Title: Pass In Review
Warnings: HUGE spoilers for CoE. Huge.
Disclaimer: I didn't make the 'verse. I'm just playing in it for a while.
Notes: This planet is too small. The whole world is like a graveyard. A few thoughts on Jack's departure...
After it was done, Jack wandered the world.
He needed to see what was left, to assure himself that it had all been for… something.
He couldn't bring himself to say that it had been worth it, but he saw, at least, that it hadn't been in vain. Every child at play, every family still whole was proof of that.
And when he'd seen enough to be satisfied, he continued to wander because there was no one to call him home. He thought that New York would be fitting- a city that had so much life and so much grief- but it was too harsh, and too bright, and the throngs of men in crisp business suits only sharpened the ache that was ever-present beneath his ribcage.
So he went north, to Boston, and felt the history of hard decisions embedded in the cobblestones. A street vendor asked him what he thought of it, the way a place so young managed to feel so old, and the sudden memory of blue eyes that had the same quality nearly knocked the breath from him.
"You're supposed to say it's beautiful!" the vendor shouted at his back.
He traveled far from the cities, then, to the mountain towns with British names, christened by settlers who couldn't quite break the ties to their pasts. It was there on the edge of the Great North Woods that he stopped. He took lodgings at an inn, and, though his credentials afforded him anything, earned his keep by painting shutters, pulling weeds, and whatever else the proprietors wanted.
It was good to work with his hands again.
Then, one morning, the sound of trumpets drifted up to his window, and he, who had been through two world wars, knew what it meant. But he turned away from the sound, refusing to watch as a flag-draped casket was carried through town because it had nothing to do with him.
The war went on. Of course, it did.
Just because he'd saved the world didn't mean it had been saved from itself.
But long after the trumpets had faded, something drew him out. The ceremony of it all was done- and he'd seen too much of funerals anyway- but in the cemetery he found a soldier kneeling before the new grave to say a last goodbye. He felt his insides twist when the soldier leaned forward and pressed a kiss to the gravestone… because it was too little, too fleeting, and so wrong that it had to be done in the secrecy of the evening.
He brought a hand to his lips, remembering the brevity of his own last kiss.
There was a rustle of footsteps, and the soldier bolted up, but the young woman who came forward held out a calming hand. They embraced carefully, as if anything more would shatter them both, and he wondered who she was to step into such a private moment like that.
She spoke softly, so that he had to strain to hear her, "You're leaving in the morning."
"It's only ten more months," the soldier answered, "and then I'll come back… look in on you, if you like."
She shook her head. "You won't." She wiped her eyes, then dropped her hand to the gravestone. "If he hadn't- I mean- we would have been family... But my brother is gone, the life you had here is gone… All you can do is say goodbye to what's left and go."
He didn't know how she was able to say those words so calmly, but he knew better than to think that someone so young couldn't also be strong.
"Will you be all right?" The soldier asked.
"Yes." She nodded. "Ten months, a life… It's all just time and space, right? And never as much as what we got to have together."
He almost gave himself away, then, choking back an unexpected sob as it rose in his throat. He wondered if he believed what the young woman said, if he could ever believe it when time and space were so much for him.
But he'd said it himself, once, hadn't he- You never will be just a blip in time, Ianto Jones. Not for me.
And he'd promised to remember.
He drew himself up and offered the fallen soldier a salute- because he'd been a soldier, once, too, and had never really stopped. He hoped it would count for everyone he'd never honored with such a gesture... Everyone who'd died in the service... His service.
Then he went away- away from the cemetery, the town, and the unfinished gardening at the inn. He went back to Cardiff and waited, on an unremarkable hilltop, on a startlingly clear night, to say his goodbyes to what was left.
Gwen laughed when she saw him. "Couldn't have just chosen a pub, could you?"
He gave a little laugh back, with no mirth to it, and listened to Rhys grumble about the cold. He was just able to soften his tone enough to be joking in reply, "Oh, I missed that, the Welsh complaining." He let his eyes travel to Gwen again. "You look good."
"I look huge," she corrected.
And Rhys said what he couldn't- "She's bloody gorgeous."
He laughed again, and it wasn't so painful this time. Because Gwen was gorgeous, and full of life- literally, now- and the world needed that. The world always needed that.
She walked toward him as his smile faded, and he let her near. "You okay?" She asked carefully.
"Yeah," he said. Because he was, in a way... He knew what he had to do now.
She reached out, adjusted his collar slightly. "Did it work?"
"Traveled all sorts of places," He said, watching the relief light up her eyes. He drew a breath and tried to explain why it still didn't matter- at least, not for him- "This planet is too small. The whole world is like a graveyard."
And he thought about the bright cities, the town in the mountains, the woman who'd lost her brother, the soldier who'd lost his lover. Everywhere, it was the same story- life, love, loss. And it never stopped, never got easier…
"Come back with us," Gwen said.
"Haven't traveled far enough yet. Got a lot of dirt to shake off my shoes." He looked up at the night sky, and thought about time and space. "And right now there's a cold fusion cruiser surfing the ion reefs, just at the edge of the solar system… just waiting to open its transport dock." He let his gaze drop back to her, a little bit pleadingly. "I just need to send a signal."
Gwen understood what he wanted. She reached into her pocket, pulled out his vortex manipulator, and handed it over. "They found it in the wreckage. Indestructible, like its owner." She tried to quirk a smile. "I, uh, put on a new strap for you."
"Cost me fifty quid, that!" Rhys added.
"Bill me," he shot automatically, a little bit of the old humor left. It was easier, now that he was certain what he was going to do.
"Are you ever coming back, Jack?" Gwen asked.
His mouth worked for a second- he thought she'd understood that he couldn't- and he said, "What for?"
"For me," she said swiftly, tears welling up in her eyes. "It wasn't your fault."
"I think it was," he said, even as she shook her head to deny it. "Stephen, and Ianto, and Owen, and Tosh, and Suzie, and… all of them. Because of me." He felt her grab his arm, but it didn't matter; she wouldn't be able to hold him.
"But you, you saved us," she tried to argue. "Didn't you?"
"I began to like it, and look what I became." He drew a shuddering breath. "Still. I have lived so many lives. It's time to find another one." He didn't tell her that she wasn't enough- a remnant the life he'd had. He knew that it would only hurt her.
She still tried to stop him. She never did know when to give in. "They died," she said shakily, "and I am sorry, Jack, but you cannot just run away. You cannot run away."
"Oh, yes, I can," he said, feeling the pull on him already. All he had to do now was go.
"Just watch me."
A/N: I've read a lot of things that people have written in reaction to Children of Earth, and, well, I wrote this… I know a lot of people are angry that the writers killed off a beloved character- and, particularly, one who was half of a gay couple. And I can see why they feel that way, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense… because, here in the real world, there's a war on, and in America- which is where I write from- more and more people are talking about the fact that there are gay men and women fighting, and dying, and that their sacrifices (and those of their partners on the homefront) should be acknowledged. And that's the point I see in Ianto's death- that gay, straight, whatever, doesn't matter; heroism can come from anyone, sacrifice can come from anyone. Like the story says: life, love, and loss are everywhere. It's high time we all realized it.
So this one's for D, D, J, M, G, and R... and for the ones we've lost… and for everyone else who's gone through it, too. Because it is only time and space between us, and it won't ever be as much as what we got to have together.