Actions

Work Header

The Places I Stopped on the Way to Salvation

Work Text:

Vega 3

On Vega 3 there's a little old woman with a face creased into dark wrinkles and wearing lengths of linen cloth woven around her body like a shroud. Sweet smelling herbs litter the floor of the stone dwelling place and cooling mountain air filters in through the entrance.

Jack kneels, reaches out and touches the lines on the old face; strokes his fingertips against the paper thin skin and says, "Morrow, Grandmother."

This is not Jack's ancestor, by any means, but it is a signifier of respect. Jack has lived longer, much longer, but respect is due just the same.

"Boy? Is that you?" The voice is aged and a little rough, the eyes milky and sightless. Joint knobbled fingers reach up and clasp at Jack's hands, pressing them between the palms with skin both soft and callused. The old woman sits on piles of soft cushions, and Jack kneels on pale pillows at her feet.

"Yes, Grandmother." Jack bows his head a little and the old woman's hands leave his and move to pat at Jack's dark hair, his cheekbones, sliding a worn thumb over the delicate skin of Jack's eyelids.

"Hmm. Time has passed, boy." Jack wants to say, more than you know.

"Yes, Grandmother."

The word is not English, none of them are; but Grandmother is a decent approximation in the language that echoes in Jack's head. Jack can speak English, some Welsh, at least five words of French and more than a few alien tongues. It's always a toss up whether he'll speak anything the natives understand, but he's had years to accustom himself to this, years before Ianto and Torchwood and Earth. And if words don't work, charm helps. Jack has lots of charm.

Fingers nudge at Jack's chin, tilting upwards, and Jack looks into the eyes that used to see, but never saw Jack. The old woman was blind before Jack met her. It is one thing Jack needs feel no guilt for.

"What sorrow is here, that brings you back?" the old woman asks. She tsks softly under her breath.

Her hand is spread wide on Jack's face, now, curved like a mask. Gnarled fingers curled over jaw line, feeling the muscle that moves there as Jack speaks. Her thumb grazes the skin under Jack's eye and Jack's breath is humid against the skin of her palm.

"Why should sorrow bring me, Grandmother? Would it not be a joy to see you?"

The old woman chuckles gently. "Ah. It is a long time since you learned the foolish old woman is no fool. Have you forgot the lesson, hmm?"

Jack smiles faintly. "No, Grandmother. When I lie to you, the fool is myself."

The old woman nods, smiles. "So. Tell me."

"Much sorrow, Grandmother." Jack's hand closes round the old woman's wrist like a prayer. "So much time has passed. So much has changed. I cannot tell you of these things." He will, though, eventually.

The fingers on Jack's face flex lightly. "You have not changed much, I think."

Jack tries to laugh and a coarse sound like a sob beats in the air, instead. "Indeed, Grandmother."

Jack was younger when he was here before, but the face he has now should be older than this. Although, with the meandering Jack has done through time, it is chance alone that has given him a timeframe to return.

"Time treats you unkindly?" A questioning lilt, with a tapping finger.

"Time passes." A pause. "Times passes, and I don't move. It's…complicated." Jack rubs his hands against the old woman's wrist, feeling the slide and give of the fragile skin.

The old woman hums. Moves her hand from Jack's face and takes Jack's hand in a gentle grip. "You come for counsel? Or absolution?" Her head tilts, curiously. "You have needed neither in the past."

"I cannot be absolved. Too much death and…" Another cry that is no laugh escapes Jack's mouth; jaw tight, moisture hinting at the rim of his eyes. "I want to forget."

"Ah. You come then for absence. You would forget the deaths?" She pauses. "You would forget the loves?"

"Yes. No." Jack inhales sharply and squeezes his eyes shut. Bone weary. Some loves are lost for good, others are snatched away - Alice's face creased with the pain of his betrayal. Alice bleeds, Stephen is buried and Ianto is…

He wants to forget the deaths but he has no right. And he wants to say, 'I don't love Ianto Jones', as if the denial, when said before such a witness, will hold weight and become truth. And on becoming truth will lessen the need to forget.

Instead he says, "I promised I wouldn't forget. I promised him I wouldn't forget him."

"Ah."

"But for a time, just for a time…" The words are spoken under Jack's breath and sound like forgive me.

"For a time, then." The old woman's hand strokes Jack's hair and with steady thumbs she smudges a touch of ground herbs to his forehead. It is like a benediction.

At the top of the mountain, Jack lies with his head in the lap of the old woman and cries.

*

Clethrien, third moon of Becleth

As he travels, Jack researches and asks the question. He looks in planetary registries, compares pictures with indistinct images of claws and looming figures that he'd downloaded from classified Earth databases. He asks discreet questions in bars; he poses as a drug dealer, a weapons dealer, a bounty hunter willing to share a reward.

He's not sure what he'd do if he did track down the 456. He doesn’t have a plan because to have a plan he needs to know what he's actually dealing with. Attacking with bravado and not much else didn’t work before; disastrously so. He hears rumours about a toxic race with nasty habits, but never runs them to ground, or anything even close.

Time passes and he still asks the question, but resigns himself to the negative answers and blank looks. Looking for revenge or justice gets pushed aside by the need to look for other things. The things out of reach, or just missed, or impossible.

"I'm looking for something," he says, to the flash of gold he sees in the shadow of the doorway.

Jack blends in well, the hue of his slate blue coat echoed in the faded greys and metals of the back street. The hint of warehouse interior tells much the same tale, except with more gunmetal grey. It is like an engine room that grinds up life and the people who tend the grind are dotted here and there, with watchful eyes, and dull guns.

The girl emphatically does not blend. She is burnt sienna with a hint of gold, and long red, red hair. A splashed palette of colour against the charcoal backdrop.

"Is it a weapon?" Eagerness paints her tone; she claps her hands in a parody of childishness, lithe flexible arms with a multitude of smooth joints. Her eyes look wide and innocent and a sliver of queasiness trembles in Jack.

She waves her hands, beckoning him into the warehouse. "It is a weapon you look for? Come, I have weapons for you! You have enemies? You have friends you do not like? Come, look, there is much to see!"

She is young, too young surely to be dealing in this kind of merchandise. But age is relative and looks are deceptive. She could be aeons old for her species. She could be an infant with ambition. She could be Jack.

"Do you deal in knowledge as well as death?" Jack follows her, as she edges inside the grim building, still gesturing a welcome. She has more joints than the average humanoid in her legs as well, the whole thing giving her an eel like movement. Flexibility. And Jack is still Jack enough that he can feel a suggestive smirk at the thought. He scans an appraising glance round the warehouse; grey crating and metal cages. Ledges, mottled and smudged, but holding container after container, items on display unrecognisable but deadly looking.

"Tut, tut. I don't deal death."

Jack hefts a knobbed roundish item in his hands. "So, this is, what, some kind of interesting fruit? Not a grenade?"

"Hush, hush," she fusses. "You kill if you will. I sell." A shrug. She snatches the grenade out of Jack's hands and tosses it airily. "Use as a doorstop, maybe. Paperweight, even."

"I'm looking for Jaduirn Ghen."

She purses her lips and her eyes narrow, blinking at him. Her gaze turns crafty. Craftier. It is unsettling after the impression of innocence. "Why would I know? Huh, huh? I sell doorstops."

He raises his eyebrows.

She shrugs, with a wicked smile. "The Ghen are not on this continent. Try Raxa. Or Relien. Try another planet altogether. Try…"

Jack catches a gesturing hand in his, faint gold sheen shining on bronze, and he softens his grip with a squeeze, "Smayir. Please. I have followed a path here. Li dex Marbhier on Talex II directed me here. 'Speak to Tava Smayir', it said, 'Smayir is the best.'"

She eyes him speculatively. "Pretty, pretty words you say. Good with hands, too." She gives a pointed look at his grip and he reflexively relaxes his fist, takes his hand away. Gives a short respectful bow.

"Excuse my forwardness, Smayir. Truly, I seek information and nothing else. I can provide payment."

Smayir gives him a look of wide eyes, flicks a glance up and down.

"Huh. Maybe I want something else, pretty, pretty man," she says. "Perhaps we trade, huh?" She ends with a look that Jack recognises, a winning flirtatious smile, and one that he has used himself many times.

Jack laughs, matching her grin. "Perhaps we do."

"Ha." She gives him a wry look this time, and shakes her head on a laugh. "Come. Speak to me of not-death. Then we speak payment."

"My thanks, Smayir." He takes a breath, not sure how much to hope. "There is a glove. Made of metal. It will fit a hand such as mine." Jack wiggles four finger and thumbs. "But not yours." Smayir drums seven fingers lightly in the air. "I have pieces of one, here."

He lays out the carefully wrapped shards of the Resurrection glove on a flat surface. They are from neither of the ones in Cardiff, but he's found fragments and parts in various illicit markets during his travels - not yet a glove that's entire and whole. However, some of the pieces have been recognised here and there, and that's useful, too. "Li thought the glove might have been made by the Ghen. It thought you might know where to find the Ghen."

"Hmm. Hmm." Smayir delicately strokes at the fragments with her flexible fingers, tipping them over and back again.

"The Ghen are clever," she acknowledges. She flicks a sharp glance at Jack. "This not a weapon. I don't have one."

Jack wonders at that. "I didn’t think you did. But the Ghen might."

"And why they give you such a thing? Cost you more than gun. More than grenade."

"I have some currency. Not on me, but some. Figured I'd make a deal."

"Deal or steal? Hmmm?" She quirks an eyebrow in interest.

Jack lets himself look abashed. Gives a one shoulder shrug. "The gift of a little life? I'll take it anyway I can get it."

"Life, huh? Gift, huh?" She looks mocking now and Jack thinks he's put a step wrong, somewhere. She sidles up to him and glides a flexible arm around his neck, whispers. "You know what glove used for? Not to bring life! Not even to kill. To bring pain." She draws the word out, soft and leisurely against his skin.

"It…" Jack frowns, shivers. "Really?"

"Yes, yes. Glove brings dead back to living for a time. Ghen kill you bit by bit, slow, slow, slow, over again. Then back to life! Then kill again, slow, slow, slow. Over, over, over." Her voice sing-songs the description, fingers fluttering sinuously and Jack is creeped out once more.

"I…didn't think it did that." The glove that Jack knows, brings people back to life for one minute. For one single minute, the time it takes to tick around a clock. It's never worked twice on the same victim. And the life has never lasted longer.

"True, I say! Back to life. Kill again. Back to life. Kill again."

"Okay, okay." Jack raises his hands in surrender. Moves away. She sounds entirely too fascinated by the process. "But I had one, once. It brought a person back for a minute, no more."

"Huh." She tilts her head. "Maybe need calibrating. Not calibrated right for species, won't work right for species."

Jack huffs a half laugh. Calibrating. Such an Earth word. Toshiko used it all the time. "I don't know. Maybe."

"Ghen don't give refunds!" Smayir shakes her head vigorously, shakes a flowing finger at him. "Ghen don't sell to just anyone. Choosy. Unpredictable. More like to kill you slow, slow, slow!" She grins wide at this, a ripple of morbid mirth.

Jack could defeat death at the hands of the Ghen, even without the Glove that brings you back to life. But he thinks slow, slow, slow, again, again, again is what would drive the last of his rational mind insane. Which is probably the point.

"Perhaps you know where I could get one, a new one, without going to the Ghen."

She purses up her lips to crinkled petals of orange red. "I not know."

Jack gives her a measuring look. "I think you do. You know a lot about it, for someone who hasn't seen one before."

"Hey, never said haven’t seen."

"So, you have got one."

"Never said that, neither!" She looks indignant, but Jack thinks he can see a calculating glint in her eyes.

"Smayir. Come. If you do have a glove, why let me pay the Ghen. I have currency." He shrugs, looks at her with ingenuous eyes. "Rather not risk my life over the sale. Even if I have to pay a little over the odds." And he's serious; he's not even really trying to scam her. If there's a glove in this warehouse, he wants it. It's a start.

*

When Jack leaves, it's with the glove wrapped well and concealed under his coat. He did have the currency on him and Tava Smayir is all the richer for it. He forgets he hasn't asked about the 456 this time, even though he meant to.

As the years go past he mostly stops asking, stops hearing rumours; the cool trail is cold and he almost gives up. Does give up in fact for many, many years, for decades and centuries.

It doesn't strike him 'til lifetimes later that the reason he could find no sign of the 456 back in the day, was because they were already dead, gone and wiped out, before he could find them. And that Jack Harkness has a long, long patient life to live and used to be a time agent, once upon a time.

*

Freer's Moon

The moon has more life than the planet itself; a rust coloured world, with heat and few seasons, but life has taken hold here and refuses to let go. Jack sits upon a chiselled slab of soft red stone and looks out over the desert. He'd had to walk a ways but Jack has still found a place to sit in solitude outside the city at the end of the day, as the sun flames above the horizon and Freer's World rises a few degrees over, huge and pale. He scuffs his heels against the stone. Ianto sits beside him.

"So. This is nice." Ianto's voice is mild and he turns his head to look at Jack, then sketches a look around at the life that builds itself up in tall orange buildings behind them, before falling back to this sandy isolation at the edge of the city. Soft sibilant insects blend with the distant rumble of living that carries on the light winds. Jack's coat is an incongruous wedge of blue against red. "Doesn't seem quite you, somehow."

Jack's breath falters in the face of Ianto's dry comment. He hasn't left the grief behind, but it's done him some good to forget for a bit, to be busy. To clear his head, be distracted and turn from it. Not for good though, never that.

"I lived my childhood by the sand," he says.

Ianto mirrors his position, both of them sat with heels on the stone, bodies propped up comfortably on a ledge of the rock formation.

In a small niche some few feet from Jack a black oval object sits quietly and beams fizzing streams of light to Jack's side. Every so often the mechanics of it glitch and Ianto ripples in the sunlight.

"Your mind is like a sink," Ianto says. "Bet this version of me is kinkier."

Jack laughs, and rubs a hand down his face. The orange dust is pervasive, feels gritty against his skin. "All of my memories of you are packed in that box. Of course, it's kinky."

Ianto shrugs a little, smiles a little. "We never were very vanilla," he allows.

There is a pause and then Ianto moves his hand, translucent against the sand and the stone, and places it on Jack's leg, just above his knee. Jack feels the effervescent tingle of energy through the fabric of his pants, against his skin.

He places his own hand in the same space, curves his palm around the muscle and bone of his own thigh. His hand merges with Ianto's light-created image of one, shimmering photons sparkling round Jack's solidness almost as if Ianto is trying to absorb him. Or be absorbed by him. If he angles his gaze right, he can half fool his brain into thinking Ianto's touch is flesh and blood.

"I think…" Ianto pauses, looks at Jack again. Jack can see him out of the corner of his eye, as he focuses on the horizon. The less he can see, the more Ianto seems real. "I think you did your best, Jack."

Back in the city, Jack had lain in a chair, eyes shut and hands clenched while an alien machine had read his mind, mapped his synapses and pulled a copy of Ianto from his memories. An unexpected technology. This Ianto reacts how Jack remembers he would, looks that way, too, with neat suit and tie, with tidy hair.

Jack also remembers him naked in bed, hair mussed and mouth latched hotly onto Jack's slick skin.

"I made mistakes."

"Don't we all." Ianto half shrugs. "You didn't ask for any of it, though. And I don't know what we could have done to make it different."

"I should have been able to…"

Softly, with a hint of irritation, "Just because you weren't born on Earth, Jack, doesn't make you Superman. I know you want to be a superhero, in that handsome, arrogant head of yours. But, you're a man, even if you are immortal. And even Superman had Kryptonite."

Jack, cracks a smile, shifts a sideways look at Ianto, "You think I'm handsome?"

Ianto huffs a laugh, "I think you're an arse."

"You love my ass."

"I love you." The upward lilt of a confession, an admission; something that Jack knew even when Ianto was alive, before he was dying, before he told him, 'Don't'.

Jack shuts his eyes, and wants to take it back. "I miss you."

"I know."

Another pause. "I can't bring Stephen back. I can't even map him. I didn't know him well enough. My own grandchild and I didn't know him well enough to map him."

"Hey. You can't bring him back, anyway. You couldn't have taken him home like this. It wouldn't have helped. You know that." Ianto sighs. "I'm not back. This isn't me being 'back.'"

"This helps."

"Does it?"

"Yes!" Quieter now. "I know this isn't real. But it's the best that I can have. For now."

"For now."

"Ianto. If I could bring you back. Really do it. Should I?"

The Ianto of Jack's memory smiles wryly and says, "Well, I probably wouldn't kill you if you did."

Jack quirks a smile.

Ianto takes a breath. "I would ask one thing, though."

Jack shifts now, turns to look at Ianto. Drinks him in. "What's that?"

Ianto looks back, steady gaze, light filtering through him. "Don't."

Jack frowns, starts to shake his head, "What…I don't…"

"When you bring him back; when he says he loves you - don’t say don’t."

Jack guiltily flicks his gaze away.

"Jack? You do love him? Love me?"

Jack feels a fizzing prickle against his skin that means Ianto is gripping his leg tighter. He blinks at the rock beyond Ianto's shoulder; over at the reddening horizon; down at a chirring seven legged bug sifting methodically through the fine covering of sand on the rocks, oblivious to the angst of men and their memories.

Ianto presses on. "If you bring him back, don’t let him think you don’t care. He's knows he can’t have you forever. But just for a while would be nice."

"So you're saying, don’t break his heart straightaway." Jack gives a sharp burst of laughter.

"Hey. He's a realist. I'm not saying he won't get hurt. Or you, even. But at least give it a go."

Jack bites at his lip and watches the seven-legged bug reach the end of a ledge and expertly tumble down a small sandy slope, before ending right side up at the bottom and still moving forward.

"Will he think it's worth it?"

Now Ianto laughs, really laughs, "Where's that world famous arrogance, Jack? Of course, he'll think it's worth it. He'll have you for as long as you'll give him, you daft git."

*

Pelligrey, Satellite Habitat 3

Jack has come to Pelligrey, Sab 3 with a purpose. Full of bustling life, the scrape of heel and toe on metallic gridways sends an incessant rasping echo through the vast interior. The noise grates on Jack's nerves after a while but he guesses the inhabitants sublimate it. After all, they don't seem crazy. The gridways, however, cut across the station like a geometry lesson gone mad. Jack takes in the teaming populace, but he's looking for someone specific and it's taken a while. On this journey he's hitched a ride on several freighters and one cruise ship, a junker or two and a personal hopper he 'borrowed' from someplace – and still he's missed his quarry more than once.

It comes almost as a shock, when the man he looks for is standing right in front of him, right now, grinning his manic grin, grasping him by the shoulders with a little shake.

"Hello, Jacky boy! Long time no see! And how are you this fine day?" The Doctor pauses, frowns, scrunches up his face and peers closes. "Excuse me for saying so, but you don't look at all well."

His words curl around Jack and almost make him sob with relief. "I've probably been better," he says, with a rueful tip of the head.

And then, just because he can, he pulls the Doctor into a fierce hug, head tucked low. The Doctor flails a bit, ends up with his face smushed into Jack's neck and pats a hand soothingly against Jack's back.

"There, there," he says, sounding somewhat bemused.

Jack pulls back with a hint of embarrassment; pulls back before he gets too accustomed to the soothing hand. Not to mention the Doctor sounds human, looks human, feels human. He feels a sharp wave of nostalgia and something akin to homesickness.

"It's good to see you, Doctor." It always is. With the Doctor he feels like he's flying; that he's flying and doesn’t ever have to land, even if the end of the universe is looming.

He gives a wide white smile that the Doctor will see through in an instant and looks around for the Doctor's inevitable companion. Usually human and female. He doesn't see anyone close who fits the bill; the gridways of the habitat are crowded, humanoid, alien, full of colour and life but all move with an almost marching intent. Nobody lingers in their vicinity with anything like anticipation or exasperation. When his gaze swings back to the Doctor the words of inquiry die an ashy death in his mouth. He feels like the Doctor's expression could be a mirror of his own.

"Oh."

"Yes, well." The Doctor rubs almost sheepishly at the back of his neck. "I appear to be travelling a bit light, at the moment."

They decamp to the TARDIS, although Jack thinks his kind of grief is best related in public, where the upright struts of an indifferent populace can confine him to dispassionate words. He knows he won't break in public. But the TARDIS is a familiar constant point (in space and time, much like himself), and with the Doctor there he doesn’t trust himself quite so much.

The stories take a while to tell but Jack already knows some of the Doctor's. The Doctor tells the rest in brief, flippant sentences; Rose and Donna, forgetting and leaving and travelling alone.

Jack tells the latest story of the Earth and the children. The words come surprisingly easily and the Doctor seems almost bewildered that he, the Doctor, wasn't there.

"I wonder sometimes," he says, softly. "Whether one day I'll drop by for a visit and it'll all be gone without me knowing. Gone, for good. I mean it's not as if I'm listed as the Earth's next of kin or anything."

Then he looks at Jack, with curiosity. "Actually, how did you find me? Not that I mind, but I'm hardly in the phone book."

Now it's Jack's turn to be sheepish. "I, er. Well, I might have activated a bug on the TARDIS at some point."

The Doctor's eyebrows shoot upwards.

"A bug! Right!" And his eyebrows pitch downwards to a frown. Then he shakes his head. "No, sorry, you'll have to run that by me again."

Jack has to smile, a genuine smile that feels good. It's been so long he imagines he can feel the muscles in his face creak and reassemble themselves. "You remember after we did the whole "towing the Earth back home thing"?"

"No, completely slipped my mind, but carry on," says the Doctor.

Jack quirks an eyebrow and practically laughs. "Well, after everything was getting back to normal, we got to catch our breath a bit."

"Jackie made tea," nods the Doctor. The he screws up his face in disbelief, "I think Donna found cake somewhere."

He doesn't flinch over Donna's name, at all. Jack has noticed that. Nor Rose's. Jack wonders if it's something he quietly pats himself on the back for, even as he steels himself for the next time. Unless it really does get easier as years and decades go by. The sadness. The loss. The Doctor has had more time to practice, after all.

"So, there was tea making and cake finding, and I was just off exploring a little." Jack tries to shrug it off. "And I might have found a tracking device in some room or other. And…borrowed it?"

He ends the words on a questioning lilt, as if the Doctor would somehow believe he didn’t steal it at all, that the thing fell accidentally into his pocket, honest guv.

He sighs, tugs the tracker from under his shirt, round his neck. It's a shiny curved piece of oval metal. The cover snaps open to display a readout of red scrolling numbers. The other part is as small as his thumbnail and currently hidden in what Jack thinks may be a long abandoned sock drawer.

"I gave it to Ianto for safe keeping. He's good at stuff like that." He doesn't falter at the incorrect tense, and the Doctor doesn't call him on it.

"You didn’t think it was just a locket?" The Doctor looks mildly embarrassed, "I only mention it because…"

"Well, I was a time agent," says Jack, raising an eyebrow meaningfully. "Not 007, obviously, but still…I recognised it from back when I was in the field."

"Ah."

"Yeah, well." Sometimes Jack's time agent life seems so far away, it's hard to believe it was him.

The Doctor gives him an appraising look. "Well, now you've found me, did you want me for something in particular? Or just more tea and cake?"

The Doctor raises questioning eyebrows and Jack takes a deep breath. The Doctor is his first and last hope. He has no idea where else to turn.

*

Jack has seen his life pass before his eyes. Not simply in the moment of death, but literally.

Once upon a time, he'd been recklessly standing in the shadow of a monster, a giant of death, that had towered above Cardiff and Jack's life had streamed out of his body in waves of silver light, vortex energy twisting, tangling and shattering death with its force. Death absorbed life, and life killed it. Such is the dichotomy of the matter that Jack really doesn't want to think about it, too much.

But the fact remains that life had flowed out of him. Had existed as an entity, as a thing. As something.

And once he had thought of this, Jack couldn't shake it. If his life force can flow out of his body, could it flow into another person and make them live? Abbadon had died and at the back of his mind at the time, Jack had figured it would be like an overdose. An overdose of life energy so vast it that the creature would fall under the weight of it. At least he had hoped something like that would happen. For once, he got it right.

And while he can't capture that magic light in his hands (he's tried breathing it out, willing it into his waiting palms) there is only one person he knows who could at least understand what he's on about.

The man is standing right in front of him, right now, looking quizzical.

"And you want to, what? Bottle your life and pour a glass for young Ianto?"

"That about sums it up." Jack frowns. "It sounds so much less doable when you put it like that."

The Doctor sighs. "I have to be truthful. I have no idea if it’s possible. The fact that you can't die is not exactly run of the mill."

"Look." Jack leans towards him earnestly. "It's just energy, when it comes down to it. The transferring of energy. I mean, think of batteries. What's that but energy in a can?" Jack sounds all kinds of eager, he knows he does, and he can tell the Doctor isn't convinced. But he will convince him, dammit, because this is his only plan.

"C'mon. We've both seen some wacky things in our time. A while back Torchwood encountered creatures that could capture your last breath in a jar and steal your life away. This thing I need to do? It's not so far fetched." Except it is, really, but Jack won't admit that for a second.

"Huh." The Doctor screws his face up for a moment. He pauses, and then paces little, and Jack can almost see cogs turning in his head. Feels a little giddily hopeful.

"Hmm." The Doctor proceeds to ramble. "You know, yes, it's not so crazy. I mean, it may not be possible, and actually I hear it's pretty unpleasant, if not occasionally somewhat deadly but…"

"Uh, Doctor?" The Doctor still has the ability to utterly confuse him.

"Yes, well." The Doctor claps his hands together, turns on his heels and looks at Jack with something akin to excitement in his face. "There's a race of creatures which can absorb the life force of living beings. In a rather painful process, they can feed on their prey, soak up their life force and leave the victim a bit withered and usually dead."

Jack opens, and then shuts his mouth. Then, "And this can help, how?"

"They don't do a lot of it these days, they're a bit reformed. But a handy additional skill is being able to take the life force they, well, sucked out of one person, and transfuse it into someone else."

"Ah. So. One of these creatures…" Jack has got to clarify this.

"Wraith, they're called," says the Doctor, helpfully.

"…Wraith, uh, feed on me, then…essentially vomit up my life into Ianto? Or something?"

"Or something," agrees the Doctor. "It's actually quite a complicated molecular, biological and survival process. The whole race used to be the scourge of their galaxy, travelling from planet to planet, culling the population. Quite the life-sucking space vampires, they were.

"Riiight. And then…?"

"Oh, well," says the Doctor carelessly, "I came across a big ol' hiveship of theirs one day, quite by accident. It all got a bit unpleasant. They tried to suck the life out of me, of course; luckily I managed to persuade them otherwise. They had a rather good scientist amongst them and I just helped them out. Tweaked some DNA, and a few other things, which stopped them wanting to eat people. Now they sit down to three square meals a day, maybe a nice sandwich, and the odd cow if they want some of the strong stuff. Cup of tea, even - does 'em the world of good. And reactivating their digestive system helped rub out the rapacious bloodlust; some of them settled down and became farmers. Amazing!"

Jack is amazed. If it were anyone else he'd accuse them of making it all up. In fact, he's about to do just that, when the Doctor continues.

"I don't know for sure it'll work, mind you. But you do have your Resurrection Glove thingy, so it's not quite as if they'd have to raise Ianto from the actual dead. Just give him enough of your life to last a while."

"And these…space vampires will just help us?" Jack is not a little incredulous. The Doctor's casual use of the term "space vampire" doesn't help. But then his faith in both human and non-human nature has taken a pounding over the years.

"Yes, it'll be fine!" announces the Doctor. "They can be quite reasonable chaps now they don't have to run around while their only food source shoots back. I'll get in contact, see if anyone can come give us a hand!" And at the last word, the Doctor chuckles to himself and wanders off, leaving Jack to look stunned.

*

It takes a few days to locate and travel to the Wraith. The Doctor reckons they are ecstatic to see him, but really, Jack finds it difficult to tell. The Wraith are tall, with long, grey hair and a pallid complexion. Pointy teeth, as well. He can see how they could be a scourge. They are also not much for small talk, and whilst they generally seem to respect the Doctor and make time for him, he gets the feeling they'd really like to get back to their fields. It doesn't take the Doctor too long to find a Wraith he knows by name, although as he explains, the Wraith didn't set a lot of store by names.

"This is Jimmy," he introduces.

It seems like such a prosaic name for a life sucking vampire type. Jack says as much.

"You would prefer something more exotic?" The Wraith's voice sounds rough and gritty. As if he crunches down bones for sustenance, not someone's life force. Or a sandwich.

"No, no. It's fine. It’s just you look more like a - I don't know - an Oscar, maybe? Fernando, even?"

Jimmy the Wraith, growls, before dismissing Jack with a sniff. So. Not much with the sense of humour either. But, apparently, he is willing to help.

*

Earth

Two days after Ianto's death, whilst Jack is numb and waiting for the full weight of grief to bury him, he steals Ianto's body and slots him into cold storage. Not at the Hub, the wreckage of which is truly phenomenal, but in one of the many Torchwood One bolt holes. Secrets upon secrets, not many left to know them. Jack knows because Ianto reminded him one day, when speculating what to do about housekeeping if their own vault ever got full.

"By the time I snuff it, there'll be no room left. I'll end up in your freezer with frozen pizzas and half a leg of lamb."

"Maybe. But I promise I won't eat you. Not when you're dead, anyway. Alive, that's a different matter altogether."

Ianto spluttered slightly, then recovered, "Of course, there's the old Torchwood One back up vault."

"Oh, yes," said Jack and didn't say that the odds were their own vault would still have plenty of room for Ianto. It did for Susie, after all.

Jack stashed Ianto, but not Stephen. He tried, but Alice wouldn't let him near the body, wouldn't speak to him. And how could he properly explain, I need to freeze your little dead boy, in case one day in the future I can figure out how to bring him back alive. She took Stephen home and buried her son, and Jack didn't have the words to stop her and didn't go to the funeral.

He didn't try and find words of explanation for Ianto's sister. He figured, what's one more piece of guilt, and sent an official sounding letter that said Ianto was lost in action, which was true. He was lost. He lied to Gwen and said the government had had to burn the bodies, so there couldn't be a funeral. Gwen had sobbed in his arms and Jack felt the weight of grief reach its tipping point and he left a few days later.

He travelled across the Earh but everything that was good was also bad. Each child's laugh, each happy family arguing or just existing. Each human being still fucked up and normal, and without the burden of an alien race stealing their children.

Everything a reminder of everything else.

Revenge hadn't been his first thought in the immediate aftermath. That had been the grief. Grief, guilt and an underlying fear that he wouldn't be able to bring Ianto back. At first, he was so raw that he couldn't even try, for fear of failure. But he'd needed something to hang on to and revenge was as good as anything else. He would track down the 456 and exterminate them. To be able to casually lift a hand and wave them out of existence the way they had waved away Ianto and the others.

He hacked into the UNIT and Torchwood databases from the other side of the world, heedlessly tripping alarms till Gwen realised that both Jack and the hacker were in Australia. Jack never knew how close he came to having his motel room door pounded in by Aussie UNIT agents, before Gwen called them off.

He studied information, files and frequencies til his head pounded; but there was a limit to what he could do, to what he could find. Jack kept going, but with dusty steps and less conversation and the mask of a man who helped to save the world, and who died a little each day, even as he lived and lived and lived.

And when no one and nothing on Earth could help, he had to find somewhere, someone who could. So he took off into space; left Gwen, Rhys, left everyone. Marched through the galaxy looking. For revenge. For life. For peace. Looking.

It's been a long journey and now Ianto lies cold and dead in front of him, and Jack's hands are tingling. It's the cold, he thinks, or the anticipation, or the fear. If this doesn't work, there's nothing left. If this doesn't work, there is nothing left for him to do but buck up and carry on living. The prospect is as unimaginable as it is inevitable.

Ianto lies on a gurney wheeled into the TARDIS. The TARDIS stands, odd and anachronistic as ever, against the metal and brickwork of the underground bunker. It's a bit spooky down here, if Jack is honest, and although he hasn't looked too closely, he knows there are other bodies, lost and forgotten, as time moved on and aliens invaded.

He stands looking at Ianto's body for a moment, until the Doctor coughs politely, and he can hear the Wraith making fidgeting sounds.

"Okay."

He breathes deeply and then turns to the Wraith. Jack's shirt is open and the Wraith bares his teeth in what could be a smile, before pushing his hand, palm first, against Jack's chest. For some reason, Jack had thought this would all happen with a lot of chrome and shiny equipment. Back when it had simply been a desperate gasp of an idea, he thought maybe he'd be strapped to a chair and some kind of probe would detect the life in him, calibrate and extract, with numbers on a screen tracking the process.

The actual process isn't so glamorous. Of course, the Doctor had said "feed", but Jack hadn't really thought the whole thing would be quite so…visceral. There's an instant when Jack wonders if it's working, and then there is a jolt, a raw radiating sting, and pain.

The Wraith growls, almost howls, and Jack lets out a ragged gasp himself, as if his very breath is being torn from his body. Usually someone sucking the life out of him is a bit more fun. This sucks more and not in the good way. His body jerks forward, and he can feel the Wraith's hand dig in, clench, take…sparks of white heat as he is drained, as the light goes dim, and …

He blacks out.

He comes back round to find the Doctor gazing at him in a concerned manner.

"Uh," says Jack, feeling a bit weak. The Doctor helps him up.

"Hey, I thought you weren't supposed to kill me!" Jack looks at the Wraith, who in turn, looks slightly offended.

The Doctor coughs discreetly. "Actually, you fainted."

*

Jack flexes his hand in the Resurrection Glove and feels metal scrape against metal. Takes a deep breath, grits his teeth and cups the back of Ianto's head, tenses, braces himself and wills Ianto back to life.

Ianto comes back with a hoarse gasp, a severe shudder working its way through his body.

"Jack?" He pants heavily, heart newly pounding, eyes wide and scared. "Jack! What's happened, what have…Oh, God Jack," he says, because he's a member of Torchwood and he's seen the Glove before. Jack knows he knows but he doesn't have time to talk.

"Ianto, Ianto, stop, listen to me."

"Tell me you haven't brought me back to say goodbye, Jack." Ianto's eyes fill with tears, and Jack tries to steel himself, because he's got to do this without hesitation.

"We said goodbye, fuck, Jack, I remember, we said it before I died. It hurt to say goodbye Jack, not again, please Jack…" It hadn't been goodbye, as such, but it had been final.

Jack grits his teeth and brackets Ianto's face with his hands. "I didn't use the glove just to bring you back and lose you again. I'm going for gold, Ianto, just stay still and give me a minute… no, no, wrong words. Ianto, just stay still, don't freak out and TRUST me!"

Ianto swallows, shudders and grips hard onto Jack's wrist. "'kay."

"Okay."

The Wraith steps up, feeding hand out-stretched, and it's no good, as soon as he gets in Ianto's line of sight, Ianto does freak out, of course, he does.

"What the f…Jack!!" He scrambles on the gurney, but can't find any purchase to get away, and not that Jack blames him but there's no time, no time, and with one last, "Ianto, trust me, just trust me!" He grips Ianto's hand and the Wraith moves closer and latches on.

It's like an electric shock has gone through Ianto, and Jack hopes this doesn't kill him instead of cure him.

Ianto's eyes are huge and he's panting, mouth opening on a wordless scream, almost rigid, while sweat sheens on his brow, until he looks like he's going to throw up, until he can't take any more, until the minute of the glove is up, until the seconds keep tick, tick, ticking away.

Away, away and the minute is gone, seconds and seconds, past and done, but Ianto isn't gone, isn’t gone, is still here, breathing in shuddering gasps, slower now, but still alive, still here, still not gone and the Wraith lets go with a grunt, leaving a bloody gash on Ianto's chest, and Ianto still breathes, he drags air down into his lungs deep, deep, deep. Alive. Alive.

Alive.

Jack can feel it though the tight grip he has on Ianto's shoulders.

"You're alive, Ianto. You’re alive!"

Ianto looks utterly bewildered and not a little shattered.

"Had to use the glove to get you alive. Then the big guy here sucked a bit of energy out of me and transferred it to you to keep you that way!"

The big guy is standing back a bit and but Ianto's eyes are still wide and white round the edges as his glance flicks from the Wraith to Jack and back.

"Energy? I don't…"

"The stuff that keeps me alive, that's in me. That brings me back… I had some of it…taken out." There isn't really a polite word for the procedure, for what happened. He doesn't want to say feed, he really doesn't.

"Some of you. In me," Ianto says, blinking confusedly, and Jack feels the shivers running through him. He helps him sit up a bit, rubs a hand vigorously down Ianto's cold arms, feels him warm a little, skin pinking over his cheeks.

"Hey, it's not the first time," Jack says it with a shaky attempt at a leer, but either Ianto is still in shock or he's too used to Jack's flirting asides to notice. He looks down at his chest, bare but with the angry red mark from the feeding hand. He goes reflexively to rub it, but his hand hovers instead.

"How…how long will it last? I mean, I won't suddenly drop down dead in the middle of next Tuesday, will I?"

Jack laughs, "No. No, you won't. But…"

"But?" Ianto raises his eyebrows. "Don’t tell me there's a 'but', Jack!"

"Only your pretty little butt, Ianto Jones!" Jack laughs. Then laughs more, smiles wider, because this is Ianto, Ianto is back, because he can't help smiling. Ianto, however, without the benefit of knowing the details, is still under the impression that he could snuff it at any minute. The guy is beginning to look a bit panicked.

"Jack! How long…" Ianto swallows. "How long have I got?"

Jack smiles, wide and carefree for the moment.

"Well, I don’t know down to the last minute. I mean, this isn't an exact science."

"Jack!"

The Wraith interjects, its rough voice making Ianto jump. "I estimate a hundred years."

"A hundred years. One hundred years." Ianto looks stunned.

"The Doctor has calculated the differences between the Wraith chronology and human timekeeping. The figure is based on several factors. It is, however, merely an approximation."

"Yeah, you could always get run over by a bus. Or a weevil," says Jack, helpfully. "I mean I don't think you've become a self renewing resource like me, but barring serious injury or ailment, you should expect to get well over a century old."

Ianto's mouth purses as if it's trying to make a word, but no sound actually manages to emerge.

"Oh, and you may not age as much. Physiologically, I mean. It's difficult to tell, it's never been done before; I look as more or less as good as the day I first died, so I think it'll act as a sorta an anti-wrinkle cream, but nothing's certain…"

"But I'll make it to next Tuesday, barring injury or ailment?"

"Yes."

"Jack."

"Yes."

"You're amazing."

"I know!"

Jack is back; happy, cocky, confident Jack. Jack, who didn’t save everybody but who tried, damn it.

Ianto looks at the Wraith and the Doctor. He frowns as his eyes snag on the Doctor, a flicker of recognition, but his brain can't cope with understanding much more. "Thank you. Thank you."

Still, the Doctor looks delighted. "Not a problem, glad it worked!"

He flicks a glance at Jack who feels as if he is practically vibrating on the spot. And the Doctor obviously thinks discretion is the better part of valour, because he links arms with the Wraith, who only looks slightly affronted, and turns him away from the scene. In a conversational tone, as he walks away, he says, "Did I ever tell you about the time that kittens…"

Jack doesn't hear what he says. He is focused on Ianto, stands in front of him as Ianto sits on the edge of the gurney, one hand cupped round the back of Ianto's neck stroking the soft skin by his ear.

Ianto takes another breath, thinks a minute. "Um…Who won? Did the 456…?" He trails off, as if reluctant to ask the question.

Jack sobers up, visibly, and can see Ianto flinch. Remembers Ianto wasn't there for the end. "I…they didn’t get the kids. They didn't get ten percent. They got one. I…gave them one."

"One."

"Not as a drug," Jack adds hastily, although, the only way this is better is that Stephen won't be hanging on half alive for decades being fed upon. At least it was a quick death. "It was a thing, a transmission, that hurt them enough to get them off Earth but it killed…it killed the boy it went through."

Ianto looks at Jack, as if just looking could tell him everything. Then again, maybe it does. "I'm sorry," he says.

He lays a hand tentatively Jack's arm, "Not everyone can live happily ever after, you know. This isn't a fairy tale and you aren't Superman."

Jack leans his forehead against Ianto's. "I want to be. I want to make everything right."

"You did your best. That's all we can ask of you." Ianto's breath (his breath, living breathing breath) is warm, ghosting over Jack's skin. He rubs his forehead against Jack's.

Ianto grins a little. "You'd give Lex Luthor a run for his money, you cocky sod, but even Superman had Kryptonite." If Ianto is trying to tease a smile out of Jack, it's almost working.

"People are my Kryptonite." Jack whispers the words. "They didn't used to be, but these days…"

"You're mine. You're my Kryptonite," Ianto says the words equally quietly, almost as if he is afraid Jack will hear.

"I am?"

"Yeah." There's a sigh, and then the affection is soft and warm Ianto's voice, "Make me crazy, you do, Jack." It flits in the back of Jack's mind that Jack isn’t even his real name, but he ignores the thought.

He smiles a crooked smile. "You’re already crazy."

Ianto pauses. "I love you."

"You’re too good for me, you are." Jack has the feeling that if he really did leave it at that, an inconsequential toss of words into the air between them, that Ianto would accept it.

But Jack goes with it, he gives in, he accepts what is inevitable. He says the words he hadn't said before, breathing them into Ianto's neck, Ianto holding onto him hard and fast.

"Love you, too, Ianto Jones."

fin