Spoilers: General first season.
Notes: Jack/Ianto, 2700 words for the Intoxication challenge, by way of Amnesty. With many thanks to astolat for beta!
Jack lands on the ground at Ianto's feet. There's a sickening thud, and the gunfire pop of too many bones breaking, and the thick smell of blood.
This is the seventh time Ianto has seen Jack die. It hasn't become any easier to witness with repetition.
Ianto's body reacts violently, as it always does. He leaps back, his stomach churns with acid, his heart races, his hands shake. He wants to shout Jack's name, cradle that broken head in his hands, kiss the poor, mangled fingers that lie as if reaching out to him. He's dully certain that this is it, the last time, the true time, and equally certain that it is not.
None of this shows anymore; that has gotten easier. Other than the step backwards, Ianto knows he hasn't seemed to react at all. His face is a cool blank, his shaking hands are curled deep in his pockets. He stands, and watches, and waits.
In only a moment, Jack is shifting. With a deep sigh like lungs learning to move again, he pushes up onto his knees and curls into himself. Under the thick coat that hides him, his body is reknitting itself. He shakes his head and then tips it back, face to the sky, mouth gaping open.
Then he opens his eyes, and he smiles. If Ianto hadn't seen him fall, he wouldn't believe that Jack had so much as tripped. He looks like a man who has clearly chosen to kneel, perhaps to worship the sun.
"The thing they don't tell you about dying is how goddamned good it feels to come back to life," Jack says. His eyes are gleaming, his skin unmarred and healthy, his teeth white and perfect. A marvel.
"So few of us manage it," Ianto says, voice mild. He buries his hands more deeply in his pockets, resisting the urge to reach out and touch in wonder, knowing they would shake.
"Serious design flaw," Jack says, and he climbs to his feet, shakes his shoulders and sighs at the last pop of things shifting into place. "Now tell me, which way did our villain go?"
Ianto jerks his chin upward, gesturing to the roof. "Owen got him," he says, dryly. "Just before you launched yourself over the edge, I believe."
Jack looks up, shielding his eyes against the sun. "Well, bugger me," he says, laughing as Owen uses the dead Weevil's hand to wave at them. "So that was an unnecessary bit of heroism, huh?"
"Unnecessary," Ianto agrees. "But dazzling."
"A more apt description of myself, I have never heard," Jack says, and the smile he flashes at Ianto is dazzling, is more reassuring than Ianto is prepared to ever let him know.
Jack slings an arm over his shoulder. "Come on, let's go help Owen carry it down," he says. "I didn't get anything on you, did I?"
"Only a bit of brain matter," Ianto says, though this is a lie. Jack had gallantly landed outside of splatter distance. "A bit of club soda ought to do the trick."
"Club soda," Jack snorts, and the arm around Ianto's shoulder tightens hard before disappearing as Jack bounds effortlessly towards the stairs. "Ianto Jones," he calls back over his shoulder as he takes the steps two at a time. "Irreplaceable and irresistible. The perfect foil for your dashing boss, I think."
"Do you think the boss might be persuaded to dash off a raise?" Ianto asks, and Jack laughs as he rounds a corner in the stairwell and moves out of Ianto's sight. That would be a no, then.
Just for that, Ianto takes the lift up. He knows full well that it's old and slow and that Jack and Owen will already be carrying the dead Weevil between them when he makes it to the top, which will leave him to play conductor, and keep his suit pristine.
Besides, the isolation gives him a moment to close his eyes, to let out a ragged sigh and persuade his hands to stop their trembling.
Jack had breathed life back into him once, when Lisa broke his neck throwing him across the Hub. Ianto doesn't remember it, precisely. He woke up and didn't understand, and there was no time for Jack to explain--if he even would have bothered. So Ianto had gone on to live though the rest of that long, impossible night, and hadn't known what the strange hum under his skin was, the gleam in his eye. He hadn't understood the erections, the desperate desire to run and jump and sweat and breathe deeply. He had thought it was grief, bizarrely, inappropriately manifested.
The next time Jack breathes him alive, Ianto has been clawed in the gut. It hurts for only a moment, but in a way that Ianto has never hurt before; fire like a liquid in his veins, his body quivering as something inside him unravels and spills outward through the hole in his stomach. He looks down as he slides back against the wall, and there's a pink coil filling his hand, something sleek and shiny and never meant to see the light of day.
And then it all disconnects. Ianto feels no fire, no pain, no wet slide over his useless hands. The sky overhead is very, very blue, and he hopes that he will go to the Heaven he has never managed to disbelieve in, and then he closes his eyes.
Jack's kiss brings the fire back.
Ianto sucks in a breath to scream at the surge of pain, and there is no air to be had. Jack's mouth is over his like a seal, a lid over something volatile, dangerous. Ianto gasps and flails, and Jack holds him cruelly tight. Ianto's eyes open, and Jack is looking back at him, and it's like being killed again, this kiss, except for how it isn't at all.
When he relaxes, boneless under Jack's hard hands, he knows he's healed. The pain subsides to a dull, throbbing energy; his heart recognizes it as grief but his mind tells him no, this is life, and he closes his eyes again as Jack's kiss turns celebratory and wild.
"Didn't think you were going to get away that easily, did you?" Jack whispers against his lips. He's grinning. "I've told you and told you, Ianto, you're irreplaceable. Now come on, get up, we have a monster most foul to capture. And then I'll kill it. Gut shot, maybe. Hurts like a bitch."
Ianto looks into Jack's eyes for a long moment, then at the bright sky overhead. He feels shaky as a colt and strong, like he could run a million miles, fuck a hundred times, swim an ocean, laugh and do it all again. No wonder Jack is so careless.
He stands, using Jack's proffered hand up although it isn't at all necessary, and then they run; they're running together at a perfectly matched pace, and Ianto can't help but smile.
That night, he goes to Jack for the first time in a long time. He stands in Jack's office, and the rush of life in his veins makes him shake. Makes him hard. "Sir," he says, not meeting Jack's eyes. "Please--"
"No," Jack says, sharp, harsh, and Ianto takes an automatic step backwards, on legs that tremble and want to run. Before he can turn to flee, Jack makes a soft noise, stands. "Ianto," and now his voice is gentle, so very gentle. "No, not like that. Look at me. Ask me."
Ianto looks up. Jack is shadowed by the lamplight, solid and strong and mysterious like deep places where the sun can't reach, smiling and kind like a friend who has known Ianto all his life.
"Jack," he says, and Jack takes a step forward, eyes on his. "Will you--"
"Yes," Jack says, without waiting for him to finish, and he pounces, his mouth hard on Ianto's again, his hands hard on Ianto's hips. Ianto sighs into the kiss, jerks and melts into it, pushes his body against the heat of Jack's, and feels like in that moment, he is more alive than he has ever been.
Ianto is fifty-one before he comes so close to dying again, which for Torchwood is quite a streak. And it isn't even related to his job: he gets pneumonia. No one seems to understand why it's hit him so hard--he is very young, after all, and getting the best possible care.
That doesn't matter. He can't seem to rally. He can't quite regain consciousness after the last fever sends him under, and though many people beg him to come back, he doesn't feel able. But he is not asleep. He sees Tosh sitting with him, sees her dark hair shot with grey, and paunchy Owen, Gwen with her two daughters there to see their Uncle Ianto; his family, even childhood mates come by. They come to see if they can coax him awake, and to say goodbye in case they can't.
Jack simply doesn't leave.
"The nurses are so curious about you and your young lover," he whispers against Ianto's cheek. He's smiling. "The doctor thinks you're quite the gorgeous one, even though you really aren't looking your best. Can you really give all that up, Ianto? Tell me no, now."
Ianto has said no to Jack very, very few times these last twenty-odd years of his life, and he's too tired to start now. He wishes he could find the strength to squeeze Jack's hand, though. One last touch before he rests.
Jack is silent, still, breathing against his cheek for a long moment. Then, as if he knows, he says, "I don't think so," in a rough, furious voice, and the oxygen they've been forcing into Ianto is gone. Although Jack has said a hundred times that it isn't right for him to save everyone just because he can or to save the people he loves because he loves them, that sometimes there's a reason people die, he is pressing his mouth over Ianto's. Jack is kissing and kissing him out of the trap his body has become, bringing him to life.
Later, the nurses cry. Gwen buries her face against his chest while the girls, his nieces if in title only, look on. They're embarrassed, jealous, until he holds out an arm for them too. Owen kisses him fiercely on the forehead and walks out without saying a word; Tosh, several hours later, does precisely the same. His mum fusses, as if he is newborn again, and precious.
Jack watches him with dark, knowing eyes, and when Ianto is released from the hospital, Jack takes him home, takes him up the stairs to the bedroom that Ianto so infrequently uses as he still spends most nights at the Hub. They slide into Ianto's bed, although the sheets smell dusty and stale, and they fuck until the rush subsides a bit and Ianto can lie against Jack's shoulder, sweaty and panting.
He says, "Thank you."
Jack shudders underneath him, clenches a hand tightly in his hair, and says, "Irreplaceable Ianto. Don't mention it."
Ianto doesn't. He doesn't ever mention it again.
When he is 62, Jack makes Ianto retire.
Ianto fights it tooth and nail in his way, and even after Jack has given him a watch--oh, how that hurt, loaded with meaning as time was for them--and stopped his pay, Ianto continues to report to the Hub. The new team is increasingly uncomfortable around him, and Jack is distant and cold. Ianto has always known that to leave Torchwood is to leave Jack, for good, forever, and that's something he's not prepared to understand. He is not prepared to accept that Jack could want that, could ask it of him, and he shows up over and over again, pride and hurt be damned.
Finally, six months after he'd "retired", Jack corners him in the Archives and says slowly, harshly, "Ianto. This is over for you. Go somewhere sunny, go find a lover who isn't half your age, go forget on your own or I'll make you do it."
"I'm less than a tenth your age," Ianto says, helplessly mangling the filing in an attempt to look as if he does not care what Jack says, but oh God, Jack looks so young and handsome, he makes Ianto's bones ache with the arthritis he doesn't have, yet.
"Listen to me," Jack breathes in his ear. "You're not meant to be bachelor Uncle Ianto forever, alone with his young, secret lover until he dies. You're not meant to fall to a Weevil, or to come back to life again and again because I can't stand for anything else. Get out, Ianto, while we've had a good run that hasn't been spoiled by your stubborn refusal to see that things are finished, that you're done here."
Jack steps back. Ianto's hands are motionless. He can still feel the heat of Jack's body, hear the rushed, upset sound of his breath. He files this memory away as he has done with years and years of alien devices, of secrets, of promises, of taunts from the mouths of aliens, and kisses.
He says, "All right," and he walks away.
He doesn't look back.
When Ianto is 88, his husband dies. It has been twenty years since Ianto's lived alone. He walks around his empty house and hears William's voice, his horrible donkey's bray of a laugh; smells curry cooking and tea steeping; feels William's warmth in his bed. He feels William's kiss on his lips. Just like all those years ago, when he used to watch Jack die and die and die, his body accepts the tragedy as truth, but his mind thinks, no. William could be coming back.
William is not Jack. Try as hard as he might to fool himself, to believe otherwise, eventually Ianto admits the truth to himself. He goes to the cemetery and sits before William's marker, and as the sun slips through clouds overhead, he suffers his first heart attack, almost as if it were meant to be then and there. He lets go with a sigh and a name on his lips; he does not even hear whose.
He wakes up again in a hospital bed. Cool sheets are tucked around him, a firm pillow under his head, flowers on the table. Jack is sitting beside him, holding his hand.
Ianto studies his face for a long time, looking for changes. A few more wrinkles? A few more grey hairs? Yes, but overall Jack is unchanged. Twenty-six years distant now, and Jack looks impossibly young. Almost like a child to Ianto's eyes; young enough to be, Christ, to be Ianto's grandson.
Ianto's heart, so recently battered, clenches. It doesn't recognize that this Jack isn't the one Ianto met when he was so very young, nor does it recognize, in that moment, how old Ianto has gotten. It simply beats the way it always did for Jack Harkness; the way it always would, if either of them could allow it.
"You weren't supposed to do that," Ianto says quietly, because he recognizes the dizzying rush of life in his veins.
Jack looks up, meets his gaze. "I couldn't help it," he says. "Ianto." Ianto closes his eyes and Jack holds his hand gently, more gently than Jack had ever held him when Ianto was young.
"You were right to tell me to go, you know," Ianto says. God, he doesn't feel like an old man who needs to have his hand held so loosely. He feels young, like he is 25, 35, 50 again; capable of keeping up with Jack Harkness and willing to try. How impossible it is to believe that isn't true.
Jack shifts on the chair next to the bed, his hand tightening. "My work," he says, and pauses. "Our work, Ianto, in a few years, our work will take me far away from here for a long, long time. I wondered. Until then. Until then, could I--"
Ianto thinks about his empty house, the full life he and William had made, the way he's missed Jack every day for the past two decades. He thinks of Jack's last few years on Earth, and the fact that Jack's kiss has probably brought him a few years of his own, and he says, "Yes," without needing Jack to finish his question.
He opens his eyes and smiles as he holds Jack's hand tightly, tightly, once again.