And now for the final chapter ...
The coffee shop was busy but the sounds of fellow patrons had faded into the distance as Gwen kept her gaze on Jack. He had only come to say goodbye, to leave her once more. For a moment self-pity overwhelmed her until she thought of all she had to keep her grounded here while he had … nothing, just memories of people he had lost. If the tables had been turned she wouldn't want to stay either. As she waited for him to speak, to tell her what he planned for his future, she buried her own disappointment and wished, hoped, he would find some lasting happiness.
"Travel," he said finally. "But before I do, I want to show you something. Come with me."
He pulled her up and led the way to the lifts. She tried to get him tell her where they were going but he merely smiled enigmatically. She contented herself with hanging onto his arm; Jack was a very special man and it was unlikely she would see him again once he left this time. She was going to make the most of her time with him. They got off at the fifth floor and he led her down the corridor and used the key card to open the door to room 516.
"Here we are," he announced, holding open the door for her.
"And there was I thinking we were going to the roof," she joked stepping into the room.
It was a typical hotel room with a small seating area, bed and wardrobe. The large window looked onto the street and there was a glimpse of Cardiff Castle through a gap in the buildings. But the room did not keep her attention for long, that was taken by the man lying propped up on the bed reading a newspaper. Her jaw dropped open in shock.
Anticipating this reaction, Jack grinned as he flung his greatcoat down. "This one insisted on tagging along, wouldn't take no for an answer."
A little earlier and a long way away
Jack felt strange and familiar at the same time. He was dressed once more in his dark blue trousers and light blue shirt with the braces over his shoulders. He had to check the mirror in The Phaeton's cabin to remind himself what he looked like. With a wry smile and a laugh, he picked up his personal possessions and put them into his pockets. He was strapping on his Webley when the door to the cabin opened and Ianto entered. Jack's breath caught for a moment, the Welshman was wearing his close-fitting black leather outfit.
"Weren't you even going to say goodbye?" asked Ianto, crossing his arms and watching Jack closely.
"I can't get involved with the authorities. Loomis covered a bit … but it'll soon become clear I don't belong here."
"Where do you belong, Jack Harkness? You're no more a 21st century Earther than I am."
"Around. But Cardiff in 2010 is the nearest I have to a home."
Ianto took a step forward. "And something bad happened there, I understood that much. What was it?"
"I lost someone. Someone I … cared about."
"And now you're not in the market for any one else. That's why you're skipping out on me." It was a statement but also a question.
"No, that's not it." Jack looked away, no longer able to meet Ianto's penetrating gaze. "It's complicated."
"You don't feel anything for me. That right?" Ianto moved closer, his gaze fixed unflinchingly on Jack's face, challenging him and demanding answers.
"Wrong! I care a lot for you but …" Jack paused for breath and to search for the right words. "The man I lost, his name was Ianto Jones and he looked a lot like you. That's why I'm here, I'm searching for another Ianto. I've been told that there is one, somewhere, who will be my true love." Jack had said it, everything was out in the open now. He hung his head, staring at his boots not wanting to see Ianto's reaction. When the response came, it was a complete surprise.
"So there's more than one of me … cool." Ianto reached a hand to cup Jack's face and raise it up so he could see the expression. "Am I like the man you lost?"
"To look at. Not otherwise, not really."
"So I'm not your true love?"
"I … I don't know. Maybe. But … even if you wanted to come, I can't rip you away from your life here. You have friends, family … it wouldn't be right."
Ianto laughed shortly. "You're a cocky sod. Who gave you the right to make decisions for me? Besides, you owe me an explanation. I still want to know how you survived that radiation."
"It's a long story."
"Then forget about going anywhere." Ianto paused for effect. "Unless you take me with you."
"You'd come?" asked Jack tentatively. His assumptions were being turned on their head so fast he couldn't keep track. This Ianto was not bothered by what he had heard and was offering to accompany Jack. Could it possibly be true?
"Damn right I would!" He leant forward and gave Jack a deep, penetrating kiss before turning on his heel and heading for the door. When it opened, he reached outside and picked up a small holdall which he slung over his shoulder and came back into the cabin. "Where do we go first?" he asked, one eyebrow raised.
Jack's rollercoaster emotions settled into an overwhelming burst of happiness and sheer joy as he finally realised what he was being offered. Ianto wanted to come with him, had packed his bag and stood ready to leave there and then. No prevarication, no conditions, no arrangements to make, no goodbyes to be said. He was ready to throw his lot in with Jack. It was the answer to all his hopes and dreams.
"Cardiff." Jack grabbed his greatcoat and shrugged it on, the grin on his face reaching from ear to ear. "Hang on."
With Ianto standing behind him, arms round his waist, Jack pressed the buttons on the wand and the two men winked out of that reality.
Here and now
Gwen stood stock-still not sure she could believe her eyes. Getting up from the bed was … Ianto Jones! He had the same chiselled cheekbones, strong jaw and small nose. His eyes, which were looking from her to Jack and back again, were a deep blue. He was the same height and he moved in the same way. But then she started to notice the differences. Most obvious were the skintight leather trousers and snug white T-shirt and the long curly hair that fell to his collar and was pushed back behind his ears. As she stared, unable to look away or say anything, she noticed a faint scar above one eye.
"This is Gwen," said Jack, standing beside Ianto and putting an arm round his waist. "I expect she'll say hello eventually."
"Going by her reaction, I understand why you wouldn't let me outside." Ianto crossed his arms and leant against Jack familiarly.
"Oh … my ... God, he even sounds the same." Gwen had found her voice at last. She closed the distance between them and tentatively put out a hand to stroke Ianto's cheek. "This is … It's un-fucking-believable!"
"Hands off, he's mine." Jack's arm tightened round Ianto.
"I'm nobody's, Harkness, and don't you forget it." Ianto straightened up and took a pace away from Jack. "This must be pretty strange for you," he said to Gwen.
"Uh huh," she agreed shyly. This man looked so like the Ianto they had lost she itched to hug him but held back. She felt at a distinct disadvantage until she noticed the uncertainty in his stance; maybe he wasn't as confident as he looked. "And you."
"Oh yeah. Strange time, strange place, strange people. And this one's the strangest of the lot." He gestured to Jack who was standing silently watching them. "So, Jack says he's known you for ages … How about you give me the lowdown? He's a secretive so-and-so."
"Tell me about it!" They laughed and turned to look at Jack and saw tears running down his face. "Oh, sweetheart!" Gwen went to Jack and wrapped her arms round him before holding out a hand to Ianto and pulling him into the group hug.
Holding them both, Jack continued to weep. Not usually sentimental, he had been unable to stop the tears when the others had stood together. Reminders of other times had assailed him, along with regrets and the pain of loss but overall he had been happy to see them together if only briefly. Cardiff in 2010 was the one place in the universe that this Ianto Jones could not stay for long; there were too many people – family, friends and acquaintances – who knew the other Ianto. So this was the only time he would stand next to Gwen and the old team - part of it at least - be reunited.
"You two, you mean so much to me," said Jack eventually, kissing the tops of their heads.
"Daft sod," responded Ianto, pulling out of his arms. "Let's have a drink."
The three of them remained in the hotel for the next two hours. Over drinks from the mini-bar they got to know one another better and talked. Ianto found out a bit more about Jack while the latter discovered what had been going on in Cardiff while he had been away. Gwen was told how the two had met and all about The Phaeton's brush with disaster. The two men also told her of their plans to travel the galaxy, bumming lifts on freighters and spaceliners and stopping where and when it suited them.
When Rhys called to find out where she was, Gwen was brought back to the here and now and realised it was time to leave. She had her life in Cardiff and Jack had his life, with this Ianto, among the stars. She didn't want Jack to leave but realised it was inevitable. With fond farewells to Ianto, she left the hotel room with Jack.
As the two walked to the lifts he asked, "So what do you think?"
"About Ianto? He … he's lovely. He's really different to our Ianto, you won't walk all over this one!"
"Huh! I never did!"
"Maybe not, but this one will stick up for himself and tell you when you're wrong. I think that'll do you a lot of good. I'm really pleased you found him and I wish you all the happiness in the world."
"Thanks, Gwen, that means a lot." They had reached the lifts and stood, neither wanting to say their final farewells.
"Now, while I have the chance …" She pulled him in a hug and kissed him, a real smacker on the lips, with tongue. "I've been wanting to do that for the longest time," she admitted when she released him. "Look after yourself, and him."
"I will, long as you promise to leave UNIT. I'll be back to check," he warned with a smile.
Suddenly serious, she said, "I hope so, Jack, I really do. I don't want to think that I'll never see you again."
Unable to promise he would be back in her lifetime, instead he pulled her into a fierce embrace. "Be happy, Gwen Cooper."
She disentangled herself from his arms and, tears streaming down her face, blindly got on the waiting lift and pushed the button for the ground floor. Her last sight of him was just before the doors closed. He stood with hands in his trouser pockets and his shirt sleeves rolled up, just as she had seen him most days since they had met.
Jack stayed in the corridor long after the lift had departed. Eventually he returned to room 516 and Ianto Jones. One chapter of his life had ended and another was about to begin.
I hope you liked the ending. Thanks for your support and reviews - Jay.