Ianto. It looks crazy through the 3D images, green and fey. Tosh would be flustered, but then she'd just work harder, to make him proud of her, for all that John is an insane kidnapper, because Tosh was like that. Ianto finds his throat closing up a little, because the picture is so vivid. And then he suddenly crashes his fist down on the desk, making the mug and the pencil and the stupid teddy bear jump. It makes John look up too, his eyes narrowing, before Ianto pushes himself away from his desk, and gets up. He needs to move, if only for a few moments, and begins to pace across the Hub, and back, feeling despairing and angry again, and wanting to punch something...
"It's hopeless," he says, at last, forcing the words out through gritted teeth, "We don't have enough time. We can't do it."
John stands, stretches, showing skin, and then ambles over to the small furious circuit that Ianto is making. "Sure we will. I know you can do it. And if we don't, well, there are plenty of other planets in this neck of the woods, right?"
He blinks at Ianto, lazily, and Ianto just stares. He can't even hit John, because he needs him. As time has gone on, and Ianto has delved into the problem more deeply, it's become clearer and clearer to him that John hasn't been lying, that there's a real danger in the Osterhagen Project.
"Why the fuck am I here?" he asks, at last. It's been bothering him. He's competent, yes, he wears a suit well, his filing skills are legendary, but that's hardly enough. "There's a dozen people back in my timeline alone who'd be more use to you than me!"
John chuckles, and reaches out at the point of spin, as Ianto turns, and pulls him in. Ianto, off-balance, stumbles right into John's arms. "Why do you think?" asks John, hungrily, staring into his eyes, his hands on his arse. "I don't like to share. Unlike Jack. And this way - neither of us have to."
For a second Ianto is so shocked that he doesn't move. Then his reflexes catch up to his brain, and he shoves John violently away. "I knew it. I knew this had to be another one of your sick mind games. Fucking hell, you'd let billions of people die, just to get back at Jack?"
John laughs, then puts his hands on his hips. "Oh, don't be like that. I believe in you, eye-candy."
There are three hours left. Ianto doesn't have time. He doesn't have the skills. He has to save the world, and it's a fucking cliché. The only good thing about these kinds of movies is that at least the hero always succeeds. For once, Ianto would really like reality to listen to that.
Jack has to do everything himself. Gwen keeps telling him he should stop, he should rest, he should talk about it, he should... Jack blocks her out. Ianto is nearly as bad. He doesn't say a word, but he still hovers. He disguises it well, but Jack can see him lurking out of the corner of his eye, every time he looks up from the scanner, and Ianto's gaze may be studiously turned away, but his hands are twitching. He would take over in a heartbeat, take the equipment out of Jack's hands in a split second, if only Jack would say something. Jack can almost think fond thoughts of Ianto for that, he could almost soften, let himself relax, until he remembers. Because it doesn't matter how much his team cares, and he knows they do. Jack has to do all of this himself. He has to be sure.
The DNA scanner beeps, a loud sound in the echoing silence. Jack looks up, realises Gwen has gone quiet, realises that the whole Hub is hushed, and that it might be late. It's always hard to tell down here, so easy to keep the world at bay, let night turn to day and back again, and never notice once. So easy to lose yourself...
There's a discreet clearing of a throat, and Jack manages to find a painful smile, although is face is blank again as he turns around.
"I rang Rhys. He persuaded her to go home," Ianto says, quietly. "But I wanted to stay. If that's all right?"
Jack spreads his hands. "Sure. Why not?" He clamps his mouth shut, before he achieves some kind of sarcasm, or witty remark, that he knows will only make things worse. Humour is a very natural kind of armour, but Jack's not at the top of his game. He'll mess it up, somehow, like he does so often.
Jack's still staring at the scanner. He only needs to press one button to compare it with his own DNA, already on file - a sibling relationship will be identifiable at a glance. He's looked at enough medical records over the years to pick up the basics, the same way he knows how to use the equipment in the first place. He could have sent everything to Martha, but that feels like a cop out, it feels like he would be running away from the responsibility. If travelling with the Doctor has taught him anything, it's that. He no longer shirks the hard stuff. He thinks the Doctor might even be proud of him, when he can bear to think about him. Jack hopes he does think of him. Sometimes.
There's a pressure then, and he startles slightly, before realising Ianto has moved up behind him as he sits at Owen's desk, and has put his hand on his shoulder. He's not squeezing, not yet, but it's a comforting pressure, not intrusive, rather like Ianto himself. It does give him courage. Jack's not as all-knowing as he likes to pretend. He's not as detached either, although Jack reckons with the small part of his mind that isn't still frozen with indecision and dread, that there aren't many human links he's forged that can affect him like this. Gray is special. He always was.
With another tiny part of him, the part that never stops analysing everything from the Spring fashions to the state of arousal of any being next to him, Jack wonders how it would have been if Gray had grown up with him. If Jack hadn't let go his hand, and hadn't suffered that guilt every day growing up. If he hadn't joined up as soon as he looked the age and could get the papers forged. If Mom hadn't cried on the day he enlisted, and then died before he could come home from his first tour of duty. That was a hell of a lot of ifs. A lot of guilt. A drop in the bucket if he starts really counting though, which he won't, because there's no way to pay any of it back. It's just got to be lived with.
Jack reaches up and briefly lets his hand lie on top of Ianto's, not a proper squeeze, but Jack reckons that Ianto will understand. They have a lot in common. Which is something Jack isn't sure Ianto realises either, and that is his own fault too, because Jack never tells him. He's working on it though, that's got to count for something. Hasn't it? Good intentions - he's sure he remembers something about roads and Hell and good intentions...
He's vacillating, Jack realises. He's putting things off. He reaches forward and his finger hovers for a second, before firmly pushing the button. The printer begins to make a humming, churning noise, and then spews out the DNA chart, face down, of course. Jack reaches for it, but Ianto does too. Jack's faster than that though, because however much he appreciates the gesture, there's a flash of anger too. It's his burden to bear, it's his grief, no-one can shield him from it. And then he immediately flushes with an awful spike of humiliation, because there are many things Jack can be accused of, but hypocrisy is not usually one of them. It's not like he hasn't tried to muscle in on other's pain before, after all. On Ianto's especially. He forced himself into Ianto's life, after the cyber... after Lisa's death. He forced himself in and refused to leave, and although he's pretty sure that Ianto doesn't regret it, it wouldn't have stopped Jack if he did. He supposes he can't be surprised that Ianto is trying to do the same. He supposes Gwen would be too, if she was here, and wonders if he should be congratulating Ianto on his cunning in ensuring that she's not, or being worried about Ianto's obvious jealousy of Gwen's emotional monopoly. Or... it's possible that he's over-thinking things again.
Or it's possible he's still putting things off. Jack looks at the chart crumpled in his hand, still face down, and flips it, suddenly, letting the jagged lines of the graph form a picture in his mind, first, without trying to read it. Then, staring more closely, even as he hears a small sound from Ianto, Jack knows. He's known for a long time really, but self-delusion is a wonderful thing. He'd known Gray was gone as soon as he'd seen the tell-tale trickle from the vault door.
Jack takes a deep breath and lets it out, realising the lines on the graph are blurring, and blinks, clearing his eye-sight. There's a reason for this. There must be. It's possible there was an error in the cryogenics, in which case he needs to discover what it was and rectify it before they're up to their armpits in rotting bodies. Or it's possible there was an error in the maintenance schedule, they're short staffed, it could happen to anyone. Or perhaps a part in this particular casket was worn, and simply ceased to function. There are any number of reasons, and it could be any one of them. Revenge, after all, is something that Jack has left far behind him, and he's glad. Really glad, because he doesn't know what he'd do, if he had someone to blame. He might lose it. All of his hard-won calm and responsibility.
He pulls Ianto into his side, wrapping him up tight in his arms, as though Ianto is the one who needs comfort. Ah, fuck it. Jack may be a big boy now, but sometimes it's ok to let go. Sometimes even Captain Jack Harkness needs someone to hold on to.
Thursday 24th May 2024
"Got it!" Ianto shouts.
His yell echoes round the Hub, and Ianto suffers a pang when it isn't immediately followed by a startled screeching from Myfanwy. He'd almost forgotten he wasn't home. There are minutes to go, his hands are sweaty, his head aches, but he thinks he's got a work-around for the satellite codes, and he's hacked into the Osterhagen Project's servers via a tiny connection they have to the University of Ottawa, of all places. Possibly they don't know they have that connection, which might be why it gives him a perfect window. He's not about to argue with the opportunity though, nor look any gift horse in its mouth.
John whistles long and low, and slow claps, but his eyes are manic, he's been working as hard as Ianto has, possibly more so, and Ianto has code dancing in front of his eyeballs, even when he looks away. John's eyes are pink-rimmed, he's discarded his jacket, has been working in a grubby t-shirt, his arms flexing, stretching back in his chair every so often, arms over his head. He shouldn't, but Ianto can't help but notice. When he's not being a mad, selfish bastard, John's ok.
They share a grin of triumph then, and Ianto could almost warm to John. Nothing like saving the world together for finding some forgiveness. And then John ambles over to his work-station and almost bows - certainly a more courtly gesture than Ianto has ever seen from him thus far, and says, "After you."
Ianto pauses, even with one eye on the countdown, to savour the moment, and then presses the return key with an infinitesimal click. Packets of data go and do their thing, hopefully finding the backdoor and then turning all the command accesses off, before scrambling everything with as vicious a piece of malware as Ianto can come with at short notice. It's quick and dirty, and will do the job with any luck, because there's been no time for finesse.
They stare at the newsfeeds open on Ianto's desktop, they stare most particularly at the feed that John's achieved through the security cameras on the base on Venus. The data is 4.2 minutes old, of course, as slow as light speed, but it's the closest to real-time that they have. Ianto stares at the white coats calmly going about their business, and discovers he can feel almost sorry for them, it's presumably a life's work that he's shooting down, for all it's for the best of reasons.
The countdown reaches zero, and Ianto wants to hold his breath, even knowing he can't hold it for 4.2 minutes. John is shifting restlessly at his side, a distracting presence, he leans heavily on the back of Ianto's chair. As the white coats begin to mill and panic silently, like some old movie - John wasn't able to get sound - Ianto feels a sense of relief so great, it's like a stone being lifted from his chest. He finds he's smiling, grinning up at John, who's smiling back like he knows a secret, like a gleam of gold.
Then, even as Ianto watches, John's gaze becomes hooded, he hunches over Ianto's shoulder and punches buttons in the air, bringing the security camera zooming in. It's blurry, and grainy, something else that hasn't changed in fifteen years, but Ianto can still make out the numbers changing on the displays, graphs that are arcing upwards, out of green zones and into red, frantic movements from the scientists that are doing nothing to halt the problem. Of course they aren't, thinks Ianto numbly, we've locked them out and planted viruses throughout their systems. They can't do a single bloody thing.
John's mouth is stretched wide, but it's not a smile any longer, a grimace perhaps. He's bringing up all the information he can find, and then he stands back, and Ianto feels cold; he hadn't really registered when John had started leaning against him more than the chair.
"Oh well," says John, matter-a-factly, and stands quietly, not moving, his arms crossed.
The Osterhagen Project has detonated anyway - something in their bodged-together code has failed, and Ianto bows his head, as despair creeps up his throat and into his mouth. Something in their shitty code has failed and Mercury has ruptured into a hundred thousand fragments anyway, as twenty five nuclear bombs detonate at significant points under the planet's crust. Mercury isn't even as big as Earth, it probably didn't need twenty five, but the project wanted a true test. More to the point, a shockwave of radiation has gone out, in all directions, attenuated by vacuum, held back by the ozone belt on Earth, but still travelling around them, and also moving the other way, towards the Sun, reaching it in 3.8 minutes, and somehow, unlikely and fantastical as it is, the Sun will react, like an elephant to the bite of an insect, and just as unconsciously. A ripple, a nothing, for the Sun itself, like a giant overturning in sleep, and yet it will throw out far more of its own radiation than is usual; arcing, spitting ribbons of plasma, brighter than anything ever seen before in human history, a coronal mass ejection of such size and magnitude that the magnetic energy will be almost unimaginably vast, a hideously violent proton storm of heat and light, x-rays and gamma rays, streams of highly energetic particles, all running on a wave front that will hit Earth in just over 11.8 minutes.
What can you do in 11.8 minutes? Ianto doesn't pretend to know. Once he understands, once he's processed the information, it's more like 10.3 minutes anyway. Crazy notions chase themselves around his mind - making a final perfect cup of coffee, racing away from the Hub and finding his family, finding any version of Jack, but none of them are feasible, not in the 9.6 minutes he has left anyway.
He doesn't want to be alone. He doesn't want to go topside and watch oblivious humanity in their last moments. He wants...
He swings the chair round and surges up from it, and John meets him. The kiss is barely that, bruising in its force, and Ianto seizes John's arms, the muscles there standing out, and holds on, squeezing tight enough to leave bruises. He wants to laugh, because he won't leave marks, not really, there isn't time. But John is hard and lean and there, his cock forcing itself into Ianto's thigh, and Ianto desperately fumbles for John's belt-buckle and thumbs open his jeans. John is equally busy with Ianto's trousers, and it's like they've done this before, a violently mad dance, but John must be as practiced as Jack, surely, both of them inter-galactic, omni-sexual Time Agents, whatever that might mean. Ianto doesn't care, not now, not when they only have 7.8 minutes left, and wildly, he thinks, what if they don't make it?
He groans into John's mouth, as a thumb skates across the head of his cock, poking eagerly through his boxers, and his hips jerk, once. John moves to bite Ianto's bared throat, as he throws his head up, and then alternates stinging nips of his teeth with deep full-on sucking marks that make Ianto push himself into the crease of John's hip again and again, rough denim be damned. John is growling now, and violently shoves Ianto back onto the desk, sending the teddy bear skittering, there's the crash of a mug onto the floor, and Ianto's arse is cool where the glass of the desk is digging in, but still he's burning up, he's desperate, he doesn't care.
It's quick and dirty - John doesn't believe in underwear, apparently, and his own boxers are scraping his balls, driving Ianto crazy, but then John takes them both in hand, and suddenly there's nothing left but purely fantastic sensation. Ianto hisses into John's shoulder, the smell of him heady like wine, warm and spicy, before hooking an arm around John's neck and just holding on. John's hand is rough as he strips them both, and even when Ianto yanks it up, and runs a wet stripe of saliva across the palm, it's nowhere near enough, but - 5.9 minutes - he doesn't care, he just drives himself greedily into John's grip, their cocks sliding together with delicious friction against the rough working of John's palm.
There's a stopwatch counting down, in Ianto's head, he counts the minutes, he counts the seconds, he wants to forget but he can't, not even when John gasps, and there's a flood of warmth between them. Ianto curses, terrified now, because he won't, he refuses, not now, not now, he doesn't want to be left behind now. He reaches between them, and grasps John's hand, viciously squeezing once, twice, hearing John groan, feeling him turn towards Ianto again, the scrape of stubble along his jaw an extra jagged jolt, like lightning, as he seeks out his mouth.
Ianto comes in a silent whiteout, his tongue in John's mouth, his balls tight and hot, releasing in a overwhelming flood of exquisite relief. His scalp is prickling, his eyes are squeezed shut, and may not be entirely dry, and if not at peace, at least Ianto feels human, this one last time, through this one primitive act before everything is ended. At least for this one last second, he has a connection.
He wishes it was only a second, however, soon. As the plasma hits, people on the surface are flash-burned in an instant. In the Hub though, underground, the air takes rather longer than that to become superheated and kill them. John and Ianto stay wrapped together, without speaking, and Ianto muffles any noises he may make in John's shoulder, until the end.
"Here," says Ianto, and Jack looks up from his desk. He realises he's been staring at his coral, at the intricate whorls and hollows, at the tiny branching stems. He thinks if he can stare at it long enough that he'll begin to see it grow, although he knows for that to actually be true, he'll probably have to put down roots through the chair, and Ianto will be dusting him once a week, like a pot plant. He feels like that though, he feels too old.
Ianto puts down a tray on the desk, and Jack realises that he's missed the seconds in which Ianto has crossed the room, between one blink and the next. He stares at the tray, at the steaming mug of coffee, at the maple and pecan pastry, and at the French fancy, alongside. That's a change, right there. Ianto has never before served him a French fancy. Jack might ask what he's done to deserve the extra treat, but he knows it's probably more about what he hasn't done. It's more about the fact that he hasn't truly been aware of his surroundings for some time now. Jack thinks it's nice of Ianto, if a little naive, to expect things to be changed just because of an extra quantity of processed sugar.
Between the next two blinks, there's a hand that runs through his hair, and lips, warm and smooth, just brushing his. He smiles into it and blinks again. The coffee is no longer steaming. Then instead, Gwen is there, in the doorway, and Jack realises he hasn't even touched the French fancy, and it could have been sat there for... he doesn't know.
"Get up, Jack," she says, and Jack looks at her. It's a cliché to say Gwen's beautiful when she's angry, so he doesn't. Then suddenly she's by his side and hauling him out of the chair. "I don't know why Ianto hasn't made you, and I can't believe I'm doing this, but at least have a shower, Jack. You stink. I can't believe I'm saying that either. You've got to snap out of this, or at least... Do something!"
Jack sways by the side of the desk, as he watches her put her hands on her hips and purse her lips. He grins, widely, feeling his cheeks ache, and hopes it's enough.
"Oh, honestly," says Gwen, and pushes him out and down the stairs.
He feels better under running water, and he wishes he could have been more help to Gwen. When she'd undressed him, he'd wanted to make a ribald comment or two, and he had, he'd tried to, but she'd snorted, and been brisk and no nonsense, like the nurses he remembers from so many wars.
"Nothing I haven't seen before, Jack, what with that slimer from Proxima III, if you remember. Not much for any of us to be shocked about really, after all this time. Get along with you..."
So now he's in the shower room, leaning against the tiles. There is orange brown mould growing between them, not black, and he's sure Gwen would want him to do more than stand there, and watch it grow instead of his coral. But there're no real fears of that, Gwen's just inside the locker room, she's talking to him, Jack thinks, through the door. Her voice is tinny through the water, but he can't block it out. He doesn't want to block it out.
"Look, I know he was your brother, and you loved him. I know that. And it's obviously been a huge shock to the system - well, it would be." There's a pause. Jack can imagine Gwen frowning, trying to find the next word, he wants to say, go on, you were doing so well. "But I don't think Gray would have wanted you to wallow - not when he was healthy, I mean, not when he was blowing up Cardiff, and burying you... Oh!"
Jack closes his eyes, and then finds there's a chuckle in his throat, a small but genuine one. It doesn't quite make it into the outside world, but he knows it's there. He can imagine it. Gwen will be sat there mortified, her eyes will be huge, but she won't back down from the faux pas, because she means it, she's just let it slip through. She'll stare at him through her fringe.
"It's ok," Jack says, and then clears his throat and tries again. "It's ok, Gwen."
And it is. He won't let himself drift again. He'll not let himself be such a coward. It's not like he doesn't know what Gray did, of course, and he blames himself. It's Jack's own fault that Gray was the way he was. It's all of it on his head. Jack steps out of the shower, and grabs a towel. Gwen wouldn't want to say that, naturally, but she doesn't have to. Gray was his penance and his salvation too, and he's been robbed of both.
But he can promise Gwen he won't wallow any more, because there's plenty he could be doing instead. He can discover what went wrong, so nothing else in the vault... deteriorates like that. He can find something to blame. Some little piece of corroded metal, or plastic. Some parasite that decided to make its nest in the appropriate coupling. Anything, really. But anything is something, and that will give him closure. He supposes closure is what he needs. Gwen would probably say so - Jack must remember to ask her.
As the old saying goes, it's something else to chase.
Thursday 24th May 2024
There's a breeze blowing off the Bay, as Ianto comes to. The bench he's sat on is digging into his back, his head is lolling. He feels muzzy headed, lightly drugged. He feels... like he's been here before.
He turns his head sharply to the right, and the dizziness intensifies. John Hart is staring at him, smiling.
"Wakey, wakey, rise and shine," he says.
"You," says Ianto, and John laughs.
"Yeah, well," he says, "I suppose I can't expect originality. You're still drugged. And you're still a girl." He gets up and wanders off.
Ianto looks down at himself. He's in his suit, and it's fresh, and the shirt is clean, and he hasn't been fighting the clock for the last twelve hours. He looks at his palms, at the backs of his hands, and the skin isn't red. He breathes deeply, and his lungs aren't labouring, he isn't still trying to force in his last breath. His eyeballs don't feel peeled in his skull. He feels a thousand times better than he did, even feeling drugged.
He looks around. The wide curve of Cardiff Bay is glittering with a little sun on the waves. There are crowds of holiday tourists all peacock dressed, there is verdigris on the roof of the Millennium Centre. This still isn't his Cardiff, it's fundamentally alien.
John comes back and dumps a package wrapped in a paper napkin into his lap. Then he lies back with his arms along the back of the bench, face turned up to the sun. Ianto stares at him. At the wavy brown hair, at the laughter lines around the eyes, at the grubby black t-shirt beneath the gaudy red jacket. He'd... clung to this man. Not five minutes ago. Less than five minutes ago they'd died in each other's arms. It's too much, he can't take it in, his mind skitters off the idea like water from oil. His skin is itchy, as though he needs to slough off burns, and he shivers at the metaphor. He wants to run and shout and swear.
He doesn't. He's Ianto Jones, and however hard his heart is beating, he refuses to give in to it. He opens the napkin and stares at the hotdog - it has mustard, ketchup and onions on it. The works. Ianto doesn't like onions. He sits and stares at the stupid thing.
"Eat up," says John, without opening his eyes, "Chop chop. Work to do. The world won't save itself you know."
Ianto takes a breath. "What...?" He stops, tries again. "Explain what just happened."
"Oh, didn't I say?" There's a sly sliver of blue showing under John's lashes. He's not smiling, but Ianto thinks he's forcing himself really hard not to. "Time Loop. We get to try again. Lucky us. If at first you don't succeed... yadda yadda."
"And... And you didn't think to tell me that. Last time."
"Now where's the fun in that, eye-candy?" John opens his eyes wider, and licks his teeth. "Would I have had you so hot and bothered, if you'd known that? Nah."
There is the sound of paper crackling, and Ianto looks down. The hotdog is looking much the worse for wear in his clenched fists, but somehow he isn't particularly hungry now. He puts it on the ground near his feet. He'll throw it away in a second. Then suddenly he changes his mind - they're in a Time Loop. Keeping the Bay tidy matters not one jot, not one single solitary iota. Anyway, his head is clearing beautifully on its own, it's quite wonderful what adrenaline can do. He leans over and John's smile broadens and grows lascivious, until Ianto grabs John's stupidly gaudy jacket in his two hands and hauls him up by his frogging. John throws his arms wide, and his head back. His throat has a fine shadow of stubble underneath the chin. The jaw is still strong but the throat looks vulnerable.
"Oh yes, take me, ravish me," says John, in a high-pitched voice. Then he shifts until he's staring Ianto in the eye, and his voice drops back to normal. "Kill me if you want. It doesn't make any difference. I doubt you'll solve our lovely thorny problem on your own, and I'll be back in twelve hours." John blinks innocently. "And you will have died alone." He gazes up at him, completely relaxed, and Ianto has never wanted to punch someone more. John is close, so close that Ianto can see the brown flecks in his blue irises, can smell the wonderful spicy smell of John himself, that reminds him, he realises at last, of Jack.
Then Ianto also realises that there is an edge of tension to John, one that's keeping his muscles relaxed, paradoxically, and that he's good, he's really good at hiding it.
"Well?" John demands, his voice rough, "What are you waiting for? Do it. Or not. It's all the same to me."
But it isn't. Ianto can tell. It isn't all the same at all. He drops John's jacket abruptly and wipes his hands on the legs of his trousers, as though he's been touching something slimy and foul. Is it his imagination, or does John look...disappointed?
"No," Ianto says, simply, and stands. "You'll get nothing from me. Not ever again. I'm never touching you again."
John's eyes glimmer, but the emotion is one that's alien to Ianto. He leans back on the bench again. He seems resigned, content.
"That's what they all say, at first. But you'll see. It's the end of the world, but that doesn't matter. We've got all the time in the universe. All the fucking time we want."
Ianto begins to walk away, along the seafront, towards the estate agency that fronts for Torchwood. He knows their codes this time around.
As he walks he hears John calling after him.
"You want to try hacking again, then? Or shall we ring the changes? Round and round it goes, where it stops, nobody knows."
Ianto doesn't turn, or otherwise acknowledge him, or he really will do something he'll regret.
"Politics? Shall we try politics next?"
Ianto keeps walking.
It's funny, Jack muses, as he stares at his computer screen. It's funny how things just go around, but nothing ever really changes. It's funny, or it's tragic, but given that he looks likely to be around for the longer end of the deal, it's lucky he finds it funny. Mostly funny, anyway. Paperwork, it seems, is universal.
He clicks off the file he's had open, and looks at the layers beneath it. There are video logs, energy logs, rift logs - apparently Tosh set up logs for almost every conceivable thing that might need to be recorded or measured. Indeed, she seems to have set up logs for things Jack is pretty sure never needed to be measured. Ever. He wishes he'd been more grateful when Tosh was still alive. He raises his eyes, and whispers a small thank you to the ceiling - nothing wrong with that - then leans back and stretches his spine, before pinching the bridge of his nose. This is the kind of detailed work that he usually leaves to his oh-so-competent team. Captain Jack Harkness usually has better things to be doing. Better people.
It's still his penance. He will never have Gray forgive him, or tell him he's sorry, but he can take on the investigation, however detailed or dull it gets, however much the minutiae of it gets to him. He wishes he had a pair of glasses to push up his nose, to make him feel the part. Another quick image of Tosh, with her glasses in her hair, flashes across his mind, and Jack smiles. Or Alex, peering over the top of his, because for years he refused to get new ones, he claimed you fought old age, you didn't give in to it. Alex wasn't wrong, Jack reckons, and before the new Millennium, he might even have agreed with him.
His mind is wandering, he's getting tired. Not sleepy necessarily, but tired. Jack gets up, and walks out onto the balcony outside his office. He's lost track of the time. But surely... yes. He's had his coffee, with a biscuit, a while ago now - so it must be nearing lunchtime. Jack smiles. Is it weird that he now orders his day, counts his hours, by the little routines that Ianto has set up for him? That he now lives his day by such domesticities?
He makes his way downstairs, and follows his nose to where Ianto is slaving over a hot microwave. Jack is never going to complain about Ianto bending over anything, certainly not anything as prosaic as a microwave - it's not a filing cabinet, but even so... Jack admires the view briefly before moving closer. And he doesn't creep up behind him, Jack swears he doesn't, but when he slides his arms around Ianto's waist, under the suit jacket, the smooth bump of a thin leather belt blood-warm under his fingers - Ianto flinches. He hides it straight away, fusses with the handle of a knife, but he'd still leapt a near inch into the air.
Jack nuzzles at the short hairs behind Ianto's ear, feeling him relax. That's better. "Jumpy today, aren't you?"
Ianto laughs, but it's short, and it cuts off abruptly. "I don't know. Something in the air? Rift's been too quiet."
Jack debates taking things further. He deserves a break. And Ianto always deserves a break. He opens his mouth, and sucks a mark into Ianto's neck, just pinkening the skin a little, tasting soap, salt, Ianto himself. He just stops himself humming in satisfaction. Ianto moves, turns his head a little in Jack's embrace, leaving himself open to more.
The microwave goes ping, and they pause. Jack can feel a certain tenseness, a suggestion of division in Ianto's desires, and with a little sigh releases him. Jack likes to have Ianto's undivided attention, not share him with inconvenient kitchen equipment. Although, now he thinks about it...
"Lunch?" Ianto asks, and Jack shrugs, a little, before watching him bustle about in the little alcove, sorting out bowls, and trays, and buttering bread. Jack finds he's surprisingly content.
Ianto pauses with the bread knife still in his hand. "How's the investigation going, Jack?" He doesn't look at him, stares at the chopping board. "It's been days. Me and Gwen - we've barely seen you. Except for missions. Gwen's thinking of letting out some weevils, just to get your attention."
Ianto's joking, but it's not up to his usual standard. Jack knows it's all of a piece, showing they both care, and he's still awkward with that. Even now, even after Owen and Tosh. Jack steps up behind Ianto again, leans his chin on his shoulder.
"I'm not going anywhere, I'm right here. And when I'm satisfied..."
Ianto drops the knife with a clatter, and turns around, his hands lifting to hold onto Jack's shirt, his braces. "Let me help, Jack. Please. I know the systems, I know where there might be faults. You're pushing yourself so hard, driving yourself mad, over a stupid maintenance program. You don't know... Let me help."
Jack folds his hands over Ianto's, squeezing them. He knows they've all gotten more protective of each other, and Jack likes that. He loves these little gestures, the things that show they care, and where once he might have run away, now... Well, he gathers Ianto in, and they stand there, just holding one another. Jack can feel Ianto's heart thumping in his chest, feel that new medallion Ianto wears now as a hard lump through the thin material of his shirt, he can feel everything, like they're joined, like they're one creature. And Jack knows it's because his team is like a family, he knows it's because they are the closest thing he will probably ever get to a family again - he's not that emotionally stupid, he knows why he couldn't let Gray go - but it doesn't matter. He can analyse the emotions as much as he likes, but it doesn't make it any less real.
Thursday 24th May 2024
The second time around in the Time Loop, Ianto tries hacking again. The same codes, with different workarounds. He leaves out the malware. If things go wrong this time, he doesn't want the scientists to be helpless again. He doesn't want it on his conscience. The hack seems to work, but they can't exactly tell, because the system is manually over-ridden from the base on Venus. John makes snide remarks. Ianto watches from the security camera as fat self-satisfied white-coats shake each other's hands as the world ends. He leaves the Hub for the surface this time. The experience is quicker, if not more pleasant.
The third time around, they try politics. But Ianto is an unknown junior Torchwood employee. Unknown literally and historically, no-one will listen. He rings politicians from not only his own government, but also the others involved with the international expedition. He finds a handy translation program, and fakes his credentials. It doesn't help. He's too young, too unknown - the failure of the project, and its terrible results are so fantastical. Ianto knows what the odds are, how unlikely a chain of events it is, and he can't explain that he's experienced the visceral results twice already. It's the kind of thing there's no way to explain and not sound completely insane. This time around he finds a stylish bar, and drinks himself into a stupor about an hour before the end. He's in a gutter looking up at the stars when it happens, and Ianto hopes that Oscar Wilde would have approved. It still hurts.
The fourth time, Ianto is willing to talk to John, in desperation. He's even willing to listen. John has a mad idea to block the signal sent from Venus with an electrical storm. To block it with a much smaller solar flare that is artificially generated. He wants to use the Rift to plant the seeding device, and he wants to build it first. Ianto thinks it's crazy, and tells him so, but he's so tired. He doesn't want to program yet more code, that he knows he's no good at anyway, so he goes along with John's plan. It's fun, John seems to be on his best behaviour, he makes Ianto laugh. They giggle together like children over strange shaped flotsam they find in the vaults. They run out of time to complete the star-seeder, but John claims they'll be faster next time, and tries to stick his hand down Ianto's boxers. Ianto turns around and walks out. He hasn't forgiven John that easily, however bizarre and unique the seduction.
The fifth time Ianto goes to sleep. He considers a hotel, or a guesthouse, but isn't sure that he wants a place so impersonal. He walks up to the estate agent's office and stares around at the glossy photos on the walls, candid studies of mansions and discreet penthouse apartments. He didn't know that Cardiff even had that many penthouses - it didn't fifteen years ago. Surely he could borrow one of them for the day? He'd be gone again tomorrow, after all, no sign of him ever being there. He could fall between satin sheets and not move until the end of the world. Eventually, perhaps inevitably, he goes down into Jack's pit. He spends minutes standing before the round hatch, which they always find closed, and which Ianto has not yet dared to open, in all these past Loops, but, as it turns out, he doesn't need to have worried. There is a different camp bed, Ianto is glad to see, but there are still shirts and trousers hung up that he recognises, or their descendants anyway. The room smells like Jack, a little artificial, a little old, like Jack's essence has been canned, but welcome nonetheless. Ianto hangs his head and breaths through his mouth until the nausea passes. Until the pricking under his eyelids has subsided. He wipes them roughly with his fingers, and then rubs them on his shirt, his fingertips damp and cool. Then he lies down, under the rough blankets that smell of Jack, and closes his eyes.
The sixth time around, Ianto sits down and stares at John. They try hacking again.
The sound of running water should be soothing. Jack tunes it out, usually. In fact, in normal circumstances he doesn't notice it at all. The way the water trickles down the Millennium Fountain and splashes gently in the pool at the bottom of the water tower. The occasional plink a counterpoint, as moisture around the Hub drips down from the ceiling. He doesn't usually notice any of that. But today. Tonight, even, because Ianto has brought supper, hasn't he? So it's night outside. If he goes up in the lift he'll see the stars in the sky. If it's not raining, yet more water pouring down from above, he'll be able to stride out into the dark, sodium street lights streaking the clouds above orange. He could stand on a roof, he hasn't done that for a while, he could feel the wind shake him, feel its desire to push him off. He could let it, he could throw himself from the roof even, for the few seconds rush of terror, for the ability to forget, even for a second, for the ability to not know...
Well, he wanted to know. How can he cavil now?
He'd pushed for this. He'd fought Gwen for it, and he'd fought Ianto. He'd hugged the investigation to himself like a child hoarding candy, and he'd made himself work through every tedious detail. He'd made himself suffer, and as he'd done so, he imagined what Gray must have suffered, he'd compared every imaginary inch of it to the suffering he's been put through during all his years. Wondering if it was enough, wondering if it could ever be enough. Knowing... knowing that he should forgive himself, that if the Year That Never Was, and two thousand years in the dark, aren't enough, that nothing ever will be. Knowing that nothing will ever be, and hoping for something anyway. Persuading himself that he's laying his ghosts to rest, when really he's lying to himself...
He could go on. He could go round and round in fucking circles forever. Or he could do something about it. Gray was family. Gray was the last of his family, and obviously when Jack has had thoughts that he could have another kind of family, then he's been deluding himself. He supposes the only question he has to ask now is, how long for?
The sound of his own boots tramping down the metal ladder brings Jack out of his fugue a little. The water sounds and the metallic clicks merge together in some sort of strange rhythm, and when he steps out onto the floor of the Hub it's almost odd when part of that goes away. Jack paces, round the tower, and back again, his feet carrying him blindly. He's waiting, he thinks, but he's not sure what for. Until he hears the clatter of another's footsteps on the stairs down from the Tourist Office, and then Jack pauses, his head lifting, like a dog scenting the wind, and his hands clench into fists before relaxing again. Ianto is on the last stair, one foot raised to step into the Hub, when he sees Jack. Ianto takes that last step, he walks down, and then he stops.
There is the flicker of a dozen emotions that cross Ianto's face in that second. Jack watches them, catching guilt, and regret, and determination, and despair. There are others but he stops counting then. It's as good as a confession, really, and that's it, that's the last piece. Not that he doubted it, but Jack wishes he'd been wrong. He wishes... for a lot of things. Not one, though, not one wish in his life has ever come true. So why should now be any different?
"Why..." He clears his throat, starts again. "Why did you do it?"
Ianto starts forward, across the ten feet that separate them, before Jack takes a step back. Ianto stops as though an invisible barrier has pulled him up. His eyes are wide, and Jack looks back at him. Ianto doesn't look any different. He's still Jack's... whatever. Lover, partner, fuck-buddy, friend. He's still all that, just as Gwen is sister, mother, unrequited love, the one that got away. All of those things and more. Family, he'd thought. Well, he'd thought wrong.
"Jack..." Ianto says, "I don't know what you mean..."
"Oh please, spare me the denials," Jack finds he's spitting his words, literally, as though they contain vitriol that he can use to hurt this man, as he's been hurt. "I'll grant you, you've been clever, it's a masterful job, I should congratulate you."
He brings his palms together in one slow ringing clap, and then another. The sounds echo around the Hub like gunshots. Jack thinks he sees Ianto flinch. But he is adamant, he is diamond, because two thousand years in the earth will do that, will squeeze you until there's nothing left but stone. He's glad he's learnt that lesson well.
"Jack..." Ianto is pleading now, and yet he doesn't move. Jack can't seem to bring himself to move either, they'll be destined to stand there like mannequins until they fossilise. Until Gwen finds them, and shatters them.
It's enough to make Jack want to do something, shout or swear, anything to make Ianto react, to explain. He's still reeling inside, like he's been smacked around the head, his ears ringing. This is far worse than finding a cyberwoman hidden in the basement, worse than discovering that Ianto had lied all those weeks, worse than knowing exactly how easily he'd been played, been led around by his dick. Jack didn't know Ianto then, not really, not the real Ianto, he'd just thought he had. But now... Jack trusts... trusted Ianto. He's loved him, in his fashion. Jack swallows down a betraying lump, a ridiculous, stupid lump. Has Ianto not found it enough? Has he been cutting out the competition for Jack's affection? Was this some seriously twisted reason that showed he cared?
Roughly, Jack scrubs at his eyes, breaking the look between them. Jack can hear Ianto almost stumbling, as though the only thing holding him upright has been Jack's accusing glare. Even knowing that doesn't help.
"Why?" he asks again, his voice weary. He feels drained. "Just tell me why you murdered Gray. I've got to know."
There's a pause. Jack waits, almost numb. The knowledge of it is still burning inside, like the anger, but muted with exhaustion. He takes his hand away from his eyes, and squints into the gloom. Ianto is like a black and white ghost, like a photograph from a long time ago. Like Jack himself feels. There's a trail of silver on his cheek.
"All right," says Ianto, at last, his voice scratchy and hoarse, "I will."
Thursday 24th May 2024
Ianto has almost lost count, but he thinks it's somewhere around the fifteenth or sixteenth repeat, that he asks John a question. He thinks he should have probably asked it before, but he's been under stress, under pressure, he's going to forgive himself for not being more perceptive. For not thinking things through.
"Why are we in a Time Loop? Is it your doing? Surely there's got to be an easier way?" he asks John, one endless afternoon.
John snorts, and turns up the music he's found to play. It amazes Ianto, all these repetitions and yet John manages to find new music every time.
"Not my choice, eye-candy. You don't think I'd choose to be stuck in this backwater, do you?"
Ianto looks at him, and wearily finds a little glee as John turns away. He's uncomfortable. It's a situation that has to be exploited.
"You chose to stay on Earth after Jack released you from Gray. You could have left."
"I wandered around for a bit. That's all. That's how I know this stinking planet's so backward." But John is still not meeting Ianto's eye.
Ianto retreats a little, trying to find his way. Conversations with John are slippery, like living eels. He has to catch them with rough fingers, he has to throttle them until they're gasping.
"What you're saying is that the Time Loop isn't yours. So that means you can't control this, the number of times we go around, you can't control anything." Ianto stares at John who's looking rebellious, and yet embarrassed at the same time. Ianto wishes he'd thought of this earlier. He knows he's let his anger cloud his judgement, his tiredness control his thoughts. It's funny though, all those emotions seem to be draining away, the longer he spends here. "So whose is it? Who does control it?"
He finds he's genuinely interested, and not even as a means to an end. He feels like he's changing, unlike everything around him. He doesn't know where that will end, and he wants to be scared of it. But he's not even sure of that any more.
"Look, you don't really want to know," John says, his hand unconsciously fingering the butt of his gun, where it rests in its holster. Ianto stares.
"So you're frightened of them... No, more than that - you're as angry as I am!"
Ianto stands up in his excitement, a new and splendid emotion, not another variation of the sick fear and grinding worry that characterises his days here.
John grimaces, a tiny spasm that does little to illuminate his features. "It's something I signed on for. Can't argue with that. Knew what I was signing."
Ianto wants to know. He thinks he almost already does, but he needs to make John say it. It seems so obvious in retrospect, but he's been slow, remember? He gets up from his now so-familiar desk, and stalks over to John, who eyes him nervously.
"Who did this to us? To you, anyway. I'm along for the ride. Who?"
"Well, time's a funny thing, eye-candy." John smirks, but his heart isn't in it, Ianto can tell. "It turns out... It turns out that the Time Agency isn't as disbanded as I thought. Or rather... It is. But it also isn't, if you follow me. The Agency exists at all points, you see, within its sphere of influence, at all points and times. And this. This is a job. That I've been given. At a previous point. But now - in my time, yeah?"
John scrunches up his forehead, as though the explanation is hurting him in some inexplicable way, but Ianto doesn't care. It's possibly the closest thing to a straight answer that he's ever got from John. He wonders which bit of it is the lie. If Ianto knows anything about Captain John Hart, it's that he always lies.
"So how do we get out of here - I've been assuming that if we solve the problem then the Looping will stop. Am I right? Is that the point?"
"Pretty much, yeah, that's it. A Time Loop allows an Agent to test out all the theories, without any mistakes, leaving only the perfect solution at the end. Although it doesn't always work out easy like that," says John, his voice low and soft.
Ianto becomes aware that John has reached out his hand, and has lain it on his arm, a gentle hold, that's almost a caress. He's not sure what he should do. It's not even as though John deserves his rejection, this time. It's not as though John is even trying anything on, for once, instead it's almost like a plea.
"It's not my fault, right? Really. Not my choice. I want you to know that. These things... On the Loop. It can get..."
John doesn't seem able to complete the sentence, which is also unlike him. Ianto remembers he spent five years with Jack in one of these things. Five years of what? Not sunshine and kittens, if Ianto's experiences are anything to go by. It's a wonder they both didn't go mad. And then he thinks, and wonders, and revises his judgement. It's possible they did both go mad. It's possible that Ianto has.
He realises then that he's feeling sorry for John Hart, and is horrified at himself. But he pulls away more slowly than he might once have done. His suit sleeve slides through John's fingers like a much finer fabric might, and he feels John's fingers as they catch against his own for minutes, hours, afterwards. He holds them to his lips unconsciously, at least once, before he notices and firmly continues typing on the latest set of code.
"Jack, before I explain what I've done, I wanted you to know that I've loved being here, with you. Part of Torchwood. You might not believe me, but it's true."
Jack stares across the room. Ianto has straightened, his shoulders are pulled back, he's balanced on the balls of his feet, poised, confident. It's a good look on him, that even now, Jack can't help but notice, can't stop himself looking. It's a good look on him, but it's not him. Not quite Ianto, and Jack's mind races, thinks of the DNA test he'd had done, remembers Martha's scorn. It can't have been faked, surely? He'd stake his life on Martha's loyalty, has done more than once, but maybe one of her people has been compromised?
Ianto twists his face into something that might be considered a smile, if it wasn't so painful. He tugs down his waistcoat, and then suddenly, just as quickly, Ianto is there again, body language correct, everything intact. Jack blinks and is conscious of a roiling anger, not just for Gray, but for this clever mimic, this man, or creature, who has been impersonating Ianto somehow. It must be the explanation. His mind slides to gelfs and clones and gelatinous body doubles. There are doubtless hundreds of possible aliens it could be.
"What have you done with Ianto?" he shouts, his voice bouncing back from the roof in a thousand echoes. "I'll kill you. I'll find him, don't you worry about that, and then I'll make you pay for what you've done."
There's a laugh then, just like Ianto's when he's found something hysterical, usually banal, on tv, or in the papers. It's overblown, it's too much. It cuts off abruptly, and Jack winces.
"It's not quite as simple as that," says Ianto, and moves. Jack has his Webley half-cleared from its holster, before he realises that Ianto has merely walked towards the entrance to the archives. He's not made a hostile move, he's simply calmly and methodically walking down into the darkness, like he has a hundred times before. His dress shoes make staccato sounds as they tap down the passageway.
Jack stands, for seconds, a minute. He feels stunned, his thoughts flowing like molasses, like they did underground, buried under the weight of all the time he's ever lived. All that separates him from Gray, all that held them together. He'd do it for him again. Walk into that darkness. Bury himself alive. And for Ianto? The real Ianto? He can stand it. Surely. He's used to being buried in holes. Jack follows after the now distant suited figure, turning on flickering strip-lights as he walks.
Eventually Ianto stops. It's just one more part of the archive, a dusty, little organised part. Ianto is glancing round in pained recognition, with the look of barely restrained disgust, and a studied eagerness, all at the same time. Jack has no doubt he wants to clean and organise this lonely forgotten corner of Torchwood's catacombs. It's yet one more thing that is so like the true Ianto that Jack's heart clenches painfully in his chest.
Then Ianto steps over to just one more filing cabinet, nothing remarkable about it, and pulls the middle drawer open with a rattling noise. Dust floats off the top, causing Ianto to be surrounded by a gentle haze. There is a yellowed slip of card in the holder on the drawer. 1942 - WRA-XAN. Jack coughs slightly, and watches as Ianto searches. There could still be a weapon hidden here, he's prepared to duck in an instant, although how useful any kind of weapon would be to an impostor all the way down here is a mystery to Jack. But maybe it is a mystery, most aliens are mysteries of one sort or another.
Under a plastic file header bearing the letters WRI, Ianto reaches into the fat folder and pulls out... Jack's mind stutters, a juxtaposition of worlds reorienting in his head, the universe shifting, as he adjusts for the new variable. His anger, that's still bubbling away underneath, crystallises, becomes cold. He still doesn't know why or how, but he doesn't have to, because he understands.
Ianto plucks a Time Agent's wrist strap out from the neatly - and of course, accurately - labelled folder and begins to buckle it around his wrist. The leather is supple, is obviously well used, is well cared for. Ianto's movements are practiced and assured. It fits snugly, and Jack tenses as Ianto raises it up and begins punching buttons. He, of all people, knows what it's capable of, what the wielder can do. There's no point ducking now. He raises his chin.
There is a soft chime from his own wrist strap. The gentle note to let one agent notify another of his presence in the area.
No shit, thinks Jack, and glares.
Thursday 24th May 2024
Ianto has finally lost track of their days. He tells himself it was bound to happen eventually. He likes recording things, knowing things, but he can't even dig scratches into this prison's wall, because it re-makes itself each night. He feels he should probably be more upset about it, but he can't even be bothered to do that.
There is a small dance he does now, as he and John wend their way to the Tourist Office each morning. There is the fat lady walking her small dog, and he nods at her. There is the lad, a teenager on a skateboard, and Ianto smiles at him. It must be an unnerving experience, because nine times out of ten, the boy falls off his board. It's Ianto's ambition to make it ten out of ten times, but sometimes he doesn't have the smile just right. Ianto knows them all - now. The strange peaked hoodies don't bother him any more, he's stopped noticing them. The bright peacock colours likewise.
Once, he lay down and refused to move. People clucked over him, John stared from a distance, his look heavy with ironic amusement, as an ambulance was called, as Ianto was picked up and taken away. Hospital food and indifferent nurses were just as he'd expected, although some of the new medical testing equipment raised his interest briefly. Not for long though. Idly, he'd thought about the drugs they had.
It's a temptation. Knowing it's all going to be the same tomorrow. Ianto's always known it, in the back of his mind, he doesn't dwell on it for a reason. It's seductive, he knows, as seductive as John continues to try to be, and as dangerous. Ianto could take a sub-machine gun from the archive, he could blast his way across Roald Dahl Plas, enjoying the spray of blood, and the screams of children. They'll just be there again tomorrow.
Ianto and John try other plans to solve the problem. To get themselves out of here. They never do have time to finish John's star-seeder, they never know if it will work. John threatens to try it anyway, once they're out of the Loop, but Ianto's pretty sure he's joking. Pretty sure.
Once, Ianto tries to use the Rift Manipulator to snatch a crucial piece of technology from the base on Venus, but the Rift isn't able to be controlled quite like that, it brings them other things; flotsam, jetsam, a glowing ball, a bone whistle, a metal gauntlet that Ianto stares at in suspicion. He knows a Risen Mitten when he sees one, he knows what they are, what they can do. He's glad when it's gone the next morning.
They go over and over the scenario, and they fail again and again. John gets jumpier than usual. Sometimes he uses the glass windows of the Millennium Centre for target practice, and is carted off by the police, laughing and laughing. Ianto hesitates to know what he himself looks like. He doesn't want to see his face in the mirror any more, just in case, because the barriers he's managed to erect are nevertheless slowly being eroded one by one. He tries to find Jack, one day, the Jack from this world, when once he'd promised himself that he wouldn't compromise his own timeline, but it doesn't help. No wonder the Torchwood team are out of contact - the whole lot of them are off chasing yeti in the Himalayas, apparently. Impossible to reach, although Ianto spends the best part of one day trying. It's as though Jack is trying to be inaccessible, although why he chose Tibet, of all places, Ianto will never know. It makes him suspicious, precisely because it's so inaccessible. And he's bored.
So he does the other unforgiveable thing. He looks himself up in the database. He's prepared for a gory end at a young age, he's prepared for his own body to be resting below in the vaults, but he is not prepared for his file to just... stop. On the day that John snatched him into this waking nightmare. His eyes don't remain dry then, and he thinks it's fair. He nearly commits the final sin that he's sworn he won't do, because he toys with the idea endlessly. He could finish everything early. Easily done with a knife, or a gun, or a handful of pills. He doesn't though, because that's the last thing on his list - he knows he'll no longer be Ianto Jones, if he gives in to that. If he didn't give in to it after Lisa... Well. He'll not bloody succumb now. Oh, but it's a hard choice. Knowing that it must mean he never gets back to his Hub. To his Jack. Knowing it must mean they never solve this. Knowing that they're here forever.
So, instead, Ianto gives in to something else. Something easier, and less important, something less shattering. And it keeps them both occupied, at last. Ianto can't complain. Sex with John is always distracting, if nothing else.
And then, finally, a long time later, he has another idea.
"I'm sorry, Jack. I really am, but the deception was necessary. When you've calmed down, and thought about it, then I hope you'll understand."
Ianto shakes his shirt sleeves out over the snug leather of the wrist strap until they lay flat on top of the bulky device; it's a squeeze, but not a great one. He smoothes down his suit jacket then, holding out his arms, judging the fit. Then he looks up into Jack's eyes.
"It's been a while. But I could hardly wear it to work, now could I? You'd have spotted it straight away, and then where would we be?"
"Gray would be alive. You would be dead," says Jack, his voice flat. Ianto, or the thing that looks like Ianto, winces.
"And that would be why I didn't mention it."
They stare at each other, and Jack is aware of a certain settling. A certain implacability that seems to be surrounding him like a coating, hardening him, hardening him like marble. He is the first to admit that his passions are close to the surface, but what his team doesn't realise, what he doesn't show them, is his predilection, his talent even, for revenge. He won't let this go.
"Why haven't you run?" he asks, abruptly, the question bubbling up through a soup of training and memory, knowing the procedures, knowing that if this creature is telling the truth, he shouldn't have stayed. It's against all Time Agency protocols. Not that Jack hasn't broken a few protocols of his own in his time.
"Because..." Ianto's voice cracks then, and he turns away, leans on the filing cabinet. The dust is stirred by his restless fingertips. "Because of you, Jack. I never have been good at giving up hopeless causes, and this was our last chance. Well. My last chance, anyway." He looks over his shoulder, and swallows. "We won't meet again."
Jack feels cold, hoping the creature doesn't mean that he'll never see Ianto again, hoping it doesn't mean that Ianto is dead, not kidnapped, not removed quietly, but finally and irrevocably dead.
"And why like this? Why impersonate Ianto?" Jack asks, keeping things together, keeping him talking while Jack decides if he's close enough to jump the thing, before he can teleport away. "John Hart has proved in the past that our security measures are able to be neutralised by a sufficiently determined Time Agent."
There's a bark of laughter, a short and far from humorous sound. "Oh, I admit I was stupid. Rash. I've always been organised and methodical, it used to say so on all my training reports. But it also said I cared too much, I was too stubborn. I swear the Agency has a type." Ianto stares at him, eyes almost black in the artificial light. "It was a risk. One that's lived up to its potential. Obviously. But I'm not sorry. I wanted to... see you again. Be with you. Stupidly sentimental, really, like I said."
Jack finds he's frowning, without even realising it. His head is reeling with the implications, because this creature is still pretending to be Ianto. It's the only thing that makes any sense. Unless... Unless this really is Ianto Jones. No, Jack shakes his head, he refuses to believe it, he can't be, it's impossible.
Jack says, choosing his words precisely, like they're brittle, and might break, "If you care for me, like you say, then you would never have murdered Gray - you'd know how much he means to me."
"I know that, of course," And there's Ianto's sardonically raised eyebrow, it hurts Jack, physically, to see it. "But I also know how many he would have murdered, if he'd been allowed to live. That's what I know."
Now it's Jack's turn to wince. "You don't know that! I would have kept him safe, I would have..."
"I do know," says Ianto, "You know I do. You would know too, if you'd stayed with the Agency. Jack, I am sorry, I am. But I had my job to do. I have my duty."
"To save the universe?" Jack stares at him, at the immaculately tailored suit leaning against a filing cabinet. One of his fondest fantasies, there, made flesh, not dulled from long use either. He wants to weep, whether this is Ianto or not, because nothing will be the same again. Nothing ever is.
"Something like that," says Ianto Jones.
Thursday 24th May 2024
"It's madness," says John, and Ianto agrees with him. It is. He laughs and punches air with the craziness of it. But it's worth a shot.
They can't fix the satellite properly because they are neither of them good enough at the code. In such a short space of time, under the conditions they're in, it appears to be impossible. It's not like they haven't tried again and again. Ianto's tried to memorise what they need, line by line, but first typing it all from memory, and then attempting to bug fix as they go... Something always goes wrong.
And they've tried to bring in other experts, any who are within easy transport distance, but that hasn't seemed to help - they don't know Torchwood, or the problem. Time is wasted on the awe, or the anger, depending on the personality. More time is wasted in bringing them up to speed on what they have to do, or on their arguments for one thing or another. It's not as though John and Ianto haven't tried all of these scenarios, already, but they still have to explain. John has even shot one or two of the scientists, in frustration, and Ianto is loathe for him to do it again. It makes him uncomfortable that he's not more upset by it, for a start.
But then Ianto has another idea. It's not that he doesn't think about her every day anyway, and wish that she were here. If they had Tosh... Well, Ianto is sure Tosh could get them out of the endless maze they're running. Tosh would have the technical expertise, she knows Torchwood, the systems, they wouldn't have to explain anything at all. It's perfect, the perfect solution, except, of course, as John points out, that Tosh is dead, and they're stuck in a Time Loop.
"It doesn't work like that, eye-candy," John says, and Ianto cuffs the back of his head, curling his fingers into John's hair. He never has managed to break John of his nicknaming habits. John grins. "Anything in the universe that exists today, yeah, fine, but nothing from the past, nothing from the future. That's just the way it is. Or we could get out of here the easy way." His eyes flash with a kind of longing, that Ianto is sure he matches.
But Ianto's idea doesn't stop there. That's what makes it crazy. John knows the code too, he can remember it as well as Ianto, mostly, if Ianto forces him, coaches him. There are bribes that they both enjoy. John can do the grunt work, get their program up to scratch, the basics anyway. And Ianto meanwhile...
There are a lot of ifs, but it's not like they've had another idea for some time. He practices, he finds he has a lighter touch than he thought on the Rift Manipulator - it doesn't take much effort to recreate what he'd done by accident, weeks or months ago now. And before the first time he tries it, Ianto knows he can try again, and again. It's not as though it matters if he fails. Except it somehow does. It's disrespectful, and Ianto hates it. He doesn't want to fail.
Ianto stares down as her still form, still whisping freezing fog from the vaults. He worries he doesn't have enough empathy. He didn't have before. But that, Ianto has decided, was because he didn't know any of the victims. He had no personal stake in things, and emotionally he'd been wrapped up in Lisa anyway. No time for Suzie's games.
He takes her out of her casket and carries her through to the main Hub. There's no need to compound the trauma, even though Ianto's almost certain that she'll understand. She's pale, but all the damage is hidden under clean clothes. He's grateful for that. Ianto gently fingers the cashmere jumper, and thinks of Jack carefully choosing a favourite outfit, and then dressing her, before laying her to rest. Tenderly, he smoothes a wayward lock of hair back from her forehead, and takes a deep breath.
The metal of the glove is cold, much colder than it should be - it numbs his fingers instantly, sends bone deep needles of chill through the rest of his arm. It's not natural, and Ianto wants to flinch, to immediately shed it, just like the last time he'd tried, all that time ago. He can almost sense it talking to him, he thinks, and however much it makes him feel like he's cuddling up to something slimy, he tries to embrace that feeling, he tries to go with it. It's sinister how quickly the glove warms up.
Ianto glances at the code flashing on his screen, that John has typed from memory. They're close. They won't have long. Suzie got better at using the glove over time, but Ianto doesn't know if he'll have that kind of advantage. Instead, he tries to think about how much he misses her, how much she meant to him in her own quiet way. He closes his eyes, as the vividness of his memories are overwhelming, bombarding him with the scent of her perfume and the touch of her hand. Ianto doesn't know if the sensory overload is the glove or his own memory, playing tricks, as has begun to happen more and more as they cycle through the endless days. He hopes it's a good sign.
Then Ianto gently places the glove on the back of her head, before gasping at the acute sensation. It's as though a rope composed of every good feeling he's ever felt has latched onto his heart. He throws as much into it as he can, his love for his parents, the tender, doomed passions he suffered for Lisa, the warmth and the comfort, the exasperated love he feels for Jack, even the... fondness he's developed for John, despite everything. He gasps, throws his head back, and then as soon as he can relax his spine again, a second, two at the most, he looks down into her eyes. Abruptly, he wishes he could operate his stopwatch at the same time.
Her gaze is wide and unblinking, but then, Ianto expects no less. She doesn't look surprised.
"Hello Tosh," says Ianto, his voice hushed. "It's been a long time."
"What are you going to do?" asks Ianto, as he stares at Jack. "I suppose I'm asking because you may want to stop me leaving."
"I'm going to stop you leaving?" asks Jack, his mind still sluggish, still grappling with exactly what he does want.
"I didn't precisely say that."
Jack looks at him and cocks his head. His teeth bare in a smile that doesn't reach his eyes. Ianto smiles back.
"It would be interesting," Ianto says, slowly. "I'm younger than you, physically, and I suspect faster. But you have a lot more experience, and can't actually die. You can be hurt though."
Jack finds he wants to look away, finds he's disturbed by the clinical tone, especially as it seems to be coming from his Ianto.
Then Ianto slumps, and suddenly, again, the body language is alien, he's more poised, and somehow more relaxed all at the same time.
"Although it's different, isn't it? With us? I don't want to fight you, Jack."
"How magnanimous. I might want to beat the shit out of you."
"Then go ahead. I won't stop you." Ianto is still leaning on the filing cabinet, but he straightens a little. Takes a step towards Jack. "When I was on suspension, after... Lisa died, I thought you were going to do that. Or kill me. Or retcon me back to oblivion. I would have welcomed any of it then, but Jack... You didn't. Not any of those things. You left me alone."
Jack knows the facts are correct, so far as they go. "Are you saying I should let you alone now then? Is that it?" he suggests.
"Well... I suppose I'm giving you the same choice. A similar choice. It's seems fitting somehow." Ianto takes another step, and Jack doesn't move - he feels frozen to the marrow.
"You won't accept it now, I suspect, but the situations do have an eerie similarity. You shot Lisa down like a dog, because you knew you had to stop her. At least Gray got a more peaceful, respectful end. He felt nothing as his organs slowly shut down in cryo, and then the cryo failed. I made sure of that."
Jack swallows, and closes his eyes, the images vivid behind his closed lids. He wants to punch something, like it's a visceral desire, like it's bread to a starving man. And Ianto is wrong, the situations are completely different. Lisa and Gray bear no resemblance to each other, at all. It's ridiculous.
"Are you sure you want to just walk away," asks Jack, harshly, "Because you're doing a great job of convincing me not to hold back."
Ianto face twists, sadness and resignation and affection, all evident. "I remember you came over and you tried to make me soup once. When I was on suspension. Do you remember? You burnt it, and I had to throw it away. But somehow just the making of it was what I needed."
Jack does remember, but he doesn't want to think about it. He snorts. "I don't want soup."
"No," says Ianto, sadly, "But I want to give you what you do need. Whatever that is. Even if it's beating me to a pulp. And remember, I know how Time Agents are - it's all fighting or fucking with them."
Jack contemplates punching Ianto out, or forcing him up against the filing cabinet, or a violent combination of these, and he knows his heart is beating faster. It's in the training, after all, in his blood. But there is also a sick kind of loathing at the excitement he distantly feels. He's better than that, these days. He's all grown up.
With his muscles protesting at the movement, because it feels like he's tensed every single one of them, Jack forces his legs to move. Stiff-legged, he lurches backwards, until his spine smacks against the dirty brickwork, leaving Ianto room to pass. He'll be damned if he'll give in to the worst of his nature when he's being offered the opportunity on a plate. He'll be damned if he gives Ianto the satisfaction.
There's a sigh, and Jack would swear to it that there's disappointment in it, which is a fucked up thing to contemplate, although, given that this is the two of them, perhaps it's all par for the course. Then a second bolt of miserable anger shoots through him, all ugly and mixed up, because it hits him then, that he's also lost his own Ianto, somehow, in all this. He's abandoned him as surely as though Jack had operated the Rift controls himself. Because somewhere along the way, Jack has absorbed the fact that Ianto - this Ianto - is still Ianto, and not some shape-changing creature. He's accepted him as Ianto, which leaves his own version out in the cold. Out in unreality somewhere. And that feels like a betrayal, even though it shouldn't.
So Jack stands firm, but his fingernails are digging hard into the bricks, as he watches Ianto walk past, strides measured and heavy, and then he follows again, like a malevolent ghost, and contemplates his options. He could still challenge him. Fights among Time Agents have a tendency to bring down civilisations, but he could still challenge him. His fingers hover over his own wrist-strap. There are protocols for such things. There are rules. He could do it.
Jack is certain that Gray is worth a civilisation or two, yet still he merely watches as Ianto walks away.
Thursday 24th May 2024
"You're in the Hub, Tosh," says Ianto, "Although it's after our time."
He smiles down at her, and hopes that the heartbreak he's feeling doesn't show on his face. She smiles back, which is a first, no-one when they come back, just smiles.
"How long have I got?" she asks, and Ianto is silent, his throat closing. "You're using the glove, right? You must be desperate."
He makes an effort, because in one way she's right, and in another - he has all the time in the world.
"I need a complicated piece of malware bug-fixed. It's designed to sabotage a space base on Venus, in the year 2024, and I can't do it on my own. I need your help."
Ianto pauses, thinks, feeling the rope as it tugs his life away, and into Tosh. There's a snort, and a comment from the gallery, "What am I then, eye-candy, chopped liver?"
Ianto ignores John, all his attention focused on Tosh, but he can see her fighting another smile, at the interjection. It's so good to see her.
"You'll have a minute of my time, maybe two - I don't know what I can do," she says, a little diffidently, so very Tosh-like.
"We'll have more than that, I'm sure of it," says Ianto, desperate, knowing there's no time to explain. "Just... Can you try? Please?"
Ianto is cradling her head, and at her tiny nod, he lifts her up, his other hand under her shoulder blades, until she can see the screen. "Just call it out, and John will adjust the code," Ianto says, and watches as Tosh's eyes rapidly flick down the program they've so painstakingly put together.
Her eyes lift to his, and he's startled to see tears in them. "It's glorious, you know, Ianto? It's not always about the darkness. Sometimes it's beautiful - but, oh. I've missed work. I wish I could tell you, but there isn't time..."
Ianto can feel the connection getting thinner, he can feel the rope abrading, his life not enough any more, his desperation, his tenderness, all of it holding Tosh only for so long, but not long enough. He cups her face in desperation, the skin soft, but still so very cold.
"I need a copy of the code you're trying to break, and details of the systems they're running it on," she says, suddenly, "And news of everyone, if we can fit it in the corners, around the work. I want to know everything."
"I don't know..." Ianto begins, and then the connection dies, like the hole in his heart has been plugged and another torn open in its place. "Everything," he whispers.
Except that it's patently not true. He must pull himself together. He's Ianto Jones, and of course he knows everything. Or he will. He stares down at Tosh's beautiful face, still now, again, in death, before gently releasing his hold and shrugging the glove off, like a particularly nasty spider. He won't give up - however many times he has to do this. It no longer feels like a violation, at least, and for that, if nothing else, Ianto is glad. There was joy in Tosh's voice, Ianto reminds himself, not horror. There was beauty.
And then there's attempted sympathy from John that Ianto shrugs off, and then there's sex, which he doesn't. And they make sure they can find everything Tosh asked for, and Ianto drills John on his memorised code, and then they wait. Ianto makes tea, because it reminds him of Tosh, a little, even though most of the time she drank coffee with the rest of them. And the next day they do it all over again.
Tosh smiles again, and says hello before Ianto can open his mouth. And Ianto buries his face in her cashmere sweater this time, just for a second, when he realises that Tosh remembers. Somehow. It's a miracle, that's what it is, and even John seems impressed. Tosh actually has the strength to pat his hand. Ianto could even kiss the glove, but he doesn't, because it still feels cold and uncanny. He settles for his plan working instead. He thinks it's a good bargain, and Tosh laughs, and dives into the code in two or three minute intervals, as Ianto gets better at accessing the glove, as his hope soars, over the days, instead of diminishing, instead of shrivelling up. His soul has been a sour little apple that never sees the sun, but now...
It makes such a difference, not to be on their own any more. John smirks at Ianto just as much as ever, but he's cheerful, less dangerously manic. And Ianto talks to Tosh, even as she works. He looks things up for her, he tells her how the world has been these fifteen years. He jokes about John's kidnapping him, and even means it. The plan is working, the plan is slowly coming together.
Then, one day, the plan finally works.
The air in the centre of the Hub feels fresh and cool compared to the stickiness and exhaustion of the archives. Jack takes a deep breath as he makes his way out of yet another hole in the ground, with his morals intact, what he has left of them. He supposes it's some kind of victory. Ianto is still there, waiting for him, one hand pensively trailing in the water that sheets down the water-tower. Jack finds he is surprised. He should have run by now, Jack had almost expected him to.
Ianto glances over at him, his body language his own at the moment, not alien, not an imposter in Ianto's suit. Jack wonders if he should ask, if he really wants to know.
"There's one more thing, before I go. Well, two perhaps," says Ianto.
He is pensive, deferential, the perfect aide - everything Jack remembers about the Ianto he first met. He wonders what the man's hiding now.
"What is it this time? My first born?" Ianto just stares at him, and Jack is uncomfortably aware, even as he says it, that if this Ianto is the Time Agent he claims to be, then he could know all about that. He really could have all the files on Jack. Everything. It's an uncomfortable thought.
"Generous of you, but no," says Ianto, "Actually - I thought I'd offer you something from us. It seems only fair. It's been authorised."
Jack laughs. He's been lied to, his team, everything he cares about, has been made a mockery, his brother has been killed, and now... Now he's being offered a... what? A bribe? A present that he should accept like a good little lap dog? Nothing about the whole situation is fair. The urge to punch this doppelganger is coming back, like pain from a cauterised wound, dull and throbbing.
"Just go. At least give me that much credit," Jack says, before he breaks, before he does something he will eventually regret.
He watches, dully, as Ianto reaches up and undoes his tie, sliding the fabric from around his neck with a hissing noise. It reminds Jack of the first few times with Ianto, when the sex had been fantastic, there had been no hesitancy, no awkwardness. Jack thinks that they'd both been living perfectly in the moment. Despite what came later, Jack still thinks that, thinks that Ianto had been grateful for that chance of oblivion. Ianto had undressed then just as methodically, as Jack recalls.
Ianto undoes the top button of his shirt, and as suddenly as that, he looks vulnerable. He looks... Jack feels a different kind of pain. He watches as Ianto pulls off the medallion he's been wearing, and Jack winces. Comes to a conclusion. Well, it's good that he has a timeframe for this, he supposes, a reference point - he remembers when he'd noticed Ianto had started wearing it. It was weeks ago.
"This is St Jude," says Ianto, softly, not looking at him. "The patron saint of lost causes." He looks quickly up then, and Jack can't catch his breath, because somehow he's not really quite believed that this man was suffering too, until now. This imposter has no right to feel like that in Jack's mind, and yet he can still see the pain. Ianto isn't hiding it, he isn't veiling it under those heavy brows, he's not covering it with a veneer of charm, or good will, or bonhomie. For once, Jack can believe this was a difficult assignment.
"It's yours, if you want it," says Ianto, and holds the pendant out. "Two years of missing memories. You thought the Time Agency stole them from you, but you consented to their removal at the time."
Jack stares, blindsided. He doesn't know what he expected, but it wasn't this. He glares at the medallion. There's the hint of a face on it, a halo, arms opened wide. He's not sure he wants to be embraced by those arms. His hands are prickling with suspicion, as he watches it swing and twinkle in the light.
"Why should I trust you?" he asks, at last, voice harsh.
"No reason," says Ianto, but there's a wealth of emotion in it. Jack glares at Ianto then. It's as though Ianto is saying that all they've shared is still worth something. As though he should trust this Ianto, after all the treachery, after he's murdered Gray, after he's masqueraded as someone Jack... cares for. After all that, he doesn't get to be trusted. He doesn't get to look betrayed.
"I said it was a lost cause," Ianto shrugs, his voice too blank, and begins to turn away. Jack leans forward that crucial few inches, and takes the pendant. His hand brushes Ianto's fingers, and there's a jolt, he swears. Despite everything, they still have that. Ianto's skin is warm and dry, the pads of his fingers are slightly calloused, Jack knows, they always catch a little when he runs them down Jack's spine, soft and eager by turns. Jack can close his eyes, and he'll be there, in that moment, where everything is right, where things are always right. Where things can be forgotten.
Jack realises he hasn't quite let go. Then he realises that Ianto is imperceptibly trembling, and Jack cocks his head the better to work out the angle Ianto's playing on this one. He's not quite ready to accept the desperation it could easily appear to be. Not quite ready.
"What's on here?" he asks, at last, recalcitrant, "Tell me, what was so damn important that I had to forget it?"
Ianto hasn't moved, he could be a statue, if Jack couldn't feel the tremors.
"Me, Jack," said Ianto, "You had to forget me."
Thursday 24th May 2024
Ianto stands and watches the grainy black and white feed, direct from Venus, only 2.9 minutes old. He watches the scientists in white coats mill around, knowing there's only 1.3 minutes to go before they'll know if this last fix is the right one. They have a minute to wait, that's all. Just one more minute.
John is standing behind him, crowded too close as usual. Ianto can smell the comforting spicy scent of him, and doesn't even move when John lies his arm over Ianto's shoulders, resting his palm comfortably on his neck, fingers trailing down his throat.
Ianto's hands are full of Tosh. He has her propped in the chair in front of the monitor, her head resting against his belly, cool and still and serene. Ianto doesn't know when he stopped thinking of her as dead, and began merely to think of her as absent for a time. His heart is in his mouth because if this works... If this works, this may be the last time he'll get to talk to Tosh. The first, last and only time the glove will work in this timeline, because they will have broken out of the Loop. They've had false alarms before but this time... Ianto has a good feeling about this time.
It's why he's waiting until the very last second. He looks at the countdown they have running, knowing in real time it's already played out. The destruction, the burning of the Earth, is beginning yet again, or - it's not. Ianto can't bear it. They are so close he can taste it. Forty seconds left, thirty nine, thirty eight... He draws the glove on, listening for its voice, feeling for the connection, thinking of Tosh as he does so and smoothing her hair down with his other hand.
Then Ianto cups the back of her head, and gasps at the cold plucking at his soul, as the glove opens up a connection, that rope of life-force tying them together once more. He bends down, her cheek cool next to his, John's hand warm on his shoulder, and he looks at Tosh, then at the screen. She manages another smile. She always smiles when she comes back.
"We've nearly done it, " Ianto whispers, and Tosh achieves the ghost of a nod. They watch the last few seconds count down. They watch the scientists begin to scurry and gesticulate in their panic. They wait as the data reports come in, proving that the test has not only been prevented, but that it has been destroyed beyond possibility of recovery. They wait to see that nothing else has gone wrong.
Ianto realises he is holding his breath, and that Tosh never breathes at all. He lets it out in a explosive sigh big enough for the both of them, and then he smiles too, wide and high and manic.
"Well, that was easy - what's next do you think? Shall we carjack Skylab?"
John snorts, and Tosh laughs. Where Ianto is crouched, he can just about hear it.
"I'm glad," Tosh whispers, and then, a sudden surprise, her lips icy, she turns her head and kisses him on the cheek. "I'm so happy I could help you."
"Oh, but..." Ianto stares at her, helpless. "I don't want to lose you, Tosh." Even though he knows he has to. Again. Tosh is still smiling, although it's a sadder one this time.
"Bye, Ianto," says Tosh, "It's been lovely." And Ianto can feel the wound in his soul sluggishly healing up, can feel the rope that connects them abrading for one last time.
"Bye, Tosh," he whispers, as the last of her fades like the scent of roses in Autumn, until finally she's gone. It leaves him feeling bereft, almost as bad as he did after Lisa, as he did after Jack left them running and never looked back. As he did when...
"Come on now, let's put her back in the freezer. Chop chop, time's a'wasting, eye-candy," says John, still there, his palm furnace hot on Ianto's shoulder. "And isn't that a pleasant thing to think about."
Ianto shuts his eyes briefly. John doesn't understand, he doesn't ever seem to understand, but at least he's still here, and warm, and alive. That counts for a lot. And if Ianto could make himself be like John, could close himself off from his emotions, properly, instead of merely burying them, which is all he fears he can do - well. That would make a big difference. He's tired of hurting. He's fed up to the back teeth of fucking pain.
He pushes himself to his feet, and John's hand falls away. John looks at him, and his head is cocked, and his eyes are sharp.
"We've got to go," says John, gently, for him, and Ianto nods. Weary beyond all measure.
He scoops Tosh up, carries her back, and then tenderly lies her down in her casket. Bizarrely, it makes him feel like the Prince with Snow White; he wishes their end could have been as happy. Then he checks the settings on the cryo-storage, and finally, reluctantly, with a last brush of his fingers, he leaves the vault. Possibly for the last time. John is still watching, leaning against the wall. He falls into step with Ianto, and they cross the Hub together, Ianto moving purposefully towards the stairs up to the surface.
John stops him, with a hand on his sleeve. "No, not that way. Not today. I think the tourist exit, for us, just this once. Bit of indulgence, yeah?"
Ianto really doesn't care. He shrugs and changes course. "If you like."
The two of them stand on the paving slab and John punches his wrist strap. The Invisible Lift begins to raise with a smooth precision that makes it even feel like alien tech, and Ianto has a pang. He's glad it still exists, he's glad it hasn't been scrapped in the years since his time. It's such a silly indulgent thing, so needlessly showy, that Ianto finds his eyes are prickling as he thinks about it, until he roughly scrubs his hand across his face, smearing moisture from his eye-lashes.
"Last time, this is, maybe for a long time," John says, low, beside him. "I wanted to congratulate you."
"Excuse me?" asks Ianto, not thinking, not really.
"Well, I might have been a little cautious with you when we first arrived. I might have stretched the truth a little - not out of shape, mind - but still, couldn't tell you everything, now could I? You'll learn that, if you haven't already." John looks wistful, and proud, like a new father might.
"What is it? Are we still trapped?" It's the worst thing that Ianto can think of.
"No, no," says John, "Nothing like that. Just. I'd like to be the first to congratulate you on completing practical fieldwork training. Oh, and welcome to the Agency, god bless all who sail in her, yada yada. I hope we get to work together again some time in our timelines.
"What?" asks Ianto, "What?"
John looks sly, and also sort of sad. "You'll get your wrist strap as soon as we're picked up, which should be imminently. You've just graduated, eye-candy, try and keep up. You didn't really think I brought you along, put us both through this hell, for the dubious pleasures of your company - fine though it has been?"
Ianto stares, and John quirks a smile, one with very little humour. It's the end. That's all Ianto can readily absorb, the end and apparently the beginning of something else, something momentous and insane. He's not sure if he's ready to react to John's news, although - it has the shape and taste of truth. If he trusts John enough to believe him. It certainly explains a few things.
So instead, he looks up, and blinks into the glare. The paving stone has shifted and the sun is shining down. He's not buried in a hole in the ground any more. That's a better something. In fact, that's nearly everything. Ianto tips his chin up, and closes his eyes, and for once allows himself to feel the warmth on his face, as he's lifted up high into the light.
"What do you mean?" Jack asks, his voice hollow, "What do you mean, I needed to forget you?" Although he has a horrible feeling that he knows.
Ianto rubs at his forehead, just as he does before he gets a headache. Jack wants to sit him down, take away the coffee for once, get him to just breathe. It's not going to happen.
"We worked together, you and me, in... 4078, I think it was. I knew you, of course, and we had a laugh when I realised you didn't know me yet. We had some good times." There's a reminiscent smile on Ianto's face now, which weirdly makes Jack feel better, or maybe worse. "Wild times. It got more serious when we realised. You know Agents can't know their own future, their own timelines. More to the point, you - your future self, at that point - didn't remember me when we met for the first time in Cardiff, which means that there was a potential paradox. A juicy one actually, we were both reprimanded for that." Ianto shrugs.
"Hey, it wasn't my fault, I hadn't met you yet!"
Ianto grins another pained little grin. "You argued that then, too."
Slowly, Jack feels his way through, because temporal mechanics are always fun. "So in order to preserve what you knew was the correct version of events, I agreed to lose two years of my memories?"
"To be on the safe side, yes."
"Just like that?"
"Yes. Well, no. You bitched and moaned about it." Ianto's still smiling, although it's tinged with sadness. "We said goodbye with a spectacular vacation in the Scarlet Mountains. On Vega. You know."
Sadly, Jack shakes his head. He looks at the Ianto. "I've never been to Vega."
Ianto indicates the pendant dangling from his fingers. "You will."
Jack looks at the pendant, it's a small, innocent looking thing, to contain so much. If he uses it, if he remembers, then what? And as he thinks about it, another piece slots into place.
"You are Ianto Jones, but you're not mine," says Jack, at last. "You're from the future."
"Well, obviously." Ianto rolls his eyes, and Jack would smile but it's too reminiscent, it's too much. Ianto hasn't changed at all, not really.
"From how far down your timeline?"
Ianto looks away, looks at the backs of his hands. "Twenty years, give or take. You know how it is. A simple bit of cosmetic surgery, and here we are."
"Yes," says Jack, "Here we are."
He sticks his hands, with the pendant in them, into his pockets. "And what about Ianto? My Ianto, that is - where is he? Do I get him back? He obviously can't be dead." He jerks his chin at the other man. "Or you wouldn't be here."
"No, he's not. You'll get him back after I'm gone. Of course, I can't tell you how long for." Ianto pauses as though he's thinking through something complicated and difficult - Jack recognises the look. "I can tell you that in fifteen years time you'll need to have wiped all my details, I mean Ianto's, from the database. And you'll need to go to Tibet."
"I can't ask, can I?"
"You can ask."
There's a pause and Jack swings around and strides off, putting some distance between them. He's trying for relaxed, but suspects he is failing miserably. Does this mean that he and Ianto could still have fifteen years together, or... not? He wants answers, but he knows it's futile. So instead he just wants some solitude, because he's going to have to make a decision, and he'd like to make it... unencumbered.
He stares at Ianto. "So that's it then, end of the line. You can go. I'm not stopping you."
The other Ianto slumps, and his body language changes again. Jack thinks he looks defeated, looks bereft. He can't let it touch him. This man is not his Ianto, not in any meaningful way, not any more. Instead, he should be properly grateful that Jack didn't shoot him. He doesn't seem grateful.
"I knew," said Ianto, "I knew it would end like this. Something like this. I've been dreading the end of this assignment, for all that I've been lying to you all along."
"Not my problem."
Then Ianto straightens, tugs his waistcoat down, and makes his way over to the coat-rack, brushing past Jack as he goes. Jack doesn't flinch - there's no reason to flinch. He catches a faint waft of scent, of soap and shaving foam and salt. Ianto. Jack breathes deep, but doesn't move. In his pockets, his hands clench.
Ianto puts on his long dark coat, for all the world as though he's popping out to the 24-hour garage, just another night, burning the midnight oil, popping out for a pint of milk. Jack watches him, imagines the real Ianto will walk back in, in just a few minutes, and he'll be the right man, he'll smell the same, but he'll only remember Jack now, not Jack from years ago. And things will go back to the way they ought to be.
He's kidding himself, but he knows it.
Jack watches Ianto as he straightens his sleeves, the bulk of the wrist strap hidden once more, and then watches as he takes one more breath, that is almost a sigh, and walks towards the door to the surface. Jack doesn't move.
"Ah, fuck it," he hears Ianto say, muttered quietly, under his breath. He watches him steadily as he turns around. Jack still doesn't move, even as his heart beats faster, even as Ianto moves towards him, purposefully, deliberately.
He takes his hands out of his pockets, in anticipation, the fingertips tingling, and flexes them. His chin lifts, and he doesn't back away, not even when Ianto grabs his braces, and a handful of shirt, and kisses him hard. He is still Ianto, however much Jack wants to deny it, so he doesn't move, he doesn't push him away, but this man is also Gray's murderer, so he doesn't pull him flush to his body, or groan into his mouth either. Jack settles for putting his hands onto Ianto's waist, warm under the coat and jacket, feeling cotton under his fingers, the give of skin, as he tastes this Ianto one final time.
Jack wonders if he's glad he's not strong enough to deny him. The man he was just a few short years ago wouldn't have hesitated. He was closed-off and bitter, and he looked after number one; he didn't let emotions get in the way. Or he was happy-go-lucky and casual, and never let emotions get past his slick surface. He isn't either of those men any more, so instead, here he is, Captain Jack Harkness, kissing his brother's murderer.
Jack wishes if he knew it was an improvement.
Thursday 24th May 2024
There are gulls crying in the air, and the breeze from the sea smells fresh and clean. Ianto blinks into the distance as he leans on the railings that run along the edge of Mermaid Quay. His elbow is companionably resting next to John's, their shoulders bumping. It feels oddly like a holiday.
"I could refuse," says Ianto, at last. "I could tell them to stuff their job."
John laughs a little, without much humour. "You could try. They'll just dump you somewhere much worse than a Time Loop, until you change your mind. There's precious little arguing with them, and they've got all the time in the world. We don't."
Ianto can feel his frustation and anger trying to crowd back, but he doesn't want to spoil the mood, their enjoyment of this precious freedom, however fleeting.
"Did you try arguing?" he asks, and stares at John through his half-closed eyes.
John's smile makes his teeth look like tombstones. "Oh yes. I don't recommend it. The food's to die for."
There's a pause, as Ianto tries to imagine what... And then stops.
"So, is this goodbye?" he asks, instead.
"Maybe," says John. "Who can say, eye-candy? Of course, you'll be partnered with somebody eventually. Would you like it to be me?"
Ianto looks at him sidelong. John's eyes are sparkling, his grin is still toothy. "I could cope," he says, grinning back. "In about a million years."
"It can be arranged," says John, leaning back, stretching his spine.
They're quiet again then, Ianto letting his mind flow freely, trying not to let his worries crowd him.
"Will they still let me go back? To my Torchwood," he asks, quietly, voicing what he fears the most, and John is silent for a few minutes.
"I think so. It all depends on the timeline - that's what matters to them. But a little bird told me you've still got some stuff left to do in this timeline, before you go on active missions. Something to do with children, or something... They know your future, you see, but they don't want you knowing it. So - they must have decided this was the most appropriate point to recruit you from, but you'll be allowed back. For a time. They're fun like that." John stares out into the bay. "Maybe you needed a skill set that the Loop's taught you."
Ianto thinks about it, thinks how much sense that makes, scary amounts of sense, and wonders what the skill is - coding, using the glove? Survival?
"I didn't ask for this," says Ianto, finally, and John laughs.
"You think any of us did? Well. Maybe Jack. There were actual recruitment drives in the Fifty First Century. Weird but true."
And that cuts to heart of it, really. Trust John to get it right by accident.
Ianto silently heaves a sigh. "If I do get back, I don't know what to tell him."
John shrugs. "Life's about secrets. Surely you've worked out that much by now. A Time Agent's even more so."
John stares intently into his eyes. Ianto wonders what he's giving away.
"You don't tell him anything," says John, with heavy certainty, "It's as simple as that."
Ianto turns his head and stares out to sea again. There are little white tops to the waves. There's the pale bobbing shape of a gull on the water. Ianto doesn't know if he can lie to Jack any more. He promised himself that he wouldn't, after Lisa died.
"I miss him," says Ianto, instead, and the words feel like they're scraped past a raw throat, like they're forced out of him. He waits for John to be angry, or betrayed. He waits to regret the sentiment.
John slings an arm around his shoulder, and pulls him into his chest, all spice and sun-warmed wool. He kisses Ianto on the temple, and Ianto's breath catches, because the gesture is so familiar.
"I miss him too," says John, and they stand there, like that, watching the horizon, until the sun goes down.
Jack sits in his office. The desk lamp is on, casting a pool of light onto the cream blotter, bringing out the golden hues in the wood's grain. The rest of the office is dark in comparison, full of shadows.
Jack plays with a small bottle, turning it over and over in his hands. It's made of brown plastic with a white plastic lid; an ordinary cheap medicine bottle. There are the rattle of pills inside, not many, just three or four. Just outside the pool of light on the desk there is a letter, a medallion, and a wooden box.
Jack contemplates the bottle again, turns it on its head, tips it this way and that. He doesn't know what to do. Future-Ianto has gone, finally. Jack can still feel his last kiss, can still remember the conflict and desperation in the taste of it.
Jack has to wait for his Ianto to come back, to be brought back. Or he could go looking for him - he still has some tricks up his sleeve, some favours he could call in. But even then, even assuming Jack can find the needle in the haystack, every time he looks at Ianto, all he will see is death - Gray's corpse swimming in its own enzymes. Every time he looks at Ianto he will see Gray's murderer. He doesn't know how long their relationship will survive that.
Of course, it also means getting the missing two years of his memories back, which is no bad thing, except that they apparently contain all the recollections of his partnership with Ianto in the Time Agency. And that will be another strain. It will compound the problem, not relieve it, and none of it is fair to Ianto, Jack knows. He hasn't done anything wrong. Not yet. And even though eventually he will be the man who does these things - he isn't that man yet. Jack still can't quite believe that his Ianto, his loyal soldier, his partner, his friend, would do what Ianto in twenty years time will do, has done. But Jack won't be able to forget it.
Unless he does.
Jack fingers the bottle one last time, before unscrewing the lid, and tipping the contents out onto his palm. Four white little pills. He figures that will be enough retcon for the weeks that Future-Ianto was here. Gwen doesn't know what Ianto did, and Jack can write a letter to himself explaining his decision as one of grief, fuelled by information Jack is not yet meant to have. He can be very convincing, Jack's sure. He glances over at the box, and the medallion and the letter. The real events he can timelock, for fifteen years time. That would be the way to do it, that would work.
Jack tips the pills back into the bottle, and screws the lid back on. That's what he needs to do, and he will. He will.
Epilogue - Present
It's late, and there are footsteps on the stair that comes down from the Tourist Office into the Hub proper. The steps are hesitant and slow, unlike the normal clatter of feet that characterise members of Torchwood, always rushing to another emergency, to yet another call-out. There's no peace for wicked, as Gwen is sometimes wont to say.
There's another man who's leaning on the railing outside his office. He's in shirtsleeves, blue, and his braces are dangling, because he's as off-duty as he gets, which isn't that much. He waits, and it might be that he's waiting casually, that he is relaxed, except there is a line of tension in his shoulders. It's well disguised though, someone would have to know him extremely well to see it, and there's no-one else there. He straightens as the footsteps come nearer, and then stop just inside the doorway.
"Ianto," says Captain Jack Harkness, and smiles. He walks down the stairs from his office, as Ianto hesitates in the doorway.
"It's late," Ianto says, "I could go home? I just wanted to see... I mean... I..."
"It's ok," says Jack, and keeps walking, across the expanse of the Hub, past the workstations, past the water tower, and straight into Ianto's personal space.
Ianto is obviously used to this, but it might be that there is a hint of stiffness, a line or two of strain around his mouth. It doesn't stop him from bracing himself, from lifting his chin slightly, so that when Jack kisses him, he's ready. They fold together with the ease and comfort of long association. Jack lifts his hand and cradles the nape of Ianto's neck, Ianto's fingers trace up and down Jack's spine. They shift, the kiss passing backwards and forwards, Jack nipping lightly, Ianto sucking on Jack's lower lip, both tasting and plundering by turns, as though they can never quite get enough. Then, as the first frantic urgency is sated, they both pull back a little, sharing tiny butterfly pecks to finish, a mingling of breath as they rest in each other's arms.
"It's good to see you," says Jack, in a whisper, a sigh of air across Ianto's moistened lips. It makes him shiver.
"Yes. Well. I haven't been gone long... Have I?"
"It's always too long," says Jack, nuzzling into Ianto's cheek, licking a stripe along his jaw. He curls his hand further into Ianto's hair, the other expertly stroking the noticeable bulge in his trousers. Ianto chokes, might try to roll his eyes, if he weren't quite so preoccupied with letting them shut in pleasure.
"Never change, Jack," he breathes, and Jack laughs, a shade raucously.
They draw away from one another, not far, just enough. It's not difficult to see their affection for one another, it's raw, on both their faces, along with lust, along with a dozen other nameless emotions. They don't ask questions. They never have. It's one secret to their success. Jack holds out his hand.
"Come to bed."
And Ianto takes Jack's hand, fingers curling into the palm.