On Rylaxia Beta 5, in a cheap dive bar where the waitresses didn't even have universal translators, Jack ordered a hypervodka over liquid zylenoxide with a few clever hand gestures and a big wink. As the Slitheen waitresses giggled and slinked away, Jack sighed. The smile he'd pasted to his face slipped, finally, like pulling off a work shirt after a long shift. He could feel every line in his face as surely as if they'd been etched in with an X-Acto knife.
Goddamn. Was this how eternity really felt, when he stopped to stand at its precipice and let it pull him into its spell?
He felt ancient. He was, really – the stresses of time travel and countless wars and a thousand, thousand-fold excruciating deaths tended to make even an ageless body feel its years – but never before had he really experienced that feeling of timelessness, of the eons before and the eons to come pressing him together, sandwiched between infinities.
As he waited for what seemed like an instant for the waitress to return with his drink, he thought about all the battles he'd run away from, all the cowardly things he had done to really deserve his outcast status. He had abandoned Gwen and Rhys after ripping their lives apart, only because he couldn't bear to pick up the pieces. He had been so cruel to the Doctor on several occasions, just to see those Time Lord hearts shatter in ways that no human mind could really comprehend. He had sacrificed children to a race of druggie aliens in order to maintain the earthly governments' façade of control, only to end up losing his precious grandson to those same monsters.
And Ianto. Oh god, Ianto. That was a sore that he didn't think would ever scab over, no matter how far into the future he ran. Tosh and Owen – he had loved them like his children, cajoled and teased and prodded them into greatness, into hero status – but Ianto he had loved like a soulmate, like the one pleasure he had denied himself in his centuries of selfish hedonism. With all of his running away, he had never actually stopped to appreciate the concept of resting, truly resting, in someone else's arms, in being loved and appreciated as the fragile, egotistical, entirely human immortal that he was. Until Ianto.
He had wanted to grow old with the Welshman, in the only way that he could truly grow old with someone: the way he had never been able to love Estelle, keeping him company through all of his days until he died at a ripe old age. Both of them had known that it was entirely impossible, completely unrealistic, but he had allowed himself to hope. But in the end, just like every other man or woman or alien he had loved, Ianto had been ripped away much too soon.
The Slitheen waitress came back with his hypervodka, and Jack painted the smile back on his face.