Year's end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on,
with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us. - Hal Borland
There are parties in the distance, glasses clinking and voices murmuring and the lips of strangers pressing together in a search for some new start. Ianto presses his own lips to the unlit end of a cigarette, more grateful for old comforts. There have been enough new starts in his life, and none of them were announced with bells and streamers and fireworks.
New Start #17 clomps up behind him; Ianto can smell him over the salt, can hear him over the faraway water-and-party sounds, but doesn’t turn his head to see him in the dark. He could, if he wanted to, but he’d rather look up at the winter constellations and wonder what threat they’ll bring in the new year.
“Hello,” Jack says, and plucks the cigarette from Ianto’s fingers.
He’s been trying to hide the habit, but Jack seems to sniff out each of Ianto’s secrets like a bloodhound now. This particular secret doesn’t matter; others do, or have done. Ianto lets him have this one and counts the few that are left. Maybe when they’re all finally discovered, there will be nothing left of him and he’ll wither away.
That’s all he is: secrets and new starts.
Jack takes a drag off the cigarette, and then another, and Ianto gets the impression that this is not a new experience. Ianto gets that impression quite often. The cigarette, still lit and only half used, gets dropped into the bay. The embers flick out.
“Hello,” Jack says again.
He kisses Ianto, and it isn’t new at all. Except that there’s a wreath of smoke around their heads and someone shouting in the background. Jack pulls away slowly.
“Alcohol is more festive.”
Ianto nods at that bit of wisdom.
“More numbing, too, if you’re looking to be numbed.”
Ianto nods again.
Jack seems to fumble, just a little, as he rests his hands on the cold metal railing. Perhaps he’d already been festively numbing himself. Ianto checks. Jack’s eyes aren’t whisky bright, so maybe not.
“It looks,” Ianto says, his face turned up to the dark sky, “like a child’s ceiling. But it’s more like under the bed, isn’t it?”
“Under the bed?”
“Monsters,” he clarifies and Jack laughs.
“Not all of it. Some of it is beautiful, innocent.”
“We don’t get beautiful or innocent.”
Ianto pulls out his pack. It’s crushed a bit, in the middle and in one corner, but the cigarettes are still mostly intact. He lights one with a match. He offers the pack as an afterthought, but Jack shakes his head.
“Earth is a challenge,” Jack says. “It even has its own undefeated champion.”
It makes him a little ill, in a dizzying way, to think of it like that, to consider Earth as just another piece to be taken in Intergalactic Chess. So far, no one’s done it, but the aliens he’s seen are bent on domination, and the underdog always wins eventually. The movies taught him that. Then again, they also taught him that true love conquers all. It doesn’t. He knows that for a fact.
“Right there.” Jack points up. “Right there, just beyond that star, is another galaxy. There’s a planet there of pacifists. Big into agriculture, community, nature, that sort of thing. Completely innocuous.”
The sky, or what he can see of it with all of the yellow-orange light pollution, is gorgeous. It’s been a long time since he’d actually let himself look.
Ianto snorts. “A planet of hippies, then? That’s the good of the universe?”
“They’re not hippies,” he says. “They’re trees.”
Ianto grunts his acknowledgement and takes a slow drag off his cigarette. The smoke seeps lazily from between his lips. He can feel the heat of Jack’s eyes on him, that slight tingling sensation that starts in his temples and radiates across his scalp and down his neck.
“The universe is a lot like humanity,” Jack continues. “I think it’s why humans are able to adapt so well. They last until…well, until the end.”
Jack makes humans sound like cockroaches, which is hardly an appealing thought. And the way Jack talks sometimes, with those separatist and distancing words, makes Ianto wonder if Jack himself is in alien, and whether or not it’s proof of his theory that the universe is shit.
He’d rather be having this conversation with Owen, who’d outright agree with him. Or Gwen, who’d be full of a faith he’d lost long ago. Or even Tosh, who would come up with a sort of half-optimistic probability, something like, “Approximately 68% of the universe is out to kill us. It could be worse.”
As he raises the cigarette to his lips, Jack takes it and repeats his two-drags-and-drop production. Ianto rolls his eyes. It’s rather like Jack, to take the burden of all their sins on himself, but this is something Ianto enjoys.
“Why do you smoke?” Jack asks as he watches the cigarette tumble down.
“It’s a habit.”
“Okay. Why did you start?”
“Because people steer clear of the bloke with the cigarette. They leave him alone.”
Jack doesn’t take the hint, much to Ianto’s annoyance, though he hadn’t expected anything else. Besides, a part of him (the part that rarely gets to voice its opinions) likes being sought out by Jack. Thrills at it, in fact.
“Armor,” Jack says, “I get that.”
Ianto nods and pats his pocket, then decides against pulling out another one. Jack would only whisk it away from him again, anyway. He checks his watch instead. Less than ten minutes left until the next impossible year.
“It gets a little easier each year.” Jack nudges his shoulder and Ianto pushes back, just a bit, out of habit. “The memories fade, that sick feeling starts to go away, you stop turning to people who aren’t there anymore.”
It takes Ianto a minute to catch up, and when he does, he grabs Jack’s hand and squeezes once before letting it go.
“Yeah,” he says, “it does.”
Jack checks his own watch, and then his wrist strap. “Five minutes.”
“I wonder if the world’ll explode.”
Jack shakes his head, and Ianto can see the unspoken “not yet” written in the set of his jaw. It makes him shiver. Jack probably assumes that it’s the chill night air, because he looks Ianto up and down as if noticing him for the first time.
“Where’s your coat?” he asks.
“Tourist office. Only meant to be out here for a couple of minutes.”
“Sorry. Come inside for a drink when you’re done?”
Ianto nods. “Sure.”
It’s late now, and will be even later before they’re finished drinking silent toasts to those who’ve fallen. And then they’ll fuck until they forget, and start the whole process over again in the morning. Smoking and drinking and fucking, remembering and forgetting.
Jack leaves, feet moving like a soldier’s, and Ianto turns to watch him go.
“Jack,” Ianto calls when he’s almost at the water tower. Jack whirls around at the sound of his name, coat whipping at his calves, and inclines his head. “Happy New Year.”
A group in a nearby bar cheers loudly. They blow on and wave noisemakers and some more fireworks go off over the bay, behind Ianto’s head. Jack raises his hand (half salute, half wave) and Ianto lights another cigarette.