This, my friends, is the final chapter of Jones and Harkness. Author's notes (read: gushing thanks) at the bottom. Enjoy!
He loves me... he loves me not... he loves me... he loves me not... he loves me.
Jack plucked the final red petal from the stem with his middle and forefinger, raising it close to his face to analyse its perfect satin curve. Soon it would wither and die but for now, it was flawless, young and bright, and nothing could touch it.
He sighed and surreptitiously brushed the massacred bloom into his pocket, not wanting to be caught destroying the floral arrangements. And wasn't that just like him? he thought bitterly – allowing something beautiful to become spoiled but not wanting to take the blame. He had spent the night re-examining every word Ianto had said to him and remembering all of the times he had taken his young lover for granted. When eventually he lost count, that was the final straw.
Now, slightly more alert and with only the hangover of a sobbing-induced migraine, he had to wonder what exactly he was giving up a life of love and understanding for. While he enjoyed the monetary wealth that his name afforded him, the social aspect wasn't of interest and hadn't been for a long time. After all, he'd spent much of his adult life purposefully disgracing himself, and in his time with Ianto slowly encouraging a distance between himself and his old friends, specifically those who frequented The Torchwood Club.
But as much as he had floated through life as a younger man, this had always been a certainty. He could be a self-destructive as he wanted up until the point of becoming a husband/father/respectable member of society, and that had always seemed so far away. He'd never possessed the courage or wherewithal to question it, and now, here it was. It had seemed like the selfless option, that inherent duty as the sole Harkness male to be all that a normal man should be – except that he hadn't reckoned on falling so deeply in love that he could hardly stand the feeling.
Now, his future stared him in the face like a great yawning chasm, and all he wanted to do was reach back for his sole support...
No. Ianto Jones isn't mine to fall back on any more.
Jack stared unseeingly at the tabletop before him, oblivious to the movement and barking of orders all around, and sank even more deeply into his mourning. He envisaged Ianto's face – those bright sardonic eyes, the teasing half-smile, a light flush over his cheekbones as a result, perhaps, of a stealthy kissing session instigated by Jack – and all oxygen was stolen from him at a startling speed. Every inch of Jack ached for the man, and he knew once and for all that he simply couldn't survive without him. Not to fight his battles, not to bail him out of trouble, not to make him coffee and clean up his messes – no, he needed Ianto Jones like he needed air. Just to be there. Just to see him smile, to make him laugh, to revel in him at his most unguarded and know that he'd made a fellow lonely little boy just a bit happier. Ianto loved him for the right reasons; it wasn't part of the job description, Jack knew that. And he loved Ianto in a way he hadn't thought he was even capable of, but while waiting for the other shoe to drop, he'd neglected to show it as well as he should have. He knew that now, and he was paying for it. God, Ianto... what can I do? It's only you; it's always been you...
Martha dropped inelegantly beside him, making him start in his seat and refocus on a face with a softer jawline and much wider, darker eyes than he'd been imagining.
"Mother is driving me mad" she sighed, using an expensively-printed place card to fan herself. "I'll be glad when this is all over."
Jack blinked at her and then stared out across the hall, watching as flustered staff placed down vast vases, arranged the final decorations, and stifled every ounce of personal creativity in order to follow Dame Francine's instructions to the letter. Everything looked deeply lavish, but it was all for show, covering up what was essentially the crumbling remains of a Manor that the family could no longer truly afford – the perfect metaphor for a hastily shoved-together partnership between two virtual strangers which could not possibly go well. Despite the rich colour scheme the sight was cold and lifeless, and Jack felt his innards contract until he was almost suffocating.
"This isn't me" he muttered, shaking his head in wonder at the false spectacle that was to become the final nail Ianto spoke of. The last one in the coffin of his freedom.
"What?" Martha replied sharply, sounding so much like her mother that Jack inwardly shuddered.
"This... it isn't me. It's god-awful, in fact" Jack said, letting slip a little hysterical laugh. He jumped when Martha's slender hand clamped tightly around his wrist and squeezed hard.
"You listen to me, Jack Harkness" she hissed, "do you think I want this either? I just need to get away from my mother. I was prepared to marry that Smith moron to do it, and I'm prepared to marry you. I need your name, your fortune, and your cooperation in spawning a few sprogs, and you need to fulfil your obligation as a man. I've completely abandoned my standards by this point, and you can't afford to be picky any more either, so just paste on a smile and let's get through this hideous farce."
Jack's mouth fell open as he stared at his future wife. She was beautiful, well-bred, a very wise social choice... and Jack knew he never wanted to see her again after today.
A concept struck him as lightening through smog; a crude idea, a dangerous one in fact, but as it formed in his mind, it sent tendrils of frantic hope coursing through each and every vein. Could it work? If not, he might lose not only Ianto but everything else, the two worlds colliding and collapsing around him... but if so, he could be the one to save the day once and for all.
The tinkling of piano keys emanating from the shallow stage at the other end of the hall attracted his attention, and as the introductory notes of a song Jack knew all too well were idly practised, he lost his breath all over again. Their song – rushing memories of being wedged onto a small leather stool, watching those artists' fingers move, sharing a dark look of longing during Gwen and Rhys' wedding reception, dancing alone in their suite afterwards – this was it. And while Jack was not a man of superstition, this was a coincidence that could not be ignored. It was time to stand up for what he believed in.
"I have to make a couple of phone calls" he murmured in a haze of his own whirling emotions, backing away from the hall which would hold the laughably-entitled engagement 'celebration' and running through the Manor with only one goal in mind.
For once in his life, Jack Harkness knew exactly what he had to do.
Ianto Jones had long since given up keeping a hold on the day. Guilt had slowly consumed his morning, and the afternoon saw it entwine with sorrow, until he – Jones Jnr., voted finest professional valet under the age of thirty twice by his peers – was struggling to function. Speaking to Jack the previous evening hadn't cleared his head as he'd hoped. Instead, disgust for letting himself loose around Jack to the extent where he felt it was appropriate to lay his personal issues out in the open reigned, and he was horrified that he'd allowed it to occur.
He had promised himself that he could maintain professionalism alongside his romantic relationship with Jack, and yet he'd had the almighty gall to criticize his master, upset him, use him...
You weren't criticizing your master. You were speaking to him as your lover.
He took a deep breath as the thought rang through his mind, taking a break from buffing the same crystal Champagne flute he had been shining for the previous ten minutes. Perhaps he was the one who had issues with the two sides of his persona, not Jack? Jack was dependent, yes... but hadn't he admitted to being that way with others? He relied on Ianto's ingenuity and intelligence to get him out of scrapes, but perhaps Ianto had been too quick to assume it was solely because of his job. Damn it, I have to be less sensitive about that...
He rubbed at the bridge of his nose, attempting to soothe the ache which lay behind. Yes, he had needed to say all that he did, but maybe it should also have been the time to tell Jack that he'd brightened his life more than he could have imagined, that he'd opened his eyes to unknown pleasures, and that he'd never met a more compelling human being in his young but world-wise life. Jack was the most beautiful person he had ever known, and Ianto's too-short time with him had been more joyous than he could ever have expected or wished for. He should have said his goodbyes properly. The disappointment remained, of course – his remorse over the blaming tone of his choice of words didn't alter the fact that Jack should have finally taken his cue to stand up for himself and, by association, their love – but god, if only he'd said... Jack knew, didn't he? Or would the man marry his new wife thinking that there was nobody left in the world who loved him?
The mutter of theatrically hushed voices roused him from his reflection. On recognising one of them as that of Jack's aunt, he focussed the slightly rusted eavesdropping skills his father had taught him and leaned forward in his seat, giving the impression of busyness despite knowing that those to whom the voices belonged could not see him. They must have been just outside of the kitchen door by the sound of it, apparently not having realised at any point in their lives that servants lived to absorb every tiny morsel of knowledge about their employers. Thankfully Ianto was alone in his polishing, and therefore able to hear every muffled word.
"-sless idiot, Francine. He's worse than the Adam child, although at least he's gone ahead with his side of our agreement and returned to young Rose with his tail between his legs. Provided he does his duty, she won't ever have to know about his little indiscretion. But Jack, good lord, the boy can't do a thing by himself!"
A long breath was released and Ianto imagined that Dame Francine was exhaling the smoke of her hundredth frenzied cigarette of the day.
"It doesn't matter, Alice. As long as he has his own place, money, and is getting Martha out of his damned wreck of a house, I just don't care!"
"Mmmm. Well, obviously he'll have to get rid of that disgusting flat of his and buy a real home. Nearer to me I think, with a garden for the children, obviously. And I think it's time he finds a job; I've already been enquiring into a career for him, in fact. I know a retired banker, an old friend of my husband's, who could be vastly useful. I can see Jack in a bank, doing a sensible, adult job. Not that he needs the money of course, since he lives off his trust fund, but I think perhaps that the ready cash should be put aside for the spawn."
"Indeed so. That boy needs to understand the harsh realities of life, Alice."
"Absolutely, it's the straight and narrow for him from now on. I won't be taking no for an answer – not any more."
Ianto didn't know when his lips had parted in shock. How naïve had he been, telling himself over and over that marriage would make Jack's life easier in the long run? He was going to be more of a prisoner than ever, chained to a woman he barely knew to have his future moulded by a cold, relentless guardian.
Ianto ached for Jack, realising just how comparatively simplistic his own life was. Ianto was only truly losing Jack, but Jack was losing everything he had. He wasn't incapable of making sacrifices at all – he was making all of them at once, if not exactly the right ones for the right reasons.
For once in his life, Ianto Jones had absolutely no idea what to do.
Glancing around at the guests who were slowly pouring in, Jack wondered if he'd ever felt such disrespect for a group of people in his life. Having almost no family himself, all of the gathered masses were related to Martha in some way, and they all seemed to be cast in the same shape – shallow, mercenary, sharp and cold. For some reason, Aunt Alice had also seen fit to invite Owen Harper and Toshiko Sato – apparently the only 'friends' of Jack's she could tolerate – both of whom avoided Jack's stare as they scuttled in.
By the time the 'party' (Jack used the term loosely) was in full swing, he was completely delirious with nerves. Circling the hall under the guise of mingling, he subtly searched for Ianto, wondering for a sickening moment whether he was being kept away entirely in case he dared to speak to Jack.
"Come and dance" Martha ordered from behind him, and his dislike for her suddenly trebled. He spun around and looked into her irritated face, mourning the fact that such beauty had been offered to such an unpleasant person.
"Why?" he asked, allowing himself a little belligerence.
"Because everybody here wants to see the happy couple enjoying each other's company" she replied through gritted teeth as if speaking to a particularly intolerable child, and grabbed his sleeve to drag him onto the dance floor. Pasting on his falsest of smiles, he unwillingly took her in his arms and they began to sway to the funereal tune Dame Francine had chosen.
"Why did you have to wear that bloody awful jacket?" Martha sighed, the bitter tone in freakish contrast to the bright smile she was displaying to the world.
Jack glanced down at his navy blue blazer with its contrasting red piping and bright silver buttons, and shrugged.
"I like this jacket" he said.
"I'm going to burn your entire wardrobe when we're married" Martha hissed back.
"You do and I'll throw you on top of the fire" Jack growled, gaining great joy from the sudden furious stiffness which flooded his fiancée's body.
Whatever Martha said next was lost to Jack as his eye was caught by the only Jones in his life who mattered. Ianto was slowly circling the room with a tray of full glasses, looking to anybody else like the perfect butler but to Jack, his stance screamed discomfort and tension. He appeared so lonesome, so tired, and Jack felt a surge of power he hadn't ever known before. It was something he didn't know he possessed, but now it bubbled beneath the skin and only sharpened his new-found sense of clarity. Ianto surely had to know that he was staring, but he was keeping up a steely façade that Jack longed to penetrate.
Gathering up every molecule of self-control, Jack chose to wait. If he was to go through with his plan, timing was essential, and thus he proceeded to spend much of the evening dancing alternately with Martha and her female relatives, all of whom treated him with frosty contempt. After just half an hour, the fact that almost everybody in the room disliked him stopped stinging. Being liked really didn't seem that important now, when there was only one opinion he cared about.
One he'd battered, but hoped wasn't completely beyond repair.
As the night wore on, Ianto's steadfast promise not to so much as look at the dance floor was becoming increasingly difficult to uphold. He caught glances of Jack only twice – the flash of that red piping or a mop of rebelliously-styled hair – and both times he had come perilously close to tripping over some party guest or other. He grew increasingly frustrated with his lack of professionalism, cursing himself once again for allowing his sense of restraint to slip so far, and cursing Jack for breaking him down to a level of humanity he hadn't had any desire to reclaim. Now, he was as open and vulnerable as anybody else and would have to rebuild his own shell almost from scratch.
The third time he saw Jack, the night was finally beginning to wind down. He watched as his former master hopped swiftly onto the musicians' stage, his energy apparently not having diminished despite the hours of dancing, and jump back down after speaking to the conductor briefly. He was smiling, Ianto noticed – actually smiling, naturally smiling, looking light and self-satisfied as he took Martha back into his arms. Ianto felt nausea rise swiftly and he forced it back down with a succession of heavy swallows. Who was he to protest if Jack had chosen to embrace his new life? Perhaps he had realised that he wanted the structure Martha Jones and his Aunt Alice could provide.
The image before him swiftly blurred and Ianto was horrified to discover that his eyes were rapidly filling with tears. Turning towards the nearest wall, he casually swiped at them to remove the excess moisture and stole a few deep breaths. If Jack is happy, so must I be.
Just then, the sound of piano keys being caressed in an achingly familiar pattern began to pour delicately from the stage, and Ianto would never admit that his pulse momentarily stopped. Why this song? he inwardly groaned, those banished tears rushing back. A song that he had once been more or less indifferent to which now held too many memories for him to handle. I have to leave. I can't be here.
Rubbing once more at his face he picked up his empty tray and turned away from the wall, eyes darting towards the exit and his feet following. When his path was blocked by a tall, broad body, he found himself staring into the visage of the last person he expected to stand in his way.
"Ianto Jones" Jack drawled quietly, hands in his pockets and a somewhat shy smile lighting up his eyes.
"Mr. Harkness... can I offer you another drink?" Ianto replied, fighting tooth and nail to keep his voice even. Jack shook his head, refusing to break eye contact.
"No Ianto, not right now. Actually, I wondered if you might do me a little favour" Jack nonchalantly stated, rocking a little on his heels.
"Of course, sir" came the stoic reply, the tray placed aside in a show of flawless servitude. "What is it you wish for?"
"Well you see, the thing is, I'm about to do something really quite foolish and I was wondering if you'd stand by my side as I do it. Y'know, solidarity between friends and all that. All you have to do is say yes or no" Jack explained.
"That sounds familiar" Ianto murmured without thinking, and he was startled when Jack laughed.
"Yep, there's been a lot of that since we've known each other..."
"May I ask what this foolish endeavour entails, sir?"
Jack's smile faded and he removed his hands from his pockets, holding them in front of himself with the palms faced downwards. Ianto was startled to see those fingers he knew so well shaking violently in a manner he'd only witnessed in the heat of passion.
"No more safe options, Ianto Jones" Jack said softly, his voice barely audible over their song, and he extended one quivering limb to his former lover. "Dance with me."
Ianto's breath rushed swiftly from his lungs, and he stared hard at the sincere expression on Jack's tense face. He's making his stand. This ishis sacrifice. In front of all of these people, he wants to show once and for all where his heart lies.
"What about-" he heard himself say, but Jack shushed him with a shake of his head.
"Just yes or no, Ianto."
All of that tension left Jack's face and his eyes widened, as if he'd expected another answer. Ianto supposed that he'd given Jack every reason to think so, but it simply wasn't an option. Not this time.
A smile spread over the older man's face, broad and adoring, and without another word he pulled Ianto through the remaining smattering of guests and onto the dance floor. He wrapped one arm around Ianto's waist, prompting the other man to reciprocate, and took Ianto's spare hand to hold it tightly against his chest. They stood as a mirror image, equal and protective, and began to move.
Around them, nervous laughter and murmuring began, and from the corner of his eye Jack could see his aunt, Dame Francine and Martha Jones quietly fuming but choosing not to step in for as long as everybody else thought that it was a joke. He didn't care. He had Ianto in his arms and he was finally showing the world, in his own way, that this was his priority. To hell with convention. The future was just that, and he would be ready for it when it came, because nobody else was allowed to dictate his life when he had found something too precious to lose.
Unable to stop himself, he began to sing softly along to the tune permeating the room, rubbing his thumb across Ianto's knuckles as he did...
"The very thought of you, and I forget to do,
those little ordinary things that everyone ought to do,
I'm living in a kind of daydream, I'm happy as a king,
and foolish as it may seem, to me, that's everything..."
Ianto smiled at last, his expression finally changing from shock to pleasure as the personal meaning behind the lyrics sunk in.
"It doesn't need saying" he murmured.
"I think it does" Jack replied. "These past two mornings I've woken up knowing that my world was empty because you were gone. I can't live that way. You were wrong, Ianto, I do know how it feels to be the lowest priority, but you saved me from that. I hate that I've made you feel the same loneliness."
Ianto finally broke the connection, lowering his head in shame.
"Jack, I was upset. I had no right to-"
"I needed to hear it, Ianto. But this is me showing that if you can forgive me, I want to spend my life making sure that you know just how important you are."
Ianto raised his eyes once more, bursting with questions, but Jack's expression silenced him again. Jack was taking an enormous risk tonight – in public view at that – and Ianto didn't expect anything from now onwards to be especially easy. However, there really was no question regarding his love for and loyalty to Jack. It was a moot point.
The song wound down, and he opened his mouth to respond when Jack was aggressively wrenched away from him.
"Jack Harkness, cease this revolting display!" Alice whispered in an anguished hiss, her face a picture of wrath "People are staring! The joke has gone too far. You will dance with your fiancée now and put to bed this vile spectacle at once! What will people think?"
Jack glared down at her with disdain as she yanked him further backwards, making him stumble a few steps away from Ianto, who suddenly became aware of countless eyes on him. For the first time perhaps ever, everybody in the room was looking straight at him, and he was painfully aware of the disapproval in every burning stare.
Jack looked over at his lover as he was tugged – literally torn between his two lives – further away by a woman whose strength was astonishing when fuelled by fury. He looked lost, exposed, and as their gazes met again, heartbroken. It was enough to drag Jack from his helpless trance and he relaxed his shoulders, allowing the beloved jacket his aunt was so brusquely pulling to fall free of his body. He heard her screech his name in vexation but only continued to stride back towards the man he loved, taking a moment to absorb the myriad of emotions in those depthless baby-blue eyes before cupping a flushed cheek with one palm, and kissing him on the lips.
For a moment, Ianto was unable to quite force his own mouth to respond, but then Jack's arms were curling around his shoulders, holding him flush to his own body, and the chorus of gasps in the room went completely unheard. The deep, desperate caress tasted of home; not of second chances but new beginnings. Heat exploded between them, feeding an undeniable addiction that was almost debilitating in its intensity. Jack whimpered breathlessly and Ianto moaned in response, entangling his tongue with that of his lover in a well-practised dance until he burned to crawl inside Jack.
The commotion surrounding them sliced through their safe warm bubble all too soon and the connection was broken, causing them to cling even more desperately to one another as they opened their eyes to the fruits of their recklessness.
Ianto glanced over Jack's shoulder and saw Martha Jones openly crying and stamping her feet with rage. Dame Francine looked as though she was suffering a stroke, and Alice Harkness was preparing to charge like a livid bull.
"Need me to do any attacking, sir?" he murmured, unable to stop himself from smiling as Jack's hands flexed against his back.
"Appreciate the offer" he replied into the short, silken hair above Ianto's ear, "but I'm thinking this might be the time to make a swift exit..."
As he watched, several people flounced out of the hall and several more stormed over to where Alice, Francine and Martha were gathered, thankfully blocking the former from descending upon them for a few moments more. Jack was surprised to see a few shy smiles thrown his way from people he didn't know and two members of staff, perhaps similarly trapped by the constraints of society. The most surprising nod of approval came from Owen Harper, to whom Jack replied with a cautious inclination of his own head.
"Ready?" he whispered, slowly releasing Ianto from his embrace and taking one of his hands in his, knotting their fingers tightly.
"Absolutely" Ianto replied and, with absolutely no grace, they dashed across the hall, the crowd parting as if one entity as they flew through the grand double doors and into the cool night air beyond. Screams of ire that Jack recognised as belonging to his aunt followed them, and he simply laughed. It was a laugh of complete and joyous freedom, and Ianto kissed him hard as he was possessed by a kind of high previously unreached.
"You're mad" he whispered into Jack's mouth, and his lover laughed again.
"But you love me" he beamed, and Ianto couldn't deny it. "Are you alright?"
"No broken bones; slight loss of dignity" the younger man nodded, too lost in a whirlwind of adrenaline to make sense of his own feelings just yet.
"Welcome to my world!" Jack declared, before a polite cough interrupted them. A young, male member of staff appeared from behind Jack and pressed his car key into his hand, smiling nervously at them both.
"Your luggage has been placed into the car as requested, sir" he said, pointing towards the vehicle which lay in wait for their departure.
"Thank you" Jack replied, adding a wink for good measure. The young man flushed and moved to walk back towards the house before hesitating.
"The two of you... you're an inspiration, sirs" he said quietly, and was rushing into the Manor before either could respond. Ianto huffed out an incredulous laugh and Jack squeezed his hand.
"Come on" he prompted, and they bundled into the car in a blur of energy.
The wind washed over Ianto's face as they began the drive back towards the city and he allowed his head to fall back, eyes closed and enjoying the unfamiliar sensation of escape. Was this how Jack felt, every time Ianto saved him from an unpleasant fate? He could get used to the rush...
"Don't you want to know where we're going, Ianto?" Jack asked, still grinning so broadly that his cheeks were beginning to ache. He'd made the calls to book the ferry already, blindly hoping that Ianto might wish to join him. His only concern was that the young man would be loathe to leave his home country, but maybe, just maybe he wouldn't care provided they were making the journey together.
"Not especially" Ianto replied, sliding his hand over the the curve of Jack's knee and squeezing. A prickling sensation flooded Jack's body spreading from that same spot, and he knew that trust had been restored. Risking a glance away from the road he found a level serenity and calm in the face of his lover that he'd never before seen, and while the desire to slam down on the breaks and kiss him until neither of them could breathe was enormously powerful, he simply slung his arm around Ianto's shoulders and pulled him close instead, his hand resting over his lover's heart.
"We can go anywhere we want, you and me" he announced, knowing without a doubt that there would be stumbling blocks along the way, but equally sure that thanks to their combined stubbornness, they could overcome it all. "Thank you, Jones. Thank you for this."
"Not at all, sir. Thank you" Ianto replied, his warm breath brushing Jack's temple as he released a sigh of absolute relief. Jack relished the curve of his lover's smile against his skin and pressed his foot more firmly against the accelerator, saying his silent goodbyes to all he was leaving behind as the car was slowly swallowed by the darkness of the hills.
Well, there we are. Exactly forty weeks, over 156,000 words, and it's finally finished. I seriously thought at the beginning that this would be a short bit of fluff to get a bit of practice writing in, but the reason this has lasted so long is thanks to my amazing readers and reviewers encouraging me at every turn. The sheer volume of views I get every week is insane, and I'm still grateful to all of you who read silently. It's encouraging just to know it's read so widely, even without the same level of feedback.
I want to give a special thank you to the handful of people who were supporting me even before I began this story (you know who you are) and have continued to do so, to everyone who's ever taken the trouble to review, and to the ones who've told me that they've started reading or watching Jeeves and Wooster as a result of my scribblings. You have no idea how special that makes me feel!
As for the future, there will definitely be sequels to this because I'm not prepared to give up my lovely Wodewood Universe and as you can already tell, there are going to be questions to answer. I'll also be starting a new AU inspired by another BBC show soon enough, and it'll probably be posted in the M-rated section, so keep an eye out for that if you're interested. The Jones and Harkness art I mentioned a couple of chapters ago doesn't appear to be finished yet, but once it is I'll link to it (the difficult way, because this is FFnet after all) in a sequel/in my profile for everybody to see.
Okay, I think that's enough waffling. There are only so many ways to say thank you, but honestly, this has been such a wonderful venture and I'm so much more confident in my writing just as a result of all the awesome messages I've had. Hopefully I'll keep on improving.
You're all ace.
Furious Dee X