What will we do if we marry a tinker?
Our true lovers, what will we do then?
Only sell a tin can,
And walk on with me man,
And we'll yodel it over again.
Ianto had always been fascinated with time. Since long before he found out Jack was a time traveler (which was after he found out Jack was immortal; it all seemed rather unfair) or even joined Torchwood.
When he was small he couldn't tell time except the hours, but he could sit and watch a clock patiently until the big hand came around to the twelve, and then he would know. And then he learned the Halves: half-seven, half eight, half twelve. After that it was just a matter of division until he discovered seconds.
Seconds were great. He loved the delicate length of the constantly-moving seconds hand, how much finer and more precise it was than the clunky minutes hand and the fat, smug hours hand.
His parents told him that until he was six they worried he wasn't quite right, because of the clocks. Sometimes he wondered if he was, really.
Then when he was nine he discovered Science Fiction and all these books about aliens and machines and especially time travel. Well, there was no going back. Science fiction was where it was. Which meant it was where Ianto was. Even if he had to be there as the tea boy. When he drifted into Torchwood London at the age of nineteen he realised being the lowest rung on the ladder there was better than being top-dog anywhere else. Being Cardiff's fetch-and-carry man had its moments. And it had its own benefits too.
That particular night he lay in bed -- in Jack's bed -- and watched the seconds hand on his wristwatch on the bedside table -- Jack's bedside table -- as it turned round and round. It was so peaceful to watch something else ticking along in its destiny in life, a simple but important task, marking time. Ianto preferred to be the seconds hand, moving quietly, fulfilling simple duties. Even if Torchwood was not, per se, simple. Ever.
Jack, for example.
It was twenty-four minutes past one am. Jack's hand, which was currently lying limp on Ianto's stomach, was attached to Jack's arm, resting easily on his hip. And that was attached to Jack's body, pressed against his. In turn, Jack's body had Jack's head on its shoulders, and Jack's head was pressed in the crook of Ianto's shoulder and neck. In Jack's body were his lungs, which were expanding and contracting as Jack snored lightly. How complex a human body was.
If he took Jack to pieces it was easier to construct the whole, and anyway if he did it that way it was clinical enough that Ianto could keep all the overwhelming emotion at bay. Fear and anxiety weren't so bad, he was used to those, but all this joy and attraction and arousal surely couldn't be kept down in Ianto's absurd, gangling, big-eared body. He imagined perfect-looking people like Jack and Tosh and Owen didn't need clocks and seconds hands and time-counting to keep it all in. It wasn't as silly for them. That was why he liked Gwen best -- excepting Jack, of course -- because she looked perfect and then she smiled and that huge, yawning gap in her teeth said, this is a woman who feels your pain.
At eight pm precisely, Ianto had been having dinner...had been having a date with Jack Harkness. He wasn't sure why he was having a date with Jack, other than that he'd been asked and it had at least been a way to stop him talking about his office cubicle fetish. At nine forty-six, they had arrived back at Torchwood, and Ianto had gone to make some coffee when Jack stopped him and pulled him close and kissed him. First kiss since Jack had come back to them, nine forty-seven and three seconds.
At nine minutes past ten, Jack had threaded his fingers through Ianto's hair, after unbuttoning his shirt, and called him perfect. It was nice to be called perfect, of course, but Ianto wasn't a fool. Perhaps he filled some need Jack had, but Jack would outlive him -- and long before Ianto died, Jack would get bored of him.
Ianto could remember how it felt to hook his thumbs in Jack's suspenders (sixteen minutes past ten) and pull them down while Jack kissed him. It was a remarkably complicated operation, somehow, though he'd done it dozens of times before.
Not as complicated as some things, mind you. Ianto wouldn't forget thirty-two minutes past ten in a hurry. He'd never -- he wasn't a virgin by any stretch but he'd never been with another man despite what they said at school, thanks ever so and, well, it was difficult to connect two positive cables in biology as in engineering, and Ianto wasn't always prepared for what Jack was thinking. Maybe his -- hesitation was what Jack thought was perfect.
Either way, Jack's hands and mouth and every other part of him were perfect, and Jack knew how to use them in ways Ianto had never imagined.
At sixteen minutes till eleven Ianto couldn't help touching Jack, which meant that at eleven-oh-one Jack said Ianto's name the way nobody ever said Ianto's name and Ianto forgot how to breathe which was why he would not ever know what time it was when he bit Jack's shoulder hard enough to bruise.
"Spitfire," Jack had muttered, when Ianto looked in horror at the mark he'd left. Jack slapped his cheek lightly, which made him feel a bit more level about it. "Knew you would be full of surprises."
It wasn't rejection and it wasn't pandering to his insecurity; it was just what it was. Jack fitting Ianto's quiet ticking into his life.
Ianto smiled in the darkness. Jack could have a watch with a century hand on it. A heavy brass century hand with a special gear to drive it. You wouldn't be able to see it move but it would always be moving, very slowly, very patiently.
He lay in Jack's bed, Jack sprawled on him loose-limbed in sleep, and watched the minutes pass until it was time to get up (six thirty-two). And then he did, and ground the beans for the coffee and made some toast, of which Owen ate the majority before Jack was even awake. Ianto smiled on him and said nothing, which upset Owen a good deal more than he showed.
And then Ianto went out to do the shopping, which proved to be his big mistake. Because, when one is thinking about how fantastic one's life has been recently, what with the sex and the people who liked him and the annoying of Owen, one is not perhaps paying as much attention to traffic as one ought.
Oh, come, come with me to the old churchyard
I will know the path through the soft green sward;
Friends slumber there we were wont to regard
We'll trace out their names in the old churchyard.
They were not drinking. They were not exactly mourning, even. They weren't working or eating or arguing or thinking. They were just being. Jack wondered if this was how they acted when he died, that one time where he thought he'd stay dead, but only a little part of him wondered. The rest of him wondered about other, scarier things.
He was sitting at the table, one hand covering a small metal disc, nothing out of the ordinary in itself. It was just being, too, passing minutes along like any stop-watch did when you pushed the button. The tick-tock was muffled by his hand, but he could feel (or maybe it was his pulse) the movement of the seconds-hand as it ticked. He'd tried pressing the button but something was broken and it wouldn't stop ticking.
"You don't think it's going to go like that," Owen said, into the silence.
"Owen," Gwen warned, with a tilt of her head at Jack. It was kind of Gwen to think he needed protection, but Jack had lost people before, colleagues and lovers. And often, as with Ianto, both. He hadn't thought any of them had really been aware of what was between Ianto. After all, Ianto was a private sort and Jack respected that privacy. He didn't see the point to keeping it from anyone that they were sleeping together, but you had to handle twenty-first-century morals carefully, so he'd followed Ianto's lead, out of respect.
Well, sort of. After all, it wasn't subtle, was it, saying he'd come back for Ianto, even if he'd backpedaled a second later. But he'd wanted to be clear that it was a choice to come back, and a factor in making that choice was Ianto.
Ianto, who was now dead.
"I'm only saying what we're all thinking," Owen said. Oh, Owen. Aggression as a substitute for any other emotion ever was Owen's trick. Maybe it worked. "I mean you don't, do you. Think about dodging the end of the world three times weekly just to get run down by a car."
It was a shock the stopwatch was still working, come to think of it. Considering Ianto wasn't. Jack's hand clenched slightly.
"He's right. I certainly don't," Tosh said quietly.
"Pointless death confuses people," Jack heard himself say. "That's the point. It's pointless. There's nothing redeeming in -- "
He stopped and looked down at his hand again. There was a bloody smear on the back of the watch where Ianto had clenched it after begging -- pleading, if you believed the witnesses -- to be given his stopwatch in what turned out to be the last three minutes of his life.
Ianto liked time. Made him feel safe.
"He's got no family, other than us," Gwen said. "He told me so once. Well. Not the part about us, that was more...implied."
"There's room in the freezer for all of us, eventually," Jack said.
He picked up the stopwatch and walked out of the conference room, meaning to go to his office but ending up instead at Ianto's small, well-organised corner station. It wasn't fair; he'd hardly begun, they'd hardly begun. It wasn't fair that everyone got taken away from him sooner or later. It wasn't fair that it'd been such an ordinary death because that was precisely the kind of death Ianto thought he deserved, because Ianto still thought he was ordinary.
Had thought. Had.
Jack didn't even realise he'd thrown the stopwatch across the room until he heard the crystal shatter. The others didn't come to investigate. But at least the stupid thing had finally stopped ticking.
For years we rhymed in couplets
And we sang 'em two by two
Now we hardly rhyme at all, but here's a few
And if they hurt, there's bullets left to bite on
Don't wait up, leave the light on
I'll be home soon.
Ianto woke up cold and confused and in a dark room lying not on a bed but on a metal table which was way more familiar than he was comfortable with.
He tried to sit up but at first it was quite difficult because something was going wrong with his chest and his brain. It felt as if he couldn't catch the rhythm of his breath, as if his heart was going too fast. He didn't feel dizzy, though, just -- overwhelmed.
In a second he took in everything in the room, each detail sharp like knives in his head, until he had to close his eyes. Every object still in his mind had a history printed on it, not just the nicks on the bone-saw but the way it had been built and how it had come to be and images of old woodcuts of amputations with bone saws crossed his closed eyes along with some random piece of trivia he'd picked up somewhere about how Nelson made them warm amputation saws because when he'd had his arm off he thought it was too cold -- there, he'd got that from QI, hadn't he, while listening to Gwen talk about meeting Alan Davies once and Jack remarking on the superior quality of Stephen Fry's voice --
He pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes and really concentrated on the sparks that danced in the darkness until he could think clearly. Very cautiously, he opened his eyes again.
He was naked, and the clothes he'd been in were bundled up in a bag under the table, cut off him by the look of it. Shame, he'd liked that tie. There was a fresh, hardly used set of scrubs in the bin near the door, however, and now was not a time to be picky. He pulled them on with hands that felt oddly puppetlike and lifted a coat from a hook outside the door. He raided a set of lockers in a nearby room until he found a pair of shoes that fit him and walked out of the hospital as if he owned it, which was the way you were supposed to escape from anywhere.
Outside, in a city he'd know since he was born practically, he had to stop and ask directions from a bus driver because the world wouldn't stop spinning. Or rather, he could feel the movement of the earth and in addition to that everywhere he looked there was something on the fringe of his vision demanding his attention and in a second he might sick up.
Then he saw it -- a clock outside of a bank. A real dial clock, with all three hands. He stopped and leaned against a convenient wall and concentrated on it. And slowly the world slotted into place. He could think about what was wrong.
Well, obviously he knew what was wrong, he was concussed and he'd just left a hospital, but the hospital clearly thought he was dead so bugger the lot of them as incompetent fools. He would go to Torchwood, where it was mercifully dark and quiet and Owen, while a misogynistic little maladjust, nevertheless could tell the difference between "dead" and "headache".
From here, it wasn't that far. All he had to do was pick goals.
He fixed on his first goal, a cafe on the corner, and began to walk.
When he got to Owen he was definitely going to have him take a look at his heart.
There's eternity in your eyes
The flesh and the bones they are only disguises across
A world to be lost and beneath
Our opinions and beliefs
"Here. Lemme help."
Jack stood at his office door and watched Owen try to help Tosh, who was quietly sweeping up the broken glass and shards of gears from the broken stopwatch. Gwen had gone to get them something to eat; seemed to be her destiny to step into the shoes of the dead. She'd done the same thing with Suzie.
Life did go on, and generally faster than one realised.
The proximity alert went, and he turned to see the door rolling back; he was about to call out and ask Gwen if she'd forgotten something when he realised that while it was indeed someone with a dark head of hair, it was definitely not Gwen.
The man standing in the doorway looked confused and relieved at the same time. A doctor, to judge by the scrubs; not a very well doctor by the look of him.
"Stop right there," Jack said, with enough force for Owen and Tosh to look up. "Who are you?"
The man looked at him, eyes rolling a little in his head. Was he -- was he drunk?
They stared at each other for some time; the man opened and shut his mouth, looking away.
"Hey!" Jack said. "I asked you a question."
"Owen," the man said, stumbling forward and tripping himself on a chair. Owen frowned. "I need your help."
"Catch him," Jack said, as Tosh came forward to prevent the chair from rolling away. "Owen?"
"I've never seen him before," Owen said, supporting the man's other arm as they half-helped, half-dragged him to a seat.
"It's concussion," the man babbled, staring intently at Owen's face. "And there's something wrong in my chest. You can fix it."
"We'll see," Owen said, holding his head still and probing the area under his jaw. Then he hesitated. "His pulse is racing. Tosh -- "
"Got it," Tosh said, dodging through the usual chaos of Torchwood and returning with Owen's medical kit. Jack watched, fascinated, as Owen took out his stethoscope and listened to the man's chest, just to the left where his heart should be...
And then, disbelieving, moved it across to the right.
"He's got to be an alien," he said. "Either that or I can't fix whatever's wrong inside you, mate."
"Do you know him?" Jack asked, more sharply than he intended.
"I told you, not from Adam," Owen said without looking up.
"Does he have two heartbeats?"
Then Owen did look up.
"Why would you ask that?" he asked.
"Does he or doesn't he?" Jack asked. He could feel his hands shake; losing Ianto and discovering the Doctor in the space of a day was a little much.
"Yeah, he does," Owen said, defiantly. "That mean you know what he is?"
Jack didn't even remember moving from his office to the chair, only that he was crouched in front of the stranger, trying to make him focus on his face.
"Doctor?" he asked.
"What?" the man said.
"Doctor, is that you?"
"Is it?" the man asked, confused. "I thought -- "
"They were out of chicken tikka masala so I got you fish and chips," came a new voice. Gwen appeared in the doorway carrying a large plastic sack full of greasy cartons. "What's going on?"
"Gwen!" the man said, struggling up against Owen's restraining arms and shaking him off like a puppy. He stumbled over to her, the other three watching in amazement. "Gwen! Hi!"
"Hallo," Gwen said cautiously.
"Gwen, do something for me. Please?" the man asked. Gwen cast a wary look at Jack, who nodded and straightened, slowly putting himself behind the stranger.
"All right," Gwen said, shifting the sack to her left hand.
"Smile for me?"
"Just -- smile. Please," the man said.
Gwen obligingly smiled, though it looked more like a grimace. The man beamed.
Then he passed out.
Sisters, brothers, to all others
Let that be our guiding star;
Hearts on fire but no Messiah,
Hear the music from afar;
What we sing is what we are.
It was quiet in the TARDIS. The engines were silent and the lights dim; the Doctor had left the ship to drift for a while, and there was no need to brighten the whole place when it was just him at home. Besides, the dark was pleasant.
Lately, more and more, he felt exhausted at what used to energise him. He had begun to wonder if he was feeling his age. It was terrible, sometimes, to be over nine hundred years old and trapped in a body that's maybe thirty-five at most. Not as terrible, on the other hand, as being nine hundred years old and trapped in a nine hundred year old body. He'd had quite enough of that.
He was enjoying the last of the take-away New Chinese food he'd picked up in 6950; the whole planet of New China was obliterated somewhere in the early eleven-thousands but the savoury duck was always worth a quick jump back. He'd always meant to go back and avert that destruction, actually, but the rarity of the food somehow made it taste better.
The Doctor never worried that this was perhaps a callous attitude to take with a few million lives. There was still the chance to save it if he wanted. You couldn't spend all your time fixing all the heartbreak in the universe or you'd just burn out. And besides who was he, the xenocide of Arcadia, to try and save anyone else?
He knew secretly that these were all lies; they were designed to ease his mind over the fact that there was a time he would gaily have sailed in and saved the world, but now he was tired.
Christmas always got to him. Especially since it seemed to happen so often. Not to mention so violently.
He shoved the curved corkscrew chopsticks into the bowl, plucking up a sliver of meat and transferring it deftly to his mouth. It was a sad sort indeed who couldn't enjoy a spot of take-away now and again.
He dug around a bit for the chunk of saltrock in the bottom of the rice. You were supposed to lick it and then take a bite of duck, but the Doctor had alien tastes and very good teeth. Generally he crunched the saltrock up like a sugar lump --
The chopsticks were halfway to his mouth when it happened. A synapse fired. It was one that hadn't fired in a long time.
"Oh," said the Doctor.
Then he flung the chopsticks and food down on the table and the saltrock went flying, skittering across the floor as the Doctor pulled his feet down off the console and leaned forward. He checked a few readings, twisted the second knob on the left, kicked a lever with his foot, and ran up the engines so fast that the TARDIS jerked sideways in protest before complying. It moved so fast even the Doctor felt a tug, but that hardly mattered. He looked for the source of his unrest, the origin, and locked on, then kicked the TARDIS into motion.
He checked bearings again and called up the location of the coordinates he'd entered unthinkingly --
"Oh," he said again, and then, "Bugger me. Why is it always Earth?"
I got an invitation to go to a funeral
But to my sad misfortune, now, the fellow didn't die
The manager, he said he was vexed at disappointing us
But he apologised, "and might we let the thing go by?"
"I'm telling you, I don't know who he is. Why don't you bother Gwen, he knows her too," Owen said, readjusting the arm of the subcutaneous scanner.
"Because you're here," Tosh said, angling a camera over the unconscious man's face. She snapped a photo, plugged the camera into her laptop, and set to work.
"Or Jack," Owen added. "He seems to know what kind of alien it is. He might even know its name."
"He's not an it, Owen."
"Bugger you, Tosh."
"Anything yet?" Jack asked, appearing at the railing above the medical chamber.
"He's still alive. Both hearts beating," Owen said sullenly.
"His fingerprints aren't in any database internationally, and his DNA isn't even proper DNA," Tosh said. "It's like he doesn't...exist..."
She stopped, because they all saw the knowing look on Jack's face.
"But you expected that, I imagine," she continued, typing commands into the computer. "I'm running facial recognition software now. If there's a digital photograph of him anywhere, it'll find him."
"D'you want to tell us how you know about him?" Gwen asked, leaning on the rail next to Jack.
"He might be an old friend," Jack said. "That's all."
"A doctor," Owen said.
"Doctor who?" Gwen inquired.
"That's the question." Jack inhaled. "The Doctor. My Doctor."
"Might be?" Owen asked.
"He...changes. His...face," Jack said, looking overwhelmed.
"Jack," Tosh said. "I've got some partial matches. You're not going to believe them, though."
She turned the monitor around so that they could all see. There were four photographs. One was obviously a candid photo and the other one was blurred and grainy and sepia-toned. The last two were familiar photos.
Of him. And Ianto.
Owen glanced back at the man on the table. "He does look a bit like Iant -- "
"Shut up," Jack replied.
He couldn't deny what Owen had said, however. The man had the same high cheekbones and long face, the same lips and nose; his hair and forehead were a bit different, the hair lighter and longer than Ianto's. Jack glanced at the images on the screen. The candid photo looked like it had been taken when Ianto was much younger; he was smiling and saluting the photographer with a pint of beer.
Jack touched the trackpad of the laptop, pressing one of the buttons as the mouse hovered over the photograph. It called up a webpage.
"Ianto had a myspace?" Gwen asked. Tinny techno music began to play through the speakers on the laptop. Tosh pressed the mute button.
Jack clicked back and selected the other photo, the sepia-toned one of himself. A scanned and archived newspaper article about V-Day showed him, in his RAF pilot's uniform, from the second war. He closed it as Tosh took out her phone and began to dial a number.
"Can you wake him up?" Jack asked Owen. Owen shrugged and pulled back one lid, shining a light into it. He nodded, prepared an injection, and pushed the needle into a convenient vein.
The man on the table snorted and arched his back suddenly, eyes opening. Owen moved to restrain him but, before he could, the man grasped him by the lapels of his coat with one hand.
"Owen?" he asked, through clenched teeth.
"Yeah," Owen said, gasping for air.
"Right here," Jack said, approaching the table. "Why don't you let Owen go?"
"Am I fixed?" the man asked, releasing Owen and looking from one to the other.
"Jack," Tosh said, holding up the phone. "I've just spoken with the hospital. The body's missing." She swallowed. "Do you think..."
"That's not Ianto," Gwen said.
"What body?" the man asked, pushing himself up. "I am Ianto. Stop messing me about, Gwen."
He swung to one side, dropping to the floor. He was built like Ianto too, a trifle shorter perhaps.
"Jack," he said, steadying himself and straightening. "Jack, you recognise me, don't you?"
Jack wasn't certain what to say. For once in his life (a very long life) he was wordless.
"It's me. Why are you staring at me?"
Tosh silently pressed a makeup compact into his hand. He looked at her, brows drawing together, and then opened it.
"What've you done to my face?" he asked, staring at his reflection in the little mirror.
"That's not Ianto," Gwen said. "It's -- it's some alien pretending to be him."
"I am not," the man looked insulted. "You're Gwen and that's Tosh and Owen and this is Jack. I can prove it! We're in Torchwood and my desk's right over there -- " he flung one arm out. Powder from the compact spilled onto the floor. "I am! Ask me anything!"
"What's the lock code for storage ninety-six?" Jack asked.
"Two twenty four."
"He could have got that from the computer," Gwen said. "If he can read minds, or if he's gotten into the system -- "
"Protocol nine?" Jack asked.
"Telecom lockdown and electrics reboot for the lower level."
"What time is it?"
The man lifted his wrist, but there was nothing there. He stared at it, panicked, and began to hyperventilate.
"I don't know -- I don't -- "
"Owen?" Jack said. Owen slid his watch off his wrist and passed it over. Jack shoved it under the man's nose. He clutched it tightly and stared down at the face, his breathing slowing. After a moment he pulled Jack forward slightly and leaned in to murmur something in his ear.
"Spitfire," he whispered. Jack felt a thrill echo through him that was completely inappropriate. He gripped the side of Ianto's head and steadied him.
"What do you remember?"
A look of horror spasmed across the man's -- across Ianto's -- face.
"Everything," he said.