If You'll Follow Me, Sir

It didn't take Ianto Jones very long to get from the car park of the Hub to his parking space at his flat. Even with a brief stop at the local DIY, probably no more than an hour had passed since Ianto had been sent home. Despite his pleas to be allowed to tend to Lisa's remains and to clean up the mess he had left behind because of her, Jack had coldly dismissed him, "Get out," and he hadn't even looked at Ianto when he issued his order.

Knowing he didn't have a lot time, Ianto didn't waste any by cleaning himself up. The state of his suit no longer mattered, and he didn't even notice that his hands still held traces of blood in the creases and under the nails. The normally fastidious young man never thought for a moment what the horrified clerk at the DIY must have thought when she saw him come through her checkpoint.

Working as quickly as he could, Ianto emptied his cupboards and refrigerator; everything went into bin bags and then down to the tip. Folding open a few boxes, he emptied everything else – the few pieces of silverware, two plates, a bowl and three coffee mugs, a saucepan, a potholder and three tea towels, a teapot, and a few odd bits of plastic ware – into them and taped them closed. Into a smaller box, he carefully set his coffee maker and toaster. With a surprisingly steady hand, he listed their contents, and then stacked the boxes in the hall.

For once he was quite thankful that he'd barely unpacked anything from their London flat, preferring to grab the pitifully few things he needed from a local charity shop. All of their belongings were still in a pre-paid storage unit, waiting for the day he and Lisa would be able to finally escape the clutches of Torchwood forever. 'Funny,' he snorted, 'how things turned out.'

Next stop was the living room. Without a single glance at their titles, Ianto's vast collection of DVDs, CDs and books filled another dozen boxes; this time the labels were generic. He was running out of time. It took three trips to get all the boxes into the hall.

Grabbing another bin bag, Ianto hit the bathroom. Giving himself only a brief moment to wish longingly for a hot shower, he emptied the contents of the medicine chest and the cupboard, and then debated on whether he had enough time to take the bag outside. Deciding to wait and see once he was finished, he set the bag outside the bedroom door as he hauled the last of his empty boxes in there.

After quickly stripping the bed and folding the linens and duvet – they were all clean, he hadn't been home to sleep in them since he'd last made the bed – he lined the boxes up on the bed and began filling them. Bed linens, towels and the duvet went into the biggest. The next ones held his suits, shirts and ties; he would like to have taken the time to pair each suit neatly with the proper shirt and tie, but a quick glance at his watch showed him that there wasn't enough time to be so picky. The last two boxes got the rest of his clothes and shoes.

Glad that he hadn't taken the bathroom's bin bag out to the trash, he used it to empty out the night table drawer and clean off the top of his dresser. He hauled the final boxes to the hall and left the bin bag at the door. Finally, after making sure there was nothing else left to dispose of, Ianto removed his watch, tie clip and cufflinks, his mobile and wallet, and lined them all up in a neat row on the kitchen counter.

Taking the last few things from the DIY carry bag, he returned to the bathroom and finished his tasks, and just in the nick of time, too. As he stood back and surveyed his handiwork, the front doorbell rang and he knew it was time.

With a deep breath to calm himself, Ianto opened the front door, and as he expected, there stood Jack Harkness, greatcoat and all. He stepped back from the door and motioned for Jack to come inside, and then he helped Jack take off his beloved coat and hang it on the tree by the door.

"If you'll follow me, Sir," Ianto said quietly and without waiting for Jack, he walked quickly down the hallway and into the bathroom. It took a moment for Jack to realise that Ianto was gone; he'd been too busy frowning at the boxes stacked by the door, and at the sight of Ianto's personal possessions set on the counter in a straight line like soldiers.

Glancing into the living room, Jack saw that it was empty except for a battered sofa and a television that had been old ten years ago. Confused, he went to look for Ianto, and when he found his young Welshman, it was all Jack could do not to vomit onto his shoes. He clenched the doorframe so tightly that his fingernails cut tiny crescents into the paint.

Ianto was kneeling in his bathtub, fully clothed and worse, still in the same blood-stained suit he'd left the Hub wearing. He had his back to the door, his head down, and his hands clasped behind his back. The tub itself, the walls around it and the floor had been covered with thick sheets of plastic, all securely taped together to prevent leakage.

Jack looked at Ianto again, still calmly waiting for Jack to execute him as he'd said he would, and this time he couldn't stop himself. Darting forward, Jack barely got the toilet seat up before he was throwing up everything he'd eaten since yesterday, maybe even the day before. His stomach heaved until even the bile was completely gone, and still he hung onto the cold porcelain, unable to move.

When the sound of the toilet flushing died down, Jack heard, "There's a towel and soap by the sink in case you need to wash your hands after you're done with me. Hopefully, I've arranged everything in here so there won't be too much of a mess for you."

Even though there was nothing left to expel, Jack's stomach muscles heaved again and he gagged uselessly over the toilet bowl. This time nothing could keep him on his feet, and Jack dropped to the bathroom floor like a ton of bricks. He couldn't bring himself to look at Ianto, so he didn't see the young man look at him, roll his eyes and then clamber back out of the tub.

Taking the towel from the rack, Ianto wet half of it with cool water and then knelt next to Jack. Gently, almost reverently, he wiped Jack's face and then used the other end to dry him. That done, he closed the toilet and helped Jack to his feet, setting him down on the lid, before he disappeared into the hallway. Jack heard the rustle of a box being opened, and then Ianto was in the bathroom again. A moment later, Ianto was back at his side, this time holding out a coffee mug of water.

"Rinse your mouth out, and then drink the rest. You'll feel better, Sir. I'll be waiting for you whenever you're ready."

Before Jack could move a muscle, Ianto had stepped back into the bathtub and had resumed his previous position.

"Yaa…" Jack tried to protest, but his voice refused to work; stomach acid was still burning his throat. Silently swearing, Jack gulped a mouthful of water and tried again. "Ianto," he managed to croak, "no…" He drank some more water and tried again. "Tha's… not… I'm here…"

Shuffling slightly against the plastic lining the tub and making it crackle loudly in the small room, Ianto turned to look at Jack. He noted the slick sheen of sweat on the man's ghost-white skin, and the way his hands trembled violently as they held onto the mug. Without moving any farther, he said, "I am truly sorry that this is so hard for you, Sir. It never occurred to me that you'd have difficulty executing me." Ianto shrugged. "I wish I were strong enough to pull the trigger for you, Sir, but I'm not. I'm a coward, and for that I do apologise." He turned back to his original position, and then paused. "Would you like me to call Owen, Sir? I don't think he'd hesitate for a moment to do this for you."

Jack's head snapped up and he glared at Ianto, but he could clearly see that to the young man it was a perfectly reasonable suggestion. Emptying the mug, Jack slammed it down on the sink and stood, albeit shakily, to his feet. "Get out of that damn tub immediately."

Ianto shook his head. "It's hard enough to rent a flat after someone dies in it; if there are bloodstains, the owner will never find a new tenant. That's why I took care of everything for you. If you wrap the plastic carefully and tape down all the ends, you should be able to remove my body to the Hub with a bare minimum of mess."

Once again, Jack's stomach betrayed him, and he threw up the water he'd just drunk into the bathroom sink. He missed Ianto's eye roll and tsk of annoyance. Wiping his mouth with the towel, Jack marched over and bodily dragged Ianto from the bathtub and force-marched him down the hall to lounge. He threw him none-too-gently onto the sofa and when he realised there were no lamps in the room, he stomped over and flicked the kitchen and hall lights on fully.

Baffled by Jack's behaviour, Ianto sat quietly, waiting to see what Jack would do next. He didn't believe for a second that Jack was there to offer him Retcon; Jack didn't tolerate fools, and finding that he'd been made one of the biggest of them all – well, Ianto didn't need a life line to know what Jack's final answer would be. So he watched and waited, resigned to his fate, knowing he'd left Jack no other choice. He just hoped that Jack would at least let him go back into the tub before he pulled the trigger.

Finally, Jack's temper was sufficiently in check and his thoughts ordered enough that he could turn and look at Ianto. "I am not here to kill you, Ianto, or to Retcon you, or do anything else to you. I am here because I was worried about you, because I wanted to see if you were okay, see if there was anything you needed."

Ianto just looked at the older man sympathetically. "It's all right, Sir. You don't have to pretend with me. I know the protocol."

Exasperated, Jack stalked over and sat down next to Ianto. Gripping his chin, he forced the young man to look him in the eye. "Look at me, Ianto, and listen very carefully to what I have to say. If it makes you feel more comfortable, then consider that a direct order." He waited for a second to see if Ianto was going to say anything, and then he continued.

"I. Am. Not. Here. To. Execute. You. Period."

As if his brain was suddenly processing those words for the first time, his eyes widened, and when the truth of them hit him, Ianto's face drained of colour and his rigidly-held body collapsed in on itself. If it hadn't been for Jack's hand on his chin, Ianto's unconscious body would have slid onto the floor. As it was, Jack had to struggle to keep him on the sofa. After a quick check to make sure he was still breathing, Jack retrieved the towel and mug from the bathroom, rinsed them both out in the kitchen sink, and then brought them into the living room.

Now it was his turn to care for Ianto, and he did so with great tenderness. It took a minute or two for Ianto to come back from his faint, and when he did, it was in Jack's arms, cradled against Jack's chest.

"Welcome back, Jones, Ianto Jones," he said with a smile. "Never took you for the fainting type. Too bad smelling salts went out of style a century ago, although there is a small moon near Ali Bectral Thrice Seven where the smell of ammonia, if you know where to apply it, is an aphrodisiac." His smile widened when he heard Ianto's snort of derision.

"Really, Sir?" he mumbled into Jack's shirt, and he heard a chuckle rumble beneath his ear.

"Well, I've never actually tried it myself," Jack admitted, "but I've heard tales." They sat in silence for a few minutes, until Ianto sat himself up and looked at Jack.

"Sir, why are you here?" he asked quietly.

Jack shrugged. "I told you; see if you're okay, do you need anything, you know, the usual."

One eyebrow shot up into Ianto's hairline. "The usual, Sir? There's nothing usual about any of this. How many times have you had Cybermen hidden in your vaults?"

Jack's mouth twitched. "Well, you are the first one to do that, I'll admit, but trust me, Ianto," and he grew deadly serious as he looked into Ianto's eyes. "You are not the first person to lose someone you love because of Torchwood, and you will not be the last." He held up his hand as Ianto started to speak. "Let me finish."

Nodding, Ianto settled back against the arm of the couch although for some reason he wasn't prepared to explore, he made sure he maintained physical contact between them by keeping his knee pressed against Jack's leg.

"Whether you're ready to admit it to yourself or not, Ianto, I saw the look in your eyes when you realised that Annie was dead. You were relieved. Yes, you were upset, and yes, you were devastated, but for a moment, I saw the look in your eyes when you realised that it was all finally over. For one brief moment, you felt free before the grief and guilt took over."

With tears burning his eyes and scalding down his cheeks, Ianto dropped his head to his chest and started to sob. Jack reached out and pulled Ianto back to his chest, holding him gently but firmly. His thin body shook violently beneath Jack's hands, but after several very long and very intense minutes, the worst of the storm seemed to be over.

When Ianto sat back up, he was unable to meet Jack's gaze; he was terrified of what he might see in the man's eyes. Anger, blame, disgust, those he was prepared to deal with; after all, he deserved them and so much more. But the sympathy, understanding and empathy he somehow just knew would be there were too much.

The real problem was, Ianto knew Jack was right.

In the beginning, when he was still trying to get the conversion chamber working correctly, and to get the drug dosages just so, there were times when Lisa had begged him to let her die. 'If you love me, Ianto, you'll let me go, let me find peace, please!' Even now, he could still hear her voice in his head. He realised now that he hadn't kept her alive because he loved her, but because he…

"You're right, Sir. In my mind, I know you're right," Ianto finally glanced up at him. "That wasn't Lisa down there, I know that now," he shrugged, "I think I knew it a long time ago." He twisted his fingers into such painful-looking knots that Jack couldn't stand it anymore and he reached out and took Ianto's hands in his.

"That doesn't mean you didn't love her, that you still don't love the Lisa you knew in London, Ianto." Without noticing it, Jack was slowly rubbing his thumb across Ianto's knuckles.

Ianto drew in a ragged breath. "I'm sorry I didn't shoot her when you told me to. It's just that…"

"You couldn't bring yourself to shoot the woman you loved."

"No, actually," abruptly, Ianto jumped to his feet and paced back and forth the short length of living room. "She wanted me to, you know? In the beginning, she asked me, she begged me to just fill her with the pain medicine and let her go to sleep." He ran his hand through his hair, or tried to at least, and when his fingers got stuck, he looked at them curiously, as if he'd forgotten that his hair was stiff and caked with dried blood.

"But…" Jack prompted; he wasn't going to ask questions now; it needed to be Ianto's decision as to what he wanted to say.

"Sir, I…" he turned from staring out the window to looking at Jack with anguish clearly written on his face, in his whole being. "If I let her go, then I failed. I failed to save her; I failed to defeat the Cybermen. Oh, God, I fail at everything I do!" His words poured out in a torrent of self-loathing and condemnation. Clutching at the TV, he slid to the floor and curled up in a ball. "I'm just a complete failure."

The immortal crossed the room in three swift strides and sat down next to Ianto, pulling the younger man's head up onto his lap. "No, Ianto, you're not a failure. Not to Lisa, or to Torchwood, and certainly not to me."

"You don't get it," Ianto snorted. "I'm so good at being a failure that I've made a success of it, which means I'm even a failure at being a failure!" Ianto spoke the words so vehemently and with such conviction that Jack knew he'd been thinking them for a very long time, playing the loop over and over again in his mind. Ianto Jones had brain-washed himself into believing he was a failure, when In truth, he was anything but. Ianto sat up and stared out into the room.

Jack gripped the sides of Ianto's head with both hands, forcing the young man to turn and look directly into his eyes. "Ianto Jones, you listen to me, and you listen good. You are not a failure. So you weren't able to save Lisa, and do you know why?" Jack paused and waited for Ianto to answer. When he didn't, he gave the man a small shake. "Do. You. Know. Why?"

Unable to stop it, a sob rose from Ianto's throat and squeaked out between his pursed lips. Tears threatened to flood his cheeks again and he blinked rapidly, trying to clear them. Finally, he found the strength to whisper, "Because she was already gone."

"I didn't hear you." Jack had heard perfectly well every syllable and nuance, but he wanted Ianto to hear his own voice say the words. "What did you say?"

Glaring daggers at Jack, Ianto wasn't fooled for a moment. Through gritted teeth he said, "My Lisa died at Canary Wharf. That wasn't her down the vaults."

The pain in Ianto's eyes as he said those twelve words was like a knife through Jack's heart. Of its own accord, his thumb reached out and wiped away the stray tear that was slipping down Ianto's cheek, and Jack was surprised to feel Ianto lean into his hand, just a little. He forced himself to resist the urge to move his thumb down to Ianto's mouth and stroke it across Ianto's lips. 'Now isn't the time,' Jack was surprised to hear himself think. 'There'll be time enough for that later.'

"This may sound mean, but I have to ask, Ianto, are you saying that to make me happy or because you have finally come to understand and accept that as fact?" Jack tried to soften his voice and ease the harshness of his question.

Ianto sighed deeply and tried to lean back against the wall, stopped only by Jack's hands still gripping his head. After a moment of search Ianto's eyes, Jack let him go, but as his right hand left, he gently caressed Ianto's cheek. Again, he was surprised when Ianto leaned just slightly into his touch.

Jack stood and held out his hand to his Archivist, pulling him effortlessly to his feet, and they crossed the few steps back and sat down on the couch.

"No, Sir, it's all right; it is a valid question." Ianto leaned forward again and mirrored Jack's posture, forearms on his thighs, his hands clasped lightly before him. "At first, I was so sure that Lisa was still in there. The things she'd say, the memories we'd share, the way she'd laugh, the way she'd look at give me when I came into the room. But, after a while, maybe a week or so, there started to be less and less of that. Sometimes I'd think she was studying me, calculating things, but I just put that down to all the pain meds and drugs I was having to pump into her system."

"Ianto, I give you my word as an officer and a gentleman…"

Ianto snorted with amusement; "A gentleman, Sir?" and he quirked one eyebrow.

"Yeah, well, I have my moments," Jack grinned back.

"I'm sure you do, Sir, I'm sure you do."

For a moment, Jack just smiled warmly at the Welshman. He was delighted to see a tiny spark of the Ianto he had known yesterday, before Lisa had been discovered, before Dr Tanizaki and Annie had died, before the Cyberwoman had tried to take over the Hub, back when he and Ianto had been friends. Jack realised with a start that he wanted that friendship back; more than anything in the world, he wanted that Ianto back in his life.

Giving himself a mental shake, Jack continued. "Anyway, I swear to you that there was nothing you could have done to reverse the process of conversion. It's…"

"But Dr Tani…" Ianto interrupted.

"No, Ianto, Dr Tanizaki may have been the leading expert on cybernetics here on Earth, and after Canary Wharf, UNIT did consult with him on everything that had been done there. But trust me when I say that the differences between the human cybernetics work that he knew and the alien Cyberman conversions that were found after Torchwood One fell are the differences between heaven and hell."

"But he told me…"

"He told you exactly what you wanted to hear. He would have sold his soul to get the chance to study a living conversion victim. All he found with UNIT were dead bodies. Did he tell you that UNIT dismissed him from the research project for experimenting on the bodies, for trying to get the conversion units to revive them?" Jack wondered, already knowing the answer. "He tried to tell them it was necessary for his research, but thank the Goddess, they were too terrified of the possible results."

Ianto frowned; that was distressing news. "No, he never said a thing about that." Jack's revelation left him wondering just exactly what the doctor's plans had been for Lisa.

"What did he tell you?" Jack was curious to know what all the doctor had said, how he had convinced Ianto to bring him from Japan to Cardiff.

"Well, he said that he was the only one who knew anything about the Cybermen and how their conversion units worked."

"Not the only one, no, but probably one of the most knowledgeable, yes," Jack conceded the point. "The man did pioneer several promising developments in the use of cybernetics to replace human limbs, and he was able to deduce from his use of robotics to manufacture and test those limbs a lot of what the conversion units did."

"Okay," Ianto said slowly; that made sense to him. "He said that he knew how to use the machinery to remove the Cyberman implants, and that he could replace them with proper human ones that he'd developed." Ianto's voice hiccupped slightly. "He promised me that he could reverse the process and make Lisa human again.

Jack nodded. "Lofty goals and I'd give my eyeteeth for them to be attainable. But once the cyber implants have been integrated with the brain, they cannot be removed without killing the patient. I've seen it happen, Ianto, I know what I'm talking about."

"How? I thought UNIT shot…" his voice cracked and he cleared his throat. "I thought that all the conversion victims were killed on sight at Canary Wharf?" Ianto was confused. Had other victims been rescued?

"On one of my missions for the Time Agency, a routine weapons smuggling operation on a small moon in the MaNuaReRe Galaxy…" he saw Ianto's eyebrow pop up. "It's way on the outskirts of the frontier in the 4290's. It's home to a sentient cactus-like species that can survive on next to no water at all. It's unpopulated except for smugglers who have a thriving black market supplying everything from weapons to drugs to food to sex, as well as being a haven for criminals looking for a hideout."

"Huh," was all Ianto could find to say.

"I was there to stop a group of gun-runners from bringing future weaponry into the past and selling it on the black market. I was just about the close a deal that would have gotten some very bad weapons off the streets when the Cybermen decided to stop by. They managed to convert quite a few of the humans living there before the rest of us – the few other humans still alive, the other aliens who happened to be there and the cactus guys – were able to use that same future weaponry to kill the Cybermen in their tracks."

Jack could see that Ianto was suitably impressed. He had seen the Cybermen in action on Canary Wharf and he knew how impossible it was to stop one much less actually kill it.

"In return for their help in preventing the Cybermen from gaining a foothold in that sector of space, I agreed to forget I'd ever been on MaNuaReRe, as long as I got to take the guns with me when I left. That was the easiest case I'd ever wrapped up," Jack grinned at the memory.

"Of course it was, Sir," Ianto grinned back. "I can see it now."

They shared a smile for a moment, and then Jack became serious again. "The Time Agency came in and cleaned everything up, and yes, there were a few survivors, people like your Lisa, who'd been partially converted. They were taken back to the 51st century where Agency scientists and doctors studied them for ages, trying everything they could think of to reverse the process." Jack paused and gathered Ianto's hands into his.

"Please believe me, Ianto, when I tell you that even with the medical and scientific advances of three thousand years, plus a few things recovered from future times and held in Agency care, nothing could be found to reverse the process. Nothing." His grip on Ianto's hands tightened. "If they couldn't find it then, in the future, there is no way Dr Tanizaki could have found it now, in the past. I'm sorry, Ianto, I really am. But it just wasn't meant to be."

Again, sobs clogged Ianto's throat and this time he let them out, let the tears stream unchecked down his cheeks. He clenched his fingers convulsively around Jack's hands, trying desperately to calm himself, but to no avail. It was like the more he tried, the harder he cried. Wrenching his hands free, Ianto flung himself into Jack's arms, his body wracked with painful sobs. Jack was dismayed by how easily he could feel Ianto's bones protruding through his skin; it was obvious that he hadn't been taking proper care of himself for months.

This time it took longer for Ianto to reach the end of his tears, and even then, he clung tightly to Jack, reluctant to remove himself from the warmth and safety that the captain's arms provided. Jack didn't mind at all; even though there was a definite soggy patch on his shoulder, and his leg was cramping a little, he was relishing the feeling of holding Ianto in his arms. Finally, though, Ianto broke the spell when he lifted his head and sniffed loudly right next to Jack's ear. The sound made Jack chuckle and reach into his pocket for the clean handkerchief he always carried.

Accepting the cloth gratefully, Ianto wiped his eyes and blew his nose, the sound echoing around the nearly empty living room. Wincing, he regarded the soiled handkerchief with dismay. "Um, I'll launder it for you and bring it in tomor…" His face turned as white as the fabric he held crumpled in his trembling hand as he realised that he wouldn't be doing any such thing; there wasn't going to be a tomorrow for him. Even if Jack was telling the truth about not executing him, the only other option was Retcon; when tomorrow came around, he wasn't going to remember a thing about Jack, about Torchwood, or even about Lisa for that matter. He'd be lucky if he could remember his own name by the time Jack and the Retcon got done with him.

As if he'd read Ianto's mind, Jack confirmed his worst fears. "No, Ianto, you won't be bringing it in to me tomorrow." He took the handkerchief from Ianto's unresisting hands, folded it and slipped it back into his pocket.

"Right, Sir." Ianto stood before Jack could stop him. He picked up the mug from the floor and walked stiffly into the kitchen. Jack heard the tap run for a moment, and then Ianto was back, standing before him holding out his empty hand, palm up.

Jack looked from the mug of water to the waiting hand to Ianto's perfectly blank face. Inwardly he sighed; he would have sworn that he'd reached Ianto, that he'd made a difference in the younger man's outlook on the entire situation. Now, however, he wasn't so sure any more. Reaching up, Jack took hold of Ianto's hand and pulled him back down to the sofa, where he took the mug and put it on the floor.

"That's not what I meant, Ianto," he said quietly, searching Ianto's eyes for some sign of understanding. What he saw was a mixture of relief, guilt, fear and pain; it was a combination that he'd seen all too often in the mirror, back when he could bear to look himself in the eye.

"I'm not going to Retcon you either, Ianto. I'm not that cruel." Silently, Jack snorted in derision. 'No, you bastard, you're worse than that. You're gonna leave him with every horrible memory and image of the last few months, so he can relive them over and over again every day for the rest of his life.'

"I don't understand, Sir." Ianto's voice was a raspy croak, choked with emotion. "What…?"

"You once asked me what you were supposed to do with your memories from Canary Wharf, do you remember?"

Unsure of where Jack was headed, Ianto nodded. "On Mermaid Quay, the second time we met."

"I blew you off then, and for that I apologise. I wasn't… I didn't…" Suddenly Jack was a loss for words. How could he explain to Ianto about living with bad memories, when for him, his worst memory was losing two years' worth of them. How could he make Ianto understand that the not knowing was worse than the remembering?

"It's all right, Jack, you don't have to explain." For the first time in three months, Ianto used the immortal's first name, and it took both men by surprise.

"But I want to, Ianto, I really do," Jack began and then stopped again. He searched Ianto's eyes for… what he wasn't sure, but what he did see there gave him the courage to continue.

"Millennia from now, but in my past, something happened to me." He shook his head. "I don't know why, I don't know what I did or didn't do, but two years' worth of my life was erased from my mind. My memories are gone, totally and irretrievably gone; there's no trigger that will bring them back, no way of returning them to me. They're gone forever."

Ianto said nothing; instead, he took one of Jack's hands in his and held it tightly. Jack squeezed his fingers in response.

"I know what it feels like to have a hole in your mind, Ianto, and I would never, ever, do that to another living soul, not against their will." Now it was his turn to take Ianto's hands in both of his. "If it's what you want, then that's different. I'll give you enough Retcon that you'll never remember anything about Torchwood at all. But I would never force you to forget."

Ianto had thought he was completely cried out, but hot tears of gratitude sprang into his eyes, and one spilled over to run a scalding trail down his cheek. "Thank you, Sir," he whispered.

Jack shook his head as he wiped the lone tear from Ianto's face. "Don't thank me yet. You're going to have to learn to live with all your memories, and you will. One day, you'll come to terms with surviving the battle of Canary Wharf, with finding Lisa's body in Torchwood One's tower, and with watching a Cyberman with Lisa's face die at Torchwood's hands." Jack paused and thought for a moment, searching within himself for something. "That's the bad news."

With a nervous snort, Ianto grimaced. "That implies there's actually good news?"

"You won't have to do it all on your own, Ianto." Jack looked at the young man earnestly, his eyes blazing with an emotion Ianto didn't dare try to identify at that precise moment. "I'll be here to help you deal with it, all of it; whenever you want me or need me, I'll be here for you. I won't give up on you and I absolutely refuse to let you give up on yourself. I won't let you go through this alone. You have my word."

Ianto blinked rapidly for a few seconds, as his mind processed the enormity of Jack's offer. 'I'm not going to die; I'm not going to be Retconned; I still work for Torchwood and Jack is going to help me.' The wave of relief that flooded Ianto's body made him so light-headed that once again, Jack was the only thing that kept him from sliding off the sofa and onto the floor. This time, however, he didn't pass out.

"I like being able to make you swoon, Jones, Ianto Jones," Jack chuckled. "You make a great damsel in distress!" and he started to laugh.

Blushing, Ianto yanked his hands from Jack's and glared at the older man. "I do not swoon, Sir!" he growled. "I was just a little light-headed; I didn't eat anything today." Better that he admit to self-neglect than to have Jack think him weak.

"Pity," Jack pouted. "I like being your dashing hero and reviving you with a kiss," and he grinned wickedly.

Without stopping to think, Ianto blurted out, "But you haven't kissed me yet." When he heard his words, he blushed hotter and redder than he ever had before. "I mean… not… it's just…" and he stammered incoherently, which made Jack roar with laughter.

"No, I haven't," Jack chortled as he wiped the tears from his eyes. 'Not yet, anyway,' and he suddenly realised exactly how close he was to doing just that.

Getting himself under control, Jack stood and stared down at Ianto. "You're on suspension for the next thirty days, Ianto. You're not to come near the Hub, not until I say you can return." Jack's voice was firm, but his eyes held warmth and understanding. "You'll report in to me daily; call my mobile in case we're in the field. Owen will be checking in on you periodically to assess your injuries and your mental recovery." He reached out and caressed Ianto's cheek briefly.

"I meant what I said, Ianto. If you need me, for anything, call me. I don't care what time it is. You are not alone in this. You'll never be completely alone, not while I'm here, okay?" His eyes begged Ianto to understand, to accept his offer.

Ianto got the curious sensation of a giant weight lifting from his shoulders as he listened to Jack's words and recognised the true meaning behind the words. 'We'll never be alone.'

"Yes, Sir," Ianto whispered gratefully. He cleared his throat and stood up, extending his hand to Jack. "Yes, Sir," he repeated with more force, more conviction and a firm handshake.

"I look forward to your first morning call then." Jack spun on his heel, marched to the door and reached for his coat, but Ianto's hands were there first, helping him into the sleeves and adjusting the shoulders.

"Good-night, Jones, Ianto Jones. Remember what I said." With those last few words, Jack opened the door and swept out into the hallway. When he glanced back over his shoulder, Ianto was sure he saw a twinkle and a promise in those immortal blue eyes, and it filled him with more peace than he'd felt in months.

Maybe he would survive, after all. 'And even I don't, at least I won't be alone anymore.'