Title: And All My Uphill Clawing
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: Don't own them; just borrowing.
Summary: Jack remembers. And forgets. The first time he suffocates, earth cold and sickly sweet in his lungs, he pushes it out past his lips on the edge of the darkness, two syllables slurred: Ianto.
Spoilers: Specific for Exit Wounds. Set pre-CoE.
Notes: The title comes from Iron & Wine's song "Trapeze Swinger."

The first time he suffocates, earth cold and sickly sweet in his lungs, he pushes it out past his lips on the edge of the darkness, two syllables slurred: Ianto. He thinks if he concentrates hard enough he may still taste that morning's coffee on his tongue, under the dirt and filth. But then the oblivion shudders around him, dark and heavy, and there's nothing.

The stab wound had well past healed before he'd been pushed into the grave, so there's not much his flesh has to do to to repair itself. These are his lungs, his brain, and they're sluggish to come back though the rest of his body still isn't. He revives quickly that first time, so quickly the last syllable is still on his lips: Oh! Or maybe it's just the shock, the familiar half-terror of living again.

Dying alone, that he's used to. It's the coming back alone he really hates.

He inhales dirt and chokes, coughing futilely, using his face to push up, up, up. That's futile, too. Ianto's hands are soothingly cool, he suddenly recalls, on his face when he comes back in a heated panic. Ianto's hands are not on his face now. This dirt, instead, is cold, too cold and wet with forced breath and sweat and death. Ianto. He forces the name past his lips again, and on the same breath, broken: Gray.

Every time you revive...and you thrash on the edge of death, you think of me. He wavers and his ears buzz over his brother's voice in his head. He gasps in, involuntarily, receives the promised throatful of earth, and the darkness takes him again.

It happens again – and again – and again. He pushes breath past his lips, fights death and suffocation and soil. The names on his lips. Ianto. Gray. Alex. Estelle. John. Lucia. Alice. Ianto.

The names waver with his consciousness; the deaths come in quicker succession. Only time for a syllable, maybe. He tries to cling to something, but it's harder to hold onto, between shallower gasps of revival and deeper inhalations of dirt. He remembers only in snatches, blurred images passing by his closed eyelids. Coffee. A tie. Time ticking, the button on the top, seconds into minutes into hours.

Above him, decades and centuries. Cardiff knits itself together over his grave.

And then, this is later – much later. Decades and centuries and millennia, even. He showers over and over and can't get the taste of dirt from his mouth, the smell from his nostrils. His team, what's left of it – he reminds himself of their names, pulls them from deep in his memory from centuries ago – hovers around him. Huddles, really, expects him to have answers, expects direction and soothing of their grief.

(He has his own grief. Gray. Tosh. Owen. And more, on and on and on. People he loves. Names he remembers only after a deep digging through decades of earth and death, screaming in the dark.)

Ianto asks him once: Where were you? How long were you gone?

Ianto does not ask again.

If Jack slept little before, he sleeps even less now. Every closing of his eyes, he swallows dirt, and he gasps awake, desperately, as if reviving. Ianto's cool hands are on his face, this time, every time. Cool hands warm against his skin as Ianto turns him over, spreads him wide. He clings, breathes oxygen, the sickly sweet taste of earth pushed out with each exhalation.

He chants it now, aloud, as if to remember: Ianto. Ianto. Ianto.

Ianto's breath warm, clean, alive, into his mouth. He remembers more with each kiss, each thrust of flesh inside him.

Above him, time ticking. Seconds into minutes into hours.