Author's Notes: Here is the obligatory fix-it fic for the third season of Torchwood! I started this just after seeing "Children of Earth" when it aired in England (I live in America, so you do the math) and still don't have the guts to watch it again. So everything relative is by memory and I apologize if I messed anything up. COMPLETE AND UTTER SPOILERS FOR CHILDREN OF EARTH. Don't read if you don't want to be spoiled!
I had no betas, so please excuse and an all mistakes!
Disclaimer: I don't own Torchwood, Jack or Ianto. If I owned any of them, you would never see me again.
He saw Ianto his first step into port. He was years and universes away from Earth, but there he was. Ianto's name tumbled and cracked from his lips and he stumbled toward the figure across the way only to stop in front of a speeder that barely missed him. His smile wasn't right and his eyes were too green. It wasn't Ianto.
The hope that died in this chest ripped a little more at the hole where his heart used to be. A hole that had sat gaping since he sat weeping among the red linens clutching the card that once read 14 but had been scribbled out and replaced with "Ianto."
He ran away from the port, ignoring the shouts of the crewmembers from the ship. He wasn't going to be back anyway, he never stayed too long, never learned their names. He found a hill just outside the city and collapsed at the top, tears streaming unbidden down his face. He brought his knees up to his chin, buried his head in his arms and sobbed, the air tearing from his lungs as his promise to never forget haunted him with memories. Ianto smiling. Ianto crying. Ianto naked, asleep in his arms. Ianto dying in them.
A distinctive sound that had sent Jack running a lifetime ago wasn't registered beyond his grief. A warm hand rested on Jack's shoulder and a whispered "Jack" was lost to the wind.
He reached for the Webley he knew wasn't there. He had sold his gun to an antiques collector one of his last days on Earth. He had been a violent man his whole life, even during Torchwood when he would reach for his gun before anything else. But it was violence that brought him here. They had gone in guns blazing with threats of war and it had gotten Ianto killed.
The hand remained. "Jack."
Of course he had come here, now, when it was too late to do anything. When…how long had passed since the 456? Since he left Earth? Days? Years? He had traveled so far so quickly that he lost track of time. It felt like an instant and an eternity. The pain was too raw yet so far away. He had been floating through space and time until up became down and left was right because his anchor had been ripped away. He was confused, lost; he didn't know who he was anymore and that was fine because he never forgot Ianto Jones. Because he promised and he never broke a promise. Not to Ianto.
"Go away," he muttered into his arms, his voice still thick with tears. "You're too late" The hand remained. "Go. Away." But the Doctor never did what he was told and he sat next to the broken immortal.
"Jack I am-"
"Don't you dare," Jack ground out, whipping his head up to look at the Doctor. "Don't you dare come here after it's been done and apologize. You told the Sycorax Earth was defended. Torchwood One had recordings and we took them after Canary Warf. 'It is defended,' you said. And when you were needed, when hundreds of lives, when Ianto-" Tears closed Jack's throat and he couldn't go on. His mouth moved to form words but now sound came out. He swallowed thickly, the tears subsiding but the anger intensifying. "You were nowhere to be found. So don't you dare come to me and say you're sorry."
The Doctor said nothing, but gave Jack that intent look that made him wonder if he could read minds without physically touching. "I'm not here to apologize, Jack," he said after Jack had looked away to stare at the skyline glittering in the setting sun. "I'm here to make it right."
"That's impossible." The former Time Agent answered immediately. "It's a set event in time, it can't be changed."
"That's been said about you too." The Doctor said all too nonchalantly. "You are a fixed point in time. Therefore every timeline you touch or touches you is vital to you and them, so if something else were to change, something to come along and effect those timelines in such dramatic way…it would ruin everything. Think of a rock in a stream. Every timeline, every current that touches the rock is dramatically yet subtly changed. And just as the rock is slowly eroded over time by the water, so are you changed by those timelines. It's barely noticeable at the moment but over the years the changes are glaringly obvious.
"The 456 were a stick thrown into the water by a child and jammed between the riverbed and the rock. They changed things that should never been touched, forced currents to go in directions they shouldn't have traveled. And Ianto Jones was the most important timeline of all. Both you and he should have been different men because of your relationship. You should never have been so broken that you lost your humanity."
Jack didn't flinch at this accusation. He focused solely on what this meant for the man he lost. "So Ianto shouldn't have died."
"No. Ianto Jones wasn't meant to die."
Anger bubbled in Jack's veins at this calm yet pointless declaration and it spewed out in a hot rush. "What good is it now? There's nothing we can do, the timeline is set! We can't go back or the Reapers will devour everything."
The Doctor leaned in closer, both excited and dangerously angry at the same time. "After what happened in 1965, I went to see the 456. I hadn't been able to reach them while they were on Earth in time to stop them from taking those twelve children. They swore under the conditions made by the Shadow Proclamation to stay away from Earth, to find other ways of their…" his lip curled, "fix. The chemicals they desire in human children are replicated a thousand times over in millions of other forms and could be taken with no trouble at all. But like a heroin addict searching for the pure product they broke their promise and went back to Earth. To break such a condition rules out the normal restrictions set on time lines. The only way to reset the timelines, including yours and Ianto's it is to go and stop them, permanently. But because their laws state visitors may only come to their planet once, we can't go to their planet. We have to go to when the 456 arrived in 2009."
Jack wanted to make a remark about the idiocy of letting diplomacy win out by obeying the laws of those who were refused to obey anyone else's, but the Doctor's presence had had the same calming effect it always did and Jack couldn't find his anger anymore. Now it was replaced with utter sadness.
"I need him back, Doctor." Was all he said. All he could say before the tears stole his breath again.
"I know." The Time Lord stood and held out one lean hand. Jack stared at it and for a moment both men thought Jack might still refuse. But then let the only man who truly understood how he felt pull him off the ground and ran after him to the TARDIS.
The Doctor ran all the way to the console, stripping his overcoat as he came up to it, throwing the brown garment on the jump seat. For a moment Jack felt just like he had the first time he came aboard, Glenn Miller blaring from invisible speakers and the rush of living thrumming through his veins along with the hum of the ship. But the feeling went just as quickly as it came.
After all the running and hating sleep because it brought back memories of Ianto, of them, Jack was tired. Perhaps it was the rumble of the columns beneath his palms, lulling him into safety. Maybe it was the steady feeling that whatever happened next, the end was coming.
"How long, Doctor?" Jack's voice barely rose above the pulsing of the center column. But the Time Lord had been watching the companion he no longer knew since the wooden doors shut.
"Might be a while, Captain." The falsely cheerful voice grated on both of them, but neither said anything to change it. "Your room is still how you left it, why don't you rest while I fly this thing? Probably take a few tries to get the exact moment. She's finicky enough without-"
"Without the freak on board." The Master's word for him came out of nowhere, surprising them both. Jack tried his best not to think about that year, but it seemed to be in his thoughts lately. Thinking about events that never happened about people who never died. Only he did. Twice.
He never told Ianto about it, even though The Doctor said he could tell only one person. Even though he knew Ianto would listen and comfort Jack knowing why he was waking up screaming, rather than thinking he was comforting him from a bad dream.
I haven't even scratched the surface, have I?
Cool hands brought Jack's head up and forced his thoughts to the present. "You are no freak, Jack. But you do know what's going to happen when we fix this?" Jack nodded, remembering the conversation they had had once during that year, when the Master was gone and they managed to get the Doctor to him with little trouble. Jack had asked if there was anyway to fix this. He was half-alive and not thinking clearly, he just wanted it all to end. To forget every cut, every bruise, every death. The Doctor ignored the question and rather quite casually declared that if timelines were to change, because Jack was so different, the current self would disappear and the Jack in the timeline would remain.
He knew he didn't deserve yet another chance. He had lost Ianto twice already, once during the Year That Never Was when he didn't fully understand what Ianto meant to him but the Master did and tortured then killed the young man right in front of him, while the others were killed in an earlier attack on the Hub. The rage that exploded was so great they had to kill Jack to stop him, and that barely worked. Then the 456 took Ianto when he knew he couldn't survive without him, yet still refused to let Ianto all the way in, refused to tell him about his past unless it was necessary.
But now he could try again. Now he knew what he had to do. He had to let go of his hesitation and his desire to protect Ianto from the man Jack used to be. Jack also knew that when the timeline changed he would have no memory of the pain and the suffering and therefore no reason to change. He would blunder through with Ianto, thinking he was doing right by keeping his lover in the dark only to come to the realization when it was too late. When Ianto was gone again.
He couldn't let that happen.
"Get some rest, Jack."
Jack's feet remembered the path through endless and changing hallways without the use of his mind, so that wandered as it always did, to Ianto.
"You're still weak Jack, You need to rest." Ianto's slender hands grasped Jack's arm and steered him toward the stairs that led from the boardroom to his office.
"I've been out for three days, Ianto. I don't want to rest anymore."
"Three days, two hours and thirty minutes." Ianto said quietly. And from the look on his face, involuntarily.
Jack pulled Ianto to him and for the second time that day, kissed the young man who meant more than either realized.
"Promise you won't leave," Ianto whispered desperately once they parted. He clung to Jack's shirt fiercely.
"You know I can't. When the Doctor comes-"
"I know." It was more like a weary sigh than actual words. They kissed again, softly and almost chastely. "Why don't I take the others and get us coffee? You can have some quiet."
"The world really has ended if Ianto Jones is voluntarily buying coffee."
"Very nearly, sir." Ianto answered with a sad smile. He picked up Jack's hand and kissed the knuckles softly. "But then a very dashing captain saved the day. Again." He squeezed Jack's hand before dropping it and leaving the office. "I'm going on a coffee run," he announced to the others as he descended the stairs. "Who wants to go with me?"
Tosh and Owen agreed, with a little heckling from Owen, grabbed their coats and headed toward the cog door. Gwen hesitated, looking up at the captain. "I'd like to stay," she said. Ianto glanced up at Jack, who was watching him. Ianto shrugged. He knew about Gwen's feelings for Jack, and his affection for her. He also knew he was the only one in Jack's bed. He had no competition other than the Doctor.
The room was dark and full of mementos belonging to a man that didn't exist anymore. The Jack that lived here seemed a stranger now. Without shedding any clothes he stumbled through he dark room, onto the bed that strangely did not smell of must and disuse or of Ianto, causing the emptiness in chest to ache. He slept lightly, if at all, waking from phantom smiles and fading laughs echoing into the darkness of his mind and the room. He felt more tired than when he entered the ship.
"Ianto please, I'm tired." He mumbled into his pillow, smiling. He could never truly deny his lover.
"Captain." That wasn't Ianto's voice. Jack opened his eyes, the last of the happy memories scattering back to the hidden corners uncovered only by sleep. He turned over to see the Doctor standing over him, hands in his pockets. Jack wanted to scream. Why did the Doctor look at him with such sadness, with such pity? He didn't want pity, he wanted his life back. He wanted Ianto back.
"Now, you'll have to stay here while I talk with the 456. I don't know where you are in 2009 and we can't have your meeting yourself." He grinned as pulled on the long brown coat. "That would probably cause the world to implode." He bounded out of the ship, leaving Jack once again in the silence. He stood in the middle of the room, unsure what to do. Suddenly he had an idea. He needed his past self to know exactly what happened so he stopped making the same mistake each chance Time gave him with Ianto
He raced back to his room and rummaged through the strange things that once belonged to him and found a diary he had kept in the last time he was in 1941. He had written about his cons and conquests, but most of the pages were blank so he quickly began recording everything he longed to forget and everything he knew he couldn't. Ianto's death, Steven's death, the emptiness and hollowness that followed. And most importantly, he told himself he could let himself just be with Ianto. He had to, or this would happen again and he knew he would get no more chances.
Jack placed the diary on the console, somewhere he knew the Doctor would find it, before realizing something very important. He was still here. The Doctor hadn't destroyed the 456 yet. He pulled the video screen around and saw the Doctor standing in the middle of the large room, not moving.
He could hear the low rumble of the voice of the alien that had ruined his life and knew he couldn't stay inside any longer. His feet felt like lead and he broke out in a cold sweat as he grew closer to the doors. Another rumble and Jack's resolve was set. He had to face the thing that ruined his life one last time. He opened the doors slowly, as not to startle either alien in the room and shut it behind him loosely so it wouldn't latch. He didn't know where his key was anymore. Just as silently, he walked toward the Doctor, a black shadow against the murky light of the 456's temporary home.
He recalled it all perfectly, as though he were living it: the blaring of the alarms, the fear cold in his veins as he struggled to breathe, the calm voice that told him Ianto was going to die without having to say the terrible words. And it was his fault.
I take it all back! But not him!
Ianto's skin, cooling in his arms even as he spoke, the tears that splashed on his coat. The ragged edge of the cut scarring his cheek.
Please don't leave me. Please.
Jack staggered away from the hazy blue light of the glass cage, crashing to the floor because he couldn't reach a chair or the TARDIS quickly enough, the memories of his room assaulting him until he choked on them. Or was he choking on tears? He couldn't tell and all he could hear was his own voice, moaning Ianto's name.
"Jack, stay with me. That hasn't happened yet." The Doctor's voice was calm and sounded so far away. He hadn't moved, didn't even look at Jack.
"It has for me! You can change the timeline and I will disappear but it will still have happened."
The Doctor finally turned and looked at him with sad and determined eyes. "Exactly. You have to remember, and I know you've written it all down, because young Ianto Jones refuses to realize how important he is to you. He never truly understood and now he will and you can stop wasting time."
Time. They did waste so much of it. On Lisa, on the Doctor, on Gwen, on "what are we" and "do you love me" and "don't shut me out, Jack." He may have all the time in the universe but he knew Ianto didn't and he wouldn't waste any more of those precious golden seconds. Because he was more than a blip in time: he was everything.
"Now, go back inside."
Jack gave one last glance to the alien shrouded in poisonous gas before re-entering the calming silence of the TARDIS. He paced the main console, waiting, unsure what to do. Suddenly it hit him. Very soon he was no longer going to exist. Would he be aware or just fade away? Would the darkness be waiting for him? This was the closest he was ever going to get to actually dying. To being dead, longer than any other death, even longer than after Abaddon. Just as suddenly as the panic had set in, a peace settled over him.
He could stop running now.
What do you think? My biggest worry, as always, is characterization. Were Jack and the Doctor in character? And everyone in the flashbacks? This is why I need a beta, people.
Please let me know what you think!