Title: Calendar of Counting Rings
Warnings (including spoilers): Angsty fluff? Mild spoilers for CoE: Day One and House of the Dead.
Wordcount: 2,445 words
Summary: ‘Ianto has aged so much since the first time Jack truly saw him, eyes huge targets of red and blue and black after his lover had been vanquished… He's aged so much, but he's still got so far to go.’
Ianto says it out loud for the first time after they close the Rift. It's after one of those conversations that's made up mostly of silences, and Jack knows it was Tosh's words that have finally made him declare it. She'd told them both, at the House of the Dead, that her biggest regret was not telling Owen how she felt before it was too late.
Jack knows that Ianto has been considering his own mortality lately, after the near miss of the Hub's explosion and Gwen leaving them for her new family. He also knows that he should be doing something to help, but he's not sure what advice he could offer, so he has said nothing.
This is a mistake.
“I don't know what's going to happen next,” Ianto says slowly. His voice seems loud in the darkness of their rented room. “Now that the Rift is closed, what is there to...”
To keep them in Cardiff? Nothing. Jack's found the Doctor, his centuries-long wait is over. 'I came back for you,' he'd told his team, and they are gone. Ianto's sister still talks to him, but she doesn't let him see his niece and nephew. It is unspoken, but they always just happen to be elsewhere when her brother calls.
To live for? Somehow, a new life always appears in front of Jack whenever he leaves his old one behind. That was why he'd said that the end was where they would start from, in the shattered aftermath of Toshiko's and Owen's deaths. For some reason, this ending- the end of Torchwood- is just as difficult to grasp, if not more so.
“But whatever happens, I want to go with you,” Ianto says after a long silence. “Even if that's somewhere out in the stars, or even Splott.” A hint of a smile in the darkness. “I love you.”
The hotel they're staying at is not well-frequented. It's run by a woman well into her golden years. She had blinked slowly at them when they'd checked in and promised them a tasty breakfast, but it is clearly beyond her nowadays to clean the rooms. They'd opened the windows, but that has only shifted the still, dusty feel of the room.
Jack breathes in the air, silently. Lying on his back on one of two single beds they'd pushed together, he can see the opposite wall with its closed door, the dark wooden vanity on one side and a small side table on the other, both draped with yellowed lace. On the side table is an old-fashioned rotor phone and a vase full of almost-fresh flowers, courtesy of the landlady.
There is an almost suffocating weight to the silence for long minutes after Ianto speaks. When Jack replies- "I can't say that back yet," his voice no louder than Ianto's, no harder, but conclusive- the weight disappears like an anchor being cut, and the resulting lightness is dangerous.
Ianto does not speak for the rest of the night, although it is a long time before his breath evens out into sleep.
The next morning they pack their bags. After the Hub was destroyed, everything they owned was what had been in Ianto's flat. Jack had kept a few changes of clothes there, and that is really all he needs from the material world. Whenever his thoughts stray too close to the tin of photos that had lived in his desk, well, Ianto is usually there to distract him with words or alcohol or skin.
Jack buckles himself into the driver's seat of the Mercedes. Ianto had raised his eyebrows when it appeared a month ago, but all it had taken was a smirk and a wink and the matter was dropped. He looks over, maybe this time to tell the story, and finds Ianto still outside, holding on too tightly to the handle of his suitcase and his eyes just a hint wider than they ought to be. His lips are very thin, and he looks so young.
Pain shoots from the back of Jack's throat to his gut and throbs behind his pelvis. He shifts with discomfort and misses the cocky smile he’s aiming for by a hair, but he knows himself and he knows Ianto, and the huskiness of his voice when he says, “Are you coming?” is enough of an apology.
Well, not enough, not for Ianto. But he'll let it go. He always lets it go.
Ianto is really so young. He's aged so much since the first time Jack truly saw him, eyes huge targets of red and blue and black after his lover had been vanquished. He'd been such a child, then, and Jack, a father, could hardly bring himself to punish a child when he'd cried like that, when he'd asked Jack how he would be able to go on.
He's aged so much, but he's still got so far to go. Jack can see it in his arms when he lifts paperwork off the captain's new desk, clearing away Jack's fatigue and all the pressure and the responsibility as easily as he clears away dust. His official title is personal assistant, and the other UNIT leaders think this makes him inferior, but Ianto manipulates them without their knowledge and puts the fear of God into more than one who dares to step beyond the boundaries of proper corruption. Jack sees his potential in every blank smile and handshake, in his perfectly still fingers while men with decades of field experience tremble before him. He can see it in Ianto's eyes when he holds Jack's coat for him to put on, when he turns him around and brushes off imaginary dust or dandruff. The slight clench of his jaw as he lets Jack walk away from him into danger might as well be a sign from the Doctor himself.
Jack knows what Ianto could be- will be, if he has any say in it. Every day, every month, his Ianto grows older, grows into himself, fills out his suits just a little more. Walks straighter, head higher.
He's getting closer, but he's not there yet.
They have been working with- for, technically, but he doesn't like to say that- UNIT for four years when Jack goes to a conference for high-level officers only (and he just loves to shove it in their faces that as a consultant on retainer he has both privileges and relative freedom from bureaucracy). It's in Glasgow, and on the second night in his hotel Ianto's voice on the Bluetooth is breathy and quiet. Jack had called for phone sex, but he'd woken Ianto up, and even he wasn't that much of a bastard. Not to mention, catching Ianto when he's so peaceful has always been rare. He's enjoying the lilting accent washing over him as he reclines on the plush pillows of his hotel.
There's a lamp beside his table, and he'd switched it on when he figured out he wasn't going to get laid. It glows gold in the shadowy room, creating a bubble of contentment around Jack like a force field to protect him from the grindstone of the outside world. That and Ianto's voice, and the soft sheets and the thick duvet above him, make him warm and safe, and he's dozing off by the time Ianto finishes the call.
“Goodnight Ianto,” he mumbles, and punches a button on the hand-held, but he must have pushed the wrong one, because he hears a faint sigh.
“I love you, Jack,” Ianto says quietly, and then the connection breaks for real.
After that, he pays more attention.
An ornament of two polar bears dancing goes up on their Christmas tree, and Jack pretends not to know that the hopelessly cheesy writing at the base is saying 'For all the years to come' in Welsh.
Ianto follows his lead and ignores Valentine's Day, but two weeks later he spontaneously takes Jack for dinner at the captain's favorite restaurant. He holds Jack's hand with the same determination as he once used to face down Weevils, although his face is redder than the (“Don't even know what they put it out for!”) candle on the table. At one point, as Jack talks and laughs about something, Ianto traces a heart on the back of his hand, just the once.
Ianto whispers sometimes when he thinks Jack is asleep. He has for years, but now Jack looks up some of the Welsh words he hears and isn't so surprised to find that they mean things like beloved and dearest and forever.
Jack was young once. It was a long time ago, and he knows that there will be a time when he realizes that he is still young even now, but that will not be for a while yet.
It was not so long ago that he cannot remember, anyway.
For all that Jack is still impertinent, still impulsive, still rushes into danger and has bursts of temper and pushes Ianto into walls and snogs him when he's holding fragile things, he's a lot more patient than he used to be. Or he can be when he wants to be, at least. The experience he's accrued over so many decades of living has allowed him to see that, with time, many things are not as terrible as they seem. Many still are, but they have plans for that. And his experience means that it's Jack's job to step back and survey the entire forest, even when all he wants to concentrate on are the trees.
This is something he did not understand when he first traveled with the Doctor, but he does now. Maybe, by the time he is nine hundred, he will be able watch the forest and laugh with and dance with and love every tree as well.
For, now, at least, he only dances with one. Ianto is still young, his trunk small enough for Jack to wrap his arms around and hold close, green enough that he wants to protect him from all the dangers he has seen, even though Ianto thinks he can take care of himself. And he can, to an extent. But Jack is old and huge, with roots extending deep into the Earth and branches reaching far into the sky, and so much harder to chop down.
Like an old tree, Jack is set in his ways. He does not often change direction or shape. But Ianto is young and he grows so fast. The first time Jack saw him he had bound himself into a twisted form for the woman he loved, and it was Jack who slowly guided him upright again, let him reach for the sun without becoming trapped in his own shadows.
Ianto's flaw has always been his loyalty and it is Jack who he grows for now. He has disregarded the common sense that says a small tree cannot grow beside a large one, because the larger tree takes all the nutrients and water and sunlight. His natural growth- so fast, so human, so strong- is warped by Jack's structure, shaping itself to his roots and his trunk and his branches. When he is done he will be hopelessly entwined with Jack, by his own design. Although Jack knows that Ianto will be beautiful when he is fully grown- he has seen the potential this whole time, after all- he wishes sometimes that Ianto could have found a warm, safe field somewhere far away, where he would grow tall and unhindered and have children swinging from his branches.
On Ianto's fortieth birthday Jack drives him a half hour to the beach. They act like tourists, which makes sense because any outing like this is so far past unusual that they may as well be in another country. They shop, ogle passerby who have stripped down in the heat- a welcome surprise this late in the summer- and as the sun goes down, Jack buys him candy floss. He gets a special smile for remembering that ice cream gives Ianto headaches.
They sit against the wall at the beach, watching the sun sink below the horizon and huddling together beneath the fourth incarnation of Jack's RAF greatcoat. When Ianto tires of Jack's 'disgusting' attempts to steal candy floss from his mouth, he relinquishes the reminder of the spool and rests his head on the captain's shoulder.
Jack sets the clean stick aside and makes sure there's no sticky residue on his mouth before settling his cheek against Ianto's downy hair.
The sky is a vivid indigo; closer to the sun it approaches the shade of Jack's eyes. The golden rays fan out across the water, and diamond is too weak a description for the sparkles that dance along the ocean surface like little firecrackers, like fireflies, like handfuls of children's glitter after being tossed in the air.
The stars have come out.
Jack turns his head, pressing a kiss to a place where Ianto's hair is particularly soft, where the younger man does not like to admit he will probably have a bald spot in a few years. Ianto reaches for his hand under the coat and threads their fingers together.
It reminds Jack of what pointedly wasn't a romantic dinner, a long time ago, and it reminds him that a long time before that, he'd thought that Ianto looked so young, waiting for Jack's approval to stay with him.
Ianto is still young, he always will be to Jack. But he’s grown up, and he doesn't need Jack's protection anymore. His trunk is thick and his shape is set. These days, he moves steadily with Jack. They bathe in the sun together.
The sun is a deep goldenrod on the horizon now, and the wind that makes Ianto's hair flutter is cold. Pressed together under the coat, they're not shivering yet, but they should really think about moving soon.
Instead, he turns his mouth closer to Ianto's ear, not wanting the wind to steal away his private confession. “I love you,” he says, velvet-like, and he remembers a thousand word of love that traveled one way only. Ianto has always been strong, and perhaps they should have been exchanges, but maybe, this time, it was the younger man who had to guide the older.
Ianto looks at him, and Jack forgets all about the sun somewhere beyond the warm, golden radius of Ianto's eyes, Ianto's smile. “I know,” Ianto says simply, and tightens his hand where they are entwined. Where they will be entwined, shaped together, growing together.
For all the years to come.