A/N: One-shot I put a lot of work into, as I wanted the answers for myself... Thanks to Galadriel1010 for helping me out with her betaing skills, should all be clear for you readers now. Oh, and be warned, though this fic starts in alignment with the beginning of the second series, there be COE spoilers ahead…
Disclaimer: I don't own this, nor the line from The Killers song 'My List' used as the final intersection header- and I never will.
…Second Time... (Fifth Death)…
Gasping for breath, as if his head has just broken the surface of the water, he shoots upwards. He blinks furiously against the sudden explosion of light against his protesting corneas, bright lines imprinting themselves on his eyelids when he hastily shuts them.
Where was he? How had he died?
Something is restraining him, strapping him down from over his left shoulder across to his right hip. He struggles and finds that the binding moves easily, fluidly, with his movements. Unusual. He opens his eyes. A seatbelt. The SUV.
It's dark and damp outside, a hazy drizzle of rain caressing the sleek aluminium of the vehicle. The lights in the cabin a dim yellow and Torchwood blue.
Weevil. That's what it had been, which was stupid, because he caught Weevils all the time, it shouldn't have been a problem, piece of the proverbial cake… Until a big one sneaks up from behind and he finds himself with a stubby Weevil claw decorating the inside of his throat, warm blood leaking out slowly to paint his skin in a thick crimson not offered by Dulux. He remembers hearing Ianto's warning shout, reacting just a bit too late… 'Jack!'
He looks over. Ianto is sitting in the driver's seat, hands tightly gripping the wheel, but they aren't moving. He is just staring blankly out at the dark road ahead, knuckles sheer white against the black leather of the steering wheel.
"Ianto?" The hesitation is clear in his voice, the masculine reverberation of his tone shaking dried flakes of scarlet from the newly healed skin embracing the muscles and tendons around his neck.
Ianto starts slightly. Turns to look at him.
'Are you okay?'
'What? Yes, I'm fine.' People don't usually ask that question when he resurrects. It's usually something more along the lines of 'How-?'
'I, uh, don't need to call Owen out or anything?'
'No need, nothing wrong here. He'd just be pissed that you interrupted him during pulling hours.'
Ianto looks away again, out at the empty road. Too late for the late night revellers and too early for the early morning risers. Dead time.
'I wasn't really sure what to do. Thought you'd appreciate being dry.'
'I do.' He sighs. ''Nother shirt ruined though.'
Red isn't really Jack's colour, particularly not the stiff maroon of dried-in blood.
'Not what most people would be worried about having just died,' Ianto murmurs, still looking away. Avoiding looking at him.
'Are you okay?' he asks.
'Hmm?' Ianto blinks away from gazing down the street. 'Yeah. Took care of the Weevil, it's in the boot. Just… wasn't sure you'd… wake up.'
Of course, it had come as a bit of a shock. Routine Weevil hunt goes belly up, he goes man down- as does the Weevil with a brain lead-loaded with a round of automatic fire, courtesy of one Ianto Jones- and although Ianto is expecting the life to return to his dead boss, has been told that is what to expect, he has only actually witnessed it once before, and was rather preoccupied by the self-imposed destruction of their base to dwell on it for too long.
'I'm fine.' He repeats. Reassures.
Ianto stares him in the eyes. Hard. He's thinking, always thinking. But what?
And then he settles back in his seat, starts the engine. The vehicle thrums beneath them, ready to go. He presses down gently on the accelerator, finds the bite with the clutch as he lifts it from the floor. Clicks the handbrake and settles it off.
'Just takes some getting used to,' he says.
…Seventh Time… (Tenth Death)…
There is still a dull ache across his chest and back, glittering grazes still knitting back together when the life flashes back through his cells this time. Someone is kneeling beside him, not close enough to touch, but close enough that his still-warming flesh can feel the heat rolling off them, hear their laboured breathing. If he tries hard enough he thinks he can feel their hot breath flitting across his cheek.
Blowfish on a motorbike. Drugged up and completely carefree, not bothered about itself or others, racing around Cardiff on a high-powered (and he wasn't just talking about the cocaine in the alien's bloodstream here) Harley-Davidson, terrifying the general public and joyously knocking down public property. It is going to be hell to Retcon.
And where in the hell had it acquired a Harley-Davidson around here?
His eyes finally focus on the swimming face beside him as he pushes himself up on his palms, loose tarmac gritting the underside of his hands.
'Gwen and Owen have given chase,' Ianto says as he stands up, brushing down his neatly pressed trousers. Black and white pinstripes with a midnight blue shirt today. No waistcoat. He scrutinises him and offers him a hand.
He takes the proffered limb and hauls himself to his feet, stretches out the kinks in his back, hears the vertebrae click in a way that is somewhat satisfying. All good.
'I've never been hit by a motorbike before,' he comments as he readjusts his braces, checks his shirt. Speckled with pinpricks of blood, tiny footprints of his now-healed injuries.
'I wasn't sure if it had killed you, or if you were just knocked unconscious.'
'It was going at eighty miles an hour.'
'And you were out instantly.'
'It smashed my ribs. Punctured my heart. No time for theatrics with something like that.'
'First time in your life…' Ianto mutters.
He grins and claps the other man on the shoulder. They are standing on a hill here, in one of the wealthier suburban areas. An expensive silver estate purrs out of a driveway and reverses uphill, before it rolls sleekly past the sleeping houses and out to the main road.
He looks out and across, over the sloping roofs and bristling tree tops, across to the mountains that surround his city. The clouds are scuttling high in the sky, rose-tinted against a deep pink sky. Red sky in the morning, sailors' warning.
He glances across at Ianto, who stands wordlessly watching the city come to life. He feels the other man's eyes on him, and looks back.
'What?' Ianto asks, uncomfortable under the other's searching gaze.
'Why're you still here?' he asks. 'You should've gone to help Gwen and Owen capture the blowfish. You know I would've been fine.'
'They're big enough to take care of it themselves,' he says, slightly haughty. Looks away. A flock of blackbirds burst out of the trees in a snatch of beautifully raucous birdsong before they are gone again.
'Besides,' Ianto continues, seems to risk a sidelong glance, 'someone has to make sure you get up again.'
…Twelfth… (Thirteenth Death)…
'I'll go get the med kit,' he hears the voice before his eyes are even fully open. It's Owen, in doctor mode. 'Don't want him catching hypothermia and dying on us again.'
Owen's voice seems to fade in and out as he speaks, like someone tuning an old-fashioned radio, then he fully fades away with the pounding of his sprinting footsteps.
His brain registers a bone-deep blue cold, his skin so icy it feels like he is lying under a layer of snow. Ianto is beside him, shucking off his woollen winter coat, carbon dioxide puffs slide out from between his lips, dancing up into the night sky.
He tries to get up.
'Owen has expressly told me to make sure you stay right where you are, Jack,' Ianto says, hands already on his shoulders as he gently pushes him back down. It is only now that he realises he is shivering, his bones and joints have a jittering life of their own, and he is completely drenched through. Freezing water grips his hair to his scalp.
Drowning this time. It's been a while since he had a good drowning, but that's what happens when you get caught up in a fight with an alien sea creature that has slipped through the Rift into the murky waters of Cardiff Bay.
'D-did you get it-t?' His teeth clatter together uncontrollably. Ianto throws his coat over him, spreads the material to engulf as much of him as possible. The lived-in warmth and dark scent of coffee are completely welcome.
'You did,' Ianto replies as he kneels by his side. Tucks the coat under him. 'It dissolved as soon as you punctured it, like you said. Lashed out and knocked you unconscious though, you were facedown for a while before you floated over where we could reach you and pull you out.'
He tries to nod as the flashbacks of the incident flicker through his mind- diving into the depths- tangled in tentacles- dragged into the foaming maw of a whirlpool- but finds that his brain would rather his head is kept still, thank you very much.
Ianto tears off one of his gloves with his teeth, tests the other's forehead with the back of his hand.
'Owen has gone to get the med kit.'
He knows, he heard.
Ianto withdraws his hand, shoves it back into the glove. 'Your skin is freezing, but I can feel you burning up with a fever… He should be back soon, hopefully before hypothermia sets in.'
He has died of hypothermia before, and it isn't his idea of fun.
Ianto looks around, probably for Owen. No sign.
He finds that he can attempt to control the shaking, it gives him something to focus on other than the burning sensation of being frozen as his blood tries to pump tumultuous blood to his tingling extremities.
He shifts and shuffles under Ianto's coat, loosens it. He wants to remove it, feels warm enough, but knows that he shouldn't. Would only make things worse. Ianto raises an eyebrow, removes his charcoal blazer and blankets that over the coat.
'Y-you'll get c-c-cold,' there's a grin in there somewhere.
Ianto snorts, smiles wryly down at him. 'I can take a bit of cold. I did grow up in Wales after all.'
He tries to chuckle, but it's not happening, his jawbone (and isn't it always about that jawline?) is forcing his teeth to wage a kind of war that involves involuntary enamel clashes.
Ianto settles back, perches on his heels. Sighs. Rubs gloved hands up and down his arms. Deep pink shirtsleeves, hugging all the right places.
'Guess I should be sharing my body heat with you, huh?' Small smirk. Ianto slides down beside him, throws an arm across his chest, just about stretching across the mass of coats.
He wants to raise a suggestive eyebrow but they're twitching of their own accord already. He can feel them.
Silence between them. Pale pink lips parting, moist breath on his goose-pimpled neck. Ianto shuffles forward, his nose pressing in between the crook of his jaw. He knew Ianto would get cold and is just about to say so when Ianto speaks again. Quiet and serious, deep and distant.
'Does it hurt?'
A tickling sensation as cool lips ghost across his skin and he knows that Ianto isn't referring to the frostbite that is currently gnawing his limbs.
'Not the… the dying,' he clarifies, pushes himself up an awkward-angle elbow to see the other man's face properly, their legs still flush together through the coats, 'that has to hurt. Ninety-nine percent of the time at least. I mean the coming back; the resurrecting… Does it hurt?'
He doesn't reply, is too busy staring into the depths of Ianto's uncomfortable but determined gaze. It has taken him a lot of time to work up the courage to ask this. Eventually Ianto breaks the connection, tilts his head to look at the clear sky, a harsh glacial blue. He thinks his own pallor must be reflecting that grey dusk colour.
'Doesn't matter,' Ianto mutters, thinks he isn't going to get an answer. He knows this and makes a move to brush his ice-deadened hand across Ianto's knee. He doesn't feel the numb contact if he makes any, but knows he has done something to catch his attention when Ianto looks back down at him.
'Yes,' he manages to say clearly, no stuttering this time. 'It hurts. Every time.'
Ianto's face is blank. Impassive.
'Then why do you always come back?'
'No choice. S-somet-times I don't wan-t-t to.'
Honesty is good; when he chooses to use it.
'Because of the pain of coming back?' a whisper in the static dark.
'L-living can h-hurt.'
It hurts right now, in the places that aren't numb.
'But you always come back.'
He nudges his hand against Ianto's knee again, stiff fingers on smooth cotton.
'N-ninety-n-n-nine percent of the ti-ime, I want t-to.'
He is sure that the smile he tries to wrap around the sentence is more of a hollow grimace, but it's there in his eyes, and that is what matters. Ianto understands this, and his fingers slide down off his thigh, rest beside the other's.
'A-and I woul-d-d-n't want t-t-to leave ju-ust yet.'
The irrepressible dull chime of his teeth clattering has become the rhythmic backbone of their exchange, like a clock counting down the seconds hung out between them.
It seems Ianto is about to clasp their hands together when Owen pants back into sight.
Ianto is quick to his feet; quick to put the distance back between them.
'Nice look, Harkness,' Owen comments. 'But I think you're supposed to put the coat on top.'
…Fifteenth Time… (Seventeenth Death)…
In the darkness again. Alone, except for the shadows of the people he knows should be there too, the ones he has loved and left behind, trapped in their own personal blackness. Forever. Tosh, Owen, Suzie, Estelle, Alex… So many names. Disconnected. Dead faces in the dark.
And then there is light around him again, life within him, and the light is muggy and cloying, old amber streetlights filtering through cobwebs and stain-smeared windows, turning the world a twilight sepia, a tea-stained snapshot.
A yelp carries across the stuffy room, followed by a mangled cry of words that his brain struggles to shape into something meaningful. The familiar resonance of the voice itches at the front of his mind. Catches onto a name floating in the ether. Gwen.
Gwen. Ianto. Aliens.
They had shot him, though not with a bullet, with a-
His body suddenly jerks out of his control as jagged bursts of electricity pulse out of silver-tongued dart embedded viciously in his bicep. The electricity flexes its lethal voltages across his body, he jolts and writhes in agony, eyeballs rolling, mouth frothing, collapses hard onto the dust outline he has already made on the floor.
Whipcrack gunshot echoes. Three of them. Somebody shouts his name, slapping footsteps, getting closer-
Greedily engulfed by the darkness once again.
…Sixteenth Time… (Eighteenth Death)…
Thrown out of the darkness again, flying over the shards of broken glass, determined to be more alert.
What was going on?
'Ianto, the bullets aren't working!' Gwen- desperate and frustrated.
'Jack said to aim for the temple, straight through the side of the head!' A clicking sound as Ianto reloads his gun. He can see them, back to back, circling round in a practised manoeuvre, waiting for their target to make itself known.
Rogue Frakyn, he remembers telling them. One of the only species in the universe immune to the adverse affects of electricity on their bodily functions. So they use it as a weapon, have created electric darts that will repeatedly shock whatever lucky organism finds itself with one buried deep in their skin, and keep shocking them until they die or it is removed.
He looks down at the dart in his arm and knows from the quivering mercury-silver tail that it is about to start sparking volts through his body once again. He goes to rip it out, but is distracted by a ferocious growl and looks up as the Frakyn flings itself at his two remaining team members.
Ianto practically rugby tackles Gwen to the ground, a move she is probably immensely grateful for, but will inevitably moan about later, given the fact that Ianto is a lot bigger than her and the floor of the old warehouse isn't immensely forgiving on bodies crashing down onto it.
He starts to run towards them, realises his own shotgun is no longer in his hand. They roll to their feet, facing the stocky, moss green creature, with its bleary, beady eyes and tangle of seaweed-like smoky hair.
'Jack!' Gwen shouts.
And then the electricity courses through his bones once again. Something is ringing in his ears. His own screams, tearing at his vocal chords.
Swallowed into the suffocating black.
…Seventeenth Time… (Nineteenth Death)…
Heaves upwards, immediately going for the dart in his arm. He wants it out.
'Woah, woah, woah,' someone puts two palms flat against his broad shoulders, stills him. He blinks up at Gwen's concern, sees Ianto walking fast towards where he sits and she kneels. 'We already took the dart out.'
She holds up one of her hands and he sees that it is protected by a blue rubber glove, sagging round her fingers, baggy at the wrists.
He still feels slightly frazzled, and vainly reaches a hand out to flatten the hair he knows must be massively beyond the control of any hair products. Gwen looks like she is trying not to laugh.
'It is a bit… big,' she actually bites back the laugh here. Ianto is now standing over her shoulder, lips smiling, eyes carefully guarded.
He scowls at her laughter and pushes himself to his feet, newly revived muscles and tendons feeling the strain.
'Where is it?' he asks. Dried spit seems to coat his chin and it cracks as he speaks. He hastily wipes it away with the back of his hand.
'The Frakyn body is in the boot of the SUV, as is the dart,' Ianto answers. 'I always keep the Tupperware ready.'
Gwen lifts herself off her knees to her feet with a tired groan.
'Couple of your police buddies outside, Gwen,' Ianto informs her, 'snooping around, as usual.'
She groans again. 'I'll go talk to them.'
He nods at her and she hurries off, stowing her gun in the back waistband of her jeans. Not the safest place for it, but as long as she has remembered to put the safety on…
He looks away from her retreating figure, to Ianto, who is staring intently at him.
He is just about to ask if there is anything on his face, when he finds himself being drawn into Ianto's strong embrace. He stands stiff and awkward for a moment at the completely unexpected show of affection.
'You've got to stop fucking doing that, Jack,' Ianto's lips trace the shell of his ear as his words spiral in and around. He finds himself relaxing in Ianto's arms, wraps his own around his tense back. It's nice to know that someone cares when he dies, even though he will keep coming back.
He's not sure that anybody ever has before.
'Just because you can get back up doesn't mean you should go out of your way to die all the time.'
'I think you'll find that others go out of their way to kill me, rather than the other way around.'
Ianto pulls back, relaxes his grip. He does the same.
'I know, just… It's usually avoidable. You don't have to stand right in the way of people with bigger guns. '
'And you always said size doesn't matter.'
'What?' he continues to clown around the sincerity, trying to keep afloat when he feels the conversation is taking him out of his comfort zone. 'It was your tape measure, I only-,'
'Don't you understand?' Ianto is dangerously close to raising his voice. One hand would be hiding his eyes wearily if he wasn't using them to hold the other man. 'Every time you die, it's- I don't… I think we'd all prefer it if you stayed alive for prolonged periods of time. Y'know, not dying.'
The warning is noted. The grin falls away.
'I didn't realise it bothered you so much.'
'It… It does. I know it's stupid and kind of irrational but-,'
He is silence by the other man's lips covering his own, warm breath and two pulses speeding up, pounding with life. He pulls back and gently squeezes Ianto's shoulders, enjoys the way his ears are now pink-tinged.
'I'll try,' he says.
Ianto sighs. 'I guess that'll just have to do.'
…Seventeenth Time…(Twentieth Death)…
'Ianto, can you make a note on the databases that touching the Plutonian Warp Frog is fatal? Mark it down as highly important. Turns out their skin secretes a highly pro-death poison.'
'You touched it?'
'Picked it up in my bare hands, didn't know it was going to have that affect.'
'And yet here I am.'
He walks past Ianto, can see he is updating the files on the database as requested. Gwen carries the bright cyan alien frog in a small glass case, following behind him.
'You ought to be more careful, sir,' Ianto says, eyeing the frog. The alien creature looks back balefully, scratches its head with a hind leg. Do earth frogs do that?
'Take him down to the autopsy bay, Gwen, start running the usual scans. And remember to wear rubber gloves!' he instructs, walks through to his office. Ianto has tidied it up since he and Gwen left to retrieve the frog.
Footsteps behind him. He turns, finds himself cocooned in a pair of familiar arms.
It is only for a few seconds, and then Ianto steps back again.
'I know that it bothers you too, Jack.'
Doesn't stop to wait for a reply, just turns tail and heads back for his work station, though he does call back over his shoulder;
'And the less you do it, the less the rest of us have to deal with you and your resurrection headaches.'
'I'm not that bad!'
'We'll agree to disagree, sir.'
Gwen's laughter echoes up from where she is setting up the equipment.
… The Last Time… (Too Many Deaths)…
He is aware of the sweaty palm curved around his cheek, his chin cupped in someone's elbow, before he is even fully conscious. He finds himself stretching back with his own arm, tenses and grips it as his eyes flash open. He knows who he expects it to be, and he's sorry.
Clem stares at him in shock; disbelief, Gwen tries to explain that this is what he does as if it is all entirely normal, trying to calm the already unstable man down. At least she has managed to get the gun off him.
He finds himself tightening his grip on Ianto, breathes deep and heavy as Clem clatters away, unable to take it all in. His heart is bleak and this new Hub seems empty and stale, without the blinking lights and memories of the old one. This is just a warehouse, it means nothing to anyone. The other Hub had been his home.
They had thought that he didn't care, but he did. Of course he did, he was human after all, despite what others may think.
He can't see Ianto's face. He remembers the horror etched in the young man's features as he recounted his tale, the shadows winding their way around his chin, his nose, his forehead.
The refusal to comprehend on Gwen's face- no, the sheer incapability to comprehend such a decision.
'As a gift.'
Nothing was ever that simple. He had thought that he had done something good, protecting the human race from a disease that could have wiped the entire species out of existence. Looking at the bigger picture- and he always did, always had to, because others were far too absorbed in the details of the delicate brushstrokes that made up their own little worlds, their own canvas seconds- he stood by his decision. It wrenched at his gut and sickened him to do so, to think that he could do see that bigger picture so easily, but he stood by it. Every time.
That doesn't stop him being the monster in Clem's nightmares.
He hears Ianto breathing, feels him rocking his body slowly, lying back against one knee, head cushioned in on Ianto's thigh, up against the crisp white shirt so fresh out of the packet. His own new shirt is already stained with blood, a cindered ring of a bullet hole marring the cotton. Must be a new record, he'd barely worn it a day.
He still can't see Ianto's face, and Ianto remains silent. Stoic. Steadfast.
And he's sorry.
He's just not sure who for.
… Gives Me Strength And Gives Me Patience… (But I'll Never Let You Know)…
The pain stabs at him all over as he awakens with the smallest of gasps, but even that tiny sound echoes in this still room of cooling corpses. He doesn't want to be able to feel alive, and he doesn't want to dwell on the darkness he has just left behind either.
No one else can leave that darkness behind.
He stares up at the ceiling.
Ianto can't leave it behind the way he can.
He sits, sighs. Gwen sniffs, reaches out with her hand to… Oh.
He can't see him, isn't sure he wants too.
But he knows he owes Ianto that much.
He wraps an arm around Gwen, aware of her tears without even seeing them. Stares down at the impossibly pale face.
'You'll forget me.'
No, he won't, it's all so hauntingly familiar and a part of him expects Ianto to stand up and carry on, in the way that nobody can ever fully let go, that some part of everybody is always waiting for the dead to walk back through their door.
Nothing changes. Not really. Everybody dies in the end.
'There's nothing we can do.'
About what? Ianto? The children? The 456?
He doesn't feel like there's anything he can do, anything he wants to do. He just wants to stop.
Ianto should be there, berating him about another stupid death, or drawing him into one of his quiet embraces, an awkward clapping-backs hug with Gwen present. He would give anything to feel those arms around him, one more time. He almost did.
'I take it all back, but not him!'
The tears red-ringing his eyes slip away from him now, tracking his cheeks
and nose, moistening his lips.
Removes his arm from Gwen, takes it to gently scoop Ianto's silent form up into them, as Ianto had done so many times for him. Though Ianto was only waiting.
For him, this is goodbye.
The action is far too familiar, he has done it so many times. Too many friends, too many lovers.
We love and die in these arms, Jack, that's what they'd tell him.
He presses his lips to Ianto's deathly cold forehead, cradles his body, then lies him back down. His suit has become crumpled with his actions- Gwen hastens to straighten it out again. His tie can't be crooked, even in death.
Gwen wipes at her eyes with the back of her sleeves, but the tears keep coming, keep stinging as they glide noiselessly away. She stands.
He chokes out a sob, bottom lip quivering uncontrollably as he heaves out a shuddering breath. Gwen stands by, as hopeless as he feels, empty and broken, like he has been hollowed out. Something important is gone.
Ianto can't say or do anything now. The dead do not comfort the living.
He rests his forehead on Ianto's, his tears falling to land on the stark white skin, so it appears that Ianto, too, is crying, is mourning with them. His well-worn hands support Ianto's head, touching that spot at the base of his neck where-
He kisses Ianto, this one, final time, chaste, on his marble-like lips.
Foreheads leant together in an intimacy they had rarely shared in life because he was just too damn scared, he says,
'Don't. I don't want you to go just yet.'