Actions

Work Header

Pocket Watch Boy

Chapter Text

When Ianto Jones was very small, he climbed up to the very top of the tree near his new children's home, so high that he could see all the way over the building into the valley.

Then he tried to step higher, but he was rather short for his age and his red hair was in his eyes and his hand didn't quite reach the branch and he slipped and he fell, like Alice down the rabbit hole, but the ground rushed up to meet him too fast and he landed on his head and he felt his neck snap and his skull smashed open and then everything went dark.

~~~

When Ianto Jones woke up, it was nighttime and the forest was dark and haunted around him. He sat up and touched his head carefully, in case his brains fell out, but his head was in one piece and his neck didn't flop around like a noodle and his hearts beat fast in his chest but he felt fine, so Ianto supposed he had fallen through the looking glass like Alice after all.

He stood up from the large pool of liquid he had been lying in, all black and sticky in the faint moonlight, and headed back to the children's home. Everything about him felt weird, from the trousers that were now too tight, to the odd shape of his hands, to the front tooth sitting firmly in place when Ianto knew he'd knocked it clean out of his mouth the day before.

At least his only possession, his real mother's very own pocket watch, was still in his trousers.

When Ianto came into a pool of moonlight, he pulled the watch anxiously from his pocket and opened it. He sighed happily when he saw the hands still ticking away. He wiped a bit of the dark sticky liquid from the glass, closed the watch, and put it away again.

The home was locked up, but Ianto had been in enough of these places to find a silent way in, to hurry down to the laundry room and take off his strange clothes in the dark. He found some clean clothes from the hand-me-down bin, this time with trousers long enough to fit him, and snuck upstairs to the room they'd had said was his.

After placing his watch carefully beneath his pillow, Ianto laid down his head and went to sleep.

The matron woke him (and the whole floor) the next morning by screaming at him for sneaking out and then sneaking in after curfew, and on his very first day there, too, and what on earth had he done to his hair? Then she saw his pillow in the light of day and screamed some more at him for getting red paint all over his sheets and grabbed him by the ear so fast he barely had a chance to grab his watch and she pulled him down the hall, his bare feet slapping on the cold floor and his new black hair flopping in his eyes. The matron tossed him in the showers and then seemed to lose interest in him and Ianto could finish his shower in peace.

He spent a good two minutes staring in the mirror when he was done, looking at the brand new face he wore, with no freckles and blue eyes instead of brown and curly black hair instead of red. He was taller than he had been, with a nose that wrinkled when he grinned and big goofy ears. But he was still himself, and so it didn't really matter.

He got dressed and ran down to get some breakfast, making sure he had his watch with him all the time.

The other kids in this new home weren't so bad. The ones younger than him thought it was funny when he burped up light for days, the older ones ignored him or were too slow to catch him with his new long legs, and it was like any other children's home he'd been in.

Ianto knew this, because he had always been in all sorts of children's homes. He'd been found in the street when he was just a year old, they said, and all he'd had was his watch.

No one knew that Ianto could remember his real mother, with her sweet smile and long lovely reddish-brown hair, and that she had told him stories that he could barely remember, whispered in his dreams to hide and grow and be safe, my son, and that one day she took him to the strange city with its loud noises and odd sights and kissed him goodbye, and left him alone.

Most of all, Ianto remembered how strange it had been to see his mother cry.

But somehow, he knew he would never see her again.

~~~

When Ianto Jones was just a little bit older, he realized that he was smarter than everyone else.

Not just the other students at his primary school. That much was a given. But smarter than all the teachers and the people who wrote the school books and everybody.

He heard what they said, knew when people lied and when they bluffed and when they were scared and when they were angry, and he did what any very smart orphaned boy would do in such a situation.

He hid.

Behind masks, of silence and of quiet mediocre studiousness and just enough jovial childish acting out to avoid getting noticed by the watching adults. He didn't have a lot of friends, but that was fine. Ianto didn't care.

He was used to being alone.

~~~

When Ianto Jones was just on nine years old, he and two of the boys from the orphanage were walking home from school when a bright light lit up the Cardiff sky and something crashed into an abandoned building across the street.

Ianto's companions bolted for the distance. Ianto slung his knapsack firmly over his shoulders and ran towards the building as fast as he could. After all, he wasn't afraid. Ever since he had fallen from the tallest tree in Wales and woken up with a new face, Ianto Jones had never been afraid.

There was a smoking hole in the side of the building, blasted through bricks, and Ianto twisted his way through the barred window and up the stairs and to the large warehouse room where the small spaceship flashing mauve had crash-landed into the floor.

Ianto's first thought was elation. A spaceship! With gun ports just like in Star Wars, and blasters and thrusters! Then the top of the ship opened and a real live alien crawled out and it was bleeding and dying and suddenly it wasn't fun anymore, and Ianto couldn't do anything but stand there as the alien dropped to its six hands and shuddered and died, alone, on the floor on an abandoned Cardiff warehouse.

Ianto was still standing there, staring, his pocket watch clenched in his left hand and tears on his face and wondering if his mother died the same way, alone and scared, when men burst into the room with lights and shouts and guns and someone was pulling Ianto away from the spaceship and the dead alien and down the stairs.

They came out onto a bottom floor all abuzz with energy. The man who had hold of Ianto's shoulder steered him to a dusty bench by the wall and sat him down, then knelt down in front of him.

"Hey there," the man said, and when Ianto looked at him, the world spun on its axis and ripped itself into pieces and stitched itself back together again, spinning a little different than before.

The man was wrong in so many ways and Ianto couldn't stop staring.

"What's your name?" the wrong man asked, settling himself back on his heels.

Ianto thought of the dead alien upstairs, of the silently ticking watch in his trousers' pocket, and stared at the strange, wrong man and never wanted to look away.

"Are you okay?" the man asked, his smile starting to slip away.

Ianto made himself nod, the first time he had ever lied in his whole life.

"Good," the man said. "My name is Jack."

Ianto nodded again, because he knew the man was lying and yet he was also telling the truth and Ianto didn't understand.

"What's your name?"

Ianto bent his head, curling in on himself. Around the strangeness of the man in front of him, he remembered the dead alien upstairs and felt his stomach turn over.

But he had to answer, because the wrong man before him was asking him a question.

And so he lied again.

"David Samson," he whispered, stringing together lines of a book he'd read when he was very little.

"Well, David, it's nice to meet you," Jack said. He winced as several loud thuds sounded upstairs. "Can I ask you a few questions?"

Ianto nodded.

"Why are you here? Why did you go upstairs?"

"I saw something hit the side of the building," Ianto said. He hunched a little, wishing he'd been smart enough to run away when he saw the dying alien. "I wanted to see what it was."

"And what did you see?"

There was something in the man's voice, something in the way the world and the whole universe rotated around him, something that made Ianto slip in his speech. "There was an alien in the spaceship."

The man nodded encouragingly.

"And it crawled out and it died." Ianto clutched at his watch so tight that the metal of the crown sliced into his skin. "I didn't know what to do." To his abject horror, he sniffled.

Jack gripped Ianto's shoulder, just like Ianto was an adult and not just a little boy with a rip in his trousers' knee and a dirty smudge on his chin. "There was nothing you could have done," Jack said. In his voice Ianto heard sadness, and Ianto wondered if Jack was as sad as he was that the alien was dead.

A fat man tromped down the stairs from the crash site, loud steps drawing Ianto's attention away from the man at the centre of the universe. The other man was older, with a big moustache and a sour expression. The sourness of his face grew more pronounced when he spotted Jack. "Captain Harkness!" the man barked. "Now is not the time for recruitment!"

All expression vanished from Jack's face as he slowly removed his hand from Ianto's shoulder. "If you'll excuse me for just a moment, Mr. Samson," Jack said. "Stay right here, okay?"

Ianto nodded. He didn't know what the man had meant, or why Jack reacted the way he did. Looking around the room, Ianto saw more things that puzzled him. The woman who had followed the mustachioed man from upstairs was glaring at the man with undisguised disgust, and the young man guarding the ground floor's main door had squared his shoulders against the man.

Ianto slipped his watch back into his pocket. He knew that he could see further and hear better than any other kid in school, but the mustachioed man was speaking so loudly that Ianto didn't even have to strain to eavesdrop.

"What did the boy see?" he demanded.

Captain Jack stood easily, hands in the pockets of his greatcoat, with the whole universe rotating around him. "He arrived just as the alien left the spaceship."

"He didn't touch the thing, did he?"

"Hardly," the woman interjected. Her long black hair swung in a plait down her back, and she looked so much like one of those actresses on the movies from India that the matron watched in the afternoons that Ianto wondered if she was an actress or a model; he'd never seen someone so pretty. "The dust and debris patterns upstairs are clear; the boy didn't approach the spaceship. The farthest he got in was where Jack found him."

"Captain Harkness is a junior on this case, Miss Baines, not the leader of Torchwood, and you are not to defer to him!"

Before the woman could do anything, a voice called from the first floor and the mustachioed man stormed back up the stairs.

The woman let out a strangled noise.

"Easy, Ashna," Jack said in a low voice.

"He storms in here from London and takes over my command and insults my people!" the woman said. Her voice was equally soft, but in the quiet of the building, with only a few sirens outside, Ianto could hear everything.

"And soon he'll go back to London and Torchwood Three will be all yours again," Jack said. "Promise."

She pushed a strand of hair out of her eyes. "I've had bloody enough of this," she snapped. "Marcus, you're with me. Jack, if you please could ensure that the lad has 'suitable' memories of this event, then come upstairs. I'll send those Torchwood One goons down here to keep an eye on the boy."

The man by the door who must have been Marcus walked swiftly across the room to the woman's side and they vanished upstairs. Jack let out a long breath, almost a sigh, and drifted back across the room to Ianto. He sat on the bench beside Ianto and rested his head against the wall.

Ianto had a million questions, and since the man didn't seem angry at him, he asked the first one that came to mind. "What's Torchwood?"

Jack cracked a wry smile. "I suppose you heard all of that."

Ianto shrugged.

"Right." Jack reached into an inner pocket on his coat and pulled out a small sweet tin. "Torchwood works to protect the earth from aliens."

Ianto blinked, looking up at the ceiling. "But that alien was already dead. It didn't do any harm."

Jack frowned. "Do you believe in aliens, David?"

Ianto's hearts sped up at the question. He'd thought for many years that his two hearts had just been a birth defect, like how some people had an extra finger, or a cleft palate. After all, the doctors and school nurses never said anything about it when they did his physicals; only frowned and turned to make a note and then totally lost interest. Then Ianto had started reading science fiction novels with aliens in them, and watching movies like Star Wars and ET, and he began to wonder if the reason he was so different was that he was a Martian or something. But he didn't know who to ask.

And if Jack was part of Torchwood and Torchwood fought against aliens, then Ianto should really, really keep his mouth shut.

"I watch them on the telly sometimes," Ianto said vaguely.

The lines of worry eased off Jack's face, but he still seemed pensive. "Aliens are just like people," he said. "Some are bad and some are good. Torchwood... well, we're like the police. We stop the bad aliens and help the good aliens." He opened the sweet tin. Inside lay dozens of tiny white pills.

"Which kind was the one upstairs?"

Jack tipped one tiny tablet into his hand. "I don't think we'll ever know." He held out the pill to Ianto. "David, I need you to take this. To counteract any potential radiation poisoning."

Ianto knew that was utter rubbish. He had read all about nuclear bombs and how radiation burned, and it wouldn't be stopped by a little pill. A trickle of the adults' conversation came back to him, about how the pretty woman had wanted Jack to make sure that Ianto's memories were 'appropriate'.

His hearts pounded in his chest. They were going to take his memories away!

Still, the man at the centre of the universe couldn't be denied. Ianto took the tiny pill and looked at it. It didn't look dangerous. In fact, it appeared rather like a mint.

Ianto loathed mints.

He didn't know what to do. He didn't want to lose his memories, but what if he didn't take the pill and Jack tried to make him, and they found out he had two hearts? What if they took him away and locked him up and dissected him because he was an alien?

He had no plan, but most of his better ideas had always come under stress. A clatter of boots sounded upstairs, and Ianto raised his hand to his lips and just as someone pounded down the stairs, Jack looked away for a moment and Ianto dropped the pill to his other hand and continued moving his fingers to his lips. When Jack looked back, Ianto was taking his fingers out of his mouth and swallowing hard.

Jack snapped the tin shut and put it away. "It was nice meeting you, David Samson," he said as he stood up. "You stay here for a few minutes, and one of us will see you home, all right?"

Ianto nodded, keeping his fist clenched tight on the pill. "It was good to meet you too, sir." He wanted to ask why Jack was so motionless in a world of movement; a fixed point in time and space around which all else spun.

But that was a thing that Ianto kept for himself.

Jack strode across the room, not sparing a glance at the armed man making his way towards the door. Ianto waited until Jack's footsteps faded up the stairs, then he hopped to his feet and walked to the front door.

"Oi, you, what do you think you're doing?" the man snapped.

Ianto tilted his head back to regard the man. "Captain Harkness said that I could go as soon as I took that little white pill of his," he said. "So I didn't get in anyone's way."

The man snorted, but he moved out of the way. "Well, if the Captain said so."

Ianto squared his shoulders and walked confidently out of the building, around the side, past the police cars, down the road, then he broke into a run, moving as fast as he could away from the building with its dead aliens and wrong men and beautiful women.

When he couldn't run anymore, he staggered to a stop by park bench. He took deep breaths of the clean air sweeping in off the bay. Things were slowly righting themselves. Ianto could feel the earth spinning under his feet, the planet whirling around the sun, gravity pulling harder than the centrifugal force, holding him to earth. Time slipped slowly forward, his hearts beat in their slightly off-set rhythm, and the sun was shining.

He shoved the white pill into his pocket beside his watch, and wiped his palm off on his trousers, then ran all the way back to the children's home.

Things were in more of an uproar than usual when he slipped into the building. Billy and Trevor were still trying to tell everyone about the crash, the younger children were in their usual chaos, and the matron was storming around calling for Ianto.

He almost made it up into his room, but the matron grabbed him by the back of his collar and hauled him into the sitting room, taking a few seconds to wipe a dusty smudge off his cheek. She chastised him for the state of his clothes, and on that day too, which didn't make any sense to Ianto until two adults came into the room with a social worker, and things went into sort of a blur for a little while.

These were people come to adopt him.

Adopt him.

He was a tailor and she was a teacher and Ianto thought he recognized her from a big sports jamboree that all the primary schools in Cardiff had held the previous year. They didn't have any children and wanted to adopt a little boy and they'd heard such nice things about Ianto, wouldn't it be nice to have a family? asked the social worker, and then without waiting for an answer, Ianto was swept out the door with all his worldly possessions in his knapsack and settled into the backseat of the couple's auto and watched as the children's home vanished into the distance.

The car was silent. Ianto, for all his intelligence, was still trying to piece together the day. Finally, he had to ask. "Are you with Torchwood?"

The woman, first name Sarah and last name Jones, which wasn't all that surprising as Jones was the most common name in the Cardiff phone book, turned to look at Ianto. "What's Torchwood?" she asked, no hint of evasion or a lie on her face.

Ianto swallowed hard past the lump in his throat. Maybe this was a coincidence. Maybe if he'd just run home instead of going to see the alien, they would have come to adopt him anyway.

Maybe.

Ianto thought about Captain Jack Harkness, and how the world spun around him, and tried to blink away the vertigo of having been so close to the centre of the universe.

~~~

It took Ianto three years to trust the Jones. That didn't mean he wasn't polite -- he was too much of a self-preservationist to be rude or unhelpful, as the Jones were really very nice and he could watch programs he wanted on the telly and could ask Sarah for foods he liked to eat. He had his very own room, and a special hidden place in the wall for his possessions: the little tin in which he kept the tiny white Torchwood pill, a coin he found by the river covered non-human writing, and a small notebook with notes about Torchwood and aliens and things in Cardiff that just couldn't be explained. The last was written in a special shorthand he developed so that no one else would know, not even if Torchwood stormed the house and took him away for dissection.

He always kept his pocket watch with him. Always.

Most days after school, he went to William Jones' tailor shop and did his homework while William talked to customers and sewed, and when the shop was empty, William would tell stories about growing up as a young child in the second World War and about his travels around Europe, and after about six months of this, Ianto started to tell his own stories, about school and places he explored in the neighborhood, and about movies he watched and books he read.

Then they would go home, and they'd make dinner for Sarah when she worked late, and then everyone would watch telly or read or do homework, then go to bed.

It was a quiet house, and if it didn't feel like home, no place ever did. It was as close as Ianto would ever get, and so he learned to live with it.

Slowly, Ianto found that he actually liked living with the Jones. Sarah helped him with his homework, which wasn't really necessary since he'd known more than she did since he was six, but she sat with him and talked to him about what the teachers wanted to hear. William took Ianto to see movies on Saturday mornings, and they talked about movies and life and what was most important, William listened to Ianto and didn't mind that Ianto was too smart for his own good.

Sarah and William made Ianto feel wanted and loved, and when they died in a car accident when Ianto was sixteen, he cursed himself for letting himself pretend he wasn't alone, even for a little while.

He missed Sarah and William terribly. He always would.

~~~

Ianto Jones was just eighteen years old when he washed up on Oxford's doorstep, a myriad of A-Levels and honours decorating his transcript. Officially, he studied history, but most nights he could be found in the library, reading everything he could on every subject under the sun. For the first time in his life, there was information all around him and there weren't enough hours in the day to take it all in.

Four years later, without him having done anything to deserve it, Torchwood came looking for Ianto Jones.

The faces were different, but the attitude was the same as the mustachioed man from Cardiff. The smug certainty that they were doing right made Ianto's skin crawl, but he listened to their offer over a cup of tea that he did not drink. An entry-level job working in the archives in London. They needed someone who knew how to sort information, and Ianto came highly recommended.

He'd think about it, he said, and went back to his dorm and burned his little alien notebook in the courtyard and was yelled at by the custodian for smoking.

He didn't go back to the dorm that night. He slipped down the dark paths around Oxford, through a convoluted path to confuse any followers, and ended up in a dark grove of trees where he could just sit and think.

It was unlikely that Torchwood had come to find him because they thought he was an alien. He had long since learned that no one seemed to notice his double heartbeat, not even doctors. Anything about him that wasn't normal was soon forgotten or ignored. In recent years, he'd taken to testing that theory through certain experimentation in human interaction, and so far everything had worked in his favour.

But still. Actually working for Torchwood was a whole different beast than having it on with a stranger in a dark alley.

Ianto pulled his watch out of his pocket and popped open the cover, even though it was too dark to see the hands ticking. His mother's watch, all he had left of her. Why had she left him here? Was she trying to protect him? Or was he simply a discarded child, tossed away into the streets of Cardiff?

Ianto closed the watch. If he had been merely abandoned, would his unknown mother have left him her watch? He would never know. And if she was trying to protect him, should he go work for Torchwood, an organization that had no real love for aliens?

Ianto pocketed the watch. It didn't really matter what his mother had done, or why. The past was unchangeable, linear time moving in a progression of certainty. What mattered was what Ianto did, the choices he made. And if he chose to work for Torchwood, he would at least be on the inside to see how they hunted aliens, and he would better know how to hide what he was.

A branch snapped in the distance, and Ianto sighed. Really, he felt rather insulted that they were having him followed by someone so blatantly bad at it. But that probably meant that they only thought him a potential employee, not an alien, and that cheered him a bit.

~~~

Ianto Jones took his Oxford education to work in Torchwood, London. The archives were an utter mess and Ianto buried himself in the work, learning all about aliens and what Torchwood London thought of them.

He soon discovered the underlying attitude of Torchwood One pervaded the whole establishment, going back to the very founding of the institute by Her Majesty Queen Victoria, designed to protect the world from an alien called the Doctor. The attitude struck Ianto as childish and very dangerous -- a juvenile xenophobic reaction to finding out that there was something else out there, that humanity wasn't the pinnacle of universal evolution.

And dangerous, for Ianto knew what Torchwood was doing with the alien artifacts they found. So he stayed below ground, hiding from research and development, hiding from the field agents, hiding from everyone, and gathering what knowledge he could.

That plan lasted exactly six months and five days, when Ianto was heading down the hall and literally walked into someone coming in the other direction and his world was ripped to pieces for the second time in his life.

Captain Jack Harkness, looking not one bloody day older than when Ianto had seen him fourteen years before, reached out to steady Ianto, and Ianto felt himself falling towards the centre of the universe. "Hey there," Jack said with an easy smile that suddenly explained a comment made years before. "It's not every day I have handsome men falling at my feet."

Ianto pulled himself back, concentrating very hard on not running away screaming. "My apologies, Captain Harkness," he said.

Jack gave Ianto a look. "Have we met? I'm sure I'd remember."

Ianto made himself look directly at the wrongness of Jack. "Possibly not."

Jack regarded the other man, and Ianto could almost see the memories passing through his mind. "Where have I seen you?"

Ianto shifted his papers in his arms. "You tell me, sir."

With that, he pivoted forty-five degrees to the left and walked around the immovable object in the centre of the hallway. He didn't look back, but it was the hardest thing he'd ever done.

An hour later, when Ianto was called up to Yvonne Hartman's office to present a report on an artifact from 1976, he nearly repeated the morning's collision. Jack Harkness loomed in Ianto's field of vision, his arms crossed over his chest and a glower on his face.

"No."

Ianto blinked. "I beg your pardon?"

"There is no fucking way!" Jack suddenly grinned. "You're David Samson!"

The rapid way the man had picked that little tidbit out of his memory, an impossible meeting fourteen years before, was downright worrisome. "Not so, I'm afraid."

"Yes, you are."

"No, I'm not." Ianto shifted his papers so his ID badge was visible. "Ianto Jones."

Jack gave him a hard look. "You gave us a false name."

"Yes, I did."

"You were ten years old and you gave us a false name."

"Nine years old. And I'd just seen an alien spaceship crash into a building in Cardiff and in burst strange men with guns. It seemed advisable at the time."

Jack raked his hand through his hair. "How do you remember all that?" he asked, suddenly suspicious.

"I was always told never to take sweets from strangers," Ianto retorted, his voice dry as a desert. "Slight of hand."

"You were nine," Jack said again, incredulous. "After you took off, we spent months looking for you. No school had a record of you--"

"Nor should they, as I made the name up," Ianto reminded Jack.

"--and what kind of kid knows magic tricks like that?"

"One who had a cadre of caregivers who took perverse delight in pressing mints on him."

Jack stopped talking for a long moment. Then a wry smile crossed his lips, and Ianto's left heart skipped a beat. The man was wrong and messed up and Ianto was not attracted to the man, who at the moment was at the very centre of all movement in the universe. "I can see why Yvonne snatched you up," Jack was saying. "If you ever get bored here in London, we've got a job at Torchwood Three."

"A job doing what?" Ianto asked involuntarily. He didn't want to go back to Cardiff, not with its aliens and the memories of a childhood best left in the past. But still. He asked.

Jack raised his eyebrows suggestively. "We'll make sure there's an opening available."

"Please stop harassing my staff," Yvonne called over Jack's shoulder. "Especially the new ones."

Jack winked at Ianto as he swept towards the door. "The new ones are the most fun," he shouted from down the hall.

Yvonne shook her head at Jack's retreating back. "Mr. Jones, I believe you have a report prepared for me?" she said.

Ianto blinked, his mind trying to correct his perception now that Jack had dragged away the universe's centre of gravity with him.

Yvonne rolled her eyes. "Please, Mr. Jones, ignore Captain Harkness," she said as she went back into her office. "He's not half as cute as he thinks he is."

Ianto followed his boss into the room. Two other people where there, an older man who Ianto knew as Dr. Singh, and a young woman. The woman was trying very hard to hide a smile.

"Enough about Captain Harkness, Miss Hallett." said Dr. Singh. "Can we please get back to work now?"

"Of course." Yvonne sat down and looked expectantly at Ianto. "So, Mr. Jones. Show us what you have."

Taking in the younger woman's smile, and seeing from her nametag that her name was Lisa, Ianto set about ridding his mind of all traces of Jack Harkness. He had a job to do, and he always took pride in a job well done.

After all, he had managed to outwit Torchwood Three at the age of nine, and he was now working for Torchwood One, an alien hiding in its ranks.

He could do this.

He just hoped it was a long time before he saw Jack Harkness again.

~~~

Ianto Jones was twenty-three years old when he did something very human.

He fell in love.

Lisa Hallett was an amazing woman. She was smart, for a human anyway, she was beautiful, she was sarcastic and witty and well-read and liked kittens and toy frogs and she simply adored the idea that humans weren't alone in the universe.

She loved working for Torchwood, and she loved Ianto back.

They had two years together. At first, Ianto was nervous that she would be able to figure out that he wasn't quite right, with his two hearts and body temperature that sometimes dipped a little too low, but Lisa was just like everybody else, ignoring or forgetting that which wasn't quite right about Ianto.

In time, he let himself be happy about loving Lisa. He let himself stop worrying.

And then the Cybermen and Daleks came to Canary Wharf, and took that all away from him.

~~~

Ianto Jones was twenty-five years old when he came to Torchwood Three in Cardiff, desperately taking up Jack Harkness's job offer because he had nowhere else to go. He had Lisa to care for and she was in so much pain all the time. Between trying to settle into a new job and not let nausea overcome him every time he looked at the impossibility of Jack Harkness, let alone trying to figure out how to reverse-engineer a Cyberman conversion unit from twisted scraps of metal, Ianto barely slept for months.

But he did it. He pulled together the conversion unit, relying on bare scraps of knowledge culled from the alien technology in the archives of Torchwood One and on the barest of hints from Torchwood Three's living Mainframe computer. He'd never had to think so hard in his life, to be so creative with next to nothing. Any other time it would have been invigorating; with Lisa's life on the line, it was terrifying.

He never stopped to think if what he was doing was right. He only knew that he couldn't lose Lisa. It wasn't even about Lisa, it was about him; he could save her. He would save her, because he would accept no other outcome.

During the day, Torchwood Three was so different from Torchwood One that Ianto wondered how they could justify using the name. The whole staff was a mishmash of talents, brilliant and quick on their feet and dangerous to Ianto in ways he could never have imagined. The first time Owen gave him a physical, Ianto watched in terror as Owen matter-of-factly took notes of a dual heart rate and his utter lack of human lungs, then closed the file and told Ianto to get out of his medical bay, thank you very much.

The terror came back to Ianto some times, that someone would see the numbers, see how wrong he was.

But no one ever did.

And Ianto could never figure out why.

Time passed and they found the Glove and the killings started and Gwen Cooper appeared at Torchwood and Suzie Costello went and blew her brains out, and Ianto played along with everyone, mostly Jack, being what they expected him to be, all the while wanting to scream at them that everything was wrong. Torchwood was wrong. He was wrong. Jack was wrong.

All these things were truth, but no one understood and the lies were killing Ianto.

Every time he looked at Jack, the world spun the wrong way and Ianto wanted to scream.

But he held it all in.

Then Ianto made his fatal mistake, bringing the Japanese doctor to the Hub and leaving him with Lisa, and Lisa killed the man, and everything Ianto had been working for shattered into a thousand tiny pieces.

Torchwood killed Lisa.

Ianto could have killed Jack.

Jack should have killed Ianto.

But he didn't. And Ianto couldn't understand why not.

There were so many things about Jack that Ianto couldn't understand.

~~~

Time dripped along. Without Lisa, Ianto didn't have anything to do but his job. He archived things, wrote in his diary, cleaned up Torchwood's messes, made coffee and let himself slowly orient to a universe that had Jack Harkness at its very centre.

They brought Suzie back and killed her again, and Ianto found himself propositioning Jack over Suzie's twice-dead corpse. Honestly, he didn't know what he was thinking. He had just barely gotten over the vertigo of extended periods in Jack's presence (that and the urge to shoot Jack for Lisa), and then he found himself in Jack's office, on the couch with Jack's hands all over his skin and things finally started to make sense.

He fell into Jack, fell down towards the centre of the universe with Jack's lips on his and Jack's skin under his hands and for the first time, Ianto started to wonder if maybe the wrong in Jack was really in Ianto, and maybe it wasn't so wrong after all. Just different.

Just like Ianto.

~~~

Then, the Rift.

Ianto had always known that the Rift through the middle of Cardiff was hiding something beneath it, something lingering on the edges of his consciousness, but he pushed awareness aware until the Rift started to fracture underneath their feet, until Lisa came back to tell him that he had to open the Rift. He knew it wasn't her, but the lingering doubt pushed him forward, pushed all of them forward until it came to a head and Owen shot Jack Harkness dead.

Ianto didn't know what to do and the world shattered around them and suddenly Jack wasn't dead at all, and they were up and moving, and then Abbadon killed Jack and Ianto couldn't stay to look at Jack's body, too still and quiet and no longer the centre of everything.

He left the vigil over the dead to Gwen, and tried to figure out how to live in a world without Jack Harkness as the only fixed point in his existence.

And then Jack came back to life and ripped Ianto's world to pieces again and then he fucking left without a word, not to him, not to anyone.

Ianto knew when he was gone; the world lurched and rippled and Jack was gone and time flowed freely in his wake.

~~~

Ianto hated the Himalayas. It was cold and there was no Jack and he felt naked the whole time, like someone was watching him at every turn. He had never been so happy to get home to Cardiff and the blanketing anonymity he felt on the Rift.

~~~

Then Jack came back. Again. Ianto decided right then and there that he was going to have to put some sort of bell or intergalactic GPS marker on the man.

With Jack back, the universe felt right again. Jack, who couldn't die; who was different than before, clinging and desperate under his cracking happy facade. Jack, who was the one to ask Ianto, meaning hidden under words, to let him in.

So Ianto did.

~~~

Shagging Jack Harkness was one thing. Dating Jack was a very different thing. It finally occurred to Ianto, round about halfway through the black and white movie playing on Ianto's television, the table covered in the remains of the dinner Jack had cooked all by himself, that Jack was a romantic at heart.

For some reason, the thought of a romantic soul in a body that could not die made Ianto's hearts twist painfully in his chest, even as Jack wrapped an arm around Ianto's shoulder and pulled him closer, his breath warm on Ianto's neck and his fingers clutching a little too tight on Ianto's wrist. Ianto was consumed by Jack's desperation, letting it crash over him as Jack pushed him to the cushions, breathing hard on the edge of panic, so hungry for touch that it was all Ianto could do to keep himself from being dashed to pieces on the rocks beneath Jack.

~~~

Then.

Owen died.

And Jack, who fucking well knew better, couldn't let go and brought Owen back.

Whenever Ianto looked at Owen, the dead man just looked normal. Ianto couldn't figure out what had happened to Jack, to make him so very wrong, a fixed singular point in the universe, when everyone else moved and flowed through time and through life and death.

Owen slotted back into Torchwood as if he hadn't been dead and lifeless for an hour. He was still Owen, just dead, and the world didn't revolve around him, and Ianto knew that one day Owen would just stop, like they would all stop.

Everybody but Jack.

Ianto stayed out of the way while Jack and Owen had some undying bonding moments, wondering if the twisting in his chest was jealousy. He hoped not. That might indicate some Freudian desire to be dead, and he'd had quite enough of that, thank you kindly. The last time he'd come so close to death, he'd walked away with a new face, and he certainly didn't want to have to explain that particular fact about Ianto Jones to Torchwood.

~~~

All in all, Ianto's life was moving along just fine.

Then Owen bloody Harper had to go and balls things up.

~~~

Chapter Text

Gwen's wedding was almost a debacle. Honestly, who did the woman think she worked for, the gas company? But she and Rhys had slipped off to their alien-free honeymoon, leaving Torchwood with three people in the field (Jack wasn't letting Owen out near the docks in case one of the kelpies tried to eat his face), and so it was four in the morning on a Thursday when Jack, Tosh and Ianto chased a Weevil down an alley and the world shifted two feet to the left around Ianto and the Weevil was too close and it clawed a harsh line into Ianto's chest and that was that.

He insisted that he was fine all the way back to the Hub, but Jack was tight-lipped and not listening as Tosh helpfully pressed bandages against Ianto's chest and totally ignored the red-orange colour of the blood seeping from the gashes in Ianto's flesh.

Having been patched up by an oblivious Owen before, Ianto concentrated harder than he should have on reassuring Jack that he was fine, and wasn't really paying attention as Owen unbuttoned the shirt and dabbed at the wounds on Ianto's chest with absolutely no expression on his face.

The stethoscope came out, a deviation from the norm, and Ianto's concentration on Jack stuttered as Owen listened to the left side of his chest.

The stethoscope moved to the right side.

Then Owen picked up Ianto's sidearm from where it had been deposited on the nearby steel tray and pointed it directly at Ianto's head.

"Where the fuck is Ianto Jones?" Owen demanded.

Silence.

Jack and Tosh started talking at the same time, demands thrown into the air like so much confetti, while Owen and Ianto just stared at each other.

"Owen, damn it!" Jack exclaimed from the stairs behind Ianto.

"This isn't Ianto," Owen interrupted Jack's tirade. The gun never wavered from Ianto's face. "Whoever this is, he's not even human!"

"Owen," Jack said slowly. "This is Ianto. He's been with us since we left the Hub."

"Then the alien started impersonating Ianto before today," Owen insisted.

"Owen, Ianto is not an alien!" Jack shouted.

"Yes he is!" Owen's hand shifted on the gun, and he looked over Ianto's shoulder at Jack. "Look! His blood's the wrong colour! And he's got two bloody hearts, one on either side of his chest! How human is that?"

Jack's total silence cracked through the air. Ianto felt his world tip slightly to the side, but he couldn't look away from Owen and the gun pointing at his head.

Owen's jaw tightened. "See, he's not even denying it," he said softly.

"You've got a gun pointed at my left frontal lobe, Owen," Ianto said in a surprisingly calm voice. "I had rather hoped that the Weevil wound would be the last injury I had today."

The gun never wavered. "What have you done with Ianto?"

"I am Ianto." His hands clenched the sides of the examination table, knuckles white under the strain. "The same person I've always been."

"The bloody hell you are." Owen stepped forward, so close that Ianto's eyes nearly crossed trying to keep the barrel of the gun in focus. "Don't you think I'd have noticed two heartbeats? Or that your blood is fucking orange?"

Tosh stepped carefully across the floor, hands out in front of her. She stayed well away from the line of fire. "Owen, his blood isn't orange," she said, not even looking at Ianto. "It's normal."

Owen took his eyes off Ianto for long enough to give Tosh an incredulous look. "The blood on his lily-white skin isn't anywhere near to being normal!"

Tosh glanced at Ianto, then back at Owen, blinking hard. "Why don't you put the gun down?"

"What?" Owen exclaimed. He looked at Jack, still behind Ianto. "Jack, please!"

Jack didn't respond for what felt like an eternity. Then his footsteps sounded down the stairs, across the tiles of the medical bay, and slowly around the exam table to stand beside Owen.

Ianto left out a sharp exhalation when he saw the deathly grey expression on Jack's face. There was nothing of the man Ianto had joked with that morning, for whom he had made an extra cup of coffee just so he could hand it to Jack across the table to brush his fingers over the soft pulse in Jack's wrist. This was a man who looked half a minute away from putting a bullet into Ianto himself.

Slowly, Jack took the gun from Owen, slipped the safety back on, and tucked the gun into his waistband. Having secured Ianto's weapon, Jack pulled his revolver out of its holster.

It wasn't pointed at Ianto.

Not yet.

But Jack's hand shook ever so slightly on the gun, and the man himself blinked rapidly as he approached Ianto. His free hand went out and pressed against the right side of Ianto's chest, directly on top of the Weevil claw marks. The sudden pressure on the gashes hurt and Ianto bit his lip on the pain. He would not react, not with Jack looking like that.

Jack left his hand on Ianto's chest for long enough for Ianto's blood to well up around the man's palm and trickle down between his fingers. Ianto tried to search for words that could fix this, but none came to him.

Finally, Jack spoke. "Owen?"

"What?"

"I'm supposed to feel two heartbeats."

"Left side and right side, slightly off-time."

"Two heart beats." Jack pressed even harder on Ianto's chest, making Ianto flinch backwards and overbalance on the table. Jack's hand fisted in Ianto's bloody shirt and hauled him upright, too close, too much like the first punch in a fight, and Ianto shoved Jack across the medical bay.

It was Tosh who saved the situation from degenerating further. "Jack, what's going on?" she asked.

Jack righted himself, shrugging his coat straight onto his shoulders. He looked down at his palm covered in blood too abnormal to be human. "It's a perception filter, it's got to be," Jack said. His voice held horrors untold and Ianto didn't understand. "Not like the one on the lift, but very close." Jack took a deep breath. "My mind wants to keep thinking that having a second heartbeat and orange blood is perfectly human."

Owen had been looking at Jack with growing incredulity. "You're telling me that whoever is impersonating Ianto has a perception filter on him? That means he could have been here for weeks!" The doctor stormed over to the specimen fridge. He yanked out the Torchwood blood samples and spun the rack until he could pull free tiny vials of blood. "Fuck!" he swore under his breath. "Every sample I have in here is the same colour, which means that it's been months!"

Ianto ran his tongue over dry lips. As much as it had hurt when Jack's fist had twisted his shirt into the claw wounds, that was pain and Ianto could compartmentalize physical pain in his mind. What he didn't know how to handle was the horrible expression on Jack's face. It was as if Jack wasn't even seeing Ianto anymore, but something else.

Something he desperately wanted to kill.

Ianto had never seen that expression on Jack's face, not in all the years he'd known him.

"Who are you?" Jack asked, voice absolutely frozen.

"It's me, Jack--

"Don't!" Jack barked, startling Ianto almost out of his skin. Tosh jumped back into a tray of steel instruments, sending them crashing to the ground. For a horrible second, Ianto thought that Jack was going to shoot him.

Then the moment passed.

Jack took another deep breath and let the air out slowly through his nose. "Don't call me Jack."

Perhaps it was the noise from the dropped instruments. Perhaps it was the pain from his chest seeping into his consciousness. Or perhaps it was the childish name game Jack had brought into the room, but Ianto was suddenly, blindingly angry.

"Captain Harkness," Ianto bit out. The corner of Jack's eye twitched. "I'm the same person I was, that I have been, since the day you met me."

Jack crossed the floor, getting in Ianto's face. Cold fury bled through to a hot desperation that Ianto just didn't understand. "Where the hell was that? Here? London?"

Behind Jack, Owen was pulling Tosh out of the way.

"Or how about at the end of the universe on the way to Utopia?"

For a brief instant, Ianto wondered if Jack had finally, truly, lost his mind. "I met you in 1990," Ianto said sharply. "The old Hope building down by the docks, when an alien spaceship rammed the building." He was close enough to Jack to kiss him, or maybe bite him, Ianto wasn't sure which he'd have preferred at that point. "You dragged me downstairs and I didn't take that Retcon pill you tried to push on me!"

The intensity of Jack's glare eased slightly. "What else do you remember about that day?" he demanded.

Ianto wondered what might happen if he started screaming out loud. "That man from Torchwood London made that ridiculous comment about you recruiting the next generation, and Ashna Baines was about to rip his head off, and there was a man named Marcus." Ianto threw his mind back to that day, living the memory of the smell of broken bricks, the loud thud of boots on the rickety floorboards overhead. "You kept your Retcon in a sweet tin in your coat pocket."

"And I asked you if you believed in aliens." The cold fury was back in Jack's eyes. "You told me you watched a lot of sci fi."

"Not a lie."

"You have two hearts!"

"And I always have!" Ianto clenched his hands into fists. Jack was so angry he was upsetting Ianto's perception of gravity and everything all at once. "You try being in an orphanage and wondering why your hearts didn't beat like in those medical shows on the telly, and who none of the adults ever paid attention to it in nurse's office!"

Ianto stopped himself before he could let loose with something he didn't want Jack, or any of them, to know.

He took a deep gulp of air. "I figured it must have been a birth defect."

"A birth defect?" Owen echoed angrily.

"I was four years old!" Ianto shot back.

"And the rest of it?" Owen demanded. "Walking around covered in a perception filter isn't exactly normal, not even for people growing up on the Rift."

"I don't know how it happened." Ianto relaxed his hands, stretching out his fingers and tendons. He ached with the desire to run away. "And to answer your next question, I don't know why the perception filter isn't working on you now."

"So you read minds now?"

Ianto's eyes flicked over to Owen. "I highly doubt that even if I could, you'd make it worth my while."

"He's probably mildly telepathic," Jack said before Owen could respond. "The others of his species can be telepathic." He cleared his throat. "And we need to consider that the perception filter won't work on the dead."

Owen glared. "That's right. Kick the dead man while he's down."

Ianto was still trying to parse Jack's previous sentence, but comprehension wouldn't come.

Tosh leaned around Owen, her apprehension about Ianto's safety countered with the excitement of meeting the unknown. "Jack, you know what species Ianto is?"

The words slotted into Ianto's comprehension, and everything stopped moving as the earth ceased to move, the stars refused to spin, and Ianto stopped his celestial rotation around Jack Harkness.

Then things kicked off again, sluggish and jerky and swirling Ianto into a nauseating spiral.

"You know what I am?" Ianto demanded. "Jack?"

Jack took three steps back, his grip firm on his revolver once more. "Your pocket watch."

Ianto slid off the metal examination table, his bloodied shirt catching against his wounds. "Jack, answer me!"

"Take out your pocket watch," Jack repeated.

"Jack!"

For his entire life, Ianto had hidden what he was, had pushed down any thought of what he might be, his mother's soft voice echoing in his dreams, to hide and grow and let no one know what you are. Now Jack Harkness stood before Ianto, holding onto secrets that had always been out of Ianto's reach in the dark, and Jack wanted to know the time?

The fire in Jack's eyes was a fury to behold. His own anger mounting, Ianto thrust his hand into his pocket and pulled out his watch.

"Would you like the time in Greenwich mean?"

Jack ignored him. "You told me that your mother gave you that," Jack said. "Your adoptive mother or your real mother?"

Ianto had told Jack about the heirloom's origins late one night, when the watch had rolled under the bed after a particularly experimental round of sex. Ianto had been rather giddy and more than half in love with Jack at that moment, and for Jack to pull that information into the cold medical bay in front of the rest of Torchwood when it was supposed to have been just for them twisted up inside Ianto. He forced himself to breathe and told himself that his sudden lightheadedness and nausea was only from blood loss.

"It wasn't Sarah Jones," Ianto said, the metal of the watch cover smooth under his thumb, the only solid thing in his rapidly crumbling world.

Jack nodded once, as if reminding himself of something long known. His bloodied hand went around to cup the butt of his revolver.

"Open it."

Ianto blinked. "Then what?" he asked as he popped open the cover on the watch, just like that.

Jack jumped, knocking another tray of metal instruments to the ground. Ianto winced at the sound, resolving that if he got out of this alive, he was going to have words with Owen about leaving sharp things lying about.

In the meantime, Ianto looked at his watch. It was the same as it had always been, ticking along in time with the off-kilter rhythm of his hearts. "Are you satisfied?" he asked.

Jack skittered off to the side, sending little shockwaves through Ianto's universe. He opened his mouth to speak, closed it, swallowed hard, then finally managed to get the words out. "Open the back."

Ianto stared. "The back."

"Jack, this is getting a little ridiculous," Owen put in. "Either he's an alien impersonating Ianto, or Ianto's an alien--"

"And now he's going to open the back of his watch," Jack snapped.

Ianto slapped the watch into his other hand and used a blood-crusted nail to pry the back cover free. The tiny, intricate gears shone brassily through the glass. He held both watch and backing out for Torchwood's collective inspection. "Now are you satisfied?"

Tosh edged around Owen. When no one stopped her, she carefully looked at the watch in Ianto's trembling fingers. "It's beautiful," she murmured, tracing the carvings on the metal. "It was your mother's?"

Ianto closed his hand around his watch. "Yes," he said after a minute. The lightheadedness was starting to dance spots behind his eyes. "It's all I had when they found me in the street. I wasn't even walking yet."

"All you had?" Owen echoed. "What, were you naked?"

"I'll leave waking up naked in the streets to you," Ianto retorted quickly. Too quickly, it seemed, for the room started to spin and Ianto put his hand out to steady himself and Tosh was the only thing close enough to reach and there was shouting and Ianto found himself on the floor with the barrel of Jack's gun pressed against his jaw.

Ianto wasn't sure who was more surprised, him or Jack, but he didn't have time to parse the situation when Owen was hauling Jack up and away. "Stop it!" Owen shouted. "Jack, get the fuck out of here, now!"

"He grabbed Tosh--"

"He was going to pass out!" Owen hauled Ianto to his feet, none too roughly. "He might be an alien, but I've seen Ianto about to pass out before, something that must have made it thought the perception filter, and he's at that stage now!" Owen pushed Ianto onto the examination table and pulled his shirt aside. Orange-red blood poured out from cuts in Ianto's chest, down his chest, soaking his black shirt.

"I'm not leaving you alone with him--"

"Then stay, but do it from over there!" Owen pushed on Ianto's shoulders until Ianto was on his back, the room spinning freely in space as Ianto's head hit the table too hard. "Tosh, I need an extra set of hands."

Those hands took Ianto's watch from his fingers, pulled him free of his shirt and pressed things against his chest. Ianto couldn't see Jack, but he knew the man was there, with the sun's gravity pulled askew by Jack's presence.

A thermometer in Ianto's mouth, questions in Owen's voice about body temperature and heart rates, then the sting of an antiseptic against his flesh and he came very close to passing out, with only Jack's rage holding him in place on the earth, then a needle pierced his skin and he did pass out.

~~~

Ianto drifted back to consciousness, the examination table strangely warm under his back. The Hub lay almost silent, with Mainframe whispering quietly underground and somewhere, someone was in pain.

Ianto opened his eyes.

Tosh sat on the steps, hands cradling something. When she saw Ianto moving, she stood. "Welcome back."

Ianto didn't understand why she looked so worried. "What happened?"

"You were attacked by a Weevil--"

"I know that." Ianto tried to sit up and realized he was covered by several layers of blankets. "What's this?"

Tosh moved down one step. "Your body temperature dropped to fourteen degrees," she said. "Owen couldn't figure out if that was normal or bad, and Jack... Well, Jack wasn't very helpful."

Ianto pushed back the stabbing pains in his chest and made himself sit up. The universe wobbled dangerously for several moments, then he felt down to the spinning earth, the sun holding them all in her graceful dance across the stars, and things went back to normal. He breathed in, feeling air slide through what passed for his lungs, and then out.

"Are you better now?" Tosh asked, so hopeful.

Ianto breathed again. Other than the pain in his chest, things felt a little better. The lightheadedness was gone. "I think so."

"Good." She hesitated, then sat back on the steps. "Owen said you can't have any painkillers until we know what might hurt you."

"No aspirin," Ianto said quickly. He rubbed at his forehead. His skin felt cold even to his touch. "They gave me aspirin when I was in primary school. I almost died."

Tosh's eyes went wide. "Do you know of any other drug interactions?"

Ianto shook his head. "I'm not exactly working with an instruction manual."

Tosh looked back at her hands. "But... you're Ianto."

"I'm Ianto."

"Oh." Tosh held up the object in her hands. Ianto's watch. "Do you know why Jack's so freaked out?"

At the mention of Jack's name, Ianto's stomach clenched. "No. I don't."

Tosh turned the watch over in her fingers. "It's like he thinks he knows you, what you are."

"If he does, he knows more than I do." Ianto flicked experimentally at the bandage on his chest. Just stitches, it felt like.

Tosh cleared her throat. "It seems like the perception filter on you is less effective when the truth is forced on a person," she said, sounding a little too happy about it. "I can remember now that it's strange you're an alien. Even though I'm worried that I should be more worried about this than I am."

"Tosh, everything is fine." Ianto's shirt lay in a tattered pile on the floor, beside his ruined jacket. No escape wearing that. "I'm not a danger to anyone."

"Why did you come to work for Torchwood if you're an alien?"

Ianto let his shoulders slump a little. Of course, Tosh would want to know the truth. That was her whole life, figuring out answers. Knowing how futile it would be to talk his way out of this one, he opted for the truth. "It started as a way to know what I had to hide from."

"But not anymore?"

Ianto shrugged experimentally, his stitches pulling. Unpleasant, but tolerable. "There's a Rift in time and space that keeps trying to kill us all. Call me old-fashioned, but I've become rather fond of this planet."

"You want to help."

A bubble of annoyance surged up in Ianto's chest. "Isn't that why you're here?"

Tosh paled, just a fraction. "It's a very important job--"

"And we don't fit in anywhere else," Ianto finished. "Come on, Tosh. Owen's dead, Jack is... whatever the hell is up with Jack, Gwen can't stop meddling to save her life, and you're too smart for anywhere else." He slid his feet to the floor and, when the world didn't invert on him, let go of the exam table. "It's rather poetic, don't you think, that the misfits save the world."

"But why didn't you tell us?"

Ianto had an answer to that one at least. "Can you imagine how that would have gone over at Torchwood One? They'd have had me on the dissection table within the hour."

"But we're not Torchwood One!"

"And how would you explain to your boss that he's been shagging an alien?" The words were out of Ianto's mouth before he could think better of it. He stopped, made himself breathe deeply, tried to calm down. "Sorry."

"It's okay," Tosh said, even though her smile seemed more of a grimace.

"Good." Ianto moved towards the stairs, but Tosh shot to her feet and moved around to block him. "What?"

"You need to stay here," she said, trying to sound reassuring but failing miserably.

"Why?"

"Jack's orders."

"Jack," Ianto repeated. "Why should I stay here?" Now that Ianto's brain was slowly starting to function again, he was registering several odd things about the situation. "Where are Jack and Owen?"

"Up in Jack's office," Tosh said.

"And you are here..."

"To make sure you stay here."

Oh. Ianto took a deep breath, willing his mental processing powers into the present. He didn't know how he hadn't seen it before. Tosh's back was so straight, she probably had a handgun tucked in her waistband. She had stayed far enough away from Ianto to ensure a clean shot, if need be.

Idly, Ianto thought Jack had made a bad choice. Tosh was too kind-hearted to kill Ianto even if he was an evil alien bent on world domination.

Ianto shook his head. He needed to push the maudlin B-movie vocabulary out of his head, especially if Jack and Owen were upstairs discussing his fate.

"Can I have my watch back, at least?" Ianto held out his hand.

Tosh laid the object on the tiles and backed away, waiting until Ianto had retrieved the timepiece before relaxing. "We ran scans on it," she said helpfully. "It's not giving off any energy readings, but the metal isn't of Terrestrial origin."

Ianto pried the backing free from the watch, and wiped a dried smudge of blood from the glass. "It's just a watch, Tosh. That's all."

"Jack seemed to think it was more," said Tosh, resting her hands on the railing.

Ianto closed the watch and put it in his pocket. "I've had this with me since I was a child. It's just a family heirloom from a mother who abandoned me on the Rift as a baby."

"Why here?" Tosh asked. "I mean, if she was an alien, she could have been from anywhere. Why did she bring you to Cardiff?"

Ianto pushed his hair back, wishing he had a shirt, wishing he didn't feel so naked and uncertain. "I have no idea."

Footsteps on the tiles startled Ianto out of his introspection. Jack appeared around the corner, a fuming Owen on his heels. "Maybe she knew what was coming," Jack said as he threw one of his own shirts at Ianto. Lingering anger and an incomprehensible fear clung to his words.

Tosh frowned, looking between Ianto and Jack. "What was coming?"

As Ianto stared at Jack, some of the fight seemed to go out of the man. "Extinction," Jack said quietly. The word ran like a knife down Ianto's spine. "There was a war. Only two Ti-- two of that species had seemed to survive it. And now one's dead, and one's out there in the universe."

"And then there's Ianto," Owen muttered.

Ianto knees were wobbly as he sagged against the exam table. "They're all dead?"

Jack looked away. "Yes," he said, relentless in his quiet words. "Sorry."

The air was too thick to breathe. Ianto had never spent much time thinking about his real family; life was too busy on earth with its people and new things to discover at every turn and all the bright colours and shapes and emotions in every new person he met. In the back of his mind, he had known his real mother was dead, but he'd never moved beyond that, to think about a father, or grandparents, or cousins or friends of the family.

And now Jack said they were all dead, all but one, and Ianto knew he was daft to listen to Jack without a shred of evidence, but he knew Jack was right.

Ianto had always felt he was alone.

~~~

Jack took Ianto home even though it was barely noon. Tosh had questioned and Owen had glared, and Jack had been silent on the drive and Ianto stared out the window at the passing road and wondered if he was supposed to say something profound about being one of the last survivors of his race, all the while his head hurt as Jack's conflicting emotions fairly bled off the man into the car.

The SUV slotted neatly into a parking spot just outside Ianto's building. Jack killed the engine but didn't move; Ianto waited for a minute to see if Jack would say anything. When the silent treatment continued, Ianto undid his seatbelt and climbed out of the car. At this point, as far as Ianto was concerned, Jack Harkness could take his mysterious alien knowledge and go fuck himself.

The flat was quiet in the faded mid-day light. Ianto laid his keys on the hall table, not bothering to lock the door. He knew better than to think Jack wouldn't be barging in any minute.

His chest hurt, with the morning's shock of injury fading to the dull pain of healing. Dried blood clung to his skin, stiffened his belt, and suddenly all Ianto wanted was to wash the day away.

Jack came in while Ianto was in the bathroom unbuttoning his borrowed shirt. A soft thump as Jack's coat hit the sofa, a heavier thud on the kitchen table welcomed a metal weight wrapped in leather, Jack's holstered gun, then Jack appeared in the open bathroom doorway. The man watched Ianto finish undoing the shirt before saying, "That's not your colour."

Ianto glared at Jack's reflection in the mirror. "It's your shirt."

"And you'd look better out of it." The words might have been flirtatious except for the deadly precision of Jack's words, the utter lack of warmth in his voice.

Contrarily, Ianto was tempted to leave the shirt on and step into the shower fully clothed, but that was bordering on the ridiculous. Ianto tried to shrug the shirt off his shoulders, but his injured chest muscles wouldn't obey his mind's command.

Moving rather like a snake stalking a bird, Jack stepped into the bathroom behind Ianto and deliberately pulled the shirt off Ianto's shoulders. They had done this before, undressing each other for a shower, but this time the only thing Ianto could think about was the quickest way out of the room and away from a man who looked as if he would attack at any moment.

His touch cold and all sharp angles, Jack reached down to Ianto's belt, pulling it free of the loops in his waistband. The belt hit the floor with a sticky thump. Jack's hands rested on Ianto's hips, his grip bruising on Ianto's skin. He never looked away from Ianto's gaze in the mirror.

Suddenly feeling as if he might be sick, Ianto turned in Jack's angry grasp and shoved the man back.

"What?" Jack demanded.

"Get the fuck away from me," Ianto said, wanting to shout, to scream, but it was like he was choking.

"What's wrong?" Even Jack's words were sharp and cutting, caustic and burning, and they made Ianto feel dirty in ways the blood on his skin did not. "Too good for me now that you've been outted?"

"You don't get to go groping me in the bath when you've been treating me like some sort of..." Ianto searched around for a word that would match Jack's bizarre behaviour for the past few hours, and came up blank. "Like I'm some sort of criminal."

"I haven't been--"

"You were going to shoot me for grabbing at Tosh," Ianto said flatly.

"You lied to us about being an alien!" Jack spat. It wasn't even anger that fueled his vitriol; the deathly grey pallor in Jack's face wasn't imaginary, and that incomprehensible fear still lurked in his words.

"Is this about working with an alien or shagging one?" Ianto said. Before he had a chance to wonder if his words had been ill-timed, Jack had shoved him up against the cold tile wall.

There should have been some thought running through Ianto's mind, like trying to avoid the fight, or perhaps to start one, but Ianto just stared at Jack's stony expression, felt Jack's fingers digging hard into the muscles of his arms, the press of Jack's knee sharp against his leg to hold him in place, and not a single thought ran through Ianto's head. Everything was silence.

Then Jack shoved off, pushing Ianto rather hard against the wall, and turned on his heel to storm out of the bathroom.

Ianto stared at the open door, wondering what the hell had just happened, what on earth was wrong with Jack, with him, with everything.

The television in the living room clicked on and the dulcet tones of the BBC newsreader drifted down the hall. Unless the man had turned on the telly to cover the sounds of Ianto's impending murder, Jack was probably settling in for the long haul. Ianto couldn't even bring himself to care if Jack was cluttering up his flat, probably a delayed sign of shock. He'd have to mention that to Owen.

In the end, Ianto simply closed the bathroom door, removed the remainder of his clothing, and stepped into the shower.

The hot water restored the better part of his equilibrium and a healthy does of rationality. Yes, Ianto had hidden his alien nature from Torchwood, but it wasn't as if he was a threat to them or anyone else. He was a good worker, quick on his feet, and he had done more than his fair share of saving the world. On the job front, Jack didn't have any grounds for complaint.

Ianto wondered if Jack might be freaked out about sleeping with someone who was rather non-human, but he dismissed that thought almost as quickly as it came to him. Jack seemed to flirt with anything that might flirt back, including a few aliens who had passed through Cardiff. No, Jack's sexual openness probably extended to Ianto's species.

So what was wrong with Jack? A perpetual question at Torchwood, dependant on the time of day, amount of Rift activity and even the weather, but this was so many kinds of different. Ianto pulled together pieces of the puzzle that was Jack Harkness. Before Jack's disappearance, the man had put so much stock in finding his mysterious Doctor, then he had come back damaged and despairing and trying so hard to seem normal when it was clear to Ianto, if no one else, that he wasn't fine at all.

But he had been functioning, level-headed as Jack could be, until Ianto's alieness had been revealed. For that had been the beginning of this -- Jack had reacted badly to the revelation of the two hearts, to the pocket watch. In Ianto's mind, it all added up to deeper issues than Ianto simply not being human.

Jack was more troubled than he wanted to let on, and Ianto couldn't figure out why. It was like trying to assemble a puzzle while blindfolded. With one last swipe to get the soap out of his hair, Ianto sent a half-longing thought to the days when he didn't have to deal with Jack Harkness's overpowering emotional baggage as part of his daily routine.

As Ianto expected, Jack was still in the living room when Ianto emerged from the bathroom. He didn't look away from the picture as Ianto made his way to the sink, and since the screen displayed a nature program about baby elephants, Ianto suspected that was more for show than any actual interest on Jack's part.

After Ianto finished a glass of water, he squared his shoulders and faced Jack. "You can leave now."

"I'm not leaving."

"Juvenile pachyderms all the rage these days amongst Torchwood directors?"

"I'm not leaving until I determine if you're a threat."

Ianto placed his hands on the countertop, needing something to focus on as the world spun lazily around Jack. "I'm not a threat. I have never been a threat. Not to Torchwood, not to earth."

"Except for that minor instance of almost restarting a Cyberman foothold on earth."

Ianto traced a line in the tiling, not letting himself react to the accusation. He and Jack had been over this so many times, there was no profit in revisiting the dead. "You could have sent Owen or Tosh to baby-sit me."

"I'm not letting you anywhere near them."

Ianto gave up trying to look at Jack. The light bent around the man, casting him into unnatural shadow. "I'm going to bed."

"What, no emotional protestations that you'd never hurt a hair on their tender heads?"

Ianto straightened up. "I shot Owen in the shoulder once. I rather believe the comment would fall on deaf ears." He breathed in through his nose, just to give his next words some space. "And when you feel like filling me in on the back-story to this little drama, I'm willing to hear it."

With that, Ianto went into his bedroom and slipped beneath the covers. The heavy curtains blocked out most of the light and sound, and in spite of the fact that Ianto's whole world had been ripped to pieces, he had been awake for two straight days and he was injured and he just couldn't think straight. It was not long before he slept, and his only dreams were filled with his mother's whispers to hide.

Some time later, Ianto came instantly awake when the bed moved. He blinked around the room to see Jack laying down beside Ianto, fully clothed on top of the covers. The man crossed his hands over his stomach and stared up at the ceiling.

A quick glance at the clock told Ianto that he had been asleep for almost three hours. Had Jack been sitting out in his living room the whole time?

Still staring up at the ceiling, Jack let out a breath that trembled around the edges. "Have you heard of the Doctor?"

Ianto rubbed at his eyes, trying to think. "Are you talking about the encounter that motivated Queen Victoria to found Torchwood?" he asked.

"Sort of." Jack ran his tongue over his lower lip, his brow furrowed in thought. "He's the same one who was at Canary Wharf, who stopped the Cybermen and Daleks. Saved the world and all that. That's the Doctor."

Ianto turned carefully onto his side, so he could look at Jack without getting a crick in his neck. He could only assume this had something to do with the day's events, but even though he could usually glean Jack's meaning from cryptic words, nothing came to him this time.

"When I vanished last year..." Jack swallowed hard. "I was with him."

"Your doctor was the Doctor?" Ianto asked. "Wait, if you knew he was the sworn enemy of Torchwood, why did you come to work there?"

"Because I needed to find him," Jack said. "And I knew he'd come to Cardiff, at some time. I had to find him. And so I waited. And so much time passed. Nothing to him, but so long for me."

Ianto let those words run around in his mind. "Is he long-lived, or--"

"He's a time traveler," Jack interrupted. "The last of the Time Lords, traveling across space and time. And I was with him at the end of the universe."

Ianto let the words of Jack's confession, for that was what this was, fall to the bed between them. Ianto was very good at deciphering truth, and Jack was a bad liar, and these words of Jack's held no falsehoods.

"And there was another Time Lord hiding there as a human, but he had a pocket watch very much like yours, and it held his memories and personality, and when the watch was opened, he was restored to his old psychopathic self." Jack worried his fingers through the gap in the fabric of his shirt, knuckles white. He would not look at Ianto. "He called himself the Master. He came back here, to Earth, to a time about two years ago, made up a history and set about taking over the world, the usual evil alien deal. You probably saw him on television. Harold Saxon."

Ianto raised himself on his elbow, unable to let this pass. "The British Prime Minister was an evil alien?"

Jack cracked a faint smile that didn't hide his pain. "You know, I've been trying to come up with a Thatcher joke on this one for months. I can never make it work."

Ianto sat all the way up. "Jack."

Jack still wouldn't look at Ianto. "Do you remember that broadcast about the Toc--" Jack actually choked on the word, and he closed his eyes. Ianto realized with horror that Jack was digging his nails into his stomach so hard that he had torn open his own skin.

Ianto slid back down to the bed and reached out to Jack, waiting until Jack's death grip loosened enough for Ianto to slide his hand around Jack's palm. The slight stickiness of Jack's blood burned Ianto's fingers.

Jack breathed for a long time, eyes closed on the world. His fingers wrapped tight around Ianto's hand before he spoke again. "The day planned for the Toclafane encounter, when the American president was killed and the Prime Minister disappeared?"

"We were in Asia then, but we pulled up a broadcast from Japan and Toshiko translated," Ianto said quietly.

"Yeah." Jack opened his eyes to the ceiling again. "Thing is, Saxon was working with the Toclafane, all the way from the end of the universe. He created a time paradox machine and the Toclafane came back and started killing people. They killed ten percent of the human population on that first day, and that was just the beginning.

"The Toclafane are, or will be, human. Trillions of years in the future. Twisted and broken and most of it is my fault," Jack said despairingly. "We thought we were helping, but--" His voice broke. "The paradox machine meant that the Toclafane could exist even though they kept killing off their ancestors."

Ianto's mind spun, incorporating the possibility of time travel with the paradox Jack spoke about, and he couldn't speak over his whirling thoughts.

"It went that way for a year. Then we managed to destroy the machine and everything went back to the way it was. Time spun back to the way it was before the Toclafane came. Right as rain." Jack grasped Ianto's hand compulsively. "Except for a few of us that remembered what happened. Eye of the storm."

"What were you doing?" Ianto asked. "During that year?"

Jack glanced down at their joined hands. He lifted Ianto's hand up and ran curious fingers over Ianto's palm. His touch was warm and rounded now, soft and bloodied and hurt. "Saxon was a psychopath."

"I got that from the wholesale massacre."

Jack coughed up a faint chuckle. "He knew I couldn't die. He found that utterly fascinating."

The last word scrapped over Ianto's mind like nails on a chalkboard. He would have given anything to not know what had happened to Jack, but he knew, deep down, that he didn't have a choice.

"Most times," Jack went on, "when someone kills me and I come back, it shocks them enough into not trying again. Case in point, has Owen tried to kill me since you guys opened the Rift?"

"I don't think that's a valid sample--"

"But Saxon liked trying different things," Jack said. He may have been looking at the ceiling, but he was seeing something so much further away. "Knife to the ribs, see how long it'd take me to bleed out. How different bullets blew different size holes in my skull."

"Jack, you don't have to--"

"Other days, he did other stuff."

Jack's voice had gone flat by the end of the sentence. Ianto's hearts pounded, and he did not want to hear the rest of this but if Jack could have lived it, he could do the very least and listen.

"And none of it mattered, because I'd heal and we'd be just back where we were before."

"It mattered, Jack," Ianto murmured.

Jack turned his head away. "In the end it all went back to the way it was before, and I came back to Torchwood."

I came back for you, Ianto remembered Jack's words, Jack's hungry stare fixed on Ianto. At the time, Ianto hadn't understood the barely masked panic in Jack as he had stood in front of Torchwood, waiting for his team to let him back in. A wave of empathy crashed over Ianto, what it must have been like to spend a year under a creative torturer, only to have to hide it when he came back to friends who might have turned him out on his ear.

Ianto pressed his forehead against Jack's shoulder, wondering how Jack remained sane.

"Saxon's dead," Jack said after a minute. "His wife shot him, which was probably for the best because I don't know if the Doctor would have forgiven me for eviscerating the man with my bare hands. But..."

Ianto waited, his face resting against the soft cotton of Jack's shirt. He wasn't sure how much more of this story he could take.

"Time Lords, they have this ability to cheat death. When their body is dying, they can regenerate every cell in their body to become a totally new person, with the same personality. The Doctor's done it once since I knew him. After Lucy shot Saxon, the Doctor was begging him to regenerate, but Saxon refused and he was just dead." The flutter of Jack's pulse accelerated, pounding against the stretched skin of his throat. "When I heard Owen say that you had two hearts, all I could think was that Saxon had somehow tricked the Doctor, had regenerated, and that you were--"

"I'm not him," Ianto interrupted. He pulled his hand out of Jack's grip and gently touched Jack's chin. With infinite reluctance, Jack turned his head back to Ianto. "Have I ever done anything to make you think I would be capable of anything like that?"

Jack didn't respond.

"You've known me since I was a child. I can remember being a baby, here in Cardiff. I'm not this Time Lord."

"I know it doesn't make any logical sense. I can't help..." Jack swallowed. "It's been a long day."

A long day? At this point, Ianto would have given him a long lifetime. Even though he was only twenty-seven, Ianto felt very old as he laid his head back on Jack's shoulder. "Why wouldn't you think I was your Doctor, regenerated?"

Jack put his hand on Ianto's arm, running his fingers over Ianto's skin. "Because he'd never let me do this," Jack said against Ianto's hair.

"He's not much into men?"

"He's not much into me." In that one sentence lay a thousand tiny hurts. Jack's hand slid up Ianto's arm, seeking comfort in the only way Jack knew how, in touch and sex.

Ianto let Jack pull him close, wincing only slightly when his wounded chest pressed against Jack's ribs. He wondered if the Doctor could also see how strange Jack was, how the universe held Jack at the centre of its spin.

"How's the chest?" Jack asked.

"Getting better," Ianto said. "Can I ask you a question about this regeneration thing?"

"If you want," Jack replied cautiously.

"When the regeneration happens, physical appearance changes? Height and hair colour and all that?"

Jack's hand stilled on Ianto's shoulder. "Yes. Why?"

Ianto let out a long breath. So many things from his childhood were starting to make sense. "When I was very young, I fell out of a tree and the fall should have killed me. I'd always thought that it had."

"What are you talking about?"

Ianto raised his head to look Jack in the eye. "I was at a new orphanage, and I'd snuck out to look around and climbed a tree that was high enough to look over the four-story building. I fell out of the tree and landed on my head." He shrugged one shoulder. "I woke up in a big pool of blood, and I was taller and had black hair instead of red, and this old mug."

He tried to smile, but the memory of landing, of feeling his skull shatter under the impact, ripped the false amusement away.

"The thing was, no one at the home seemed to notice that anything was different. I'd only been there for a few hours, but even so, you'd have thought the adults wouldn't mistake a short child with ginger hair for a tall one with black."

"Don't forget about the perception filter," Jack murmured. "It's pretty powerful, it would have to be." He ran his fingers through Ianto's hair. "I just can't picture you as a red-head."

Ianto smiled faintly. "My mother had auburn hair. My real mother."

"What can you remember of her?"

"Only that she was sad a lot." Ianto shifted around until he was lying on his back beside Jack. "She had a lovely smile. Although I suppose all little boys think that about their mothers."

"Probably."

Tiredness dragged at Ianto, an exhaustion of body and soul that had everything to do with what he had heard from Jack in the last hour. "Come on," Ianto said, pulling at Jack's sleeve. "Get under the blankets and try to get some sleep."

"Ianto--"

"Just take off your boots," Ianto continued. "Even you get cold."

Slowly, Jack kicked off his boots and slid under the covers. Ianto wasn't sure if Jack would just pretend to sleep, and he didn't want to push the man in ways ill-advised considering the content of Jack's story, but he wasn't at all surprised when Jack turned abruptly to kiss him, touch desperate and hands everywhere all at once.

There might even have been a measure of forgiveness in Jack's touch, and Ianto wasn't about to push that away.

~~~

Chapter Text

Things slowly went back to a semblance of normality, or as much as anything could at Torchwood. Once they saw Jack and Ianto stumble in the next morning, in roughly the same battered shape they had left the previous day, Tosh and Owen went about their normal routines. Tosh occasionally popped up beside Ianto to ask him a question on something alien or strange. What her underlying point was, Ianto was too tired to decipher, so he patiently answered her and waited for her inevitable boomerang to her desk, then back to his side.

Owen was as snarkish as ever, jabbing needles into Ianto's skin for more blood samples, making him sit beneath scanners and taking his temperature and making him breathe into tubes. He wasn't very communicative, and whatever verbosity might have existed dried up when he saw the finger-shaped bruises on Ianto's arms and hips.

Jack was nowhere to be found. Tosh said helpfully that she thought she'd seen him go into the archives, and she could look on the internal cameras if Ianto wanted, but he brushed that off. If Jack wanted to hide, that was Jack's business.

And to top off the day, Myfanwy was peckish. Unable to tell if she was sick or just broody, Ianto spent a large chunk of the morning enticing her to eat, protecting his head when she reared back and lashed her wings out at the air. She didn't look sick or feeble, just... worried.

Around five, Tosh appeared once again at Ianto's side, only this time she had her purse and jacket in hand. Ianto, nursing a bruised shoulder from jumping out of Myfanwy's way, just looked at her.

"Come on," she said as she shrugged into her coat. "You didn't have any lunch."

"Neither did you."

"All the better excuse to get out of here," Tosh continued. "That pub down the wharf should be dead this time of day."

So Ianto found himself walking beside Tosh along the waterfront, the sunlight sluggishly dancing over the choppy bay. Ianto breathed in the salty air and waited for Tosh to speak what was on her mind.

"So," she finally said once they were at a table in the nearly empty pub, a cola for her and tea for him and food on the way, "Here we are."

Ianto raised his eyebrow a fraction.

She returned his look. "What? It's been a strange few days."

"Tell me about it." Ianto sipped at his tea, absently placing it as a cheap Indian blend by the rough taste of the tannins. "Don't suppose you saw Jack this afternoon?"

Tosh shook her head. "He was still in the basement when I checked. Did something happen with you two last night?"

Ianto shifted his teacup on the table, watching the trails of moisture bead on the varnished surface. "We talked about things," he said vaguely. "Like my..." He looked around the room, noting the few inhabitants. "My background."

"Did Jack tell you what he knows?" Tosh asked quickly, eyes bright.

Other days, he did other stuff, echoed in Ianto's mind, sending his hearts racing as he almost gagged on his mouthful of tea. He covered his reaction with a pretend coughing fit. "A little," Ianto said, not willing to tell Tosh what he had heard from Jack. "Nothing really definite."

"Do you know why Jack freaked out so much?"

He knew I couldn't die. He found that utterly fascinating. "I have some ideas," Ianto said cautiously. "Mostly I think it was surprise."

Tosh nodded sagely. "I suppose I'd feel the same way if I found out... you know, about someone I cared so much about."

Ianto almost tipped over his cup. "What?"

Tosh leaned in closer. "Come on, Ianto, you have to know that Jack totally adores you." She smiled, a little sadly. "It's sort of cute."

Ianto stared at Tosh. Whatever there was between Jack and Ianto, Ianto certainly didn't think that Jack adored him. Found him amusing, sure. Was always up for some witty banter and naked groping in the office behind closed doors, that sort of thing. But adored?

Ianto didn't want to be adored by Jack Harkness, because that would mean that this was more than an office fling and Ianto wasn't sure he could handle that, not with him the way he was and with Jack so damaged and broken and especially now that Ianto knew why.

And he wondered why he was there and not back at the Hub with Jack, why he'd let Jack vanish among the dusty ghosts of Torchwood's dead.

He made it through the rest of the meal with only half his attention on Tosh. She didn't seem to mind, rambling on about work and her landlord and the state of Cardiff's weather. Then she handed Ianto a take-away bag with food for Jack, hooked her arm in Ianto's and walked him back to the Hub, watered and fed.

The room, tilted four degrees counterclockwise, hummed at their entry. Owen sat slumped at his computer tapping absently at the keyboard. He barely looked over as the door rolled shut.

Ianto gave Tosh a thankful smile. "There are some things I need to see to downstairs," he said, and walked away before she could ask for anything or Owen could pull him into the medical bay for more tests.

The underground hallways were all rearranged two inches to the left, with Ianto reaching for door handles in the wrong places and stepping up stairs that weren't there. After almost walking into a wall, Ianto stopped in the middle of the hallway. He rubbed at his eyes, looked again, and everything was back to normal.

Wondering what had been in his tea, or if Owen had taken a little too much blood for tests, Ianto continued along the halls without further mishap.

He finally located Jack in Cold Storage, sitting in the corner, his back pressed against the bricks. Jack didn't look up as Ianto sat beside him on the floor. Ianto placed the white paper bag on the floor between them. Nothing in the room was outwardly in disarray, but Ianto's practiced eye slowly uncovered the discrepancies, the slight tilt of the handle on compartment six where Suzie Costello lay for eternity, scratches along the wood all the way up near the ceiling by compartment seventy-five, where Ashna Baines had lain since Torchwood found her dismembered body lying in a rainy alley in 1993, and he wondered what Jack had been looking for amongst the bodies of his dark-haired companions.

After a few minutes, Jack reached for the white bag. "Tuna?" he asked, pulling out the sandwich.

"Chicken," Ianto corrected. The slow weight of the dead filled the room. "If you want some crisps, there are some hidden in Gwen's desk."

"Thanks."

Ianto stared straight ahead, not sure if he was waiting, but the room didn't shift over, none of the dead arose, and after a few more minutes of this, Ianto decided to chalk his previous disorientation up to blood loss.

"How are things upstairs?"

"Normal," Ianto said. "Owen's deciphering my DNA and Tosh is busy with the Rift monitoring program."

"Good." Jack ripped a piece of crust from his bread and stared at it for a few moments before shoving it into his mouth. "What did you do all day?"

Ianto contemplated telling Jack he had set his plans for world domination into effect, but he rather suspected that joke would not be well received. "Myfanwy is reacting to something. I think we're lucky she's the only one of her species, or we might soon be knee-deep in baby pteranodons."

Jack smiled faintly. "Gwen and Tosh would love that."

"If you want the girls to be happy, we can always get a Torchwood cat."

Jack almost choked on his sandwich. "We are not getting an office cat!"

"A little marmalade tom?" Ianto continued. "We could even fit it with a tiny leather wristband on its paw."

Jack balled up the paper bag and threw it at Ianto's head. "Only if we also get a black and white kitten that I get to put a blue collar on."

"A tabby for Gwen and a midnight black cat for Tosh?"

"And a little zombie kitten for Owen." Jack sighed. "And then they'd all get eaten by Myfanwy or the Weevils."

"Myfanwy hasn't eaten a cat in months," Ianto protested. "The reports of missing household pets in Cardiff has dropped substantially in the last two years."

"See, this is why we just can't have nice things." Jack wiped his fingers on his shirtsleeve, not noticing Ianto cringe. "Maybe put curtains up in the medical bay?"

"You should have seen what Gwen tried to do while you were gone."

Jack shot Ianto a glare. "She didn't." Ianto remained silent. "She wanted to put up curtains?" When Ianto continued to remain silent, Jack pursed his lips. "You're having me on."

"Not at the moment, Captain Harkness." There was just a hint of flirtation in Ianto's voice, just enough to pull Jack back from past to now.

Jack rested his head against the wall, looking slightly more comfortable than he had when Ianto entered the room. "Do you ever think about what it would be like to be stuck in one of those cupboards for all eternity?"

"I try to avoid thinking about things like that."

"Lucky." Jack pushed his hair back, fingers lingering on his forehead. "Last night, I dreamed that Gwen hadn't sat with me after that Abbadon thing and I woke up, locked in that cupboard." He frowned. "And there was this thing with Suzie and a cannibalistic clown."

"Suzie hated clowns."

"She told me once that she read 'It' when she was twelve."

That didn't surprise Ianto in the least.

Jack took a deep breath. "Look, Ianto, about last night..."

All of Tosh's words of Jack's adoration came back to Ianto in a terrifying rush. He wasn't sure he could deal with proclamation of any sort coming from Jack at this point. "Thanks for staying," he said quickly. "It was-- I mean, it was good that you stayed."

Jack was looking at him with that indecipherable Harkness stare, but he did not launch into any sort of ramble or rant, which both cheered Ianto and made him want to kick himself for forgetting with whom he was dealing. "Thanks for letting me."

And that was that.

~~~

Jack helped Ianto feed the Weevils and waited while Ianto performed his nightly check on the secure cells. Rather, Ianto spotted in the reflection of the glass, Jack spent a while staring at Ianto's arse. At least that hadn't changed.

"Have you figured out how you'll tell Gwen?" Jack asked as they headed back for the stairs. "She's back tomorrow."

Ianto took the step too early, stumbling and blinking as he tried to figure out what was wrong with him. "I was rather hoping to avoid that conversation."

"Come on, I think it'll be fun," Jack said with forced cheer. "Five quid says she'll do that blinking anime stare of hers and then deny it all and go back to work."

"Either that or threaten to shoot me."

"Gwen wouldn't shoot you." Jack held the door open for Ianto, the very model of a modern major annoying employer. Ianto considered himself lucky the man didn't cop a feel as Ianto passed him by. "Suzie would have shot you. Come on, I'll make it ten quid."

"No."

"Twenty, and if I lose I'll do that thing you like with the handcuffs and jello. Please?"

"No. And we still have the problem at hand."

"It's not a problem," Jack insisted. "If you're so hesitant, I'll tell her. Like this. So, Gwen, welcome back from Corsica!" he said in a flamboyant voice as he pushed through the door into the Hub. "We're fine, Ianto's an alien and we're getting a cat!"

Jack froze mid-flourish, and Ianto had to pull up short to avoid running the man down. From Jack's startled body language, and the dead silence in the Hub, Ianto wondered...

He closed his eyes as Tosh asked, "You're getting a pet?"

"Is that some sort of gay code for moving in together?" Owen asked.

And then, as Ianto had feared, Gwen's voice rose above the tumult, "What do you mean, Ianto is an alien?"

"Huh. You're back." Jack put down his arms. "Ianto, you owe me twenty pounds."

"Jack!"

Ianto shoved past Jack to see Gwen Williams (nee Cooper) standing in the middle of the Hub, tanned and spooked, with her eyes very wide indeed.

Jack cleared his throat. "Things were fine while you were gone," he said. "Other than a few Weevil sightings, very little alien activity."

Owen coughed, especially odd since he no longer had the need to breathe.

Ianto straightened his tie. He supposed it was up to him now, to explain to Gwen about his origins, but he couldn't figure out the words.

"Aren't you supposed to be on your honeymoon?" Jack went on. "I hope Corsica didn't run out of sun."

Gwen shook her head. "Right," she said. "Ianto's an alien. Like when I started and you told me that the Mainframe computer was alive. Very funny."

Jack sighed. "Actually, Gwen, he is. She is. They are?"

"Stop it! He isn't." Gwen pointed a finger in Ianto's general direction. "Look at him! He's human!"

"Aren't you the one who spent a day pregnant with alien spawn because you were chasing an alien that looked human?"

Gwen's eyes bugged out more. "Ianto's a shape shifter?"

Tosh made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a laugh. Jack leaned against the railing, amused exasperation exuding from every pore. "Ianto is not a shape shifter. He is not human. He is a very human-looking alien with impeccable taste in suits and the uncanny ability to actually make drinkable coffee, considering he grew up Welsh--"

"Hold on a moment," Ianto objected mildly.

"--and he's been cleared to continue working here."

Gwen blinked owlishly at Jack for a minute. "Cleared by who?" she finally asked.

"By me," Jack retorted. "Any problems with that?"

Something about Jack's confrontational manner set Gwen to the defensive. "Would it matter if I said there was?"

"Not in the least." Jack turned on his heel and stalked off to his office.

Tosh shook her head. "It's fine, Gwen. Jack wouldn't let Ianto roam free if he wasn't sure he was safe." She went back to hammering on her keyboard. Owen pointedly ignored them all.

Gwen turned her wide eyes on Ianto. He smiled faintly.

She stayed where she was. "You're an alien."

Ianto sighed. "I'm not human, but I'm still me."

"What sort of alien are you?"

Still unable to say the phrase Time Lord without wincing at the pretentiousness, Ianto shrugged. "I never knew. You know I was adopted."

"Uh huh. But I thought... I mean, one doesn't think..."

"If it makes you feel any better, Jack almost shot me when he found out," Ianto said.

Jack leaned out of his office. "Why are you here, anyway?" he yelled at Gwen. "You weren't coming back until tomorrow."

"Our plane landed early--"

"British planes never land early!"

"--and I wanted to make sure things were all in order here!" Gwen crossed her arms over her chest and glared up at Jack, Ianto's alien nature forgotten for the moment.

Jack vanished into his office. Moments later, Gwen's mobile phone rang. She looked at the call display, her face clouding as she lifted the phone to her ear.

"Are you going to be this childish all evening?"

Ianto heard Jack's voice coming over the tinny line. "It's called a phone, Gwen, they've been around since the turn of the century and are a handy device to check in at work without actually checking in at work."

"What is your point?"

"If you missed us, just say so."

Gwen slapped her phone shut. "That man," she muttered. When Jack did not reappear on the landing, she squared her shoulders and turned back to Ianto. "What were we talking about?"

Ianto narrowed his eyes at Gwen, who was no longer worried or in denial. She was pleasantly annoyed by the exchange with Jack, but that was all. "About what Jack said when you came in."

Gwen waved her hand. "He's just being picky. I wanted to see how everything was with my own eyes, that's all." She gave Ianto a smile. "And now that I've done that, I'll see you all tomorrow morning, how does that sound?"

Tosh and Owen leaned around their respective monitors to stare at Gwen. "She can't have gotten over that so quickly," Tosh said.

"It's got to be the perception filter," Owen grumbled. "Even Gwen's not that thick."

"I can hear you!"

"Can you turn it off?" Owen asked Ianto.

Ianto rolled his eyes. "No, I can't 'turn it off'."

"You didn't even try." Owen hauled himself up off his chair and jumped carefully down the steps to Gwen's side. "Come on, Gwen, you're going to listen to his hearts."

"What are you talking about?" Gwen demanded, resisting Owen's attempts to pull her along.

"Ianto's an alien. We're trying to convince you of that."

"What do you mean, Ianto is an alien?"

"Who's on first?" Jack's voice floated over to them. "What's on second, and I Don't Know--"

Jack's words were cut off by a loud wailing coming from the Rift monitoring machine, and it didn't matter that Ianto was an alien, or if Gwen believed him, because a tear in the Rift had opened up in Llandough and Torchwood had more important things to do.

~~~

The reunited Torchwood held off the crab-walking cacti from invading planet Earth until the hole in the Rift closed, Retconned the curious crowd, and piled back into the SUV to drive back to Torchwood, tired and annoyed.

"Walking plants?" Owen said for the third time as the team clattered down the stairs. "Who thinks up these things?"

"They probably evolved the same way we did," Gwen pointed out. "Over millions of years."

"Don't knock sentient plants," Jack put in. "I've met some lovely dryads in my day."

At the back of the pack, Ianto frowned as everyone was suddenly three inches taller and he opened his mouth to call attention to this fact but his foot caught on the grating and he gracelessly tumbled into Jack's back and careened down the steps to land in a heap at the bottom. There were loud exclamations and helpful hands and then Jack hauled Ianto to his feet.

"I'm fine," Ianto said automatically when the spinning of the room slowed.

"Like hell you are," Jack said. "You normally have a better sense of balance than I do. Come on."

Ianto let Jack drag him up the stairs and deposit him on the sofa. The rest of Torchwood followed, with Owen breaking off from the group to grab his medical gear.

Jack dropped to the couch beside Ianto. "Now, what happened?"

Ianto tried to squirm out of the way as Owen reappeared to stick a thermometer in his ear, but Owen grabbed Ianto's arm to keep him in place. "The floor moved, that's all," Ianto admitted.

Owen glanced at the thermometer's reading with a frown on his face. "You're still at sixteen degrees," he said. "I really wish you knew what was normal for your species."

"I feel fine," Ianto tried again.

"Except for the earth moving for you," Jack said with only a hint of lascivious intent. "Has that happened before?"

Ianto gave Jack a look.

"Don't make me get out the hose."

Ignoring Gwen's gagging noises in the background, Ianto shook his head to dislodge Owen from pointing a penlight in his eyes. "Earlier this afternoon. And when the Weevil got me in the alley."

"Your responses are fine," Owen announced. "I should do a brain scan."

"That's been your answer for everything this week," Ianto reminded him.

"Because your brain is just so fascinating," Owen said. "Although I suppose it's good that there's a physiological reason for your big head."

"You really feel fine?" Jack asked, as Owen stood up and Gwen took his place, holding a stethoscope.

"Perfectly." Ianto frowned as Gwen put the stethoscope chest piece against his shirt. "What are you doing?"

"Listening to the radio," Gwen said. She moved the stethoscope to the other side of his chest. "What do you think I'm doing?"

Jack gripped Ianto's shoulder hard, just for a moment, then stood. "We need to get the flamethrowers out of the car before fuel leaks all over the seats," he said. He pushed Ianto back to the sofa when the man made to stand. "The last thing we need is you taking a tumble with your arms full of incendiary device. Stay. Gwen, keep an eye on him."

"Why can't I stay?" Owen asked.

"Consider it a late wedding present to Mrs. Williams," Jack said. "Come on. You're not getting any older."

"You're a bloody riot, you know that?" Owen complained out the door behind Jack. Tosh followed, shaking her head the whole time.

Gwen was still listening to Ianto's hearts, fascinated. "That is so cool," she said after a minute, ducking her head on her wide smile. "You being an alien and all that."

"It's sticking with you this time?" Ianto asked. Owen had explained about Ianto's nature no less than seven times on the way to the hole in the Rift, but Ianto's perception filter seemingly had a greater effect on Gwen than the others.

"I hope so," Gwen said. She placed the stethoscope on the table. "Plus, I've got it written down now." She held up her hand. On her palm were the words, Ianto is a good alien. Then, below that, No, really. Owen's not being a tosser.

Ianto couldn't stop the chuckle of laughter. "He might just be that, though."

"Well, true." Gwen smiled along with Ianto. "Are you really feeling okay?"

"Other than being a little embarrassed at being unable to navigate the stairs, yes," Ianto said. "I'm getting a bit tired of everyone looking at me like I'll collapse into a heap."

"I think Owen's just glad to have someone else the centre of attention," Gwen said. She patted Ianto's knee. "How about I make us a nice cup of tea?"

Ianto wanted to ask her why she didn't just go home, to her new husband and her cozy flat, but he suspected that there were things he didn't want to know the answers to; or rather that Gwen didn't want to address. "Tea sounds nice," Ianto said, regardless of the fact that it was almost midnight.

"I'll be right back."

Ianto watched Gwen bounce down the stairs, then he went back to staring at the pillar in the centre of the Hub, at the water sliding down over the surface in its benevolent chaotic patterns, no two drops ever sliding the same way.

And then the water slid the same way as the wave before it. And again.

Gwen came up the stairs, holding tins in her hands. "What do you think, Ianto?" she asked, her gaze drifting over him. "Do you think we'll have the etiquette police on us if we have a pot of Irish breakfast at this time of day? The only other option is cassis flavour. Who drinks that?"

"Suzie did," Ianto said. "Where did you find it?"

"In the back of the cupboard," Gwen said as she moved towards her desk. "Right, that's going in the bin."

Ianto's gaze moved away, across Tosh's computer, over the fountain, to the man standing on the other side of the Hub.

Ianto was staring at himself.

Gwen came up the stairs, holding tea tins in her hands. "What do you think, Ianto?" she asked, her soft dark gaze drifting over him. "Do you think we'll have the etiquette police on us if we have a pot of Irish breakfast at this time of day? The only other option is cassis flavour. Who drinks that?"

"Suzie did," Ianto said, mouth dry. "Where did you find it?"

"In the back of the cupboard," Gwen said, pulling a face as she moved towards her desk. "Right, that's going in the bin."

Ianto's gaze moved away, across the Rift monitoring program on Tosh's computer, over the repeating flow of the fountain, to the man standing on the other side of the Hub, staring back.

Ianto was staring at himself.

Gwen came up the stairs, holding two tea tins in her hands. "What do you think, Ianto?" she asked, her soft dark oblivious gaze drifting over him. "Do you think we'll have the etiquette police on us if we have a pot of Irish breakfast at this time of day? The only other option is cassis flavour. Who drinks that?"

"Suzie did," Ianto said, mouth dry and hearts trying to pound their way out of his chest. "Where did you find it?"

"In the back of the cupboard," Gwen said, pulling a revolted face as she moved towards her desk. "Right, that's going in the bin."

Ianto's gaze moved away as Gwen passed him, across the play of the Rift monitoring program on Tosh's computer, over the whispering repeating flow of the fountain, to the man standing on the other side of the Hub, staring back at him with wide eyes.

Ianto was staring at himself.

He pushed himself off the couch and tried to run across the Hub to his other self, then the world yawed and Gwen came up the stairs, holding two tea tins in her hands. "What do you think, Ianto?" she asked, her alarmingly oblivious gaze drifting over him on the sofa. "Do you think we'll have the etiquette police on us if we have a pot of Irish breakfast at this time of day? The only other option is cassis flavour. Who drinks that?"

"Suzie did," Ianto said, the words dragged out of a dry mouth by forces unknown. "Where did you find it?"

"In the back of the cupboard," Gwen said, turning a blind eye on Ianto as she moved towards her desk. "Right, that's going in the bin."

Ianto's gaze moved away as Gwen passed him, across the play of the Rift monitoring program on Tosh's computer, over the whispering repeating flow of the fountain, to the man standing on the other side of the Hub, staring back at him with wide eyes.

Ianto was staring at himself.

He pushed himself off the couch and tried to run across the Hub to his other self, moving as fast as he could, grasping and tearing and not letting go and then he was where his other self had been, but he was alone. He turned around, gasping, in time to see Gwen moving up the stairs. "What do you think, Ianto?" she asked, looking at the couch. "Do you think we'll have the etiquette police on us if we have a pot of Irish breakfast at this time of day? The only other option is cassis flavour. Who drinks that?"

"Suzie did," Ianto heard someone say. "Where did you find it?"

"In the back of the cupboard," Gwen said, continuing towards her desk. "Right, that's going in the bin."

As Gwen cleared out of the way, Ianto saw the man on the couch move his head around the room, over the computers, the fountain, until he saw Ianto.

Ianto was staring at himself.

"I thought you'd gone through the cupboards," Gwen said as she dropped the offending tin into the rubbish bin. "Got rid of all Suzie's stuff when she died the first time." She turned to the couch, then looked around the room. She frowned when she saw Ianto on the far side of the Hub. "How did you get over there so quick?"

Ianto grabbed at the railing, solid and reassuringly cold under his hands, and tried to breathe around the panic in his throat.

Something was very wrong at Torchwood indeed.

~~~

"And you're sure that you don't know what started this?" Jack demanded. They were in the conference room this time, seated in their customary chairs, and Ianto wasn't sure he could handle much more of the attention.

"I don't know," Ianto repeated. "Things have been acting strange for a few days, but I thought it was nothing."

"And now you almost got caught in a time loop in the middle of the Hub," Jack shot back. The man's voice was rather harsher than Ianto thought the situation warranted.

"Why didn't I see the same thing Ianto did?" Gwen asked. She still held the tea tin in her hands, worrying it back and forth between her fingers.

Jack pushed his hair back from his face with both hands, resting his elbows on the table. "If Ianto's the only one picking it up, it's most likely temporal in nature," he muttered.

"But the computer didn't pick anything up," Tosh argued. "Not any of the times when Ianto's perception changed."

Jack picked up the remote and hit a button to show the internal camera footage of the Hub. The grainy footage showed Ianto on the couch and Gwen walking past him with the tea tins in her hands. For a brief instant, two Iantos appeared on film, then Ianto on the couch vanished and Ianto on the walkway grabbed the railing.

Jack hit pause. "And yet, it happened, so we know it's not just Ianto going crazy."

"Thank you, sir," Ianto said with as much irritation as he could muster.

"But the computers didn't pick anything up!" Tosh repeated.

"Maybe because they were caught in the temporal loop as well?" Jack suggested. "If the computers didn't pick it up, then we have to rely on the one thing we do have."

"Which is what?" Gwen asked.

Jack pointed a finger in Ianto's direction. "We ask him."

"He said he doesn't know what's going on!"

Jack turned all his attention to Ianto. "He just needs to think about it."

Ianto bit down any number of annoyed comebacks. "I'm not intentionally being unhelpful."

"I know." Jack's voice softened, giving the impression that it was just the two of them, that the rest of Torchwood wasn't hovering on every word. "Ianto, I need you to concentrate and think, about any detail that you might have seen that would give us a clue about what's going on."

"Like what?"

Jack's lips twisted into a wry smile. "You tell me."

As much as he didn't want to relive the vertigo of repeating the same instant over and over, Ianto sat back in his chair, idly wondering about the alacrity with which he obeyed Jack's commands.

"How long is this going to take?" Owen asked.

"Owen, stop helping," Jack said.

Ianto lowered his gaze to the table and pushed his memory back to those repeating minutes. "Everything happened the same way, at least until I ran across the room," he said after a minute. "Gwen came up the stairs asking about the tea, I mentioned that one tin had been Suzie's, and she went to throw that tin out."

"Then what?"

"I looked across the Hub and spotted myself."

"Was everything always the same?"

Ianto reached into his pocket and pulled out his watch without thinking about it. He popped open the cover to stare down at the tiny second hand spinning relentlessly.

Gwen had always asked the same question. Even though he hadn't wanted to reply to her question, not after the first time, he hadn't been able to stop himself from saying the words. Hadn't been able to stop himself from looking over Tosh's computer monitor, at the fountain, at the--

Wait.

Stop.

Go back.

Ianto closed the watch cover with a snap. "The Rift monitoring program changed! Everything else was the same, but every time I looked at Tosh's computer, the monitors were showing a different reading."

"Do you remember what they showed?" Tosh asked.

"Yes, I think so." Ianto pocketed his watch, its familiar weight settling back in place and holding him to earth. "Hand over your laptop."

"How could the Rift be acting differently if everything else was the same?" Gwen asked. "It doesn't make sense."

"Obviously a shift in the temporal axis that moderates the Rift's socio-economic position in Wales," Ianto deadpanned. Gwen scowled at him. "None of this makes any sense, Gwen. Mostly how I'm sure I threw away all of Suzie's possessions."

"Maybe it's an evil tea tin," Owen said.

He was joking, but even so, Jack climbed to his feet. "Keep working, I'll be right back."

"He's about as subtle as a brick to the head," Owen said, watching as Jack made a beeline for the rubbish bin.

"We're a top secret alien fighting organization that has its name written on the side of its transportation," Ianto said absently. "We're not into subtle."

Owen glared at Ianto. "Bite me, alien boy."

Ianto bent his head over the laptop, trying very hard to not smile.

Some days, it was the little things that made life worth living.

~~~

Four hours later, they were interrupted by the screech and wail of Tosh's Rift monitoring program. Myfanwy landed on top of the lift stone and with wings spread, took up the piercing cry.

They all ran in various directions; Tosh and Jack and Gwen to the computers, Owen to the police scanner, and Ianto to Myfanwy's new perch. The others spoke loudly, but Ianto had to focus on not being decapitated by the pteranodon and missed most of it.

After a few minus, Myfanwy let out a screech to raise the rafters and launched herself into the air, retreating to her ceiling perch.

"What was all that, then?" Ianto called after her.

"Ianto!" Jack snapped. Reluctantly, Ianto joined him at Tosh's computer.

"There are tiny little cracks opening and closing all over town," Tosh said, pointing. "I can't tell if things are coming through or not, but..." Her fingers flew over the keyboard. "There, that's odd."

"Because none of the rest of this is?" Gwen questioned.

"There, it's like..." Tosh frowned at her readings. "There's a drain on the Rift?"

Jack slowly straightened. "It can't be," he said under his breath. Then, louder, "Can you bring up the CCTV cameras in the area?"

"I could, but the Rift--"

"Do it!" Jack ordered.

Mildly affronted, Tosh quickly pulled up the CCTV footage Jack wanted. The whole area lay covered in shadows and darkness, but in one tiny pool of light, Ianto saw the corner of a small blue box, very similar to the one in which Jack had disappeared the year before.

Gwen must have seen it too, for she slapped her hand down on the desk. "Not again!" she exclaimed.

"No, this is good," Jack insisted, an almost feverish smile on his face. "He can help us--"

"You are not leaving again!"

"Leave?" Jack asked.

"Leave?" Jack asked, surprised.

"Leave?" Jack asked, sounding rather surprised.

"Leave?" Jack asked, sounding rather hurt and surprised.

Ianto stumbled back, grasping the railing as hard as he could, knocking over a cold cup of tea on Gwen's desk in the process. The cup shattered as it hit the concrete below, and there was stillness.

"It happened again," Ianto said in response to Jack's alarmed silence. "Just now."

"How many times?" Jack demanded, his mysterious man in the blue box forgotten for a moment.

"Four times." Ianto blinked hard. Portions of the Hub shifted to the left, moving Gwen to stand inside Owen, and then things were right again. "What's going on?"

Jack came over to Ianto, cupped Ianto's face with his hands, his touch soft and rounded and worried. "I don't know," Jack said quietly. "But maybe he knows."

"Your Doctor," Ianto said, not a question.

"Yeah." Jack ran his thumb over Ianto's cheek. Ianto wanted nothing more than to close his eyes and let Jack hold him, but that wasn't exactly something done at work, regardless of one's employer, and Owen would tease him forever. Ianto made himself stand straight, gently touching Jack's wrist to let the man know that yes, I'm all right.

"Jack," Tosh said suddenly. "The power drain on the Rift is causing very strange things to happen."

Jack released Ianto, moving and not minding that he was in two places at once for a brief instant. "Define strange."

"Energy pulses are being released, like..." Tosh stopped, at a loss for a simile. "Like steam coming off a boiling kettle."

"Or smoke coming out of a volcano," Owen added. "If the box is making things worse, might it not be a good idea to stop it?"

"This has never happened before," Jack said, poking at the computer. "Any of the times the Tardis was here, we never had any strange Rift activity."

"The Rift was acting up before the box got here," Gwen reminded Jack. "For days."

Jack tapped on the keyboard some more, centering the CCTV cameras on the blue box. He was quiet for a long moment, then said, "Ianto stays here, in case he gets caught up in any more time loops. Gwen, stay with him. Owen and Tosh, with me.

"What? No!" Gwen exclaimed.

Jack whirled on her. "I don't have time to argue about this. You were caught in the time loop with Ianto and that might mean something. And, you can read these monitors. Stay on comm with us in case anything else happens."

"You were caught in the time loop too, the second one," Gwen pointed out. She was going to say more, but the hard expression on Jack's face stopped her protest, stopped all of their protests.

"We're leaving now," Jack said to the room. "Channels open at all times, so if anything changes, we're on it."

Although 'on it' might have been a little optimistic; Owen and Jack seemed as bright as undead daisies, but Tosh looked dead on her feet and Gwen wasn't far behind. Ianto checked his watch. Twenty minutes to five in the morning. "Drive carefully to miss the bread trucks," he said. At the raised eyebrows, he added, "The blue box is near the Hansdown bakeries. They start delivering at five in the morning."

"Look at the bright side," Gwen said with only a modicum of sarcasm. "If the box vanishes, at least we have breakfast all wrapped up."

"Don't get caught in any more time loops!" Jack yelled on his way out the door, Owen and Tosh in tow. "And if you do, get stuck in front of the Rift monitoring machine!" The door rolled closed on his voice.

Gwen made a strangled noise. "I can't believe I came back early from my honeymoon for this!"

Ianto looked at Gwen out of the corner of his eye. "I thought you said your plane landed early."

"It did," Gwen said, too quickly. "That's what I meant."

Ianto picked up his earpiece and slid it on, too tired to drag himself into an argument with Gwen. He opened the general team channel in time to hear Owen make a few outrageous statements about Ianto's fashion sense. The general tirade continued for a few minutes, mildly entertaining as Ianto tidied the office space.

Gwen, with her own earpiece on now, slumped on the sofa and watched Ianto as Owen switched topics to Ianto's taste in music. "Aren't you going to tell him that you can hear him?" Gwen asked after a while, interrupting Owen.

Ianto stood with a handful of mislaid reports. "I was rather hoping he'd get to my coffee making skills before long."

"Men," Tosh muttered under her breath. "Now that we've been childish, can we please get back to work?"

"What's the status of the Tardis?" Jack asked.

"Depends," Gwen said. "What's a Tardis?"

"Time and Relative Dimension in Space," Jack rattled off. "Long name, pretty spaceship. Looks like a certain blue police box."

Ianto sat down at Tosh's computer. "It's still there," he said. "It's a rather small spaceship."

"It's bigger on the inside," Jack said. "Long story. Has anyone come out?"

"No." Ianto enlarged the view of the box. "Although if they leave it there like that for long, some nationalistic teenagers are going start spattering Heddlu De Cymru on it."

"The Rift is doing something weird," Tosh interrupted.

"What is it doing?" Jack demanded.

"Nothing."

"How is that weird?" Owen asked.

"Because the Rift is always doing something," Tosh said. As she spoke, Ianto turned to the monitoring program and was confronted with a black screen, the tiny blinking light in the bottom corner the only clue that the monitor wasn't totally off. "Think of it like a person. Even asleep, there is body heat being emitted, brain wave activity, everything."

"Maybe it's dead?" Gwen suggested.

"It can't be dead," Jack said. The background whine in the SUV increased in pitch as Jack accelerated. "It can't be closed, can't be stopped, it's a fact and facts don't just pack up and leave, not like that."

"So what do we do?"

"I have no idea," Jack said quietly. In the din from the speeding car, Ianto wondered if he was the only who heard Jack.

Slowly, the stillness permeated Ianto's bones. Since he could remember, living in Cardiff, the vibrations from the earth had accompanied him. Even at Oxford and London, the trace vibrations were there when Ianto went to sleep. The Rift vibrated in Ianto's head, underlying temporal movement accompanying his every breath.

Now that vibration was gone and Ianto wondered if this was what going mad felt like.

The squeal of brakes pierced Ianto's ears. He glanced at the CCTV footage to see the SUV stopped beside the blue box. Jack popped out of the driver's door and stalked up to the door. He pounded hard on the wood. "Doctor!"

"Maybe they're at the movies," Owen suggested.

"It's five in the bloody morning," Gwen said.

"Then maybe they're sleeping."

Jack kicked and slapped at the door. "Doctor, open up!"

The door swing inward, and Jack almost punched someone in the face. "Oi, watch it!" the woman said, her voice thin over Jack's comm. "We're not buying, thanks." She made to close the door again, but Jack's hand was in the way.

"Where's the Doctor?" he demanded.

"What's it to you?" the woman asked.

"Big temporal emergency on the Rift and the Tardis might be the cause." Jack's back was to the camera, but Ianto could still see the tense set of his shoulders. "Who the hell are you?"

"Donna," the woman said. "Who do you think you are?"

"Captain Jack Harkness."

"Never heard of you."

"Ditto. Where is the Doctor?"

Indistinct noise from deeper in the box drew Jack's attention. Ianto strained, but couldn't make out the words.

"I'm not stalking you!" Jack exclaimed. "Look, we have a serious problem--"

More muttering.

"It will be your problem if the planet explodes because of the problem with the Rift!"

As he was concentrating so hard on the conversation, Ianto almost missed the beginning of the slight rumble under his feet.

"--didn't do this, why should I care?" came a new voice into the equation. A man popped into the Tardis doorway beside Donna. Ianto knew with certainty that he had never seen the man before, but he seemed so familiar that Ianto's hearts almost stopped.

"Because!" Jack exclaimed, throwing up his hands. "It's just... it's complicated. You have to come with us."

The man appeared to consider that for less than a fraction of a second. "No." He glanced over Jack's shoulder and frowned. "Dr. Sato? Is that you?"

"Doctor!"

"I don't work with Torchwood, Jack," the man went on. "Didn't we have this conversation?"

"You have to come," Jack said again, begging, which was strange because Jack never begged. "You'll understand when you do, please..."

Jack may have said more, but the rumble in the Hub grew louder, stronger, and Ianto finally realized what the stillness meant.

The water had been drawing back before the tsunami.

"Jack," Ianto said, shooting to his feet. "Problem."

All of Jack's attention was instantly on Ianto's voice. "What's wrong?"

"The Rift, it's..." The earth gave a lurch, sending both Ianto and Gwen careening to the floor. Nothing else in the Hub moved. "Whatever is happening, it's happening now!"

"Ianto, can you--" The comms burst into static on Jack's words, then went dead. It hardly mattered, as the air around Ianto crackled and shattered and burned.

He had to get to the Rift manipulator, had to try something before the whole place blew apart. Or maybe he should initiate a lockdown, try to contain the damage. Possibilities and options sorted themselves in Ianto's mind, each jostling for place and pulling him away from decision.

Gwen got to her knees and crawled to Ianto. "We have to get out of here!" she shouted, taking hold of Ianto's arm. "Come on!"

Ianto shook his head, over and over. "We have to stop this!"

"How?" Gwen hauled Ianto to his feet and down the steps to the walkway. "If we get out now now now now now--"

The brief time loop caught them both, slowed their feet, then exploded outwards in a hail of deadly light. The edges of the explosion caught Gwen and flung her across the room into the metal bars at the entrance. Her head hit the metal so hard that blood spattered on the wall behind. She dropped the concrete in a motionless heap.

Ianto tried to go to her, tried to move, tried to think, but the waves crashed over him and dashed him to pieces on the rocks. The waves pounded all around him, drowning with power and vibration and possibilities.

Time caught on the inert Rift manipulator, looped back on itself, dragging at the edges of the Rift and ripping into the fabric of reality until what lay beneath moved, shifted, lived, and reached for Ianto.

He couldn't move, couldn't look away.

He looked into what lay beneath the Rift.

He stood there for eternity.

He could see forever.

~~~

Chapter Text

It was gone. The light, the vibration. The room was quiet.

He looked around. Had he been here before?

Possibility moved around him in sluggish waves. The walls welcomed him with their anonymous blind eyes. The floor did not move under his feet, and he wondered about a world where that was not strange.

Colours were bright, sharp, with smells coming to him in waves. Tea. Grease. Blood. Death.

Not death, his bruised mind whispered at him. That was only a possibility on the horizon, one possibility in a universe of possibilities.

There was a body by the bars. He stared down at the body, wondering if he knew this person, if he was known in return, what their possibilities were.

Kneeling. That was a possibility. To touch a shoulder, to push hair back off a cold face, to come away with a handful of blood and the realization that he knew her. And she was dying.

The world rushed back to him in a gibbering panic. He did not know her name but he knew he loved her in so many ways. She had worn a wedding dress and wielded a gun, had screamed at him in anger, had laughed with him, had sat with-- His mind skittered away from an overwhelming sense of vertigo.

Now she was dying.

That was one possibility.

He did not want that.

Carefully he lifted her in his arms, her head lolling back and dripping blood on his arm, the floor. The air moved in and out of her lungs too slowly, her heart beat blood out of her body, and she was dying in his arms.

The possibilities were endless. He chose the one that best fit, went up small stairs and past a sofa and many desks, into a room where another desk took up space. He did not know who should fit into this big space, but the vertigo pushed at him and tipped the woman out of his arms to the floor.

She did not move.

Her breathing was wet and rough.

She was dying.

Vertigo pushed at him, too many possibilities and too many options and not enough time.

There was a safe in the wall. He knew that, although not how. He knew the combination, knew which compartment to reach for, knew to pull out the small box, remembered words not his own speak of nanogenes and air raids and healing. For this was the only possibility he could see.

He stumbled to the floor, gathering her boneless body into his arms, resting her broken head against his shoulder. She no longer breathed, no more air pulled into bloodied lungs.

A kiss against her unmarked forehead, and he unlatched the box. Tiny glowing dots in the air, swirling up and over him and her, glittering over her skin and hair and broken skull, sinking into her.

Waiting.

Air caught in her lungs, and she breathed again. Her pulse moved under his seeking touch. Not waking. Not yet. He cupped her cheek with his hand, touched her soft skin, rocked her back and forth. He had given her more possibilities, more choices to make and more chances, and because of those possibilities he loved her.

High voices intruded on his mind, voices set in the now, ignoring the future and the past, and they tore at his mind.

"This blood is cold," a voice said.

"Where are they?" another voice, higher in pitch.

"Ianto! Gwen!" This voice ripped at him, sending him spinning in the dark. He pulled her closer to him, to protect and be protected.

"There!" the first voice said. "There's blood going up to your office, Jack!"

Sounds, vibrations, and the whole universe burst in on him.

Five people, his mind catalogued. Two women, two men (one dead) and--

The universe spun on its axis and ripped itself into pieces and stitched itself back together again, spinning a little different than before.

Wrong.

The man in the long coat, who wasn't really a man but a fact, a point in the universe unmoving, ran at him and her, and he tried to shrink back but there was a wall and that possibility was cut off.

"Ianto, what happened?" the man in the long coat asked. "Gwen?"

The dead man joined them. (Dead) fingers moved over her head, touched her skin. "Looks like she's had a massive trauma, but she's breathing. Ianto, what happened?"

The man in the long coat picked up the small box. "He used the nanogenes." The man in the long coat looked over a shoulder at the man by the doorway. "I went back to the crash site in 1941, I had to get a sample--"

The man in the doorway wasn't listening. "What have you done?" was the question, slipping and sliding over the air.

Someone tried to pull her from his arms, and he resisted. He had to keep her possibilities safe.

"Easy, mate," the dead man said. "I need to examine Gwen, see how she is."

"No," he said, remembering how to push sounds from his mouth to make words. "I have to keep her."

"Ianto, this isn't any time for games." The dead man gently tugged on her until she was in the dead man's arms, skin pink and soft and breathing and full of possibilities. "We'll look after her."

"What have you done?" the man in the doorway asked, louder. "Jack!"

The man in the long coat sat back on boot heels, never taking eyes off him. "I didn't do anything!" came the shouted rejoinder.

The man in the doorway pointed, face full of shock and pain and the ghosts of so many dead possibilities. "He's Gallifreyan! That's not possible!"

Possibilities. The amusement bubbled up in him, ripped into space by the stark standing fact in the centre of the universe. He laughed once, then sound caught in his throat and changed to a sob.

"Ianto?"

The man in the doorway pulled something from a pocket, poked it around looking for possibilities. The woman with red hair ducked out of the way of the searching blue light.

"Oh no."

"Doctor?"

"The Rift didn't just crack, it opened." A voice full of horror.

"So?" Hands touched his face, sending him scurrying backwards on the floor.

"Do you know what's at the centre of the Rift?" An answer was not expected. "It's the Time Vortex, that's what! Even to glance at the edge of the Time Vortex, twice in one lifetime--"

"He's never looked into it before!" Worry and panic painted the air with shades of dread. "He's not like the Master, his mother left him here when he was a baby. He grew up on the Rift."

"That's not possible." The blue light went away. "I'd have sensed him--"

"His mother hid him here! Maybe she knew what was coming, I don't know, but it doesn't matter!" Hands on his face again and he stopped fighting and fell towards the centre of the universe. "Ianto, come on, talk to me."

"The last time the Rift was opened, Abbadon came out," the dark-haired woman said, helping the dead man helping her. She was waking now, slowly, a sleeping beauty from tales long forgotten. "Did something else come out this time?"

"Tosh, go check sensors," said the man in the long coat. "Owen?"

"Gwen's going to be fine," the dead man said. "What about Ianto? Is he hurt?"

Hands moved over his face, his head, shoulders and pulled open his jacket and unbuttoned his shirt halfway. "I think he split his stitches, there's a little blood." Fingers removed the bandage on his chest. Maroon drops of blood slid over skin, the possibility of death pushing at his mind.

Falling.

Then he tried to step higher, but he was rather short for his age and his red hair was in his eyes and his hand didn't quite reach the branch and he slipped and he fell, like Alice down the rabbit hole, but the ground rushed up to meet him too fast and he landed on his head and he felt his neck snap and his skull smashed open and then everything went dark.

"Ianto! Stop it!" Flailing hands and kicking feet and falling on solid ground, and it was him and he was dying he was dead and the possibilities wouldn't stop.

Holding him down, flat on the earth, and when he woke up, it was nighttime and the forest was dark and haunted around him. He sat up and touched his head carefully, in case his brains fell out, but his head was in one piece and his neck didn't flop around like a noodle and his hearts beat fast in his chest but he felt fine.

"Ianto, it's okay, you're fine, Gwen's fine, you're going to be all right." Soft words whispered in his ear, words swirling around the universe in his mind. "Come on, please be all right."

"Is he always such a nutter?" The unfamiliar woman spoke, curious and not really understanding, walking into the room eyes wide open.

"It's the Time Vortex," the man with the blue light said. "It can inspire a Time Lord or drive him mad. I don't know if anyone his age has ever been forced to look at it before." A glance at the man with the long coat, wrapped around him. "How old is he?"

"Twenty-seven."

"No, really."

"He's twenty-seven," came the grinding answer. "And before you say anything about what he told us, I met Ianto when he was nine years old, just a child. So it's him."

"Time Lord children don't age this fast, Jack." The blue light was back in Ianto's eyes. "They barely reach adolescence by a hundred earth years, for him to have aged this fast... Who are you, boy? What did they do to you?"

"Ianto, can I see your watch?" Words in his ear, spinning around the universe. He did not have any words in response. A gentle hand went into his pocket and removed a silver object.

Mama's hair so soft against his face, warm hands on his face, kisses on his cheeks and nose and he laughed, making mama laugh and that was the best thing in the whole universe, when mama smiled and played with him and sang him songs and told him stories of Gallifrey. Mama put something in his hands, a new toy, and it was a circle, he knew that, one of the new words she had given him that very morning.

She guided his little hands with her big ones, and with the push of a button the top of the circle opened and he crowed in delight. A new game!

"I love you, my son," mama said in her sing-song voice, wrapping a warm blanket around him. She lifted him into her arms and he barely noticed, fascinated with his new toy. "And I don't suppose you'll ever forgive me for this, but I have no choice."

He lifted his new toy to his mouth to taste it. Mama gently pulled it away.

"I wish you were old enough to understand," she said, kissing him again. Her cheeks were wet and her voice was strange and he stopped laughing.

Mama was sad.

Why was mama sad?

It was loud around them, with beeps and honks and voices, and he just stared up at mama.

Mama set him down on a bench beside a big road. "Hide and grow and be safe, my son." She kissed him over and over, then pulled back and smiled at him, but it wasn't a smile at all. She touched his cheek. "I love you. I will always love you. If I can, I'll come back to bring you home. If there is a home to go to."

He held the circle in both hands, eyes only for his mama. He watched her as she stood up, as she walked away they way they had come, how she doubled over in the alley making the strangest sounds, crying like she was hurt very badly, but she didn't come back.

"Mama," he called. He wanted mama back, and she always came when he called. "Mama!"

She did not come.

"Mama!"

No mama.

"Mama!" he screamed as loud as he could. He began to be afraid, and he was cold, and he wanted mama. "Mama mama mama!"

Other people came over to him, talking words he didn't understand, worried faces and confused hands. Still, he called for his mama, but she didn't come back.

She never came back.

The man with the blue light opened the watch.

There were words he was missing. Important words, words that meant things, held meaning for people. What were they?

"There's writing on the back," the man in the long coat said. "Doctor, is Ianto going to be okay?"

"I don't know, Jack." The Doctor carefully opened the watch's back cover to look down at the delicate engravings.

The Doctor stared for a very long time.

"Doctor?"

Slowly, the Doctor looked up, directly at him. "Where did you get this?"

Hands, Jack's hands, helped him sit up, back pressed against the wall. He thought about the possibilities in the Doctor's question, the branches of chance and coincidence and lost hope. "It was my mother's," he said.

"Do you recognize the writing?" Jack asked. Jack's hand never left his shoulder.

The Doctor slowly closed the watch back. "I do." A compulsive swallow, and a gradual drift to the floor. Long limbs sprawled everywhere. "It's a name. She... I knew her, your mother. A very long time ago."

Jack took the watch from the Doctor's hand.

"Is she still alive?" he asked.

Pain. Lost possibilities. The end of everything, all in the Doctor's eyes. "Not anymore." Eyes came back up. "How did you survive?"

"Hidden away on the Rift as a baby, covered in a perception filter and knowing too much for his own damned good," Jack said, torn between worry and affection. Tosh leaned in closer. "Come on, Ianto, you have to know that Jack totally adores you." She smiled, a little sadly. "It's sort of cute."

Was that who he was? Ianto? Was that the name he clothed himself in, hiding carefully amongst the mysteries of this place?

"It's not just that," the Doctor said. "You don't understand, this boy's mother never had a baby, not like that."

Jack raised an eyebrow.

"Really long story," the Doctor said quickly, dropping his voice. "My species was pretty much biological sterile. Reproduction was... complicated."

"Mostly sterile means not all the way," Jack pointed out. "Look at Owen. He's only mostly dead."

"Pining for the fjords," Ianto murmured.

William Jones looked up from his newspaper as Ianto cackled at the comedians on the screen. "Your brain's going to rot if you keep watching that drivel," he said affectionately.

"Leave the lad be," Sarah Jones admonished. "He's worked hard all week."

"You call sitting in a classroom hard work? When I was his age--"

"You sat in a classroom all week, same as he," Sarah interrupted. She fiddled with her piles of marking. In the distance, a bell rang. "Ianto, go fetch the biscuits from the oven."

"He needs more activity than coming home and sitting on the couch watching telly," William's voice followed Ianto into the tiny kitchen. "Boy, you're coming to the shop next week to help with inventory!"

"William, you know he can't do that," Sarah said. "He's only eleven. The last time you tried that, he was almost buried under a bolt of tweed!"

"He's grown half a head since then!"

"No heavy lifting, then!"

Ianto put the kettle on the hob and pulled out the tea pot, hopping a little on one foot as his right heart beat faster than his left for a few moments.

"Ianto, do you need any help?" Sarah called.

"No, I'm fine!" Ianto replied, then jumped back hissing when he accidentally touched the still-hot metal of the cookie sheet. That hurt!

Ianto shook his hand, ridding himself of the phantom pain. He didn't understand why there was such red blood on his skin. Had he hurt himself so much?

No. It was not he. Light bent around the room as he looked at her, at what was her name Gwen, slowly sitting up in Owen's arms.

The redheaded woman, still by the door, crossed her arms over her chest. "All right," she said into the room. "I think we've all had enough of this. Where do you keep the tea?"

"Donna!" the Doctor said sharply.

"What? We're all British here." She paused. " 'Cept you. And that one. And maybe this bloke in the coat. I want a cup of tea."

"Around the corner and down the stairs," Ianto said automatically.

"Tosh, go with her," Jack added before Donna could make her escape into the body of the cavern. "She's interesting," he said to the Doctor.

"You have no idea," the Doctor replied.

Gwen let out a groan. "Why do I keep getting hit in the head?" she wondered aloud. Owen helped her sit on her own. " 'S'not fair."

"You doing okay?" Jack asked.

She nodded, one hand pressed to her forehead. "How's Ianto?"

Jack handed the watch to Ianto, who took it with a little confusion. Why did Jack have his mother's watch? "Good question," Jack said.

Gwen grimaced as she touched the back of her head. "Things keep ending with me getting my brains blown out," she complained. Then, "I have to call Rhys."

Jack sent a glance across the room, this time to Owen. The dead man helped Gwen to her feet and out the door to her desk.

That left Ianto alone in the office with Jack and the Doctor, neither of whom would look at each other. Ianto let his eyes drift back down to his watch, to the hands swinging around in circles as they always had.

"So..." Jack said after a few moments of awkward silence. "What brings you to Cardiff?"

"The usual," the Doctor said, jumping on the topic. "Fuel stop." He nodded. "How long had the Rift been acting up?"

"A few days."

"And how long have you known that young Mr. Jones was a Time Lord?"

Simmering anger pushed out the Doctor's words, slamming into Ianto with the force of a gale and knocking him sideways against the wall. Jack didn't even seem to notice. "A few days," he shot back. "Ianto's perception started to go and he was injured and the perception filter no longer works on Owen--"

"Because he's dead?" the Doctor interjected. "How did that happen?"

"Gentlemen," Ianto said, cutting into the conversation because Jack's heart was breaking with every word the Doctor spat at him and Ianto didn't understand and he didn't want to. "Has the Rift stopped acting up?"

Jack climbed to his feet with all the grace of an old man. He went to his desk and hit a few buttons on his monitor. "It's back to normal background levels," he said. "Once the Tardis stopped draining energy from it, that is."

"This was not my fault," the Doctor said. "You said yourself the problems started long before we got here."

"Unless the Tardis kicked everything up a notch and was the last straw on the camel's back."

"You do love mixing your metaphors, don't you?"

Ianto had heard enough. The Rift was back to normal, the world vibrated under his feet, and it was morning and he had a job to do. He rose, using the wall to help him up, pocketing his watch as he did so. His shirt was in disarray and his jacket unbuttoned, but he supposed the Weevils would not object to his appearance. "Excuse me, I have things to attend to."

He took one step and collapsed into Jack's arms, a swoon worthy of any olden-time movie heroine and completely embarrassing. Jack held onto him, helping him stand straight again. "It's not every day I have handsome young men falling into my arms," Jack muttered, smiling hesitantly at Ianto.

"Much to your chagrin, I'm sure." Ianto gripped Jack's arms so tight he put wrinkles in the fabric of the shirt. Jack had no possibilities, only facts, stretched in a long line as far as Ianto could see.

"Yeah." Jack still smiled, then kissed Ianto on the forehead and wrapped his arms around Ianto and held him close, clinging, carefully measured desperation in every movement, and Ianto let himself relax into Jack for long enough to remind himself of more facts, that Jack was Jack and he had told Ianto the truth about certain things and he wanted Ianto, and that was enough.

Behind him, the Doctor made an impatient noise. When Ianto glanced around, the Doctor was staring at the coral on Jack's desk. "What?" Ianto asked, a little hostile. "Is your species not up much on public displays of affection?"

The Doctor touched the coral. He slowly looked up at Ianto. "Your species, too, young man." His eyes slid over to Jack, just for an instant. "Don't you see it?"

"See what?"

"In Jack. No," he corrected himself. "Not in Jack, but Jack himself. He's not... normal."

"Anyone who can't die isn't normal, but he fits in around here." Ianto stood straight, Jack's hands falling away from him. Thankfully, Ianto did not topple over. "It bothers you that he's..." Ianto waved his hands. "That he's different."

"Does it matter if it bothers me?"

"Not in the least." Ianto moved away from Jack experimentally. His legs worked this time, which was gratifying. "I have to feed the Weevils, and someone needs to check on Mainframe."

"Someone else can deal with that today," Jack said, but Ianto shook his head. He had a routine that needed to be met, otherwise too many possibilities offered themselves and Ianto would be lost.

"I can handle this."

"I'll go with you," the Doctor said before Jack could object again. "I've never seen the inside of this Torchwood."

"You'll find it far more cozy than Torchwood London," Ianto said without thought.

The Doctor's face froze. "How would you know that?"

Ianto did not let himself feel cowed by the man. His life was his own, and not subject to the whims of a time-traveling alien who popped into Cardiff occasionally to mess with the Rift. "I worked for them until the battle of Canary Wharf." If anything, the Doctor's gaze grew even colder. "You are welcome to remain here with Jack if that makes you uncomfortable."

As he suspected, the challenge set up the man's hackles. Wordlessly, Ianto gave Jack a measured nod and led the Doctor out of Jack's office.

He made it no more than ten steps before being accosted by Owen. "How many fingers am I holding up?"

"None."

"Good. What does it say on the bottom of Tosh's monitor?"

Ianto looked across the room, a good twenty feet away. "That Jubilee Pizza is moving shop next week and we are invited to patronize them at their new establishment."

Guiltily, Tosh closed her email.

"Have you experienced any more time loops?"

"Is this really necessary?" the Doctor interrupted.

Owen continued his impromptu exam of Ianto. "You might be this big scary Doctor boogieman that Torchwood is supposed to fight, et cetera, but I'm his doctor and he's not dying on my watch." He stuck the thermometer in Ianto's ear. "Although you can tell me, what's your species' normal core temperature?"

"Works out to sixteen degrees Celsius," the Doctor said. He stuck his hands in his pockets, watching carefully.

"Good." Owen stepped back. "Congratulation, Ianto. You're an alien. I need more brain scans and should redo those stitches."

"Not now," Ianto said. "I've morning rounds."

"You almost got sucked into the Rift and Jack's making you go about your routine?"

Ianto sidestepped Owen. "If you will excuse me." He walked past the sofa, where Donna was chattering away at a gobsmacked Gwen, past Tosh checking on the Rift, down the steps, and into the lower levels, all with the Doctor on his heels.

"You have an odd idea of cozy," the Doctor mused.

"One makes due with what one has." Ianto donned a pair of surgical gloves and opened the refrigerator that held what Gwen had dubbed 'Weevil-chow'. "I'm sure you know how it goes."

"I do."

Ianto loaded up the food cart, ignoring the pull on his stitches, and trundled off, an oddly quiet Doctor in tow.

Well, quiet until Ianto opened the door to the first set of Weevil cages. "What is going on here?" the Doctor demanded.

"We call them Weevils," Ianto said, opening up the food tray in the first cage. Its inhabitant snarled sulkily at him. "Jack says they are alien, and they just slip through the Rift.

"And you lock them up."

"Mostly they live in the sewers and avoid humans, but these ones have gone rogue." Ianto continued on down the line with the morning meal. "Came up to the surface, started attacking humans. It happens more and more these days."

"And you lock them up."

Swallowing a heady rush of deja vu, Ianto deliberately continued to the next cage. "It's the only thing we can do. If we let them free, they would keep attacking humans."

"Really."

"It's happened before."

"So you lock them up until they die?"

Ianto finished with the last cage and stripped off the gloves. "Not all of us have a fancy Tardis to take them home."

"What else do you do with them? Experiments?"

"This isn't Torchwood London," Ianto said. "Jack would never stand for something like that." The Doctor still stared at Ianto with utter disapproval. "What else can we do? We can't let them out, they'll kill people. We can't put them in cages together, they kill each other. We can't send them home. We have no other option at this point."

The Doctor was silent.

A line of possibility trickled into Ianto's head, that one day Torchwood would find out where the Weevils came from, but it was distant and far-off and it dissolved into dust when he tried to reach out for it.

Brushing off the spinning vertigo, Ianto tried to turn the meal cart around, but the Doctor stood in his way. "How could you work for Torchwood, knowing what you are?" the Doctor demanded.

Ianto rested his weight on the cart, wishing the man would just move. "If I knew what they were doing on the inside, I could keep out of sight and undercover."

"That's rubbish!"

"That's my life!" Ianto's voice rose too loud, setting off the Weevils into fits of howling. He shoved the cart at the Doctor, sending the man jumping out of the way, and left the block. The clang of the metal door cut the din slightly.

After putting the cart back in its place and washing his hands, Ianto picked up his clipboard and went for the stairs. The Doctor followed until Ianto reached Mainframe.

"It wasn't as if I had any sort of idea what I was, not really," Ianto said when the silence grew too much. He focused carefully on Mainframe's blinking lights, avoiding the Doctor as much as he could. "I hadn't even heard of Time Lords until Jack told me about you a few days ago."

"What did he tell you?" The voice was deceptively calm.

"That you're the only one left, and that you're a time traveler." Some of Mainframe's circuitry was running slow, and Ianto hoped that she was just getting a cold and hadn't been hurt by the tear in the Rift. He made a note to put Tosh on it. "That there was a war and everybody died. And about Harold Saxon being the Master and him dying too." Ianto's fingers curled around his pen, the words stuck in his throat. "It's not... I mean, Jack told me about regeneration, is there any chance that I could be..." He couldn't finish.

The Doctor pulled his hands from his pockets. "No, you're not him," he said. "He's dead." A pause. "And you are very, very lucky to have that perception filter on you. If he'd found you..."

"He didn't."

"No, he didn't." The Doctor relaxed slightly, shoulders slumping. "I have no idea what your mother was thinking when she left you here on the Rift. She must have done some major modifications to your genetic makeup so you'd age at a human rate. And the perception filter is an amazing piece of work. It's even working a little on me."

"What was she like?" Ianto asked. "My mother?"

The Doctor's response took a long time, and even when it came, told Ianto next to nothing. "She was a good person. Even if I didn't always agree with her. And she always did what needed to be done."

Ianto gave Mainframe a loving pat and turned away. "What does that mean?"

The Doctor pulled a pair of glasses from his pocket and donned them to examine the computer. "On Gallifrey, after so long of being sterile, even if one was able to have children the biological way, it simply wasn't done. When-- I can't imagine what went through your mother's head when she found out about you. She went through a lot of trouble to keep you, and to keep you safe, Mr. Jones." He frowned at Mainframe. "Do you mind if I..."

"Go ahead," Ianto said.

The Doctor pulled out his blue light again, hit some buttons, and aimed it at one of Mainframe's interfaces. "Would have been quite a scandal, you would have been."

"Do you know anything about my father?" Ianto asked. He made himself relax his grip on the clipboard. How often had he told himself that his past didn't matter?

"It's hard to say." There was something the man wasn't saying, but Ianto didn't know what it could be. As it were, his mind pushed him to move on, go forward and to leave the past in its place. The Doctor tapped at the interface and played with his blue light and suddenly, Mainframe whooshed back to life. "There we go!" the Doctor exclaimed. "All little bits and bobs knocked out of place in the blast." He beamed at the computer. "She's gorgeous. Where did you get her?"

"She landed here and Torchwood built around her," Ianto said. "Toshiko has done some amazing things with the computer."

"Yes, Dr. Sato," the Doctor mused. "Met her once over the corpse of a space pig. Strange year, that." He swiveled. "So, want to come with me?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"See the universe, learn about yourself? You're still a child." The hope of reborn possibility glowed in the man's eyes. "I can tell you all about Gallifrey and the Time Lords and--"

"No."

Hope stuttered. "Why not?"

"I can't leave Torchwood." The words were coming without thought and Ianto couldn't bring himself to wonder why. He only knew that he couldn't leave Cardiff, not now. It wasn't even a possibility. The only possibilities he had were at Torchwood, in Cardiff, on Earth. Not with the Doctor.

"You mean you can't leave Jack."

"He's part of it," Ianto admitted.

"And the rest?"

Ianto shrugged. He clutched the clipboard to him like a lifeline. "You saw what happened today with the Rift. Torchwood needs me."

"You really think that staying on this little world is more important than becoming what you were truly meant to be?" the Doctor demanded.

"My mother left me here, she can't have imagined this planet as not worth saving," Ianto retorted, wondering why he was arguing about this when it was already set in stone. The Doctor closed his mouth with a snap. Ianto hung up his clipboard and set about tidying up the station. "I can't leave now," Ianto said after a few minutes. "It's not the way it happens. But someday. Maybe. I don't know."

He did know, but he wasn't about to tell the Doctor that. A line of possibility existed where Ianto traveled at the side of the Doctor, and even as Ianto thought about it, the line gained in strength, in form, until it crossed the line from possibility to certainty and Ianto was content with that.

"What did you see?" the Doctor asked after a minute.

"What do you mean?"

"When the Rift opened. What did you see?"

Ianto closed a drawer, straightened the flower painting that the computer liked. There were a million possibilities in the movement of his hands, in the air he took into his body, and he could see them all, mute moments in time plastered along the wall. "The edge of everything," Ianto said. He put down his hands. "And I still do."

"Is that why you're staying? Because you think you have to, because of something you think you've seen?"

"It's as good a reason as any."

The Doctor pulled off his glasses. "How can you not come?" he demanded. The echo of desperation set off ripples in Ianto's mind. "Knowing you're different from them upstairs, and you don't want to know?"

Where Jack had no possibilities, this man had too many. Ianto shifted his eyes away. "Not now." He didn't know how to explain to the Doctor that there was no arguing, this was just the way it was going to be. "This is how it is. It's what I see."

A slow realization dawned on the Doctor, halting his desperation and spinning him back along possibility. "The Time Vortex is making you see things," he said. "That's why you're staying here, because you see yourself here. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy." He shook his head. "That's not what being a Time Lord means, you can--"

"What, change history?" Ianto interrupted.

"No, but--"

"Jack told me about the Paradox machine, you can't tell me you go about changing history."

"It's not about changing history, it's about living it!"

"That's what I'm doing here!"

The Doctor raked his fingers through his hair, making it stand up alarmingly. "Is there anything I can say to convince you to come with me?"

Ianto did not say a word. If the Doctor didn't see the same things Ianto did, the possibilities from this single conversation alone spinning out into infinity, Ianto would not tell him.

"What if it gets worse?" the Doctor asked. "What if what you see drives you mad?"

"In this place, I doubt anyone will notice," Ianto said. His feeble attempt at humour was knocked to the wayside by the expression on the Doctor's face. "Would it be any better out there?"

"Maybe. Maybe not."

"Then I'll stay here. Jack had experience in dealing with crazy Time Lords, he'll probably recognize the symptoms."

The Doctor winced. "You're disturbingly matter-of-fact."

"I was raised in a Welsh orphanage. There's a certain amount of pragmatism that engenders."

"Oh yes," the Doctor said with a sigh, following Ianto up the stairs. "You are indeed your mother's son."

And then, of course, the Doctor spotted Myfanwy as soon as they came out of the halls and he was like a child in a candy store at the real live dinosaur. Jack hovered in the background, looking between Ianto and the Doctor with that inscrutable air about him. When the Doctor pushed back from scratching Myfanwy's head and announced that it was time to go, Jack closed down.

"Have a safe trip," Ianto said deliberately. "Look us up the next time you're in town."

The Doctor grabbed a pen from Gwen's desk and scribbled something on the back of a nearby pizza box. "If you change your mind. When you change your mind. Call me."

Ianto looked at the number, wondering if maybe the Doctor saw the same line of certainty as he did, after all. "You have a mobile with a London area code?"

"Long story. Oh, and if you do ever have physiological problems, with the hearts and such, there's this doctor working with UNIT in London, name of Martha Jones, she's got a bit of experience in your physiology."

Ianto's eyebrows went up. "Martha knows about Time Lords?"

The Doctor stopped mid-gesture. "You know Martha?"

Ianto glanced up at Jack, smiling. "She worked with us on a few cases," was all he said.

"Really." The Doctor appeared distinctly disgruntled. "Is that a fact?"

"As factual we get."

"Right." The Doctor hesitated, then clapped his hands and said, "Come on, Donna, time awaits."

"But I'm not done catching up on the celebrity weddings," Donna protested, holding aloft a glossy magazine.

"Bring it with you," the Doctor ordered, heading for the door. "So long, Torchwood."

Jack waited until the Doctor and his companion were out the door, then slowly strolled down the steps. He had just removed his wallet from his pocket when the Doctor popped back in again.

"Sorry to bother you, but can I borrow some cash for a cab--" He spotted the bills in Jack's outstretched hand. "Right. Thanks."

"Goodbye," Jack said pointedly. There was a spot of glaring between him and the Doctor, then the Doctor withdrew.

And was back a moment later. "You all do realize that the perception filter's still working on all of you, making you think it's okay that you're working with an alien."

"Not on me," Owen called.

"Except on him," the Doctor corrected.

"And again, I say goodbye," Jack repeated. The Doctor gave Ianto a resigned wink, vanished, and the door rolled shut.

Ianto exhaled. "So that was the Doctor."

"I always thought he'd be taller," Owen said.

Gwen looked rather shell-shocked. "Donna never stopped talking," she said. "Sure, it was interesting stuff about aliens and explosions and the like, but still. Wow."

Jack turned around, so very weary. "Who wants a day off?"

Tosh raised her hand. Gwen nodded emphatically, then winced and held her head. Owen rolled his eyes. "Fine, I'll watch the place and make sure the universe doesn't explode while you lot are lying about," he said.

"Good, I'll drive everybody home," Jack said. He glared Gwen down. "You have a head injury. You are not driving."

"Doctor's orders," Owen said. "I still want to run some tests on Ianto."

"Those can wait until tomorrow," Jack said. He was gathering up his coat and keys. "I'll make sure he's all right today."

Ianto caught Jack's hand as the man passed him, gave it a tiny squeeze, then let Jack pull away.

~~~

"I think Tosh was asleep before her head hit the pillow," Jack said as he climbed back into the driver's seat of Ianto's car. "We should really get those cots for the office."

"Uh huh," Ianto said absently. He traced his finger over a map of southern Wales. Looking at the road made his head spin. "Have your ears stopped ringing yet?"

"Rhys didn't shout that loudly."

"I heard you in the street," Ianto said. "So did half of Cardiff."

Jack waved away half of Cardiff. "I wasn't the one to make Gwen come in to work early."

"That is really not the point." Ianto tapped the map. "Now what?"

Jack turned into traffic, letting the SUV ease along with the morning commuters. "You get a day off, too."

Ianto folded the map and returned it to the glove compartment before turning to face Jack. "Aren't you going to ask what happened with the Doctor?"

Jack's jaw clenched. "Doesn't matter, does it?"

Ianto continued to stare. That was the thing with Jack, there were no stray possibilities with him, no uncertainties, only fact, and the whirling noise of future slowed when Ianto looked at Jack.

Jack exaggerated the movements he needed to change lanes. "What?"

Ianto sank back against the seat. "I think the Doctor wasn't telling me everything."

"Colour me surprised."

"He knew a lot more about my mother than he was letting on. And I think he knew something about my father, but I didn't ask him. Maybe next time."

The car pulled up to Ianto's building. "Next time?" Jack said, still moving with exaggerated calm.

"Next time." Ianto waited until Jack turned off the engine. "One day, I'll go with him. To see what it's all about."

"Of course," Jack said. He didn't undo his seatbelt. "Makes sense, you're like him, you'll want to learn about Time Lords and all that important alien stuff--"

Jack's voice stuttered to a halt when Ianto put his hand on Jack's knee. "I'm not leaving now."

"Next month? Next year? You'll leave at some point."

You'll leave me, was all Ianto heard.

"I'm not leaving now," Ianto said again. "Jack, please."

Jack pushed Ianto's hand off his leg. "I should go help Owen clean Gwen's blood off the floor."

"Come upstairs," Ianto asked quietly. "Please."

After a long moment, Jack undid his seatbelt and followed Ianto up to his flat. The morning sun shone through open curtains as Ianto laid his keys on the hall table. Jack locked the door behind him.

Ianto wanted a shower, to wash himself free of Gwen's blood and the confusion of the day, but he pushed that away for the time being. He put the kettle on, fished out his good teapot, and pulled the tin of expensive tea from the top shelf.

"I get the golden treatment?" Jack said, shedding coat and gun all over the table. He leaned on the counter next to Ianto, warm and stable and quiet, and Ianto never wanted to look away.

"Yes." Ianto shifted closer to Jack, hips touching. "If I left, would you miss me?"

Jack ran his fingers down Ianto's cheek, touching his throat and pulling a gasp from Ianto's lips. "Yup."

The kiss was soft and careful and fragile as glass, and Ianto wondered how Jack could ever have imagined he'd leave. Maybe he was the romantic one, imagining that this thing between them could work, but Ianto had so many possibilities of his own to work through with Jack that he didn't imagine it would ever grow stale.

The sound from the boiling kettle pulled him out of the kiss. Jack watched him with dark eyes as Ianto made the tea and carried the antique pot and two jumble-sale mugs over to the couch. "You dragged me up to your place to watch television?"

"We didn't hear anything on the police scanners, but you know how the strange stuff gets washed up on the morning news," Ianto said. "Sit."

"You never let go of work, do you?" Jack asked, dropping to the couch beside Ianto.

"I thought that's what you liked about me."

"That's one thing." Jack ran his hand down Ianto's thigh. He brushed a bit of lint from the knee of Ianto's trousers. "Ianto?"

"Yes?"

"When you do leave, just... say goodbye first, okay?"

Ianto slipped his hand over Jack's. "As long as you do the same when you leave. Or, you know, you could come with me."

Jack smiled faintly at the screen, then lifted Ianto's hand to his lips. "Sounds good to me."

It wasn't everything. But it was enough.

the end