Jack entered his darkened base house wearily and threw his keys on the side-table without turning on the lights. It had come furnished, which was lucky since he had nothing but his bag. He had just come from a status report with the Colonel and the concerned look on the superior's face only cemented Jack's original fear: this was going to be tough. Very tough.
Alex, of course, had his mind only on the training of the men. It was lucky this squadron wasn't going into active duty any time soon, Jack really wondered about those who supervised their basic training. Almost none of them could fire a weapon accurately and Jack was not looking forward to flight simulation tomorrow. They could follow orders, however; and were all very intelligent. They'd do well for the base police force it seemed they were destined to become a part of, but Jack was still worried about his ability to lead them: the first time one of them called him sir Jack had to dismiss them early before they witnessed their leader breaking down. It seemed his plan to use his time here to heal was backfiring quite spectacularly.
He couldn't look at any of them in the eyes longer than to bark out orders and they made it easier when they wore their impassive masks of men in rank. But when the atmosphere turned casual, they all turned to him in hero-worship. Jack constantly reconsidered this decision, though it had only been four days, and prayed for the day when he would be able to be in their presence without a lump of tears in his chest, especially Greg Hutchinson.
He had been the one Jack saw through the door his first day, and Jack still had to do a double take at times before coming to the disappointing realization he wasn't Ianto. He had been the first one to call him sir; he was the one always asking for extra gun training; he was the one who Jack feared the most would break him.
He, like the others, made up his general lack of military knowledge in eagerness to learn how to defend their county. They all had the desire of little boys wanting to be soldiers and die in a glorious hail of bullets, but Hutchinson had that sense of a boy who had grown up too soon.
Just like Ianto.
Jack crossed the sparsely decorated room and entered the kitchen; the house still plunged in darkness. He grabbed the closest container of leftovers and set it on the table. Cold Chinese tonight. He could only avoid Hutchinson for so long; the excuses of settling in and copious amounts of paperwork couldn't last much longer. But it felt like his heart broke a little bit more every time he stared into those clear blue eyes. Had he not known that Ianto's nephew was 10 years old and living in Cardiff, he would have had a DNA test done on Hutchinson. If Jack didn't have any proof that the universe hated him, he did now
The greasy chow mein sat heavily on Jack's stomach and for a moment he thought he would be sick. He didn't sleep anymore, reverting to his lifestyle when he had waited for the Doctor, when he spent lifetimes with half of his soul missing. He didn't know then that the minutes of agony were not because he was missing the Time Lord, but it was because he was missing Ianto.
Jack's train of thought made his feet take him to the rarely used study and he finally turned on a solitary lamp on the desk in the middle of the room. It was another sign the universe wasn't done using Jack as its personal plaything. The desk in the room was nearly identical to the one in Ianto's flat, only this had dark wood and gleaming brass fixtures. Instead of the oval with inlaid wood, this desk had Her Majesty's Armed Forces tri-service badge carved into the lid.
Though Jack kept Ianto's diary and the stopwatch on him at all times, he had placed the letters he found in here. He hadn't had the courage to look at them yet since he knew it was possible these were some sort of goodbye letters, or letters written to him in hate during Ianto's four week suspension after they killed the Cyberman that took over Lisa's body. But somehow, it felt right to read them now. Maybe doing so would relieve some of this constant ache.
With shaking hands Jack took the letters, the desk's only contents and sat in an armchair settled in the corner of the room, gripping the watch in his pocket. He carefully removed the ribbon and draped it over the arm of the chair. Jack's vision blurred and he rubbed at his eyes only to find his cheeks wet. He traced his fingers of the neat print he knew so well and took a deep breath. The Chinese churned in his stomach as Jack opened the top letter.
If you're reading this, I'm either dying or have died. If it's the last, I hope I died bravely, but knowing my luck it was rather idiotic and quite embarrassing.
Jack let out a wet chuckle, ignoring the bile at the back of his throat. He had known he would die before Jack had a chance to walk away, didn't he? He had promised Jack as he had laid in a coma that he would fight for him, and yet he always knew.
The thing is Jack, I don't know what these letters say, exactly. Just after you returned and we got rid of John Hart I found these in my desk with a letter. From myself. According to the letter, which is the one after this, Harold Saxon was insane and destroyed most of the world. Tosh, Owen, Gwen and I managed to find a place to hide for some time from his forces. But you were on the Valiant, with him. He tortured you. For a year he would torture you and broadcast it to anything with a signal, just to bring Martha back. It killed me. I can't remember it but it still kills me.
Here the words were smudged from fallen tears. Whether they were his or Ianto's, Jack didn't know, but he refused to let his mind bring up memories of Ianto's body, broken and bloody, being shot from an airlock.
I wrote to you every day for that year, according to the letter, and the ribbon is technology from the Brigone. Remember them? You nearly started a war over Jordin Sparks.
That must be why I recognized the name, because I had discovered this material during that year. We figured out a way to make it malleable and turn it into ribbon. Tosh used most of it for her time lock, and wrote herself a note with some of this ribbon around it, explaining what it was. That's why I have these letters, but no memories. I wish I could remember, maybe it would have helped me get over my fear of losing you to the Doctor, maybe it would have helped explain the time you were away with him, and why you were so changed when you returned. Whenever we fight about secrets, whenever I feel like you will never let me get close, I sit here and stare at these letters. If I could only bring myself to read them, maybe I could understand.
But I haven't read them, I don't know if I ever will. I'm giving them to you because I know you remember that year and I now know it's what woke you screaming in the middle of the night for months after you returned. I wish I had the strength the read them so I could help you, so I wouldn't have to keep pushing you to open up to me, but they're your moments to tell, not mine.
Like I said, if you're reading this, then I'm gone now. And I'd like to think you miss me, as egotistical as that is.
You have no idea how I will always hurt.
But please, Jack, please don't give up, okay? Please don't stop living your life. I don't want your world to end because I'm not there. You have so much good to do, so many lives to change, like you did mine. And Gwen, Tosh and Owen. And the hundreds you met over the years. Who knows how many others will have better lives because of you? I'm not worth losing all that potential.
Yes you are, you are worth that and more. If only I had told you how much you meant to me, how important you are to my very existence. If only I hadn't been so damned scared to let you in.
I just ask that you remember me as long as you can. I will love you forever, cariad.
The final words were too much like the broken plea ripped from Ianto's dying breath and Jack couldn't hold back the tears any longer. He curled himself into the chair and for the first time since he watched his grandson die, he cried.
Ianto lay on the hospital bed in the bare room, his head spinning. He felt like every moment of both his lives had just been pulled through a stretcher before thrown on the wall as he was forced to relive every single one. Tears streamed silently down his cheeks as he remembered the last time he spoke to his sister. Did she miss him? Did Mica and David, or had they already forgotten the uncle they barely knew? He tried to be good to them, but Torchwood, bloody Torchwood always took him away when he tried to visit.
Torchwood. It was gone now, just a crater in the center of the Plass. Or had it been rebuilt? His heart thumped at the memories after the bomb exploded: running from the snipers, so fucking scared of that car in the alley and wanting nothing more than to have Jack in his arms again.
And what about Jack? Did he move on? Their last argument echoed in his head, the frustration and pain of constantly being locked out of Jack's life slid hot down his throat as he tried to get rid of the dryness that settled there after the procedure. The Doctor had left some time ago to get him something to drink. It felt like hours since he had been left alone here.
Ianto rolled on his side, his arm pressing uncomfortably against cold table and did his best to ignore his reflection in the two-way mirror. This had to be some other form of an interrogation room. How many people were on the other side, watching him like he used to watch the Weevils in their cells? His eyes flicked up toward the reflective glass, took in his appearance and quickly looked away. He had a full beard and mustache, his hair was longer and his eyes didn't seem quite so tired. He looked so different now, would they recognize him in the other reality?
If only he could talk to Tosh, she always gave him the analytical point of view when he had lost focus, and a sympathetic ear when he needed it the most. But that was impossible now. He couldn't even go to her in this world, she wouldn't know him. He only hoped she had somehow found Owen here and they would finally have a chance at what they had struggled to hold on to in their last months.
He flopped onto his back and sighed. His mind began to return to Jack, as it seemed it always would. But he couldn't think about that now, now he had to make the biggest decision of his life. Both of them.
What was he going to do?
"Tom, I'm sorry but I'm already here," Martha sighed from her hotel room in London. Her husband wasn't too happy to hear her voicemail after a 12-hour shift rather than greeting her in person and didn't like the fact she had used her day off on mysterious personal business.
"I trust you Martha, but it's frustrating to know we both have today off and instead of spending it together, you'll be in London."
"I know and I'm sorry but this will only take a couple of hours. Maybe not that long if I pull a few strings." She checked her watch: 8 a.m. She had five hours of sleep after checking in, which wasn't ideal before meeting the general, but she had worked on less. "I'll be home in time for dinner at the latest. Then we can have all night to ourselves."
Tom heaved a sigh in what Martha knew wasn't mock annoyance. His patience with her job only ran so far and she had been pushing it lately with trying to take the more challenging jobs away from Gwen.
"Fine, just be safe okay? I love you."
"Love you." Martha shut the phone slowly. She would explain it all to him when she got home, and he would understand, he had to. Opening her phone with a sigh, Martha dialed the number she knew from memory.
"Colonel Cartwright's office?"
Less than half an hour later, Martha sat outside the address Cartwright gave as Jack's. Now here, she wasn't sure this was the best plan. He had called her the day after they chased that Enfros, telling her vaguely of what he had done, forbidding her to tell anyone else. He had said he could tell her because they had seen things no one else had, lived a year longer than the rest of the world, and she would understand. But what if it was more than that? What if he wanted her to find him?
Martha looked down at her mobile. Perhaps she should try calling the Doctor again. Even the thought of traveling between realities was dangerous and if they figured out a way to bring Ianto back there would be no one stopping Jack from going through with it. Except the Doctor. He seemed to have a way with Jack no one else had, a way to make him see reason when he stood at the brink.
But then he would destroy any hope of giving Ianto back to Jack, probably destroying the immortal for good in the process. Besides, Rose had defied him in order to return, and who was he to say the rule could be bent only for his happiness? Jack needed Ianto, it was so clear now, and she wouldn't give the Doctor the chance to stop them from coming together again.
Resolute, Martha got out of the car and marched up the walk. It was so cloudy it was nearly dark and she thought she had seen a light on near the back of the house, but couldn't see it from here. She would never admit she was a little nervous as she knocked on the door. Who knew how much Jack had changed in six months?
She waited, ears straining for the sound of approaching footsteps. Nothing. She knocked again, louder. "Jack?" She called. "It's Martha." Suddenly heavy footfalls grew closer and she took a step back. The door flung open to reveal Jack looking strange in clothing that was not his usual greatcoat and suspenders. He grinned at the sight of her, but it didn't quite reach his eyes, which were lined with dark circles. They looked a little red as well.
"Suddenly, in the middle of an Air Force base, the voice of a nightingale," he said happily, though it came of a bit forced. He swept her into a crushing hug. "What are you doing here?" He pulled away suddenly. "Is everything okay?"
"Everything's fine," she lied as he pulled her inside. She should tell him now about Ianto and the possibility of his return, but something held her back. Perhaps it was the way his right hand plunged into his trouser pocket, as though there was something there he had to hold on to. Or maybe the way he glanced outside before stepping back to let her in. "I've just been worried about you. I heard on the news they had gone ahead with the Afghanistan trip without the additional forces they were expecting. I wanted to make sure you were okay." Her eyes swept the room. Base furniture and little else. Nothing like the bits and bobs that had cluttered his office in the old Hub. But, she realized as she looked at Jack again, this wasn't the man who lived in that office.
"Yeah, well, I decided my talents were better spent here," he said lightly yet she could see the suspicion in his eyes. "Drink?"
Martha shook her head and sat on the uncomfortable couch. She patted the seat beside her. "How have you been Jack, really?" She asked, as he seemed to debate sitting down next to her. He finally gave in, but sat on the other side of the couch. She barely hid her frown.
"Not great, but the men keep me busy." Old Jack would have leered and made a suggestive comment, but this man just stared down the hallway next to the kitchen. Martha knew he had been struggling, but she didn't realize he had been drowning.
"Jack?" She asked softly, inching closer. "What is it? What's wrong?"
His head whipped toward her at neck breaking speed, his eyes dead. "You mean other than the death of the man I loved and my grandson's blood on my hands? No, everything is just fine. Tosh, Owen and Gray were splattered across the Plass, but the world is safe from the terrorists," he spat the word out viciously, "so I guess that balances it out." He stood suddenly, unable to stop the words from escaping his mouth. It was as though she had broken some sort of dam. And maybe she had. "John Frobisher killed his family and himself for no reason, but the rest of the children were saved so who really minds? There isn't enough Retcon in the world to make me forget the look in Alice's eyes or the way Ianto's skin turned blue, but as long as the rest of the world can move on, why not me?" A sob tore out of him and he collapsed into Martha's embrace and they both cried.
After a while the tears stopped, but Jack remained with his head on Martha's lap. Slowly, he pulled the object from his pocket he had been gripping so tightly: a beaten-up, very old looking stopwatch, all analog and brass. He stroked it tenderly, his eyes glazing over slightly.
"He died, you know," Jack said suddenly into the silence. Martha worried about his sanity momentarily before he continued. "During the year with Saxon, Ianto died. You were on Earth when it happened, I don't know if you heard. Saxon had sent the team to the Himalayas before we were captured. They eventually discovered it was a ruse and came back to the Hub. The Toclafane were waiting."
"Oh God," Martha whispered. She remembered how their blades seem to cut the air itself. Fly and blaze and slice. There was no terror like the adrenaline of fear, your ears pricked for the sound of their humming motors as you squeezed yourself tighter into whatever hiding spot you found. Anything to avoid death by them.
"Yeah." Jack said dully. "They killed everyone but Ianto then and there, and Saxon piped the sound into the ship." He swallowed thickly, his eyes far away. "But Ianto, Ianto he saved just for me." He began to shake slightly. Martha stroked his hair but suddenly he pulled way and sat up. "For two weeks straight he would drag Ianto in front of me and tortured him. They would beat him, shock him, and do everything they had done to me only he never healed as quickly."
"Jack-" Martha really didn't want to hear this, but he cut her off.
"All the while he barely reacted, hardly screamed. He just stared at me with those goddamn blue eyes full of understanding and trust and faith and…love. I wanted to be worth of that so much. I vowed, after they had killed him and threw his body overboard, after I tried to kill Saxon with my bare hands only to die in the process, that if the Doctor's plan worked I would make myself worthy of Ianto."
"You are," Martha said gently. "You loved him just as much as he loved you."
"Then why did I let him die?" He whispered, his eyes trailing back to the hallway. "Why did we go in there with no protection, guns blazing, when we knew what they were capable of doing?" Martha couldn't come up with an answer as she had wondered the same thing many times after hearing of Ianto's death. "I used to dream about what Saxon did to him," Jack continued after a moment. "I'd have terrible nightmares reliving every agonizing moment. And then I'd wake up and he'd be there, but it was almost like a different person. He was still my Ianto, but he wasn't he Ianto who had died for me." He laughed bitterly. "Not yet, anyway."
Jack couldn't have answered the question Martha had wanted to ask any better unless she actually came out and said it. If the other Ianto were to come here, that chasm Mickey described would be wide on both men's part. Jack would always compare him to the other Ianto and Ianto…well, he'd always compare this life to the other one. The only question now was what did Ianto want?
After making her goodbyes and forcing Jack to swear he would keep in touch, Martha drove home in deep thought. One question repeated itself in her mind with great uneasiness: if Ianto did cross over and decided he wanted Jack, would Jack want him?
Ianto stood at the center of a dais, eyes flickering nervously between the polished columns surrounding him. He focused his gaze on the Doctor and Rose and was suddenly struck with regret. He was going to miss them, Rose especially. He could, and was under orders by the Doctor, to contact the Time Lord on the other side, but there was no Rose there. There could only be one Rose Tyler and now there was only one Ianto Jones. From what he understood of the machine, there could be no Ianto Jones soon. His father would read his letter soon enough, an explanation made of lies that Ianto hoped would comfort him in the sudden loss of his son.
Swallowing noisily, Ianto gripped the straps that held the quantum stabilizer (so parts of him didn't end up in yet another reality, according to the Doctor) and nodded. Techs in white lab coats began to flip switches and press buttons. The columns began to rotate around him, faster and faster until they blurred, distorting Rose's face. She raised a hand to wave goodbye and may have tried to shout good luck over the whirring machinery, but Ianto wasn't sure. He wasn't sure of anything now. The columns moved impossibly faster and the noise reached a deafening level. His heart raced and he shut his eyes against his rising fear.
He had survived more than this, worse than this. Cyberman, cannibals, faeries, desertion, old lovers, the end of the world and even his own death. Yet panic took control. Stop! He wanted to shout. Stop please, I've made a mistake! Sparks flew from somewhere; he could see the light behind his lids and smell the molten metal. I changed my mind, I just want to go home, please! Shouting voices barely pushed through the grating sound and his own internal screaming. He tried to think of anything else, everything terrible he had been through but at the moment nothing seemed more terrifying than standing in the center of this contraption.
Rose may have shouted his name, but the pleading in his head pushed any other thoughts out. I want to go home, please let me go home.
Suddenly, there was nothing.
The Doctor and Rose stared at the spot Ianto once occupied, fear rising in her and curiosity in him as smoke and sparks poured from the machine.
"Did it work?" She whispered, blindly searching for her communication sheet. They had originally wanted to wait to use the machine until after they had finalized the equipment to monitor the subject across worlds. But the Doctor had insisted (and Ianto somewhat reluctantly agreed) they send him over as soon as possible. So now the only way to know if it worked was to contact Mickey. All the messages over the past two days had limited her to only a few words, however, so she had to stop herself from asking every question she had about Ianto's crossing over.
"How far ahead are we from the other reality?" The Doctor asked as he stared at the data readings. "A year, right?"
"And one month," Rose said absently as she began to compose her message.
Cold air forced itself into his lungs, blood pounded in his ears and something wet and cold seeped into his bones. Where was he? Who was he? Why had he been torn from his blissful nothingness and forced back to the living?
Eyes, yes he had eyes, slowly opened and he saw an ink-blue sky filled with something soft and white. Something dug into his back and he shifted, trying to remember how to work his limbs. The pain increased so finally his body pushed itself into the sitting position. He tugged at the straps he somehow knew were connected to the white-hot searing feeling in the middle of his back and yelled as it intensified with movement. He knew it would only go away if he got the bag off. With a scream that echoed through the cold night, he pulled the bag away from his body and fell heavily back on the ground.
The snow, that word seemed right, soothed the pain to an aching throb. He glanced at the device to see what had caused the pain and spied a metal piece had overheated and burned itself into his skin. Now a piece of himself clung to the metal and the soft winter breeze brought along with it the faint smell of cooking meat. Suddenly he was kneeling on the floor of that disgusting kitchen, the meat cleaver at his neck and his stomach roiled. He quickly and clumsily pushed himself onto all fours just before retching onto the pure white ground. He emptied the little in his stomach and used the snow to wash his face and clean out his mouth before slumping back onto the ground, letting his breathing slow from its erratic place. His senses, no longer heightened by the shock of the trip, took in his surroundings. He had landed in a large field, dotted with trees, the falling snow creating a whisper of sound and the cold drove away any birds that may have chirped to break the quiet.
The silence soothed him and he lay staring at the night sky devoid of the moon but full of stars until he finally felt able to think properly. He thought he knew this place, maybe. It felt right.
Headlights suddenly shone behind him and he sat up, the lights stretching his shadow before him. He wanted to turn toward them but his body didn't seem to agree with that movement. A car door slammed and running feet ruined the pristine snow. A woman crouched beside him to quickly and efficiently check him over. A doctor, he assumed. She glanced at the skin on the bag and delicately ran her fingers near the injury on his back.
"Can you stand?" She asked, her voice smooth and soft. He wasn't sure he could stand but he allowed her to pull him up anyway. His legs seemed to support his weight so he guessed that answered her question.
"Ianto, are you alright? Do you know who I am? Where you are?"
Ianto. His name was Ianto…Jones. Ianto Jones. Suddenly everything rushed back at him and he staggered slightly under the weight of it Martha gripped his arms with a strength that didn't quite seem to fit her small form.
"I'm here." His voice caught with laughter and he struggled to contain it. "I made it, I'm here." The laughter broke free and nearly turned hysterical as he clung to Martha's arms. He met her eyes and she smiled broadly at him, though he could see the worry in her eyes. He quickly stifled his giggles and straightened up. Finally being here seemed to temporarily wipe away his concerns from the other world.
"Welcome to the other side," Martha said, still grinning. "We've been waiting for over a month!" She laughed and he joined her briefly when suddenly his brain registered the cold and he shivered. "Let's get you in the car so I can take you home and get you settled." She picked up the burnt-out machine and threw it into the boot of her car as Ianto climbed into the passenger seat. The drive to Martha and Tom's flat (she announced he wasn't in any condition to be left alone at his yet) started quietly until the question that had niggled his brain since they left the field wormed its way out of his mouth.
"Can I see Jack?" It had been his deciding factor in coming here, the thought of reuniting with his immortal lover. He had realized that he couldn't live in a world where Jack wouldn't exist for hundreds of years, and knew that he would be miserable if he stayed in the other reality without him.
The silence that greeted him made Ianto's heart sink. Something had convinced Martha that perhaps Jack wouldn't want a second chance with Ianto and the longer the silence went on the more reasons Ianto came up with as to why he wouldn't. Perhaps Martha believed Jack wouldn't be able to get over the fact that there was just something a little off with Ianto now, like the smooth skin where a scar once sat on his neck or the soreness in his shoulder when it rained that now no longer existed.
"Let's get you settled in first and then we'll see about going to the others," Martha said softly. It confirmed Ianto's suspicions but it didn't stop the ache from creeping into his heart. He had wanted nothing more than to run to Jack immediately and begin a new life with him. And yet Martha's doubt was beginning to become his own and tarnish that dream.
If he knew anything about Jack, Ianto knew he would be blaming himself for Ianto's death and he had to believe that Jack would jump at the chance of reconciling his mistakes if given the opportunity. Yet, Ianto couldn't seem to fight the rising fear that perhaps he had come all this way for nothing
He turned his head to watch the passing lights without interest, struggling to ignore the dark part of his mind hat whispered about how Jack had moved on, that the others hadn't needed him to rebuild Torchwood. He had only been the tea boy and part time shag so they had quickly forgotten him. They didn't need him, he wasn't even the same man. The Doctor had warned him of the awkward moments that would come up when someone (probably Gwen) would inadvertently bring up some difference between him and the Ianto who died. It would be too much to handle and unfair to them to have to live through He wouldn't see them, he wouldn't burden them with his presence here. He would simply find Jack and if he didn't want Ianto (he swallowed the sudden tears in his eyes and willed his heart to stop pounding in fear) then he would simply go away.
Martha seemed to sense his thoughts and reached across the console to grab his still cold hand before grinning. "I'm so glad you're here. Everyone will be happy to see you." Ianto tried to let the words warm him, but the cold voice continued to whisper in his ear.
Ianto had slept fitfully on the Milligan's couch for a week, adjusting to the new world from within its four walls, his subconscious reliving every fight or angry moment he had ever had with Jack. It was like the dark voice that hissed all his thoughts took over his mind as he slept, refusing to let in a bit of hope.
"Ianto?" Tom's voice broke his dark thoughts. The older man stared at him over his coffee mug from the table. It turned out Ianto knew how to make the perfect cup, though he had always bought his own from the café round the corner from his shop. Pushing away the homesick feeling that settled in his stomach, Ianto turned his attention to he bacon in the pan. Coffee accompanied the breakfast he insisted on making for the man who had let a stranger into his home with only a few firm words from his wife.
Ianto glanced back at Tom, who was studying him unabashedly. He reminded Ianto of the Doctor with that intense stare. Martha still hadn't gotten a hold the Time Lord in this world and Ianto couldn't help but remember the anguish in Jack's voice when he had repeated how "wrong" he was in the Doctor's eyes. If Ianto was just as much as an abomination to the alien now he didn't much care because he knew that at least one version liked him.
He hadn't spoken to anyone since he returned because he was still unsure as to what he wanted to do. Despite Martha's insistence that the new Torchwood Three team would welcome him with open arms, he didn't want to go back yet. She eventually revealed that only Mickey knew he was on this world and Ianto agreed to let Martha bring him here yesterday. It was an awkward reunion at first, Ianto wasn't sure what to do but then Mickey reminded him that this wasn't his first time at the whole alternate reality thing, cracked a joke and they spent the rest of the night talking. Mickey wanted to hear about Ianto's other life and in turn told Ianto about his time away from Torchwood. He had found this world's Jake in the phone book but didn't have the courage to look for him any further.
Before leaving Mickey said he would support Ianto in whatever he decided to do, just as long as he promised to keep in touch. He vowed to not say a word, especially to Gwen, until Ianto gave him the go ahead. It was reassuring to have their camaraderie back, but it didn't help Ianto in his choice of returning to Torchwood or walking away. Maybe he could do as Mickey did and try both.
Ianto returned his focus to the present only to find Tom still staring. "What?" He asked a bit shortly as he looked down at himself. He hadn't spilled or gotten grease on his button down blue shirt and brown slacks. They weren't quite right, but Ianto felt so stiff and unnatural in the three-piece suit Martha said she managed to nick along with these from his flat. Apparently his landlord was easily distracted and Martha walked right in without a fuss.
"Nothing," Tom finally said. "Just thinking about something Martha said to me last night." Ianto turned away, hiding his flush of embarrassment. He knew the couple argued about him, at the very least they discussed him a lot since he heard his name clearly from the muffled discussions heard from behind closed doors. Sometimes they sounded angry, other times as though they were merely talking. But he was usually the subject.
"Sorry," Ianto apologized as he plated their food. Martha had left an hour ago with barely the time to fill a travel mug with the apparently heavenly coffee.
"Nothing to be sorry for. You've gone through so much, it just…" Tom trailed off and when it seemed like he wouldn't continue Ianto returned his focus to the food before him. After a moment the jingle of keys made him look up to see Tom sliding a set of car keys across the table. "I have some work to do so I'll be locked in my study for most of the day. You're welcome to go out if you need the fresh air." Before Ianto could answer, Tom refilled his mug and disappeared into the aforementioned room.
While Martha did everything in her power to distract him, Tom just let him be; let him think and while he had never gone so far as to tell what Ianto to do, he appreciated this casual introduction of a solution. It was just very Tom, as he was quickly learning, to point out door number three when one and two weren't the right answer but never push you through it.
Ianto stared at the keys for a while. He knew the dangers of going out: it was too easy for him to be seen. But he was also smart enough not to go anywhere near Torchwood or his family, as much as he wanted to. He had been thinking about visiting a few places and this was as good a time as any. If luck was on his side, he would be back before Martha so there wouldn't be any lectures from her and while he didn't know if Tom would keep quiet about this, he knew the man would stand up for his decision.
Ianto suddenly stood from the table, placed the dishes in the sink and grabbed his pea coat (another article stolen from his flat), his mind already planning out the best routes to his destinations. Soon Ianto seemed to be working on automatic pilot and he found himself parked on the side of the road near the village in the Beacons. This is where that hamburger stand had been set up, where Jack announced they would be camping and Ianto though he would never feel a part of the group no matter how many outings they went on. He remembered the heat of the burgers, the sneer on Owen's face and the smell of the rain in the air.
No other race in the universe goes camping. Celebrate your own uniqueness.
He had known the expedition was really a team-building exercise dressed up as a mission from the moment Jack asked if they had camping equipment. Though he and Jack had grown closer since the incident with the faeries, the others still didn't quite know what to do with him and he had no qualms about reminding them of what they had done, even if Lisa had been long gone by then.
Ianto took in a deep breath of country air and exhaled it slowly.
What is that smell?
That would be grass.
Looking back, it was probably the best way to have the others get over their anger and heal some of the hurt Ianto's betrayal had caused. When your entire team is nearly eaten by a village of cannibals, keeping your Cyberman girlfriend in the basement didn't seem so bad anymore.
Wiping the tears from his eyes, Ianto drove to the field where they had found Mary's ship. Though he hadn't gone on the trip here, it was where his relationship with Tosh began its journey to growing stronger. Because of Mary they discovered how much they understood and needed each other. Tosh had always been kind to him, especially when no one else had, but he had chalked that up to Tosh being a genuinely kind person. It wasn't until she told him what she had heard, while wearing the necklace, with tears in her eyes that she realized how much she cared.
Can't imagine the time when this isn't everything. Pain so constant, like my stomach's full of rats. Feels like this is all I am now. There isn't an inch of me that doesn't hurt.
It took the better part of the afternoon, but Ianto eventually found out where he had been buried. He imagined Rhiannon fought for it with everything she had, though on the heels of that he remembered that there had been no Torchwood drawer waiting for him and he was sure Jack had wanted nothing more to do with him once he had died though out of grief or something else he might never know, so perhaps she didn't have to fight at all.
Ianto Jones lay in eternal rest between the headstone he had made for Lisa and his father's grave. It was strange to see the marker for the man he spoke to only days before. There were no words to describe how it felt to be looking at his own grave, to know that his own body laid decomposing six feet below his feet.
This must be what an out-of-body experience feels like, he thought as he stood in the eerily quiet cemetery covered in a thick blanket of white. The snow nearly covered their headstones and Ianto crouched to clear them. He fondly caressed the words of Lisa's favorite poem carved onto the headstone he had so carefully chosen even though she had been tucked away in a warehouse at the time.
I gave you my love, you can only guess
How much you gave me in happiness
I thank you for the love each have shown
But now it is time I traveled on alone
Tear tracks froze on his cheeks as Ianto crouched beside the empty grave. Jack had forced him to get rid of the bodies and he couldn't seem to bring himself to have her buried in this place. She hadn't been Lisa since Canary Warf and he wouldn't put that monster in her place in death as it had in life.
With stiff joints Ianto ignored his own headstone and cleared off his father's next. It read the standard "loving husband and father" and Ianto scoffed with old resentment at the man who pushed him too hard and always made his disappointment in his son known. His mind flickered to the kind man who raised him, who gave him money and encouraged his desire to do something not expected of him but quickly moved away before regret could settle in.
With a deep breath Ianto knelt beside the center headstone, his shaking hand hovering over the snow that covered it. He knew his body, the right body with all the scars and calluses was in the frozen earth below yet if he didn't look at the name carved in polished rock he could trick himself it was someone else's grave. Yet he knew he was there and here. Dead but alive. Dead and alive. The 456 released a poisonous gas on July 9, 2009, killing him along with more than 300 others in Thames house. Yet on the same day he sat bored in his shop, completing five orders and helping three customers before closing early and enjoying a night alone at the theater.
It made his head spin to be this living contradiction, yet the longer he stayed here, staring at the snow that was the only barrier between his life and his death, he could feel the contradiction waning and his memories of this world growing stronger. The Doctor had said, just before placing his hands on Ianto's head and pulling his memories apart like separating wool, that the memories of whatever world he stayed in would eventually dominate the others. Ianto juts didn't expect to feel like he was losing a part of himself.
He knelt there for hours, his hand outstretched like some strange angel praying over his grave. The sun's light diffused behind grey clouds soon dimmed and yet Ianto didn't move. He needed only to wipe away this snow and face his other half head on but something inside him hesitated. He could just walk away and put his first life behind him to start anew. So he did. But as he walked back to the car he realized there was one more thing to sort out before he could end this waiting and finally begin living again.
Later that night Ianto laid staring at the white ceiling, waiting for the light from beneath the door that led to Martha and Tom's room to extinguish. He had only this one opportunity, Martha would notice her phone missing soon enough and he knew she would be extra vigilant after tonight. Soon the yellow glow on the space above him disappeared and he counted the minutes in his mind. Fifteen had to be more than enough to ensure both were asleep. With the stealth learned in his teenage occupation of thief, he crept into the room furthest from the bedroom, the kitchen, and opened Martha's mobile.
The white light from the tiny screen was the only light in the dark kitchen as Ianto scrolled down her most recent calls. She wouldn't have been so stupid as to list Jack's number in her phone book, but she had made several comments that lead him to believe she had talked to him recently. He growled softly in frustration when he reached the end of the list and saw no unlisted numbers. He quickly went back up the list before pausing at a familiar name.
Jack had mentioned Alexander Cartwright once, after returning from his trip with the Doctor. If something were to happen to him and they needed army assistance, he said, call Cartwright. Ianto glanced at the clock. No one would be in the office at 2 a.m. but perhaps something in the answering service would lead him to Jack.
The ringing on the other line seemed to echo throughout the silent kitchen and Ianto dialed the volume down as far as he possibly dared and waited for the automated message to begin, which it did in a clipped female voice. It droned on about several figureheads that Ianto remembered being quite uncooperative with Torchwood and only half listened until something caught his attention.
"…if you wish to speak to security, please press 26 now." Maybe they could get him Jack's number, he hoped as he pressed the appropriate buttons. It was his best shot so far. The phone clicked then began to ring again.
"Jack Harkness." The sleep in his voice reminded Ianto of the many times when he answered his phone from Ianto's embrace after a blissful night in bed. Ianto nearly dropped the phone as the voice reverberated through his body and he bit back a sob. "Hello?"
Do you remember? Ianto wanted to say. Do you remember the day we spent in bed? We were in our own little world for 24 hours; just us and no one else. You thought I was asleep and you told me you loved me. Said you hated that you could never sway it to my face. Said I deserved more but I didn't, I only wanted you. I always will. Ianto's breath grew ragged.
"Who the hell is this?" Jack growled, sounding just like he did when he ordered Ianto to execute Lisa. Ianto wanted to speak but there was something broken, something dead in Jack's voice that cracked Ianto's heart in two, filling his throat with a sudden onslaught of despair.
Do you miss me? Have you kept your promise? Do you still love me?
The only answer was the dial tone.
With tears streaming down his face, Ianto shut the phone lid slowly. Now what? Jack was here, on Earth, head of security at one of the most well defended bases in Her Majesty's Armed Forces. What did he need Ianto for now?
"Did it help, hearing his voice?" Martha's voice, ragged from sleep floated through the shadows as barely a whisper yet Ianto jumped all the same. He turned toward the sound and could barely make her outline out in the darkness. He couldn't seem to speak so he shrugged. They existed in the dark in silence for a while before the whisper of robe against skin told him Martha had gone back to bed.
One thing was for certain: hearing his voice wasn't enough, Ianto needed to see him. Tomorrow, he decided. Tomorrow he would ask Martha to take him to Jack and tomorrow everything would change.
Jack tossed and turned. Great, now he couldn't sleep because of that stupid prank call. Yet, as Jack swung his feet over the edge of the bed to sit up, he realized something bugged him about that call. He knew he could just call for a trace but that would require waking someone up and he didn't feel like having a partner in his insomnia. Just as well I woke up, he thought as he lay back down. He was dreaming about Ianto. Again. His promise to never forget was haunting him and he didn't want live like this any longer. But he didn't have a choice; he deserved this torture because it was his fault they had died. Wasn't it?
Fully awake now, Jack decided to blow off some steam at the firing range just one block over. Some generals had an unusual training method of waking their men from a dead sleep and rushing them to the range, so it was always open. Jack supposed the technique made sense, the enemy wouldn't tell you in advance when they were going to attack and one of the oldest war tactics was to catch your enemy off guard by attacking while they slept.
The 24-hour gun range also meant that people like Jack had access to it whenever they needed, even at nearly three in the morning. He ignored the salute of the attending corporal as he walked into the range. He quickly set his target and clamped on his ear guards. As he raised his Webley to shoot his mind wandered to his training sessions with his Torchwood team. He used it as a gauge of how far he could push the flirting with everyone except Owen; it had been too soon after Katie's death. Tosh hadn't melted into a puddle of goo, but she hadn't remained cold like Suzie. It gave them something to bond over other than him saving her from a life as a UNIT prisoner.
Gwen…well, Gwen's had been like two teenagers making eyes across the hall. It was charged with energy that at the time Jack mistook for sexual. Now he realized it was simply his desire to remember Rose through Gwen.
Ianto's, of course, had been different, it was Ianto. Despite being just an archivist, Torchwood London had taught him how to shoot so their session had merely been a refresher. A boring time indeed had it not been for the slow burn of desire that flickered between them. Every touch was charged with nearly tangible want and every breath a bit shallower than the last. It was the tension from the warehouse only tenfold. After discovering Lisa, Jack always wondered how much of that tension was fear and how much was genuine desire.
Jack threw down his headgear in frustration as the paper target sailed toward him. He needed a day where he didn't think of Ianto or Torchwood or his family. He didn't want to forget them, but he was drowning in his sorrow and he desperately needed a life preserver. Something had to give.
"Major Harkness?" A young voice floated to Jack like a sign from God, if Jack believed in Him, of course. Greg Hutchinson stood off to the side, his blue eyes too much like Ianto's watching him with understanding he should have.
"What are you doing here Hutchinson?" Jack demanded in a tone that was much harsher than he meant to use. The boy didn't even flinch.
"Same as you, I suppose. Couldn't sleep." He shrugged, a fluid shift of shoulders. He raised the unloaded gun in his hand. "Thought I'd try to improve my shooting." He glanced down then looked up at Jack shyly through his lashes in a practice look of not-so-innocent invitation. "Have any pointers for me?"
Something inside Jack fought through the guilt and anguish and screamed at him to take this chance. Greg wasn't much younger than Ianto and was clearly willing. But even Jack knew the dangerous repercussions if they were found out. Jack knew he could count on Greg to keep those gorgeous, pink, kissable lips shut, he just didn't want to see the young man's life ruined because of him.
It startled Jack to realize he could think of someone else in a sexual way when Ianto was only dead a few months, but it was out there now and Jack found he didn't want to take it back. Besides, the look on Greg's face wasn't exactly helping. Had Jack been thinking clearly, he would have seen this growing affection earlier and put an end to it.
Movement caught his eye and Jack thought he could see Ianto in the doorway. A faraway voice begged in beautiful Welsh vowels for Jack to never forget and his fear that if he moved on then he would start to let go of the details and soon begin to break that promise grew.
He took a step back; somehow he had leaned toward Hutchinson and sighed, "Just remember what I told you in training the other day and you'll be fine."
Disappointment flickered across young (too young) features and Jack began to walk away when a plaintive, "Sir?" stopped him in his tracks. Jack swallowed back the lump in his throat and hoped he looked calm when he turned back to face the young soldier.
"I don't presume to know what you're going through, sir," he said nervously. "But I know you're hurting and I wanted to say if there was anything I could do-"
"Thank you Hutchinson," Jack cut him off before he could finish, before Jack could contemplate taking up his offer. "But this is something I need to handle on my own." He would forever be on his own, just like the Doctor.
After returning to his house and crawling into bed, a new thought formed on the edge of his consciousness and if he concentrated he could almost hear Ianto saying it. Maybe it was his way of letting go of the guilt, to imagine Ianto condoning it. But Jack had lived mired in his guilt for too long. To move on wasn't to forget Ianto, Tosh, Owen and the hundreds more who died for him. To move on was, as Ianto's letter said, to help even more people in the memory of those he had lost. He could do this; he tried to convince himself as he slipped into a dreamless sleep. He could move on.
Ianto and Martha sat in the car outside the base for nearly an hour, Ianto watching the man whose life had completely consumed his own since Torchwood One fell. Jack looked a little distorted through the binocular lens yet seemed the same. Would he have dark circles under his eyes upon closer inspection? Would there be lines of grief etched on his face? Or was his face stretched with that trademark grin, all the darkness Ianto associated with his gaze gone?
"So, what do you think you want to do?" Martha asked softly, without judgment or retribution. Ianto didn't move from his watchful post, though the binoculars wavered slightly. If he got out of the car, he was changing his and Jack's life forever. They'd struggle with trying to reconcile the past, present and future. They'd probably revert to some of their old arguments. And he already could see the shadows of memories from their other life in Jack's eyes, the final unmoving barrier between them. Ianto didn't know if their new life could survive that.
Or he could tell Martha to turn around and Jack could believe him dead and continue to move on. Ianto could start a new life here as Rose and the Doctor had made it perfectly clear there was no way he could return to the other world. He could start from scratch, move away from Cardiff and Torchwood. Have a normal job and live a normal life. But he would never be able to completely forget and those memories would be the constant hurdle between him and actually starting fresh.
"Ianto?" Martha laid a gentle hand on his arm. "We stay here much longer and they're bound to notice us."
Ianto took another look at Jack through the binoculars before lowering them slowly to his lap. He turned and smiled at Martha before taking a deep breath. He'd made his choice.
And there we have it! What did you think? Please let me know!
Additional author's notes: There were several nods to all things Torchwood in this fic. There were mentions of events from the follwoing radio plays: The Dead Line, Golden Age, Lost Souls and Asylum. I own nothing, the BBC does, and I thank them for it. Mostly. I also want it noted that I haven't watched CoE since July so everything came from memory.
I also snuck in the Brigone, an alien race I created in my one-shot, Battlefield, as well as a piece of dialogue or two.
Rhys and Ianto getting drunk and covering Gwen in post-its is the original idea of the amazing a_silver_story, over on LJ, from her fic series, The Torchwood IM 'Verse. Again, I don't own it, but I freaking adore it! Check it (and the rest of her amazing fics) out! You won't regret it!
The poem on Lisa's headstone is "To Those Whom I Love And Those Who Love Me" by Mary Alice Ramish
One last thing: Before you ask, I don't intend on following up this fic any time soon. Real life and other fandoms have taken me away from this fic and Torchwood, however there may be a time where I suddenly feel inspired and write an epilogue! You never know.