The first thing that Jack noticed was that something nudged him, hard, between the shoulder blades. He stumbled, staggering, and only Ianto's quick reflexes kept him from falling. The younger man gripped his elbow and Jack caught his breath, grinning at him. Ianto's slow smile in reply was enough to make Jack beam.
Something nudged him again.
"What the—" Jack said, reluctantly shaking Ianto off and turning.
Red's black and white face was staring at him in the bright, bright daylight, ears flat back, glaring down his nose. They were back in their campgrounds, Jack realized, where the weevils had opened the gates. It was mid-afternoon, or it looked it anyway, and it was bright enough that the leaves of the trees did not block out the light; instead they turned the forest green and gold, and yellow beams spilled past the lush leaves. The birds were singing wild, beautiful songs, and small animals rustled and hid at their sudden appearance. The forest was alive, so much so that it seemed to breathe, and it was beautiful. Jack reached out to pat Red's nose affectionately. The horse huffed at him, glaring, but Jack only smiled. He glanced at Ianto beside him, looking around in wonder, and he wanted to laugh in triumphant joy.
"It's beautiful," Ianto murmured, and Jack beamed at him.
"-Yes, I know," Daine was telling Cloud loudly, "it's not exactly something I can help!" Jack looked over and saw Cloud baring her teeth at the wildmage and he couldn't stop another beaming grin. The pony was clearly scolding her, just as Red was still glaring at him. Numair was standing sheepishly next to Daine, Spots watching him with accusing eyes, and Alanna and George were off to the side, speaking in low voices.
-Hush.— That was the badger, and everyone turned to face it, even Red, although the dappled gelding was still huffing indignantly at Jack's back. Ianto stood uneasily at his side and Jack wanted to crush him close, or at least take his hand. –You disobeyed Mithros' order, and the Great Gods are displeased with you,— it stated, looking Jack dead in the eye. Jack scowled. Way to ruin his good mood, he thought, starting to get tired of the scolding. But Red's warmth at his back seeped slowly into his bones and Ianto's presence at one side and his friends on the other brought back the warm glow of earlier. The badger's words were inconsequential; The day was bright and beautiful and Jack had just gotten his world back; there was nothing the animal could say that would diminish it. –However,- the badger continued, - I asked you a personal favor, Jack Harkness, and you succeeded in doing that. Therefore, I do believe that I owe you for it.—
"You—what?" Jack asked, utterly thrown. "When did that happen?"
-I told you that there were terrible things to come in this realm. Allow me a little exaggeration. However, you did as I asked: you kept my kit and her mate safe.— The big black and white animal nodded to Daine and Numair.
"You bargained with the badger to keep us safe?" Daine asked incredulously, staring at him.
"You know, I did tell you that you would want to watch bargains made with gods," George said wryly.
"I'll remember it for next time," Jack replied sarcastically. "But you're right," he added to the badger, still surprised. "I did."
-And so in return,- the badger huffed, -I give you a gift. Lord Rikash and Ianto Jones would have the mortal's natural lifespan, under the Graveyard Hag's decree, as she is most displeased with you. They are bonded together; I cannot change this. However I can reverse it: I can give Ianto Jones and Lord Rikash the Stormwing's lifespan, instead. Do you accept?—
Jack stared at the badger, elation growing in his chest. "That's—forever. Rikash is an Immortal."
"Unless he's killed," the Stormwing put in dryly. "But yes. I like the sound of this bargain, Harkness."
"It's up to you," Jack said, turning to Ianto with wide eyes. "I can only stay here for five hundred years—that's a drop in the bucket when you're immortal. You won't need to stay with me, of course—I wouldn't wish immortality on anyone—"
Ianto regarded Jack for a long moment. "It isn't true immortality," he said slowly. "I could still die."
"That's the only reason I'm even considering it," Jack told him softly, heart pounding. "It isn't all hearts and flowers, immortality. It's lonely. Everyone dies."
"I'll have you," Ianto replied softly. Jack swallowed.
"And when I'm gone?" he insisted, "I don't know if you'll be able to leave this planet. And I don't want you obligated to me, Ianto Jones. I told you once that I don't like the word 'couple.' I was a very bad husband, once upon a time." His expression belied his words, though; his eyes were fixed on Ianto, as though there were nothing else in the world and he leaned into him, just a little, just enough. Jack could hear nothing over his own heartbeat and see nothing but Ianto's eyes, brought back from the dead. Ianto, who had died in his arms and broken his heart, alive again.
Maybe alive forever. But he mustn't force it, Jack thought with painful hope. Immortality is cruel and miserable and lonely. Ianto shouldn't accept.
"I have this fool, don't I?" Ianto said, deadpan, jerking his thumb over his shoulder to indicate Rikash, who squawked indignantly. "I won't be alone, Jack. And I'll still be able to die."
"There are things I have to tell you," Jack whispered as grief suddenly hit him like a tidal wave. Ianto should know—before he committed himself to stay, he should know Jack's crimes. "About—about the Four-five-six. How I got rid of them—Ianto—"
"Later," Ianto murmured, stepping forward and touching Jack's arm. "You can tell me later. You will tell me later." He glanced down at the badger. "I accept this bargain," he added softly. "If—if Jack wants it."
Jack took a breath and nodded. He heaved a disbelieving, tearful laugh and cupped Ianto's cheeks in both his hands. Ianto gave a little, encouraging smile. Jack heaved another croaking laugh, leaned forward and kissed him fiercely, and then grasped him in a desperate hug.
"Welcome to Tortall, Ianto Jones," Jack whispered joyfully into his ear, as the badger worked his magic. "You're going to hate it here."
And he kissed him again as white light surrounded them, and the Tortallans cheered.
Somewhere, somewhen, the Bad Wolf collapsed into her Doctor's arms, a job well done.
Endnote: And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is that! I told you the ending was happier this time :D Whew! I can't believe it's over! This and Guardian are my longest and best stories to date, and I'm quite proud of them. Thank you all so much for coming along for the ride – I had a blast, and hope you did too! A last shout out to my faithful reviewers – you all totally rock, thank you so, so much! You made the grueling process of editing and fixing errors worthwhile.
This universe is so not over, don't you worry – Jack and Ianto have quite a few adventures to come in Tortall. Look forward to a series of one shots called Tales of Tortall in the crossover section, which will be posted erratically, I'm afraid, as it's not so much a cohesive story as many little stories. They're all about what happens next – Jack and Ianto are going to go back to Corus, spend a bit of time in Pirate's Swoop – Jack did say he was going to work on Alanna's gate, and there are still those weevils to take care of, never mind that Jack still has to come clean about Steven. This summer, if I have time, I'm going to try to write another story set during Page, Squire or Lady Knight, as both Jack and Ianto will have particular hatred for those killing machines – given that they bear similarities to Cybermen, and contain the souls of murdered children. It's just too perfect. So this isn't the last of me!
But anyway, please drop a review, because I love, love, love to hear from you all. Thank you so much for reading my story!