“Jack?” He felt a soft slap on his cheek and then that voice – that impossible, illogical voice – sounded again. “Jack, wake up!”
Really, if he was going insane, he wouldn’t blame his brain for its inability to take in any more shit. He was surprised it had lasted that long, to be honest, but hearing recently died lovers was a bit too much. Maybe he if he just kept his eyes shut, it would stop. He was pretty sure that the ship had a psychiatrist, too. Maybe he could pay him a visit.
The hallucination was strangely persistent. “Come on, Jack, we don’t have time for this! These things are spreading all around the city.”
Jack finally managed to open his eyes and blinked several times to clear his vision. Above him was the high ceiling of the Hub, the lulling hum of the machines was oddly relaxing and Ianto was looking down at him with a mixture between annoyance and worry.
“No,” Jack mumbled, mostly to himself, trying to find the last remains of common sense in his mind. He was pretty sure he’d fallen asleep on board of the ship that had taken him from Earth after taking his Vortex Manipulator back from Gwen and Rhys. “No, this place was blown up. You’re–” Dread came over him as realisation hit. “God, Ianto, you’re dead.”
“What?” Now it was generally just annoyance, which was rather upsetting. How come even the insanity-induced Ianto got to boss him around as well. “Could you focus? That thing is still on Gwen’s face and I’m pretty sure that it’s getting worse the more it stays there. I think she’s having a nightmare.”
“What thing?” Jack sat up, still dazed, and let Ianto pull him up. Even if he was insane, he wasn’t too eager to leave his hallucination. It was the best thing that had happened to him in a while.
“The Dream Crabs, remember?” Ianto looked down in disgust and kicked the strange bluish heap on the floor and only then Jack noticed the slime covering his fingers. “Something was killing people and we started investigating so they invaded the Hub? Mine let go of me, God knows why.”
Memories started coming slowly back to Jack and he started feeling less and less as a guest into his own body as the things around him started feeling real again as the dream faded away. “You died,” he said softly. “In that– place. You died, and maybe that was why it let you go.”
“Yes, probably. I don’t remember much of it. Anyway,” he continued and Jack traced his gaze to where Gwen was lying on the floor just as Ianto dropped on his knees next to her and gripped the alien on her face with both hands. It covered her completely, from her hair to her chin and Jack grimaced at the realisation that he’d been in the same position just a few seconds ago. He was starting to remember more and more and he knew that they hadn’t really found out much about the Crabs, but they hadn’t seemed that dangerous. They were still hard to explain, though, and seemed to desperately cling to their host, which was what this one was doing. “It’s still got her.”
“Do you need any help?” Jack asked, sitting down next to him. Ianto shook his head just as Gwen’s fingers twitched. “She’s still dreaming,” he muttered. “The same dream that we did. So why is she still asleep?”
“Well, I died in the dream so I got out,” Ianto said and then winced when the alien stubbornly remained where it was despite his efforts. “And I woke you up, which means that we’ve both left the dream. It’s just her now.”
“Are you sure we can’t just shoot it?” Jack ventured. “Wouldn’t it be quicker?” He’d seen it coil away on the floor once Ianto had taken it off him.
Ianto threw him the scathing look he usually did when he thought Jack was being purposefully dense. “It’s on her face, Jack. What if the bullet gets through? It’s fine,” he said, gritting his teeth as the Dream Crab finally budged. “It’s like removing a band-aid.”
He pulled it off at last and Gwen woke up with a gasp, sitting up and looking around herself, her breathing shaky and uneven and her hands trembling.
“It’s okay,” Ianto said quickly. “You’ll be okay, Gwen. Just breathe.”
Jack looked sideways at him. He wondered how confusing it must have been to wake up from his supposed death to find himself in the Hub as if nothing had happened and seeing his unconscious colleagues on the floor next to him. He’d dealt with it, though, and here he was now, saving them both. Jack couldn’t resist the small smile the irony this thought had produced when compared to the dream and quickly turned his attention back to Gwen as she gasped.
“Oh my God,” Gwen looked down at herself and her eyes widened as her hands reached down for her stomach and then fell by her sides. “Oh my God, where’s–”
“It was a dream,” Jack put in, remembering the last seconds of it before Ianto had woke him up. Gwen had been pregnant – heavily so – and he couldn’t blame her for being confused. “We’re not sure when exactly it started.”
Gwen’s eyes moved to him now, as if she’d just realised that he was there, and then to Ianto. He gave a hesitant smile in response to the shocked disbelief in her eyes and then laughed quietly when she brought him in for a hug. “You’re okay,” she whispered, as if she was still half-convinced that this – the Hub, and her mostly present team – were the illusion instead of the actual one.
“As if there was any doubt,” Ianto said, unwrapping himself from her embrace and standing up, stepping towards his workstation. “Now, we’ve got to trace those things, all right? Here’s the map I made last night–” Ianto’s voice died when there was no reaction from his teammates. “What is it?”
“You really don’t remember anything, do you?” Jack asked softly. “From the dream?”
Ianto shook his head. “Not really. I just remember that thing latching onto me and then waking up, but nothing in between.”
“It was– it was terrifying,” Gwen put in quietly, her hand still instinctively hovering where there had been a baby until minutes ago. It wasn’t all that strange, really; they’d apparently spent months dreaming, even if it had been an hour or two in reality, and she’d got used to it. “And it was so real. I still can’t be quite sure–”
Jack knew perfectly well what she meant, even if she had left her sentence unfinished. The dream had seemed to last for months and months and it had ended so abruptly and things were so well on the outside of it that he was still secretly convinced that it was just his mind playing tricks on him. “What’s the date?” He asked instead and Ianto made a face, motioning them both closer.
“27th March 2008,” he said, exasperated, and pointed at the lower right corner of his monitor. “See? It’s fine. We’re all right.” When Jack still looked unconvinced and Gwen seemed even more miserable than before for whatever reason, he sighed. “Why don’t you call Rhys? That should be real enough, right? He exists outside the bubble of this place, so he should tell you.”
“No, it’s fine, I believe you,” Gwen assured quickly. “It’s just that– 27th February. That means it’s been a month.”
Jack frowned. ‘A month since what?”
“Since Gray,” Ianto said quietly. Jack could see that he was trying to be delicate about it, but there wasn’t really any other way of putting it. “Just a week has passed since then. Everything else’s been a dream.”
Jack felt his heart clench at the thought. That was as good a reason as any, he realised, for them to remain as long in their dream as they had. It was much easier to dream of recovering from a loss than actually experiencing it and there was no doubt that they'd done it there - they'd thought things through, they'd survived and had been subconsciously reluctant to come back to their senses. It was better, though, than living the lie.
Jack sighed and gave Gwen's shoulder a squeeze and then wrapped an arm around Ianto's waist, bringing him closer to his side. "It's okay," he said, realising that it was directed at him as well as to the two of them. "We'll deal with this."
"We will," Gwen agreed softly. "Of course we will." She checked the clock - Jack followed her eyes and realised that it was nearing midnight. "Anyone mind if I head home? Rhys'll be worried sick."
"Go," Jack encouraged with a tight smile. As soon as they all forgot about this, the better, and they could start recovering once again. It would be easier to do so without remembering that they’d done it once in an illusion, he thought. "We'll dispose of this."
Gwen returned the smile as much as she could and gave them both a hug, lingering on Ianto as if to assure herself that he was really there. "Thanks. See you tomorrow, guys."
Jack watched her go, not without some sympathy for the way she apparently felt – eyes slightly unfocused and posture ever-so-subtly hunched with something between exhaustion and sheer denial of life as a whole - and turned to Ianto. "Let's go to sleep, yeah? We can deal with this tomorrow."
"Can it be here?" Ianto almost pleaded. "I'm too tired to drive."
"I'll drive," Jack decided after a moment or two of consideration. "I need space to breathe, and my bed's not gonna do the trick."
“You can let go of me now, you know,” Ianto said, clearly amused as Jack made a point of clinging to his shoulder yet again as he unlocked the door to his flat. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“I can’t be sure,” Jack objected as they both took off their coats in the hallway. “Not with what happened there.”
“Nothing happened, Jack,” Ianto reminded patiently and turned to face him. There were droplets of rain in his hair and his face was shining with more of it. He was soaked and he was exquisite and Jack reached up to trace over his cheekbones with his fingers in quiet awe of what he still got to have.
“I love you,” he choked out, voice startled and defeated at the sudden realisation; cruel and overwhelming in the light of the scene he’d seen in the dream still burning in his mind. He felt Ianto stiffen under his touch almost instantly and cursed himself mentally for forgetting that this wasn’t the Ianto he’d seen in his dream; that this version of him hadn’t grown ready to hear that yet, no matter how easily he seemed to accept everything else Jack threw at him. He expected Ianto to shake him and ask him what he was thinking or maybe even return the words to him; anything, really, but a quiet, “I know.”
“Good,” Jack said, his voice still heavy with the effort to keep talking as he pressed his lover closer to himself, gripping him almost tight enough to hurt. His eyes were aching from the unshed tears caused by the phantom loss of the man in his embrace, warm and alive and very much real. “I’m glad you do.”
“Let’s go to bed, yeah?” Ianto gracefully avoided further discussion as he pulled back and smiled, taking Jack’s hand in his. “It’s been one hell of a day.”
“Tell me about it,” Jack moaned, following close behind him. He took his clothes off and settled in Ianto’s bed, wrapping his arms around the man as soon as he was under the covers as well. Ianto gave a small laugh when he pressed them even closer together and Jack smiled in return as he kissed Ianto’s forehead gently and reached to turn off the light. And this time, when he closed his eyes and sunk further in Ianto’s embrace and they fell into the darkness, Jack knew that he wouldn’t have to wake up alone.