Title: Following Time
Series: The Time Given to Us
Series Order: 3
Genre: Science Fiction, Slash, Time Travel
Relationship(s): Jack Harkness/Ianto Jones
Content Rating: R
Warnings: Major Character Death, Canon Typical Violence; the aftermath of Miracle Day; Discussion of: murder (during the Miracle), miscarriage (during the Miracle)
Word Count: 60,000
Summary: They got through the Miracle as planned. Now they have to deal with getting rid of what is left of the Three Families and rebuilding their world, all the while Ianto needs to get used to his immortality, and Jack has – for the first time in nearly fifty years – no idea what the future will bring them.
Artist: Izzy Hound
Coming back to Cardiff after almost three months of travelling the world to save it brought more relief to it than Jack had expected. This city had become his home a long time ago, but in moments like this, it always hit him hard how much he missed it when he was away. Sometimes it was still a surprise that he had found a place to call home.
He had been a vagabond since he had left his childhood home, and he had felt this way even after being stranded here, but since he had decided to stay here to change the things he knew were to come, that had changed. He had made Cardiff his home, had dedicated more than half of his time to make sure this town was as secure as it could be regardless of what the universe and the Rift were throwing at it.
The core of their team waited for them when Jack and Ianto finally returned to the Hub after nearly four long days of travelling. At least they had had two delays, which had been long enough to take a hotel room, so that they were not completely exhausted upon arriving home. Which was a good thing as the part of their team that had already lived through the Year That Never Was, including Mickey, Martha, Clement, and Archie, who had come to visit from Glasgow, had decided they needed a welcome home party, which was held in the main area of their original Hub under the Roald Dahl Place.
The preparations for the Miracle had brought a lot of change to their team, and also finally the growth Jack had aimed for all along. Toshiko was not the only one heading her own small team nowadays. Owen had gathered a team of doctors and nurses from the hospitals in Cardiff that worked part time with them; Karen was finally putting the laboratories they had managed to install during the 90s – and which they were very slowly modernizing again – to good use with her team; Gwen’s focus had turned outwards a little more, putting in place a small team to support victims of anything the Rift threw at them through the aftermath; Mickey had taken over leading their people in the field supported by Leo; and Letitia was heading a small support team who managed to keep everything running smoothly.
Their team had grown so much that they had started to actually use the building they had originally modelled as a fake-Hub on the other side of the bay. For the moment there would have been enough space still in their main Hub, but it was a logistical nightmare if all of them used the tourist office or the entrance in the underground car park of the Millennium Center to enter the Hub, and so they had spaced out. Jack knew they would keep growing and that they needed to extend their facilities even further, but that was something to worry about later.
Jack was glad to see only their original team gathered at this little party. Those were the people he viewed as his family for the moment, and although he liked everyone that had become part of their team in the last two years, he had built no strong bonds with any of them. Maybe that would come with time, when he was not as focused on a single goal as he had been in the last couple of years.
“It was weird coming home,” Gwen murmured, as Jack sat beside her on the sofa, watching the others talk, and laugh, and eat. They had both been part of that conversation for the longest time, but Jack had felt exhausted and tried to find a little reprieve without outright leaving the party. Gwen had followed him, carrying a glass of water and a plate with the delicious pasta salad someone had provided. “Cardiff has weathered this storm a lot better than any other place we saw in the two months I was away.”
“Because we were able to prepare the city,” Jack muttered. “We won’t be spared as much from what is happening now in the world.”
“You and Ianto both look tired. I’m sorry we didn’t give you time before throwing this party.”
Jack shook his head. “No, there is nothing you need to be sorry for. It’s great seeing all of you, and much needed. We’ll find time to sleep soon enough, and this is much more relaxing than anything has been for the last six months. How is your dad?”
Gwen grinned widely. “Good. Mum has been very thorough in keeping him healthy since you warned me about a possible heart attack. He didn’t have one this time. He isn’t exactly the healthiest, but he isn’t in so much danger of a stroke or a heart attack as the doctors said two years ago.”
“I’m glad,” Jack muttered.
“I told him long before the Miracle that I expect him to stay around for a long time still!” Gwen put a hand on her belly and smiled. “Especially now that there is a grandkid on the way, although he doesn’t know that yet.”
Jack sat up, staring at her wide-eyed. “You are pregnant? How long?”
Gwen laughed. “I’ve only known for three days. We had to recalibrate the scanner at the door because it wouldn’t let me pass.” She shrugged. “Four weeks, Owen said. I forgot that I had not taken the pill since we went to Shanghai and… yeah, things happened. But we are happy. We were putting it off the whole time, with this whole mess looming ahead of us… I’m not sure if we would have ever stopped putting it off if we’d had to make a conscious decision about it.”
Jack hugged her. “That’s great news!”
It had saddened him when the days in which the 456 had come back in his other life had passed by without Gwen discovering that she was pregnant. But he had also not been much surprised. Circumstances had changed for all of them, and he knew that Anwen had not been planned by her parents. He had still felt that something was missing for her and Rhys, that his actions had put a stop to their lives, and he was happy to see it back on track.
“This job and children aren’t exactly…” Gwen sighed.
“The team has grown so much, there is no harm in giving you a position where you don’t have to go out on calls, and where you will be able to leave at a decent time most days,” Jack said. This time around, it would be much easier for Gwen and Rhys to build their family, and Jack would make sure that would not change. “Starting right now.”
“I thought about that.” Gwen nodded. “I’ve been much happier helping those who were drawn into any alien encounters dealing with that experience than chasing after the aliens. It was exhilarating in the beginning, but I … I feel I have more impact on people, can help more, if I work directly with those who have come to harm.”
Jack nodded, not surprised at all. He had left everyone enough room to find a place in their team where they were comfortable, and he remembered even from his other life how much more invested Gwen had been in helping victims of the Rift than in everything else they were confronted within their job. For the longest time they had not been able to take any kind of care of the victims, except for giving them Retcon in most cases, but that had changed. Their policy about Retcon had changed as well, and Jack was glad about that. Gwen had done a lot to make this possible, and he would have expected her to continue this work even without the pregnancy.
“That’s what you have already done for a while now,” he said.
Gwen shrugged. “The more people started to work here, the more you encouraged us to do only the part of the job we are most comfortable with. – Don’t get me wrong, I was relieved that you took me to Shanghai with you, that I could have your back, please don’t doubt that. And really relieved that you didn’t ask me to accompany Ianto. I’m not sure… No, that’s not true. I know I wouldn’t have been able to do what Mickey did. But as glad as I was to be able to have your back in Shanghai, it’s not… the action is thrilling for a little while, but it gets overwhelming fast.”
“I wasn’t sure about taking you with me,” Jack confessed. “Mostly because I have seen long ago what you just said. But… It’s probably complete nonsense, but I thought it would be better to have as much as possible happen as it did in my other life during the Miracle. Which boiled down to very, very little in the end, because so many other things had already changed.”
“Is it odd to not know any more about what’s happening now?” Gwen asked.
Jack frowned. “You have no idea. And it shouldn’t be because with how much I had changed in the end, at least since we had gotten rid of the Master, and because I hadn’t even been on Earth for more than a year before the Miracle in the other timeline, I already knew only very little about everything that was happening around us. I should have gotten used to it already.”
“Except you used all your energy on preparing for the last big thing you knew would happen. You barely participated in our everyday work since you told us about the Miracle. You weren’t paying attention to the things you didn’t know in the last two years.”
“Do you have to be so reasonable?” Jack laughed, shaking his head.
“I guess as Ianto is probably dealing with his own problems right now, someone needs to take over that role in your life for a little while,” Gwen said haughtily.
Jack turned his head to search for Ianto. “He is coping well with the change. Much better than I did.”
“He isn’t alone,” Gwen muttered. “And he knew it would come. Please tell me you haven’t experimented with him dying while you were gone!”
“I would never allow that!” Jack snapped. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, that was … I’m not looking forward to Ianto dying the first time. I’m not sure … if I trust this change already. I don’t understand how any of this could have worked.”
He was still unsure about the events that had made him immortal, but he could at least accept the time vortex as a force of nature even if no one was able to fully understand it. The change for Ianto was in his eyes even more unbelievable than his own change, because the Morphic field the Blessing had to create around Earth should not have worked this way. It was a proven fact that his immortality was not recognizable in his blood. Torchwood had done a lot of studies on that.
He had even given Owen his blood and tissue samples for such a study because his result he could at least trust. Except for the three thousand years of evolution and the influence of a couple of distant alien relatives, there was nothing differentiating him from Martha, Mickey, Diane or Deborah, who had all made their own experiences with travelling through time. And the radiation left behind by their contact with the time vortex was not influencing anything in the others.
The Doctor had told him Ianto would share Jack’s curse, but the time when he had trusted the Doctor without a doubt was long past. He wanted to trust in this promise, but he had lived too long with the ever-looming dread of losing everyone he loved. It would take time to get over the apprehension and to learn to trust in Ianto’s immortality.
“I know,” Gwen whispered and patted his knee. “I just thought he would maybe … want to be sure.”
“His injuries are healing as fast as mine,” Jack said. “He tested that while they were still in Buenos Aires, I wouldn’t have allowed that either. There is no reason for him to hurt himself! It’s a relief to know at least so much, but…”
“I’m glad it worked out.” Gwen smiled, leaning her shoulder against Jack’s. “You deserve someone to be at your side all the time. Someone you care about, and who cares about you. We worried you would change your mind in the end. You were so standoffish about it most of the time, even after the Miracle had already begun.”
“There was no one else I would have wanted to do it than Ianto.” It was the first time Jack allowed himself to say it out loud. He had hinted at it in several discussions with Ianto, but he had never put it so clearly in words because he felt guilty about it. It was coming back to feeling selfish about his decisions, and even Ianto’s repeated reassurances that he was allowed to be selfish did not make him feel better about it.
“There was no one else who would have wanted to do it either,” Gwen said. “Believe me, we talked about it at length before the Miracle. We know why Ianto was willing to do it, but that doesn’t mean any of us can really understand it. We see the burden it is for you, and it was even Ianto who opened our eyes for it, mostly. I think he was the first one of us to really understand what the immortality was costing you, and he still never wavered once in his conviction to follow you into it.”
Jack sucked in a breath. “Is there a point in any of this?”
“I’m not sure I would do the same for Rhys,” Gwen whispered. “I love him more than I can put in words, but that is… Ianto’s love and devotion for you are astounding. Sometimes I’m jealous about how much he is able to love you, especially after everything he already lost in his life. – What I want to say is, that I know you are struggling with this, that you would have liked to find another way, to spare anyone from becoming like you, but you need to leave those doubts behind. It’s done. You can’t take it back. And Ianto knew exactly what he was signing up for.”
“I know that.”
“So, act like it!” Gwen frowned at him. “Don’t push him away.”
“I’m not,” Jack protested. “I have gotten over that kind of behaviour a long time ago! I promise you, we are working through it together. We are making the time for it. – I showed Ianto New Zealand, how it was before humans discovered it. So that we could have time to ourselves without having to worry about anything that’s happening right now.”
Gwen grinned. “That sounds very romantic.”
Jack laughed. “It was! And peaceful. It was good to get away from this horror for a while. Wish I could provide such a break for all of you, but I could only take one of you at a time.”
“I have no interest in experiencing time travel, thank you very much!” Gwen shuddered. “I really can’t understand how Martha or Mickey could have travelled with the Doctor.”
“Mickey was only following him because of Rose, and I don’t think their relationship was very healthy at that point. He wouldn’t have travelled with the Doctor otherwise. And Martha…” Jack shrugged. “The Doctor tends to seduce the people he is rescuing without even noticing it. Rose, Martha, me, we are all the same in that.”
“And all of you had a harsh awakening.”
“Rose not so much. She ended up in another dimension and for the most part, you can’t travel from one dimension to another. Those walls are closed, and for a good reason. So, she is stuck there, otherwise she would still follow him, I’m sure of that.” Jack sighed. “He isn’t a bad man, you know. Most of you have only just met him in very bad situations. He has made mistakes, sure, but I have made the very same mistakes, for similar reasons I think.”
Gwen frowned. “What are you talking about?”
“He is the last Time Lord, as far as he knows. Discovering that the Master was still out there, living his life as a human without his memories of being a Time Lord, was a complete surprise for him. He is alone and very, very old. I don’t know why he feels drawn to humans, but whoever he chooses for companionship will always leave him in the end, one way or another. I couldn’t even bear it for a hundred and fifty years before I lost my mind over it and nearly destroyed this universe.”
“Just another good thing that you have Ianto now,” Gwen muttered.
“And if both of us reach the point at which it will be unbearable again?” Jack shook his head. “For a while there I resented the Doctor, started even to hate him because I thought he was the reason for what I am.”
“But he had left you behind, and you had no idea what had even happened to you. That’s not the kind of experience Ianto will make with any of this.” Gwen closed her fingers around his hand and squeezed them lightly. “You need to stop comparing your situation with Ianto’s. That’s not helping either of you.”
Ianto was not surprised when Archie drew him aside at the first opportunity he got to separate him from the rest of the team. Archie and his team had been an integral part in all their plans for England while they had prepared for the Miracle, and he had known as much as everyone else in the room about everything going on during the Miracle. He had also been the only one besides Jack to ever question Ianto about his conviction to carry Jack’s blood to the Blessing in Buenos Aires.
“I guess everything went as expected?” Archie asked.
Ianto raised his brows. “I would have thought the others had already told you everything.”
Archie shook his head. “I only arrived an hour before you. We have got a lot of work at home as well. I could hardly spare a month to wait for you here!”
Ianto sighed. “Everything went as we had planned it. But I haven’t died yet, and I don’t plan to try that out any time soon. I hope I’ll be able to live without that experience for a long time to come.”
Mostly, he hoped he would be able to spare Jack that experience for as long as possible. He knew how it felt to see the other man die and come back to live, and he was not convinced that Jack was prepared for that yet. Ianto often felt that he was still not used to those moments, either.
“Do you regret doing it?” Archie asked.
“No.” Ianto shook his head. “And regardless of what Jack and you think, I’ll never regret it.”
Archie laughed. “I never thought you would change your mind.”
Ianto eyed him sceptically. “You could have fooled me.”
“You already had proven once what you are capable and prepared to do for the person you love.”
Ianto could not help but flinch, as he did every time someone else than Jack brought up Lisa unexpectedly. He had confessed to Archie what he had done shortly after the Year That Never Was when he had asked about her during a short visit from Ianto in Glasgow. Ianto had been loaned out to Archie by One for a couple of months a little more than a year before One had fallen, and he had spent a lot of time explaining to the old man all of his plans about how he wanted to propose to Lisa.
“I know how much you loved that young woman, and I see the same depth of devotion for Jack in you. I know you wouldn’t let this chance to stay with him indefinitely pass by.”
“And yet you questioned me every time we spoke in the last two years,” Ianto muttered.
“Someone had to,” Archie said. “Someone who wasn’t as emotionally compromised as Jack and had still at least an inclination in what you intended to sign up for.”
“Did the Miracle have any impact on you?” Ianto asked.
They had wondered about it before everything had begun, and Jack had not been able to provide an answer from his other life. In theory, it should not have had any influence on Archie’s state because that he was not ageing had nothing to do with Jack’s immortality, but there was even now still so much they did not know about the actual science that had caused the Miracle.
Archie shrugged, turning his head away at staring at a point somewhere beside Ianto. “Maybe. … James and I have speculated… I developed a heart mummer. It’s not too bad, nothing that needs to be medicated yet, but it’s the first time anything changed concerning my health in over a hundred years.”
“You think you are ageing again?” Ianto asked.
“We don’t know if it happened during the Miracle or after,” Archie said. “It wasn’t exactly much time to care for anything other than keeping everyone from losing their minds. Jack was mortal again during the Miracle, so it’s possible that I started to age again during it, but I could still be back to how I was before it. There is no way to know for sure, so I’ll just have to wait and see.”
“It was scary to know Jack was mortal again,” Ianto muttered, shuddering as he thought about it. There had been several attempts on Jack’s life, and even being prepared for that had not helped at all with the fear that had overtaken Ianto every single time.
Archie snorted. “There was a time when I thought he would take such a chance to end his own life. I wouldn’t even have held it against him.”
“You are pretty sure you wouldn’t come back like Jack if you died, right?” Ianto asked. “It’s just that you aren’t ageing that’s keeping you here. Injuries still need as long as they did before to heal for you?”
“I have thought about testing that theory a couple of times over the years.” Archie sighed. “I’m not as tired of life yet as to actually try it. But I think someday this day will come. I pity Jack for not being able to take that step himself someday. I pity you for that as well, but I think it would take you a lot longer to reach that day than Jack or me.”
Ianto frowned. “Why do you think that?”
“Because you chose this.” Archie cocked his head, watching him with shining eyes. “Neither Jack nor I had a choice at all. This is something that was done to us without our consent, without us even knowing for a long time. That will make such a big difference for you.”
“Jack isn’t seeing that just yet.” Ianto looked for Jack, who was sitting on the sofa beside the door to their medical rooms. Gwen was sitting beside him, leaning against Jack and talking with him, all the while nursing water instead of the beer everyone else had. Ianto had not missed that little detail right from the start and he wondered if it meant what he suspected. “I don’t know how to make him understand this.”
“Give him time,” Archie said. “Don’t let him push you away. He is as terrified of losing you as he is of you turning away from him, and in all the time I have known him he was never able to handle those things well. His go-to solution is to distance himself from the people he loves, although he has gotten better with not doing that so much anymore.”
Ianto hummed. Archie had no idea what Jack had done nearly fifty years ago now, and he did know nothing about Angelo, so there was no point in discussing the reason for that change in Jack. Archie had never asked how Jack knew about the Miracle, maybe interfering that the Doctor had warned them or that Jack was remembering it from the history lessons of his childhood. Jack had decided to tell no one else about it, and everyone was following his lead without question.
“You have to be prepared for a couple of harsh moments yourself,” Archie continued. “Dying is only a tiny part in this, you know. This is the kind of change to your body and your life that will hit you in the oddest moments. Being prepared for that will help you deal with it.”
“How do you deal with seeing the people around your age?” Ianto asked.
He had thought about that on and off during the last two weeks, but the shock or panic he had expected to hit him about it had not come yet. Maybe being aware of it was not enough for him, but he was wary about this uneasiness lingering until it would hit him. He would feel much better if he could just get over that first instance of eventually freaking out about the change that had occurred to him.
Archie laughed. “I have no answer to that question. It remains to be one of the more disturbing things about my situation. I’m thankful to see so much history happening, and at the same time, it’s galling to see everyone age, to see them live their lives while I’m stuck where I am. It’s overwhelming very regularly. Even more so if someone I knew as a child grows steadily older and starts to look older than me. – Did you know that I met Queen Elizabeth once when she was ten? Every time I see a picture of her now it’s making me stop and…” He sighed. “I have no idea how I could help you with this.”
“I never even thought about this until a couple of weeks ago,” Ianto said. “And now I keep wondering about it, and I’m unable to put those thoughts away again. I’m watching my friends and wonder how it will be like in ten or twenty years when they’ll look their age and I’ll still look like I’m right now.”
“It will be strange and so very irritating,” Archie said. “For you and for them. It will be a problem for those who don’t know about your immortality. You can only pretend for so long that you are just ageing very well. My own appearance is an advantage, I think. I already look old, so it isn’t as noticeable as for Jack or as it will be for you. And most often than not the friends I find are old. Many of them have died before I needed to think about taking a step back from that friendship so that they wouldn’t notice anything strange about me.”
“And seeing them die is easier?” Ianto asked because that was not the impression he had gotten from Jack.
Archie shrugged. “Mostly, yes. But they had all a full life, and this is how it’s supposed to work, right? My situation was so very different from yours, or even Jack’s. You know I didn’t age naturally, right? I wasn’t even forty yet when I was forcefully aged, and we didn’t notice for years afterwards that I wasn’t ageing any more. Then we thought for a while it would only stay this way until my actual age caught up to my appearance. When I had to come to terms with my own immortality, I had already buried lifelong friends because of their age and come to terms with my own age and death.”
“Seeing anyone die is the hardest part for Jack, I think.”
“Yeah. But I don’t normally lose friends and colleagues to violent encounters with aliens since I left London, or to unknown technology. That’s making a big difference.”
Ianto sighed. “So, for me it will be more like it’s for Jack, right?”
“Maybe.” Archie shook his head. “I don’t think you should build up any expectations about your own reactions based on either of us. As I already said, you are in a completely different situation than either of us ever were. Trying to model your own way after us would only lead to problems.”
Ianto nodded. “That’s probably the best advice of all. I’ll try to remember it, but… I guess I would just like to know what is coming my way with all of this.”
Archie laughed. “Who isn’t wondering about that kind of thing! Another thing, that I think is important, is that you keep an open mind. Growing old for most people includes stopping to keep up with the change in technology and sometimes even society as a whole. That’s a luxury you don’t have. You and I, we have to keep up with the change. If I hadn’t done that, I would have been lost a long time ago, but at times it was difficult to remember the necessity of it. Some of the changes the last century brought have been so overwhelming.”
He shook his head. “Earlier you complained that it had taken you four days to travel from New Zealand back home. When I was your age, it would have taken months. I remember when Around the World in Eighty Days was published and everyone was laughing about the idea that such a journey could actually take place in that amount of time.”
Ianto stared at Archie with a frown, once more stumbling about the fact how often he forgot how much history Archie and Jack both had lived through. Neither of them seemed to even notice when they spoke about events that had happened so far in the past that it was unimaginable for everyone else. Ianto wondered if he would ever reach that point, or if he would even notice it when he reached that point.
Before Ianto could come up with a response to Archie’s advice, Tosh came over and dragged them back into the midst of the party, Jack and Gwen joining them as well only a short time later. Their little gathering had started as a party to welcome them home, but they were also celebrating to have all gotten through the Miracle without any problems they had not anticipated. It was a rare occurrence that their plans went as well as they had this time. As terrible as the last six months had been, there was still a lot to celebrate about it for their team.
“I need to talk to you before you go home,” Owen said quietly, while they were cleaning up their party. He glanced at Jack, but it was visible that he was uncomfortable facing him. “And keep in mind to not shoot the messenger!”
Jack frowned. “You make me sound like a monster.”
Owen sighed. “That’s not… There are just some things that are difficult to talk to you about. I was asked to do it, and I’m mostly happy to follow that request, but that doesn’t mean I’m not dreading it as much as the person who asked me to talk to you. You won’t like this news.”
“And it couldn’t have waited until tomorrow?” Ianto asked, not liking Owen’s apprehension at all.
“Maybe.” Owen shrugged. “But I would prefer to get it over with as soon as possible. And if I had waited until tomorrow, you would have surely questioned why I didn’t tell you right away, so there was no way for me to win this. Let’s go to your office, Jack, okay?”
Jack nodded, his face carefully blank, and Ianto followed them without any prompting.
Owen dropped down on the chair in front of Jack’s desk with a loud sigh. “It’s not as bad as my approach might make it seem like, okay? It’s not even something that should be in any way unexpected, but we all know how sensitive you are in this respect, and we can even understand your point for the most part. Even more since we know you saw nearly all of us already die once.”
Jack sat down in his chair without saying anything, but Ianto decided to keep standing, stepping behind Jack and laying his hands on the shoulders of his lover. He had a very good idea now where this was going, and he started to understand Owen’s reluctance.
“Everyone was here just now!” Jack said, his voice strained. “And everyone was alright!”
Owen sighed. “Not so much. Sometimes you can’t just see when someone’s health starts declining. Not even if you haven’t seen them for a while, like say three months.”
“Estelle is ill,” Ianto said because he could see that Owen had a problem with getting to the point and he wanted to spare Jack the delay. Estelle had been with them earlier in the day, but she had left early on with Francine and Clive, and Ianto had thought nothing about it.
“Yes.” Owen gave a sharp nod and again averted any eye contact with Jack. “The problems with her heart have gotten worse during the Miracle and we didn’t notice because the usual symptoms weren’t showing until you ended it. We have got her on the right medication now, but…” He shrugged. “She’ll be ninety in half a year. Her heart isn’t the only thing starting to fail her, and with the damage that’s already done… She is as well as she can be, but I would be very surprised if we would get to celebrate more than that next birthday with her.”
Jack’s head dropped down, and Ianto rubbed his thumbs over his neck. “And she didn’t want to tell Jack herself.”
“She has accepted her situation, but she thinks you won’t do the same, Jack.” Owen crossed his arms. “I think she doesn’t want to be confronted with your denial, or with your desperation, or maybe both. She has seen you deal or not deal with this kind of situation in the past, and I don’t think she knows how to handle your reaction to it when it will be directed at her. I had no problem promising her to take over this part so that you can deal with your emotions without drawing her into it. Stressing Estelle out will only make it worse for her.”
“You are sure there is nothing to be done?” Jack muttered.
“As I said, her heart is not the only thing failing her,” Owen said. “She is an old lady, Jack. This is the course of life, and you need to accept that.”
Ianto nodded and sent him a small smile. “Thank you for telling us and not delaying until tomorrow.”
Owen shrugged. “I guess you would have visited her for breakfast either way, and you would have noticed that something was off then. Really, that’s the only reason why I didn’t let you have a night to yourself first. You need to deal with this before you visit her.”
Ianto felt Jack straighten his shoulders under his hands as he raised his head. “I will. As Ianto said, thank you for telling me. And not just about Estelle’s health but also about … what she doesn’t want … or need from me right now.”
Owen nodded. “You are welcome. Do you mind if I let you deal with this on your own?”
Jack barked out a laugh. “No. Go home, I heard you had plans with Diane.”
“I do!” Owen agreed with a grin, as he stood up. “See you tomorrow!” He left the office in a hurry.
Ianto stayed in his place, keeping silent and waiting for a reaction from Jack. He did not move for a long time until he let his head drop back several minutes later so that it came to rest against Ianto’s stomach. Jack stared up at him, but Ianto had a feeling Jack was not really looking at him.
“I feel I should not be as surprised as I am about this. I should have seen it coming, right?” Jack whispered.
“Even expecting it wouldn’t lessen the blow,” Ianto replied softly. He raised a hand and laid it against Jack’s cheek. “It will always hurt to lose those we love if they had a long life or not. I’m just sorry it’s happening right now when so many other things are still going on.”
Tears were shining in Jack’s eyes. “So much to ‘everyone got through the Miracle alright’. I really thought we would have been prepared for everything.”
“We were prepared for everything we were able to prepare for,” Ianto said. “There was no chance for us to determine how the Miracle would influence those things. Owen said she wasn’t showing the symptoms she should have shown. I expect there will be entire studies about this kind of thing as soon as the doctors have enough time to breathe again to start analysing the data that could be gathered during the Miracle. Even if we had asked Owen to make a guess about how the Miracle would influence certain diseases and the reactions our bodies would have to them, I don’t think there would have been anything to base such guesses on.”
“If I hadn’t allowed her…”
Ianto snorted. “There wasn’t much Estelle let you tell her. It was her decision to work for us and you have no idea what other hobbies she would have taken on if she wouldn’t have spent so much time here with us. Don’t take on that kind of guilt, Jack. Estelle was happy to work with us, and ninety is a very respectable age. So many people would be glad to even get near that kind of age.”
“I know.” Jack closed his eyes, sighing. “And it’s already been longer than she lived last time.”
“Can you handle what Estelle asked for?”
Jack shrugged. “I’ll do my best. I… In the last months before Angelo died, I used her to a lot to talk about it because at that time she was the only one who even knew about him. I didn’t even stop to think if that was a burden she was willing to share with me. I should have asked her instead of just…”
Ianto sigh as Jack trailed off. “Or she could have just told you if it was a problem for her. As she has done now. Don’t borrow trouble where there is none. It’s different to see you mourn when it’s another person than when it’s about oneself.”
Jack frowned and opened his eyes, blinking. “How…”
“I know I’m not the same person I was in your other life, and I know that you somehow managed to view that other version of me and the person I’m now as two different people, but it was still me in a way when you talked about the reason for going back in time, it was still your grief for me that drove you over the edge.” Ianto sighed and smiled sadly. “It’s difficult to see this kind of hurt in you and to know that I was responsible for it. I was glad that I already knew you wouldn’t have to go through that again, at least not because of me.”
“It only made me more determined to go through with joining you in your immortality.” Ianto leaned down to kiss Jack on his forehead before taking his hand to pull him out of the chair. “Let’s go home and deal with this somewhere we can be comfortable.”
Jack hesitated, but after a moment he raised his arm to activate his Vortex Manipulator and transport them to their flat. Letitia had assured Ianto earlier that someone had been there to clean the place up and fill their fridge after their three months of absence. It was something he was very thankful for because he had not once thought about the state of their flat during the last week, and he would not have wanted to come home to a couple of rooms that had gotten no fresh air for months, especially with the circumstances they found himself in now.
“What’s going on in your head?” Ianto asked after they had settled down on their sofa. He did neither like Jack’s silence nor his lack of reaction.
Jack shook his head. “I feel … numb right now. I wait for the anger to come, but I don’t know with whom I should be angry, so it’s just stalling out.”
“There is no one to be angry at,” Ianto muttered.
Jack leaned forward, bracing his arms on his knees, and buried his face in his hands. “Anger is easier to handle … easier to direct than…”
“Than grief,” Ianto supplied. “It’s easier for you when you can point your finger at someone or something to blame if you lose someone, but this time there is nothing to blame for it but nature. Although, I did see you rage even against that in the past.”
Jack mumbled something into his hands that Ianto could not understand.
“Do you regret ending the Miracle now?” Ianto asked. “Because that’s the only thing that could have changed anything for Estelle.”
Jack turned abruptly to him. “Fuck, no! Of course not!”
Ianto shrugged. “Sometimes I don’t understand you, you know. On the one hand, you desperately tried to find a way to end the Miracle without making me or someone else immortal, on the other hand, you aren’t able to let anyone go when their time has come. – And I can understand it when it’s the nature of our job that’s ending a life too early, but for Estelle or even Angelo who’ve both had a long life…” He shook his head, not sure what he could do or say to help Jack.
“Estelle and Angelo are the only ones in … two hundred years if we count my time loop who managed to die of a natural cause.”
“And Lucia,” Ianto added. “Both times, if I haven’t missed anything in your tales. But that has more to do with the nature of our chosen profession, and with how Torchwood was led in the past. We have already started to change that, so hopefully, most of our friend will see retirement age.”
“You think that is possible?”
“I think it’s one of the goals to set for ourselves. The plan is for us to lead Torchwood into the future, isn’t it? Or had you planned to leave again now that the Miracle is over?” As he spoke those words, Ianto noticed for the first time that they had never spoken about any plans for the future after the Miracle.
“A very long time ago, I had plans to have this team ready to work and grow without me right about now,” Jack muttered. “But that was when I still had hope to be able to save Lisa for you, when I still tried to prevent the Miracle or at least find another way to end it. Before I fell in love with you again.”
Jack smiled. “It’s something we need to decide together, isn’t it?” He shrugged and sighed. “I don’t want to leave the team as it is right now. I don’t know if that will change when our friends aren’t there any longer or not.”
“I want to stay and make something good out of Torchwood. I want to overcome the legacy of Yvonne Hartman and others that came before her.” Ianto frowned. “There is no other way than to grow again. There is too much we have to deal with, and that will only get more over time. When… If we leave, I want Torchwood to be something good, something that is there to help humans and aliens, something that’s not feared, but that people can look up to.”
Jack stared at him for a long moment. “That does sound rather nice.”
Ianto laughed. “Yes, but you know as well as I do how much work that will be.”
“It will take us a couple of decades,” Jack agreed.
Ianto took Jack’s hands, squeezing them tightly. “We never talked about the future before. Not anything that lay beyond the Miracle at least.”
“I guess I have to relearn to even think about a future I have no idea about,” Jack sighed. “I never thought about it in more than very vague terms until you asked just now. I don’t know, I was… Gwen thought I was too focused on the Miracle to notice anything else.”
“She’s not wrong with that,” Ianto agreed. “You were hyper-focused, but we all understood why. And we had your back in it. I would understand it if you would like to take a time out before throwing yourself into the next project.”
Jack shook his head. “But my last project isn’t finished yet, right? I would still like to see every single one of our friends live out their life without it being violently ended by our job. That’s what I spent the last ten years doing.”
“Do you have appointments with one of the psychologists you organized for us?” Ianto cocked his head, eyed Jack thoughtfully. They had talked about his own appointments, but he could not remember that they had ever talked about Jack visiting them, though Jack had gone to one of them for a while after the Year.
Jack shook his head. “I tried in the beginning, but I couldn’t find one I wanted to trust with my immortality.”
Ianto frowned. “You are aware that all five of the original ones know about that, right? Seeing you die and come back to life is something we have all talked about with them.”
“No, I didn’t know that.”
“I think we need to hire therapists that are exclusively treating our own people,” Ianto said. “The more we grow, the less practical it becomes to outsource this. And if they work directly for us, maybe you’ll be able to open up to one of them. I think it could do you good.”
Ianto was slowly coming to the conclusion that he would not be able to help Jack with the problems they had discussed earlier. There had been many occasions in the past when they had talked about grief and loss, after Suzie and Lisa, after John Ellis, and even after Grey, but there seemed to be nothing that could get through Jack’s thick head and help him find a better way to deal with it. Maybe now, while they would go through the process of accompanying Estelle through her last months, would be a good time for Jack to get in contact with a therapist to deal with it.
Jack was hesitant when they approached Estelle’s house the next morning. He had promised her that they would come for breakfast when she had said her goodbye at the party, and the last thing he wanted to do was break that promise, but he was not sure if he would be able to follow her wishes. To learn that she would die very soon had been less hurtful than to learn that she had delegated telling him to Owen because she felt she couldn’t deal with his reaction.
When Estelle opened her door, she looked as warily at him as he felt, and that broke something in him. The last time she had been this cautious around him had been right after he had come back into her life when she had still tried to get used to his unchanged youth and his immortality. He knew how much it had cost her to get used to that, but she had fought through those things for him. The least he could do was doing the same for her.
“How are you?” Jack asked, without letting go of her.
“I thought Owen would have talked to you about it already.”
Jack sighed. “He didn’t tell us any details other than that you are very old and your overall health is catching up to your age. The thing is, you were fine when we left.”
Estelle huffed, stepping out of his arms. “Yes, but at my age that’s something that can change from one day to the next. Even being completely healthy, which I wasn’t even six months ago, I could just go to sleep and not wake up again. I have seen that happen to friends much younger than I am now.”
“I know.” Jack smiled, hoping it would hide how miserable he felt. Ianto was right, he should probably search for someone who could help him deal with this situation better than he was doing at the moment. “And I promise I’ll try not to bother you with it too much. But that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in knowing how you are feeling.”
Estelle watched him for a moment with a frown. “Let’s sit down.”
She waved him to the kitchen and greeted Ianto with a hug after Jack stepped around her to follow her directions. Jack sat down at the table in her kitchen, and Estelle followed him without protesting that Ianto took over her coffee machine. It had taken her months to accept Ianto making the coffee, even though he was the guest in her house, and more often than not she still brought up at least a token protest.
“I think I’m as well as can be expected,” Estelle said without looking at Jack. “My heart is … not working as it should, but the only thing I really notice since I got my new medication is that I’m getting tired very fast, while at the same time it’s difficult to fall asleep.”
“Do you need anything?” Ianto asked. “Help with the house? Any other tasks?”
Estelle shook her head, smiling. “I’ve Deborah to help with those things. She has decided to stay for the time being. She is on her way to a job interview right now, though it will only be part-time. She insists on taking care of me.”
“You did adopt her as your granddaughter,” Jack grinned. “That’s part of the job description, isn’t it?”
It had not been an official adoption but manufactured documents by Toshiko that had made Deborah officially Estelle’s granddaughter. The relationship between the two women had grown strong very fast, with Estelle visiting their young Rift-refugee regularly in London and helping her to find her footing in this new world. They had asked Deborah to come to Cardiff before the Miracle had begun, and she had at least been someone they had been able to tell the truth about why they wanted her to move. She had moved in with Estelle and Jack was thankful that she had decided to stay to help her.
Estelle sighed. “It will be another blow to her carrier. She had started to establish herself as a designer in London, and she is so very talented at it. But her job in London has fallen through, anyway.”
Ianto turned to them with a frown. “I thought she was working it remotely from here?”
Estelle nodded. “She did in the beginning, but the company has shut down because of the Miracle. It’s not the only one that’s gone bankrupt. Our economy wasn’t prepared for a global event like that. You know, in some way I’m glad that I don’t have to see all the aftermath of this. I’ve seen it once already after the war. I don’t need this a second time in my life.”
“If Deborah needs help with anything…” Jack began.
Estelle interrupted him, laughing. “Yes, I know. Just ask you. As long as it’s in this city, you could probably organize pretty much anything, even now. I’ll remind her of it, but she wants to be independent. I trust you to just step in anyway if she keeps struggling.”
“She grew up while this country was struggling with rebuilding after the war, so she is probably more prepared for the near future than anyone else,” Jack said.
“Exactly.” Estelle nodded.
Ianto brought a cup of coffee for each of them to the table and sat down beside Jack. “I’m glad you have her here with you. But still, if either of you needs help with anything…”
“There are a lot more important things to do for you right now than to take care of an old woman,” Estelle admonished. “I have Deborah here, and Francine and Clive are just a couple of houses away.”
“And Ianto and I can travel through time,” Jack said. “Spending time with you won’t take any time away from our duties.”
Estelle sighed, but she watched them with a smile. Eventually, she said, “Alright, then let’s use the time you have so much off. There are a couple of places I would like to see one last time.” She pointed a finger at Jack. “But not using your strange technology! If you travel with me, we are keeping to the car or Diane’s plane!”
Jack laughed, not bothered at all by her mistrust of his Vortex Manipulator. At one point or another, he had offered little trips to every one of his friends in the last couple of years, but none of them had been overly enthusiastic about it, though Toshiko was very interested in the whole concept of time travel and taken him up on it more out of curiosity about the technology than their destination. Ianto and Angelo remained the only ones who had trusted him to take them on regular travels with his wrist strap.
“What are the places you want to see again?” Ianto asked.
“There is a small town in France. My parents took us there before the war. I always wanted to visit it again, but for some reason I just never did. There are a couple of other places like that.” Estelle glanced at Jack. “The lake you took me to on that one weekend, in the week before you had to leave again, for example.”
Jack swallowed, nodding. He had made a promise on that lake he had known he would not be able to hold up. It had been stupid to promise Estelle to stay with her until they died, but she had started with it and he had not wanted to disappoint her by not returning the sentiment. He had loved her so much, and he had wished for nothing more than to be able to keep that promise. But aside from that it had been a very nice and peaceful weekend considering their circumstances and he could understand why Estelle had kept it in good memory.
Jack sighed. “It seems I still get to keep my promise I made you after all.”
Estelle huffed. “Despite you never intending to keep it back then, right?”
“Maybe let’s not talk about those details.” Jack grinned sheepishly.
“I would love to hear all about it,” Ianto laughed. “Let’s make a list and see where we could visit now and what will have to wait. A trip to France will probably have to wait for a little while yet. Crossing borders is a pain in the ass right now. That’s one of the reasons why it took us four days to come home from New Zealand.”
Ianto sucked in a deep breath as the darkness surrounding him receded. Pain exploded in his chest and stomach, making it difficult to breathe, but it was receding rapidly. Before he could bring himself to open his eyes, he felt hands enclosing his face, and he heard Jack’s voice, but he could not understand what he was saying.
“Fuck!” Ianto groaned. He pressed his hands against his stomach, shuddering when he felt the wetness on his shirt. He did not need to look down to know that it was blood soaking his clothes.
“You are alright,” Jack muttered and Ianto felt him press a kiss against his forehead. “The pain will go away in a moment. Just breath through it.”
Ianto finally managed to open his eyes. Jack’s face was hovering right in front of him, worry written all over it. “I got shot.”
Jack snorted. “Twice.”
Ianto’s eyes widened as he remembered why he had been shot. “Gwen?”
“She is alright if a little shaken,” Jack said. “Rhys took the robber out with your stun gun and called me before he called the police. We are chasing aliens for a living, but of course, the three of you have to run into our everyday criminals while shopping for a nursery!”
“Hardly our fault,” Ianto muttered.
They had passed by the jeweller when the robber had stormed out, nearly running into them and taking expectations to it. Ianto had not hesitated for a single moment to step between the masked man and Gwen when he had raised his gun. He would not have hesitated to do so even before the Miracle, when he had still been mortal.
“This is a hell of a story this kid will hear over and over again, I’m sure,” Jack muttered. “You’re feeling better?”
Ianto sighed. “Yeah. This is not exactly the best first experience in dying.”
“Dying is never a good experience,” Jack whispered.
“Could have fooled me with how often you did it at times.”
Jack frowned. “I’m sorry.”
Ianto laughed breathlessly. “There is nothing for you to be sorry for.”
“You told me repeatedly how much you hated it when I died, and I just ignored it because I couldn’t understand it,” Jack said. “I shouldn’t have been so dismissive about it. I shouldn’t have ignored that knowing I would come back wouldn’t make it any easier to see me die, or to see me dead.”
Before Ianto could find a reply, they were interrupted by two police cars pulling up and stopping not too far away. Ianto was glad to see Andy step out of one of them and coming right to them, while two of his colleagues went to the unconscious robber, and the last one turned to Rhys and Gwen, who were sitting on the sidewalk. Many police officers in Cardiff knew about Torchwood, and a couple of them even knew about Jack, but they had a special connection to Andy ever since he had lived through the Year That Never Was with them.
Andy squatted down beside them, eyeing Ianto sceptically. “That suit is ruined forever.”
Ianto barked out a laugh. “Much easier to replace a good suit than Jack’s coat. I’m more concerned with that guy starting to tell tales about killing a man who then came back to life. Although, he shouldn’t have seen that last part.”
Andy shrugged. “He’ll end up in a psych ward. Judging by how you look, he shot at your upper body, yes? We’ll just write into the report that you were wearing a west under your shirt. That won’t even garner a lot of question as you are working for a government agency. How often did he shoot you?”
“Two times,” Jack muttered.
“I’ll produce the round later using one of our vests.”
Ianto sighed. “Thank you.”
Andy laughed. “You know, there is an unofficial course for every officer working in this city on how to produce the kind of report that will conceal anything connected to Torchwood without raising red flags in other places. This is much easier to cover up than something like a Blowfish.”
Ianto grinned. “I can see that.”
“Tell me what happened,” Andy asked.
With a sigh, Ianto started to tell them about the robber leaving the jeweller still masked, right as they were passing the shop and panicking over it. “It seemed he thought it a good idea to point his gun on the obviously pregnant woman, as he had to choose between the three of us. He shot as soon as I stepped between them, but I think he was ready to shoot Gwen at that point anyway. I’m not sure what happened afterwards.”
“Rhys took the robber out,” Jack continued. “And the only reason that he was faster than Gwen was apparently that Ianto was blocking her way. That’s at least what Rhys rumbled about when he called me.”
Andy nodded. “I really don’t think you need to worry about him telling any stories. He is going to jail for a long time, and everyone will assume he is telling lies to get out of it, or at least get his sentence reduced.” He sighed. “And really, with your job…”
“Stop right there!” Ianto pointed a finger at him. “Jack pointed that already out, that’s quite enough.”
Andy laughed. “Gwen’s kid will hear and repeat that story for their whole life. You won’t get rid of this story for the next eighty years or so, at least if the two of you stick around so long.”
Ianto gave a long-suffering sigh. “I see how it is. You’ll all do your best to let this kid never forget this story, just so that I won’t be able to forget for a long time!”
Andy patted Ianto’s knee with a grin and turned his gaze to Jack. “I thought you were in London today. Meetings with our new Prime Minister and everyone else who needs to learn about Torchwood.”
Jack nodded. “I was. Technically, I still am in London. Rhys left a message on my phone and I travelled back to the right moment as soon as I had gotten it. Don’t mention me in your reports. I don’t want to have to explain that to anyone.”
“Sure, no problem,” Andy agreed. “You should go home to get rid of these clothes.” He turned his head back to Ianto. “Call me later, and we’ll make an appointment for tomorrow for your official statement. And tell one of the doctors working with you that we need a report of appropriate haematomas for our story of you wearing a west.”
“I could come in later today.”
“No.” Andy shook his head. “My shift is ending in an hour, and I would like to be the one to take that interview with you. Less work for me of tweaking the records about it if you say something we shouldn’t put on paper.”
Ianto shrugged. “Whatever works for you.”
Andy nodded and stood up. “I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
Jack helped Ianto to stand up as Andy turned around, walking straight to Gwen and Rhys. For a moment Ianto’s and Gwen’s gazes met, and she sent him a shaky smile. He returned it with a nod before Jack began dragging him into the direction of a back alley.
As soon as they were out of sight, Jack activated his wrist strap, which transported them right into their bathroom. Before Ianto had even found his bearing, Jack was already working the buttons of his vest and shirt, basically tearing the soiled clothes from him.
“I’m alright”, Ianto muttered.
“Yeah?” Jack looked at him with raised eyebrows. “That’s why the shaking in your hands is slowly taking over your whole body?”
Ianto looked down, surprised to see that Jack was right. His hands were shaking violently, but even seeing it did not make him feel it.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
Jack frowned while he threw Ianto’s vest and shirt into the sink. “Whatever for?”
“I had promised you to not make this happen for as long as possible and I didn’t even manage half a year before being killed the first time.”
“I don’t remember such a promise.”
Ianto sighed. “I didn’t tell you about it, but that doesn’t change that I did make this promise!”
“I don’t think I’m the one who needs any consoling at the moment,” Jack said. “What’s really going on in your head?”
Ianto stared at him silently while Jack helped him out of his trousers and pushed him carefully under the shower. “I don’t understand how you can stand to die over and over again,” he finally said, while Jack started to get rid of his own clothes.
Jack paused in his movement, one hand still tangled in his suspenders. But he only stared at Ianto without saying anything.
“I never understood why you were so quick to sacrifice yourself, but that was mostly my own selfishness of not wanting to see you die over and over again,” Ianto continued. “But now, knowing what it feels like… Why are you not doing anything you can to prevent your own death?”
He barely remembered the moments between dying and waking up again, but it had left him with a feeling of deep uneasiness and dread. He only remembered darkness, but there was something else there, something he could not remember, couldn’t hold on to. And the pain of waking up had been pure anguish while he had felt the wounds in his chest and stomach heal.
Jack let out a deep sigh and continued to undress. “For the same reason, you stepped in front of Gwen today without hesitation. I’ll come back, others won’t. The physical pain will go away eventually, the guilt of not saving the other person will never go away.”
“I would have stepped in front of Gwen even before the Miracle,” Ianto muttered.
“I know.” Jack smiled, but it was sad and full of pain. “I’m so grateful you never found yourself in such a situation.” He stepped to Ianto into the shower stall, closing the door behind him.
“I didn’t even feel the pain of being shot,” Ianto said with a frown while Jack started the water. “Is that normal?”
“If the death is quick,” Jack nodded. “Or if the cause of death is generally not painful. Dying of radiation poising, for example, is nearly painless, even if it takes hours for your body to give up. The worst part will always be the healing afterwards. Even if it’s already healed when you wake up, there is a phantom pain remaining for a while.”
“Did you get used to the pain?”
Jack shook his head. “No, never. Your memories of it will fade, very quickly most of the time. The moments in which it’s there is never getting easier to bear.”
Ianto closed his eyes and rolled his head back as Jack started to wash the blood from his body. His legs felt weak, and it was taking a lot of concentration to keep standing upright. He was glad that Jack was taking care of washing him because he was sure he would not be able to coordinate his hands enough to do it himself at the moment.
“Do you remember anything from the moment in between?” Jack asked quietly.
“No,” Ianto whispered, shaking his head. “Darkness, feeling haunted, but I’m not sure if that’s actually a memory or … something else. I saw Gwen hovering over me and the next thing I knew was hearing your voice, feeling your hands on my face.”
Jack wrapped his arms around him and pressed his face against Ianto’s neck. “I never remember anything either. In the other timeline, I was once dead for several days. On the one hand, it felt like seconds, on the other hand, I knew exactly how much time had passed. I’ve often wondered if this uneasiness is manufactured by my mind because I feel I should remember something.”
“Or maybe there really is something we can’t remember after waking up if it’s the same for both of us.”
Jack sighed. “Yes. But either way, we’ll probably never know.”
Ianto pushed Jack far enough away so that he could look at him. “I still don’t regret a thing about this.”
Jack smiled warily. “And you aren’t really freaking out, either. I lost my mind when I woke up on Ellis Island.”
Ianto shrugged. “You had no idea what was happening, and I’ve known for months that I wouldn’t stay dead. You can’t really compare our situations.”
It felt strange to repeat the words out loud Archie had said to him on the day they had come back to Cardiff, but they had become something of a mantra in the months since then. He constantly wondered about his own reactions, comparing them to Jack’s behaviour, despite knowing that it would help nothing.
“You are still shaking,” Jack muttered.
“I had two bullets rip through my body not an hour ago.” Ianto huffed. “And I’m dealing with the knowledge of how much your habit of sacrificing yourself is hurting you. You’ve died so often since I have known you, I had gotten the impression it was less painful.”
Which was absurd, because at least in the beginning he had been very aware of how hurt Jack looked every time he died. He had even scolded the others how little they cared about Jack’s well-being, but for some reason he had gotten more used to Jack’s habits than he had noticed, his worry becoming less a thing about Jack’s well-being and more something about his own emotional state.
“I’m sorry I misled you in…”
“No!” Ianto shook his head and pressed a finger against Jack’s lips. “Don’t say this. It’s not your fault. I … I should have known better. I shouldn’t have forgotten…”
“Maybe let’s not play this guilt game at all,” Jack said.
Ianto sighed. “Yes, that’s probably the best. How long are you staying?”
“I’ll stay for the night and then go back far enough to attend this banquet this evening. Mingling with a bunch of politicians who have no idea about the work we do is the last thing I want to do right now.”
“How did the meeting with the Prime Minister and the cabinet go?” Ianto asked, content to stay in Jack’s arms and the flow of the warm water for a while longer, even if they were talking about work. Maybe talking about something else than what had just happened to him would help to stop the shaking in his hands and lessen the pressure on his chest.
Jack huffed. “As difficult as we had expected. Nothing that other newly elected officials haven’t said or done before when they learned about Torchwood. But at the same time, it was easier this time because of last year.”
When Ianto and Jack had returned to Cardiff, the old government had already announced their resignation, but it had taken nearly six months to organize the election. Personally, Ianto thought they had done a good job in those six months after the Miracle, but he suspected that had been because there was nothing left to lose for them, and most of the population did not agree with him. It had been two weeks since the election now, and Jack was scheduled to spend a whole week in London in meetings.
“Do you think these things would be easier if we weren’t such a big secret?” Ianto asked.
There had been many discussions in the team about Torchwood stepping out of the shadows. They were divided in their opinion about it, but Jack had kept mostly quiet about it, not even stating a concrete preference for one side or another when he was alone with Ianto.
“I’ve been invited to breakfast with her Majesty tomorrow,” Jack mumbled. “Her son and grandson will join us, and I will talk with them about that, among other things. We’ll see how that goes.”
“What’s your opinion about it?” Ianto asked, not for the first time.
Jack was silent for a long time. “It could go one way or another, and I don’t know what to expect from such a step. The human race will find their way into space in the next century, and I do think they need to be prepared for what is awaiting them there, but I don’t know if we are the right people do to do that.”
Ianto raised his eyebrow with a grin as Leo and Letitia turned to Owen, both showing the exact same frown. “Three years and you still haven’t learnt to be more specific?”
Owen crossed his arms in front of his chest. “You know very well I would mean you! I just talked to Rhys, and guess what he told me about yesterday?”
“I literally just arrived!” Ianto rolled his eyes. “When should I have had a chance to tell you anything?”
“You could have called me yesterday!”
“And invited you to join Jack and me in our afternoon in bed?” Ianto grinned at Owen’s grimace. “I didn’t know you were interested in such a thing!”
Owen huffed. “Don’t be ridiculous! I want to see you in the med-bay, now. We need to make sure everything is still as it should be!”
“What happened yesterday?” Leo asked. “I thought Jack was in London.”
“He returned to London earlier,” Ianto agreed.
“Ianto let himself be shot,” Owen said darkly.
“On your free day when Gwen had roped you into helping her shop for the baby?” Letitia turned to him with wide eyes. “Is she alright?”
“Yes.” Ianto smiled reassuringly. “And Rhys took out the culprit. I’m pretty sure he pulled the trigger of the stun gun a lot longer than was necessary, but the other guy shouldn’t have expected anything else after pointing his gun at a pregnant woman. I died, I came back as expected, and Jack spent the whole afternoon and night making sure everything is still as it should be.”
Leo and Letitia laughed while Owen threw his hands in the air with an exasperated sigh. Ianto let Letitia and Toshiko, who had come into the room just in time to hear his last words, hug him and reassured all of them again that he was alright.
“I’ll gladly submit to your examination, Owen. But you could have given me a couple of minutes before ambushing me!”
Ianto took the time to make coffee for everyone, retelling again in detail what had happened, and adding what he had learned about the robber from Andy in the morning when he had been at the station to make his statement. Ianto would not have been the first victim the man would have killed during one of his robberies, which did explain why he had not hesitated for a single moment to raise his gun against Gwen. He would spend the rest of his life in prison, and the police could finally close the file on a series of five robberies all over England and Wales.
It took nearly an hour before Owen managed to drag him into the examination room, but his gruff attitude could not hide his worry from anyone in the Hub. Ianto followed Owen without protest and started to undress before the doctor had even closed the door behind him.
“I healed perfectly fine and there is no lingering pain,” Ianto assured as Owen turned to him.
“We are chasing after hostile aliens on a regular basis, and you are being shot by a simple, plain human,” Owen muttered, shaking his head.
Ianto scowled. “You people really need to stop repeating this!”
Owen pointed a finger at him. “Don’t count on it! Where exactly were you shot?”
“Here and here.” Ianto pointed in the general area on his stomach and chest where he remembered the holes had been in his vest and shirt. He could not remember where exactly he had been hit. The pain had resonated through his whole upper body when he had come back.
Owen eyed the area sceptically. “No remaining pain? Any discomfort?”
Ianto shook his head. “It’s as if nothing had happened. Jack and I compared our experiences, and it seems to be exactly what he has experienced with this kind of wound.”
“I would still like to take a couple of x-rays, just to make sure. Lay down.” Owen started to poke on his chest and belly after Ianto had followed the directions. “How did you react?”
Ianto took a deep breath. “For a while, I thought Jack was much more affected than I was. But… My hands didn’t stop to shake for the whole evening.” It had been bad enough at times that Jack had needed to even feed him his pizza, but that was nothing he was inclined to share with anyone. “And I woke up a couple of times during the night, but I can’t remember anything of the nightmares.”
“Grand timing letting this happen when Jack is not even here,” Owen muttered. “From this perspective, everything seems to be alright. You okay with me taking blood and those x-rays?”
“Yeah, sure.” Ianto sighed. “To be honest, I’m glad Jack wasn’t there to witness the dying part. He was already there when I woke up, thanks to his Vortex Manipulator, but I really don’t want him to see me die any time soon.”
“He’ll get used to it.”
Ianto shook his head. “I haven’t gotten used to seeing him die. Don’t tell me you have really gotten used to it.”
Owen frowned and turned away, opening one of the cabinets. “From a personal point of view, I … have at least gotten indifferent to it. From a professional point of view … I’m still very curious about all of it.”
“It hurts a lot to die,” Ianto muttered, staring at the ceiling. “And even more to come back to life. I knew that all along, but … sometimes in the last two years I stopped worrying about that part for Jack. It used to be what I hated the most about his habit of sacrificing himself, but I just forgot it.”
“You never stopped berating him when he took unnecessary risks.”
Ianto shrugged. “I don’t remember when it happened, but at some point, it became more about my own fear and the pain of seeing Jack die than about the pain he was suffering.”
“I think you are too hard to yourself,” Owen murmured, while he started to draw Ianto’s blood. “Your own fear and pain about it is rooted in your knowledge of how much it is costing Jack, isn’t it? So, in the end, it’s still about Jack’s suffering, and your wish to prevent it.”
“Jack told me once he doesn’t remember anything from the moments in which he is dead,” Owen said hesitantly.
“Same for me,” Ianto agreed. “There is an … uneasiness about this time, but no memories. I know I was dead for just a couple of minutes. That alone is pretty scary, though. I remember several times in the past when I was unconscious, and I never remembered how much time had passed. I don’t understand how I can remember that when I was dead!”
“I think there’ll always be things you and Jack won’t understand or know about your situation,” Owen said. He put the two vials with Ianto’s blood aside and opened the door to the room that was containing their x-ray. “You know the drill.”
“What exactly would you do if you found something in my chest that shouldn’t be there?” Ianto stepped inside the apparatus that would take the x-ray of his chest.
Owen had fought hard for this room with Jack, and Ianto couldn’t deny that all of them were much more relaxed in letting one of their own take care of it if an x-ray was needed after they had gotten injured. For the longest time, they had gone to one of the local hospitals for that, but that had always been a hassle with the secrecy needed. Owen had made time to take the curses so that he would be able to handle the machines, though two of the nurses working part time for them were certified for it as well.
Owen shrugged while preparing the machine. “No idea. Let’s hope you and Jack are right and everything is as it should be. There is really nothing we could do to change your circumstances now. Whatever ending the Miracle in the way you did changed for you, you have to live with it. But if it had changed more than we expected, I would have expected it to be the same for Jack and you, and the last time he died everything was exactly the same as before the Miracle.”
He stepped into the small room protected from the radiation from which he could operate the machine, and Ianto patiently stood still until he stepped out again. “Either way, as I said, there will always be things you won’t know. I don’t think it’s a good idea to spend too much time thinking about them. It won’t help at all and only drive you bonkers.”
“Is that what’s it like for you not being able to examine Jack, or me now, I guess, to your heart’s content?”
Owen frowned. “No. I would never step so low as to… human experimentation is atrocious, and this would be nothing less. I know the history of this institute, but I won’t follow in those paths. And I won’t allow anyone of my profession to join us who would go there for as long as I have any say in it!” He circled his hand around in the air. “Turn to the side and raise your arms above your head.”
“Jack trusts you,” Ianto muttered, following the doctor’s directions. “I trust you. If you think there is anything worthwhile to study that doesn’t require us being killed or maimed, we could talk about it.”
Owen shook his head. “The only things I would consider worthwhile would be finding answers to questions either of you has about your situation. And for your questions about your mental state while you are dead, I don’t think there’ll ever be any method to study that.”
He stepped back into the control room and took the second set of x-rays before ushering Ianto back into the examination room and ordering him to get dressed again. Ianto watched him silently while following that order, as Owen opened the pictures of the x-ray on the desktop PC in the room.
“No sign of any internal damage,” Owen confirmed. “Do you know if the bullets exited your body?”
Ianto shook his head. “They were thankfully stuck in me. Gwen was standing right behind me.”
Owen blew out a breath. “Damn. One would think she has enough experience to step away in such a situation.”
“I think she was frozen in place and didn’t think at all. There is a reason the first shot went into my stomach. The asshole had pointed his gun at her belly!”
“Why exactly didn’t Rhys kill him?”
“Because he doesn’t know how to handle anything else but a stun gun. And Jack didn’t know about that detail until we were long home. Jack would have shot the guy with his own gun. Or just broke his neck.”
“Probably tortured him for a little while before that, if he hadn’t been distracted by you,” Owen agreed.
They were all used to Jack being protective of them, but it had turned to a ridiculous degree for Gwen since she was pregnant. Watching Jack with Gwen in the last months made Ianto often wonder how he had been able to leave Lucia behind, or if he was trying to compensate for the things he had not been able to do for her and his own child.
“Did Jack ever have a child of his own?” Owen asked.
Ianto shook his head. Jack had never told the team the whole truth about the return of the 456 during his first life, and who exactly the boy had been he’d had to sacrifice. “He didn’t dare. Can you imagine what some of the people that worked for Torchwood in the past would have done with his children? But, I think, what he did for Clement and his friends shows very clearly what kind of father he would be.”
“He said he sacrificed a child to destroy those aliens before he set back time.” Owen watched him with a frown.
Ianto nodded. “And I think losing his mind enough to risk the whole universe for a little bit of revenge had a lot to do with it. My death alone wouldn’t have led to that. It was a sum of all things that happened in those five days. You know he was blown up at the very beginning? Someone had put a bomb in his belly just late enough that he was nearly awake again after dying so that it didn’t vanish. It blew up him and the whole Hub. Jack said he was awake for most of the recovery after that and … after my experience from yesterday, I don’t even want to imagine what that felt like.”
“Bloody hell.” Owen rubbed a hand over his face. “Don’t you wonder sometimes why we even bother to save this planet on a regular basis?”
Ianto laughed. “Sometimes. But in the end, there are a lot more people out there that are worth saving than those who deserve to be killed. – So, you are giving me a clean bill of health?”
“Great. Andy needs a report of me sustaining the appropriate injuries of being hit by two bullets while wearing a west. Could you take care of that?”
Ianto sighed deeply, standing in front of his sister’s house but hesitating about ringing the bell. When they had been in New Zealand, Jack had tried to reassure him that he would be able to depend on her, to trust her with his immortality, but Ianto felt that had not turned out to be true.
He had visited Rhiannon nearly every week since coming back to Cardiff after the Miracle, helping out wherever he could, but the chasm between them remained. Ianto wondered if her regard for Jack and their relationship was part of it because he had accompanied Ianto every time he had come to visit. Therefore, he had decided to use Jack’s week in London to visit his sister alone and try to mend fences for a last time.
Jack was not very good at leaving Ianto alone at the moment, and Ianto had no problem with indulging him, at least for a little while longer still. In the end, Jack was very mistrustful of the changes the Blessing should have brought for Ianto and was expecting the worst to happen at every moment. Ianto was not sure yet if his first death two days ago would change anything for Jack, or if it would just add to Jack’s worries for the time being.
Ianto shook his head to clear his thoughts and reached out to ring the bell. He had taken the morning off for this visit, as Johnny should be at work, and both Misha and David should be at school at the moment so that they should be able to talk without any distractions. Maybe that was one of the problems that they had not taken time to see each other with only the two of them around.
Rhiannon was visibly surprised when she opened the door. “Ianto! I didn’t know you wanted to come by.”
Ianto shrugged with a smile. “It was a semi-spontaneous decision.” That was not even a lie, as he had not been sure on which day in his week he would be able to skip work in the morning to visit her. “I hope I’m not disturbing any plans?”
“No!” She smiled, but as always, Ianto thought it looked forced. “Come in, and just ignore the chaos, please. I just came home from bringing the children to school. Do you want a coffee? Tea?”
“Coffee would be great,” Ianto said, following her into the kitchen.
“Where is your shadow?” Rhiannon asked.
“In London for the whole week. I get to listen to Jack’s complaints about boring and stubborn politicians every evening. Next time I’ll take the job. Dealing with those people has to be easier than listening to Jack whine about it.”
Rhiannon huffed and rolled her eyes, but she said nothing.
Ianto frowned. “What?”
Rhiannon shook her head. “I’m tired of your lies about your job. Can’t you just stop with it?”
Ianto stared at her open-mouthed, completely taken by surprise by that accusation. “Why the hell should I lie about something like this?”
“You lied about Dad’s job all the time because you thought it was boring and embarrassing.” Rhiannon shook her head. “I really would have thought you would grow out of that, instead of continuing to do the same thing about your own job.”
“I stopped lying about Dad’s job when I was ten,” Ianto said. “I can’t believe you are still holding that against me! And you met most of my team during that half year of total chaos last year!”
Rhiannon sat down with a tired sigh. “Do we really have to do this?”
Ianto leaned against the wall beside the door and crossed his arms. “You started it. And maybe this impression of me you just stated is part of the problem why we haven’t been able to really talk with each other since I came back from London.”
“The reason we aren’t able to talk freely is that shadow of yours!” Rhiannon accused. “I haven’t seen you without him in ages.”
“You are exaggerating. I agree, he hasn’t left me alone for long since the end of the Miracle, but we are both still dealing with what we have seen in those months, so I’m glad about it, and I’m contributing to that as well. You really have a problem that I have a relationship with a man, don’t you?”
“I wouldn’t call that a relationship,” Rhiannon muttered. “Is he really your boss?”
Ianto shrugged. “So what?”
“You don’t think that’s strange?”
“Oh great, you not only think I’m lying about my job, but you also think I let myself be used by a co-worker? Or do you think I’m sleeping my way up the chain of command? I’ve been the third most senior agent on this team since I came back from London.”
Rhiannon snorted. “Right.”
“You grew up with the same stories about Torchwood as I did.”
“Torchwood?” Rhiannon laughed. “Bloody hell, Ianto! Why are bringing up those fairy tales?”
“They aren’t fairy tales,” Ianto said quietly. “Torchwood has been around for a very long time, and it’s the worst kept secret of Cardiff for a reason. There was a branch in London, and I was recruited by them pretty much as soon as I was of age. That’s how I met Lisa.”
Rhiannon looked at him with a sad smile, shaking her head.
Ianto blew out a breath. “Okay. I had no idea why we weren’t able to reconnect despite everything I tried, but this is not what I was expecting from you.”
He remembered what Jack had told him about the Rhiannon he had met in the other timeline, but that had been a woman who had nearly lost her children to a government intent on sacrificing them to an alien race, and whose brother had just died fighting those aliens. His sister had never made this experience, she had lived her whole life in her simple, peaceful, suburban dream up until the moment the Miracle had destroyed that peace. But while the near abduction of her children in the other timeline had brought forward her strength and will to fight, the Miracle seemed to have had another effect on her.
“Do you really believe in that whole bullshit about the so-called Miracle?” Rhiannon asked.
Ianto closed his eyes and sighed again. “Do you really think the governments of the whole damn world managed to work together to fake the records of no one dying? And that everyone who lost someone in that first month before the overflow camps had been built, has let themselves be bribed to keep quiet about it?”
He had heard about those theories, Toshiko and her team were monitoring several groups discussing theories about those conspiracies, but Ianto had no idea how anyone could believe that. Even on a good day, the different parties in this country were not able to work together. There was no way every single person with any kind of power would have taken part in such a conspiracy without anyone breaking cover.
“And what, death just neglected us, and only humans, for five months?” Rhiannon asked.
“There was technology involved that’s so far above all our heads I didn’t even try to understand it. But I saw people who should have been dead stay alive. I worked alongside a man who had been in a car accident and had been stabbed by a metal rod right through his heart on one of the first days. I talked with him, I travelled with him for months. He died the moment the Miracle ended. His heart had healed a little, but not enough.”
Ianto was not expecting her to believe him after everything she had just said to him. He had thought she had dealt with it fairly well, despite her and Johnny both losing their jobs. The team had pitched in for everyone’s families, and they had supported Rhiannon’s family as well as everyone else, with money, food, medicine, company, whatever had been needed. They had found Johnny a new job before the Miracle had even ended and they had even now not stopped to support them.
Rhiannon shook her head. “If you are really working for the government, as you are stating all the time, how can I be sure you aren’t part of all of it? Your friends were awfully well prepared for it.”
“You did notice what’s happened in the last couple of years over and over again, right? The day our normal sky vanished, and we could see several other planets in the sky? The day the Cybermen invaded the whole world?” Ianto pursed his lips. “That’s what Torchwood is dealing with on a weekly basis, although not quite so big most of the time. Cardiff has been prepared for these kinds of events for decades.”
“You are insane,” Rhiannon muttered.
Ianto shook his head. “I could say the same about you!”
“Maybe it’s better if you don’t come to visit anymore,” she said without looking at him. “And that goes for your friends as well.”
“That’s your thanks for our help?” Ianto asked. “You’ll just ban me from your life because we disagree about a couple of events?”
“Johnny and I are grateful for the help,” Rhiannon said. “But we have to think about our children. And this right here just shows how much you are entrenched in a system that is systematically trying to subjugate us, to suppress us. And you are right, I can’t accept your choice of lifestyle either.”
Ianto stared at her. He did not want to believe what she was saying, but she kept staring to the side, not turning to him, and she did not take back her words even after minutes of silence. Ianto rubbed a hand over his mouth. He had no idea what argument he could bring forward to change her mind.
“And Johnny agrees with you? Or is it Johnny’s opinion you agree with?” His brother-in-law had never much cared for him, and he had never held back his opinion about Ianto’s relationship with another man, even while Rhiannon had tried to show interest in his life and assured him she would support him.
Rhiannon looked at him sharply, a deep furrow between her brows. “We are of one mind in this. As one should be in a healthy relationship. Maybe you should think about that in the future.”
Ianto rolled his eyes. “Right. It’s your decision, of course, but I… I would have liked to find common ground with you again. If you ever change your mind, you know how to reach me.” He did not wait for another reply before he left the kitchen and the house, shoulders straight and head held high.
He felt gutted, and despite the difficulties with his sister, he had never expected such an outcome from this visit. He started his car but drove only a couple of streets before pulling up at the side. He sat there for nearly half an hour, staring at his hands on the wheel and trying to sort his whirling thoughts.
When Ianto finally felt grounded enough to drive again without causing an accident, he called Toshiko because he knew he would be unable to reach Jack and asked her to meet him in a small restaurant near the bay for an early lunch. He needed someone to talk to about what had just happened, and Toshiko had remained his closest friend in the team during the years.
When he arrived, she was already sitting at a table, which was secluded from most of the others by a couple of strategically placed plants. Ianto sat down without any kind of greeting.
“You look wrecked,” Toshiko said quietly.
“My sister just told me she doesn’t want me to part of her life anymore. Because apparently, I’m part of the worldwide government conspiracy that faked the Miracle. And because of my relationship with Jack. I’m not sure which is the bigger crime in her eyes. Or probably her husband’s eyes.”
Toshiko sighed. “Wow.” She reached out over the table to take his hands. “I’m sorry.”
“I went there to mend fences,” Ianto muttered, frowning down at the table. “Instead, I’m getting told I’m not welcome anymore because she has to think of her children.”
Toshiko winced. “That’s harsh.”
Ianto wet his lips. “Jack has tried for weeks, months even, to reassure me she would come around. I guess the different experiences in his other timeline made her a very different person.”
“Maybe. But in that timeline, you were dead. And me as well. I much prefer this timeline.”
Toshiko smiled at him and squeezed his hands. “Maybe she’ll still change her mind somewhere down the road. In a couple of months, or even years.”
“I doubt it,” Ianto muttered, shaking his head. “And even if… after this, I’ll never be able to trust her with … the other thing. I would need to break the contact again sooner rather than later. It will be easier to accept her decision now and just get over it.”
“It’s never so easy when it’s family,” Toshiko whispered.
Ianto shrugged. He could hardly argue that point, and they had all dealt with difficult family situations before and after the Miracle while they had tried to protect their families as best as they could.
“Okay, I guess you called me to distract you because there is really nothing to be solved here!” Toshiko cocked her head and eyed him with raised eyebrows. “Tell me about your last date with Jack. We didn’t have a chance to talk about those since the two of you went to France with Estelle last month, and I think you were gone twice since then.”
Ianto chuckled. “Three times, actually.”
As they had done for so long now, they used the Vortex Manipulators regularly to get a couple of free days without missing any work. They did the same thing for the days when they were travelling with Estelle, if only to keep ahead of the work piling up on their desks if they even missed so much as half a day. Most weeks, they managed to create two free days after seven or eight days of work this way.
“We went to see the moon landing last week,” Ianto said, smiling. “I mean, I had seen the footage before, but to be actually there in the moment, to see the people awed by the accomplishment, see them celebrating… It was something else.”
Toshiko watched him with shining eyes. “I would like to say I can imagine it, but I probably can’t.”
“Jack’s offer still stands, you know. We can take you with us.” Ianto slightly shook his left wrist, where he was wearing the wrist strap they had taken from Grey years ago. “Jack is teaching me how to program it, and how to read the damn language this thing is programmed in.”
“Jack already took me on a few of those journeys,” Toshiko reminded him. “And as fascinating as it was, for the most part, it’s very scary. I have no idea how Jack did this regularly when he was still one of us mere mortals.” She shrugged. “Maybe I would be more comfortable if I understood the technology. I tried to let Jack explain it to me, but it’s so far ahead of everything I know…”
“If you ever change your mind, you just have to say the word.”
Toshiko smiled. “Yes. I know. Where exactly were you witnessing it?”
The waiter approaching their table stopped Ianto from answering right away, but after they had ordered lunch, he told her how Jack had chosen Huston as their destination and actually managed to get them on an observation deck of the control room.
Jack settled on the lounger in the middle of the patio and drew Ianto against his chest. It was their first official holiday since the Miracle had ended, although they had regularly taken trips through time for one or two days. Their team knew about it, but they had still insisted to ban them from the Hub for a whole week, and Jack had relented after long discussions in which his protests had been completely ignored.
“Are you still angry at the others?” Ianto asked with a laugh while he settled down between Jack’s thighs, his back leaning against Jack’s chest.
Jack sighed. “I wasn’t angry. They are right in a way. I can’t hover over them all the time.”
Ianto had agreed with the others from the beginning, suggesting they return to Jack’s house in Italy for a week. Jack had liked the idea, but he had still felt uneasy about leaving the others alone for more than a day. There was still so much work to be done for all of them to deal with the repercussions of the Miracle, and the Rift had started to act up again months ago.
They had arrived at the house just a couple of hours ago, and Ianto had suggested watching the sunset over the cliff. It was the last week of May, and though it could get uncomfortably warm during the day at least to someone used to the weather of Wales, the evenings and nights provided just the right temperatures to enjoy the wonders of nature. Jack was intent on doing just that for most of the week. As much as he had protested to be banned from the Hub, he knew they could both use this break and the reminder of what life could be if they weren’t constantly fighting against the pending chaos.
“This is probably our last chance to leave Cardiff for a couple of days at a time for at least a year,” Ianto muttered. “With Gwen finally going into maternity leave next week there will be an uproar in her team and I don’t see any of them taking over her duties for the time being. I’ll have to step into that void because no one else qualified to do it can spare the time.”
Jack chuckled. “I know all of that.”
“It’s worth reminding you,” Ianto whispered. “You really need to learn to take care of yourself. You went from hyper-focusing on the Miracle to hyper-focusing on expanding our team and starting to make plans about how to reveal Torchwood to the public. Is this something you were always doing or did you only get into this habit after you set back time?”
Jack pressed his face into Ianto’s hair, inhaling deeply. “I wasn’t like this before. For the longest time, I didn’t much care for anything.”
Ianto snorted and shook his head, but when he spoke, he changed the topic. “Things are changing rapidly at home. We need to restructure again how we run Torchwood very soon.”
Jack hummed in agreement. Things were changing all over the world, some places for the better, other places for the worse. The better part of a year had gone by since the end of the Miracle, and the world was still in an uproar. Looking at the worldwide situation, for Jack and everyone in the know it was clearly visible in which parts of the world he and Angelo had managed to secretly make preparations for this time, and where not.
Some countries had managed to weather the storm successfully and were already on the road to rebuilding, others were on the brink of war. Toshiko’s team was still running their worldwide information campaign, but for the most part they had gone back to concentrate on Cardiff and Great Britain. In the beginning, Jack had tried to keep an eye on everything happening all over the world, but he had fast been reminded that there was nothing much he could do about things happening outside of Great Britain, and even there his influence was limited despite the network he had built in the last decades.
“We need to rebuild One,” Jack muttered.
Ianto took a deep breath. “Yeah, I know. I’m not comfortable with it, but I know that it’s necessary.”
The plan for Torchwood was to slowly step out of the shadows of secrecy in the coming years. There would be no great announcement of their existence, they would just cease to operate in secret. Jack had shown in Cardiff that it could work. Everyone in law enforcement and emergency services there knew about them, even if only half of those people actually knew what they were doing. They would establish themselves as part of law enforcement in Great Britain and see where it would go from there.
“When Gwen comes back, I would like you to take over the lead in Cardiff,” Jack said. “I want to take care of rebuilding One personally. We can’t trust anyone else with it, and we need to keep UNIT’s hands out of it. A year should be long enough to set everything up in London so that a new team can start there. We can train the first couple of agents in Cardiff, and I can take them with me when the time has come.”
He had spent a lot of time since his visit in London two months ago contemplating how to go about the order the Queen had given him. She had not outright told him that he needed to be the one to rebuild One, but she had put him in place to lead the whole organisation permanently. Even without that order, Jack would not have made the same mistake as he had made a hundred years ago when Queen Victoria had offered him the position of leadership in London.
“Part of the first team for London should come directly from us,” Ianto suggested. “Some of those who have already prepared for the Miracle with us. London needs a good basis. If we are growing as big as we were before One fell, a good foundation will do a lot to prevent the likes of Yvonne Hartman to raise again.”
“Her Majesty made sure her orders for me would stand for at least a hundred years,” Jack muttered.
Ianto laughed. “I saw that, and I was surprised you just accepted it. But even with you and me leading Torchwood, we won’t be able to know every single person working for us soon enough, and that means there is a chance of the wrong people finding their way into our employment.”
“I’ve no problem with spending the next hundred years on Earth,” Jack said. “We’ll see a lot of change in that century, and I think it’s worth the hassle to see this kind of history. And I think it will take a long time for you to be at a point at which you are ready to leave Earth behind.”
“I’m curious about the universe,” Ianto muttered. “But I feel we have an obligation here. We have the ability to see the universe without abandoning Earth. We are neither bound to this place nor to this time even with that obligation.”
“I take it you don’t have a problem with taking over in Cardiff then?”
Ianto shook his head. “Karen will be glad to not be settled with that role again. It’s not exactly the job I would have dreamed of, but it is the best choice we can make for the team. And in the end, you have already made me do most of this job for years already.”
Jack shrugged. “You never complained.”
“I liked working with you so much,” Ianto confessed. “I’m not exactly looking forward to you spending most of your time in London.”
“I’ll be home every night,” Jack promised. “We are fortunate enough that commute time is no problem for us.”
They fell silent for a while, and Jack was content just holding Ianto while they watched the sky change into a deep red colour when the sun hit the horizon. It had been a long time since they had allowed themselves to just sit somewhere and enjoy existing without doing anything. Even on their short weekly trips they always chose a destination that kept them moving and excited.
“I ran into Rhiannon a couple of days ago,” Jack muttered after a while.
Ianto stiffened in his arms. “I didn’t go over well, I guess.”
Jack snorted. “That’s putting it mildly. She thinks I have corrupted you and she had no qualms to let me know that very loudly in the middle of the street. I’m sorry the situation with her turned out so bad.”
“It’s hardly your fault,” Ianto whispered.
“Isn’t it?” Jack had worried about that for a while now, had compared his memories from his other life with the things happening now for months, wondering how many things had changed without him being aware of it. “Maybe something I did changed things in her life, and your life as well probably, without me knowing.”
Ianto shrugged. “You went through nearly five decades changing things all over the place. You never had a chance to control all of the ramifications, and I know you knew that from the very beginning. Rhiannon and I had never the best relationship, even as children. That’s something that was obviously the same in the other timeline. Tosh and I agree that we are much happier with this timeline, by the way, with being alive and everything, than to wish for a sister who would have been a little bit more open to the path my life is taking.”
Jack sighed. “That’s true.”
“And I don’t believe she was so different in the other timeline,” Ianto continued. “I was already dead there when she remembered I was family. And you said I barely went to visit her at all in that life after returning to Cardiff. I would have probably done the same if you hadn’t prodded me to reconnect with her.” He leaned his head back against Jack’s shoulder, his eyes closed. “I made every effort the rebuild some kind of relationship, but she has made her decision. I have to live with it.”
Jack hummed, hugging Ianto tighter. He was disappointed with the whole situation, but he knew there was nothing he could change about it anymore.
“You can’t fix everything,” Ianto muttered. “And maybe it’s better this way. I won’t have to fake my death when me not ageing would have gotten suspicious, because I really don’t think she would have been able to handle that. And even if she could, I would never trust Johnny with it. With enough distance, she’ll just stop thinking about me.”
Jack doubted it would be so easy. Cardiff was a small city, and the likelihood to run into a person you knew was big on any given day. He suspected that Ianto’s sister could still become a problem somewhere down the road, but there was no point in discussing that now. Hopefully, the wounds of Rhiannon’s words would have healed enough for Ianto when that time came, so that she would not break them open again.
“Let’s not talk about her anymore,” Ianto asked. “Or anything else concerning work for the next seven days. We are here to take a break!”
“I researched hiking routes in the area,” Jack said. “And it shouldn’t be too hot tomorrow.”
Bringing Ianto to a New Zealand before humans had discovered it, had set a tone in their journeys. Escaping civilisation for a while had become salvation for them, while they had to handle the aftermath of the Miracle. It would be nice for once to walk over predetermined paths, and to escape the hassles of civilisation without having to go back in time for it.
When Jack stepped into Estelle’s room, he thought for a moment they had gotten the time wrong, had returned too late, until he saw her chest rising softly. She had insisted to stay at home and Deborah had dropped everything else in her life to make it possible in the last two weeks. She had agonised about it for a while, torn between taking care of the woman she saw as her grandmother and being able to provide for herself, until Jack had assured her that money was the last thing she needed to worry about for the moment.
Jack blew out a breath as he sat down at the edge of Estelle’s bed and took her hand. He could feel Ianto standing behind him and leaned back far enough that his back pressed against him. He had dreaded this day, but there was still no other place he wanted to be at this moment.
There was a smile on Estelle’s face before she even opened her eyes. “I thought you were on your way to London today.”
“We were.” Jack’s voice was rough from the tears he had already shed. When he had gotten Deborah’s voicemail on the way back from Heathrow to Cardiff, he had been so angry about the bad timing that it had taken him nearly half an hour before all of her words had sunken in. “We came back a couple of hours after Deborah called and told me I was needed here.”
Estelle eyed him for a while. “So, it’s time then?”
Jack nodded, but he was unable to say anything. Knowing something terrible would happen never helped, never made it easier to deal with. They had known for a little more than a year that Estelle would die, and her doctors were surprised that it had already been that long. Not too long ago, when it had become impossible to ignore that Estelle’s health was declining rapidly, Jack had renewed his promise to be with her at the end, and he had been furious with himself earlier when he had thought he had missed it.
“I had a good life, you know?” Estelle’s smile was weak and seemed to take more energy than she had really left. “Even in the years I thought you were dead and your influence on my life was always making it better. I’m sorry it took me so long to accept … so many things when you came back.”
“I never held it against you,” Jack whispered.
“But I still hurt you and that was never my intent.” Estelle took a deep, shaky breath. “I’m so grateful to have known you, to be your friend.” She turned her head. “Deborah?”
“I’m here, Gran.” When Estelle stretched her hand out for her, Deborah sat down on the other side of the bed and closed both her hands around Estelle’s.
“You spend your life with the things you want to do, alright?” Estelle tugged on Deborah’s hands and the younger woman followed the motion until Estelle was able to press a kiss against her hands. “I know that’s not the mindset either of us grew up with, but you’ll have a much happier life to ignore most of what you were taught and just follow your heart!”
Deborah chuckled. “I know. You made it a lot easier to accept the turn my life had taken. I’m proud to call you my grandmother.”
Estelle closed her eyes but turned her head back in Jack’s direction. “The both of you’ll take care of her, right?”
“Of course,” Jack promised. “We’ll always take care of our family.”
“Good,” Estelle muttered. “I know it hurts you, but I’m glad you are here.”
“Wouldn’t hurt any less to not be here,” Jack whispered. “This time I didn’t make this promise intent on breaking it.”
That was the main reason why he had repeated it. Estelle had known for a long time now that the promise Jack had given her, when she had been a young woman, had never been sincere. She had told him she would not hold it against him, but he had wanted her to know for sure that he intended to be there for her and that it was something he wanted to do as her friend, not in remembrance of the lover he had once been to her.
Estelle fell silent and Deborah started after a while to talk about the collection she was working on. She had worked on it since she had decided to stay in Cardiff, and she planned to use it to establish herself as a designer, or to at least make the first step in it. It had been a hard business to get a foothold in before the Miracle, and it had only become harder, but she was determined, and Estelle had always supported her in her dreams.
Jack was thankful for Deborah filling the silence. He was not sure if Estelle was even still conscious, or if she was listening, but too weak to speak any longer. Ianto was holding him by his shoulders while Jack watched Estelle intently, carefully matching his breathes to hers. It still took him nearly a minute after her last breath to notice that she had finally slipped away and that her hand had gone limp between his.
Deborah stopped in the middle of her sentence, her head dropping down and a small sob escaping her. Jack reached out to her, drawing her into a one-armed hug. For a long time, no one spoke a word until Ianto declared quietly that he would call for the doctor and left the room.
“Thank you for being here,” Deborah whispered.
“You’ll have to call me in,” he took a look at his watch, “in ten minutes. You’ll reach my voicemail, and you need to tell me that Estelle is gone and to which time I have to come back.”
“I don’t remember when you arrived,” Deborah muttered.
“I wrote it down for you. The note is beside the phone.” Jack sighed. “Thank you, for all you have done for Estelle in the last weeks. She would have hated to die in a hospital, or to have a stranger take her of her for any length of time.”
“She never asked me to do any of it, you know,” Deborah whispered. “She apologized for being a burden. I’m so glad for her that it was only two weeks in which she wasn’t able to care for herself anymore.”
“If you hadn’t been here all along, it would have been much longer.”
Deborah living with Estelle had meant that she had been able to take over more and more of the daily work in the house, without Estelle even noticing all the things she slowly was not capable of doing any more. Jack had been there when Estelle had finally noticed it not even three weeks ago, and he wondered if that had been the point at which Estelle herself had finally understood for herself how near she was to the end. It had certainly come very fast after that realisation.
“I don’t know what…”
“Don’t worry about it. You don’t need to take care of anything,” Jack promised. “I’ll arrange everything that needs to be done now. And I’ll be with you for everything that needs your involvement as Estelle’s heir.”
Deborah sighed. “Thank you. I wouldn’t even know where to begin. I… I should have…”
“Stop,” Jack said softly, carding his fingers through his hair. “There really is nothing more you should have done. You already did so much more than many others in your situation would have done. You’ve earned yourself a little bit of rest.”
“I owed this to her,” Deborah muttered. “I’m grateful I was able to do this for her. I don’t know where I would be today if it wasn’t for Estelle’s support. I didn’t even notice the problem when I started to get overwhelmed by this new world. Sometimes I still stumble over things I don’t know, or that let me doubt myself…”
“Promise me to come to us if you need help with anything,” Jack asked. “Even if you don’t know why something is making you uncomfortable, or why you are uncomfortable at all, call me, or Ianto, or someone else of those that were already there on the team when you came here.”
Estelle had held more contact with Deborah than anyone else had even thought about after she had gone to London, and Jack knew that was the only reason why she had caught it when Deborah had started to struggle. Neither this time nor in his other life had Jack ever bothered to think about possible problems arising for Deborah while settling in her new life until he had learned from Estelle how much she was helping the young woman.
“I will remember it,” Deborah agreed. “I wasn’t sure … if it would have been welcome back then, despite all of your reassurance. You were all very welcoming, but I still felt like an outsider. I tried to relate to Diane in the beginning, but we just never… We couldn’t make any kind of connection, despite this very strange experience we shared. It was completely different with Estelle.”
They were interrupted by Ianto returning with the doctor. Deborah left the room to make her call, while Ianto and Jack stayed with Estelle while the doctor confirmed her death and started to prepare her for transportation to the morgue. It took another half an hour before the house was finally cleared of all strangers.
Sometime in between, Ianto had called Francine and Clive, and they came to stay with Deborah when Jack and Ianto had to leave again. For the moment there was nothing else they could do for Deborah, and they had still guests waiting for them in their hotel.
The reason for Jack’s and Ianto’s trip to London earlier this day was that Olivia and Esther had arrived for a three-week visit that had been in the planning for months. Jack had been visiting Olivia regularly, often accompanied by Ianto, but she finally wanted to meet all of his team after she had heard him talk about them for years. That Esther was coming with her had been a very sudden decision, and Jack suspected that there was more reason to it than Esther wanting to see the people she had worked with during the Miracle.
Jack had listened to his voicemail from Deborah while Ianto had taken care of checking Olivia and Esther into their hotel, and the two women had promised to wait for their return after they had witnessed Jack’s minor freak out. With how time travel worked, Ianto and Jack wound up needing to take a break and get a coffee so that they would not arrive at the hotel before they had even left.
Olivia took one look at Jack before she basically ordered Ianto to take Esther for a walk and dragged Jack into her room. Ianto laughed as he nodded and turned around to leave with Esther. Jack felt a little betrayed because he had hoped dealing with their guests would distract him from Estelle, but at the same time, he was thankful to be able to spend some time alone with Olivia, who had already helped him more than once to deal with someone’s death.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” she whispered as she prodded him to sit down on the bed and took the place beside him. “And I’m sorry for the bad timing of our visit.”
Jack shook his head. “I’m glad you are here. And the chances are high that we would have needed to go back in time anyway because we would have been busy with something else. Estelle wouldn’t have tolerated it if I would’ve spent the last two weeks at her bedside.”
“She knew you did that with Nonno, didn’t she?”
“Yes.” Jack chuckled, blinking back his tears. “And she told me back then she wouldn’t want me to do the same for her. Otherwise, I would have probably done exactly that.” He took a deep breath. “I know it’s a relief for her that it’s over. She told me last week she was tired of waiting.”
“Nonno said something very similar to me, but that didn’t help at all,” Olivia muttered.
“Right?” Jack shook his head. “But I don’t think that was the reason for either of them stating it. I guess it was just the truth for them. I know exactly how difficult the process of dying can be. I’ve had my share of long and tiresome deaths. But I guess I’ll never be able to understand the relief the end of it is bringing for everyone else.”
“Because it will never be the same kind of end for you, even if it’s the end of suffering.” Olivia nodded. “I thought a lot about this after Nonno died, you know. What it means for you that there will never be an end. When I was… I think it was the end of High School when Uncle Matteo told me how Nonno had tried to prolong his life, and why he did it. Though, I think he didn’t have quite the right idea, but I didn’t understand that for a long time after that discussion.”
“Angelo wanted me to have someone I wouldn’t lose,” Jack muttered. “Even so we had no contact at that time, and he had no reason to believe he would ever see me again.”
“You had a huge impact on his life, and even more so after you came back into it. Nonno would be so happy for you that you have Ianto now.”
Jack smiled sadly. “Yeah, I know.”
“But having Ianto only means that there are two people now who’ll eventually lose everyone else.”
Jack swallowed, but he only managed to nod.
“Does it still make it easier?” Olivia asked.
Jack stared at his hands for several minutes, contemplating his answer. It hurt a lot less this time to lose Estelle than it had hurt last time, but the circumstances were so different that it was impossible to compare those situations.
“I think in the long run not being alone any more will make a huge difference,” Jack finally agreed. “Easier is probably not the right choice of word, but… Ianto already took me to task how I deal with someone dying, and he convinced me it would be a good idea to search for a therapist to talk about it.”
Olivia nodded. “I remember you telling me something about that.”
“I think that’s making a difference already,” Jack said.
More than he had ever thought possible, and he felt dumb now for ever doubting that it could help him as well. Jack had seen how much the therapy he had made mandatory for everyone working for him – even Estelle who had never seen more than paperwork and the occasional carcass ending up on Owen’s table – had helped them. It had been mostly his inability to find someone he could trust with even a fraction of his secrets that had made it impossible to find this help for himself, and maybe that had made all the difference this time when Ianto had encouraged him to find a professional to talk with. For the first time in nearly fifty years, the only secrets he was holding were those of Torchwood and his immortality.
“I think so as well.” Olivia wrapped her arm around his shoulder. “You are very calm.”
Jack huffed. “It didn’t exactly come unexpected.”
“Neither did Nonno’s death.” Olivia sighed. “And I know that that’s not quite comparable, but Estelle was your lover once, too. I would expect that’s making it even harder for you. I remember how you raged about it when Ianto’s fiancé died for good, and you had known that would come since you had discovered her in the Hub weeks before.”
Jack shrugged, still feeling guilty for putting the burden of that display on her. But at that point, Olivia had been the only one he had been able to trust with it. He had felt much more comfortable when he had still been able to work through those emotions with Angelo, and now he was as comfortable talking them through with Ianto as he had once been with Angelo, and that had turned out to be a great relief.
“If there is anything I can do to help in the next weeks…”
Jack shook his head. “You are here on vacation.”
Olivia huffed. “I’m here to spend time with you, to meet your family I’ve heard so much about, and who finally knows about me. I’ve no problem with it if spending time with you will entail helping prepare a funeral, and even attending that funeral, even though I didn’t get to meet Estelle anymore.”
“She had been looking forward to meeting you.” Jack swallowed. “She never knew Angelo’s or your name until a year ago, but I still had told her a lot about both of you. It was… You and Angelo were the only people I never kept any secrets from. Estelle and Clement were the only ones here at home who even came near to that until three years ago.”
“I have no idea how you did this,” Olivia muttered. “I only noticed how difficult it is to keep secrets from people I have a good, trusting relationship with since Julia and her family came to live with me. So often I have to stop myself from telling her things she isn’t supposed to know.”
“There is nothing you need to keep from her on my account,” Jack said with a frown. “There is no reason any more to keep it secret what we did, what Angelo and I prepared for decades.”
It was disconcerting to discover that there had been no friends in Olivia’s life in the past who had brought her into a position in which she had wanted to share her secrets with them. Jack knew she had kept herself isolated a lot, finding most of her social contacts through work, but he had never been able to talk with her about it.
Olivia pointed her finger at him. “Don’t you look at me that way! I’m perfectly happy with how my life has turned out to be, and neither you nor Nonno have anything to do with me choosing a life in solitude. If anyone is at fault for this, it’s my mother, but I think even that is only partly true. Don’t you start with it!”
“I take it Angelo talked to you about it a lot?”
Olivia sighed. “He never understood why I didn’t want to have my own family, thinking I would sacrifice too much to support him. As if I wouldn’t know my own mind!”
“You don’t have to entertain me,” Esther said with a soft smile as Ianto led her out of the building and to the car. “I have no problem with exploring the city on my own for a little while, or to stay in my room and read for a couple of hours.”
Ianto shook his head. “You are stuck with providing me distraction for a while. I’m sad about seeing a good friend die today, but… I’ve been able to prepare for this for a year. It’s not life-shattering.”
“She was part of your team, right?”
Ianto chuckled. “For a while, and only to help with the paperwork. And she was a great help in that. Jack tells everyone who asked that she wouldn’t accept his No about it after he brought her into our Hub on a day he knew she would be safer there than anywhere else. But I think he was much too happy to see her nearly every day than to really say No to her even once.”
Esther laughed. “I can see that in him. But that means this is really hard for him, right? She was a good friend to him?”
“They were lovers in the forties,” Ianto said after they had sat down in the car. “Jack was the love of her life and she never had another serious relationship after she was told he had died in Germany. And Jack is… his love for her changed, but he told me once that only happened after he revealed himself to her, it had probably a lot to do with her problems accepting him as he is.”
Esther frowned. “I can’t even imagine…” She shook her head. “I’m not sure I would have been able to accept something like that in her place. At least not in such a way that I would become friends with that man.”
Ianto nodded. He had thought the same thing more than once, and he had always looked up to Estelle that she had been able to overcome whatever hurt Jack’s return must have caused her. “How are you?”
“I don’t need crutches or a cane anymore!” Esther grinned, but her voice was tainted by desperation. “Nearly ten weeks since I finally got rid of them for good, and I still can’t believe it. For a while, I thought I wouldn’t ever be able to walk without help again. And if it hadn’t been for you taking over my medical bills, I would have never reached that point.”
Ianto frowned. “You were injured in the line of duty. Shouldn’t your insurance from the CIA take over the bills?”
Esther stared out of the front window and said nothing until Ianto stopped the car near an entrance of Bute Park. He looked at her for a moment before leaving the car and waiting a moment for her to follow him before he started to work for the park. When she had still said nothing for several minutes later, Ianto nodded.
“I guess that’s the reason you joined Olivia on her visit?”
Esther looked around. “How secure…”
Ianto raised his arm with the Vortex Manipulator and shook the wrist. “This thing comes with a couple of very nice gadgets. No one will be able to listen to us even if they tried. And this location wouldn’t make it very easy, anyway.”
Esther stared down at the gravel. “I quit. And I was fortunate enough that Olivia knew the right lawyers to make even that possible. Shapiro helped me a lot, but he wasn’t exactly free in the things he was able to do.”
Ianto winced. “I’m sorry. We didn’t leave you in a good position there.”
“Not your fault,” Esther whispered. “You did everything you could to protect me. You were very clear when you told Rex and me that there were things you wouldn’t tell us for that very reason. My superiors, those above Shapiro, didn’t want to believe it.”
“And so you quit? You saw no chance that they would leave it alone soon?”
Esther shook her head. “After my third, and thankfully last, surgery, they came to interrogate me while I was still drugged out of my mind. There was still nothing more I could tell them, of course, but … that was the last straw to break the camel’s back. I had already problems trusting anyone there after I learned about Charlotte, but after that… I just couldn’t stay.”
“What do you need?” Ianto asked.
“A place to stay.” Esther stopped and turned away from him. “Olivia moved me into her house because they wouldn’t leave me alone. Of course, no one is admitting that the people following me are CIA, but I have been with them long enough to know how it works. I appreciate her effort so much, but I can’t endanger her sister’s family in this way.”
Ianto put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed tightly. “Thank you for trusting us.”
“I saw your work,” Esther whispered. “I may have spent most of the last year trying to heal enough to literally get back on my feet, but I was still keeping up with the things happening all over the world. Ending the Miracle was the least you did, and I think my colleagues have caught onto that as well. I learned to trust you in the months of the Miracle, and everything I have seen since then has only confirmed that you are making the right kind of change.”
Ianto smiled. “So, you are not just here asking for help to get your old agency off your back, but you want to come work for us?”
Esther turned her head back to him, but she was not quite looking at him. “If you have a job for me.”
“You wouldn’t believe how fast we are growing. It will be a relief to bring someone in who knows right away what they are signing up for,” Ianto assured. “One can only do so much training before getting sick of the newbies.”
Esther chuckled. “You are aware I’m not fit for the field anymore, right? I’ll need an exclusive desk job, and I need to keep up with my PT.”
Ianto nodded. “You don’t have to worry about any of this. We are taking care of our own.” He wrapped her in a tight hug when he saw tears welling up in her eyes.
“I didn’t even… Olivia convinced me to come here. I’m so tired, Ianto. And I had no idea how to escape the whole mess at home.”
Ianto rubbed his hands over her back without saying anything. They had not been bothered by the CIA since they had come home, and he had never thought much about it. In the beginning, he had expected retaliation, and to hear something about it from Toshiko, but he had soon forgotten all about it with everything else they had to take of. They had heard from Olivia about Esther’s surgeries and her health, but never anything about her struggles with her old employer.
They should have asked, Ianto knew that. They had expected trouble from the CIA and other agencies after their last meeting with Shapiro and his companions, but they had never wondered about it when that trouble had not come. They should have remembered Esther, and that she was in a much less secure position than them.
“And your sister?” Ianto asked. He had accompanied Esther to visit her older sister a couple of weeks after Rex had dragged them to the states, and he had held Esther’s shaking hand while she had called CPS on her so that someone not on the brink of a mental breakdown would take care of the two children.
Esther shook her head. “I would never get her to leave the country, not even for a holiday. Olivia helped me find people who will keep an eye on that situation and take the children away if it’s necessary. We managed to trick my sister into signing paperwork that will give Olivia temporary custody if it comes to that and even full custody, if my sister won’t get the help she needs. – In the end, me staying would only endanger them as well. I have done all I can to protect my nieces even from their mother.”
“She hasn’t gotten better since it’s all over?”
“She’s always been… even when we were still children she had problems. She should have never gotten children herself. Maybe she would have been better prepared to get through something like the Miracle then. But taking care of children at the same time… I haven’t seen her as much as I would have liked because of my own recovery, but I don’t doubt that in the end, Olivia will have to take in those children because my sister can’t care for them. I’m just glad I found someone I can trust with it. I wouldn’t have wanted them to end up in the system.”
“Would you prefer to take care of them yourself?” It would be difficult to make something like that possible, but they could at least try to get the children transferred here if that would be what Esther wanted.
But she shook her head. “I don’t want to uproot them more than necessary. We have already introduced them to Julia’s brood, they got on well. And I would prefer it if they can visit their mother if it’s at all possible.”
“Okay,” Ianto muttered.
Esther took a step away from him, wiping the sleeve of her jacket over her face. “Sorry for that.”
Ianto laughed. “I’ve bled all over you in Buenos Aires! A couple of tears are nothing compared to that.”
Esther huffed. “There was as much of my own blood as of yours… or Jack’s as it was.” She took a deep breath. “They don’t know about you if you were wondering. At least there is nothing written down about it anywhere Shapiro could access.”
Ianto cocked his head and raised his brow. “About me?”
Esther nudged his shoulder with a fist. “Neither Rex nor I are dumb, you know! For all we knew, carrying that blood during the end of the Miracle should have killed you. Letting Rex do it would have been the logical choice because we already knew he wouldn’t survive it anyway. Your insistence to be the one to carry Jack’s blood made no sense!”
“Evidently, you were wrong in your assumption,” Ianto said.
Esther rolled her eyes. “And you are immortal now, right? You are the same as Jack because whatever this so-called Blessing did with us, it thought you were the same as Jack because you were carrying his blood in the moment of the change. It makes as much sense as everything else of that mess.”
Ianto laughed. “Which means it makes no sense at all?”
Esther crossed her arms over her chest and eyed him sceptically. “This whole thing was caused by Jack’s blood, and he was made mortal during it when he was immortal before the Miracle. You may have been as immortal as everyone else during the Miracle, but if everything was based on Jack’s blood, you were only judged by that in the end. – And that’s not even accounting for you getting shot through your chest and having not even a scar left from that only a couple of hours later.”
“You are right.” Ianto smiled and shrugged. “We wouldn’t have kept it from you after you came to work for us. The whole team knows. And yes, we hoped for exactly this outcome. It was a hard choice for Jack, but we knew it was the only plan that had a chance to work. Jack would have preferred to never put anyone in the same position as himself, and it took a while, but he is very happy now that I insisted on doing this.”
“You did it because you love him.”
Ianto shrugged. “I would have offered it even before our relationship developed into something romantic.”
Esther rolled her eyes. “Loving someone and having a relationship isn’t necessarily connected. Though, seeing your love for each other gave me a lot of hope in those months. Among all these horrible things we saw and discovered, it reminded me how much good there could be in the world. It was one of the first things I recognized when I met you despite Jack’s sour demeanour at the time.”
“I wasn’t much better in the beginning,” Ianto said. The horror of seeing the consequences of the Miracle and at the same time dealing with Jack’s sudden vulnerability had influenced them both for the worse.
“I told no one what Rex and I suspected, and what I saw confirmed after you survived the end of it.” Esther shrugged. “Not even when they came after the surgery. They think you carried the blood in bags concealed under your clothes, and I encouraged them in that opinion. Shapiro is on your side, mostly. He is loyal to the agency, but not exactly to those that are in charge right now. He knew I would come to you, and he gave me a chance to look through every file the CIA has on you.”
Ianto raised his brows. “Last I remember of him, he was not very impressed with us.”
Esther grinned. “He had to keep up his facade. He knew very well that you basically blackmailing them was the only way you would leave that meeting without being taken into custody. He appreciates the effort you took to protect your people, and he respects you. It’s just not something he can voice right now. But the political changes that are coming will spread out even to the CIA. They are using the information you provided them, they are just biding their time until after the elections next months.”
Despite the shadow that Estelle’s death threw over Olivia’s visit, Ianto was glad she was here, right in this moment, because she managed to console Jack better than anyone else. Estelle’s wish not to talk with Jack about her coming death had been no surprise to any of their friends, and Ianto knew they had all dreaded Jack’s reaction to it.
Ianto had seen Jack deal with a lot of his problems concerning Estelle during his therapy, after they had finally found someone who Jack was able to open up to, but he had still expected Jack to be thrown back far on that path when Estelle finally died. He was not sure how much was Olivia’s influence in the end, and how much it was him underestimating Jack’s progress, but the anger and denial he had witnessed in Jack when Suzie Costello had been killed, and that he had expected now, never came.
Of course, Jack was still sad and subdued, but that was true for all of them, and they were dealing with it together. Olivia and Esther were providing the kind of silent, unaffected support from which Ianto had not been aware that it could be such a great help. He had tried to protest against it in the beginning, as had many of the others, but Olivia and Esther had ignored them until everyone had just accepted their help.
Four days after they had accompanied Estelle through her last hour, Ianto decided that Jack needed a change of scenery. When they came home after having had dinner with Olivia and Esther in their hotel, Ianto gave Jack not even the chance to get rid of his shoes.
“Take me someplace outside of Earth,” Ianto requested a moment after Jack had closed the door of their flat behind them. “Someplace you have thought about showing me before, something that’s for whatever reason important to you.”
Jack stared at him with a blank face. “What?”
Ianto laughed. “I’m asking you to show me the universe. A part of the universe you love.”
“I…” Jack blinked, but then a small smile formed on his lips. “Okay. You remember how you can transport yourself back here?”
Ianto nodded, refraining from rolling his eyes about the question for once. Since Jack had started to teach him about the use of the Vortex Manipulator, he was always repeating this question before taking Ianto somewhere, even when they were staying in their own time and only travelling to the other side of the world to visit Olivia or Matteo. Their homes were the only two places Ianto had already taken solo trips to, and he was happy to keep it that way for quite a while yet.
Jack programmed something into his own wrist strap, and Ianto closed his hands around it without prompting. In the next moment, he found himself in the corner of a busy street that looked nothing like what he knew from Earth, and equally nothing like what he had expected from space. Jack had told him a lot about the places he had visited before he had found himself stuck on Earth, and Ianto had already known from those tales that his expectations which had been coloured by the science fiction he had grown up with would be nothing like the reality in most places.
The street was packed with beings of all kinds and shape, with barely any humans among them, but still enough that Jack and Ianto would not stand out. The stone buildings on both sides of the street were holding open booths on the ground floor, at which all kinds of things were sold and bartered over. That was at least what Ianto suspected, as he was unable to understand even one word. Most of the buildings had only two or three storeys, with flat roofs that seemed to hold small gardens.
“Where are we?” Ianto asked. “And when?”
“5083, on a moon in the Butterfly Galaxy, as it’s called in our time, I think.” Jack wrapped one arm around Ianto’s waist and led him into the midst of the masses. “Overall, it’s not a big or important place in the universe, but it’s the first place I visited after leaving Boeshane. It was a whole new world for me. Boeshane is mostly inhabited by humans right now. I had seen pictures of other races, but I had never before met someone who wasn’t human, or at least part human.”
Ianto chuckled. “So, you brought me here to have the same experience?”
“You are ahead of me, aren’t you? Torchwood has shown you a lot of aliens already!” Jack looked around at them with a frown. “This is not exactly where I wanted us to land. I think I may have mixed up the coordinates.”
“I have no problem walking with you over an alien marketplace,” Ianto said. “Though, you’ll have to translate for me. They are speaking a universal language here, right?”
“Galactic Basic,” Jack agreed. “I’ll need to teach you, especially if we start to make this kind of trip regularly. To have the TARDIS translation matrix for you would be great right now.”
“Would it still work even if there is no TARDIS here?” Ianto asked.
“I…” Jack blinked. “I have no idea. We’ll have to ask Martha and Mickey about that. But either way, it won’t help us, as you never travelled with the TARDIS.”
“I’m not so bad at languages,” Ianto said.
Jack grinned. “And I promise you, I can make teaching you very rewarding!”
Ianto laughed. “I have no doubt about that. – So, why was this your first visit? Are we near to Boeshane?”
“Not exactly. We are in the same galaxy at least. I didn’t leave my home with the approval of anyone, so I took the first ship that would let me work as a way of paying, and their first destination was this moon. I knew I wanted to reach the Time Agency, and they weren’t exactly going in the right direction, so I stayed here in search of my next transportation. I signed on to three other ships, but instead of reaching the Agency, I first ended up in the military that was fighting the race that had taken Grey.”
Jack turned them around a corner, and the sudden change was startling. There was no one else around anymore and the noise from the other street vanished fast. Here, the buildings were closed even at the ground floor, and soon the space between the houses grew, leaving room for small patches of alien plants in front of them.
“It was a good thing, though. I had no idea how sheltered I had grown up, and I wouldn’t have survived boot camp if I hadn’t made this experience before that.” Jack sighed. “I was travelling with a friend, Baran. I lost him to the same torture I lost Grey to, only with him I had to watch the torture, and they didn’t let him leave alive.”
Ianto frowned. “You were captured by them?” It didn’t make much sense with the things Jack had told them about the prisoners, like Grey when he had told the team about his brother.
“Yes, and no.” Jack shook his head and took a deep breath. “Fuck, that’s so not what I wanted to talk about! – They took Grey and brought him to their home, or to one of their bases. Baran and I never left the battlefield we encountered them on. I think they thought we had some information they wanted. When they left, they thought I was dead as well, or at least near enough so that nothing would be able to save me.”
“But you were saved,” Ianto muttered.
“Obviously. There was a Time Agent who found me, and that’s how I finally got to where I wanted to go all along. I never saw the woman again who saved me, and no one wanted to tell me who she was. They put me back together and used the trauma of losing Baran and my own torture to form me into the kind of agent they wanted to have.”
“I have thought for a long time about some of the things you and the Doctor said back in Italy before you told me about the Miracle.” Ianto stopped and eyed Jack thoughtfully. “About the Miracle being such an integral part in human history that it had to happen.”
Jack frowned. “Okay.”
“It only could happen because of your blood, right?” Ianto cocked his head and put his hand over Jack’s hand, which was lying on his waist. He had a feeling he needed to stop Jack from bolting with his next words. “But if you hadn’t become immortal, your blood would have been useless. – Some of the things you have said about time travel and Time as an entity remember me of what some people say about Fate. Maybe you were always meant to be immortal.”
Jack shook his head. “I don’t believe in Fate.”
Ianto raised his brows. “But you believe in Time, and that some things a set in stone. Fixed points and all of that. What’s the difference between that and Fate except for the name? You went to great length to save Lisa and Suzie, and I don’t know who else has to be put on that list, and they still died the same way they had the first time.”
Jack stared at him, still shaking his head slowly, but he said nothing.
“That also means there was always meant to be a second person to share your immortality,” Ianto continued. “I have no problem with accepting that part. You know I’m glad to be here with you.”
“Sometimes I doubt your sanity that you still say that after the emotional roller-coaster the transition was for you at times,” Jack muttered.
Ianto shrugged but grinned. Jack wasn’t wrong; there had been a number of occasions that had overwhelmed him a great deal since he had become immortal, and that had only started after his first death. But Jack had been there every step of the way, and always found a way to calm him down again.
“I’m sure there’ll come other episodes of me freaking out about dying after the fact,” Ianto said. “But I know I can count on you in those moments, and that’s the most important part. We are in this together now, because I chose to be at your side, and because you were never meant to be alone.”
“I could have switched places with someone else carrying my blood like you did in Shanghai and killed myself before the Miracle ended.”
Ianto huffed. “Which would have still left two people immortal afterwards. Did you ever think about it?”
Jack took a deep breath. “No. The first time I had that idea… It wasn’t even me. I was talking with Owen about the Blessing, about the science, although I have barely any more knowledge about it than he. Owen asked if such a scenario would have been possible, and I don’t see a reason why it shouldn’t have been possible.”
Ianto nodded and leaned into Jack to kiss him. He had no doubt that Jack would have denied such a possibility before or during the Miracle if someone would have brought it up. On the one hand, because it was a burden he would have never wanted to put on another person after he had already been so reluctant to lay it on Ianto, and on the other, because it was a responsibility he would have never trusted anyone else with.
“I’m sorry for disrupting our date with this topic,” Ianto whispered. “There never seemed to be the right moment to bring it up, and I don’t know why I started with it right now.”
Jack shook his head and hugged him tightly. “No reason to be sorry for it.”
“I think you had a special place in mind to show me,” Ianto said.
Jack held onto him for a moment longer, before he nodded while taking half a step back and grinning brightly. “That’s right. Although I do plan to take you shopping back there later, but I had planned to start this experience by giving you a spectacular overview of this place.”
Ianto laced their fingers and followed Jack. “Do you have money?”
“That’s another thing the Vortex Manipulator can provide. That reminds me, I’ll have to check how many credits are stored on yours. But we can do that when we are back home. Though, running out of money isn’t a concern. The Time Agency is still owing me a lot.”
“In other words, you’ll steal from them what we need?” Ianto was not so sure if he was happy with such a solution, but he had heard enough from Jack about the organisation to know that they weren’t operating in any legal way, either.
“They took two years of my memories, they’ll never be able to pay me back for that,” Jack muttered.
Ianto hummed, not bringing up the never-ending discussion about Retcon he had started about that comment more than once in the past. He knew that Jack had never been happy with that solution anyway, but it still always stuck him as hypocritical.
He followed Jack through several more streets, which got more and more populated again. They were slowly walking up a hill, and Ianto soon understood that the tower on top of it would be their destination. Jack was telling him little details about the moon they were on, about the planet that was visible in the sky, and that Ianto had only noticed after Jack had pointed it out to him.
Ianto was sure Jack had deliberately chosen a place that was not too different from what Ianto was used to, aside from the aliens populating the place as to not overwhelm him. He would remember to thank Jack for that later because as he stood at the top of the tower to look over the city that suddenly looked quite alien from above, he started to feel nervous about the whole trip.
Jack’s steady presence at his side, his hand always either lingering on his waist or holding Ianto’s, and the reassuring weight of the Vortex Manipulator on his wrist were the only things that kept him calm enough to still enjoy this outing. Learning the language everyone spoke around them was the least he needed to learn, he realized sometime between Jack explaining the ingredients of a snack he brought them, and Jack gleefully bartering for some kind of technology he was convinced would make Toshiko’s year when he gave it to her.
It was intimidating, but also exciting. And watching Jack be able to completely leave behind their situation back home for a while would always be worth every effort.
Jack was not sure how he felt about the gathering in Estelle’s house – Deborah’s house now – after her funeral. It was only the core of their team, including Clement, Martha, and even Olivia, and Esther, but there were many moments when even that seemed to be too much.
It had been a very quiet ceremony at the cemetery Estelle had chosen for herself, with only very few people attending that had no ties to Torchwood. This more than anything else had shown him how old Estelle had really been, outliving most of her friends. Jack was glad that it had been the kind of ceremony everyone was used to, that at least this situation had calmed enough in the thirteen months since the Miracle to return back to normalcy.
“And I thought you would have finally stopped to sulk about things that were inevitable.” Clement sat down on the stairs beside him, where Jack had found refuge from everyone else in the last couple of minutes.
It was too cold already to stay outside in the garden, and so everyone was gathered in the living room and the kitchen. The hall was thankfully empty, despite the other two rooms being packed, and Jack had been glad about the quiet he had found here.
Jack sighed. “I can still be sad, can still miss her.”
“And no one is telling you that you can’t,” Clement agreed. “But sitting here all alone to brood about things you have no influence over isn’t changing anything!”
Jack rolled his eyes. “I have barely been here for ten minutes, you know. You could leave me just a little bit of time!”
“You saved her life,” Clement mumbled. “You gave her a better and longer life than she had last time. You should concentrate on that when you think about her, not so much on the fact that she is gone now.”
Jack blew out a breath. “Five years is not exactly the world.”
Clement laughed. “That’s not…” He shook his head. “Time alone is not all you gave. You seem to forget that all too regularly. Right now, you have given me technically three more years to live and it will hopefully be still a lot more. But in reality, you have given me nearly fifty years’ worth of a life I would have never dreamed about when we met for the first time, even without government and alien interventions. And you did the same for Estelle without even noticing.”
“How well do you remember that day?”
“It’s burned into my memory.” Clement shrugged. “It’s the same for all who were there. Why are you asking?”
“You stayed at my side in the beginning, not joining the other children,” Jack muttered. “I wondered about that for a long time.”
“I was two and for some even nearly three years younger than the rest, I barely knew them. And you reminded me of my uncle, so I latched onto you. I felt I could trust you.”
Jack swallowed. “And the first time I misused that trust terribly.”
“But I don’t remember that,” Clement said. “What I remember is you taking care of us in a way that no one else would have ever done. You were the first person for all of us to listen to us in all the time we had been in the orphanage. Every ounce of compassion and dedication we have, we learned from you in this night.”
Jack shook his head, grinning. “That’s a very big exaggeration, don’t you think?”
“No, it’s really not.” Clement clapped a hand on Jack’s shoulder. “You taught us we were allowed to dream, and later you showed us we were allowed to reach out for those dreams, that we deserved a chance to fulfil them. And we learned from you, that people needed to step up for children like us, and so we did exactly that for the children following us.”
“You are giving too much credit to me for your own accomplishments.”
“We really aren’t,” Clement said. “We would all be dead without you, or as good as dead. Just accept our gratitude, please.”
“You are talking for all twelve of you now?” Jack asked with raised eyebrows.
“I’m the only one who knows you, so it is kind of my job to tell you about all of this, yes.” Clement sent him a warm smile. “You did the same thing for Estelle. When you returned to her life earlier than last time and without the lies, and when you saved her life five years ago and let her join your team despite her age. I hope she told you how happy she was about that turn in her life. She said it to me more than once.”
Jack nodded. “She did. We spent a lot of time together during this last year. She had a long list of places she wished to see again, and we managed to visit nearly all of them.”
“I have such a list as well,” Clement nodded, and pointed a finger at Jack. “And I don’t care what catastrophe you are pulling out of your sleeve next. Come January, I’m officially retired. I have put it off long enough. I think UNIT is in good hands right now, and I have created a lot of contacts for you.”
“You do remember that I don’t have a single idea anymore what the future is holding for us, right?”
“Are you used to that again?” Clement asked.
Jack shook his head. “It’s really not as different to before than I had expected, and at the same time it’s still throwing me regularly that I don’t know any more for which big catastrophe I have to prepare next.”
“Life is going on,” Clement said. “It will always go on, even after the next catastrophe, even when you aren’t able to be prepared perfectly for that. This little party today is a reminder of that as well, isn’t it? It’s not just to say goodbye to a good friend, it’s also a reminder to all of us that life is continuing.”
Jack huffed. “I don’t think I can appreciate your philosophy right now!”
Clement shrugged. “At least I tried. As for that next catastrophe, please take care that it’s not coming next spring or summer! I’ve booked two back-to-back cruises already, and I would be very cross with you if I would have to cancel them!”
“No promises!” Jack laughed and proceeded to ask Clement about his plans for his retirement.
He knew Clement would have liked to take that step a couple of years ago, stopping at the latest at the rank of colonel. Now, with all the work Clement had done during the Miracle, with the dedication he had shown to make at least his part of UNIT into one of those organisations that had tried to protect people instead of contributing to the chaos as so many others in places of power had done, there was even talk about promoting him to Major General and Jack knew Clement wanted to get out of there before that happened.
Jack followed Clement back into the living room without protest when the other man decided they had taken enough of a break. He spent most of the next hours watching his friends and contemplating Clement’s words.
Ashley was sitting with Gwen in the corner, cooing over little Anwen, who was just three months old. Jack had never told Gwen and Rhys the name of their daughter in the other timeline. He had never spoken much about her at all, but he was not surprised that she had been given the same name. Anwen would not stay the only baby in the family for long, as Leo and Ashley were expecting their second child before the end of the year.
Jack could not help but return his gaze to them every so often. Seeing his family grow in this way was validating Clement’s words about life going on more than anything else. Jack had put a lot of work into it to make sure that everyone was able to find or keep a life outside of their work, something that had seemed to be completely impossible in his last life, but he had been successful with it in more than just one aspect.
He had still work to do here in Cardiff, still needed to protect his friends, his team, his city. It was a startling realisation that had hit him sometime in the last year, that he had found a place to stay, a place to call his own. He had not searched for it, and for most of his life, he had been convinced he would never find such a place. Relieving nearly five decades of his life had changed him, probably more than he was aware of.
Despite the grief for Estelle burning in him, he still felt happy and content to a degree he could not remember ever experiencing, not even on Boeshane before that fateful day. Changing a major event in his own past may have been the most dangerous, most stupid and reckless thing he had ever done, but it was also the best decision of his whole long life.
Angelo cleared the small table between the two armchairs that had held Jack’s and his breakfast just half an hour ago. It was moments like this when he regretted that Jack never saw anything else of his house than the study, the bedroom, and the bathroom. It was a precaution so that they would not be discovered by the Three Families, and they had played this game for nearly half of Angelo’s life, but he still often felt tired of it.
When he returned to his study, he only hesitated for a moment after seeing the two visitors in it before he hurriedly closed the door behind him. It did not take much to deduce what was going on, the longing on Jack’s face and the careful blankness in the face of the young man in the suit accompanying him told Angelo everything he needed to know.
“You just left half an hour ago,” he said and took two steps in Jack’s direction. “But then, that’s probably been quite a few years in the past for you.”
Jack took a shaky breath. “Thirteen years,” he whispered. “Though, only eleven since our last goodbye.”
Angelo chuckled. “And are you supposed to tell me that? And are you supposed to still visit me?”
He suspected Jack had told him more with this than he had intended to do, but Angelo had no problem with knowing an approximate time for his own time of death. He would celebrate his hundreds birthday in just a couple of months and it was comforting to know that one more birthday would wait for him after that.
“It’s a onetime occasion,” Jack said. “I won’t come again, but … I wanted you to meet Ianto. And for Ianto to meet you.”
Angelo turned to Ianto with a smile. “It’s indeed very nice to meet you, Mr. Jones. Jack has told me quite a lot about another version of you.”
“Just Ianto is fine.” He smiled and reached out a hand to Angelo in greeting. “I’ve heard a lot about you as well. And I think there is not so much difference between the man Jack told you about and me.”
Angelo eyed the hand for a moment before he threw his arms around Ianto, placing a kiss on each of his cheeks. “This one needs a keeper.” He nodded in Jack’s direction. “But you have probably been around long enough to know that already.”
“Hey!” Jack complained, while Ianto laughed and nodded.
Angelo turned around, and Jack wrapped his arms tightly around him as Angelo hugged him.
“I’ve missed you so much!” Jack whispered. “I’ve still not gotten used to it that you’re not there anymore.”
Angelo huffed. “I’m glad it at least didn’t stop you from moving on! Let’s sit down, shall we? I’m not as young as I used to be.”
Jack nodded and led Angelo to the armchair he always used to sit in. Instead of taking the other one, Jack dropped down on the floor in front of Angelo, never letting go of his hand. Ianto hesitated for a moment before he took the other armchair, looking down at Jack with a soft smile that spoke volumes about their relationship.
“Am I allowed to ask questions about the future?” Angelo asked.
Jack nodded. “You can’t tell me anything about it. You can’t even tell me that I came to visit you. But yes, we are also here to elevate some of your worries. You have worked most of your life to ensure the eventual destruction of the Three Family’s network. I always thought it unfair that you wouldn’t learn how it all worked out.”
“I accepted years ago that we would be unable to stop the Miracle,” Angelo confessed. “In my time you are still searching desperately for a way to stop them.”
“We couldn’t stop it,” Ianto said. “We learned that it was one of those events that had to happen. It was an utter disaster, but the network of non-profit organisations you build did help in many places to deal with it without leading to even more chaos.”
Angelo cocked his head, smiling. “And are you the one who ended the Miracle together with Jack?”
“I insisted on it.” Ianto inclined his head with a grin. “And I didn’t let anyone stop me.”
“I’m glad.” Angelo turned his head back to Jack, waiting until their gazes met. “Really glad that you aren’t alone anymore. And so happy for you that you found this young man again.”
He had worried about Jack since the people he had once called his own had started to return to his life. His Jack was struggling with it often, being torn between keeping them safe by keeping them away from Torchwood and embracing the possibility to have them back in his life. It was a relief for Angelo to see that the future would bring back at least one of the relationships Jack had lost.
“Does Olivia still own this house?” Angelo asked.
“I don’t see your family ever giving it up.” Jack laughed. “This house is seeing a lot of life again, and it’s a good thing you kept the adjourning house and connected them. Julia and her family moved in during the Miracle and Olivia has taken in two children whose mother is mentally unable to take care of them.”
Angelo sighed in relief. His relationship with his youngest granddaughter was still very strained, and the hope was waning that it would ever change. He had lost that hope for his daughters years ago, and he knew that Julia had grown up with terrible stories about him. It felt good to learn that at least part of his family would eventually be able to reconcile.
“Don’t forget about Clement,” Ianto muttered, grinning.
Jack frowned. “I still have no idea what that is!”
“Clement?” Angelo asked. “As one of the boys who you saved in ‘65? The one who is your liaison with UNIT now?”
“Yes, that Clement.” Jack sighed. “He is retired now and travelling the world. But when he is not doing that, he is living with Olivia.”
“As in being her partner?”
“Yes.” Ianto laughed. “And for some reason, Jack isn’t able to handle that relationship at all. And he has stopped travelling so much since they are taking care of Alice and Melanie. When he is travelling now, they are mostly doing it together.”
Angelo sighed. “I always feared Olivia was sacrificing too much for me.”
“She never thought it was a sacrifice,” Jack said softly. “I don’t think she had ever the desire to have children of her own. That she took the two girls in is a favour to a good friend of Olivia and us. They are her nieces, but she was unable to stay in the US. This way, Melanie and Alice were able to stay in the country they know, and to stay in contact with their mother.”
“I can see why Olivia would agree how important that is if it’s possible.” Angelo nodded. “How long will you stay here?”
“If my memory is not betraying me, my younger self will return around six in the evening?”
“We could stay until five then, if you would like.”
Angelo glanced at Ianto, who was nodding and watching Jack with the same fond smile as before. “I would like that very much.” He turned his head to Ianto. “Maybe you could tell me about your life.”
Angelo proceeded with asking Ianto about his life before meeting Jack before they started to spend hours exchanging tales about being Jack’s friend and lover. Jack complained good naturally more than once, but Angelo was sure Ianto knew as well as he did that it was only for show. It was clearly written all over his face how much he enjoyed seeing them get along.
When lunchtime came around, Jack left for a couple of minutes to return with three boxes of pizza from a small restaurant in Naples. It was something his Jack had started to do for him years ago, bringing him dinner from places all over the world. The first time had been after Angelo had bemoaned that there was no place anywhere near his house that served authentical Italian pasta and had developed from there to Jack providing him real regional food from all over Earth, and as Angelo suspected sometimes even from different periods in time.
After lunch, their topics turned more to his family and Jack’s and Ianto’s teams in Cardiff and London. They were very careful to avoid any questions about Angelo’s daughters and the rest of Olivia’s siblings, while they did talk at least a little about Emma’s children. Angelo decided to just accept it, and that he had no desire to know what made Jack hesitate every time Sofia’s or Emma’s name was mentioned.
Angelo had not been aware of how much it would mean for him to get this glimpse of a future he would not experience for himself anymore. It obliterated many of the worries that had plagued him for a long time, especially about Olivia and Jack, but also about Matteo. He had lived with the uncertainty of the success of his life’s work because there had been no other choice, but he had not been aware of what a burden that really was.
“I need to show you something,” Angelo said when the grandfather clock beside the door showed him that there was only half an hour left of his time with Jack and Ianto. Part of him regretted that it would remain their only visit, but he would not ask them to return. Jack needed to let go of him, and coming back to visit him would not help with that.
He stood up and walked to the safe hidden in the wall behind his desk. “I trust you remember the code?” he asked without turning to Jack.
“Yes, of course. It’s the date we met again in New York. Olivia hasn’t changed it. She doesn’t use the safe as far as I know.”
“Come here and look at this, both of you.” Angelo opened the safe and emptied it completely. It took him a moment to find the small latch in the back wall to open the door to the hidden compared which was secured by another number lock.
“A safe in a safe,” Ianto exclaimed, surprised but laughing. He was leaning over Jack to get a look at it, while Jack was kneeling on the floor beside Angelo’s chair. “Were you always this paranoid or was that Jack’s influence?”
“I was a gay teenager in a very small, catholic village in Italy at the beginning of the last century. I didn’t need Jack to learn to be paranoid about my secrets being discovered.” Angelo shook his head, laughing as well. “It was the other way around, really. Jack taught me my own perceptions and emotions weren’t something I needed to be ashamed of. – The code for this one is the date I arrived on Ellis Island.”
“You mean the date you robbed me!”
Angelo grinned and turned his head to Jack. “Or maybe the day you seduced me right in front of hundreds of people.”
Jack laughed and surprised Angelo by pressing a kiss against his lips. Angelo petted his cheek and watched Ianto out of the corner of his eyes. But the younger man was laughing, one hand still clutching Jack’s shoulder from leaning over him to peer into the safe.
“I’m keeping a couple of things for you in there,” Angelo said. “Nothing about our work, that I have already all given to Olivia, just … memories.”
Jack sucked in a breath. “Angelo…”
“I had planned to tell you when I felt my end coming, but maybe this is the better solution.”
There was no doubt in how Jack reacted that Angelo had not told his younger version about this. He had worried about it for a long time now, and this solution was a relief. He knew from what he had seen on this day that Jack would be able to take his journals and the pictures as something to treasure without it being a hindrance in overcoming his grief for Angelo. At the same time, in thirteen years, those documents would no longer be a threat for their connection to be discovered too soon. The risk they posed in that had always been Angelo’s greatest worry.
“I’m still adding to it every other week or so,” Angelo continued. “And I’ll prepare the content so that it will survive the eleven years after my death until you’ll find it now. Maybe you can share some of it with my grandchildren and especially my great-grandchildren.”
Jack stared at him open-mouthed, and Ianto had put both of his hands on Jack’s shoulders, squeezing them tightly. The younger man was watching him warily, and Angelo sent him a hopefully reassuring smile.
Jack had a habit of collecting memorabilia of the people crossing his path that became important to him, but he had not been able to do the same with anything of Angelo’s because of the secret nature of their relationship. Angelo had decided to rectify that even before they had become lovers again.
“You’ll need to leave soon,” Angelo mumbled. He dreaded sending them away again, but he knew he would need the next hour to mentally prepare himself for his Jack coming back. He would not risk giving away to him what had happened today. “It was great seeing you. And meeting you, Ianto.”
“I agree,” Ianto said, smiling. “It was a very good and memorable day.”
Jack swallowed and took a deep breath. “Yes, it was.” He pushed himself up and drew Angelo out of his chair and into his arms. “Although, saying goodbye to you now for the third time is not as easy as I had thought.”
“I can imagine,” Angelo whispered. The selfish thought of inviting them to visit him again rose for a second time, but he held it back. It would not be fair either to the Jack holding him in his arms right now nor to the Jack of his own time.
Jack enclosed his face with his hands and kissed him, deep and desperate. When he finally let go of him and took a step back, his shoulders were tense, and he averted his gaze, but Angelo could still see the determination in them.
When Angelo turned to Ianto, he was not offered a hand as in the morning and was instead embraced in another hug. He returned it grateful, and when Ianto started to step back, Angelo cupped his neck with a hand and pressed a lingering kiss against his lips.
“Take care of Jack and yourself,” Angelo said.
“I will,” Ianto promised. “And you enjoy the time you have left with your Jack.”
With those words, he finally stepped out of Angelo’s reach and put his hand on Jack’s wrist strap. They vanished in the blink of an eye and Angelo stared for long, silent minutes at the place they had stood at, feeling empty and exhausted, but at the same time more hopeful than he had been in a long time.
The future for Jack and for his family was bright and promising, and that was everything Angelo could have ever wished for.