When you live forever, you end up loving a lot of people whether you intended to or not. And if you were Jack Harkness, the term people was used a bit loosely, encompassing any sentient being you could have a relationship with. Jack had always understood this.
When he first met the Doctor, he immediately fell in love. And while he thought the Doctor might love him back, in the end, the Doctor left him for dead on Game Station. He’d seen the Doctor twice since then. Once in the hopes that he could be ‘fixed,’ only to be told he was ‘wrong.’
And then, after he left Earth for the final time, he saw the Doctor briefly in a bar on some planet whose name he couldn’t remember. And there was some guy, a nice young guy involved in there somewhere. But Jack had finally learned what the Doctor tried to teach him. Don’t get too involved. Everyone is going to die except you and if you try to carry your love forward, eventually the burden would become so great that it would break you.
Jack didn’t believe the Doctor at first. He lived and loved on Earth for more than a hundred years. Back then he could remember all of them, but now they had faded into a past so many millennia long, that it was like a tiny spark in the distant recesses of his mind.
After Earth, he avoided emotional entanglements with his partners. There was lust, maybe even affection, but loving anyone was out of the question.
And here he was, millions of years old, alone in a universe that was dying, collapsing back on itself at an ever increasing rate. Few living beings were left. The Doctor was out there somewhere, he supposed. But every other human and most other sentient life forms were long gone.
It was funny how knowing you were down to your last few millions of years could make you nostalgic. He had started to see how many of his old companions he could remember. The Doctor of course, but that love had died even before Jack had left Earth in the 21st Century. He couldn’t even remember which incarnation he had fallen for and which one he had despised beyond all measure.
He could remember a few of the more recent ones, the two-headed Osyman he lived with for a few years, he had always gotten the two heads mixed up (they were separate consciousnesses) but now he couldn’t remember either of their names. And there was a man, a couple of millennia back who he almost thought he’d marry, but in the end he moved on. He always moved on.
Now at the end of time, his mind went back to when he had last loved with abandon. There were many whose names and likenesses he could not recall, but had glimpses of their existence. A smell of a flower reminded him of the women he knew during the 20th century. They might have even gotten married but he couldn’t be sure. A man in a red coat with a sword. A bit mad, that one was. Jack shook his head. No that wasn’t right, was it? He was from the 51st century, wasn’t he? He pondered this for a while trying to remember how he knew him and whether he knew him in in one time period or several. Jack sighed; his memory wasn’t what it used to be.
But there were two, besides the Doctor, that he had never forgotten. One was a young woman who was with the Doctor when they first met. Rose. She was the one responsible for making him immortal. All through his life, he had loved her and hated her in turn for the gift and curse she had given him.
And there was one more. Ianto Jones. Jack had loved him but their time together had been cut short. For reasons that he no longer remembered, he had never told the man how he felt. And then he had died asking Jack not to forget him. And Jack had promised that he wouldn’t.
It was funny, Jack thought, that in all his time that followed, no one else (at least that he could recall) had asked to be remembered. He had dim recollections of leaving people in the aftermath of a spectacular row, or following their deaths, and he knew he had deserted a considerable number of partners without explanation.
But the memory of Ianto Jones was still with him. He couldn’t remember many details about the man, except that he was young and brave and had followed Jack unquestioningly to certain death. He could still hear the lilt of his speech (which was strange, because didn’t he speak some sort of early version of Standard), his blue eyes, and the smell of a special drink that he used to make for Jack. And the phrase ‘red was his colour’ had somehow managed to survive. He’d no idea what it meant, but whenever he tried to conjure up his memories of Ianto Jones, that phrase would invariably creep into his consciousness.
It was true that Jack sometimes went a thousand years of more between his remembering of Ianto Jones. But it was also true, that inevitably something would trigger his memories and there he would be in Jack’s mind, holding a hockey stick, playing naked hide and seek (that couldn’t possibly be what it sounded like, could it?), looking at Jack with those blue eyes.
As the end approached, there wasn’t much to do but think. Jack found himself having conversations with Ianto, telling him stories about his journeys over the millennia, his deaths, his rebirths, his triumphs, his failures. And when he finally slept, his last thought was that he had, in his long, long life, managed to keep one promise that he made. He had remembered Ianto Jones.