They're crushed together in the tiny camp bed; another long day had left Ianto barely able to navigate the ladder down into the bunker, and he'd been sleepy, trusting and heavy in Jack's hands as Jack undressed him enough to sleep comfortably and then maneuvered him around in the bed. His head has shifted from Jack's shoulder (something he's glad of, as it wouldn't be the first time he's woken in the morning unable to move his shoulder) and it rests on his chest instead, hand curled close to his lips with one of Jack's wrapped around it. Ianto is still, warm and solid, pressed and tangled against him as though he's trying to melt into Jack so that they're one man, just double the normal size. Jack drifts the fingertips of his free hand along the back of Ianto's neck, teasing through his soft hair and smiling at the murmur that the slight disturbance elicits. He strains to reach Ianto's forehead to kiss it, but his neck protests and Ianto's weight restricts him so he gives up and concentrates on the feelings as he slips into slumber.
It's cold when he wakes – alone. Of course alone, what did he expect? Ianto's tie is draped over the small table next to the bed and he sits up to run it through his fingers, then sets it back on the table, promising himself that he'll put it in storage with the rest of Ianto's things. Tomorrow, probably. Definitely.
He climbs up to his bare office and the cold of the ladder bites into his palms. The rebuilt Hub is bare and sterile and empty, and the noise of the sparse computer system powering up at Jack's touch is just an echo of what once was, a ghost to taunt him. There's a message from Gwen on the system telling him that she's on her way in and she'll bring breakfast. He sends her an acknowledgement and goes to put the kettle on for a pot of tea – neither of them drinks coffee any more.
The smell of coffee drifts down from the kitchen area and Jack leans back against the railing, listening to the familiar sounds of the Hub and Ianto's quiet muttering as they get ready for the day.
Jack shakes himself and stumbles as he realises that he was trying to lean on a railing that wasn't there any more and sets the kettle up on the desk next to Gwen's – it's still unclaimed and will remain so until the Powers That Be have decided if they're going to reform Torchwood and let them start recruiting staff or just merge it with UNIT and put UNIT staff in there. He doesn't want UNIT staff in his home, he wants... he can't have what he wants though. The light goes on with the flick of the switch and he leans back on the desk to wait for the click. He, Gwen and Rhiannon had been compensated by the government for the destruction of Torchwood – Gwen and Rhiannon had moved house, both got bigger places for their families, and Jack had donated all of his to the heart charity that Ianto had supported. It wasn't enough to make up for failing him, but it was a start.
Gwen grumbles her way through the little wooden door that replaced the giant cog and waves a bag at him. She sinks into her seat and stretches her legs out, rubbing her hand over her swollen stomach as she proffers the bag. "I'm sorry, Jack, you're going to have to come and get it."
He forces a smile and comes to get the bag, realising how hungry he is when he smells the bacon inside. "You brought bacon sarnies?"
"Yeah, Greggs, give one here," he passes one to her and drops her orange and camomile teabag into one of the spotty mugs next to his own Earl Grey-bagged mug. The kettle clicks and he fills the mugs, then leaves them to steep and cool while they eat. It's sad and quiet in the Hub like this, bare walls and bare desks cold and stark around them all the more painful as a reminder of what should be there.
The walkway up above them that leads to the greenhouse could do with repainting. The Hub is a bit like the Forth Railway Bridge; once you've got everything painted, you discover that you need to repaint the first bit. And then something blows up and you need to start over again. He chuckles as the song starts going round in his mind and knows that it'll be stuck there for days.
"What's funny?" Gwen asks. He looks around and her and back up and the walkway has gone – of course it's gone, someone blew it up. She's watching him, wanting to know the joke.
"Got a song stuck on the brain," he tells her with a shrug. "Just realised what it is."
"Oh," she tests her mug with the back of her fingers and fishes the teabag out. "I had Single Ladies on the brain for a week. I didn't know I'd ever actually heard it."
"Probably in a shop somewhere," he suggests. "I once spent a month whistling 'I've Got A Combine Harvester' and driving everyone mad."
"When was this?" she's smiling – he's not surprised, he doesn't really talk much these days.
"It had just come out, so nineteen seventy... six?" she doesn't reply to that one, just hides her face in her mug and blows on it to cool it further. He knows why she does that too – Gwen was born two years after he drove the team mad by singing it constantly, and that thought makes him feel so, so old. "Right," he takes his mug over to his desk and sits down, flicking through the papers. "I don't think we'll have to go much further into the Archives, the damage is already minimal. I'll go down and bring some stuff up for you."
She smiles and he takes himself and his mug down to Ianto's domain. The damage down here had been restricted by the heavy defences put in place during the Cold War, like the bunker that he now lived in. The depth had been considered enough protection from the German bombs of the second world war but nuclear was another matter. The Torchwood team would have been able to hide in the Bunker and then escape from there through the narrow tunnel to the Archives, where there were enough supplies for them to survive for two months. The tunnels that led to London and Glasgow were their route to rebuilding the country and taking control of the British Empire again. Still, there had been damage done, mostly by the shock waves damaging delicate artefacts that then caused further damage. The really dangerous stuff was a lot further down, in a strongroom where they could blow each other up and not damage anything else (they hadn't, he'd checked), but an exploding toaster had caused a small fire in one of the filing rooms.
"You scare me when you come down here," Ianto told him with a smile, heading towards the last box of files in the corner. "I always think that you're after sex."
"Not sex," Jack corrected him. "Just you."
Ianto's smile was brilliant. "I've just got this box to do, Mrs Kilderry's notes on aliens. I think there's some stuff that could be useful to know, but then again she could just have been a mad old lady seeing things."
Jack blinked and tried to swallow past the sharp lump in his throat. "Yeah, her and me too," he muttered. He brushed at his eyes roughly with the heel of his hand and picked the box up, glancing through it to see that his subconscious had been right. Hand on the light switch and box balanced on his hip, he paused and looked back into the room. "I miss you," he whispered to the empty room. "I don't... Oh never mind."
Gwen looked up sympathetically when he reappeared and gestured to the box. "What new torture have you found for me today?"
"The collected notes of Mrs Cynthia Kilderry, late of this parish," he pulled out the first file and handed it to her. "Lived in Cardiff all her life, one of our informers – she baked the best fruit cake I've ever tasted. I went to see her a couple of times a month to make sure she was alright and that no one had caught on; she kept us well informed right up until she died at the age of ninety two, a resident of Fairways Residential Home. She kept meticulous notes all through her life, though Ianto thought she was a bit batty."
"Well, he met her when she was ninety and she still insisted on flirting with him, which may have jaded his view a little. She never lost her faculties, or her taste," he laughed, but a sob crept in there somehow. "I saw him, Gwen."
"What?" she looked up over the top of the file. "Ianto?"
"Yeah, not the first time today," he sighs. "I guess I'm just having a bad day."
"Does it happen often?"
"Not normally, well..." a mouthful of tea gives him time to think. "Dreaming about him's normal, when I do sleep. But not normally during the day."
Gwen's got that sympathetic look and he wished he hadn't brought it up. "Oh pet, everyone's allowed to have bad days. If I lost Rhys I'd be seeing him everywhere."
"We weren't like you and Rhys," he insists, the knowledge of that fact hurting somehow. "We were just best friends."
"Bollocks, and so? You're allowed to miss your best friend," her pen arched past his shoulder and he went to retrieve it for her. "You're immortal, Jack, not invincible."
"Yeah," he buried himself in the file he'd picked up and hoped that she'd get the message. "Let's just get on with this, then we can both knock off early."
She nodded and turned back to the file, quickly captivated by Cynthia's beautiful drawings and her detailed notes – they would be a valuable addition to the Archives, whatever the Powers That Be decided about the future of Torchwood. Jack turned the pages of her notes from the 1960s; too old to be one of the fresh young things dancing their way through the decade, Cynthia had given them a place to go instead. At night, her parents pub, where Torchwood operatives had met informants for decades, became a swinging, sinning club where humans and resident aliens alike partook in the pleasures of sex and drugs and rock and roll – a heady mix even to Jack's oft-abused senses. He'd spent plenty of unmemorable nights (unmemorable in the good way) under the sway of the most powerful drugs that Cardiff had to offer and the arms of some of its most innovative...
Everything goes still, sharp and cold as he struggles to breathe again. Somewhere in the real world Gwen puts her file down and speaks to him. He closes his eyes and nods, and her footsteps soon move slowly away. Toilet, then.
He hears a chair wheeling closer to him and Ianto's soft voice, "Jack, are you alright?"
Jack stares at him, then smiles and nods. "Yeah, I'm fine."
"Are you sure? You look..." he shifted uncomfortably and shrugged. "You keep looking like you've seen a ghost. You do now."
"Memories," he answers honestly, and taps his finger against the file in his hands dishonestly. "Takes me back a long way."
Ianto's fingers brush against his cuff as Ianto leans forwards to look at the page, and Jack has to grab his hand. "Jack? You're..."
"Oh God," Gwen's voice carries clearly and they look over to where she's just failing to scale the stairs. "Ianto, come and give me a hand. I can see you over there with Jack. I think..."
"You can see him," Jack turns to him and brings their still-joined hands up until he can see them without breaking eye contact. "I can feel him."
"Jack, Gwen... of course you can see me, I'm right here," now Ianto's tone, too, is laced with desperation. "Oh... time slip?"
Jack doesn't want it to be, but it's the best answer they have. "What date is it?"
"Twelfth of February, two thousand and ten," Ianto rattles off – Torchwood operatives get used to quoting the date and year. "How... how far... how is Gwen as pregnant as she was when I left and wearing the exact same clothes?"
"What do you mean? Oh God this is worse than I thought..." he grips Ianto's hand tightly. Letting go is unthinkable, but he can't hold on.
"Guys," Gwen's voice is even more panicked than his thoughts and he snaps his attention to her. She is breathing heavily, eyes closed, and biting her lip. "Jack, you need to get me to a hospital."
He hurries to her and takes her weight so that he can lead her through the Hub. When he looks to Ianto for help, he is gone. Gwen – he has to focus on Gwen. He guides her across the Hub, forcing a grin as the shock wears off and she starts chiding him – yes, it's early, but it's not unheard of and not even unlikely with the lives they lead, she's giving birth not turning to glass, he doesn't have to be quite so damned careful with her and yes, she can walk, thank you very much. She still groans when she remembers how far she has to walk to the car, and he's glad that the lift to the garage had been a quick and easy repair job. When they get into the lift, Gwen leans heavily against one side wall and swears until she runs out of breath, then starts again. Jack leans opposite her and keep his eyes on the floor, trying to rebuild the defences that have been broken down by the day's revelations. Maybe... maybe he'd just been seeing things, again.
"I'm sorry, Jack," he doesn't realise that Gwen has paused for breath again until her boot thuds into his ankle. Just making sure that she had his attention before she spoke, he guesses as he rubs his ankle and gives her a confused look. "I know today's been a bad day for you," she soothes. "And this on top..."
"Gwen," he gives her a stern look. "I hope you're not about to apologise for having a baby."
"No," she gives him a sheepish gap-toothed smile. "I was going to convince you not to want me to."
"Gwen, you're having a baby," his smile is as close to genuine as he's managed since he lost Ianto. "That's fantastic."
She smiles and takes the two steps to hug him awkwardly just as the door buzzer sounded and the doors slide open to let them out. "Thank you, Jack," she kisses his cheek and pulls back. "I... let's go."
Ianto holds the passenger door open and checks his watch. "Ten, we should have missed the rush hour. Your carriage awaits, milady."
"Thanks, Ianto pet," she kisses his cheek and gets into the car with Ianto's help whilst Jack staunchly ignores the fact that Ianto is flashing in and out of existence like a broken lightbulb going on and off and gets into the driver's seat. He waits until they are both strapped in securely before he pulls out of the parking space and activats the shutter to let them out. Gwen has her phone out and pressed to her ear. "Rhys. Rhys, get your arse to the hospital, now."
Ianto's hand appears through from the back and squeezes her shoulder. "Congratulations, Gwen," he offers quietly. "Have you decided on a name yet?"
"We're calling him Duncan," Gwen smiles over her shoulder at him. "After my Granddad."
"He'll love you for that," Jack teases fondly.
"Yeah, well... can't have everything, can he? Actually..." she bites her lip and closes her eyes for a moment, then opens them again and lets out her breath. "We were thinking of giving him Ianto as a middle name. And... we wondered if you'd be a godfather, Jack?"
He glances in the rear-view mirror, but he already knows that Ianto won't be there. "It'd be an honour."
When they get to the hospital, Jack parks sensibly and grumbles about having to pay for parking. They walk to the front entrance and Jack acts the gentleman, steering Gwen through the sparse crowds to the reception desk. From there they are directed up the corridor to a smaller waiting room where, with any luck, Rhys will arrive shortly to relieve Jack of his worrying role so that he can go and...
And let's not go there.
Gwen starts pacing – probably because Rhys isn't there to do it – whilst Jack sits in one of the low wooden chairs with his legs bent awkwardly. On the cover of the nearest magazine Jordan proudly proclaimed that she loved Pete and never wanted to leave him. On the one underneath it, she told the world that he was a scumbag.
Ianto put the hot chocolates down on the table across from him and grimaced apologetically. "Won't be up to much, but at least it'll be better than their coffee."
Jack closed his eyes and buried his face in his hands – not crying, just hiding – and Gwen's voice drifted closer. "Thanks, pet. I can't tell you how glad I'll be to get back to your coffee."
"I'll bring a thermos full over for you," he promises with a laugh, then his hand is warm on Jack's shoulder. "Jack, you with us?"
"Yeah," he looks up and nearly drowns in the grey-blue of Ianto's eyes. "I'm here."
"Good," Ianto's finger brushes briefly against Jack's neck as he removes his hand and sits down, stretching his legs out. "Just spoke to Rhys as well, he was parking, should be here in a couple of minutes, Gwen."
"Thank you, pet," she too sits down and groans. "Gods I'll be happy to be rid of the keg of beer," she laughs.
"Are you excited?"
"I am," her accent thickens and she beams. "I feels very emotional."
Ianto slides across and hugs her just as Rhys enters, looking like he's run a marathon. "Oi, mate, hands off my wife."
He laughs and gets up, claps Rhys on the shoulder. "Congratulations, Rhys. I think that's our cue, Jack?"
"Yeah," he too stands and squeezes Rhys's hand. "Congratulations to both of you. We'll leave you to it."
"You don't have to," Rhys starts to protest, but Jack cuts him off.
"Yeah, we do. This is your day, Rhys. We've got to go and make sure that aliens don't get in the way like they did last time."
The memory brings a grimace and a smile to Rhys's face and he releases Jack's hand. "Okay, mate. I'll call you when the stork comes."
Jack and Ianto both kiss Gwen on the cheek as they leave, and she's safely back in Rhys's arms when they glance back. Ianto's hand is warm in his own and their fingers lace together perfectly. Jack slows down so that he can enjoy the moment longer. By the car, Ianto stops him and presses him against it, but he searches Jack's face for something instead of kissing him. Jack is grateful for it, he's counting the seconds until Ianto vanishes on him again.
"What happened?" Ianto asks quietly. It takes him by surprise, even though he saw Ianto's lips move and heard his words, it took him a while to realise that it was Ianto who had spoken. "Jack... Something's wrong, we should get you back to the Hub."
He nods and, before he can change his mind, leans forwards to kiss him. Ianto sighs and cradles Jack's face in his hands, then pulls back and rests their foreheads together, leaning against Jack and pressing him against the car. "Ianto," he bursts out when Ianto makes to move away. "I love you."
That stops him dead, his hand returning to Jack's cheek. "Jack... what?"
Jack's heart breaks afresh and he flicks his gaze to the sign over Ianto's shoulder. "I love you. I have done for a long time, I was just too scared to admit it, because that would make it true."
And then Ianto folds into his arms and kisses him, and Jack can do nothing but hold on and kiss him back. Ianto's weight against him, the texture of the material of his suit, his slightly cinnamon-scented aftershave, vanilla bodywash and chemical-smelling shampoo, the warmth of his mouth and the feel of his tongue sliding against Jack's and trailing a line over the roof of his mouth. And Jack realised that this was the closest anyone had got to him in... discounting Gwen, this was the closest anyone had got to him since Ianto had been dying in his arms. He gave a full body shudder at the thought and Ianto's arms tightened around him. "Jack, you're not okay. I'm going to take you back to the Hub and run some scans on you," Ianto had pulled back and was searching his face carefully, maybe now thinking that he shouldn't have let Jack get so close. "I'll drive, give me the keys."
"No," he stepped back and nodded at the car. "I'll drive. Get in and I'll explain on the way to the Hub."
Ianto hesitates but gets in. He grabs Jack's wrist on the steering wheel and strokes at the soft skin underneath it with the tips of his fingers. "I love you too, you know that right?"
Jack smiles tightly and nods. He needs to have something else to concentrate on, though, so he starts the SUV and pulls out. "You told me as you were dying in my arms."
When he glances across, Ianto is gone, and he thumps the steering wheel and concentrates on getting back to the Hub. It's only a short drive back to the Hub, and he doesn't know whether he's hoping that it's short enough that he won't see Ianto again or long enough that he will.
"Something bloody weird is going on, Jack, one moment you're like this, the next you're telling me you love me and that I died in your arms!"
"You did. Whilst you're here, don't interrupt there's no way of telling how long we've got," he snatches a breath and his grip tightens. "For me, you died. In another potential present, though, you didn't. Yesterday I found a device that can change the future by accessing a potential future and combining it with the actual future, so only the person who changed it knows that it's been changed. But I didn't activate it, it must be broken, which means I have to stop it."
"You won't know, you'll just remember this because I explained it, you weren't supposed to know that it was happening. For you, you'll just stop seeing this version of me, and you'll be back with your version of me. I promise, you'll be okay," he's very, very certain of that, otherwise he couldn't even contemplate doing this – screw the universe.
Ianto, though, is watching him sadly. "And what about you? Will you forget all of this?"
His breath catches. "No... no, I'll know."
"I'm sorry," Ianto breathes as Jack pulls into the parking space right at the back of the car park. "I never wanted to hurt you."
He reaches out for Ianto's hand. "It was worth it – really worth it."
Ianto swallows. "What do we do now?"
Jack nods towards the Hub and leads the way. Ianto stays close behind him and steps automatically towards the coffee machine. "Don't worry about that," Jack says tiredly. "Let's just get this..."
"Jack," Ianto's hand is bigger than he remembered and splays across his back, heavy and warm. "I can't... this will hurt you. I don't want to hurt you."
"We have no choice," he sighs and looks around finally, framing Ianto's face with his hands. "The device isn't being controlled. I have no way of knowing what I've called into existence. I..." he chokes off and tears sting his eyes as Ianto's hands come up and cover his own. "I'm sorry, I have to..."
"I know, I understand," Ianto sighs and leans forwards slightly until their lips touch. "Let's find it, then."
Jack finds it alone, in the end. It's in one of the side rooms of very stable surfaces where it can't get damaged further. He takes it up to the main Hub and looks around for somewhere to put it.
His desk reappears and he puts the box down on it, then sits in front of it. Ianto leans next to him and nods at it. "That it, then?"
"Yep. Just need to find and push the off switch," his voice shakes and he crumples at the first touch of Ianto's hand to his shoulder. "I can't do this. Shit, everything I do and I... I can't do this," Ianto pulls Jack's head against his chest and runs his fingers through his hair, and Jack stares at the box. "I can't lose you again, Ianto. I definitely can't do it."
"Hey," Ianto strokes across his back and he reaches out to the device. He pushes a button and the display lights up. "Eighty percent. If it's been happening all day, we've got time."
"Time for what?" Jack lifts his bleary gaze to Ianto's face and Ianto leans in and kisses him again.
"Time for goodbye," he says sadly.
Ianto leads Jack down into his bunker and strips him carefully, feathering kisses over every centimetre of exposed skin as it is revealed. Jack's hands are everywhere and when he undresses Ianto his hands shake. Pressed together in Jack's narrow, uncomfortable camp bed, it's more a desperate cling than sex, as Jack doesn't let go of Ianto nearly enough for actually movement. When Jack comes, shaking and crying in Ianto's arms, Ianto just holds him close and strokes calming circles on his back until his shaking ceases, although nothing will stop the flow of tears.
When Jack lies as a dead weight in his arms, Ianto kisses him once more, slow and full of apology, and crawls out of bed. Jack watches him with desperation but can't move, even when Ianto pulls on a pair of jogging bottoms that he used to keep in the Hub, that Jack packed away into storage when he got back here, and closes his hand around the top rung of the ladder. "I'm sorry," he whispers, and climbs out of sight.
Jack buries his face in the pillow again so that he doesn't have to see the room change and all of Ianto's things disappear again. He hears the faint hum stop, barely noticeable when it was there but huge in its absence, and chokes back fresh sobs. There's nothing to be done now. The device is damaged and can't be trusted, he can't use it. Hope is broken on his desk. Fresh agony burns through him and the enormity of what he just lost, what he sacrificed again to Torchwood, nearly drowns him.
Feet on the ladder and he closes his eyes, because he doesn't want to let go of the hope that it's Ianto, however stupid it is, then Ianto gives a cry and he sweeps Jack up into his arms, cradling him and caring for him. Panic rises and Jack pulls away and gets back as far as he can without leaving the bed. "Ianto... what? The.. the thing?"
"I turned it off," he says, looking like he's been slapped. "I don't understand."
"I... I do," realisation seeps through Jack slowly and he crawls back to Ianto , hugging him from behind and resting his forehead against his shoulder, eyes closed. "It was operational when it was deactivated, so it retains the present that was real when you turned it off. It... you're here," Ianto turns to face him and he crushes their lips together, relief the driving emotion now.
Ianto pulls back slightly and runs the knuckles of one hand down Jack's cheek. "I'm sticking around."
"Yeah, I guess you are," Jack pulls Ianto to lie down again and rests his head no Ianto's chest above his heart. "Thank you."
"What did I do?"
"You took the decision and the action out of my hands," he explains, breathing calming. "That's how it happened."
"You're not... you're not cross then?" Ianto asks, and Jack laughs, because it's more than slightly ridiculous. "What?"
"Ianto, did you miss the bit where I cried my heart out at the idea of giving you up again?" he chokes and raises his head. "Just because I had to... that made it worse."
"You're not even Torchwood-cross?"
"Not even that," he smiles as Ianto's arms tighten around him and considers that he might get more than an hour's sleep tonight, for the first time since he lost Ianto. "Stuff happens, just sometimes, it's a good thing."