Characters/Pairings: Jack/Ianto, Gwen/Rhys, other cameos
Spoilers: CoE (characters only), MD (one character name only)
Warnings: so much sap it could be a tree
Betas: Fide, who is going to pretend to be SURPRISED, and lawsontl, who probably won't
AN: For fide_et_spe, who was a great help in getting the series landed. Coda to my fake third season, although this fic is a standalone and may be read independently of those stories.
Gwen scratched at the tulle covering her left shoulder. She'd bought this dress at the very last minute, had in fact noticed the mannequin yesterday in the window of the Marks & Spencer on Queen Street as she'd dashed by chasing a damn Horendi. Horendi apprehended, she'd driven back, her own clothes a mess and her hair worse. The multicoloured dress was in her size, a nice summery outfit with a gorgeous ruff on one shoulder and a matching hat she'd discarded fifteen seconds after Rhys told her she looked like her Mam.
The dress itched.
She'd learned the dress itched at the same time she'd learned the air conditioner was broken at the Registry office, when they'd crowded into the room. The whole party was uncomfortable in what her mate Trina had dubbed "tit-sweating weather." Jack started to crack nervous jokes, Ianto's back was so straight you could have used him as a ruler, and Gwen worried. Bad tidings, her Mam would say, although Mam didn't remember Gwen had been pregnant with a Nostrovite's spawn at her nuptials. Superstitions weren't everything.
Still, she hadn't been expecting this. With Jack's penchant for the outlandish, and Ianto's for the precise, Gwen had assumed their celebration would be a production worthy of the West End. Instead, her two friends in their best suits held hands and followed along with the legal vows like some young couple who'd been dragged in by their parents at the news of a baby, while everyone loitered, dripping and fanning themselves with the pamphlets from outside. It was hardly romantic, not a patch on the lavish plans she'd made for her own wedding.
Rhys's arm slid around her waist, pulling her closer. "Just perfect," he said for her ears only.
Gwen stared at him, startled. He nodded, taking in the room and the guests, and she followed his gaze. Well, yes, their friends had come, few as they were (all but Martha, what with her due next week and not wanting to risk the travel). The room was decorated nicely enough, pretty artificial flowers and ribbons in neutral colours with equally neutral themes so as not to cause offence, nothing bad but certainly nothing special, either.
He jostled her arm, and Gwen took a second look, this time noticing the quick, knowing winks passed between Jack and Ianto as they obediently made their pledges to each other in the stuffy room. Oh. Whatever vows they'd spoken, they'd clearly exchanged the real ones some time ago in private. This wasn't the wedding, this was the paperwork. And sure enough, a few minutes later, so brief a ceremony that not even Ianto's little niece started to squirm, they were signing, and Gwen came forward in her itchy dress to add her name as a witness.
Instead of a proper reception, they'd reserved the back room at Casa Celi, where everyone could have dinner together, and laugh, and talk. Ianto's stiff formality melted under the pressure of Jack's hand on his arm as they sat next to each other. Jack's own scattered energy dissipated into warm joy, shared out to everyone else with kisses on cheeks and huge embraces of well-wishes and congratulations.
Gwen found herself seated between Martha's mum and Ianto's sister. "I love your dress," Francine said, as the first round of drinks were served, and Gwen thanked her.
Rhiannon kept up a bright patter, limiting herself to slightly embarrassing stories from their childhood rather than mortifying ones. Having spent many a slow day watching the interesting colour changes of Ianto's ears, from the light pink of "typed the wrong address and brought up porn" to Jack-inspired cherry red, Gwen thought he was getting off lucky.
As they chatted, Rhi kept shooting Gwen curious glances, but said nothing about why until Francine had excused herself to the loo. "You're a friend of theirs from work, yeah?" She twisted the fringe of the tablecloth in her hands.
Gwen caught a glance of the two men: Jack relating one of his more Earthbound anecdotes to Martha's dad, as Ianto sat back chatting with Alice. Jack was surrounded with people he loved; Ianto had been accepted, however reluctantly, by Jack's existing family. Gwen had spent much of the last three years considering herself a special and important part of their lives, but as she watched the faces gathered, it dawned on her that so was everyone else in the room.
Rhiannon bent closer. "I won't tell anyone, you know. I thought he was just showing off, pretending he had a posh job and was better than us now." Embarrassment flushed her own cheeks like an extra layer of rouge. "I wish he'd said sooner."
"Well, he couldn't have," Gwen said, trying to remember Ianto's cover story for his family. Her parents still believed "Special Ops" without further explanation.
"Right." The tablecloth twisted again, and her voice dropped to a bare whisper. "But MI-5! I imagine you trained for years. I can't figure how he even qualified." She watched her brother. "Is he good at it?"
"Ianto's one of the best I've ever worked with. It's all on-the-job training for what we do." She decided a little buttering up of her friend's reputation wouldn't go amiss, certainly not on his wedding day. "He helped train me when I started on."
Rhiannon stared at her. Then she asked, "Are you still recruiting?"
Francine returned, and Rhiannon moved back, thinking to keep the secret. Francine, never one to be deterred, gave Rhiannon a piercing smile. "And what do you do, dear?"
"Oh, I work from home." She looked at Gwen speculatively. "But I'm considering a change."
The food orders went around, and more drinks. Jack's jokes grew worse, though pointed looks from his daughter convinced him to cut out the nastiest bits in front of the children. During several of the stories, Ianto's eyes nearly rolled out of his head, but Gwen had seen this enough to catch the fondness each time. Rhys got louder, and her own fondness kicked in. She poked him while laughing so hard she nearly fell out of her seat.
In fact, the only tarnish on the happy day was the inopportune arrival right outside the restaurant of some blighter who'd got his hands on an artefact fresh from the Rift. He was causing a stir as he blew up chunks of the pavement for fun. Fortunately, the idiot chose to do so in the presence of several heavily-armed people, and when he was relieved of his toy, Perry offered to take him in (to relieve him of his recent memories), but promised to be back before dessert. Gwen phoned their new doctor, who was minding the Hub. Standard Torchwood wedding, she thought, minus the alien pregnancy. A quick word with Tish confirmed Martha hadn't called to say it was time, so no human babies to commemorate this wedding, either.
As the evening wound into the night, Gwen found herself watching Jack and Ianto. They'd foregone a wedding cake for two orders of the restaurant's excellent tiramisu, and exchanged bites in lieu of shoving sweets in each other's faces. They paused in the middle of conversations for quick, tender kisses, going back to chat with their guests right after, holding hands all the while. Each one occasionally broke off from what he was doing to steal bits off the other's plate, or to watch the other in addled amazement for a moment as if he couldn't believe his luck. And if Gwen's heart broke a tiny bit each time she saw the undisguised happiness on Jack's face, that was her own business. She moved her seat next to Rhys's, and rested her head against him as the night wore on and the guests gradually dropped their final kisses and good wishes, and left.
Just as at her own wedding, the Torchwood group was the last standing.
"No Retcon this time?" she teased Jack, giving his arm one more squeeze.
"I think we managed not to need it. Unless you were telling someone something I should know about."
"Me? No. By the by, Ianto, your sister wants to come work with us." The horror on his face was well worth the revenge he'd get on her come Monday. But tonight was Thursday, and she had all the time in the world.
"Fantastic," Ianto said, staring down the possibility of working with someone who'd known him since they'd taken baths together. "If you'll excuse me." He made a beeline for the maître d' in order to settle their bill.
Jack said, "We'll be back in Cardiff Sunday night, but if anything comes up ... "
"We'll call," Gwen said. She used to wish for free weekends from the Rift. Now she knew how to encourage the Rift's cooperation, and she would do her best to keep these few days calm and carefree.
"Go on," Perry said, shaking Jack's hand. "Don't you have a reservation to get to?"
"Oh, the bed and breakfast is lovely," said Lois, pulling on her wrap against the sudden chill tonight after the hot day. She nodded to Gwen, "I'll show you the website tomorrow."
"Do. And don't be in early. The boss is away, we'll be taking it easy." It was Jack's turn to roll his eyes.
They watched the pair leave, pausing to say good night to Ianto. Knowing Perry, those two were still at the "seeing the lady home and dropping her at her doorstep" stage. Now that she'd got Jack and Ianto married off, Gwen would have to turn her focus onto getting the next couple properly sorted.
"I know that look," said Jack. "Don't. They'll figure it out on their own." As Ianto came back to them, he took his hand. "You didn't make Lois do the reservation, did you?"
"She wanted to be helpful, and I already had the place in mind."
"I still think that nude beach in France would have been perfect."
Rhys said, "And with that mental picture, good night." He shook hands with them both, and if he spent half a second longer catching Ianto's eye in pleased solidarity, good for him. Gwen kissed them, and they all left the restaurant together.
Rhys waved for a cab, since he and Gwen had been drinking. Jack was sober, and would drive. Too soon, a black cab pulled smoothly to a stop at the kerb, and Gwen tried not to dally before getting in, Rhys after her and closing the door.
She watched out the window, gluing her gaze on Jack and Ianto as they strolled back to their own car. The streetlamps dazzled her against the dark night, and she made that her excuse as she dabbed at the sudden moisture she felt pricking her eyes. Rhys held her hand, and didn't try to break the moment with words. When the cab turned a corner, blocking her view, she squeezed him hard. He returned the squeeze.
The tap on the door was almost inaudible. Rhys considered calling out that it was unlocked, but didn't. The door opened cautiously, and Captain Wonderful poked his head inside. In a stage whisper, he said, "Gwen texted we could come in."
"Hurry up, then," Rhys mouthed back, careful not to disturb the bundle in his arms.
Jack entered, Ianto at his heels, closing the door without so much as a click. Jack's head swivelled around, clearly looking for Gwen. Ianto stood back, hands wrapped nervously around a package.
Rhys sighed, moving his chest. Anwen stirred in his arms. The three men froze. She let out the tiniest yawn Rhys had ever seen, and curled back into her nap.
When he was sure she was sleeping, Rhys whispered, "The missus is up taking a rest." Magnanimous in new fatherhood, he added, "You can go up and say hello."
Jack waggled his eyebrows and made off for the stairs, bounding up them with only a bit of thump. Rhys rocked the baby to ease the noise. When he saw Ianto wasn't joining Jack, he said, "Not going up?"
A shrug. "He's loud. She'll be down soon." He set the present on the end table, the one piled with cards and bills that Rhys needed to see to soon. Anwen yawned and shifted, her eyes drifting open and shut, finally settling on "open" after several false starts. No crying this time, he noted with relief.
He shifted her to an easier hold. "She was fussy half the night. Are babies nocturnal?"
Ianto startled, then relaxed as he caught on that Rhys wasn't really asking him. "I imagine you'll be finding out."
Anwen had come home from hospital two days ago. Yesterday was a flurry of parents and odd cousins dropping in with congratulations, leaving their house cluttered with blankies and booties and nappies. Rhys would choke if he saw much more pink. He cuddled his daughter, wondering how soon she could start playing rugby.
She began her pre-fuss, wiggling like a worm. Rhys got to his feet, hoping to stave her off with a nice walk back and forth. Since she was awake, he returned to his normal speaking tone, shotgun loud after naptime. "She's a firecracker, this one. Wants everything when she wants it, and no arguments."
"I have it on good authority that isstandard for babies."
Rhys refrained from adding anything that would get him into trouble later. Gwen already had no patience for his jokes, no matter how funny, when they mocked women, and she'd let him know that if he said anything like that in front of her daughter, he'd be sleeping on the sofa for a month. Rhys picked his battles. Anyway, he supposed if someone else made a joke like that to his little girl, he'd leave whoever it was with a fat ear himself.
Upstairs, he heard the welcome sound of his wife's laughter.
"Do you want to hold her?" He paused in his pacing to offer Anwen to Ianto. Ianto flinched as though contemplating an alien life-form.
"I'm not sure I should. Germs."
"Ah, Jack will slobber all over her in a few minutes anyway. Go on." With care, he handed her over, quickly transferring the burp cloth from his own shoulder to Ianto's. Repurposed mother's milk stained like a bastard, Rhys had discovered very recently. No use getting it all over Ianto's nice suit coat.
Ianto moved into a strategic hold, gentle with her wobbly neck. His sister had kids. She'd probably roped him into babysitting.
"Hello, Miss Williams," he said to Anwen, but the formality was broken with a little smile, and he bounced her softly.
"See, you can get practise now, and maybe in a couple of years, you'll have one of your own." At Ianto's sudden look, Rhys said quickly, "I just mean, all sorts have kids these days."
"Jack's had his children, and I'm not interested." The softest catch hit his voice, a hesitation Rhys thought he may have imagined. "But we'll be happy to spoil everyone else's kids like mad. Which, by the way, is a warning. Jack's going overboard about the whole thing. You should see what he sent Martha last week." She'd just announced she was three months along with her second, hadn't she? He just hoped Gwen wasn't eager to catch her up. There were only so many sleepless nights Rhys could face.
From above, he heard the creak of the floorboards. Gwen would be shuffling down here soon to say hello. Jack's voice was muffled by the floor but filled with good humour, reflected in another sleepy laugh from her as they headed downstairs.
Rhys took the baby back. Curiously, both Gwen and Ianto were insistent that Jack not hold Anwen.
Gwen demurred with her standard "You shouldn't have" that had become reflex over the past several days, but no-one was fooled, and as she opened the gift, none of them would trade the bright glee in her eyes for anything. Twenty hours of labour, she could bask in the glow.
One wrap hid two presents. The first was another outfit for Anwen, this one a soft mint green in a size she'd grow into three months from now, with a matching floppy hat. Planning for the future, check. Not girly, check. Could make the child look a tiny bit like a big-headed alien, check. That was the kind of gift Rhys himself would pick, and he flashed his gratitude. If they wanted to play Anwen's gay uncles who'd already promised to spoil her rotten, Rhys could get behind that thought. He bounced her while she made a gummy grin.
The next gift was a book. Gwen pulled her hand to her mouth as she opened it. Rhys craned over to look. A baby book, sure, with a snap tucked in: the security footage from the Hub when his wife had been daft enough to check herself out with an alien scanner instead of wetting a stick like a normal person.
"Look, honey, your first photograph," Rhys said to the baby, but Gwen was already turning the page. They'd added a few more pictures. Rhys recognised himself and his terrible suit from the wedding. He also recognised the picture in the corner, with a handwritten, "Your uncle Owen and auntie Toshiko, who would have thought you were amazing."
And then Gwen was sobbing, but she did that a lot these days, all good tears, and she hugged her friends, and she did allow Jack to kiss Anwen on the head, just this once.
Jack made a point of sitting down at his own well-loved chair at his own long-known desk, of taking in the familiar old brickwork, the gun case, the clock. He breathed in the antique smells ground into the walls and floor from a century of work, a century of human bodies living and sweating and working and fucking. This room, this base, was his home in ways no other place had been, not even the flat he'd shared for the past four years. And he was leaving.
All the items that were hispossessions had been moved out over the last month, until this office was as bare and impersonal as any other could be in the heart of a secret subterranean alien-fighting facility.
"Sure you won't change your mind?" Gwen asked from the door. Her tone teased him lightly. "Only I'm having the curtains delivered tomorrow."
"I've always thought the office would look good with paisley curtains."
"It's been yours for twelve years. You've had time."
"You know me. Procrastinator."
"Are you putting this off?"
"No." He met her eyes, feeling a smile edge over his face. "And before you nag, no, I'm not taking him out for his birthday. One party today is enough for both of us."
"And here I thought you could never have enough parties."
He shrugged and stood up, knowing as he did that the chair was no longer his. Gwen watched him, understanding.
"Is Rhys bringing Anwen?"
"His mam is watching her."
"You know you could ... "
"Jack." Her voice was sharp, no longer playful, and he backed off. She would let him dance to the edge of the boundaries she'd established, but time and again, as soon as he went to cross them, Gwen slapped him down hard.
They'd forgiven him, Gwen and Ianto, without going round in circles about how much he'd planned, without shouts or accusations. Jack had brought them on, trained them, kept them both close. He'd known all the time what Cardiff was, what the two of them could someday be capable of given the proper direction. Learning this, they'd accepted his motivation, and the three of them had fallen back into the old routines without a hitch.
Except for one thing.
They'd waited, giving Jack time to readjust to the new normal, giving him space to mourn his son. One month after everything settled, they'd walked into his office together and closed the door.
"My children," Gwen told him, simply and firmly. "You are not to go near them. You are not to 'guide' them. You are not to take any interest, or Rhys and I will see you buried."
Before Jack could reply, Ianto leaned forward in the other chair. "You know how I feel about you. But David and Mica are off limits to you, now and forever, or we are done." And Jack sat back and looked between them, matched serious faces drawn into too much over the last several weeks, and he agreed.
"When's he getting here?"
"Should be any time. He's picking up the cake."
Jack held out his arm to her. Gwen took it happily. "Cake?" he asked. "Should I ask?"
"It's got My Little Ponies all on. They had a purple unicorn. We thought about splashing out for a gold watch, but ... "
" ... but we both already have nice ones."
They walked down to the Boardroom together. Lois had taped up streamers, choosing a dinosaur motif. Glancing around, Jack could see other telltale signs of the theme competition between unicorns and dinosaurs: the paper plates and cups all sported Twilight Sparkle; the napkins and the banner both had friendly cartoon pterodactyls.
Ianto walked in behind them and stared. "Are you sure we didn't accidentally walk into an eight-year-old's birthday party?"
"No such luck." Perry handed him a paper cup full of spiked punch. In the corner, their new medic was already deep in conversation with their new PA, whose perpetual expression of surprise and worry still qualified as 'adorable' rather than 'grating.'
"How's the farm?" Gwen asked, taking a cup for herself.
Jack grinned. "Gorgeous. Fifty acres bordered by a nature preserve. We're moving them there tonight." The little herd of horned alien horses had been kept unhappily in a pen since their discovery while Torchwood had searched for better accommodations. Ianto had moved his planned retirement ahead a year in order to take care of them. Jack wouldn't dream of not going with him.
"We're just a phone call away," Ianto said, leaning against him.
"And three hours." Lois put nibbles on her plate. "Don't forget."
Jack said, "Bet I can make it in two if you need us."
Gwen's mobile rang. "Rhys? All right." She closed the phone. "He's at the Tourist Office. I'll fetch him."
"Be careful with the pony cake," Jack warned.
"There's a pony cake?" Ianto stared at the decorations again. Jack longed for a camera to capture his expression.
"With extra sprinkles," Gwen said, and she headed up to get her husband.
He was leaving. He was leaving Torchwood. Yes, his record was to be kept active. Yes, he'd be on-call for questions. Yes, if the team called for help, he'd fly to their rescue, and unless Jack had the handcuffs out already, Ianto would do the same.
Jack refused to regret his choices. But he took a moment to stand back now, watching one lifetime teeter perilously like a child's toy top, careening madly until it spun its last and fell over. One revolution passed, and there was Rhys with the cake. Another, and Gwen led the toast. Slower and slower, Jack offered the last few stories up, those he wanted to pass on to this new generation of Torchwood agents so the older generations were not forgotten.
"We need to get going," Ianto said, after the last hug.
After they gathered their coats, Jack lingered at the cogwheel entrance, a hard lump at his throat. Even without alien tech intervention, he heard the voices of so many ghosts echoing in the splash of water from the tower, in the beep and hum of equipment he'd helped dead friends build. The Hub wasn't haunted, he knew that for certain, but it would haunt him for decades, centuries.
"If you want more time, I can meet you at the site."
Jack turned away to meet Ianto's gaze, but he found no pushing, no demands. Ianto understood what this place meant, and offered only what Jack needed. If Jack said he needed another year, another twenty, Ianto would give him that time, not in defiance of the vows they'd made, but in fulfilment.
Jack took his hand. "No. Let's go."
And the top wound up for the next life.
Jack was far too cheery. Ianto groaned, rolled over, and pulled the pillow over his face to hide from the stabbing light coming through the curtains.
He was greeted with a low chuckle, and the pillow was snatched from his face. "None of that." The light continued, even through his shut lids. Jack sat on the edge of the bed and shook his shoulder.
"I was sleeping." Ianto doubted this would get him anywhere. He cracked open one eye. Jack's smile was almost as bright as the bloody sun. He closed the eye again. "I love you. Go away."
Jack flopped down next to him. He was still naked, a view Ianto would never tire of even after all this time, and he made the bed jiggle. Ianto felt warm lips on his neck, tracing the surgery scar on his shoulder. Jack loved to play with the ridged flesh, kissing his way across what Ianto felt was a rather unattractive part of his own body. But Jack never needed surgery, not to repair a wound, not to remove a growth that had mercifully been benign. As always, his scars were hidden inside, and as Ianto reluctantly woke up, he remembered how often he'd performed his own tender ministrations on Jack's damage.
"Whyam I waking up at this ungodly hour?"
"It's past eight. We have a full day ahead of us."
"We do?" His memory wasn't always the best, but he'd have sworn his major plans for this particular Tuesday included sleeping in, a late breakfast, and possibly a nap later.
"We do." Jack kissed him lightly. "We're taking a drive out to the farm to say hello, and a picnic if they don't mind. Then down to Cardiff. I was hoping for a stroll in Bute Park, but we can take a walk by the Bay if you think it'd be easier. Dinner reservations at eight."
Ianto blinked heavily. "Why?"
"Do you remember what today is?"
"It's Tuesday," he said gruffly. He might be getting a touch forgetful, but he could tell his days apart.
Jack's expression was mirthful and sad mixed into one. Ianto had missed something, lost something, and his husband was once again watching him slip away one bit at a time. Ianto hated that look. He visualised a calendar.
"It's the fourth." He looked at Jack. "Happy anniversary." He reached over for another kiss, nothing complicated but a sweet touch. And he hadn't completely forgotten. As he recalled, he'd found a present for Jack and hidden it two months ago in order to surprise him. If Ianto could remember where he'd hidden it, so much the better.
Jack's fingers entwined with his. "Happy anniversary. Now will you get up?"
Ianto lay back on the pillow. "I have a better plan. Let's stay in bed all day." The laugh he received in return was warm, enfolding him like the best wool blanket he'd ever owned. His fingers rubbed over the wool now, soft and thin and sleek, light enough for the hot summer that was setting in, snug enough for winter, and grey like a stormy sea. The unicorns - because referring to them as "Jack says they're alien horses with horns on, really" was a mouthful - shed fine wool every spring, which went through unofficial channels to be sold at a handsome price for the farm's upkeep. They hadn't been by to visit in months.
Ianto rolled out of bed, joints creaking. "Help me get ready?"
"I don't know," Jack said, wrapping his arms around Ianto's waist. "I'm liking this 'stay in bed all day' plan of yours."
"We can do that for our next anniversary."
A tremor went through Jack.
Ianto might be losing parts of his memory, but his mind was still sharp, and he could do maths in his head as well as when he'd been a boy. He turned his body in Jack's outstretched arms, head tilted uncomfortably to look at his eyes.
"Fifty-nine." It didn't seem possible. The years had slid by, and sure, some days had lasted forever, days were like that.
Ianto had grown older, though it wasn't mere vanity to notice he didn't look in his mid-eighties. Perhaps Jack's eternal youth had rubbed off, keeping him young. Ianto suspected some part of that, commingled with his many exposures to alien technology and to the Rift energy he'd occasionally played like a violin (which was to say, badly and off-key, but with encouragement from people who loved him). Even the alien horses had their reputation for youth restoration. Other friends had aged, many had passed on; Gwen was ninety now, as formidable a matriarch of her gaggle of great-grandchildren as she'd ever been as a leader of Torchwood. In short, Ianto was going on eighty-six but could pass for a pleasant sixty, while his husband's age was frozen right at the cusp of forty. They'd grown older together, but not old. And Jack had planned a perfect day out to celebrate their fifty-ninth anniversary because they weren't getting a sixtieth. Jack had a promise to keep come next February.
As the thoughts rolled out over his own face, Jack read them clearly and his blue eyes dimmed. Ianto reached out to stroke Jack's chin fondly. "You and me, a picnic in the country. I can't wait."
Jack pulled him down for more kisses. "We could stay." He didn't say, "I could stay," because he couldn't, and he wouldn't.
"Help me get ready."
The farm was an hour's drive from their home. They'd moved residences twice since giving custody over to the new caretakers, but living closer meant making excuses all the time to go by, and living farther out meant making excuses to stay overnight at the local inn and extend their visit. Ianto had to remind himself this was for the best, that his herd was being given the best care possible. Merely because he missed walking out to the pasture every morning amidst whickers in greeting and nosing for apples did not mean he ought to go back to that life. Since he'd handed over the farm a bit over a decade ago, he and Jack had travelled the world, both giving in to the general wanderlust they had accumulated. He wouldn't trade his years with the unicorns, nor would he trade his years abroad, and that was that.
Kep and Del greeted them at the gate. Ianto let Jack do the formal greeting; alien languages weren't his specialty. The two newest caretakers came from a planet whose rigid formality clashed curiously with mucking stables and the messy business of helping mares birth their foals. But they nearly passed for human, and they loved the work, and they were as hopelessly lost from their home as the unicorns had been. "A match made in Torchwood," Jack joked often.
After the formal greeting, Del offered a pleasant smile and offered to take them directly to the pasture, far down the winding road.
"Soon," Ianto said, though his heart already pounded with excitement at the prospect of seeing the animals again. "Will you please join us for lunch?"
Sitting on the ground was difficult, but the food was tasty, all prepared and packed by Jack, who'd remembered they'd be sharing with friends who weren't from around here. He had thought of everything. Ianto occasionally paused in his dining and the stilted but enjoyable conversation to take Jack's hand, and stroke his thumb across the sensitive skin of Jack's knuckles.
The unicorns had been on Earth for decades, but their fine pelts still smelled of the sweet grasses of their lost home world. Ianto was a child all over again every time, burying his face in a soft mane, stroking a nose that begged prettily for a carrot. He ran tired fingers through the grey fur - not grey like clouds, or even grey like Jack's eyes at night, but a rich grey that contained multitudes of colours and shadows - and he felt warm, invigorated, alive.
"They missed you, too," Jack said, his warm body folding over Ianto from behind. "Ada says she's tired of Lass's preening and would like you to have a word."
Jack swore he understood their speech, just a bit. Ianto had never caught him out lying, but after all these years, he still swore Jack was having a go at him. Nevertheless, Ianto nodded to the young filly nosing at his pocket. "Mind your elders, Lass. You're a pretty girl, but Ada's your mam, and you ought to listen to her."
Lass let out a whuffle, and Jack laughed, and he patted her head until her ears tilted in pleasure.
Ianto knew he could easily stay here all day. He wasn't up to the day-to-day tasks, not anymore. But the creatures' low-level psychic presence meant spending hours with a comb fussing out burrs and tangles was as soothing as listening to his favourite song, or relaxing in a hot bath.
"We'll come by again soon," Ianto promised as they said their farewells hours later. But the ache in his heart said he knew the next time he and Jack drove here, it would be their last time together.
Quiet suffused over the drive to Cardiff, his mood not even lightened by Jack's insistence on singing the wrong words to the songs he played as the countryside went by. After a while, he took Ianto's hand again. They kept grabbing hands, Ianto had noticed, as if they could hold on to each other, and not let go. He pulled away.
Jack asked, "Are you going to be all right? We could go home."
"No, this is lovely. I do want to take that stroll in Bute Park." Where they'd met, and Jack was enough of a sap to want to go there one more time. God. They had months yet. Jack's bargain with his maniac of an ex wouldn't come due until next year, but already the weight pressed on Ianto's soul, and so did the thought that he was rapidly approaching the time where he'd lose Jack forever. When they'd first made the agreement, Ianto hadn't even believed he'd see his next birthday. He'd spent his whole life assuming Jack was destined to lose him, never the other way around.
"It'll be fine," Jack said, reading his face if not his thoughts.
Bute Park had been destroyed twice, once by earthquake, once by the fallout from a nasty turf war between human and alien gangs. The scars from the last destruction were fading, and the greenery had returned. The fine June day was perfect for lovers young and old, and as they were both, Ianto chose to enjoy the afternoon as much as he could.
"I think it was here," Jack said, squinting at the ruin of a stump.
"I think you're right." Ianto looked down at his clothes. "I'm dressed wrong."
"I swear if you put on that outfit when we get home, we're not getting out of bed for a week."
Over supper, the maudlin mood returned, and Ianto found he had little appetite. "Sorry," he said, as the waiter took away his plate, meal almost untouched.
They skipped the stroll of the Bay and checked in to the hotel under the reservation Jack had made. The bed was lush, the sheets were crisp and cool, and Jack could not have looked at him with more desire had he been sixty years younger and significantly more limber. But there was sorrow as they held each other, mouthing the familiar endearments into skin, stroking and loving one another with the skill only a lifetime of practise could provide. This was not the beginning of another good year together, this was the end of all the good years that had come before.
Ianto had spent many of their early days together having to surrender the illusions he built around Jack in exchange for the man himself. He'd had to change his impression of Jack as a fool easily led around by his dick, and see him as the tactical leader of Torchwood Cardiff who would only hire someone useful. He'd had to drop the lingering resentment at Jack the inhuman monster who'd killed Lisa, and learn about the Jack who'd lost people he'd loved, too. One by one, his imaginary Jacks had toppled: the unflappable hero, the deserter who hated his team enough to abandon them, the cad who was using him while pining away for someone else, the romantic sap who'd written him a love letter from across time, the master craftsman who'd created his own weapons from human tools. As the false faces dropped away all that had been left was Jack, his Jack. And soon he would lose the last pretence, the Jack who'd stay with him his whole life.
Even as he dozed off, Ianto was aware of time as an enemy, slicing off portions of his happiness towards a bitter, empty future.
He went by any name that was convenient, but lately convenience had meant using "Captain John Hart," so he cast off the previous names he'd worn and he slung this one around himself like a gaudy cape. One moment, he was waving goodbye to his pretty if inconstant lover and said lover's current toy, the next he reappeared at the same place, at street level, circa sixty years later.
Reorienting himself, he noted that nothing interesting had changed. The same bland array of dull faces walked by, similar architecture surrounded him, if newly installed after whatever had destroyed the stupid city most recently. Cardiff. TheCardiff, and sixty years on, he ought to be smack in the middle of some very interesting times. It was almost worth dawdling here to see what trouble he could cause, maybe convince Gorgeous to try to 'fix' him.
Gorgeous himself was nowhere to be seen. Late, as usual. John popped open the cover to his VM to complain, but before he could, he saw a delightfully familiar figure walk his way from across the Plass.
Handy thing, that immortality. Two thousand years asleep, or sixty swinging his cock around in bloody Cardiff, and Jack (the syllable clacked on John's jaw like chewing peanuts) had the same smile, the same face, the same everything that John had obsessed over ever since they'd split up.
Less excellent: Gorgeous had seen him, but was staring around himself, looking for something. What could be better to gawk at than John?
"You'll want to be setting your eyes here," John said, sidling up to him and taking his arm. "Tell me you've got my money."
"All of it," said Jack, eyes still scanning the crowd. "I converted everything to gems." He indicated the small rucksack he carried.
"You don't look ready."
"I ... " He shaded his eyes, a trick John knew from long association. "It's nothing. Just taking one last look around. You know me. Nostalgic."
He was searching for a face, but hadn't found it. Whatever. John opened his VM. He hadn't really thought far past this part. They could go anywhere together. But where to start?
He heard footsteps hurrying, and rolled his eyes. His pistol was out in a flash, but Jack's hand batted his arm down. "Wait."
A man, grey-haired and fit, hurried their way. Jack dropped John's arm and met him halfway, taking his elbows. "I didn't think you'd come to say goodbye, but I hoped." The tremor in Jack's voice made John want to retch.
He checked out the geezer again as they approached together. "Eye Candy? I didn't expect to see you still among the living."
"I'm always full of surprises," Ianto said, in a stronger voice than John had expected. "Are you ready, then?"
"Sixty years. It's time to go." John spied the small case in his hand, as Ianto said, "I'm packed."
"Hold on," said Jack. "What?"
Ianto looked at John. "You never said I wasn't going along, too, just that you were taking him."
Jack said, "I agreed to go so you wouldn't have to."
"I changed my mind."
John tapped his arm, annoyed. He'd pictured having his ex all to himself. On the other hand, two for the price of one was rarely a bad deal, and he still got his money.
"You don't know what it's like out there," Jack said. "It's dangerous."
"Working with aliens my entire life completely failed to impress that on me."
"You'll get hurt."
"So will you. Better that I'm with you than not."
Space Vegas. No, better, Space Florida. John hadn't been there in ages, and they did the best drinks at that one bar, the one with the talking flamingos. He tweaked the coordinates into his VM. "Don't mind me," he said, as they continued to ignore him. Jack always did get wound up when he was having a domestic.
"What if I don't want you there?"
Eye Candy stood back, like he'd been struck. "Fine. Tell me honestly you don't want me with you, and I'll stay."
Gorgeous opened his mouth, then he dropped his eyes. "Of course I want you with me. Forgive me for not wanting to watch you die."
"Oh, I'm the only one who has to do that, then?"
"Ianto ... "
"Ask me how many times I've held you as you died. I'm only asking you to return the favour once."
This argument would go much better over hypervodkas, and also, John was getting bored of the histrionics. Before Jack could respond, John grabbed both of their arms. "First round's on me."
"Wait a minute," said Jack, which were his last words on Earth for a very long time.
The passers-by on the Plass barely noticed the departure of the three men. This was Cardiff. Stranger things happened every day. More interesting was the unusual weather, warm and bright for February, and everyone remarked how it was like someone had ordered up a perfect day.
From beneath their feet, silent observers took note with electronic eyes, studiously recording the time and date, filing the information away for future generations. One of the travellers had promised to return someday. Torchwood would keep his file active, would keep the lights on and hearth waiting, until he came home. Acting on a personal request from former Director Cooper, the other employee file updated today was also marked as still active. Just in case.
At the steps to the Oval Basin, a girl with long, dark hair got up from where she'd been watching, and she walked off into the crowd. Where she'd sat, something like a postcard remained. The wind snatched it up like a child grabbing a coin from the ground. For a moment, had anyone been looking, the image of The Lovers flashed in the bright February sunshine, before a breeze sent it skimming over the Bay. The tarot card flew out, flipping and turning like a bird, until the card was so far off that it faded completely from sight.
AN: My three favourite words are "I liked this."