Chapter 1: the one where ianto wakes up again
Ianto died, and then he woke up. It hurt. A man was bending over him, a man with floppy brown hair and a smile that reminded him of a five year old on Christmas morning. Ianto didn’t recognize the man or where they were. He also didn’t have his gun.
“Hello!” the man said cheerfully. “Nice of you to finally wake up! I’m the Doctor.” The man waited expectantly while Ianto’s brain slowly began to function properly again. It took only seconds for Ianto to place the title and recall Jack’s fantastical stories.
“You’ve changed your face,” Ianto croaked. His throat was dry, and he felt like seven hells, but he was alive, and he was becoming increasingly worried as to why. Usually, dying and waking up again did not bode well to the future of the universe or its inhabitants.
“Yeah, I do that from time to time,” the Doctor said, still cheerful. “I’m sure you’ve heard. How are you feeling?”
“Like complete shit,” Ianto said, acknowledging the agony running under his skin, “but not dead.”
“Not dead at all,” the Doctor laughed. “I’m sure you want to know why?” Ianto nodded. “Well, I saved you of course. I was very clever. It was thrilling. A shame you were dead for it, of course, but one can’t always have a, ah, live audience.”
“Timey-wimey stuff.” The Doctor waved his hand as if that explained everything, which. Yeah, it did. Ianto, along with everyone else who ever worked at Torchwood, had seen the Easter Egg Tapes, as they were known in the support staff departments -- despite being DVDs and not on tapes at all.
“Rest now,” the Doctor said, laying a cool hand on Ianto’s forehead. “You’ll feel better once you’ve let the nanogenes work their magic.”
“Nanogenes?” Ianto wanted to ask, but instead he closed his eyes and let the darkness take him again.
The second time Ianto woke up, he had a few minutes to get his bearings.
He was in a large, off-white room with impossibly high ceilings and no windows. Light came from several circular fixtures on the ceiling and along the walls. The bed Ianto was laying on smelled like grass and fresh air, completely at odds with his sterile surroundings. The walls were lined with the usual things one expected in a clinic or infirmary of some sort. There were four other beds in the room, all of them unoccupied, and there was a panel of a different shade of white that Ianto assumed was a door of some kind. It had a red cross on it, the universal sign of medical care.
He wasn’t wearing his ruined suit anymore. Instead, he was clad in blue pajamas a size too large. His feet were bare. He breathed in and out without pain. Either he was on some of Owen’s leftover miracle painkillers or he had been completely healed in the time he was unconscious. Ianto wondered if it would be safe for him to get up. He wiggled his toes experimentally, making sure that he still had the right number and that he could feel them properly. He did, and he could. No obvious nerve damage then. Good.
He swung his legs around and placed them on the floor. Everything felt like it was in working order. He had been dead; now he wasn’t. He wondered if this was how Jack felt once the pain of coming back faded away. He would ask him, next time he saw him, and he was determined that there be a next time. He wasn’t leaving Jack that easily.
Walking was interesting, not least because he kept bracing for pain that never came. The memory of agony was too close to shake off, clinging to his skin and his mind like spiderwebs.
The white panel with the cross on it turned out to be a door after all; it slid open silently as Ianto approached it. On the other side was a corridor that definitely didn’t look like anything someone would find on earth, but considering that he was with the Doctor, there was a good chance he wasn’t.
The corridor twisted and turned in front and behind him. He passed a library with a swimming pool in the middle, a room that looked like it was made of solid gold, a branching corridor lined with shimmering vines, a room full of shapes that were not boxes, and another room full of nothing but boxes. And, miraculously, a kitchen.
It looked like his grandmother’s kitchen, atrocious wallpaper and all. However, there was a refrigerator, a table, and a dust-covered coffee maker. Ianto could handle coffee, even if the rest of the alien mess of this place made his heart race and his insides twist. A stress headache built steadily behind his eyes.
There was no coffee anywhere in the enormous pantry, but there was tea, and a kettle, so Ianto set to work. He dug around until he found two unmatching cups, one porcelain and delicate, the other chipped and sturdy.
“Do you want sugar, milk, or honey?” the Doctor asked. Years at Torchwood meant that Ianto didn’t jump several feet in the air and yelp indignantly from surprise, but it was a near thing. He turned to face his host with a smooth, unimpressed expression on his face. Dealing with Jack had certainly given him practice.
“Some sugar would be nice,” Ianto said evenly. He glanced at and then away from the Doctor, who was lounging in the doorway, wearing a cowboy hat of all things. He heard the Doctor move across the room and open the door to the pantry. “What about you, sir?”
“All of them,” the Doctor said pleasantly. He placed the sugar and honey on the counter and pulled the milk out of the fridge. “And don’t call me sir.”
“What would you like to be called then, sir?” Ianto asked, adding the ‘sir’ just to be difficult. From the sudden appearance of laugh lines around his eyes, the Doctor appreciated the effort even if he didn’t like the honorific.
“Doctor’s fine. John Smith, if you must. Doctor John Smith, if we’re in mixed company.”
Ianto handed the Doctor his tea and watched as he took the first sip.
“If I weren’t already married,” the Doctor laughed, a huge smile taking over his face. His bow tie had distressingly yellow polka dots on it.
“You’re married?” Ianto asked. He leaned against the cabinets as the Doctor made himself comfortable atop of the table. “Jack never mentioned.”
“I wasn’t married when he knew me,” the Doctor told him. “Or, when we met and then met again. It’s a rather new development. Saving the universe and all that.” He waved his free hand negligently.
“I see.” Ianto drinks his tea, considering the man -- alien -- before him. “When are you taking me back?”
“Back?” the Doctor repeated. There was too much careful ignorance in his eyes for his confusion to be genuine. This was Jack’s Doctor, after all, and if Jack was impressed by his knowledge and cunning, there was plenty to be impressed by.
“You saved me,” Ianto said flatly. “Thank you. Jack will be very pleased. But now I want you to take me home. Things were very much a mess when I--” died, his mind filled in for him, but he brushed the thought aside as best he could, “left, and I would like to make sure that Jack hasn’t done anything spectacularly stupid in my absence.”
“I can’t,” the Doctor said. He still had that clueless smile fixed in place, and it made Ianto want to smash things. Like the Doctor’s face. “I’m afraid we’re stuck with each other for a while longer.” He grinned cheerfully. “But that’s not so bad, is it?”
“Take me home.”
“Either take me home or I’ll find a way to get there myself.”
“Impossible,” the Doctor snorted. “We’re two centuries in the past near a planet that it would take half a millennium to get to Earth from, even going at the top speed the civilization can manage. I,” he continued confidently, arrogantly , “am your only chance to get anywhere, and I’m not taking you to Jack.”
Ianto slammed his tea cup to the counter. Luckily, he had chosen the sturdy one for himself, so it didn’t take too much damage. He’d feel bad about breaking china later. “I’ll figure out a way myself then,” he said quietly. His hands shook. He was years and leagues away from Jack; he was in space. He was so far from home that he had almost no chance of returning without the help of a sometimes-benevolent thousand year old alien.
“He thinks I’m still dead, doesn’t he?” Ianto asked. The Doctor’s silence was answer enough.
“He has to,” the Doctor said quietly, looking down and away. “For this to work, he has to think you’re dead, at least for a while. It’s complicated.”
“Explain it then. I’m a quick study.”
“Jack is a fixed point in time,” the Doctor said after a moment of thought. “He’s not quite immortal, but he’s as close to it as anyone is ever going to manage. Mucking up his time stream is a bad idea; it tends to make things go a bit sideways. You died in my past; by the time I heard about it, it had already happened. I hadn’t looked into saving you because I didn’t know you could be saved.” The Doctor looked away, as if he was embarrassed. “It’s been a while since I’ve made a mistake that huge, but from what I know now, with all of my recent events, it’s been a long time coming.”
“I poked around a bit once I started thinking about it. The timeline had gone wonky, but things tend to do that around Jack.” The Doctor’s laugh sounded more like a sigh. “I’m sure you’ve noticed. Anyway, once I did some poking, I realized that there was some, ah, how to describe it? Some wiggle room where things could be...tweaked a bit. Adjusted.”
“Wiggle room,” Ianto repeated tonelessly. “You saved me with...wiggle room.”
“Yes,” the Doctor nodded. “But now there’s the matter of finding the right moment to reintroduce you to Jack’s time stream. He has to think you’re dead because he thought you were dead, and he has to continue to do so because even me pulling your body out and replacing it upset things more than I’m comfortable. I can’t return you until he’s told me you died, at the very least. Paradoxes are no one’s friends. So, no, I can’t take you home right now, but I will. Eventually, when I can.”
Ianto rubbed his palms against the tiled counter, feeling the places that had been turned smooth by years -- decades? centuries? -- of people before him. “I don’t want to be your newest companion, your newest shiny toy,” Ianto told the tile. “I want Jack.” God, he was in space. Alone with the Doctor, Torchwood’s enemy. Earth’s savior.
“Ianto Jones,” the Doctor said, visibly and deadly serious for the first time since Ianto woke up, “I promise you that, when I am able to return you to Jack, when it is the right time and place, I will. I swear it on my own TARDIS.” He smiled warmly, and suddenly, Ianto got a taste of why all those people followed him into the great dark mystery of space and time. The man was worse than Jack, and that was saying something.
“Besides,” the Doctor continued, grinning. “You don’t cut off one of the best love stories in the known universe. That would just be sloppy writing. You have to have a happy ending, or the story’s a tragedy, and there’s enough sadness in living as it is.”
After they finished their tea, the Doctor lead Ianto to what appeared to be both the engine room and the steering wheel. A great glowing tower rose in the middle, through a raised platform. Wires and cords wove around the various bars and railings. It looked like something from an ancient sci-fi show, back when television was black and white and Star Trek was just beginning.
“So, are you going to explain why it’s bigger on the inside?” Ianto asked.
The Doctor threw him a disappointed look. “Come on now,” he said. “It’s cheating to use what Jack’s told you. Besides, it’s much more likely to be accurate if I do the explaining.”
“From what Jack’s told me, that’s probably not true,” Ianto said dryly. “But do go on. Sir,” he added, just to poke at him. He may or may not have been doing it partially out of spite.
“Stop that,” the Doctor said, waving as if to swat away a gnat or fly. “All right!” He flailed his hands for a minute, looking over the room as if searching for a place to start first. “Well, there’s the door,” he said point at what appeared to be a normal set of wooden doors. “Go on, take a peek outside.”
“I’d prefer not to get sucked into the vacuum of space, if you don’t mind,” Ianto said, taking a step back.
“Do you really think I would just--Oh, of course you do, you’ve been dabbling with Jack.” Ianto bristled. “Calm down, you know it’s true.” The Doctor strode to the doors and flung them open, revealing--
Revealing space. Ianto walked over, couldn’t not walk over, to stare at the distant suns, the blackness, the wonder. Space. He’s seen from other perspectives, of course. From grainy human footage to stunning Hubble photographs to shaky alien video. But standing there, at the edge of the TARDIS, the Doctor clanging away behind him, he appreciated how huge it was, and how small he was. Compared to alien planets and massive suns and the vast emptiness of nothing, he was just...Ianto Jones, of Cardiff. Working what amounts to an intergalactic cleanup operation for extraterrestrials. The job was interesting and challenging, and it definitely had its dangers, but in the end, there was so much more out there.
He’d known that, objectively. He organized the incident reports, the archival data, the foreign objects that needed to be sorted and labeled. There were thousands of thousands of other worlds out there, other peoples, other cultures, other empires. But it was one thing to consider in the abstract, when all you had to analyze were the occasional alien invaders and some space junk -- it was another thing to stand at the edge of everything and feel the weight of it pressing against his shoulders.
Eventually, he tore himself away and closed the doors firmly behind him. He swallowed harshly, once, before going over to the control console and asking if there was anything the Doctor wanted done while he was working.
“That’s quite all right, Ianto,” the Doctor said absently, twisting what looked like a water fixture and using his opposite elbow to smack a silver button that looked like a Roman coin. “Why don’t you go find a bedroom, since we’ll be traveling a while? Get some rest, you did just die yesterday.”
Finding the bedrooms, or at least, a bedroom, was hard. The corridors seemed to double back on themselves, and Ianto was sure that they changed as soon as he looked away. However, eventually the TARDIS took pity on him and the next time he turned a corner, he was met with a long hallway of open doors. The doors were all different, in varied styles and colors. Ianto spotted everything from a gilded gate to a door made of stained glass. Wood, metal, even stone. Ianto wishes he had his gun, but it disappeared somewhere between him dying and waking up. The Doctor’s doing, probably.
Still, the Doctor probably wouldn’t send him off with no means of defense if there was anything to defend against (probably, hopefully), so Ianto gathered himself and opened the modest wooden door on his right.
Inside is a plain room with minimal furniture. No matter what Owen might have muttered when he was alive (or even while he was dead), Ianto wasn’t a drone. The thought of sleeping in a room with no dust or personality made his skin crawl, just a little. It reminded him a bit of some of the better holding cells at Torchwood One, the ones that were acceptable to show to the gawking UNIT visitors. Everyone knew that the real cells were five levels below, right next to the autopsy rooms.
Ianto closed the door and moved on to the next one. This door was made of some sort of plastic, and the room was brightly colored. It looked like a child’s room, to be honest, all covered in stars and moons and rocket ships. An air of sadness hung about. Ianto closed that door as well and went on the the next.
Three bedrooms later, behind a dark wood door with a brass knocker, Ianto found one that didn’t make him want to break out in hives or sleep in the kitchen. It was airy and snug, with false windows covered by decent curtains. There was a king sized bed that Jack would have loved square in the middle of the room, but the space was large enough that it didn’t swallow everything. Ianto ran his hand along the built in bookcase in the near wall, taking in the fact that all of his favorite classics were present, as well as some of his preferred nonfiction editions. The desk was organized just how he liked it. The colors were warm earth tones, a sharp and welcome contrast to the extreme vibrancy of the Doctor’s ship. Ianto was really a quiet person at heart, and he liked to be in quiet places during his downtime.
This room felt restful.
Somehow, Ianto knew that the Doctor had had a hand in this. It was too perfect to have been a happy accident. He made a mental note to thank the Doctor. Later.
Then he fell onto the bed and slept some more.
Chapter 2: the one where it ends in a death
warning, this chapter contains: violence, blood, death, etc.
When he left his chosen bedroom some hours later and closed the door behind him, his room had changed locations; he was now much closer to the kitchen, which was nice. Jack had said that the TARDIS was alive, and it wasn’t the first time Ianto had had an encounter with a sentient ship. At least this one hadn’t tried to force him into a marriage with its owner yet.
(Jack had been furious about that. Ianto hadn’t been too pleased either. It was a stressful week at the office for them all.)
Unfortunately, the TARDIS hadn’t provided him with any clothes, which meant that Ianto was still wearing the pajamas the Doctor had put him in. He itched for the familiarity of one of his suits. It was security, like armor. When he was wearing one of them, he wasn’t just Ianto Jones, brother and teaboy. He was Ianto Jones, operative and agent of Torchwood. Constantly wearing pajamas, especially considering that he was dating Jack, was a bit incongruous with his previous life. He made another mental note to ask about clothes after he thanked the Doctor for his room.
Ianto raided the fridge. The thought of facing the Doctor on an empty stomach was horrifying, especially since this reincarnation, or whatever he called it, of him seemed to be even more manic than his last. Ianto had never wanted to have kids, and he was being reminded why without the added benefit of interacting with his family or dealing with tourists.
Armed with two jam sandwiches and a pitcher of milk, Ianto went in the direction he thought the main room was in. Luckily, the TARDIS was feeling charitable, and he wound up where he wanted to go, if from the wrong direction.
“Ah, there you are!” the Doctor said cheerfully. “I’d forgotten you humans sleep a lot; you’re like babies!” Ianto’s eyebrow quirked at the implication that he was an infant. “And look, you brought snacks!”
“I figured that one cannot explore time and space on an empty stomach,” Ianto said in his driest tone. It was the one that usually made Jack lose it entirely, but the Doctor just grinned merrily and took a huge bite of his ‘snack.’
“Imtss’mms gghoodd,” he said, talking with his mouth fool like a child.
“Thank you, sir, I do try.”
“Mmm. Well, before we head off, I’m letting you know that I have the TARDIS scanning for possible whens and wheres to return you to Jack’s lecherous arms.” The Doctor adjusted his bow tie and tugged on his braces before going back to his sandwich. “If you’re still determined to leave?”
Ianto let his silence be his answer.
“Oh, all right, I get it,” the Doctor sighed and finished off his meal.
“Now,” the Doctor continued, having consumed the sandwich faster than a weevil consumes raw meat. “Where do you want to go? When do you want to go?”
Ianto thought about asking for a chance to see his Lisa, alive and whole again. He thought about asking for a happy scene from his childhood. He thought about asking for his team. He thought about a lot of things. However, it was unlikely the Doctor would allow him to interact so much with his own timeline.
In the end, all he asked for was a distraction. “Anywhere you like, sir.”
“Don’t call me ‘sir.’”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Ianto said smoothly. Then, with a small wicked smile that seemed to cut through the air, he added: “Sir.” The Doctor laughed.
The Doctor took them to an intergalactic beauty pageant, just in time for the talent show of 3420. The tickets had sold out months ago, but he got them in with a wave of his psychic paper and a charming grin. Ianto was still wearing his pajamas, with an added pair of house shoes for his feet. The Doctor assured him that no one would be able to tell the difference, and when Ianto saw the various clothes the other audience members were wearing (or not wearing), he believed him.
He expected the Doctor to take them to the front seats, or maybe a private box, but instead he lead Ianto to a side door in the shadows. The Doctor opened it for him with a flourish, making Ianto roll his eyes good-naturedly. From there, the Doctor led him through a series of corridors and then headed up a flight of stairs, until they reached what Ianto realized was the scaffolding.
“Best seats in the house,” the Doctor explained brightly. They headed out onto the walkways above the stage; the Doctor shooed away the security staff with another flip of his psychic paper.
“And now, ladies, gentlemen, and those who fall outside a binary gender system,” a deep voice boomed, “welcome to the 455th Serafin Inter-species Beauty Pageant. I’m your host, Çağla Theodoulos Manisha Fehér!” The announcer appeared human enough, if a little purple around the edges. The crowd, a mix of almost every species in the universe (and few more besides) cheered deafeningly. “Today begins the talent portion of the event, where our magnificent contestants will present their skills and be judged on their competency and elegance. But! Before we do, let’s introduce our judges!”
A spotlight turned on a long table set up in front of the raised stage. Ianto could make out three individuals sitting there, none of them quite human-looking.
“From the third moon of Lyssk, in the Bossk system, please welcome...Munei Amsar, former Serafin Inter-species Beauty Pageant winner!” The crowd cheered again, joined by the very enthusiastic Doctor.
“Third moon of Lyssk!” the Doctor exclaimed in Ianto’s ear. “Brilliant!” The spotlight focus on the alien on the far right, who glistened under the beam. Its skin was faintly blue, with bright silver hair. Ianto could barely make out a third eye from where they were watching.
“From Yhtjfdsa, the second planet in the Lyzryac system, please welcome...Uemh Rybhynr Lamhaid, renowned stylist and fashion designer!” The crowd went completely wild as the spotlight transferred over to the middle judge, who appeared to have four arms and too many fingers.
“And, finally, last but not least, from the Thani colony in the th'Sonne system, legendary beauty pageant judge, Hal Castiglione!” More cheering from the crowd. The last judge was a lizard.
Well, Ianto thought to himself, that was probably racist. Speciesist? Not a polite way to describe an unknown alien. The judge’s skin was scaly and green, with protrusions that looked like bone spikes coming from his/her/its/their joints.
“What are their genders?” Ianto asked. He was taking mental notes, of course, because how could he not? He was at some kind of intergalactic contest and there were more species of alien present than he had ever seen in his life, and he worked for Torchwood. He was making sure to notice everything. Ianto had learned long ago that gender was something better asked about than assumed, especially considering his line of work.
“Bosskians all identify as female,” the Doctor said, smiling like Ianto had just proven to be a very clever eight year old. “Yhtjfdsas have no gender system at all, and Thani are trigendered. Hal Castiglione is male, although that doesn’t mean quite the same thing to his people as it does to yours.”
Ianto filed that away for future reference. “I see.”
“And now, for our contestants!” Çağla Theodoulos Manisha Fehér said. The Doctor clapped gleefully and leaned over the edge of the railing to watch. Ianto grabbed the collar of his jacket to keep him from going over and ruining everything by splattering his genius brains on the stage floor.
The pageant wasn’t restricted to one gender, or even two, and Çağla Theodoulos Manisha Fehér took time to note each contestant’s preferred identification or lack of as they came onto the stage. The species varied wildly, from Arkans to Zocci. Only half of the talents would be shown today, because there were far too many to get through at once.
Ianto was fascinated by the skills each chose to display. There were quite a few instruments played, from an orange flute to an oddly shaped alien harp to things Ianto couldn’t even find a comparison to. The Doctor dropped bits and pieces of trivia as each contestant left the stage at the end of their act.
Aside from music (although some of the sounds didn’t sound like music at all; clearly, there were strong differences of opinion as to what sounded beautiful across the universe) there were contestants who showed off their fire-breathing skills, their hacking skills, their ability to fart, their foreign language skills.... (Ianto winced at the mangled Welsh. Then he wondered why he could still understand it as Welsh when Jack had said that the TARDIS automatically translated everything into English. He would inquire with the Doctor later.)
Ianto found himself enjoying the show.
Then, of course, he noticed something odd. From where they were situated above the audience and stage, Ianto could examine the crowd as easily as the contestants. It was a bit of a game, in between acts, to see if he could recognize any species from the Torchwood databases. However, after the Feathy contestant finished with her gymnastics performance, he glanced into the rows of various chairs and spotted something that set off all of his Torchwood instincts.
There was an alien, sitting near one of the exits, wearing a long coat and a hat. He -- it looked like a he, and Ianto could almost recognize the species enough to be sure, but there was no way to truly tell -- kept looking around and twitching nervously. It made the hair on the back of Ianto’s neck raise because he knew that look, that behavior. The alien was about to do something reckless, something he knew he shouldn’t do. It was in his body language, in his expression, in the fact that he kept glancing at the band around his wrist and then to the side.
Ianto checked the another exit and found someone of the same description sitting near it. And another. And another at another exit. Ten in all, spread over seven exits.
Every door had at least one of the group near enough to either get to it quickly -- or block it.
“Doctor,” Ianto said. This was the Doctor, the last Time Lord, and if half of what Jack whispered to him in the dead of night, when they could both pretend Ianto was sleeping, was true, he would be just as keen to stop it as Ianto was. He didn’t want to see all these aliens, all these people, harmed by what appeared to be terrorists.
“I know,” the Doctor said quietly. His voice was almost drowned out by another round of clapping.
“We have to do something,” Ianto said, wishing he had his gun. But that was gone too, vanished along with his suit. The Doctor didn’t like guns, he remembered Jack telling him. He avoided them whenever possible.
“And we will.” The Doctor stood up, transforming from grinning schoolboy to seasoned warrior in an instant.
“Who are they?” Ianto asked as they raced back down to the ground floor. The Doctor was muttering to himself on and off, clearly constructing a plan of some sort.
“If I had to guess, which I do because I can’t see whether they have antennae under those hats of theirs, which, combined with their coloring, makes them male S'nvare, I think.” He didn’t even sound out of breath.
“And who are the S’nvare?”
“Supremacists, racists, fundamentalists, male-dominated society, extreme xenophobics,” the Doctor answered. They reached the end of the stairs and took off through the twisting back hallways. Ianto followed him, feeling the slide of his house slippers against the smooth floor. “Bad news, in short.”
Ianto read the labels on the various doors, looking for a security room of some kind. There were labels on every door, and the TARDIS translated them for him: Dressing Room 45, Dressing Room 46, Restroom 9, Catering 1, and so on.
The Doctor shouted from ahead. “Found it!” Ianto caught up with him, cursing that his slippers didn’t give him proper traction. He skidded to a stop in front of the room, just in time for the Doctor to wave around his psychic paper and order the three guards to manipulate the security footage to focus on the exits.
“There hasn’t been a word of protest in years!” the head of security argued, but he did as the Doctor asked. Ianto wondered what lie the Doctor had told him.
“The S’navre don’t mess around,” the Doctor said shortly. “Look! There! You see?”
“It’s just some bloke looking at his timepiece,” another guard said. Whatever the Doctor had told these people, they didn’t like it. They didn’t like him, and if Ianto didn’t do something, the Doctor would lose what command he had, and people would die.
“Don’t they give you lot anti-terrorism training?” Ianto demanded. He put on his best ‘fuck you, I’m Torchwood and you had better listen to me or else’ expression and stared down the guard who had spoken. Usually, he pulled this on the local authorities and news outlets. It was his first time attempting it while wearing pajamas.
“Look,” Ianto said, leaning over and pointing at one of the S’navre. “Do you see how he’s acting? His expression is stiff and he waits until the crowd does to clap. He’s hardly paying attention to the stage, and when he does, his expression is disgusted -- rather odd, considering that this is a beauty pageant. He keeps glancing at his wrist and then looking over at the other S’navre. He is positioned too close to the exit; he could easily prevent people from leaving it there’s an emergency. Combined with his species’ record of violence,” which Ianto knew nothing about, but he wasn’t going to tell them that, “all of this is a clear indicator of possible terrorism. They should be detained and questioned.”
“And who the hell are you?” the head guard asked, his four eyes narrowing in suspicion.
“My associate, Ianto Jones,” the Doctor jumped in. “Counter terrorism expert. Trained on Hunfrid.”
“One of those lot,” the guard said with a sigh. The third guard typed at his computer interface and called up images of the other S’navre as well. The head of security, who quickly and curtly introduced himself as Demosthenes Youta, contacted the other security guards and ordered them to quietly arrest the S’navre and get them the hell out.
Then everything went to hell.
Ianto came to consciousness slowly, gaining awareness of his surroundings slowly. His leg hurt, and there seemed to be something wrong with his left shoulder (again), but he was alive. His heart beat, his flowed, and he could breathe, even if the dust made it difficult. He raised his head a little and saw that one of the security guards was dead, his torso crushed by the fallen security monitors. Beside him, the Doctor coughed wetly. Sharp threads of worry wound through Ianto’s brain, but he had a hard time getting his body to respond.
Finally, after what felt like hours, he turned and looked at the Doctor. There was blood soaking into his tweed jacket, and a small gash on his head, but other than that, the Time Lord appeared to be fine. He hoped.
If the Doctor died, Ianto had no way to get home.
If the Doctor died, Jack would never forgive him.
That motivated Ianto to shove aside the pain and crawl to the Doctor, using his good arm to drag himself across the floor. The rubble scraped across his pajamas, tearing them and cutting into his skin. The Doctor opened his eyes when Ianto touched his hand; his gaze was unfocused but steady. Them he coughed again and shimmering gold flowed from his mouth. He blinked and shook his head.
“Ianto?” he asked. “Still alive, I see?”
“I am proving to have nearly as many lives as Jack Harkness,” Ianto said dryly. The Doctor laughed, spewing more gold into the air. “Are you all right?”
“I’m dying, actually,” the Doctor said. “My body is regenerating. I’m trying to stop it from changing my face again -- I rather like this face -- but I’m afraid I’m going to be a bit useless for the rest of the day, no matter if I’m successful or not.”
“What should I do?”
“Go help those people,” the Doctor ordered. “The explosion wouldn’t have killed all of them, and the S’navre--” He coughed again, interrupting himself. “The S’navre will still be there.”
“They’ll be blocking the exits,” Ianto realised with horror.
Ianto stumbled to his feet. Pain washed through his body, from his knee to his shoulder. He tested his leg to see if it would hold his weight. It could, but it hurt. A lot. His shoulder was a mess. He could move it, but only just. It was the same shoulder that had been dislocated by John Hart’s explosion. He was unlucky like that.
“Here,” the Doctor groaned; he reached into his pocket and pulled out his sonic screwdriver. Ianto bit back a groan of his own as he bent over as best he could and picked it up. His knee protested sharply. “I’m sure you’ve read all about this in those archives of yours.” The Doctor cried out, shaking with pain. Then he reached into his opposite pocket and gave him a key hung on a string of twine. “Minor perception filter,” he explained. “Keep them from spotting you right off.” Ianto took it with shaking fingers.
“Now,” the Doctor panted, “go help the survivors.”
“Yes sir,” Ianto said, but before he ran off, he had to do one last thing. He turned to face the two surviving guards, both of whom appeared to be conscious and (mostly) whole. “You,” he ordered sharply, “protect this man. Do you understand?” The guards nodded.
Ianto limped away, clutching the sonic screwdriver in one hand and the TARDIS key in the other.
He crept through the door he and the Doctor had gone through, wishing that he still had his bloody gun. Thankfully, however, the S’navre had neglected it, most likely because it did not lead outside. He heard screams and moans, universal sounds of suffering. He blinked away the smoke and grit, resisting the impulse to wipe at his eyes. Bright lights flashed and there was a warm glow where the stage used to be that Ianto suspected was a fire. He stumbled forward, hoping that his slippers didn’t catch on anything and send him crashing to the floor. He was in so much pain that he might not get back up again if he did.
The smoke began to dissipate after a few tense moments, and when it did, he got a clear view of the destruction.
Two yards from him, a little girl with bright pink skin and pigtails was dead, her eyes wide and lifeless. Orange blood seeped into the carpet around her. Ianto gagged and scrambled backwards a few steps until he caught himself. He forced his legs to take him forward, haltingly, until he could properly check that she didn’t have a pulse.
(Useless, his mind whispered at him, it’s not like you know if a pulse is even necessary for her species.
But he had to do something, or else he’d be seeing that dead little alien girl in his nightmares. He might anyway.)
Beyond her was utter devastation. There was movement, of course, because some species are harder to kill than others, be it because of their natural defenses or artificial protections. An alien woman across the room heaved herself to her feet; Ianto recognised her from the Torchwood archives as a Hákon, a peaceful race with skin like stone. She gleamed like polished obsidian, and while she seemed a little disoriented at first, she quickly righted herself and set to work checking on her neighbors with sharp efficiency.
Bodies littered the aisles, or what was left of them. The stage was indeed on fire, although the flames were dying down. It looked like things were settling, and various lifeforms were moving among the bodies, seeing who was alive and who wasn’t.
The S’navre were blocking the exits. They were completely unharmed, and Ianto could see the faint ripple of a force field around each one of them. The bastards hadn’t even had the nerve to blow themselves up as well. Ianto’s grip around the sonic screwdriver tightened with fury.
Then, as he watched, one of the survivors staggered to their feet and headed to the doors. The S’navre standing there pulled out a knife and calmly, so very calmly, stabbed the poor being in the gut. The alien went down with a choking sob, and the people nearby screamed. Panic rose as people realised the situation, and cries of grief and horror turned into shouts of terror.
It wasn’t just some accident, some natural disaster, some sloppy electric work. The death and destruction around them was caused by sentient beings, beings who had chosen to do this. It was unthinkable, except how it wasn’t.
“People of the universe,” one of the S’navre shouted, stepping forward. The survivors went quiet as, one by one, the other S’navre pulled out identical knives. “We are saving you from yourselves. This pathetic pageantry is wrong; it is an abomination!” He waved his knife in the air. “Mixing races and species together like this, contaminating the cultures -- it is a crime against the gods!” Ianto felt sick. Even out here, among other species, in the wide breadth of the universe, there were religious fanatics.
“We are here to cleanse you from the universe,” the head S’navre said. “This is a blessing!”
“He’s going to kill us,” a group of survivors said to each other, first at a whisper, than growing louder. “They’re going to kill us!”
“This is a blessing,” the S’navre repeated, stepping forward and raising his knife towards the sky. “Death is the great cleanser.” Ianto wondered, almost hysterically, what they would say if they ever met Owen.
There was a pause, a long drawn out pause, and then an alien that looked almost exactly like a rhinoceros rose to its feet and planted itself in front of a group of clinging children. “Don’t even think about it,” the distinctly female voice boomed. She tossed her head and raised her arms. Her fists were the size of basketballs.
Ianto snapped back to focus. He had to stop anyone else from getting killed, and that meant finding a way to dismantle the S’navre’s force fields without alerting them. Once their force fields were down, they could be taken down like anyone else. Killed, probably. The survivors were gathering together, looking more and more vicious and angry.
Ianto used the distraction to creep around the wall, towards the nearest S’navre. Their attention was trained inward, and no one noticed the man sneaking up on the terrorists. Ianto knew that he wouldn’t have a lot of time, and he spared himself a second to long for Owen’s industrial strength painkillers. He would have to move fast. Hopefully his knee wouldn’t collapse under the strain.
Once he had charted out a plan of attack, he adjusted his grip on the sonic screwdriver and started running.
Perception filters, in his limited experience through Torchwood, worked best when what they were filtering around was not moving and not making sound. There were several advanced makes and models that compensated for the eye’s natural attraction to movement, but there was only so much that could be done. Some brains were more susceptible to perception manipulation than others, of course, and some species weren’t effected at all. The S’navre, thankfully, wasn’t one of them.
He came up behind the first S’navre. The sonic screwdriver had many settings, and it was more than a little psychic, so he thought about what he wanted it to do as hard as he could and pointed. The sound it made was loud enough for his target to hear it, but quiet enough for the survivors to drown it out.
The S’navre whirled around, knife slashing, but it was too late. His force field fried inward, cooking him where he stood. Like food in a microwave. He crashed to the floor, dead almost instantly, which was more than he deserved. Ianto watched, emotionless, as his blueish skin blackened and then began to crumble.
The other S’navre took notice, and Ianto moved back. The nearest one abandoned his post and raced over to his fallen cohort, leaving him wide open for Ianto to do the same to him. A quick thought to the sonic screwdriver, and he was just as dead. Two down, eight to go.
Usually, Ianto tried to avoid killing people, aliens or otherwise, if at all possible. However, it was hard to think of mercy and due process when all he could think about was that dead little girl, with her little pigtails and her frilly dress soaked in blood. It left him cold with fury, hot with rage. He was going to kill every last one of these people, whether the Doctor ultimately approved or not.
Ianto darted away from the two dead terrorists and ran towards the two standing near the main exit. One of them blinked, catching Ianto’s headlong and limping rush out of the corner of his eye, but before he could do anything more than turn in surprise, Ianto fried him as well. And his companion. Four down.
The S’navre were panicking now, and that made them sloppy. They weren’t expecting resistance, not really. They probably thought that their gods would protect them, and yet there they were, dying in ones and twos from an invisible hand. Ianto grinned with bloody satisfaction. Let them lose hope and faith before they died. Let them think that their gods had abandoned them. The pageant had had over two thousand guests; now there were less than a hundred survivors. Let the S’navre know some of their pain
The apparent leader of the group fled like a coward, dropping his knife and running through the doors he was blocking. Ianto finished off those too confused or faithful to leave, dropping them as fast as his body would allow him to move. Then he followed after the leader, allowing the survivors to organize themselves. The Hákon and rhinoceros alien took charge as he made it through the door, knee screaming in agony.
Outside was almost as chaotic as inside. Apparently, not content to kill the judges, the contestants, and many of the audience, the S’navre had also crippled the security guards. Bodies, unmarked but unmistakably dead, littered the hallways and corridors, discarded like so much trash. Ianto paused for a moment, unsure of what direction to go. He raised the sonic screwdriver and thought at it, telling it to scan for the S’navre’s body signature. It buzzed at him, and he followed the trail to the lobby.
The front doors to the building the pageant was taking place in had sealed, mostly liking due to some protocol that had been overlooked by the attackers. Sloppy. Ianto stepped forward, taking the TARDIS key from around his neck. He cleared his throat.
The S’navre jumped and swung around to face him, grasping for a knife he no longer had.
“I’m going to kill you,” Ianto said calmly. “I’m going to make it hurt.” He stepped forward, sonic screwdriver raised.
“Ianto!” the Doctor shouted. Ianto didn’t turn around, didn’t take his eyes off of the terrorist responsible for that little girl’s death. “Ianto, don’t!” Footsteps pounded across the floor, and there he was, the Doctor. The last Time Lord.
“I’m going to kill him, sir,” Ianto informed him. “I’ve already killed the others. If you don’t want to watch, you can go help the survivors.”
“Ianto, don’t do anything you’ll regret,” the Doctor said, approaching him as if he were a scared and possibly rabid animal. He seemed to have kept his face this time around. “I know you’ve been through a lot these past few days, but you need to calm down. Don’t put more blood on your hands.”
Ianto laughed. The sound was horrible, dragging and clawing from his chest like a monster. Blood on his hands? He had nearly destroyed the human race just to save his girlfriend. He had shot his own teammate. He had shot aliens and humans and things that were neither. He was devoting his life to an organization known for its cruelty and xenophobia. Blood on his hands? You’d be hard pressed to find a part of him that wasn’t covered in blood.
“Why will I regret it?” Ianto asked. “Did you see what they did, Doctor? Did you see that room filled with corpses? There’s a little girl there, dead. Her hair is in pigtails. How many other little girls do you think are buried under the rubble? Little boys? Mothers, father, aunts and uncles? I watched them stab someone for trying to escape. I watched them threaten a group of children. Why will I regret killing their leader?”
“I am not afraid to be cleansed through the death,” the S’navre said, puffing out his chest. “Come and get me, you khrussk.” The TARDIS didn’t translate the slur, but Ianto could guess what it meant.
“Let me tell you something,” Ianto said, stepping forward again. He walked slowly forward, one foot in front of the other in measured steps. “I’ve died. I’ve known people who have died and then come back. And we all experienced the same thing, so let me share the knowledge.” Another step forward. “There is nothing in death,” he said, staring into the S’navre’s scared hazel eyes. “No gods, no paradise. There is nothing but darkness. There’s nothing, and that’s what you’re going to feel for the rest of eternity.”
He held the sonic screwdriver steady. “Nothing.”
The Doctor shouted and the sonic screwdriver buzzed. The S’navre died, burning from the inside out.
Chapter 3: the one where there is silence
Ianto woke up again in the infirmary. The Doctor was nowhere to be found, not that Ianto was surprised. He had killed, and the Doctor still clung to the idea that every life should be spared whenever possible. Ianto had given up on that a long time ago.
The nanogenes had done their work on him again; he got up without any pain or discomfort. He was still in his ruined pajamas, although one of his slippers had gone missing. He kicked off the other one and walked towards the door. The TARDIS was kind to him; he only had to turn the corner to find his room, dark wood door and brass knocker intact. Ianto went inside and found a closet full of clothes had materialized. He grabbed pair of jeans, a t-shirt, and some shoes and headed to the bathroom to take a shower. He didn’t have any injuries, and the nanogenes appeared to have erased all of his scars as well, but his clothes and body were filthy. He wanted to be clean.
“Death is the great cleanser,” he heard the leader say again. He brushed aside the memory with a shudder. He had enough PTSD-related nightmares and flashbacks without adding more to the pile.
He washed quickly, scrubbing every inch, and then changed into the clothes the TARDIS had provided. They were his size, of course, and they fit perfectly. Once done, he took a moment to stare at himself in the mirror.
He looked the same that he always had, neatly pressed and immaculately groomed. He took pride in his appearance, not least because he liked the hungry look Jack would get in his eyes when Ianto showed up to work in one of his sharper suits. Ianto didn’t wear casual clothes often anymore, not with the team almost constantly on call, so it was disconcerting to see it. He looked...younger. Sometimes, it was hard to remember that he was only 28.
He felt so much older.
He went to find the Doctor. He had a feeling that the Doctor would need to get some steam off his chest if Ianto had any hope that the Doctor would take him home again. What if the Doctor decided that Ianto was a bad influence on Jack? That he shouldn’t return to Earth? Ianto liked the Time Lord in spite of himself; he didn’t want to have to find his own way home if he didn’t want to.
He found the control room with little trouble. The doors to the TARDIS were open. Ianto stepped outside and looked around. His shoes were met with smooth grass; the Doctor lay a few feet from the TARDIS, stretched out like a stargazer. The sky rose above them, lush and beautiful in a purple sunset. Ianto could see small pricks of light peeking through in unfamiliar consolations.
“We’re on the moon Æthelberht,” the Doctor said from his spot on the ground. He waved up at the sky. “Beautiful sunset, even better nights.”
Ianto walked over and sat down beside him. He watched as day turned into night, revealing a stunning view of the stars above them. The Doctor pointed out a few of the constellations, telling the locals’ myths about them. Ianto was, for a moment, content just to listen. He could feel the horrors of what happened on Serafin tugging at his mind, eager to drag him back to that room full of the dead and dying, so like Canary Wharf, so much like--
“You didn’t stay,” Ianto said before he could censor himself. “You never stay. You didn’t at Canary Wharf and you didn’t at Serafin.”
“No,” the Doctor said. “I never stay. I run away because I don’t want to face the aftermath. And with the TARDIS, I never have to."
“How do you do know what happens after you leave?” Ianto said, his voice cold. “There were twenty-seven survivors of Canary Wharf, and you didn’t rescue a single one of them. You didn’t help us. You won, and then you left.”
“It’s not my job to clean up Torchwood’s messes,” the Doctor said. Fury flared, and Ianto found himself on his feet. The Doctor looked up on him calmly, and Ianto wanted to kick him, wanted to punch him, wanted to hurt him.
“My girlfriend died at Canary Wharf,” Ianto said tightly. “Everyone I knew died. There were twenty-six other survivors, and you didn’t even bother to see if we were okay. You never did. You left us in the hands of bloody Torchwood.”
“I had lost someone too,” the Doctor said sharply, sitting up. “Don’t you dare judge me, Ianto Jones. I have been alive for a thousand years, and I have saved your planet more times than you could count.”
“I don’t care!” Ianto shouted. Years of repressed resentment and rage and jealousy roared to the surface. This was Jack’s Doctor, and Ianto couldn’t stand him. He hated the Doctor then, hated him because he hadn’t been there, he hadn’t seen that little girl covered in orange blood. He hadn’t seen Ianto pull what he thought was his girlfriend, his Lisa, from the hell Torchwood One had turned into. He hadn’t seen all the world’s children speak in unison. “You’re not a god. You judge us for Torchwood, you judge us for our wars and fears and sorrows, you treat us all like children, but we’re not! What have you done? What destructions have your mistakes caused?”
The Doctor stared at Ianto, wordless. Ianto breathed heavily, raw anger still humming in his veins.
“You think you’re so much better than humanity, that we’re so fascinating with our primitive impulses and feelings and faulty logic,” Ianto whispered furiously, “but you’re just as bad. You’re worse, because you don’t even realize it.”
“I know,” the Doctor said quietly. “I do realize it.” He looked away, up at the sky. Strange lights had formed above them during Ianto’s rant, lights that danced through the atmosphere of Æthelberht. Ianto paused for a moment, waiting to see if the Doctor would say anything else. When nothing else came, Ianto sat down again, his anger ebbing but not entirely gone.
Mostly, he felt drained. He had had an interesting few days, after all, and it would take him a while to recover from dying, waking up, and then surviving a terrorist attack all over again.
“What are they?” Ianto inquired. He gestured at the lights. They were pretty, if a bit surreal, and the blue of them reminded Ianto of Jack’s greatcoat.
“The Cenhelm Lights,” the Doctor answered. “Unique to Æthelberht. Only place in the universe that you can see them. They’re almost sentient, but not.”
Ianto nodded and filed the information away with everything else he was learning. He let the silence stretch as he considered all that had happened to him.
“If you saved me, back on Earth, why can’t you save Owen and Tosh?” Ianto asked finally. He had been dreading this question, but he knew that there was no way he could avoid it. If he didn’t ask, if he didn’t at least try, he would never forgive himself. Owen and Tosh were his family; if there was any way to get them back that the Doctor was withholding....
“It was hard enough working a way out for you,” the Doctor said, sighing regretfully. Despite his young face, he looked old. The blue lights dancing across the sky made him appear as he really was: Ancient and otherworldly. “Saving them wasn’t possible. Jack’s time stream can’t handle that much tampering, not with the amount of doubling back he usually does.”
Ianto looked away, up at the lights. They looked close enough to touch, but he knew that they were leagues away.
“We can’t save everyone,” the Doctor said, the weight of centuries in his voice. “No matter how much we might wish to. We can’t save everyone.” He sounded like he was trying to convince himself.
“We can try,” Ianto said.
“No,” the Doctor sighed, “we really can’t. Some things are meant to happen and some things aren’t. There are cracks, little gaps that someone clever like me can maneuver through, but. I’m sorry.”
The Doctor got up and looked down at Ianto, who couldn’t bear to meet his eyes. “I’m so sorry,” he repeated. He laid a brotherly kiss on the top of Ianto’s head and then left, leaving Ianto alone with the Cenhelm Lights weaving through the night and thoughts of Tosh, Owen, and that dead little girl swirling through his head.
They stayed at Æthelberht that night, and in the morning, there was a knock on the TARDIS door.
Ianto startled, almost sending the Doctor’s one delicate teacup to the ground. He stared at the door, wondering who the hell would be knocking on a police box on Æthelberht. The knock came again, and Ianto, after another moment of hesitation, went to answer it. He looked through the window. A woman with a mass of curly hair stood outside, smiling brightly and flipping through a blue notebook. Ianto hesitated for one more second, looking around to see if the Doctor had come running yet, before opening the door.
“Hello?” he asked, blocking the entrance. If the woman was a threat, he would do his best to prevent her from getting inside.
“Hello!” she said cheerfully. “You’re new, aren’t you?” she asked as if that meant something. “Is my husband here?”
This was the Doctor’s wife?
“Ah, yes,” he answered, checking behind him again. “I think.”
“No matter,” she said. She stepped forward but then stopped when Ianto refused to move. “Aren’t you going to let me in?”
“I don’t know who you are, so no,” he told her, “I’m not.”
“I’m the Doctor’s wife,” the woman said, raising an eyebrow. “Has he not mentioned me? I’m sure I caught him at the right time.” She flipped through her notebook some more.
“He has mentioned that he has a wife,” Ianto said. “I don’t, however, know that you are her, so if you’ll just wait outside, I’ll go fetch him and--”
“River!” the Doctor shouted. He brushed past Ianto and enveloped the woman in a hug, placing a kiss on her cheek. “I wasn’t expecting you today!”
“I may have escaped from prison a little early,” the woman -- River -- said with a wink. “Just for you.”
“Yes, yes, lovely. Why are we all standing out here for?” the Doctor asked. He bowed and waved River into the TARDIS before him. “Let’s go inside; Ianto makes the most marvelous coffee.”
“Ianto?” River asked, her eyes sharp. “Ianto Jones?”
“Yes?” he said slowly.
“Oh, it’s so good to see you!” River gushed. She kissed him right on the cheek, like a fond aunt seeing her nephew for the first time in years. “I see the rumors of your death have been greatly exaggerated. Again.”
“Something like that,” Ianto said, keeping his voice calm. Who was this woman and how did she know him? “I’m afraid, however, that I haven’t heard any rumors of you at all...?” He drifted off at the end, intentionally giving her space to fill.
“Dr. River Song,” she said brightly. She shook Ianto’s hand. “I’m the Doctor’s wife.” Ianto, having clearly spent too much time in Jack’s company, wondered if she called him “Doctor” in bed. If they went to bed; Jack had implied that the Doctor was asexual. If he had resisted Jack’s advances, he probably was.
“Ianto Jones,” he said in return, “Torchwood’s latest fallen soldier.”
“Leave off the introductions!” the Doctor called. He had moved to the control systems and was fiddling with some knobs and screws. “River, darling, come help me steer. Ianto, go amuse yourself in the library. I’ll call you when we land.”
“Where are we going, sir?” Ianto asked.
“It’s when, Ianto, and we are going to lunch with my lovely wife.”
Ianto nodded and went in the direction he thought the library was in.
“And Ianto!” the Doctor called after him, “don’t call me sir!”
“Whatever you say, sir!” Ianto called back. River laughed, a sound that seemed to fill the whole room. The Doctor joined her.
It was nice to see that they were on equal footing again after Ianto’s outburst.
Ianto found the library with no trouble. The TARDIS was still being nice to him; she had placed it across from his bedroom, which would make it easier to haul books back and forth. The first thing he did was search for any and all references to the S’navre. He put his research skills to work and figured out what the Doctor’s sorting system was (there was none) and where what he wanted might be (anywhere). Finally, after what felt like hours of frustration, he sighed and addressed the empty room, feeling a bit ridiculous while doing so.
“Could you please help me out?” he asked the TARDIS. There was a faint, ever so faint tremor under his feet, so faint that he probably wouldn’t have noticed it if he hadn’t been paying attention, and then, suddenly, he blinked and he was surrounded by tomes and scrolls and stone tablets. The TARDIS had come through once again.
“The S’navre,” he read from The Encyclopedia of Assorted Species, Races, and Other Beings, “come from a very strict society.”
They are a society of straight lines and rigid edges. 1 According to their religious belief system, there are four ordered races of their species, and those races should never interact beyond simple trade, not even to war against each other. They adhere to these rules and view anyone who breaks them as a blasphemer, subject to death and dismemberment. 2 Males run their society, dominating their entertainment and government. Females are forbidden to engage in public discourse or go against their fathers and brothers. 3 They are comparable to humans’ “Fundamentalist Christians” and “Extremist Muslims,” as well as several other religious and political groups over the centuries. 4 They also bear a striking resemblance to the Neirin culture of Ove. 5
Ianto closed the encyclopedia with a sigh. He thought about taking notes, but he discarded the action as useless. He wasn’t likely to forget anything to do with the S’navre for a long, long time, and it wasn’t like he was planning on running into them again.
Ianto picked up one of the scrolls and unrolled it, stealing himself for what he might find. He skimmed it a bit before realising that it was a S’navre fairytale used to justify their xenophobia.
...but the Third God had given the warrior an order, and orders from the gods could not be disobeyed. The warrior raised his shield and spear and stepped forward, ready to face the invading army, no matter what the cost. The horde of forest green demons, with skin so different from the warrior’s own that they could not be of the same species, tore through the land destroying all in their path....
But another scroll revealed a different version of the same tale:
…and so the Troop of F’lari went about rode across their lands, bringing news to the distant villages and cities as the Second God had ordered. They went unmolested, until one day, a pale green man stepped into their path, blocking their way. They tried to reason with the man and explain that their mission had been set to them by a god, but the man raised his shield and sword and attacked, killing the flag-bearer with a mighty blow....
Ianto pushed it aside and put his head on the table. He felt hot and itchy, like he had too many loose ends trailing near a fire. Normally, after a clusterfuck like the previous day, Jack would give them a break, let them work out whatever demons followed them back. But with the Doctor, there were no days off and there never would be. As he had said, he ran. He always ran.
The Doctor thought that he was a genius, and he was, but that didn’t make him smarter than humans. He had been around longer, true enough. It gave him an edge. But Tosh could have probably hack circles around him, thousand year age difference or not, and no one knew the body like Owen did. And Gwen, well. Ah. No one could out-human or out-emotion Gwen.
If they all had a thousand years to sit around collecting knowledge in a time-traveling spaceship, they’d probably all be Doctor-level geniuses too.
Suddenly, there was a familiar shudder and grinding groan that seemed to seep into his bones. The TARDIS had landed.
“Ianto!” River’s voice called through thin air. “Come on!”
“Coming!” Ianto shouted back, although he had no idea whether she and the Doctor could hear him. he got up and left he books and scrolls and stacked stony tablets where the TARDIS had placed them.
The Doctor had taken them to the little town of Lake Silencio, in Utah.
“Best pie in the universe,” the Doctor explained with a grin. “Or at least, it will be. Don’t know about now.”
“I hope you made sure that we won’t cross ourselves, darling,” River said, arm-in-arm with her husband. “Paradoxes are never as fun as they sound.”
They found there way to the local diner; Ianto prayed that the Doctor had thought to bring money and not just the usual psychic paper. He didn’t feel bad about getting in free to a massive event at which he wasn’t taking up any actual seats, but essentially stealing from a small business in an equally small town just seemed like a horrible thing to do. River, however, just winked at him like she was sensing his unease and pulled out a wad of American notes from her pocket. They were, hopefully, from a reasonable year relative to their location. Getting arrested for forgery during the Cold War was not on his To Do list.
“Three slices of today’s special!” the Doctor ordered happily, sliding into one of the red booths. “And three glasses of milk!” Ianto paused and then took the seat opposite him, allowing River to sit beside her spouse. He very carefully did not think about Jack; he could survive a few days without the man. Ianto wasn’t some clingy teenager in mooning over his first love. (A lie, a dirty lie.)
Ianto, well. Ianto missed Jack. A lot. It was almost painful to be so separated from him, even though the Doctor had promised to reunite them. What if Ianto died again, and the Doctor couldn’t bring him back? What if Jack found someone else after he finished grieving for Ianto? How could Ianto jump in the middle of that? What would he say -- Hello, I’m Ianto Jones and you’re shagging my immortal boyfriend. Shove off, I just came back from the dead and am feeling a bit cranky.
The thought of Jack with someone else, doing more than just flirting, sent hot spikes of jealousy through his stomach, and he had to grip the table to keep himself from reacting--
There was a slice pie in front of him. Ianto blinked and then shook his head, scolding himself for letting himself be so distracted by thoughts of Jack. The man wasn’t even there! Ianto put down his pen and picked up the fork. There was a mark on his hand, a short straight line. It must have rubbed off on him while he was in the library.
“--and then,” River was saying, waving her fork around for emphasis, “he said, ‘That’s not my cat!’”
The Doctor laughed uproariously, attracting the attention of everyone in the diner. Ianto hadn’t quite caught the joke, although he felt a smile tugging at his lips anyway.
There was another line on his hand.
“--and what about the Gthjkrs?” the Doctor was asking, leaning to the side to get a clear view of River. He had the air someone getting ready to argue about politics. “Surely the Shadow Proclamation won’t--”
“Doctor,” Ianto said as calmly as he could, staring at the table. Next to River’s hand, laying in between his and River’s plates, was a gun, an old fashioned revolver that he had last seen holstered at River’s hip. There were three more marks on his hand, creating a five-bar gate, clear as day. “There’s something wrong.”
“They’re here,” River whispered, staring at the gun. “We’ve come too early.” Horror was dawning on her face; it was an expression that Ianto recognized -- the End of the World Face, as Owen had called it one drunken night. They had all seen it too often working for Torchwood.
“--have to leave,” the Doctor was saying. They were outside the diner, arranged in a rough circle. Ianto had no idea how they had gotten there; he couldn’t remember. Even after all the experiences he’d had with Retcon -- or most likely because of them -- not remembering something was terrifying. There was a big blank space in his memory where the last few minutes had been, and while his internal clock told him that time had certainly passed, he had no recollection of it. Panic made his hands itch for a weapon.
There were two more marks on his hand, and another four on the Doctor’s. River held up her arm and displayed another three.
“Twelve,” River said grimly, checking her revolver. “Possibly less, possibly more. I’ve fired two bullets.”
“What is going on?” Ianto demanded.
“--going to remember it,” River was saying. Ianto shook his head and took stock of their surroundings. They were across the road from the diner; somehow, they had moved several feet and were out of breath, like they had been running. Ianto’s hand hurt, and he looked down to see that he had gripped the pen he didn’t remember having so hard that the casing had broken and cut into his skin. Blood dripped down onto the ground, soaking into the dirt that crusted the pavement.
“There are aliens,” River repeated again, “that make you forget them as soon as you look away.”
“What can we do?” Ianto asked, resisting the urge to duck behind a parked car and examine the area. If he looked, he’d see them, and if he saw them, he’d eventually have to look away, and then he’d forget them all over again--
“--run!” the Doctor was shouting. He ran, Ianto and River close at his heels. They sprinted down the main street of Lake Silencio Town, and then took a left onto a paved road lined with little shops and --
--open road lined by fences. Ianto slowed slightly, startled and disoriented, but then he sped up again because he could almost feel them behind him, and even though he knew he shouldn’t, he couldn’t stop himself from turning around--
--a deserted junk yard, filled with wrecked cars and decaying refrigerators. Ianto was holding a rusting pipe like a sword, ready to swing. A throbbing ache settled into his shoulders. There was a sound behind him, a step, and Ianto whirled around, pipe at the ready--
“Woah there, tiger!” the Doctor exclaimed, raising his hands in self-defense. “Easy now, I think we’ve escaped them for the moment.”
“How will we tell?” Ianto asked. “We can’t even remember them from one moment to the next!”
“Look at your hand. We came up with the tally system during our previous encounters,” the Doctor said. “One for each Silent, which is what they’re called.”
Ianto counted. “There are at least twenty-two of these Silent creatures out there?”
“I’m afraid so,” River said. She checked her gun again, and then her ammunition cartridges. “And I’m all out of ammo. There’s no way to tell how many you and I got.”
“What do we do?” Ianto demanded. He felt something behind him and turned around--
“--we came too early,” River was shouting as they ran and ran. “We should have waited until after July. It’s May!” Ianto didn’t know what she was talking about. He didn’t even know why they were running, until he looked down and saw the tally marks on his hand. Thirty, all neatly ordered into five-bar gates. His rusty pipe was missing, and he had a tear in his jeans that wasn’t there before. They were out of the junk yard and by a lake, most likely the one the town had been named for.
River gasped at the sight of it, stumbling and falling to the ground. The Doctor stopped and sprinted back to her, helping her to her feet, keeping one arm securely around her waist so that she wouldn’t fall again. Ianto doubled-back to help them and--
--felt himself hit the water thrashing. There was a heavy weight on him, weight too heavy to bear. Unnatural, alien hands wrapped around his neck, holding him under. He looked up into--
--he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t wrench his way free. He didn’t know how he got here, under water with someone holding him down with too-big hands, but he had to get away, had to help the Doctor and River. There was some kind of danger, but he couldn’t quite remember what. Ianto looked up into--
--the world was going dark, fading in and out as his lungs starved for air. Reality wavered in and out, and when Ianto looked up, almost limp and completely helpless, dying, he looked up into--
--the Doctor pulled him, gasping, from the water. The Time Lord half carried him, half dragged him free from the lake and then gently set him down on the sandy ground. River bent over him, her eyes bright with worry. The Doctor pulled out his sonic screwdriver and ran it over Ianto’s body, making him feel like this situation was a little bit too Star Trek for his tastes.
“You’re okay,” the Doctor said, reassuringly, using his best ‘calm the locals’ voice. “You’ll be right as rain in just a bit. Now, come on, we have to get back to the TARDIS as fast as we can.”
“We’re just going to leave those things here?” Ianto asked, wheezing hoarsely. His heart beat heavily against his chest, and he ached from head to toe -- again. He really needed a day off. “What about the people in the town?”
“On July 20th, man lands on the moon,” the Doctor explained, gearing up for one of his talks that devolved into a lot of hand gestures. “We dealt with these creatures before, in a rather ingenious way, if I do say so myself.”
“Which, of course, you do,” Ianto commented. River slung his arm over her shoulders and waited for the Doctor to do the same. Together, they carted Ianto off back to where they left the TARDIS.
“Yes, well,” the Doctor grinned shamelessly, reminding Ianto of Jack for an instant, “I am a genius.”
“We planted a post-hypnotic order in the footage from the moon landing,” River said. “Every human who watches it, or a tape of it, is ordered to kill the Silent on sight.”
“And then they forget about it,” Ianto said, impressed. He thought about it, working his way through the logistics. “So, every human has killed the Silent?
River and the Doctor both nodded. Ianto laughed.
“Jack would get one hell of a kick out of that,” Ianto said. “Just think, Torchwood and UNIT and that Stargate program are all scrambling to protect the people of Earth, but because of a subliminal message you put in some old film, every human in the world has protected themselves at some time or another. And they don’t even remember it.”
The married couple exchanged glances and didn’t reply. Ianto didn’t expect them to.
They made it back to the TARDIS in one piece, mostly. They had what Ianto assumed were more run-ins with the Silent, because he has more tally marks on his arms and several gaping holes in his memory. The Doctor ran some sort of scan through the TARDIS, while River helped Ianto back, yet again, to the infirmary.
“She likes you,” River said with a small amount of surprise. They had found the infirmary just a few steps away from the control room. It hadn’t been there before. “Huh.”
“This place is becoming a little too familiar,” Ianto said with a sigh. He heaved himself up on what was quickly becoming his bed, and let River look him over. There was a faint glow in the air from the nanogenes collecting around his injuries. For some reason, they left River alone, and Ianto couldn’t muster up enough curiosity at the moment to ask why.
“I can’t tell you what you’re going to do,” River said, examining his mending flesh, “but I want to go ahead and say it now: Thank you.”
“What am I going to do?” Ianto asked, already anticipating the inevitable non-reply.
“Ah-ah,” River said, shaking her finger at him. “Spoilers.”
Ianto rolled his eyes and then sighed in relief as the pain around his neck began to ease. No matter what dangers the little nanogene buggers could do if they went wrong, Ianto was definitely stealing some for when he returned to Jack. No way was he going to back to casts and plasters when he could have instant healing. He turned to tell River this and--
--they were back in the central control room, both armed to the teeth. Ianto’s arms ached from strain.
“--on board,” the Doctor was saying. “But according to the TARDIS, that was the last of them.” The Doctor smiled brightly. “At least we’re done. River, take note!”
River glanced at him with a smirk on her face as she holstered her gun. “Yes, sweetie?”
“Never go to 1969 again,” he said.
“Right,” she nodded, and Ianto wondered how long it would take for her to break that rule. Not long, he guessed. River didn’t act like a woman who followed orders, husband or not.
“That goes for you too, Ianto!” the Doctor said.
“Whatever you say, sir,” Ianto replied, ignoring the Doctor’s repeated demand not to be called ‘sir.’ He and River shared a mutually long-suffering look across the console. The things they put up with....
Ianto continued to call the Doctor ‘sir’ whenever he felt particularly peeved, which was often. It was more effective on the Doctor than it had been on Jack, most likely because Jack was Jack, and he was a massive pervert. His mind just went straight to sex. The Doctor, however, actually paid heed to Ianto’s moods (mostly) and took measures to avoid Ianto’s displeasure. Baby steps.
River thought it was hilarious while she was with them, of course, but then River was a bit...strange. She left shortly after they returned to Æthelberht, saying something about a date with an angel. Ianto had no idea what she was talking about, but it made the Doctor grimace and tell her to be careful.
“Of course I will, sweetie,” she said, kissing him goodbye. “You know exactly how it turns out.” She turned to Ianto and did the same, placing it on his forehead.
“Goodbye!” she said, waving as she went through the TARDIS doors. “See you next time!”
Ianto went back to the library, and the Doctor went back to his fiddling. It was like nothing had happened at all.
Reopening the scroll he had been reading before their trip to 1969, he scanned down until he got the part where he had left off. There, at the bottom of the parchment, was a note, addressed to Ianto Jones, from River Song.
It simply said, Take care of him. And yourself.
Ianto folded it and placed it in his pocket. He rolled the scrolled closed again and then set it aside. The library was a mess, and organization shouldn’t depend on if the TARDIS is in a good mood or not. Ianto pushed up his sleeves and set to work arranging the books into stacks by genre and possible year of origin.
Chapter 4: the one where our heroes are civilly tortured
The general stared at Ianto impassively.
“You’ll tell us what you know, boy,” he said, his voice calm and even. Ianto felt the cold stone beneath him tremble as another bomb went off above them. Fine particles of dust drifted down from the ceiling. Ianto’s bound hands twitched as some landed on him, coating his hair and torn shirt. Soldiers stood on either side of the door, expressions blank but eyes wary.
“I don’t know anything,” Ianto said stubbornly, meeting the general’s eyes. “I’m not even from this colony.”
“Bullshit,” the general said in that same calm and even tone. “Raiden IV has been sealed off to off-worlders for nearly ten years.”
“We came here by accident,” Ianto gritted out. He’d been repeating the same thing for what felt like hours, not that it did any good. They didn’t believe him. “We’ll leave if you let us go.” They had the Doctor, somewhere.
“You’re not going anywhere,” the general said. His uniform was strange, different from the ones of Ianto’s time. According to the Doctor, Raiden IV was a human colony founded in 7543 under the hard rule of an authoritarian regime. It was 8012 now, and from what Ianto had gathered from his rather unpleasant and involuntary stay, they were in the middle of some sort of civil war.
The general thought they were spies.
“If you don’t talk to, we’ll make you talk,” the general threatened. One of his lackeys handed him a device, and the general turned it over in his hands, stroking it almost lovingly. “This is your last warning, boy.”
“I can’t tell you what I don’t know--” Ianto protested, but then the general put the device to his head, and--
Ianto wakes up. A sharp clang from the kitchen drags him into wakefulness, and he forces himself to leave the warm comfort of the bed to go stop Lisa from burning the apartment down.
“What have I told you about trying to cook?” he asks, coming behind her and removing the pan from her grip. He places a kiss at the joint of her shoulder and then nudges her aside. She had been trying to make eggs, even though they both knew that she was completely useless at it.
“Not to,” she grins. She returns his kiss and then flits away, going to the fridge and pulling out their jug of orange juice. Ianto watches her bum fondly for a moment before trying to salvage what she’d done to the eggs.
“Surviving Torchwood One only to die in a house fire is not the way I want to go,” he teases. Lisa rolls her eyes and drinks the orange juice straight from the carton.
Ever since Torchwood fell, their lives have been changed beyond recognition. They both have pensions from the government, generous ones that more than met their needs. Ianto speeds everyday thankful that Lisa had had to call in sick that day. Ianto had barely made it out alive, and he still bears the scars from it. If he had lost Lisa in that hell--
“Ianto,” Lisa warns. He snaps back to the present and pulls the pan off of the stove before anything can catch on fire. It’s been two years, and he still finds himself getting sucked back into the memories. It’s not the sort of thing you forget, after all.
“Sorry,” he says, avoiding Lisa’s eyes. He wishes, not for the first time, that there was some way to Retcon his memories of Torchwood into oblivion without forgetting Lisa. He doesn’t want to carry around the horror and dread and fear that came from Torchwood and Canary Wharf.
“There’s nothing you need to apologize for, love,” Lisa assures him. She places her hand on his bad shoulder. Ianto shrugs her away before he can stop himself. He swallows harshly and turns, ashamed.
“Sorry,” he repeats. It’s been two years, and he still feels the heat of the fire. He still hears the screams, still remembers the pain. There were twenty-six other survivors from that day, but Ianto is the only one left who remembers. Everyone else either killed themselves or chose Retcon.
“Come on,” Lisa says after a moment, carefully guarding the hurt in her voice. She tries, his Lisa, his lovely Lisa, not to be hurt when he pulls away, when he hides from her. One doesn’t have to be a therapist to know that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder doesn’t just go away. Ianto loves her with all his heart, but there are somethings that cannot be shared. What happened that day is one of them. “We’ve got a wedding to plan.”
Ianto drudges up a smile for her and puts it on display. They’re getting married in a few weeks. A year ago, Lisa had broken tradition and got down on one knee herself. Ianto had said yes, of course, because he loves her. She stayed beside him all through that first year, all through his nightmares and flashbacks. How could he resist that kind of love? Who would?
“Let’s go out for breakfast,” Ianto says, dumping the ruined eggs in the sink. “Then we can go verify the napkin colors, or whatever it is that we’re doing today.”
“Ianto Jones,” Lisa smiles softly. “Come here, you wonderful man.” Ianto goes and lets her hold him, and even though he’s scarred and broken, he can’t think of a time he’s been happier than he is right now--
Ianto jerked back, panting. For one moment, one blessed moment that would burn in his brain forever, he thought it was real. Lisa was alive and well, and they were together and happy. They were getting married. Ianto’s head was full of things that had never happened -- a trip to France, a cousin’s wedding, a family reunion. All things that had never happened.
“Lovely, wasn’t it?” the general said. He examined the device in his hands. “Great piece of technology.”
“What is that thing?” Ianto gasped. His mind kept turning back to the, the scene he had experienced, the future with Lisa he had never gotten a chance to have.
“It’s a torture device,” the general said. “It let’s the victim see all the ways his life could have gone right. It drives people mad.” The man laughed, sounding more than a little mad himself. “It’s called the in memoriam machine, and it’s the only torture that people beg for.”
He stopped laughing and leaned in towards Ianto. “Are you going to beg for it? Tell us what we want to know, boy, and we can send you there permanently.”
“I don’t know anything,” Ianto repeated.
“Of course, there are other settings,” the general said, smirking sharply. “Other things it can do. Ones far less pleasant.”
He pointed the machine at Ianto again and pressed a button.
Ianto gasps wetly, blood clogging his throat. Three feet from him, Owen’s lifeless eyes stare at him accusingly. His guts trail from his torso, winding around him like macabre rope. Tosh -- or, what used to be Tosh -- is folded against the wall, where she had been thrown like a rag doll. Gwen’s neck has been snapped; Ianto can barely her hair floating gently in the water at the base of the Hub. Jack is nowhere to be seen.
Ianto is dying.
Lisa did this, his beautiful Lisa. His lovely Lisa. He had been wrong, so wrong, and now he’s fighting for life, staring up at her and waiting for the blow to come.
“You have helped me,” she says, her voice horrible and wrong. “You will be rewarded. You will be upgraded.”
“No,” he croaks. “Please, Lisa, please, stop this.”
“You will be converted,” Lisa -- or, what used to be Lisa -- continues. “You will join me.”
“No,” he whispers. She bends over and hauls his limp body up like he’s nothing. She’s going to take him whether he wants to go or not, and he doesn’t have enough left in him to fight. He just wants this to end.
But it can’t end, not like this. He can’t let this happen. If he’s converted.... He saw what happened at Canary Wharf. He knows what the Cybermen can do. If just Lisa, if just one, can take out the entire Hub’s defenses, what can two do? Three?
He knows what will happen. He’s seen it.
Ianto struggles weakly, but his body is too damaged. Lisa-- No. The cyberwoman hushes him like an errant child. She takes him down to the subbasement, where her, her conversion unit is still set up. Jack is there.
He’s pined to the wall like a fly to a pinboard. There’s a metal pipe through his belly, but he’s-- He’s still moving, and Ianto can’t understand it, can barely register the blood or the manic pain in Jack’s eyes. Lisa-- No. The cyberwoman places him in the conversion unit and straps him in. There’s a sharp prick of a nettle being inserted into his arm, and then Lisa-- No. The cyberwoman pulls away. She secures him tightly and then begins to set what’s been damaged to rights.
“Stop!” Jack shouts. He fights against the metal pipe in his stomach, trying to pull it out, trying to pull himself off, but his fingers keep slipping in the blood. Ianto has to look away, but then he’s left staring at the ceiling, where blades that he swears he didn’t install hang threateningly above him. His breath is coming in short, panicked pants, and he can feel an odd sort of numbness falling over him. It’s like the battle, only different. His senses aren’t just muted, they’re faded, falling away, and he’s just hanging there, suspended in nothing.
It’s a relief.
He can still hear Jack, however.
“Please!” he’s shouting. “Please, don’t hurt him. If you don’t stop, I’ll destroy you myself, I’ll delete you off the face of the planet! I’m not going to lose any more people today, do you hear me? Stop, dammit!”
It’s no use. No use at all.
Ianto found himself retching to the side, his head fuzzy with remembered pain and horror and grief. He still felt the numbness at the edge of his awareness, threatening to swallow him. The general looked at him curiously. Ianto felt disconcertingly like a bug under glass. He wondered absently if this was how Torchwood’s alien guests felt like down in the cells.
Ianto breathed deeply and tried to center himself. His hands twisted against their ties, rubbing the skin on his wrists raw. He needed to focus, to rise about what was happening to him. Focus. Breath. Survive. It had just--It had felt so real.
“Need another taste then of the brighter side?” the general asked. Ianto opened his mouth to protest, plead, anything, but--
Jack laughs as Lisa imitates the UNIT liaison they’d been forced to rescue earlier that day.
“At least he didn’t hit on you,” Tosh says, mockingly bitter about the unwanted attention. The liaison had been a little too appreciative towards his pretty rescuer. Tosh had had to bluntly reject his invitation for dinner and a movie after he’d refused to take a hint.
“Only because Ianto would shoot him in the kneecaps if he tried,” Lisa says fondly. “Not, mind you, that I need him to.”
“I am very away that you can shoot out the kneecaps of pushy bastards yourself, dear,” Ianto says sardonically. He leans against the railing and looks fondly down at his team. Lisa winks at him. Shagging the boss has its benefits, and one of those benefits is getting away with comments like that.
Lisa had taken over Torchwood One from Jack in 2005, who has, stubbornly, hung around anyway. Lisa is one of the youngest directors in history, but there really isn’t anyone else to do the job. Torchwood One is gone, destroyed just weeks after Ianto and Lisa transfered to Cardiff. Torchwood Two doesn’t need more than three people working there, keeping the records and going research. Four is still missing. As the only Torchwood member of rank in the area, Lisa had taken over the Hub with the same efficiency she does everything, and the infamous Captain Jack Harkness had unexpectedly let her.
“I don’t want to be responsible,” he had told Ianto as the final papers were signed. “I watched this job drive people mad. I’m already on the edge enough as it is.”
Ianto understands. He’s third in command, after Jack. Lisa had, after taking over, insisted that they expand the staff, and the weight of all those lives is terrifying.
“You need more than a five man band to keep up with the Rift,” she had said, brushing aside Jack’s token protest. “I have some candidates in mind.” And that had been the end of that.
Now, Owen and Martha bicker over corpses in the autopsy room, trading barbs and flirting. Gwen is training Kaveri Singh, their newest recruit, in interrogation techniques. Jack lounges against his desk and flirts with whoever is nearest, this time being Tosh and Lisa, who flirt right back. Down in the Archives, Ianto’s apprentice Jake Jones (no relation) sorts through their latest shipment from UNIT. Sarah and Michael are out on patrol.
Lisa wraps up her flirtation and goes back up to her office. She blows him a kiss through the window and then returns to her paperwork.
Ianto looks down to find Jack watching him, his expression fond. His relationship with Jack sparks with sexual tension so thick that even Sarah can see it, and Sarah is the least perceptive alien hunter on the planet. Lisa doesn’t mind, of course, because she and Jack have their own sexual tension. The three of them dance around each other, Jack orbiting Lisa and Ianto’s combined star like a lost planet.
One day, he knows, it’ll happen. It’ll be the right moment, the right atmosphere, and then Jack will wind up in Ianto and Lisa’s bed, between them as he and Lisa have talked about. Looking down at Jack now, Ianto let’s that knowledge shine through, and he’s gratified to see Jack’s quick inhale and eager smile. Soon, he thinks, soon they’ll--
Ianto threw himself back as far as he could, colliding painfully with the wall. The general smiled cruelly. It was obvious that he got off on this, on showing people whatever lies or possibilities the device came up with. Being there, seeing Lisa and Jack and Tosh laughing together, had felt real, like it was actually happening. Like it could have happened, if the cards had fallen right.
Lisa, surrounded by the bodies of Torchwood Three, if the cards had fallen wrong.
Ianto had wondered, before, what Lisa and Jack would have thought of each other had they met. On his good days, he had imagined them getting along well. (He’d had a few guilt-ridden threesome fantasies, although it had felt like a betrayal while Lisa was alive and treason after she was dead. Ianto had done it exactly four times before giving up and retiring the daydream.) They might have had a relationship like what the device had shown him. It would have been loving and fun and unbelievably hot. Passionate. But that’s not how things had turned out.
On his bad days, he imagined Lisa hating Jack with all of her being. And Jack hating her. He tried to avoid those thoughts if he could, but they still wormed their way through, just like thoughts about what Lisa would order when he went to new restaurants or what she would think of a movie that came out after she died. Lisa was a part of him, one that he would never be completely free of. He didn’t even want to be; he wanted to hold on to her.
This was the power of the general’s torture device. It drove you mad with thoughts, until you’d do anything to stay in the perfect world it created for you. Or, anything to stay out of the hell it could bury you in.
“I’ll give you some time to think about things,” the general said, and then he and his soldiers left. Ianto was alone in a cold, dirty cell, trapped with memories of things that had never happened.
The door slid open and the general came in, followed by his wary soldiers. Ianto was leaning against the wall, his hands still bound behind him. His shoulders had started cramping hours ago, and his legs weren’t far behind. He’d explored his cell as best he could, but a cell was a cell no matter what planet you were on or time you were in. Four walls, no windows, and a roof that looked on verge of falling apart. The only sounds were the muted booms of exploding bombs. He had nothing to work with. He reviewed all that he had seen and heard since his arrival, but nothing stood out as especially helpful in his current situation.
“There’s been an air raid on our supply train,” the general said, his eyes narrow with fury. “It wasn’t the act of unorganized citizens. It was carefully targeted. Tell what else your little band of rebels has planned.”
“I am not a rebel,” Ianto repeated as calmly as he could. “I’m not even a citizen on this planet. I’m just a traveler.”
“That’s what your companion claimed at first,” the general sneered. “And yet he still talked.”
Ianto felt a flash of worry wash over him. What had they done to the Doctor? Was the general bluffing or did the Doctor know more than he had told Ianto? Had he lied?
“Tell us what you know, and this can all be over.”
Ianto looked at the man. His hair was cropped short, classic military style. His uniform was immaculate, even as dust fell periodically from the ceiling. He looked well-fed, which couldn’t be said for his officers. His hands were scared around the knuckles, and the way he held the in memoriam machine made the hair on the back of Ianto’s neck stand up.
Even if he knew something about these rebels, he wouldn’t tell this man a damn thing. There was too much cruelty in him.
The general saw this in Ianto’s eyes and the defiant tilt of his head. He picked up the device and pointed it again, and--
Ianto laughs at his brother’s antics. He’d been nervous about coming, especially since his relations with his family have been strained for some time. But Jack had talked him into it, and here he is, sitting across the table from his father the master tailor and his nosy mother. His siblings and their spouses and children are arranged around the rest of the table, and at his left, right next him, is Jack, smiling and joking.
Ianto’s mother has just started a new medication, and she seems to be reacting well -- well enough that she hasn’t had an episode in a week, according to his father. There’s a kind of desperate hope hanging over the gathering, hope that this time might be the answer. Ianto can feel it working its way into his brain.
It’s all too easy to imagine, sitting at the dinner table with his brother and sisters and parents and nieces and nephews, never getting to see this. If his mum hadn’t found a medication that worked for her, if his father hadn’t saved himself from alcoholism, if Jack hadn’t returned to him. It’s all too easy to imagine his life going even more wrong, but here he is, happy and surrounded by loved ones. Tosh and Owen are going to get married in two months, and Gwen and Rhys are expecting their first kid a month after that. Gwen’s been complaining to all and sundry about going to another wedding as pregnant as pregnant can be.
Jack places his hand on Ianto’s thigh under the table, and this is more domestic than they’ve ever been before, but somehow, Ianto can’t think of anything better--
Ianto shouted, trying to get away from the device, from the horrible temptation of the thing, but the general pressed on, even as Ianto’s mind hunted desperately for the threads of the vision, but--
Returning to Jack hadn’t been as heartwarming as Ianto had secretly hoped. Jack is Jack, after all, and even though Ianto knows he should have expected it, Jack had moved on. Ianto had been dead to him for twenty years, and while Ianto’s whole world stops for those he loves, Jack doesn’t have that luxury. He welcomed Ianto back, of course, but it isn’t the same. Jack treats them more like old friends than old lovers, and it’s jarring, to go from gasping death confessions to being held at arm’s length by the man who greeted John Hart with a kiss on the mouth and a friendly bar brawl.
Ianto isn’t the one warming Jack Harkness’s bed these days, however.
Marc, the team’s tech expert, is.
And Jack looks happier than Ianto has ever seen him.
Ianto has a job of Torchwood, of course. Displacement in time isn’t enough to make Torchwood let one of its own go, especially when that time is as little as two decades. Jack generously gave him the twenty years of back-pay he was owed. Gwen had retired years ago, settling down to a live of quiet parenthood with Rhys. Everyone else was dead and buried two times over.
Ianto’s gone from lover to reminder. He’s nothing, a fact that Marc makes clear as soon as they’re alone together in the Hub. Jack doesn’t need him. He has Marc. Ianto is nothing.
Ianto was crying. He hated himself, hated that this bastard general got to enjoy his tears. His head ached, as if small creatures were trying to hammer their way out of his skull. There was blood trickling from his nose, from his ears. His nerve endings felt like they had been scraped raw with a cheese grater.
The general pressed the button again, forcing Ianto into a happy scene so bright and joyful it hurt:
The Doctor and River Song are dancing around the control, laughing at a joke Ianto didn’t quite understand. Amy Pond is leaning against her husband, watching them fondly. The door opens, and Jack saunters in, his greatcoat dusted with snow and his cheeks red from the cold. The carolers outside -- circa 1923, London -- gain volume as Jack waves at them flirtatiously and shouts a holiday greeting. He has presents under his arms, all wrapped up with bows. He looks good, framed by the decorations he and Amy had insisted on putting up, much to the Doctor’s delight.
The Doctor twirls River and then dips her, causing her to laugh a protest. Jack carries his loot over to the giant Christmas tree they had picked up on Yuleglo, a planet devoted singularly to old-school secular Christmas traditions, and deposits it next to all the other gifts they’ve collected -- presents for the Doctor and River, Ianto and Jack, Martha, Owen and Tosh, Gwen Rhys, the Ponds, Sarah Jane and her son, Rose Tyler and her family, and so many more.
Ianto wanders after him, making sure to make it look casual, but Jack isn’t fooled for a second. He catches Ianto’s hands and swings him into dance as well, ignoring Ianto’s half-hearted protests and--
Ianto had never even met Amy Pond, although he had learned about her from River and the Doctor: Amy Pond, the girl who waited, and her Rory the Roman husband. The Doctor had left them on Earth, relatively happy and safe. Was that the Doctor’s perfect life? Ianto wondered. A life where none of his companions left him? Where they all stayed together forever?
Was it bleed-through? He didn’t know how the torture device worked, or what it did, so there was no way to tell for sure, but.
The Doctor was the only other person in the universe who truly understood Jack. Who understood the loneliness that forever can bring. In his perfect life, they’d never leave.
“Where is your base?” the general said, interrupting Ianto’s scattered thoughts. His calm demeanor was cracking; whatever was going on above ground was causing him to grow rash. The soldiers shifted uneasily, exchanging worried glances with each other. Ianto focused sharply, trying to figure out how to use this to his advantage -- if he even could.
“I’m not telling you,” Ianto said, choosing his words carefully. If the general became desperate for the information he thought Ianto could provide, he might make a mistake. If Ianto played this right, there was the faint possibility of an escape.
The general’s eyebrows shot up. “A change in wording, eh? Are you telling the truth or are you just lying to get another snap of the in memoriam machine?” He waved said device tauntingly in front of Ianto’s nose. The only torture device that people beg for, he’d claimed.
Ianto let his silence lead the general to the conclusion he wanted.
“Waste of time,” the general snarled after a long moment. “This has all been a complete waste of damn time.” He threw aside the device and drew out a gun, pointing it at Ianto’s head.
This is it, Ianto thought dispassionately. I’m going to die. Again.
“Well,” the Doctor said, “I wouldn’t call it a complete waste.” Ianto jerked in surprise and looked over. The Doctor had one of the soldiers hostage, pressing his sonic screwdriver into his neck. Technically speaking, the screwdriver wasn’t a weapon (except when Ianto used it to fry terrorists), but the soldiers in the room didn’t know that.
“How did you escape?” the general demanded, holding his gun steady.
“I asked nicely,” the Doctor said. “You really ought to try it sometime.” He focused his attention on Ianto. “And how are you, Mr. Jones?”
“I’ve been better,” Ianto said, keeping an eye on the general and his gun. “You?”
“Oh, you know me,” the Doctor said, shrugging his shoulders. “I’m all over the place. Always have been.”
“Enough small talk,” the general snapped. He waved at his men. “Shoot them!”
“Ah-ah!” the Doctor said, shifting his hostage and using him as a human shield. “You shoot me, and you shoot him.”
“It doesn’t matter,” the general snarled. The soldiers tensed. They weren’t too keen on the general’s cavalier attitude about their lives.
A loud explosion boomed above them, this one close enough to knock everyone in the cell off-balance. Ianto forced himself into action, his instincts honed by years of Oh Shit! moments at Torchwood . He flung himself forward, slamming into the general and bringing him to the ground. The general struggled, trying to twist out from under him, but Ianto planted on knee in the man’s torso and bore down with all his weight. The soldiers hesitated. They could have retaken the situation easily, with a few quick bullets, but none of them moved. Slowly, the Doctor released his hostage.
“Sir,” one of the soldiers said respectfully. It took Ianto a moment to realise that the woman was talking to him. “If you move, we can it from here.” Ianto glanced over at the Doctor, who nodded. With slow, deliberate movements, Ianto eased away from the general. The soldier had a gun pointed at the torturer’s head before he could try to escape.
“General Kossover,” she said with an air of finality, “this is it. Above us, the rebels are taking the capitol. It’s over. Your master’s regime is finished.”
The woman, who introduced herself as Major Ash Jenkins, cut Ianto’s ties herself. Ianto nearly groaned in relief as his muscles relaxed. Two soldiers placed handcuffs on the general, and another one carefully picked up the in memoriam machine. Ianto didn’t know what he did with it, but he hoped that it got destroyed. He could still feel the visions crawling under his skin, taunting him with all the ways his life hadn’t turned out.
The Doctor, who usually wasn’t a very tactile person, despite appearances, pulled Ianto into a hug and refused to let go. The Time Lord was shaking, tiny tremors that shook him from head to toe. Ianto was too. His head felt like it was cracking apart, like there was too much stuff into one space, which never happened to Ianto. He knew everything; he had read through most of the Torchwood Three archives, and he remembered most of it. But his brain was buzzing, and every time he closed his eyes, it was like he was back there, with Lisa in their flat, with Lisa and Jack at the Hub, with Jack and his family, with the Doctor and the Ponds.
“Was it real?” Ianto asked before he could stop himself. His voice cracked, and he hated himself, suddenly and furiously. Why was he reacting like this? It wasn’t as if they had hurt him, not really.
“No,” the Doctor whispered. He sounded broken. Ianto wondered what he had seen. “That device is called the Okropir; it’s an alien thing. It’s a bit psychic -- just enough to route around your head and tear out what you want most.”
“But,” Ianto said, his mind sharping at the puzzle, “I’m Torchwood One. We were trained to have shields against that kind of thing. And you’re the Doctor; according to Jack, you’re a bit psychic yourself.”
“The Okropir isn’t a subtle thing,” the Doctor explained, pulling himself together a bit. “It breaks shields, shatters them. Like one of those barbaric sound cannons you twenty-first century humans have that burst eardrums. Your species isn’t commonly psychic, so you probably won’t have felt it under the circumstances.” The Doctor’s eyes went dark. “I felt it.”
“Oh,” Ianto said. He tried to remember if he had felt anything when that thing, the Okropir, was used on him. All he remembered was the gut-wrenching horror and longing and grief that had torn through him each time one of the visions ended. His breath shuttered, and his heart raced just thinking about it.
“Well, boys,” Major Jenkins said, hearding them from the cell. “This battle is far from won. Thank you, Doctor, for your help with the supply lines.”
“You’re very welcome, Ash,” the Doctor grinned, transforming from torture victim to cheerful five year old in an instant. Ianto wondered if anyone else could see the cracks in the persona. “Now, if you’ll just figure out some way for us to get back to my ship, we’ll be out of your hair and you can concentrate on the rebuilding.”
“Of course,” she said.
Before they left, the Doctor destroyed the Okropir. He crushed it to bits and then burned the parts left over. No one would be able to use the thing again.
“What did you see?” Ianto asked. The Doctor had taken them back to Æthelberht to recuperate. While their physical injuries were minimal, they were both hurting. Ianto still saw Lisa’s laughing face whenever he closed his eyes, still saw Amy Pond’s fond smile. He saw his team, alive and well, and every time he opened his eyes, he was forced to remember that they were gone. He was forced to lose them all over again.
He saw Owen’s staring dead eyes and Marc’s jealous stare and Jack’s happy smile directed at someone else, someone better. Someone new and novel and different.
That was how the Okropir tortured. If the device was in front of him right now, whole and usable, he couldn’t guarantee that he wouldn’t hold the thing to his own head and lose himself in what it could create for him.
He stared at his glass of Priscus wine. The Doctor had poured them both glasses, and whatever the stuff was, it was strong. They were both well on their way to being properly drunk.
“I saw all the things I wish I had done better,” the Doctor said, staring into his own glass. “Only I had done them better. I had saved more people, done better things. Been better.” He sighed. “I’ve hurt people. So many people, and many of them not even on the battle field. I treated Martha like rubbish. I let Rose go. I ruined Amy Pond’s life. I let Jack become immortal, and then I left him too. When I saw my perfect world, I saw a place where I hadn’t messed so much up.”
“I think I saw that,” Ianto said slowly. He took a sip of the Priscus wine. It was almost too sweet for his tastes, but he drank it anyway. He could feel the alcohol numbing him. Later, he’d worry that he was turning into his father, but not now. Not with the Doctor beside him and the blue lights of Æthelberht dancing over them.
The Doctor looked at him curiously.
“I saw Amy Pond,” Ianto explained. “Or, I think it was her. I’ve never seen her, but she looked like Amy Pond. And her husband was there as well, and River. And,” he continued, gazing up at the night sky, “Jack. Jack was there. It was nearly Christmas, and we were celebrating, all together and happy. What else did you see?”
“I saw Jack driven crazy by his years,” the Doctor said hoarsely. “I saw Amy Pond dead by my own hands. I saw Rory Williams leading an army against me. I saw so much death, I was drowning in it.”
“And what else?” Ianto asked, pressing lightly.
“The TARDIS found a jump point for you while we were...occupied,” the Doctor said, not answering and carefully not moving. Ianto looked over at him. His face gave nothing away. “I can take you to Jack now. Reunite the tragic lovers.” He bowed his head, obscuring his expression. “You can get on with your life.”
“I don’t think I can,” Ianto said slowly. There was too much in his head, too much suffocating him. His mind kept jerking back to that cell, to those visions. His deepest desires, what he wanted the most. He could never have that, he knew, not even if he went back to Jack.
Jack would welcome him back, he knew, once the captain had gotten over the whole not-dead thing, which shouldn’t be too hard, considering. Jack would welcome him back into his life and his bed with open arms, but Ianto wasn’t sure if he was ready. It wasn’t just the pain of wondering what and who Jack had been up to while he was gone -- Ianto had no illusions about that -- but also the doubt. What if it wasn’t as good as he remembered it? Ianto had survived the impossible and been through a lot during his time with the Doctor. What if, in whatever time the TARDIS had found to dump him in, Jack was a different person again?
What if he wasn’t Ianto’s Jack?
Looking at a stranger with Jack’s face would be worse than never seeing Jack again. And it was entirely possible that that was what was waiting for him wherever Jack was -- a Jack who wasn’t his Jack. A stranger with Jack’s face.
Ianto didn’t want that. Losing Jack like that would be just like what the Okropir had done to him -- he had everything, and then reality had ripped the fantasy away. It would be hell.
“When is it?” Ianto asked.
“Twenty years,” the Doctor said. “2039. Not too far in the future. Just a quick step really. I’m surprised it was so soon, honestly.”
Twenty years. The same amount of time the Okropir had shown him.
“Do I have to go now?”
The Doctor looked at him sharply. “You don’t have to go at all,” he said slowly. “There’s no time limit on your traveling with me. You stay as long as you like.”
“What if I do stay?” Ianto mused. “What if I stay forever, for the rest of my life? I travel with until I’m old and wrinkly and can’t keep up any longer? Would you still keep me then?”
Ianto sighed, feeling the weight of the Doctor’s stare, which was both hopeful and incredibly, incredibly sad. He wouldn’t say no, and he would like it, but there was a reason his companions all left eventually -- they moved on. They went out and had their own adventures and their own lives. They didn’t need the Doctor, not the way he needed them.
“I’m not ready to go back,” Ianto admitted. He drained the last of his Priscus wine. “I can’t, right now. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to.” The team, dead. Lisa, alive and standing in the middle of the Hub, whole and sane. Marc, touching Jack. Jack, distant in a way that cut deeper than any hateful glare could.
“There’s no rush,” the Doctor said gently. “2039 will still be there tomorrow. And the day after that. You don’t have to return until you’re ready.”
Coward, Ianto spat at himself. Bloody coward, running away from your fears.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready.”
The Cenhelm Lights started to fade. Sunrise on Æthelberht, which was just as beautiful as sunset and the night sky. Bright pink streaks raced through the scattered clouds.
Take care of him, River’s note had said. And yourself.
Ianto intended to, for as long as it took for him to quit running from his own future.
Chapter 5: the one where ianto goes to war
warning for: blood, war, violence, death, classism, etc
“Remember,” Captain Lulia Rahva said sternly. “Aim for the jewel. It’s the only way to breach their armor.”
Ianto nodded, checking his weapon. A gun, 36th century design, from the planet Omax. It was made for human hands, which was why he got it by default. He was the only human present. “How good are their reaction times?” he asked practically.
“Better than yours,” Roma Moni said. “Are you sure you want to do this? We could easily put you behind the defenses. This isn’t your war.”
“I’ve been involved in a lot of things that weren’t my wars,” Ianto said darkly, remembering Canary Wharf and all that happened in Cardiff, as well what happened on Serafin. “It’s the right thing to do.”
“If you say so,” Kifa p’Fla, the second in command, shrugged. Zie checked hir own weapon, adjusted the tie holding back hir silvery hair, and gave a quick nod. “All right, let’s do this.”
Ianto took a deep breath and prepared himself for battle.
Albatria was a beautiful planet, once, full of trees that shimmered with golden veins and rich red earth. Now it was ravaged by war and disease, torn apart by the battles going on above it. The Vhorti, another alien race, were invading. According to the unit Ianto had fallen in with, they were neighbors of a sort; two species sharing a solar system. The Vhorti, however, had ruined their own planet with their recklessness, and now they had their sights set on the Albatrians’ home world. They wished to colonize the Albatrians and enslave their people.
Ianto joined in the fight because it was either that or sit around waiting for the Doctor to return. If he ever returned. It wasn’t as if he had never left people behind before. Ianto, unlike Jack, didn’t have eternity to wait around. He needed the Albatrians to win the war so that they could transport him to the nearest Time Agent outpost.
Ianto refused to spend the rest of his second chance at life without even seeing Jack, lingering fears of abandonment aside.
The Doctor had dumped him here, on this planet-turned-hell. In the past week, Ianto had seen children starving in the streets. He had seen noncombatants slaughtered by missiles fired from hovering enemy ships. The Albatrians bled red, like humans, but it was a brighter red, with strong pink undertones. Ianto remembered how it felt on his skin when he was trying to help a young soldier hold hir own guts inside hir body. It hadn’t worked, and the Albatrian had died under his hands.
The Albatrians could be mistaken for human from a distance, but only as long as they were standing still in the dark. They moved differently; aside from the fact that they had two arms, two legs, and a single head, they bared little resemblance to humans -- their joints were oddly shaped, they had too many fingers, and their predominant hair color appeared to be silver. Their eyes were rounder, and the irises were solid black. Their facial muscles pulled differently under their skin.
When they had discovered Ianto, who was struggling frantically to revive an alien whose anatomy he knew nothing about, they hadn’t known what to do with him. He had spoken fluent Feri, their native language, even though he didn’t know who they were, where he was, or what was going on. It was pure luck that Captain Rahva had had a fondness for human history in school, or else they would have taken him into custody as a spy.
It took Ianto an hour to work out why he could speak their language. Or, why he could speak every language they spoke around him: The TARDIS liked him. Usually, one had to be within a certain distance for the TARDIS to translate for you. Ianto knew for a fact that the TARDIS was gone. Vanished. He shouldn’t be able to understand anything besides English, Welsh, and some light French and Japanese. But the TARDIS had liked him, and when she kicked him out (abandoned him), Ianto had felt something snap in his head. The TARDIS had broken him, somehow, and now he could understand everything.
It didn’t make up for abandoning him, of course, but he was grateful that he at least didn’t have to stumble around with the additional trouble of a language barrier.
The Vhorti grunted as Ianto shot the weakness in his armor. The invader stumbled and fell; Ianto pumped another round through his jewel, killing him. Beside him, Kifa aimed hir blaster and took out another two, disintegrating them instantly. Then Kifa lowered the weapon and drew a handgun, using it while the blaster recharged. Ianto fell back and covered hir, making sure that no one got the drop on hir in the meanwhile. The blasters took five minutes to recharge, which in other circumstances would have made them almost useless in a combat situation, but they were also one of the few weapons the Albatrians had that worked against Vhorti armor.
Another Vhorti soldier rushed them, and Ianto fired automatically, letting the familiar rhythm block out the screaming and gunfire around them. Just a few feet to his left, an Albatrian from Captain Rahva’s unit lay dying. After exchanging a quick nod with Kifa, Ianto dashed over to hir, checking to see if zie could be helped.
It was Chini M'Pakyo, their healer. Zie gasped for breath in rapid pants; blood soaked into hir uniform, turning the gold fabric orange. Chini reached out, and Ianto, after a slight moment of hesitation, took hir hand. Chini’s six fingers wrapped around his hand, the extra digits and joints giving hir a grip Ianto couldn’t rival.
“Ianto J-Jones,” zie whispered haltingly.
“I’m here,” Ianto said as reassuringly as he could. He caught movement out of the corner of his eye; his gun was aimed and fired before he even really registered the Vhorti who had been approaching him. The Vhorti crumpled, his jewel shattered by the gun’s bullet.
“I...give...you,” Chini continued, hir eyes flickering. Zie was struggling to keep hir eyes open; Ianto stared into hir black iris and wondered if he was going to die on this planet. He could. It was a very real possibility. “Give...you...my...”
“Shh,” Ianto hushed. He stroked his thumb along the healer’s wrist, furious that he couldn’t do more. There was a pounding in his head, a sharp ticking sound that drowned out the battle, that drowned out all thought. There was nothing he could do; all he could offer was comfort as another person died in his arms.
Chini breathed out one last time, and hir grip loosened. Ianto carefully extracted his hand and closed hir eyes. Then he stood up and went back to battle, letting the everything but surviving and revenge fade to the background.
He had liked Chini. Zie was nice to him. Zie was the one who found Ianto a uniform that would fit him, since the Albatrians were usually much taller than him. Zie had made sure that the Albatrians’ food was compatible with his digestive system. (Tisi, the cow-like animal the Albatrians ate for protein, tasted like apples to Ianto; it was rather hard to get used to, especially since he hadn’t eaten meat in years. However, beggars couldn’t be choosers, and only tisi and ytfasi, a lettuce like plant, were easily digestible to him. Survive or starve.) Chini was dead, and when the battle was over, he would have to explain the loss to Captain Rahva.
The unit managed to push the Vhorti back, and when night fell, they were alone on the field. They set up floodlights and started separating the dead, carting the wounded away and hauling the dead Vhorti off to the side. The enemy dead would be buried in a mass grave, which according to the Albatrians’ religion was a dishonorable way to rest. The Albatrian dead would be burned in the night, and the ashes would be scattered beneath the trees. The honorable way to rest.
Captain Rahva had known the second zie saw Ianto. Maybe it was something in his expression. Maybe it was the blood on his skin or the shake in his hands. Captain Rahva’s entire demeaner changed, making Ianto wonder what the captain’s relationship with their healer had been.
Ianto holstered his gun and rolled up his uniform sleeves. There was work to do.
Ianto ate his tisi and ytfasi dish in silence. Around him, the Albatrians murmured softly to each other, grieving for their losses. It seemed that the battle had finally settled any doubts the soldiers might have had about accepting him in their ranks. They nodded at him now, and put their long six-fingered hands on his shoulders. They didn’t pressure him to speak, and he was grateful for that. He felt odd, unsettled in his own skin. It was similar to how he felt after Lisa died, and after he survived his rather unpleasant encounter with cannibals.
Captain Rahva came and sat beside him. Zie looked at Ianto with hir round, black eyes; hir gaze bore into him until he had to turn away.
“Did zie say anything?” Captain Rahva asked after a moment. The captain looked down at hir carefully folded hands.
“No,” Ianto said. “Only that zie wanted to give me something, but zie died before zie could tell me what.”
Captain Rahva blinked and straightened, turning to face Ianto again. Sometimes it was hard to tell what the Albatrians were thinking, since their facial muscles were so different, but Ianto thought zie looked surprised.
“You don’t--” zie started to say, narrowing hir eyes, but then an alarm went off along the perimeter, and they had better things to worry about.
After the second skirmish, Captain Rahva decided to take them and rejoin the rest of the main army.
“We need supplies,” zie explained. “And new recruits. The only person we’ve added to the ranks is Ianto here, and sadly, she’s not enough.” They were always getting his gender wrong. He didn’t mind; they had a different culture, after all, and it wasn’t like they can get him confused with anyone else.
They only had half of their transport systems, so they had to make the way on foot. Captain Rahva lead the way, and rest of the unit followed behind. Ianto meant to walk the whole way as well; he wasn’t injured, so there was no need for him ride along with the medics. However, the Albatrians were taller than him, and their gaits were longer. By noon, he was ready to collapse from exhaustion, so the captain ordered him to rest in one of the vehicles.
“No one will think less of you,” zie told Ianto. “You’re an alien. It’s not like you can help it.”
If Ianto hadn’t already chosen to return to his own captain, he might have sworn himself to follow Captain Rahva wherever zie went. Zie was a great commander, and it was easy to tell how much hir people respected hir. It was easy for Ianto to fall under the command of a great leader.
Ianto spent the rest of the day in the medic transport, helping out as best he could. The healers were glad to have him, since his hands were smaller and he could dig projectiles out more easily than they could. By the time they all stopped to set up camp, Ianto needed a new uniform and a shower. His old one was soaked in Albartian blood, and his boots squelched from it. The healers patted him on the shoulder with their massive hands, thanking him for his assistance.
He didn’t feel like he’d done much. Too many still died, whether he was there to pry the bullets from their flesh or not. Too many times he’d felt himself almost drown in the ticking noise in his head, the feel of the soldiers and unfortunate civilians dying under his hands. It made him sick, the smell of it, the sound of it. His hands hadn’t stop shaking.
Captain Rahva found him like that, hunched over himself in the shadow of one of the transports, curling his shaking hands against his chest and fighting the stupid, stupid sobs in his chest. Ianto had seen battle before, had experienced a flash-point of war, but this was different. This was life slipping through his hands as he tried to grasp at it; this was watching the slow slide of death take another person from him. The captain drew him to his feet and lead him to hir command tent. There, zie made him lay down on one of the pallets arranged around the central table.
“Sleep now,” zie ordered. “Tomorrow will be better.”
Ianto slept, even though he was pretty sure zie was lying to him.
Two days and several small enemy encounters later, they caught up with the main army encampment. It used to be a town, before the Vhorti razed it to the ground. There had been looting afterwards, until the army had moved in and cleaned up what remained of the streets. Now there were makeshift hospitals among the ruins, and children played in lots that used to be family homes and shops. Everywhere Ianto looked, there were Albartians hustling to and fro, going about the business of fighting a war and living. Surviving.
Captain Rahva settled hir people down in one of the huge empty lots, leaving them to pitch their tents and organize what was left of their supplies. Then, once zie was sure that everything was on its way to being ordered, she motioned for Ianto to follow hir. Kifa step in with him, and together they trailed behind their captain like faithful dogs. People shot him suspicious looks as he past them, and they tugged their children out of the way. Ianto couldn’t even bring himself to feel biter about it. He was alive, an alien, and so many were dead. He’d be suspicious too. His head swam sluggishly, like it was full of Albartian blood.
(In a distant part of his brain, one that was always humming along, filing away information for later use, he noted that there was nothing reflective to be seen. The windows reflected no light, and Ianto realized with a jolt that he hadn’t seen himself in a mirror since he landed. He shaved the Albatrian way, face to face with a friend, so that they might point out what parts you missed. It was considered a social activity.)
They followed the flow of the crowd until they reached a mostly intact building. There was a security presence around the perimeter, and they didn’t want to let Ianto pass. No aliens allowed, apparently. Captain Rahva lost hir temper and gestured sharply at Ianto’s eyes, staring down the soldiers with a meaningful glare. The soldiers blinked, looked at him closely, and then stepped aside. Ianto was too worn out to really care.
“The general will see you in a moment,” a calmly efficient Albartian told them. Ianto felt a sick jolt of vertigo at the word ‘general’ but things righted themselves in a moment. If brave Captain Rahva willingly looked to this person, they had to be all right. Not every general was a deranged sadist who got off on torturing people’s minds.
“We will wait,” Captain Rahva said with equal calmness. Ianto stood at attention, his hands held gently behind his back. He put on his best Torchwood expression and met the receptionist’s gaze directly.
After a time, the receptionist left and came back. “The general will see you now,” zie said. “Follow me.”
They went down a series of corridors and then up a flight of stairs. The stairs were spaced wider and taller than Ianto was used to; they were build for Albatrian foot-spans. By the time they reached the fifth level, he wished he could take a break. However, the receptionist's gaze kept drifting back to him, and Ianto didn’t want to show that he was weak in any way. He lifted his chin and gritted his teeth, forcing himself to remain as unruffled as possible.
The general was waiting for them in the hall. Zie was tall, taller than Captain Rahva and the rest of the unit. Ianto had to tilt his head back to get a good look at hir. If he stayed on this planet much longer, he was going to develop a permanent crick in his neck.
“General Rash j’Athor,” Captain Rahva said, saluting. The general returned the salute and then held pulled Captain Rahva in for an embrace. Ianto resisted the urge to shift awkwardly; he held himself in his best I’m-just-the-help-don’t-mind-me pose, with his blandest expression on.
“And who is this?” the general asked, pulling back. Zie probably meant Ianto, but Captain Rahva introduced both of hir people, as if there was no difference.
“This is Kifa p’Fla, my second,” zie said, pointing to Kifa with two long fingers. “And this is Ianto Jones, my third.” Zie gestured with three fingers, which clearly had some kind of significance, but Ianto’s brain was too busy processing his apparent promotion to study it. He was the captain’s third? When did that happen?
“An alien?” General j’Athor asked with surprise. “You have an alien as your third? And a tiny one at that.”
“I can more than hold my own, Za,” Ianto said bluntly, using the Albatrain equivalent of sir or ma’am.
“Ianto Jones has proven to be a great fighter,” Captain Rahva said primly. “She stayed by Chini M'Pakyo’s side when zie died.”
The general cocked hir head to the side. “I see,” zie said slowly. “And you speak Feri?”
“Ianto Jones is very good with languages, Za,” Kifa interjected, hir chin lifted confidently. “And she is very helpful to the medics.”
“Ah, well,” General j’Athor said after a moment of thought. “Third has always been an honorary position anyway.”
“Perhaps not,” Captain Rahva said quietly. “Chini M'Pakyo is the second Third that I’ve lost in battle since the war began.”
“I am sorry for your loss,” the general said formally. “I have more recruits for you,” zie said, changing topics swiftly. “And a replacement for Chini. You need a new head healer, and I don’t think your alien has the training....?” General j’Athor looked at him expectantly.
“No, Za,” Ianto said. “I only know a bit of human field aid.”
“Well, we have someone in for your unit,” the general said, motioning for them to follow him. Ianto found himself once again struggling to keep up with the Albatrians’ long strides. Zie lead them to a conference room where an Albatrian was already seated. Zie rose when they entered and made a salute.
“Might I introduce Valsi l’Ajith, a former healer of the Reafasi Hospital.”
“It is an honor to meet you, Captain Lulia Rahva,” Valsi l’Ajith said with a bow. “I have heard much of your victories since the war began.”
“This?” Captain Rahva looked at the healer with unconcealed disgust. “This is who you give me?” zie demanded, whirling to face the general. “This--this--” and then zie said a word that either the TARDIS didn’t know or it refused to acknowledge. Apparently, it was a slur of some kind. Kifa’s eyebrows silvery eyebrows rose towards hir hairline at the language.
“Fucking politics,” Kifa hissed, low enough so that only Ianto could hear. “Even now, always with the fucking politics and blood feuds.”
Blood feuds? Ianto blinked in surprise. Somehow, he hadn’t thought about Albartian politics too much, since they seemed rather distracted by the invaders trying to kill and enslave them all. Ianto hadn’t been able to quite understand what parts of their normal culture that he managed to see in between the bouts of violence. No one besides Chini had explained too much, since he was just an alien in their midst -- once they had determined that he wasn’t a threat, he was no longer particularly important to them. They had other things to worry about, like surviving. No one expected him to do some of their more complex hand gestures, the ones that involved all six fingers on one hand, or all twelve with both. There were social cues that he didn’t catch, nuances to language that even the TARDIS couldn’t translate for him. And that wasn’t to mention the random words the time machine had decided were too crass for his delicate ears.
The Albartians had accepted his presence, to a degree, but he wasn’t one of them. He was reminded of that every time he tried to keep pace with them.
Kifa rolled hir eyes at the dramatics playing on in front of them. Zie grabbed Ianto’s arm, careful not to squeeze too tight and break something, and dragged him out of the conference room. “Better to leave the bickering to the leaders,” zie said with a quirky grin. “It’s not like Rahva can refuse Valsi, yeah? Zie is a l’Ajith, and they always get what they want.”
“Tell me,” Ianto said, and then he received a crash-course on ancient Albatrian politics.
That night, Ianto dreamed of Jack.
He dreamed of Jack holding him tight, of Jack touching him along his shoulders, his back, his arse. He dreamed of Jack murmuring softly in his ear -- but Ianto couldn’t understand him. Even though he knew that Jack was speaking English, one of the two languages Ianto had grown up knowing, it still sounded like gibberish, and Ianto felt raw panic claw its way through his body, shredding him from the inside out. His thoughts tumbled together and scattered apart, hung together with bits of Fari and Thyku and French and WeRiO and Spanish and Japanese.
Jack drew back, his expression worried, and Ianto tried to reasure him, but the words came out wrong. He had trouble breathing, and all he could think was that he was stuck like this, forever, the same way that Jack was immortal -- he’d never be able to keep it all straight in his head, he’d never communicate with anyone again, he was going to be so alone--
And then he woke up to feel a massive hand shaking his shoulder softly.
“Ianto Jones?” he heard Captain Rahva ask. “Are you all right? You were twitching as if in distress. Is this normal for humans or should I fetch the healers?”
“I’m okay,” he tried to say, only it came out as “Yashi iotra,” which was Gryff, a language Ianto had no business knowing. It hadn’t evolved into existence yet, and he didn’t know how he knew that what it was and when it was from, but he did.
“I’m okay,” he repeated, this time in Fari. “Just a bad dream.”
Captain Rahva hesitated, and then zie sat down beside him on one of the cushions. “I have bad dreams as well,” zie said, softly, like it was a confession. Ianto sat up, bracing himself on his hands, preparing to listen to what his commanding officer clearly wanted to say -- to someone, anyone, even an alien interloper who had no point of reference for the war around him. “When I was little, my Unam used to take pills that made hir see things. Drugs,” the captain spat with sudden anger, “that my Duom provided.”
Unam, Duom, and Triams were the names given to genetic donors. Mother and father, roughly plus one and without the gender roles.
“We were poor,” Captain Rahva continued. “That’s what my name means, did you know? Family names are important in our culture. People like l’Ajith and General j’Athor don’t understand -- their names open doors. Mine closes them.”
“It has to do with the sound at the beginning, doesn’t it?” Ianto guessed. “The L in l’Ajith and the J in j’Athor?”
Captain Rahva made a hand gesture of agreement. “They are old names. Even Kifa has an old name. Even Chini, although zie wasn’t so high class.” The captain smiled bitterly. “At least zie gave me the time of day, right? Zie called me hir little Lulia-la.” Hir little Lulia-love.
Ianto said nothing. There was nothing he could say. All he could do was listen to a confession he had never asked for.
“I hate them,” the Albatrian said suddenly, fiercely. “You don’t know what it was like; you weren’t here. There are class divisions on this planet, and once we win the war against those damn Vhorti, I’m going to change it.”
“If anyone could do it,” Ianto said slowly, thinking over all the things he had seen since landing (being abandoned) on this planet, “I think it would be you. Your people love you. I love you, and I already serve my own captain.” His lips quirk into a smile when he imagines what Jack would say to that. Something lewd about ‘serving,’ probably. “You’re a good leader.”
“Thank you,” the captain whispered. “What is your home world like?” zie asked, changing the subject. “I have read a lot about early humans, but none of the essays ever agree with each other.”
He considered what he could say. He could approach this as simple information dispensing, the same routine he had given stranded aliens that came through the Rift -- or he could treat this as a conversation between friends. But Ianto didn’t have many friends, and none that he shared particularly personal information with. He and Jack didn’t talk about their pasts (unless said past was shooting at them), and he and Gwen weren’t really close. He had come close with Tosh, a few times.
(He would rather have cut off his fingers than share anything personal or revealing with Owen, truth be told. Owen had been his teammate, and he had held him in a certain regard because of that, but he hadn’t been a very good person. At least, not until after he died.)
“I didn’t have a good time of it,” he confessed. It wasn’t like Captain Rahva was going to tell anyone, considering what zie had just told him. “My home life was a wreck. My tad was, well. He wasn’t the nicest of men. Broke some of my bones when I was growing up.”
“We have parents like that here,” Captain Rahva said quietly. “What about your other parent? Humans do it to twos, correct?”
“Most of the time,” Ianto said, thinking of all the varied relationships he’d been exposed to over the years. Threesomes and moresomes and open relationships, oh my. Single parents galore. “My mum,” Ianto continued slowly, “wasn’t well. She was ill -- mentally. It was hard on us kids. Tad crawled into a bottle, and Mum couldn’t care for us. I did a lot of the patching up.”
“Is that why your so good with the healers?” Captain Rahva smiled.
“Perhaps,” Ianto said, allowing himself to smile back. “School was boring -- I did just well enough to get by. I had other things to worry about at the time. After that, I left. Went down to London -- big city -- and started a new life.”
“Do you have anyone waiting for you?” the captain asked, hir black eyes far away.
“Perhaps,” Ianto said again. He looked down. “I don’t know if he’s waiting, but he’s there.”
“You can always stay here, if you wish.” Ianto blinked and looked at Captain Rahva sharply. “Not like that. I’ve lost too many people in this damn war.” Captain Rahva close hir eyes in despair. “Too many people.”
“Why don’t you try to get some sleep,” Ianto said. “Tomorrow will be better.”
“Tomorrow will be better,” Captain Rahva repeated. Zie got to hir feet and went to hir own palate, settling down for the night.
The next day, Captain Rahva went to get hir new recruits, dragging Kifa and Ianto alone with hir. There were fifty new soldiers added to their ranks, and most of them were painfully young. Albatrians lived longer than humans, Ianto knew, even adjusting for how much shorter their planet’s orbit around the star was. The new recruits were barely thirty years old, the equivilent of teenagers. Captain Rahva’s lips tighten when zie read over their files, but there was nothing zie could do. They had to fill the ranks, and this was there only option.
Ianto had joined Torchwood when he was nineteen. He had spent his teenage years struggling against a family that abandoned him and smothered him by turns. By the time he was twenty-four, he had lost everything. He knew that youth didn’t mean innocence. The war had been ongoing for one Albatrian year, meaning that they had all seen their share of bloodshed. Now they had the ability to fight back.
(He wished they didn’t have to, of course, but he was practical about it. They were no longer children.)
After the captain had introduced hirself, Kifa, and Ianto, zie lead them back to their temporary base of operations. The young soldiers marched precisely, and the streets parted before them. Many of them were probably going to die, Ianto knew. Looking into the faces of those they passed, he saw that nearly everyone knew it too. The Albartians were on the verge of losing hope.
Captain Rahva sent Ianto to stay with in the medical transports when the unit began to move out. “You’re no use to use exhausted,” zie said when Ianto protested. “You’re a strong fighter, but our pace doesn’t suit you. Go.”
Ianto spent the next few days working with Valsi l’Ajith, organizing their supplies and tending to the patients who had refused to leave the unit. Albatrian hands were more nimble than his in several ways, but his fingers were smaller. He could poke around the tiny, deep wounds Vhorti projectile weapons made.
While they worked, Valsi talked. Ianto was neutral on the conflict between hir and their captain, so he didn’t object to learning more about the culture of the planet he was stranded on.
“I lived with my parents,” Valsi said, restitching a cut that had had to be reopened and drained. “My Duom died in the initial attacks. Zie was at work in the capitol when it was taken. We didn’t learn about it until later that day. There was some sort of communication blackout; Triam didn’t find out until zie was coming home from work. Zie raced home and told my Unam. After that, they turned on the news channel and watched as reports started coming in.”
Ianto nodded at the appropriate times and just listened. He was used to being a secret keeper, from both Captain Rahva’s late night confessions to his time at Torchwood. He held secrets close to his chest, storing them away for later reference. His size probably helped him here, because the Albatrians viewed him as nonthreatening. His alienness meant that he wasn’t clouded by their society’s perceptions.
“I had already started to make a name for myself as a healer,” Valsi continued. “I signed up to serve immediately. The Vhorti were an enemy our entire society could fight against, and I wanted to help. It’s hard, but.” The healer shrugged. “What isn’t, especially in war?”
The bombs shook the ground and made the golden trees quiver and bow. Ianto struggled to his feet, his heart racing. He’d been eating with Captain Rahva and Kifa, consuming his usual tisi and ytfasi, when the Vhorti had struck. One minute, they were laughing at Ianto’s gallows humor, the next, Kifa was dead, hir eyes staring blankly at the sky as hir ribs were bared for the world to see. Ianto wanted to throw up, but instead he grabbed Kifa’s weapons and launched himself into action. Captain Rahva shouted orders, and soldiers scrambled into defensive positions.
Ianto ducked for cover behind one of the smaller transports. Kifa’s blaster was in his hands, and he charged it methodically. While it was prepping for fire, he drew his handgun and discharged it at two Vhorti trying to get the drop on some of the new soldiers. One of them went down, a bullet through his jewel. The other looked up as the projectiles glanced off his armor. He stepped towards Ianto.
A shot was fired from somewhere to Ianto’s left. The Vhorti grunted and collapsed, his jewel shattered and blood pouring from the hole. Ianto turned to see Valsi standing with a gun in hir hands, black eyes blazing with anger and silver hair swirling. Zie looked like a diety of war, a tall pillar of anger. Zie locked eyes with Ianto, nodded hir head curtly, and then turned back to the battle. Ianto got to his feet, holstered his handgun, and picked up the freshly charged blaster.
He aimed above them, where the Vhorti’s small fighter ships swooped over head. He set one in his sights and fired, jerking from the recoil no human had the muscles to resist. The ship took a direct hit and dissolved in midair, sending debris flying down on the ground forces.
Then, a familiar sound brought Ianto’s world to a halt. The TARDIS. The TARDIS was here, somewhere. Ianto gritted his teeth and focused on buying himself enough time for the blaster to recharge. He redrew his gun and mechanically took out another Vhorti soldier. Around him, soldiers screamed and died and bled, they cried and begged, but he had to focus. Medics swore and bolted from fallen soldier to fallen soldier, helping where they could, dolling out mercy killings where they couldn’t.
If Ianto’s life was a film, the story of a dashing young secret agent trapped on an alien planet, one of those ridiculously expensive action movies Hollywood churned out, he would figure out the key to winning in this moment. There would be a scene were softly intense music played over the sounds of shrieking machinery and dying soldiers, and the solution to everything would come to him. The Doctor would appear, they would share a meaningful look, and then they would save the world together.
But Ianto’s life wasn’t a film. He had lost Captain Rahva in the chaos, and he had no idea what to do. He spotted enemies converging on the medical transport, so he went there, using the recharged blaster to take out a clump of Vhorti in his way. He fired, reloaded, recharged, fired, reloaded, fired, fired, recharged, again and again, until he was able to get to the doors.
Behind him, the battle died a quick and unceremonious death. The air went still, like the universe was holding its breath.
Inside was a massacre. All the soldiers that Ianto had nursed back towards heath were dead, executed by the Vhorti. The Albatrians’ bright blood soaked the floor, washing the walls with pinkish red. In an isle, still clutching hir gun, Valsi lay dying. Ianto rushed to hir side, sliding over the slick floor.
“Ianto,” zie gasped. Ianto felt the heavy rush of deja vu wash over him. He clenched his jaw against the familiar edges of dispair clawed at his heart.
“Shh,” he said as soothingly as he could. The healer was dying, hir body covered in so much blood that he couldn’t tell where the wounds were. “It’s going to be okay.”
Valsi laughed hoarsely, a terrible rattling sound that was swallowed in the air between them. “Liar.”
Ianto tried to smile. “I--I don’t know how to help.”
“There’s nothing you can do,” the Doctor said. Ianto whirled, raising his handgun to point at the intruder. The Doctor stood in the doorway, his eyes bright with pain. There was blood on his bow tie, and his hair was sticking up at odd angles. “Zie is dying.”
“Ianto,” Valsi said again. Zie reached out and grabbed Ianto’s free hand, pulling him closer. “I give you my time.”
The Doctor inhaled sharply, but he didn’t say anything.
“I don’t--” Ianto protested. “I don’t know what that means.”
But Valsi was dead, then, just like that, and the Doctor was there, tugging on Ianto’s uniform, hauling him to his feet.
“We have to leave now,” the Doctor said, pulling Ianto to the door. Outside, the battle had mostly gone silent. All that was left was blood-soaked earth and wrecked ships that smoked like firebombed husks. The TARDIS was in the middle of it, looking as out of place and untouchable as ever. Its beacon shown at the top, solid and steady. Ianto dug his heels in and refused to move.
“I’m not leaving them,” Ianto said furiously. “I’m not going to abandon them.”
Like you abandoned me.
Like people are always abandoning me.
The Doctor looked at him with pitying eyes. “I didn’t mean for this to happen,” he said, his voice soft. “Please, Ianto, you know me. I’m not intentionally cruel. I would never do this to you.” He sounded heartbroken.
“Then why did this happen?” Ianto shouted, gesturing at the carnage around them. “I was friends with these people! They--They were my comrades! Am I destined to see everyone I work with die?”
He heard a moan to his right. Ianto turned and went to the sound, finding an severely injured Albatrian half-crushed under the dead weight of a Vhorti soldier. Ianto struggled to push the body off of hir. Another pair of hands -- five-fingered and small -- joined his. Together, they freed the injured Albatrian soldier and did the best they could for hir wounds.
“It was the TARDIS,” the Doctor said as one of the surviving medics took over for them. “She did this.”
“Because now you’ll live,” the Doctor said, as if that explained everything.
Ianto stared at him with dead eyes. He was almost past the point of caring, honestly.
“You don’t know.” The Doctor was shocked. His eyes widened and he looked around for something frantically. “Haven’t you looked in a mirror lately?”
Ianto frowned. “I’m in a war zone,” he said tartly. “Where exactly would I find one?”
“The Albatrians are extraordinarily long-lived,” the Doctor explained. “And when one is close to an unnatural death, like from a wound, they can, well, gift the rest of their life to someone.”
Ianto stood frozen, trying to process what the Doctor was telling him while the clean up continued around them. “Are you saying,” he said slowly, “that I’m. That I got. Are you saying that Valsi l’Ajith gave me hir life?”
“I’m sorry, Ianto,” the Doctor said. “I’m afraid you’re survive for a very long time. What the Albatrians and the Vhorti were thinking when they started this mess, I don’t know.”
“What do you mean?”
“Valsi l’Ajith gave you all hir years,” the Doctor explained. “You won’t die until you finish them. You can’t, actually. You’ll just come back.” Like Jack.
“But how did zie die then? If hir years kept zie from dying, why is.... Why is zie dead? Will that happen to me?”
“Years given freely have extra power,” the Doctor said. He sounded tired, sad. “It’s not particularly common in their culture; one usually only gives their years to hir livemates or child, if they want to. If they don’t want to live any more. Apparently, you made quite the impression, Ianto Jones.”
“So I can’t die,” Ianto said, shell-shocked. “I can’t-- I’m immortal?”
“No, not immortal,” the Doctor corrected, “but almost as near to it as Jack is. You did, however, manage to avoid being made into a fixed point in time. That’s something, at least.”
“Immortal,” Ianto repeated faintly. Then he swallowed and asked the question he wasn’t sure he wanted an answer to. “How long? I know you know. Tell me.”
“You don’t need to know--” the Doctor started to say, but Ianto cut him off, insisting with a calm, measured voice that, for once, the Doctor give him a straight answer. “In human years, it translates to around seven hundred years, and no, I’m not going to get more specific than that. It’s not something humans can cope with knowing.”
“Seven hundred years,” Ianto whispered to himself. “I’m going to live for seven hundred years.”
“She did so you’ll live,” the Doctor murmured softly, looking off in the distance towards the TARDIS. “She did it for you, and she did it for Jack. Oh, my dear, what have you done?”
“You’re leaving,” Captain Rahva said when zie saw them. Hir expression was dark with grief and despair. Hir eyes flickered between hir third and the Doctor.
“No,” Ianto said, shaking his head. “My someone can wait a while longer. I’m staying.”
“You should go,” Rahva said. Zie looked down at the bright blood drying on hir massive hands. “This isn’t your fight. Go back to your someone. Get away from this hell.”
“No,” Ianto repeated.
“Don’t worry,” the Doctor informed them, looking impossibly old. “The war ends tomorrow. Life will go on, as it does. Your planet will be safe for another hundred years -- plenty of time to rebuild.”
“And I’ll be around to help,” Ianto said, determined.
“Ianto--” the Doctor started to protest.
“No,” Ianto said. He folded his arms. “I’m not going to abandon them. I fought beside them, I bled beside them -- I’m going to build beside them.”
Captain Rahva frowned. Hir silvery hair gleamed in the twilight, reflecting the beams from the floodlights that the others had set up. Zie looked like a statue, tall and still. “Ianto Jones, what if your someone isn’t there for you anymore? You should grab love while you can, Ianto Jones. Even for my people, life is too short to throw away your chances of happiness.”
“Trust me,” Ianto said dryly. “Between Jack and the Doctor, we have nothing but time.”
“Are you sure?” the Doctor asked. He shifted nervously on his feet, bouncing from foot to foot. His hair flopped over his face, covering his eyes.
“I need to do this, Doctor,” Ianto said. “I need to build something. This time with you -- I’ve seen more destruction in my lifetime than I want to think about. Torchwood One, my family, the Hub, everything….” He trailed off, looking down at his bloodied uniform. He straightened and met the Doctor’s eyes.
“Pick me up in a decade,” Ianto said. He smirked with a flash of humor. “Sir.”
“Don’t call me sir.”
“Whatever you say, sir.”
“I’ll see you in ten years, Ianto,” the Doctor said, and then he walked back to his TARDIS and was gone.
“Come along, then, if you’re staying,” Captain Rahva ordered, turning back to the battlefield clean up going on around them. “We have work to do.”