"Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."
-- Leonard Cohen, Anthem
He was pointing at the moon but I was looking at his hand.
"So, I take it this means I should just cross off any likelihood of you getting anything done today, then?" Ianto set the mug of coffee down as Jack stared up at him, mouth gaping like a fish. Ianto would have thought Jack accustomed to Ianto popping into his office with caffeine and a reminder to work instead of play with whatever alien tech had found its way into the locked drawers of his desk this week, but apparently not.
Jack's gaze slid away from him guiltily, not quite meeting his eyes, and Ianto refrained from asking what it was he was brooding about today. Jack had a thousand stories and a million secrets, and if you asked for the latter, he'd only tell you one of the former, if he told you anything at all. Ianto was learning not to ask, and truth told he was never quite sure if he truly wanted to know. He'd already opened so many doors in his life that couldn't be shut up tight behind him again. He wasn't sure he wanted to pull wide the door on Jack's secrets, even if Jack let him in that far. "No. I don't think I'll be getting anything done today, Ianto," he said, voice too-soft and slow. Lost in memories then, Ianto decided. "I don't think this place is any state to run into the fray, do you?" He picked up the picture in front of him, rolling it up and tucking it inside his jacket. Ianto tried to see what it was, but the sleeve of Jack's coat hid it from view.
Ianto looked around at the familiar dingy confines of Torchwood. "It is a bit in shambles, isn't it?" he allowed after a moment. Disasters happened every few weeks, he supposed they hadn't quite gotten things sorted after the last one yet. After a bit, they all began to blend together, he couldn't even recall how the place got trashed this time. "We'll have to do something eventually though, you know." He could hear the newsfeeds Tosh was still monitoring in the other room, newscasters' voices far enough away to settle into a monotone drone he couldn't quite distinguish. He'd heard it all before. The world was always ending, wasn't it? Strange how it always wanted to start in Cardiff. Jack didn't answer him, and the silence stretched out long and hollow, Jack's eyes still not meeting his. Ianto backed off a step, finally. "I suppose I'll see about tidying up, then."
"You do that," Jack answered heavily, and Ianto fought back the desire to suggest he HELP, or at least stop sitting about looking as if the world were trying to implode simply to spite him.
"Right," he said again, and turned on his heel to step back outside, muttering "tosser," beneath his breath. Behind him he heard a stuttered sound that might have been a laugh. It was cut off as the door swung shut. From the corner of his eye he saw Jack's fingers curl tight around the mug Ianto had left.
The moon, of course, is always there--day moon, but it's still there
"I don't think he's even listening to me." Tosh pushed her glasses up with a finger in to center, making a vague sound of frustration that Ianto always thought made her sound like an angry kitten. "It's like he looks right through me."
"Mmmhmm," he answered, studying the screens in front of him, but most of his attention on Jack, who stood almost but not quite out of sight round the corner. Ianto couldn't tell if he was watching them, or avoiding watching them, again. It was odd how- "Ow," he looked down at his arm, rubbing away the sting from Tosh's pinch. "What was that for?"
"You're not listening to me either. It's like I'm part of the bloody scenery around here lately, between you and Jack, and Owen." Tosh gestured toward the screens. "But do you see what I mean? It's all coming from the rift."
"At least with Owen you're used to it?" Ianto said, and then winced as Tosh blushed and glared. "Sorry. Bad day, not your fault. But, it's always the rift, Tosh. There's always something blundering through and making our lives difficult."
"I know that, but this time it's all a very SPECIFIC part of the rift. Here." Tosh pointed to the part of the screen where the pink areas were the brightest shades. "The rift we usually see is. . . Ummm, inward. Things crashing down from other planets, other times, popping in to say hello and make trouble. But you see here, the data just. . . Stops."
"As if it's going the other way? Outward?" Ianto guessed.
"Not really. More as if it's clashing, almost? It's almost impossible to get a good read on it, we'll have to go and see. And it's widening, as if whatever was there were moved, maybe? I hate guessing, this would all go so much more simply if he would just listen to me." Tosh looked up, eyes crossing behind her glasses as she tried to look at her own nose, where a large spot of dirty water had just dripped. Ianto reached to wipe it off for her helpfully. "Billions of dollars worth of tech and patents and we can't get someone to repair the roof?" She shook her head. "I swear, sometimes I think this whole place will just crash down on our heads."
"Or give us all black lung from the mold?" Ianto looked up, eyes squinting as he stared upward. "It never looks as bad as it feels, does it?" Yesterday he'd cut himself on a jagged bit of railing, and then couldn't even find it afterward.
"I don't think it works that way," Tosh said. Ianto started to explain that he hadn't meant literal black lung, but she waved him off. "No, not you. What? I meant the rift. I don't think it works the way we think it does."
"You know, for someone complaining about not being listened to. . ." Ianto trailed off significantly, but shrugged. "We'll just have to go look, with or without Jack. Talk to Gwen."
"Or YOU could go talk to him. Pillow talk will always get through, yes?" Tosh blushed again at Ianto's glare but shrugged, small smile playing about her lips. "Oh don't give me that look, Ianto Jones. It isn't as if we all don't know one another's business around here, is it? You'd know mine just as well, if I had a personal life."
Ianto squeezed her shoulder and elected to ignore the comment, muttering something about looking into it, and walking over, stopping in front of Jack. He almost reached for him, cupped the tense line of his jaw, but instead he slumped against the wall opposite him, wincing inwardly at what the dusty walls were likely to do to the state of his jacket. "Did you even look at what Tosh found? The world's tearing itself apart out there, if you believe the news."
"The news is always so trustworthy," Jack said, faint smile not reaching the blue eyes that never wanted to meet Ianto's anymore. Ianto would wonder what on earth he'd done wrong, save he wasn't a bloody simpering character in a romantic comedy and he refused to fret like one.
"Fair point, but that doesn't change the fact that something's wrong. Half of Cardiff vanished and reappeared, a half dozen dead dogs showed up back at home with their owners, not a one of them having been near a pet cemetery, mind you. Take that Stephen King." Ianto felt a sleight thrill of success when Jack's smile widened for a second. "We need to go look into it, isn't that what we do, Jack?"
"Is it?" Jack shook himself, as if trying to shake off a bad memory, or a moment gone wrong, turning away. "I'll go tomorrow."
"You mean we'll go?" Jack ignored him, and Ianto rolled his eyes, stepping forward and gripping Jack's shoulder to stop him. "You're not meant to do this alone, Jack, not anymore. That's what Torchwood is for. That's why we're HERE, to help you."
Jack's shoulder tensed beneath his hand and he shuddered, tearing away. Ianto fought back a jagged pang of hurt the evasion sent spiking through him. "Tomorrow, Ianto."
"Right. Fine. And if the world bloody ends before that, what should we do? Have tea and wait until you're in the mood?"
Jack stopped at the end of the hall as Gwen stepped out, her mouth pulled into a grave line and her hand curling around one of Jack's. "You know this isn't right, Jack." Her voice was low, and Ianto only heard because he strained his ears to blatantly eavesdrop. He saw a small shudder go through Jack when Gwen touched him, but he didn't jerk away from her. Ianto couldn't decide if that hurt, too, or if it just seemed fitting in some way he couldn't quite identify. "We have to go set this right. You can't just stay here."
"I know." Jack's answer was even harder to hear, and after a moment he disappeared back into his office, Gwen retreating the other way, picking her way carefully along the walkway, eyes down. Ianto was glad Jack was listening to someone. He just wasn't sure why it wasn't him.
I think I'd miss the moonlight
"What in the sodding hell is this?" Owen stared at the blank wall in front of him as if the concrete had somehow personally offended him.
"It's a crack," Ianto said, touching the wall. He couldn't see the end of it, it stretched all along the length of the wall, winding around corners. When he pressed his fingers against it, he couldn't feel where it bottomed out, as if it went straight through and broke the world in half. "How are these walls not coming down?" If he touched long enough, it felt as if the crack were pinching closed, not cracking open, though he wasn't sure how he knew that.
Owen stood next to him, shoulder to shoulder, staring up at the cracked walls. "Maybe they are. Sometimes, I turn around, and there's nothing there, when I know there should be, and I keep seeing things from the corner of my eye. Like one moment I see chunks of concrete, and the next I look and it's just a wall, back in its proper place. And now there's a crack." Owen's fingers brushed over the crack beside Ianto's. "Do you ever get the feeling that the universe is just bloody fucking with us?"
"Have you seen what it's like outside? People are putting in ads for room in bunkers on Craigslist. This woman in London had tea with herself. Said it was the best conversation she'd had in years." Ianto dropped his hand, rubbing his fingers together, feeling a fine layer of dust between them, like ash.
"Like I give a sod for what some batty old crone told the six o'clock news." Owen paused for a moment, frown working its way deeper. "You saw it on the news, didn't you? The woman? The rift?"
Ianto nodded. "Do you know what it's like? Outside?" he asked, again, but it was a different question this time. Owen didn't answer, but the way he looked at Ianto said that he understood the difference. The man might be an absolute prat, but he wasn't slow, Ianto had to give him that. He'd noticed it too.
Ianto thought of his cozy flat, and couldn't remember when he'd last been home, though some part of him had thought he'd come from there this morning. He remembered following Jack out of Torchwood, remembered talking to him, threatening to go alone to investigate the rift disturbances. He'd gone with Jack, seen the cracks in the walls around Cardiff, the flickering strangeness of the rift. He'd seen it, but he couldn't remember the last time he'd left Torchwood, not really. He couldn't remember a lot of things, when he sat down to try. The memories seemed solid until he looked closely, and then everything flickered out of his reach and turned insubstantial and strange.
"I think we're only seeing half the story," Owen said instead of actually answering. "If that."
Ianto turned his head, and saw Jack, sitting on a broken slab of concrete that turned into a smooth stretch of floor when he blinked again. "I think we're looking through the cracks." Jack's eyes met his, bleak and sad until he looked away again. When he opened his mouth to ask Owen if he'd spoken to Jack, he realized the other man wasn't there anymore, and he chased his fleeting memories, trying to decide if Owen had ever really been there, or if Ianto had just thought he was there.
The coffee's weak and the coffee cake's imaginary.
"Would you look at me?" Ianto stopped in front of Gwen, blocking her path and giving her no where else to turn. "Just for a minute, bloody look at me, Gwen."
She bit her lip, gaze sliding away again, never quite focusing. "I can't, Ianto. I'm sorry. It's just. . . you're not meant to be here. It's all gone wrong somehow."
"So we fix it. That's what we DO. Isn't it?" It had always been their job, since the first day Ianto showed up to work here. He hadn't understood that at first, too used to the miles of bureaucratic red tape and muddled intentions of Canary Wharf, but with Jack, it had always been their job to set things right when they went awry. Gwen hovered in the stairway, not stepping in. Ianto thought her path down might be blocked, but he couldn't tell. In the in-between moments they were just stairs, and when rubble obscured them he lost track of where he was altogether, and then it was just the stairs again. "It's supposed to be what we do, Gwen."
"Not anymore. Not this time." Gwen laughed, soggy and strained, hand on her belly, the gesture telling a secret Ianto felt like he ought to have already known, but hadn't. "How do you fix it when you're not sure which way is up, Ianto?"
"Stand up and figure it out," Ianto said.
"It's not that simple."
"It never is." Somewhere in Torchwood's archive were the metal remains of the machine Lisa had become. Ianto never forgot that; he knew it wasn't simple. He knew that better than Gwen, who had cried over Suzie and Jack but hadn't ever driven the last nail into the coffin of someone she loved. Or she hadn't had to yet, anyway. "You have to talk to him. He won't listen to me."
"He won't listen to anyone." Gwen looked at him, finally, eyes bright with tears. "And I don't know what I'd tell him to do, even if I tried." A cracking, crashing sound from above made her flinch, and she turned away from him, widening the space between them. "I have to go. I'm sorry."
Ianto let her leave, his fingers gripping at a railing he knew was splintered, but felt steady in the moment he held tight to it. When he pulled his fingers away, the tips were red with blood one moment, whole the next. A moment later, he couldn't recall if they'd been cut, or if he'd only thought they had been.
the leaves tremble like all my sad friends
"How do you know? You tell me that, Doctor. How do you know that this isn't how it's meant to be? All your different worlds and timelines, how do you know that this one is right? I've seen planets die, dimensions rise and vanish, and you've seen even more. But you don't know. You never know. You guess, and you're good at it, but you can't know for certain." Jack's voice was low and harsh, but Ianto could still pick out every word.
"I don't have to guess, Jack. I feel it. So do you." Ianto froze in place, barely breathing as he waited. It was a long moment before Jack spoke again, and Ianto poked his head around the doorway. From where he stood, he saw the back of a tall, lean man and Jack, standing with arms crossed over his chest glaring back at the stranger.
Jack's jaw tightened and he unfolded his arms and touched the blue box he stood beside, the gesture familiar and warm, as if the odd little booth was a pet or a friend he'd never forgotten. The coldness of his voice was jarring after the gentleness of the touch. "All those times I wanted you to come back, and you ignored me. Couldn't stand to look at me, you said. And you come now. Well forgive me, Doctor, but screw you. I've died to solve your problems more times than I can count, and I don't even know you. Not anymore, not as you are now. So do me a favor and don't assume that you know anything about what I feel." Jack pushed off from the blue box and stormed out. He didn't wear his coat, and Ianto realized he missed the melodrama of it swirling behind him when he made his grand exits. Ianto had seen a few of those, lately, and without the coat it just seemed somehow sad instead of impressive. Or maybe it was just that Ianto was tired of watching him walk away.
"You heard all that, I suppose." Ianto looked over at the Doctor. He was tall and thin, all made up of angled lines and slender bits. Good looking, Ianto supposed, but Jack always sucked all the attention out of a room, and even when he'd already left, Ianto couldn't help but hold everyone up against him, and they always came out lesser for the comparison. It wasn't the same Doctor Ianto had seen over a screen, when he and Gwen and Jack helped save the world, or almost destroyed it, depending upon who you asked.
"I'm sorry, I wasn't trying to listen in," he apologized.
The Doctor made a dismissive sound. "Oh of course you were. Only an idiot wouldn't listen in when something important is being said, and you don't look like an idiot to me. Of course it is sometimes deceptive, you can't tell at a glance. I once knew a man, perfectly reasonable, seemed clever. Turned out to be Jeff Beck, so you really never can tell." The Doctor paused, lips pursing. "No, wait. Not Jeff, the other one. The one without a guitar."
The Doctor peered at Ianto, who wasn't sure what to say. Assuring the man he wasn't an idiot seemed counterproductive. "Glenn?" he guessed.
The Doctor beamed, gesturing broadly and then pointing a victorious finger at him. "Ah ha. Yes. Glenn. Completely mad. And not the good sort of idiot. I once knew an idiot who saved the world. Oh he was a brilliant sort. Saved multiple worlds, actually, so it just goes to show, you can't judge a book by its. . . thing." He made a vague gesture that Ianto took to be his miming the opening of a book, even if it looked more like a deformed sort of bird flapping its wings.
"Cover," Ianto supplied.
"Right. That's what I said." The Doctor turned, crossing the width of Torchwood, and Ianto trailed after him. "Isn't it funny how the smallest thing can change everything?" The Doctor murmured, watching Tosh's monitors. "You should hear it out there. All the things I've seen gone wrong, and there's always the noise of it. The screaming, the hubbub, the people, the running. But not this time, no, this time it's all silence, pushing in. Always the Silence now, isn' it?" he said, talking more to himself than to Ianto, who was a bit glad of that really, since he hadn't the faintest idea what the man was talking about. "Once the world cracked and all the universe got sucked into its empty space, but not this time." He turned suddenly, and Ianto pulled his attention away from the monitor, where a bewildered blonde newscaster stood in front of an Eiffel tower split down its center, the top splintering off like a pair of spigots facing opposite ways. "Do you fancy a trip?"
Yes, Ianto wanted to be free of here so badly it ached, but he swallowed the instant response. "I can't leave. I mean I try, and I remember going, but I don't think I actually do. I don't think I do anything at all, really," he said instead. Ianto met the Doctor's eyes, and felt a wash of some strange sort of trust roll through. The Doctor was looking at him, really looking. Ianto felt as if he'd gone unseen for so long.
"Well yes, not on your own. But I've got a time machine. It moves through space and time and the rules go a bit bent when I'm about. I think you should see, Ianto Jones." He held out his hand, and Ianto looked down at it.
"What is it?"
"It's a hand. Five fingers, little bit of a palm, a thumb to use if you're hitchhiking. Which I tried once; no one ever picks you up if you're wearing a vegetable, I found-"
"No. The thing. The small thing that's changing everything, what is that, Doctor?" Ianto cut him off to ask.
The Doctor's smile gentled, sad and somehow a bit smug at the same time. Ianto wondered if he liked it because it reminded him of Jack, or if Jack had learnt it from this man. "A memory, trapped in place that someone can't let go of."
Ianto forgot things, sometimes. What he'd had for breakfast, the sound of Lisa's laugh, how new shoes felt when they pinched his toes, the sharp taste of scotch on his tongue, they all slipped in and out of his mind with a million other details that he tried to hold on to but lost, and then remembered again and felt guilt for having forgotten. He reached out and he took the Doctor's hand. The Doctor tugged him along with a surge of sudden, manic energy, the door to the box opening and a room bigger than Torchwood itself welcoming him in. "It's bigger-"
"Yes yes, I know. Be amazed later, we've got things to do just now." The Doctor let go of Ianto's hand, the door swinging shut behind him as he reached to begin pulling levers. Ianto followed him, and watched silently. "This is the part where usually I'd ask you where and when you wanted to go, but this is a special case. So. . . well, anything to say? Oh and hold on."
The room shuddered and a strange wuffing sort of sound came from the control panel. Ianto gripped the nearest railing, white knuckled, and realized he had nothing to say, really. "Your bowtie is crooked," he said. The Doctor looked faintly affronted and Ianto hung on more tightly as the sounds grew louder.
Once, in a fable, the moon woke the dead.
"Where are we?" Ianto asked, though he already knew. He wanted to know when but he had the oddest feeling that there wasn't much difference.
"London, of course. Silly sort of question." The Doctor stood shoulder to shoulder with him, on the edge of a broken street. A step out and they'd both have plummeted into black waters, but Ianto wasn't worried about that. "London Bridge is falling down," the Doctor said.
Ianto frowned, giving in to impulse and reaching over to straighten the man's bowtie. "That's not the London Bridge."
"Well no, but it's a bridge, and it's near London. It's not nearly so poetic that way, is all." The Doctor let him fuss with his tie without protest, and then gestured toward the bridge. "This is what's happening."
"It's not falling down, either."
"No. You are a literal sort, aren't you? You'd get on with Mr. Pond, I think, but he's on his honeymoon, and the last time I called it was nothing but snogging sounds and giggling, so I won't be doing that again." The Doctor shrugged. "But no, it's not falling, it's crushing. Another bridge and another world, trying to push into the same space. There isn't room for them both though. One of them's not meant to be here, only it doesn't know that. It just keeps coming, keeps trying to make space, override what was already here. Caught on a loop, I'd say. A victim of its own good intentions."
"What happens when it finishes? Will it just. . .take over?"
"It doesn't work like that. Or at least it doesn't this time. You can't rewrite some things. Some moments. . . They're fixed, and when you change them, it all just. . ."
"Cracks," Ianto said.
The Doctor nodded. "Cracks. Only it's cracking inward, not out. I've seen when it goes out. The whole universe, snuffing out like a candle. All that history, all those faces, all of that time, just gone. It would look different, I think. Quiet, still, it was so quiet at the end. A message all in itself, the quiet. But I think we'd feel it, pressing down, pushing us thin and cracking until we're gone altogether."
Ianto felt thin already, pushed through a space he didn't fit into, and weighted down by a reality he didn't belong in. "But you can stop it. You stopped it last time, when the world was cracking. You said you've seen it before. And Jack's stories, everyone's stories, I've heard them. This is what you do; you set it right. You stop the world from ending."
"Yes. And I can this time, too. But it's not really my place, you see. I will if I have to, but it shouldn't be me."
Ianto swallowed. "What do I have to do?"
"Say goodbye, I expect. And there's a little thing. A painting someone painted once, after he met a girl with very long legs who told him a story she'd heard from a man in an old coat. Only in the story she remembered, the man in the coat wasn't left alone. His friends didn't die, his lover lived to be old and hearty, and he was happy. And that was the story he painted, and it's the one she remembered, and the whole world went wrong. One little thing that drifted in through a crack and someone held on too tight to it."
"So if the painting doesn't exist. . ."
"Then neither do you. Not as you are, anyway. You'll be the normal sort of memory, not the kind that destroys the world."
Ianto shut his eyes. In the sky above them he could see the faint outline of a double sun, where there should have been one. Behind his eyelids, the sight was burned into the dimness, an echo of light duplicating itself in the dark, even when he'd stopped looking for it. "What really happened? If I'm not here - we're not here - then what really happened?"
"You died, I expect, all humans do. It's the beauty of life, really. If it didn't end, there would be nothing worth remembering." The Doctor steered him back into the TARDIS, and squeezed his shoulder. When Ianto opened his eyes again, he was smiling that strange soft smile, and his voice sounded oddly like an echo of something Ianto had heard before when he added, "but I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." Ianto thought it was strange how someone could look so old and so young, all at once. It was fitting, for the Doctor, but strange all the same.
"And we'll just be gone." No more cracking world, no more making coffee, no more soft kisses while Ianto worried if the pterodactyl was watching. No more arguing about footie with Owen or coaxing Tosh away from the computer for supper. There wouldn't be anything anymore, not for Ianto. But the rest of the world would keep on ticking. It was a sparse comfort, but a comfort nonetheless.
"You'll be remembered. Your family, your friends, they'll all remember. They'll forget the little bits, but the important parts they'll hold on to." The Doctor stepped away, flipping switches and levers again, though they didn't move. "It's not so bad, being a memory you know."
"You've experience with it?" Ianto followed him over, and he reached up, straightening the bow tie again. It stayed straight, this time.
The Doctor didn't answer, but he smiled. "If it'd been different, I would have taken you to see so many things. Joneses have been good, on this ship. Some things can't be changed though."
"Fixed points in time," Ianto said, remembering something Jack had said once, head on a pillow beside his.
The Doctor nodded. "Time to go back, Ianto Jones."
Ianto echoed his nod, and gripped the railing again as the TARDIS begin to shudder again. His gaze fell on a drape of black fabric waving gently on the railing opposite him. "Do you know there's a nightie left out?" he asked.
The Doctor looked over and flushed faintly red. "Oh, Amelia," he grumbled, grabbing the teddy and stuffing it out of sight in his pocket.
the door from sleeping to waking always sticks and squeaks
"This wasn't what I wanted." Jack's voice is hollow, and the floor beneath him is whole and cracked all at once and Ianto feels as if they could both fall, but it wouldn't matter for either of them. He's already hit the bottom and broken up, and Jack always comes back.
"Well, good on you for making it all about you, as usual," Ianto says, and settles down next to Jack, smiling as Jack laughs, all sudden rush of air and breathless rattling sounds that push through tears. Ianto smiles back, eyes shutting as Jack's fingers brush over his cheek. "I've missed you," he says. "I'm not really here, but I've missed you, anyway."
"You know?" Jack's fingers slide to the back of his neck, and Ianto leans in so he's pressed up against his side. It feels solid and real and it would be so simple to believe that he could close his eyes and leave this all to someone else to set right. "I thought I was seeing things, at first. But then you were there, and you made coffee, and Tosh kept leaving notes on the floor where my desk was."
Ianto looks over his shoulder. "It's not there when you look at it?"
"It is now."
"It shouldn't be," Ianto says. "It blew up, didn't It? All of this, all of us. Is that what happened? Is that how I-"
"No. I mean yes, it blew up, but not with you in it. No one but me was left in it, and I came back." Jack laughs again, and Ianto punches him lightly in the arm, hating that bitter note of self loathing he recognizes in the laughter. "I always come back. Over and over, and the Doctor never ran to fix that, did he? He just left me to figure it out. And then when you come back, I'm supposed to just. . ."
"Let go," Ianto finishes for him. "It was always going to go like that though, wasn't it? We all stop, and you go on. You always knew that."
"I thought I'd have more time," Jack says, and his arms wrap around Ianto as Ianto leans into him, but Ianto somehow feels as if he's the one holding them both up. "All the time in the world, and we didn't get any. I thought I'd see Tosh's daughter, or hear Owen complaining about kids on his lawn when he's someone's grandfather." Jack blows out a slow breath that Ianto feels against his cheek. Jack is wearing his coat again, and Ianto nuzzles into the familiar scent of it and the warmth of the man wearing it. "I thought I'd have time to say things to you."
"You did. You have." Ianto pulls away and amends. "Well, you haven't. But I knew them. And it isn't all on you, you know. You're an entirely self-absorbed, immortal flirt who can't go an hour without hitting on someone and keeps secrets for the largest underground organization in Britain. And I'm Welsh. Communication was never going to be our strength, but we knew. I knew, Jack."
"He could be wrong. The Doctor. He gets it right in the end, but he can be wrong. I've seen it. I'm one of the things that he got wrong."
Ianto winds his fingers through Jacks and looks down at where they're twined. "This is the end, isn't it though? That's the part he's always right at."
"What am I supposed to say, Ianto? Why does he get a chance to fix his mistakes and I don't? What do I DO?"
Ianto thinks of the Doctor's sad smile, of the overlapping suns and the way even with two suns threatening the skies, the world had seemed darker. "You say goodbye, I think. If we were a wrong to be righted, then it could be changed. But it can't be. We're not your mistake to set right. We're just part of what had to happen." Ianto pulls his hand away and cups Jack's face, pulls him into a kiss that's hard and hungry and a bit angry because Ianto knows what he has to do, but he doesn't want it to happen. He wants to hold on and stay here, alive as long as everyone else is allowed to be, and damn the world. But he's not that selfish. He wishes he'd found Tosh and Owen again, that he'd seen Gwen a last time. He half wishes he'd met the girl who'd remembered the wrong truth, just so he can decide if he's grateful, or if he hates her.
He reaches into Jack's coat, fingers curling around the roll of paper he finds in the pockets inside. "I don't regret it, you know, any of it. Whatever happened, I don't regret Torchwood, or you. Never you."
Jack draws in on himself as Ianto stands up, walks over to the desk that shouldn't be there, rummaging in a drawer for the lighter there. "Miss me. Remember me. But don't hang about this crater waiting, Jack. There's things left for you to do, and you were always going to have to do them without us. Take care of yourself. Keep an eye on Gwen and Rhys. Stop winking at anyone with a tongue ring." He expects to feel something as he lights the corner, but nothing happens as the flames lick up along the old canvas sheet. He studies the image and recognizes Jack in it. The man with him looks a bit like Ianto, but more like some strange approximation of him, filtered in through a lens and painted onto an image. He's laughing, and Jack is watching him, and a girl with red hair hovers on the edge of the frame, smile wide enough that her eyes are squint-slits in her pretty face. Ianto decides that he likes her, after all, and that he's grateful for this last moment. "This looks like a bloody Van Gogh, you know. I feel like an art collector somewhere is weeping."
Jack laughs, standing and rushing over, crushing Ianto against him and kissing him again, flames singing his shirt though he didn't seem to notice. They're curling up over Ianto's hand, but he doesn't feel them. "Goodbye," Jack whispers, and Ianto smiles, forehead leaning up against him as he shuts his eyes.