When Jack began to walk the earth after Ianto and Steven died, it wasn’t purposeless. He went seeking, and one day he found what he needed. Two angels, trapped into gazing at each other, frozen in place.
— We can’t save the child, they told him. That was destiny.
"But the man?" he asked.
— Why should we? He’s hardly a morsel. You want us to take him minutes from his death. Not much life left for us.
"Take him," Jack offered. "I know what you do — you send them back in time, and then you feed on their potential, on the empty space they left behind. Take him and then come back for me, and send me where you sent him. He’s the taste. I’m the banquet."
They considered this in silent conference. Finally one of them said,
— I will.
Jack carefully blindfolded one, freeing both, and they vanished. Five minutes later, one returned.
— It’s done. Now you.
Jack held out his hand. The angel’s fingers were smooth and cold, and gentle.
"Thank you," he whispered.
Ten minutes later, the Doctor arrived — Jack! Jack! What have you done? — but he was far too late.
The angels sent Ianto to 1920, and they sent Jack as well, though a few weeks later.
Once they’d found each other again, Wales held little appeal for either. They made a home for themselves in New York, roaring queen of the postwar boom. Jack joined the police; Ianto became a clerk.
Four months after they arrived, Jack started gaining weight.
"It’s the water," he said one morning, when Ianto found him up with the sun, sitting on the roof. "Remember I said birth control got in the water?"
"Yes," Ianto said softly.
"Well, not in 1920," Jack said. He looked up at Ianto uncertainly. "I’m pregnant."
Ianto’s smile was warm and brilliant as the sunrise. He took a cigar from his pocket and held it out.
"You knew?" Jack asked. Ianto nodded. "How?"
"Sarah — the neighbor? Sarah Rogers?" Ianto said. "She said the way you were acting lately, if she didn’t know better she’d think you were knocked up."
Jack blinked at him, then burst out laughing.
They named him James Buchanan Barnes — they’d both taken the name Barnes in America, land of reinvention. They told people he was Ianto’s, that his mother had died in childbirth and that Jack was Ianto’s cousin, there to help care for the baby. Technically Jack had died in childbirth, but he was awake and healed soon enough.
Sarah, their happenstance angel, had given birth three days before; she wet-nursed James for a few weeks. Ianto made sure she ate extra-well, and she was glad enough to earn a little extra towards the hospital bills for her husband, who hadn’t come back entirely whole from the war.
"I'm so glad Stevie's a boy," she confided to Ianto, returning James to him after a feeding. She’d taken a shine to him; she’d come over from Ireland years before, and she had an immigrant’s love for a fellow expatriate. "A little friend for your fine lad Bucky, eh?"
"Well, he's welcome," Ianto said, and Sarah looked pensive. "Isn't he, Sarah?"
"Yes, of course," she said, twisting her hands together. "It’s only, with Joseph so sick, and not in work."
"Sarah," Jack said, and she startled a little — neither of them had heard him come in. He rested a hand on her shoulder, still in his policeman’s uniform. "Whatever you need. We’ll look after you and Steve."
"Oh, I couldn’t — "
"And Joseph, if you need help."
Jack had a way with the truth, the big truths of life, like the fact that her husband was dying even as her son came into the world. He could be bitterly cruel with truths like that, or he could be so gentle it almost didn’t hurt. Lately, he’d had no taste for cruelty. Ianto ached, for Sarah’s impending loss and with how much he loved Jack.
"Well, thank you for your offer," she said quietly.
"It’s not charity, Sarah. You know we have to stick together."
She shrugged one-shouldered. “So they say.”
"A worry for another day. Now, let me have this little bauble," Jack said, plucking James out of Ianto’s arms. "Hello, my Bucky, how are you this evening?"
Bucky spit up milk on his uniform. Jack laughed.
Bucky and Steve, inseparable practically since birth, grew up on Sarah’s stories of Joseph Rogers and Jack’s stories of his friend the Doctor. Steve, of course, preferred to hear about his father, but Jack had so many more stories about the Doctor and his magical box, about how good and kind the Doctor was, about how he stood in front of the weak and never backed down.
Bucky, casting glances at the hollows in Steve’s cheeks that no amount of Dad’s cooking could fill out, took this to mean that he should protect his friend. Steve, raptly listening to Uncle Jack’s stories, took this to mean that it was his personal duty to live up to the Doctor and protect the weak. Steve didn’t count himself amongst the weak. He always seemed surprised when anyone else did.
When the war began, Bucky thought his father and his uncle Jack would kill him for enlisting. Particularly his father, who was gentle and quiet, and hated violence. But when he came home and announced he’d signed up, it was Jack who held him a little too tightly, who pressed their foreheads together and cried.
"It’ll be fine, Uncle Jack," Bucky said, worried now. "They’re saying it’ll be over by Christmas."
"It won’t," Dad said.
"Be careful," Jack told him, voice cracking. "Keep your head down. And if you run, neither of us will be ashamed of you. If you need to you come running all the way back to New York. Please come home, my Bucky," he said.
"I will, Jack, I promise."
Seventy-two years later, Bucky came home.
Or rather, he came back to where home had once been — where he thought home might once have been. Nothing was certain anymore. He was remembering more each day, but not enough, not yet; not enough to go back to Steve, to beg forgiveness he knew would be granted immediately and gracelessly.
But yes, enough to believe this was where home had once been.
Dad was dead, of course. Long since. Uncle Jack too, probably. Auntie Sarah had died when he was still Bucky, before he became a sergeant or the Soldier.
The apartment building wasn’t there any longer; it had been a firetrap even when they lived there. There was a new building, some kind of fake brownstone, nothing left here to jar any more memories.
It couldn’t be Uncle Jack standing there on the step, not after all this time. Not looking so young, nor smiling at him so brightly.
"I’ve been waiting a long time," the man said. Bucky just stared at him. "I know how this must look. There are a few things we never told you."
Bucky’s fists flexed. Maybe this was a hallucination. ”Does he — “
"Steve doesn’t know, not yet." Jack shook his head. "The fewer who know, the better, but when I heard, I couldn’t — I couldn’t resist coming to see you. Come on," he added, tipping his head at a bar on the corner. "Let me buy you a drink, one veteran to another, and I’ll tell you about where you came from. It’s a long, strange story."
Bucky almost followed him, but instead he moved without thinking, catching Jack by the arm and turning him, curling into his body like he had when he was small and he’d skinned a knee or knocked out a baby tooth. Dad was best for hugs and kissing-better, of course, but Uncle Jack could be kinder about not scolding him for getting hurt doing things he oughtn’t to do.
"It’s all right," Jack said, as Bucky clung to him, trying desperately not to drift on his sudden surge of memory and feeling. "It’s all right. You’re a good boy. You came home."