When Ianto died, it didn’t really occur to him to go back in time. Not to try and save him, not to say goodbye, not even to lurk in the shadows and watch him from afar. Partially, this was because his timeline was already convoluted enough to make his head spin- there’s a day in 1941 where he’s on Earth in seven different places at once: pulling a con in Ethiopia, sealing a deal in the Philippines, hiding out in Australia, waiting for the original Captain Jack Harkness to die so he could assume his identity, falling for the original Captain Jack Harkness, being frozen in Cardiff, and agonizing over his love for Estelle. Somehow, he doubted this can be good for the universe at large. There’s also the matter than he respects Ianto a bit too much to think he could get away with stalking him unnoticed. Being noticed by Ianto would ultimately mean a confrontation with him, a confrontation with Ianto would mean he would be able to figure it out, and Ianto figuring out that he was dead…
Well, he’s not entirely sure what that would entail, only that the chances of it ending in anything other than tears aren’t all that good.
Mortality shouldn’t be such a sore point with him as it is. He’d known they would die. He’d gone back to his team- his family- with the ghostly imprints of their corpses still floating before his eyes. That hadn’t stopped him from panicking when Owen was shot. It hadn’t numbed the pain when Tosh died in his arms. It hadn’t helped when he’d watched Rhys switch off the life support system, and it sure as hell wasn’t doing anything for him now.
So when the Doctor showed up and offered him a spin less than a week later, it’d seemed like the perfect opportunity to take a break from it all. He could take a year or so in nonlinear time and return twelve hours later, fully recharged and ready to move on.
Somehow, he’d forgotten that his timeline wasn’t the only nonlinear one.
“You’re wearing a suit,” Ianto observed, deadpan in the way only Ianto could be deadpan, facial features completely blank yet still somehow managing to convey an air of general self-satisfaction.
“So are you,” Jack shot back. “And a big, flappy… isn’t that the Doctor’s coat?”
“Yes it is,” Ianto said, sounding bemused, even as the twist of his mouth and the set of his eyebrows betrayed that he was actually feeling more of a fond irritation with the universe in general. “The locals apparently don’t much like the tenth incarnation of the Doctor, but are a bit fuzzy as to the nature of his appearance. And seeing as I already have the suit and the trainers, I find I’m playing decoy.”
“Trainers?” Jack had focused his eyes on the ground where, sure enough, a pair of red converses were visible beneath the cuff of his pants, and therefore missed seeing the laser beam until it had already sizzled through the air between them.
Like true Doctor’s Companions, they’d grabbed for each other’s hands and shouted “Run!” before taking off.
Things got a little hectic then (probably a side effect of there being two Doctors on the planet at the same time) and they didn’t really have another chance to talk until they were being held in adjoining cells and awaiting execution. For once, Jack was actually pretty laid back about that fact- he already knew that Ianto was going to get out of this somehow, and it wasn’t like the executioners could actually do anything permanent to him, was it?
“So you’ve gone travelling with the Doctor again,” Ianto not-quite-asked. His back was turned to him, so Jack couldn’t tell if the casual tone was fake or not. Ianto was a passionate creature, but he emoted almost entirely with his eyebrows.
“Yeah. It’s my once-a century vacation deal,” Jack informed him.
“I thought that must be it. If you’ve managed to get though the past million or so years and only get three more grey hairs that would be exceedingly unfair.”
“It’s only two,” Jack protested automatically. Ianto twisted around and sent him a gentle, patient smile which faintly whispered the sentiment that if Jack wanted to pretend to be vain about his aging, Ianto was willing to indulge him in his lunacy.
“Besides, the me in linear time right now is a giant disembodied head, apparently,” Jack told him.
“Really?” Ianto’s eyebrows flew into his hairline for a moment, making his eyes looking comically large. “Which head?”
If any other person had asked that question, Jack would have assumed he was being asked which disembodied head he would turn into. As it was, the amused tilt of his left eyebrow, combined with the prideful slant of his mouth, and slight dilated pupils that let him know that that wasn’t the question at all.
“My actual head, I’m afraid,” Jack replied evenly.
“The universe is at a loss because of that, I’m sure,” Ianto quipped primly.
“And here I thought you loved me for my brain,” Jack retorted. Ianto blinked, and Jack could have kicked himself. Their whole being completely honest with each other thing only happened after Ianto had come back from his travels. Whoops.
Thankfully, at about that time the rebel alliance began to storm the prison, and there wasn’t really time for either of them to dwell until the two Doctors nearly ran into each other.
Naturally there was a lot of shouting about paradoxes and timelines, and despite the rather impressive explosions coloring the background it seemed unlikely that they were going anywhere anytime soon. Jack leaned against the wall next to Ianto, watching as the younger man futilely tried to straighten out the cuffs of his shirt.
“So, I’m dead then.”
Another not-quite-question, another eyebrow raised, another twist of Welsh vowels. And suddenly Jack was back on the streets of Cardiff, covered in blood and vomit and sweat and tears, the cold clammy weight of Ianto’s hand on his shoulder.
“I saved them, Jack. I did it…”
“Yep,” Jack answered, a bit too quickly.
Ianto arched his eyebrows. “Isn’t that my line?”
“What can I say, you’ve rubbed off on me,” he replied. And then, because he never could pass up a good pun, he added. “In more ways than one.”
Ianto smiled, but it was no more than a quick tug of his lips before they puckered to blow out a quick blow of breath.
“How long have I got?” he asked.
“I can’t tell you that!” Jack squawked. “You-you’d try and find a way to avoid it then!”
“I hate to break it to you,” Ianto said, giving off the general impression of saying ‘duh’ without actually stooping that low. “But I generally do all I can do to try and avoid death, unless of course, I think that by possibly dying I’ll save someone else. And that’s not going to change just because I know I will die, will it?”
You’d be surprised how some people will act when confronted with mortality, Jack wanted to say. There’s a reason the thought of your gravestone is one of the scariest concepts in human culture. The thought of the end is enough to drive people mad.
But the words died in his throat.
“I saved them, Jack.”
“You’re going to die saving quite a lot of someones,” he said finally. He supposed, from a certain point of view, that made it a good death, but it was the point of view of someone who hadn’t felt their lover disintegrate in their arms.
From that point of view, there was no such thing as a good death.
“I did it…”
“But don’t start worrying about that for twenty years at least.”
“Twenty?” Ianto started, mouth slightly open in surprise. It was a genuine reaction, nothing exaggerated or feigned. “That long?”
Moments like this always made Jack wonder if this was why he’d fallen for him. With all of the snark and brilliance and focus and sheer physical presence that made up Ianto Jones, at his heart what made him who he was, he was so painfully aware of his own finiteness.
It was always good to have someone around who knew exactly who he was, even if no one else had a clue.
“Yeah,” Jack answered. “And before you ask, no, in all that time you never did manage to cook a decent meal.”
“I cook!” Ianto protested indignantly, any discomfort he felt instantly hidden away.
“No, you reheat frozen pizzas,” Jack retorted.
“I cook pizzas. In the oven. And then I make garlic bread.”
“Which you roll out of a cardboard tube.”
“Cooking should involve assembling and mixing ingredients, not simply preheating the oven.”
“Just because we don’t all have your gourmet cooking skills-”
“Lasagna is not gourmet!”
The Doctor- Ianto’s Doctor, a future Doctor, the ginger one in the green track suit he’d only caught glimpses of before today- glared at them.
“Not that this isn’t touching, but can’t you have the domestic later?”
“You’re one to talk,” Ianto replied, tilting his head in the direction of Jack’s Doctor.
“Yes, well, let’s go save the Queen, shall we?” He proclaimed. As though to punctuate his words, some sort of something exploded nearby, rocking the building and sending a shower of purple sparks flaring up through the window to set the curtains on fire.
“I thought the Queen was the one chasing us!” Ianto cried, hurriedly pulling the fabric down and stamping on the flames.
“Not that Queen, the other one,” Ianto’s Doctor explained.
“Allons-y!” Jack’s Doctor cried. Another explosion rocked the building, and they took off running.
Three deaths, a sentient fern, and one political revolution later found Jack’s Doctor looking about ready to bolt. Ianto’s Doctor was talking to the newly coroneted leader as Ianto tactfully hung around in the shadows.
“I’m going to go-” Jack’s Doctor made a vague gesture in the general direction of the exit. “Warm up the TARDIS.”
“I’ll catch up,” Jack replied absently. And then, more sharply, he added “Don’t leave without me.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” the Doctor said breezily, already halfway out the door.
There were plenty of things Jack could have said to that, but he chose to come up behind Ianto instead.
“I don’t tell you about this, do I?” Ianto asked.
“No,” Jack told him. “But I wouldn’t worry about it too much if I were you. I find out sooner rather than later.”
Ianto nodded, letting his head tilt back to expose his neck. It was easy to respond to that invitation, take the half step necessary to get their bodies at the right angle, sink his fingers into the hair at the back of Ianto’s neck, and let their lips meet in the middle of the space between them. A last kiss, for one of them at least.
Ianto’s Doctor stood behind him, hands clasped behind his back and eyes firmly focused on the ceiling as he rocked back and forth on his heels. The new monarch was nowhere to be found. “If you’re quite finished, this is about as much clean-up as I can handle.”
They were standing a bit too close to each other for him to see the look on his face, but if he had to guess he’d say that Ianto was wearing a expression similar to the one he wore when he caught Jack feeding leftover Chinese to Myfanwy.
“Well, the universe awaits,” Ianto sighed.
“I know what you mean. I suppose I’ll see you…”
His voice trailed off awkwardly.
“If it makes you feel better, I’ve already seen you as a giant disembodied head ,” Ianto said mischievously.
Jack laughed. “Nice to have something to look forward to.”
“You’ve got quite a bit to look forward to,” Ianto told him, somewhat sternly. “And most of it better have nothing to do with me.”
“Yes sir,” Jack said dryly.
“Time to go!” Ianto’s Doctor, said suddenly, grabbing Ianto by the arm. Ianto shook him off easily, and looked into Jack’s eyes.
“I mean it,” Ianto said, looking young. Very young- no lines on his face, not even a hint at the grey that would be streaked through his hair when he died. He suspected this uncharacteristic show of fussing was more for Ianto’s benefit than his own. “You’ll find someone else. Several someones. Several someones at once, even.”
“I know,” Jack replied. And he did. It was always like this, loosing someone he cared about left an aching hole in his chest where his heart should be, like he was being slowly chipped away into nothingness.
It was always like that; Grey, Dad, Franco, Xarta, Mom, Uthar, Jaynessa, Mum, Kyrie, Darne, Gemma, J’Aimee, Koristine, Rose, Celeste, Harris, Greg, Estelle, Thomas, Owen, Tosh, Grey again, Martha, Tammy, John, Gwen, Tom, Ianto…
It didn’t change the fact that he wouldn’t trade one second of their finite lifetimes for anything.
“See you in a bit, Jack.”
They’d nearly left the room when Jack forced himself to call out. “Hey Doctor!”
The unfamiliar man turned around, quirking an eyebrow expectedly. It was easy to see that he’d been around Ianto when he’d regenerated into this version of himself.
“Anytime, Jack,” the Doctor said. Jack was impressed; he almost met his eyes as he said it. “Well, we’d better be getting back to-”
“You do die, you know,” Ianto blurted out unexpectedly. The Doctor winced. “Permanently. Eventually. We checked. One of the first trips I asked for.”
Jack grinned. “Good to know. I don’t fancy being at the end of the universe again.”
The Doctor pouted. “You weren’t supposed to tell him that.”
“He deserves to know.”
“No one should know about their future, Ianto.”
“Don’t worry about it Doc. I’ve still got more future to not know about than anyone else around, right?” Jack asked, beaming.
The Doctor’s mouth pressed into a thin line and he wheeled on Ianto “Don’t answer that!”
“I wasn’t planning on it!”
The Doctor reached out and began to physically pull Ianto down the corridor; it was a mark of how much the younger man held him in esteem that he wasn’t shaken off again. “Yes, well, let’s leave now before we endanger the timelines anymore than we’ve already…”
Jack smiled affectionately as they disappeared, before retracing the steps his version of the Doctor had taken out of the room.