Ianto opened the door to the sounds of Glenn Miller and the smell of dinner cooking. Coming home to this made going to work worth it.
"Ianto?" Jack called from the kitchen.
Ianto followed the sound of his voice. "No, it's your other husband," he said, setting the shopping bag on the counter. He slid his arm around Jack's waist and pulled him in for a kiss. He loved Jack like this, in his jeans and soft blue button-up shirts with the top two buttons undone, humming along with the music and dancing with himself as he tasted the risotto with a wooden spoon.
"I'd have another one if you'd let me," Jack said.
"Maybe you could take on a third shift husband while I sleep," Ianto replied. He gave Jack a gentle slap on the rear. "Where's Tyler?"
"In his room. He's been there since I turned on the stereo. If it's not on his iPod, he doesn't want to have anything to do with it." Jack shook his head. "We shouldn't have bought him that thing. He's six years old. What does he need an iPod for?"
"At least we know what he's listening to."
"Spoiling him and disguising it as good parenting. I like it." Jack pulled away from Ianto and dug into the bag. "Tomatoes, thank you, eggs, honey, bread – ooh, expensive cheese. Grapes! Are we celebrating something?" He looked up, his expression suddenly alarmed. "Did I forget something?"
"No, you didn't forget anything. We aren't even celebrating. I saw them and I couldn't resist. We could open a bottle of wine. For after bedtime." Ianto winked.
Jack grinned. "Assuming he ever goes to bed. Supper's almost ready. I'll chop up these tomatoes, and you get Tyler."
Ianto went to step out of the room, but paused. He turned back to Jack and cupped his cheek. "I love you."
"I love you too, gorgeous." Jack flashed him that movie star smile, the one that charmed checkout girls and eight years ago, charmed Ianto.
He met Jack the summer he turned eighteen and that was it. It was never a question for Ianto. It didn't matter that Jack was twelve years older than him, Ianto knew that Jack was going to be the rest of his life.
That was why he said yes without thinking when Jack asked him to move to London at the end of the sticky, passionate summer. He said yes again three years later when Jack asked him to marry him.
Upstairs, Ianto changed out of his suit and into some more comfortable clothes. He walked across the hall and knocked on the open door. "Hey, kiddo."
Tyler was lying belly-flat on the floor, crayons spilled out in front of a piece of paper, with a green a crayon currently in hand. At the sound of Ianto's voice, he was up like a spring, his mop of golden-brown curls bouncing.
"You're home, you're home, you're home!"
Ianto squatted down and accepted the bear hug, lifting Tyler up off the floor for a moment. "I'm home," he said. He put Tyler down. "Supper's almost ready. You want to come help me set the table?"
"Plates or forks?" Tyler asked with a suspicious eye. He was always suspicious. Concerned he was getting the more difficult job, or that no one would pick him up from school, and he never quite seemed to buy that better tasting food was less healthy.
"If you do the forks, I'll do plates and the glasses," Ianto replied, placing a hand on Tyler's shoulder.
Tyler grinned. "It's a deal."
The first time Ianto hesitated at one of Jack's requests was when Jack started talking about children. He'd only been twenty-one, and thought it was far too early in his life for kids. However, Ianto had realized that even if he didn't want them then, he wanted to have children with Jack.
Once Ianto got a job with HSBC they started the adoption process, and two years later, Tyler became a part of their family. Looking back on it, Ianto could hardly understand why he had been so unsure. He couldn't imagine a life without his family.
After supper, Jack and Tyler cleared the table while Ianto fixed a pot of coffee.
"Is there ice cream?" Tyler asked.
Jack looked to Ianto. Ianto had to smile, because Jack at least knew he was a pushover when it came to things like ice cream.
"I think there might be some," Ianto said, smiling. "You want to eat it in front of the telly?"
Tyler's eyes opened wide. "Yes!"
"Go switch it on, then. We'll be in after you."
Tyler ran out of the room, causing Jack to call "Slow down!" after him. Jack turned to Ianto and brushed a hand against the back of his neck.
"You take in the ice cream. I'll wash up in here," Ianto said, already reaching for the dishes in the sink.
"You worked all day. I'll be the wife," Jack mumbled. He pulled down the back of Ianto's tee shirt and kissed the exposed skin.
Ianto closed his eyes for a moment. "Mmm, but you fixed supper. And you worked, too."
"Four hours at the antique shop hardly counts as working. It's more like a hobby."
Rolling his head back onto Jack's shoulder, Ianto said, "You do your part. I want to do mine. I like taking care of you."
"You're too good for me," Jack said.
"Don't I know it."
Jack chuckled. "I better get that ice cream before someone starts whining."
"It's not a wonder he's so demanding. He knows you're a sucker," Ianto said, reaching up into the cabinet for the bowls.
"One of us has to be the sucker. In this household, it happens to be me," Jack replied. He moved toward the freezer and pulled out a carton of chocolate ice cream.
Ianto shook his head, smiling. "You're lucky I love you."
Jack put a hand on Ianto's shoulder and squeezed it. "Yes, I am."
God, Jack was irresistible when he said stuff like that. It made Ianto fall in love with him all over again. Jack probably knew that, completely aware of how charming he can be. He played it up all the time.
Giving into it, Ianto turned to Jack and kissed him, long and slow. Jack's arm wrapped around Ianto's waist and pulled him closer.
Jack moaned appreciatively. "How is it, after all this time, you still make me feel this way?"
"Because I'm your hot, young stud," Ianto replied with a smirk.
Jack shook his head slowly. "No, that's not it at all."
"Arse," Ianto said, laughing as he pulled away from Jack and turned back to the sink.
"Da! Daddy! Are you coming?" Tyler called from the next room.
"In a minute, baby," Jack replied. In a lower voice he said to Ianto, "His whininess awaits."
Ianto smiled. "And it's your fault."
Jack spooned the ice cream into bowls. "Yeah, I'll survive. I was just like that when I was little, and look how great I turned out." He picked up the two bowls and went into the other room.
Still smiling, Ianto finished up the dishes, thinking about what Jack must have been like as a child. He had never met Jack's parents, but he got the impression they were sort of new-age. He imagined them in a big house like this one.
Moving to Castle Bromwich was Ianto's idea. Their house in London had been expensive and small. Here, they could live in a larger house with a real yard. He hated the commute into Birmingham, but the coming home made it worth it.
Ianto knew the larger house put ideas of more children in Jack's head. Jack wanted a houseful of children and envisioned himself someday the matriarch of a huge family. Maybe someday.
"Da! You're missing it!" Tyler shouted.
Ianto grinned. "I'm coming!" He reached for the ice cream, but then placed a hand to his stomach. Was he too young to be worrying about his waistline? Jack never said anything, and he certainly didn't worry about his own. Instead of ice cream, Ianto poured himself a mug of coffee and walked into the living room.
Jack looked over his shoulder when the floorboards creaked under Ianto's feet. He grinned and gave Ianto a wink before turning back to the television.
A long time ago, Ianto had dreams about being someone rich and important, doing something he was passionate about. Now he worked a job he didn't especially like for pretty good, but not great wages. It was all worth it, though, to sit on the couch with his son and the man he loved watching television and eating ice cream.
This, Ianto thought, sitting down on Tyler's other side, must be the definition of happiness.
"Mmm, so good," Jack mumbled, his mouth full of cheese and grapes. "You always have the best ideas."
"Well, we need to keep the romance alive somehow. Even if it's just eating sexy food." Ianto picked up his wine glass and took a sip. "But then you go and talk with your mouth full."
Jack chuckled. "You find it charming and you know it. And I can think of a few things you don't mind me talking with my mouth full of." His hand slid under the elastic waistband of Ianto's cotton pajama bottoms and took a hold of him.
Ianto moaned softly, and put his glass back on the night stand. "That's... a fair point."
"That's what I thought." Jack pulled out his hand and sat up. He swung a leg over Ianto's lap, and sat up on his knees.
"Careful, mind the food," Ianto said, but he was already pressing his hands against Jack's bare chest. He loved how smooth Jack's chest was, how and he constantly denied having the hair permanently removed, insisting that he was naturally hairless from the neck down. Ianto was skeptical, but Jack was allowed a few secrets.
It was another part of his life Ianto loved, being alone with Jack in the sanctuary of their bedroom. Jack didn't sleep much, an hour or two a night at best. Some nights, he didn't sleep at all. Jack had been to several doctors about and they gave him sleeping pills, but all the pills did was make him groggy all day, when he was fine not sleeping at all. Finally, they just accepted it, and it made Ianto appreciate the time they spent together in bed talking, making love, or just holding each other all that much more.
"I am careful," Jack said, grinning. He leaned back and stuck a finger into the soft cheese, scooping out a small portion. He slid his finger into Ianto's mouth. "And you're sexy as hell."
Ianto sucked the cheese from Jack's finger. He slid his arms around Jack's neck and pulled him close. "Together for eight years you still want to fuck me?"
Jack kissed him, mumbling, "God, yes," against his lips.
"Go lock the door," Ianto said.
"Already did. Saw this coming." Jack grinned and kissed along Ianto's jaw. "I've been planning on sucking you off since the second you brought home sexy food."
"All part of my evil plan," Ianto replied, followed by a gasp as Jack nipped at his neck.
"I love you," Jack said, lifting Ianto's tee shirt up over his head. He kissed Ianto as he tossed the shirt aside. He kissed down Ianto's chest, still talking. "You were made for me, weren't you? You're beautiful, so fucking-"
Ianto leaned forward and rolled Jack over onto his back, to get at him better, but as he did, Jack sat up, laughing.
"Mind the food, you said?" He turned at the waist, showing off the foil from the cheese sticking to his shoulder.
"Did it get on the duvet?" Ianto asked, not waiting for a response and checking it himself.
"Oh, the duvet." Jack rolled his eyes.
"We can rinse you off, the duvet can be stained."
"With white cheese."
"Don't bother me with semantics. It's fine. Now you..." Ianto sat back and looked at Jack's shoulder. "Lay on your stomach."
Jack raised his eyebrows, but did as he was told, resting his head on his folded arms. "Now what?"
"Relax." Ianto peeled away the foil and tossed it in the bin. He picked up a grape and dragged it through remainder of the cheese. "Open up."
"Now I'm a serving platter?" Jack asked, but accepted the grape. He didn't sound especially annoyed, but possibly distracted by the delay in sex.
"A gorgeous serving platter," Ianto clarified, helping himself to a cheese-covered grape. He considered Jack for a moment and began tugging down his pajama pants.
Jack chuckled. "Now what are you doing?"
"Violating you," Ianto replied, pulling down his own pants and dropping them on the floor. He leaned down and licked away some of the cheese. "Is that a problem?"
"Not at all."
Ianto climbed onto Jack, sucking the cheese off his shoulder and rubbing himself against Jack's bottom.
"God, Ianto," Jack moaned. "This is torture."
"Want another grape?"
"No, I don't want a grape. I want you," Jack said. "You're not going to sleep until I get to suck you off."
Ianto hummed, and popped a grape into his mouth before licking away the last of the cheese. He set the bag of grapes on the night stand next to his wine glass and rolled off Jack.
"If that's what you really want, I can oblige."
Jack grinned and pushed himself up. He settled himself between Ianto's legs and kissed his stomach and hands roaming up Ianto's thighs. He teased closer and closer, and just as his mouth opened wide to take Ianto down, the door opened.
Ianto scrambled for the blanket, to pull it over himself. Jack's eyes flashed the word shit, but he didn't sound annoyed when he turned and said. "Hey, kiddo, what's up?"
"Had a bad dream. Can I sleep in here?" Tyler asked sleepily.
"'Course, baby." Jack got out of bed and scooped Tyler up in his arms.
Jack had never seemed to notice the difference between being naked and clothed. Something about how he was raised. Ianto was considerably more aware. He leaned over and grabbed his pants off up off the floor and brought them under the blankets to slip them on.
"I'm in the middle," Tyler said, sounding considerably less tired.
Jack settled him on the bed next to Ianto. "Now go to sleep. You can't come in here and be awake and run around."
Tyler's eyes were already closing as he rolled onto his side. One arm latched onto Ianto. He was asleep almost instantly.
Jack put on his pajama pants and slid into bed, still sitting up. He picked up his wine and drained the glass. He looked to Ianto and mouthed, Sorry.
"I thought you locked the door," Ianto said, barely in a whisper.
"I did. I could have sworn I did."
"Clearly, you didn't."
Jack sighed. "He needs to learn to knock before he enters a room, that's what needs to happen."
"Shhh," Ianto said. Jack's voice was slowly rising. "What's done is done. I'm going to sleep."
Jack reached over and ran a hand through Ianto's hair. "I can stay in here with you."
"Only if you want to. We'll be fine."
"I'll stay." Jack switched off the lamp and snuggled down into the bed. He stretched a protective arm over Tyler, his hand resting on Ianto's chest.
Despite the interruption, Ianto smiled to himself.
Every few weeks, Ianto took a half-day on Friday. He liked the couple of hours alone with Jack, then surprising Tyler by picking him up from school. It was a nice start to the weekend.
However, he was the one surprised when he pulled in the drive. Jack was cleaning the gutters, something Ianto had been on him to do since they moved in and the house came with full, dirty guttering.
"I told you I'd get to it!" Jack called cheerfully as Ianto walked up the sidewalk. "I also cleaned the oven and did the washing."
"Are you trying to turn me on?" Ianto asked, gazing up at Jack, but mostly concentrating on his denim-clad arse.
Jack shrugged. "I don't know, is it working?"
"A little bit," Ianto replied. He shoved his briefcase under his arm as he turned to the front door. "Would have been hotter two months ago." Jack's response was booming laughter as Ianto walked inside to change his clothes.
He weighed the options carefully and quickly. After that exchange and the house empty, there was definitely going to be sex. Shirt, jeans, no pants. It was even warm enough to go out barefoot. Perfect.
Ianto was about halfway down the stairs when he heard the clanging and Jack's shout, followed by a horrifying crash.
He bolted down the remaining stairs and out the front door. He ran onto lawn where Jack lay. His neck was wrenched at an impossible angle, his head cracked against the sidewalk. Cold dread washed over him as he realized Jack was dead. There was no way he could be anything but.
"Jack!" Ianto's mind raced, but it was all gibberish. He knew he should get up and call 999, but it was like there were two versions of himself. The one that's smart and thinking on his feet watching the real version that was panicking.
Ianto took Jack's hand in his. "No, no, no, Jack, not like this." Ianto bowed his head, pressing his forehead against Jack's hand. His hands shook, clutching onto Jack like it might keep him there.
Somehow, it was only then that Ianto thought of Tyler, and his mind's eye saw telling Tyler and the reaction, and a flash of their life without Jack and it was devastating. Everything he wanted, he wanted because of Jack. How was he supposed to do it all on his own?
Ianto couldn't make himself move. Time passed around him, but he had no perception of it. It could have been hours or minutes. The only thing that brought Ianto back was Jack's hand seized his as he gasped back to life.
"Jack?" Ianto asked, bewildered.
"Ianto? Shit, I fell, didn't I?" Jack tried to sit up, but Ianto held him down.
"Don't. Stay still. You... you hurt your neck," Ianto said, but there was something not quite right. Jack's neck had been completely twisted the wrong way. Now it looked perfectly fine.
Jack tried to sit up again and this time succeeded. "I feel okay. I have a headache, did I hit my head?"
"Yeah, you..." Ianto pulled Jack into a fierce hug. "Jack, you were dead. You were - you, you-"
"Shhh, it's okay." Jack stroked Ianto's hair. "I'm here now. I'm fine. I'm not going anywhere. I'm right here."
"We should take you to the A&E. You need to be checked out. There could be internal damage or... something. Jack, I swear, you-"
Jack smiled. "You were scared and mistaken. You had to be. I'm fine. But I'll go the A&E if it'll make you feel better."
Ianto nodded. "It will."
However, the trip to the hospital was uneventful. Jack was given a perfect bill of health. Not even a comment about cholesterol or blood pressure.
On the way home, they picked up Tyler from school. They didn't talk about the accident in the car. In fact, Jack was acting as though the entire thing had never happened, chatting amicably with Tyler about school.
Ianto, on the other hand, sat in silence. He replayed the scene over and over in his head. He tried to ignore the memory of the devastation and tried to focus on the fact that Jack was fine, but he couldn't get the image of Jack's broken neck out of his mind. No one's neck is meant to look that way. The doctor said there was no sign that any damage had ever happened to Jack's neck or spine.
All of Ianto's fears boiled up inside of him, bubbling hot under his skin. By the time they got home, he was ready to explode or break down. He tried to send Tyler to his room, as not to witness it or become a part of it.
"But why?" Tyler asked in his best whiny voice. "I want to play in here!"
"Just do what I say, will you?" Ianto asked. He could hear the edge in his voice, and again there was that feeling of seeing two versions of himself. The annoyed and scared one who felt like things were spinning out of control, and the calm, rational one who knew how to deal with this sort of thing. It was disconcerting. He felt undone at the seams.
"Ianto," Jack murmured, placing a hand on Ianto's shoulder to calm him.
"I don't wanna," Tyler said, moving to Jack, who was obviously the good cop in this situation. "I won't."
Ianto knew that Tyler could sense in the car that things were off, and he hated being left out of anything. That stubborn streak was something Ianto found to be good in Tyler, but he didn't need to know that his father died today when Jack was fine. It was worrying Tyler didn't need, but Ianto couldn't seem to find a way to be reasonable about saying it.
"But-" Tyler tried again until Jack dropped a hand on the top of his head.
"Kiddo, why don't you go watch some telly? Give us a minute, huh?"
Tyler looked up at Jack, eyes wide, but still suspicious. "Okay," he said and walked into the next room, where he could surely hear everything that happened anyway.
"What was that?" Jack asked.
"I don't know," Ianto moaned, leaning against the counter. "Everything, this day, you, and... it's all..." He covered his face with his hands and rocked forward. "I don't know, I don't know..."
"Whoa," Jack said, wrapping his arms around Ianto and pulling him close. "What's going on? What is this? Is this because of what happened?"
Ianto shrugged as well as he could in the embrace. "I don't know what to think, Jack. You were dead, I swear you were."
"It's happened before, people's hearts stop beating and they're revived. If I was dead, then... I guess someone somewhere knew I was too pretty to die now." Jack grinned.
Ianto didn't smile at Jack's charming vanity. "I don't care what the doctor says, Jack, your neck was broken. You can't... pop that back into place."
Jack pulled away and tilted his head to the side, sizing up Ianto. "Are you not happy that I'm alive? That I'm unharmed?"
"No!" That seemed to snap Ianto out of it. "How can you say that?"
"I don't know! You don't seem okay with the fact that I'm fine!"
"I'm scared, Jack. Something not right happened today. Something unnatural."
"I'm scared too," Jack said, pulling Ianto into another hug.
Ianto pushed him away. "No, you're not! You're acting like this is normal. Like you've done this a hundred times before. You're acting like I'm crazy, that I saw things wrong. I'm happy you're fine, you don't know how scared I was when you were dead, and all these thoughts in my head, about being without you and raising Tyler alone, and it was terrifying. I'm so relieved you're alive, but I don't know what happened today. I don't know what happened with you and it's scaring me."
Jack hugged Ianto again, and this time Ianto buried his face in Jack's neck and cried. He was so wound up, frustrated, and confused, he didn't know what else to do. Jack held him, stroking his hair and whispering, "It's okay" softly in Ianto's ear.
"Can we just put this behind us?" Jack asked. "I'm fine. I won't clean the gutters again. We'll get a service. Let's just forget it ever happened. Can we do that?"
Ianto pulled away slightly to look Jack in the eye. "I don't know. I don't know if I'll be able to forget. I think this is going to be haunting my nightmares for a while. Your body..."
"Shhh, don't think about it." Jack cupped Ianto's cheek and wiped away the tears with his thumb. "I'll stay with you all night as long as you need me, I won't go wandering around the house. When you wake up, I'll be there. Alive and well."
Ianto pressed his forehead against Jack's. "I love you."
"I love you too." Jack kissed him softly.
"Da? Are you okay?"
Ianto spun around. Tyler was standing behind them, his eyes wide and worried. Ianto squatted down in front of him and hugged him.
"I'm fine, love. I'm so sorry I yelled at you."
"Why are you crying?" Tyler asked. He stepped back out of the hug and placed a hand on Ianto's cheek.
Jack crouched down as well, and ran a hand through Tyler's curls. "Daddy had a bit of an accident today. I'm fine, I'm not hurt at all, but it upset Da a little."
Tyler's mouth opened and he threw himself at Jack, his arms flinging around his neck. "What kind of accident? What happened?"
"I'm fine, baby," Jack said, rubbing Tyler's back. "It doesn't matter."
Tyler unwound his arms and stared up at Jack. "I want to know. Did you die?"
Ianto gasped, but Jack stayed cool, and he even laughed. "Would I be here if I died?"
"They bring people back to life on the telly. I'm a big boy, Daddy, you can tell me." He placed a hand on Jack's shoulder. "I want to know."
Jack's smile faded and he looked to Ianto. Ianto shook his head no. However, Jack looked back to Tyler and said, "Just for a minute. Then I woke up and I was perfect."
Tyler stared at him. "You died. And you woke up." He turned his head toward Ianto. "Da, you were there?"
Ianto stopped glaring at Jack for telling him, and smiled weakly at Tyler. "Yes, Ty, I was. When I came home early from work."
Tyler looked down at the floor, like he was going to cry. He put his other hand on Ianto's shoulder and looked up at them both. "Nothing happened today. You went out for lunch and time got away from you. You almost picked me up late from school, remember?"
Gwen placed her head down on the desk, feeling the cool metal against her skin. There had been nothing but dead ends since she got to Birmingham. She thought after she found Jack and Ianto, she could just bring them home and everything would be fine again.
She thought it was an enemy who had taken them. She exhausted herself for three days going through thousands of reports looking for someone who had the desire and the availability to hurt, kidnap, or kill them (or at least kill Ianto).
Finally, Gwen called Martha. She needed help. If not going through all of the files, but with the everyday work in Cardiff. But not UNIT officers. Gwen knew Jack wouldn't want them in the Hub. She didn't really want them there, either.
That was how Mickey Smith ended up at Torchwood. He was a godsend. Gwen couldn't have done anything without him. He knew how to properly deal with the aliens in Cardiff and he figured out the complicated computer system in no time.
That was three and a half months ago.
Now Gwen was half asleep on a desk at the UNIT office in Birmingham. She had been there for three weeks trying to make a weapon against the alien, but they didn't really know what it was.
It was hard, knowing she was so close to Jack and Ianto, and whatever power had taken them over, she couldn't do anything about on her own. She had been so hopeful when she found them two weeks ago.
Gwen had tried to keep calm, tried to not get too hopeful. She had been to twenty different places trying to find them and every time she had been devastated that it wasn't them. That every lead was another dead end. Most people would get discouraged - it only made Gwen more determined.
Not far off the A452 was a cute residential area where all the houses looked mostly the same and had children in the yards playing on the gorgeous Saturday morning. She didn't question why Jack and Ianto would be here in Castle Bromwich, not when it was the best lead she'd had in weeks.
She drove to the last road and found the second-to-last house on the cul-de-sac. She pulled into the drive and shut off the car, peering up at the house. She downed the rest of her coffee and she hoped Ianto would be on the other side, ready to offer her a fresh cup.
Gwen got out of the car and walked up the drive to the front door. She rang the bell and wanted. She looked over at the small garden, unkempt and weedy with toy dinosaurs placed strategically around in it.
When the door opened, Gwen's jaw had dropped and without meaning to said, "Oh my god." As much as she believed this would happen, there was a part of her that might have thought it never would.
It was unmistakably Ianto. Sure, he was barefoot and wearing jeans and a tee shirt, slinging a towel over one shoulder, but it was him.
Gwen couldn't help herself. She grabbed him and pulled him into a tight embrace. "Oh, Ianto, it's so good to see you."
He didn't hug her in return. His whole body went rigid, like the contact was uncomfortable. "Can I... help you?"
"Ianto, it's-" she started, as she stepped back, but was cut off by another voice booming through the house.
"Who's at the door?"
"Jack?" Gwen called without thinking, leaning past Ianto, halfway into the door. Ianto placed a hand on her shoulder, but didn't push.
"Step back, if you wouldn't mind," he said.
Gwen moved back, taking a moment to collect herself. It was Ianto and it sounded like Jack was here, too, but something was clearly off. She had realized her relief would have to wait until she sussed out what was going on.
Jack walked up behind Ianto. He was also in jeans – Gwen was certain she had never seen Jack wear jeans – and a blue cotton vest. One hand snaked around Ianto's waist, and Gwen found her eyes drawn to the motion. She never saw that kind of open affection between them.
That was when she spotted it: the gold ring on Jack's finger. She leaned back a fraction and peered at Ianto's hand, and sure enough, he was wearing an identical ring.
They disappeared and got married?
"What can we do for you?" Jack asked.
Gwen's head snapped back up and looked at him. He was smiling at her. It was that disarming smile she had seen him use a million times, but not quite like this. Not on her. It was the smile for strangers, his meaningless, flirtatious smile for secretaries to get past them to talk to their bosses.
They had no idea who she was.
This was the one thing Gwen hadn't thought to prepare for. She straightened out her shoulders and put on her best friendly PC Cooper smile and said, "My name is Gwen Cooper. I work for an organization in Cardiff-"
"Oh, god," Ianto said, rolling his eyes, "did my mother send you? If you're from a church, we're not having it, Miss Cooper, was it?" He turned his head up to Jack and said, "After eight years, you would think she'd be past this – I thought she was past this-"
"I'm not from a church, I'm from Torchwood," Gwen said. She looked at them expectantly, as though the word 'Torchwood' would suddenly jog their memories, but she got nothing.
Eight years? What did he mean by eight years?
"Are you collecting money for something?" Jack asked. His hand dipped into Ianto's jeans pocket, and Ianto gently elbowed him in the stomach.
Gwen smiled, but it felt fake, and she wasn't that good of an actress. She wanted Jack who could lie with ease and still get what he wanted. She wasn't as quick on her feet. She wanted a monster holding them hostage. She wanted something she could shoot and kill and get them back.
She began to speak, when another voice came from inside the house, this one higher, and not quite as loud.
"Daddy, what's going on?" A child squirmed between Jack and the doorjamb. Jack's hand settled on the boy's shoulder, holding him place.
Gwen stared at the child. "Who's this?" she asked.
"Our son," Jack replied, sounding a little testy for the first time. He bowed his head. "Tyler, go back inside."
Tyler was busy staring up at Gwen, like he couldn't believe there was a woman at their door. He swallowed hard and then backed inside.
"Your son," Gwen said, lifting her head as Tyler was out of sight. "I... I'm sorry for bothering you. I'll let you get on with your morning."
"Nice meeting you, Miss Cooper," Jack said. He extended his hand for her to shake. He wasn't being polite, he was sizing her up. She was weird and he wanted to know, was she a threat? Even with his gorgeous smile, the one that made Gwen's stomach turn over, it was a show. She knew that show. She'd seen it a hundred times.
Gwen jerked awake at the sound of her mobile ringing. She didn't even realize she had dozed off. She reached out and picked it up, dreading a call from Mickey, but her dread washed away when she saw it was: Rhys.
"Oh, love, I'm so happy you rang," Gwen said as a way of hello.
"Long day?" Rhys asked, and she could hear that sweet smile in his voice. It was the smile that came with shoulder massages and a cup of tea.
"You have no idea. We're not any closer to a proper weapon and there's not even anything I can do about it. We have UNIT's best science types on this and... nothing. They're idiots."
Rhys laughed softly. "Careful now, you're starting to sound like me talking about other drivers. In the rain."
Gwen snorted. He was right. She leaned back in the chair and sighed. "You have no idea how much I want to be there with you right now."
"Oh, I think I might."
She smiled. Rhys had been so patient through all of this. She only had to remind him once that if she had gone missing Jack and Ianto would do everything to find her. It seemed to stick with him. Maybe as much as he could talk about 'bloody Torchwood', he knew she was right.
Gwen was just get ready to tell him about how when she got home she was going to shag him stupid, but the door opened without knocking. She jumped and said, "Rhys, I'm going to have to call you back," in the direction of her phone as she ended the call.
Usually, when there was news, she was greeted by some lower UNIT officer, but this time it was the lead scientist on the project, Dr Sajeev. He was tall and broad-shouldered with surprisingly small hands for a man of his size.
"Cooper, we have a development I think you need to see."
"Lead the way," she said, walking around the desk. She fell into step next to him as they walked down the hall. "What's the change?"
Dr Sajeev's face was characteristically stony. "We were working with the compound you supplied us with, B67--"
"Retcon's existence doesn't leave this office," Gwen reminded him.
"If I'm being honest, Cooper, knowing Torchwood's reputation and the existence of this drug, I don't expect to remember it at all."
Gwen didn't have a response to that so she got back to the subject. "What about the retcon?"
"We broke down the matter and separated the mind-altering properties from the inactive ingredients. It's unclear from the way the B67 processes in the mind if it would permanently damage the memories of Harkness and Jones if they were to take it in their current state. Wiping away the last three months might not reset them if the new memories they have are hardwired into them. B67 is crude. It only takes away time, it doesn't know how to pick and choose which memories to erase."
"What about Tyler?" Gwen asked.
Dr Sajeev nodded as he opened the lab door, letting Gwen inside before him. "That's what I wanted to show you. The DNA samples the team recovered yesterday confirmed that he's definitely alien, but nothing like we have on record."
"If this alien can alter someone's mind, their memories, no one would even know they'd been had by one," Gwen said. "He could have been around on Earth for a lot longer than the three months he's had Jack and Ianto... is there good news?"
There was almost a smile on Dr Sajeev's face. "We've discovered several things about the species, the most interesting being that it doesn't actually exist."
Gwen raised her eyebrows. "What do you mean? I saw him. Jack touched him."
"We can see the strands of hair, we can touch and feel them. They break like natural, human hair. However, we put them through any number of machines and it registers as nothing. The hypothesis is that memory has to do with what this alien needs to survive. We think there might be some way to use the B67 against it."
Gwen looked away from Dr Sajeev. Something about this felt familiar. It was just out of her reach, brushing against her fingertips, but she couldn't quite grasp it. She remembered this feeling from the night after her memory had been triggered from the retcon after she initially found out about Torchwood.
Retcon. They were retconned, all of them. When Tosh and Owen were still alive. Tosh got flowers. When was that? The day after she came home from Paris. It was like she fell asleep at home and woke up in the Hub.
Gwen reached into her pocket and retrieved her mobile. She pressed the number on her speed dial and held the phone to her ear while Dr Sajeev looked on skeptically.
"Yeah?" Mickey said into Gwen's ear.
"Hey, Mickey, I need you to try and retrieve some files off the Torchwood server. The week of the seventeenth February from last year, there were two days were deleted off the CCTV and everything we did was erased. We had retconned ourselves and Jack told us to leave it alone, but if I know Tosh and Ianto, they recovered everything they could about the missing days. It's probably hidden. Send me everything you can find."
"I'm on it," Mickey replied and hung up. He wasn't one to use a lot of words. She hadn't the time to try and figure him out, though it was definitely on her to-do list.
Gwen put her mobile back in her pocket and turned to Dr Sajeev. "I think I've dealt with this before."
"You took B67? I'm surprised you have any memory left. Taking this is mental equivalent of drinking bleach." Dr Sajeev shook his head. "We can only hope there's no permanent damage."
For someone who tried to act so humorless, he sure thought he was funny.
"You can be triggered out of it," Gwen said, ignoring him. "You get the right combination of effects and you can work your way out of it."
"They saw you and it didn't do anything," Dr Sajeev replied.
She shrugged. "I must not be the right trigger."
It was hours later when Mickey called her back. In fact, it was one in the morning and Gwen was sacked out on the bed in her hotel room.
She groaned, reaching for her blinking mobile. "Yeah?"
"I sent you the files I found," Mickey said, "and you need to look at them."
"Yeah, I, right now? It couldn't wait until morning?" Gwen asked. She had to wake up at six as it was. "My email doesn't self destruct."
"No, you need to see this now."
There was something in his voice that got Gwen out of bed and fumbling for her laptop. "This'd better be good," she mumbled.
"Just watch it," Mickey said.
Gwen went through the process of opening her email and downloading the files Mickey sent her. "Where did you find these?"
"It wasn't easy, but you were right. Your friend Toshiko kept a whole stash of files good old Captain Jack wouldn't like to have around. Most of them on him, but a few other things. This one, she went digging for."
"How do you mean?" Gwen asked. The file was going to take forever. Fucking hotel internet.
"You'll see when you open it. Someone really didn't want these to be found."
"Probably with good reason," Gwen said, stifling a yawn. She blinked a couple of times, stretching her eyelids open wide as she opened up the first video and found about sixty seconds of fuzzy CCTV footage of the Hub. It was nothing out of the ordinary, though her heart started pounding, seeing Toshiko at her computer, talking to Owen, who was – wearing glasses? When was this? Gwen had never seen him wearing glasses, though she had witnessed him putting in contacts several times.
She turned on the sound, but it was just static. She watched them interact. Toshiko looked annoyed, and Owen slinked away from her.
"What is this?" she asked.
"Files from those days. All three of them are like that. Short and corrupt," Mickey said. "Someone went to a lot of trouble removing these files and Toshiko went to even more trouble to find them."
"No wonder she spent so much time in front of that computer, even when we weren't working a job," Gwen muttered. She opened up the second file, but it was even shorter. It was thirty-eight seconds of herself sitting with Ianto on the sofa talking to a man she had never seen before. They were chatting and laughing, like old friends.
"Who's that man?"
"No clue," Mickey replied. "I didn't recognize him either, but when I scanned him into the facial recognition program I didn't find anything."
Gwen shrugged. "It's sort of a fuzzy image-"
"No, I mean, I didn't find anything. I didn't get too many results, I got none. This guy doesn't exist. Watch the last clip. It has sound."
The third file was only six seconds long. Gwen could see the back of her head and hear her own voice say, "What are you doing Jack?" Jack was holding a gun to the head of the strange man and replied, "He's not who you think he is. He's been feeding himself into our memories by touch."
The video was over.
Gwen watched it again. "I don't understand. We've dealt with this... species before?"
"Do you know what happened to it?" Mickey asked. "Did you kill it?"
"I don't know. We retconned ourselves. Whatever happened... wait. Feeding himself into our memories. Dr Sajeev said Tyler didn't exist when they put his DNA through certain tests and that he needs the memories to survive. He thinks they can use retcon against him. What if we only thought we killed him by retconning ourselves? What if this isn't just he same species, but the same creature. These files exist and someone must have seen him. What if there was just enough left for him to get by? To grow stronger, then reform himself? So how do you kill it for good?"
"Get a really big gun?" Mickey suggested.
Gwen shook her head, then realized that Mickey couldn't see her. "No... well... maybe if you had the right the ammunition."
"Shoot him full of retcon."
She considered it for a moment, then grinned. "Mickey, you're genius. I'll have to call you back. I have to wake up some scientists."
Gwen parked her car at the end of the cul-de-sac. She took a deep breath as she got out of the car, she patted her hands over her jacket, double checking the placement of her guns.
She walked up the concrete path, the cool air blowing her hair across her face, and she felt a bit like she was in an action movie, like she should be walking in slow motion with a hard rock beat behind her.
It would have been a hell of a lot cooler if she didn't have this awful pit in her stomach and voice in the back of her mind telling her it was a bad idea.
She felt her sympathetic side coming up like bile. Jack and Ianto were happy, and who was she to ruin that? Sure, it was ignorant bliss brought upon them by a memory-wiping alien, but it was bliss nonetheless. This was the sort of happiness they would never find at Torchwood. The kind of thing Rhys wanted for her and they couldn't have.
But it was wrong. Jack and Ianto weren't meant to be here. Taking a deep breath, Gwen pressed her finger to the doorbell.
She waited only a minute before the door opened. Jack looked at her like he knew her and Gwen felt a thrill go through her, just in case he remembered exactly who she was.
"I remember you," he said. "You're the weird lady."
Gee, thanks. Not only did he have a child, did he have the manners of one? Maybe he was always that rude and she never noticed.
"Gwen Cooper," she said. "I know I came off as strange the last time I was here, but I do need to speak with you. You and Ianto both."
Jack, naturally, looked suspicious. "I don't know how you know us. The fact that you do is weird. I'm sure you're very nice and so is the place where you work, but you don't have any business here. Please leave."
Gwen stuck her foot just inside the door jam, in case he tried to close it on her. Thankfully, this untrained version of Jack didn't notice. "Just give me five minutes of your time," she said.
"I asked nicely. If you don't leave, I'll call the cops." He went to shut the door, but Gwen leaned it, pushing it back open.
"Jack, listen to me. This isn't your life. You work with me in Cardiff. You're my boss. You don't have a son, you don't have a house and you're not married to Ianto, or anyone." She pressed on the door as Jack tried to close it again. "You fight aliens. You have for years. Jack, you're immortal. You can't die. You're from the future, for god's sake."
He stared at her. "That's impossible."
"It's not. It's true. It's all true. Ianto works with us, too. You've traveled in time with a man called the Doctor. You can't've forgotten the Doctor."
Jack was clearly bemused, staring past Gwen like the secret to it all was hiding right behind her, just beyond his grasp.
The voice echoed from inside the house. Gwen looked around Jack as best she could and saw Tyler standing at the end of the short hall.
Jack spun around and Gwen almost fell into the house at his sudden release on the door. She took the opportunity to at least almost halfway inside.
"Tyler, go to your room. I mean it."
"What's she doing here?" Tyler asked, walking forward. "Tell her to leave."
Jack smiled. "This is grown up stuff, Ty."
Tyler ignored him, so Gwen did, too.
"What are you, Tyler?" she asked. "Where are you from? I know you're an alien, so you might as well tell us."
"Stop it," Jack said, moving his body between Gwen and Tyler's. "Get out."
"Make the bad lady go away, Daddy," Tyler said.
"I'm not going anywhere. Your son is an alien and he's altered your memories. This isn't- don't you touch him!" Gwen snapped as Tyler reached for Jack's hand. Her hands itched for her gun. She couldn't do much while Jack was in the way. She wasn't sure what the retcon-infused bullets would do to him.
"Ianto, call the police!" Jack called. His eyes went from pleasantly patient to a bit wild. He looked back to Gwen. "Get out of my house."
Reluctantly, she reached inside her jacket pocket and retrieved the gun. "I'm sorry, Jack. I really am."
"Whoa! Look, please, take whatever you want, just... don't use that," Jack said, backing up a step, practically tripping over Tyler.
"Uh... what's going on?"
Gwen turned her head. Ianto stood in the kitchen, his hair wet, wearing pajama bottoms and a tee shirt.
"Call the police," Jack said. "Take Tyler with you."
"Tyler doesn't go anywhere," Gwen said. She nodded toward Ianto. "Neither do you. No one is calling the police. You boys just need to remember."
"It's easier to make them forget," Tyler said. "It's always easier to forget, isn't that right, Gwen?"
Jack gaped down at him and Gwen narrowed her eyes. "Tell me what you mean."
"You don't remember me. Of course, I looked a little different then. I always survive. You can take your pills and forget, but there's always someone who remembers enough for me to get by. Working for Torchwood was too obvious. You had the resources and the cameras. But this? It doesn't get much better than this." Tyler motioned around to Jack and Ianto. "I hardly had to do anything and they love me. All they want to do is think about me."
Tyler reached up to stroke Jack's arm, but Gwen shook her head sharply. He smiled. "Your memories. Your minds. Even if they don't realize it, their memories are still there. Jack's mind alone is something I've wanted to be a part of. It's why I came to Torchwood in the first place. Everything I've built here came out of his mind. All those secrets, his past and his wants and hopes. Underneath all the complexity is really a simple man who never gets what he wants."
"Ty?" Jack asked, his voice quiet. His face was heartbreaking, the pitiful expression of a child as they realize their parents lied when they said the family dog went to a farm in the country.
"Don't worry, Daddy. This will all be a bad dream soon enough." Tyler looked back to Gwen. "And you. How could you deny them this? They're happy. Sickeningly happy. This isn't the Jack and Ianto you knew, the ones scared of commitments and obligations to each other. Look at what I've given them. A beautiful life together and no Torchwood to get in the way of their happiness. It's the kind of life you'd like, isn't it, Gwen?"
Gwen shook her head. "Not like this. This isn't real." She trained her gun on Tyler and squeezed the trigger.
At the close range, Tyler was flung backward. Gwen didn't stop to look. She dropped the gun and fell back against the door. As much as she knew that he was an alien, she felt like she just shot a child. Her mind replayed it like a skipping record. She kicked the gun away.
"Gwen. Gwen, it's okay."
She looked up. "Jack? I shot-"
"I know," he said, squatting down next to her. "It's okay. You did the right thing."
"Jack! You're you!" She flung her arms around his neck. "How did-"
"I think you broke some kind of connection," he said. He glanced over his shoulder. "Ianto?"
Ianto was staring wide-eyed at Tyler's body.
He looked to Jack and Gwen and nodded. "Yeah. I'm fine." He swallowed and took a slow step toward them.
"Now that hurt," Tyler said, sitting up. He rotated his shoulder, his shirt stained with blood. "It tingles. It's going to take a lot more than gunshot to kill me, Gwen. You should know better."
"That's more than a bullet," she said.
"Then you need better aim."
A shot rang out through the foyer and Tyler's body fell over again, this time with a bullet hole in his head.
Gwen looked up to see Ianto holding her gun, his hands shaking. He gaped at Tyler's body, his jaw dropped halfway, and white as a ghost.
Jack abandoned Gwen on the floor and gently took the gun from Ianto, tossing it away. He cupped Ianto's face with his hands and spoke to him in soft tones Gwen couldn't hear, then Jack pulled him into an embrace.
"I killed him," Ianto said, sounding lost in shock. "I killed him."
"You did the right thing," Jack replied, clinging to Ianto. He started crying as he repeated, "You did the right thing."
"How could I?" Ianto mumbled.
That was when Gwen realized with horror: they remembered everything.
It didn't matter how alien Tyler had been. It didn't matter that he wiped their memories and used them to exist. In that moment he was their son. She could sit there as long as they needed.
"Is it that time?" Jack asked as Gwen walked into his office.
"What time?" she asked, like she had no idea what he was talking about.
"When you ask me how I'm doing." He knew, just from knowing Gwen, that she had been dying to ask for the last month, but refrained, giving them time to get back into the usual rhythm of Torchwood. He'd been spending most of his time going over the files and cases from the missing three months. Gwen didn't miss a report. Far more thorough than Jack expected.
"Am I that obvious?" she asked, perching herself on the corner of his desk.
Jack shook his head. "No, I just know you. I'm fine."
"I have this house in Castle Bromwich full of stuff I need to sell. Though the sofa is nice. Get rid of the old we have here? What do you think?"
Gwen smiled. "You're changing the subject. Talk to me, Jack."
He leaned backed in his chair and considered her for a moment. "It's all fading. Slowly, but... it's like my brain knows that the memories weren't all mine and isn't holding onto them. Now I'm left with the worst part."
"Holes in your memory? A big, black empty space?" Gwen asked.
"The emotions. It's harder to forget how everything felt. And it felt so real."
"But it wasn't."
"Wasn't it?" Jack asked. "Nothing can get you to go against your own personal nature. It's the same reason why you can't kill yourself while hypnotized. Your will is stronger than any outside influence. Everything we did, we had to be capable of doing."
Gwen frowned. "Would you rather still be there?"
"You did the right thing. It wasn't our life. Memory-addling alien aside..." Jack shrugged. "It was nice."
"Having a child?" Gwen asked. She hesitated before asking, "Being married to Ianto?"
Jack didn't say anything. He just smiled and shrugged again. "Where is Ianto? Did he leave early again?"
"Yeah, about an hour ago. He's not handling this as well, is he?"
Jack shook his head.
"You should talk to him," Gwen said gently. "It's been a month. I think he's had enough space. This has obviously affected him and he needs someone."
"You know Ianto. The only way to get him to open up is with a hatchet."
Gwen chuckled. "Almost as difficult as you."
"Hey, you're talking to me now. I'm sharing."
"Yeah, you are." Gwen took her hand in his and squeezed it. "Now I think you're sharing with the wrong person."
Jack paused, then nodded. "Yeah, you're-"
He was interrupted as the rift alarm went off. Jack stood up, shaking his head, giving Gwen a rueful smile.
"After these messages. Where's Mickey? You two seemed like a pretty good team. What would you say we keep him on?"
Gwen nodded. "If he'll have us. He's a lifesaver."
It took several hours to track down the life source that came through the rift (a group of harmless single-cell organisms) and it was after nightfall when Jack finally got to Ianto's.
Even though it was only nine-thirty, Jack found the flat dark and after a few steps discovered Ianto asleep in bed. Jack switched on a lamp and Ianto slept, undisturbed.
Jack sat next to him on the bed and was about to wake him, when Jack realized that he had no idea what he was supposed to say. No matter how much they could tell themselves it wasn't real, Jack couldn't quite ignore the fact that lived as a married couple.
There was no possible way all of those memories had come from Tyler directly. The framework was built and the rest was up to them. It was how retcon worked, depending on the human brain to fill in the blanks with excuses and logical memories. Besides, the details were all too vivid. Nothing about that version of his and Ianto's past together was vague.
He thought back to the fabricated memories, the early ones from before they adopted Tyler, when they had nothing to do in their free time except make love, and that was exactly what they did. All those emotions, that kind of passion, it couldn't be completely faked, could it?
Jack jumped a little and turned to Ianto. "Hey."
Ianto frowned, looking puzzled. "Were you... watching me sleep?"
For a second, Jack considered lying, but that would have been pointless. "Yeah."
"Yeah, I know."
"Did you want something?" Ianto asked.
"I wanted to talk to you. Not at work."
Ianto looked even more puzzled. "Yeah. Let me get dressed."
There was an uncomfortable moment as Ianto didn't move and Jack realized that Ianto wanted him to leave while he dressed.
"Right, yeah, sorry." Jack jumped up and headed toward the kitchen. He thought about putting on the kettle. Maybe the tea would make everything easier. Or at least it could be something to stare at awkwardly while they didn't speak.
Ianto walked into the kitchen wearing red sleep pants and a tee shirt. "What can I do for you, Jack?"
"Talk to me. Look at me, maybe. We can't keep going on like this. Are you going to ignore me forever?"
"Our versions of forever are a little bit different," Ianto said, trying for an unconvincing smile.
Jack mirrored the smile. "I guess so, but we have to do something here."
"You could retcon the last five years out of my head," Ianto suggested, sounding almost serious.
"Stop. I wouldn't do that, and you didn't go through this alone. It happened to both of us."
Ianto shook his head. "It didn't. You didn't... I killed him. I killed our son."
"But it wasn't-"
"I know. I know it wasn't real, he was an alien, and I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't known that." Ianto dropped his face to his hands for a moment, then looked up, but still not quite at Jack. "But it felt real. I wanted it to be real. And I loved him. I loved him so much and... that's why. I look at you and remember it all. When we got our memories back, they came all at once and I forgot who he was, and who we were and I knew I had to do it. It was Torchwood business. Once he was dead, I remembered I again. I remembered he was our son."
Jack swallowed. He meant ask Ianto if he wanted to leave, whether it be a leave of absence or if he wanted to go for forever, but what came out was, "I loved him too, you know."
Ianto's face crumpled as he tried to hold back tears. "I know."
"Come here," Jack took Ianto by the arm and pulled him into an embrace. Ianto didn't cry as he threatened to, but he did allow himself be held as Jack rubbed his back through his tee shirt.
"I loved you too," Ianto mumbled, resting his cheek on Jack's shoulder. "All those memories... sometimes I think they really happened. I'll wake up and think I'm somewhere else. And I want to tell you all about it, because the idea of telling you everything feels natural. Not talking to you has made it a lot easier not to... talk to you."
Jack threaded his fingers through Ianto's hair. "You can talk to me. I'll listen."
Ianto sniffed loudly, probably louder than he intended, and pulled away. "I'll be all right, Jack. I'm me again. I always get through it. Things can go back to how they were. We can even pick up where we left off, if you'd like that."
Jack shook his head. "Problem is, Ianto, what happened, it might not have been our lives, but it was us. It was you. We could do that. Be that. But what we can't do is pick up where we left off. I want more now."
As Jack spoke, Ianto looked further and further down until he was looking at his shoes. "The problem is, Jack, I don't."
Ianto looked up. He examined Jack's resolute face, then nodded. "Do you want a drink? I could use a drink."
Jack smiled. It was a start. A new start. "Yeah. Thanks."
Ianto walked past him and paused, taking Jack's hand in his. "The hardest part, now, anyway, is that I'm still in love with you. I was before any of this started."
Maybe it was Ianto's uncharacteristic honesty, or possibly because they both had memories of being honest with each other for eight years and treating 'I love you' as words to say every day, rather than to be skirted around, but Jack nodded. "Me too."
Ianto dropped Jack's hand and laughed. "I always knew you were in love with yourself, Jack."
Jack laughed, too.
Things were going in the right direction.