He was on his way back to the Hub with some take-away when a man in a pinstriped suit and sneakers stopped him on the street.
"Are you Ianto Jones?" he asked.
Ianto frowned. "Yes," he said.
The man grinned widely. "Fantastic," he said, and turned around, stopping a few feet down, like he was surprised Ianto hadn't moved to follow him. "Well, come on then, I haven't got all day."
Ianto, reluctantly, started after him, if only to see where it was he was going. "Who are you?" he demanded. "How do you know my name?"
"Oh, I'm the Doctor," the man said. "Didn't I say that?"
"The Doctor," Ianto repeated, setting the take-away on an empty bistro table and leaving it there, forgotten. "The Doctor? Then--" Ianto grabbed the Doctor's arm and spun him around, eyes turning angry. "You have Jack, don't you? Where is he? What have you done with him?"
"Oh, I'm sorry," the Doctor said, scrunching his face up into a frown. "I always forget the exposition. I've got Jack, as you said, with me, and I'm taking you to him. Is that done then? Can we keep moving on?"
Ianto nodded, vaguely and nervous, because there was no guarantee the man was telling the truth or even that he was who Ianto believed he was.
The Doctor grinned again. "Good," he said. "Jack's been terribly miserable the last few days. I thought I'd give him a surprise."
"And I would be the surprise?" Ianto asked, bewildered.
"Well I wasn't going to come and pick up all of bloody Torchwood, now, was I?" the Doctor asked. "You're the one he talks about the most, so I figured you would do. It was either you or the dinosaur."
"I'm not sure I understand," Ianto said, as they came to stand by an out of place blue police call box. Ianto stared at it for a moment, wondering where it had come from, but the Doctor just tapped him on the shoulder, slightly petulant at having lost someone's attention.
"What's not to understand? For reasons known only to him, Jack misses this little place and time, even though I've been distracting him with fantastic adventures. I used to let Rose have her boyfriends around every once and awhile, so it's only right I do as much for Jack."
"Boyfriend?" Ianto said, bewildered. "We haven't, I mean, it was only the once--and just wait a minute, anyway, who do you think you are?"
"I'm the Doctor," the Doctor said, and flashed his grin again, pleased with himself.
"I meant more in a metaphorical sense," Ianto snapped.
"Oh," the Doctor said, eyes rolling up in thought as he rolled back on his heels. "Well, that's different, then, granted. That's a hard question. I mean, I never much went for those metaphorical things. Philosophy and such. And I don't--"
Ianto sighed. "Nevermind. I'm sorry I asked."
The Doctor switched tracks as suddenly as he was asked and went back to grinning. "Coming, then?" he asked.
Ianto crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes at him. "You have Jack?"
"I've got Jack," the Doctor agreed.
"Then I haven't got much of a choice, have I?" Ianto asked.
"Oh, everyone has choices, Mr. Jones," the Doctor said, opening the door to the call box with a key. "You either come through the door or you don't."
The Doctor disappeared inside, but left the door slightly ajar. Ianto stared at it for a moment, walked around it in disbelief, wondering what something so small could possibly have inside.
Then Ianto decided the Doctor was wrong. There was no choice.
There was no way he couldn't walk through that door.
Jack sighed and gave up on sleep. He couldn't ever seem to do it anymore and tonight was no exception. He sat up on his bed and ran his hands over his eyes.
He missed the Hub.
God, he loved the Tardis, everything about her, but he missed the Hub. It was almost funny. He'd spent a hundred years trying to get back here, and now he wasn't sure he wanted to stay.
Now he wasn't sure this was still home.
Home felt far away, and he knew better than to blame it all on the fact that the Doctor wore a different face, or that Rose was gone, or even that Martha was gone too. It was more than that. Because without even realizing it Jack had found a place of his own, a life of his own without the Doctor, and he'd been holding so tightly to the memories he'd never realized he'd managed to do it.
And then there was Ianto.
Now that one had come out of nowhere. Slipped right under Jack's radar. So unassuming at first. Wearing those suits and those enigmatic smiles and hiding things, horrible things, without Jack ever even having a clue. Not many managed that.
Ianto was so much more than he pretended to be. He was so good at dissembling. It made it hard at first. Jack teased him because Ianto didn't mind, gave as good as he got, and Jack had never intended it to go any further than that. Things had just gotten so out of control.
Ianto made him lose control. Jack still wasn't sure how he did that. Jack had pretty much become a master of control by this point and the Doctor was supposed to be the only one Jack surrendered it to--the only one Jack trusted at all.
Wasn't that what he'd been telling himself for years?
Jack wandered the Tardis halls. She'd forgiven him now, for what he was, he was almost sure. The Doctor himself had gone from calling him wrong to simply impossible. And the impossible was something they both dealt with all the time.
Jack rested his head against the fleshy surface of the wall, hands held against her with fingers splayed, and took a deep breath. "You're the one that made me this way, you know," he said. "I guess there's no way you can undo it."
Jack felt a brief rumble beneath his hands and decided to take it as an apology. Then he pushed himself off the wall and kept going, trying to pretend, just for awhile longer, that he hadn't just said goodbye.
It was going to be so much harder with the Doctor. The Doctor would act like it didn't bother him and say something cold, ask for his key back, never look him in the eye again.
It would almost be easier to just never leave, just so he didn't have to face that, because he didn't think he could survive it. Except he wasn't sure he could survive as things were, either.
Jack headed through the winding halls back to the main room. "Doctor--" he started, trailing off as he saw Ianto, suit and all, standing bewildered in the middle of the room.
Ianto ran at him, none of the hesitancy that had been there the last time Jack had seen him. He grabbed Jack and kissed him, before pulling back and giving Jack an angry shake. "You bastard," he shouted. "What were you thinking? Do you have any idea what you put me through?"
Jack just grinned, couldn't have stopped if he'd wanted to. "Ianto!" he said, delighted, laughing and pulling him back into a hug. "It's so good to see you!"
"Well whose bloody fault is it that you haven't till now?" Ianto asked, shaking him off. "We've been looking for you, for months, Jack--"
Jack and Ianto both paused as someone cleared their throat, and looked over to see the Doctor jumping up to sit on the console. "Yeah, sorry about that, that was me. I meant to land right after Jack hitched a ride on the Tardis, but you know how that always works out."
Jack still had one hand on Ianto's arm as he turned to face the Doctor. "What's going on?" he asked.
"You seemed to be in need of a playmate," the Doctor said, then motioned to Ianto, pleased with himself. "So...wah lah! Ha!"
"A playmate?" Ianto asked, slightly indignant at the implications.
The Doctor jumped down from the console, hands clasped behind his back, instantly repentant. "Oh, I didn't mean it like that," he said, before jumping back into action, and bounding to the other side of the room. "We're going to have adventures! Where to, do you suppose? Want to see the last sunset on Arphis Five before it got vaporized by the Carlithos? Oh! I know!" The Doctor snapped his fingers. "We'll go out for pizza."
Jack was glaring at the Doctor. "Doctor--did you abduct Ianto?"
"Abduct?" the Doctor asked, looking wounded. "I don't abduct humans. I'm not that kind of alien. I don't even own a probe."
Jack ignored him with a resigned kind of sigh and looked back at Ianto. "What happened?" he asked. "Are you okay?"
"Of course he's okay," the Doctor said. "He's here of his own free will."
"I came for you, Jack," Ianto said, following Jack's example and ignoring the Doctor completely. "We're going home, okay? We need you."
Jack hesitated. "Ianto," he started.
The Doctor reached behind them and opened the Tardis door, revealing space, constellations and sparkling distant stars, and the Doctor only grinned. "Afraid we're a bit away from Earth at the moment," he said.
Ianto leaned towards the doorway and Jack grabbed his waist, even though he knew from experience the Tardis wouldn't let anyone fall out. "We're in space?" Ianto said. "You took me into space?"
"And time," the Doctor said, leaning forward and letting his weight close the door. "I've decided on Terelphonicfaliskiss," he said. "It's one of Jack's very favorite places, you'll love it."
"Oh no," Jack said instantly. "No way in hell are you taking Ianto to Terelphonicfaliskiss. He's a nice boy."
The Doctor frowned, and then shrugged it off. "Well, if you insist. I suppose pleasure planets really aren't for the space travel novice, are they?"
"I don't think I'd even take you there," Jack told him, with a flirty grin.
The Doctor rolled his eyes and spun on his heel. "Okay, we'll let Ianto pick."
All eyes turned to Ianto, and he stared at them both in disbelief. "How about Earth?" he asked.
The Doctor frowned. "Where did you find this one, anyway?" he demanded.
"Hey," Jack said defensively. "If Ianto wants you to take him home--"
"How about Mirstead?" the Doctor asked. "Have I ever taken you there, Jack? The flowers have a psychotropic in the spores. Last time I went I shared a four-course meal with a purple elephant. His name was Marcus, he was a very friendly sort of elephant."
"Jack," Ianto said, grabbing Jack's sleeve and tugging him closer. "This man is completely insane."
"He's harmless," Jack promised, before pulling away and heading towards the Doctor. "Ianto wants to go home."
"I heard him," the Doctor said. "But he only thinks that because he hasn't seen what's out there yet. I mean, I'm as fond of the Earth as anyone, but I can't imagine spending a lifetime there."
"I've spent a couple of them there and managed just fine," Jack said. "You can't just--" he cut off frustrated. "We're people, do you get that? You don't get to just place us wherever you want, wherever's convenient."
"I know that," the Doctor said, pausing to look at him. "Of course I know that, Jack, and you're both welcome to leave, any time you'd like, if you're sure--" The Doctor leaned past them again, opening the door onto a world that looked like it had been dreamed up out of a storybook.
The Doctor grinned smugly. "If you're absolutely certain you wouldn't like a little stop off first."
Ianto moved to the doorway. Large colorful flowers stood as tall as trees, dew covered and brightly colored, silhouetted against an orange-hued sky. A city stood in the distance, massive and shining, opal in color, like a castle carved out of stone. He swallowed, and glanced back at Jack, who was grinning.
"Okay," Ianto said. "One trip. What can it hurt?"
The Doctor laughed delightedly and clapped his hands. "Jack, take Ianto to the wardrobe room and find him something more suitable."
"You're wearing a suit," Jack pointed out.
The Doctor looked affronted. "Yes, but mine has pinstripes, and anyway, I blend in anywhere. You two need to dress like the natives."
"Well, where are we?" Jack asked. "What do the natives wear?"
"Brakis Twelve, home of the Eighth Human Empire," the Doctor frowned. "Come to think of it, I think 21st century fashion has just come back into style. No matter, off you go, and hurry up, we've got to get Ianto home at a suitable hour, now haven't we?"
Jack laughed and grabbed Ianto's hand, dragging him down one of the halls and deeper into the ship. "I cant' believe you're here," he said. "It's surreal!"
"Surreal would be the appropriate word for it," Ianto agreed, primly. "I just stepped out to get take-away."
Jack led Ianto through a doorway into the largest walk-in closet Ianto had ever seen. There was a whole section of clothes to the right that Ianto could tell had been made for Jack, but to the other side there was an assortment of clothes in all sizes and styles, including quite a few styles that Ianto was sure weren't from Earth. Straight ahead of him, there were five rows of the same pinstripe suit the Doctor was wearing, all in slightly different colors, red and blue and white sneakers lined up along the bottom.
"Basics are usually the way to go," Jack told him, pulling off his suspenders and then tugging the white t-shirt he was wearing over his head. Jack turned back and noticed Ianto hadn't moved much past the doorway. He gave a wicked grin. "I'd be more than happy to help you undress, if you need it."
Ianto glanced back to the clothes he had to choose from and bit his lip. "Are you with him then?" he asked, trying for casual. "Looks like you're all moved in."
"Ianto," Jack started.
Ianto shook his head. "If you need me to do this, I'll do this, I'll do anything--but I have to know if you're going to be coming home with me at the end of it. There's no reason to drag any of this out if you're not."
"I'm not with him, Ianto," Jack said softly. "Not like you think. Never have been. He broke my heart more than a lifetime ago. I'll always love him but I'll never quite forgive him for that."
"But you're going to stay with him anyway, aren't you?" Ianto demanded.
Jack walked over to him and grabbed his wrist, pulling him around to face him. "Ask me to come back with you, Ianto."
Ianto leaned into him and placed a hand at Jack's neck. He took a deep breath. "Come back with me," he said.
Jack kissed him, softly and briefly, letting go only to let out a shaky breath. "Okay," he said.
"Right now?" Ianto asked, not believing it.
"If that's what you want," Jack told him.
Ianto grabbed Jack, pulling him in for another kiss, sending them tumbling back against the wall. Jack just laughed. "Whatever you want, Ianto Jones," he said. "All you ever have to do is ask."
"I want this," Ianto said. "This, here and now."
"Then it's yours," Jack promised.
Ianto pulled off his suit jacket and then started on Jack's pants. "Shame I haven't got my stopwatch," he said.
Jack laughed. "Wouldn't matter. Time here doesn't mean a thing," he said. "But I can count if you'd like."
"You won't remember how to get to three when I'm finished with you," Ianto said.
Jack let Ianto press him against the wall, laughing again. "Cheeky," he said.
"Someone had to be, with you gone," Ianto said.
"Would've put my money on Owen," Jack said. "You're the sweet one."
"Oh, I don't know, I like to think I'm dangerous," Ianto said.
Jack snorted. "Really? How's that going for you?"
"You tell me," Ianto said, placing a kiss beneath Jack's ear, down his jaw. "I almost destroyed the world once, and you still think I'm sweet."
"Got a point there," Jack agreed, gasping a little as Ianto finally got the button loose on his pants.
Ianto glanced around them, briefly, not stopping what he was doing while he did. "Is there somewhere else we could go? Somewhere with a bed, maybe?" he asked.
Jack grabbed Ianto's wrists and sent them both into a controlled fall, ending up on the floor with Ianto on top of him. "Who needs a bed when the floor will do?" Jack asked.
Ianto eyed the floor dubiously. "Are you sure it's sanitary?"
"Do we care?" Jack asked, undoing the buttons on Ianto's shirt. Frustrated, he gave up after a moment, and tore it off.
"Hey," Ianto protested. "I loved that shirt."
"We're in a room filled with clothes," Jack said. "I'll find you a new one later. Busy now." Jack grabbed the back of Ianto's thighs, dragging him close for a minute before letting Ianto pull back, only to drag him back again, gasping at the contact.
Ianto laid his forehead against Jack's panting slightly, letting Jack choose their pace because his own control was slipping. "I missed you," he said.
"I know," Jack told him.
"Who are you, bloody Han Solo?" Ianto asked.
Jack dragged him back for another kiss and laughed. "I don't know who that is," he said. "But he better not have done this with you."
"You were supposed to say you missed me too," Ianto said, translating the reference. "And you own the Star Wars trilogy on DVD, I know you do."
"Actions and words, Ianto," Jack said. "I thought the implications were fairly clear."
"You're such a romantic," Ianto told him, and then gasped when Jack pulled him sliding against him again, faster now. Ianto let himself go, holding on, riding the wave. For a moment Ianto thinks he might actually understand the Doctor, his love of this ship, because letting go and spiraling out of control and having nothing to hold onto and no way to stop--it was pretty incredible, and impossible to resist.
"What's taking so long--" The Doctor trailed off as he caught sight of his two latest charges. Ianto, looking impeccable in a pair of blue jeans and a blue hooded sweatshirt seemed just as the Doctor had last seen him, but Jack's hair was a mess and he was flushed, wearing nothing but a pair of pants with the suspenders hanging off the sides while he fought to get a black shirt over his head.
The Doctor was glad he hadn't decided to check on them any earlier than he had, and pursed his lips. "Well, hurry up, Jack," he said. "You take longer to get ready than Rose ever did."
Then he was back out the door, letting it shut behind him without looking back. He sighed and tried to ignore that possessive little voice in his head saying Jack was one of his--because he did this to all of them, tried to keep them dependent on him, tried to keep them from being happy anywhere else.
And it wasn't fair, because he could never give them what they wanted.
Rose would have spent her life waiting for him and still might be, but Martha had him pegged from the start. Oh, she waited, but not for long, she knew she'd never really have him, not the way he had her. Jack had been looking for him for over a century, but it looked like he might finally be figuring it out too.
The Doctor wasn't good for them. He wasn't good enough for any of them.
But he did love them. God, how he loved them.
And he wasn't ready to let Jack go quite yet, even if it meant sharing him with Ianto.
"Who's Rose?" Ianto asked.
Jack wasn't paying attention. He was tying on a pair of sneakers with a frown. "I think he knew," he said.
"Of course he knew," Ianto said. "You might as well be wearing a sign that says 'just had sex on the floor of a wardrobe'."
"I don't think they make those," Jack told him. "I would have bought one years ago."
"You didn't want him to know?" Ianto asked. It wasn't like Jack to be afraid to share the tales of his sex life, and he worried suddenly that maybe Jack had lied--maybe he was only using him to make the Doctor jealous and--
Ianto let the thoughts slip out of his head as Jack walked over to him again and kissed him. "It's not that," he said. "He already knows. It's just knowing, and having to see it, they're not the same."
"You said you and him--"
"We're not," Jack said. "We never will be. The Doctor doesn't want me, Ianto, I think there's just some part of him that doesn't want anyone else to have me either."
"I'm not sure I'm getting why you admire him so much," Ianto said. "He sounds as fallible as the rest of us."
"Oh, he is," Jack said. "Everyone is."
"Because it doesn't stop him," Jack said, lighting up a little. "He'll go the edge of the universe and he'll find something living there, and he'll think it's fantastic, and it won't stop him. He'll help it grow."
Ianto sighed. "And how am I suppose to compete with that?" he asked.
"You don't have to," Jack said. "It's you I want."
"I'm not sure I get that either," Ianto said.
"You don't have to," Jack said again.
The three men stepped out onto the planet. It was raining slightly, just trickling, hardly enough to notice, but it was comfortably warm. "Where to first, then?" the Doctor asked, clapping his hands together and grinning widely, already back to his old self.
"I say we head off to meet the Wizard," Ianto said.
Jack gave a delighted laugh and the Doctor frowned. "This planet hasn't got one," he said. "Next!"
"How about we go there?" Jack asked, pointing to the looming city.
The Doctor grinned like he'd never even thought of that. "Excellent idea, Jack," he said, and started off.
"I don't think he likes me," Ianto said.
"He does," Jack said. "He's just like that at first. First time I met him he stole my blaster and replaced it with a banana, nearly got us killed."
"You live in a strange world, don't you?" Ianto asked.
"I don't see how it's any stranger than yours," Jack said. "Just look at our day jobs."
"Are you coming?" the Doctor shouted, already twenty feet ahead and still moving, bouncing along with his sneakers and pushing his glasses back on his nose with one finger.
"We're coming," Jack said, grabbing Ianto's hand and jogging to catch up.
"I can't believe I'm on another planet," Ianto said. "I mean, I've known for awhile they exist, but I'm actually there."
"Pretty wonderful, isn't it?" Jack asked.
"It's amazing," Ianto agreed. "Probably just like a trip to London for you, though."
Jack shook his head. "No, it's one of those things that doesn't get old. Anyway, there's no way to see all of the worlds there are. I've never been here either."
"I have," the Doctor said. "Back before they'd even built that city. Nothing but foliage and these huge beasty things, eight feet tall!" The Doctor raised his arms high in illustration, before spinning back around. "Of course, I had to load them all up in the Tardis and take them somewhere else because they were trying to eat the colonists."
"That's awful," Ianto said.
"Oh, well, yes," the Doctor said. "But they were very polite about it. Always apologized right before they ate them, you know, and that's more than can be said of most. They're at the other edge of the galaxy now, on a planet filled with coconuts."
"Coconuts?" Ianto asked.
"Turns out they can live off coconuts," the Doctor said, grinning. "They've all gone vegetarian. Isn't that fantastic?"
"Wildly so," Ianto agreed. He turned to Jack. "Is he serious?"
"Absolutely," Jack said. "I've been there. It's a resort planet now. Lovely place. They're all still very polite. Best customer service I've ever seen."
A large gate stood in front of them and the Doctor came to a quick stop, pulling out a wallet and holding it up with a serious expression Ianto thought looked rather put on. The guard glanced at the wallet and widened his eyes. "Health Inspector!" he said, and bowed deeply. "We were not aware you were visiting."
"Yes, well, surprise inspection," the Doctor said. "On your feet, man!"
The guard stood and quickly opened up the gate. "Who are you guests, sir?" he asked.
"Oh, them?" the Doctor asked. "They're my bodyguards. Dangerous being an inspector of health these days, you know." The Doctor went through the gate, Jack and Ianto trailing after him.
"That piece of paper doesn't have anything on it," Ianto said, after they were out of earshot of the guard. "How did you do that?"
"Oh, he's rather clever, isn't he?" the Doctor asked Jack, sticking the wallet back in his pocket.
"It's psychic paper," Jack explained.
"Of course it is," Ianto said.
The Doctor led the way into the city. The ceilings were eighty feet high, at least, and a spiral staircase ran around the wall all the way to the top, people were traveling up and down them, pushing past each other and obviously intent on being somewhere else.
A girl shoved past them wearing a pair of bell-bottoms and a shirt that said 'peace out.' "Ha!" the Doctor said. "I told you 21st century was back in style."
"What is this place?" Ianto asked, eyes wide. "It's amazing."
"It's a mall," Jack said, laughing.
Ianto frowned. "What?"
"It's a mall," Jack said again, pointing around. Ianto noticed that a lot of the people were holding clear plastic shopping bags filled with clothes and small devices, shops were lined up across the floor, doors all the way to the top leading into more.
"That's a little anti-climatic," Ianto said. "I traveled across the galaxy to visit a mall. Think they've got a t-shirt here that says that?"
"Don't be ridiculous," the Doctor said. "And anyway, this is a galactic mall. We're hardly at the corner Gottschalks."
"The Doctor's right," Jack said. "They put everything in the malls these days. People even live here."
"They live at the mall?" Ianto asked.
"Well it's got everything they need, hasn't it?" the Doctor asked, starting further in.
Jack and Ianto followed him. Ianto frowned as he leaned into the stores. Some were all clothing, while others held things he'd never seen before, in one, an alien with purple skin was having its hair died blue.
Ianto frowned, tilting his head, when he caught sight of one of the shops. It was rather unoriginally called the "Ciren's Immortality Shop", and there was a sign in the window, that read like this:
TEN YEARS............................ 10,000 CREDITS
TWENTY YEARS................... 20,000 CREDITS
THIRTY YEARS..................... 30,000 CREDITS
NEW SPECIAL!!! BUY NOW!!! LIVE FIFTY EXTRA YEARS FOR ONLY 40,000!!!
"That's rather strange," Ianto said. "Isn't it?"
"Ah," the Doctor said. "I forgot about that phase of yours. You lot tried for about 3,000 years to find a way to live forever."
"Come inside, come inside!" the owner, presumably Ciren, shouted at them. "How long have you got left? Just place your hand on our life scanner and we'll see how many extra years you should buy. What's your life worth? Surely 10,000 credits is nothing compared to living ten more years! What use is money if you're dead?"
Ianto just stared at him. "Is he for real? Does it even work?"
"Oh, it works," the Doctor said, frowning. "It just doesn't always work well."
"You can get hooked on it," Jack said. "A couple extra years probably wouldn't do any harm, but you start to reach the end of them and you need more--it's like a drug, it'll drive you mad."
"You've heard about it?" the Doctor asked.
Jack nodded. "Yeah, that, and I know a little something about living forever."
"You there!" Ciren said, "step on up! Give it a shot!"
Jack shook his head. "I'll pass," he said.
"It doesn't hurt to see, just give it a check, yeah?" Ciren said, and he reached forward and grabbed Jack's wrist, pressing his hand down onto the scanner.
"Don't--" Jack started, but it was too late, the scanner went haywire, the years climbing up into the thousands in mere seconds, before it started overheating and sparking at the seams. The man dropped it and backed away with wide eyes. There was a small explosion as it finally overloaded completely, and then it just sat there, crippled and smoking, the screen still stuck on 9,999 years, as high as it could go.
Ciren gasped. "What are you?" he asked, grabbing at Jack's sleeve, almost desperately. "How have you done it?"
The Doctor neatly stepped between them, prying the man's fingers off of Jack's arm as Ianto pulled Jack away. "None of that now," he said. "Your scanner's just broken. Got to be. My friend here's human."
"I've had that scanner for years," the man said, outraged.
"Well, there you go then," the Doctor said. "Time you got a new one, don't you think?"
The man backed away with narrowed eyes, and then disappeared into his shop.
"Huh." They all looked at the broken scanner at their feet. "And you thought the mall wouldn't be any fun," the Doctor said to Ianto.
"Were you ever going to tell me?" Ianto asked.
"Tell you what?" Jack asked. He was watching the Doctor across the way, buying an ice cream with a wide grin and leaving the vendor extra change.
"That you're going to live forever," Ianto said.
"I don't know," Jack said. "I'm still kind of hoping I won't. Forgot the Immortality Shop. If they had a Mortality Shop I'd be their best customer."
"Jack," Ianto snapped.
Jack turned to him. "It wasn't supposed to happen. It's not ever supposed to happen. I like to pretend it didn't. Even with you. Especially with you."
Ianto sighed. "Okay," he said, nodding. It wasn't that much to take in after everything anyway--he already knew Jack couldn't die by conventional means, really not much a stretch to imagine he couldn't die at all.
"Why don't you go get an ice cream, too?" Jack said. "On me."
He pressed some credits in his hand and Ianto went. He didn't really want an ice cream, but he figured that was Jack's subtle way of asking for a moment alone, and he supposed he could give him that.
"Ianto," the Doctor said brightly when he joined him. "Careful what you order. They've got every flavor imaginable these days. Take my advice and stay away from anything green."
Ianto looked at the list of flavors and grimaced. "I'm not really that big a fan of ice cream anyway."
"Suit yourself," the Doctor said, licking his ice cream cone. It looked like vanilla, but Ianto wasn't going to assume anything in this place. The Doctor's eyes strayed back over to Jack, only to narrow. He stepped forward, lowering the ice cream, turning in a circle. "Ianto," he said. "Where's Jack?"
Ianto looked up, expecting Jack to be where he left him. "He was right there," Ianto said, getting a sick feeling deep in the pit of his stomach, because this wasn't the first time Jack had disappeared on him.
The Doctor dropped the ice cream cone to the ground and darted across the floor to where they'd left Jack. "Have you seen my friend?" he asked. "Good looking, black t-shirt, flirts with anything that's got a pulse?"
People ignored him, not meeting his eyes, moving right on by.
"Where is he?" the Doctor shouted. "You were all here! Someone saw!"
"He was taken," a young girl said, stepping forward. "By the light."
"Taken?" the Doctor echoed. "Explain it better."
"People disappear," she said softly. "They don't come back. I'm sorry. I'm sorry about your friend." Then she was turning into the crowd, disappearing herself.
"Wait, come back!" the Doctor shouted, but she was already gone.
Jack came back to awareness feeling nauseous. He fell to his knees, and wasn't strong enough to fight when someone reached out and chained his wrists together. He looked up as the world came back into focus--god, he hated archaic teleportation devices. They were as likely to put you back together as they were to leave you torn apart.
Someone roughly grabbed his chin, shining a light in his eyes. The figure came into focus, and Jack really wasn't all that surprised to see it was Ciren. Took a lot to surprise him these days, and all things considered he knows he should have seen this coming.
"You're amazing," Ciren said. "Absolutely amazing."
"I get that a lot," Jack told him.
Ciren let go of him, moving to a console a few feet away. "Do you know how long I have worked to try and do what you've done? Tell me how you did it, tell me what you did."
"Wasn't me," Jack said. "You think I'd have done this to myself?"
Ciren's eyes were bright and manic. Jack was pretty sure he wasn't going to listen to reason, he was well past that. Jack wondered how many borrowed years he was living on already. He looked about forty, at most, but Jack was sure he was two hundred at least.
"Look, what happened to me, it wasn't supposed to happen," Jack said. "It was a fluke thing. Can't be redone, get it? Hell, I'd give it to you if I could. I don't want to live forever."
"You don't want--" the man looked disbelieving. "You don't want to live forever? You want to die? Turn to dust? Rot on some cemetery planet god knows where? No one wants that."
"It's better than the alternative," Jack said. "Look what it's doing to you already."
Ciren paused, looking over at him with narrowed eyes. "What are you talking about?"
"You're supposed to be dead," Jack said. "You know it. You can feel it, can't you? Tugging at you, trying to pull you away."
"Shut up!" Ciren shouted. "It's not gonna take me. It doesn't get to have me."
"It'll win," Jack said. "It always wins."
"Not against you, though," Ciren said, kneeling in front of Jack, staring in his eyes.
"It's got a different kind of victory over me," Jack told him. "And I've been where you're so afraid of going more than once."
"You're wrong though," Ciren said, running back to the console in the middle of the room. "See, I've got it beat, too. I've got it figured out. You can have as much life as you want, all you got to do is take it."
Jack frowned, adjusting his wrists inside of the cuffs, testing their strength. "What are you talking about?"
"You know how that scanner works?" Ciren asked. "It doesn't calculate age, or health, or anything like that--that's not really what keeps us going, you see, it's life. Our life force. Our spirit. Our soul. Our battery, if you will."
"I guess that makes me the Energizer Bunny, huh?" Jack asked.
Ciren acted as though he'd said nothing, hitting more switches on the console. The lights came on full power in the room and Jack took stock of where he was. There were two chairs in the other room, connected by wires and cables, shackles on the arms of one of them. "We've all only got so much, you're right about that--but the thing is, we can borrow from someone else."
Jack swallowed, getting a sinking feeling that he knew exactly where this was going. "How do you do it?" he asked. "How do you give your clients their extra time?"
"I take it from someone else, obviously," Ciren said. "Can't tell them that, of course. Not that they wouldn't still do it. We'll all do terribly horrible things to survive. I know that. I know it's horrible and you can think I'm a bad guy if you want but I'm not. I just want to live."
"You're killing people," Jack shouted. "How many people have you killed? Forget that you're so hell bent on staying alive, how the hell do you live with yourself?"
"They're people no one will miss," Ciren said. "Got to be healthy, though, and young, but alone--I only take the ones that are alone. Except you, of course, couldn't pass you up. You've got an unlimited supply of life. Won't have to kill anyone anymore, will I?"
Ciren excitedly worked at his controls. "Forget offering ten years, I'll offer them a hundred, a thousand!"
"You don't know what you're doing," Jack said. "You're not helping them, or yourself."
"You just don't want to share," Ciren snapped. He grabbed Jack by the arms and dragged him to one of the chairs, before throwing him into it. Jack hit the back of the chair with a grunt, felt his arms being strapped down. After they were securely tightened, Ciren removed the first set of cuffs he'd put on him.
"Got to help myself before I can help anyone else--what do you think, five hundred years, just for a start?" Ciren asked.
Jack struggled in the chair. "Don't do this!" he said.
"You won't miss them," Ciren said. "What's five hundred years to you? You broke that scanner. You're going to live for at least ten thousand, though I suspect far more. Of course, you're going to have to live most of them here. No way around that. Not yet."
"Please," Jack said. "You don't want to do this."
Ciren pushed up a lever with a delighted shout, and then jumped to sit in the chair, holding onto the arms with a white knuckled grip. He closed his eyes. "Just wait," he said, "and you'll see."
They both started screaming at the same time.
"Should know better than to take my eyes off him by now," the Doctor said, searching around them frantically, peeking into shops, before sprinting off down the next length of hall.
Ianto followed him, doing the same on the other side, though he was pretty sure they weren't going to just stumble upon him in some shop chatting up a cashier.
"Where the hell could he have gone?" the Doctor continued to rant. "It was what, thirty seconds? He was alone thirty seconds. He's worse than Rose, do you know that? She lasted a minute alone, at least."
"Doctor," Ianto said, coming to a stop.
"And Martha, she lasted five whole minutes by herself once, just standing there, not getting abducted at all. But not Jack, oh no, not even for thirty bloody seconds. You'd think I wouldn't have to worry about the immortal."
"Doctor!" Ianto shouted.
"Can't die, except he can die, he can die more times than the rest of them even, so how am I not supposed to worry, answer me that? He could be dead right now. Now he could be dead again. They could have just killed him again, three times now, while we're just here uselessly wandering the mall--"
"Doctor!" Ianto shouted again, louder this time.
"What?" the Doctor bellowed, spinning to face him. "What is it? What is so bloody important?"
Ianto pointed behind the Doctor, and he turned around. There was Ciren's Immortal Shop, lights off now, a sign on the door that said 'back in five minutes.' "Oh," the Doctor said. "Oh, right, of course." He grinned at Ianto. "You're brilliant!"
"Wasting time," Ianto said, and he started running towards the shop.
The Doctor raced after him. "Oh, I like you, Ianto Jones!"
"The verdict's still out on you," Ianto said, as he pulled at the locked door in frustration. "But help me get Jack back and I think I'll like you too."
The Doctor pulled out his sonic screwdriver and aimed it at the door. It clicked and then swung open. Ianto didn't wait for the Doctor to put his screwdriver back in his coat, he just sprinted straight in. That was when they heard the screaming.
"That's Jack," Ianto said.
"One of them is," the Doctor agreed, moving to the other end of the shop. "There's a door here somewhere." He fell to his knees, running his hands along the carpet. He found a section of it that wasn't glued down and ripped it back, revealing a trap door.
They grabbed the hatch together and pulled it up, the screaming got louder for a moment, and then stopped entirely. "That's either good," the Doctor said, "or really really bad."
"Let's go find out which," Ianto said, pushing past the Doctor and starting down the ladder first, dropping to the ground without using the last twelve rungs. The Doctor was beside him in a second, not having used the rungs at all.
The Doctor grabbed Ianto by the arm, and none too gently made sure he was behind him. Ianto bristled but didn't waste time fighting over who should get to barge in to rescue Jack first. Honestly, he didn't care which of them it was so long as it got done, and fast.
He'd never heard Jack scream like that before.
They went down a dark hallway, until finally they caught sight of the light, blue sparks flashing in the doorway in front of them. They peered out and saw Jack first, strapped down in a chair and looking half dead.
The Doctor pulled out his sonic screwdriver and changed the setting, before handing it to Ianto. "Get him out of those restraints and then take him back to the Tardis," he said.
"What about you?" Ianto asked.
"I'm going to find out who did this and stop it," the Doctor said, moving out into the room, watching Jack for a moment like he couldn't look away before turning and changing directions, further into the room.
Ianto moved straight to Jack and kneeled down beside him, aiming the sonic screwdriver at the restraints until they clicked and opened. Ianto reached up and grabbed Jack's shirt, lifting him up. "Jack? Jack, come on, we've got to get you out of here."
Jack feel into him. "Ianto?" he said, dazedly. "He's still here."
"Who?" Ianto asked. "The shop owner?"
Ianto felt Jack nod against his chest and then stood, trying to pull Jack with him. "It's not safe," Jack said. "He's gone mad. I think I'm gonna go mad too, Ianto."
"You're fine, Jack, you're gonna be fine." Ianto pulled Jack against him, looking around, wondering where the Doctor had gone. He didn't like leaving him behind but the Doctor had been right, and it was best to get Jack and get him back--
Ianto froze, caught suddenly in place, he felt all the air escape right out of him and Jack seemed far too heavy suddenly. He wasn't sure anymore he could hold him up, let alone get him away--
"Ianto?" Jack said. "Ianto, what's wrong?" Jack tried to stand on his own, to pull away. He looked at Ianto to make sure he was okay, and that's when he saw it.
The shiny tip of a knife was peeking out from below Ianto's ribs. Ianto opened his mouth to speak and blood came out instead of words, spilling down his chin as he coughed and lost his balance, taking Jack with him when he fell.
Ciren was behind them, the handle of the knife still gripped in his hand. "I'm not letting you get away," he told Jack, before ripping the knife straight out of Ianto.
Ianto let out a scream and then fell forward onto the floor, gasping like the air just wouldn't come in.
Jack let out a cry of rage and launched himself at him, strength coming from somewhere suddenly enough it left him dizzy. Ciren hadn't expected it and he took a step back, trying to get out of the way. Jack moved with him, grabbing the wrist holding the knife and wrenching it from his grasp.
Jack shoved the knife into his stomach and then stepped away, watching Ciren fall dead to the ground. Then he fell to his knees beside Ianto. "Ianto," he whispered. "You can't die, okay?"
"Ja'k--" Ianto's eyes were slipping shut.
"No," Jack said. "Not gonna happen."
He grabbed Ianto under the arms, pulled them both to their feet. Ianto fell against him, dizzy from the pain of standing upright. Jack pulled him into his arms and then placed him in one of the chairs, trying to make him comfortable.
"I'm sorry about this," Jack told him, before leaning down and placing a kiss on his forehead. "I hope you understand."
"Oh no." Jack didn't even look up at the Doctor's voice, he turned around and stumbled over to the console in the middle of the room.
"Oh, Jack, I'm so sorry," he said.
"Yeah, and where the hell were you?" Jack snapped. It wasn't fair, he knew that. He didn't care.
"There were more prisoners in the back," the Doctor said. "I had to let them out. "
"Right. Of course. It's fine. Doesn't matter," Jack said, eyes flying over the controls, cataloguing what he recognized, using intuition for the rest.
Jack caught sight of movement out of the corner of his eye. Ciren was waking up. Jack wasn't even surprised, he'd half expected he might, and it was fine by him.
Jack was more than happy to kill the bastard again.
"We should get out of here," the Doctor said. "We should destroy this place and--Jack, Jack, look at me, there's nothing we can do for him--"
Ciren stumbled to his feet and Jack spun towards him. He wrapped one hand around Ciren's throat and then slammed him against the wall. "You can't kill me!" Ciren said, laughing. He flexed his hands like he could feel the borrowed power that was running through them.
Jack didn't look at all convinced. "You didn't get it all," he said. "You're not immortal. I can kill you. And I don't care how many times it takes, I will."
He grabbed the knife and ripped it out of Ciren. He screamed out before going limp in Jack's grasp, and Jack tossed the knife away. It clattered onto the cement and slid beneath one of the counters, but Jack didn't pay it any attention.
He grabbed Ciren by the arm and then threw him in the other chair, strapping his arms down one at a time.
"Jack," the Doctor said from behind him. "Jack, what are you doing?"
"Not now," Jack said. "I'm busy." Jack leaned into Ciren, meeting him eye to eye. "Okay. Now you've gone and proved your point. We'll play it your way."
"What do you mean?" Ciren asked, starting to struggle. "What do you mean by that?"
Jack pulled away from him and turned straight into the Doctor. The Doctor reached out to steady Jack with a hand on either shoulder. "Are you sure you know what you're doing?" the Doctor demanded. "Jack, look at me!" He gave Jack a rough shake.
Jack's eyes were still unfocused. "Haven't got a fucking clue," Jack said, spinning out of the Doctor's grip. "That never stops me."
"What are you doing?" Ciren asked, struggling uselessly. "Wait, you can't do this! Stop it! You don't understand, I've done it! I've finally done it!"
"Those years you took are mine," Jack told him. "I get to decide who gets them. And here's a hint; it's not gonna be you."
Then he used the last of his strength to shove the lever up. The Doctor didn't stop him.
Jack felt the Doctor behind him, carefully prying his fingers off the lever one by one, and it occurred to Jack that he could probably just let go. Just let his fingers relax on their own. It took too much effort. He let the Doctor continue to do it for him.
"That was very stupid," the Doctor told him.
Jack remembered Ianto screaming; never wanted to hear it again, but he suffered through because if Ianto was screaming then he wasn't dead. He was afraid to turn around. Afraid to check for sure.
"I don't care so long as it worked," he said. "Did it?"
"See for yourself," the Doctor told him.
Jack let the Doctor help turn him around. There wasn't much left of Ciren except for a charred corpse, black skeletal remains that were still sparking, fizzing with a strange orange and blue glow. Then he looked at the other chair.
Ianto was sitting up with his head in his hands, one leg hanging off the side of the chair and the other folded up. Breathing. Living.
Jack pulled out of the Doctor's grip and stumbled towards him. Ianto looked up, bewildered. "Jack?" he said. "I think I died."
Jack laughed, falling onto the chair with him and kissing him desperately. "No," he said. "Only almost."
"Ianto," the Doctor said, joining them. "How do you feel?"
"Fine," Ianto said. "Great. Better than before, even, why?"
"Because I need help shutting this place down and Jack can barely stand," the Doctor said. "Can you take him back to the ship and then--"
"No," Jack said. "I'm staying."
"Can you sit him down in the corner and come back and help me?" the Doctor asked, smoothly switching tracks.
"Of course," Ianto said. He gracefully got to his feet, pulling Jack along with him. His eyes strayed to Ciren's corpse and then quickly away. "What happened to him?" he asked.
"Something that was a long time coming," Jack said, as Ianto helped him sit down. Ianto went to go back to the Doctor, but Jack reached out and grabbed his wrist.
"I did something," he said.
"What did you do?" Ianto asked.
"I brought you back," Jack admitted. "I couldn't...I had to."
"I hadn't thought it was divine intervention," Ianto said. "I know. I don't know what you did, but I knew it was you. It's always you bringing me back, isn't it?"
"I'm sorry," Jack said.
"Nothing to be sorry for," Ianto said. "I didn't want to die."
Ianto gently pulled away and walked back over to the Doctor. "What happened?" he whispered.
"Not entirely sure of that myself," the Doctor said. "Still, I'm thinking this isn't something we want laying about."
"What are you going to do to it?" Ianto asked.
The Doctor scrunched his face up in thought. "I was thinking we'd blow it up."
Ianto shrugged. "Sounds good to me," he said.
The Doctor gave him a full blown grin and then darted to the other side, starting up an overload. "On second thought, I can do this on my own easy. Ianto, I want you to get Jack upstairs, alright?"
"Hey, I'm fine," Jack said indignantly, eyes half closed.
"Oh yes, you're quite energized, I can tell," the Doctor said, before turning back to Ianto. "Ianto, please."
"Going," Ianto said, walking back over to Jack. "Come on, Jack."
Jack let himself be pulled to his feet, and down the hallway. "I'm glad you're not dead," Jack told him.
"I'm glad you're not dead too," Ianto said wryly.
"And I did miss you," Jack continued.
"I know," Ianto said quietly.
Ianto helped Jack get up the ladder and then set him down on the floor at the other side of the shop, before pacing in front of him, waiting for the Doctor to return. The Doctor was back within the next five minutes, grinning widely as he slammed the hatch shut.
There was a muted roar, and the ground started to vibrate--people outside let out a few shouts and then it was over. The Doctor covered the hatch with the carpet again, looking pleased with himself. "All done," he said. "Not bad for a day's work, huh?"
The Doctor walked over to them and kneeled by Jack. He gently took his face and looked at his eyes. "You're not recovering as quick as you usually do," he said worriedly.
Jack swatted him away. "I'm fine," he said. "I've been through a trauma. Leave me alone."
The Doctor grinned. "That's more like it," he said, pulling Jack back to his feet. Jack allowed the support, but his eyes were searching for Ianto.
"Ianto?" he said.
"You guys go ahead," Ianto said. "I'm right behind you."
The Doctor and Jack went out the door and Ianto tilted his head, looking at the scanner that had been left on the counter. It was another life scanner.
Ianto placed his hand on it, and watched the number climb up well past five hundred.
"Well, that was fun," Jack said. His hair was wet from a shower, but he was looking better, and far steadier on his feet. Ianto smiled at him and shook his head in disbelief.
"Fun?" he repeated. "We both nearly died."
"Ah, but only nearly," the Doctor said. "And almost doesn't count."
Jack nodded. "That's true. Almost doesn't count."
"You're incorrigible," Ianto said. "The both of you."
"Admit it," Jack said, "before you know, all the near death stuff, it was pretty amazing."
"It wasn't horrible," Ianto said finally. "You know, before the near death stuff."
Jack broke out into a bright grin, and Ianto reached out to grab him and pull him in for a quick kiss.
The Doctor laughed and moved to the other side of the console. "I know!" he said. "One more trip, so we can rest up. We'll go to the planet with the coconuts!"
"Our luck," Jack said wryly, "they'll probably give up on coconuts and try to eat us."
"Well, they wouldn't be the first to try that, would they?" Ianto asked, and Jack laughed.
"So we're going then?" the Doctor asked delightedly. "It's settled? One more trip?"
The Doctor grinned as Ianto gave him a slight nod, coming to the realization that he wasn't the one sharing Jack. Ianto was sharing Jack with him, and the Doctor was going to enjoy it for as long as it lasted.
Because so very few things ever did.
Five Years Later . . .