It's a Tuesday. It's late, they haven't had any takeaway, and Gwen is plastered face-first against the conference table.
Jack sits at the far end and watches Ianto enter the room with two cups of coffee.
"Shh," he warns. "She's asleep. Just you and me."
Ianto smiles; quick like he isn't even aware he's doing it, and Jack feels a twisting in his gut.
"It's a beautiful night," Ianto says. "We could go up to the roof."
Jack reaches out to take one of the cups of coffee and his hand lingers. He brings the cup to his lips, finally, and takes a sip.
"Lead the way," he says playfully.
And it is; it's gorgeous up there in the fresh, nearly-biting air -- cloudless, almost absurd for how rare it is to see Cardiff for miles on a clear night.
When Ianto takes a seat, coffee in hand, Jack follows suit. It's so unlike him to be led about like this, the leader following, but it's so unlike the universe to gift him with something this precious.
He feels bound by some cosmic force to make every one of these moments last as long as possible, because when they're gone... well. He'll deal with that when the time comes.
Years, and Sunday mornings, and tomorrows.
Jack takes a seat next to him and they survey the city they've saved a thousand times over. The night sky, its stars, its infinity -- it's theirs to safeguard, and theirs at which to marvel. That sense of awe, of wonder, never quite dissipates.
Not even centuries have managed to strip Captain Jack Harkness of his ability to appreciate the beauty before him.
"Have I ever told you how completely..." Jack lets the sentence hang in the air as he brings his free hand to rest at the smooth patch of skin below Ianto's ear.
And he's falling.
He's falling, heels-over-head, plummeting. The sky spins above him, hot coffee splashed across his chest, the edges of his coat flapping hopelessly around his legs. The last thing he sees before the blackness is the blur of Ianto's face over the building's edge.
When he gasps awake, two hands are firmly cradling his shoulders and his head is pressed somewhere slightly north of Ianto's navel.
And when he feels it, it nearly destroys him, because there aren't any clouds for as far as the eye can see. His temple is wet. He drags a finger across the spot and knows in an instant. An instant that's taken lifetimes to find him.
This is it.
"I'm here," he says, the taste of blood slowly evaporating from his tongue. "I'm here and I'm not leaving you. Not ever. Do you understand me?"
Ianto's torso shakes once with a sob, and once with laughter, because this? This isn't just a lifetime; this really is forever.
"It smells like it's burning."
"It's not! I swear, it's supposed to take forty-five minutes."
Ianto presses his backside against the granite countertop and crosses his arms against his chest. He tilts his head just a bit and grins, amused.
"That really doesn't sound right."
"Are you a pastry chef now? Check for yourself." Jack wipes flour across his shirt and passes him the cookbook.
"I happen to bake an excellent Windsor Torte, if you must know."
"Forty-five minutes, or I..." he says, grinning wickedly.
"Or you what?" Ianto cracks open the book and attempts to flip to the correct page, but Jack's fingers are already working at his button fly. "Hey now, that's cheating."
"It's not cheating if you enjoy it."
"Fifteen, Jack. Fifteen," and he drops the book, steadying himself with fingers curling around the countertop.
Jack pulls at the other man's hips and drags his tongue along exposed skin.
"So we'll order a pizza."
"Jack, I really think-" but he can't speak, can barely breathe, because-
There's only a low hum in response as Jack's lips vibrate against him.
The next thing either of them registers is the beeping of the smoke alarm, a floundering of limbs, and then a white-hot sensation knocking them back with such force that Ianto can already feel the bruises forming along his back and hips.
The dull horror that fills Ianto's chest when he opens his eyes is matched only by Jack's own widened eyes as he attempts to sit. The kitchen begins to fill with white-gray smoke.
"Oh, fuck, oh, no, no," Ianto pushes himself up to stand, one hand working to pull up his pants, and stumbles to Jack's side.
"It's okay, it's okay," he repeats, trying desperately to assuage Ianto's sense of shock.
A rather large knife is stuck almost directly between his shoulder blades.
When Jack opens his eyes again, minutes later, his lungs fill and the memory rushes back in an instant. The air begins to clear and a used fire extinguisher rests on its side an arm's length away.
"If you ever do that to me again, you careless, arrogant-" Ianto bites, but his anger dissipates because the man is alive, and that will never cease to amaze him.
"You're not allowed to cook in my flat ever again. Ever."
"Am I allowed to order us a Meat Feast?"
Ianto dissolves into peals of laughter and they embrace on the kitchen floor, the bloody knife forgotten a few feet away, their tea burnt to a crisp.
They nearly collide.
The early morning quiet is broken by sloshes of rain drenching the city streets. Jack runs from east to west and Ianto west to east, both chasing the same creature.
When they reach one another, Jack nods toward the alley and manages to attract the Weevil to them by knocking over a few bins.
"I'm out," Ianto says, breathless, holding a can of spray between them.
Jack's spray is sitting in the gutter about two blocks back.
It approaches them and panic hits Jack like a lightning bolt; it's not about him anymore. He can't bear a life like this. Not if it means just one more loss. Not if it means this loss.
Because this loss might actually kill him.
"Stand back," Jack orders.
"What? No, we can-"
"I said stand back, Ianto."
There's a coolness that passes between them, then. It doesn't strike Ianto as brave or particularly selfless, because he's the one who has to stand there and watch. It makes him angry. There's no way to explain to Jack that he isn't actually expendable. That he was never meant to be like this.
That a human life means more than living and dying.
It's about the people -- the person -- standing there at your side on both occasions.
"Yes, sir," he says crisply, and slowly backs away.
The Weevil tackles Jack to the ground and sinks its teeth into his neck. A spurt of blood splashes against Ianto's suit and he closes his eyes.
When Jack wakes, he registers pavement beneath him and a slick warmth all over his skin despite the cold weather. Blood trickles to the ground and mixes with rainwater, the whole scene a gruesome miscalculation.
He blinks his eyes open to focus them.
And there's Ianto, thighs curled to his own chest, arm around his knees, face set like stone.
That's when Jack realizes that his head is situated on Ianto's suitjacket.
He's forgotten, a bit. He's forgotten mercy for himself.
"I can't watch you die like this, again and again. I can't, Jack," he rests his head against the brick wall behind him and doesn't bother hiding the anguish in his voice. He hopes it hurts. He almost hopes it hurts. This has to mean something when it happens. It has to count.
"I didn't mean to-"
"But you did. You take this for granted. And me, having to watch you... do this. You've become careless because you don't think-"
"I was thinking about you."
Ianto lets his arms fall to his sides and gains enough purchase to stand.
He extends a hand to Jack and pulls him up so they're face to face again, bloodied and shocked and so irreparably damaged, and it becomes abundantly clear.
"Don't put me through this," Ianto says, but the anger has gone out of his voice.
Jack nods once.
They do collide, then, in a rush of lips and teeth, and Jack experiences a feeling he managed to lose somewhere along the way.
The song playing on the radio is faint enough to blend into their conversation without notice, but Ianto remembers it years later, in pubs and department stores.
"I never would've guessed," Jack says, laughter in his voice.
Ianto licks at his ice cream and glances over at his partner.
"What would you have guessed? Vanilla? I'm a surprisingly complex individual," he jokes. But it isn't really a joke and his tone conveys that sentiment.
"No, I know, but cotton candy? I mean, look at it. It's TARDIS blue."
"It's what?" Ianto asks, furrowing his brow, but it's lost in the commotion coming from the back seat. "Mica, don't make me ask Uncle Jack to pull over."
"It's okay. They're kids and they've just ingested a week's worth of sugar. Let 'em scream."
Into glances at the rearview mirror to catch Mica sticking her tongue out at him.
"I should've known you'd go for mint chocolate chip."
"Just seems like you," Ianto says. But a blush slowly creeps into his cheeks and Jack knows he's lying.
His voice softens. "Really though, why?"
When Ianto faces Jack, his back to the passenger side window, that's when it comes into view. Jack makes the decision without a single word, without a second's hesitation, and it would've been the same decision if there were no chance of resurrection.
He cranks the wheel all the way round and the tyres burn treadmarks onto the street. The lorry slams into the driver's side at the front bumper and they careen backward until finally screeching to a stop on the opposite side of the street.
The next thing he sees is Ianto hovering over him on the asphalt, the children sitting on the kerb.
Ianto runs his hand along Jack's forehead to mix sweat and blood with hair product and pushes the errant wisps uncharacteristically flat. He leans down and presses a kiss of gratitude to Jack's lips and draws a shaky breath.
"Because the mint is cool and strong, but the chocolate's sweet and surprising," he says, finally, running his hand through Jack's hair as they wait for the paramedics.
A slow smile spreads across Jack's face.
"You're a big sap, Ianto Jones."
He laughs. "Shut up, you."
Mica approaches them; she's got a few scrapes but is otherwise unscathed. Ianto catches a glimmer of wetness at the corner of Jack's eye at the image of the young girl at their side.
The girl toes the ground, chocolate ice cream smeared all over her clothes.
"Are you magic?"
Jack chuckles before biting back a pained groan as his ribs mend. "Something like that. But don't ask me for a pony. I can't grant wishes or anything."
When she shuffles away to sit with her brother, Ianto takes Jack's hand in his own and shakes his head in disbelief.
"You do, though," he says.
"Sap," Jack repeats, and rolls his eyes for emphasis this time.
Siren wails grow louder and they're reminded yet again of just how fragile this is.
All of it.
Ianto Jones is not and has never been a particularly vain man.
Until he's in the shower with Jack notices a few grey hairs in stark contrast to Jack's permanent auburn.
It's one of those moments he's played over and over again in his head, knowing it would inevitably arrive. He's seen the signs already: laugh lines, crow's feet, the occasional creaking of joints when he's in a particularly compromising position.
Jack finds it amusing, of course.
"If you trade me in for a younger model-"
"Wouldn't dream of it in a million years," he says. "And let's be honest, if anyone understands the magnitude of a million years-"
"It's not funny."
Jack runs his tongue along his partner's collarbone and braces a knee against the shower's tiled wall.
"But not today," Jack's tone is insistent. "And not for a long time. So just, if you could finish what you started here, that'd be swell."
Ianto finally relaxes into his touch. "You started it."
"You're probably right."
"I am. I'm always right, sir."
Jack nearly loses his bearings as he sinks his teeth into the muscle of Ianto's shoulder. He hasn't heard that term tumble from his partner's lips in years, especially not with that intonation, and the wave of pleasure it sends through him crests as they move together beneath the cooling spray of water.
When Ianto drags Jack to a convenience store a few days later to purchase one of those terrible dye-your-hair-at-home kits, it's under great duress.
"All the same, I'd rather not feel like I'm not some dirty old man shacking up with someone who looks half my age."
Jack's lack of response is heartening, because any agreement would justify Ianto's fears and any disagreement would invalidate his feelings. Jack's learned quite a bit about how to deal with the mechanics of a long-term relationship; a lifelong commitment.
He's stopped thinking in terms of before and after and has begun to view his life as falling in line with Ianto's; anything beyond that isn't worth thinking about.
Sometime between aisle seven and the cash register, a man in a dark hooded sweatshirt enters the store, and it all happens so fast that neither is able to recount the events for the police with any sense of coherence.
All they know is the truth: Jack's body between the assailant and Ianto, both of them smeared red with blood, and a cashier who has absolutely no clue how to put into words what she's witnessed.
Once they're out on the street again, Ianto chucks the hair dye into the nearest bin and doesn't glance at it twice.
In their lifetimes, the number of times Jack saves him easily spills into the double digits. It might sound noble, and it is, but it isn't a completely selfless act. Because Jack's worked it out; has had it worked out for years:
He may save him a thousand times over, but Ianto gives him purpose, and that's worth more than living five billion years aimlessly searching for some semblance of truth.
It's a Tuesday. It's early. The sun begins to glow softly beneath the curve of the horizon.
"Remember that time Gwen caught us in your office?"
Jack twines their fingers between them and plays at Ianto's knuckles with his thumb.
They both laugh despite the density of the moment.
It won't be long now.
"You know I've always had trouble saying the things that... the things that matter," Ianto says. He coughs a bit and can't summon the energy to turn onto his side. The courage, though? He's got that in spades.
"You feel them, Ianto, and that's always been enough for me. Always," his voice is a near-whisper now, both of them keeping eyes fixed on the ceiling.
"But if this is my last chance to say them, I - I have to, Jack. I owe you that."
Jack wants to tell him that there's nothing to be owed, and if there is, it's his own debt. He wants to say that Ianto's taught him the meaning of a life and everything it entails. But he's smart enough to know, that is something that doesn't need saying.
"Whatever you need," he says, swallowing the lump in his throat. "I'm listening."
"I remember... God, it's so vivid, still. Canary Wharf, feeling so helpless. I didn't think I'd ever recover. I was bitter, like I didn't have anything left to lose. I wanted to do something bigger with my life, but more than that, I just wanted revenge for what I'd seen... what they'd done. And then you, Jack," he pauses, a trail of wetness creating a path across his temple and into his hairline. "You're the reason I lived. Without you, I - I would've existed, maybe, but I know I wouldn't have..."
"Shh," Jack situates himself against Ianto's side and presses a sealing kiss to his lips.
One more. Just one more.
One more, and then...
"Thank you," Ianto says.
It's the last thing he'll ever say.
There's nothing about remembrance or continuing on, because they've learned in decades and quiet moments over tea, there is no way Jack could forget a single second of this life; the one they shared in sickness and in health, roadside pasties and pension checks, stolen breaths and silent vows.
Jack takes in a sobbing breath and feels as if his lungs have been filled with concrete.
He places his palm flat on Ianto's chest and knows. He's only been this sure of one other thing in his centuries of existence. He can feel it happening already.
It was his purpose all along.
When Rose Tyler blessed and cursed him, some inescapable shred of humanity clung desperately to the basest desire within him. It would only make sense that this is how it ends.
It's the only thing in which he truly believes, now. And that's enough to make it so.
Jack draws one more breath, joy and tragedy battling within him until the sting of cardiac muscle irreparably splitting allows him to slip into the blackness.
It's okay that there's nothing.
Because they had everything.