Rating: PG-13 (language, violence)
Spoilers: Children of Earth, scattered ones for the rest of the series
Disclaimer: Everything you recognize belongs to the BBC. Everything you don't is mine.
Summary: It's seven months after the events of "Crossing Back" and the fun begins with a building collapse.
Author's Notes: Sequel to Crossing Back and Crossing Eyes and Dotting Tees. I'd highly recommend reading those first before you attempt this or nothing with make sense. Be warned that Crossing Back is a fix-it fic.
It was all darkness again. Silence and blackness. Ianto knew he was yelling for Jack, but couldn’t hear a thing. He wanted to get hold of him before he was dragged back to the land of the living again. As he always would. He wanted to say goodbye. He wanted to say something, anything to ease Jack’s pain and ease his own. He refused to have Jack’s last memory of him be what he knew it would be if he didn’t find him soon.
He heard something that sounded like Jack and he rushed toward it, only to feel the ground fall out from under him. He reached out and grabbed frantically at empty air. There had to be something to grab onto. Something. His mouth opened and his throat burned. He was screaming but he couldn’t hear it.
“Ianto, stop it!”
“Jack?” he screeched. “Where are you?”
“Ianto I – ow, dammit that’s my face - Ianto! Wake up!”
With that command Ianto’s eyes, which he hadn’t realised had been closed, flew open to reveal that he wasn’t in the darkness at all. He was in sitting up in bed, at home and alive, with a very worried looking Jack Harkness sitting across from him and digging his fingers into his shoulders. Ianto also realised that his own hands was on Jack’s shoulder, where they appeared to have fallen from Jack’s face. There were angry red scratches on the other man’s face which were slowly starting to fade.
“Shit,” Ianto sighed, voice still groggy somehow. “I’m sorry – “
“Doesn’t matter,” Jack assured him as he batted Ianto’s hands away. He simply held them in his and remained where he was. “What were you dreaming about?”
In his other life Ianto would have said nothing, this time he’d vowed to hold nothing back. Keeping quiet had furthered the problems in their relationship and there was to be no more of that. “I was in the dark again,” he explained. “The dark but not, I guess. Whatever it was I was trying to get out of it.”
“Was that where you were today?” Jack asked cautiously.
Ianto shook his head. “No,” he promised. “I think I was on the other side with everyone else. There were definitely people there. I just couldn’t hear them.”
“Radio static,” he confirmed. “That was my first clue that something wasn’t quite right.” He raised an eyebrow. “Is that where you go when you die?” Jack had always said that there was nothing when he died but maybe things had changed after Owen had dragged him in to help that time.
“It was the dark before,” Jack began. “Now I think I’m getting closer to that. I’m just outside of it. That grey thing I always saw was the doorway and I know that now. I’m always outside of it, I know that, but sometimes I think there’s something else there. Like there’s more grey matter there so to speak.”
A flash of memory came to Ianto while Jack was talking. Just a quick flash of him walking away from Owen and Tosh, bursting through some doors, and seeing Jack wandering in the darkness outside of them alone. He heard himself yell for him but Jack didn’t turn.
Ianto nodded his head quickly. He needed to clear his head and both assure Jack he was fine, shaking his head would have just confused him. “Yeah.” He squeezed Jack’s hands. “I just think once or twice that extra ‘grey matter’ was me.”
Jack was silent for several moments in response to that before deciding the best way to respond was to pull Ianto close and hold him. Ianto allowed himself to melt into the embrace. “I don’t know,” Jack finally said after several more moments of silence, “whether I want you to be like me or not.”
Ianto didn’t know either for what were probably the same reasons Jack would give if he had the courage to ask. If he was to be like Jack he hoped that the fact that they would have each other would make things easier for the both of them. Even if one day they decided to part ways it would be good to have one person around that you knew would never leave and would be able to understand your position. The burden of immortality could be shared between him and Jack instead of endured by one of them alone.
“That being said,” Jack continued. “I know I can’t watch you die again. One way or the other, I mean.”
“I’ve done it for years,” Ianto reminded him. He knew all too well what it was to watch someone you love die repeatedly. It didn’t matter that he knew that Jack would be back. It still hurt. “It’s awful,” he admitted, “but it is good to know you’ll be back. It makes it a little bit easier.”
“But it’s still awful, right?” Jack asked. “I’ve seen your face afterwards.”
“Never denied it,” Ianto said calmly. “I said it helps. Not that it’s easy.” He wished Jack hadn’t brought this up again. Not because it made him uncomfortable, which it did, but because Jack was clearly uncomfortable and still reeling from the events of...was it yesterday now? Yes. Yesterday.
“What if that was the last time?” he was asking as held Ianto tighter. Ianto swore he heard his back snap. “What if we never know? What if --”
Sometimes the only way to shut Jack up was to kiss him. So Ianto wriggled himself out of Jack’s vice grip of an embrace and then did so; short and sweet and then pulled back. “Then we make the most of it,” Ianto pronounced by way of an order. “No matter what Harry does or doesn’t find. I’m here now and so are you. That’s all that should matter to us.”
Jack Harkness was many things to many different people but one thing that Ianto thought that few people realised that Jack was one of the most caring people around. Yes he’d tried to shove people away and often succeeded but Ianto didn’t blame him for that. Lord knew he himself had done it to people before for lesser reasons, but it seemed that the more Jack pushed away was directly proportionate to how much Jack cared. It was really a general rule for most human beings but it seemed more so with Jack. And because Jack loved all that much he worried that much more.
Ianto allowed himself a self satisfied smirk when Jack gave him a subtle nod of agreement and rolled out of bed. “We’d better get going,” he said, heading toward the shower. “No doubt Harry wants to poke and stab me next and I’d rather get it over with sooner rather than later.”
“Now that’s a first,” Ianto observed as he followed Jack. “The last time the yearly medical exam came about I seem to remember Owen and I tearing the city looking for you.”
“That’s different,” Jack grumbled as they entered the shower. Good thing this apartment had a really large shower, Ianto thought. Jack and him often showered together to save time in the mornings, or to waste it, but Ianto had been living here since he’d first started working at Torchwood Three and there had been no ulterior motives for wanting a shower that could probably fit a third person in a pinch. Not that he was complaining, of course.
“How’s that different?” he asked. “And get your elbow out of my side please.”
“Sorry. Here, you use the shampoo first. You’ve got shorter hair.”
“Diversion tactics are failing, Jack,” Ianto informed him in sing song tone. “Answer the question or I’ll ensure that we’re late.”
Jack swatted his hand away from his crotch and that almost answered the question for him. “This involves you,” he said matter-of-factly, “and if we can learn something from me or use something from me I want Harry to find it fast. Just in case we do have a set timeframe to work with here.”
“I thought we’d eliminated that. At least that was the impression that I got from Harry.” There were also no late night phone calls. Ianto knew that without checking the mobiles. If they hadn’t answered their phones Harry would have had no issues coming over and breaking their door down. He’d have brought Mel and Gwen for reinforcement too.
Jack sighed as he took the shampoo from Ianto’s soapy fingers. “I know. I just want to be sure.”
Ianto really had nothing to say to that. Just wanting to be sure was really Jack’s way of saying he was expecting the worst and sort of hoping for the best. He didn’t blame him for it but he hoped it would be something that would fade from Jack with time.
“Fair enough,” was all he said. They finished their showering without any further advances from Ianto and were out the door in record time.
- - -
Jack must really be worried, Ianto thought. The first thing Jack had done upon walking in to the Hub was to pass off his great coat to Ianto and head right off to the medbay. Not a hello to Gwen or Mel or warning to see if Harry was even there. Neither woman said anything and Ianto simply hung up Jack’s coat in his office, got everyone their coffee, and then headed back down to the archives.
Before the attack of the well meaning, enterprising, aliens who had almost unintentionally killed him Ianto had been in the process of cataloguing some artefacts that Mel and Rhys had pulled out of the bay one night. A part of him had naturally feared for another pair of troublesome gloves but he’d been relieved to discover that they were simply scrap metal. Mel had gone through them all and identified what they all had been and now it was up to Ianto to put them in the appropriate places. He’d never approved of having a section simply called “scrap metal” so everything had to filed under precisely what they had been a part of before being deemed too broken to be good for anything. He vaguely wondered if the next alien threat would be intergalactic littering.
He’d just finished sorting everything and was heading upstairs to write up his report about the mess that had been yesterday when he heard footsteps coming down into his domain. The step was too light to be Jack’s but it wasn’t light enough to be Gwen’s or strong enough to be Mel’s. Harry’s it was then.
The brown haired doctor soon appeared with a small wave. “How are you feeling?” he asked.
“Well,” Ianto replied shortly. “Nothing hurts. Did you go home at all last night?”
“No,” Harry admitted, rocking back and forth on the sides of his feet. “You’re a puzzle, Ianto Jones.”
“Well I’m sorry to see that I kept you up all night.”
“Most of the night,” Harry corrected. “I did get some sleep after all.”
Ianto said he was pleased to hear that and then asked Harry to come to the point. Was something wrong?
“Nothing’s wrong, per say,” Harry admitted. “You’re fine and of course Jack is fine. Your readings are completely different by the way. Jack’s are just as weird as they’ve always been and yours are just as normal as they’ve always been…with one exception.”
“And that is?” He wasn’t worried, really he wasn’t. Harry seemed more so curious than worried. That was an encouraging sign. His calm was shaken when Harry took his arm and led him to the back of the archives and looked carefully back at the stairs.
“I’m not hiding anything from Jack,” Ianto told him once they were settled in the space between the regular archives and special archives.
“You probably have been hiding this if I’m right,” Harry replied easily. “That’s why we’re back here. If you’ve got your own reasons for hiding this from him that’s your own business but I need to know this.”
There it was, Ianto noted. The switch had been flipped again. Harry was in his work and he was all business now. “You sustained massive wounds yesterday,” he said. “But those healed very much the same way Jack’s do. We all saw that and I’ve already told you that you and Jack don’t have the same readings. You do, however, share one little thing in common if I use the right equipment.” He points up at the ceiling. “Jack may heal wonderfully but his injuries leave their own little traces, each one lasts about year or two according to his medical records and my own experiences. I can’t tell you how many times he’s died and in what ways over his entire life but I can tell you every injury he’s ever had in the past two years.”
“You can tell injuries I’ve had though,” Ianto pointed out, “most of them are on record.”
“Of course, I can,” Harry assured. “I wouldn’t be much of a doctor if I couldn’t. However, when you came back, all traces of any breaks or sprains or whatever were wiped clean. My records say you broke your leg falling when you were a child but your body has no record of it. You were the picture of health in January, almost newborn in perfection. The scan from yesterday, notwithstanding the injuries you sustained yesterday, tells me something different.”
Harry grabbed Ianto’s right forearm and pulled it up to shake it in his face. “You broke this five months ago but I never treated you for this nor do I remember ever seeing you in a sling or a cast. That can only make me think one thing.”
Ianto was honestly shocked by that statement. He hadn’t broken his arm. Unless they’d all retconned themselves like that had once before. That would have come up by now though.
“Not just your arm either,” Harry continued, releasing Ianto’s arm. “You cracked your skull, shattered your femur and a good portion of your spine as well. Conventional scans say none of this ever happened. Only those deep scans that tell us how Jack managed to get himself killed over the past two years tell me that.
Ianto sighed again and sat down on the floor, leaning against a shelving unit. It certainly hadn’t felt like he’d broken any of those things at the time. Then again, that was really the point. He hadn’t really been awake to feel any of that happening, had he?
Harry settles down across from him, leaning against the door to special archives. “I wasn’t sure when it happened,” Ianto says. “I thought I got really lucky and just left at that. Decided that it didn’t matter.”
“This was that time we were out weevil hunting, am I right?” asked Harry. “We lost contact with you for a few minutes and when you came back you said you’d banged your head on something and had been knocked out.”
Ianto nodded. “I fell off a roof,” he repeated. “It didn’t really occur to me how much time had passed. I just woke up like I’d been sleeping, found nothing was wrong, and just went on from there. There were two roofs, you see, and I just assumed that I’d fallen off the shorter one. There was no way I would have survived falling off the taller roof.”
“So you died that night?”
“Apparently.” There clearly wasn’t any other possibility. Not with those injuries. “I didn’t even really notice it. I suspected it later but didn’t bother telling anyone.”
“Not even Jack?”
Ianto shook his head. “I didn’t want to scare him and, like I said, I didn’t think that anything serious had happened.” That felt like a lie but Ianto didn’t feel like elaborating any further.
Harry tapped his fingers on his knees. “I’ll need to see you later then,” he informed his patient as he rose to his feet. “You share some things with Jack but not others. I need to sort out what that means without asking you to die again to see if you come back.”
Harry nodded and scarpered back up the stairs, leaving Ianto still sitting on the floor of his archives with his thoughts.
He had died three times. Once he’d come back by choice, the other two had been automatic for lack of a better term. He hadn’t even noticed the second time. He’d known he’d certainly been unconscious but the fact that he died had been more of paranoid afterthought than a concrete suspicion.
So what did that mean? The questions from last night seemed to be officially distilled to one: was he like Jack or not? Was he immortal or did he have nine lives or something? Or was it eight now?
Okay, maybe it was more than one question. Same idea though.
“Were you ever going to tell me any of that?”
Of course Jack would have followed and listened. Of course he would have. He hoped Owen could see this. He’d teased him often enough about clinging to Jack like plastic wrap but he thought that Jack had outdone him this time.
“Tonight would have been when I would have done it,” he answered without getting up or turning his head.
“That’s not what I meant,” Jack stated. “If Harry had never called you on it would you have ever told me anything?”
“Harry didn’t call me on anything,” Ianto snapped. “I didn’t realise that I’d died. I’m sorry.” The last bit came out as more of a scoff than an actual apology.
Jack appeared in front of him as livid as Ianto had ever seen him. “How can you not know when you’re dying?”
“Have you ever died when you’ve been unconscious before, Jack?” Ianto challenged. “I know you have. I’ve been there more than once.” He drew his knees up to rest his forehead on and growled. “I’ve only died once before and dying by poisonous gas is a pretty fucking obvious way to go. No one needed to tell me what was going on. Falling off a roof and thinking “oh shit” is not the same thing.”
Jack obviously disagreed with that. “You never told me. You said there weren’t going to be anymore secrets.”
“It’s not a secret if I didn’t think anything happened!” Ianto exclaimed, outraged beyond all belief.
“You fell off a roof and didn’t tell me! That’s a secret to me!”
“Oh,” Ianto huffed, seeing where this was going and not liking what he saw. “So what you’re saying is that I should report to you every scratch and every little thing that pokes me? Is that it?” This attitude of Jack’s about him and this job had been something that been bothering him for awhile now. He’d been ignoring it for the sake of peace but what was the point of that now.
Jack grumbled something about that not being it but it was far from convincing. Ianto pushed himself to his feet. “I’m not interested in you hovering, Jack,” he said firmly. “I’m going to get hurt on the job and that’s just the way it is.”
“You aren’t listening to me,” Jack interjected. “I asked you last night if you’d ever died and come back before and you said you hadn’t. You told Harry that you’d suspected it but you never told me.”
“And you’re not listening to me either,” Ianto countered. “I didn’t know that I had died. I didn’t think anything major had happened.”
“Denial doesn’t suit you, Ianto Jones,” Jack sneered. “Your suspicions are as good as most people’s solid facts. You knew something had happened and you didn’t tell me. You don’t want to be like me and I don’t blame you for that, but I’d have hoped that you’d still ask me about it. Or at least tell me that it happened.” Jack turned on his heel and vanished up the staircase before Ianto could say anything else.
Everything Jack had said was true, Ianto had to admit that. He’d suspected what had happened that night, and it had been a mighty strong suspicion that he had done his best to shut up. He’d pulled it off and it came back and bit him in the arse, as he’d always sort of suspected it would. That did not excuse Jack’s hovering though, not to him. Jack was eavesdropping on his conversation with Harry and was beyond concerned with his personal safety. He’d put up with it because he’d understood it. Now, several months after the fact, it was getting ridiculous.
He was in the wrong. He knew damn well he was in the wrong. That didn’t change that he felt a little bit like a child being monitored than an equal partner in a relationship. Jack was probably watching him on the CCTV now. Ianto let out an irritated grunt made an obscene hand gesture at the corner where he knew the hidden camera was. He then reached into his pocket and pulled out the key card for special archives. There were some tunnels through there that would spit him out at the other end of the bay. This was probably the first time that he’d left Torchwood for the day without telling anyone but he felt he was more than justified. A little part of him told him that he was being a four year old about this, very much like Jack was being a four year old about this, but the best thing to do with children throwing tantrums was to let them have them and tire themselves out. That went for both him and Jack.
Ianto emerged from the tunnels, taking a deep breath of the fresh air and then made his way to the nearest bus stop. His car was at Torchwood and he badly wanted to clear as much distance between him and Jack as possible. He noted that he had left his mobile in the archives.
Normally being left without a mobile was a cause for deep concern. This time, however, he couldn’t find it in himself to care that much about it. If Jack wanted to find him he’d just have to try a little harder.