Ianto was still stood in the Hub next to the computer screen, Jack beside him. The rest of the team were stood around at different stations as if they'd always been there. The confusion only lasting a second before it all came rushing back to him. Jack reached out.
'No,' Ianto said, voice hoarse, stepping away from Jack. 'You do not get to comfort me.'
Jack watched as Ianto moved away, disappearing out the cog door.
'What happened?' Gwen asked. Jack just shook his head once before he finally looked up at the remaining members of his team. Toshiko was shaking as if she was cold, and Owen felt the strong desire for a drink as the overwhelming guilt settled uneasily in Gwen's stomach.
Jack was looking round at his team, not sure what to say to them when Owen's phone started ringing. He pulled it out his pocket with a shaking hand and answered it. Toshiko was hugging herself, looking down at the floor of the Hub in quiet contemplation. Gwen suddenly turned to her desk having patted her pockets down and started moving bits of paper around looking for her phone.
'That was the hospital. They're coming out of their comas,' said Owen as he closed his phone over.
'Good,' said Jack. He nodded a couple of times. 'We'll talk about this in the morning,' Jack said by way of dismissal. Gwen was giving Owen an imploring look as she searched blindly for her car keys on her desk.
'Come on, I'll give you a lift,' Owen said, pulling his car keys out his pocket. 'Tosh, come on, I'll drive you home too,' Owen said, reaching out a hand to her. She flinched, like she'd been hit and Owen pulled back, holding up his hands.
'I'm fine, I just need some sleep,' Toshiko said softly, following Gwen down the stairs towards the cog door. Owen looked back at Jack still stood in the middle of the Hub, watching his team leave. There was a haunted look on his face as his gaze moved round the disarray left behind, but he didn't move until long after his team had gone.
Rhiannon looked away from her youngest as there was a knock on the doorframe of her hospital room. Her brother was stood there looking rather bedraggled.
'What are you doing here?'
'I came to see how you were doing,' said Ianto, taking a tentative step inside the room, his hands shoved deep into his pockets. Johnny was sat in the visitor's chair with David lounging over the arm. Rhiannon gave him a look that clearly said 'get lost'.
'Right, come on kids, we know when we're not wanted,' Johnny said, picking Mica up from the edge of Rhiannon's bed and heading out the room, David following behind.
'You alright?' Rhiannon asked once they were gone.
Ianto laughed. 'I could ask you the same thing.'
'Me, I'm fine. Said they want to keep me in overnight just to make sure,' said Rhiannon. She patted the bed beside her and Ianto sat down a little reluctantly. 'You look like you've been hit by a bus.'
'Feel a bit like it,' Ianto said, running a hand down his face. Rhiannon put her hand on his shoulder, rubbing it slightly.
'You do know it's supposed to be the other way round, with me being in the hospital and everything. You're supposed to be the one comforting-' Rhiannon broke off when she realised Ianto was crying, his shoulders heaving.
'Hey, come on, what's brought all this on, then?' Rhiannon asked. 'I'm fine, stop being silly you daft sod.'
Ianto couldn't stop crying now though. The grief that he had forced down inside him so many months ago was resurfacing as if the wound was fresh, as if it was only yesterday the battle of Canary Wharf had happened, only yesterday he had kissed Lisa for the last time, only yesterday she had died a cyberman.
'This isn't just about me, is it?' Rhiannon asked, when the tears had subsided somewhat.
'I-' Ianto stuttered for a moment, before he shook his head. 'Sorry.'
'Don't be sorry, you dumbo, just tell me what's up.'
'I can't, I need to get back to work,' said Ianto, already rising to his feet. Rhiannon sighed, watching as Ianto straightened his tie slightly.
'That it, is it?'
Ianto didn't say anything, just continued to try and straighten himself up.
'You promised Mica you'd take her out for her birthday,' Rhiannon said. There was a pause where Ianto stopped what he was doing.
'How about this afternoon?'
Rhiannon hadn't expected that to work, but her little brother was looking at her earnestly, running a hand through his hair to maintain some kind of semblance of order. Rhiannon had a brief glimpse of the boy she'd known growing up, hair unkempt and shirt never tucked in.
'Let me just finish off what I've got to do at work and then I'll come back here and pick her up,' Ianto said.
'Alright, I'll hold you to it,' Rhiannon said. Ianto nodded, mouth a thin tight-lipped line. He tried to give her a smile before he left the room but it fell flat. He was grateful Rhiannon didn't beckon him forth for a hug goodbye.
Jack was in the corridor when Ianto stepped out of his sister's room. He was standing outside a room further along the corridor that Ianto now knew held Jack's daughter. Jack stood waiting, watching Ianto instead of approaching him. Ianto hesitated, considered taking the stairs at the other end of the corridor rather than the lift before rationality won out, made him realise he couldn't hide from Jack forever.
'I need a lift back to the Hub,' Ianto said as he approached Jack, not quite meeting his gaze.
'Okay,' Jack agreed.
'I need a shower and some sleep, and I can't-' Ianto stopped, swallowing. 'I want to sleep at the Hub.'
'You can have my bed, I've got paperwork to do,' said Jack. Ianto nodded his thanks, finally meeting Jack's gaze. Jack nodded too, daring to reach out a hand and place it on Ianto's shoulder, guiding him towards the lift. Ianto couldn't resist looking back in the room they were stood beside before he left. Alice Carter looked exactly like her father.
'There's someone here to see you,' the nurse said once she'd finished taking Rhys' blood pressure, nodding her head towards the door. Gwen was stood there, hugging herself, looking rather worse for wear. She had bags under her eyes that were red, either due to lack of sleep or because she'd been crying.
'They said I've been out for a couple of days. Missed the bank holiday weekend, apparently,' Rhys said as Gwen stepped into the room tentatively. Gwen nodded slightly.
'We win at the footie?' he asked.
Gwen shrugged. 'I'm sorry, pet. I don't know.' She didn't say anything else, didn't move any closer to the bed as the nurse left the room, shooting Gwen a reassuring smile.
'They want to keep me in overnight, just to make sure I don't relapse or anything,' Rhys said. Gwen nodded again before she burst into tears.
'Hey, come here, I'm okay now,' Rhys said, shifting over in the bed to make room for Gwen. She toed off her shoes and crawled in beside him, still crying as she rested her head against his shoulder, her hand clinging to the hospital gown with a tight fist.
'I'm so sorry,' she said, hiccoughing slightly. She sniffed, releasing the gown so she could wipe her running nose on the sleeve of her leather jacket.
'What have you got to be sorry for, eh?' Rhys asked, although he already knew the answer. Torchwood. This had all been to do with Torchwood.
'Don't,' Gwen stopped him. 'Don't, Rhys, just don't.'
There was a quiet desperation in Gwen's voice that made him stop. It made him pull her closer and not say another bad word against Torchwood. Not for the rest of the day at least. As usual, Rhys was left to his own quiet contemplation of what Torchwood could have done to his girlfriend this particular day, but he reasoned it was more what they had done to him. There didn't seem to be any lasting damage apart from the emotional turmoil Gwen seemed to be going through now.
'I was thinking about songs for our first dance at the wedding,' Rhys said when Gwen's sobs had quietened some. She sniffled a couple of times and shifted in his hold so that her hair tickled the underside of his unshaven chin.
'I was thinking of something really classic, like Grease Lightening or something,' Rhys said. Gwen looked up at him to check he was actually joking before hitting him deftly on the arm. Rhys laughed, and Gwen was soon giggling into his shoulder as she wiped the tears from her cheeks.
Owen rapped lightly on the doorframe of Jack's office, causing Jack to look up from the contemplation of his hands.
'You found Ianto?' he asked as his eyes scanned the room for the normally presentably Welshman.
'He's in the shower.'
Owen wanted to make some rude remark about the Captain not being in there with him, but if there was ever a time to make jokes, this wasn't it.
'Did you take Tosh home?' asked Jack.
Owen nodded, 'And I took Gwen to the hospital.'
A look of confusion crossed Jack's harrowed features. 'Then why are you-'
'Are you alright?'
Jack hesitated for a moment. It still surprised Jack sometimes when Owen revealed the side of him that was more than just medical training.
Owen nodded in silent agreement.
'Guilty,' Jack added, a little breathlessly. His hands were steepled in front of him now, but as he took a long shuddering breath he parted them to cover his face. The clinking of crystal against crystal pulled him sharply from his reverie, looking up to find Owen's hand offering him a glass of his own brandy.
'If there were ever a time for a drink, Jack, this is it,' Owen said, and Jack, despite himself, laughed.
'I think you might be right.'
There was a knock at the door. Owen had left just over an hour ago and since then Toshiko had thrown open every window in her flat, causing a chill wind to rush through the place. Toshiko didn't care. She felt claustrophobic even in the middle of her open plan living room, sat as she was on the floor. The knock came again and the breeze rattled the door that she hadn't bothered to lock. She didn't like the feeling of being trapped.
The door opened and closed quietly, followed by the sound of feet padding across the carpet to where she was sat staring vacantly at one of the walls decorated as it was with pictures of family and friends and generic photographs of places by people she hadn't really heard of. She was gazing intently at one that depicted a generic sunset as if it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. There was an anticipation inside her that filled her up with excitement when she thought of seeing the real thing in a few hours even if the sun was hidden behind layers of strata and cumulus.
'Come here,' Owen said as he coaxed her to her feet, making her sit down on the settee. He went and put a couple of the windows on the latch, leaving some of them open. He returned with two glasses and a blanket that he wrapped around Toshiko's shoulders. Toshiko finally noticed the bottle he'd left on her coffee table. It was a good bottle of whiskey. Single malt. Unopened.
They drank in silence until Owen fell asleep. Toshiko prised the glass from his hand and put the half empty bottle in her kitchen. She covered him with the blanket he had brought for her and finally locked the front door.
She stood by her bedroom window for a long time, waiting for the sun to go down, glancing back every now and then to check that Owen was still there. She missed the sunset, but the sunrise woke her the next morning, illuminating her room through the open windows and blinds.
'So, how did it work out?'
'It could have gone better.'
'It could have gone worse.'
Jack sighed. 'I suppose.' Jack shifted slightly, pulling his greatcoat further round him in an effort to keep the chill out before sitting down on the bench in the late afternoon fog that was settling over the bay.
'I still don't understand,' said Jack. 'I went back and erased all of Torchwood Tower's records on the Rift and it changed everything, but when Ianto changed things it sorted itself out. How?'
'A butterfly flaps its wings and light-years away a sun explodes. It's just the way it is sometimes.'
Jack sighed again, finally turning to give the man he was sat beside an exasperated look.
'It's all wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff.' The Doctor waved his hands about in mid-air as if to make his point. Jack continued to glare at him.
'Logically, Ianto, being the one who was emotionally connected to Torchwood One was close enough to the blast radius when you opened the Rift to create a paradox which he benefited from, altering time so that the battle of Canary Wharf never happened. The others, also caught in the blast radius, couldn't imagine a life without Torchwood so returned to the point before you found them and continued to live as if they'd never been a part of Torchwood.'
It hit Jack then, how everyone's lives were better with Torchwood, something Jack had never thought before. Recently, after everything with Suzie, he'd seen it as condemning everyone to an early grave, but now he realised that he'd saved everyone from themselves. Without Torchwood, they were nothing, and conversely, Jack without his team was nothing. But Ianto…
'Ianto gave up all that to erase the paradox and thus erase the knowledge that Torchwood One had on the Rift. History now says that the Torchwood agent who had gone to Cardiff to monitor the Rift and Torchwood Cardiff locally never handed his report in when he returned,' said the Doctor.
Jack nodded, taking that piece of information in.
'One more thing before I go,' the Doctor said, reaching out for Jack's Vortex manipulator. 'Need you to leave Ianto a message.'
'Wait, if you're taking my vortex manipulator to plant in the alternate universe with a message from myself how do I get it back?' Jack asked, pulling his wrist away from the Doctor in worry.
'Ianto should still have it in his jacket pocket from when he got it out the archives in Torchwood Tower,' the Doctor observed.
'But if it's a paradox how are you going to get back to Torchwood Tower?'
'God, were you always this full of questions? Torchwood Tower still exists in all alternate realities. I'm just going to pop back in this timeline and leave it in the archives. Ianto will find it.'
The Doctor waited while Jack recorded his message.
'You could have helped, stopped all this from happening,' Jack said as the Doctor was getting to his feet to disappear in his little blue box.
'You don't need my help anymore, Jack. You just need a good shove in the right direction from time to time.'
'What happened to 'Torchwood is evil'?'
The Doctor laughed. 'I'm an old man now, takes me a while to get used to change.' He turned to head back up towards the Plass where he had left the TARDIS.
'See you around, Jack,' he called over his shoulder as the tails of his coat disappeared into a pocket of fog that enveloped the ice cream shop. Jack turned back out to sea, watching as swans and ducks alike were swallowed up by the settling mist. He could hear the lapping of the water against the boardwalk as he watched the Waterbus emerging out of the mist, devoid of passengers for a change.
In the dampness of the Hub, Ianto was knotting his tie, standing in the middle of Jack's office. He could hear the distant rumble of the cog door opening and presumed it was Jack returning from wherever he'd been. Ianto had expected him to be cocooned in paperwork when he climbed out of Jack's bunker after his all too brief nap. It hadn't really surprised him though when he'd found himself alone in the expanse of the Hub.
'Fancy grabbing something to eat?' Jack asked from the doorway of his office as he watched Ianto crossing over to the coat stand.
'I promised my niece I'd take her to the cinema and Pizza Hut,' Ianto said. Jack nodded, trying desperately not to feel abandoned by his team.
'I'm sorry, you know,' Jack said as he watched Ianto pulling on his coat.
'I know,' said Ianto, sorting the collar on his coat as his eyes met Jack's. He pushed his hands into his pockets and felt the roughness of leather next to his right hand. He pulled out Jack's vortex manipulator, regarding it for a moment before handing it over to Jack.
'I trust you,' Ianto said quietly, his mouth twitching slightly as the start of a smile he couldn't quite find the strength for. Instead he moved out of the office, past Jack towards the exit.
Jack watched Ianto leaving through the cog door, Ianto's words playing on repeat as Jack's fingers caressed his vortex manipulator. Jack knew they were supposed to be consoling but if anything they made him feel worse. Ianto had willingly opened the Rift and left behind the perfect life for a life with Jack Harkness. An unpredictable life that would certainly see the death of Ianto Jones, and never see him into old age with grandchildren clustered round him to hear bedtime stories.
Jack thought about going to see Alice and Steven, but Alice was right. He was dangerous. Torchwood was dangerous, and danger didn't go hand and hand with family, no matter how hard its members tried to make it. Torchwood may be the worst kept secret in Cardiff, but secrets were still buried deep at its core.
Jack placed the vortex manipulator back in its rightful place upon his wrist as he glanced down at the report sat squarely in the middle of his desk that had been sat there since early Friday morning. He finally picked it up, seeing the date as being a few days prior to the battle of Canary Wharf. It had the Torchwood logo stamped across the top, and the address for The Torchwood Institute in London beneath it. The subject of the report was the Rift in Space and Time that runs through Torchwood Cardiff and the plans to use it to harness Time Travel. Jack flicked to the back of the document and found Ianto's signature at the bottom.
Jack sat down at his desk with a sigh, pulling off the yellow post-it note that Ianto had attached to the front before he started to read.
I did my duty for Queen and Country. Ianto.
- END -