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Unexpected Journeys and Occasional Kickings

Chapter Text

"Well hi there. I'm -"

"Captain Jack Harkness. I know."

"Great, well saves time so -"

"I am immune to your charm Captain."

"Oh I don't know about that -"

"I do."

"Fine, why am I here?"

"You are going to answer my questions."

"That's it?"

"Your answers will dictate the next actions. Now, what was your given name?"

"Jack."

"Please do not lie to me Captain. We know that you stole that identity during the twentieth century's second world war. Now, what is your given name?"

"My turn, who the hell are you people?"

"Interested parties. Your name?"

Handsome Jack, Captain of nothing and no one, set his square jaw and scowled at the faceless being interviewing him. His blue eyes twinkled with anger as he settled into his chair. He tried to fold his arms across his chest but was stymied by his handcuffs.

"Look, at least take these cuffs off -"

"You outweigh me by over 18 kilos and are several centimeters taller than me. I'm not stupid or gullible Captain."

"Fine keep one hand cuffed then, have you ever worn these for an extended period? They start bruising -"

"The cuffs stay on. Your name?"

"Captain. Jack. Harkness."

"Very well, we'll move on to a more recent question. In 2006 you were the head of the now defunct Torchwood Institute. Who were your colleagues?"

"You have our records right?"

"Answer the question."

"Own Harper, Toshiko Sato, Ianto Jones, Gwen Cooper and Suzie Costello."

"Your team enjoys an especially high rate of attrition."

"They weren't just my team, they were my friends -"

"I wasn't asking a question Captain, please keep your replies to answers only."

"This is absurd, what are you looking for?"

"You have lead countless individuals for hundreds if not thousands of years. How many of them have died at your side by violence?"

"What? What kind of question is that?"

"An estimate is acceptable."

"I do dangerous work death...death happens."

"To everyone but you."

"That's not my fault!"

"You really think you were cursed by a silly little girl doing what she thought was best? Yes the heart of the T.A.R.D.I.S. created you but she had almost nothing to do with it. She was happenstance."

"Never heard Rose Tyler described that way before." He chuckled.

"We have acquired all existing Torchwood records. We have interviewed all surviving individuals that have had contact with Torchwood, thoroughly. Now it is your turn."

"Why?"

"We will find the reason for your existence, we will find a way to free you."

"Whoa whoa whoa wait a minute you want to make me mortal? Don't I get a vote?"

"Jack Harkness, favorite son of the Boeshane Peninsula, star of the Time Agency, war hero or monster depending on which side you're on … friend, lover, liar, killer you're a complicated man Jack but in the end you're just a man."

"Don't hold back, who the hell are you people?"

"We're Torchwood."

"Wha - wait come back here!" Jack snapped and tried to stand only to be brought short by his cuffs again. The interviewer allowed the heavy metallic door to close behind it leaving Jack alone in a white box with a bare metal table and chair for company. Everything was bolted in place and too bright.

He sat trying to make sense of what was happening to him. One minute he was in a dive bar full of exotic beings and bad music with cheap liquor and other intoxicants, then there was ...what? White light...shouting...some kind of metallic crash and then pain and he was here. Had they killed him? He looked at his clothing and didn't see blood.

Time slowed and sped up, jumped, jagged and lost all meaning. Under the glaring lights his internal clock was shot to hell, throw in a good period of unconsciousness or death and he had no clue how long he had been in the room. He was hungry and thirsty but he had woken up that way.

How the hell was this Torchwood? He had shut down Torchwood, it no longer existed. Gwen Cooper was the last survivor. With the rift in Cardiff sealed and UNIT and other organizations picking up the slack the Torchwood Institute was no longer needed. Besides he couldn't take building and losing another team again, not so soon, maybe in a few hundred years when the wound wasn't so raw.

He had shut down Torchwood but...well, technically it wasn't really his to shut down. The Crown had started it before his misadventures had landed him on 19th century Earth. So...had they reactivated it? Why? After the 456 incident the name Torchwood wasn't exactly popular.

His head hurt and his tongue felt two sizes too large in his dry mouth. This was crazy, he just needed to keep his head and stay calm.

"Harkness." A voice echoed through the room, sexless and cold, not robotic but near enough. The door opened and a small humanoid figure dressed in what looked like panels of white leather, face obscured by a helmet of the same material shaded its eyes, stepped into the room with a tray. It bent awkwardly at the waist and lowered the tray to the metallic table. It straightened as though tugged upright by invisible wires and left the room. Jack half stood awkwardly hooked the tray with his fingertips and pulled it to his side of the table. He sat and regarded its contents.

Paste, paste, lumpy paste, and what appeared to be a small tumbler of water. He sighed and smelled the water. Deciding to at least risk the liquid he swallowed it down and was surprised when it tasted cold and clean with no trace of toxins or drugs.

He regarded the paste balefully.


 

"Has it finished?"

"No."

"Encourage it."

"Patience."

"There is no time -"

"Yes. We have time."


 

Jack sighed and tasted the lumpy paste. It was a strange shade of green, almost glowing. It tasted like nothing at first then filled his mouth with the aftertaste of an expertly cooked steak. He scowled and pushed the tray away.

"Sensory feedback nutritional supplements? Really? So that makes this what? Mid twenty-third century? Are the resource wars in Sol's system over yet?"

No reply. He scowled and bared his teeth in a flashing angry smile.

"How long now?"


 

"Four hundred thirty five seconds."


 

Seven minutes later Jack's vision began to gray out. He groaned and tried to stand, forgetting about the cuffs again, and was pulled off balance. He face planted into the metallic desk and was conscious just long enough to wonder if he had been drugged or poisoned when the gray went black.

He opened his eyes and flinched then closed them again. Searing white light penetrated the thin skin of his eyelids driving spikes of cold agony into his head as it did. He bared his teeth and groaned then tried to roll onto his side to avoid the light.

He heard the rattle of chains but was able to curl into a fetal position and raise his arm enough to shield his face.

"Jack!" A familiar voice, male, low and urgent.

Hands on him helping him sit up, the sound of chains moving, a ponderous weight leaving his limbs.

"Come on Jack we don't have much time." That voice, that familiar beautiful voice, the soft fluting vowels...

"No!" Jack hissed and opened his eyes while pulling away. He was on a raised platform and his movements knocked him off balance. He slid to the floor and stared up at something impossible.

"Ianto?" He croaked.

"Jack it's okay -"

"Not him!" Jack shouted to the white room. Ianto reached for him and Jack pulled away with tears in his eyes.

"You died in my arms Ianto -"

"It's okay Jack, it's -"

"No, you can't be, you can't be."

"Jack please we don't have time -"

"You were with me...at the end of the world...we sealed the rift -"

"Yes, I was."

"Syriath -"

"Jack, I am here, right now, you have to trust me. We don't have time -"

"No…no you're a figment."

Ianto knelt and kissed Jack. Jack gripped Ianto's neck and pulled him close, held him in place then pulled away and looked into Ianto's clear blue eyes.

"Ianto?" He asked voice near hysterical.

"It's me Jack."

He pulled the taller man to his feet, Jack, disoriented and dizzy leaned on Ianto. He could smell Ianto, his unique scent mixed with the wool from his sharply tailored black wool coat, a whiff of soap and conditioner. It was his scent.

"This is impossible." Jack said as Ianto lead him to a corner of the room and waited. After a few long seconds a section of the wall slid open revealing a corridor.

Memories fluttered and jumped in Jack's mind glimpses of Ianto laughing, smiling his quiet knowing smile, Ianto angry, disappointed, hurt, cheeks flushed with passion….

"You can't be real." Jack gasped as Ianto hauled him into the corridor.

"Listen Jack, you're going to come with me and I'm going to explain everything, I promise but you have to move or we'll both be captured."

Jack forced his legs to move, he felt disoriented, utterly confused, his limbs were numb and disconnected. He stumbled and Ianto caught him. Then Jack saw it, Ianto's cheek wasn't scarred. Before the 456 murdered Ianto Jones he had been injured in the bomb that destroyed Torchwood's hub. The most noticeable injury was a forked cut on his cheek deep enough to leave a scar...if Ianto had lived long enough for it to heal.

Not-Ianto steadied Jack and half dragged him down the corridor. Jack didn't have the strength to resist and anything was better than that miserable room. He forced himself to work to help Not-Ianto.

Not-Ianto was gasping with effort by the time the two men stopped.

"Stay here, I have to make sure it's clear ahead." Not-Ianto said eyes wide and alert, skin slick with sweat.

Jack reached out and touched his cheek where the scar should have been.

"Who are you?" He asked. Paper white, eyes red-rimmed, weak as a kitten he clung to the wall for support as the impossible man moved ahead. Jack leaned against the wall and tried to see where he had gone. The movement nearly dropped him to his knees.

He heard what sounded like a fight followed by small arms fire. His vision was graying out again when Not-Ianto returned. Blood was smeared on the white leather covering his chest and he was panting but intact.

"Come on Jack, not far now."

Jack was hunched over and leaning on the stranger with enough force and weight that the smaller man was nearly dragging him. They reached a door that seemed to be filled with daylight.

"Help me with him!" Not-Ianto shouted and another pair of hands gripped Jack's coat and jerked him along. Staggering and losing consciousness Jack looked up into Gwen Cooper's hard eyes.

"Who?" He asked then dropped to his knees. Together they pulled Jack up and dragged him forward. A vehicle was waiting, it looked like a cross between an all purpose SUV and a landspeeder from Star Wars. They pulled and pushed Jack's limp body into a rear compartment then piled into the front and took off. Behind them sat a quiet glade with a low hill sloping down to a pool. As their vehicle departed a black rounded hole in the side of the hill rippled and disappeared.

"He won't believe us" Gwen said as she ducked behind the windscreen of their vehicle.

"I don't believe us." Not-Ianto admitted.

"Very bloody funny."

"Look he's seen a lot of stuff this...can't be that weird."

"Oh really? You don't know what it's been like the last few years with the Miracle and the business with the Crystal Helix. Things have been hard."

"He's not a delicate flower Gwen."

"Where the hell are we anyway?"

"The dead end of nowhere. This planet is too far from trade routes to be visited often and its lack of easily accessible minerals and other resources hasn't made colonization a priority. It will happen soon though it's got a good atmosphere and fresh water."

"How are we getting back home?"

"Simple enough." He said and dangled Jack's wrist strap in front of her.

"Oh my god you got it back!"

"Not just a pretty face." He said and leaned on the throttle rocketing the craft over a low rise. They landed roughly and he careened it into a nearly hidden high sided gully and throttled it down then off. It eased down onto the muddy ground.

"How is he?" He asked Gwen as she immediately checked Jack.

"Dead." She sighed.

"We'll have to wait for him to recover, this is DNA locked." He said putting the strap back on Jack's wrist. Gwen repositioned Jack in the rear compartment so he would be more comfortable when he woke and sat to wait.

Not-Ianto set about hiding their vehicle.

"So...what about...your Jack?"

"What about him?"

"Is he still around?"

"Does it matter? I can't go back there."

"Would you though? If you could?"

"I try not to think about it." He said and finished moving a dead shrub in front of the vehicle. He looked up at Gwen and she saw a competent physicality to him that her Ianto had just been achieving when he was cut down.

"He loved you...him."

"I know." He sounded matter of fact, taking it for granted, as a given. She scowled but didn't press further.

"What the hell did they give him?"

"They know everything they can about him, it'll be something that can keep him down for a few hours I'd imagine."

"Why?"

He sighed and gave her an impatient look.

"Is this what happened to...your world?" She asked.

"I...it's complicated." He sighed.

"You showed up on my doorstep, nearly gave me a heart attack with your back from the dead act then dragged me all the way the hell out here away from my family! You will answer my questions Ianto Jones."

"God I've missed you." He said softly and shook his head slowly then sighed and sat in the vehicle next to her.

"I'm from a parallel world Gwen there are a lot of differences."

"So what you can't tell me what's going to happen because the universe will explode?"

"No, I can't tell you because you'll hate me for it." He said gravely.

Jack sat up gasping and heaving. Not-Ianto, jumped out of the vehicle and reached for his hip where a sleek hand weapon rested. It was something like a cross between a pistol and a short sword.

"Jack!"

"Gwen? What the hell is going on?" Jack groaned.

"Uh well it's complicated but you're okay can you use this to get us out of here? Back to Earth?" She asked holding his wrist and gesturing at the wrist band.

"How the hell did - Ianto?" Jack asked as everything flooded back.

Not-Ianto smiled at him. Jack took him in, alive, in the flesh. For the first time he realized he was dressed in the strange white leather he had seen on his captor's servant. He remembered the blood smearing it after the short battle he had overheard. He sat forward and touched the hem of Not-Ianto's leather tunic then looked up at those familiar eyes.

"What are you?"

"Short version...parallel dimension." Ianto said with a touch of sadness. Something shifted in Jack's chest. He nodded and smiled a small resigned smile.

"For what it's worth...my Jack…"

"I'm afraid to ask." Jack said with a cheeky smirk. Gwen helped him out of the vehicle.

"Nice buggy." Jack said with a grin. "Oh if only we could take her with us, this would make a splash back home."

"Right, so, your magical wrist doodad?" Gwen asked.

Parallel-dimension-Ianto stood alert for any indication of pursuit. Jack opened the face-plate protecting his wrist band and began typing on it and frowning.

"Well we have a problem. There's not enough juice to teleport to Earth from here and there are no orbiting ships within range. There should be in about an hour though."

"Ianto do we have an hour?"

"We should leave the vehicle." Ianto said and drew his weapon.

"Oooh very nice." Gwen said admiring the weapon. It looked almost cartoonish, a cross between a pistol with a folding stock and a sword.

"Heavy shot heats up the barrel it's only good for one shot every minute or so -"

"Right but you've got the blade for anything close up. Impractical but powerful." Jack grinned.

Ianto permitted himself a small smile at Jack's exuberance then nodded to Gwen. She grabbed three backpacks that they had brought as a backup and handed them out.

"Each has supplies for five days." Ianto said as he settled his and adjusted the chest strap.

They had been walking for half an hour when Jack cursed and stopped walking. He was staring at his wrist strap.

"Looks like our stay just got extended the incoming freighter changed course."

Ianto and Gwen exchanged looks.

"What?"

"There's a battle fleet orbiting this world." Ianto said.

"Right but who wants to hitch a ride on a military ship? Although...that reminds me -"

"We have to get off the surface before dawn." Ianto interrupted in a deadpan.

"Jack, stop screwing around and get us off this rock." Gwen snapped.

She knew what he was doing pretending everything was fine joking and charging through the moments that hurt. He flashed a glance at her then sighed and began typing on the wrist strap again. Moments later they were gone.


 

"Ooow." Gwen groaned as she sat up. They appeared to be in a storage room. Boxes and crates were neatly stacked against the walls on the floor with shelves arrayed above them. Jack was examining the boxes. Ianto was rubbing his head and looking around.

"Sorry about that, it's been awhile." Jack said still studying the boxes.

Gwen helped Ianto up and looked around.

"What now?" She asked.

"Well, we wait, see where this is heading and hop another ship when we need to. See the problem with hitching back to Sol from here is it's not the most efficient method. So once we get to a decent system we'll book passage."

"Passage? There are ships that come to Earth?"

"No. At least, not on a regular basis in the early 21st century." Ianto said massaging the back of his neck.

Jack smirked at him.

"We traveled in time." Ianto sighed.

"You bastard -"

"Look the only way off that planet was to jump ahead in time and catch a safe ride out. Did he tell you that the battlefleet was Dalek?" Jack snapped.

"It wasn't relevant." Ianto said tightly.

"Not bloody relevant?" Gwen snapped and slugged him full force.

He crumpled to the floor. Jack snorted.

"You utter bastard!" She roared and wound up to kick him when Jack slipped an arm around her and pulled her back.

Ianto dazed and bleeding from a split lip and bloodied nose glared up at them.

"You think you're so bloody special, so smart. I've seen dozens of realities and in every one of them you fail. Torchwood is a death sentence and you're the executioners." He hissed.

"Why are you really here Ianto?" Jack snapped as Gwen dipped down and slipped Ianto's sidearm off his hip before he could reach for it.

"He told me that you had been kidnapped and we had to rescue you. He's had this entire trip planned out." Gwen said.

"Why are you here? Why visit dozens of realities? Why risk punching a hole in the universe?" Jack demanded.

"I was the only one left Jack. It was only me." He said and spat a mouthful of blood on the metal floor. Crimson on black oxidized metal.

Jack knelt in front of him.

"Why? What happened?"

"The 456 happened Jack. Only they didn't settle for 10% of the world's children. We fought, we all fought but they were so strong...and your Doctor never arrived. The 456 were relentless, ruthless. They kept some of us as slaves to breed more ...drugs. But once they determined how to artificially produce children...they slaughtered us. They wiped us out Jack. Some tried to flee to other worlds...maybe they made it, I never found out. I saw the human race wiped out in less than five years Jack, but, I knew things, secret things, Torchwood things, I found my own way out." He snarled.

"Parallel worlds." Jack said studying Ianto's bloodied anguished face.

"I just want to find a place that's safe. I did, for awhile, at your side I told you everything, your Ianto hadn't survived Canary Wharf. I stood in for him. You loved me. We fought the 456, we won! Then you were stolen from me and…" He looked away from Jack, wiped at the blood on his chin. "What's the point it all ends in shit and blood." He whispered.

Gwen pulled him to his feet. "What happened when he was kidnapped?" She asked.

"They made him mortal." Ianto laughed.

"How?" Jack asked a fierce need gripping him.

"I don't know. They unraveled your life and cut the right string I guess." He said brokenly and laughed. Tears streaked through the blood on his face.

Jack pulled him into an embrace and shared a troubled look with Gwen as Ianto sobbed brokenly against Jack's chest.

Gwen started opening boxes and crates looking for anything at all of use. They still had their packs and Ianto's weapon. Jack took Ianto to a far corner, away from the door and Gwen and spoke to him quietly and gently. Gwen lost track of time. When she looked up at them again Ianto's head was in Jack's lap, he was asleep. Jack was looking down at him and gently stroking his cheek with the pad of his thumb while his other hand rested on Ianto's chest, feeling his breathing and heartbeat.

"He's not our Ianto." Gwen said carefully.

Jack didn't look away from Ianto's exhausted bloodied face.

"It's not that simple Gwen." He sighed.

"Probably not." She agreed "You hear me Captain Jack Harkness, do not trust him. He's half crazy and very bloody dangerous."

"Yes he is." Jack agreed.

She sighed and sat down on a crate. "Look as best as I can tell these are all spare parts and similarly useless items. We can't stay here. What year is it anyway?"

"You don't want to know." Jack chuckled then leaned back careful not to jar Ianto and checked his wristband.

"We'll reach civilization in about three hours we can catch a direct flight from there."

"With what money?" She snapped.

"Relax, I've got it taken care of." He said and flashed her his patented grin.

"Jack, oh god Jack be careful, be so so very careful." She sighed and sat on an unopened crate regarding him wearily as he returned his attention to Ianto.

He had Ianto back, a broken twisted version that needed him. His Ianto was dead and that pain would never stop. In time it would fade but this man, this Ianto needed him. He could help him heal and maybe in doing so he could redeem some of his own wicked acts.


 

Two days and a dozen stops later they were on a ship bound for Sol. Ianto was standing on the observation deck watching nothingness while Jack watched him.

"I can feel you." Ianto said.

"Well I don't like to brag." Jack quipped. Ianto looked at him. Jack was standing on the steel steps leading up to the deck. Ianto's eyes looked sad.

"You always do that don't you? Make jokes."

Jack didn't reply, he finished walking up the stairs and leaned on the railing next to Ianto. "Where will you go?"

"You mean once you get Gwen back to her family?" He sighed.

"Yeah." Jack acknowledged.

"I don't know."

"Rhiannon and the kids are still in Cardiff."

"Oh that would be brilliant, hey Rhi you remember your deadbeat brother? The one that died? Here he is, bit banged up admittedly."

"Maybe it's not a great idea but it might give her peace."

"No one gets peace Jack, you know that."

"You're so angry." He said gently.

"I thought you'd be used to that by now." Ianto sighed and leaned over the railing looking below at the tiny specks of crew and passengers.

"This is a good thing Ianto, you're here, I'm here we could start over -"

"I don't think I can love you anymore Jack." Ianto said straightening.

Jack swallowed hard and met Ianto's sad eyes. "Then don't but let me help you."

"Help me? To do what? Survive? You've never been very good at that either have you?" Wounded, Jack recoiled from Ianto and faced the view.

"Is it hard to have to face some of the shrapnel left in your wake?" Ianto demanded.

"You made me stand against the 456 Ianto, you...inspired me." Jack thought about Steven's inhuman dying scream and felt sick.

"I was 29 years old and in love with an action hero what the hell did I know?"

"Me, you knew me, you made me a better man -"

"Oh but it wasn't for free was it? It wasn't just orgasms and adventures."

"The house of the dead -"

"I know what happened."

"I love you Ianto Jones." Jack said desperately, tears shining in his eyes.

"No, you loved him." Ianto said softly, fiercely.

He faced Jack then and his eyes were no longer sad they were angry. "I have his face, his walk, his voice but I'm not him. I can't be him, I hate him, his embarrassing naivete, his desperation, he was pathetic -"

"Stop." Jack whispered.

"What future could we possibly have Jack?"

"We can be happy, here, now Ianto." He pleaded.

"I hate myself, for what I've done to survive, just as you hate yourself...from time to time, I'm too full of it to share." Ianto whispered, he was close enough to Jack to feel his breath. He looked up into those bright blue eyes. "I can't be what you want or need -"

"Then just be here." Jack said and put a hand on Ianto's shoulder.

Ianto kissed him, it was an attack an angry clashing of teeth and lips, then Jack's hands were on him, sliding under the leather armor, finding the soft skin of his belly, wrapping around his hips and pulling him closer to Jack. He felt Jack's eagerness for him, felt himself respond and slipped his hands under Jack's coat, muscle memory guiding him as his hands slipped under Jack's shirt, past his zipper. The kiss broke and Jack gasped.

Then Jack was kissing Ianto, it was hungry but cautious and careful, lips parting and tongues touching. Then Ianto bit down and shoved Jack backwards. The immortal man cried out in agony and spat blood as Ianto spat out the tip of Jack's tongue and glared down at him.

"The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed." Ianto said coldly. Jack got to his feet angry now, blood trickling down his chin, coat open, shirt and pants loose, unkempt and red faced.

Jack snatched Ianto's arm, pulled him close and breathed in his scent, sweat, lust, the cheap general use soap available to all passengers and crew, leather and under it all the familiar scent of Ianto himself.

"You still smell amazing." Ianto breathed as Jack held him in place with a vise-like grip.

"What happened to you?" He whispered.

"I watched my species burn." Ianto laughed and jerked his arm free then marched past Jack and down the stairs.


 

Jack was devastated and chagrined. He should have realized how broken this Ianto was. In spite of himself he had glossed it over, fed himself a lie to make his own grief bearable. He spat out more blood and set about fixing his shirt and pants.

He was trying to place the phrase Ianto had spat at him with such venom when he entered the cabin the three were sharing. Gwen was writing a letter.

"Pretty archaic." He said. she looked at him, his mussed hair, a spot of blood at the corner of his mouth and the false joviality in his tone and sat up.

"Not much else to do on this bloody boat though it looks like you've found trouble?" She asked.

"It would be fair to say that trouble found me, then bit me." He sighed.

"Bit you? Wait, actually, don't tell me. Where is he?"

"I don't know but I pity anyone that gets in his way."


 

Ianto glared at the massive alien standing in front of him. It had four arms, thick dark fur, eight eyes and appeared to have been descended from angry spiders. It blinked all eight eyes at him and a small box that hung around its neck like jewelry squawked to life and spoke to him.

"Out of the way vermin."

"Oh god seriously?" He sighed, feeling like a character in a B rated space opera he folded his arms and glared at the alien.

The alien raised one of its powerfully muscled arms and tapped at the box with a talon. The box flickered, flashed green then red slowly then flashed white and spat out a new comment.

"Out of the way human."

"Well, that''s a bit better." He admitted then kicked the alien between the legs and went for its eyes.

He almost instantly regretted not learning more about spider physiology as his sneaky kick failed to achieve any appreciable effect on his opponent. Instead the alien picked him up with two of its arms and smashed his face in with a third while a fourth checked his pockets for anything valuable. Coming up empty it threw him off the walkway and onto a service walkway ten feet below. He landed with all the grace and style of a burlap sack of potatoes.

Ianto remained very still and tried not to throw up or pass out. He decided that he would learn to make better choices.

Chapter Text

Security found Ianto twenty minutes later. He had managed to get to his feet but not much further. He was leaning on the safety rail trying to figure out how damaged he was when the squad arrived. A medic accompanied them.

"You're an idiot." She said before setting down her kit and removing some kind of medical probe.

He blinked at her.

"Picking a fight with a - oh never mind. You're probably concussed." She sighed.

"Status?" One of the security officers asked.

"He's beat to hell but he'll live. Take him back to his quarters, I'll sign off. Mr. Jones, I strongly recommend you stick to your quarters for the next few days." She said then injected him with something. He winced and touched his throat where the fluid had been injected.

"Nutrients and pain killers. Relax."

"Are you traveling alone sir?" One of the officers asked. Still dazed Ianto didn't reply. His battered thoughts tried to translate the question, was he alone?

"Booking says he's got two roommates sir." Another officer replied while checking a readout on their wrist.

"Right then, off with yeah." Two officers took his arms while one lead and one trailed.


 

"What the hell?" Gwen snorted as Ianto entered the cabin and staggered to his bunk.

"He'll recover ma'am, ship's medic has seen to him." The lead security officer assured her.

"Thank you." She said and watched them go. Ianto was stretched out on his back. His face was swollen, right eye nearly closed.

"What'd you do?"

"Defended myself." He lied.

"Right I give up. If we had the cash I'd be in my own cabin but we don't so you two are going to act like bloody adults and have a proper bloody argument. I've had enough of this skulking and sulking. First he comes back looking rough now this. Enough already!"

"Do you really trust him to get you back to your family?" Ianto croaked.

"I always have." Gwen said firmly.

"Why?" Ianto asked and sat up. The movement elicited a sympathy wince from Gwen. He sounded genuinely curious.

"Because I do. Look I don't know what's going on between you two, frankly, I don't care. You're not the man I considered family but I do care about you. So does he. Let us help you before you get yourself killed."

"You've seen terrible things working for Torchwood." He stated.

Scowling she sighed and said, "Yes, I have, and beautiful things."

"What will you do when one day the horror outweighs the beauty?"

"Who says it hasn't?" She asked and thought about Vera and Esther, her father and all the other victims of the Three Families.

He laughed, it was a barking raucous noise that was so utterly opposite to the laughter she had known so well that she gasped and tensed as though he might attack. The garish mask of blood and swollen flesh that had replaced his face did not help to assuage her sudden instinctive fear.

"You can't lie to me Gwen Cooper, not about that."

"You saw the 456 wipe out humanity? Is that what happened to you? Is that what twisted you?" She demanded.

His laughter cut off abruptly and he carefully stretched out again.


 

Unnerved and angry she left the cabin to find Jack. Jack was in a bar, because of course he was. She glared at him and sat heavily on the seat to his right. He looked at her, at his pink drink that was steaming softly, back to her, then downed the drink.

"This can't go on Jack." She snapped.

He gestured to the bartender, a being with iridescent blue skin and 'hair' that had more in common with diamonds and jellyfish tentacles than human hair, the beautiful creature drifted over with no outward sign of a source of locomotion and topped off Jack's suspicious beverage.

"We'll be back on Earth in a week -"

"Okay so what then Captain marvelous? That is not our Ianto, okay? He's dangerous."

"So are we."

"What are you going to do Jack? Take him home? Start over?"

He sipped his drink and ignored her.

"I'm bloody serious Harkness." She snapped in a low voice.

"What's the alternative? Abandon him?"

"He found his way here he can find his way back."

"To what Gwen?" He asked tiredly suddenly too weary to be angry.

She set her jaw and folded her arms.

"You don't owe that man anything -"

"He saved me."

"You would have survived them -"

"Maybe, or maybe they would have made me mortal. Listen, I've been remembering things that happened when they had me. They claimed they were Torchwood and they were determined to find out the real reason I'm immortal."

"The real reason?"

"That's what I said. According to him they succeeded at some point in some world."

"So you're keeping him around for intel?"

"Why not?"

"Oh so many reasons Jack, seriously."

"He's not our Ianto Jones, I know that Gwen. But...but he is Ianto Jones. He lost his team, his family, his city...everything when his Earth fell. Then he jumped to who knows how many other worlds and...he's been through hell."

"He's not staying with me." Gwen sighed and took Jack's drink. He watched passively while she downed it then gagged and gasped before doubling over.

"Kellariana brandy." He smirked. She caught her breath, slugged him in the gut and stomped off as he was recovering.

"Okay, first rule no more hitting." Jack growled as he caught up to Gwen.

"Whatever you say Captain." She snorted.

"Look Gwen wait just...listen okay?" She faced him and he realized she wasn't angry anymore.

"I know this is risky but it's the right thing to do."

"Yeah, that doesn't mean it's the smart thing to do."

"Ah well, true." He appeared to be sleeping when they returned.

"He uh, had a run in with something, looks awful, a medic has seen to him." She explained. Jack carefully approached and tried to get a look but Ianto had his back to the room.

Ianto was dreaming. He saw the 456 sweep across the surface of the Earth, humans fleeing like rats from a sinking ship...no, like mythical lemmings off a cliff. He saw Jack's face twisted in self loathing, heard his voice -

"I was soo mortified." Gwen laughed.

"He was so calm about it."

"Oh he always had that going for him, very calm and orderly was our Ianto."

He laid in the bunk listening to them discuss his other self. The doppelganger that, in many ways, had enjoyed a happier if shorter life.

After a few minutes he heard Gwen climb into her bunk across from him. Jack's was above Gwen's. He had made noises about altitude and consideration when she had snatched the lower bunk out from under his nose. Ianto shifted position until he could see Jack but was fairly sure Jack wouldn't realize he was awake.

Jack had hung his infamous coat from the corner of the bunk bed. His bracers were loose and he was unbuttoning his cuffs with his back to Ianto. Such a familiar, domestic sight tore at Ianto. In spite, or maybe because, of all he had endured he loved Jack Harkness. He also loathed him. So he quietly watched and tried not to think too hard about what his future might hold.

Jack slipped off the light blue button down shirt and easily pulled his white t-shirt over his head revealing his still finely muscled torso.

"Jack." Ianto heard himself say and frowned.

Jack turned and met Ianto's eyes, still holding the T-shirt.

"I'm sorry." Ianto said thinking of the kiss, the metallic taste of blood filling his mouth. Slowly Jack knelt at Ianto's side.

"Me too. You've been through so much. I know you're not the man I knew, really I do. I think...I think I wanted to pretend otherwise which is ...wrong."

Ianto raised his hand and touched Jack's cheek. As he moved more of the dim cabin light fell on his face. The medic's injection had worked wonders but he was still badly bruised and dried blood still clung to him.

Gently Jack mimicked Ianto's gesture and touched the younger man's face. Ianto turned into the touch smelling Jack's rich exotic scent and sighed.

"I don't have anywhere to go -"

"Of course you do. " Jack said his voice thick with unshed tears. Ianto looked away from the familiar hand to Jack's face, so familiar and beloved when it wasn't despised.

"You killed my world Jack. Everything I knew and loved...then you killed yourself." He hissed, hot tears felt like they were searing his bruised skin.

"Not me Ianto, not me, I never did." Jack murmured. He didn't say, 'I never could', because of course he could and Ianto knew he could. There was a part of Jack that was nine tenths wickedness and one tenth utter ruthlessness. Something hidden and slinking in his soul. The thing that had made him such a very effective monster when war, real war, finally came to his childhood home. So feared for his skills as a facilitator of enemy secrets that prisoners only had to hear he was coming to beg to spill every last secret. A monster in the skin of a man.

Jack had wondered, in all the long years since his curse, if the real reason the Doctor had abandoned him after the Dalek attack was not because of his changed nature but because the Timelord recognized the vile and wicked thing lurking in Jack's soul.

Jack gently pulled away from Ianto, left him to his tears as he finished stripping and climbed into bed. After a few minutes the soft nearly muted sounds of Ianto's confused tears died away. Jack listened carefully until he heard two human beings breathing in sleeping unison. Only then did he relax and prepare for the long night ahead.

He could dream, fall into a half trance but actual sleep, real unconsciousness, was beyond him. So he would wait until his friends were sleeping and then he would guard them.


 

Ianto stirred first. He knew Jack wasn't sleeping but he moved quietly anyway. They didn't have any hygiene facilities in their cabin so he dressed before leaving to clean his teeth and make himself presentable. On his way back he saw the medic that had tended him the night before.

"Hello." He said and nodded at her. She did a double take.

"You - you're better already?" She asked catching his arm. He firmly shook her hand away though she didn't seem to notice. She was too intent on his discolored but largely presentable features.

"I come from a long line of efficient healers." He said.

"Look I know this is incredibly weird and inappropriate, but can I draw some of your blood? I've never seen anyone react to that cocktail so well."

"Ah yeah no I don't think so, thank you though, for your help."

"Alright fair enough just do us both a favor and don't go tangling with any other belligerent types huh?"

"No slugging eight foot spider people, check." He smiled and saw her flush. She had dark skin and dark intelligent eyes and there was something about the way she blushed and smiled at his stupid joke that reminded him of Lisa so fiercely that he felt the ache of her loss like a blow. He gasped and clutched at his gut as though he'd been struck and closed his eyes.

There were certain things in his multi-lives that had been almost constant. The details changed but not the fundamental facts. One of those defining events was loving and losing Lisa. In one world it was a car accident, in another an accidental overdose, so many ways to lose her and all of them forever.

The woman reached for him and he pulled away, spun away from her touch and all but fled back to the cabin.


 

"Little cardio first thing?" Gwen asked from her nest of bedding. Sleeping in was one of the few things she was enjoying about this absurd little mission. As much as she adored her family sleeping in had died an abrupt death after Anwen was born. Both her mother and Rhys were earlier rises than her as well.

"...yeah." Ianto agreed and sat on his bunk. She studied him then shrugged and snuggled into her nest and picked up the letter she had started the day before. He was an excellent liar. A skill he had picked up as a child and honed well into adulthood. His fastidious facade and calm competence helped sell his lies. Ianto Jones, the gentleman's gentleman, always prepared for a crises.

Except that he wasn't, not really, he was highly intelligent and manipulative, a decent hearted kid with dreams bigger than the life he was born to. Lying and manipulating had come naturally enough and he had enough of a moral compass to avoid any real damage and the law. Still, it hadn't been until he had met Lisa that he learned to be comfortable with himself.

He leaned back on the bed and tried not to remember, tried not to see. His world hadn't been victimized by the combined forces of the Cybermen and Daleks. He had been married to Lisa when the 456 landed. He hadn't even known Jack or Gwen. Then he had been sent as a liaison from Torchwood 1, a last minute fill in. Owen and Tosh were alive - he tried not to think about what that meant in all the worlds where they weren't where Jack's brother had callously snuffed them out, how had his presence on the team lead to that? So it had been Gwen, Jack, Toshiko and Owen that challenged the 456.

Ianto had avoided death, the only one in the building, because he had made a point of memorizing the safety regulations and equipment available in the major governmental buildings that Torchwood might utilize. A paranoid and embarrassing habit that had paid off in the end. Ianto had been the one to help Jack murder his innocent grandson to save the world. Except it hadn't worked. Even now he didn't know why. Five years later crazed with guilt and rage he had found a way to leave his dying misery of a planet. Jack, the man that had capitulated to the 456 in 1965 had taken the brunt of his ire.

Beleaguered and battered by the long slaughter Jack had been an easy target. His precious magical Doctor never arrived and as the bodies piled up and escape grew more and more impossible he had teetered on the edge of guilt ridden madness. They had argued more and more and then one day…Ianto opened his eyes and pulled away from the memory.


 

Nine days later they finally arrived back in Wales at the correct time. While it had been weeks for Gwen, Jack and Ianto, only a long weekend had passed for her family. She barely paused to say goodbye as she bolted into her home. She nearly knocked Rhys off his feet kissing his worried haranguing into pleased mutters then abandoning him for Anwen's giggles and complaints of neglect.

Jack watched her with an indulgent grin. He and Ianto silently agreed to leave her be. They walked away from her home with Anwen's laughter in their ears.

"Beautiful child, Anwen?" He asked Jack.

"Yeah, you didn't remember?" He asked. Gwen rarely went a day without referring to her daughter by name.

"Hmm I do, I just...everything is the same but different, it blurs sometimes. Also it's not always Anwen." He said with a small smirk.

"Right...so…"

"You should know that I'll very likely try to kill you at some point Jack, I usually do."

"Uhm. Why?" Jack asked calmly.

"I have reasons." He said looking into Jack's eyes. His tone was reasonable, conversational even.

"Well, good thing it doesn't stick right?"

"Did you do it again Jack?"

"Uh you lost me."

"Sacrifice innocence to a monster to solve a math problem." Jack stiffened then cleared his throat and kept walking.

"I was there Jack, when the 456 killed your team. I survived the first attack and I … I was the one that helped you…. It was me." Ianto said in the same tone though his eyes shone too brightly. He cleared his throat and kept walking as Jack stopped in his tracks to stare at Ianto in shock.

"You mean...we...I…" He licked his suddenly dry lips, "We did...that...and it didn't work?"

"Many worlds Jack, many things that can go wrong."

"Wait, how many have you been to?"

"Don't know, I stopped counting after awhile."

"How did you manage it? Reality jumping is beyond dangerous existence itself can be threatened."

"I can't tell you that."

"Why not?"

"Because you would make the same mistake I did, you would try to find a world they never visited." Ianto said and smiled at Jack then gestured for him to move closer. As Jack approached Ianto leaned close and whispered in his ear, "There aren't any."

Jack blinked and frowned."That's impossible."

"Sure." Ianto agreed and kept walking.

Chapter Text

Jack had dozens of boltholes on at least as many planets but the only home he had ever had in Cardiff was long gone. Presumably UNIT or a similar organization had combed the wreckage of the Hub for anything useful and moved on. He didn't want to go back to its site. Instead he booked an expensive hotel room.

He looked down at Cardiff lit up like a jewel in the clear night.

"You sealed the rift then." Ianto said. He was nervous, fidgety, first date nervous why the hell was he nervous? He knew Jack had sealed the rift, had learned the story of Syriath long ago.

Jack smiled then turned to face Ianto. "What do you think?" He asked with an expansive grin.

Ianto walked to the window and stared at the view for what felt like an eternity.

"Are you okay?" Jack asked.

Ianto was staring blankly out at the night. He shivered and looked down, away from the view then up at Jack. "No, not really." He said and slid open the balcony door. Jack followed him out.

He leaned against the hip high railing and closed his eyes then breathed deep. "Toward the end they started to terraform Earth. They breathe poison. I spent months scuttling through the countryside at night wearing a respirator."

"If you don't want to talk about it …"

Ianto opened his eyes and smiled. "The air tastes good here."

"Why did you save me?" Jack asked, his voice was almost plaintive.

"Someone had to." Ianto said and shrugged one shoulder.

Jack sighed and shook his head. Ianto smirked at him. "I love you Jack, or at least, some version of you but I hate you too, I hate you and I feel guilty about ...things I've done. Things I had to do, to you, to others ...to survive."

"You probably know me better than anyone Ianto." Jack said.

"Yes well." Ianto said and laughed a short bitter sound.

"You can stay here, be safe here. I can get you a new identity...Rhiannon -"

"No. I can't...I can't." He shook his head emphatically.

"Fine, then we don't have to stay here...you don't have to stay here. I have resources, you can have a brand new life anywhere if you want it."

Ianto didn't reply. Jack took his hand. "I still have retcon."

Ianto laughed and squeezed Jack's hand then shook his head. "Tried that. I retconned four years of my life away. It comes back and … it's worse not knowing."

Jack thought of the two years the Time Agency stole from him and sighed. "Could...can we start over? Just you and me? Clean slate?" Jack asked.

Ianto faced Jack, looked up into his familiar handsome features, and smiled. "For awhile, for tonight…" He said softly. Jack kissed him, tender and tentative then Ianto kissed him back but it was hesitant almost chaste.

Jack pulled away with tears in his eyes.

"I'm sorry." Ianto whispered. Jack held him as fog rolled in from the bay and the night grew old.


 

Jack watched dawn break over Cardiff. Ianto was in his arms, asleep. The impossible made possible. But this wasn't his Ianto, could never be that man. He looked down at the familiar face and felt a throb of grief stab him.

Ianto opened his eyes. He felt warm, secure, safe in a way he had thought lost to him. "You don't sleep." He said.

"Right." Jack said.

"Did you mean what you said? About a new life?"

"Yes. Everything."

"I don't know what I want." He said but didn't stir from Jack's arms.

"You don't have to decide -"

Somehow he was kissing Ianto and Ianto was kissing him and it was gentle and eager and right.

Chapter Text

Gwen glared at her phone, she heard the distant generic ring of an unanswered line squeaking from it.

"Answer." She ordered but it clicked over to a generic voice-mail message. "Jack, call me back, I want to make sure you...just call me back okay?" Gwen snapped into her handset.

"Still no word from the hero eh?" Rhys asked as he finished fixing Anwen's breakfast

"You should have seen him Rhys, he wasn't himself."

"Oh that'd be a sight."

"I'm serious and...there's more." She said guiltily.

"Ah no what now?" Rhys groaned.

So she told him. She told him that she hadn't been gone for a couple days but for weeks, that she hadn't been out of town with Jack to check on strange reports of possible alien activity but had been coerced by Ianto - no not that Ianto but yes kind of that Ianto - into rescuing Jack and now that Not-Ianto was there, on Earth, in Cardiff and he was crazed and dangerous.

"Don't hold back or nothing." Rhys scowled at her.

"I sound like a madwoman -"

"Gwen, we watched death stop, you brought it back again, after that not much is going to surprise me you daft woman." He sighed and pulled her into a hug.

"So this other Ianto, god that sounds weird, what's his problem?"

"The 456, they came to his Earth too, only he survived the first attack. Humanity failed I don't know how or why but they gave in and the 456 didn't stop at 10% of the children. They invaded and wiped us out. Everyone. He...watched it...managed to escape into a parallel reality with some salvaged alien technology."

"He survived an alien invasion and the genocide of the human race?"

"Yeah and there's something else going on, something between him and Jack, or maybe Jack from other realities, I don't know it's a huge mess. But he's dangerous and Jack…"

"Aye well I know what I'd do if I lost you and your lunatic doppelganger showed up, hold on and never let go." Rhys said gently.


 

Ianto woke slowly, he wasn't used to the warm silky sheets, the soft feather pillows, the warm clean air… disoriented he sat up sharply and remembered where he was, who he was and what he was doing. On Earth, in Cardiff, safe ... with Jack.

He heard Jack singing to himself from the bathroom and remembered the night before. He closed his eyes and shivered at the memory. It had been as though no time at all had passed since he was last with Jack...only it had. He opened his eyes and shook his head. Jack had noticed new scars on Ianto's pale skin, most earned during his scavenger's life on his Earth in the end days. But Jack...Jack was just the same as he ever was. In every single world Ianto had crashed into the 456 had visited Earth and Captain Harkness was an immortal involved with Torchwood. Only his life had been significantly different.

"You're up." Jack grinned as he exited the bathroom. He was naked as a jay because of course he was. "Are you hungry? I was thinking room service, I don't know if you want to risk being recognized, if you're willing to risk it I know a place - what's wrong?" Jack asked.

Ianto had pulled a sheet around himself and was backing away from Jack. "Sorry I just...can you stay there for a minute." He said and squeezed his eyes shut. Jack frowned in confusion but remained still.

Ianto was remembering. So many lives, so many fragments of stolen lives, so many deeds both noble and wicked. He was remembering Jack standing in a doorway and coming at him to do violence...then it was him, he was standing over Jack and there was so much blood…

"Ianto -"

"Don't, really don't." He hissed. Finally the memories, the cascade of chaos and blood faded to background he opened his eyes and looked at Jack, managed a shaky smile.

"What the hell was that?"

"I've lived...so many lives, I can't keep them all straight sometimes they well, pile up."

"Are you okay now?"

"Yes, room service I think." He smiled and tried not to see Jack covered in blood every time he looked at him.

Jack ordered while trying hard to be his jovial self. Ianto was seriously fucked up, more so than he had thought possible. Evidently reality hopping was manifesting in physical and psychological symptoms. The human mind was never designed to maintain the strands of so many lives and memories all at once. While they were eating Jack considered what to do.

"You're not listening." Ianto said and smiled.

"Sorry."

"It's okay. I don't mind."

"These episodes, how frequent are they?"

"It's hard to say. They're usually triggered. I imagine they'll be more common here...in Cardiff with you."

"Well that settles it then, let's leave. You won't have to worry about running into anyone and -"

"No. I...this is my home. I have so many memories of it as rubble...a slaughterhouse. I want new ones, better ones...with you."

"Ianto we can do that but memory cascades are dangerous, you're mortal and you were never meant to jump realities like this."

"My memories are going to kill me?" He asked with a smirk.

"I don't know, maybe, or maybe they'll just overwhelm and confuse you and you'll do something you regret in the midst of it." He said gently.

"I've done plenty of that without a memory cascade to blame." Ianto snapped then closed his eyes and slowly shook his head.

"Ianto, please, if we leave Cardiff it might buy time to figure this out."

"I'm staying here. I won't be driven out of this city again."

"We can come back once we -"

"No." Ianto said firmly.

Jack sighed and pushed his breakfast away. Ianto rose and kissed him, settled onto his lap and grinned.

"Make up sex." Jack sighed.

"Your kryptonite." He grinned wickedly then shoved him back. Jack's shoulders hit the back of his chair and his head snapped back as Ianto kissed him aggressively still straddling his hips. Jack was having trouble thinking, he pulled away and looked into Ianto's flushed face then he wrapped his arms around him and stood still cradling him and carried him to their bed.


 

"Gwen relax they're probably uh catching up for lost time -"

"He can take a breather and return a bloody phone call or suffer the consequences then."

"Fine but don't blame me if you come out of it blind." Rhys snorted as Gwen took a corner entirely too quickly for their little family car to handle safely.

"Gwen!" He squawked and clutched at the car roof to stay in his seat.

"How'd you even find him?" He asked once she eased off the accelerator.

"He booked a room under his own name."

"That doesn't seem clever."

"Well as far as we know there's no one actively after him here."

"Yeah as far as you know." Rhys said darkly then winced as she found the gas pedal again.

The hotel was well beyond Rhys' average means. As he followed his lunatic spouse through the lobby he grinned and waved at the astonished posh onlookers. Gwen made a beeline to the front desk and demanded to know which room was Jack's.

"Torchwood, Jack Harkness, which room?" She snapped.

The receptionist answered then handed an actual key to a youth in a tailored uniform. The youth lead the way to an express elevator and keyed in a code as the doors slid shut.

"Bypasses all call requests. Torchwood?" He asked.

"Yep." Gwen said pulling her sidearm and checking the safety.

"Saved Cardiff a few times, the whole world awhile back right?"

"Yep." She said again.

"You don't know the half of it mate, it'd keep you up nights, this one time -" Rhys started.

"Rhys." Gwen warned.

"Right well here we are." He said and lead them out of the elevator. Gwen spotted the room easily enough, a room service trolley was parked to one side of the door. She gestured Rhys and the youth back to cover and crept up on the trolley, she didn't trust an alien wouldn't be hiding in it ready to eat her face.

She was lifting the tablecloth when she heard a cry from the room. Reacting on instinct she booted the door and entered via a diving roll, she came up on one knee with her weapon drawn ready to fire.

Then she squealed, "Oh my god! I'm so sorry!" and bolted from the room.

Rhys poked his head around the corner, saw the broken door, Gwen's tomato red face and burst out laughing.


 

"Did you hear something?" Jack asked breathlessly as he collapsed next to Ianto.

"I...think...Gwen...stopped...by." Ianto gasped and started to laugh between breaths.


 

"You dramatic idiot!" Rhys hooted as Gwen desperately prayed her blush would go away. "Told you -"

"Oh god I'm so so sorry." Gwen stammered as Jack finally appeared wearing a hotel robe.

"Y'know all you have to do is ask if you want to join in." Jack smirked.

"Oh fuck off Harkness." She sniped and holstered her weapon. "You need to learn to return a phone call."

"Everything alright out here?" Ianto asked poking his head out of the shattered door frame.

"God, I'm so sorry Ianto, he didn't return any calls -" Ianto just grinned and worked on buttoning up his shirt.

"We're fine but you know next time, maybe knock first?"

"I heard...I mean I thought...oh bite me Harkness." She glowered still completely flushed in embarrassment.

Ianto ducked back into the room to finish dressing.

"Aside from the obvious how is he?" She asked. Rhys was chatting with their helpful new friend down the hall.

Jack filled Gwen in on the memory cascades he was finishing up when Ianto reappeared.

"You, get dressed." Ianto said after thoroughly enjoying the sight of Jack in the fluffy too short robe.

"Seriously I'm really sorry." Gwen apologized again.

"Don't worry about it, probably happen again at some point. You know how he is." Ianto said kindly.

"Yeah, listen how are you doing? I mean this must be pretty different -"

He narrowed his eyes as he studied her face then smiled. "Look you two may as well come in, there's no point standing out here." He said and re-entered the room.

"Managed to talk your man into limiting the charges for your heroics." Rhys said proudly as he followed Gwen in.

Chapter Text

Ianto dreamed when he slept. Every night, every nap, without fail. He dreamed of the death of the human race. He dreamed about being hunted. He dreamed about killing humans and aliens and stealing and lying and all the myriad sins earned through a life at odds with his reality in every sense.

He slept in a luxury hotel room in Cardiff, Wales. His lover standing guard while his friends worked to find a way to save him.

In his dream he was hiding in the lowest level of the Hub. It was the height of the invasion on his Earth. He heard the foot soldiers of the 456 - malformed horrifying creations designed to endure Earth's fatal environment - creeping through the upper levels.

He hadn't slept in days, he hadn't eaten in over a week. He was weak from hunger and near-delirious with exhaustion. He heard the movement above cease and held his breath. He heard things when he was this exhausted.

He mouthed the word food and carefully returned to searching. Then he heard it at the door, the low clicking shriek of one of the soldiers. It had found him. He stood, slowly, shakily and raised a rifle to his shoulder. It would be as useful as tissue paper against the monster behind the door but there was nothing else he could do and he would not die on his knees. Not after all this time, not after -

The door gave way.


 

Ianto sat up with a scream and clawed at the blankets trapping him. Jack immediately hurried to him but Ianto struck out at him.

"Ianto wake up!" Jack shouted and Ianto's eyes snapped open. They were wide with fear slowly they focused on Jack.

"You utter bastard." He hissed.

"Ianto? You were dreaming -"

The last of the dream cleared from Ianto's mind, he relaxed and looked away from Jack.

"I'm sorry, god I'm so sorry."

"It's okay." Jack soothed but he was unsettled. He was certain that he had seen part of Ianto the younger man had never intended for Jack to see. What had happened between Ianto and the other Jacks?

"Martha will be here in a few hours."

"Jones?"

"Yeah, she's with UNIT now."

Ianto shifted until he was sitting on the side of the bed. Thin light filtered into the room from the balcony. The light highlighted the scars and contours of Ianto's body. He was fitter than Jack had ever known him to be. All hard angles, flat planes and rippling scar tissue. A day's growth of stubble peppered his chin.

"I'm fine now Jack."

"Until another cascade hits, what then?"

"Everyone dies Jack." Ianto snapped venomously.

"Ianto listen to me, whatever happened to you in those other worlds, whatever went on between you and the other ...it didn't happen here, I'm not your enemy."

"When you look at me you see him Jack. When you touch me you remember him, his skin, his lips... it's the same for me. You're faced with only one version of me, you only have to stop and think about who and what I am to you compared to him I...I've been to hundreds..maybe thousands of realities Jack. You know what you're capable of do you think all my memories of you are particularly fond?" He hissed.

"I can't help that." Jack snapped.

"No, you really can't." Ianto agreed bitterly.

"I'm sorry Ianto, whatever I...they...did. I'm sorry."

"Please don't touch me." Ianto whispered as Jack sat next to him.

"I love you Ianto." Jack whispered.

Ianto laughed harshly with tears in his eyes, "No, no you really don't Jack. You loved him and you ...care...about me. But love?" He stood up and turned his back on Jack, unable to look at him.

Jack thought of the House of the Dead, of realizing the Syriath hadn't just created a version of Ianto based on Jack's memories, that she had pulled Ianto, the real Ianto, from the time stream. That the man in front of Jack was truly the man he had loved and lost.

"Ianto, six months ago, you died in my arms. You're a ghost."

"No."

"I came looking for you, I couldn't resist."

"I'm dead."

"You were here waiting for me when I walked in. Ianto Jones, never late."

"But, I feel real. I'm not a ghost. I had porridge this morning, didn't I? Jack, I can't remember."

"I didn't think you'd be so real. I had hoped for less."

"Thanks."

"You don't understand. I thought it would just look like you."

"It!"

"I could cope with that. I didn't dream it would actually be you. Syriath used my grief and she reached into time. She recreated you, Ianto, and I... oh... I can't bear to look at you."

"I...I think I understand."

"Why? Because of Syriath?"

"You-"

"I probably know more about you than you know about yourself Harkness." Ianto snapped.

"Ianto please just -"

"I'm tired Jack. I'm tired of being on this endless bloody treadmill of pain. I call you a monster but you know what? I am no better. I've done...things… there's a certain freedom to knowing the world is ending...knowing...knowing you can just slip into a new version of hell. Take that freedom and add a will to survive...almost anything can be justified." He spoke softly, carefully then looked at Jack waiting for an answer.

"I can't judge you Ianto, you want me to, but I can't -"

"Why not Jack?! You've judged thousands of others, killed in the name of the greater good for thousands of years. Why not judge me? Because you think you love me?"

Jack didn't answer for a very long time. "I can't judge you Ianto, I don't have the...the right."

"Then who does Jack? How do I live with what I've done? How do I -"

"You go on Ianto, you go on and you try to make the world better, you try to save lives -"

"That's what you do isn't it?"

"I - yes, it's what I do, it's why I do what I do."

"Captain Jack Harkness...hero." Ianto pronounced the words with exquisite bitterness.

"You can have a life with meaning Ianto you can -"

"I killed you Jack." Ianto interrupted. "You were mortal and I killed you."

"Everyone dies Ianto." Jack said hollowly echoing Ianto's own words.

"At least, you didn't forget me."

"How could I? I may be immortal, but I don't forget. I lose everyone, but I don't forget any of you. I work so hard to remember."

"You make it sound like charity work."

"Don't say that! Never say that!"

"Jack? I didn't think the last thing I'd ever say you would be this... just go away, please, this is horrible."

"I had to see you again. You have no idea what it felt like coming back to life and knowing the world was empty, because you'd gone. No matter how many times I die, I always wake up alone."

"I didn't ask to come back."

"Neither did I!"

"Jack...I didn't save you on that planet."

"I was there too Ianto -"

"They were going to make you mortal. You were going to be able to age and die. Just like you've always wanted. I stole you from them so you'll stay immortal. You'll live forever Jack. Lonely and full of regret...forever."

Chapter Text

"You don't think I'm daft?" Gwen asked. Anwen was sitting on her lap doing her best to tie her mother's hair in knots.

"Oh I don't know about that -" Rhys said with a cheeky grin, "But I can see why you're worried. That's not Ianto, looks like him for the most part but he's more…"

"Dangerous." Gwen suggested as she untangled Anwen's surprisingly strong fingers from her hair.

"Yeah well no." He mused and fell into thought, "Darker, he's darker."

"You know…after he died I found out he'd lied to us about the smallest things. Said his father was a master tailor when he wasn't...things we wouldn't have cared about either way really. It makes me wonder how well I really knew him."

"You were one of his best friends Gwen he trusted you with his life the rest is just trivia." Rhys said gently.

"Ooh you're a clever man you are." She grinned. He leaned over and kissed her, Anwen seized the opportunity to grapple her father's chin.

"C'm'ere you beautiful pest." He cooed and swept her up in one arm while he stirred eggs in a pan with the other. Freed of her burden Gwen stood and stretched.

"Off to check in?"

"Picking up Martha first."

"Right, well, this time try knocking darling." He grinned.

"Very funny." She snorted and blushed slightly. She left the house chased by his triumphant laughter.


 

"So Jack didn't really say much over the phone." Martha said.

"Oh it was a madhouse at the time."

"He said that Ianto Jones was back but not and he's having some kind of fits?"

"Right, okay so it's like this. A few days ago Ianto sent me an email."

"Didn't he die though? I mean, wasn't he one of the people killed by the 456?" Martha asked. UNIT had detailed files but reading files only went so far.

"Yeah, yeah he was, one of the first. He died in Jack's arms." Gwen sighed.

"So?" Martha probed gently.

"I'll get to it, I promise."

"Right, fair enough. So you got an email?"


 

Gwen yawned and looked at her inbox, did a double take, frowned and clicked on the most recent email.

From: IJones

To: GCooper

Subject: This isn't a joke I promise

Gwen,

I need your help to save Jack. Please meet me where the elevator used to be today at noon.

Ianto.

She stared at the email, looked at the time, one hour before noon and stared at the email again.

"Riight then." She muttered then reached for her cell. She tried Jack and was unsurprised when he didn't answer. Rex had gone back to the CIA after the mess at Esther's funeral, uninterested in finding out more about his immortality. For all of Rex's bravery he was a coward at times. Jack had gone off again, leaving Gwen but promising to check back in frequently.

Now, six months later, she hadn't heard from Jack in almost two months. She could ask her mother to watch Anwen for a couple hours, Rhys would be home early so he could take Anwen off her mother's hands by then.

"So that's decided then." She muttered.

Twenty minutes later she was sitting on a stone bench cursing herself for a fool.

Ianto was dead. She had touched his cold pale body, been at his funeral, shared Jack's grief and anger...her friend was dead. Whoever was coming to meet her had better be ready to explain what the point of this ridiculous -

He was early. Of course he was early he was Ianto. Her thoughts rattled away nonsensically as she studied the lean man approaching her. The same fine features, beautiful intelligent eyes… he was dressed in dark jeans, boots, a leather coat and a t-shirt with some kind of pattern.

"Thank you for -" It was his voice, Ianto's voice.

She wrapped him in a hug.

"Ianto! My god you were dead, you died." She said tearfully. He felt different to her, leaner, harder, like there was less to him but it weighed more.

"I'm sorry I'm not your Ianto, it's..complicated, can we go somewhere to talk?" She pulled away and looked into his eyes. His features were sharp and too thin.

"I … okay."

They ended up in a busy cafe nursing mugs of tea and a plate of chips. He ate like he hadn't seen food in weeks. As it turned out, that was basically true.

"So...you are Ianto Jones just not the one I knew?"

"I'm from a different reality."

"How is that possible?"

"After everything you've seen you're really going to doubt this?"

"Fair point I suppose. But if you're from a different reality how do you know that Jack has been taken? You didn't travel in time did you?"

"No, not exactly. Time does move at a different speed in some realities but the differences are seconds or minutes."

"So how do you know he's been taken?"

"Because they tried to recruit me and I refused, but only after they trusted me enough to share their timetable."

"Right, okay, I suppose that makes as much sense as traveling between realities."

"Rescuing him is going to take two people at least. I have a way to get to him." He showed her a wristband suspiciously similar to Jack's. "But I need your help to get him out."

"Okay then let's go."


 

"Wow, and you just went with him?"

"Mad I know, but it was for Jack, you know?"

"Yeah, I know." Martha laughed thinking of her Doctor.

"He seemed fine, he really did. No headaches, no violence, nothing until after we saved Jack."

"Odd. Has Jack done any exam?"

"Ah well, you know Jack -"

"Medical exam?" Martha clarified with a giggle.

"Yes but he didn't exactly report his findings."

"Well, at least I won't have to worry about an amateur muddying things." Martha teased. "So tell me, how is your family?"

Chapter Text

Martha made a call and reserved a UNIT facility then cleared out the staff to ensure privacy. Gwen and Jack watched the exam from a central observation room equipped with a conference table and chairs.

"Okay, let's get your vitals." Martha said.

She weighed and measured Ianto then checked his pulse and other vitals. She drew three vials of blood and was checking his eyes for pupil response when he pulled away.

"Are you okay?"

"Just a headache"

"I'll get you -" He slid off the exam table then gripped it for support as his knees gave out and he half fell to the floor.

Jack hurried in as Martha helped Ianto back up.

"Jack -" Martha started to ask him to stay back when Ianto went rigid, his nose started to bleed again his eyes rolled back until only the whites showed.

"Tranquilizer!" Jack snapped. Martha was already moving. Gwen arrived and helped maneuver Ianto so he wouldn't fall off the table again while the spasms gripped him

"Ianto hang on!" Martha said and jammed a syringe into his thigh and depressed the plunger. Slowly the painful rigidity seeped away and his body went limp. Martha checked his pulse, breathing, and pupil reaction then let out a breath.

"He's okay for now." Martha sighed. "He can't take many more episodes like that, the stress on his body will kill him."

"Gwen, did he have these fits when you were traveling together?" Jack asked.

"No, he seemed fine. The first time anything was strange was on the way back, Jack?"

He was nodding along with her.

"Right."

"So what changed?"

"He rescued Jack." Gwen said.

"What would that have changed?"

"Oh god Ianto." Jack said softly and took his lover's hand as realization dawned.

"Jack?" Martha pressed.

"Paradox."

"That would require time travel wouldn't it?"

"Where's his coat?" Jack asked.

Gwen handed the heavy garment to him. Patiently Jack examined it and emptied the pockets until he had a pile of items on a surgical tray. He sighed and picked one up. It was a wristband like his own.

"Jack what's -"

"He's the focus of a paradox, somehow he used this to jumped backwards in time and when he returned something he changed created a paradox, I don't know how." Jack said grimly.

"Jack, a paradox...it would need a paradox machine to sustain it, the amount of power -"

"Somehow he's the nexus for it, we have to reverse the paradox or free him from it."

"Jack, the Master needed to hijack the T.A.R.D.I.S. to create a paradox machine. How has Ianto created one?"

"I think he's the paradox machine, somehow he has created it and is now sustaining it, at least until his body gives out." Jack said and brushed a stray hair out of Ianto's face.

"Then how do we stop it Jack?" Gwen asked.

"Jack, the damage that's been done -" Martha said gently.

"We have to try." He said grimly. Martha nodded but her expression was sad and resigned.

"How do you know about a paradox machine?" Gwen asked.

"When I was away...Martha and I were trapped in a paradox. Look, nothing good comes of a sustained paradox they always fail and when they go -" He shook his head.

"He's going to be out for a few hours, you should get something to eat or rest." Martha said resting a hand on Jack's forearm.

Reluctantly Jack left to find them food.

"What happened during the paradox Martha?"

"Nothing good. We stopped it, the paradox collapsed and reality reset to the point the paradox was created. The only people aware of the paradox reality were at the heart of it when it failed. Jack, my family, the Doctor, a few others."

"Ianto is dying isn't he?"

"Not at the moment, but each of these fits puts an incredible strain on his body. Eventually he'll suffer an aneurysm or a heart attack." Martha said. "Help me move him." She said moving a gurney closer to Ianto. They managed to maneuver his limp bulk onto the gurney.

Gwen removed his boots while Martha carefully slipped off his shirt. She hesitated once he was bare chested. Ianto, their Ianto, had been very fit but this man was nothing but muscle and gristle. As he breathed a cross work of thin scars on his chest shifted slightly. He had other scars, one, low on his belly, looked like it had been caused by a blade.

"Oh my god." Gwen breathed and touched the prominent scar.

"He was gutted." Martha said almost to herself.

Gwen shivered, "Rhys said he's darker than our Ianto."

"He's probably right. By the looks of it he's been tortured and...I think those are animal bites."

"We shouldn't be staring." Gwen said remembering how painfully private her Ianto had been.

Martha applied several sensors to his bare chest then covered him with a light blanket. Gwen used two packages of gauze and a bottle of water to clean the blood from his face.

"S'nice." Ianto slurred as Gwen finished.

"Hey you, how do you feel?" She asked.

He blinked and looked around in confusion, then his eyes cleared and he sighed.

"How long was I out?"

"About half an hour." Martha said. "How do you feel?"

"Head hurts and I'm sore...thirsty." He said softly.

Martha handed him two capsules and a small glass of water. Gwen helped him sit up.

"What's the verdict?" He asked and swallowed the pills and finished the water.

"What the hell were you thinking screwing around with a paradox?" Martha asked.

He sighed and handed Gwen the empty glass. "Well, that's that then." He said.

"Ianto, whatever you've done is killing you." Gwen said.

"When you die the paradox will reset, you'll die for nothing." Martha said quietly.

"How do you -"

"I've seen what a proper paradox machine can do Ianto. I've lived through it and when it failed - and they all fail - reality snapped back. Whatever you're trying to do won't last."

"Listen to her Ianto, tell us what you've done, maybe we can find another way -" Gwen insisted.

"You think this is the first time I've done this? The first time you've given me this lecture? I've been to hundreds possibly thousands of realities, I've spoken to a hundred different versions of both of you. I know what I'm doing and I know what it will buy me." He said quietly.

"Death? In the end everything you do will be wiped out except you'll die. Is that really worth it?" Martha demanded.

"Will I die? If the paradox snaps back and reality resets then I'll live won't I?"

"No, you won't, you're the center of the paradox, anyone and anything too close to the paradox retains memories and other effects from it. You'll die Ianto."

He just studied her then shook his head very slightly. "You don't have all the information Martha, you can't."

He closed his eyes as though in pain and looked away from her. She waited for an answer, once it became clear he wasn't going to give one she sighed and left to finish running tests on the blood she had drawn.

Gwen watched Ianto as he argued with Martha, as he ignored Martha, and as he waited quietly. She couldn't reconcile this man with her friend. Of course, she hadn't really known her Ianto that well either had she? He had been so very good at blending in and presenting an impenetrable facade of competence...Once he had began a relationship with Jack he had grown more relaxed and confident with her and the others but he was still intensely private. Always watching and thinking, planning ahead, it was what made him an indispensable aide it was also what made him potentially dangerous. A malicious version of Ianto would be the perfect chameleon, overlooked, underestimated, and given free access to everything that mattered. Including Jack.

Chapter Text

Jack returned with food. The women were in the observation room.

"How is he?"

"He did it on purpose Jack." Martha said.

"Why?"

"He won't tell us." Gwen growled. She started portioning food out for them.

"He's a dead man in this world right?"

"But he's not from this world." Gwen pointed out.

"The Doctor said that moving between realities was more dangerous and difficult than time travel and the consequences of doing it too often could be beyond catastrophic."

"He's right, the Battle of Canary Wharf nearly destroyed two realities. "

"So...what paradox?" Martha asked.

"It could be almost anything." Gwen sighed.

"No...no I don't think so. If it was something massive like what Martha and I went through it would require something as powerful as the T.A.R.D.I.S. to sustain it."

"Hate to say it Jack but that doesn't really narrow it down much."

"What about a very very small paradox, how would that be sustained?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, say someone throws away a newspaper and it's destroyed but for whatever reason you have to read that copy of that paper so, somehow, you do, how would that paradox be maintained?" Gwen elaborated.

Martha frowned. "I don't know, Jack?"

"This is the Doctor's territory but..I suppose it would still require a paradox machine of some kind."

Ianto listened to them bicker through the wall of glass and allowed himself the smallest of smiles. He was doing what was necessary, what had to be done. In all his travels the Torchwood personnel and their allies had rarely, if ever, enjoyed any semblance of peace or happiness. Nearly all except Jack died before the age of forty, usually in pain and alone. He was going to set things right for once, if only for a handful of them. He couldn't save them all, couldn't save himself really. He loathed and adored Jack in so many realities for so many reasons that now he was never sure if he should cut out his throat or ….

He closed his eyes and let out a frustrated sigh. He could feel the paradox killing him. In between cascades he felt his strength flagging, breathing becoming labored, thinking harder. He was running out of time, but so were they. They would stop him if they could, even though what he was doing would help them in the end. It was that dedication that had helped him choose this reality to act in. These versions of his friends to help.

He opened his eyes to see Jack leaning over him.

"Hi." He smiled his movie star smile, blue eyes glittering, and Ianto loved him.

"Ianto, why are you doing this? Just, tell us and maybe we can find -"

"Another way? There are none. Look, just...ask Martha for some painkillers and let's get out of here Jack, I still have some time -"

"No, I'm not going to watch you die when we can stop it Ianto! How can you ask me to do that again?"

"You couldn't save him from the 456 Jack, believe me, I know. Every time Ianto Jones follows you into that building, every time you take a stand instead of making a deal he dies." He didn't mention that he was the only exception to that experience or that he had survived thanks to a near pathological sense of paranoia and preparation. The same habits that had kept him alive and created this opportunity. He was not a good man, if he ever had been, but he was clever, sneaky, and determined.

"Jack it has to be this way, trust me." Ianto said and closed is eyes.

"He needs painkillers." Jack said as Martha approached.

"He needs to stop screwing around and let us help." She sighed then took his vitals.

"I don't like his heart rate, I can't risk giving him an opiate, he could stop breathing."

"What can you give him?" Jack snapped.

"Jack this isn't my fault, or Gwen's or yours. It's his, he is choosing this." Martha snapped.

"Just...give him something and get him on his feet." Jack snapped and rubbed his neck. He glanced at Gwen who frowned at him.

Martha gave Ianto an injection and handed Jack a bottle of pills.

"Get up." Jack snapped and hauled Ianto upright. the leads attached to his chest pulled free setting off machinery. He stood shaky but upright and glared at Jack.

"You can't stop this or fix me."

"I'll be the judge of that. Gwen grab his coat." Jack said softly while staring into Ianto's pained eyes.

"Jack…" Ianto started to argue then shook his head. The iron grip on his arm wasn't going to listen to reason.

Ianto followed Jack as best he could, every step sent tendrils of discomfort rippling through his battered frame, but he had endured far worse.

Jack dragged him out onto the street, among the citizens of Cardiff. "What you're doing could destroy everything you see Ianto, the man I knew would never risk that."

"I am not him Jack. I've been to so many worlds, met so many versions of you - and me. Do you think this is easy for me? After everything I've done and seen, all the misery I've endured ...to give up now? To die? Do you think that's fucking easy? You were mortal during the Miracle weren't you?"

Jack nodded.

"Then you know something of what this is costing me. I'm so tired Jack that part of me wants an end but there are things I can...fix...if I do this, things I can set right. I'm going to die Jack, I'm mortal there's nothing you can do."

"I can't let you die."

"I'm not asking you to let me Jack, I'm asking you to help me." Ianto said.

"I-" Jack broke off and stared at Ianto as confused Cardiff citizens took in the sight of two grown men, one half naked and dressed like a space cowboy, having an argument in downtown Cardiff in the middle of a sidewalk.

Ianto took Jack's arm and pulled him back into the clinic entrance.

"When you saw him at the end of the world...at that pub with Syriath...you planned to end your life to be with him Jack. If you…" Ianto let out a breath and shook his head then released Jack's arm.

"This is happening, you can't stop it, you can only make it harder on me." Ianto said then kissed Jack. Jack resisted then pulled Ianto close held him tight and kissed him deeply. Letting the pain and confusion of the last few weeks drop away.

He opened his eyes slowly and looked into Ianto's blue eyes rimmed with pain.

"Please Jack."

"The risk Ianto, it's not just you -" Jack said tears on his cheeks he held Ianto's face.

"Jack, I can do this, this is not the only reality I've been to...I know the risks." As he spoke he gently removed Jack's hands and held them.

"Help me Jack, please." He asked again.

"I can't Ianto, I can't...you should know that -"

"I know you're the same man that traded 12 children for Earth's future, I know you threatened to kill me to keep the rift closed, I know you make impossible decisions that weigh on your soul because you're the only one that can."

"Don't throw that in my face! I regret being that man every day -"

"The world needed that man Jack! I need him now! You can't stop this, I won't let you, I have that much strength left, maybe no more than that."

"Damn you Ianto Jones." Jack hissed.

"It's already done Jack, it's out of your hands."

"I saw you Ianto, I made you -"

"Strong, you saved me when I lost Lisa, you showed me a whole world I had never imagined, you loved me and I loved you back but this is not your decision. You can stand by and let it happen or you can help me, you will not be able to stop it. I don't know that your fabled Doctor could either."

"A paradox machine Ianto? This is beyond dangerous, I don't care about the worlds you visited there is no way you can account for every ripple, every impact...nothing good will come of this."

"Oh god Jack, I hope you're wrong, I really do but the reality is it is done. You are standing in the heart of a hurricane wondering how to turn it around, the storm is already here -" He winced and doubled over holding his head.

Chapter Text

Jack reached for Ianto but the younger man pushed him away.

"I'm fine." Ianto said.

"Tell me why Ianto, if we can't find another way then at least -"

"What? You'll be able to judge my choice? You said you couldn't judge me Jack."

"Is that why you -"

"You're so fucking simple Jack, you think you have all the answers and all the secrets but you're a bloody joke. Did it ever occur to you that you're a terrible leader Jack? That the people around you keep dying because you're just not very good? You lead with charisma and sex appeal Jack, you're intriguing and attractive and full of excitement but you're shit at the end of the day. You're the bloody pied piper of Torchwood Jack, playing your pipe ...standing in a charnel house."

"That's not true! I saw you...him - I"

"I don't care Jack. I really don't. I'm so...tired...so empty. I have one thing left to do and this is it."

"Why? Why do all this? Why go to the trouble?"

"You really have to ask? You have a past Jack, a black and red one full of pain and blood and guilt. You try to make amends, try to fix things, try to be better do better why? Why do you do it Jack?"

"I -"

"Shut up that was rhetorical. You do it because aside from that writhing snake wrapped around your soul there's something worth a damn. Your precious Doctor saw it before he saw the snake maybe. You can still love which frankly is absurd and grotesque. You're what, two or three thousand years old now? You've buried so many people Jack so many and yet you keep letting them in. Such a bloody masochist, such a hero."

"Are you finished?"

"Nearly." Ianto said and took a shaky breath.

"You know why I know you so well Jack?"

Jack's eyes blazed but he remained silent.

"Because I am you Jack. Not so old, not so blood soaked but what's a matter of degrees among friends? You've no idea what it took to live this long, what I've seen and done, or maybe you do. So then you wake up one day and realize what exactly you've become exactly how putrid and cruel. So you have a decision to make don't you? Maybe you start a charity, or give away all you own, maybe you appoint yourself defender and protector of a city, or maybe you decide to find a way to set some of it right again."

"Set things right?"

"Paradoxes Jack, they're not always evil things, sometimes if you can manipulate them just right they might serve a greater good." He whispered and closed his eyes.

"This is what you want?"

"No, it's what I need Jack."

"I...okay. Okay I'll help." Jack said softly.

Chapter Text

"Jack?" Gwen called softly.

He was on the roof alone. She carefully approached him and tried again, "Jack? What he said -"

"He knew just what to say didn't he? Just how to make it hurt."

"It's not true." Gwen said fiercely.

"Oh it is, just enough true to hurt like hell." He sighed. He was sitting on a large metal box, Gwen guessed it was some kind of air exchange for the A/C system. She sat next to him and he moved to make a place for her.

"You agreed to help." She said.

"Yes. We can't stop him."

"Martha has something for you she's completed some more tests."

"Gwen… do you blame me?"

"For what?"

"For Owen...Tosh...for Ianto?"

"No, no more than is your due. You showed us the world behind the curtain Jack, that's all."

"Maybe he's right -"

"Jack, do not do this. That man doesn't know you, he knows versions of you, he knows how to hurt you and he's doing it deliberately. There's more going on here Jack, don't let this distract you."

"Right. Of course not." He said sarcastically and stood then flashed her his infectious grin and offered her a hand up.

She took it and followed him wondering how he managed to shrug things off like that or if he was just amazing at compartmentalizing things. She had heard Ianto's entire rant, she had been leaving to call Rhys at the time and been transfixed by it. Ianto had known exactly how to wound Jack. Still, she could think of a few sore spots he had glossed over.

"Jack, does time move differently in alternate realities?" She asked as they exited the stairwell.

"Usually not, at least not significantly."

"Then how could he know about ...well, everything?"

"His wristband, he used it to travel in time."

"Forward or back?"

"Back, maybe forward too but definitely back, that's how he created the paradox."

"Time travel and dimension hopping...did the wristband let him jump between realities as well?"

Jack frowned. "Good question. If he has another artifact we need to secure it."

Martha was in her work area studying something with a microscope when they returned. Ianto appeared to be sleeping.

"How is he?" Jack asked.

"Stable for now." Martha said looking up from her work.

"You found something?" Gwen asked.

"His telomeres are far too short."

"What?" Gwen asked.

"They help determine how old an organism is, the shorter the telomere the older the organism, generally speaking." Jack said.

"Well, that makes sense he had to travel back in time to create the paradox."

"No." Martha said shaking her head. "Not this old Jack he's...hundreds of years old."

"What?" Jack and Gwen asked in unison.

"I can't explain it."

"That doesn't make sense, time travel doesn't impact aging -"

"Oh god Jack, the miracle." Gwen said.

"The miracle?" Martha asked in confusion but Jack's expression was twisting into one of horror.

"You read the UNIT file?"

"Yeah sure but ...oh my god he stood in for Rex didn't he?"

"It was him Jack, he's the one who was made immortal."

Jack walked to Ianto's side, Gwen and Martha followed but at a distance.

"You're awake." He said.

Ianto's eyes opened. "I could never fool you."

"You were immortal, you're from a different reality...a different future."

"Yes. We don't have much time left Jack, I need your help." Ianto said and sat up. The blanket fell away revealing his scars and tight hard body again. Jack closed his eyes and swallowed hard trying to clear his head.

"It's okay." Ianto whispered as he looped his arms around Jack's neck.

Jack opened his eyes, looked into Ianto-not-Ianto's eyes and felt so alone and afraid for a moment that he couldn't breathe.

"Help me stand."

Jack slowly straightened, gripping Ianto's hips to steady him as he slid off the bed.

"What happened to you?"

"Enough." Ianto sighed leaning heavily on Jack. "Your Ianto...take me to where he died."

"You'll need a shirt first Space Cowboy." Martha said with a smile.

Gwen helped Jack get a shirt on Ianto and then held his coat while Jack helped him into it.

"Ianto, what did you use to-"

"I destroyed it, burnt it, and scattered the ashes, before I contacted Gwen."

"Thorough." Martha said. She was filling a syringe.

"What's that?" Jack asked.

"Go juice. he doesn't have a lot of strength and he's running out of time. This will help with the pain and keep him conscious." Martha said offering the syringe up for inspection. It was filled with a green-blue liquid with the opacity of thin milk.

Ianto extended his arm. Martha moved his coat sleeve up until she had enough access then injected him.

"It tingles." He said.

"Yeah, Jack keep an eye on him this could make his heart rate spike."

"Are you still immortal?" Jack asked.

"No." Martha said, Jack frowned at her but Ianto didn't disagree.

"Come on Jack, hero things to do." Ianto said weakly.

"He's mortal Jack and ... dying." Martha said apologetically.

Jack held Ianto and tried to think.

"I'm sorry Jack...those things I said -"

"You can't unring that bell Ianto, maybe you had a point but there's no time to dwell on it now. We have a long way to go and not much time -"

"His wristband Jack." Gwen said holding it up.

"The Doctor -" Martha started to say.

"Yeah I kinda undid what he did. Kinda. I can bounce around my own timeline."

"So when we went to the future to catch a lift that was your timeline?" Gwen asked.

"Sort of. It's complicated. Anyway, point is, I can't teleport that far not with three people, probably not at all. Martha call ahead, clear security for us."

"Gwen I'm going to need your help with him. -" Jack said.

"Four people Jack, he's going to need care." Martha said and picked up a kit she had packed with drugs and supplies.

"Right, call from the car." Jack said.

Ianto slipped into a dozing delirium shortly after they entered England.

"Martha?"

"I can give him a stimulant but it's going to be dangerous it would be better to wait until we have no choice otherwise his heart may give out."

"Right okay then." Gwen sighed. She was half holding Ianto in the rear of the SUV.

"Martha has UNIT cleared us?"

"Yes, we have a clear path and won't be stopped by security though I wouldn't ask for any favors for a couple decades this burned a lot of bridges."

"Ah they always say that." Jack said with a ghost of his usual humor.

"Sure they do Admiral Jack." Gwen snorted.

"Hey Octopus Rock was not my fault. No one could have anticipated a 150 million year old alien intelligence living in the Marianas Trench!"

"Doesn't mean they don't remember it." Martha snorted.

"Jack?" Ianto asked.

"I'm right here." Jack said.

"Hurry…" Ianto whispered and closed his eyes again.

Jack floored it and hoped UNIT hadn't been downplaying their clear path to the heart of the British government.

Jack hauled Ianto out of the rear of the SUV and laid him out on the sidewalk, Martha knelt and prepared a syringe for him. She injected it and waited with held breath.

Ianto's eyes snapped open and he coughed hard then tried to sit up.

"Okay get him in, now." Martha said as she put her gear away. Gwen and Jack each took a side and pulled Ianto upright then half dragged him inside.

They were both panting with effort when they burst into the huge open room where the 456's case had sat five years before and John Frobisher had stood as the mouthpiece of a corrupt and morally bankrupt government, the room where Ianto Jones died.

"Where was he?" Ianto asked.

Jack closed his eyes trying to remember then lead them to what he thought was close.

"I need the wristband, my wristband." Gwen pulled it out of her pocket and put it on Ianto's left wrist.

"Thank you." He said and stepped away from them. He was shaky but managed it.

"I"m sorry Jack, goodbye." He said and then touched the wristband. There was a white flash and he was gone.

A few long moments passed.

"Is that it? Just thanks bye?" Gwen asked.

Then there was a second flash of light and Ianto reapparead.

"What?" Jack said in astonishment. The man standing before them wore a rumpled suit and a look of utter confusion. He was holding a time agent wristband and there was a still oozing forked cut on one cheek.

"Ianto?" Jack asked in astonishment then clutched at his head and went down on one knee.

His memories were reordering, he had two sets now, it wasn't his Ianto that died of the plague it was their Ianto, the violent lunatic from a hell reality, he had arrived with a wristband, handed it to Ianto - who then disappeared, collapsed to his knees and seconds later been infected and moments later died in Jack's confused anguished arms. His last words had been, five years.

Jack lowered his hands and looked up.

"Ianto?"

"What the hell just happened?" Ianto asked.

Then Gwen was hugging Ianto and crying and Martha was helping Jack up and then everyone was hugging and Ianto was desperately confused but glad that his friends were there but wondering where the child stealing homicidal aliens had gone.

"Seriously though, what the hell is going on?" Ianto asked again.

"You were dead, you died Ianto and now, well you're not." Gwen stammered. Jack pulled Ianto into a bear hug then kissed him deeply and passionately.

"What about the paradox?" Martha asked.

"It collapsed when he died." Jack said pulling from his new memories but still holding Ianto.

"You remember?" Gwen asked.

Slowly Jack released Ianto staring at him not able to believe he was there.

"One minute we were facing down the 456, the next they were saying they had released the plague, then he was there, he took Ianto and gave him the wristband then…" Jack took a shaky breath. "Then Ianto was gone and he was dying. Remember what happens at the heart of the paradox isn't impacted by the collapse."

"So he's here for good? Our Ianto?" Gwen asked.

"I...I think so." Jack laughed.

"Wait, I was snatched from death...by me?"

"Uh well, a parallel reality version of you." Gwen clarified.

"Jack? If you're all done we need to clear out." Martha said holding her phone.

"We're done." He said with a grin.

The SUV had several tickets pasted to the windscreen when they returned to it. Ianto felt badly shaken, Jack had finally told him that almost six years had passed since his 'death'. Rhiannon would be sure he was dead, would have grieved and moved on, her children would be half grown. Maybe...maybe that was for the best. He had done little but cause her pain and yes, he had decided to try harder and do better with her but that was half a decade ago…

"Buckle up!" Jack grinned at him as he climbed into the SUV. Martha had stayed behind to update UNIT. Gwen sat in the middle rear seat and tried to wrap her head around what had happened.

She was exhausted by days without sleep or very little, constant stress...she yawned hugely and as Jack left the city the comforting thrum of the SUV's tires on the road soon lulled her to sleep.

Ianto watched the city and its suburbs fade away as the sun set and the moon hid behind thick clouds. His mind whirled. Hours ago he had been caught in the explosion that destroyed the hub, now it was somehow years later. Jack was at his side but who knew where they stood? No time had passed for him but years had passed for Jack what had he been through? He didn't think Jack and Gwen had a physical relationship, the tension so familiar from days past remained. Was there someone else?

He remembered Jack's kiss and doubted he had a rival for Jack's affections. At least, if there was, they weren't a serious contender. Maybe. He had started his relationship with Jack assuming it was all fun and games. Of course, he was terrible at casual relationships. He had always wondered what Jack really thought of them. He said Ianto wasn't a diversion more than just a blip in time…

"You're pretty quiet."

"Lot to think about."

"How long has it been since you've eaten?"

"Apparently several years." Ianto said dryly. Jack laughed.

"We'll stop for something to eat at the next exit. "

"Jack...while I was...dead -"

"There wasn't anyone else Ianto, no one that mattered anyway." He said and seemed to be remembering something, or someone.

"It's only been hours for me Jack, I still...feel the same."

"I told you once you were more than just a blip in time to me Ianto, I meant it...mean it." He said and took Ianto's hand. Ianto relaxed as something in his chest finally loosened.

"How did you win? We did win didn't we?"

"Tomorrow. First, food, then sleep."

"Actual sleep?"

Jack grinned.

Chapter Text

Pursuit, the chase, the hunt for answers and vengeance. She looked across the rain soaked city and flared her nostrils, the air was good but the scent of her prey was long gone. This world was innocent but her prey was not, she hunted a monster in pursuit of vengeance for a dead world, her world.

She slipped into the city, long used to passing invisible in the cities and moonscapes of humanity, as she ducked into shadow she whispered a name like a curse.

Ianto Jones.

Paradox: [par-uh-doks]

Noun

A statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth.

A self-contradictory and false proposition.

An unanticipated side effect of time travel. (See also: Temporal Paradox: Grandfather Paradox; Predestination Paradox; Time Loop)