It was months and months later that Jack decided. He’d sworn he wouldn’t, so long ago, the day after, the week after, when rebuilding the world after the 456 had seemed like it would distract him enough. When he’d finally left Earth, it was in the hope that he wouldn’t succumb to temptation. When he’d seen the Doctor (too little, too late) it had just reinforced the belief that this was the way it had to be, no matter how much he ached, how his stomach felt like it was full of rats that scratched at the very core of him.
Jack was weak. He could not stand the pain, not even for the sake of the universe. He gave in.
He opened the Time Vortex to the day before Ianto died and walked through into a familiar alleyway. He could feel the echo of Other Jack, the one who had sent Ianto after Alice and Steven, imprinted on the timeline even though he was taking that Jack’s place. Time stretched and whined, but did not fray.
He rounded the corner of the alley, knowing his eyes were bright with alcohol, his skin dull and yellow, and walked toward his younger self with a halting gait of anxiety and foreboding.
In order to reach the younger Jack, the scent of hyper vodka on his breath passed through an influenza-choked throat, a wide, panting mouth, and the repulsive force of a universe pressing against itself.
“You shouldn’t be here,” younger Jack said, crossing his arms over his chest and glaring.
Jack remembered. That hurried yet weighty argument between faith in himself and fear of his own selfishness, his own recklessness. Would I truly risk the universe? he had thought.
Jack nodded. “I know,” he acknowledged.
Younger Jack scowled. “Then why are you here?”
“I need to fix something that went wrong.”
Younger Jack considered this, turning his head slightly to the side in thought. “Are you completing a loop? Something that’s already happened?”
No, he wanted to say, stop me. But the younger version of himself would stop him. So instead he said, “Yes.”
Younger Jack nodded and straightened his back in readiness. Good soldier, Jack thought uncharitably. Probably thinks the Doctor sent me.
“Don’t send Ianto after Alice and Steven. And don’t take him with you to Thames House.”
Younger Jack blinked and Jack could see the blood seeping out of his face.
Jack remembered how smart that plan had seemed at the time. Who else would he send after his daughter and grandson but the one man who would give up his life to defend something precious to Jack? He’d had plenty of time to wonder during the last few months about what had happened in the alternate timeline, whether his reliance upon Ianto’s loyalty had been overestimating or taking advantage, and whether he or Ianto was more to blame, either way. Eventually, he decided to put it out of mind. It was not his burden to carry, after all. It was that of a Jack who no longer existed.
And this verion of Jack would never have to carry the weight of the word Don’t.
“I won’t,” younger Jack promised. His eyes were wide, reflecting the stars that no longer had any pull for Jack. Nothing did. Especially since he was about to die.
Well, that was what he’d spent the last few millennia wishing for, right?
He nodded, once. Then turned and walked back toward the end of the alley.
“Wait,” younger Jack called. “What’s going to happen to you, since you’ve warned me? Will you be able to go back?”
Jack looked over his shoulder. “Reapers,” he said, calmly.
He finally knew why Other Jack had not been afraid.
Younger Jack did not understand, but Jack could not spare him any more emotion. He turned the corner, opened the Vortex, and walked into the beckoning arms of the Reaper.