Amy (such_heights) wrote,
Amy
such_heights

TW FIC: I Heard A Whisper (The Way I Might Have Been)

I Heard A Whisper (The Way I Might Have Been)
Torchwood (& Doctor Who) ; Jack/Ianto ; PG-13 ; 10,000 words ; spoilers through 'Journey's End'
The whole world's in danger, if Ianto's to believe the bloke who's showed up claiming to be his time-travelling parallel universe boyfriend. It's the start of a funny old week.

written for thestopwatch, originally posted here, beta'd by onehundredmoons.



"That's it!" the Doctor cried. 'Brilliant, Martha, that's brilliant. If we can take that thing out, and they'll have no choice, they'll have to stop and retreat."

Martha nodded. "Then let's do it." She saluted smartly, grinned at Jack then ran out of the TARDIS.

The Doctor turned to his monitor. "Torchwood, are you in position?"

"Ready and waiting," Gwen said on-screen, while Ianto keyed in rapid commands in the background.

A sharp crackle broke the transmission, and Jack and the Doctor found themselves confronted by the Keldovian fleet captain.

"You will not succeed," she snarled, her eyes glinting with fury as her soldiers took up stations. "Doctor, you may be a lord of time, but you are not its master."

"Ooh, sounding a little big for your boots there, you are," the Doctor replied, and with a final glower she winked out again.

The Doctor glanced over at Jack. "Sarah Jane's set," he mouthed

"This really is just like old times."

The Doctor grinned agreement. "Okay then, here goes. Three . . . two . . . one . . ." He set a flurry of movement going inside the TARDIS, and Jack found himself holding his breath. Silence.

"What happened?" Jack asked. "Did it work? Has the device been neutralised?"

The Doctor shook his head. "I don't know. Hang on, if I can just patch directly into the others' locations . . ."

"Gwen, Ianto, can you hear me?" Jack barked into his earpiece.

"Jack, they're--" The Doctor looked up in disbelief. "All of them, Sarah Jane and Martha's UNIT force and Torchwood, they're just-- gone."

"What? What do you mean they've gone?" Jack tapped his earpiece harder. "Gwen? Gwen! Ianto!"

***


Ianto Jones hauled his suitcase out of the room that had been his home for the last four months. His landlord smiled sadly as Ianto appeared at the doorway.

"We'll be sorry to lose you, you know," he said. "Who'll I get to mend the boiler next time it goes on the blink?"

Ianto laughed. "I'm sure you'll cope somehow."

"And you're sure I can't run you down to the station?"

"Thank you, but no."

His landlord sighed. "Take care of yourself, won't you, son."

"Always do," Ianto replied. He looked around him, shrugged his jacket on a little closer, and stepped out into the muggy rain of the London summer.

Another place, another job gone south (and this time, the whole business had shut down; Ianto figured he carried some sort of curse around with him). With barely enough money for a train ticket out of the capital, there was really only one place left open to him: back home. His mum had been delighted, promising to talk to her brother and see if he still had that delivery spot open.

It was a wrench to leave London, the bright lights that had called to him so, made him pack up everything as soon as he had the funds, wanting nothing more than to get far, far away from Wales. He'd thought, maybe, there was something for him here, some place to become more than a CV of office jobs and mediocre references (Mr. Jones worked here for a time, unfailingly punctual). He squared his shoulders, trying to clear his thoughts.

It had just an idle thought, this new life he'd tried to find. Time to grow up, he told himself, and disappeared into the Underground, heading for home.

***


The first time Ianto met Captain Jack Harkness, six months had passed. A new job (again, his father had noted with some despair), but one that actually paid for him to move out of the family abode into a place of his own. Still a delivery boy, some of the time, but his new boss had big ideas as part of the new empire of coffee cup manufacturing he was planning to launch.

As it turned out, Mr. Leary wasn't the only one who had plans for him.

On this particularly Thursday morning, Ianto pulled up in a parking bay before picking up the parcels from the passenger's seat and getting out of his car. He was walking around the corner towards the post office when someone ran straight into him, nearly sending his packages flying.

"Sorry, sorry," he said, though he at least had been walking in a sensible fashion, unlike the man stopped short in front of him now, breath hitching as though he'd run a marathon.

The man who looked like he was seeing a ghost. The man who, frankly, looked like he was a ghost, all period get-up, braces and everything. Could have been a great fancy dress outfit if it weren't ten o'clock on a Wednesday morning.

"Sorry," Ianto said again, stepping to the side and beginning to move further down the street.

"Wait. Ianto!" The man grabbed his arm.

Ianto whirled back round, wrenching his arm from the man's grip. "Excuse me?"

"Jack."

Ianto suddenly noticed another man slouched in the shadows, who now moved forward, giving his accomplice a look. Ianto couldn't help but feel that this was the weirdest mugging he'd ever heard of. He backed off a little, but didn't make a run for it, not yet.

"Sorry, do I know you?" he asked.

"Weeeeell--" the men looked at each other. "Yes."

"No."

"Sort of."

"Depends how you look at it."

"Because you've never seen either of us before in your life, am I right?"

"But you should have."

They were both looking at him as though what they'd said had made the smallest amount of sense. Ianto sighed. "Well, no doubt you're amusing yourselves, but if you don't mind, I have things to attend to."

"No, no no no, don't go. Look, it's all right, I'm the Doctor, this over here is Jack--"

"-- that's Captain thank you very much--"

"-- and there's about to be a crash down the street in any case so you won't be able to get to Mrs. Newland's for a good ten minutes."

Even as the Doctor spoke there was the sound of screeching tires, shouts and blasting horns. Ianto spun round to see a rapidly mounting pile-up at the end of the street, with drivers racing out of their cars to see what on earth was going on. He groaned.

"You two may have magnificent powers of traffic prediction but that's just put quite the spanner in my day, I haven't got time for whatever it is you want."

"No but wait--" started the Doctor, then Jack shook his head.

"Let me take it from here," Jack said. "Hello, Ianto." He smiled, presumably in a manner designed to be disarming. Ianto's sense of unease failed to decrease.

Ianto frowned. "Sorry, how do you know who I am?"

"Because I do. You're Ianto Jones, born August 19th, 1983. Able student, really nothing out of the ordinary apart from a minor conviction for shoplifting in your teens. Since leaving college you've mostly held down number of temporary jobs, a drifter until you joined the Torchwood Institute in London, or at least you should have. Something changed, and someone's changing it, you got off the bus at the wrong stop or you changed your mind or maybe you never went to London at all, and now we're in trouble."

Ianto was doing his best to surreptitiously eye up possible exits. He might not be able to outrun them, but he had a good knowledge of the backstreets round here, he could stand a chance.

Jack rolled his eyes. "Please, we're not out to rob or murder you; no need for the fight-or-flight stance. We're here because the whole world's in danger and we need your help."

"Someone's mucked around with time," the Doctor piped up, "thrown people out of their proper timelines, changing history. There's you, Gwen Cooper, Martha Jones, Sarah Jane Smith, you're all gone, and we need to get you back."

"Doctor," Jack muttered, "he already thinks we're crazy, that's not helping."

Ianto held up a hand. "I've had enough of this. If you follow me any more I'm going to call the police."

"No, you won't," said Jack.

Ianto's eyes widened. "Was that a threat?"

"Not at all. But you won't, though."

"And why would that be?" Ianto was certain he ought not to be encouraging this madness any further; it couldn't end well. He still couldn't help but wait for the answer.

Jack considered this. "For one, because there's probably a bit of your subconscious that's still in the proper timeline and it's telling you to trust us; also, there's every chance you're already finding me really quite attractive. And because, whether you'll admit it or not, you've been waiting for someone to tell you something like this your whole life, that there's more out there, and you can be a part of it. I know that, because you told me so, or at least you will, when all this gets sorted out. Seeing as you're still stood here listening to me we'll take that as a good start. Go on, Ianto Jones, go do whatever it is you do in this timeline. We'll chat later."

Jack and the Doctor nodded to each other and left, leaving Ianto staring after them until he recalled his deliveries with a start.

***


The second time he saw Jack Harkness, the man was lurking outside his own front door when he drove home that evening.

"Where the hell have you been all day?" Jack snapped as Ianto got out of the car.

"No, you're right, of course I should have rearranged my schedule to suit the needs of a couple of lunatics. What are you doing outside my house?"

"Waiting for you."

"Well, good, that's cleared things up nicely then."

Jack was just standing there, hands in pockets, doing his best impression of an enigmatic bastard, and Ianto knew he ought to make him leave right then, but then he'd never find out what was going on.

"Go on," Jack said, "you must be dying with curiosity by this point! Ianto Jones, who's only happy when he knows everything."

Ianto set his jaw. "Get in the car."

Jack looked momentarily nonplussed. "Sorry?"

"Evidently you won't leave me alone, so all right, I'll listen. But not here. Get in the car."

Shrugging, Jack obliged, and with a pained glance at the peaceful windows of his house Ianto got back in the driver's seat, backing them out of the driveway.

"Plus," he added in an undertone, "if you try anything I can always ram the car into a wall on your side and make it look like an accident."

Jack laughed. "Yeah, as it happens, you're pretty good at that sort of thing."

"I've not got all night, so. Talk." Ianto turned into a busier street, not relishing the prospect of breaking down somewhere on a deserted road with this man.

Jack sighed. "You are such hard work when you're not desperately trying to win my approval, you know. Still! This way's fun too. So it's like the Doctor said, someone's moving time around."

"How?"

Jack looked sceptical. "Got a degree in temporal physics you've kept quiet?"

"Sorry, if it's too much trouble to explain to mere mortals," replied Ianto, irritated.

"They've got a temporal displacement field - it's semi-sentient, locks onto targets and adjusts reality in order to prevent them being at their locations at the time of activation."

Ianto had a sudden visual of a wobbly light beam from a bad 60s sci-fi film, swooping down on Cardiff. He frowned. "These aliens, are they doing this for any reason in particular, or did they just get a little bored one day?"

"Oh no, they're trying to overthrow the human race and all that, you know how it is." Jack shook his head. "But you don't actually have to worry about that - it's a while in your future however you look at it. Of course, I'll still be back to heroically join the fight in an hour or so, but don't you mind me."

Ianto stopped for a red light. "Aliens, in the future, are taking over the planet by coming back into the past and making me stay in Cardiff. Yeah, that's a real master plan that is. Civilisations will quake in fear."

Jack sighed. "And I thought having to give Gwen Cooper the 'there's life out there' shtick for a second time was more than a body should bear. Look, you're a member of Torchwood, or you should be. That means you're our first line of defence against just this kind of invasion and right now, if this timeline plays out . . . let's say that things don't end well without Torchwood there to stop it."

"And what is Torchwood, exactly?" Ianto asked.

"Secret organisation, fights aliens, arms the human race against the future, etcetera, etcetera. What exactly is it you do for a job anyway?"

"Personal assistant, deliveries, admin, that sort of thing," said Ianto.

"Oh, right, very glamorous then, real use of all your talents."

"What are you, my careers advisor now?"

"In a manner of speaking," said Jack.

Ianto glanced at his strange travelling companion and then took a right, driving into a small carpark by the bay. Children were eating ice cream with their parents, teenage boys were attempting to cop a feel off their girlfriends, two old ladies were going for a stroll along the path in front of them, and Ianto's head was spinning.

"You all right?" Jack asked, his voice losing a little of its brusqueness.

Ianto unhooked his seatbelt and turned to face him, doing his best to piece everything together. "Thing is, even if there are little green men trying to take over the Earth and messing around with time, I've still got no earthly reason to trust you. You pulled my information out of some database - that's not very convincing."

Jack nodded. "I know. I'm not really sure why it is that you do trust me - future you, that is, the proper you. But you need to believe me, at least. Because I know you, I do, and I'm going to get you to understand that."

"So then," said Ianto, "prove it."

Jack looked impassively at him for a moment, and Ianto had to fight the urge to squirm under the strength of his gaze.

"Let me see," said Jack. "I know you've got a scar running across your hip from a skateboarding accident when you were a kid. Love the scar, actually," he added with a wink. "I know you like everything in its right place - you crave completion, get a real kick out of wrapping up projects. You can get the measure of people, and not just their clothes. You pick up knowledge and skills everywhere you can, and with Torchwood, you'll find out just how many things you're capable of. You're hard to impress, don't let many people beneath your skin, and you don't fall in love easily. When you do, it's like a force of nature."

Ianto gaped a little. "I should probably ask. You're talking about me - this other version, I mean - like we're . . ."

"Oh, you have this cute little word you used for it once, what was it?" Jack grinned. "That's right, we 'dabble', apparently."

"Really." Ianto meant to sound dry, but feared it sounded a little more strangled than he intended.

"What do you think?"

Ianto cleared his throat, suddenly quite aware that he'd spent the past five minutes eyeing the cut of Jack's coat over his shoulders - masterfully done, his dad would say. "Well," he managed eventually, "this alternate me certainly seems to have undergone some personal growth."

Jack's answering laugh was low and very possibly illegal in a public place, but then there was rapping on the window and the Doctor was peering in at them, face taut and anxious.

Jack swung out of his seat without a backwards glance. Ianto slumped back, grateful for the breather, and though he tried not to listen, snatches of conversation still came drifting towards him.

". . . no matter what I do, Jack, how many places I end up - I've even started crossing my own timeline and I still can't save her . . . all the relays have blown out, with the others, they've barely got defences now . . ."

"We're losing, aren't we?"

There was silence for a while, then Jack opened the door again. "Right. We'll be back - pretty soon for you, I should think. Sit tight, don't do anything that's going to get you noticed or put time any more out of whack." He paused, looking at Ianto, but Ianto had the distinct sensation Jack wasn't looking at him all. Then he blinked, gathering himself. "See you in hell," he muttered.

He shut the door, and Ianto heard footsteps racing off into the evening. Around him, Cardiff went about its evening rituals, the sudden normality of it all, startling. He started the car, heading for home because there didn't seem anything else to do. Ianto wasn't sure when it was he started believing all of this, aliens and time travel and men from nowhere, but by the time he was through his own front door, he didn't have a single doubt left.

***


That night, Ianto dreamt.

He dreamt of aliens, of danger and wonder pouring from the sky, strange metals and bright, bright lights. He dreamt of guns, of fighting, obeying commands with the men and women by his side. He learned impossible things, saw marvels: Jack, rising from the dead, time and again. His captain, all fire and steel and sudden compassion, and Ianto knew he loved him fiercely, devotion and loyalty mixed together while they saved the world.

Thousands of images raced through his mind, things he'd seen and done and people that had died. Ianto woke up exhausted, as though he'd had no rest at all. He called in sick to work that day.

There was not a sign of Jack or the Doctor all day. Ianto tried to keep himself busy, reorganised cabinets, mended a shelf, but he couldn't keep his mind on anything. In the end, he resorted to pen and paper, trying to record the fragments still seething in his brain.

A creature from the abyss, people dying in its shadow - sharp-toothed monsters roaming through the streets - pilots and soldiers, falling through time - a woman in metal armour - a team, five of us, working and fighting together against the aliens.

Past midnight, and someone was banging on the door. Ianto raced forward, awake on his sixth coffee of the day, and opened the door. Jack fell forward from the doorway, clutching Ianto's shoulder. "Water, I need water," he croaked.

Ianto didn't stop to think, just shifted Jack's weight so he could hang on to the banisters then ran to the kitchen, grabbing a pint glass and filling it almost to the brim. When he came back, Jack was sitting on the bottom step and grabbed the water from him, tearing off his wrist strap and shoving it deep into the glass.

"What-- what are you doing?" Ianto asked hesitantly.

"Dampening the signal," Jack explained between ragged breaths, "literally in this instance. They're trying to find me, tracking me with the signal being emitted by that thing." His breathing began to slow. "There. We should be fine."

"But, if they've been manipulating me and you're trying to reverse it, won't my house be a bit of an obvious hideout?"

That earned him a flashing grin. "Good thinking, Ianto. And yes, they'll be coming here, but in about a year's time, which is where I was before I jumped back to now."

Ianto imagined himself opening the door to whoever 'they' were, and suddenly felt immensely relieved Jack was around, which certainly made a change from his deep mistrust of yesterday.

"So," Jack said casually, as though he'd called in for a social visit, "nice place you got here."

"Thought you'd recognise it."

Jack shook his head. "My Ianto has a spotless flat he barely sees."

"Wedded to the job, is he? What fun that sounds."

"Oh, his continual presence has its advantages. My paperwork's in perfect order, I can tell you that much."

"Glad to see I still have some standards, then," Ianto replied, smiling.

"Hey! You know, you should count yourself lucky. Whole societies have pined away for this jawline."

Ianto stared at him incredulously until Jack starting cackling with laughter. "Ah, the withering look, I've missed that." His face fell slightly. "It's-- well, let's say it's been a while since I've seen you. My you."

"Your fight's not going well, is it?" Ianto asked, moving to sit next to Jack on the stairs.

Jack shook his head. "They rarely do. But the Doctor's got a plan, it's gonna be all right. It has to be, really. Fate of the planet in our hands and everything."

"What a terrifying thought."

Jack chuckled. "We're the best and the brightest! You too, you know."

"Mmm," Ianto said. "I think that's the bit I find hard to believe. Time travel's one thing, but me, part of some alien-fighting task force? Sounds a little unlikely. Mind you." He reached into his back pocket, pulling out the fruits of his earlier scribblings and handing them to Jack. "I had some very strange dreams last night."

Jack scanned the paragraphs, eyes widening. "Woah, your subconscious has retained a hell of a lot. That's good news, means you've not been pushed too far out of the right course of things. Guess I don't have to worry about you so much, then."

"The others are giving you problems?"

Jack nodded tightly. "Martha Jones. Fantastic woman, you'll meet her, and we need her really badly about now, but she dies in this version of events. We've tried so many things, so many alterations to the timeline, but every time I get to her she's still--"

Ianto felt Jack's hand clench next to him. "I'm sorry," he offered.

Jack nodded. "Anyway, listen. I need to lie low for the night, give them the slip - you got a sofa I can crash?"

"Allow me to channel my parallel self for a moment." Ianto shut his eyes in mock contemplation. "Yes, I believe that would be acceptable. Come on then."

Jack stood up, then staggered. Ianto was just in time to catch his arm, slinging it over his shoulders. "God, you're a mess, what the hell have you been doing?"

"Being terribly dashing, the usual."

Ianto helped him into the living room, where Jack gratefully collapsed onto the couch. "Do you need anything?" he asked. "Water, a sandwich, stiff drink?"

Jack shook his head. "Time travel and alcohol, now there's one not to try at home. The hangovers last for days. Water'll do fine, thank you."

"Well, I'm planning on staying in the present," Ianto muttered as he went to the kitchen, pouring out water and grabbing a beer from the fridge.

"You really don't have to babysit me, you know," Jack said when he returned. "I'm all right, Ianto, honestly, you should go get some sleep."

"You more than me."

Jack shrugged. "Don't always get the chance to sleep, live without it pretty well most of the time."

"In my dreams," Ianto told him, "you rose from the dead, more than once."

"But that would be impossible, wouldn't it?"

"So is time travel, goes the conventional wisdom."

Jack shrugged, sipped his water. "See, under different circumstances I'd mention that there are plenty of other ways to relax. However, as the fate of the world rather hangs in you not kicking me out of your house, you'll appreciate I'm making an effort here."

Ianto inclined his head. "Duly noted."

"Really, though, this is way too late for you to be entertaining unexpected houseguests, feel free to buzz off."

"What, and leave my time-travelling parallel universe boyfriend to while away a sleepless night on the sofa? I expect the other me wouldn't be pleased."

Jack raised an eyebrow. "Boyfriend?"

Ianto coloured. "But I thought - you said--"

"No, see, we've never had a name for it. But 'boyfriend', I like the sound of that. Might have to persuade you round to it when this is all over."

"Well, maybe I'll be amenable," Ianto replied, smiling despite himself.

Jack smiled in return, but it didn't reach his eyes before his face fell again. "I mean it, really, I'm fine," he said.

Jack's expression was set, and Ianto decided the time had probably come to take a hint. "All right, I cave. You'll be here in the morning?"

Jack shook his head. "Couldn't say. Not likely I'll be gone for long, though."

"No, suppose not, worse luck for me. Who knew saving the world could be so disruptive to one's schedule?"

That earned Ianto a real smile, and he stood up, gathering glasses. Then he paused and set them down again, walked over to Jack. Jack looked at him quizzically, so Ianto steeled himself and then leaned in to kiss him, holding onto his shoulders. Jack was still for a moment, but then his mouth fell soft and he moved to meet Ianto's hands. This felt familiar, Ianto thought, and Jack was certainly responding - not pushing it, but gently biting Ianto's bottom lip with a practiced ease.

With a flash, Ianto saw an office, strange artefacts stored at one side, stone walls. He pulled back, startled.

"What was that for?" Jack asked in amusement.

"Just wondering what all my fuss was about," Ianto replied.

"And?"

Ianto made a non-committal noise. "I've had worse I suppose."

Jack looked horrified. "What? You've what?"

"Mary Parkinson, my fourteenth birthday, now that was godawful."

The expression crossing Jack's face had a distinctly sulky quality to it. "I am the greatest you've ever had, you should know."

"Yes, well. We'll have to test that hypothesis another time. Goodnight, Jack."

"Goodnight," Jack muttered darkly.

Ianto disappeared upstairs, grinning to himself.

***


The next morning, and Ianto came downstairs to find Jack speaking to a holographic projection of the Doctor. On reflection, that really didn't fill him with much surprise. It was already turning into a hell of a week.

"I ought to keep you on a leash," the Doctor was saying, sounding annoyed.

"It's like I told you! They'd locked on to my co-ordinates somehow, I had to shake them off. Ianto's seemed as good a place as any."

"Jack, what if you'd been followed?"

"I wasn't!" Jack turned to Ianto. "Ianto, could you please come over here and back up my story?"

"And what story is that?" Ianto asks.

"That I came here with good reason and not with some kind of ulterior agenda or whatever he's calling it."

The holographic Doctor folded his arms. "Ianto?"

"He looked pretty frazzled when he turned up, sir," Ianto said. "And according to him he's been some sort of saint of discretion."

The Doctor passed a hand over his face. "Sorry, Jack, I'm sorry. You're right, giving them the slip for a few hours was exactly the right thing to do. But I need you back in the TARDIS now. Sarah Jane's still stuck in that compound and I can't break her out by myself."

"I'll be there in five," Jack assured him, and the Doctor's projection winked out.

Jack was adjusting his braces, clasping his wrist strap back on.

"Jack?" Ianto asked. "Why aren't I locked away or in mortal danger? If these aliens are after me, why haven't they done something a little more severe?"

Jack paused and turned to face him. "Because you're my secret weapon. They don't think you pose much of a threat, just shoving you out of the way because you were there." Jack flashed him another one of those smiles. "I know better."

He swung on his coat and hurried towards the front door. "Oh," he added, turning back, "and thank you, Ianto Jones"

"What for?"

"Just for being yourself," said Jack. "I've missed you."

"Go, go," Ianto told him, "save the world or whatever it is you do. I'll probably only see you again in half an hour anyway."

Jack nodded and sprinted off into the morning.

***


Not fifteen minutes later, and Ianto heard a crash outside. He opened the door, saying, "You know, when I said half an hour, that wasn't actually an invitation for you to set some sort of personal best--" He fell silent as he saw Jack sprawled out on the pavement, blood running down from his scalp.

Ianto ran down, trying not to panic. Jack's eyes were mercifully open. "Get me inside," he hissed, grabbing Ianto's shoulders.

Jack was practically a dead weight in his grasp, but somehow Ianto tugged him inside, accompanied by a string of the most inventive curses he could muster. Jack was trying to speak, but Ianto couldn't hear anything sensible. He shut the door behind them with relief - from the looks of it, Jack hadn't been followed, and no one had noticed anything.

"There you are then," Ianto said, turning back, "now what on earth have you done to yourself this time?"

Jack didn't reply. Ianto crouched down beside him. "Jack? Jack, can you hear me?" Jack's eyes had shut. "Oh, oh God." Ianto laid two fingers at the side of his neck, rested a hand on his chest. Nothing. What did he do now - call an ambulance? Call the Doctor? He glanced uneasily at Jack's wrist strap, wondering if he could possibly get it to work. He tried to think if he had the first idea about CPR buried away from sixth form.

Jack's eyes flew wide open. He sat up, gasping and flailing, grabbing onto Ianto. Ianto yelled with the surprise. "Woah, woah, I've got you," he said shakily.

Jack's breath grew steadier. "Ugh, that wasn't pleasant. Word of advice, never suffer a fatal head wound."

"I'll, uh, try to avoid that fate."

Muttering to himself, Jack got to his feet and went to the kitchen, grabbing a glass of water.

"By all means, make yourself at home," Ianto said, amused. "So, I was right before, then? You don't die?"

"Not for long, no."

"Quite the conversation starter, that," Ianto said.

"Oh, I'm fascinating, me. How long have I been gone for, anyway?"

"About - " Ianto checked his watch " - seventeen and a half minutes."

"Seriously? Been three weeks for me. Not much new here then, I take it."

"And with you? Did you succeed with whatever it was you were trying?"

Jack's face lit up. "Yeah, yeah we did. Sarah Jane Smith is back safe in the right time stream."

"So what about me? When am I going back to this other timeline?"

Jack nodded. "That's just why I'm here. Well, that and I needed somewhere to die out of plain sight, tends to cause a fuss. Come on, grab yourself some pen and paper, we're going to draw up a strategy."

"What do I need to do?" Ianto asked.

"Get into Torchwood."

***


Ianto brought out a pot of coffee to find Jack scribbling notes. "My orders?"

Jack laughed. "Sort of. More like guidelines on how best to win me over."

"Come again?"

Jack continued writing. "In order to converge as closely as possible with your original time stream, you're going to have to get yourself hired. Now, I'm probably going to be very hostile, and as you don't even have the Torchwood London experience you're going to have a bit of difficulty convincing me you're worth the effort."

"Well, what happened before?"

"You infiltrated my organisation through a combination of tight-fitting jeans, unexpected competence in catching a pterodactyl, and some outright lying. I can't procure you a dinosaur this time, but we've found a couple of Rift hotspots where you should be able to go and impress me."

Ianto frowned, trying to imagine Jack's version of himself, how on earth he was able to do the things Jack said he could. "You think this will work? I mean, I don't know a thing about any of this, other worlds, aliens. What am I supposed to do?"

Jack put his notes down. "Ianto, listen to me. You might not think you can do this, but we need you. Not just me, or the Doctor - everyone. The longer this timeline runs, the worse things get, for people on this planet, maybe everywhere. We don't know how wide the cracks could spread."

"Jesus," Ianto muttered. "If you're trying to ease my anxieties here you're doing an awful job."

"I know it looks daunting, sudden, probably unfair. My point is that it doesn't matter. You can do this, because you've done it before, and you'll do it again. Okay?" Jack passed the notes over. "It's probably easier if you read this for yourself, should trigger a few more links in your head. Oh, and that's the other thing. The closer you get back to the right events, the more you'll remember, and that'll help."

Ianto knew he had to shoulder this, because his own choices seemed to have flown out the window some days ago. Still, he couldn't quite keep the fear out of his voice as he asked, "You're leaving?"

"I can't afford to stay, not now." Jack shifted uncomfortably. "Look. If all else fails - and I mean that, if you've given it everything and you're still not--" He fell silent and reached for a new piece of paper, writing rapidly - first in English, then moving into an alphabet Ianto didn't recognise. He folded it up roughly, signing something unintelligible across the outside, and handed it to Ianto. "Give this to me, and we'll just have to pray it doesn't cause a paradox in the current temporal instability."

Ianto gripped the note gingerly. "Last resort. Right."

***


Ianto hardly slept, a frustrating night of watching hours tick away. Still, at least he sounded pretty drained when he called into work yet again, gaining sympathetic noises from his boss' secretary.

His ex-boss, if this all went to plan. Ianto wasn't sure that he really had his own long-term interests at heart here, but it was hard to think like that now. When Ianto looked to the future, all he could imagine was everything flickering out, a candle snuffed. This timeline blinking out of existence, Jack had said. He looked around his house, moved to wonder if he'd ever see it again.

Shaking the thought off, he opened the front door and left.

The co-ordinates Jack had given him led to a bit of deserted ground in the suburbs of Cardiff: scrubland, really, nothing but wiry trees and empty spray cans, the railway bridge above adorned with swirling slogans. Ianto stared around him in despair, wondering how on earth he was meant to find something useful in this mess. He leaned against his car, waiting for something, anything.

Soon enough, he heard a cracking sound like rending metal. Ianto jumped upright, racing forwards as he saw a tearing in space, right in front of him.

"The Rift," he murmured in sudden recognition.

The tear spread wider, something glowing inside, the sound getting louder. With a phut, a small object catapulted out, forcing Ianto to dodge to the side as it whizzed outwards, thudding into the grass. He bent over cautiously, tilting his head to examine it from all angles. It was a glimmering sphere, unmarked and strangely formless, the more Ianto looked at it. He found himself becoming mesmerised, and tried to shake it off.

Do not approach any lifeforms / touch any artefacts until I'm there, you won't know what you're getting into. Wait until Torchwood's arrived, Jack's instructions said.

Ianto knew he ought to move away, and he tried, made all the right motions, or at least he thought he did. But minutes later he was still stood there, staring at the device. This couldn't be good, Ianto thought weakly, then a strong bright light began to shine. Soothing, really, all this nonsense about timelines and aliens suddenly seemed so unimportant. Sleep, the light said. Ianto was unconscious before he hit the ground.

***


"We've got a live one here!" someone was yelling.

"Well, what the hell do we do with him?"

"Get him in the car, we'll have to get that stuff off him before it eats him alive. You know, all I wanted this morning was a nice, simple salvage mission. What happened to my simple trip out, Tosh?"

"Sorry, Jack, the Rift monitor can only do so much."

"You're sure the thing's contained, Owen?"

"Nah, I'm just winging it for shits and giggles."

"All right, all right, let's get out of here."

"Jack," Ianto tried to say. Why couldn't he move?

"Oh God, he's conscious. Owen, do something!"

"Hey, can you hear me? Listen, don't panic, we're going to fix you up, okay? And for the love of all things don't struggle, it'll only make things worse."

"Owen!"

"What?"

Ianto felt himself bundled through a door, propped up awkwardly in a seat. He couldn't see, couldn't speak, could hardly think. The car started to move, and Ianto was certain that when he'd been told to get into Torchwood, this had not been Plan A.

***


The blackness began to lift behind Ianto's eyes. He groaned, wondering if he'd accidentally slept for a week.

"Yeah, he's coming around," someone said. Owen, Ianto found himself supplying, and now he remembered what had happened, what was going on.

He attempted speech. "What happened?" he asked groggily.

"Nasty fall," Owen said in the blithe tones of the practised liar. "You're lucky we found you, could have been out there for hours."

Ianto hauled himself upright, ignoring a sharp wave of dizziness. "Good cover," he muttered, "but you're missing the part about the alien tech that came through a crack in the Rift. What was that, some kind of hunting tool? Paralyse your prey, keep it alive until you can come to pick it up?"

"I beg your pardon?" Owen asked, low and dangerous, but Ianto shook him off.

He stared around him, dizziness of another kind sweeping him as he gazed at the Hub, a place he'd never seen before but remembered entirely. "This is Torchwood Three," he said, standing, and then he was rattling through facts and details, the schematics of the base and the contents of the archives, information pouring through him with barely a conscious thought. He wheeled around the autopsy room as his involuntarily flood of words continued, amazement ever-growing.

"Jack, we've got a situation with the patient," Owen muttered, and Ianto whirled back to find himself confronted with the barrel of a gun.

"Oh, God, don't shoot," he said hastily, and managed to force himself quiet.

"Who the hell are you?" was Owen's only reply.

"My name's Ianto Jones. I'm-- I'm no one, really, but I'm here because this timeline's all wrong, there's something out there, changing history. I'm here to stop it."

Owen gripped the gun a little tighter. "Prove it."

"Okay," Ianto said, holding his hands up. "Okay. You're Owen Harper, you're a brilliant doctor, you--" This was harder, much harder than rattling off statistics. Owen looked so familiar, but it was as if he was seeing someone else's memories in his own mind. "You came to Torchwood after you lost your fiancée," he said, hating himself as he did, the way the colour drained from Owen's features making him wince. "Her name was Katie - you think no one knows, but we've all seen it on your file. Everyone but Gwen, that is, Gwen Cooper, but she's not here either and she needs to be."

Owen's arm wasn't lowering. Ianto sighed. "This isn't right. I shot you, I remember that, because I thought you were going to destroy the city, and because--" He heard footsteps moving above him, and looked up to the railings. "Jack."

"You know," Jack said lightly, "when I rescue pretty boys from fields I don't usually expect them to have enough information on my team and I stored away so that they could overthrow my organisation."

"Makes it more fun though, don't you think?" Ianto replied. "Captain Harkness, do you know who I am?"

"Never seen you before in my life. Why, should I?"

"Yes, you should. You do, probably, I don't know, maybe it's more buried or not there, you might be a completely alternate construction, I suppose, not the real you at all."

Jack frowned. "I gotta tell you, I'm about thirty seconds away from throwing you in the vault and dispensing with the key. Any time you'd like to start making sense, please fill me in."

Ianto reached into his jacket pocket. "I do have this," he said, then pulled out the note Jack had given him.

The captain took a sharp breath. "Owen, get out."

"Sorry, what?"

"Go find Tosh, see how she's doing with the data from that device."

Owen opened his mouth to protest.

"I mean it. There'll be a full briefing on Jones once I've --" Jack paused, then settled for, "conducted a more extensive interview."

Owen looked sceptical, but under Jack's gaze he said no more, simply huffed and raced up the stairs, shooting a last look at Ianto as he went. As soon as Owen had cleared out, Jack ran down the stairs and snatched the note out of Ianto's hand.

"If you wanted my attention, you just got it in spades," said Jack, turning the paper over in his hands, examining it.

"Don't open it, not yet," Ianto said. "According to you, could cause a paradox."

"Then why show it to me?"

"So that you might trust me, just a little."

Jack frowned. "How do I know you didn't get this by holding a gun to my head?"

"Because you and I both know that's not much of a threat," Ianto replied.

Jack's eyebrows went up. "You really do know a lot. Should I be worried?"

Ianto shook his head. "No. But I do know you." He looked at Jack - this Jack, and Ianto was suddenly aware of the fact this was not the Jack he knew, the differences subtle yet total. All the same, that unchanging face was now sending still more information flooding through Ianto's brain.

"Jack Harkness isn't your real name, and you weren't born on Earth. You've been here for more than a century, trying to find the Doctor. You think you're going to leave forever when you find him, but you're not. This place, these people, they've grown to be a part of you even if you don't want to admit it. You'll still go, because you'll always go, but I think you already know that you'll keep coming back."

Jack stared at him.

"Time's been changed, this isn't how things are meant to be happening. Carry on like this, and you - I don't know. But you're out there somewhere, the real you, and you've asked me to do this."

Jack was silent for a long time - forever, maybe, as Ianto held his gaze - then he nodded. "What do you need?"

"A job," Ianto told him, laughing slightly at the prosaic request. "Oh, and I need you to hire a copper as well - at least, she's probably still working for the police, who knows - Gwen Cooper. She'll be along soon, no doubt with a similarly outlandish story."

***


Ianto had vaguely imagined that this was the end of the line - gain Jack's trust, and there we go, reality fixed. But as days went past and the world stayed distinctly the same, Ianto found himself with work to do. Jack was unwilling to assign him to fieldwork - fair enough, he supposed, and at least that set-up was familiar - so Ianto found himself back at his old mainstay, the coffee machine.

A machine he knew like the back of his hand, could remember using time and again to perfection, but even as he remembered exactly what to do, he couldn't get the thing to work. In this life, he'd never used it before, and it spluttered piteously under his ministrations.

Ianto was so preoccupied with swearing at the coffee maker he almost didn't hear Jack's return with a new arrival. Then he caught Owen saying, "What is this, were we not meeting our Welsh quota or something?"

Ianto looked up, and Gwen was standing at the top of the stairs, looking at him anxiously. "Ianto?" she asked.

"Oh, am I glad to see you," he told her, and she broke into a beaming smile, racing down to meet him.

"Wait." She hesitated. "Are you really my you?"

"First time I saw you," Ianto answered, "you were making a terrible hash of delivering a pizza."

She laughed. "And last time I saw you, we were trying to save the world."

Ianto smiled, relief bubbling over, and he found himself with an armful of Gwen.

"It's been a hell of a week," she muttered, holding him tight.

"It has at that," Ianto agreed, "and it's not over yet."

***


Ianto and Gwen clung to each other as time somehow continued to pass, life in this alternate Torchwood holding unexpected difficulties.

"Seeing Owen and Tosh," Gwen said one day, "it's like--"

"Like they're ghosts," Ianto supplied. "I know."

"And there's nothing we can do to change what happened?"

Ianto was shaking his head when Jack appeared on up high. "Gwen!" he called. "Make yourself useful, help Toshiko calibrate those sensors."

Gwen had to take a breath before she got up, going over to Tosh's desk with a bright smile. When Ianto looked up, Jack had already vanished. In a lot of ways, Jack was like a ghost himself. A ghost of the last time Ianto had joined Torchwood ("you've done it before, and you'll do it again," time looping around itself), stone cold and hopeless. Ianto remembered that now, how broken they'd all been, and maybe Jack's disappearance was the only thing that could have fixed it.

Jack didn't say much to Ianto when he could help it.

"Timelines and all that," he offered in a rare conversational moment after handing over some filing.

Ianto nodded and turned to go.

"Wait," Jack said suddenly. But when Ianto looked back, Jack was studying his hands, still silent.

"You confide in us because you trust us," Ianto said, guessing at the unspoken question. "It's still taking me a while to remember everything, but I know that things change, Jack. They get better."

"For your Jack, for that timeline," Jack said. "If you're right about what's happening, then all of this -" he waved a hand expansively, incorporating the Hub, Cardiff, "- will no longer exist."

Ianto nodded. "If we're right."

Something like relief crossed Jack's face, and Ianto tried not to think about that as he left.

"A week ago, and I had no idea who Jack was," Gwen said with a strange smile, because however much they remembered, there was still something unreal about all of this. "Now I miss him so much I can hardly stand it. Because that's not him up there, that's not our Jack."

Ianto nodded. Their Jack was out there somewhere, fighting monsters, and they could do nothing but wait.

***


It was three days later when the end came.

"Jack!" Tosh yelled. "Picking up a huge energy spike."

"From the Rift?" Jack asked, running down to see.

She shook her head, wide-eyed. "No, this is coming from somewhere else - it's already starting to cover the whole planet.

Jack turned to Ianto and Gwen, and nodded.

"Jack?" Tosh asked. "What's happening?"

Bright light was beginning to filter down from the roof. Far off, there was a splintering crack.

"I'm so sorry, Tosh," Gwen said desperately. "None of this is real, this world wasn't meant to happen."

Owen came clattering downstairs, bursting with panicked questions, and Jack took their hands.

"Time's up, kids," he said, kissing Tosh's forehead, gripping Owen's shoulder. "Godspeed," he murmured, but Owen and Tosh were already fading into the light.

"Jack," Ianto started, "I'm sorry, there's nothing we could have--"

"I know," Jack replied. "Go, go save your world."

The light was almost blinding now. Ianto stepped forward, reaching out until he found Jack, kissing him as he faded into the void.

Jack chuckled. "Ianto Jones. Really, it's okay. Save that for someone real."

"Ianto!" Gwen called. "Where are you?"

A great smile began to creep across Jack's face as he vanished, leaving nothing but a whispered "go."

Ianto stumbled backwards until Gwen grabbed his arm. There was noise coming from everywhere, light overtaking everything. Ianto shut his eyes, praying for a miracle.

***


With a thud, Ianto found himself crashing into a computer terminal.

"Woah," Gwen breathed, clutching a chair. "Did he do it? Are we back?"

Ianto looked around. The Hub was silent and empty, with no sign of its ghosts.

"Torchwood? Torchwood, can you hear me? Gwen, Ianto, are you there?"

Martha Jones' face swam into vision on the monitors.

"Martha! What the hell's going on?" Gwen demanded.

"I know, I know, things are pretty hazy for me too - you should have an open link with UNIT HQ, can you confirm?"

Ianto swung a screen round. "Yes, there's a databurst waiting to be transmitted."

"Then send it on through," said Martha. "High time we sent these aliens packing."

Ianto hit 'execute', and with a smile Martha vanished.

"The fleet's still over London," said Gwen. "Wait, now there's an energy beam going out, it's hit something, their formation breaking up . . . the ships are moving . . . moving faster . . . they're leaving orbit!"

Ianto and Gwen looked at each other, Ianto laughing with not a little bemusement. "We did it, then."

"I think we did, yeah. Earth saved, time restored, I'd say it was time for a cup of tea, wouldn't you?" said Gwen.

Ianto grinned. "I'll get right on it."

They were interrupted by the whirring of the Hub doors, wheeling back to reveal Jack, who was laughing in delight even as he was half-carried in by the Doctor.

"Hello!" called the Doctor brightly. "I seem to have something that belongs to you."

"Jack!" Gwen and Ianto ran forward, Gwen throwing her arms around Jack's neck while he shifted from the Doctor to Ianto.

"Oof," Ianto said, reaching over to hold Jack up. "You look terrible."

"Yeah, it's nice to see you too."

"Are you all right, Jack?" Gwen asked.

"Nothing the sight of these pretty faces can't fix," Jack answered, brushing his thumb across Gwen's cheek.

"Right then," said the Doctor. "Torchwood Cardiff, safe and sound, lovely."

"You're going?" Jack asked.

"Yeah, best be off," said the Doctor, gesturing behind him vaguely.

Jack nodded. "And don't be a stranger, okay? You could even drop in sometime when it isn't the end of the world, you know."

The Doctor laughed. "You'd have to keep this planet out of trouble for more than five minutes first."

"We do our best."

The Doctor looked around him. "Yeah, yeah I suppose you do. Anyway. Good meeting you at last - Gwen, Ianto." He nodded at them both, sent off a laconic salute then strolled out of the Hub.

"Doesn't stick around much, does he?" Gwen remarked as the doors rolled shut.

Jack shook his head. "So," he said, levering himself off Ianto's shoulder and taking in his surroundings, "did I miss much?"

Scowling, Gwen hit his arm. Jack grinned, and Ianto laughed, because after what seemed like an age, that other world fading more quickly than he could grasp it, everything had settled into its right place.

***


It was probably some hideous hour, but Ianto felt no urge to sleep. In any case, the near-annihilation of the planet had a tendency to incur an unreal amount of paperwork. He stood at the coffee machine, pleased beyond measure to have it working properly for him again, when he heard footsteps behind him.

"Come for the next caffeine injection?" he asked, and received a pattern of kisses down his neck in reply.

"Amongst other things," said Jack, resting his hand on Ianto's hip and picking up a coffee mug.

As they made their way to the sofa, Ianto found himself leaning into Jack, each point of contact a solid reminder that they were both here, that this was real again. This was his Jack, unquestionably, and he smiled at the possessive thought.

"So, a parallel timeline, then? Don't think you put that in my contract."

"Oh, well." Jack laughed. "Got to keep some things surprising."

"Quite the week, really. Almost on a par with the fortnight that alien pollen got set loose in the Hub."

Jack smirked at that. "I've still got the footage from then, if you fancy a look sometime."

"No, thank you," Ianto said hastily. "How much time passed for you? How long were we gone for?"

"Longer. Too long."

Ianto nodded, and wrapped a hand around Jack's wrist.

"Funny, seeing you living a normal life, no aliens, no Torchwood," said Jack. "You seemed pretty happy."

Ianto frowned. "It's gone, now, most of it. I barely remember."

"Glad to hear it - don't want you suddenly deciding to change career paths."

"What could I possibly do after this? Do the speech circuit, release a book? 'Fighting Aliens in the Backstreets of Wales', by Ianto Jones. Catchy, at least."

Jack patted his hand on top of Ianto's. "How about you give me a few more years first."

"Well," Ianto said deliberatively, "I suppose I might as well."

When he shut his eyes, he could see flashes of wherever and whenever it was he had been. Normality, safety, his family around him; a content existence, but Ianto had never sought content. So it stood to reason, he supposed, that even in that other life Jack had come storming through, flashing danger and wild promise, and Ianto had followed him all the way back home again.

"What really happened?" he asked Jack. "Who were they?"

"A race with tremendous power, but no understanding. They've forged a weapon out of time itself, but you'd have to be a god to wield it. They'd do anything to use it, too, altering timelines when they saw fit, changing people's lives. They could have shattered reality if we hadn't stopped them."

"I'm not sure I really know what we did."

"Took their weaponry out," Jack explained. "No casualties, no damage - well, there's the Doctor for you. Before you were taken, you and Gwen had amassed a huge amount of information, enough to destroy them completely. Excellent work. Like always."

Ianto tried to recall, and decided that sounded mostly familiar. "While you were with the Doctor."

"Yeah. And then I came back," Jack said quickly.

Ianto smiled. "Like always." He rubbed his eyes, tiredness threatening to engulf him now.

Jack was silent for a while, and when Ianto looked he'd tilted his head back, eyes searching the expanse above for something unseen. "Seeing you both, what you would have been like without all of this, without me," he said, letting out a breath. "What am I doing, keeping you here?"

Ianto made a derisive noise. "Flattering yourself a bit, there. I was battling the monsters of the universe way before I came here." Jack didn't seem much appeased, and Ianto sighed. "You honestly beat yourself up over this? Jack, we made our choices, Gwen and I, we're not kids."

"That's not what I--" Jack started.

"I know," Ianto said sleepily. "You ridiculous man. I don't want some other life, 9-5 at a desk. I want this, all of it." He yawned hugely, cutting off anything else he might have said. He pressed a kiss into Jack's shoulder instead, hoping that would suffice.

"I should run you home," said Jack.

"No, no point, I'll only be -" another yawn, "- back in a few hours anyway. I'll just shut my eyes for a minute, get the rest of the reports done in a bit."

"What is your aversion to sleep?"

Ianto huffed. "You're one to talk."

Jack was easing Ianto to his feet. "Didn't do all of that just so you could collapse with exhaustion on your first day back. Come on."

"Jack," Ianto protested. "I can manage."

"Of course you can," Jack replied easily. "I was hoping you'd let me anyway." Ianto was overtaken with another gasping yawn, and Jack laughed as Ianto shut his eyes and gave in. "Come on, you."

Ianto found himself walking not outside to the parking bays, but rather further in, up stairs and down Jack's step ladder. Ianto thought about mentioning the fact that really he could still put one foot in front of the other by himself, thank you, but then he appeared to be lying down without the usual interim stages.

"Mmph," he attempted.

"Hey. Stop your fussing. Go to sleep, save the world some more tomorrow."

"That an order?" Ianto asked.

"You'd better believe it."

Ianto might have replied, but then Jack's mouth was against his own, warm and open and comfortable. He stopped his fussing. Jack's hands seemed to be all over him, as he slipped Ianto out of his jacket, unbuckled his belt, ducked down to bite quickly at his neck while he pulled his tie loose. It wasn't leading to anything, but that didn't stop a jolt running through Ianto's spine as Jack licked his way up his throat, finding his mouth again.

"Sleep," Jack said, kissing his forehead in a final gesture.

Dimly, a memory. "You'll still be here in the morning?" Ianto asked, a repeat of something he'd forgotten.

"Nowhere else in the world to be," Jack told him.

This was Ianto's life, real and returned to him, and it was more, much more than enough. He tumbled into dreams, here in vaults that held the wonders of galaxies, with Jack's fingertips lingering in the crook of his arm.
Tags: character: captain jack harkness, character: ianto jones, fic, fic: torchwood, pairing: jack/ianto
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