29 November 3245 (Earth Standard Year)
Twelve centuries ago, Earth astronomers had called the planet Gliese 581g.
It orbited a red dwarf star (called Gliese 581, naturally) in the old-Earth constellation Libra, and was twenty light-years from Earth. Back when it was discovered, the scientists who’d found it never would have thought that, one day, it would be a bustling outpost within a vast Earth Federation, where humans and aliens mingled and no one thought twice about it.
Nor would they have thought about what name human colonists would call it.
Jack Harkness looked out onto the city that sprawled below him, from his office within the tower called Torchwood Central. The city – named Gliese in honor of those long-ago astronomers who’d used mathematics to discover this planetary system – bustled below him, and a smile curled his lips slightly. All of this, because of Torchwood. It was so hard for him to believe sometimes, that all this had happened because he’d followed the advice of a Tarot-reading girl over twelve hundred years before.
The new Torchwood.
Certainly, there had been times when he’d doubted everything he was doing, that he wasn’t the man for the job. Hell, he sometimes thought that even now, after everything that he’d accomplished.
No, not ‘he’. We.
He couldn’t have done it without Ianto Jones…the last dragon, and now his mate.
The smile slipped from his lips as he contemplated his mate. Ianto had been acting oddly lately; he’d almost seemed distracted. Not even taking time in the immense Torchwood Archives – which had been nicknamed by most Torchwood employees as the Hoard – had been able to help the dragon regain his equilibrium. Ianto had claimed to be fine, but a man doesn’t live and work with someone for over a millennium without picking up on clues as to something being wrong.
Jack decided he would keep an eye on him. Objectively he knew Ianto was for all intents and purposes immortal, but there were still things that could kill him. Jack knew all of them, Ianto having shared with him centuries ago, but there were still things like alien pathogens or technologies that they had no idea about. If Ianto got sick…no, they didn’t bear thinking of.
But he’d watch anyway, and if anything else happened he’d get the dragon to Medical and have Dr. Asadhi check him out.
Dinner that night was a quiet affair. Not that that was unusual; Jack liked a silence as much as Ianto did, but there was something about this silence that was almost disturbing.
There had been times in the past when Ianto had withdrawn. It had usually happened when there were problems between them, and Jack had long ago learned to recognize the danger signs. But this…this was different. Ianto was there, and yet he wasn’t. Jack couldn’t put his finger on it.
“You’ve been way too quiet,” he finally said, as he watched his mate push his food around on his plate.
Ianto’s eyes suddenly focused, and they met Jack’s. “I’m sorry,” he answered. “I’m just away with the fairies tonight.”
Jack didn’t cringe at the comment; he and Ianto agreed to disagree about the Fae. “You’ve been like this for days now.”
“Have I?” He seemed genuinely surprised by that.
“You have. What’s going on in that brain of yours, Mr. Jones?”
“It’s not…” Ianto sighed. “I’m fine.”
“And you’re lying.”
The dragon’s eyes went wide in shock. “Jack, I can’t tell you what I don’t know!”
He really didn’t know, Jack could see it. “Then why don’t you describe how you’re feeling? Maybe we can figure it out.”
“It’s not…” Ianto looked upset, but Jack suspected it was more at himself than at Jack. “It’s not my thoughts, or my brain. It’s…my heart. It’s …pulling at me, like it wants me to do something. I can’t describe it any better than that.”
Well, that was as clear as mud… “You don’t think you’re ill, do you?”
Ianto shook his head. “No, I don’t think that’s it. You know, how you feel when you think you’ve forgotten something, or left something behind?”
“Well, that’s close to it. I feel as if I’ve left something…or that I’m missing something, only this something is a part of me, and I’m being pulled toward it, only I don’t know what ‘it’ is.” He sighed in frustration. “That’s it. I’m trying to work it out, but nothing comes to mind.”
“Okay.” He’d have to accept it for now, especially since he knew Ianto wasn’t hiding anything from him. “Just let me know if anything changes?”
Ianto smiled slightly. “Yes, Jack. I will.”
5 December 3245 (Earth Standard Year)
“I need to go home.”
Jack looked up from his work, his jaw dropping in surprise at Ianto’s announcement. “What?”
“I said, I need to go home.”
The immortal looked at his mate closely. Ianto’s face was even paler than normal, and his usually sharp blue eyes were dull. He stood in front of Jack’s desk, and it was evident that he was trembling.
Jack got up immediately at the signs of his mate’s distress, lowering Ianto into the nearest chair. He grabbed another chair, pulling it up so he could sit close to the dragon. “What’s wrong?”
“I realized it, when I was down in the Archives…it’s calling me. Home. It’s calling to me and I have to answer.” His words were jerky, and he looked up at Jack pleadingly. “I know we’re stretched thin right now – “
“Why do you think you need to go home?” Jack realized he meant going to Earth, and he couldn’t figure out why. Neither of them had been back there in almost six hundred years, and until that very moment Ianto hadn’t shown any inclination in wanting to going back. Jack actually considered Hubworld more a home than Earth.
“It’s…” Ianto shook his head, as if trying to shake loose the words he needed to explain. “I think I’m homesick.”
Jack had to bite back a retort at that. “Is that all?”
“Jack, I…” his voice faded out, and his eyes went to his hands in his lap; their fingers were twisting together in sheer helplessness. “I’m being completely melodramatic about this.”
“I won’t argue with that.” Jack sighed. This didn’t make any sense. “Look, maybe after the beginning of the new year, you and I can take a trip back. But right now, you know as well as I do just what’s going on. There’s the crisis on Drexel 4; the negotiations between the Breen and the Sorax; and about half a dozen other political wildfires burning out there. You’re right; we’re really stretched thin at this time of the year…”
“The annual Christmas Invasion,” Ianto managed to joke.
“Pretty much.” Jack remembered the heady days on Earth, when London would have an invasion every Christmas. That particular holiday might only be celebrated on Earth, but there were plenty other coinciding festivals and rituals at this time of the galactic year that it made Torchwood extremely busy.
“You’re right, of course.” Ianto straightened. “I’m being melodramatic. We’ll plan a trip later.” He stood up. “I have work to do, as I know you do. I’ll leave you to it.”
Jack stood as well. He leaned forward, brushing a barely there kiss across Ianto’s lips. “I’ll see you at home tonight?”
The dragon nodded, then left Jack to become the Director of the Torchwood Institute once more.
7 December 3245 (Earth Standard Year)
Ianto was late.
Jack paced the lounge of their home in Gliese City, wondering where his mate was. Ianto was never late without calling to let Jack know, and this silence was worrying. He hadn’t even answered his comms when Jack had tried to call him, but then if he was in the lowermost Archives then the signal might have been blocked somehow. There were places underground where comms signals would not reach, and Ianto could very well have been working in one of them.
After their talk about Ianto’s homesickness, the dragon seemed to have been fine. He’d even regained his color and his appetite, as well as that quiet bustling that heralded him at his best. Ianto had been working with one of the negotiating teams on the Breen/Sorax issue, and had been doing research in the Archives about previous disagreements between the two races, hoping to find something in older treaties that would help with this new one.
Jack stopped his pacing, plopping himself down on the couch and turning on the video news. He’d think about dinner later; what he’d made was now ruined. Ianto must have just been caught up in his research…yes that must have been it, for him not to have shown up for their scheduled dinner. And even if he couldn’t get a comms signal through, he might have thought his research was more important and hadn’t wanted to stop. Jack couldn’t lie and say it didn’t irritate him, but it was the only explanation that made the most sense.
However, when Ianto still hadn’t called two hours later, Jack was officially worried.
He took the transmat back to Torchwood Central, meaning to look for his mate and to drag him back home if necessary. The tower block was still busy; Torchwood was all hours, all days, and so would be staffed no matter the time. Now though, with so much going on, it was rotating shifts and everyone on call. He would have normally been greeted as he moved past, but the various employees must have seen something in his face, and they avoided him.
By the time Jack had reached the lift for the Archives, he was well and truly angry. And scared, truth be known. If Ianto had lost himself in whatever he was doing, then Jack was going to rip him a new one. But other scenarios were starting to play in his head; there was a lot of dangerous tech down there, and although Ianto was possibly the most careful being he knew, mistakes could be made. He stabbed the lift button harder than was necessary, and wished that there was a transmat cubicle down there instead of him having to take the lift. But Ianto had refused to have one installed, concerned about possible reactions to the various different technologies in the Archives. Jack knew very well that there were times when disparate devices could react to one another, and that leant Jack’s imagination yet another reason to be worried for the dragon…
The Archives were deserted at this hour. Jack knew that there were junior archivists on call, but there was no need to keep anyone on overnight unless it was an emergency. Most of the items in the Archive were on the mainframe, and that made finding things in the immense space that much easier.
Hubworld’s Archives had been constructed within several natural caverns deep within the planet, safe from attack from above. Ianto had overseen the shaping of the levels himself; Jack recalled making the comment that a dragon would know the best way to get as much use out of a cave as possible. Ianto had raised an eyebrow at him, and then gotten on with the work. The Archives had been long nicknamed the Hoard, in honor of Ianto, and it was very appropriate. It was always a treat when a new employee saw Ianto transform for the first time…
Jack tried his comms again, hoping to get a signal now that he was below the levels of interference. There was nothing, and fear was beginning to seriously edge out anger. He went to the nearest computer, pulling up the map of the Archives, overlaying it with the infrared sensors that were on all levels.
A blob of heat was down on level three, in subsection twelve. Judging from the amount of heat it was putting out, it was most certainly Ianto.
Jack accessed the internal security system, bringing up the cameras in that area. And what he saw made his blood run cold.
He sent an alert up to Medical, even as he was racing down the Archive.
Toward the motionless body of his mate.
8 December 3245 (Earth Standard Year)
Jack hovered as Ianto’s blue eyes fluttered open, and the dragon took a confused look around. “Jack?” he whispered. “Where am I?”
The relief the immortal felt was so intense it made his heart lurch. “You’re in Medical. I found you collapsed in the Archives last night.”
Ianto’s brows drew down. “I remember…I was looking for a paper copy of the Breen/Sorax Treaty of 2940…then I got dizzy. I…can’t recall anything after that.”
“That’s not surprising,” the deep voice of Dr. Asadhi, Torchwood’s Chief Medical Officer, said from the doorway. The large Traxian came into the room, his prehensile tail holding a medical PDA as he began examining Ianto with long-fingered hands. His nictitating membranes made a clicking noise when he blinked.
“What’s wrong with me?” Ianto asked, trying to sit up, dislodging one of the medical sensors on his chest as he did so and causing the machine to beep obnoxiously.
Dr. Asadhi pushed him back down even as Jack was trying to do the same. “You need to stay put, Second Jones,” he ordered. “You’ve had an unexplained hormonal and electrolyte imbalance that has knocked your entire system out of kilter.”
“What caused it?’ Jack demanded, before Ianto could.
“Well, I did say it was unexplained,” the Traxian answered.
“That I cannot say, Director Harkness. It could be, if we do not find the cause.”
Jack didn’t want to hear that. He didn’t want to hear that Ianto could die, that something could happen to take his dragon away from him. He reached out and took Ianto’s hand; public displays weren’t often their thing, but Jack needed that contact to ground him.
Twelve hundred years wasn’t long enough…
“Has anything happened lately, Second Jones? Any odd symptoms? Anything you cannot explain?”
Ianto chewed his lip in thought. “Well…I have been feeling…I don’t know…off, lately.”
Jack’s mind went back to their conversation over dinner over a week earlier, and the one in his office a couple of days ago. He’d discounted the second one as some strange melodrama…but then, Ianto wasn’t one to be overly dramatic. Had there been something wrong then, and Jack had dismissed it? Guilt flooded him, and he squeezed his mate’s hand.
“Can you describe this feeling?” the doctor asked, holding his PDA in order to make notes.
“It’s like something is pulling me, and that something was missing within me. And then, the other day I felt…homesick. I suddenly couldn’t stop thinking about home, and with such longing…I can’t really describe it better than that.” He looked bothered by his lack of coherence.
“No, that is fine.” Dr. Asadhi smiled, revealing blunt teeth. “I think I might know what the problem is, and if I’m correct it’s a fairly simple fix.”
Relief brought a small smile to Jack’s lips. “What is it?”
“There are some races that will often have a biological imperative to return to their homeworlds at certain times in their life cycles,” the Traxian explained. “If they don’t, this imperative can wreak havoc on the body, causing all sorts of imbalances that can lead to catastrophic consequences. I’m fairly certain that’s what’s happening in your case, Second Jones.”
“That makes sense,” Ianto mused. “But why now? I haven’t been back to Earth in nearly six hundred years. Why not any sooner?”
Dr. Asadhi shook his head. “I cannot tell you, because I don’t know. We know practically nothing of your race, Second Jones. You are the only one of your kind, and absolutely the only one to have ever left Earth. This imperative could have been in your people for generations, but because none of them have ever left your planet of birth it wouldn’t show up. Oh, perhaps as homesickness, where the urge to return to the place of their birth is strong enough to force them to go home, but I doubt it would be as serious as your problem is now. Being so far from your planet is causing all sorts of issues with your health.”
“So, if I return to Earth…”
“Then the imbalance should fix itself and after a while you’ll be able to come back here.”
“Should?” Jack asked, suddenly worried again.
The Traxian sighed. “There are no guarantees, Director Harkness. But this is the best treatment for Second Jones.”
“How long would I have to stay on Earth?” Ianto asked.
“A week…perhaps two to be safe.”
“Then we need to get you on the first transport going to Earth,” Jack decided. He wasn’t about to let Ianto stay one day longer than necessary.
“I shall prepare some supplements that you, Second Jones, will need to take until you set foot back on home soil,” the doctor said, making a note on his PDA. “The sooner you leave, the sooner you’ll get better.”
“But the treaty – “ Ianto argued.
“Your life is more important, Ianto,” Jack answered. “Let the negotiating team worry about that. When we get back, I’m sure everything will be in the same mess we left it.”
8 December 3245 (Earth Standard Year)
They didn’t even get out of the house before all hell broke loose.
“Harkness,” Jack answered his comms, setting his carryall into the trunk of their taxi.
“I’m sorry Director,” the voice of his Third, Maxim Hodge, came through the earpiece, “but there’s an emergency on Anaria Prime. We’re receiving reports of an attack on the planet by illegal mass driver. The Shadow Proclamation is requesting our assistance in discovering the culprit.”
Jack cursed. “Who have we got in the area, Max?”
“The Sato is five hours out. But Director...the Shadow Architect in charge is demanding your presence on site. I tried to explain that you have a personal emergency…”
Jack cursed again. Any time they had to have dealings with the Shadow Proclamation, they always demanded that Jack take over personally, since they felt that only a former Companion could do the job properly.
He was about to tell Max to tell the Proclamation to shove their demands where the sun didn’t shine, but Ianto was already speaking over his own comms. “Tell the Architect that Director Harkness is on his way.”
“Ianto!” Jack exclaimed, even as Max was acknowledging the command.
“You have to go,” the dragon said calmly. “The Shadow Proclamation will get all bitchy if you don’t, and you know we need to keep on their good side, in the spirit of inter-agency cooperation.”
“I’m not letting you go alone,” Jack argued, even though he knew Ianto was correct.
“I’ll be fine. Dr. Asadhi has kindly stocked me up on supplements, and he doesn’t think I’ll have another attack. You go and take care of things, and I’ll be back as soon as I can.” He leaned forward, brushing his lips against Jack’s.
“I know you don’t, but be reasonable. They need you on Anaria Prime. Go and be your usual, heroic self. And I’ll be back before you even realize I’m gone.”
“When you get back, you and I are taking a proper vacation,” he swore.
“I look forward to it.” Ianto gave him that smirk that had Jack wanting to take him then and there. “Now go. I’ll be fine.”
Jack didn’t like it. But he had no choice.
10 December 3245 (Earth Standard Year)
The mess on Anaria Prime kept Jack occupied for only a day, then he found himself back on Hubworld, and in a temper.
The Shadow Proclamation hadn’t even needed him. The Sato had come across the ship with the illegal mass driver just out of system, hiding behind one of the gas giants. Apparently the large weapon had fried the transport’s engines, and it had been no trouble at all to take the criminals into custody. Once that was done, it had been up to the Judoon to transport the ships’ crew – a band of arms dealers who’d wanted to demonstrate their newest ‘toy’ for one of their customers – and to conduct them to the Proclamation’s base for judgment. Jack had arranged the relief efforts, and then found himself on the first ship back.
He stormed into his office at Torchwood Central, dropping his carryall onto the floor and making his way around his desk, where he dropped into his chair with a grunt. He needed to write up the report for the Shadow Proclamation, and they wouldn’t wait for it, either. He rubbed the bridge of his nose, leaning his head back and closing his eyes tiredly.
Such a wasted trip!
He stifled his sigh as he opened his eyes. “Yes, Max?”
Maxim Hodge was a tall man, taller even that Jack, and very thin. He was half human, half Trenan – a low gravity race – with dark hair and the palest eyes Jack had ever seen. He was extremely good at his job, although he would never rise about Third; Jack was Director in Perpetuity, and Ianto was his Second, and that wouldn’t change. “Sorry to bother you, but there are several issues that need your attention.”
“Why can’t you take care of them?” Jack asked hectically.
“Because you’re the Director. I’m simply your Third.”
‘There’s nothing simple about you, Max.”
He inclined his head at the compliment. “But that still doesn’t give me access to Director-level issues.”
Jack sighed. “Fine.”
Max handed over the files he’d brought with him on data stick, and then left Jack alone to work. The immortal jabbed the stick into the port on his computer a little harder than was strictly necessary, but didn’t care.
He was beginning to wonder when duty became more important than his personal life. Then he snorted, realizing that that was several centuries ago. And Ianto put up with it, which made his mate more saint than dragon, in Jack’s opinion. To be honest, he wasn’t sure when he’d do if he ever got time off now. He’d probably be bored within a standard week.
This time Jack did sigh, as he pulled up the work Max had given him. Oh lovely, the Dax were at it again…
He was so engrossed in his work that he didn’t hear anyone come into the office, until the door slammed. Jack jumped up, reaching for the weapon at his waist…
Then calmed down, when he saw who it was. “Anwyn! You’re going to give me a heart attack some day!”
Anwyn Harkness-Jones strode to the desk, and she looked thunderous. “And when were you going to tell me Tad was sick?” she demanded.
Anwyn had inherited her Dad’s hair and classic looks, and her Tad’s eyes and intelligence…and his long life. She would be celebrating her six hundredth birthday in a little over a year, and she barely looked twenty.
“He’s going to be fine,” Jack tried to placate his fiery daughter. She’d inherited his temper, as well. “He just needed to return to Earth. It was some sort of biological imperative…but wait, how did you find out about that?” Anwyn had been off Hubworld, on Torchwood business, when Ianto had gotten ill. Jack had meant to tell her when she returned.
“I went to the house, thinking to put my things away, and ran into the housekeeper. She was quite torn up about Tad being so sick, that he had to go offworld for treatment…”
Jack pinched the bridge of his nose, sitting back down in his chair. “It’s not that serious at all. God, I love it when people take these things out of proportion…” He didn’t want their daughter to worry unduly, and felt justified in understating the issue.
Anwyn seemed to calm down a little, taking the chair opposite his. “But, why aren’t you with him?”
“We had an emergency just as we were leaving. I had to stay behind. But don’t worry…he’ll be on Earth in twelve days. Dr. Asadhi says he’ll have to stay there for about two weeks, and then he’ll be home again.”
“But Dad…if Tad is sick, should he be alone?”
“The doctor gave him medication to take.”
“If it’s something biological…will it happen again?” Her blue eyes were frightened.
Jack hadn’t thought about that. “It looks like it’s on a six hundred year cycle. Besides, we’ll be ready for it next time.”
“You should really be with him.”
She wasn’t saying anything that he hadn’t thought of himself, but duty had to take precedence at times, and Ianto had been the one to tell him to go anyway. “Honey, I’d love to join him, but this is the busiest time of the galactic year for Torchwood. You know that.”
Anwyn’s jaw dropped. “I always knew you bled Torchwood, but is it really more important than Tad?”
Jack opened his mouth to rebut his daughter’s accusation, but he realized she was right. He should never have stayed behind. He should have told the Shadow Proclamation to go to whatever hell they believed in, and accompanied Ianto back to Earth.
There would always be this fear, that someday someone would find out his mate’s weaknesses and exploit them. There had been close calls, and Jack knew there were still things out there in the Universe that they hadn’t even run into, that could take Ianto away from him. This illness could have been deadly, and he could have lost the dragon.
That question was making Jack consider a lot of things. He and Ianto had said they would go on vacation after he got back, but would they have? They were both control freaks enough to want to be on hand for any crisis, and taking time off was something they just didn’t do.
Maybe it was time.
Jack stood up, and walked to where his daughter was sitting. He leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. “You are a genius.”
Anwyn gave him a very Ianto-like smirk. “Of course I am. I’m my Tad’s girl.”
24 December 3245 (Earth Standard Year)
The uproar his leaving caused had been so very worth it.
Torchwood had never had to do without himself and Ianto at the same time, so while he’d been prepared to go with Ianto before the Shadow Proclamation had demanded his presence, it had still been a shock for the leadership team to know their Director would be following his Second to Earth, and on such short notice. Anwyn had stood by and had looked amused by the whole thing…until Jack made her Max’s Second. Of course, Max had been speechless when Jack had handed over all of his Director codes, and told him to use them wisely. Before, he’d only ever given Max limited access, and had required him to contact Jack directly for anything Director-level.
He couldn’t wait to tell Ianto about it.
He’d hopped the first transport leaving Hubworld. The trip gave him time to think, and it made him realize a few things that he should have done before. Anwyn had been correct in her confusion: Torchwood had become more important to him, as well as duty, and it had been that way for as long as he could recall. Ianto was the same, and the dragon’s own sense of his own duty was just as strong as Jack’s, which was why he’d insisted Jack stay on Hubworld and work while he went on to Earth alone.
They were both idiots.
Two standard weeks after leaving Hubworld, Jack’s ship was in orbit of an Earth he hadn’t seen in six hundred years.
Much had changed even before they’d left. The catastrophic ice melt of 2050 had warped the coasts of every continent. Some countries had suffered badly; others had coped by either moving their coastal cities or by making the cities that couldn’t be moved into their own islands. London had done the latter, becoming a man-made island within the shallow inland sea that had once been the Thames. Cardiff had done the former, moving back until it was practically against the Brecon Beacons. The original Hub that had been Torchwood Three was now under about seventy-five feet of water; the only thing left of the old base was the Rift Manipulator, now kept in a watertight chamber that was accessible only by transmat and was monitored by Torchwood Central in London. Cardiff might have moved, but the Rift hadn’t.
He and Ianto had gotten everything out before the Hub had finally flooded, although they’d come to the mutual decision to leave the morgue where it was. Only certain bodies had been disinterred; Gray was one of those, since he wasn’t truly dead. It had seemed appropriate that the dead of Torchwood Three should stay with Torchwood Three.
The rest of the planet had moved on, becoming a busy spaceport hub within the Federation. The cities had grown to accommodate the inrush of tourists and people coming to work in the busy ports, until much of Earth was metropolis. There were a few pockets of untouched land left, and one of those would be Jack’s destination.
“This is your attendant speaking. All passengers disembarking at the Heathrow Transit Hub please go to the transmat station on Level Two. Repeating…”
Jack heeded the announcement. Picking up his carryall, he made his way toward the transmat station. London was the closest he’d be getting to his final destination, and he could hire an aircar for the rest of the journey. The passenger ship he’d met at Proxima would land at the larger spaceport at New Canaveral in United America, and Jack didn’t want to go that far.
He joined his fellow passengers at the transmat. There were about two dozen leaving the ship above London, and Jack waited his turn somewhat impatiently. Now that he was there, he wanted to get the Earth under his boots once again. He hadn’t realized that he’d actually missed this planet; but then he really had lived on Earth longer than he had on Hubworld, even though he’d considered Hubworld home.
It was eventually his turn, and he stepped up onto the transmat with four others also leaving the ship. The distinctive tingle of transport ran up his spine, and the ship he’d been traveling on for the last two weeks vanished around him, to be replaced by the sight of a garish poster advertising a local music group.
He moved off the pad quickly, and once he was out of the way Jack took his first deep breath of Earth air in centuries. Even though it had been processed through the Terminal’s air recycling system, it was very recognizable despite time and distance.
Jack found the vehicle rental easily. A two-seater aircar was waiting for him, having been reserved by a forward-thinking Anwyn when she’d made his reservations on the transport. As he pulled out of the car park, it truly hit him that he was back on Earth, the only home he’d known for centuries before Torchwood had taken to the stars.
The winter chill penetrated the vehicle’s cockpit, and Jack put the heater on. He turned the nose of the aircar north, knowing where Ianto would go.
It was late afternoon before Jack reached Ddraig Llyn.
It had changed almost beyond recognition.
He parked the aircar on a stretch of land that had once been the village green. Jack got out of the vehicle, taking a look around, sadness tugging at him as he realized that everything Ianto had once known, was gone.
The immortal moved down the main street, his memory filling in where nature had taken away. He came to what had once been Ianto’s inn, the Green Dragon; the outer wall still stood, but it was covered in a mass of vines, and trees poked up through what had once been the roof. Mistletoe had found root hold between the stones, and Jack absently plucked a twig of it from its tenacious hold on the wall. He’d met the dragon there, and they’d managed to grab a few stolen moments at the inn before Torchwood had consumed them. Ashamedly, Jack realized he’d never once looked back, when it had become impossible to come to Ddraig Llyn anymore.
And yet, he’d known that Ianto had purchased all of the property around the valley itself. It had taken much of the gold in his hoard, but the dragon had never regretted it. Jack felt guilty; he’d taken Ianto from here, from everything that he’d known, and had exposed him to Torchwood. And when the time came to leave Earth, he’d just assumed that Ianto would follow…and he had.
But now, Ianto had discovered that he was tied to this place in ways that Jack really couldn’t understand. If he wanted his mate safe, then he would have to take more of Ianto’s needs into consideration.
He really wished he’d been there with Ianto, to discover the wreckage of his home.
Jack sighed. Ianto wasn’t in the village. There would only be one place the dragon would have gone.
He heard the singing before he saw his mate.
It was the song that Jack had heard that day, so very long ago. Ianto had explained that it was a song of mourning, one that his people reserved for things special to them; for family, and loved ones, and those who had made a difference in the dragon’s life. At that time, Ianto had been singing it for his lost people. Ianto had also sung it the very first time Jack had died, before the dragon had known about his immortality. There had been other times since, but now Jack knew he was singing it for the entire world, and how much it had changed while they’d been gone.
Even the valley was different. The rivers bringing the snow melt down from the higher mountains had done their job too well, and now the once-small lake flooded a large part of the valley. Ddraig Llyn had not been touched by the waters, but of course other things had destroyed it.
Jack clambered up next to his mate. Ianto had transformed back into his dragon-form, the green scales glittering like precious gemstones in the setting sun. He hadn’t thought about it before, but the red sun of Hubworld had made those scales glow luridly, almost unnaturally. Here though, Ianto was beautiful in ways Jack had not noticed in a very long time.
The dragon was sitting on the same outcrop that Jack had met him on all those centuries before; at least that hadn’t been changed. Jack had never accompanied Ianto on his infrequent flights up into Hubworld’s mountains, and had only seen him in dragon form within the setting of Gliese City or Torchwood Central. He’d almost forgotten how the dragon looked in his natural surroundings, and it struck him once again that he’d removed Ianto from what he’d been used to, even more so when they’d left Earth. Ianto had chosen to go with him…but had he really? Or had he simply followed Jack because of the emotional bonds between them?
The dragon stopped singing. Jack knew Ianto had sensed his Vortex energy as he’d come up the old trail. He’d always been able to do that, as well as sense the Rift back in old Cardiff. The immortal believed it was because the dragon was so much part of the natural world that he was keyed into such things…which raised even more questions about just how wrong Jack had been to let Ianto accompany him. The immortal had always had issues with selfishness…but now, he could make up for that.
“It’s all gone,” Jack said, absently twirling the twig of mistletoe in his fingers. “Nature just…took it back.”
“Nature has a tendency to do that,” the dragon answered, his voice calm.
Jack was shocked. “I thought you’d be more upset about your home being abandoned like that!”
The dragon sighed. “I was. But I’ve had two days to get used to it.” He turned sad blue eyes toward his mate. “However, that doesn’t mean I’m not sad about losing my last human dwelling on this world. “
He made his way to the dragon’s side. “Did you find what you were looking for?” He couldn’t tell if he was feeling better; he’d only seen Ianto ill while in human form.
“It appears I really am tied to the Earth. The moment I set foot back on her soil, I felt…energized. It was like a piece had been slotted back into my soul, a part of me I wasn’t even aware I was missing until I returned.”
He leaned against Ianto’s warm flank. The wind was bitter, and he wondered if it was going to snow. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I should have been here with you. You were sick, and I should have been here.”
“There’s no need to be, Jack. I’m fine now.”
“Doesn’t matter. I should have told the Shadow Proclamation to piss off and go bother someone else.”
Ianto chuckled, a deep rumbling that vibrated against Jack’s side. “I think I might have liked to have seen that.” Then he sobered. “Your sense of duty will always come first. As will mine.”
Jack still played with the mistletoe, framing his answer carefully. “Well, it shouldn’t. We should both know by now that there are times when our own happiness needs to come first. I think we’ve lost sight of that.”
“We’ve always put Torchwood first, Jack. It’s who we are, and we cannot change that.”
“I just don’t think we’ve tried hard enough. There’s been no reason to.”
Those slitted blue eyes regarded him. “Since when have you become so wise?” he asked teasingly.
“Blame your daughter. She kicked me in the ass.”
“Anwyn’s only my daughter when she irritates you.”
“Or when she shows her Tad’s brilliance.” Jack trailed his hand along the warm scales of Ianto’s flank, and the dragon shivered. The immortal knew it didn’t have anything to do with the cold. “I was thinking – “
The caress turned into a light smack. “As I was saying…I had a thought. I know you own most of this valley…”
“Yes, I do. And I’m glad. Humanity has managed to take over almost every other bit of livable land on the planet…and to ruin most of it.” The scorn in his voice was withering.
“You know, when you rant like that it’s pretty damned sexy?”
The dragon took a playful swipe at Jack with his tail. “And you call me cheeky?”
He chuckled. “So…what were you thinking?”
Jack took a breath. “Only that, since you’re tied here, maybe we should build some sort of vacation home in the valley…bring some people back to Ddraig Llyn. People who would appreciate the beauty of this place. And I don’t necessarily mean human, either. Plus, Anwyn’s never seen this place. I think she’d love it here.”
The dragon looked like he was considering it. “What about Torchwood? We’d be quite a distance from Hubworld.”
Jack had thought about that, too. “Maybe it’s time for us to take a step back. We’ve been at this a very long time…”
“Who are you, and what have you done with Jack Harkness?”
“Stop it!” Jack cautioned good-naturedly. “We’d be close enough to London Central that, if anything happens, we could get there fast enough.”
The dragon looked at Jack appraisingly. “You’re really serious about this.”
“Yes, I am. To be honest…I don’t want anything to happen to you. If you get sick again – “
“It’s been six hundred years. I’m sure I can spend that length of time off work again.”
“No, there’s no need to risk that. We can build a nice home, maybe take more vacation time…I think I’m ready for it. You and I have been on almost non-stop duty for over twelve hundred years. It’s time we started to take it easy.” Jack took a deep breath. “Maybe even think about family.” They’d decided after Anwyn not to have any more, simply because Torchwood took up too much of their time. Both of them had felt they’d somehow failed their daughter by pawning her off on nannies and tutors.
The dragon was silent for a long time. Jack knew Ianto, knew what work meant to him. They’d both built up Torchwood into what it was today; saying what he was, was hard for him. But he also knew when it was time to slow down. Besides, Torchwood wasn’t going anywhere. And, even though he hadn’t said anything to Ianto as yet, there would come a time when Jack would have to lie low for at least a couple of centuries, when his timelines would cross. Having a bolt hole there at Ddraig Llyn would be a smart idea.
“If you’re sure – “ There was a longing in Ianto’s voice, and it made Jack’s heart ache. He should have done this years ago.
“I am. This place has always been a bit special to me…especially since this was where I met you.”
He snorted. “That’s about the sappiest thing I’ve heard you say in quite a while.”
Jack held up the mistletoe. “Why don’t we go somewhere we can put this to good use?”
“I’m hoping you mean the traditional use, and not the medicinal one. I’m not certain either of us would enjoy the consequences of that!”
Jack laughed. “You’re right. No, I was thinking the traditional use. Especially since it’s officially Christmas Eve now. Although, I did accidentally leave your gift on Hubworld.”
“That’s fine…I’d arranged for yours to be given to you tomorrow, but since you’re here…”
“We’ll have to arrange to have some of our things sent here, for the time being. It’s going to take several weeks to get things going.” Jack was actually getting excited about this plan of his now. He’d had no idea that he was this ready for a semi-retirement. He made a mental note to thank Anwyn for pointing out to him just how wrapped up in Torchwood he’d been.
The dragon agreed. “Then perhaps you and I should get out of the cold and go somewhere more…comfortable?”
“Have you been staying in your old cave?”
“I have. But there isn’t anything in it, so it’s very…sparse. I’ll need to collect my things, though.”
“Then what say we find somewhere to stay in the nearest town? We can get your luggage and then go fetch my rental.”
“I like the way you think, Captain. Care to climb up?”
Jack scrambled up onto the dragon’s back, his legs hooking under the large wings, and his arms looped around the sinewy neck. He was laughing like a little kid. Ianto had taken him flying before, and it was marvelous.
He could feel the dragon’s muscles bunching under his legs, and then they were off. Jack felt the bottom drop out of his stomach, and had expected to be freezing, but Ianto’s heat was keeping him just warm enough.
They arched out over the valley, the wind buoying their flight. Jack laughed again as they glided almost effortlessly, and the dragon roared his own laugh that echoed out over the valley.
As they banked slowly back toward the mountain, Jack realized that he was home. But home didn’t have anything to do with planets or Torchwood or the valley below.
Wherever Ianto was, that was home. And he heard the call of home as they flew together over the land that had nurtured them both.