Jack Harkness had lived far too long, and seen far too much, to believe in soul mates. He’d loved and lost too many times to believe there could ever exist one special someone in the whole of the vast universe meant for him alone. Even before he became immortal lovers had come and gone, finding their way into his heart only to break it by leaving him for someone else, or being reassigned, or dying… He’d resigned himself to the fact that loving meant losing; it was a Time Agency thing, any relationships an agent formed were necessarily short-lived because they seldom stayed in any one place or time for long. As for working partnerships, for the most part they were never meant to be permanent. Agents were teamed together on the basis of which of them had the knowledge and skill sets that would prove most useful during any given assignment. Flexibility was essential; you got teamed with someone, had a few days to get to know each other while being briefed on the mission, then just got on with it.
The longest Jack had ever spent with anyone was when he and his then partner John Hart got stuck in a time loop for several years that had lasted a mere two weeks in the outside world. They’d been forced to rely on each other in the hope of finding a way of breaking the loop, and Hart had become obsessed with him but while Jack had certainly enjoyed certain aspects of their time together, he’d always known it wasn’t true love. They were both far too good at pushing each other’s buttons to maintain anything resembling a healthy long-term relationship.
What he’d felt for his Doctor had been as close as Jack had come to loving someone completely, and if he hadn’t accidentally been rendered immortal and if the Time Lord hadn’t regenerated into someone who could barely stand to be in the same room as him, then maybe things might have been different. Funny how being told he was wrong, an impossible thing that shouldn’t exist, had soured Jack’s feelings towards the man he’d been starting to believe he could spend the rest of his life with.
Immortality naturally made everything worse; the tragic death of Jack’s first wife had hammered that home for him in no uncertain times as he’d realised that no matter how much he loved someone he would always be destined to lose them. But life without love wasn’t an option either; no matter how hard he tried not to, he fell in love too easily, so there was always someone new but never anyone permanent. How could there be when they were all mortal and he was eternal? How could he promise to love someone forever, all the while knowing they would be gone in the blink of an eye? For him, forever meant exactly that, to the end of everything, not merely to the end of a regular human lifetime.
No, soul mates were a nice idea for ordinary people, those who had some hope of meeting their special someone and spending the rest of their life with them, but for Jack they were an impossible dream. He was one of a kind, there was no one anywhere in the universe who could match his longevity, not even the Doctor, so even if he did meet someone who was perfect for him in every way, the longest he could have them for would be their natural lifespan, and then what? His heart broke with every loss as it was; how could he possibly survive losing someone that precious, that much a part of him, the other half of his soul? How could he continue on after losing an essential part of himself, weighed down by that kind of grief? Except, of course, that he wouldn’t have any choice. He could kill himself to escape the pain of a shattered heart, but he’d always come back, over and over again, and the pain would still be waiting there for him, as if he’d never been gone.
Memories of his lost love would no doubt fade eventually, he’d forget their voice, the sound of their laughter, their scent, their face, their name, perhaps even forget he’d ever loved that deeply at all, and then what? Repeat the whole soul destroying process time and time again, until the universe itself burned out? He was better off never knowing that kind of all consuming love; having a soul mate would be the worst kind of torture he could ever experience.
So the years passed, and Jack loved, lost, and loved again, but never too deeply, always holding back from complete commitment in an attempt to lessen the impact of loss on his already battle scarred heart. It was a balancing act, like walking a tightrope, constantly trying not to fall. After so many years of practice he’d thought he was doing just fine, until Ianto Jones came along and caught him completely off guard.
Why him? Why this unassuming Welshman with his deep voice, his cute button nose, his dry wit, his immaculate suits, and his undeniable talent for brewing perfect coffee? What did Ianto have that made him so damnably attractive? He wasn’t the best-looking man Jack had ever met, although he certainly was handsome. Intelligent though he undoubtedly was, he wasn’t the most brilliant; that was still the Doctor, regardless of his opinion about Jack’s immortality. He wasn’t even the best in bed, though he made up for that with his enthusiasm and his eagerness to try new things. Ianto was a dedicated student and a fast learner; Jack could easily see him earning that top spot eventually, given enough time and practice.
Nevertheless, falling in love with him so completely wasn’t something Jack had anticipated, and by the time he realised it had happened it was already far too late for him to do anything about it. Love could be sneaky that way, taking advantage of the tiniest chink in someone’s armour to plant its roots deep before it could be guarded against.
When Ianto started to wonder if they were a couple, since even complete strangers seemed to think so, Jack tried to backtrack. He was needlessly mean to the young Welshman, pushing him away, and yet Ianto took it all without a word of complaint; with the onset of the children chanting they all had more pressing concerns on their minds. Then Jack was blown up along with the Hub, and hauled away by a kill squad, only for Ianto to stage a daring rescue, looking oddly dashing in his stolen yellow hardhat and reflective jacket. Somehow he always managed to dress appropriately for any occasion.
Things had gone from bad to worse after that, and foolishly Jack had allowed his lover to confront the 456 alongside him. Stupid, stupid, stupid! He never should have done that, he should have made sure Ianto was as far away from danger as possible. What had he been thinking? Had he even been thinking at all? It had been too dangerous, and Ianto too mortal, and now the man Jack loved with all his heart was gone. What made it even worse was that as Ianto was dying in his arms, Jack still hadn’t said those three little words. The last chance he’d ever have to tell his lover how he felt, and all he could say in response to Ianto’s declaration of love was ‘don’t’.
Don’t what? Jack wasn’t sure he knew the answer to that himself. Don’t love me because I don’t deserve to be loved when it’s my fault you’re dying? Don’t leave me because I think my heart might shatter completely if you do? Don’t say you love me because it hurts to hear those words for the first time at the worst moment in my life, knowing I’ll never get to hear them from your lips again? All of that and probably more, because Jack’s heart was being squeezed so tightly in his chest that he couldn’t draw breath, and he didn’t know whether it was the pain of overwhelming grief, the effects of the virus that was killing them both, or a combination of the two. He didn’t care either way; if Ianto was dying then Jack hoped and prayed that this death would be final for him too. Let someone else save the children; he didn’t want to come back to a world without Ianto Jones in it. He’d sooner be consigned to oblivion for all eternity. It would hurt less.
Waking in the makeshift morgue was one of the most terrible experiences of Jack’s long life; so many innocent people dead, row after row of them, all because he hadn’t had the common sense to evacuate the building first, and among the dead was the man whose arms Jack had become accustomed to waking up in, whether from sleep or from death. Never again… Those two words were as heartbreaking as the other saddest phrase in the English language: If only. If only he hadn’t let Ianto come with him to Thames House, if only he’d ensured his lover was wearing protective gear, if only he hadn’t foolishly given an ultimatum to a species know to deal in viruses, if, if, if… Jack wished to the depths of his soul that he could turn back time, undo the past few days, do everything differently and by so doing somehow change the way events unfolded so they wouldn’t lead him to the waking nightmare that was here and now….
His heart felt so dead inside him, a leaden barely beating weight, that Jack couldn’t even cry for his lover. All he could do was sit beside him, staring into the too-pale face, and trying to commit it to memory. Ianto Jones, just twenty-six years old, gone from the world far too soon. A thousand years with him wouldn’t have been enough for Jack. He closed his eyes, blocking out the sight before him, trying to remember Ianto alive and not so still and cold and pale in death. This was all wrong! Why did it have to be him?
In the back of Jack’s mind a whisper of sound caught his attention, a voice from his past, a memory or… something else, something indefinable. Three simple words, spoken softly like a prayer but with such undeniable power he almost felt the universe tremble around him.
“I bring life.”
Jack’s eyes snapped open at the gasp, impossibly loud in the silence of the room. A hand flailed wildly and he caught and held it as frantic blue eyes opened, filled with fear and confusion.
“Jack! What happened?” Ianto’s voice was rough, hoarse, shaking slightly. “I… did I die? Am I dead?” His eyes darted around the room, taking in the shrouded bodies surrounding him, then settled on Jack once more. “Did you bring me back?”
“I don’t know.” Suddenly Jack’s vision was blurred and he couldn’t think why that might be until a tear dripped off the end of his nose, splashing onto the hand he was gripping so tightly it must surely be hurting Ianto. He tried to ease off a bit but Ianto just clung to him even more tightly, as if afraid to let go. “I don’t know, and I don’t care, because all that matters to me is that you’re alive now. I love you, Ianto Jones.” From being so impossible to say, the words now came easily, and Jack had never meant them more. “I love you, and no matter what it takes I swear that I’m never letting you go again.”
Jack Harkness had lived far too long, and seen far too much, to believe in soul mates, but if he were to believe, then he was pretty sure Ianto Jones was his.