Author's Notes: I felt like I had to balance out my fic "Floating Through Time" aka my fix-it fic with a no-fix-it fic, thus this was born. It was another one that got away from me and turned out much longer than I had intended (nine pages!). I also originally thought I would use Ten, but then decided to use Eleven so he may seem a bit like Ten at moments, but since we don't know what Eleven is like yet, we'll just let it slide.
For those of you who want to see a sequel to "Floating Through Time" (see link above) I plan on it, but I need to write my fic for scifibigbang on LJ first. So any other fics (including my fobwatched!Nine fic) are on hold until the end of October.
A HUGE THANK YOU to my awesome beta, Sprite89! She came up with this title, which was much better than the one I had. You're brilliant!
Disclaimer: I don't own Torchwood, Doctor Who or any of its characters. If I did, there wouldn't be a need for fan fiction.
It was a perfect day in Cardiff. The spring sun shone bright, tourists and residents alike were out in full force, sporting tee-shirts and shorts, smiling and reveling in the rare warm weather. None of them knew the pure sadness consuming the man in the dark blue military coat, sitting on a bench alone in the shadow of the water tower. His misery was just a chapter in their school history books.
The man sighed heavily, trying to convince himself the tears in his eyes had all to do with the brightness of the afternoon and nothing to do with the heaviness of his heart. They had shared their first kiss after the year that never was there, on the railing next to the Bay. They sat here, on this bench as they discussed Flat Holm, Gwen's upcoming wedding…everything but their future.
Yet, it wasn't the same. This wasn't that bench, it was an exact copy but it wasn't the same thing. The Plass had been rebuilt not long after Captain Jack Harkness left Earth, never to return. The government wanted to "pave over the horrors inflicted by the terrorist organization Torchwood." Had they rebuilt the area with the specs from the struggling team, no doubt gathered by Gwen Cooper, they certainly wouldn't have told the public.
It had taken him a while to be able to come back to Earth, though not without trying. Ten years after he had left, he was just one galaxy to the left of the Milky Way. Fifty years later he was two planets away and had distracted himself by taking a refresher course in just exactly why enjoyed the bars on Jupiter so much. And now, a century later, he was finally back. It didn't escape him that he had already waited 100 years before for the man set to meet him now. A man he hadn't seen or heard from in ages.
Since his departure, Jack had kept a blind eye to the planet, only picking up information when it was carelessly tossed into a conversation even though he did his best to avoid the subject. So if a group of misguided people now walked beneath is feet, checking Rift activity and CCTV footage, he didn't really want to know. There was no Torchwood, not anymore. Hadn't been since he lost Tosh and Owen and…Ianto.
The name escaped his lips like an injured breath. He wiped away another tear. He had had to leave, all those years ago, there hadn't been any other option. Gwen hadn't been enough, Flat Holm and its lost souls hadn't been enough, the promise of a new Torchwood definitely wasn't enough. It all reminded him of Ianto, the whole damn planet had. Still did.
The feeble blinking of the dull gold band in the sunshine on his left hand temporarily pulled him from the edge of the precipice his thoughts were taking him. He stared at it, smiling as a few happy memories washed over him, soothing the hurt. But they faded quickly when he heard a passerby mentioned asking at the tourist center and he unconsciously began to twist it.
It wasn't a real wedding ring, Jack had been too stubborn, too unwilling to even think of the possibility of giving in to Ianto's 21st century idea of any sort of legal union, so Ianto hadn't been buried with a matching one on his finger.
Jack couldn't join the mourners as they surrounded the casket in the graveyard on a rainy day that seemed so far away and yet so very close. He had stood close enough to see but not close enough to hear their words, no umbrella to protect him from the steady downpour. He didn't deserve to hear the memories he never bothered to discover when Ianto was alive. He left that night.
Then, many galaxies and years away, an alien soothsayer read his mind like reading a palm and gave him the simple piece of jewelry, saying it was only right to wear it with all the love his still bore for the young archivist. Later he had "Ianto Jones" inscribed on the inside, but it had long since worn off. As though he would ever forget the name; he had promised, after all.
Jack never took it off and it gave him something else to focus on when the pain of living became unbearable. Another sigh escaped his lips as he turned his unseeing gaze from the jovial crowds down to the black metal box nestled between his feet on the cracked pavement beneath. He hadn't looked inside since he filled and closed the lid, but he knew every object by heart. He twisted the ring harder, impatient for the man he was waiting on to appear.
Suddenly a pair of slightly familiar black boots stepped into view. Jack blinked in confusion. His eyes trailed up plain navy pants and unbuttoned tweed jacket, a checkered shirt, red bowtie and stopped when they met sympathetic green eyes.
"Hello Jack," the newcomer said in an unfamiliar yet sad voice.
"Doctor." It was the only person he could have been. The newly regenerated Time Lord sat beside Jack on the bench and they watched the crowds in a silence filled with laughter and sunshine that did not belong to them.
"It's been 100 years," Jack finally said, not looking at the other man. The Doctor said nothing but turned to face his old friend. "100 years." The twisting of the ring sped up. "Some days he's not my first thought when I wake up. Sometimes I don't remember him unit I see this," his left hand briefly lifted to eye level, "on my hand and then I feel guilty. I feel like I betrayed him by forgetting him for those small moments. He died for me and I forget him." Jack's voice broke as he struggled with his tears. "And I promised I wouldn't. How could I betray him like that?"
The Doctor remained silent. He wouldn't offer false hope that things were get better, because more than likely they wouldn't. Nor could he reassure Jack it wasn't a betrayal. How else do the dead survive if not by memories?
"I know Jack." Was all he said. He placed a lean hand on the back of the immortal's neck and pulled him close for an awkward hug. Finally Jack let himself weep. The tears subsided after a long while, the strangled cries having caused a few inquiring glances their way but otherwise gone unnoticed.
Suddenly, Jack straightened, all evidence of tears gone. "Can't we go back?" It was a question he asked every time they met, which was more often than Jack assumed they would.
"You know we can't." It was the answer always given. Jack's face darkened like it did each and every time he heard the answer. "The events have set this world now, we change them, we save him and it could very well destroy everything." Jack had flown into a rage the first time the Doctor refused to save Ianto, forbidding the alien from ever saying that name again. They both knew he didn't have to abide by it, but since then the Time Lord never uttered it again. He knew Jack thought he wasn't worthy of letting it pass his lips.
"But my life has been destroyed!" Jack shouted, standing up with a violent jerk. "I remember everything: the way he fell, the way his skin cooled even as he asked me never to forget him, the sound of his last breath…he was so pale beneath that red sheet! He didn't belong there." The immortal angrily wiped away tears, pacing with his fury and tried to ignore the way his voice broke as he continued. "Can't you make me forget? Take those memories, like the time agency did, or poison me with Retcon, I don't care! Just take them away. They're all I see anymore when I think of him and I hate it." He still paced but the fight seemed to ebb from him. "I don't want to live forever without him. I can't."
"You have to." The calm in these words barely covered the unspoken threat of what would happen if Jack tried to go back, a threat the Doctor made the second time they met, only then with more shoving and shouting and less subtlety and empathy. The calm should have also taken the rest of Jack's anger, but instead it seemed to stoke the fire again. He resumed his pacing, clenching and unclenching his fists before standing directly in front of the Time Lord, who looked up at him as though they were having a simple conversation about the weather.
"I understand why people hate you," he growled, pointing an accusing figure in the other's impassive stare. "You come in with your apologies and your sympathy but you don't do anything to fix it unless it benefits you." The Doctor's face darkened and his eyes narrowed, but the former time agent didn't give him a chance to speak. "You ruined me. And Ianto-" His voice broke for a moment. "We were better off without you."
"I know." Whatever anger Jack's previous comment stirred, it settle again and was replaced, once more, with sympathy as he took in the sight of the man he broke.
"Why the hell are you here, then? I don't need you!" He roared, momentarily ignoring it was in fact him who called the Doctor here. His thoughts were muddled with old and bitter anger and clashing memories of living and dead Ianto. More people took notice of the two men on the bench now, but neither took notice of them.
They both knew Jack wasn't really angry at the Doctor, for he was the one being who actually knew what it meant to have your world torn apart by the loss of one person.
The Doctor motioned beside him. "Sit down, captain."
Jack looked like he would refuse, his eyes narrowing before reluctant acceptance washed over him and he sat down wearily. They watched the crowds again before Jack leaned down and picked up the box beneath the bench. He cradled it as if it were made of glass, rather than one of the most indestructible metals in the universe.
"I know you can't tell me if you've met me in the future, but if you ever do, could you give me this?" He held the box out reverently. "I have a feeling I might need it."
The Time Lord hesitated. "What's inside?" He asked, suspecting the answer yet looking at the box as though it contained a bomb.
"Mementos. Things to help me remember. They're all copies, except for one thing, but there are plenty more of that with me." He held the box out further, nearly shoving it into the other's chest and implored him with unshed tears. "Please, Doctor. If I can't have him back I don't want to lose my memories." The Doctor looked as though he would refuse. This broke so many laws. "I've already forgotten what he sounds like! I have to listen to a recording every day to make sure I remember. Please!" Jack's voice grew desperate and hysterical.
The Doctor finally took the box from Jack, looking down at it as though he had never seen the likes of it before. His hearts broke at the other man's pain and desperation. If only the TARDIS had locked onto the 456 signal sooner…but no. Looking back on unmovable events did no good. "I think I know exactly when to go with this," he said lightly as he looked back up.
Jack smiled weakly. "Thank you."
"Excuse me?" The two men looked up to see a young redheaded woman standing nervously in front of them. "Sorry Doctor, but the TARDIS is ready."
Jack stuck out his hand with a trademark grin. "Captain Jack Harkness, and who are you?" But the flirtatious note rang hollow and his full-of-teeth smile looked strained.
"Stop it," the Doctor warned, as he always did, ignoring the falseness of the exchange. Jack had always used his sexual persona as a way of hiding the truth and he knew he couldn't destroy that, Jack was already had so little left to cling to. He stood, holding the box with the tenderness he knew it deserved.
"Just saying hello," the immortal mumbled. His right hand lowered and fingers began twisting the wedding ring again, his eyes glued to the box. He knew he had everything and more in an equally indestructible bag he started carrying with him fifty years ago, now hidden beneath his cot on the cruiser orbiting above, yet it still felt like he was losing something of Ianto by giving that box away.
"Come with us," the Doctor offered as Jack walked with them to the blue police box not far away. It stood in front of a familiar-looking water tower; only this one had the names of those lost at Thames House etched in its surface. Jack never looked for Ianto's name, he was afraid what he would do if he couldn't find it.
Jack placed an affectionate hand on the wooden box. "No," he answered sadly, but firmly and ignoring the memories of a time he would have jumped at the offer. "The temptation to go back and save him is too strong. I don't want you to regret bringing me." At least, that's what he had told himself ever since they set up this meeting. Something about traveling these days didn't settle with him anymore. He just didn't know what change he needed.
"Until next time, then." The deceptively young-looking man said as the girl walked into the TARDIS with a small wave.
"Yeah," Jack said thickly. He walked away slowly once the door had shut. The familiar sound rang through the clear air and Jack forced himself to return to the bench, tears streaming down his face.
"Who was that?" Amy asked as they careened through the Vortex. The black box never left the Doctor's grip as he danced around the console with the grace of an experienced pilot. "That….is a very long story I will save for another time. But first!" He cried and flipped a switch with a flourish. "New Earth." The ship bumped to a stop. "15th new Earth, actually. I'll show you fields of apple grass after I make a small trip."
Only two days had passed don this Earth since the Doctor's previous regeneration, Rose and the dying Chip left to find the human Cassandra when she was more than just skin. The hospital had not yet been cleared for use, so all the patients now rested in various clinics across New Manhattan, paid for by the duke himself in honor of the mysterious young man who saved his life.
It took a bit of searching, but the pair finally found the right clinic. A woman (at least, Amy thought it was a woman, her entire body was covered) led them through white halls punctuated by black doors. They stopped at the very end of the hall. The nurse gestured to it with a white-gloved hand and walked away.
The Doctor grinned at Amy and he opened the door to reveal a…cat? It had a human body but the face of the cat! It sat beside a huge class case in which a head-Amy did a double-take- rested. The shock must have been clear on Amy's face because the Doctor nudged her slightly. "Stop staring," he admonished quietly.
"But..but, it's a cat!" Amy whispered. "A cat and a dim bodied head!"
"Yes and she can hear you," the cat-nurse said in a cool voice. She walked up to the visitors. "I am Novice Hame. How may I serve you?"
"Yes, sorry. I'm friend of the Face of Boe, and this is Amy. Do you mind if I have a chat alone with him?"
The nurse's eyes narrowed in suspicion. No visitors in all her time with the illustrious being and now two young men (with female companions, no less) in three days.
"Let him in, Novice Hame. He is a friend." The deep voice echoed in their minds. "Please give us a moment alone." The Face of Boe smiled kindly at his caretaker. "I think young Amy would like to know more about your species." The companion started at her name but followed the nurse out of the door with a reassuring smile from the Doctor.
"Do you know why I'm here?" The Time Lord asked once they were alone. He sat in Novice Hame's chair, the black box still clutched in his hands. The Face of Boe gazed at it with the same hunger Jack had once he had given it to the Doctor.
"Legend says I am omniscient," the immortal answered, sounding more like the captain than he had in their previous meetings. The captain he left consumed with grief and anger on a bench in Cardiff.
The Doctor quickly pushed those thoughts away. Thousands of years had passed since then. "Do you want me to open it?" he asked when the Face of Boe said no more.
"I lost the originals in crash long ago, I think a few more moments won't matter." The Doctor carefully placed the box on the nearby table, suddenly unsure what to do. The other times they met he treated the Face of Boe with respect suitable for the legend. But now he knew who he was and knew his pain. Which did he treat him as?
"I am both," the voice rumbled in his head. "I am the Face of Boe and Captain Jack Harkness. Along with many other names."
"Now I see what Rose meant when she said that was annoying," the young-looking man mumbled. The other just chuckled. They sat in silence again and the Doctor's guilt of leaving Jack so broken grew as he remembered how his life ended. He gave his life to save the Earth he enjoyed so much, yet was not enough to soothe the wounds left by Ianto Jones' death.
But, he reminded himself, that has yet to happen. Does Jack already know what he will say when he lay dying? Or perhaps the Doctor was supposed to tell him, but would this be their final meeting before he died?
The Doctor knew very well he could look into either his or Jack's timeline, but he didn't like seeing his own future, whether it through himself or another person. And if the Doctor was supposed to say something but said nothing, would that stop the Doctor from returning? He knew that it was that year that changed Jack, mostly for the better, but even so the Doctor had the opportunity to erase a year's worth of torture for the man.
But then Jack, Martha, her family; they would all lose who they became because of that year and the Doctor knew they were better people because of it. He couldn't take that away, even if all he wanted to do was spare them the pain.
"Jack," the Doctor said in the silence. "Novice Hame said you are to give your final message to one like yourself. Do you know who that is and what you are going to say?"
"I always knew you would be with me in the end, if I indeed have an end," he answered slowly. "But that legend was made years ago when I still didn't understand what I'd become. It's just a story."
The Doctor leapt off the stool and knelt close to the glass. "It happens, Jack. It's me, just the other one. The one who just left with Rose."
"Are you sure you are meant to say something, Doctor? Time-"
"-is in flux. If there's anyone who understands that, it's you. This is very important. The final time we meet you have to tell me 'You Are Not Alone.' Do you understand? You have to tell me that."
"Has this anything to do with the Master?"
Jack was quick, even in his old age, the Doctor would give him that, but he merely grinned. "Now that I can't tell you." He stood up and looked around momentarily before finding some paper and a pen on the table where he had set the box. He held it up with a raised eyebrow at his old friend. This sort of thing didn't exist anymore.
"What can I say? I like old things," the other answered simply. The Doctor shrugged and quickly scribbled down four words and the date he and Martha were trapped in the motorway. He thrust it into the box without looking at the contents.
"There," he said as he faced Jack again. "I think I've covered all my bases." The two smiled and fell into an almost comfortable silence.
"Will you do me a favor, old friend?" The sooth voice suddenly reverberated through the Doctor's mind.
"You are asking a lot of favors of me today," the Time Lord answered with a smile. "What is it?"
"If I remember correctly, you've just left Jack Harkness grieving on a bench in Cardiff, 2109." There was no reproach in his voice, but the Doctor squirmed guiltily all the same. "Go back and offer him a trip, just one."
"But you-he-you said-!"
"I lied." The Face of Boe smiled sadly. "I was tired of running away, but afraid if I tried to live, I would lose Ianto completely. I was already forgetting things I never meant to. But because you came back for me, I realized I needed to start living again."
The Doctor frowned. There were too many risks, mainly would he be able to leave Jack alone in the ship?
"Just take him to one moment in his time with Ianto, then your fears will be unfounded."
Still the Doctor hesitated. Though he loathed to think it, was the Face of Boe lying to him? Would this trip break Jack so completely the Doctor would have to leave him behind, again?
"It wouldn't be forever," the immortal broke into his thoughts. "At the very least you know you won't be with me on Platform One, or else you would have had more problems than just Cassandra."
"Fine," the Doctor conceded. "Just one moment with Ianto. One." He said sternly, as though it would have any impact on Jack when he went back to find him.
"Thank you, old friend." He smiled serenely, almost in relief, as though he thought the Doctor would deny him.
Just then Novice Hame returned with a wide-eyed Amy. The Doctor turned and placed a hand on the glass. "Until we meet again, Jack," he said softly. The other time-traveler merely smiled.
Jack felt weary after the Doctor's visit, he always had that effect, so he rested for some time. Novice Hame noticed the box but said nothing, knowing her master would reveal all in time. If she was even meant to know.
Some time later he awoke, his first words and thoughts on the box of memories. "My dear, would you sit by me and open the box?"
Novice Hame sat as properly as possible on the floor, clutching the box with the awe of a child on Christmas with a present they knew they would love but had no idea what was inside. At his nod she lifted the lid and pulled out the contents. A slip of paper with four words, a broken stopwatch, old-fashioned pictures: of children; of a group of people, two men and two women; a woman with dark skin and a bright smile sitting beside the young man from the other photo; of two men smiling and others of them kissing; some memory sticks; a holo player; a leather-bound book, similar to those she saw in history recordings of Old Earth; and nestled at the bottom, a skinny piece of red silk.
She placed all the items on the blanket she had set down to sit upon and stared at the collection in wonder and confusion. "My lord? What are these?"
"Memories," he answered slowly, his large eyes gazing at each object with such longing. His voice wept in her mind and she felt tears matting her fur. "They belonged to someone I loved, the only human I truly and completely loved." He looked down at the young nurse and smiled. "Let me tell you the story of Ianto Jones."
Please let me know what you think! Your reviews really help me out when I go to write my next fic. Plus, they're good for my ego, haha.