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The earth can have but earth, which is his due;
My spirit is thine, the better part of me...

W. Shakespeare, Sonnet 74

 

The bar was loud. Unpleasantly so, even, but it wasn't like Jack cared.

He didn't come here to enjoy himself; he came here to forget.

It was so unlike Earth bars. That was supposed to be the beauty of it - no reminders, no painful memories. Only there was something in every bar – or anywhere, to be honest, - on every planet, in every world that made him remember, and no matter how hard he wanted not to, he kept the torturous promise.

Even if only because he couldn't do otherwise.

Sometimes Jack wanted to curse Ianto for his dying wish, for forcing this obligation on him, but really, it was himself Jack was angry at. For not saving him. Stephen. Tosh, Owen... an endless list of friends, lovers, strangers he'd failed to protect.

So he drank, and watched people enjoying themselves, and blamed the whole world for his infinite pain. It was easier that way.

***

“Jack,” Ianto's soft voice cut through the silence of the Hub.

“You should go home,” Jack said dully. “I'll be working through the night, lots of stuff to do.”

Because what was he supposed to say? That he couldn't sleep, even – especially – in his lover's normally soothing presence? That every time he closed his eyes he saw Owen and Tosh, and Suzie, and Alex, and so many other faces behind them, accusing, judging? That every time he looked at Ianto, he thought how one day the young Welshman would join that crowd, and his dead face would be equally full of hatred in Jack's head?

The thought made Jack sick.

“That's what you said last time.” Ianto's voice was even, his face carefully composed to be blank. “In fact, that's what you've been saying all week.”

Jack didn't answer. He busied himself in the reports, silently letting Ianto know the conversation was over.

He really shouldn't have been surprised when strong hands grabbed the folder from him and forced his chin up. He wanted to say something sharp and hurtful, but Ianto was quicker.

“Not tonight. Tonight you're going with me,” he said, his startlingly young face mere inches from Jack's, his greyish-blue eyes boring intently into the immortal's face. Ianto grabbed Jack's hand and pulled him up from his desk.

***

Jack motioned for another drink. His immortality meant that getting drunk required time and determination, but Captain Jack Harkness was nothing if not persistent.

***

“Where are you taking me?” Jack didn't exactly struggle, tiredly allowing Ianto to lead him.

“A bar,” was the answer. Jack winced.

“Look, I'm not exactly in the mood for drinks.”

This time, Ianto didn't answer at all.

***

The tune sounding was vaguely familiar.

You weren't the sort of guy I thought would stick around...

Why the hell did an Earth song play in an intergalactic bar?

Hey, but it don't have to be eternally...

It was infuriating.

You lured me in with your cold grey eyes, your simple smile, your bewitching lies...

It was painful.

You put the Devil in me!

It reminded him of home.

***

They entered a noisy bar together. Ianto's face was calm and impossible to read as he studied the patrons, finally pointing out a beautiful blonde girl at the bar.

“Go bring me her phone number,” he said in a low voice.

“What?!” Jack stared at him in disbelief, irritation seeping into his voice through the fog of insomnia and grief.

“Bring me her number,” Ianto repeated patiently. He nudged Jack towards her. “Come on. I'll be right there.”

Jack stormed towards the woman, fuming and slightly lost. He couldn't understand what Ianto was playing at, what he wanted, and what was the point of this whole farce.

***

The drink pleasantly burnt in his throat, numbing the mind, dulling the pain. But the grief was still there, along with the disapproving crowd and the ugly feeling of emptiness.

And the guilt. That never seemed to go away, no matter what he did and how much he drank.

Jack downed another shot.

***

The girl turned away from him with an angry snort, and Jack felt fury rising along with embarrassment.

He didn't need that. He didn't want that. He stomped back towards Ianto and was about to pour all his ire on the Welshman, because, honestly, it was ridiculous and exasperating.

Before he could get a word out, though, Ianto wordlessly grabbed his hand and dragged his Captain out of the bar and into another.

This time he pointed at a gorgeous long-legged brunette and Jack approached her, still not complaining but wondering exactly why he was letting Ianto do this to him.

***

Before Jack could ask for another refill, the barman handed him a note.
“From the man over there,” he said.

Jack looked up. Standing across the bar was the one person he thought – hoped? feared? – he would never see again.

Jack stared in disbelief as the Doctor nodded for him to read the note. The Time Lord's face was weary and sorrowful, and Jack couldn't help but wonder what happened to make him that way.

And if he himself looked equally broken.

***

“Ianto, this is pointless!” Jack finally snapped. They were approaching yet another bar – the sixth or seventh – and Jack still hadn't managed to chat up any of the men and women Ianto chose for him. He was exhausted and wanted to go back to the Hub, to be left alone.

Yet he kept following Ianto.

“Is it?” Ianto quietly asked. Something changed in his voice, it no longer sounded emotionless and flat, but sad and tired and somehow pleading. “The brunette in a green top. She's a shop assistant in menswear. Go. Please. I rarely ask anything of you, but please, Jack.”

Somehow, suddenly, Jack wasn't angry anymore. He nodded shortly and made his way to the cute girl, sitting down next to her at the bar, trying to shake himself out of the painful daze of the last few weeks and think of something to say.

“Men really don't have any style nowadays, do they? Everyone wears the same things just because they are fashionable, never even wondering if it looks good on them,” he said to no one in particular. It was a long shot, but Ianto wouldn't have mentioned it just for the sake of conversation, would he? The girl looked at him curiously.

“Well, you definitely don't suffer from lack of a distinctive image. A bit old-fashioned, though, isn't it?” She seemed interested and Jack hoped his patented charm was working again.

“It does look good,” he pointed out, flashing her a bright, confident smile.

“That it does,” she laughed softly. “ The name's Gladys, by the way.”

“Gladys! Lovely name,” he offered her his hand. “Captain Jack Harkness.”

She brought up her hand for a shake, but he adjusted the grip and lifted it to his lips instead. She giggled and looked down shyly, obviously enjoying the attention.

***

His name is Alonso. Jack glanced up, the implied meaning slipping from him. The Doctor was still standing there, unusually quiet and still. He pointed at Jack's left – a barely-there nod, so different from his normally cheerful, almost annoyingly wide movements.

A shaken-looking kid with huge ears, dressed in an Edwardian uniform, took a seat at the bar next to Jack.

Jack looked back to see the Doctor saluting. Jack returned the gesture, somehow sensing that it was a goodbye.

***

Several hours had passed when Jack once again exited a bar, his pockets full of napkins with phone numbers scribbled on them. It was soothing, somehow, to lose himself in the familiar routine of flirting. Sometime during the night Captain Jack, the dashing flirtatious hero, had returned from the dark place he'd locked himself into. He had no idea when or how it happened, but it did make him feel better.

He was also sure whom he had to thank for the change.

“Is it still pointless?” he heard Ianto asking. Jack's grin faded a bit, turning into a genuine smile.

“No, I guess not. Though I don't quite understand what happened there.” Ianto returned the smile at his answer.

“You stopped punishing yourself and lived a little. You did that for me, once, remember? When I was falling apart after Lisa.” They kept walking away from the bar, but Jack still couldn't tell whether they were going back to the Hub or to Ianto's flat.

"Maybe I did. It never had much chance of being a one-off, did it?" Jack chuckled.

"Probably not." Ianto shoved his hands into trouser pockets and lifted his head towards the dark grey sky. "We were already way too tangled in... whatever it was."

"Guess so... If not, I'm not sure it would have worked at all even once," even in that moment of honesty they were careful not to say something too rash, not to define what the "it" they were discussing was. They – more or less – agreed that it was there, it worked, and the word... the word just hasn't been invented yet.

"I killed you that night, didn't I?" Ianto said all of a sudden, looking gingerly past Jack, his smile gone. "When I found you on that planet... I tried to give you CPR and I thought it worked, but it didn't, right? You died and came back. It didn't matter that I tried to save you."

"It did to me." Jack stopped and turned Ianto to face him. He didn't know how to convey exactly how much it meant, that despite disobeying, betraying, even killing Jack, Ianto earned his forgiveness with that kiss of life and a worried, panicked expression that was the first thing Jack had seen as he revived. "Do you hear, Ianto? It meant a lot to me. Besides," he winked slyly, "it was one hell of a kiss!"

The Welshman's lips twitched weakly, causing Jack to smile as well. Ianto whispered then, his features thoughtful and a little sad, “I missed that.”

“What, the flirting?” Jack huffed. “Never thought I'd hear that.”

“The smile,” Ianto's corrected gently, his expression warm. “But the flirting, too. You weren't yourself.”

“Wasn't I?” Jack turned serious.

“I know there's more to you than the image you project to the public,” Ianto assured him. “But that image is still part of you. And we still need the Captain. The protector. The flirt. The hero, whatever you say about it. We need all of you, Jack. I need all of you.”

“I'm here,” Jack pulled Ianto into a hug. “I'm not going anywhere. Not this time. You're right, life moves on – we move on.”

“Just let me in. Let me help. That's all I ask of you,” Ianto said quietly, leaning into the comfort of Jack's embrace, and Jack wasn't sure who was reassuring whom as they revelled in each other's warmth.

They still had something to fight for.

***

The Doctor left, just as quietly as he came, and Jack looked at the kid again. He would wonder later why Doctor sent the note, and what he thought Jack needed, but for now it simply didn't matter.

“So, Alonso,” he breathed in deeply, gathering his thoughts. “Going my way?”

It wasn't perfect, but it was a start, and when Alonso turned to him in amazement, Jack knew it was working.

It was easy, flirting with the kid, who was relishing the attention of a handsome stranger. It wasn't about flirting, really, and it definitely wasn't about sex. It wasn't even about the Doctor and his cryptic appearance.

For Jack, it was about the comfortable familiarity of words and actions, about putting himself back together, now that there wasn't anyone to do it for him.

God knows what it was for the kid, but he looked miserable, and if Jack had learnt anything about the Doctor over the years, Alonso probably needed solace and reassurance, maybe a friendly, non-judgemental ear. And an ego boost.

They kept talking, the kid's huge naïve eyes never leaving Jack's face. The attention was certainly flattering, especially as Jack knew he wasn't as confident and convincing as usual.

Jack soon fell into the usual pattern, mixing genuine and pretentious, real and make-believe. He felt unexpectedly calmer. He felt himself letting go – not of memories, or even the pain, but of the fear of the lifeless crowd inside his head.

He closed his eyes for a moment.

That was it –

– from some safe place deep inside his heart –

– free of accusation or loathing –

– Ianto smiled.