Jack realized that he wasn't alone between his fourth and twelfth Andorran Slammer. He lifted his head from the fold of his arms and contemplated ordering another. He shouldn't, not if he wanted to make it back to his room tonight, though he was likely past the 'able to walk in a straight line' threshold already. His room had seen little of him so far, and he saw no need to change that pattern. A drink appeared in front of him before he could even raise his hand.
He looked over. There was a time when finding a pretty woman sitting next to him, handing him a drink, would have brought his charm on full force. Drinks would have led to sex, possibly a couple days worth. That time was over, had been for months. He couldn't. Not since....
Stay with me. Please! Stay with me, please, please...
Jack grabbed the drink and slammed it back. He waved to get the bartender's attention and wordlessly ordered another.
"Troubles?" The woman's voice was thickly accented, deep and somewhat soothing.
Jack gave her a second look. She seemed human, but he could tell she was not. There were differences. Tiny differences that probably would have been overlooked by most, but Jack was a human connoisseur. He'd been living surrounded by them for years, which just made the differences all the more noticeable. Her nose was too long and narrow, her forehead too broad, her chin too angular. Either she was from one of the off-shoot races – a mixed breed – or she'd tried to mimic their look without paying close attention to the details.
A new drink appeared before him. The empty glasses were cleared away without a word.
"You could say that," Jack said. He was slightly proud of himself for not slurring. Well, not too much.
Painted fingernails ran through his hair in an almost motherly gesture of affection. Mentally, he upped the woman's age by at least two decades. "Poor dear. Your heart's so broken. So much pain in you. Such loss."
I love you.
He winced as her words stirred up memories still too raw. "Telepath?"
She smiled a tiny smile, her lips pressed thin and seeming vaguely secretive. "Something like that." Her fingers continued to card lazily through his hair. "You lost someone you cared about. What was her name?"
"His..." Emotion chocked his throat. He took a long swallow of his drink. It tasted saltier than it should. "His name was Ianto."
"Shh," she whispered softly, soothingly. "Don't cry. It will get better." Her hand dropped from his hair to brush the tears off of his face.
Ianto, stay with me.
Jack dropped his head back into his arms. The tears wouldn't stop. They never did. He could still feel Ianto's cold lips against his own. He didn't have to die. He shouldn’t have died. Jack should have made him wait with Gwen. It was his fault. He'd been so arrogant, thinking that he was indestructible, that he could just barge in on the 456 and make them stop. He had made them stop, but in the end they'd proven just how fragile he was. Jack was broken, dead, and he wasn't sure he was going to heal this time.
I take it all back, but not him.
"I can help," the woman offered, her voice smooth and sure.
"You can't help." No one could help him. Ianto was dead.
"I can make you forget." Her fingers trailed over the rim of his ear. "I can make it so that he never existed, so that you never felt his loss."
Don't forget me.
Jack choked back a sob. He fumbled with his jacket, his hands getting stuck in pockets and twisted in fabric. After a few seconds he found what he was looking for and slammed the thin glass vial onto the counter between them. White powder shifted inside the vial. "I could do that myself."
He dropped his head back onto his arms. His hands had shaken when he'd touched the vial, like they always did whenever his fingers absently brushed it. It would be so easy to wipe the memory of Ianto's death away, to erase the chunk of time in which Ianto had thoroughly ensconced himself in Jack's life, filling Jack's heart so that his absence left behind a gaping wound. Some days, his drunker days, he wondered why the hole in his heart wasn't bleeding, wondered how his heart still beat when so much of it was gone. But he couldn't bring himself to do it. In a way, that would be like killing Ianto a second time, and he couldn't do that to Ianto, even if the grief was tearing him apart. He'd made Ianto a promise and he couldn't bring himself to break it, not yet.
A thousand years time? You won't remember me.
Yes I will. I promise. I will.
Glass clinked on the countertop as the vial was lifted. "Interesting." The vial clinked again as it was set back down. "Hmm. So not forgetting then." He felt her touch his arm. Her hand was heavy and cold. "What is it then?" Her voice dropped to a whisper. Fabric rustled and he felt her lean in close, putting more pressure on the hand on his arm. "What is it you want?" She hissed, breath ghosting against his ear.
Images flashed through his head. It was like all his memories of Ianto decided to flood him at once. He'd been so happy. He'd given up travelling with the Doctor to go back. He wanted... he wanted Ianto back. He wanted the Doctor to swoop in, just long enough for Jack to borrow the TARDIS, to go back in time and make Ianto stay away. He wanted this pain to go away. He wanted to fix the mistake he'd made but the Doctor wasn't here, wouldn't be coming here. No, this was one screw up that the Doctor couldn't or wouldn't fix.
"I can bring him back."
Jack shot upright. "What?"
She smiled at him, revealing two rows of perfectly white teeth, slightly more pointed than a normal human's. He shivered and attributed that to either his drunkenness or the air conditioning kicking on. His stomach roiled.
"You have a wish," the woman said, and there was a strange undercurrent to her voice - smug, as if she'd just struck upon a juicy bit of gossip. "I can grant it for you."
Jack's eyes narrowed, or at least they tried to but the look ended far more bleary than focused. "Who are you?"
"Siedel-shirekle," she said. He assumed it was a race, but it could have been a profession or classification or any number of designations. It sounded vaguely familiar. "You may call me Jana."
He raised an eyebrow. "And you can bring people back from the dead, millions of miles away?" He knew from experience that things that sounded too good to be true usually were.
Jana shook her head. "No. My power is not to resurrect. Not specifically. I may make bargains, if there is a certain weight to them. Your wish, in exchange for mine."
His first instinct was to say no. He should get up and walk away, but the thought that he might get another minute with Ianto, to see him living, breathing, smiling, even if it was only for a little while was overpowering. He wanted that. In truth, he wanted more. If he let himself think further, to really delve into his wish, he wanted Ianto with him forever. He wanted to grow old with Ianto and never have to worry about losing him again.
What they had, the connection between him and Ianto, it was deeper than anything he'd ever felt before. He expected his lovers to die. It was part of being immortal. He lived on, they died. He'd buried countless friends and lovers. None had hit him as hard as Ianto. He'd been gone over a year, nursing his grief through its infancy and it had yet to fade. He still felt the loss of Ianto's death as strongly as he had the first day, when he'd awoken and Ianto had not.
"What's the bargain?"
Her grin widened. She pulled a small black box from the folds of her dress – a slinky blue affair that matched her eyes and would have looked stunning on his floor, in other circumstances – and placed it on the bar in front of him.
"I want you to deliver this."
He picked up the box. It fit in the palm of his hand. The material felt wooden. There was a slight crease running around the center of the box – the seam between lid and bottom. The design seemed familiar. It seemed too simple, Ianto's life in exchange for a delivery.
"Who am I delivering this to, and where?"
His question, and its implied acceptance, visibly pleased her.
She leaned towards him and returned to stroking his ear, though this time there was more of coaxing in the gesture and less of comfort. "You know a certain Doctor. We're old acquaintances, he and I, and I would like to repay him for what he did for me on his last visit. I'd like you to give this to him when you next see him. There's no rush."
He stared at the box. It could be a trap. The Doctor had a fair share of enemies, though usually they were far more alien in appearance.
"You may open it."
The lid popped open easily. Now he understood where he'd seen this kind of box before. Inside the box, on the bottom half, was a soft cushion of padding with a slit cut in the center. A ring sat in the slit. It was made from a dark grey material, darker than silver, with a large red gem in the center. He lifted the box to get a better look at it. There were carvings around the edges, strange loops and swirls that trailed along the outside of the ring in an almost discordant pattern.
Jack glanced at the woman, then back at the ring. There had to be something nefarious about this. Strange women didn't offer to resurrect dead lovers over a simple ring. He quickly pulled out the ring and slipped it on his finger.
Nothing happened. There was no magic attached to it, no poison inlaid in the metal, no barbs that shot out to embed in his finger. He pulled the ring off. It came away easily.
She smiled at him.
He tapped the gem on counter. It sounded normal. He put the ring back into the box and closed it. "What's the catch?" He asked bluntly.
He shook the box. "Then why not do it yourself? Why offer me a wish to take it to the Doctor? How is this even remotely worth a man's life?"
She leaned back with a sigh and toyed with the stem of her wine glass. "I, unfortunately, cannot leave this space station. My work – my life – keeps me here. Permanently. I owe him... a lot. We have much history and I want to give him this, as a token of my gratitude. You're his companion, yes?"
That was a loaded question, if he'd ever heard one. "I was. Once. A long time ago."
She smiled softly at him. It was the tinge of pity in the look that confirmed that she really knew the Doctor.
He tightened his fingers around the box. The whole situation seemed unreal. There was a good chance he was hallucinating. He was drunk off his ass. This likely wasn't real. He'd wake up in the morning and it'd all be a dream.
It didn't hurt to dream. He could use a good one for a change. It'd been so long without one. Even his dreams of Ianto, fleeting reflections of happier times, always ended in death and heartbreak.
"Alright," he said. Her shoulders sagged slightly with relief and her smiled turned a touch more honest. "I'll do it. What do you need from me?"
"Take the box in both hands." He did as she told him. She placed her hands over his. "Now, make your wish."
He inhaled deeply, closed his eyes, and wished.
I never want to lose Ianto again.
Light flashed brightly in front of him, a brief orange burst against his closed eyelids. He opened his eyes slowly. Another drink had appeared in front of him. Someone had refilled Jana's wine glass.
His heart felt a little lighter. He smiled back at her. How long had it been since he'd last smiled?
"It's done." She lifted her glass towards his. "Shall we toast on it?"
He dropped the box in his pocket and nodded. They tapped glasses. He swallowed half of his in one gulp, then drained it.
As he set down his glass, his gaze shifted to the vial of Retcon, still sitting on the counter. There was less powder in the vial than there should be. He looked between the vial and his glass with growing horror.
"How did you..."
He could feel the alcohol combining with the Retcon already. He must be really far gone for it to be affecting him this fast.
"While you were making your wish," Jana explained, her smile turning wicked. She dropped the vial back into his coat pocket. "It will be better for me if you don't remember."
His eyelids felt heavy. "But... the ring..."
"You'll remember that. It's part of the bargain, you can't help but complete your half. But, you won't remember our deal or what just happened to... what was his name? Ianto?"
Don’t forget me.
"No." His fingers reached towards his pocket. He needed to get rid of the box.
She stopped his hand halfway. Jana was stronger than he'd expected.
"No, no, dear. It's done. You can't stop it now."
His head fell onto the bar. His arms were arranged to pillow his head. She stroked her hand through his hair.
"Shh. Sleep now. You got drunk at a bar, but feel better now. You bought the ring at a bazaar and wanted to show the Doctor its strange markings. That's all you'll remember."
He didn't even hear her leave as he blacked out.
Ianto gasped for breath. God, he had to get out of here. The gas. Too late. He was dying.
His eyes were open but he couldn't see anything. It was so cold. He didn't remember being cold before. He'd had Jack's arms around him. Jack's embrace had been warm but it was gone now. Where was Jack? Why couldn't he see anything? Was this what the afterlife was like, just cold and nothing?
He felt like he'd been hit by a truck. He lifted his hand, or at least tired to. It smacked into something halfway.
"Ow." Reflexively, he sat up, only to bang his head on something hard and metallic. "Ow!" He could hear the ring of the impact echoing around him. He was fairly certain that the afterlife wasn't made of metal, which meant that he wasn't dead. Maybe. But if he wasn't dead, where was he?
"Fuck." Ianto carefully reached around to rub his forehead. Wherever he was, it was small. The ceiling was inches above his head, and he didn't have much room to move side-to-side. The walls felt metal, cold. Absently, he realized he was also naked. His ass was freezing, literally.
Ianto shifted, sliding his way downwards. He hissed as his skin pressed against frigid metal. There was really only one logical conclusion to all of this. Well, only one that didn't involve zombies, ghosts, or the Resurrection Gauntlet. The gas hadn't been as deadly as intended. He must have been knocked out but they had assumed he was dead, which meant he was either in the city morgue or Torchwood's. Likely Jack was lying on a slab nearby, also recently revived.
Had there been anything left of their morgue? God, he was going to have to redo all of the filing. Some days, life really sucked.
There would be paperwork, he realized. There was no knowing how long he'd been out. His skin felt chilled. He'd probably been in here for a while. The gas the 456 released must have had some sort of paralytic agent in it, possibly even something that mimicked death. By rights, he should be dead. He'd certainly thought he was going to die. Legally, he probably was. Hopefully he could catch someone before the official death certificate was filed, otherwise the forms he'd have to fill out would be horrendous.
His feet hit the lower wall. If he wanted, he could reach up and touch the wall above his head. He inched further down, until his knees touched the ceiling. Ianto calmly inhaled a deep breath. He could do this. He'd get out of here.
Ianto screamed as loud as he could and started kicking at the door. Now, all he had to do was wait for someone to find him. Hopefully it didn't take too long.
Jack was definitely going to get an earful over this.
The alarm woke Henry Butler from a rather nice dream about a fair and a group of girls he'd gone to university with. He lurched upright, feet yanked off of the desk to land firmly on the floor. The alarm never went off. What was the procedure for that? It was in the manual. He hadn't read the manual, at least not all of it, just the section on leave time and paid holidays.
A cross-section of one of the drawers flashed across the computer screen. He didn't know it could do that. Usually, it just scrolled through shots of the closed vaults. He'd worked here for two weeks, and had been thoroughly convinced that the screens never changed. He recognized the serial number on the drawer. This one held a person, one of the bodies of former Torchwood members if rumors were true. Only difference was, this body was moving and it shouldn't be. He could hear it moving, over the sound of the alarm. There was a rhythmic pounding against one of the doors.
How did he shut the alarm off? It was starting to get annoying. The sound probably had a specific meaning, but he had no idea what that was.
Cautiously, Henry tapped the enter key on the computer, hoping it would give him more information. A password prompt appeared. Henry typed in what he could remember of his passcode. On the third try, the alarm cut off abruptly. The pounding sounded even louder now. He heard a click, followed by a whoosh as steam poured out from the wall. One of the drawers slid out. There was a brief scream – not from him, he hoped, though it wasn't entirely unlikely – that cut off as the drawer slid out.
A man sat up. He had short black hair, a squarish face, and very pale skin. He was also naked. Very, very naked. Thankfully the awkward bits were hidden below the sides of the drawer. The man turned to look at Henry.
"Who are you?" The man in the drawer asked.
Henry's chair fell over as he backed up quickly. He flailed for a brief moment as his feet got tangled and he almost fell over. He regained his balance quickly and backed towards the door.
The man in the drawer started to lift himself out. Oh, he was definitely very naked, and those were not parts of another man that Henry wanted to see outside of a locker room.
Henry ran. He got about four paces down the hall before he thought better of it and skidding around. Next to the vault doors was a giant red button. Henry slammed his palm against the button. The doors locked, sealing the... whoever it was... in the vault. A new set of alarms sounded, but these, at least, he had definitely received training for. Henry turned and continued running.
Gwen Cooper Williams bolted out of her office and stared down at the sea of confused faces on the level below her. Warning lights flashed at the edges of the room, indicating, along with the siren currently blaring through the loud-speaker system, that security had been breached somewhere on the premises. Considering Torchwood Five consisted of five partially constructed floors at the moment, the majority of which were unoccupied, that really left only a few options, none of which made sense.
Just her luck. First month on the job, and already something was trying to break in. If she found out that one of the new recruits had tripped into the button, they were so getting Retconned and tossed out on their ass.
"What the bloody hell is going on?" She asked the room at large, not fully expecting an answer.
One of the more recent recruits, a petite, timid-looking woman by the name of Vanessa Davies raised her hand.
Gwen sighed and resisted the urge to rub her temple. She'd yet to break the recruits of that habit. "This is not kindergarten," she grated out.
Vanessa lowered her hand and looked between the other recruits in the communication center with uncertainty, as if hoping one of them would speak for her.
"What is it, Vanessa?" Gwen asked, her voice even though her patience was rapidly eroding. Mentally, she moved Vanessa to the list of staff to replace as soon as they were finally manned up enough to manage a few losses.
"I-It's a containment alarm, Mrs. Williams." God, she never got used to being called that.
"Yes," Gwen said tersely. "I know that. I was more hoping one of you had a clue where it was coming from."
One of the other recruits – Jackson something-or-other – spoke up. "It's from the Vault, ma'am."
Gwen frowned. What the hell did they have down there that would set off alarms? They'd transferred most of the items directly from the remains of Torchwood Three. There were a lot of things she'd been rather clueless on, but Jack had assured her that there wasn't anything dangerous – his brother aside.
Dear Lord, had Gray escaped?
"Did you get Henry on the comm?"
Vanessa shook her head quickly. "They're still down, ma'am."
"Bloody brilliant," Gwen muttered. Nothing bloody worked in the office, including the people. "Pull up the camera feed. Let's see what we've got." One of the security officers, Maria Landon, quickly complied. Gwen moved down the steps to join the woman in front of a terminal.
The main doors slid open, distracting her before she could take a look. Henry Butler stumbled in.
"There's a man in the Vault," Henry announced, sounding out of breath.
Gwen straightened and gave Henry a disbelieving look. "Did you really run all the way up here?"
"Yes, ma'am," Henry answered quickly, sounding a bit proud of himself amidst his labored breathing.
"Why didn't you just call?"
He gave her a confused look. "The intercom's down."
She held up her cellphone. Comprehension dawned on his face, followed quickly by a blush. "This isn't the 1900's, people. You're issued work phones for a reason." Technically, the main reason was so that all Torchwood employees could be located and summoned at any time, but she wasn't about to let them in on that bit of fun just yet.
She moved Henry to the same mental list as Vanessa.
Maria pulled Gwen's attention back to the computer screen. Shock filled her as she turned to the screen. That was definitely not who she expected to be walking – naked, nonetheless – around her Vault.
"Dear God!" One hand flew up to cover her mouth as she collapsed bonelessly into a vacant chair next to the terminal.
She recognized the man on the security feeds instantly. She doubted she would ever forget him, not for as long as she lived. This was impossible, more so than the dozens of nearly impossible things she saw every week on this job. Ianto Jones sat at the computer terminal in the Vault. He was typing on the keyboard, obviously frustrated when his passwords failed and he found himself locked out of everything.
The vault drawer where she'd left his body stood open, empty.
"Should I dispatch a security team, ma'am?" Maria asked, obviously worried over Gwen's behavior.
She glanced around the room. They were all watching her, waiting for guidance. Yet another thing she'd yet to get used to.
"No," she said, shaking her head. "It's alright. He's... he's one of us. Torchwood." She stood slowly and headed towards the door, signaling Henry to follow her. Gwen paused in the doorway and looked at Vanessa. "Call Martha. Martha Jones, from UNIT. Tell her she's needed here immediately. Tell her it's an emergency." She paused. Another thought crossed her mind. "Tell her to call Jack."
She walked out without waiting for an answer.
Ianto sat in the desk chair and waited. He was still cold, but it was at least slightly warmer out here. At least now he knew where here was. Torchwood. The logo was all over the computer, though it didn't tell him which Torchwood. The complex was sleek and clean looking, much like Torchwood One but newer, unfamiliar. He ruled out Torchwood One through Three and the India Branch. He wondered if Four had finally been recovered. Maybe Torchwood had taken over the city morgue as a new temporary command center.
He tapped at the keyboard again, getting the same "Access Denied" warning. His passwords didn't work. They had a good security system but someone incompetent also worked here. The computer's clock was off by a year and three months. He wondered if it was that scared-looking kid who'd run out of here earlier. Maybe he'd gone to get someone who could let him out.
There were two things he wanted right now – clothes and coffee. A hot shower would be nice too. He could feel the cold all the way down to his bones. What he needed was a nice long soak to get heat back into him. It would be a long while before he had the chance for that. Pity. His legs hurt. His whole body hurt, actually. He was stiff and sore all over, likely from lying on that cold table for who knew how long.
Alarm sirens blared. He wondered if they were because of him. Was Jack coming for him? He really wanted to see Jack again. Jack would get him out of here. He could even think of a few ways Jack could warm him up. Ianto chuckled to himself at the thought of Jack's reaction to walking in to find Ianto sitting around naked. He'd been trying to talk Ianto to doing similar inside the Hub for weeks before....
His good mood died as quickly as it had started. Did Jack know he wasn't dead? He wondered how many of the others had woken up, and which morgues they'd been sent to. They'd likely put Jack in the medical bay. He would have woken up alone, likely had been awake for longer than Ianto had been. Then there was the 456. They needed to stop them and the delay from the gas only put them further behind. Who knew what kind of damage the 456 had done while he'd been out. Obviously Torchwood wasn't being hunted anymore, so that was at least one thing sorted while he'd been unconscious. One down, many more to go.
The alarms cut off. Silence settled in their wake, and the lack of sound was disconcerting. The blaring alarms had been the one constant since he'd woken up.
He turned towards the doors as they opened, careful to keep his lower half hidden under the desk. Gwen stalked in, trailed by the young man who'd fled the room earlier and a stern looking woman with a tight bun. Ianto's eyes stayed on the door, expecting Jack to make some sort of grand entrance. Gwen approached. There was no Jack.
"Ianto?" Gwen's eyes glistened with emotion. "Ianto Jones, is that really you?" She looked on the verge of tears. He hated to see Gwen cry.
He smiled slightly, hoping to try and stem the flood of tears with faint good cheer. "I'm sorry. I must have given you and Jack such a fright. But I'm alright now." He paused, manners warring with embarrassment. "Could I possibly get some clothes? I hope I haven't been out long."
His smile slipped a little. Had Jack not told her what happened? "Unconscious? That... that's what happened right? The gas... it just knocked me unconscious, right?" She stared blankly at him. "I mean... Ask Jack. He should have woken up by now, too. Ask him. We didn't die."
A tear slipped down Gwen's cheek. She lifted a hand to her mouth and stared at him for a long moment. She shook her head mutely. Her hand muffled a sob.
Ianto shivered. He swallowed around the sudden lump in his throat. "I wasn't...?"
She shook her head rapidly.
"Oh, god." Suddenly the date on the computer made so much more sense, though he was having trouble believing it. He'd thought he was going to die, there in Jack's arms. Apparently, he had and Jack had watched him. They'd both died. But Jack would have woken up immediately whereas Ianto... It'd been so long. "I... I died?" He looked around. This was Torchwood, a real Torchwood facility and not some temporary command center. When a team member died there were protocols that had to be followed. Bodies weren't released, ever, and instead put in the Vault. Like Suzie and Tosh and Owen and Gray. At least that saved him from waking up six feet under. God it would have sucked having to dig himself out. Probably would have scared the civilians half to death, not to mention scaring him. "I'm in the Vault?"
"I'm so sorry, Ianto."
He nodded stiffly. It was a little hard to believe. He'd been many things in his life – invisible, female, almost a cannibal's lunch. He'd come close to death, expected it on a number of occasions but it was quite a shock to learn that it'd actually happened and he hadn't even realized. He was dead. He'd died. He should still be dead, unless.... His eyes widened in horror and he stared at Gwen. "No. You didn't!? You used the gloves? Something like them?"
"No!" Outrage shook Gwen from her grief. "No. No, no, no. We didn't do anything." She finally stepped closer, walking all the way up to touch Ianto on the shoulder. Her hand squeezed his shoulder lightly. "Not that we didn't want to, but there wasn't anything we could do."
He glanced at the two agents waiting by the doorway. "So, you didn't do this? Then why..." He couldn't quite bring himself to say it. It was hard to believe that he'd died. Death was something that happened to other people, and not multiple times unless you were Jack and the special case of Owen. He didn't feel dead, but apparently he had been and now... was not. He blamed working with Torchwood for the fact that he could work through all of that and not have a major freak-out. Yet. He could feel one building. His current minor freak-out was entirely justified.
Jack had watched him die. Jack still though he was dead. God, he needed to find Jack, right now. He needed to tell Jack how much he loved him. He wondered... had Jack grieved for him? Did he still grieve or had he moved on? Ianto shivered, and not from the cold. He wasn't sure which would be worse to face. God, it had been so long.
"We don't know why," she said. "But I intend to find out."
Ianto flinched. Those were never good words to hear. They didn't know how he'd returned to life, which meant they weren't entirely sure he was still himself. For all they knew – for all he knew – he was an alien riding around in an Ianto-shaped suit. Until they knew, he couldn't be trusted. "Ah. So, I'm assuming I'm on lock-down?" He would be insulted if they did anything less.
She gave him a pitying look. "I'm sorry. But, until we know..."
He waved her concern off. "I know. I'm familiar with procedure. It's alright. I want to know too. I understand."
Would his new life be limited, like Owen's? He ran a hand along his arm. It felt warm, like real flesh, but it would take a doctor to tell for certain. Would it be temporary, like with the glove? He didn't like to think that life could be snatched away from him at any time, without warning or notice.
More importantly, where the hell was Jack? He asked as much, though with politer phrasing.
Gwen paled visibly. "He's... out." She was lying to him. She'd never been very good at lying to him. "He left shortly after you..." She shot him an apologetic look. "...died. Still stops in again from time to time."
She wouldn't meet his eyes. He felt something twist painfully inside of him. In a way, perhaps it was better. He wasn't quite sure how he would react to Jack heading up the inquiry into whether Ianto was real or not. It was better this way, sparing them both a bit of pain. Maybe by the time Jack did show up again, they'd have this all sorted out and they could be a team again. The last time Jack had left, it'd been temporary. He'd come back after a while. He'd come back for Ianto. He could only hope Jack would do the same this time, once he found out Ianto was alive again.
"Do you..." Gwen was watching him carefully. "...do you remember anything? Anything at all?"
He shook his head. "The last thing I remember was falling asleep... dying... in Jack's arms, in the Thames house. With the 456. I'm assuming they're taken care of?"
She nodded quickly. "All gone."
"And no one else woke up?"
"No. Not that we know." She turned to the two strangers lingering at the doorway. "Maria, can you call up and have the team start hunting up the others. Just to check." The female of the pair nodded and stepped through the door.
Gwen had no answer.
When Owen had come back, he'd spoke of darkness, and of something waiting in the darkness. He'd been afraid to go back. Ianto couldn't remember anything like that. It felt like he'd been asleep, apparently for a very long time though it felt like no time at all. Wait. No. That wasn't right. There'd been something. Ianto's brow knit as he concentrated, trying to remember. There'd been something there, in the space between dying and waking up. Not darkness. He could feel the memory, like a word caught on the tip of his tongue. It was...
Gwen's phone rang, interrupting his thoughts. She glanced at the speed dial and then answered quickly.
"Martha! Hello." Ianto sat up a bit straighter. Martha would be able to tell him if he was fully alive. "You're on your way?" Gwen paused for a moment. "We have a situation. It's..." She glanced at him and offered an apologetic smile. "It's Ianto. He's alive." Another long pause. She glanced at him again. "I'm with him now. We'll meet you in the medical bay." She flipped the phone closed after another short pause.
Ianto glanced down at his bare skin. "I don't suppose clothing would be possible before we go? Rather naked over here. And cold."
"Oh." Gwen blushed slightly. "Right. Henry, see if you can find something for Ianto."
He watched the young man run off with a feeling of dread. It was time to face the music, figure out just how dead he still was.
As soon as the man was gone, Gwen flipped open her phone again. "I can send some of the boys to go look through storage and dig up your old things. We had all of it..." She paused. A sad look passed over her face. He had a feeling he would have to get used to that happening every time they mentioned something from when he'd been dead. "We had all of your belongings, everything in your apartment, put into storage. It's in one of the warehouses, just below us."
"Ah. Yes. Procedure." They'd had to do that before, with Suzie, then Tosh and Owen. He remembered how Gwen had fared at the last two and assumed she'd been just as emotional with his apartment. Had Jack... No, Jack wasn't the sentimental type. They'd never spent much time in Ianto's apartment. Jack had been over a few times, more frequently right before Ianto had died. He'd been starting to think of them as a real couple, almost. But, Jack probably saw packing up Ianto's apartment as just another duty of the job. Nothing more, though maybe with a bit of grief attached. He wondered how many lovers Jack had had to pack away over the years. He hoped for Jack's sake that it had gotten easier over the years.
He forced a smile on his face and looked at Gwen. Might as well shift the conversation to something else while they waited for Henry to return. "So... what have I missed?"
Martha Jones was stumped. She ran the scan again, redid the blood analysis, rechecked all of her tests. The computer screens shifted into a flurry of activity. They stopped, one by one, coming back with the exact same results as the last two times she'd run them. It was impossible, but there it was, all laid out in irrefutable scientific proof.
"He's human," she stated. "And in perfect health." Ianto brightened a little at hearing that. He'd been sitting on the examination table for the last hour, swinging his feet as Martha poked and prodded him. He reminded Martha of a child, worried about what marks he'd got on the last exam. Considering the importance on his marks, she didn't blame him.
"It's not what I would have expected," she continued, glancing down at the screens again. "No muscle deterioration, no decay, no blood clotting. It's like he never died. There's absolutely no sign that he was a corpse this morning." Taping at the screen, she pulled up the report from his last physical and compared them. "In fact, he's better than that." She looked up and into Ianto's eyes. He seemed worried. He'd been in Torchwood longer than she'd been in UNIT. Likely, he was remembering what Torchwood did to unexplained anomalies like him. That alone was cause for anyone to worry, recently dead or not.
"You, Mister Jones, are perfect." The blush that her words caused brought a small smile to her face.
"What?" Gwen looked like she wasn't quite following along.
Martha turned two screens to face them, one with Ianto's past physical results and one with the results of the tests she'd just taken. "I mean, any injuries he'd sustained before, any muscle fatigue or imperfections, they're all gone now. It's like you were cured of everything, not just... well, death. Back to factory settings, more or less."
Ianto shivered. "Please don't say it that way."
"Your body temperature is a bit low," she continued, "but it's climbing back up at a steady rate."
"So..." Ianto spoke hesitantly. "So I'm not going to be like Owen? I won't be stuck with a broken wrist forever or my head on backwards?"
She shook her head. "Nope. You've got a full immune system in there. If you get hurt, you'll heal, just like a regular person."
Relief washed over Ianto in a visible wave. He slouched and bounced his legs against the table. "Thank god. And no sign of alien energies inside my head?"
"None. Just you in there, as far as we can tell." She left unspoken that they'd yet to fully verify that Ianto was actually Ianto, but he was definitely one hundred percent human. Gwen would be able to take care of the identity confirmation. She'd known him better. They could run through all the Torchwood security codes Ianto knew or ask him things only Gwen and Ianto should rightly know. It was an imprecise method, still with some room for error, but it was the best they could do at the moment.
"And in the meantime," Ianto said, "while you finish verifying that I am what and who I say I am, I have to stay here." There was no hesitation or uncertainty in his voice. "Is there... I mean, where are you going to put me?"
Gwen and Martha shared a look. Martha turned away first, and busied herself at her terminal.
"Well," Gwen started, "there's plans for a couple apartment levels once the building's done. But, those are a long way off from being finished. Sort of last priority, what with everything else that needs done first, to make sure we can actually handle things if we get another 456 or whatnot. But... Um..." She looked to Martha for guidance, but Martha refused to be drawn into it. There was only one living space in the building as far as Martha remembered, and she wasn't sure how Ianto would react to that. "There's Jack's room..."
Ianto paled visibly but at the same time he had a sort of hopeful look in his eyes. It reminded Martha of a puppy. "Jack?"
Gwen rubbed Ianto's shoulder. "He hasn't actually been there. We just... we set aside a room, in case he came back and needed someplace to stay. Right now it's just a few pieces of furniture, but there's a bed. I think, eventually, it's slated to be the doctor's quarters but..."
"It's fine." Ianto looked shaken slightly, but he smiled at them. "It'll be fine. I mean, as long as Jack doesn't mind..."
"He won't mind," Gwen quickly assured him. She looked at Martha. "Why don't I show you there now?"
He nodded. Ianto was a little unsteady on his feet as he stood, but she attributed that to his body's shock of being brought back from the dead. His muscles had sat unused for a long time. It might take him a bit to get back to easy mobility.
She waved and smiled at Ianto as he left. As soon as he was gone, she cleared her screens, and pulled up the readings that one of the techs had sent down. Right before Ianto had been revived there'd been a very specific energy signature, targeting only Ianto. The computer was still working on analyzing it, so she was waiting, watching numbers and chemical formula fly across the screen. She'd never seen anything like it, though that wasn't really saying too much. It was probably just her time with the Doctor making her paranoid, but she didn't like not knowing who or what was behind Ianto's sudden revival. She couldn't help but feel that something bad was going to happen, sooner or later, and Ianto was going to be at the center of it. The sooner they found out why he was back, the better she'd feel.
"And over here is the common room. The kitchen is just down there."
Ianto did his best to pay attention as Gwen gave him the tour of the new Torchwood facilities. Memorizing the layout of the entire place on his first try would have been impossible, but he was at least getting a good feel for the place, a general sense of what was where. The building was so different from Torchwood Three, though there were remnants of Torchwood One in its design. Austere white wall stretched on for miles, giving the building a sort of clinical feel. The signage, Gwen said, was still on order. Instead they had post-its stuck on doors, at least all of the important ones.
"Sleeping quarters are over here."
Gwen stopped at the first door along the hallway. It was only half painted. There were buckets at the far end, along with several bulky tarp-covered shapes. The post-it on this door read 'Jack'. Gwen's smile was forced.
"They're still working on the rest of the rooms. Low priority, since we've all got our own flats outside."
His mouth twisted but he didn't say anything. There was nothing he could say. His own apartment was long gone, likely rented out to a bachelor or maybe a happy just-married couple.
"Maybe once we get the paperwork sorted out? I mean, when you're no longer officially..."
"Dead," he finished. He wondered if they'd notified his sister. Would she be happy to have him back? What was he going to tell her? "Coma maybe? Undercover assignment?"
Gwen's lips quirked slightly, breaking the politely apologetic look she'd been maintaining. "We'll see what we can do." She glanced towards the door. "The rooms... most aren't finished. We only did Jack's because we thought he might... Well, we can get a crew to rush one of the others tomorrow. I don't know how long that will take."
His hand rested on the doorknob. He hesitated. He was, perhaps, presuming a lot to use Jack's room, though there was no guarantee that Jack would be back before Ianto had a room of his own. There was also no guarantee that Jack wanted Ianto in his room. A lot could happen in the time Ianto had been dead. Jack's feelings could have changed.
He opened the door and hoped his unease didn't show on his face. "Thank you. This should be fine until another room is ready." He had no other choice, really, unless he wanted to sleep in the hallway. It would be fine, he hoped.
Walking into Jack's room instead of climbing down into it felt unnatural. The inside was much the same as he'd expected, sort of. All the right things were there, but they weren't arranged the same and some of the things he expected to be out were probably hiding in the tower of boxes that filled one corner or, more likely, had been damaged in the explosion. There was a main room, mostly crammed with all of Jack's collected belongings, then a bedroom visible beyond and two other doors beyond that, presumably bathroom and closet. The space was lacking. It didn't feel like Jack. It was possible that he'd never even been in here.
"Has he been back at all?"
Gwen's mouth flapped for a moment before settling into a purse of the lips. "Well, no, not here. He was through once, during very early construction but he hasn't been here since we settled in."
"What's the designation?" All he knew was that they were in Torchwood, but he had no idea how many Torchwoods had come and gone. Likely not many. He hadn't been dead that long.
"Torchwood Five." There was pride in Gwen's voice. "Right in the center of Cardiff. I think it wouldn't do any harm if I sneaked you a peak at the plans later, at least the rough sketches. We're still under construction, will be for a while, but there's a bit of an operational support in place already. Still hiring up, you know."
Ianto nodded. It was likely another Canary Wharf design. Respectable business on the outside, alien fighting force on the inside.
"It's all tarps and scaffolding right now, so not much to see. I think our cover is a brokerage firm. Something like that. They're going to be doing a special glass on the above-ground floors. One way view, like on the cop shows on telly. Plans for more living space up top too, so we'll eventually get you out of the basement and into the sun."
"Sounds lovely." He'd have a wonderful view of places he could never go. Yeah, that was going to be grand. "How far down are we?"
"Second. There's one more below us, and a sort of catacomb-warehouse mess for the archives. Plan is for twenty floors up top. Lots of space, and we have rights on some neighboring property if we ever need to build out."
He quirked an eyebrow. "Build out?"
Her smile turned into a bit of a smirk. "We've got grand plans, don't ya know. And, we're the only Torchwood left at the moment. Kind of hoping to stick around for a while."
"Who's in command, while Jack's away?"
She made a face that was half-disgusted, half-pleased. "Me, for now, until Jack gets back, and that cannot come soon enough. Hard enough juggling a toddler and dealing with aliens, let alone overseeing all this."
Ianto froze. "You had the baby?"
Gwen beamed. "We did. She's about six months now. We named her Toshiko, in honor."
Ianto smiled back, though he couldn't help feeling a little sad at the same time. Further proof that their lives had gone on without him. "I'd love to meet her, if I can."
"Of course you can. I'll bring her in. Rhys is watching her now. I was supposed to head home and switch off with him but..." She grinned ruefully. "Rhys is a lot better about me being late or disappearing to who knows where now that he's part of the secret."
Now there was a change Ianto hadn't been expecting. "Rhys is in Torchwood?"
"Oh, yeah. My boy's been a wonder with all the construction. He's got a ton of contacts, so we're even getting a bit of a deal now and then. He'll talk your ear off about how the construction's going and what all will go where, if you let him. Andy's here too, and a few others you may recognize."
"A far cry from when it was just the three of us."
"Quite. We've got about twenty more, twice that waiting in the interview queue. Plan is to ramp it up to a Torchwood One sized operation, but with more security. There's going to be sensors on every floor, lockdown procedures. Finally learning from past mistakes, I suppose."
"I thought the director..."
"Another politician stepped in. Don't they always? Susan Van Holt, though she's only nominally involved. UNIT's tied in officially now, sort of a sister organization and a fallback."
"So no more hacking into their databases? Where's the sport in that?" They shared a grin.
"Still could, just for old time sake, but it loses the appeal when you've got open access. We've had to use a lot of their systems to fill in what we couldn't salvage."
"I might know where a few more backups are located." Gwen suddenly regarded him with intense interest. "Jack made a few, off the official record, just in case. I think Jack expected something like... well, this, to happen. I'm surprised he didn't tell you."
Gwen's expression slipped. "I think he was a bit preoccupied," she said softly. "To be honest, I think he was hoping Torchwood would die with you."
"Right." He let his gaze travel over the room once more, at all the things Jack had left behind. In a way, he supposed it was fitting that he stayed here, waiting like one more of many discarded knickknacks. "I'll stay here," he said firmly. If Jack didn't want him in his rooms, then he'd just have to come back and throw Ianto out personally.
"Good." A small smile appeared on Gwen's face. "Thank you for being understanding." She glanced at her watch and Ianto could almost hear her mentally calculating how long it would be before she could get home to her husband and daughter.
"You don't have to stick around," he said before she could start worrying about excuses. "I'm not going anywhere and I can find Martha if I have any questions. We can figure out what to do with me now that I'm not dead in the morning."
Her smile was a mix of relief and guilt. "That obvious, am I?" She pulled him into a tight hug. "Oh, I am so happy to have you back. I'll send one of the boys around in a bit to see if you need anything."
"Thanks. Coffee would be lovely, if you could have them send some my way. And food. Haven't eaten in over a year, so I'm bound to be famished soon."
She hesitated in the doorway for a moment and then was gone. Ianto dropped onto the bed. Something jingled in one of the boxes resting near the head of the bed. He had a bit of cleaning to do if he actually wanted to try and sleep in here. With a sigh, he stood again. Maybe, once he was done it would look like Jack had actually been here. It was worth a try.
The new Torchwood recruits were, on a whole, all bachelors – or bachelorettes – still new to having a real job at all let alone a job that involved national security, secrecy, and aliens. He was able to learn almost everything he could ever want to know about Torchwood Five and its employees, from the proposed layout, security procedures, and strengths and weaknesses in personnel, all over the course of a month worth of meals.
Once word spread that there was someone living in the basement quarters, a living relic from Torchwood One and Three, and that he had no qualms cooking or brewing tea for others, he found himself no longer alone for meal times. Not that loneliness had been an issue with Gwen and Martha's almost constant company, at least at first. After the first week, they had started giving him a bit more space. They seemed to be reaching the point where both females were assured that he wasn't going to turn back into a corpse any time soon, though he'd yet to convince himself of the same.
He'd fallen back into his position as tea boy with ease, though that was mostly because he didn't trust the recruits or Gwen not to burn the coffee. He'd gotten a few odd looks the first time he'd walked into the command center with a tray of coffee for Gwen. By now he knew exactly how each of the members of Torchwood Five took their tea or coffee and made a habit of delivering to Gwen and some of the more long-term candidates at least once a day.
Gwen had waited the majority of two weeks before shoving him at the Archives with a plea to make sense of it. For now, the Archives consisted of a small warehouse full of boxes of records shipped in from Torchwood Two. He'd been assigned two assistants, Alexia Brown and David Marlin, who were in the process of assembling and arranging the new shelves and filing cabinets that would fill the cavernous room, while Ianto cataloged and sorted the boxes. Thankfully Archie had been vaguely decent about organizing the files when they'd been in his care, but whoever had packed the boxes had been less meticulous in what they put where.
The Vault had been broken out into two parts. There was a warehouse of shelves waiting to hold the more mundane and harmless artifacts, and a higher security vault currently holding all that had been in Torchwood Three. Someone had messed up Ianto's organizational system in the move, and he was still trying to sort it all out. There was only one entrance to the Vault, guarded at all times and locked with voice codes and bioscans. It was also completely indestructible. Ianto had to be buzzed into the Vault every time he needed in. The day guard, Henry, was still a little flustered around Ianto, but Janice from the night shift was pleasant enough.
The recruits seemed to be taking his presence in stride. He knew, via Gwen and Martha, that there were rumors floating about him. Mostly, it was over-glorified accounts of things that had happened at Torchwood One and Three. Some speculated on what it meant that he was living in Jack's quarters. Others, he assumed from one of the techs, had found out about the time he'd been a woman, which had somehow endeared him to the female half of the staff to the point that he was waiting for Gwen to snap and shout 'he's gay' just to get some of them to stop shooting him speculative glances. It wasn't true, but he wasn't quite ready for another woman... or another man. Not yet. Besides, he doubted it would help ease the disquiet that constantly dogged Ianto. A month later and they were no closer to figuring out how he'd been resurrected.
Gwen's baby was adorable. He, Gwen, and Rhys spent most days trading the baby off between them, after Ianto had volunteered to watch her when work called Gwen or Rhys away. There was little a baby could get into trouble with in the Archives, so she was safe enough sitting nearby while he sorted papers. He'd gotten into the habit of telling her stories, and from the barely-concealed smiles on Alexia and David's faces, they enjoyed the stories just as much as little Toshiko did. Most often his stories featured Jack, full of brave daring and heroics, leaving out darker bits that had tainted reality.
He wanted Jack back. Each night, sleeping in Jack's room, was a tangible reminder that Jack had left. He'd wake up, expecting there to be someone else beside him. He'd make coffee for Jack out of habit, realize his mistake, and then take it to Gwen.
Weeks stretched into months, and still no sign of Jack. Martha had mentioned once that UNIT had tried to contact Jack, and that their system wasn't certain. She'd said that it might be a while before Jack checked in and got the message.
Ianto couldn't help but wonder if Jack had checked in and was staying away on purpose. Maybe he'd forgotten about Ianto in the year that Ianto had been dead. Maybe he didn't want Ianto back.
All he could do was wait.
The computer screen cast faint light across the dark lab. The door opened, sending a streak of bright light across the exam tables as Gwen walked in. Her footsteps echoed in the lab, giving away her position as the door closed, plunging the room back into darkness.
"What have you got?" Gwen asked as she stepped into the office section of the lab.
Martha tipped her chair back, giving Gwen a better view of the screen. "Nothing. I have absolutely nothing."
Gwen leaned her hip against the desk and raised an eyebrow. "We had to meet in secret so you could tell me about nothing?"
Martha gave her a look. "The computers have been analyzing this energy for months. We've picked up carbon, trace bits of nitrogen and helium, and, well, nothing. Out of all the databases on Earth – CIA, FBI, SIS, UNIT, Torchwood – we have no idea what the vast majority of that energy is made of. It's nothing we've encountered before, or at least nothing that we've encountered and logged."
"Okay, so that is a bit of a big deal." Gwen pursed her lips. "And there's no way to trace it?"
"None." Martha maximized a window that had been minimized on the taskbar. A familiar video appeared, one they'd both watched countless times already. She pressed play and waited a few minutes as the strange cloud of energy surrounded Ianto in his Vault drawer. No matter how many times she watched, it still sent shivers up her spine. She paused the video while the energy had him engulfed. "It comes in, bring him back to life, and is gone. Poof, it's there. Poof, it's gone." She looked up at Gwen. "But, that does tell us one very important thing. Whatever this energy is, it was very specific. Out of all the things in our Vault, it went after Ianto. That meant it was targeted. And that kind of targeting means there was a source, an intelligent one with a purpose in resurrecting Ianto."
"You think whatever it is is using Ianto to get into Torchwood?"
Martha looked away. It was a definite possibility, one she'd thought over a lot. "They could have used anyone for that – Suzie, Owen, Toshiko. With that kind of power, they could have grabbed someone already alive. It would have been easier. Though, as far as infiltration goes, he is a good choice. How many passwords does he know now?"
Gwen's mouth hung open and she blushed. "The ones I told him or the ones he found out from the recruits?"
"I would have done the same." She offered Gwen a small smile. "I mean... it's easy, you know. Trusting him. It's like he never left, he just fits in so well. We want to trust him, so it's easy to forget that he's not here by natural means."
Gwen sighed and turned, putting her back to the computer. She stared at the far wall, a frown marring her face. "That's the kicker though. If it weren't for that, I'd have him running half the place." She glanced briefly at Martha. "More than he already does. No one even thinks twice about him walking around anymore, and I know he's got the codes to the Vault memorized, even with him insisting on having them changed every month. He's got access to every piece of alien tech we've collected that wasn't destroyed and all he's doing is cataloging it all. Hardly nefarious material there."
"So why's he back then, if not to cause trouble?" Martha stared at the paused video. "You don't just bring people back from the dead for no reason."
"Then what's the reason? Why him?"
Martha dropped her chair back to the floor as a thought came to her. "Maybe we're going about this all wrong. I mean, we're looking at the why, but what about the who? Who would want Ianto back?"
Gwen went suddenly rigid as she came to the same conclusion as Martha. "Jack. Jack would want him back. He was devastated. More than with Tosh or Owen. He took Ianto's death hard. Thought it was his fault. He even left the planet, went jaunting off in space and left all of us to escape the memory of Ianto."
"That's it!" Martha leaned towards Gwen. "That energy is alien. Jack is out there, with aliens. So maybe, somewhere along the way, he found someone or something that can bring people back to life. Maybe he used it to get Ianto back."
Gwen held up a hand. "No. I don't think so. If, and that's a really big if, if Jack found something that can bring someone back from the dead and he used it on Ianto, why isn't he here? Why didn't he come rushing back to Torchwood?"
"Maybe he can't?"
"This is Jack. Have you ever seen anything that can hold him for long? No, he'd be here."
Martha tapped her fingers against the desk. She'd liked that theory. It'd fit, wrapped everything up nice and neat, for the most part. Once she got the idea in her head, she couldn't seem to dislodge it. "Unless it's something he didn't know about. Something he triggered by accident maybe, didn't even know he'd done it."
Gwen shook her head. "I don't know. It still seems too neat somehow. I mean, there has to be a catch to it. Like Jack's life for Ianto's or something like that. But Jack can't stay dead, so I don't think that'd really work too well." She paused and sighed again. "Besides, out of all the weird things that we've found, there's only been the one that could bring people back to life, and there was a limit to that. It only lasted a few minutes and you had to be touching the thing. Can you imagine the kind of power it would take to do all that and keep it up this long from across the galaxy? I think we're dealing with something bigger here."
"That's far from reassuring."
"Yeah. I know."
Martha flopped back in the chair. The computer screen blinked at her, as it had been for the last day, since it'd finished running the last of the scans. Carbon, nitrogen, helium, unknown compounds. They needed to call in the big guns to figure this one out. They needed the Doctor.
"You need a secretary." Ianto threw the words over his shoulder as he turned into the kitchenette. "One that's not me," he shouted through the open door. Gwen laughed from the other room and he could picture the techs on the floor exchanging looks. Mommy and Daddy were fighting again. They were used to it. Though, really, Ianto pictured himself more like an uncle. Jack would always be the father of Torchwood.
He pulled down two mugs. He'd made the coffee earlier and left it on the warmer so it should still be decent. A thought occurred to him and he looked back through the open door. "Lois. You should call Lois." There was no answer. "You remember her? The girl from Frobisher's office. With the..." Ianto cut himself off as a lump formed in his throat.
A buzz of excited noise out on the floor caught Ianto's attention. He picked up the two cups of coffee and stepped out of the kitchenette. The techs were whispering to each other, and out of their chatter there was a single familiar-sounding word that kept being repeated, too low for him to make out. He stepped out into the command center and froze. Gwen was talking to someone near the doors, their conversation cutting off abruptly as Ianto moved into view.
Jack and Ianto stared at each other from across the room, equal looks of shock and surprise painted on their faces. Ianto knew he should say something, a nice 'hello' would have sufficed, but his mouth hung open, void of sound. They'd probably confirmed half the rumors that were floating around the building with that one look.
"Who's that?" Jack asked. His voice was heavy, clogged with emotion. He didn't look well, Ianto realized. Greif was written into every line of his face. It made him look wrong, like some strange creature that posed as Jack but wasn't. Jack should be happy. He should be smiling, like he always was, even when he was sad. He should have forgotten about Ianto and slept his way through half of the galaxy by now. Ianto didn't want any of that, not really, but it would have been better than seeing Jack look so... defeated.
"That's Ianto," Gwen said, slowly.
Ianto licked his lips and tried to think of something remotely witty to say. Nothing seemed appropriate. There was utter confusion on Jack's face, like he barely recognized Ianto. For a brief, horrifying moment, Ianto wondered if Jack had Retconned himself into forgetting about Ianto, but his next words destroyed that fear and replaced it with one much worse.
"Ianto's dead. That's not him. What is it?"
Distantly, Ianto heard ceramic crash to the floor. His hands burned but he barely felt the pain, shock driving it away almost before he felt it. They were staring at him, all of them. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt so uncertain of his own existence.
Oh, wait. Yes, he could. He'd been questioning it for months and just when he was finally starting to think that this was real, that his life wasn't going to be snatched away at any moment, Jack came back and brought all of Ianto's fears and insecurities back with him. They settled like bile in the pit of Ianto's stomach.
He needed to do something. Ianto looked down at his hands, still partially extended as if holding imaginary cups. He'd spilled coffee all over them. They burned from the heat of it, and his skin was a bright red. His whole body shook.
"Excuse me." Without looking at anyone, he turned and stepped back into the kitchenette. The door closed behind him and he could hear the muffled sounds of Gwen yelling the second it clicked shut.
Ianto moved woodenly over to the sink and ran his hands under the cold water. The water washed away the spilled coffee and slowly took the burn with it. Ianto stared at his hands. He shut off the water and toweled them dry. There wasn't even a mark left, not even the faintest hint of a burn that he knew should be there. Later, when Jack wasn't so close and there weren't people yelling, he'd have a good, solid freak-out about why his hands weren't burned and what that meant. Right now it was just too much to process on top of everything else.
He reached for the broom and then decided against it. His hands were shaking too badly to be of any use right now. Ianto dropped into a slump against the wall, sliding slowly to the floor. He let his head fall on folded arms and stayed there.
This wasn't supposed to happen. Jack was supposed to come back and make things better. He'd been waiting for months, so long that he'd lost hope and now that Jack was here it seemed unreal, like a nightmare he'd yet to wake from. He pinched himself, but it didn't help. Out of everyone, he'd thought Jack at least would believe him, what with his own experience with coming back from the dead.
He hadn't taken into account that Jack didn't want him to come back.
The door opened. He didn't look up, almost dreading to see Jack's face.
"Oh, Ianto, I'm so sorry," Gwen said as she dropped next to him and pulled him into a tight hug. He uncurled slowly. His cheeks were wet, he realized. God, he was such a mess.
"Does he hate me?" He asked after a long silence. "For coming back?"
Gwen stiffened and then hugged him tighter. "God, no. He doesn't hate you. He's just... well, surprised. It's a lot to take in. Give him time and he'll come around, like we all did."
He nodded, though he didn't feel at all reassured.
"Why don't you take off for the day? Go get some rest. Things will look better in the morning."
Ianto cringed at the thought of going back to Jack's room. Some of the other quarters had been partially finished, enough at least that he could pull a couch in. He could sneak into Jack's room, remove traces of his presence, and sneak out. Jack never needed to know he'd been in there. It was probably better that way.
"Alright." The word came out a bit choked.
Gwen stood and handed him some napkins to wipe his face. He gave her a lopsided smile.
"God, I must look a mess." He ran the napkin over his eyes.
"Yeah, a bit." Gwen smiled as he glared at her. "But you're our mess. Wouldn't have it any other way." She picked up the broom before he could even start to reach for it. "Go on. I'll clean up here."
He was shoo'ed out of the kitchenette. Ianto slipped around the edge of the command center and out the back entrance. It wasn't like him to get so emotional but Jack... Jack always had a way of pushing his buttons, even when Jack didn't mean to. The halls were thankfully empty as he maneuvered through the building. He chose the stairwell over the elevator. Two flights down and he emerged near the garage. A couple turns, another flight, some more hallway, and he was at Jack's room. He pressed his palm to the lock. The door beeped and unlocked. Ianto mentally ran through the list of everything he'd left in here and the quickest way to get it all out.
He wasn't quick enough.
Jack looked up from the desk as Ianto stepped inside. Their eyes met, but Jack's were hardened against him this time. He winced and looked away.
"I-I'm sorry," he blurted. He slid inside the room and reached for one of his books on the shelf. "I... I'll just get my things and get out of the way."
"I thought it looked different in here." There was a dangerous edge to Jack's voice. "Who are you?"
"Ianto Jones, former employee of Torchwood One and Three, head archivist for Torchwood Five." He wasn't going to cry. Not again. Not in front of Jack. Not that it mattered since it was plain on his face that he had been crying. He could never hide anything from Jack.
"Where did you come from? Who sent you? Who made you?" Jack's voice sounded so cold, so emotionless. To him, Ianto wasn't a former lover, he was an anomaly, something to be examined and dissected to figure out how it ticked. He just happened to look like one of Jack's former lovers, which likely made it all the worse in Jack's mind. Likely, it never even occurred to Jack that Ianto was really here. Despite all the weird things they'd been through, Jack automatically assumed it was all part of some evil alien plot. Why on Earth would an alien concern itself with Ianto's life or lack thereof?
His temper snapped. Ianto slammed the book back on the shelf and turned to glare at Jack. He was crying, just a little bit.
"Dammit, Jack, it's me. Really me, and I don't know how or why I came back or why it took so long, but it happened and I'm here." He was shaking again, and he wasn't sure if it was from grief or anger. Probably both. "I'm not an alien or a robot or a clone, and goddammit, don't you think I had them check for all that? Don't you think Martha would have been thorough? There are scans and blood samples and the fucking security footage of me waking up trapped in the Vault, which, by the way, was not a fun experience, but I suppose you'd know that having done it yourself."
Jack was still staring at him, his face unchanged.
His anger ran out slowly, leaving him feeling deflated. "God, Jack, I'm real. I know it's hard to believe. Took me a long while to get used to it too, and even now, after all the months I've been here, waiting for you to come back and help us figure out what the hell is going on, even after all this time I still wake up terrified, thinking that it's all going to go away just like with Suzie and with Owen." He wiped the tears off his face with the back of his hand and met Jack's gaze. "Why can't you just believe, just for this once, that sometimes good things happen, for no reason at all? Why can't you believe me?"
"Because nothing happens without a reason," Jack said slowly, his voice thick with hurt. "I watched you die. You shouldn't be here." Now that they were closer, Ianto could see that Jack's eyes were bloodshot.
"And I watched you watch me die. If ever there was a mistake I wish I could take back, I would have let you face them alone, so that I could have been with you when you revived. I wish we could have figured out how to stop the 456 sooner, or gone in better prepared. But there was no way we could have known. It wasn't your fault or my fault or anyone's fault but the 456."
Jack took a step towards him. "I grieved for you. It's never been that bad before."
Ianto felt like his heart was being squeezed by an invisible hand. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry that you had to go through that."
"Having you here, like this, it just makes things worse, because I know there has to be a reason for why you're here but right now... right now I really don't give a damn why you're here."
Ianto smiled. There were so many things he wanted to say but it was like the all tried to rush out at once and got stuck in his throat.
Jack took another step closer. "You unpacked for me. I almost couldn't remember if I had done it, but then I saw some of your things..."
Ianto blushed slightly and looked away. "It... It was the only open room. Still is, technically, but I could have had them finish one sooner. I just... I didn't want to leave the only part of you that I had left. I know... I know it sounds stupid-"
"It's not stupid. I would have done the same. I wanted to. But I knew, if I was there when Gwen boxed up your apartment, that I'd be tempted to just stay there, leaving everything exactly as it was. I couldn't heal that way. Not that leaving turned out to be much better. You stuck with me, Ianto Jones. I just couldn't forget."
He laughed. It was weak. He looked up at Jack again, and Jack was smiling, just slightly. "Ever since I woke up I've been waiting for you. Here. I was waiting for you to come back."
Jack's hand rested lightly against the side of Ianto's face. "I was waiting for you too."
Then Jack was leaning forward. His hand was warm against the side of Ianto's face, his touch so familiar even after all this time. Their lips met, tentatively at first, but with growing surety as each kiss was welcomed, drawing them closer to each other. His arms wound around Jack's waist, under the coat. Jack's free hand settled on the small of Ianto's back.
He wasn't sure how long they stood there, just kissing. It could have been minutes. It felt like days. Each slow brush of lips was a reminder of what they'd had, what he was hopefully about to get back. Jack was gentle. He didn't push. He didn't dive in like he usually did, plundering Ianto's mouth and taking what he wanted because he knew it was what Ianto wanted too. Instead, he took his time. They kissed slowly, languidly. They used their tongues to remap old familiar territory, refamiliarizing themselves with each other through hand and mouth and heart.
Ianto was the first to reach for more. He slid his hands up and carefully pulled off Jack's coat. He half expected Jack to pull away, but he stayed and brought his hands up to push Ianto's suit jacked off his shoulders. One by one they peeled layers of clothing off, as carefully as if they were each Christmas presents and they wanted to preserve the wrapping.
The bed was warm beneath Ianto's back, covers soft and familiar. They were the same ones from Jack's old room in the Hub, though they'd long ago lost the smell of Jack. Some days he'd pretend that Jack was curled up with him. Today he didn't have to pretend. Jack was there, a solid weight on top of Ianto as he pressed Ianto down into the mattress. Hands roamed over Ianto's chest and sides, up his legs, down his inner thighs and then between.
Ianto moaned and arched into the touch. It'd been so long since he'd had another man – or woman for that matter – touch him. Jack's hand curled around his shaft and stroked. Jack still remembered everything. He knew exactly how to touch Ianto to drive him wild and he put that knowledge to expert use. Ianto gasped loudly and fumbled between then until he had Jack in hand as well. As his fingers closed around Jack's heavy weight, he felt like he'd finally found the last missing piece of himself from when he'd died.
Jack's breath was harsh in his ear. Neither of them really had the stamina right now for anything long, not with how high-strung they were from their rampant emotions, but their hands didn't speed up from the slow pace Jack initially set. They stroked each other with long, firm pulls, slowly, rhythmically, as steady as the ocean's tide. It was enough for Ianto. He'd felt like he was going to break apart just from Jack looking at him before, but that was nothing compared to the way Jack was watching him now. His eyes were focused on Ianto's face as if he was trying to commit Ianto's expression to memory. Maybe he was. Ianto was pretty certain it would be a long time before he could forget about tonight.
He didn't want to forget, and he didn't want Jack to either, not when it meant that Jack believed him and that it was all going to work out.
Ianto came with a startled gasp. He could feel release building inside of him and then Jack had leaned down, pressing his lips to Ianto's forehead as he ran his thumb over the head of Ianto's cock. That was all it'd taken to push Ianto over the edge. He cried out and closed his eyes. His hand jerked roughly against Jack, all pretense of finesse momentarily gone. Jack didn't seem to mind. His hips bucked along with Ianto's hand and then, minutes later, he came too, his seed spilling out over Ianto's stomach.
They stayed still for a long while, just staring at each other and smiling.
"I should clean up," Jack said suddenly, and the moment was broken as Jack rolled away.
"Yeah," Ianto agreed absently. He turned his head to watch Jack rummage in the bathroom. He came back a moment later with a wad of bunched up toilet paper to clean them off. "Thanks."
"Thank you, Ianto Jones." Jack smiled at him.
"For coming back to me."
They shifted, moving under the covers. Ianto waited until Jack was under the covers and then reached out to take Jack's hand in his. "Thank you. For having me back."
He closed his eyes, and for the first time in months his dreams weren't of dying or darkness, but of that peaceful half-remembered light. This, right here with Jack, this was all the Heaven he needed.
A strange tugging sensation pulled Jack out of bed. He paused at the edge of the mattress, hovering between the warmth of the covers he'd left behind and the colder air of the bedroom. Ianto slept undisturbed. Jack watched his lover until the sensation became urgent.
Their clothing was scattered around the room. He grabbed clean pants and a shirt from the wardrobe. His eyes kept returning to Ianto. It wasn't that early. Ianto wouldn't have minded being awoken in creative ways, but the feeling that he needed to be elsewhere was stronger than his lust, which was strange enough to make Jack pause. He pulled on his coat. His hand immediately went to the small jewelry box in his pocket, the one from the bazaar. He touched it every time he put his coat on, double-checking that it was still there.
His feet carried him to the science lab. Light spilled from under the doors. He tapped his code into the lock. Two figures looked up as he walked in, one happy, the other nervous. Martha looked like a child caught with her hand in the cookie jar.
"Jack! What are you doing up?" The Doctor straightened from where he'd been staring over Martha's shoulder.
Jack grinned. "You know me. I'm drawn to mischief. Speaking of mischief, what's so interesting in here that you couldn't come say hi? I didn't even know you were stopping by."
The Doctor waved offhandedly. "No. No mischief, right Martha?" She smiled at him but it was slightly wan. "Martha was just showing me some sciency... stuff. Boring really. Terribly boring. You should go back to bed. We can chat later. Don't you have that young thing, Ian..." He looked at Martha. "Evan?"
"Ianto." Jack's footsteps echoed through the lab. "What did you find?"
Martha frowned but she turned the computer screen towards Jack. It showed a cross-section of the Vault and a strange blob of pink covering one of the drawers. "When Ianto was... when he revived, there was an energy spike down in the Vault. A very specific, very targeted energy spike, just on him. We've been trying to figure out what caused it."
Jack's good mood died a very painful death. "In other words, something brought him back to life and we have no clue what and why." It had been so easy to believe that Ianto was back, that there wasn't anything nefarious behind it. He should have known it was too good to be true.
His fingers curled around the box in his pocket. He'd been holding on to it to show the Doctor, right?
Martha turned to him with that look that Jack knew meant he wasn't going to like what she was about to say. "Actually, we kind of thought it was you. I mean, you had been out gallivanting around the stars. Who knows what you could have triggered."
Jack shook his head, but his mind was still on the box in his pocket. There was something important about it that he had forgotten. "It wasn't me. I would have remembered." Like he'd promised to remember Ianto. But there was more to it than that. There was something else. Something big. Something forgotten.
The Doctor pursed his lips. "Did you visit a planet full or purple trees?"
Jack shook his head.
"Meet anyone with three blue heads?"
"No." The box felt warm in his hand.
"Cats that sang in verse?"
"No." He turned it round and round between his fingers.
"Did you push anyone into a well? Big, giant well in the middle of a cavern made of glowing rock."
"No." He pulled the box from his pocket. The Doctor might know where it came from.
The Doctor suddenly put his hands on Jack's shoulders and leaned in close. Their noses touched. "This is very important Jack. Did you make a wish? Anything at all. Doesn't have to be out loud. Did you make a wish and take anything from someone you had never met before?"
He slowly shook his head.
"Well, good then. Glad we have that settled. So, not Jack. Which leaves... everything else."
"Doctor." The Doctor turned. Jack held out the box. "I did find something while I was out. The writing isn't anything I'm familiar with."
The Doctor took the box. "Well, isn't that quaint. Tandoran. Very old." He opened the box. "And that's a beauty. It's one of their ceremonial rings. Priest would wear these." He pulled it out and brought it close to his face for a better look. "Always high on pomp and circumstance they were. Big high muckity mucks. So dreadfully boring." After a brief inspection he slipped it on his finger. "They would-" The Doctor stopped and stared at Jack. Color drained from his face. "What have you done?"
There was a bright flash of light and then the Doctor was gone. Jack and Martha both stared at the empty space where the Doctor had been. Martha recovered first and jumped up to face Jack.
"What the hell was that?"
He shook his head quickly. "I don't know. I didn't- I mean, it was just a ring."
"Where did you get it? What kind of ring?"
"I don't know. A ring. There wasn't anything special. I'd put it on before. It didn't do anything." He'd tried it on a couple times, out of curiosity. It hadn't done anything like this. "I got it at a bazaar."
Martha's voice was rising in volume. "What bazaar? What planet?"
Jack shook his head. "I don't know."
Her fists balled, like she wanted to hit him. He wouldn't have blamed her if she did. "What did the seller look like?"
"I don't remember." He tried to remember, but there was a gaping hole where that memory should be. He knew he'd had a few blackouts but those had always been in bars or with a certain caliber of company. He'd never blacked out near a bazaar. He remembered walking through a few, but he'd never stayed long, never bought anything at them.
"What did the planet look like?"
"I don't remember." He was starting to creep himself out. There was something terribly wrong here.
"Don't or can't?"
Jack reached into his pocket. There'd been a concealed section that he'd stuck a small vial of Retcon in when he'd left Torchwood. He'd taken it in case the grief got too much, in case he needed to forget Ianto. No one should have known it was there and he didn't remember taking any. He fumbled with the clasp to the secret pocket, finally got it open after three tries and then held up the vial.
"Fuck." Some of the Retcon was missing.
Martha smacked him on the arm. "Jack! What did you do?"
He shook his head. "I don't remember." He needed to find something to trigger the memory. He could catch fragments of it, but it was like trying to put a broken mirror back together. "There was a... a bar." He picked up the box and closed his eyes. The smell of alcohol came to mind. "I was drunk." A foreign smile, strangely long nails, whispered words. "She wanted something..."
"Jack, do you remember what bar it was?"
It was almost there, almost on the tip of his tongue but he couldn't seem to get to it. He needed something more specific to trigger the memory.
The door beeped as it unlocked and opened. Jack looked up, his eyes fixed across the room as Ianto walked in. "Ianto." That was it. That was the key. "She offered to let me forget. She was going to take the pain away." Ianto stared at him as he approached, a confused frown slowly spreading across his face. "But I said no. I'd promised. I didn't want to forget, and so instead..." Jack's throat closed off, cutting off the last of the words.
Martha's hand tightened on Jack's arm. "Instead what? What did you do, Jack?"
He couldn't take his eyes off Ianto. "Instead, she gave me Ianto back. I made a wish and in exchange for Ianto coming back, all I had to do was give the Doctor a ring. I'd thought it was a dream. I didn't think it was real."
Ianto's face went blank, suddenly devoid of emotion. "You did this? You brought me back to life?"
Jack shrugged. "In a way. I guess. I just wanted you to be safe. I wanted you to be alive. I... I'm so sorry about what happened to you."
Ianto stepped closer. His moves were careful, measured, cautious. "And what happens now? How long... how long do I have before it wears off?"
"I don't know." That familiar grief returned to squeeze his hear. "I don't know. She didn't say and I... I didn't specify. I just wanted you back."
"And you have him." Martha tugged Jack around to face her, breaking the eye contact between Jack and Ianto. "But we have to find the Doctor. We have to undo whatever it is you did."
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Ianto go pale. "Okay," Jack said. It hurt him to say that but he didn't have a choice. As much as he loved Ianto, as much as he wanted Ianto with him, the universe needed the Doctor and the Doctor would always come first to Jack. "I think I know where to look."
"We can take the TARDIS. I mean, you know how to fly it, right?" Martha gave him a look.
He nodded. They both turned towards the door. Ianto caught Jack's sleeve as he passed.
"I'm coming with you."
"No." Jack put every ounce of command he could muster into that single word.
"Yes," Ianto shot back. "You just said you were going to go undo whatever magic it was that brought me back to life. I have a right to be there."
He wasn't sure he could stand watching Ianto die again. "No." The word came out harshly. He nearly choked on it. "I want you here, safe."
Ianto placed his free hand over Jack's heart. "I know. I understand, but you can't hide me away in here forever. If I'm going to die..." Jack started to open his mouth but Ianto lifted his hand to cover Jack's mouth. His eyes met Jack's. Determination filled his face. "If I'm going to die, I want to die with you. I want to have a hand in my fate this time. Maybe I can help."
They stared at each other for a long minute before pulling his hand away. As soon as the hand was gone, Jack leaned down and captured Ianto's lips in a hard kiss. "Okay."
Ianto smiled at him and released Jack's arm in favor of taking hold of Jack's hand. Martha smiled at him as they left the lab, but there was a definite trace of sadness in her smile.
The amount of time he had left with Ianto had just been cut from years to hours.
Ianto stared in fascination at the inner workings of the TARDIS. He'd read reports on it before, and Jack was always happy to share stories about his time with the Doctor, but hearing about it and seeing it were two very different things. He felt overwhelmed and insignificant. It was hard to believe that the ship – he was also having a very minor freak out about the fact that he was actually in a working spaceship – was alive. Underneath all the gears and tubes and metal plating was something very much alive and very alien.
Jack and Martha busied themselves around the central console, arguing with each other about how the ship was supposed to work. After a few minutes there was a loud whirring noise and the ship jerked to the side. Ianto fell. He threw a hand out, trying to catch himself. Something sharp bit into his palm and he cried out. Thankfully the noise from the TARDIS covered the sound.
He landed hard on his side. There was a wide gash on his palm but it seemed to shrink as he watched, narrowing as the blood cut off, then closing. Ianto pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the blood away. The gash visibly shrank and faded away.
"Ianto, are you okay?"
He started. Ianto turned his head and shoved the handkerchief deep in his pocket. "Fine. Just figured it was safer down here until the ship sorted itself out."
Jack chucked and walked over. "I think it'll behave now. Maybe." He offered a hand down to Ianto. "It doesn't like flying without its master."
For a minute, Ianto thought Jack would be able to tell, just from touching Ianto's hand, what had happened. But Jack just smiled as he helped Ianto to his feet. He hadn't noticed. Ianto stared down at his hand, afraid that blood had spilled on his sleeve or that he'd missed a spot but his arm was clean. There was no sign at all that he'd just cut himself moments earlier.
Jack was staring at him. He forced a smile. "Oh, great. Brilliant. Never been better." He was lying. He couldn't help but feel a little creeped out about how his hand had healed. Obviously it was a side effect of the resurrection, but what did that mean. Exactly how much could he heal? Did that make him like Jack now?
Not that it really mattered when they were on their way to take his life from him. Again.
"Jack, what exactly did you wish for?"
Jack looked at him, his expression carefully neutral. "I wished that I could keep you with me until the end of time."
The ship lurched again but Jack caught him, strong arms pulling Ianto against Jack's chest until the ship settled. Neither of them made any move to let go. Ianto didn't want to ever let go. He would happily let himself be trapped in this moment, still alive, still with Jack. He didn't want it to end.
"Come on, boys."
Jack slowly pulled away. His eyes were sad, though he kept smiling, likely trying to reassure Ianto by projecting false cheer. It helped him feel a little less doomed.
They stepped out into a large metal room filled with ships. Some were small, about the size of a fighter plane. Some dwarfed them, rivaling Big Ben in size. Jack pointed. "This way."
They followed Jack through a maze of corridors. As they got deeper into the complex, the halls became more crowded and a steady buzz of conversation filled the air, getting louder as they went. Jack pushed through a pair of double doors and into a crowded bar. Dim red lights gave the room a dangerous, sultry air. Smoke hung heavy in the room, obscuring the far corners. Martha and Ianto stuck close to Jack as he pushed his way up to the bar. Jack lifted his hand in a strange signal and a creature with a long, slug-like head shifted over.
"I was here a couple months ago with a woman. She grants wishes. Said she can't leave the station."
The slug thing chuckled. Or at least Ianto guessed it was a chuckle. It sounded like a cross between pots banging and a dog being sick. "You humans. Never learn. Jana. She shelke. Sector 7, bay 2."
"Thanks." Jack tossed a piece of hexagonal metal on the counter, which the slug thing snatched up. He moved faster than Ianto would have guessed. Jack turned around and started back to the door. "This way."
They wound through more corridors. As they went Ianto started to make out the markings that labeled where they are. The writing was strange, but Ianto had a vague feeling that he knew what it meant. Then he remembered the slug thing. They hadn't been speaking in English but he understood every word.
Martha cut him off. "It's the TARDIS. It does that. I suppose it would need to, what with all the humans the Doctor keeps picking up while he's out gallivanting in space. Comes in handy."
He nodded. He was about to ask when it would wear off but he cut himself off. Soon it wouldn't matter.
"Here." Jack pulled out his gun as they stopped outside of another set of double doors. This one had a large control panel on one side. Martha pulled out a gun and flattened herself against the opposite wall. Jack grabbed Ianto by the shirt and pulled Ianto behind him before pressing another gun into Ianto's hands. Ianto quickly checked the clip and disengaged the safety.
Jack pressed his palm to the control panel. The screen blazed red for several seconds before finally switching over to blue. Jack was the first one in, sweeping the room with his gun. Martha followed and did the same motion in reverse. Ianto slid around the doorframe and quickly stepped to the side, hoping to get out of sight before the room's occupant noticed them. He was too late.
Sharp laughter cut through the room. Ianto's eyes were drawn to the center where a strangely beautiful woman lounged in a high back chair. Next to the chair was a thick pillar that seemed to be made from glowing orange light. In the center of the pillar floated a man in a suit. His eyes were closed and he bobbed slightly, as if underwater.
"Let him go," Jack ordered. He stepped forward with his gun trained on the woman. Martha followed close behind.
The woman, Jana, he presumed, laughed again. "I'm afraid I can't do that. We had a bargain."
"I here to end it. Release the Doctor or I'll shoot."
She rested her hand on her palm and smiled at Jack. "That would hardly do anything. Besides, you got what you wanted."
"I didn't want this," Jack hissed.
Ianto felt his stomach clench. He knew Jack wasn't talking about him but the words still hurt, reminding him that he was here in exchange for the Doctor. His life had ended over a year ago and he was only here on borrowed time.
"Really? You don't want your darling love back? I can fix that." Suddenly she turned to look at Ianto, her eyes piercing straight through him. The air around him got thicker. He couldn't breathe. The gun fell from his hand, clattering against the metal floor. Ianto lifted a hand to his throat but he couldn't breathe. His knees smacked into the floor. He was dying.
"Stop it!" Jack's scream echoed through the room. Ianto could barely hear it over the ringing in his ears. His face hit the floor. He wanted to turn and look at Jack, to tell him it would be okay but he couldn't move.
Then the air was back and Ianto could breathe. He gasped, sucking in a huge gulp of air. Jana laughed at them.
"See? You don't want the Doctor. You want him. That's what we traded for. His life for the Doctor's." Ianto started to pick himself off the floor. He turned towards Jack but Jack wouldn't look at him. Ianto had never seen him look more defeated. "As long as your beloved lives, the Doctor is mine."
"Jack, do something." Martha nudged Jack with her shoulder. His grip tightened on his pistol but he made no move to raise it. "Fine." Martha stepped around Jack, took aim, and fired. The bullet clattered harmlessly to the floor halfway before it reached its target. Jana raised her hand and waived slightly. Martha went flying backwards into the wall. She bounced and landed hard on the floor. Ianto waited for her to get up but she didn't move.
"I suggest you take your friends and leave."
Jack's face was twisted into a grimace and Ianto could tell Jack was warring with what to do. The answer was obvious to Ianto. He understood Jack's reluctance. He didn't want this new life to end but he also couldn't bring himself to keep it if it meant sacrificing someone else.
Ianto's fingers curled around the gun Jack had given him. He sat up. "I'm sorry. Jack, I love you and I'm so, so sorry." Jack's eyes widened and he turned, mouth opening as Ianto pressed the barrel of the gun to his forehead.
He pulled the trigger.
At first, all he could hear was screaming. One male, one female. His head hurt. The pain was unbearable and he wanted to scream too but he couldn't. He couldn't see anything and then slowly colors emerged, then shapes, then figures, slowly resolving into people. The pillar was gone. The man that had been trapped inside, the Doctor, was moving around. Jack had fallen to the floor. He wasn't looking this way but the Doctor turned, looked right at Ianto and kept talking. Ianto couldn't make out the words. Jana was gone.
The Doctor knelt next to Jack. He said something and pointed to Ianto. Jack turned. The Doctor moved towards where Martha had fallen. Ianto looked at Jack. Their eyes met. He tried to move his arm but his body didn't seem to want to function just yet. He blinked and managed to wiggle his fingers. Jack stood and came closer until all Ianto could see was Jack's feet and part of his legs. He moved his hand to touch Jack's boot.
He coughed in lieu of an answer. Jack knelt. His fingers brushed through Ianto's hair as he inspected the remains of the bullet wound. Ianto's head felt sticky.
"Is..." Ianto coughed and tried it again. "Is it always that painful?"
Jack pulled him up into a tight hug. "Don't ever, ever do that again."
Ianto wanted to laugh but he didn't think Jack would appreciate the humor. "Only if you promise to stop dying too."
Jack's chuckle reverberated against Ianto's chest. "It's definitely much worse watching it from this end."
"Now you know how I feel."
Jack's arms were warm around him. "And you know how I feel."
Footsteps tapped against the metal floor as the Doctor came closer. "I think it's safe to say that we can continue this lovely reunion elsewhere."
Ianto looked up at the Doctor. He'd never had a chance to meet him before. He seemed a bit... less in person. "Am I going to die?"
"If you're anything like Jack, quite a few times, but I think, in the long run, you'll be okay."
Jack started to move and Ianto clung to him. His legs didn't seem to want to support him just yet but Jack was happy to provide support for him. This time, when Jack smiled, there wasn't any sadness in it.
"I think we'll be okay." Jack pressed his lips against Ianto's forehead.
Ianto smiled back at Jack. He could live with okay.