Ianto heard the feet before he saw them, and threw himself against a wall, trying not to breathe loudly. If they turned the corner ...
Madame Kikikika and her guards did not turn. They walked past Ianto without so much as a nod. He made himself hold still until he was sure they were gone, then went the way she'd come. Jack might not be down here at all. Jack might be gone, dying over and over.
He'd search every room if he had to.
Another turn found him near a corridor with a guard waiting outside one door. Whatever was in the room was valuable. Prisoner or prize, Ianto intended to find out. He went into the neighbouring corridor, lay against the wall, and activated the phase shifter.
The room he emerged into had three slumped bodies. One of them was Jack, covered in dried blood.
He bit back his shout. The room was likely monitored. If there was a camera, he was already spotted. Ianto went to Jack's side as fast as he could and felt for a pulse. After a few frantic tries, he found one, but it was weak. Ianto slung him over his shoulders as best he could and went back to the wall. Shifting two people required extra tweaks with the shifter, and he spent a long minute making sure he'd done it correctly. Jack might survive being cut into pieces by a wall but Ianto wouldn't.
They shifted out into the empty corridor, and Ianto collapsed against one wall with Jack's weight dragging them both down. "Jack," he whispered as loudly as he dared. "Jack, can you stand?"
There was no response. Ianto dug for the spare oxygen mask and put it over Jack's nose. He pressed on Jack's chest to help him breathe, pinching his mouth closed until he sucked in a deep breath through the filter.
"There you go," Ianto said, with a worried smile. "Just breathe."
Seconds ticked by. The corridor's cold sunk into him as he waited for Jack to rouse. Finally, he opened his eyes. When he saw Ianto, a smile crossed his face that made Ianto warm inside again. "Hey."
"When you can stand, we have to go."
"St .. Bob's gone to get his time machine."
"No. Charnok. He was in the cell with me. Dolesh. Big guy."
"He's still in there."
Jack clutched Ianto's hand. "Get him. Please."
Ianto nodded. He kissed Jack's forehead, and then shifted back into the cell. The Dolesh was huge, and near death. The other body stared up with dead eyes. Ianto left it, hauling the Dolesh through the wall and to safety. The guard in front of the door never stirred.
As soon as the heavy body was beside him, Jack ripped off his mask and positioned it over the alien's face. He glanced up at Ianto. "Thanks."
"Not really. But he didn't deserve to die."
Ianto counted quietly to himself, waiting for discovery, for alarm. Jack's recuperative powers restored life to him even as Ianto watched. The Dolesh required more time, more effort.
"We need to move," he said, as soon as Jack was upright. "We'll carry him together."
Jack himself wouldn't be fully up to strength without sufficient oxygen, but Ianto didn't dare pass over his own mask. They'd both be weakened, and someone had to be ready to shoot.
"Bob will meet us at the ship."
"How far away is it?"
As he hefted the Dolesh's bulk between them, Ianto said, "Far enough."
They struggled down the corridor away from the cells. Jack huffed with each step. "If it comes down to a fight, give me a pistol and leave me here. I'll cover your escape."
"Like hell. Move your arse."
Chuffing and stumbling, they made it back to the stairs, by which time the Dolesh had recovered enough to stagger with only a little support. These weren't human stairs, and the shallow, irregular incline hurt Ianto's knees. He didn't like to consider that he was getting old, but he would be sore after this adventure.
They almost made it out, too.
He heard the "snickt" of the weapons cocking even before he saw the guards, and by the time they'd spun to run, more guards were coming up behind them.
Jack turned to Ianto. He was tired, and his eyes sorrowful. "When they open fire," he said in English, "I'll try to fall on top of you. Play dead. There's a chance."
"I can reach our guns."
"Not before they kill you."
His mind raced. "Jack, what's the name of this planet?"
"I don't know. I ... "
The guards took aim. Charnok growled.
The guards were well-trained. Only two looked to the noise. Steven stood at the far end of the corridor, his hands raised in surrender. "Please," he begged in Standard. "Please don't kill them."
The leader nodded to an underling, who approached him, then grabbed his arm and dragged him down the corridor, thrusting him into the tiny circle where Jack, Ianto, and Charnok waited to be executed.
The guard spoke into his handheld scanner. "Madame," said the translated voice from the Vortex Manipulator on Steven's arm, muffled by his shirt. "The prisoners attempted escape with assistance from two intruders. Awaiting orders."
A long silence stretched out. Unexpectedly, Steven took Ianto's hand. Then he winked. Ianto grabbed Jack and Charnok in an awkward grip as, with his other hand, Steven slid the hand-held time machine out of his other sleeve and hit a switch.
There was a sharp tug at Ianto's navel, the same sensation he always had while passing through the Vortex. The guards vanished. The citadel vanished. The four of them crashed to the ground roughly.
Someone who wasn't Ianto said, "Ow."
Ianto pulled away from the other bodies, touching Jack's neck for a pulse, then meeting his amused eyes. "I'm fine."
"Good here," Steven said, standing up and brushing himself off. He held out a hand to the Dolesh.
"Where are we?"
Steven pointed. Ianto turned and saw the Celes Tirraclose by.
"Hurry," said Charnok. "They will pursue us."
"Not likely," Steven said. "I moved us back two hours. We haven't even reached the citadel yet."
Ianto asked, "Won't they notice us leaving?"
"Not if we're quiet," said Jack, and led them onto the ship. Charnok waited at the bottom of the gangplank. "Come on."
Jack tugged Ianto's arm, indicating he should board, and went back down to join the Dolesh. "Why not?"
"My people are looking for me. If they find me here, we can deal with the abductors directly."
"You sure?" Jack asked. Charnok nodded. "Wait here." Jack scampered up the gangplank again and dove into the supply cupboard. He emerged from the ship with a small beacon. "Use this to contact them. It's got a nice long range, and our friends back at the citadel shouldn't be able to pick it up."
"My thanks. When we meet again, you will have my gratitude, and that of my family."
Jack grinned in acknowledgement at one more favour to call in later.
They docked at a space station three systems over, far enough from Lyndrica Base that the Altans wouldn't come calling, close enough to keep an ear out for the news when the Doleshi went after Madame Kikikika for her treachery. From the sound of things, it wasn't pretty for either side.
"They were criminals," Steven said, faintly green as the reports rolled in.
"We're criminals," said Jack, turning off the receiver. The long, hot bath he'd taken hadn't improved his mood like it usually did. "We just try not to hurt people. Are you ready to leave?" His tone said their guest had more than worn out his welcome, and Ianto didn't miss the quickly hidden hurt that passed over Steven's face.
"I suppose. I was having so much fun, I guess ... " He nodded to Ianto. "It was a pleasure to meet you."
Steven's hand moved over his tiny machine, then paused. "Do you want to come with me?"
Jack went to answer, but Steven was looking at Ianto, who said, "Why?"
"I owe you a favour. Seems a good time to repay it. I can have you back five minutes from now."
Jack didn't look convinced. "Don't go," he said in English. "This is how some of my worst ideas got started. Stranded in Cardiff, remember?" He put on his con man's grin, the one smile Ianto had never liked. "And speaking of Cardiff, with that thing, you could go back, wecould go back. Not for long. We'd have to be careful. But you could say goodbye."
"What would you change if we stole it?" He cast his eyes over to Steven, who was smart enough not to react.
"You have to ask?"
"You're the one who taught me the rules. We can't go back to rewrite a word of our own history." He watched the old pains torment Jack's face, and he leaned in to press his lips against the line on Jack's forehead. "And I know you already understand this. So let it go."
Something lifted from Jack. Ianto was glad to see it gone.
"I still don't trust him."
Because he's you, only younger and more sensible. Because I saved his life for your sake. Because someday thousands of years from now, there will be a boat rocking gently on the waves, and you will be watching stars I can't imagine, telling your grandson stories about seabirds, and you will still remember my name when you do.
"I trust him enough." He kissed Jack's cheek. "Also, he speaks English, so he's listening in right now."
"Is he?" Jack glared at Steven. "Now I really don't trust him. I'm coming with you."
"You can't," Ianto and Steven said simultaneously. "I'm sorry," said Steven. "He won't destroy the universe by accidentally meeting himself."
"Please," Jack said dismissively. "In 1941 alone, there were four copies of me running around, and that's just the official count. It'll be fine."
Ianto was only vaguely listening to Jack. Steven was headed to visit Jack in a far-flung future. Ianto was resigned to the fact that no matter how meticulously kept the records, Jack would forget him one day, would forget he'd forgotten. Ianto didn't have to subject himself to the experience first-hand. But he was lonely, Steven had said, millions of years from now, and Ianto had long ago surrendered his own life and wants and dreams for the sake of easing Jack's loneliness. What was one more time?
"Five minutes, this spot. Your word."
Steven nodded, and Ianto brushed his hand over Jack's chin. "Don't worry. I'll be right back."
Ten minutes later, by Jack's reckoning, Ianto returned. Jack glared at Steven, who merely waved and vanished again. "No goodbyes?"
"None needed," Ianto said. "I collected the rest of our payment." He handed Jack the credit slip and tried not to think too hard about depositing money withdrawn from the same account thousands of years later. Somewhere out there, an accountant was having paroxysms of rage over temporal abuse of the interstellar banking system.
"Where did he take you? How long were you gone?"
"The future. For a while." Ianto had considered his answer carefully before returning.
"Can't share. Are we ready to leave?"
Jack was grumpy at the change of subject, but went back with him to the cockpit anyway. "You can just tell me. I've been to the future loads of times." He started up the engines.
"And you refuse to tell me a thing about it."
"So this is some kind of petty revenge? Not your style."
"That, and preserving the timeline." He completed his own systems check, then he shot Jack a smile. "I'll make it up to you."
When Jack wasn't paying attention, he secreted the Vortex Manipulator back into the safe.
The planet where I'm going to die is named Chylla. We're going to stand up to an impossible threat again, and we're going to lose again. I'm sorry that I'm never going to make it back to see you one last time. I'm sorry our final goodbye frightened you. Jack's the only one who gets a proper goodbye, but Rhi, it's because I love him. Try to understand.
Much later, when they were safely in the air and on course for their next destination, Ianto led him to their bunk. Jack remained petulant, and Ianto worked on kissing away the annoyed expression.
Jack's glower gentled under the kisses. "I like it when you make things up to me."
"So do I. Let's see, my infraction was not letting you tag along on a short time hop and not telling you where I went."
"It's a very serious infraction. Your hair is longer than it was."
Ianto immediately raised a hand to his head. "Is it? Better than falling out, I suppose."
"How long were you gone? Just tell me that." Jack was thinking of lost hours and days gone forever now that Ianto had spent them somewhere else. He couldn't be allowed to learn he'd merely banked the time for later.
Ianto returned to kissing Jack's mouth, and when the petulance resurfaced, satisfied himself with Jack's jaw, licking the aromatic skin at Jack's soft neck and breathing in deeply. His hands pushed Jack's shoulders to the pillows, unmarked flesh stark against wine-coloured pillowcases, and the sight quickened his breath until he'd managed to suck and nibble a crimson-purple mark at Jack's pulsepoint that matched the sheets.
"Don't be angry," he said, biting the request into the soft places on Jack's chest and torso, tiny indentations that would fade as fast as a bullet wound.
"I'm not angry."
Ianto only barely swallowed his own words, and crawled down to swallow Jack's dick instead, taking him in with long-practised ease.
Jack made a pleased noise, which stuttered into a gasping moan as Ianto wrapped his hand around the base of Jack's cock and began sucking at him hard. They'd been lovers for more than half of Ianto's life. He used all his knowledge of Jack's body tonight, pressing firm fingers to the tender skin of his perineum, licking the delicate throb of the thick vein on his tongue. Jack was taken completely by surprise, as Ianto had intended, wriggling in hot pleasure.
Their cabin was never much to look at, small and cramped but soundproofed to keep their private life to themselves when they had passengers. The sounds that Jack made filled the tiny room, warming Ianto's heart as he relished the symphony of sighs and groans he was eliciting from the instrument of Jack's responsive body. Jack cursed in languages Ianto had yet to learn as each light brush of sharp tooth and wet tongue and slick throat brought him closer. The musical lilt of the Boeshane took over as, without missing a stroke with his mouth, Ianto's fingers scrabbled for the lubricant and then roughly readied Jack.
Anyone could do this with Jack, to Jack. Jack's lovers had numbered in the hundreds well before Ianto had met him the first time, and that number had skyrocketed in the centuries between them, had grown even in their time together with the addition of a few carefully-selected shared third (and fourth) parties. Ianto accepted that with all of who and what Jack was. Sex was as natural to Jack as breathing, as the beating of his own heart.
But tied up with this truth was another, one Ianto had always wanted to believe but not accepted until he'd seen the unassailable evidence: love made it better, and Jack did love him completely and truly. Anyone could sleep with Jack, but only a rare few would ever have this moment.
His own chest pounding, Ianto entered Jack with one long, solid push, eyes never leaving his lover's. Jack moaned incoherently, his expression caught in half-smile, half-pain as Ianto went for quick, dirty thrusts, wanting to bend in for kisses but afraid to lose this angle, this moment, buried in yielding, tight heat. He wrapped one hand around Jack's, wrapped both around Jack's dick, began stroking in time to the stuttered thrusts of Jack's hips as he drove deeper.
It didn't take long for Jack to finish, writhing and amazed, and Ianto watched his face the entire time. He would have this face before him for the rest of his life, unchanging. Time would play out its ravages on Jack only slowly, a wrinkle every millennium, a grey hair each century, and Jack's face would become something else, and still, and still, this moment would belong to Ianto alone.
He came, not with liquid pleasure coursing through his body, but a shiver of simple light. Jack was already coming down, was stroking his side with a warm hand, and the upset line on his brow had smoothed. When Ianto could stiffly pull away enough to bend, he placed a kiss at its vanished shadow before reaching for the wipes to clean away the mess. Then he settled into Jack's shoulder, stroking his hand with tired fingertips and threading their fingers together.
"Tell me?" Jack's voice had gone soft and sleepy, as interested as a child.
"Can't." The price of his trip was that he could never tell Jack about the destination, nor that Steven had indulged him in a brief side-journey on the way home. He and Jack had begun with secrets between them. They'd end with secrets, too, held like a fragile handful of sand.
"All right." He breathed in the scent of Ianto's hair. "You smell like the seashore."
"So I do."
"Many of the people I've loved have access to time travelling technology. I turn a corner, and there's a familiar face smiling back. Just last week, I had a visit from a beloved ghost who told me this wasn't the last time, who promised we'd see each other again. That happens to me more than you'd think, but it never gets old. The one resource I have in abundance is time.
"I know now that I'll have him back someday. I can wait a billion years on a promise like that." - from "Me: An Autobiography" (excerpt reprinted from the 948th edition)
There's a strange feeling just below his navel, a sharp tug. A large, airy hall appears where Jack and the ship were. Ianto looks around them, shuddering. Decayed bodies are everywhere, but the smell is dusty and sad rather than rotten. Mummies instead of mildewed corpses. "Where are we?"
"In a tomb. The whole planet is, up here."
"Jack's here?" Alice had found him, Steven said, but how had she come across him in this open grave, and why hadn't she taken him away with her?
"He spends over twenty years in this place alone with a caretaker. This isn't long before the end, couple of months, maybe." He turns. "It's been a lot of time. He's changed. Don't be afraid."
Ianto is embarrassed to say what he's really afraid of, that this is a Jack who has forgotten him utterly.
Steven leads the way, picking a path past the sad, twisted corpses. The dead lay where they died. It's horrible. They come to a small room apart from the rest. The strangest thing waits for them there: a woman like a cat, who rises arthritically to greet them with a wide, fanged smile. Behind her, in a large, smoky jar …
This must be some trick, some terrible joke. The alien head is overlarge and wizened with age, tentacles floating suspended behind it like a woman's hair in water. Even as the cat woman says, "Welcome," there is a voice in Ianto's mind that says,
"Hello," Steven says, a mischievous smile on his face. "I brought a friend. I hope you don't mind."
The cat woman says, "Guests are a rare treat, but always welcome."
Ianto's eyes are locked on the jar, the smoke, the face. He feels an odd pressure in his head, like fingers tickling through his scalp, and his first impulse is to pull away. Instead he stays, watching, letting his mind open. "It's me," he says, aware of how stupid that must sound. "Jack?"
The pressure increases, and words that are not words drift through his mind as memories boil up like fish to a sudden lamplight on the water.
"I know you." Emotions from outside Ianto wash through him. Confusion, a touch of fear.
"Because," Steven said fondly, "of that story you made me read. You're too old to remember everyone, you said, but there were a few you always kept, the ones you'd still remember 'when humans are fairy tales …'"
"'... in books written by rabbits.'" Introspection, moving into wonder.
The presence in Ianto's mind grows hesitantly, dipping into memories as if toeing into a swimming pool. Ianto thinks of the good times, the best times. He remembers the first night in the park, and the night they caught Myfanwy. Their first kiss. Jack returning from his travels with the Doctor, Ianto setting foot on Jack's world after three thousand years apart, the day Alice died and was saved, the day Jack first showed him the Celes Tirra, and thousands of other days and nights blended into a torrent. He offers his memories as a gift, gliding over sex and adventure and affection, wrapping them all in the love he feels for Jack, his Jack, every Jack.
You are mine and I am yours, and I will love you for as long as I live.
Recognition echoes back, flooding his senses with the same memories as seen from the other side.
Art for this story is available at tiggy dot dreamwidth dot org.
My three favourite words are "I liked this."