Title: Fragments of Memory

Summary: Captain Jack Harkness (pre-Daleks) is on Earth. His post-Dalek self has an introspective moment and realizes a few truths. Fixed August 27th.

Notes: I was reading The Deviant Strain again today, and this quote just seemed particularly poignant. There are minimal spoilers for the book. I've never written anything for Torchwood, so I hope I got characterizations correct. As it should be, this is Jack/Ianto. This officially marks my first slash fiction as well, mild though it may be. This is set after Journey's End. I do so appreciate comments.

-Torchwood-

'I used to think I was scared by death. Or by facing death – by combat and action and the uncertainty of the battlefield. Not any more. No, now what scares me is the possibility that I might live to grow old. I might wake up one day tired and wasted and unable even to open a beer. I might need crutches and a hearing aid and help getting dressed. When and if I get to that point, it'll be my memories that'll keep me going. The fact that I've lived through so much, survived so much, to get there. Do you want to get old?' he asked, prodding Sergeyev in the chest. 'Do you want to end up with only your memories to make up for the loss of your faculties?' – The Deviant Strain by Justin Richards

xXxXx

They were out there, right now. Not close by any means, but close enough that it hurt to think about. It shouldn't, really. He'd just seen the Doctor after all, and Rose, and he would never admit it out loud, but he could almost kiss Davros for stealing the Earth. Once everything had been sorted, of course, he couldn't have been happier.

And then they were gone. Sure, he'd wound up with two new employees, people who had traveled with the Doctor and understood what it was like, but the Doctor himself was gone, likely off on another adventure, and Rose, sweet Rose…he would never see her again. Back in her parallel universe with a Doctor all her own. He couldn't help but be a little jealous.

But they weren't gone, not really. The past versions of the three of them were still out there, traveling through time and space, and on this particular day, his 'Before' version (as he'd begun calling his not-yet-immortal self) was on Earth, in Russia to be more precise. As per usual, young Jack had been mucking about on the TARDIS, pushing buttons that he knew shouldn't be pushed, but pushing them anyway because the result was always worth it.

The adventure had been everything Jack loved about traveling with the Doctor – a little bit frightening, but a whole lot of fun. He had felt at the time that he could spend the rest of his life with those two, running about the universe, saving the world, and maybe – someday – becoming more than just friends.

It hadn't worked, of course. It never did. Traveling with the Doctor was the riskiest thing a body could do in this universe, and more often than not, the reward was a double-edged sword. Jack's reward had been immortality, but the price was an existence forever caught between life and death, never quite able to fully experience either of them. The Doctor had left him, unable to deal with even the idea of what Jack had become. A fixed point. Wrong.

xXxXx

An indeterminate period of time passes. Jack Before comes to Cardiff, leaves, dies, lives, becomes Jack After.

Ianto paused at the door, Jack's mug of extra-strength sludge that he seemed to think qualified as coffee balanced precariously on the tray in his hands. Jack was wearing what Ianto liked to call his 'Doctor-face', a slight smile lifting the corners of his mouth and a turbulent storm reflecting the sorrow in his eyes. It was an expression Ianto had alternately come to love and hate. Love, because Jack was a different person when he talked about the Doctor – more vibrant, more animated, more alive. Hate, because Ianto knew he would never be the one to make Jack smile like that.

He had resigned himself to the fact that he would never be Jack's first choice. Hell, he probably wasn't even second or third, but he had hoped that he might bring Jack a small measure of happiness. If Jack felt even a fraction of what Ianto felt when they kissed, it would be enough.

It was no use dwelling on the subject, though. Jack would live on, coming and going as he pleased, and Ianto wouldn't, couldn't, stop him from leaving. It wasn't like there would be anything to stay for – Ianto wasn't foolish enough to think he might be reason enough. Besides, he worked for Torchwood – even if Ianto did entertain the idea of growing old with Jack, Jack would never grow old, and Ianto would likely die long before he reached that point.

It was a doomed relationship from the start, but Ianto didn't mind. He would take whatever Jack gave him, and offer him everything in return. Jack had given him a new reason to live, and even if – when – Jack did eventually leave again, Ianto would treasure the memories they had made together.

For now, though, Jack was still here, and Ianto intended to make their time together as meaningful as possible. He drifted into the office, walking softly so he didn't spill the coffee or disturb Jack. He set the mug next to Jack's elbow, sighing when the pungent aroma did nothing to rouse his lover. He was turning to leave when he felt a hand grab his own, and he suddenly found himself staring into clear blue eyes.

xXxXx

Jack didn't remember much from Before – he dared anyone to remember much after spending two thousand years buried under Cardiff – but a fragment of a conversation stuck out to him. It had taken place not long after he, the Doctor and Rose had landed on the Novrosk Peninsula, Earth, early 21st century. He hadn't thought about that for awhile.

They had just found a girl, barely nineteen years old, her body still young and shapely, but with the face of a woman seventy years older. The girl's appearance had struck a chord with the Doctor, understandable considering Rose's own age, but it had also, perhaps surprisingly so, struck a chord with Jack. 'Now what scares me is the possibility that I might live to grow old. I might wake up one day tired and wasted and unable even to open a beer. I might need crutches and a hearing aid and help getting dressed. When and if I get to that point, it'll be my memories that'll keep me going. The fact that I've lived through so much, survived so much, to get there.'

Jack didn't fear growing old anymore. His fear now was forgetting. His experience with Gray had brought him closer to that point than any other in his extended life. If he hadn't had such a singular goal, if he hadn't been so intent on getting back to Ianto and the others, he wasn't sure he would have remembered why he had been buried in the first place. He had forgotten other things, though – his mother's name, Ianto's favorite color, the way Tosh smiled, the taste of Ianto's coffee, the smell of Gwen's perfume, how Ianto's hand fit so perfectly into his, why Owen had joined Torchwood, why Ianto loved him…

Ianto. Of all the things in Jack's life at the moment, the person he least wanted to forget was the young Welshman. He had given Jack so much, all that he had, and yet he asked so little in return. Jack loved him as he had loved few others, and even when the others faded from his memory, he knew an image of Ianto would still be there, dressed in a perfectly fitted suit, smiling brilliantly back at Jack. Eventually, though, that image would grow dim, and Jack would forget. He would even forget that he had forgotten, and the pain of that was enough to steal his breath away.

Jack was pulled from his thoughts as he sensed a presence beside him, and he knew who it was even before he smelled the rich aroma from the mug that had suddenly appeared on his desk. Ianto was facing away from him, about to leave, but Jack grabbed his hand as he stood, turning the Welshman until they were face-to-face. He gazed deeply into the younger man's eyes, finding strength in the complete love and trust that was reflected there.

'When and if I get to that point, it'll be my memories that'll keep me going…'

His own voice echoed from a time long past, but the words suddenly meant so much more than they had back then. He surged forward suddenly, pulling Ianto into a searing kiss that went on for an age, pouring as much of himself into it as he could, until they finally pulled apart, gasping and more than a little dazed. Jack cupped Ianto's face in his hands and kissed him again, softly this time, the barest touch of lips before pressing his forehead against Ianto's.

"What do you say we take the day off and spend it together?" He smiled as Ianto blinked and then relaxed into him, his own grin stealing across his face.

Jack would forget this someday, would forget that the beautiful man in his arms had existed, would even forget how much Ianto had done to make eternity just a little more bearable. But he was determined that that day would not come for a very long time.