He is clawing his way through tough and sticky spiderwebs wrapped around every part of him. He is screaming and cannot make a sound. He is choking and cannot suck in air. Ianto smothers in his own panic, and goes limp at last, blind and held in place. His brain is stuck in the webs as well, unable to hold onto a single thought or memory.
"Are you done?"
Her voice is amused, patient. There's a strong sense of indulgence, and a hint of "you old silly."
The webs are gone. Ianto is free, calm, and on his back staring up at the clearest sky he's ever seen, not a wisp of cloud to mar the radiant arc of faint eggshell blue at the horizon into indigo at the zenith.
Lisa steps up to where he lies, her face upside-down to his, that teasing grin on her face, just Lisa and blue skies.
A million thoughts trickle through one by one, and Ianto says, "So I'm dead, then."
Lisa sighs, and steps around to face him properly, offering a hand. Bemused, he reaches up, and the sensations are all wrong as they touch and she helps him stand. Around them, a green horizon stretches in three directions, but in front of them is a beach covered in pebbles, and a sea so vast he can't imagine not having noticed before.
"This doesn't make sense," he says out loud. "There's nothing after death. Jack says so. Suzie said so, too, and Owen."
Lisa shrugs, and in the gesture is contained every quiet doubt Ianto himself has ever experienced, knowing all three to be liars. "What do you think?"
He looks around himself. There's no breeze, not even off the water, no noises around them of birds or humming insects, and the sea is still as glass. It's a quiet, perfect place. "Is this an alien world? Have I been kidnapped?"
She smiles sadly. "No." She begins to walk away. Given the choice of staying here in the nothingness of this lifeless place, and following Lisa, he follows her, catching her up and talking her hand in his.
"You're here. You died, and you're here." Her hand is soft, but not with the lotion-smooth texture he knew so well as it danced at the back of his neck or stroked his side, she's soft like a pillow: it's all wrong. "I died, didn't I." He is dead, and this is Heaven or a place like it, but that's not right either. "Lisa?"
He tries to remember what happened, where he was, but there's a web in front of those memories. Was Jack there? Did Ianto tell him anything important, or did he die a coward?
"You know, don't you?" he asks her. "Please."
"There's a toxin racing through your body right now," she says, her eyes on the frozen sea. "You're not dead, but you will be very soon if you aren't cured. This place, me, everything is a last-ditch evasion by your brain whilst your nervous system shuts down." She kicks a pebble with her shoe. "I know what you know, because I only exist as a figment in your head. Sad, really. I had a life outside of you. I had a family who loved me, and a career, and goals."
If she's right, and he has no reason to doubt her, he's dying and she isn't real. "How did I die? I don't remember."
"Your brain is shutting down, Ianto. Those memories didn't make it into long-term storage, and your short-term memories are already gone." She looks down at herself. "Look at me. We spent two years together, and you only ever remember me in this red top. It's a mercy you don't think of the bloody Cyber outfit first, but I did own more clothes than this."
He laughs, a little, laughs at his death and his dream-Lisa chiding him. "You always did look fabulous in red. My memory flatters you, if it makes you feel better."
"That would explain why my tits are bigger."
"They aren't, those are your exact tits." He pauses. "Are we actually having a row, now?"
"Don't ask me. I'm not actually here." Her smile is back, though, and since he is dead or dying and really, consequences and regrets are for the living, he leans over and kisses her. Her mouth is the same, every memory clear of the taste and press of her, and the waft of her perfume.
"What happens when we run out of time?"
She shrugs. "We find out. Everyone does. I did." She rests against him. "Do you remember the real me? I thought there would be a Heaven waiting for me, and loving arms. Do you remember how I tried to learn to knit, and made those jumpers for Christmas?"
He smiles. He hadn't thought about Lisa's knitting disasters in over a year, when he packed away the lopsided monstrosities in the boxes with the last of her things, and donated them.
"That's all I am now," she says, voice carrying over the silent seaside, "stray memories. That's why you're thinking about me as you're dying. It's not that you love me. You do. I'm in your mind, and I know, but you're wasting your last few moments feeling guilty for not thinking of me more often."
He turns from her, shamed. "I love you so much. I swore I'd never ever forget you."
She presses her wrong hand against his cheek. "But you stopped thinking about me every day, stopped mourning me every time you saw another woman's face. You spend whole weeks not even remembering I was alive."
"I'm sorry," he whispers.
"I know you are, sweetheart, but it's just you and me here inside your head, and I think it's private enough to admit you're sorry because forgetting makes you feel sorry for yourself." She's not accusing, which makes her presence here logical to him at last. Confronted with his own self-doubt and worse, Ianto is happy enough to let his own demons tear at him when he knows how selfish he can be. Lisa is his mind's way of gentling his last blow against himself, offering forgiveness and mercy in the face of his own terrible nature.
Lisa was a part of his life for years and already he has learned to move past the loss of her, spends weeks without thinking about her, has moved her to a place in his heart of affection that grows more distant and forgotten every day.
Just as Jack will move on after him, and forget him.
He has no room to judge, nor to ask for better, not with Lisa here beside him in the one blouse of hers he can remember clearly, not with her name so long from his lips. He loved her and he got over her, and with each synapse shutting down, his guilt at that, and wanting better for himself, will accompany the last spark to be extinguished of his life.
"I should have thought about you every day. I should have talked about you every minute I could."
"What would that have solved? It's not healthy to cling to the past. If you'd spent every day mourning me, you would have stopped living yourself." Her justifications are his justifications, and he doesn't have time, not with the moments slipping away.
"I should have! I loved you."
Her mouth curls. "But you don't love only me. Does it mean you love me any less because you fell in love with someone else?"
He tries imagining loving Lisa less. "Of course not."
"If he leaves you one day, and you have to find someone new, will you love me less because of them?"
He doesn't have to speak the "no" aloud. She knows, because he knows. Lisa's not really here, as she said. This is a vision put together from all his dreams and memories, a conglomeration of a thousand different Lisa moments, distilled and poured out into a single gorgeous impression, and he will never stop loving the memory of her.
"You will forget more of me, you know. Today I'm here in my red blouse and you know the scent of my perfume, but a year from now, you'll have to pick up a photograph to really catch the way my eyes looked. You've already forgotten what it felt like to hold my hand. And you'll still love me."
"Yes," he says, although it's meaningless. He is dying. His blood is slowing in his veins, and his body is prone somewhere he can't remember. Around them, the vast grassy plane has shrunk to the size of a small room, and the sea has swallowed itself. is nothing but pebbles on an empty beach and the memory of foam.
"If you live for a thousand years," Lisa says into his ear, pressed so close now they are like dancing, they are like love, they are ...
"I will love you," Ianto promises. Even if he forgets Lisa's face and her perfume and at last the taste of her mouth, she will always be a part of him.
"Yes, you will. You'll move on with others, and you'll still love me even if you forget my name someday. You're human." She presses her mouth open against his, but this is inside his head and he can hear her plainly: "And so is he."
Choking, he is choking, and air is blowing through him, and warmth as well, saturating his skin out to his fingers, to the tips of his toes. Ianto coughs and wheezes, eyes opening to see the very familiar image of Jack's face against his, their mouths locked together. Jack pulls away from the kiss, concern and fear all over his face.
Ianto keeps coughing, purging the stinging air in his lungs, and barely turning his head aside in time before he brings up bile, spitting it all out onto the cold floor beside him.
"Oh, thank God," Gwen says from somewhere he can't see. Jack's hands are on him, holding his head, helping him to a sitting position when his mouth is clear of the last of it.
His shirt has been ripped open, he notices with absent, clumsy fingers, and his left arm aches. He can't think, can't remember. Lisa? Jack? Definitely Jack. And Gwen. He's somewhere. Why is he thinking of Lisa right now?
"Huh?" he manages, and Jack moves his hand to his back, begins massaging him between the shoulderblades.
"How are you feeling?"
"Terrible." He blinks. "Alive. What happened?"
Gwen says, "We had the emergency kit in the SUV. Owen's broad-spectrum anti-toxin. We weren't sure ... " She trails off. That explains the pain in his arm.
"I gave it a little extra kick," Jack explains, carefully helping Ianto to his feet. "I reckoned it couldn't hurt." At this point, Jack should make a joke about copping a feel, but he still looks worried.
"What was the toxin?"
Jack shrugs. "We'll analyse it when we get back to the Hub. We didn't even get a good look at the aliens who dropped it."
"Shouldn't we go after them?"
"I set a tracker," Gwen says. "We'll chase them in our own time." She's got that tone in her voice that says the aliens are going to be in a world of hurt. Ianto almost feels sorry for them.
It's another late day that turns into a late night. Jack orders Ianto back to the Hub to coordinate whilst he and Gwen get payback on the aliens who poisoned Ianto. Ianto begins the identification on the toxin, taking extra care with the safety precautions. It would hardly do to re-poison himself so soon. Jack calls in more often than he needs, checking up to make sure Ianto is still okay. It's sweet at first, then annoying.
Typical day, all told, except for the feeling he's forgetting something.
And now it's later, and there's no question but Jack is coming home with him. They grab a curry, but leave the takeaway containers abandoned in the kitchen as soon as their shoes are off. It's all mouths and hands and that ticklish spot Jack always manages to find at the bottom of Ianto's ribs as he tugs off his vest. Jack is always laughing, always teasing, but tonight he's serious, no smiles around the hot kisses he leaves on Ianto's hipbone, no gleam of mirth as Ianto's fingers rake through then tug on his hair.
No, Jack is solemnity itself here at the doorway to their bedroom, swallowing Ianto's dick like a holy relic from some very odd phallic-based cult, kneeling as if in prayer. The image startles Ianto from his passion-drunk stupor, surges him from passively accepting the intense blow job. Jack's eyes are closed, and Ianto brushes his thumbs over the lids, across the lashes.
"Look at me."
And Jack does, looks up at him, and he's raw, so raw, and what he is doing is horrible and necessary: this is Jack Harkness, committing him to memory, stamping an iron brand on this night because this morning he saw the future, too.
"It's all right," Ianto says, because it is, it's more than all right even aside from the hot suction and the firm grip of ten fingers imprinting red marks into his buttocks. It's all right because they are here tonight, it's all right because he remembers. The slow cant of his own hips driving himself in and out of Jack's mouth, the muffled whines in Jack's throat, the slick-sticky feel of Jack's hair in his fingers after a long, bad day, all these combine into a memory, one he'll wrap up himself and give to Jack, and say, "Remember this if nothing else."
He's close, too close. He pushes Jack away. Jack will happily gulp down his come, has done so countless times, but Ianto drags his shoulder, pulls him, confused, to the bed, where they kiss, bodies squirming so near to each other they might be the same person.
It's hands then, and gasped kisses as they mingle their fingers, holding their cocks together in a slick, loose grasp. It's the race of Jack's pulse in the vein against his palm, and the way Jack charts and maps the rest of his skin with his free hand, and it's tumbling together into the abyss. It's resting his forehead against Jack's, making him meet his eyes, and the feel of him, his warmth, and the life, and the love as well, that will go on for centuries, millennia, more, long after Ianto is gone.
A/N: My three favourite words are, "I liked this."