Telling Jack that he wasn't going to follow him out of the House of the Dead was one of the hardest things that Ianto had ever done. He'd had to do it though, letting Jack sacrifice himself or worse the Earth, wasn't in any way, shape or form acceptable. Ianto knew only too well how something done out of love could end up destroying lives.
Alone in the House of the Dead, Ianto looked at the box containing fragments of stone and coal from across south Wales. In a few moments he would have to detonate it, the residual temporal energy in the dust from the shattered rocks shorting out the Rift and sealing it forever. The Siriath would be prevented from crossing though and Jack and the rest of the world would be safe.
He ran his finger over the simple push button detonator and wondered what he would have done if Jack had thought to have put a timer on the device. They could have left it somewhere secure in the building and just walked out together. Even a delay of a few seconds would have meant they could have stood at the door, pressed the button and thrown it into the bar to explode as they stepped outside.
It was all so unfair. He'd only learnt that he was dead mere minutes before and he'd had Jack tell him that he loved him and that he'd wanted to see him more than anybody else in the world and now he had to die again. Yet he knew there was nothing else he could have done. Jack's life and that of everybody else on Earth had to come before his own, especially as they had been no guarantee that he wouldn't have just vanished after he left the House of the Dead.
He closed his eyes, feeling tears burning behind them. He had so many things left that he still wanted to do or see. So many regrets and fears too, the worst of which currently was whether Jack really would be safe or if he would try to find another way to consign himself to oblivion, another way trap himself between worlds?
The phrase made him frown. Trapped between worlds. If this was the space between worlds and there was door to Cardiff, then surely there had to also a door to somewhere else? He knew the Rift research that Tosh had done almost as well as she had herself. The Rift was a temporalspatial tear in the fabric of the universe. One end was fixed in Cardiff Bay, plus or minus five miles, while the other wandered, seemingly at random, throughout all of space and time. Once the device exploded and the dust was released from the box the Cardiff end of the Rift would be sealed and the House of the Dead would, in all likelihood be destroyed as well. The other end of it might still be open though, the one that could spit him out anywhere or any when in time and space. And that, Ianto decided, was his way out.
Jack had seemed to have at least a little hope that if he'd walked with him from the House of the Dead that he'd have been alive again. There was no reason to believe that leaving the strange space that he currently occupied within the Rift via a different exit would have a different result. It was at the very least, Ianto decided, worth a try. He really didn't have much to lose by trying it.
“You are a fool.”
Ianto opened his eyes and spun round to see an old woman sat in the corner of the pub. Dressed in ragged, nondescript clothing, her long grey hair hung matted and dishevelled across her face. “You're the Siriath.”
She laughed, a wheezing, death like rattle and then stood up. “You could have been free. Now you will fade like most who come to this place.”
“Only most?” Ianto asked as he watched the door through which Jack had left start to shimmer and eventually fade back into the wall as if it had never existed.
There was a flicker of something eldritch and cunning in Siriath's eyes. “Jack left, didn't he? What else did you think I meant?”
Definitely something else, Ianto decided, wondering if he could play the Siriath at her own game and trick her into revealing what she had truly meant. “You don't seem worried that your way to Earth has just vanished into a wall or that all I need to do is press this button. Why is that?”
“Do you really think I need something so mundane as a door?” The whole of the wall where the door had once been started to shimmer, something twisting and moving in the darkness behind it, vague shapes that could as easily be people walking as trees swaying in the wind.
“If that's true then I should I press this now,” Ianto said, wondering if he was imagining that his hands felt slick with nervous sweat. Could ghosts sweat? And if they couldn't did it mean he was hallucinating it or did it mean he wasn't a ghost?
“But you won't.”
“Why shouldn't I?” Ianto countered. “I'm already dead. You said yourself I'm just going to fade away. Shutting the Rift will keep the people I love and care about safe. So tell me, why shouldn't I?”
Siriath moved closer to Ianto. “I've dwelt between the worlds for countless ages. I know the secrets of this place, of what happens to those who leave.” She held out a hand. Bony and withered, her nails claw-like on the ends of her hooked and gnarled fingers. “Give me the stones, boy, and I'll share that knowledge.”
Ianto shook his head and took another step back towards to the bar. “You've done nothing but lie since you first spoke to me. Why should I trust you now?”
“You have nothing to lose.” Siriath smiled, revealing a mouth full of jagged, blackened teeth. “I can give you power, I can give you life. I can set you free.”
“No, you can't,” Ianto replied, realising that the Siriath was just trying to buy herself enough time for the barrier between the worlds to break down. “If you could do any of that you wouldn't be sitting here waiting for the Rift.”
The Siriath clicked her tongue. “Too clever you. Those memories of what you thought your father thought of you did you no justice.”
“The man I saw here, he wasn't my father, was he?” Ianto said, realising that despite the differences that he'd had with his dad, he couldn’t bear the thought of Siriath having done anything to his ghost. “Neither was Gwen, was she?” he added, hoping that Siriath could impersonate the living as well as the dead, because he wasn't ready to contemplate having lost one of the few friends he had left.
“Constructs pulled from your own feeble mind.” She took another step forwards. “The human mind is so simple, your desires all so base. I have watched and waited in the spaces in between, I have whispered in their dreams, I am what moves in the dark. I am what comes at the last breath of you all.”
Letting the Siriath boast, Ianto glanced behind him and saw out of the corner of his eye a door to the side of the bar. He supposed that, were the House of the Dead a real pub, it would most likely lead to a beer garden, which by the décor of the place would probably be a couple of picnic tables with peeling paint and a faded, sagging parasol. But the House of the Dead wasn't real and where it lead it was impossible to say, it all depended on where the other end of Rift was at the moment.
“You think you are so clever, but you are paralysed by the mortality that has long since fled your body. You are too late,” Siriath said, turning at last to face the oncoming wall of light. “It will swallow us whole. You will fade and I will be free to feed on all those petty hopes and fears that you humans think are so important.”
“I can't let you do that,” Ianto said, knowing that he had run out of time. The door was so close behind him, but there was no way he could be sure of getting to it and stopping Siriath. So close yet so far. That was the story of his life, Ianto thought, as he took a shaky breath and then pressed the detonator.
As explosions went the one from the charge in the box was totally underwhelming. It reminded him of indoor fireworks. Things that had names like Ultimate Super Volcano and which fizzed for a few seconds, gave a pop and then went out.
The dust drifted towards the shimmering wall of light that had now advanced across most of the pub and then seemed to settle on its surface. For a moment nothing happened and Ianto felt his heart sink. Maybe Jack had been wrong or perhaps he'd not been close enough or had left it too late. Then the shimmering froze, the ripples of light and energy seeming to crystallise, before holes started to appear in it. Siriath shrieked in rage as she watched it start to collapse in on itself, everything tumbling back into darkness.
There was a sudden buildup of pressure in the room that made Ianto's ears ache, but there was no time to try to understand what was happening as a wave of energy hit them. Silent and powerful, it hurled them both backwards, Siriath colliding with the solid, wooden bar, while Ianto was lifted off his feet and thrown against the door at the side of it. The ancient wood shattered and with a cry of pain and surprise Ianto tumbled backwards out of the House of the Dead and into the unknown.
Ianto groaned and rolled over. Blinking in the bright sunlight, he looked up at a dazzling emerald green sky and the world's two suns shining down hotly on him. Definitely not Earth then, he decided. It was disappointing, although he'd already known that the chances of the Rift returning him home had been negligible at best.
Feeling dizzy and disconnected, Ianto got unsteadily to his feet and looked around. There was no sign of habitation or life anywhere. He took a shaky breath, trying to calm himself. All around him pale, pastel coloured sand stretched out to the horizon. The monotony of it was broken only by the occasional towering rock formation; the outcrops of honey coloured stone scoured by sand and wind into twisted spires and strange, sinuous curves.
What if the entire planet was like this? A completely barren land with no life, water or food and no means of escape. He shivered despite the heat. He was a dead man on a dead world.
Only he didn't feel dead. He'd not felt dead when he'd been in the House of the Dead either, it had only been Jack and Siriath who'd told him that he was. Ianto closed his eyes, trying to fight off the feeling of absolute helplessness that threatened to overwhelm him. Falling apart now was not an option, not if he wanted to find out what had happened or survive.
The heat was oppressive and Ianto was sure he was starting to get sunburn across his nose and on the back of his neck as he opened his eyes again. He wondered whether ghosts could get sunburnt. Logically the answer should be no. Ghosts weren't real and even if they were they certainly had no physical body which could get sunburnt. Or bruised for that matter, although the discomfort in his shoulders said otherwise.
Knowing his luck of late, Ianto thought dejectedly, he'd end up being the exception to the rule. It certainly wasn't worth standing around to find out and so he started to walk over to the nearest outcrop of rock. The sand was fine and loose under his shoes, making them sink in slightly with each step, the sun baked grains hot against his feet where they tipped in over the sides and into his socks.
Eventually he reached the twisted stone structure and sat down in the deepest part of shade he could find. Leaning back against the rock, Ianto let the coolness of the stone soothe his aching shoulders.
He felt a little better than he had when he'd first woken up, which was surprising as he'd just walked about half a mile in baking heat. He frowned. Too many questions were crowding in now that he'd stopped walking and had time to think. Had it really just woken up or was revived a better description? Was he was still a ghost? He didn't think he felt like a ghost. Not that he had any real experience of ghosts apart from what Gwen had told him about Eugene Jones and none of that seemed to apply to his current circumstances. He certainly hadn't had a Dogon's third eye with him in the House of the Dead.
He prodded a finger against his arm and then against the sand scoured rock. He was as solid as it was, definitely no ghostly insubstantialness there. He could feel the heat of the suns on his skin and the wind in his hair. He ran sand through his fingers, feeling its coarse and gritty texture. He was tired, thirsty and was going to develop some spectacular bruises across his back and shoulders where he'd struck the door if the way they ached was anything to go by. No, Ianto decided, all in all, he really didn't feel like a ghost.
Nor was he anything like Owen had been in his zombiefied state. He hadn't been able to feel anything or breathe or sweat or feel thirsty. He stopped and pressed a finger to his neck. He could feel a pulse. Not a zombie then either. That was a relief really given what life or rather unlife had been like for Owen.
So if he wasn't dead, that only really left being alive. Yet it wasn’t as simple as that. He'd been dead and buried for who knows how long and then he'd been a ghost, so even if he was now somehow alive again, the chances of being completely, normally human again probably weren't all that high.
It scared him, if he was honest with himself. There were too many questions that he had absolutely no way of answering and the desolate nature of the world he'd found himself in meant that he might very well die there before he got answers to anything. Could he die? There was another question right there. He'd died once already, could he die again? And if not would he age? Could he get sick? What would happen if he got badly hurt, but couldn't die? Would he continue to survive in terrible, unending pain or, given time, could he heal any damage?
Shaking, Ianto covered his face with his hands. He liked to think of himself as self-sufficient, that he didn't need anybody and most of the time he knew that was true. Right now, though he wanted Jack. He wanted to talk to him, to be able to bounce ideas back and forth until they found the solution or at least a few answers. He wanted Jack to put an arm around him and tell him some outrageous story to take his mind off his current situation and then kiss him and let him know that somehow things would be alright in the end.
He thought of Jack as he'd been in the House of the Dead, grief stricken and so weary with life that he'd wanted it all to end and he really hadn't cared how it did. Jack needed somebody to comfort him just as much as he did right now, maybe even more so. It hurt to think of Jack being so desperately unhappy and knowing that there was nothing that he could do to help and that he was at least in part, a cause of some of that unhappiness.
Ianto rubbed his eyes, determined not to cry. It never seemed to make him feel any better when he did and without anything to drink something that would increase dehydration was definitely best avoided.
He had known for some time that Jack saw his immortality as a curse than a blessing, and although Jack had appeared to be dealing with it better since he'd found the Doctor, Ianto was that those feelings had never really gone away. The deaths of Owen and Tosh and the situation with Gray had hit Jack incredibly hard and there had been times when Ianto had wondered how Jack hadn't broken down under the strain of it all.
Losing everybody you'd ever known or cared about was the worst part of the curse of immortality, Jack had been very certain about that. What if he really was like Jack now? Would he be able to cope with it? He knew Jack had hated the idea of anybody else becoming like him. When it had looked like being a possibility for Suzie he said he'd rather have killed her than let her suffer it. So what would Jack think of him? Would it bring them closer or drive them apart?
Ianto shook his head trying to clear his thoughts, knowing that it wouldn't help to dwell on it. He could do that later, once he'd survived. What he needed right now was a plan. There was little to be gained from walking in the fierce heat apart from possible sunburn and probable heatstroke, so although he had no idea of how long a day lasted on the world he was on, Ianto decided to wait for nightfall before trying to find food, water and, with any luck, a way off the planet and back to Jack.
Darkness might help with finding habitation as well, he decided, as if there were any houses nearby he'd stand a better chance of seeing any lights, even if it were just a glow on the horizon. It would at least give him something to aim for in otherwise featureless desert.
After taking off his suit jacket and folding it into a pillow, Ianto lay down in the little shade the rock formation provided and waited for it to grow dark. Exhausted, he closed his eyes, and in a short time was asleep.
One of the suns had already set when Ianto woke and the second sun was low on the horizon, casting long shadows from the rock formation across the cooling sand.
Sitting up, he realised that his shoulders hurt less. The discomfort now just the dull tug of old bruises, rather than the deep ache that he'd come to associate with fresh, deep bruising. What that meant in terms of his newly not exactly dead status he couldn't say, so he decided to be grateful for the fact that he could move without pain. He was still thirsty though and Ianto knew that he really needed to find water tonight if he was to survive.
The heat of the day had subsided to a more comfortable level Ianto found as he left the shade of the rock shelter. There were still no signs of life anywhere around him, not so much as an insect or reptile seemed to make this desert its home.
The rocks didn't look too difficult or dangerous to climb. So hoping that the extra height might allow him to see something or someone who could help him and with the light from the second sun fading fast Ianto climbed as high as he could safely manage up the stone outcrop.
He stopped twenty feet or so above the desert and looked around. There still didn't seem to be any signs of life, but unwilling to admit defeat Ianto decided to wait until it got darker in the hope of seeing a distant light that might be too dim to be seen by day.
The remaining sun set rapidly, creating a sunset that was brief but spectacular. The stars were brighter than he'd ever seen them, whether it was because of the lack of light pollution or whether the planet had a very thin atmosphere Ianto couldn't say. The moon when it finally rose was near full. A huge, pale golden disc that seemed to rise out of the desert sands.
Ianto was about to climb down and head in the direction of the brightest of the stars when he saw it. A small red glow just to the side of a distant rocky outcrop. It flickered in a way that Ianto associated with open flames, although whether in this case it was just wishful thinking he wasn't certain.
It was however the only thing that he'd so far seen that offered even the faintest possibility of help. Hoping that whoever the light belonged to was friendly, Ianto climbed down and set out across the desert.
Walking as fast as the loose, drifting sand would allow, Ianto made his way across the moonlit desert. The night was cool despite the effort of walking and he suspected that it would get even colder a few more hours. Finding the fire or at least some shelter would have to be top priority unless he wished to add exposure to his problems.
The dull red gleam dipped in and out of view as he walked over the gentle rolling dunes. Each time Ianto lost sight of it there was the fear that he wouldn't find it again because whoever it belonged to would extinguish it for the night or run out of firewood or whatever it was that could be used as fuel in such a desolate place.
It kept on burning, a beacon in a desolate land. Finally as he neared it, Ianto could see that it was indeed a campfire and that there was a woman was sitting beside it. More than that he couldn't say, as her features, clothing and even species seemed to be constantly changing. Not abrupt changes, more a seamless morph between one and the next, but it was still deeply disconcerting. It the suns had still be present he'd have assumed that she was a mirage sent to taunt him.
“Sit down,” she called out as he moved into the firelight. She patted the sand next to her. “You are weary and have travelled far.”
Feeling rather dizzy from the effort of walking without having anything to drink all day, Ianto blinked at her, unable to focus on a single image. “How do you know that?”
“All who have newly come through are,” she said simply.
As she looked at him Ianto realised that despite all the other changes, her eyes stayed the same. Deep and dark, filled with the light of ancient stars. “Who are you?” he asked moving closer, but not sitting down.
“I have had many names through time. You can call me Amaranth, it is the one I've used these last few years.” She smiled, young and joyful and ancient and wise in the same moment. “We are the same, you and I.”
“Is my face...?” Ianto begun, feeling rather stupid and self-conscious at the same time. Surely he would have noticed something? He looked down at his hands. They appeared to be the same hands he's always had. There was even the small scar on hiss thumb from a misguided attempt at friendship with Lisa's mum's pet cat.
Amaranth laughed, amused rather than mocking. “No, you have just the one face. A handsome one at that. What I meant was that we are the Rift Born. I the first and you, I have reason to believe, the last.”
“The last?” Ianto asked. Suddenly worried that closing the Cardiff end of the Rift had produced some unforeseen consequence. “What do you mean the last?”
“The last of those to pass through life and dead and into life immortal by passing through the House of the Dead.” She pointed to a place by the fire next to her. “Come, sit, you look worn out. I will tell you what I can. You need not fear for those you have left behind. You had already passed to them, their lives will be lived as time dictates. You have done nothing to hurt them by moving on into this new life.”
Amaranth, if that really was her name, didn't seem like a threat, and with no other option available to him Ianto finally moved to sit down beside to her. Trying not to show how exhausted he still felt, he asked, “How can you possibly know that?”
She looked into the fire, her faces wistful and all older for the moment. “Experience. I told you I was the first. I have seen many of those who have stepped through into this new life. Most have sought to check on those they have left behind and none have been worse off for the creation of the Rift Born. Maybe for the initial death, but never for anything after.”
“But I broke the Rift. I'm the last, you said it yourself,” Ianto said, scared now that perhaps Jack had been wrong in believing that it would just close the Rift. What if it had somehow damaged time? Was that even possible?
“Worry is natural. I used to worry, until I realised that all things happen as they are meant. Time is far less malleable that you might believe. It will always right itself in the end.” She took a jug from out of the shadows behind her, poured some water into a cup and then handed it to Ianto. “You must understand, once the Rift did not exist, so it is not strange that one day it would cease to be. All things have their time. As I was the first, somebody had to be the last. There is nothing you could have done.”
“But it is my fault,” Ianto said quietly, feeling wretched. He was tired, starting to ache again, thirsty, hungry and scared. “I blew it up. I meant to close it.”
“How?” Amaranth asked, interested rather than angry. “It is rare enough that a person moving through the House ever becomes aware of the fact that their mortal life has passed.” She frowned. “Or is this how you died? You destroyed the House of the Dead and your own life at the same time?”
Ianto shook his head and drank some of the water. “Somebody I know, that I care about, came to find me there. He brought the bomb with him. He wanted...” He stopped and bit his lip. Thinking about Jack and the mental state he'd been in was too distressing.
“To be with you?” she asked.
“No. I don't think so. He just wanted...” Ianto stopped again, it didn't seem right to share what Jack had wanted to do. Maybe he'd have considered telling Gwen and he'd have probably talked it through with Tosh, had she been alive, but not like this, not with a stranger.
“He wanted to die, didn't he?” Amaranth said gently. She placed a hand on Ianto's arm. “I am sorry for that, that he made you complicit in it. People make their own choices in life, you are not to blame for their actions. I am sorry though that he didn't pass over with you to this place, but not all are meant for this life.”
“He's not dead,” Ianto said, trying to take comfort that however long it took to find him Jack would always be there. “I made him leave. I destroyed the Rift to save my world.” He closed his eyes, trying to fight the near overwhelming feeling of loss, before he added hoarsely, “To save him.”
“The way between the worlds was not a danger,” she said sadly, staring into the depths of the fire. “To destroy out of love, however misguided is more understandable to me than destruction born out of unfounded fear.”
“It wasn't out of fear, not like you mean,” Ianto said, rather annoyed that Amaranth would judge Jack and his own actions without even knowing why they did it. “There was something coming through it, an alien being, she was collapsing the barrier between the worlds because she needed to feed of the energy of living beings. It was to stop her that I destroyed it. I gave up my chance to go with him. I saved an entire planet of lives, maybe all planets, who knows. It was fitting I guess, given that's apparently how I died the first time. I suppose it had to happen eventually, didn't it?”
It surprised Ianto just how bitter he sounded about that. Ever since the destruction of Torchwood One he'd felt like he was living on borrowed time, that death would soon realise that it had made a mistake in letting him go.
Some people had called it survivors’ guilt when he'd tried to explain it to them. Ianto just saw it a realistic outlook on his life. You didn't work for Torchwood Three and expect to grow old and you didn't get to make plans for the future. Once it hadn't been a death sentence, back when they'd been fully staffed and, although Ianto hated to admit it, back before Jack was in charge, people had actually retired and died of non-alien related causes.
Amaranth was quiet for a few moments, using the pause in conversation to lay another couple of branches from an unseen pile ontto the fire. Finally she said, “You have lived a life far stranger than most who pass down this road, there is more understanding and sorrow in you than in many others who have lived countless lifetimes.”
“You have no idea,” Ianto said, laughter bubbling up before he could stop himself. It wasn't funny, but it was so true to what his life had been, that he couldn't stop himself. Shaking, breath catching in his throat, tears running down his face, until he wasn't sure if he was laughing at the absurdity of it all or weeping for all he'd lost.
Amaranth watched, then handed him a rough, clay beaker of water. “You could tell me, if it would help. You know, you haven't even told me your name.”
The water tasted fresh, although he couldn't begin to work out where she had got it from. He drank half of it before putting it down. Embarrassed at how close he'd come to falling apart, although given what had happened in the last half day or so, perhaps it hadn't been an over reaction. It still made him feel weak, so trying to regain control of the conversation and with it hopefully his emotions, Ianto said, “My name is Ianto Jones, and if you don't mind me asking what was yours?”
“I don't mind, although it has been many a long year since I've spoken it aloud. Heulwen was my name when I first stepped through,” she said wistfully. Her appearance paused for a moment on a human woman well into middle age, her grey hair still thick where it hung in a long plait over her shoulder, the fire light reflecting off a thin twisted gold torc about her neck. Then the image was gone, lost in the sea of her changing faces. “They called me Y Wrach, The Witch, when I finally found my way back to them.”
“You were Welsh?” Ianto said, wondering why he should have been surprised: The House of the Dead and the Rift had been close to Cardiff.
“Not as you understand it. When I passed through the House of the Dead, it was a round house in a woodland clearing. Rumours of strange, armoured men from across the sea were starting to circulate, and with them the fearful whispers of the new technologies they brought with them and how they fought as one so all that opposed them fell before their wall of swords and shields.”
GCSE history and information read on the leaflets in the tourist office left Ianto in little doubt as to what she meant: Romans. “You're two thousand years old,” Ianto said, amazed that the woman sat beside him was nearly as old as Jack.
“What makes you think I've lived my life in linear time?” Amaranth asked, amused. “Honestly, I gave up counting a long time ago. What's the point when you have forever? If I had to put a figure on it I'd say this old body has been travelling for more than five times that.” She leaned in a little closer to him and added awe in her voice, “And there is still so very much left to see.”
“You're not trapped on this world then?” Ianto said, hope flaring anew.
“Of course not.” She looked at him, something akin to pity in her eyes. “Did you really think that you would be trapped here, unable to return to your world again?”
Ianto nodded, feeling weak with relief. “How do I do it? Can you show me?”
Amaranth shook her head. “I'm no teacher and if you're expecting some wise woman mystic routine from me you're going to be sorely disappointed.” She stirred up the fire again, sparks rising into the night sky. “All I know is how it works for me, and just enough from the other Rift Born to certain that we all take to it differently.”
It wasn't the answer that Ianto had wanted, but hoping that perhaps the other Rift Born might have a more definite answer for him he asked, “How many more of us are there and is there any way I can contact them??”
“As I said an enquiring mind.” She smiled fondly, although Ianto suspected that it was more at the memories of times spent with the other Rift Born than because of him. “There are a good number of us. The House of the Dead and its way between the worlds was there for the best part of two thousand years. But as to how to find them I couldn't say. We run across each other more than perhaps chance would suggest and when you see another Rift Born you know what they are. Other than that there is no way I know of that isn't technological.”
Technology sounded good and Ianto looked at her hopefully. “I don't suppose...”
“No. I've never been good with the newer technologies.”
Sighing, Ianto looked up at the bright stars and moon overhead, a second and third moon having now risen to join the first It didn't matter that he was now apparently some kind of ageless immortal being, he was still utterly insignificant in the face of the vastness of time and space.
Vision blurring a little, he blinked to clear it. Then, determined to find something other than his apparently helplessness to concentrate on, he said, “So what do they all do then?”
There was pity in Amaranth's voice as she replied, “Whatever they wish. They are at heart just the men and women that they were in life. No more or less. That's not to say they aren't special in their own right or that they don't often see themselves as more.”
It would be all too easy to let immortality to go to your head, Ianto thought. You could set yourself up as some kind of living god if you so wished. It made him appreciate all the more that Jack, often at enormous personal cost, had used his immortality to protect the Earth rather than conquer it.
“You look worried,” Amaranth said looking at him, curious about what he was thinking. “You shouldn't be. Perhaps I wasn't clear in what I meant when I said they see themselves as more, I meant no harm in it, merely that some see this new life as a calling.” A wistful smile passed across her changing faces. “There's Joan, she was a nurse and she believes that this was a gift from her god and that he was calling her to help the sick wherever and whenever they are. Or then there's Aelwyn who's still working on his complete history of Wales, from the formation of its oldest rocks and mountains to the destruction of the Earth in the year six billion. Some have become soldiers, scholars or artists, while others believe they have been chosen as some kind of guardian of their family line and live their immortal lives in linear time protecting and aiding them where they can.”
They all sounded so noble and selfless that Ianto wondered if it was he who would be the one who was a disappointment. Nothing different there then, he thought bitterly. He'd hardly been the son his parents had wanted and he'd let Lisa and his friends down often enough that he sometimes wondered why they still remained friends with him at all.
“Not to say there aren't a few bad apples,” Amaranth continued, seeming to sense his mood. “There are those who've set themselves up as kings or queens, who've stolen or killed or manipulated the time-lines for their own goals. We are all still human at heart and prey to the same vices and desires we had in life.”
Manipulating the time-lines sounded like a dangerous proposition, but faced with the loses that came with immortality Ianto could see how it would be easy to be tempted. Jack had seemed to think that time was something that was fixed and tampering with it would have terrible consequences, yet so much of what he'd said seemed to indicate that there was at least a little bit of malleability present. The fact was, as hard as it was to accept, Jack probably didn’t really have any more idea than the rest of them.
“Is it possible?” Ianto asked eventually, torn between wanting to know and the fear that perhaps under the right circumstances he could become one of those corrupted by the power that he held. Love and loss were powerful motivators in his experience and he knows that there would have been a time when he'd have pulled the world apart to save those he loved. Whether knowing the consequences of his past actions had done enough to prevent him in future he had no idea, and he hopes that he would never find himself in a position to have to test it.
“It is,” Amaranth said finally. She watched him for a moment and then added, “If you truly believe that is the way your path lies then you should best try and seek out Bilis Manger.”
Ianto's blood ran cold. “Bilis is one of the Rift Born?”
“He is. He's not as old or powerful as he believes himself to be." She gave him a curious look and then asked warily, "How do you know of him?”
“It was before,” Ianto said looking into the fire. He picked up a stick and poked at the embers around the edges. “We didn't know he was Rift Born. We had no idea that the Rift or the House of the Dead could do what it did. All we knew was that he was dangerous.”
“That's Bilis,” Amaranth said sadly. “Burning ambition, a lack of conscience and limited talent have driven him to seek and obtain power beyond what any of us should hold. He would lie with a straight face that his intent was benign and then stab you in the back.”
Ianto closed his eyes again. Bilis and Abbadon hadn't been their finest hour. None of them, apart from perhaps Tosh, had come out of it well. He'd shot Owen and had failed to realise that they were being manipulated into opening the Rift. If the ghost of Lisa had claimed opening the Rift would have got her back he wouldn't have believed her, instead she'd appealed to his guilt and had sealed in his mind the need to use Protocol One. A long standing Torchwood Three directive it stated that if there was no other way to avoid a catastrophic temporal failure that would devastate the world then the Rift should be opened to allow a controlled burst of energy. It had been his life in exchange for countless millions, it hadn't been a difficult choice.
Bilis had played them all for fools. His and Tosh's sense of duty and their need to put the world before themselves had meant they'd open it. Owen and Gwen had done it for love. While Jack with his secrets within secrets and almost pathological inability to trust them with the truth or to give them the information that they needed to do their jobs, hadn't helped. Why, when he and Tosh had gone to him and told him that they thought it was time use Protocol One had Jack not used that opportunity to tell them that it wouldn't work? Surely that would have been better than dredging up their failures and throwing them in their faces with no alternative solution given?
“You are very quiet,” Amaranth said breaking his train of thought. “Do not take this the wrong way, but you an Bilis are too alike for my comfort. There is the same ability to lie without a trace of it showing in your face.”
“I needed it for my job,” Ianto replied, knowing that it was only partially the truth.
“This job sounds like it demanded too much for one so young.”
“I'm twenty five. It think I am, I'm not sure when I died,” Ianto said, not wanting to think too closely on when and how it had happened. “I can’t remember how.”
“When you get as old as I am everybody is young. Even the unchanging one. No, all I meant was take care that you do not find that the lies become your life.” Amaranth moved a little closer to the fire. “You have power beyond what Bilis first had. Not the most I've seen, but you have a mind that will not hesitate to master it.”
Amaranth's reply raised a lot more questions than it answered, but there was one that Ianto found more pressing than the rest. “Who is the unchanging one?”
“The man who cannot die. He is not one of us, he doesn't drift on the currents of time as we do. Time bends and flows about him like a rock in a stream. We do not know how he came to be, just that he is the only one and that once he was as human as we once were.”
“Have you met him?” Ianto asked, unable to keep his voice steady, certain now that she was talking about Jack.
“No. Although some have, I believe. We feel him in the timestream though. Something undefinable.”
“Something wrong.” It came out harsher than Ianto had intended, but he knew how much Jack had been hurt by being told that. How when his moods got to a low enough ebb that he'd use it about himself, convinced that everything bad that had happened was somehow his fault and that it was right he should suffer for it.
Amaranth watched him for a moment, a frown on her faces, then said, “Not at all. Is a mountain that is taller than the rest wrong? Or a star that shines more brightly than the others?” She patted his hand. “He just is. You are more than you seem and more than than you would have me believe. You know him, don't you? You were angry at the idea I might think ill of him. More than that, you believed what I said would hurt him. You wanted to protect him.”
Ianto nodded, dreading what Amaranth would ask him next. His relationship with Jack had either been incredibly complicated or very simple. It all depended on how you looked at it and whether you thought there had been anything beyond the physical between them. All he knows is that he wouldn't trade what it finally became for the world.
“You need to eat,” Amaranth said suddenly. Reaching past him she lifted a pot off the fire that Ianto was sure hadn't been there before and set it down in the sand between them. Ladling some stew out of the pot into a bowl, she handed it to Ianto with a spoon and a chunk of bread, then got the same for herself.
The stew wasn't the best Ianto had tasted, but it was passable. So he ate it it while trying not to wonder just what it was actually made from. Given that he could be anywhere or any when in time and space, the chances of it being anything he would actually know or recognise as food was pretty low. It didn't seem to have any meat in it and worrying about the existence of sentient vegetables didn't seem like a good use of his time.
“Immortality doesn't make you a good cook,” Amaranth's said with a laugh, when Ianto shook his head at being offered another bowl. “I keep meaning to take a class or something, but in two thousand years I've still never found the time.”
Ianto felt a smile tug at his lips. It sounded like something Jack would say. Not that Jack had had much opportunity, living for much of his time on Earth in eras when men weren't expected to do the cooking and later living in the Hub which only had a microwave, he'd become accustomed to relying on cafes and ready made food. It made Ianto wish that he'd asked Jack over to his flat and actually cooked for him rather go out for a meal or order takeaway. Just one of far too many regrets, he thought sadly.
“We all feel the Rift,” Amaranth said, once she'd finished her meal. “It comes to us in different ways. Some step through with ease while others return only rarely. Some feel the tides of time so strongly they can travel wherever and whenever they please as easily as you or I might cross a room. Other struggle to feel it, although all with practice can master it in the end.”
“You're sure about that?” Ianto asked, latching on to the one truly hopeful thing he's so far heard.
“As sure as I am about anything. It took me long years to discover how to travel the spaces between the worlds.”
Years didn't sound good at all. Because although he might be able to get back to Jack without having too much time passing from Jack’s point of view it could still years for himself.
“Many call it the time-stream” Amaranth continued as she gathered up the bowls. “But I've always thought that time ocean would be more apt. There are ripples and currents in it, and there's depth too. The centre of the universe is where time is deepest, while time that is only just beginning is as shallow at the incoming tide out at the further edges where the universe is still expanding.”
It made sense in a strange kind of way and Ianto nodded. Abstractly he knew the universe was supposed to growing outwards since the big bang, but that was about the extent of it; it wasn't something that he'd needed to know. The fact was, despite his previous claims of knowing everything, much of his knowledge was superficial and had been acquired with the sole aim of impressing somebody to get something from them, whether that was a job, a promotion or even a date. Technology and how to make it work had been one of the few things that he'd had either an interest or an aptitude in even before what had happened to Lisa.
Amaranth seemed to take his silence as a willingness to listen and continues. “So when you are looking for a specific time and place you need to feel for the distance of the place and for its depth in time. And then, if you are one of the lucky few you'll be able to open a tear to wherever you want and just step through.”
It was far too vague and he said,“And if I can't, what do I do then, just sit here forever?”
“No, but you'll have to do what most of the rest of us do,” she said, adding a little more wood from a still invisible pile to the fire. “We go and sit in the Rift and wait for something to open near to where we want to go. It's easier to give it a little push in the right direction then, just to get it a little closer.”
It wasn't a perfect solution, but he supposed it at least it gave him another option until he learnt how to do it better or found some technology that could. After a moment he asked,“Are you sure the Rift is still there for me to sit in? I did break it.”
She shook her head, amused like she were explaining child. “You closed a tiny part of it. The rest, the great space between times, that remains. Each of us Rift Born have a place that we can to return to. It's not a real place, just an echo of it, a bubble in the Rift where we can wait for a tear in safety. For me it is the woodland clearing where I first realised that I was no longer of the mortal world. For you who knows, but it will mean something to you when you find it.”
“But how do I get there?” Ianto asked, beginning to feel like he was starting to go round in circles with the answers he was being given. Did people like setting him up to fail or something, he thought irritably, although knowing that for the most part that wasn't exactly true or even fair, often they knew as much as he did or he'd been unwilling to ask for more information out of the fear they'd realise that he'd been winging it until then. “And please don't tell me it's different for everyone.”
“You have to imagine the Rift opening. We are not as we once were, we are as much thought as flesh. You have will it to happen,” she said, sounding like it sound have been obvious. “It's hard at first, but don't give up, because it will get easier. It's the same for feeling for the depth of time and space once you're in there. It all comes down to practice.”
It wasn't the answer he'd wanted, so he decided to change tack, just incase Amaranth had been trying to trick him. Not likely he knew, but his experience with aliens hadn't exactly been good up until now. Admittedly Amaranth wasn't actually an alien, but then there had been a lot of people in his life that he'd have been better off not trusting. “Could you find a person in the same way?” Ianto asked, knowing that Jack might not have stayed in Cardiff after all that had happened.
“I don't see why not,” Amaranth replied. “If you know when they lived and what sort of places they'd most likely go to then it could work.”
“And if you didn't know where and when they were?” he asked evasively.
She gave him a curious look. “You mean the unchanging one, don't you.”
Ianto paused for a moment, and then decided that there really wasn't anything to be gained by being vague about it and said, “Yes. He means at lot to me and I have to find him.”
“Then you will,” she replied with a finality that Ianto knew meant that she didn't have anything more to add on the subject even if he ask her all night.
It didn't mean that it wasn't disappointing, and he couldn't keep the annoyance from his voice when he said, “So what do I do now?”
“Now you sleep by the fire,” Amaranth said, choosing to ignore his tone of voice. She stood up, her body shimmering and morphing from one form to another in the same way her face had. “In the morning you will return to the Rift. You will learn to feel the rise and fall of the tides of time. So above all hold tight to hope. You have all of time to find your man, and remember all things are possible given enough time.”
Ianto nodded, weariness suddenly getting the better of him. “Will you stay?” he asked, his eyes starting to close.
“No. It is time for me to continue on my way. I have a life outside of this place, a family. Perhaps our paths may cross again, perhaps not.” She smiled at him and stepped out of the edge of the firelight and was gone.
Ianto blinked, his mind fuzzy with tiredness. Part of him wanted to try to follow her or call her back and get her to explain how she'd disappeared. There wasn't a way of doing either of those things, and feeling too exhausted to attempt to try to open the Rift yet by himself, Ianto decided to take her advice and lay down to sleep.
Ianto woke to bright sunlight, the first of the world's two suns already well above the horizon and the temperature already starting to climb. There was no sign of Amaranth, the only thing to indicate that she had been there at all were the remains of the campfire and a jug of water.
Grateful that he had been left something to drink, Ianto stayed by the burnt out fire and tried to plan what he should do next. Amaranth had said that there should be one place that that it would be easiest to return to he just had to feel it. As instructions went they were far from ideal , but there was no sense in delaying trying, Ianto decided, as the water wouldn't last long and he soon be too hot and hungry to concentrate on anything.
How should he start? Would trying the basic psychic training that he'd received at Torchwood One, even though he'd barely scraped through the test? His instructor had told him it was down to his own reluctance to let anyone or anything in rather than it being down to lack of talent. He hadn't been sure if she'd just been trying to be nice or not. He did have problems trusting people, it wasn't something he liked to admit, but it was true none the less.
However, it was doubtful many or maybe even any of the other Rift Born had had that kind of training, and they had managed fine without, so perhaps it wasn't the right way to approach it. Perhaps it would be better if he tried one of the relaxation or self-hypnosis routines that he'd turned to in desperation after everything that had happened with the fall of Torchwood One, Lisa and nearly being eaten. Whether they'd helped or if it was just Jack's increasing interest in him that had helped pull him through those nightmare months, Ianto wasn't sure. Eventually he'd started sleeping better and the future became something that held hopes and dreams again rather than stomach churning fear and the bleak certainty of death. Or it had until Owen and Tosh had died and everything had started to fall apart again.
Closing his eyes he ran through all he knew about the Rift. How it's previously anchored end had been located in Cardiff, about all the points that they knew that it had opened into, the type of energy readings that they'd detected both on its opening and closing and Tosh's equations that he'd helped her program into the mainframe although he'd only understood a fraction of it.
None of it produced any feeling of connection with the Rift, and after half an hour and with the beginnings of a headache starting to throb dully behind his eyes, Ianto wanted to yell at the apparent futility of trying to think himself into the Rift. Knowing that that would accomplish nothing, he decided to try something else. Maybe if he thought about how the Rift felt he'd get a better grasp of it.
There was always a feeling of static electricity about the Rift, a prickle down your spine, something that raised the hairs on the back of your neck and goosebumps down your arms. It was why so many of the old Rift openings had been reported as ghosts. There was the scent of ozone too. Something sharper than the background tang of the sea and more like a massive lightning strike. And finally there was light. Sometimes blue and cold, sometimes warm and golden, but always brilliant in its intensity. Did the colours mean anything? Blue for forwards in time and gold for back? Or did the colour depend on temporal proximity, one colour for close and another for distant? Or maybe it was connected to how close the spatial location was.
Hot and dispirited, Ianto sighed and opened his eyes. There were too many variables and it felt ridiculous to try to picture the Rift and expect it to be there when you opened your eyes. The sun had climbed higher while he'd been trying to open the Rift, the patch of shade he'd been sitting in reduced to almost nothing, while low on the horizon the worlds second sun was just starting to rise.
“Come on,” he muttered to himself. “You can do this. You've got to do this.”
It didn't seem to work, nothing did. Not picturing it, not thinking about the admittedly poorly understood mechanics of it, and not yelling in frustration and throwing the now empty water jug as far as he could when he couldn't think of anything else to try.
There was nothing else left to do other than try a different location, so he left the shelter of the rocks. The heat was fiercer than he had remembered, and he was wondering if he should wait until evening before trying somewhere else when something caught his eye.
The air over the outcrop seemed to shimmer, and at first Ianto wasn't sure whether it was just a heat haze rising from the rocks. However the more he looked at it the more regular in shape seemed to become, until finally it formed a square of distorted, rippling space.
There wasn't anything to be lost by investigating it, he decided, and Ianto began to climb. As he did the square began to lose its regularity, its edges becoming fuzzy and indistinct once more. Stopping he clung to the rocks as best as he could and still keep the square in view.
After focusing on it for a couple of minutes it regained its previous well defined shape. Whether he really was controlling it or if it was a combination of desperation and imminent heatstroke he didn't know.
Wherever it took him it had to be better than a barren desert, and closing his eyes Ianto stepped through the shimmering air and back into the House of the Dead.
Of all the locations that he could have ended up with as his place in the Rift the House of the Dead hadn't featured in his top ten or to be honest at all. Why couldn't it have been somewhere like his flat back in Cardiff or Jack's office in the Hub? Even his childhood home or the tiny apartment he'd shared with Lisa in London would have been better. At least they had more good memories than bad.
“Really?” Ianto said to the deserted bar, irritation growing. “This is what I get as my place in the Rift?" It wasn't fair. Why the hell had he ended up with this place in all it dilapidated, unhappy memory inducing glory? Yet it wasn't exactly the same as it had been when he'd first seen it, he realised. It was empty; the Siriath and the few other people that had been there were gone. It was something to be thankful for he supposed. The damage from the Rift collapsing was repaired as well or perhaps just never happened in this version.
It made sense in a twisted kind of way, he supposed, although he still didn't particularly like it. It had been the place where he'd found out he was dead. Amaranth had said her place was where she'd realised she'd died. So was that what every Rift Born got? The place where they finally figured out they shuffled off their mortal coil and become something that probably shouldn't exist. Or had he ended up with this place because Amaranth had placed the idea there?
Whatever the reason was it there was nothing to be gained from being pissed off about it or trying to apportion blame. He'd just have to get on with it. No change there then, he thought, as he looked around at what might end up being his home for some time.
Closer inspection revealed that what he actually had was only part of a rundown pub. There was no access to the outside or upstairs as there were no doors, apart from the one labeled WC. The one through which Jack had left, back to Cardiff and the 21st century was gone, as was the one through which the explosion had thrown him. What remained was a faint outline of where they had been, the plaster on the wall slightly less yellowed with age than the rest of the wall. There weren't any windows either, yet there didn't seem to be an issue with running out of air.
All there was was the bar, the small room, barely bigger than a cupboard that was behind it, and behind the door marked WC the toilets. How the toilets flushed, why there was water in the taps or where the electricity that ran the lights, fridge and mircowave came from he had no idea, but he was grateful that it did, especially if he was going to have to spend any length of time here. There wasn't much in the way of food, just the usual bar snacks of crisps and peanuts, and although the pumps for the beer didn't work there was still cans and bottles of soft drinks and tonic water and the bottles of spirits in their optics were behind the bar. There were still some bar snacks, mainly crisps and little bags of peanuts, but not enough to eat in the long term, but hopefully enough to stop him getting too hungry until he worked out how to travel somewhere else.
Somehow, even with spending most of working life employed by Torchwood, he'd never imagined that he'd end up some odd new variety of the undead with an inter-dimensional pub or should that be extra-dimensional? Was the House of the Dead inside the Rift, and if it was what else might be? Diane in the Sky Gypsy? Another Abbadon? If the room occupied a physical space and time could it be found by other people?
There were too many ideas, too many questions without adequate answers and too many fears running round his head. He needed to order them, to make them into things that could be used or discarded as irrelevant.
There was a notepad and a pen behind the bar. The first couple of pages where filled with looked like a restock list for the drinks and snacks, and a note to remind the cleaner that the soap dispenser in the gents toilet was broken again. He wondered if it had been there when the House of the Dead had been a real pub or if it had somehow been created when the echo of the pub was created to make the place seem more realistic. Whichever it was he decided it didn't really matter and he tore the used pages out and dumped them in the bin under the counter.
It wasn't a great notepad, cheap flimsy paper and a garish orange plastic cover. A good third of the pages were already gone, but he felt better writing things down, like they made more sense that way and were easier to deal with. It was one of the reasons he'd kept a diary, the other had been the knowledge of Retcon. He wondered what had become of his old diary, had he left it at home as a guard against his most private thoughts being read? Had Jack kept it? or was it in a lock up like all the others who'd suffered death by Torchwood.
The idea of anybody reading it, even now when he was technically dead, bothered him. Would what he'd written change how they saw him? Did it actually matter that finally they would see him as something closer to the person he really was than what he'd carefully projected to the world? That putting the fear and anger and bitterness into those pages had allowed him seem either bland or unflappable as the situation required? In the end he hoped that if anybody had got it and had read his hopes and thoughts and dreams then it would have been Jack, and that he might have got a little bit of comfort from knowing that he had loved him and that their time together had for the most part been what he'd wanted it to be.
The first couple of pages were rapidly filled with what Amaranth had told him about the Rift Born. The next page became a list of those she'd mentioned by name. Then a page that was split between what he knew about his new not really dead form and what he still needed to find out.
Ianto turned another page and wrote at the top of it How to travel in the Rift. He looked at it for a moment and then crossed it out, replacing it with How did I die?
He looked at that for even longer and at the bar, where the optics of spirits on the wall offered the only comfort from the depressing reality of his situation. Drink was as much a part of life in Wales as coal, rugby or singing, and his family and life had been no different. Cheap alcopops or cider drunk after dark in the playground just off the council estate where he'd spent his teenage years, pints with the lads to celebrate or commiserate after rugby, drinking wine with Lisa and feeling he was actually the sophisticated adult that he wanted to project to the world. His throat felt tight and he lied to himself it was just thirst. Drinks with Jack, late at night in his office, whether the day had been good or bad. Comfort, friendship and a level of openness that he had seldom allowed with anyone. Jack understood personal demons all too well, of how you could spend half your life lying to everybody, including yourself, just to make it through the day. And if afterwards he'd not gone home, if he'd woken in the cramped room under the office with Jack pressed against him, it had been nobody's business bar their own.
Memories of Jack and a nostalgia that might have been as much wishful thinking as real memory drove his choice, and he retreated back to the corner seat with glass and one of the bottles of whiskey.
There wasn't much to write in the way of facts. First victim of an alien plague. It left so many questions that he couldn't answer or was afraid to consider too deeply. Like who else had died? Was it this that Jack had been referencing when he'd claimed the 21st century was when everything changed?
Change could be good, Ianto tried to tell himself. Maybe there had been some benevolent aliens who had arrived and saved lots of people and the general population of Earth had found it wasn't alone in the vastness of space. It felt like a lie, there was nothing to support it. Worse than that there was more than enough evidence to doubt any positive outcome. Jack would not have been seeking the end he had unless things had gone terribly, perhaps irrevocably, wrong back on Earth.
It made him feel sick to imagine what nightmare scenario could have driven Jack to the House of the Dead. Jack who'd survived so much, who had suffered more than anybody should ever do and who had known with absolute certainty that his future would always contain the loss of all those he loved, but who still chose live and love because it was what made eternity bearable at least some of the time. What horror had could have finally broken his spirit?
More than his own loss, Ianto was certain. He needed to believe that, that it wasn't his fault. He poured himself another glass. Somehow, some way he'd make things right, he told himself. Amaranth had said he'd got power and that time wasn't always quite as fixed as it would appear to be. If there was a way to put things right, he'd find it, and he'd save Jack, just as he'd been saved.
They could have forever. He smiled into his glass and then raised it in a toast to the idea. Objectivity over matters of love had never been his strong suit, but he owed it to Jack to do all he could to help him. He'd let him down in the past, let himself be fooled. He finished the glass and poured another. He wouldn't get tricked again, not by anybody. He was wiser now, he was sure of it, and he was almost positive that that was his own opinion and not the buzz of overconfidence from neat spirits on an empty stomach.
The fact was Jack was a survivor and in his own way so was he. He wasn't going to let this beat him. He'd faced worse odds. He had escaped a background that had suggested future of mediocrity and minimum pay interspersed with unemployment to get a well paid job in the heart of London's business district. He'd lived when so many of his friends and colleagues hadn't. He'd survived a few years at Torchwood Three, despite all that it had thrown at him. Not even having the Hub blow up around him hadn't finished him off.
The drink caught in his throat, burning as it seemed to go down the wrong way. Where had that memory come from? Because it was definitely a memory, it was there as a bright and painful as dozens of other that were definitely real. He closed his eyes trying half eager half fearful for more of it. Panic, Jack pushing him onto the invisible lift, a frantic kiss, flames, twisted metal, shooting.
Opening his eyes, the room seemed to waver around him, blurring and for a moment and Ianto realised that he'd drunk more than he'd intended to. Had he? If he'd just wanted not to be thirsty he'd have chosen one of the bottles of juice or tonic water.
He flicked through the notepad and then in the section about what he knew about being Rift Born he wrote - I can still get drunk. It didn't look right to leave it there alone, so Ianto added bullet points beneath it. Will I get a hangover? Alcohol poisoning y/n? Other poisons? Should I test?
The last one didn't seem like a good idea, so he crossed it out. If he was at the stage of drunk where stupid ideas seemed viable, even if for just a minute or two then he was sure had a problem. Better to go to the point of too drunk to do the stupid thing and then sleep it off. It sounded almost sensible, so he went with it.
Another glass emptied, Ianto crossed his arms on the tabletop, rested his head against them and closed his eyes. He just needed a short rest, he told himself, and then he'd start looking for answers.
Sorry about the delay, not abandoning this or running out of ideas. It's been/continuing to be hectic at work with a merger and a building move, plus i've an up coming visit to relations who live at the other end of the county and don't have internet. I looks like being one part a week for a while rather than two as writing time is very limited current and is likely to be for about the next 4 weeks.
A/N. The WC on the door is a common, if rather old fashioned (and it is an old pub) abbreviation for Water Closet, aka the toilet.
Footsteps echoing on stone floors. Something fearful and indistinct shrieked wordless curses. A many headed monster like something out of a nightmare looming out of the mist. A gun shot. Jack bleeding, dying in his arms. The scene flipped, now with him being held. Jack looking down at him, hands cradling his face. Jack begging for him to live. Cold trembling lips pressed against his, tears falling on his face. Pain.
Ianto woke coughing and choking, lungs aching as if they'd been starved of much needed air. Gasping and shivering uncontrollably he looked around the dingy bar in the House of the Dead.
It hadn't been a nightmare, he was certain of that. Wrapping his arms about himself, he drew his knees up to his chest in an effort to stop shaking. It was too real, too painful to have been anything other than a real memory. It was how he'd died. He wanted Jack, needed him, in than moment more than he could ever put into words. And it was thing he could not have.
From across the room faint outline where the door to Cardiff had once been seemed to taunt him, a reminder of where he desperately wanted to be and where he was unable to go.
Staggering to his feet, Ianto grabbed a stool from in front of the bar and swung it hard against the yellowed wall. Paint and plaster crumbled under the blows to reveal rough, grey blocks of Welsh granite. Undeterred, he struck it again. One, two, three more swings with the stool and one of its legs shattered. The stonework beneath, cold, hard and completely unbreakable with the tools he had, remained unmarked. With a yell of frustration, Ianto threw the broken stool at the bar and then dropped to his knees.
Everything ached. It felt more than physical, although he suspected that part of it at least was a hangover starting to make itself felt. His lists of last night seemed so pointless. How was he supposed to do any of this? How was he supposed deal with this new unlife or whatever the hell it was all on his own? Even staying dead would have been better than this, he thought angrily, then at least he have finally been beyond caring, beyond the doubt and guilt that gnawed at him as much now as it had done when he'd still been alive.
It wasn't true, and seconds later he felt tears of shame burn in his eyes. He rested his head against the chipped plaster and let them fall. "I want to go home. Please, I just want to go home."
Pleading with the Rift didn't get him anywhere and eventually Ianto forced himself get up and drink a couple of pint glasses of water. Lying on one of the faded, red velour bench seats that formed what had been the pub's attempt at a snug, he stared up at the ceiling, counting the cracks until he gave on that distraction and decided to try and sleep off his hangover.
He felt better when he woke. Not great, but better. There had been no dreams or nightmares this time, for which he'd been incredibly grateful; having to see something like that every time he closed his eyes would have driven him mad.
There wasn't anything else to be done with his time, Ianto decided, other than attempt to travel through the Rift again. Whether it would be easier because he was already inside it or if in opening the way here in the first place he'd made himself more able to sense things he wasn't sure. The question was what should he do once he opened a way out? Should he stay where he was until he found a strong signal for Jack or should he practice until going in and out of time from the House of the Dead was second nature to him?
The problem with the first option was that he had no idea how to feel for Jack's presence in the time stream, and even if by some remote chance located him right away he would have no way of telling if it would be the correct Jack. What if he found a pre-Torchwood Jack who didn't know him or one for which several hundred years had past since he'd last seen him? The idea of finding a version of Jack that either didn't know or had forgotten him was a frightening prospect and Ianto knew that he'd never be able to bring himself to risk it.
No, he would practice and learn as fast as he could, Ianto told himself. He'd find Jack as soon as he was confident in what he was doing. He smiled for what seemed like the first time in weeks. If he mastered the travelling the Rift he could be the mysterious one for a change, he could take Jack wherever he wanted to go, he could give him all of time and space. It would be everything both of them ever wanted and they could have it forever.
It took nearly two hours and the beginnings of a pounding headache, but eventually the same heat haze that had formed in the desert when he'd being trying to find his way here had appeared next to a set of tarnished horse brasses that had been used to decorate one of the walls of the bar.
Would it take him back there? Ianto wondered as he approached it. It didn't feel like it would, although he had nothing to really base it on. Even if it didn't, he told himself, he could get out of the place and back here, and then he could try again.
He took a couple of bottles of tonic water just in case it took him longer than expected to open the way back and his notebook to write down anything that might be useful. Then, closing his eyes, Ianto stepped forwards into the unknown.
The air was hot, dry and dusty as the desert world had been. It was also filled with the smells and sounds of a bustling market place. Relieved, Ianto opened his eyes, half expecting to see a Moroccan bazaar or an Egyptian souk.
It wasn't. It wasn't even Earth. None of the beings around him were than passingly humanoid in shape. There had to be at least a dozen different kinds of alien, he realised, ranging from huge creatures that looked more like walking boulders to tiny, partially robotic ones that hovered between stalls with the aid of shimmering, mechanical wings. There were human sized aliens who had heads that looked like fish and others that looked like swaying tubes of sparkling pale blue water. What there wasn't was anybody that looked even remotely like him.
None of the languages that were being spoken were familiar, while the signs on the stalls, which sold everything from fruit to what might have been spaceship engine parts, were all equally incomprehensible to him.
The food being cooked by some of the vendors smelt good, certainly better than dried and packets bar snacks. Whether they would be edible was another matter, and while he had no wish to get food poisoning, Ianto knew that sooner or later he'd have to try eating something he wasn't familiar with.
He was considering trying to trade something, maybe one of the bottles of tonic water for one, when he realised that he was being watched. He couldn't be certain as he couldn't see anybody who was taking an interest in him, but he was certain he was right. Leaving the stall and its hope of food behind him, Ianto moved through the crowd trying to lose the feeling of eyes following him.
It didn't decrease and Ianto stopped, pretending to browse a stall of what might have been herbs and spices or maybe a head shop. Running would draw unwanted attention, so reluctantly Ianto decided that he'd have to leave this world barely explored and find somewhere he would be able to concentrate to open a way back into the House of the Dead and leave the following eyes behind him.
There was always the possibility that whoever was watching him wasn't hostile, yet if they were friendly why not just approach him? Maybe it was just idle curious about a race they'd not seen before? But if it had been that then why had they followed him?
"You are a very long way from home, aren't you, Mr Jones?"
Ianto froze, the voice was familiar in all the wrong ways. He turned slowly, torn between wishing that he had a weapon to hand and wanting to run and not look back.
"I must say," Bilis Manger said, looking at him with something akin to mocking amusement, "I had not expected it would be you. It's always the quite ones, isn't it?"
I am sorry this story has been on hold for so very long. I'm getting back into writing again, and I'm going to get this story finished. I've got the next three parts at least partially written and the three after that in sketchy fragmentary form. I'm aiming to update about once a week until it's done.
"What do you want?" Ianto asked, annoyed that he wasn't going to be able to use this first trip out of the House of the Dead to actually explore and learn. Any other Rift Born, he thought, would have been welcome company. There are so many questions he's got, and he's willing to ask Bilis Manger precisely none of them.
A thin smile formed on Bilis' lips. "Merely to talk. You must have so many questions.”
"Nothing that I want you to answer,” Ianto replied defiantly. "So say what you want and go."
"Well, you are in a bad mood. Perhaps I should come back in a year or two. I suppose what I know can wait."
And there is was the bait, well he wasn't falling for it this time. "Fine, tell me some more lies and then go."
"You really should do something about all that anger, focus it." He touched Ianto's arm. "You could have so much power. Don't you want that? The power to save those you care about?"
"Leave me alone" Ianto snapped, pulling away from him. "You won't trick me again."
"Come now, what harm is there in listening?" Bilis said. "You could return to the Rift and in all probability we could avoid our paths ever crossing again if we so wished. But perhaps you don't want that, not now that we've met. Do you think you can play me?" He smiled cold and calculating. "Don't look so surprised, boy. We all seek to manipulate, to place the odds in our favour. You are surprisingly good at it, better than Jack if I'm honest."
Ianto glared at him. Jack hadn't been part the conversation until now, so why mention him unless he knew something. "What have you done to him? If you've hurt him..."
Two aliens who looked like swaying tubes of water who'd been browsing a nearby flower stall turned and bubbled slightly at them before moving away.
Bilis shook his head. "I wouldn't raise your voice here if I were you, it's considered most impolite. As for your Captain Harkness have done nothing to him and I have not seen him in a great many years, not since that day in Cardiff. Honestly I've got better things to to than irritate that fraud. And before you get ridiculously offended on his behalf about his ability to lie, think on this." He paused for effect, before continuing. "You are just as aware as I that Jack lies by omission and consequently manages to raise the suspicions of those around him, until finally they doubt he has ever told them truth about anything. He's so desperate for people to trust him, to like him to love him, but his fears, the ones that have beaten and burnt into him down long centuries mean he can never truly trust anyone, not completely.” Bilis smiles, fake and mocking in its condolenses. He is his very own Greek Tragedy."
It came too close to Ianto's own thoughts on Jack for comfort, how he took their failures as both a personal slight against himself and yet something always to be forgiven in them. It made him all the more scared for him given the state he'd been in that last meeting in the House of the Dead. He couldn't let Bilis see any fear, so he tried to sound disinterested and said, "I suppose you think that's very insightful. Why don't you tell me what you really want?"
"Deflection, very good." There was a mocking smile. "But you cannot trick me so easily and you will hear what I have to say."
Ianto scowled at him. "Then get on with it."
"You know to lie by omission is one thing. To lie outright, with your words and with your body in the most intimate ways possible and to do it day after day and not get tangled in those lies? That makes you a such dangerous man Ianto Jones." Bilis fixed him with cold stare. "I know what you did. How you used Harkness to get into Torchwood and how all those pretty little lies of yours tumbled down around you. How before they did so you felt so much pride in your duplicity. Or how very noble you saw yourself for being willing to whore yourself out to him, to let him use you in any way he wanted. Tell me did he use you for his own pleasure in those first days? Did he even care about yours?"
"It wasn't like that," Ianto snapped, his face burning with a shame that he knew he shouldn't feel. Hurt, angry, and fearful that there was more far truth in Bilis' words than he wanted to admit, he turned away. "There was nothing else I could have done. Anybody in that position would have done the same."
"How does the acknowledgement that others would same mistake as you absolve you in any way? All it means is they were as weak and foolish as you." Bilis stopped and looked around. "Come walk with me."
"To be tricked and insulted? Masochism has never been one of my preferences."
Bilis raised an eyebrow, mocking disbelief clearly shown. "I am not here to insult you, my boy."
"Weak and foolish aren't compliments."
"They are not, but you took them, used them as armour, you owned them. You must have wanted to believe those those lies you told, but couldn't, not even when they would have brought you comfort.” Bilis looked at him, something envious in his pale, cold eyes. “That is power. The worse mistake you can ever make is to begin to believe your own lies. An accomplished, disciplined liar is somebody to be feared, a fantasist trapped in his own daydream world is merely to be pitied.”
"So you've come all this way to tell me what a good liar I am?"
Bilis shook his head. "No, merely to alert you to your potential failings and to see if we can come to some form of arrangement. The fact is you all had weaknesses. Gwen's was love beyond sense or reason, Owen the desire to succeed when all those around him told him he was worthless and would fail, Toshiko needed to believe she was part of something greater, that what she was doing was actually doing good in this world."
"Love, ambition and altruism are not weaknesses,” Ianto said wearily. He wondered if Bilis would follow him if he walked away. What if he went back to the House of the Dead, could he be followed? Could he risk it?
"All things are if taken to excess. They say everybody has their price, I have found that to be incorrect, some really do have principles that could never be broken for mere material wealth.” He paused, smug and selfsatisfied. “But show them their fears, let them think they can escape them, oh then they are yours to control.”
"So you played us all against Jack," Ianto said, wondering what it was this Bilis was getting from the conversation. Perhaps it was just the perverse pleasure of reliving what had almost been a victory for him. Was being a Rift Born so dull after a while all you could find to do with your time was taunt other people?
Bilis stared for a moment and then laughed. "I merely showed you your fears. Jack was no different. His fears are well known to me. Loss through his own inability to act, abandonment, treachery from his own, his memories failing him.”
“Why?” It was the one thing that Ianto had never really understood. Why had Bilis tricked them into opening the Rift? Bringing in a demonic looking creature from another planet or maybe even another dimension to trample all over Cardiff had never seemed to sit correctly with what they knew of him. “Why did you do it?”
“My reasons truly are my own.” He stroked Ianto's arm again. “We all need our little secrets. In all honest however I will admit that that creature was being played just as much as you and you foolish little team mates were. After all when you have all of eternity you can afford to play the long game."
Ianto flinched. Bilis touching him made his skin crawl even if that touch was through two layers of clothing. "And what game are you playing with me?"
There was something almost proud in Bilis' expression as he said, "None that I do not believe that you would be willing to participate in."
"I want no part in a game of yours,"
“Even if it should mean it takes you years to find him.”
“You don't know that," Ianto said, fear flooding in that perhaps Bilis did. He won't ask, because if he does Bilis will have a hold on him, and can't bring himself to take that chance.
"You are right, I don't, but are you willing to risk that? Think on it, Mr Jones. One day you may change your mind." Bilis walked to his side, and between one heartbeat and the next he was gone.
Ianto looked about wildly, oblivious to the baffled stares of the aliens around him, breathless, heart beating too fast as as he tried to get nerves back under control. What if Jack desperately needed him and he's just turned own his best chance of finding him? Perhaps he should have listened to what Bilis wanted to offer. At least he would have known what he was turning down.
Maybe he could have tricked Bilis in revealing more. Why hadn't he tried harder? Why could he do anything right?
Closing his eyes, Ianto forced himself to breathe slowly. It wasn't the first time he'd had to do this, and he knew with miserable certainty that it wouldn't be the last. Because while he could keep his head for a while, usually until the danger or difficult situation had passed, then it would hit him, and all he'd be able to think about was why hadn't he done more or why hadn't he been faster or better or cleverer?
Ianto felt a rush of air past his face and opened his eyes. Three of the mechanical butterfly-like aliens were fluttering next to him, making a series of soft clicks and whistles. He couldn't tell what they are saying, but he suspected that they were asking him if he was alright.
"Sorry, I'm fine," Ianto said knowing that he really didn't sound it, but they wouldn't understand anyway. "Really."
There wasn't anything else he could do apart from return to the House of the Dead, so he ducked past the small flying aliens and walked quickly to the edge of the market. His mind still on other things, he opened a way back almost without thinking and stepped through.
It's only once he's back in the dingy bar that Ianto realised how easy it had been to return. He supposed that had to count for something, because honestly he needed to take something positive from it or otherwise what was the bloody point of it. All the same he wished Bilis hadn't been there and that he'd been able to get some proper food.
Travelling to and from different worlds was tiring, and after sitting down for a few moments Ianto lay down, eyes heavy with sleep. He'd try again later, he promised himself, just as soon as he'd had some rest.
I'm going to leave the chapter count as 12 for now, but due to the three strands of plot I need to still tie together I very much suspect that the chapter count will increase. I do know where the story is going, it just going to take rather more words and explaining to get there than I'd originally planned for.