Title: Delayed Goodbyes
Summary: Jack briefly returns to Cardiff during his six month walkabout.
Spoilers: Everything Torchwood
Warnings: Not overly Gwen friendly. I'm trying to keep her in character for once.
AN: I swore I'd never acknowledge the existence of CoE but here I am.
It was a little out of the way place, where nobody would recognize him even if there was anyone left who'd care to. It had the standard furnishings, a mixture of booths and tables. The scuffed checkerboard floor tiles looked like they hadn't seen a mop in over a month and a broom in at least a week. All in all, it was little better than a hole in the wall.
He was tucked away in a corner booth, watching the lazy trickle of customers coming and going. People, who looked worn out by life, or maybe just by the events of the past few months, trudged in from the street to eat their meals in silence. There were no groups, only individuals. Maybe that was why they were so haggard. They had no one to lean on, to hold them up when they couldn't stand on their own anymore.
An hour ago he'd ordered some coffee to appease the waitress, and was surprised to find it drinkable considering the general hygiene the café boasted. It was almost enough to tempt him to try the food, but he wasn't feeling that adventurous. Nor was he particularly hungry. He hadn't been hungry, or at least inclined to eat, in months. Besides, that wasn't what he was here for.
He was here to meet someone.
She chose this place, sad and wretched as it was. Vaguely, he wondered how she knew it. Her flat was on the far side of the city and this certainly wasn't the type of place she would frequent with her husband or friends. Come to think about it, that probably was why she chose it.
She'd already kept him waiting for over an hour, but that wasn't a surprise. He'd asked for her discretion. There were people looking for him, in the government and UNIT, who would be watching her, guessing correctly that he would eventually contact her. If she dropped everything to rush off across town they'd know something was up. No, it would take some time for her to slip away unnoticed.
More people came and went, the trickle increasing enough to be considered a stream. One daring woman brought a child, which she kept clutched closely to her side, with her. Eventually the tide brought in the face he was searching for.
She'd put on a little weight in the three months since he'd seen her last, but she wore it well. Pregnancy agreed with her. He noted that she'd finally lost the look of a teenager which she'd maintained even into her late twenties. She finally looked like a woman rather than a girl.
She spotted him quickly and made her way over. Setting her purse on the table, she slid in across from him. "Hello, Jack."
"Gwen," Jack greeted in return. "You're looking good."
Gwen snorted. "I look horrible. I've been running ragged these past few months, helping with cleanup."
"With Torchwood?" Jack asked, surprised.
"Oh no, we're still shut down. Unless you want to turn yourself in, that is. I've been helping the Cardiff police, doing what I can. It doesn't pay as well as Torchwood did, but we get by."
And with a baby on the way, getting by wasn't enough. Gwen's paycheck was what had given them the extra money they were hoping to use to buy that house that she and Rhys were looking at when the 456 had decided to make their presence known. Without it they'd have to look for something smaller and less expensive. Rhys's work at Harwood's would keep them in a good neighborhood, but not the neighborhood they'd hoped for.
Jack felt unaccountably guilty. He wasn't turning himself in, and with a baby on the way Torchwood was the last place Gwen needed to be, but he felt guilty all the same.
"Anyway, how have you been?" Gwen asked, taking his hand.
Jack sighed. "Ianto's gone, Gwen. How am I supposed to be doing?"
That gentle smile she was wearing turned to a grimace. "He'd want you to take care of yourself."
"He'd want me to do a lot of things," Jack replied. Like not sacrifice my grandson to avenge his death.
"Are you taking care of yourself, Jack?" Gwen asked.
'No,' Jack thought. "It hardly matters. Whatever happens, I'll always snap back, good as new."
"Jack," Gwen scolded.
"I'll be alright, Gwen. I always am."
"I'm worried about you, Jack. You need someone to look after you."
'Who?' Jack wondered. Few people had ever been willing to take up that job in the past. Fewer still that he'd been willing to let in. Ianto was one of those few, along with The Doctor and Rose. Rose was gone and The Doctor wanted nothing to do with him, so who was left?
Gwen took advantage of his silence. "Let me help you," she said.
"You can't, Gwen," Jack shook his head.
"I could, if you let me," Gwen pushed.
"You've got Rhys and the baby to worry about Gwen. You don't need to be taking care of me too," said Jack.
"But I want too," Gwen insisted.
Something in her voice set off warning bells in Jack's mind. He looked at her hands, clinging tightly to his on the table. Her ring finger was bare except for the pale circle where her wedding band and engagement ring usually sat. Jack hadn't seen her without them since the wedding, even on missions when he'd advised her against wearing them, worrying that she'd lose them in the field.
"Gwen?" Jack asked.
Gwen took a deep breath. "I don't know how to say this, other than just to say it... I love you. I think I've loved you since we sat in that damn bar that night I found out about Torchwood."
"I love Rhys too. I do, just not like I love you."
She was looking at him, eyes pleading. What did she want him to say? With everything that had happened she couldn't expect him to just declare some feelings for her. After losing both Ianto and Steven in such a short time he was in no state to start anything that she had in mind.
"Rhys is dependable. He accepts me and takes care of me, but he can't give me everything I need. He knows that, and he knows the baby's his and doesn't care about… other things as long as I'm discreet," Gwen continued.
Suddenly Jack understood how Gwen knew this café. Far enough from her usual stomping grounds, none of her or Rhys's friends were likely to happen on Gwen having lunch with a paramour.
Jack felt a pang of sympathy for Rhys. He didn't deserve this. Being in love but constantly being told he wasn't enough, that his partner needed more. Rhys did love Gwen, to the point that he'd look the other way even when it would tear him apart to do so.
After a moment he realized Gwen was expecting an answer. "What do want me to say, Gwen?"
"Say yes," Gwen said.
Jack shook his head. "Ianto's barely in the ground, Gwen. My grandson's dead and my daughter wishes that I was. I can barely stand to look—" 'at you' "—myself in the eye. Your husband is waiting at home and the child that the two of you made together is right here. Now what are you really expecting of me?"
"Let me in, Jack," Gwen asked. "I can help you. We can help each other."
"No, we can't. I lost Ianto barely three months ago. I can't look at anyone without thinking of him. Every time I see someone with blue eyes, I see him staring back at me." Jack stopped to take a breath. Gwen, for once, didn't press the advantage. "Sometimes I wake up expecting him to be there beside me. I have that one instant, after I wake up, where I forget that he's gone. That's the happiest moment of my day, Gwen."
"Jack—" Gwen began.
"I'm not finished, Gwen," said Jack. "After it comes back to me, I feel so guilty. I promised Ianto, while he lay dying in my arms, that I would never forget him. It scares me Gwen, because if I can forget he's gone, for even an instant, maybe one day I'll start forgetting the little things like his favorite color, or what he was wearing the day we met, or what his favorite meal was. Then I'll start forgetting the more important things, like his voice—and I loved that voice—, or maybe even his face. Finally, some day in the distant future I won't even be able to remember his name. And then I'll have broken my promise. That promise was the only one I ever gave him. He never asked for anything more than that. He didn't demand declarations of love or fidelity. Hell, Ianto didn't even expect me to stick around if he survived to thirty. I never told him that I would still be there when he was old and gray if he'd have let me."
"I'm not asking you to forget him, Jack. Just to let me in." Gwen wasn't begging, but she was close.
"You want me to let you take his place," Jack said frankly.
"No, I'm not," Gwen protested.
"Yes you are. You might not realize it but you are. I let Ianto in so far, there isn't any room for someone else just yet. It'll be a long time before I let someone else in again. Decades, maybe even centuries."
"Jack, I could be good for you," Gwen was pleading now. Jack wasn't sure that she was really listening to what he was saying.
"Sure Gwen, you could be good for me. We could go to bed together, shag each other senseless, and it would be fantastic. Really it would be. But at the end of it, I'd still just be scratching an itch."
"Jack," said Gwen, voice breaking. He could see tears pooling in her eyes, but he wasn't finished. She wouldn't understand otherwise.
"I loved him, Gwen. I loved Ianto like I loved Rose Tyler, like I loved The Doctor, and like I loved Estelle. Those are the loves I'll carry with me to the end of time itself. Even if I forget his face, his name, his voice, I'll never forget how he made me feel. He gave me back a piece of myself that I thought was long gone. They all did." That she didn't went unsaid.
They sat there in silence for awhile, only broken by the occasional sniffle from Gwen. To avoid having to look at her, Jack cast his gaze around the café again. As consuming as his conversation with Gwen was, he would have expected the other diners to have noticed. But instead they just went about their business. Jack realized that even as high as emotions had run, neither he or Gwen had raised their voices once.
Moments passed, and Gwen finally pulled herself together. "Well, I should probably be going then," Gwen said, plastering on a smile. Whether she was trying to save face or make him feel better, Jack couldn't tell. "Rhys is waiting, and I've got a doctor's appointment this evening."
Saving face, he decided as she got up and all but fled the café. He pulled some money from his wallet and threw it down on the table. It would cover the cost of his coffee and provide the waitress with a handsome tip.
He left the café without a backward glance. He hadn't had a chance to ask Gwen about looking for his vortex manipulator, which had been one of the main reasons he'd called her. Jack decided he'd call Rhys about it after he was safely away from Cardiff. In the mean time, the real reason he'd come back was waiting.
Coming here was a risk. Jack was tempting fate already by returning to Cardiff. Walking straight into the cemetery in broad daylight when anyone could see him was asking for trouble. But he couldn't stay away.
After Ianto's death there'd been no time for him to say a proper goodbye. Jack didn't count the moments before Ianto died. He'd been desperately hoping he could stop it, that he could share just enough of his life energy to keep Ianto alive. He hadn't told Ianto that he loved, much less said goodbye.
So here he was, about to pour his heart out to a slab of rock. He would say all the things he should have told Ianto when he was still around hear it, and then, maybe, he could finally walk away for good. No more overpowering force, tugging on him every waking moment, pulling him back to Cardiff. In the past few months, no matter where he was or what he was doing, it seemed as though, in the back of his mind, he was always plotting the quickest route that would take him back to his city. Back to Ianto.
Even now he felt that tug, guiding him unerringly through the gravestones, leading him to Ianto's. How else could he find it so easily when he'd never set foot in this cemetery? After all, he left town before the funeral. Jack couldn't bear to face Ianto's family or see that damned box lowered into the ground. Hell, he wouldn't even be sure Ianto's body was really even here if it weren't for the ever present tug. Gwen had probably had to fight for the body's release. Jack wondered if she'd done that out guilt. Had she already been planning to take his place when she signed the papers? While she stood by Rhiannon Davies as they lowered the grieving woman's only brother into the ground?
Jack cut off that line of thinking when he came to a stop before Ianto's grave. He spent enough time thinking of others when he was with Ianto. The time he spent here today would be Ianto's alone.
"Hello Ianto," said Jack, feeling ridiculous as he knelt before the headstone. "I'm back, like I said I would be. I told you I'd always come back to you. And here I am, and I don't think I've rambled this much since my first night back when I asked you on that date. You're the only person I've ever known who could make me this nervous." Jack took a deep breath. "I have some things I need to say. Some things I should have told you before.
"I know you had your doubts sometimes, about how I felt about you, and I really didn't help matters. 21st century taboos always threw me off. It didn't help that most taboos didn't seem to bother you very much. I know, I know, I've lived in this era longer than you did, so by that logic I should have mastered them by now, but that's not the point. I spent so much time pining after the unreachable I didn't see you even when you were standing right in front of me. I never saw you at first unless you were in my face, yelling at the top of your lungs. That's why I kissed you during that whole mess with Lisa. I finally saw you, and I really liked what I saw." Jack paused for a minute, letting himself relive some of the better memories of his time with Ianto.
"I never slept with anyone else while we were together. Would that surprise you? I've done monogamy before. Not often but I've done it. With Estelle, with my wife, with Lucia, and—believe it or not—with John. I flirted like hell, but you never held that against me, even though it gave the others the wrong idea about our relationship. And boy did it ever give Gwen the wrong idea," Jack gave a humorless chuckle. "You thought I had a thing for her too, didn't you? You were pretty quick to cut in on that dance at Gwen's wedding. Probably for the best, one of us might have made a fool of themselves if you hadn't," Jack admitted with a grimace.
"Whatever you thought, I wasn't in love with her. It took me awhile but I finally see that she was an ideal, something for me to aspire to. She was never real to me, not like you were. And now that I've realized that, I'm finally free to commit my heart wholly where I please, and…it's too late," Jack paused. He could hear his own voice start to tremble.
"You're gone, and I'll never see you again. Even if we're wrong and there really is some sort of afterlife, I'll never get there. I'll never die, and I'll never forget you," Jack gave a sobbing laugh. "God, I wish you didn't make me promise that, Ianto. If you hadn't, I'd seriously consider just retconning a good chunk of the past few years from my mind. Forget you, and everything I lost by not taking that chance with you. I let you in, but we spent so much time apart. There were so many things we could have done together. We could have left this all behind and gone traveling. We should have. I thought about it, after Owen and Tosh died. Just taking you and vanishing into the night, the hell with everyone else. But Gwen needed me. She wasn't ready to step up and be the leader. She still isn't."
Jack stopped. The breeze picked up briefly, ruffling his hair and caressing his face. If he were more of a romantic he'd wonder if it was Ianto's spirit trying to comfort him. But he was a realist and knew Ianto would more likely to try and smack some sense into him in an attempt to get him to stop babbling.
"Oh god, I miss you," Jack choked out. "Your wit, how you'd take me down with one pithy remark. I miss how you'd sit with me even when I was in my worst moods. I miss how you always knew when I needed something. I miss your laugh, your smile. I miss you."
Jack realized he was absently tracing the letters of Ianto's name with his finger. "I love you. I'm sorry I didn't say it before. I thought if I said it I'd be tempting fate. Everyone I love dies, but I never said it and you died anyway. You said it but I didn't say it back.
"You knew, didn't you? I hope you knew. I almost told you the night before we sent Tommy back. I all but actually said the words. But you knew, you had to know. The way you looked at me that night, you had to know."
A snapping twig pulled Jack's attention away from his confessions. The groundskeeper was working nearby, removing dead flowers from a grave six rows away. His back was pointedly to Jack, use to grieving relatives Jack guessed.
Jack looked at his watch, pausing for a second to wipe away the tears he hadn't realized he was shedding. He'd been babbling on—trying to say a good bye—for thirty minutes. Mentally he smacked himself. Anyone who was after him might very well be watching Ianto's grave as well as Gwen's apartment. He was surprised UNIT hadn't descended on him already to haul him off to a secret prison to live out the rest of eternity.
"I've got to go now, Ianto. I don't want to make it too easy for them," Jack told the stone. "I'll come back to see you again as soon as I can."
He wished he'd brought flowers or something. Ianto was partial daffodils, if only out of national pride. He'd bring some next time maybe. Jack's eyes were drawn back to the groundskeeper, still clearing dead flowers from the graves. No, flowers died far too soon. Impulsively, Jack pulled a button from his coat, trying not to think about what Ianto would have to say about him purposely damaging his precious greatcoat.
"Look after this for me, okay?" Jack said, placing the button beside Ianto's gravestone. "I'll be back for it."
Standing, Jack absently brushed the dirt from his trousers. "I won't forget you. All the retcon in the world couldn't make me forget you."
Jack hoped that it was true.
Hours later he was already in continental Europe.
Tucked away in a shabby inn in some village he didn't even know the name of. He lay miserably on the sagging bed, staring sightlessly at the ceiling.
Even before he left the cemetery he knew that his visit had done him no good. The ever present tug had returned full force as he walked away from Ianto once again.
There was nothing Jack could do to lessen the tug, or the hurt. He could only wait and hope time took care of it. And maybe someday, time would deaden the need to have Ianto back in his arms, just to hold, as well.
AN: I'd hoped to have this up before my birthday was over but it looks like I just missed it. ConCrit happily accepted.