Jack cleared his throat and drained the last of his long-cold coffee. He debated making another pot, but his brews were never as good as Ianto's, and he always made a mess of the grounds. He could drink as much as he wanted, but it'd never be enough to dissolve the lump of grief in his throat.
It was late and everyone else had gone home. They were still angry at him for disappearing with the Doctor. Thanks to the paradox machines, he'd already suffered their collective deaths, but they didn't want to hear his story, pity him for his suffering, or congratulate him on his victory. As far as they were concerned, he'd abandoned them, and then waltzed back into their lives willy-nilly, like he was the only one that was hurt by the separation.
His adventures with the Doctor were amazing and surreal, but on the whole, just a blip in a too-long existence. Jack tried to laugh it off and love the adventure. He kept looking around the hub, reminding himself of why he was in Torchwood, re-dedicating himself to his purpose in life. He'd do anything to bring meaning to his existence.
In the blink of an eye, two centuries of hope had all but vanished. The Doctor couldn't fix him. Jack would keep dying and coming back forever.
A tear rolled down Jack's cheek as the weight of the realization struck him. Overwhelmed with anger, he screamed threw his coffee mug at the wall, watching it shatter. He swept everything from his desk, sending it crashing. He threw his chair over the railing; he pounded the walls; he tore storage bins from the shelves. All his work—all his life—what was he fighting for anymore? Screaming, he pounded the walls until his hands bled.
Ianto appeared from nowhere, grabbing his wrists, pulling him into an embrace. Anger melted into grief, and Jack fell against Ianto, screaming in agony. Ianto held him, whispering a few cheeky remarks about modern decorating and asking whether they should bother with bandaging Jack's hands.
This was the reason Jack came back to Torchwood. The Doctor didn't care whether Jack lived and died forever. Ianto would at least make sure the deaths came less often. Not that it mattered. Not that any of it mattered.
The heat of grief consumed him, and he clung to Ianto. When the fog lifted, Jack lay on the floor, Ianto spooned behind him. Ianto had one arm extended to pillow Jack's head, and was using his other hand to run soothing strokes up and down Jack's torso. Jack wanted to be alone with his grief. He thought he'd die from the pain, but he knew even that pain wasn't enough to kill him. If he focused on Ianto's touch, he didn't have to feel it. Ianto presence was a protective bubble around him, cooling the grief.
"He can't fix me," Jack whispered, his voice hoarse, his body going numb. Tears rolled down his face, splashing on Ianto's skin.
"It is hard to fix perfection," Ianto quipped, giving Jack's thigh a playful pat before resuming his soothing strokes.
Jack rolled his eyes at the platitude. "That's my line."
"Can't help if it's true."
Jack laughed and nuzzled against Ianto's arm. He didn't know how long they'd been lying on the floor, but Ianto's skin was cold to touch, meaning he was probably going numb. Shifting his weight, Jack pillowed his head with his own arm so that Ianto could get more comfortable. Jack closed his eyes, focusing on Ianto's touch. His mind kept bouncing between the comfort of the moment and fear of the future.
"I've waited so long," Jack said, reflecting on the centuries gone by. "I thought… I was looking forward to growing old with you."
"This from the man who freaked out when I found a single gray hair on his head," Ianto teased, his fingers brushing over Jack's cheek, then kissing lightly. Ianto meant it as a joke, but it only made Jack sadder.
"I won't die with you. I'll get older and older."
"And then what?" Ianto challenged. "You can't age forever, can you?"
"I don't know." Jack nearly choked on the words.
Instinct told him to laugh—Ianto wanted him to laugh. He wanted to make it a joke or a point of amusement. He was terrified. He thought the Doctor could help. Of everyone in the Universe, the Doctor knew what it was like to keep living on while watching friends grow old and die. But the Doctor had been cold and unsympathetic. He'd shrugged it off, because there was nothing he could do. The Doctor got excited about novelties like Jack; he didn't always realize he was supposed to be sympathetic.
Jack had made a choice to let it go. He'd spent more than a year chained up on the Master's ship trying not to think about it, because no one cared to listen. No one but Ianto.
"A million years from now, I could be living in a jar. Conscious. Breathing. Unable to die," Jack said. He'd joked about his fears with the Doctor and Martha, but with Ianto, he let the fear hang bare.
"Hmm," Ianto said. "So why are we lying on the floor now?"
"Because it's upsetting," Jack snapped. He pounded the floor again, agitating the barely-healed bruises. Ianto didn't want to hear either. There was nothing he could do but watch Jack wallow, and what point was there in that.
Ianto's took Jack's hand, keeping him from getting violent. Then Jack felt Ianto's breath on his neck, and Jack's toes curled. Ianto placed a trail of feather-light kisses up Jack's neck, then he sucked lightly on Jack's earlobe. Jack shivered, his body responding even through the heartache.
"I was just thinking," Ianto whispered hotly. "Maybe we should make good sport of your limbs while you still have them."
Ianto waited for the innuendo to sink in. Then, after giving Jack's crotch a teasing grope, Ianto hopped up, and darted across the hub, already squealing with laughter. Shaking his head in amusement, Jack hopped up and chased after Ianto. Ianto's shirt was on the floor and Jack stripped while he ran, thrilled. Grief turned to laughter and fear to optimism. Ianto cared. He'd heard Jack's pain, and he'd turned it into a reason to play, just as Jack had done with Ianto in times past. They needed each other. This was what Jack had come back for.