On the eighth loop, Ianto decides to take a break.
He's been working for Torchwood since he was nineteen years old. He's lived through Canary Wharf and Lisa's death and Jack's execution and disappearance. He thought he could live through anything, but he underestimated how efficient Torchwood could be at breaking his heart.
He doesn't go to Torchwood the morning of the eighth loop. He goes to a coffee shop instead. He orders a coffee and a breakfast sandwich and he sits staring out the window at the bustling streets, at the morning shoppers, at the suits on their way to work. He swallows past the sharp ache in his chest, the sudden painful realization that he's not a part of that world, that he's not a part of this world at all, that if Torchwood won't have him and the world at large won't have him, he's truly an outsider, a distant ghost.
He swallows the pain with a mouthful of tasteless eggs and soggy bacon.
He orders coffees all day and occupies the same corner table. He doesn't even make a show of reading or working--it's no use when no one will remember his odd behavior the next morning. He just rests his head on the table and tries to block out the world, stares out the windows at the people walking by, tries to desensitize himself to the despair of having Jack and Gwen, Tosh and Owen look straight through him as if he's not there at all.
He doesn't plan on seeing Torchwood at all for this loop, but of course they ruin his plans by coming into the coffee shop around supper, looking worn out and windswept and beautiful. The four of them gather around a table on the other side of the shop. Ianto knows he should leave for his own sake, but instead he stays and watches them, watches the way they laugh together and smile at each other and tries to remember if his Torchwood ever does those things. He scours his brain for the last time he saw Tosh smile like that, for the last time he saw Owen smile at all, but he can't come up with anything and he's not sure if that's out of panic or because those moments don't exist in his Torchwood.
Maybe they're better off without him.
It takes Jack twenty minutes to acknowledge his staring. He knows he should leave, then, but Jack gets to his feet and Ianto lets himself hope, for just a moment, that he's somehow fixed it, that Jack is coming to invite him over to the table, to ask where he's been.
"Do I know you?" Jack asks.
No, you don't. Sorry to trouble you. I was just staring into space.
He should say that. This was going to be his Torchwood-free loop. This was going to be the loop that didn't end with him in a cell or retconed or in the mindprobe or dead.
"Yes," he says, so quietly he doesn't know if Jack can hear it. "Yes, you know me. You hired me after Canary Wharf. I came from London and begged you for a job but you wouldn't give me one until I found you a pteranodon and helped you catch it. I've worked for you for almost two years, general support at first, archives and admin and coffee and cleaning up, but then as a field agent, as your assistant, and--"
Jack's eyes are cold and calculating and surprised. "I think you've got the wrong--"
Ianto keeps talking, his voice louder, tinged just slightly with the hysteria he's trying to keep clamped down. "We were shagging, too, at first and then it was something more, something we didn't have a name for, which was my fault, which is my fault because I'm bloody awful at these things, but you put up with it, you indulged me because you understood and because you knew, even if I didn't say it, that I loved you, and I don't know what this is, Jack, I touched something, I'm in some sort of time loop and none of the team remembers--"
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Jack says sharply, harshly, and when Ianto tries to grab his wrist, he pulls it back. "You've got the wrong guy, kid." The tone is sharp in a way that Ianto hadn't heard in months before this catastrophe. It makes something slick and wet get stuck in Ianto's throat. He's too tired to be rational, too tired to be sensible, and he knows that panic isn't going to get him anywhere, but, dammit, this was supposed to be his loop off.
"You have to remember, Jack, please," Ianto begs, his voice nothing more than a whisper, each word trembling more than he'd like. "Jack, please. Please remember."
Jack's eyes move to the side, almost imperceptibly, to where the team has gotten to their feet.
Ianto knows this is another failure.
"I'm sorry," he says, stepping back and away from Jack. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
He leaves quickly, even as Jack shouts after him, probably trying to figure out a way to administer a retcon pill, if not pull him in for questioning. I'm sorry, please, I'm sorry runs through Ianto's mind on repeat. He's sorry he's not smart enough, not quick enough, not important enough to fix this. He's sorry he's gotten them into this mess. He's sorry they'll be stuck like this forever, trapped in a time loop because he doesn't have the strength to discover the solution.
He lets himself think those things over and over, right up until he reaches the door of his flat. When he's inside, he presses his back against the wood and breathes in and out until his heart stops racing, until his lungs stop burning, until he no longer feels like he wants to scream and scream and scream.
Ianto looks at his watch. There are six hours left until the loop resets itself. Six hours until his next attempt to fix things.
Each loop starts with him feeling as rested and energized as he did on that first morning, but he buries himself under his duvet anyway, praying that this time, when he wakes up, Jack will be beside him and it will all have been a bad dream.
Ianto knows better than anyone why the precautions for handling unknown artifacts are in effect. He's read dozens, hundreds of reports in the archives about what happens to people who misuse or mishandle alien or future tech. He's the one who updated the protocols a year ago to make them safer. He's not the one who needed this lesson.
But the universe has a warped sense of humor and he should have known that. He should have known, when the moldy, ancient cardboard box in his arms started to crumble, that it would have been safer to let it fall and run from the room. He should have known not to try and grab anything, not with his bare hands, but his reflexes kicked in and his fingers closed around the smooth oblong object before it could hit the floor.
It started flashing immediately. He ran for his desk, still clutching it, and in the fifteen seconds it took him to reach his abandoned comm unit, the flashing stopped and the world went black.
When he woke up in his bed, he assumed he'd been knocked out and Jack had taken him home. It wasn't until he was washing his face to get ready that he noticed Jack's toothbrush and styling wax were no longer on his sink. Curiously, he wandered back into the bedroom and opened the wardrobe. Jack's clothes were missing, too.
The panic started low in his belly but built swiftly as he tore through his apartment looking for any sign of Jack. No marmalade in the fridge, where he also noticed the photo of he and Gwen that was normally clipped to the door had disappeared as well.
He didn't know what he had touched the day before, but he couldn't imagine whatever it was could be worse than his betrayal with Lisa. He couldn't imagine it was a retconable offense, especially given it was an accident.
Still, everything else was pointing that way.
In his desperation to find Jack's coffee mug, he knocked over the stainless steel canister he normally stored coffee beans in. The top fell off and beans rolled across the counter.
Except, that wasn't right. He finished the last of the whole beans yesterday. He meant to pick up more on the way home. He'd made a note of it.
He closed the cabinet and slowly picked up a handful of beans, holding them in a loose fist. On a whim, he went into the living room and turned on the television. He flipped to a morning newscast and stared in confusion as the anchors talked about a traffic accident that had definitely happened yesterday. In fact, the anchors kept saying it was Thursday. It wasn't Thursday. It was Friday. It had to be Friday.
He didn't have his ID or swipe card anymore. He didn't have his keys. But, shit, something was wrong and there was only one place Ianto knew he could go to figure out what it was.
He finished getting dressed and took off, on foot, for Torchwood.
On the fifteenth loop, Owen shoots him.
Ianto doesn't blame him, really. The fourteenth loop had been particularly bad and he hadn't quite regained his equilibrium when the fifteenth started. He needs to take more breaks, to take more loops off, especially as the numbers begin to climb, because he’s losing his tenuous grip on what he knows, wavering in his convictions of what’s real and what’s this constructed reality.
It doesn't help him in the fifteenth, though. He's shouting at Jack and Gwen, throwing everything he can think of at them while he's handcuffed to a chair, and the fact that he can get himself out of Jack's handcuffs should be enough of a sign that he's telling the truth, but they take it as a threat, of course, and Owen shoots.
Once Ianto feels the bullet, realizes what's happened, he can't help but laugh. No one asks him what's so funny, not that they would have remembered Ianto's shot at Owen even if they did.
They take him to autopsy, trying to staunch the wound, but Owen's a damn good shot and Ianto is bleeding out fast. His laughter just gets more hysterical as Owen works on him, as Gwen and Tosh try to lend a hand and Jack just watches from the stairs, his face unmoved.
Ianto always expected to die in the Hub, but not like this. As his blood soaks through gauze and bandages and Jack stares on, emotionless, Ianto almost wishes that this time, he'll stay dead.
When he got to the tourist office on that first loop, it looked grimier than he remembered. It wasn’t much better on the inside once he picked the lock and closed the door firmly behind him, but even in the murky yellow light from the dirty windows, he could see the button for the false wall was still behind the desk. He was about to push it when he remembered that he didn't have a key or a swipecard to get into the lift. He sat on the edge of the desk to wait.
Gwen arrived not long after, and Ianto had never been happier to see her.
"Gwen," he said urgently, "something's happened."
Gwen turned to him, eyebrows raised in surprise.
"Oh!" she said. "Hello. Um, do I know you?"
Ianto's stomach turned. He should have known it wouldn't be that easy.
"Yes," he said quickly. "It's me. It's Ianto. Ianto Jones. I work here, with you, for Torchwood. Have done for almost two years."
Gwen's face was carefully blank.
"I'm sorry, love, I think you've got the wrong place. I'm sure I've never met you and I don't know what Torchwood is."
Gwen was a shit liar, and Ianto could always tell when she was attempting it. She was obviously not telling the truth about Torchwood, but she really seemed to....
It didn't make sense. If Jack had just retconed him, the team would still recognize him, would still know him and the day definitely wouldn't have repeated. It had to have something to do with the artifact he touched the night before.
"Gwen, you need to listen to me," Ianto said swiftly, "I swear, I work here. I'm the archivist. My name is Ianto Jones and last night I touched something--"
The door to the tourist office banged open and Owen came inside. He stopped short when he saw Ianto.
"What's this, then? Picking up more strays, PC Cooper?" he asked.
"This is Ianto Jones," Gwen said, stepping back warily and resting her hand over her gun. "He says he works here. For 'Torchwood' if you know what that is." She looked at Owen imploringly and Owen rolled his eyes.
"Another Eugene Jones, eh? What are you, his brother? There's nothing to see here, kid. There's no such thing as aliens."
Ianto wanted to scream. He took a long breath instead.
"Owen," he said quietly, and that got Owen's attention. "Please, get Jack. I swear, I'm supposed to be here. Something went wrong. Jack will be able to fix it."
Jack could fix anything. At least, Ianto hoped.
The mid-twenties are where he cracks. He loses count around twenty-five, but it's about there that Jack tries to talk him up at the local.
He follows Jack and Owen to the pub, where Owen sits and mopes and Jack orders a pint and starts to tell stories. At first, he's just annoyed that Jack is chatting up a girl at the bar. He has to remind himself that it's not his place, that this Jack isn't betraying him because this Jack doesn't know he exists. He feels a little bit better, but nothing can fully ease the twisting in his stomach at watching Jack brush back someone else's hair, so he makes sure he's sitting on the far side of the bar, leaving Jack and the woman out of his line of sight.
Jack finds him anyway. He doesn't know how or why, he just feels a familiar weight on his shoulder and turns into it instinctively.
"I don't mean to barge in," Jack says, "but you're looking a little down. I'll trade you a drink for a smile."
Jack offers his own smile when he says it, the one that's flashy and too wide, the one he uses when he wants something from someone. The one that never works on Ianto.
"No thank you," Ianto says, lifting his glass. "I have one." He tries to turn his back, but Jack doesn't get the picture. Jack never gets the picture.
"Not even a smile?" Jack says. "That's a shame. What's keeping a gorgeous guy like you so glum?"
Ianto bites the inside of his cheek to keep from screaming.
"As it turns out, my boyfriend's an arse and my life is in shambles," he snaps. "Now if you don't mind--"
Jack holds up his hands innocently. "All you had to do was say so. But if you ask me, anyone who treats you--"
Ianto slams his hands down on the bar. He can take Jack yelling at him and interrogating him and retconing him, but he can't bloody take Jack hitting on him like he's nothing more than a one-night stand.
"Stop it!" he shouts. "Just stop. Stop with the lines and the cheesy smile. Stop... all of it!" Jack's staring at him. So is half the bar. "You're a bastard, Jack Harkness, and you don't even bloody know why, so I can't even get any enjoyment out of telling you!"
Then, because he can, because half the bar is watching, because Jack can be an arse even when he actually knows who Ianto is, because all Ianto wants is to fuck Jack and go to sleep, because it feels like it's been weeks when it's only been the same day over and over and over, Ianto empties his glass over Jack's head.
It actually feels rather good. He puts the glass back on the bar and pushes past a stunned Jack Harkness and leaves the pub. His hands are shaking and he has to stop halfway to his flat to throw up on the side of the road.
When he gets back home, he decides he needs a vacation.
They took him downstairs to Jack in handcuffs.
He expected as much--it was Torchwood protocol. But it still hurt. Tosh watched from her desk with cautious interest. Jack was nowhere to be found.
There were protocols for having your memory wiped, for dealing with the temporary amnesia of a superior, and even for time-loops, but all of those protocols required Torchwood login codes or, at the very least, a Torchwood ID. Ianto has a feeling that his codes had probably gone the way of his keys and swipecard and his teammates’ memories.
Gwen and Owen settled him in a chair in the interrogation room and cuffed him to it securely. Ianto could tell they weren’t faking; if this had been some elaborate farce, they wouldn’t have used standard handcuffs. Ianto could get out of them in three minutes flat. Jack had timed him.
He didn’t think anyone would take well to his springing himself before the interrogation, though, so he left them. Better to play this straight, to explain everything to Jack and the rest of the team and let them find a way to fix it.
He knew they were probably talking about him upstairs, on the other side of the glass, so he kept quiet. He tried not to fidget, not to look around, not to get nervous, but it was difficult. The longer he waited, the more anxious he became. He knew it was an interrogation technique, but it was a bloody good one. He wanted someone familiar, someone to hold on to, to tell him that everything was okay, that things could be fixed. He wanted Jack or Gwen to be sitting down here with him, assuring him they’d solve the case, they’d get to the bottom of it.
He couldn’t panic. He absolutely couldn’t panic.
He didn’t know how much time passed or how long it took Jack to appear at the top of the stairs, but it wasn’t until he did that Ianto realized that there was something worse than being stuck in his own interrogation room without the aid of his friends.
And that, of course, was being stuck in his own interrogation room with a friend who was looking at Ianto like he’d never seen him before in his life.
Ianto takes five consecutive vacation loops.
It’s too difficult to fly anywhere without planning or ID and after the mess of getting to the airport, getting to his destination, and getting out of the airport, he imagines he wouldn’t have much time to sight-see. Train schedules present a similar problem, so he decides to drive.
He gets up, gets dressed, and drives his car as far as he can go. He drives until he runs out of petrol. He drives until he’s past the city and deep in the countryside. He drives until he’s as alone in the world as he feels. It’s beautiful and awful. He doesn’t have to worry about refilling the car, about getting home, about getting hurt or lost. He drives paying little heed to where he’s going and stops when the grief gets to be so much that he can’t stand to be stuck in the car anymore.
Somehow, it feels more manageable to be alone with his thoughts. When he’s staring at the sunset, lying on his back on a hill, the loneliness isn’t so suffocating. Without people around, he finds he doesn’t miss connection as much as he does while stuck in the city. He’s morbidly fascinated by the idea that he could jump off a cliff and have it mean nothing in the morning. He doesn’t want to jump off a cliff, but the option is there. A million options are there, things he’s never considered, risks he’s never taken, challenges he’s been too scared to face. Even abject failure will be erased in the morning. The possibilities are endless.
Except, as soon as he starts thinking about possibilities, he starts thinking about the people he’d like to share them with. Sure, he can walk into a shop and take what he wants without paying, but to what end? He has no one to share his bounty with. Drugs, sex, thrill rides, material possessions--none of that means anything when he’s just going to lose it in a few hours, when he’s entirely alone.
So he drives as far as his car will take him and waits for nightfall. He watches the stars come out and tries not to think about Jack. He lets his stopwatch tick over to the magic number--11:53pm--and when he opens his eyes again, he’s back in bed on Thursday morning.
He goes a different direction each day. He sees the sunset from a cliff overlooking the water, from the middle of a forest, from a rolling green hill. He buys lunch from roadside stands and avoids talking to people. He tries to forget that there’s no one missing him in Cardiff because there’s no one in Cardiff who knows who he is.
On the sixth morning, he wakes up and puts on a suit. He goes to find Torchwood. He thinks, not for the first time, that it’s entirely possible he’s in hell.
Jack’s smile was affable enough when he sat down across from Ianto, but Ianto saw the steel underneath it. Nothing sent Jack’s defenses up faster than someone knowing more than he did, than being confronted with something new and foreign and possibly dangerous. It was going to be hard, but Ianto had faith. He had to.
"So," Jack said, leaning forward on his elbows. "Ianto Jones. Apparently that name is supposed to mean something to me."
It’s not his fault, it’s not his fault, it’s not his fault. Ianto hoped the mantra would remind him not to react to Jack, remind him that Jack didn’t know any better, that it wasn’t a personal slight.
It wasn’t really working.
"Yes," Ianto said, forcing a smile. "You hired me just under two years ago. I’m a survivor of Canary Wharf. I had to beg you to let me on, but once I proved my mettle you let me start doing general admin and fixing up the archives."
"Torchwood 3 hasn’t had an Archivist since 1999," Jack said.
"And that was true until you hired me. I impressed Suzie on my first day after the two of you brought me down there and I wasted no time in chewing you out for letting the archives fall into such disrepair. She said--she said she assumed you hired me because of my arse, but now that she saw I had no problem sticking it to you in other ways, I was welcome." Ianto had blushed when Suzie had said it that first day. He blushed again now, because this wasn’t his Jack and without the easy familiarity of their relationship, he once again felt like he was being hit on by a stranger.
"That’s a nice story," Jack said, scrutinizing him. "You’ve even got all the names right, so points for effort. But there’s never been a Ianto Jones employed here. There was never a Ianto Jones employed in London. The building may have burned, but we still have records. It was easy enough to check."
"That’s what I’m saying!" Ianto said quickly. "Something--Jack, I was in the archives last night, sorting through the last of the boxes in the storage room. I--I touched something. I didn’t mean to--I know the protocols. I wrote half the protocols. But it was falling and I caught it and I woke up and it was Thursday again!"
"It’s Thursday today," Jack said.
"I know!" Ianto insisted, leaning as far forward as he could. "But it was Thursday yesterday, too!"
He swallowed and sat back again. Crazy. Jack was looking at him like he was unhinged. Crazy wasn’t going to appeal to Jack, to any of them. He had to keep himself under control. He couldn’t panic.
"I’m sorry," he said quietly. "This is just a little odd."
"I’m sure it is," Jack said. "Would you like to start again? Maybe try a more believable story this time? Or maybe you could just cut the crap and tell me right now who you work for."
"I told you," Ianto said, "I work for you!"
It was going to be a long day.***
He’s long lost count of the loops. He’s up to thirty or maybe forty, as far as he can tell. He does know he’s died eight times and been retconed twelve. Each times he dies, he wakes up on Thursday morning. Same as when he passes out from the retcon.
He’s also discovered it’s not just Torchwood that’s affected. His credit cards and license are gone. All of his photos, all of his correspondence. Mrs. Taylor next door has introduced herself to him three times. The barista at his preferred coffee shop, the hostess at the Thai restaurant he frequents with Jack... no one knows him. He hasn’t tried to call Rhiannon yet, but he assumes he’d get the same reaction.
He doesn’t know what it is he touched or how to fix it. He doesn’t know how he still has his apartment, his impersonal things, when everything with his name or photo has been erased. He doesn’t know why it’s just him. He doesn’t know if he can turn it off. He doesn’t even know if the artifact will still be there if he can even get as far as the archives. So far, his three attempts to escape the cells and break for the archives have ended once in retcon and twice in death.
And then he feels completely, all-encompassingly stupid.
He blames it on the exhaustion and despair. He blames it on the way his stomach hurts when Jack and Gwen look at him with blank eyes, the way he has no one, the way he can’t even end this all, because a bullet to the brain just leaves him waking up in bed on another endless Thursday morning. He knows, logically, that he’s been under a lot of stress since this cycle started, but none of that makes him feel any less stupid.
There are eight exits and entrances to the Hub. Of those eight, there are three that do not require a swipecard, key, or fingerprint scan. One is the invisible lift, which is obviously out. One is a tunnel leading to Jack’s rooms under his office--also out.
But one, oh god, one of them leads straight into the sub-basements.
It starts in a storage warehouse that was used by Torchwood One and twists and turns for a mile before ending in the deep recesses of the Hub. It’s how he got Lisa into the complex in the first place, and he can’t believe it’s taken him this long to remember it. After the disaster with Lisa, they installed a security door, but, theoretically, if there was no Ianto in this world, there was no disaster with Lisa.
He has to try it. It’s the best chance he’s had so far.
He drives to the warehouse, wishing his sidearm wasn’t another casualty of whatever technology is manipulating this reality. Instead, he arms himself with a crowbar once he arrives and hesitantly tries the door to the tunnel.
It opens easily. Step one.
In his haste, he hadn’t remembered a proper torch, but he likes to think of himself as always prepared. There’s a penlight in his pocket that casts just enough light for him to see his next step and he keeps it aimed steadily at the ground as he wanders through underground Cardiff. The dark and silence give him too much time to think. He hadn’t realized how much of his life is tied up in other people until this started. He kept a close circle--there was the team, of course, and an occasional drink with Rhys and his friends or dinner with his sister and her family, but that was it. His entire life revolved around seven or eight other people and, really, a disproportionate amount of his time belonged to only two of them.
If someone had told him he’d be stuck in this predicament, he thinks he may have assumed it would be easy. For the months before Lisa was discovered, he kept to himself. For the weeks between Lisa’s death and Jack’s disappearance, he still kept the world at arm’s length. It’s really only been a few months that he’s had these connections--less than a year that he’s had Jack and Gwen and all the complications that come with relationships and friendships.
He supposes he got used to the companionship faster than he anticipated.
The further he walks, the more unsettled he gets. He hasn’t been noticeably aging. When he wakes up each Thursday morning, his stubble is exactly the same, the scratch on his arm is still only half healed, the old lovebite on his clavicle is still the same shade. If he doesn’t figure out a way to fix this, he doesn’t know how long he’ll be stuck this way. Until the end of time, quite possibly, if time can ever end in this constant loop.
His head hurts and his hands shake just thinking about it.
Ianto’s heart begins to beat faster when he finally spies the end of the tunnel in the distance. His footsteps are quicker and more sure. He’s walked this route before, dozens of times, and now he knows where he is. He’s close, he’s so close, and that’s definitely not a security door ahead of him.
He listens at the door for any noise, but, as expected, there’s nothing but silence and the clanks and hisses of the Hub. The only thing down this far is the archives, and without an Archivist, he can’t imagine anyone spends their time in the basements.
He brought his lock-picking tools, but he doesn’t even need them. The door swings open and Ianto spends a moment just staring into the hallway. He can hardly believe it. He knows he has to move quickly; the CCTV in the basements is spotty, but it’s still there and he runs the risk of being discovered at any moment.
He takes a deep breath and takes off for the archives at a run.
The artifact had been in a cardboard box, one of many that had piled up between 1999 when the last Archivist died and 2006 when he was hired. He’d been sorting through them for months, moving them to a storage room off of the main archives so he could turn his attention on straightening what was already in order in preparation to add the rest.
He pushes open the door to the archives--and thank god it hadn’t been in the secure archives, there was no way he could get in there without a card or a key--and freezes.
"Fuck!" he shouts.
Boxes. Dozens and dozens of them, only vaguely labeled. He had forgotten just how bad the archives were when he started, and now they seem even worse.
He lets the door close behind him and closes his eyes, forcing himself to remember what the box looked like. It was old. Nearly falling apart. Greyish, rather than brown. He opens his eyes again and begins to tear through the boxes, looking for one of them, any of them that looks familiar. He leaves the crowbar on the floor, hoping it will be enough to destroy the device. He’s close, he’s so fucking close!
He doesn’t hear the door open behind him. No, that’s not right, he does hear it, but he’s too intent on his task to care. If he can just get his hands on the bloody thing he can destroy it or turn it off or something. He can turn around and present it as proof. Here. See. Look! This is what I’m talking about. This is who I am. You need to help me.
"Stop where you are!" Jack’s voice is booming and furious. Ianto can’t help but flinch, but he doesn’t stop looking.
"If I find it you’ll understand!" Ianto shouts. "This will stop!"
"I don’t know who the fuck you are, but if you don’t stop what you’re doing, I will shoot you!" Jack shouts back.
"Because you don’t remember! God, Jack, if you remembered... I can make you remember, I can fix it, I just need to--"
Arms around his midsection, pulling him away from the mountain of boxes, just as he catches a glimpse of one that’s greyer than the others. He lunges for it, but he’s yanked back, violently, and ends up on his back staring up at Owen.
"Where the fuck did you come from?" Owen asks, pointing a gun at Ianto’s head.
"Owen, shit, you need to trust me! I’m your--your friend, sort of. Just get that box, just bring it over and I can prove it to you!"
"You’re not getting anything but a nice stay in our cells," Jack says, marching over and grabbing one of Ianto’s arms roughly, pulling him to his feet. He nearly yanks the arm right out of its socket and Ianto has to swallow back tears. It hurts. In more ways than one.
Gwen runs over holding a pair of handcuffs and Ianto can’t help himself. He pulls away from Jack, twists out of his grip and grabs Gwen by her shoulders.
"Gwen, please, please, I know you’re in there! I know I’m in there, and you have to help me, you have to--"
He should be used to the feeling of getting shot, but it surprises him every time.
Jack, this time, he sees as he crumbles to the ground, his eyes passing over Jack with his gun drawn as they roll into the back of his head.
"...knew my name..."
He tries to open his eyes, to protest, to explain, but the fight’s gone out of him.
He breathes out deeply and lets himself die.
Jack didn’t interrogate him for much more than an hour. He didn’t need to. Ianto repeated the same story over and over again, until his throat was sore and he could feel a headache blooming behind his eyes. After an hour, Jack stood up.
"We’re done for now," Jack said. "I’ll be back later. I know you’re holding back."
"Brilliant," Ianto croaked. Jack stared at him for another moment, and then retreated back up the stairs and out of the room.
Ianto slumped forward and rested his head on the table.
Jack wasn’t entirely off the mark. Ianto was holding back. He was holding back a few key things as bargaining chips. The entire time he’d been explaining himself, Ianto had stuck to that--himself. He’d shared stories about his interactions with the team, explained how he worked with each of them, but he’d never told them about themselves. He hadn’t talked about Gwen’s friends, her favorite books, her favorite films. He hadn’t shared the few stories that Jack had told him about his home planet, his childhood, his travels with the Doctor.
He hadn’t mentioned Jack’s immortality.
He knew from experience that the fastest way to put someone on the defensive in a conversation was to tell them things about themselves you couldn’t possibly know. He didn’t want a room filled with people with guns who suddenly looked at him as some kind of threat--well, more of a threat. But he was getting desperate. It was getting later and later, and he didn’t know at what point this switch might become permanent.
The cool metal of the table was soothing his headache, though his throat still burned. This was supposed to be easy. It was supposed to be fixed by now. By lunchtime, he had hoped things would be back to normal. He imagined taking a long lunch with Jack, imagined how thrilled Jack would be that Ianto was breaking his usual touching-during-office-hours rule. He planned on spending the rest of the afternoon working next to Gwen, listening to stories about Rhys and Rhys’ ridiculous friends, maybe making plans to have a drink to unwind after the day from hell.
But the day from hell was still going on. His wrists chafed from the handcuffs. His back was sore from the metal chair. He just wanted someone to bloody listen to him for five seconds.
The door to the interrogation room opened and Gwen appeared at the top of the stairs, carrying a tray of sandwiches and water bottles. She gave him the bright, fake smile that she gave to strangers and victims and Ianto reluctantly pulled his head off of the table and sat up.
"Hello there, Mr. Jones," Gwen said with false cheer. "I thought you might like some lunch."
Ianto didn’t think he could eat without vomiting, but the water was welcome.
"I’m not very hungry, thanks," he said. "But water would be lovely."
Gwen flashed him that vague smile again and screwed the top off of one of the bottles of water before sliding it across the table to him. "There’s more if you want it," she said. "You’ve been talking for a bit and it looked like you needed it."
Ianto smiled gratefully, not a real smile, not that this Gwen would notice. He drank half the bottle in nearly one gulp and then replaced it on the table, closing his eyes.
"It’s okay if you’re confused," Gwen said. Ianto held back a groan. Of course this Gwen was going to care him to death. His own Gwen did that even knowing how much he hated it. "We’ve all been watching, and you’re obviously tired. You don’t have to worry about it, sweetheart, honestly. Just tell Jack what he wants to know and we’ll protect you."
He flinched at "sweetheart." He couldn’t help it. Gwen used pet names for everyone--sweetheart, love, pet, darling--but she really hadn’t started with him until their friendship began to bloom. He knew it was just filler for her, that it didn’t necessarily mean anything significant, but... well, it meant something to him.
It meant a lot to him.
"Gwen," he said quietly, brokenly, "I swear on my life that I’m telling the truth. Gwen, I know you. You’re my best friend. You and Rhys, you had a fight right before he proposed. There was a sum of money missing from the joint account that you had agreed would be a nest egg. You wanted to know what he thought was so important that he could subtract it from your future. He wouldn’t tell you and the two of you shouted at each other until he admitted it was for a ring. He showed you the ring and you felt like a prat and started to cry."
Gwen stared at him, her eyes wide, her mouth hanging open. "How do you--how could you know that?" she whispered. "I didn’t tell anyone that."
"You told me," Ianto said. "Jack had fucked off with the Doctor and someone reminded me of him or someone said something to me or I found something in the archives... I don’t remember what it was, but I was miserable, so you brought a bottle of wine down to my office at five o’clock and you told me. We stayed down there all night. Tosh found us asleep on the couch in the morning. She thought we slept together. Even though we told her otherwise I think... I think a part of her still believes it."
Ianto wanted to wipe the tears from his eyes, but that would mean breaking eye contact with Gwen and he was sure he was getting through to her. He had to be.
"You... oh christ, um, you take your coffee with cream and two sugars and your favorite type of scone is cinnamon. Rhys does all the cooking because you burn water, and even though you always offer to cook, he got a really nice set of pots from your parents for Christmas last year, so he always finds excuses not to teach you. You took in Emma-Louise Cowell last year at Christmas and you hated seeing her go because there was finally someone who understood Torchwood and understood your real life, but neither of those things were enough for her to stay and you wonder sometimes why they’re enough for you. The first time Rhys’ mum ever met you, she said you were dressed like a tramp. When Rhys introduced you as his girlfriend, she said you were still dressed like a tramp, but at least you were better than the last one. You didn’t understand it because you were wearing nice trousers and a blouse, but Rhys said his mum said that about all his girlfriends and you felt marginally better, but you still think she hates you."
Gwen got to her feet, pushing her chair backwards as she did so. Ianto winced at the whine of metal on concrete.
"You can’t know those things!" Gwen said, backing away. "How do you know those things? Who are you?"
"I’m Ianto!" he shouted. "I’m the closest thing you have to a brother! I’m the one you invite over for tea and introduced to Rhys! Gwen, how can I know all this if I’m not telling the truth? Please, believe me, remember me! Just go look for that artifact and you’ll know this is all real! Please!"
Gwen turned and fled, taking the stairs two at a time and leaving the tray of sandwiches and water behind her.
It feels like it’s been months. It may have been.
He tries to spend a week of Thursdays in bed, but it’s no good. Every time he falls asleep, he wakes up to a new Thursday, even if he just wants a nap. He figures that whatever is rolling this loop back to the start must be linked to his consciousness, but he doesn’t know what to do with that information, other than add it to the mental list of pointless things he’s learned about his predicament.
He gets shouted at. He gets shot at. He gets stunned. He gets as far as the archives twice more, but he never gets to the actual artifact. He tries cornering Tosh at her flat and gets stunned for his trouble. He does the same to Owen and gets his jaw broken by the butt of Owen’s gun. Jack is kinder--he ignores him or retcons him and only hits him once. Gwen pretends, over and over again, that she doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Every time he hears that faux-innocent tone in her voice, he wants to scream or sob. Once or twice he does.
He wakes up on more Thursdays.
He spends a day wandering through Cardiff. No, he spends many days wandering through Cardiff, but this particular time he doesn’t have a destination in mind. He isn’t looking for his team or comparing the differences or trying to find someone who remembers him. He walks out his front door and just... wanders.
He stops to eat at places he’s never stopped before, not paying attention, just passing time. He’s not thinking about the artifact or solving this mess or seeing his friends again. He’s not doing much of anything but staring and moving and breathing.
Still, he’s tied to the city, to people in the city, no matter how broken those ties are at the moment. He’s not entirely surprised when he ends up across the street from Gwen’s flat.
Gwen and Rhys are standing on the stoop, chatting amicably. As the last car clears from the street between them, their voices carry over to Ianto.
"...out with the boys, yeah?" Rhys says.
"Brilliant," Gwen says. "I’m exhausted. I’m going to heat up the curry from last night and go straight to bed."
"I’ll try not to wake you when I come in, then," Rhys says. "I reckon we’ll be back pretty late. Have a good night. Love you."
"Love you too," Gwen says. They kiss. "Don’t let Daf drink too much, yeah? You know how he gets."
"I won’t," Rhys promises. "See you in the morning."
Rhys goes down the road. Gwen goes up the stairs. Ianto sits on a bench and waits.
He’s been living in his own head for what could very well be months. He’s had no outlet. He’s had no one. And suddenly, all Ianto wants to do is talk. He’s tried talking while Gwen was awake. He’s going to try while she’s asleep. He doesn’t expect her to listen or reply, but he just wants it out and maybe this way he can pretend everything is normal.
Normal in a slightly creepy way, but it’s hardly the worst thing he’s resorted to since this started.
He keeps one eye on his watch, slowly counting down to 11:53. When it gets to 10:53, he gets up and crosses the street. He makes short work of the lock on the front door to Gwen’s building and his feet take him to the door of her flat like it’s second nature. He puts his ear to the door and listens. The inside of the flat seems silent and there’s no light peeking through the bottom crack. He knocks, just to be safe, already planning a story about just having moved in, can I please borrow a saucepan?, but there’s no answer, so he picks the lock to her flat as well, slipping inside and making sure to lock the door behind him.
The flat is silent and bathed in the dim glow from the light over the stove. He picks his way soundlessly across the floor and pushes open the door to Gwen’s bedroom.
There’s a bluish light blinking where her mobile is plugged in to charge and it’s enough for Ianto to make his away across the floor and sit on the chair next to the bed. He just sits at first, once again staring into space.
"I feel like I’ve lost my mind," he whispers. He watches Gwen, and when she doesn’t move, he continues, his voice still low. "Weeks, months of the same bloody day, but worse than that is being alone. Not just without you and Jack and Tosh and Owen, but without... anyone. When I first moved to London, I didn’t know anyone, but I saw the same people every day and after a bit there was that... recognition. There’s no recognition here. There’s nothing." He closes his eyes and breathes deeply. "I’m afraid, some days, that I really am hallucinating. That I need to be locked up or... medicated or something. I’m afraid that I’ve made you up, made Jack up, that it’s all an epic delusion."
Gwen doesn’t have any answers, of course. She continues to sleep, oblivious to Ianto’s turmoil, and it’s probably for the best.
"But even if they are delusions, even if I’ve just made all these memories up, I’m afraid of losing them. I’m afraid of losing Jack. I’m afraid of losing you. For all the tragedy, all the shit I’ve lived through working for Torchwood, some of the greatest moments of my life have come out of it, too. You’re the best friend I’ve ever had, Gwen. I’ve told you things I’ve never told anyone else, not Lisa, not even Jack. I remember telling you about my mum and dad, showing you pictures of Rhiannon’s kids. I remember dancing with you at your wedding and the way Jack stalked us across the dance floor with his eyes. How we put on a show for him because he was being such an arse that day. I remember how we volunteered to do the late shift on Halloween and scared the pants off of those hoodies on the Plass by going up on the invisible lift at midnight and throwing pebbles at them." He sighs, hanging his head. "Even if they are false memories, even if I’m just crazy, I can’t imagine real life being any better."
Gwen exhales slowly and rolls over. Ianto freezes, holding his breath. He quietly gets to his feet, ready to duck out into the living room when Gwen murmurs, sleepily, "Ianto?"
Ianto’s jaw drops.
"Ianto, what are you...." Gwen sits up, rubbing her eyes, and starts to smile at him. When she actually sees him, however, she frowns. "Wait... who are you?"
"Gwen, you know who I am," Ianto says softly, believing it, really believing it for the first time.
"No..." Gwen says, but she looks confused, like she’s not quite sure what she knows.
"Yes," Ianto says, "yes, you do. I’m Ianto. Gwen, you know me. You were just talking to me."
He walks towards the bed, his hands shaking. Now he does think he’s dreaming, thinks that this is a hallucination because there’s no way he’s found a solution, there’s no way out of this trap, but if he’s stuck, at least now he has hope, a glimmer of hope.
"No, I... I..." Gwen stutters.
"I’m Ianto," he whispers. "Gwen, my name is Ianto Jones. I’m your friend, your co-worker. I’m your best friend, Gwen. When Jack left, we... we got closer. We confided in each other. We still confide in each other." He grasps her forearms in his hands and, miraculously, she doesn’t pull away. "You... you think of me as a brother. As the little brother you never had. You told me that a few weeks ago."
"There was a call..." Gwen says vaguely, her eyes glazing over. "A UFO sighting. Jack took Tosh and Owen."
"Yes!" Ianto exclaims. "We... we stayed up all night, waiting for the others to get back. And you told me you always wanted a little brother, your whole life, and that's how you felt when you were with me, like I connected with this part of you that was always just waiting for a chance to be a big sister." His fingers must be bruising her arms, now, but he keeps talking, desperate to chase that spark of recognition. "And I told you that you were the first person that I'd loved since Lisa, that when Jack was gone and it was just the four of us and I only had you--that you were the first person that I let myself need, even before I admitted that I needed Jack--"
"I was the first person to love you as much as you loved me," Gwen says, eyes wide and seeing him for what feels like the first time in years. "Oh, Ianto, how could I forget?"
He's almost sick with relief, frozen in the moment of Gwen's recognition. It has to be a trick, she can't actually remember him, she can't--
It hits him all at once and he throws his arms around her, pulls her close and lets his head drop to her shoulder, where he finally lets himself sob. He clutches her like a lifeline, like he's drowning, and chokes on his tears and her hair and the words that are trying to tumble out mixed with his cries and hiccups. Gwen's crying too, crying and still comforting him, letting him hold onto her and brushing a hand through his hair and down his back.
"How could I forget?" she whispers over and over through her own sobs. "How could I ever forget?"
He doesn't respond. He can't. He just holds her, clings to her, and cries.
It’s the beeping on his watch that interrupts him. It’s his 11:45 beep. It takes him a moment to place it, and when he does, he pushes her away.
"No, no, no!" he shouts. Gwen cries harder. "No!" he says more gently. "Not you. It’s just... Gwen, listen to what I tell you, please listen and remember. We’re in some sort of time loop. I’m in some sort of time loop. It resets itself every night at 11:53 and that’s less than ten minutes away, so you need to listen."
Gwen nods, eyes wide even as she continues to cry. He can’t fault her--he’s crying too.
"I touched something in the archives," he tells her. "I don’t know what, but I’ve been reliving this day over ever since and you’re the first person to recognize me, to remember me. Jack, the others... no one believes me. I end every day dead or in the cells or retconed. There’s no... trace of me. Nothing in the Torchwood systems. My bank card and license are gone. There’s nothing!" He scrambles out of Gwen’s bedroom and into the living room, going for the bookcase. He hears her behind him and grabs her wedding album off of the shelf and opens it, flipping through the pages. "See?" he says, holding it out to the place where there was normally a picture of the two of them at the reception. "Everything’s gone. Everything that makes me me."
Gwen grabs the album to see for herself, flipping back and forth, looking at the other photos and frowning.
"That doesn’t make any sense!" she says.
"It’s Torchwood!" Ianto says. "Nothing makes any bloody sense. Gwen, I’ve been... it’s been weeks. Months. And this is the first...." He covers his face with his hands and takes a deep breath, trying to get his thoughts in order. At the start, he had a speech prepared, a list of things he’d tell everyone as soon as they recognized him. It’s been so long since he thought he’d need them that the words have dissolved into smoke in his brain. He grasps at the tendrils but it’s no use--he’s sure he’s going to leave something out.
Gwen, meanwhile, is thrashing back into her bedroom, reappearing moments later with her mobile. She flicks through the display, her frown deepening.
"The photos from my mobile are gone... and your number!" she says. "How do we stop it?"
Ianto runs his hands roughly through his hair. "I don’t know," he says. "If we could just get to the artifact and destroy it... it has to reverse it, right?"
"Where is it?" Gwen asks.
"At Torchwood, which is the problem," he says. "I haven’t been able to get inside to get it and we don’t have time now, not before the day resets."
"Then we’ll get it tomorrow," Gwen says. "Surely they’ll believe me if I tell them who you are."
"I doubt it," Ianto says. "But that’s not what I’m concerned about. I’m afraid... Gwen, what if the day resets and you don’t know who I am anymore?"
They stand in Gwen’s living room, staring at each other. Gwen doesn’t have a solution. Ianto didn’t think she would. He wants to cry all over again.
"I won’t forget," Gwen whispers fiercely. "I won’t let myself."
She crosses the space between them and wraps her arms around him. He does the same.
"I love you, Ianto Jones. I won’t forget it. I can’t," she says.
"I love you, too," Ianto replies. He buries his face his her hair and closes his eyes.
He holds her and waits for the clock to turn to 11:53.
It only took Jack a few minutes to return after Gwen ran off. His face was stony and set and he sat down in front of Ianto without preamble.
"Gwen just told me a pretty interesting story about you knowing things about her," Jack said. "Things she hadn’t told anyone before."
"She has told someone," Ianto said without taking his head off the table. "She’s told me. That’s what I’m trying to explain--I’m supposed to be here and I’m not and I don’t know why. I was someone to all of you. I was Tosh and Owen’s coworker, I was Gwen’s best friend, I was your...." He trailed off, lifting his head up to meet Jack’s eyes. "Jack. I’m so bloody tired of this. I don’t know what to say to convince you. I worked here. I worked with you. And you and I... you told me, last Christmas, that the place where you come from, they have a holiday like Christmas. A festival of light during the darkest months. You told me that instead of exchanging gifts, they exchange... I can’t remember the word. There’s no English translation, you said. You said the closest would be to say ‘good deeds.’ You do something nice for someone you love with no expectation of reciprocation. You replaced my leaky washing machine. You did it yourself, while I was out visiting my sister, and I didn’t know what to say."
He couldn’t read Jack’s expression.
"Who told you those things?" Jack said, voice low and dangerous.
"That’s what I’m saying," Ianto said, letting his head fall back to the table, too tired to continue. "You told me. You told me that and a million other things. I know, before you traveled with Martha, you traveled with the Doctor and a girl called Rose. I know it’s their fault that you’re the way you are--that you can’t die. I know that no matter how much you hate being this way, how much you wish you could take it back, you can’t hate them for it. Because you love them. And because of them, you’ve had a chance to see and meet and love dozens of people that you wouldn’t have known otherwise." He looked up again, hoping for anything, any hint of acknowledgment in Jack’s eyes. "I know because you told me all of that and you told me all of that because I’m one of them."
Jack’s eyes were shuttered, but he was licking his lips thoughtfully and that gave Ianto a flicker of hope, just the smallest flash that maybe Jack was ready to listen, even if he didn’t quite believe or remember yet. Jack frowned pensively and pushed a bottle of water across the table to him.
"What else do you know?" Jack asked.
Ianto blinked. "Um. I don’t know. I know...." He gave a humorless laugh and then took a long drink of water. "I know everything," he said wryly. "What do you want to hear?"
"What do you know about Torchwood?" Jack asks. "About the Doctor?"
"Um... I know Torchwood was founded by Queen Victoria to protect Britain against the Doctor and other aliens. I know that she got it wrong--the Doctor comes to Earth to help, when he comes at all, and we should be aligned with him, not opposed to him. I know stories you’ve told about him--about traveling to London in World War II, about...." Ianto was overtaken by a dizzy spell. The world spun for a moment before righting itself. "S-sorry, I don’t know what’s--" More dizziness. And he was tired--he was so tired, why was he suddenly--
It hit him all at once. The bottle of water. The guarded expression.
"You bastard," he slurred, pulling uselessly on his handcuffs, fighting the fast acting sedative that he knew was in the quick-dissolve retcon pills. It probably didn’t help that he hadn’t eaten that morning. "You can’t wipe my memory, Jack! You can’t make me forget. Someone has to remember!"
Jack got to his feet, leaning on the table on both hands. "I don’t know who you are, Mr. Jones, or why you’re here, but anyone who knows that much about us is a threat."
"I’m not a threat!" Ianto insisted, even as his eyelids became heavy. "Jack, you can’t do this, you have to listen! Someone has to remember! I’m the only one who remembers!"
"Not for much longer," Jack said.
He climbed the stairs. It was the last thing Ianto saw before he passed out.***
Ianto sits straight up in bed. He spends a moment in wide-eyed amazement that he got to Gwen, and then springs off the mattress and over to the wardrobe. He dresses as quickly as possible, grabs the keys to his flat, and runs out without bothering to lock the door behind him. He wants to run all the way to Gwen’s, but he’s afraid to get his hopes up. If she doesn’t remember him, he’ll just be a panting, sweaty stranger on her doorstep. She might be quicker to call the police.
He taps his fingers against his hip at every crosswalk. He forces himself not to elbow past other people on the pavement. He takes his time despite his racing heart, and when he gets to Gwen’s front door, he stops.
His finger is shaking as he presses the buzzer.
"Gwen?" he asks. "It’s... it’s...."
"Ianto!" Gwen’s voice is staticky over the speaker, but there’s no mistaking his name. The door buzzes open and Ianto nearly yanks it off its hinges in his haste to get up the stairs and to Gwen’s flat. Gwen’s waiting for him on the landing with another hug, which he gratefully accepts.
"You remember," he says, his voice hoarse, and she just hugs him more tightly.
"You’re still not in my wedding photos," she says when she pulls away and ushers him into her flat. "And this morning, at breakfast, I asked Rhys about you. He had no idea who you were. Thought I was mad. Almost as mad as I thought he was when he asked me the same questions about my mum’s travel plans that he asked me yesterday."
"Welcome to the past few months of my life," he says darkly. He sits on her sofa, twisting his fingers together, resisting the urge to hold on to Gwen’s hand, to not let her out of his sight. She’s his only connection to the world. He can’t let anyone take her away.
"It’s so weird," she says. "It’s like... I remember not knowing you yesterday. And I sort of remember two versions of all the events in my life since joining Torchwood. But before yesterday, you had always been there. I mean, I very clearly remember yesterday happening and not missing you at all, but I also remember the day before yesterday, when Owen shot a rubber band at you and you dropped your Chinese food on his lap. Does that make any sense?"
"No," he admits. "But I really don’t care. You know me now. You know I belong. It’s more than I’ve had since this started."
"What have you been doing?" Gwen asks. "How have you been coping?"
Ianto closes his eyes and swallows back the wave of despair that’s been building up since the beginning. "First things first," Ianto says. "Let’s sort this mess. I promise you, when we’re not stuck in this time loop, I will tell you whatever you want to know. But I need to get through this before I let myself be hysterical."
Gwen sits next to him and, as if reading his mind, takes his hand in hers and weaves their fingers together. "We need to find a way out of this, a way to fix it, then," she says. "You said the artifact was in the archives."
"Physically, it is in the place where the archives should be," Ianto says, opening his eyes "I’m guessing you didn’t go down there yesterday. Without an archivist, it’s a wreck. There are boxes everywhere. Nothing is in order. It’s in one of the boxes in the room. I think I know which one."
"Would you be able to tell me which box it is?" Gwen asks. "I could go in to work like normal, find it, break it, and, in theory, everything will be okay."
"Erm, it’s not really labelled," Ianto admits. "I know sort of what color it is. And there are a lot of boxes." He sighs. "There’s no way you can get me in with the rest of the team in the Hub. Especially all the way down to the archives."
Gwen chews her lip thoughtfully. "What if... what if the rest of the team wasn’t in the Hub?" she asks.
"I need a swipe card to get into the Hub," Ianto says. "Barring that, I need someone inside to let me in."
"What if I can get the others out and stay in, is what I mean," Gwen says. "What if I... what if I call Jack right now and tell him... I don’t know, the toilet’s leaking. The car’s got a flat. I’ll be in late. Then, you call the police and tell them you’ve spotted a weevil."
Ianto smiles slowly.
"Two weevils," he says. "Two weevils, Jack will want all three of them in the field. We’ll have as long as it takes them to realize it’s a hoax to get to the artifact."
"Exactly!" Gwen says. "I’ll call in now. You can call the police once we’re on our way to the Hub and we should arrive just after they leave."
Ianto paces Gwen’s living room as she makes the first call. He’s filled with nervous energy, with disbelief. For the first time in too many loops to count, he has actual, honest faith that things will be back to normal soon. He has Gwen on his side, and even if this plan fails, it just proves that he can be remembered, that he is there in their subconscious. He’s not alone anymore. He can do this.
They walk from Gwen’s flat to the Plass, taking the more backwards and out of the way routes. Halfway there, Ianto ducks into a coffee shop and calls the police on his mobile, babbling about a pair of wild animals that could walk upright, like people, and had razor sharp teeth. He gives them an out of the way address and hangs up before the operator can give him further instructions. He hopes that’s enough for Tosh’s police tracking software and then joins Gwen back on the street. They continue their journey towards the Hub and, right on time, Gwen’s mobile rings.
"Hello, Jack," she says. "I’m just--oh, two weevils? No, certainly. I’ll head straight to the Hub when I’m done here and watch over things. You go on ahead."
She hangs up and gives Ianto a thumbs up. That’s all he needs. He’s sprinting across the street with Gwen on his heels.
Gwen unlocks the door to the tourist office and swipes them into the lift. She holds up a hand to have him wait in the hall as she opens the cogwheel door, but the atrium of the Hub is empty.
"Come on," she says. "We haven’t got much time."
From there, it’s a mad dash down to the archives. Ianto throws the door open and almost laughs when Gwen gasps at the mess.
"Do you see, now, why you need me?" he asks. She laughs and hugs him from behind.
"You never need to tell me why I need you, sweetheart," she says. His throat constricts. This ‘sweetheart’ feels genuinely affectionate; it’s more than just filler. He lets her hang on for another moment, just so he can memorize the feeling of another person pressed up against him. He never wants to forget it again.
"Come on," he says finally, his voice a little thicker than he’d like, "let’s get moving."
He pushes through the boxes, digging further back into the room until he sees the one he’s looking for. His heart is in his throat as he wrestles it out of place and pulls it open, going through the contents until... well, he hits the bottom of the box.
"Fuck," he whispers. "It’s not here. It’s not--" He takes a closer look at the items he pulled out and then at the box itself. While the box is the same greyish color, it’s not quite as old as the other box was. Similarly, the things he pulled out of this box are not the things that had been stored in the other. "This isn’t it," he says to Gwen quickly. "But it’s this color and it’s... it’s older than this, it’s falling apart some, it has to be in here."
Gwen nods and dives into the pile of boxes, shifting through and occasionally glancing over at the box he just emptied to check the color against it.
"What does the artifact itself look like?" she asks.
"Oblong," he says. "About the size of a loaf of bread. Shiny metal. There were lights on it and they started flashing when I touched it. There was a button on the side that I depressed when I caught it."
He tears through the piles, kicks entire boxes out of the way. He doesn’t care. This will all reset, hopefully, it doesn’t matter, as long as he can get his hands on--
"Ianto!" Gwen calls. "I’ve got it!"
He turns to confirm it’s the correct item, but before he can open his mouth, the door slams open. Jack, Tosh, and Owen stand on the other side, guns drawn.
"Both of you stay where you are!"Jack shouts. Ianto raises his hands defensively. Gwen does as well, but she’s still holding the source of the problem. Thank god. "Gwen, what the hell are you doing?"
"We need to destroy this, Jack," Gwen says. "We need to... stop it or something. It’s done something to us. It’s messed with our minds. It’s made us forget Ianto."
"Who the hell is Ianto?" Owen asks.
"I am!" Ianto says. "I’m your bloody coworker and I will be again, I promise, if you just--"
Jack takes a step closer and all three of them level their guns at Ianto. Ianto does not want to be shot. Not again. Not when he’s so close.
"I swear to you, Jack Harkness," Gwen says, "you know this man. You love this man, Jack! And it’s because of this... thing that you don’t even remember him! He’s our friend! He’s our teammate! He belongs here! I swear, Jack, it’s the truth."
"Gwen," Jack says, his voice sharp enough to cut straight to Ianto's heart, "get away from him. I don't know what he's told you, but it can't be true." Tosh lowers her gun and pulls out one of her modified PDAs. He wants to tell her that it’s useless, that he won’t be in the system, but there are still two guns aimed at him.
"It is true!" Gwen insists. "Jack, it's Ianto. I remember now, you need to remember too. He's not going to hurt us. We need to fix this for him. We need to get things back to normal!"
Two guns are aimed at Ianto’s head, but he's almost become desensitized to it at this point. He's been shot a dozen times, retconed more, and he remembers every horrible second of every one of his team's unknowing betrayals. At least he has Gwen on his side now. It's better than he's ever had it before.
"Gwen, there's nothing in the computer records about him," Tosh says, looking up from her PDA and shoving it back into her pocket, swapping it for her sidearm. She's trying to be calm, but he can hear the nervous waver in her voice. He wishes it was uncertainty, wishes that Tosh was doubting herself, but no. He's heard it too many times. He knows she's nervous about a madman in the Hub, about someone bypassing her systems, about Gwen being in danger. Never for him. She doesn't know him from a stranger on the street. It almost doesn't hurt anymore.
"That's because whatever this is has messed with... with everything! But he's real, Tosh. He's one of us. We know him, I promise you, and if I just destroy this, you'll remember too, I swear!"
"Don't touch it, Gwen!" Jack barks. "Don't listen to him!"
"If he's not real, how did he know it was here?" Gwen asks desperately. That's never worked when Ianto has posited it, but then, Gwen is someone they know. "If he's lying, how did he know exactly where it was, exactly what it was doing? Jack, you have to remember."
"It's a trick, Gwen," Jack insists, but for the first time, doubt flickers across his features.
Ianto's heart soars.
He doesn't want to get ahead of himself, doesn't want to let himself hope, but that's his head talking and his heart has other ideas as it starts to beat wildly in his chest.
"Jack," he says softly, and it seems like all other noise abruptly stops. Everyone looks at him. "The night we met, I was dressed like a rent boy and you were fighting a weevil. I hit it on the head with a branch to stop it from mauling you. I wanted to get your attention, but for once in your life you thought with your brain and not your dick and you ignored me." There's a snort from Owen, but for the first time, no one interrupts him. Jack has him pinned with a calculating look, but he's not shooting, so Ianto continues, soft and quiet. "After the cannibals in the Brecon Beacons, I cornered you in my kitchen, but you told me I was stoned and scared and it was a bad idea. When I did it the next morning, you said--"
"'Third time's the charm,'" Jack says quietly. Gwen sobs softly next to him, but Ianto's eyes don't leave Jack. Jack's gun doesn’t move.
"When you came back from traveling with the Doctor, you took me to Café Céline. After dinner, Anton came over to the table and shook my hand and told me that I was the first person in as long as he'd known you who'd gotten the Capitaine to make a reservation in advance and sit still for an entire meal. He told me I was always welcome and that he supposed I could bring you along as well if I liked." Jack laughs and Ianto takes that as a sign, lowering his hands slowly and taking a hesitant step towards him.
"You used to leave my flat in the middle of the night if you woke up and got restless, but at one point something--I don't know, something changed and you started staying and working in the living room or--" A sound bubbles up in his throat and he's not sure if it's a laugh or a sob. "Or you'd rearrange my bloody cabinets even though I hated it and threatened you every time. Except I didn't really hate it, not as much as I pretended, because it meant you were getting--comfortable in my flat. And I would never admit it, but that meant something. It meant something to me." He swallows another wet noise, and this time, he knows it’s a sob. He blinks the tears out of his eyes.
"Jack, please. You need to remember. We were stuck in a Creckial holding cell on a ship for five hours once and played the Alphabet Game ten times through and you kept using all these alien words, so it turned into another game, where I tried to guess what was real and what you made up. When Owen and Gwen found us, we couldn't stop laughing and they thought the Creckials had done something to us to get us that hysterical. Gwen--Gwen's walked in on us twice, once at my flat and once here, in the hothouse and both times you invited her to join us even though I've told you a dozen times that even kissing Gwen would be like kissing my sister." There's something like familiarity in Jack's eyes, and Ianto is talking faster, tripping over his words in his haste to lock onto it. "A week ago, we were staking out that church. We spent all day in the SUV watching the cars go by. I timed the distance between them and counted the blue cars and the black cars and it was boring, but it was nice. I told you about my first car and you told me about the first ship you ever piloted, the first time you earned 'Captain.' And you said, 'I bet you'd like to see the stars, Ianto Jones,' and I said I didn't think it would happen in my lifetime and you said you had some favors you could call in, still, and I... I told you I wasn't leaving you down on Earth to get into trouble on your own. You said... you said you didn't intend to leave me before you had to."
"Ianto," Jack whispers, and something breaks inside of Ianto. The relief is so heavy his knees give way, but it doesn't matter because Jack is holding him, gun holstered, and Ianto's not the only one crying. "Fuck, Ianto, how could I--"
Ianto can't respond, clinging as he is to Jack's neck, hands shaking in relief. When his mouth can form words again, he begs, "Break it, shut it off, do something, god, I can't do this again, I can't bloody do it again." In the background, he can hear Tosh and Owen shouting at each other, arguing about what's going on, who they should shoot, what they should do. Gwen tries to soothe them, tries to explain, but Ianto isn't listening.
"Ianto, god," Jack is saying, and Ianto shakes his head.
"Jack, please, do something, get rid of it, blow it up, I don't care, just--"
Jack takes a step back from him, holds him at arm's length. "Will that stop it?" he asks.
"I don't know," Ianto says. "I don't care! I'm tired of begging and being ignored and being alone and being retconed and dying. I'm tired of this bloody Thursday. Just stop it."
Jack stares at him hard, but it's not the stare that Ianto's gotten used to over and over again on this endless day. There's affection, there's warmth, there's recognition. Jack nods once, then leans over and presses his lips to Ianto's forehead.
"Gwen," Jack says. "Put it on the floor."
Gwen almost trips in her haste to put it down.
"Jack, we don't know--"
"You can't fucking tell me that you--"
Jack ignores Tosh and Owen and pulls his gun out again, aiming it at the device. He looks at Ianto again.
"Are you sure?" he asks.
Gwen crosses to Ianto's side, wrapping her arms around him. Ianto thinks he sees a flash of recollection in Tosh's face, but it doesn't matter. If this works, things will go back to normal. If it doesn't, he has two reinforcements to convince the others that he exists.
"Yes," Ianto whispers. Jack nods again. Ianto leans his head against Gwen's and closes his eyes.
Jack pulls the trigger.
Ianto wakes up alone in his bed. He's frozen for several never ending seconds, before he scrambles up and out. He rushes to the bathroom, his eyes zeroing in on the blue toothbrush sitting on the sink.
"Oh thank fuck," he whispers, his knees buckling beneath him. He leans on the door frame, breathing heavily, until he trusts himself to stand. His next stop is the jacket left draped over the sofa. His Torchwood ID is nestled next to his wallet in the inside pocket. His keys are on the table next to the door. He wants to cry, but finds himself laughing instead. He can't stop, even as he throws on his clothes, not even bothering to knot his tie, but shoving it in his pocket to deal with later.
He leaves his apartment, already at a run, only stopping long enough to check the front page of a paper at the newsstand. It's still bloody Thursday, but maybe, maybe this is the right Thursday, finally.
He runs the whole way to the Plass, dodging commuters and school children and early morning dawdlers, ignoring the sharp looks and muttered curses. He doesn't even hear them, he's so focused on his goal. He's so focused, he almost misses Gwen shouting his name from the end of the street.
He stops running and turns. Gwen's running at him from the opposite corner, shouting his name and grinning. He can't help but grin back as he runs towards her. They meet halfway and slam into each other in a hug. Ianto lifts Gwen off the ground and only barely resists twirling her around.
"You're back in my wedding photos!" Gwen says.
"My ID and keys are back!" he replies.
"What about everything else?" Gwen asks.
"I haven't gotten that far yet," Ianto says. As if on cue, his mobile rings. He hastens to pull it out and nearly cheers out loud when he sees the display.
Jack Mobile calling
Gwen does cheer, though it's more of a squeal and apparently fodder for another hug, not that Ianto minds. He clutches her just as hard, and when they pull apart, she grabs his mobile in one hand and his hand in the other and takes off at a run towards the tourist office. They turn the corner, still running, but stop abruptly when they see Owen fighting with the lock on the door.
"Oi, are you two going to stand around all day or are you going to help me get this bloody door open?" he asks, glancing over his shoulder. Ianto thinks he might actually hug Owen, but then the door to the tourist office opens and the thought flees his mind, because there's Jack, staring at Ianto like he can't believe he's real.
"Ianto," he murmurs. Ianto lets go of Gwen. He thinks he's rather done his share of throwing himself at people this morning and he hasn't forgotten that Owen is right there, but apparently his body doesn't care, because he's run the last ten feet, hitting Jack with enough force to knock him backwards and kissing him before he can catch his breath.
Jack's hands in his hair, on his neck, on his face... he wants to start laughing again, but he's too busy kissing and he doesn't ever want to stop. Distantly, he can hear Owen's mockery, Gwen's own laughter, but it doesn't matter, not at all.
When the kiss breaks, Jack doesn't let go, doesn't move backward, just stays pressed up against Ianto, holding Ianto’s face in his hands.
"You're here," Jack whispers. A benediction.
"I never left," Ianto says.
There are explanations to give, reports to write. Tosh and Owen need to know what's going on. Not to mention Ianto won't sleep until he's sure that he's still got all his old access codes, that the archives are back in order, that the place isn't a wreck, that the clock is actually going to turn over from Thursday to Friday tonight.
But all of that can wait. For the moment, he has Gwen waiting for him with a smile on her face and Jack's arms around him, Jack whispering his name, and right now, that's enough.