Ianto was pleased and somewhat vindicated when he was finally allowed to go home to die. He didn't want to spend his last hours in the medical bay at the hub. As much as he loved Rupesh and respected him as a capable and confident doctor, Ianto needed to have his final moments under his own firm control.
He spared a glance down the long, white expanse of his 33-year-old body, marveling at the very faint shape it made under the sheets. Somehow he had withered away to next to nothing and because of this he purposely hadn't looked into a mirror for nearly 3 months. The cancer digesting his liver saw to it that he never gained any weight back after the initial horrifying drop, when he had gone from a healthy 190 pounds to just 120 in a little under six weeks. His last weigh-in put him at 98 pounds and still dropping. Ianto knew he was a horror to look at, and didn't wish to put any of his former team-mates through the experience of watching and waiting as a colleague slowly wasted away, bit by bit, until his heart finally gave out. He had petitioned Rupesh, and meeting a brick wall there, he went above the doctor's head and appealed to Jack. He wanted to go home, and go home he would.
His lover still didn't want to give up hope yet. Poor Jack - daily he could be found at Ianto's bedside working through papers and memoirs, old reports and new calculations - anything to find the information he needed to re-start his vortex manipulator so he could 'jump' to the 51st century, and bring the cure for cancer back to his lover. He had given all Torchwood operations over to Ilana Coxwell's command for the duration, hoping that both he and Ianto would be back at work together soon. But it was apparently not to be; Jack could not get the wrist-strap working, and secretly Ianto was profoundly relieved. Introducing a cure for cancer into the 21st century, thousands of years too early, couldn't be anything but disastrous, no matter how carefully the secret was guarded. Ianto half suspected that it was because of moments like this that the Doctor had disabled the device in the first place, times when Jack's well-meaning and strong emotional ties would overtake his common sense. Ianto was ready for death though, and trying not to suffer overly about it mentally; after all, when he had signed on with Torchwood, Ianto had known fully well that he wasn't likely to live long. Reaching 30 had been a surprise. What a party they had thrown!
When they had finally left the pub that night, half-drunk and half-hard from the strippers (male and female!) that the others had hired for him, Jack had taken Ianto back to the flat they shared and shagged him rotten. They started on the chesterfield, Jack taking Ianto's cock so deep into his throat that his nose was nestling in Ianto's pubic hair. That's where they started, and by early the next morning they had pounded each other upon and under every available surface. That was the night that Ianto remembered so clearly in spite of the drink, because it was the night that Jack said he loved Ianto. It burst out of Jack's mouth at a particularly intense moment, when he happened to ejaculating deeply into Ianto's arse, and Ianto at that moment had known better than to take the verbal ejaculation seriously. But Jack surprised him, pulling out of the younger man, curling up with him and repeating the words. Ianto was stunned. But, luckily, he was able to say the words back; he had thought he was the only one who felt that way. They greeted the dawn together, Ianto buried deeply inside Jack, rocking gently to the internal tide of his emotions.
Things changed after that night, in a way that was impossible for either of the men to define. And now, looking back on his life since, he thought about what a good life he had had, the bad times notwithstanding.
These days, Ianto spent most of the time in the dark grey haze of consciousness imposed on him by the massive amounts of painkillers. These were being faithfully injected into his bloodstream with the help of an on-board pump that was strapped to the bed they had sent back with him to his apartment. He drifted in and out of awareness of his surroundings. Sometimes things would go blessedly black, and the experience was as if blocks of time were being cut out of his life the way an editor would edit film.
Rupesh hovering over his bed, asking if he was comfortable. Cut. Wind blowing through the curtains at night, the shape of Jack sitting motionless and silent by his bed silhouetted against it. Cut. His sister Rhi fiddling with his IV. Cut. His mother holding his hand, resting her head on Ianto's bony shoulder, wetting the cotton of his shirt with her tears. Cut. Rupesh again, arguing in quiet tones with Jack, too quiet for Ianto to understand the content. Ianto was aware long enough to realize that he didn't care about the content. Cut. "Your nephew is here, Ianto, would you like to see him?" Cut. His father standing at the end of his bed, hiccoughing in lieu of tears. Cut. Jack stroking his forehead with a warm, wet cloth, murmuring quiet reassurances. Cut.
Ianto felt that he was at peace and ready to die... but for one thing. That one thing never ceased to torment Ianto in his long wait for the final silence. It was so small in the range of things, so unimportant in the great plan of the universe, that Ianto felt selfish and rude for dwelling so much on it. He was wrong, oh so wrong to ask this of Jack; but the truth was that he had little control over his emotions at this late date in his personal timeline. He was nearing the end, and the little things were the universe in themselves.
He had been having nightmares of meeting Jack far in the future, on some space ship or satellite, and Jack hadn't remembered him. It was thousands of years in the future in the dream, and Ianto would see Jack across a crowded marketplace and would run to him and go to embrace him, only to be rejected by his one-time lover. "Look buddy, you're cute, but I don't know you, so keep you hands off the merchandise". He would run a hand through his grey-streaked hair and turn to walk away, leaving Ianto alone, totally bereft, and this was when he would wake up, sweating fluids his body couldn't afford to lose.
Ianto had sat on these feelings for a long time, as he felt he shouldn't burden Jack with his fears, especially since Jack had to live with whatever Ianto told him forever. It wasn't until Ianto realized that the black void between each cut was lasting longer and longer, and he was finding himself almost too weak to whisper and knew that his time was running out, that he finally unburdened himself to Jack. His lover held his hand and listened as Ianto told him the story of his repeated dream. Not letting Jack interrupt, he went on laboriously to reassure Jack that he didn't, couldn't hold it against Jack if he forgot him and their love affair. After all, it was quite possibly millennia that they were talking about here. Who could tell what Jack would remember at that point, or even what he would remember in a thousand years?
Looking downright stricken, Jack squeezed Ianto's hand.
"I will remember you, I promise you that, Ianto."
"You can't..." Ianto paused to cough harshly. He started again,"you can't say that, Jack. You can't. How long will you live? Hypothetically, we're talking about millions of years here."
It was at this moment that Jack's wristband chirped. Cursing, he leaned over and kissed Ianto's emaciated forehead. "Will you be okay for a little while? Ilana's having problems with the rift predictory system - says something extremely strange seems to be happening and I should be there pronto. Your sister's in the next room, okay?"
Ianto turned his too-large eyes to Jack's hands as he pulled the covers up to cover Ianto's chest a little better. "I'll be fine," he replied in a barely audible whisper.
With a lingering kiss on the lips, Jack took his leave, gathering his greatcoat as he left.
The next time Ianto awoke, he was aware of a strange prescience in his room. Strange, but familiar. Faint grey light was bleeding through the gauzy curtains, lending very poor visibility, but Ianto could still make out the shape standing by the bed.
A chill raced down Ianto's spine as he realized that something was not quite right here. Jack's shape was off... as was his smell. Jack at all times smelled delicious, but this was above and beyond anything Ianto had smelled before.
"Put on the light, will you Jack?"
Without a response, Jack flicked on the bedside lamp and what Ianto saw then made him gasp and brought his sluggish heart rate up to a sprinting pace. This couldn't be Jack! But... it was. Unequivocally.
Jack was old. His hair was entirely white, the sclera of his eyes was faintly pink, and his irises had turned yellow instead of his previous blue. His face was wrinkled, as would the face of any man in his 70's. But to know what he knew of Jack - that Jack had lived two hundred years with only a single hair turning grey - that must make him... unimaginably old.
Utterly gobsmacked, Ianto attempted to lift the arm wearing the IV up to touch the apparent apparition in front of him, only to have the man take his hand and ease it back to rest on the bed. Taking the hand in both of his, this apparition looked deep into the young dying man's eyes.
I told you I would remember you said Jack's voice, and yet his lips never moved.
Ianto was stunned into silence, and the headlong gallop that his heart was going at made him feel weaker by the second.
Ianto, you will not live much longer, but you must not doubt that I love you, that I have loved you since you died two million years ago. I will never forget you, even if I live until the end of the universe.
Here Jack paused in Ianto's head, and leaned forward to place his lips on Ianto's cheek. Then he slipped his mouth down to speak aloud into Ianto's ear, "I will always be with you, Ianto Jones, as you are always with me."
With this, Jack stood up and turned the light off again, and became a silhouette to Ianto once more.
"Do not tell my younger self that I was here, please, for the sake of the timelines. I must take my leave, before I return and see myself."
"I won't," Ianto whispered. Hesitated, but had to ask, "Jack?"
And for a moment Ianto forgot his question, staring into those timeless eyes with his own doomed ones, but then he recovered. “Why do you remember me? You must have had millions of lovers, literally. Why me?"
Ianto listened to his heartbeat slowly returning to normal as he waited for a reply. Jack bowed his head for a moment, and then made eye contact again before replying, once more inside their heads.
I remember them all. Every one whom I've loved who was afraid they'd be forgotten. I made it my duty to remember them. And when I can, and technology allows it, I go back and tell each of them before they die what I didn't know when I was with them the first time around.
Ianto was conscious of a tear falling down Jack's cheek. I tell them what I now know, which is that love goes on longer than any other emotion, even hate. Even sorrow. Love lasts forever. And those I love, even though they have died, they live on forever in my memory.
A noise in the hallway startled Ianto, and he laboriously turned his head towards the door, only to see the light at the end of the hallway come on. Jack was back from the hub. Meaning to turn to the older Jack to warn him away, he turned to see empty space in the darkened room. And for a moment Ianto almost thought it was a dream, almost... but that scent lingered, and that voice echoed in his head "I will never forget you... never forget you".
Ianto was a man who could keep a secret. He was also now a man who could die happy.