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 had been a simple slip with a knife that had started it all.
Nothing got Rhiannon running faster than a drop of blood. You’d have thought that she’d be used to it with having two children who were active enough outdoors. That had never been the case with Rhiannon, Ianto had more than enough memories of her rushing for peroxide and other instruments of torture whenever he’d skinned his knees as a child. Probably making up for what their mother should have been doing but was often too drunk and lethargic to do anything about it or even care. He remembered slowly hiding his injuries from Rhiannon just to avoid seeing her pale, hearing her yelp, and then watching her run for a first aid kit. A habit that had followed him into adulthood, as could clearly be seen by the events of today. It wasn’t something that he was going to change though. If he had had a moment he would have hidden this one as well.
After Mica and David had returned home and everyone had chatted for a bit, Rhiannon had left to get dinner sorted. Johnny was due within the hour and he’d had his own problems at work so Rhiannon wanted to have it waiting for him instead of having him help. Ianto had decided to help out; he’d always felt like he should help with meal preparation whenever he was at someone’s house for dinner. He’d been chased out of Rhys’s kitchen often enough on the nights he cooked, and Ianto had certainly chased people out of his own, but it was something he always attempted. Rhiannon, actually, was very pleased for his help.
Then it had happened.
He’d been cutting up some apple slices for the kids, David had braces now so it was hard going eating an apple as is, and he’d missed the apple. It had hurt for maybe a second, and it was certainly stinging a bit now, but it was just a slight sliver of skin off his index finger. He’d hissed and dropped the knife and Rhiannon had come over and then had reacted exactly Ianto had expected her to.
“It’s fine!” He’d shouted at her quickly retreating back as he’d grabbed a paper towel and pressed it down on the cut. “It’s just a scratch!”
There was some response but it was so near frenzy that Ianto hadn’t understood a word of it. “It’s not even bleeding anymore!” he’d assured while freeing finger to see if that was in fact true.
It was more than true. Not only had his finger stopped bleeding, the blood was actually gone to be correct, and actual incision and corresponding flap of skin had been healed. It was as if the event had never happened.
Ianto’s first thought was: It’s getting serious now.
When Rhiannon had returned he’d refused to let her look at it but did take the adhesive bandage she was waving in front of him and stuck it on. Hopefully she wouldn’t be looking to see if it bled through or not. Dinner was prepared and served without a hitch after that.
Ianto kept to himself through the meal. Lost in thought for the most part, and this was to the frustration of anyone who tried to engage him in conversation. He’d never really given the Immortal Theory real serious thought before but here he was, a cut healed in about ten seconds after two unplanned returns from the dead. He remembered when he’d first met Jack, after subduing that weevil in the park, noticing a slash on Jack’s face that soon vanished. The case here was exactly the same.
Say he was immortal, he allowed. Say that he was precisely like Jack. A fixed point in time that would stay here as long as the universe existed. His stomach turned at the thought. Turned and felt like pack of bricks had suddenly appeared in it.
Living with the reality of watching his teammates die was something he was used to. It had happened to him more than once and though it wasn’t something that he would ever get used to, he’d know to off himself if ever did, it was something he lived with. Equally likely was that he’d die in the line of duty first. That had also already happened. Either way it was something he’d lived with. They’d go first or he would.
Now, sitting here amongst his family that he really hadn’t taken the time to know, it him exactly what living forever would mean. Rhiannon, Johnny, and the kids did not leave dangerous lives or have dangerous jobs but one day they wouldn’t be here. He’d stand at their funerals, all of theirs, and likely would also be there for funerals of David and Mica’s children and partners. Maybe even the ones after if he kept contact up well enough. The same thing would happen to Gwen, Rhys and Tegan. Mel and Harry. Andy, Martha, Lachlan...
If their jobs didn’t get them time eventually would. Ianto would be there, would have to stay, every time. Jack would be there, at least he hoped Jack would be there, but even that didn’t quell the terror of a world that would never end for him. Of a world that would increasingly hold less and less for him to fight for and live for.
“It’s always me, every single fucking time. I go on and all of you die and it’s always my fault.”
Jack’s voice. He had been at the time Jack had said them but he’d heard them all the same. That was six months after he’d gone. While he took issue with the statement of fault, the rest he thought he had understood. Now, thinking about what exactly meant, the impact of that statement hit him as hard as that building had.
It would always be him that walked away. Always. Always. It sounded so romantic until you were actually placed in that situation. Always was now, officially, the most terrifying word in existence. No one could live that long. No one should live that long.
“You okay, love?”
“I’m alright,” he managed to force out. “Just a little bit of a stomach ache.” If always was the most terrifying word in existence then that was the biggest understatement in existence.
“Want something for it?” Johnny asked. “Your overbearing sister here has a lovely collection of antacids.”
“It will pass.” It had better pass, he thought. If eternity was his destiny he had no desire to have this in the pit of his stomach for that entire time.
How did Jack bear it if that was the case?
- - -
Their flat was empty when Jack returned to it, and that was surprising considering that he’d purposely stayed awhile at Gwen and Rhys’s. They’d eaten, chatted in the sitting room for a bit, and had even watched a bit of the latest Pixar film with Tegan. It was now approaching nine and there was no sign of the man. Ianto had never spent the night away from his flat while they were living together. He’d certainly kicked Jack out before but that had been when the flat was still just Ianto’s. Whenever they’d had an argument they’d either still gone to bed, just kept to their own sides, or there was maybe two occasions when Ianto had moved to the couch. No one had kicked anyone out of the flat or refused to come back.
He could always phone Rhiannon, he allowed. Ianto had her number somewhere but he hesitated to actually do it. He didn’t want to piss Ianto off more than he already was. Maybe he needed time to think, maybe he needed time just for the sake of it. He might have an abundance of it and it was quite possible that he…
Something shifted. The room didn’t spin so much as turn slightly and things became darker. Soon enough he was in The Dark. He knew this place well but knew that there was no reason for him to be there right now. He’d just been standing in the kitchen for god’s sake…
Ianto’s voice. Had he managed to kill himself, again? Ianto was turning more jeopardy friendly than Rose Tyler had been.
Jack! Come on, you have to be here too. Jack!
“I’m right here!” he shouted back. “Right over here!” He waved his hands to the figure that was approaching him. Definitely Ianto’s silhouette, not a doubt in his mind about that. What surprised him was that the Ianto before him was wearing a suit that he knew for a fact Ianto no longer owned and had a harsh cut across one cheek.
This wasn’t Ianto. At least not this time period’s Ianto anyway. This was Ianto in September 2009. Right after he’d died.
All I want is two seconds! Ianto was shouting, beginning to sound desperate. Two bloody seconds to say good bye properly. Is that so much?
Tosh had mentioned during the initial planning stages of Ianto’s resurrection that he’d looked for Jack after he’d gone. He’d never questioned it and he’d wished that he’d heard them. Now he would give anything to respond.
Jack! Ianto shouted again, cupping his hands around his mouth and bellowing loud enough to wake the dead. Jack grimaced at the metaphor.
Finally there was a response. Ianto!
That musical voice. If Martha Jones was the voice of a nightingale then Toshiko Sato was the voice of a sparrow. She appeared from behind Jack, waving her hands as well as she stepped in front of him and waited for Ianto to turn. Ianto! she urged. It’s me!
He finally did turn. His expression turned from desperate, to surprised, to delight. He rushed toward Tosh and pulled her into the most impressive bear hug he had ever seen, he even managed to pick Tosh up and whirl her around for good measure. Usually it had been Tosh who had been the more enthusiastic hugger of the pair. They spoken to each other, too softly for Jack to hear, but when Tosh was released finally Ianto was still looking at her like she was a miracle. So good to see you he told her, his tone letting her know that the words were an understatement.
Good to see you too, she answered in the same tone as she gently extracted herself from Ianto’s grip. She jerked her head to her right. Come on. She laughed at Ianto’s raised eyebrow. Did you really think there was nothing past this?
All evidence seemed to suggest so! He reminded her. Besides, I’m not going anywhere without saying good bye to Jack. Properly, I mean. Was that a blush? Could ghosts blush?
Tosh sighed. He’s probably gone back by now. And even if he hasn’t there’s no way you would be able to see him
Dead people who are still in the dark can’t see each other. I can see you and you can see me because I’ve been past it. She shrugged her shoulders at Ianto’s unvoiced request for more information.
What about hearing? Ianto asked, hopeful.
Not sure, Tosh admitted.
Ianto threw his hands up in a ‘then there you have it’ gesture. I am not leaving until I get to say a better goodbye then ‘In a thousand years time you won’t remember me.’ The sentence was delivered with deadly severity and then he sat down on whatever passed for ground facing away from Tosh. He’s bound to die again at some point and I’ll be right here when he does.
In the dark? That ominous growling made its appearance after that question. Jack felt his skin crawl. Ianto flinched but Tosh did not.
I seem to have a shockingly free agenda, he snapped.
Tosh rolled her eyes, muttered something to herself, and then sat down next to Ianto. The two friends sat quietly together, both lost in their own ways and Jack wanted nothing more than to embrace them both. Somewhere he recognized that he was glad that he hadn’t found anyone in the dark before. This was too depressing for words.
You know, Tosh said after a moment. I was hoping that my reunion with you would be a little more cheerful.
I wasn’t expecting any reunion to be honest, Ianto confessed quietly.
Tosh playfully nudged him and gave him a small, knowing smile. </i>You of all people should know not to underestimate people.</i> She rested her hand on his. Look. No matter how long you sit here you’re not going to be able to see him. You’re going to have to wait until he gets out of here himself one day.
The man is fucking IMMORTAL! Ianto reminded her harshly.
No saying he won’t pop out on our end one day, Tosh said in a mock chiding tone. Forever’s a long time to die. She stood up and held out her hand. Come on. You won’t even notice time pass on our end.
Owen’s there too, of course. Don’t make that face! He’ll be pleased to see you too, I promise!
Ianto took her hand and allowed himself to be pulled to his feet. As he informed Tosh that he doubted that very much he gave one last look into the black and, for a moment, his eyes seemed to lock with Jack’s. Then the two figures turned and the black turned back into the kitchen.
Jack shook out his head and went straight for a glass of water. It was three glasses before he allowed himself to acknowledge what he had just happened had actually happened. He’d certainly had his share of flashbacks but he’d never been subjected to someone else’s flashbacks. Was Ianto thinking of that right now? Jack was sceptical of that. He had been tested for telepathy and empathy and all that stuff back at the Time Agency but he hadn’t scored all that high. Not high enough for this sort of thing. He’d never had anything like this happen to him before and Ianto didn’t remember all that much from being dead.
Or that was what he told everyone. He’d only told a few things, mostly experiences with Tosh and Owen but he’d never mentioned those first moments. Jack had never wanted to push and he hadn’t been all that sure he’d wanted to know anyway. Now he knew and he was more confused and concerned about how he knew more than the knowing itself. He had promised himself that he wouldn’t try and find Ianto tonight. That he’d let him come back in his own time. This, however, changed things. Jack felt he had all the justification in the world to give Rhiannon Davies a ring. It was about time they’d met after all.
- - -
Ianto was starting to realise why rooftops seemed to be Jack’s favourite place to be. It was its own kind of peace. Certainly it was much easier to focus your thoughts when you were so high up in the air and being bombarded by chilling winds. The thing that Ianto appreciated right now was that he was isolated from anyone who could walk in on what he was about to try next.
Part of him recognized that this was the stupidest idea he’d ever had since he’d stashed Lisa in the Torchwood basement all those years ago. Doing the three things he planned to do next would do one of two things: tell him something that he already knew or send him into the great beyond permanently. It was a risk but it was a risk he was more than willing to take to solidify his situation.
The slip with the kitchen knife at had yielded one result. The first order of business was to reproduce that result. He carefully pulled out the knife he’d taken from Rhiannon’s and gently ran his index finger around the edge until he felt the sting and sharp pain. Throwing the knife on the ground he stared at his finger, doing nothing to stop the bleeding, daring it to give an encore performance.
It did. Ianto watched in some detached wonder as the blood was reabsorbed into his skin and the cut disappeared in seconds. Now for stage two.
He set his watch timer, shrugged off his suit jacket, rolled up his sleeves, and methodically slit his wrists with the same knife. Ianto had to snort a little at that. There were so many times over his career at Torchwood that he’d always wanted to do just this. In those fantasies there was usually alcohol involved as well, though. He’d always talked himself out it, always reasoned out that this was not going to solve anything. Ending your life did not make the events go away, it made you go away, and that was not what anyone really wanted. Even Lisa hadn’t made him suicidal; it had made him want to forget everything. Thank Heaven and Earth and the stars above for Toshiko Sato.
He set himself down against a chimney, shut his eyes, and waited. The end would come soon enough...
When he opened his eyes again, and noted the timer saying that eight minutes and forty eight seconds had passed, Ianto was not convinced that he’d even died. That didn’t matter so much for this stage of the experiment though. His wrists were, of course, unscathed but his trousers hadn’t been so lucky. Neither had his suit jacket, which had somehow gotten in the way of things. Probably thanks to the wind. Usually he’d be more upset over the loss of a good suit but this was far beyond any sort of repair.
Two experiments in favour of this theory. Now time for the third.
He stood in just his trousers, shirt, and waistcoat on the ledge looking over the abandoned street. Nothing in his way, no one to walk by or hear anything, just solid pavement and an almost complete recreation of the incident while he was weevil hunting. This one decided everything. It would have been a gun to the head if he’d had it on him. Not at all standard procedure for an employee in this field, but this entire day had been not standard procedure.
Ianto shivered violently as a gust of wind came by that almost threw him off the roof. He rubbed his hands together. Better get this over with then. The third experiment – the third trial – would either end it all or tell him that it had only just begun.
He took a breath and jumped. He hadn’t even started to fall yet when a familiar voice shouted “No you don’t!” and two arms caught him. He was quickly hauled him back onto the roof and into an embrace. It was only then that he knew for sure that it was Jack.
“I know what you’re feeling,” Jack told him raggedly. “I know you don’t want this. I tried this myself a few times, but it only makes it worse! Don’t put yourself through that.”
He hugged Jack back. “It’s not what you think,” Ianto told him. “I was just testing it out.”
Jack pulled back in shock. “Testing it out?” He asked incredulously. “Like a super power?”
Ianto snorted. “No,” he corrected. “I needed the reality to properly sink in. This seemed the best way to do it.”
Jack looked at him in puzzlement then sat down on the ledge of the roof, back to the open air, and gestured for Ianto to sit down beside him. Ianto did as he was told and allowed Jack to wrap an arm around his back and hold him close to him. “How did you find me?” he asked after a moment.
“Phoned your sister,” Jack replied. “Then tracked the cab you took.”
Ianto didn’t care much about the last bit. His mouth dropped open. “You called Rhiannon?”
“Yeah. Don’t worry she still wants to meet me properly. Oh, and I’m supposed to phone her when I find you. You have her worried apparently.”
“Rhiannon always worries,” Ianto muttered. “She can find something to worry about even if I’m sitting with her in an empty room.”
Jack sucked in a breath and then slowly let it out. “That tends be a side effect of resurrection,” he explained. “That and she loves you so she’s always going to worry. Get used to it.”
“I seem to have the time,” he agreed as he looked down at the carnage around him.
“Yeah,” Jack nodded. “It would seem so.” He rose to his feet and surveyed the carnage around him: the ruined jacket, the bloody knife, the somehow spotless wrist watch. “I’m going to have to get used to this.” The wind blew Ianto’s jacket into Jack’s face. Ianto chuckled softly and peeled it off, wrapping it over his own arms instead.
“You’ll never get used to it,” Ianto found himself admitting. It was something he had sworn he would never admit to Jack, partly because he hadn’t wanted him to know how deeply he felt about him but mostly because he knew Jack relied on him being there for him when he came around. Being the anchor that held him to this world. “Every time you go down I always wonder if that’s it. If you’ve finally run out of chances.”
“Fixed point in time,” Jack sighed. “I don’t think I’m going anywhere until the universe does.”
“Doesn’t stop me worrying. Get used to it.”
Jack struggled and failed to hold back a laugh. “It seems I’ve got the time as well,” he smiled.
Ianto smiled and laughed as well. Perhaps things wouldn’t be so bad. Forever would be hell on your own, he knew that because Jack knew that. Forever with someone else, forever with a hand to hold, just might be bearable. Might. There was precious room for hope in his life but he had to hope for that. He’d go mad otherwise. He stole a glance at Jack and, when Jack looked over at him, he knew he was thinking the same thing.
“I have no right to be this happy,” Jack whispered. “You’re condemned to hell with me. I shouldn’t be so happy.”
“I draw your attention to the ‘with me’ qualifier,” Ianto said dryly. “I can live with that, however long that may be.” He rose to his feet and offered a hand to Jack. “Besides,” he grunted as he pulled Jack up. “We still don’t know how this happened. For all I know I agreed to this before I came back the first time.”
“Speaking of that!” Jack started. “There’s something I have to ask you.”
“What? About agreeing to immortality while dead?”
“No, about being dead. I’ll tell you back at the Hub. We may need to run some tests.”
Ianto grumbled his annoyance but he allowed Jack to drag him off to the SUV. Whatever Jack had in mind couldn’t be anything worse than Harry had already suggested. It wasn’t like it was going to kill him anyway.
In the meantime, Ianto reckoned he’d better ring Rhiannon.