When the crack in the wall opened up to reveal a swirling vortex of energy, Jack realised that it wasn't just your typical otherworldly crack. He'd known it wasn't a normal, every day crack, but he hadn't assumed it be the 'end of the world' type of crack either. Not until it was the only possibility left and it was staring him in the face like -- well, a swirling vortex of energy.
What would the Doctor do?
The thought flitted through his mind so swiftly he almost thought he'd imagined thinking it, but for the fact that no sooner had the thought been made, the answer came to him.
"It needs a sacrifice!" he yelled to Gwen, who looked at him with the same wild-eyed panic he felt.
"WHAT?" she yelled back.
"It needs a sacrifice!" he repeated, louder this time.
"Like a fatted lamb or a virgin?" she asked, still yelling to be heard above the din. "Where are we going to get one of those?"
"Not a virgin!" Jack clarified. "It's a time vortex! It's... eating time... so it needs a sacrifice who has traveled through time."
"Bloody shame your doctor friend isn't here now, then," was Gwen's quick reply.
In the breaths that followed, they stared at each other silently, each of them examining the meaning behind her words.
"Right, then it will have to be me. I'll be the sacrifice," Jack said after a painful heartbeat.
"Jack! No!" Gwen shouted.
Jack started buttoning up his greatcoat and talking, for all the world, as calmly as if he were just going out for an evening stroll. "Whatever happens, Gwen," he said casually, "you run. You run as far away as you can. Take Rhys and just go. Don't come back. You understand?"
"Jack, I said NO! You cannot do this. I can't let you do this!"
"DO YOU UNDERSTAND, Gwen?" Jack had finished buttoning his coat and turned to her, revealing a world of pain and resolution in his eyes. Everything which had come before - everything he'd been trying to hide from himself as well as from Gwen - was there as plain as day. He was going to do this, no matter what Gwen said, and all she needed to do was run. Live. Make her life with Rhys and their baby. Have other children. Maybe name one of them after him... or Ianto, Owen or Tosh. Or maybe not, because she really didn't need those memories every single time she looked at one of her kids, now did she?
Gwen nodded her head, saying nothing this time, and Jack could see tears starting to gather in her eyes. "Don't you dare, Gwen Cooper," he insisted firmly. "Just run!" Without waiting for any further replies, Jack turned and threw himself headlong into the swirling mass of temporal energy.
"I think he's coming around now."
The words - Gwen's voice, full of worry - filled Jack's ears almost as soon as consciousness returned to him. In that moment, he was both filled with annoyance that she'd disobeyed him and relief that the vortex apparently hadn't swallowed them all up. But who in Hell was she talking to in such a hushed voice? It'd been just the two of them since he'd returned, what with everyone else being dead and all... Jack involuntarily squeezed his eyes shut to cut off that line of thinking entirely and cursed that he wasn't dead himself.
Then again, why should a time eating vortex undo what had been done to him when nothing else would?
He let out a deep sigh and opened his eyes. Unsurprisingly, he was laying naked on an examining table inside Torchwood.
Surprisingly, however, the person standing next to Gwen at the foot of said table was -- "Ianto?" Jack couldn't keep the surprised disbelief out of his voice as he looked from one to the other and then back again. "Gwen, what's going on?"
"Just lie back, Jack," Gwen told him in a reassuring voice. "We're not quite finished checking your vitals."
"Oh, right. Carry on then," he agreed, but he couldn't stop staring at the other person in the room, because that other person had been dead when he'd jumped into the vortex. "So it worked, I take it? The vortex closed?"
Gwen looked at him and for a moment, her expression was unreadable. "Yes, the vortex is closed now," she told him and then, after a pause, added, "Jack, what exactly do you remember?"
His eyes narrowed. What the Hell kind of question was that? "Everything, I think," he answered, recalling aloud how the vortex had opened up right in the heart of the Hub and he'd been the one to figure out what it was and thrown himself into it because that had been the only way to stop it.
"Well, that certainly explains what's become of your clothes," Ianto said with a hint of amusement.
"And I thought it was because someone couldn't get enough of my exceptional physique," Jack demurred with a mock-pout. If they weren't going into why Ianto wasn't dead -and they weren't- he was just going to play along until someone did.
"It's him, Ianto. I've double checked everything off the DNA we kept on file. It's Jack, pure and simple. How, I haven't a bloody clue, but it's him." "If Owen was here..." "Yeah, well, Owen's not here. I am, and I am not a doctor. All I know, is that man is Jack Harkness." There was a pause and then, "I'm so sorry, Ianto." "I know, me too." Another pause, and then, "One of us should talk to him. I'll do it." "Are you certain?" "Yes. It has to be me, Gwen. After what happened --"
"If Owen was here..."
"Yeah, well, Owen's not here. I am, and I am not a doctor. All I know, is that man is Jack Harkness." There was a pause and then, "I'm so sorry, Ianto."
"I know, me too." Another pause, and then, "One of us should talk to him. I'll do it."
"Are you certain?"
"Yes. It has to be me, Gwen. After what happened --"The voices and the footsteps which accompanied them came closer, and Jack instantly made himself scarce. He had stood there through most of the conversation in silence, knowing he should just knock and announce himself, but some instinct had forced him to linger and eavesdrop instead. He made his way back to his office before either of them had heard him, and a few minutes later, Ianto was at the door.
"So," Jack said, standing up and shoving his hands into the pocket of his newly acquired trousers. They smelled musty. All of his clothes smelled musty in a way that Jack couldn't chalk up to being down here all the time. This was different and he couldn't pinpoint why.
"So," the other man echoed.
They sized each other up, each one eyeing the other like they were afraid to say anything at all. Jack ached everywhere just looking at Ianto. Standing there. Alive. And touchable.
"Jack." "Ianto." They both spoke at once, and suddenly they were locked in an impassioned embrace. Jack didn't remember Ianto's kisses to be this fierce or as greedy, but in light of everything, it had been months since he'd had this pleasure at all, so right now, he didn't care if his lover's kisses matched his for neediness or if the hands which hurried to get his shirt unbuttoned caressed every bit of skin as if treasuring it.
He was too busy savouring each touch and each kiss in his right, drinking them in until he felt inebriated with their heady power. His need strained through his trousers, and he could feel the similar reaction from Ianto as well. One thought, to have this moment in time, filled his mind and it was the only thing Jack was thinking of as he reunited with Ianto.
They were lying on the floor in a tangle of clothes when Jack came back to himself enough to say anything coherent.
"So, now that we've gotten the 'once more for old times sake' stuff out of the way, are we going to talk about it?" he asked casually as he stared up at the ceiling.
"Talk about what, Jack?"
"Ah ah ah." He wagged a finger at Ianto and sat up, then stood up, ignoring that fact that he was once again, utterly naked. "You don't get to play dumb with me -- I can see right through that."
Ianto stood up, too, and for a moment, they both stared at each other while either of them screwed up to courage to say something. When they did, it all came out at once, simultaneously.
"You're dead." "What? That's impossible! I can't die!" "You're the one who's dead!"
Had Ianto just said he couldn't die? Jack had said it, but he could have sworn he'd heard Ianto saying the exact same thing.
When the incredibly awkward silence became too unbearable, Ianto held up one finger. "You go first," he suggested.
Jack nodded his head and gathered his wits. His mind was whirling with the possibilities. "I'm beginning to see what happened here," he said at last. "The temporal vortex didn't kill me... it brought me here. Wherever 'here' is. Another Earth I suppose. Or maybe even an alternate time line. There was a temporal vortex here, right?"
Ianto nodded. "It just showed up one day, right here in the middle of the Hub, and spit you out."
"Probably didn't like the way I taste," Jack quipped, and then he sighed deeply. "Where I'm from, you're dead, Ianto. You died months ago. When the vortex appeared, I threw myself into it..." Because I thought I had nothing to lose. "... to stop it from devouring the world."
"You always were the brave one," Ianto whispered just as sadly. "I wish I had been the one to die. It sure beats an eternity knowing I'll never see the people I care most about ever again." He reached to touch Jack's face. "But you're the one who's dead in this world, Jack. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
"An eternity?" Jack cocked his head to one side. His Ianto was no immortal. That ruled out an altered time line entirely, but left several more questions unanswered. He wanted to ask if he had been immortal, too, or just traveling through like in the old days. He wanted to ask about Tosh and Suzie. Where were they in all of this? Owen was dead; he'd heard Gwen say as much, but what about of the others? Could it be the rest of 'his team' were just out getting lunch somewhere? And what of his family - his daughter and grandson? Did they exist in this world? Would he see them again as well? "How's that possible?"
Ianto shrugged. "It just is."
"So, in this world, you're the man who can't die and I'm dead?" Jack clarified. "It's reversed where I'm from."
"Reversed?" Ianto sounded shocked. "You mean... you? You're...? You can't...?"
"Yes, to all of it, if you're trying to ask me if I'm practically immortal, that is," Jack answered. He could see the revelation dawning on Ianto even before he uttered the words. Jack hadn't given it a thought until just now: they could be together. Not just briefly, not just until the old age or sudden death took one of them away. He and Ianto could spend countless years exploring what only 'could have been' with their other selves. Or driving each other mad. It was a tempting thought, that: to have someone to spend eternity with.
Ianto's response was to kiss him again, thoroughly and soundly, until they were both out of breath. "This is awfully inconvenient, I hope you know," he said when he finally pushed Jack away.
"You're going to have to send me back," Jack agreed. Then he lifted an eyebrow archly. "Provided you can at all. Could take a while, wouldn't you say?"
"I like the way you think, Jack Harkness."