When Jack died, shot right between the eyes by Owen, Ianto had thought that was it, the end of everything they’d had, the end of anything they might one day have been to each other. As keeper of the archives, he’d known, or at least had some fairly solid suspicions, that Jack wasn’t exactly like other people. For one thing he’d already been working for Torchwood for over a century, if the photographs and reports were to be believed. For another, again with reference to reports written by or about one Captain Jack Harkness, he healed remarkably fast from injuries that might well have proved fatal to anyone else. This time though… the idea that anyone, even Jack, could survive being shot through the head and killed wasn’t even remotely plausible.
That Jack did recover from being dead was incontrovertible; he’d had no pulse, no heartbeat, nothing, and then he’d abruptly gasped back to life, but there’d been no time for Ianto to feel elated or even relieved by the miracle, because the Hub had started to fall apart around them and they’d had to get out fast. By that point Ianto had been starting to think that maybe he and the rest of the team had just made a gigantic mistake in listening to Bilis Manger and opening the Rift; one of those mistakes that could never be undone no matter how badly you might want to turn back the clock. Then things got really bad.
Abaddon, the devourer; unimaginably tall, towering over the city, bringing death to everyone his shadow touched; an unstoppable demon that would walk the earth until all life had been extinguished, an evil genie that could never be returned to its bottle. It was horrific, a waking nightmare. Worse, Ianto knew he and his colleagues were the ones that had brought this fate down on the entire planet; it was their fault, they should have listened to Jack, their leader, rather than taking the word of a stranger with an unknown agenda.
Jack though… Despite his recent death and incomplete recovery, despite still being pale and weak and unsteady on his feet, he refused to give up. Earth needed a hero, a champion, and Jack was it, willing to put his life on the line to save them all, even those who’d betrayed him. His courage and selflessness made Ianto feel worse than ever and he wondered if the rest of the team felt the same way, guilty, ashamed, unworthy… Part of him wanted to throw his arms around Jack, kiss him, beg for forgiveness. Another part of him wanted to plead with his Captain not to confront the demonic colossus, not to throw his life away on such a foolish endeavour, one that had little chance of succeeding. But he understood that if Jack didn’t at least try then all of them were going to die anyway.
So he let Jack go, though it was doubtful he could have stopped him if he’d tried. He let Jack face the devourer, alone, and he waited with Tosh and Owen until Gwen brought their leader back to them, cold and lifeless. The devourer was gone, destroyed, but the price was too high. Jack was the noblest of them, the best part of them and of Torchwood, the only one of them who carried no blame for the events that had just unfolded. Now he was dead and they were without a leader; all they could do was pick up the pieces and try to carry on, but Ianto felt hollow inside, as if someone had thrust their fist into his chest and ripped his still beating heart from his body.
He couldn’t think, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, could barely even breathe. His lungs felt crushed by the gaping hole where his heart used to be and it hurt even worse than losing Lisa had. How could he apologise to Jack now? How could he ever make things right between them? There was so much he wished he’d told Jack and now he’d never have the chance to.
Owen wanted to consign Jack’s body to cold storage in the morgue, but Gwen insisted that he’d come back even from this; they just had to have faith. Despite knowing that Rhys, the man she’d risked everything to get back, was waiting for her at home, she refused to leave Jack’s side, refused to let any of her colleagues have a private moment with their lost leader, their friend. Ianto hated her for that; he wouldn’t even get to say a proper goodbye to the man who had helped him go on after Lisa, the man who’d given him something to hold on to, the man he thought he might even have been beginning to fall in love with. It wasn’t right, but he didn’t have the heart or the energy to do anything about it. All the fight had gone out of him.
Hours passed, became a day, then two. Alone in Jack’s office Ianto grieved, hugging his lover’s trademark greatcoat to his chest, breathing in the lingering aroma of 51st century pheromones and soaking the fabric with his tears. How could he continue without the man who’d become his anchor? He felt like his whole world was crumbling down around him, and he was crumbling right along with it.
Three agonising days dragged by with Jack’s body remaining still and blue and cold to the touch. He was dead, and unlike when Owen had shot him he showed no sign of reviving. But then as the third day progressed with dreadful inevitability towards its end, the miracle happened; Jack came back to them.
None of them deserved for that to happen, they’d all been complicit in the events leading up to Jack’s death and he had every right to hate them for what they’d done, yet he didn’t. He forgave them, he hugged them, he held Ianto close and kissed him, he whispered ‘It’s okay’ and the hollow, aching emptiness in Ianto’s chest began to ease. He could breathe again, perhaps even hope to resume living instead of merely existing endlessly from moment to moment.
If he could have spared the time Ianto would have liked to just bask in Jack’s presence for a while, but there was still so much to be done. Repairs to the Hub were underway, but the damage caused by opening the Rift was extensive, not something that could be squared away in the space of a few short days. They’d get it done, perhaps as a form of penance, but first they all needed a break to catch their breath, and a caffeine boost to give them the energy to tackle the next stage of the cleanup.
Ianto would have happily set to making coffee, but the coffee machine wasn’t working. For all anyone knew it might prove to be something as minor as a blown fuse; nevertheless it would have to wait its turn because when they’d assessed everything that needed to be done, fixing it had been considered low priority. Repairing structural damage and restoring power to the computer systems had to come first, for the sake of their own safety as well as to ensure they could continue protecting Cardiff from whatever fell through the Rift. When they needed coffee they’d been taking turns to fetch it from the coffee shop just across the Plas; it might not be quite up to Ianto’s standards, but it was still better than most.
That was where they went now, Ianto, accompanied by Tosh and Owen. Jack still needed to rest and regain his strength, and Gwen begged off, preferring to remain at the Hub with him. Ianto still felt a twinge of resentment over that, but Jack had kissed HIM after he revived, not Gwen, so he could afford to be magnanimous just this once. Besides, it was only a coffee run; they’d be there and back in just a few minutes and then perhaps he could get some time alone with Jack, take care of him while he recovered from three days of being dead after having all the life sucked out of him.
Those hopes were immediately dashed on Ianto’s return to the Hub; Gwen was frantic, and Jack was gone. He’d somehow vanished from his office without Gwen noticing, although she recalled hearing a strange sound and there was paperwork strewn everywhere as if a strong wind had somehow blown through Torchwood’s underground base.
A strange noise and a wind; to Ianto that could mean only one thing, the Doctor’s TARDIS had arrived and then left again, presumably with Jack aboard. Tosh came to the same conclusion, but although she checked the CCTV footage from both inside the Hub and up on the Plas, there was no trace of the blue police box to be found, and no sign of Jack. All the cameras had picked up was static interference, the footage blurred out to the extent that not even Tosh with all her technical wizardry could pull any coherent images from it. When the interference cleared again, Jack was no longer in the Hub. The hand in its jar was gone too, which told Ianto that despite Gwen’s protestations that Jack must have been taken, he’d most likely left of his own free will.
And really, why should any of them be surprised about that? Jack had trusted them and they’d defied him, betrayed him, killed him, and unleashed a monster he’d had to sacrifice himself to stop. Just because he’d forgiven them didn’t mean it would be easy for him to forget what they’d done and learn to trust them again. In Jack’s place, could any of them say they wouldn’t do the same and make their escape if the opportunity presented itself?
So the Doctor had come, and Jack had left with him. Ianto knew enough about the Time Lord from what he’d heard at Torchwood One and what he’d read in the archives to know that he travelled through time as well as space, so maybe Jack wouldn’t be gone for long, at least from the team’s point of view. He could travel with the Doctor for a few years, or however long it took for him to put their betrayal behind him, and be back in a day or two… Ianto felt a surge of hope, but as day followed day with no Jack, not so much as a word from him to say he was okay, that tiny spark of hope gradually faded away to nothing. What did Jack have to come back for anyway? The people who had turned against him? That was a joke. He didn’t even have much in the way of personal belongings and probably wouldn’t have any need of them where he’d gone.
That night Ianto stood on a rooftop and stared up at the stars. Jack was out there somewhere, seeing the wonders of the universe; surely nothing on earth could even come close. No one in their right mind would choose to stay on a backwater planet like earth if instead they could be travelling from world to world, visiting the distant past, experiencing the far off future… It was doubtful Ianto and the rest of the Torchwood team would even cross Jack’s mind.
Days turned into a week, then two, three… Before Ianto knew it a month had passed. Torchwood’s four remaining members were run off their feet, trying to keep up with Rift alerts, Weevil alerts, and paperwork without letting on that their leader had gone AWOL. It was hard; half the time they had no idea what they were doing, barely keeping their heads above water, but what else could they do? Give up? Leave Cardiff at the mercy of the things Torchwood existed to protect people from? No, they had a sworn duty, and a lot to make up for. When Jack returned Torchwood was still going to be there, just as he’d left it, waiting for him to resume command. It was the very least they owed him.
Unsurprisingly, in the days following Jack’s departure there’d been arguments about which of them should take over from him as their new leader, and eventually a compromise had been reached. Owen was the most experienced so he would take the lead in the field, because one of them needed to be in charge in situations where decisions needed to be made quickly. They couldn’t afford to get into an argument about how to handle a dangerous alien while it was running amok and possibly killing people. The rest of the time, everyone would get on with their own work, with Ianto handling the day-to-day running of the Hub, Tosh dealing with anything relating to technology, Owen in charge of all things medical, botanical, or biological, including forensics, and Gwen coordinating it all.
Back on one of Jack’s favourite rooftops again, Ianto stared out across the city they were trying to protect and sighed wearily; the division of labour was working, more or less, but they were all tired. None of them was getting as much sleep as they used to because the Rift didn’t sleep, Weevils were nocturnal, and Jack was no longer on hand to keep an eye on things at night. In the absence of their leader, most nights at least two members of the team had to drag themselves from bed to respond to a Rift alert or round up a rampaging Weevil. The long hours were telling on them all, but on Ianto most of all, because now he was not only handling his own work and most of Jack’s but on top of everything else he was expected to do his share of the fieldwork. There weren’t enough hours in the day for everything he was expected to do.
How much longer could any of them go on like this? They weren’t like Jack, practically indestructible; they were just ordinary humans with fragile mortal bodies. Yes, they were slowly learning to work together as a team, in some respects they were getting quite good at it, but they’d been stretched thin even before Jack left, and now… Sooner or later something was going to give; one of them would get injured, or fall ill, and they’d be down to three people trying to do a job that was already too much for four of them. They couldn’t even employ someone else to help ease the load; they didn’t have the authority. Only Jack could recruit new team members. Ianto could forge the Captain’s signature well enough to make sure the existing team were still getting paid, but trying to add new names to the payroll… that was too risky.
Turning his gaze once more towards the stars, Ianto shivered. They were so far away, the distances between them too great for the human mind to comprehend; they made him feel tiny, insignificant, and utterly alone. But Jack was somewhere out there, smiling that irresistible smile, flirting his way across the universe. If he closed his eyes Ianto could almost see him, larger than life, a wonderful, impossible man. It made his heart hurt.
“Do you ever think of us or are you having too much fun to spare a thought for the people you left behind?” he asked softly, his voice barely above a whisper in the darkness. “I miss you; we all do. Nothing’s the same without you here. We’re doing the best we can, but we’re not you and never will be.” He scanned the sky, searching for a non-existent message written in the stars. “I wish you’d just let us know what’s happening. Aren’t you ever coming back?”
There was no reply, but then Ianto hadn’t been expecting one. Abandoning the rooftop he made his way back to ground level and turned towards the Hub; he needed to get some sleep before morning. As he crossed the Plas he spared one last brief glance towards stars he could no longer see and offered up a sad smile; despite everything, he couldn’t bring himself to begrudge Jack his freedom. “Wherever you are, I hope you’re happy.” Stepping onto the invisible lift, he rode it down into the Hub. When Jack eventually made it home, Ianto intended to be there, waiting for him, and if he never came back… Being among Jack’s things made him feel a little less alone, and right now, that was the best he could hope for.