"Strangers When We Meet" by riftintime

Summary: Ianto Jones is sent to work at the Cardiff branch of Torchwood, run by the enigmatic Captain Jack Harkness. They form a tumultuous bond but when Jack suddenly leaves, Ianto makes a devastating decision that may destroy their chance of happiness together. Jack/Ianto AU.

Pairing: Jack/Ianto

Rating: NC-17/Adult

Genre: Sci-Fi/Romance

Warnings: Explicit sexual situations and adult themes, occasional coarse language, violence, angst.

Disclaimer: This story is based on characters created and owned by the BBC. No profit is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

Author's Notes: This is an alternate universe story, using the Torchwood characters and world. I'm planning to draw on some episodes from series one and two of the show, but mixing them up along with the timeline to suit the characters and story. I don't plan to use anything from series three onwards, or any of the novels, audio books, or radio plays. I've also taken liberties with certain facts. For example, Ianto is one year older here than in canon, having been born in 1982 rather than 1983.

Well, I'm back with something that's again a bit different to my previous efforts, but hopefully it will still be enjoyable. I'm not sure how long the story will end up being, probably at least 30 chapters and 90K words. I plan to post a new chapter at least once a week.

Please review if you're able to and let me know what you think. I greatly appreciate all feedback, and I do my best to reply to all reviews. Thanks for reading!

Chapter One

September 21st, 2008

Ianto Jones stood still and silent on the balcony of his newly acquired London apartment, his face tilted upwards as he gazed into the night-time sky above. A dense blanket of cloud cover partially obscured the stars, softening their reflection in the murky, black waters of the River Thames in the distance below. Suppressing a shiver from the chilled evening breeze, Ianto wrapped his arms tightly around his body and exhaled a shuddering breath, barely noticing the condensation of the warm air before it rapidly dispersed.

Ianto had never really taken the time to gaze up at the stars until recently, but for the last six months his entire existence had been reduced to this... staring endlessly upwards as he waited, struggling to keep the hope in his heart alive. Every evening he'd stood for hours on the rooftop of the Millennium Centre in distant Cardiff, staring up into the infinite darkness of space, his every thought consumed by one extraordinary and impossible man. The man Ianto loved more than he'd ever thought possible was out there somewhere. For six long months, he'd waited stoically for his best friend and lover to return, even though the man had abandoned his home and the people he'd claimed to care about without so much as a hastily scrawled message or a backwards glance.

Tonight, however, was different. With the tiny, fragile flame of hope he'd been trying to sustain finally extinguished, Ianto was ready to put an end to his torment once and for all.

Ianto had tried to hate him for leaving, he'd tried to harden his heart and channel his anguish into white hot rage, but he'd failed miserably. Ianto couldn't blame him for leaving this small, primitive planet behind, not when the wonders of the universe – all of time and space – were once again within his grasp. Twenty-first century Earth and its narrow-minded, insular people must have seemed pitiable and insignificant to a man who had once roamed the galaxies, witnessing people and places Ianto couldn't begin to imagine. Ianto couldn't blame him for wanting that back, no matter how deeply it hurt to be left behind.

Ianto hoped that, wherever he was, the man he loved was happy. He'd spent a great deal of time trying to analyse and understand the depth of his feelings, attempting to separate and categorise the more superficial elements of attraction and lust from the other more powerful, nebulous emotions. In the end, he'd supposed it didn't really matter. Love was love, and it defied explanation. He wondered if this was the true measure of love, if real love was selflessly wanting the other person to be happy, no matter how great the cost to oneself.

Ianto wasn't entirely a fool. Almost from the beginning, he'd suspected that a painful end was inevitable... he'd known it could probably never last. He knew he should be grateful for the time they'd had together. From the little he knew, it was more than many of his predecessors had been granted. But his greedy, unwise heart had wanted more. He'd wanted to believe that he was different, that he could somehow be enough. He'd tried to find solace in the knowledge that it wasn't just him... that there was no one in the world, perhaps no one in the entire universe, who could truly give such a singularly unique man what he needed. But Ianto had wanted to be that one special person. He'd wanted it more desperately than he'd wanted anything in his entire life.

Even now, he would have done almost anything for one more fleeting moment... one more affectionate smile... one more gentle caress of strong, tender fingers against his face... one more brush of soft, warm lips against his own... one more chance to be embraced and surrounded by that wonderfully reassuring comfort and warmth.

More than anything else, he wished he'd at least had the chance to say goodbye.

Drawing a deep, trembling breath, Ianto blinked several times, not bothering to wipe at the tears as they trailed down his face. It was the first time he'd shed tears since the day of his twenty-sixth birthday, a little less than a month earlier. He'd spent the day alone, hiding himself from the world as he wallowed in the depths of self-pity, a bottle of whisky his only companionship.

As the days, weeks, and months had slowly passed, and as his hope began to fade, he'd thought that with enough time, he'd be able to close this chapter of his life and move forward. But with each passing day, the ache in his heart grew deeper, while the loneliness became more profound and overwhelming. He felt broken and empty inside, and he'd gradually arrived at the realisation that there was only one solution. He couldn't endure a lifetime of searching every crowd for a tall, dashing figure accompanied by the tell-tale swirl of a grey military greatcoat. He couldn't spend the rest of his life searching for the one person who could make him feel whole again, knowing that even if he did settle for someone else, he'd give them up in a heartbeat for a chance of recapturing a fraction of what he'd once had.

Ianto no longer slept, insomnia having become his constant companion. He felt beyond exhaustion, every movement seeming to require monumental effort. The image he saw in the mirror every morning was of dull, lifeless blue eyes, framed by heavy, dark smudges, his gaunt features complimented by the unhealthy pallor of already-pale Welsh skin. Not that long ago, he'd taken great pride in his grooming and appearance, evidenced by the almost obscene amount of money he'd spent on his clothing, especially his bespoke tailored suits and their accompanying shirts, ties, and accessories. None of that mattered anymore. He'd kept only his one favourite suit, the suit he'd worn on their first proper date. He'd given the rest to charity.

When he did occasionally manage to drift into a restless slumber, his dreams were haunted by a ridiculously handsome face with deep blue, soul-searching eyes... eyes that were far older than the impossibly youthful face surrounding them. Those eyes had always seemed to know him better than he knew himself. A dazzling, infectious smile taunted his thoughts... a smile that when focused solely upon him, had unfailingly brought a flush of warmth to his face and made him a little weak in the knees, much to his mortification. Lack of sleep and an indifference to food had taken Ianto's body to what felt like the brink of collapse. In a futile act of self-preservation, his mind had apparently decided to refuse his body the rest it so desperately needed.

Ianto's thoughts shifted as he continued to stare up at the stars. The guilt of leaving his teammates behind continued to gnaw at his gut like a stomach full of rats. He'd abandoned them, at a time when they'd needed each other more than ever. It had been his job to take charge and look after them. They'd needed him, but when he'd realised his lack of focus was endangering not only himself but them as well, he'd known what he had to do. After several close calls and a near-fatal encounter with a rogue Weevil, he'd decided he wasn't going to stay and wait for his luck to run out. Working for Torchwood was a death sentence, and he wasn't willing to sacrifice his life for a job that had lost its meaning. There wasn't any part of the underground base in Cardiff that wasn't filled with memories... painful memories that were a constant reminder of what he'd lost. He'd needed to escape.

He hadn't been able to forget Gwen's anger and confusion, Owen's feigned indifference, or Toshiko's sad understanding. He'd tried to assuage his guilt by reminding himself that they were better off without him, that he'd become a liability to them. His final task before leaving had been to scour the UNIT personnel files and compile a list of the best potential candidates for the Torchwood team. He knew they'd be fine without him, but he missed all of them. He missed his beloved Myfanwy too. They'd been his friends, and the nearest thing he'd had to a real family.

With a final longing glance to the heavens, Ianto retreated to the comparative warmth of the apartment's interior, closing the glass balcony doors firmly behind him. Removing his coat and hanging it neatly on the rack by the front door, he rubbed at his frozen hands, then made his way into the compact kitchen and poured a glass of water from the tap. Moving back to the living area, he lowered himself wearily onto the sofa.

The new apartment was smaller, but similarly styled and appointed to the one he'd had in Cardiff. As soon as he'd seen the similarities, he'd immediately decided it would be his new home. The contemporary look with its sleek lines and shiny surfaces wasn't really his taste, his preferences leaned towards something more traditional, but it felt comfortable and familiar. It was a reminder of the happiest moments of his life.

He still wasn't sure why he'd decided to return to London. He could have gone anywhere, but other than Cardiff and his home town of Newport, the vast, intimidating capital city was the only other place he'd ever known, albeit briefly. No one knew him here, all the people he'd once known and worked with were dead, and the anonymity suited his needs. It seemed like as good a place as any to start over. It would be easy to lose himself here, not that he expected anyone would be looking for him. He'd said his final goodbyes before leaving Cardiff.

Scanning his eyes over the contents of the glass-topped coffee table before him, Ianto ran through his mental check-list once more, already knowing there was nothing he'd overlooked. As always, his fastidious attention to detail had served him well. He nudged the thick blue folder of paperwork and documentation with his fingertip, lining it up with the edge of the rectangular table, and then straightened the envelope on top. The words "Read this first" stood out starkly on the crisp white paper in his tidy handwriting.

Sitting next to the folder was a new, unused leather-bound diary. He'd never found his old diary, it too had vanished six months earlier. It had been one of his most prized possessions, and when his desperate search of every inch of Torchwood Three's enormous lair had failed to locate it, the additional loss had been almost more than he could bear. He'd concluded that his diary was also lost to him forever, and that, in a somewhat uncharacteristic act of sentimentality, the man he'd been waiting for had taken it with him.

Ianto drew a deep breath, and his eyes settled on the innocuous white tablets he'd laid out in a neat little row in the centre of the table. There were five tablets, one for each year. Compound B67, colloquially known as 'retcon', was one of the crowning achievements of the once-great Torchwood Institute. Ianto had always despised the drug, believing its use to be morally reprehensible. However, he was pragmatic enough to accept that it was a useful tool in his former line of work – a necessary evil. If Torchwood had taught him nothing else, it was of the necessity to always focus on the greater good, and that sometimes meant doing despicable things with ruthless detachment. He supposed there was some sort of perverse irony in his hope that those little white tablets were going to be his salvation.

Without further thought, and before his resolve could waver, Ianto scooped up the tablets in his palm, tossing them quickly into his mouth. A vile, bitter taste immediately assaulted his tongue. Taking a mouthful of water, he swallowed hard, and then eased himself down to lay along the length of the sofa, adjusting a cushion to support his head.

Breathing slowly and deeply, Ianto willed himself to relax. For a moment, he felt strangely at peace. He'd made his choice, there was no going back now, and he knew from experience that the compound worked rapidly. His limbs soon became heavy and lethargic as the sedative took effect. He could feel his mind blurring at the edges, and a sudden wave of panic surged through him. He desperately tried to move, but it was already too late. His body refused to respond.

His eyelids fluttered as he struggled to hold onto the last vestiges of consciousness, his surroundings becoming shadowy and indistinct as they lost focus. I'm sorry, he thought. I don't want to forget, but I need to... I can't go on like this... I need to let you go...

Moments before he finally succumbed to the darkness, a single name echoed in his mind, before drifting forever beyond his reach.