Ianto's the one to answer the call from UNIT.
In the months after that, he regrets it all – the fact that he picked up the phone, that someone else hadn’t heard the news, that Jack hadn’t been the ones to hear them – but there’s nothing to be done. This time, even his amazing organisational skills can’t fix this and the only thing he can do is go into Jack’s office and say something he hadn’t been ready to hear to a man who would never be ready to hear it. It’s just a few words and he almost can’t bring himself to utter them.
“The Doctor is dead.”
The world goes to hell after that.
Jack is well aware that his team needs him. Even if they wouldn’t say anything, he knows that the gap he’s leaving by not coming out of his office for days on end is noticeable and hard to fill and yet, he can’t bring himself to do anything about it.
Ianto brings him the reports of their (now) daily alien hunts in the first week or two. He also brings him food which Jack just barely manages to force himself to eat. He’s not sure he’s ever felt like this – as if he’s underwater and the entire world above is too far away for him to reach. He’s drowning, but his lungs are feeling with water every time he tries to scream, so no one’s there to hear him. No one’s there to help. He expects Ianto to catch on at some point – as he always does – but instead, he seems to get more and more distant as time progresses.
It takes a while to figure out; or, specifically, it takes the well of Ianto's patience running dry.
Jack can hear someone’s boots up the stairs to his office and before he has the chance to wonder what the hell’s happened now, Ianto bursts in and slams the door behind him as he approaches Jack’s desk in wide strides. Jack intends to ask what’s wrong, but he never gets the chance as Ianto pulls him up by his collar and slams his body against the wall behind him with strength the Captain hadn’t known he’d had.
“Four people died today and there was nothing we could do,” Ianto hisses and for a few seconds, he hardly looks human anymore. “I watched them die because you couldn’t be arsed to take your place in this team and do your fucking job so we can make this work.”
“You have to understand what I’m going through, Ianto,” Jack says and finds himself a bit taken aback at how weak his voice sounds, “there’s nothing that–”
“I don’t care,” Ianto cuts him off as he lets him come back to his feet, but he’s still shaking with anger. “I don’t care who died or how it made you feel. All I want is to know that my team is safe and if you can’t guarantee me that you’ll take your place and start helping us, I’ll find someone else to fill the space you’ve left.”
And with that, he leaves Jack’s office without another word, leaving an empty space of his own, only this time, the hole is opening wider and wider straight into Jack’s heart.
After that, things only go downhill. Owen is the first to die and they mourn him, but Jack doesn’t disconnect himself from the others like he had before. Never again, he swears to himself and tries to live up to that; tries to stay strong and tries to be the linchpin that keeps the team together. They grieve and then they move on, because they have no other choice.
Today’s world is not kind to those who refuse to take action.
Torchwood works harder than ever, but they can’t save the world. It’s much clearer, now that the Doctor is gone: back in the old days, he’d handled the major invasions outside of Cardiff, but now there’s no one. UNIT are falling to pieces rapidly as everything around them collapses and Jack knows why – the military, as good as it is, never quite manages to keep things in control when things get bad. Torchwood, however, is small and tight-knit and he likes to believe that it’s what keeps them together.
But things are getting worse with each passing day and the ground seems to be slipping from under them and one day, it just becomes too much. Accidentally, it’s the day when the Titanic crashes into the Buckingham Palace.
London is wiped out; there’s no dispute whatsoever about this. Even Cardiff feels the explosion and even the little cover Torchwood has when it comes to civilians is blown.
“We can’t, Jack,” Gwen says with tears in her eyes and Tosh and Ianto seem to agree. “People have lost their homes; we can’t just leave them to die.”
So they start taking in refugees. Ianto and Gwen give away their flats so people can take cover there too, and Tosh turns her place into a soup kitchen of sorts. Torchwood still tries to help humanity in the only way they can, and it includes giving away bits of themselves.
The silence in the Hub is filled with voices and questions and sometimes even laughter and just for a little while, it almost looks like they can make it.
And then it turns out that Tosh is not actually born in England. It’s not like she’d ever hid it in any way – she’d told them all enough stories of her hometown – but they’d just never thought it to be of any significance before. It’s all just semantics, after all, but whatever’s left of the government doesn’t think so. She gets taken away and no matter how many strings Jack pulls, he can’t find any information as to where they’d taken her. Britain is for the British – it’s how it is now and it’s never been clearer just how ugly the entire system is. The Army’s got hold of the country and it’s not letting go.
“It was the same during the War,” Jack tells Ianto one day as they sit in his bunker, trying to get just a little warmer – Cardiff had been out of hot water for days now and it’s taking its toll. “Only we’re not fighting anyone. We’re not fighting anything. I would say the Universe is trying to get rid of humans as a whole, but it’s not just us. Thousands of other galaxies are going out.”
“The Universe isn’t trying to wipe out humanity,” Ianto says and there’s so much raw pain in his voice and on his face that Jack almost can’t bear to look at him. “It’s burning, and there’s no one to put the fire out because he died.” Jack flinches and Ianto sends him an apologetic look. “Sorry.”
“No, it’s fine,” Jack waves him off. “You’re right. It all started when he died. And, you know, I never said it back then but... thank you.”
“What for?” Ianto asks as he buries himself even deeper into the pile of blankets.
“For bringing me back. For showing me that my team needed me. For still being here. Take your pick.”
“There’s only one place where I’d always want to be,” Ianto assured him and shuffled closer for a kiss; his lips cold and almost blue but ablaze with life. “And even if the world is dying, I’d still choose this.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Jack whispers in return. It’s the only thing he can always count on, anyway: Ianto's presence by his side.
They disappear under the covers together as the stars die outside their doors.
Jack comes back to life to the ugliest face he’s seen in a long while. He ponders that for just a few moments before he remembers where he is.
“You will be taken away for examination,” the Sontaran warrior informs him. “Your life energy will be studied and harnessed for the benefit of the Sontaran Empire.”
Jack tries to stand up and look past him, only to have himself be pushed down once more. “Gwen? Ianto?”
“The rest of the humans will remain in the main control room for interrogation. You will come with me.”
It doesn’t matter how hard Jack fights him; the Sontaran doesn’t falter and doesn’t react to threats, bribe offerings or even challenges. He drags Jack away and locks him into one of the nearby escape pods and Jack’s banging and screaming make little difference.
Until his phone rings, that is. Or rather, his Vortex Manipulator does. He immediately knows that it has to be Ianto – he’s tampered with his phone just enough to figure out how to do that – and is still ridiculously happy to see his lover’s face appear through the link.
“Ianto! Are you okay?”
“Yes, we’re fine,” Ianto says, but his face contradicts his words entirely. He looks like a man ready to deliver some very bad news. “We figured out what to do. Where are you?”
“Got locked up into an escape pod.”
There’s obvious relief in Ianto's eyes. “Thanks God. It means you’ll get out when it happens.”
Jack’s suddenly on edge. “When what happens?”
“We’re going to blow up the ship. We’ve got no other choice,” Ianto goes on before Jack has the chance to interrupt him. “They’re going to choke the Earth to death; we can’t let that happen.”
“And what will happen afterwards?” Jack snaps at him. “Here’s what: someone else will come to attack this planet. It’s what always happens, haven’t you noticed?”
“You’re right, but someone else will take our place eventually.” Ianto looks over his shoulder anxiously. “In fact, you know what? You were right all along. It’s the twenty-first century and everything’s changing. We weren’t ready, but maybe someone else will be.”
“Ianto, please,” Jack begs. His eyes feel heavy with the tears he can’t let himself shed. Who knows? It might be the last time he sees Ianto's face. He can’t let himself get the image blurry. “What for? In one or two weeks, there will be yet another attack and this time Earth won’t be able to deal with it, so why would you die for it now?”
“I’m Torchwood One, you know,” Ianto says with a mirthless smile. “It never really leaves you, so it’s all for the Queen and the Empire. Well, actually, the Queen is dead and the Empire’s gone to hell, so it’s mostly just for the six billion people below us.”
“What does Gwen think of this?” Jack challenges. Is she ready to make your sacrifice?”
To make matters even worse, Ianto stares at him with something resembling pity. “You know she is.”
In the background there are a few bangs and Gwen shouts something Jack can’t quite make out. Ianto takes a deep breath.
“Goodbye, Jack,” he says, voice harder than steel with the resolve of showing as little emotion as possible. “And one more thing – when you manage to escape, find them. Find their planet and where this entire spaceship came from and give them hell.”
The screen goes off. Seconds later, Jack braces himself against the walls of the confined room he’s in as the ship explodes above the planet and the escape pod launches itself into the darkness of deep space. The last remaining stars melt in the blackness around him, waving one final goodbye and then there’s nothing left but death and shadows.
It’s dark when Jack wakes up. The street lamp outside the window is blinking on and off, and–
The younger man shifts slightly in his arms. “Huh?”
“Are you okay?” There’s this frantic, almost hysterical relief at his presence as a not-quite-memory slips away from Jack’s grasp.
“Never better,” comes the grumbled response.
“Something’s not right,” Jack murmurs to himself and Ianto sighs. “Something’s been happening to time; I can feel it.”
“Yeah, you and the rest of the world,” Ianto scoffs. “Well, except for America, I suppose. They always do this apart from the rest of us.”
Now Ianto looks concerned. “Daylight Savings, Jack? We changed all the clocks last night.”
“Yeah,” Jack nods, unconvinced. “Yeah, you’re right. Wait, does that mean we’ve got an additional hour to just lay here?”
Ianto considers that for a second. “Technically, yes.”
Jack’s embrace around him tightens. “Good.”