|Doctor Who, Torchwood, and the characters of Jack Harkness, Ianto Jones and Estelle Cole are owned by the BBC. This is amateur fiction for entertainment purposes only, and I make no money from this story.|
To the End
Jack sleeps, but it's not really sleep. It's like some kind of shallow trench that his mind scrabbles through when he closes his eyes. It's neither here nor there. The dreams that form in this place are too vivid and too close to the surface. He never stays here long.
Love at first sight. He's always liked the idea. And so Jack falls in love several times a day. It might easily not have been Estelle. It might have been the boy she was dancing with that night at the Astoria. Only he looked away and she didn't, so Jack cut in. It might have been the guy behind the bar, except it wasn't.
He used to take her to Epping Forest because she liked to be outside. It was nice, she said, to feel free of the soot and the dust, just for a little while.
"Oh, look at all those trees!" She tugged on his arm as they walked, pulling him onward along the grassy path. The sun was warm on his back and he'd rolled up his shirtsleeves. "Doesn't it seem as though they might go on forever? And yet there's dear old London and the war and everything, lurking just out of sight. I know we've got to go back eventually, but let's pretend we don't." She turned and looked at him, biting her lip. "I mean, I suppose we do. Have to, I mean. Do we?"
"Come on," he said. "I'll race you."
"To wherever it is we're going!"
He is not asleep, so the sound doesn't wake him. Such a small sound, it could be anything. The clink of a bottle, maybe. Rats. Somebody trying not to be heard.
"You shouldn't be here!" His voice cuts satisfyingly into the quiet, echoing back at him from the stone walls. He smiles to himself in the dark.
Ianto materialises silently out of the shadows, the way he does. You never really notice Ianto come into a room -- it's just... he wasn't here, and now he is. It's always made Jack kind of jealous. He's never been able to resist a dramatic entrance.
"I know that, sir," says Ianto. "Because you say it every single night. And neither should you."
Jack stretches his arms out, settles his hands behind his head. "Was that the sound of alcohol I heard, or was I dreaming?"
"This is a particularly fine twelve-year-old single malt." Ianto holds up the bottle. "Which I assumed you'd probably turn down, sir, like the philistine you are. So I also brought this."
He produces, apparently from thin air, a second bottle: long-necked, extremely unusual, and strangely familiar to Jack. The bottle itself is made of material so extremely transparent it seems barely there at all. It simply looks like a quantity of clear liquid in the shape of a bottle. It is only really given away by the subtle glints of sky blue and sea green, which you can just about pick up if you look at it suddenly out of the corner of one eye.
"Once again, sir," says Ianto, "the Rift has provided."
"Oh, hasn't she just..." Jack looks at the bottle reverently. "Ianto, you know this is Kylachian Aqua Sul, bottled at the springs of Mount Vylcha in the Plains of Chac?"
"Yes, sir," says Ianto. "Water. I did test it to make sure."
"Oh..." Jack laughs. "Ianto, this is more than just water, this is... well, okay, it is water, but it's very, very good water. Honestly. You should try it."
But Ianto shakes his head, patting the whisky bottle. "Thanks, but I think I'll stick with my friend here. We've got quite a lot of catching up to do."
"Your loss. Go on then, hand it over."
Ianto clears his throat and looks pained. "Sir, if you're absolutely determined to swig straight from the bottle, I can't really stop you. But I feel obliged to point out that there are glasses available."
Jack grins. "Oh, Ianto, what would we do without you?"
"Probably suffocate under your own filth within a fortnight, I should imagine, sir," says Ianto, fading back into the gloom.
Epping Forest, 1943
They lay in a clearing, on the grass. He'd brought a blanket, but she said she liked to feel the grass on her skin.
"What about bugs?" teased Jack. "You like them crawling all over you? Spiders? Ants?" He tickled her leg with a blade of grass, but she didn't react.
"I don't mind. It's all nature, isn't it? It's all beautiful."
"Beautiful wasps? You're okay with them?"
She shrugged and smiled, shielding her eyes from the sun with her hand. He ran his finger lightly over her breast. She was only seventeen.
"Well, they're not my cup of tea," he said. He leaned back, watching her. The sunlight filtered through the leaves above them and dappled her skin. "You're such a hippie. You're going to love the sixties."
She laughed at him. "You know, I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about most of the time, but I don't really mind. It might be because you're American, but then again... you might just be a very strange man. Either way, I do rather love you."
When he kissed her she kept her eyes open. "I like looking at you," she said.
"I like looking at you," said Jack.
She sat up. "Well, I doubt I'll even reach my sixties. I expect we'll all be dead long before then."
"Not your sixties, the sixties. Anyway, you don't believe that."
"Oh, I don't really mind. It's quite exciting actually, don't you think? Do you believe in heaven?"
She sighed and squinted up into the bright sky. "I think I might believe in everything."
There is ice as well as glasses. Jack sucks a cube into his mouth and holds it between his teeth until it hurts.
"You're a true marvel, Ianto," he says through numb lips.
"So you're always telling me." Ianto pours more whisky into his glass. He hasn't bothered with ice.
Jack shrugs. "I speak as I find. Course, you're also an idiot."
"Thank you very much, sir."
Jack has never wondered why Ianto stays. Why he carries on, day after day, making coffee, ordering pizza, putting out the bins. He doesn't wonder, because he knows there isn't anything else. Outside of Torchwood, Ianto doesn't really exist.
"You hate me, don't you?"
Ianto glances at him mildly. "Not all the time, sir."
Jack nods. "Well, that's something, I suppose."
"Why, do you hate me?"
"You held a gun to my head."
"That was because you were behaving like an idiot."
Jack remembers Gwen saying, hesitantly, "You wouldn't have... would you?" Ianto does not ask. Possibly because he doesn't care. Jack thinks about what it feels like to be shot. To be electrocuted. To drown. To fall from a great height. Every time it happens to him, it becomes harder to think of death as something with any real meaning. Often, he is simply bored by it, and that horrifies him.
"Ianto," he says. "Do you ever feel like, I don't know, like you're living inside a bubble?"
Ianto blinks. "Not really, no. I imagine there'd be less crap to clear up inside a bubble. Fewer crisp packets, you know. I think of it more as a living hell."
"Yeah well," says Jack, draining his glass. "Whatever works for you, I guess."
He remembers the colours, mainly. The strong, clear light of the Punjab coming in stripes as the train jolted onwards. Red blooming suddenly on khaki. He'd seen that before, but never as bright. The petals fell from their mouths. His men. They were all his men.
He always meant it at the time. He'd be there to the end. Only the end was never his. He still kept finding himself alive in the sunlight, on the other side of the tunnel.
"Didn't you ever think... it's kind of a dangerous thing, you know, Ianto? Pouring all of yourself into one person like that? Putting all your eggs in one basket, so to speak?"
"No." Ianto shakes his head. "No, see, that's just you. Most people don't think that way. Not generally speaking. Because most people just do it. They don't really think, they don't weigh things up in that way you do. They just do it. And then it's done, and then it's too late."
"Yes, sir. Oh."
The alien water really is pretty damn good.
Epping Forest, 1943
A little way along the track the trees began to peter out, the open spaces between them growing wider and more frequent. There was an old house down here, a ruin. It had been a fine place once, Jack guessed. Proper stately home. Fountains, topiary -- all that kind of thing. Now it was gutted, smoke-blackened, the bedrooms and sitting rooms all open to the sky. The walls still stood, but the house was an empty shell, its windows glassless holes. You could see all the way through it, from the front to the back. Around the house, the forest was slowly reclaiming the land, trees advancing through the gardens and across the lawns. Tough, fibrous briars had begun attaching themselves to the brickwork. Those spaces that had been rooms were carpeted now with the same purple willowherb that crept across the bomb-scarred cities of England.
"I don't really like this place," said Estelle. "I always feel as though it's watching me."
"I know what you mean. You expect it in the city, but... kinda weird to find all the way out here. I guess there was a fire."
"All those windows, just looking out at nothing. They're like horrible dead eyes."
He put an arm around her. "Come on," he said. "Let's go."
They followed the footpath back to the road, between fields of some plant Jack didn't recognise. Beet or something.
"You know what we should do?" Estelle said. She'd broken a switch of hazel from a hedge and was swinging it at the nettles as she walked. "We should make a vow."
"Yes. Well, since we're not going to live very long anyway. I think we should vow to be together forever and ever until we die. How does that sound?"
He laughed. "Ridiculous. Wonderful."
"Come on then, let's do it! We ought to sign it in blood, really." She looked around her, frowning. "We could sting each other with nettles. What about that? To prove how serious we are."
"No! Really, I think we can do without that."
"Sure?" She flicked a clump of uprooted nettles at him with her stick, and he yelped and backed away, laughing.
"Yes, I'm sure! God, you're such a child!"
She stuck out her tongue at him. "Shut up, old man. You're right, though. We don't need them. We've just got to say to each other, 'I promise to stay by your side forever and ever, until we die.'"
"Go on then."
She rolled her eyes. "I just did! Your turn."
"Okay. I promise to stay with you forever and ever. There."
"Till we die."
"Till we die," he repeated. "To the end! For all eternity! That okay?"
She nodded. "Thank you," she said. "I do appreciate it."
They walked on in silence, until the road came into sight.
"Well, here's our trusty vehicle," said Jack, nodding at the car.
"So she is."
"Hey." He stopped and looked at her. "Did we just get married or something, back there?"
She smiled at him. There were bits of grass stuck in her hair. "Better than that," she said, seriously. "We have performed an act of magic. Don't tell anyone."
Jack shook his head. "God, I love you," he said.
Ianto's glass is empty. He gets up to leave, but Jack reaches out suddenly and touches his hand.
"Wait," he says.
Ianto just looks at him.
"I did --" says Jack. "I have loved people, you know."
It's funny... if he didn't know better he'd think he was slightly drunk. Those Kylachian monks really knew what they were doing.
"I'm sure you have," says Ianto.
"You think... your way is the only way. But it isn't. It's just your way."
"I'm sure you're right."
"I just thought I should tell you."
"Thank you." Gently, Ianto detaches his hand from Jack's. Jack closes his eyes. There is the sound of glass clinking against glass -- Ianto clearing up again. Jack leans back against the couch and listens as Ianto walks quietly around the Hub, picking things up, switching things off. Straightening. Tidying. Then nothing, because he's back here. Jack, eyes closed, imagines him standing there, still holding the glasses. Waiting to be noticed.
"You asleep, sir?"
"I don't sleep," says Jack without opening his eyes. The glasses clink again as they are put back down on the table.
It shouldn't be a surprise, really, to feel Ianto's mouth on his. After all, it's not a completely unfamiliar experience. He didn't invite it, or no more than he usually does, but -- well, this is the kind of thing that happens to Captain Jack.
And yet... he is surprised. Because it's always surprising, he realises. Whoever, wherever, whenever. To be touched by someone in a way they haven't touched you before. Ianto's hand is on Jack's chest, under his jacket. Jack reaches up and grabs it hard, hard enough to make Ianto catch his breath and pull back. But Jack follows him, leaning his weight heavily against Ianto's body, pressing him into the back of the couch.
"Sure about this?" says Jack. He doesn't know why he's asking, really. He normally figures the people he's interested in are capable of making up their own minds. If it turns out he's wrong -- not his problem.
Ianto's face, even allowing for the fact that it is currently millimetres from Jack's own, is unreadable as always. Well, nearly always. He stares up, unblinking.
"I think you'll find, sir," he says, "that I've got absolutely nothing left to lose."
"Well then." Jack leans back, releasing Ianto. But he keeps hold of Ianto's hand and pulls it back towards him, carefully replacing it inside his jacket. "Aren't I the lucky one?"
"You might say that, Jack, yes."
They look at each other, their faces pale in the dim light. Neither of them smiles. Eventually Jack reaches up, pulls Ianto's face down to his and kisses him.
He always means it
at the time.