There was dust on the coffee table.
Ianto would never have let the grey filth settle for long enough that the particles could begin to become noticeable to the naked eye. The second that one of his thin fingers came into contact with the powdery feel of the dust on a surface, the polish would be out quicker than Jack could blink. Ianto Jones was, had been, and always would be a particular person, set in ways of perfectly perpendicularly arranged furniture and thermometers that tell you when the water in the coffee machine hits 96 degrees exactly. The dust on the table was wrong, and if Jack hadn’t been told by a crazed Gwen Williams that all of Ianto’s belongings were going to be chucked out if nobody collected them by the end of his lease, Jack would have run out of the door before he saw further than the settled dust.
But the Hub had been blown up, taking with it all traces and memories of the team Jack had loved with his entire being. His office was destroyed, the only memorabilia he possessed that reminded him of all the people he’d loved in the past, kept once in an old tin box, would now be buried under dirt and rubble. Buried beneath the dead bodies that Torchwood had housed; beneath Toshiko and his own brother Gray. His only hope of recovering anything that would remind him of this period of his life would be found in Ianto’s flat.
Jack had tried not to think too hard about what he might find here. He hadn’t wanted to get any sort of hope up, knowing Ianto wasn’t the most sentimental man he had been blessed to know. But a silk tie Jack could carry in his pocket, or a bedside photo- even of Ianto and Lisa- was better than facing the rest of eternity with no way of preventing himself from forgetting it all.
Jack was deathly terrified of forgetting the people who deserved to be remembered more than anybody else in the universe.
He wouldn’t polish the table, he decided. Ianto liked dust-free furniture, but he also liked practicality, and the Welsh voice in Jack’s brain was pointing out to him that nobody would be returning to this flat, not until the landlord had thrown out all the old furniture and cleaned every room in preparation for the next person to move in. Jack hoped they would change the bed. The thought of anybody else sleeping on the bed that he had spent many nights on, plastered to Ianto’s side in a comforting, benignant embrace, made him want to throw up, or break down into tears, or punch something.
On the bookshelf, tucked away in the corner of the living room, there were three items, sparsely spaced on the middle shelf.
“What’s this?” Jack called, his voice loud enough to reach Ianto, who was hanging up two coats in the front hallway. His head popped around the door, followed by the rest of his body, his waistcoat already undone in preparation for it’s hasty removal, which he hoped would happen as soon as he got his hands on the immortal man in front of him.
Jack was holding a small porcelain penguin up, having taken it from a shelf on the front of the bookcase. It was smaller than Jack’s palm, and Ianto let out a laugh at the sight.
“Oh, it’s nothing. Just a joke between Lisa and I.” He chuckled, hoping his answer would be enough to satisfy Jack. He should’ve known that the evasive answer would only warrant more investigation, so continued to speak at the cock of Jack’s intrigued head. “First conversation I had with her. I told her I liked penguins.”
“I didn’t know you like penguins.” Jack stated, bristling as if the fact that Lisa knew his animal preference was a score against him.
“I don’t. She was just so pretty that I couldn’t think about what I was saying.” He admitted, grinning sheepishly. Jack cracked a warm, perfect smile.
“Oh, I see!”
“She got me that ornament for my birthday, which was when I finally owned up to my mistake.” Ianto continued, his cheeks going slightly pink from the embarrassment of the memory. Jack thought Ianto had never looked more beautiful, slightly flushed with a real, genuine grin on his face, eyes dancing with the memory of love. He hoped one day that he might be graced with his own version of that look, turned towards him as he recounted some funny story about the two of them, instead.
His eyes passed over the central item- a photo of Lisa, smiling at the camera with an orange flower tucked behind her ear. Her wide grin and crinkled eyes left no room for uncertainty in who had taken the photo, but Jack passed over it without needing to get Ianto to explain. He turned to the final ornament on the shelf.
“And this?” Jack asked, picking up a grey, metallic pocket watch. It felt heavy in his hand, as if it’s worth was far greater than you’d think based on the casual way it was being displayed.
“That’s a family heirloom,” Ianto countered, walking closer to Jack so he could reach one hand to snatch the watch away, whilst the other thoroughly distracted Jack as it moved gently across the sensitive skin of his neck. His breath hitched at the brief contact. “Come on. I have a better stopwatch upstairs.”
Jack blinked back hot tears that threatened to burn lines down his face if they escaped his eyes, patting the penguin softly on its head. That was Lisa’s memory, and not a memento he wanted to hold onto. His hand trailed over the photo, wiping the corner of his coat over the dust that had settled on the glass. The coffee table may not need cleaning, but the photo of a girl so in love with the man Jack was mourning deserved respect.
He moved instead to the pocket watch. Picked it up. Weighed it in his hand, feeling the dense metal that grounded him to the spot.
Flipped it over.
He hadn’t seen this side, the year or so ago that he had first touched the watch. Every bit of air in his body froze, seizing in his throat as he let out a strangled, choked noise. With a shaking pinky finger, he traced the circles and lines that were so delicately engraved in the metal.
He called Martha. She had a way of contacting the Doctor, and the Doctor would make it all okay again. He would get over his grievances with the Time Lord, who was so painfully absent when the world had faced the 456, if he could just give him this.
Jack reached out a hand to hold the wall next to him, his entire life slipping out of his body as he became boneless, a shaky mess of pain, grief, and utter despair. He could feel his heart pulsing as it still travelled through his body, though for what reason it was still beating, Jack didn’t know. He’d known the second he saw the Doctor walk out of his Tardis, the hunched shoulders and harrowed look in his eyes being all too obvious even to the man so blinded with hope. His words cut through any semblance of positive emotion he had allowed to fester, returning him to a pile of atoms arranged in the shape of a human.
“I’m really, really sorry.” The Doctor repeated, reaching a hand across. Jack jerked away from the Time Lord, eyes flashing with painful anger.
“You don’t understand. You couldn’t understand.” He tried to shout, but all that escaped his mouth were whispers. His throat was full, all the words he should’ve said to Ianto clogging up his airway and preventing him from further speech.
“Believe me, please Jack. I am so sorry,” The Doctor implored, his voice shaking almost as much as Jack’s entire body was. “When I heard- when Martha told me… the markings-”
And Jack looked into his wide, brown eyes, and saw the hurt that only an endling carried; the knowledge of being the lone survivor of a species, destined for a life of solitude. Jack had lost his lover, and the Doctor had lost a brother he never even knew he had.
“He was human when he died. His DNA, and all the molecules in his body were already human. Opening the pocket watch now won’t do anything.”
Jack closed his eyes. There might have been a time when he would have turned to the Doctor for comfort, allowed himself to get lost in the wonders of the universe as a distraction from the tumultuous hurt he was dragging along with him, but those days were gone.
He turned his back on the Time Lord.
Days later, Jack returned to Ianto’s flat, but there was a van outside. He watched as a dusty coffee table was passed between two tall men, and lumbered into the back of the vehicle.