Spoilers: Everything up through Children of Earth. Mild spoilers (very vague) for Miracle Day.

Word count: ~ 4,800 (this part - one more part to come)

Warnings: As always, lots of angst. And this is still English from a non-native.

Disclaimer: All recognizable characters are the property of their respective owners. I am in no way associated with the creators, and no copyright infringement is intended.

A/N: I was bushwhacked by a very insistent plot bunny. This is the result. The story title comes from the title of the Mary Frye poem that is used within. The other quoted poems are O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman and The Stolen Child by William Butler Yeats.


Do not stand at my grave and weep

Awareness returns slowly.

Life comes in bits and pieces, a thought here, a breath there. And all the while, Ianto can hear the whispers. All around him, about him, everywhere, through him in ways that should not be possible, the creatures whisper and laugh and flutter. The sound of their wings is like birds suddenly startled into flight, a flutter and rush and then empty freedom in an equally empty sky.

They whisper, and they laugh, and suddenly Ianto is alive again, flat on his back in an ancient wood.

It's painful. This body—his body? A new one? He's not quite sure—is unused to even simple things like blinking, and breathing, and seeing. Like muscles that have long since atrophied—or perhaps never been used at all—his lungs ache as he draws air into them, lets it out again. His eyes burn even in the darkness, the cool air painful to them, and his ears ring with the quiet murmur of a nighttime forest. Ianto is helpless, like a newborn babe in the face of this unexpected return, and the vulnerability is maddening.

Wind is picking up, stinging his sensitive skin like hail, and a hiss of pain escapes his unfamiliar throat. It's too much, or he's too sensitive, the air, which would otherwise be soft and warm, turned fierce and arctic. Even the smell of it—like spring and summer, both at once but at the same time neither—is overwhelming, like stepping from frozen, barren winter into a hothouse in full bloom. The grass beneath his bare body is as hard and sharp as metal filings, the earth like concrete even when his head tells him it should be soft loam. He can feel it, all of it—every grain of dirt and blade of grass, every leaf fluttering from the overhanging boughs to land softly on his body. Perhaps he has been lying here for an eternity. Perhaps it has only been a moment. Time has vanished from his mind, even though it has always meant so much to him, counting the passage of it. Here, in this nighttime wood of green and summer gold, time has ceased to exist, and he cannot reclaim it. Here and now, he is not sure he wants to.

Another painful breath, but it's getting easier now, his body carefully adjusting to what should be natural, and Ianto can make out shapes around him in the shadows. Small, swift shapes darting through the air. Larger, gangly shapes leaning out of the tree branches or looming over him in a way that all but radiates protective concern. Ianto wants to ask who they are, what they are, but his body is still too weak. He's at their mercy, without even the ability to speak.

There is a flicker, like moonlight, and one of the small forms comes to perch on his chest. The weight is crushing, even though Ianto knows that in reality it's probably almost nothing. He stares up at the creature, and feels his breath catch in his throat, frozen in his lungs.

He knows this creature.

The little fairy laughs at him, the sound echoing oddly, and leans forward to touch his nose. Ianto tries to hold back a flinch, because he remembers Estelle and Jasmine and what happened to Gwen's flat, but it's apparently not successful, because the fairy giggles at him and flickers away. In its place, one of the larger ones emerges from the gloom and leans over him. Somehow, Ianto is less terrified of this one, because it doesn't try to hide what it is with a pretty form or graceful movements. It is a creature of the earth, of the trees, of time itself, with moss-green skin and gangling limbs like oak branches and ancient, ancient eyes.

"Human child," it hisses, in that voice that is so deceptively sweet and light, even as it is unthinkably eerie.

Ianto wants to answer, protest that he's not a child, even if he is human, but his vocal cords are so useless they might as well be absent, nothing but a rush of air leaving his throat. The fairy seems to understand nevertheless, because it laughs, too, a child's laugh from a monster's body. "Human child," it repeats, as though affirming the label. "We have taken you."

The question is in his eyes, Ianto knows, the why so loud and obvious it might as well be spoken. He's not sure what happened, not sure of the reason he is here, but the last thing he remembers is a cold, empty, alien voice and a creeping toxin, a whispered confession to a man who will never truly die and an agonized don't that broke his heart even as it stopped beating. Broke his heart for Jack, because Jack couldn't accept his death even in the very moment of it. Because Jack has eternity to live, eternity to lose everyone he loves over and over, and there's nothing Ianto can do to save him from that. He would in a heartbeat, would do anything, would trade places with Jack without a hesitation, because Jack is so heartbreakingly fragile for all that he can never be completely broken.

The fairy grins at him, full of sharp needle-teeth. "Do not stand at my grave and weep. I am not there. I do not sleep," it whispers, and then laughs again, as though this is the most amusing thing it has ever heard. Abruptly there is a rush around them, a thousand wings suddenly in use, as the fairies rise. There's something primal about it, something not beautiful, but awing in its earthly force. These are creatures out of time and space, with all the power of a hundred old gods. It's no wonder Jack surrendered Jasmine to them, because these are the true rulers of the Earth, for all that they are content to remain in shadow.

Something of his thoughts must show in his eyes, because the fairy's grin widens almost grotesquely, showing about seven times the amount of teeth Ianto is comfortable with. But it makes no hostile motions, no threatening gestures. Rather, it touches his forehead with one long, gnarled finger and sighs, "I am a thousand winds that blow; I am the diamond glints on snow; I am the sunlight on ripened grain; I am the gentle autumn rain."

As it speaks, its eyes never leave Ianto's, and they're so dark and deep, full of all the mysteries that could ever be and ever were, a world's worth of timelessness and impossibility and care and laughter, tears and sorrows and births and deaths. In that moment he begins to understand. The fairies are not outside of time, not beyond it; they're part of it in a way no other creature can be, and unless the Earth ceases to exist in all of time and space, unless the Earth never exists at all, they will remain. They are timeless in a way Jack is not, but at the same time in exactly the way he is.

Everything that is and was and will be is in this creature's eyes, and just for a moment, Ianto can understand it.

But that understanding is too much, too soon, and darkness comes for him again.

The next time Ianto wakes it is to find that breathing has again become effortless. His skin has settled, no longer the twitching mass of sensation and overstimulation that he remembers from his first awakening, and the grass beneath him actually feels soft. He doesn't know if he has been moved or if the earth has moved around him, but the trees are at some distance, and he lies in the center of a summer meadow.

Dawn is just breaking over the treetops, spilling light into the sky, and there are fairies everywhere. Ianto gathers his strength and turns his head, studying the area around him. His thoughts hang in a sort of heavy morass, suspended between disbelief, incredulity, and hope, and he has to remind himself that he has no idea why he's been brought here (brought back, a little voice whispers, and is ignored). The fairies are not the sorts to do anything for nothing. They must want him for something, something only he can do, but for the life (or death, that little voice insists) of him, he can't imagine what. Maybe this is something that Jack has done.

Jack. The name alone is painful, and Ianto closes eyes that are stinging—from the light, he insists to himself, it's just the light. He wonders how Jack is faring against the 456, if he's won or lost, or if he lost but still let the human race win. Jack's the type to do that, to sacrifice everything that matters to him for the sake of everyone else. He seems to think that because he cannot die his pain matters little.

But then Ianto remembers his words when the 456 released the gas, how Jack was willing to give them the world to save Ianto's life. Ianto is glad he didn't—how would he ever be able to live with himself after a trade like that?—but it's a little terrifying to know the depth of Jack's feelings for him. Especially when he would have thought Jack beyond such sacrifices, because Jack is always one to do the right thing no matter the difficulty of the choice.

The soft buzz of wings draws his attention back to the world around him, and he opens his eyes to see one of the large fairies land in a crouch. Somehow, he knows that it's the same one as spoke to him last time, though he can't pick out any defining features that make him certain. It grins at him, sharply amused, and Ianto is startled to find a smile pulling at his lips in return.

"Human child," it greets, soft and uncanny. "Better now, human child?"

Ianto manages to jerk his head in rough parody of a nod, more a spasm of muscles than anything else, and long, twig-like fingers close around his shoulders, pulling him upright. His body simply cannot comprehend the movement, and he makes a useless attempt to grab a hold of something to stop his fall. Before he can hit the ground, however, he is caught and held against a green, alien chest, awkward and bony but somehow comforting. The fairy croons gently at him, tangling fingers in his hair, and Ianto wonders if consoling like this is a skill it learned dealing with the Chosen Ones, or because it once was a Chosen One.

There is another flutter of wings as one of the tiny fairies alights next to them, bearing something in its small hands. Ianto looks at it and can't decide whether to laugh or cry. The fairy doesn't notice his consternation, or doesn't care; it pushes Ianto's slightly battered stopwatch into his hands and helps him fold his awkward, unmanageable fingers around the cool metal. Ianto grips it with all the strength he can muster and nods his thanks, even as his fingers seek out the small dent on the edge, where it fell and hit the floor while he and Jack were working their way through that list. Good memories, sweet thoughts, and Ianto has to choke back a rough, dark sob. He hasn't had time to think yet, no opportunity to reflect on what has happened, but this brings the thoughts to the forefront whether he's ready for them or not. What has happened? What is happening, to him and back on Earth? Why is he here, alone and out of time, when he is neither a child nor a Chosen One? Where is Jack in all of this, and has Ianto finally confessed what he feels only for them to be ripped apart for all eternity?

"Away," the small fairy giggles rising up to perch on his shoulder. Ianto is relieved to find that the weight is nothing like what he remembers from last time, more like a sparrow or a particularly large butterfly. "Away with us he's going, the solemn-eyed—"

The larger fairy giggles, too, the sound utterly incongruous with its size and appearance, and waves the other one off. One large hand closes over Ianto's, tightening his fingers on the stopwatch. "Time is here, human child. All of time. See it?"

Ianto looks at the ticking hands, the turning gears that mark each second going by, and frowns. He sees, a little, but that sudden rush of understanding that he felt before doesn't come. "What?"

The fairy hisses, impatient, and lifts his hand to shake it in front of him. "See? Time, trapped! Yours now, all of it. 'Do not stand at my grave and weep; I am not there. I do not sleep.' They would have taken ours, all of ours. We did nothing then, but we do it now."

Ours, the fairy says, and Ianto knows what it means. The Chosen Ones—there must have been one of the Chosen Ones among the ten percent that the 456 demanded, or the future parent of a Chosen one, something to anger them. Because the creature is angry, is furious, and Ianto can feel that rage right against his bones, like the Earth itself rebelling against the memory of the child-snatchers.

Abruptly, the fairy's touch gentles, and it sets his hand back in his lap with careful fingers. "O Captain! my Captain! Our fearful trip is done; the ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won."

So Jack managed to defeat the 456. Ianto closes his eyes again in relief. Of course Jack won; the only question is what it cost him, because Ianto knows that such victories are never cheap. To defeat one man intent on Jack's death and save Cardiff cost them Tosh and Owen. It's painful to think what saving ten percent of the world's children might have required.

"Sleep," the fairy croons, stroking Ianto's face with long fingers. Its skin smells of deep forests and sunshine, with the faintest undertone of roses. "Sleep, human child. Better soon, and then return."

It's a relief to know that they don't intend to keep him here forever, but Ianto can't think too much on that. All of his thoughts are on the fairy's outburst, on the stopwatch still clenched in his hand. More than anything, the words "Time, trapped! Yours now, all of it," follow him down into slumber.

They cannot mean what he thinks they do, but for the life of him, Ianto can think of no other meanings.

The third awakening is much smoother than either of the others, feeling returning to his limbs as it normally would, along with basic motor control. Ianto sits up as soon as he's sure he can, eager to do something, anything, that will return him to Jack. The fairy's words still pound in his head, but they're a lesser concern. Somewhere, some when, Jack is hurting, mourning what had to be done to defeat the 456. Ianto can feel it in his blood, his bones, the very air he breathes—something is wrong with Jack.

There are fairies around him again, a swarm of them all restless and unsettled. They feel it, too, Ianto assumes, spotting his fairy—as much as any of them can be his, which is not much—in the midst of the group. It seems to feel him looking, because it drops down beside him and keens, "Gone! He left! Wrong! Cannot take you bring you leave you yet!"

Then it's gone again, twisting through the mass of its brethren, and Ianto is left to make sense from senselessness once more. This, at least, he can assume means Jack has left the planet in the current timeline, just before the fairies were about to return Ianto. It confirms Ianto's guess that Jack did something terrible to drive off the 456, and that he can't forgive himself for it. Likely Gwen's not much help on that front, either; she's never been able to see that the choices Jack makes are those that have to be made, and Jack is the only one strong enough to make them.

Ianto likes Gwen well enough, truly. He understands that she sees Jack as some mythical hero, a man larger than life who shatters her dreams whenever he proves to be imperfect. He even understands Jack's need to be the hero she sees as much as he can, to prove to himself that he can be that man. But Gwen has always been the one to see the small picture, the individual, over the larger picture of the whole world. It's one of the reasons Jack hired her in the first place, when the team began to overlook the people they were supposed to be protecting for the sake of catching the aliens that endangered them. Gwen might try to understand whatever choice Jack had to make, but in the end she won't.

And Jack…sometimes Jack needs to know that he isn't a hero, that he can't always do the right thing, and that his every choice can't always be the perfect one. He no doubt blames himself for Ianto's death, and the death of whoever it was that has driven him to leave the planet. Ianto can tell him, and Jack will even listen once in a great while, but while he's stuck here there's no way Ianto can do anything.

"You control time," he says, and the sound of his voice is startling, almost as much as the lack of rasp in it—as though he hasn't been unable to speak, as though there's nothing different from the Ianto who walked into Thames House however long ago that was.

Around him, the fairies still. They're all watching him, all waiting for something that Ianto isn't sure he can give them. He clears his throat and tries again.

"You control time. Can you bring me to when Jack returns?" he asks.

His fairy flutters down to crouch near him, alien face thoughtful. "Go now? No waiting? Keep ours safe?"

There it is—that's what they want from him, Ianto realizes, why they've brought him back. The threat to the Chosen Ones has scared them in a way that nothing has before, the arrival of an enemy that they cannot reach, bound to the Earth as they are. Now they want someone to do what they cannot, leave Earth if needs be and protect the Chosen Ones in this time and all others.

"Why me?" he has to ask. "Why pick me?"

The fairy reaches out to touch his forehead again, a gentle tap that sends a lingering burst of warmth through him. "Smart," it giggles, "like us. Cunning and dark and bright. Human child, in another time, you would be ours. You face the child-snatchers. We bring you here back now forever so you will protect. Do not stand at my grave and cry. I am not there, I did not die."

It's a logic game, puzzling out meaning from cryptic clues, but Ianto's always been good at that. He nods to the fairy and answers, "Yes. I'm ready to go now. I'll keep them safe."

The fairy grins, but Ianto can't find it in himself to be scared any longer. They're creatures of the earth, of Earth, and they might be cruel, but Ianto can be, too. He's always had a darkness inside of him. It's in his dreams sometimes, a coldly vicious voice that wants to kill, to disregard the façade of politeness that has forever been his mask and just act on his impulses (like Adam let us, that voice says gleefully, even though Ianto doesn't hear it). So he smiles back and says softly, "Thank you."

Jack might hate him for this, for being a part of these creatures that killed Estelle, but Ianto hopes he won't. He hopes that Jack will see that it's still him, that Ianto is still the same no matter what deals he has made. And really, what choice is there? If he refused, what would the fairies do? Keep him here with the Chosen Ones until time runs down and the universe ends?

If there is a choice, it is no choice at all. Ianto knows what he has to do, what he wants to do.

The fairy leans forward and takes his head in its hands, pulling him forward so that their foreheads touch and remaining there for a long moment. "Go," it agrees. "Anywhere, any when. We will always know. You will always know danger to ours, human child."

The world is spinning, or maybe that's just the fairies fluttering around them in fits and starts, circles inscribed by rushing wings and breathless laughter. "Do not stand at my grave and cry," they whisper, laugh, sing, hiss. "I am not there, I did not die." Ianto can feel something building, some power, and closes his eyes against it. The next instant there is a burst of light and air and then nothing, and Ianto falls through it all, down, down, down and back to the Earth he knows.

Thankfully, Ianto does not wake up buried six feet below the surface in a wood box. Nor does he come awake inside a cryo-chamber in the Hub, which would be preferable to a grave but hardly optimal. Rather, Ianto Jones returns to life on a bed of rose petals in the Torchwood Three Archives, right at the marker between the L and M sections. There are traces of debris from the Hub's destruction here, but nothing substantial; it appears that the explosion was mostly contained to the main area, and though Ianto mourns the reminders of their lost teammates that were kept there, it's a small part. The lower levels are much more important in the long run, holding all of the files and records and knowledge that Torchwood has managed to hoard over the years.

Ianto sits up with a soft groan, because while he is in full control of his body, there's still a persistent ache, as though the muscles have never been used before even though they know what to do in theory. Standing is even more of a challenge, and his legs wobble dangerously until he manages to steady himself with the help of the nearest file cabinet. His breathing is already a little harsh, and Ianto wonders with amused despair how he's supposed to get all the way up to the main floor, if it even exists anymore. All signs point to yes, as someone has cleaned up and the Archives look cared for, and they'd hardly take care of the Archives and leave the rest of the Hub in ruins.

As he drags himself towards the door, his eyes focus on the nearest shelf, and Ianto can't contain the urge to roll his eyes. He sees Jack's hand in this—no one else would file an item marked "Deadly: do not tamper with" under D when it is clearly a Judoon blaster. It makes Ianto fear for the state of the rest of his Archives, since clearly the Captain has been the only one down here, and that's a clear invitation for chaos.

And Jack is here—he can feel it, the same way he could feel when something was wrong. Jack still needs him. Torchwood still needs him, if only to teach their erstwhile Captain the alphabet. Ianto smiles to himself, even as he staggers towards the door. It opens before he can even touch it, and laughter ripples through the air with a whisper of, "Do not stand at my grave and weep. I am not there. I do not sleep." Feeling as though he too could laugh, Ianto waves a hand in thanks and stumbles forward, catching and bracing himself against the corridor wall. He wonders absently about interior CCTV, if they've picked up his presence yet, but can't bring himself to worry about it. Either whoever is watching will notice—probably Gwen, he guesses, wondering if she's still pregnant—and come find him, or he'll find them when he manages to drag himself all the way up to the Hub.

'How long has it been?' he wonders. How much time has passed since his death? Have they moved on? Found a new body for general support and basic fieldwork? Has Jack found someone new? Love is all well and good, but comfort often wins out. What will Ianto do, if Jack doesn't want him back?

The fairies whisper around him, comforting, and a sudden wind whirls a flurry of rose petals past him, leaving him untouched by the gale. Frowning a little—because they're playing tricks, and this probably won't end as smoothly as Ianto wants it to because of it—Ianto hurries after them as much as he is able, keeping upright with one hand on the wall. The path is steady under his feet, new concrete that shown no wear in the place of the well-worn stone Ianto is used to. It leads straight up, right towards the Hub's main room, and all Ianto has to do is follow the trail of petals. It's not the best herald of his arrival, in all truth; he remembers Jack's reaction to them last time, and the aching fury he was left with afterwards. But it's still a distraction when Ianto is otherwise unsure of how to reveal his presence beyond a simple "hello." While that's certainly acceptable, it lacks the drama that should accompany a return from the dead, Ianto thinks.

Then again, drama has always been Jack's department, he rationalizes as he all but falls through the entrance to the main area, to find himself in the midst of chaos. People are shouting, weapons are out, and Ianto has a brief moment to be disoriented by the number of them—it's not just Jack and Gwen, of that he's certain—before he's noticed, and suddenly finds himself facing the business end of the entire team's guns.

There's a shocked silence, complete and absolute. Ianto can all but feel the alarm radiating off of them as he tries to steady his spinning head. Slowly, his vision rights itself, and he realizes that he's looking straight into Martha Jones's wide, worried brown eyes.

"Ianto?" she breathes.

"Martha," he greets, then looks down at himself and realizes that he's still as naked as he was in that other world. "I seem to have misplaced my clothes. Are there any spares?"

Before she can answer, though, the world starts spinning again. Ianto hears the fairies laughing, smells the cloying, overpowering sweetness of roses, and gives himself over to the darkness once more.