Owen's voice sounded perfectly normal over Ianto's comm, with that hint of bored impatience that marked half the things Owen ever said. "Ianto, would you come down to autopsy? I need another pair of hands on this thing."
Ianto had no idea what "this thing" was, but he suspected it was going to turn out to be messy. Still, likely more interesting than door duty. "On my way."
Ianto locked up and headed down into the Hub, glancing over at Jack's office, and then up at the conference room. Jack was nowhere to be seen, nor was Gwen. Tosh was at her workstation, tapping away at something, and Ianto walked on without disturbing her.
Ianto was halfway down the steps into the autopsy room before he realized there was nothing on the gleaming steel table. "Owen? You said you needed--"
"Yeah," Owen said, turning to face him with an ugly-looking hypodermic in his hand. "Not your hands so much as the rest of you. Lie down on the table, please, Ianto."
Ianto backed up a step without taking his eyes off Owen, then froze at the unmistakable sound of Jack's revolver cocking behind him.
"Ianto, do as Owen says."
Ianto slowly raised both hands, fingers spread wide, and just as slowly turned his head to look up at Jack. He was standing at the top of the steps, his gun trained steadily on Ianto. Gwen stood six feet beyond him, her automatic raised in a two-hand grip.
"Jack," Ianto said as evenly as he could, panic starting to speed his heart, sweat breaking out down his back. "What..."
What did I do, what's got into all of you--
"We're not going to hurt you," Jack said, and Ianto had a sudden, complete understanding of why that sentence was never, ever actually reassuring. "Owen just needs to have a look at you. Lie down on the table."
Ianto tried to work out his options. He couldn't resist. He recognized that look on Jack's face, the grim set of Gwen's mouth, the lazy way Owen held that hypodermic. They were all ready to force him to do whatever it was they wanted him to do. If they'd been taken over by something that wanted to take him over, too...
If it had already got Owen, and Gwen, and Jack, then it had already won. Ianto wasn't going to be able to save all three of them from it. He wouldn't even be able to save himself.
"Come on, mate, just have a lie down and let me look at you," Owen said, a good attempt at his ordinary briskness. "You're showing up funny on the scanners, and we need to figure out what's going on before it takes you over or kills you."
Ianto looked up at Jack again, and Jack gave him a small nod. The gun didn't waver.
"And Tosh is monitoring remotely and providing backup in case I manage to overpower all three of you, I suppose," Ianto said. "Well planned, very tidy."
"Ianto," Jack said firmly.
"I'm sorry," Ianto said, turning to look at the table again, taking a slow step toward it. "It's been some time since you pointed a gun at me. I'm finding it a bit distracting."
No one said anything, and Ianto looked around at them all. They watched him steadily, showing nothing. Jack's gun and Gwen's loomed large in his sight, a stark black contrast to the sterile whiteness of autopsy.
"You'll know I'm not armed just now," he said slowly, his hands still raised. "Do you mind if I take my jacket off before I lie down?"
Jack's lips thinned down to a line, angry or impatient or just tightly controlled, Ianto was never entirely sure. "Face me, move slowly, hang it over the chain there."
Ianto nodded and lowered his hands, shrugging out of his suit jacket while keeping his hands away from his pockets. He couldn't take his eyes off Jack, though his face was just a blur beyond the gun. Pointed at Ianto, again.
Some detached part of his mind noted that he was more frightened of it this time--less distracted by other events. Just as certain Jack would pull the trigger if he thought he had to.
For some reason all he could think of was the spate of nightmares he'd had in the weeks after those two days they'd all lost. He'd woken up over and over in the night, sick with guilt and terror, convinced he'd done something horrible but unable to remember what. After a while, when the sleep deprivation began to get to him, he'd been nearly overcome by the paranoid fantasy that he really had done something horrible, that Jack had made all of them--even himself--forget, just to protect Ianto.
But that was ridiculous. Whatever else they were to each other, Jack was Torchwood. He'd never let Ianto get away with hurting anyone, and this only proved it. Not six hours ago they'd been as unprofessional together as one could imagine; now Jack was holding a gun on him, watching with hard eyes as Ianto laid his coat over the chain along the stairs, scowling suspiciously as he reached up to loosen his tie and slip it off.
It was somehow not as comforting as Ianto had imagined it would be, to be sure Jack would stop him (if he was still Jack at all, if this was not the next step in some hostile takeover of Torchwood which had already succeeded while Ianto was upstairs sorting maps).
"All right, lie down," Owen said, beckoning with one hand, still holding the hypodermic with the other. "Just a nice little scan, won't hurt a bit."
Owen wasn't talking to him, Ianto realized as he walked obediently to the table, gun barrels pivoting to follow his stride. Owen was talking to whatever he thought was in Ianto--or else that wasn't Owen talking at all. Ianto sat down on the table and then lay back, trying not to shiver at the coldness of steel through his shirt, and on the bare skin at the back of his neck.
"Sorry about this," Owen murmured, tightening restraints across Ianto's chest, hips, legs, pinning his arms at his sides. Ianto closed his eyes and waited--was it him, was it them, was Owen going to jab him with whatever was in that needle...
Ianto opened his eyes again as footsteps closed in, to see Jack and Gwen both coming down to stand across the table from Owen. They'd put their guns away, but now they were looming over him as he lay bound flat on the table, so it wasn't much comfort.
"Owen," Jack said through gritted teeth.
"Right, got it," Owen said, and pointed a hand-held scanner at Ianto's chest, sweeping it slowly downward.
So they really weren't trying to hurt him, then. It really was him who was wrong.
Jack's hand settled onto Ianto's head like he'd heard that, and Ianto closed his eyes again. He didn't realize his hands were clenched in fists until Gwen's hand closed around one of them, but even then he couldn't force himself to relax.
"Damn," Owen murmured. "Definitely something alive in there--pretty small, though. Get it with the singularity scalpel, no trouble."
Ianto's eyes flew open, and he looked up at Owen's frown of concentration, then Gwen's suppressed horror, then Jack, looking back at him with every appearance of calm. Jack's hand moved over his hair, petting him, though Ianto wasn't feeling especially like being soothed just now.
"Can you identify the species?" Jack asked. The question was for Owen, but his eyes were on Ianto's, unwavering. "Ianto, can you remember any time you might have picked this up, any recent exposure to an alien?"
Ianto shook his head slowly, carefully not dislodging Jack's hand.
"Nothing's bitten me," he said, with a quick glance at Gwen, who was eyeing Ianto's stomach a little nervously.
"I don't think anything's even got close to me lately but Weev--" Ianto cut himself off, horrified by the very thought. There was something inside him. It could be anything, it could be a Weevil.
Owen looked at him over the scanner, eyebrows rising. "How close have the Weevils got, then?"
Ianto felt his eyes go very wide, the lights seeming suddenly much too bright. "Not that close--do we know how they--"
He could feel his voice pitching upward and cut himself off. Oh, God, Weevils.
Jack's hand dropped to his shoulder, squeezing tight. "We have no reason to think it's anything exotic--they're on a fairly straightforward biological model."
Owen let out a strange noise then, staring at the scanner. Ianto couldn't read the look on his face, but Gwen dropped Ianto's hand and bolted around to the other side of the table to look over his shoulder. When she looked at the readout she clapped a hand over her mouth, a giggle escaping. Nerves. It must be bad.
"Owen," Jack snapped. "Can you identify it?"
"Think so," Owen said, fiddling with the scanner. "Haven't seen one at this stage of development in a long while, but I believe you're going to have to rethink that question about what Ianto's been exposed to."
Owen flipped the readout so that Ianto could see the tiny, hideous thing, at least one internal organ visibly pulsating. Jack bent closer to him, peering at it.
"Homo sap, I reckon."
Ianto blinked at it. "It's human?"
"It's a baby," Gwen said brightly, still behind her hand though her fingers hardly hid her smile.
Jack's hand jerked away from Ianto's shoulder as he straightened up, and he turned abruptly, putting his back to Ianto. "That's impossible."
Owen frowned. "Yeah, because this is the place to make definitive statements about what is and is not possible, Jack."
Jack's shoulders tightened, and in the bright light of the autopsy room Ianto could see the furious flush bloom on the tips of his ears and the back of his neck. "Just take a sample, find out what's going on in there."
Owen's frown descended into a glare, and then he looked down at Ianto with a grimly polite expression. "Ianto, mate, looks like you've somehow got pregnant. May I have your consent to stick a great big needle into your stomach and take a biopsy to check how it's going?"
Ianto looked helplessly from Owen to the back of Jack's head to Gwen, who seemed to be passing through confused and/or crestfallen on her way to angry, all her attention fixed on Jack.
Ianto focused on Owen. "Yes, of course, whatever you--"
"Let me know what you find out," Jack snapped. With that he was gone, up the steps and out the door without ever looking back at Ianto, still lying strapped to the table.
Distantly, Ianto heard Tosh say Jack's name, but he didn't reply, and the sound of his footsteps on the stairs got lost as Owen loosened the restraints, Gwen helping even as she looked to the door. From the expression on her face she'd settled into anger, now. Ianto looked away, not wanting her anger to settle on him.
Her voice was strained but quiet as she spoke. "I should go and--"
"No," Owen said firmly. "Gwen, I need your help on this. Amnio's a delicate procedure."
Ianto pushed up onto his elbows--anything to let Gwen go and be angry somewhere else, at someone else. Owen at least was mercifully blank. "I could--"
"Oh, no you don't," Owen said, setting down the scanner and turning away. "You make a fine coffee, Ianto, but I am not letting you jab needles into your own abdominal cavity. Now open your trousers for me, there's a lad."
Ianto thought, distantly, that he must be in quite a bad way. Owen had dredged up a bit of bedside manner from somewhere, and made him lie under a blanket for fifteen minutes after the procedure. It hadn't taken long and really didn't hurt very much at all, but Owen said he should just keep still and let things settle.
Ianto curled on his side--fetal--and stared at the tiles, listening to Owen moving around behind him. He'd switched on some music, but it was turned down low. Ianto couldn't make out anything but anger and drums. Gwen had disappeared while Owen was giving him his choice of brightly colored plasters for the tiny puncture on his stomach. Ianto couldn't hear any shouting, so he had to guess she hadn't gone after Jack.
They were all leaving it to him to do that, he thought. Because this was between him and Jack--because Ianto had this thing, this human thing, baby, inside him. Everyone knew Ianto and Jack were shagging, and that had to mean this was all between him and Jack.
Ianto squeezed his eyes shut and thought he'd rather be at gunpoint again, rather be strapped down to this table, than have to go and face Jack now. He knew he should get up, go and get it over with. He had to find out why Jack was angry at him, what he'd done to make this his fault--because Jack hadn't blamed him when it was an alien thing, hadn't turned away from him until Gwen called it a baby. Ianto found himself morbidly reviewing everything they'd done together for weeks. Which time, where--what had he asked for that he shouldn't? What had he wanted that had led to this? To say nothing of why, and how...
Gwen's voice came just before the touch on his cheek. Gwen's fingertips felt wet against his skin, and Ianto jerked back a second too late, realizing what that meant. He tried to look anywhere but at her, pushing himself up to sit and getting tangled in the damned blanket.
"Shh, easy, it's all right," Gwen said, in the voice she might use to soothe a civilian or a child or a stray dog. "I just wanted to know if you needed anything."
Ianto made himself sit still, staring at his knees with the blanket half wrapped around him. He had his shoes on, though the tails of his unbuttoned shirt draped over his trousers, still unzipped. He gave in and ran the back of his hand across his cheeks, and then gripped the edge of the table.
"A time machine, maybe. Would you have one handy?" Let him just undo this, go back to before, or else skip past, until it was all over--just one more bloody weird day at work, nothing for anyone to be angry about at all, nothing inside him making his stomach turn every time he thought of it there.
"Ah," Gwen said, and when he glanced up she was smiling a little sadly--but not pityingly, he thought. That was something. "I'm afraid I could just manage a cup of tea or someone to talk to. Anything more complicated would require..."
Ianto glanced through the door, in the direction of Jack's office though he couldn't see it from here. "Yes. Indeed. Is he...?"
Gwen nodded. "Owen says the results of the tests should be ready soon. He'll bring them up."
So Ianto had better be up there, if he wanted to hear them. "Right. Right."
Ianto pushed off the table, set himself to rights and folded the blanket, laying it neatly on the table before he followed Gwen back into the center of the Hub. He stood still for a moment, at a loss--Tosh and Owen were both watching him, silent, not bothering to pretend they were working. Jack wasn't visible through the windows of his office.
Ianto squared his shoulders and went to the coffee machine. Ridiculous to devise a pretext for going to Jack's office now--even more ridiculous to imagine coffee as a suitable propitiation--but he wanted something to do with his hands, and the routine soothed him just a little. Once he'd got Jack's coffee, it was practically automatic to walk to Jack's office and step inside.
Ianto stopped just over the threshold. Jack was standing at his desk with his hands braced on the surface and his head down, his back to the door. Ianto swallowed, trying to make himself speak, say anything, but words wouldn't come.
"You'll have to leave," Jack said without looking at him.
Ianto did not drop the coffee. He was not going to drop the coffee. It was hot; it would make a mess and Ianto would have to clean it up. Jack liked this mug and it would break.
Jack looked over his shoulder at Ianto, expressionless. "There are regulations, right back to Queen Victoria. Torchwood operatives can't have living children. Parents of living children can't be recruited, and operatives who engender children must resign. You'll have to be retconned. You'll have to leave."
Ianto understood, at once and completely. Jack never let anyone leave the team if he could help it, kept them all in drawers when death took them away from him at last. He'd come close to destroying the world to bring Owen back, just because he couldn't bear to let go.
Jack thought this meant losing Ianto. Jack was at least as possessive of Ianto as he was of anyone else on the team, and now Jack thought he'd come up against a rival he couldn't fight.
Ianto couldn't help it. He laughed, a little hysterically (and wasn't that a precise term, this once), and kept a firm grip on the coffee as Jack finally turned to face him properly. Jack looked baffled, and Ianto wondered, not for the first time, what they taught people in the future, anyway.
"Jack, that isn't happening. I don't have a living child. I have one of those exotic STIs from the future that you swore I couldn't catch from you. Owen will get out the singularity scalpel, and I'll be fine by the end of the day. I'm not going anywhere."
Jack gave him a full three seconds of silent stare, long enough for Ianto's laughter to die away completely. "Ianto, this isn't an alien parasite--"
"No," Ianto said, and Jack fell silent like he couldn't remember the last time Ianto had interrupted him, either. "It's a human parasite, Jack. Just because it's my species doesn't mean it belongs inside my body."
Ianto forced himself to stop there--partly still choking on the idea of this thing inside him, alive and pulsing, when he'd had no idea that it existed, that it possibly could exist, an hour before. Partly he realized, even through the furious frustration, that he didn't need to finish with, Even if that's your standard.
"And this is probably a good time to interrupt," Owen announced from just outside the door--the open door, Ianto realized. So no one had even had to crack into the CCTV in Jack's office to hear that. Brilliant. "Or at least better than after you start throwing crockery."
Jack turned his face away. "What have you got, Owen?"
"I have got test results. Ianto has got a human fetus around thirty-eight days gestation, and the fetus has got DNA which matches fifty percent each to two samples on file. Ianto Jones, Jack Harkness."
Jack actually flinched when Owen said his name, and when he looked up he seemed nothing but baffled all over again.
"That really shouldn't be possible," Jack said, in nearly a normal tone of voice, and he turned almost smoothly to sit on the edge of his desk; only the way he was gripping his biceps betrayed him. He was genuinely shocked, somehow. Like he'd actually believed that someone else had--as if Ianto would have had the free time.
Jack shook his head, staring at the far wall. "Time Agents aren't allowed to have children, not ever--we wreak enough havoc in the timestream anyway, without throwing our descendants all over the place."
Jack rubbed his face. "The procedure was unspeakable--about a third of the potential agents who washed out, it was because they refused the procedure after it had been explained. It's nothing you even notice, afterward, but it hurts, and it's terrifying, and it's permanent."
Ianto turned and handed Owen the coffee and Owen, thankfully, accepted it. Hands empty, Ianto sank down where he stood and sat on the floor.
Jack had honestly believed he could never have children. Jack had been looking at an eternity of life without ever being able to have children. Only now...
"Permanent," Owen said. "Would that be like death is permanent? You've said it yourself, Jack, you're a bit overflowing with life these days."
"Can't give it away," Ianto said, his voice shaking a bit, and Jack finally looked at him again. Ianto couldn't meet his gaze, propping his elbows on his knees and lowering his face into his hands. "But you did."
There was a silence; Ianto could hear his own blood racing in his ears. It was a sign of high blood pressure, he'd read that somewhere. Perhaps he should try to cut down on stress.
"But why Ianto?" Jack asked.
Ianto was relieved to place him by the sound of his voice, still near his desk. Ianto couldn't bear him coming any closer just now. There was this thing inside him--this human thing--this thing that was half Jack, this thing Jack thought he could never have. Owen said it was barely an inch long yet, weighed hardly anything, but Ianto could swear it was crushing him already.
"I mean, I've been like this a hundred and forty years and it's never happened, and Ianto's not actually equipped for it."
"I guess maybe you should start ringing your exes and check," Owen said. "Or maybe you've been lucky. Or maybe you just haven't been shagging people who get exposed to as much Rift radiation and other weird alien shit as any given employee of Torchwood. I haven't seen anything like all the reports, but when we don't die young and violently, we die weird. Well, or all three, case in point."
Ianto looked up at Owen, who gave him an apologetic grimace.
"I don't know, you must have had contact with something that altered you a bit, because you are equipped now, internally at least. Maybe it was just something that reacted with Jack..."
Ianto couldn't help stealing a glance at Jack. He had his hand over his mouth, and he wasn't asking any more questions.
"The trouble is, I can't take it out with the singularity scalpel."
Ianto saw the expression on Jack's face change--not to triumph, but to hope. Ianto looked back to Owen, trying not to think of what that meant. "What--why can't you..."
Owen shook his head. "When I used it on Martha and Gwen, it was to remove a discrete entity that just happened to be located inside their bodies. Your parasite," Ianto winced, and didn't look over at Jack, "is actually growing out of your own body. If I zap it out of you it'll be taking the ends of a lot of blood vessels with it. You'd risk bleeding out into the space it left before I could get you opened up to try to stop it." Owen raised his bandaged hand. "And I'd be a right mess at that anyway."
Ianto opened and closed his mouth a few times. Jack was resoundingly silent.
"It'll have to be surgical, that's all," Owen said. "Look, I'll get in touch with Martha, explain the situation and see when she can spare us a few hours of her time. It's early yet--you haven't been having any symptoms. There's no rush to do anything."
Ianto nodded. There was no rush except that this thing was in him, no rush except that it was grotesque and inescapable. But it most likely wouldn't kill him or make him dangerous, so that was all right then, by Torchwood standards.
Owen made a small--aborted--gesture; Ianto thought Owen would have touched his shoulder, except that it was down so low, and stopped short of patting Ianto on the head.
Jack had, though. Jack's hand had been on his hair while he was lying on the table, when they thought it was some horrible thing in him, something alien and enemy, something they could fight, kill, defeat. Not this.
Owen nodded in Jack's direction and walked out, closing the door behind him, and Ianto finally forced himself to look over. Jack was still perched on the edge of his desk, hands gripping the edge. Ianto could see the fingernails of his near hand going white, muscles standing out in his forearm.
His voice was calm when he spoke. "It's up to you, obviously. Your body, your choice, that's the deal."
He was staring across the room as he said it, not looking anywhere near Ianto still sitting beside the door.
"Your body," Jack repeated flatly. "Your parasite."
Ianto's eyes squeezed shut involuntarily, flinching from the word like a blow.
"Your choice," Jack finished. "Stand down until this is sorted out. I'm sure Owen will let you know when he's heard from Martha."
Ianto pushed himself up to his feet. "Jack, what do you--"
"Don't ask me that," Jack snapped. He still wasn't looking at Ianto. "Don't ask me what I think unless you want to hear it. The weight of this falls on you, and that means it's your right to refuse it. Now go."
Ianto stood there a long time, wanting to go to Jack, wanting to touch him, wanting to ask him what he thought, what to do. More than anything, he wanted to have the courage to ask whether Jack would ever forgive him for this.
But he couldn't ask the question, and couldn't imagine an answer that wouldn't be more terrible than this silence.
Ianto had been home for six hours and was nearly out of things to clean, sort, or fiddle with when he realized exactly what Jack had said. He blinked at the swathe of half-cleared dust on top of the bookshelf.
"Regulations. Queen Victoria."
His breath stirred up the dust. Ianto pressed his lips together and attacked it again, his dazed brain finally clicking into motion.
Queen Victoria had laid down plenty of regulations--Torchwood One had had stacks of them, and the one about no living children certainly rang true. Ianto hadn't thought to question it. Jack would have been banking on that, on Ianto remembering the old regulations and obeying them without a thought when they were brandished. Like a dog cowering before a raised hand.
But Queen Victoria would have had a few things to say about keeping the walking dead on as Torchwood operatives, too--which was to say nothing of immortals from the 51st century, no matter how good they smelled even before a shower.
Ianto got down off the stepstool and carried the filthy rag to the sink, his teeth grinding together so hard that his temples pounded with pressure as he rinsed the cloth. Jack didn't quote any law higher than himself, not ever--not unless he wanted to shut someone up with his appeal to irrelevant authority. Not unless it suited his own purpose.
Sod Queen Victoria, Jack wanted him out because of this. Jack wanted to send him away, wipe his memory and turn him loose, all because of this--this thing in him, this thing that mattered to Jack more than keeping Ianto on the team did. Jack never let anybody leave the team, not even when they died.
Jack was ready to just hand Ianto over, for this. And he expected Ianto to fall in line. He wanted Ianto to fall in line.
"My choice," Ianto breathed.
Some choice, between the end of his life as he knew it and knowing Jack wanted him gone, knowing Jack would regard him as nothing short of insubordinate if he stayed. He remembered the sound of Jack's revolver behind him--remembered still the feeling of the cold barrel pressed to his skull, Jack ordering him to his knees, ordering him to kill Lisa. Insubordination was betrayal, to Jack. He had chosen to forgive Ianto once, but no one Jack loved had died that night.
Ianto shut the water off. He reached for the kettle, turned it on. Turned it off again. The kettle was not quite what was called for, just now.
Ianto had started out standing in the kitchen, drinking directly from the bottle. This had turned, gradually, to lying on the kitchen floor, and then when he noticed how much the (sparkling bloody clean) lino reminded him both of the table in autopsy and of the floor of Jack's office, he'd migrated to the lounge. He was lying between the settee and the coffee table, a narrow space like a morgue drawer, but warmer, and carpeted.
The glass of the bottle felt nice against his flushed cheek, like a mother's hand for a fevered child. Ianto scowled at his belly. "Is that to be me, now? Your mum? You'd do better with the bottle."
He'd been talking to it, on and off, since sometime after he'd started drinking; he figured if it started talking back he'd know it was time to stop. So far all was quiet. He seemed more in danger of running out of vodka than of conjuring up any really horrifying hallucinations.
On the other hand, the night was young, and he was reasonably certain he'd left an emergency bottle in a cupboard somewhere, for medicinal purposes in extremis. Torchwood One had taught him that much: always be prepared. Always be more prepared than that.
When someone knocked at his door, he emitted a sound very like a growl and hauled himself to his feet. Doors were always his bloody job, stood down or not. That Ianto, he certainly can answer a door. Jack would wipe his memory and pat him on the head and send him off to be a receptionist, an actual receptionist somewhere, where he could rock a cradle and open doors and rot...
Ianto leaned against the door when he'd got there and didn't look through to see who it was. It was more fun to guess.
"I'm utterly pissed," he announced, loudly enough to carry. "So if it's tea and sympathy it's a bit late. And if that's Jack," he added, suddenly inspired by the certain knowledge that there was no possibility of its being Jack, "you can bugger off and take Queen Victoria with you."
There was no more sound from outside, and Ianto twisted, still bracing himself against the door, to see where he'd left the bottle. It might be worth finding the other, while he was standing. If he could remember where he'd left it.
"Beer and curry," Tosh said, and Ianto jumped. He'd forgotten anyone was there.
"Curry," Ianto repeated, and he could almost smell it--maybe he could smell it. Tosh was right outside the door. "Curry, Tosh, come in! You're hired, you can start immediately."
It took another moment of work to get the locks off, and then to get himself off the door enough to open it for Tosh, but she did in fact have lots of curry and quite a respectable quantity of beer. If she made any sort of remark about him eating for two, Ianto decided, he was going to eat hers as well.
But all she said was, "Gwen thought you probably hadn't eaten all day, so I..."
She'd got round the settee, and she set the bag of food on the coffee table and then bent and picked up the open bottle from the floor, setting it down beside the beer. Ianto homed in on it like a beacon, falling onto the settee when he stumbled over it along the way. By the time he'd sorted out his arms and legs--and up and down--Tosh was offering him a container of takeaway. Ianto realized he was starving, like stopping by the chip shop after the pub closed.
He ate quickly, without speaking or even looking up, till he abruptly remembered the part about vomiting in the street in front of the chip shop. He set the rest of his food down carefully and leaned back against the cushions. When he finally looked over, he found Tosh watching him, well into her beer though she'd scarcely touched her curry.
"Ianto," she said hesitantly, "I wanted to talk to you--this is probably not the best time, but I wanted you to know..."
Right. Of course it had been Tosh to come after him. Tea and sympathy indeed. Ianto eyed the beer, wondering if he could move enough to get himself one without regretting it.
"When you were nineteen," Ianto said, and then thought that maybe he should have let her finish that sentence herself. He glanced over at her, but she didn't look altogether shocked. He supposed there was no need to explain having read anyone else's file, when you were the sort of person who wound up working for Torchwood.
Tosh leaned over and picked up a beer, took the top off and passed it to him. He tipped the bottle toward her in a clumsy salute by way of thanks, and took a sip, wondering if she'd any more to say about it than that, or if it was just solidarity on principle.
"I was at school," she said, staring down at her beer bottle. "I thought I had to choose--no. I did have to choose. That child I might have had, or the career I'd been working toward all my life. The life I'd been working toward all my life."
Ianto didn't bother asking if the father had been her boss, had held her life in his hand. He'd had enough girlfriends to have learnt that it was poor form to try to top the story on offer.
Tosh looked up and met his eyes with a smile. "By the time I got to Torchwood, I'd realized that that had been my only chance. There's no later for us."
She took another sip, and Ianto followed suit, years' worth of work on the Torchwood Statistical Survey bubbling up in his brain. Mean and median life-spans of operatives. Cardiff's had always been lowest, but none of them topped thirty years, not even junior researchers in London. He hadn't had time to get drunk over that; he'd had to be up early and back to work.
"But we only get one chance at this, too," Tosh said. "And I wouldn't have missed Torchwood for anything."
Ianto couldn't think of a word to say to that. He wouldn't, either--this grand adventure, the first time he'd ever thought he was contributing to anything but the generic bustle of a city that needed coffees and mobiles and shoes sold to it. And then there was Jack, of course, because Jack and Torchwood Cardiff were practically the same thing--and Tosh, and Owen, and Gwen, and all the wonder of the infinite fucking universe.
He wouldn't trade any of it for anything--not the doing of it, not the remembering of it--not for any other life, and not for anyone else's life either. Only it might not be up to him; he might be on the verge of having it taken away whether he'd choose to or not. If he did stay he might still lose everything that Torchwood had come to mean to him. Jack.
Still, for now he'd got Tosh, and beer and curry, and knowing what he knew. He extended his bottle toward hers again, and murmured, "Cheers."
Tosh clinked and drained the last of her drink. When she came up for air it was with a bright smile firmly in place. "Cheers."
Ianto woke up to the immediate awareness that he must keep very, very still or something terrible would happen. It was not an unfamiliar sensation. He kept his eyes shut tight, and tried to remember where he was, or, failing that, who he'd been with, or, failing that, whether he might have to go to work in the immediate future. He had a vague sense that this job was not one he could just quit due to hangover, though he couldn't quite remember why. Possibly remembering was the terrible thing that would happen if he moved.
"Tosh is sleeping on your couch," Jack said, much too loudly.
Ianto's eyes flew open and then shut again, but he still managed to perceive that Jack was sitting on the edge of his bed, facing away from him. The complete events of the past twenty-four hours came crashing in upon Ianto's consciousness, dragging the headache and the pitiful urge to crawl under the bed and die in their wake. Torchwood was bloody amazing for putting your hangover into perspective, not that perspective helped at all--not when perspective left him still inside his body with this thing, and Jack...
Jack was facing away from him again.
"There's water and painkillers on the table," Jack said, still much too loud. Ianto cracked one cautious eyelid, and there was indeed an uncapped bottle of water within his reach, and, beside it, two suspiciously innocuous-looking white tablets.
"Painkillers, sir?" Ianto croaked. He'd figured--when he tried to think it out at all--that Jack couldn't actually retcon him until after he'd had the child. Then again, he hadn't thought Jack would try to trick him into taking it, either.
"Yes, Jones," Jack said, sounding tired, and Ianto was opening his mouth to ask what Jones was supposed to mean when he realized he'd let out a sir there. "Panadol from the bottle in the bathroom. I just came by to get Tosh. She was late and not answering her mobile. I'll let myself out when I've got her moving."
Ianto was half-tempted to throw the bottle of water at Jack's head, but then he'd have nothing to wash the pills down with, and he wasn't sure he even cared if it was retcon, as long as it made the headache go away. He lifted his head far enough to drink and swallow, and kept swallowing water until his stomach ached. Then he pressed his face back into the pillow, one hand still holding the bottle of water upright beside it. He was nearly asleep when it was tugged free of his slackening grip.
It wasn't until the soft footfalls had reached the door that he realized if he'd turned his head just then, he might have managed to meet Jack's eyes.
Ianto woke up to the desperate need to piss and the wonderful smell of coffee he hadn't had to make himself. Flatmates who made coffee in the morning were brilliant and could be forgiven any number of damp towels, annoying girlfriend dramas, and late rent cheques. Ianto smiled into his pillow, pleased with his good fortune.
The first thing he saw when he lifted his head was the open bottle of water on the table beside his bed, in the peculiar grey light of a rainy afternoon in Cardiff. He didn't have flatmates, and it had been just Panadol. His head felt quite bearable, even as his stomach twisted itself into knots.
No point facing this with a full bladder, anyway. Ianto considered, as he tended to his immediate needs, that it was in some sense a measure of his life: there were precisely four people in the world who might have made coffee in his flat. None of them would have been deterred by the fact that he hadn't given them a key. One of them was undead and couldn't drink coffee, one was at least as hungover as he was and had likely been rousted by their boss, and of the other two he couldn't honestly say which he'd rather it was, though each would be excruciating in their own way.
Jack was standing at the kitchen counter, staring out the window with a coffee mug in one hand. He looked up as Ianto came in, and Ianto realized he'd known it would be Jack. If he'd been expecting Gwen he'd have put on a shirt, as well as trousers. He also realized that Jack was wearing the same clothes he'd had on the day before, and was clutching that coffee mug like a lifeline.
"I sent Tosh home," Jack said, and his voice was soft enough now that Ianto's brain wasn't trying to escape his skull via his eardrums. He probably hadn't been actually shouting, before.
Jack was meeting Ianto's eyes, finally, and looking nowhere else. For all the time he'd spent undressing Ianto with his gaze in the last year and a half, now that Ianto was standing in front of him shirtless and barefoot, he wasn't stealing a glance. Ianto resisted the urge to cover himself anyway.
"I handled yesterday badly," Jack said slowly--formally, or like he'd memorized the words. "I apologize."
Ianto looked away, wondering what to make of that. Finally he pushed off the wall and went to the coffee maker, leaving a few feet of empty space between himself and Jack as he poured his own cup. It would be childish, he supposed, to demand to know whether it had been Gwen or Tosh who coached him on those phrases. Jack was making an effort.
The coffee wasn't actually bad, either.
Ianto went and sat down at the kitchen table. He wrapped his hands around his coffee cup and did not look at Jack, did not speak. He still hadn't worked out what to say. Obviously Jack was here to talk, which rather flew in the face of yesterday's declaration that it was Ianto's choice and he should stay out of Jack's sight until it was done.
Jack came and sat down across from him. When Jack opened his mouth, Ianto spoke first, the words ill-considered but necessary as his next breath.
Jack stayed silent, watching him, leaving more silence for Ianto to fill.
Ianto looked down again, clutching his mug.
"Jack, please, don't ask me to do it." His shoulders hunched protectively, and he wished he had a shirt on; the chair back was cold, making him break out in gooseflesh. "Because I will, if you ask me to. I won't even remember to hate you for it afterward."
A shirt might have been warmer, but the shield of it would have been an illusion. This was as naked as he could possibly be before Jack, admitting aloud what they both knew. Of course he would do as Jack asked, even this, even the end of his life as he knew it, this thing inside him that his whole body wanted to pull away from and could not escape. There might even be some relief in bowing to Jack's wishes, an end to the crushing weight of responsibility for the choice.
"If you ask me to, I will." Ianto repeated. And still some mad piece of him--the fierce, stupid will to live, to hold to his own life as it slipped from his grasp--kept him talking. "But please, Jack, please don't ask."
Ianto had been ready to die for years now, young and violently and weirdly. He wouldn't mind it at all, if he could just take with him the knowledge that Jack Harkness had loved him and relied upon him, once. He hadn't been ready for anything like this, an unthinkable biological accident as senseless as a car crash.
"Ianto," Jack said quietly, but Ianto couldn't look up. He flinched automatically from the motion in his peripheral vision, and watched Jack's hand fall slowly to rest on the table between them.
"I really, really intended not to be lying, when I said we weren't going to hurt you." Jack sounded horribly sorry, not just stiffly and formally apologetic.
Ianto closed his eyes and waited for the blow to fall.
"I'm not going to ask you to do anything, or order you to," Jack continued gently.
Ianto felt as if the floor had opened up under him, dropping him to a whole new depth of impossible choices. Jack wouldn't be angry at him, now. Jack would be hurt by him, and this would always be between them, always this ache, always the fact that Ianto had flinched from Jack's touch. Always the fact that Jack had left it up to Ianto, and whatever Ianto chose would be wrong.
"If you did have a living child," Jack said slowly, startling Ianto into looking up at him.
Was he bargaining, now? But it was Jack's turn to stare into his coffee, and he'd withdrawn his hand from the middle of the table.
"If you could just skip over everything else and there was a child in the world independent of your actual body, a child who was ours, would that be the problem? Is it the fact that it exists at all, or just where and when?"
Just where and when--but perhaps those were disposable problems to an immortal former Time Agent in his second century at Torchwood, with God-knew-what secret resources to call upon. Ianto tried to imagine what heaven and earth Jack was proposing to move to extricate them from this situation--and then there would be a child, and what would either of them do with that?
"I don't understand," Ianto said finally. "Jack, what are you asking me?"
Jack took a deep breath, and looked Ianto straight in the eye as he spoke. "I've got Tosh and Owen looking into a third option."
Ianto pressed both hands flat to the table, heart racing with something like hope. Jack had come up with a third option, and didn't Jack always find some way to save the day?
"It's something we've had in the archive for years. It was shelved because its applications as a weapon are pretty limited--it'll scan the environment around a developing life form, recreate it inside the device, and then teleport the fetus inside, leaving the parent intact. It can finish growing there, or be held in stasis almost indefinitely. The device is alien, but Tosh is trying to get it talking to us in a way we can understand, and Owen is going to test its adaptability for terrestrial mammals."
So there it was: a way out. Get the thing out of him, put it in stasis, put off the question of what to do with it. Ianto could keep on as he had been, and Jack wouldn't blame him for a choice that wasn't really made yet.
But Ianto had been too well trained by his years with Torchwood, and latched on inexorably to the idea Jack had brushed by too fast. Applications as a weapon are pretty limited.
There was only one way you could do use a device like that as a weapon: kidnap an unborn child. Hold it for ransom, threaten its life and safety until its parents gave you whatever you asked for, if only you let it live. Let them stand by, helpless, knowing their child's fate was out of their hands.
Jack had Tosh and Owen working on this, as if it were another alien crisis. Jack himself was here. Negotiating with Ianto.
Ianto stared at him. "Jack, this isn't a hostage situation."
"Spoken like a man who's never had to take a hostage," Jack said easily, and Ianto found that--like most of Jack's idle half-comments on his past--all too easy to picture. Of course, it hadn't yet been twenty-four hours since the last time Jack held him at gunpoint.
"There are plenty of grey areas," Jack assured him, meeting his eyes readily, without a trace of anger or fear. "But I backed you into a corner, and now I'm offering you a way to get out again. I'm just cleaning up after myself."
Ianto looked from Jack to the coffee he hadn't had to make himself.
"Well," Ianto said, numb and bewildered, too shocked even to feel relief, "I suppose it was bound to happen eventually."
This time when Ianto came down the steps into autopsy, there was a reassuring, if peculiar, assortment of objects laid out on the table. A glass-sided cage with a screened top was at Owen's right hand, emitting a distinct odor of rodent though no actual rodent was visible in the piles of bedding. Gwen was peering inside, apparently trying to spot the creature.
At Owen's left hand was a darkly gleaming object about the same size as the cage, its edges rounded, with proportions and markings that had the distinctive not-quite-rightness of non-human alien technology. Tosh was poking at the side with a stylus of some kind, muttering to herself and looking back and forth between the alien device and a tablet computer.
Owen himself was trying to watch Gwen and Tosh both, and glanced up immediately when Ianto moved off the lowest step. He looked like nothing so much as a mother trying to corral her wandering children. Autopsy had got entirely too lively, today.
Ianto looked over at Gwen, who was tapping softly on the glass.
"When Jack said you were testing on terrestrial mammals..."
"Hamster," Owen said tersely. "Gwen, she's been bothered enough, honestly. She's still there. The machine is picking her up just fine."
Ianto looked at Tosh, whose frown was deepening. "And as for getting the machine to be intelligible..."
"I almost have it," Tosh said. "The material doesn't scan well, so it's been hard to input the characters, but the translation algorithms are almost..."
"You really don't need to be able to read it," Jack said, sounding like he'd repeated this several times. Ianto looked up to watch him come down the stairs, but Jack only met his eyes for a second, giving him a bland smile, as though this were just another piece of interesting tech to try out.
Jack brushed past Ianto, with barely any deliberate invasion of personal space. They were all the way back to the level of Ianto's third week on the job, after he'd ceased to be novel and begun really working on his invisibility. It nearly didn't come across as a reprimand, and in any case Ianto was too tense to feel either chastened or relieved.
Jack went to stand across the table from Owen, Gwen, and Tosh. Ianto stayed where he was, at a safe distance from all of them. "It's emergency medical technology, it's meant to be useable for the widest possible range of species. There aren't even that many buttons, and if you just--"
Jack reached over and slapped his hand down blindly on the opposite side of the device, presumably where the controls were; Owen and Tosh both stepped back sharply, crying out in protest. Gwen threw her arms around the hamster cage.
Ianto himself flinched, but stood his ground, and saw a holographic display appear above the device, divided into differently-colored blocks. Each block contained a simple line drawing, and, beneath it, a picture of a button.
"There. Mash the buttons and it goes into idiot mode," Jack said cheerfully. "The little pictures show you what to do next."
Tosh straightened up. "You couldn't have mentioned that sixteen hours ago?"
"If you had figured it out that would have been useful information, and we had to get the hamster and let the scan run anyway. All set now?"
Owen straightened up and touched the holographic display; one square began to flash. It was yellow, and pictured a small oval inside a larger oval, and a box to one side. After it had flashed a few seconds, the smaller oval popped into the box.
"Right," Owen said. Ianto thought he could almost see the man clinging to his dignity. "I reckon I've got this. Ready?"
Gwen belatedly let go of the hamster's cage, and Jack turned and looked at Ianto, holding out his hand palm up in silent invitation. Ianto folded his arms but stepped closer, taking his place at Jack's side. A moment later Jack's hand dropped to the small of his back, and Ianto kept carefully, perfectly still under the touch.
He had been a little too forceful, perhaps, when he'd asked Jack this morning to let him alone to do his job. Or perhaps he'd been precisely as forceful as necessary, because even this much contact was making Ianto's heart speed up unpleasantly.
Owen wasn't the only one clinging to his dignity. It would all be over soon, and once it was, Ianto could just forget it. But until he was free of this, he was still at Jack's mercy--more at Jack's mercy than usual--and he couldn't help but be aware. He could hardly be aware of anything else.
"Right," Owen said again, glancing around to make sure he had everyone's attention, and then he pressed the button. The yellow square in the display flashed brighter, the device emitted a three-toned mechanical chirp.
The hamster squealed horribly, and the bedding exploded in a flurry of motion.
Gwen snapped, "Owen!" in a tone of horrified reproach, and Jack's hand dropped from Ianto's back as he reached out to hold down the lid of the cage before Gwen could lift it.
"Don't, Gwen, she'll bite," Owen snapped, grabbing a scanner and fiddling with settings.
Jack was watching Gwen for any sudden moves; Gwen was staring at Owen as though he could fix it. Owen was cursing softly at the scanner, Tosh peering anxiously at her computer again. Ianto stood alone, and watched the hamster.
She didn't make another sound like that first startlingly loud noise of protest, though she did give small distressed chirrups at intervals, pawing at her own slack belly and breathing like a bellows. She looked like a little half-deflated football, covered in soft golden fur. The tiny creature was confused and frightened, maybe in pain, maybe just aware that something had gone horribly wrong. Ianto's stomach muscles clenched in involuntary sympathy.
"She'll do," Owen said. "Spot of bleeding, but no hemorrhage. Heart rate's elevated, I think. Tosh, what's normal for hamsters?"
Tosh huffed, but a moment later said, "Up to four hundred twenty-five beats per minute."
"Bit fast but all right, then," Owen said, and actually turned to look at Ianto, putting a note of reassurance into his voice. "She's scared, that's all. Doesn't know what's going on. And the litter was a pretty fair percentage of her body mass, so it's a bit traumatic. You'll be all right."
"There are nine of them," Tosh said, and instantly all attention was on her. She pressed the button that was highlighted in an oddly shimmery green-blue and the idiot mode display shrank, revealing what must be an internal view of the device--not the black-and-white still sonogram Ianto had somehow expected, but a live camera image, all yellow-pink squirming things, suspended in translucent balloons of fluid.
"They have paws," Tosh added, perilously near a squeak, and Ianto half-saw the abashed look she exchanged with Gwen. It was true, though; they had paws, and ridges of spines, and dark spots where their eyes would be, and transparent skin.
Ianto couldn't take his eyes off them. "They were almost finished."
"There should be a countdown, actually," Jack said, and reached past Ianto to poke a finger into the display. A grey box held something that looked like nothing so much as a computer's progress bar, shrinking by infinitesimal degrees. Jack poked it a couple of times and it expanded, until the motion was detectable. "See, it's a universal clock."
"I can calculate rate of change against total size," Tosh said, sounding herself again. Ianto stood quite still, eyes fixed on the shrinking blue bar, all his attention on Jack's presence beside him, just out of contact.
"There," Tosh said. "You're right, Ianto. Twenty-nine hours to go."
"Right," Owen said. "Not actually done testing, if you don't mind, Tosh, Jack." Owen consulted the display's remaining buttons and selected the one whose illustration showed a box with an unmoving oval inside.
Owen pressed the button, the machine chirped, and the image froze. Nine little squirmy things stopped squirming, just... stopped.
"And that's stasis," Owen said. "Or... Jack, d'you know if it's true stasis or just time dilation? We've got a clock again."
It wasn't visibly running down at all, but Tosh was already tapping at it, until the blue line stretched the length of the room and seemed, possibly, to be flickering at one end.
"That's battery life," Jack said. "You can leave 'em in stasis till they run down the battery, about--"
"Six hundred years," Tosh announced. "Give or take."
"Right," Owen said, aiming a scanner at the device. "No life signs, just the energy reading from the battery. Stasis. So, then..."
The button Owen had pressed before was now illustrated by an oval inside a box wriggling around. He punched it, and the image was instantly animated again, squirmy pink things floating in a ball of noses and paws. Any one of them was already bigger than the thing inside Ianto.
"And, nine life signs, all... probably normal, for hamsters. Same as they were, anyhow. So they're safely back out of stasis."
Owen set down the scanner and looked across at Ianto and Jack, including them both under his gaze as he said, "Test is successful. The device will support a terrestrial mammal in and out of stasis."
He reached toward the device again, his finger headed toward a mauve button illustrated by an empty box. "So I'll just flush them, then, and we can get it started scanning Ianto."
Gwen and Tosh made precisely the same high-pitched wordless noise, in stereo; Jack extended a hand toward Owen and then stopped short.
Owen kept still, finger hovering above the button, and focused on Ianto. "Or we could continue the test. Not really completely done until we actually get a terrestrial mammal out of it alive, I suppose."
Ianto glanced around at the others. Tosh wouldn't meet his eyes, while Gwen stared pleadingly. Jack met his gaze steadily, and Ianto had to look away, not wanting to know what Jack was reading on his face, not wanting to read what might be visible on Jack's.
It was only another twenty-nine hours. Owen said the thing was growing at a perfectly normal human pace; he would have weeks and weeks to go before there was any possibility of really feeling anything there. If he could just keep from thinking about it for a few days more, it would be all over. It would be out of him, put away inside the device, where it could stay for six hundred years, till Ianto was so long dead that Jack forgot his name.
Ianto took a step back from the table, away from Jack.
"I'll go and look into the care and feeding of orphan hamsters," Ianto said, and continued backing toward the steps as Tosh looked up at him with a small, sheepish smile and Gwen grinned unabashedly.
"But I am not doing all the feeding and cleaning up. They go on a rota, just like Myfanwy."
Not that anyone but Ianto ever remembered that there was an actual rota for feeding Myfanwy, and not that he imagined he would escape being solely responsible for nine blind hamsters. Still, it was good to have the idea out there, to hold over them later.
The monitor that transmitted information to the alien device turned out to be a small flexible black square. It looked like a piece of tape, though there was no adhesive on either side; when Owen pressed it to the skin just below Ianto's navel, it clung and then appeared to melt in, disappearing entirely.
Ianto looked quickly from that spot to Owen and back. There was a faint tingling sensation for a few seconds, then nothing. "That's supposed to happen, right?"
Owen shrugged. "I haven't got an animated cartoon acting it out for me, but it worked the same way on the hamster."
Ianto looked around. The litter were in a cage under a heat lamp on Tosh's desk, since the brief experiment in reintroducing them to their mother had failed. Ianto had assumed that the mother hamster had been brought back to autopsy, but the other cage was nowhere in sight. "Speaking of..."
"Gwen took her home," Owen said, busying himself with some readout on the device which couldn't possibly be that difficult to make out, given it was being acted out by moving circles and squares. "Said something about practicing on a pet before she and Rhys tried anything more complicated."
Gwen had to have heard what Jack said about the regulations--but maybe she believed they didn't apply to her. Maybe they wouldn't, when the living child in question wasn't half Jack's, when the parent in question wasn't Ianto. Or maybe Gwen would have the good sense to leave, someday. She had a life outside, she had something to leave for. She might just beat the odds.
"Right," Owen said. "Want to let that go twenty-four hours, so the machine picks up a circadian rhythm."
That made perfect sense, of course, only...
"I've got to stay in base for twenty-four hours, then?"
Owen looked briefly caught out, as though he actually hadn't thought of what it would entail. It wasn't as if Ianto hadn't spent nights in the Hub before, of course, and they all did what was necessary in a crisis. They were all treating this like the standard sort of problem to be solved by Torchwood. Owen wouldn't have thought twice about it.
"Actually," Owen said. "You should stay put for twenty-four hours after the transfer as well, for observation."
Forty-eight straight hours in the Hub. It still wasn't all that unusual. Ianto's reluctance to do it was the only thing standing out, in fact.
"If you needed to leave..." Owen said, eyeing the device. Ianto could likely take it with him--it was obviously portable--but taking tech off-base would mean asking Jack, which would mean talking to Jack, and telling him why.
Ianto quickly shook his head. "It's fine. I've got a few changes of clothes, I don't need anything else."
Ianto turned away before the look on Owen's face coalesced into words. Least said, soonest mended. He had twenty-three hours and fifty-nine minutes to kill.
There was something so blessedly simple about target practice. The world went away, blocked out by hearing protection and safety glasses, and his body simplified itself to a machine for aiming and firing with the occasional pause to reload. His arms hummed with recoil, and the bitter taste in his mouth was nothing but blowback.
It was just him and the gun, and when he sensed something at his back, it was automatic to swing around with the weapon up. Ianto managed to keep from squeezing the trigger, at least.
Jack didn't flinch. He was slouching against the wood stalls, six feet behind Ianto, his arms folded.
Ianto was aware that he ought to lower the gun, or put the safety on. Firing posture just felt right. Comfortable. Necessary.
They stayed like that long enough that Ianto had to put a conscious effort into keeping his arms steady, and still didn't lower the gun.
Finally, Jack reached up and tapped at his own ear. Ianto firmed his right hand grip, and used his left hand to tug the headphones down around his neck.
"Go ahead," Jack said easily, a hint of a smile in his voice that showed nowhere on his face. "If you need to take out some aggression, you might as well take it all the way, right?"
Ianto's hand clenched on the gun, and he gritted his teeth. His anger flared, but he knew that tone in Jack's voice, calculated to a nicety to obtain just that reaction. Jack was daring him to pull the trigger, but Ianto hadn't spent this long at Torchwood without learning to keep his composure under fire.
"That depends almost entirely on whether you're humoring me in my delicate condition."
Jack's gaze swept down his body and back up, and now Jack showed him a smile. "Oh, I wouldn't say delicate--"
Ianto turned on his heel and finished firing his clip into the head of the nearest Weevil target. When the chamber clicked, empty, he tugged off his safety glasses and tossed them to the floor; his ears were ringing, but they'd had worse in his misspent youth than a few gunshots in an echoing space. He tugged off the headphones, too, dropping them, and let his gun hand fall to his side before he turned back to face Jack again.
Jack had the decency to look chagrined, at least.
"Sorry," he said, almost sighing the word. "Really. I came down here to apologize." Ianto said nothing, and Jack looked away, quirking a small smile. "I can't stand you being angry with me."
It would be ludicrous, if Jack weren't so obviously in earnest. If he demanded Ianto's forgiveness, that would be the moment that all of this became actually unendurable. But Jack wouldn't, of course. He wouldn't even ask for it. He would just come down here and offer Ianto the opportunity to shoot him in the head as though that would solve anything.
"You've apologized already," Ianto said.
Jack shook his head. "You have to understand--this is my fault. More than just--" Jack made a vague but perfectly intelligible hand gesture to indicate that technically speaking, the actual conception had been a fairly mutual act. Ianto had officially been spending too much time working out how to parse Jack.
"This is my fault," Jack repeated. "I'm pretty sure I know what changed you. I didn't know it could happen, I didn't think I could--I just didn't think. That's all. It's no excuse, it's never been any excuse."
"You've done this before?"
Jack flashed him a smile and looked away. "Not exactly. But I almost wiped out the human race, once--"
It was going to be one of those explanations. "So did I, once."
Jack looked back at him then, thoughtfully. "So you did."
There was really nothing to say to that. Ianto couldn't even hold Jack's gaze. And of course Jack had never met a silence he couldn't fill.
"This was 1941, in London. During the Blitz. I was running--"
It dawned on Ianto that he didn't actually care. Explaining whatever he'd done that almost destroyed humanity before Ianto's parents had even been born--that was just one more way for Jack to get shot in the head. One more way for Jack to (fail to) apologize on his own terms. And whatever the explanation was, it wouldn't change the facts.
Ianto turned away from him again, this time to the table where he'd stacked the spare ammunition, ejecting the spent clip and sliding another home. The click rang out in the silence. He'd shut Jack up.
Ianto kept his back turned, looking down at the weapon in his hands.
"What you're saying is, it happened because you're Captain Jack Harkness, and this is Torchwood, and these things happen. I know that. You don't have to explain it to me."
Jack stayed silent long enough for Ianto to turn and sight on the next target, and then he said, "No, I do."
Ianto fired, once, twice, three times, and then paused to find out what Jack would say next.
"It happened," Jack said, from not at all far behind Ianto, "because I'm Captain Jack Harkness, and you're Ianto Jones, and I love you, and I couldn't--"
Ianto whirled to face him again, and this time his right hand dropped and held the gun aimed away toward the floor, finger safe on the trigger guard. He couldn't speak, but the look on his face was clearly more than enough.
Jack stopped short, eyes going as wide as Ianto's felt.
"Ianto," he said, his voice rough with something that sounded like pain. "For Christ's sake, tell me it doesn't come as a surprise to you that I--"
Ianto shook his head quickly, waving his left hand to cut off Jack's words though he still couldn't find his own. He didn't need to hear it twice, that was just greedy--and it didn't come as a surprise. It had been obvious to him for a very long time that Jack loved his team, and though it might have been in doubt a time or two, Ianto knew he was part of that team. He was one of Jack's, ergo Jack loved him.
But for all he was--so far as he knew, currently--the only one Jack was shagging, it wasn't as if there were anything terribly special about him. Jack made occasional spasmodic attempts to carry on something like a normal dating relationship--rather as if he'd read books about normal dating relationships--but mostly Jack was Jack, Jack was Torchwood, and Ianto was one of his people. Nothing more, nothing less. His only special skill was getting the temperamental Hub coffee machine to emit something drinkable--not nothing, but not exactly irreplaceable, unless Tosh's theory about the thing literally liking Ianto best was borne out.
Torchwood One had wanted Ianto because he was disposable, obedient, and bright, in roughly that order; Jack had accepted him because he happened to catch Jack's attention and looked good in a suit, and then kept him because Jack never let anyone go. Ianto knew his place, and he wouldn't trade it for anything.
"Because I'm..." Ianto said, fighting to keep his voice level, fighting not to make it a question.
Something softened in Jack's eyes. "Ianto Jones," he repeated. "Particularly, specifically, individually, you."
Jack's hand closed around his on the gun, and brought it up between them, tilted to keep the barrel pointed down. Jack smiled and touched his lips to Ianto's knuckles, and his breath was hot against Ianto's skin as he added, "And your reason for almost wiping out the human race was so much better than mine."
"Oh," Ianto said, which was a bit stupid. He probably ought to be saying something back, but he couldn't really think straight. He never could, when Jack focused on him like this--and still he'd never realized it was him Jack was focusing on, really him, instead of a boyfriend-shaped object, or a sex-partner-shaped one, or an interchangeably beloved member of his team.
He was looking at Ianto. He had been, all this time.
Jack let Ianto's hand fall but kept hold of his wrist, taking a half-step closer to him.
"This is why I can't apologize to you properly," Jack said softly, his thumb rubbing over the bone of Ianto's wrist. His body was trying to be soothed and aroused all at once, and he wound up standing very still, staring into Jack's eyes and trying to remember to breathe.
"I am sorry," Jack said. "I'm sorry I didn't explain myself clearly, and I'm sorry I hurt you, and I'm sorry I backed you into a corner. I'm sorry I made unfounded assumptions about what you would want and what would be best for you. I'm sorry I sent you away just because I didn't know what else to say."
Jack's other hand landed on Ianto's chest--over his wildly thumping heart--and slid downward to stop, quite chastely, on his belly. Just there, just where it was.
"But I'm not sorry about this. I'm not sorry your child is going to exist. This is the kind of immortality people are supposed to have, Ianto Jones, and somehow I managed to give it to you. I can't even pretend to regret that, not for a second."
If Ianto tried to say anything at this point, it was just going to be oh again, so he didn't bother. He got a fistful of Jack's collar, instead, and leaned in for a kiss.
Jack's mouth was yielding under his, letting him find his own way, and Ianto sighed shakily against Jack's lips. The kiss was like the first smoke after quitting, so good it was almost too much, the touch of Jack's mouth and the smell of him on every breath, the feel of his body so close and the knowledge that they'd soon be closer still. Two days away from Jack, and Ianto was shaking for him.
Jack's hand left his stomach, settling on the small of his back and tugging him closer. Jack smiled against his mouth and whispered, "I missed you," into another kiss.
Ianto managed to release Jack's crumpled collar to curl his hand around the nape of Jack's neck, brushing a fingertip against the closer-cropped hair. Jack shivered a little, too, and that was enough to let Ianto speak.
"You know, Owen said I'm to be sure and get a full night's sleep."
"Oh?" Jack's hand slid lower, down to his arse, but he drummed his fingertips against it instead of grabbing. "Are you sleepy?"
Ianto smiled. "Not a bit, I'm afraid."
"Well." Another staccato beat of Jack's fingers against his back pocket, Jack's breath hot against the corner of his mouth. "I'm sure we can find some way to wear you out."
Ianto turned his head for another kiss, and then he tugged his wrist from Jack's grip and finally put down the gun.
Owen made him put on scrubs for the transfer, in case something went horribly and messily wrong. Ianto tried not to be too acutely aware that he was sitting just where the hamster had sat, being regarded by Owen, Tosh, and Gwen with nearly the same air of curious concern.
Given the option of sitting with his feet dangling like a child, or sitting cross-legged like a child, Ianto had chosen the option that at least left him self-contained. He rested his hands on his knees and tried to seem calm, though he knew his racing pulse betrayed him on the monitor. It would all be over soon, and they'd go back to looking at him or not in the ordinary way.
Jack stood at his side, one hand resting over one of Ianto's. Ianto had a feeling that Jack was never going to look at him in quite the same way again, but they were on the same side of this, now. Nothing mattered more than that.
"Ready?" Owen glanced from Ianto and Jack to Gwen, watching the monitors, to Tosh, beside the device. When everyone had nodded, Owen pressed the button.
"Fuck." Ianto's whole body jerked, fists clenching as he forced himself not to try to fight the sensation. Jack's arms were around him instantly, holding him tight as he gasped.
"Ianto?" Jack's voice pitched up, worried, but his grip on Ianto released. He spread one hand on Ianto's back and the other on his chest. Ianto's heart raced between Jack's palms, his chest heaving. He was listing sideways, toward the stability of Jack--not quite equal to the task of keeping himself upright, not quite willing to lean.
Ianto shook his head. "I'm all right, I'm all right--"
He could hear the frantic note in his own voice, reassuring to no one, and forced himself to stop. Jack's arms went around him again, and Ianto gave in and slumped sideways, drawing his knees toward his chest and closing his eyes as he curled down to rest his head on Jack's shoulder.
Gwen spoke, and Owen answered, but Ianto kept his eyes closed, trying to match his own breathing to the evenness of Jack's. It was an unsettling feeling, to be aware of something's absence when he hadn't been able to tell it was there in the first place.
"Does it hurt?" Jack asked softly. One of his hands moved restlessly up and down Ianto's arm. He smelled good, like always, like Jack.
Ianto shook his head. "For a second, like ripping off a plaster inside out. Startled me. It just feels... strange."
Jack kissed his temple and Ianto opened his eyes--and there, floating in holographic representation at the other end of the table, was the subject of all the excitement.
It still looked more prawn than human, but by rights it must be more or less a baby now, if horribly premature and housed in a terribly advanced and alien sort of incubator. It was out of him and on its own in the world: nobody's parasite. A baby--Jack's baby. And his, he supposed, for the time being.
"Hello there," Ianto said softly.
"He's got your prefrontal lobes," Jack whispered, "but I think definitely my eyebuds."
Ianto laughed, sharply and loudly and more than the comment warranted, straightening up as Jack let him go. He could laugh, now. It was over. It was safe.
"Right," Owen said, when Ianto had quieted. "Then we just--"
"Let me," Ianto said, catching Owen's cool hand as it reached toward the button. "I should be the one to do this."
Jack's hand rested on the small of Ianto's back as he leaned forward, and the emptiness inside him had already settled down to a twinge, a small ache. Nothing he'd notice in the general background noise of bumps and bruises, if he didn't know just what it was.
Owen dropped his hand, giving way, and Tosh took a step back, watching. Ianto let it be for another few seconds, the tiny grotesque thing with its visible heartbeat and its fluttering movements. He thought he probably ought to say something, but what was there to say? Not good-bye, not quite yet, and not good night, either. Stasis was not sleep, and Ianto would never put this baby to bed.
Jack's hand moved up and down his back, and Ianto nodded firmly and pressed the button. The fetus went still before his eyes, and that was that.
Jack's hand stopped moving on his back at the same instant, and Ianto felt a bit like he'd gone into stasis himself. He knew he should take his hand away, sit back, get up and go back to work, but he felt frozen.
It was Tosh who moved, finally, reaching out--toward his hand or toward the device, Ianto wasn't sure.
Jack was suddenly coming around the table, saying, "Don't--don't touch it, Toshiko."
Tosh jerked back, turning a startled look toward Jack.
"There's one more thing," Jack said. "At least, I think this must be how..."
Ianto started to withdraw his hand, but Jack caught it, holding it to the device's control panel and interlacing his own fingers so that they touched it between Ianto's.
The still image of the waiting child shrank, and beside it a new menu appeared. Ianto had barely glimpsed the new array of options before Jack selected one, pressing a button with his free hand. Beneath Ianto's hand, the device was suddenly, briefly warm. Jack tugged Ianto's hand away and set his own hand on the same spot. When he took it away, the device chirped once and then went dark, all displays disappearing, the controls retracting into a gleaming, solid surface.
Ianto looked up at Jack, who was staring intently at the device. "Jack?"
Jack met his eyes and smiled reassuringly. "Security. It's locked up tight now, so only you or I can access it. See?"
Jack touched the spot where the controls had been, and the buttons reappeared; he pressed one and the holographic display returned, the motionless fetus in living color. He took his hand away and it winked out, the device encased once again in an unbroken shell.
"Here," Jack said. "Tosh, you try."
Tosh touched the same spot, and nothing happened. She tried something with her computer, shook her head, and then said, "What about your wriststrap?"
"Nope," Jack said, quite confidently, but he made a show of trying it anyway; he punched a sequence of commands on his wrist, but nothing happened. The thing stayed unnervingly dark and silent.
Ianto reached out and touched it, and it sprang to life. He took his hand away and it went dark.
"Safe and sound," Jack affirmed. "You could blow it up, launch it through space, and it'd still stay locked up, waiting. Whoever made these things, they didn't mess around with the security features."
Owen reached over and rapped his knuckles against the device, then caught Ianto's wrist and checked his pulse, though that had to be redundant. Ianto turned to look at him, and Owen immediately looked away, dropping his hold and peering at his scanner.
"Looks like you're fine, but you should still stick around the Hub for a day or so, let us keep an eye on you." Owen looked up then, glancing from Ianto to Jack and back again. "That won't be a problem, will it?"
Ianto grinned. "I think I'll be all right."
"Right," Gwen said abruptly, behind him. "In that case--"
A small alarm began chirping.
"Not my turn, just been operated on," Ianto announced immediately.
"It's me, I think," Tosh said, and headed off to her workstation quickly. Ianto thought of following her--but there was no way he could apologize for being offered better choices than she had. He didn't think she'd even want him to.
"I think it was mine, actually," Gwen murmured, and headed after Tosh.
Owen yanked the wireless lead for the monitor off Ianto's arm. "If you could clear off my autopsy table, I believe I have some dead aliens I need to be working on. You've put me days behind with this stunt."
Ianto looked over at Jack, who was grinning, and couldn't help grinning back. It was over. They'd won. They'd all won, everyone had, just this once.
"My fault, Owen," Jack said. "You can file a complaint if you like."
Owen rolled his eyes, and Ianto slid down from the table, standing across the device from Jack.
"Help me with this?" Jack asked, and Ianto reached for the near end. At his touch, a section slid out, making a handhold, and he and Jack lifted it between them and carried it easily up the stairs. It wasn't so large or heavy that it would have been harder for one person to carry than two, but the symbolism was obvious, and Ianto couldn't refuse Jack this.
Jack led the way to his office, past Tosh and Gwen entirely absorbed in feeding the litter of hamsters their hourly eyedropperfuls of kitten formula. Neither of them looked up as Jack and Ianto passed, busy coaxing their tiny charges to drink.
Once in Jack's office, they came to a stop in the middle of the cluttered room, Ianto waiting as Jack looked around for a spot to set the thing down. Finally he headed for the corner behind his desk, and Ianto followed, lowering the device carefully to the floor. It might be indestructible, but that was no reason to be careless with the baby.
Jack knelt, clearing away boxes and papers to make a space for the device. There wasn't room for another body in that corner, so Ianto stayed where he was, watching Jack.
"You ought to name it," Jack remarked to a stack of dusty files which Ianto had not yet mustered either the courage or the patience to organize.
Ianto blinked, looking down at the device. The fetus was still too early in its development to even have differentiated sex organs, and there was no knowing when or where it might grow up; the choice of a name was surely premature.
Jack looked back at him.
"The device, I mean." He touched its surface gently. "I know Owen usually names the medical artifacts, but I'm sure he'd let you have this one."
Ianto reached out as well, tracing one of the incomprehensible symbols that remained visible on the device when sealed. "You've seen one of these before. Don't they have a name?"
"Found one that had got lost," Jack said, as if Ianto hadn't half-known that already. He hadn't sounded as though he were guessing, when he mentioned launching a device like this through space. "No idea what the people who made them called them, and the report I filed with the Time Agency just referred to it as Damaged Medical Equipment, Subtype Reproductive, Originating in the Keresla Sector. Not much of a ring to it."
"Ah," Ianto said. "I suppose Inventory Item 49-GS-K-7 isn't much improvement."
Still, given the enormity of what the thing had accomplished, Ianto could hardly imagine what to call it.
"I keep thinking of Pandora's Box," Jack said, shifting a box sideways and peering critically at the floor beneath.
"The source of all the world's trouble," Ianto said, eyeing the device dubiously. Though, if one considered the likely consequences of unleashing the next generation of Jack Harkness on the universe, the analogy did begin to recommend itself.
Jack picked it up gently, and set it in the space he'd made, spreading one hand on the surface. "All the evil escaped long ago, at the beginning of time. Then Pandora sealed it up again, with just one thing still inside."
Jack looked over at Ianto, reaching out a hand to touch his. "Hope."
Ianto looked at it again. Sealed up tight, carrying a little life just waiting to happen--and it would survive anything, just like Jack would. No matter what might happen in the intervening years, decades, centuries, this child would be waiting for Jack, and Jack would be waiting for this child.
Jack took hold of Ianto's hand, tugging him up as he stood. "Of course, in the original Greek myth, it wasn't a box. They didn't really store things in boxes back then. They used jars."
Ianto considered that for a moment.
"I see," he said finally. "Pandora's Amphora it is, then."
When the small, insistent alarm woke him, Ianto was alone in Jack's bunk. He shut off the noise and then spent a moment wanting to pull the covers over his head and hide--a rational reaction to waking up in the Hub, really, but it took him a moment to remember what exactly he wanted to hide from--what he couldn't hide from, inside him--but it was over now.
He felt the same rush of relief all over again, and hard on its heels he realized that the alarm had gone off: his turn to feed the hamsters. He spent a few selfish seconds wishing he'd slept through it, and could brush off negligence as accident. But he was awake, undeniably so, and it actually was his turn by now. And after all, the little beggars were his responsibility as much as anyone's. Probably more so--he'd been the only one with the right to veto their existence, and he hadn't. Ianto pulled on trousers and someone's undershirt and climbed up to Jack's office.
The cage was there, set up on Jack's desk with the litter's feeding supplies beside it. Clearly Ianto wasn't the only one who knew it was his turn.
Ianto mixed the formula, filled a dropper, sanitized his hands, and then reached into the cage and held his hand under the light, to be sure of being warm enough before he tried to touch. The litter were waking, squirming over and around each other, emitting barely-audible chirps. Ianto let his fingers dangle just beside them, half curled, and the boldest soon found its way into his grasp. He lifted it up, cupped carefully in his palm, holding the tiny thing nearly level with his face as he guided the eyedropper to its mouth.
Three careful drops, that was all it could hold. Ianto kept it there in his hand a moment longer, closing his fingers gently around the tiny animal. It was still blind and hairless, but it moved strongly in his grip, and he could feel the racing of its heart, the rigidity of its bones. It was warm and alive--and only one of nine, and keeping him from his sleep.
Ianto sighed and set it down, and only then glimpsed Jack standing, fully and properly dressed, leaning in the doorway. Jack smiled and came inside without saying a word, just picked up an eyedropper and filled it from the beaker of mixed formula. His fingers brushed over Ianto's palm as he reached into the cage, and he made a soft sound as he coaxed one of the hamsters into his hand. Ianto picked up his own charge, but even as he fed it he couldn't help watching Jack's hands, tender and confident all at once. It occurred to Ianto that he didn't know what time it was, how many feedings had gone by while he slept. Jack's office wasn't only convenient for Ianto, after all.
Ianto set down the hamster with the one he'd already fed, and Jack's joined them a moment later. As Jack cut another from the pack, Ianto said quietly, "You'll be a good father."
Jack looked at Ianto, his expression unreadable, and then down at the hamster in his hand. His frown, Ianto thought, was concentration.
Ianto picked up another and started feeding it; they got more difficult as they went along, because the hungriest and easiest to feed always pushed themselves forward. This one just kept trying to roll away, cheeping a little frantically. Ianto got a tighter grip, shushing it softly, and was so absorbed in what he was doing that it took him a moment to understand when Jack said, "So would you."
Ianto carefully didn't look up, and carefully squeezed a drop of formula into the hamster's mouth. "But I won't, Jack. You will."
"You could," Jack said softly, and this time when his knuckles brushed Ianto's wrist, reaching into the cage, Ianto shivered. "Not now, not anytime soon--you've made your choice for now and I respect that. But later, if you decided to. When you're ready. You could."
Ianto finished with the hamster he was holding and set it down carefully as he considered his words. He refilled the empty eyedropper, and then he lifted his chin, looked Jack in the eye, and said steadily, "Spoken like a man who's never had to do more with the Torchwood Statistical Survey than use it to prop up a wobbly table."
Jack opened his mouth, but Ianto shook his head and reached for the next hamster.
"When you're in the middle of it, it must seem like every death could have been prevented, like each one is a singular event. But they're not, Jack. Ninety-eight point two percent of Torchwood personnel die before their fifth anniversary of hire, and that figure rises to ninety-nine point four when the Cardiff office is taken separately."
Jack was frowning harder now, but his hands were as perfectly gentle as ever as he reached into the cage again. "You can't apply statistical findings to a single data point."
Ianto didn't know whether to roll his eyes, or to be pleased that at some point Jack had paid enough attention to statistical principles to know that. "That's why I don't tell you that I will be 99.4% dead in a year's time, Jack. That doesn't prevent properly applied statistics from functioning as a predictor of future outcomes."
Jack said nothing to that, and Ianto knew he should let it go--there was no harm in letting Jack have this hope as well as the other--but Ianto wanted him to understand. He wanted Jack to know that this, too, had been his choice for his body, his life.
"I was a junior researcher in London," Ianto said softly, rubbing his thumb over the tiny ear of the dozing hamster in his palm. "My third day on the job, I got the same assignment they gave every new researcher recruited from outside. I had to recompile the mortality statistics for Torchwood personnel going back thirty years, across all offices and job titles. The median lifespan after hire for a researcher is only two months longer than for a field agent, did you know that?"
Jack gave Ianto a wary look, but said nothing.
"I knew," Ianto said, setting the hamster down and reaching for another. "I knew when I got out of bed and came in for my fourth day of work. I was still in my probationary period. I could have quit and lost nothing but the memory of a week spent working with the sort of borderline sociopaths who give you that assignment as soon as they're sure you can find your desk. I didn't quit, Jack. I knew this job would kill me sooner or later, and I chose it anyway. Just like we all did."
"But you could choose again," Jack said doggedly, picking up the last unfed hamster. "The situation is different now. You could change your mind."
Ianto looked down at the creature in his hand, prodding it with his thumb to get it to open its mouth.
"And if I did?" Ianto shrugged. "The life expectancy of a former Torchwood employee is eight years from date of separation. Leading causes of death in decreasing order of prevalence are suicide, murder, violent accidents, exotic and aggressive cancers, and miscellaneous causes impossible for a civilian medical examiner to determine. The sample size is small, but well above ninety percent are dead within ten years, and the majority of those who survive are in some form of long-term care."
"I might beat the odds, yes," Ianto said, finally getting the hamster to swallow its first drop. "But how can I take that chance? Not when it's someone else's life I'm playing for, not when you're a sure thing."
"Ianto, it's not one of us or the other. There's no double standard in the regulations."
Ianto blinked down at the hamster, squeezed out another drop of formula for it, and did not, at all, consider what Jack was saying.
"If you left with our child--if our child were alive in the world... I'd lose my mind knowing you were both out there. There's no way I could continue. If you left Torchwood, I would--"
"Don't say that, please," Ianto said, quite evenly, keeping all his attention on the hamster. "I don't know if it would be worse if you believed it or if you knew you were lying, but don't say it. It would be obscene."
Jack set the eyedropper down. Ianto braced himself for argument, flat rejection or cold dismissal, but whatever he was actually thinking, Jack contrived to sound only mildly exasperated. "Tell me this, then, if you're so big on statistics--why are we bothering with this? The odds of keeping nine orphaned hamsters alive by hand-feeding can't be good."
Ianto shrugged, unbearably relieved by the half-change of the subject. He glanced in Jack's direction as he took a breath. "When I die, I won't have to worry about Gwen looking at me like it's my fault afterward."
Jack's mouth twitched a little, and he let out a sharp breath, the ghost of a laugh. Good enough, tonight. "Well, then."
Ianto nodded, and looked down to concentrate on getting the last drop of formula into his hamster, so he could go back to sleep.
The motion in his peripheral vision caught his attention, and he knew better than to look straight on. Jack had both hands cupped around the hamster, raising it to his face, to his mouth, his pursed lips. Ianto just had time to think that he was about to find out that Captain Jack Harkness was the sort of person who kissed his pets when Jack stopped. Barely audibly, he blew on the tiny creature in his hands.
Ianto's head whipped round almost involuntarily, but Jack just lowered the hamster back into the cage with the others.
"You just blew on that hamster," Ianto said, trying and failing not to sound accusing. "Because you don't want it to die."
Jack raised his eyebrows, but didn't look up. "People blow on dice for luck, why not mice? It's nothing special."
As if anything about Jack was nothing special. As if they didn't know he carried life enough for all the rodents in the world, if he could just figure out how to give it away--and there was proof in this room that he had, at least once.
But Ianto couldn't say a word of that. What would be the point?
When Jack finally did meet his eyes, Ianto just smiled, and raised the hamster he still held until it was level with Jack's lips. Jack smiled back, and blew.
Lying in Jack's bunk again a little later, this time with Jack wrapped around him tighter than a blanket and in lieu of clothes, Ianto said, "Promise me something."
Jack's arms tightened. "Depends on the something."
Ianto closed his eyes. "Promise me you won't rush into it. After I die, promise me you won't run off and have the child right away, just because it's a piece of me and you want me back. It wouldn't be fair to either of you."
Jack kissed his forehead and relaxed his grip enough to let Ianto breathe, and Ianto figured that was as much of an answer as he was going to get. At least he knew Jack had heard him. That was something.
But when Ianto was on the edge of sleep, Jack said, "Yeah."
He spoke so softly that Ianto felt the word more than heard it, Jack's breath blown out warm on the top of his head.
The next morning, one of the hamsters had died, Gwen broke a coffee cup when she found out and then cut herself trying to clean it up without Ianto's help, the Rift belched out something vile-smelling which eventually turned out to be some other planet's rubbish heap, and Ianto began to get into the habit of not thinking about the sealed Amphora in Jack's office at all.
The crisis wound down with what Ianto had come to recognize as the usual relaxing of focus. The first step was from survive survive survive to where's Jack?
Having been reunited with Jack and Gwen simultaneously, and assured that neither Hart nor Gray constituted a continuing threat, it didn't take long for his focus to widen again, to Tosh and Owen and the power station.
Ianto stood behind Jack now, watching numbly, helplessly, as Jack cradled Tosh in his arms, as Gwen kept stroking her hair and calling to her long after it was obvious that Tosh would never respond. Nor Owen, though between them they had saved the city, stopped the overload.
Ianto had done this before, though. Ianto had stood in the wreckage at Canary Wharf and kept going. The latest sharp shock was only that, only the latest. His mind ticked on inexorably, clicking over to the next concern down the line. Gwen was here--she would be worried about Rhys when it occurred to her to be--where had he been seen last? The police station? But he would go home now that the excitement had died down. Gwen would find him there, if their flat hadn't been destroyed in one of the explosions--him and the hamster, of course. Sally, she'd named it.
Sally--and Sally's little ones. The last members of the litter Ianto hadn't yet managed to give away were living in a cage upstairs in the tourist office; he'd put them away beneath the desk, under a towel, sometime before all the excitement began. They ought to be there still, safe, but he should go and check on them. They probably needed water.
He'd actually shifted his weight backward when he caught sight of Hart in his peripheral vision, and the thought crashed down on him all at once.
Jack's brother, out to destroy all Jack loved.
Jack's child, hidden not thirty meters from this spot.
Ianto gasped as if he'd been struck; he saw Hart turn toward him at the sound, but Jack was lost in his grief, and didn't look up until Ianto choked out, "Jack."
Jack looked at him over his shoulder, wide-eyed, his gaze sweeping quickly over Ianto as if checking him for injury.
Ianto shook his head, dazed. "Jack. The Amphora."
Jack frowned, as if he didn't know what Ianto meant, and then he went very still, his face going blank. He was still holding Tosh--Tosh's body--but his voice was steady, reassuring, as he said, "Gray couldn't have hurt it. He didn't even know it was there."
Ianto nodded, trying to feel reassured.
"Go check," Jack said gently, and Ianto broke and turned, nearly running to Jack's office, only half-aware of being followed.
Ianto was already past Jack's desk when he spotted Hart. Ianto froze, and Hart stopped inside the doorway and put his hands on his hips. "What is it? What are we looking for?"
"You're not looking for anything," Ianto said.
"Something precious to Jack, something Jack thinks Gray couldn't hurt, something you call an amphora but obviously isn't an actual amphora because there isn't one here," Hart recited, looking around and walking closer. "Something Jack's sure Gray didn't know about, which means it's probably new since I was here last, isn't it? And you're worried about it, so check on it."
Ianto stood his ground, and Hart sighed hugely, spreading his hands. "Look, it's either follow you, or stand out there while they..."
He waved one arm back through the doorway, and Ianto flinched at the thought. Sooner or later, practicality would take over, and Jack and Gwen would move, would clean up Tosh's body and put her--it--her away. Maybe it was just as well to keep Hart clear of that, for all their sakes.
"Fine," Ianto said--Hart couldn't actually harm the Amphora any more than Gray could--and knelt down behind Jack's desk. There were files stacked precariously atop the Amphora, and it had acquired a blanket wrapping at some point; Ianto had no idea when. Typical of Jack, somehow, whether he was being protective or hiding it from himself, or both at once in the same economical gesture.
Ianto unwrapped the covering, and from above him came a low, admiring whistle. Hart was leaning all the way across the desk, but when Ianto looked up at him he swung himself over to perch on top. Ianto jerked back, but Hart's booted feet never quite passed through the spot where his head had been.
Hart leaned forward further and said, "Sprog pod. Years since I've seen one of those."
Ianto gritted his teeth and touched the control area, bringing the display to life.
"A sprog pod that knows its daddy," Hart added, sounding faintly impressed. "Brought Jack a cuckoo's egg to sit on, have you? I'll bet he loves that."
Ianto couldn't resist turning to glare at him again, and Hart's eyebrows went up. "No, I mean that, he's mad about babies--hasn't he told you about his little girl, then?"
Ianto looked down, something going tight and painful in his chest. Jack had lied to him--or Hart was lying, looking to stir up trouble, now of all times. Either way it was up to Ianto to sort it out, to keep Hart occupied and away from the others. He took his hand away from the control panel, running his knuckles across the sealed-smooth surface of the Amphora.
"He said Time Agents can't have children."
"Not our own, genetically, no," Hart said blithely, as though it were self-evident. "And that'd be the end of it for you or me, but Jack's from the Boeshane Peninsula--started out as a human colony, you know, and the colonies are all obsessed with getting their numbers up. Boeshane did it by making everybody capable of bearing children. Jack's a walking sprog pod and he's got the maternal instincts to go with it--they all do, they're all certifiable when it comes to kids. Theirs, anybody's, makes no difference. If Jack's parents had had about eight like proper colonials, maybe Gray--"
Ianto flinched, and Hart stopped short.
"Anyhow," Hart redirected, "last time I saw a sprog pod was when Jack and I were working together--ran across a distress signal out in the middle of utterly bloody nowhere, reeled it in and it turned out to be one of these. Battery had almost run out and the baby wasn't done cooking, so it'd gone into an emergency protocol--it's set to reverse the process, get the sprog into the nearest suitable bit of real estate, mechanical or otherwise. Happened to be a human in there, and the pod decided Jack was suitable."
Ianto looked up, drawn into the story despite himself. "Did Jack get any say in the matter?"
Hart rolled his eyes theatrically. "We figured out what it was doing, yeah, and I was all for putting the thing straight back out the airlock, but Jack's Boeshane, like I said. Maternal instincts. He all but threatened to--well, no. He did threaten to put me out the airlock instead if I didn't let it go. And then there he was, Jack Harkness with a baby on board for the next hundred and seven days, and he spent seventy-nine of them moaning about his sore back and swollen ankles while I manfully restrained the urge to strangle him."
"Well done you," Ianto said, very nearly sincerely, trying desperately not to picture it. And then, because he couldn't help wondering, "What about the other twenty-eight days?"
Hart grinned wolfishly. "Libido surge."
Ianto's eyes went wide; he couldn't help picturing it, and it was...
"Terrifying, honestly." Hart shook his head. "Couldn't stop him, just had to hold on and hope to survive the experience."
Ianto looked back down at the pod--the Amphora--and touched the controls again. "What happened to her? His little girl?"
"Oh, well, once she was born we had a pretty good idea where she came from--not many places out that way where purple hair and spinal data ports come standard--so we got her back to her own world, handed her over to the authorities to find her a family, and went on our way. I think Jack checked up on her after, I don't--"
Ianto had called up the image of the child, and Hart fell sharply silent when it appeared. Ianto glanced up again, just in time to see Hart sliding down to crouch on the floor beside him, scowling.
"Are you running this thing in idiot mode?"
"Jack set it that way," Ianto said, bristling at Hart's unspoken--unknowing--criticism of Tosh--Tosh, who was dead outside.
Hart, heedless, shook his head and rolled his eyes again. "And that, boys and girls, is why we study actually alien alien languages instead of passing our comps with Earth Neo-Revived Classical Latin and then getting by on the gloss. Here."
Hart caught Ianto's hand, and Ianto jerked away automatically. Hart gave him a mildly irritated look and caught his hand again in a harder grip.
"Just fixing the interface, eye candy," he muttered. "Honestly, I'm not sociopath enough to hurt your baby just for kicks, and I'm not stupid enough to think Jack wouldn't kill me slowly and painfully for doing it--I know exactly what he can do, believe me."
It was Hart's matter-of-fact tone that Ianto found convincing, more than what he said; he relaxed and let Hart manipulate his fingers over the keys. It took a few moments, long enough for Ianto to watch the way Hart frowned in concentration and then smiled, open-mouthed, when he'd worked it out. Long enough to become acutely conscious of the warmth and pressure of Hart's fingers over his.
The display snapped into English, and strings of incomprehensible symbols resolved into STASIS MODE and BATTERY LIFE: 621 YEARS and SEX CHROMOSOMES: XY.
Ianto kept staring until Hart jerked his hand away, clearing his throat. "There you go, then. I expect to be named godfather for that, when you get round to thawing him out."
Ianto got to his feet, and the Amphora went dark and still, keeping its secrets again. Him. "Not likely, Hart."
But Hart just raised his eyebrows and smiled, as if he knew Ianto's opinion had nothing to do with it.
A couple of days later, when it didn't seem too much like kicking Jack when both of them were down, Ianto leaned against his desk and said in his best absent tone of inquiry, "Were you planning on ever telling me that I'd got your internal organs?"
Jack looked up from his report to Ianto, and then made a show of patting himself down. "Mine are still right here. I'm pretty sure you have your internal organs."
Ianto waited, and Jack looked back down, putting on his frown of pretending-to-read-this. "Which are now modeled on mine, yes. I was going to tell you, but you said you didn't need me to explain it to you."
Ianto tried to work out how Jack might have almost wiped out humanity by making them all like himself--the answers to that question started out uncomfortable and went rapidly downhill--and finally gave up and asked. "Apart from being a walking sprog pod, is there anything else I should know about?"
Jack winced a little at the term, but he must have known Ianto had got the information from Hart, even if he hadn't bothered to just watch the CCTV footage of their conversation.
Jack reached out and touched Ianto's right hip. "You know how you had your appendix out when you were a kid?"
Ianto nodded. The memory was fairly vivid, one of the most terrifying of his life before Torchwood.
"You should have a new one now. An Appendix B, actually. Time Agency standard issue, allows you to digest the fourteen most common types of non-Earth-descended proteins and three classes of processed hydrocarbons."
Ianto stared at him. "I can eat petrol?"
Jack wrinkled his nose. "I don't recommend it unless you're starving. There's not a condiment selection in the galaxy that makes it taste like anything but petrol. Polystyrene's not bad, though, as long as you have a toothpick."
Ianto shook his head.
"And you're really well equipped for a future career in smuggling," Jack added. "But you should let me show you how to use that, if you intend to. There's a trick to it, and it's pretty easy to hurt yourself if you do it wrong."
Ianto covered his eyes with one hand.
"I spent a few years living on this ship that was equipped with nanogenes," Jack said quickly, and Ianto warily lowered his hand.
Jack was looking at the surface of his desk, speaking matter-of-factly, but fast enough to betray his unease.
"They're atom-sized machines, designed for medical repair and maintenance, and species-adaptable, just like the Amphora. There were millions of them on the ship, uncountable, and I was there long enough that they got pretty used to me. I never realized it, but when I had to jump ship, some of them must have come with me--stowed away inside my body. It's probably why I heal so quickly and age so slowly, in between not dying."
Ianto nodded slowly. "So that's--that's something else, then. I'm not like you that way. I can still die."
Jack suddenly looked every day of his age, two thousand looped years and all, and he met Ianto's eyes like it was an effort just to look up. "Yes. I managed to pass them to you once, and they repaired you wrong, using me as a template. That's all. They're not why I survive."
Ianto thought back--he hadn't, actually, been genuinely badly hurt many times since coming to Cardiff. "Lisa?"
Jack looked down.
"I woke up and you'd been kissing me. That whole night is just flashes, in my head, but I know I tried to talk to her, and I know you were kissing me when you'd just been threatening to shoot me, and I didn't know what had been happening. She hurt me. Badly. And you saved me, even if it did go a bit... unexpectedly."
"She killed you," Jack said, and then looked up and met Ianto's eyes.
Ianto stared back. It was hardly a shock at all, by now. Maybe he'd always known that that blank spot was blanker than the others; maybe this wasn't even a surprise.
It didn't change anything, knowing she'd killed him, not really; it only reiterated what he'd realized when he saw what she'd done to Annie. She was so lost by then that it was a mercy to kill her--a harsh and angry mercy, coming from Jack, but one Ianto hadn't been able to dispense at all, in the end. He didn't even think knowing she'd killed him would have made a difference. He still couldn't have pulled the trigger.
"She killed me a couple of times, too," Jack added off-handedly. "Electrocuted, more or less, which hasn't happened to me often."
That would have done it. Ianto clenched a fist and released it. It hurt to know it, scared him a little to think of what he'd do for Jack, but--he was no different to Jack, maybe, for all he'd had less practice at it. Ianto was pretty sure he'd threatened to kill Jack that night, just as Jack had threatened to kill Ianto, but if someone else had done it for him... he'd have done just what Jack did, or at least he bloody hoped so. He would now, for certain, though Gwen was about the only person left he'd have to be persuaded to pull the trigger on. A measure of his life: there were two people in the world he'd think twice about killing if they threatened him or his.
Jack was still talking, his voice almost calm. "I think energy weapons must drive the nanogenes a little crazy, because I felt different to what I usually do when I wake up--I could feel them working. I felt so alive, fizzing with life. I thought it was just a feeling. But you were lying there, and it must have been at least six minutes since she... you hadn't moved at all. You weren't breathing. I knew you were dead, and I just--I couldn't let you go, not like that."
You're Ianto Jones and I love you and I couldn't, that was what Jack had said the first time he tried to explain why. Couldn't let Ianto go. Hadn't, the first time he died.
He hadn't lasted six months in Cardiff without dying, Ianto realized. He just hadn't known it. He was going to have to put an asterisk in the mortality figures for that year.
"I didn't tell you at the time because I thought it would only make things harder for you, knowing I'd saved your life like that." Jack smiled a little and leaned back into an elaborately casual slouch that just happened to put him out of Ianto's reach. "Well, and I was angry with you."
Ianto snorted. Understatements all round, there. "Raised me from the dead, you mean. And you were homicidal. Literally. I was there, I do remember that."
Jack shrugged, obviously ill at ease. If Ianto hadn't questioned him on it--if Ianto hadn't questioned him already knowing--Jack would never have told him. Even when Ianto had only owed Jack for the lack of a summary execution and the continuance of his employment, he'd known Jack didn't want to see him try to be grateful enough to cover it all. Thanking him at this point would be somewhere between pointless and excruciating for both of them, to say nothing of a year and a half out of time. What Jack wanted from him now, Ianto knew, was a sharp change of subject.
It was lucky for both of them that he had one more difficult question to ask, then.
Ianto reached out the easiest way he could, settling one booted toe on the edge of Jack's chair, beside his thigh. Looking down at his own hand gripping the edge of Jack's desk, Ianto said, "Hart told me about your little girl, but he said he didn't know what happened to her, after."
Ianto looked up sharply, his foot dislodged as Jack popped up to stand, nothing but delight in his voice and on his face. He tapped something on his wriststrap, aiming it at the open space on the other side of his desk, and suddenly there was a group of people standing there, frozen--hologram, of course, but full color and depth, nothing like Hart's flickering blue Princess Leia recording.
Several of them had purple hair, from the little girl leaning against someone's knee with her finger in her mouth and her hair in bunches, right up to the beautiful woman of indeterminate age around whom the rest seemed to be arranged. They were a family, obviously. Hart had said they'd sent the baby girl to people who would find her a family.
"I can't actually pronounce her name--I just butcher it when I try--so I always called her Circuit," Jack said. "It's something my dad called me when I was little, even before I was born--I don't know why, I never asked him, but the first time I felt her move it just popped out of my mouth. Hello, Circuit."
He addressed the floating image as much as quoted himself, Ianto thought. "That's her, there, with her wife--third spouse, but she married every time for love, she wouldn't have traded any of 'em--and the ones behind her are her older kids, and the one between them with the green hair is her youngest, and the rest are grandkids. The littlest one there, with the pigtails, they named her Jack. I was something of a family legend by then, I guess."
Ianto looked from Jack to the family portrait and back. Of course it had been ages for Jack by now, but not nearly enough years for Hart since this happened. "She grew up."
Jack nodded, looked down and punched another button, calling up a picture of a younger woman grinning and about to do something terribly dangerous, judging by the protective gear. A little purple hair escaped the helmet, and below the goggles her smile looked familiar.
"Yeah," Jack said. "Kids mostly do, unless something goes really wrong. I just visited her every five years or so. Took me three or four days, but I wanted to see how everything turned out for her, help her out if she needed me for anything big. She never did. She grew up smart and beautiful and totally fearless, lived a good long life. I wasn't much of a fairy godmother, but she liked me anyway."
Well, of course; he'd been an active Time Agent then, so why should the linear progression of time have anything to do with it? Ianto raised his eyebrows. "Do you read the last pages of books first, too?"
"No! I went in order. This was more like... staying up all night so I wouldn't have to put the book down."
"For three or four days." Ianto looked again, and it was a little girl now, doing a headstand, bare feet in the air and tongue sticking out, her purple hair hanging nearly to the ground.
"Well, it was a good long book," Jack said fondly, and Ianto had to kiss him or the slide show of family photos was going to last all night. It was nothing at all to do with his easy smile, or the fact that this was the first time since Gray that Ianto had seen him so purely happy about anything.
It was the pictures that Ianto kept thinking of, afterward--the delight Jack took in those pieces of his little girl's life, even though he'd missed nearly all of it. At quiet moments, Ianto would slip into Jack's office and look at the Amphora. He'd noticed that the stack of files had found another home, though the Amphora kept its blanket. Ianto would sit on the floor sometimes--sometimes with the static hologram for company, more often not.
He would never see the child grow any older than this, and that was all right. It didn't mean terribly much to him, honestly, except when he forced himself to try to think about it. But he couldn't fathom himself as a father, raising a child. It didn't trouble him much to know he wouldn't.
But the child--his son, their son--he would grow up missing one of his parents, and that, Ianto knew something about. His father had kept plenty of pictures of his mother, even a few home movies, but those had all been his father's things, his father's memories, his father's wife. She hadn't belonged to Ianto, not really. Ianto had been all that was left of her, a piece of her, but she'd never been his, not that he could ever remember.
Maybe it wouldn't be like that for Jack's son--Jack was surely presence enough for two parents. Maybe he wouldn't raise the child alone; maybe he'd wait until he had someone else, maybe a whole harem of someones, to help out.
Ianto knew Jack, though, at least a little bit. He knew enough to know that there were pieces of Jack that stayed solitary, no matter how much Jack shared his body and his time and his work. He might keep this to himself, too, his child. He hadn't told Hart about going to see Circuit; they'd been partners, together all through the pregnancy, and Hart had had no idea what happened to her.
So maybe Jack's son would grow up knowing something--someone--was missing. Jack would probably tell him as much as he could, but that Ianto who Jack talked about would always be the one who belonged to Jack, sometime in a distant past. There wasn't any Ianto who had ever belonged to his child, even when the thing was still inside him. He didn't even want to, not properly. But maybe--maybe for the sake of a child like he'd been, his child growing up somewhere down through time, maybe he could leave something that would belong just to the boy.
Pictures were too easy--Jack would find all the pictures of Ianto anyone could possibly have any use for, between going through his physical possessions and clearing out his files after he died. Ianto owed his child something more, something specific.
Ianto chose his materials carefully. It would have to last a long time--there was no way of knowing how long, but six hundred years was a distinct possibility, for starters, and there was no particular reason to think that by the end of six hundred years Jack wouldn't have found a battery recharger or a wall outlet where he could plug in the Amphora.
So: archival quality anti-acidic paper, and non-degrading ink. Sturdy, protective covers. By the time he'd assembled all that, it was easier to hand-write it than to work out any method of getting it all safely through a printer, but Ianto didn't mind. There was a certain perversely anachronistic delight in working like a mediaeval monk, writing out a chronicle that would survive centuries after he died if the place weren't sacked by Visigoths from another dimension first.
Of course there was a distinct possibility of Visigoths from another dimension, so Ianto also bought a small, sturdy fireproof box to keep it in.
When he had everything ready, and the prospect of a few quiet hours minding the tourist office, Ianto sat down with the blank book and a couple of his old diaries, and considered the first page.
Then, carefully, deliberately, he began to write.
Ianto Jones Torchwood Cardiff
For my son.
Ianto had filled up half the book with stories about his work, sprinkled with asides about his own childhood with his father, helping out in the tailor shop. He included some bits about Cardiff, too, because it would probably be a bit of a curiosity by then.
Most of his Torchwood stories wound up being more about Jack than about himself, but he supposed there was no harm in that. Jack was the only thing he and his child would have in common, the touchstone through which they might communicate.
Without quite planning it--the relevant entries in his own diary were elliptical nearly to the point of incoherence--he found himself writing about the recent past. He navigated carefully through the story of how they'd found out Ianto was pregnant, about the transfer and after, and inevitably, about Owen and Toshiko's deaths. He stayed silent about Gray, only vaguely alluding to the man who had caused all the trouble--that was Jack's story to tell or not, and Ianto still had no idea what the end of the story might eventually be.
After the first few sessions, when he'd insisted upon sitting at a proper desk, the tourist office his scriptorium, Ianto had got used to working on the book whenever he had a little time alone. He could sit anywhere, balancing the book on his knees. He often worked on it while sitting with the Amphora, hidden like a child on the floor behind Jack's desk.
This morning, while Jack was up on the roof watching the sun rise and letting Myfanwy stretch her wings before the morning rush of tourists in the Plass, Ianto was trying his hand at a bit of illustration. He was sketching what he could see from that spot, the Amphora's-eye-view. It was the first place the child had lived, in a way, a home he'd never remember. He ought to have a picture.
There wasn't much to see from this angle, of course--mostly Jack's desk--but Ianto was taking his time with that, trying to get down the little details--the stacks of files and odd random objects, the 3-D glasses hanging from the lamp. If he cheated the angle a little, he could include the coat rack, and Jack's greatcoat hanging there...
Ianto froze, and then turned his head very, very slowly toward the door. Where Jack was standing, watching him, having quietly come in and hung up his coat sometime in the ten minutes since Ianto last looked up that far.
Ianto did not slam the book shut. He wasn't entirely sure the ink was dry. "Jack. Good morning."
"You're going to ruin your eyes, writing in the dark," Jack replied, and switched on the overhead light. The lamp had been quite adequate, really, and Ianto liked the private, nighttime feel it gave Jack's office.
"Well, I haven't yet," Ianto said, and gently but firmly closed the book as he got to his feet. "Just lost track of time. Do you want coffee?"
He came round the desk as he spoke, and had nearly managed to brush past Jack and through the doorway when Jack reached out and stopped him with two fingers on the back of the hand holding the book. "Diary?"
"Yes," Ianto said, without pause for thought. "Private."
Jack dropped his hand, shifting his weight backward. "Of course."
Ianto stood a second longer, looking at Jack and scarcely seeing him, because that was a ridiculous reaction--of course it wasn't private. He was writing the whole thing to be read, and obviously Jack would see it, would be the one to hold on to it for their child, perhaps read it to him when he was small, choosing the stories he could understand.
Still, Ianto realized as he stood there, he couldn't bear the thought of Jack actually seeing what he'd written. He wasn't ready for that, might never be--Jack was supposed to see this after Ianto was safely dead, and not before.
Ianto didn't bother trying to force a smile, only said, "Don't worry. I think you're coming off pretty well on paper."
Jack's eyebrows rose, but so did the corners of his mouth--he was permitting himself to be teased, and that would be enough to get them past the awkward moment. "On paper?"
"Well," Ianto said, and looked Jack up and down--someday, someday he'd manage to do that without giving away how much he enjoyed the view, but today was likely not that day. Still, he did keep a straight face as he said, "One allows oneself a little poetic license."
They thought it was fog, at first. For a stupidly long time, actually--but then Jack called up to say that it looked like people were starting to gather in the Plass for some reason, and would Ianto just step outside the tourist office and see what was going on?
Before he'd even got to the door it opened, and a handful of people fell inside, bringing the fog with them, choking on it--and then Ianto was choking too, because it wasn't fog, it was gas.
Jack was there, faster than Ianto thought he could possibly have got there from the Hub. Ianto helped him herd their handful of refugees downstairs to safety, and stayed with them at the bottom of the emergency stairs, outside the Hub proper, while Jack went inside.
They tried to explain what was going on to Ianto--something about cars, exhaust going mad, those bloody ATMOS systems that talked to you while you were trying to drive. It was a bit hard to make out, because they all kept coughing and coughing, and so did Ianto.
Jack came back with Gwen and three gas masks. Gwen was on the phone with somebody--Cardiff police, likely, as she was snapping out questions about positions and evacuation routes. Jack was failing to be on the phone with anyone, and looking so irritated that it had to mean he was really, really worried.
"UNIT's not answering their phones," he said, the words clipped, his gaze directed at the civilians. He wasn't meeting Ianto's eyes, nor Gwen's; there was more to it than that, but Jack clearly wasn't going to say what. "We're on our own. Come on."
Ianto nodded, getting to his feet and reaching for the mask. Jack jerked it back a couple of inches from his fingers, and Ianto held his breath to keep from coughing as he met Jack's eyes.
"First rule of gas mask drill," Jack said firmly. "You don't take your mask off once it's on, and you don't give it away, not for babies or puppies, not for your own grandmother, not for any reason. Got it?"
Ianto thought of pointing out that his gran wouldn't actually have much use for a gas mask at this late date, but he didn't know if he could get that all out without starting to cough again.
He shrugged, instead. "Doesn't seem like a drill, does it?"
"All right," Gwen announced, pocketing her phone. "People are walking toward the water to get away from the gas. We're going to evacuate as many as we can to Flat Holm Island--Jack, do not argue with me, the facility is underground, they won't see anything--there aren't any cars on the island and the prevailing winds come in off the sea, so it should be clearer there. We've got to try for crowd control and triage. It's vital to prevent a panic."
"Not a drill," Jack agreed, and let Ianto take the mask from his hand.
It seemed to go on for hours; they couldn't see the sun through the gas, and Ianto couldn't spare the seconds to consult his watch. It was just lines of frantic people, screaming when they had the breath for it, appearing and disappearing in the deadly fog. Ianto wouldn't have taken his mask off for anything--he could still feel the residual burn in his lungs as he carried children down the docks to the boats, shouting reassurances to their frantic parents from behind glass and rubber.
He saw Jack and Gwen at times, heard their muffled voices. There were others in masks too--he thought he recognized Gwen's Andy and his fluorescent PC's jacket, and there were other police around as well. The boats kept going away full and coming back empty, their captains coughing over the controls as they waited at the docks. It was getting darker, and shafts of torchlight turned the fog more confusing, not less.
Ianto stopped dead in the middle of a trip between the dock and triage line, when he realized he didn't remember whether he was coming or going--there wasn't an evacuee with him, which suggested that he was going back for another one, but which way was the end of the line?
There was a sudden, blinding light in the sky, and Jack's voice cutting across the furor, yelling, "DOWN."
Ianto dropped flat, and felt everyone around him doing the same, to escape the sudden blazing heat and light, or in response to the inescapable command of that voice.
When he lifted his head, the sky was clear and blue, and Jack was not two yards away, holding his mask in one hand and smiling.
Ianto struggled up to his knees and pulled his own mask off, as all around him people began getting to their feet, looking around dazed, like they'd just woken from a nightmare. It was all over, suddenly, just like that. He could hear Gwen shouting at people to please return to their homes unless they were responsible for people already evacuated to the island. He could hear other police taking up the call. He knew he should himself, but his breath hitched on the inhale and caught in his chest.
Jack was just standing there, looking up at the sky and smiling. Ianto joined him just in time to see another bright flare of light--smaller, further off, like...
Well, in his not wholly uninformed opinion, it looked like a pretty sizeable ship exploding in orbit.
"Ha!" Jack vented a single syllable of vicious satisfaction. "I think somebody just got a taste of their own medicine."
Medicine. It wasn't a phrase Jack used often, and it hadn't any obvious connection to the events they'd just witnessed, except...
Ianto mentally filed another of Jack's not-as-oblique-as-he-thought references to the Doctor, and then a woman was tugging at his sleeve, asking where he'd taken her daughter, and it was time to get back to work.
It was a day and a half later that Jack walked up behind Ianto, twisted one of his arms up behind his back, and said, "Okay, the A&E departments are pretty much back to normal operation now, so either you're going under your own power or I'm frog-marching you."
Jack's other hand landed in the middle of his chest and pushed, and Ianto started coughing again. Jack let go of his wrist immediately, wrapping his arms around Ianto's ribs, which made the coughing hurt less but didn't stop it, of course. Nothing seemed to stop it, and it was beginning to be annoying, but it was just a cough. The gas hadn't killed him, and they said on the news there could be aftereffects. His wasn't much of anything, considering.
"Yes, you do," Jack said. "You need to see a doctor about that. You did keep your mask on, didn't you?"
Ianto nodded quickly, thinking even as he did how funny it was that you could hear the lower-case in Jack's voice, over and above the indefinite article.
Jack squeezed him a bit, a hint of anxiety creeping into his voice. "You weren't exposed that badly. You ought to be better by now."
"Sorry," Ianto said. "Really, I hardly noticed."
"Spare me. Go."
Pretty much back to normal operation did not preclude spending hours and hours sitting in triage, when all you'd got was a cough. By the time he got out, Jack was loitering in the car park, waiting for him. Ianto rolled his eyes and waved the packet he'd been issued at the dispensary.
"Post-gas bronchitis, loads of people have it. I'm to take antibiotics for five days. It's nothing."
Jack straightened up and came over to peer suspiciously at the packet. "It's not nothing, Ianto. You're ill, and you didn't take any notice. You're going to run yourself right into the ground if you're not careful."
Ianto turned a suspicious look on Jack, just in time for Jack to look away and announce, "I think you should take a couple of days' holiday."
"Oh, you do," Ianto said, starting a mental list of everything that would inevitably go horribly wrong if he was away from the Hub for forty-eight hours. He had just done the shopping, though, so they had enough coffee, bog roll, office supplies, and ammunition to last through the end of the week.
Jack nodded firmly, still not looking at him. "Somewhere outside Cardiff, so you won't just come in to work by force of habit."
Ianto thought for half a second about arguing with him, which he could already see would be an exercise in bloody-minded futility, and then he thought about two days of not being anywhere near work.
Well, if Jack wanted to start it, Ianto would finish it. "I'm going to need an extra day just to travel back and forth. If you actually want me to get a proper rest, I mean."
Jack looked at him sideways, like he was waiting for the catch. "A day each way? Where are you planning on going?"
Ianto waved his hand impatiently and headed for the SUV, parked entirely illegally in the fire lane. "A half day each way, and two days while I'm there. Three altogether. And if I tell you, what's to stop you coming round and bringing me back early?"
"Well, it would sort of defeat the purpose. Sending you on holiday is my idea, after all."
"And I'm running with it," Ianto agreed. "Give me a lift back to the Hub, please. I need to pick up some things, and then I'll see you Thursday."
Jack looked entirely nonplussed, but he went round and got into the car, so Ianto reckoned he'd won that skirmish.
Ianto thought he'd go to London--he'd lived there for years, there were things he missed, places he had liked to go and wouldn't mind going again. Most of them were likely rebuilt and refurbished now, the Battle of Canary Wharf just a memory, even in the streets where Torchwood employees had once lived. Ianto picked up the fireproof box that housed the book and dropped it into his rucksack. He'd have some time to work on it, and another strange story to tell, and he definitely couldn't leave it behind where Jack might run across it...
It all caught up with him at once.
Their own medicine--UNIT not answering their phones--he didn't want Jack to read the book--he needed to see a...
And Jack wasn't the only person Ianto knew who knew him, or who might have seen him recently.
So definitely London, then, and definitely not saying a word to Jack about where he was going or who he'd be seeing there.
Ianto spent most of his time on the train writing. He took a break of an hour or so to check into a really unnecessarily nice hotel under a false name, about three blocks from what UNIT had on record as the home address of Doctor Martha Jones. He took a long hot shower, and ordered a meal from room service, and then he was right back to working on the book until his traveling alarm clock informed him that it was time for his next dose of antibiotics.
He got some sleep after that--in a very clean, very empty bed, so that he kept waking up and wondering where Jack had gone and why it was so quiet. The third time he had that thought, Ianto concluded that he'd been sleeping over at the Hub far more often than he ought. The fourth time, he wondered whether Jack was even bothering to pretend to sleep, in his absence. The fifth time, he gave it up for a bad job, and got back to his writing.
It was London stories, mostly, at this point--a few about the work he'd done with Torchwood here, and more of them about the years before Torchwood found him, when he'd been knocking about on his own. He'd hesitated to include those stories before, though he wasn't sure whether he was glossing over them for the sake of impressionable youth or the idea of what Jack would think of his nineteen-year-old self's fumbling.
Now, though... if this worked, there would definitely be no danger of Jack seeing the book until Ianto was nothing but a fond memory, and even odds that the child wouldn't see it either until he was old enough to sort through such tales. If any child of Jack's would ever be too young for stories of parental misadventure, that was.
There were only a few blank pages left when a decent hour of the morning rolled around, and Ianto phoned Martha and hesitantly identified himself.
"Ianto!" Her voice neatly split the difference between lovely to hear from you and whatever's wrong, you probably can't tell me on the phone. "It's been ages, how've you been?"
"Very well, thank you," Ianto automatically replied, reflecting even as he did that that was really quite a bit further than usual from accurate just now. "I'm on holiday, actually, in town, so I thought I'd ring and say hello."
"And so you have," Martha agreed. "But, tell you what, let's do one better and have a cup of tea, shall we? I don't have anything pressing at work this morning--why don't you come round my flat, we can get all caught up."
"Oh, that would be lovely," Ianto said, and tactfully did not recite her address along with her when she gave it to him.
Half an hour later, Ianto stood on Martha's doorstep. He'd dressed in jeans and a button-down shirt, because he was on holiday, and this was a completely unofficial visit. Apart from the usual items, his messenger bag held the book and his antibiotics, just in case he wasn't back in his hotel room within a couple of hours, when his next dose was due. Martha opened the door nearly before he'd touched the bell, and whisked him inside only a little faster than courtesy could explain.
She actually did offer him tea, and Ianto could see her sizing up the scale of the crisis as she fixed each of them a cup. By the time they were both sitting down in the lounge, he thought she had it. Her tone was all wry sympathy, no concern for the wellbeing of the planet, as she said, "So, are you going to tell me, or should we play charades?"
Ianto glanced irresistibly toward his bag, on the floor beside his chair, and said, "I want to ask you for a favor, actually. I'm not sure whether it's impossible or trivial or just wildly presumptuous..."
Martha nodded, and then glanced down at her own cup of tea. "Would this have anything to do with the favor Owen was going to ask me for on your behalf, and then called back to say he didn't need after all, a couple of months ago?"
Ianto hadn't even thought of that--but Owen had said he'd get in touch with Martha, ask her when she could do a spot of surgery, and he'd been as good as his word, apparently.
"Tangentially," Ianto said. "And this time it's actually on Jack's behalf, or--on behalf of Jack's future offspring."
Martha's gaze flicked down over him so quickly that he wouldn't have seen it if he weren't watching for it. "Jack's--Jack's future offspring?"
Ianto had to look away, struggling to keep his voice even. "Jack's and--and mine. But it won't be born for a long time, and--the thing is--I know that you know the Doctor."
Ianto looked up sharply at that, but Martha was sitting back, studying him thoughtfully.
"Jack doesn't know you know, does he? Or you'd just have asked Jack."
Ianto shrugged. "If he's thought it through, he doesn't let on. I worked for Torchwood London, I was a researcher, and the Doctor was our foremost topic of research. We had the video, the one from the DVDs, the one recorded in 1969. You said you'd had to get a job in a shop to support him."
Martha covered her mouth with one hand, but the sharp little laugh still escaped. "That! Oh, I'd forgotten that--did you know when we met, then?"
Ianto shook his head. "We never identified you from the video. The name Martha wasn't terribly much to go on, and we'd no idea when you had come from. I didn't recognize you right away when I met you, just thought that you seemed a bit familiar. It didn't click until later--something Jack said about the Doctor. He says things, because he thinks we don't know."
Martha lowered her hand, shaking her head but still smiling. "And so did I. And now--Jack's going to have a baby? That's what the favor is about? Your baby?"
Ianto nodded hesitantly, not quite ready to untangle the transitive verbs involved. "Someday. I don't know when, but--"
Martha waved one hand dismissively and stood. "Just hang on one sec, I need to--"
There was a sound--the sound. Ianto was on his feet at once, though he didn't know whether he wanted to step in front of Martha or behind her. She caught his shoulder, and he held his ground at her side. The sound went on and on, louder and infinitely more immediate than the recordings he'd heard, and before him the blue box shimmered into being in the middle of Martha's flat.
As soon as the box had become fully present, the door opened, and the brown-haired man in the suit (taller than Ianto expected, even though Ianto had seen the CCTV footage of him standing with Yvonne the Terrible), the Doctor, bounded out with a smile on his face.
"Martha! Did you miss--"
"You," Martha said sternly, dropping her hand from Ianto's shoulder to point at the Doctor, nearly jabbing him in the eye, "are early. Not a word."
The Doctor looked baffled, but shut his mouth obediently.
Martha turned ostentatiously toward Ianto. "As I was saying, hang on one sec, I need to make a phone call."
Ianto glanced cautiously toward the Doctor, who looked enlightened and then eyed Ianto with cheerfully open speculation as Martha walked a little way away and dialed her phone.
"This is Martha, of course," she said, and as Ianto watched, the Doctor mouthed the words along with her. "And I've got your voicemail, which means you're either busy or screening my calls. Check the time stamp when you get this--it's not an emergency, just some news about a mutual friend. Take your time, honestly, there's no rush."
Martha rang off, and the Doctor said, "You over-sold it there at the end; it was that no rush business that got me a bit worried."
"So worried you couldn't wait another ninety seconds and avoid interfering with causality?"
The Doctor looked, possibly, slightly sheepish. "That's never happened before, I swear--"
"Yeah," Martha said, with a roll of her eyes. "I'll bet you say that to all the--"
"Anyway!" The Doctor interrupted brightly. "Let's not argue in front of company, Martha, aren't you going to introduce me? Is this your young man? Tom, is it? Getting around to meeting the family at last?"
"Tom has met my family, actually," Martha said, and the Doctor's smile dimmed by some tiny fraction--that dart had hit harder than it had been thrown. "But he could happily meet more of it, if you were interested," Martha added, much more gently. "Anyway, this isn't my young man--this is Jack's. Doctor, meet Ianto Jones. Ianto--"
"Yes," Ianto said, forcing himself to keep calm as the Doctor's focus on him palpably increased. "I'd worked that out, thanks."
"Ianto," the Doctor said, and a smile bloomed slowly across his face. "Jack's Ianto--of course, I should have known--the way he talks you'd think you never saw the sun without a three-piece suit on and a stopwatch in hand, but I suppose you must get the odd bank holiday, hm?"
"He's... a bit fixated on the suits," Ianto said slowly. He was suddenly blindingly conscious of where that might come from.
"Yes, so I gathered," the Doctor said. "Mind, I never heard any of this straight from him--I didn't really get to talk to him directly--but Tish--"
"That's my sister," Martha supplied, which explained precisely nothing.
"Tish repeated it all faithfully. She had quite a way with Jack's distinctive turns of phrase by the end--"
"Oh, God, that explains some things about her dating habits lately," Martha said, sounding somewhere between amused and horrified.
Ianto wasn't sure what his own expression conveyed, but it apparently moved the Doctor to attempt to reassure him. "What I mean is--I've heard loads about you, but I'm sure practically all of it was lies, or at least exaggerations. Captain Jack's Story Hour tended heavily toward the sensational--I mean, I'm sure that the first time you met him, you didn't actually run up behind a Weevil that had attacked him and bash it over the head with a tree branch...?"
Ianto gradually realized that both the Doctor and Martha were waiting for him to say something.
"Well," he managed. "I hadn't thought to bring a weapon to the park, and there was nothing else handy."
"Ha!" The Doctor looked delighted. "An improviser! But--I mean, the part about the pterodactyl--" "We do have one--"
"Well of course, Jack can't resist a stray--but the chocolate, that was obviously comic relief, God knows we needed comic relief--"
"It's not actually terribly funny when she's worked out that you're the one who brings the chocolate and that you haven't got any."
The Doctor nodded, and then looked suddenly quite serious. "But the important question, Ianto, is this. Did he ever take you on a proper date?"
Ianto dared a sideways glance at Martha, who was beaming at him. the Doctor added quickly, "I mean--Tish got very caught up in that whole storyline, so naturally I heard a lot about it, and one can't help wondering."
"Yes," Ianto said slowly, choosing not to contemplate why his and Jack's relationship--such as it was or had ever been--had constituted a storyline in Captain Jack's Story Hour. "The third day after he got back, actually. But he did ask as soon as he could."
"And it's been a good bit more than a date," Martha supplied. "But you must know that, because I'd been to see them when I saw you last--"
The Doctor rounded on Martha instantly. "You never said a thing! Another way I knew it wasn't you, not a bit of news--"
"But after that," Martha insisted. "I'm sure I must have--"
"If you did, tell me what Donna said when you told us about it. After you'd got through explaining to her who Jack is." The Doctor's tone was triumphant.
Martha frowned. "Yes, where is--" and then she broke off, hesitant and confused.
The Doctor, though, looked merely a bit embarrassed, so Martha's faux pas couldn't have been too great. "She, ah--after our last--she said if she didn't get a bit of 'me time' someplace warm, on Earth, this year, without me around--because she insists something always goes pear-shaped when I'm there, which is obviously not true--"
Martha raised her eyebrows, and Ianto could feel himself making the same face, even on the basis of his considerably less intimate knowledge.
The Doctor looked back and forth between them with a very faint air of a man who knows he's outnumbered. "So what was this news about our mutual friend, then? Not that it isn't lovely to meet you on general principle of course," the Doctor added, "but I'd have thought Jack would be doing the introducing if--he hasn't got himself into trouble, has he?"
That was what they used to call it, wasn't it? Getting a girl in trouble?
"Not... himself," Ianto managed. "Me."
The Doctor raised his eyebrows, looking startled in a way that Martha didn't, quite, so Ianto suspected he'd parsed that correctly. The Doctor sat down, waving Martha and Ianto back into their seats, and leaned forward, elbows on his knees.
"Why don't you tell me about that," he said. It wasn't a question, and the Doctor's attention on Ianto was like a physical force. His knees bent and his mouth opened.
"A couple of years ago I was hurt badly," he began, because he might as well go in order. "Jack saved me. Apparently these things called nanogenes--"
The Doctor got a very odd look on his face, and his gaze swept over Ianto searchingly. "You're all right now, though?"
Ianto frowned. "Well, yes, mostly. That's what nanogenes do, they heal you--repair you, was how Jack put it. Only he said they got it a bit wrong when they repaired me, because they used him as a template, so I have some internal organs I didn't before."
The Doctor sat back, and Ianto managed to tear his eyes away to look at Martha. She was studying him with almost exactly the same frown of concentration.
Ianto looked back at the Doctor, forcing himself to keep his chin up. "Where Jack comes from, everyone is capable of getting pregnant."
The Doctor looked him over again, his frown easing. His voice was gentle as he said, "You can't be very far along?"
It was a question this time. Ianto looked to Martha again, but he could see her putting it together, just a beat behind the Doctor--the favor, asked for and then declined...
"I'm not at all, anymore," Ianto said carefully.
They seemed to see each other as family, the Doctor and Martha and Jack. Ianto might be a fondly regarded in-law thus far, but that could change in a heartbeat. So far, they were both just staring at him, waiting for further explanation.
Ianto gave in and looked down at his hands, preparing to gloss as fast as he could over the part where he hadn't wanted to have their darling Jack's child. "I couldn't. Torchwood employees can't have children--even if there weren't regulations, we don't live long enough to father anything but orphans. But Jack found this device--it took the--the child, it will hold it in stasis--"
"Oh, a Samyek Tau Twenty-Seven, that must be. So big?" The Doctor sounded relieved, shaping a rectangle in the air with his hands as he spoke.
Ianto nodded. "Jack didn't know what it was called, or who made it."
"The Samyek," the Doctor repeated, for all that told Ianto. "Excellent biomechanical engineers, miserable namers."
Ianto nodded again, and elected after a half-second's thought not to try to explain that they'd come up with a better one. "So Jack and I agreed, he'll have the child, later. He's got plenty of time."
He thought both of them had heard the parts he left out, the choice he'd made, the choice he'd fought Jack for. They were both studying him, unsmiling and intent. Ianto didn't dare look down again.
Finally, the Doctor turned and looked at Martha.
"I see why you called me," he said. "You know what this means?"
Martha nodded, her mouth a tight line. Ianto restrained the urge to run. They weren't looking at him, he shouldn't draw their attention by moving.
"It means," Martha said slowly, holding the Doctor's gaze, "that at some point in the future, Captain Jack Harkness--"
"Our Jack," the Doctor said, and but for a cracked octave of pitch he could have been any of the mums or grans in the street where Ianto had grown up, speaking possessively of a favorite lad they'd known since he was in nappies.
Martha grinned suddenly, looking to Ianto and then back to the Doctor. "Our Jack is going to have a baby, tell me you don't want to see that! Jack! And a baby!"
The Doctor was grinning too, enormously, looking delighted as a child. "Oh, it's going to be well worth the price of admission. Jack with a baby, I never thought I'd see the day. You can come now, can't you?"
Martha was already on her feet, and so was the Doctor. Ianto stood automatically, because Martha had, watching them both without comprehension.
"Only I have to be back in a few hours to get to work, so no side trips, I mean it this time," Martha was saying excitedly. "Should I bring a camera, do you think? Mum and Tish would want snaps--Ianto, do you--"
Ianto turned automatically toward the sound of his name. Martha was already standing in the open doorway of the TARDIS, that golden light the nearest witnesses had described visible behind her. She was looking at him expectantly, her smile fading a little as he watched.
He turned and looked at the Doctor; it was somehow easier to address him than to say this to Martha, whom he'd seen hugging Jack, who had gossiped with him at work.
"I'm sorry, sir. I didn't intend this. I only wanted Martha to ask you, for me, to take a message to them at your convenience. Nothing more."
They were time travelers, like Jack; rushing to the end, just like Jack, because they couldn't bear the suspense. Because they didn't have to. Ianto just wasn't sure what to do about being in the same room with them as it happened.
The Doctor looked solemn again, holding his gaze steadily. Without looking away from Ianto, he said, "Martha, why don't you go on in. I'll be right behind you."
Ianto was faintly conscious of Martha looking back and forth between them, then disappearing through the door. Leaving him with the Doctor, who took a step forward, closing the distance between them to something almost intimate. His voice was barely above a whisper when he spoke again.
"It's your child, too, Ianto. Of course you're invited."
Ianto licked his lips, and tried to think how to say no to this man.
"There are good reasons why you might turn me down," the Doctor continued, as if he could read every one of Ianto's scattered thoughts.
"For starters, as soon as you go forward and see, that future timeline becomes a part of your own. It becomes fixed. You can walk out of here now, go home to Cardiff, go to Jack and tell him you've changed your mind, you want to raise that baby now and to hell with the rules. I guarantee you Jack's not going to put up much of a fight."
This was both so entirely true and so entirely false that Ianto couldn't have begun to argue with it, even if the Doctor had given him a moment to get a word in edgewise.
"But once you see it, you don't have a choice anymore. Your future won't be yours to control."
This time the Doctor did pause, and Ianto shrugged. "It never has been."
The Doctor's lips twisted. "It always is and will be, actually. But the consequences get much more dire once you start traveling with me."
The Doctor tilted his head, studying Ianto thoughtfully. "But maybe it's that you don't want to meet your child only to have to lose him--because this is a one-time very short visit, Ianto. It has to be, to avoid making a very big mess of all our lives, to say nothing of the fabric of the universe. So perhaps you don't want that kind of pain in your life, meeting your own child just to walk away from him again.
"And if that's what's stopping you, I have to tell you, you're every bit as bright as Jack ever said you were, because nothing hurts like that. Nothing hurts like losing a child."
The Doctor's eyes were dark, and Ianto had the feeling that he spoke from a certain empirical authority. He'd hurt in plenty of ways, to make that statement with such bleak confidence, including the one in question.
"But it's worth it, Ianto, I swear to you it's worth it--even a child you didn't expect, and didn't want, even if you tried to insist it wasn't actually a person, let alone your responsibility--"
Ianto had to look away, though clearly that wouldn't stop the Doctor knowing every bloody thing about him.
"Ianto," the Doctor said. "Even then, even if you only get a little bit of time--it's worth the pain to know them, I promise you that."
Ianto didn't look up, and flinched a little when the Doctor spoke again, his voice in Ianto's ear and his hand on Ianto's shoulder.
"But if you're standing here hesitating because you think you don't deserve the chance to meet your own child, then I am about thirty seconds away from grabbing you by the scruff of the neck and throwing you into the TARDIS, is that understood?"
Ianto jerked back and met the Doctor's eyes; there was a smile there, suddenly, though still nothing like the gleeful look he'd shared with Martha.
He squeezed Ianto's shoulder and smiled a little wider. "I mean that. Even if Jack had never told me a word about you, you'd have earned this just by being clever enough to work out who to ask and how, and brave enough to actually do it."
Ianto thought of protesting that he really hadn't known what he was asking--he hadn't known Martha had the Doctor on speed-dial--but he had a feeling that would be the last thing he said before being flung bodily into the infamous blue box.
There was only one thing he could say now, really. He straightened up to his full height, tipped his chin up and looked the Doctor in the eye.
The Doctor's smile brightened considerably, and he patted Ianto's shoulder briskly and stepped back. "You're quite welcome. Do come in."
Ianto squared his shoulders and stepped through the open door.
The interior of the TARDIS was a large, circular room, with a lighted central pillar surrounded by a baffling array of controls. The walkways were grating, the railings bare metal--oddly like the Hub, and again he wondered if this was where Jack's aesthetic had its source. Ianto looked back, to see the Doctor hovering just outside the door. He was still standing in the lounge of Martha's flat, which would have fit quite neatly inside this cavernous room. He was beaming.
Ianto looked back into the ship, noting the corridors branching off in different directions, and the fact that Martha was nowhere in sight. He looked back at the Doctor.
"Go on," the Doctor coaxed. "Say it. You have to say it, it's a tradition."
Ianto looked around again. It had to be something about size, but he'd been spending altogether too much time with Jack for the past two years, and the array of possible rude jokes was overwhelming.
"It's bigger on the inside," Martha said, returning from down one of the corridors.
Ianto suppressed a mental that's what he said and turned to the Doctor. "So it is."
"All right, close enough," the Doctor said, looking only mildly put out at this apparent abridgement of custom, and came in, shutting the door behind him. "Now, to find Jack and the little one. Let's see..."
The Doctor brushed past Ianto, going to the center console. He put on a pair of glasses and began to poke and prod at the various levers and dials, occasionally peering into the one recognizable video screen before going back to work on the controls. Martha wandered up to stand at his shoulder, and Ianto crept closer as well, though he gave in to the impulse to stand beside Martha, keeping her between himself and the Doctor.
"How are we going to find him?" Martha inquired. "Ianto, do you have any idea...?"
"Probably sometime in the next six hundred years," Ianto said, and then added, with a sinking feeling, "but I suppose they could be anywhere. Or when, if Jack gets hold of transport..."
The Doctor hummed a few notes and said, "Come on, don't be that way," in a tone of mild annoyance, apparently to the video screen.
Ianto glanced at Martha, who widened her eyes and shrugged. Nothing to do but wait, apparently.
The Doctor looked up a moment later. "Tell me, Ianto, how would you go about finding them?"
Ianto considered the question seriously. It was a research problem, of sorts. "Go further forward," Ianto said. "A thousand years, maybe--to somewhere with good information sources, if you know one. Then search backward for Jack and any sign of a child."
"Oh!" Martha said. "Birth records, of course--maybe even grandchildren! Except--do you think he'll still be called Jack Harkness? He might, you know..."
Martha waved a hand, but the Doctor didn't look up to see whatever she was implying, and Ianto decided not to ask.
"It's Jack, though," Ianto pointed out, the research project becoming increasingly interesting in his mind's eye even as he worked at not contemplating grandchildren. Ianto was starting to see why time travelers weren't meant to have children. "He's bound to turn up in the news somewhere, and then we'd know what name he was using."
"Huh!" The Doctor looked away again, fiddling with a dial. "That would probably work, eventually. Mind you, might have to look at a lot of microfilm."
"There's microfilm a thousand years from now?" Ianto didn't realize he'd intended to ask the question until he'd said it; he certainly hadn't intended to sound that plaintive about it.
The Doctor glanced up and grinned, looking from Ianto to Martha. "There is. Handy stuff, microfilm, only needs a light source and a magnifier, lasts ages once you've got the right materials to start with." The Doctor flipped a couple of switches decisively, and turned to lean against the console, folding his arms. "But I haven't got the patience, so I'm just going to ask the TARDIS to find Jack and the baby, if it's all the same to you two."
Martha smiled. "And how would you and the TARDIS find them, Doctor?"
"Oh, well." The Doctor wrinkled his nose and adjusted his glasses minutely. "The TARDIS always knows where Jack is. She hates him too much not to." Martha looked enlightened; Ianto glanced around the ship uneasily.
"Well," the Doctor added. "I say hates--more like she's allergic to him, really, or--look at it this way." The Doctor's tone called to mind Ianto's strictest and cleverest teachers; he fixed all his attention on the Doctor, who was shaping a sphere in the air with his hands. "Time isn't linear, like you think, right. It's a ball of--"
"Wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff," Ianto recited, and then snapped his mouth shut. This wasn't fag break at the London office, and not time to trade lines from The Doctor's Greatest Hits back and forth.
The Doctor was staring at him.
"I've seen the video," Ianto explained. Altogether too many times, in fact, and it hadn't even been his project for more than three weeks, three years ago--but everyone watched the video, of course.
"The one we made for Sally Sparrow," Martha added. "When we were stuck in 1969."
People had speculated about the recipient; Ianto had never found that line of enquiry especially compelling, but suddenly she had a name. "Is she all right, do you know?"
"Yes," the Doctor said. "All sorted, getting safely on with her life. She has been since before she needed the video, in fact."
Ianto recognized shut up and let me be brilliant when he heard it, and shut up accordingly.
"As I was going to say," the Doctor went on. "Time is like a very messy ball of string. An individual life is just the tiniest fiber making up a part of a thread which has been twisted into the cord, and all an ordinary person ever sees is just the inside of that fiber. That's why time seems linear. Also why you don't really see time; it's dark in there."
Ianto smiled obediently, and saw Martha doing the same, though her sideways look at him held a bit of honest humor.
The Doctor was giving them both a slightly stern look when Ianto returned his attention to him.
"The TARDIS is like a sewing needle, moving in and out through the ball of string, taking my life-thread with it--and yours, now, both of you. When there were enough of us around, we used to keep everything stitched together. But Jack, being what he is, forever, inflexibly--Jack is a..."
The Doctor made a sudden, violent stabbing motion with his right hand.
"Knitting needle?" Martha suggested, and Ianto knew instantly that she'd spent at least as much time and attention learning to parse the Doctor as he'd spent learning Jack.
The Doctor snapped his fingers, pointing at Martha. "Knitting needle. A steel knitting needle, stabbed right through all of time, unbending--made of the same stuff as the TARDIS, with the same magnetic charge. So she's repelled by him, but she's always aware of him, just like a compass needle--that's how you used to make compasses, you know, a sewing needle in a bit of water, or was it oil? Maybe oil--but anyway, she knows exactly where he is, and she can take us to him. We just need to..."
The Doctor looked down at the console, frowned, and flipped another switch.
Ianto couldn't believe he was actually about to say it, but also felt that he could not possibly miss the opportunity when it was handed to him. "Reverse the polarity?"
The Doctor slapped the edge of the console. "Reverse the polarity, exactly!"
Something beeped insistently, and the Doctor grabbed a hammer from somewhere and struck it repeatedly, until it went silent. Ianto edged backward, though Martha didn't actually seem alarmed, and that had to be a good sign.
"Anyway, the baby will help," the Doctor added absently. "Everything goes a bit wibbly-wobbly around babies. Even Jack. Ah!"
A green light in the central column of the ship began to move up and down as the noise returned. It sounded bigger on the inside.
"I'm not sure where we're headed, exactly," the Doctor said, frowning at the video screen again. "This may take--"
The sound stopped.
"...Some time," the Doctor finished, tapping his fingers against the side of the video screen. A smile spread slowly across his face at whatever it was he saw there.
"Why, Jack," he breathed. "I'd no idea you were such a traditionalist."
Ianto looked around the ship. They were here--somewhere, somewhen--and outside was Jack. And their child, their son.
"Where are we?" Martha's voice sounded far away, and Ianto recognized symptoms of shock--had he waited an hour after eating before traveling in time? He took a couple of steps back, ran into a seat and perched on the edge of it, putting his head down and trying to breathe normally.
"We are in the early twenty-third century," the Doctor announced, with great ceremony. "On Earth. In Wales. We are, in fact, about eight miles from the site of Cardiff's Millennium Centre. You have to understand, the twenty-third century--humans are busy establishing what will eventually be known as the First Great and Bountiful Human Empire, but they're doing it out there. Earth during this time is a bit of a backwater, all Imperial glory extremely faded. I don't know if I've ever even been here, and I seriously doubt a Time Agent ever bothered. It's exactly the sort of place people are talking about when they say, 'Well, it's a nice place to raise children.' And Jack is!"
"Shall we go find them, then? Ianto--"
Martha's hand touched his shoulder, and Ianto looked up and nodded, blinking rapidly, even as his grip on the edge of the seat tightened. "Yes, of course, let me just--"
The door banged open. Ianto couldn't actually see it from where he was--the console was in the way, and he couldn't seem to sit up straight. But nothing prevented him hearing the voice that came through, the perfectly familiar voice.
"Doctor! Great to see you! But I hope this is a social call and not an emergency, because I've kind of got my hands full with--"
Footsteps sounded on the grating, light and rapid, following the same path Ianto himself had followed and stopping somewhere on the other side of the console.
Slower, heavier footsteps followed.
"With this guy," Jack said, and Ianto slid down to sit on the floor even as Jack stepped closer, close enough that Ianto could see his face above the console, and the face of the boy he had lifted into his arms. The Doctor stepped around the console, moving nearer to them and keeping their attention away from Ianto. Martha crouched at his side; he could feel her, though he couldn't take his eyes away from Jack and the boy.
The child--his son, their son--had his arm slung easily around Jack's neck. His eyes were pale blue and open wide as he looked around the TARDIS. His hair was dark, curly as Ianto's got when it was allowed to grow out to that length (but not as mortifyingly out of control as Ianto's had been, at that age). Ianto thought his son's nose hinted at an up-turn inherited from generations of Joneses, but his dawning smile was the miniature mirror of Jack's. Tall as he was, he had a mouthful of baby teeth--he couldn't be more than four or five.
"Doctor," Jack said, "allow me to introduce my son, Ianto Jones Junior. Indiana, this is the Doctor--he's a very old friend of mine, I've told you about him."
"Well, hello there, Ianto Jones Junior," the Doctor said, sounding perfectly delighted. He offered his hand, and the boy--Ianto Jones, Junior--shook it solemnly. "Has anyone ever told you you look just like your dad?"
Jack smiled again, and seemed to squeeze the boy closer for a moment. "He doesn't, really. He looks just like Ianto."
"I know," the Doctor said airily, and turned back toward them. "Martha, don't you think he looks just like--"
Ianto's gaze never left Jack; he watched Jack step closer as the Doctor turned, his attention following the Doctor's gaze. His jaw dropped, his eyes went wide, and Ianto thought, I've been dead two hundred years, and that is what Jack looks like when he sees a ghost.
"Da-ad," the boy protested instantly, and the flat vowel was all Jack's, though the embarrassment was universal.
Jack shut his eyes, clutched the boy tighter for a moment, and pressed a kiss to his hair. "Sorry, sorry, sweetheart. Not you."
Jack bent, and Ianto let his own eyes slide shut, listening to the sound of small feet striking the grating. "Indy, why don't you tell the Doctor what's important about today, all right? I have to go talk to someone for a few minutes."
"Oh, have we come on an important day?" The Doctor dropped into a crouch--the child was too small to see over the console, so the Doctor would be eye-level with him now.
"My birthday," the boy said, and now Ianto could hear Wales in his voice. "Today is my birthday--I'm five today. Are you going to stay for my party? It isn't for hours."
"Well, I think that depends on your dad. What sort of party have you got planned?"
A hand settled onto Ianto's shoulder, and the touch was so familiar he shivered--Jack. Ianto looked up to find Jack staring over his head, eyes locked with Martha's in silent communication. After a few seconds, Martha nodded, turning away to join the Doctor.
"Oh, hallo, Martha! This is my friend, Martha, she's a friend of your dad's as well. Martha, this is Ianto Jones, Junior."
Jack touched a finger to his own lips, and jerked his chin in the opposite direction. Ianto nodded, got his feet under him, and followed. Jack pushed the door open and slipped through, and Ianto stepped after him into sunshine and warm air.
They were standing in a garden. Ianto caught a brief, dizzy glimpse--a house, green grass, trees and ivy and a few toys scattered about--and then Jack was pressing him up against the side of the blue box, kissing him like his life depended on it, like both their lives depended on it. Like Ianto had been dead and dust for two hundred years and Jack was determined to bring him back, good as new.
It was all familiar, all but the particular pitch of desperation in Jack's touch--it was Jack, still, always, and Ianto couldn't help but respond to him. Ianto had one hand clenched in Jack's shirt, the other in Jack's hair, when Jack finally broke off the kiss, though he kept himself pressed bodily against Ianto, his forehead leaning against Ianto's. They were breathing each other's breath, fast and ragged, Jack's hands flattened on Ianto's chest.
Then Jack pulled back a little further, running his hands over Ianto's body--over his chest, his shoulders, down his arms, then up to stroke over his throat, cupping his face--dipping in for another quick kiss--and running over his hair. At first Ianto thought he was just looking, just taking him in, but when Jack's fingers tugged gently at his hair, Ianto realized Jack was looking for something.
What was I wearing the day I died, Jack? How long had I gone without a haircut?
"Where did you come from?" Jack whispered. "When, I mean. Where are you on your timeline?"
Ianto cleared his throat--he hadn't yet said a single word to Jack, he realized abruptly--and Jack's eyes met his, riveted.
"After the gas," Ianto said. "The gas from the ATMOS systems, the fire in the sky. You made me take a couple of days' holiday, and I didn't tell you where I was going."
"The Sontarans," Jack said softly. "And you--"
Jack looked past Ianto, at the blue box. "You went to London and talked to Martha, and she spoke to the Doctor. Which tells me just about where he is--did either of them mention a woman named Donna?"
"Both," Ianto said. "Martha's met her, since she came to Torchwood." Jack squinted, obviously struggling to remember--it had been two hundred years for him, not just months, not yesterday like it was for Ianto. "That was the Reset--when Owen was shot. When he died, and you brought him back."
"Owen," Jack said. "God, Owen, I haven't thought of him in years. Owen and Tosh, right, and--there was Suzie, but that was before Gwen--and you. My team."
Ianto nodded, helpless to speak. Jack smiled a little, kissed him again like he couldn't resist.
"But Donna's not with you?"
Ianto shook his head. "The Doctor dropped her off. He said she wanted a holiday on Earth."
"Ah," Jack said. "That narrows it down, then."
He looked back at Ianto, frowning, even as he stroked the backs of his fingers across Ianto's cheek. "I remember that, when you went away and didn't tell me where--I remember I made you leave, because I felt like such an idiot for doing it, afterward, but I don't remember why. Do you have any idea what I was thinking?"
Ianto swallowed and nodded, swallowed again--but no, there was that stupid tickle in his throat, his chest going tight. Christ, his bag was still on the floor at Martha's flat, with his antibiotics in it. How was he supposed to count time, when he was traveling in it? He turned away and coughed, and once he started he couldn't stop.
Jack's hands fell away, and Ianto winced and bent double, covering his mouth and feeling like an idiot himself, but he couldn't catch his breath, couldn't stop--
Then there was an arm around him, and Jack murmuring, "Okay, okay, I've got you, here, take a sip of this."
Ianto hauled in a breath and held it long enough to drink--it was cold, sharp and sour-sweet. Fruit juice of some kind, burning and soothing down his throat.
"What is that?" he asked when he'd caught his breath.
Jack sniffed what was left in the glass and wrinkled his nose. "Mango-pomegranate-snozzberry, I think. Indy's always wanting the newest, weirdest kind they've got. We were just eating breakfast when you showed up."
Ianto nodded, glancing toward the house again--there was a little table by the back door with two chairs, two places set. No stepmother for Junior, then.
The door to the TARDIS swung open, and the Doctor emerged along with a pair of feet--he had Ianto Junior slung over his shoulder backwards. "Ahhh, that's better. Fresh air."
The boy giggled and kicked his feet, saying something muffled into the Doctor's back. He was wearing boots with a sort of one-piece jumpsuit, bright orange with blue rings round the knees. Ianto stole a glance at Jack's clothes, but they were slightly more ordinary-looking, though a sharp change in Jack's style from what Ianto remembered--closely-fitting trousers of a rusty red-brown, and a soft blue jumper. Still those same brown boots, though; possibly the same pair. Ianto wondered if the venerable greatcoat was still around somewhere.
Jack stepped forward and grabbed his son by the hips, taking him into his own arms and tipping him upright. The boy was flushed pink with excitement or blood-rush, and beamed dizzily and indiscriminately at his father and the Doctor. "The Doctor says he wants to stay for my party, can he? We could get more cake so there's enough for him and Martha."
Martha, peering around the Doctor at Ianto, grinned and shrugged, and Ianto smiled helplessly back.
"There will be plenty of cake for everyone," Jack said firmly. "There's enough cake for the entire village to come to your party. But first you need to go get dressed--"
Oh, they were pyjamas.
"--and get ready for school."
"But we have guests." Ianto Junior's accent got sharply--almost comically--more like Jack's when he was trying to bargain.
"I think I can manage our guests." Jack set the boy on his feet. "Go on, go get dressed, and if you're quick enough you can visit some more before it's time to go."
"Hygiene. Clothes. Knapsack. Now, Indiana." Jack turned the boy bodily toward the house--away from Ianto. Jack still hadn't acknowledged Ianto's presence in front of him, let alone introduced them. Facing away from everyone, the boy heaved a melodramatic sigh, throwing his arms up in defeat, and then ran off toward the house.
Ianto watched Jack watching him go. When the door was safely closed behind him, Jack turned back to face the Doctor. He wasn't smiling anymore, and he looked older, and braced for a fight. Ianto took an involuntary half-step backward, wondering just how unwelcome the interruption of breakfast had been.
"Ianto's going to stay for a while," Jack announced calmly. "You can come back and pick him up and return him to his own timeline later."
The Doctor--looking as grim as Jack--flicked a brief glance at Ianto. He assumed that his face conveyed that he had had no idea this was going to happen, because the Doctor wasted no more than a second's attention on him. "Jack, you can't."
"You can," Jack said firmly. "You brought him here, all I'm asking you to do is not take him away. Not yet. I can't tell Indy that his father has stopped by to say hello on his birthday and then go back to being dead two hundred years ago. I'm not going to do that to him, and you are not going to force me to."
"I thought he'd be younger," Ianto heard himself say, catching Jack's attention for the first time. Ianto smiled apologetically. "We thought he'd still be a baby, and then we wouldn't have to explain anything."
"Well, he's mostly over the why why why phase, at least," Jack said softly, smiling. "Count yourself lucky."
The Doctor sighed. "Letting Ianto stay long enough for him to get attached isn't going to help, Jack."
Jack snapped instantly back into belligerence. "Ianto's his father, Doctor. He's already attached."
The Doctor spared another glance at Ianto, and Ianto realized that Ianto Junior wasn't the only him the Doctor might have been talking about. He realized, also, that Jack's statement held true either way; if he went back right now, he would feel the lack for the rest of his life. But it would get worse, the longer he stayed, the more he got to know this child--and this was why Jack hadn't introduced them, of course. Because it would get so much worse for both of them the instant the boy knew who the third stranger in his garden was.
"It isn't going to hurt the timeline, Doctor," Jack said. "He went away on holiday, I remember that--because he was ill, and I thought he should get some rest."
The Doctor gave Ianto another look, a bit dubious this time.
"Post-gas bronchitis," Ianto said with a shrug. "The... Sontarans, was it, Jack?"
The Doctor winced.
"It's epidemic in urban areas," Martha piped up. "Not normally too serious in healthy adults, though there are shortages of antibiotics in some cities."
"The point is," Jack said firmly. "He went away because he was ill, and I remember that he came back looking like he'd got no rest at all, and he never told me where he went or what he did while he was gone. I thought he looked tired, but he didn't. He looked older--just a little bit. Just one year, Doctor. Give him one year."
"Give him a year and then send him back where no one else knows it happened, hm?" The Doctor gave Jack a hard look, and Martha's lips pressed flat, but Jack just smiled.
"I don't think it'll give him too many nightmares he can't talk about."
"One year, Doctor--can you spot a single year on a human's face, anymore? Most people can't. I doubt I can. Ianto's so young, just give him one year, one more year."
One more year alive, Ianto realized. He'd been dead to this Jack for so long. So young.
"How long did I have?"
Jack and the Doctor both turned to look at him this time. Ianto tried to keep his voice steady, clinical. It was practically a statistical question, and he almost certainly wouldn't get a straight answer anyway.
"After I went away to London and came back looking tired. How long?"
The stern confidence went out of Jack's face, and he gripped Ianto's shoulder firmly. "Not so little that I can tell you how long, exactly. Not hours or days, nothing like that."
Jack turned to look at the Doctor, keeping hold of Ianto. "But not enough. Not nearly enough for it to make a difference, in the scheme of things. Let him stay. Let him have a year with his son."
The Doctor looked tired, too. "Jack--"
"If you could have given Jenny a year between the pull of the trigger and the impact of the bullet, wouldn't you?"
The words seemed to strike him like a blow. The Doctor didn't make a sound, but Martha gasped. Nothing hurts like that, he'd told Ianto. He was staring at Jack now like he'd never seen him before.
"It's been two hundred years for me," Jack said softly. "You'll tell me about her when you're ready, and maybe it'll help to know you already did. But Doctor, wouldn't you?"
The Doctor was shaking his head slowly. "I couldn't, Jack. I couldn't. Because I would never be able to put her back in front of the gun at the end of it."
Jack smiled sadly. "I know. You'd need someone else to come and take her away and do it for you."
The Doctor raised his eyebrows. "You're asking me to do that for you?"
Jack shrugged, squeezing Ianto's shoulder as he did. "You're my oldest friend, Doctor. And there's literally no one else I could ever ask for this kind of favor."
The Doctor gave Ianto another look.
"It's dangerous," he said slowly. "Jack, so many things could go wrong cheating time like this, with such very dire consequences."
The Doctor had said that before--the consequences get much more dire once you start traveling with me. In the same breath he'd told Ianto that the future was his to choose and always would be.
Jack was still arguing, but Ianto hardly heard it. The Doctor looked to him again; there was no particular expression on his face, but Ianto saw it, now. All of Jack's attention was on the Doctor. All Ianto had to do was tell the Doctor no, and the Doctor would refuse Jack for him, so Ianto didn't have to tell Jack that he hadn't asked for this and didn't want it. Then it wouldn't be him who walked away from Jack and their son.
"Jack," Ianto said, perhaps a little sharply. To his credit, Jack turned to look at him at once. "Jack, ask me if I want to stay."
A multitude of emotions washed rapidly over Jack's face--shock at the attack from an unexpected quarter was one, and something like horror, as well. One might optimistically suppose that it was a reaction to realizing that he hadn't asked, but Ianto had a feeling it was at least as much at the thought that Ianto might conceivably say no. Still, a small, contrite smile and a pleading look followed.
Jack dropped his grip on Ianto's shoulder, and turned both his hands palm up. The gesture was unfamiliar, but as unmistakably formal as if he'd dropped to his knees. "Ianto Jones, would you do me the honor of staying here with me, and with our son, for as much time as we are given?"
Ianto looked from Jack--not his own Jack but their son's, two hundred years beyond Ianto's death--to the Doctor, who was watching Jack with an unreadable expression, to Martha, who was giving Ianto a wry smile.
"This really wasn't what I was expecting when I woke up this morning," he said, which was quite true and no answer at all.
He'd woken up this morning missing Jack, wondering how soon he could get back to Cardiff--and here was a Jack who needed him, and a chance to get to know their child. Ianto Junior was old enough to remember it afterward--and Ianto would lose nothing by it, not really. He would go right back to his own life at the end, and find his own Jack waiting.
There were a thousand questions he could ask--what was he going to do for a year, and what would Ianto Junior think of all this, for starters--but those were just details, really.
Ianto nodded, and turned to face the Doctor standing shoulder to shoulder with Jack.
"Doctor, thank you for bringing me. I will be staying, and if you take me back into the TARDIS before the year is up, it will be by force."
"Over my dead body," Jack added, a trifle too cheerfully. "Which means you'll have a lot of explaining to do to the screaming five-year-old. I haven't managed to explain the Captain Jack Harkness Facts of Life to him yet--it's kind of the ultimate in do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do, which is going to need to wait until the age of reason, at least."
Ianto rolled his eyes. "Over both our dead bodies, if it comes to that, which I imagine would make a mess of the timeline."
The Doctor sighed. "No one's killing any--hello, Indiana!"
Ianto looked quickly around--Ianto Junior was running toward them from the house, neatly dressed in red trousers and a brown jacket, both with a crispness that screamed school uniform. He stopped short at the Doctor's greeting, with a suddenly mulish expression.
"Junior." They said it in unison, Junior at a shout, Jack rather wearily.
"My dad calls me Indiana," Junior added, closing the distance and pressing himself to Jack's unoccupied side. "Nobody else." Looking up at the Doctor and his father, he seemed to notice Ianto for the first time. Ianto felt as much as saw Jack noticing the line of his gaze.
Jack laced his fingers through Ianto's, tugging him downward as he dropped into a crouch to look Junior in the eye. "Indy," he said softly. "The Doctor has brought someone to see us. Do you know who this is?"
Junior leaned against Jack's shoulder, not quite hiding behind him as he looked across his father to Ianto. To Ianto's surprise, recognition began to dawn on the boy's face after a few seconds' scrutiny, and he straightened up, all trace of shyness lost.
With the air of being offered one of his birthday gifts early, Junior said, "You called him Ianto!"
Jack nodded, smiling back at the boy as he squeezed Ianto's hand.
"Like on the viddies," Junior added wonderingly. He touched his finger to the end of his nose and then met Ianto's eyes and addressed him directly.
"You're Ianto Jones." He reached out with that same finger, and touched it softly to Ianto's nose. He could barely feel the contact, but it sunk into him, deep as a bullet, a fishhook, an anchor. So much worse. Dire fucking consequences indeed.
"You're my dad who died."
With Ianto--with his dad who died--on the scene, Junior scarcely noticed the Doctor and Martha's departure. He accepted their promises to come back for his next birthday (five minutes for them, a crucial year for Ianto and Jack and Junior) with an absent, "Yeah, okay."
He insisted on both Jack and Ianto walking him to school, which made Jack laugh. When Junior had skipped a few steps ahead, too excited to keep pace with the sauntering adults, Jack murmured, "He hasn't let me walk him further than the garden gate since the second week. Too old for Dad to go with him to school, you know."
Ianto smiled back, even as he realized that that was such a--such a fatherly thing to say, coming out of Jack's mouth. The sensation only intensified when they encountered Junior's teacher outside the school, and Jack made introductions. Ianto was fascinated to learn that he'd been working for Torchwood on a special assignment at a rather primitive field office for the last several years, unfortunately cut off from communication (all true, he supposed, from the vantage point of the 23rd century). He had been granted a long leave to spend with Jack and their son, but would be going away again on duty eventually.
All the while, Jack was friendly, not particularly exerting himself to be charming, though Miss Abernathy was a fairly pretty woman not much older than Ianto. She was also Jack's son's primary school teacher; someone he knew in a perfectly ordinary way, like a perfectly ordinary person.
When they left the school--striking off in a different direction through the village--Ianto watched Jack's face. Knowing it was there, looking for it, he could see it: Jack was older. Different. Really not his Jack at all, when he paid attention. Junior's Jack, not Ianto's.
Jack just raised his eyebrows.
Ianto looked away. The village hardly looked like the future at all, except that it turned out Jack's trousers weren't a particularly unusual color. People nodded and waved to Jack; in the corner of his eye Jack returned the greetings without encouraging anyone to come closer.
"Just--wondering what you've been up to for two hundred years," Ianto said, as lightly as he could. "You've changed."
"Yeah," Jack said easily. "So much for kids keeping you young--Indy's given me at least six grey hairs since he was born, and I'm sure that will take off exponentially once he hits puberty. I'll be looking my age in no time."
Ianto looked back at him, but Jack was staring forward now. "It's a big house," Jack said idly. "Too big, really--I only bought it because it's been in Wales longer than I have, and that makes it a little easier to take seriously. There aren't a lot of four-hundred-year-old bungalows around."
And next, of course, would follow the polite offer of a separate room. Jack would find some way to tell him that he didn't expect anything, that he wouldn't presume upon Ianto's relationship with him two hundred years ago now that he'd changed into someone Ianto might not like as well as the one he'd left.
Ianto caught Jack's arm and tugged, hoped that the future was futuristic enough for this to pass in the middle of the street in a small Welsh village, and kissed Jack firmly on the mouth.
Jack came up for air with a smile on his face, and Ianto said, "I don't mind a change."
Jack grinned. "Well, I don't mind if you slip and call me by his name. And it saves me the trouble of seducing you all over again."
Ianto snorted. "That issue would only arise if you had ever seduced me in the first place."
Jack raised his eyebrows and said, "Refresh my memory, how did we come by our son, then?"
Ianto shook his head. "There was plenty of shagging, Jack, but you didn't seduce me unless holding still while I got up a running start to throw myself at you counts as seduction."
"Ah," Jack said, looping his arm through Ianto's and tugging him along. "I took the Zen approach."
Ianto gave up. "So what have you been doing for two hundred years?"
"After your time, I stayed on at Torchwood another thirty or forty years, I think." Jack glanced in his direction, and then away again, his voice falsely light. "Even after I stopped really missing you, you were always one of the ones I expected to see when I turned around--I'd been there so long, by then, I'd picked up a few ghosts. Alex, too. I saw Alex die but there were days when I thought..."
Jack shook his head. "Eventually I realized it was time to leave. I knocked around Earth for a while, enjoying a third--well, fourth or fifth--adolescence, and then I got off-planet for a while. Had a lot of sex and even more fun, fought crime, did crime, went to jail but never for anything serious, took other people to jail but only when it was very serious. Fell in love a few times. Spent eighteen years married."
Ianto didn't know whether he'd expected to feel more jealous than he did; it was just more Jack-stories of his past, even if his past was technically in Ianto's future. Still--as always--there was a niggling, stupid thread of envy toward the others. "All at once?"
"All at...? Oh." Jack squinted. "Twenty-three years, then. And six days, but that was for strictly ceremonial purposes and to save the galaxy and didn't count because we're not even the same species anyway."
Jack shot him a smile. "But Elys, yeah, that was eighteen years in one shot. I met her first when she was--God, younger than you. Too young, and I knew it for once. The next time I met her she was married, and a mother, and too smart to have me interfering with her happy home--but we got to be friends, anyway, good friends. She kept me pretty well away from her husband and kids, which worked out fine until twenty years later when he died and the kids thought I was the scandalous younger man hitting on the widow at the funeral."
Ianto raised an eyebrow.
"I wasn't," Jack said, sounding almost genuinely aggrieved. "And we waited six months before we got married, and it was--honestly, it was none of their business, but she'd got used to not being alone."
Ianto considered this all the way to the end of the street. Jack had known this woman thirty-eight years--longer than Ianto had been alive, or was likely to ever be--and he'd spent half that time married to her, but...
"You were the wicked stepfather."
"Oh my God, I have never had people hate me that much without attempting homicide," Jack said. "Mind you, I thought it might come to that at a few family gatherings. I still wake up in a cold sweat thinking Indy's going to turn seventeen and suddenly develop Torre's personality."
Ianto thought of the things he'd said to his own father at that age, and winced. "Well, seventeen's hard on a lot of people."
Jack shook his head, though he didn't seem to be disagreeing; Ianto attempted to imagine Jack at seventeen and gave up almost at once. "It put me off having him, a little, but I kept thinking I could do better with an earlier start. So eventually I came back to Wales and settled down, and here we are."
Jack appeared to mean that last in more than one sense, opening the front door of an ordinary-looking white cottage and gesturing for Ianto to precede him inside.
"Med center," Jack explained as they entered the front room, which looked oddly just like a doctor's office waiting room at home, brightly colored leaflets on the end tables and all. "We need to get your bronchitis taken care of, especially if you started a course of antibiotics for it. You didn't bring them with you, I take it?"
Jack looked Ianto up and down, and Ianto was suddenly acutely aware that he was embarking on a year in a strange place with nothing but the clothes he stood up in. He confined himself to a simple, "No."
Jack nodded, looking idly around; there was no one at the desk at the back of the room, but Jack didn't seem concerned to remedy the situation. "It's a good thing you didn't. The old antibiotics are banned toxic substances these days--they might have had to arrest you."
"Ah." Ianto tried to picture it, and failed abjectly. "That wouldn't have been an auspicious start."
"Not much--ah, Jana!"
A blonde woman--wearing a reassuring white coat over her orange-red trousers--came out and met them at the desk, picking up something shaped like a clipboard that almost certainly wasn't.
"Jana, my partner and co-parent, Ianto Jones. Ianto, Dr. Jana Matthis."
Jana shook Ianto's hand, looking him up and down assessingly. Ianto tried to keep a straight face while he wondered what this woman had ever done to Jack that he immediately went so far as partner and co-parent when introducing him to her.
"Ianto Jones, Senior, then," she said. Her accent was Welsh, but strange to Ianto's ear; it took him an extra second to parse everything she said. "I take it the reports of your death were greatly exaggerated?"
Ianto glanced at Jack, who did not immediately offer an answer. "Premature, at least."
Jana's eyebrows rose, and Jack finally deigned to jump in, explaining again that Ianto worked for Torchwood and had been incommunicado somewhere unspecified, whence he would return in a year or so.
"Might as well take a baseline scan and start a file, then," Jana said, turning to lead them into a back room. "Because of course you've brought him right down for a preventive-care visit, haven't you, Jack, and not paraded him through the village when there was any possibility of spreading an exotic and contagious condition."
Jack smiled at the back of Jana's head; Ianto rolled his eyes.
"It's a touch of bronchitis, I'm afraid," he offered, as Jana let him into what must be an examination room, though it lacked most of the familiar accoutrements. "I've spoken to Junior, and to Miss Abernathy at his school. And Jack, obviously."
"Oh, good, I was afraid it was going to be people who'd have extensive contact with the more immunologically vulnerable members of the population," Jana said, shooting Jack a wry look.
Briefly involved, Ianto decided. Concluded more-or-less amicably and some time ago.
She raised a small device to Ianto's mouth and he blew into it; she examined the readout and then gave him a sharp, thoughtful look. "That's a local strain, but quite old. Practically ancient, in fact."
"You can take care of it, can't you?" Jack's voice was a little sharp, forestalling further speculation.
Jana shook her head, visibly giving up on the question, at least for the moment. "Of course I can. Ianto, if you haven't a registered religious or ethical objection to bacteriophages, I'll give you a run of those as well as an immune system boost. Airborne illness is a public health matter; treatment is compulsory."
Ianto glanced at Jack again, then said, "I don't think I have anything registered at all."
"Yes, I'm noticing that," Jana said, exchanging a look Ianto couldn't quite read with Jack.
Jack lifted his chin a fraction, and Jana shook her head again. "Bloody Torchwood. All right."
The actual treatment of Ianto's illness had required only a few minutes of inhaling some chemical-mint-scented gas from a small mask. Jana had monitored him for several minutes to see that he was reacting properly, and she and Jack had taken up the time rehashing what seemed to be quite an old, and not entirely theoretical, debate about the handling of possible future epidemics in the village. Ianto suppressed the urge to take actual notes, but found himself memorizing the bullet points anyway.
Afterward, they set out back toward Jack's house; Ianto occupied himself with enjoying his rapidly improving lung capacity. Jack still appeared to be contemplating quarantine procedures--or possibly contemplating Jana--and either way, Ianto was content not to interrupt him. He had an entire year to work out exactly what was going on, after all.
There were two men standing at the garden gate, in what Ianto concluded after a few moments' scrutiny must be the current equivalent of three-piece suits, despite the blinding array of colors.
Jack rather pointedly took Ianto's hand as they approached. Ianto thought of what Jack had said about him being arrested, about how Jana had obviously known something was odd about him, and tightened his hand on Jack's.
"Ianto Jones, Torchwood Cardiff," the man on the left said as they approached. "Born August the nineteenth, 1983, veteran of Canary Wharf, defender of the Earth."
Ianto stopped short. Jack squeezed his hand.
"Not bad," Jack said. "Not bad at all."
The one on the right said, "You know we keep an eye on you, Captain. Mr. Jones is in the archives, all right and proper."
"I'm sorry," Ianto said, trying not to sound bewildered--they had to be Torchwood, if they knew who he was, but Jack didn't seem to think there was a problem with them turning up at his home. Jack hadn't said anything about what he was doing these days, apart from raising Junior in Wales, and Cardiff wasn't far... "Is there a problem?"
Both of them turned to face him, straightening to something like attention. "Not at all, Mr. Jones, sir. It's just not every year that we get to administer the Torchwood Pension Plan for a temporally displaced operative. It's exciting for us, to be honest."
Ianto stared. "I'm a pensioner, now?"
"Well," Jack said, dropping his arm to sling an arm around Ianto's waist. "Technically speaking, you are a bit past retirement age."
The hypocrisy, even in obvious jest, was for a moment literally breathtaking.
The man on the left waved a small device--a computer, or something like it, Ianto supposed. "We've registered a local identity for you, so you shouldn't run into any further problems. If you'll just give me your hand, I can place your ident chip."
Ianto looked sideways at Jack, and he shrugged and patted Ianto's hip. "Indy has one, I don't. It's up to you."
If Jack thought it was dangerous, he wouldn't have let them install one in his son--still. "When I go home..."
"It's an entirely passive technology," the man on the left assured him. "It has to be contacted on a very particular frequency for the information to be accessed."
Ianto gave up, extending his right hand. There was a brief, impersonal pressure of the other man's hand around his, and then a stunningly sharp pain in his thumb. Ianto jerked his hand back reflexively, swallowing curses and stopping just short of sticking the offended thumb into his mouth.
Jack laughed, loud and startled-sounding, and Ianto glared at him, shaking his hand against the sting.
"Sorry," Jack said, grinning unrepentantly. "Sorry, sorry."
He caught Ianto's hand, and carefully kissed the tip of his thumb--there wasn't even blood, Ianto noticed, and already the sting was fading into a throbbing ache. Then he kissed Ianto's forehead, gathering him into a hug, and then his lips.
"Sorry," Jack repeated, still smiling. "It's just--your son made exactly the same face."
On Thursday--which was not, for reasons Ianto did not entirely understand, a school day--Junior looked at him across the breakfast table and announced, "You need new clothes."
Ianto couldn't argue; he'd been running his things through the off-puttingly silent and waterless cleaner when he showered, but he couldn't actually keep wearing the same jeans and shirt for an entire year.
Ianto looked to Jack, who had such an entirely innocent air about him that Ianto immediately smelled conspiracy. "Jack?"
"I wasn't going to say anything," he remarked to his breakfast. "But if you wanted to go shopping..."
"Cardiff!" Junior crowed. "Cardiff, Cardiff!"
"Upper Cardiff," Jack corrected, and then gave Ianto a more thoughtful look. "You haven't tried to access any recent history or current events on the household system."
It wasn't a question; Ianto supposed his ident chip would have logged him in, and left evidence for Jack to find. As it happened, though, he'd found watching cartoons with Junior quite overwhelming enough--what Junior called a cartoon was something between a video game and an acid trip--without going looking for things he shouldn't know. "It didn't seem wise."
"No," Jack said. "You'll find you're locked out of the entire 21st century. But it will soon become apparent to you that Cardiff isn't quite where you left it."
Ianto raised his eyebrows.
"Most of it fell into the Rift a while back," Jack said, rather more breezily than Ianto thought warranted, considering. "Torchwood did all right. The city was nearly perfectly evacuated before it fell, and they called in the big guns and finally got the thing sealed up--I guess we should have done that years ago, but--anyway. Cardiff mostly vanished, and the sea took what was left. The old M4 is nearly a coastal road in places, now."
Ianto tried to assimilate that; he'd have to look at a map later. He couldn't quite fathom it all being gone--Cardiff, the Hub, his flat, the shops where he'd bought toner and ammunition and new old buttons for Jack's coat. He wondered if that was what had killed him, or if he had been dead before it happened. He rather hoped it was the latter, so that he wouldn't have to see it, nor be responsible for not preventing it--though Jack made it sound rather like a natural disaster, and apparently whoever had been on the spot had nearly perfectly evacuated the city.
Gwen, he thought, recalling--days ago, centuries ago--the sound of her voice managing the evacuations out to Flat Holm Island. He wondered if even that had survived. "So... Upper Cardiff?"
"That's what they called what was left--the city reformed on higher ground. This village was far enough back to stay separate."
Ianto stared down at his breakfast a bit longer.
"Well," he said finally. "I do need new clothes."
Everyone really did wear those bloody rust-colored trousers; Ianto stuck out badly in his blue jeans, and thought he would go blind from the brightness of the crowds around them. The clothing racks were even worse.
He had money--he'd looked himself up on the household information system, to see what he ought to know, and apparently the Torchwood Pension Plan treated its temporally displaced operatives rather generously. Ianto doubted there were enough of them--or enough pensioners of any description--to require much rationing. He seemed to have enough to buy whatever he liked, and quite nice ones, but he couldn't find anything that wasn't eyeball-scarring, no matter how enthusiastically Jack and Junior suggested different versions of exactly the same thing.
Ianto was a little frustrated, a little weirded out, no more than that--he was Torchwood, wasn't he? He saw a dozen impossible things before breakfast every day, and made coffee for three of them--and so he found it a bit surprising to realize that he was sitting on the floor of a changing cubicle with his hands over his eyes, hyperventilating and shivering.
Junior, of course.
"Yes," he managed, breathless. "Just--one moment--"
There was a silence outside, and then Junior said, "Don't move, I'll get Dad."
"Fuck," Ianto sighed, and got unsteadily to his knees, which was when he noticed that he was wearing a pair of the rust-colored trousers. The last several minutes came a bit more sharply into focus--Christ, he was in the future, the bloody future with Jack and their son, Cardiff had fallen into the Rift and everything and everyone he knew was dead, buried, disintegrated, and drowned--and he had to put his head back down for a moment.
"Ianto?" Jack's voice barely preceded the opening of the door, though Ianto could have sworn he'd latched it.
Ianto tried very hard to beam go away, having a nervous breakdown to Jack's mind without saying anything or opening his eyes.
"Oh, hey." Jack was suddenly close--close enough to smell over the new-clothes-and-plastic scent of the cubicle, and Ianto could feel his hands hovering, not-quite-touching. As ever, Jack's presence was an anchor, and Ianto felt the blind panic back off enough to let in massive humiliation. "Shit, I really thought you were in the clear when you got through lunch."
Lunch? Lunch had been fine--weird, the way eating in a foreign place always was. It had been jarring sometimes in its almost-familiarity, but Jack and Junior had been there, keeping him from thinking too much about where exactly they were and why it was foreign. But now, shut in a cubicle alone with a mirror...
"Sorry," he managed, and waved a hand at himself in explanation. He was going to be ready to open his eyes any second now. "Just--sorry."
"Oh," Jack said. "Yeah, here."
There were hands on him then, and the very familiar sensation of Jack rapidly and efficiently undoing his trousers.
"You know," Jack murmured into his ear, in what Ianto distantly recognized as his very gentlest teasing tone, "when I pictured sending Indy off on an errand and getting you naked in the change rooms, this is not quite how I pictured it."
Ianto's laugh caught in his throat, and he wheezed out another, "Sorry, fuck, sorry--"
"Shh, no, hey." Jack paused in undressing him to curl a hand around the bare skin at the back of his neck, warm and reassuring. "You haven't even begun to embarrass yourself yet, honestly." Jack tugged the trousers down, and Ianto twisted to help. Jack kept talking without missing a beat. "Come talk to me when your first real case of culture shock results in unlawful assault on a foreign dignitary and a medium-sized diplomatic incident, and then you can talk about indignity."
Ianto's bare knees touched the cool, smooth floor, and he opened his eyes to look at Jack, who was holding Ianto's jeans in one hand, obviously hiding the offending trousers behind his back with the other. Ianto took his jeans from Jack and raised an eyebrow.
"It was the eyestalks," Jack said, raising his empty hand to make an illustrative gesture. "Just like the sandslipper crabs back home--ugh, the way they moved, I could never stand those things."
Ianto realized Jack was wearing a very slightly different pair of trousers to what Ianto had last seen. "Were you trying those on?"
"Oh," Jack said, and straightened up to look down at himself as Ianto stood to step back into his jeans. "Yeah. Looks like I bought them, actually."
Jack flipped the tag to show Ianto--the not-quite-paper had changed from a price tag to a receipt. Jack had been wearing them long enough to trigger the automatic sale.
"What do you think?" Jack said, turning to check himself in the mirror.
Ianto shrugged. They fit as impeccably as the last pair; beyond that Ianto didn't feel up to making judgments. "Is there some reason everyone decided to wear orange this season?"
"It's rust, and it's been about fifteen years now. Just because you were born in the middle of two centuries of absolutely everyone wearing blue doesn't make it the only acceptable color, you know. After blue there was a grey period, and then red-striped-with-one-other-color for about ten years, and then brown which got progressively more russet. When Indy was born, the high-fashion set really were wearing true bright orange, and I was tempted to stuff him back into the Amphora to save him from the horror. Rust's not so bad."
"Good," Ianto said, reaching toward Jack's left hand to retrieve the trousers he'd been trying on. "Because I'm pretty sure I just bought these."
Jack jerked them away. "We can return them. There's a bespoke tailor's a couple of streets over, he does vintage stuff, we'll get you some more blue."
"Thank you, yes," Ianto said, getting hold of Jack's shirt with one hand and catching the trousers with the other. "I would appreciate that. But I also bought these, and I will be keeping them."
"Ianto, you don't--" They were almost nose-to-nose, and Ianto lifted his chin and looked Jack straight in the eye. "How long between your first bad case of culture shock and the first time you had sex with someone with eyestalks?"
Ianto could see how badly Jack wanted to break eye contact; his smile was entirely caught-out and false. Ianto kicked his toe against Jack's, and Jack sighed surrender and handed over Ianto's purchase. "That's why it was only a medium-sized diplomatic incident, actually."
"Quite," Ianto said, folding the trousers neatly and tucking them under his arm. "I rest my case."
Ianto couldn't decide what was worst about his nightmares: the fact that they were so painfully transparent, or the fact that they tended to suggest that he was handling the upheaval of his life with markedly less sangfroid than was being demonstrated by his five-year-old son. After a fortnight, the dream of having a lot of athletic sex with Jack while Junior screamed or cried somewhere in the middle distance, ignored by both of them, had become familiar in its sickening horror. The dream in which he took Junior into the TARDIS with him and shut the door on Jack's stricken face, on the other hand, was still fresh and new and shocking--both in the variation where he dragged the boy kicking and screaming, and tonight's twist, in which Junior cheerfully took Ianto's hand and came along under his own power.
It was just the novelty of the latest nightmare that left Ianto shaking, perched on the edge of the bed and unable even to look at Jack. Just that. Novelty and staggering failure of imagination: honestly, wasn't the subconscious supposed to be slightly less literal than all that?
A small sound behind him alerted Ianto just before Jack's arm wrapped around his waist, and Jack pressed a kiss to his hip. "Same one again?"
Ianto had only told Jack about the first dream--partly because he kept getting distracted by the recollection of it at inopportune moments, and partly because...
Because it wasn't quite unspeakable. Not like the new one.
Ianto nodded before he found his voice. "Yeah. You'd think my brain would get bored, honestly."
"Mm." Jack sounded faintly skeptical, and Ianto wondered whether he'd been talking in his sleep. No, stupid question. He wondered what he'd said, and how much of it Jack had understood.
"You know," Jack said softly, his fingers shifting over Ianto's skin, not-quite-ticklish, and then there was a wordless muffled wail from down the hall.
Ianto froze--sickening déjà vu--but Jack wasn't ignoring the sound at all. He pushed up, dropping a distracted kiss on Ianto's shoulder before he rolled out of bed. "This shouldn't take long--he's usually okay once he wakes up properly," he said as he pulled on the bottom half of a shockingly modest suit of pyjamas and headed for the door.
Ianto could hardly settle back to sleep while Junior was screaming like that. He located his own pyjamas and donned them, and then stood for an indecisive moment in the middle of the bedroom. Junior was still crying out, frantic and incoherent, and Ianto didn't know how best to be of use in this situation. He'd never seen Junior more than overtired and fractious, never really distressed, and now he seemed about to howl the house down. Drawn as much by morbid curiosity as any belief that he could be helpful, Ianto wandered down the hall toward Junior's room.
Closer to, the boy's screams became semi-intelligible, and more heartbreaking for it. He was shrieking, over and over, "I want my dad!"
Ianto stopped in the doorway, close enough to hear Jack's low voice repeating patiently, "I'm here, Indy, sweetheart, I'm here. I'm right here, open your eyes. I'm here, it's all right."
Junior was flailing around wildly, his voice already going hoarse, and Jack was having limited success in holding him still; he was obviously either entirely in the grip of a night terror, or so far gone in hysteria that he didn't understand what he or Jack was saying. When a sudden sideways lunge let the nightlight fall on his wide-open staring eyes, Ianto realized it was likely the latter. He concluded that he might at least administer the sort of short, sharp shock which Jack would not. Jack could comfort him, then.
Ianto braced himself to play bad cop, by the most obvious expedient he knew. Walking softly, unnoticed, to the end of Junior's bed, he caught the boy's flailing ankles and barked out sternly, "Indiana."
Junior went silent and froze, and for a moment Ianto thought he'd succeeded, that he would respond with the familiar retort of "Junior" and a glare at Ianto's intrusion. He realized he was wrong a half-second before it happened, and there was nothing he could do but watch as Junior sat up, lunging toward him with his hands out, straining against Jack's grip, and sobbed out, "Dad."
Jack's grip went slack, and Ianto got a glimpse of his face in the night light as he looked sharply at his son and just as sharply away. It was more than enough; Jack was gutted. Ianto had seen him take mortal wounds with less visible pain and horror, but he didn't make a sound, just sat there with his head bowed, one arm still resting across his son, barely restraining him as he reached for Ianto.
This was how it happened; this was exactly his bloody nightmare come to life, and yet there wasn't anything to do but gather his sobbing son into his arms. Still, when Jack made to stand, Ianto stepped into his path and then half-fell onto the bed, landing himself nearly in Jack's lap and at the extreme edge of the bed. Jack had to throw his arms around them both to keep Ianto from tipping onto the floor with his squirming, sobbing burden, and Ianto hooked his legs firmly across Jack's and held him there.
"We're here," Ianto whispered. "It's all right. We're here."
"You're my dad," Junior wailed. "I don't want you to leave."
Ianto tried to meet Jack's gaze, but Jack kept his head down, though his hand came up and gripped tight on Ianto's sleeve. They'd told Junior the truth from the beginning, more precisely than they'd told anyone else: one year. Three hundred fifty-two days, now. Jack had said it would be best to be honest from the beginning, and Ianto hadn't argued--though he noticed that they both avoided saying on your birthday with scrupulous care.
"I won't leave tonight," Ianto said, because that was as much as he could promise. "Not for a long time. I'm here tonight."
He wasn't sure Junior even understood him, but his screams tailed off into plain sobbing, and he didn't fight anymore, except to cling to Ianto whenever he tried to shift and get feeling back into his feet. Jack had to be worse off, pinned beneath them both, but he didn't move an inch.
At some point Ianto jerked his head up, tightening his arms so hard on Junior that the boy gave a startled squeak.
Jack finally spoke, brushing a hand across Ianto's cheek. "Go back to sleep. I've got you, you won't fall."
Ianto nodded, and he barely realized that he was about to go to sleep curled around Junior and crammed into his little bed with him and Jack before he'd done it.
Ianto woke up with a stiff neck, curled up sideways across Junior's bed, to find Junior cuddled against his stomach and Jack spooned against his back. Jack had pushed up on an elbow, the better to engage in a staring match with Junior, and without looking away he said, "Ianto, tell him he has to go to school today."
Ianto blinked a few times, but neither of them moved. He couldn't feel his feet. "You're mad, both of you. I'm making coffee."
He made it most of the way upright--slowed by pins-and-needles shooting through both legs--before Junior established a firm grip on his right thigh, face buried against Ianto's hip.
Ianto put a hand on the boy's hair. "All right, coffee and a fry up. And then you do have to go to school."
Junior shook his head wildly, and Ianto said, "I'm not going anywhere today, Jun--"
Ianto looked back at Jack, who was sitting up. His shoulders were slumped, his face in one hand, but after a few beats he looked up and met Ianto's eyes. Jack gave him a wry smile and said, "Only his dad calls him that. Welcome to the club, Ianto Jones."
Ianto looked back down at him. "Indiana. I will walk you to school after breakfast, and I will come and meet you this afternoon. I'm not leaving for a long time yet, and you can't stay home from school all year."
Indiana stared up at him, mutinous, until Jack heaved a sigh and stood, and came around Ianto to pull Indiana bodily away and sling him over one shoulder. He'd apparently used up all his resistance last night, because he only struggled half-heartedly. "Ianto's going to make breakfast, and I am going to make you a timeline. Let's go."
While Ianto was measuring out coffee, Jack dug through a drawer one-handed, as he still had Indiana over his shoulder. He dumped the boy onto the table along with several balls of string, and said, "Pick a color for each of us. You, me, Ianto."
Indiana selected red for himself--nearly the shade of his school uniform, which seemed like a good sign. Ianto could have guessed the next obvious association even without that one, and sure enough Indy didn't hesitate before selecting a deep blue for Ianto, the same color as his jeans. He hesitated over the last, but finally offered Jack a ball of grey, a shade darker than Jack's ancient greatcoat.
"Okay," Jack said, taking up the grey string first. "Now you know I've already lived a long, long time, and I'm going to go on living a long, long, long time." Jack unreeled a huge length of string from the ball, and Ianto rummaged through the refrigerator entirely by touch, watching as Indiana tried to restrain an expression of delight at an adult doing something so reckless.
Jack tossed the ball of string over one side of the table, and dropped the mass of loose string over the other, leaving his own life-thread strung across the table, over the backs of opposite chairs.
"That's me. That's my life. Over here, this is now." Jack tapped the back of one chair. "And here, this is where I first met Ianto and worked with him, where you got started. Do you remember where that was?"
"Cardiff," Indiana said. "Proper Cardiff, before it fell. Long ago."
"Correct," Jack said, and picked up the blue string. He pulled out just a reasonable amount, enough to leave a tail hanging down from the chair designated for the 21st century, and produced a piece of wire from somewhere to fasten Ianto's string to Jack's.
"Ianto and I were together for years in Cardiff, so our timelines are connected. And that's where you got started, too, so you're a part of it."
Jack fed the end of the red string into the wire wrapping the blue and grey, and tossed the red off the opposite side of the table, signifying Indiana's unrolling future.
"All along, while I was living, you were waiting and waiting and waiting to be born," Jack said, gesturing to the red and grey threads that crossed the table together. "And then you were, so here we are together."
He went to the chair representing the present, and connected his and Indiana's timelines with another bit of wire.
"But long before you were born, you know what happened to Ianto."
Indiana reverted suddenly into lump form, tightening his arms around his knees, and looking quickly and warily from Jack to Ianto.
To spare them both, Ianto said firmly, "I died. Long ago."
Jack nodded apparent thanks, and pulled something else from his pocket--a small bottle of glue, Ianto realized.
"Ianto died," Jack reiterated, and cut the blue thread; Ianto saw Indiana wince, felt his own hands jerk at the sharp, decisive sound. Jack glued the cut end of the blue thread to the red and grey. "We were both in the world, and Ianto was gone. We're all connected. That point is fixed."
Jack tugged at the threads, demonstrating that the glue had already adhered.
"But," Jack said. "The Doctor and his TARDIS..."
Jack noisily dragged the 'now' chair around the table so that it was beside the 'then' chair, startling Indiana into renewed interest as the strings looped around him at the center of the table.
"They picked Ianto up from old Cardiff, and brought him right to us."
Jack delicately plucked out the blue thread from between two coils of wire, and drew out a loop to meet the red and grey on the other chair, binding all three together with yet another twist of wire.
"Ianto's here with us, for a while. A year. But look--the loop goes both ways. If we cut it, it would mean death. Ianto is going to have to go back because he's already there. It's already fixed. This is the way it is, Indiana."
Indiana reached out a tentative hand to trace over the slack loops of string, the points of connection. Ianto could see him thinking, trying to solve the puzzle, to find a way out of the knots and past the cut-off end.
"Indy," Ianto said, and the boy looked up at him at once, too much driven by fear for the quick attention to be gratifying. "I will have to go home, as Jack says. And when I do, it's because that's the way time is--it won't be because I want to go, or because Jack wants me to go, and it won't be because of anything you said, or did, or wished. Do you understand?"
Indiana shrugged stiffly. It was important to say, but by the same token it was nothing a five-year-old would absorb all at once, on a morning when he'd had too little sleep and, as yet, no breakfast.
"All right, then," Ianto said, exchanging a glance with Jack, who offered him a weary but surprisingly sympathetic smile. "Get down from there and come help me with the eggs."
One of the more surprisingly strange things about life in the 23rd century--now that he'd more or less got used to the clothes--was the way sex had turned into an almost exclusively daytime activity.
It had mostly to do with the fact that it was only during the day, while Indiana was at school, that they could actually rely on having any reasonable privacy for any length of time. For a few weeks after that awful nightmare, Indiana consistently invited himself into the middle of the bed Ianto shared with Jack halfway through every night, and after that one could never be quite sure that he wouldn't.
Jack wearing pyjamas on a regular basis was another one of the deeply strange things about life in the 23rd century, as it turned out.
Ianto, despite the independent income supplied by Torchwood, was effectively spending his year's holiday as a kept man. Jack had no regular employment either, though he occasionally had to "go talk to some people" for hours at a time, and more rarely made overnight trips to London. He showed Ianto some video footage of the city before inviting him along; Ianto elected to stay home with Indiana. When Ianto asked him what he was talking to them about, Jack shrugged and said, "I have a few areas of special expertise that still come in handy. I consult."
So when Jack wasn't off having his mysterious conversations, he and Ianto were home together during the day, which left them a lot of free time to fill in the traditional fashion.
Ianto couldn't remember ever having sex with Jack in daylight before coming to the future, though he thought they might have done, at some point. There had been times when Jack had stayed all night at Ianto's flat, which he thought had at least once led to a morning not interrupted by a frantic dash to deal with some crisis. It had probably been raining, though, and anyway Ianto had always kept the blinds drawn. Otherwise it had mostly been at the Hub, where day or night made no difference, or a few times in the SUV or other semi-public places, all definitely under the dubious cover of darkness.
Now, though, what with all their free time occurring between the hours of nine and three and a slight shift in Welsh weather patterns, Ianto was getting used to the sight of Jack in sunshine, stretched out catlike on the bed they shared. He was gorgeous, of course, as always; he was Jack.
With time and good light, however, Ianto discovered all the little imperfections--some new, he thought, like the vaunted six grey hairs, and the small ugly knot of scar tissue on Jack's left side, nearly invisible to sight but quite apparent to Ianto's fingers, once he knew it was there. Others--smaller scars, the odd wrinkle or hair out of place--Ianto wasn't sure about. Maybe they'd been there all along, and he'd never seen, rushing in the dark.
He didn't realize how often he brushed his fingers over that telltale scar until the time they were lying together, after, catching their breath. Jack put his hand down, trapping Ianto's fingers in place over it.
"You know," Jack said, "I don't think you called me by his name once, that time."
Ianto murmured something universally appropriate about Jack and his ego, and did his best to fall asleep. But he couldn't help thinking about it--about his other Jack, who he scarcely ever thought to miss except in the sense of missing the work. His Jack, who he would go back to, in the dark, who wouldn't know the difference when Ianto called him by someone else's name.
Ianto kept his eyes closed more often after that, and if Jack took note, he was kind enough not to bring it up.
School uniforms were not required for field trips--particularly ones as apt to be hard on clothing as a hoverboat trip onto the Cardiff Inlet--so the first of the day's many challenges involved Indiana choosing his own clothes. Ianto was already dressed--properly, so as not to embarrass himself or anyone, in the rust-colored trousers and a locally-made jersey--and had a horrible sensation that he'd turned into his father at some point when he wasn't looking. He found himself putting his hands on his hips and saying, "Ianto Jones Junior, you are not--"
Jack's hand clapped over his mouth before he could finish that disastrous sentence.
"That's fine, Indy," Jack said, and Ianto twisted to glare at Jack, who shrugged and kept his hand firmly over Ianto's mouth. "He's decent, Ianto, that's all we can ask. And it's a compliment, really."
Ianto looked down at Indiana, happily shrugging a jacket on over a red t-shirt and the blue jeans he'd cajoled Jack into having made for him. Ianto raised his hands in surrender.
"You completely missed the month of cowboy-hat-and-tulle-skirt," Jack added. "He used to get the weirdest-looking sunburns."
Ianto reached up and pulled Jack's hand down. "Which reminds me: hat or sunblock, Indiana."
Indy huffed, but stalked over to the closet and came back wearing a drab jungle hat.
Ianto looked down at him, then over at Jack, and murmured, "What, no fedora?"
Jack shrugged and murmured back, "Would've been a little on the nose, don't you think?"
Ianto was one of six parent-chaperones on the trip, one of two in a hoverboat with a half-dozen five-year-olds. Three of them, counting Indiana, were named Ianto.
("I thought it would be sort of classic and unusual now," Jack had explained glumly, when Ianto first saw the roster for Indiana's year. "But it turns out everyone thought that the year he was born."
There were a total of six Iantos in Indiana's school cohort, two of them girls, one of them also named Ianto Jones. Ianto was beginning to understand his son's insistence on Junior from people who weren't his dad. No one else at his school was called Junior.)
In a fit of pique or independence, Indiana took the seat furthest from Ianto on the boat. Ianto studiously did not listen to the brief repetition of the events of the fall of Cardiff into the Rift and the sea, and then they set off over the waves.
Literally over them; the hoverboats were made not to disturb the water, as most of the Cardiff Inlet was considered a burial ground, between the number of cemeteries gone under the waves with the city, and the number of people who hadn't got out in time. Nearly perfect evacuation hadn't been quite near enough, it seemed.
They went out a long way, following the ordinary buoys of the lone designated channel for shipping, tracking what had been the line of the Taff down to the sea, and then turned out onto the Inlet proper. Miss Abernathy announced, "Look left, we're passing the Splott bell."
When Ianto looked, he realized he'd been hearing the bell for a few minutes, over the constant sound of the waves. It was as big as a church bell, mounted on a buoy, with its name emblazoned black-on-white. All that was left of good old Splott, grave marker for an entire town. Ianto remembered standing in the Hub while Owen and Gwen and Tosh studied it on the map; he tightened his hand on the edge of the hoverboat and felt unreasonably seasick.
They continued further out, paralleling the shipping channel. Miss Abernathy was talking about the other belled buoys they could see to either side, but Ianto had his eyes on their destination, and he could hardly hear her over the ringing.
They halted at a respectful distance from the grouping: two bells surrounded by five others. They were smaller than the Splott bell, but not so small that Ianto could not read JACK on one of the central buoys.
Torchwood had held enough bodies to count as a cemetery all on its own--these bells marked where Suzie's body had been, and Tosh's--and...
And probably his own.
Miss Abernathy was telling the children about the Torchwood bells, and Ianto stared fixedly out to sea--the same sea, and, once he'd got his bearings, even the same distant hint of Flat Holm Island through the haze. He didn't hear a thing but the bells until he felt a touch on his knee, and looked down to see that Indiana had come to his side.
Ianto smiled at his son, and then realized that he must have traded places with one of the other children to get there. He looked up, lunged, and caught Ianto P. just before she managed to fall over the side.
There was a wolf-whistle from the next boat, and Ianto looked up to see Miss Abernathy fighting a smile, and one of the other parents holding up what seemed to be a score-card.
"That's one to Mister Jones!"
By the end of the day, Ianto had come in neither first nor last, and had escaped the particular ignominy of missing his catch and having his own child go overboard, which two of the six chaperones had done. He had taken a penalty for missing (it had been Ianto P.'s fourth time nearly going over; if he'd been a bit slower than he had to be by then, no one could prove it) but gained back half on style points, for fishing her out without getting his clothes wet anywhere but the arm that reached out of the boat for her.
The children--and, in fact, adults--were all equipped with excellent flotation devices, so it wasn't as if there was any harm in keeping score; it was simply a way of organizing the buying of drinks at the post-Field Trip debriefing session down the pub. Ianto took his turn third, or possibly fourth; either his tolerance had gone down horribly due to months of quiet, sober, fatherly living, or they were making the drinks a lot stronger two hundred years in the future.
In any case, he found the post-mission trip to the pub wonderfully familiar, and alcohol smoothed down all the ragged edges. Possibly a little too much so, as his feet were having a bit of difficulty finding purchase on the ground by the time the session broke up; it was just as well Jack turned up to find him and accompanied him home. It was a fine enough night, and Ianto would have liked to lie down in the garden a while, but Jack--fussy bastard--insisted he go inside and take his clothes off and lie in the bed.
Ianto woke up to Indiana saying "Dad?" much too close by.
He had time to wonder where Jack was, and why Indy hadn't gone to his side of the bed, as usual, before he opened his eyes. When he did, he discovered that Indiana was actually leaning onto the mattress, nearly nose-to-nose with him, and that he had a really quite spectacular hangover.
Ianto shut his eyes again, and reached for the pillow, to hide, or possibly to smother himself. Or Indy.
"Dad had a meeting thing," Indy explained, nearly into Ianto's ear.
Ianto dug his fingers into the pillow, and restrained a general impulse toward homicide.
"He said you're not ill, you're hungover, so I shouldn't bring you medicine no matter what you say, you can crawl to the loo and get it yourself."
Ianto cracked one eye. Indy was right where he'd been the last time Ianto looked. Biting the words off carefully, one at a time, Ianto said, "Indy, your father is a sadist."
Indy shrugged, and raised his hands into Ianto's view, one holding a small green bottle Ianto recognized from the medicine chest, the other holding a bottle of water. "I didn't listen."
Ianto blinked. "You, on the other hand, are a Welshman and a gentleman, my son."
Indy beamed at him--so bright Ianto was tempted to shield his eyes--and held out the medicine bottle first.
"Just a drop on your tongue. It makes Dad make a face, like..." Indy did his best impression of having bitten a lemon.
Ianto smiled, and squinted at the label. It was, indeed, indicated for hangover, and the dosage was a single drop on the tongue, to be followed by as much water as desired. He unscrewed the cap, which came away with an eyedropper, and squeezed a single drop onto his tongue.
Ianto had just an instant to realize that if it made Jack make a face like that, it was liable to kill him. He managed to set the medicine down and reach for the water bottle Indy was still holding, and then his face and throat seemed to convulse, his salivary glands on fire, and he couldn't remember how to open the bloody damned bottle. Indy's hands squirmed under his and got the top off, and Ianto struggled half upright and drank frantically, not stopping until the whole bottle was empty.
He set the bottle down and wiped a hand across the back of his mouth; it took him a moment to realize that he didn't feel like he was about to vomit. He blinked a couple of times. His head didn't hurt, either, and his eyes didn't feel like they'd been sandpapered. All he felt was tired, like he'd been woken up at an ungodly hour by his son, who probably wanted breakfast or someone to watch cartoons with.
He fell back against the pillows, and looked over at Indy, who was still standing beside the bed. He'd put the cap back on the medicine bottle and set it on the night stand, and now he was just watching Ianto.
"Breakfast?" Ianto asked, trying to keep the actual dread out of his voice.
Indy shrugged. "Dad made me some before he left. He said you would sleep late."
"And yet," Ianto muttered, eyeing his son, who was after all the offspring of a sadist. "I'm awake."
Indy grinned, and climbed up on the bed. "You have to tell me a story now. That's what Dad does when he wants to have a lie-in and I'm bored, he tells me a story."
"Does he," Ianto said, but Indy snuggled into the bed beside him and blithely tugged Ianto's arm over himself for a cuddle; squeezing him a fraction closer was just instinct, by then.
"Okay," Ianto sighed. "Um, let's see. Once upon a time--"
"No! Dad, not like that. A proper story. A Cardiff story."
Ianto remembered the waves, suddenly, the water and the markers and all the many bells and what lay beneath them. He squeezed Indy closer again, entirely deliberately.
He hoped Jack had understood why he got so utterly pissed last night, but he didn't think Jack would have needed telling. Jack had encouraged him to go along on the field trip in the first place.
"All right," Ianto said slowly. "You saw the Torchwood bells, yesterday, didn't you?"
Indy nodded quickly. "Jack and Jill, Rhiannon, Pryderi, Henry, Victoria, and Myfanwy."
"Very good," Ianto said. "Do you know who the Myfanwy bell is named for?"
"Jack is Dad," Indy said quickly, and then, "No, who?"
"Well," Ianto took a deep breath. "Let me tell you a story about the day Jack hired me to work at Torchwood Cardiff, then."
Indiana died around ten in the morning, a couple of months short of his sixth birthday. The as-yet-unidentified alien attack struck his school, leaving no survivors; Ianto found out when Jack rushed into the med center and shouted the news to the room at large.
Ianto ducked his head and bit his lip, trying to keep from laughing as he treated a sucking chest wound; his patient, quite unrealistically, did let out a generous chuckle. Jack was, perhaps, getting a little too enthusiastically into his role.
He'd tipped his hand a fraction that morning, lingering longer than usual when he paused to press a good-bye kiss to Indy's hair before leaving for one of his increasingly-frequent meetings. Special expertise, ha.
Ianto shook his head, sealed down the plastic dressing, and said, "Right, Alaine, I think you have to lie here a bit and simulate taking up space in the infirmary, now."
Ianto P.'s mother just rolled her eyes and tugged her shirt down. "They'd better be giving out special shirts for having got wounded this year, that's all I'm saying. And if they keep the kids all night they're going to be monsters in the morning. We'd do better with the aliens."
Torchwood reflexes--embarrassingly rusty after ten months of soft civilian life, but still enough to distinguish him from the actual civilians around him--served Ianto well through the rest of the day. He managed to keep himself alive, and to protect a respectable number of people into the bargain. He was still on his feet to hear the backup arrive: military units for whom the training exercise was just beginning.
When a unit landed in the street where Ianto was working, he quickly realized that it would be up to him to orientate them to the current situation. The other villagers nearby had--somehow, without his particularly intending it--fallen under his command in the last few hours.
He held his hands up to show himself--presently--harmless as he approached an officer surrounded by a knot of uniformed soldiers. He received an acknowledging nod, and was focusing most of his attention on putting his observations in order. Even though it was only a game, it was wonderfully like being at work again, doing something.
There was a shout from behind him simultaneous with a flash of light ahead, and suddenly he was face down in the street.
The back of his head hurt quite a lot, and something cool and wet was dripping down his cheek. Ianto thought with an absurd sort of clarity that he'd always thought you didn't feel anything after you'd been shot in the head.
"Oh, fan-bloody-tastic," said a voice with what Ianto recognized, after a few seconds' thought, as what currently passed for an upper-middle-class London accent. "Congratulations, Collins, on the ground five minutes and you've already shot a villager."
Ianto reached up toward his head--fuck, that hurt, must have been nearly point-blank, what kind of idiot was this Collins, anyway?--but a hand caught his wrist and held it away.
"Don't, son, you'll get the dye all over your fingers. Can you sit up?"
Ianto nodded to the cobbles, and then gathered himself and rolled over. It was the officer who was crouching over him, and he gave Ianto a hand up to sit.
"Sorry about this," he said with an apologetic grimace, and a glare over Ianto's shoulder, presumably at Collins. He scrawled something across Ianto's forehead--DEAD, Ianto realized. He'd marked a few corpses himself, at the med center.
"Now," the officer said, "let's see..."
He raised a small viewer, which must have picked up Ianto's ident chip. The officer's glare sharpened. "Oh, honestly, Collins, brilliant. You've just blown the head off of Captain Jack Harkness's registered cohabitant. Sorry, Mr. Jones."
"Don't mention it," Ianto murmured, even as someone behind him made a small, deeply alarmed noise.
Collins and another man were detailed to transport Ianto's body to the makeshift morgue. Ianto, being dead, was not allowed to explain to them where it was, nor where the safe route to that location lay. Collins thus was at least temporarily spared the embarrassment of explaining to anyone just how he'd killed Ianto, when he was shot himself, going round a blind corner into an alley held by the invaders.
Ianto thought he detected relief in the alacrity with which the second stretcher-bearer reported Collins killed as he took cover. The man bolted soon after, leaving Ianto lying on the ground near Collins.
Ianto was rather luckier, though. He had the stretcher to lie on.
"Oh my God, Ianto. What have they done to you?"
Ianto smiled at Jack's continued role-playing, and cracked an eye open. It'd been quiet for about half an hour, and after a few awkward attempts, Collins had stopped trying to make conversation. Ianto had nearly managed a nap.
"Am I allowed to answer that question?"
Jack's sudden bright smile had an edge of actual relief. Belatedly it occurred to Ianto that Jack had actually already seen him die once--well, twice--and the deja vu might have been rather unpleasant. He hoped the dye was a nicely unrealistic color, at least.
"By all means," Jack said, sweeping a thoughtful look over the tableau. "Civilian corpses are being dismissed, so we can get the kids home and have people around to be fractious and surly toward the continued military presence tomorrow."
"I'll work on my sneer," Ianto said, sitting up and casting a glance toward Collins, who seemed to be holding his breath in pursuit of a really excellent performance as a corpse. "Especially given it was a friendly fire incident."
Jack sighed theatrically, even as he cast a look of genuine disfavor at Collins. "There are always a few. You're probably going to need solvent for the dye. Or a lot of bright blue hair-color, to even it out."
Ianto winced as he got to his feet--not so much at the thought of blue hair, although he probably couldn't carry it off to quite the same effect he had when he was seventeen, as at the thought of Indy inevitably demanding to dye his the same shade. "Solvent. Yes."
Jack nodded distractedly, tossing something down in the spot where Ianto had been lying. Ianto looked back, and discovered he was having an out-of-body experience--there he was still on the ground. The DEAD had gone off his forehead, but then it was hardly needed with half his head covered in blood like that.
"That for ambiance?" he asked, working to keep his voice even. It was really rather disconcerting.
Jack just stared at it, then shook himself and met Ianto's eyes. "Yeah, decoration and design for the end of the world. What do you think?"
"I think you need a hobby," Ianto said, searching Jack's eyes.
Jack just smiled, revealing nothing, and leaned in to kiss him briefly.
"Off you go," he said, dismissing Ianto with a fond smack on the arse.
Ianto headed down the alley a few steps ahead of Jack, and didn't look back to see whether Jack was looking back.
Jack came back from putting Indy to bed--in his new Disaster Day pyjamas, which he'd insisted on for eight nights straight so far--and sat down rather closer beside Ianto on the settee than he would have expected from Jack's distant expression.
"Is Indy all right?"
Jack said, "Probably," and then, after a pause, "well, probably not, actually." And, after a proper silence: "He wants to know how you died."
Ianto touched the back of his head--they'd had to dye over the damn blue, in the end, and he'd had a pale shadow like a bruise across his cheek for days--and wondered yet again just how bad Jack's case of deja vu had been.
Jack caught the motion, and smiled bleakly. "Yeah, the simulation didn't help. He's just starting to get the idea of what dying actually means--I've been saying that to him since he was born, that you died. He's always known that was the end of the story. But now..."
Now dying was more real, and less, and desperately lacking in specifics by which to make sense of it.
"And I can't just say bravely," Jack added. "Or anything nice and simple like that. He's starting to realize that this is something that is actually going to happen to you when you leave, and he wants to know how it works. He wants the story. He wants cause of death."
Ianto wondered if Jack's choice of adverbs was any consolation for the fact that, Jesus Christ, this was actually going to happen to him when he left.
"What did you tell him?"
Jack sighed. "The truth."
Ianto froze, and Jack kept speaking. "Which is that I can't tell him anything about what happened while you're still here, because there's too much danger of you finding out and creating a paradox which might, for starters, cause him never to be born."
"Ah," Ianto said, and watched Jack staring into middle distance for a moment before he decided that this was a ridiculous way to spend an evening, when they only had a finite number of them left.
"I thought you might have told him the other truth," Ianto said, earning himself Jack's wary attention.
Ianto pushed up and twisted, lowering himself to straddle Jack's lap. Jack's hands settled automatically on Ianto's hips. Ianto braced his own hands on Jack's shoulders, holding him down, and whispered against Jack's parted lips.
"I'm not dead yet."
A month before his birthday, without being asked, Indiana declared that he was not having a birthday party.
Ianto wanted to argue on principle--six-year-olds should have birthday parties--but half a second's thought forced him to recognize that it wouldn't be more than a miserable shadow of an actual party.
"You don't have to," Jack said. "You'll turn six whether we have a party or not."
Indiana scowled ferociously. "And the Doctor isn't invited. He's not allowed to come here. He can't come in our house, not even into the garden."
Jack raised his eyebrows at that, and Ianto wondered whether he was going to point out that it was his house, his garden, and his very old friend at issue, but Jack simply said, "All right. On your birthday, we will ask the Doctor not to come into the house or the garden."
Indiana scowled harder, shoulders bunching up fiercely. Seventeen had come early, Ianto thought. If Jack kept up being calm and reasonable, Indy was going to take a swing at him. Time to deflect his attention.
"I still have to leave, Indiana."
Indy's chin dropped, his shoulders tensing all the harder. "I know."
Ianto glanced over at Jack, but Jack just nodded, giving him an open-handed gesture: go for it.
"I have to go, and the Doctor has to take me. It's not his fault, either."
"I know," Indiana repeated, the word nearly a sob this time, but he still wasn't looking at either of them. "But he's not invited."
Indy had started crawling into their bed again. He still came to Jack's side every time, and though Jack always placed him in the middle, Indy clung to him. If Ianto reached for him, Indy would grab his wrist and hold on, but he didn't seem to allow himself more than that.
Ianto didn't think he'd ever seen anything more awful than a five-year-old being brave.
The morning before his birthday, Indy got up when it was time to get up, and sat obediently at the table for breakfast. They'd none of them slept properly--Ianto thought he might have bruises from the strength of Indy's grip, which had never seemed to loosen--but they had a routine by now, long since established, and Ianto and Jack moved through the motions automatically. Indy didn't play with his food, just ate quietly and mechanically, right up to the moment when he suddenly bolted from the table without asking to be excused.
He stopped short a few strides from the table, seeming torn about where to run to, and wound up being sick right there on the kitchen floor; Ianto and Jack managed to converge on him before he'd stopped. Jack's hand cupped his forehead as Ianto wiped his mouth.
"Fever," Jack said. "Indy--"
"Sorry," he whispered. "I didn't mean to."
Jack sighed and kissed his temple. "I know you didn't. It's not your fault."
Ianto squeezed Indy's shoulder. "I'll get you some water."
Ianto took it to him in bed--in Jack's bed, where he'd already been tucked back in. Jack was stretched out beside him, saying, "But then Ianto said he already knew where they'd taken our transport, because he'd kept the locator with him."
Ianto sat down beside Indy, and held the glass for him to drink a mouthful, and then he lay down, curled an arm gingerly around his son, and prepared to listen to stories.
On the morning of his birthday, Indiana got out of bed before dawn. Ianto woke and found him gone, Jack sleeping or feigning sleep on the other side of the empty space in the middle of the bed. He went downstairs as the sun began to rise properly, and found evidence in the kitchen that Indy had fixed his own breakfast. His school shoes were missing from beside the door.
Ianto went to the door and stepped out, already wondering how long it would take Jack to track him down by his ident chip--but Indy was there, in uniform, standing stiffly by the garden gate. He turned to look when Ianto approached, and said, "He's not allowed to come in."
Ianto leaned against the wall beside him. "His ship might land here before we can tell him that, you know."
"Then he can leave."
Ianto reached out and brushed the hair back from Indy's forehead. He seemed fine now, physically; his fever had broken in the early evening, and he'd slept like the dead since. Indy stayed motionless under Ianto's touch, staring out at the street grimly. He was altogether too much like Jack in miniature, just at that moment, a Jack Ianto hadn't seen for a year and a day.
"It's your birthday," Ianto said softly, because he couldn't bring himself to wish his son a happy one. "You're six today."
Indy nodded sharply, and Ianto took back his hand.
"You've grown since I came."
Indy straightened up even taller for a moment, chin up.
Then, all at once, he turned and jumped at Ianto, nearly climbing him before Ianto could gather him up, ending with his arms clasped tight around Ianto's neck. He was heavy and awkward to hold--he didn't often consent to be carried anywhere anymore, except when ill or sleeping--but Ianto straightened his spine and kept his grip. They stood watch together until Jack came out to insist that Ianto had to get dressed.
Ianto showered, and put on his old (two-hundred-year-old) blue jeans, and his button-down shirt. That part was easy, though Ianto suspected they fit slightly differently; he couldn't tell for certain whether he'd gained weight, or lost it, or if it was all just a matter of having got used to the shape of clothes from the 23rd century. Everything was cut disconcertingly differently, and he was surprised to realize he'd come to expect it.
After that, Jack called up the image of Ianto stored in his ident chip, from his first day here, and started messing with his hair. Indy sat to one side, first just watching, then offering his opinions. Jack debated every stroke of the comb, trimmed one hair at a time, and in general managed to drag out the entire operation until they heard the unmistakable sound from the back garden.
Indy rushed out first. Jack set down the scissors, brushed Ianto's shoulders, and sighed. "You'll do."
Ianto kissed him briefly, and then turned and ran out after Indy, with Jack hard on his heels. Indiana probably wouldn't actually attack the Doctor, but then he was Jack's son. And Ianto's, God help them.
Indiana was standing at the door of the TARDIS, which had parked exactly where it had the last time, inside the garden. Seeing it there, Ianto had a flash of deja vu, worse even than putting on his old clothes. The Doctor had come back for him. The moment was here, circled around again.
"No, of course, quite right," the Doctor was saying thoughtfully. "But a TARDIS is sovereign soil for a Time Lord--to say nothing of being dimensionally transcendental--so technically as long as I stay inside it, I'm not in your garden."
"You can't come out," Indiana said, but his voice was losing its fierce edge, and he looked back uncertainly at his parents.
"I wouldn't dream of it," the Doctor said. "But here's a thought: Jack is a very old friend of mine, and a very dear one, and I try not to do things he doesn't like when I'm visiting him. And Jack hasn't given me permission to take you anywhere, although I'm sure he doesn't mind if you come inside the TARDIS."
"Why should I?" Indiana's voice was half contrary, half baffled.
Ianto was reasoning just far enough ahead of him to realize that this was not going to help at all, but Jack laid a hand on his arm, gently restraining.
"Well," the Doctor said. "If I don't have permission to take you anywhere, I can't go anywhere while you're aboard."
Indy gave them one brief backward glance, and then nearly bowled the Doctor over as he leapt inside, slamming the door shut behind him. The Doctor gave them a quick wave as he disappeared.
Jack kissed Ianto not at all briefly, rather pointedly mussing his hair in the process.
"The Doctor just volunteered to babysit while we say goodbye properly," Jack said, his mouth too close to Ianto's for him to see just how sad that smile might be. "I'm not going to turn him down."
Indy's unscheduled day off school had robbed them of the obvious opportunity for One Last Time. Lying on the opposite side of their soundly-sleeping son through their last night together, Ianto had persuaded himself that it was better that way. Better to remember his last time with Jack only a little shadowed by the knowledge of their coming separation, and not some last, desperate--
What he'd persuaded himself of in the dark of the night before seemed entirely irrelevant, faced with Jack and a chance to say goodbye, as Jack put it, properly. They made it as far as the sunlit kitchen, stumbling and kissing--like overeager teenagers, like drowning men--before Jack pushed Ianto up against the counter and dropped to his knees.
Ianto's head fell back as Jack opened his trousers, fingers as deft as ever. He caught a flash of bright blue through the window, and squeezed his eyes shut--but then Jack's fingers were on him, and Jack's mouth, and Ianto couldn't help but look. When he opened his eyes again, the only blue he could see was Jack's eyes, smiling up at him wickedly.
Jack's hands were still on Ianto's hips, signally failing to hold him back against the pull of Jack's mouth. When his hips jerked, Jack made a sound Ianto recognized as pleased, for all it was choked off. He sunk a hand into Jack's hair and Jack's eyelids fluttered, and Ianto didn't last long after that; Jack didn't let him. His fingers clenched in Jack's hair as he came, and he thought a little dizzily that if he'd pulled out a grey one, two more would grow back in its place, and it would be his fault when there were more.
Ianto's knees gave out, and he folded down to the floor as his hand slipped to the nape of Jack's neck, Jack's hands still steady on his hips. Ianto caught his mouth in a kiss, and then smiled. He'd been quick enough to catch Jack's lips still hot, still a little swollen with abuse. Jack's teeth closed on Ianto's lip in answer, and Ianto huffed a mock sigh against Jack's mouth and slid his hand into Jack's trousers. It was easier to do than it would have been with Ianto's jeans, and he wondered, not for the first time, whether Jack had pioneered the fashion with this use in mind.
Jack was ready for him, past ready, thrusting quickly into Ianto's grip. Gratifyingly, he didn't last much longer than Ianto had, only getting through a handful of frantic kisses before he was coming over Ianto's hand. They didn't move for a while, after--leaning together, and Ianto thought about how much this was just like the old days, the days he was going back to, the hurry-up, mostly-clothed encounter, the furtive spike of adrenaline flavoring the moment. Jack's hand felt familiar and unfamiliar all at once, curled around his shoulder over his shirt as they caught their breath.
Jack's lips were moving against Ianto's temple, inaudible words or lazy kisses. Ianto closed his eyes and told himself he wasn't really losing anything, he was going back to Jack--but this Jack was losing him for good now, and Ianto knew more than enough to know how it would hurt him. He couldn't bear to hasten the moment, but eventually Ianto became aware of his sticky fingers, and the fact that his jeans were still pushed down just as far as they needed to be, and that Indiana was--arguments of sovereignty and dimensional transcendence aside--in the back garden with the Doctor and Martha Jones.
Jack laughed roughly when Ianto tensed, and said, "Yeah, come on, the fun part's over."
He tugged Ianto to his feet, and they went together to the sink, washing up and setting themselves to rights in silence--but when Ianto turned toward the door, Jack caught his arm.
"Hold on. We have to talk first."
Ianto turned back, searching Jack's serious face, and settled his hand over Jack's. "You don't have to tell me--"
Jack cracked a smile, small and sad but genuine. "After all this time, I don't think I'd deserve the chance to say it if you didn't already know. And there are things I can't tell you, of course. But there is a conversation we need to have. Come on."
Jack's hand slid down to Ianto's, tangling their fingers together, and he turned and led Ianto to another door, into a windowless room. It was originally a scullery or pantry of some sort, Ianto thought. Jack used it now as an office, and Ianto had seldom stepped inside; several displays invariably shut down when he did, triggered by some unseen sensor. His one consolation was that when Indiana stepped inside, all the screens shut down, and shutters closed over several shelves and cabinets, while locks audibly engaged on others.
This morning, all was quiet anyway, and nothing changed when Jack led Ianto inside and directed him to the desk chair. Jack perched on the edge of the desk himself, and while the fingers of one hand curled around the edge of the desktop, he drummed against a drawer-front with the others.
"Ianto," Jack said, in a measured, practiced voice. "I know you came here for curiosity. For yourself, because you wanted to see your son. And I know it would be ridiculous to try to thank you for staying."
Ianto folded his arms and waited for Jack to start making sense, but he didn't hold his breath.
Jack acknowledged the motion with a small grimace, and pushed on. "I think you know that--however Indy feels about it right now--staying and letting him get to know you--giving him a year of life with you--"
"This really sounds like you're trying to thank me," Ianto said.
Jack nodded, and looked down at the drawer. "I'm trying to acknowledge that you have given us a gift, and that it has cost you something, and that it will continue to cost you."
Ianto nodded shortly. He was mainly trying not to think about it. It wouldn't be anything like losing Lisa, all grief and guilt, nor like his father's death--grief and anger, mostly, that time. Even if he couldn't see Indy, or this Jack, ever again, they'd both still be with him back there where he belonged, in some sense. And they weren't dying; they'd be safe here in the future. The only one dying was him, and he gathered he wouldn't have to go on being upset about that for terribly long.
He'd miss them; they would miss him. He still had to go back. The future was fixed, and so was the past. There was no use talking about the cost.
Jack opened the drawer, and withdrew a small green glass vial, twiddling it between his fingers.
"I could get you a discount," Jack said. "Retcon's come a long way. Virtually no detectable side-effects, well-controlled area of effect, highly reliable."
Ianto stared, letting his hands open and close on his biceps a few times before he tried to speak. "You want me to forget you. Both of you. All of this."
Jack shook his head. "Never. But if you need to, if you find you can't bear it--"
Ianto looked away, resisting the urge to curl up smaller or lash out. Here Jack went again, protecting him--there were days when Ianto managed not to contemplate how much closer in age he was to their son than to Jack, and how both of them must look equally like children to him, but clearly today was not going to be one of those days.
"Ianto, it's not--I've been trying to remember and I just don't know."
Ianto frowned at the wall, and then at Jack. "You've been trying to..."
It was Jack's turn to look away, with an almost sheepish air. "I don't know. I don't know if you were dying inside after you came back, or if you were coping with it just fine, or if you had forgotten us and nothing had changed. I don't remember anything changing right then. And I don't know if I can't remember because I've forgotten, or because I never knew--"
Ianto stared at Jack for a moment, and then stood and grabbed Jack by the chin--as if he were Indy--and forced him to make eye contact.
"Are you telling me you want me to forget so that you don't have to feel guilty about not noticing, two hundred years ago, that I was unhappy about something I will have to keep secret from you to keep from destroying both our lives?"
Jack smiled a little, then stopped smiling. "Guilt I can handle. I've got lots of practice with guilt. But I don't want you hurting if I could have helped. He won't be able to help you--I didn't--so I've got to offer now."
Ianto shook his head and dropped his hand. "I'm not going to forget you, Jack."
"Just humor me," Jack said, mercifully not in the same tone he used to coax Indiana to eat new foods. He sounded a little like the old Jack, who never said anything that was less than half an irresistible command. Ianto discovered that he still responded to that--some old, buried reflex (a reflex he'd be needing again soon, if Jack wasn't to remember that anything had changed). He opened his hand and let Jack drop the vial into his palm.
"It's programmable," Jack said, closing his hand around Ianto's, folding his unresisting fingers around the vial. "You concentrate on the period of time you want to forget--most subjects find it helps to draw a diagram of some sort to focus attention. It helps to have a sort of landmark--you'd concentrate on Indy, for example, or riding in the TARDIS. Something that distinctively marks this year. The dose isn't mixed with a sedative; you'll experience some disorientation, followed by a period of mild compulsive behavior. Usually the first thing subjects do is start tidying up--they tend to destroy all evidence of what they've just done, if they self-administer."
Ianto tugged his hand away, but dropped the vial into his pocket to save arguing. "You helped to develop this?"
Jack nodded, giving Ianto another shadow of a smile. "Yeah. Memory's like Swiss cheese these days. Hell, maybe that's why I don't remember. Or maybe I'm just getting old."
That hadn't been quite what Ianto meant, and of course there was no way to say that. He heaved a pointed sigh, instead, and then kissed Jack. "You were going to give this to me."
"If you wanted it," Jack agreed, his hands coming up to hold Ianto's arms gingerly, as though he expected Ianto to bolt and wasn't sure he had the right to stop him. "I admit, I wasn't betting the farm."
"But you would have had time to, if I said yes," Ianto said, leaning his forehead against Jack's, holding on tight. He would have to break Jack's grip eventually--soon, so awfully bloody soon--but not quite yet.
"Oh," Jack said, sounding startled just like he used to, in the old days, before they were quite sure of each other--they'd come all the way round to the point where Ianto could surprise him again, and that was something.
"Oh, yes," Ianto agreed. "Because I know for a fact this door locks, and now it's my turn to say a proper good-bye to you."
Ianto was a little worried about how they were going to get Indiana back out of the TARDIS, but in the event he only had to step through the door. Indy popped up from the other side of the console, wide-eyed.
The Doctor stood up more slowly, tucking a small book into his pocket, and said, "Don't forget your hat, Junior."
Indy looked up at the Doctor, and then disappeared for a moment, popping back into view with a hat on his head that could only be described as fabulous, in every sense: it was a blinding shade of chartreuse with jet beads, rising easily a foot above the top of Indy's head even as it drooped precariously over his forehead, dangling iridescent black tassels on every side.
His eyes were wide, his face pale under the gaudy monstrosity. "Dad?"
Ianto extended his hand, not struggling at all to keep a straight face. "I was just going to take one more walk down to the river. Would you come with me?"
Indy looked up at the Doctor, and then hurried to Ianto's side, grabbing his hand and holding tight. Ianto let himself be dragged out of the TARDIS and away; Indy actually burst into a run as they crossed the lane and headed for the bridle path. Ianto jogged gamely beside him till they got to the bottom of the first downhill, then reined him in. "Careful, you're going to lose your hat."
Indy reached up and adjusted the thing atop his head, slowing to a snail's pace as the path curved. "Doctor--the Doctor--he said I could have anything I liked from the dressing rooms. He showed me four, and he said there's another one but he can never remember where it is! A whole room!"
Ianto nodded. "It is quite a lot bigger on the inside."
Indy nodded back so emphatically the hat slipped down again; Ianto reached out and lifted it by the crown even as Indy raised his hands to adjust it.
"Time Lords can do that," Indy said in a knowing tone. "But the TARDIS does it all by itself. It grew, you know, the Doctor didn't make it."
"Didn't he," Ianto said, and he could just see the report he'd have had to fill out, two lives ago, upon receipt of such direct information about the Doctor's technology. There had been a box to check for witnesses potentially unreliable due to age, mental health, or chemically altered state.
It was reflex to add, "Is that what he was telling you about? How the TARDIS works?"
Indy shrugged. "Just stories. From a book. I couldn't understand all the words, but he said I will sometime."
Ianto smiled and looked down the path. The sparkle of the river was just coming into view; they were nearly at the top of the rise, even dragging their feet as they both were. "When you're older, no doubt."
Indy shrugged, and nodded. His grip on Ianto's hand tightened, and he didn't demand to race Ianto to the riverbank when they reached the peak, as he'd always done, even when Ianto was a stranger sleeping in his Dad's bed. They walked down together, sedately, holding on tight and resisting the nudge of gravity that pushed them to move faster.
Indiana was six years old today--Ianto had been sorting buttons and practicing stitching scraps together under his father's eye when he was six--and Ianto wouldn't be here to see him get any older than this. He'd wanted to give his son something of himself, something to remember, some way to know him, and this was his last chance to say something. Indy would remember this day, for better or worse, and if Ianto was going to say anything--he had to say something--it ought to be something worth remembering, something Indy wouldn't get from Jack. That ruled out a lot of the sensible things Ianto could say, and most of the ridiculous and dangerous things.
Still, there were one or two areas of expertise for Ianto to cover. He mulled his words as they ambled down to the river, and as they sat on the bank, Indy scouring the immediate vicinity for small stones and then handing them to Ianto to skip. After he'd got one to go eight, Indy stopped looking, took his hat off, and leaned against Ianto's side. Ianto put an arm around him.
"Ianto Jones Junior," Ianto said softly, and Indy didn't make even a sound of protest.
"I want you to remember something for me," Ianto said, and Indy's arms closed suddenly around his chest, nearly squeezing his breath out. Ianto hugged Indy back, drew breath against his grip, and continued.
"Someday, Jack is going to do something that you think is really stupid, or really mean, or both. Not just like making you go to bed or stop playing when you don't want to. Something really wrong. Do you understand me?"
Indy pulled away a little and looked up at him warily. "Dad wouldn't."
Ianto had had years of practice keeping a straight face, and he needed all of them just then. "Everybody makes a mistake sooner or later. Even Jack. Someday, he'll do something you don't like, and he just won't listen to you when you tell him he's wrong. My dad did, more than once, when I was growing up."
Indy wasn't looking any less suspicious. If he'd been a few years older, Ianto thought, he'd have actually burst out with the accusation that if anyone was getting anything stupidly, meanly wrong, it was Ianto himself, by saying such things. As it was, the thought was nearly there in his eyes and the stubborn set of his jaw.
"Someday, you might find you're really angry at him," Ianto offered, when the silence had gone on long enough for Indy's guard to slip a little. "Really, really angry. Just--try not to be too scared, when it happens. Try to remember that everyone gets angry at their dads eventually, and that Jack will always, always be there for you, no matter what."
Indy kicked a clod of dirt into the river and said nothing. Ianto lowered his arm and looked around for another stone to skip, even though he wouldn't possibly do better than eight, and it was bad luck to keep going and end on a worse throw, a superstition he and Indy had always silently shared.
When he found a stone, he offered it to Indy, instead, and the boy took it from him after an instant's hesitation. "Dad--"
There was a booming sound from behind them--an explosion, from the direction of the house, and by the time he'd consciously identified it Ianto had already knocked Indy flat on the riverbank, shielding his son with his own body. He sat up almost at once--the explosion hadn't been that big, by the sound of it, and Jack, the Doctor, and Doctor Martha Jones were surely more than capable of dealing with whatever it was.
Indy, however, was staring at him, wild-eyed. "Dad? Dad--"
Indy looked away up the hill, toward the house, and Ianto wasted a second noticing once again how obvious it was to him which of those had been vocative and which nominative. Indy had said his name first, if only because he was closer.
"It's all right," Ianto said firmly, catching Indy by the shoulders to forestall any impulse to run off, toward the explosion or away.
"Jack will be fine." It occurred to him suddenly that Indy still didn't know how true that was, or just what Ianto meant when he promised that Jack would always be there for his son. Now wasn't really the time, either. "And the Doctor and Martha know how to handle all sorts of situations. They've had even more practice at it than Jack."
Indy nodded, obediently, still staring up at Ianto, and Ianto realized that the first instruction drilled into all the kids, every Disaster Day, was wait for an adult to assess the situation. Ianto was the dad here, the adult, and Indy was waiting for instructions.
"Come on, then. Follow me, we'll go and see what's happened."
Indy nodded, solemn, and walked nearly on Ianto's heels all the way up the bridle path--but he never once tried to come alongside, or run ahead. They reached the house in rather less than half the time it had taken them to get down to the river, Ianto hoping with every step that he was taking long enough for Jack to have come round, if he'd taken the brunt of whatever that was. Seeing Jack injured would be frightening enough; if Jack was still down, Ianto would have to distract Indy quickly--and if the Doctor were hurt--or Martha--
But even as they approached the garden gate, Ianto heard Martha, and her voice was wry, exasperated, entirely without panic. "Jack, just let me look at it."
Ianto turned around and swung Indy up into his arms, trotting the last few steps into the garden. Jack was sitting on the ground a body-length from the TARDIS, looking mildly the worse for wear. Martha was applying pressure to Jack's left arm--there was a singed patch of grass near the TARDIS doors, and Ianto wrinkled his nose against the smell.
Jack looked toward them, flashing a sudden, blinding smile. "There you are. Thought you might come back for that."
Ianto set Indy on his feet, but kept a grip on his shoulder, keeping him from bolting straight to Jack. As they approached, Ianto looked Jack over with his own set of criteria--he didn't look freshly resurrected, just a little dazed.
When they reached Jack's side, it was Indy who demanded, "Dad, what happened?"
"Something you should absolutely never try yourself," Jack said firmly.
Martha rolled her eyes and added, "Boys and their toys, they never change."
Ianto belatedly looked around for the Doctor, but found him standing punctiliously just inside the TARDIS doors, watching. He smiled and waved when Ianto met his eyes, the sonic screwdriver still in his hand. "Sorry. Really didn't think that would happen."
And it was Jack's left wrist, of course, which meant they'd been mucking with Jack's wriststrap--which Jack had always insisted was broken, as far as its most important functions. Nothing the Doctor couldn't fix, Ianto would have thought. Clearly Jack and the Doctor had thought the same.
Indy slipped out of Ianto's grasp, dropping to his knees and burrowing against Jack's right side. "Dad! You should be careful."
"I know, I know," Jack said, curling his good arm around Indiana even as Martha let go of his wrist. "Really, it's not bad at all, look."
Jack peeled the cloth back to show the skin beneath, almost unmarked already. There wasn't even much blood on the cloth--the wound must have been nearly self-cauterized even before it healed.
"Still," Indy said, sitting back on his heels. "Still! You always tell me to be careful and then you--"
Indy stopped short, and looked over at Ianto, nearly as wide-eyed as when they'd heard the blast.
Ianto quirked a smile and closed the distance between them, kneeling down at Indy's side. "Yes, Indy. Like that. Only worse."
Ianto reached for Jack's no-longer-burned wrist--the wriststrap itself was still there, of course, looking perhaps lightly scorched. It was a time-travel and teleportation device; if they'd succeeded in fixing it, Jack could have...
Ianto dropped his hand and looked away. At the same moment, Jack gathered Indy closer to himself and whispered something Ianto couldn't quite catch.
Ianto turned back, and found Jack and Indy watching him with twin expectant stares.
"We made something for you," Indy said. "A present. So you won't forget us."
Indy held up his closed fist, and Ianto offered an open palm, staring at his fingers and trying to keep them steady. Indy parted his fingers enough to let it drop and dangle--an intricately braided cord, strands of red and blue and grey all twisted together, the same shades as the timeline-model Jack had made for Indy, nearly a year ago. There were three beads strung together at the center of the cord, with faintly visible carving. They had a dull sheen that looked old, as though those designs had been sharp once, and had worn down over uncountable years.
"It's a bracelet," Indy said, nearly steadily. "Will you wear it? So you'll remember us?"
The green glass vial was still in his pocket, but he'd never considered using it. He looked to Jack, whose shoulders twitched in a shrug. He'd had to try, Ianto supposed.
Ianto looked back at Indy and tilted his hand forward, letting the cord brush across his wrist as he offered it. "Tie it on for me?"
Indy nodded, taking hold of both ends of the bracelet and bending his head to focus on Ianto's wrist. Jack leaned in as well. "There you go--right, the fish jumps out of the water, and swims along the reef..."
"And flips his tail!" Indy declared triumphantly. When Ianto was able to see his own wrist again, and the knot in the cord, he had to admit that the protruding end did look rather like a fishtail.
Ianto looked over at Jack, who was watching him intently. "I remember the knot. Drove me crazy, because you never said where it came from, but you always wore it."
Ianto shook his head and gave Jack a kiss--one more, one last--and murmured, "Jealous of yourself. Brilliant."
"Well," Jack said, sounding a little choked, "really, who else would be worth worrying about?"
Ianto reached out blindly to pull Indy in between them. Jack's arms closed around them both, and Indy kept still, silent but breathing fast, deep enough for Ianto to feel the motion against his own chest. He was holding on to Ianto's wrist--his left wrist, the one he'd just tied the bracelet on--the same way he did at night.
The same way he had last night, and wouldn't tonight, or ever again.
A hand touched the back of Ianto's shoulder, and he forced himself to look up, expecting Martha and finding the Doctor. He was looking down at Ianto with nearly the same expression Ianto remembered from a year before, when Jack had thrown a name at him. Jenny. Jack had said then that he would need the Doctor to come and take Ianto back, because Jack could never let him go.
Ianto nodded to the Doctor, who nodded and took a step back.
Ianto shifted his weight, preparatory to standing, and said quietly, "Jack. It's time. You have to let me--"
It was at that point that Indiana appeared to utterly lose his mind.
There weren't even words, just an infant's wail of outrage and pain; he dug his fingernails into Ianto's wrist, clinging for dear life, even as he flailed the rest of his body wildly--he'd have been well on his way to breaking Ianto's arm if Jack hadn't got hold of him and taken his weight after just a second, both of them staggering to their feet in the process. Indy's eyes were wide, fixed on Ianto as he screamed and thrashed, and Ianto had to shut his own eyes tight as he attempted to pry his son's fingers free.
Other hands joined his, and Indy's screaming redoubled. Ianto found the Doctor and Martha bracketing him, each grabbing one of Indy's hands. Ianto tugged his hand back automatically when they broke Indy's grip; Indy's thrashing was nearly enough to overwhelm all three adults. Ianto hesitated for an instant, but Jack was focused on Indy--as he should be--and the Doctor and Martha were entirely occupied with giving him the chance to do what he had to do.
Ianto straightened his shoulders and turned away.
He was nearly at the door of the TARDIS when Indy's screaming cut off; he could hear Jack's voice, hoarse above Indy's muffled sobs, though he couldn't make out the words. Ianto forced himself to take the last step, over the threshold, and only then, holding on to the edge of the TARDIS doorframe, did he look back.
Indy had gone limp in Jack's arms, his face resting against Jack's shoulder and his arms dangling as he cried. One of Jack's hands cupped the back of Indy's head, holding him protectively, like an infant. He was murmuring constantly into Indy's ear, wet tracks running down his cheeks.
Jack looked up, then, and Ianto couldn't move, couldn't speak, could only hold Jack's gaze. There was nothing more to be said. Jack nodded, and the Doctor and Martha brushed lightly by Ianto. He heard the Doctor working the controls, heard the sound start behind him. Jack looked down at Indy, holding him tighter, and Ianto shut the door.
Ianto looked up as the train crossed the Severn, and then looked around. His bag was at his feet--looking deflated--the book was missing--no.
Ianto leaned his forehead against the window. He'd realized the book was still in his bag before the Doctor had left Martha's flat. Ianto had opened it up and scribbled on the last page before handing it over. The Doctor had said he'd be sure Junior got it.
Ianto stared out at Newport as the train rolled through without diverting north to avoid the Cardiff Inlet that wasn't there. He was nearly home now. He'd hardly been away any time at all. The tea had still been hot in Martha's flat; his return ticket would have been valid for weeks. His hotel room had been reserved for a whole day more, but he'd had nothing to stay in London for.
He'd found the bottle of antibiotics in his bag, beside the book, and stared at them, uncomprehending. Banned toxic substance. They'd been prescribed two days before, by a doctor whose name he didn't recognize. Two days ago he'd met Jana in the street, on his way home from walking Indiana to school. They'd stopped and talked. Ianto hadn't said good-bye, but he'd mentioned that he was due to leave sometime soon. She'd wished him luck, told him to take care of himself.
Ianto shut his eyes. He was going home, to Cardiff, to Jack, to Torchwood. He would have to remember how to be that Ianto--Jack hadn't noticed anything changed--Jack had noticed the knot, the bracelet--Jack had met his eyes, holding their son--they'd both been crying. They'd all...
Ianto squeezed his eyes tighter shut, and dragged the back of his hand across his cheek as he began reciting Torchwood passwords and protocols under his breath. He would look and sound like a madman, like he was praying. At least, for once, no one was likely to try to talk to him.
Ianto was conscious of thinking it, and rolled the words over in his head as he moved around his flat. He'd stopped at his flat before he went home.
There wasn't actually anything to do at the flat; it hadn't been sitting empty for a year, just over a day and a half. He'd left it longer without leaving Cardiff at all. It was surreal, familiar and alien all at once. There hadn't even been any post.
He stood in the kitchen, reciting his neighbors' names and the pertinent details he'd picked up chatting with them in the corridors--he inevitably looked like someone's nephew, cousin, or brother's friend from school. If he could remember everything, he could slot himself back into his life. He thought about unearthing the emergency bottle of vodka--it was in the linen closet, behind the spare set of sheets--but he didn't want to spend another second here.
The thought of facing Jack gave him butterflies in his stomach--like the moment before Indy stepped on stage for the Year One play, like the first time that other Jack had pushed him down to the bed in broad daylight, like finding himself face to face with the Doctor for the first time. There was so much he might get wrong, so much that might be wrong. There was nowhere else in this world he'd rather be.
The Hub opened to Ianto's passcodes and identity scans, welcoming as it had ever been. The last door rolled back, and Ianto stepped inside to the sound of Myfanwy screeching, shaking something more than half her size and tentacled, still struggling and shedding blood from fifteen meters up.
Ianto looked down at the sound of Jack jogging across the grating to him.
Jack was beaming, filthy, shirtsleeves rolled up and collar opened to show sweat and grime and something that was probably some sort of blood--though it didn't have that copper smell, something more like aluminium under hot water. He stopped just short of touching Ianto and said, "There you are!"
Ianto just stared at him for a moment, and then lunged forward all at once--now or never--and kissed him. Jack's arms closed around him at once, and Jack smelled of cordite and tasted like he hadn't stopped to eat or sleep since Ianto had left him. Myfanwy was screaming, Jack was whipcord tense all around Ianto, and he knew this. He was home.
When Ianto pushed back, he looked up at Myfanwy again instead of meeting Jack's eyes and said, "I thought we agreed, no live prey inside the Hub?"
"Hey, it wasn't my idea. The live prey was already inside the Hub--she just pounced when I spooked the damn thing out here. It showed up all of a sudden in the ventilation off the sublevel morgue, so either we've got a leak to the outside and things like that are roaming around Cardiff, or the Rift dumped that thing into our ventilation system. I don't think I even found where it was living--there could be more. Friends, relatives, offspring."
Jack had that mad delighted look in his eye, a job to do, a crisis to face, aliens to fight. Ianto felt his heart start to race, the familiar adrenaline rush that meant he was on the clock. It wasn't a game this time, it was his work, their work, it was Torchwood. Home.
"Or that's the offspring," Ianto suggested. "And its mother is still in the ventilation."
"Ianto!" Jack scolded. "Why did you say that? That's like asking what could possibly go wrong!"
Ianto couldn't help smiling. He hadn't known how much he missed this until he was here, but Christ, he'd missed this. "Time to go hunting, then?"
Jack grinned back. "Bring something with stopping power. Over my dead body's a very real possibility."
Ianto kissed Jack again, because he could, because Jack wasn't expecting it in the slightest. Then Myfanwy screeched, and an entire tentacle fell into the water, close enough for them both to be dampened by the splash.
"Right," Ianto said, heading for the armory. "Shotgun. Give me two minutes."
He was in the shower afterward, mostly clean and standing under the spray with his hands braced on the tile. He was staring at his left wrist--water darkened the braided strands in the cord and dripped from the beads. He knew the feel of everything catching up with him; he'd felt it before right here, in this very shower, standing in this very position.
It kept coming back to him in flashes: Indy screaming, Jack looking dazed before he brought out that smile, the Doctor's face when he tapped Ianto's shoulder, the strength of Indy's hands on his wrist. Martha had put some sort of ointment on it that made the tiny fingernail-gouges fade almost instantly--the Doctor had raised his eyebrows at that, and Martha had said, "Don't worry, I only use it for cheap tricks."
Ianto had moved through it all like a clockwork soldier--Jack had wound him up when he got here, and now Ianto had run down.
He'd barely thought it when he felt a touch on the center of his back, and then Jack was moving up close behind him, naked and solid and familiar. Especially when Ianto wasn't looking at him.
Jack curled one arm around Ianto's waist, but his left hand slid without hesitation down Ianto's left arm, one finger hooking into the bracelet, thumb brushing over the complicated knot.
Ianto's breath caught, but Jack had said he remembered the knot, remembered the bracelet. Jack hadn't--wouldn't, didn't--know what to make of it. It was just a bit of cord and a few beads, just something that had appeared on Ianto's wrist after he'd been away.
"You never said," Jack said lightly, to the back of Ianto's head. "How was your holiday?"
Ianto shut his eyes. Even if he could safely answer that question, there weren't words.
"Mm," Jack said. "Can't take you camping, can't send you off on your own. What can I--"
The question was going to be a joke, however small, however gently teasing. Ianto shouldn't have flinched from it, but he did, and Jack must have felt it; he fell sharply silent.
Ianto turned his face up into the spray, and Jack stayed close behind him, letting the back of Ianto's head press against his face. When Ianto dropped his chin again, Jack leaned closer, his mouth at the back of Ianto's neck, and Ianto said quietly, "Take me to bed. Please."
He wasn't even sure whether he was being circumspect--he'd be just as happy to sleep or to fuck, as long as Jack took him there and didn't ask him any more questions.
"Yeah," Jack said, the word nearly a sigh as he reached past Ianto and turned off the water. Loud in the sudden silence, Jack added, "That, I can do."
Ianto was on the edge of sleep when Jack suddenly pushed himself up to look down at him. He frowned briefly, and then lay back down to rest his head against Ianto's chest. His ear against Ianto's chest.
Ianto bit his lip, his heart speeding up a little as he realized, but there wasn't any way to fake it. He obediently took a deep breath and then exhaled, two or three times as Jack shifted position, keeping one hand flat to Ianto's side all the time.
"You sound a lot better. It was bugging me--you were breathing pretty hard back there, but you didn't start coughing once, that's what was missing."
"Antibiotics," Ianto offered, conjuring up a wry smile when Jack looked at him. "Wonder drugs."
Jack huffed, but squirmed up to resume his former position, gathering Ianto comfortably close. Ianto let himself be gathered, and tried to find his way back toward sleep--he was so tired, and Jack was here, and it would be enough. He slung his arm over Jack's side, and curled his fingers into a loose fist to keep from feeling for scars that he wouldn't find.
"You're a wonder drug," Jack muttered, in a tone that would have been dire if it hadn't been ruined by Jack trying to suppress a yawn.
Ianto snorted, then chuckled, twisting to try to bury the sound in the pillow--as if Jack wouldn't hear--and then Jack tickled him, the utter bastard, and Ianto was laughing helplessly, shaking with it even as he got hold of both Jack's hands and rolled half on top of Jack. Even knowing Jack was letting him win didn't make it not funny--the sound kept playing over and over in his head, Jack trying for a stupid comeback and not managing even that--and he wound up lying with his head on Jack's chest, resting his weight on Jack to keep him still.
Above him, Jack muttered, "Weren't you going to sleep?"
Ianto shrugged and shifted his hands, still holding Jack's, into a more comfortable position. He fought down a last random burst of giggles to say, "Weren't you?"
He got it out ahead of the sudden yawn, which counted as a victory. Ianto snuggled down against Jack's body, and fell asleep so sharply that--against all odds--he still had a smile on his face when he did.
Gwen lasted three days before she cornered him and asked him what was wrong.
Ianto frowned, giving her his best baffled look. He'd been doing really well, even pretending to take the bloody antibiotics till they were gone. He and Gwen had both been a little tense and tired for weeks now. Ianto was fooling Jack, or at least getting Jack to let him pass. Gwen shouldn't have noticed any difference.
"Every time Jack leaves the room, you relax," Gwen whispered. "Just a little. Ianto, is something--"
Ianto realized he was giving Gwen an actually baffled look, now. She was such a police officer sometimes.
"No, Gwen, it's all right," Ianto said slowly. "I just walked into a door, honestly."
Gwen's mouth went tight, and she gave him a filthy, furious look. "Ianto--"
"Fell down the stairs?"
"It was my own fault, I burnt his dinner," Ianto tried.
Gwen's mouth twitched. "Ianto Jones, that is not funny."
"Don't laugh, then," Ianto advised, and turned back to checking the supply of coffee filters. "It's nothing, Gwen, just--well, what if you worked with Rhys every day?"
Gwen blew out a breath, and then muttered something that sounded very like, "Wouldn't be me falling down the stairs." But she squeezed Ianto's shoulder as she left.
He spent a little extra time sorting the coffee filters, practicing his smile. It really wasn't funny at all.
When the Daleks came--when Jack said he was sorry, said they were dead, when he included himself in that statement--Ianto thought that was going to be it, then. He was going to die. Gwen, too, probably. He felt worse for Gwen than himself. Perhaps he could find some way, sacrifice himself for her. That would be enough to make Jack remember him as brave, two hundred years from now, wouldn't it?
Jack would survive, of course, and he'd find some way to save the world. That was what Jack did, after all, and the Daleks wouldn't know to destroy one little bit of technology tucked away in the Hub, if they even could. Indiana--the fetus--didn't show a life sign, in stasis. There wouldn't be anything to exterminate, by their way of thinking.
Ianto had seen the future, seen it and touched it and worn its clothes and slept in its bed. He knew it would come out all right. It had to.
When Ianto saw the Doctor's face again--saw him smiling, despite everything, so pleased to see all his people--he knew everything would be all right. With the Doctor and Jack on the scene, things had to sort out for the best. Ianto remembered, suddenly, that the last thing the Doctor had done, before stepping back into the TARDIS, was to pull Ianto into a hug.
He'd been in shock at the time, or as good as, and had only stood there stiffly, head bowed. The Doctor had squeezed him close anyway, set one hand on the back of Ianto's head like he was an infant, a child to protect. They all were, as far as the Doctor was concerned. He wouldn't fail them, not even against the Daleks.
Jack left--promised to come back, of course, and Ianto gave him the smile he wanted, and would want to remember later--and that all seemed like part of the obvious progression of events. Jack had to be with the Doctor if he was going to survive with the Doctor, if he and the Doctor were going to save the world. And Ianto and Gwen would stay in the Hub, and--
And then Jack was gone, and the Daleks were descending, and Ianto thought of what the Doctor had said: the future is always yours to choose, but the consequences get dire.
It could all go wrong here--the future could change, could cease to be, and if the Daleks won, or just did enough damage in losing, then Indy's life would never play out, or never play out the way Ianto had seen it. The Daleks were threatening that, threatening not just Ianto's ordinary, difficult, crazed world, but also the safe, distant time where Jack had chosen to raise their son. They would all go down together.
So Ianto took the clip from Gwen's hand, and got ready to go down fighting. If there was anything he could do to help defeat those knobbly robot bastards, he'd be damned sure to do it.
But as it turned out, Tosh had already done it for them.
By the time he saw Jack again--with Martha in tow, as well as Mickey Smith, who looked around with the proprietary air of a man who intends to stay a while--Ianto had realized that that hadn't been his moment, and had settled down to wait for the next crisis.
He really hoped that Jack hadn't been planning to lie to Indiana when he said Ianto died bravely, that it hadn't been a random accident. He really, really hoped that it hadn't been, say, fatal electrocution while arguing with Mickey over how best to reroute the power cables to the sublevels until they cleaned up the Dalek damage, mainly because that would probably mean Mickey had been right.
As it turned out, Mickey was right, but no one got electrocuted. Ianto awarded himself partial credit for that.
Martha took him aside, during the first quiet moment after they'd all hugged and said hello--after he'd got back from saying hello to Jack in the semi-privacy of Jack's office--and said very softly that the Doctor said hello, and it had been good to see him looking well.
Martha wasn't just passing on greetings. Martha had helped the Doctor pry his son's fingers from his wrist, and she'd helped him erase the marks so Jack wouldn't know until he had to. Ianto looked her in the eye and knew she wasn't expecting him to tell her that he was fine, nor expecting him to break down and cry on her shoulder.
Ianto shrugged, and shaped his mouth into something not entirely unlike a smile. "In London, people used to say it wasn't how long you lived, it was how many things you survived to have nightmares about."
Martha nodded briefly, and gave him something a little bit like a smile back. "You've got a whole new set after today, then."
"As long as you know there's someone who knows what's been waking you up at night," Martha said, and squeezed his hand. "If you ever need someone to tell you it really happened..."
She'd been to the end of the world with Jack, sometime last year when the world hadn't ended after all. She'd know a thing or two about wondering, as well.
Ianto nodded, and did not tell her he never wondered, never past the moment he touched his own wrist and felt the cord there. It was the thought that counted. "Thank you. And if you see him again, tell him thank you for me as well. I don't know whether I managed to--"
Martha rolled her eyes. "You got terrifyingly polite. Trust me, you thanked him. But I'll tell him again, if I see him before you do."
It took weeks for the rain to stop. The workstations in the Hub were all shrouded in plastic sheeting to protect the electronics from the water that found its way in everywhere, even after the weather had cleared outside and the worst of the damage had been repaired. The place was full of odd rattling and rustling and the constant tap-tapping of drips no one could trace back to a source. No one stayed later than they had to, and tonight everyone but Ianto--and Jack, of course--had managed to bugger off by tea time.
They'd all taken to playing music, or running white noise generators, to keep from going utterly mad. Odd noises were more common than not, and Ianto hardly noticed them. Still, something caught his ear--just for a moment, an odd noise that jumped out at him though he couldn't say what it sounded like, or even how long it lasted.
Ianto shook his head--the sound sent a shiver down his spine, and tickled at his ear like a gnat--and started checking monitors. It was an odder-than-odd noise; it might be something...
Jack appeared just as Ianto found the sound-and-energy signature.
"Did you hear something?" Jack said. "I thought I..."
Ianto pointed to the screen just as the system pulled up the closest historical matches to the peculiar signature. One from a few years ago; one from last spring, the day Jack disappeared.
"Those are the TARDIS," Jack said. "The Doctor. But this--"
Ianto nodded. "It's not a match. Not within the parameters of variation with the first two. So it's..."
"A TARDIS," Jack breathed. "Or something is wrong with the Doctor's, or--or something is very wrong."
Ianto nodded. It had been another Time Lord, when Jack had had that year no one else remembered--the Master, who had tortured Jack and the Doctor for that year. Jack said he was dead, but if one more Time Lord could show up, why not another?
On the other hand, what were the odds that the Doctor was the only surviving Time Lord who wasn't a homicidal maniac?
Ianto didn't say it aloud. That was well beyond asking what could possibly go wrong.
They criss-crossed the Plass together twice. "It ought to be here, somewhere," Jack said again. "The Rift is a fueling point, and the reading was in the same proximity."
"But if it's not the Doctor's TARDIS we may not be able to see it at all," Ianto repeated, taking up the second half of the argument that Jack had played out all by himself the first few times.
"Still," Jack said, stopping by the Water Tower to look around again. "Still. There ought to be something out of place, someone..."
Dusk was falling. There were people everywhere now that the weather had settled down, a few official vehicles parked, vendors here and there.
Ianto didn't bother looking. Instead he watched Jack searching for something he couldn't see. "But if it's got a working chameleon circuit, we won't be able to tell."
Jack sighed. "I'm going to go down and check the monitors again. You stay here, see if anything jumps out at you. I'll try to direct you if I can pinpoint the location better."
Ianto nodded, and set off in another random direction as Jack stepped onto the lift and disappeared.
It wasn't a sound this time, just a flash of color--bright blue, nearly the blue of the TARDIS--but of course it wasn't the TARDIS. All Ianto saw when he looked was a dark-haired young man in jeans and a bright blue t-shirt. There was no reason to think a TARDIS had to be blue, anyway; that was just the police-box shape.
Still, Ianto couldn't take his eyes off the man; there was something familiar about him, the way he moved. He was looking around as he walked--strolled, really. He was an obvious tourist, and like any tourist he stopped in mid-stride when something caught his eye, and changed direction randomly.
Ianto was still walking, tailing the man almost effortlessly. He was within five meters when the man abruptly changed direction again, showing Ianto his face. He looked more familiar, then, naggingly familiar. Ianto stopped walking, and his heart and his throat got it before he did, going so tight he couldn't move or breathe.
The man--the boy--got it faster, even though he wasn't looking. His gaze swept across Ianto and after a half-second's delay his face lit up, shocked and delighted. When he said, "Dad!" his voice was different, but Ianto still recognized his own name in his son's mouth.
Ianto barely had time to notice that Indiana was taller than he was now--he had to be nearly Ianto's own age, which was going to make his head hurt when he had time to think about it--before he was grabbed in a fierce hug. "Dad, Dad, that was--ha! That was way too easy."
Indiana was nearly laughing, giddy, and Ianto clutched at his t-shirt, trying to keep his balance--of course he recognized that shade of blue; half his hair had been that color once. It was his special DEAD t-shirt from Disaster Day. Indiana must have swiped it from the collection of clothes he'd left behind. Must have kept it for years, decades, to wear it now.
Ianto pushed back to look at him, blinking fast and trying to keep some kind of composure. "Indiana--is it still Indiana?"
Indy grinned. "Yeah, yeah--just about everyone calls me that, now. I couldn't stay Junior forever."
"No, you shouldn't," Ianto agreed, looking up at this happy young man, this man--his son--who'd come and found him. He looked him over again, and blurted, "Did you have to have the jeans lengthened?"
Indy laughed. "Yeah, an inch or two. Dad was right about eating my vegetables, I guess."
Ianto shook his head and finally managed to ask the question he ought to have asked first. "Indy, what are you doing here? How did you get here?"
"Oh." Indiana looked around, and Ianto wondered if his own face that transparent when he tried to keep a secret. It was strange, the multitude of faces he saw in Indy's face--his own, and Jack's, and that of the child he'd known--he'd stopped seeing Indy as a composite of inherited features almost at once, but now he shifted in and out of focus with every change of expression, like a kaleidoscope.
"I'm traveling with a friend," Indy said finally. "Dad says it's my gap year--does that mean anything to you? But we're here because she needed to refuel, and I wanted to see Cardiff--and you, if I could, safely. That's all. Just visiting."
"A friend," Ianto repeated neutrally, because apparently there was no going back once you'd turned into your father, and all he could hear was she.
The light was getting dodgy, but Ianto could swear Indy blushed a little. "Not that kind! No matter what horrifying crush I had on her when I was about ten years old. No. We're practically adopted cousins. The Doctor introduced us, of course. He started teaching us both Gallifreyan together when I was seven--my accent was always better," Indy added, a hint of a child's triumph bleeding through.
That was easier to picture, even with this adult Indiana before him--Ianto had seen him there on that last day, six years old and already getting his first lessons from the Doctor, aboard the TARDIS.
"You were all right, then," Ianto said cautiously.
Indy went serious all at once, teeth raking over his lower lip, and that expression Ianto recognized; it was so much like looking in a mirror that he had something like vertigo until Indy spoke. "Yeah, Dad, I--I was, really. I mean, I ran the fuck away from home on my seventh birthday when the Doctor showed up again, but--look, he brought me this."
Indy twisted, digging through a canvas messenger bag, and came up with a battered leather book, obviously much-read and much-loved. Ianto took it cautiously from his hand, flipping through the neatly-written pages without looking. His book, the one he'd written for Indy; the Doctor had been as good as his word.
Ianto turned to the last page. He'd never been able to remember what he wrote.
It took him a moment to decipher the unsteady scrawl.
Forgive me. I had to.
I am, always, everywhere, Your dad who died.
Ianto avoided Indy's eyes as he handed the book back, looking idly around the Plass as he put it away. Indy had come to see him, wearing his clothes and carrying his book; asking whether he was forgiven after that would be rather pathetically superfluous.
"So," Indy said brightly. "Dad told me a story once about this restaurant near the--the Plass, isn't this? Right? And I think it's the same one you talked about in--"
Ianto froze, and saw Indy freeze. Jack's voice was bright, the scolding tone at least half joking--a stranger wouldn't hear the scold at all, but of course Indy wasn't a stranger.
He was coming from behind Ianto--Indy was staring over Ianto's shoulder with frozen fascination--and then Jack's hand was on his shoulder and Jack was saying warmly, "Are you going to intro--"
Ianto saw it on Indy's face--the freeze giving way to horror--and swung around to slap a hand unerringly over Jack's mouth. "Fuck, Jack, not a word, don't."
Jack jerked back--Ianto had, possibly, hit him kind of hard there--but Ianto kept his hand sealed over Jack's mouth. "Don't say it, don't even think it. As you value my sanity. Or yours. Or his."
Not that Jack had any idea whose sanity he was threatening, or why.
Indy, behind him, wasn't making a sound. Ianto dared a glance back to check that he was still breathing. He looked a little pale--the lights were coming on, now, they made everyone look sickly--but he was standing his ground, staring at Jack as if hypnotized.
Ianto looked back at Jack, who was staring just the same.
There was no way around it. If Jack didn't find out who Indy was now, he'd just keep thinking about it--of course he'd remember. He'd figure it out eventually, maybe sometime when Ianto wasn't there to know, to try to fix it. And this had to be fixed--if nothing else, Jack had been honestly shocked when Ianto appeared in the future. He hadn't known that Ianto would ever see their son. He couldn't know this had happened.
Thank God for retcon.
"Look at him," Ianto said softly. "Jack. His face. Look at him properly, and think."
Jack blinked a couple of times, and then turned his gaze on Ianto, eyes wide. Ianto let his hand down, but Jack didn't say anything right away, just looked quickly from Ianto to Indy and back. "He's--you're--our..."
Jack didn't know his name, Ianto realized. Jack hadn't named him yet.
Jack smiled again, bright and charming and rapidly regaining his equilibrium, but when Ianto looked back at Indy he was still looking a little horrified.
"Nice to meet you," Jack said, extending a hand, but Indy actually shifted his weight backward, eyes wide and staring, hands at his sides. "Are you okay? Is it me? Do I--oh, God, do I look that much different by the time you get here?"
Indy shook his head slowly, and finally spoke, his voice faint. "You've never done personal magnetism at me before--could you stop, please? It's freaking me out."
"Oh," Jack said, taken aback. "Sorry, yeah."
He looked away, shook himself from the shoulders, and then looked up again--but he was very nearly a different man, with different body language, a different smile.
He was halfway to being Indy's dad, and Ianto's breath caught in recognition. He'd never even understood that that was the difference, that he was seeing Jack when he belonged to someone he'd never had to charm.
But Indy was already grinning, grabbing his father in a hug, and Jack laughed and hugged him back. The synchrony with which they both reached for Ianto was better than a paternity test. Ianto let himself be folded in, an arm around each of them, until Indy pushed away.
"Is this--this is bad, though, isn't it? Dad's not supposed to--"
Jack looked quickly back and forth between them, because Indy was unmistakably addressing Ianto, and just as unmistakably referring to his dad in the third person. "Ianto? Wait, you know each other already. How--"
And then Jack caught his wrist, digging a thumb under his wristwatch to touch the bracelet he always wore there.
Ianto nodded to Indy. "I'll take care of it, but we'd better cut our visit short--Jack, there's nothing to worry about. The ship we saw belongs to a friend of the Doctor's. You need to come with me. You're not meant to know any of this."
Jack had his eyes on Indy, a last longing look. "The Hub? I've got--"
Ianto shook his head. "My flat, actually. I've got supplies you won't miss, after."
Jack nodded, then shifted his attention abruptly from Indy to Ianto. He let go of Ianto's wrist after a quick squeeze, and said, "I know the way. I assume you'll catch up."
Ianto wasted a few precious seconds watching Jack walk away, overwhelmed by him as he so often was. It was always just as startling.
Then he turned back to Indiana to say goodbye all over again, one more last time.
Indy was smiling, and Ianto couldn't honestly tell whether it was stiff upper lip or just blithe unconcern. Ianto had been dead for most of Indy's life, after all; getting to see him was a lark, and the end of the lark was just that. Still, Indy returned his hug with gratifying enthusiasm, and let Ianto tug him down to press a kiss to his forehead.
"Take care of yourself, and this girl-cousin-friend of yours," Ianto said, fighting down everything he'd thought of, everything he could have said to that six-year-old he left behind. Indy didn't need that anymore. He'd grown up while Ianto wasn't looking, and Ianto had long since missed that chance. "Give my love to your dad, will you?"
"Yeah," Indy said, studying Ianto's face nearly as intently as Ianto was looking at his. "Yeah, of course."
Ianto nodded firmly, but before he could pull away, Indy said, "Love you, Dad, good night," turned, and bolted away across the Plass. He'd lost himself in the crowd before Ianto had even quite processed what he'd said. That had always been the last thing they said to Indiana when they put him to bed--love you, Indy, good night.
Ianto stared in the direction he'd gone. Indy had already vanished. By the end of tonight, even Jack wouldn't remember it had happened. Ianto would have to hold on to this alone. He closed his eyes, clenched his fists, and fixed it in his mind--love you, Dad, good night.
When he was sure he had it, Ianto started walking.
Ianto found Jack in the bathroom of his flat, replacing the lid on the toilet tank. He leaned in the doorframe and said nothing.
Jack shrugged. "I was just trying to guess your hiding places. You really don't have to be quite that careful with your porn, you know--and if you wanted to try--"
Ianto said firmly, "I have no idea what you're talking about, and furthermore that isn't mine, and I didn't buy it."
Jack raised his eyebrows, and Ianto knew perfectly well he was blushing (just like Indy, when Ianto hit upon that childhood crush--he'd had childhood crushes, and grown out of them, and gone time traveling just like his dad--like both his dads). Ianto just shook his head and stepped to the sink, opening the medicine cabinet and taking the green glass vial from the middle shelf.
"Oh," Jack said. "That's... that's practically cheating."
"I apparently have to cheat to thwart you for more than five minutes," Ianto said, brightening at the thought that he had apparently thwarted Jack for at least five minutes. Probably a personal best, there.
"Come on. You won't fall asleep, but you probably want to lie down for this."
Jack followed him, and took off his boots and braces and shirt before stretching out on Ianto's bed. "You're not going to make me beg before you explain to me what the hell just happened, right?"
"No," Ianto said. He'd taken off his own shoes and jacket and tie. "But this is traditional, actually. When you wanted to have a lie-in and your son wanted you to pay attention to him, you'd tell him stories in bed."
"Hmm," Jack said as Ianto settled beside him, laying down the vial on the night stand. "Are you going to tell me his name?"
"Yes," Ianto said, but first he pulled out his phone and sent a text.
Can you do better than tell me it happened? Can you show me?
"Really, your narrative style could use some work," Jack informed him, but the phone was already chiming for a received message. Martha had sent him a photo.
Ianto took a deep breath and opened the message, and there he was--Indy on his sixth birthday, looking up at something off to the right of the camera with an expression of pure wonder. Ianto stared for a moment, trying to make this his last memory of that year, Indy's smile, and not his body dangling limp and defeated in Jack's arms as he sobbed. Ianto shook his head, and passed the phone to Jack.
"This is our son, Indiana, as I last saw him."
Jack glanced from the screen to Ianto and then back; Ianto was tempted to count seconds while he didn't blink.
"Ianto Jones, Junior," Jack said finally. "Good name. Classic."
Ianto nodded, but Jack didn't look at him, squinting at the phone.
"Wait, Martha was--well, of course she was in on it, who else could have phoned the Doctor for you?"
"Yes," Ianto said. "Feel free to just infer the rest, if you like."
Jack set the phone down on Ianto's chest--much more gently than a mere piece of electronics deserved--and rolled onto his side. Propped on one elbow, he looked down at Ianto as he spoke. "You went to Martha when I sent you away for a holiday, and you told her about our kid, and you asked--"
Ianto raised his eyebrows.
"No, you're Ianto, of course you didn't ask. You just told her about it, but she called the Doctor, and the Doctor whisked you off to the future to see him."
Ianto nodded. "And then?"
Jack shook his head, lay down flat and curled himself around Ianto. "That part's the story. You tell me."
Ianto stared up at the ceiling, trying to find an order to tell it in, a single line through the tangle.
"I'm going to die," he said finally. "I don't know how much longer, now, but--I'm going to die, and you're going to wait almost two hundred years before you're ready to have him. And five years after he's born, I'm going to come back to you, and when you ask me to stay I will, for one year. The best year of my life."
Jack tightened an arm around him, kissing his throat just a little too hard--jealous of yourself, Ianto thought, but Jack had been right. No one else came close.
"Tell me about it," Jack said softly, and Ianto tried to think of what to tell, how he could possibly sum up that year.
"I got there on his fifth birthday," Ianto began, remembering his first dizzy glimpse of the garden, the taste of strange fruit juice. "That night you had a party, dozens of people, all these kids from Indy's school running around, and you introduced me to everyone there--sometimes just this is Ianto, sometimes this is my partner. For a few people you brought out co-parent--"
Jack sniggered against Ianto's shoulder, and Ianto grinned. "Yeah, you never quite explained to me who you were being rudest to, there--"
"Oh, co-parent, naturally," Jack said. "I'd probably slept with most of them."
Eventually Jack ran out of questions and Ianto ran out of stories he could bear to tell. Jack didn't ask him about leaving, and Ianto didn't volunteer.
Jack just sighed and rolled away to lie on his back. Ianto lay still and watched him, wondering what he was thinking. He tried to imagine what he'd be thinking himself, right now, if anyone had tried to tell him this story before it had happened--but Jack didn't seem to disbelieve him at all. None of the questions he'd asked had been that kind. This sort of thing happened to Jack, after all.
"It probably won't occur to you to ask me, even then," Jack said haltingly. "Though you could. It's rude to ask strangers, but once you have a child with someone, the biological particulars of their own family become fair game. By then I might forget that you don't know, that I didn't tell you when Gray..."
Ianto curled into Jack, resting his head on Jack's shoulder so Jack didn't have to work so hard at avoiding his eyes. Jack's hand settled on Ianto's head, and when he went on the words seemed to come a little easier.
"I was my father's son--my father carried me, before I was born. He called me Circuit, like I told you. My mother carried Gray."
Ianto closed his eyes, turning his head to press his lips to Jack's skin, whatever was nearest.
"They never played favorites. I don't think they were even aware that they had favorites. They loved us--they were our parents, of course they did. But when my father was dead, and Gray was gone, because I--"
Ianto tightened his fingers against Jack's skin, digging in just enough to say stop that.
"My mother tried. She said she didn't blame me and she tried to be--but it made a difference, Ianto. It made a difference, and I remember when I carried my Circuit, I knew she wasn't mine and I knew I couldn't keep her, but I still..."
Ianto couldn't help himself; he was suddenly propped on one elbow, staring at Jack, who fell abruptly silent under Ianto's scrutiny. For an instant he just looked startled, and then his face shifted into a mask of indifference, anticipating exactly the answer he didn't want to the question he couldn't ask. The answer he feared.
Ianto shook his head, and then pushed up and moved to kneel over Jack, straddling his waist. He put his hands on Jack's shoulders and looked him in the eye.
"Jack Harkness," Ianto said, digging his fingers into Jack's skin, mostly because shaking him would be difficult in this position. "Or Circuit, or whatever your name ever was. I promise you, of all the ways you inevitably will warp and traumatize Indiana, not loving him enough is not one."
Jack still looked wary, and Ianto couldn't believe that merely saying it aloud wasn't enough for Jack to see how ludicrous that fear was--of all things to be afraid of, for Jack to fear not loving his own son--
But Jack didn't know, Ianto realized abruptly, remembering the moment Indy had met his eyes and recognized him, the first moment of contact in which Indy had suddenly and completely become a part of him. Jack wasn't there yet. He really had no way of knowing.
Ianto gentled his grip and raised one hand to Jack's face, running his thumb along the tense line of his jaw. "You're going to be a fine father. You're not going to let him down." Ianto groped for the phone and raised it to show Jack. "Martha could tell you the same--or the Doctor, if you like."
Jack flicked a brief longing look at the phone, but shook his head, seeming to relax. "I trust you."
Ianto would have argued the point--he could see Jack didn't entirely believe him--but there was nothing he could say that would change that, and it didn't matter if he could. Jack wouldn't remember. Ianto leaned in for a kiss, instead.
Jack's hand closed around Ianto's left wrist as Ianto lifted his head. He rubbed his thumb over the complicated knot of the bracelet, pressing it into Ianto's skin. "And you trust me."
Ianto nodded, and though Jack was looking at him, Ianto wasn't sure he saw.
"I'm going to let you down," Jack said.
Ianto sighed and knelt up again. "I'm going to die. Those two are not the same thing."
He leaned over to get the vial, and Jack's hand moved to his hip, steadying him and tangibly dropping the argument.
"I don't know how much of this you need," Ianto said as he straightened up, tilting the bottle to watch the liquid move. "You gave me this much in case I wanted to forget the whole year, and you said it was programmable--you just have to concentrate on the period of time you need to forget."
Jack shifted under Ianto, sitting up against the headboard and taking the vial carefully from his hand. "If it's--was programmable the exact word?"
"Not purely chemical, then," Jack said, holding it up to the light and shaking it gently. "So it's not the quantity of the dose that matters, it's the activation of the memory."
Jack shook the vial again, then lowered it and met Ianto's eyes. "Which means this is one dose. If you give it to me now, you're not going to have any way to retcon yourself for a memory any distance in the past without wiping everything since. We just don't have this stuff yet."
Ianto shook his head. "There's nothing I want to forget."
Jack raised his eyebrow.
Ianto tried a smile. "Well, possibly that look you were giving Indy, but it hasn't killed me yet."
Jack shook his head, but it was only disbelief, not disagreement, and he didn't meet Ianto's eyes. He might almost be embarrassed. "Right. Then we just have to account for the lost time, so I don't start asking you about it later."
"Ah," Ianto said. "I could kill you. You lose time being dead--you probably wouldn't even notice how much."
Jack raised both eyebrows.
Ianto shrugged. "I'm good with bloodstains. It wouldn't be any bother."
Jack finally smiled. "You know, some people would take it the wrong way, that that was the first solution you offered."
"It wouldn't be a viable solution for some people," Ianto pointed out patiently. "Did you have something else in mind?"
"Pen and paper," Jack said.
Ianto leaned over again and opened the night stand drawer, rummaging for a moment before coming up with both.
"Efficient Ianto," Jack said, swapping the vial in his hand for the pen in Ianto's. "Hold still a second."
He propped the pad of paper against Ianto's chest and scribbled a brief note--Ianto tried to read it upside down, but Jack's handwriting defied quick comprehension; Ianto wasn't even positive he was writing in English. Jack tore the sheet off, folded it carefully, and slipped it into the right-hand pocket of his trousers.
"There," he said. "I have a policy of believing myself when I say I shouldn't ask any questions. Unless I'm lying, of course."
"Naturally." Jack would have countless ways of coding a message to himself. Ianto just had to trust that he wouldn't use any of them to do anything stupid.
Jack reached for Ianto's hand with both of his, tugging the vial free with unnecessary delicacy. He twisted off the top, raised it in a silent toast to Ianto, and knocked it back like a shot.
Ianto froze for a second--he wasn't ready, not yet, not when he was about to lose everything all over again, not when he had to guide Jack through a process neither of them entirely understood, and do it absolutely right the first time.
Jack made an odd face, and said, "You've never told me you liked marzipan."
Ianto stared at him.
"Tasted like marzipan. Not my favorite, and I meant it for you, therefore."
"We had it at Christmas," Ianto said. "The resort we went to for the holidays had these ridiculous marzipan decorations everywhere, and you teased me because I couldn't walk past the little reindeer without snapping off their antlers."
"Right," Jack said. "Naturally. So--what time did we hear the sound? From the sound to now, and everything in between. From down in the Hub to your bed. From..."
"Twelve minutes past five," Ianto supplied.
"To--" Jack consulted his watch. "Call it half past nine, to be safe. A TARDIS, a beautiful boy, a photograph, Indiana," Jack murmured. Ianto wondered if you could make a palindrome of that somehow.
He didn't ask. Jack was concentrating. Jack was carefully erasing everything, now, chanting Indiana under his breath like a prayer.
The word shortened, first, as Jack choked out, "Indy, Indy, Indy." Then he started slurring, and then he swayed forward, catching himself against Ianto and going silent.
Ianto lowered his mouth to Jack's ear and murmured, "--tell you something. I did slip something in your drink."
Jack snorted, his grip tightening to bruising-strength on Ianto's arms, and then relaxing only to tighten again. He would be dizzy, disorientated, and if the stuff had worked he'd just lost four hours between one breath and the next.
"I told you," Jack said, his words slow but perfectly distinct. "I saw. Obvious. You really ought to work on your sleight of hand before you need it for something important."
Ianto squeezed his eyes shut, horribly glad that Jack couldn't seem to raise his head yet, so that he didn't have to look him in the eye. He kept his voice light. "Why should I, if you let me get away with it?"
Jack shook his head against Ianto's shoulder, tapping one finger sternly against Ianto's skin. "I know you, Jones. You do a thing well because that's the way you do things. Isn't like you to go around being sloppy just because you can."
Jack did look up, then, smirk firmly in place under faintly bloodshot eyes. "Are you sure you're feeling all right?"
Ianto's breath caught, his eyes locked on Jack's. He couldn't think, couldn't speak, couldn't tell the lie Jack needed to carry on this play of something like normality. He saw the reflection of his hesitation in Jack's eyes, Jack's easy smirk becoming fixed. He couldn't allow it to falter.
Ianto shut his eyes and pressed his mouth to Jack's in a hasty, graceless kiss. Jack's lips parted to his readily and Ianto tasted the sweetness lingering on Jack's tongue and jerked back. Jack followed the motion, deepening the kiss, just as rough and fast and desperate as Ianto had been. Jack needed this more than Ianto did.
His hands tightened on Ianto's arms, and there was one of those dizzy, dislocated moments Ianto was nearly used to, with Jack--he'd never been with anybody else who could just move him like that--and then he was lying on his back with Jack above him. Ianto's thighs tightened automatically on Jack's hips, and Jack smiled down at him for an instant like a flash of lightning before he kissed Ianto again.
Jack's weight settled over him, Jack's hips grinding down just enough to make Ianto push up in response. Jack kissed him breathless, let up long enough for Ianto to gasp, and then kissed him again. Ianto was dizzy with it--with kisses, with oxygen deprivation, with Jack--by the time Jack shifted, dragging kisses down Ianto's throat as he unbuttoned Ianto's shirt. Jack kept moving, kissing and licking at every bit of skin he exposed. He knew just how to touch Ianto by now, every sensitive spot, and then his other hand was on Ianto's trousers, just fiddling with the zip. Ianto's hips jerked up, his cock stiffening, his breath short. He couldn't quite focus his eyes properly--the top of Jack's head was just a blur of brown through his eyelashes--but some still small voice in the back of his head was insisting that something was wrong.
Ianto bit down on his lip, squeezed his eyes shut, and tried to think past the sensation of Jack's hands and Jack's mouth, and the way Jack had of making Ianto's own clothes into instruments of exquisite sensation when normally they were just clothes. Something was wrong--well, obviously something was wrong. Tonight was all wrong, he'd just retconned Jack, but--but they could--ha, they could forget that, couldn't they? For just a little while? Jack wanted to--Jack needed--Jack--
Ianto heard it then, Jack's voice in his head, his memory, reciting almost clinically, "You'll experience some disorientation, followed by a period of mild compulsive behavior. Usually the first thing subjects do is start tidying up..."
But Jack hadn't had anything to tidy up except Ianto, and now Jack was--Jack was compelled to--
Ianto's eyes flashed open, and he realized he was still staring at the top of Jack's head as Jack moved relentlessly down his body. He could feel himself reacting to the realization of what Jack was doing, like the proverbial bucket of cold water. He knew Jack could feel it too, but Jack wasn't deterred. He shifted his hand to Ianto's thigh, shifted his kisses higher again, falling back to some kind of sexual Plan B.
But he wasn't looking up, wasn't meeting Ianto's eyes, and Ianto had the sudden, disconcerting sensation that it really didn't matter who he was. Ianto could be anyone, he could be Jack's worst enemy, and Jack would still be doing this, because he had to. Because this was how Jack tidied up loose ends, because Jack was disorientated and covering for himself the best way he knew how.
Never, since that inopportune moment of panic the very first time, had Ianto actually wanted to get away from what Jack was doing. He couldn't even find words for a few seconds, and grabbed frantically at Jack's shoulder, pushing; it was only when Jack finally looked up at him, startled, that Ianto managed to say, "Jack. Stop."
Jack nodded, looking concerned--only concerned, like that first time when Ianto had panicked, like it was just Ianto he was worried about, nothing else. Only, even as he was looking at Ianto, his hand was still on Ianto's thigh, making idle little circles and passing higher each time. Like he couldn't stop, like he didn't even know he was doing it.
Ianto tried to breathe evenly, and held Jack's gaze. "Jack. There's a note in your pocket."
Jack's expression froze for a moment--his hand went tight on Ianto's thigh, fingers digging in painfully even through his trousers--and then Jack nodded fractionally, gentling his grip. "I know."
"You can read it, if you like. I can go." Jack's hands tightened, and Jack's weight shifted pointedly onto Ianto's legs. "Or--shut my eyes, whatever--"
Jack's hand was moving again--both of them, now, one tracing the line of his hipbone, the other sliding up his thigh--even as Jack shook his head. "It's where it should be. I don't need to know what it says."
Jack knew. Obviously Jack knew he couldn't remember how he'd got here. And now that Ianto had said something, Jack knew Ianto knew, and the illusion that it hadn't just happened was destroyed. But Jack had written himself a note--Jack knew where to expect a note--so this was just the sort of thing that happened to Jack.
It was probably just an occupational hazard, after a hundred-odd years with Torchwood: sometimes he wasn't going to know how he'd got here, and it might not even bother him much anymore. Ianto simply hadn't had time (would never have time) to become, or to learn to pretend to be, this utterly blithe about it.
Jack went entirely still, all of a sudden, as if he'd seen some part of that thought on Ianto's face. He got up all at once on his hands and knees, entirely out of contact, and said, "Wait, are you--did you have a note? Do you need me to read this one?"
Ianto shook his head, because he couldn't speak for a moment. Jack kept finding new and different and more disturbing ways to take his breath away. "I'm all right."
"Then I'm all right," Jack promised, sealing the words with a kiss, and there went his hand again, stealing its way across Ianto's skin. "I mean, unless you didn't bring me to bed to take advantage of me in an altered state, then I'm going to have to be disappointed in you."
"Well," Ianto murmured, "I do hate to disappoint."
But Jack looked up at him and smiled when he said it, looking at him like he saw him, like he was looking at Ianto in particular, so Ianto thought there was at least an outside chance that they really were all right. And a little after that, Ianto wasn't thinking much of anything at all, so it hardly mattered.
There was sunlight on his closed eyelids, Jack's familiar weight at his side, but the house was perfectly quiet--Indy must have spent the night at one of the other kids' houses. Ianto couldn't remember right away, though he felt pleasantly sore in the ways that suggested he and Jack hadn't been worried about being interrupted last night. He smiled and stretched without opening his eyes, and Jack's hand brushed his cheek.
He opened his eyes and experienced a moment of vertigo--nothing was where it should be except Jack, and it felt as if things were actually tilting and moving in Ianto's peripheral vision as the dream ebbed and reality leaked in. He blinked, squinting against the light, and Jack looked away, dropping his hand to Ianto's shoulder.
Cardiff, proper Cardiff, before it fell, long ago--now. The 21st century, his flat. His Jack, in daylight.
Ianto cleared his throat and said the first thing that came to mind. "You opened the blinds."
"I wanted to have a look at you," Jack said, but when Ianto looked at him Jack was still looking away, his hand resting--perfectly still--over Ianto's heart.
"I don't usually sleep much," Jack said. "Just enough to dream, most nights. And mostly it's nightmares. There's a lot of nightmare stuff in my head, I guess."
Ianto scooted a little closer to Jack, and Jack shifted his arm, putting it around Ianto without actually looking at him.
"Last night, though, I--I don't remember what I dreamed, just that it was a good one. I woke up and all I could think of was that everything's going to be okay. And then I remembered about last night, and I went and found the note--"
Jack's trousers, Ianto recalled, had made it halfway across the room.
"And it said..." Jack reached out and picked up the folded paper from the night stand, though he didn't bother to unfold it before he spoke. "It said, Don't worry. It was something nice for once."
It wasn't a question. Jack's voice held a quiet kind of wonder, nothing more. He set the paper back down, and finally looked Ianto in the eye. "So I just wanted to say, whatever it was..."
It occurred to Ianto suddenly that the photo was still on his phone. And then Jack smiled, and Ianto wasn't thinking of Indiana at all.
"Thank you, Ianto Jones."
The Weevils had seemed to go into hiding after the business with the Daleks, but ever since the weather sorted itself out they'd been back and getting steadily weirder. Not more violent--or not only more violent, though Ianto was still pretty sure he'd hallucinated that night they'd found half a dozen of them picking flowers in a public park, for all Gwen swore she'd seen the same thing.
Then there were nights like tonight, when a dozen ran mad at once.
Ianto usually hated to kill Weevils--because they were dumb beasts who couldn't help what they did, or because he suspected they were intelligent if unintelligible, he could never entirely decide which. It really didn't matter after Jack went down under a horde of the things. He and Mickey and Gwen hadn't taken any prisoners.
Gwen was managing the cleanup; the police were a lot more understanding about that since the night the city was overrun, but Gwen still insisted on being polite about it. Ianto let Gwen worry about talking to the nice constables, and focused on getting Jack's body neatly wrapped up in the blanket they kept in the back of the SUV for this purpose. It was black; it wouldn't show stains.
Mickey silently offered him a handful of metal clips to secure the blanket's edges, and Ianto took them, startled and grateful. He ought to have thought of that; it would make carrying Jack much easier. Mickey helped him without being told, and didn't flinch from the odd wobbliness of their burden. Ianto caught sight of one of the constables' faces--the man looked like he was about to be sick in the street--but Mickey was matter-of-fact, if quiet.
They got him loaded into the back of the SUV, and Mickey said, "Wait for Gwen?"
Ianto shook his head. "He'll upset the police if he wakes up here. She'll get a lift."
Mickey nodded and went round to the passenger seat, and Ianto fished the keys from his pocket. Halfway back to the Hub, Ianto suddenly looked over at him and said, "Is this the first time you've seen him die, then?"
Mickey nodded, staring fixedly at the dashboard. He looked young--Ianto's own age, maybe younger--under the flashes of streetlights. "Is it always that messy?"
Ianto was startled into a laugh, and found he could breathe again on the other side of it; Mickey smiled at him in another streetlight-flash, and he shook his head. "Usually not. Lot of times it's just blunt trauma or something, hardly shows at all. He wakes up faster then, too. This is going to take a little time."
"Right," Mickey said, as they approached the entrance to the garage. "We'll just have to make tea, then. Tea saved the world once, you know, and that was Jackie's tea. Yours'd probably raise the dead even if they weren't Jack."
Jackie, Jackie. He'd heard stories, or at least bits of stories... "Rose Tyler's mum saved the world with tea?"
"Well," Mickey said thoughtfully. "I think I was the one who spilled it, so technically that was all down to me. Or the Doctor, if you like--he did the sword-fighting bit, but really it was the man on the spot with the thermos flask who should get the credit there."
Ianto smiled and parked the SUV. "Quite right. The man on the spot with the thermos flask never gets enough credit."
"See," Mickey said, "this is what I'm saying..."
"Lizzie!" Jack's shout rang out from halfway across the Hub.
Ianto reached for Lucy's hand, shaking his head before she could stand up or speak. "Is that your name?"
Lucy pulled back a little warily from Ianto's touch, but shook her head.
"Don't start by answering to anything that's not your name," Ianto murmured. "Sets a bad precedent with him."
"He could have forgotten," Lucy said, but she went back to flipping through folders as she said it. Ianto watched as she put things in order; she'd grasped his filing system at once, possibly because it had a rational basis, unlike the lunatic hodge-podge he'd discovered when he started.
"He hasn't forgotten," Ianto said. "He's just still resisting the idea that the team needs new people, and that that definition automatically excludes people he's known for years already. He knows your name. He probably knows your gran's name."
"Irene," Jack said brightly. Ianto didn't jump; Lucy did, but she recovered quickly. "Her birthday's next month, don't forget--say, did she live around here when she was your age? Because I swear--"
"Gran's from Bristol," Lucy said, glancing up only briefly at Jack and then tipping the folder of August artifact reports toward Ianto, raising a brow in silent question.
"Reverse chronologically," Ianto said. "Duplicate copies are filed under artifact type."
Lucy nodded and went back to filing. Jack rocked on his heels, giving them another few seconds to notice him, and then said, "So, Lucy, has Ianto revealed to you the divine secrets of the coffee machine yet?"
Ianto rolled his eyes. "No, we're doing coffee after she's mastered filing and self-defense. I'll get it."
Jack followed him to the coffee station; Ianto didn't bother pointing out that Jack was perfectly capable of pouring himself a cup of coffee. Ianto knew a pretext when it took him by the hand and led him into its office--though Jack didn't go quite that far. He just strategically invaded Ianto's personal space, herding him along.
"You're going to like Lucy just fine when you've got used to her," Ianto said, because that was the easiest point on which to reassure Jack.
"I like her now," Jack said, taking an absent sip of his coffee and then setting it down. He wandered restlessly around his office, and Ianto turned his back, sorting idly through the papers on the desk. "I like her even better when she blatantly lies to me about her grandmother not being from Cardiff."
"Ex-girlfriend?" Ianto tested himself on the idea that Lucy was Jack's granddaughter, or might have been. It was weird, but not markedly weirder than most things about Jack.
"Ex-boyfriend's wife," Jack said. "It was like that, you know, back then."
Ianto nodded. That list of computer components Mickey had wanted him to buy last week was on Jack's desk; Ianto pocketed it.
"I like her fine," Jack repeated, which probably meant he didn't, but he would. She was one of his now, part of the team. "But you're... you're training her to do your job."
Ianto turned and faced Jack, folded his arms and waited for Jack to say something slightly less obvious.
Jack quirked an unhappy smile and looked away. "You're getting close to five years since you started in London."
Ianto gave him a nod for that.
Jack transferred his gaze to the ceiling. "I keep having that dream."
That actually deserved an answer, but it took Ianto a moment to summon words. "You know it's not--"
"I know." Jack smiled at the ceiling. "I know! Nobody's ever accused me of being a prophet. But I keep waking up thinking everything's going to be all right, and then I watch you putting everything in order, and writing out procedures, and--" Jack finally looked Ianto in the eye, flinging one hand out in Lucy's general direction--"training your replacement. And I hate it. I hate that you're going to die, and I hate that you know it and you're just going along with the plan."
Ianto shook his head. "Nothing's changed, Jack. I have to--"
"You do not have to. You don't have to accept this, you don't even have to be doing this--"
Second verse, more impassioned than the first. "Jack, I chose Torchwood--"
"Yeah, and what the fuck were you thinking?"
Ianto stopped short and stared at him.
Jack stared back, waiting.
"That's an odd question from a man who's made it his very long life's work."
Jack shook his head. "There's nothing else for me, Ianto. This is who I am, this is what I need to be doing. But you--you were twenty-one years old. You could have had a life, a normal life."
"I could have been dead inside the year from drink or drugs or idiocy, too," Ianto said, and Jack's mouth went tight. "You've read my file. On my own, no family, no plans, banging around London--if Torchwood hadn't recruited me, someone would have. I'd have been one of those who-gives-a-fuck deaths we fake, some druggie kid who blew his mind or blew his own brains out--"
Ianto didn't really see him move; Jack was just there, suddenly, eye to eye with him, pinning him up against the desk. Ianto's heart raced, and it was a struggle to keep his chin up, to keep from pulling away even though he knew he couldn't escape.
"Not you," Jack whispered.
Ianto jerked his chin up higher. "Not by the time you met me. Not once Torchwood had got me."
Jack just shook his head. Didn't speak, didn't step back, didn't drop Ianto's gaze. Ianto couldn't win this one and didn't bother fighting it much; he looked away, and saw that Jack had taken the Amphora--pod--Samyek Tau Twenty-Seven--Indiana--out of the half-hidden spot on the floor. He was up on a shelf now.
"You never come and see him anymore," Jack said quietly, though Ianto could still feel the tension everywhere they touched. "You used to. You'd sit with him and write in your private book, and you--it was like you cared. I thought you cared, for a while."
It was a breathtakingly low blow. Ianto squeezed his eyes shut and saw the leather-bound volume--new and crisp, passing from his own hands to the Doctor's--battered and much-read, when Indy tucked it away in his bag in the failing light.
"I got rid of it," he said, and turned back to face Jack, meeting his eyes. "It was rubbish, just some things I had to write down to sort them out."
"So now you're all sorted and that's it," Jack said. "Now you're just going to lie down and die."
"I don't know what else you want me to do," Ianto snapped. He raised his hands to push Jack away, and Jack caught him by the wrists.
"I want you to tell me you hate this as much as I do," Jack said. His grip tightened, word by word; he'd caught Ianto's wristwatch, as always concealing the bracelet on his left wrist. Jack's hand was driving the beads into his skin, right over the bone, and the pain was startling. "I want you to be angry, or be scared, or--"
Ianto blinked rapidly. "You're hurting me."
"I know what I'm doing," Jack said, nearly shouting. "What are you going to do about it?"
It was going to leave a mark; Jack was going to leave marks all over him. Ianto thought of Gwen, worried about him, while he made jokes about falling down the stairs and walking into doors. He thought of the tiny crescents dug into his wrist by Indy's fingernails. There was only one thing he could say, one thing he had to say, and he was sick to death of saying it, of having to say it, and if dying would mean he never had to say it again, then--
Ianto squeezed his eyes shut. "You have to let me go."
Jack shook him a little, but Ianto just folded forward. It was like hugging a live wire, but he pressed his face to Jack's shoulder and repeated it. "Jack, you have to let me go."
He lost track of how many times he said it. His mouth was dry as sawdust and his hands were numb by the time Jack's grip loosened, and even then Jack didn't release him. Ianto stood with his face pressed to Jack's shoulder and his hands at his sides and still Jack held on.
It was all right. Ianto could wait here as well as anywhere.
Gwen had been sitting at the end of the pier for about an hour when Ianto tracked her down on CCTV. She'd taken her coat and handbag--she was just sitting there, hugging her knees and watching the sun go down. Ianto wavered for a moment, then shut down the monitor and headed out.
He considered stopping along the way. A coffee would give him something to offer her, some reason to be there, something to do with his hands--but it would only be a delaying action, or something to hide behind. He walked on steadily.
Gwen looked up when he was still meters away, and her smile was a little shaky. Ianto didn't let himself hesitate, though he couldn't hold her eyes. He sat down beside her and stared out at the sunset, squinting against the light.
"The thing is," he said, "when you shove something to the bottom of the dustbin, it's on top when you empty it."
Gwen laughed, and that was a little shaky, too. "I was all ready to say something about what a lovely day it was, and how Rhys was going out tonight so there was no point going home yet."
"It is lovely," Ianto agreed. "I wasn't really going to say anything, just that I saw the box. You knew about me before I did, you know, so..."
"I'm sorry I laughed," Gwen said, and rested her head gingerly on his shoulder, settling closer when he didn't pull away. "When I saw on the monitor, do you remember? I laughed. I was so surprised, and I thought--I thought that was something good, instead of what we'd all been thinking."
"It was something good," Ianto said, though he did remember her laughter, and how badly everything had gone downhill from that moment. Still, they'd rallied. "He is, and will be."
Gwen nodded a little, and then said, "It was negative. I wouldn't have thrown it out if it wasn't." Ianto nodded, shifting his hand to cover hers. The ocean was ablaze, the ships casting long shadows back toward them. "I don't even--Rhys and I have talked about it, a little, but we haven't decided anything, and I couldn't--with Torchwood, I couldn't..."
It was almost there, in her voice, and it made Ianto's heart skip--such a slender chance, but a real one.
"My dad used to say that the way to make a hard choice is to toss a coin," Ianto said. "Not because it leaves the thing to chance, but because you realize what you're hoping for when the coin is in the air."
Gwen's hand turned under his, holding on hard, and Ianto turned his cheek against her hair. "I wanted..."
"You could, you know," he said, when Gwen didn't say anything more. "People mostly don't make it after leaving Torchwood, because they've got nowhere to go after. Nothing to leave for. You've got Rhys, and your family. You'll be all right."
Gwen pulled back far enough to look him in the eye, and Ianto met her gaze, only blinking against the dark spots in his vision where the sunset had been. "You won't, though, will you."
It wasn't even a question, but Ianto answered anyway. Gwen, at least, didn't seem to be angry with him for it. "Everything I've got is here. There." He nodded toward the Hub, toward Jack and Indiana and everything that mattered.
Gwen smiled a little. "Jack thinks you've given up."
Ianto smiled back and looked away. The sky was already deep blue above their heads. The stars were coming out behind them. "It has been a long bloody time since Jack has had to think about dying as if it mattered, and from the stories he tells, he never had to spend this much time waiting for it."
Gwen squeezed his hand.
"Someone told me once," Ianto said, and then had to stop and steady his voice. "Someone told me I was going to die bravely. And it's--I'm trying, but it's..."
Gwen's arm went round him, half a hug and still nearly more than he could bear. He put his arm over her shoulders anyway. It was getting cold.
"Ianto," she said, solemnly.
He shook his head. "Just don't go naming him after me, all right? Or her."
Gwen squeezed him a little, but only said, "Her? Who would..."
Ianto looked over. She was wrinkling her nose and staring out at the water, and then she looked back at him and smiled. "Actually, that might be an interesting name for a girl. Ianto."
Ianto buried his face in his hands. "Ianto Williams, that just sounds silly, Gwen."
"Ianto Cooper-Williams, thank you," Gwen said firmly. "I think I like the sound of that. Unusual, but classic."
"Oh, hell," Ianto murmured. He had no one but himself to blame.
Ianto was nearly out the door before it occurred to him that the Hub was empty, and for once he could be really quite sure that no one was going to come running in. He looked toward Jack's office and realized even as he did that he also, for once, had something he wanted to say.
He set down everything he was carrying on Gwen's desk, entered the familiar handful of keystrokes required to shut off surveillance in Jack's office, and went in with his hands open at his sides--nothing to see here.
The Amphora was still up on a shelf, in plain sight over Jack's desk. Ianto touched it for the first time in weeks, and it came readily to life, displays rising up to hover in the air before him. Ianto hesitated a moment--Jack would know--but maybe it would be a little consolation to him, and still save Ianto having to fight with him about it again.
He pressed the button now clearly labeled LIVE MODE ACTIVATE, and Indiana, or at least the little alien prawn-thing that would grow up into Indiana a couple of hundred years from now, fluttered and squirmed. Ianto watched his heart beat for a moment, and then navigated through the menus until he found EXTERNAL AUDIO FEED ACTIVATE.
Softly, not quite singing, Ianto chanted out, "Remember, remember the fifth of November, gunpowder treason and plot. I see no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot. Because if we forgot we'd have to come up with some other reason to have bloody huge fireworks every year, right?"
Indiana seemed to wriggle a bit faster. Ianto smiled.
"Ianto," Jack said in his ear, "tell me you're here somewhere."
"On my way," Ianto said firmly.
"You haven't even left yet."
"I'm on my way, I swear."
Jack sighed hugely. "There's really no point in abusing Torchwood credentials to get a good spot if you're not actually here for the fireworks."
"I'm coming! I'm leaving now."
"It's the first time in--"
Ianto heard the near-simultaneous clicks of everyone else's comms turning on as they joined in, and he rolled his eyes and recited it, too. "Thirty years that there's been half a chance of the whole team being free for bonfire night."
"I will be there," Ianto repeated.
"Traffic's going to be murder," Jack went on. "People are setting things on fire all over the city--"
"Bonfire night, yes," Ianto murmured. "Seen it before."
"Gwen, do you think we can get him a police escort?"
"Leaving now, hanging up now," Ianto said, and shut off his comm, taking it off his ear and dropping it into his pocket.
He laid his hand flat on the surface of the pod, and said softly, "Good night, son, I love you. Don't forget, all right? You're going to love fireworks when you're a bit older."
He killed the audio feed, returned it to stasis mode, and then left Jack's office at a run.
He arrived just in time to see the first one go up. He watched it for a few seconds, then looked around while the white light of the firework lingered. He soon spotted Torchwood, sitting together on a couple of black blankets (they'd been washed since the last time they were used, he was pretty sure).
Jack was sitting right in the center of them all, with Gwen on one side and Martha on the other. Gwen was cuddled close to Rhys, and Martha's Tom had made it back for a little holiday. Mickey was sprawled out with his head nearly in Lucy's lap, and Andy was sitting on Lucy's other side, because Gwen was doing a much better job than Ianto had of slowly introducing Jack to her chosen replacement.
Even from here, in the uneven flashes of light, Ianto could see Mickey flirting with Lucy, and Andy was watching both of them like a kid who wanted to join in the game but hadn't worked out how to play yet. Lucy leaned against him when she laughed, though, and Mickey wasn't looking at either of them like he was sizing up the competition--though he certainly was looking--so Ianto suspected Andy was going to get drafted sooner than he knew.
Ianto stood a while, watching the fireworks, watching his team. Jack loved fireworks as much as Indy was going to, but he loved his team more; he was happy surrounded by his people. He was going to be all right. They all were.
There was a short lull, and in the dark Ianto heard Gwen say, "Isn't Ianto here yet?"
Martha straightened up, looking around, but Jack just pointed. "He's right there. Lurking. Care to join us, Ianto?"
So he did, jogging across the distance, handing off thermoses of coffee and chocolate. Everyone shifted around to open a space for him at Jack's side, and Jack's arm closed firmly around him. Gwen squeezed his hand as the fireworks started up again, and Ianto leaned against Jack and stopped looking around. It was time to look up.
Alone in the cold and the gradually diminishing darkness, Ianto cradled a detonator against his chest and thought about time.
Time was a ball of string, the Doctor had said, but each ordinary person was just a tiny strand, and from inside that strand time looked like a straight line, marching always and only forward. It could be counted in so many ways, arbitrary units recorded like chalk marks on the wall of a tunnel. Measuring time as it passed was just a way to say I was here. I came this far.
Even now his watch ticked along steadily as a metronome--but it measured no more than a metronome did, down here away from the sun and the passing hours. The turn of the earth was no longer a relevant metric.
Take the beat of his heart, then. It was less steady than the tick of the clock, but it drove the waves of pain that washed his body. It battered the tide of blood against the barrier he'd fashioned, the leather belt wrapped around his right thigh and pulled so tight that below the pounding of trapped blood, he could feel nothing at all. His left foot still throbbed in time to his heart, with the prosaic aches of a long climb followed by a longer walk-scramble-fall-crawl, but his right leg was silent. It would wait now for the time of bacteria and bugs and rot. In the borders of his body, time was already out of joint.
He had to step outside himself, then, to look up and see light and movement, to count time by local phenomena. This cavern which had been a coal mine, had been the inside of a mountain, was filling up with a fine golden light, courtesy of the pearl white creatures who swarmed through it now, working on their machinery. There was no knowing what they thought of time, where they had been or how far they had come. They did not seem aware of humans at all, paying them no more or less attention than they did the tons of rock they vaporized. There was no possibility of communication. There was no way to ask them to stop, to ask them not to destroy this world the Rift had poured them into.
So count time by change in size, a universal clock: the golden light of their force field slowly expanded, holding up the mountain as they hollowed it out. The machinery they built grew as well, nearing completion. There was no knowing their intention, but this was not their world to fill or to destroy. They must be stopped.
Ianto had the means to stop them, one piece cradled in his arms like a child, the other lying on the ground at the far end of a barely-dry blood trail. He watched the golden light sweep out, ever closer--I am here; I have come this far--to the cobbled-together device. Set off inside the force field, the electromagnetic pulse would disable their machinery and whatever powered the force field. If that didn't kill them, the mountain falling in would.
And it would take Ianto with it, of course, if he were still here.
But time was a ball of string. All times which happened, happened at once and forever. Outside this cavern Jack was searching for him, trying to find him in time, to get him to safety and do the dangerous work in his place. But somewhere else outside, Jack and Indiana were living within a mile of this spot, free of any menace from strange pearl white alien things. Somewhere else, Indy was traveling time and space with his Time Lady cousin, wearing his dad's old t-shirt and enjoying his gap year. Out there, Ianto had been dead for hundreds of years. He must succeed, because they needed him to have done. He must succeed, because for them he already had.
The golden light flowed closer.
Ianto's communicator came alive with Jack's voice in his ear. "Ianto?"
Ianto closed his eyes. He'd told himself, if he heard Jack before he saw him...
"Get out, Jack."
Jack said nothing.
"There's no time," Ianto said. "It's nearly reached me. You won't get here in time. The pulse will kill my comm."
"Just hold on," Jack said, his voice rough with anger, desperation, anticipated grief.
"No," Ianto said. "It's time. It's my turn. I beat all the averages."
"Ianto," Jack repeated. Ianto listened to Jack's breathing around the word, coming in gasps. He'd stopped walking. He knew, too.
"Go," Ianto repeated. "It's all right."
"I can't just leave you," Jack said. Jack meant, don't leave me.
"You can," Ianto said. "It's very simple. Turn round and walk the other way. You don't want to have to dig out from under this."
Jack's next breath shuddered, but it brought with it the sound of a footfall. Jack obeyed him, just this once.
Ianto watched the golden light envelop the device.
"Lucy will start to bring you coffee in a week or two," Ianto said. "She knows how you like it. I've warned her you'll ignore her the first time, tear her head off the third, and try to shag her the tenth. She won't let you upset her more than you should."
Jack didn't speak, but he was keeping the channel open. Ianto could hear him breathing, could hear the sound stutter and break.
"Jack," Ianto said, because Jack deserved to hear what he wanted to hear this one last time, and because it was true--though the immediacy of it had washed out on a tide of something just now; adrenaline and incipient hypothermia, maybe. Now that the moment had come, Ianto trusted Jack to keep this secret for him.
"Jack--fuck, this hurts, and it's scary, and I hate it. But I can do this, because it has to be done, and because you're with me." It was getting hard to speak properly. His teeth wanted to chatter; his tongue felt thick and clumsy. He flexed his fingers against the detonator to be sure he could still do the job. The golden light was nearly at his toes, now. He'd have to be inside the force field with the device to make certain the detonator would work.
"But I want you to know, Jack. Everything really is going to be all right."
"Ianto," Jack whispered, and it was all there in a word, everything Ianto had ever wanted to hear, ever needed.
"I'm here," Ianto said, and the light was golden against his eyelids as he pressed down on the detonator.
The explosives went with a properly deafening bang; by the time the sound had died the pulse must have gone--he really didn't feel anything. So strange. Everything went dark, the golden light winking out all at once. He wondered if the aliens were making any sounds; he couldn't hear a thing past the roaring deafness from the explosion.
He could feel it, though, in the rock all around him, the grinding rumble of the unsupported earth shifting. The force field had collapsed, and the mountain was sure to follow. He would be buried here, but time would flow on above him, under the sun, as it should. He had said his goodbyes to Indiana, and all his goodbyes to Jack. He had done all he could for this world. It was enough.
"I've come this far," Ianto whispered, as the rocks groaned around him. He reached down and tugged the leather belt free, and let time run out over his fingers.
There was a peal of trumpets and a bright light shining. Before he knew anything else Ianto knew he was safe, knew his family was nearby, and nothing else mattered.
He recognized one of Indiana's more musically-oriented handheld games by the third note--it sounded like he was playing in his room, maybe downstairs if he'd turned the sound all the way up. Ianto dragged his arm up over his eyes, and noticed that it seemed like a greater effort than usual. His body had that distant feeling that suggested that something was very wrong on the other side of some very powerful drugs. His brain, too, or he'd probably find the drugs thing more worrisome.
"Hey," Jack said softly. "You in there?"
Ianto tried to answer, and managed nothing but a hoarse groan.
"Sorry," Jack said, and Ianto felt him shifting on the bed. "Here, have a drink."
There was a straw at his lips. Ianto smiled around it as he recognized the flavor of fruit juice--the same stuff Jack had given him the first morning he was here.
Jack took the straw away, and Ianto painstakingly lowered his arm and blinked a few times. His eyes were gummy and didn't want to focus, but when he squinted Jack was there, leaning over him. Ianto frowned--Jack looked wrong--no, looked right--no, nothing around Jack looked right--nothing matched--
"Shh," Jack said, though as far as Ianto could tell he hadn't made a sound. "Shh, it's all right. You're going to be fine, everything's fine."
Ianto shook his head. Jack was--this was the wrong Jack, Ianto could see the sprinkle of gray hairs, see it on his face and hear it in his voice--he couldn't really be here, he'd--he'd been doing something important, something important two hundred years ago, and he couldn't move his arm.
"Everything really is going to be all right," Jack repeated. "You're at the med center. The drugs are starting to wear off; a little disorientation is normal."
Ianto looked around wildly; he did recognize the room, though it was impossible. They were in the back room at the med center, the door standing open; he could hear Indy's handheld game, the music floating in from up front somewhere.
"No, Jack. I left."
Jack nodded. "What's the last thing you remember?"
Ianto shut his eyes. "I left," he repeated. "I was in the Hub. I--it was Tuesday, and Gwen's printer was almost out of toner, and Mickey and Lucy were arguing about refilling cartridges while I replaced it."
"Okay," Jack said. "Anything else?"
"Rift monitor," Ianto said. "There were these--alien things. Up in the hills somewhere. Not fighting, not making any demands. They just ignored people. If someone got in their way, they'd just--swat them, like bugs. Like we weren't even there. They got--" His whole body jerked at the memory, but Jack's hands were there, steadying him. "Jack, they got Gwen, they broke Mickey's arm--"
"Shh, it's all right. Gwen woke up a few days later, mad because she missed the excitement. Mickey was fine."
"Mickey--Mickey figured out about their machinery. Vulnerable to EM, just like ours. We used one on them, we thought that was all, and Lucy left to take Gwen and Mickey to hospital while we mopped up. But--we were still showing activity. They were in the mines, underground--we put together more pulse generators and went in, and..."
Ianto reached down with his good hand. He still couldn't feel much below his hip, but he could see his toes wiggle. "I fell--my leg--Jack, I died. I died, and you--" Everything really is going to be all right, he'd said that to Jack, two hundred years ago, an eyeblink. "Were you there somehow? Did you pull me out?"
Jack shook his head, and touched Ianto's immobilized arm. "I couldn't. You had to do what you were going to do--we needed you, you stopped them. I couldn't get there without totally fucking the timestream. But I knew we never recovered your body, so..."
Ianto managed to lift his head enough to look at his left arm. His wrist was bandaged--his left wrist.
Jack laughed, almost a sigh, and nodded. "I was a bit too clever there, nearly drove myself crazy--you remember, when you first came, I said I was always expecting to turn around and see you at Torchwood?"
Ianto nodded. Jack's fingers trailed ticklishly up and down his arm above the bandage. "I really, honestly did, for years--the knot in the bracelet, it wasn't just that I remembered it from seeing it the first time round. I knew it. I learned it as a kid on the Boeshane Peninsula--Sea Scouts--and that knot was the one you'd tie in the end of a line when you'd tested it and knew it was safe to use. It means I may be relied upon."
Ianto stared at him, remembering every time Jack had touched the bracelet, the knot--he'd thought Jack was just obsessed, jealous, but... "Trust me."
Jack met his eyes and nodded. "And I did, but I didn't know who I was trusting--you, or me, or... And I kept having these dreams, these really good dreams--"
Those leftovers from the retcon. Ianto realized with a jolt that he still couldn't tell Jack about that--that was all ahead of them, Indy's childhood crush, Indy's gap year. Ianto hadn't missed it after all. Hell, if Indy was still playing a video game Ianto recognized, he couldn't have missed much at all.
"--and I'd wake up and spend the whole day waiting for you to just walk through the door. Took me years to realize you weren't coming. And then you did, only you weren't safe yet."
The way Jack had looked at him, that first time, searching his face to see when he'd come from. All that time waiting... "But--how?"
Jack smiled. "The Doctor pulled the failsafe circuit out of my wriststrap--I disabled that one myself, when I left the Time Agency. It's meant to detect when the wearer's life signs indicate death is imminent, and then teleport them to a safe time and place. It wasn't reprogrammable, and I really didn't want to wake up on a Time Agency operating table after I'd been running cons like I was. And then," Jack gestured to himself, "sort of pointless, anyway. But the Doctor fixed it, so it brought you back to us--well, to Jana."
Ianto squeezed his eyes shut. The second harmony line had come in on Indy's game, and Ianto found he could wiggle the fingers of his left hand; they tapped in time almost reflexively. "But when you... it blew up."
"Just a little," Jack said. "A bit of tamper-proofing we set off. Hardly even left a mark, anyway. The Doctor put it into one of the beads on the bracelet, and then it was just a little sleight of hand to get it back to me and to Indy to give to you."
Ianto looked up at him again. "You knew I was coming back."
Jack shook his head. "Not until you got here. I couldn't be sure it would work--you could have stopped wearing the bracelet, the EM could have killed the circuit--and if you'd actually died in the cave-in, Jana wouldn't have been able to do much with what was left."
Ianto touched his leg gingerly.
"You bled out, though--that was easy to fix," Jack said. "Ah. The rest is my fault, I'm afraid--the failsafe circuit gave you a pretty bumpy ride without the stabilizers that are built into the wriststrap, and what with you being unconscious..."
Ianto abruptly recognized the slowly-returning sensation. "It dislocated my shoulder again?"
Jack nodded. "And also burst into flames. Well, melted the lead lining we put into the beads to protect against EM, and then burst into flames. But you're almost all healed up already, the nerve block is just a precaution."
Ianto stared up at the ceiling, trying to absorb this. "So... I'm all right, now."
"Yeah," Jack said. "Jana fixed everything up, even some nasty Rift radiation you'd been exposed to--clean bill of health. I, uh, did ask her to leave a scar, for your leg. I thought you might want something to remember it by. But you can get rid of that, if you like."
Ianto shook his head--Jack was right, dying like that ought to leave a mark--dying certainly had, the first time. He realized he was smiling when his face started to hurt. "I have... I have time, now."
He felt Jack moving closer. "Yes, you do. Lots. A century or so, if you stick around somewhere with decent medical care."
A century. He could hardly imagine it. He hadn't been able to really imagine a year, the last time he was here.
"I was hoping," Jack said, and his hand settled lightly on Ianto's chest. "I asked once before, but you had an escape route ready that time." Ianto met his eyes, and Jack looked honestly uncertain, though there was a smile in his eyes. "Stay with us, Ianto Jones? For all the time we've got?"
Indy's game was building to some sort of crescendo. Ianto laughed, and nodded, and Jack kissed him and kept on kissing him, even when they were both laughing and Ianto was wretchedly out of breath.
"Da-ad." The embarrassment sounded exactly the same as it had a year ago, but it was directed equally at both of them now; Ianto could hear it.
Jack lifted his head, and helped Ianto when he struggled to push himself up. Indy was standing in the doorway of the treatment room, still in his school uniform; Ianto recognized the grass stains on his knees from that morning, down by the river, and his hair was still a mess, though at least he'd washed his face. By the light it was late afternoon, but he'd only missed hours, after living out the rest of his life.
Ianto couldn't speak, but raised his right hand and beckoned. Indy came slowly over to the bed, his game still in hand. "Dad?"
"It's all right," Ianto said. "I'm staying this time."
Indy was watching him warily, and Ianto remembered that Indy--an Indy years and years older than the one in front of him, two centuries ago--had said he ran away again on his seventh birthday. He wasn't going to believe it for sure, but Ianto would have time to persuade him. He made a mental note to leave that t-shirt somewhere Indy could find it, later.
"Happy birthday," Ianto added.
Indy smiled suddenly and shyly, and climbed up onto the bed to perch carefully between Ianto's feet. "We could get some cake on the way home," Indy suggested. "It could be welcome-home-get-well-soon cake."
Ianto pushed himself up to a proper sitting position and flexed his left hand; feeling was definitely back, just a dull ache in his shoulder and wrist and thigh. He looked over at Jack, and Jack stood and reached out to help him up. "What do you say, Ianto? Ready to come home?"
Ianto smiled, and took his hand.
Epilogue #2: Beyond the End